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Posts from the ‘environment’ Category

Do you actively worry about the state of the world?

There are weeks, aren’t there, when all the news is bad, when new studies come out that tell us texting, climate change, and lack of personal eye contact with each other will be the ruination of everything. Maps are published that show how rising seas will eat away at coastlines, then states, then countries.

My grandparents thought radio and then TV and then Elvis were signs of a degraded populace. Every generation seems to point at some habit or phase of the next generation that spells doom. As we get older, we find out that not only our parents’ generation but our parents themselves were wilder when they were kids than they would acknowledge when we were growing up and pushing various envelopes.

The soothsayers seem to rejoice in proclaiming “The end is near.”

With gobal warming, I begin to wonder if the end is near. A lot of people are denying that it’s happening–in spite of the evidence. And that includes the current administration, one that is also rolling back clean air and water protections and other environmental rules. I remember when Jay Leno, on the old Tonight Show, used to interview people on the street about historical and other facts that my generation saw as baseline knowledge. More often than not, people didn’t even know the name of our President, where California is, and other basic facts.

Is our texting generation creating anew this aura of general stupidity about how the world works, where states and countries are, and whether or not rising seas constitute a real problem? I hate texting–so, I have a bias. But sidewalks filled with people who are looking at their cellphones is disturbing. What the hell can y’all possibly be talking about that’s more important than where you are and the people around you?

Do things like this worry you?

I’m beginning to wonder if I should start a new blog called “The end is near.”

Malcolm

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We’re saying goodbye to the natural world

I think many poets, myself included, are struggling with how to keep writing in the face of the environmental degradation that is looming over us and our children, the beauties and seasons that will be lost, the diversity of flowers and trees and butterflies and fish. These are in danger of vanishing before the words for them do. Poetry is extremely hardy—it was around before the alphabet and will outlast many kinds of human technology. I am robustly optimistic about poetry, but that is maybe the only thing I am optimistic about.

I think a lot about Richard Wilbur’s “Advice to a Prophet”: “Whether there shall be lofty or long-standing / When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.” So much of our language is rooted in the old seasons, and in a miraculous natural world. It is terrifying to think that the language will outlast some of these. On the other hand, I suppose there will be new metaphors, and the poets of the future will find a way forward. – A. E. Stallings

Should writers be political? I think the answer is “yes,” though in many countries being political results in a death sentence or life imprisonment. Each of us does this in our own way. We don’t write in a vacuum. It’s hard to ignore the slings and arrows of fads, bad government, and horrible business decisions. However, many of our potential readers say they’re tired of logging on to Facebook and other services, much less the news sites, and seeing a continuous flow of bad news.

I’ve been an environmentalist for a long time, so Stalling’s words resonate with me. My response in my fiction has usually been to celebrate the natural world. Perhaps this is not enough. It appears that more people want to celebrate suburbia than the world as it was created. So, how do writers approach that point of view?

Many writers have focused on climate change. Yet readers seem to think such works are “over the top” and that climate change either isn’t happening, isn’t caused by humankind, or that the worst scenarios won’t play out for hundreds of years. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say how soon the Earth’s environment will collapse. But we’ve been warned, I think. The least writers can do is celebrate the environment and have their fictional characters worry about global chaos.

The best we can do, perhaps, is allowing our characters the opportunity of expressing the kinds of fears we have. This way, we’re not beating our readers over the head with politics and activism. We’re telling stories in which folks have the same worries many of us have. I doubt that most people read stories that sound like a list of the political arguments of the day.  So, unless we have a seriously hardy theme, we need to be careful about how political we are.

Our readers want stories, not political tracts. Yet, we can inject our opinions if we are careful about how we do it.

Malcolm

Florida’s Oyster Reef Restoration Program

“Along Florida’s coasts, oysters play a vitally-important role in supporting healthy estuaries. Oyster reefs provide multiple benefits, from providing habitat and food for wildlife, to filtering water, removing nitrogen, and stabilizing eroding coastlines. Oysters are also a favorite cuisine for people and Florida once had robust oyster fisheries in many areas throughout the state.

