Wildfires – being a good gardener

I was about to write a post about some no-waste kitchen projects and how cosy the seedlings look at my windowsill, but there’s a rather hot topic that demands all the attention right now.

Did you see that sweet little orange house in the video? Well, that’s our place. Over 60 acres are burned down in the last two days. The fire got as close as 500 meters away from our home, where we haven’t lived for a whole month yet.

I’ll keep the recipe for apple cider vinegar and Korean peach syrup for another post. Today I want to share some thoughts about wildfires.

Who’s to blame?

The first question that tends to pop up is ‘Who’s to blame?’ I’m not sure who’s getting the blame for the wildfires. I ditched the television over a decade ago and in general, don’t keep up with the mainstream media. It has been a very hot and dry summer in Europe and it’s been a devastating season in regards of the fires. So, I kinda guess climate change is getting the blame.

Nature is not set up to kill itself as a result of life.

Let me tell you in upfront I’m not buying into the full story of climate change as it’s too focused on CO2. CO2 is a byproduct of being alive. Nature is not set up to kill itself as a result of life. Neither are we with too many, overpopulation is yet another story I’m not buying into in case you wondered. I think it’s important to at least doubt the statements that CO2 and overpopulation are the leading causes of our problems today. We should not close our minds with the most repeated answers. It’s essential to understand who or what really is to blame so we can find better and quicker solutions to this pressing matter.

Green Iberia

The first wildfire I observed was in front of our place in Asturias, the greenest and most humid region of Spain. It was pretty far away and there was a river in between so I wasn’t afraid, but as a good citizen, I called my landlord which happens to be Civil Guard. They were already aware of the fire and soon after I saw the first helicopter trying to extinguish it.

The landlord is the most open-minded and green-hearted guard I know, truly one of a kind. We had a conversation about how he grew up thinking – like myself – that wildfires originated from pieces of glass that acted as a loupe, but he soon realized this wasn’t true. Just like the fire we were witnessing, most are provoked by humans. In this case, it was caused by a shepherd that every year lits the mountain on fire to burn down the bushes so grass returns which is the preferred dish of his cows. The innocent me replied with a “well he could have chosen a day with less wind, couldn’t he?” With a soft smile, he replied “they chose their days well”

“They chose their days well”

So, is this man a bad citizen? I am incapable of getting angry at a small farmer for continuing a practice that has been done for generations, but it is obviously not the most appropriate way to assure enough grass for his cows. At least not anymore.

In the subsequent years, I’ve seen multiple wildfires in this lush and green region of Spain. You might think the farmers are to blame and maybe we should all go vegan, but the problem is the opposite. Whenever the opportunity occurs I open up the conversation with the locals and they almost all agree that the problem is the lack of traditional pasturing.

Mountains that are more prone to intense wildfires are ‘dirty’ mountains with a lot of shrubs and dead vegetation. Animals are the best cleaners, especially goats. They will eat all the spikey stuff cows don’t like and fertilize the ground with their droppings. It’s a perfectly balanced system that has been in place for hundreds of years, but with the rural exodus, this balance has now been disturbed.

We now live in a drier and hotter region, but it’s still part of Green Iberia. Although they used to have more animals here, the main agricultural business has always been vineyards which made me ponder again about why exactly there are so many wildfires in this region as opposed to the much drier south of Spain.

I found the answer by watching this video of Project Kamp. The answer was so simple; in our beloved Green Iberia it rains more, so there is more vegetation which means more fuel.

Land in transition

We fell in love with this place exactly because the house is surrounded by the woods, and now we’re told this is a bad thing. But is it? I don’t think so. The forest behind our house makes me feel protected. It’s an old-grown forest and looking up at the canopy I can only imagine the massive root structure below the ground holding so much water. The canopy itself provides shade preventing evaporation so it’s much more resilient to drought than barren land.

Fires are natural phenomena and can even be beneficial in clearing up the understory and making space for new growth. Older trees can withstand small fires with their thick bark and high canopy where the flames can’t reach, but a young forest isn’t that resilient yet. So, the problem is the land in transition, from agricultural land back to being a forest. Or, from burned land back to being a forest.

The human factor

The current approach for fire protection is trying to clear the mountains as good as the goats do. This is of course undoable. Unless we are going to use the land the way we did before the wildfires became such a big problem, it’s an unsustainable solution. Neither do I think it’s that effective.

Helpful clearance or a pile of firewood?

The above image is the result of the hard work of a lady being a good citizen and fulfilling her duty of clearing her piece of land of ‘invasive’ acacias. I admire her dedication, especially knowing she’s not even living here. Despite of my admiration, all I can see is a big pile of firewood. Seeing this from a gardeners perspective I know it will take ages to break down. How awesome would it be to have a wood shredder so it would break down in a matter of months?

Rather than trying to clear the mountains in an effort to keep it as it was, we should help speed up the transition. That’s where the human factor comes to play. We are not separate from nature, we are truly part of it. Despite the fact we are causing a lot of damage, we are also capable of being a beneficial factor to our ecosystem.

Being a good gardener

Rather than being a good citizen, I want to be a good gardener for the land that surrounds me. I depend on her, and she depends on me. We should live, grow and transition together into the ultimate expression of nature which is a full-grown self-sustained forest where each and every aspect is connected and taken care of.

This will surely become part of the blog and I would love to hear your opinions, ideas, suggestions and experiences. Together we learn, grow and transition.

Thanks so much for reading.

4 thoughts on “Wildfires – being a good gardener

  1. Well, the first thing I want to say is that I’m so glad that you are safe, Eva. When we lived in Asturias, the smell of smoke and sound of the bomberos helicopters used to make my heart sink every time. I love your honest discussion, it’s very thought-provoking, particularly as you have hit the nail on the head with the fact that we live in such a blame culture . . . and sadly for many people, it’s easier to point the finger at ‘them’ rather than spend time becoming properly informed or thinking things through. One of the main reasons we were told for people deliberately setting fires in our part of Asturias was rather more cynical than farmers regenerating grass: apparently, if a forest burned down then it was easy to get planning permission on that land. Personally, I think monoculture has a lot to answer for, the eucalyptus forests in Asturias and the maritime pine forests in south-west France are both far less resilient than mixed native planting (and let’s not even start on the monoculture in agriculture that is destroying topsoil). This is where working with nature is so fundamental and I share completely your sense of connection with the land: my greatest wish is to care for our precious space and nurture the biodiversity and polyculture within it, working in total partnership and not as some kind of steward. I shall look forward to seeing how you continue to express this in your blog! 😊

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