Monday, March 12, 2018

Ward. 1993. "The Agricultural Treadmill and the Rural Environment in the Post-Productivist Era."

Ward (1993) describes the relationship between productivist and post-productivist agriculture to the agricultural treadmill. He cites counterurbanization as one factor leading to post-productivist agriculture. The shift to post-productivist agriculture was due to both economic and environmental reasons. Counterurbanization is one part of the environmental changes. Ward mostly writes about the UK but this article applies also to the rest of Europe and North America.

The term "agricultural treadmill" can be traced back to agricultural economist William Cochrane, who coined it in 1958. At its inception, it referred to a dynamic that forced farmers to continually adopt new technologies to stay afloat. The first new adopters would gain an advantage in the market by adopting the technology. More farmers would follow, but the gains the early adopters got would be lost. Eventually, the late adopters would be forced to adopt the technology too if they wanted to keep their farms.

This is oversimplifying and perhaps distorting the concept, but imagine a new technology that makes a farm more efficient. The first farms to adopt it might produce better quality products, or lower cost products. They can keep the profits and use them, or they can lower prices and outcompete other farmers. Eventually, once the majority have adopted the new technology, however, the new low price becomes standard. Late adopters must adopt the technology too unless they want to sell their crops at a loss.

The treadmill is harmful for both economic and environmental reasons. Economically, it creates a difficult to impossible situation for farmers. Environmentally, it pushes farmers toward more environmentally harmful practices. However, Ward (and apparently the literature) see the treadmill as a feature of structural conditions and not individual farmer choices:

"The treadmill can best be conceptualized as a set of structural conditions, which have been shaped by international political and economic processes and became embodied in agricultural and food policies across the advanced capitalist world. In turn, these conditions have played an important role in transforming how farmers ‘see the world’ and organize their production, such that the intensification of production through the application of science and technology has become a ‘logic’ of production at the farm level" (Ward 1993:349).

Roughly speaking, Ward sees Fordism and the corresponding productivist agriculture it engendered, facilitated by the "symbiosis" of the state, agro-industrial capital, and agricultural sciences, as creating the structural conditions for the agricultural treadmill. Ward calls these structural conditions "the macro treadmill." To discuss this, we need some definitions.

Fordism "is based on the expansion of domestic markets for mass-produced goods in advanced capitalist states, and requires the progressive adoption of mass consumption by the industrial working class" (Ward 1993:353). This is what happened in the mid-20th century in the U.S.

To make this happen, the U.S. (and Canada and Western Europe) adopted "productivist" agriculture. Citing Goodman and Redclift (1991), Ward explains that there were two main influences in shaping the agricultural system after World War II. First, in the Fordist period, agriculture needed to provide cheap food to an urban industrial workforce which would, in turn, enable higher proportions of household income to be spent on non-food consumption, and so further integrate the industrial working class in the market for mass-produced goods" (Ward 1993:354). This it did. You can see the stats for what percent of disposable income each nation spends on food. The U.S. is the lowest. Last I checked it was nine percent. It was much higher pre-World War II.

Second, accumulation occurred within food and agriculture itself (Ward 1993:354). Farmers don't just hand weed, plow with an ox team, and save seeds anymore. They buy machines and inputs from corporations. And the food they grow is often sold to a corporation. Some of it is sold as fresh fruits and vegetables, but a lot of it is processed, packaged, and branded. Therefore, corporations get rich on both ends. (Ward is still citing Goodman and Redclift here, but Kloppenburg's First the Seed is a great read about agriculture and capitalist accumulation.) Ward writes, "The pattern of accumulation, they argue, is shaped by the biological constraints of the agricultural production process and human food consumption requirements, but in the process of transforming agriculture, environmental problems have resulted" (Ward 1993:354).

In other words, the normal rules of capitalism, when applied to agriculture, run headlong into nature. A farm isn't a factory. It doesn't play by the same rules. Therefore, the way capitalism has developed in agriculture is shaped by nature, and it in turn led to environmental problems.

Continuing with Goodman and Redclift, two processes were at play in adapting the agri-food system to Fordism. First, capital needed to develop new markets for commodities and second, "the mutual interests of a scientific community and agro-industrial capital in adopting a high-technology model of agricultural production and development" (Ward 1993:354). Through these processes, the agricultural treadmill became system-wide.

The changes to the Fordist/Productivist regime came about beginning in the 1980s when states in North America and Europe started to halt or reduce the subsidies that had propped it up (Ward 1991:357). Simultaneously, many countries became more concerned over food quality and the environment (Ward 1991:357). This is where the shift began to Post-Productivist agriculture (or at least Ward says so - some other scholars question it):

"In the Post-Productivist era "The economic pressures now faced on farms arise directly from the consequences of the technology/policy model in the Fordist regime of accumulation. Accumulation has become concentrated in those sectors of the modern food system both upstream and downstream of the farm such that farmers’ economic position in the food system is being weakened. In turn, agriculture not only receives a shrinking share of total value-added in the food production process, but the nature of farming practice becomes increasingly determined by off-farm interests, either because of the power of input manufacturers to influence patterns of technological change (Munton et aI. 1990) or because food processors and retailers exert pressures through contract purchasing arrangements to determine food quality specifications" (Ward 1991:358).

I believe what he is saying there is that farmers were price takers on both ends (on buying inputs and selling commodities) which put a squeeze on them, and farmers are getting a decreasing "farm share" (the amount of each dollar spent on food that goes directly back to the farmer). He goes on to say:
"The combination in the 1970s of a production- oriented support policy without constraints on the quantity produced and low real interest rates encouraged high levels of debt-financed investment in agricultural land, machinery and buildings. However, by the mid-1980s, and following the EC’s attempts to curtail over-production, farmers who had followed this strategy of business growth became embroiled in a debt trap of rising real interests rates, collapsing land values and falling farm incomes" (Ward 1991:358).

In other words, there was the farm crisis of the 1980s, and a lot of farmers lost their farms. Those who remained often got larger, buying up the land of those who lost their farms. During the same period, the effects of environmental harm were catching up to everyone, and nations began to put environmental regulations in place (Ward 1991:358).

This is where counterurbanization fits in. As people move from cities and suburbs to the country to enjoy rural life (and not farm themselves), "a growing number of farmers now have new neighbours who often have quite different ideas about how the rural environment should be managed... The farmers felt that social change in the countryside has further diminished their autonomy." (Ward 1991:359).

It's at the end here that Ward makes any reference at all to the question of whether agriculture has actually changed from productivist to post-productivist (which some scholars doubt):

"The treadmill continues to trundle on, however, in part because the productivist rationale or ethos remains prevalent among agricultural interests. This need not necessarily be solely because the technology/policy model served the interests of the agricultural industry (or at least those sections which survived through accumulation) but because the productivist era was characterized by clearly defined goals of expansion and technological ‘progression’ about which there was little disagreement. Achieving the goals of producing food for the nation facilitated a sense of pride in the industry" (Ward 1991:359).

Farmers are now farming in a different context from the productivist heyday of the 1950s and 1960s, but that doesn't necessarily mean the farmers themselves have changed - or want to change.

Sources cited:
Goodman, D. and M. Redclift (1991), Refashioning Nature: Food, Ecology and Culture (London: Routledge).
Ward, Neil. 1993. "The Agricultural Treadmill and the Rural Environment in the Post-Productivist Era." Sociologia Ruralis, 33: 348–364. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9523.1993.tb00969.x

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Stryker, Sheldon. 1980. Symbolic Interactionism: A Social Structural Version

Stryker's book on symbolic interactionism is one of the driest books I have ever attempted to read. Therefore, I am going to summarize part of it here to hopefully save myself from having to ever re-read it.

