Universal Connections and Brownies
I was invited to the second annual Crocktoberfest, a competition to see who could make the most delicious Crock Pot dish.
Anyone who has sampled my cooking skills or has seen my skinny kids knows I have more of a chance to win the lottery than win the Crocktoberfest, but I just had to try.
Crock Pot Brownies sounded yummy and had the potential to be successful.
As I glanced at the ingredient label on the brownie mix box, strange thought came to me: These brownies directly impact and are impacted by rangelands.
At first I pictured how soil and water and brownie mix interact as cogs in a wheel, but that was not a complete picture. A spider web made a better representation, but it still was not complete. A sphere of webs that moves through space became my mind’s image for the relationships among the universe’s systems.
In other words, a volcano that erupted in the Pleistocene era impacts brownies and our immigration policies today.
The volcano left soil on the earth.
Soil captures and stores rainwater.
Rainwater nourishes plants. A lot of water nourishes fruits, vegetables and alfalfa. A little water nourishes wheat and grasses.
Those plants are harvested for food.
A crew of humans and machines must harvest the food at the right time.
Harvests occur at various times in various places so those crews often migrate from south to north, following the harvest.
Often, those crews come from other countries, especially if they are fruit and vegetable harvest crews.
Then the plants have to be processed into brownie mix and distributed. State and federal policies, roads and bridges, technology and markets influence processing and distribution. The U.S. doesn’t grow chocolate so foreign policy and global markets influence that brownie mix and rangelands, too.
The web of interactions becomes three-dimensional when I think about all of the other interactions – wildlife, climate and weather, carbon storage, photosynthesis – that influence and are influenced by rangelands. Throw in Einstein’s theory of time as another dimension and all of the sudden the sphere of interactions is flying through space.
It’s not every day that I think of brownies and rangelands in the same sentence. They came together after I spent three days talking about the art and science of range management with 20 college students and five brilliant, retired range scientists in eastern Oregon.
The scientists could explain how most of the systems worked, but the students wanted to figure out why we should care. They raised social issues that are impacted by the science on rangelands and throughout agriculture – hunger, living wage labor, impacts of climate change, pollution, and how we will feed 10 billion people by 2050.
Then we talked about the times people have put science to work on the ground, only to discover they sabotaged their well-intentioned goals.
Our range class looked at an example of unintended consequences as we stood around a trough designed to provide water for wildlife in a vast, dry sagebrush rangeland. Well-intentioned people had installed a corrugated rain collection mat that drained the rainwater into an underground cistern. The cistern fed a water trough with a float on it and the entire system was fenced with antelope and mule deer-friendly fence.
Bluebird lovers even nailed nesting boxes to each corner post.
But bluebirds are territorial so only one pair used a nesting box. The other boxes were invaded by other birds that ate the bluebird eggs. That outcome was not in the plan.
The animals found the water, drank their fill, jumped the fence and began to graze. The nearby bitterbrush, a favorite species for mule deer, became over-grazed and weak. That outcome was not in the plan.
The collection mat filled the cistern and kept water in the trough until the animals became dependent on that source of water. Then the area had a six-month drought, the cistern dried up and the animals had to move to a new area or die. That outcome was not in the plan.
One of the students asked if anyone had bothered to study whether the trough benefits outweighed the unintended consequences. Nobody had.
We don’t know the extent of that water trough’s sphere of interactions.
We do know that sphere reaches as far as my Crock Pot Brownies. If I keep getting distracted by modeling the universe’s interactions, I’ll probably burn another batch.