Friday, May 1, 2015

Not-so-chocolate Easter Bunny

The cows are out on pasture as of this week, and seem to be enjoying themselves.  I love walking out to meet them in the pasture at first light, with all the birds belting out their morning greetings.  I made my way to the far end of the pasture this morning without finding the cows, and assumed they'd gone to play wild-cow-of-the-wilderness in the small patch of woods they have access to. After searching for them with my headlamp to no avail, I completed a loop around the rest of the pasture, checking the corners where I might have missed them on my way out in the dim light.  Coming full circle, I found them already waiting for me back at the barnyard.  We have sneaky stealth cows, as it turns out.

While milking Penelope, I could hear a bunch of rustling straw in the main loafing area of the barn, which I assumed to be "Ninja" Fritz (our 4 week old calf) tearing around in circles and kicking at imagined foes. Then I heard the screaming, and went to investigate. Burrito the cat had scored herself a baby rabbit and was relentlessly torturing it.

Apparently not hungry enough, Burrito left the bunny to an eager Coon. She's the three-legged cat who became that way while hiding in the tall hay as the horses walked past with the sickle mower one day. Coon carried her prize over to the milking area and made it scream some more before getting down to the crunchy business of eating the cute creature in front of me, starting (as usual) with the delicious head.

In between the screams and crunching, my thoughts turned as they often do to things I've read lately. There's a super El-Nino developing off of our west coast, which is dramatically increasing the die-off of ocean life that depends upon plankton (just about everything, that is). On the plus side, it's also expected to break the 4 year drought in California. On the down side, it's likely to trigger a drought where we live.

Climate change isn't something we might get to experience a few decades from now. It's here, now.  I find it terrifying, and even more terrifying is the complacency and outright denial that grows worse as we watch it wreaking havoc. The same things are happening in Syria, Sao Palo, YemenIran, Ukraine, and California really. It's not just that we're warming, or drying, or seeing unprecedented floods and storms. The problem is that we're losing the stability that has made life possible. We're losing the stability required for agriculture, for forests, and for every living thing.

The drought our farm experienced in 2012 was nothing like the 4 years of drought currently being endured by much of California, but that one year alone cost us several thousand dollars, quickly making the farm a losing proposition. The risk of a similar event in any given year is rising, which turns any farm into a losing bet. Farmers don't just "fail to make a profit" when there's a drought. They lose money, and lots of it. Most are spending hundreds of dollars per acre, every year, for seeds and fuel, and perhaps irrigation. If a crop fails, that's all lost. It doesn't need to fail every year. I'll bet once every third or fourth year would be enough to destroy most farming enterprises and render grocery store shelves bare. After pouring our heart and soul into our own farm for several years now, the thought of it losing viability is gut wrenching.

Look outside your house, and I'll bet you see trees, which are in many ways the lungs of the planet. That makes them just as important as our own lungs. Trees need stability as much as we do.  If the growing conditions that made a forest cease to be reliable, the forest dies. With the rate of change we're seeing, forests won't just move northwards, as many expect. By the time a more southerly species is able to establish, changing conditions will likely kill it too.

A lot of folks are looking to permaculture as the type of agriculture which we should move towards. In a destabilized climate, however, the longer lived species required for permaculture won't do any better (and will likely fare worse) than the annuals that currently comprise the bulk of our agriculture.

But, for now, our farm in spring is beautiful. The breaking buds look like a light green mist settling on the trees. The lambs are bouncing on all fours and chasing chickens that wander past. Our pastures are green and lush, and the cows are fat and happy. For that, I'm thankful.

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