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Where are we heading?

There could be some dark days ahead for our environment.  The new folks in Congress seem to be determined to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.  Their antipathy toward the science behind global warming is well known.  If you don’t like the scientific results, outlaw them.  Takes us back to the Inquisition telling Galileo that what he was seeing through his telescope were not the moons of Jupiter. Galileo had little choice to recant, or face the rack.  His expedience though didn’t change the fact that what he was seeing were indeed the moons of Jupiter regardless of whether or not that was convenient for the Church.  The science will ultimately carry the day, perhaps though not before it’s too late.  The rest of their attacks on the EPA though are truly intriguing.  My favorite:  they want to eliminate any protection for the Chesapeake Bay.  I grew up near the Bay and remember when oysters, among other delights, were plentiful.  No longer.  The Bay is dying.  It needs protection, largely from the drainage of huge amounts of chicken waste.  Thank you Mr. Perdue.  But, seriously, why not save the Bay?  Certainly the hunters and fishermen/women who flock there want it saved.  State tourist agencies want it saved.  Even the Navy wants it saved.  It’s not that hard to raise chickens in a way that won’t pollute the water.  The list of rather strange actions on the part of the House of Representatives goes on and on.  Fans of Mercury poisoning may want to take note, that little trick could be making a comeback.

All this begs the question, what are they afraid of?  It’s not the deficit.  The EPA is not breaking the bank and environment action tends to stimulate economic action, not inhibit it.  There’s money to be made and to be saved in environmentalism.  But somehow that statement in and of itself seems to frighten some people.  We drive hybrid cars. They now cost about the same as comparable non-hybrid vehicles.  YOU SAVE A FORTUNE BY DRIVING A HYBRID.  For starters, you’re using 87 gasoline.  That saves you over a quarter, per gallon.  And, you’re getting 40 – 50 miles per gallon.  You actually have to remind yourself to fill the tank.  Nevertheless, I’ve had people try to convince me that my math must be wrong.  There’s no real savings in driving a hybrid. Sorry, those really are a bunch of moons orbiting planet Jupiter.

We’ll have to see how this plays out.  Hopefully, you will speak out if you agree with me.

All is not lost, however, even if some of our leaders are.  We had a chance last weekend to attend a presentation by Mr. Herm Eck, head of forestry at the Quabbin Reservoir.   We left the presentation with a fairly strong sense that the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, who own the water in the Quabbin, have no intention of paving over the surrounding woodlands. I make this comment not with the intent of entering into the debate over whether or not any commercial logging should take place there.  There is a real difference between managing a forest, in other words a population, and managing a tree.  Once viewed in that light, things become quite complicated.  Deer in sufficient numbers can make it impossible for the forest to regenerate.  They eat many different kinds of vegetation, including the leaves of very young trees.  If the forest ultimately goes away, the deer go away.  What is best for the population, may not be best for an individual deer.  Massachusetts will soon be classifying publicly owned forests as to the relative degree to which human dominance of the ecosystem will be allowed (meaning commercial logging, commercial activities, motorized vehicles, etc.).  Although far from perfect, I increasingly have the sense that the right questions are being asked, in a thoughtful way, and that Massachusetts could represent a model in the search for ways of fostering human/forest interactions that supports the needs of both.  (Of course, I realize I’m sounding like the guy who says he’s so glad he missed that awful traffic jam, thereby jinxing himself and assuring almost certainly that around the next corner will be, a traffic jam.)

What is far more alarming, as mentioned last week, is the growing threat represented by invasive species.  Here the policy makers seem  stumped. We know that global warming is a significant factor in that the warming climate encourages species from the south to expand to the north and attack new populations.   Mr. Eck’s most not wanted list for the Quabbin Forest:  Bittersweet, Japanese Barberry and Hemlock Wooley Adelgid.

I first noticed Bittersweet on a train ride through the southern United States.  I was absolutely dumbfounded by the degree to which vines had taken over whole southern forests.  I remember thinking with some relief that the damage tended to be localized to the south.  Now it’s right down the street.

You may have seen the Japanese Barberry on this blog before.  It’s visible in many places inside the Quabbin forests.

