Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tidal two-step

For Foundations of Environmental Education, I was given an assignment to visit and critique a museum or zoo exhibit, to see whether or not it would have an impact on the general public in raising their ecological literacy or environmental values. I chose to visit the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, New Hampshire, which is part of Odiorne State Park. The Seacoast Science Center is an environmental education center in the park which integrates historical and ecological learning about the area, and hands-on programs for children of many age levels.

One notable exhibit was located on a corner of the hallway, was L-shaped and featured two large screens, recessed into a display that was flat so that you looked down upon them. The screen on the right showed a map of the Great Bay Estuary system, including Portsmouth Harbor, the rivers that input into the system, and the open ocean. On the right of the screen were several colorful buttons which could be activated by touching the screen. The question above the buttons was, “Where would you like rainwater to enter?” The choices were each points along the watershed such as Portsmouth Harbor, Odiorne Point, Great Bay, The Oyster River, and the Upper and Lower Piscataqua rivers.

When you touched one of these points, the map created a red area which represented a high concentration of rainwater. The map then showed the tidal movements and distribution of that rainwater. In each scenario, though most were slightly different from each other, the rainwater danced in and out of the inlet, never all being washed out to sea because of tide timing and strength. The rainwater stayed mostly where it was. I was surprised by this. In the Portsmouth Harbor Scenario, where I thought for certain it would all be drawn out to sea, the opposite was true. The rainwater was sucked into the estuary on the next high tide.

The display was based on a complex computer model developed by Dartmouth College, but it was impressive. As the tides cycled and you watch the red rain disperse but still stay centrally located.

The open-ended questions at the end would allow for some kind of group discussion or interaction. I wished I was there with someone else so I could have showed them this exhibit!

The screen on the right had a similar demonstration, only it was more zoomed in on the Great Bay area. On this map, you could point your finger anywhere in the watershed, as many times as you wanted, and a yellow dot would show up and track up and down with the tides where the “pollutant” you just put in the area eventually ends up. Again it reinforced the idea that these systems are complicated, and the idea that all water leads to the sea can be misleading. Especially the idea that things will just "go away" if you dump them into a river or stream.

I think I learned the most from this exhibit out of all the ones in the center (I am a little biased because I have a degree in Marine Biology) but I think it was a good way to illustrate a point. While the exhibit didn't directly say “Don't throw bad things into the waters around here,” it could easily lend itself to that connection. It was interesting, interactive and indirectly brought home a point about water pollution in the area. I think that was very well done.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Are you Funkin kidding me?

I love halloween, I love autumn and I especially love carving pumpkins, it's a great memory for me. I even was a jack-o-lantern for Halloween one year (see picture to the left!)

However, I was in Joanne's Fabrics the other day, looking for some last-minute Halloween stuff for my costume, and I came across what I thought were decorative pumpkins (I.e. ones for your living room that won't attract flies after a week)... but I was wrong.

I read a little further and found out what they were. They were "Funkins" fake, plastic, carvable pumpkins. That's right, fake pumpkins. Apparently, someone thought that there was a need for a fake pumpkin that you can carve just like real pumpkins, but will last forever and not be such a mess. I went home to look up more about them and here's what I learned from their Frequently Asked Questions page.

Funkins are made of patented low–density polyurethane foam and are painted with polyurethane paint.

Oh, this sounds terrific for the environment. Instead of biodegradable material - like a real pumpkin which can be composted, fed to farm animals, left for squirrels - we have more chemical compounds that will last forever in a landfill. How bad is it to breathe this stuff when you're cutting and scraping it, I wonder?

The walls of Funkins are about one half of one inch thick (varies with size of Funkin). And Funkins are already hollow. This makes them just as easy to carve as real pumpkins (without the gutting and the mess) and very realistic looking.

Are we that oversensitive that we don't want to touch the "goo" inside pumpkins anymore?!

Never use real flames inside Funkins, this could result in fire or the release of harmful gas. There are plenty of options available for lighting Funkins and pumpkins that are safer than real flames such as the Funkins Pumpkin Light and the Funkins Battery Operated Tealight.

