How to Beat Global Warming By Turning the Grasslands Upside Down

Water has a surface tension. It divides light into bands of energy. It keeps some and sends more away, but not evenly.

So does mullein.

In mullein’s case, it covers its pulpy, absorbent leaves with tiny hairs, which capture the tension of water, like this…

… to create an insulating skin stronger than the pull of the sun to draw the water into the air, kind of a miniature atmosphere, really, like the water spheres on the cattails below …

…and then, when it snows, mullein holds that snow up in the air, where the cold air can cool it through the night. Slowly, the sun warms the mullein, from its vertical surfaces, drawing the water down onto its leaves and from there to its core.

Note how the hairs on the leaves strengthen the surface tension of the water and keep it from spilling off onto the ground. Useful? Sure is. Consider other ways in which the life up the hill is slowing down and channelling the melting of the snow that fell overnight, and channelling it. Look how the sun and the angle of the earth …

… are transforming time (as measured by water), depending upon exposure. The cottonwoods do this trick in the angles of their branches, from which meltwater spreads slowly outwards over their bark…

… hold it in lateral cracks, from which it is slowly released…

… and even twist it through a 90 degree turn by balancing the pull of gravity and the build up of tension on the bark to move it as a film.

Note as well the seam running across the upper side of the limb. In cottonwoods, those hold so much water for so long that they eventually rot the tree out from within. It drops branches because of this action, and then houses owls.

It inspires water collection devices which gather snow in multiple ways and deliver it through systems of cracks into an inner trunk, where it can be held through drought. Still, even rock is playing this game.

This rock pile, formed by centuries of water and frost action on stone, is little different than the plants above: snow held away from the sun melts slowly, feeding an elaborate plant community through a series of cracks, while the bulk of the snow melts quickly, disappears into the warm darkness between the rocks, and from there into deeper soil. Protected from the sun, it flows downhill.

All you need for this is two rocks, really:

What is beautiful about this pair is that the larger rock, with its minerals and its seam of quartz, is facing the warm southern sun. Its snow disappeared quickly, into the plant community at the stone’s base, but look what the smaller stone, of more porous material, has done…

Either it has absorbed the snow (or the run-off) and is releasing it slowly, in a kind of reverse of a heating effect, or it provided a surface that allowed snow to adhere to the larger stone. Either way, it transforms the sun, just as this water does:

It is, after all, the same snow and the same sun making all these transformations. Here’s a man-made slope doing this work, but vertically instead of horizontally:

In this case, bunchgrass, rooted in the terraces of a stepped wire cage, is stopping the water from flowing, although not stopping the snow from melting or twisting it through time, as the cottonwood does. It simply melts it quickly, then holds onto it, creating a slow waterfall weaker than the roots of the grass. The base of this simple system…

… is unused, and unlike this slope…

… there is no opposing cool slope to hold the snow, to allow the sun to heat it and slowly melt it down the draw between the two slopes, as the mullein does, in the balance of heat and cold illustrated by this globe of moss.

Still, we could build water dams on the hill like this, which would slow time, to release water through seepage through the long hot summer, without losing any land at all. Simply, a south-facing slope like this:

… could be faced with a north-facing one (instead of the open space in which we are standing), which would collect snow and shelter it from the sun. It could even be constructed to channel winter wind and gather deep drifts, to extend melting effects for weeks or months. The melting would come from the south-facing slope we see here. The channel between the two would hold water, which could then be put to use, much like this stone below…

If that’s too much engineering, why not just take that stone as a model and reverse it, like this:

You: Harold! What on earth is that?

Harold: Dearest, it’s a vineyard driveway littered with gravel.

You: That’s what I thought it was! Oh now, look, I have muck on my shoes.

Harold: Those are nice shoes.

You: They were nice shoes. Now they’re mucky. I can’t go to town like this.

Harold: Oh. Sorry. (Pause.) You want to go to town when you have all this cool muck?

 

You: Yes!

Harold: Oh.

(Harold blushes and continues.)

So, gravel. Look at what it’s doing. Little rocks rise above the cold soil to collect the sun, to melt the snow, which runs off of them and pools at their bases, slowly seeping into the soil instead of running off.

As the sun continues to warm the stones, the absorption area spreads…

… and we have stopped time by storing snow, releasing it slowly and storing the resulting water at a rate matched to the capacity of the soil. It will be released as life and slow subsurface flow through the spring, which is great, but what if we just reimagined the process slightly, laid down an absorbent mat covered with tiny hairs, like the mullein, with little heat units, either spikes of grass or blocks of stone, rising at intervals out of the hairs, to catch snow at various depths and melt it slowly down into the mat. If the mat were on a wall surface …

the heat unit could be below, and lined, like this wood, with vertical conduits that could fill with water. A fence made out of gravel in a cage, or simply stacked rock, would do as well. If the mat were on a road surface or a walking surface…

… the pressure of traffic could squeeze it into transport or deeper capture structures. In all cases, the water will follow the pressure exerted on it in such a way that it maintains bonds with itself, like this flock of starlings…

… or these juniper berries, so pungent and yet so sweet.

