Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Wild Free and Happy Sample 30

[Note: This is the thirtieth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 202 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 


The first species of the horse genus (Equus) emerged in North America about 4.5 million years ago.  Over time, some migrated to South America, and others crossed the land bridge to Eurasia, and spread as far as Western Europe.  Maybe 15,000 years ago, hunters from Siberia discovered America, home to many horses.  Over the following centuries, a surge of megafauna extinctions occurred.  The last horse in the Americas died in Patagonia about 7000 B.C.  In 1493, Spaniards brought domesticated horses to the Americas, and by 1550, there were 10,000 of them rediscovering their ancestral homeland.

Graham Harvey noted that horses are fine tuned for grassland living.  They can run at a sustained gallop of 43 mph (70 km/h).  Sheep and cattle have complicated digestive tracts, so they need to rest after grazing.  Horses can eat and run.  They can go up to four days without water, so they can utilize grasslands farther from water sources.

Dixie West added that horses are able to efficiently digest a high fiber diet, so they can live on a daily intake of just 22 pounds (10 kg) of vegetation.  They are better able to survive on low quality forage, and they require less pampering than other livestock.  Prior to winter, herders had to gather and store hay for feeding cattle and sheep.  Horses were able to feed themselves throughout the cold months.  They also grew warm coats. 

Food Critters

Horses and hominins have had a long relationship.  As mentioned earlier, Neanderthals were trapping and killing horses at the Roche de Solutré site in France about 55,000 years ago.  Later, around 37,000 years ago, humans killed many horses at the same location.  West noted that, when panicked, horses flee in a single file, rather than rapidly scattering in every direction.  This made it easier to drive herds into traps. 

Over time, hunters got too good at trapping and killing horses.  Pita Kelekna wrote an excellent book on the history of the horse-human relationship.  She noted that by the Neolithic era (8000–4500 B.C.), the once plentiful wild horses had disappeared across most of Europe.  Some were able to survive in small pockets of Spain and central Europe. 

To the east, large numbers of wild horses thrived on the vast wide open steppes, where there was no brush or trees to conceal hungry hunters.  The placement of a horse’s eyes gives them a 300° range of vision — they can see in almost every direction.  The flat landscape lacked ravines or valleys into which herds could be conveniently driven, trapped, and killed.

Humans have been eating horses for tens of thousands of years.  Today, folks in many nations continue enjoying lunch dates with horses.  In the top eight horse loving nations, 4.7 million are eaten every year. 


Long before horses were enslaved, sheep, goats, and cattle were domesticated in the Middle East.  Horses remained wild and free until maybe 4000 B.C.  They had thrived on the steppes, which were northern shortgrass prairies that spanned a 5,000 mile (8,046 km) range from Hungary to Manchuria.  Several scholars have speculated that domestication probably saved horses from extinction, because it transformed them from wild and free into private property — my horsy!

Wild horses were strong, fast, intelligent, and aggressive.  They were not easy to domesticate.  When cornered, they aggressively stomp, kick, and bite.  Swift kicks could be fatal.  Zebras, their Equus cousins, have never been tamed, despite countless attempts — the older they get, the meaner.

The domestication of horses was a revolutionary event in the human saga — like fire, agriculture, metallurgy, fossil energy, nuclear technology, and so on.  Countless highly destructive new trends did not become possible until after their domestication.  Sometimes it’s interesting to play “what if.”  What if evolution had selected for untamable zebras, rather than horses? 

Kelekna described, at great length, the huge impacts that domesticated horses had on the course of both human and environmental history.  At first, domesticated horses were kept for meat, milk, and hides.  Eventually folks learned how to effectively utilize horse power, greatly reducing society’s heavy dependence on human muscles.  Horses could pull stuff like plows, wagons, logs, and battle chariots.  They could carry heavy loads.  They could be ridden.  A herder with a dog could oversee 150 to 200 sheep, but a mounted herder could manage 500. 

Horses enabled humans to quickly travel long distances, a huge boost to human mobility.  They made it far easier to hunt large animals, or to raid enemies.  Trade networks could extend much farther, and transport larger cargoes of goods back and forth.  Long distance travel could also transfer technologies, religions, ideas, infectious diseases, and invasive exotics over long distances.  Horse domestication promoted the expansion of farming and herding, spurring population growth and conflict.

Nomadic Pastoralists

Bridle, saddle, and stirrup innovations eventually enabled humans to ride horses, at high speed, while effectively using deadly weapons to kill game or enemies.  Military campaigns could travel farther, and strike fast and hard.  Horses enabled the emergence of large nomad empires, and the spilling of oceans of blood.  Kelekna said that horsepower greatly benefitted the pursuit of “bloodshed, massacres, deportations, enslavement, amputation, beheadings, torture, incineration, rape, castration, famine, pestilence, and destruction.”

Nomadic herders did not need to trade with agricultural societies in order to acquire food.  They enjoyed an independent lifestyle.  Seed-bearing grasses were common on the steppe, and nomads simply gathered the wild grain.  Herds provided milk, blood, and meat.  Nomads were likely better nourished than most of the hungry dirty peasants and slaves in farm country.

Paul Shepard wrote that around 1800 B.C., mounted warriors with iron weapons opened the door to a new and super bloody chapter in the human saga.  Sudden surprise attacks from hordes of nomad warriors shattered or destroyed many civilizations, which were plump sitting ducks that were irresistibly tempting to plunder.  These attacks inspired the construction of a variety of defensive fortifications — wooden palisades, massive stone walls, moats, drawbridges, and so on.  Traditional population management services formerly provided by man-eating predators were now shifting to warriors, starvation, and epidemics.

It was no longer safe to live in many regions.  An old Bedouin proverb declares, “Raids are our agriculture.”  Describing tribes of horse-worshipping German herders in A.D. 98, Tacitus wrote that fighting was better than farming.  “They even think it base and spiritless to earn by sweat what they might purchase with blood.”  Shepard noted that these mounted nomadic raiders developed a culture of “hierarchy, theft, rebellious sons, and competitive use of the earth.” 

Our wild hunter-gatherer ancestors were egalitarian, no leaders, all were equal.  The secret to their tens of thousands of years of success was sharing, cooperation, and an intimate relationship with the land.  Nomads had an entirely different worldview, one that favored patriarchy, raiding, conquering, accumulating personal wealth, and competing for status.  Primary components of their worldview continue to be the foundation in modern cultures.

Horses and Wheels

David Anthony wrote that wheeled vehicles first appeared in the Old World around 3300 B.C., and were of great benefit to herders.  Carts made it much easier to move families, food, tents, and water to greener pastures, for extended stays, to better keep their herds well fed.  He said that horses and carts enabled nomads to intensify their exploitation of the steppes, which had previously been little used by humans.

