Friday, August 30, 2013


I was enjoying my aimless wanderings in California so much that I was reluctant to return to Wit's End. It's much more gratifying and far less distressing to record the death of an ecosystem when I'm not witness to the daily deterioration of my own familiar surroundings.  When I woke up my first morning home and checked the usual scene outside my bedroom window, I saw that the tippy top of the thinning walnut tree had been so abruptly denuded in my absence that I laughed out loud.  What a greeting to come home to!  The leaf-ier picture was taken August 2 and it didn't look all that different when I departed on the 15th.  Quite a difference in two weeks!

walnut last on Make A Gif

I feel like this dejected fellow in Syria.  Nature is going away and there's going to be nothing left but bullet-riddled concrete.
To make my homecoming completely disheartening, I found that my friend Catarina, who had been feeding the cats, had left an article from the New York Times on the kitchen counter that was so infuriating I wanted to rip my hair out before I had even read past the headline:  Bare Trees Are a Lingering Sign Of Hurricane Sandy's High Toll.

It was accompanied by this photo:

That's right!  Blame flooding last October for leaves falling off now - even though leaves are falling off of trees everywhere - from POLLUTION.  Grrrrrr.  Here is the article:

When spring came, Ike Sinesi of Mill Island, Brooklyn, noticed something strange about the old weeping cedar on his front lawn. For the first time since it was planted, the powdery blue needles had not returned. His neighbors on this outcropping of land, surrounded on three sides by inlets off Jamaica Bay, saw similar signs. 
The extent of the tree damage from Hurricane Sandy had been unanticipated, a city parks department official said. 
Chunks of dried bark had fallen, lying on the ground like driftwood. Trees that had stood tall and strong for decades leafed into twisted creatures, part green, part scorched. Well into the height of summer, hundreds of branches remained dark and barren. 
In storm-damaged neighborhoods throughout the city, where homes have been repaired, furnishings have been replaced and millions have been spent on recovery, another toll of Hurricane Sandy is becoming starkly clear. Trees, plants and shrubs are dying by the thousands. 
Since the spring, the city parks department has inspected nearly 48,000 trees in flood zones, including coastal areas like south Queens, south Brooklyn, the Rockaways, Coney Island, Staten Island, and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. More than 6,500 trees have shown signs of stress and abnormal leafing. Roughly 2,000 have been presumed dead. And those numbers do not include trees on private property. The city plans to take the dead trees away by the end of the year and have most of them replaced, said Liam Kavanagh, the first deputy commissioner of the parks department.
The total cost is hard to estimate, said Mr. Kavanagh, until contractors’ bids come in.
The extent of the damage was unanticipated, he said. “These are trees that last year for the most part were completely healthy, normal city trees,” said Mr. Kavanagh. “To see so many of them with little or no leaf coverage, and at this time of year, it is surprising.” 
On the Lower East Side, ghostly branches arch over the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. In nearby East River Park, there are dozens of trees, with few or no leaves, some seemingly with only a single strand of garland. One afternoon last week, a toddler played at a sprinkler, a woman read on a bench, and joggers trudged by under trees that evoked winter. 
In Howard Beach, trees in full bloom stand next to lifeless ones. “It does leave a mark,” said Roger Gendron, president of the Hamilton Beach civic association. “You go down certain streets, every other tree looks half dead or dead.” 
Residents in Mill Island, now a sick ward of weeping cherries, withered maples, washed-out shrubs and ailing plants, are worried about the costs to replace the trees they own, some or all of which are not covered by insurance. There is also the loss of the leafy canopies that cooled the streets, and the increased threat of falling limbs. 
“You had the green branches and the trees just covered the street,” said Sol Needle, president of the Mill Island Civic Association. “And who knows if they’re coming back?” 
Mr. Sinesi, a 52-year-old dentist who works out of his home office on East 66th Street, has so far thrown away about a dozen bronze-colored shrubs. 
The replacement plantings have already died. He has kept the evergreen that he and his father planted years ago. And he holds out hope for two towering trees in his backyard that have sprouted a few wayward leaves. “In theory, some of it is still alive,” Mr. Sinesi said. “The question is how much is still alive, and next year whether they will come back worse or better.” 
For now, he said of the grim landscape, “it’s a constant reminder that we’ve still not recovered from the storm.” 
Saltwater is thought to be the culprit. Salt can damage plants, said Bill Logan, a Brooklyn-based arborist, by drying out the root systems. 
Why some plants survived and others did not remains a mystery. Mr. Logan says it depends on the species, and how much stress a plant was under before the storm. Where privately owned plants may be coddled, “a street tree has to fend for itself, and they’re very resilient,” he said. “Until something like this happens.” 
It is hard to say which of the ailing plants and trees might recover. “We’re in the position that perhaps medical doctors were in the Civil War, we don’t have a lot of things we can do,” Mr. Logan said. “It depends how much resilience is left in them.”
The city will monitor thousands of trees through next year, giving them more time to heal before they make a decision on their condition. 
“God bless, but what’s the tree population?” asked Mr. Needle, referring to the city’s plan. 
Trees that are outside the flood zones, like those in parts of Mill Basin, the neighborhood adjoining Mill Island, have not been inspected. Mr. Kavanagh said that anyone with a concern about a tree should call the city information line, 311. 
Sissy Lief, who had four feet of water pour into part of her home, spent about $45,000 to rebuild, she said, much of which she had to borrow from her brother.
Ms. Lief, whose husband of 43 years died last year, recently got an estimate to remove the dead shrubs and trees from her lawn. Fifteen hundred dollars. “I can’t do that,” she said, standing in her doorway overlooking the patchy lawn landscape with its carriage-shaped flower box. “The way it has been for the last year, I can’t cry no more.”
My initial destination in California was Mt. Shasta, which is almost up at the Oregon border.  Here's a picture of the mountain from the town below:
You might think the trees look reasonably healthy but that notion is dispelled once you look at the leaves.
By a fortuitous coincidence, a photographer that I follow just sent out an email of a new collection that consists of photos from a trip he made around the same area - nine years ago to the month - in August of 2004.  Here is one of his views:
There is a noticeable decline in the number and size of glaciers on the mountain compared to the same month this year.  Here is another from 2004:
Beyond that, it's amazing how verdant and green the forest is in his pictures.  Compare them to the images that follow, which I took on a hike up the mountain last week:
I was lucky to find a ride to Mt. Shasta from San Francisco (THANKS Marlowe!) and wasn't paying any attention to the driving, so it wasn't until we were almost in Nevada that I began to suspect we were headed in the wrong direction.  I know.  Dumb!!
As we approached the border, on one side of Route 80, the sky was filled with a gigantic, towering gyre of grey smoke, while on the other it was still bright blue.  The plume was so spectacularly large, we couldn't decide if it might instead be a far-off storm - but as we proceeded we entered the haze.  The smell was sickening and the smoke was so thick we could hardly see the tall casinos when we got to Reno, where we had decided to stay the night.  This is an aerial shot of the fire we passed through, with a map:
Source - Wildfire Today
For a superb collection of fire photographs in Idaho, visit the webpage of Jake Niece:
Isn't this fantastic?  A whole new art form has arisen from the ashes!

This is a timelapse of the epic Rim blaze near Yosemite which, despite the deployment of over 4,000 firefighters, is expected to continue smouldering until rain or snow puts it out.

It wasn't surprising to me that I should have come across a fire (although the sheer size and elemental power of it was shocking) because in a prior visit to Northern California in 2010 (pictures posted here and here), it was perfectly obvious to me then that all the trees and other vegetation are dying and destined to burn.
The whole state is going to end up incinerated, sooner or later, and all I can say is that just about everyone there must be insane not to see it.  One rare article making a clear link between air pollution and tree decline was reproduced on an earlier post, Vertigo.  Here are excerpts:
"The Sierra Nevada forest that is home to the biggest and oldest living things on earth -- the giant Sequoia redwoods -- also suffers a dubious distinction. It has the worst air pollution of any national park in the country."

"Mountaintops that should offer awe-inspiring views of California's geologic grandeur often are muddled by a disorienting gray soup of smog."
"'Ozone levels here are comparable to urban settings such as LA,' said Emily Schrepf of the nonprofit advocacy group the National Park Conservation Association as she beheld the diminished view. 'It's just not right.'"

"This is not the place to take in a whiff of fresh mountain air. Smog is so bad that signs in visitors centers caution guests when it's not safe to hike. The government employment website warns job applicants that the workplace is unhealthy. And park workers are schooled every year on the lung and heart damage the pollution can cause."
"Ozone also is to blame for weakening many stands of the park's Jeffrey and ponderosa pines, leaving telltale yellowing of their long needles. Instead of absorbing carbon dioxide, they soak up ozone through the stoma in their needles, which inhibits photosynthesis. Ozone also stresses young redwood seedlings, which already face challenges to survival."
"Although weakened trees are more susceptible to drought and pests, the long-term impact on the pines and on the giant redwoods that have been around for 3,000 years and more is unclear."

"'It's not a great story to tell, but it's an important story to tell because you can look at us as being the proverbial canary in a coalmine,' said Annie Esperanza, a park scientist who has studied air quality there for 30 years. 'If this is happening in a national park that isn't even close to an urban area, what do you think is happening in your backyard?'"
While at Mt. Shasta I met lots of people who are making far more effort than most to live "sustainably" - which only served to reinforce my conviction that there is no such thing.  As far as I can ascertain, what people actually do is pick and choose rather arbitrarily which unsustainable practices they will avail themselves of, all the while fastidiously condemning people who arbitrarily indulge in their own version of unsustainable habit.  It's not hypocrisy so much as a belief system, and a form of bargaining - if I abstain from coffee or bananas then I am a good person not contributing to ecopocalypse...right?  Or...if I ride a bicycle instead of driving then I am better than you (even though the metals and plastic and manufacturing of my bike are toxic).  Or...if I practice organic permaculture I will set an example for others to follow (but I still have a a smart phone and laptop assembled by slave labor).
As we hiked up the mountain we crossed and recrossed little streams of glacial melt.  Most of the volume of water is underneath the ground, coursing through rocks, making a strange deep rumble.  Only occasionally could you see it breach the sod.
We headed up to the source, at the top of an alpine meadow.
The notion of "wildcrafting" which is popular in Mt. Shasta seems to me to epitomize the almost religious comfort that illusory "sustainable" activities provide.  Let's suppose the wildcrafter comes upon a patch of berries.  The wildcrafter says, I'll only collect one-third of them so there will be plenty left to re-seed.  But soon after, along comes another wildcrafter, and she too picks only one-third of what she sees.  How many wildcrafters would it take before essentially all the berries are gone?  I suppose the last one might think well, there are hardly any left so I may as well take every single one.  Oh, wait.  Isn't that what we've done to the fish?

Nothing that I have seen or learned has changed my opinion that we are going to use up every combustible source of energy we can find, if we don't blow ourselves up in a nuclear conflagration first.

John Muir marveled of Mt. Shasta in an article he published in 1877:  "Go where you will within a radius of from fifty to a hundred miles, there stands the colossal cone of Shasta, clad in perpetual snow, the one grand landmark that never sets."

"Since the close of the ice period, nature has divided Mount Shasta into three distinct botanic zones. The first, which may be called the chaparral zone, has an average width of about four miles, and comprises the greater portion of the sandy flood beds noted above. They are densely overgrown with chaparral from three to six feet high, composed chiefly of manzanita, cherry, chincapin, and several species of ceanothus, forming when in full bloom one of the most glorious spectacles conceivable."

"The continuity of these immense chaparral fields is grandly interrupted by wide swaths of coniferous trees, chiefly sugar and yellow pines, with Douglass spruce, silver-fir, and incense cedar, many specimens of which are over 200 feet high and six or seven feet in diameter at the base."
"Golden-rods, asters, gilias, lilies, and lupines, with a multitude of less conspicuous herbaceous plants, occur in warm openings of the woods, with forms and colors in delightful accord, and enlivened with butterflies and bees."

"Looking at outlines, there, in the immediate foreground, is a smooth green meadow with its crooked stream; then a zone of dark forest, its countless spires of fir and pine rising above one another higher and higher in luxuriant ranks; and above all the great white cone sweeping far into the cloudless blue -- meadow, forest, and mountain inseparably blended and framed in by the arching sky."
It is said that it takes fifty years for the water from the glacier to filter through the ground and emerge at the spring, so perhaps that means it will continue to run for another fifty years.
I thought the wildflowers in the meadow were beautiful until I compared them to this picture from the set taken in 2004 - it's so vibrant, not a dead tree to be seen.
That's Lake Siskiyou far below, where we had a potluck dinner the first night with the core members of Shasta Commons, the environmentally motivated organization that hosted our visit and film showing.
Mount Shasta seems to be a mix of very traditional old-timers -
and decidedly counter-culture immigrants.
This is Mike Sosebee, the film of new friend Marlowe, and Mike's sister Pat.
One morning we all went to a Bhuddist monastery.  After meditating, one of the monks gave me a tour of the gardens and showed me the water lilies she cultivates.
A couple of avid gardeners who attended the film are convinced that chemtrails are destroying ozone in the stratosphere, which is killing plants from excess UV radiation.  I can't agree because I don't see a pattern of foliar damage on more exposed surfaces.  I usually see the opposite - lower, inner foliage is worse - which is consistent with a longer exposure to air pollution.  Nevertheless I looked it up and found something interesting:

Increased tropospheric ozone

"Increased surface UV leads to increased tropospheric ozone. Ground-level ozone is generally recognized to be a health risk, as ozone is toxic due to its strong oxidant properties. At this time, ozone at ground level is produced mainly by the action of UV radiation on combustion gases from vehicle exhausts."

"In 1970 Prof. Paul Crutzen pointed out that emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O), a stable, long-lived gas produced by soil bacteria, from the Earth's surface could affect the amount of nitric oxide (NO) in the stratosphere. Crutzen showed that nitrous oxide lives long enough to reach the stratosphere, where it is converted into NO. Crutzen then noted that increasing use of fertilizers might have led to an increase in nitrous oxide emissions over the natural background, which would in turn result in an increase in the amount of NO in the stratosphere. Thus human activity could have an impact on the stratospheric ozone layer."

Peter Maier, who writes about pollution, sent me an article from Scientific American. Written by Vaclav Smil, a professor of the Environment at the University of Manitoba, the title is Global Population and the Nitrogen Cycle.  Published in 1997, it proves once again that we have known the dimensions of the problem of pollution all along - and consistently choose to do nothing about it.  After all, it is subtitled:  "Feeding humankind now demands so much nitrogen-based fertilizer that the distribution of nitrogen on the earth has been changed in dramatic, and sometime dangerous, ways".  In fact Dr. Smil is a prolific writer, having published numerous articles such as Nitrogen Cycle and World Food Production as well as the book: "Harvesting the Biosphere:  What We Have Taken From Nature".

I sent him the following email:

Dear Dr. Smil,

My question has to do with your paper "Nitrogen cycle and world food production", specifically the following sentence from the abstract:

" the nitrogen cycle and human interference in its functioning should get at least as much attention as our current (and I would argue exaggerated) preoccupation with global climate change."

I am curious if, in light of recent accelerating feedbacks, you are of the same opinion.

He answered:

"Yes, we can live in a warmer world, or cut down carbon emissions by consuming less junk and living more modestly, and eventually we will transit to non-C energy -- but we cannot stop eating, cannot have proteins without N, and right now decent diets for at least 40% of world’s people depend on H-B synthesis of ammonie, so N is much more existentially important than perturbations in C cycle."

Hm!  The abstract of the paper includes the following:  "Global agriculture has become steadily more dependent on synthetic nitrogenous compounds without whose applications we would not be able to produce roughly half of today’s world food.  This high, and rising, dependence exacts a considerable environmental price, as the losses of nitrogen fertilisers lead to contamination of waters, eutrophication, and excessive atmospheric deposition and emissions of a potent greenhouse gas."

The potent greenhouse gas he refers to N2O, nitrous oxide.  This passage is from his 1997 article:

"Yet another unwelcome atmosphere change is exacerbated by the nitric oxide released from microbes that act on fertilizer nitrogen.  This compound (which is produced in even greater quantities by combustion) reacts in the presence of sunlight with other pollutants to produce photochemical smog.  And whereas the deposition of nitrogen compounds from the atmosphere can have beneficial fertilizing effects on some grasslands or forests, higher doses may overload sensitive ecosystems."

What if the entire ecosystem is "sensitive" - and has been "overloaded" by ever higher doses?  To the point of collapse?  It's worth reading the whole article because he gives a very concise explanation as to why nitrogen fertilizer is necessary to build plant proteins that is then available for food for people, why our reliance upon it has increased with our growing numbers, and why it's so bad for the environment.  As of that date he explained that two billion people would not be alive were it not for synthetic fertilizer, and why organic farming can't possibly feed the world's population.

The graph below comes from NASA, with the following commentary:

"Until recently it was believed that poor air quality was an issue of concern only for those living in metropolitan areas. However, recent data from the Aura spacecraft confirm that pollutants created in one region of the globe travel great distances. Aura’s findings are supported through ground observations of air quality."

"Image above: Global maps of ozone levels over a month show ground-level ozone (orange) streaming from the United States, Europe and China (lower panel, July 2005) and ozone from biomass burning in the equatorial zone (upper panel, October 2004). Credit: NASA Aura"

"Because ozone air pollution moves so readily from one area to another, and because some ozone-producing chemicals come from certain species of plants, rural areas can experience very high levels of ozone. Air quality is an issue of concern for everyone, including people living and vacationing in rural environments."

This picture of beans fumigated with ozone is also from NASA.  The following text illuminates the photo:

"Ozone interferes with a plant’s ability to produce and store food. It weakens the plant, making it less resistant to disease and insect infestations. In some sensitive agricultural crops, such as varieties of beans, exposure to ozone air pollution also affects the plant’s ability to reproduce, thus decreasing crop yield (e.g., bean production size and numbers are reduced)."

