Friday, October 16, 2009

Who Stole the Leaves?

I woke up last Sunday morning with the idea that I should do a post about the Far Hills Race Meet, which is a big to-do in these parts, every October. This is probably the last week or so that the trees are demonstrably imperiled - after this, the fungi and lichens won't be enough to make a compelling case - until next spring, when they don't leaf out. I should live so long - people are going to go bonkers when that happens.

For those who don't know, the Race Meet is a steeplechase that has been a wildly popular event for decades, that now attracts well over 40,000 spectators, who descend in droves by car and train on this sleepy and very tony little borough to tailgate and, mostly, imbibe alcohol - oh, and bet. The betting is huge.

It's a longstanding tradition timed to coincide with peak fall foliage, in a truly gorgeous spot.

The property, by itself bigger than the entire rest of the town, is owned by the Somerset Medical Center, which is the beneficiary of the money raised from ticket sales. Luckily, I got all the pictures I needed before I started walking back to my car, where I was met by a POLICEMAN in a big white SUV.

He was young and very polite - wearing pitch black sunglasses.

"You realize you're not supposed to be here on this property, don't you?" he asked. "Didn't you see the 'Do Not Trespass' sign?"

"No, I didn't see it!" I said (I really hadn't noticed, though I knew perfectly well it was private property.) "I didn't think I would be bothering anybody."

He asked me what I was doing there and I pointed to my camera and said I was taking pictures. "Well," he said "It's a beautiful day for that. I could arrest you but I'd hate to, for taking pictures."

"I was just leaving!" I said, getting kind of nervous.

I thought that was the end of it but after he turned the car around he stopped again and said he would have to see my license. It took a few minutes to walk back to my car to get it and during that time I thought about what RPauli and even James Hansen have said, advocating civil disobedience.

So when I gave him my license I was feeling sort of reckless, and I said "You know, it might not be such a bad idea for me to get arrested because then I could get some publicity. I've got a blog where I write about all the trees dying and nobody is paying any attention. Look at that one," and I pointed to the tree to the left of the bridge, which happened to be closest to us. "The trees are being poisoned by ozone."
"What?" he said, "It has leaves."
"You're joking, right?" I asked incredulously. "Look at the leaves, they're all brown! Oh okay, you ARE joking."
He said apologetically, "I'm not really a tree guy," and I realized, he actually thought the tree looked fine - when to me, it was in abject dire straits.
"Well, what about that tree?" I pointed to the pathetic specimen at the entry, "Or that one further back, across the street, that doesn't have ANY leaves whatsoever?"
He just looked a little embarrassed and finished writing down my license number, and upon reflection I decided it had suddenly occurred to him that he was dealing not with a criminal but an escaped insane asylum inmate.
So here are the pictures I took, on October 11. I guess most people have forgotten what autumn trees should look like - because this isn't it, at all.
The fencing is in place well ahead of time to keep strays off the track, and separate the lowly ticket holders from the corporate tents, and the tailgate parking spots with the view on the hillside above.
Here is a link to an article about last year's event - at the very bottom are many pictures where it's possible to see even then that many trees had bare branches. It is of course much worse this year - and the prognosis can only be for further, and accelerating, decline - seeing as how we are doing absolutely nothing about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Below is what the leaves on this tree look like.

This is a large maple, with shriveled leaves.

Another maple. I can't imagine these trees struggling on for more than another growing season, if that.

Those flecks and spots are from damaged stomata.

This tree is relatively full but its leaves too have symptoms of toxic gases.

Below is the judges' tower. On Saturday it will be full of bustling officials, although, rain may dampen the affair this year.

This tree doesn't look too bad until you examine the foliage.

I think that bare tree on the left was once a willow.

This tree is one of the healthiest I could find, but again, the leaves are not healthy, at all.

This is a view of the drive that runs through the center of the track, looking to the left of the judges' tower. Every tree along this long promenade is lifeless.
And they are all solidly covered with this lichen.
These trees are at the entry of the promenade.
Above is the view to the right of the judges' tower.

A stark sight. Mother Nature will show us no mercy.

Here's the comment I left this morning on a column by Judith Warner in the New York Times:

Ms. Warner, you have a responsibility as a parent that you are shirking. Instead of whining about your own personal decline, why don’t you turn your pen towards the really important decline - that of a habitable climate for your daughters.

Our whiny, insatiably greedy generation should have listened to Jimmy Carter decades ago and followed his example of installing solar panels on the White House roof.

Instead, we elected a fraud, who promised “Mourning in America.” We got bigger and bigger cars, and bigger houses and appliances and thought of air transport as a right.

Now we already have melting glaciers and ice caps, ensuring amplifying feedbacks that will soon make the climate intolerable for humans and all the other species we have so thoughtlessly exploited and now will drive to extinction.

Here on the east coast, so many tons of invisible toxic greenhouse gases are poisoning people (cancer, emphysema and asthma) and vegetation. Find a tree and actually look at it. Right now it should be in autumn glory, with brilliantly colored leaves. In the next few weeks, after we have frost, the bright leaves should fall to the ground.

What do we have instead? Green leaves singed with brown, or withered leaves, falling off. Where’s the color? Who stole the leaves? Our ecosystem is in freefall collapse and no one is paying any attention. We’re still too occupied with our stockmarket portfolios, or watching a kid in a balloon for hours on the teevee.

Do your daughters a favor. Write about what really matters.

— GailZ


  1. Gail, Your writing and photography are superb, insightful, and inspiring to us other climate-concerned citizens of Planet Earth. Keep up the fight; Mother Nature is crying out to you as her savior.


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