Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Country Mouse Reluctantly Trains to The Duck Pond in Manhattan's Central Park

It is always quite an undertaking for me to venture into Manhattan.  A life-long timid paranoid driver, the traffic and parking so overwhelm me that a very long train ride with multiple transfers is required instead.  Plus, I have a little anxiety phobia about hailing a cab, so a long walk usually ensues.  But, I've been searching the intertubes for photographs of fall color at specific locations - so that I can compare past years on the same date and place to conditions this year - and it turns out to be rather more difficult than you might expect.

There exist however a number of images from Central Park...because there are so many tourists obsessively taking pictures and posting them online.  So I decided to make an adventure of it, and align as many landmarks as I could, as close as possible to the date I was able to make a daytrip - which happened to be last Sunday, November 14.

These comparisons are drawn from two sets I had found - the earliest shot on November 16, 2006, the second November 11, 2007 - and the remainder by myself, on November 14, 2010.  If anyone is visiting this blog for the first time and wonders why I would bother to do this, welcome and please check out the Basic Premise first so I don't have to keep repeating the same shit and boring everyone (well, okay, about 20 or so) who visit on a regular basis!
I had a few minutes before the train would arrive so I took a picture of a random tree near the Far Hills parking lot.
This is an absolutely typical example of a trunk, hallmarked by corroded bark and holes indicative of interior rot.  Also worthy of note, are the leaves that are simply shriveling on the branch.  More on that later, meanwhile...
...Before I knew it, I emerged into the tumult of the city, with about 2 miles to walk to Central Park from Penn Station.  I was consumed with curiosity to see how the pictures I had found on the web would compare to current conditions.
It took me a little while to locate the exact spots.  First I came upon this large rock, a really gorgeous scene...back in 2006.

This is from the same vantage, last Sunday.  Note the lack of color, the receding euonymus on the tree in the foreground on the right, and the missing tree that had been at the very bottom left of the rock in 2006 - and is there no longer.

That is not the only tree that has been removed, evidently.

This is from 2006, when the walk is covered in bright red leaves.  That is what is supposed to happen - they turn bright colors, then fall off, then turn brown.

Above, 2006.

Above is 2007.  The light is very different, but note how the dawn redwood to the left of the bridge is still green, and below, in 2010, it is already turned yellow.

Above, 2007, all three below, 2010.

Below is the south border of the park, in 2006.  The row of ginko trees is bright yellow and the burning bushes are burning.
Above and below, 2010.

11/16/2006 - More leaves are down, but the colors are much more vivid.

2010, exact spot.
11/16/2006 and below, 2010.  Notice how the only leaves on the ground are brown now.
What's really nasty is that they fall off when they are still green!
The following pictures are of a patch of sumac at the west side of the bridge pictured above.
Sumac, November 11, 2007
Sumac 2010 - best section, a clump at the rear of the bare branches below.

November 11, 2007 looking across the water towards the bridge.
Sumac 2010, overall condition, looking down from the top of the bridge.
11/16/2006, South border between 2 Japanese Maples, with vibrant colors.
2010, above, the maples are dull and the burning bush across the pond is either dead or has no color at all.
11/16/2006, above, and 2010, below.

It's obvious why leaves have dull color, they are singed with chlorosis.

I did find a recently planted, brilliant orange cut-leaf maple.

All through the park, the trees have the same gaping holes that they have at home.

I don't know if this is an entwinement of love or a knot of desperation.

Leaves are wilted, shriveled, and stippled.

Elm leaves, November 11, 2007 - click on the photo above to see how uniformly clear and unmottled leaves used to be, compared to now.
It is easy to find trunks that are stained from oozing sap.
Sorry, but this looks like vomit.
Sometimes the streaks are brown to black, others are bright white.
Often bark has cankers of varying shapes, indicative of fungal attack, generally diagnosed as lethal.
It was a very warm, beautiful afternoon to be recording such sorry facts.  A turtle basked in the sun.

This was an amusing discovery:
November 11, 2007 - Notice the tree on the right in front of the stone column.
Last Sunday, it was gone!  Look at the railing on the right.
Oops, a slight dent.
Sure enough, there is a stump under the tangle of suckers trying valiantly to rejuvenate.
Already their leaves exhibit the damaged stomata characteristic of ozone exposure.

As I was leaving the park, having found most of the places that matched the earlier photos, I walked around the outskirts of a nature sanctuary which is fenced against pedestrians.
There was a lovely waterfall, and many happy ducks.
Apparently the preserve is left undisturbed and so it is possible to get a better idea of what is happening to the trees - since the fallen trees aren't removed.
November 11, 2007, a much denser wood than now.
On the far side of the water looking at the protected shore, dead trees have fallen into the water.
Who knows what a tangle of dead wood is in the interior.

