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March 15, 2014

Planting beside the water
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:25 AM * 106 comments

Behind my house the terrain runs in stripes: a stretch of grass, a narrow road, another stretch of grass, a canal, more grass up a slope, the elevated main road into our village, then the local business park. For some time, we and our neighbors have wanted trees between the narrow road and the canal to deaden the traffic noise and soften the view.

The first intimation that that desire had borne fruit (OK, leaves; they’re willows) was the note through our door. Below the drop-shadow title and the tree-and-tulip clip art, it announced that one of our local councilors would be by for a tree-planting at 9:00 in the morning on Saturday, March 15. “We’re asking for your help on the day. Bring a shovel and a wheelbarrow*. There will be journalists and photographers in attendance.”

The trees were delivered during the week and laid out at intervals on the grass. Pairs of waist-high support stakes appeared. The turf was cut and laid aside. I kept expecting to look over the back fence one day and see all but one symbolic tree in place, in preparation for whatever ceremony or photo-op Saturday would bring. When the tiny digger drove from tree site to tree site on Thursday afternoon, I was sure that was the time, but when it left things looked much the same: each tree on its side, two upright stakes, bare soil, piled sod.

We were out in the back garden on other business this morning when we saw some of the community walking toward the back road, shovels in hand. Reassured that we would not be the dorky foreigners who did the wrong thing, we grabbed our own shovels and joined them. The trees were still unplanted.

Because here’s the thing (and, Dutch readers, please bear with me while I talk this through). We weren’t there for a photo-op, or rather, not for the photo-op I thought we were there for. After some introductory chatting, the Guy Who Knew What He Was Doing took us over to a tree site, where a hole had been dug between the supporting stakes. He explained how best to measure the root balls, how deep the holes should be (and why, with details about how the roots would interact with the water table), how to roll the root ball into place, and why they’d chosen that particular manner of planting.

And then he sent us off, two by two, to go dig our holes and plant our trees.

He went from pair to pair and advised on depth and width, lending a hand to get trees into holes and showing people how to firm the earth around the trunks afterward. The local councilor was there, but he had dirt under his nails when he shook hands. We answered the reporter’s questions while tramping down loose dirt around a newly-planted willow.

When I lived in the Edinburgh, if trees were to be planted on public land near our houses, the council would send a couple of laconic workmen to do the deed. A local councilor might come for a photo-op to dedicate the already-planted willows, but whatever audience there was would not have brought shovels. When I lived in the SF Bay Area, I’d have expected about the same, but we would have brought shovels and stood around the trees for the photographs.† (And I am not denigrating either way of dong things! Different cultures do things in different ways. All three systems produce the two inextricable objectives of the exercise: trees and a picture of the councilor in the local paper just before an election.)

The inevitable jokes about saving money by making the locals do the work were made at the closing speech, when we were all thanked for our efforts. But that’s not what it’s about, of course, not when the soil had been pre-loosened by that digger. The point was much more primal: our trees, our planting. We earned those willows by doing not only the social work of politicking for them, but also the physical work of putting them into the ground. The two are linked, word and deed.

Now, I think of myself as a migrant; I’m in this place but not of it. I expect to be changed by the places I live, but I do not expect to change them. I don’t think I have the right, and I don’t want that responsibility, either.

And yet when I look out my back window now and see the spindly branches of the willow over the fence, I see that I have changed this place. A piece of me is planted here now, putting its roots into the soil I meant to only tread lightly upon. And that’s a very Dutch lesson, too, bluntly questioning my personal narrative of non-involvement. The reality of the engineered landscape (and pretty much everywhere we live is engineered, to one degree or another) is that how we live creates the physical world we live in. People and land are as interdependent as politics and work.

There is no footfall so light that it does not leave a print. The best we can do is choose where we walk, and how.

* The Dutch word for wheelbarrow is kruiwagen. The term comes from the verb kruien, which can mean to shovel things, turn a windmill toward the wind, or walk in the peculiar way one does with a wheelbarrow. In other words, it’s a name based on actions rather than appearances. This is, in a complicated way, neatly symmetrical.
† As the youngest rioter for People’s “everybody gets a blister” Park, I should point out that California does have its own tradition of plant-your-own-tree activism. But I should also point out that Ronald Reagan found that kind of activism threatening enough to fight it with tear gas and live ammunition.

Crossposted on Comment wherever you like.

Comments on Planting beside the water:
#1 ::: Joris M ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 09:22 AM:

Nice. Boomfeestdag (Arbor Day) which has children planting trees and shrubs, was only last week*. And it looks a bit like they use the same spirit of the community helping improve their environment and gaining some feeling of ownership for your neighbourhood.

*I am glad it still exists. I participated when I was in the right age bracket, but I never heard much about it afterwards.

#2 ::: marek ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 09:38 AM:

We have a tree planted in the street outside our house. The physical planting was done by the laconic workman route. But we were asked to make a choice of what kind of tree it should be (not unconstrained, but between a few possibilities). As it happened, the tree was planted at almost the same time my son was born, so we have watched both of them grow and mature over the years. Those two reasons, one of engagement and one of pure serendipity, are part of what binds us to this place - and we have a stronger bond with that tree than any on any land we have owned or will own.

As I write, the tree is about to blossom again. It is how we tell the passing of the years.

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 10:44 AM:

Thus is community made. I like it.

#4 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 10:54 AM:

The house where I lived for most of the years I was in New Jersey was on a county road, and the county owned the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street, where the telephone poles and a few trees were, though the residents had to mow the grass. I don't remember whether the small tree in front of my house was there when I moved in, but one time we were away for a day or two and got back to find that it had been replaced by a different small tree. Apparently the ones that were there were going to grow too tall for the power lines or have fruit instead of being only decorative or were the wrong color or something. I think I like your Dutch system better :-)

#5 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 12:51 PM:

So the Dutch for wheelbarrow translates roughly as "Hoick-wagon?"

The town I live in used to be a village with alder swales dotted around it, but the boreal rain forest has moved in over the centuries. I grew up with a black-green dragon-back ridgeline of Sitka spruce pretty much everywhere I looked. Trees have begun coming down in the past decade and a half: to "increase the security" at the dinky municipal airstrip (silly), to make room for more parking at the high school/borough/city government complex (sad but expected, and as a bonus the neighbors across the street get more light), to allow for construction of two senior citizens' homes and a new public library (inevitable).

The common denominator among all these projects is that somebody gets the wood. Just hacking up a perfectly good tree that could keep somebody's woodstove going for months, and then burning it in a big pile, is a crime--not an actual crime, but so socially repugnant that nobody does it. You might sell the wood or you might give it away, but you don't waste it. When some flathead went out to the community use area at the end of the road and cut down a live spruce* and left it there, it ended up in the paper, and the Borough gave the wood to the Boy Scouts so they could raise some money by selling it.