Stryker begins by noting that symbolic interactionism, as he means it, is a "frame of reference" or "perspective" but not a "theory" (p. 8). Why? Because theories are falsifiable (p. 10). That is, you can test a theory and, if it is false, you can prove it false with evidence (p. 8). What he offers as the symbolic interaction frame of reference is not falsifiable. Also, a frame of reference does not exclude other frames of reference (p. 9). That is, they can both be true.

Next, he gives his perspective on science. Specifically, a theory can be considered true even if it does not explain every single case (p. 11). This is first because "no two events or behaviors are precisely alike" and second because "science can never comprehend events or behaviors in their full complexity" (p. 11). Therefore, he rejects a "deterministic" view of science (p. 10-11); that is, he rejects the idea that "it must be possible to explicate a complete set of causes sufficient to account for every case without exception of some behavior" (p 11). Instead, he says it is enough for science to explain "some regulatory in the behavior one is interested in" (p. 11).

Next, Stryker begins to trace the intellectual history of symbolic interactionism. The term was created by Herbert Blumer in 1937. However, the line of thinking that led up to Blumer's work is a long one, beginning with the Scottish moral philosophers David Hume, Frances Hutcheson, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson "and others" (p. 16). These men were empiricists (p. 17). "They denied that men were motivated by reason, but they saw the source of human action variously in sympathy, common sense, moral sense, belief, instinct, and habit" (p. 17-18). Additionally, they believed that "psychology itself could not be comperehended without taking into account the facts of human association" (p. 18). In other words, if you want to understand the psychology of any one human, you have to also understand their interactions with other humans.

Here is a summary of their contributions:
  • Adam Smith: People understand if their own conduct is acceptable by seeing how others react to it. The reactions of others serve as a sort of mirror. (p. 18) Sympathy allows us to empathize - to feel the emotions someone else is feeling (p. 19). "Society becomes a vast network of interpersonal communication through which the participants are controlled by the approval and disapproval, the desires and evaluations of others" (p. 19).
  • David Hume: Humans are dependent on family and community for survival. They develop sympathy, the "psychological tendency to share the feelings of others" even if others' feelings are very different from one's own (p. 19).
  • Adam Ferguson: He wrote about instinct vs. habit. If people have instincts, they also are free to act differently from them. It's difficult to tell habits from instincts even though habits are acquired through human interaction and instincts are innate. If we could distinguish between them, Ferguson believes "habit has a larger role in human behavior than does instinct" (p. 20).
  • William James: Very influenced by Darwin, wrote about instinct vs habit, consciousness, and the self. James says that instinct is "the faculty to produce certain ends, without the foresight of these ends and without prior learning" (p. 21). He believes instincts are "superseded" by habit, defined as "behavior learned and modified (and modifiable) by experience. The basis of habit is memory" (p. 22). "Human beings can and do develop attitudse and feelings about themselves and see themselves as they see any other object in the external world" (p. 22). James distinguishes between four different types of selves: the material self, the spiritual self, the social self, and pure ego (p. 22). Stryker is interested in the social self. It appears that the social self is the idea of you that each person who knows you has in their mind? (p. 23). In any case, one has a different social self for each different group of people whose opinion one cares about, and if their opinion of your social self is harmed, then you are harmed (p. 23). People naturally want "to be recognized by other human beings" and that is the basis for self esteem. But James divides self esteem into two parts. The "subjective" part is your aspirations (how you want to be seen); the objective part is in "the recognition one gets from others" (p. 23).

I think this is likely a very poor description of the work of William James and his social self, and my understanding of what Stryker wrote may be inaccurate. I don't know that I can make more sense of it from Stryker's words without actually reading what James wrote in Principles of Psychology (New York: Holt, 1890), Vol II, p. 291-294.

James Mark Baldwin
Next in Stryker's line is James Mark Baldwin (p. 23-24). He modified James' concept of the self but believed the entire self is "social in its origins" (p. 24). He posited three stages children go through: projective, subjective, and ejective. The first consists of "becoming aware of others, drawing distinctions between them and objects, and differentiating among others" (that is, telling different people apart). Second, the child imitates the behavior of others and learns that there are feelings associated with that behavior (p. 24). Last, the child learns that other people have feelings too. Baldwin's work influences Cooley and G.H. Mead.

John Dewey
Dewey believes that social customs are collective habits (p 24). Habits are the basis of individual personality formation, and customs are the basis of social organization, but because customs are collective habits, "the individual cannot be set in contrast to society; there can be no deep chasm or fundamental opposition between the self and social order; and personality develops within a social context" (p. 24). I'm skipping about a page of Dewey but Stryker highlights two ideas from his work. First, "his rejection of the conception of society as a monolithic structure" because "society consists of many associations and not a single organization" (p. 26). Second, Dewey insisted that social science and philosophy focus on "everyday situations and problems" (p. 36).

Charles Horton Cooley
Up to this point, most of the people noted are philosophers and psychologists. Cooley brings their work into sociology (p. 26). To Cooley, each of us has a conception of society in our mind. Stryker has a very good paragraph about this (which he calls a "subjectivist" perspective) that seems worth sharing:

"It is this way of thinking about social relationships that has been criticized as solipsistic. That is, if imaginations are the solid facts of society, it seems to follow that there are as many societies as there are individual imaginations. If our imaginations differ, how can we get beyond these differences and to what do we refer these differences in order to build general knowledge in society?" (p. 27).

Cooley, while never naming Adam Smith as an influence, ran with his concept of the looking glass self. Stryker describes Cooleys ideas as, "The self is a social product; it is defined and developed in social interaction" (p. 28). Cooley believed the social self has three components: "our imagining how we appear to another person, our imagining that other person's judgment of our appearance; and some self-feeling, such as pride or mortification, that arises from these imaginations" (p. 29).

Last, Cooley believed that the "primary group" of each of us as children - the family, the play group, and the neighborhood - are the most important to the development of each individual's self (p. 29).

William Isaac Thomas
Whereas Cooley was concerned with the formation of self in childhood, Thomas was concerned with it in adulthood (p. 30). We can thank W.I. Thomas for the term "the definition of the situation" (which I usually associate most with Goffman). Stryker writes, "It is the task of sociology to analyze behavior, the forms taken by the processes of adjustment of people and groups to other people and groups. Adjustment processes necessarily occur in situations; that is, adjustment processes are responses to objective circumstances in which individuals and groups are embedded" (pp. 30-31). However, each of the people has their own subjective interpretation of what is going on - the definition of the situation (p. 31). Their own subjective interpretation of the situation is their reality.

What's more, one's subjective reality is socially acquired: "Children... are always born into an ongoing group that has developed definitions of the general kinds of situations faced and has formulated rules of conduct premised on these definitions: moral codes are the outcome of "successive definitions of the situation."" (pp. 31-32). He continues, "Children cannot create their own definitions independently of society, or behave in those terms without societal interference" (p. 32). Furthermore, if an individual tries to create their own definition spontaneously, they tend to do so for hedonic reasons (what feels good), whereas society sets its definitions based on utilitarian reasons (what is good for society). Therefore, socialization is the process of "bringing the person to interanlize societal definitions" (p. 32). But what does the word "situation" mean? Well, apparently that was never terribly precise and it sort of shifted around throughout his career (p. 32).

