Monday, February 25, 2008

Garden time

One of the best things about Austin is that you can grow your own food all year round. Since last July I've been a founding member of a beautiful communal garden on the east side of town, abutting the river. The garden has been through a few transitions - the idealistic dream of my friend Megan, a part of the plan for a sustainable community center, the focus of a group called "Urban Evolution." Then finally we realized that the property owners were too drunk to negotiate a proper land agreement with, and we decided that it was best just to deal with the garden as long as it could last. And we adopted my original name suggestion, "The Garden Posse." And by "posse" I mean me and two other people. We're really... fearsome. We have hoes.

In trying to run a communal garden, there's trials, and tribulations, and frustrations, and plenty of conversations with drunk people during the middle of the day. And I always end up far more tired than I think I ought to be after working in the garden for a couple of hours. But it's worth it when you pull more food out of the ground than you think it's possible to eat or share.

This past weekend we did a major harvest: Broccoli, kale, cabbage, mustard, carrots. The carrots were my favorite. They pretty much sat around for a couple of months, quietly growing and avoiding the Great Deer Decimation of January. Then, pulling them our of the ground: It was a miracle. These perfect, sweet, orange babies hiding just under the ground. I wanted to cuddle them. They were tiny because we didn't thin them out, but live and learn, I guess.

This carrot snail grew into a shell.

This is the dual carrot. Not pictured: The tri-carrot, picked by Megan.

I thought I would have enough carrots to eat nothing but carrot-centric dishes for at least a week, but not so. They were so tiny, all of them lost their lives to this carrot soup last night. Quite good, though.

Next up is the mighty cabbage. I'm planning on making cabbage soup tonight. Because, yeah, I like soup. Even though it's about 80 degrees outside today and seasonal foods include sno-cones. Yesterday I went swimming in 68 degree water, and let me tell you, it was refreshing. Just add that to the list of good things about Austin.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Study shows nature not appreciated as much as YouTube

From a press release via the University of Illinois - Chicago:

"Pergams and Patricia Zaradic, a fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program, Delaware Valley in Bryn Mawr, Pa., had previously reported a steady decline in per capita visits to U.S. national parks since the late 1980s -- which correlated very strongly with a rise in playing video games, surfing the Internet and watching movies. The researchers call this recent shift to sedentary, electronic diversions "videophilia." And they don't see it as healthy progress."

I'm all for studies that point out the flaws of our nature-isolated culture. But this study is really very dumb.

My first objection: What are biologists doing, making up a term for a human condition? "Videophilia" seems a thinly veiled scientific mask for saying, "You people watch YouTube too much."

My second objection: It's pretty obvious that sitting around and watching YouTube all day is not as healthy as mountain climbing, gardening, or even walking aimlessly around a field somewhere.

The third objection: They use arbitrary data to tell us so. According to the press release, "The biologists examined figures on backpacking, fishing, hiking, hunting, visits to national and state parks and forests. They found comparable reliable statistics from Japan and, to a lesser extent, Spain. They found that during the decade from 1981 to 1991, per-capita nature recreation declined at rates from 1 percent to 1.3 percent per year, depending on the activity studied. The typical drop in nature use since then has been 18-25 percent."

So what does this tell us? What we've known for the past twenty years - not only are human activities ruining nature, we're also using it less. In the way of justification, the authors say, "We don't see how future generations, with less exploration of nature, will be as interested in conservation as past generations."

WTF? Nothing looks good for getting people interested in anything proactive anymore. Join the interdisciplinary choir, kids.

[Full disclosure: My own nature recreation has dropped 75 - 80% since moving to Texas. The reason? Well, I'm still working on my data sets and compute models, but the conclusion I'm aiming for is that I live in Texas.]