Posts Tagged ‘nature’

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on What weeding can teach us about the climate crisis

By Denali Sai

We tend to shape our worldview with clear notions of good and bad. This grants us clarity of mind and groundedness in an otherwise volatile world. However, when we adhere to a binary, we restrict ourselves from thinking about many others’ experiences and needs, too often those of marginalized and BIPOC communities. When we see the world as us vs. them, as good vs evil, we lose sight of swaths of people, without whose voices a vision of a better world is not possible.

As a climate communicator, I am often troubled by the framing of the climate crisis as good vs. evil. In reality, the exponentially increasing and intensifying natural disasters of our changing climate are not disasters in themselves. Rather, they are naturally occurring hazards with disastrous impacts on human and physical capital.

Likewise the palm oil industry in itself is not an evil scheme that should be destroyed overnight. It took moving to the island of Borneo and living in a community of palm oil plantation workers for me to see past this Western misconception. In reality, the industry supports plantation workers who deserve a just transition towards sustainable cultivation practices.

Recently, I’ve been mulling over this conundrum in my garden. As the pandemic limits my movement outside my home, I’ve been spending more time tending to my garden. My most arduous and time-consuming task has been weeding.

Weeding is ultimately an effort to maintain equilibrium and peace in my garden. As I begin to pull out the dandelions, crabgrass, and carpetweed, my hands develop a rhythm, quickly guiding the plot back to equilibrium so that one hungry plant does not sap nutrition and space from the others.

As I do so, I resist the suburban notion that I am rooting evil from my garden. This is an active effort as frustration at their stubbornness and resilience is unrelenting. However, I am mindful of the fact that weeds are only bad in some contexts. The gardener ultimately determines where they are welcome and where they must be cut back.

For example, dandelions belong in lawns, fields, and forests. They are nutritious and contain healing properties. However, in my garden, they compete for the same resources as other, often less hardy, plants.

The value of weeding out some plants is to let others thrive. Maintaining balance is key to protecting the collective spirit of my garden.

In harrowing times like this, it is understandable to cling to binary thinking. As mortal creatures living in a chaotic world, we often use categories to cope with uncertainty. However, when we restrict ourselves in this way, we forget the humanness of every individual on this Earth. We forget that in order to enact change, we need to appeal to many different people, not just people to whom we intuitively prescribe value: Those who look, talk, and live like us. In order to build a better world, we need to build an inclusive world.

As is true in my garden, enacting change involves careful attention to nature’s balance and our collective strength. To emerge stronger from this crisis and beyond, we must listen to one another and actively stand up together to demand a radical transition away from unsustainable, harmful modes of development. We must elevate voices that complicate our current climate narrative, which tends toward sensationalized, Western-centric, sometimes blatantly unscientific stories.

Indeed, with our tender hands rooting blankets of weeds from the soil and planting new growth, we must care for one another and work collectively to nurture a more inclusive world.

Denali Sai is a climate communicator based out of Washington, D.C. She currently works in communications at the World Resources Institute, where she focuses on the economic benefits of global climate action. She co-founded and writes for Entropy Inherited, a climate newsletter that centers BIPOC and marginalized voices.

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By Hannah Nelson

Washingtonians have a complicated relationship with the ginkgo tree. 

The day I discovered the ginkgo outside my apartment was one of those distinctly DC beautiful days: the trees were that fresh green that comes at the end of spring and stays for early summer, the sky so blue you’d think it was cloudless, too.

The tree in question is on the grounds of the National Cathedral, in a pocket of grass that used to be my spot for fair-weather reading. Until this year, I’d never noticed it. Perhaps it was the direction from which I spotted it, coming to it another way, but this year, I felt myself drawn to it, at the whim of the natural—one might say spiritual—powers of this tree.

Up close, I reached up and traced my thumb over the uneven edges of its distinctive fans, half-wondering if there was some genetic pattern to them invisible to human eyes. The leaves called me to hold them and I did, a single leaf between my thumb and index finger. It was like the soft cover of a Moleskine notebook, only thick and indented with lines as I imagine dinosaur skin might have been.

***

Ginkgo are “living fossils” and the only one of their species. Of the five groups of seed plants—simply, angiosperms (flowering plants), conifers (cone-bearing trees), cycads (tropical plants), gnetophyta (woody plants), and ginkgo—it is the only one that consists of a single species (by comparison, there are about 350 million species of flowering plants).