To better appreciate the impact of horses and wheels in the Old World, it’s interesting to look at the Americas.  In the New World, the llamas and alpacas of Peru were the only large animals domesticated, and neither was capable of carrying an adult rider.  In the Old World, the diabolical invention of the wheel greatly accelerated agriculture, deforestation, population growth, empire building, and on and on.  Industrial civilization could not exist in a world without wheels.  In the New World, the only wheels were those found on tiny clay toys.  Without horses, the pampas and prairies of the Americas had wee populations, and little or no agriculture.

Having no carts or wagons, the Inca civilization in Peru did not need to build smooth roads.  They did build bridges, dig tunnels, and cut steps up steep hillsides.  Pack trains of llamas could travel up to 12 miles per day (19 km), with each animal carrying up to 101 pounds (46 kg).  Speedy long-distance communication was provided by messages relayed from one Inca runner to the next.  This was much slower than Genghis Khan’s pony express system, which could move messages 248 miles (400 km) per day.

In Mesoamerica, the pack animals were two legged primates.  On a good day, a healthy lad might carry 50 pounds (23 kg) for 13 to 17 miles (21 to 28 km).  Without carts or pack animals, Mesoamericans could not create vast sprawling empires like Rome.  While the Mayans built some roads, hiking in Mexico was via dirt paths, where they existed.  Military adventures were restricted in the New World.  Each soldier had to carry his own provisions, which limited the load size and distance travelled.  Thus, if supplies could not be snatched from villagers along the way, campaigns would have been limited to round trips of eight days or so. 

In Eurasia, huge Mongol cavalries could zoom across the steppe at 68 miles (110 km) per day.  The Eurasian steppes experienced century after century of the rise and fall of numerous hordes of horse-mounted nomads like the Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, Huns, Avars, Bulgars, Magyars, Mongols, and Turks.  Mongol empires grew with explosive speed.  They peaked between 1279 and 1350, when they inhabited Iraq, Iran, central Asia, most of Russia, and all of China.  This was the largest contiguous empire in human history.  Later, the British Empire controlled more territory, but in many scattered regions.

Beasts of Burden

Paul Shepard was the opposite of a horse lover, because of the many new imbalances that domesticated horses enabled.  Compared to hand labor, the introduction of horses to agriculture allowed farm production to double.  This, of course, led to population growth, which often increased faster than the endlessly busy Grim Reaper could keep up with.  Agriculture’s faithful shadow is soil destruction.  We’re essentially eating soil.  The skin is being torn off of Mother Earth.  This has no long term future.

Clive Ponting wrote that before 1800, animals provided just 25 percent of the work energy, and humans did most of the rest (many serfs couldn’t afford work animals).  We used very little energy from windmills or waterwheels.  Feeding a horse required at least 6 acres (2.5 ha) of grassland, oxen a bit less.  In those days, most land suitable for crops was needed to grow food for humans, because agriculture was far less productive than today.

Consequently, prior to 1800, since people couldn’t afford a horse, they walked.  In that era, about 95 percent of humans in farming societies were peasants.  We have soft lives today, but Ponting reminds us that “Until about the last two centuries in every part of the world nearly everyone lived on the edge of starvation.”  My grandmother never tossed out apple cores, because the entire apple was food, seeds and all.

William McNeill noted that another troublesome cargo that domesticated beasts delivered into human society was deadly pathogens.  When human communities were brought into constant close contact with animals, it was far easier for diseases and parasites to leap from one species to another.  Over time, different diseases emerged in different regions.  Eventually, long distance travel for trade or warfare carried diseases from their place of origin to virgin populations that had zero immunity to them.  From A.D. 1200 to 1500, isolated regional disease pools eventually combined to form a large pool of civilized diseases.

The Black Death likely arose in China around 1331.  From there, by and by, it spread in every direction.  It hitched rides on merchant ships, armies, and trade caravans, and eventually appeared in Crimea by 1346.  From there, it proceeded to sail to Italy, rapidly visit much of Europe, and promptly delete about a third of the population.

Horses Return Home

Horses originally evolved in the Americas, and then blinked out in 7000 B.C.  In 1493, after an absence of 8,500 years, Spaniards brought domesticated horses back to the Americas.  Reintroduction eventually had dramatic effects on the western U.S. plains.  In 1598, Spanish colonists brought domesticated horses and other livestock to New Mexico.  One way or another, plains Indians acquired some of these animals. 

Richard White discussed how the acquisition of horses impacted the entire plains ecosystem.  Horses quickly became popular with many tribes.  Horses were trade commodities, the target of raids, and the inspiration for many bloody conflicts.  With horses, it became easy for hunters to kill far more buffalo.  With access to more food, population grew, tribal rivalries intensified, and warfare increased.  Horse stealing became a normal activity among the people of the plains.  Living in a remote location was no longer safe and secure, and corn growing villages were especially vulnerable to sudden raids.

Samuel Gwynne noted that prior to horses, the southern plains were lightly populated.  The region wasn’t well suited for agriculture, and hunting buffalo, antelope, and elk on foot was far from easy.  The prey was much speedier than the hunters.  A buffalo can sprint at 35 miles per hour (56 km/h).  The acquisition of horses revolutionized buffalo hunting.  A number of tribes abandoned farming, and became hunters.  With easier access to food, more people could be fed.

As American colonists began moving away from the Atlantic coast, into a wilderness of forests, prairies, and wetlands, travelling on horseback was difficult or impossible.  There were paths, but not roads suitable for wagons or carts.  At that time, Indians in the eastern U.S. travelled by footpath and canoe, via predictable routes, where colonists could ambush them.  Tribes that raised corn were far more vulnerable than nomadic hunters.  When settlers found villages, they burned them.  Stored food went up in smoke.

When colonists moved west of the Mississippi, they eventually moved beyond forest country and onto the open plains, where they met Indians on horses for the first time, and got blindsided.  It took many serious beatings until they figured out how to fight them.  Comanche warriors could readily attack any target within 400 miles.  Settlers and soldiers were sitting ducks for fast moving bands of warriors.  A warrior could shoot 20 arrows whilst a soldier or settler reloaded his musket once. 

James Sherow wrote about the challenges plains Indians had with keeping horses in the Arkansas River Valley.  Horses gave them amazing new powers, and painful new headaches.  Horses were personal property, and the more you owned, the higher your social status.  In 1855, the Cheyennes owned an average of 5.5 horses per person, and the Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, and Arapahos owned 6.2.