George Herbert Mead
Mead is the most important precursor to symbolic interactionism. "Picking up from Dewey, he argues that persons initiate activity that relate to themselves and the environment; that is, the persons do not simply respond to external "stimuli" existing apart from the activity. Activity begins with an impulse without ordained end, and the humans seek to satisfy that impulse by adjusting behavior to the objects in the environment. Those objects become stimuli through functioning in the context of the act, during which they may become defined as relevant to the completion of the act" (p. 36). Therefore, as one feels hungry and looks for food, objects in the environment that were just sitting there as objects (berries) "become redefined as food. Stimuli acquire meaning in the course of activity (p. 36).

When completing an action requires other humans, Mead calls that a "social act." Social acts occur over a period of time and the early stages are "gestures" (making a fist is a gesture indicating that a punch is coming next) (p. 36-37). And here's where we get closer to symbolic interactionism itself. "Communication between persons involves a "conversation of gestures"" (p. 37). And some gestures acquire the same meaning to both parties, the one doing the gesturing and the one on the receiving end. These are "significant symbols" (p. 37). Language is "a system of significant symbols" and it allows us to understand other people's point of view, including how they see us. Taking on someone else's point of view is called "role-taking" (p. 37).

Because I am lazy, I will refer you to this Khan Academy video on Mead's work. Going off the material in the video, it is the "I-me" dialectic - the continued back and forth between the I and the Me - through which society continually shapes the self (p. 39).

Role Theory, Etc
Stryker says that the intellectual lineage traced above culminates in what Herbert Blumer calls symbolic interactionism. But there's another lineage with no main figure associated with it leading to another variant of symbolic interactionism. It comes from role theory (p. 39). The main idea here is that there is an objective reality that exists in society apart from individual actors definitions of the situation. Here, he brings in the work of Georg Simmel, Max Weber, and Ralph Linton (p. 40).

Georg Simmel
According to Simmel "society is neither a mere collection of individuals... nor an entity existing apart from individuals" (p. 41). It is "the name for a number of individuals, connected by interaction" (Simmel, The Sociology of Georg Simmel, 1950, p. 11). Simmel writes of "sociation," defined as "the interaction of minds, the conscious association of persons" (p. 41). In joining society, an individual gives up some of his or her individuality to meet the demands of society, but the individual remains unique (pp. 41-42).

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Moral Visions of Nature

Nature has many different meanings to people (Bell 1994:8 ). Americans can be categorized into socially constructed groups based on how they view nature from a moral perspective: utilitarian, spiritual, and biocentric (Farrell 2015). I adopt Farrell's framework because his description of the social construction of three moral visions within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are grounded in the history of the area from the time the first Euro-American fur traders arrived in the 1800s, rather than static categories applied universally without regard to social construction or place.

Others have also grouped people by how they view humans' relationship with nature. The concept is referred to as "values" (Ellis 2013), "value orientations" (Hand and Van Liere 1984), "ideologies" (Manfredo et al 2009), or "attitude types" (Kellert 1985). Most refer to humans' orientations to nature, but Kellert's scheme refers specifically to humans' orientation to non-human animals.

Some scholars simply examine dominionism, the orientation in which humans see nature as something to dominate for their own use. Some believe the teachings of Christianity cause dominionism (White 1967; Hand and Van Liere 1984); eco-feminists attribute it to masculinity (Emel 1995). Occasionally, the mastery-over-nature concept is referred to as utilitarianism, evoking a human desire not just to conquer nature but to use its resources. Others see mastery over nature as one side of a spectrum, and the other side is human coexistence with nature. Manfredo et al (2009) does so, naming them "domination" and "mutualism." Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961) propose spectrum from what they call "mastery-over-nature" to "harmony-with-nature" to a third category, "subjection-to-nature."

Ellis (2013) found that cattle ranchers saw their relationships with the land and cattle as mutualistic, even though their relationship with them was actually dominionistic. He called this "an ideological trick that mystifies exploitation and allows us not to engage with the difficult ethical and moral questions that are omnipresent within these relationships" (p 445). He bases his judgment that the ranchers are dominionistic on their use of cattle as meat and their use of land to graze cattle. However, the ranchers view themselves as husbands and stewards who care for the cattle and the land to preserve their ranch for future generations.

Kellert (1985) describes nine different "attitude types" toward animals, and other scholars have adopted his scheme (George et al 2016; Bjerke et al 1998; Nie 2005). Kellert's categories utilitarian, dominionistic, and negativistic correspond to traits of a dominionist or utilitarian according to the schemes described above (Kellert 1985: 170). Kellert's traits naturalistic, humanistic, moralistic, and aesthetic map to mutualism in the schemes above, and to Farrell's concept spiritualistic, described below. Kellert's traits ecologistic and scientistic correspond to mutualism and to Farrell's biocentric, described below.

Manfredo et al (2009) and Farrell (2015) are both concerned with change from a dominionistic or utilitarian moral order to a more harmonious one (mutualistic to Manfredo et al, spiritual and biocentric to Farrell). Manfredo et al, attribute the shift to "modernization" (urbanization, increased wealth, and higher education), explaining that as people move further from relying on wildlife as a food source, they become more free to think of wildlife in different ways from when they directly relied on them for food.

Farrell emphasizes the social construction of three "moral visions:" utilitarian, spiritual, and biocentric. The first white Americans feared nature and faced danger as they moved west and tamed and civilized (in their view) the wilderness. As they worked hard, the work they did (and do) extracting resources from nature became a moral virtue and the workers themselves virtuous (p. 35). To them, the earth was given to humans for their domination and use, and humans are above other species in a natural order. They were utilitarians, who believe the earth is for humans' use. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, utilitarians are characterized by rugged individualism and a belief in manifest destiny, private property rights, and anti-federalism (p. 35). They have a deep connection to the place where they do their labor in nature, and their epistemology is based on practical experience and tradition in that place (Farrell 2015: 38).

John Muir and Henry David Thoreau exemplify the spiritual moral vision. With its roots in 19th century romanticism and transcendentalism, at a time when white Americans were exploiting natural resources without restraint, it is an attempt to "(re)sacralize nature in response to materialist and consumerist pressures of American life" (p. 36). Those with a spiritual moral vision may or may not link their views on nature to religious beliefs, but they all emphasize communion with nature through spending time in it and protecting every creature in nature, even the seemingly insignificant ones (Farrell 2015: 36). Their moral vision may be connected with their religious faith, but it is not necessarily so. Their epistemology is based on senses, emotion, and religious influence (Farrell 2015: 38).

These first two moral visions appear similar to, but not identical to, agrarianism and ruralism (Buttel and Flinn 1977). Thoreau was a ruralist, and ruralism's roots go back to American romanticism, while agrarianism includes utilitarian values. However, there is a class distinction between agrarians and ruralists. The ruralists, who are often upper-middle class, can live "in the country, without being of it" (p. 545). The genteel country gentleman "might take up the hoe for diversion but not for a living" (p. 545). The virtues one gains from and exhibits in nature do not derive from working the land for the ruralist. Ruralists looked down on those who worked the land; agrarians, exemplified by the yeoman farmer, looked down on those who didn't (p. 546). Like Farrell, they describe a conflict when agrarians and ruralists attempt to enact competing visions of the proper relationship between humans and nature.

