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Book Notes

Only two books in February -- guess I was hit more strongly by malaise than I thought. Also, i was sick for a week.

Four Modern Prophets
William M. Ramsay
John Knox Press, 1986

Ramsay's point is that Walter Rauschenbusch, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gustavo Gutiérrez, and Rosemary Radford Ruether are prophets in the same sense that Amos, Micaiah, Jeremaiah and other Old and New Testament prophets are: They say our primary purpose in life is to work to address social inequities and injustices, using biblical principles to guide our actions. I think he makes a good case, but I'm not a biblical scholar. I still think that "the bible" is such a large and cumbersome object, written by so many different hands in so many different political climates, that you can find something in it to justify your social prejudices no matter what they are. I still think you don't need religion to have an ethical understanding of life and our purpose here. On the other hand, I thought some of the quotes from Walter Rauschenbusch were invigorating and still all too applicable today, more than a hundred years later.


Eon
Greg Bear
Tor, 2015

Written in 1985, and set in the far distant future of a couple years ago, this is remarkably undated. Sure, there's no Internet, but everyone has a "slate" and "memory blocks" which I just took to be tablets and USB drives. But this is really a fun space opera, with many interesting ideas and extrapolations. I'm getting into the sequel immediately.
me meh

YESC Seattle at Golden Gardens

About 25-30 high school students from YESC Seattle (YMCA Earth Services Corps) joined us at Golden Gardens on Saturday, Jan. 30. We removed ivy and blackberry along the bottom of the stairs that go from the middle parking lot up to the dog park. Altogether, we cleared and mulched about 2500 square feet. A good day!

Doug Gresham, the forest steward, lays out the work site.

Doug Gresham, the forest steward, lays out the work site.

After some introductory words up by the dog park parking lot, we moved down to the work site to learn about the tasks of the day.

After some introductory words up by the dog park parking lot, we moved down to the work site to learn about the tasks of the day.

Everybody is always so eager to get to work.

Everybody is always so eager to get to work.

The work party ran from 10 to 2, with a break for lunch. But the enthusiasm didn’t dim, and the students dug into finishing up the work and getting a solid load of mulch down (about 5 yards).

The initial ivy removal happened in the morning. In the afternoon, we had the tougher task of grubbing out the roots and underground bits.

The initial ivy removal happened in the morning. In the afternoon, we had the tougher task of grubbing out the roots and underground bits.

As the time to leave drew near, we all pitched in to a vigorous but satisfying bucket brigade to get the mulch onto the site.

Just a few minutes left before the supposed end of the work party, the leaders decided to push through because we were so close.

Just a few minutes left before the supposed end of the work party, the leaders decided to push through because we were so close.

Here we are about eight minutes to two. By the time they finished, this site was completely mulched.

Here we are about eight minutes to two. By the time they finished, this site was completely mulched.

A good, hard working time was had by all. The next work party at Golden Gardens will be on February 13. We hope to see you there!

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

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January Book Log

The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health
David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé
WW Norton, 2016

The authors began a journey into examining the role that microbes play in our lives by reconstituting the soil in thei yard. They discovered the soil was brought back to life with relatively little effort. This lead to a lot of research into what, exactly what going on, and a discovery of the rhizosphere, the wealth of bacteria and microbes that surround and enrich the roots of plants, providing available nutrients for the plant in return for carbohydrates and other exudates. When the wife of the team contracted cancer, they embarked on a similar journey into the depths of the colon and the microbial life we support and which supports us. (Full review to be posted on Nature Intrudes.)



Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Atul Garawande
Metropolitan Books, 2014

At times heart breaking and heart filling, this book looks at the way we handle death and dying in the USA, how we got that way, and some changes that are beginning to improve our way of death. Up until very recently, we would do anything, expend every effort, without regard to how much time it bought or the quality of life of the person being treated. Now, we're beginning to learn to ask dying people what they want, what matters most in the time left to them, and to tailor treatments to their wishes. Frequently, they live longer than people getting aggressive treatment. There are two important lessons for me from this book: Have the difficult conversation much earlier than you think you need to. (Also, the difficult conversation is much more nuanced -- and hence more difficult -- than I thought before reading this book. ) Second, people have unreasonably optimistic views on their lifespans; they'll still be thinking in decades when the reality is days. I'm still thinking in decades (although it's only a few) when who knows how long I have left.



