We had a particularly cold blast in February this year which made it too cold to get outdoors to volunteer at the arboretum. In its place, we had a Zoom session with volunteers who found the time to talk with each other. One of our stewards (essentially a leader for us volunteers) ended up sharing some research that he had been doing lately digging up old survey records from over a century past around the arboretum grounds.
It was pretty neat seeing some of the odd measurements that were used by the surveyors. And, yes, I did say odd and not old. While they are kind of both, I feel that odd best describes them. The meticulous nature I pictured of these groups of people working together to lay measuring chains across this country before western expansion of the United States happened was an odd one indeed. It made me want to learn more about these measurements, why they were being made, and how that influenced the shape of the country today. After all, the United States is a surprisingly consistent grid system east to west and this measuring seemed like it could be why.
I ended up doing a little research of my own and wanted to share a bit about what I'd found, so let's dive in!
It's safe to say that humans are a powerful force on the Earth. We've stretched our influence far and wide, both in our own social structures and the physical ones we've built atop the natural world. It can be difficult to remember that we're a part of this massive planetary balancing act of systems since we seemingly bend them to our will, but it would be ill-conceived to think of that influence as control.
Beyond that influence, I was reminded this month of a bias humanity has. We tend to like the concept of an "untouched" nature. Not untouched by anything though, but humans in particular. Going even further, we're biased toward an appreciation of nature not touched by the people who brought modern civilization. It's easiest to think of these people as the European colonizers. If they or their descendants haven't touched it, it's considered untouched by humans.
Along with this bias comes another more dangerous one however. When we categorize nature by its proximity to humans, deciding that nature adjacent to humanity is lesser nature, we have a tendency to take less care of it. We opt to care more about "true nature" far from home. We can think that's the nature worth saving, worth protecting. Yet, by ignoring our neighboring ecosystems, we have a slow but steady impact on nature far away.
Let's explore this together.
Prismatic Planet wants to get excited for the planet, raise awareness of its inhabitants, and get smarter about Earth.