This analysis of the two competing moral visions that identifies them as belonging to different classes, adds the idea that those in the utilitarian camp can't afford to switch to ruralism - or spiritualism - because they need to make a living from the land: "Most farmers lack the funds and leisure time for arcadian country living and tended to view the land in utilitarian terms. This utilitarian value could make the farmer a soulless plunderer in the eyes of the ruralist, who found elevation - not mere economic sustenance - in the country" (Buttel and Flinn 1977: 546).

National forests are managed according to utilitarian ideals, and national parks were initially managed according to Muir's spiritual ideals (Duncan and Burns 2009). Despite Muir's belief that all animals were God's creatures, national park policy was to eliminate predators in order to promote healthy flocks of prey species like deer and elk. It was the third and final moral vision that led to embracing predators in the parks - and outside of them.

Darwin and Aldo Leopold ushered in the third moral vision, biocentric. Darwin placed humans back among animals instead of separate from and above them. Leopold emphasized the value of intact ecosystems and discovered that predators have a niche in a balanced ecosystem. He saw that areas with Mexican grey wolves also had healthy deer populations and healthy vegetation, but where the wolf was extirpated, the deer overpopulated and overgrazed the vegetation (Leopold 1949). Adolph Murie in particular was instrumental in discovering that the wolves of Denali National Park were not responsible for a decline in the population of Dall sheep as was commonly thought. The decrease in Dall sheep, he found, was actually due to a harsh winter. He published his work in 1944.

The epistemology of the biocentric moral vision is scientific consensus (Farrell 2015: 38). They value intact ecosystems that function in an equilibrium and they see humans as one species among many interconnected species, but not above them (Farrell 2015: 36). Wilson (1997) also uses the term "biocentric" to describe a similar concept.

The spiritual and biocentric viewpoints are compatible enough that the same individual can adopt them both. Both call for leaving nature alone to preserve it, and the same person may idealize intact ecosystems from a scientific perspective and feel spiritually elevated by hiking or hearing the howls of wild wolves. A content analysis of pro-wolf public comment letters submitted in response to the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to delist gray wolves from the endangered species list in Wyoming found that writers commonly invoked values from both moral visions (Farrell 2015: 208). For example, of all of the letters that gave either spiritual or ecological reasons to continue listing wolves as endangered, 26 percent included both (Farrell 2015: 209).

A second way sociologists categorize human views of nature came from philosophy. Both utilitarianism and spiritualism are separatist concepts of nature, viewing nature as that which excludes human activity (Bell 1994:121). The Native American way to properly interact with nature, which involves "establishing a deeply experiential and reciprocal relationship with" plants and animals, and the biocentric one are holistic, including humans as part of nature (Anderson 2005).

Philosophers find faults with both separatist and holistic views (Bell 1994:122). The problems of holism are apparent in the management of Yellowstone itself. If humans are part of nature, then why must we set aside land for a natural park, separate from other human developments? If humans and human activity is natural, then why does preserving nature within Yellowstone require limiting human activity there?

Separatism allows us to sidestep these questions, as the park can be considered natural by a separatist definition because it is (relatively) free of human influence. Of course, it has been heavily managed by people, but less so than, say, Manhattan. And as long as one ignores the roads and hotels, or the human extirpation and reintroduction of wolves, or the fact that Native Americans lived on this land and impacted it for thousands of years before Euro-Americans "discovered" it in a "pristine" state (and the expelled the Native Americans from the park), one can imagine they are in a wilderness untouched by humans.

In the U.S., the two separatist visions, utilitarian and spiritual, "left us with a schizophrenic approach to the natural world: humans either conquer nature and destroy its integrity, or they visit it as an outsider, idealizing its beauty and largely leaving it alone... Both positions treat nature as an abstraction - separate from humans and not understood, not real" (Anderson 2005)

Given the contradictions in both holism and separatism, humans may find a way to creatively combine them in their belief systems (Bell 1994:131-135). Or they may maintain a separatist mindset but solve its problems with pastoralism (Bell 1994:125). Pastoralism creates a gradient in which cities are further from nature and rural life (particularly in the past) is closer to it, drawing a contrast between "habits of living between societies of the natural rural past and the unnatural urban present" (Bell 1994:125). Ruralists (Buttel and Flinn 1977) and spiritualists (Farrell 2015) exhibit pastoralism. People who believe in both spiritual and biocentric moral visions must find a way to reconcile the separatism of the former and the holism of the latter in their concept of nature.

Perhaps Farrell's utilitarians are pastoralists too, as they find moral virtue in working in nature in the rural areas of the Northern Rocky Mountains. However, it is difficult to reconcile their belief that nature is to be used by humans with pastoralism. They idealize their lives as "outdoorsmen" but also believe that the wilderness should be conquered and civilized by humans in the name of progress. After a forest has been clear cut for lumber, how is it still natural to a separatist? And yet, logging forests or mining ore or drilling for gas and oil are the very uses to which utilitarians believe nature should be put.

* Anderson, MK. 2005. Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources. University of California Press.
* Bell, M.M. 1994. Childerly: Nature and Morality in a Country Village.
* Bjerke et al. 1998. "Attitudes Toward Wolves in Southeastern Norway." Society and Natural Resources 11(2):169-178.
* Buttel and Flinn. 1977. "Conceptions of Rural Life and Environmental Concern." Rural Sociology, 42, 4,
* Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns. 2009. The National Parks: America's Best Idea. Alfred A. Knopf.
* Ellis, Colter. “The Symbiotic Ideology: Stewardship, Husbandry, and Dominion in Beef Production.” Rural Sociology 78, no. 4 (December 1, 2013): 429–49.
* Emel. 1995. "Are You Man Enough, Big and Bad Enough? Ecofeminism and Wolf Eradication in the USA."
* George et al. 2016. "Changes in Attitudes Toward Animals in the United States from 1978 to 2014."
* Hand and Van Liere. 1984. Religion, Mastery-Over-Nature, and Environmental Concern. Social Forces 63(2):555-570.
* Farrell. 2015. Battle for Yellowstone: Morality and the Sacred Roots of Environmental Conflict. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
* Kellert. 1985. "Public Perception of Predators, Particularly the Wolf and Coyote." Biological Conservation 31(2): 167-169.
* Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck. 1961. "Variations in Value Orientations." Row Peterson.
* Manfredo et al. 2009. "Linking Society and Environment: A Multilevel Model of Shifting Wildlife Value Orientations in the Western United States." Social Science Quarterly 90(2): 407-427.
* Nie. 2003. Beyond wolves: The politics of wolf recovery and management.
* White, L. 1967. "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis." Science 155:1203-07.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Kloppenburg. 1991. "Social Theory and the De/Reconstruction of Agricultural Science: Local Knowledge for an Alternative Agriculture."

Kloppenburg, J. (1991), Social Theory and the De/Reconstruction of Agricultural Science: Local Knowledge for an Alternative Agriculture. Rural Sociology, 56: 519–548. doi:10.1111/j.1549-0831.1991.tb00445.x

Kloppenburg begins with a quote by Carol Cohn that refers to "militarized masculinity and decontextualized rationality." Although there is more to the quote, and the rest of the quote relates better to Kloppenburg's purpose, those words caught my attention.

Kloppenburg is writing as an activist, an advocate of sustainable agriculture, and a critic of what we now call either conventional or production or industrial agriculture. Making the leap from the form of agriculture he opposes to the one he supports involves a "deconstructive task" - "the demonstration that agricultural science as currently constituted provides neither a complete, nor an adequate, nor even a best possible account of the sphere of agricultural production" and a "reconstructive task" - "the identification and legitimation of alternative sources of knowledge production for agriculture - sources which now have no voice, or speak without authority, or simply are not heard in contemporary agroscientific discourse" (p. 520). The deconstruction began with Rachel Carson and Silent Spring in 1962. For the reconstruction, he advocates "local knowledge."

