Thursday, November 29, 2007

Taking a Page From Johnny Appleseed

As the news stories careen towards ever-scarier pronouncements (now even mainstream presses are admitting we might've passed peak oil, and objections to global warming have become the feeblest murmurs), one might wonder "What the heck can I do?"

When I was a kid, my grandparents and parents owned a theatre. During the summer months, they also did children's theatre productions. So I was a toy in Babes in Toyland, a dancing skunk in Johnny Appleseed, and a singing Gretel in Hansel and Gretel. Remembering the story of Johnny Appleseed (even though the version in the play is much dramatized from his real life), it occurs to me that we could all take a page from his book. Johnny Appleseed is known for planting orchards of apple trees, as well as fostering community, and helping out those less fortunate than himself (to the point where if people gave him clothing, he only kept the worst pieces for himself to wear and passed on the nicer items to others in need).

Right now, community and local food are two things that will be increasingly important as we head into an energy-poor future. For most of us, whether we live on suburban lots or in the country, we've got places we might be able to plant sustainable food sources for future harvesting. Of course, what is available to you to plant as part of your permanent landscaping will vary depending on your local climate, which direction your lot faces, how many shade trees you already have, and other variables. In our area, there are lots of options open for planting, including nuts like walnuts and filbert trees, a huge variety of fruit trees, and fruiting shrubs.

In a last fit of fall gardening, I picked up five more huckleberry bushes and three of a new variety of evergreen blueberry that fruits for 10 weeks a summer instead of fruiting in one short intense burst. I'm determined to both squeeze in more edible landscaping into areas that we have, and also to replace some of my least favorite shrubs (legacy of the previous owner) with fruit-bearing raspberries, huckleberries, blueberries, etc. We also planted a cherry tree this year, and I'm thinking of squeezing in a filbert somewhere. We have a yellow plum, purple free-stone plum. asian pear, and two red apple trees already.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Better Biking

Fall is here and we've had some exceptional biking weather. We've taken a nice family tandem ride - about 17 miles, the longest we have gone with the kids so far. And I got the kids out on their own bikes and we did a nice ride one sunny day. We noticed the new bicycle markings that are going up around town. Check out these lovely reflective bicycle route markers that are popping up. I also noticed some great new signage for popular bicycle routes through town, but haven't gotten any photos of them yet. It's nice to see our city is still working on making bicycling even easier and more convenient. It's the kind of investment that will definitely pay off over the years.
One thing I really like about our town is that certain streets are designated as "bicycle only" and all cars except for local traffic are shunted away onto other streets. It can be really frustrating to drivers, and since I often bicycle through town I have occasionally found myself in my car at one of these shunted streets cursing under my breath that I can't get through where I thought I could (I also occasionally end up in my car at the bike path realizing that I really can't drive home the same way that I bike home!) But overall, it's something I'm grateful for as it makes bicycling through town much safer and more pleasant.

Who can argue with a safe, friendly bicycle ride on a street as lovely as this one?

Friday, November 09, 2007

How Long Will We Believe in the Silver Bullet?

While there is a small glimmer of hope in the fact that both the media and big agencies like the International Energy Agency are finally acknowledging thatPeak Oil and Global Warming are upon us, it's frustrating that in article after article, the emphasis for change is still on investing in alternative energy solutions, like solar, wind, and hydrogen cars. Why is there still not even any lip service paid to investing in real, meaningful societal change: viable low-energy mass transit, bicycle and pedestrian-friendly cities, local food sources, permaculture, de-centralizing the food and commodities industries??? It's like they're saying "Yes, there is a fire in the theatre, but you can all continue to watch the movie, don't worry about it. Please, stay seated." And while people start to pass out left and right, they'll quietly drag the bodies away so as to not disturb the other people who are still engrossed in the fantasy before them. By all means people, keep driving 500 miles a week in your gas-guzzler. You'll be able to buy a hydrogen car in ten years and continue living the fantasy unchanged.

Wake up world, there's no silver bullet. Your life will have to change. The fantasy is just a fantasy. Start changing now. Start a garden, plant some fruit trees, find a local farmer and support them. Bike to work, meet your neighbors, carpool, never shop at Walmart again. We will either change, or change will be forced upon us.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Two Fun Things In One - Bicycle Light DIY Kit

365 Day 94: Night Commute
I found this fun little kit while looking up info on bicycle lights. I remember when I was in college, most bicycle lights did not have batteries, but friction generators that used a small wheel that ran along your rear rim to generate power for the light. They were somewhat heavy and cumbersome, and didn't produce a very strong light (this was, of course, in the days before LEDs). Now there's a kit out for frictionless dynamo lights for your bicycle. Nothing like combining some science learning with DIY ingenuity and reducing waste (batteries) as well! While I run rechargables in my bike lights with good success (the LEDs draw so little power that good rechargables actually last a long time in them), I can't resist the draw of free power from this little magnetic generator. I think I might have to order one!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Leaf Blowers....Devil's Spawn

If there truly is anything on this earth that was spawned straight from the maw of the devil, it's not Harry Potter, it's not kids in costumes trick-or-treating, it's not New Age shamans, it's leaf blowers.

Yes, it's that time of the year again. The time when the leaves fall gloriously from the trees in all their pretty dresses of red, maroon, orange, and gold. I love this time of year. I love the harvest activities, the crisp mornings, the fog that rolls in at night, the nerdiest un-partnered lone crickets chirping their last amorous ballads to the dusk. I hate the leaf blowers. They make their appearance at this time of the year too. They've replaced the kindly shopkeeper sweeping his front stoop and turned him into a headphone-clad hunch-backed animal making the most horrendous noise on the planet. I once turned away from a park that I like to run at because a man with a leaf-blower (paid for by my tax dollars no doubt!) was there. I ran for over half a mile before I could no longer hear the drone of this nasty CO-belching beast.

Leaf-blowers are the antitheses of joy. There is no enjoyment in leaf blowing, I'm convinced. The happiness one would feel in the cool autumn air, the crunch of the leaves, all the tactile loveliness of the season is blasted away in a haze of fumes and fury. Your neighbors avoid you, pedestrians and cyclists detour around you, you are deaf and mute to the world as you blast away at small pieces of dead photosynthesized plant matter with all of your blood-for-oil-powered might. Leaf blowers separate humans, instead of fostering connections. They proclaim dominance over the natural world, yet nature has the last laugh. When the man with the leaf blower turns around, shuts off his machine and walks indoors, the gust of wind appears almost mischievously and whisks all those leaves back onto the sidewalk, obliterating man's mechanized work. I can't help but see it as a metaphor for things to come.