The transportation of water is only the manipulation of water tension and time, in relation to the sun. For that, the transportation is more across a membrane …

…than from high country dams to low country farms…

In this vineyard, much of this work is already being done, but in a model conducive to machine harvesting and the capitalization of water (huge volumes are required to pay for the huge cash outlays required to support the system.)  It might be, however, that the heating and cooling effects are as simple as turning stones over, so that their white bellies, of solidified soil salts brought to the surface by the sun, send that sun away, to allow the stones to operate as the engines of cold we need them to be at this time.

We could turn them over again when we need heat. In fact, if the stones took the shape of trees…

…they could be both at once. Time to go out and plant some trees.

 

Imagine the Technological Possibilities!

Imagine if you could regulate heat loss and roof melting simply by switching from a flat roof to a roof covered in river rock, or a lightweight approximation of it. The insulating properties of the rock would keep the cold of the snow away from the roof, while the relative warmth of the snow would insulate the rock. Temperate change be gradual. What’s more, air flowing around the rounded forms of the rock would draw off the heat they give off while cooling under the effects of the snow, which would draw off the snow in channels, while allowing the insulating processes of snow and rock to continue. The rounded rocks are essential to make the process work. 

One Day After the Snow

Such a construction technique applied to even greater open spaces would allow for the gradual melting of snow, preventing sudden run-off events and allowing for a steady pumping of water through an environment. Notice how cheat grass uses thatch (below) to incubate seed in warmth, along a similar principle…

… while using the thatch to keep a warm layer of air next to the soil. By the time freezing happens, the soil will be drenched with melted snow. At that point, melting will add heat to the soil.

Three dimensional roofs with channels, that manipulate freezing and thawing processes to maintain steady states or gain an advantage on climate, that’s the way. Of course, you could farm like this, too. Then again, is that not the general form of Cascade, with an uneven surface generating warm valley floors?

The Big Bar Esker Against the Marble Range

And again?

My Grandfather Bruno Leipe and His Dog Pootzie Above the Similkameen, c. 1963

photo Hugo Redivo

In the case of the Similkameen, the warm valley floor is a sea of infilled river gravel in a deep glacial trench, which takes us back to where we began…

 

Cascadia is a dynamic land, isn’t it! By reducing run-off, and spreading out growing seasons, much of the work of industrial agricultural systems can be done at no cost, after original set-up. And we’re still talking about systems of depreciation and extraction, why?

The Heart of the Shuswap

Some rocks are sacred.

The twins that allow water to reveal its spirit. The two halves of the heart.

And what a spirit!

Spirit on spirit on spirit. This red blood.

The rock that is a heart and … oh, what ‘s this crawling out from the water to it?

Spirit indeed!

It’s not hard to find your way on Shuswap Lake. It’s not hard to read the land.

By reading it, I read my self.

In the country I used to live in, this was called belief. I live here now.

And here.

How The Sun Makes Rich Soil

It’s simply beautiful how it is done. First, water sorts out the finest grains of silt, and deposits them on the surface of low points in the earth, filling them in. Then the sun evaporates the water, and  cracks the silt all crazy like.
Wind and gravity (and birds passing through the seasons) deposit feathers and leaves. The angular effect of the sun on the fluid shape of the silt holds them from drifting.
When the rains come again to the lowest ground, it fills the cracks, softens leaf and feather, and then deposits new silt around them.

They are now mixed in.

The cycle repeats with each season, or each thundercloud.

This is the lightning of the earth.

Beautiful, isn’t it!

What exquisite music.

The Troll’s Toad

I was writing a week ago how the stone in the Basalt Sea where I live breaks apart along fracture lines that reveal, over and over again, faces. For some reason, stone like this matches the patterning of the human mind, which suggests to me that I, at least, have ancestors who were at home for a long, long time in volcanic landscapes, or that there are energies in the universe that have shaped my mind, and my genes, in the same way they affect rock of this kind. Have a look at my horned toad.

She’s very nice. Earth is alive, and we are all her life.

The Resistance Begins

There are no words for this.P2280519The sun uses wind …. P2290983… and water …P2280631

… to move sand. You could say it was gravity, or resistance, or wave forms …

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… but really, those are just words. It’s all of those things at once, and more.

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It’s also the earth moulding the sun into its own image, after all.

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Really, there is no earth and no sun. There are both at once.

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It’s not in language that humans are most wise.

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It’s not in language that they are most earthsun …P2280623

…and sunearth.

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Machines can’t do this.