The canopy is broken by standing dead.
The last thing I saw, leaving the park was witchhazel, blooming 2 or 3 months early -
Back into the hullaballoo of New York, these ladies were chanting vociferously outside the Plaza Hotel, protesting what they feel are inhumane conditions for the carriage horses.
Now if they can manage to take to the streets, why are so many people who are wringing their hands about apocalyptic climate change unable to organize a decent protest on a recurring basis?
I decided to walk down Fifth Avenue in spite of the crowds, because why not?
I got a sack of roasted chestnuts, one of my favorite indulgences, and nibbled on them as made a liesurely way back to Penn Station, unreasonably content considering the dark intent of my excursion.
Once long ago I, too, liked to go shopping.
It's amazing how ingenious advertisements have become.
The windows were in the process of being decorated for Christmas so I stopped to watch.
The assembly is guided by a small model like that for a theatrical set.
You can see a fellow on the left, underneath the ladder.
This display was based on the Nutcracker, and was already completed.  The tree on the left was hung
with little electronic screens, flashing different scenes from the ballet.
Here's a doorway draped with a garland of Southern Magnolia.  Last year I did a side-by-side comparison of leaves preserved from 2008, and fresh ones from 2009.  The difference was astonishing then, and the damage continues apace - these in 2010 are so shriveled they show far more of their fuzzy brown undersides than glossy green tops - and the green is scorched.  It's striking how oblivious florists and their clients are to the degradation of their material - but then, foresters seem quite as unobservant of the actual condition of trees.
I don't like to shop anymore, but every now and then it's fun to just look.
The world is so full of unnecessary but luxurious stuff.
Now I look at things like this and my thoughts are of unsustainable resource extraction,
and exploitation of the poor in third world countries.  I'm not sure I actually like this necklace, but I really liked the reflection of the camera lens.
People watching is fun too!  The area teems with Eurotrash in outlandish outfits.
What in the heck could people possibly be willing to wait in line for?  I guess everybody but me knows, that Abercrombie and Fitch has nearly naked models that people can have their picture taken with!
I can't imagine why they are covering their faces!  Are they embarrassed?
Here's the model and the photographer - at least, the ones visible in the foyer from the street.
Our society is unravelling.  Youngest daughter thought there had always been homeless people.  Oh, no, I told her.  I remember the very first time I saw one, about thirty years ago, and how horrified I was.  In fact, I was dismayed back then by the gap between rich and poor - and now, it's unimaginably worse. 
Can that be an accident?
The trees along the streets are no better or worse than those in the park.

Insanely, tender tropical begonias are still blooming in mid-November - in the warmest year on record.
Now for a few choice scientific reports.  Thanks to Tenney for this link to a story about the troubles and travails of the sugar maple.  Dr. Barry Rock, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, and one of his students, Martha Carlson (who authored the report, "Maples Changing Colors") are investigating some utterly alarming trends.  One is the loss of color in the fall - and another, the lowering of the level of sugar in the syrup, necessitating the extraction and boiling of greater quantities of sap to make the same amount of syrup.  Following are excerpts interspersed with my thoughts, in italics:
"That loss is most obviously seen, Rock says, by a dimming in the brilliance of the sugar maple’s fall foliage over the past three years. The key point is that he means “seen” in a scientific sense, based on three years of data about such things as foliage color measured by spectral analysis of satellite photos.
“This isn’t my saying so, because I think they look good, this is the numbers saying so,” he said."

Note, he HAS to say the color is dimming, because the numbers say so - but he himself doesn't see it!

"Carlson, a former journalist and teacher, enrolled at UNH because she was worried about the condition of maples on her farm and elsewhere, including a decline in sweetness of the sap.
Sugar levels of 3 percent used to be not uncommon, she says. Now, similar trees have sugar levels around 1 percent.
“Imagine if you have 3 percent something in your blood and it drops to 1 percent – you’d probably be in the hospital,” she said.
“This seems to be a real phenomenon that I don’t know that anyone has documented before,” Rock said.

"The drop in sugar levels is directly connected to a loss in autumn brilliance, causing a decline in anthocyanin – a chemical that creates the color red. Less sugar leads to less anthocyanin, which means less red to combine with yellow to create orange."

"It means more trees are being tapped and more aggressive methods are being used, including vacuums to pull out sap. But this just adds pressure to the region’s sugar maples."

Um..."vacuuming to pull out sap" strikes me as almost obscene.  Oh, it "adds pressure?"  Ya think?

"All in all, Rock is worried...
So to some extent, this data is no surprise to him. Only the timing is a shock, he adds.
“Back in 2001, we thought we’d see this 20 years out. The fact that we’re seeing it happen in less than a decade is sobering,” he said."

The following are excerpts from Martha Carlson's article, linked to above, and my reactions in italics:

"The sugar maple, a dominant tree in our forests, can live for 400 years. One of three old grandmother trees in my sugarbush in Sandwich was a sprout in 1690. The maple is resilient against infestations of insects, ice storms, droughts, acid rain, or smog. It rebounds year after year though humans may crush its roots with a heavy skidder, squeeze its canopy in thickets of unthinned forest, and annually bore inch-deep holes around its boll."

Really?  Smog?  What about ozone?

"The summer of 2008 seemed ideal for a study of climate change in central New Hampshire. The Bearcamp Valley experienced its driest spring on record. Only an inch of rain fell from late April to late June. Then torrential rains fell for six weeks, turning my gardens into a slough of mud, perhaps clogging tiny maple root hairs so they could not absorb water or nutrients.

In June, all 30 trees in my study showed water stress and their dehydration grew worse as the summer progressed. Sixty percent of the trees showed less chlorophyll than a healthy tree should contain. Eighty percent lost their leaves two to four weeks before foliage season.

Curiously the leaves seemed to grow smaller as the season progressed. As large as luncheon plates in June, leaves were the size of tea cup saucers in August. Even more oddly, all of the trees, even the very stressed trees, produced beautiful viable buds in October.

The maples made biochemical choices: they deliberately dropped leaves to concentrate scarce resources on growing excellent buds".

Her observations of maples align uncannily with my observations of ALL kinds of trees, including dropping leaves "to concentrate scarce resources on growing excellent buds" which is to say, reproduction - since they know they are dying.  Oh and that thing about leaves growing smaller?

"Then March 2009 came. My family and I tapped our sugar maples and boiled down the first harvest of maple syrup. We expected light amber, the champagne deli- cacy of the first run. But the first syrup graded dark amber. The sap filters were black with gooey nitre. In the collecting tanks, sap as clear as water quickly took on a faint yellowish tinge. Reports began to trickle in from our neighbors: Everyone was getting dark syrup."

The timing also is exactly the same.

"Dark syrup is normal at the end of the season. Biochemical compounds that promote growth and others that seal off the tap hole wound all add color and taste to late season syrup. But our dark syrup came at the very start of the season.
“My trees are acting like they're wounded,” I thought.
Is it possible that buds, twigs and wood retain the biochemical response to a preceding summer’s stress?"

YES!!  It's cumulative exposure to tropospheric ozone!

It's very disappointing to me that Dr. Rock persists in adhering to the usual dogma since I wrote him last spring, following a similar article interviewing him in the New York Times, to point out that ozone underlies the other issues such as fungus and bacteria and insects.  Nothing else can explain such widespread decline of every species - and especially the same affects on potted, watered plants - so sure enough, as I was writing this tonight along comes yet another example (thanks to reader Catman for the link!):
Kiwifruit Disease Plagues New Zealand, with the related story, Italian orchards have been devastated the last two seasons.  Jeez!  from New Zealand to Italy, the same pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae (Psa) bacteria!

I really have to make a list of all the trees that have been identified as dying from one affliction or another.  Why doesn't anybody put it all together?  It's like blind scientists are all examining an elephant and concluding it consists of a tail...an ear...a toe...an eye...

(or a maple dying, or oak, or ash, or sycamore, lodgepole pines, aspens, or dogwood...)

Not one of them has the courage - or intellect? - to proclaim unequivocally, "Jeebus, THERE'S A FUCKING ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM!!!"

Now I'm going to add a link that has nothing to to with ozone, because it's fascinating:  Sea level rise has been documented by examining Roman artifacts.
I always wanted to be an archeologist!

Following are excerpts from an article I read last June, which I had sort of forgotten about.  But it is one of the very rare discussions I have found about the effects of emissions of biofuel, and it may be time to follow up.  From "New Questions about Toxic Bi-Products of Biofuel Combustion"...if you aren't interested in the impacts of biofuel emissions, skip down to the end for pictures of the terrible, horrible, creepy Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center.

