Vanity and Economic Necessity

June 16th, 2008

It’s hard to believe the flooding that has taken place just north of where we live. Our thoughts and prayers go out to so many people struggling to rebuild their lives. Our area saw incredible devastation in the ’93 floods, but not to the degree that water has risen and broken through levees further north. People that don’t live in this region complain about building in flood zones, but they know little of what it’s like to live in these states.  There are some areas that it doesn’t make sense to build in, but sometimes nature just goes beyond what we can conceive that may happen. 

In many areas, there would simply be no human presence or agriculture that has supported the nation for generations, without the support of strong levees built to hold back the water. Maybe that would be fine with some people, but these states helped to open up the west and build the nation we have today. I think now it’s time to lend support to rebuilding these towns, homes and levees, and rebuilding lives.

We have been away traveling and have only read the news about all of it this week. Where we live there has been little flooding fortunately so far. It’s strange to be gone from what you know day-to-day, and to see that people live mostly unaware of the chaos that takes place just a few hours away.

Many thoughts recently, and I wonder how long the grass is at home? Watching fuel prices rise has been staggering, and it makes me think how wasteful it is in some ways to be putting that many dollars in the tank of the car (or tractor). Cutting the grass is an incredible economic drain in terms of the cost, and with the price of fuel basically doubling over the past year it™s hard to justify riding the tractor more than absolutely necessary. I had cut back quite a bit already, and will do so even more this summer. But the rain has kept things green and growing abundantly so far.

With the cost of rising gas prices vanity fades away as economic necessity rises to the forefront. The grass will still need cut in many areas at times lest the woody plants begin to take over. Woody brush and weeds are not so bad in themselves, but once they take root it’s extremely difficult to go back and remove them. Some ask why do we need the grass and open areas anyway?

Well it provides many benefits to a larger property. The open areas provide places to walk and play obviously, and to enjoy the vistas that surround us. They also serve as navigable pathways in and around the forests, fields and orchards. And keeping the grass shorter reduces the number of insects or pests, especially ticks and chiggers. Many bird species are adapted to the open forest edges and areas, such as bluebirds. So it’s not all vanity or pride in having a groomed look along the driveway, but that is certainly part of it. I do enjoy the clean look of the cut grass, but only to a point. Some of our neighbors go even further, insisting on cutting the grass within inches around every obstacle that exists to obtain that suburban kept-lawn look.

But I’ve let that mindset go out of both practicality and economic prudence. If the grass is too short it opens the soil and slopes up to erosion more frequently, and then takes a huge effort to try and regain the soil structure. So leaving the grass longer or uncut in many areas helps protect the slopes and drainages. And now more than ever I simply don’t see the point of spending so much time and money for temporary aesthetics. And looking northward at the flooding is a humbling reminder that there are far more important things in life.

4 Responses to “Vanity and Economic Necessity”

  1. I have to disagree with you on the levee situation. Back before levees, vast flood plains tempered and absorbed floods so that floods were highly localized and minor on towns involved. Flash forward to now with levees everywhere and the floods are widespread down hundreds of miles of river and when levees fail as they have done quite a bit here in Iowa recently, the floods are devastating. Why? The water simply has no where to go when the vast flood plains are shut off. There is plenty of land to build without building on a flood plain. I think we need to tear down the levees, relocate housing to higher ground and return the flood plains to parks and agricultural use. Without levees, Iowa would be a non-issue right now.

    My $0.02 worth.

  2. Hi Ed- I see and appreciate your viewpoint, and certainly the watersheds/floodplains were vastly different in ages past in most areas. I think I simply believe that folks have a right to live where they’ve lived with families for generations, and I think that balanced growth and natural resource use is a good thing.
    We can reduce building in known floodplain areas too, but sometimes the floods don’t come for hundreds of years. If the people choose to live there, that’s their choice too. But I can see that if it’s a known flood plain the hazard should be an individual one at many levels based on those choices.
    I’ve also seen what you cite with a few small communities around here bought out by the government and all the people relocated- that’s worked well in some places. But where major cities are flooded, are we simply to leave? I also think levees have helped other communities, towns, farmers and citizens across the nation in other states over the years, and still do today.
    In some states the levees are vital for directing water and irrigation for crops and produce where none might grow otherwise, and it’s not a flood issue but a water resource and ag debate. So much there about natural resource and human land use… I don’t have a dog in the fight so to speak, but observe from a distance. Sounds like you’re more in the thick of it- hope folks are doing okay.

  3. You bring up an excellent point. Now that we’ve gone down this path of building cities and levees along the river, what do we do? I really don’t know the answer to that one. I guess my only answer is to tear down the levees where ever possible and move the smaller towns where ever possible. Really mother nature is doing that for us. We have probably half a dozen towns that I know about in Iowa that literally have been completely wiped off the map. They were all small towns to begin with so they will probably cease to exist.

    Our response in 1993 was to rebuild the levees higher and because the rains were comparable and yet the damage is 10 times worse now, I think that was the wrong response. Yet, I would be willing to bet we have the same response after all this is said and done. I can’t imagine what the next big ‘500-year’ flood 10 or 20 years down the road will look like.

  4. The scale of the devastation is staggering in so many ways. We probably will have a similar response, but those towns you mention- wow. The impact on agricultural economic issues is very far reaching as well, not only for the nation but around the world.

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