Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Late Spring is Relinquished to Early Summer: The Moving Hand

I learned from the Floating Classroom folks that it isn’t summer in Cayuga Lake until the blue-green algae move to the forefront. Likewise on land, for me the season shifts from late spring to early summer with a taste of the first wild strawberries.

This morning I ate three, as I walked back along the top of the Fall Creek Gorge on the Cayuga Trail after dropping my car off for an oil change in Varna. The berries were not fully ripe, and thus a bit tart, but their wild red berry flavor loosed a flood of 45 year old memories of picking them by the small bucketful in fields filled with grasses and flowers and young white pines, now converted into a lawn, parking lot and business building. Also of the astonishing luxury of mashing a handful of ripe wild strawberries just enough to release the juice, and spreading them on white bread for a quick treat.

As this slow, cool spring has progressed, I have been watching the many areas in my yard and in nearby long-grass pastures for the small white strawberry blossoms that shine out briefly in the grass and then fade, replaced by ripening small berries. I am ready to seek a real harvest this year, moving beyond the tantalizing few berries to the many, so that maybe at least once this season I will get “enough.”

Meanwhile, promise of harvests to come are seen in the wild grapevines flourishing along field edges and in shady and sunny roadside tangles, and in numerous other fruits and edibles that are flourishing as the seasons relentlessly carry us forward.

From March onward to now in mid-June, I have had several felicitous encounters with wild foods as they emerged after the winter, and enjoyed the company of those who manage and harvest them. However I have foolishly but understandably (seeing as how I am working full-time or more) not allowed myself the time to write about each one fully.

Thus a series of regrettably brief summaries will follow, in order that I at least record some part of my enjoyment and explorations from this just-past spring. Topics covered will be (though perhaps not in this order): Nancy’s grape juice, maple syrup and ramps, new plantings for future harvests (raspberry bushes, apple trees and hops), making dandelion wine (“Front Yard” label), violets and nasturtiums, one small peach tree planted by the Cayuga Indians to begin to reverse a 200-plus year old genocide; and the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute’s sustainable harvest workshops, from which I brought back a small log inoculated with shiitake mushroom spores.

Then I will be able to write about the wonderful early June evening that I and Deb Grantham spent monitoring bats via a Bat Detector on the roof of my car, driving in the full moon’s light across high wild places around Ithaca. Bats are in very bad trouble due to White Nose Syndrome, and this was a small step we could take, helping with a statewide bat census.

And meanwhile we must feel fully confident that it is the right thing to do, to firmly say no to bullying cell tower companies, bullying land developers, and bullying rapacious shale blasting and drilling energy companies and their shady ex-government overlords. It is time to turn that tide back toward what we are for: love of the land, water and air; time to again be unashamedly pro-environment, and to get our excellent environmental laws working once again.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cell Tower: Nature Needs Protection Not Degradation

Dryden Town Board
93 East Main Street
Dryden NY 13053

June 8, 2009

Dear Supervisor Sumner and Dryden Town Board members:

I am writing to thank you for the opportunity to express the concerns of the folks who live in the Hanshaw-Sapsucker area regarding the Verizon cell tower that has been proposed to be built on the Uhls’ property near the Ludgate Farms store. It has been an honor to take part in this process over the past several months and I thank you all for your polite and patient time and attention.

I and others remain convinced that this is the wrong place for a cell tower, and that the Dryden Town Board is within its legal rights to say No to this tower proposal, or to sideline it until after a county-level review process is established.

The bases for a refusal or postponement remain the same: that Dryden would not benefit in any appreciable way from this tower, and yet a Dryden neighborhood would have to bear the impacts, among them lowered property values of nearby homes; and also that a residential neighborhood with Unique Natural areas on both sides is not appropriate for a cell tower, according to your own town zoning criteria.

