Ever wondered where everything goes over the long haul? If gravity were the only actor, then the mountains would slowly wash into the sea, and there would be nothing left on land. What brings water and nutrients back from the sea onto the land? How does the cycle complete itself?
The answer is in the name of our local river. “Mokelumne” derives from the Miwok word for “people of the fishnet.” Our river is named not only for the river itself, but also the people who lived alongside it, the fish that provided much of their sustenance, and the nets they used to gather those fish.
At one time, the Mokelumne was a conduit for ocean nutrients to literally swim up the river—in the form of steelhead and salmon that traveled up to mountain streams to elevations as high as 9,000 feet. Predators in the form of raccoons and skunks, bears and humans, nourished their bodies with the fish. In the process, they spread the nutrients derived from it over a much wider area than the incised streams themselves, thus providing abundant fertilizer to plant life.
This plant life not only provided fuel for ruminant animals in the form of green growth but also pollen-laden flowers, sugar-filled berries and protein-rich nuts and acorns for other life forms. The activities of at least 1,600 species of indigenous bees, along with flies, wasps and honeybees, further disseminated the pollen and nectar from the flowers. While birds and many mammal species distributed the nutrients from the berries and nuts.
But what about the water? How is water pulled back up from the ocean and redistributed on land? Evaporation, driven by the sun’s energy, starts the process, and then global winds carry evaporated moisture onto the continents, where bacteria, cultured on the trees, nucleate ice crystals, creating continental precipitation.
In warm climates, this precipitation mainly falls as rain and gravity quickly pulls it into the stream channels. Using reductionist logic, it seems a wonder there is any water left on the continents at all, especially considering today’s common refrain that “cows are using three to 50 gallons of water per day.” Rather than view that activity in isolation, let’s consider this from a less simplistic viewpoint. Does the cycle end with the cow consuming the water? Or do they form part of a cycle, distributing the water from the streams/water-troughs and, in turn, making it available to other elements in the ecosystem?
During our hot, dry summers, the only wet places outside of the perennial streams are under the cow pies, and these water and nutrient-rich heaps are also where plants first germinate in the autumn.
In recent years, bees have been awarded the golden crown as all important pollinators, but all of us have a role to play in the spread of water and nutrients. In order for the broader pollination to continue, it is necessary to move on from reductionist logic and realize the myriad intrinsic values inherent in the lifestyles of all members of our living community.