Sunday, October 29, 2023

Blue Zone Living

While driving home recently, I heard a sliver of delightful, bittersweet radio amidst the sad litany of suffering and violence that has dominated the news of late. I made a point of finding the story online when I got home so that I could share it with my family. I then found a print version because in this case, radio was not quite enough! 

It was the story of a Portuguese dog named Bobi -- not a famous dog of a fancy Portuguese breed, but a regular dog living in Portugal. Bobi lived, in fact, more years than any dog has ever been known to have lived -- and lived those years very well. He was an ordinary dog that was extraordinarily loved and cared for.  

Image: Guiness Book via BBC

His community was the key to Bobi's success, and the same is true for us humans. After hearing the story, we watched a limited series that had been on our list for a while. In four parts, Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones describes the ways in which several communities in vastly different parts of the world have come to include high proportions of people living very long lives. 

The show is a reminder to do more of some things we already know we should by way of diet, exercise, habits of mind, and relationships with our fellow humans. These are gentle reminders of how to lead a dog's life. A happy dog's, that is. 

Monday, October 02, 2023

Think Before You Redwood

This video addresses a landscaping trend of which I was unaware: the rampant planting of redwoods in places they are not meant to grow. Our hero Griff of Redwoods Rising cultivates redwoods for a living, but he warns against buying them for planting in the wrong places.  

@redwoodsrising plant the plants that are native to your area. don't plant redwood trees unless you have the area #redwood #gardening #landscaping #learnontiktok #naturevibes ♬ original sound - Redwoods Rising

Those wrong places, he argues, would be any places not highlighted on this map of western California ... and a few nearby spots in Oregon.

He teaches so many applied ecology lessons in four minutes that I do not need to add much to what he says, except to include a range map and links to the web sites he mentions.

Map: Save the Redwoods League

One thing I will add to his commentary is that when he refers to areas cleared by commercial logging operations, he hints at a bit of greenwashing engaged in by some in the industry. Forests are renewable, and all logging operationg replant the areas that they clear. The quality of that replanting can vary so much that his organization has to re-replant many clearings to maintain anything like a healthy forest.

As for the websites, his own Redwoods Rising project is now described on the Redwoods League page; the original URL he mentions is no longer operable.

Even in California, redwoods are not appropriate everywhere. He recommends for information on more appropriate plantings in California. For the rest of the United States, he recommends Native Plant Finder, a beta site operated by National Wildlife Federation. The final site he mentions is Homegrown National Park.

NWF, by the way, is the reason that WWE has its current name -- the wrestling people lost a trademark battle with the wildlife people. It is also the organization that certified the habitat restoration efforts on my family's 0.31 acre of land in Bridgewater

Thanks to our son Harvey -- artist, foodie, and budding naturalist -- for finding this video!

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Pueblos Oaxaqueños

While scrolling social media (as I too often do) earlier today, I was struck by this marvelous map, courtesy of the site Estado de Oaxaca. It is entitled Peoples and Nations of Oaxaca. 

I was immediately taken back to the summer of 1989, the only time (so far) that I have visited the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. My favorite librarian and I were spending the whole summer in the central Mexican state of Puebla as part of a study-abroad program. From our base in Cholula, we had the opportunity to travel to several other places, including both Oaxaca to our south and Mexico City to our northwest.

Two highlights of that summer were dance variety performances to which troupes had traveled considerable distances to participate. In Mexico City, dancers took to the main stage of the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) from many of the country's 32 states. It was a fabulous experience, made all the more remarkable by the stage curtain itself.

Image: Circulating on Facebook 2023

We had the privilege of attending a similarly organized performance when we visited the capital of Oaxaca at the time of its annual Guelaguetza. A similar event played out at a different spatial scale -- with music, dance, and clothing as varied at the level of the state as they had been at the national level. 

