Humans v. Wild Pigs

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The conquistadors would leave a few pigs on a lush, warm Caribbean island, and come back a year later to find dozens and dozens of animals; pork dinner for months. Proliferation gone wild. Wild pig hunters joke that the pigs are born pregnant and they certainly multiply at an astounding rate. I had read that there were six million wild pigs but in a recent well-researched article, I have learned the number is up to eight million and no solution exists. link

Several years ago the Texas legislature passed a law making it legal to shoot wild pigs from helicopters. The photo above shows the shadow of the helicopter in pursuit of wild pigs. The problem is that, given the high birth rate, approximately 70 percent of the two million wild hogs in Texas would have to be removed annually just to keep the population of pigs at it current number.

There are, nationwide, about one hundred helicopter services who offer services to landowners, charging about $600 an hour to provide a platform for shooting wild pigs. Even at this price, wildlife agents in Texas have found aerial shooting to be the most cost- effective method of pig control. Texas agents kill 25,000 pigs a year and half of them are shot at from the sky. Private aerial hunters kill between 25 to 70 pigs during a daily run. Since there are up to two million wild pigs in Texas; helicopters would have to fill our skies to solve the problem. It’s math. It works out in favor of the pigs.

Trapping has been used successfully, particularly in areas with dense forests. A family unit of wild pigs is called a sounder and trapping entire sounder families of about 25 pigs is the goal. The problem is the pigs’ intelligence. They learn to avoid traps. If one pig from a sounder escapes, no other pig will ever go near that trap again. New traps are monitored electronically and programed to close only when every member of the sounder is in the trap. The other issue with trapping is that a pig or pigs confined in a trap are going to be extremely dangerous.  A study done in South Carolina found that catching and harvesting wild hogs in traps required about twenty-nine man-hours per hog.

Hunting wild pigs with dogs is effective and often works best if only a few – most often the smartest pigs are left in an area. Hunters use three kinds of dogs: dogs who trail and have good noses to track the hog; dogs that bay when the pig is found; and “catch dogs” that hold the pig by the ear or nose while the hunters come in for the kill. These hunters travel with surgical stapling guns, suture kits, and blood-stop powder and very valuable dogs are outfitted with vests made of ballistic-strength fiber. link

Hunters with dogs can kill at a very modest rate; up to seven in a night using night vision goggles. This is not a solution for eight million pigs; although scientists in Louisiana are working on a night-vision pig-killing drone.

What happens to the dead hogs? There is lively discussion in books, magazines and on the internet of wasting the hunted pigs when people are hungry. And feral pigs are food. One hip Austin restaurant sells feral-hog chorizo and includes hog meat on the restaurant menu when it is available. The pigs that are retailed are trapped and specially processed; the skull of a feral hog is so dense, it cannot be killed with a bolt gun. Around half a million a year are USDA inspected and sold here and abroad.

Which leads to the issue of poisoning the wild pigs. Warfarin is presently the poison of choice; it is laced with bitter sodium nitrate to prevent other animals from eating it. Warfarin is also put into a big Pez dispenser device that only hogs are smart enough to access.

Except. “If Kaput or any Warfarin hog bait is allowed, I cannot guarantee the meat I sell doesn’t have the drug in it,” said Will Herring, a hog hunter in Hubbard, Tex., near Waco, who last year founded Wild Boar Meats.

Except. A video of a black bear ripping into the Pez device caused Louisiana officials to halt plans to follow Texas’ lead in the proposed use of Warfarin.

Except. Pigs are messy and litter the Warfarin laced bait around, where other wildlife and pets can get it.

Except. Warfarin, although widely prescribed for blood clots and strokes, is a leading cause of adverse drug reactions in humans.

Except. Warfarin is used to kill rats and rats have developed a tolerance for the poison. Pharmacologists believe this would be the result if it is used to kill pigs.

Unintended consequences all around us.