Half Resurrection Blues (Bone Street Rumba #1)
Daniel José Older
Roc, 2015

After a book about how farming practices are destroying the soil biome and medical practices destroying our gut biome, and another book about how unregulated global capitalism is destroying the world, and ANOTHER book about how American medical practices are destroying the quality of the ends of our lives, it was nice to read a book that merely threatened to destroy the world through demonic possession. It was a fun read, pleasantly blending elements of noir and urban fantasy. This is the second Daniel José Older book I've read and I'll read more. (Not least, the next one in the series.)



The Wandering Earth
Cixin Liu (translated by Holger Nahm and Ken Liu)
Beijing Guomi Digital Technology, 2013

I didn't finish this, but I did read eight of the 11 stories. Five of the stories have won the "China Galaxy Science Fiction Award," between 1999 and 2005, so it looks like these were all written prior to "The Three Body Problem" and any other novels, but there's no original publication data given so it's impossible to tell. They feel like early writing to me, a little clumsier than "The Three Body Problem", a little less assured with characters and emotions. In any case, there are bid ideas in every story -- arks of humanity sent into interstellar space to avoid a helium flash, Cretaceous civilizations, giant solar sails, and others. The stories feel very different to me than western SF. It's not just the slight clumsiness with characters and emotions, but in their favor they have a freedom from cliche that allows Liu to explore ideas that might not have been publishable in the west. If you really liked "The Three Body Problem" (as I did) this might be worth investigating to see the early work of Liu.



Peculia
Richard Sala
Fantagraphics Books, 2002

A collection of short stories that appeared in Evil Eye, a pamphlet comic published by Fantagraphics Books in the late 90s -- early 00s. Peculia is a "goth comedy" featuring an attractively-drawn young woman who gets into various scrapes and misadventures, all of which involve other cutely-drawn young women and/or removal or tearing of already-skimpy clothes. If I'd discovered this when it was being published, I'd have gushed over the line, the drawing, the art as if it mattered. Now, 15+ years older, I have the reaction above. However, my ultimate reaction (being slightly turned on) is the same. ;>





There was one unfinished book this month, "That Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climte" which I hope to get back to soon. I returned it unfinished rather than run up library fines.
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The Hidden Half of Nature


The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health
David Montgomery and Anne Biklé
WW Norton, 2016

The authors began a journey into examining the role that microbes play in our lives by reconstituting the soil in their yard. They discovered the soil was brought back to life with relatively little effort. This lead to a lot of research into what, exactly what going on, and learning about the rhizosphere, the wealth of bacteria and microbes that surround and enrich the roots of plants. When Biklé contracted cancer, they embarked on a similar journey into the depths of the colon and the microbial life we support and which supports us. Both systems are bewilderingly complex, and there is much more cooperation and symbiosis than we thought. In both cases, a healthy microbial environment provides strength and immunity to the host (either the plant or us).

A few things prevented us from seeing these communities and benefits earlier. Our lab practices were focused on the “germ theory,” that microbes were inherently harmful and needed to be eradicated. This lead to studying only pathogenic microbes that could be easily cultured in labs. DNA sequencing allows us to study microbes that aren’t culturable outside their host environment. Further, relationships between organisms were viewed through the lens of Darwinian competition, which is only recently being challenged by new views on cooperation and symbiosis.

This is leading to a revolution in our approach to both farming and nutrition. For the second half of the 20th century, agribusiness concentrated on ever-higher doses of fertilizers and biocides for the short-term benefits of yield increase, ignoring the long-term problems of soil depletion, adaptation of pests, and destruction of helpful microbes and insects. A similar practice was happening in medicine, with a reliance on antibiotics that provided untold benefits, but which led to a larger problem we now face.

The farming practices, combined with dietary changes (and convenience foods) led to diets filled with nutritionally poor but high calorie foods. Meanwhile, our helpful gut flora were being destroyed by the antibiotics that were otherwise saving our lives. New research indicates that over-use of antibiotics is leading to both an increase in disease-resistant bacteria and chronic auto-immune and inflammation diseases.

“The Hidden Half of Nature” is filled with interesting stories about research into soil health that contradicted the agrichemical practices that was ignored, or research into gut health that went a little past the ability to visualize or quantify why things worked the way they did. One particularly fascinating story is that of Ignasz Semmelweis, who in the late 1840s noticed that the wards in his hospital run by midwives had significantly less mortality than the wards run by doctors. Why? The doctors wore their bloody coats with pride, and went between patients or autopsies and patients without washing their hands. Montgomery and Biklé say that by insisting the doctors wash their hands and change their lab coats, mortality in the doctor-run wards was reduced to the same as the midwife wards. This infuriated the doctors, Semmelweis was fired from that hospital, fired from another for instituting the same changes, and was so hounded by the medical establishment that he died in an asylum. Philosophers of science now use the term “Semmelweis reflex” to describe the autocratic rejection of new knowledge that contradicts established paradigms.

