GUEST POST: This is Nikki Hill’s GoFundMe campaign for her “Lithium Lands Fellowship,” a month-long botanical survey she will be undertaking with young ecologists in places where lithium mining is proposed. The fellowship is being co-sponsored by Groundwork, the non-profit I will be working with this year in Paonia, Colorado. I encourage everyone who can to donate to this campaign.For an in-depth description of a survey like this she did at Thacker Pass last year, see her article at The Esperanza Project: “Botany as archaeology, to save a sacred site from a lithium mine.”
(The following is a draft of the Introduction for the book-in-progress that Nikki Hill & I are working on, tentatively entitled, “Stop Blaming the Messengers: A critical look at ‘invasive plant’ theory and dogma.”)
The two of us are plant lovers. We love all plants, wild and domestic, ancient and ephemeral, native and introduced. We have dedicated years of our lives to propagating and protecting botanical life as farmers, wildtenders and advocates.
We are deeply saddened by civilization’s war against the earth: the pillaging of the forests for logging, the mountains for mining, the valleys for agriculture, the steppes for ranching, the rivers for irrigation and power, the oceans for over-fishing, and now the deserts for “green energy” infrastructure.
We have witnessed brutal clear-cuts, cow-trampled wild food gardens, and hellish open-pit mines. We have also slept under old growth Fir and Cedar, sown the seeds of Yampah and Biscuitroot, and hiked back country among Mesquite and Prickly Pear. The joys of fragrant foliage, vibrant flowers, juicy berries and starchy roots, ripe seeds, exuberant seedlings, and furrowed bark are unparalleled by anything from a factory.
GUEST POST, by NIKKI HILL
“Sagebrush sea” is an endearing term that describes the vast high desert steppe lands of western North America. Rolling hills enveloped in silver green shimmer and sparkle like waves in the mid-day sun. This sea that spans the wide valleys and crests over plateaus connects the peaks and ridges from the shores of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada to the Greater Rocky Mountains. It is vast, indeed like an ocean. Nowhere does it ripple more like a sea than in the Great Basin, which coverrs most of Nevada and half of Utah, held by the Wasatch range to the east and the Sierra Nevada to the West, spilling out into the Mojave to the south and well into eastern Oregon in the north.
Many of the desert plants do indeed resemble ocean creatures: coral-like cactus and urchin-like succulents. Although it is commonly thought of as desolate and emptiness, the high desert steppe is incredibly abundant and alive. 350 species of wildlife and insects depend just on sagebrush herself.
The sagebrush sea is one of the largest continuous landscape types in North America, but only 5% of the area receives protection at the federal level, making it the least protected landscape in the USA.
This sea has been speaking to me for some time now. Calling me back, holding my attention, inviting me to see the patterns within it. In 2009, I was first introduced to the various First Food plants of the high desert, the traditional staple-food plants, and the reciprocal relationships that have fostered them for thousands of years. I have dedicated the majority of my time to following these plants since 2013, spending time camping and interacting with them, learning how to tend them, gathering and planting their seeds and picking up their stories as I wander. I have become endeared to them, bonded to their continuance in heart and hand.
I just finished reading Sonia Shah’s “The Next Great Migration” [Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020], and found it to be truly eye-opening. She writes about various migrations of humans, animals and plants throughout time, and highlights many recent discoveries that have yet to disseminate into the culture at large, or indeed throughout the scientific world (which tends to silo knowledge through specialization). For me, the theme that stood out the most was that Western culture operates on the assumption that the planet is stable, even though it isn’t. Early on, she refers to this as the “Christian paradigm of an unchanging, orderly world.” That is, God created the world as it is, and put all the animals and plants where they are now. It’s all been the same since the Eighth Day.
Nowadays, we know this isn’t true. Or do we?
On June 2nd, I interviewed Amy Harwood of Lobos of the Southwest about her organization’s advocacy for the Mexican Gray Wolf, and particularly for its reintroduction into the wild. You can listen to the full interview here.
Amy: My name is Amy Harwood and I’m currently the coordinator for Lobos of the Southwest, which is a joint outreach and education initiative of several different environmental organizations and individuals who live in the southwest US. The idea is to be working collectively to elevate the advocacy of Mexican Gray Wolves in the effort to recover them, and also to elevate the idea that wolves belong here, because of the reality that they were removed so fully from this area. There’s an interest to make sure that, along with our legal tools and angles, and along with political pressure, [we’re] doing a lot of basic outreach and education about wolves in the area, so hopefully by the next generation, it’s more of an accepted thing that wolves exist in the southwest US.
I’ve worked in environmental organizing for a long time and have been spending time in Arizona for a number of years and took on this role almost two years ago now. I’ve been a longtime fan of wolves. Like a lot of advocates, I find myself constantly pulled back to the species because they are so remarkable. Also, politically, it’s a very compelling species to work on for a number of reasons. They have a pretty compelling parallel to a lot of other points in our social evolution as the United States and as the Southwest. You can really see how, when something happens around acceptance or rejection of wolves in the wild, it’s often pretty tied to a lot of other social things that are evolving or happening. So in terms of species and wildlife protection, wolves always bring a very important story…
The term “native plant” has become a common one, and many people probably assume that the definition is clear cut. However, like many other seemingly simple designations, that’s not the case.
Whether a given plant is considered “native” where it is found growing is dependent on the interpretation of the interrelation of three factors: time, place and human involvement.
So, in the United States, a plant is generally considered native only if it grew here before European colonization. On the East Coast, that’s the 1500s and in California, that’s 1769. Plants introduced since then, whether deliberately or by accident, are labeled “non-native,” “introduced,” “exotic,” or in some cases, “invasive.”
In the UK, some would set the date for ~8000 years ago, when rising sea levels made those landmasses islands.
