Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Alice said nothing: she had sat down with her face in her hands, wondering if anything would ever happen in a natural way again."

Good news first! Beloved eldest daughter and naughty steed Somer (aka Trouble) came in first place at their dressage competition in Leesburg, Virginia, on Sunday April 11. Congratulations!!!
Now for the bad news...I can report without hesitation, dissembling, or doubt, that trees in Virginia are dying at as fast a rate as those in New Jersey, if not faster.
It's early in spring of course, but it is already evident that many trees are going to only partially leaf out. The pine in the center of this enormous pair in the equestrian park is already quite dead.
This view of a tree crown is typical.
In the woods surrounding, I did find a patch of a lovely flowering shrub.
But that is a rare instance of cheer. Evidence of very spotty sprouts on high branches is common.
Many trunks won't even have the least bit of leaves.
No matter which direction you look, there are trees with snapped branches.
There isn't much home left for birds. I searched but found mostly blackbirds.
On the outskirts of the showgrounds we found this antique cabin.
And the town of Leesburg is full of charming old brick buildings like this one.
The blackbirds are very clever, and omnivorous, and so will likely have the longevity many more vulnerable species can envy.
The Southern Magnolia, even this far south, are scalded by exposure to toxic greenhouse gases.
I did find one little garden in town with splendid parrot tulips in bloom.
As I mentioned in earlier posts, even last spring, the least little breeze looks like a monsoon - leaves are wilted, soft, thin, and weak.
The undersides are visible when they flip in the wind.
Here is another lovely parrot tulip, from the same flowerbed.
This arborvitae is representative of the damage to evergreens.
The pink dogwood is blooming, but is pale and singed with burnt edges.

This rally of motorcyclists represents everything I revere and despise about America, simultaneously -encapsulated in one photo! Tradition and frugality, exemplified in the elegantly modest and gracefully demure architecture of the historic brick building. A fat, oblivious slob sprawled on his obnoxiously loud, two-stroke engine - an especially venomous machine...the flaunting of the flag (a false value of patriotism that has led us to shun international cooperation to combat a global threat). This fellow no doubt felt virtuous by cruising around on a stinky, revolting, NOISY, invasive, toxin-spewing motorcycle for a charitable cause (curing breast cancer, no kidding, which oops, is caused by exposure to polluting greenhouse gases!) Pure poetry in motion!!!

In my last post I quoted extensively from an article about Charles Little's book, "The Dying of the Trees." There is also this section:

"One such remnant [of America's primordial forest] is the Catoctin Woods in Maryland, a profuse Eastern deciduous forest, with impressively tall oak, hickories, maples and tulip poplars. Even the most ordinary specimens reach over 100 feet and intermingle their topmost branches at such a great distance from the ground that the canopy seems almost a kind of intermediate sky. When one walks in such woods, the scale and sheer numbers of the big trees are such that their presence merges into a kind of forest atmosphere.

With its graceful branches and luminous leaves, the Eastern flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, is perfectly suited to a life under this overarching canopy. But the showy bracts -- the creamy white leaflike coverings for the blossoms themselves -- no longer gleam in the deep woods. Now the dogwoods are mostly dead in the Catoctin mountains, victims of a virulent form of fungal infection called "anthracnose" that has been killing off C. florida from southern New England to Alabama. Anthracnose, a combination of the Greek words for coal (anthra) and disease (nosos), describes the dark brown blotches found on infected leaves. In 1988, a study by forest scientists Manfred Mielke and Keith Langdon revealed that 79 percent of the Catoctin's dogwoods were dead and the rest were dying.

Before the scourge of anthracnose, the dogwoods, with more than 400 medium-to-large trees per acre, gave the woods a human scale. But now a whole layer of life had been extinguished. Questions arise: What of the plants and creatures that live below the understory -- the mosses and grasses and lovely ground covers; the mayapple, ferns and violets? What of the birds, such as the cedar waxwing and robin, who love the bright fall berries of dogwood -- would they absent themselves from these woods? What of the big trees themselves -- will some subtle change in the chemistry of the forest soils make their own survival more difficult?"

As it happens, we drove right past the Cacoctin Woods that he referred to, and so made time to stop on the way home and investigate what has transpired there in the 15 years since Charles Little penned that passage. Well, that was a really, really bad idea.