 

Living Soil

Here’s some soil:

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It’s a series of shelters, which capture water, minerals and heat, and amplify the conditions for light and seed germination, in the warm area in the first millimetres above the earth’s surface.Yes, I know, this isn’t “soil” as the dictionary defines it:

The top layer of the earth’s surface in which plants can grow, consisting of rock and mineral particles mixed with decayed organic matter and having the capability of retaining water.

But look at this:

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That image of moss fulfills this definition of soil (the 5th of five in online dictionaries):

 place or condition favourable to growth; a breeding ground.

Such a breeding ground can become complex:

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That’s definitely soil, and is full of life. It’s also a growing surface. The common definition looks like the corn (and tomato) field below:

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Note the chopped up cornstalks, and the chopped up and shredded plastic sheeting, designed to heat this ground up to achieve a similar effect to the one the mound of moss in the image below does on its own.

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Mounds have been shown to dramatically raise the temperature of their environments and are the chosen form of plants in extreme environments. Notice how the mound above has a fellow traveller, a sprouted flowering plant putting out its first leaves. The flat, warm surface of the earth has been amplified, and in this heat, with the water that is trapped in the moss, like this water caught between these pine needles, …

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… the plant has many basic needs fulfilled. Rather than flowing away, the water is held by the tension between two surfaces, at which point its own surface tension, amplified by the support of the surfaces around it, is stronger than gravity.

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The “agricultural soil” that is “the top surface of the earth” is doing no more: the soil has one surface, but beneath that surface all the grains of mineral of which it is formed amplify that surface area many millions of times, and allow that water to bind and defy gravity. It makes a web not that dissimilar from the multi-year complex of this stag horn sumac:

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Plants pick it up from there. Above ground, none of that is visible. It looks like “soil” is a magical mineral and compost mix, not that that is a clumsy approximation of a complex life-giving environment.

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This subterranean story is not much different from the moss story except that the agricultural version of this soil is a simplified, manufactured material. Plant growth is chopped up and tilled into a mineral substrate, along with its plastic heating technology; simple bacterial and fungal growth, feeding off of the petroleum-based fertilizer which has provided nitrogen, essential for plant growth (and otherwise obtainable from the atmosphere, at least in complex living environments) decays that material into water-absorbing cellulose filaments and releases trace minerals, which another generation of plants can use. It’s an intervention.

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It’s not pretty, though, and it’s a very simplified system that, without the application of nitrogen fertilizers or industrially-grown and sown seeds, produces only simplified weed cultures, of little value to anyone.

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It is a new age of the earth. No-one knows what these weed ecologies are doing, because no-one is watching them. Certainly, they are building soil, and that is most true, but what, then is soil? The manufactured, mulch product, such as this desert landscape with unpicked tomatoes?

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No, it’s far more. It is recreating life. Here’s a clue, from the shade under an old sagebrush plant on the hill.

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Soil is a complex environment of fungi and bacteria and other microorganisms. They are the living things that cluster around the roots of plants like these blue bunch wheat grasses…

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… or around the roots of larger plants like this robin-rich cottonwood …

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… and recreate the living soil surface in the complex weather patterns of the underground atmosphere. Yes, there is one. When the air content of soil goes below a certain threshold, through either compaction or water saturation, everything dies. Air is key. After all, these plants couldn’t tolerate drowning.

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Neither can their sisters underground. The atmosphere above the soil is turbulent. In it, water is released from saturation into precipitation and is taken back up again to balance the pressure of the air.

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It’s the same underground, except there the process is expressed through the work of up to 1,000 different species per cubic metre of grassland soil; there, water, clinging to the mineral particles of the soil, attracts minerals, extracted not from the clouds by the sun and the cold, but extracted by microorganisms, and passed onto plant roots, which provide them with oxygen, which they breathe out. The large cousins of these microorganisms on the surface are doing this work, too. There we call it photosynthesis.

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Each leaf is the earth. The earth is a leaf. Soil is not mineral. It is a living process of breath, as is the way leaves breathe the sun and the air and make stone move and bloom.

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~

Next: more on the relationship between photosynthesis, soil atmosphere, plants and the sky.

Soil and Water: Children of the Stars

Within a slope constructed at the angle of gravity, that’s to say at the angle that is the balance between the earth’s spin and the concentration of that spin at it’s core, water flows downhill at a rate balanced to the evaporative potential of the air above it, and the plants (in this case bunchgrass) that represent it (and mine it). When these lines of energy are cut, such as by the Grey Canal (now a walking path) in the centre of the image below, the balance is changed, water pools, and wetland life colonizes it. The seeds drifting on the wind that created the cat tails below are blowing everywhere through the valley. They materialize as a new wetland only when there is a wetland to materialize in, which is dependent on alterations to the balance of pressures between the atmosphere and gravity. The Earth is a child of the stars, and we can harvest their energy, should we watch and pay attention. Soil is the story of this balance. So is life.

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Tomorrow: the beauty of surfaces within the story of soil.