Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Name Game

Some of you are probably wondering how I named this blog.  Was I scarred by spring in central Pennsylvania when gaping potholes cropped up around town and I inevitably drove through them, badly traumatizing my car's joints and also destroying a fresh car wash if those potholes also held runoff?  Is potholes actually two words as in pot holes and it describes the current state of my cookware?  No, it is neither of these (although my pots and pans cupboard is badly in need of some updating).

Actually, the term comes from way back in my college Wetlands class when us east coast kids snickered and guffawed about a landform actually called a "prairie pothole."  We learned that these wetlands existed largely in North Dakota, but also in Montana on the north side of the Missouri River.  To come clean with you, the picture above is not a prairie pothole.  It's actually a beaver dam with a lovely blue heron resting on a tussock of grass.  I don't live in the prairie pothole country of Montana -- it is situated about fifty miles north of my home.

Prairie potholes are a topic of great interest for farmers who live there.  They are so called "potholes" because while they collect water from surrounding hillsides, there is no outlet for that water.  So the land is moist and supports a type of vegetation which is hydrophytic (water loving) in nature.  Back in the heydays of the Reagan era, some environmental conservation was conducted.  Farm bills were passed.  Congress said no more draining of wetlands.

Wetlands are an important part of life, you see.  They filter water, provide flood control and are critical habitat for many animal and plant species.  In the case of the prairie potholes dotting the northern Great Plains, they are a critical part of many migratory bird flyways. 

But some farmers cried foul and though I side with conservation, I have to say they had good reason to.  Many of the prairie potholes lie right in the middle of crop fields.  And while some prairie potholes had been farmed around (you lose one tractor in the mud, you tend to stop covering that territory), some of the smaller ones have been farmed through.  It becomes an insanely complex of battle of private property rights versus the public good.  

So, in my estimation, prairie potholes are kind of like my life.  They create a lot of temporary headaches, but through it all, beauty is constantly emerging just like the birds that take flight from their waters.

Happy Earth Day, everybody!

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