The meadow got its spring haircut today. All the tidiness post cut is traumatic and troublesome but temporary. This year it also takes on a new meaning.
I read a book this winter by Isabelle Tree called Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm. While I’m not a European farmer, I have subscribed to the prevailing theory Tree describes that necessitates the mow:
“As any European farmer knows, if you leave a patch of land abandoned, it soon reverts to scrub and, eventually, tall trees. It is the state known as ‘climax vegetation’ — the destination which nature is supposedly endlessly struggling to reach. Before human impact — the prevailing theory goes — any land with the climate, soil and hydrology for trees to grow was covered with closed-canopy forest. By the late 19th century…closed-canopy forest came to be seen as the natural state of European landscape.” (page 62)
But Tree doesn’t buy it.
“This theory of closed forest overlooks another force of nature altogether, one that works in opposition to vegetative succession, namely animal disturbance…The extinction of large wild animals encouraged closed-canopy forests that replaced wood pasture.”
So, the annual through partial mow is still required. Only the reason for it can now be explained differently: I have “no old, sturdy, primeval grazing animals living in herds without supplemental feeding to create and sustain a species-rich grsssland” through munching, trampling or otherwise disturbing.
Today’s disturbance was not only on the ground but also in the air.
A Bald eagle must have wagered that a vole or two would be uncovered as the mower chomped through the brush because one circled overhead. But the resident Red-tailed hawk also had his eye on the field for the same reason and with some propriety. Two raptors of different species is one too many. An airborne battle ensued, which the eagle won. He claimed the airspace from a perch in the choke cherry.
The grassland species won’t miss a beat. They will continue their annual cycle. The aviary population — seeking lunch and nesting materials, maybe also a shield from raptors — may have a couple of weeks of distress, all because we have to rely on a mechanical marauder to groom the meadow annually.