Jan 29, 2009

Flying and London Free-ness

I haven't been writing as much lately. Not here, not elsewhere. What have I been doing? Listening to way too much Johnny Cash. GIS and remote sensing. Skipping lectures on lakes. Organizing at the Library House. And thinking about how to get out of flying to Tenerife with my conservation course.

I'm pretty serious about flying. (Some might say I'm pretty serious about everything but they just don't get me.) I drove from SF to Atlanta before flying to London because it's better in terms of carbon output. I avoided flying for about 2 years before my flight here in September after calculating my carbon footprint for the previous year. Even as a vegetarian cyclist who doesn't shop, I exceeded the average American output of carbon in 2006 because I flew several times. I'll remind you that if we all want to live like the average American we need 5 planet Earth's at this point. As we only have one, I thought I might need to curtail my personal emissions.

My last module on this course includes a trip to Tenerife, which is about 5 hours each way. We're staying for a 4 day field study of 3 habitats within a protected area. Our coursework will be to write a management plan for the protected area. I get the point in leaving the UK, leaving the temperate zone. I like the idea of the course, it sounds great! But I have major ethical issues with flying to Tenerife for 4 days for an exercise.

I spoke with one of my professors yesterday and he was really nice about it. I think we could come up with an alternative, but I'm sure it's going to suck. I might have to take the sucky alternative though, because I can't picture myself in Tenerife. I've got a major block on this and it's preventing me from moving forward on my current coursework. I flew here. I'm going to fly home to do my dissertation (still hunting for projects if you're a researcher in the West I'm interested in invasives, fire, restoration, and riparian habitats ... and way too much other stuff). Jan, my professor, thinks we can work it out so that I don't have to come back to London to do my analysis, which has always been my hope. But if that fell through, you can imagine that I'd have 6 long flights in less than a year if I go to Tenerife. Even 4 feels like too much.

It feels awkward to say we're ok to fly because it's for the greater good or whatever. That we're going to be more prepared to conserve things if we do this. I don't think we should be overly consumptive to learn how to protect other things. One of our exam topics is climate change in conservation... maybe we can just skip the flight and that would be a testament to our understanding of the subject?!

In other news, there's a Mini Eco-Fair in Camberwell this weekend at Funky Munky on Camberwell Church Road (number 25, upstairs). This is organized by the People's Republic of Southwark each month. February's will be at the Library House on Saturday the 28th. I'm going to help by organizing a Really Really Free Market. I'm looking forward to this as a way of extending the work of my friends and collectives in SF, particularly in memory of my friend, Kirsten Brydum, who was killed 4 months ago in New Orleans. Her birthday was last week so it feels positive to finally have a date and home for an RRFM in London. This Saturday there will be a Really Really Free Market in SF, per usual. Hit it up from 1-5pm at El Balazo/Sub Mission at 2187 Mission St @ 18th.

Jan 24, 2009

The Invasive Species Diet

Diet is huge in ecology. Predators, prey, produce. Diet is huge in ecological lifestyles. Slow food, local food, organic food, vegetarian food. I like all these movements and count myself an adherent of each to some degree. I’m personally most committed to vegetarianism, which is as much a spiritual expression of my devotion to animals as an ecologically motivated lifestyle. Whatever moves you, right?

I have a wicked, smart friend who's largely motivated by ecological concerns. He loves all creatures but he likes to eat meat. Luke refers us to the ecological diet, which draws mostly from localism and slow food. Rez, another friend of mine, questioned the wisdom of his vegetarianism when living in Scandinavia, where he had to eat shipped, processed protein out of packages because you just cannot grow the grains and veggies to sustain yourself all year. Yeah, you’re not going to find me telling Norwegians that they should be vegan because that’s probably not sustainable on a mass scale. You also won’t find this snowophobe in Scandinavia or any other place that’s going to force me to choose sustainability or vegetarianism. I’d be in constant conflict with myself.

In California, vegetarianism is logical, and more sensible than wasting water on alfalfa and irrigated pasture. I think by the time I get back to the bounty of California, I’ll be well over apples and carrots, ready for some GRAPES. In other words, Cali's a great place to be a vegetarian locavore.

When I think of the conditions under which I’d eat meat, I always return to game. Like most southern tomboys, I’ve been deer hunting, squirrel hunting, frogging, and fishing. I’ve skinned, scaled, and gutted my dinner. Under the tutelage of my dad and grandpa, this was easy as a youth. I have no regrets. Those animals lived free and died under somewhat natural predator-prey interactions. We ate the meat. I don’t like the deer head on my daddy’s wall. I hate the hooves that hold his gun. Trophies are weird. But yeah, hunting for meat, particularly the invasive white-tailed deer in the South, well that’s ok with me.

Ok, this is a long, evasive pre-amble to a new dietary fad that I’m advocating. Take it with a grain of local salt and note the disclaimer below.

The invasive species diet is a new ecological diet for those who want to bioremediate at dinner. You can do this as a vegetarian or omnivore, depending on your tastes. Luke inspired this brainwave with all his chatter about the ecological diet. Hell, if you want to eat for the environment, I’m suggesting you really get into it.

Eat weeds.

Blake was munching on nasturtium on New Years Day and you should too (if you’re in SF). I also recommend radish seeds (above the dog urine line), and fennel for cooking. If you can devise a recipe for French broom, you’re my hero. I'd derive such satisfaction from chopping it up and eating it after wrenching those taproots out of the ground. Think kudzu could be integrated into traditional southern delicacies? Has it ever been fried? Ideas for Rhodedendron?

Ok, for sure, not all invasives are actually edible. I'd be warry of putting something as evil as ehrharta into my body. I’d steer clear of advising people to eat Cape Ivy since it’s so easy to spread and this diet is truly about being a responsible consumer. And don’t sample the hemlock in SF either. It’s definitely poisonous. In fact, do your own research into what’s edible. And don’t plant weeds to eat them. Harvest them responsibly where they already exist instead. For instance, I’d leave some of even the Himalayan blackberries for the birds of SF.

And yeah, there are weedy animals out there … I’m sure this is going to be popular. When I was a kid, we had the tail of a grey squirrel in the kitchen drawer. Trophies are weird, but the point is, those critters are edible, and highly invasive in the UK. I’m not sure how you’d kill one in London as shooting them is out of the question in such a densely populated area, but get creative and humane. They’re chunky over here too, much more meat than in the southeast of the US. And the pigeons here look like chickens, maybe they’re not too diseased to eat? Then there are the goats of Wales. White tailed deer in large swaths of the US. Zebra mussels anyone? Pigs on nearly any island.

I’m almost serious here. Eat for the environment. Eat locally. Eat wild meat. Eat for habitat.
Eat invasive.

***** Do your own research. These plants and animals may not be invasive in your region, in which case, you shouldn’t eat them. They may kill you. Don’t consume the specifics of this piece: it’s an idea, not a menu. *******

Jan 18, 2009

Happy Dr. King Day!


Were he alive, Dr. King would be 80 years old today. We like to celebrate this day in Atlanta, as Dr. King’s legacy is visible on our very streets, in our very classrooms. I'm not sure what it'll be like here on MLK Day, so I made a flier for my friends. Most of the text is included here.

2009 was born of urgency and a desperation for change. We have limited time to alter our futures with respect to climate change and environmental scarcity (food and water). Our struggles for environmental and social justice demand a diversity of tactics, of which direct action must be one.

These quotes are taken from Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963.

“You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored…. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.”

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”

“[T]hough I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label....
[T]he question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?:”

And also, from Van Jones, “Dr. King linked the solutions of civil rights, peace and economic opportunity. We must link the solutions of social justice, peace and ecological sanity. Our new dream must uplift the people -- and the planet, too. This is the calling of our time.”

Jan 14, 2009

A Tree Grows in McLaren ... I Hope

In 2007, I worked with Nature in the City, Art-Eco , Habitat Potential, the Natural Areas Program, and a whole bunch of other amazing nature lovers on Earth Day in McLaren Park. One thing I organized that day was the planting of a coast live oak tree in honor of slain Bayview teen, Antwanisha Morgan. Her family and church came to Earth Day to clear the site and plant this sapling. Like Antwanisha, the coast live oak is a San Francisco native. It's a hardy tree once established. It provides nutritious acorns for wildlife, previously for the Ohlone tribes of the area.

I talk about that tree a lot on this blog. I had to water it every 4 days from its planting through October of 2007. It was a small sapling, vulnerable to the dry, hot summer. We planted it in the off-season because that's when Earth Day falls.

I love that darn tree. Watering the tree all summer, I encouraged the growth of invasives that I removed regularly to prevent the suffocation of the oak. I decided to install a few other natives to take up the ground cover sought by the invasives. I put in aster, buckwheat, and a few others, all provided by Greg Gaar's native nursery at the Haight Ashbury Neighbhorhood Center recycling center.

Sometimes I thought I resented tending the tree. I'd write it into my makeshift wall calendar. Erase it. Grudgingly strap a 3 gallon water cooler jug to the rack of my bike and take off. By the time I was crouching to the dog water fountain in McLaren, my mood had always shifted. No matter how rushed I felt, there was something holistic about maintaining that tree. Water on my shoulder, I'd approach the tree with my eyes half shut, expecting its destruction or browning leaves at times. It was nearly always in good shape, though the buckwheat was destroyed.

I'm really far away. SF rains have started. I know that the tree made it through the summer. Blake and Molly have helped water it at times.

Now someone needs to go weed it.

The rain will give rise to a wave of wild oat grass and potentially more threatening radish. There are a few plants, including the oat grass, radish, and mustard that may actually shade this little tree out. They have to go! This tree needs to breathe and see the sun. There is a little rock ring around the tree, about 18 inches in diameter, which encloses the understory I planted. It should probably be slightly expanded at this point.

Anyone out there comfortable enough with their plant id to weed around this tree?

Jan 8, 2009

Internal Almanac

There are headlines in the papers about how cold it is in the UK right now. I’d like to agree that it’s crazy cold but what do I know? I’ve got no internal almanac for these coordinates. However, the headlines of my body are bold as well: “Find More Layers”. The multitude of convertible pants crowding my wardrobe seems optimistic. Luckily they’re compact and quite comfy with thermals underneath.

