The Gravitationist

Like evolution, gravity is only a theory,
but I feel the truth of both in my bones.

21 February 2007

The burning

Good for the earth? No, but this is the way we do things in the country. When we accumulate a ton of combustible organic material that we cannot efficiently put to other uses, we burn it.

Nature's way would be to let it rot. The wood is infested with insects that would destroy every pine tree on the place in a few years, but so what? That's the natural order of things. The insects would serve their purpose, the deadfall would provide habitat and building material for other cycles of life. To our "civilized" eyes, however, the destruction of our beautiful pines is a grievous wrong, so we interrupt nature's project and commit an aggravated carbon assault upon the earth.

One of our two burn piles has reached crtitical mass. It is deadwood, much of it tunneled by borers, infested with larvae. Turning it into chips for mulch, or converting some to fuel for heating or cooking, would be practical only if I had access to specialized machinery such as a an industrial-grade chipper and a log splitter.

Another option would have been to hire someone with a dump truck to haul the deadwood to an illegal dumping ground. Such places are common in the rural parts of a state where organized recycling is a foreign concept and where the few municipal landfills (usually one per county) will not accept what our city brethren call "yard waste."

The favorite illegal dumping grounds in this part of my county are "over in the bottoms." The bottoms are large areas of scrub and cedar bordering the Arkansas River channel on land owned or controlled by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. It is officially classified as flood plain, acquired by the Corps in the 1970s as a series of locks and dams were being built to prevent devastating floods in the delta country near the Mississippi, and also to create a year-round navigable waterway.

The jakeleg timber cutters know where to take their useless limbs and logs. The wood will lie in the bottoms and rot away undisturbed amongst the other deadfall, mostly rot-resistant cedar snags. The flood control system works so well that the waters never rise high enough to float any of the debris away.

But I don't like the idea. I would rather burn the stuff, just as all my neighbors have been doing. So I read the forecasts and wait for the right day — a week following a rain and a light breeze that will carry stray embers and the grass fire to our pond.

The day comes: Wind forecast at less than five knots out of the west-northwest all day long. The torch is lit, the burn is accomplished. I'll be mowing that spot before summer's end.


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