Monday, April 28, 2008

Fun With Animals

So, the big disadvantage to having four cats turns out to be trying to keep them from using your newly planted raised beds as giant kitty litter boxes (sigh). Also, we must have a nest of baby snakes around here somewhere (like maybe under that giant brush pile on our property) because the kittens keep finding them. Fortunately, they don't really know what to do with them and none of the snakes have seemed to be injured, so I've just returned them to under the brush pile as I find them. We should have a great crop of insect-eating garden snakes this year!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


There's so many things I'd like to write about here, they are popping into my head on a regular basis all day. It seems that the wheels are finally so far into motion that ordinary folks are starting to sit up and take notice. Global warming is a dinner table word, the "R" word (recession) has finally been said (and dark mutters of the "D" word - Depression - have been spoken in the press), food rationing is in place in many major stores, our local Costco is only allowing purchase of one bag of rice, and gas is topping $4 a gallon. Although the writing has been on the wall in gigantic graffiti-sized letters, it seems as if it's finally being read.

I remember writing on a message board a couple of years ago that I thought the government should boost gas to $4 a gallon and immediately invest the difference (at that point, about $1.50 a gallon) in public transportation and bicycle and pedestrian support. I was immediately shouted down, with folks exclaiming that $4 per gallon for gas would ruin ordinary families, that they couldn't afford their commutes, etc. etc. and I said we would see those prices soon anyways, why not use it now and offset everyone's future pain. Well guess what, gas is now approaching (or over, in some places) $4 a gallon and we are NO CLOSER to solutions for the average American. Now that people are actually trying to ride the bus, the subway, their bikes, etc. the infrastructure is either not in place (in many towns, public transport is too expensive, too infrequent, too sporadic, or non-existant) or it is not adequate to the increasing demand. In Atlanta last weekend, we almost couldn't board the subway that we needed to use to get to the airport because it was literally stuffed with people. I had the same experience in D.C. a few weeks back (in this photo above, not even taken at the peak of rush hour). Since I don't live in either city, I'm not sure if this represents an increase in ridership or if these subways have been this crowded for a long time, but either way it seems clear that an increase in available public transport is a necessity.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Leaving On a Jet Plane

So here I am on my urban farm sustainability blog writing to tell you that my family and I will be climbing on a gigantic fuel-sucking monster to fly across the country so that my kids can run robots around on tables in the Georgia Dome. When you put it like that, it sounds kind of absurd from an environmental standpoint, yet therein lies the rub and one of the stickiest parts of being an environmentalist: how far do you push your values on your kids? Sure, we could tell them that we refuse to go - just because their robotics team made it to the World Festival is no reason to be wasteful of resources. But could you really imagine doing that? Me neither. So off we go.

As with so many day-to-day decisions, we have to balance what is right for our principles vs. what is right for our children. In many ways, our values become second nature for our kids, the "HTF" (a phrase that my mom developed in days of water rationing for "Hold the Flush", and turn lights off when they leave the room. They hang up laundry, vegetable garden, gather chicken eggs, walk and bike around town. But while I will cheerily suit up in my Goretex gear and pedal off to work in a downpour, I don't ever force the kids to bike in inclement weather. Yep, we drive. Of course, we are usually carpooling and try to minimize car miles and maximize the usage when we do take a gas-powered vehicle, but there are many times when having my daughter make it to a dance recital with hair, make-up, and costume intact trumps my tree-hugging values. And this weekend is one of those times, for sure.

So we're off for five days of fun at the World Robotics Festival. Blue skies are in the making as the weather in Atlanta promises to be lovely, and I'm sure the kids will have one of the most memorable experiences of their young lives.

Monday, April 07, 2008

A Good Reason To Get That Garden In Soon

This op-ed by Paul Krugman at the NY Times about the world food crisis is one more step on the Highway to Scareyville that it looks like we're traveling down these days. It's funny that more people out there can't see how much the carpet is unraveling beneath their feet. In any case, one more reason to get that garden going this spring! It's been rainy all week, but hubby and I took advantage of a bit of a dry spell yesterday and got our new compost bin set up and half of our raised beds planted.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Beauty of Instinct

Not too long ago, we had a very cold and blustery day around here. It was so windy, the gate to the chicken coop blew shut, and when I went to put the chickens up for the night, only five of them were in the coop. So I went out to look around the bigger enclosure and couldn't see them at all. Now, if you know how much like pets these chickens are, you can imagine my terror in thinking that several of them had been eaten by one of the local raccoons or killed by another dog or some other such terrible fate. I went back up to the house for a flashlight and took a closer look around the pen, when I finally spotted them.

There's an oil barrel up against the back wall of the chicken coop, and all five of the chickens had somehow managed to wedge themselves into the space between the barrel and the wall. They were stacked on top of each other, and this space is about the only place in the enclosure with a roof over it, so they were even mostly dry from the rain. When I picked up each of the hens to carry them back to the coop, they were dry and toasty warm from being all stacked up like that. The funny thing about chickens is that when it's dark, they shut down like little robots that have been switched off. I couldn't even get them to walk up into the coop, so I had to stuff them through the coop door one at a time. Once in the light of the coop, they finally woke up enough to flap up to their perch.

I've noticed some other instinctual things about the chickens, like how they're all silent and still on their perch when I go to close the coop up at night, but as soon as the door is closed and they're secure, they all hop down from the perch and go to get some food or water. But until that moment of safety, they all remain perfectly still, you wouldn't even know there were chickens in the building at all from the quietness within.

Now I know chickens are almost as dumb as the boards they perch on. If they're out in the big enclosure and one of them goes back into the little pen, they often can't figure out how to get back out again. The door is, of course, in the same position it's always been in, but they don't seem to remember. They'll pace all around the cage with an expression like "how did that other chicken get out there?". But they have their instincts, and those instincts are pretty good at preserving them in many circumstances.

People, on the other hand, have lots of brains - tons and tons of grey matter that lets them think about all kinds of interesting stuff. But our instincts for self-preservation and benefiting our flock are just about zero. It seems like every day there's another news article that shows that what the "extremeists" have been saying all along (about the energy crisis, global warming, blah blah blah) is probably going to look like a picnic compared to what's really going to go down. Wheat shortages, rainforest mowed over for biofuels, ice melting and sea levels rising, gas prices soaring, jobs diminishing, the "recession" that no one wants to call a recession looming over everyone's heads. A woman (who commutes 90 miles a day) interviewed in an article about rising gas prices says she'll have to cut back on her Starbucks to save money for gas, politicians continue to talk about biofuels as if they'll save us, no one at all mentions the big "C" word - Conservation.

We're headed for the abyss, and unlike a sensible chicken we still fail to do the right thing.