Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Conservation in the Real World

Kareiva began by recalling the environmental "golden decade" of 1965-75, set in motion by the scientist Rachel Carson. In quick succession Congress created the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act---which passed the Senate unanimously.

Green influence has been dwindling ever since. A series of polls in the US asked how many agreed with the statement, "Most environmentalists are extremists, not reasonable people." In 1996, 32% agreed. In 2004, 43% agreed. Now it's over 50% who think environmentalists are unreasonable.

Peter Kareiva: Conservation in the Real World - The Long Now

Some interesting points in this summary of his talk.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reflections on Water

Here are a few photos I took wandering around the waterfront of the old town in Montreal. The blue and yellow tents are Cirque du Soleil. Some of the reflected color is from graffiti. I find water and reflections fascinating.

(click to view photos)

Note: These are all quite tweaked in Lightroom - boosting the contrast and saturation a lot. Here are the before and after versions of one of them:

China's Unthinkable Population Problem

China’s Unthinkable Population Problem - Long Views: The Long Now Blog

We struggle to lower the birth rate, and then as soon as we do, the economists panic because their myth of infinite growth is threatened. You get, OMG, an aging population that isn't as good as consumer fodder and actually wants services back from the economy.

Countries, like Italy and Malaysia, try to increase their birth rate by giving financial incentives. And if they succeed, then what? About face and panic about the population problem?

I applaud China for not giving in to the economists and for maintaining their one child policy. It's those same economists that got us into our current bind.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Great Places don't have bottled water

Last night I went to the Spacing Road Show event put on by Great Places Saskatoon. It was an interesting discussion.

But I was disappointed to see the speakers / panel with bottled water. Here's the email I sent them:
Thanks for the event last night, it was interesting. 
One small suggestion - don't use bottled water for the speakers and panel. Even if the bottles are recycled/recyclable/compostable there is still a lot of energy involved in manufacturing and transporting them. All to get water that could just as well come from the tap. (and hopefully not served in disposable cups) 
I realize that Great Places focus is not strictly environmental, but obviously the environment plays a large role in great places. 
People attending these kinds of events look at them as good examples. If they see you using bottled water, they are going to think it's ok.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chebeague Island

I love the ocean. Maybe it's something to do with living on the prairies, after all, I love the mountains too. Or maybe it goes back to childhood summer holidays on Vancouver Island with many happy hours on the beach.

To see a little more of New England and to get to the ocean, Shelley and I took the train from Boston to Portland (Maine) and then the ferry to Chebeague Island where we stayed at the Chebeague Island Inn. The inn is expensive, but we figured it balanced out with our (free) nights of camping.

It was a nice quiet contrast to the hustle and bustle of Boston. The inn is a lovely place to stay. It has a great verandah to sit and look a the view, an attractive lounge, and a great restaurant (the only "fancy" restaurant on the island). The menu doesn't have any vegetarian main courses, but we threw ourselves on the mercy of the chef and he created wonderful meals for us. The deserts were also great, especially the homemade gelato and ice cream.

The island isn't very big, just four or five miles long. The inn provides bicycles and it's an easy ride around. There isn't a lot to do or see. (There is a small golf course right next to the inn, but we're not golfers.) But if I've got the beach, I don't need much more - I can spend hours poking around finding shells and crabs and watching the birds. When the tide was out we walked over to Little Chebeague Island. (Where you can camp.)

We didn't have much time in Portland, just enough to have lunch as we passed through to and from the ferry. On the way there we ate at the Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro, and on the way back at the Olive Cafe. Both were good. (Thanks to Yelp and its iPhone app for helping us discover them.)

(click to view photos)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pedestrians and Falcons

On my way home I stopped in Albany instead of Schenectady. Due to track maintenance I had to take the bus from Boston, rather than the train. That's fine except the bus terminal is in Albany, and the train station is in Rensselaer, on opposite sides of the river. There is a bridge, but it's a freeway with massive cloverleafs (cloverleaves?) either end. Shelley and I had come this way heading for our hike. Google maps had shown a walking route across the bridge, but its walking info isn't always accurate. The bus terminal is under the freeway overpasses and we couldn't see any way to get up there. And it wouldn't surprise me if there was no allowance for those pesky pedestrians. After all, they just get in the way of the supremely important traffic. I asked if there was a way to walk across the bridge and they said no, you had to take a taxi. Which we did, but the taxi had no meter and charged us $15 for a two minute ride. To add insult to injury, from the taxi we could see what looked like a walkway across the bridge.

This time I had time to explore and found the entrance to the walkway just a short distance from the bus terminal, connected, logically (for a change) to the paths along the river. As it turned out, google maps was accurate.

