A Couple Days in January

Pictures from some ordinary days.  The winter has been colder than usual for Virginia. We have managed to avoid most of the snow, but what we have is hanging around.

Above – gas prices are going up again. Given the events in Egypt, maybe these prices will look low after a little while.  Below – not a good time for the Red Cross disaster truck.

Below is a welder at a construction site near Balston. 

Below is the top of the building.

Food TOO

They seemed to be going in opposite directions. The report I watched on “Globo Rural” talked about transgenetic crops. Much of the soy produced in Brazil (in the U.S. too, BTY) is genetically modified. The reasons are clear. It is easier to grow. One farmer in the State of Parana explained why he went completely over to genetically modified soy. He could use a lot less fertilizer, almost no herbicides or pesticides and he did not have to run his machines in his fields nearly as much.   

Transgenetic foods are labeled with a “T” in a triangle, so that consumers can recognize them. Evidently some people don’t like them as much and so are willing to pay more for non-T-modified products. Non-T foods are also sold to the EU. People there, no doubt egged on by strong domestic interest groups, want non-T products and are rich enough to pay the higher prices. I am not really sure about that term non-modified, since all the field crops we grow are significantly modified by plant breeding. I chose to use that instead of “natural” since they are also very far from whatever ancestor they had in nature. This leads me to the second article.

The second report on “Jornal Nacional” talked about organically grown food and labels proving that the food on the shelves is organic. 

To some people this means natural, but all that it really means is that the farmer did not use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.AND for the time being “organic” does not include foods genetically modified by specific biotechnological means. This distinction is also important, since almost all the foods we eat are genetically modified.All the apples you eat, for example are from clones.Apples do not breed predictably.The only way to guarantee a red delicious apple is to clone it.Every one of the red delicious apples (or other varieties as well) are the identical tree, genetically). But people who care about labels consider plant breeding a different category.

People favor organics for a variety of reason. Some people think the organic products are better for them.  Others say the organic products taste better. (This could be true, although probably more because organics often are grown by smaller, local operators who can cater to tastes.)  But a big part of the choice is that organics are perceived to be better for the environment. This last is not true. 

Organic farmers tend to be less productive (per unit of labor and land) than those who use a wider variety of techniques. I don’t want to make too big a distinction between organic and non-organic. Much of “non-organic” production, BTW, is very organic.  Dairy farmers, for example, produce and use tons of organic manure and most farmers follow rotations, planting nitrogen fixing legumes, for example, which add nutrients and organic materials to the soils. No farmer uses only synthetic methods. The difference is the organic farmer will not use any synthetic products in addition to organic ones. This makes them less productive, which is why organic products cost more.  But the environmental cost is harder to understand.  Less productivity means that more labor and land must be used to produce the same amounts of food, which means more land must be cultivated, leaving less land in a “wild” state. 

It seems to me that one of the best ways around this dilemma would be transgenetic crops.  As the farmer in Parana said, he chose to plant transgenetic soya because he could use less fertilizer, less herbicide, less pesticide and he needed to use his machines less in the field, i.e. burned less fossil fuel in the cultivation of his crops.   It seems like a win-win to me. 

Transgenetic crops can be very good for the environment since they require less of all the inputs that currently cause concern. Properly deployed, transgenetic crops could solve, or at least address the problem of lower yields for so-called organic crops. Something that produces more, on less land, with fewer inputs of fertilizer, herbicides & pesticides and lets farmers use less fossil fuel should be welcomed, don’t you think? Maybe we should come up with a new category that is environmentally friendly. It could include organic products and transgenetic ones that use fewer of those inputs above.

We can call it trans-genetically- organic. How about this? We call it a Transgenetic- Organic-Operation for food production. The label can be “Food TOO.”

Making it Right

Mudslides in Brazil have killed around 900 people in the last few months. These are not natural disasters. Although the proximate cause is heavy rain, it is the deforestation and the uncontrolled building on steep hillsides that turned weather events into deadly disasters.  Brazilians understand this and have been looking around to other countries that have done better.  The most current example is Australia, which suffered the worst floods in decades with significantly less loss of life.  But Brazilian TV has also gone to New Orleans to assess the successful American response to Hurricane Katrina.