This is what the magnificent woods look like now. These immense expanses of clear blue sky mean that the trees that occupied this canopy just fifteen years ago have since collapsed.
This is a hemlock. It should be a solid sheet of green.
The magnitude of the devastation is just impossible to convey.
The fissures on every single standing tree are egregious.
I can only say this is a travesty.
The understory of dogwoods that Charles Little worried about is completely eliminated.
There is no trace, and very little else.
The only plants beneath the trees to be found are invasive species like barberry and multiflora.
Even those are in short supply.
There is NO differentiation between old and young trees.
Every single species of any and all age is in its death throes.
Worst was to see the other hikers who seemed to be perversely oblivious that they were passing through a graveyard.

Even though there is absolutely no other interpretation.
It was a brutal reminder that our pernicious squandering of fuel is making a shambles of our ecosystem.
I really thought that I would find a beautiful old growth forest,
with perhaps - of course - some damage, but still, some proud old trees.
There was nothing of the kind. It was more like visiting a sanctuary for leprosy.
I have posted many images of popping bark, and labeled it a BALDing syndrome (Bark Atrophy LIchen Decline).
Now I have discovered some references to it in research papers.
I planted this katsura tree with its heart-shaped leaves, in honor of Significant Other, whose email address was heartmeister.
The leaves this spring are struggling to grow.
And the bark is popping off the trunk. Here are links indicating that the BARK syndrome may be based in a fungal invasion:
fungus study from the University of Illinois
and/or this:
Frost crack from wikipedia: "Frost cracks are frequently the result of some sort of weakness in the bark which occurred to the tree earlier."

One of the links in the wiki article is to a newspaper in Michigan which states: "The bark is the protective 'skin' of the trees and any opening leaves woody friends as prone to infection as humans with a cut or puncture on the skin, according to FR Lancaster, technical adviser of a tree expert company. One of the most common bacterial infections in trees is known as wetwood, a condition in which trees ooze sap because of internal gases caused by sap fermentation." Also in the links are articles about the effects of excessive "sunscald." Or UV radiation???

I have been thinking about dancing. Individual dancing as an expression of human emotion, and a reflection of nature. Dancing as a pattern in a relationship, like between different species that have evolved to balance each other's needs in an ecosystem. Somebody somewhere once plaintively asked "Must we end the dance?" which is pretty much the way I feel about the end of life on earth. I can't find the quote, or the context, which is annoying. I did find the lyrics to "Dance" by Garth Brooks, with the choral refrain

"And now, I'm glad I didn't know
The way It all would end
The way It all would go
Our lives,
Are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain,
But I'da had to miss the dance."

I love country western music. But even better, I came across the Lobster-Quadrille, and this bit of arcane Carrollonia, an excellent collection of linguistic puzzles he devised. So following is the entire chapter interspersed with the flowers and birds found this past weekend, here at home and in Virginia (and a last, final homage to the heartmeister, with a photo of bleeding hearts, dicentra, at the end):

The Lobster-Quadrille

by Lewis Carroll

The Mock Turtle sighed deeply, and drew the back of one flapper across his eyes. He looked at Alice and tried to speak, but, for a minute or two, sobs choked his voice. “Same as if he had a bone in his throat," said the Gryphon; and it set to work shaking him and punching him in the back. At last the Mock Turtle recovered his voice, and, with tears running down his cheeks, he went on again:

“You may not have lived much under the sea—” ("I haven’t,” said Alice)—"and perhaps you were never even introduced to a lobster—" (Alice began to say, “I once tasted—” but checked herself hastily, and said, “No, never”) “—so you can have no idea what a delightful thing a Lobster-Quadrille is!”

“No, indeed,” said Alice. “What sort of a dance is it?”

“Why,” said the Gryphon, “you first form into a line along the sea-shore—”

“Two lines!” cried the Mock Turtle. “Seals, turtles, salmon, and so on: then, when you’ve cleared all the jelly-fish out of the way—”

That generally takes some time,” interrupted the Gryphon.

“—you advance twice—”

“Each with a lobster as a partner!” cried the Gryphon.

“Of course,” the Mock Turtle said: “advance twice, set to partners—”

“—change lobsters, and retire in same order,” continued the Gryphon.

