Are We Watching the End of the Monarch Butterfly?

Heartbreaking. In Today’s New York Times:

Citizen scientists recently gathered in a coastal Northern California town to count the butterfly during its winter migration. The results were alarming.

Jan. 25, 2019
By Mary Ellen Hannibal

Ms. Hannibal writes about science and the environment from San Francisco.

Haleigh Mun

For almost 30 years, hundreds of volunteers have helped document monarch butterfly numbers at more than 200 sites across California, from Mendocino to San Diego. A small group of these citizen scientists recently descended on the sleepy coastal town of Bolinas, near Stinson Beach, north of San Francisco, to conduct the latest tally in a place where thousands of these butterflies were once counted during their winter migration.

The group was met by Mia Monroe, a ranger for the National Park Service for 40 years. She was representing the Xerces Society, a nonprofit devoted to invertebrate conservation.

“We aren’t expecting many butterflies today,” Ms. Monroe warned. Monarch numbers have been plummeting for decades, and recent surveys of their breeding habitats had reported low numbers. Making matters worse, only weeks before, wildfires had swept through the region, engulfing the Bay Area with smoke for two weeks.

“Maybe the monarchs have taken a different route, around the fire and smoke?” someone asked. “That’s a dream,” Ms. Monroe said. “But we are here to honor the survivors, and to be together in a difficult moment.”

Directing us to move with stealth into a lot overgrown with poison oak vines and blackberry brambles, she pointed to a ring of eucalyptus trees. The morning had begun cold but the temperature had inched past 54 degrees, when monarchs begin to emerge from their slumber. The brown and green branches of one tree were stirring, as if a slight breeze was ruffling the dun-colored leaves. But then a distinctive orange color revealed itself. Butterflies peeled off from the branches, each one opening like a warm kiss before fluttering into the air.

Increasingly, people without formal backgrounds in science are collaborating with scientists to collect data on a scale that scientists alone would be unable to compile. The work of these people in recording the exact time, place and conditions of their butterfly observations is vital to monitoring the health of monarch populations. Tracking these butterflies is one of the longest-standing examples of this kind of teamwork.

Over the period of a year, monarchs produce four to five generations. The last and longest-lasting of them is born between August and October. Unlike their predecessors, which live as butterflies for a mere two to four weeks, these monarchs survive for six to eight months. After staying put over the winter in Mexico or California, they disperse in March or April, spreading far and wide in search of milkweed upon which to lay their eggs, which will morph into caterpillars that become the next generation of butterflies. The final generation in this yearlong cycle will return to the same California coast as their ancestors did. How these butterflies find their place of origin remains a mystery.

Last year’s count in Bolinas had been very low; still, the trees had been festooned with scores of butterfly clumps, in which hundreds of monarchs hung together for warmth and protection. This time, there was just one clump. Later we would learn that the total count of this site in Bolinas, which the previous year tallied 12,360 butterflies, plummeted this winter to just 1,256 monarchs. “This animal story that has been going on for centuries and perhaps thousands of years is disappearing and may be gone” soon, Ms. Monroe told us, her eyes tearing.

The total number of West Coast monarchs was estimated at approximately 4.5 million in the 1980s. In the latest count, that number fell to 28,429, dipping below the number scientists estimate is needed to keep the population going. This drastic decline indicates the migration is collapsing. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to announce in June whether its scientists think the monarch qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

We love butterflies but tally them in transactional and utilitarian terms. We say that losing so many is dangerous because in their life stages from pupa to imago they provide food for creatures higher up the food chain. Fewer butterflies means fewer birds, and we need birds, in part, to help control other insects, like mosquitoes, that carry dangerous diseases. We acknowledge that the biotic world only works by way of the networks that connect each species in a web of life. We must take account of our role in the demise of this species, a consequence of habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides and herbicides, if only to help us understand how to rebuild the population.

We can still muster hope for these butterflies. We can rally against the chemicals we use to kill insects not only in big agricultural operations but also in local backyards. We can create more habitats by gardening with native plants. We can stay keenly attuned to development plans in our communities and insist that they include sustaining habitat for other living things. In partnership with their Ph.D. brethren, citizen scientists can measure efforts against results and amend strategies accordingly. We would not know the extent of the monarch decline without citizen science, and we will continue to need these volunteers if we hope to make a difference for butterflies and other species in trouble.

We ended our day in the yard of one Bolinas resident who relishes the yearly return of monarchs to his tall trees. He was happy to share the love. He explained how mowing his grass at specific times of the year supported the growth of native grasses and flowers, food sources for the overwintering butterflies. “This is a spiritual place,” he told us, “so I have to take care of it.” We sat down on his lawn to watch the sky around us fluttering with wings. The orange cloud shifted this way and that in the sunlight, the very soul of nature, still present.

