Thursday, June 24, 2010

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!

Yesterday I made a quick stop at the grocery store.
Above is the best tree in the parking lot. It goes downhill from there.
You would think with the expense involved in replacing so many dead trees, somebody would notice and wonder why.
And you would be correct.

Once again there is an article in a Massachusetts paper about trees dying. I was really excited when I first read about this story almost two months ago, because I thought, even though the cause was being attributed to leaking natural gas lines, at least somewhere there is recognition that a large problem with tree health exists - always the first step towards a solution.
It was a relief to head back to Wit's End after all those rows of dead trees at the store, but unfortunately even in the undeveloped countryside, trees are dying. This view overlooks a golf course - the part that is tended is sort of green, but the rest of the grass is shockingly yellow.
These are all close-ups of the trees that surround the open fields, taken from the same position.
There are many bare trees mixed in with the ones that still have leaves.
But back to Massachusetts. Initially I was hopeful that I would find some allies in my effort to warn the world that we must transition to clean energy before the ecosystem suffers a total collapse. I learned that a couple of guys - Bob Ackley, a former gas company employee and Jan Schlichtmann, a lawyer - had founded the "public" Massachusetts Shade Tree Trust in 2007. That sounds like a charitable organization but is actually just the two of them, who are peddling the notion to municipalities that by joining the trust they can recover millions of dollars each from National Grid, the major local utility, for damages.
I was a bit surprised to see that they are still at it since I wrote to both of them after I first read the article in the Patriot Ledger and saw the television report, to inform them that trees are dying everywhere, not just in proximity to gas lines...because the ozone that forms from toxic greenhouse gas emissions interferes with the ability of leaves to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll.
Ackley called me within an hour after I emailed him that message, and I realized then that he wasn't involved out of some altruistic love for trees. He was quoted as saying "Statewide, there could be somewhere between $15 billion - $30 billion in damages." Hmmm...according to the terms of the Trust, it (it being Ackley and Schlichtmann, remember) retains 40% of anything they help the towns to recover from National Grid. So, if they held National Grid fully accountable that means a potential of billions in legal fees for the "Trust". Billions!!
No wonder they don't want to hear that ozone - from a variety of sources - is the principle culprit! Of course, it is possible that gas leaks from pipes do damage root systems as well, so when Ackley called I asked if he had any scientific research that indicated gas leaks from pipes are killing trees on a massive scale, and he assured me it was available on the trust website. Guess what I found? ONE pdf from the "Journal of Arboriculture" written in 1977. Yes, that is Nineteen Seventy-seven AND it is based on research done in the '60's! Compare that to the peer-reviewed publications about ozone killing trees compiled on this page!
I also wrote to State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, was was reported to be sponsoring legislation to force National Grid to repair all leaks within six months, but of course I never heard back from her either. Another curiosity I just noticed: the website says, "With a team of certified and highly regarded arborists, professionally trained gas leak inspectors...the Trust is already delivering valuable services...". As far as I can tell, there IS no "team" and only one "inspector." And on their "newsroom" page, exactly one link out of twelve media stories actually connected to an article about the Trust, all the rest are expired or error pages. The amazing thing is that a number of towns have signed onto this ridiculous sham. I guess the local governments are blinded by the dollar signs.

There are some wildflowers blooming on the perimeter of the golf course, like the milkweed, above, and asclepias.
I chased this butterfly around for a while.
This picture isn't in very good focus but I am fascinated by the position of his wings as he lands on the clover.
The daisies look terrible.
They are small, puckered, and their petals are deformed.
Last summer I discovered the macro setting on my camera and derived a modicum of comfort from taking pictures of flowers.
Focussing on their luscious details was a great way to forget - or perhaps more like just suspend - the awful knowledge that ozone is killing trees and plants.
Last summer, when the foliage of most perennials exhibited symptoms of exposure to toxic gases, the plants were using all their reserves of energy to reproduce and the flowers were, for the most part, stunning.
I cannot say the same this year and until today have been consciously avoiding the sad fact that the flowers no longer offer the respite they provided last summer.
They are misshapen and thin, their veins are prominent just as in the leaves.
These native, wild daylilies are washed out in color.
And the cultivated, ruffled varieties are no better.
They look battered, as though they have been pummeled by hail - but they haven't.
The petals are twisted and wrinkled, even when they are fresh and young.
It is really very depressing and it also makes me angry. I have been trying so hard to get people to pay attention before it is too late, to no avail.
Of course the daylily leaves are singed.
I cannot bear to look at my suffering flower beds, let alone weed, and so the entire garden at Wit's End is being engulfed by Canadian thistle, a particularly nasty, spiky invasive.
I did see a hummingbird feeding on them, which made me feel better - but for all I know it was desperate.
On the other hand, the leaves show the same damage as everything else so I do not expect it to thrive very long either.

I spoke to an editor yesterday about the story, and it was kind of funny.
He started to say something about the reason the trees are dying, but he only got as far as "trees..." and then he sort of gagged and went silent. I waited. He finally uttered "...deteriorating".
Afterwards I thought, that's analogous to describing the turtles, porpoises, and birds in the Gulf as "deteriorating".

Here's a slideshow of last year's flowers that I put together for Valentine's Day, for anyone who missed it.

I have often been accused by those I love most of being too doomy, gloomy, and negative - and so here is a cheery riposte...I like to think all those propped up fellows represent trees.


  1. I've long considered myself a tiny speck of the consciousness in a vast sea of energy and matter that is the universe and is conscious. What I see and experience is the reflection of the universe looking back at me.

    Always look on the bright side of life.
    Or to paraphrase the Tralfalmadorians in Slaughterhouse Five:

    Concentrate on the good and forget about the bad.

    (They had blown up their home planet of Tralfamador in a rocket fuel experiment. It was Rocket 88 fuel that got us.)

    We might be destroying the Earth eleventeen different ways, but flowers still bloom.

  2. Hi there, thanks for linking to our blog/community project, we've been getting more visitors than usual! As an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, I have a hard time accepting that "our planet is dying". Like in all things, death contains within it new life. Homo sapien is the catalyst for a monumental new wave of evolution. It isn't the first, or the last time our planet has undergone this level of extinction or climate change. After all, it was a boiling ball of fire and gas for its first billion years. We humans are but a blip (poorly adapted aberration?) in the big scheme of things. A tragedy to witness all the same, the unfathonable suffering resulting from such sudden change, but hubris to think that we have the power to "destroy" the planet. Still, I mourn with these pages.....
    I'll pay more attention, but here in Colorado I haven't noticed the kind of plant damage you're documenting. North and south of us I do see enormous die-off from pine beetles. Everywhere you go (except here) there are huge swatches of dead and dieing trees, entire forests even. Our air quality is exceptional here in the San Luis Valley. Could explain why the die-off hasn't effected us. We still have healthy diverse populations of reptiles and amphibs that have disappeared in so many other places. There the one's I watch because they're skin is so absorbent. Cause and effect is not always so easy to discern but the sense that something is wrong is everywhere.....


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