The authors are careful not to ignore the good results of agribusiness or antibiotics, but they fully acknowledge that it is crucial to adapt our practices to new realities. More careful administration of antibiotics, removing antibiotics from use as animal growth promoters, and more attention to prebiotics and foods that improve our gut flora are among their recommendations for human health. They also recommend farming practices that concentrate on soil health, such as returning stubble to the field after harvest, no-till farming, and organic farming. They acknowledge where research is still inconclusive, such as whether organically farmed plants are more nutritious than conventionally farmed plants.

“The Hidden Half of Nature” is informationally dense – the “Sources” section has pages of citations for every chapter – but is so clearly presented that at first I thought it almost felt like it was aimed at a young adult audience. Once they got onto things I didn’t know, however, I was fascinated by their stories. They mix personal experience with research in a way that brings the research into focus. The few notes are amplifications of the text that would have gotten in the way of their main point. There is also a good index.

I think this book makes a good companion to The One-Straw Revolution. Fukuoka’s book is much shorter, and focuses on his personal experience with restoring pre-agribusiness farming practices to his farm in Japan. Montgomery and Biklé present the history of the science of microbes, looking at European research into farming and medicine.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

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Stewardship Adventure Squad at White Center Heights Park

Another fun day in a park, playing in the mud with a great group. We worked several times last summer with the Stewardship Squad, which is why I went back to work with them as a volunteer.

The day was gray and cool, but far from cold, and it didn’t rain. It was just cool enough that we warmed up quickly in our layers, but not so cold that we chilled when we took a break.

White Center Heights Park is located in — wait for it — White Center Heights. I was there last summer with a group from City Year, during the teacher’s strike. It’s a small park, with a pond and a seasonal stream. It’s at the intersection of SW 102nd St. and 8th Ave. SW. It’s hidden from those streets by a small riparian strip of trees, which screens some of the traffic noise and makes it a hidden gem, as they say. It has a small pond, which had some buffleheads and megansers in addition to the standard mallards. Stewardship Squad had been there previously to do some planting, and they were back for more.

A few years ago, Starbucks put some money into it. The results are a nice shelter, a p-patch, a great bridge over the pond, and signs in English, Thai, and Spanish. Since then, though, it’s been a little neglected, and it’s only recently that King County was able to get volunteers in to clean up the weeds and invasives and put some fresh plants in.

Lina brought shovels of many different sizes, even a trowel for the very smallest child.

Lina brought shovels of many different sizes, even a trowel for the very smallest child.

This little stream only flows during the winter. Planting its borders will help maintain the bank.

This little stream only flows during the winter. Planting its borders will help maintain the bank.

After finishing up by the stream, we moved to a more-wooded section for the afternoon's work. We planted 50 shrubs here, for more than 60 plants altogether.

After finishing up by the stream, we moved to a more-wooded section for the afternoon’s work. We planted 50 shrubs here, for more than 60 plants altogether.

We had a scavenger hunt for the walk to the second planting area. One of the adventurers found this little case of insect eggs.

We had a scavenger hunt for the walk to the second planting area. One of the adventurers found this little case of insect eggs.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

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Indians of the Pacific Northwest


Indians of the Pacific Northwest From the Coming of the White Man to the Present Day
Vine Deloria, Jr.
Fulcrum, 1977, 2012

The first white people to arrive in the Pacific Northwest were British traders, looking to take advantage of the established trade routes of the Salish peoples for their own ends: The Makah whalers for whale oil, others for salmon or animal skins. They lived in relative peace with Salish peoples, even intermarrying, although they still brought smallpox. The Americans who came later wanted to establish permanent settlements, which resulted in the occasionally violent removal of first peoples from their lands and the establishment of reservations. I thought this book would be a pretty depressing read, but although it told the story of the thefts of Americans without flinching, it also told the many stories of successes that first peoples have had, in re-establishing their fishing rights and keeping parcels of their lands under their own control. I think this book leaves a lot out, as well, particularly the story of the Duwamish. It was first published in 1977, and an afterword provides an update as of 2011, which takes us through casinos and up to the first Elwha Dam removal.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

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Friends of North Beach Park January Work Party Announcement

Join Friends of North Beach Park for the wrap up of the planting season on Saturday, January 23, 2016. We’ll meet at the main entrance to the park, 24th Ave and 90th St. NW. The work party will run from 9 a.m. to noon, rain or shine.

