Midsummer Afternoon – Part 1 – Visit to Harakka Island

Guest posts by Ice Swimmer


It was a hot afternoon just after Midsummer. I went to downtown Helsinki to take some photos.

In the first photo, you can see a jackdaw walking at the Market Square tram stop. I took the picture while waiting for the tram.

A jackdaw walks by © Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The second photo is an “aerial photo” of a family of mute swans, two adults,

and five little cygnets. I’m on the shore end of the pier, from which the boat to Harakka picks up passengers.

I think the leftmost cygnet has some Cladophora around the base of the neck, at least I’m hoping it’s that and not plastic (I noticed the green stuff when looking at the edited photo). The green algae, which has a Finnish name ahdinparta, beard (parta) of the old Finnish god of the sea Ahti, is rather ubiquitous in shallow waters here and there’s a lot of it on the underwater stones in the picture.

Swan family dinner. © Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I took the boat to Harakka. The digitalis was in bloom and there were wild strawberries. It could be that when the Imperial Russian army was using the island before Finnish independence, they planted strawberries and other berries, as I’ve heard stories that it was their way to prevent the soldiers in fortress islands from having scurvy.

Digitalis and strategical strawberries.  © Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

This red-leaved rose was growing in a forested area on Harakka. I like how simple and unpretentious it looks.

Red-leaved rose with green leaves. © Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Most of Harakka is ruled by dinosaurs in the summer. This gull seemed to be above any ergonomic considerations.

Common gull forming an animal puddle. © Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

My visit to Harakka was cut a bit short by the low battery charge level of my phone. I had neglected to take an emergency charger (“sähköpossu”/”electricity piggybank” as I like to call them) with me.

Having come back to the mainland from Harakka, I saw these crows on a sign (warning about the underwater cable AFAIR) on the pier. They were “singing”. There’s a Finnish saying “Äänellään se variskin laulaa.”, which could be translated as: “Even the crow will sing with its own voice.”

Crows singing with their own voices. © Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I did take more than these pictures on Harakka and there could be material for further posts.

The USA are burning, Germany is drowning

Well, how to write this post? First and foremost: I’m fine, in case anybody was worried, I thankfully live about 100 to 300km away from where this is happening. I don’t know about or other German regulars. If you see this, please check in.

Maybe you heard it on the news, but the Southwest of Germany is currently experiencing extreme flooding. So extreme that even the climate scientists who expected something like this to happen are shocked by its scale. The effects are dramatic. There are over 100 confirmed deaths so far, with thousands still being unaccounted for, though authorities are hoping that they’ve been merely cut off.

The worst happened in two states: Rhineland Palatine and Northrhine Westphalia. In Rhineland Palatine the river Ahr, usually a small meandering river that runs between vinyards, has swollen dramatically. The catastrophe there isn’t a result of sealing large parts of the ground or straightening the river. That region is usually one of those brother Grimm fairy tale landscapes: middle high mountains with wine on the slopes, forests ion the heights, a castle at the top, and a nice medieval town in the valley. After weeks and weeks of heavy rain, the ground was soaked and couldn’t take any water anymore. It all rushed down into the Ahr. And now there are places that basically no longer extist.

Description: muddy brown water with half a bridge. The other half has been destroyed .

Description: Pictures of the town Dernau. You can see the muddy brown water in the whole town.

In Northrhine Westphalia it was flooded dams that could no longer hold the water. They tried to prevent the worst by causing smaller floods beforehand, but no avail. The Wupper, usually a small river, flooded town and completely destroyed neighbourhoods.

Description: cars buried to the windshield in rubble and water

I’ll spare you my thoughts on our politicians, climate change and so on. I’m preaching to the choir anyway.

The Art of …

… trash, by Portuguese artist Artur Bordalo

I recently discovered an artist who is bringing attention to the problem of environmental waste and, in the process, making treasure out of trash.

Big Trash Animals’ by Artur Bordalo is a series of artworks that aim to draw attention to one of the world’s most pressing problems: Waste production. The overproduction of things like plastics and metals, a general lack of recycling and the ensuing pollution that it causes has a devastating effect on the planet, and we shouldn’t just learn to accept it as a necessary evil.

The full story, along with more photos, is at Bored Panda.

Trash Cat, by Artur Bordalo. Image from Bored Panda.

Trash Bird, by Artur Bordalo. Image from Bored Panda.

