Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Forest Bathing for Health

August 9, 2017

Thanks to the Society for the Protection of NH Forests and the White Mountain National Forest, the AMC, local hiking groups, and Conservation Trusts, we in NH are amply blessed with opportunities to walk in calm, sweet smelling, breathing woodlands, wherever we live. For wheelchair accessible trails, check out  www.traillink.com/stateactivity/nh-wheelchair-accessible-trails/.

Depending on whether we need to unwind by a thundering waterfall, scramble over rocks and granite slabs, be up high enough so the world spreads easily around us with lots of room for everyone, or whether we need to slide our back into a sage old maple and just breathe with the tree, there are such havens in or near every town.

Naturalists have been writing about forests for centuries, but other professions join them today. In the US, there is an Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guide Training program. In Japan, doctors may legally prescribe forest bathing as a treatment for illness. Tree medicine melds nature with mindfulness.

Studies document the calming value of a walk among the trees.  On walk days, hostility and aggression decrease.  The book, “Your Brain on Nature”, by Eva Selhob and Alan Logan proposes Vitamin G (for green) as an essential for our health and well being. Our expression, “Go take a walk”, is a standard sure cure when someone is upset or confused.

The British medical journal, Lancet (5/17), found that access to green space was a greater predictor of health than income, eating well, or doctoring more often.

It is just about impossible to stay mired in problems when ravens are calling to us or when we see a patch of blueberries loaded with berries so late in the season, or when a boulder seat presents itself just when we need a little break or a tree branch reaches out a willing assist over a stretch on the rocks, or from an open window in early morning, sensing a breeze bringing in cool fresh air.

One day, a pair of yellow warblers watched me intently from their perch as we met eye to eye.  I gasped silently at their utter beauty and paused to soak in that spot long after they flew off.  Every bird, tree, and four-legged is part of this dance we call life.

Anthropologist, Mary Catherine Bateson, (Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson’s daughter), encourages us to learn to use the word “we” to include all life on Earth, to shape everything we do, and to protect this Earth we share. Our health depends on our action.

Let’s Care For the Land that Gives Us Our Health

July 13, 2017

A June hike to the high peaks of New Hampshire guarantees a generous welcome of wildflowers. They have a brief blooming period before the plants begin forming berries. Our wet spring inspired an awesome array of blossoms.

This is a big year for Jack-in-the-Pulpits. Right now, Jack stands in his purple robe on the raised pulpit under a canopy like those found in old churches. Later in summer, Jack transforms to green berries and by fall the berries ripen to reddish/orange, holding next year’s seeds.

This is also a great year for Bunchberries, the plant with Dogwood family’s four little white petals, each pinched on the outer rim. By fall, bunches of red berries will appear bearing next year’s seeds.

Probably one of the reasons many of us find a woods walk or mountain trek so satisfying has to do with our just being another forest roamer checking out what happens in the forest, not just thinking about whatever we’ve done poorly, not about aches and pains, just about the wonder of all the beings in the forest, all the different trees with varied shapes and needles and leaves, and they all get along in their shared space, and remind us that we are part of the forest family.

It feels good to recognize and greet the trees, plants, mosses, ferns, the birds with their magical songs. Sometimes the birds even join us, out of curiosity, I suppose. A little Red-eyed Vireo hopped along the trail beside me one morning for several paces, enjoying the day together. The Vireo pecked around for vittles. I picked up stray branches we humans could stumble on and fling them away, a simple act of trail maintenance inspired by AMC leaders many years ago. It’s a way of saying, “Thanks!” to the forest and all the trail crews who do the big stuff.

Further up, near running water, Sphagnum moss mop-heads present themselves- all soggy and ready to go- keeping air moist, fresh, and breathable. Rocky trails, bounded by younger trees in all the right places offer a reliable assist over slippery rocks.

Finally the trail opens above treeline. Even with wind, it is a balm to be there, excited about the reliable assembly of rocks, and krumholz,  and finally,  mounds of Diapensia, Bearberry, Labrador tea, and any other regulars who have dropped in.

Ah…, New Hampshire…, how good to be here! Now to honor our forest by assuring whatever protection it needs so that we all share the possibility of good health in every day ahead.

 

Let’s Care For The Land That Gives Us Our Health

June 23, 2017

A June hike to the high peaks of New Hampshire guarantees a generous welcome of wildflowers. They have a brief blooming period before the plants begin forming berries. Our wet spring inspired an awesome array of blossoms.