Coming from all over Oaxaca, many groups performed in an open hilltop stadium on two consecutive Mondays (Los Lunes del Cerro). Unlike the indoor performance, each of these groups ended its performance by tossing gifts into the stands. Most impressive were the clay pots and the pineapples!

I had thought that the timing of the dances -- literally two extended sets of dances a week apart -- a bit odd. It was not until our son visited Oaxaca years later that I realized the reason for the timing is that these public performances were part of a cultural gathering that was extending over the entire week. We were privileged just to have a glimpse as outsiders. 

Fun language fact: This city of Oaxaca is one of my favorite place names. With the abbreviation of the state name, it is written Oaxaca, Oax and pronounced something like Whuh-HAK-ka-Wok.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Big Yellow Taxi

I was already teaching environmental geography when I gradually realized the relevance of Big Yellow Taxi to my chosen field. It is a 1970 song by the incomparable Joni Mitchell, a Canadian singer-songwriter-genius who is a contemporary of my father. 

I start most of my university courses with music, and lately I have decided that this song is essential for the first day in both my survey course and my course focused on land protection. (For the latter, I play The Trees even before Taxi.)

I have been using two versions of Big Yellow Taxi:

A 2023 tribute recording on the occasion of her winning the Library of Congress Gershwin Award. Joni Mitchell listens as Angelique Kidjo, Cyndi Lauper, Annie Lennox, Brandi Carlile, Lidisi, and Lucius perform the song with great energy. I get particularly emotional at this rendition, both because of Joni's reaction throughout and because I have been lucky enough to see two of these performers (Kidjo and Lauper) in person. 

and  Joni Mitchell in Concert 1970, a perfect version despite the fuzziness of the video.

This simple song -- written, indeed, in the form of a children's lullaby -- has been covered more than almost any other -- over 400 and counting. In just a few minutes, she outlines much of what was wrong on our planet a half century ago -- and much of what continues to ail us. 

Writing for the Financial Times in 2019, journalist Charles Morris explains that part of the appeal of this song is Mitchell's ability to connect the political and the personal in just a few, simply worded lines -- without hubris. His article explains the history of the song -- both origin and aftermath -- with deftly embedded audio clips.


Before really listening to Big Yellow Taxi, I had been most familiar with Mitchell's 1994 Turbulent Indigo, which I had heard while staying with an American-Brazilian friend for a few days in the Amazon in 1996. The CD became a staple in our household for years, and is a rich, lyrical tapestry. 

It includes Magdalene Laundry, an ode to the victims of a brutal institution to which Sinead O'Connor's bravely brought global attention with her 1992 protest on Saturday Night Live.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Madeira Voyage Photos

I finished editing all of the photos and videos from my recent visit to the Amazon, during which my friend Miguel and I traveled Down the Creek from Porto Velho to Manaus. 

The videos are interspersed here but might make more sense in the Madeira Playlists I created on YouTube. You can browse the photos in this slideshow or visit the Rios Madeira & Amazon album on Flickr.

Rios Madeira & Amazon 2023

It has been a great blessing this summer to spend time in the place where I became a geographer -- both literally visiting the Amazon for the fifth time and devoting much of my summer to reading and writing about it. I am currently working on several related teaching and writing projects, which will linked to the Down the Creek post mentioned above.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Maui Tourism Considerations

Damage in Lāhainā village Maui. Photo: Hawai‘i Department of
Land and Natural Resources via Big Island Now 

Recovery operations are still underway in Maui as an important debate unfolds. It is unseemly to enjoy a vacation when bodies of victims are still being found, and the care and feeding of tourists diverts resources that may be needed by those in need of aid.

Canceling vacations, however, damages the economy and denies income to local workers who need funds now more than ever. For this reason, as reported by NPR this morning, Maui County tells tourists to come back — just stay out of the burn zone, even though officials had been asking people to stay away just a couple of days ago. 

