There is a stream on my property in Rappahannock County, Virginia, that meanders through fields in its own sweet time, in its own sweet way. It’s a thread of water, narrow enough for me to leap over, modest in the grand scheme of nature, but I take my responsibility as its caretaker seriously. I keep wandering livestock out of the stream. I know their nutrient-rich manure turns water eutrophic, the scientific term for water overloaded with nutrients. I don’t mow grass along the edges but keep it long, as a buffer to absorb any fertilizer runoff from the fields, which could ultimately end up in the Chesapeake Bay and affect its fisheries. I try to be a good steward. The stream may be mine, but the water belongs to everybody.
In some parts of the world good stewardship of the land is a luxury, notes writer Dan Charles in this month’s story “Our Fertilized World.” It’s not hard in the United States, but not so simple in countries like China, where there is less arable land per person than here. In Africa, where famine is a reality, the hope of high crop yields provided by fertilizer often carries more weight than concerns about environmental impact. The balancing act between feeding the world and ecological equilibrium is tricky. There are consequences on both sides. Still, when it comes to water, it’s best to remember that we’re all in this together.
The naturalist Aldo Leopold said that rivers are round. A river or stream is a cycle of energy from sun to plants to insects to fish. It is a continuum broken only by humans.
a mat of wheatgrass roots.