The next two photos were sent to me by Susan Shamel, of the Global Warming Education Network, from her garden in New Hampshire.
Remember what NASA said - ozone weakens plants making them less resistent to disease and insects?  Could that be why "Cotton Growers see Bugs, Disease Ahead of Harvest?"
Arkansas cotton growers have watched their costs rise this season as bugs fed from the ground up and a fungus descended from above.
Corynespora leaf spot disease emerged late in the season, crop consultant David Hydrick said Thursday.
"I had fields where it just totally waylaid the cotton," he said.
The problems with bugs and disease, coupled with weeks of persistent rain earlier this summer in northeast Arkansas, mean it will be hard for some of the state's cotton growers to make a decent profit, Hydrick said.
Growers were also beset by thrips, a small, winged insect, early in the season and tarnished plant bugs further into the year.
"In the northeastern part of the state, where the majority of our cotton is grown, it was the worst plant bug pressure that we've ever seen," said Gus Lorenz, an entomologist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Travis Faske, a plant pathologist with the university's Division of Agriculture, said growers who were untroubled this year by leaf spot need to be aware of it, especially if the 2014 early growing season is as wet as this year.
The fungus also affects soybeans, cucumbers, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. Faske said that with such a variety of hosts, it is likely the pathogen will be more common in 2014, if the environmental conditions are right.
Could ozone be why fungus is killing a landmark banyan tree in Hong Kong?
“No other banyan tree was as old as this one, none was as big as this one,” chair of Hong Kong University geography department Jim Chi-yung told AFP, explaining that it had existed during the time of the Qing Dynasty.
But authorities were left with no choice but to fell the giant tree, fondly known as ‘King Banyan’, because of the risk it posed to others in the vicinity, he added.
“It has become a locus of disease spread we don’t want it to affect other trees in the vicinity or in the district,” Jim, who also served on a government expert panel that made the decision said.
The tree was diagnosed with the infection in 2009 and other trees in the area were also found infected with earlier this year, a government spokeswoman said.
After I left Mt. Shasta I spent a week with youngest daughter, who is studying at UC Santa Cruz.
These photos are from around the neighborhood where she rents a house with other graduate students.
It would be impossible to exaggerate how dead the trees look.
Everywhere on the ground, the leaves are lying, crumpled.
"The lesson I read in the past is this: that the health of land and water – and of woods, which are the keepers of water – can be the only lasting basis for any civilization’s survival and success."

                                                                     ~ Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress
Some more quotes from the book:

"Things are moving so fast that inaction itself is one of the biggest mistakes. The 10,000-year experiment of the settled life will stand or fall by what we do, and don't do, now. The reform that is needed is not anti-capitalist, anti-American, or even deep environmentalist; it is simply the transition from short-term to long-term thinking. From recklessness and excess to moderation and the precautionary principle."
"The great advantage we have, our best chance for avoiding the fate of past societies, is that we know about those past societies. We can see how and why they went wrong. Homo sapiens has the information to know itself for what it is: an Ice Age hunter only half-evolved towards intelligence; clever but seldom wise."
"We are now at the stage when the Easter Islanders could still have halted the senseless cutting and carving, could have gathered the last trees' seeds to plant out of reach of the rats. We have the tools and the means to share resources, clean up pollution, dispense basic health care and birth control, set economic limits in line with natural ones. If we don't do these things now, while we prosper, we will never be able to do them when times get hard. Our fate will twist out of our hands."
For when you have time, a feature-length film based on the book, with some of the inevitable hopium thrown in - and an interview with the aforementioned Professor Smil!
new survey has revealed yet another of our disruptions to the natural world, which is that pollution is making rivers become more alkaline.
The following is from an article describing the study:

"Human activities are changing the basic chemistry of many rivers in the eastern U.S., with potentially major consequences for urban water supplies and aquatic ecosystems, a University of Maryland-led study has found."
"In the first survey of its kind, researchers looked at long-term records of alkalinity trends in 97 streams and rivers from Florida to New Hampshire. Over time spans of 25 to 60 years, two-thirds of the rivers had become significantly more alkaline and none had become more acidic."
"Alkalinity is a measure of water’s ability to neutralize acid. In excess, it can cause ammonia toxicity and algal blooms, altering water quality and harming aquatic life. Increasing alkalinity hardens drinking water, makes wastewater disposal more difficult, and exacerbates the salinization of fresh water."

