Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Judging a Book by it's Cover: How Mankind & Nature have both gotten the shaft from the beginning

On that note regarding nature, first of all you need to know that for successful detailed observation of Nature it does NOT require a Scientific Lens. You do NOT need to be Credentialed. You do NOT need Alphabet Soup Intitials behind your name on some business card. Same thing when it comes to making judgements about people, you don't need to be a psychologist. The old saying, "Don't judge a book by it's cover," is a metaphorical phrase that means one shouldn't prejudge the worth or value of something (or persons) by its outward appearance alone. In other words people will often not take the time to open a book to find out it's true contents if the cover & title do not have that eye candy appeal. Humans have done this for centuries and the result has brought us our present world of disunity & intense hatred which has further resulted unintended consequences of our present planet's degraded natural world. Yup, we are at a crossroads of where our planet's natural world is collapsing at an ever increasing rate because living things are being judged for the same reasons that people throughout history judged by other people from the very beginning. As imperfect human beings we all do it. We can't help it. We're predominantly visual creatures. Much like the advertisement on any product's wrapper in which consumables are packaged, this appeal to the eye not only powerfully affects what interests us, but also how we react when we open and view the contents we find inside. Scary isn't it ? 😟
Here's where often Nature falls Flat in the Eye Candy Appeal Department

The Hidden Life of Trees - Peter Wohlleben

Years ago in the early 1970s while in High School, I became intrigued with how various plant ecosystems functioned aside from all those narratives stated in all the science-based textbooks in my Ornamental Horticulture class. What I noticed was that people basically chose plants based on looks, colour, fragrance, food source, money making ventures, etc. Still there were 1000s of others out there that I reasoned must serve some type of useful function & purpose within the environment. Below here I stumbled upon a list somebody jotted down about important qualities for people to cultivate which they considered necessary for getting at the truth about how the natural world really works. Mainly it takes a lot of patience and careful observation in arriving at the truth which may even may lead one to alter their previous worldview on matters regarding Nature.

Illustration - Keri Smith

The one thing you have to appreciate is that Nature has basically been successful for countless 10s of 1000s of years, long before the 1950s Green Revolution where scientists insisted mankind could be saved from itself if they only gave unquestioning obedience and allegience to the prevailing Scientific Orthodoxy. Most of my Agricultural & Ornamental Horticultual textbooks back in the early 1970s were heavily influenced and inspired by the well known agro-chemical 1950s green revolution introduced by the former industrial munitions manufacturing corporate giants of World War II (both Allies & Axis Powers), now using those same bomb making chemicals for peace time agricultural business interests who claimed they only wanted to feed the world. Think I'm kidding ??? Look at this memory lane video from this 1977 Chevron commercial where they reminded us of just how harsh and unforgiving nature really was and without the help if industrial science to save us from an unforgiving planet, we had no chance.

Most of that technology was based on gross ignorance of how Nature actually works out in the wild. Pause and consider, for countless 10s of 1000s of years our planet's natural world operated like a well oiled finely tuned machine. What happened later was a little thing called human ignorance & arrogance (you can also throw in greed). Amazingly what Chevron did was use a soft warm reassuring voice of a well known actor & voice-over artist named, Mason Adams. You may remember Mason Adams was the Character Actor that starred on the TV Show "Lou Grant'. He was also the famous voice of those Smuckers Jams and Jelly TV commercials. Remember, "With a name like Smuckers, it has to taste good" ??? And people believed it and responded by throwing their hard earned money at what was advertised. He was also the famous voice behind that 73 AMC Matador Dealer Film or 64 Buick Wildcat Commercial. Indeed, so comfortable and reassuring was Mason Adams' voice, that back in the 1950s/60s that same warm Mason Adams' voice could get you to believe that Chesterfield Cigarettes were good for you and millions followed that lead much to the unintended consequences of bad health and early death. It's all marketing folks and Science has been good at marketing junk for decades and now we have Climate Change as a result. Most of the green people won't admit that of course, but it's true. Bad Science led us all here. Let's fast forward and visit another subject known as "Plant Blindness."
Plant Blindness: Why Scientists Who Know Nature Are Becoming an Endangered Species
Image by Martin Cothran