 Illustration by Ralph Steadman in Animal Farm by George Orwell
Illustration by Ralph Steadman in Animal Farm by George Orwell

…out from the door of the farmhouse came a long file of pigs, all walking on their hind legs…out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his dogs gambolling round him.He carried a whip in his trotter.  Animal Farm, George Orwell

Giving Thanks — originally published Nov. 23, 2016

We’ll sit down at our feasts tomorrow inspired by the First Thanksgiving in 1621.

The Pilgrims landed in November of 1620. Half died of disease and starvation before the famous harvest of 1621. They were likely joined by thanksgivingthe Native American tribe, the Wampanoag. This tribe had been infected by the bacteria, leptospirosis when European ships had visited in 1616. This disease, thought at various times to be typhus or small pox, killed 90% of the Wampanoag people by 1619. A microbe. Invisible to the human eye. The most horrible, horriblest-ever human invader would stare in amazement at such a death rate.

These grieving people gave thanks and, no matter how much controversy swirls among historians of the “real” truth of the event, we should hold the idea of peace between diverse peoples and thanks born of suffering as sacred. Worth remembering and celebrating after hundreds of years.

My personal thanksgiving goes out to the Native American who planted my 300 year old tree mott. The huge Live Oak has an Elm tree in its center. I understand that the Native Americans planted these trees together. It is horticultural genius, since the shallow roots of the Live Oak are held in place by the deep roots of the Elm, and the tall and brittle trunk of the Elm is protected from our sometimes ferocious winds by the Oak. After a storm, giant Live Oaks will be lying on the ground throughout my neighborhood, their roots exposed; and not 50 feet from my front door a 60-foot Elm (not protected by its own Oak) cracked in half last year during a terrible spring wind.

Comanche woman
Comanche woman

Back in the 1800’s a the Comanche and Tonkawa tribes lived near my home.

The Comanches had come tearing down from the Pacific Northwest, drove most of the Apaches out of the Southwest and were putting pressure from the west on the Tonkawa by the 1800’s. The Tonkawa, called the “original people of Texas”, were pressured at the same time from the east by the white settlers. But some skilled horticulturist from one of these tribes likely planted my combination tree.

Of course, hunting and meat eating were important to the Native Americans, but both the Comanches and the Tonkawa commonly ate corn; roots like potatoes, prairie turnips and onions; vegetables such as spinach; and also wild berries and fruits. Colin Tudge and other scientists believe that agriculture began after the last Ice Age. Neanderthals, Bandits and FarmersHow Agriculture Really Began, Tudge.

Tonkowan John Rush Buffalo
Tonkowan John Rush Buffalo

That is another post. In any case, it is not only the horticultural expertise of the Native American who planted my tree mott that I admire. I am amazed, humbled at his or her long view. This person was creating shade, not for his or her generation, but for generations a hundred and more years away. Oak and Elm are slow growers, planted for great grandchildren. The tree mott may have been 10 feet tall in by the late 1800’s when the American army ‘relocated’ the Comanches and Tonkawans to Oklahoma. Now it’s 50+ feet tall and my grasses, microbes, chickens, sheep, and I seek the shade of this tree on hot days. And we give thanks.

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Pig Out

I saw the wild pig on the highway only a mile or so from my home; killed by a car. Its presence here in Hill Country was unwelcome news. Perhaps not entirely unexpected. Wild pigs, also called razorbacks, Old World swine, wild boars, feral hogs are cutting a path of destruction through 39 American states and four Canadian provinces. There are as many as six million of them currently and they are expanding their territory. As an example of unintended consequences, the ‘Wild Pigs v. Humans’ story can’t be beat.

I have always thought Columbus had quite enough to answer for; but, it turns out he was the first person to bring pigs to America where they went wild–feral. Settlers also brought pigs to the new country. It’s hard to fence a pig. They can dig under, jump over or just power through most fencing so these domestics often ran free and they bred with the feral pigs. Later hunters imported Eurasian pigs for sport; the feral pigs bred with them, too.

