Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Clock is Ticking


The US Census recently released its estimated US population for the end of today and 2008. We're up to 305,529,237. The number is based on birth, death, and immigration figures which result in one more person in the country every 14 seconds.

If I've calculated correctly, US population has increased 81% during my lifetime. That's a horrific number in itself, but if you want to feel worse, world population has increased 138% during that time. People like me are often accused of seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full. The glass isn't half anything; it's overflowing.

It's long been believed that increased population and population density have negative effects on human society. Higher urban crime rates, stress levels, and the often expressed need to get away seem to bear this out. Larger denser populations result in a decrease of freedom and less opportunity to interact with the natural world. I don't have a high opinion of economics, regarding it as the evil twin of ecology, but it's an obvious fact that the more there are of an item, the less it is valued. I think that's just as true of humans.

Recently I witnessed an online discussion which stunned me. Apparently there's a cable tv show about a family with 18 biological children. The conversation was begun by a poster writing that these people had to stop. I was amazed to see the large majority supporting these people's "right" to have as many children as they wanted and it was no one else's business, at least as long as they weren't getting welfare. I do not understand how people do not get that they do not live in a vacuum, that actions have consequences and effects. It's time for rights-claiming Americans to grow up and learn some bigger words such as responsibility.

Maybe I'm giving them too much credit, but I bet these same people willingly accept that the annual euthanization of some 10,000,000 healthy cats and dogs in the US indicates overpopulation, and that too many deer cause problems in their neighborhoods. I've posted about books on the effects of our increasing population on other species. See No Way Home and Where the Wild Things Were for example, or look over this list of extinct species. Of course, generally humans don't really care what happens to other species.

But haven't they seen what I've seen? The childhood playfields turned into fenced lawns, the woodland walk turned into private property, the McMansions blocking the view of the water, the traffic jams? Don't they care?

Is the problem simply that humans are short term thinkers who can't see further ahead, that the more kids they have, the bleaker the future is going to be for those kids? Is it their religions which make them think they are somehow exempt from the laws of nature? Is it their technology and way of life which have estranged them from understanding and participating in the processes of the natural world? Is it fear of social collapse and denial of death or the American obsession with optimism? Is their ignorance accidental or deliberate?


During the time I've been writing this post, world population (and notice that when we speak of population, it's always just assumed it's human population because after all no one else matters) has increased by 7345 people.

Happy new year and thank you for not breeding.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Dave Foreman and Earth First!

Recently I got word of an upcoming attempt to breathe some new life into Earth First! which like many groups has been struggling to keep going in recent years. There are plans being made for a roadshow in 2009. I thought the following paragraph was particularly important.

We need to reconnect to the multi-generational aspect of Earth First!, which has fallen by the wayside in recent years. We need to broaden our network’s base—from radical rural grandparents to revolutionary urban youth. We need to re-establish lost relationships with scholars and scientists who resonate with us. We need to re-inspire musicians and artists to contribute their passion to our battles.

I've probably mentioned Derrick Jensen, a writer who shares my passions and values but rambles too much for me to completely enjoy his books. Fortunately, Listening to the Land: Conversations about Nature, Culture, and Eros, is published under his name but really amounts to essays by the people he interviews. Of the 30 or so interviews, I recognized 2/3 as major names in this field; so far, I've only read one interview with someone unfamiliar to me and immediately got one of his books from a local library.

But the first interview in the book is with Dave Foreman, who needs no introduction but I'll provide one with an article I wrote a couple years ago.

He was older, taller, thinner, quieter than I expected, having mentally locked him into an earlier time. I’d missed chances to meet him years ago so when I learned that Dave Foreman was going to be speaking in St. Paul, I made sure I didn’t miss the opportunity again. Among contemporaries, there is no one who has influenced my world view more than Foreman, through the writings and values he helped bring to the public through the Earth First! Journal and Wild Earth, espousing direct action in the 1980s and conservation biology in the 1990s.

Foreman remains a registered Republican who considered Barry Goldwater a hero, but is quick to point out that in 1989 Goldwater said that the Republican Party had been taken over by a bunch of kooks. Foreman blames Reagan for destroying bipartisan support for environmental issues, and describes our current political situation as creeping fascism. Along with citizens’ lack of concern for nature, he deplores our willingness to ignore the Bill of Rights.

During his noon presentation to mostly Macalester College students, he described the historic split between John Muir’s belief in the conservation of nature for its own value and Gifford Pinchot’s Forest Service view of the natural world as a resource. In the 1970s, environmentalism became defined as effectively a human health movement. While acknowledging the value of this aspect of the movement, it’s of little interest to Foreman and he argues that the movement needs to be taken back by nature lovers and treehuggers who are willing and proud to use emotion as well as science, who discuss values and vision as well as numbers. He sees climate change as the issue likely to bring environmentalists and conservationists together because it affects both areas of interest.

I think there are only three ways for our civilization to transform into one in keeping with my values: enlightenment (wishful thinking), revolution (inconceivable), and collapse (inevitable). Regarding predictions that there will be 9-10 billion people on the planet by mid-century, Foreman doesn’t believe we’ll ever reach those numbers because the crash will happen first. He thinks one of the best lifestyle choices for conservationists to make is to not have children, and not only because he doesn’t particularly like people.

When I asked him after the day’s talk how much hope he really had considering our civilization and population, he made a circle with thumb and index finger and it was not part of an OK sign. Knowing he’s not going to win (in the short term) does not mean he’s willing to stop fighting.

The one topic I wish I’d explored further with him is animal issues, not because either of us will ever change opinions or to argue which we agree is pointless, but because I’d like to understand his thinking on this. He cites the birth of lynx in Minnesota as something to get excited about, that we should have Lynx Day and celebrate but also is only an animal welfarist; he seemed to scoff at state agencies as resourcist but values connections with hunters.

I have one foot firmly in the conservationist camp and the other equally firmly in the animal liberation camp, though I seem to be the only person who believes such a split is possible. Though I often cringe at how little animal lovers know about nature and ecology, my position is that, for better or worse, the excitement and enthusiasm of nature lovers Foreman wants to see back in the movement is generated primarily by a love of individual animals, not by respect for ecosystems. I think his own examples of Lynx Day and mentioning the chill of excitement at hearing a wolf howl prove the point.

He opened his evening talk at Patagonia by calling this a time of despair for reasons which include mass extinctions, renewed whaling, our government’s anti-nature stance and cowardly Democrats, and the lack of enthusiasm and biocentric vision within the movement itself.

Considering his personal history, he was naturally asked several times during the day about what the government labels ecoterrorism. He thinks animal rights people have made stupid choices, but would like to see Japan’s whaling fleet on the bottom of the ocean. He said he left Earth First! due to the type of people becoming active in it as it became more anarchistic and more animal oriented, but didn’t mention the FBI pulling him from bed at gunpoint which must have been a factor.

He doesn’t know how much to believe about recent arrests because of FBI lies. He knew there was an FBI agent in the audience being bored; he said if his phone is tapped, they’re bored; if his bedroom is tapped, at his age, they’re bored.

He believes that among the causes of humanity’s biggest problems are our stubborn adherence to short term thinking and unwillingness to recognize/admit what is happening. It is not only foolish to rebuild parts of New Orleans but we should consider whether to spend large amounts of money trying to save the Everglades when water levels are going to rise and overrun them within 50 years.

Along with an old book I brought down to be signed, I picked up a copy of his newest Rewilding North America and look forward to his next The Myth(s) of the Environmental Movement. Though I would have preferred hours of conversation around a campfire, the few minutes we had after each of his talks were worth more than most days. I consider him one of my leading living heroes, and it’s never too late to meet one of those.