Mary Ellen Hannibal is the author of “Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction.”

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Rug Weaving 101

In my quest to buy less stuff, recycle the stuff I have, and rekindle the abilities that seem to have been lost to the generations, I decided (following a small flood) that I was going to try to weave a rug. Sure, I could definitely run out to some store and buy a replacement, or (the old me) would have bought one on Amazon. Instead, I decided to put to use a giant piece of wool that I bought (for no particular reason other than that I liked the colour) in Sweden. I’ve been vaguely using it as a decorative blanket for years, so it was time to give it a new life.

I can say, honestly, that the rug looks a lot better in real life than it does in the images, it’s a little wonky and definitely has a hand-made feel, which I love. It’s super thick and warm and is like having a sweater for the floor.

I started by building a loom out of a 1×3″, which I drilled 2 5/8″ holes into and pounded nails every inch. I inserted two 5′ dowels and pulled old acrylic yarn (yellow) between the nails. Boom, I had a loom. I did a test weave using 1″ strips of wool and the result was more like flower petals than the chunky knit-like weave that I wanted. So after some experimentation, I decided to start again and this time used 1/2″ strips which rolled and worked much better. Much more cushion-ey, and more of what I wanted.

After weaving until I ran out of wool, I removed the entire thing from the loom, tied off the ends, and then used a lighter colour wool to weave the end loops together along the long end and bind off the short end. I used some amazing red yarn that I bought at Labour and Wait in London (and has been taking up space for ages), to blanket stitch the binding at the end (and hide a multitude of yellow yarn.) Overall, not bad for an experiment and one I will definitely re-visit again.

The finished rug, installed.

The finished rug with bound edges.

Weaving underway.

Weaving, just getting started.

I decided to start over, because this one was too flat… don’t worry, I’ll re-use it to make another rug.

Making progress and experimenting with sneaking in some extra fabrics.

Getting started with attempt #1, which (as you can see above) I abandoned and started over.

Cutting strips. I started by cutting 1” strips, which were too unruly.

Life without Amazon. The quiescence of a shopper, and early adopter.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a shopper. I like to shop, to find things that are curious and interesting, and that will improve the quality of my every day life.

However, over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion that I have more than I could ever possibly need. I have two bicycles, an entire home office full of all kinds of machinery, every iPhone ever made and nearly every iPad, an extra kitchen full of dishes, pots, and pans and a closet that could clothe a small army. As I do more reading about Döstädning (Swedish Death Cleaning), I recognize that recreational shopping whittles away a nest egg and re-feathers the nest with stuff. The funny thing: anyone walking into my house would say that I’m both a minimalist and well organized, both of which are true. I can’t imagine how other people must feel if I feel like I’m drowning in stuff and most people that I know have way more stuff than I do!

Regardless, the issue is multifaceted: foremost, whittling down the amount of possessions that I have and secondly, shopping responsibly.

For decades, my mantra was that if it didn’t fit in one carload, then I didn’t need it. Those were the days when I moved frequently (college, Boston, grad school, multiple apartments, new jobs, etc.) and the thought of packing, schlepping, and unpacking became less and less tenable and remaining lean and facile was far more desirable. Somewhere along the way, I lost that sensibility, and it seemed to slide into my life around the same time Amazon Prime became a thing.

You can read all about the reasons Amazon Prime is a dreadful idea all across the internet.

For some odd reason, despite my being a militant, David Horowitz-trained and Sy Syms-proud educated consumer, and decades-long Wal*Mart basher, it never occurred to me to think about Amazon. Amazon was convenient, cheap, and magically, things showed up at my door. I bought in hook, line, and sinker for years—to the point where I actually had the Amazon magic buttons all over my house—just push to replenish, and magically a few days later a new supply of whatever I needed magically showed up at my door. UPS deliveries were, for nearly a decade, a daily (and sometimes twice daily) occurrence at my house.

And then abruptly, I stopped.

I was walking down the commercial high-street in my neighborhood that has for the last fifty years been a vibrant strip of mom-and-pop stores and restaurants, and realized that it had escaped my notice that about 60% of the shops were closed. About half of those that remained catered to things I would never have occasion to use: tattoos, vaping shops, cheap cell phones, eyebrow waxing. Where were all the amazing bookshops that I remember so fondly, and the t-shirt shop, and the poster shop, and the kitchen shop, and the little gift shop, and the stationery store, and the little plant shop/florist, and so many others? 

Vibrant neighborhoods like this one where my Dad grew up were once the norm all across this country.

