Thursday, February 21, 2013

Smoke, Haze and Pollen-filled Skies.....


Picture a sky turned grayish-brown.  Now feel your nose getting plugged and your throat scratchy.

For those of us who live in South Texas this is the time of year when we are doused with an array of particles arriving as smoke, fine dust and tiny pollen grains.  Everywhere people are sneezing and coughing.  I imagine the pharmaceutical brigands are gleeful because nose sprays, pills and assorted concoctions are flying off drugstore shelves.  Remember, where there is suffering there is profit.  The smoke seems to arrive earlier each year.  The dust has become endemic as more and more habitat is destroyed.  And pollen counts are exacerbated by ever warming temperatures.  The smoke arrives from southern Mexico and even Central America.  The dust is home grown.  The pollen is a product of short winters and an early springtime.

I keep track of particulate amounts via the Internet, especially 2.5 micron levels.  Those same Internet sources provide forecasts for the smoke arriving as hazy clouds when, far to the south of us, indigenous people slash and burn their fields as they have done for centuries.  The only problem is that population numbers have grown meteorically.  Flash back a thousand years and the numbers of agrarian farmers were few.  Today they number in the millions.  Add to that the ongoing droughts that plague much of those regions and the increased numbers of pests resulting from warming temperatures.  It used to be that an area could be left alone for decades before the people came back to burn off the brush and plant their crops.  But today the land is continuously ravaged.  A few years back the president of Mexico was asked about the burning that sends murky clouds north every year and he said, “Well, it’s what the people do.”  In other words, he offered no solutions.  A political copout or a figurative throwing up of the hands; either way, nothing was done and nothing seems to be planned.  So now the smoke is arriving.  Back in 1998 the smoke was so thick it wafted all the way north to the Upper Midwestern United States.  My oldest son was going through basic training in Oklahoma at the time.  He said the smoke (thousands of miles from its source) made it hard to breathe.  In South Texas the air quality got so bad people were told to stay inside.

Decades of land destruction in South Texas (Read my books, Adios to the Brushlands and Keepers of the Wilderness from Texas A&M University Press) has left huge swaths of former brushland naked to erosion.  When the winds blow the land is literally lifted into the air.  In places where dry-land farming has been employed the soil levitates in the sky like a brown curtain.  The curtain drags overland where it clogs towns and cities as if someone had dumped millions of buckets of dirt on everything.  In fact, that is literally what happens.  And then, as if the smoke and dust were not enough, the pollen counts go wild.  On the pollen-count meter the color becomes dark red indicating extremely high amounts of pollen are in the air.

Now here’s my point, folks.  If you are reading this then more than likely you are a nature person.  You might be a hiker or camping enthusiasts.  Perhaps you are a bushcraft aficionado.  Lots of people who read this blog are all of the above and they are also birders and native plant lovers.  I received an email today from someone who longs to experience the sort of quiet I wrote about in my post, “There’s nothing wrong with quiet.”  I get mail every day from people telling me about their part of the country or of the world.  All of them share an affinity for nature.  We are, in fact, a sort of brother and sisterhood.  What matters to us is the land.  I’ve written several times about saving our lands.  For us this means preserving the land so that we (and future generations) can partake of its beauty.  We also know that it encompasses more than mere beauty.  The health of our planet, and thus all the living things on this earth, depend on nature being preserved.  So then let’s all work together to save the land.  We may have different ways of accomplishing things and that is our strength.  In other words, our diversity makes us strong.  Some of you might join a conservation organization.  Others might write letters.  Still others might become active in a local issue relating to preserving nature.  But the bottom line is that we all do something.  If we don’t then the skies will get browner: the air will become more polluted; the climate will get even more chaotic.  Folks, it’s not as if we get a second chance to run this experiment.  Isn’t it more prudent, logical, indeed rational to err on the side of actually getting out and doing something to save the land?

Here are some websites you might find interesting.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (Air Quality Forecast)

Air Now site

Directory of Air Pollution Sites

EPA Air Pollution Site

American Lung Association

Soil Erosion Organizations

World Allergy Associations

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