The interview with Jensen includes many more examples of Foreman using animal species as the exciting and joyful representation of wilderness and ecological health. I was originally planning to use this as an entryway to comparing radical environmentalists and animal rights activists, but I'm going to let that aspect wait a few days for its own post.

So back to the EF! split. Just as I feel somewhat torn these days between the two movements, the fracturing of EF! represented a difficult choice for me. My values in many ways were closer to those of the second generation of EF!ers than to those of the founders. I'm very concerned about animal issues and a believer in social justice but the new emphasis on political correctness made the use of the EF! name a joke. Earth was not first with these folks, but simply one part of an agenda which often seemed primarily focused on not offending each other. This attitude helped drive away many of the original folks mentioned in that quote way back at the top and it would be great to see the two sides reunite, though I have to admit I'm not very hopeful.

The split also turned one publication into two. The EF! Journal, linked to above, continued as a source of news of and reporting on events in the movement with a generally radical tone, while the more serious wilderness scientists started the fabulously high quality Wild Earth which like many magazines folded a few years ago.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Headline of the Year

From an email from the Center for Biological Diversity:

"California Commission Approves Damaging Transmission Line"

So get to it, you so-called eco-terrorists. The government's on your side for a change.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Now it's Winter (the Annual Celebration Post)

Not in the solstice sense, though that's cool in an astronomical pagan connected to the universe way.

No, it's winter because of the snow. A weekend blizzard was followed by two more days of snow less than a week later. It's never easy for me to estimate snow depth because of drifting and plowing and the many microclimates Duluth has. Snowfall's affected by distance and direction from the Lake as well as wind direction and height above the Lake. I guessed at 1 1/2-2 feet on the ground and that looks about right according to the national snow cover map. I'm so glad I live in the north.

Friday was a big Lake Effect snow day. It wasn't snowing when I woke up but when I looked an hour or so later there were several new inches on the ground. I took the Lakewalk, which had been damaged in the usual place by the blizzard the week before, to downtown. The clouds and water were a dark grey, the waves were among the best I've seen here, the snow was falling fast. I of course was giddy with delight.

The damaged section was in place but completely covered with ice from the spray of the waves. When a photo appeared on the newspaper's website later that day showing it cleared and reopened, I wondered if it had been taken the day before this storm or if it had been cleared again since I passed. The corner of the Lake was a churning bowl of ice water.

It's winter because of the first of the season car stuck in the drifts which accumulate in the alley just outside my window.
It's winter because of the frost on my kitchen window, a mix of straight lines and curls which together make a miniature forest.

It's winter because of the cold--early this morning I climbed to the university on the hill to get some library books now that the student hordes are gone for a couple weeks. I walked up the middle of the snow covered streets and under the snow covered conifers. It was well below zero and my beard was heavily frosted by the time I got there. One must be careful to let it defrost on its own; touch it too soon and it will snap off and you'll find yourself clean-shaven.

Later today, after the Lakecloud lifted away from the water, I saw ice and snow covering a large amount of the surface for the first time of the season. And it was good.

Oh, and while we're celebrating the snow and cold, watch the ads, sign the petition, and save the polar bear.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dunes: A Slowly Accumulating Mound of Coincidences; Followed by the Weather and Hopping Down the Bunny Trail

Along with my recent interest in (re)reading some classic literature has come a renewed interest in reading some fantasy and science fiction. I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club decades ago but haven't paid much attention since. A book or series that I decided to read again is Frank Herbert's Dune, an ecological political sociological classic set on a desert planet.

In between novels from the library, I've been rotating reading from a few books of essays. A recent combination found me reading
Ed Abbey about southwestern desert dunes and Robert Finch about Cape Cod dunes. And of course it's those latter dunes I'm reminded of whenever I hike out on Minnesota Point.

Today I needed to buy some postage stamps and found them selling the latest in their Nature of America series. What is it? Why, Great Lake Dunes of course, showing a scene from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. (And, parenthetically, wouldn't it be great if the world was really booming with the dense concentrations of biodiversity shown in these stamp panels? Well . . . maybe not, considering there's a mouse as big as a fox in this latest scene.)

I visited Sleeping Bear Dunes back in 2000. I'm guessing at the year because I remember we had homemade Nader signs in the car windows. Or that may have been a completely different trip; I was spending a lot of time in Michigan back then. I'm sure I have notes in a journal but since I've thrown out my collection of old calendars, it's hard to find exactly when events happened.

Whenever it was, I remember the legend of the bear and her cubs. During a huge forest fire, the three bears were forced into the water to survive. The mother made it back to shore but the two cubs drowned. North and South Manitou Islands represent the cubs and the large dune on the mainland is mom waiting for them to return.

The sands are shifting beneath us all these days; many of us will be buried, some will learn to ride the sandworms.

Last week I went to see a local weatherman's lecture under the impression he was going to speak about ways in which local weather might be altered by climate change. Instead, during the hour I was there, he went over the usual graphs and statistics of rising carbon dioxide, etc. Never mentioned before I left was a handout listing how you could affect your climate which included a section on food but no mention of eating less animal products, only variations on the local and organic themes: a double failure of an evening.

I left you hanging with my last post. Did it blizz? Yes, but not as much as forecast. We got about 9 inches of snow followed by a deep freeze. On these well below zero mornings, the Lake is invisible, hidden beneath its own rising breath. Now that breath is forecast to turn into some Lake effect snow overnight and indeed we had a little this morning, the snow too small to be recognized as flakes, appearing as flashing pinpoints of light in the faint sunshine.

I've written of the rabbit(s) living in the brush pile opposite my window. Tracks have been appearing since the weekend snowfall. Today I couldn't resist any longer and climbed through the snow to see where they converged. There's a clear entrance formed by branches, looking a lot like one of the mine entrances you see in old westerns. Although imagining Watership Down and wishing I could set up a warren-cam to follow what's going on in there, I only got close enough to see the entry and then returned to my own lair.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Deep in the Peaty Blogs

I'm always on the lookout for blogs which reference deep ecology, and one that comes up in every search due to the blogger's self-description is Beyond the Fields We Know from Ontario. I finally took a look and found over three years worth of daily entries of lovely photographs and words. There's also a lengthy list of other artistic natury blogs which I randomly explored as a title caught my attention.

One of them led me to the Nature Blog Network which provides links to and descriptions of almost 600 categorized blogs focused on the natural world. I began meandering through the woods leaving a trail of bookmarks so I could find my way back. Nature remains in southern Ohio, there's Sitka Nature in Alaska, A Passion for Nature in western New York, Sand Creek Almanac right here in northern Minnesota, and I was especially happy to find the Moose Hill Journal inspired by a large Mass Audubon sanctuary where I spent many happy days hiking. And while we're back in Massachusetts, did you know Henry Thoreau has a blog? Yes, he's keeping his journal online these days.

These are just a few blogs which caught my attention; I'm sure the various link lists on those sites have many more just as interesting. I don't claim they're the best, I don't agree with everything I read on them, and I'm sure they'd all be horrified by statements on this blog. There are a lot of beautiful photographs out there which can be too slow loading on my archaic dial-up internet which started getting popular about 15 years ago and which I'm still completely content with.

I look forward to exploring these nature blogs, and I can certainly understand the motivation and attraction. If I did digital photography, I'd probably be showing you a photo of Lake Superior or the sky above every day. And nature writing has always been a favorite interest of mine, no surprise to anyone who's been reading this blog.

But just as Ed Abbey hated being called a nature writer, and like all the other areas I explore here and in the uncomputerized world, it will always just be part of a bigger whole. For me personally, only writing rhapsodically about fiddler crabs and fiddleheads while the sixth great extinction takes place and industrialism collapses is too much denial of reality, too much self-absorption. Joy and inner peace are fine things; anger and despair are just as valid a part of being alive, especially for anyone who cares about other species in these times.