One of the hopeful aspects of the recent Brazilian disasters was the response of Brazilian society.  There were more volunteers to NGOs than could be used and people were lined up to donate blood for the victims. This may seem unremarkable from the American point of view, but this is an evolution in Brazil.
Until recently, Brazilian civil society was relatively weak with a centralizing government taking the predominant lead in most situations. The fact that the government by itself was often not up to the job did not discourage the belief that it should do it all. Like most developing countries, Brazil was thick with laws and rules, but there was often little enthusiasm for following or enforcing many of them.  There was the tacit agreement that the network of rules could not work and finding a way around them (Jeitinho Brasileiro) became a fine art. This had the beneficial effect of keeping things working, but also contributed to lots of trouble.  The uncontrolled building and deforestation that caused the recent disasters, for example, was almost all illegal, but laws could not be enforced.  In some ways, the laws were “too good.”  Their provisions were not executable by actual people in real situations.

What impressed the Brazilian television reporters about New Orleans was not the government’s response, which remains inadequate in many ways. The success in New Orleans is Make it Right, a non-governmental organization spearheaded by actor Brad Pitt.  Make it Right is doing innovative things quicker than any government bureaucracy could manage. Rather than building cookie cutter projects or maybe not really building much of anything at all, as is often the government response, Make it Right is constructing homes that different and unique. They are adapted to the environment, so that when the next flood comes, these homes will survive.   

The lower 9th Ward of New Orleans is becoming a place where homeowners can experiment in new ways of building environmentally sustainable communities, not just individual homes, but whole communities with local vegetable production, rain gardens and open space. The unique thing about all this is that it is not top-down, nor really bottom up. Rather it is a partnership with ideas moving both ways. This is a development to watch.It might seem that I am critical of government because government has “failed” to do what Make it Right is doing. On the contrary, the beauty of the system is a government that allows, enhances and encourages  the efforts of private individuals and groups. The government cannot do these sorts of things and a wise government recognizes that it does not have to. The total society response is what counts; government is only one part of total, sometimes the most important part, often not.

Government contributes in a particularly American way based the choices of the people and on our tax code. For example, I decided to contribute money to Make it Right, and because of the nature of our tax system – i.e. the tax exempt status – government essentially matched part of my contribution. After granting tax-exempt status, no bureaucrat needs decide which charity is worthy. The individual Americans decide with their preference, knowledge and with their own money. This distributed decision-making is a total society response with a role for business, government and individual Americans. Balance is important.

Government doesn’t have to and should not try to do it all. We fallible human beings don’t know what a perfect society would look like, so we can’t empower government to create one. We can create a government that contributes to conditions that help citizens prosper. A good society doesn’t solve all problems; it enables citizens to do the right things & make their own choices. 

I thought “the Way Back” would be just an adventure movie. It was interesting from the adventure point of view, but I thought it was even more interesting from the point of view of politics & heroism.

The main character is a Polish officer captured by the Soviets after they and the Nazis divided the country between them in 1939. The Soviets massacred many Polish officers at place like Katyn forest, so that he escaped alive was an achievement. It was a terrible time in Poland and not very good in the world in general. It sometimes seemed that the world would be divided between totalitarian communist or totalitarian Nazis, with lots of petty tyrants mixed in but not much space left for freedom. In the movie, the communists throw the guy into a Gulag on the usual communist style charges. There are scenes of the brutality. The main character and some others escape and walk all the way across Asia from Siberia to India.

It has been more than twenty years since communist collapsed in Europe and Poland led the way to freedom. The horrors of communism have faded from popular memory. It is almost impossible to believe it really happened at all. Whole populations exterminated, people thrown into camps because of their associations, class origins or just for no real reason at all. The wars of the 20th Century were bloody with industrial strength, which makes it even more astonishing that more people died from the murderous internal oppression of revolutionary socialism, like communism and its cousin Nazism,  than in all the battle associated deaths.  When the world started to wake up from that long nightmare, when the Berlin Wall fell and freedom returned to large parts of the world, our joy at the events allowed us to put aside some of the horrible memory. Few Americans have ever experienced anything even remotely like the horrors of the Soviet Union, but it is important sometimes to recall the carnage and suffering committed in the name of progress toward totalitarian utopias.