This genetic soup resulted in a formidable animal. A tough, smart animal. Their hearing is excellent and they can smell odors for seven miles cross country or 25 feet underground. They can sprint up to 30 miles an hour and swim two miles of open ocean. The males develop muscles in the front of their bodies that thicken like armor and are almost impermeable. Their noses have a special bone, the nasal sesamoid bone, which is connected to the skull only by cartilage and which provides extra rooting support. Some have tusks but these are often lost in fights between males.

Wild pigs invade national and state parks where they devastate grasses and trees and frighten tourists. Their destruction leaves wildlife bereft of food sources; and, they eat foxes, opossums, deer and other wildlife. The wild pigs contributed to the near-extinction of  foxes on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of California.

They love farms as well, they will uproot, then feed on fields of sorghum, rice, wheat, soybeans, melons, fruit, nuts, grass and hay. The wild pigs eat food put out for livestock and then eat the livestock young–calves, lambs and kid goats.

Cities and suburbs are not neglected by the wild pigs. They wreck outdoor furniture and root up and eat lawns and gardens. They love golf courses and athletic fields. Pets such as dogs and cats are killed, maimed and sometimes eaten. Wild pigs eat anything and everything.

This miracle of breeding in the wild has left us to cope with an animal that remains vigorous although often host to up to 32 parasite species, scabies, lice ticks, liver flukes, lungworms, tapeworms, the pseudorabies virus and swine brucellosis. When the nuclear plant at Chernobyl, Ukraine exploded, Belarus, Russia and Sweden were irradiated. A quarter of a million wild pigs live in Sweden; and in some parts of Sweden wild pigs have been found to have high levels of radioactivity– but the pigs seem fine and continue to tear up the countryside. link

The subject of wild pigs brings on a certain denial of reality in humans. For example, hunters. I have great respect and affection for my hunter friends. And serious hunters love wild pigs. Wealthy hunters imported Eurasian hogs for sport in the 1890’s and again in the 1930’s. “You can fool deer 50 percent of the time, but hogs’ll win 90 percent of the time.” link. The fun of the chase on one hand; destruction on the other.

And scientists. I have great respect and love for my scientist friends. But wildlife biologists insist on on classifying and studying wild pigs as a non-native species. After 600 years of breeding and interbreeding.  Designating them as foreigners just might be holding up problem solving and research funding.

A final example: animal lovers and activists. I love and respect them. Wild pigs are voracious consumers of many protected species, sea turtles red-cheeked salamanders, short-tailed shrews, red-back voles and other precious threatened creatures. But PETA is now recommending taking wild pigs to refuges and containing them in ‘inexpensive’ fencing. First, no fencing is inexpensive and second, the capture and transport of 6 million wild pigs would be a nightmare. This verges on fantasy given, well–the nature of the beast.

The old joke is that there are two kinds of people: those that have wild pigs and those that will have wild pigs. My friends and I shook our heads and enjoyed our wine the day the wild pig was seen on the highway. Perhaps it was just an anomaly. They might not come here. We embraced the escape from reality just like all of our human friends.

Hay!

I had a very indistinct idea of hay when I came back to country living. We see the big round bales from speeding cars and have encountered haystacks in cowboy movies, cartoons and fairy tales.

Now, for me, hay is central to winter well being.

The stock need it when the pastures brown out for winter; the chickens search the hay for bugs and greenery they like; the dogs bed down in it and I use it to put an 8-inch mulch throughout the garden.

My morning chores on my little farm require moving the hay by hand. This is a clean and relatively modest amount of work; and at least I do not have to work in the ice and snow as the poor souls pictured. It is comforting that this particular job has stayed almost exactly the same for
hundreds of years. Of course, large enterprises use tractors and other mechanized vehicles. But with only a few animals, one just grabs an armful of hay and gets the job done.