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Not only are they fake, they're going to poison me to death if I put a candle in it. I am not making this up - the italisized text comes direction from So, now, they've got you buying their lighting products, too, to put inside their toxic plastic pumpkins. More landfill refuse.

I have a lot of problems here, but even the fact that you can buy them online defeats the purpose. As a kid, every October, we would go out to the country with my family and get a pumpkin from the "pumpkin farm." It was a whole sensory experience, and I remember the leaves being crispy, the smell of the fields, the hayrides, cider, maple candies, sunset and the colors of the leaves and pumpkins, the feeling of my little boots squishing in the mud. I loved that - and it became a family event to carve them too.

In today's hectic family lives, we've already lost so many family activities. Eliminating the trip to a special "pumpkin farm" in the country, by having a sterile, plastic pumpkin come in a box in the mail (probably packed in Styrofoam) robs children of the whole experience! They don't even smell like pumpkins. They may look good to your neighbors on your porch, but it's a sad faximile of what should be an interaction with nature and even a lesson about farming, harvests and seasons.

I'm sorry but I think that Funkins are one of the worst ideas I've ever heard of. For those of you not convinced, think about this. A typical, medium sized pumpkin (real one) costs between $7-10 usually depending on weight and where you get it. The prices for a typical funkin are between $30 and $40 each. What normal family can afford that?

I just don't understand why people would want this. Sometimes, fake replacements for things have a good reason. There are fake floorings that are identical looking to rare rainforest woods, and prevent their over harvesting by providing a feasible alternative. But, there has to be a good reason first. After twenty minutes of searching I couldn't find one website dedicated to why we should stop carving pumpkins, or one reason why its "greener" not to. These replacement pumpkins aren't made of anything natural, and we're doing more harm than good here. They're not safer (obviously, between the fireballs and poison gas) nor less expensive, or more fun somehow. If it isn't broken, don't fix it. Please. I want there to be farmers growing pumpkins around by the time that I have kids, that's all I ask.

Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

the human element

I am reading a rhetorical analysis (literary criticism) of Rachel Carson's silent spring. It is from chapter 5 of the book "And No Birds Sing" by Craig Waddel. I came across the following passage that sparked my thoughts.

"Silent Spring offers an alternative to technological psychosis yet does not require readers to reject science. Carson uses scientifically validated information to weave humanity into the vast tapestry of life on earth.
She does not insist that all life is the same but leaves considerable room within which a reader can negotiate a place for human needs and desires that is just a bit more special than that occupied by other life. She does not urge people to return to a previous age of innocence but to move forward out of the 'stone age of science.'
She offers a revised view of progress that accounts for multiple perspectives, inculding, but not limited to technological solutions to environmental dilemmas. She does not just give us good and evil. Instead, she waves a terministic screen that accounts for a complex interconnection between humans and other earth life."

I thought that the point above can be summed up in this video. (Ironically, it is a commercial for Dow Chemical.)

I found the juxtaposition there quite interesting. Dow Chemical is known for being polluting and one of the types of companies that Rachel Carson would be fighting were she alive today. But in a way, for PRs sake, at least, Dow has embraced the idea that there is a "complex interconnection" between humans and the earth - and that we have to acknowledge that. Also, the idea that technology and earth can be in harmony is a radical proposal from a chemical company.

Something to think about.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

home is where the soil is

Usually, when people talk about "new forms of life" appearing in their apartments, they're referring to a plate left in the sink too long which begins to grow a new layer of fuzz. But today, I discovered a new kind of life on my porch, which I totally didn't expect to see.

I was sitting outside because it was a beautiful windy day, the type which flips the leaves backwards and allows the falling leaves to dance wildly in the air before surrendering to gravity. I was doing my readings (attached to a clipboard so they woudn't fly away) and I happened to look down at the porch itself. It's made of wood, with small cracks in between the panels of wood. We had a bird feeder out that had a run-in with a storm, and the seed dispersed everywhere. Because of lack of a broom and general laziness, we never really bothered to clean up the seed. (It's natural anyway, right?)

