Nature’s diversity is not a mistake

Published 8:40am Thursday, August 4, 2011

One morning this week I had the pleasure of driving to work when mist hung over the Green River Gorge; the mountains actually glistened.
I could see four mountain ranges. The one closest to me was bright green and the one farthest away to the west was almost blue, with mist between each row of mountains to accent the color.
It occurred to me that it was just about the most beautiful picture a person could look at, and it was mine to enjoy on the way to work.
Why was it so gorgeous when it was all green?
We make a big deal about the fall colors but rarely have I heard someone mention how beautiful the hills are when they are all green.
When it comes to nature, we love to see the different colors and shapes and sizes of the spring and fall. But in the summertime everything is green, in the middle of the seasonal life cycle.
Summer’s loveliness is more subtle; sleepier maybe. The beauty is not so “in your face” as in the spring or fall. It takes looking closer to see that the trees are all different – different sizes, shapes, textures – interspersed with a few blooms here and there. If the trees had all been of the same species and age, the mountainside would have been nice looking but boring.
Yet so many of our mountains are monocultures of loblolly pines.
A monoculture is easier to manage, and far more profitable. When man is in charge of what grows, we choose what is easiest to manage.
Diversity is not on the spreadsheet. Yet it is diversity that gave me that beautiful morning, and it is diversity that sustains our planet.
Now I’m going to make a big leap in reasoning that may be hard to follow.
What would the forest look like if the trees had a planning and zoning board to delegate where certain species would or would not grow?
The board would certainly put certain varieties on the north face slopes where they would thrive without lots of sunlight, and the sun-loving trees like poplars and dogwoods would be on the south facing slopes.
The riparian areas would be zoned for evergreens. Some varieties, such as polonia and tree of heaven, would be zoned out of existence because they are invasive and hardy enough to grow almost anywhere and overpower native species.
Zoning does good things and helps some situations, but there is a cost.
Zoning is man-made, based upon what man thinks would be best at a certain time and a certain place, usually with a pinch of self-preservation mixed in with the “for the greater good and stability” rhetoric.
Diversity does not mix with zoning.
Have you ever seen a crooked, scrawny tree with a certain shape or color that is a work of art?
A responsible planner would have culled that tree before it had a chance to grow.
Thankfully Mother Nature has her own very complicated sort of zoning that allows for diversity beyond our comprehension.
The closer we look at what’s out there, the more there is to see. And it is all beautiful.

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