Climate had a major impact on the grassland.  One acre (0.4 ha) could produce 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg) of short grass when annual rainfall rose to 20 inches (51 cm).  When it dropped to 10 inches, only 450 pounds.  During hot spells, rain evaporated in midair.  Creeks and springs dried up.  During winter, the protein content of grass was half of summer levels.  In harsh winters, large herds shrank.  Horses in close confinement provided comfortable homes for a variety of parasites.

George Catlin studied western Indian tribes from 1832-1839, when buffalo herds were still enormous, and natives used bows and arrows to hunt during high speed pursuits on horseback.  He did many drawings and paintings, and wrote extensive notes.  While he was fascinated by the many things he learned, he was also sad, because the plains Indians and the buffalo were on a dead end path.  The arrival of civilized people brought lots of dark juju to the west.  Buffalo were hunted in winter when their fur was thick, and their hides were most valuable for the buffalo robe market.  After skinning the animal, the rest of the carcass was left for the wolves.  Indians living far from traders wasted no part of the animals they killed.

In May of 1832, a mounted hunting party of 500 or 600 Sioux chased a large herd for several hours, and killed many.  At the end of the day, they came to the fort with 1,400 buffalo tongues, for which they received a few gallons of whiskey, which did not last long among the thirsty lads.  The hides and meat of the dead animals were left on the grass.

The whites were making a nice profit today, and it never occurred to them to give consideration to the future of the buffalo.  Among the tribes, there was an ancient and widespread belief that the buffalo were a gift from the Great Spirit, infinite in number, and whatever they took would be replaced.  Whites also overhunted the buffalo.  Catlin could see that the buffalo could be gone in as soon as 8 to 10 years, and was deeply disturbed about the insanity of it all.

Peak Horse

The use of horses for transportation and traction peaked early in the twentieth century.  Clive Ponting noted that the U.S. was home to 20 to 30 million horses in 1900.  About a quarter of the nation’s cropland was needed to produce their food.  Model T Fords did not require six acres of good grassland to fuel them.

My grandparents witnessed the advent of Peak Horse, and my parents saw work horses largely disappear from farms and cities.  Venerable physicist Albert Bartlett calculated that, with regard to the all-time total volume of oil extracted by humankind, more than half of it will be consumed within the lifespan of the generation born since 1966.  We are living during a temporary explosion of staggering waste, and this idiotic binge has an expiration date.  So, we’ll just have to go back to horse power, right?  Well, umm, there are some challenges.

Eric Morris wrote a fascinating essay to help us remember life in the Peak Horse era.  By 1898, big city streets were jammed with horses, carriages, and wagons, squishing through a deep layer of manure and urine, past rotting horse carcasses, amidst dense clouds of flies and overpowering stench.  Cities were rapidly growing, as hordes immigrants moved in to enjoy miserable industrial jobs, while living in crowded, filthy, disease ridden slums. 

Each horse emitted 15 to 30 pounds (7 to 14 kg) of manure daily — 3 to 4 million pounds in New York City every day.  In 1800, farmers would pay haulers to bring manure to their fields.  By 1900, there was way too much poop, and it piled up on empty lots.  Some heaps were 60 feet high (18 m).  Clouds of flies picked up pathogenic microbes and brought them to your kitchen, spreading typhoid and other fecal-oral diseases.  In 1880, 41 horses died each day on the streets of New York.  The average horse weighed 1,300 pounds (590 kg).  Carcasses were often left to rot, making it easier to dismember them, so they could be hauled away.

Horses were jammed into filthy, poorly ventilated stables — excellent disease incubators.  In 1872, the Great Epizootic Epidemic struck, as huge numbers of horses were infected by the equine influenza virus.  Coughing spread it from one animal to the next.  Typically, they recovered in two to three weeks, but severe cases could immobilize an animal for six months.

During the epidemic, available horse power was drastically reduced.  Folks had to use wheelbarrows and handcarts to transport goods.  The postal service was hobbled.  Freight piled up.  Coal deliveries stopped.  Food distribution wheezed.  On farms, plows and other equipment fell idle.  Boats quit moving on the Erie Canal.  Horse-drawn fire engines and street cars did not move.  When a big fire roared in downtown Boston, firemen had to pull their heavy equipment from the station by hand.

Almost certainly, there are people alive today who will see the peak of motor vehicle production, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some (or many) will experience the extinction of motor vehicles, and the lights going out on civilization as we know it.  Bye-bye railroads, air travel, sea transport, refrigerators, elevators, mining, supermarkets, and so on.  Sewage treatment plants, municipal water systems, and digital technology will blink out.  Vast areas of cropland will cease being plowed, planted, irrigated, and harvested.  Humans may actually have to walk (eek!!). 

Future generations will gather around campfires and laugh at hilarious stories about how people used to live.  It’s sad that we the living can’t see this.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Wild Free and Happy Sample 29

[Note: This is the twenty-ninth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 202 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 


Cattle and sheep cannot thrive on depleted grazing land, but goats are especially capable of being hardcore survivalists.  They can live on barren lands, and keep them barren.  Simon Fairlie wrote that goats are popular in India, because they can survive on the same wastes that cattle consume.  While cows are sacred, goats are not, so it’s perfectly OK to eat them.  While a goat is being raised, it can devour ten acres (4 ha) of vegetation.  They do not gently nibble on the grass, they can hungrily rip it out by the roots.  They kill young trees.  Goats can be a disaster.

Paul Shepard wrote that goats are smarter than cattle or sheep, and they are blessed with interesting personalities.  They can learn to follow instructions from their master.  They are smaller than cattle, so losses to predators are less costly to the herder.  Goats get high grades in sex education classes, and are able to produce numerous offspring.  Rustlers love them because they are easier to steal than cattle.  Goats are known as the “poor man’s cow.”  A goat can produce more milk than a sheep.

Shepard imagined that in the coming years, when our reckless turbocharged joyride of decadence runs out of gas, and glides into the misty realm of embarrassing memories, our faithful companions amidst the ruins will be goats, the “avatars of poverty.”  They have given us a 5,000 year lesson in environmental catastrophe.  He was no fan of any type of domesticated livestock.  He called them “hooved locusts.”  A primary objective for many pastoralists is maximizing wealth (larger herds), not a loving, long-term, predator tolerant, ultraconservative relationship with their ecosystems.

The Earth Policy Institute (EPI) reported that ever growing numbers of livestock are working hard every day to diminish the health of world grasslands.  The EPI has been tracking livestock population trends, nation by nation.  They report that when goat numbers are rising faster than those for cattle or sheep, this is an indicator of deteriorating grassland. 