Calling the deconstruction project "more a diffuse historical tendency than a coherent project" (p. 521), Kloppenburg cites critiques not just about conventional agriculture's ecological impact, but also its social one. Additionally, there are critiques of "the manner in which particular social interests gain differential influence over the institutional structure of knowledge production" - in other words, a few powerful agribusiness interests disproportionately influence call the shots (p. 521). Kloppenburg points to several critiques of the "validity and utility of the methodologies employed in research and the epistemic constitution of knowledge production itself" (p. 521). This sentence is so good I'll just quote it in full: "A growing number of biological scientists are concerned that the reductionistic and positivistic approaches characteristic of modern science constrain pursuit of unorthodox but potentially productive research initiatives, obscure important connections between organisms and phenomena, and actively inhibit achievement of holistic understanding of ecological systems" (p. 521). He cites as sources Suppe 1988; Allen and Starr 1982; Levins and Lewontin 1985; MacRae et al. 1989; Odum 1989; Prigogine and Stengers 1984.

After naming organizations calling for sustainable agriculture, Kloppenburg provides the response from Big Ag and some agricultural scientists: knowledge creation is for the scientists alone. If we are to have a different type of agriculture, it will be developed by them: "The objective is to control the shape that alternative agriculture will take by insisting upon the hegemony of existing science and thereby limiting the type and range of knowledges that can be brought to bear upon the construction of an alternative agriculture" (p. 522).

Therefore, Kloppenburg reframes his notion of a deconstructive project, adding that it is not to take down the current type of agriculture practiced in this country but the entire system of how agricultural knowledge is produced and legitimized: "The object... is not simply what should constitute alternative agriculture but - even more fundamentally - who is even to have the power to speak authoritatively in that debate, who is to have a voice at all" (p. 523).

For Kloppenburg, the reconstruction project involves not just a reconstruction of agricultural practices, but a reconstruction of agricultural science, of how agricultural knowledge is produced.

In the next section, Kloppenburg places science in a social context. In other words, he's pulling back the curtain on "decontextualized rationality." I'd like to quote a few particularly beautiful passages:

"In contemporary society, what we call science enjoys a privileged status among the possible ways of establishing knowledge about the world" (Aronowitz 1988; Marcuse 1964; Mulkay 1979) (p. 524).

"The mental productions we call scientific knowledge are no less subject to social influences than are the products of any other way of knowing and are, therefore, the fruits of a scientific enquiry that must be envisioned as, in Knorr-Cetina's (1981 :3) succinct phrasing, "constructive rather than descriptive."" (p. 524)

"The "facticity" of science is not comprised of objective descriptions of a determinate natural world but of socially contingent constructions provides a foundation for a powerful new critique of science" (p. 524).

In other words, the scientific method is but one way of producing knowledge and, due to social factors, we privilege this way of producing knowledge above all others. However, that does not make knowledge produced in other ways necessarily false. What it does do is tie knowledge production to power relations. In this case, it means that the most powerful interests in agriculture get to frame the problems, decide what gets studied, and limit the range of solutions considered, and the less powerful do not. He cites Gieryn 1983. Then he finishes by stating that if this system is socially constructed then it can also be socially reconstructed in a better, more equitable way.

Kloppenburg ties this to the work of feminists, writing, "As Keller (1987:37-38) points out, this conclusion follows logically from a central premise of feminist studies generally: just as gender is a socially constructed representation (rather than a precise reflection) of sex, so is science a socially constructed representation (rather than a precise reflection) of nature" (p 525).

To unpack this point, he bring's up Harding's (1986) "three tendencies in feminist thinking about the production of scientific knowledge:" "feminist empiricism," "feminist postmodernism," and "feminist standpoint" theory (p. 526). The first, feminist empiricism calls for "more rigorous adherence to the existing scientific method" to produce a larger but not a separate body of knowledge. Feminist postmodernism, if I am reading correctly, calls for more inclusiveness in who does science but does not think that all will come together to produce a single body of knowledge. Rather, there will be multiple different bodies of knowledge, each of which are "partial knowledges." The third approach, feminist standpoint, calls for a feminist version of science to supplant the existing science we have, as it will be superior.

Kloppenburg makes clear that he's not interested in endorsing one or all of these three approaches, but in their shared recognition that (he's quoting another author here):
"no rigid boundary separates the subject of knowledge (the knower) and the natural object of that knowledge; where the subject/object split is not used to legitimize the domination of nature; where nature itself is conceptualized as active rather than passive, a dynamic and complex totality requiring human cooperation and understanding rather than a dead mechanism, requiring only manipulation and control (Fee 1986:47)." (Quoted in Kloppenburg p. 526)
In other words, he's still saying that scientifically produced knowledge under the current system is not the only way to produce valid knowledge, and the current system of knowledge production reflects our current social structure. In the quote, Fee is also claiming that men maintain a false separation between the scientific subject and its object (the scientist in the lab coat is outside the cage of rats he is studying and he presumably has no effect on them, or they on him, and none of the social structure of the world impacts the research he is doing on them, and Fee thinks that is false).

Kloppenburg takes issue with the notion that making this correction to science is uniquely feminist. Fee wrote that other groups besides women have also made the same critique, and Kloppenburg sums up her point of view: "What feminists criticize as masculinist science is also criticized from other standpoints - differently situated knowledges, one might say - as European science, or imperialist science, or bourgeois science" (p. 527).

So apparently one does not need to be a woman to critique the existing version of science or to reform it.

Kloppenburg then synthesizes the work of several feminist scholars to call for and define what he calls "local knowledge."

"I agree with Fee that this spirit of eclecticism-of "shared conversations in epistemology" (Haraway 1988:584)-is the most fruitful analytical approach in a world of multiple identities and hyphenated commitments. One of the central themes in the feminist analysis of science is the importance of legitimating and reaffirming the value of producing knowledge through "sensuous activity" (Rose 1986:72) and "personal experience" (Harding 1986:240) that is necessarily and specifically "local" (and therefore neither universalizing nor essentializing) in character (Smith 1987). I suggest that what I will call "local knowledge" is an expression of such production and that it is the global ubiquity of this form of knowledge production that accounts at least in part for the curious coincidences noted by Harding and Fee" (p. 527)

In fact, he points out that a number of other scholars who aren't feminists or even women also offer up ideas about different types of knowledge:

"A wide variety of analysts from the phenomenologist philosophers to contemporary anthropologists have tried to illuminate this epistemic distinction through elaboration of a range of paired concepts: "tacit knowledge/ scientific knowledge" (Polanyi 1966), "science of the concrete/science" (Levi-Strauss 1962), "life-world knowledge/scientific knowledge" (Bohme 1984; Husserl 1970), "craft knowledge/scientific knowledge" (Braverman 1974), "practical labor/science" (Bittner 1983), "folk wisdom/processed knowledge" (Krimsky 1984), "indigenous knowledge/scientific knowledge" (Richards 1985), "working knowledge/scientific knowledge" (Harper 1987)" (p. 528).

