Friday, April 30, 2010

Tree Day Brings All Kinds of Excitement



I was taking some garden pictures, a neighbor passed and stopped to talk about his squirrels digging in his vegetable patch. Then this truck pulled up -knowing instantly what was about to happen. The ensuing traffic jam and noise, brought everyone out of their homes like those scenes in movies when the giant alien ship descends over the city. What's happening? Trees, my friends, trees.

I was right about the Zelkova serrata. We got three of them -an allee or avenue I suppose. This was all going to happen quite fast -first the placement. Notice telephone poles -lower right.

The hubbub brought the neighbors out past their stoops. Soon they were collecting on my corner -the center of all garden variety chatter in the quadrant (what I call our isolated 4 blocks).

It certainly brought out my landlord, to the right, concerned mostly about the day he will break that third tree with his old telephone poles. I insisted that it was not me who asked for these trees (to stem quiet neighbor speculation), although I was visibly excited by their arrival.

First, break up the sidewalk. I was happy to see that they were using two full squares, about 4 x 8 feet for the tree pits. Especially after seeing the presentation on this at the BBG a month ago. Our soil underneath the concrete sidewalk was relatively soft and dark -I was surprised. My landlord was upset about the cracking of the sidewalk (which was already cracked), but I suppose about the lifting and cracking to come as well. If you are getting sidewalk trees and/or redoing your sidewalk, see Dr. Bassuk's presentation.

The crowd cleared as the trucks moved on. The trees are tall, which pleases me as I am not much for low-limbed trees on the sidewalks. They appeared in good health, with no scars on the trunks. The tops were rather tangled though and stuck in their roped position. I'll need a ladder to untangle them.

I was concerned that they would leave the metal cage on - but they clipped the upper portion, leaving the lower portion intact. Burlap and twine was cut, lower portion intact.

Then the compost truck came, filling all the holes with about two cubic yards of soil and adding some rather stenchy cedar bark to top the pits off.

Tree on the right.

Tree on the left fears the telephone pole truck. Notice older Zelkova across the street, left side. Omitted: tree in the middle.

Shade cast next morning on the already late day shade location of the front yard.

Shade cast on the early morning shade part of the front yard garden.

Most of my perennials in the front yard are adapted to a long day of sun. Some will be thankful for the growing amount of shade over the coming years. Some will need to be moved to a sunnier locale after 5 - 7 years. The Zelkovas planted across the street have been around for about 10 years. They have reached nearly 18 feet tall and about as wide. They cast a medium dense shadow. They have a very wide v-shaped underside, having good reach all the way to the houses nearby. My garden now has a new directive. But the neighborhood too.

The beautification the trees bring gets neighbors talking about "eyesores." There's one I hear much about, as if I have any say in the matter (poles). In fact, so many neighbors came out yesterday that even the density of stray cats and who feeds them was discussed. With that, we may approach a compromise attempt to limit their numbers. One of the tree planting supervisors mentioned a group that may help spay and neuter with neighborhood participation after he saw 9 stray cats in a neighbor's driveway. We're looking into it.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Other Day


This has been a funny spring. Crocus late, Cherries early. I pictured this on Tuesday last week after I met my cousin, once removed (my father's cousin). He found me online, via the NY Times article about lead in the garden. Before that, I did not exist to him, and afterward he had a cousin with the same last name as he. He is a commercial painter in San Francisco and just received his lead abatement license which was the reason he was on the internet looking up lead. What he found was an article that featured someone with his last, and uncommon, name. He googled me, found my art site, then emailed me.

On Tuesday he, his wife and daughter met me near Pratt at a place called Tillies. His daughter happens to be attending Pratt for writing. We spoke for about an hour, going over the basics which is a strange, yet pleasant experience. What do you do? Do you know so and so? It turns out he went to my undergraduate school in the late sixties -a funny connection. Of course, the whole time I thought it would make even more sense for my cousin to be talking with my father, who is his first cousin and probably remembers all the family we have in common.

