[permaculture] You don’t know what a stream looks like.

Keith Johnson keithdj at mindspring.com
Mon Sep 11 21:34:17 EDT 2006

You don’t know what a stream looks like. A natural North American stream 
is not a single, deeply eroded gully, but a series of broad pools, as 
many as fifteen per mile, stitched together by short stretches of 
shallow, braided channels. The banks drop no more than a foot or two to 
water, and often there are no true banks, only a soft gradation from 
lush meadow to marsh to slow open water. If soil washes down from the 
steep headwaters in flood season, it is stopped and gathered in the 
chain of ponds, where it spreads a fertile layer over the earth. In 
spring the marshes edging the ponds enlarge to hold floodwaters. In late 
summer they shrink slightly, leaving at their margins a meadow that 
offers tender browse to wildlife. An untouched river valley usually 
holds more water than land, spanned by a series of large ponds that step 
downhill in a shimmering chain. The ponds are ringed by broad expanses 
of wetland and meadow that swarm with wildlife.

Until the arrival of Europeans in North America, this vision was, almost 
without exception, what streams looked like. They were transformed into 
the gullied channels we mistake for the natural state of streams soon 
after the killing of millions of beaver. Most European settlers never 
saw the original condition of our watersheds, because the trappers came 
before them, a deadly colonial avant-garde that swept relentlessly from 
Atlantic to Pacific coast and hunted the beaver to near extinction. 
Deeply gullied ravines had been the norm in an anciently beaver-cleared 
Europe, and they quickly became the norm here too. Removing the beaver 
drastically altered and simplified the landscape.

(Read the rest of the story here) 

Keith Johnson
Permaculture Activist Magazine
PO Box 5516
Bloomington, IN 47408
(812) 335-0383
also Patterns for Abundance Design & Consulting

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