I've never been interested in being a specialist or pledging my allegiance to any one school of thought, and therefore always find something to disagree with everywhere I look. Thoreau described himself as "a mystic, a transcendentalist, and a natural philosopher to boot." Me, I'm an anti-civilization, animal liberating, deep ecologist, spiritual atheist, Taoist animist, arts loving pedestrian with boots.

If the weather forecasters are correct (though a look outside and at a weather map gives me doubts) I'll need those boots the next time I go out. We've been under a blizzard warning since midnight with a foot of snow supposedly on the way, but so far little is happening other than 40 mph wind. Speaking of self-absorption, I've been slow in celebrating winter's arrival this year. Though in my defense, we only got our lasting snow cover about a week ago. There's plenty of heartwarming cold to come.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Moose & Wolves Again

Minnesota's moose are dying. Their population is now less than 2/3 of what it was about twenty years ago. Contributing factors are increasing temperatures which has very negative effects on moose because they don't perspire and stop eating, and parasites ranging from winter ticks to brain worms from the large deer population. And of course people keep shooting them but now there's even some discussion of ending that. Legally, anyway. Even if the law says don't shoot moose, some fine hunters will keep doing it. Need proof?

In neighboring Wisconsin, during the recent opening of deer-killing season
several federally protected wolves were shot and killed. Nothing unusual--it happens every year. I doubt if any of the killers had an Aldo Leopold moment of enlightenment after doing it either.
"We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes--something known only to her and the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."
Back when I did a biweekly column for a local paper, I wrote one on hunting in town. It had a line to the effect that if I happened on a hunter about to shoot an animal, I would be willing to shoot the hunter if that was the only way to save the animal, and I'd consider it self-defense. The editor refused to include that sentence. Bring me the people who killed these wolves who should have been running and howling under tonight's full moon. This time I'll call it justice.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rambling through the Dwindling Days

Later this month my grandfather will become 104 years old, making him twice my age. The thought of living again the same number of years I've already put in, while knowing my physical and mental prime is in the past, while the time periods of favorite memories fades further into the past, while the world you value is destroyed all around you, while everyone you love dies and you wait your turn, holds no allure for me--that's 52 years of deterioration I have no interest in experiencing. Fortunately, I think the ongoing collapse of industrialism ensures that the days of century old humans will soon be a thing of the past. And with the end comes the new beginning.

We're living in slow motion through a car crash of unprecedented proportions, unable to look away. More than half a million jobs disappeared last month, making almost two million gone in the past year with many more expected to follow. The still rising unemployment rate is at a 15 year high at the moment and doesn't include the hundreds of thousands who've found better things to do with their time than look for jobs under present conditions. Obama wants to put them to work rebuilding highways; far better to put them to work tearing up highways and planting community gardens and trees which will provide food for the locals. Trying to find alternative ways to keep living the same way is not the solution.

The use of food stamps and food pantries is soaring. Credit card companies are reducing credit limits and eliminating inactive accounts. The country's fetishistic worship of guns and violence reaches for its logical conclusion.

A record high 10% of mortgage holders are delinquent or in foreclosure. No doubt renters are similarly waiting for their eviction notices but we're considered second class citizens and rarely make the news when we lose our homes.
The rising number of unemployed will soon become the rising number of homeless if society tries to continue a way of life whose time has passed. Alternatively, the number of homeless could grow so large and be made up of so many "normal" people (as opposed to the mentally ill, the drug addicted, the traumatized veterans, the dregs which the middle class suburbanite is offended by and ignores) that society might actually change.

Perhaps as the middle class find themselves becoming the people they've always looked down on, society will decide that providing people shelter is more important than money and property and put all that emptied housing and office space to use. Perhaps if society doesn't decide it, the swelling numbers of the homeless will decide it for themselves. It's time for the homeless to begin taking over buildings as factory workers did yesterday in Chicago. It's time to stop playing by yesterday's rules.
...the American public is deathly afraid of the kind of changes we actually face -- such as, the end of consumer culture, the gross loss of value in suburban real estate (which forms the bulk of the middle class's private wealth), the prospect of food and fuel scarcities, the need to re-localize our lives, the need to physically shape up to stop the costly and unnecessary drain on our medical resources, to grow more of our own food, to work harder at things that actually matter, and to save whatever we can for a difficult future. -- Jim Kunstler, Does Mr. O Know?
But every morning I walk by a new Lake with crashing waves, or rising steam, or glistening icy rocks along the shore, or bright reflection; marvel at a sky of clouds filled with the reds and pinks and oranges of another beautiful sunrise; see a plant pushing its way through the pavement. And I know that long after my grandfather is gone, long after my flesh has fed a hungry wolf or beetle, long after everyone is done calculating unemployment rates and shooting each other, all those things, all those things that actually matter, will still be here. The nights are still getting longer, but dawn will come. It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Not much of interest to say, so I'll say much of dull stuff.

Maybe you wonder how my posted plan of October 4th to read or reread many books is going. I've started quite a few of them, finished many fewer, and crossed most off my list. One reread which I still enjoyed was Ethan Frome. It's short, snowy, depressing, and set in New England--what's not to like? But I think my time for more D. H. Lawrence has passed even though I've previously read all his major novels and agree with him on his main themes. The new-to-me authors I've tried haven't grabbed my attention, and most old-to-me authors no longer hold it. The two major writers whose work I'm still hoping to read a lot of are Dickens and Joyce. At the moment I've returned to some unread books from my own shelves in my favored essay style--Ed Abbey on the Southwest, Robert Finch on Cape Cod, Tom Regan on animal/eco ethics.

Recently I was briefly employed as a bellringer. After attending an orientation where one woman declared "I just love ringing bells for Jesus", I told some friends I had a title in mind if I decided to write about the experience--Hell's Bells. But I actually enjoyed the experience of being out in the cold and wind and snow, watching clouds and pines and crows. And people were nice--one woman offered to buy me coffee, another handed me hot chocolate, kids wished me Merry Christmas, and a wide range of folks tossed in cash. Many thanked me for doing it, under the mistaken impression I was volunteering.

So instead of the AC/DC song, we'll go with a little Bob Dylan:

Ring them bells, ye heathen
From the city that dreams,
Ring them bells from the sanctuaries
Cross the valleys and streams,
For they're deep and they're wide
And the world's on its side
And time is running backwards
And so is the bride.

What I didn't like at all was the lack of a schedule which meant being unable to plan anything in advance from 9 AM to 9 PM six days a week. I've never gotten along well with employers who think they own their employees, and both my personality and the way I live require a lot of advance scheduling so I quickly quit. In a way, it's too bad because working alone and outside would definitely be high on my ideal job description. But this morning I spoke with someone still doing it and was told hours are even being changed midshift as they get more volunteers which made me even happier to be done with it.

I've been watching West Wing on dvd and wishing I lived in that country. Although the staff is amazingly ignorant about ecological and wildlife issues (at least it's amazing to me, but to me anyone without fascination and respect and knowledge and wisdom in these areas seems much less than fully human), the president is intelligent and has been to every National Park. Some have high expectations of Obama, but I think the people he's filling his administration with should quickly eliminate their hope of change.

Confident that I'll still be unemployed and determined to do what I enjoy for as long as I can, I've signed up to take three adult ed courses beginning in January on nature writing, wildlife, and the history of life on earth. Total expense: less than $100.

Both the apartment building and the neighborhood I live in have a fairly high percentage of university students so at holiday times both take on a bit of a deserted quality which I love. Though I don't usually bother with it, there's a tofurky thawing, and I'll leave you with these words from the great and late Shel Silverstein:

Point of View

Thanksgiving dinner's sad and thankless,

Christmas dinner's dark and blue,

When you stop and try to see it

From the turkey's point of view.

Sunday dinner isn't funny

Easter feasts are just bad luck,

When you see it from the viewpoint

Of the chicken or the duck.

Oh, how I once loved tuna salad,

Pork and lobsters, lamb chops, too,

Till I stopped and looked at dinner

From the dinner's point of view.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thar They Blow!

Given the makeup of the court and previous statements by its members, it comes as no surprise that the supreme court (and I'm just going to refuse to capitalize all these bastards--that's my ruling) has ruled that the navy has the right to play with its sonar no matter how many whales it kills or injures.

Cited in its decision was a 1986 decision requiring them to "give great deference to the professional judgment of military authorities". You know, the professionals who are still looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and bin laden (bastard) on the bush (another bastard) ranch. They are clearly not required to give any such deference to the professional judgment of ecologists because they state that "even if plaintiffs have shown irreparable injury from the navy's training exercises, any such interest is outweighed by the public interest and the navy's interest". I guess that covers their asses considering that the navy itself has predicted that their exercises will cause lasting injury and disrupt the lives of whales, dolphins, and sea lions.

This is all just part of the current administration's tactic that government agencies are not required to follow environmental laws. For example, under the National Environmental Protection Act (I'll capitalize that one), the navy should have been required to prepare an environmental impact statement before doing their exercises. Instead, they'll publish it after the exercises are complete--apparently, it's easier to count the dead whales that way.

In deferring to the military, the court quoted their own pro-guantanimo ruling of last year that judges "do not begin the day with briefings that may describe new and serious threats to our nation and its people". Nor obviously with briefings which describe the death and destruction caused by our nation and its people. They hastened to add that military interests do not always trump other interests, but that in this case "the proper determination of where the public interest lies does not strike us as a close question".

The problem here is a too narrow view of who makes up the public and what makes up its long-term interest. There aren't any whales or Iraqis included in this court's public so their interests are not considered. I suppose this would be an example where legislation granting legal rights to non-human animals might make a difference since it would then be something a court would have to consider--but you know a whale will never be considered as important as a human, and an Iraqi will never be considered as important as an american. And before that legislation passes, the supreme court and the rest of our civilization will have crumbled and been covered with kudzu--and that's in the larger public's interest.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale

Within a 26 hour period last week, I attended three events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the study of wolves and moose on Isle Royale. This large island is located in Lake Superior, about 15 miles from the mainland. With no permanent human residents and no hunting, the island has provided an excellent location to watch nature in action. Over time there has been a highly variable average of about two dozen wolves and a thousand moose on the island, although the moose population is currently lower due to ticks and climate. Other residents include beavers and red foxes.

The movie Fortunate Wilderness was a bit of a disappointment to me. Maybe I was expecting too much of a Nature style documentary following the animals living their lives. There are some cool shots of critters, but the movie was mostly about the scientists and pilots who have been involved in the project. I should also add that I've never been to the island and don't expect that I ever will visit, so I felt no emotional connection to scenes which would probably mean more to the many folks who have camped and hiked there.

Next I attended a lunchtime presentation by Michael P. Nelson, a philosopher specializing in environmental ethics, and called the philosopher of the Isle Royale study after his time spent on the island with the researchers working there. This was a fascinating hour, exploring ideas of what makes up one's community, does nature matter, and whether the study of the island ecosystem can lead to increased empathy for the beings living there. Nelson seeks to answer the question I find most interesting: what should our relationship be with nature? Using local examples such as Aldo Leopold's land ethic and Ojibwa tales of the personification of nature, he explored positive and negative examples from Native American history to examine that relationship.

That evening came a presentation by the two lead scientists Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich, faculty at Michigan Tech University. Vucetich gave an excellent speech, mentioning some of the ecological connections between ravens, wolves, moose, ticks, forest, and climate. This is fascinating information to me, but I was even more pleased to hear a scientist using terms such as excitement, joy, humility, and gratitude in connection with nature. The speech was a variation of this one which I hope you'll read if interested.

Rolf Peterson provided a decade by decade overview of moose and wolf populations on the island, parallelling this with the Keeling Curve which shows the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Both studies began in 1958. A simplistic summary of the decades on the island:

1960s Balance of nature, wolf predation selective, moose increase
1970s Wolves doubled, moose decline, severe winters
1980s Wolf population crashes after canine parvovirus is introduced to island by illegal dog, moose increase
1990s Moose continue increasing until 75% starve during 95/96 winter
2000s Climate change, warm summers lead to increased ticks and hair loss on moose which are at the southern edge of their range . . . will they survive on island? If not, wolves will follow.
A more detailed history with population graph can be found here.

Of course this is just the tip of the eco-relationships iceberg: the ice which used to surround the island in winter and now has become so rare it can be hard to find a place to land their small plane, the mutual effects between the moose and the forest, the increasing size of island moose over time which makes them safer from wolf attack, inbreeding in an isolated location. It's all fascinating, and all serves to show us how unpredictable nature is and how absurd is the notion that humans can manage it.

The last two links both lead to which is filled with many other interesting words and photos. Explore the island!

Hungry Cougars Surprise Hunters

So read the headline in the News Tabloid this morning. Wow, I thought, this is gonna be one of the best hunting stories yet.

But apparently not hungry or surprised enough, as the article told the story of living hunters who had shot a deer. Before they caught up with the
fleeing wounded doe, she was killed and partially eaten by two cougars, presumably a mother and young or two young siblings since they're usually solitary animals. Chased off their interrupted meal, the cougars circled the hunters until the men called for reinforcements and escaped with the doe's remains.

This could be great news if cougars start following hunters around the way ravens follow wolves in search of an easy meal. Might actually turn hunting into a sport. Better luck next time, cougars. For now we'll just have to enjoy the typical reports of hunters falling out of tree stands or shooting themselves and each other. I bet they were surprised too.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Careful, Moose, Sarah's Coming Home

I've changed a few links remodeling and maybe starting to add a new literary aspect to the place. To introduce you to a blog new on my list and also serve as an election comment, here's a funny post from Canadian writer Peter Watts. I just finished his four book trilogy which I enjoyed quite a bit. I'm still glad I voted for Nader.

And to present another opinion of the US and its apocalyptic future, but still wishing Obama the best, read pre-election A Nervous Nation over at Jim Kunstler's site, the other new one on my list.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hiking in Duluth III

My favorite hike in Duluth used to be the one closest to me--Chester Creek. But as my age and weight increased, a sometimes shaky sense of balance got a little shakier, and I had more and more encounters with unleashed dogs, walking along the edges of cliffs lost most of its appeal. I think I only hiked it once this year; I missed popping the patch of jewelweed and I got my thimbleberries on a different trail mentioned in HiDII.

One of the unusual aspects of living in Duluth is that traffic jams include ships. Taking the bus out to Minnesota Point, which is now my favorite hike in town, involves crossing the lift bridge which spans the shipping canal between Lake and harbor. When a ship is coming or going, the bridge rises out of the ship's way and the cars wait. This is known locally as getting bridged; current work on the bridge has reduced it to one lane, so now after the ship is gone, traffic takes turns as well.

Eventually, I got across the bridge and past the miles of cute little houses gradually being overrun by hideous McMansions and McCondos. With summer long over, the bus only goes as far as 43rd Street. This adds a straight stretch of road to the beginning of the hike, through a park-like area which isn't really a park. There's some grass before the harbor to the right, and on the left in front of the wooded dunes are the new city signs advertising land for sale for more "development". There's an old joke about what a woman (yes, it's a sexist joke) might do for a million dollars or a dollar. We've established what Duluth is; we're just haggling over the price.

Down this long stretch of road, past the playground and parking lot and beach house and open field and more road and parking lot--not one car or person did I see, reinforcing my belief that I would be quite content to be the last human on the planet. A couple cars by the small airport which threatens some of the pines farther ahead. Finally, around the gate and onto the long dirt road and eventually up the sand-covered boardwalk and into the woods.

Sunlit spider silk spanning the trail told me no one had passed this way this morning. I ambled on, often stopping among the tall pines, white birches, and mostly leafless understory, enjoying my slowing breath and growing relaxation. A group of gulls glided silently overhead as I watched the green tops of the red pines swaying against the blue sky.

In time I came to an area where the pines were still tall but fewer, mixed with dunes covered with tall grasses and milkweed, some of whose seeds I blew on their way, and a view of the Lake. This is the area for the big birds and I tucked myself in to wait. I soon saw an adult bald eagle and what I think were two immatures, and a fourth, large and unidentified. My notes run together and I've apparently created a Frankenbird found in no field guide. A raven, or a crow doing an excellent raven vocalization, flew by laughing at me.

Over the pipeline
whose purpose I don't know though I followed it from a work area by the Lake across the entire landwidth into the harbor and along the shore, taking time to check for new graffiti in the ruins; on through more woods with a dee dee dee; through another open area with an increasing wind and to the end of land beside the Superior entry to the harbor. Dozens of gulls stood along the wall, but they all moved away from me when I sat down. I took out my lunch, they asked "Littering?" and they all came back and had a great time on the wall.

I'd been singing some Dylan--"the beach was deserted, except for some kelp"--but my luck as the last human was running out and on my return walk by the Lake I saw a fisherman, a dog walker, and agate hunters. They were rare enough that I managed friendly chat in passing. Had I seen birds? Big birds.

Snow buntings were numerously trilling and at one point as I walked beside the water, there was an explosion of white by the treeline as a large group of them were unsuccessfully attacked by what I later guessed was a sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawk. Didn't actually see the bird at the time of attack, only later moving high and away.

I moved slightly inland and followed a sandy trail; when I stopped for a drink and to remove a layer, I found myself covered with ladybugs. One by one I raised them on fingertip and watched their wings open as they launched into the air.

The following day, I made a quick climb to Hawk Ridge, described in HiDI, for a different view of the Lake. The birders there had a good day after I passed through, with a season high number of bald eagles and an all time high of golden eagles. (After I got home, I looked out my window and saw one of those bald eagles circle lazily three times.) The big numbers happen at the ridge, but I prefer the smaller numbers but much better views I'd had the day before. I did see a couple woodpeckers while hiking up there, but my favorite sighting was the road sign changed to WATCH FOR FEDS.

As always, I spent most of my time in the pine plantation area which is always wet, with many snags, moss-covered logs, fungi, and waist-high grasses. Nearby is where I returned my cat Hijack to the earth as I hope to one day return myself if I have enough advance warning to get to some remote location before the doctors and the undertakers catch me.

And on the third day, a crisp but not cold morning, I hiked the Lakewalk for a third, more common view. Though the walk has its pleasures in the summer, I always prefer the lower population in the cooler weather following migration. I made it through downtown without any sidewalks exploding on me as one had on someone during the Halloween night before. I rescued a woman and child trapped in a skywalk over Superior Street after they'd pushed a latch to enter it and then found it locked on the other side and were unable to get back out the way they'd entered. I saw a black rabbit in honor of Samhain. Duluth--tricks and treats--the adventure continues.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Don't Need a Weatherman . . .

. . . to know Sarah Palin blows, and I don't have any doubt that Bill Ayers is vastly more intelligent and would make a better vice-president. Ah well, one corrupt oil-loving animal-hating Alaskan Republican down and one to go. Actually there's a lot more than two, but you have to start somewhere.

. . . to report that I saw my first snow of the season yesterday. Just a few flakes though some areas got an inch or so.

. . . because I've got Henry Thoreau's records. An article (with a bad typo--a missing not) on the disappearing plants in the Walden Pond area--27% gone since his time. And some photos from the area.

Adding a much better article on the subject from the Times.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Alex & Irene; P & I

Yesterday I wrote an Amazon review of the latest free book I'd gotten from their Vine program. The title of the book, by Irene Pepperberg, is Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process. That about covers it, don't you think?

Actually there are a lot of topics touched on in this quick read: the dominant attitude of humans and scientists toward non-humans, a woman in what had traditionally been a man's academic career, infighting and jealousy among humans and parrots, humans and parrots teaching other parrots, how a bored parrot being repetitively tested causes mischief just like I did in elementary school, grief, laughter, and testing methods. See, I can string a lot of words after a colon also.

I want to give you a funny example of that bored parrot, but first, if you don't know Alex's story, he was a bird who changed the meaning of birdbrain, demonstrating his ability to learn many things it was assumed he couldn't possibly learn. Among them were colors, different objects, and numbers--one of his regular tests involved being presented with a tray of various objects in various colors and quantities and being asked how many of a certain colored object there were on the tray.

Now, in the name of scientific proof, Alex had to do this sort of thing over and over and over again, long after he'd shown he knew the right answers. On one occasion when the correct answer was two, Alex repeatedly replied either one or four. Alex was sent to his room for a time-out for misbehaving, but as soon as the door was closed behind him: "Two ... two ... two ... I'm sorry ... come here ... two."

On another occasion, Pepperberg decided to replicate Bernd Heinrich's experiment in which Heinrich had tied food to a long string hanging below a raven. The raven then pulled the string up bit by bit, stepping on it before pulling up the next section. First tested was a young parrot who duplicated the behavior of the raven. Next came Alex who by this time was a famous star, used to being waiting on by scientists when he demanded food or toys. He took a look at the almond hanging below him, looked over at Pepperberg, paused, and said, "Pick up nut!"

Alex died one night, some twenty years earlier than the usual life expectancy of his species. One chapter consists of excerpts from the condolences which poured in. Anyone who has ever bonded with an animal is likely to get choked up over the stories told here.

Less than twelve hours after I posted that review, I received an email from someone I met about 25 years ago. She'd just had to euthanize her 13-year-old Golden Retriever, a wacky dog I'd had the pleasure of hiking with.

I started to write an email back and thought about that chapter of condolences. I called her and we spoke for the first time in a few years, about animals and pain and sanctuaries, social work and deep ecology, the arts, books, nature, the economy, people we knew and people we were. I'm sorry ... come here ...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Sacred Diet? and Other Matters

Recently there was a comment over on the funniest vegan cooking blog about the justification for a vegan diet. First up came admiring vegans' willpower, and then questioning why it's OK to kill a plant but not an animal: both reproduce, react to external stimuli, either all life is sacred or none, etc.

First up for me, I'm quite content being a near-vegan; the reasons for my choices would be a long and different topic but they have nothing to do with willpower. This notion that it takes great willpower to be a vegan, that we're constantly fighting the urge to kill a cow and it's tearing us up inside is just plain wrong. To believe that's what's going on indicates a complete lack of understanding of why people become vegans.

On to the more interesting questions of plants and animals and sacredness. Depending on my mood and the tone of the conversation, I'd be inclined to agree with both the all and the none are sacred theories. Yes, everything's connected and of value; no, it's not because of a magic being in the sky.

But the issue for most vegans is that they want to reduce suffering, not that they think they can eliminate it. I agree with a recent discussion I read that use of the term vegan implies an ethical choice on that basis, rather than a diet choice based on health or environmental reasons.

Possibly it's a sign of my own speciesism (I guess it would be kingdomism actually) or
lack of understanding, but I believe a cow or a pig is more aware of existing and more capable of emotional and physical pain than a green bean or a pea. So since humans have a choice of which to eat, choosing the plant reduces the suffering.