Not fussy eaters, goats are the livestock most associated with overgrazing.  As vegetation is gobbled up, less greenery survives to absorb periodic rainfall.  Consequently, more rain runs off the land, which can lead to destructive flooding.  In addition to depleting the forage, their sharp hooves also pulverize the soil surface, making soil particles more susceptible to erosion via wind or water.  Stripped landscapes led to massive floods in Pakistan in 2010.

The EPI noted that between 1970 and 2009, while the global cattle population increased by 28 percent, goat numbers more than doubled (100+ percent).  The goat trend line began rising quickly around 1980.  The Sahel region, south of the Sahara in Africa, is becoming a dustbowl.  Every year, 867,000 acres (350,862 ha) of rangeland and cropland are being lost to desertification.  Another dustbowl is rising in central Asia, western Mongolia, and western China.

John Livingston noted that only two animals create habitats: goats and humans.  Goats create deserts.  Humans create ecological train wrecks.  Sheep and goats don’t know any better but, in theory, there are some humans who are capable of making intelligent choices.  History is clear on one thing, we excel at repeating the same mistakes, century after century.  As long as they satisfy immediate needs, self-destructive habits are devilishly difficult to shake.

Daniel Hillel didn’t resent goats, because goats weren’t the problem.  The problem was pastoralists who allowed their herds to get too big.  When goats were herded on overgrazed rangeland, they ate whatever they could find, because they had no other choice.  They were far better survivalists than cattle.

Of course, stepping back even further, and using perfect hindsight, it’s not hard to see a pattern that associates animal domestication with deforestation, soil destruction, and desertification.  Wild and free animals do not have a reputation for being desert makers or forest exterminators. 

Back when all critters were wild, wolves were simply ordinary neighbors, not demonic enemies.  Their role in the ecosystem was to dine on herbivores, which helped limit the herd size, which helped keep the land healthy.  Wolves have never suffered from obnoxious beliefs about owning other animals, and gaining personal status by forcibly controlling as many as possible.  Unfortunately, herders have zero toleration for non-human predators.

Cedars of Lebanon

Lebanon is located on the east shore of the Mediterranean, just north of Israel.  It has a narrow coastal plain, and a mountainous interior.  Big Mama Nature originally clothed Lebanon with grasslands and forests, and they absorbed precipitation and kept the springs flowing — a healthy ecosystem.  The cedars of Lebanon were described in older sources as a legendary forest, a sacred land (“the cedars of god”).  Originally, the forests covered almost 2,000 square miles (5,180 km2).  That was prior to the arrival of the Phoenicians.

Tom Dale wrote that, in the early days, the Phoenicians were likely nomads who herded goats.  This could have been a low impact mode of living, as long as the population of goats and humans had remained modest, via mindful self-restraint.  Agriculture required far more hard work than goat herding, so smart folks shunned it whenever possible.  As the human population grew, feeding the growing mob became more challenging.  Consequently, farming expanded across the coastal plains, and then began spreading up into the hills.

The agriculture practiced in early civilizations, like Egypt and Mesopotamia, was enabled by irrigation.  Folks at the east end of the Mediterranean, like the Phoenicians, were the first to attempt large scale rain fed agriculture on steeply sloped land (up to 34°).  They received heavy winter rains, followed by fairly dry summers, the pattern we call a Mediterranean climate (like California).

Over time, experiments in self-restraint (if any) eventually failed.  By 2500 B.C., a civilization emerged in Phoenicia.  It had an impressive merchant fleet, communities of skilled artisans, and good ports at Tyre, Sidon, and Beirut.  The biggest threat to their prosperity was insufficient food production (i.e., insufficient family planning).  As hillside agriculture intensified, stone terraces had to be built on the slopes to keep the soil from washing away.  Constructing and maintaining stepped terraces took lots and lots of hard work.  An increasingly pissed off Big Mama Nature sometimes conjured intense cloudbursts to suddenly wash them away. 

King Solomon sent 150,000 men to Lebanon to cut and haul lumber back to Palestine, where it would be used for building temples, palaces, and trophy homes for fat cats.  Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Egypt were also growing rapidly, and needed lots of lumber.  Wood was traded for food, but the food imports were not enough.  So, the Phoenicians created a number of colonies along the Mediterranean coast from which they could extract resources.  Their civilization peaked between 1200 and 800 B.C., and blinked out in 332 B.C., when Alexander the Great conquered them, and crucified 2,000 upper class folks in Tyre.

Dale wrote that by then, most of the forests were already history.  Over the next few centuries, Greeks and Romans finished off what remained, with a few exceptions (four small groves).  Topsoil had largely washed off the hillsides, and silted up the harbors.  Clogged river deltas became malarial marshlands.  The damage was so severe that the land could not recover and allow another thriving civilization to rise from the ruins.

Anyway, over time, almost all of the cedars of Lebanon got mowed down.  Green vegetation emerged amidst the stumps, and herds of goats hungrily chewed it up.  Lebanon’s cedars don’t produce their first cones (seeds) until they are about 40 years old.  There were almost no inaccessible rocky crags where goats could not eat new trees, as fast as they appeared.  Consequently, the forests were doomed.  Deforestation, hungry goats, and winter rains were the prime causes of massive erosion that turned Lebanon into “a well-rained-on desert.”  It will take many, many thousands of years for nature to replace the lost soil.

Trendy societies destroyed their ecosystems as fast as possible, in order to soar off into a giddy high called decadence (sort of like glue sniffing kids today).  For centuries, a series of Mediterranean civilizations took turns rising and falling, conquering and being conquered.  Raiders and pirates worked hard to snatch whatever they could, whenever possible, by any means necessary. 

Writing in 1955, Dale wrote that today, Lebanon, Crete, Turkey, Palestine, Tunisia, Algeria, Spain, Italy, Sicily, Yugoslavia, and Greece were far more torn and tattered than in the good old days.  All had lived way too hard, something like a long intense binge of oblivion drinking (…and then cometh the excruciating hammer blows of a merciless permanent hangover).  In the twenty-first century, we (the most “educated” generation ever) knowingly continue repeating the same stupid mistakes, all around the world, on a vastly more destructive scale, at a much faster rate.

In 1938 and 1939, Walter Lowdermilk toured North Africa and the Middle East to learn about how ancient civilizations destroyed themselves.  He discovered that only four small groves of Lebanon cedars still survived.  The largest one was home to about 400 trees, of which 43 were old ones.  One grove was saved because a monastery was built in it, and it was surrounded by a fence to keep the goats out.  Lowdermilk took a photo of the walled grove — a modest group of trees surrounded by a vast barren mountainous moonscape.