The realization hit me like a ton of bricks (and mortar stores). While I had been lazily shopping online and having things delivered—daily—to my door, my neighborhood and my neighbors who owned businesses in it, had unraveled. And I hadn’t left the house long enough to notice. How could this be? For the past 20 years, I have never set foot in a Wal*Mart, and I go out of my way to educate friends and family about the damage Wal*Mart has done to our economy, our urban fabric, our suburban fabric. How could I have so blindly missed the damage that Amazon is doing… and how much worse the damage is.

I was ashamed, and sorry, because I realize that the economic damage will take years to remedy. While my own city angled for Amazon HQ2, it seemingly escaped us all that Amazon is not only resetting the entire economy, but also eviscerating the neighborhoods in which we live. We likely won’t take full notice (like so many things) until it is too late. All of these observations were reinforced by the evidence presented in the amazing book, Vanishing New York by Jeremiah Moss. The moral of his book: wake up and pay attention, because once it’s gone, it’s too late to lament its passing.

So, I made a solemn and immediate pledge: No more Amazon, I will make a concerted effort to shop at locally-owned shops. My first move was to ditch my Kindle and replace it with a Kobo Reader which allows me to borrow books from a number of local libraries. So far, the results of my life without Amazon are promising, I haven’t purchased a single item on Amazon in over six months, and I’ve met some amazingly interesting people in my neighborhood. The fellow that works at the hardware store knows a lot about replacing screens, and offered me some outstanding advice on how (and when) to replace screens to keep bugs from getting in. My friend John who owns Elmwood Pet Supplies makes deliveries, which makes buying food from him even more convenient than using Amazon. The lady who works at the gift shop, Neo, on the corner made some wonderful suggestions for a wedding gift that I needed to buy, and she wrapped it beautifully. Sunshine + Bluebirds has these amazing wraps that I’ve bought for everyone I know, and they also giftwrap beautifully. I learned that I can buy an organic, locally-raised chicken for my mom for only $4 at Stearns, which means that the only reason I need to stop by Whole Foods (also owned by Amazon) is to steal the packets of Sir Kensigntons Mustard to use in my lunch. (No, I’m not joking.)

So, all in all, I find myself buying less, making more informed buying choices, and doing more for my local economy. So far, a win-win, (except for Amazon). And when Amazon loses, we all gain. Be aware, your choices have consequences, shop wisely.

Un-bullshitting.

Over the past 10 months, I have carefully examined the role of technology and social media in my life. On the balance, I have determined that most social media—Facebook, blogging, commenting on news stories, Snapchat and legions of others—is way too much work and actually denigrates an overall quality of life. I took a long hiatus from writing this blog, because doing so makes me feel vulnerable to crazy and pathetic people that “live” through their existence on the internet, rather than actually existing in “real” life. 

One of many changes.

About a year ago, my father gave me a stack of coupons for Harbor Freight. I had never heard of the store, but apparently, their schtick is giving away merchandise. Each week, the store publishes about a dozen coupons that entice potential customers to come in to the store and grab freebies. Curiously, I took the bait. Standing in a line of about 20 customers, all with the same free merchandise in hand (a multimeter, a small Philips screwdriver set, a package of 2mil drop cloths and a package of zip ties), bored out of my mind, I began to study the fellow standing in line in front of me. He had on a hat from a local school that had his first name embroidered across the side of it.

√ First name 

√ University student or grad, and university name

√ Approximate hight and weight 

He waited patiently, free products in hand, and wallet in the other. His wallet was open, so I could see both his license and Visa debit card.

√ Last name

√ Middle name

√ Home address

√ Bank (and if he had a Visa debit, that meant that his account is likely a checking account at that bank.)

√ Visa card number

√ License Number (and NYS License restriction B, which means that he is a contact lens wearer, because he wasn’t wearing glasses at the time.)

√ Date of Birth

He approached the counter, and the kindly older cashier (who was clearly having some difficulty with the archaic computer) asked him to type his phone number into the keypad on the credit card terminal.

√ Phone Number

That didn’t work, so the cashier asked him his e-mail address.

√ e-mail address

After the cashier entered all of his merchandise, the fellow removed the Visa debit card from his wallet, and swiped it. He chose to pay as debit (as opposed to credit) and I watched him put in his PIN number. I also noticed the work ID card that was in his wallet underneath his Visa debit card.

√ Workplace

√ Occupation

√ PIN for his debit card, and likely the same number used for withdrawing cash at the ATM.

