Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Drowning in a Pool of Tears

For the past two years there has been a hefty flock of turkey vultures roosting in this huge dying sycamore in the village of Pottersville.
Today I realized that now, there are many more spreading to adjacent trees, and they have even settled on chimneys in the neighborhood.  What's the point?  I'm not sure, other than it's creepy.  But also, carrion seem to be thriving, and my guess is, it's because everything else is hungry, and vulnerable.   You'd expect at least a temporary explosion of opportunistic species as the others die off, from lack of sustenance, as the plant-based food chain collapses.
Along both sides of the street that runs through, there are a number old hemlocks, probably planted about a hundred years ago, which are swiftly dropping needles.  Lately, the bark has noticeably deteriorated.
It is covered with sap that has been oozing from cracks and holes, which has hardened into something that resembles a dirty sugar icing...and bark is popping off in large sections, revealing the raw red wood beneath.
Just on the outskirts of the village is a girls' boarding school, with a pastoral campus that has many trees in varying degrees of decay.
The tips of the branches of this maple are stubby - there is no evidence of fresh young growth from last summer, and the trunk has lost massive strips of bark.  Just behind it are pine trees with almost no needles remaining.
Further beyond is a typical blackened maple.  I never saw this black bark until it began a rapid spread two years ago - and now it is everywhere to be found.
It has been too frigid to venture outside for anything other than essential excursions.  Once long ago on the old fashioned kind of telephone, I asked my sister if she ever felt frightened in the night, when there is a blizzard howling.  I always have - I am very conscious that merely a flimsy thin wall, and tenuous source of heat that will cease if the power goes out, is all that separates my cozy warmth from a freezing death.  She laughed and said of course she did - and then added sardonically, that of all the people she knew at the big fancy law firm where she worked in downtown Manhattan, with the four-figure floral arrangements in the foyer, none suffered any such inkling.  They blithely assumed without question that the world would always remain the benign, predictable place they had enjoyed all their privileged lives...at least, for them.
That was many years ago, long before I realized human civilization is heading for imminent collapse, or should I say Driving Straight Into Catastrophe?   (Come back to that link and read it!)  Last night I was pondering my recollection of a few episodes of averted and actual drownings that have punctuated my life.

What has this got to do with the topic of this blog - trees dying from exposure to ozone?  Quite a bit, potentially.
The first episode occurred one summer while I was still married, and youngest daughter hadn't been walking for very long.  Soon-to-be-ex took her to the pool in the backyard, to swim while I prepared dinner.  She was floating in a tube when he decided to put on his goggles and do laps.  At some point, she drifted to the deep end, and then, in a soundless heartbeat, vanished through the tube, into the depths.
Luckily, we had a houseguest at the time, a professor from France known by the children, who adored him, as PaPaPierre.  He just happened to be out, crossing the lawn in the waning light, and observed her disappearance.  He leapt over the fence and into the pool to pull her out.  Ex was completely oblivious until the rescuer called to him.  Imagine my consternation when they brought her inside.
Next, shortly after we had separated, Ex brought our three daughters to the Princeton University pool, a luxurious facility reserved for faculty living in subsidized housing - and then he left to get sandwiches for lunch.  This, despite my frequent pleas to never rely on teenage lifeguards.  Sure enough, youngest daughter again slipped through her tube - and this time, first daughter had just emerged from the dressing room and saw her go down - so she jumped, fully clothed, into the pool to haul her out.  The lifeguard never noticed until it was over.  It came to my attention because first daughter's watch was ruined, and I had to intervene to get Ex to replace it.
In hearing of those two events my English friend, Roger, told me about a holiday in Greece, when he brought his family to a children's wading pool.  A mother deep in conversation failed to notice her baby had slipped, with barely a ripple, under the shallow water, and drowned at her feet.  To this day I feel her grief and guilt.  Tragedy can happen so easily.
Last one.  Youngest daughter at around age three had been begging desperately for a kitten so finally, I relented and checked the classified ads in the local newspaper - back in the day before every conceivable thing could be obtained on the intertubes.  As it happened there was a litter of pure-bread Persians available in Chester, a nearby town, so we went to choose one.  Well, it turned out the lady who was selling them a bit younger than normal was in somewhat of a hurry to find them homes, because she was feeling just a bit overwhelmed.  Two weeks before, she was cooking in the kitchen while her two daughters watched the teevee in the family room behind her.   The youngest toddled down the hallway into the bathroom and promptly drowned in the toilet, where she was soon discovered by her sister, who was around the same age as my daughter.  The mother looked shell-shocked, beyond distraught.  I was so aghast, I had no idea how to respond when she related this horrible event.
I had never even suspected that something as innocuous and normal as a potty could be a mortal threat, although you don't have to think about it very long to realize, of course it can be lethal for toddlers, whose heads are disproportionately heavy compared to the rest of their bodies, making it difficult for them to extricate themselves if they tumble head first into a tub, basket or other container.
So for me, this analogy illuminates a confusing conundrum - why hardly anyone but me realizes that trees are rapidly disappearing from the landscape.