The Art of …

… maps, by Harold Fisk

Meander map of the Mississippi, 1944, by Harold Fisk, cartographer and geologist, image via The Public Domain Review

This map is one of a series made to highlight the changes in the flood plain of the Mississippi River. The maps were drawn using information from 1944 and old records from 1765, 1820 and 1880.

All of these alterations, both human and nonhuman, can be seen in Fisk’s wonderfully detailed, wonderfully vibrant maps — further evidence that the Mississippi, as Mark Twain put it, is not at all “a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable”.

The full story is at The Public Domain Review

Starling

I had an extremely bad year bird-watching wise so far. There are definitively a lot fewer birds around than there used to be.

For example, only a few starlings came by to harvest all the surplus aronias. And only one was visible enough to take a picture. Normally, at this time of year, the tree should be stripped bare by starlings and thrushes heading south.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I have not seen a single golden finch, greenfinch, or siskin the whole year. Neither have I seen any fieldfares, or thrushes, and just a few blackbirds, very sparsely. Chaffinch song is usually a constant presence the whole summer – and this year I cannot remember hearing it even once, despite chaffinch being supposedly the most common bird of central Europe.. And in the last month or two tits and sparrows  – the consants of my garden the whole year – have disappeared too. Redstarts are still here, but wagtails never showed up.

I fear this is a real environmental problem and a local sign of a global catastrophy.

Oh My Potato!

There is a lot of talk about sustainability and growing your own food etcetera. So I wish to share this year’s results of our efforts in this regard, specifically potatoes.

In the spring we bought 20 kg of potatoes for about 40 € including shipping. We planted them to a patch approximately 40-50 square meters and now my father has great fun harvesting them.

Typical potatoes, ones that go into the cellar for storage look like this.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Then there is also a lot of “beads” which are very small potatoes, and a lot of potatoes that are damaged by weeds, slugs, bugs etc. Those need to be consumed first. But this year it looks like we do get reasonable amount of big potatoes in good condition. And whilst the saying in Czech goes “Čím hloupější sedlák, tím větší brambory” (“The dafter the peasant, the bigger his potatoes”), I think that saying just reflects the enviousness in human nature. Because getting reasonably big potatoes, regularly, is not easy.

The main problem with potatoes is that they need light, humous soil, and the soil in our garden is more like heavy clay. In the vegetable patch, it is a lot better, because that soil is a result of careful cultivation over several decades of tilling the clay with compost, manure, wood ash, and fertilizer. Still, it is far from ideal and way too sticky. So this year I have tried to improve the soil further by adding a lot of organic material directly around the potatoes during planting, specifically crushed reed stalks from my sewage water treatment facility. It seems to have helped – a few plants were planted without the reed stalks and their potatoes were visibly smaller. Also, the soil with the crushed reed is easier to tilt and falls easier apart. So it seems I have a use for the reed stalks, which until now were a waste-product.

But even without those, each year when we grow potatoes, there are outliers like this ca. 500 g (>1 pound) specimen.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Pieces like these bring great joy to my father, who currently really has fun with garden fork tilling the patch and getting the potatoes out. We have a small tractor, but my mother has urged me not to use it and leave my father to do the work manually – he needs the exercise and enjoys doing it. And although he impales some potatoes on the fork, the damage is smaller than the plow would do. For example, this 950 g specimen got impaled and needs to be eaten asap, but a plow would probably just cut it in half.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Well, that one is really an outlier. It can feed the whole family for a day. It would be great if they were all like that, but that is alas unattainable.

Ok, enough bragging and back to the sustainability issue and soil care a bit.

We have planted circa 200 plants. We get at least 120 kg of potatoes from it, so on average 600 g from each plant. That means we could, theoretically, set aside 20 kg for next year and still have 100 kg to eat. So how does that help us re: self-sustainability? It is just about 600 g of potatoes per week per person in our household, so two-three servings. That is a lot, being a significant money saver. But it still does not bring us anywhere near to being self-reliant.

The first obstacle to that is of course the sheer amount of land needed for true self-reliance. I almost have the land, but the soil quality on most of it is very poor and it would take years of back-breaking work to bring it up to scratch with the vegetable patch.*

The second obstacle are nutrients. Potatoes have about the highest yield per area of all crops that I can grow here, but they also deplete the soil of nutrients really, really fast, and can destroy it. I do not need to go too far to see a real-life example of this – my neighbor does not make compost, does not take care of her vegetable patch the way we do, and she did grow potatoes always in the same spot for many years. The soil got sour, and the potatoes were getting so small it was not worth the effort anymore.