That’s a huge amount of information to garner by a casual observation over the course of about 7 minutes. I didn’t look him up online, but a cursory search online will reveal more information like the names of family members, partners, ex-partners, and neighbors, and their ages. Facebook usernames (which are plainly evident in the web address for each and every Facebook profile), and scads of other data are available through a quick Google search (a company that also captures information about what I’m searching for, how frequently, and draws conclusions about me based on my activity… I’ve switched to Duck Duck Go who pledges not to track you). It’s a scary proposition to know that that information is not only bought and sold by companies like Facebook and other “data aggregators” to compile a comprehensive profile of our consumer behaviors, our propensity to make charitable donations, and our personal habits. I’ve said many times on this blog that we are not the users of social media, we are the commodity product that is used by giant corporations to make more and more money at the expense of our privacy. These same corporations have eviscerated our economy, our communities, and are changing the social fabric of our country and the world. Yes, social media provides a means to stay connected, and that’s a great thing… but at what cost? What good is staying connected if the means of doing so makes us lazy, disassociated consumers of the lives of our family and friends rather than active participants in the vivid tapestry of life that surrounds us. Our reliance on social media is translating into a twisted trope: helicopter parenting our own social lives, insulating ourselves from dissent, debate, and dimension, padding ourselves with simplicity, similarity, and safety. Meanwhile, we’re being stalked and used by corporations collecting data about us as they use our behaviors to manipulate us, destroy the commercial fabric of our cities and towns, and fleece us into believing our lives are “easier” as a result.

After some significant reflection, none of this is something that I want to contribute to.

Life is difficult, disorderly, messy, and complex. Simplicity, convenience, and leisure come at a cost. It’s time for me to stop blindly participating, and start actively engaging.

So, moving forward, you’ll notice a few changes to this blog:

Facebook has been iced. No more commenting through Facebook, no more publishing posts to Facebook. If you’re too lazy to check this blog from time to time, then you probably don’t deserve to read what I write.

Amazon links are no more. As Amazon continues to rot our consumer economy from the inside out, I have taken a 6-month hiatus from Amazon, and I’ve never been happier (look for a separate post about this soon.) 

Privacy is key. Feel free to comment. Remember that what you post in comments is available to the world… all the people that like you, and all the people that you don’t. Moving forward, commenting on this blog requires you to sign up for a WordPress account. I find WordPress and Automattic to be a reasonably responsible company. 

So, if you’re in, you’re in, welcome back. Bookmark this site and check back periodically. You can also subscribe by adding your e-mail address to the little “subscribe” box on the left. We won’t use your e-mail (or even look at it) for anything except to send you a copy of the newest post to this blog. You’ll find some thought-provoking writing, and less bullshit, and if that’s too much work, then it’s been nice having you as a reader.

Live/Work Trailer

I love this story about how this entrepreneurial woman decided to live and operate her store out of her Airstream trailer!

Read the entire article at: http://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/fashion/a12831800/petite-tenue-alexandra-archibald-airstream-interview/

Raze, rebuild, repeat: why Japan knocks down its houses after 30 years

Unlike in other countries, Japanese homes become valueless over time – but as the population shrinks, can its cities finally learn to slow down and refurb?

This fascinating look at Japanese housing type and market examines the lifecycle and recyclability of houses across Japan. Perhaps the most interesting revelation in the article: a Muji home.

Source: Raze, rebuild, repeat: why Japan knocks down its houses after 30 years

How I Learned to Cut Dovetails By Hand  – Core77

When I was in 6th grade, I took a summer activity workshop that focused on a different skill each day. One of the days was focused on wood shop and I made a simple toolbox that my mom still uses. I enjoyed it. I never tried woodworking in any significant way until I was in architecture school, twenty years later.

During the first week of classes, the shopmaster (who was a very kind and pleasant person) gave us a comprehensive “safety training” which consisted of three days of completely freaking me out about using any  tool… ever. The three day “training” culminated in being forced to use a table saw during which the entire session focused on “kickback.” (Kickback, in case you don’t know is when the grain of the wood gets angry at the teeth of the saw and essentially uses the blade as the force to project the wood with insane force away from the blade.) The most freaky thing about the whole experience was the 2×4 sticking out of the wall behind the table saw as a warning to “pay attention” while you were using the saw.

What I learned from the training was that anytime I needed to use any tool beyond a pen or a T-square, that I should wear a black suit and look confused, and that someone would do the work for me. So, while my colleagues were learning to cut dovetail joints and cast molten metal, I struggled to put together a simple wooden box, paranoid that I’d cut a finger off, or crack my skull open with a flying 2×4.

 

I’ve wanted to be able to hand-cut dovetails for years, and I’m proud to say I now can! I recently took “Hand Tools Skills – Mastering Dovetailing,” a four-session class at Tools for Working Wood in Brooklyn. This is a review of that class.

Source: How I Learned to Cut Dovetails By Hand  – Core77