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19 Jun

‘Chawn’ is a new word I made up.  It has been useful and successful in private use, so it is here presented for public consumption, so to speak.  Equal parts chewed and sawn, with a little of the word broken in the meaning, chawn is an irregular past tense verb indicating the involvement of an active agent and is especially useful in the gardening context.  “Something has chawn those pea plants.”  “Oh, no!  The buds on the pink rose have been chawn off.” “I see the army worms have chawn through that wheat field.”

Please let me know if you find it useful.


The half-sized, darkly colored red eft found wandering on the far side of the corn field from all his fellows was being carried home on my palm for installation in the home garden.  Since it was in an unusual location already, I felt little qualm about relocating it further.  Then I saw the new hatched Black Swallowtail butterfly, with its globular abdomen and not-quite-yet-fully-sized wings on a tall stem of orchard grass and stopped to take a closer look.  The eft saw his chance and took it.  It left my palm and disappeared into the messy understory of the meadow. 


One of the silliest, most time wasting chores I ever encountered was during a summer job working for a professor doing corn photosynthesis research.  Three students were employed by this man one summer.  We spent one whole day planting corn seedlings by hand in rows to mimic a miniature corn field.  The point of this exercise: to make sure the leaves all lined up in the right (the same) direction.  Really.

Anyone besides me ever notice that corn plants align their leaves efficiently all on their own? Even when planted by being flung into the soil willy-nilly by a mechanized corn planter.  Maybe profs in Cornell towers do not have time to notice such trivialities.

Walking daily through a growing corn field and a meadow has given rise to thoughts on political economic and social engineering theories.  Those corn seeds were planned before germination for a specific job: high scale production of dry matter and seed protein. Each seed is equal; the environment for its growth is prepared and maintained by outside governing forces. There are differences among varieties, but within a field there is little to distinguish an individual plant except by negatives: some have been broken off, eaten, chawn by insects or animals. Who cares about individuals, anyway?  A corn field is about the collective, not the individual; a vast uniform green growing in lock step. 

Oh, there are some small bits of interest: intrepid spiders who fling silk across the rows, ant hills, certain winged or crawling insects hunting or eating there.  And some weeds persist; those which are more noxious, which live through the herbicide spray, and which do better without competition. But overall a cornfield is an environmentally uniform sterile sort of place.  It reminds one of descriptions of cities of former Eastern Bloc countries; or of huge drab apartment buildings left behind by the Soviets in Ulaan Baator; large, boring, useful, regular, and regulated.

A meadow, on the other hand, is a delightful, colorful mess of life.  The list of plant varieties found there would go on for a couple pages.  Then we could start on the insects, the birds, the vertebrates, the invertebrates; bird nests and beetles, deer beds and dragonflies, fireflies and field mice. Meadows are constantly morphing. Some plant or other is always in bloom, giving off pollen, in bud, in decline. No plant is ever “equal.” The motto of meadows may be “Variety is the Spice of Life”.  There is no bare soil; something is living on every square inch of it. It is a Mom and Pop store sort of place where one could write unlimited novels on the rise and decline of plant families, their histories, their turf wars with other plants. Those noxious weeds which are the bullies of the cornfield live here too, but only a few; they are usually small and insignificant since they have to compete.  Ah, competition!  It brings diversity and strife and beauty. Each step you take brings different sights to view.  There is never a dull moment, unless you close your eyes and stop your ears and drift off. 

 One could argue, if one were so inclined, that the production level from a meadow living in such beauteous, irregular disarray would be much lower than from a cornfield.  But one would be wrong. Individually, each plant cannot compete with a corn plant for production: individual plants are not meadows.  Meadows are communities made up of myriads of individuals. Meadows, you see, are cut and come again propositions.  Knock them down, bale them up, and they spring right back.  In a good year three cuttings if you so chose.  Repeat each and every year.  The quantity and quality of protein and dry matter can compete with a corn field.  It is not nearly as easy or neat to get.  And that, I think, is what corn fields are best at. Corn fields are a version of what the 99%ers think they want. Every individual plant grows just as high as every other; gets treated just the same as every other. That neat orderly cornfield: one bumper harvest leaves behind stalk stubs, noxious weed seed, and bare soil that will have to be cultivated and replanted before yielding anything more.  Think again, anyone?

And if you wish to take a nap, or hide out from someone, or just enjoy the day I highly recommend a grassy meadow.   A nearly mature corn field is good for hiding.  But not enjoyable; don’t lie down or you will get dirty; you may even get lost because everything looks the same.

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