We like to think that the human race has grown past this kind of thing. People living in just societies in peaceful times can feel that way. History gets sanitized. But the study of history informs us that it good times represent just pushing back the wilderness, in limited times and geography. The demons still lurk out there and even within. World War I opened the door for lots of them and in many ways Lenin, Hitler, Stalin & Mao were made possible by the monumental disruption in the world order. With the passage of time, some of these events and personalities seem less pernicious; they become stereotypical characters, and their murderous henchmen, like Leon Trotsky or Che Guevara can even acquire a kind of radical chic.  

No matter the other merits of the movie, it helped me remember both the horror and the heroism of those who resisted tyranny and ultimately brought it down and also the dangers of revolutionary change. The mostly peaceful general collapse of communism in Eastern Europe may have made us too optimistic. In a place like Poland, it happened smoothly as power moved to a well-prepared and civilized opposition. Despite the past, there were no significant reprisals. As I write this, we are witnessing potential revolutions in the Middle East. I don’t know the details and I certainly cannot predict the future. But I am afraid that behind the revolutions there, there is no Geremek, Onyszkiewicz, Mazowiecki or Wałęsa. I am not sure what the historical analogy will be. When the Iranians knocked down the Shah, worse and more persistent tyranny followed. Just knocking down tyranny is not enough. Some will be there to pick up the pieces. Good does not always get there first with the most. The good people are not always the best organized and the violence, exhilaration and power associated with revolution can corrupt even the best people.

There is no solution to this or a formula that will work all the time. In the times of wrenching change, a lot depends on personalities and luck. Would our post-revolution been so successful w/o men like George Washington?  If the Germans had not “imported” Lenin back into Russia, might their revolution been more moderate and less horrible?  The farther we get from events, the more they seem to have been destined to unfold as they did, but nothing is determined.

Returning to the prosaic, “the Way Back” is a good movie, worth going to see. You can enjoy it as an adventure film and a tale of adversity & triumph and if it makes you think, so much the better.  Colin Ferrell does a great job of playing a murderously dangerous and dumb but somehow likable man.  Ed Harris always does a good job. And Jim Stugess, who plays the Polish officer in the main role, portrays an honorable and determined man in an almost impossibly challenging position. See the movie.

Shoes on the Other Feet

I remember going up to the Vale dos Sinos with George Lannon, the Consul in Porto Alegre.  Our mission was to talk to Brazilian shoe makers there.  There was a trade dispute back then. Brazilian shoe makers, many located in the Vale dos Sinos near Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul, were producing inexpensive, good quality shoes that were beating the domestic producers in the American market. This was more than twenty-five years ago.
I recall hearing the competition talking about the various “unfair” advantages the Brazilian shoemakers enjoyed.  They were close to inexpensive sources of quality leather, because of all the cattle raised in the region; they had the advantages of cheap labor and a low exchange rate; some people complained that labor conditions were oppressive.  (At the factories, BTW, we found working conditions were good.  It reminded me of Germany in many ways, since many of the people there were of German descent and they seem to run their businesses on that model.)  On top of all that, they made good shoes  because the firms were well managed and the workers skilled.  They studied and brought back skills from the premier leather processors in northern Italy.  I really had to respect their initiative and follow through.

Times change. I understand that. Nevertheless, I was surprised to learn that many of those thriving factories were closed or suffering mightily, not only Rio Grande do Sul, but all over the Brazilian leather industry. They could not compete with the cheap imports from China.  Brazil tried to protect its leather industry, but the Chinese figured out ways around the barriers and their price advantage was just too overwhelming.  Nobody has a permanent advantage and the apparently monumental Brazilian advantages evaporated in the last quarter century.  The Brazilian shoe makers complain that the Chinese have unfair advantages. They have access to cheap leather, a low exchange rate and labor that works under oppressive conditions. They might be right about some of these things, especially about the exchange rate, which the Chinese keep artificially low, but it doesn’t change the outcomes.

