Opinion | America’s Killer Lawns – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…William DeShazer for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — One day last fall, deep in the middle of a devastating drought, I was walking the dog when a van bearing the logo of a mosquito-control company blew past me and parked in front of a neighbor’s house. The whole vehicle stank of chemicals, even going 40 miles an hour.

The man who emerged from the truck donned a massive backpack carrying a tank full of insecticide and proceeded to spray every bush and plant in the yard. Then he got in his truck, drove two doors down, and sprayed that yard, too, before continuing his route all around the block.

Here’s the most heartbreaking thing about the whole episode: He was spraying for mosquitoes that didn’t even exist: Last year’s extreme drought ended mosquito-breeding season long before the first freeze. Nevertheless, the mosquito vans arrived every three weeks, right on schedule, drenching the yards with poison for no reason but the schedule itself.

And spraying for mosquitoes isn’t the half of it, as any walk through the lawn-care department of a big-box store will attest. People want the outdoors to work like an extension of their homes — fashionable, tidy, predictable. Above all, comfortable. So weedy yards filled with tiny wildflowers get bulldozed end to end and replaced with sod cared for by homeowners spraying from a bottle marked “backyard bug control” or by lawn services that leave behind tiny signs warning, “Lawn care application; keep off the grass.” “

Opinion | Nashville’s Plight: Coronavirus, Tornadoes, Power Outages… – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…William DeShazer for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — By March 22, the day Mayor John Cooper issued a safer-at-home order here to slow the transmission of the coronavirus, the city had already been in crisis mode for nearly three weeks. Monster tornadoes had ripped through this region, killing 25 people and demolishing hundreds of buildings, including nearly 400 homes in Nashville alone. And it’s pretty hard to shelter in place when your shelter has just taken a ride through the sky.

The storms that hit last week were milder by comparison, but Tennesseans still began to mutter darkly about divine retribution. “Tornadoes, Covid, no power,” tweeted the musician Kendell Marvel, taking a shot at big-hat country radio, “it’s almost like Nashville is being punished for all the years of mediocre music.”

Part of the dismay stems from the unusual weather itself. A rare system called a derecho sent hurricane-force straight-line winds blowing across Middle Tennessee, toppling ancient trees and power poles and leaving 131,000 people without electricity. Heroic Nashville Electric Service crews — which, because of concerns about the coronavirus, were working through the night without the usual assistance from teams in nearby states — got that number down to about 80,000 on Monday. That was before a weather system called a wake low, also rare, triggered yet another round of powerful storms and brought the number of people without power back up, to 120,000.

Coming on the heels of a deadly virus that has never been seen in humans before, the unusual storms introduced a reasonable question: Why does the natural world keep finding new ways to kill us?

On the bright side, no sign of murder hornets here yet.”

“. . .  I figured a week of spit baths would be a good trade for nights around the kitchen table, all of us reading together by candlelight. Not everyone in my family feels this way, but for me those nights were a pure pleasure made perfect by the book at hand: “This Is Happiness” by the Irish novelist Niall Williams, about the coming of electricity to a remote village, a book so beautiful and so funny and so true that it will make you love the whole human race and forgive it all its trespasses.

Plus, this has been the loveliest spring imaginable, cool and damp and green, the old-timey kind of Middle Tennessee springtime that we used to get every year and now get almost never, a gentle, rainy springtime that keeps the flowers blooming for days and days and fills the trees with birdsong. Opening the windows to a spring like this one, at a time when the neighborhood machinery has fallen silent and the crickets and the screech owls are the only sounds in the air, is nothing less than a gift.

To take a walk at night in a city that has settled into silence and a darkness that has become far too rare is to return to something precious, something lost for so long you’ve forgotten to miss it. When it comes back to you unbidden, when that big pie plate of a moon and that star-drenched sky bless yu as you walk down the middle of your street, right down the middle of the street, with your head thrown back and your mouth fallen open, that’s something more than a gift. It’s a walk through the past, a walk in the present and possibly — if we can’t change our lives in time to head off the coming environmental collapse — a walk into the future. All at once.”

Opinion |  – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…William DeShazer for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — After what seemed like 100 years of impeachments hearings, anything uttered on Capitol Hill now sounds to my ear like the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher. Nevertheless, a few words from President Trump’s State of the Union address managed to break through the wah-wahs last week: “To protect the environment, days ago, I announced the United States will join the One Trillion Trees Initiative, an ambitious effort to bring together government and the private sector to plant new trees in America and around the world,” he said.

