Monday, August 6, 2012

Master Recycler

For weeks I have eyeballed a dead deer in a nearby wheat field.  Each time I pass, I see carrion eaters have whittled the carcass.  When I first spotted the broken body, I wished a highway crew would pick it up.  After observing how many meals it has provided not only to crows and magpies, but also to other scavengers, it served a better purpose where it is.

In nature nothing goes to waste.  My grandmothers recognized this truth as they recycled string, foil, sacks,  and glass. Plastic, foil, and paper may be convenient, but they will be humanity’s downfall.

Years ago, my family traveled to Cherokee Village near Talequah, Oklahoma. One discovery archeologists made as they researched the site was the lack of refuse in the middens.

The tour guides, descendants of former occupants, reminded us that ancient Americans used every part of creatures they harvested.  Skins provided shelter and clothing.  Villagers turned bones and bladders into tools, utensils, and containers. They used shells and claws for decorative and musical purposes.  Nothing went to the dump until it could not be recycled again. 

Nature follows the same rule. As soon as a beast or bird expires, its immediate biological functions cease, but new functions rev up.  The immediate use of the dead creature is obvious.  It is protein for other animals.  Using delicate nostrils, carrion eaters compete for delicacies.  At the same time, insect species discover the new food source and join the fray.

As insects arrive, the carcass assumes additional duties.  Many species utilize it as an incubator.  They drop in to eat, lay eggs, and depart, leaving larvae to incubate and perpetuate a species.

Once flesh is devoured, rodents zero in on remaining bones, a rich mineral source.  They nibble with relish.   We once discovered a shedding ground in Wyoming where we couldn’t find an un-gnawed antler.   

Not only does nature recycle her creatures, she provides plants, trees, and shrubs with remarkable recycling abilities. Walk through a wooded area and notice the carpet of dead leaves. 

Lift a section to observe a universe.   Those leaves and humus renew soil supporting everything living in that area.  Decomposition-generated warm temperatures initiate numerous biological processes.

 Fungi love decaying patches as they continue nature’s work breaking larger elements down into microscopic, absorbable elements. Similar activity occurs in compost piles, and good gardeners know compost is their friend.

Note fallen trees.  These  house birds, beasts, and insects.  Once decomposition begins, insects, bacteria, and fungi revitalize soil from which the tree sprouted. Kick it and watch it dissolve into sawdust and wood chips. 

It takes time to recycle plant and animal matter.  Despite our impatience watching this slow process, humans still create packaging that breaks down inefficiently.

Returning to recyclable packaging is a good idea.  It isn’t convenient, but convenience means we have time to squeeze one more stressor into an already crowded day.  If we enjoyed less convenience, we might enjoy the world more.  Stepping onto her porch to collect the morning milk delivery, Grandma saw many beautiful sunrises 

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