“’Oysters are the quiet, unsung heroes of our estuaries, working hard every day to protect our coasts, clean our waters, feed and shelter fish, birds, crabs, shrimp and other wildlife,’” said Anne Birch, marine program manager for The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “When we help to restore and conserve oyster habitat and support the fishery we’re also helping our estuaries and our coastal communities flourish.”

Source: Florida’s Oyster Reef Restoration Program

Storms, reduced river water flows, and pollution are taking their toll on oysters, including those along the Florida Panhandle’s gulf coast where I grew up and where I’ve set many of my books. I’m happy to see that the Nature Conservancy chose to study and solve this problem–one that’s worldwide, actually.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s Florida Panhandle books include “Widely Scattered Ghosts” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

Let’s ban Glacier’s helicopter tours

“For almost twenty years Glacier has been listening to visitors from all over the country, the world and residents of Montana complaining about the NOISE of helicopter sightseeing tours in the Park.  Its time for them to STOP.

“Glacier National Park has been steadfast in their commitment to discontinue overflights since studies in 1999 determined them to be inappropriate, having adverse impact on wildlife, visitors and all the natural sounds.  Helicopter noise pollution has no place in an International Peace Park and World Heritage site, abounding in wilderness, serenity, majesty and quiet.  Noise has no boundaries and cannot be contained.

“A quagmire of regulations  have prevented the protection of the peace and quiet Glacier was known for and for which millions every year travel to experience..  That’s the bad news.  What’s the good news? We can help Glacier Park get QUIET!”

Source: coalitioninformation

I’ve disliked these absurd helicopter overflights from the beginning. The National Park Service doesn’t want them. But so far, the FAA won’t ban them. Meanwhile, the tranquility of the place, the visitor experience, and the natural habitat is compromised by noise.

If you don’t like this either, click on the link above and sign the petition.

–Malcolm

Environment: ship of fools or delusional idiots

Hurricane Michael is aimed at the place where I grew up. Almost everyone from Florida has seen storms before, but the odd thing is, each time a new storm arrives I see lists of things people should do to get ready and be safe. People should know these things already as surely as they know to look both ways before crossing the street and not taking a bath with a plugged-in toaster.

If my family lived in Tallahassee now, we probably wouldn’t leave. However, we would leave if we lived in Carrabelle, St. Marks, and other coastal communities in the storm’s path. Every year, there are hurricane deniers who say they’re ready to ride out the storm as though they are bigger than the storm. We saw what happened to those people when hurricane Florence struck: they needed to be rescued and that put first-responders’ lives at risk.

I have no idea whether the timing, routes, and ferocity of Florence and Matthew have anything to do with global warming. But, inasmuch as those storms are arriving at the same time as we’re hearing another set of global warming warnings, they remind me of the fact that many people have denied the importance of the environment for years and they seem to be treating warnings about rising seas, droughts, fires, and other effects the same way they treat hurricane warnings.

Years ago, we began hearing the term “spaceship earth.” We were told that in spite of Earth’s apparent resilience to poisons, plastics, rainforest clearing, fracking, and other forms of pollution and environmental damage, that our planet was–in many ways–a spaceship traveling through space with limited resources and a failing infrastructure. Multiple environmental groups have been complaining about the damage ever since I was in grade school, and probably before that.

I was naïve in the 1960s when I joined the Sierra Club because I actually thought people were smart enough to take those warnings seriously. Now I think that spaceship earth is either a ship of fools or is carrying passengers who are delusional idiots. Apparently, restricting one’s actions to help the environment is so inconvenient that allowing Earth to fail is worth it. Most people think it will happen years after they’re gone. So they don’t worry about it. That foolish idiocy keeps them from seeing it’s happening now.

For those who love dystopian fiction, watch the news. We are living it. There’s no need to make it up. And to ramp up our feelings of danger, the current Presidential administration has appointed kamikaze pilots to every single post that can impact spaceship earth for better or worse. So far, they are choosing “worse.” We can shake our fists at the storm and say we’re going to ride it out.

Good luck with that.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Another great crop of weeds this year, dang it

Philosophers have said that a weed is a perfectly innocent plant that just happens to be growing where you don’t want it to be.

I don’t buy it.

Field line plot on a day when the weeds have recently been cut.

Case in point: Septic Tank Field Line.

In the old days, when you built a house in the country, you added an outhouse. Later, when indoor plumbing came into fashion, the county required a perc test to make sure what you flush actually went away from the septic tank within a preferred amount of time. Our county changed the rules about a half hour before we started building our house.

First let me point out that our area has hundreds of houses with indoor plumbing that are connected to septic tanks placed after a perc test was done. So far, none of those houses has become an EPA clean-up site.

So now, the county requires a soil sample. Our test said we had bad soil except in a half-acre space that used to be a garden. The system of field lines required by the county was almost prohibitively expensive. Because those lines are close to the surface and because we’re next to a farm with heavy cows that would make a mess of those field lines if they walked through the old garden, we had to fence it in.

As we were paying for all this, my question to the county was why were two people living in a house such a big sanitation issue when there were over eighty head of cattle next door doing their business without environmental issues–or bad smells? I never got an answer because the county blamed the feds.

So, the highest weeds in the yard are in the fenced-in field line plot. Well, they’re certainly being watered often enough. If I mow them on the first day of the month, the weeds will have to be mowed again in a couple of weeks. By then, they’re taller than the riding mower.

Those vines weren’t there a half hour before I took this picture.

Case in Point: The Old Chicken House

Chickens haven’t lived in the old chicken house since before my wife was born. When she was a kid growing up on this property, bales of hay were stored there. At some point, a section of it burnt down and was just left that way because hay hadn’t been stored there for years. Mainly, it was full of farm debris nobody knew what to do with, so it ended up there.

A year ago, just after I stored a whole lot of new debris in there, we had the burnt end of it shored up. Also, a lot of the weeds and brush were cleared away from it. I haven’t needed to get rid of any junk for a while, so we haven’t been in there. Now that I cleaning out the other half of our 1920s garage and have stuff to move to the chicken house, I can’t get in.

Why not?

Weeds. I’m not talking about dandelions and other tiny plants, but big woody plants whose goal is to become the forest primeaeval. I tried to explain to them that there are a lot of other places on this property where they can set up housekeeping and raise families. No luck. So, I spent the morning with long-handled pruning shears clearing a tunnel through the mess so I could get into the chicken house with debris that one day down the road the heirs to this property will have to deal with.

Case in Point: The Yard

Modern-day environmentalists complain a lot about yards. Even in ticky-tacky subdivisions, they (the environmentalists) say the yard should be left in a wild state or turned into a garden. Homeowners associations and city commissions don’t like that because both plans destroy the conformity of the neighborhood, tick off neighbors, and purportedly provide places for evildoers to hide.

No luck trying to hire one of the goats that lives across the road.

We’re slowly getting rid of the grass in our yard by adding small trees so that one day, the yard will be nothing but shrubs, wildflowers, trees, and mulch. Until we finish this project, the yard is rather like a huge weed. We can have a month of drought followed by a day-long monsoon, and suddenly the yard-weed comes to life and grows so fast that after we mow it, people say we should have baled the cut grass for the cattle.

Nothing on the property grows as fast and as stubbornly as the weeds. I’m sure we’ll have to replace the riding mower blades soon because grass and weed height are doing them in. Some people say we should buy goats because they’ll take care of the problem, can “do their business” like the cows without an expensive septic tank, and are cute.

I guess we could put them in the chicken house if we can ever get inside. If we don’t, the coyotes will carry them off during the night. Grim people say that if the world ends, only the cockroaches will survive. They may be right. And they’ll have plenty of weeds to hide behind.

–Malcolm

Florida in Pictures – Sea Oats and Sand

The sandy beaches of the Florida Panhandle are usually white and flanked by sand dunes covered with sea oats and sand spurs. Sand spurs are annoying because they, like spurs, grab on to your legs or your clothes. Sea Oats are graceful and protected. Pick one, and you might go to jail. Our panhandle beaches look quite a bit different than the multi-colored sand you might see south of Jacksonville. The sea oats add to the ambiance.

 

Florida Memory Photo

 

Wikipedia’s definition is accurate, I think: Uniola paniculata or sea oats, also known as seaside oats, araña, and arroz de costa, is a tall subtropical grass that is an important component of coastal sand dune and beach plant communities in the southeastern United States, eastern Mexico and some Caribbean islands. Its large seed heads that turn golden brown in late summer give the plant its common name. Its tall leaves trap wind-blown sand and promote sand dune growth, while its deep roots and extensive rhizomes act to stabilize them, so the plant helps protect beaches and property from damage due to high winds, storm surges and tides. It also provides food and habitat for birds, small animals and insects.

Trust me. You don’t want this in your yard. Wikipedia photo.

You can buy sea oats from nurseries but you can’t steal them from the beach. Frankly, when I was growing up here, it never occurred to me to pick the sea oats, much less buy them. They do stabilize the dunes and are an important part of the ecosystem. However, if you were to buy your own for your yard, you can use them to make bread.

As for the sand spurs, I think the devil made them.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of novels set in the Florida Panhandle, including “Lena,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Wildflowers: White Birds in a Nest

Wikipedia photo

White Birds in a Nest (Macbridea alba) is a threatened Florida wildflower in the mint family that is found in the panhandle. It favors pine woods and savannas in environments that require periodic fires that manage the ecosystem. Years ago, somebody said the flowers reminded them of birds eggs or the heads of baby birds, and the notion became its common name.

Fire suppression–rather than letting natural and necessary burns take place–has played havoc with this plant along with many others in longleaf pine environments. It depends of bumblebees for pollination, and those are in decline. And then, too, there’s always the land’s old enemy development which takes its toll. Pesticides and pastures are among the usual suspects.

When I was growing up in Florida, these plants were much more common than they are now. I mention them in my 1950s-era folk magic crime novels because they were very much a part of the characters’ environment, a part of the wild flower display you can see along state highway 65 between Eastpoint on the Gulf coast north through the Apalachicola National Forest to SR 12 just west of Quincy. The flower can also be found in Alabama. The blooms stand out in their natural habitats between May and August.

When people find these flowers in the wild, they often pick them, thinking they can take them home and display them in a vase. They’re too fragile for that and will probably wilt in the car on the way back to the house. The Forest Service, in Ethics and Native Plants, states that “For many of us a field of wildflowers is one of the most beautiful experiences we can encounter in Nature. There is a deep impulse we carry from childhood into adulthood to reach out and pick a flower in a beautiful butterfly-filled meadow or along a public wooded trail lined with spring beauties, irises, or wake-robins. It is because we all carry such memories that we have devoted an entire website to Celebrating Wildflowers. Millions of people visit the public lands each year and if only a small fraction of them each picked a few flowers, soon there would be none for the rest of us to enjoy.”

If you live in Florida or are visiting the state, you can see White Birds in a Nest in Bay, Gulf, Franklin, and Liberty counties. The Apalachicola National Forest has the most stable populations.

I find these flowers to be quite showy and hope we can preserve them via common sense and Forest Service preservation plans.

Malcolm

“Lena,” the final novel in Malcolm’s Florida Folk Magic trilogy will be release by Thomas-Jacob Publishing on August 1.

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred Earth, Spiritual Journeys

“Indigenous nations and peoples believe in the spiritual powers of the universe. We believe in the ultimate power and authority of a limitless energy beyond our comprehension. We believe in the order of the universe. We believe in the laws of creation and that all life is bound by these same natural laws. We call this essence the spirit of life. This is what gives the world the energy to create and procreate, and becomes the ponderous and powerful law of regeneration—the law of the seed.” – Oren Lyons.

View outside my living room window.

View outside my living room window.

When I look out the window and see the land, it’s much easier for me to believe in a sacred earth and the kinds of spiritual journeys that occur there than it is when I look at the Internet, the television set or a traffic jam on a city street.

I’ve had the same feelings in Apalachicola National Forest, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley and along the California coast at Pt. Reyes.

As the author of fantasy and magical realism novels and short stories, I can “get away with” suggesting that the land is sentient and that the animals one meets on the trail or sees above the mountain tops are wise and have lessons to teach us. Why? Because readers within my genre aren’t surprised by that view.

With most of the U.S. population living in cities, I wonder if those who live there long for the land as it’s shown them in spiritual ecology books and fantasy novels; or is there such a big disconnect between the land and daily life in the city, that environmental issues, spiritual journeys, and all the “Earth in peril” causes we hear about on the news or see on Facebook don’t seem real at all–outside of the novel on the nightstand.

Lake McDonald - NPS Glacier Park photo

Lake McDonald – NPS Glacier Park photo

I have no trouble writing fantasy that shows the Earth as alive because, whether it’s old childhood superstitions that grew out of so many days and nights spend camping, fishing and hiking or whether it’s wishful thinking, I see the land the way I write about it in my fiction.

I think it helps an author to not only have a passion for the themes in his/her storytelling, but to literally believe they’re true. When one believes, one tends to see a lot of things in nature (and elsewhere) that others do not see. Perhaps it’s an illusion or a tired hiker’s hallucination; I can’t say for sure. But it seems real, real enough to believe in.

Perhaps you have other passions. If you write stories and poems, create art, compose or sing songs, or work as a photographer, those passions and beliefs probably impact your work, making it more vibrant, believable and transcendent to those who see it or hear it. They may ask you where you get your ideas and you may tell them that within your belief system and your own journey, the ideas behind your work are quite natural.

In folk magic, everything is alive and interacts with people in their daily lives.

“Where do you get your ideas” is such a standard question authors hear, we’re often flippant about it and make up absurd answers because, frankly, we’re tired of the question and tired of trying to concretely say where those ideas come from. When we’re not being flippant, we say those ideas are part of our lives and so they’re echoed in everything we do.

For me, it’s a sacred Earth and a spiritual journey. Whatever your life and your passions are about, your art is going to reflect that if it’s honest art.

–Malcolm

This post originally appeared on “The Sun Singer’s Travels” in 2015.

 

 

Florida Wildflowers: Seaoats

“Seaoats are important dune builders and protect beach dunes from erosion. It is unlawful in Florida to destroy or take this grass.” – “Florida Wildflowers: a Comprehensive Guide” by Walter Kingsley Taylor

“It shall be unlawful for any person to cut, collect, break or otherwise destroy sea oat plants, Venus’s-flytrap plants or any part on public property or on private property without the owner’s consent. Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not more than two hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days nor less than five days. Each violation shall constitute a separate offense.” – SC Code § 16-11-590 (2013)

Herbarium Specimen – Atlas of Florida Plants photo.

Seaoats (Unicola paniculata) are perennial grasses, often clumped and with vast root systems, that can grow over six feet tall that are found throughout the state in coastal uplands and beach dunes. The flat, inch-long flowers (spikelets), which are slightly purple or the color of straw, blooms throughout the year.

Seaoats can be found along the coasts and on barrier islands along the eastern seaboard from Virginia to Florida. Seaoats are very tolerant of salt spray. They are also very heat and drought tolerant and green until late in the summer. While the conditions under which they thrive reduce encroachments from other plants, beachfront development is a primary threat. (As you can see in the Florida state park photo below, developers, dune buggy enthusiasts, and others are likely to write the plant off as a weed.)

Some people like using them as accents in flora arrangements or as the focus of dried arrangements–one reason why some areas classify the grass as a threatened or endangered species as well in addition to being vital to soil stability within its habitats. They not only protect dunes year around but are an important factor in protecting coastal areas from the erosion associated with tropical storms. Restoring seaoats often becomes an important part of dune restoration programs.

Seaoats provide food for songbirds, burrowing owls, mice and marsh rabbits. While the grass produces numerous spikelets, these don’t generate a lot of viable seed. Fortunately, the seeds don’t have any important commercial value.

Seaoats on the crest of a dune at the John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, Florida – Wikipedia photo.

“What is so tantalizing about sea oats, making one wish to break the law to have sea oats in their own garden? For starters, they have a striking appearance growing and swaying in the slightest breeze. The decorative plumes (seed heads) are often dried and placed in floral arrangements, or displayed alone as a focal point. Sea oats are quite easy to have without breaking the law, but few people are aware seeds and/or plants may be bought legally from nurserymen licensed by the state of Florida to propagate them. These nurseries supply sea oat plants to local, state and federal government agencies for dune restoration after hurricanes; the nurseries are allowed to sell them to the public as well.” – Darius Van d’Rhys

Seaoats are edible (browned or used as a cereal), but if you want to try them, you have to grow your own. Note that the plant is not the same as Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) that often grows as a ground cover in open areas and is found in northern states as well as the southeast.

–Malcolm

For a chance to win a free Kindle copy of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” see the Amazon giveaway which runs through August 8th.