“Then, you know,” the Mock Turtle went on, “you throw the—”

“The lobsters!” shouted the Gryphon, with a bound into the air.

“—as far out to sea as you can—”

“Swim after them!” screamed the Gryphon.

“Turn a somersault in the sea!” cried the Mock Turtle, capering wildly about.

“Change lobsters again!” yelled the Gryphon at the top of its voice.

“Back to land again, and—that’s all the first figure,” said the Mock Turtle, suddenly dropping his voice; and the two creatures, who had been jumping about like mad things all this time, sat down again very sadly and quietly and looked at Alice.

“It must be a very pretty dance,” said Alice timidly.

“Would you like to see a little of it?” said the Mock Turtle.

“Very much indeed,” said Alice.

“Come, let’s try the first figure!” said the Mock Turtle to the Gryphon. “We can do it without lobsters, you know. Which shall sing?”

“Oh, you sing,” said the Gryphon. “I’ve forgotten the words.”

So they began solemnly dancing round and round Alice, every now and then treading on her toes when they passed too close, and waving their fore-paws to mark the time, while the Mock Turtle sang this, very slowly and sadly:

“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail,

  “There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.
  See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
  They are waiting on the shingle—will you come and join the dance?
    Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?
    Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?
   “You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
  When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!"
  But the snail replied, “Too far, too far!” and gave a look askance—
   Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.
    Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.
    Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.

“What matters it how far we go?” his scaly friend replied.
  “There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
  The further off from England the nearer is to France—
  Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.
    Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?
    Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?”

“Thank you, it’s a very interesting dance to watch,” said Alice, feeling very glad that it was over at last: “and I do so like that curious song about the whiting!”

“Oh, as to the whiting,” said the Mock Turtle, “they—you’ve seen them, of course?”

“Yes,” said Alice, “I’ve often seen them at dinn—” she checked herself hastily.

“I don’t know where Dinn may be,” said the Mock Turtle; “but, if you’ve seen them so often, of course you know what they’re like?”

“I believe so,” Alice replied thoughtfully. “They have their tails in their mouths—and they’re all over crumbs.”

“You’re wrong about the crumbs,” said the Mock Turtle: “crumbs would all wash off in the sea. But they have their tails in their mouths; and the reason is—” here the Mock Turtle yawned and shut his eyes.

“Tell her about the reason and all that,” he said to the Gryphon.

“The reason is,” said the Gryphon, “that they would go with the lobsters to the dance. So they got thrown out to sea. So they had to fall a long way. So they got their tails fast in their mouths. So they couldn’t get them out again. That’s all.”

“Thank you,” said Alice, “it’s very interesting. I never knew so much about a whiting before.”

“I can tell you more than that, if you like,” said the Gryphon. “Do you know why it’s called a whiting?”

“I never thought about it,” said Alice. “Why?”

It does the boots and shoes,” the Gryphon replied very solemnly.

Alice was thoroughly puzzled. “Does the boots and shoes!” she repeated in a wondering tone.

“Why, what are your shoes done with?” said the Gryphon. “I mean, what makes them so shiny?”

Alice looked down at them, and considered a little before she gave her answer. “They’re done with blacking, I believe.”

“Boots and shoes under the sea,” the Gryphon went on in a deep voice, “are done with whiting. Now you know.”

“And what are they made of?” Alice asked in a tone of great curiosity.

“Soles and eels, of course,” the Gryphon replied, rather impatiently: “any shrimp could have told you that.”

“If I’d been the whiting,” said Alice, whose thoughts were still running on the song, “I’d have said to the porpoise, ’Keep back, please! We don’t want you with us!’”

“They were obliged to have him with them,” the Mock Turtle said. “No wise fish would go anywhere without a porpoise.”

“Wouldn’t it really?” said Alice, in a tone of great surprise.

“Of course not,” said the Mock Turtle. “Why, if a fish came to me and told me he was going a journey, I should say, ’With what porpoise?’”

“Don’t you mean ’purpose’?” said Alice.

“I mean what I say,” the Mock Turtle replied, in an offended tone. And the Gryphon added, “Come, let’s hear some of your adventures.”

“I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning,” said Alice a little timidly; “but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

“Explain all that,” said the Mock Turtle.