*Driftwood is anyone's to gather, but cut down live trees on borough land. OTOH, when the roughly annual hurricane-force winds come through, trees that come down on borough land are declared free to all takers who are willing to go to the trouble and danger of cutting them up.

#6 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 01:06 PM:

Jenny Islander @5:
Hoick-wagon? As good a translation as any I've seen.

On the cutting-down of trees: we've lost a good few in the area in the hurricanes this past winter. The dead trees have been cut up and hauled off somewhere, but I don't know where. Considering that our Christmas trees get chipped and used as mulch by the local council, I suspect whatever happens to the wood will also be useful.

To cut down a tree of a certain magnitude in our area, you have to get a permit, even if it's on your own property. The applications for these permits are published in the local paper for a certain number of weeks to allow for any objections to be raised. It's rather like having the banns read out in church.

(We know about this because we have a tree at the foot of our garden that is mostly dead and becoming dangerously unstable. It overhangs our neighbors' shed. So we're learning what we need to do to take it out. One of the side benefits of today's tree-planting was a chance to check with those neighbors before we applied for the permit.)

#7 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 01:34 PM:

Ah, this story gives me a lump in my throat and wistfulness for a sort of community feeling I have always assumed cannot be mine. It's the sort of thing that happens to other people, who belong places, as opposed to happening to me, who only lives in places.

But you are a migrant and this is a thing that happens to you, abi, and I think that's a large part of why my throat feels funny right now. Maybe it's a thing that could happen to me. I must think about that.

#8 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 02:29 PM:

Fade @7:

Don't overestimate the degree to which I'm embedded in this community. I find the language and culture to be huge barriers. Even though I did two other community-things yesterday (a bookbinding demonstration to Fiona's class, a violin recital for Alex).

But our lives are not one thing or the other. I can feel part of the community when we plant trees, and know that wherever I go, I leave a couple of them behind me, but still know I don't really belong, not the way I belong in my family.

It's not binary. But that's a kind of hope, too: you can get somewhat embedded without magically fitting the criteria to get all the way in.

#9 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 03:10 PM:

None of the trees I planted as a child ever grew. I picked bad places for them, though they were logical at the time. My sister, however, planted a silver maple (or similar hybrid-- we don't buy trees but find them and move them) that... something happened. It grew. Oh it grew. It continues to grow. We have no idea how it's grown so fast, but there's nothing to stop it. Now we'll have one of the big proud trees on the street, blocking the house's view of the playground.

The emerald ash borer is moving into Iowa, moving closer to where I am, and apparently our winter wasn't enough to kill it back. Various cities are planning to take down ash trees and use the wood for anything from firewood to particular crafts. It feels so inevitable that we will lose ash trees, that there will be nothing more, and I hate this idea.

#10 ::: Alan P. Scott ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 03:15 PM:

Friends of Trees in Portland, Oregon works much as you described too, Abi; neighbors work with neighbors, planting trees in the verges in front of local houses. A good organization, and some good, dirty weekend fun!

#11 ::: Fishwood Loach ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 07:11 PM:

Diatryma @#9 I used to work for a Landscape Architect. Silver Maples are the dandelions of the Eastern Hardwood Forests. They grow fast, tall, and die young (for a hardwood, anyway: ~70 years). My parents had a neighbor they did not get along with. I suggested they plant a silver maple in her line of sight. 5 years later it was 30 feet tall. We never heard a complaint again about my Dad's various backyard projects. By the time they moved out (maybe 15 years later) it was 70 feet tall. Growing in lousy, clay-ee, and rocky soil.

#12 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 08:55 PM:

The 1897 house i used to own (1996-2007) had a few mature silver maples in the back yard. They were clearly reaching the end of their lifespan, and were creating hazards to the roof and to the carriage house. I didn't have the money to have them seen to; the person I sold the house to wound up having them removed.

The Norway maples out front in the sidewalk strip were, if anything, worse. They encroached on the power lines and their roots clogged up the main sewer line.

They were pretty, though.

#13 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 09:29 PM:

Portland, Oregon still has elms. When I lived in Pennsylvania, I thought they had all fallen victim to Dutch Elm Disease, but Portland has lovely ones in the South Park Blocks, around the main branch of the library, and in the Laurelhurst neighborhood.

#14 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 09:42 PM:

Abi's posted a picture of the new plantings, and some of their surroundings, on the copy. It's well worth a look. How long does it take for them to to fill out?

In our house in Philly, we don't have any trees growing on our property, except for a small dwarf peach we put in the back garden a couple of years ago. A fair number of larger trees grow around us, though (with branches stretching into our property, and sometimes over the top of the house). The city has a street tree program where you can get a small tree planted along your front sidewalk (or possibly in your front garden). Some of our neighbors had these trees put in; we turned down the offer because we felt it wouldn't have room to grow much without running into the trees nearby that were here when we moved in.

#15 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 10:25 PM:

That's beautiful, and excellent.

The house I've lived in my whole life has a couple large trees, and several volunteer maples in inappropriate places, and a sour cherry that was a gift (because Michigan). I should spend more time appreciating them, particularly the cedar cluster.

#16 ::: Laura Gillian ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2014, 10:38 PM:

What a lovely way to include members of a community in creating and improving the community. Participation builds belonging, maybe?

I never felt comfortable making changes to the house I used to live in. I suppose I could have, but I didn't feel entitled to personalize things, or maybe I was afraid I'd do things wrong, so I lived there for 8 years trying not to leave too many traces of "me-ness" around the place. One change I did make was to plant a row of raspberry bushes along the fence on one edge of the yard. They were growing well when I moved and I was sorry to leave them. I wonder if the people who bought the house have taken care of them?

#17 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2014, 01:53 AM:

I used to have an excellent view of two gorgeous cottonwoods from where I am sitting right now. They stood at each side of the entrance to the hotel parking lot just down the hill. However, this species of cottonwood likes to get artistic in its old age. One of the trees began to lean suggestively over the pavement. The hotel owner, who really doesn't like cutting down trees, lopped off some branches in the hopes of encouraging others to grow upward and away from his guests' cars. But the tree would not be swayed from its artistic vision, so it had to go. Its neighbor, on the other hand, grew taller and greener with age. It flourished in lonely splendor for some years thereafter . . . and then our drain quit working.

Cottonwoods, as it happens, have deep, strong roots. And they love wastewater. Love it, love it.

So after the city took out the tree, and the rootball with the hunk of perforated pipe somewhere inside it, the hotel owner planted some kind of fluffy blue-green spruce. They aren't the prettiest trees, and they aren't the most welcoming sight. But they do make a usable landmark for off-islanders who may be bewildered by our municipally and recessionally enforced lack of large lighted signs. And their roots are shallow.