So today, to my surprise I see sunflower sprouts in the cracks! They accumulated a little bit of soil from sand and seed husks to make a home for themselves. They look regularly spaced, too, which is purely coincidental but neat just the same. My only regret is that it is not summer so I could see them grow - I think that the next frost may wipe them out.

I looked at them and I thought about what I'd been learning about community succession - its all about opportunity, and being in the right place at the right time. These guys had the right combination of lazy roommates, randomly occurring conditions, plentiful rain and sunlight, and low traffic so they wouldn't get trampled. Yet they and a few other sprouts are content right where they are. That's succession for you.

a gift could be an enemy

I've been doing a lot of reading for one of my classes on the idea of environmental justice - or rather, environmental injustice. Just like reading Silent Spring, I was surprised by my own ignorance on the topic. The idea is that there is an inherent inequity both racially, economically and culturally, that allows minority groups to be exploited environmentally. Think of this as the ultimate and finite end to the "Not in My Backyard" argument. Hazardous waste has to go somewhere, and groups or towns that cannot afford to fight it, or do not have enough education to know the effects, or do not have enough socioeconomic power to oppose it, have the worst of the worst environmental pollution and degradation dumped in their own backyard.

I just read a few articles arguing that environmental justice and multicultural education should be integrated into environmental education, and I agree fully. I was left with a whole lot of thinking after reading one particular article about white privilege. It wasn't your typical article on racism as it did not point a finger at people who are white and blame everything on them, but it was a self reflection on the daily privileges that a white person is afforded in the country. The author, a white woman, said that this was very difficult to write, and I think I understand why. Some of the privileges that the author listed were things like:
  • I can turn on the television or open the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely and positively represented.
  • I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  • I can be reasonably sure that if I ask to talk to "the person in charge" I will be facing a person of my race.
  • I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
There were a total of about fifty of these types of assumptions. What she was attempting to do was to speak of the taboo of privilege. She made a very good point that most everyone in our culture understands that minorities are put a disadvantage, but most are wholly reluctant to admit that their own race is put at an advantage as a result, which would be quite logical if it were not so threatening of an idea to our own egos.

Think about it. If anything, the subject is unsettling because it deflates the sense that we've earned our positions (wherever we stand financially, socially, culturally, popularly) and it makes me, personally, wonder if I got to where I am on my own merit, or as a symptom of this system of privilege. I think our egos may be the strongest reason that were are in such denial of this. Because for me to face that it was not purely a result of my own hard work that got me here is very tough.

On the flip side, this really explains the perpetuation of this system of preference and advancement. If I don't have to worry about daily interactions and constantly have to apologize for, explain or try to live above the notions of my own race, then think of how much more I can succeed in life. When people are constantly having to prove their worth or potential, energy is wasted on that which someone who is privileged could use to further their own status.

Also, when we address issues of environmental justice, where a minority group is being exploited, we need to address the issues head on and through the cultural means present. It is not enough to say that we should strive towards living in a sustainable environment through education - most of that education will never reach these types of communities. Perhaps recognizing some of our own privileges we are afforded will get us to that point.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

simply effective

And then there are pieces of information that are presented in such a creative way, that I can't not talk about them. Check out this WWF (World Wildlife Federation) ad which uses the sun to convey a really neat message about global climate change.

Kudos to whomever thought this one up.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

swallowing Silent Spring, part 2

For a while, I have been cautious of embracing the idea of eating only organic foods. I viewed it as a marketing ploy to somehow convince people that the fruits from farm A are better for you than the ones at farm B, and that you will be healthier as a result of choosing more expensive "organic" foods from farm A. There is a lot of muddiness with the organic certification process as well, and a lot of gray area in the definition. But the definition is as follows:

Organic foods are produced according to certain production standards. For crops, it means they were grown without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers, human waste or sewage sludge, and that they were processed without ionizing radiation or food additives.