Back in September of 2018 of last year, the Memoria Press published an article by Martin Cothran dealing with the subject of plant blindness. The article was interesting in that it revealed far too many college students taking plant science courses are incapable of actual identification of plants (trees, shrubs, etc). But instead these students are studying plants from a commercialized applications perspective. Nobody, really seems interested in the plants and how they function and what purpose they serve within any ecosystem anymore. Like the illustration on the right, today's average student has those racehorse blinkers on which prevent them from having a peripheral view. One of the best quotes in that article was this one below:
"Not only are there fewer university botany programs, but those who graduate from them may not be well versed in plant identification. The cutting edge of plant science, which has commercial applications, is molecular. Students and universities are following the significant money." 
One of the most demonized Chaparral Plants in California - Chamise (Adenostoma fasticulatum)
Photo - Gabi McLean (Eaton Canyon)
In the historic past, many ancient peoples were very familiar with a great variety of plants. Many Native Americans for example well knew which plants they could derive potions, pultices, and/or poisons, and eventually most European would have learned and recognised these same plants for food, medicine, etc. By comparison, research has shown that most modern day people can’t even name more than a few wild flowers. This is sad because it means people no longer take the time and patience to find out what good and beneficial qualities many plants serve either for us or their value and purpose within any ecosystem. Of course there’s a name which has been created for this inability to notice or recognise plants in one’s own environment, it's called “plant blindness.” Most of Earth's population resides in major large cities and urban centers, so generally speaking most city dwellers over time have been separated from nature. So there is very strong  disconnect between humans and the environment, and we’re basically blind to the natural world around us. This is further exacerbated by the fact that humans spend less time outdoors in favour of their addiction to electronic devices. 

Fathers are supposed to take the lead

Without giving a long list of the so-called ugly plant examples where people have judged certain plants worthless based solely on outward appearances, let's just take one classic example from California where I am from, Adenostoma fasciculatum (Chamise or Greasewood). This plant is often admittedly rugged and rangy looking, hence not even on a choice list of garden ornamentals. The second common name given to this plant, "Greasewood," is meant as a derogatory term describing it's explosive flare up in the event of wildfires because of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present within it's woody stems. Of course what many people forget is that most all plants do burn ferociously under the right insanely windy weather conditions. Look at the tropical Amazon rainforests.  Who would have thought wet humid tropical plants would easily go up in smoke so ferociously ??? Many also consider Chamise to be competitive towards other more desirable plants even considering it invasive in it's own native habitat, often because it dominates the wild landscape where it is native. In other words none of the desirable plants can get a foothold because of Greasewood's presence. This is totally false of course and I have my own personal experience with the plant to testify to that.

Image - Mine 2015
First, from a purely observational viewpoint, I've seen California Holly, Parry Pinyon, Coulter & Jeffrey Pines including both Cuyamaca & Tecate Cypress on steep southern slope exposures in direct sunlight exposure thrive where the plant community is dominated by Chamise. I found that curious and odd decades ago when I first noticed this in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs, California, because I also at one time viewed Chamise as an aggressor. But apparently it's not an aggressor as much as a facilitator of other plants ability to survive. One other remarkable thing about Chamise is that it will grow where most other plants will not. It has an incredibly deep root system (several meters deep). This is important for erosion control. Chamise's deep root systems will penetrate fractured rock and facilitate hydraulic life & redistristribution of water to other plants during the summer hot months and pump excess water into subsoils during the rainy season to be used later and shared with other plants if conditions are right. AND during acceptionally wet period events, this normally Endo-Mycorhizal host plant will become Ecto-Mycorrhizal by sending out chemical messages through it's root exudates to alert ectomycorrhizal fungi to colonize it's roots which will in turn help all oak and pine seedlings to pioneer and colonize into chaparral plant communities where they did not exist previously. The seeds themselves being incredibly heavy were placed there by the common ScrubJay. Same with it's relative the Redshank or Ribbonwood (Adenostoma sparsifolium) chaparral shrub. Major changes in one's worldview is drastically needed here.
A little thing called "Plant Blindness" all begins with Man's judgement of fellow Man
The majority of mankind are traveling on a broad and spaceous motorway where fast paced lifestyle, impatience and lack of being content dominate. Like literal motorways or freeways, these expressways were purposefully created to replace what was viewed as slow, outdated & old fashioned. Yet the old curvey and twisting two lane highway never offended the land. Rather they moved with the landscape, around obstacles rather than blasting through them. Yes, it was slower and took more time, but you got more out of the travel through adventure. Mankind in general needs to slow waaaay down and ditch the broad and spaceous Motorway and opt for the narrow and curving cramped one. We hear today about all these paradigm shifts and progressive movements, but in actuality these are nothing more than the same old recycling of failed ideas dressed up to look enlightened and sophisticated. Our world continues on a sharp decline. Getting back to that laundry list above on how to be a better explorer, let's just look at that first jotted down point. 
#1 Always be looking (notice the ground beneath your feet)
Photo is mine from 2013 (south of Julian, CA)