It certainly looks harmless.  But it can take over the forest floor in places where we’d hope new trees would grow.  It can destroy the forest’s ability to regenerate.  The Hemlock Wooley Adelgid (you’ve got to love that name) represents a potentially catastrophic threat to our vast stands of hemlock. I haven’t had the pleasure of running into that little critter, that I know of. Interestingly, the Hemlock Wooley Adelgid, which joins us from Japan, did not cause havoc there.  In its own native environment a variety of factors tended to balance out impact of the adelgid.  Not so when taken out of its natural environment.

Mr. Eck also did mention the Red Pine Needle Scale, which I discussed last week.  I erroneously have been leaving off the “Red.”  Red Pines are the target.  The scale turns this..

Into this…

And ultimately this…

Those are dying trees.  There is nothing that can be done to prevent their death. We will likely have to face a significant and on-going threat from invasive species and other impacts of global warming as we move ahead. And in all fairness, our environment, our forests, face other challenges as well. Adults are called upon to face their fears, not to run away from them. Yet increasingly, we seem to be confronted with leaders who believe that if we deny what is happening, then we won’t have to worry about it. Sorry, things just don’t work that way.

Of Lines and Disease

I’ve been laid low by the nora virus for the past few days.  I’ll spare you the details but I wouldn’t wish this thing on my worst enemy.  Outbreaks are common among people who are crowded together in places like college campuses and cruise ships.  My experience has given me plenty of time to contemplate a great many things including our visit last weekend to a desolate and snow covered Quabbin Reservoir.  The weather was supposed to be nice, but I don’t believe Mother Nature got that particular e-mail.  It was cold, the sky was white, and and the ground was white.  They’ve had lots of snow out there.  Photographically interesting elements were at first hard to find, until it became obvious that we were seeing lines on sheets of white paper.  If we could capture some of those lines in the right configuration, we might have something interesting.  Here’s a panorama from the area of the Winsor Dam, near the administration building.  If you’d like a better view, click on the image.

If you’d like a much better view, you can also see the same image by clicking on this gigpan link.  How many lines would it take you to make this image, taking as simple an approach as possible?  I’d say eight or nine if you just stuck with the outlines of the hills.  After all there’s not much else to see, other than the hills and the dam.  (See if you can spot the two monuments in the gigapan version if you’re up for an exploration.)

But we also started to wonder about what we were seeing.  These forests are both evergreen and deciduous.  We know what happens to the deciduous trees.  They lose their leaves and are represented by many of the smaller straight lines.  (Including those will up your count of lines necessary to draw this panorama by a large factor.)  But what about the evergreens?  These would be largely pine trees.  Millions were planted by the builders of the Quabbin, but you don’t see too many of them in this particular view.  The forest looked a little different to us.  A little more naked than in previous years.  Of course it is impossible to know for sure what is going on because the snow pack is so deep, deeper than we’ve seen it.  That can play tricks on the eye.  But here’s another view, from the same trip, of a different location, this time the Enfield Overlook (so named because the lost town of Enfield once lay in the valley below.).

Although there are still stands of healthy pines visible, there are also visible the tell tale signs of pine needle scale, an invasive pest that represents a significant threat to pine forests.  The scale in essence turns the green needles brown and ultimately can result in the death of the tree  It is highly contagious. There is little that can be done to stop it out in the open.  I first offered an image of the impact of pine needle scale last year.

This image was taken not far from the Spillway at the Quabbin.  Here’s another image, taken from “Hank’s Meadow” at the Quabbin last year, across the eastern side of the Reservoir.

I did go back and review winter photographs from previous years to see whether or not the impact of the Pine Needle Scale observable now was radically advanced from last year, and frankly, it was not.  The changes at least those I’ve been able to observe thus far, are incremental.  This is one of the challenges we face in thinking about climate change.  The chionaspis pinifoliae or pine needle scale is not native to this area.  It’s moving up from the south, probably in response to climate change.  The movement of invasive species from south to north is one of the many impacts we are seeing from global warming.  But the impact is gradual.  And in this case, it interacts with what were progressive efforts at forest management, the creation of pine planations in places such as the Quabbin.  Putting many of the same species together in one place can create some significant challenges, challenges with which we have yet to come to grips.  We’ll be following up on this issue in the next few weeks.