We’ll be planting at the main stream crossing and streamside up and down from that point. We’ll also be transporting some mulch down to the planting areas. The plants we’ll be planting have been provided by Green Seattle Partnership and the Washington Native Plant Society.

We’ll provide tools, gloves, and guidance. Please wear weather appropriate layers than can get dirty (likely very dirty) and closed-toe, waterproof shoes. Rain gear will be helpful; expect late-January weather, whatever that means these days. Even in cold weather, it’s a good idea to bring some water and a snack. Note there are no facilities at the park.

Please sign up in advance so we know you’re coming.

All ages are welcome; volunteers under 18 must sign and bring a waiver (link next to the sign-up form). The #48 and #40 buses stop a few blocks south of the park; check Metro for details. Parking is available on 90th St. east of 24th Ave.

As always, you can support Friends of North Beach Park by making a directed donation to the Seattle Parks Foundation. All money donated will be used to fund the restoration efforts of North Beach Park.

If you’re looking for something on Martin Luther King Day, there are a number of special events all over the city.

If you can’t join Friends of North Beach Park in January, save the date for one of our upcoming work parties: February 27, March 26, or April 23. All work parties are 9 a.m. to noon, and will meet at the main entrance to the park, 90th St. and 24th Ave. NW.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

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The One-Straw Revolution


The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming
Masanobu Fukuoka
New York Review Books, 1978

Masanobu Fukuoka proposes a method of farming timed to natural sequences of plants. Cover crops and food crops are sown in sequence such that weeds are kept down. Straw and plant waste is returned to the field after harvest, returning most of the nutrients to the soil. This is a no-till method that builds the soil up year after year with no amendments. The soil is increasingly healthy, which prevents plant disease. The diversity of the crops prevent crop pests from taking over. Not spraying also allows the beneficial insects to live and protect the crops. The plants themselves are more resistant to pests and diseases because they are growing in healthier soil, and are consequently healthier. The healthiness of the soil and the extensive use of straw and plant waste as mulch greatly decreases water use. In general, Fukuoka used a method of farming that had been developed over time by the indigenous farmers of his region, before Western agrichemical practices took over. This method of farming is as productive as Western agrichemical farming, but with healthier soil and stronger, more nutritious plants.

This method of no-till agriculture and crop rotation would work in any location, but would need to be adapted to local growing seasons and crops. He also espouses a philosophy of being in touch with the earth and its cycles. In some ways, his method of farming reminded me of the Bradley method of restoration, in that both of them look to the cycles of plant life and soil health and ecology to accomplish their goals. This book left me wishing I had some land — even a back yard would do — to practice his method and adapt it to PNW climate.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

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Golden Gardens with Youth Environmental Awareness

About ten volunteers from Youth Environmental Awareness joined Golden Gardens forest stewards and other volunteers for a day of ivy removal and mulching. They worked really hard, trucking full wheelbarrows of mulch down a long staircase and clearing several hundred feet of ivy. They also had a great time and brought plenty of snacks (always important!) and water.

The weather cooperated, with a cool, foggy start to the day. The work warmed us up pretty quickly, and by the time the work party was over the sun was beginning to peek through the fog leading to a nicely sunny afternoon.

Doug Gresham, forest steward for Golden Gardens, begins the work party with a welcoming talk, explaining some of the whys and wherefores of urban forest restoration.

Doug Gresham, forest steward for Golden Gardens, begins the work party with a welcoming talk, explaining some of the whys and wherefores of urban forest restoration.

After the welcoming talk, a bit of goofing around while everyone gets gloves and signs in.

After the welcoming talk, a bit of goofing around while everyone gets gloves and signs in.

More important preliminaries: Tool safety and work demonstration.

More important preliminaries: Tool safety and work demonstration.

After that last bit of preliminary, we got to work, and I was too busy to take any pictures. Plants installed last month were mulched, and a long section was cleared of ivy and other invasive plants (along the way, finding a couple buckets worth of trash). There was even a break for water and snacks, but everyone got back to work shortly. Overall, we had a great time, and were impressed by how much work was accomplished.

 

The end of the day, and still smiling. Making sure everyone took some water home.

The end of the day, and still smiling. Making sure everyone took some water home.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.