Monday, November 21, 2022



Although I my employment has been primarily academic for most of the past 35 years, I did have two extended brushes with professional employment outside of the so-called Ivory Tower (where I have encountered very little ivory and very few towers, by the way). The second of these -- at the end of my doctoral program -- was in various roles at The Wornick Company, which was then (and probably still is) the largest purveyor of combat and humanitarian rations. 

I learned quite a lot at Wornick that I still use in my teaching, but I learned even more at Dames & Moore, where I worked just prior to starting my doctoral courses. It was a civil engineering firm with offices worldwide, which had recently (I believe) started to develop expertise in environmental regulatory compliance. I worked in Cincinnati, as part of a team of about 10 "regulatory analysts" within an office of about 80 employees. We were mostly geographers, with the rest of the group mostly engineers and a few geologists, graphic artists, and clerical staff. 

I remember my first day on that job; I started on a day when several of the people I would normally work with were gone. So I was left -- almost like a substitute teacher -- with some simple tasks so that I could be at least somewhat productive. Proctor & Gamble had recently bought Fisher Nuts, and I was to make some phone calls about a particular packaging facility in Kentucky. 

That kind of investigation for property transfer became a large part of my work during what turned out to be year full of learning experiences. I also worked on applications for permit applications -- I remember power-line routing, sediment remediation, and hazardous-waste treatment -- but most of my work was what we called Phase I Site Assessments. Whenever a client (or a client's client) was buying a company,  we would be given addresses of specific properties that were included; in some cases -- as with Fisher Nut -- this would mean several of us dividing a list and spreading out to different jurisdictions. In most cases, though, we just had 1-3 addresses in the same area and a very short turn-around to conduct that Phase I.

As soon as I got such an assignment, I would immediately schedule a visit, buy plane tickets, and book a rental car and hotel. I would do the client a favor of doing the visit on a Friday or Monday if possible, so that I could include a Saturday-night stay. Back then, the economics of flying was such that a short-notice reservation was much shorter if it included weekend travel -- so much cheaper that this would more than pay for my extra day. As a geographer and insatiable explorer, I almost always did this -- and still have fond memories of exploring on my own. In Charleston, this meant dinner with a friend I had met in Mexico and in Texas it meant knowing my way around the Rio Grande Valley before we ended up moving there a few years later. In fact, because these trips usually involved a visit to local libraries, I had actually been in the reference department of a library where my spouse would later become head of reference. 

The visits were always scheduled quickly, because our work would take place only after a sale (or a loan or an insurance policy) was imminent. We also had to be very careful about asking questions, because in many cases we had news of a sale that could be considered insider trading -- and none of us expected to be treated as well as Martha Stewart if we went to jail. (I mention Fisher Nut freely, because this was over 30 years ago. 

I would then prepare FOIA requests for every public agency that might have information about the property or its neighbors. This was part of helping the client -- who was usually a buyer  due diligence, 


Insomniacs might enjoy scrolling through my Fun Jobs List, where I list all of my jobs, including those mentioned above and many others of a more fleeting and often less rewarding nature. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Fashionable Reckoning

Just as the first book I purchased on Amazon the online store was about Amazon the forest, the most recent video I purchased on the site is about Amazon the river. Specifically, it is the second episode of the first season of Rivers of Life, recommended by a fellow geographer and available on PBS and Amazon Prime.

But this post is not about the Amazon -- it is about the Nile, because my favorite librarian and I decided to watch the series in order, and it begins with what is commonly thought of as the longest river, followed by the other top contenders: the Amazon and the Mississippi. It so happens that we watched the Nile episode on the same day that our EarthView team had been showing our giant floor map of Africa to some delightful second graders. I had been spending quite a bit of the morning looking at the Nile and its tributaries -- especially when the last group decided that they would ALL use their feet to measure the river!

This geographer on our Africa map, sans second graders.

