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The saints of the ditches

also posted at Truth & Progress

(apologies to Casey Neill)

(Ammiq wetland, also at bottom – photos reproduced with permission of A Rocha.)

I began looking into the subject of this essay almost a year ago and it is still mostly unfinished just as it was then, crucial research not yet done and important questions not answered. Like everything else this little project was interrupted by personal tragedy, the sudden unexpected death of my dearest friend of some 30 years, and the aftermath. But somehow it seems appropriate now.

As a child I was regularly shooed off to Sunday school at the only church in our tiny little town. Probably just to get rid of me for a while, but maybe also in some vague hope that it would improve my behavior. As far as I know, neither of my parents ever set foot in the place.

It was a pretty gentle Christianity, heavy on parables and light on hellfire. The texts didn’t really take in my case, not in the intended sense of conversion anyway. But something else eventually did.

Two teachers in particular left an impression that would take me many years to understand and to appreciate. A husband and wife team. They recited and exhorted. They produced little plays and arranged trips to church camps in the mountains and on the coast and served as chaperones. And paid themselves for the kids who couldn’t afford the minimal expenses involved. In the wintertime, they found ways to distribute food to families that had fallen on hard times without embarassing them.

They once organized a cleanup campaign. Not for the church grounds; someone was paid to do that. For the rest of the town. I wound up on ditch detail, removing the beer bottles and assorted trash from the old mill ditch that ran through town. In the old days, it was the water source for fire trucks equipped with pumps. Now, it was a trash collector, but one full of tadpoles, wild iris, and crawdads that grew to enormous size in the absence of predator fish.

Do this because you know it is right.

Your reward is in heaven. Ask for no other.

Looking back years later, I saw the great and essential gift they had really given me: a living example of the difference one person of pure intention could make in the life of others and in the community at large. I came to think of my unwitting secular heroes as the Saints of the ditch.

on the beach

(right, Mona Khalil and friend)

Throughout their 150 million years on earth, life has never been easy for individual sea turtles. Perhaps one in every couple thousand survived to breeding age. There have always been the hazards of predators, disease, and unlucky weather – the drivers of evolution, the producers, if you will, of the species we see now.

Recently the odds have gotten considerably worse. Abrupt, radical change in the environment has overwhelmed even the miraculous adaptive potential latent in the genome.

  Worldwide, sea turtle populations are crashing thanks to drift nets, (illegal) intentional as well as accidental long line fishing, the loss of sea grass beds to pollution and other anthropegenic factors, loss of suitable nesting habitat to beachfront development, and simple overexploitation as a food resource.

Global warming threatens to exacerbate the problems of disappearing habitat and food, and may deliver a killing blow directly. Sea turtles’ gender is not fixed genetically but determined by the temperature of the eggs.Their reproductive cycle is also extemely vulnerable to rising temperatures.

Everyone has to live somewhere. But the turtle populations driven by thousands of years of instinct to nest on the southern coast of Lebanon would seem to have drawn an awfully unlucky hand.

FWS: ten years left for American red knot

Last month the USFWS released in advance its massive obituary for one of the most-studied birds in the world: Status of the Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa) in the Western Hemisphere

Warning! This is a 287-page pdf. That is not as offputting as it might seem, since much is supporting material, 18 pages of citations for instance, and 25 pages of habitat maps. It is also lavishly illustrated.

For the impatient reader, the actual status of the bird is baldly stated in the first paragraph of the Executive Summary:

The population of the rufa subspecies of the red knot Calidris canutus, which breeds in the central Canadian arctic and mainly winters in Tierra del Fuego, has declined dramatically over the past twenty years. Previously estimated at 100,000-150,000 . . . .

. . . . Counts show that the main Tierra del Fuego wintering population dropped from 67,546 in 1985 to 51,255 in 2000, 29,271 in 2002, 31,568 in 2004, but only 17,653 in 2005 and 17,211 in 2006.

In other words, with allowances for imperfections of methodology, in 2000 the bird’s numbers had declined to one third of historically normal levels, and by 2006 to something like one ninth of those levels. 89% wiped out. That is why most conservation groups predict it really has five years left or less. What is remarkable is that the FWs has finally recognized the severity of the situation. Not that they plan to do anything about it, mind you.

Here’s what I don’t get

That is a line I constantly have to squelch. Most recently it threatens to erupt in a diary I may or may not finish about a little beef I have with the US Fish & Wildlife Service as exemplified in a recent report of theirs.

But it happens all the time. Pretty much nonstop. Think Andy Rooney on 60 minutes. Some things just incredibly irritating, and some I really don’t understand at all.

Maybe a regular feature? I feel this way at least once a week about something or other. Surely others do as well.

And here’s another thing: maybe a “new resources column” about the new or newly discovered. Like, the new green youtube-type clearinghouse.

Maybe best left to be irregular columns. I kind of like the idea of a branded feature that has no schedule.

Do you get it?

melvin’s statement of intent re: Docudharma

The dirty hippies at Lawrence Livermore tell me that global warming is costing us now, and in the past few years, $5 billion annually in lost production of cereal grains alone.

Consider: esteemed public research institutions are tallying and analyzing the losses, monetary and otherwise, that have already been caused by global warming, and we still have idiots in the Senate that deny its reality.

Politics be damned for the sideshow and fool’s game that it is. Reality is elsewhere.

Thirty, fifty years after it emerged as an issue in scientific discourse, global warming has finally made it into public awareness.

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