Land of Milk and Honey

Palestine was just south of Phoenicia.  It was home of the Israelites.  Like the Phoenicians, the Israelis were pastoralists.  Both were Semitic people, and they likely had common ancestors.  “Goat” appears in the Bible 132 times, and “sheep” 188 times.  Moses helped his people escape slavery in Egypt.  They spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness.  Their destination was the Promised Land, located on the far shore of the River Jordan.  It was “a land that floweth with milk and honey,” a phrase that appears in the Bible 20 times.

Before they got there, they were blocked by the warriors of seven nations, the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites, and Jebusites.  All were slain in a single day, with miraculous divine assistance.  Their deity instructed the Israelites to burn the chariots of their exterminated opponents, and hough their horses.  Hough?  It means to slash the tendons of the hind legs, to cripple the animals.  Wading through the blood and guts, they finally crossed the Jordan.

Lowdermilk’s tour of the Middle East also made a stop in the Jordan Valley.  He snapped a photo of a heavily damaged hilly landscape, and wrote: “This is a present-day view of a part of the Promised Land to which Moses led the Israelites about 1200 B.C.  A few patches still have enough soil to raise a meager crop of barley.  But most of the land has lost practically all of its soil, as observed from the rock outcroppings.  The crude rock terrace in the foreground helps hold some of the remaining soil in place.”

“We found the soils of red earth washed off the slopes to bedrock over more than half the upland area.  These soils had lodged in the valleys where they are still being cultivated and are still being eroded by great gullies that cut through the alluvium with every heavy rain.”

“What is the cause of the decadence of this country that was once flowing with milk and honey?  As we ponder the tragic history of the Holy Lands, we are reminded of the struggle of Cain and Abel.  This struggle has been made realistic through the ages by the conflict that persists, even unto today, between the tent dweller and the house dweller, between the shepherd and the farmer.  The desert seems to have produced more people than it could feed.”

Mongolian Desertification

Kathleen McLaughlin described how grasslands in Mongolia are currently being degraded by climate change, and by overgrazing the variety of goats that produce cashmere wool.  Soft cashmere was formerly used to make expensive clothing.  Today, better technology for knitting in China, combined with the fast fashion trend, has moved cashmere products from the luxury class to the mass market.  Because herders make a decent income from raising goats, they are now more than half of Mongolia’s grazing livestock.  Unfortunately, goats are the most destructive grazers, because they not only eat the roots of plants, but also the flowers that produce seeds for new grasses.

The harsh winter of 2017–2018 killed hundreds of thousands of grazing animals.  The Mongolian steppe is twice the size of Texas, and it’s slowly turning into a desert.  About 70% of the grazing lands are degraded.  A number of lakes and rivers have dried up.  Overgrazing is a primary factor in grassland deterioration. 

In the 1990s, the former communist government set quotas on grazing animal numbers.  Quotas are gone now, and grazing livestock have increased from 20 million to 61.5 million.  Dead areas are growing, and soil erosion is rising.  Native grasses are being displaced by exotic species that are toxic.  Grassland degradation is also a growing threat to wildlife species.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Winter Solstice 2019

Howdy!  I survived one more lap around the sun, and it was a productive and satisfying year.  It was one more year of being a wordsmith in a quiet hermitage.  Staying focused on my life’s work is a fairly full time job.  It’s not a busy whirlwind of excitement, distractions, and annoyances.

Progress continues on Wild, Free, & Happy, at a pace something like 6,000 words per month.  Since September 2018, I’ve been sharing new sections on my blog, every two weeks.  This year, I’ve been steadily attracting more readers.  In the last few days, the total lifetime views of my blog have passed 400,000 (up from 275,000 at the end of 2017).

Tonight, I peeked at my three previous solstice newsletters.  At the end of 2016, I had been working on the new book for several months, and had gathered 229 pages of notes, sorted into a rough outline.  By the end of 2017, the monster had grown to 500 pages.  It eventually soared beyond 800 pages, and has now slimmed down to 588.

The writing process is largely about selecting the most interesting factoids, composting the chaff, and then pounding the keepers into clear and coherent rough draft passages.  Imagine having a jigsaw puzzle that required a table that was ten acres large, and consisted of a million pieces.  But, you have a pile of ten million pieces, most of which do not belong in the puzzle, and have to be set aside.  Oy!

The process can get extremely tedious, but computer magic allows me to produce quality that would have been impossible with a Remington manual typewriter and hundreds of index cards.  Toshiba has a far better memory than I have, and it can find needles in haystacks in a second or three.  I’ve taken thousands of pages notes on 500 books.  I’ve stashed 600 articles, webpages, and scholarly papers in my Essays folder.  My Facebook community resides in more than 20 nations, and they are sharing loads of news that NPR and the BBC don’t mention.

In a hardcore “shop till you drop” culture, jabbering about ecological sustainability can make you look like a disgusting doom pervert.  It’s an occupational hazard, but someone has to do it.  There are growing signs that the tide is changing.  As Big Mama Nature is rocking the boat harder and harder, it’s becoming less easy to continue fantasizing that we’re living in a utopian wonderland.  More folks are sensing a dystopian drift.

In June 2017, Reverend Michael Dowd and his wife Connie Barlow stopped by to visit, an extremely intelligent and interesting couple.  Both are authors.  His spiritual journey has led him to an ecological path.  Her journey is focused on saving as many tree species as possible from extinction.  Two landmarks in Michael’s pilgrimage were the discovery of the climate crisis and deep ecology in 2012, and his life changing encounter with William Catton’s masterpiece, Overshoot, in 2015.

Somewhere along the line, he discovered my work, and was blown away by my books and blog — many stimulating new ideas for him.  He is a nomadic eco-theologian who travels the country, preaching at progressive churches.  His mission is to encourage the notion that religion is perfectly compatible with science, evolution, and ecology.  It’s moral and ethical to care about the health of creation, the future, and the generations yet to be born.

Michael and Connie dropped by again this October.  It’s always thrilling to have face-to-face contact with those rare pilgrims who, more than most, are present in full dose reality.  Our conversations are very high energy.  The couple avoids the dreaded curse of boredom by continually working on a hundred projects at a frantic pace.  I learned that they’ve been involved with folks who are working to publish the second edition of Walter Youngquist’s book GeoDestinies.

Walter was one of the core elders of the Peak Oil movement, a group of lads who tried to warn humankind that our extreme dependence on ever growing amounts of finite nonrenewable resources had put us in the express lane to big trouble.  As early as 1976, he was speaking to local audiences, warning them that infinite growth was not possible, and the planet’s resources were not unlimited — trouble ahead.  Back then (and still today), nobody wanted to hear this news.   He was never invited back.  Being present in reality can be a prickly and frustrating path.

