Category Archives: Environment

THE TEMPEST

Yesterday, the storm clouds came in, making the afternoon dark as night. Then the rain came down so hard that it fell in torrents off the roof of the house, and I felt as though I were under a waterfall. In the ditches, the water rushed fast and high, flattening the grass along both sides. In all my years of living on Narrows Pond Road—27 years—never have I seen it rain with such ferocity.

Naturally, we lost our power, and for our supper, my husband, Clif, and I had to go into town for roast beef sandwiches at Pete’s, where the power was on. At home, the power was still out when we went to bed, by torch light, as the British would say, and about 1:30 A.M. I woke up as everything switched to life—the beeping computers, the rumbling refrigerator, the lights that were left on. Oh, happy night! This meant that Clif could have his coffee, toast, and shower before going to work and that I wouldn’t have to scrounge around for a shower at a friend’s house.

This morning, I went to Longfellow’s Greenhouse to buy some perennials and annuals and to replace a cucumber that had decided to wilt. While I was there, I talked to a worker about the storm.

“What a downpour,” she said and then motioned to a man and a woman who were loading flats of tomatoes onto a huge cart. “The have a farm stand, and they lost everything to hail.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” I said.

“The world is changing,” she agreed.

“Even though some people don’t want to admit it.”

She nodded. “That’s right.”

Today is cooler and calm. My gardens pulled through without any significant damage. However, I heard from my friend Esther that she had “much plant damage” but that she will wait for a few days before “yanking.”

Summer isn’t even officially here, but the season is sure getting off to a bang. I hope we’ve seen the worst, but I can’t help wondering what’s going to come next.

The patio table and chairs
After the storm—sunny and bright.

THE ERA OF CHEAP FOOD MAY BE OVER

I just finished reading “A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself” written by Justin Gillis and published in the New York Times on June 4, 2011. The title pretty much gives you the gist of this long but very worthwhile piece. Gillis notes how weather disasters are responsible for failed harvests all across the planet. For example: Floods in the United States, drought in Australia, and extreme heat waves in Europe and Russia. Farmers all over the world, from Mexico to India, are seeing their crops damaged by “emerging pests and diseases and by blasts of heat beyond anything they remember.” Most scientists believe that climate change is, by and large, responsible for this and that climate change is “helping” to destabilize Earth’s food system.

As a result, consumption of wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans—the foods that pretty much feed the world—has outstripped production for most of the past decade. Stockpiles are going down. Prices are going up, pinching those of us in rich countries and bringing hunger to millions of people in poor countries.

According to agricultural experts, in the upcoming decades farmers “will need to withstand whatever climate shocks come their way while roughly doubling the amount of food they produce to meet rising demand.” (The population is projected to reach 10 billion by the end of the century.) At the same time, farmers also need to reduce the environmental damage that can come with farming. To produce more food while causing less environmental damage is a tall order indeed.

While Gillis expresses the hope that we can develop crops to meet the challenges brought by climate change—there is a type of rice that can withstand floods by waiting until the water recedes before germinating—there is no denying that this is a sobering article. Who knows what the eventual outcome will be? None of us can see into the future. Maybe ingenuity, creativity, and innovation will help us get through the approaching era of climate chaos and an ever-increasing population. I sure hope so.

I just wish that the leaders of the world would take this problem more seriously, that they would start addressing the problem right now, this minute, and not delay the way they usually do.

 

APRIL:THE LET THEM EAT BREAD REPORT

Bread CartoonThe project: To bake and give away at least one loaf of bread each week in 2011.

The reason: A personal protest against the rampant selfishness of our society.

The bonus: It’s good spiritual practice.

From now on, I’ve decided I will write a monthly Let Them Eat Bread Report. Somehow, it seems better to combine them and give a monthly bread count rather than a weekly report and count. (I reserve the right to change my mind, of course.)

In April I gave one loaf of bread to Jenn Currier, whom I’ve already written about; two loaves to my daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike, who continue to be quite the bread recipients; and one loaf to Judy and Paul Johnson, who recently returned from their travels to the Southwest.

We met Judy and Paul at The Senator Restaurant in Augusta, where I could order fish and chips for an upcoming article in Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine. (How I love to combine things!) Paul and Judy spoke about the Southwest, and no talk of this region can avoid the subject of water and how little there is to go around. In specific, the Colorado River is being diverted by the United States for various uses—electricity, agriculture, drinking water—so that little of it reaches the natural end of its run—Mexico, which desperately needs the water, too. According to ABCNEWS.com, only 10 percent of the water in the Colorado River reaches the border of Mexico, with the river sometimes “dying out in the desert during dry years before it reaches the Gulf of California.”

In Maine, where we are blessed with abundant rain (and only the occasional flood), we tend to take water for granted. Even in our so-called dry spells, the well on Narrows Pond Road has never run out of water. (Yes, I knocked on wood before I wrote that sentence.) As our friend Diane Friese has noted, “We should be so grateful that we have such an abundance of fresh water.”

In fact, the lack of water in the Southwest influenced Diane’s decision to stay in Maine. She loves the Southwest and had been debating as to whether she should move there when she retires. Quite sensibly, Diane spent a month in New Mexico, to get a sense of how it might be to live there full time.

“There’s not enough water for everyone,” Diane told us upon her return. And she couldn’t, in good conscience, as someone who really cares about the environment, add herself as another resident to an area that already has more people than it can comfortably support. Diane would like to go back for a visit, but not to live year round.

Bread might be the “staff of life,” but without adequate water we are in big trouble.

Total loaves of bread given in April: 4

Total for the year: 24

I’m almost halfway to my goal of giving away 52 loaves of bread this year, and we’re not even halfway through the year yet.

 

TOO MANY OVENS IN FALMOUTH?

A couple of days ago, in the food section of the Portland Press Herald, Meredith Goad wrote about a home (a mansion, really) and its kitchen, which is part of the Falmouth Kitchen & Tasting tour. The house is 10,000 square feet, has ten bathrooms, and gold-plated faucets. There is even a morning room, which sounds like something straight out of a Jane Austen novel.

The kitchen, which Goad describes as “not so large that it is overwhelming”  has “four ovens, two dishwashers, two warming drawers…” Four ovens! I will admit that from time to time, I have wished for two ovens, especially around the holidays, but what possible use could a noncommercial cook have with four ovens? Isn’t this, well, a bit much? In fact, isn’t it too much?

I suppose that is the point—the glorious excess of it all. As primates, we are all concerned with status, even though we live in the 21st century in a country that supposedly eschews class. And in our current culture, where one oven is the norm, four ovens are so over-the-top that few people can compete with such a display.

Now, I would not want to live in a country where the government dictates how many ovens a family might own. Although I am a firm believer in social services, that would be far too much governmental control for my liking. But wouldn’t it be nice if people with enough money to live in a 10,000 square foot mansion with four ovens followed the Dalai Lama’s advice and used some self-restraint?  Especially since this country is already using more resources than the planet can comfortably provide?

Since I am clearly in fantasy land here, I will go one step further: Wouldn’t it be great if our sense of status came from self-restraint rather than showy display? Not repression—no one likes a Puritan. Not a stingy, bare-bones existence—no one likes a martyr. But instead self-restraint, which might mean being content with two ovens and a bib house that wasn’t a mansion, no matter how much money you had.

A final note of irony: This tour is a benefit for Preble Street’s Maine Hunger Initiative, and I’m sure they will be very happy to receive the money. From here I could easily segue into a piece about how strange it is that one of the richest countries in the world still must deal with hunger.

But I won’t.

 

BOWDOIN COLLEGE STUDENTS GET THEIR HANDS DIRTY

Nothing cheers me up as much as reading about young people working in gardens and on farms. Today, I read an article from the Bowdoin Daily Sun and learned that on Eco Service Day, some of the Bowdoin students took time out from studying to clean eggs, spread hay, plant seedlings, and prune apple trees.

Good for them!

Another cheering bit of news from that same article in the Bowdoin Daily Sun: “[T]he increasing popularity of local agriculture comes from younger Mainers (and more broadly, Americans) who are interested in restoring a connection to the land.”

Let’s hear it for young farmers. We certainly need them.

LUNCH WITH SHANE AT MIA LINA’S

On Wednesday, I walked into Winthrop to meet Shane, one of the town’s librarians, for lunch at Mia Lina’s. I am happy to report that spring has finally come to central Maine. The grass has turned a bright green, bird song fills the air, water rushes by in the ditches, and the maple trees are in bloom with lovely but modest red flowers. Spring is here, it is here. And even though the day was  gray and damp, the walk, filled with so much to look at and to see, was a pleasant one.

Mia Lina’s is a little pizza place on Main Street, but the food there is better than average. One of my favorite things to order is the chicken teriyaki salad, little chunks of nicely marinated chicken sprinkled over romaine lettuce mixed with other tidbits—cheese, peppers, and olives. A little drizzle of Italian dressing, and you have yourself a pretty good salad. I also love the Lina bread, fresh dough cooked with cheese and served with a side of tomato sauce for dipping. However, although I can eat a whole order by myself, I shouldn’t do so, and I only get Lina bread when I’m with someone who wants to share it with me.

Shane ordered the ravioli, which came with garlic bread, and he said it was tasty.

While the food was good, the conservation was terrific. Shane is about the age of my eldest daughter, but already he is a great conversationalist, a true gift that not everyone has. Shane talks, but he also listens, and because he is devoted to books and music, his mind is lively and interesting.

Along with a little personal chitchat, we talked about what we were reading. Shane just finished reading Swim Back to Me by Ann Packer. Shane spoke about how moved he was by this collection of two novellas and some short stories. As Shane described the opening novella and its two teenage protagonists, he certainly made me want to read it.

In turn, I told him about three books I’ve recently read, which all receive “stars” in my reading journal. The first is Elizabeth Tova Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, a short but soulful memoir about a debilitating pathogen Bailey contracted when she was young, and how, as an invalid, she found solace watching a snail a friend brought to her.

The second is Carl Safina’s The View from Lazy Point. Safina is a marine biologist who can write beautifully and affectingly about the oceans of the world. He also includes stern lectures about overfishing and global warming and controlling our appetites.

Then there is Joan Reardon’s As Always Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis Devoto. The title is self-explanatory, and I hope to soon write a proper book review for this blog.

From there we moved to music—to the great singer/songwriters of the 1970s as well as the wonderful music of the 1990s.

All too soon it was time for Shane to go to the library to begin his shift and for me to return home for household chores.

But a little book and music talk can sure brighten a gray day.

EARTH DAY POTLUCK

Earth day potluck foodYesterday was a busy day getting ready for the Earth Day potluck dinner sponsored by the Winthrop Green Committee. My husband, Clif, and I agreed to help with the dinner, and on Narrows Pond Road, it was a flurry of cooking and getting things ready—quiche, chili, apple crisp, napkins, cups, pitcher for water. The list goes on, but I will stop.

For the quiche’s crust, we bought whole wheat pastry flour, made from wheat grown in Maine, and yesterday was the first time I have ever made a crust with anything other than unbleached flour. Although I prefer the taste of unbleached flour (we couldn’t find any that came from Maine),Earthday potluck I was pleased with the results. The crust had the “heavy” taste that comes with whole wheat flour, but it was flaky, and it actually meshed nicely with the smoky cheddar cheese quiche. However, rolling the dough was not easy. This flour does not have the elasticity of unbleached flour. A novice pie maker would have been saying more than a few bad words while rolling out the crust, which had a tendency to tear and stick. Fortunately, I have rolled out many, many pie crusts in my time, and I was able to produce a decent-looking crust, albeit with a few patches.

PiesBetween 25 and 30 people came to the potluck, and overall it was a success. The food was delicious—we “green beans” are good cooks. Along with what Clif and I brought there were mashed potatoes with goat cheese, a cabbage slaw featuring Maine apples; mussels; deviled eggs (one of my favorites); and lots of desserts. In fact, this potluck was dessert heavy, always a potential with a dinner where people bring what strikes their fancy rather than what they are assigned. Never mind! Dessert is good. I especially enjoyed Rose Dawbin’s pear cobbler made with the pears from a tree in her own backyard.

There were a few snafus, which inevitably come from the first time of organizing an event. If Clif and I help with next year’s Earth Day potluck dinner, we will keep them in mind. (No doubt, other little things will crop up. That seems to be the way of such things.)

After the dinner, we showed the movie Fuel, which was excellent. Really, one of the best environmental movies I have seen in a long time and one of the few that has really made me reconsider my position on an environmental matter—biofuel. Basically, the movie charts the filmmaker Josh Tickell’s personal commitment to biofuels—from the early days when it seemed like an unalloyed good thing to the present, where many environmentalists have turned against biofuels.

Tickell is still a fan of biofuels but acknowledges there is good biofuel—algae and fast-growing trees—and bad biofuel—corn. He makes a convincing case that it must be part of a green energy mix—that large mobile equipment such as tractors, trailer trucks, and planes simply cannot run on electricity. (We’re all waiting for Mr. Fusion, but until that day comes…)

The second realization I had while watching the film is that unlike the era of oil, which I hope will be ending soon, the next era (the green era?) will not have one major answer to take care of our energy needs. It will involve many components, ranging from conservation, solar, wind, geothermal, biking, walking, and yes, even biofuels. This is a radical departure from our current dependency on oil as a primary energy source. (There are other sources of fuel, but nothing is as portable and as powerful as oil.)

Finally, it struck me that right now, if we’re careful, with our current technology, we have the means to live sustainably and comfortably and reverse global warming. (Please note that by comfortably I don’t mean that we can consume mindlessly. We who live in rich countries absolutely need to conserve and control our “appetites.”) Other countries such as Germany and Sweden are showing how it can be done. Unfortunately, the oil companies have such a grip on this country that the battle for green energy will be long and hard as it involves subsidies and incentives from the government. And let’s just say that oil companies are not into sharing.

But we can do it. We have to do it. And I don’t think I’m overstating the case that it’s up to us–to me and you and the many—to be on the right side of history.

Anyway, if you get a chance, please do watch Fuel. It will boost your spirits. It will give you hope. It will encourage you to act. And, as I noted in a previous post, action encourages optimism.