#18 ::: Branko Collin ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2014, 03:45 AM:

The Dutch verb kruien is etymologically related to the English verb crowd. Kruien is also something pack ice does.

#19 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2014, 01:09 PM:

@Branko Collin no. 18: OK, so the commonality is not the lifting motion, but the way a person/object moves forward?

Shuffle, maybe? Shuffle-wagon? Shuffling a windmill around to the correct position? Shuffling along with a shovelful of dirt? Pack ice shuffling for position in the water?

#21 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2014, 04:01 PM:

One of the reasons I fell in love with my house is because it has lilacs. Also a scraggly apple tree that bears lumpy but tangy apples.

Every so often some company will try to convince me to hire them to take some of the trees on the property down. I tell them not unless the trees are sick, dead, or endangering something. In fact, I planted another lilac (a pink one), raspberries, and a cutting from my great-grandmother's yellow rosebush.

#22 ::: DanB ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2014, 04:27 PM:

Another who remembers "Peoples's Park"? Lost in the mists of time according to the internet: I never have found the rose-and-fist again.

Locally (central CaliLand), old railway lines have been reclaimed as tree-lined jogging paths.

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2014, 05:04 PM:

DanB @22:
Another who remembers "Peoples's Park"?

I don't actually remember it. When I say that I am the youngest rioter, I mean that I was conceived very shortly before the riot. My mother was in the very early weeks of pregnancy when she joined the riot and got tear-gassed. (Serge once called me the Democratic Party's Miles Vorkosigan.)

But I went to Berkeley, and was caught up in the 20-year anniversary riots while walking home from the library. I wasn't charmed; the first thing that happened when I came round the corner of Telegraph Avenue and found myself in a crowd was that someone grabbed my ass. I disentangled myself before they started looting the Gap and went home another way.

Locally (central CaliLand), old railway lines have been reclaimed as tree-lined jogging paths.

Edinburgh did the same. The lines that the train station from Trainspotting (Leith Central Station) served are all now paths. I explored a lot of them when I lived there. Lovely places.

#24 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2014, 05:15 PM:

#18, #19,

or perhaps "throng-wagon"?

Throngs can be crowds, or what crowds do. I recall Chaucer's use of "throng" as a verb, and also what it's like to push a barrow.

#25 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2014, 08:41 PM:

Abi @ 23... I did?

#26 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2014, 11:18 PM:

I am slightly older than abi, old enough to have actually caught a whiff of the People's Park tear gas myself -- albeit young enough not to have any memory of it.

#27 ::: Branko Collin ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2014, 03:45 AM:

@19, @24: says 'push', 'press'. There is a suggestion of overcoming an opposite force, of effort. The site quotes an older etymological dictionary, Franck's, which says that the old Germanic form apparently meant 'dringen', which again means 'push', 'press' and is unsurprisingly related to 'throng'.

The Dutch word for crowd, by the way, is 'menigte' (lit. manyness), but if you want to say for instance that you lost your friends in the crowd, you can use 'gedrang'.

#28 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2014, 04:10 AM:

Engineered landscapes. That was what came to me, too, the first time I visited England. Most European landscapes are the results of untold generations of human occupancy, and that would go in spades for the Netherlands. It felt as if that is how it ought to be.

Possibly it's because that is my dreaming, although I don't know. I saw the hills of Gwent with the sun and the snow on their faces, and that was part of it, too.

I missed the sky of home, and yet I have walked twenty paces off the single strand of bitumen that links the east to the west of this continent, into the mallee scrub and the tiger-striped stillness of the Nullabor, and it was as if humans and all their works had never been. European landscapes are indebted to humanty. Ours are at best, indifferent to us.

#29 ::: quercus ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2014, 08:51 AM:

Sounds pretty much like how the new trees got put in the park down the street from me. The Guy Who Knew What He Was Doing was, I believe, employed by an NGO, but I also think the whole thing was funded by government grants. Volunteer neighbors shoveled and planted (I don't think any elected officials showed up; but it wasn't that many trees anyway).

This was in the U.S., by the way. So it's not impossible to do it in non-Dutch parts of the world. It sure helps to have a neighborhood where people can meet each other, and especially some neighbors who understand that organizing together is the way to get value out of government.

#30 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2014, 09:08 AM:

After some introductory chatting, the Guy Who Knew What He Was Doing took us over to a tree site . . .

"A man, a plan, a canal . . ."

#31 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2014, 11:00 AM:

Quercus @29

Yes, something similar here, too, in North Carolina. The city bought the trees, the neighborhood needs to pay back half the money (the hat is being passed). Neighborhood people gathered one Saturday a few weeks ago with a city arborist to plant trees. They brought their own shovels and wheelbarrows, but found that the city had unexpectedly dug the holes for the trees. They still needed some shovel work because the augur had made smooth-sided holes that would make fine bathtubs to drown trees in (or so the arborist commented). And now there are magnolia grandiflora and live oaks that will be pretty year round after they've grown a bit, and help block the view and noise of the highway.

#33 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2014, 12:21 PM:

Oh, for the love of Pete. Our office nanny-bot blocks noise2sig as a "verified threat: fraud". :-\

#34 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2014, 02:09 PM:

The way it seems to work around us is that the county wants there to be streetside trees, and if there's a blank spot for too long they will come along and plant something, but if you take care of the matter yourself nobody complains. At least, nobody complained when I had the big old willow oak* taken down and planted a basswood in its place. They also have gone about planting forests of native trees in various open areas, including the park strip directly behind my house and a large field along my way to work which was heretofore filled with a scrub of callery peas: very showy in the fall but not what the forestry people had in mind.

I have also compensated for the sugar maple that fell on the house in the derecho** with an American elm. Yes, there are Dutch-elm-resistant clones out there now; "Valley Forge" is newer and may be better but "Princeton" is the variety I got.

*Willow oak is gorgeous wood, treated as white oak in the hardwood business, and I kept some which I've over the years turned into some magnificent boards. But it is one of the verminous trees when it come to fall clean up: it drops millions of really-hard-to-rake-up tiny leaves over many weeks. Basswood by contrast has leaves bigger than my hand which all fall at once.

**Not to worry: our roof was overengineered to withstand nuclear blasts. In fact when the contractor looked it over we discovered that the only roof damage was that some of the sheathing was popped away from the trusses by the weight of the tree on the gable end. The structural members were completely unharmed.

#35 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2014, 06:58 PM:

My employer donated some unused land next to the plant to the city for a park. We all went out to plant trees one morning. There was a huge number of volunteers but a distinct shortage of Guys Who Knew What They Were Doing.

#36 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2014, 08:47 PM:

We know about this because we have a tree at the foot of our garden that is mostly dead and becoming dangerously unstable.

Well, if it was all dead, there'd be only one thing you could do: go through its branches and look for loose change.

