Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Energy of Spring

A sunny and surprisingly warm start to the day finds me sitting beside a tall and mature hedgerow overlooking fields near Hitchin. Most nights recently have still been quite cold, even though the days have been warm. There has been little rain over the past few weeks so the ground is quite dry - on the surface anyway. This feels like the first warm spring morning although there is a coolish breeze.

The chestnut trees on the hill in front of me are well in leaf now and the remaining tress in the landscape are forming a distinct greenish tinge. In the past couple of weeks since I have been out there has been a dramatic change in the landscape as Spring weaves her creative dance over the earth. Bluebells carpet the woods and hedgerows are bursting forth with nettles, ground ivy, red dead nettle, white dead nettle, hedge garlic and 'cow parsley' (or whatever it is).

The grassed edge to the field here is buzzing with flies, hoverflies and other vague unidentifiables whilst a beetle and a woodlouse are spotted in the grass beside me. Life has exploded into the landscape. A white butterfly flickers by; I am sure I can hear some long-tailed tits nearby; I see a blue tit and several chaffinches; pheasants in the field and a couple of distant hares. Elderflower buds are forming well.

There is so much energy in the landscape now. I am now in a month of thinking about Fire - my final element to ponder over, in my four month vague study of the elements. The sun is providing so much energy to the landscape today. From the distant sun the radiation is pouring though the hazy atmosphere onto the landscape, warming the earth beneath my feet and supplying energy for the photosynthesis of plants. And yet the amount of cosmic light that reaches our small planet is only a fraction of that produced by the Sun. So much is just expended into the depths of space, and yet here, there is one planet that uses that radiant energy to create and evolve life. It is placed in what is probably a very unique location in space in order to receive just the right amount of energy to enable successful growth of life. The earth reflects and absorbs the light to such varying degrees. Soil, vegetation, water, clouds, roads and buildings etc all interact with the sun's energy in so many varying ways. Perhaps it is the leaves of plants that make the best use of the light energy via photosynthesis. I am surrounded by greenness that reaches out to the sun.

I watch several birds flying over the field: a crow, and something small and faster. I acknowledge that this requires energy expenditure. We humans like to be warm. We like to seek out warm sunny days, to our warm-bloodiedness the sun is welcome.

So much energy goes into growing crops in the landscape around me. Tractors and farm machinery burn fuel to enable them to pull ploughs, cultivate the soil, spray chemicals and harvest crops. Fertilizers and chemicals all required energy input into their manufacture as well as their application. Harvesting and processing of crops requires a large energy input to, in effect, enable the energy capture in the seeds by photosynthesis to be extracted by other purposes - feed or processing. There is always a transfer of energy from one form to another and of course 'entropy increases as matter and energy in the universe degrade to an ultimate state of inert uniformity' (a web definition of entropy).

This hedgerow is a concentration of energy capture and production. An organic system for taking the suns energy and producing the physical structure of the plants around me. It requires the presence of the other main elements, water, air and earth, to form the living structures of the trees and undergrowth. The whole hedgerow is designed to maximise the potential of the light and to enable a diverse range of plants to co-exist with each other on this sun-facing edge in unique niche habitats. It is Gaia working at her best. Somehow it seems as if the potential for the earth to be creative is so often ignored. The large flat mono-culture fields may be highly productive in crop terms and have a maximum output economically for production and harvesting, but it isn't how nature works. The earth may have a huge potential for creating growth and diversity but not for generating profit.

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