Saturday, March 19, 2011

Conifers (and a rhododendron)

Evergreens have a head start when spring is approaching.  Here are a couple of pics from last weekend (Captions above the photos this time):

A clump of foliage from a Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

Fallen twigs from 3 different species of conifers.  From top to bottom:
Norway Spruce (Picea abies)
Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
 Yew, probably Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata)

An evergreen but definitely not a conifer, this rhododendron is a little 
worse for wear but doesn't look like it will take long to recover and 
start growing.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Yard and garden update

With everything that is going on in the world, the condition of my yard is almost infinitely insignificant.  Still, it's significant to me, so I figured it would be an appropriate thing to write about.

A week ago, I thought that it might be a month before all of the snow melted.  Even a couple of days ago, I thought it might be a couple of weeks.  This weekend, though, I realized that at the rate the snow is disappearing, most of it might be gone in a few days.  Most of the snow already is gone, in fact - there was just so much that some of it is still left.  A combination of temperatures reaching at least 40 Fahrenheit (about 5 Celsius) each day, plus lots of rain, have really pushed the melting along.

A couple of pics of the largest garden area in the side yard

Little stream running down the side of the driveway - it's been running continuously 
for a week.

This side of the house still has a decent amount of snow.

The most pleasant surprise to me, though, is that as soon as the snow melted, underneath it there were already plants sprouting!  The most common plant that I see apparently ready to grow is this one.  I'm not sure what type it is, or whether it is a weed or a "cultivated" plant (sorry for the non-centered photo - Blogger is acting up and won't let me shift my photos to the center for some reason):

 I may have my work cut out for me if this is a weed - they're all over the place.

There are, however, other plants sprouting that I am pretty sure I will want in the garden.  This looks like an iris of some kind, pushing up past a bunch of twigs from the Norway spruce that were blown down over the last few months:

Here's a fern of some kind emerging green from underneath the snow:

Why are some plants emerging from the snow green and looking almost ready to start growing?  Maybe the snow actually acted as an insulator, keeping the ground warmer than usual.  In that case, I hope it doesn't get cold enough to damage the plants that are out of the snow now.  The ones that are already green are probably pretty tough.

Sobering facts about the earthquake/tsunami in Japan

There's nothing that I can say about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan that many others haven't said much better.  It is a tragedy and a sobering reminder of how we are definitely not in the drivers' seat for so many things that happen on this planet.  Unlike climate, geology seems to be something that we have no effect on or control over, one way or another.  All we can do is try to prepare for disasters and do rescue and recovery when they do happen.

The really sobering thing to remember is that Japan is probably the best prepared country for earthquakes in the whole world.  Everything is built to withstand earthquakes, and there is a large infrastructure in place for warning, searching, and rescuing.  Even with all of this, this huge earthquake and tsunami still had devastating results.  In any other country, it would have been worse.  California is probably the second most well-prepared place on earth when it comes to earthquakes, so an earthquake of similar size there would probably cause similar, or even somewhat worse, damage.  Other parts of the world, though, are much less prepared - especially poorer areas.  A little more than a year ago, the earthquake in Haiti showed how devastating a natural disaster can have in a country where people are already living in very poor conditions and there is no mechanism for dealing with a disaster.  Though much smaller than the earthquake in Japan, the death toll was probably dozens or hundreds of times larger.  Similarly, the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia and other parts of the Indian Ocean hit many poorer areas of Asia and east Africa that were less prepared to cope with the damage than a country like Japan or the USA would be.

All of these earthquakes at least happened along active fault zones where the earth's crustal plates meet, places where earthquakes can be expected to happen.  Powerful earthquakes occasionally happen in unexpected places, such as the historic New Madrid, Missouri earthquakes of 1811-1812.  This was a massive earthquake that caused a section of the Mississippi river to flow backwards.  If a similar sized earthquake occurred today, it would almost certainly cause great damage across much of the US "heartland", hitting areas where neither buildings nor emergency services nor the general public are prepared for earthquakes.  There are many other such places in the world, where occasional large earthquakes could occur.

Basically, people and nations all around the world need to realize that events like major earthquakes and tsunamis can happen in many different places, and that while they are extremely unlikely in most places (and you're almost 100% safe from a tsunami if you live well inland or at a high elevation), they should be remembered when designing buildings and organizing emergency services.  In geology more than almost anything else on earth, we humans still have to take anything that nature dishes out and deal with it as best we can.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Shaky conservative

I don't write about politics much.  Part of this is because my own views are uncertain.  Part of it is that my views on a lot of things are more conservative than those of most people I know, and I don't want people to think less of me because of my views.  (Let's face it, people often do think less of other people if they find out that the other person has opposing views on political issues, especially if it is a very sensitive or emotional issue.)

Discussing my views in detail is much more than I have the time or energy to do now, but there are probably a few reasons why I often lean in a conservative direction.  First, there's family influence.  I grew up in a moderately conservative, Reagan-supporting suburban middle-class family.  Unlike many people with that background, I didn't grow up to oppose the ideas and values that I was brought up with.  I don't agree with all of them, but overall I think that most of them make sense.  The conservatism that I grew up with was somewhat moralistic, but not harshly judgmental.  It taught that people shouldn't be dependent on the government, but not that people should be completely left to their own devices no matter what.  It was patriotic, but not overly nationalistic or xenophobic.  I liked it then, and I still like it now.

Another thing that pushed me in the direction of conservatism was that many of the more liberal or left-leaning people I knew, while certainly good people, were a little bit more ... close-minded than the conservatives.  This goes against the common stereotype that conservatives are the narrow-minded ones, but I have often found it to be true.  If someone starts from the assumption that all conservatives, no matter what their actual ideas, are narrow-minded fools and bigots, then there really isn't any room for debate or discussion of any kind.  That attitude always rubbed me the wrong way, to put it mildly.

These days, everything is confused for me when it comes to politics.  I still think of myself as a conservative, and take that side of an argument more often than not, but the conservatism of recent years seems to be more harsh and intolerant than the variety that I grew up believing in.  I guess being harsh and intolerant doesn't necessarily make something wrong, but those have never been qualities that I liked very much.  I guess you could say that my conservatism is very shaky.

Maybe I should start writing about my political views.  Actually, I shouldn't.  There seem to be millions of bloggers writing about politics, and most of them know a lot more about the issues than I do!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Trees and sky

My new home has many virtues, but dramatic sunset vistas that make for good photographs are not among them.  Instead, my house is surrounded by other houses and trees, which is entirely typical of New England.  In this part of the country, being able to look at landscapes that are many miles distant from one's own home is more of a privilege than a standard feature.

Nonetheless, there are a few good views that I've been able to get over the past few weeks: