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 http://www.isleroyalewolf.org 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.