Monday, July 28, 2008


Jody and her partner collecting crayfish near our dock.

One of our visitors during our stay on the island this summer was Jody Peters, a doctoral candidate at the University of Notre Dame who is researching crayfish. Specifically, her research focuses on "species coexistence and invasion" in northern lakes. In the Great Lakes region, the native crayfish species, northern crayfish (orconectes virilis), has faced increasing competition from an invasive species, the rusty crayfish (orconectes rusticus), which was introduced into our waters as escaped bait. In some places, as in the waters around our island, the two species are able to coexist. In other places, the rusty is driving out the native crayfish. Rusty crayfish (pictured at right), native to the Ohio River basin, were first found in Minnesota lakes and rivers in 1967. In addition to competing with the native species, they are responsible for a decrease in aquatic plants in many lakes, and may contribute to a decrease in fish populations by overfeeding on fish eggs. In the area around our dock, crayfish (both rusty and northern) provide food for minks, who leave the discarded exoskeletons inside our boat.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

An Island Garden

Cedar Lodge, pictured at left, was built in 1902 for F.A. Seiberling, the founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. The lodge, along with two boathouses, stands on Long Island, in Lake Huron, near larger Marquette Island. In the early years of Cedar Lodge, the landscape architect Warren Manning was invited to spend some time on the island. Manning had started out working for Frederick Law Olmsted before setting up shop on his own, and it was Manning who landscaped the extensive gardens of the Seiberling mansion, Stan Hywet, in Akron, Ohio. Manning spent his time on the island botanizing. He compiled a list of dozens of species found on the island, many of which are still found there today: twin flowers and gentians, lobelia kalmii and zygadenus, pearly everlasting and enchanter’s nightshade. He wrote to the Seiberlings about their island retreat: “Avoid the landscape man as you would a pest, who would have you make the wild give way to the rigid lines, the stone and wood forms and the high colors of a suburban gardenesque place.”

The island is still a remarkably rich place for botanizing. Among the wildflowers I found blooming on the island this summer were: harebells, forget-me-nots, twinflowers (Linnea borealis), ox-eye daisies, milkweed, waxflowers (pyrola asarifolia), Indian paintbrush, low calamint, marsh bluebells, wild roses, beach pea, St. John's wort, and rattlesnake orchid (Goodyera spp.). Below is a gallery of some of the wildflowers I managed to photograph this summer.

Twinflower (Linnea borealis)

Waxflower (Pyrola asarifolia)

Wild rose

Milkweed (with monarch caterpillar)

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja)


Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Value of a Human Life

"I think it's important to promote a culture of life. I think a hospitable society is a society where every being counts and every person matters." George W. Bush, October 13, 2004
Throughout his Presidency, Bush has promoted what he likes to call a "culture of life," by which he means a culture in which abortion is illegal. The phrase "culture of life" comes from Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae (1995). But the Pope included in that phrase a much more generous idea of reverence for life, including opposition to the death penalty and care for the natural environment which supports life on this planet. American evangelicals and “pro-life” political conservatives take a much more narrow view, and focus on the single hot-button issue of abortion. But even in the womb, children are exposed to increasing levels of toxins that put their health and development at risk. They are born into a world in which the diversity of life is rapidly diminishing and global climate change is endangering the long-term prospects for all life on the planet.

Of course, since Bush took office, between 85,000 and 100,000 civilian lives have been lost in Iraq. If anything, Bush has created a culture of death. And here's the latest irony. Under President Bush, the Environmental Protection Agency has lowered the value of a "statistical life." The value of a statistical life is used by the agency to run cost-benefit analyses on proposed environmental regulations. While Bush has promoted a "culture of life," his administration has actually lowered—by close to $1 million in the past five years—the official value of an individual American life.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Crazy Daze

Yesterday morning, I underwent successful surgery to repair a right inguinal hernia. I checked into the hospital at 6:30 a.m. I met with the anaesthesiologist, then had an IV inserted in my left hand. I tense up around needles, but the nurse said I did as well with it as your average ten-year old. At about 7:30, the surgeon came in and told me what to expect. Then I walked with the nurse down to Operating Room 4. The operating room was very cold and white and high-tech. I lay down on the operating table, stretched out my arms crucifixion-style, and had special leg warmers put on my legs. A nurse injected something into the IV tube...