The third obstacle is pests and diseases. We solve this problem by twofold approach – we spray the potatoes against mold and beetles, and we only grow them every second year. It seems to work out well, but should we try to be self-reliant, it would double the needed land again. We alternate them with onions, pumpkins, and legumes, which also produce reasonable harvests, but nowhere near to be significant on the same amount of land. Alternating the crops also reduces the amount of pesticides we use, since onions and legumes do not need to be treated.

The fourth obstacle is the sheer amount of work needed. My father does most of it, with me only doing the most difficult parts like plowing, and it takes a lot of time and effort throughout the year. To feed all three of us that effort would be tenfold.

This makes me highly skeptical about growing your food on the windowsill or front porch. But even so, I think it is a great idea to plant some vegetables in pots on your windowsill or front porch if you can, just do not expect any wonders regarding the amount you will get.

What you can expect though, is great taste. Supermarket bought vegetables cannot hold a candle to anything you grow by yourself.


  • The poor soil quality around here is one of the main reasons why many fields were converted to pastures and meadows after the Iron Curtain has fallen.

Mowing Pictures – Part 1 – Butterflies

I made these last month and then I forgot to post them. Well, the pictures are not that good, they were made with my phone. But I still think they are worth posting.

When my neighbor has finally mown the meadows surrounding my house, he left a bit unmown just in front of the gate into my garden. He always does. I do not know why maybe he is afraid that he will damage the geodesic leveling pole that is positioned there. Regardless of his reasons, I have to mow that piece with a scythe, and this year I have made a few pictures of the various critters and flowers that live there whilst doing so.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

What Remains After

Because I have so many links about art saved (>200), I’m trying to group them by themes. Today’s theme is abandoned spaces, and although the title seems a bit dark, it’s not a commentary on current events in the world. 

What remains after we are gone? After the life industrial has faded and transformed into its modern, shiny, robotic cousin? (Well, that’s how the moving pictures show it…)

The end of everything? The slow decay of silent things, with no one to witness their passing? The carcasses of once-great buildings, now uncertain in their unstable uselessness and sharp aura of danger? There is potential in these abandoned and lost spaces – but a melancholy potential, the complete opposite of new beginnings, a potential that is meaningless and only full of the possibilities of what could have been, what never was, what never will be. A lot of never will be.

From THE END OF EVERYTHING, by Jan Erik Waider.

Still, what it can be is a whole lot of art.

[Read more…]

Tree Tuesday

David Milarch with clones of 3,000-year-old redwoods. Courtesy Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

David Milarch is a man on a mission, and his goals are ambitious. He is trying to save the Ancient Giant Redwoods and, in the process, save the planet.

Years of droughts and shifting temperatures have already driven these evergreen giants out of some coastal zones they once inhabited. The trees can live for as long as 2,000 to 3,000 years, but some scientists think, the way things are going, that they could disappear from California in a fraction of that time.

Milarch spends his days tracking down the heartiest coast redwood specimens he can find, cloning them in his own lab, and then planting them in carefully chosen plots where they can thrive, hopefully for millennia. One site is a new experimental bed in San Francisco’s Presidio, part of the U.S. National Park system. Milarch’s goal is both to strengthen the coast redwood gene pool with clones of the strongest individuals, and to store loads of climate-change-causing carbon—more than 1,000 tons per acre of redwoods, more than any other kind of forest in the world. It’s a complicated mission with a simple philosophy: Save the big trees, and they’ll save us.

Milarch is well qualified for the mission as are his two sons, both of whom assist him with the project and the foundation.

If you strike up a conversation with Milarch, you’ll get his life story inside of 10 minutes—from his motorcycle gang days in Detroit to the revelation that set him on his current path, involving a near-death experience, angels, and a disembodied voice that dictated a plan he wrote down in the wee hours of the morning. When he woke up fully the next day, he says, “There was an eight-page outline on that legal pad. It was the outline for this project.”
The angel who tapped Milarch for this mission seems to have picked the right person—not only is he an able tree-vangelist, but he is a third-generation shade-tree grower. His sons Jake and Jared, both of whom work for Archangel, make up the fourth. So he knows all the secrets of getting balky arborial species to reach their potential by locating the healthiest specimens, clipping and propagating them, and then nurturing delicate new trees.

Jake Milarch of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive packs up saplings that were sent to Oregon for planting. Courtesy Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

It’s a long, complicated process that involves cloning and Milarch manages it all with an eye to the future. The saplings are nurtured with compost and drip-fed water when dry, and in time, Milarch plans to plant underbrush species that will not dominate the young trees. He also plans to selectively thin the trees as they grow, allowing the most dominant to take over.