"Identifying the products of biofuel combustion helps analysts assemble another piece of the complicated puzzle of how alternative fuels should best be incorporated into our energy supply. Yes, it appears that a car run on a blend of biofuels is going to emit less soot and fewer harmful particulates than a vehicle burning pure gasoline or diesel. But the alternative fuels have their own emissions signatures, each with their own implications for human health and climate change.

"Biofuels, such as ethanol, contain oxygen in addition to the hydrocarbon core found in traditional fossil fuels. So, while gasoline and ethanol combustion both give off energy by tearing apart carbon-hydrogen bonds, biofuels also generate a number of other combustion products that gasoline and diesel don’t. Furthermore, nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers, which are used to grow biofuel crops, can remain in biofuels. The study found that the presence of these chemicals introduce an even broader spectrum of possible chemicals into the burning process.

"For example, burning corn ethanol — currently the most widely used biofuel in North America — produces CO2 and small quantities of carbon monoxide, soot and other so-called “particulates,” which are also given off by fossil fuel combustion. According to recent research the amount of these chemicals coming from burning ethanol is less than from fossil fuels.

"On the other hand, the presence of oxygen in ethanol opens a pathway for a myriad other combustion products, including formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. If inhaled in small quantities, these chemicals can irritate the eyes and lungs, whereas more significant exposure to these and other particulates is associated with asthma, allergies and even some cancers.

"In the case of heavier biodiesel made from vegetable and soybean oils, the higher oxygen content and residual nitrogen from fertilizers further increases the complexity of combustion products. The study notes that burning biodiesel produces less of the noxious particulates associated with fossil fuels, but any advantage is lost because it also generates a mix of other toxins that don’t form from burning pure petroleum.

"It remains to be seen how these new factors will be considered alongside other biofuels policy considerations — such as how affordable they are, which types offer a true carbon advantage, and how much agricultural land will be sacrificed to keep our cars running — but they should help inform which of the many alternative fuel options is going to be the safest."
Here, on the 12th of November, a 74 foot Norway Spruce Christmas tree was hoisted into a vertical position by a large crane, at the Rockefeller Center.  I wonder if anyone will notice that it is abnormally thin?  You can see right through it to the other side!  It's like hanging a corpse to celebrate life.


  1. Spectacular photography... your 2010 images have really great resolution. Nice to examine the details.

    Thanks for all that you do

  2. Ash trees in an Indiana park are dying, too.

    (No mention of ozone, no surprise.)

    I may have color pictures of Central Park circa 1968-69. I'll have to dig through the 35mm slides.

  3. OMG!
    Google News: "dying trees"

    44 stories about dying trees

    3 options at bottom for instant information

  4. I guess I'm one of those 20 people, and greatly appreciate your ongoing inquiry.

    You are operating outside of the orthodoxy with your direct observations and intuitive conclusions. The academics you challenge with your observations are trapped within it, prisoners of funding ritual and procedural habit. Eventually they will catch up with you. It's unlikely that they will ever credit you for your work, but no doubt you will have had an effect on their findings.

    Perhaps the general resistance to your hypothesis is rooted in the global scope of your conclusion: the end of trees. Who can really imagine it?

  5. PS: Your theory about the combustion products of biofuels like corn ethanol is very interesting. The sudden changes over the past three years are entirely coincident with the rising use of these fuels.

  6. Thank you so much for those words of encouragment Robo! I really do have to wonder about the ethanol. As far as orthodoxy, this morning I was emailed the latest post from this blog:
    to which my comment was:

    I’m not a scientist but I don’t see how the authors of this research could have eliminated ambient ozone from their studies. If they aren’t factoring in the effects of cumulative exposure to background levels in the atmosphere, then CO2, drought, and nitrogen alone won’t explain growth rates one way or another.

  7. I had forgotten that Rachel was a marine biologist, and had written 3 successful books about the seas before she turned to the study of pesticides killing our environment.

    Witsend, please keep channeling Rachel Carson.

    Robo, great comments. Eventually science will catch up with Gail.

    "Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist and nature writer whose writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.

    Carson started her career as a biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her financial security and recognition as a gifted writer. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the republished version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. Together, her sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life, from the shores to the surface to the deep sea.

    In the late 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation and the environmental problems caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented portion of the American public. Silent Spring spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy—leading to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides—and the grassroots environmental movement the book inspired led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter."


  8. Thanks Catman - August company!

    I'm leaving now for Connecticut with my tree costume and ozone flier for the conference in CT:


    so you know what the next post will be about!

  9. Simply awesome. And here I thought my generation was the first to master dry wit. Seems I was wrong. ;)

    All the best, Aaron
    check my site


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