Now, needless to say I am a grad student without a lot of money, and I'm forced to make pretty frugal decisions when it comes to what I eat and where I live. So buying organic didn't seem to be "worth it" to me. But the section of Silent Spring that I just read may have changed my mind.

Throughout the book, Carson's been describing an effect known to biologists as bio-accumulation. Essentially, when a bug contains a little pesticide, and a bird eats a lot of bugs, they end up with an even higher concentration in them than if they had been exposed to it themselves. I couldn't help but make the mental correlation from the plants and crops that we grow with these chemicals and bio-accumulation in our own bodies. If it happens to robins, snakes, foxes... why would we magically think that we're not ingesting, and storing poisons in our tissues?

Again, I know that this is written in the 1960s, and we have learned a lot then. But I think I need to do more research on where my food comes from and what's done to it before I eat it. Rachel Carson's describing an effect of a particularly notorious pesticide, DDT.
"To find a diet free from DDT and related chemicals, it seems one must go to a remote and pr imitative land, still lacking the amenities of civilization. When scientist investigated the native diet of Eskimos in Alaska, it was found to be free from insecticide... When some of the Eskimos themselves were checked by analysis of fat samples, small residues of DDT were found. The reason for this was clear. The fat samples were taken from people who had left their native villages to enter the United States Public Health Service Hospital in Anchorage for surgery. There, the ways of civilization prevailed and the meals in this hospital were found to contain as much DDT as those in the most populous city. For their brief stay in civilization, the Eskimos were rewarded with a taint of poison."
I have to say that this will probably become a side research topic for me to look into. I'm curious as to what our current science and technology has to say about the chemicals in our foods. Could this be contributing to the increase in strange nervous system diseases, SIDS, autism? Are we being silently affected by what we eat?

For another great blog post on this, check this one out (not written by me).
Everyday toxins

I am not one to normally react to things like this, but it makes logical sense, really. I have to say, though, that I'm not to thrilled about deciding what to eat for breakfast this morning.

Monday, October 15, 2007

swallowing Silent Spring, part 1

This week, I am reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, a landmark book in the environmentalism movement. I'm approaching halfway, but it is a little difficult to read. It isn't written in terms I can't understand, in fact it is quite clear. But is really shocking to me to read about such horrible things going on in our environmental past.

The book is framed around the use of chemical pesticides, and their devastating effects on humans, plants, livestock, birds, and whole ecosystems. What is most striking to me is the level of carelessness that was (is?) used when these pesticides are used. I know this is from 1962, and a lot (I hope) has changed since then. But I find myself having to take breaks from reading it just to absorb its gravity.

I'm also taken aback by the governmental involvement in the "management" of certain pests or plant species. I thought our government now was making stupid decisions for the environment. I can't imagine being alive when this was written.

For example, in 1959 in Detroit, the US Department of Agriculture somehow decided that there were too many Japanese beetles in the area, and decided to implement a spraying program to get rid of them. At this time, they sprayed 27,000 acres of southeastern Michigan, including suburbs of Detroit. They dusted the air with pellets of aldrin, "one of the most dangerous of all the chlorinated hydrocarbons."
"...the pellets of insecticide fell on beetles and humans alike, showers of 'harmless' poison descending on people supping or going to work and on children out form school for the lunch hour. Housewives swept the granules from porches and sidewalks... the little white pellets of aldrin, no bigger than a pin head were lodged by the millions... when the snow and rain came, every puddle became a possible death potion" pg. 87
The pubic in this case, were advised that the actions were completely harmless. After dead birds and squirrels started showing up in people's yards, after cats and dogs were poisoned, after people began to have strange respiratory illnesses, the government still maintained that it was all harmless.
"Despite the insistence of the City-County Health Commissioner that the birds must have been killed by 'some other kind of spraying' and that the outbreak of throat and chest irritations that followed the exposure to aldrin must have been due to 'something else,' the local Health Department received a constant stream of complaints." pg. 89
What this makes me think of quite crisply is the local spraying to eliminate West Nile Virus. This is touted as being completely harmless to humans, pets, wildlife, but I wonder if we will find out that we, too, have been mislead about the safety of those operations.