Below, I address our concerns about the gradual degradation that would soon begin to eat away at this area were a cell tower to be built at this location. I have struggled for weeks on how best to explain this concern to you, and at one point planned to develop a mini-environmental impact statement complete with every type of technical and legal bell and whistle. In the end I decided to simply draw for you a word picture of what we think would inevitably take place as a result of a cell tower being built in this area.

To cut to the chase, we think that a proposal would soon arise to have the area re-zoned for commercial use, with resulting lights, noise, additional traffic and further physical degradation of this quiet residential and valuable natural area.

At present, the wooded property owned by the Uhls serves as a buffer, link, corridor and habitat for wildlife to use between the Fall Creek Unique Natural Area and the Sapsucker Woods Unique Natural Area. Well-used wildlife trails match up across Hanshaw Road. Also, although not mentioned or evaluated in any report, a stream significant enough to merit a culvert under Hanshaw Road runs from the Uhls’ property toward Fall Creek.

It has been argued by some that this area is already degraded by residential development (see tax map attachment) and that thus a cell tower will not do any further damage beyond its immediate footprint. However, we argue that this is exactly the reason why no more development, such as a cell tower, should be added to this vulnerable area.

While cell towers are most appropriately located in already-developed commercial-industrial areas, it is also common that cell towers placed in a wooded natural area soon attract commercial and industrial development around them. Why? Because the very presence of a cell tower signifies that the area is of lower value and is open for development. A cell tower degrades by its very presence.

Do you really want to actively contribute to the decay of this area by saying Yes to a cell tower here? Do you really want to significantly and measurably lower the natural and human values of this area by saying Yes to a cell tower here?

With the half-finished roadway that lies just east of the Ludgate property and the intense residential developer pressure along both the Ithaca and Dryden sides of Sapsucker Woods Road, a cell tower built on the Uhl’s property would be the tipping point to degrade this area into a commercial zoned stretch with a gas station and small shops.

If that happened, the green link – already tenuous – between the two Unique Natural Areas would be irretrievably broken and destroyed. The water quality of the stream flowing off the Uhl’s property to Fall Creek would be degraded. Both the Dryden and Ithaca sides of Sapsucker Woods would be under attack from development. The green buffer so important to the Hanshaw-Sapsucker area would be riddled with holes that would grow rapidly, and the green continuity of the Sapsucker-Fall Creek area would be permanently severed.

Degradation is a slow but inevitable process, once it is set in motion. A cell tower here would be a mortal blow to this vulnerable boundary area. Saying No to a cell tower here means saying Yes to the possibility of a sustainable future for this area, instead of a future of degradation, decay and loss. Please say No to a cell tower in this location.

Sincerely yours,
Hilary Lambert
Nancy Morgan
Stephen Wagner
And other supporters of Friends of Hanshaw-Sapsucker

Winter Cress - Refreshing Late Winter Wild Food

Winter cress is easy to prepare, and provides a refreshing green flavor in the year's colder months. It is mild, amiable, unthreatening, and very good for you.

I took a simple approach to cooking the small bunch that I imported from Kentucky to New York (see previous entry for an account of the massive carbon-eating travels of two small plants): Boil briefly to remove bitterness. Cut it up a bit and saute in (olive) oil with salt and pepper. For about two minutes. Serve as a side dish or in a stir-fry. Add in garlic as desired.

In other words, it's a widely-available-for-the-picking midwinter substitute for spinach and other greens. Euell Gibbons ("Stalking the Wild Asparagus," McKay, 1973) says there are two main forms of this mustard family member. They look just about the same and between them can be found in low wet areas and in fallow fields. Gather the leaves in winter or in very early spring -- later on the leaves are bitter.

One warning: as with all wild food gathering, be careful of environmental problems with the gathering site. For example, I found winter cress in abundance down by Cayuga Lake in early spring, thriving under heavy foot traffic -- on a dog walk trail, next to an industrial site. Leave those alone, as with any plants growing in or near still or flowing water that might be polluted. No, that does not rule out every plant....not quite.