"Paradoxically, higher acid levels in rain, soil and water, caused by human activity, are major triggers for these changes in river chemistry, said associate professor Sujay Kaushal of the University of Maryland. Kaushal, a geologist, is the lead author of a paper about the study, published August 26 in the online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology."
"The researchers hypothesize that acid rain, a by-product of fossil fuel burning, acidic mining runoff and agricultural fertilizers speed up the dissolving of surfaces that are naturally high in alkaline minerals. In a process known as chemical weathering, the acid eats away at limestone, other carbonate rocks, and even concrete sidewalks, dissolving alkaline particles that wash off into streams and rivers."
"Alkalinity has risen over the past several decades in rivers that provide water for Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Atlanta, and other major cities, the researchers reported. Also affected are rivers that flow into water bodies already harmed by excess algae growth, such as the Chesapeake Bay."
"The extent of the change is “amazing. I did not expect that,” said noted ecologist Gene Likens, a co-discoverer of acid rain in 1963, who collaborated with Kaushal on this research."
“This is another example of the widespread impact of human impacts on natural systems which is, I think, increasingly worrisome,” said Likens, a University of Connecticut distinguished research professor and founding director of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. “Policymakers and the public think acid rain has gone away, but it has not.'”
"Beginning in the mid-1990s after Congress amended the Clean Air Act, new federal regulations have reduced the airborne pollutants that cause acid rain. “It may be that these are legacy impacts of acid rain in addition to mining and land use,” Kaushal said. “The acid rain problem is decreasing. But meanwhile there are these lagging effects of river alkalinization showing up across a major region of the U.S. How many decades will river alkalinization persist? We really don’t know the answer.'”
"The team focused on eastern rivers, which are often important drinking water sources for densely populated areas and have decades’ worth of water quality records."
"Much of the eastern U.S. is also underlain by porous, alkaline limestone and other carbonate rocks, making the region more prone to the types of water chemistry changes that the researchers found. This is especially true in the Appalachian Mountains where soils are thin, steep slopes cause erosion, and acid rain from smokestack industries have had a major impact on forests and streams."
"Water alkalinity has increased the fastest in areas underlain by carbonate rocks, at high elevations, and where acid rainfall or drainage was high. The researchers also found that the chemical weathering of these carbonate rocks adds to the carbon burden in rivers and streams, in a trend that parallels rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere."
Where the trees aren't losing leaves, they are turning color prematurely, just like on the East Coast.
The eucalyptus are turning bright red.
After they turn red they fall off, leaving thin crowns.
Little young trees and big old trees alike are in decline.
One yard had several fruiting trees - persimmon, lemon and other citrus.
A woman came out of the house and offered me a tangerine to eat.
I thought she was very sweet to be so generous, and also suffering from some sort of dementia not to notice that her trees were plainly in their death throes.
This is a chestnut tree, which I remember from the last time I walked here, two years ago.  The owner was outside that day and quite proud of this tree, which at the time looked sickly to me.  I'm pretty sure it was being watered and yet it has all but given up the ghost.
I remember thinking this cedar looked poorly as well, and now look - it is the most bizarre flaming red!  Dead as dead can be and yet they have let it stand there, a mute zombie.  The hedge around it is dying too, just not quite as fast.
When viewed close up, it has bare branches and holes.
I could take pictures of every tree in Santa Cruz, and not one of them would be healthy, and what would that prove?  Oh!  The drought!  So instead I went down the hill to a nursery.
Here it is.  Everything being watered.
Annual ornamentals in the front, and larger perennials in the back.
I have nothing to say other than the leaves in this nursery look not one iota better than those planted in yards.  They are scorched, bronzed, shriveled, chlorotic, stippled, and necrotic.
So you can just scroll through until we go to the beach.

Youngest daughter had a meeting at UC Davis, so on the way back from there we meandered around Point Reyes.
Near the beach the fog was just beginning to lift.  I loved the incredible colors on the dunes.
- even though I was informed the ice plant is an invasive.
The National Park is huge and there are a number of historic working ranches in the fields between the shore and the forested areas.
This clump of cypress was all that was left of one of them.
There were no buildings remaining here - only the dying trees.
Last time I was in Santa Cruz a forester told me that they are all diseased and expected to disappear.
Meanwhile they make some interesting formations.
The pink lilies were in bloom when we were there.

Even though the cypress are supposed to have a disease that is killing them, the eucalyptus is dying apace.
One skeleton that fell over is colonized by lichen.

