Monday, March 6, 2017

All Begins to Wither

Twenty years have flowed away down the long river
And never in my life will return for me from the sea
Ah years in which looking far away I saw ages long past
When still trees bloomed free in a wide country
And thus now all begins to wither
With the breath of cold-hearted wizards
To know things they break them
And their stern lordship they establish
Through fear of death

                   ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, Rotterdam 1958 


It was too blustery yesterday to stay on the beach, so I took Camus for a walk in a birdless bird sanctuary instead.  Well, nearly.  I saw three, and heard one.  Add to that one butterfly, one terrified armadillo and one insouciant deer, and that is the entire sum of wildlife we found.


The twisted live oaks and bristly palms have their odd Florida charm, so different than the environment I grew up in.  It's easier for me to observe the decay in this alien landscape than to be a witness under duress, amongst the hardwood species whose majesty inspired me from my earliest memories.


There were some vermilion wildflowers in bloom...


...but, the same painfully thin crowns are here as they are everywhere.


A surprising amount of sun reaches the woodland floor, and the ferns that should blanket the ground, according to a park nature guide, are vanishingly absent.


Entire swathes of trees are completely dead.


Their fate will be what ultimately happens to the entire preserve.


Stark skeletal remains are sentinels of the graveyard that is transforming what was once a vibrant ecosystem.


The infamous nitrogen pollution-fueled lichen explosion is ubiquitous.


As if to assuage any qualms that might spook the hikers, the signs along the path declare "Nothing alarming to see here, all perfectly normal, move along!"


And yet there is no question that those branches that have crashed the ground are smothered.


It amazes me that even as it has become impossible to deny the toxic effects of excess nitrogen pollution in Florida's water, in the rivers, canals, ponds, lakes and along the coasts, nobody seems to have noticed that the vegetation is also dying.  One article about the putrid algae blooms describes the problem:


"Recent blooms of toxic algae in southern Florida, which have provoked Governor Rick Scott to announce a state of emergency, may be tied to fertilizer chemicals from agricultural and residential origins."


"Waterways and beaches along Florida’s Treasure Coast, Lake Okeechobee, and the Everglades have been experiencing massive blooms of toxic algae since May. The cyanobacteria algae—described as thick, pea-green, and foul-smelling—is intensely toxic and poses health risks to people and wildlife in the area. At its peak, the bloom in Lake Okeechobee covered 33 square miles—or about one-third of the lake's surface. One source estimates the total area of the algae to be roughly the size of Miami."



"The impact of these algae blooms has already proven disastrous. Tourism, a main source of income for residents around Lake Okeechobee and along the coast, is down. Contact with toxic algae blooms “can affect the gastrointestinal system, liver, nervous system, and skin.” Fish are dying, and many have raised concerns about manatees and other large wildlife in the area."



And yet, everyone is sleepwalking blindly past corroded, rotting trees and blistered foliage.


Is it any wonder that the Florida scrub is incendiary tinder just waiting to burn?

 

I came across an artist whose paintings I love - impressionistic visions of trees that remind me of how gorgeous they were, not that long ago.   (I would give anything to be able to paint that brilliantly, to be honest.)


Her name is Erin Hanson, and her website is here.  Obviously, I'm not blogging much anymore, because it's far too late to stop the 6th mass extinction, which sooner or later is going to include trees, and us.



But when I see another story chronicling the increasing incidents of death by tree, I feel obliged to document it.  The CDC does not.  Nobody else does either, as best I can determine.  Falling branches and broken trunks are simply becoming normalized, and the overall trend is ignored.



A 21 year old woman was killed by a falling tree in Yosemite Park yesterday.  So far, the victim has not been named.  But I can't help thinking that she has a family and friends who loved her, and are in shock and will be for a long time.



According to one article about the incident, she is the third person to die in California already this year:



"In December and January, at least two people in California were killed by falling trees. In January, one woman who struck and killed by a tree while walking on a Northern California golf course. In December, a woman posing for photographs as part of a wedding party was killed and five others were injured by a falling eucalyptus tree in Southern California."



It turns out that 2013 the camp counselor who was killed in the same park, was the same age of 21:


"The sudden toppling of a black oak tree at a summer camp outside Yosemite National Park last week was a "freak accident," said Jamie Simon, director of Camp Tawonga.


