Learn, Write, Adapt, Connect…….and Bike

January 10, 2011

Both days this weekend I went for a bike ride around the lake here.  We started this winter with some good snow and I went cross-country skiing a few times but then we had a melt New Years Eve so skiing is done for now.  The temp was in the 20s but the roads were clear.  I haven’t done much winter biking in the past but as long as the roads are clear, the winds are calm and the sun is bright, why not.

I mention this because this year I hope to track the nunber and types of rides I go on.  Some will be errands, some will be exercise, and some will be meanderings.  All have their own character but one thing they all share is that I do my best thinking on a bike.  Sometimes practical, sometimes philosohical, sometimes something in between.

Today I was thinking about a question posed by a reader of climateprogress.org.  Ian is a 25 year old with a degree in film-making.  He’s got a job but doesn’t particularly care for it and feels frustatrated that he’s not pouring his energy into fighting to save the planet.  He basically asked CP readers what he should do next.  There are a many thoughtfulresponses here http://climateprogress.org/2011/01/09/what-should-ian-do-with-his-life/

My thoughts from today’s ride are below and will surely prove to be more beneficial to me than to Ian.


Great question, I thought about it on my very cold bike ride around the lake today.  I would answer with “Learn, Write, Adapt, and Connect”.

Learning.  No matter what you need to continue aggressively learning.  Formally and informally.  Don’t like your job?  Go to grad school where you will be pushed to learn, analyze, and communicate.  There are undoubtedly a number of programs where you can gain greater confidence in your understanding of the science while refining your excellent communications skills.  I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone but you seem like you’d enjoy the challenge and would definitely come out a stronger thinker than you were when you entered.

Writing.  I am 36 and I am still coming to grips with the importance of writing.  The idea that one writes to convey ideas to others is obvious.  The real importance of writing for me at this point in my life is that process of writing strengthens you as a thinker as you are forced to clarify your thoughts.  This year my goal is to use writing to focus my actions as well by blogging weekly on ecological living.  I input non-stop but knowing that I will need to write forces me to concentrate ideas into actions.

Adapting.  You mentioned that you didn’t feel that minimzing your carbon footprint was significantly satisfying but perhaps if you viewed it in terms of skills-learning you might appreciate it more. I don’t expect a dramatic collapse anytime soon but I find it extremely fulfilling to learn to grow food, etc. and move down a path of self-reliance while lessening my footprint.

Connecting.  We all need to continue to connect with our families, friends, communities, and environment.  If we are to succeed in this struggle, our love for humanity and this planet must overwhelm and outlast the fossil-barons’ love for their profits.

If you pursue the activities, you’ll likely find, as I did, that feedback loops are generated and soon you are doing more than you ever could have imagined.  This is empowering and we need empowered people in this struggle for it will be a long one.

Thanks for posing the question.  You have stimulated a terrific exchange of ideas.



New Day, New Decade

January 2, 2011

In 2010 I learned that writing about urban ecology is much easier done in the winter than the spring and summer simply because during late spring and summer I was “too busy” to write.  This is, of course, total bullshit.  There was plenty of time to write, I just didn’t.  In 2011, my goal is to write one post per week and on the first day of January which arrived here with a cold, hard wind, that seems like an easy task. 

My overall goal for 2011 is less ideas, more action.  My mind has fallen into a state of input-addicted, multi-tasking, disarray and I need to fix this by focusing on output via creating, writing, building, and growing.  With any luck, this will help rewire my brain so it functions effectively again.

To recap the last 8 months of 2010, it was hot as shit with horrible mosquitos which are my top two excuses for the garden falling into a greater state of disrepair than I would care but there were some successes.  The tomatos did very well in Liam’s yard. The sorrel came back and looks well established.  The hyssop sprouted and even bloomed and should come back thiicker unless Liam pulls it all out while the converting the old dogrun to a chicken run. The Canada Anemone should be fine and another clump I put in 2 years ago completely overran the English violets which was too bad.  The pole beans did well  but the lettuce was not particularly great as even though it was supposed to be a mixed bag of seeds, 90% of what actually grew was a very peppery. arugula-like green – I’ll need to get a new mix this year.  The biggest disappointment was that no mushrooms whatsover grew.  I think the logs that I drilled the spored dowels into must have dried out which prevented the oysters from growing.  They could still grow this year though.