Could it really be true?

You will forgive me for thinking there’s no way it could be true. The whole point of the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees initiative is to reduce carbon in the environment and slow the rate of climate change by growing and preserving a trillion trees, worldwide, by 2050. But instead of addressing climate change, the Trump administration has rolled back or weakened 95 environmental protections already on the books.

The burning of fossil fuels is the leading cause of climate change, but much of this administration’s hostility to environmental protections is a result of its commitment to promoting the fossil fuel industry: allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other public landsapproving construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, encouraging more offshore drilling in the Atlantic. The Trump administration has even gutted the popular Endangered Species Act, which was passed with strong bipartisan support at a time in history when the word “bipartisan” was not an oxymoron. Is it any surprise that the Environmental Protection Agency is now widely known among conservationists as the Environmental Destruction Agency?

I’m trying to figure out how this business with trees might be different. Did the president experience a Scrooge-like conversion at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, with the brilliant Jane Goodall, who supports the One Trillion Trees initiative, playing the role of Marley? If so, it would be a conversion narrative more potent than any since St. Paul was struck down by a blinding light on the road to Damascus. Paul went from persecuting Christians to becoming the faith’s most famous evangelist, responsible for the spread of Christianity around the ancient Western world. Donald Trump’s conversion to environmental sanity could be the start of saving the world itself.”

alan haigh
carmel, ny

If you say you want to plant more trees you offend no one in the world of commerce. If you are a politician who says you want to protect forests with a real plan, you will be destroyed. If you say that human beings have a moral obligation to defend forests and the species that rely on them, including but not exclusively sapiens, you will be ridiculed. If you point out that the human population has tripled in about 70 years you will be ignored.

Please don’t write about trees and ignore their true context- the forests, which are being destroyed at even a faster rate than the population of humans on this planet increases, pushing out so much of everything else. How much forest is destroyed to create food for every new human being, who consumes food and the very products that are warming and otherwise poisoning our planet? In the next day, a net “gain” of 200,000 people will join us on our shrinking planet- they will not live in forests but will accelerate their destruction.

Save trees by, first of all, stabilizing the human population. Until we do that all else is futile. Why isn’t that an obvious truth to all of us, including you, MS Renkl? You can’t really save the trees without saving the forests.

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Opinion | Nobody Cared When Nashville Drowned – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Larry McCormack/The Tennessean, via Frist Art Museum

“NASHVILLE — On the Saturday I had set aside to visit a new exhibit at the Frist Art Museum, it rained so hard I was afraid to leave the house. Nashville was built on the Cumberland River, and even those of us who live far from its banks are invariably a stone’s throw from at least one creek that drains into the great Cumberland or one of its tributaries. A deluge falling on saturated soil will flood the creeks and leave water pooling on low-lying roads. “Turn Around Don’t Drown” is a truism I conscientiously heed.

The exhibit I planned to visit that day, ironically enough, was a retrospective of the devastating 2010 flood that dropped more than 13 inches of rain on this area in 36 hours — obliterating, twice over, the previous two-day rainfall record. The Cumberland River crested more than 11 feet above flood level, leaving 10,000 people displaced in the region and 26 others dead, including an elderly couple who drowned when their car was swept off the road not far from my house.

Area landmarks were shut down for months. Opry Mills, a massive mall on the banks of the Cumberland, was closed for nearly two years. Nearby, the Opryland Resort & Convention Center had to evacuate 1,500 hotel guests, and the first floor of the Grand Ole Opry House itself was completely submerged. Twenty-four feet of water entered the Schermerhorn, Nashville’s transcendently beautiful symphony hall, where the losses included two Steinway concert grand pianos. Soundcheck, a sprawling rehearsal and equipment-storage facility in East Nashville, took a nearly fatal blow, with millions of dollars of instruments — belonging to both session musicians and industry superstars — lost to the water. It all felt almost personal: What would Music City be without the music?”

Opinion | An Open Letter to John Lewis – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — Dear Mr. Lewis, I write with a heavy heart. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer is a brutal diagnosis, so it’s no surprise that last Sunday night the internet erupted with anguish as news of your illness became public. Treatment may give you a “fighting chance” to continue working “for the Beloved Community,” as you wrote in a statement, but it’s painful to think of what you will be called on to bear in the coming months. You have already borne so much for us.

In the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, a massive screen plays a montage of film and still photos from March 7, 1965, a day now commemorated as “Bloody Sunday.” The images were made at the beginning of a planned march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama’s capital, to claim voting rights for the African-American citizens of the state. I grew up in Alabama, not far from Selma, and I’ve always known the story of Bloody Sunday, but knowing the story is not the same thing as watching it unfold on a life-size screen. Standing in the National Civil Rights Museum on Martin Luther King Jr. Day a few years ago, I watched in horror. What you and your fellow marchers, 600 strong, found waiting for you on the other side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge was 150 state police and local law-enforcement officers armed with billy clubs, bullwhips and tear gas. They gave you two minutes to disperse.

As the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, you were standing at the very front of the march. You were wearing a light-colored trench coat, and that coat is what makes it possible to follow you in the black-and-white footage of those next chaotic moments. One minute and five seconds after the two-minute warning, evil advanced and the carnage began, even as you knelt in the road to pray.

The beating you took that day from an Alabama state trooper may have fractured your skull, but it didn’t crack your resolve. National news stories carrying photos and film footage from Bloody Sunday finally woke this nation to what was happening in the Jim Crow South, and that awakening ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act five months later.”

Opinion | The Parable of the Sick Pig and the Lonely Rooster – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Chris Pizzello/Invision, via Associated Press

“NASHVILLE — John Chester’s lovely new documentary film, “The Biggest Little Farm,” opens with a tragedy in the making: Wildfires are moving toward the farm from three different directions. A horse whinnies in alarm as workers rush to shepherd a storybook cast of farm animals — chickens, pigs, sheep, cows — toward what they hope will be safer pastures. Sirens wail in the distance. Smoke and ash fill the air.

It’s a sobering opening for a feel-good film about a young California couple who leave their day jobs to become organic farmers. “Everyone told us this idea was crazy, that attempting to farm in harmony with nature would be reckless, if not impossible,” Mr. Chester says in a voice-over. But it wasn’t impossible: After the opening sequence, the film backtracks to tell the story of how Mr. Chester, a documentary filmmaker, and Molly Chester, a personal chef, managed to turn 200 acres of worn-out, arid land 40 miles north of Los Angeles into an agricultural paradise called Apricot Lane Farms.

As “The Biggest Little Farm” unfolds, the Chesters hire Alan York, an expert in biodynamic farming practices, to teach them traditional methods that will restore their land to true fertility, no chemicals required. Cover crops fix nitrogen in the soil and sequester rainwater, preventing runoff and holding the topsoil in place. Sheep graze among the cover crops, leaving behind fertilizer for the soil. A giant worm-composting facility produces more fertilizer for the gardens and orchards. It’s breathtaking, all the ways the Chesters have found to ensure that every animal on the farm contributes to the health of the crops, and to ensure that the crops can sustain the farm animals while still producing enough fruits and vegetables to sell at market. And all of it works in concert with the wildlife that soon returns to the newly restored ecosystem.

I won’t give away the film’s genuine drama by revealing too many details, but it’s not a spoiler to point out that there’s a reason industrial farms typically use enormous amounts of chemicals: Attempting to farm in harmony with nature means that nature will sometimes get the upper hand, at least at first. “I guess I don’t know what Alan’s idea of a ‘perfect harmony’ is even supposed to look like,” Mr. Chester laments midway through the film. “Because every step we take to improve our land seems to just create the perfect habitat for the next pest.”

Opinion | How Not to Kill an Animal – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — Last week, Walden’s Puddle, a nonprofit wildlife rescue organization in a rural area of Nashville, posted a set of photos of a barred owl caught in the jaws of a leg-hold trap. The first photo, which featured the owl on the ground, its wings spread wide and its eyes cast down, was emblazoned with the words “Graphic images ahead.” I didn’t click through to see the rest of the pictures. The sight of that magnificent creature of the air tethered to the ground was graphic enough to break my heart. I didn’t need to see what the rest of the images would inevitably reveal: sinews torn, bones splintered, flesh bloody and swollen, great yellow claws mangled beyond repair.

Walden’s Puddle rehabilitates and releases orphaned and injured animals, and its Instagram account is normally a feel-good feed of squirrels, songbirds, turtles, deer, raccoons, opossums, snakes, rabbits, foxes, skunks, groundhogs, bobcats — pretty much everything that flies or crawls or walks or swims — and all of them on the mend. The caption to the post about the barred owl, which had to be euthanized, was uncharacteristically fierce:

These traps are cruel, evil, disgusting and should be illegal, causing unimaginable suffering to any creature who gets caught in its unforgiving jaws. While it is illegal to harm protected bird species such as this one (though these situations rarely result in criminal charges), these types of traps are sadly still legal to use in the state of Tennessee and in many other places, though they’ve been outlawed for many years in other parts of the world. Because the law requires they only be checked every 36 hours, any animal stuck in its grip will experience unimaginable pain and fear, possibly for hours or days.

Although their use has been banned or severely curtailed in more than 120 countries, leg-hold traps are indeed legal in Tennessee and in most other states in this country. Traps are sometimes used by farmers and ranchers to catch livestock predators, but the primary use for leg-hold traps is to catch an animal in a way that preserves the value of its pelt. Fur-edged down parkas, a fashion trend kick-started by a 2013 Sports Illustrated cover featuring the model Kate Upton wearing a bikini and a fur-trimmed Canada Goose parka, are now so prevalent among the affluent that they have caused a boom in backwoods trapping.”

Opinion | The Last Hummingbird – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

CreditCreditLuisa Gonzalez/Reuters

“NASHVILLE — From inside my air-conditioned house, the light through my windows looks the way October light is supposed to look — mild, quiet, entirely unlike the thin light of winter or the sparkling light of spring or the unrelenting light of summer. In normal years, October is a month for open windows in Middle Tennessee. For cool, damp mornings. For colored leaves that quake in the wind before letting go and lifting away. For afternoon shadows so lovely they fill me with a longing I can’t even name.

Relief is on the way, the forecast tells us, but all we have had of autumn so far is the right slant of light, for this year the mild October light has not brought the usual mild temperatures. All over the Southeast, and much of the Midwest, October came in like August, breaking heat records. For all of September it was August in the South, and for all the first week of October, too — severe drought, temperatures near 100 degrees day after day.

My own yard is as drought-tolerant as I can make it, planted with native trees and shrubs that evolved for this growing zone. Hardly a blade of water-craving grass is left in what passes for a lawn here; to my delight, self-seeding wildflowers have gradually crowded out the grass over the years. But the wild ground cover is so dry now that it crackles when I walk on it, and little puffs of dust lift from the parched soil with my every step.

The once-fragrant piles of damp earth that moles turn up in the night are as dry as anthills, and the robins that like to pick through their leavings in the morning seem to have given up all hope of worms. I finally went to the hardware store to buy a sprinkler, partly to save the new berry-bearing trees and shrubs I planted last spring for the songbird migration, and partly because I take so much pleasure from watching all the neighborhood robins darting through the edges of the spray, catching insects desperate for moisture. I know their dance is nothing more than survival, but to me it looks exactly like joy.”

David Lindsay: I put this lovely piece into my category, Flora and Fauna, and then panicked. Are insects also considered Fauna. What is Fauna. It turns out it is the entire animal kingdom, which includes insects.

From http://www.quora.com:

Are fish, invertebrates and insects categorized as fauna?

2 Answers
Jonathan Jeffreys
Jonathan Jeffreys, Educator, Author, Creator of BiologyCoachOnline

Thank you for your interesting question. Many of my first-semester biology students are taken aback when they first hear me refer to fish, birds, and insects as animals (fauna). The fact is that there seems to be a stream of belief that only mammals–lions and tigers and bears and the like–are animals. The animal kingdom, however, is vast and varied.

There are nine major animal phyla. In order from simplest to most complex, then, they are the:

1. Porifera or the sponges;

2. Cnidaria which includes the jellyfish and corals;

3. Platyhelminthes, or the flatworms, includes tapeworms and flukes;

4. Nemotoda or the roundworms;

5. Annelida, or the segmented worms, includes earthworms and leeches;

6. Mullusca includes the terrestrial snails as well as marine bivalves, squids, and oysters;

7. Arthropoda, or the arthropods, are animals with external skeletons (or exoskeletons) and include both terrestrial and aquatic and marine forms including insects, spiders, crabs, and lobsters.

All of the aforementioned phyla include animals without backbones. In other words, invertebrates. So to answer one part of your question: yes, invertebrates (which includes insects) are animals.

The final two animal phyla are the vertebrates (or animals with endoskeletons). They are the:

8. Echinodermata, or echinoderms, are animals with “spiny” skin and include sea stars (or “starfish”), sand dollars, and sea urchins;

9. Chordates include the most complex animal forms; they have endoskeletons that protect internal organs while providing shape and structure, backbones that surround and protect spinal cords, and skulls that surround and protect brains; they have complete digestive systems, closed circulatory systems, and tails at some point in their development.

There are six classes of vertebrate chordates including the:

1. Chondrichthyes, or fish with skeletons made of cartilage like the sharks and stingrays;

2. Osteichthyes, or fish with skeletons made of bone, includes salmon, perch, trout, sea bass, catfish, etc;

3. Amphibians are semiaquatic vertebrates and include frogs, toads, and salamanders;

4. Reptiles are vertebrates with scaly skin and include snakes, lizards, and turtles;

5. Aves are the birds;

6. Mammalia are the mammals and include animals with hair and mammary glands; the mammals include those lions and tigers and bears mentioned in the very beginning. And oh yeah, humans are mammals as well.

https://www.quora.com/Are-fish-invertebrates-and-insects-categorized-as-fauna

Opinion | Three Billion Canaries in the Coal Mine – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

Margaret Renkl

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

A Magnolia Warbler found recently on a suburban lawn in the northeast.

NASHVILLE — During the nearly quarter-century that my family has lived in this house, the changes in our neighborhood have become increasingly apparent: fewer trees and wildflowers, fewer bees and butterflies and grasshoppers, fewer tree frogs and songbirds. The vast majority of Tennessee is still rural, and for years I told myself that such changes were merely circumstantial, specific to a city undergoing rapid gentrification and explosive growth. I wasn’t trying to save the world by putting up nest boxes for the birds or letting the wildflowers in my yard bloom out before mowing. I was hoping only to provide a small way station for migrating wildlife, trusting they would be fine once they cleared the affluence zone that is the New Nashville.

I was wrong. A new study in the journal Science reports that nearly 3 billion North American birds have disappeared since 1970. That’s 29 percent of all birds on this continent. The data are both incontrovertible and shocking. “We were stunned by the result,” Cornell University’s Kenneth V. Rosenberg, the study’s lead author, told The Times.

This is not a report that projects future losses on the basis of current trends. It is not an update on the state of rare birds already in trouble. This study enumerates actual losses of familiar species — ordinary backyard birds like sparrows and swifts, swallows and blue jays. The anecdotal evidence from my own yard, it turns out, is everywhere.

You may have heard of the proverbial canary in the coal mine — caged birds whose sensitivity to lethal gasses served as an early-warning system to coal miners; if the canary died, they knew it was time to flee. This is what ornithologists John W. Fitzpatrick and Peter P. Marra meant when they wrote, in an opinion piece for The Times, that “Birds are indicator species, serving as acutely sensitive barometers of environmental health, and their mass declines signal that the earth’s biological systems are in trouble.”

Opinion | Harry Potter and the Poorly-Read Exorcists – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

Margaret Renkl

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

CreditCreditDaniel Becerril/Reuters

“NASHVILLE — When the Rev. Dan Reehil, a Catholic priest, ordered the removal of all Harry Potter books from the parish school’s library, the St. Edward community demanded an explanation. Father Reehil responded by email, noting that he had “consulted several exorcists, both in the United States and in Rome,” and had been assured that the “curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”

I read all seven Harry Potter books aloud to all three of my children, one at a time, as they became old enough to understand the books’ complicated plots, so I understand why Father Reehil’s explanation assuaged no parental concerns. Exorcists? Real spells? No wonder the story became international news almost as soon as The Tennessean broke it. Articles about the incident have appeared in outlets as diverse as The Washington PostCBS NewsEntertainment WeeklyThe Independent in Britain, and Forbes, among many others.

Before I heard this story, I would not have thought it necessary to point out that Harry Potter is a fictional character and that these books are not spellbooks. They are novels, tales J.K. Rowling made up out of her prodigious imagination.

Harry Potter and his friends don’t exist in real life, but they wrestle with real-life challenges: bullies, rejection, loneliness, fear, grief — and, yes, with clueless adults whose behavior is patently ludicrous. Nashville’s St. Edward School might as well be Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, for the story of Father Rehill sounds very much like the story of Delores Umbridge, a Ministry of Magic bureaucrat-turned-school-inquisitor.”