Meadow grooming: old and new theories

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)

Mower in action.

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.

Jungle no more or not until mid summer.

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.

  1. Beverly Hodgson said:

    Yup, you need a herd of sheep for that meadow. We are doing well in Seattle, seeing friends for (outdoor) coffee tomorrow. I have had perhaps too much one-on-one with a toddler, especially one in the stage of thinking that extended running around his room naked is hilarious. Dan and Lindsey are leaving Dean on Vashon with us for 3 nights. He can do a mile on a woodland trail, so this may be fine. Or not. They seem very eager to have a bit of time to themselves. Yesterday, Lindsey and I went to a vast garden nursery and agreed on exactly one item. She hates all the flowers I like most, it seems. It is pretty cold here, but Dan and John played pickleball. Dan has a pizza oven in his garage and made impressive pizza dough and toppings. He set up lights and warmers and a table in his garage and the doors open/coats on pizza parties have been a hit with his friends, all dying for something that resembles a social lfe. Lindsey, government employee, had her second vaccination today. Dan is still not eligible and they discussed whether getting it sooner in the queue was worth a 2 hour drive to Yakima. I am hoping to keep my sunny side up through a long visit with another family. This visiting is hard after so much solitary time. Ron Richards is supposed to put down rocks at #149 this week and Nathan says he has ordered bushes for planting later in April. On we go. Want to come to NY for an early May weekend?? xxBev


    • Ms Tree had wild boars and ancient horses in mind not sheep!!

      I’m glad to have your report despite its mixed news. I’m glad it’s you not me. Jessica was here for a week. Grownups have their advantages. There was no running around naked, for example. In fact there was also some sharing of meal prep and cleanup. And then she left to go to the back house.

      It’s not yet warm here although Scott got very hot mowing because there was no wind. I’m still wearing a fleece when I walk.

      Nathan is going to spend a couple hours here every week until his baby is born. I’ve never had his kind of assistance; I’m pretty excited.

      That’s my report. Write again after changing families.

      xo, s Sent from my iPhone


  2. Judy Staples said:

    Good show! I feel like mowing down my garden!

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