One one level, this story is a worthwhile examination of a real conundrum faced by those who have vacations planned on the island in coming days or weeks. I will never being staying at the Ritz in Maui, but I am fortunate enough to travel in such a way that I might face this exact circumstance some day.

On another level, though, the story could be entitled "The Fragility of Tourist Economies." We talk about tourism or other industries as "good for the economy" without considering what this might actually mean. A "good" economy would give people not only a paycheck but also the ability to take some time off to recover from trauma. 

The tourist economy provides almost no resilience to the vast majority of workers on which it relies. This observation is not limited to tourism, of course. The social safety net is frayed to the point that self-care has become a luxury. 


Whatever our thoughts on the economy of tourism, of course, outside help is needed. I chose to support the efforts of Convoy of Hope, because a friend who spends a lot of time in Hawai'i and with the national leaders of this organization recommend it.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Madeira Playlists

 As described in more detail in Down the Creek, I had the good fortune this month of taking a long-awaited voyage on a cargo ship from Porto Velho, Rondônia to Manaus, Amazonas. My photos from the entire trip (including time in each city and on the rivers in between) is in my Rio Madeira 2023 folder on Flickr. I promise, this is an edited set of photos, with all (or most) of the duds removed). I am gradually adding annotations to many of those photos.

Photo credit: JHB (see note below)

Meanwhile, I realized that I had recorded more than the usual number of videos along with the many still photos I took. I probably made more videos (from a few seconds to three minutes in length) than I usually do in a typical year.  They are visible within the Flickr folder above, but that is a bit awkward. I have therefore gathered them into small playlists on YouTube, so that a person visiting my channel can find them all, or can click to each playlist from this metaplaylist below. In each case, viewers will see a brief description of the list as a whole, and the clips (5-10 in each group) will play in succession. 

I hope you enjoy these. Please alert me to any glitches!

A note about the photo above: 

For those who DO know the city, its three water towers -- As Três Caixas D'Água -- are a favorite symbol. So when I was waiting for Miguel to do some work downtown on my first day, I walked a few blocks to get a selfie. I must say I'm proud of myself, because it is really tricky to get them all in the frame! They were built at the same time as the city itself, from 1910-1912, and they are made of material similar to the locomotive engines that were brought here from Philadelphia, London, and Bremen as part of the rubber trade. 

The railroad failed, but the town persisted. That is a century of history in six words; it's more complicated. A mural on the plaza adjacent to the towers depicts much of that history -- the "Introduction" video above is my attempt to describe that mural in Portuguese. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Down the Creek

The Madeira River is arguably* the longest of the Amazon River's 1,000-plus tributaries. It is also the route I was privileged to travel this summer (July 19-22) with my good friend Dr. Miguel Nenevé. It is highlighted in pink on this map of the Amazon Basin -- a path that coincides with most of the route we took from Porto Velho (near its formation) to Manaus (just upstream of its confluence with the Amazon River. 

I spent almost a week in Porto Velho before our voyage and two days in Manaus afterward. Photos and videos from the entire experience can be found on Flickr and YouTube through my Madeira Playlists article. 

Image: Wikipedia

It is worth finding Porto Velho on Google Maps or in an atlas. Even though it is a city of a half-million people in an area with no other big cities, many Brazilians are barely aware of it. At an airport, for example, I will find an employee who has never checked in a passenger with "PVH" on their documents, and does not know what to make of it. 

*Lengths of rivers is always arguable, as the Wikipedia article List of river systems by length makes clear. Just as no river has a single source, it is often difficult to determine exactly how to measure the length. Notice in this article that many of the familiar names (such as Nile, Amazon, and Mississippi) are joined by hyphens to names that most readers will not recognize. Hydrologists can often find a longer river by following channels that do not bear the name of the "main" river.

The Amazon River has a thousand named tributaries, about a dozen that measure a thousand miles or in their own right, and and unknown number of nameless tributaries. The most important of these is the Solimões, which most maps label "Amazon" and which Wikipedia does not even mention in its river-length article.