This distinction reminds me of an ethnobotany class I took years ago. There were two professors, a Luiseno man trained by a revered Kumeyaay elder and a white woman who had a graduate degree in botany. When presented with plants to identify, the man would use his senses - and sometimes even taste the unknown plant in order to confirm its identity. The woman, who would absolutely NEVER put an unidentified plant in her mouth, would dissect the flower, view it under a microscope, and count its various parts (sepals, petals, male parts, and female parts). She'd see if it had an inferior or superior ovary, if it was a composite flower or not, and so on. This would tell her which plant family the flower was in, and from there she could go about looking at its other attributes - leaf shape, leaf margins, size, color, etc - to determine which exact species it was.

Although both could accurately identify just about any local plant you put in front of them - often the types of information they had about the plant were complementary. The man knew how to use plants medicinally, and which ones could be eaten. The botanist had not learned anything of the sort in graduate school, but she did give us a helpful explanation about the evolution of plants, and how phloem and xylem really work. The course was valuable because both perspectives were taught. I believe that is what Kloppenburg is saying here, that currently we have just one point of view and not the other, and we need the other - especially when the one we have currently is letting us down so badly, as he believes it is.

Kloppenburg defines local knowledge as derived from lived experience: "Such knowledge is local in the sense that it is derived from the direct experience of a labor process which is itself shaped and delimited by the distinctive characteristics of a particular place with a unique social and physical environment" (p. 528). This eliminates the boundary between subject and object. "This holistic sense of the substance and context of the labor process produces a unified field of knowledge that is finely tuned to the concrete exigencies, needs, and requirements of local conditions" (p. 528).

He defines the current system of producing scientific knowledge as Cartesian reductionism - "the practice of breaking a problem down into discrete components, analyzing these separate parts in isolation from each other, and then reconstructing the system from the interpretations of the parts (Levins and Lewontin 1985:2; Merchant 1980: 182)" (p. 530).

The flaws in the current version of science are that they "fit all too well with the premium placed on power and control by authoritarian and patriarchal society and have served to reinforce the domination of women and nature (Bleier 1986; Longino 1990; Merchant 1980)" and they "involve a loss of context (social and political as well as physical and biological) which encourages a hierarchical and linear rather than an interactive and ecological view of nature (Aronowitz 1988; MacRae et al. 1989; Odum 1989:177; Prigogine and Stengers 1984)" (p. 530). The other side of the coin of Cartesianism is the "neglect and delegitimation of local knowledge production" (p. 530). He writes, "Because it is reductive, abstracting, and interested in the immutable components of a phenomenon, science loses connection with the variability of local systems" (p. 530).

Kloppenburg writes:

"The route to solutions to problems at the whole-farm level-at the local system level-runs not through agricultural scientists, but through those who think in terms of whole farms, those whose experiences are of whole farms, and whose knowledge has been developed by the integration of hand, brain, and heart in caring labor on whole farms-that is, through farmers. We should be exploring how to bring farmers and their local knowledge back into formal knowledge production for agriculture" (p. 531).

In other words, even if a particular variety of seeds can produce a particularly high yield on an experimental farm (which generally means it is grown under the best possible conditions), that does not mean that that same seed variety will actually work best for a real farmer on a real farm. This has been a problem I have seen myself, often on peasant farms in other countries. The scientists at the land grant university or the multinational corporation may come up with a dwarf variety of high yielding grain, but at the local level it causes problems because actually the farmers use the long stalks of their existing varieties as animal feed or for some other purpose, and the new variety deprives them of that. Or because the new variety, while high yielding, does not taste as good to locals. Or perhaps the crop produced is just fine, but after a farmer borrows money to buy high tech seeds and the chemical inputs needed to go with them and then sells the crop and pays back the loan with interest, the farmer makes less net income than if he or she had planted a lower yielding landrace variety from saved seeds that did not require borrowing money or purchasing inputs. Or because, while the seeds work great under ideal conditions, the farmers at the local level do not have ideal conditions - no irrigation, or sloped land, or poor soil, or bad drainage - and under those conditions the seeds do not produce well at all.

For the farmer, the profitability or viability of the entire farm matters. The farmer's own lifestyle matters too if you want to bring in the ideas of Chayanov, who wrote that peasant farmers work up until the point where the benefits gained from work no longer outweigh the drudgery of doing the work itself. The simple reductionist factor that made the high tech seed so valuable to scientists - high yield - is but one factor in many to the farmer, and it may or may not be a seed that is ultimately the most beneficial to the entire farm as a whole and to the farmer.

Another line that struck me as important was this one: "Prodded now and then to treat people as subjects rather than objects, to engage in a pedagogy "with, not for the oppressed" (Freire 1970:33), or to try "reverse learning ... to learn from farmers" (Chambers 1983)" (p. 532). In the particular case I am studying now, the scientists who study the issue (how to bring back a viable wolf population despite the unpopularity of wolves among many and the very real problem that wolves sometimes eat pet dogs and livestock) see the population that will now have to coexist with wolves as the object of study in a top-down investigation.

Often the scientists see those who dislike wolves as an obstacle to overcome. An obstacle for they, the scientists, to discover how to overcome. What if we allow trophy hunting? What if we educate people about wolves? Or we could compensate people for lost livestock? Then will they like the wolves? No? We can study why not. One source I read called this a "techno-rational" approach and critiques it for failing to see the wider social reality influencing the conflict (Nie, 2003, Beyond Wolves). But it also sees those who live among wolves as objects of study for scientists who are the legitimate people to make the right decisions (as David Mech believes, according to Nie p. 40) or to at least offer the public a menu of potential solutions and their implications as a doctor would offer a patient options for treatment and the benefits and risks of each (Nie p. 41). In either case, the people who live among wolves are not a part of the creation of knowledge except as objects of scientific study.

I am skipping past quite a bit of this article that seems less relevant to my own work at present. Then Kloppenburg comes to a section entitled "Accepting partiality: articulating situated knowledges" in which he writes, "What we need to do is to establish conversations among these partial perspectives and ground them in the specific and material context of the agricultural sector" (p. 537). It sounds like he is saying that local knowledge should not supplant scientific knowledge. The two should work side by side, together, as they did in the ethnobotany class I wrote about above, each recognizing that they both have something valuable to contribute.

He writes, "Nevertheless, by expressing a preference for the term "local knowledge," the implication is that "locality" - in the sense of inseparability from a particular place in the sense of embeddedness in a particular labor process - is the key distinguishing feature of this type of knowledge" (p. 537). While I had started to think of what he calls local knowledge as lived knowledge - knowledge gained through lived experience - here Kloppenburg emphasizes that place matters. This knowledge is not just produced through lived experience but it is tied to the place where it was produced.

Later, it becomes clear that Kloppenburg does in fact favor one of the three feminist approaches: feminist postmodernism. He states this in a section toward the end - which I will end with - that explains how multiple systems of producing knowledge can coexist.

"Feminist postmodernism suggests that the transition to a successor science is a mistaken project. Multiple and separate realities do exist and to suggest that a universal epistemological stance is possible and desirable - however feminist, holist, or oganicist it might be - is simply to replace one hegemony with another (Haraway 1986). While difference must be recognized and valued, productive interactions between ways of knowing can be established through partial connection and "decentered knowledge seeking" (Harding 1986:55). Farmers know something that agricultural scientists do not know and cannot completely know; and vice versa. Articulations between these different ways of knowing need to be established not in order to combine the knowledges, and not to translate the knowledges, but to permit mutually beneficial dialogue. The problem is not one of choosing between scientific knowledge or local knowledge, but of creating conditions in which these separate realities can inform each other." (p. 540).

Monday, February 12, 2018

Bell. 2004. Farming For Us All.