I woke up sometime after ten in a different room. I was very disoriented, and I can't remember much. Eventually I was wheeled back to the recovery room, where I sucked on some ice chips, took one bite of toast, and then felt too nauseous to continue. I was given something for the nausea, and fell asleep again. I woke up and ate a few small spoonfuls of strawberry Jello. I tried to get out of bed, but couldn't. I slept a little longer, then managed to get out of bed. The IV was removed, Clara helped me get dressed, and a volunteer rolled me in a wheelchair out to the car.

I slept most of the day yesterday, and all night, and I feel as if I could sleep all day today. The pain makes it difficult to sit, stand, or walk. Angelic Clara has made me strawberry milkshakes. I'm on Oxycodone for the pain. My dreams have been very fast-paced, cartoonish, and surreal. Just now, before I woke up to write this blog post, I dreamed that a woman in an old-fashioned green dress and hat was standing at the foot of my bed. Her head was tipped to one side. In anticipation of my question, she said, "I have apple jelly in my ear and I don't want to spill it." Then she climbed on top of me and began to perform CPR. For a brief, drugged period, my subconscious may be even weirder than Brendon's.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

4:50 p.m. I'm still alive, but in pain.
It's six in the morning. I'm about to leave for the hospital. If all goes well, in a few hours I should be up and singing "Elmo's Surgery."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Reading Journal: Deep Economy

At the recent G8 summit in Japan, the faltering global economy was high on the agenda. Food and energy prices have been rising, and (according to a recent BBC poll) there has been an increasing awareness worldwide that both the costs and the benefits of globalization have been unequally distributed. In setting his goals for the summit, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon wrote: "Never in recent memory has the global economy been under such stress. More than ever, this is the moment to prove that we can cooperate globally to deliver results: in meeting the needs of the hungry and the poor, in promoting sustainable energy technologies for all, in saving the world from climate change—and in keeping the global economy growing." Most economists and world leaders, like Ban Ki Moon, unquestioningly accept the idea that continued economic growth is necessary to "deliver results": to feed the hungry and bring prosperity to more of the world. McKibben, in Deep Economy, presents a minority view: that economic growth cannot be sustained without irreparable harm to the planet, and that fostering sustainable local economies—and a sense of local community—is necessary if we are to keep ourselves from outgrowing the capacity of the Earth to sustain human life.

McKibben's book offers a wealth of anecdotal evidence—from Burlington, Vermont, to Cuba to Bangladesh—that local economies can offer a viable and sustainable alternative to globalization and growth. One of the most interesting examples is that of Cuba, where the fall of the Soviet Union cut the island off from its supply of oil: Cuba was the first place on Earth to experience "peak oil." Without a steady supply of petrochemicals—specifically, fuel and fertilizer—Cuba was forced to redesign its agriculture or starve. What emerged was smaller scale organic farming, often in small urban gardens (organop√≥nicos). A careful fostering of small-scale local agriculture has been able to feed a post-oil Cuba.

Outside of Burlington, two hundred acres of reclaimed landfill now produce about 8 percent of all the fresh food consumed in the city. According to a member of the states House Agriculture Committee: "If Vermont were cut off from the rest of the world tomorrow, I think we could be feeding ourselves by the end of a single growing season." The growth of the global economy is predicated on the supply of oil; if oil runs out, where will we be? McKibben argues that we need to start looking around us, at our local communities, for the answers. As Northfield considers annexing good agricultural land for industrial and residential development, it should think hard about its food security in a post-peak oil world.

Throughout Deep Economy, McKibben is careful to show that thinking, growing, and shopping locally (and generating power locally through solar and wind) is not just a yuppie, co-op member thing. His examples show that it works in Bangladesh, in Cuba, in India, in Afghanistan, in China—as well as in hippie Burlington.