It isn’t a cure-all for climate change, but it is an important part of the answer.

As University College London earth scientists Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis point out in The Conversation, reforestation is hardly a magic bullet against climate change. It can take centuries, even millennia, to have its effect, and that’s time the climate problem does not have. Some of the land areas earmarked for reforestation in the Science study may end up too hot for forests by the time people get around to planting them. “Reforestation,” Maslin and Lewis write, “should be thought of as one solution to climate change among many.”
Even if champion trees aren’t an answer by themselves, Milarch is determined to see them at least become part of the answer. If there’s anything worth being downright messianic about, he figures, it’s creating eternal groves of thousand-year-old, self-replicating giants that could benefit all humankind. “We have a list of the 100 most important trees to clone. We have our marching orders. We know where we need to go,” Milarch says. “I raise my hand every morning and I say, ‘Use me.’”

I don’t believe in angels, but whatever it was that sent Milarch on his quest, I’m thankful for it. If you’d like to know more about this vital project please visit The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive Website.

 

Story via: Atlas Obscura

 

A Bit of Good News from Australia

Lofty is back out on his bike and has sent us some photos of the early stages of recovery in fire-ravaged Australia,

Our bike club has returned to the fire ground as the roads are safe and the local bakeries need customers. Here are a few pictures of survival and recovery one month after the visit from the fire breathing dragon of climate change.

Merely a flesh wound, ©Lofty, all rights reserved

Oasis, ©Lofty, all rights reserved

 

Rain brings green, ©Lofty, all rights reserved

Tour down under, ©Lofty, all rights reserved

Tree Tuesday

These photos of grass trees were taken by the friend of a friend who lives in Australia. She tells me,

 While driving through the bushfire zone 12kms from the caravan park, I was delighted to see signs of regrowth…. (grass trees) are already sprouting green in the landscape that was so devastated just 6 weeks ago.

… you can read all about them at bushheritage.org.au. They are also a protected species and very expensive to buy from specialist nurseries – I’ve always wanted to have one in my garden! Best of all, grass trees are very resilient and able to survive any bushfire.

©Ozzie, all rights reserved

©Ozzie, all rights reserved

Tree Tuesday

There is one last grove of California Giant Red Sequoia trees in private hands and like all forests in the Sierra Nevada area, it is at risk of damage from environmental pressures, including a heightened risk of fire. The grove is highly important and contains some of the oldest and largest trees on the planet. Nearly 500 of the trees are over 6 feet in diameter

Now, a California conservation group is beseeching the public to step up and fund the purchase of a huge grove of the towering trees. “It’s an awe-inspiring place,” says Jessica Inwood, Parks Program Manager for the Save the Redwoods League. “It’s the last, largest giant sequoia property left in private ownership.” One sequoia on the property, the Stagg Tree, is believed to be the fifth-largest tree in the world.

Though the sequoias do not burn as frequently as other trees in Californias, the league intends to reduce tree overgrowth in order to mitigate the damage of future fires. “With fire frequency and intensity predicted to increase due to climate change and with significant fuels accumulation in the forest, the ecosystem is vulnerable to severe fire damage,” Inwood says.

The fires are nothing new, but the warm conditions that foster them are becoming more frequent, and the vast fires that result are difficult to combat. “Drought in a warmer climate is a big threat,” says Roger Bales, director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the University of California Merced. “Also high-intensity wildfire, which is more likely with a warmer climate.”

The 530 acres, known as Alder Creek, currently belong to the Rouch Family, and they have signed a purchase agreement to sell the land and the trees to the Save The Redwoods League for $15 million. Now the group needs the public’s help in funding the purchase.

Story via:  Atlas Obscura from September 2019.

I will add as a happy update that thanks to people from around the world, the Save The Redwoods League has met its fundraising goals and Alder Creek is now protected. If you’d like to know more about this non-profit organization and the vital work they do, they can be found here.

 

 

Jack’s Walk

In the space of a week, we’ve gone from this,

Flooding at Pittock Lake ©voyager, all rights reserved

to this,

 It’s winter again, and Jack approves ©voyager, all rights reserved

to this.

Oh No, green grass. Winter is melting again, and Jack does not approve/ ©voyager, all rights reserved

Today marks the third time in January that winter has come and gone. It’s expected to rain all weekend, and the creeks and rivers are already running high and fast. They’ve issued flood warnings. In January. In Canada.