When American firms were faced with competition from cheaper products, one of the responses was to move to higher value added products.  Some of the Brazilian firms are doing that too. A report on Brazilian TV explains how Brazilian firms are making very high quality, customized products.  

Ironically, many of their most expensive shoes are aimed at the Chinese market. They evidently found a niche there among rich Chinese, who are willing to pay high prices and are impressed by the outward signs of quality as well as the snob appeal of having something expensive and custom made. 

People who study these things call them “positional goods” and refer to things that are valued less for their qualities than for their exclusivity. A rich person can only eat so much, drink so much or wear so many sets of clothes. In our modern world, even relatively poor people can partake in the luxuries once the exclusive domain of the rich. It makes it harder for the rich to express their status. The availability of tangible goods can expand. Everybody, or almost everybody, can have a refrigerator, good shoes or clothes of decent quality, but relative status is limited.  Status seeking rich guys look for things that are limited.   Returning to the example above, everybody can have good shoes these days, but the exclusive, handmade shoes are rare and so status enhancing for those who care about those things.   Thorstein Veblen wrote about this a century ago when he coined the term conspicuous consumption in his “Theory of the Leisure Class.”

For the time being, this redounds to the benefit of the Brazilian shoe makers.  The Chinese keep their currency artificially low against the Brazilian Real (against the dollar too, but that is another story), which makes Brazilian goods more expensive in China than they would otherwise be. But in the case of conspicuous consumption goods, price doesn’t matter.  In fact, the higher price, which keeps poorer people from owning the goods of desire, may actually heighten their attractiveness.  So the shoemakers get benefits from the high price they can charge enhanced by their overvalued currency, when they collect even more money from the Chinese fat-cats. 

Nevertheless, they should not rely on this situation lasting forever.

I have been following business stories for more than twenty-five years. I read about the decline and fall, and sometimes about the rebound and success.  Today’s hero may turn into tomorrow’s dog, as good times are followed by bad ones. But wait, you might make a comeback. Continued success depends on continuous adaption. The game is never over; there is no finish line. This is bad news when you are on top, but encouraging if you are not.  Veblen has an insight about this too. He talked about the advantage of borrowing and the penalty of taking the lead.  When you develop something that works, others can copy what works, leave behind the mistakes & then innovate some more. The Brazilian leather workers did this a quarter of a century ago, when they learned the best techniques from places like Italy & the U.S.  The Chinese did it after that. Everybody can do it, but we need to pay attention and be open to change.

Snow Days in 2011

We got our first heavy snow, with emphasis on heavy – as in wet and dense. It created no trouble for me with the Metro, but today I heard lots of stories of woe about people stuck in traffic for hours. Some were stranded in town and had to go to hotels. The snow landed on us almost exactly at rush hour, which I suppose explains the problem.

The government had a two hour delay this morning, but things were mostly clear and during the day a lot of it melted off.Above is the Metro arriving. Below is Thomas Street in Arlington

Below shows the remnants of snow on the FSI fence.

Right Choices

We have been watching Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Theater. I usually don’t watch those soap-opera type programs about rich folks, but this one I like.  I think it handles the class system in an interesting way, a way that is not so common today.

Our usual handling of the social arrangements of any earlier time is to project our own values back onto them and criticize.  Most modern treatments pick villains and heroes.  The villains are the people in charge and they are villains because they are actively oppressing the plucky poor or the non-conformists, who are the heroes, of course.  It is an analysis along one dimension and allows both the viewers and the writers to lazily slouch into the familiar and well-worn rut.  

I am not old enough to recall events of 1912, but from what I read in history and literature of the period, I am fairly certain that it was not that simple. Downton Abbey gives us a more complete tapestry.  People live in the class system. Some like it more than others, but they live in a web of privileges and responsibilities. The servants feel pride in what they do and don’t want to lose their work.  People behave with grace and good manners. Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, is the boss of the estate, but he is as much a servant of the estate as its master.  This is what I like about the character. He takes very seriously the responsibility of maintaining the estate, sees himself as a steward of the place, not its owner.  He would understand the saying that he didn’t inherit the place from his ancestors as much as hold it in trust for future generations. The estate is “entailed” which means that it cannot be divided and must be passed along intact to a male heir. This creates a problem, since the Earl has only daughters. His heir is a cousin, Matthew Crawley. He is brought to the estate, but is unenthusiastic about inheriting and taking on the responsibilities.  By the third episode, which is that last one I saw, he is starting to appreciate his responsibilities. Meanwhile there are a lot of other things going on among the personalities.  Of course, there is the old dowager who defends class privilege. She is an old battleax but not completely unlikable.  There is a rivalry developing with the Cousin Matthew’s mother. The rich girls are sometimes nasty. There are a couple of malcontents among the staff, but they are not portrayed in a heroic light. The coolest guy is the Irish chauffeur, who claims he is a socialist but not a revolutionary, but so far he has a small part.  Anyway, I look forward to the next episodes.

Re another story of class and responsibility, last week I went to see “the King’s Speech.” It is easy to find reviews about it, so I don’t need to summarize it. I recommend you read about it and go to see it. It is about King George VI, who had a stutter. A king has to make speeches and so he went to an eccentric speech therapist to help him overcome his problem. He had to make the most important speech of his life to rally the British Empire during World War II. What I liked about this movie was how it emphasized work, duty and earned success.  

Earned success. Some people would scoff at that. He was king and inherited his position. This is true. But I think it has to do with playing the proper role, as I mentioned above re Robert Crawley. He played the hand that he was dealt. The key is how well – or poorly – he played it.

I am no believer in the class system and I firmly believe that individuals should earn what they get. People today have many more choices about the roles they will play in society, but I do recognize the need and honor to play well whatever roles you end up getting.

One of the people in my life who I most respected was our Bogdan, our driver in Krakow. He didn’t have a lot of education & he did a job that many would consider low-level. But Bogdan had natural dignity & integrity. He took great pride in doing what he did. After we got to know each other, he used to give me advice about people and places. In his 25+years driving around southern Poland talking to my predecessors, meeting people and often sitting near meetings, he had learned a lot of things that were practically useful. I remember one university dean telling me that he had been visited by five U.S. consuls over the course of his career, but always that same driver. Most importantly, Bogdan told me the truth. He told me when my Polish was good, and when it wasn’t, told me when I needed to improve my mood or my attitude.

So is it better to have more or fewer choices? Like everything else in life, it depends; it is not all of one thing or the other. Maybe in the past we had too few choices and too little emphasis individual options. But today, IMO, we talk way too much about rights and not enough about duty. You cannot sustain one w/o the other. I liked the old Stoic idea that contentment depends on identifying and doing the right thing. This may not be the fun thing or the most expedient one, but in the long run it will bring the greatest happiness. My favorite metaphor is forestry. I can make a lot of choices, but all of them are constrained by environmental conditions and subject to random chance. There is no single correct choice, but some choices are much better than others & some choices are just plain wrong. Success depends on making good choices and following through with them, but even the best choices do not guarantee perfect results. That’s life.

Maybe happiness means finding the place you best belong, liking what you do there -being good at it -and knowing that all your choices are both free and constrained. 

The picture up top is Chrissy. It is not related to the story, but she looks good.

January Forestry Visit

Let me finish off my pictures from my forest visit. I went to both the tree farms. Let me caveat that this is the least attractive time of the year to visit, but also the most revealing because all the summer vegetation is gone and the stalks are as far down as they will ever be. I saw some ice-storm-wind damage at the CP tract. I didn’t take any pictures. I think that most of the trees will recover. Few are broken; a few are bent or leaning. The water is all running very clean. The boys and I laid some rip-rap last year and that succeeded in stopping erosion on the first little stream.

More about forestry is at this link

I like the stream management zones because they have big trees. They are mixed woods, with lots of big beech trees, as well as all sorts of oaks and tulip trees. There is lots of holly in the understory. Above is a picture of the SMZ where the road crosses taken with my new panoramic camera feature. Below is another beech showing the scares of a fire many years ago. Beech have thin bark, so it must not have been too hot a fir. The SMZs are moist, so maybe the fire couldn’t take hold.This tree is at the edge of the SMZ, so what I have not figured out is why the fire scar is facing TOWARD the moister ground and water of the SMZ.

Below shows the roots of another beech reaching down the hill at the SMZ.  It doesn’t have any significance. I just thought it was an interesting picture.  That tree is only a few yards from the fire scare tree, but it I couldn’t find any evidence that one burned. Maybe it all healed over. Eventually, the evidence gets covered. The rough bark probably hides some of that. As a city boy, I notice something else strange about my beech trees.  They don’t have initials carved into them. Beech bark is very soft and in any urban park they are covered with marks from generations of kids.

Below are rocks on the Freeman tract. We are not far from the Vulcan Quarry and I have a lot of boulders on this property. The rocks are attractive.  They demonstrate again the truth that value depends on location. I see boulders over at the garden center that cost hundreds of dollars.  My problem is that I cannot move these things with any reasonable amount of effort. 

The bottom picture is one of the loading decks used for the recent harvest. They did a good job of protecting the soil.  It is hard to see, but it is not packed down. This spring, the vegetation will grow profusely, creating great forest edge and bobwhite quail habitat. I will take another picture in June. It will be very different.

Maids no more

Brazil is changing rapidly, as old habits and institution disappear or are altered beyond recognition.  One of the mainstays of Brazilian “middle class” life has been cheap domestic help. It was not only the very rich who had maids, gardeners and other sorts of helpers around the house.  People with incomes similar to those of an American family of around or just a little above our median income could afford household help.  The reason for this was abundant cheap labor resulting from a fairly deep chasm between what we would recognize as middle class and what we would see as real poverty.

Most Brazilians have become better off in the last twenty years.  Although the income distribution per se has not changed much (the rich got richer too and Brazil is still an unequal place), the general increase in wealth has disproportionately helped the poorer Brazilians.  Relative wealth matters, but absolute wealth matters more when you are trying to climb out of poverty.   A rich person whose income doubles might be able to buy a nicer car of a bigger refrigerator, but he already owns those things and the additional utility he gets from a better model may be small or even trivial.   The poor person, however, who for the first time gets into the income bracket that he can afford his first car or his first refrigerator feels a quantum leap in his lifestyle.  In the last couple decades, perhaps 50 million Brazilians have climbed past the threshold where they can afford the basic comfort level.

There are also generally better opportunities and people are better able to take advantage of them, as well as few people to do the work.  These three factors interplay.  A big source of domestic help and unskilled labor in general had been the rural areas, especially in the chronically poor regions of the Northeast. Nordestinos , often living on marginally productive small farms, took buses to the cities in the richer South or Southeast whenever life became unbearable or a drought hit the region. Both these things happened with monotonous regularity, but the high birthrates seems to ensure an unbroken supply of very poor people seeking a better return on their hard work. 

People used to talk about the two Brazils. One scholar characterized the country as “Belindia”, i.e. part was rich as Belgium and the other as poor as India, but there was no border between them and the richer cities of other parts of the country. It would be as if the poorer parts of Mexico or India were part of the United States. This was not strictly a geographic phenomenon. The rich and the poor in Brazil often live very close together, but there was a definite geographical aspect too. 

The Northeast is still poor, parts are developing rapidly, actually drawing in labor from other places .  If you bought a Ford Fiesta last year, it was probably made near Salvador, Bahia, part of what used to be an abysmally poor region.   There are lots of people ready, willing and able to work if there is a chance to do it. At the same time, population growth is slowing even among the poorest Brazilians.  Demographic inertia will carry the population higher, but the drivers have stopped.  Among those smaller numbers, illiteracy has dropped, meaning that people can take advantages of more of the available opportunities.   Domestic help doesn’t really need to read.  Most other jobs do. Illiterate or semi-literate people are stuck in the jobs that are going nowhere but the kitchen or the garden.  

