A virtual return to Washington State Park
Biking for the birds, Indigenous resistance to oil pipelines, what I'm reading, and plants of the week
Biking for the birds
I'm doing a bike ride to raise funds for the Buzzards Bay Coalition's conservation work! Buzzards Bay faces threats from nitrogen pollution, oil spills, and loss of coastal ecosystems. In a previous post, “The Island of Terns,” I learned how seabirds including the endangered Roseate Tern depend on Buzzards Bay — 1/2 of the North American population of Roseate Terns nests there! Keeping the bay clean and conserving coastal marshes and forests benefits both people and birds.
I’ve been blown away by people’s generosity just over the past few days. In no time, we hit my minimum goal of $300. If you want to chip in a few dollars, you can do so here. Thanks everyone!
A virtual return to Washington State Park
This weekend, I ordinarily would have joined my family for our annual get-together at Washington State Park in Missouri. Since I was a toddler, all the families on my mom’s side would stay in cabins for a weekend early fall and go hiking, fishing, watching the moon and stars (the moon often a red harvest moon, the stars more visible than where most of us live) but mostly sitting around a campfire in the middle of the cabins and eating a lot.
This year, of course, Priya and I couldn’t make it because we’re trying to avoid flying. But a smaller group able to drive there carried on the tradition. (Once there, it’s pretty ideal for COVID precautions—separate living spaces, only interacting outside.)
Throughout the week, I’ve been thinking about what the annual trip means to me. Below are some photos from past years. The big group pictures are on other people’s phones and cameras—this is just a collection of stray scenes, like a rock collection.
2017: My dad doing some kind of planking thing on top of the bluff overlooking the Big River. Remember planking?
2018: Space is limited in the cabins, so I camp nearby in a tent. For fun, I also made coffee with the camp stove.
Outside one of our cabins. The forests here consist of post oak, white oak shagbark hickory and bitternut hickory—noticeably different than the forests around St. Louis. Washington State Park is one of many parks built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. It has the distinction of being built by one of just three all-Black CCC companies in Missouri, Company 1743, which constructed buildings and trails in the park from 1934-1939.
A beautiful Rough Greensnake we saw on a hike—note acorn for scale. It’s a common species in the Ozarks. Washington State Park is near the northeastern limit of the Ozarks, an easy drive of just over an hour from St. Louis.
The Big River, where for the past few years my mom has led other family members in a Stream Team water quality monitoring effort.
The abundance of smoky quartz here was one of the main reasons I got interested in rocks and minerals when I was little, which was a gateway to an interest in the natural world more generally.
The un-pictured big gatherings are of course the main reason for us being there. I had thought last year would be the only year that COVID prevented us from going, but unfortunately it stretched on for one more year. Hopefully that’ll be the last.
Massive quantity of greenhouse gas emissions prevented by Indigenous resistance
A recent report found that protests by Indigenous peoples over the past decade have prevented a whopping 1.587 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equal to about 1/4 of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions. When it comes to putting lives on the line to stop pollution and carbon emissions, Indigenous activists have led the way. Currently in Minnesota, oil company Enbridge (the same one that built a compressor station next to impoverished neighborhoods in Boston’s South Shore) is nearing completion of a pipeline called Line 3 that will bring in oil from Canada’s tar sands. The Biden administration supports Line 3 and has ignored calls to stop construction. Indigenous groups continue to lead protests, and many people have been arrested. You can donate to bail funds for people arrested for their activism here.
What I’m reading
Environmental historian Bathsheba Demuth’s new essay for Emergence Magazine, “Living in the Bones,” explores storytelling in the Arctic. Many popular stories about the North rely on tropes perfected by Jack London: “a white man—almost always—goes north, where he is tested and finds something.” She makes the remarkable observation that the story we are calling the Anthropocene—the putative geological event written into the Earth’s sedimentary history of human-made pollution and environmental change—is simply a London story writ large, on a cultural scale. Unlike the reality we’re in, which is often frightening but has no discernable end, the Anthropocene at least “offers an ending, one foretold in the lullaby of a deep future, when the epoch inevitably closes and sets our bones adrift in the strata, like those of the mammoths before us.”
The essay tells of a moose hunt with Stanley, a man “in his sixties, with Gwitchin ancestors who go way back on this land.” Pursuing moose above the Arctic circle, Demuth reflects on other ways of telling stories about the Arctic and about environmental change, ones that do not consider wide-scale ruin as inevitable and therefore as innocent as a “moose eat[ing] willows. Never mind that the moose also fasts. All winter she will eat little; her bones thinning as she loans protein and calcium to the next generation.” It’s a considerable essay, worth setting aside some time for, that draws together themes Demuth has explored for many years in a unique and inventive narrative arc. Reading it, I felt momentarily closer to a cultural imagination able to see a future in which we don’t live beyond the landscape’s means.
Plants of the week: Early fall extravaganza
Early fall (which is, it must be said, where we are) is a time of abundance and not scarcity. This week, instead of picking one species, here are some of the many flowers currently in bloom.
Since about June, one species or another of goldenrod has been our companion. Now it’s mainly wrinkle-leafed goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), as easy to find on mountain slopes as on the sidewalk.
White snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) is proliferating on the edges of forests, the edges of yards, and the gaps between bushes in trimmed hedges.
Of course, the fireworks show of New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is bursting away in yellow and purple. Get your glamour shots for next year’s calendars, folks.
And there are many less conspicuous but charming fall asters like this one, which I believe is hairy white oldfield aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum).
Go forth and see fall’s flowers!
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Possum Notes is a weekly newsletter about wildlife and landscapes around where I live. It’s produced on occupied Wampanoag and Narragansett land.