Thursday, April 2, 2009


My ancestors moved to St. George in the 1860’s under direction from Brigham Young to grow cotton for clothing and grapes for sacramental wine. For years after arriving in St. George my family struggled to raise crops and make the land prosperous. Having come directly from central Europe, they had poor understanding of the land and their environment. Vestiges of this poor understanding are still evident today. Many of the oldest homes in St. George still boast alpine-style architecture with very steep roofs. Needless to say, there isn’t need for steep roofs in southern Utah since they receive very little snow.

Sub-par understanding of the land made it very difficult for the new settlers to farm successfully, and it took my family six years to grow any food. My great, great, great grandfather’s journal says that he and his family “survived for a very long time eating nothing but pigweeds.” They finally abandoned the plan to grow cotton and grapes in their harsh surroundings, and grew crops more suited to their environment.

We are not so different from the early settlers of St. George. My generation spends less time out of doors than generations past. When we do venture into nature, we find ourselves as foreign and uneducated as the early St. George farmers. I fear that we will make the same mistake in trying to bend our surroundings to our will, and the consequences will be many seasons of eating nothing but pigweeds, metaphorically speaking.

I propose an idea that may help us to avoid such a nutritionally bland future.
We ought to remember that no matter how much we will it, the environment will not adapt to us. We must adapt to our environment.

As Americans, we have an English tradition ingrained in our culture. Consider England’s love of gardens and flowers. They are an island nation and seldom lack water to make their gardens flourish. In America, we insist on having grass lawns around our homes. It gives us a sense of live and beauty. But America, unlike Great Britain, is not an island nation. Here in Utah, we frequently experience sustained droughts. Would it not be wiser to look for beauty in the natural landscape rather than drain millions of gallons of water annually to prevent our lawns from turning yellow? Let us adapt to our surroundings, and in so doing we will benefit both ourselves and the environment.

Jared Diamond writes in his book Collapse of two cultures with very different outcomes living in the same place. The Norse Greenlanders and Native American Inuit inhabited the frozen lands of Greenland for over a century. The Native Americans had lived there for centuries and thrived in the seemingly desolate environment. Using kayaks and harpoons, they successfully hunted whales and they were able to raise suitable livestock. The Norse, on the other hand, insisted on retaining their Scandinavian traditions. Rather than raise goats, they raised cattle because cattle were a status symbol in Scandinavia. Rather than use kayaks to hunt whales, they tried to farm wheat. Eventually the Norse starved, while the Inuit continued to flourish.

Which culture will we choose to be?


  1. Very interesting blog. I agree very much with what you have written. We as humans think everything should adapt to us, but we forget that the universe around us is much bigger and stronger. It is only a matter of time before our surrounding really affect how we live and survive like the people of greenland. We can choose to adapt it it or go extinct.

  2. I loved this blog! I think that us resisting the changes in the environment is really holding us back. I love the idea of adapting to our surroundings rather than forcing it to adapt to us.

  3. Wow, that is very interesting. we need to live with the land rather than pretend to be gods already and try to change the land.

  4. Back in Vegas where I am from, the draught has awoken the residents to the limitations on water. Many of the folks have switched to desert landscaping. It's almost effortless to maintain a desert, and it is the natural way to go. As an incentive, the state government has offered a subsidy for people who want to change from lawn to desert. Cactus is beautiful too!