#37 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2014, 11:41 AM:

abi@0: There is no footfall so light that it does not leave a print. The best we can do is choose where we walk, and how.

This is really just the start of a thought:

Because my mind works/walks this way, this line made me think not of residence but of pilgrimage.* There's a simultaneous feeling of feet touching lightly—always moving on, never putting down roots, distancing from the everyday—and of leaving an impression not just on other pilgrims but, along with generations of them, on the places the pilgrimage passes through. Those steps tie the pilgrim to the pilgrimage, putting down roots into the route.

(If this is a meaningless detour for everyone else, my apologies. There's a benefit and hazard of a pilgrimage that it can become an all-purpose life metaphor.)

*I'm thinking of the Camino de Santiago here, but I suspect this applies to other longstanding pilgrimage routes.

#38 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2014, 12:18 PM:

dotless ı@37:

Funny you should mention pilgrimages. On Saturday night, I'll be participating in the Stille Omgang, the Silent Procession of Amsterdam.

The city of Amsterdam, like so many cities, owes some of its shape and size to being a pilgrimage site. Several of its major roads were constructed to allow pilgrims access to the churches dedicated to the miracle in quesiton (locally just called The Miracle). But the city's grown since then, and different people use the old streets: the procession goes through the heart of the Red Light District.

It's a silent march, without statues, banners, pamphlets, or bands. We don't even explain ourselves, unless we drop out of the silent march to do it. We just walk quietly. Some people say rosaries, but at a murmur. It's not about preaching, or display; we're not there to witness or convert. We're just there.

For me, it's about being present to the city as it really is, right now. It's about witnessing all the miracles that we humans make when we live together in cities, even the messy and wildly unorthodox ones you see on a Saturday night. (The story of the miracle involves vomiting; it's as good a reminder that the holy and the gross coexist as you can get.) And it's about witnessing the less-than-miraculous stuff, too, because that's part of real life.

I don't know that the Stille Omgang transforms the streets it passes through. Last time I did it (two years ago), it coincided with St Patrick's day, and we had a lot less of an impact on the evening than the celebrants of that event did.

#39 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2014, 04:12 PM:


Interesting. The bit about the city being shaped by the pilgrimage is part of what I was thinking of: many towns and cities on the Camino initially came into existence because of the pilgrimage, in one sense or another, so even while you're passing lightly through a place as an individual you're also part of a landscape-shaping thousand-year-old process.

Is the Stille Omgang formally organized, or is it something that just seems to happen because people know it should happen?

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2014, 04:41 PM:

dotless ı @39:
Is the Stille Omgang formally organized, or is it something that just seems to happen because people know it should happen?

It is very, very organized, and kind of not.

There is a society, the Gezelschap van de Stille Omgang, to which many marchers belong. It keeps track of which Saturday is the correct one, and sets a theme for the year. It arranges for marshals, who stop traffic so that groups of walkers can cross the road, then stop the march so that the cars and cyclists get a turn, too.

The Gezelschap arranges it so that the pilgrims from each of the Dutch provinces have a local church to hear Mass in, either before the march or on the way. The groups arrive together by bus and march behind little signs that declare where they're from.

But there's nothing to stop people who are not from a particular province joining that group, marching with them and going to Mass with them. And many people join in and walk along without going to Mass, without being Catholic, and indeed, without being religious at all.

My local church last year was full of people from West Brabant, but I was welcome there anyway. I think this year I'll go to one of the churches assigned to Amsterdammers. But who knows whom I'll march with?

#41 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2014, 09:41 AM:


I've stumbled across something like that on the Camino, though without the distinctive quiet. In Jacobean holy years (years when the feast of St. James falls on a Sunday) pilgrims from lots of towns near Santiago de Compostela will walk to the cathedral together, sometimes with banners, often with matching scarves or caps, sometimes first taking buses to a reasonable starting place. There can be a sort of clash of pilgrimages with those who have been walking for hundreds of kilometers to get to the same point. I think this has something to do with competing feelings of ownership, or at least of priority (complicated with deeper cultural clashes and practical effects of the greater crowding).

#42 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2014, 10:31 AM:

dotless ı @41:

That sounds like your standard Catholic procession (of the non-statutory variety; some also include a statue of the local saint). But I grew up in a non-processing country and don't have a very good feel for it.

The Stille Omgang was the reintroduction of procession to a country where they had been illegal for some time. "Just a bunch of mates out for a late-night walk, not even talking, not a procession, honest!" was a good thin end of the wedge, and it became one of the defining characteristics of the tradition.

#43 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2014, 11:25 AM:

abi@42: That sounds like your standard Catholic procession

Yes, I can believe that. I get the feeling that if the holy year processions I described are unusual it's mostly in their overlap (without fully merging) with a high-volume pilgrimage route.

But I grew up in a non-processing country and don't have a very good feel for it.

Likewise. Further, I'm not Christian (though I hope I'm a respectful visitor), so I have even more of an outsider's view.

#44 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2014, 11:46 AM:

On-topic for the original post, there was indeed an article in the local paper on Tuesday. The accompanying photo showed the councilor in the act of digging a hole for one of the trees.

And I did, in the end, vote for him today*. Not just because he did get us the trees, but more because his proposed solutions to problems chime with my own approaches. For instance, we have a persistent problem of young people with nowhere to go hanging about in the schoolyards at night and leaving broken glass behind them. Most of the parties were either silent on the issue or promised to crack down on it. He proposes getting hold of a container, getting some of the local youth to decorate it, and creating a "hangplek", a hangout spot, away from the schoolyards.

* Local election, so the franchise is residency-based rather than citizenship-based.

#45 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2014, 12:37 PM:

I mentioned Stille Omgang to my parents who will be in Amsterdam this weekend. They were interested, but won't be there, mostly because they're there to see their 11 month old grandson who shouldn't do after midnight, but also because of the thing about being a tourist while something goes on that's not really for tourists. Which is (of course) related to abi's thoughts on being a migrant in the original post.

#46 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2014, 12:53 PM:

They're entirely welcome at the Stille Omgang, tourists or not. It's not a single thing; the locals can get what they get out of it, and non-locals can walk along and get what they want out of it too. As an extra bonus, since it is silent, they don't even have to speak Dutch.

Anyone who wants to join can just turn up at Spui (in front of the American Book Center) any time after about 10:00 pm and follow the crowd.

But, of course, they're also welcome to skip it if they'd prefer.

#47 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2014, 07:05 PM:

My Dutch nephew has started walking. I suspect they will need their sleep.

