Thursday, April 24, 2008

DNR Strikes Again

The folks who are Determined Nothing Remain have apparently struck again with news today that Solo the bear is dead. She never woke up from hibernation after the DNR moved her and her cubs a couple states away to get her away from people who enjoyed her company and people who didn't. If you recall, when the DNR arrived to move them, they found she had been pepper-sprayed by some brave human. So, blame the folks in uniform or out of uniform for her death. Your call, and either way, another revolting commentary on the species I'm unfortunate enough to have to call my own.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Animal Tales

Just a few quick news items.

PeTA sent a letter to a local middle school where a teacher has a wall of photographs of animals killed by his students. PeTA says this promotes violence; the teacher says it promotes culture, just like all the photos of hunters and killed animals in the local media. Along with my feelings for the dead animals,
I feel sorry for the kids who oppose hunting and have to look at this crap every day. The newspaper ran an article about this today as well as an editorial which while calling this a hard sell in a pro-hunting area does praise some of PeTA's other work such as working on alternatives to animal testing (next week's World Lab Animal Week.) Comments are allowed on the article and are running about as expected; at last count four people had made the People Eating Tasty comment.

Some time back I commented on great horned owls which had taken over a nesting box previously used by peregrine falcons. There are some great photos of the owlets here. Scroll down to the reports for March 10th and 31st.

Also mentioned in a previous entry was the disease being called white nose syndrome affecting bats. This has now been found in Connecticut as well as previously noted NY, MA, and VT.

Sea Shepherd's crew and ship protesting and filming the barbaric killing of baby seals have been repeatedly attacked by sealers, and now taken into custody by the Canadian government. In Canada it is illegal to watch a seal being killed, but actually killing them is a protected activity.

To end on a positive note, I'm currently reading the recent book The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild by Craig Childs. I greatly enjoyed his encounters with cougars (one, probably at a zoo or some such place, is featured on the cover in profile in the snow) but my favorite tale so far involves rescuing a raccoon which had fallen and was trapped in a desert waterhole awaiting starvation. The raccoon didn't exactly cooperate with his rescue attempts but in the end was rewarded with pizza and freedom.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


1:00 PM When I first saw Blizzard Watch in the forecast I thought, "Oh, that's nice." I've been teased then scorned by forecasters in the past and now have a "Prove it!" attitude to the whole thing. Yesterday when the forecast was updated to Blizzard Warning, I started to believe.

I was more than a little annoyed and disappointed when the folks north of Duluth got two feet of snow last weekend and we got nothing, but fortunately it looks like it is our turn now. The current forecast has the warning in effect from 7 PM tonight to 7 AM Saturday, with 50 mph winds, drifting and whiteout conditions, and 11-16 inches of snow.

I took a long saunter along the Lakewalk this morning and enjoyed the waves crashing on shore and whitecaps covering the Lake in the 35 mph NE wind. Noreasters were always the best storms in New England, with the unobstructed wind blowing moisture off the ocean, and Duluth's location at the western tip of Lake Superior (the next best thing to an ocean) makes the same hold true here. At the shipping canal, waves were reaching up toward the top of the walls; no doubt they'll be crashing over those walls later tonight. Wanna watch?

The cat's enjoying watching the trees rattle around outside. I imagine when he tries to look out tomorrow morning, he'll be staring at a wall of white caked onto the screen.

10:00 PM I repeated my Lakewalk late this afternoon, and it was clear the weather was getting serious. It was no saunter this time as the wind at my back pushed me toward downtown, with much higher waves and several sections of the trail had standing water from wavespray. The creeks I passed were running strongly with whitewater of their own from the ongoing snowmelt but were quickly overwhelmed as they met the incoming waves.

After I turned the corner toward Canal Park, the wind and spray came hard from my left side; the walkway here was completely wet. There was a party atmosphere by the canal as a crowd of families, college students, and storm junkies like myself laughed and talked to strangers while television crews looked on. The area where I'd stood this morning now had a couple inches of standing water. People photographed the waves and spray using everything from cellphones to tripods. Though it was not raining or snowing, my coat and pants were soon soaked. A small stone, waveblown, bounced off a tooth as I smiled at the crowd enjoying the power of nature.
Gulls hung motionless in the air until they were blown backward with wings flapping, looking like a film in reverse.

The wind is roaring, and there is snow to the north, west, and just south of us, but so far nothing here a couple hours after it was forecast to begin. This may work out well because I've been concerned that there will be so much heavy wet snow on the ground in the morning that I'll have a hard time making it to the Lake. I'd gladly trade a couple total inches (which will all be melted within a few days anyway) for easier walking in the morning. Will it snow or has Duluth been punked?

Saturday It was almost midnight before the snow started in my neighborhood Thursday. When I woke up Friday, I found the screens and windows snowpacked as predicted. The cat was peeking, twisting, craning, standing on back paws, to see out through small areas where snow had fallen off.

The electricity had been off during the night and went off a couple more times during the day. One TV station was off the air and another had only audio. I looked out two of the doors of my apartment building to see how the world looked. Most of the snow we would get (only about 10 inches) had already fallen but the wind remained ferocious. I tried to use the link above to check waves, but found the camera snowcovered. Bus service was canceled, and though I could have walked the Lakewalk to the canal, I didn't want to make the return trip into the wind. So I decided to learn from species wiser than homo sapiens and remain in my snow cave. I took a couple books and the toasty cat back to bed.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Books and Cars

World Made by Hand is the latest book by James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency which examined issues such as running out of oil and the resulting collapse of industrialism and the extravagant way of life based on it.

The new book is a fictional look at what life may be like in the near future after that collapse. Passing mention is made of major bombs in LA and DC, plague, flu, starvation, climate change, general chaos and violence leading to the greatly reduced population but the book focuses on what life is like for the residents of an upstate New York town living a simple and demanding life in rural isolation.

The novel has plenty of flaws, but I enjoyed reading it because I long for the days it describes and believe the collapse and resulting die off is not only unavoidable, but also necessary for the good of humans as well as more obviously for the other species on the planet. Our ignorant and abusive dominance of the planet must come to an end.

For those horrified by the thought of looking forward to something which will only come about through a great deal of suffering and death (of course, our way of life also only exists because of a great deal of suffering and death—just not our own, so we don’t worry about it), another book I recently read offered an alternative much further in the future, but much more closely following the path of our current way of life.

In The Companions by Sheri S. Tepper, it’s 700 years in the future and people live in square mile skyscrapers hundreds of floors high. All other species have been eliminated for using up air and space, and the group IGI-HFO (In God’s Image-Humans First and Only) doesn’t seem far removed from the dominant values of today.

Perhaps there are people who would prefer that way of life to a greatly reduced population living much more deliberately, but I’m certainly not one of them. As my favorite exchange in Kunstler’s book puts it,

“We’ve lost our world.”
“Only the part that the machines lived in.”

The machine I’d most like to see die is the automobile and they are part of the past in this book which rather lovingly and frequently mentions the decaying of roads and parking lots. No doubt the Duluth woman who turns every topic on the local newspaper’s website into a forum for her complaints about potholes would rather live in one of Tepper's skyscrapers.

Following are some updated thoughts about cars and their effects from an old column I headlined Car Culture or Auto Addiction.

A couple local columnists wrote about cars. One wrote of her family’s need for a second car while acknowledging the environment would be better off if they didn’t have it. She claimed to need the freedom it provided while describing a condition which sounded more like dependency. The second wrote of being against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while acknowledging that his solo drive to the office made him part of the problem, and didn’t even mention all his long-distance trips.

They illustrate one of the reasons I have so little respect and hope for the human species in its current form. Even people who know the proper responsible action continue to act in their own perceived selfish and short-term interests. And the majority of people don’t even care enough to admit the lack of integrity in their lives.

I believe that anyone who can’t get between their home and workplace under their own power or by public transportation is living or working in the wrong place. This is admittedly often difficult due to inadequate public transportation and society being set up around the car, but there is no legitimate reason for living in the country or suburb and working in the city. It’s a completely understandable desire but also irresponsible. Imagine instead a world where people took responsibility for conditions around their downtown workplaces and cared about their neighbors there instead of scurrying back to a suburb to live their antiseptic lives and write letters of horror about crime.

When I attended Duluth’s charette meeting on transportation, someone claimed we all love our cars. After someone disagreed, another person later repeated that we all love our cars and was reminded that this is not true. It was as if people could not conceive of people living without cars, much less opposing them, even when face to face with those people.

Another gentleman referred to switching to public transportation as going backward. In my own unenlightened days when I thought animal experimentation was acceptable, the rats and I learned that when we reached a dead end, turning around and going backward was the intelligent thing to do. In our culture, most people prefer to keep banging their heads against the wall rather than turn around and start living a very different and necessary life. Perhaps calling our society a rat race grants it more credit than is due.

I have never owned a car and haven’t driven one in about twenty-five years. When I lived in a city with good public transportation, I didn’t even ride in one for years. One night after dinner with friends, I let someone give me a ride home and felt as if I was in an unknown city because of the change in viewpoint as we traveled.

Staying out of cars changes one’s entire life. I live at a slower, more relaxed pace, more connected to the natural world and its rhythms, and more aware and respectful of other life forms. I experience Duluth’s fascinating microclimates rather than try to keep myself removed from the weather. I know the aging of my body as I climb and descend our hills. In short, I’m more alive and more aware of where I live.

Trying to create cars which aren’t dependent on oil would be a step in the right direction. Certainly I’d like to be rid of the stench of them as I walk along the sidewalk or cross a street and I’d prefer to never see another rainbow of pollution on the pavement when it rains.

But the real problem remains the automobile itself. Changing its means of power will not eliminate the destruction of habitat (a paved area the size of Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) caused by it, or the killing of an estimated one million animals a week by it. It won’t reduce our culture’s intoxication with speed and noise, or our laziness and obesity.

It won’t change the fact that automobiles are the leading cause of death of children and have killed more Americans than all of our wars. You want me to be outraged about 4,000 Americans killed in Iraq? Every year, 40,000 Americans are killed in car accidents. Where’s your outrage about that and why are you contributing to it?