Benthic macroinvertebrates. They’re not actually that big. Not big enough to star in a horror movie (Attack of the Bottom-Dwelling Gargantuan Spineless Things?). But they’re visible to the naked eye, which is convenient for us. These aquatic creatures can tell us a lot about water quality. Some, when faced with pollution, gurgle, “Bring it on!” while others expire at the slightest dip in dissolved oxygen.
Recently I got to go out and scrounge up some of these critters. I and some other stream enthusiasts set up a complex mouse-trap-like mechanism, involving tubes, baubles, pulleys, bait, and suction, in the stream, then retreated while our prey ensnared themselves.
Really, we just plopped a net in the current and violently raked and scrubbed the creekbed to free the clinging critters into our net. The we emptied the net into a bucket and proceeded to sort the bugs in ice cube trays, examine them with nifty Transformer-like field microscopes, and identify them.
In a good stream, you’ll find biological diversity. The Big Three to look for are stonefly, mayfly, and caddisfly nymphs. If you have a variety of these guys, your stream has not yet died. Another important thing: these insects are a main food source for little salmon.
So, what did we find…?
The best environmental blogs: the golden quarter
We worry about pennies costing more than they’re worth, but at least we are not burdened by golden quarters. (But then, I guess, the quarters would cease being quarters and become a store of value. I’ll leave this for the economics blogs I reviewed this week.) The reason I say ‘golden quarter’ is that my sojourn into blogs monikered Id – Sl was truly inspiring, so I think this section of the alphabet must be enchanted.
The best environmental blogs: A to EcoRazzi
It’s been a long road, fraught with botched triple salchows, flesh-colored wardrobe malfunctions, and ice-shattering “Why me”s, but we are finally ready to share with you the enviro blog reviews from the first quarter of the alphabet.
Zen and the art of trail maintenance
The tools of trail work: the Pulaski, a Janus-headed half-axe, half-adze; the adze hoe (ain’t gardening); the pick mattock, which will pick your eye out if you lose your footing. Hard metal tools, forged in fire and originally designed for wildfire-fighting.
The tools are hard, but the work is soft. You can’t just hack a trail up the side of a mountain. According to to the Student Conservation Association’s trail manual, Lightly on the Land, early trails in the Northeast U.S. used to be built this way–hacked hurriedly straight up to the summit. This was because in the Eastern U.S., most of the trails being built were recreational, e.g. from a Catskill inn up to a viewpoint, and because people had to worry more about staying within property lines.
But now the “horizontal vision”–winding, low-grade trails that obey the contours of the land–of the Western U.S., where trails were originally more logging- or mining-related, is the favored method of trail building.
A kick in the pants for environmentalism
I was late for Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus’ (the authors of “The Death of Environmentalism”) keynote at Lewis & Clark College last night. I had spent an hour getting ready, dressing myself in my best funeral clothes. When my friend came to pick me up, exasperated with my naivete and our inevitable tardiness, he told me I couldn’t wear that: we needed to wear hemp and bring plenty of organic tomatoes to hurl at the speakers. Frustrated by now but also feeling a touch of the Halloween spirit, I decided to go as a CO2 molecule (maybe my hated presence would take some of the heat off these poor guys) and we hurried out the door.
But the occasion was really more of an unmasking than a dressing-up. A public stripping of the old codger Environmentalism, and an examination of his every lump, crevice and unsightly age spot.
Life at Mt. St. Helens
On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens lost 1,314 feet of elevation. In the largest landslide in recorded history, the top and north side of the mountain rolled down into the surrounding landscape. A huge bulge of magma burst sideways through the dome and released a hot, ash- and rock-filled wind that tore through the forest at 350 miles per hour.
The blast scorched and ripped up surrounding trees, but no fires started because there was no oxygen. The landslide dammed streams and rivers, creating many new lakes, and left behind whole chunks of the mountain on the landscape. The extreme heat from the eruption melted snow and ice, creating enormous mud flows that took out buildings and bridges. Hundreds of millions of tons of ash were released that day; a vertical column of ash reached fifteen miles up into the atmosphere. 250 square miles of surrounding land were damaged.
Your Chance to Eavesdrop
â€œCan I ask you folks a coupla dumb questions?â€
I turned around abruptly, and gasoline overflowed from the weedwhacker tank I was filling. â€œShit,â€ I mumbled automatically, flash-imagining the whole field going up in flames. â€œYes, sir,â€ I said, more loudly, to the man coming up the path.
â€œWhy are you all weedwhacking around these trees? Why donâ€™t you just leave this to Mother Nature?â€ That day we (a watershed restoration crew) were rigging the competition for our underdogs before they became underneaths. We were cutting the tall invasive grass away from young willow, ash, and ninebark seedlings that we had planted, before it could grow as tall as a basketball player and then fall on top of them like a mattress onto a bottle of wine. (Wink wink)
Plants: Nastier Than You Thought
A fly happens into a fly trap’s sticky leaves, and within seconds the Leaves of Death close over the fly. Who knew a plant could hustle so fast? This rapid plant movement is called haptonasty (from the Greek for nasty happenstance).
I’ve mentioned in another post that in our animal imaginations, plants don’t get credit for being fully alive. Why? Partly, because we think of them as unmoving. However, many plants exhibit rapid movements, like the leaf-closing mentioned above, or the instant collapse of leaflets in the shy Mimosa, or the closing of flowers at night. These “nastic” movements are caused by rapid chemical or pressure changes in the cells.
Nastic movements remind us of the twitchings of our own nervous systems. Add carnivorism to that, and a plant like the Venus fly trap gets elevated to near-animal status. But to really appreciate plant movement, we have to think a little differently. Most plant movements are tropisms, or growth movements. It is an elegant concept: instead of running, creeping, crawling or skedaddling, plants grow toward or away from a stimulus.
Beauty and the Beach: Cape Wind, Part I
I’m from Cape Cod, and I’ve never liked it when the ocean is interrupted. I like my view of the ocean to be cut short only by the curve of the earth, not by some meddling chunk of land or anything like that. It’s easier to feel continuous with the ocean if I can see a continuous ocean.
The 130 giant wind turbines proposed for a site six miles off the shore, the power from which would supply 75% of the Cape and Islands’ electricity, would definitely interfere with my oceanic feeling. The fossil fuel-burning power plant in my hometown of Sandwich, which currently supplies almost half of the region’s electrical power, is certainly less conspicuous. I vaguely remember the plant’s smokestack coming into view on each trip to the A&P. I grew up with the belief that it had something to do with Santa Claus, but I never thought much about it.
Goosebumps in summer
No, it’s not from the thrill of warm-weather romance (unfortunately).
In summer, I always have two outfits on hand (or on body). One is cotton and as skimpy as societal norms will allow; the other is woolen and as long as long-sleeved can be. The former is for walking to my destination, whether it be a movie theater, a library, or an office; the latter is for being in my destination. The drastic temperature differential between indoor and outdoor spaces leads to much bothersome, chafing, and eyeglass-discombobulating donning and undonning on my part.
To be fair, I err on the chilly side. (My mom, when I was new to this world, asked the pediatrician why I always looked slightly purple. The doctor responded that I had not yet adjusted to postnatal circulation. But nothing ever changed, so I guess Iâ€™m still adjusting.) But I also grew up in the Northeastern United States, so I am used to frigid, snowy weather. And though I have no official data, I have heard, over the years, similar reports from people of various body types and stages of fetal development: air-conditioned buildings are too freakinâ€™ cold!
A delicious bully
We think of plants as passive. They are alive, but it’s a different kind of alive than animal-alive. But the more you get to know plants, the more you can see how desperately alive they are.
I know blackberry well enough that it can stir up the same emotions in me as any human enemy. …more