I had to run because I was guest critiquing a graduate painting class that day at Pratt. We walked together toward the campus, and I look down at the blue stone sidewalk and this object is staring up at me. Instinctively I grab it, throw it in my bag. We promised to keep in touch. The NY Times article is the gift that keeps on giving. Last summer after my artist talk at the Wilton library, I mentioned the blog to a group that had gathered around. Instantly I was recognized as the guy from the Times article. Times got reach.

The kitschy brass lamp, oxidizing toward blue-green, in its temporary home amongst the aconitum.


Chives



About to bloom.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Three Stories


On Tuesday nights I watch PBS: Nova, Frontline, and Independent Lens. Tonight, Nova was about the influence of emotion on economic decisions and the collapse of 2008. Frontline looked into the growing trend of parents denying vaccines for their children. Independent Lens was about the Zaballeen in Cairo, Egypt -they were recycling 80 percent of Cairo's trash (which they consider a gift) until foreign companies came in to begin collecting and landfilling the trash.

I have no wise words or thoughts, but I was rather frustrated with the defiant mothers and cheering for the Zaballeen. Overly rational economists can simply go to hell.

Next weeks Nova is about Mt. St. Helens waking up. I went there several times when I lived in Portland, Oregon. Fascinating landscape. Frontline looks into for profit universities and Wall Street.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

As I Rush On By



I was rushing from the studio this afternoon to make the last few minutes of the Sharpe Foundation open studios where I knew a few of the artists. As I rushed from the B37's last stop on Court and Livingston, I surprised myself -I was taken aback by the tulips! I rarely stop for a tulip, and certainly not when in a rush.

The masses were really appealing, and they floated in a way like masses of poppies on long stems. Nearby the old Borough Hall there were very long-stemmed whites with very long petals and pointy tips -very sexy tulips. They are all closed for the wet and cloudy weather and that affect is why I found them so appealing, as well as the saturated daubs of color floating above the greens. I might say that never before have I enjoyed simple tulips so much.

If my camera had not been acting up, and had I not been in a rush, more photos you'd find. I'm getting the E18 error -the infamous Canon error code for "something is jammed in your lens and it can't open or close all the way."

My Canon, the A80 I have had since 2004, has served me well, and I might add for two primary reasons: the swivel screen and the 1/1.7 sensor. Most common compacts these days, especially those with more than a 5x optical zoom, have a ccd sensor that is 1/2 as large as that little 1/1.7 sensor in my A80. The 1/2.3 sensor size is part of what allows current cameras to have their extreme zoom.

My A80 has only a 3x optical zoom, in use here. I am blown away by the green of spring every year. I never expect it, and pow! Suddenly I am exiting the subway and the grass is tall, the honeysuckle vine on the fence and the plane trees have leafed out -all is green in the world.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Camp Hero, Part 3



This is the final installment in the Camp Hero trilogy -The Beachhead.

Part 1-The Cliffs
Part 2 -The Woods.


On our way down to the beach, we passed these hillsides. I noticed that the soil was eroding rapidly around the base of the trees -they look the way kids drawings do, cylinders meet soil.

Turns out, these hills are the batteries. This is Battery 113. This entry is large enough for a truck to drive into. Check out the writing on the wall.

Its says "Closed To Public." Ha! No kidding. Do not enter? It's solid concrete. Would be cool if you could go inside though. On the opposite side, holes and filled holes.

This is where the gun would have been.

The lighthouse from the bluff. We are headed for the light patch just below the light.

The thicket. I have memories of playing in these as a kid. It is hot in there. Despite the 60 degree temps, it felt more like 90 on the thicket trail -no cool breezes make it in. The trail is a hardpack mixture of clay and white sand and follows the Paumanok Path.

The rocky shore.

A gradation of stones, sized by the action of the waves.

Pebbles.

Lichen on granite.

Mollusk.

Crab. Dead.

Approaching the bluff, it is covered in salt and barren of plants. The beach runs up to its base.

Up close I see these varying soil horizons. Sand and rock, clay, clay mixtures.

I smeared the clay to reveal its distinctive character.

In another area, sandy loam with aggregate underneath, above a reddish hard crust.

The sandy loam swirls around the clay, showing the forces that deposited these layers.

The groundwater springs from the cliff side, eroding the sandy layers above and beneath the layers of clay.


Recent fall.

Contemplation.



How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Energy Business



A few days ago I emailed letters filled with my thoughts on the expansion of gas drilling in NYS to all my NYS elected representatives (find links to yours here). So far I have had an email exchange with Assemblyman James Brennan, who sponsored this bill in the NYS legislature. The summary:


"Establishes a moratorium on the issuance of permits for the drilling of wells and prohibits drilling within five miles of the New York city water supply infrastructure."

A good start, hoping that "water supply infrastructure" means the entire watershed and then another 5 mile radius out. This bill has been introduced, but not passed.

I have not heard from Gov. Paterson's office, nor the DEC commissioner, nor from my state senator, Eric Adams. But I suppose I can wait a little longer to hear their positions on this issue.

The New York Times published this article on April 21 (Thanks Marie!) suggesting that the newly adopted New York State DEC regulations (which permit drilling) would not apply within the watershed, suggesting that within the NYC watershed, there will be no drilling. Starting to get confused?

Here's a way to clear it up -NYC has power, money, and influence and we're saying not in our back yard. But, what we should be saying is, not in NYS. Because if the risk of pollution is too high for NYC folks, then it should be the standard for all our citizens. If the risk is too high for one Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, or Brooklyn resident, then it is too high for one resident of Chenango, Broome, Tioga, Allegheny, Delaware or any other of our counties. I'm setting the bar high here folks.


Post Script:
I spoke to a resident of upstate NY who said he was rather in favor of drilling, because he would like the opportunity to make some money on his acreage. Fair enough, its been hard times for many upstaters for decades. Problem is this: once you have your 100K, what will it do for you? New truck, fix the roof, cruise? Can you drink or bathe in it? He says, "well -if the land or water becomes polluted, I will sell and move away." But who will want to buy in? After all, many people looking at acreage do so for farming, animal husbandry, or in some instances, just the beauties of a clean, healthy natural environment.

It's a deal with the devil, this "economic benefit." It has little to no long term benefits. In fact, it might even hurt in the long run. Of course, there are the tax gains for the state and local coffers in the short term, and the niche economic benefits for the operations and support business that revolve around gas extraction and delivery. At least until the wells are all used up. Then what? So, really -how many jobs are we talking about for upstaters? Give me a number and make sure those are not positions to be filled by those coming from other states where these practices and skill sets are more common.

Of course, read Rita McConnell, spokesperson for the industry. She'll tell you a different story. I discovered and suffered her misdirection on one NY Times article comment board. In her post Money, Its a Gas she tells us why NYers and Philadelphians are against Marcellus Shale gas drilling expansion. Incidentally her blog name, "Flowback," is an oilfield term: "The process of allowing fluids to flow from the well following a treatment, either in preparation for a subsequent phase of treatment or in preparation for cleanup and returning the well to production." Dangerously close to "Blowback," which of course means unintended negative consequences.

Here is a highly polished website, called EnergyInDepth, that Ms. McConnell often quotes from in her twittering (yep, twittering about gas). Oy.

And now, in this continual flow of google searches, Times arcticles, and thoughts, I have one more to add: If I were an upstate county landholder and I chose not to sign leases with the gas companies, yet any one or all of my neighbors did, then where would me and my freedom be? Surrounded by gas wells where soil, air, and water care little for our funny geo-political boundaries. Stuck in a gas field, maybe not able to sell or move -slave to the dollar that everyone is capable of being bought with. Including me, so one must be strong and convincing.




Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why NYC Gardeners Should Care About Fracking




I've reported on this once before, last summer, and much of what I linked to then remains the same. As I stated the last time, I do not consider myself alarmist, or overly emotional about most issues. Yet I believe that this issue, the issue of whether or not New York State should even allow natural gas drilling with hydraulic fracturing will be, will be, the environmental battle of the decade. Or it should be.

The extent of the Marcellus gas range in New York State

I went to a symposium on this issue at Cooper Union on Thursday night. I heard a few cool scientific heads speak, including Dr. Theo Colborn, who gave a lengthy presentation on the chemicals involved in the hydraulic fracturing process.

NYC Water Supply

A few facts for the people of New York City:
  • Ninety percent of our water comes from the Catskill and Delaware watersheds.
  • It is virtually unfiltered.
  • If it was filtered, it wouldn't be filtered for the chemicals used in fracking.
  • The Safe Drinking Water Act or Clean Water Act DOES NOT cover oil and gas drilling or production. Repeat it to your self. It's true.
  • Hundreds of chemicals are used in the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process.
  • About 500 are known to the public, hundreds more are a mystery (proprietary) to the public.
  • These chemicals are injected under extremely high pressure into the ground or are used around the well pad and retainment ponds.
  • The gas wells will collectively use billions of gallons of water for drilling and pumping operations. They simply pump the water from local streams and rivers into tanker trucks.
  • The waste cocktail, known as "brine" because it is saltier than sea water, is usually left to evaporate and/or dumped at local municipal sewage plants never designed for much more than the municipal waste stream.
  • DEC tests show extremely high radioactivity in the NYS fracking brine and sludge.
  • One way or the other this water-chemical cocktail will migrate into the water table and our water supply.
My questions for New York City gardeners are:

Will you water your plants with: benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, or naphthalene?
Will you wash your soiled hands with diesel fuel, methanol, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, glycol ethers, hydrochloric acid, or sodium hydroxide?

You will because these will be in our water.


See this interview on NOW from PBS. See the Endocrine Disruption website for the health effects of many of the known chemicals used in fracking. Article in Scientific American about natural gas drilling. Splashdown PA is an in-depth Pennsylvania blog on the issue. You could sign this letter. Want to see what one of our watershed counties might look like in the near future -take a look at Bradford County, PA, adjacent to the NY border.

Inform yourself, New Yorker. Read the opposing points of view.

The OTHER SIDE can be read here. Another position can be read here.

There is so much information on the internet regarding easterners experience with fracking, you can be easily overwhelmed. It's pretty simply to me though. Let's call our representatives and tell them that even in these billion dollar shortfall budgetary years, we cannot accept this risk to our water and health for a few more tax bucks in the state coffer.

  • Write Governor Paterson -here's the link.
  • Use this handy dandy link to find your state senator, assemblyperson, and U.S. House Rep.
  • Then email your assemblyperson after finding their email here.
  • Find your state senator and write them here.
  • And, after all that, write Pete Grannis, Commisioner of the NYS DEC -you guessed it -here.
You could also write these guys:
780 Third Avenue, Suite 2601, New York, New York 10017 Tel. (212) 688-6262

Brine being punped into the on-site pond.



Gardens Are Not Absolute, Neither Is Liberty To Do So



Yesterday I was watering the plants -you know, the heat. My landlord comes ambling by and wonders aloud about my "activity" in the side yard. He rounds the corner, complains heartily about the "third" tree the city has cut the sidewalk for, after all two are enough he says. (Read, my telephone poles go here and that third tree is in the way).

He then says he wants to pull the stump out from the side yard. I say, just leave it because it will pull up my whole patio. He says it won't, I say it will. Now it's never a good idea to get argumentative with one's landlord. I took the liberty of planning the space without going to him first, but then I already had a garden on the side. But then he says this: I want to plant a tree right there, about where your path meets the patio. It's YOUR YARD I say.

Thanks. Thanks for mentioning this three weeks ago, before I did the work, before I got excited, before the neighbors complimented the gardening, before we planted the annual seeds, before I transplanted the perennials, before anything.

He lives 6 houses away. In his yard he parks a car and more telephone poles, the rest concrete. So why on earth does he want to plant a tree in this small side yard? Especially since three is too many in front of the building. To show me who's the owner? To mask, rather poorly, his deteriorating building? Why plant a tree 4 feet from a building? There's no good reason.

Honestly, this has always been my experience with landlords. They really don't want you personalizing their spaces because they see it as added work or cost for themselves.

  • Landlord in Williamsburg Brooklyn, circa 1994: "get those tomato plants off my roof!"
  • Landlord in Portland, Oregon, circa 1995: "You must rip out this garden before you vacate"
  • Landlord in San Miguel, NM: actually my neighbor always complained to him about the garden, and I had to hear about it.
  • Current landlord, "You can do it as long as I don't have to take care of it."
So I asked him, testily, what kind of tree he was thinking about. He doesn't know, whatever Larry at the nursery thinks. I'm thinking of seeing Larry first.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

April Heat



This is tulip Angelique. It's been droughty and over warm and it shows. Other years, Angelique came up in late April, this year, the first week of April. This is also the time I do some transplanting. Cool days and nights and generous rains make for good survival rates with little to think about. But this year, not so much. I transplanted quite a few things over to the side yard. The heat-induced super growth has led them to transpire much quicker.

The squirrels, of course, are digging around these new transplants, and I've already lost a few phlox to this. If it were cool or rainy, the uprooted phlox would hang on until I noticed it; just replant and protect. Instead, fallen over, they wilt in the hot sun. Much harder to revive after that day in the sun. Same goes for the St. John's Wort shrub -although not because of squirrels, but my own transplanting. It's made it, but lost most of its new leaves, and looks terrible -like a sick person at a party.

I should be watering, I suppose. But I'm not that kind of gardener in this place. Don't get me wrong, I've spent countless hours watering, usually in the evening (tisk tisk) with a hose. It's meditative, or something. But I have not chosen that path in this garden. I have a watering can and 100 foot march to and fro the spigot on the other side of the building. I've chosen not to walk that walk, simply depending on rains and some coolness in early spring. I'm no zealot however, I will water again, in another garden, or in a prolonged summer drought right here.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Poor Man's Patio Part 2



This is poor man's patio, one week later. I went to my corner hardware store and bought their cheapest ($4.99) bucket of gray, unsanded indoor/outdoor grout. In a bucket, I mixed some sand with the grout (which is basically portland cement). Then I shoved the mixture into all the gaps around the stones, pushing it into all the open spaces formed from a week of settling sand.

I wet the mixture with my watering can and got sloppy smoothing the wet cement with my broom. A day later, sufficiently cured, I rewet the surface to begin cleaning the grout residue from the surface of the slate. I wouldn't advise anyone to make a patio this way, but it works -in a devil may care sort of way. As I said in patio part 1 -if I were doing this right, I'd prepare a proper bed of gravel underneath the patio and then use crusher fines directly beneath the slate and in between the stones. But this is a cheapo patio.

A week back I planted the perennials around the patio. This weekend I applied a layer of cedar mulch. I did this primarily because this is what is advised given the amount of heavy metals in my soil. It so happens that in building my patio I turned a lot of the old soil over and onto the surface. The soil dust blows around, settling on my herbs or in my lungs. It can get pretty dry in my yard, as I rarely water. So the mulch keeps the dust down, or that's the theory anyhow.

All the perennials, no matter their location, are quite far along this season. The ferns I transplanted from the front yard were mere bumps a week ago -now fronds.

Dicentra eximia, a native of N. American eastern forests, exploded after replanting.

Brunnera macrophylla, or false forget-me-not or Siberian bugloss, variegated. This was barely hanging on underneath the old vegetable planters. It'll probably come back quite vigorously next year.
The potted chives are sending up its flowering stems.

The thyme is alive and well, if coming up much later than its neighboring oregano.