This is a big year for Jack-in-the-Pulpits. Right now, Jack stands in his purple robe on the raised pulpit under a canopy like those found in old churches. Later in summer, Jack transforms to green berries and by fall the berries ripen to reddish/orange, holding next year’s seeds.

This is also a great year for Bunchberries, the plant with Dogwood family’s four little white petals, each pinched on the outer rim. By fall, bunches of red berries will appear bearing next year’s seeds.

Probably one of the reasons many of us find a woods walk or mountain trek so satisfying has to do with our just being another forest roamer checking out what happens in the forest, not just thinking about whatever we’ve done poorly, not about aches and pains, just about the wonder of all the beings in the forest, all the different trees with varied shapes and needles and leaves, and they all get along in their shared space, and remind us that we are part of the forest family.

It feels good to recognize and greet the trees, plants, mosses, ferns, the birds with their magical songs. Sometimes the birds even join us, out of curiosity, I suppose. A little Red-eyed Vireo hopped along the trail beside me one morning for several paces, enjoying the day together. The Vireo pecked around for vittles. I picked up stray branches we humans could stumble on and fling them away, a simple act of trail maintenance inspired by AMC leaders many years ago. It’s a way of saying, “Thanks!” to the forest and all the trail crews who do the big stuff.

Further up, near running water, Sphagnum moss mop-heads present themselves- all soggy and ready to go- keeping air moist, fresh, and breathable. Rocky trails, bounded by younger trees in all the right places offer a reliable assist over slippery rocks.

Finally the trail opens above treeline. Even with wind, it is a balm to be there, excited about the reliable assembly of rocks, and krumholz,  and finally,  mounds of Diapensia, Bearberry, Labrador tea, and any other regulars who have dropped in.

Ah…, New Hampshire…, how good to be here! Now to honor our forest by assuring whatever protection it needs so that we all share the possibility of good health in every day ahead.

 

Trees Keep Talking. Are we listening?

March 16, 2017

Every life form on Earth speaks a language. Elephant-speak, Whale-speak, Cricket-speak, Beaver-speak …, you name it. All life forms are talking and we humans are getting a little better now at listening.

Peter Wohlleben, German forester/writer gives us a fascinating link to Tree-speak in his book, The Hidden Life of Trees. Wohlleben describes ways trees communicate with each other, how trees protect themselves from invading insects, lure insect predators to free them, and ensure a continuing replenishment of their families, their contribution to life on the planet. All in addition to supplying us with clean oxygen and recycling our carbon dioxide.

What an example of cooperation trees give us! Just as we log on and share our Internet, trees keep each other posted underground through their mycelium net, a fine fungal network that infinitely connects, signals, and nourishes all plant life. They do this via the web of soil fungi that connects and shares information and goods in what UBC Forest Ecology Professor, Susanne Simard calls the Wood Wide Web. You may remember her from the pbs.org video a few years ago, “What do plants talk about?”

Above ground, in the 1/3 of the forest we can see, trees give off chemical warnings to other trees when invaders attack, whether animals or insects. Trees can smell chemical warnings from other trees. They can even taste the saliva of leaf eating insects and send out a chemical that attracts predators that feed on that particular leaf eating insect.

The mycelium web streams through the 2/3 of the forest below ground that we cannot see. Trees have symbiotic relationships with other trees. Douglas firs like to have birch trees in their community. Birch mycelium provide firs with carbon in summer when Douglas fir is in shade. In the fall, when birch trees lose their leaves, the fir sends its excess carbon to the birch trees. Exchanges go on with nitrogen and other nutrients as they are needed among neighboring trees and plants. Socially, trees will even nourish the stump of a felled tree by feeding it sugars and other nutrients, keeping it alive.

When we think about expanding our energy resources, we need to keep this vital Wood Wide Web in mind. Currently in NH, our Wood Wide Web is being threatened by the Northern Pass Project which plans to disturb this web with either massive tower cement foundations 35’ deep in our NH forest and/or a deep trench disturbing the web alongside secondary roadways, uprooting trees and home plantings, blocking up commuters, school buses, disturbing water supplies with no consideration for the web. In addition, NP plans to build 500 miles of access roads through our forest.

Planners for Route 93 anticipated such needs when the road was built, hence the wide median which could accommodate future energy and transportation needs without disturbing our forests and neighborhoods. However, as we learn more about the 2/3 underground that provides a goldmine of nourishment, we need to be ever more creative in providing clean forms of energy such as solar and as yet undiscovered forms of energy that leave forests intact.

