When I was a child, one of the patriotic songs that we learned had the good sense to instill a feeling of love for our nation. This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land must have meant something different to me than it did for others. I saw it as a call for unification of all citizens of this great country. Not only uniting us in place, but in purpose, to protect the Land from all hostile forces. What I have learned over the years is that the vast majority of us do not feel the same way. In fact, it seems to me that most acreages that have been privately held have suffered extreme assault. Rather than defending the integrity of the Land, the overarching goals of many land owners has been to wrest as much yield from their land as possible and their management of their land lies in sharp contrast to the strains of that song taught long ago. In spite of the fact that land management effects us all, it seems, the very act of purchasing land allows one to degrade it at will.
The most amazing step I have ever seen taken toward better management was the rarely seen technique of strip cropping. In essence, this is like a micro scale terracing system. If you have seen it, you will never forget it. What it involves is tilling the land perpendicular to what we skiers know as the fall line. Imagine, each hillside has a contour, lines of equal elevation. If the units of elevation remain the same, in more steep areas contour lines get close together and in flatter areas they may be very far apart. Understanding the lay of the land and the microclimates that develop in different terrain, can be the best place to start if you are going to live in harmony with your locality. Anyone can plop standardized activities onto the face of the Earth wherever they choose, hiring engineers to ameliorate issues that stem from a specific location, but when one learns to become sensitive to the land, it is far more likely that what you choose to do there will compliment what has taken place there for centuries and do the least harm.
Understanding that the land is not just an area covered with dirt, but a living complex of water, soils and organisms teeming for survival is the best first step I know to coming to terms with what we might choose to do on any single parcel. On my own tiny lots I have exponentially increased the microclimates and always strive for creating more niches rather than less for native species. The brush pile, for instance, is often overlooked as a home and shelter for many different critters. Both my lots have one or more. My compost, I jokingly say, goes on tour from time to time. I like to change the location of that organic material digester, to spread the wealth of nutrients that inevitable make their way out from the bottom of the pile. When we moved here, three species made up the majority of life on both lots. Today, we have over twenty four species of edible perennials alone, not to mention the dozens of trees that we have planted and the vegetable gardens that we plant chock full of annuals.
As I have said before, make small changes, look a lot, get to know the land you are seeking to transform and don’t try to do everything at once. Grow organically toward a desired outcome or state rather than trying to buy it right out of the box. The rewards come, sometimes when you least expect it and those who appreciate your work will give you insight that you may not have been able to find any other way. The planet will thank you and you can take heart in knowing that you did an honest day’s work that will reward life on Earth for many many years to come.