It is a healthy sign that it is getting harder to get good domestic help.  Live-in maids are not very productive for the society as a whole.  But their sudden disappearance has created some problems.   A world with full-time maids does not invest much in labor saving devices.  Most American homes, even those of the “poor” have appliances such as dishwashers, microwave ovens and efficient washing machines and driers.  Americans with lawns own power lawnmowers.  People have power tools  and most Americans are accustomed to using them.  There is also something we often overlook.  

Things in the U.S. are simple to use and keep in good repair.   Our shirts don’t require ironing.  Our floors are naturally shinny and don’t need to be waxed much or at all.  Frozen food sections are full of fairly good tasting products that can be zapped in the microwave and ready in minutes. In short, an average American home comes equipped with machines and features that take the place of full-time household help.   Brazilian houses are not like this.  My house in Brasília, which is obviously built for a person richer than I am, did not come equipped with a dishwasher.  I don’t think you can even find a newer house at or above the median price that doesn’t have a dishwasher.

There is a sudden boom in household appliances.  Dishwashers, driers, microwaves etc are selling very well.  I have not actually studied this, but I bet there is also a trend toward simpler construction, more prefab and easier to maintain features.

A recent article re this subject (in Portuguese) is here.

I also noticed more ads about cleaning services.  It looks like the future here will be more like the present in the U.S., with most of the maid’s work done by labor saving devices and people who can afford it hiring cleaning services once a week or for special occasions.   

A related phenomenon is illegal immigration.  As Brazil’s economy grows and Brazilians no longer want to do the dirty jobs, others are being drawn in to take them.  It is funny to see Brazilian attitudes toward illegal immigrants coming to resemble ours in the U.S.  The news has recently featured stories about Haitians.  They come on a roundabout route  through Peru.

A Great Forestry Job

I visited the farm to check on the thinning. You can see the plan at this link. Frank Meyer and Gasburg Timber did a great job. If this sounds like an endorsement, it is. You can see Gasburg loggers in action (on a different tract) at the links here and here. You can see for yourself from the pictures.  They left healthy trees w/o signs of damage from the machines or activities.  You won’t be able to see how they took care of the soils at the loading decks and used the slash to cushion the weight of the machines in the stands of trees. The picture above shows the “lightly thinned” trees, leaving a basal area of 100. Below is the stand from the front gate.

below is a heavier thinning, down to 80 basal area. A little more than half the total trees were removed. With the 100 BA it is a little less than half. I like the park-like appearance. It reminds me of the ponderosa pine out west. And for the first time I was able to walk through the woods in relative comfort. But this is humid loblolly Virginia, not dry SW ponderosa pine forests. The openness won’t last. When the sun hits the ground, the brush will grow thick. By June, there will be chest high green and probably prickly. Good for the wildlife (the quail will love the overgrown corridors); hard on the guy (i.e. me) walking through. 

Below is the 80 BA from the road. You can see my truck on the top of the hill, for comparison.  These trees were planted in 1996, so they have been there for 14 years and are 15 years old. 

The thinning will allow the trees to grow a lot faster. They were just about reaching the point where they would compete too much with each other for light, water and nutrients. Now there will be enough of everything. The decaying slash will provide nutrients for the next couple years. After that, when the canopy closes again, I will do a burn of the undergrowth and then apply biosolids. Everything in the appropriate time. Feed the trees when they need it and can use it best. There would not be much use doing those things now. I would be afraid to burn with all that slash and if we apply biosolids before the trees can shade out out the brush, biosolids will just make it grow that much faster. I have nothing against brush, but I am not in the brush business.

Below shows the stumps from the thinning. Below that shows one of the stumps with my foot for comparison. Notice from the rings that the tree grew consistently fast, but this was probably the last year it would do that before the competition set in. All the trees would grow slower and within a few more years, some of them die, doing no good for anybody and creating both fire hazards and an invitation to pests, like southern pine beetles. 

It is hard to tell, because they are well camouflaged, but below are wild turkeys. I couldn’t get a great picture because they fly off when they see you. I don’t have the patience or skill to do active good wildlife photography. I like to take pictures of trees. They don’t spook or move. Turkeys have good color vision. I was wearing my red coat, so they could see me a long way away. There were at least ten of them.

I went to the other forest too and have some pictures and comments from that one. I will write some more tomorrow.