Low flying helicopters and guns going off have woken me each morning for the last few weeks. It’s felt like living in a war zone. This battle is being fought by cherry farmers in Eastern Washington trying to save their crops from rain damage. Like the unsuccessful battle to halt the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico it is a jarring reminder of the fragility of our connection with the environment.
Unseasonal cold weather and persistent soaking rains have been unexpected visitors in the High Desert of Eastern Washington. Hay, asparagus and cherry crops have all been affected. At four o’clock each morning for the last several weeks the sound of helicopters hovering over the nearby cherry orchards has startled me. Their rotator blades create a wind storm intended to blow water off the cherries. Water collecting where the cherry fruit and its stem meets are what causes the cherries to split open making them unmarketable. As if in defiance of nature, the drone of the copters is a desperate and expensive measure to save what was supposed to be a good crop this year.
Some farmers believe it is worth the effort. One farmer told me that farming has heightened his respect for the forces of nature and the environment. He told me that his role is to do the best possible job of the things he can control – like pruning, irrigating and growing organic crops – and that “It’s not possible to mess with nature.” It is a philosophy quite different from those who believe we can control nature.
It is a long journey from the Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington to the Gulf of Mexico and the devastation being wrought from the arrogant and reckless lack of concern for solutions that BP has displayed. Or is it?
One farmer suggested to me that his decades of growing crops had only intensified his commitment to protecting the resources of the land. “You love this work and the land and you want to be passing it on for generations to come” he said. “It’s not about short term gain” he added. He went on to wonder out loud how the oil covering the waters of the Gulf will affect condensation and therefore impact rainfall thousands of miles away. It was not a stretch for this sporting fisherman to muse about the fragile ecosystem of the ocean waters.
As he and I stood outside talking on a very atypical wet evening in the High Desert of Washington, he revealed a profound understanding of the fragile ecology of all of life and the environment. This no-nonsense farmer conveyed a reverence that has come from decades of stewarding the desert earth. He certainly doesn’t mess with the environment.
The helicopters have stopped their low-flying mission over the cherry orchards because the rains have ceased. The guns continue to go off, used by farmers trying to scare the birds hungering after the delicacy of cherries.
My conversations have made me wonder about the seeming divide that exists between some oil company executives displaying little regard for the ecology of the environment and the people of the Gulf Coast whose livelihoods depend on maintaining that delicate balance. Or is that a false and cheaply convenient fault line?
Perhaps the truth is more nuanced. The “us” and “them” dividing lines that are politically convenient to politicians and environmentalists are not much of a solution. They might serve a purpose in riling people up over an environmental tragedy. Even among the cherry farmers working the same High Desert lands there are gradations of opinion on what it means to care for the earth and the crops.
My farmer friend embodies an innate understanding of the delicate ecology of life of which we are but a part. The low flying copters and the guns going off in the orchards might be a metaphor for the battle over an ethic of respecting the environment and our part of it. Perhaps that’s the larger question about not messing with the environment?
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