I love this first suggestion of always be looking at the ground beneath your feet as you walk or hike. It took some years before I really started doing this more and more. A lot of that habit came from slowing down, observing and later doing more research about things that interested me. The photo above is of a Pisolithus tinctorius truffle or mushroom I saw on a small game trail in the Chaparral brush habitat off Hwy 79 south of the town of Julian at the Desert Viewpoint Overlook. Had I not slowed down decades ago and taken time to gain experience and do research, the intuitiveness to spot what was hidden in plain sight, this truffle would have gone unnoticed. Like the average person on a hike, I probably would have passed over this truffle thinking it was nothing more than another stone. But lo & behold I was able collect a large sack of dried curred PT Mycorrhizal truffles whose chocolate spore powder I would use for injection into my landscape on host trees back down in El Cajon. Below here in the 2nd photo of the same truffle, but I've cleared away the debris from the truffle to reveal it's true nature in the second photograph as compared to image above where it's almost camoflaged.

Photo is mine from 2013 (south of Julian, CA)

image - Wikipedia
It took me a long time to develop deep appreciation for what some call the Dog Turd Fungus (Pisolithus tinctorius) you see above. I mean it's not the most photogenic of Mushrooms or truffles. Not as popular as the Christmas mushroom icon & Mario Bros Game energy mushroom known as Amanita muscaria or more commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita pictured to the right. This popular forest mushroom is known for it's distinctive eye candy appearance, known for bright bright red (sometimes bright yellow) with white spots, and for their hallucinogenic properties. Here in Sandinavia where I now live, the Saami & Siberian Shamans originally dressed up in Santa Claus type outfits & used this drug trip inducing mushroom to get in touch with the spirit world. Hence the reason for so many ancient myths continuing to live on.

But getting back to the uglier Pisolithus tinctorius truffle, it too has some remarkable qualities. Although not being as pretty as other mushrooms, it has amazing  purpose and function in forested ecosystems where they are found. In the High Desert Mountain ranges and Chaparral plant communities of California where I come from, a healthy plant community and forested ecosystem thrives where these fungi are present. Why ???

Image - UGA Pecan Extension (Lenny Wells)

Image -  Mike's Fab Shop
Shouldn't take a genius to see the advantages of a symbiotic fungi colonized on the root system of a specific host. PT Mycorrhizae will increase water and nutrient uptake for it's host tree by anywhere from 200% to 1000% depending on the health of the system. Of course in turn the tree feeds if sugars manufactured through photosynthesis. I've provided in the past when writing about this very subject with an illustration of the performance enhancing qualities of exhaust headers on a 1960s muscle car compared to the plain old stock factory exhaust system. Take the example of exhaust headers on this racing dragster in the photo on the right. They eliminate backpressure and increase horsepower with the industry’s finest selection of air-pushing, muscle-pumping performance exhaust headers compared to common factory showroom stock engine exhaust system. That's what the lowly Dog Turd fungus does for a Pine, Oak, Cottonwood, Eucalyptus or Pecan tree. Like our own gut bacteria, they can process and refine mineral nutrients from the surrounding soil which are locked up in a physical form not available to a tree on it's own. They can also send chemical messages into the tree to boost the immune system. I save money when installing an urban landscape or in habitat restoration by rejecting science-based synthetic chemicals for this natural option which has worked for countless 1000s of years. This is the same PT Mycorrhize I mentioned above which will colonize Chamise roots in exceptionally wet periods allowing forest trees to increase by pioneering into dense chaparral cover. When the fungal grid is present and pine nut or oak acorn germinates, it's taproot will immediately connect to the fungal grid establishing the trees and eventually replacing the chaparral 100s of years later. This understanding did not come over night and it certainly was not enhanced by the truffle's rather drab appearance. But seriously, if you saw at first glance this basket of Pisolithus tinctorius (dog turd) truffles, what would be your first impression minus all the knowledge we now possess as to their real worth ??? 😐