I'm going to leave on that thought, and focus on a different bit of homework for the moment, then come back to silent spring after I feel a little less... nauseous.

One blue bead for man, an entire strand for everything else

“Time is like a handful of sand- the tighter you grasp it, the faster it runs through your fingers”

There are some times when looking at a list of words or dates just won't make information stick. I have been finding that this is true of the geologic time scale. For those unfamiliar with what that is, it's basically a historical calendar of what's happened in the last 600 million years. Paleontologists have broken up this vast amount of time into "Eras" and "Periods" of various significance, marked by distinct changes in life on earth. For example, the Jurassic era was between 144 and 213 million years ago and included the rise of the dinosaurs. There is a whole list of them. They also have confusing and long names, like Permian, Ordovician, Oligocene, Carboniferous, Cambrian... etc.

For my earth science exam this Friday, I have to know the geologic time scale, so that when my teacher asks, 50 million years ago, what period was it, I have to know that it was during the Cenozoic era and the Tertiary period. So, in the face of a daunting amount of information, dates and names, I decided to go tactile/visual. I made a necklace with a series of beads which represent the different eras and epochs.

I can't claim that I came up with this idea, only that I actually put it together. A friend in my community ecology class inspired me by telling me about her friend who had done it to learn them.

In the picture, everything on the bottom fork of the 'v' are the geologic period. The bright blue bead represents the last 2 million years, the Quartenary period. I had each bead equal 10 million years exept fot hat one. But if you look at the blue bead compared to the rest of our geologic history, you can see that we've barely been on the planet at all.

After the Quartenary is the Tertiary (brown), Cretaceous (light green), Jurassic (dark green), Triassic (light blue), Permian (bright orange), Carboniferous (shiny black - like carbon.), Devonian (gold), Silurian (silver), Ordovician (pink) and Cambrian (blue). Each boundary is marked by a silver bead to divide them, and each has the appropriate number of beads in it to show how long each period was. I.e. the Carboniferous period has 9 beads to represent 90 million years.

If you look at the other part of the 'v' in the necklace, you'll notice there aren't any silver dividing beads. That's because this is a section of what happened within the Cenozoic only (so it's like zooming in on the first two colors of the other side). The epochs within the Cenozoic are represented by beads that are 1 million year each, except, again, for the Holocene, which represents only 100,000 years. Within the Cenozoic were the Holocene (purple) Pleistocene (blue), Pliocene (green), Miocene (tan), Oligocene (clear), Eocene (brown), Paleocene (pale yellow).

I plan to wear this necklace all week, and practice memorizing the different eras, and counting how long each of them were. I hope that this will help solidify the information in my head better than just staring at a chart.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Map project - Miller Place NY

In Foundations class on Friday, my assignment was to make a map of a place that is special to me, that resonates with who I am and gives me definition. I chose to do the beach at Miller Place where my mom lives as the focus of my map.

I took pebbles from the beach there and glued them to the bottom where the waves were coming in, and got quite creative with the map. When I get a moment, I'll edit the entry to show you a picture of how it came out.

In class, we got to see everyone else's maps, too. I noticed a lot of common themes in the maps, especially that most of them contained a body of water somewhere in the map. I wonder if that's a subconscious connection for most people to serenity and peace... An interesting commonality, none the less. I enjoyed doing this project, too, because I got to think of all of the senses when describing my place.

I think I took a different road than most people on this project by picking a place that has been special to me recently instead of when I was a child. I remember my childhood with absolute fondness, but I had a hard time picking out a single spot to do a map of for this assignment. So, instead I chose a place where I now feel peaceful, serene and in touch with nature, a beach house at my mom's place in Miller Place, NY on Long Island. I chose this place because it has an element of mystery, peace, religion, secrecy and nature all intertwined in it. There are secret lives of animals that I never see roaming around at night, each day the ocean offers up different treasures from below to look at, touch or keep. I made my map tactile, too, so that I could remember and associate the smooth rocks with the place.