Hay has been a mainstay of human farming for hundreds of years. Great artists were familiar with its substantive beauty. Monet painted over 30 pictures of hay; Van Gogh, dozens. Up to the middle of the last century over half the population of the United States farmed; and many non-farmers kept horses. All of whom were undoubtedly well versed in the hundreds of “hay facts” that form no part of our lives.
Perhaps our education should include more basics. Traveling across the country, one looks at fields of big round hay bales; until recently they just did not register in my mind. I have one one on my front lawn now so I ‘see’ it. We travel on roads of concrete and asphalt without much idea of what’s in the roadwork. We zoom past trees and plants that few people can name. This is our environment and we pay little attention to it.
We seem to stuff our heads with facts that have nothing to do with our environment; we use the word in an abstract way and fantasize about ‘saving’ it. I imagine the French cottager in the beautiful Camille Pissarro painting above knew what his roads were made of and knew the names of the plants and trees surrounding his home. The Rumanian feeding his sheep in the James Ravilious photograph above would have understood his environment in order to survive–or to live well– in what appears to be a cold and demanding world.
How can we educate and reeducate ourselves and our children to get in touch with and demand to know about what is around them, what is in front of our eyes, under our feet and wheels. Before we can save anything we need to ‘see’ it–see and know about our privileged world of ease and beauty.

 

Cold Snap

Winter gardening is a great pleasure in the relatively mild winters here. The problem is that, in late December and January, cold snaps come down the flat American plains from the Arctic and hit us with temperatures in the high teens and 20’s. The first Winter front rolled in earlier this week and the thermometer dipped to 32 degrees.

I walked out to find the tomato and pepper plants blackened; the banana tree looking like rags on a pole and the zinnias and cannas black and stiff. All of these are tropical or semi-tropical plants beloved by me, but frowned upon by native plant enthusiasts. My honeysuckle, salvia, sunflowers, asters, roses and mistflowers are perfectly fine; flowering enthusiastically in the cooler weather.

The broccoli, pictured above is well able to survive a freeze. As are many other vegetables. Conventionally, freeze means the temperature at which water changes to a solid–but many plants can continue to grow after being “frozen.” Gardeners who describe this little miracle use a broad variety of freeze language:  light freezes, hard freezes, severe freezes, killing frost and just plain frost.

Little Cold Cabbage

My beets, carrots, lettuce, endive, cauliflower and parsley will survive a “light” freeze, meaning down to about 28 degrees. The cauliflower and beet leaves get a little burned and a few die. If I love a vegetable I plant extra for the November and December dinner table.

The prairie grasses and weeds that invade all summer are dormant; the bugs and fungus are dead. The work is at least half of maintaining a summer garden. I use a thick mulch of hay but I am too lazy to regularly cover things early in the season or set up little plastic greenhouses. The weather here is often in the 60’s and 70’s in ‘winter’ and anything under plastic gets too hot.

January and, sometimes February, bring serious cold. Happily, there are plenty of vegetables to take over as the winter temperatures start biting hard. Spinach, leeks, broccoli, cabbage and arugula can withstand severe frosts down to about 24 degrees.  Brussels sprouts can even survive a dip below 24 and hang on all winter. Loose leaf lettuce will survive down to 20 degrees. Kale is said to be hardy to 10 degrees although I have not had the pleasure of observing that amazing feat. In late January, there will be at least a bit of lettuce, some Brussels sprouts and; of course, kale for dinner.

I’ll toss a “plant blanket” (called a Plankett at garden centers) on vegetables that are doing well and weight the edges with rocks when the temperature is expected to go really low. Winter gardening isn’t all fun–I have been out with a flashlight on bitter nights, sometimes in my party clothes, covering the plants when an unexpected cold front hits.

But plants give back; always. That’s why I love them.