“No, no! The adventures first,” said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: “explanations take such a dreadful time.”

So Alice began telling them her adventures from the time when she first saw the White Rabbit. She was a little nervous about it, just at first, the two creatures got so close to her, one on each side, and opened their eyes and mouths so very wide; but she gained courage as she went on. Her listeners were perfectly quiet till she got to the part about her repeating, “You are old, Father William," to the Caterpillar, and the words all coming different, and then the Mock Turtle drew a long breath, and said, “That’s very curious!”

“It’s all about as curious as it can be,” said the Gryphon.

“It all came different!” the Mock Turtle repeated thoughtfully. “I should like to hear her try and repeat something now. Tell her to begin.” He looked at the Gryphon as if he thought it had some kind of authority over Alice.

“Stand up and repeat, ’Tis the voice of the sluggard,’” said the Gryphon.

“How the creatures order one about, and make one repeat lessons!" thought Alice. “I might just as well be at school at once.” However, she got up, and began to repeat it, but her head was so full of the Lobster-Quadrille, that she hardly knew what she was saying; and the words came very queer indeed:

  “’Tis the voice of the Lobster: I heard him declare
  ’You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair.’
  As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose
  Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.
  When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,
  And will talk in contemptuous tones of the shark;
  But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
  His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.”

“That’s different from what I used to say when I was a child," said the Gryphon.

“Well, I never heard it before,” said the Mock Turtle, “but it sounds uncommon nonsense.”

Alice said nothing: she had sat down with her face in her hands, wondering if anything would everhappen in a natural way again.

“I should like to have it explained,” said the Mock Turtle.

“She can’t explain it,” said the Gryphon hastily, “Go on with the next verse.”

“But about his toes?” the Mock Turtle persisted. “How could he turn them out with his nose, you know?”

“It’s the first position in dancing,” Alice said; but she was dreadfully puzzled by the whole thing, and longed to change the subject.

“Go on with the next verse,” the Gryphon repeated: “it begins, ’I passed by his garden!’”

Alice did not dare to disobey, though she felt sure it would all come wrong, and she went on in a trembling voice:—

  “I passed by his garden and marked, with one eye,
  How the Owl and the Panther were sharing a pie:
  The Panther took pie-crust, and gravy, and meat,
  While the Owl had the dish as its share of the treat.
  When the pie was all finished, the Owl, as a boon,
  Was kindly permitted to pocket the spoon:
  While the Panther received knife and fork with a growl,
  And concluded the banquet by—”

“What is the use of repeating all that stuff?” the Mock Turtle interrupted, “if you don’t explain it as you go on? It’s by far the most confusing thing I ever heard!”

“Yes, I think you’d better leave off,” said the Gryphon, and Alice was only too glad to do so.

“Shall we try another figure of the Lobster Quadrille?” the Gryphon went on. “Or would you like the Mock Turtle to sing you another song?”

“Oh, a song, please, if the Mock Turtle would be so kind,” Alice replied, so eagerly that the Gryphon said, in a rather offended tone, “Hm! No accounting for tastes! Sing her ’Turtle Soup,’ will you, old fellow?”

The Mock Turtle sighed deeply, and began, in a voice choked with sobs, to sing this:—

  “Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
  Waiting in a hot tureen!
  Who for such dainties would not stoop?
  Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
  Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
      Beau—ootiful Soo—oop!
      Beau—ootiful Soo—oop!
  Soo—oop of the e—e—evening,
      Beautiful, beautiful Soup!
   “Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
  Game, or any other dish?
  Who would not give all else for two
  pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
  Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?

      Beau—ootiful Soo—oop!
      Beau—ootiful Soo—oop!
  Soo—oop of the e—e—evening,
      Beautiful, beauti—FUL SOUP!”

“Chorus again!” cried the Gryphon, and the Mock Turtle had just begun to repeat it, when a cry of “The trial’s beginning!” was heard in the distance.

“Come on!” cried the Gryphon, and, taking Alice by the hand, it hurried off without waiting for the end of the song.

“What trial is it?” Alice panted as she ran; but the Gryphon only answered, “Come on!” and ran the faster, while more and more faintly came, carried on the breeze that followed them, the melancholy words:

  “Soo—oop of the e—e—evening,
      Beautiful, beautiful Soup!”

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