Check out my piece on interpreting climate change through human stories at National Park sites, published earlier this month on the National Council on Public History "History@Work" blog:
An article about a climate lawsuit uses a photo of power plant bellowing clouds from one of several smokestacksThe photo is clearly meant to illustrate an image of pollution and the negatives of coal. What the caption fails to mention? These smokestacks are in the middle of a National Park site.Read More
Trevien Stanger , a writer out of Vermont, published a poetic piece in yesterday's Burlington Free Press on the importance of understanding watersheds as a crucial part of your local identity. We identify by region, city, state, nation, but if we could better identify with our watersheds, we might take ownership over their cleanliness and functionality.
The piece is heavy on literature and somewhat light on content, but it makes a beautiful case for understanding and accepting accountability for the watershed in which you live.
Thanks to G. Francese for sending this my way!
Check out this resource, developed by TIME magazine, that takes 18 years of satellite data to create time lapse images. Zoom into coastal areas for a quick and convincing lesson on the dynamic nature of coastal systems. Coastal geology moves at rates actually visible to the human eye, and this satellite imagery allows you to see those changes in just a few seconds.
Some great places to zoom in to see this:
- Cape Cod, Massachusetts - you can literally (or littorally? ha?) see sand moving if you zoom in near the Province Lands. Or, check out the area in Pleasant Bay and Monomoy Island near the Cape's elbow -- some really dramatic changes.
- Padre Island, Texas
- Outer Banks of North Carolina - note here that there are some lines on the barrier islands that remain fairly constant where roads have been built. Interesting look at how roads don't stop movement, just change it, leading to often exorbitant maintenance expenses/
- Jekyll Island, Georgia - the coolest part on this one is the changes in the marshlands behind the barrier islands.
- Manhattan, New York: good example of a coastal ecosystem that stays static due to human building. Nice contrast to the coastal systems that are allowed to respond -- overengineered coastal systems have been robbed of their ability to respond to weather, wind, and waves.
Any other suggestions of places where you can see dramatic coastal change in this timelapse map?
Why did the hot dog stand became the standard bearer boogeyman for post-WWII coastal overdevelopment? Did all hot dog stands symbolize the same things? And did any hot dog stand references actually refer to hot dogs?Read More
Even the least politically savvy among us can probably guess that politicians do not write their own jokes. Amazing, when you think about it, since the quality of these riffs remains pretty low. Because political humor can come out stilted and awkward even in real time, looking at historical jokes -- ones the didn't even make the cut, possibly -- is a gold mine of uncomfortable humor.
I came across these 50 year-old prepared jokes in a stack of dusty papers at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. I can picture Kennedy sitting back and thinking through which ones to share, which ones didn't meet the cut.
None of the jokes are that good. Take this one: "It's obvious this is a non-partisan trip -- I'm not going to a single state I carried." Good attempt, but it looks like the result of a political staffer spending too much time in campaign mode.
My favorites are the ones that are cynical about Congress. We always want to say that we're at the worst point in history, that Congress is the most dysfunctional, that our elected officials are as bad as it gets, but, let's face it, things are always pretty grim in politics. Here are a few possibilities for congressional digs that Kennedy's staff included:
- "This is supposed to be the largest roll-earth dam in the world -- but it's nothing compared to some of the obstacles I've encountered in Washington."
- "Damming this river is quite an undertaking -- although the Senate did pretty well in stopping the flow of words the other day."
There are even some California-specific jokes at the end: "Pat Brown and I are about to set off an explosion. It won't be the last one he sets off this year . . . to prove to the press (or the GOP) how friendly I am, I'm letting them stand as close to the site of the explosive as they want to."
Perhaps most revealing as to the fine lines and low standards of political humor is the fact that it's unclear whether the first line is a joke or an introduction. It reads simply, "Mr. Chairman, my fellow non-partisans."
I'm guessing it's a joke. And if it is, I want that job.
A Marin Country (California) columnist committed to words yesterday what a lot of dairy farmers on Point Reyes must be thinking: What does the defeat of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company mean for them?
While most of Point Reyes National Seashore is not Congressionally designated as a wilderness area, there certainly are still some activists and those of a certain mind within the National Park Service who fundamentally oppose agriculture and parkland coexisting.