#48 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 10:56 AM:

I live out in the country, so the local authorities more likely to remove trees than plant them. The electrical utility workers seem to have an excellent policy. When they cut down trees growing too close to the power lines, they leave all the dogwoods and redbuds, which are too small to threaten the lines anyway. Consequently, the roadsides are a riot of white and purple flowers in the Spring.

re: willow oaks (C. Wingate's comment)

In Durham, NC, willow oaks were planted along a lot of residential streets. Unfortunately, they were planted under the electricity/telephone lines (or the lines were strung on top of them, I'm not sure which are older). The trees were then pruned around the lines, which makes for very awkward, often ugly trees.

#49 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 01:30 PM:

abi @0 There is no footfall so light that it does not leave a print. The best we can do is choose where we walk, and how.

The connection of this to pilgrimage and procession made me think that this is a feature, not a bug, of footfalls. We are meant to interact, and thus to have an impact.

What We Are to Each Other

Notes in a symphony
Boats in a fleet
Posts on the internet
Words on a sheet

Threads in a tapestry
Trees in the park
Feet on a pilgrimage
Voice in the dark

Bowls in the cabinet
Pieces of clay
Stars in the galaxy
Light for the way

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 01:56 PM:

OtterB @49:

Oh, that's lovely.

#51 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 02:00 PM:

Trying to shake loose a server error.

#52 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 02:02 PM:

(And apparently failing, so posting again.)


Very nice!

(The last two lines tie very well into the symbolism of the Camino de Santiago. Was that deliberate?)

#53 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 02:33 PM:


Please continue!

* my brain insists on tagging you with a lastname of Ollaw

#54 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 02:52 PM:

OtterB, that's really nice. In fact it's tempting to write a chorus to it and try to find a tune.

#55 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 04:28 PM:

OtterB @49: Much gratitude* for sharing that; it's beautiful.

*Awkwardness due to trying to avoid the type of grateful expression that gets one a visit with the gnomes.

#56 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 04:34 PM:

Xopher @54 re: setting OtterB's ditty to a tune

This arrived in my head with knee slaps/claps, like the accompaniment to Simon's "Cecelia".

Boom chicka boom chicka.

#57 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, Speaker to Tall People ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 04:39 PM:

asalfi @55:

It's safe to be grateful now. We changed spam filtration systems late last year, and now there are no banned phrases*.

Most of the gnomes have gone traveling. I'm keeping the lights on and the plants turned. On the upside, that does mean that I have all the biscuits to myself. I've been compensating for that by cycling around the deserted glass-and-steel control room.

* well, there's one right now, because the central spam registry hasn't yet caught up with a particular pattern. But you're not likely to stumble on it, and I'll be cleaning it out when it's no longer catching anything.

#58 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 04:58 PM:

Otter B, thanks for #49.

(and thanks, Idumea et co., for making the world safe for gratitude once again. Be careful when cycling indoors.)

#59 ::: Teka Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 05:32 PM:

@54: I hear it in a gentle, rocking 6/8. It's not quite sure if it wants to go major or minor in my head. It slips back and forth. It's a folkish little tune, one I probably heard somewhere and forgot, but maybe not.

#60 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 06:42 PM:

Glad you all enjoyed it.

dotless ı @52 The last two lines tie very well into the symbolism of the Camino de Santiago. Was that deliberate?

It was not deliberate. Although, since I have sitting on my TBR pile To the Field of Stars, which was recommended to me by a friend whose trip to Spain last year touched on some sections of the Camino, perhaps the image was underneath.

My muse, presented with the suggestion that we might create a chorus for the verse, is being recalcitrant and offering up only existing choruses to other people's songs. So far we have:

"United we stand, divided we fall, and if our backs should ever be against the wall..."

"Where are we going? I don't know. When will we get there? I ain't certain. All I know is I am on my way."


"We'll travel along, singing a song, side by side..."

Perhaps I will ask again later.

#61 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 08:20 PM:

Ack! Earwormed!

Got a dream, boy, got a song. Paint your wagon, and come along....

#62 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 09:05 PM:

OtterB @49. Beautiful.

#63 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 09:06 PM:

In re engineered landscapes ... the Dutch dikes are reasonably big and obvious, but a lot of times it's not clear to a newcomer just how much labor, over how many generations of humans, went into making it that way.

And I am reminded of the mind-blowing (in a good way; I still think of it regularly and I read it over a year ago) 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann ... because apparently the 'abandoned' landscapes the American Pilgrims encountered were highly managed, manufactured lands.

To take only one very specific example, the old-growth Eastern forests had an improbably high percentage of useful-to-humans trees in them (for nuts, fruit, and good wood); if you clearcut one and let it grow back you get nothing like the same species distribution. You also don't get the useful path designs and abundant deer and turkeys and other food animals growing 'wild', if not managed carefully and with generations of skill. That land the white settlers clearcut and plowed to "make productive use of"? It was already being intensively farmed, but not for wheat and dairy cattle.

A lot of the first white impressions of North American landscapes were ignorant of the existing engineering ... and sometimes we didn't even get to see it in full productive use, but only after epidemics had shattered the population (and their management of their land). Sky-darkening flocks of passenger pigeons are what happens after a decade or two of NOBODY HUNTING THEM ENOUGH ANYMORE. Horizon-spanning herds of bison likewise: when a landscape has been engineered to lead to profitable increase of bison for harvest, and then they quit being harvested sufficiently ... they oversupply.

God's Bounty my sweet aunt Fanny. Likewise nuts to "ignorant savages subsisting off the gifts of Providence."

Well, not solely God and Providence, anyhow. :-> The kind of God's Bounty that comes after you put in sweat equity for your half (like that joke where the castaway turns down a rowboat and a helicopter because "God will save me" and then God's like, "Whaddya want, I already SENT you a helicopter and a rowboat, you greedy weirdo!")

#64 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2014, 09:18 PM:

Nickp @48

At least according to my neighborhood listserv, the power lines in Durham came before the willow oaks. (It came up the last time the power company tree trimmers came round and did their hideous thing.)

The willow oaks are quite beautiful on the sides of the streets where there are no power lines. I love the way the light comes through them, even when they've been made ugly by trimming.

This year, our neighborhood has been made quite busy by banding the oaks in an attempt to prevent another cankerworm infestation. I suspect one can tell who's on the listserv or is friends with someone on the listserv; the banding is patchy, but still in many people's yards. It's prevalent enough that when I was slathering another band of tanglefoot on the oaks in our front yard, a police officer pulled over to ask me plaintively for an explanation; she said that nobody at the station knew what these strange bands were for, since they obviously weren't decorative.

#65 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2014, 02:01 PM:

Cally 61: And that has almost the same tune as "Guinevere" from Camelot.

#66 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2014, 10:43 PM:

I live in California, and there is a set of native oaks around (big local one is called a Valley Oak, appropriately enough.) The thing that is important to note is that it is well-adapted to the watering pattern of California, which is to say that it has a massive root system that gathers water all winter long, and then it basically deals with almost no water for five months.

Large oaks are protected, but not if they're diseased. The problem is that many things can (and do) happen to these large oaks. One is that buildings or streets come very close to them and cover over half or more of the root spread that they need to maintain health. Another—and there's a large park nearby that was created specifically to protect a large stand of these oaks, but it still has this issue—is that they'll install a lawn underneath it, and water all summer.

Two years ago, I witnessed the mess made of a truck that bore the brunt of a falling limb at that park. Said limb was probably a good five feet in diameter at its base—I leave as an exercise to the reader to determine how much such a branch weighed, despite the rot at its core. (Nobody was hurt in the incident, but that's a rotten way to start off a theoretically productive weekend at a festival—that *was* a food vendor's trailer-puller.) And you're lucky if it's only one limb in a case like that; the arborist did leave the rest of the tree up, once they'd cleaned up the break.

There's also another park that is newer, and has a more sensible lawn-free perimeter around each of its large oaks. Amusingly enough, it also has several non-native species of oak planted in the lawn area, because *those* don't mind the summer water a bit.

#67 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2014, 02:33 PM:

B Durbin @66:

Oh, valley oaks. There was one on my parents' land up in Humboldt County. It was a lovely specimen, a huge half-dome, thirty feet in diameter, with a great and branching trunk inside. On my private map of that land it was labeled Yggdrasil.

Ten, twelve years ago, about half the trunk fell down. Last time I was up there, I visited it the way one visits the sick; it's lost about two thirds of its leaf-dome, and I don't have a lot of confidence in its viability.

But if I don't think before I remember, I remember it as complete, and taller than it ever really was.

#68 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2014, 02:49 PM:

I went on the Stille Omgang on Saturday night, as I planned to. Went round twice, and seriously considered a third round, but it was late and I needed to be at least marginally useful on the Sunday.

The crowd was thinner than the last time I did it (2012). My first time round, sometimes it was just two or three of us walking along the deserted shopping street, or making our way through the crowds of partying people in De Wallen. For the second time round, I stayed closer to one of the organized groups.

But the experience for me was one of isolation. Either I was invisible (in a small group), or I was part of a large group that seemed to be thrusting itself into an existing scene. Walking with (and occasionally among) a group of pilgrims I didn't belong with made it worse: not belonging to a group that didn't belong.

Obviously, the Stille Omgang is many things to many people; I am sure there were plenty who got a lot out of it. But I'm not sure that it fits as well into my world as I thought it might.

#69 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2014, 03:37 PM:

abi @ 68... not belonging to a group that didn't belong

I tend to feel that way at small SF cons. The big ones at least have so much more going on that I don't wind up wondering where the fun is being had.

#70 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 03:21 AM:

@ Elliott Mason no. 63: I heard an interview in a California park on NPR in which a local Native American said (paraphrase), "So, yeah, this is my ancestors' acorn orchard, the last one they planted before they got moved down out of here," and the interviewer said, "But it's listed as wilderness," and the acorn farmer said, "Yeah, when you run into people who think you have to remove all the ground cover and plow straight furrows to be a real farmer, and your crop is oak trees, it's hard to get them to even see your farm."

I can't turn up a link to the interview online, but I found one paper with a remark that early explorers had noticed that California white oaks tended to grow in rows--but hadn't drawn the connection between people eating the acorns from those oaks and those same people having planted them. Because Indians, I guess.

#71 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 07:10 AM:

I wonder about something. There's a lot of deep green thought about the earth as a wilderness and the value that comes from, say, old growth forests. Now I'm hearing that some of the forests I'd thought of as natural are anything but. I don't find that hard to believe. But I do wonder how the deep green people have reacted to this? It kind of puts a spike in the wilderness narrative.

#72 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 08:44 AM:

In Michael Pollan's book about gardening, he talks about Cathedral Pines and how, after a storm, its artificial/gardened beauty was threatened. He writes that to preserve the wildness, people who didn't understand that it isn't truly wild decided to let it become so, which means it will change drastically.

I'm always interested in how people engineer the landscape, particularly New World landscapes. It's also depressing as hell because willful cluelessness leading to genocide and destruction four hundred years ago is still... I mean, I get involved in fiction. Fiction that never even happened.

Abi, I have known that feeling and I have unwittingly sent friends into it. I'm sorry that the pilgrimage wasn't what you expected it to be. I can see such potential beauty in the intrusion of the sacred into the profane, but intrusion is still intrusion.

#73 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 12:39 PM:

John A Arkansawyer @71: It kind of puts a spike in the wilderness narrative.

Yeah, but not the environmentalist narrative. If anything, it reinforces the idea that it's possible to live abundantly on the land without gutting it. Which is a concept modern ecology culture seems to be kind of struggling toward. (Not sure it's possible to live industrially on the land without gutting it, though....)

One of my favorites is the Chagga who live on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. Their farms, which are called vihamba (the plural; the singular is kihamba), combines intensive irrigation and agro-forestry.

(As one might expect, global climate change is reducing the snow-pack on Kilimanjaro, with the subsequent loss of water availability through the year. This does not bode well for the lifestyle. :-( )

I think one of the reasons (aside from the pure aesthetic beauty of the practice) I was so take with this when I first heard about it (on some PBS special of old) is that I have a fascination with little water courses.

When I was a wee tot, my dad did some (I assume) day labor on a local trout farm (which is now a condominium complex, of course), which was basically a bunch of little ditches dug into the ground. I was fascinated. He must have had the care of me for the day. I think I was about two, because the ditches came up to the middle of my thigh, and the little trout were about as long as my forearm. ("Jacque! Don't pet the fish!") There was something just magical about it. The whole area was stilly pretty rural, and this was (I think) before most of the roads in the area (northeast Boulder) were paved, with the sidewalks and the gutters and what-all.

Boulder is criss-crossed with irrigation ditches, from the big creeks down to little barrow-pits running along the sides of the roads. A few of these can still be seen, if you know where to look. I can't articulate the attraction, but every time I encounter one, there's this wistful, magical feeling in the back of my mind. The idea of a whole culture built around this kind of things is just....

The Petra irrigation system gives me the same kind of tickle.

#74 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 12:57 PM:

abi@68: I'm sorry it wasn't the experience you hoped for. It sounded like you were really looking forward to it.

Serge Broom@69: I've tended to feel that way at cons of all sizes. The critical factor for me—and this held for pilgrimages as well, now that I think about it—has been going with my spouse. This isn't so much a statement that my spouse makes everything better (although I do fully believe that); I think it's that when I'm focused on the shared experience then I worry a lot less about my place in it and can just appreciate the experience as it comes.

#75 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 01:46 PM:

dotless i, #74: Also, when you have your spouse/SO along, you have each other to talk to and are less likely to end up standing around feeling like a wallflower. That can still happen to me at cons, and I've been going to them for over 30 years.

