Ecological Restoration with Adam Weiss

A while back Angie and I met our friend Adam Weiss at the Rivercane gathering in Georgia. We ended up going on all the plant-walks together and Adam told us about his work in ecological restoration. We decided we had to visit him in the Ozarks.

And so, we made a stop by the Ozarks on our way west. What he showed us was pretty amazing.


The photo above is one of Adam's fields, a Prairie that Adam re-established on his farm. He manages the fields with fire, burning them regularly. He's gotten so good at it that he does it for a living managing other people's land as well. The bio-diversity of these fields is amazing. Herbs, food, and fiber plants growing all over the place.

A while back while I was at the Buckeye gathering in California Cat Anderson (the author of "Tending the Wild") came to speak. Everyone there was ecstatic because they'd all read Tending The Wild, and all had been convinced by it that human's are fundamentally a part of the ecosystem. For many, myself included, this book changed their view of people as only destroyers of the world, to that of keepers, even gardeners, of it. Her book establishes in an academically rigorous manner that human's have played a major role in the ecosystem for many thousands of years, long enough that we are now an integral part of it... Thus, if we simply "leave it alone" it will not return to it's natural state, because we are a PART of it's natural state.

At this gathering though, everyone waited with baited breath for Cat Anderson to tell them *how* to do that. She stood up in front of the crowd and explained she didn't know... she'd been hoping that we could tell her how to do it. A hush ran over the crowd as it hit us all that there was a much longer path than any of us had realized... there was no-one to teach us, we had to figure this out ourselves.

Adam on the other hand, seems to have figured out a piece of this puzzle. He's doing the same with forests as well, using fire, removing invasives, thinning forests into woodland, and re-establishing the old ecologies again. There are other people establishing "Prairie" as well, but Adam is the only one anyone has heard of who is using local seed, or who's prairie come out so diverse. Basically... he's farther along in re-establishing real ecologies, than anyone else I'm aware of. If you've read at all about "land-race" verities of plants (e.g. corn, they discuss this in 1984, which is also great background for this post), you'll understand why local verities matter. He gathers wild seeds from tiny patches of natural prairie he finds locally, plants them on his farm, and then gathers the seeds from that and plants them elsewhere. As a result his prairie is truly natural Missouri prairie, surviving better, and out-competing the invasives better.


Angie and I met a couple of Adam's other friends, and helped him harvest some seed.


Adam also just happens to be an awesome guy, a botanist and a scientist at heart, so he was just a blast to hang out with. But I'm completely non-apologetic in my trying to suck every bit of knowledge I can out of his brain while with him. We need more people doing this sort of thing.


The main lesson I've learned from talking to him though is that there is no magic bullet for re-establishing ecologies. What people wanted at that gathering was a quick answer, a solution. There isn't one that would fit in a talk. When I asked Adam how he figured out what to do, where he learned it, he said that he learned all the plants, and just started trying to do it. He watched the results and learned.

So, there are no true shortcuts... but maybe a few folks like Adam can be a bit of a shortcut for the rest of us. 

First Run: Non-plastic sleeping kit

Angie and I, at the suggestion of our friend, recently did a float down the Current River in the Ozarks. For the first time I had a fully non-plastic shelter and sleep system and was able to use it all together.

Here we are, chillin out.


I've used each of these pieces alone, tested it, etc. But this was the first time it really started to come together. The gear shown here is a bit heavy for solo backpacking. I'm currently working on turning the ground-cloth in to a poncho. For solo backpacking my current plan is to use this 6x8 poncho/tarp as my shelter, and then use another smaller piece of treated fabric as a groundcloth.

This was a 3 day float trip, 2 nights, and it did rain one night. Everything worked great. We were quite comfy. Angie was using her more traditional (or is that less traditional? I'm not sure anymore) gear as you can see in the photo above.


In other news, we had an AWESOME float trip, here's some other photos.


Yes, we ARE in a cave while in a canoe! And yes, it is exactly as awesome as it sounds, well... maybe a bit more so, because it's also a spring and the water we were floating on was DELICIOUS!

IMG_4172 IMG_4169

We saw river otters, bald eagles, deer, and tons of king fishers.


We're finding that we really like the Ozarks. 


Fire safety and cotton backpacking gear

Most people are not aware, but most camping gear is required to be covered in fire retardants to be sold in most states in the U.S. This is also true of furniture and other things, but for this post I want to talk about camping gear.

If you weren't aware, back in the eighties a researcher discovered that the fire retardants in children's sleepware was carcinogenic... very carcinogenic. The fire retardants were banned a while later, but companies were still required to make all these products fire retardant. So, they changed the non-active portion of the chemical a tiny bit, so it counted as a different chemical, then that was banned, etc. This has been going on ever since with no meaningful change. So, in short, most things that are flame retardant are a problematic...

That was a bit off-topic, getting back to the point, I've been playing with all of this gear made from bed-sheets which I *believe* don't contain fire retardants, though I could be wrong.

I decided to run a quick test to see how paranoid I should be about accidentally lighting my gear on fire, so here we go:

This is 800 thread count egyption cotton which *probably* doesn't have flame retardant. One wastreated with bees-wax, mineral spirits, and a small amount of pure unboiled linseed oil, the other was just the raw material.

First I tried dropping a spark on to both materials, neither of which lit on fire. Here's the treated one afterwards.


Next I got out a lighter and lit both of them, it took a few seconds actually. On the left  is the treated one, on the right is the untreated fabric.
I lit the matrial on the left first then a bit later the material on the right (it took me a couple tries).


So, contrary to what I've been hearing on the internet, this treatment *improves* the fire retardancy of the material... THAT is pretty interesting. The untreated cotton burned about twice as fast.

Next, just as an interesting cross-check I cut a patch (the inside of a pocket actually) off an old worn-out raincoat. This rain-coat is a fancy membrane style water-proof breathable jobby:


This burned in (by my estimation) about half the time that the raw fabric burned, and lit more easily.

I was pretty surprised by these results, so thought I'd share them. I'm still going to be careful, but now I'm going to be less paranoid about non-flame-retardant treated cotton than I am about flame-retardant treated nylon.