While youngest daughter was in her meeting I set out to walk through the UC Davis Arboretum.
The lot where we parked is lined with many oaks that are dying.  Of course, there was a completely dead something in front of the building she went into.
The oaks are covered in galls - wasp egg casing.
I have never seen so many in one place.
The leaves looked uniformly terrible.
There weren't enough leaves on this tree at the entrance for me to tell what kind it is.

The shrubs behind the bench are hydrangea - always at least somewhat shaded.  This is why I don't think UV radiation is directly responsible.
Interveinal loss of chlorophyll make these leaves look white.

Classic progressive ozone damage - the older the leaves are the worse they look.

Looking at these three specimens - On the left, a very tiny tree almost completely dead.
On the far right a ginko, that looks fairly green until you check the leaves, which are each rimmed with yellow.
The tall dawn redwood in the center is in shabby shape.

Another, just beyond is similarly distressed.

A passerby told me that the University, in its perverse wisdom, had somehow diverted the water flow to prevent flooding and is now left with this stagnent, hideous puddle.

It's not difficult to find evidence that trees have had to be removed.

This shrub had one flower and miniscule leaves.

This flowering shrub has leaves that are albino.

This was my favorite tree.  It's really, really huge.  The trees past it are mature  - that's how big it is.
You can see by the picnic table that the trees beyond the big oak are themselves quite large.
Sadly, looking up the trunk there are clumps of dead leaves and large gaps in the canopy.
There are also streaks on the bark from oozing, probably from fungal infection.  Remember that shrub behind the trunk.
Even new leaves are turning brown.
This pair of pictures are taken from the center looking out.

Here's the shrub just past the oak.
This sign was on a large, locked shed.  I'll bet they are throwing tons of chemicals at these plantings - insecticides, fungicides and anti-bacterial compounds.  Since UC Davis is known for its agricultural study program, I have no doubt that there is a strong belief in better growing through chemicals, and not the slightest interest in air pollution.

The tree below is supposed to be a pine.

But...drought, right?  Well, you'd think if that were the problem, the exotic plants that don't require much water would be at least somewhat better off, wouldn't you?  Like cactus?  Nope.  The cactus is falling over too.  And that concludes our tour of the graveyard that is known as California.
Now for a few moments of cognitive dissonance!
 We went to the world famous Woodhouse Chocolate shop in trendy St. Helena.
 Youngest daughter is pensively trying to decide which kind to choose.

 This is the array we picked out for my friends Bob and Nancy, who put us up for the night in Petaluma.
 They have the coolest dog ever.

I came across a TED talk by Margaret Heffernen, who wrote the book:  Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril.  I guess I shouldn't have expected a "Professor of Entrepreneurship" whose primary focus is on inspiring businesses to become more efficient to understand that trees, and our own species, are in dire peril...even so, her response to my letter struck me with the same ferocious absurdity as the sight of the black walnut tree that began this blogpost.  If you don't see the screamingly hysterical irony in what she wrote, this isn't the blog for you.  Begin with a laugh, end with a laugh!  Enjoy her presentation, embedded below - or another titled, Dare to Disagree.

Dear Ms. Heffernan,

I just watched your excellent talk and wanted to say thank you!  Much like the people you discuss, I have been waging a lonely effort to shake people out of their willful blindness about trees.  Tree are dying prematurely, all around the world, from the background level of air pollution.  In a way it should seem perfectly obvious, but I think the implications are so frightening, and the only way to stop the trend is such a challenge to modern lifestyles, that even people who should know like foresters, nurserymen and scientists are willfully blind.

I write a regular blog, and also published a book that everyone has ignored (ha!) and guest posted a summary update at Greg Laden's Science blog, if you are interested.

Thanks again so much, looking forward now to reading your book.


Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, NJ

Her reply:

Thanks for writing Gail. And good luck with the trees. We try to plant about a dozen every year.


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