On the efficiency-front, we got a letter from the city offering us a spot in a pilot program to get a low interest loan from the city for energy efficiency improvements. Using the report from our home energy audit as a guide, we got bids from 2 local contractors for work I’ll detail later if we get approved.

Guerrilla Restorations

April 24, 2010

This past weekend was a major gardening weekend.  Saturday April 17th my daughter and I went down to a huge nursery 10 miles south of town.  I purchased 4 sedges (Carex plantaginea), six wild gingers (Asarum canadense), 3 Siberian Irises (Iris siberica), and a pair of English violets (Viola hybrida ‘Etain’).  Most of the plants went in the front garden.  The exceptions were the wild gingers.  Those went on the north side of the garage where I am trying to reclaim.  These didn’t go in the giant weed patch / dog run but between that and the garage, intermingled with the Columbines that I transplanted from other places around the yard.

Sunday morning I dug up the prairie plants on the south side of the garage and decided to plant them in the greenway across the street from our house.  There is about an acre of land that is neglected by the city but used as a walking area by the neighbors.  The open field is primarily inhabited by reed canary grass and a variety of other common weeds so I doubt anyone will mind that I planted 20 prairie plants out there.  Rudbeckias, ironweeds, monards, spiderworts, and sunflowers, etc.  People probably thought I was crazy as they biked along the bike path that traverses the greenway and saw me digging holes in the middle of a field with a kid on my back.  At least one neighbor was into it, though.  I told Steve what I was doing an he offered to raise plants in his backyard and then transplant them. Maybe I’ll post something on craigslist and see if anyone else wants to contribute….

Steve also told me that our mushroom kit order had arrived.  I purchased 6 dowel plugs that will grow Wine Cap Stropharia and about 100 dowel plugs that will grow oyster mushrooms.  The stropharia plugs are 2-inch dowels that are covered in mycelium.  These you just jam into the ground in an area full of decomposed wood chips.  I planted(?) those on the north side of the house.  For the oyster plugs, I needed to drill inch in holes into the logs I picked up this winter from where the crews cleared the railroad right-of-way.  After drilling the holes, I just tapped the dowels in with a hammer.  since they were wet and covered in mycelium, they fit in very snug-ly.  Now I need to water my mushroom logs.  Go figure.

And as a prelude ti this weekend’s activities, I received 30 Canada anemones (Anemone canadensis) in the mail from a nursery.   These will replace the prairie plants I moved to the greenway.  They’ll stay nice and low and they have a nice long bloom time. They also spread nicely.  I also received the Lavender hyssop seed with the anemones.  Liam has most of the weeds and topsoil removed from the dogrun / weed patch so these will get planted soon.

Out Like a Lamb

April 5, 2010

It’s the end of March / beginning of April and the weather has been mostly warm and dry with a few showers today.  The crocuses have peaked and the daffodils are in full bloom.  The chorus frogs are singing away and I just saw 2 bats fly over my head this last week one evening when I was out front talking to my neighbor Lenny.  The ice on the lake went out 2-3 weeks ago and last two weekends I saw several loons out there, resting on their way north.  Last week also saw the arrival of blue jays, goldfinches and tree swallows.

I planted peas back on March 14 and then, assuming the seeds weren’t viable or that the squirrels dig them up, planted one more at each stake.  Now it looks like the ground simply wasn’t warm enough as they all seem to be coming up.  I haven’t grown peas before and am excited to see how this turns out.  I sowed a variety that only grows 2 feet high but still requires support.  I purchased 3 foot ong pieces of bamboo and then sunk those into the ground in pairs bound at the top so they form upside-down V’s.  Since I am doing this in a 4’x4′ box, I only had room to erect 4  pairs of stakes.  Initially I sowed a pea on either side of each stake and then added a third just underneath.  I’ll probably have to thin these out so that only one or two plants is growing up each stake.  And there might not be an advantage to having two pea plants compete for the same stake if they just interfere with each other.

Yesterday I was out in the garage pulling nails when I noticed a few pale, pathetic looking plants trying to grow in some clay pots I have.  It turns out that these were sorrel plants that I started from seed in the pots last year.  I was completely negligent of these things and they dried out and wilted a number of times over the summer.  When winter arrived, I moved the frozen pots with the scrawny leaves into the garage.  There they sat dormant until recently when the warmth and the faintest amount of light triggered another hopeful attempt at a better life.  And their persistence has paid off as I transplanted them into the bed with the peas.

Of course, to make room, I had to pull out the tiny columbine seedlings that must have drifted over from the bed to the west of the pea bed.  These were moved to the north side of the garage which is a five foot strip of bark chips between my garage and a chain-link fenced-in dog-run/weed patch in Lenny’s backyard.  As nature hates a vacuum, I figured I should start planting things I like as a defensive move.  That’s how some hostas ended up there and why I will be seeding the dog-run with lavender hyssop, Agastache foeniculum.  Native to the eastern U.S., I’m actually only familiar with it in planted settings rather than in the wild.  A nearby coffee shop has a dense stand of it in the backyard.  It has a long bloom period and is very attractive to bees and hummingbirds.  I just found out my other neighbor’s backyard beehive didn’t survive the winter and he had to replace the bees.  Hopefully this will create a strong nectar source for the bees.  and then maybe I can get some honey!

Lavender hyssop from Prairie Nursery.

As I was planting little bits of columbine along the dog-run fence, I couldn’t help but notice that the weeds in the dog-run were already getting thick.  A co-worker had confirmed to me that vinegar is an effective herbicide, especially early in the season.  He explained that the vinegar doesn’t poison the plant as most herbicides do.  Rather, it burns the leaves, leaving them wilted and unable to perform photosynthesis.  So I sprayed away this morning.  Dandelions, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard.  By the time I checked back this afternoon, the dandelions were already looking wilted.  I’ll keep this up every couple days until the seeds arrive in the mail.  with any luck, the hyssop will establish and bloom like mad.

The Belmont

March 22, 2010

Our friends Brian and Laura had us over for dinner a while back and served us a terrific grilled cheese sandwich with brie, spinach, mustard and marmalade.  Wife and I were playing around with that and ended up with a new sandwich, the Belmont.  Thanks to Brian and Laura for the inspiration – we’ll have you over soon!

2 slices of wide Italian bread

1/4 pound of nice turkey, deli-sliced

goat cheese, enough to smear on one piece of bread

a handful of spinach

blackberry jelly, enough to smear on the other piece of bread

A little dijon mustard, if you’re in the mood

olive oil for the grilling

Get the bread on the grill, cheese and condiments face up.  Then get the turkey on the grill and then the spinach on the grill.  The spinach will wilt quickly and end up 1/10 of the pre-wilted size so use a lot – its good for you.  Aft the spinach wilts, distrbute evenly across the goat cheesed slice.  After the turkey is hot, get that on the spinach.  Combine the pieces of bread into an outstanding sandwich.

A note on the name, the goat cheese was produced in the nearby Town of Belmont.

So Much for Mud Season

March 19, 2010

It’s been in the fifties and sixties all week long.  SundayI bought a new bike that is relentlessly badass and taught my daughter how to plant peas and spinach – two things I’m sure she’ll hate.  She does enjoy eating mud though.  Good for the gut flora, right?

The warm weather melted what little snow was left and warmed the soil enough for the crocuses to bloom and to allow for the chorus frogs in the wetland across the street to emerge.  Although I guess most of the frogs aren’t convinced because it doesn’t sound like much of a chorus just yet.  Snow will come this weekend and then we’ll get another warm-up after that at which point the rest of the chorus frogs should be out, calling in unison every evening.  At its seasonal crescendo, I can actually hear it from inside the house with the doors and windows shut. 

The only downside of the beautiful warm weather has been the goddamn box alder bugs.  As if I needed a reason to caulk the shit out of my house besides keeping it warm in the winter time, I really need to do it to keep these bastards out.  In the fall, they congregate on the south side of our house and move into the house as it gets cold.  Then they hibernate until it gets warm and then some make their way into our living space.   I can’t find the single entry point but Mark, the building performance guy found a lot of places I found so I need to get out the calk gun this weekend.  And next fall kill them before they get in the house.

Mud Season

March 12, 2010

This morning there were robins outside for the first time this year. Lots and lots of robins.  And at work I saw a great blue heron over the pond across the street and then heard a meadowlark outside the back door.  Both were firsts of the year.  Also saw five sandhill cranes from my office window.  It was warm and rainy.  The snow is mostly melted.  Everything is dirty and trashy.  Its hard to imagine how nice it will be soon.  Maybe we’ll have a long spring.  That would be pretty nice.

Winter Breaks

March 9, 2010

It’s still early March but things are changing.  The buds on the silver maples are swollen, the snow is melting and on Saturday I heard a lone crane calling as it passed over our house.  I can’t help but snap to attention when I hear a crane’s call.  Why? Aldo said it best.

“Our appreciation of the crane grows with the slow unraveling of earthly history.  His tribe, we now know, stems out of the remote Eocene.  The other members of the fauna in which he originated are long since entombed within the hills.  When we hear his call we hear no mere bird.  We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution.  He is the symbol of our untameable past, of that incredible sweep of millenia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.”

I first got acquainted with cranes one summer I spent digging in a hill in far western Alaska.  All summer long, every day, a pair of cranes would fly over our heads, croaking, flapping wings impossibly slowly.  From that hillside we could see for miles around us but given the noise of the constant wind, all sounds were obscured except for the croak of the cranes.

This morning another harbinger spring had arrived, and clarified for me that red-wing blackbirds arrive before juncoes depart. 

And finally, a bucket of shit made it’s timely arrivel to my garden.  The spring planting season will be here soon and I was worried that there was a lot of material in my compost pile that hadn’t composted so, in hopes of turning the heat in the bin up a bit, I asked a coworker to provide me with a 5-gallon bucket chickenshit and cage litter.  He was eager to help and brought the lidded bucket in to work today.  I mixed the contents into the compost bin this afternoon and am eager to revisit the bin in a few weeks to begin extracting.  With any luck, this chickenshit will supercharge the composting process and the orange peels, coffee grounds, potato skins and bad apples will all return from whence they came.

Song Sparrows

March 3, 2010

I have had an addition to the soundtrack of my morning walks along the railroad tracks for the last 2 days.  A song sparrow has arrived so I guess the spring migration has officially started.  Thank God.

The Prussian

March 1, 2010

Saturday I made a potato/carrot soup but by evening I knew I needed a sandwhich to go along with it.  But what kind of sandwich? Duh. A tongue sandwich.  Here’s my riff on the Rueben. 

2 slices of light rye

1/4 pound of beef tongue, deli-sliced

2 slices of aged swiss

2 Tbs of pickled red cabbage (like Kengstenberg’s Red Cabbage with Apple)

A little dijon mustard

Butter for the grilling

This is so simple but so bad ass.  Heat the flattop, get the buttered bread slices with the mustard and cheese on it going on one end and on the other throw on the tongue so it gets nice and hot (nobody wants cold meet in between hot bread!). When the tongue is hot, get it on the bread, spread the cabbage over it and the make a sandwich! As always, pair with a delicious beer.  I went with something pungent, hoppy, crisp, floral, bitter, piney, resinous and engaging (their words, not mine, but right on the mark) and it was great.

FYI, if you like this you are probably of Eastern European stock.