What I learned while doing this project for myself was that a lot of the things that I cherished finding along the beach were actually not natural objects. Beach glass, for example, is smooth, polished bits of broken glass that have been shaped by the waves and rocks. But beach glass starts off as an old beer bottle, a window, a dish... all trash that has somehow made it into the ocean. And by the quantity of beach glass that I've found over the years, I can only imagine that there must be a near constant source of glass into the ocean somewhere. I occasional find worn bricks, porcelain, tile all which are beautiful in their own right, but are actually pollution... it made me reflect on the idea that I had always associated these things with being natural and a part of the beach.

Monday, October 8, 2007

children in trees

I've been reading a book called "Last Child in the Woods" which is about a lot of things I've believed for a while about how I'd like to raise my hypothetical, future children. (I have to qualify that lest some of my readers think that there is any possibility of children in my near future... which there is not)

I really encourage all parents (and future, hypothetical parents, too) read this book. There's a link to it on the right hand side of my page. It isn't about hippies telling people how to live or how to raise their children without using toilet paper (thankyouverymuch Sheryl Crow) but it's a practical look at how children are being raised today - in less and less contact with the natural world, and the consequences to children in their adulthood.

If you're an adult now, think about your childhood. When you were young did you play in the woods, or up the street from where you live? Were you allowed to explore, build forts, bring home animals, use your imagination? Was there a place outside somewhere that you knew better than the back of your hand? Do you remember the seasons, or playing outside in the winter, summer, fall, and the special things that went with those times? I do.

You don't have to be rich either, to experience a rich childhood outdoors. Most people found places near them, and playing outside is free most of the time. I played in my backyard, up the street, behind people's houses. The picture above is of me climbing one of the maple trees in my front yard. When they could, my parents took me to the beach on Long Island, and we had picnics at Green Lakes, a small lake a few towns over.

Every season we did something different outside - collected leaves, carved pumpkins, played with "helicopters" (maple tree seed pods), made boats for the backyard when it flooded in the spring, dug in the dirt, read in the hammock suspended in the backyard tree, planted things, collected shells, painted rocks with water so they looked just as pretty as on the beach... I could write a whole book on the things that we did for free as a kid outside.

Now, think of the typical eight year old that you know now. Maybe its your own child, who makes a bee-line right from the bus after school to instant message their friends on the computer, or perhaps they walk through the door already texting someone on their cell phone. Their head down, looking at something small and blinking, they miss everything going by, they miss the rainbow in the sky and the bird sitting in the trees. Take them outside, and they're bored. Children today are punished by loss of TV time. Children of the past were punished by being kept indoors while all their friends played outside.

What I love about this book is that it isn't an apocalyptic story about how all of our future generation will end up as zombies or hyper neurotic adults. It is a simple discussion, reflection and instruction on how to get kids into nature, and how to make sure that nature experiences are a part of every child's formative years - by allowing for unstructured play, involving children in outdoor activities beyond just a plain sports field, and many other subtle things that are often missed these days. I think this is more important than our society realizes...

Saturday, October 6, 2007

talking about the weather

On Friday in Earth Systems science, we talked a lot about weather processes. I learned a little bit about this in 9th grade Earth Science, but I don't think I fully understood it at the time. (I remember being very confused). This time around, however, I really understand what my teacher is talking about. I followed what he was saying about what causes and affects the currents, air masses, fronts and even the jet stream, and why certain storms go in certain directions. I'm glad I'm learning this, because if I'm going to be outside as part of my career, it pays to know what's going on with the weather at all times.

Speaking of weather, I would like to point out something. Today is October 6th. Today, I woke up and went to do Tai Chi for an hour with the archery people at UNH. When I got out of Tai Chi at around noon, I walked out to my car. Being the environmentalist that I am, I decided to walk to the coffee shop in town instead of drive. So I threw my laptop bag over my shoulder and started walking. The sun was warming and very bright - I picked up a few fall leaves on the way and then sat outside while I drank my chai. When I walked back to my car, I was downright warm - the sun was in full force and I believe it was in the mid eighties for temperature. So, I did what any responsible grad student would do. I decided to abandon my to-do list for the day, changed into my bathing suit and shorts, and went directly to the beach.

