Blogs > Cliopatria > Norwegian Wood

May 6, 2009 10:46 pm

Norwegian Wood

It has been a family intensive time for me recently. My mother-in-law came in from Indianapolis. This occasioned a trip to Longwood Gardens down in the Brandywine valley hard on the border with Delaware. The gardens are very beautiful and the fountain show was wonderful. I admit I am a sucker for fountains. I think it might be all the time I lived in New Mexico. There is nothing like living in a parched landscape to make you appreciate water. But one of the shortcomings for me was that there was not enough text panel. There are two kinds of people in this world. Those that look at the object, and those that read the text panel. However, reading the text panel also puts me in the minority. Museum curators say that the average person spends less than 3 seconds reading a text panel. One of the few text panels I was able to find was fascinating although a bit too brief for my taste. It discussed the measures the gardeners were taking to prevent damage from deer. It mentioned that, so far, their attempts to prevent the deer from eating the plants were unsuccessful and said that new measures were under examination. Hm, I know some poachers that can help with that. But even more significant was what I did not see: Norwegian Maples.

I have become quite familiar with Norwegian Maples because the other family thing I did recently was visit my mother on Long Island. I spent a good deal of my time there pulling Norwegian Maples out of her bushes and flower beds. Over the course of the weekend I probably yanked about fifty seedlings, some which I had to dig out with a shovel.I had known that these plants were an invasive species and I had been invited to go on plant-pulling expeditions in various wild areas both public and private over the last few years. But I had no idea how insidious these things were. They actually poison the ground around them to block competing plants! All in all I felt like I was in Day of the Triffids.

The case of the Norwegian Maple highlights one of my areas of interest: Environmental History. Environmental History is a tricky field because the time frame of change is so long. For example, in their intentionally provocative TV show, Bullshit!, Penn and Teller exposed what a fraud most recycling programs are. While many recycling programs are little more than feel good do-nothingisms, the magicians made with the sleight-of-hand to prove their point. (Note to readers, they did not talk about aluminum can or glass recycling; note to self, next time watch show with pad and paper on hand). To point out what good shape the environment is in, they posited that there were more trees now than in 1920 (or maybe it was 1880). Sounds pretty good doesn't it? Except that a more accurate comparison would have been from before the cut over districts of Michigan and Wisconsin were decimated to build Chicago and ditto for the forests of the Pacific Northwest to build San Francisco. Further, you just can't count trees. There are qualitative differences between types of forests. For example, William Cronon in Changes in the Land showed that New England was more forested one-hundred years after European colonization than it had been prior, but that these forests were less productive in terms of food crops, usable timber, and wild game. Even a hundred years is a pretty short time span for ecological history. All this is a roundabout way of getting to this:

Now that evangelicals (LA Times free subscription) are on board with the environmental movement, does that mean God is an Environmentalist?

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