However, there are others -- plenty, I would even say -- who do not want to divorce all agriculture from parkland, and many more parks whose on-the-ground practices show a longstanding cooperation with and implicit approval of agricultural aims.
At Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, farmers have been allowed to harvest hay from the battlefield for the past century. It saves the NPS money on lawn mowing and helps to keep fields in their battlefield-era state. At Cape Cod National Seashore, towns and individuals aggressively practice aquaculture in marshes and harbors, growing clams, oysters, and catching lobster. At the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site in Kinderhook, New York, a working farm has actually partnered with the historic house to provide educational opportunities (and delicious produce) reminiscent of Van Buren's era.
These are but a few quick examples of the many cases of agriculture coexisting in U.S. National Parks with essentially zero controversy. None of these practices make the news as contested; if anything, they show up in headlines as ideal partnerships, community relationships to be emulated that reach across public/private lines, from state to local to national governments.
I do not mean to imply that the controversy at Point Reyes is any less real or that the farmers have no legitimate worry that the National Park Service (NPS) has a wandering eye that would prefer a landscape sans ranching. Rather, I hope to add a voice to this debate that has been missing. In the National Park Service, especially when it comes to eastern parks, the agency is more than willing to cooperate with farmers and actively promotes new agricultural partnerships, as is the case with Van Buren's home.
This attitude carries over to the West in some places, but the Park Service as a federal agency is so segmented and regionalized that the Western hand does not always know what the Eastern is doing. Studies that decry tenuous relationships between the NPS and agricultural groups often come out of western regions, such as this 2011 report from the Pacific West Region. Moreover, many of us as American citizens still like to think of the West as "wild" in more ways than one, and deep down see conflict in non-park uses in western parks where we might turn a blind eye their eastern brethren.
If we really want stable relations between the NPS and ranchers on Point Reyes, perhaps the Park Service should look within itself -- albeit across a continent -- for the answer.
While working on Cape Cod this summer, I figured I'd share a few notes from the field -- ecological, historical, observations on people, etc.
One of my favorite plants to see in the National Seashore is not fresh- or saltwater-dwelling. Rather, it grows in the woods. "Indian pipe" is a saprophytic plant found in much of the U.S. and parts of Asia, though not in huge numbers.
Saprophytic plants don't use chlorophyll to make energy, which makes them look more like a fungus than a plant. Indian pipes are actually heterotrophic (they do not produce their own food) and live as parasites off of mycorrhizal fungi, the webs of fungi helping out the roots of trees while assuring soil health.
Anyways, indian pipe are awesome and a bit eerie all at the same time. I've always loved finding them under leaves in the forest and, whaddaya know, so do famous poets. The New Yorker included a previously unpublished Robert Hayden poem in a recent issue. The poem's subject? Indian pipe. And death.
Look, I said, Indian pipes,
flowers for ghosts.
You stopped to gather a few
of the livid blooms, then we
went on through deepening woods.
You walk there still--
ghost flower withering
in your hands, long since a ghost.
- Robert Hayden (1913-1980)
(Check out the poem on The New Yorker's site here)
I love the poem, but I don't agree that the strangely translucent flowers conjure images of death. To me, indian pipe has always seemed to celebrate a sort of uniqueness -- as in, "we don't need sunshine! We're beyond that unfettered addiction of the chlorophyll-dependent autrophic world."
Indian pipe has it figured out. For that, they've earned my respect, with no hint of ghostly apparitions. But as for poetry on the tiny pale plants, I'll take what I can get.
A recent Newsday article took a look at the legal challenges that some Fire Island homeowners are considering against the Army Corps of Engineers' plans to buy up some 700 homes for erosion control projects.
That the Army Corps is willing to resort to condemnation (never a popular political move by any administration) shows that they are serious about erosion control. Since we are already beginning to see more intense and more frequent hurricanes, winter storms, and coastal flooding, buying up homes closest to the ocean will save the feds money in the long run by reducing the number of National Flood Insurance policies to pay up on (a happy prospect for a broke NFIP).
Whether or not removing houses from precarious spots is a good idea, the prospect of losing one's home is still hard to accept. Because many Fire Island residents have the backing to take the federal government to court, I wouldn't be surprised -- and neither would Newsday- if the Army Corps of Engineers ends up in a legal battle on this coastal management plan. It wouldn't be the first time Fire Islanders have threatened to sue the Feds, and I'm guessing it wouldn't be the last. In other, poorer coastal areas (parts of Staten Island, for instance), residents lack the dough to get caught up in long legal battles, and many have already bid their homes adieu.