While looking at the big print map, I remember looking at various headwaters areas, and noticed for the first time that one of the tributaries near Lake Albert is called the Albert Nile. I learned a lot of geographic details from the PBS program that I wish I had known to share with the kids, and that I hope I remember next time! Two of these are that the Nile stretches from the equator to more than 30°N and that Lake Victoria is the world's largest tropical lake. The program and I both point out that the Nile -- like virtually all rivers -- has more than one source. 

I recommend watching the show as I did -- with a laptop handy, open to Google Maps. I will be doing this for all of the remaining episodes. Among the most interesting things I learned this way is that some of the river's major tributaries pass through areas that are either so narrow (rocky gorges) or so broad (marshy wetlands) that they really do not appear as rivers on satellite imagery. 

All of this was in mind -- especially some questions I had about Lake Albert and the Albert Nile -- when I heard a story about a project of post-colonial reckoning at a London museum. More specifically, the Victoria and Albert Museum -- named for two leaders in the colonial subjugation of the continent -- has launched an exhibit that highlights post-colonial African fashions. As the museum web site describes the exhibit, "Africa Fashion explores the vitality and global impact of a fashion scene as dynamic and varied as the continent itself."

At right, from the exhibit: 

Alchemy collection, Thebe Magugu, Autumn/Winter 2021, Johannesburg, South Africa. Photography: Tatenda Chidora , Styling + Set: Chloe Andrea Welgemoed, Model: Sio

On the western side of the continent, by the way, I told a couple of stories about the brilliant and fabulous singer Angélique Kidjo. I showed them her home country of Benin and described her anthem Afrika (which I heard her perform in Providence in early 2020) and the ballad Iemanja, which was my introduction to her beautiful and multilingual body of work. 


African leaders on our Africa map: the Bridgewater State University 2022 class of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Crossing the Bay


I took this photo yesterday (November 13, 2022) -- at the beginning of my second walk across the southern span of the twin-span Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The first walk had been with my favorite librarian and eventual spouse, so long ago that we did not even know she was going to be a librarian yet. She was with me this time as well, along with our sister-in-law, who now lives at the far end of this bridge. This year my brother shuttled us to the shuttle, but we will all four do this together some time! 

The bridges were built in the 1960s where a ferry had previously operated. The first span has two lanes and was augmented with the three-lane span some years later, but long before I moved to the area in 1980. Neither span has even the hint of a sidewalk or bike lane, so the occasional opening for a walk is a real treat.

When we walked in 1986, it was not yet a regular event. It is now known at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Run/Walk, a 10k event that is popular among those who travel to such things. 


NOTE: If this is the last paragraph you see in this post, please come back later. I don't know how many geographers were among the 16,000 people in this crowd, but there was one at least, and he has some geographic observations (and more maps) to share!

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Towering Emergent

A friend who is both a geographer and a librarian (great combination!) recently shared the story of a very tall tree. Indeed, this beautiful 290-foot angelim vermelho is the tallest tree ever measured in the Amazon rain forest. 

Image: Imazon/Idelflor/AFP

An October article in Nature tells the story of this tree, which emerges so high above the surrounding canopy that the individual tree was identified by remote sensing. Its distance from roads and rivers made it very difficult to reach and this indeed is what has allowed it to grow to this size. Even knowing exactly where it was, researchers spent a lot of time and effort to reach it. 

And to protect it, the location is described only vaguely in the article; they indicate only that it is somewhere in the reserve shown below, well to the west of Belem. Wood poachers sometimes destroy large tracts of forest on their way to harvesting a single specimen like this.

The article does not use the term "emergent" but that is what such towering trees are called. They require an enormous base of buttresses for support, because roots reach only a few inches into the surprisingly poor rainforest soils.

The Environmental Geographer showing off the 
buttresses of a much smaller tree in a different
part of the Amazon in 2003.

The article mentions not only the hardships of the journey to the single tree in Amapá, but also a large number of people involved in the work. I remember a presentation by a scientist who mounted a similar expedition to find rare lemurs in Madagascar. She and a photographer and a guide were going, but they needed people to cook food, carry the cameras, and carry the tents. And then those people needed more tents, food, and the like. In this way an expedition of 2-3 people quickly becomes almost two dozen.

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