Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Living on the Edge

Backroads Information-Living on the Edge

I loved my Forestry education.  The required classes in the sciences, sociology, and economics  gave an overview of this world that few educations can match.  It was a 20th century version of the old Liberal Arts and Sciences degrees from the 15th century.

I remember a Forestry professor talking about how professions define themselves by creating a unique vocabulary both to include "the chosen" and exclude the " rabble".  He lamented this trend, but insisted that we learned the lingo.  He also insisted that we learn to observe, think, and draw inferences from what we saw in society and the landscape.

I remember in sociology that the "groups" on the edge of society is where change comes about.  In economics it was the marginal cost and revenue curves that were important.  And in wildlife ecology classes the quote I remember is, "Everything happens on the edge". 

Look at the picture on top of this posting.  Notice the edge between the meadow and the aspen groves.  There is an edge between the conifer forest on the meadow in the background.  In the conifer forest there are clumpings of larch among the other conifers.  But did you notice the "edge" in the meadow?  Did you notice the change in the meadow grasses?

Well, these ladies pay attention to the edge and the changes in vegetation.  So much of science is learning the vocabulary, but the important stuff is learning to see.  I remember my first ecology teacher taking us out on field trips to look at landscapes.  He did not identify the trees or grasses by name, but asked us to "see" what was occurring in the landscape and how it was before, now and how it will change in the future.

So what does this have to do with boondocking?  Well, find landscapes with "edge".  These will be the most interesting places to stay.  I have walked  through miles and miles of pine, coast and sierra redwood forests in my jobs.  The interesting stuff was always on the edge of those forests.  The federal agencies that manage public land also know this.  This is why you will tend to find camping restrictions on the "edge" of ecosystems.  There will be more and more restrictions in these areas, while facilities and campers will be moved to interior portions of ecosystems rather than the edge.

One of the most important "edges" is riparian areas.  These will be the "rare" campsites in the future.  Enjoy them now and minimize your impact while staying in these areas.

One of my favorite books is this one.  It is one of the few books that wraps sociology, economics, and ecology and shows how it affects everything.  Without giving away the ending, find out how a society on the edge of "failure" managed in a relatively short time to take over the world!  We tend to forget that in the middle ages European society was on the "edge" and an inconsequential part of the world.

I really enjoyed  the book since it shows how ecology affects society and how society changes the natural ecosystems, in turn. 

The important thing is to not learn the names of the trees and grasses, or birds but learn to see and correctly interpret what you see.  Try it.  Next time you are visiting a natural history interpretive trail.  Walk the trail first and see what you see.  Then walk it again and see what you got right.

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