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.

Tree Tuesday

In the small Palestinian village of Al Walaja, just outside Bethlehem,  lives an ancient olive tree, that may be one of the oldest trees in the world. It has been carbon-dated to an age range of 3,000 to 5,500 years old and it is the job of one man, Salah Abu Ali, to protect it.

Ali wakes every morning to tend to his family’s orchard. Entering through a neighbor’s yard, he trots down the grove’s narrow paths in a way that belies his age, occasionally reaching down to quickly toss aside trespassing stones; briskly descending verdant terraces, one after another until he comes to the edge of the orchard. It is at this edge where Ali spends most of his day, pumping water from the spring above or tending to the soil. It is where he sometimes sleeps at night, and where he hosts people that have made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But many come for the tree, an olive that some believe to be the oldest in the world.

The olive tree of Al Walaja, like all trees in the world, is under threat from climate change and is recovering from a recent drought.  It is also under the added threat of Israeli expansionism.

But the olive tree of Al Walaja has become something else to its residents. Now, it’s a symbol of resistance. The village is a shadow of its former self. Most of the village’s residents were forced to flee their homes amidst heavy fighting during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. “In 1948, we came here and slept under the trees,” Ali says, as Israeli military personnel chant during drills in the valley below. After the dust settled and the demarcation lines were drawn, Al Walaja had lost around 70 percent of its land.
The town was further eroded after Israel captured the West Bank during the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel then expanded the Jerusalem Municipality, annexing around half of what was left of the village.

More recently, Israel’s separation wall threatened to once again cut the village in two, isolating the Al Badawi tree. But residents won a court battle which saw the chain-link wall diverted around the village. The wall now stands just below Ali’s family orchard, separating the new village from the site of the old, just across a narrow valley.

Despite the court victory, dozens of homes have been bulldozed to make way for the Jerusalem Municipality. Al Walaja still sits isolated, hemmed in on nearly all sides by Israel’s separation wall and no longer able to access uncultivated farmland or many of the village’s once-famed springs.

It is because of these threats that Ali guards the ancient olive tree, and he considers it his life work to protect it. Ali now receives a small sum from The Palestinian Authority to take care of the tree, due to reports of Israeli settlers and soldiers cutting down and burning ancient olive trees in other parts of the West Bank.

According to the United Nations, approximately 45 percent of agricultural land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip contain olive trees, providing income for some 100,000 families. “The Palestinians are attached to the olive tree,” Ali says. “The olive tree is a part of our resistance and a part of our religion. With the olive tree we live, and without it we don’t live.”

 

Story from Atlas Obscura

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

 

Tree Tuesday

Today’s tree story is about another victim of the cult of Greed. Developers, building artificial islands for luxury resorts, are buying mature coconut trees from farmers, but their removal and relocation has many people worried.

Kaashidhoo is one of the largest of the 1,192 islands that make up the Maldives archipelago, but unlike many other islands, it does not teem with sunbathing Europeans. Its broad dirt roads are often deserted, flanked by pink Maldivian roses, mango-orange impatiens, and papaya and banana plants. The main occupation of the islanders is cultivating coconut and other tropical produce that can be sold in Malé, the Maldivian capital.
But lately, the local economy has been thrown out of balance. Crater-like holes have begun to appear across the island, some filled with dry leaves and others left as barren pits. These bald patches are the places where mature coconut trees used to stand tall. In the last year, Kaashidhoo farmers have sold hundreds of trees to new luxury resorts on nearby artificial islands.

While some locals are grateful for the newfound income—$20 to $100 for each tree—others worry that beach erosion has intensified since the trees started getting uprooted. They see this as a fragile ecosystem threatened by the proliferation of luxury resorts. “It’s a huge issue,” says Ibrahim Naeem, Director General of the Maldives Environmental Protection Agency. “Importing coconut palm trees is prohibited in the Maldives, so they have to rely on residential islands.”

As time has gone on, environmental changes have set in.

Yet as the year went by, and more coconut trees disappeared, Jameel says that many locals grew concerned. Coral islands like Kaashidhoo are highly dynamic, constantly adjusting and dancing to the idiosyncrasies of wind, tides, and relentless waves. “Everyone has observed far more erosion around the beaches. That’s what we end up talking about most of the time,” Jameel says. In response, she joined a non-governmental organization called Young Leaders, to spread awareness about environmental issues on the island.

Also, once these areas are developed, locals are encouraged to stay away, and many of the benefits that they were promised from development have never materialized. Environmental groups are now co-ordinating campaigns to strengthen and enforce the laws, and they’re using the #mvtreegrab. I usually forget to Twitter, but today I will, and I’ll add that hashtag. There are plenty of pretty pictures with the story, so go have a look… if you can stomach another bad news story.