#76 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 05:51 PM:

Jacque @ 73: I find the "wilderness narrative" (I made it up, I can put scare quotes around it) a little annoying, and am much more in sympathy with the idea of Earth as a garden*. Thus my mild hope for pleasure at news which might put a little spike in the idea. Oh, my people--you arrive at the most wonderful places by the most ridiculous routes! And so many are lost along the way.

*Which is funny, because I hate gardening with a passion.

#77 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 06:34 PM:

John A Arkansawyer @76 Have you read Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World by Emma Marris? I've had it sitting on my TBR pile for a while and have dipped into it a bit (and enjoyed) but not yet read in depth. The main argument is that trying to preserve nature in a pristine, prehuman state is a false goal, and that finding ways to coexist more effectively would better serve both people and the environment.

Jacque @73 I'm fascinated by cultures with well-managed water systems, too. Martha Wells's Wheel of the Infinite has one, although it's mentioned only in passing.

#78 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 06:54 PM:

John A Arkansawyer @76, OtterB @77, synchronicity! I just heard a story on the radio on my way home from work about people re-seeding Florida's cities with the (endangered) wild orchids that used to flourish in Florida before the cities were built...

#79 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 07:01 PM:

Cassy B. (78): I initially read that as "(dangerous) wild orchids" and wondered whether anyone was protesting efforts to bring back dangerous plants. Also wondering what was dangerous about them.

#80 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 10:27 PM:

Mary Aileen @79 <snork> A cross between an orchid and a Venus Fly Trap? <grin>

#81 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 10:30 PM:

Catching up a bit here, reading Abi's articles on Stille Omgang and the People's Park protests. I was at Berkeley from 1978-79, and the 10th Anniversary of People's Park march was a quiet affair (for Berkeleyish values of "quiet"), with everybody walking down the street with their kids and their kazoos. It was very strange a decade later, when I was living back east, to read that the 20th anniversary march had violence.

#82 ::: J Homes ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2014, 11:57 PM:

Mary Aileen @79
Required reading:
Wells, H. G. The Flowering of the Strange Orchid.
Followed by:
Clarke, Arthur C. The Reluctant Orchid.

Make sure you read them in that order.

J Homes.

#83 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2014, 12:41 AM:

And then there's the orchid mantis, which is hazardous, but not to people.

#84 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2014, 01:38 PM:

J Homes (82): Clarke's The Reluctant Orchid is ringing some very faint bells; I must have already read that one, but I'm not familiar with the Wells.

#85 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2014, 03:32 PM:

John A Arkansawyer @76:

A lot of my thinking (and writing on N2S) over the past eighteen or twenty months has been circling around the artificiality of our notions of wilderness.

I grew up in California, including intermittent stints in the mountains up in Humboldt County, and my family's big on native plants. So one of the bases of my entire mental model of land and the environment was that there was this thing called "wilderness", that it represents a state of nature, and that we have an obligation to preserve it to the extent that we can.

I managed to preserve that illusion when I lived in Scotland, because although the landscape is the product of a botanical die-off of staggering proportions in the last couple of centuries, it has its own ecological balance. It's only a wreck if you have some historical perspective, or know where to look.

But here in the Netherlands, no one pretends this isn't engineered, intentional land. And living here has caused me to look back on my other homes with different eyes, and think, wait a minute...

Realistically, very little of the earth is untouched by mankind. We've affected the atmosphere; our contrails cross the sky. Even when we haven't set foot on the land or added anything to the water, we're still leaving our mark.

And that causes me to question the "natural=good, intervention=bad" dichotomy, though that one has its roots in some pretty horrendous interventions. But if, for instance, the distribution of oak trees in a forest is not "natural", but the product of intervention, then the real opposition is "good intervention" vs. "bad intervention", with perhaps a third alternative of "no intervention at this time".

And another aspect of this slow crumbling of my previous, rather simplistic views is that I question how valuable it is for us to consider ourselves as a force outside of nature. I read an article a few days ago (link lost in the mists of a restart, alas) that posits that our social (and, perhaps, of our physical) evolution is the product of living in a landscape tailored by elephants. And that thing about how cats' microorganisms condition us to be better cat owners has done the round a number of times.

The fact of the matter is that tailoring one's environment is a survival behavior in many organisms. And that tailoring affects other organisms. We're doing it consciously, and more thoroughly than other species have, and it may very well cost us our existence, but fiddling with the environment does not make us unnatural.

(There's a blog post floating around half-written on my hard drive about finding cicada skins, obsidian flakes, and bullet cartridges when we went camping last summer. The question is: how many classes of items is that?)

#86 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2014, 04:17 PM:

abi@85: (There's a blog post floating around half-written on my hard drive about finding cicada skins, obsidian flakes, and bullet cartridges when we went camping last summer. The question is: how many classes of items is that?)

It sounds like we're almost back at the Minecraft thread.

#87 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2014, 04:26 PM:

If you've seen some Dracula species (I'm not making this up, you know!) you'll believe in malevolent orchids too.

#88 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2014, 04:35 PM:

dotless ı @86:

Joking aside, there's a fair argument that I'm an intellectual hedgehog these days. A lot of my thinking and writing is a kind of gnawing at the periphery of relatively few conceptual loci, rather than darting from topic to topic.

To genuinely go full circle to the Minecraft thread, I don't think we'll reach a world of genuine bounty unless we stop damaging the planet. And we're going to have a much better chance of managing that if we take an honest approach to our relationship with the processes of world-changing and -engineering.

#89 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2014, 04:56 PM:

Abi @ 88... I'm an intellectual hedgehog these days

Dinsdale's Spiny Norman?

#90 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2014, 06:05 PM:

C. Wingate: do I spot an Anna Russell reference? ("Brunnhilde...the only woman Siegfried has ever met who is not his aunt.")

#91 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2014, 06:06 PM:

England hasn't had anywhere truely wild for about 400 years, and most of it hasn't been wild for 4,000 years or more. Dartmoor looks the way it is because the bronze age farmers deforested it; the Norfolk broads are abandoned medieval peat diggings; and most of our ancient woodlands carry invasive introduced species that mean their eco-systems are dramatically different to what they were just a century ago.

Which means that short-lived, fast evolving species like insects are frequently adapted to humans' effect on the landscape. The Silver-studded Blue butterfly relies on heather management carried out by humans gathering bracken for bedding for example. Without the removal of the bracken each year, the heather is overwhelmed, and heath reverts to woodland. When it was truely wild the management was done by wildfires - as it still is on grouse moors (except now the fires are controlled burns by gamekeepers). But in the over-crowded south we put out the fires for fear of them spreading to houses. And no-one harvests bracken for their mattresses anymore.