Size Matters

Two news articles this week appeared like bookends of the same problem. One concerned the superiority of a world where nutrients cycle through gigantic animals, like the extinct Titanosaurs, pictured above– or Elephants who are now dying at an alarming rate. The other story was a report of the 75% decline of flying insects since 1989. Small and large going fast — leaving what? The middle?

It surprised me that big animals improve the ecological health of the Earth’s air and soil significantly better than medium-sized or small animals. They eat more plants and make more manure. A Northern Arizona University study found that nutrients that make rich soil are locked up, “until they are liberated for use through animal consumption, digestion and defecation,” Big is better apparently. link

We have all seen the depictions of the dinosaur-dominated world full of huge lush plants. The largest land animals ever were the Titanosaurs above, 122-feet long and with a weight up 138,000 pounds. Along with their fellow dinosaurs, they created a cycle of abundance. In their world elements like phosophorus quickly reentered the soil and plants grew faster. In our world, elephants, for example, “only” weigh about 13,000 pounds but still contribute significantly to folding the plant world into the soil–fast. Bison are another example, they created at least two feet of rich topsoil across our American prairies.

But the dinosaurs are all gone (and thank heaven it’s not our fault); elephants, rhinos, moose, polar bears, bison are all in a steep decline. The cycling of plant to soil and back to plant is down 92% due to the reduction in the numbers of very large animals.

In my little world, deer and other small creatures populate undeveloped areas here in Texas hill country but the rocky hillsides are not lush; there is no abundance there. Nevertheless, the deer cause havoc for gardeners. Imagine fencing that would keep out bison or elephants or — dinosaurs. Without the giants, my life is safer and more comfortable.

The disappearance of high numbers of flying insects confronts us with the same choice of human well being versus ecological well being. A European study of 63 nature reserves found the biomass of flying insects declined by 75% in the past 27 years. And the decline was measured on areas set aside to preserve wildlife, including insects. It’s got to be worse in agricultural areas or in cities. Insect scientists worry that these finding indicate continental and/or global slide; and they think continued decline of flying insects will a bad, bad thing. link

Apparently I am seeing only a quarter was what was flying around in the late 1980’s. That is a lot of bees, lightening bugs, dragonflies and butterflies–gone. Of course this means that flies and mosquitoes and other ‘pests’ have declined as well, making my world safer and more comfortable.

The very large and the very small– going or gone; we sit comfortable and safe in the center.

 

 

 

 

 

Porcupine Wars

Last week, I danced out of the house to do my morning chores, energized by the cool weather. Then I saw white stuff on my Karakachan’s face. Foam? Chicken feathers? I bent down and the dog’s eyes said, “I made a mistake.” When I opened his mouth I saw dozens of porcupine quills in his tongue, his throat, his gums and lips. The dark, sharp quills were hard to pull out and seemed to break off, leaving the white feathery part in my hand. My Great Pyrenees, who acts like a big baby half the time, would not let me touch him; his feet and the outside of his mouth were covered with quills. He growled at me when I approached him with the leash. Unheard of! On the left is one of the dozens of photos of quills in dogs’ mouths on the internet, and this one is by no means the worst. I didn’t think to take a photo of my dogs since I was hurriedly loading them up for a trip to the vet. I had to lure the Pyr into the truck with hamburger. They were anesthetized and given pain medication and antibiotics and are now fine. Two dog owners appeared just after me with dogs bristling with quills; the vet said a couple of days later that they had been swamped with dogs who had been in battle with porcupines.

I, by no means object to all wars; sensible, necessary war is – well, necessary. But the conflicts between dogs and porcupines is a perfect example of the pointless, wasteful wars that I have opposed all of my adult life. Porcupines are small creatures and herbivores; none would dream of eating a chicken or lamb or small calf. There is no competition between them and predators. The savvy coyote is said to ignore them; big cats like leopards attack them. So do dogs. The porcupine signs its death sentence when it provokes a predator; it raises its quills and furiously waves its spiky tail from side to side and up and down, beating the ground. Its aggression sadly inflames the aggression of a large, strong animal with big teeth.