This is historically interesting, and points to some of common inconsistencies of the National Park Service, since the cattle ranchers who sold their lands to the feds and now lease it back are not in danger of having their operations stopped by the government (Drakes Estero was designated a potential marine wilderness area in 1976, but while the estuary is still used for commercial purposes, the wilderness status cannot go into effect).
The uplands around Drakes Estero are not be affected by the 1976 wilderness legislation and can continue operations regardless of any pending court decisions. Yet, the fact that a cattle network has its eye on this debate points to the larger repercussions of the back-and-forth. Agricultural interests that work closely with the National Park Service, and even often depend on them thanks to legislation that set up those dependent relationships 50 years ago, realize that the Park Service not playing nice with some neighbors can set precedents.
When Congressional legislation to establish Point Reyes National Seashore went through in 1962, cattle ranchers were skeptical that the Park Service would be able to play nice and hesitated to give any control over their family ranching lands. Several ranchers at that time formed a "West Marin Property Owners Association" that spoke out with the interests of dairy ranchers in mind, usually against a National Seashore completely.
Ranchers have not forgotten the Point Reyes conflict or the many, many other land use disputes in Western states regarding public lands and ranching. The Park Service's very public non-renewal of Drakes Bay Oyster Company's lease has ranchers reflecting on the many times they've been mistreated by the feds, and now they're wondering what might be next for them. Who wouldn't in their boots?
I'm sorting through the photos I took at the JFK Library in Boston last week and I came up with a juicy nugget, a snide side comment, a linguistic lesson, that I probably won't ever have an excuse to include in the dissertation. It's only life will be as this afternoon blog treat!
The self-proclaimed Harvard man writing this letter (who was some years Kennedy's senior) is writing to Kennedy to protest (with lots of underlined text) the creation of a National Seashore on Oregon's coasts. He starts as any wealthy, disgruntled landowner would, complaining of federal overreach and "loss of investments."
He takes a snooty turn in the last paragraph to chide Kennedy's Boston accent. I think the funniest thing about it is that the response from Kennedy's staff to Professor Wright, the author of the letter, is a total form response with no mention of the last insulting paragraph.
This letter was written in June 1960. Kennedy obviously never lost the regional accent. It seemed to work fine for him, and I guess those 99% found some way to understand. On the quick note of relating-to-my-research, I find it telling that the people living in these coastal areas were of the sort who felt empowered enough to give the Presidential candidate speech lessons, and even be confident enough that this busy campaigner would actually read through the letter personally, and on top of that, carefully enough to be offended. That sense of entitlement and power gives some clue as to why Oregon Dunes never became a National Seashore . . .
The U.S. government is listening to the Dutch approach to water management, hiring experts and considering new strategies as we try to protect waterfront cities in the 21st century. This New York Times article does a great job at showing how the politics in the U.S. are the greatest impediment to making substantial changes as we rebuild from each successive storm.
Again and again, Sandy seems to be a turning point in American thinking on this issue -- that is, at least in the Northeastern U.S., which is a region politically more accepting of the concept of climate change than many other parts of the country. Still, Dutch experts have noted a change in the mindset even here:
To Ovink’s amazement, virtually all relevant parties in the Northeast have grown receptive to what he has to say, with nary a word about angels. “It’s weird!” he said with evident satisfaction.
The article also talks about the lack of interstate cooperation in the U.S., which can slow down or inhibit even meaningful attempts at "resiliency":
the city’s report, as well as one issued by New York State, “express this fantasy that New Jersey doesn’t exist, not to mention Connecticut,” said Eric Klinenberg, director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University
Despite that lack of communication between states, I can't help but think that it might still be better that we are separate states in the U.S., rather than separate nations. The article makes a point about Dutch harmony and acceptance of new water management strategies, but do the German lowlands across the border cooperate seamlessly with Dutch engineers? Perhaps, but I'm guessing the relationship is more like NY/NJ than they'd like to admit.
Regardless of the setbacks, the receptiveness to these ideas is encouraging, at the very least. Hopefully we prioritize the spending to really improve these vital infrastructure projects.