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.

 

Tree Tuesday

Minnesota was logging country in the late 1800s, and as a result, most of the state’s old-growth trees were cut down. At present, only 2% of trees in Minnesota’s forests are considered old-growth, but there is an extraordinary place known as The Lost 40, where the elderly giants survive en masse. It’s an area of 144 acres of pure old-growth forest, and its survival until now is due to a mapping error.

In 1882, a surveying and mapping error made loggers believe that the entire section of the forest was underwater, so they passed through it. This area, which is actually located in the Chippewa National Forest, was therefore never logged, and the trees that were growing then continue to grow now.
The tradition of leaving the Lost 40 untouched has remained, and the forest section is still thriving as a result. There is nowhere else in the Midwest like the Lost 40, since most of the trees in other forests are much younger than this swath of centenarians growing in the Midwest.

 

 

Story via: Atlas Obscura, where you can find more photos and a small map.

Jack’s Walk

Jack in the yard today, ©voyager, all rights reserved

We had a few flurries of snow today, but it didn’t amount to much, and it won’t stick around. The ground isn’t frozen yet, and the temp doesn’t want to stay below zero this winter. We’ll get a few relatively cold days at -4°c, which is warmish for here in January, then it swings up to a few degrees above zero and stays there for a few days. I know I’ve been talking a lot about the unseasonable weather this week, but I have one more observation that I want to share. It’s about the grass. I think it’s been growing.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but I can see it with my own eyes. Yesterday when Jack and I were at the park, I noticed that the grass looked green. Not the dull brownish-green of winter, but rather the bright Kelly green of late summer or early autumn. It was shaggy, too, and looked ready for a cut, but maybe that’s the way the parks department left it in the fall. I wasn’t really paying attention, so who knows. I do remember how my own grass was left in the fall, though, and it was a lot shorter than it is now. Our grass cutting service came by on Halloween and did the last cut for the year, and it was left nicely short and snipped. Then November got cold and nasty and I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the grass anymore.

Until today, when I checked it with a critical eye. It is definitely looking shaggier than it did in November. I can’t prove it. I didn’t think to take measurements at the time, and it wouldn’t make sense to take measurements now, but it looks like it could use a cut. Maybe there’s another piece of evidence, though – Jack. More specifically, Jack’s feet. My Bubba is allergic to grass, and he takes a mild steroid combined with an antihistamine in the summer. We usually stop giving it to him around the end of October, and he’s good until spring without it. It’s called a drug holiday, and it’s better for Jack’s overall health.  This winter, we’ve tried several times to discontinue the drug, but within a few days, Jack starts to gnaw and fuss with his feet again, and we have to restart the drug. I thought it might have something to do with road salt because he has less hair this winter, including around his foot pads, but it’s probably the grass. It’s growing.

Jack’s Walk

New Year’s Eve, 2018

The lake in our town was created with the installation of a dam in the early ’60s. It acts as a reservoir for flood management of the downstream Thames River, which runs through many small towns and eventually into the big city of London (Ontario.) Yesterday when I was out driving, I noticed that the river looked full and close to spilling its banks, which is odd because that’s what the dam is supposed to prevent, so this morning I threw a few dog towels in the car and took Jack up to the lake to have a look-see. Before I show you what we found, though, I want you to see what nearly normal looks like. That’s it up there in the first photo, which was taken at the canoe launch on the last day of December 2018, so about a year ago. In summer, the water level reaches all the way to the feet of the big trees in the photo, but in winter they keep it much lower. In fact, the water level is often so low that you can walk out nearly to the centre of the lake and not get your shoes wet. Here’s Mr. V and Jack doing just that.

©voyager, all rights reserved

Except for the open water instead of ice, that’s how the lake usually looks in the winter. You can walk on it. (It’s a local haha joke)

Well, today you cannot walk on it. Not even with Jesus’ magical shoes, could you walk on it.

©voyager, all rights reserved

©voyager, all rights reserve

It’s hard not to like a milder winter, but it comes at a pretty high cost.

See that sign up there on the left post? It’s a warning that the water has bacterial contamination and is unsafe for bathing. Which means that Jack couldn’t go swimming today, because our winters aren’t cold enough for long enough to kill germs anymore.

Jack and I have seen this sign before, but never in January, and it makes me think about a few things.

  1. 1) Climate change is happening so fast that I can see it from year to year.
  2. 2) Are we too late to fix it? and
  3. 3) Is humanity doomed?
  4. 4) Why isn’t there a dog depicted on the sign?