In case anyone googles for this, here are some directions: from the bus, head towards the river, past the Holiday Inn. Take the underpass at the end of Broadway. The walkway starts just on the river side of the underpass. On the other side of the river (Rensselaer) you need to make a u-turn off the end of the ramp to get to the small bridge across the train tracks to the station. It's an easy 10 or 15 minute walk.

On my way across the bridge a pair of Peregrine falcons were swooping and circling, making alarm cries. I'm not sure what they were upset about, but there was some construction on the bridge. Maybe it had disturbed or was close to their nest on the bridge? I stopped to watch their flying skills from up close for a change. Beautiful birds and one of the (rare) conservation success stories since they were almost wiped out by DDT and other pesticides, but have since made a good recovery.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Six Days on the AT

Our first day of hiking had a little bit of everything. We started by taking the bus from Rutland to Manchester. Then we had to find our way a couple of miles through and out of town to the start of the trail. I was glad to see the trail actually existed since all we had to go by was a line on on outdated topo map. The morning was already hot and humid with towering thunder clouds on the horizon. We were glad to get off the sunny streets and into the deep shade of the forest.

We didn't see any other people except a couple coming down the trail - a lucky meeting for us because they told us the trail we'd been planning to use to connect to the AT (Appalachian Trail) was impassable. (A windstorm had blown down an area of trees and the beavers had built damns that flooded it.) Luckily, there was another alternative trail we could take.

As the afternoon progressed, the distant rumbles of thunder gradually grew closer. When the rain finally arrived it was light and we were too hot to put on rain gear. But it turned into a downpour and we had no choice. Through the worst of it we huddled under the biggest tree we could find (not very big) as marble size hail fell. Once it slowed down we continued hiking. Needless to say we got pretty wet. But it turned out to be the only rain we'd get on the hike, so we can't complain.

We considered stopping at Bourne Pond but decided to continue on to Branch Pond. It had stopped raining by then and we found a good campsite by the pond. Unfortunately, the black flies liked the site (and us) too so we retreated inside the tent. It was still hot enough that we just hung out in wet clothes and gradually dried out.

Day two went smoother except for an annoyance that plagued me for the rest of the hike. Soon after we started hiking my left knee started to feel a little "funny". I thought it would be fine after warming up. But instead it started to give twinges of pain if I moved it the wrong way. It got steadily worse. Eventually I told Shelley I didn't think I wanted to walk on it any more that day.

Of course, I'd planned our hike to be away from roads and towns so at this point it was 20 miles to the next town and 20 miles back to where we started. Not a pleasant thought if my knee got much worse. On the positive side, I'd had a similar problem on my Lake Superior hike and it had improved after a few days. And it wasn't the joint - I could put my full weight on it - it just hurt to bend/lift the knee. It seemed like a tendon/ligament issue.

The next day I took some ibuprofen and borrowed one of Shelley's trekking poles and we started hiking. It still hurt but it didn't seem to be getting any worse so we kept going. As long as I could keep the leg straight it was fine. That was easy when the trail was smooth and level, but most of the time we were going up or down, over rocks and fallen logs. My good leg definitely got a workout compensating. Thankfully the knee gradually improved and by the end of the hike was much better. We went a little slower, but we still did the 20 km per day that we had planned.

A lush green forest overflowing with life is one of the most beautiful sights. And the green of new leaves with the sun filtering through is one of the most beautiful colors. I'm amazed at how much forest there is here (in the Appalachians). Above the populated valleys, the hills are totally covered with trees. Of course, it's all been logged before, multiple times, so the trees are relatively small - the big ones were 12 or 18 inches in diameter. In the towns you can find some older trees that are 3 feet or more in diameter. The original old growth forest must have been impressive.

Although you don't get many views hiking through the forest, we were glad of the cool shade since it was quite warm and humid. And the occasional views were all the same anyway - rolling hills covered in trees!

We saw a variety of wildlife - deer, beaver, porcupine, salamanders, garter snakes, tadpoles, frogs, and various birds (mostly heard but not seen). A porcupine visited our campsite the last evening just as it was getting dark. He approached with a rolling gait, stopped a couple of times to eye us, then continued on to a tree that grew at an angle. He climbed up the tree to where the leaves and branches were, about 50 feet off the ground and stayed there all night - munching away, judging by the sounds. He was gone by the time we got up in the morning. The salamanders were Eastern Newts. We saw a bright orange terrestrial juvenile "red eft" and several olive green aquatic adults.

The AT itself is well marked with white "blazes" (rectangular paint marks) on the trees. The trail is even marked when it goes through towns. We didn't run into many people on the trail, a handful each day, but there were usually people at the campsites and shelters. We tried to find campsites away from the standard spots but it was harder than expected in the thick forest.

Overall it was a great hike, definitely recommended if you're in the area.

(click to view photos)

* A lot of these photos are by Shelley