The Sly Thing About Fossil Fuels and Farming

The Okanagan Valley is a great place for fences. The concept of taking common land and turning it into private land, and the dispossession of the land’s people that came with it, was imported from Britain, but, like all things in a settler culture, incompletely. Originally, fences cutting across common land were of stone or living wood, in the form of hedges, to keep sheep in place and to allow them to be moved when necessary. What was beautiful about it was that the boundaries of fields were common land, with tall hedge rows brimming with the animal and insect life that had been removed from the land to concentrate the land into the wool of sheep. In the Okanagan, and Cascadia in general, the fences were either of rails or barbed wire, took up little space, needed little tending, and kept people out as much as they kept animals in.

Welsh Sheep a Few Minutes Before the Rain

The sheep are still there in Britain, but something weird happened to the hedges, when the barbed wire idea came back from the colonies: the hedges are now trimmed at a metre height in the fall, destroying any capacity for harbouring insects, birds and mammals, the ones that keep the ecosystem healthy and the skies full of song. Somehow, the idea came through that the hedge was a fence, not a cooperative project between public and private uses of the Earth. That’s not all, though. Look at this one:

Isn’t that great? The hedge is just a remnant, yet it’s still trimmed. And it is still kept, with a nod to tradition that it actively denies. Fossil fuels are too cheap.

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