Friday, April 9, 2010

Unmitigated Disasters

Oldest daughter is making great strides in training Somer, a creature of wild predilections and unpredictably dangerous movements - but tremendous talent.
On Wednesday we brought him to a huge breeding and training facility in Maryland, for a lesson in obedience.
At the very entrance to the drive was the most enormous case of fungal infection canker I have yet seen.
The bare cedar at the center of this group is simply expounding the trajectory of the rest.
All of the trees lining the long drive into this farm are losing needles.
As the trees die off, vines shroud their limbs.
From way back in 1995, here is an article with excerpts from Charles Little's investigation into the great tree dieoff. What is so amazing is that this discussion has entirely disappeared. It is a more taboo topic than the Pope covering up for pedophilia.
Charles Little links trees dying to a number of maladies, from increasing UV radiation to rising salinity along the coasts, to ozone, and acid rain inducing fungal growth and insect invasions.
In this NY Times article from 1987, "perplexed" scientists at a conference about dying trees cannot agree on the cause - but at least they were talking about it! Where have they since gone? Interesting - the meeting was sponsored by three coal companies! They were hoping for causes other than acid rain, and the US scientists did not disappoint them.
Everywhere you look are huge power lines.

One of the German scientists at the conference said, "...
preserving the health of forests meant that individuals must reduce their use of substances, like gasoline, that pollute the environment. 'And what politician wants to tell people that?'' he asked."

This farm has paddocks with very high fences to prevent the stallions from getting into mischief.
The lesson went well, and I managed to avoid being bitten or stomped on! Next - a dressage competition in Virginia on Sunday.
Another quaint notion from the article:
"Dr. Prinz objected to Dr. Schutt's use of the word ''Waldersterben'' (forest death) as 'overly dramatic,' saying that he preferred to describe what was happening as a 'forest decline.' "
I knew it was a euphemism! Perhaps that is the origination. This is the remnant of what must be a very old tree. The trunk that still stands from the base has bark falling off. This BALDing (Bark Atrophy Lichen Decline) is everywhere to be seen, and yet no one comments on it. It is as though we are all sleepwalking down dusky streets, oblivious to hordes of zombies mingling among us. Ah yes, now I have it! The trees are zombies, the living dead, their flesh dripping from their skeletons!
Back home in Frenchtown, first daughter's farm is looking beautiful.
She seems to have acquired my devotion to gardening.
She has planted all sorts of flowering trees like this weeping cherry.
Here is a magnificent redbud is in full bloom.
Spring flowering is happening so fast this year I cannot keep up!
Meanwhile at Wit's End, the violets are out.
There are about 10% as many anemones as last year.
Many clumps of perennials - such as iris and daylilies - have shrunk from their size last year.

The leaves are emerging on many (but not nearly all) trees and shrubs, but it is already evident they are wilted as soon as they appear. The slightest breeze makes them look like they are in hurricane force winds, blowing over limply, undersides exposed. The same thing happened last year. This year many more will either not leaf out, or drop their leaves. At this rate, next year: none.
I was so thrilled to see my magnolia flowers opening on Wednesday,
but within two days they were drooping - before all of the buds had even opened up!
I did write to Charles Little when I first learned of his work about a year ago, but he never replied. Perhaps after so many years of speaking for the trees, he has given up.
Here is his description of the American woods found by Europeans:
"The primitive forests encountered by the early British, Dutch and French colonists were filled with trees of mythic proportions and biblical age. White pines reached 200 feet in height. Great stands of hemlocks, more permanent than Gothic cathedrals, were common. Black walnut trunks measured five and six feet through the middle. Chestnuts spread 200 feet from branch tip to branch tip. Graceful arching trunks of elms sheltered the nurslings with dappled shade. Magnolias, crabapples, loblolly bays and basswoods perfumed Southern woodlands."
At the tree conference, it was no surprise to read this:
"Dr. Art Johnson of the University of Pennsylvania stressed the need to look at natural causes of forest decline: winter stress, age, disease, insects and wind."
American foresters love to blame "natural" causes.
But there is nothing natural about these petals falling off at the same time the flowers are opening up.
Here is a tantalizing tidbit from the article about Charles Little:
"Once the ozone is inside the cellular structure of the tree, it bleaches the chlorophyll from the needles -- just like Clorox, also an oxidant -- so that they lose their ability to photosynthesize and then drop prematurely."
I planted the quince not just for its lovely crimson flowers but I hoped for fruit. It's hard as a rock, but if simmered for a long time in sweetened syrup, slices become tender with a wonderful perfume and deep color, making a delicious and novel addition to an apple tarte tatin.
Just imagine, Charles Little wrote this over fifteen years ago: "
I remember what West Virginia landowner and self-taught naturalist Joe Aliff told me when we were tramping through the "falling forest" in the Appalachian hollows. To see what is happening, he said, "All you got to do is look." By that he meant something more than having one's eyelids in the open position. And when you look, you see that the trees are dying.

