Can’t Get There from Here

The repairs for which the road residents were first given a heads-up for completion in October of last year (after Hurricane Michael removed most of Goose Creek) is finally happening this week.

And since October we’ve been driving through water, in and out of the valley here, with wheel rims and brakes staying wet and rusty now for more than a half-year. The culvert under the concrete (poured in the early 70s) had filled with debris and could not be cleaned out. The concrete over top of the culvert had collapsed more than a year ago.

And this is just the first of many possible repairs. We understand that FEMA had identified almost 2 dozen specific remediations along Goose Creek–as in “keep the creek from eating into the midline of the road” remediations. However, what eventually gets done (probably in 2022 or 2023 at the earliest) depends on local funding and supervisor decisions, fraught with the politics and fiscal choices pertaining thereunto.

What Native Plants?

Japanese Spirea ~ a beautiful invasive

We rounded the bend on Griffith Creek last week to find a hundred yards of creekside lined thickly with a flat-topped pink-flowered shrub I recognized as Spirea, a member of the rose family.

But the members of the genus I was familiar with are knee-high wildflowers, not shrubs. And seeing the extent of this population, I suspected it was spreading without threat of disease or predators, because it was “not from these parts.”

I sometimes wish I did not notice the invasives that are taking over Floyd County; that are changing the visual space; that are outcompeting or otherwise damaging what used to be endemic North American natives. There are so many forms of “kudzu” these days, and it makes me heart-sick.

At one point, I spent a lot of energy hand-picking the garlic mustard, coltsfoot and Japanese stilt grass; clipping back the multiflora rose, autumn olive and oriental bittersweet from anywhere I came across it within our boundaries.

Now I have acquiesced. I surrender. The bittersweet reaches the tops of young trees under the powerline clearing, having dropped so many seeds already that clipping back the mature vines will have no impact on future infestation. I suppose I have no options but to harden my shell.

I wish I didn’t care. I wish that this out-of-balance state felt okay; that knowing my grandchildren would experience the consequences of biological homogenization–the opposite of biological diversity–in their world and beyond.

It is the price we will pay as a species for the speed and ease with which we travel and ship and transplant from all around the living world. Their native plants and animals are now our pests, nuisances and invaders. And the average person thinks “so what?”

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” Aldo Leopold

(extra)Ordinary Nearby Nature

Ichneumonid wasp on our woodpile a few years back

Horntail wasp just out the back door last week

I’d never seen a horntail wasp until I saw this one last week, but knew at a glance what it was. Note the horn on the tail, just above its rather short, stout ovipositor. It is NOT a stinger.

And so now, I have familiarity with both the predator and the prey. How they interact is truly amazing, and a story I had known about for decades.

This short video below shows excellent details of the Ichneumonid’s remarkable way of getting its egg onto the horntail larva deep inside the trunk of a tree. Worth your time. Trust me.

This is just crazy! And yet, it’s just life for this barely-noticed common wasp.

The Best Time…

No MegaGlobalCorp will make billionaires in doing so, but it is perhaps the most effective and achievable intervention in the near term to take carbon out of the air–Plant a trillion trees, per this AP piece by Seth Borenstein:

“… there’s enough room, Swiss scientists say. Even with existing cities and farmland, there’s enough space for new trees to cover 3.5 million square miles (9 million square kilometers), they reported in Thursday’s journal Science. That area is roughly the size of the United States.

The study calculated that over the decades, those new trees could suck up nearly 830 billion tons (750 billion metric tons) of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s about as much carbon pollution as humans have spewed in the past 25 years.

“This is by far — by thousands of times — the cheapest climate change solution” and the most effective, said study co-author Thomas Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Six nations with the most room for new trees are Russia, the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China.

The image is from the upcoming presentation on Climate Chaos for SustainFloyd’s Third Annual EnergyFest. Time is 10 a.m. and place is Chantilly Farm on Franklin Pike. Jane Cundiff and I will look at the global and the local of this “slow emergency.”

For my part, I look back a half century to the first Earth Day and my engagement with the planet as a “biology watcher”; then we look ahead a half century to 2070, when our grandchildren’s children will be making their way in what world we leave them. The real and metaphorical trees we plant NOW will determine much about the quality of life they have THEN.

Pollinia: How Milkweeds Do It

It seemed simple enough. On the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way back from an oil change yesterday, and in no particular hurry. I pulled off to the shoulder of the road and grabbed my camera (which you can also use as a phone! Really!) and walked back a hundred yards to a nicely-lit display of surrealistically-orange Butterfly milkweed. I grabbed a couple of shots and brought them home.

But as so often happens, looking and thinking back to this ordinary moment with this common roadside wildflower, I considered the story contained in this and every living creature’s “natural history.”

How does this plant make a living in ways it shares with other milkweeds? And in what ways is this plant or group of plants different in structure or “behavior”, and what role does it play in the larger ecology of this place?

Well, these considerations are complicated, and to me, incredibly interesting and intriguing, posing at least as many questions as answers.

If you care to see deeper into the living world, dig into its stories, one insect, salamander or fern at a time. What you’ll learn will make you a more engaged and committed resident of your neighborhood, community and planet.

We are in desperate need of nature and science literacy that exceeds the eroding average in America in our precarious times.

Trust me: watch this video, and then find the nearest milkweed (probably the pink, sweet-smelling common milkweed) and dissect a single flower and find the pollinia.

What are pollinia, you ask? Honk if you watched this short video.