I do vaguely remember reading an article about trees sending warning signals to nearby trees, and suspect that plants probably are much more complex than most people give them credit for. I once had but never read a copy of The Secret Life of Plants. If anyone knows of a more recent book on the subject of plant awareness or communication which falls somewhere between New Age woo woo and a botany dissertation, please let me know.
Before attending the weekly planetarium show, I stopped by the university library to check out the moose-wolf display leading up to next month's events celebrating 50 years of study on Isle Royale. There are skeletons of each species, posters, and possible evidence of evolution via the length of the metatarsus of moose on the island. Very interesting.
Creepy as it is, ya gotta love this article from today's New York Times about the men supporting Sarah Palin because she kills animals and well, to put it bluntly, they want to fuck her.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

To Interfere or Not to Interfere

Here's an article about a new debate going on: Should humans help species move ahead of global warming? If an area is becoming too hot or rainfall levels are changing, should we dig up plants and move them north or uphill? Should we move them past cities and around thousands of square miles of agriculture?

Some would argue it's merely an extension of things we do now--reintroducing a species to its former habitat such as wolves to Yellowstone, shipping Dennis the wayward manatee back to Florida, wildlife rehabilitation of injured animals. Almost everything about our society interferes with the processes of the natural world; why not try to do good and alleviate the harm we've done? I can appreciate the sentiment; I think to even care whether another species is going to survive automatically qualifies a person as a better than average human.

But my opinion is that this going too far in trying to manage the world, and is a desperate attempt to assuage our guilt. I oppose it philosophically and more importantly, practically. I think the more apt comparisons are to the many alien species which we have deliberately or accidentally introduced to an area and thereby caused the extinctions of the species which were already there.

Despite the attempt of humans to do so, a species does not live in isolation in its location. It is dependent on an entire web of uncountable seasonal events and interactions with other species, from the time of year different plants grow in a forest to animal migrations to birth times and rates. The notion that we are capable of managing the natural world is simply false, and exactly the type of attitude which is responsible for the problems that world now faces.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dennis the Manatee

I let this story go yesterday, but I guess I have to plug it. It's about a manatee, named Dennis after the Cape Cod town where he's hanging out, farther north in the Atlantic than any manatee has gone before (to the best of our limited knowledge). Global warming? Booming population? You decide.

P.S. As a child, your humble greentangle blogger was known as Dennis and often visited this town which I thought was named after me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wolves: Cinematic, Political, Biological, Cultural

11/26/90 I'm coming back
from a state of being stunned. I we
nt to see Dances with Wolves and came out of the theater in a daze. . . . The movie swept me up completely and I had no sense of three hours passing--And that is what caused the daze--being totally in that world, feeling part of a life of respect, love, brotherhood--and not wanting to leave it. . . . The massive shots of the South Dakota prairie, the connection of human to horse and wolf. . . . There were tears in my eyes several times during the movie, most strongly during the killing of the wolf which was caused by Dunbar's need to break him, to destroy the wild in the wolf, the need to have him eat out of his hand. And the buffalo hunt was difficult to watch even knowing that artificial animals had been used. . . . That name seemed very powerful to me, how he came to a crisis point and chose to see himself as Lakota instead of as white man, how he chose that path because it was what felt right to him even though he knew that way of life was doomed, how that matches my own sense of fatalism but still the need to do it.

Wolves have been featured in political ads from both of the big two parties this year, in one as vicious attackers, in the other as the victims of vicious killers. No surprise which party the NRA endorsed.

Some local hunters are upset that they won't get to kill wolves (legally, anyway) now that the wolves have been returned to federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. It must be hard for them to keep a straight face while one side of their mouth talks about how there are too many deer and the other side talks about how there are too many wolves. We need many more wolves, not fewer.

2/23/91 Still had very little sense of three hours passing--I was immersed in that world. Longing to be a part of that world, crying for the beauty and innocence lost. Wishing to have that communion with people, wolf, horse. Wishing to earn their respect by following the trail of being a human being, to be among people who are close to nature, who understand the sacrilege of a field of buffalo slaughtered and left to rot. To fight for a noble cause.

Next month, there are going to be several events in town celebrating 50 years of the moose/wolf study on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. (There's also currently a photo exhibit at the university library through October 24th.) I'm planning to attend these three:

George Desort’s documentary on the Isle Royale wolf and moose study, Fortunate Wilderness will be shown from 7 – 8:30 pm on Thurs., Nov. 6 in the Marshall Performing Arts Center. Fortunate Wilderness captures the science and wonder of the world’s longest large mammal study — the study of wolves and moose on Isle Royale.

“American Indian Ethics Meets Wolf-Moose Research” with wilderness scholar Michael Nelson will be presented from noon --1 pm on Fri., Nov. 7 in the Library Fourth Floor Rotunda.

“50 Years of Wolf Moose Research” with biologists Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich will be presented from 7 – 8:30 pm on Fri., Nov. 7 in the Marshall Performing Arts Center. They will present findings from the 50 years of large mammal study on Isle Royale.

5/8/91 Underway after watching Dances with Wolves for the third time. I think for me this is the most powerful movie I've ever seen. He leaves both the white world and himself as white man behind, follows the most important trail, learns to live as part of the system, the whole tribe, finds like minded souled people. Death comes with his choices but the death of that way of life was inevitable--at least for a time. My hope is that some will s
urvive to live that way again when this one is done; already its death is obvious and near to anyone who removes the blinders. . . . In the aftermath of battle as they call him Dances with Wolves, he reflects that he never knew who he was before, his old name had no meaning but now, his identity is part of his name. They are not just words to label him; they are him. . . . If an Indian must be an "apple" to survive in the dominant culture, what is the word for me--white on the outside, red on the inside? For surely indigenous culture, society, way of life, means much more to me than the white world. It speaks to what is true in me. To live joyously, naturally, to be aware of your life at all times, to be in community, to share, to suffer and give thanks together. To do those things instead of constantly trying to keep myself strong enough to survive in a society which does not support me but isolates me, wants to put me down so others can step on me, where each is an individual owing nothing to each other, allowing nothing to develop--those emotions get in the way of materialism. I must belong in a commune of some sort--I certainly don't belong in this society. . . . The movie makes me alive again. I feel like running and jumping and yelling out loud, echoing off the trees and rock. I smile and feel good and happy. I am who I should be once more, not trapped in the white man's world.

In 2000, I spent a day at a wolf education center. I'd known about it for years but hadn't gone because of mixed feelings about these sort of places, but now that I would soon be leaving the area I wanted the experience. There was classroom time spent watching film and learning about the meaning of various wolf behavior and postures. I knew most of this in advance; it was what was to come which drew me there. We headed outside and observed the main pack in their fairly large area. More fun, but still not why I was there. Eventually, in groups of two or three, we entered a cage with the two most socialized wolves. For all my negative feelings about captive wild animals, I don't regret the experience of having a wolf standing face to face with me with his huge paws on my shoulders. Sorry I can't share the photos I have of that experience.

I've seen the movie several more times over the years and recently watche
d it again, still hurt and angered by the white society's trashing of the natural world. The film's not quite as emotional for me as it used to be, due to the difference between a small tv and a movie screen, an extra hour of footage which while interesting slows the pace, repeated viewings, and 18 years of losing whatever hope I had left by 1990, but it still remains one of my favorites.

There are many potential pitfalls to be aware of: romanticizing, the Noble Savage, cultural appropriation, one-sided views, assuming ecological intent which may have been merely circumstance. For all of that, there are both cultural and individu
al differences, and I remain just as convinced that I was born in the wrong time and society. I remain just as convinced that our species has lost touch with what matters about being alive, and has traded our place in the world for insignificant products and illusions of control. I remain just as convinced we won't be the last species standing on this planet. I remain just as disappointed in our behavior and just as ashamed for all the species we'll eliminate before our turn comes.

All photos from where you can see much larger versions of these and many more.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Berry Busy Day

Today I was lucky to watch something I knew happened but hadn't seen before.

A chipmunk was busy in the trees out back, stuffing her cheeks with berries, traveling along branches which weren't even thick enough to be called twigs and which flipped under her weight and left her dangling. Several "whoa"s escaped my lips as I watched through binoculars. A small flock of robins was working the trees at the same time. Pouches full, she headed to her home directly opposite my window. Later, I saw her pursuing the safer course of picking up fallen berries from the ground. I imagine you could virtually share my experience by watching this video which I haven't seen, but that's a much sturdier branch than the ones my neighbor was coping with.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Words for a Foggy Morning (and a Decade or Two)

It was in the thirties early this morning when I headed out for groceries and the Lake had been busy making weather overnight. A thick dark cloud of fog hung low over the Lake and downtown, completely left behind when the bus made it a few blocks uphill into bright sunshine. If I were into technostuff I'd show you a photo, but I rely on my memory and you'll have to use your imagination. In an hour or so when I returned from over the hill, the fog had burned off revealing a ship at anchor which had no doubt been there unseen the entire time. Spooky.

When I made some lists a couple weeks ago I was busy looking over various lists of greatest books and authors and have now made a long roughly chronological list of reading which might well take longer than my eyes have left. Some are unread classics, some are annotated editions of classics I've read, some are rereadings from childhood and further exploration of favorite authors, some are recent fantasies, the ones I feel most excited about are several early 20th century authors unknown to me, and yes, there's still a lot of men on the list which follows.

Don Quixote, annotated Gulliver's Travels, Candide, Rousseau's Confessions and Reveries of the Solitary Walker, annotated Frankenstein, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, Moby Dick (I've got my doubts about this one but I want to try it), Count of Monte Cristo, Jules Verne, a sip of Henry James, Robert Louis Stevenson, annotated Huck Finn and more Twain, H.G. Wells, annotated Dracula, annotated Wizard of Oz, D.H. Lawrence, Lost World, Ethan Frome, James Joyce, Knut Hamsun's Growth of the Soil (and more?), annotated H.P. Lovecraft, Isaac Babel, Magic Mountain, Thomas Wolfe, Haldor Laxness's Independent People (and more if I like it), Karel Capek, Nathaniel West's Day of the Locust and probably more, a couple of Terry Brooks's recent trilogies (Terry, if you happen to see this buried in the paragraph, I remember years ago you asked me if I read one of the Terrys--was it this one or the other one?), and R. Scott Bakker.

Of course, those are all outside library books except for Rousseau. In my own unread mostly nature library, I'm working on Quammen's Song of the Dodo and there are still a couple Abbeys left, a shelf of Thoreau-related work, a half dozen of Hay, books on various species, a section of deep ecology, ecopsychology, and environmental ethics, the Oxford History of the United States series, a three volume biography of Martin Luther King, and assorted others. Hold my calls, and may the electricity stay on for the long cold dark winter.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lessons Learned Lately

The Prophet of Dry Hill: Lessons from a Life in Nature by David Gessner. A plan to write a biography of nature writer John Hay becomes a contemplation of connections to land and between people and all of nature. Sadness and acceptance mingle as the health of Hay and his wife declines, they leave the land where they’ve lived for sixty years of witnessing the booming human population and resulting destruction, and the author also moves away from Cape Cod.

Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Eight

After what is widely considered pre-planned police violence during the 1968 Democratic convention, the government decided to put eight anti-war, anti-establishment leaders from three different groups on trial for conspiracy to incite that violence. Hilarity ensued. When the judge, in one of his many biased rulings, refused to allow former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark to testify, the New York Times called it “the ultimate outrage in a trial which has become the shame of American justice.” But it’s so hard to pick just one.

The book, which has inspired me to read some others on related topics, consists primarily of trial transcripts which alternately amuse and outrage. Editor Jon Wiener’s introduction sets the stage and gives an update on the defendants. Tom Hayden’s afterword discusses many of the parallels between government actions in the sixties and their attempts at intimidation and repression which began after WTO protests in Seattle, which I experienced personally the following year marching against biotechnology as rooftop snipers loomed above us.

The Unforeseen is a documentary film about “development” focusing primarily on a particular past issue in the city of Austin, but raising questions about the entire society’s values and choices. What is unforeseen is not only completely predictable but inevitable as long as you’re not blinded by short term profit and the idea that humans are more important than the world they’re dependent on.

Wendell Berry reads from his work over the opening scene and Patty Griffin’s Someone Else’s Tomorrow plays over the closing credits. In between is everything from Bush and the foreshadowing of the savings and loan crisis to Robert Redford’s local childhood and Ed Abbey’s cancer cell metaphor. The commentary track by director Laura Dunn and others adds much background information on the scenes and people shown. Alternately inspiring and infuriating, The Unforeseen, like all of the material in this post, makes me proud once again to be Un-American.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Last night I attended a presentation by Peter Annin, author of The Great Lakes Water Wars. This was particularly timely because the Great Lakes Compact now needs only Bush's planned signature to become law after a multi-year process of being approved by the eight states surrounding the Lakes, and Congress. In theory at least this will help prevent the diversion of water away from the immediate watersheds, but there's a huge loophole which allows bottled water containers of less than 5.7 gallons to be taken and which some regional Congresspeople strongly opposed but failed to stop.

Annin spoke of how the 16 Senators from these states would now be able to better oppose future attempts to send the water to the southwest for example where New Mexico's Governor had already been making noise about wanting it. However, there are a lot more than eight states along the country's coasts and that didn't stop the elimination of the ban on offshore drilling. The difference of course is that the people in the coast states will benefit from the oil. We can continue our lifestyle for another month? Then drill, baby, drill! Folks around the Great Lakes won't get much out of sending water to the desert but I have no doubt that in the long run, this law won't keep the Great Lakes any safer than any area supposedly protected by environmental laws that stand opposed to American greed.

An objection can be made that people around the Lakes are dependent on products such as oil from elsewhere being sent to them so they shouldn't have the right to withhold what someone else needs. The difference is that people are dependent on oil and its products because of choices: what climate they live in, living 50 miles from where they work, eating food from around the world, etc. And of course we're all dependent on it by being born into this industrial society, not a choice any of us was allowed to make. So yes, without oil, a lot of people are going to suffer extreme hardships and many are going to die even if they're well hydrated. Without water, however, everyone is going to die within a few days regardless of how much oil they have.

Annin said there's enough water in the Great Lakes to cover the entire continental U.S. to a depth of 9 1/2 feet. Sounds pretty greedy to be selfish about that much water which could never run out, doesn't it? Ah, but it could, because all resources are finite, a lesson industrial civilization was too foolish to learn. Ask the folks in the southwest who are already overusing their water supply while more people continue to move to the area.

Annin told the story of the Aral Sea where it now takes 5 1/2 hours to drive from where the shoreline used to be to where it is now. Here's an excerpt from his book:
What happened to the Aral? In the 1950s, ambitious Soviet planners embarked on a massive water program designed to make the desert bloom. Engineers redirected much of the river flow that fed the sea, diverting the water to a massive complex of agricultural fields. The Soviets succeeded in their crusade; Central Asia became a booming marketplace—particularly for cotton. But this economic conquest had a severe ecological cost. In just a few decades, the water diversions left the Aral in ruins. Cut off from its freshwater feeder streams, the sea began shrinking. A generation later, the disastrous ecological effects of this grand plan have left thousands of Central Asians in shock. In less than half a century, water levels in the Aral have fallen by eighty vertical feet. The sea has lost 75 percent of its surface area and 90 percent of its volume. The farmer’s gain was the fisherman’s loss—jobs dried up with the water, leaving chronic unemployment and social paralysis. The climate is different too. Like the North American Great Lakes, the old Aral moderated temperature extremes near the shoreline. Now Muynak’s summers are hotter, winters colder, and regional precipitation patterns have changed.
I'm not sure how important fishing is to the Great Lakes economy, but shipping (which is already affected by normal variations in water levels) is a major industry.