The beach was beautiful, and the water was incredibly clear and warm. I repeat, warm. I went swimming in it for over an hour, then laid on the beach and read a book for another half hour in the sun. It was fantastic. At the same time a harvest/fall fest was going on in Dover, here I was on the beach listening to the waves crash. That is one fantastic October day!

Friday, October 5, 2007

There is nothing I would rather wake up and see

Last night, I stayed over at Glikin & Caroline's place on Spofford Lake and I have to say, the morning view there just floored me. I woke up at 7:02am as the sun rose over the ridge of hills, bounced off the lake, and allowed my eyelids to flutter open. I was sleeping in an open room that has windows lining the entire side and front of it. The cabin faces east, so the sun was the first thing I saw this morning when I woke up.

I went outside, did some tai chi and took some pictures. It was absolutely beautiful there, and I am so lucky they are letting me stay there on Thursday nights from now on. I can't wait to explore the area more, but for now, it has been a wonderful experience.

I'm going to add a link to an album of Spofford Lake that I'll be adding to because I have so many gorgeous pictures of the area already to show.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Freewrite - Cricket symphonies

I hear you, but cannot find you. Your pleasant pitch almost blends with the squeak of machinery behind me, but your tone is crisper, clearer and certainly more pleasant. You stop periodically as if to catch you breath, though I know you're not whistling, but rather rubbing legs or wings together. How steady, calm, and harmonious you sound - so sure and unfaltering. A cousin joins from a neighboring shrub, a slightly different voice and pitch. Softly, you rise into a glowing chord, joined by the tinny vibrato of the katydid. Another player adds short chirps that seem to click with joy. Like pit musicians tuning their strings, your chorus rises, the symphony as a whole instead of your solitary self.

I can hear you all simultaneously and yet also apart. I can hear you overpower and drown the machines with your bright songs. Long, peaceful notes punctuated by pleasant, short memories, underscored by a deep rhythm. The rustling leaves add a tad of percussion to the mix as I enjoy this ' found orchestra' while sitting in an amphitheater built for one. I wonder if I've interrupted a session by listening in .

The tune carries on in perpetual practice or perhaps performance. This is your occupation, the songs that carry on the wind. Ever practicing, ever perfecting the movements and codas, the timing and pauses until you've made an exquisite symphony for me, for no one, for everyone.

Without you, the song could not be as whole.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Big trees!

Today I went walking through College Woods in Durham (part of the UNH Campus) to do my first solo observation paper.

When I walked into College woods, I noticed a few things. First, there were stumps on the ground. They were highly rotted, but there just the same. Perhaps logging had been going on? I then looked at the rest of the tree canopy - lots of very old trees. I read online that all of College Woods was cut at least once. They used to use the wood to make the buildings on campus. Morrill Hall still has some of the wood - and that was put up in 1903.

I then came across one birch that is just an un-naturally large size! It was bigger than most of the huge white pines I've seen, and very tall AND wide. I don't think I've ever seen a softwood that big in my entire life. It made an impression on me. I took a photo with my hand in it so you could get the scale of how massive the trunk was.

The pine trees, for the most part, seemed older, too. They were fatter and taller than ones I'd previously encountered. There were some with huge basal scars and I first thought of fire. But then I remembered the logging stumps and thought it could be from some of the logging activity that had gone on. There were also stone walls crisscrossing the path that I was on, so it is also possible that there was pasture activity at some point as well. What a complicated site!

The second site I chose was an obvious one, a blow down site (where trees have been knocked over by wind). Several huge white pines had fallen in the same direction, and pulled up the dirt with their roots. That tells me that they fell while still alive and it had to have been quite a wind.

I did more research on properties that UNH owns, and I now have a lot of ideas about doing my next observation paper.... I didn't know there was so much preserved forest land out here!