I have since learned to see a world of dying trees -- dying because the trunks have been bored into and the leaves have been stripped by pests; dying because fungi are girdling their bases and branches and turning their leaves to black corpses; dying because their shrunken roots can no longer absorb enough nutrients and water to keep them alive; dying from the direct effects of too much ozone in the troposphere and not enough in the stratosphere; dying because neighboring trees have been clearcut, allowing cold, heat and drying winds into their precincts; dying because of being bathed too often in the sour gases of industry; dying because the weather patterns have changed and they cannot adapt quickly enough."

Right now the wetlands are carpeted with a luminous tiny yellow flower.

Here is a brilliant idea - make ecocide criminal! Throw the bastards into jail for destroying a habitable climate!

The only problem is, there is no time for legal recourse. Events will outpace any such remedy.

Here are two of the most horrific stories out of many I have seen of late. They are enough to make you weep.

In both of the above cases (and there are so many others, from bats to bees, from salmon to frogs) scientists are stymied.

This is because they cannot prove causative relationships between human-caused pollution and mass die-offs.

I have no such constraints, since I am not a scientist trained in the rigors of the method, and so I freely say:

Human caused habitat destruction and poaching and eating, plus pollution from all sorts of sources - garbage and plastics and cosmetics and pesticides and fertilizers - but most especially from burning fossil and biofuels - is KILLING THE ENTIRE FUCKING ECOSYSTEM that we rely upon to sustain us.

We are killing ourselves. Ecocide is suicide.

From Charles Little:

"In the course of my research, I have learned things I wish I had not learned. I have learned that the trees are dying. And that the more trees die, the more will die. I have learned that we have crossed the threshold. And I simply do not know how we can get back safely to the other side.

Such a conclusion can lead to despair. I think the only antidote to despair is to stay firm in the belief that, as William Wordsworth put it in Tintern Abbey, "nature never did betray the heart that loved her."

We must begin to love her as we have never been asked to love before. Even then, it will take a century or more for environmental repair; for letting nature heal herself.

Thus have we come to the crux of the matter: the trees could save us, if we would save the trees."


  1. crystalwolf aka caligrlApril 11, 2010 at 2:25 PM

    That last comment by Charles little...Wow...
    I have just come across your blog and I really like it...I wonder is it just like Charles said? Too late?

  2. crystalwolf aka caligrlApril 11, 2010 at 2:27 PM

    That last comment by Charles little...Wow...
    I have just come across your blog and I really like it...I wonder is it just like Charles said? Too late?

  3. welcome crystalwolk aka caligrl! Yes that comment is heartrending. I don't think it's too late in the sense that we still have viable seeds. But we would have to get cracking on growing as many species as possible in controlled, filtered air until we clean up the atmosphere.

    Much of the toxins in ozone are short-lived and that is, I believe, the most important component that is harming trees. CO2 on the other hand persists for 1000 years, but that is more of a longer term, heating issue that will cause droughts and other weather extremes. We have a little bit of time to address that and perhaps devise means of mitigating - such as removing CO2 from the atmosphere (what we can do about the acidification of the ocean is a more insurmountable dilemma).

    In my opinion the first thing to do is drastically reduce our emissions of pollution and try to save as much as we can. Is it too late? Maybe but to me it doesn't really matter. We have to do everything we can to salvage this earth for other species and our children.

    That's why I started this blog!

    Best regards,

  4. sorry crystalwolF! I'm in a car driving home from the horse show in VA and it's a little bouncy!


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