Even more remarkable is that ginkgo trees don’t visibly age and can live for hundreds to thousands of years. In a study published earlier this year, researchers compared gene expression in leaves and the cambium, a thin layer of stem cells between the heartwood and bark that differentiate to help the tree to grow. Although genes associated with cell division, cell expansion, and differentiation exhibited lower expression in old trees, those associated with the final stage of the aging process showed no difference in expression between young and old trees. This finding suggests that while growth slows, ginkgo biloba lives so long because it’s developed a perfect balance between growth and aging.

The trees’ biggest threat? Stress (one can relate). The older the tree, the greater its ability to adapt to changing environments, owing to persistent expression of a large number of resistance genes in addition to accumulation of antimicrobial and antioxidant protectants like flavonoids. But even the ginkgo has not been immune to climate change, which is causing the trees to shed their fruit later every year.

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As days become shorter and temperatures fall, the petioles, or stems joining leaves to a stalk, of most deciduous trees form a protective scar between the leaf and the stalk at different rates across the tree that causes leaves to drop individually. Ginkgoes, on the other hand, form those scars all at once, resulting in one day per year when tree-lined streets in Northwest DC suddenly come to resemble a sparkling forest floor. Among the leaves, sometimes, when a female tree hasn’t been sprayed with a pesticide at the right time, will be her fruit—called berries that look something like a cross between a green grape of the wine variety and a white apricot.

They smell awful, so every spring, the Urban Forestry Division sprays female trees across the District, but because it can be difficult to time properly and the treatment isn’t always effective, it has implemented a Female Ginkgo Tree Removal Policy allowing property owners to decide to petition for the removal of one or more trees. It promises to replant them with different trees, yet ginkgoes make for superior urban trees, offering shade and resilience to ever-increasing environmental stressors such as increasing levels of carbon dioxide. 

In fact, the Smithsonian Institution has issued a call for leaf samples for its Citizen Science: Leaf Surveyproject, which it will use to study climate change. Not only do ginkgoes serve as a window to the past by providing a record from over 200 million years ago through to the present, but the secrets within their leaves might also allow us to better plan for the future. Scientists can analyze the relationship between carbon dioxide and stomatal index, or the optimal number of “tiny openings on leaves’ surfaces” needed to facilitate the exchange of carbon dioxide with oxygen and water. That information can help us to predict how warm the planet may grow to be and, I’d argue, to understand how different built environments affect nature.

From “Paleobotany: A Sketch of the Original and Evolution of Floras” by Edward W. Berry, p. 356 of the Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, 1918.

***

It can also help us to understand ourselves. Native to China and cultivated starting around 1,000 years ago, ginkgoes were brought to Japan in the late 17th century, where the fan-shaped leaf came to symbolize longevity, and to Europe in the mid-18th century.

They have persisted in Asian art as well as Art Nouveau, both styles represented in the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries. From China, in the Freer Gallery of Art is The Bodhisattva Mile (Sanskrit Maitreya), seated in “Pensive Pose” (Northern Qi dynasty, ca. 575), the Buddha’s Dragon Tree depicted as a ginkgo. In the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is Reminiscences of Nanjing: Old Gingko at Mt. Chinglong (Qing dynasty, 1707). From Japan, in the Sackler Gallery, is Crow and Ginkgo Leaves, from the series Seitei’s Flowers and Birds (Taish? era, 1916).

Now, in 2020, amidst a global health crisis and an environmental one too, the ginkgo continues to serve as a symbol of longevity, a reminder of the movement of time. It also reminds us that as participants in the world through which time moves, we will endure. We will learn how to live in a world where COVID-19 is an expected part of life. But that endurance also engenders a responsibility to ensure that world is one in which we’d be comfortable waking up and realizing where we are.

With longevity comes unknowing. The onset of COVID-19, with its watch-and-wait requirement, has shown us we can’t predict the future with certainty, and in this context the ginkgo might be considered, above all, a symbol of humility. It has adapted, it has endured, and still it protects us—providing urban havens, sources of wonderment, and scientific information we can use to reconstruct our changing relationship with the world around us.

That is our role now: to assume humility, recognize our unknowing, and take an honest assessment of our actions using the knowledge we are learning. With reverence, we might look to the ginkgo as our past and future, and to this moment as an opportunity to protect the environment and ourselves.

Freeing ourselves from perpetual striving, can we seek that balance between growing and slowing down that the ginkgo has refined naturally and over millennia? Taking pause, can we find the will to finally realize a wholeness within ourselves and with the natural world?

Hannah Nelson is an editorial strategist at the Society for Neuroscience. She holds a BA in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has an appreciation for narrative journalism, botanical illustrations, wooded areas, and the flora of DC.