"The giant tree fell near a building, killing 21-year-old camp counselor Annais Rittenberg and injuring others."


"A private arborist checks the trees at the camp every 12 to 18 months, Simon said. The same arborist returned after the accident and, after inspecting the fallen tree, "deemed the tree healthy," she said."




"The tree was described by Tuolumne County Sheriff's officials as a black oak tree that measured nearly 4.5 feet across and about 70 feet tall. It broke in half about 32 feet off the ground, Sgt. James Oliver said."

This reluctant post is dedicated to the trees that are dying, and the people whose lives are ruined because of it.

11 comments:

  1. Thanks for continuing to speak about trees. Please don't stop. You may inspire me to write about the beach near where I live and that I frequently walk. I've been doing an amateur survey. Tidal pools that were once filled with diverse life are now dead and the trees along the shore are weak and sick. Despite this area being much less populated and developed than Florida.

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    1. It's universal. I'm not sure why this study needed to be done, because it's been known for years that ozone precursors traverse the globe. No place is "pristine" anymore. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/03/518323094/rise-in-smog-in-western-u-s-is-blamed-on-asias-air-pollution

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    2. And I think you should publish something on your blog about it!

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  2. michele/montrealMarch 7, 2017 at 3:14 PM

    Hi Gail,
    Pristine, that would have been a good name for a daughter. I saw a comment by Tom on monsangel a few weeks ago. I miss him a lot. like someone I had known for all my lives. michbriand @ gmail.com

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  3. Hi Gail, welcome back! I check your site now and then to see how you're doing and if you've written anything new. Oh yeah, so much is going by unnoticed by the great masses who are so distracted and busy trying to survive these days. Thanks for this latest essay (as usual) beautifully enhanced with art and poetry. I noticed here, and in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday (I was there attending the military funeral of an old friend who recently died) that many trees have broken in half or large portions have broken off and others have simply toppled over at their base or uprooted, displaying the "missing" or degraded root ball. They're all over the place - by the sides of roads, where chainsaws have cut off the parts that impeded traffic, the remaining parts bearing witness to blind humanity driving by, and also deeper in stands of still standing trees there are many that have fallen onto others nearby, making them lean (until they too succumb and fall) and large branches "rotted out" littering the floor. I expect one day to watch many trees falling over at the same time, without any provocation, which may or may not get people's attention.

    Environmental degradation is really ramping up now and will continue. Please continue to share your thoughts and observations. They and you are appreciated more than words can express.

    Michele - i'm so glad you're still around! I'll write to you at the address above, shortly.

    Tom



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  4. Here in Australia the government controls everything, because it is literally one of the first police states. One cannot cut down a tree unless the government says it is okay. The government does not like to say yes, and it is now quite common to find these trees collapsing near children playing in the yard. Although tbh I doubt if one fell on a child (an 8 yo died tragically in a schoolyard last year from a falling branch) after government refusal that the Australian citizens would protest.

    I myself sleep under a very tall tree with many apparent ailments. I regularly inspect, and commune, and invite it to tell me before it falls. But I also accept that this may be our personal fate. C'est l'Eschaton, n'est ce-pas?

    Much love to you. And the birds of Australia are still extant, and I have greetings from Willy Wag Tails, Kookaburras, and bright pink and grey parrots (named after a general I think but I don't hold that sort of info in my brain).

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  5. Nice to hear from you all - kinda like a reunion!

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  6. Thanks for posting Gail. I've been following your blog since 2009 when I first noticed the die off really start to occur very visibly up here in Vancouver, B.C. Please do continue to post if you can find the time. You do the best job of documenting this and also you write very beautifully. I think it's important that these photos be documented over the years as a record of what is happening and how far things have come. Those pictures from Florida look the worst of anything I've seen short of the massive beetle die offs in some of the western pine forests. The most shocking part of these pictures from Florida is just how bad of condition ALL the species seem to be. Thanks again.

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  7. I am glad you are posting again Gail, even if occasionally. You write here, I tell someone who might care, they in turn send it to another, and eventually we have a murder of crows! In my neck of the woods here in the Pacific Northwest falling trees are occurring at a pace that is unprecedented. Here is a particularly sad example as the 17 year old teenager held such promise:

    http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/teen-killed-by-falling-tree-in-lynnwood-area/

    Be well,
    Remonster

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  8. https://www.wired.com/2017/05/trees-will-die-will/

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