Moving on from liquids to liquidity, with even the press and major politicians now admitting how close the entire economic house of cards is to collapsing, with the unemployment rate at a 5 year high nationally and at a 22 year high in this state, with Wall Street gladly accepting the handouts they criticize individuals for asking for, I'm happy to say that I outlasted one particular company.

For a couple years a couple decades ago I worked in mutual funds for a company which in some merger or purchase or some such nonsense became part of some version of American Express Shearson Lehman Blah Blah Blah Incorporated. I remember a conversation about corporate life which I had after I'd given my notice with one of the people I supervised. He talked about playing the game and taking the money, I talked about being so disgusted by the game that I wanted nothing to do with it. Wasn't I a great corporate mentor? I've had to play the game (poorly and always disgusted) a lot more than I wish I had in my life, but I'm still around and Lehman Brothers is not. So long, suckers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Mostly nature related, but some just for fun. Some numbers indicate preference ranking, some don't. Some are specific species, some are general genera. With apologies to fellow travelers such as snakes, turtles, mushrooms, spiders, insects, amphibians, and fish, many of whom I'm quite fond but lack enough knowledge and/or experience to make a list of favorites.

10 Favorite Mammals
1) Wolf
2) Humpback Whale
3) Raccoon
4) Cat
5) Squirrel
6) Snow Leopard
7) Red Fox
8) Porcupine
9) Bat
10) Fisher

10 Favorite Birds:
1) Raven
2) Crow
3) Bald Eagle
4) Red-winged Blackbird
5) Pileated Woodpecker
6) Turkey Vulture
7) Barred Owl
8) Blue Jay
9) Peregrine Falcon
10) Catbird

Favorite Nature Book Series:
1) Smithsonian Nature Books--each book covered a species, usually with a good mix of science and natural history anecdotes. Sadly, most of these are unavailable with some used copies listed at a high price at sites such as Amazon. I have about half of them and have read library copies of others. Fine books but very poorly organized publishing from this museum, with multiple series and most titles quickly going out of print.

2) There are two fine 3-book series published by Stackpole Books, written by John Eastman and illustrated by Amelia Hansen which cover birds and plants of Eastern North America. The series titles begin with "Birds of..." or "The Book of..." and remind me somewhat of Donald Culross Peattie's famous A Natural History of Trees. Entries include sections on behavior, ecology, and lore among others.

3) Seven books have a title beginning "Tom Brown's Field Guide to...", but they're not so much field guides as an emotional/spiritual guide to survival and connecting with the natural world. Written by Tom Brown, famous and somewhat controversial tracker and teacher.

4) Stokes Nature Guides--covering topics from bird behavior to observing insects to nature in winter, most of these very readable and enjoyable books are sadly out of print.

5) National Audubon Society Nature Guides--these attractive out of print books were ecosystem field guides. Rather than focusing just on birds or trees, they included a mix of plant and animal life found in a wetland or eastern forest (the two titles I've held onto). For standard field guides, a mix of the Audubon and Peterson series will generally do the job.

6) Sierra Club Naturalist's Guides--my favorite series despite having few photos and drawings. Nine titles covered different regions of North America ranging from coastlines to deserts to forests to mountains and attempted to provide info on everything in those regions--ecosystems, geology, weather, wildlife, plants. Unlike field guides, these are intended to be read as guides to ecology rather than individual species, and luckily I was able to get a full set of these at discount prices as they were going out of print long ago.

10 Favorite Trees:
1) Oak
2) Willow
3) Pine
4) Hemlock
5) Hickory
6) Cottonwood
7) Beech
8) Sycamore
9) Maple
10) Walnut

10 More Favorite Non-animals of Various Forms:
1) Skunk Cabbage
2) Pitcher Plant
3) Indian Pipe
4) Cattail
5) Jewelweed
6) Bluebead Lily
7) Jack-in-the-Pulpit
8) Marsh Marigold
9) Ferns
10) Mushrooms

5 Favorite Bob Dylan Albums:
1) Blood on the Tracks
2) Time Out of Mind
3) Oh Mercy
4) Highway 61 Revisited
5) Freewheelin'

10 Favorite "Nature" Writers:
1) Henry David Thoreau--What do I need to say? You'll find him at the top of my other writers list also. Possibly the most important American author and book.
2) David Quammen--Masterful columnist. His essay collections are as entertaining and educational as any book can be.
3) David M. Carroll--This artist/author/lover of wetlands was kind enough to write and send me a copy when I wrote to ask him about one of his out of print books.
4) Edward Abbey--Somewhat justly hated the "nature writer" label he earned with Desert Solitaire. Always more of a social critic, his Monkey Wrench Gang was an inspiration in the creation of Earth First!. Along with his books of essays, I've enjoyed the letters and journals which have been published since his death.
5) Rick Bass--Author of a wide variety of material, his books on grizzlies, wolves, winter, and his home in the Yaak are the ones I appreciate.
6) John Hay--Cape Cod writer; The Way to the Salt Marsh is a collection of pieces from his many books over a forty year period.
7) Robert Finch--Another Cape Cod author, The Primal Place is his most recent.
8) Paul Gruchow--I've only read one of his books, Boundary Waters, which he discussed with us at a book club meeting by the shore of Lake Superior. It has some wonderful sections such as one on dragonfly metamorphosis. He was painfully honest about the demons he struggled with, and died a year or two later.
9) Joseph Wood Krutch--Honestly, I've only intensely browsed the one collection I have of his writing, all out of print, but it looks wonderful.
10) John Muir--To round out the ten, for his place in history and his euphoria in nature.

10 Favorite Literary Writers:
1) Henry David Thoreau
2) William Shakespeare
3) Fyodor Dostoevsky
4) Mark Twain
5) D.H. Lawrence
6) Charles Dickens
7) Lawrence Durrell
8) John Steinbeck
9) John Dos Passos
10) Thomas Wolfe

5 Classics I Haven't Read:
1) Moby Dick
2) War & Peace
3) Don Quixote
4) Ulysses
5) Divine Comedy

5 Favorite Beatles Albums:
1) Rubber Soul
2) Abbey Road
3) White Album
4) Revolver
5) Let It Be

There Are Places I Remember:
1) The Porcupine Mountains and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as a whole--beautiful natural areas and a small human population: it's not just a coincidence.
2) Walden Pond, nearby Fairyland Pond and surrounding woods and bogs--history, nature, rebellion, friends.
3) French Quarter--twenty years after my only visit, the food, music, bars, and people remain strong in my memory. Hurricane Katrina resonates with a tragic sadness matched for me in my life only by the Challenger explosion and the 1968 assassinations of Kennedy and King.
4) Stellwagen Bank--site of many whale sightings.
5) Purgatory Chasm--It's not very big, but it's a lot of fun. How often do you get to squeeze through a boulder?
6) Green Circle--I almost moved to Stevens Point because of this 30 mile trail. Some of it is on neighborhood sidewalks, but most of it winds along beautiful rivers and wetlands and through forests and fields.
7) Emerald Necklace--I lived near the Arboretum and worked in the Back Bay and would often run between the two with my work clothes in my pack.
8) Northern New England--the Vermont towns of Brattleboro and Burlington, the New Hampshire mountain hikes, the Maine coastline and Portland
9) Moose Hill--My nature date. Over the years, several women joined me on a train from Boston to explore this diverse Mass Audubon sanctuary. I made an annual pilgrimage to see the skunk cabbage bloom, and standing inside a decaying tree took a close-up photo whose colors and textures always reminded me of looking across a canyon at the opposite wall.
10) Jacks Fork--College canoeing in the Ozarks.