Sunday, June 5, 2022

How We Get Tree Planting Wrong…

 


 

“In the face of impending climate catastrophe, there has been a growing clamor to repopulate the trillions of trees our planet has lost over the centuries,” says the Guardian.But large-scale tree planting is not helping, and in some cases it’s creating more problems for the environment. In the YouTube video below, Josh Toussaint-Strauss discusses how we’ve been getting tree planting wrong, and what we should be doing instead to safeguard precious ecosystems and reduce greenhouse gases.

 

“The right trees in the right place are a good thing,” says Toussaint-Strauss. Choosing the right location and the right tree for it, is crucial. Toussaint-Strauss provides the example of Israel’s Yatir forestation of a natural desert, now adding to global warming due to increased albedo. The wrong location can deplete groundwater, dry up streams, and kill off peatland (itself a major CO2 sequester).

 

An ecological approach is required that considers: appropriate type of soil, local climate, other biota and what is being planted (e.g. native vs. non-native). Tree planting long-term success relies on using an ecosystem approach. This does NOT include the use of monoculture, which do not form a natural ecosystem, store less carbon, lack biodiversity, do not contribute ecosystem functionality, and are susceptible to disease. This also does NOT include planting with later harvest in mind. Plant the trees and leave them there, to grow, die, and replenish the ecosystem.

 

The bottom line is that we must create ecosystems, not just plant trees.

 

More importantly, we must leave currently intact forest ecosystems alone. Let them flourish and do their job for the planet. We must focus on natural forest regeneration by giving already established forests room to thrive and expand—not cut them down for timber or agriculture. Deforestation removes close to 10 billion trees of intact primary forest ecosystem every year. 

 

We need to think like ecologists—not engineers or planners or socio-economists and politicians—for the sake of the forests and the trees on this planet. 

 


 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhvOJrkhh8I

Saturday, April 2, 2022

A Hidden Alvar Meadow Treasure

 


 

It was two years ago, on a crisp April morning—as I walked the naturalized trail through Peterborough—that magic found me. 

 

I was heading north and unsure where the trail would take me. My muse had brought me here to explore my new environment; I’d recently moved from the bustle of Toronto and felt the restlessness of discovery. The trail wound mostly through backyards and cleared parkland, lined with mixed woodland of locust, black walnut, maple and oak and clearings bordered by thickets of sumac and buckthorn. I caught glimpses of houses and backyards as I walked the trail, surrounded by a chorus of lively birdsong. Robins and cardinals. Goldfinches. Red-winged blackbirds brought fond memories of childhood with their signature conk-la-ree! Chickadees flitted across the trail and sang their chickadee-dee-dee. A group of grackles took over a lilac-buckhorn thicket, their chatter sounding like an overused squeaky clothes line.

 

The trail crossed a main road then a minor one and the backyards became harder to see as the shrubs and trees that lined the trail grew dense.

 

Then, at a set of rocks on the east side of the trail, the thicket opened to a grassy rise and I glimpsed a small path, leading up the rise. The path was more like a depression in the grass where repetitive footfalls had created a trail of sorts. Several mature buckthorns and willows dotted the crest of the rise. And beyond the crest … well, that was my question. What lay beyond it? From my current position I could only make out the possibility of forest in the distance. The main trail up to this point had been through forest scrub of sumac, dogwood, black locust and other shrubs dense enough to obscure what lay beyond them.

 


Drawn to what lay beyond the rise, I turned onto the path, boots crunching on a brittle layer of frost that had settled on the grass and leaf litter. It was a steep climb through slippery wet grass. When I crested the hill, I stopped and inhaled with wonder at the unexpected view below me. It was as though I’d walked through a portal. Gone was any sign of Peterborough suburbia; below me, stretching in all directions lay a vast natural meadow, with a maple-beech woodland rising to the east; striking white limbs of poplar trees marked the leading edge of the monochrome forest. 


 


The meadow that stretched before me was a gently rolling landscape of pale gold grasses and a chaos of strewn limestone rocks and gravel dotted by russet junipers and the gray-brown umber of dwarf hawthorn, buckthorn and sumac shrubs. In a lower depression in the centre of the meadow, a grove of young cedar trees added splashes of green to the gold-copper mosaic.  

 

I made my way down into the rock-strewn meadow and was immediately struck by the silence. As though a hush had settled there, a kind of sacred humility stayed me. I felt unexpectedly blessed. I walked with silent steps as if in a church, toward a grove of stunted sumacs and came suddenly face to face with two white-tailed deer. We were both startled. In that protracted moment when our gazes met, time paused and the world stopped. Then one deer sprang away, followed by the other, their shocking white behinds bobbing as they fled through the sumacs toward the forest.

 

As if by design, at that exact moment, it began to snow. Huge flakes fell lazily like confetti in a mild breeze. Then it came down in a thick passion. 

 

I felt the presence of magic.




 

Alvar Ecosystem

 

In the next two years, I returned many times to this magic place of barren beauty. My good friend and naturalist Merridy suggested that this meadow was likely an alvar, a distinct ecosystem that establishes on a limestone or dolostone plain with thin or no soil, and characterized by sparse grassland vegetation. This made sense to me, given the habitats I’d observed. Also called a pavement barrenof limestone pavementand a calcareous grassland, alvars are often flooded in the spring and affected by drought in midsummer. Because of this, alvars support a distinct prairie-like community of grass, lichen and mosses, as well as stunted trees and shrubs.




 The term ‘alvar’ originated in Sweden to describe the unique ecosystem of the Swedish island of Öland, with its unique exposed limestone slabs. Alvars are a rare ecosystem; they are found in a handful of places, including the eastern European Baltic region, the United Kingdom and Ireland. In North America, close to 75% of alvars are located in Ontario. Ecologists describe seven habitat types for alvar ecosystems in Ontario. These include: tall grassy meadows, tall forb-rich meadows, low grassy meadows, low forb-rich meadows, dry grassland, rock margin grassland, and bare rock flats. In my various wanderings through thisalvar meadow over the seasons, I recognized several of these habitats, from wet marshy lowland grass-forb meadow to dry tall grasslands and rock-strewn stretches of dry flatland.

 




Given the role of disturbance in the formation of alvars, I studied the lower ‘bowl’ of the meadow more closely for signs. An old structure may have once stood where semi-structured rock piles were arranged to form a square.  A patch of young cedars and birches—both flood-tolerant—surrounded it. I’d seen this same successional phenomenon in the Trent Nature Sanctuary, where it had been previously farmed. At the southern rising edge of the alvar stood a farmhouse, accessed by the little minor road I’d crossed earlier on the trail. I considered that this alvar was dominated by early sere plants, often the first to colonize a disturbed environment—lilac, hawthorn, buckthorn, sumac. Had there been a fire through here? Had someone tried to cultivate this site? It was surrounded by rural and residential development with a dedicated parkland (Trent Nature Sanctuary) of a drumlin maple-beech forest bordering it to the east. Attempts to cultivate parts of the nature sanctuary at one time are also evident.

 

This place remains a bit of a mystery and I am intrigued to solve it. Stay tuned…

 

  


 




Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

Friday, February 25, 2022

When Snow Dazzles...



I grew up in southern Quebec, where the first snow of the season often came from the sky in a thick passion. Huge flakes of unique beauty settled on my coat sleeves and within minutes I was covered in snow. I would stand enraptured and study each one as I could. Snow wraps everything in a blanket of soft acceptance. It creates a dazzling face on a dark Earth. It refuses to distinguish between artificial and natural. It covers everything—decorated house, shabby old car, willowy trees, manicured lawn—beneath its white mantle. It quiets the Earth.



Have you ever gone for an evening walk in the fresh crisp snow, boots crunching, snow glistening in the moonlight? Each step is its own symphony of textured sound. A kind of collaboration with the deep of the night and Nature’s own whisperings.


Snow is a shape shifter, charging down in a fierce blizzard and as glittering hoarfrost that forms on cold, clear nights. Snow is a gypsy, conspiring with the clever wind to form mini-tornadoes and swirling on the cold pavement like misbehaving fairies. It drifts like a vagabond and piles up, cresting over the most impressive structure, creating phantoms out of icons. Some people, fearful of the chaos and confusion that snow brings, hide indoors out of the cold. Others embrace its many forms, punching holes through the snow crust to find the treasure of powder beneath or ploughing through its softness, leaving behind an ivory trail of adventure.

Snow is magic. It reveals as it cloaks. Animals leave their telltale tracks behind their silent sleuthing. No two snowflakes are alike. Yet every non-aggregated snowflake forms a six-fold radial symmetry, based on the hexagonal alignment of water molecules when they form ice. Tiny perfectly shaped ice-flowers drift down like world peace and settle in a gentle carpet of white. Oddly, a snowflake is really clear and colourless. It only looks white because the whole spectrum of light bounces off the crystal facets in diffuse reflection (i.e., at many angles). My son, who skies, extols “champagne powder”—very smooth and dry snow, ideal for gliding on. On powder days, after a fresh snowfall, mountain trees form glabrous Henry Moore-like sculptures. Skiers wind their way between the “snow ghosts,” leaving meandering double-helix tracks behind them.


Snow is playful. It beckons you to stick out your tongue and taste the clouds. Snow is like an unruly child. Snow is the trickster. It stirs things up. Makes a mess. It is the herald of change, invigorating, fresh and wondrous. Cars skid in it and squeal with objection. Grumpy drivers honk their horns, impatient to get home; while others sigh in their angry wake. Brown slush flies in a chaotic fit behind a bus and splatters your new coat. Boys and girls of all ages venture outside, mischief glinting in their eyes, and throw snowballs. Great battles are fought in backyards where children build awesome forts and defend them with fierce determination.


In the end, snow—a solid form of water—remains implacable, untouched by our spurious activities. It lies beyond our tedious attempts to salt it, dirty it, move it or make it, turn it into slush, sublimate it or even desublimate it. Snow, like the water it is, cannot be ‘owned’ or kept. Ultimately, it will do its job to energize the earth, give life, then quietly transform, take its leave, and move on. Along with its various water cousins, it will move mountains particle by particle with a subtle hand; it will paint the world with beauty then return to its fold and rejoice; it will transcend time and space to share and teach and transform a world.




Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

Monday, December 27, 2021

When Snow Turns Into Passion...

 


It started with a sudden hail then light snow followed by sunshine. But even as the sun shone, more snow fell. The stubborn river kept glinting in the sunlight. Huge flakes fluttered down and the river sparkled. Some trees lit up like torches behind the thick snowflakes. 



When I got to the marsh, the snow came down in a passion and the wind picked up. Huge flakes fell in a slant and covered the thin ice on the marsh edges. It covered the ducks, their backs full of snow, who ignored it all and just clucked and quacked and drifted close to me in curiosity. 



The clouds grew dark. Then the snow filled the sky and I could barely see the trees as I walked through the forest… 



By the time I made it to the path by the river, the snow was seized by a fierce wind and flew sideways.



Then, suddenly, like a hand on a shoulder, it all stopped. The wind and the snow. The sun emerged behind a dark scudding cloud and lit the water, now calm in the beauty after the storm.




Nina Munteanu
 is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.