Grappling with this cold snap, I got to thinking of SF. Blake pointed the webcam out the front window last week (trying to give me a view of our neighbor’s giant SUV, a fixture on our street). I was startled to see rain slick streets. I’m loosing touch.

Working outside for 8 years, I had an attuned internal almanac for 37 N, 122 W, SF that is. I could, with surprising accuracy, keep track of precipitation and extreme temperatures based on my time outside on my bike, walking dogs, or pulling weeds. It didn’t hurt that we don’t really have heat in the apartment. In March I could tell you how many big storms we’d had, how many nights of frost. Ok that last one is easy, I know. In summer I could tell you how often the temp got out of the mid 80’s and for how long at a stretch.

And these things come up in mild SF, where the majority of the population goes from building to transport to building, living increasingly indoor lives. We all get dragged into these super weird conversations about the weather because the SF populous goes long stretches with temps between 55-75, helping it forget that we also get ‘real weather’. These conversations are actually pretty funny. I’ve found myself researching the monthly temps in an effort to prove that it hasn’t actually been that hot for that long or whatever the claim is. At times, Blake and I’ve actually banned discussions of the weather because I won’t take seriously his assessments of the temperature as he spends about 15 minutes a day outside, waiting on a bus.

The extremes don’t flip me out. If I can gauge their frequency and duration, I’m usually ok. I don’t feel the need to bike up Twin Peaks and scream, “CLIMATE CHANGE” every time the temp hits 95. But sometimes I get nervous. I was pretty dry in the winters of 2007 and 2008, and not because I wasn’t outside a hell of a lot. Consecutive low rain winters give me the jitters in largely arid Cali. I can’t estimate Sierra snowpack from SF so I follow the media and relevant agencies with a bit of nail biting.

I’m as obsessed with wildfire monitoring as I am with snowpack. I know they seem distant, but if you consider the timing and the systems that ultimately drive them, you might see the connection. By May we have some idea of what snowpack is going to be like in the Sierra, and thus how much water we can waste. By early June we’re looking at fuel load and vegetation moisture content to predict the threat of wildfires. And I’m one of those geeks who likes to know that the 2008 snowpack was at 62 percent of normal last May. Or that the moisture content of our vegetation averages 20% in June but was already at 5% in June of 2008. And the summer burned.

As I contemplate my next moves (I’ll let you know when I do), I wonder if these strong land ties await me somewhere. I wonder if I have the staying power to develop a new, strong love for a place other than SF. Even as I consider leaving my course and London by extension, I have no desire to go straight back to SF. My anxiety about an incomplete internal almanac notwithstanding, I know I need more time away. For now I’ll just have to keep checking the dashboard on my Mac, which still gives me the weather in SF. Perhaps my brain can catalogue a bit of the info my body would have processed.

Jan 6, 2009

City Girl Going Back to London


I'm leaving Cornwall after two weeks of non-London life. I'm quite ready to return to my urban lifestyle. I've loved my long walks with Ester, but I generally like city living. It's been great to have a break from London, particularly all the cars. It takes about 7 minutes to get to the awesome footpaths in Penryn. We don't have those in London.

Human history is deep on this island. I appreciate it in the city, where the odd plaque stating who lived at this address in the 18th century makes me smile. But when I leave the city, I pack my US perception of 'the country', of the wild. I try not to romanticize wilderness in my explorations of geography and conservation. I'm not a John Muir style absolutist. But there's no denying that roaming the woods of Georgia, exploring caves in Missouri, and getting lost along coasts, deserts and forests of the West has fostered in me a desire to escape human influence in the wild. As I walk and walk and walk with Ester, I feel myself looking for that sort of solitude, that level of escape, with all its challenges and threats. But this land is conquered, domesticated.

What's survived is amazing and a testament to land stewards on this island. But I have to consider what's been lost as well. I do that with thoughts of Georgia's deforestation. I think of California disappearing under concrete. North America is just one huge island. With ever increasing population and industry, I wonder how we're going to avoid domesticating our diverse wildlands. England is beautiful, but I want California wild, not divided by hedgerows.

I'm not saying that this densely populated island isn't worth conservation or unique in its own right. I devoted myself to urban habitat restoration and the density of the UK was a pull for me to study here. There's some nifty stuff here. And seeing winter has been great. (But it's cold as fuck now and I've had enough. Winter be gone. Please.) This rain rich region certainly held greater diversity in the past. I find myself wondering to what degree we'll follow that same pattern of biodiversity loss in the US, in the world.

I hear we might see oil rigs off the Cali coast in as few as three years. Really? That just sounds like a crazy continuation of a deadly cycle to me. I've started thinking of the world in terms of human created hazards lately. I might map it but it would take a bit of research and I theoretically have papers to write so don't hold your breath. But basically I was thinking of the world in terms of paved areas, massive waste sites, mines (think mountain top removal), dam reservoirs, desertification, deforestation, etc. Basically, mapping large scale land scars. With hyperbole. For now it's a head piece.