Forest visit March 24, 2019 (again)

This was one of the rainiest years ever in Virginia. Our stream management zones were carrying more water than usual. You see in the first picture how high the water was by looking at the sand and mud that the high water deposited. Interesting thing happens with that mud and sand deposits. They form natural levies. When they flood over the levies, as happens in very rainy times, the water is trapped on the far side and encourages a wet forest.

Other two are SMZs that did not flood so much. Last picture is bare ground that was used as logging deck. I planted some wildflowers in the foreground and crimson clover farther in. I expect it will be verdant and beautiful in a couple months.

Forest visit March 24, 2019

I attended a talk about the need for white oak for bourbon barrels and decided to do my part for the 2050 class of bourbon drinkers by planting one of my patches with white oak. So I ordered some from Virginia Department of Forestry. My trees came a little early, but I wanted to plant them quick as possible, so I went down to the farms.

It was just right time to plant the trees but a little early to see springtime. However, some things are starting to grow. Some of the longleaf have begun to “candle”, i.e. send up new growth. Some of the seedlings the kids planted are also showing the little buttons of new growth. It seems a miracle each spring, but it happens every year.

First picture shows a 2 years old longleaf candling. Next is a seedling starting out. Picture #3 is the open woods we burned last May. #4 is an odd “laying” longleaf. Look closely and you see that the tree has fallen to the ground and started to grow up from there. Last picture is the loblolly planted in 2016. You can see the trees well with the brown grass. Soon, the grass will be green and the trees will blend in.

Still developing a land ethic

Land empty of people is sad and incomplete – A land full of people who overreach and destroy nature is a horror. A land empty of people is sad and incomplete. Walking gently on the earth is essential, but that implies humans are indeed walking there. Harmony, not exclusion, is the valuable and achievable goal. Humans living in harmony with nature is joyful and helps us find meaning in life.

The picture on left shows camas, a native plant with edible roots once very common in moist meadows of the Pacific Northwest. It was an important part of Native American diets and still has great cultural significance.  Natives Americans maintained these plant by regularly burning under the ponderosa pine. When fire was excluded, the brush filled forests almost eradicated camas.  When prescribed fire brought regular light fires back, the camas came back too.

I was in Kalispell, Montana as part of my part-time (WAE) work for State Department. While I did nothing secret, it would be bad form to post on most of the discussions.

But I did have a talk with Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) foresters who met with me not as a State Department official but as a guy just interested in their land ethic and how they managed their forest land. I have been reading and listening to land ethic practitioners for years now, trying to develop a land ethic I can use and share. Of course, it is always a work in progress. Land ethics are written on the land we steward and that is in a perpetual state of becoming.

I wrote some notes and I think they are worth sharing.

Tribal forestry
My plane was leaving a little later in the day, and a couple of tribal foresters were kind enough to explain some of their forest land ethic to me. Well … they admitted that – like most people who work in the woods – they were delighted to talk trees anytime anybody was willing to listen, regretting only that we did not have time to go into the woods together.

They became even more eager when I told them that I had been in the reservation forests a year earlier to study tribal fire practices and admired their superb work with ponderosa pine regeneration. White bark pine has become a challenge because of beetle kill and warmer winters. Besides pine, tribal foresters work with fir, spruce, hemlock and tamarack, as well as understory and herb layers of the forest. Forests are more than just the trees. Unfortunately, timber cutting and fire exclusion in the last century had harmed the health of their forests, making them more susceptible to beetle infestations and disastrous fires. More holistic based forest management will help restore forest health, but this will take years, and, in most ways, it is a never-ending endeavor, as change is constant, which means what we do must adapt.

Land ethic for seven generations
They told me that their land ethic involved managing the forests to the benefit of seven generations of their people and in it general form it resembles the Aldo Leopold inspired land ethic I learned as a young man. Today we might call it adaptive management. It recognizes the complexity of the ecosystem and that we can never know enough to make final decisions. Rather we observe, act, reflect and act again based on the new information and we do this forever. There are not problems to be solved but conditions to be adapted. We agreed that land ethics cannot really be written down, but rather must be lived on the land.

Land empty of people is sad and incomplete
An important factor is their land ethic involved the people integrated into the system. This is much in line with conservationist thinking but is out of step with some preservationist ideals that seek to separate nature from almost all, or in more radical formulations all, human activity. A land where people overreach and destroy natures is obviously bad. But a land empty of people is also sad and undesirable. It is essential to walk gently on the earth, but that implies that humans are indeed walking there. Harmony, not exclusion, is a valuable and achievable goal, and humans living in harmony with nature is joyful.