I corresponded with him from 1996 to 2018, until he died at the age of 97.  He lived in Eugene, the town I moved to in 2009.  He was a geology professor, and a consulting geologist, who did a lot of work for fossil energy corporations.  In 1997, Walter published GeoDestinies, to explain Peak Oil to humankind.  It made waves, and was cited in a number of other important books and websites.

After the first printing of GeoDestinies sold out, many urged to him to print more.  Unfortunately, the global resource story was a fast moving target.  Walter wanted to update the text before printing more, but he couldn’t write as fast as the issue was unfolding.  Finally, this long awaited second edition was completed in April 2012.  Unfortunately, the process hit some curves, and it’s now seven years later.

The team working on the second edition asked me to co-write the book’s preface with Charles A. S. Hall, a retired systems ecology professor.  He is famous for originating the concept of EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested), a vital tool for comprehending the trajectory of the temporary petroleum era, as it glides into its sunset phase. 

In 1930, the petroleum industry had an EROEI of maybe 100:1 — when drillers invested one unit of energy to get oil, they could extract 100 units of black gold energy.  In Texas and Oklahoma, new wells could shoot gushers of oil high into the sky.  No pumping was needed, just open the valve.  The good old days are over.  U.S. oil production now has an EROEI of about 10:1.  Alberta tar sands extraction ranges from 3.2:1 and 5:1.

Global production of conventional oil peaked in 2005, and has significantly dropped since then.  Current efforts are focused on difficult to extract deposits — tar sands, heavy oil, shale oil (tight oil), and deep water wells.  All are low EROEI.  Each well in a fracking project is far more expensive than a conventional one, and each well is depleted far more quickly (up to 90% of the oil can be extracted in just three years).  Complexity drives up prices, and high prices will eventually have serious impact on the global economy.

The last I heard, the GeoDestinies manuscript was in the process of being indexed, and getting some polishing by copy editors.  The plan was to provide a free PDF of the 600+ page book.  Many books have presented histories of soil mining, forest mining, water mining, and fish mining.  Walter’s book discusses how history has been shaped by geology — in a fascinating and exceedingly thorough manner.  Readers will discover that we are approaching firm limits on the extraction of strategic mineral resources, and that life as we know it has an expiration date.

Anyway, I continue attempting to conduct my life like a mature adult, as much as possible, while residing in a fantastically unsustainable culture.  This year marked my tenth anniversary of being car-free.  I still own a small motorcycle.  This year I bought 13 gallons of gas (and the tank is still half full).  This is down from 19 gallons in 2018, and 21 gallons in 2017.  It’s been nearly 12 years since I last boarded a plane, and I will never, ever, do that again.

I’ve also been riding the bus more.  Senior citizens get a free bus pass.  In an era when frantic stressed out drivers are paying less and less attention to driving, it feels delightfully safe travelling in something resembling an armored personnel carrier, cruising across town with members of the Greta Thunberg fan club.

In 2019, the average price of a new car purchased in the U.S. was $36,718.  The average annual cost of driving a shiny new motorized wheelchair now ranges from $7,114 (small sedan) to $10,839 (pickup).  Looking cool and respectable is getting very expensive.  In my town, 12 months of bus passes for adults cost $540, youths pay half of that, and kiddies ride free.

About 98% of my travel is via an old-fashioned bicycle that requires me to actually push pedals up and down.  I have no plans to buy an electric scooter, skateboard, or bicycle, despite the sharp toll this takes on my social status.  One day, in a forest by the river, I had a good laugh.  I watched a pudgy man on an electric skateboard, humming down the pathway, eyes riveted to his cell phone, enjoying his invigorating escape into the great outdoors.

All the best!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 28

[Note: This is the twenty-eighth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 202 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 


Mouflon are the wild ancestors of sheep, and they still survive because they are faster than Olympic athletes on steroids.  They excel at racing across steep, rocky landscapes.  They also have large curled horns, capable of rattling the brains of their bloodthirsty foes.  Long ago, folks sometimes discovered mouflon youngsters, brought them back to camp, and raised them.  Unlike rowdy aurochs, the young lambs were less challenging to raise in captivity.

Paul Shepard noted that wild animals have a stable genome.  Thus, the genes of today’s mouflon are likely much the same as their ancestors 800+ thousand years ago.  But during the process of domestication, breeders deliberately selected for characteristics more beneficial for milk production, wool quality, and ease of control.  Bye-bye stable genes.

After dogs, sheep were among the first critters to be domesticated, maybe 11,000 years ago.  During this tragic demotion, their brains eventually became 24 percent smaller than their wild ancestors.  They lost a lot of their survival skills.  I’ve seen several reports of wolves killing dozens of sheep, and only eating one or two.  When wolves ran into large prey that acted so abnormally helpless, it was surreal and mystifying.  The sacred kill is usually a more dignified ceremony. 

In the old days, sheep shed their winter wool when springtime brought warmer temperatures.  Over the centuries, clever humans have “improved” the sheep they own and exploit.  Because of selective breeding, modern sheep are more likely to retain their wool, rather than scatter it all over the countryside.  This makes it easier for herders to collect as much of their precious wool as possible. 

In Australia, folks discovered one domesticated sheep who had managed to escape six years earlier, and enjoy a life of freedom.  Unfortunately, the miserable critter had never been sheared, and was carrying around 93 pounds (42 kg) of filthy wool.  This beat the previous record of another sheep found in New Zealand that carried so much wool it could barely walk.  It was blind, crippled, and near death.  Unshorn sheep are vulnerable to dying from heat stroke in warm weather.

Domesticated sheep are also vulnerable to pests like scab mites, that thrive in herds of confined prisoners.  The mites multiply and cause skin lesions, which lead to wool loss and open bleeding wounds.  Complications include hypothermia, infections, and death.  Mites are spread via the herder’s clothing, sheering tools, fence posts, and bits of wool hanging from bushes.

Mouflon manage their own lives, and fully take care of themselves.  Enslaved sheep require a lot of human assistance.  Shepherds are needed to protect them from bloodthirsty predators — noxious pests that must be aggressively exterminated whenever possible.  Smart shepherds are careful to avoid overgrazing.  Sometimes sheep also need to be provided with hay, water, salt, and shelter.

Kassia St Clair noted that some types of sheep were selectively bred to produce white wool, which is easier to dye.  This would be a vulnerability for wild ones, because it would make them far more visible to predators.  I learned about St Clair’s book when I read Claire Eamer’s fascinating essay, No Wool, No Vikings. 

