A great primer on rangeland science as well as scientific hubris more generally.
I had a sunny lunchtime meeting with Nathan Sayre when I was in Berkeley a few weeks ago, and ordered his new book as soon as I got back. While I regularly devour fiction within days, rarely do I do it with non-fiction, which can be more of a plod with pencil in hand. But Sayre’s volume was a good read, as well as being a book that I needed to read. I have stumbled somewhat into rangeland research, through my post-doc in Australia, and now my new research on livestock grazing, including fieldwork in the Falklands. But I don’t have a rangelands background. Sayre’s book thus played a remedial role for me, as well as placing some of the scientific chauvinism that I have experienced in a broader context.
Ever the geographer (Sayre leads the UC Berkeley Department of Geography), the recurring theme is one of scale, including the poor fit between the scale of rangeland science (i.e. experimental plots and fields) and the scale of rangeland management. Moreover, however, he brings a critical perspective to unexamined assumptions and justifications in the study and administration of rangelands: governance can drive management priorities of land (e.g. overgrazing is great for fire control); that no commons can be sustainable; that equilibrium is inexorable and singular; or, that fences are better than shepherds. Sayre also illustrates the hubris of ‘command and control’ approaches to landscape, such as species eradication.
Allan Savory gets perhaps surprisingly little attention, but what is given is insightful. Sayre contrasts the grassroots though fringe popularity of Savory’s holistic management, which proceeds despite the alarm of range scientists, with the forceful, colonial and paternalistic division of rangelands in places like Africa (that can lead to violence e.g. when drought pushes former pastoralists against imposed fencelines):
Holistic management’s popularity raises the possibility that a scientifically flawed theory–if willingly embraced rather than imposed–may in some cases induce improvements in range management for reasons that cannot be–or at least have not yet been–reducible to controlled experimental testing (p. 208, italics in original)
Sky over Goose Green, enroute to the workboat, November, 2016.
When Alexandra Harris describes, in Weatherland, the slow introduction of real skies in English paintings, leading up to the cloud obsession of Constable in 1821-22, I cannot help but think of the Falkland Islands. My first trip I spent looking at the landscape, at large scales and small. This time, I was captivated by skies. As any visitor to the prairies knows, a lack of trees makes for big skies. But nothing is quite like the skies of the Falklands. No filters needed, or photographic skill. (It was hard to choose road trip music to suit such majesty, but I settled on London Grammar’s 2013 If You Wait.) The experience begged the question of where ‘landscape’ – my chosen research topic – ends: these skies are likely as fundamental to local identity as terrestrial (or marine) properties. A small sample of my pictures follows, in which land plays a very minor role indeed.
Epic skies over burnt farmland in the north of West Falkland, November, 2016.
Entering Port Howard at dusk, the view from the Concordia Bay workboat.
Sunset over Stanley Harbour, East Falkland, November 2016, with the wreck of the Jhelum (1870) to the right.
Lenticular clouds, North Camp, East Falkland, November 2016.
All kinds of weather brewing at Cape Pembroke, near Stanley, East Falkland, November 2016.
Melanie Colosimo’s Transmission Tower I, at the AGNS Terroir exhibition
One of the nice things about sabbatical is a little more time to enjoy my city and its attractions. I visited the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia exhibition, Terroir, before the cottage week. Though I will need to return for a more fulsome look, this open-call show of Nova Scotia art has a nice range of media and messages, each intended to connect to the local landscape and story. I saw some familiar artists, such as Steve Farmer‘s wonderful detailed photos of rust and abraded paint – what he calls “industrial documentation” – which I had previously seen at Pavia in Herring Cove, and one of John MacNab‘s mathematical machined wood sculptures. I also discovered some new artists, such as Wayne Boucher, whose large abstract Fall (2005) made me feel I was drowning in the work; when I later read that was an explicit aim I felt a little creeped out at its effectiveness. Finally, I enjoyed both pieces by Melanie Colosimo, whose air-mesh-constructed Transmission Tower I (2016) (see photo) is evidence of her artistic move:
…towards a preoccupation with traditionally masculine utilitarian imagery and themes of progress and construction … to explore memory, transitory states… thresholds between a previous state of being and the next phase.
This appealed to me based on some of my new thinking about energy transitions as the recycling of landscape from one use to another, something we probably need to get used to doing.