Time to be wary of Big Hydro. Ontario Hydro now has the highest energy rates in North America. Toronto pays 17.81 cents/kWh.  Ottawa pays 16.5 cents/kWh. Big Hydro is not cheap energy, much less environmentally clean. Quebec citizens are currently protesting HQ’s plan to destroy more of Quebec’s forest land to bury a pipeline to NH.

 

 

 

Mycelium Miracle Workers

September 28, 2016

Mycology, the language of mushrooms, may well be the language that saves us from ourselves. We have managed to deplete our soils and bring on burgeoning health problems. The threat of more carnage continues.

Macrobiotic folks introduced us to healing mushrooms like Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms. Right now, most of us have no confidence in identifying/selecting the safe mushrooms that abound in our forests. We may think we know Chicken of the Woods, that bright orange-rimmed mushroom growing on trees, but what if we get it home, cook it up and it doesn’t taste like chicken? Oops!

Paul Stamets has a new book out, “Mycelium Running: How mushrooms can help save the world.” The book is an amazing tome, a tribute to mycelium, “the neurological network of nature.” The mycelium is a fungal network of threadlike cells whose fruiting bodies are mushrooms. Fungi create “ever-thickening layers of soil which allow future plant and animal generations to flourish.”

We learn that some forms of oyster mushroom can neutralize soils made toxic with Roundup and other poisonous pesticides that have leached through our soil to infect plants they are designed to protect. When we eat the plants or medications made with plant extracts, we are in fact consuming poisons that make us susceptible to disease.

When friends and I hiked up the Edmands Path to Mt. Eisenhower recently, we moved in wonder at the magic carpet of sphagnum moss (peat) that carpeted much of the forest the higher we hiked. How much easier it was to breath in the dense moisture the mosses held! We could only imagine the massive network of mycelium that made this growth possible. In order to have healthy soil, we need soil that welcomes mycelium, the fungal network that generates robust health in whatever grows above ground.

We need to learn the language of the forest, observe how lightly animals move through. We are not just protecting plants but the extensive mycelium networks that breathe life to the forest and us.

We are called to protect the Earth as never before. The Earth gives us our water, our food, our homes, our recreation, our music, our art, the sciences we study, and the very air we breathe.

Time to think about protecting and restoring soils that nourish all life on Earth.

Life Sustaining Health

August 17, 2016

We are definitely in the midst of what Joanna Macy calls The Great Turning. We are smack between the Industrial Revolution and a Life Sustaining Civilization, according to her 2012 book, coauthored with Chris Johnstone, “Active Hope: How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy.”

Four years later, we seem to be right on schedule with the three dimensions of The Great Turning.  Predicted first are Holding Actions: blockades, boycotts and civil disobedience to buy time and save some lives, some ecosystems, some species and cultures. The opposition to the Northern Pass and the Tar Sands Pipeline are but two examples of buying time to protect our health.

This week Kris Pastoriza of Easton became the first Northern Pass civil disobedience arrest stemming from NP bore-hole drilling near waterways in Easton. Pastoriza sat on a bore-hole site near the Ham Branch River, preventing the drilling rig from being unloaded there. After her arrest, NP bored in a location that the Easton Select Board had requested not be bored. The contaminated mess NP left behind is still being investigated.

Macy’s second step, Structural Change, brings in new economies and new ways of being together. Local Food Movements, the spread of Permaculture farming practices, Food Labeling activists, Transition towns like Florida’s Babcock Ranch (new), and Rutland, Vermont (now on solar), demonstrate these changes.

Finally, we experience a Shift in Consciousness. New forms of thought are happening. There is a profound shift in our perception of reality, what we must do if we want our offspring to get along with the rest of the world, thrive and survive. All of which leads to a spiritual awakening to the importance of all life forms and a new means of communication.

Other life forms are attuned to each other and jockey around us to survive. Tiny bacteria might be more powerful than all our human intuition and learning. We need to become fluent in other species languages to be able to work together so that life on Earth may continue for us all.

Challenges continue. In our area, the Northern Pass has dragged on for six years, despite massive opposition. This week, we learned that Massachusetts enacted a new utilities law that essentially sells that state’s rights to centralized corporate energy. Utilities there can now legally collect up to 2.75 percent from ratepayers to offset  the costs of long-term contracts for hydro-power or offshore wind. This is a step back to 20th century technology, definitely not a form of future cheap energy. This smacks of a similar ripoff deal HydroQuebec managed almost 40 years ago with Newfoundland over Churchill Falls energy. That whole sad story is available on the internet.

As water scarcity accelerates, we also need to keep alert to protect our water supply, to save our trees that store water for us, and release it to the atmosphere for our benefit as well. Visitors from the West and South and abroad marvel at the luxury of breathing deep in our forests, and how good it is to be able to smell the vegetation!

It is up to each of us to do our part in this shift to a Life Sustaining Civilization. We can join community efforts that support our Forest Society, Permaculture gardeners, Farmers Markets, and new forms of energy. We can write to Governor Hassan and our legislators. All that we each do counts.

Decentralized Energy for Health

July 28, 2016

This week’s news that Switzerland’s Bertrand Piccard flew a solar powered plane around the world without a drop of fuel sends our hopes soaring. We could not receive a stronger signal that help is on the way for alternatives that meet our energy needs.

Solar is but one of the new technologies in need of our attention and support if we want to make the shift to 21st Century technology. As far back as 2013, The World Energy Council recommended that utilities markets move toward decentralization. This would give customers more control over their power usage in their homes or businesses.

In January this year, HydroQuebec (HQ) announced that the Northern Pass Project (NPP) would cost $2.8 billion but HQ would only pay $607 million. New England would pay the rest. That does not sound like energy savings for NH or control over power usage. And there is no guarantee that a power failure further north would not generate a massive outage to the south. NPP is a grand example of stifling 20th century technology.

Long-term contracts for large scale hydropower from Quebec will not bring cheap or lower consumer electric rates, as HQ has already demonstrated with their Newfoundland Churchill Falls 40 year contract.

What might NH develop if so many citizens did not have to throw so much time and energy into stopping the NPP from destroying NH land and diversity, pitting families against each other, and threatening our future water supply by degrading our water-sequestering forests? People come from the world over to savor our lush forests, rivers, mountains, waterfalls, and wildlife. All are threatened by this and the many other NH projects Eversource plans to pursue.

Solar and other yet-to-be-developed energy sources clearly demonstrate the power of decentralized energy to avoid large up-front capital investments and encourage pay-as- you-grow systems.

Time to embrace 21st Century technology, reclaim our right to safeguard our forests, diversify our energy technologies, say NO to centralized utilities, and enjoy the health and well being that comes with care-full actions.

 

Clean Energy versus Predatory Energy

March 31, 2016

The Northern Pass project is looking more and more like a chapter in Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen. Eversource president, Bill Quinlan plays a convincing Very Wicked Hobgoblin, complete with his Magic Glass Mirror that makes everything beautiful look hideous. At the March 14 hearing, Quinlan let it slip that Eversource has many more projects planned for New Hampshire. For anyone wondering what Eversource/Hydro Quebec plans to do with all the property HQ has bought up in the North Country, here’s a peek.

Seen through the glass mirror, our hills, farms, schools, neighborhoods, towns and cities will be covered with a network of high voltage towers. The Northern Pass Project is just the beginning of a much bigger plan to create a humongous carbon footprint in NH, one NP has no intent to fully offset because offsetting would cut into their tremendous profits. Every 35 foot piling they blast and fill with cement will emit a ton of carbon dioxide for every ton of cement NP pours in. In Quebec, HQ got away with not offsetting responsibly by calling their reservoirs a “land use change” while destroying river systems. Token payments are not a fair exchange for the fishing and tourism industries, indigenous culture, or wildlife now extinct. HQ energy is Predatory Energy.

NH electrical workers welcome the project and seem unaware of the health effects and loss of livelihood, home equity, wildlife, and tourism that Eversource has planned for all of us UNLESS we come together and support options for Clean Energy.

Most of us do not know what it is like to be ordered to move far from our home, land, work; to have our livelihood destroyed; to lose our community. We love our rivers, mountains, lakes and little towns.

Vermont finds Solar energy a clean option. The city of Rutland now runs on solar. Rutland put the solar grid on top of the city’s old dump, (not in a forest), and now has the most solarized city in New England via the Strafford Hill Solar Farm. The partnership is between Rutland, Green Mountain Power and Grow Solar with wins for everyone involved.

Right here in Grafton County, the Bristol Library now runs on solar. Other significant NH solar arrays include Manchester Airport Parking Garage, Stonyfield Farm Yogurt Factory, Peterborough Wastewater Treatment Plant, Exeter Regional High School and more. See https://solarpowerrocks.com./new-hampshire/.

By comparison, the NP has already strained the health and security of NH residents with property threats and hearings that run 5-6 hours long in strategically inconvenient places. Eversource reps claim false benefits and do not answer questions honestly. Hydro Quebec could easily run their line down through the approved NY/VT underground line, bypass NH altogether and eliminate a NH carbon footprint. Let us make that happen!

The Planet’s Antibodies in Action

March 11, 2016

Ruminating on our environmentally induced health problems this week, I was relieved to see several signs that the times are a changing.

Despite the threats to our health posed by Australia’s coal mines, Canada’s Tar Sands, and Russia’s Gas Fields, environmentalist, Bill McKibben (Boston Globe 3/5) notes that positive change is happening as well. He sees protesters as the planet’s antibodies finally kicking in. Right here in NH, protesters have stayed the course against the Northern Pass Project for 5 ½ years and continue their protest of this project that threatens our land, our wildlife diversity, and ultimately, our health.

Film director, Michael Moore, believes that we can do more for good in the world. Annette Insdorf interviewed him about his new film. Instead of documenting US problems, Where to Invade Next documents places around the world we could learn from, countries who have turned these same problems around. In Norway, prisons are for rehabilitation, not revenge. There is no death penalty and no life in prison. The warden meets with each prisoner on arrival and says, “Someday you may be my neighbor and I want you to be a good neighbor.” And Norway leads the world in successful rehabilitation.

Germany has taken in 400,000 refugees and is prepared to take in 400,000 more because, as Angela Merkel says, “that’s who we are”. Germany refused to participate in the Iraq holocaust. They know the futility of war first hand.

The list continues through health care, education, etc. but the take home for me was the reality that we can learn from other countries when we stop pretending that we are the superior people of the world.

Philosophers have routinely called us to think “we” instead of “me”. Martin Buber, in his book, “I and Thou,” spelled out the difference between relating to other people as an “it” and as a “thou.” Environmental Activist, Joanna Macy, sees us in the midst of “The Great Turning” from an Industrial Growth Society to a Life Sustaining Civilization. Mohandas Gandhi encouraged protesters, “When people lead, the leaders will follow.”

We are no longer simply part of the United States. We are part of the World. Our health depends on World health. How can each of us claim citizenship in a Life Sustaining Civilization?

Climatic Migration is happening. Are we ready?

February 25, 2016

Anthropologist, Brian Fagan paints a sobering world picture for us in his book, The Attacking Ocean. We in NH are far enough inland and upland that unless we have past experiences of living near the ocean and can go back and experience the then and now, it is difficult to accept the reality of rising sea levels and loss of habitable land.

Fagan takes us through the natural events he considers our greatest threat: earthquakes, tsunamis, and tropical storms “which spread water horizontally over low-lying coastal landscapes and river deltas, some of the most densely inhabited environments on earth.”

Our challenge internationally is to figure out how we can cooperate to absorb the migrations that have already begun. In the US, inland migration has begun. How do we plan to share our space, food and water? Earth is prepared to nourish us if we are willing to cooperate and look at the big picture.

We already know that GMO monoculture plowed crops are destroying the life of the earth’s soil, despite the slick rhetoric advertised. The reality is that the fantastic network of soil mycorrhizal fungi which absorb and redistribute carbon and other nutrients through roots, and help to set in motion the release of oxygen we need, is being destroyed by plowing, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Courtney White traveled all over the world to observe innovative farmers and he takes us along through his book, Grass, Soil, Hope: A journey through Carbon Country. The good news is that permaculture farming, developed by two Australians: Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s, is spreading all over the world. Also called no-till farming, permaculture farming avoids the use of plows, pesticides and herbicides. Instead, Prehistoric and Native American practices of no till (permaculture) farming not only enriches our soil, it stores abundant carbon as well.

Permculture farming assures erosion control by not disturbing the network of soil microbes, beneficial bacteria, fungi, nematodes (tiny worms). Mulching, cover cropping, and companion planting of diverse crops encourage a strong network. By not plowing up this network, these practices are reclaiming and protecting the soil, producing greater harvests of robust, healthy foods, free of harmful chemicals.

When Hurricane Irene hit Dorn Cox’s permaculture farm in Lee, NH, he noted “lots of rain but no damage”. Farmers who plowed had no underground network to protect their crops from hurricane energy.

White, a New Mexico farmer himself, takes us to visit ranchers out west who fence off their grassland into paddocks. By rotating herds through the paddocks, they avoid overgrazing and assure good pasture. Some of them grazed sheep and cattle together; the cattle kept sheep predators at bay. Herds, by eating, walking and defecating, also stimulated native grasses to grow, proliferate and outcompete the weeds. To top it off, the quality of grass fed meat gradually increased income and ability to increase herd size.

At a tenuous time when it seems as though every aspect of survival is up in the air, we could literally ground ourselves by reconnecting with Earth’s network as the snow recedes around our homes. How might we encourage the underground internet to flourish?