A Bouquet

Things are looking up.  The snow has stopped, for now, the roads are clear so it’s time to get back out into the field.  I’ll report back next week. Meanwhile, as I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been working on my flower photography, doing some new shooting as well as revisiting some older images, which is always interesting. This spring and summer one or our projects is going to involve a more systematic survey of some of the threatened and endangered species in the area, some of which are wild flowers.  Here are a few recent products of that work, a bouquet to a nice week of weather (I hope, am I jinxing us here???).  The first two are actually from the Quabbin.  (Click on the images for a better view.)

The background in flower photography is all important.  The background in the first two images is blurred and offers more of a romantic glow.  The blur is created by using a longer lens.  There are alternatives.   Turns out that New York City, from the 22nd floor, will do.  Here, I wanted to show the City.

Of course, if you get in close enough, the flowers provide their own background.

The last two are really my favorites.  As anyone who walks the city knows, wildflowers are everywhere, particularly in vacant lots (along with lots of other stuff, but that’s a another story).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Attitudinally Contrasting Photography

Sorry about the title.  But I was so inspired by Brian Tetrault’s video (see yesterday’s post) that I went looking through my own images taken over the last week or so, to see what attitude they conveyed.  They seem in fact to represent two contrasting relationships with the universe.  Here’s one that I was going to call Mt. Worcester.

Of course I don’t own the term, and you can see these mountains all over the City.  There must be hundreds of them.  This one is in fact now considerably bigger.  But you get the idea.  The attitude:  we are small in the face of such incredibly powerful natural phenomena.  Interestingly, some folks who are into denying the reality of global warming are using our harsh winter as proof positive that there is no such thing as global warming.  A Senator from Wyoming has actually introduced legislation that would change EPA scientists findings that global warming is a reality. Sorry, our winter means little if anything. There are 196 million square miles of surface on planet earth.  Our little neck of the woods is only a small small portion of that.  In fact, the storms reflect atmospheric volatility, not a big chill.  Just ask the folks in Australia and Brazil.  The water is rising. Attitude adjustment required.

So I thought I’d have a little fun.  If you watch the Weather Channel you know that they do a lot of “crowd sourcing.”  Instead of paying photographers and videographers for high quality work they get amateurs to submit stuff for free.  Not exactly a good business model if you’re a pro, but it is so common now I thought I might as well see what it’s all about. When I went to create my account at so that I could upload my image, I had to sign off on a release that gave the Weather Channel (NBC, aka  Comcast) rights to my image (thankfully non-exclusive rights) that allow them to do pretty much anything they want with it, to it, around it, through it, etc. etc.  They can sell it, change it, turn it upside down, the long list goes on and on.  But my favorite part of the release was that I was being asked to grant those rights “throughout the universe, in perpetuity.”  I kid you not.  That’s a quote.  Wow, to think that my work will last forever, everywhere.  I really didn’t think it was that good.  I was honored.  Here’s my more upbeat post to  I called it “After the Storm.”

After posting my image I excitedly went to have a look at the competition on the photo gallery.  There are, approximately, 8 million images there that look pretty much like this one.  Perpetuity may be a bit boring I’m afraid.  Attitude adjustment still required.

Positive Energy in the Winter

There is a fair amount of negativity in the photographic world these days. Basically, it’s gotten to be much harder to earn a living.  Naturally that gets on people’s nerves resulting on occasion in a Lord of the Flys atmosphere. Luckily, I make my living in another field, but that doesn’t make me immune to the problem.  I was thinking about all that today and it occurred to me that I was perhaps over generalizing. There are great people, with positive energy, doing great things.

I began to list in my mind those who put positive energy into the culture and who I had the good fortune to meet along the way.  Right near the top of the list was commercial photographer, videographer and teacher Brian Tetrault.   I had the pleasure of studying multimedia under Brian at the Center for Digital Imaging Arts a few years back and I’m still consulting with him on some video work that hopefully you’ll see here some day, when he’s helped me make it presentable.  Any budding photographers or multimedia folks who are interested in learning more about their craft should take any opportunity to study with Brian.  Creative Directors should also take note of his work as well, because creative he is.

All of us in New England just endured two straight days of snow.  Some of us whinned (not me of course) and some of us made some good things happen. Ever think about how those icicles on your back window got to be so impressively large?  Here’s how Brian spent day two….  Enjoy.

Sorry to those of you trying to view this on a mobil device.  I don’t seem to be able to make that happen.  Not sure why but I’ll keep looking into it. Meanwhile, have a look on your computer when you get a chance.