For the most part, like a child slipping into water, the trees barely make a splash compared to the daily roar for attention from a culture overwhelmingly technological.
And like the mundane potty, the source of the danger - emissions from burning fuel which are obviously dangerous if you stop to think about it...everybody knows air pollution is bad - but most people rarely if ever make the connection between something as humdrum as turning on the lights, running the refrigerator, the washer and dryer and vacuum, heating or cooling the house, and driving the car...with extinction.

Perhaps having these close brushes with the ephemerality of life (and a few others, besides) has enabled me to see how abruptly and capriciously life can end, as it is now in the process of ending, everywhere.
Don't it always seem to go -
That you don't know what you've got till it's gone?
We paved paradise, put up a parking lot.

- Joni Mitchell

Here's a different version, with some enchanting photos:

I highly recommend this fountain of searing outrage from columnist Chris Hedges, "Where Liberals go to Feel Good," which is a painful evisceration of well-meaning hand-wringing disillusioned progressives who aren't really willing to step out of their comfort zone to effect the change they claim is required.  And then, there is the awakening fury of courageous people rising up to denounce inequality, unemployment and, most urgently, the escalating cost of food.  I have heard estimates of 90,000 people protesting in Egypt on this "Day of Anger" which will quite likely turn into many "Days" before it's over.  The following news report was posted in a brief flash on Yahoo, and then was surpassed in importance by some football player with hurt feelings, the cast of Jersey Shore, and Gingrich calling for the abolishment of the EPA.  The revolution will not be televised...


  1. I was just curious if the same thing is happening in the southern hemisphere? I have heard many reports from people on a certain message board, but they seemed to be entirely confined to the northern hemisphere. That could be just due to lack of sample size. have you heard anything of Australia, South America, Africa? In the videos i've seen of the Australian floods I must say the trees look.... decent.

  2. Anon, I have much less information about the Southern Hemisphere. They definitely have less ozone. I haven't been there myself. I have seen some pretty sick-looking trees in video of Australia, but the drought there has been terrible. One person did write to me from New Zealand, stating the trees there are in bad condition as well.

  3. crystalwolfakacaligrlJanuary 26, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    Gail your posts are so heart wrenching...!When I see the pics of the trees & plants there is no denying... :( as I told you before all our beloved pine tree where cut down in a day at our park b/c of beetle infestation.
    My boyfriend posted this to my facebook last night...
    "When birds fall from the sky and the animals are dying, a new tribe of people shall come unto the earth from many colors, classes, creeds, who by their actions and deeds shall make the earth green again. They will be known as the Warriors of the Rainbow." ~Hopi Prophecy

  4. Crystalwolf, that made me think...

    from wiki:

    The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, codenamed Opération Satanique,[1] was an operation by the "action" branch of the French foreign intelligence services, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), carried out on July 10, 1985. It aimed to sink the flagship of the Greenpeace fleet, the Rainbow Warrior in the port of Auckland, New Zealand, to prevent her from interfering in a nuclear test in Moruroa.
    Fernando Pereira, a photographer, drowned on the sinking ship. Two French agents were arrested by the New Zealand Police on passport fraud and immigration charges. They were charged with arson, conspiracy to commit arson, willful damage, and murder. As part of a plea bargain, they pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to ten years, of which they served just over two.
    The scandal resulted in the resignation of the French Defence Minister Charles Hernu.

  5. A recent post from deckhand on the Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace activists chained themselves to a boat to protest illegal overfishing.


  6. crystalwolfakacaligrlJanuary 26, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    I saw one this morn about GreenPeace Rainbow Warrior ship also, tuna fishing! We must support them!

  7. wow, watch this one:


  8. Did you collect your bet from Doc? You were right. Food riots in 2011, and here they are in Tunisia and Egypt. Let's face it, a substantial reason for those riots/protests are food prices being the straw that broke the camel's back.

  9. MO - Well, I couldn't remember if it was specifically in the US but here's the bet as I transcribed it at the time, at the end of this post: http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2010/11/death-by-thousand-cuts.html

    ...after the dinner we made a wager: I bet that there will be food riots by July 2011, and he bet there won't.

    If I win, he has to give me a bottle of Chateau D'Yquem, and if he's right, I'll owe him a really nice Margaux. Given this story at Climate Progress about crop yield reduction from extreme weather, which doesn't even include ozone damage, I'm feeling fairly confident. That I'll win the bet, that is. Not confident about much else.

    'cause it's going to get considerably worse:


    and here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2011/jan/28/climate-change-food-bubble

    It really won't take much time for these to spread to the US, because the rabble will see it going on in other countries, and the number of unemployed is going to continue to rise as the empire declines while food becomes unaffordable. They will riot.


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