Thin and burn
This beautiful ponderosa pine forest in the photo is not natural. It is maintained by regular use of fire. Tribal foresters are using a variety of tools, such as thinning and prescribed fire, to restore and maintain the health of their heritage forests. Their plan is to restore the mosaic patterns of open land and forests of various ages. They want to have five age classes of trees, ranging from the new forests to one with very old trees. They understand the different fire and cutting regimes. A ponderosa forest requires regular light fire. A lodgepole pine forest might need stand altering fire or harvest, while spruce and fir burn or are cleared much more rarely.

We spoke most about the ponderosa, since that is most common and requiring fire and thinning. They talked about work they had done with their own forests and trees on the adjoining National Forests. It is part of a good neighbor policy of the Forest Service. They thinned and burned all but a few acres, when a wildfire went through. It passed under the managed forests without causing significant loss, but when the fire got to the overstocked unmanaged forests, it got into the crowns and burned that forest to the ground. The fire got so hot that it sterilized the soils, setting regeneration back decades.

THIS is an unnatural fire.

A land ethic for the generations
The foresters talked a little about tribal history. The Salish and Kootenai are mountain people and their diets consisted of game that could be hunted in the mountains and plants gathered there. This contrasts with some tribes that lived along the rivers and subsisted on salmon. Some of these people were related and trade was brisk, so it was not a straight boundary. The people also hunted bison. They were mobile and left the higher mountains in the fall, to return in the spring. On leaving their mountain camps, they set fire to the woods. These fires burned naturally, most going out soon after, but some persisting until quenched by winter snows. This is what helped produce the open woods and the mosaic pattern. (People unfamiliar with fire in the woods have the impression that a fire goes through evenly, burning everything in the path. This is not how it works. Vagaries in vegetation type, soil moisture, wind direction and just plan random chance mean the fire creates essentially an archipelago of different and diverse patches.)

The practice of setting winter fires mostly stopped when reservation life made seasonal migrations more difficult or impossible and when, during the early and mid-20th Century the expert opinion was that fire was an enemy to be fought and defeated. Prescribed fires today are less extensive but designed to recreate the diverse and varied archipelago environments.

This is not the first time I have been in these forests. Attached in my note from a fire conference last year.

I have included some pictures from the trips. The first two are just scenes.
Picture #3 is from the Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe-Dam, formerly known as Kerr Dam, owned by CSKT tribes since 2015 and managed by Energy Keepers, a tribal firm. It is the first example of a Native American nation in the United States owning a hydroelectric dam. CSKT also operates the local electricity provider, Mission Valley Power.

It is a concrete gravity-arch dam, built in 1938. The dam was designed to generate hydroelectricity but also serves recreational and irrigation uses. We were able to visit the dam powerhouse on the second day of the visit, but snow made it impossible to see the panoramic views of the dam and the lake.

Picture # 4 is a war memorial outside the CSKT tribal headquarters, produced by a local artist. Members of the CSKT have served in honorably and in significant numbers in our nation’s armed forces.

Picture # 5 is from the public town hall meeting in Kalispell.

You need not eat the whole egg to know it is rotten

You need not eat the whole egg to know it is rotten.
Like many Virginia landowners, I get unsolicited offers from firms wanting to exploit my land for solar farms. I throw them in the garbage. I don’t care what they offer. I don’t want it. It’s not my place to tell other forest landowners what to do but let me explain why I feel strongly that we should not do it.

Let me be clear. I support solar on rooftops, powering remote installations & shading sunny parking lots. Our urban areas are full of sunbaked roofs & parking lots. Just don’t take down forests or cover fields with solar panels. This is not clean energy.

Trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees
Responsible private landowners protect the health of the biotic communities – the living soil, water, air and wildlife – that depend on our land. We still use and profit from the land, but we do it wisely and we also must look beyond our own land to the greater ecosystem and the greater society. We should think in terms of the triple bottom line – a decision reasonable for ecology, economy and society?

Considering the big picture, we might argue that devoting our forest land to solar meets the triple bottom line criteria. Here is why it does not. If we harvest a tract, it does not stop being a forest. It becomes a forest in transition, as the next generation begins. It stops being a forest if we convert to other uses, pave it over or cover it in solar panels. But isn’t the energy produced by these panels worth the cost of the local forests? Well … no.

Today’s solution is tomorrow’s problem
No matter what they tell you, these panels will not last decades. How long do ordinary shingles last on your roof? They will be ruined by weather, made obsolete by advancing technology or just neglected. During their short lifetime, it is likely that they will never make up for the ecological value of the trees they replaced, nor the biotic communities that would have grown.