Pisolithus tinctorius photo by Tanya Riedel

Without all that knowledge of all these trees, shrubs and fungi you lose so much value for practical application in restoration work, landscape installation, etc. What is even more amazing is that even the credentialed people who champion the cause for Chaparral plant ecosystems don't even discuss this phenomena. Mainly it's mostly politics which offers no value in understanding our natural world. And yet researchers have written about it for decades, but to be fair, most environmental organizations push politics over education and that too is killing this planet. This very same thing works when it comes to judging people for their real worth by taking time and getting to know them, irrespective of their race, colour, ethicity, tribe, clan, culture, language, economic social background, etc.
Let's take some simple Illustrations from Familiar Situations that can actually Teach
Image - Pebble Shore Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana
Think back when you were a kid out on a camping trip or on a day picnic outing with family and friends along a lake or seashore. What was it that motivated you to chose the rocks you collected ? Was it the rock's colour, shape, size or pattern ? 😍 Whatever it was, it start with the natural eye candy visual of outward appearance. And as in the case of the photo above, there are so many options to choose from.
Image - The Rock Shed

But what about these stones in the photo above ??? Based on outward appearance, would any of you chosen any of these ??? You and I both know almost no one would ever collect such rocks when out on a hiking adventure, unless of course they had acquired knowledge of the true value of such rocks. And right there is the biggest problem. Actually taking the time and effort needed in getting to know the truth about any subject is looked upon as laborious and boring.
Animation - WikiHow

These rocks of course are called Geodes. Here is the Wikipedia explanation of what Geodes are.
"Geodes (derived from the Greek word "γεώδης" meaning "Earth like") are geological secondary formation within sedimentary and volcanic rocks. Geodes are hollow, vaguely circular rocks, in which masses of mineral matter (which may include crystals) are secluded."
Since I come from the desert (volcanic) regions of the Southwestern USA, I learned about Geodes and hunted for them since I was a kid in the middle 1960s. That's because somebody older took the patience and time to teach my friends and I such things. I am very familiar with many different types, but only because I learned from someone else who was experienced and taught me about them. Of course when it comes to collecting nothing is certain, so you need to be patient by taking a rock hammer and chisel or rock saw and very carefully opening and looking inside to reveal the true contents of the rock or stone.

Image -
So what is inside ? Could be a number of beautiful colours and patterns. Every geode is unique and different. Many are hollow while others solid. But in most cases beautiful patterns and colours emerge. Hollow geodes have various beautiful crystal formations known as Amethyst. You may even recognize many of these types of rocks from your past when you saw beautiful bookends on someone's bookshelf, although you may not have known at that time they were called geodes or where they came from.
Photo - Marie Douce

The whole point of this post is to illustrate how all things can have real value and worth though not immediately revealed by it's outward appearance. Mankind's mistreatment of each other has also been a reflection on why they fail miserably to hold value on all things in the wild. Many things in Nature have suffered because they were not immediately eye pleasing or perhaps no monetary value could be found in them, hence this is where biodiversity suffers and monocultures are desired. The effects on the planet have been devestating as a result. So who's responsible for a young person's appreciation of nature and fellow human beings ??? Environmentalists ??? Social Justice Warriors ??? Churches ??? Government or Public Schools ???
It's a Parent's responsibility to instill appreciation for Nature at an early age. Not the State's, not the Public School's, not some militant non-profit radical environmentalist group. It's all on Parents.
Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (Credit: Getty)

It is important to get children involved with plants early, such as on nature walks, like the one shown here at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew in the United Kingdom. There is a biblical example which illustrates this beautifully. You don't have to believe in the bible to get the point here. The nation of Israel wanted a King so that they could be like all the other nations around them. They in effect wanted to reject theocracy (God rule) in favour of democracy or human rule. The almost impossible task of choosing was given to the Prophet Samuel. Notice how that went at 1 Samuel 16:6-7:
6 As they came in and he saw E·liʹab, he said: “Surely here before Jehovah stands his anointed one.” 7 But Jehovah said to Samuel: “Do not pay attention to his appearance and how tall he is, for I have rejected him. For the way man sees is not the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes, but Jehovah sees into the heart.”
Humans of course do not possess supernatural abilities when it comes to sizing up another person and determining who and what they are as far as worth as to character. We have to work harder at that, but that's the point, it takes time and energy on our part to get to know what qualities another person posesses as to their true value and worth or whether association with them should be rejected altogether. Ponder over this info the next time you make a judgement call towards another human being or something else out there in the natural world. 😉