Finally, McKibben points out again and again that increasing wealth only delivers increased happiness up to a point. A Chinese worker living in dire poverty will be happier if she has more stuff. But Americans continue to accumulate unnecessary stuff—much of it made in China. As Americans work harder and longer, and become wealthier, and acquire more stuff, they are not becoming happier. Instead, they are becoming more cut off from the things—primarily, the sense of belonging to a community—that provide real satisfaction.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Reading Journal: "Green Dolphin Street"

The protagonist of Elizabeth Goudge's Green Dolphin Street (1944) is strong-willed, smart, capable, cocksure, and eager for adventure. The only problem is that Marianne Le Patourel is a girl, born in the first half of the nineteenth century. She dreams of sailing on a clipper ship and of leaving her mark on life. If, as a woman, she is prevented from doing this for herself, she will find herself a husband and make of him the man she wishes she could be. Unfortunately, Marianne seems to be afflicted with a kind of narcissistic personality disorder. She judges everything by herself and her own ambitions, and spends most of the novel making life miserable for everyone around her, including, sometimes, the reader. She's acquisitive, jealous, and manipulative. I wanted to sympathize with her because, as a woman in the nineteenth century, self-fulfillment is denied her: she can't be a sea captain or a doctor or a wealthy entrepreneur. But Goudge uses Marianne to illustrate a different point: that there can be a greater good, and greater happiness, in self-denial and self-sacrifice than in self-fulfillment. Marianne's taut selfishness serves as a foil for the easygoing selflessness of the people closest to her. Marianne can only be saved when she is thoroughly humbled, and learns to value the humility of those around her.

Goudge is a Christian writer, and Green Dolphin Street is an historical romance heavily doused with theology. Goudge is interested in how grace can enter lives both accidentally and through a lifetime of effort. She admires perseverance: sea captains who go down with their ships, missionaries who go off to martyrdom among the heathen, good men who remain faithful to their impossible wives. And Marianne is certainly impossible. It becomes clear that even Goudge finds her intolerable. She needs to be humbled, because for Goudge, the Christian writer, humility is where the human and divine come together. In her life of Jesus Christ, God So Loved the World (1951), Goudge focuses on the "unbelievable humbling" of Christ. In Green Dolphin Street, Marianne thinks of herself as a kind of god, and only becomes human, as God did in Christ, through her humiliation.

Elizabeth Goudge is a wonderful descriptive writer. The scenes set on the island of Guernsey are wonderfully evocative. When the scene shifts to New Zealand—which Goudge never visited—the descriptions unfortunately become less convincing and entrancing. I'm looking forward to reading some of her other books—her first novel, Island Magic (1934), for example—set in the Channel Islands, because she's at her best when she's grounded in that closely-observed and beautifully-evoked—and obviously beloved—landscape.

A Hollywood adaptation of Green Dolphin Street in 1947 starred Lana Turner as Marianne, with support from Van Heflin and Donna Reed, and won an Oscar for best special effects (an earthquake). It also yielded a theme song that became a jazz standard. Here's Carmen McRae performing On Green Dolphin Street in 1980.

The cover pictured above is from the currently available reprint edition. I read a 1944 American edition published by Coward-McCann, printed under wartime restrictions: thin paper, narrow margins, and small print.

Musical Crush of the Week: Mishka Adams

Mishka Adams, "Where Do We Begin"from the Candid Records CD God Bless the Child (2005/2008)

Au Revoir, Kookiejar

On my return to the blogosphere last night, after a three weeks absence, I was shocked to learn that my blogfriend Kookiejar has decided to retire her blog, A Fraternity of Dreamers. She's been a good and entertaining blogfriend, and her almost daily presence on the internets will be missed. Best wishes, Kookie, in all your future endeavors, and enjoy life after forty!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Back in One Week

Hello, everyone! I'm sitting at a public computer in the Les Cheneaux Public LIbrary in Cedarville, Michigan. I'll be back and blogging again in one week. Today. Clara and I canoed over to the next island (Birch Island) to look at the shipwreck. I'll have photographs of that, and much more, when I return to Northfield in a week...

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .