Archive for May, 2009

Five Easy Ways You Can Green the Planet From Your Desk

Hey, we all need things to be easy once in a while.

The list of things we could/should do everydayearth-in-computer to turn the tide of global climate change can be intimidating.  Most of them are a big commitment to lifestyle change.  But you can also make changes while lounging at your computer.  Here are some sites that I’m plugged into. I’d love to hear what you have found in the way of  quick and easy sites that seem to do some good.

1.  Stopglogalwarming.org
Join more than a million supporters of the Stop Global Warming Virtual March, and become part of the movement    to demand our leaders freeze and reduce carbon dioxide emissions now.  This site also has a carbon calculator, but there is another one that I like better.

2.  Carbon Footprint Calculator
This takes a little homework – like to calculate your household footprint, you need to look up your power bills, but how can you know if you are doing better without a baseline to start from?

3.  The Green Life, operated by the Sierra Club
Sign up for the Green Life newsletter and get a new green tip every day, and you can jump in and comment on any topic that grabs you.  A recent tip on how green is your wine quoted the American Association of wine Economists who have found that transporting wine by sea is less carbon intensive than driving it long distances.  They computed a green line across the U.S. that shows that wine drinkers in eastern part of the U.S. lower their carbon footprint by drinking European wines.  Here in the Driftless, we are well within California country.

4.   Fostering Sustainable Behavior: Community-Based Social Marketing
Here is a handy world of sustainable information at your fingertips, whether you want to know more about agriculture and conservation, energy, transportation, waste and pollution or water issues.  They can supply articles, but better than that, they have many forums that you can plug into.  Find out what other people are doing in your area, ask questions, and get answers.

5.    The Rainforest Site
It doesn’t get any easier than this!  Your daily click on this site funds the purchase of rainforest land by the Nature Conservancy, the Rainforest Conservation Fund, The World Parks Endowment, and Rainforest2Reef.  Sponsors pay for preservation because they have gotten you to open a page that contains advertisement they think you might respond to.  They say that in the nine years since this site was founded, more than 153 million visitors have clicked to save 40,500 acres of habitat.

PLEASE SHARE ANY SITES THAT YOU LIKE!  THERE OUGHT TO BE MORE THAN FIVE WAYS TO GO EASY AND GO GREEN.

May 29, 2009 at 10:16 am 1 comment

Five Ws — How (the tractor question)

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

The Prime Directive is how to take care of and live on this land with the smallest feasible footprint.  Notice I say feasible, not possible.  (We’ve taken living in a pup tent and farming with a machete off the table – only Cinderella can fit that footprint.)  Sustainable has to mean something you can actually live with, not just play around with.

With 44 acres to tend, we felt pressure from our friends’ expectations and our own perceived needs to get a tractor.  Advice ranged from finding an old clunker to a nifty, new Kubota.

Because our land is so hilly, I put safety at the top of the list (right next to efficiency).  New tractors prices seem as steep as our slopes, and we decided to put off the decision till we built a barn to house this mythical tractor.  The barn is now tractor-ready, but we have sidestepped the weighty tractor decision again by finding different and wonderful tool that can ace all the tractory jobs we currently have.  This spring, we opted for a Power Wagon.  This is basically a wheelbarrow on steroids, and it seems like a great compromise.

Power Wagon basking in sunshine and birdsong

Power Wagon basking in sunshine and birdsong

For the next few years, we need to move around water for the trees we have transplanted, prairie restoration and proto-type test garden.  We also need to move piles of wood and rock, and manure – that type of heavy stuff.

We briefly considered a Gator sort of vehicle – those cute little crosses between a golf cart and a baby truck.  But side by side, the Power Wagon can haul more for less money and less gas, and you don’t sacrifice your great core, leg and arm workout by plopping your butt on a cushioned seat and exercising only your wrists and ankles.

I love this Power Wagon.  It is a bright, cheerful, I-can-do-it orange.  It can move up to 800 pounds and handle a 20 percent grade.  It turns on a dime and isn’t too noisy.

Before (and still for small jobs) we have been hauling water from our tiny pond (water retention basin) in 5-gallon buckets slung from a yoke designed to portage canoes.  Doug-w-yokeA quarter mile up hill in that contraption is a slow process.  Kudos to our yoke-toting ancestors, but it really limited the amount of young trees we could rescue from the prairie restoration and move to spots where they are better suited.

So, now I am become Superwoman.  In what feels like about the same workout, I can fit six 5-gallon buckets into the wagon at once – eight, if we had that many.  And hoist all that water therapy uphill to thirsty plants in record time.  I can motor across the road and transfer home as much of my horse-loving neighbor’s well-aged manure as I can fit in my schedule.  Piles of rock we have been stacking can be consolidated and considered for building.

We will probably need a tractor someday, but for now, this seems like a great compromise, and even though it does include an internal combustion engine, it seems like it might fit its toe in Cinderella’s slipper.

May 27, 2009 at 12:51 pm 4 comments

Five Ws – WHERE

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

The Midwest Driftless Area is a glorious place.  Trout Unlimited calls it a national treasure and has pinned its scaly dreams on restoring the streams that trace its deep, convoluted valleys.   This dramatic landscape, carved deep by ancient water courses, is far older than the rest of the state’s landscape.

Amethyst Shooting Star at home in the woods

Amethyst Shooting Star at home in the woods

15,000 years ago most of the Upper Midwest was buried under ice.  They say it towered a mile thick above Chicago.  Through a quirk of geology, the glacier was diverted to the east and west of the Driftless Area and rejoined below  to create an island engulfed by a frozen sea.

Because it was not scrubbed flat as the ice sheet advanced and then buried under debris called drift when the ice melted north again, it is called the Driftless Area.  The result is a diversity and profusion of plants growing in pockets of rugged terrain punctuated by rocky sandstone and limestone outcroppings of stone laid down long ago on the floor of a primordial ocean.

When you drive 35 miles west of Madison, Wisconsin, to our 44 acres, you are following a geographical formation called the Military Ridge into the Driftless Area.  To the north, the land falls away into deep gorges and serpentine valleys that feed the Wisconsin River.  To the south, the more gentle undulations of the earth feed the Rock, Sugar River and Pecatonica rivers.  In both directions streams have sliced the plateau into a maze of ridges and valleys honeycombed with caves.

Our prairie restoration

Our prairie restoration (You can see the layout of this prairie pictured in yellow on the site plan in the post Five Ws - WHEN.)

It seems like a huge honor and equally huge responsibility to be made steward of 44 acres in an area that has been identified by the Nature Conservancy as the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area more than 50,000 acres containing the highest concentrations of native grasslands in the Midwest, home to 14 rare and declining grassland bird species.  This area is also part of the newly defined 500,000 acre Habitat Conservation Area that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is calling the Southwest Wisconsin Grassland & Stream Conservation Area. What an opportunity to be here in this place at this time!

May 25, 2009 at 9:52 pm 1 comment

Five Ws — WHEN

site-plan-2

A Rough Site Plan for 2012

When we set out to find land in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, we imagined moving into an old farm house.  What we fell for was 44 acres with a south-facing slope that looked to be a promising house site where we would become neighbors to raccoon, squirrels, turkeys, badgers, coyotes, deer, skunks, a chorus of amphibians and flocks of birds.  We wanted to be good neighbors.  Initial research indicated that this would prove challenging. Talk about your shades of green!

I must apply the hallowed Five Ws plus H.

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

After walking and talking these 44 acres for five years, we have taken a very deep breath and marked 2012 as the year when we will build our dwelling.

This gives us three years to research, plan and scavenge materials so that this house can embody as many green practices as we can manage  and offer a demo to any others who want to step off  Building’s beaten track.

Also, in 2013, we intend to turn at least five acres into food production when those acres come out of CRP.  As we have daily proof, managing land from 27 miles away is challenging and inefficient.  By the time we can legally farm, we want to be settled on that farm.

We found the architect of our dreams last year and he did a site visit to our land last month, opening a Pandora’s Box of questions about the site we had been fixating on for many years.  Roald Gundersen walks the walk and is breaking ground by using whole but smallish trees that are choking the woods around here. (When I saw his house in Natural Home, it was love at first sight.)  The plan is to get a technical drawing this year, then walk around in it in our heads and fine tune it for the next year, then shift into serious prep mode the third year.

