Monday, June 20, 2011

output side?

When 'sense of place' gets discussed, the agenda always includes topics about where your food comes from, where your water comes from since that helps people connect their every day lives to their landscape/watershed.

Should we also include 'where does your trash go?' and 'where does your sanitary sewage go?' and 'where does your storm water runoff go?' These latter points aren't generally held up as points of pride for a community, and thus may not play into building a sense of place, but they are important aspects for people to know regarding their ecological footprints. Grade school field trips sometimes include the waste water treatment plant.

But how would a city go about bragging up their up-to-date sewage treatment in a tasteful manner?

Our town is partly through a very expensive sewer separation project. Most people know that some portion of the city's streets are torn up any given year because of some sewer project, but I'm not sure everyone understands the, ahem, ins and outs of it all.

The fact that the city is updating our waste water handling is a good thing for our local water quality, just not really something that someone is likely to hold dearly as fond memories of their place.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Local Ag Feeds a Sense of Place

I was going to school the other day and noticed that one of the local farmers had started his hay harvest. Early June is a bit earlier than most, but the hay grasses are starting to flower, so it is getting to be that time.

It made wonder whether the seasons of local food production is part of the sense of place for people who don’t get out of town much. How would it be? Should it be?

People who attend farmers markets also know the seasons of local agriculture, as do people who shop at grocery stores that like to feature fresh, local foods. People who pay some attention to the landscape they are travelling through also notice* when various agricultural seasons are occurring. Sometimes local media outlets feature planting and harvesting news, but generally only if there’s some problem that will lead to higher food prices (‘this wet spring corn farmers behind schedule for planting, which might result in higher corn prices’ or ‘this late frost will likely reduce this summer’s peach crop’ kind of thing).

Some regions make sure people know the seasons of local food production. Local ag themes make for great festivals. Traverse City Cherry Festival makes sure a lot of people know about TC cherries (even though cherries from other parts of the country make up a large portion of the cherries served there since it’s generally before the local cherries are fully in). On the opposite end of the size spectrum is Stalwart Hay Days. In the world of television comedies, there’s the Pawnee Harvest Festival.

Aside from the tummy, pocketbook or reason for a festival, a general awareness of local ag also could benefit conservation. People even a little attuned to local food production and its challenges might be more likely to support preservation of farmlands. They might be more likely to further support local farmers who can thus afford to keep their lands in ag production. They may wonder why a mega-store in their town is selling canned fruit from across the globe when there’s plenty of local canneries. (In the Michigan stores of one mega-mart, the canned peaches are imported literally from ½ way across the globe but you have to read the tiny type on the label to see that.)

Do you know what’s grown in your place? Beyond that do you know what activities that involves during what seasons of the year and what challenges local growers face? Does that knowledge help you know what’s special and unique and worth preserving about your place?
* Not to get all Andy Rooney, but I’m bothered just a bit by the car commercials in which the young boy brags a about the great entertainment system in the family van. When rolling through the countryside, wouldn’t that child benefit from seeing what’s going on in the landscape?

Another local product
A part of my sense of place is the fact that we can buy excellent, fresh, wild-caught fish. Lake whitefish, lake trout, walleye, lake perch are all available at stores and restaurants. When I’m at a restaurant and I overhear a tourist ordering some kind of ocean fish off the menu, I want to tell them ‘No, eat the local fish!’ but I don’t. I instead think ‘more for me!’

Like the knowledge of local agriculture, maybe people would be more inclined to support habitat restoration and other water quality projects if they knew a little bit more about the fish other than that it sure tastes good. One need not be a fisheries ecologist to know a bit about where the fish come from, how they live there and the challenges of catching them and managing the fisheries. Fisheries outreach (beyond just to anglers) is always a good thing.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Live Water

If I had to pick a single word to describe this area as a place, I would pick the word water. It’s all around us and informs our lives in several ways. Some people live on the water, even more recreate on the water – even if it’s just gazing our over the water. Many of us travel past any of a number of water bodies on our way to work or elsewhere and some even pay attention to it as they travel by (unfortunately many do not; as indication of how much we live with water is the fact that it's easy to take for granted). And all of us benefit from the abundance of water available for our use. I read in a recent edition of Sault Star that Sault Ontario has a bylaw to restrict water use when needed, but the restrictions don’t reflect a shortage of supply as they do in the Great Plains but rather a shortage of processing capacity. So, for example, when use approaches a given percentage of pumping capacity, watering of lawns is restricted to stated days by address in Sault, Ontario.

In addition to the Great Lakes themselves, our abundance of water (more technically the combination of precipitation and temperature regimes)leads to several other features our area is known for such as wetlands, lakes and streams, and more.

The flat water of a lake or the low gradient streams we have here in the eastern UP is serene. Live water, tumbling over rapids or overa a waterfall, is fascinating. There’s just something about seeing the water tumble and hearing the white noise that people really appreciate. One can see flat water is many parts of the country, but live water is unusual enough to be a tourist attraction. We have 100+ waterfalls here in the UP, lower Michigan has only a few, so waterfalls often form the theme of a visit to the UP.

Our waterfalls are mostly in the central and western UP but here on the east side we have Tahquamenon Falls. The upper fall, one large freefall, is the most famous but the lower falls, more a series of rapids, have a charm of their own, including the ability to play in them. And of course here on the eastern UP, we have the remnants of the St. Marys rapids. ‘Though less than 10% of the original flow of the rapids and restricted to a narrow strip surrounded by industrial and transportation development, the rapids are still good to see and fish in.

So, our place in a word? Water.

Not everything about our water is pleasant. We don't have floods or other really dangerous consequences of being around water. We do have biting insects.

The black flies, mosquitoes, deer flies, stable flies, and other biting insects aren’t everyone’s favorite part of living by water. The first black fly bite of the season (mine was last week) isn’t as much fun as seeing the first, say, trilliums, of the season. Ever the optimist, though, I’m happy that our biting insects don’t include chiggers, the mite larvae that burrow into your skin and leave a terrible itch and a swollen nodule. Both the itch and the nodule last several days. Chiggers find the warmest part of your skin to burrow into, which adds to the discomfort. Some people don’t smell right to chiggers so don’t get attacked and some that are attacked are less allergic to chigger saliva or whatever it is that makes one itch so severely. Chiggers do like me, though. What positive spin can I put on that? At least I can’t say I’m never appreciated. I’m always good for a blood meal for a chigger when I’m in Kansas for a summertime visit. .

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Residual effects

Your sense of place informs your life. Sometimes a sense of a previous place informs your life, too. In a previous post, I had mentioned how an aroma can take you back in time and space. Earlier this week, I had a tactile experience that took me back in an uncomfortable way.

We were on an ecology class field trip at Robertson Lake Cliffs, which students often describe as the highlight of the class field trips. We climb a high hill in the Algoma Highlands for a spectacular view across a hilly forested landscape with Lake Superior off to the west. The hike up is great, too, crossing streams that tumble down these remnants of ancient mountains and taking in the natural history of the maple forest. It’s about a 1-1/4 mile hike one-way, climbing several hundred feet.

This time, about a third of the way up, I insisted that we turn around. The weather was making me quite nervous. Hot, humid air; swirling winds. I knew the forecast had called for thunderstorms in the evening, but we should have been able to get to the top and back down and on the road back to school before the t-storms struck up. The students thought it was all fine, but just that sensation of the hot, unsettled air mass made me unusually nervous. So we turned around. Within a short time, the cool air won out, the wind settled in to a steady breeze. We would have been fine. Then it occurred to me that the sensation I was feeling was the exact sensation one gets just before the skies open in a great plains thunderstorm. That particular sense of that particular place caught up with me.

My spidey senses weren’t completely failing me, though. There was a large-hail-and-damaging-winds thunderstorm going on to the south of us, just not in our immediate location.

But safety first. I encouraged the students to return on their own and complete the hike. I hope to hear from them later this summer and fall about their great, safe, hike