Underneath their friendly ways, dogs are proud creatures, territorial at heart and many, like my guardian dogs, are bred to protect–to do their duty. Some are protective of their humans; mine protect chickens and livestock. My dogs embrace their guard duties. But in a tangle with a 20-pound porcupine, a predator’s injuries are often fatal. The quills are constructed to burrow deeper into flesh as time goes by. Untreated, infection sets in, then certain death. Neither the fearsome pit bull or the beautiful sports dog pictured here can survive the quills without help.

“Mistakes will happen.”

After much thought I decided to leave the little deceased porcupine on my property as a warning to other porcupines. I put it about 75 feet outside the invisible fence but should have gone further– I was not wearing boots and had seen a coral snake earlier in the week.

The black vultures arrived two days later. Not turkey vultures, but the huge two-foot birds with six-foot wingspans. The Pyr was not pleased and ran up and down his side of the invisible fence barking furiously. The birds were not certain the dog wouldn’t break through whatever restrained him, so instead of their usual leisurely meal they would dive down, sometimes sit on the fence briefly and then fly away. Fast food.

I have a breeding pair of Dexters; the cow and bull walked over companionably and looked through their side of the fence, staring for a long while at the porcupine; then watching the dog and the birds. They made me think of a couple on a date to the movies. The vultures finished their work and left. The late philosopher and farmer Gene Logsdon believes we should give thanks for the vultures since the world would be a smelly mess without them.

The Pyr probably just gave thanks when they were gone and he flung himself down on the grass to sleep–his work done. The cow and bull sought out their favorite shade tree.

At peace. Peace. So very hard to know when it is worth it. So precious.

 

Let’s Keep our Bees

I love my bees. Their hives are pictured here in the late afternoon fall sunshine. I am told by my beekeeper that they are doing well and I expect honey next spring. The different colors of the hives are to help the foraging bees easily find their home base.  I enjoy linking my life to bee and honey lovers of ancient China, Babylonia, Crete and Israel. Sealed honey jars were found in the tomb of Tutankhamunin. Aristotle wrote lovingly of beekeeping as did a variety of Romans including Virgil and Gaius. Pictured left is an 8000-year old cave painting of a woman harvesting honey in Spain. She’s doing her work without bee ‘gear’ unlike the 16th century Europeans on the right, who are wearing some crazy face protection.

Although it’s the bees, not the beekeepers, that need protection now. After Maryland lost about 60% of their hives last year (the national average is 42%) the State is banning sales of products that contain neonicotinoid pesticides. link It shouldn’t be a big surprise that a pesticide kills bees. In a recent, widely published article we learned that when researchers collected honey samples worldwide, 75% of the honey, including the honey we eat, contained neonicotinoids. link

We are assured that the half a dozen or so poisons classified as neonicotinoids are safe for mammals. Less toxic than caffeine, we are told by the manufacturers and growers. Only twice as toxic as ibuprofen. The same toxicity of wine! But Neonicotinoid pesticides are a first cousin to nicotine – you can see the word nicotine right in the long name. That sets off little warning bells, right?

We know all too well that humans have nicotine receptors. Neonicotinoids share “agonist activity” at nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). The effect they may have on our mammalian nAChRs is reported to be “unclear.” And our nAChRs are important for our brain development and function. Some odd “ratios” have been observed by scientists between control groups for autism spectrum disorder, memory loss and finger tremors. But there are very few studies to date. More study of these possible adverse effects has been recommended but not funded. link

Neonicotinoids poison insects by disrupting their central nervous systems, causing the inability to fly and/or disorientation, paralysis and eventually and always, death. They are applied to plant seeds or added directly to the soil, where the plant takes up the poison as it grows. The poison is then distributed throughout the vascular system of the plant and remains there 24/7. Any insect that drinks the morning dew on such a plant or eats its leaves or pollen is doomed. link

Of course, disease and overwork, also contribute to the decline of bees and I wrote about that in December of last year. link But the use of neonicotinoids is increasing since it is so effective in the battle with the insects. Bees often drink the pollen of a treated plant, begin to lose neuron function, struggle home and feed the baby bees the poisoned pollen. Did I say neonicotinoids were effective? Growers are relying almost exclusively on these insecticides now and spray a field as much as 20 times a year, on a calendared schedule, not as needed. Also, these modern pesticides are about 6,000 times as toxic as older sprays. link

Food labeled organic does not contain these poisons. Home Depot plans to stop selling plants that contain the poison in 2018; Lowe’s is working on the issue. Since the big box stores sell million of bedding plants to home owners each year this is helpful. The EU has restricted use of the poison, but because of new studies and political pressure the restrictions are being reconsidered.

About 85 percent of Earth’s flowering plants rely on pollination by bees and other pollinators and bees alone pollinate 30% or more of our food and beverages. What would Tutankhamunin think? Or Aristotle? Or as Dierks Bentley says in one of my favorite country music songs, What Was I Thinkin’.

Let’s keep our bees.

 

Farming Before you Farm

I have written before about the great Colin Tudge, who rejects the idea that agriculture began in the Middle East 10,000 years ago. In Neanderthals, Bandits and Farmers: How Agriculture Really Began, he reasons that hunter-gatherers had been enjoying farming for 30,000 years before the large fields were laid out and planted with mono-crops for Mesopotamian cities. Not that these Paleolithic humans farmed full time, hunting and gathering has always been a practice of humans, if wildlands are available. Of course, the critics attacked him, and said he was indulging theory without evidence.

I accepted Tudge’s idea immediately. Gatherers are out working with plants all the time. The drawing above is a facial reconstruction of a hunter-gatherer woman. link  She looks just like the kind of intelligent and thoughtful “gatherer” who is going to clear brush away from a berry bush to help it along until her return. Seed heads are easy to see and sowing a handful of ripe seeds from some valuable herb or vegetable seems a reasonable proposition for her survival and the survival of her Paleolithic ancestors.

The idea also conforms to my personal experience. At a recent gardening lecture I learned that small branches of fruit trees will root if stuck into the ground and conditions favor them; I’ll try this advice very soon. Another example? I thought the 17 degree weather last winter had killed my Pomegranate bush and I put its removal on my to-do list. Its long stickers and my indolence left it sitting in the back garden and I found it thriving during my fall cleanup this past week. I put in my cauliflower too late last spring and it did not bear but the big plants looked nice and I left them in place all summer. After months of 100 degree days the bushes appear to be making cauliflowers in the fall weather–contrary to all respectable gardening practices.

Plants just want to do well and helping them is natural- polite.  It seems impossible to me that my Paleolithic counterpart or the beautiful Neolithic woman pictured above– who lived about 9000 years ago– would not pull all the grass and grapevines away from the Pomegranate as I did. Or put fruit and berry stems into the ground to extend production. It seems obvious to me that gatherers farmed.

And, it turns out Tudge is being proven right. Research by scientists has revealed “farming’ in tropical forests about 30,000 years before the Mesopotamian miracle. link

Critics and some of my learned friends complain that the word farming and/or agriculture mean something specific; and that specific thing originated 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. It’s in the textbooks; it’s just true. As is the ‘discovery’ of the American continents by Columbus. That idea was considered true in every textbook I ever read in school. Who was the first person to ask, “How can you discover a place where at least 50 million people are already living?” So we get stuck talking about words and their meaning. “Discover” is now “interpreted”; it just doesn’t mean what it meant for 500+ years. “Agriculture” may not mean the Middle East model much longer