Viking Sheep

For the first 250,000 years, our ancestors ran around naked in the tropics.  With the colonization of snow country, folks were confronted with the new possibility of freezing to death.  In the early days, it was fashionable to wear clothing made of animal skins and pelts, ideally cut and sewn into stylish tailor made active wear.  This clothing kept folks fairly warm, until it got wet.  Much later, innovation provided colonists with wool clothing, which stayed fairly warm even when wet.  The adaptation of clothing was another radical transition in the human saga.  It opened up vast regions of uninhabited land for exploration and colonization.

St Clair wrote that Vikings used wool to make their clothing, mittens, blankets, and sails.  A blanket required the wool of 17 sheep.  It took two highly skilled women more than a year to make a typical square sail.  To outfit an average Viking cargo ship and crew, making the clothing, bedding, and sails would require 440 pounds (200 kg) of wool, and ten person years of labor for producing, shearing, carding, spinning, weaving, and finishing the products.  Some believe that, in the old days, folks in snow country might have spent more hours making cloth than acquiring food.

Viking long ships were yet another radical transition.  Sailing boats were not a new idea.  Folks used them in other regions, like the Mediterranean.  Coastal regions of Scandinavia were not home to many sheltered, deep water harbors, so Viking ships were built with a shallow draft, so they could be landed on beaches.  This made them great for surprise attacks and fast getaways.  The use of sail power was enabled by keels that could be lowered in deep water, and raised when beaching.

These new boats allowed Vikings to raid communities that had formerly been safe and secure for centuries.  In A.D. 98, Tacitus wrote about the Suiones, who lived along the Swedish coastline.  For them, the sea provided an invincible defensive barrier.  It was impossible for enemies to attack them by water.  But the new boats set the stage for the Viking era — several centuries of raiding, pillaging, bloodshed, and colonizing that rocked northern Europe. 

Remarkably, the design of longboats also made them capable of travelling on the open ocean.  Rugged woolen sails allowed them to cross the Atlantic and build an outpost at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada.  In those days, most of humankind spent their entire lives fairly close to their place of birth.  Imagine gaining the ability to sail to unknown lands more than a thousand miles away.  This was a mind-blowing possibility.  It rubbished the traditional perception of space and limits.

Long distance sea travel flung open a ghastly Pandora’s Box.  Sailing ships enabled aggressive conquerors to colonize vast regions around the world.  Environmental history is loaded with horror stories of pathogens delivered by long distance sea travel — potato blight, anthrax, Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, white-nose fungus, bubonic plague, smallpox, cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, influenza, and countless others.  Millions of unlucky indigenous people have been conquered, enslaved, and/or killed by alien invaders from distant lands.

Anyway, wool was big juju.  Prior to the nineteenth century, clothing was the product of extremely labor-intensive processes.  For hardworking common folks, clothing was precious, carefully mended and patched, and passed on to the next generation.  When someone died in a hospital, the clothing of the deceased had to be removed and given to the lawful inheritors.  Many folks owned little more than what they were wearing.  Like moon explorers, wool space suits enabled tropical primates to survive in frigid life-threatening environments.

White Gold

St Clair also discussed English wool.  The Normans were Vikings who colonized the north coast of France and smelled like sheep.  In 1066, they conquered England.  By the thirteenth century, England had become famous for its high quality wool.  Regions that produced the softest, richest wool could sell it for very high prices.  Most of the cloth makers that bought the wool were not English, many were Flemish or Florentine.  Ships that carried the wool to buyers were prime targets for pirates, eager to snatch the precious white gold, and get rich quick.

On the manors of wealthy aristocrats, the peasant tenants were given rights to use specific strips of cropland.  Assignments would change from year to year, because some cropland was regularly allowed to lie fallow and recharge.  Beside cropland, there were also common pastures, and common forests, which the whole community could use.  Tenants raised livestock, hunted, foraged, grew vegetables, and cut firewood and timber.  The survival of the peasant community was dependent on always having access to the commons.  Even with access, the lives of most were brutally harsh and marginal, compared to modern couch potatoes. 

By 1297, half of the total English economy was generated by the wool industry.  Before long, ambitious aristocrats realized that they could make far more money from raising sheep than by collecting rents from their dirt-poor tenant farmers.  This deep hunger for wealth slowly led to a process known as the enclosure movement.  Fences and hedgerows were created to prohibit tenants from entering the commons.  They were not amused, they were doomed.

Graham Harvey wrote that the enclosures began in England, during the fourteenth century.  They gradually spread over the passage of several centuries, and then surged from 1750 to 1860.  Simon Fairlie noted that between 1760 and 1870, about 7 million acres (2.8 million ha), about a sixth the area of England, was changed from common land to enclosed land.

One source estimated that, in Scotland alone, a half million peasants were driven off the land by the enclosures.  No food, no home, no future.  Across the U.K., the dispossessed were forced into filthy, disease ridden cities, where there were no social safety nets.  Rioting became popular, as did infant mortality.

John Reader noted that the enclosure movement led to the breakdown of a long standing culture of land-based subsistence living for many.  Tenant communities had benefitted from the mutual support of extended families.  They were replaced by a small number of shepherds.  With the tenants gone, there were fewer horses and oxen on the manor, so more grass was available for sheep.  Tennant cottages and outbuildings were demolished.  Several hundred villages disappeared, except for their churches.  Aristocrats enjoyed getting higher income from their manors, and raising sheep was more dependable than agriculture.  From year to year, grain harvests were quite vulnerable to the mood swings of weather and luck.

Harvey wrote that in the Black Death era (1340s), Britain was a backwater.  Three centuries later, it was Europe’s most advanced country.  Wool flooded the U.K. with cash, and for 200 years it was the world’s richest country.  Millions of hungry dirty people in cities were willing to work insane hours, in miserable conditions, for peanuts.  This nourished the emergence of a powerful industrial state.  By 1832, the medieval peasant community had been completely destroyed.  Like I said, wool was big juju.  The gentle sheep had eaten many lives and villages.

My Ancestors

My great-great-grandmother was Sarah Cleaton, who married Edward Rees in 1838.  They were born and raised in the village of Cwmbelan, Wales, where a small stream passing through the village powered a waterwheel at the flannel factory.  Sheep grazed on the surrounding hillsides (formerly lush forest).  Cwmbelan was in the parish of Llangurig.  In 1836, the 49,600 acre (20,000 ha) parish had 37,000 acres of commons.  By 1875, “large quantities of the common land have been enclosed.”