In Farming For Us All, Bell asserts, "An approach to productive farming that encourages greater stewardship of the environment's productive potential... is technically possible, say the advocates of sustainable agriculture. The real question is how it can be socially possible" (p. 10).

That is the research question of this book. Or, put more simply, "So why don't more farmers change?" (p. 12). After dismissing the suggestion that farmers simply don't like to change (p. 12-13), he notes that some believe it's "the structure of agriculture" - "the technology, market forces, and government regulations" that prevent change. Furthermore, he describes a sort of survival of the fittest: those who are still farming are the ones for whom the current structure of agriculture works, and the way they farm works with it. Given that, why would the change and do something different? (p. 13 and a footnote referencing Blank 1998, Hart 1991, and Tweeten 2003)

Bell believes this is not true for two reasons. First, because the situation for those who still farm is precarious, so it's hard to say that the current structure is really working for them. Second, farming practices are so similar from one farm to the next that it's hard to make the case that only the most efficient remain, unless you mean they are the most efficient in getting subsidies. In a footnote, he notes that he's not calling any farmer inefficient. Rather, their practices are so homogenous that it's hard to pick out one as being more efficient than the others (p. 13).

Bell sums up the message of the first part of the book: "While it is true that the current structure of agriculture encourages farmers to farm the subsidies and not the land, many if not most Iowa farmers (and their communities, their environment, and their families) find themselves poorly served by this encouragement" (p. 14).

Then Bell comes to his point, which is worth quoting in full because it's a good one:

"This phenomenology of farming - this taking for granted of what works, even when you think it might not - is a matter of more than material and temporal investments, though. It is equally a matter of identity, of the investment of the self as a man, as a woman, as a farmer. What you know is who you are. The stocks of knowledge we each old within are stocks of self as well" (p. 14).

He provides more explanation on how knowledge translates to identity, and in a footnote he cites Bentley, Rodriguez, and Gonzalez (1994), Chambers (1994), Collinson (2000), Hassanein (1999), Hassanein and Kloppenburg (1995), and Kloppenburg (1991).

Bell writes: "We learn from, and with, others, and gain a sense of social connection thereby. Knowledge is cultivated within culture and culture's lines of difference and identity - what I will be terming the cultivation of knowledge" (p. 15). A little later he writes, "knowledge is a social relation" (p 15).

Then he relates it to why more farmers do not adopt sustainable methods: "To give up a cultivation of knowledge, to give up a field of knowing and relating, is to give up both a field of self and its social affiliations and a field of trust in the secure workings of the world" (p. 15).

Bell connects knowledge to power, invoking Foucault. One might also connect this idea to Skogen, Mauz, and Krange (2008) in which the authors contrast the narratives of the more powerful pro-wolf contingent and the less powerful anti-wolf one, pointing out that the narratives reflect differential power relations. Here they are not discussing the knowledge itself but the status of the narratives of each side, in which the more powerful side's narrative is seen as scientific fact and official truth, whereas the less powerful side's narrative is seen as rumors.

Back to Bell, he describes a number of farmers who experience "phenomenological rupture" in which both one's identity and one's cultivation of knowledge change at the same time, and do so quickly (p. 16).

In the last part of the book, Bell describes how changing your farming practices means changing your social relations. As he goes on to define what he means, he makes it clear that he does not simply mean that switching to sustainable agriculture switches the people you spend time with ("an alternative set of social relations, of friends and associates with whom one identifies"). He also specifies that it brings with it a different "social practice of agriculture" (emphasis in original, p. 17). That is, for at least the particular group of farmers he was studying in Iowa, "the relations of knowledge... have a different feel to them, a different way of experiencing others and of experiencing one's own self" (p. 17).

It sounds like he is saying that conventional agriculture is what the IAASTD report calls "locally black box." That is, knowledge travels from top down, with experts producing knowledge and disseminating it as a universal truth. Another way to produce knowledge is by one's self. Bell calls both of these methods "monologic." But the knowledge of the sustainable farmers who are the subject of his book is produced jointly, with one another, in a dialogue.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Ecology of PCT Section A

My pet peeve is when PCT hikers refer to the first 700 miles of the trail as "desert." Some of it is desert, but some of it isn't. Within Section A, from the border to Warner Springs, most of the trail is not actually desert. This site provides an explanation of the many different plant communities within California. Some non-desert ones that you encounter in Section A are: Chaparral, Oak Woodland, Riparian, Mixed Evergreen Forest, and Coastal Sage Scrub. A desert plant community you may encounter is creosote bush scrub.

Coastal Sage Scrub
I have a hard time distinguishing between coastal sage scrub and chaparral, but as you start the trail, you are certainly in one of the two most of the time until you nearly reach the top of Mt. Laguna. The way I've been told to tell the difference is that chaparral is woodier and harder to walk through off-trail. Some call it "elfin forest" because, to a tiny elf, it would look like an enormous forest.

Common plants in Coastal Sage Scrub are: "California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) Buckwheat (Eriogonum spp., notably E. fasciculatum), California Lilac (Ceanothus spp.), Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.), Monkey flowers (Diplacus spp., the drought tolerant types), Sage (Salvia spp.), Gooseberry and Currant (Ribes spp.), Coyote Brush (Baccharis sp.)."

You certainly see these plants as you go along your first section of trail. In the early spring, the ceanothus, also known as California Lilac, is blooming everywhere. Trees are absolutely covered in white to lavender to dark blue-purple flowers. They are very hard to photograph (trust me, I've tried for years) because they are so tiny and they flutter in the wind non-stop.

Buckwheat is hard to tell apart from another plant, chamise, unless the two are blooming, but buckwheat has umbels of tiny white flowers that turn rust-colored as they dry. Even after the flowers are gone, you can see umbrella shaped umbels sticking out from the plant. Chamise also has white flowers, but they are not in umbels at all. I've seen both on the trail. The first mile or two of the PCT is covered in chamise, which should be in full bloom in May. Red and orange monkeyflowers are also common, and you''ll also see (and smell) plenty of white sage and California sagebrush.

Buckwheat flowers with tarantula hawk wasp on it on Mt. Laguna, ~ mi 48

Chamise in bloom, on the trail in the first mile

Monkeyflower at mile 3

As noted before, Chaparral is sometimes called "elfin forest." It's similar to sage scrub but it would be harder to hike cross country through it because it's woodier.

"The aspect of a hillside can make a great difference in the makeup of the chaparral. North facing slopes are a lot moister and can support Toyon (Heterromoles arbutifolia), Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.), Scrub oak (Quercus spp.), Pitcher sage (Lepechinia spp.), Climbing Penstemon (Kekiella cordifolia, K. antirrhinoides), and Poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). The dry arid south facing slope is dominated by Chamise (Adenostoma spp.), Black sage (Salvia melifera), Yucca (Yucca spp.), Woolly blue curls (Trichostema lanatum) and Bush poppy, (Dendromecon rigida)."

Of these, I saw a lot of chamise, manzanita, scrub oak, poison oak, yucca, and woolly blue curls in the early part of the trail. The poison oak was mostly limited to wetter areas like creeks. You can tell the manzanitas by their gorgeous red bark. Woolly blue curls are one of my favorite flowers of all. I saw quite a few in the first mile of the trail.

Woolly Blue Curls
Woolly blue curls, in the first mile of the trail

A manzanita at mile 2

More chamise, mile 3

Poison Oak
Poison oak at mile 1. Keep an eye out for more of it at the creek at mile 4.4.

