Life without us

Finally, I got the lawn mowed. First it rained and the grass was too wet. My lawn mower broke down and the parts had to be ordered over the Fourth of July weekend. Then it was too nice for my mechanic, who needed to be cutting hay, to find time to install the new parts. Add to this timeline the fact that I was gone for several days and another inch and a half of rain fell. I asked the sheep to mow part of the lawn, but they do not understand that gardens are not part of their menu, so some of the lawn just grew and grew.

As I was mowing the grass after a couple of weeks of unfettered growth, I couldn’t help thinking about the documentary from the History Channel I watched recently called “Life after People.” The program looks at what would happen to our human efforts if all “homo sapiens” became extinct.

According to the scientists who contributed to the series, things would start to fall apart in a very short time. Without humans to maintain and manage the power grid, electricity would cease to flow through the power lines. Without electricity, all kinds of fans, dehumidifiers, pumps, monitors and things that keep our modern world humming would simply stop. Mold and decay would begin almost immediately. Wind, sun, rain wear away at our buildings, roads and bridges requiring us to constantly work at maintenance. Without our vigilant upkeep, our work will quickly begin to fall apart.

The series contends that within a few hundred years there would be little evidence that humans ever existed. Plants like English ivy, kudzu and buckthorn will grow over, under and through the concrete of our streets, around our houses and cover our stadiums. Trees will reclaim fields, farms and cities. Domestic animals will either perish or revert to a wild state.

Mowing after an extended period of time makes me think the estimates given by the producers of “Life after People” might be conservative. In only a couple of weeks my rose hedge, plum trees and lilacs had sent suckers a couple of feet into the lawn. Some of these new shoots were over a foot tall. Box elder seedlings had germinated and grown to be ten-inch trees. The Virginia creeper vine was crawling with determination across the lawn, over the fence and into the trees. I’m not even going to mention the four foot tall sweet clover plant in the raspberry patch.

Those of us who have lived on the prairie most of our lives know how quickly nature reclaims an uninhabited farmstead. It doesn’t take long before the products of hard work disappear and evidence of the former inhabitants’ existence is difficult to find.

According to “Life after People” only things like Mount Rushmore will remain in a thousand years after we are gone.

“Life after People” reminds us that our lives are temporary and so are many of the “improvements” we try to leave behind. Some of the effects we have had on nature may persist. Kudzu, after all is not native to North America and there will still be plastic garbage buried in our landfills long after we are gone. Many of our greatest accomplishments, tallest buildings, longest bridges and fastest computers will either fall down or be totally useless even if intelligent beings from another planet were to come upon them in a thousand years.

Mowing the lawn after a couple of weeks in the rainy season and thinking about planet earth without us are humbling experiences.

Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains