Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thousands of Trees Remain Standing After Hurricane Sandy

Countless trees remained standing after a thoroughly ventilating evening with Hurricane Sandy. Given all the storms in recent years, any tree still upright has veteran status, toughened by repeated buffeting.
Particularly successful at staying upright were trees that presented a slimmed down profile, like the Kentucky Coffee Trees silhouetted against the sky in this photo.
Trees burdened with leaves or needles, like this spruce tree
and Norway maples, presented more resistance to the wind and so did not fare as well. It's useful to compare a fully foliated tree trying to hold steady in the hurling air current of a hurricane to a fully clothed person trying to swim.
Nassau Street lost a few more oaks, particularly those whose roots had been confined by the surrounding pavement.
The hurricane also proved all too savvy at ferreting out the more rickety fences.
Can't remember ever seeing siding stripped off by wind before.

With the morning-after all drizzle, generator din and plant protoplasm splattered on the asphalt, my daughter lightened the mood by suggesting there should be yoga for trees.

That was one heck of a yoga session Sandy just put Princeton's trees through.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Slow Prelude to a Subsidized Storm

Hurricane Sandy is evolving very slowly in Princeton. This morning, the wind speed and light drizzle were unchanged from last night. All the light rain will contribute to the eventual flooding by saturating the soil, leaving little room for more water to filter in. By the time the predicted deluge begins, the soil will behave much like streets and parking lots, shedding vast amounts of water directly into local streams.

If the extended prelude is any indication, this storm appears operatic in scale, a Wagnerian Ring Cycle when compared to the pop song of a thunderstorm that moves in quickly, does its business and moves on. The Channel 2 weatherman last night said this storm has all five elements that contribute to a storm's power. Removing any one of these elements will lessen that power, but none appear to be dropping out. He spoke of unprecedented events, of the jet stream turning westward, drawing Hurricane Sandy into shore. The Gulf Stream waters are five degrees warmer than usual, feeding the hurricane's power. This has been the long-kept promise of a warmer planet, that our exploitation of ancient energy will in turn energize the atmosphere, creating ever more dramatic and extended works of drought and flood.   

As I write, at 2pm, the wind is starting to kick up. This must be the second act. On the radio, news of mass evacuations, Atlantic City covered in water, New York subways threatened by salt water intrusion. We've long been told of climate change's compositional potential, long been forced to support it's artistic development, with any alternatives to our daily, collective donations stymied by climate change's stubbornly loyal friends in the political realm. Now climate change has the chutzpah to insert itself into the last week of a presidential campaign that may even so not dare speak its name.  

I'm hoping against hope that this particular work of nature, recipient of our economy's dubious contributions, will be a flop, for the sake of the general welfare but also because we didn't stock up as well as we should have. I am remembering the semester at college when the cafeteria workers went on strike. We responded by harvesting violet leaves from the grounds around the dorm, and steaming them like spinach. The flavor and bright green color were a pleasant surprise. At times like this, it's good to have a weedy yard, with a healthy complement of violet and dandelion leaves ready for the picking. The wild animals--mostly squirrels--ate most everything we intentionally plant for food this year, leaving us with the weeds, some of which are pretty tasty. It's also useful to remember, as I just did, that our gas oven uses electricity to light the flames, and will be useless once the electricity goes out. Time to bake the last frozen pizza and see how this latest composition plays itself out.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Check Downspouts, Gutters

One thing not always mentioned in storm prep lists is to check to make sure your roof gutters and downspouts are all connected and functioning, and that the downspouts drain away from the house. The connections tend to come loose with time, unless held together with a screw. And check to make sure that nothing is in the yard that can get carried by the wind.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Recycle and Reuse Events This Weekend

Princeton plunges into a frenzy of redistribution this weekend. Take a trip to PlanetPrinceton.com for tips on where all the recycling and reuse is going on, starting at 8am when the old hospital begins to disgorge itself of lingering furniture. Fire up your rummagination and hit the sales.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Westminster Parking Lot Plantings

For those concerned about parking lots contributing to stormwater runoff and the urban heat island effect, the new Westminster Choir College parking lot offers an interesting angle. Three previous posts showing its construction, including underground cisterns to hold back stormwater, can be found by typing "westminster" into the search box of this blog.

In the first photo, water from the pavement flows into a raingarden. Though many of the planting choices make sense, e.g. redbud, tupelo, summersweet and switchgrass), the english ivy in the foreground will likely prove regrettable. My forecast is that it will spread over the curb, making for a messy look, and also spread into the rest of the raingarden, competing with the other species.

This retention basin/raingarden appears to be seeded with a "wetland mix" of sedges and rushes, rather than turfgrass planted on higher ground. The seeds are spread in a liquid mix of cellulose that helps shade the ground and keep it moist while the seed sprouts. Beautiful river birches in the foreground dried up for lack of water, but hopefully will survive.

The berm here, planted with hemlock and other evergreens, is meant to screen the parking lot from the neighbors. The neighbors were very outspoken about having a parking lot replace the field they had long been able to look out upon, and this vegetated buffer was the Choir College's response.

Maples and shrub dogwoods are some other native species used. Unfortunately, seven ash trees were planted as part of the project. They'd be great shade trees for the parking lot, except that the Emerald Ash Borer--an exotic insect introduced from Asia that has been spreading rapidly from Michigan eastward--will likely reach Princeton in a few years. When it arrives, we can start saying goodbye to all of our native ash trees, of which there are many thousands in our preserves and along streets. It's a surprise to see landscapers still planting them. Even Princeton University included some in its stream restoration down near Washington Road.

The overall effect of the parking lot on runoff, though, should be neutral, if all the engineers' calculations prove right, and though much of the grassy field was paved, the new plantings may actually provide better habitat than the mowed grass they replace. The project could have used more trees planted near the pavement that could eventually shade most of the asphalt.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

To Fix a Hammock

Princeton is full of resouceful people who see possibilities where others have given up hope. Which is why anything placed at the curb with any utility at all tends to disappear before the trash man comes.

I did my part with this hammock recently, found disappearing into the long grass at the curb of a neighbor's. Having never had a nice hammock, I decided to mend my way to lazy hours swinging softly in late summer sunlight.
How strange in this extravagantly commoditied age to encounter the need to weave rope together and tie something other than shoelaces. These bowline knots brought back memories of sailing, setting up tents at a summer camp, and other now rare collaborative, manual activities that brought such satisfaction.
A little spare rope, a half hour of puzzling, weaving and tying, and the hammock was ready for anyone who might dare extract themselves from the great rush, to relax into a view of the open sky.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Lonely Hoop Flies the Coop

There once was a hoop
That had flown the coop,
Having lost its support
Through no fault of its own.

It came to a halt
On some nearby asphalt,
Seeming destined
Too live out its life all alone.

It stayed on the street
Without any feet,
Ignored by the trashman
For reasons unknown.

Until one day,
Just two blocks away
A stand appeared--
What a suitable throne!

Could two has-been losers add up to a win?
Dare two tubby plastics harbor hope so thin?
For a town's endless waste,
Could this marriage atone?

Alas there are laws
That scuttle the cause.
Square peg, round hole.
A matchmaker's dream....has flown.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Coffee Bag Conversation

I had a nice conversation with my bag of coffee the other morning. Actually, the bag did most of the talking. It was so upbeat, told me that my coffee was grown in the shade (better habitat for migratory birds wintering south of the border), and that the farmers who grew it are prospering because they are members of co-ops that send coffee to Equal Exchange, which too is a worker-owned co-op that roasts the coffee and sends it to the store where I bought it. I could tell by the smiling faces on the bag that life really is better. I'm now part of this chain of happy, productive lives serving humanity's and nature's needs. Thanks, package. You give me grounds for coffee and hope, all in one.

In the interest of furthering bag-human relations, I wanted to tell it how delicious its coffee is, and how I really like that the bag is compostible.

Other coffees wake me up and then bring me down with those shiny mylar plastic bags that seduce the consumer and turn the trick at the supermarket but are tough to recycle.

Same with the organic eggs at the supermarket, which are put in eye-catching plastic containers that surely are less ecological than the regular paperboard egg cartons. It's all an attempt to give the specially grown food a special look, and make us feel okay about paying more. Better that they plaster ordinary, recyclable packaging with lots of info and smiling faces of farmers, or maybe in the case of eggs an image of a smiling, or at least chuckling, chicken living the free range, organic life.

Taking Comfort in Idle Machines

Given that machines typically use ancient, finite, climate-changing fuels, life is and will be better if they sit idle as much as possible until we get around to bringing better energies online. Some machines use a lot. A central air conditioner or furnace consumes 100 times what a computer might use. Which is why, if we had thought of it, we could have consumed a toast to non-consumption recently. Until this week's chill, we had a good two month run of comfort without the need of A/C or furnace. In August, the nights were cool enough that the house could release any accumulated heat and hold on to that overnight coolness through the day. And the house had enough mass to stay warm through periodic cool spells in September. Pulling shades in the summer and opening them up to harvest solar heat on cool autumn days has been enough to maintain comfort. Fans gave a low-energy assist in August. For two months, then, the house buffered the modest highs and lows.

But small comfort this, for on the street out front the mad parade of cars and trucks streams by. Conspicuous consumption, individually rational, collectively irrational. Engines straining to move bulky metal frames, a passing truck's biting exhaust, the wheels's spin--machines built by machines and ultimately to be broken down by machines. Combining servitude and subterfuge, they compliantly get us where we're sure we need to go. The drivers' eyes face ahead, not seeing the mischief spreading out and up from behind. Cars impel us forward, while the unseen tailpipe dictates what's to come. The earth buffers this common sense madness, maintains our comfort for the meantime, but not for forever.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mayoral Debate Thursday

If you're debating whether to watch the vice presidential debate this Thursday at 9pm, why not make a night of it, starting with the Princeton mayoral debates. Princeton mayoral candidates Liz Lempert and Dick Woodbridge will be debating this Thursday, October 11, 7:30 at the Jewish Center, 435 Nassau Street. If you can't make it, the debate should be available for viewing on Channel 30 (princetontv.org).

Sunday, October 07, 2012

School Gardens at Princeton Day School

It used to be that school gardens would come and go, as the parents who initiated them would move on with their kids' graduation. But in recent years, a lot of largely volunteer effort has gone into making gardens a permanent presence at local schools. The Princeton School Gardens initiative has been making steady progress integrating gardening into the public school grounds and curriculum. Among private schools, Princeton Day School stands out as one that has invested in staff dedicated to sustainability and gardening, and also built a garden classroom. Though I'm sure parent volunteers still play a big role, the gardening is no longer dependent upon them for its survival.

Invited to speak at Princeton Day School's Community Day last week, I invited a colleague along and got there early to check out the gardens I'd heard so much about. The schools Sustainability Coordinator, Liz Cutler, has done amazing work at the school and in the community, and had a big role in getting an outdoor classroom to sprout up in a field behind the school.

Officially named the Alberto Petrella Garden Classroom, in honor of a beloved long time member of the grounds crew who passed away in 2011, this new structure has solar panels that power ceiling fans on hot days.

The roof gutter conveys water to a happy ending--a 450 gallon cistern that,
if you take a look inside through the overflow opening, is filled to the brim with harvested rainwater for the extensive vegetable garden. Next step is to hook up a bicycle pump that the kids will use to pump water from the cistern up into the garden.
The kids gather under the roof for class discussions,
with the garden right there to provide abundant subjects for study of life.

Weeds get carried off to the compost bin.
Garden Coordinator Pam Flory has the kids growing a great variety of plants, like this extraordinarily long bean,
and the gourds hanging on the high deer fencing.

Pam told us that having a school garden like this is not so much an innovation as a return to values and practices 60+ years back, when school gardens were common.

The chickens have some nice digs, including a solar powered door that opens automatically at sunrise to let the chickens out into their run.
At the garden entrance, a blackboard provides the "Grazing Menu" for the day--foods that the kids can munch on while in the garden. A distinction had to be made between grazing and harvesting, because some kids liked the vegetables so much they'd stuff some in their pockets to take home. Great news, actually, except that any forgotten vegetables end up in the laundry.
Inside the main building, every trash can (marked "landfill") is paired with a well-marked recycling bin. This strategic positioning is surprisingly rare, as documented at another blog of mine, http://recyclingcontainers.blogspot.com/.

I told the kids that the exposure they are getting to gardening and common sense sustainability is the exception, not the rule, and that they will encounter endless opportunities in coming years to steer the world towards the vision being realized at their school.

Friday, October 05, 2012

University Shuttles and Some Parking Open to the Public

If you're taking the train to New York, Trenton or Philadelphia over the weekend, it's good to know that the university parking structure down behind the Dinky is open and free to the public on weekends, and on weekdays after 5pm. It can be accessed from Faculty Drive. One little-mentioned benefit of moving the Dinky station 460 feet is that it will then be right next to the parking garage, which will also be more easily accessed from the west side of town, thanks to a new connection to Alexander. Not a thought to warm a romantic's heart, but it doesn't hurt to point out the utilitarian advantages.

In addition, Princeton University's Tiger Transit shuttle buses are open to all, students and locals alike, 24/7, no questions asked. A look at the live "Tiger Tracker" shows where the buses are at any particular moment, and where they go, which includes Forrestal Village and a stop very close to the shopping center where Whole Foods and Staples are, out on Route 1.

Another great free service is the Princeton Borough's Free B shuttle, which runs mornings and evenings on weekdays, between the Dinky Station and the corner of Harrison and Hamilton. It's schedule is located here. Map of stops is here. I thought it had expanded its service to include Princeton Shopping Center, but don't see that on the schedule.

It takes some studying of the schedules, and some conscious attempt to change the tempo of one's day to make use of the shuttles, but it's worth a try. The drivers could use some company.