Virtually all the fields and pastures of the western Catskill region were made by people and almost all of them would become wooded without ongoing efforts to prevent it. The European settlers believed for a time that the land they cleared was better farmland than it really was. Much of the initial fertility of the earth came from organic matter left by the recently cleared forest. When those nutrients were exhausted after a few years, they were not replaced. Also, soil that was seemed at first relatively free from stones began to generate more and more rocks as treeless ground experienced deeper frosts that heaved buried field stone to the surface in the spring. The stone walls that bordered fields were not, as most people assume, built to confine livestock; they were clearly never high enough to do that. Rather, these walls were just the most efficient way to remove unwanted stone that interfered with grazing and plowing; they were made as a means of solid waste disposal.
Fields are very complex zones that are shared by innumerable species of plants, not just grasses but clover, alfalfa, goldenrod, wildflowers and wild strawberry, anything that will tolerate mowing. Mowing is rather unfashionable these days and it is often seen to represent a kind of aggressive domination of nature. It is true that by mowing we favor grasses over trees, but woody plants are not inherently more authentic or worthy than ones that bend. This is an important illustration of the fact that passivity can be as impactful as conscious activity: failure to mow is the equivalent of a decision to replace meadow with forest. Pastures and lawns are supremely beautiful things and many types of fauna thrive on them, including countless millions of fireflies. Maintaining fields should be considered an elemental type of gardening.
One of the most important and consistent policies implemented in the management of the fields and all other open areas is the removal of banks of tall weeds. While it is true that unmowed fields will become wooded in time, it is also true that unmowed fields and uncut border areas will almost immediately become choked with several varieties of plants that will dominate the grasses, including goldenrod. These weeds will reach heights of 4 to 6 feet and become difficult to walk through, create solid visual barriers and crowd out all serious competition. A plant like goldenrod is acceptable as a component of a varied meadow population, but is unacceptable as a monolithic mass. Our tools against weed banks are the trail-behind brush mower where that has the room to operate and the hand-held “weed whacker” (a gas-powered flail) in areas too narrow and confined to mow.