And so the butterflies decline towards extinction. So now we buy reserves and volunteers go 'bracken-bashing', recreating the sort of man-made habitat the butterfly has adapted to. The concept of "wilderness" doesn't exist in nature conservation organisations over here - we have always actively managed reserves - trying to find the cheapest, least effort way of recreating what was once the side-effects of an entire community living an agricultural existence.

#92 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 07:54 AM:

Maryland was of course similarly deforested, like most of the mid-Atlantic in two phases, the second one being the demise of the chestnut forest which resided in the mountains where it was impossible to farm. Therefore "wild" forest here tends to be about eighty years old; ironically the inner semi-urban forest tends to hold the oldest trees either because they were preserved or simply because those areas predate the depression. But there are exceptions, and one of them is near my house. There is a grove, not even a acre, of mature beech forest on the grounds of a private school a few miles from us. It is a magical place, with virtually no understory amid the huge gray trunks. I guess that this is the direction all the unlogged forest around here is headed, for one sees among the red oaks elsewhere a sprinkling of beech saplings.

#93 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 08:35 AM:

Lila @90--I hate to argue, but I believe it was Gutrune who was the first non-related woman Siegfried had met, because the Valkyries were all his aunts.

There's this wicked little aside Russell slides in while talking about Siegfried's first encounter with Brunhilde, describing their rapturous duet--"She's his aunt, you know."

#94 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 08:51 AM:

Humans do more than just extinction. One of the most interesting lectures in my taxonomy class was on polytopic origin of species, which is just plain cool.

This has led me to wonder what sort of foundation principle one might have after a lot of thinking here. "Actions have consequences. Yes, even that one," seems like a good start, possibly with Elizabeth Moon's "Accidents Don't Happen, They're Caused," thrown in as a corollary.

#95 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 09:27 AM:

dotlessi @ 74... That being said, are you planning to attend 2015's worldcon in Spokane? I'm hoping to. This time though, I hope that nobody will ask me to volunteer to build another of my Hugo Ceremony displays. :-)

#96 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 09:33 AM:

abi #85: Realistically, very little of the earth is untouched by mankind. We've affected the atmosphere; our contrails cross the sky. Even when we haven't set foot on the land or added anything to the water, we're still leaving our mark.

And even beyond that....

And that causes me to question the "natural=good, intervention=bad" dichotomy, though that one has its roots in some pretty horrendous interventions.

"Not doing anything" is also an action. Sometimes it's better than "doing something", sometimes not so much. In particular, when we get into that "something must be done... this is something" loop... that's almost never going to be the best response.

Because the real difference is "wisdom" versus "impulse". Thinking ahead, planning for what we want, but also considering the effects of our actions -- that's wisdom. Yes, sometimes we get bitten by the Law of Unintended Consequences, or we just didn't understand well enough -- but thinking ahead will still do better than "more toys/food/power, more!" without consideration.

Either way, humanity bears the responsibility, and the consequences, for our own behavior. As Harry Stine (I think) said, we are as gods, and we really need to get better at it.

#97 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 10:21 AM:

re, Florida orchids (Cassy B., 78):
Florida is in a rather odd position with regard to wild orchids. It's on the edge of the tropics, and orchid seed is very efficiently dispersed by wind. Consequently, there are a lot of visitors from the Caribbean that stick around for a few decades, or perhaps even centuries, but may get knocked out by a particularly cold winter. IIRC, the quintessential endangered Florida orchid--the Ghost Orchid, Dendrophylax lindenii--is also found in Cuba and is probably a migrant to Florida. The other species in the genus are Caribbean.

A number of Florida natives (e.g. Prosthechea cochleata var. triandra, Prosthechea boothiana var. erythronioides) are self-pollinating versions of more widespread tropical species. Presumably, the specific pollinator can't survive cold winters, so the plants that reproduce most efficiently are the rare mutants that don't require a pollinator

#98 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 02:22 PM:

Serge Broom@95: It's too early to say "no", but it's unlikely. (Loncon is still possible, but that's very much up in the air and may fall victim to other scheduling constraints.)

#99 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 03:01 PM:

I'm still hoping that Spokane is possible. Lots of friends up there.

Aaaaand speaking of trees, the amusing thing that we noticed every time we drove to Spokane is that when you're driving east on I-90, the forestation starts within a mile of the county line. "Oh, there's the trees, we're almost there." Scrubby things, though.

#100 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 08:54 PM:

B Durbin @ 99... And it's only 819 miles from Sacramento to Spokane. Easily drivable.

#101 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 08:54 PM:

B Durbin @ 99... And it's only 819 miles from Sacramento to Spokane. Easily drivable.

#102 ::: Errolwi ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 09:08 PM:

Re environment management

In NZ, gorse is normally an introduced pest of a plant. Great for hedges in Great Britain, it loves the climate in the North island and prevents native bush naturally re-establishing. However it is often used as shelter for native seedlings when part of a managed establishing - the temperate-rainforest seedlings shoot up through the gorse, and shadows them in time.

#103 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 08:28 PM:

Serge: It's even easier considering there's family in Eugene, Oregon. Guaranteed stopping point, even if the route is a little less direct. (However, the I-5 route to I-84 takes you through the Gorge, which is a beautiful drive.)

#104 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2014, 12:09 AM:

Re accidental environmental management: Rhododendrons are an invasive plant in England's forests. Wild boars were killed out in England in the Middle Ages, but the meat is now so popular that wild boar ranching began in the late 20th century, using mainly zoo stock. Wild boars are even harder to keep penned up than pigs, however, and they've been feral in England for almost as long as there have been ranches. This leads to issues with safety (the really old ballads about heroes battling ferocious beasts aren't about dragons--they're usually about boars), livestock diseases, etc. But it also turns out that wild boars think that rhododendrons are just delish.

Re accidental environmental boons: Coast redwoods have been introduced to suitable habitats oceans away from their pre-Contact range, and many of them are doing quite well. They seem to like the British Isles a whole bunch. There is also at least one grove in Spain that is reproducing naturally.

#105 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2014, 01:01 AM:

I second B. Durbin's view (103) that the drive down the Columbia River Gorge is beautiful (highway I-84). Cliffs, giant trees, waterfalls (turn off into state parks to see the waterfalls a short stroll from the highway). The landscape gradually changes from the wet green of western Oregon into the gold of the high plains desert. The giant windmills on the eastern side are surreal. The model of Stonehenge looking over the river just amuses some, but I loved it. It was built as a memorial to the young men from that area who died in WWI. The stones frame the view over the river beautifully.

#106 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2014, 08:38 AM:

And just to crosslink them, Avram's Phosphene: The Dukes of Moral Hazard shows a really classic example of foolish impulse: Developers/owners don't like paying high flood-insurance fees, so they solve the wrong problem and suborn the risk-management system.

Do they think they can bribe the storms? More likely, they just don't care what happens to their buildings or tenants once they've got their payoff.

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