On Friday, April 3rd, Finisia Medrano—also known as “Tranny Granny”—died in Nevada. She was a well-known, or rather, notorious personality in rewilding / wildtending / primitive skills circles. Her name was praised and cursed, but even her critics had to acknowledge her experience and expertise when it came to Native American first foods and how to cultivate them in the wild. She inspired not one but three chapters in my book, “The Failures of Farming & the Necessity of Wildtending.”
The mark Granny made on the world is undeniable and will bear fruit for years to come. Her labors have been picked up by many others, especially among the younger generations, who are hungry for change. I count myself lucky to have spent time with her multiple times.
I originally wrote this article in September 2012, after meeting her earlier that year.
This Spring my farming partners and I found ourselves landless. For the past eight years, we had been actively exploring a variety of forms and practices of small-scale agriculture and restoration, including bicycle-based urban farming, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), plant-breeding and seed-saving, staple crops (grains, legumes and oilseeds) and the cultivation and processing of medicinal herbs (no, not pot). Last year I wrote an article, “Who Will Feed The People?”, discussing the challenges to small-scale agriculture in the United States, such as lack of equipment, knowledge, financial resources, and markets; the polluted wasteland left behind by conventional farming; increasingly volatile and unpredictable weather patterns brought by Climate Change; and, last but not least, the social barriers: people of the U.S. are by and large uninterested in significant changes to the socio-economic status quo, and resist cutting edge projects. It was the social factor — which can and did embody a profound hostility to Truth — that brought down our own farming efforts, at least for now.
With sadness and anger, we put our tools and seeds in storage, found foster homes for our perennial medicinals, and raised traveling cash by selling our home (a school bus) and an old but reliable Volvo. After tearfully parting with our beloved farm cat, two of us hit the road in an old pickup to see what we could see.
This journey took us to Eastern Oregon to seek out Finisia Medrano, a.k.a. “Tranny Granny”, a Shoshone-trained elder who knows the ways of “The Hoop”, an ancient tradition of food gathering and cultivation that sustained the Native Americans and the land in good health for thousands of years until being violently disrupted by the European Invasion. The Hoop is not dead but, as we were to see, is severely threatened.
I’m super pleased that I got to be a guest on Kelly Moody’s “Ground Shots” Podcast!
From Kelly’s show notes, we talked about:
- the pros and cons of permaculture
- wild-tending as not just using knowledge from the past but adapting to a changing world
- some connections between patriarchy, organized religion and slavery
- the blurry line between gatherer-hunter life-ways and small scale agriculture
- horticulture vs. agriculture
- some history of agriculture, the negative impacts of agriculture on health and culture
- Kollibri’s various books and zines on farming, wild-tending, ‘invasive’ plants, and place-based travel
- questioning victorian ideas of gatherer-hunter culture and the transition to agriculture
- the importance of an interdisciplinary approach and looking at things from many angles, avoiding ‘silo’ing when possible
- the importance of practicing small scale agriculture with the fragmented ecology and culture we have right now
- the racist origins of wilderness, national parks and public lands, and the continued racism in these institutions or ideas
- what to expect from Kollibri’s new podcast ‘Voices For Nature and Peace’
I arrived in the Gila River valley in New Mexico in mid-September to stay at a friend’s property for a few months. Shortly afterwards, migrating Sandhill Cranes began showing up too. I heard them before I saw them, and my first reaction was, “What the heck is that?”
If you haven’t heard the calls of a Sandhill Crane before, you might not immediately identify them as coming from birds. They have been variously described as “loud, rattling bugle calls,” a “deep chesty squawk” and “kar-r-r-r- o-o-o.” I’ll take a stab at the challenge and offer: “a moody trilling trumpet.”
These helped jog my memory as I was writing this piece (since the cranes here don’t vocalize on command) but they all seriously lack compared to the real thing. They might capture the sound but not the spirit.
The first time a group of them flew overhead, I couldn’t help but to stop and stare in awe. Their silhouettes were certainly striking—with necks extended forward and legs stretched out behind—but it was their voices that really took my breath away. I will offer the words “haunting,” “otherworldly” and “preternatural,” though they all fall short. I felt like I was hearing the echoes of dinosaurs (and given birds’ evolutionary heritage, I guess I literally was).
But of course there is nothing alien about these creatures or their noises. It is I, raised in cities by a dominator culture, who doesn’t belong here, or rather, who doesn’t know my place, or how to find it. Such is the tragic estrangement of Western Civ.
This is part 2 of a two-part series. Read part 1: “Rare Wildflower vs. Mining Company.”
In part 1 of this series, I told how Tiehn’s Buckwheat (Eriogonum tiehmii) is a rare species found only on ten acres of land in Nevada and how its existence is threatened by the mining activities of Ioneer, an Australian Company. I also discussed the efforts by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) to save the species by petitioning the federal government and the state of Nevada to give it legal protection. Additionally, I provided information for the reader to support the Center’s efforts.
What I didn’t mention is what Ioneer is hoping to extract at the site: Lithium carbonate and boric acid.
Though a variety of industrial applications utilize lithium carbonate, demand is rising primarily due to its use in batteries, especially for electric vehicles. In other words, Ioneer’s operation could be considered part of the “green” or “clean” energy industry. Indeed, they make use of one of the monikers themselves: “Lithium is a strategic element linked directly to high technology and clean energy. It has been described as the new oil as it is a key component for batteries fueling the electric vehicle revolution.”
But “green” and “clean” don’t mean “no impact.” All extractive activities have destructive impacts on the natural environment, including lithium mining. Some would argue that fossil fuels are the worst, and that anything is better—that a lesser cost is preferable to a greater cost. Yet in this case, what is the cost?