There are a few other plants I saw quite a bit in the first few miles. They include:

Basket Bush
Basket Bush, Rhus trilobata, which some confuse with Poison Oak

Ribbonwood, also known as Red Shank, in the first mile or two of the trail

Sugar Bush
Sugar Bush, Rhus ovata, at mile 2. This shows the fruit and leaves in May.

Sugar Bush flower buds in March at mile 1

This year, you'll get to see an interesting phenomenon as you hike toward Lake Morena. When you pass the several miles that burned in the Campo fire last year, you will see a lot of "crown sprouters." The crown is the part of the plant where the roots meet the top portion of the plant. A lot of chaparral plants are adapted to burn above ground in a fire, but stay alive below ground. After the fire, they re-sprout from the crown. In March I saw several miles of nearly entirely bare ground with dead shrubs poking up all over. At the base of each, the plant was resprouting. At that time, the only other plants growing tended to be wild cucumber vines (with nothing to climb on since everything had burned) and California peonies.

Wild Cucumber
Wild cucumber fruit starting to grow with its flower still intact. Note: These are NOT EDIBLE fruits

Wild Cucumber
Wild cucumber flower

California Peony
California peony

Sagebrush, Oaks, Buckwheat, Elder, and Golden Yarrow
Sagebrush, Coast Live Oaks, Buckwheat, Elder, and Golden Yarrow around mile 21

As you hike your first miles of PCT, you also pass Riparian plant communities along streams. One example of this is right as you go under the 8 freeway, just north of Boulder Oaks. Riparian plant communities are always along streams, although sometimes the water dries up in SoCal during part of the year.

You commonly see three kinds of trees here: Cottonwoods, Sycamores, and Willows. You may also see blackberries, wild grapes, yerba mansa, California wild roses, poison oak, Douglas mugwort, cattails, and Juncus.

Blackberry near the footbridge just north of the 94, ~ mile 2

California Wild Rose
California Wild Rose, mile 24

Oak Woodland
Despite the description of Oak Woodland as containing both Coast Live Oaks and Engelmann Oaks, you'll see mostly Coast Live Oaks at the lower elevation. I saw a great example of oak woodland at Lake Morena, complete with acorn woodpeckers all over the place living on the acorns. Fred Canyon at mile 32 looked like another good example.

Coast Live Oak
Coast Live Oak leaves at mile 2

Oak Tree
Coast Live Oak at Boulder Oaks, mile 26

I thought I might have found one Engelmann Oak around mile 22. They are not very common trees. In general, most of the time you see a tree (not a shrub) and you aren't near water, it's probably a coast live oak.

Right now, our oaks are in trouble from a bug called the Gold Spotted Oak Borer. It is invasive, probably from Arizona, and scientists believe it came to California in firewood. That is why they encourage you to "buy it where you burn it" when you buy firewood. Pests can be transported in the wood. The Gold Spotted Oak Borer lays its eggs in the bark of the trees and the larvae eat the inner bark of the trees, ultimately killing the trees. Then they boroe their way out to reproduce so the next generation can kill more trees. They only like older, larger trees, so it's the big, old trees that are in trouble.

Mixed Evergreen Forest
At last you reach Mixed Evergreen Forest on Mt. Laguna. I was surprised how far up the mountain I was before I truly reached it. I hiked to mile 36 in the dark and camped there, and then I woke up the next day and continued. I don't think it was until I was really around mile 40 or so that I felt like I had at long last reached the Jeffrey and Coulter Pines and the Black Oaks (Quercus kelloggii) I associate with Mt. Laguna. Coulter Pines have pine cones the size of pineapples so they are easy to spot. Black Oaks are deciduous so they drop their leaves in the winter. Their leaves look much different from Coast Live Oak leaves. Their acorns are different too. Coast Live Oak acorns are long, skinny, and pointy, whereas Black Oak acorns are more rounded and fatter.

Black Oak at Sunset
Black Oak leaves, mile 47

Coulter Pine
Coulter Pine on Mt. Laguna

Coulter Pine Cone
Coulter Pine with my hiking boot in the shot to show scale

It's not until you leave Mt. Laguna that other ecosystems transition into true desert. The miles before and after Scissors Crossing (mile 77-78) are truly desert. There you will see lots of different kinds of cacti, creosote bush, cat claw acacia, honey mesquite, and other desert plants.


As you climb out of the desert in the San Felipe hills, at a certain point the landscape changes and it's not truly desert anymore. I don't know at what point that is. You go up, up, up until about mile 96, and then you start going down the other side. And THAT is where you truly see a change. It's especially remarkable from about Barrel Springs (mile 101) onward, into Warner Springs. You can see this photo below, from near mile 106, is clearly no longer desert.


It's interesting that you are hiking between about 2000 and 6000 feet in elevation for all of Section A, and you are about 50 miles inland and going north the whole way through a cross-section of San Diego county. Why is it not all desert?

The answer lies in the mountains. Think about the miles you hike on Mt. Laguna from about 43 to 49. You are at about 5800 feet looking down over a vast, dry desert. Moisture comes in from the coast and it rises and cools. A lot of the rain falls on Mt. Cuyamaca, named from the Kumeyaay word for "rainy place." What's left falls on Mt. Laguna. Very little moisture remains after that, creating the desert. But without such tall mountains to cool the air and wring all of the moisture out of it, other areas of the county that are equally far inland are not equally dry.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

PCT Day 7 - Miles 105 to 109.5: Warner Springs

My last day on the trail was a short one. I had just 4.5 miles to go, and they were flat, easy miles at that.

I'd been naughty and camped near a creek the night before, and I resolved not to go to the bathroom the next day until I was well away from it so that I did not pollute the water. I packed up, ate a bar, and got going, eager for the moment when I was far enough from the creek that I could do my business.

The trail crosses the creek and then climbs above it, eventually entering a meadow. This part of the trail is beautiful. I could not get an adequate picture of it, but imagine mountains all around in the background and green, rolling meadows filled with wildflowers of all colors. There were fiddlenecks, baby blue eyes, daisies, lupines, ground pinks, red maids, cryptantha, California poppies, and a creamy white flower I did not recognize.




California Poppy




Baby Blue Eyes

Red Maid

Ground Pinks

Before long, the trail reaches Eagle Rock, which is what it sounds like... a rock that looks like an eagle. The meadow gives way to some chaparral, and then the trail reaches another meadow, one I'd camped in before. I was now firmly on familiar ground. From there, the trail enters oak woodland and goes along a creek. For much of the way, the creek is not easily accessible from the trail. But just before the trail reaches the highway, there are some good campsites near the creek, and then the creek crosses the trail and I had to step through the shallow water.

The road is Highway 79, and the trail reaches it next to a fire station. Instead of continuing on the trail, I crossed the road and went right, walking about a hundred yards to the Warner Springs Community Resource Center.

With such a short hike, my body felt fine, but my feet HURT. I thought about it and realized that my hiking boots were probably at the end of their lives.

Unfortunately, even at Highway 79, my stupid T-Mobile phone STILL had no reception. I borrowed a man's phone at the Warner Springs Community Resource Center (he had Verizon, which has service) and called my friend to come get me. Then I enjoyed all of the creature comforts they had to offer: a flush toilet, a chair, and the opportunity to take my hiking boots off and put my camp shoes on instead.

My brief little adventure on the PCT was over, although I still have 28 miles of Section A to hike (from mile 48.9 to mile 77) that I plan to do within the next year. It was so much fun, I think I'll hike Section B next!