Beside me was a tree, one lone tree.
That tree was locally famous because it was the only tree anywhere in that vicinity; yet its presence proved that once there had been a forest over most of that land—now treeless and waste.
The farmers of a past generation had cleared the forest. They had plowed the sloping land and dotted it with hamlets. Many workers had been busy with flocks and teams, going to and fro among the shocks of grain. Each village was marked by columns of smoke rising from the fires that cooked the simple fare of these sons of Genghis Khan. Year by year the rain has washed away the loosened soil. The hamlets in my valley below the Great Wall are shriveled or gone. Only gullies remain —a wide and sickening expanse of gullies, more sickening to look upon than the ruins of fire. You can rebuild after a fire.
Forest—field—plow—desert—that is the cycle of the hills under most plow agricultures—a cycle not limited to China. China has a deadly expanse of it, but so have Syria, Greece, Italy, Guatemala, and the United States. Indeed we Americans, though new upon our land, are destroying soil by field wash faster than any people that ever lived—ancient or modern, savage, civilized, or barbarian. We have the machines to help us to destroy as well as to create.
When a man plows corn, cotton, or tobacco, he is loosening the earth and destroying such hold as the plant roots may have won in it. Plowing corn is the most efficient known way for destroying the farm that is not made of level land. Corn, the killer of continents, is one of the worst enemies of the human future.
Can anything be done about it? Yes, something can be done. Therefore, this book is written to persons of imagination who love trees and love their country, and to those who are interested in the problem of saving natural resources—an absolute necessity…
(From Chapter 1)
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