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on Get Outside, Feed Your Soul: Tips to Living Your Best Outdoor Life

By Sara Murrill, DC EcoWomen Board Member

Let’s face it, DC is a career-obsessed city. Our jobs here are intense; the grind is nonstop. There’s always more work to do.

Fortunately, there is a reprieve from the craziness. DC has an impressive amount of greenspace, with plenty of biking and running trails through trees and alongside creeks and rivers; spots where you can disappear into the woods and totally forget you are in the middle of our nation’s capital (save a distant siren). Many studies have shown how beneficial greenspace is to physical and mental health. In our overworked, over-connected society, it’s becoming more essential to unplug and immerse yourself in some therapeutic quality nature time.

As someone who has spent much of my career in national parks, I encourage everyone to reap the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors. Make sure you’re properly prepared and then get outside! Here are some tips to living your best outdoor life.

Explore every nature spot you can

From Rock Creek to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to the Capital Crescent Trail, the more you get out there and explore, the more you’ll realize what DC has to offer. Venture out regionally to nearby mountains for weekend trips. Discover world class landscapes and America’s stories by visiting national parks across the country.

You know what is the best thing about Vegas? It’s only two hours from the Grand Canyon. Anytime you go out of town on a work trip or to attend your millionth wedding of the year, research public lands nearby and tack on a visit!

Go off the beaten path

Not literally – please stay on the trail. The most popular places are popular for a reason; visit them to find out why. But the lesser known places are just as amazing even if they’re not as obviously glamorous. A backpack and a tent are a great investment for exploring more remote places. You’ll feel like it’s all your own.

Appreciate nature’s tiny details

Sitting in the same spot in the woods for 40 hours a week for entire summers taught me to really appreciate the subtleties in nature. How many water droplets are on that flower? Is that fluttering butterfly ever going to pause for a rest? Where’s that beetle going? What’s that weird growth thing on that tree? Do the squirrels that I see every day recognize me? Forget everything else and occupy your mind with nature’s curiosities.

Examine your own motives

Another yoga pose on a mountain peak? Are you doing a hike for yourself or for your Instagram? What do you want out of your time in nature? How might your experience change if you only focused on being present in the moment and immersing yourself fully in being outdoors?

Enjoy the natural soundscape

When I first moved to DC, I joined a Silent Hiking Meetup group. I still have no idea who those people were or why they joined – I never talked to them. Presumably, we all understood the power and enjoyment that intentionally tuning in to your natural surroundings can bring. Try it for yourself! If silence isn’t for you, please be mindful (especially in large groups) of your noise levels.

Take some time for yourself

If you can make some time alone for yourself outside, it’s the perfect setting for reflection and inner growth. Sitting by an endlessly babbling creek or staring up at majestic mountain peaks that make you feel like a tiny speck can help bring perspective and a sense of calmness. The peace you build through time spent in nature seeps its way into your normal life. Nature is therapeutic.

Respect ecosystems & wildlife

Please, learn and follow Leave No Trace principles. Many people harm ecosystems without even realizing it. When I lived in the backcountry of Yosemite, a beautiful black bear used to roam near the ranger campsite in the evenings. He minded his own business and we minded ours. One night, a park visitor broke the rules and slept with food in his tent, and our bear took a swipe at the tent looking for a snack. No one got hurt, but this bear was now a “problem bear” and had to be hazed each night so that he wouldn’t return to the area and potentially cause harm. Know and follow all park rules. Respect all wildlife by keeping your distance and do NOT feed or touch them. You are the visitor; this is their home.

Learn, share, and protect!

Check out a ranger-led talk, read up on the park’s history, and learn more about the incredible resource that you’re visiting. The more you learn, the more you’ll come to value these irreplaceable treasures. Share your experience and invite others to join along – preserving these special places will take effort from all of us!

 

Sara Murrill is a DC EcoWomen Board Member. She currently works at the National Park Foundation, the official charitable partner of the National Park Service. Previously, she was a contracted field researcher for the National Park Service.

Captions: Pic 1: Who needs a gym when you can run these trails? Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC; Pic 2: Work trip summer 2018: solo sunrise hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO; Pic 3: Camping in Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, WV; Pic 4: An Avalanche Lily – a bit droopy from the morning dew. Mount Rainier National Park, WA; Pic 5: Me and a friend doing a double arch at the double arch. Creative, huh? Arches National Park,  UT; Pic 6: Channel your inner mountain goat and get outside! Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, CO.