Sex, Wildfires, and Seed
by Back Mow Blogger
As happens many times to me, there came a moment late this summer when mainstream news was talking bout one thing and I immediately applied it to greenkeeping. More specifically this was a media report about wildfires and I applied it to the attention the condition of the golf course I was at was getting by the members. While I do not think that growing grass is as weighty a matter as fighting fires, I sometimes wonder if our perception gets skewed in the heat of the battle. But this is not a post about that, it is a post about the political pressure we feel to do things that are best ineffective and at worst detrimental and both waste valuable resources.
At the time of this newstory, the greens which I cared for had suffered some damage from the application of an all natural nematicide (perhaps I will write about this at a later date as a cautionary tale). As we all know, recovery on a putting green from seed is a long and painful process. The inclination is to want to do something, but the battle scarred greenkeeper knows when to leave well enough alone….basically because he has killed many seedlings in his life by trying to do too much. Not doing something is very unsexy and sex makes everyone feel better, at least temporarily.
Getting seed to pop on a putting green in July is hard. Harder still is keeping those seedlings alive. Long hours babysitting the tender turf, trying to keep it cool, watered, while not encouraging algae is tough for a staff during the hottest months of the year. The long steady road back to full coverage is exactly that, long, and a Lord of the Flies mentality gripped the club members and the tired staff. Patience had waned and thoughts of sending out the aerators, verticutters, and seeders captured the imagination of everyone.
Ironically aerators were sexy now (compared to when I pulled them out a few months earlier for routine maintenance), they were the equivalent of a helicopter drop on a wildfire. It turns out that the appearance of technology to solve a difficult problem makes for a great story, and is invoked when a 747 flies extremely low and close to a fire and drops 20000 gallons of bright red fire retardant on a wildfire…it is amazingly beautiful and instills hope in the suffering. The thing is, the drop is only a small part of the story, but it is the prettiest part. The drop is offering cover to hard work on the ground to build fire breaks…the real work. The helicopter solves nothing, it is just one tool.
From the news story: The firemen on the ground doing the real work call these CNN Drops…they are just for show. “CNN drops, yes, because what happens is these politicians get those phone calls and they may know themselves that the water drops, the retardant drops are only a part of the solution, but they also know that they’re getting dozens and maybe hundreds of phone calls, and the easiest thing for someone in political office to do, of course, is to cave in. And we’ve just dropped retardant in some of these areas, which doesn’t actually put out the fire but it slows it down. It gives the fire crews more time to build these fire lines. They said, if we go up and dump water in some of those areas, we’re potentially just washing away the retardant that we just dumped there.”
So there we are in the summer of 2012, a handful of hose draggers on greens in the northeast and thousands of fire fighters in the middle of a wildfire in the west. Both doing the unsexy work of stabilizing an area. Both needing time to work. Resources and attention are given to the photogenic, while yeoman’s work goes unnoticed, unseen. That’s the problem…perception. Perception that nothing is being done. The pressure to make it look like something is happening is tremendous and the people demand either the yellow helicopter or the green aerator. Both do what they do for good or for bad and in addition they instilled hope, while on the front lines the retardant has been washed away by a water drop and the bent seedlings have had their stable growing medium pulverized.
On the media
Brooke Gladstone, James Rainey Fight or Flight: Transcript
Friday, August 31, 2012