Archaeologists Patrick Roberts, Damian Evans and other scientists have used genetic sampling of forest ecosystems, isotope analysis of human teeth and soil analysis to describe 40,000 year old cities and farms in the equatorial rain forests. These modern scientists have determined humans burned forestland to make room for plants to eat and homes to live in. Very complicated soils were mixed to grow plants, swamps were drained, chickens and other animals domesticated and yams, taro, sweet potatoes, chili peppers, black peppers, mangoes, and bananas were grown. Ancient agriculture practices were revealed to be a pattern across equatorial Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. link

Transplantation and cultivation extend back to the Holocene. New Guinea has provided some of the earliest evidence at a location called Kuk Swamp where humans emigrated and brought yams, bananas and taro with them for planting. In the Carribbean and Polynesia, evidence has emerged of the importation of plants like wild avocado and manioc by ancient travelers. link

Researchers from the Tel Aviv University, Harvard and other prominent schools have found evidence that plant cultivation was begun 23,000 years ago by the Ohalo II people who lived near the Sea of Galilee. These early humans used 140 species of plants, including cereals like wild emmer, wild barley, and wild oats. The Ohalo people had sickle blades to harvest the grain and used the grinding stone pictured here to process their grains. There seems to be much fear of the 10,000-year dogma about the beginning of agriculture. They seem to belabor their case that the Ohalo people had knowledge of agriculture and had foresight – so that they could practice ‘agricultural planning’. link I’m pretty sure foresight was in existence before the Mesopotamians turned to agriculture.

The 10,000 year dogma packs such power that earlier farming is called proto-farming even by Tudge. Proto is often used to describe a language that preceded another language, proto-Slavic, for example. It means pre. Which makes me think of George Carlin who made fun of the airlines when they announce that it is time for people with children to pre-board. “What do they mean?” he asks. “Why can’t they just board. Is the airline asking that they board before they board?”

Are researchers and scientists asking us to imagine that Paleolithic humans were pre-farming? Farming before they farmed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tilting into the Future

Autumn arrived with the Equinox last Friday when the Northern half of the planet began its tilt away from the Sun. Our Earth does not sit straight in the sky and the longest day of the year, the beginning of summer, occurs when the North Pole is closest to the Sun. The shortest day, the first day of winter, occurs when the Pole is furthest from the Sun. Between those extremes we experience the Equinox–twice each year once in late March and once in late September. For a fraction of a second, as the Sun crossed the equator about 3pm last Friday, day and night were close to same length and we began our journey into winter. We are on a path now into the cold and dark.

But I love that path: the Fall. The darker days are welcome here in the South after our August when the Sun boiled out of the horizon early and scorched us all day long. Philosophers and spiritualists, both modern and ancient, name this a time of transition; some believing movement from Summer heat to the cold of Winter be sacred. Fall is generally considered a time to let go of old injuries and seek peace and harmony; to take a breath and move ahead. Like the trees that let go of their leaves and plants that drop seed to the ground or get brown and dry and quiet, waiting for next year.

And this year, the Equinox and the New Moon occurred within a few days of each other. That confluence of heavenly changes has been traditionally believed to enhance our spiritual energy and help us make and accept changes in our lives.

Its fun to imagine the moon completely lit by the Sun during the New Moon phase. But it’s hidden to us. Then each night it becomes more visible, it grows before our eyes; a symbol of starting and succeeding at new things. And little things matter to me. My broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage seedlings were just put in the ground and the first of the Fall rains came today to speed their growth. The waxing moon lights them more each night and hopefully will encourage their success.

Big things like new beginnings and peace are very well but prediction is a perilous past time. What my practical side wants is a reliable prediction of winter temperatures and rainfall. Not too cold for the citrus trees, but cold enough for the peaches and apples to set fruit. Not too dry for the garden; but not so wet that the fungus goes crazy. These predictions are impossible, much less any prediction of our human path forward. Changes are part of our lives on earth and in the heavens.

The Moon is beautiful at night lately; a huge smile in the sky. Which always makes me think of the Cheshire Cat.

“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”