Edward and Sarah had three sons before he died at 23 from “decline.”  Sarah was a handloom weaver, as was her mother Mary, and her sister Catherine.  So were her sister-in-laws, Mary, Elizabeth, Margaret, and Jane Rees.  Handloom weaving was a skilled profession.  It apparently provided something like a respectable middle class income for that era. 

With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and its power mills, 500,000 weavers lost their source of income, according to Clive Ponting.  Many were forced to move to filthy cities.  By 1861, Sarah and her three sons had moved south to Merthyr Tydfil, home to an iron mining district, Dowlais.  She was a barkeep at the Green Dragon pub, and her two older sons mined iron.

Merthyr Tydfil had four ironworks, and a slum known as Little Hell, where a super-poor population of “unhappy and lawless” folks were piled together in conditions of squalor that were at least as bad as Liverpool or Nottingham.  The district had no toilets.  Open sewers encouraged the spread of cholera and typhoid.  Millions of friendly lice thrived on folks who rarely if ever bathed.

Unfortunately, for Sarah and sons, by 1861, the ironworks industry in Merthyr Tydfil got blindsided by new technology, the Bessemer process, and local prosperity was fading fast.  In 1863 they moved to Pennsylvania.

In 1919, her son Richard E. Rees, celebrated his fiftieth anniversary in Columbus, Ohio.  To commemorate the event, he sent a story to a Welsh newspaper.  In it he wrote, “I have worked underground for 65 years; ten in the Old Country, two in Pennsylvania, and 53 in Ohio.  He was 75 years old, and lived another ten years.

Australian Sheep

Elinore Melville wrote about the introduction of sheep in Australia, where the firestick farming by Aborigines maintained expansive regions of grassland.  Unfortunately, this excellent grassland was supporting the existence of useless vermin called kangaroos.  Britain wasn’t interested in buying kangaroo meat, but they would pay good money for wool.  So, colonists worked hard to exterminate as many kangaroos as possible, as they rapidly expanded the sheep ranching industry.  By 1845 there were 9 million sheep, and in 1854 there were 12 million. 

The British colonists came from a moist land that had reliable rainfall.  Australia was different.  When a herd had stripped the vegetation from an area, shepherds moved the herd to a greener pasture.  The vegetation they devoured had been storing moisture, which slowed evaporation.  The land dried out, and groundwater was not replenished.  Drought followed drought.  Overgrazing often rubbished grassland regions within 7 to 20 years. 

Bill Gammage noted that the native kangaroo grass was excellent (“caviar for grazers”).  It was a deep-rooted, drought tolerant perennial that held the soil in place, retained soil moisture, survived fire, and was highly nutritious.  It remained green after four months without rain, a great asset for wildlife in drought times.  The colonists’ sheep grazed it down to bare clay, killing the precious grass.

Colonists drained wetlands to expand pastures.  Livestock proceeded to compact the soil, which dried out, and cracked.  Springs, ponds, and creeks evaporated, eliminating the critters that lived in them.  When rains returned, rapid runoff encouraged erosion, landslides, deep gullies, floods, silt chokes, and the spread of salts.  An observer in 1853 commented on the growing soil destruction: “Ruts, seven, eight, and ten feet deep (2 to 3 m), and as wide, are found for miles, where two years ago it was covered with a tussocky grass like a land marsh.”

Navajo Sheep

Between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries, the Navajo moved from Alaska and western Canada down into the U.S. southwest, home of the Hopi, Zuñi, and Pueblo.  In the early days, the Navajo lived as hunter-gatherers.  In 1598 Spanish colonists arrived, bringing with them domesticated sheep, cattle, horses, and goats.  The Navajo became sedentary, and learned sheep herding, weaving, and gardening.  They planted fruit orchards.  When forage was still adequate, livestock provided more reliable access to food, so famine times were reduced.  This new mode of living led to population growth.

The Spanish did not allow the Navajo to own or ride horses, but eventually they acquired them.  Horses made it much easier to hunt, and to raid neighbors.  Stealing sheep was much easier than raising them.  Raiding was about making unannounced visits to neighboring tribes and stealing sheep, horses, women, and children.  Sometimes the defenders were killed and scalped.  Naturally, other tribes responded by raiding the Navajo.  Raiding was an extremely common practice among pastoral societies around the world. 

Peter Iverson noted that by 1846, the Navajo had 500,000 sheep, 30,000 cattle, and 10,000 horses, mules, and asses.  As white settlers moved in, they complained about the Indians.  So, the government ordered the Navajo to relocate to a reservation, where they could become farmers and get rich quick.  The Indians preferred to remain on their land, and continue living in their traditional manner.  This was not the proper response.

So, the government sent Lieutenant Colonel Kit Carson to make the whites happy.  In 1863 his troops brutally attacked the Navajos and destroyed homes, gardens, orchards, livestock, and people.  The 8,000 surviving natives were forced to march 300 miles (480 km) to the luxurious Fort Summer facility.  In 1868, they were allowed to return to a portion of their homeland.  Each family was given two sheep, one male, one female.

The railroad arrived in 1881, and trading posts appeared along its route.  This encouraged the Navajo to weave rugs and make jewelry to be used as trade goods.  They raised large herds of Churro sheep, which produced long, smooth, and less greasy wool that was ideal for hand spinning. 

By the time the Depression began in 1929, the Navajo population had swelled.  Kendall Bailes wrote that by 1933, two million acres (809,000 ha) of Navajo land was severely overgrazed, some of it reduced to desert.  There were huge erosion gullies, and large amounts of silt were moving into Lake Mead, the reservoir at Hoover Dam.  Their herding practices, developed 200 years earlier, when grass was abundant, didn’t work as well in a dryer climate, when there was far less grass.  Animals were starving.  In the western states, the Dust Bowl had begun.

In 1935, the Bureau of Indian Affairs conducted a survey on grazing land.  They found that the Navajo sheep flocks contained more than a million animals, and they were kept on land that could only support 560,000.

The government perceived this to be a very serious problem, for which the obvious solution was a sharp reduction in herd size.  The Navajo, on the other hand, believed that this was the opposite of a problem, it was a sacred gift.  Their livestock were tokens of wealth, status, and cultural identify.  They loved their goats and sheep almost as much as their own children.

The white authorities moved in, without permission, and by the 1940’s, the herds were reduced by half.  According to Iverson, at first the sheep were shipped urban centers to feed poor people.  Eventually, the animals were just taken over the hill, shot, piled up, and left to rot.  The government paid the Navajo for every animal eliminated, but the tribal economy was blindsided.  Navajo resentment over this action remains fierce.  The tribe now has a quota system for herd sizes in grazing ranges.