As I just read  in a great post, Carpe Diem – Why you should build your modern/green house now, we all know that among the countless industries lying panting on the floor as the recession deepens, the building industry is getting it in the neck.  Maybe, in general, that’s a good thing.  I mean how many more acres of ground are going to be tortured with trashy, unsustainable, ecosystem-destroying structures?  But this is the time for everyone who wants to build green to step up to the plate and make it happen.  The builders who were already attempting to use green building principals need all the help they can get to stay afloat, and the builders who thought green building was beneath them, may now be having second thoughts if that’s what the paying customers want.

Putting our house on the calendar NOW is daunting, and it’s also exhilarating.  If feels right.

May 22, 2009 at 8:28 am 3 comments

The Case of the Missing Lady Slipper

My first lady slipper

My first lady slipper

I was walking up Lloyd’s Lane when I saw something vividly yellow peaking out of the green stuff.  (We hadn’t had our 44 acres very long, and it was all pretty much green stuff then.)  We investigated and discovered a Yellow Lady Slipper bursting out of the earth.

Of the vast flora that was now in my stewardship, this gorgeous wild orchid rang all my bells.  I dedicated myself right there on that spot to be its defender and protector.  I envisioned a sea of pendulous, golden cups bobbing cheerfully in the spring breeze as it expanded under my tender ministrations.

This slipper will never bloom.

This slipper will never bloom.

It did not take long to learn that I wasn’t the only one who loved Yellow Lady Slippers on sight …  so do the deer.  By naming myself guardian of one species, I was setting myself against another.  I used to see the ethical world as shades of gray – since I’ve been trying to ethically manage 44 acres, I see it as shades of green much more brilliant, if no less confusing.

Taking sides was easy in this case.  One, single clump of Yellow Lady Slipper versus a roving, bloated herd of voracious deer who seem to be threatening every endangered plant species in their path.  Cypripedium parviflorum is apparently not endangered in Wisconsin, but it is in six other states.

Lady Slipper behind bars

Lady Slipper behind bars

Temporary solution, tomato cage and chicken wire.

Move along, Mr. White Tail!

Why don’t you pick on someone your own size –

like all that honey suckle that I haven’t even begun to tackle.

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May 21, 2009 at 2:01 pm 6 comments

Five Ws — WHO

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

So, who is telling you this?  My daughter, a budding green architect, recently described me as an unreconstructed hippy venting my pioneer woman leanings through conservation biology.  !!!  And now I see that she has just posted about my blog on her blog Lost Between the Letters Let me assure you that one of the most mind-blowing ways to see yourself is through your adult children’s eyes.who-Denise2

Back to the unreconstructed hippy.  Maybe.  I hit college in the late 60s-early 70s in Madison,Wisconsin, with the goal of training as a journalist and becoming the war correspondent who would single-handedly end the Vietnam War.  College in the 70s had the potential to seriously sidetrack an intrepid searcher.  I approached the counter culture with cautious optimism and a journalist’s basic skeptisicm and concluded that despite its many, many flaws and false starts that Back to the Earth was the direction for me.  It’s been a convoluted journey by way of the Netherlands, and the soulless suburbs north of Chicago.  My husband has found his own balance between an alternative life style and the discipline of a research science career.  But at long last, we  “own” 44 acres in Wisconsin’s magnificent Driftless Area where we are trying to live our beliefs.

We don’t live on this land yet.  We have been learning about it for five years now and after putting our early and ongoing efforts into restoring some vanishing habitats, we are starting to create our own.  Our daughter designed a timber frame barn for us, and Mike Yaker of Wood Joiners raised it.  We are slowly finishing it as time and materials become available. It is our outpost, and from there we will slowly and respectfully place a dwelling into this built environment, (we call it our B.E.) surrounded with protected natural areas and several food-producing fields.  Our goal is to be there by 2012.

Collecting water (and the occaisional tadpole) from the retention basin

Collecting water (and the occaisional tadpole) from the retention basin

Combining a journalist’s and a researcher’s insatiable curiosity and critical approach to information gathering, I hope to share and exchange information with others who are trying to sift through all the options and live lightly on this fragile earth.

May 18, 2009 at 3:49 pm 7 comments


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