The word "arguably" above refers to the fact that the Tocantins-Araguaia system is mapped as part of the Amazon Basin, but joins it in the delta, not along the main channel. Does that make it a tributary? Perhaps.


Detroit Recovery

It has been a decade since the City of Detroit declared bankruptcy, leaving its "citizenry" vulnerable to the whims of fiscal overseers. The scare quotes in the previous sentence are made necessary because citizens whose municipal affairs have been placed in the hands of unelected outsiders are not fully enfranchised. 

The Detroit Public Library is one of the city's treasures;
so to are its librarians, who were among the public
employees whose pensions were raided by the
bankruptcy managers.

I began following the progress of Detroit around that time for several reasons. First, its fiscal demise had a very specific kind of spatial dimension, as population loss sharply reduced population density, which then made the provision of services increasingly expensive on a per-capita basis. This dismal feedback loop ultimately led to the bankruptcy. 

I was further interested because of the important insight my son shared in an undergraduate research paper about three years into the bankruptcy. The suits (that is as polite a term as I can muster) decided that a city with fiscal difficulties did not deserve great art. That is, the city's financial overseers threatened to sell off the treasures of the Detroit Institute of Art and other city assets, placing the short-term interest of creditors ahead of the long-term interests of the citizens.

This is all prelude to Quinn Klinefelter's report on today's NPR Morning Edition, entitled How is Detroit doing 10 years after it filed for bankruptcy? Please listen to his comments, which I would describe as Detroit coming back slowly and unevenly from its low ebb a decade ago. In my view, the unevenness of this recovery is a microcosm of inequity in the country as a whole. From my very brief visit last summer, I can confirm that the entertainment district described in this story is doing much better than the rest of the city. 

To the degree that the finances of the city itself have recovered, it has been on the backs of public workers. Teachers, librarians, and other municipal workers had their retirement benefits stolen. Even uniformed public employees (police and fire) were ripped off, though not as deeply. 

For those who are interested, a search for Detroit on this blog points to some resources about this most important of American cities.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Resilience Force

In recent years, my academic geography department began to incorporate the word "resilience" into the names of some of our programs and courses. In part, this reflects some evolution in how and what we teach, but it is also a recognition that what many now call "climate resilience" is deeply intertwined with what many geographers do. 

Photo montage from Resilience Force

This all came to mind last weekend as I listened to Rewind: Saket Soni on the People Who Make Disaster Recovery Possible, the first episode I had heard of the radio program/podcast Climate One. I look forward to more from this program, which I had first encountered on WCAI 90.1 FM. That is the New Bedford-area frequency for Cape & Islands Radio, a fantastic mid-sized public-radio station, one of three to which I listen regularly. 

I recommend the hour-long recording itself and the ancillary materials posted with it -- I stole the image above from one of them. This discussion and the ongoing work behind it reflect a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of humans and the natural environment. The term "climate resilience" is itself a recognition of the compounding and confounding interplay among consumerism, racism, carbon pollution, transportation, housing, and more. 

Guests Saket Soni and Daniel Castellanos go even further, connecting all of the above to the problems of human trafficking and the inhumanity of migration politics in the United States. But this is in the end a broadcast/podcast that brings me hope, because their Resilience Force organization is not only rescuing trafficked workers and organizing them for better treatment; it is also educating communities, exposing the crimes that are obscured by layers of subcontractors, and working toward a vision of a professionalized cadre of resilience workers worldwide.

In our educational endeavors around resilience, we are preparing people for citizenship and possibly employment related to big-picture concepts such as urban planning, supply-chain management, and environmental policy. Soni and Castellanos inform us that this kind of education is not enough: we also need vocational training, career development, and worker support for resilience workers who might be called second responders -- those who arrive 48 hours after a fire, flood, or storm and remain until people can sleep in their own beds and return to work or school.

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