We can tell they are a bad deal because they are not self-supporting.  Solar farms are essentially farming tax breaks and subsidies.  They get this up front, while you rely on the uncertain long-term payback.

Before you let these guys have your land, ask a few practical questions. How long and how much? How often will they be on your land? What happens when they remove the panels? Is the firm reliable AND are they likely to stay in business for the life of the contract? Who is liable if something goes wrong?

Ask if this fits your land ethic
I could think of more, but maybe save time by asking an enabling question. Does this use of land fit my land ethic? My answer is “no,” so I stop right there. You need not eat the whole egg to know it’s rotten.

And take a look at this article.

A simpler and better way to choose students

This is the simple, fair & transparent solution. Determine threshold requirements based on a combination of tests, grades and courses taken. This might produce many more qualified students than places available. Then do a lottery.

There is no such thing as a “whole person” at 18-years-old. Any attempt to be more precise in assessments is silly and invites bias and corruption. Keep it simple and it is harder to cheat.

Almost all kids who want to go to college can go to college today. The problem comes from the artificial scarcity created by the “top” universities. A lottery addresses this. It also makes the kids less crazy competitive and would make them less hierarchical.

Consider that today if a kid is rejected by a university, she feels personally aggrieved, maybe suspects cheating. The lottery would not eliminate the sorrow, but it would mitigate the anger and the hurt.

I feel strongly about this and have articulated it for years in more detailed form. IMO, the big reason we do not eliminate the anxiety in admissions is that too many benefit from it.
One more thing. Consider that those kids that got in through the dishonest procures discussed in the recent scandal evidently did okay in those “competitive” schools. Some have already graduated. What does that say about the emissions process? Beyond the threshold requirements, it is not better than random chance, just more anxiety causing, expensive and opaque.

The Study of Leadership

Who should you trust to write about leadership? Academics generally can write more eloquently and more persuasively than practicing leaders, but can they appreciate it as well? There is no such thing as writing history as it really was. All history is a creation of historians, or the storyteller, who decides what to leave in and what to take out of the story. The historian also imposes a paradigm on the account. The paradigm is not the whole truth. It cannot be. It is a simplification, a model that we can understand.

A good model includes as much detail and nuance as possible w/o becoming so complicated that it is incomprehensible, and a good historian puts events in context that makes them meaningful while keeping to the basic truth. It is a tall order.
I recently finished a couple books with leadership in their titles and cases of leadership as their themes.

“Leadership” by Doris Kearns Goodwin is a classical narrative history by a renowned academic historian. She considers of the leadership challenges of four presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. She knows them well from studying them for her lifetime. She worked briefly with Johnson himself. She is a superbly credentialed historian, with no significant experience as a leader. Stanley McChrystal in some ways is the opposite. He is a trained and experienced leader w/o significant academic credentials. His book, “Leaders: Myth & Reality,” is not as good from the academic point of view. His narratives do not seem to flow as well, and the book could have been edited to about half its length w/o losing meaning. His method is based on the classic historian Plutarch and features paired biographies in categories of geniuses, founders, politicians, reformers, heroes & zealots, and so a broader field than Goodwin’s. He also is more concerned with the environments, constraints, uncertainty and even random chance that leaders face.

McChrystal’s narrative is less concise and focused because he is less skilled at academic writing than Goodwin, but also because he is accounting for more variables and more complex interaction among them. I think this points to a fundamental challenge for those looking to understand leadership. Those that do tend not to write, or at least do not write as convincingly, and those who write do not do.

There are notable exceptions. Churchill, Caesar and Thucydides leap to mind as practitioners who wrote clearly and compellingly, but many of the most influential writers of history and most of the “system builders” like Hegel, Marx, Spengler, Toynbee or more recently Howard Zinn, never led as much as a Johnny detail.

I suppose it is a question of how much we can know and how much we need to know. Many great leaders never studied the “science of leadership” and maybe that is good. Leadership often tends to be situational and maybe the particulars of the circumstances are more important than the general. Stories of great leadership tend to include lots of hindsight insights and myths. Maybe this is okay too. Some of these stories are be inspirational or didactic.

Leopold von Ranke, the “historian’s historian” emphasized that history should be told “the way it happened” and we should not give up rigor, but maybe we need to consider within the limits what can be known about the way it happened and what we have the capacity to understand and use.

Have you participated in any competitions? How did you do?

Have you participated in any competitions? How did you do?
It is not too much to say that swim team was what I cared most about at Bay View HS. It ordered my life.  I was a good natural swimmer and swam varsity my first year. This was unusual.  Not that good. I did not get a major letter my first year.  But I was good enough that I could cherish reasonable aspirations.

The reason I swam varsity was that we had a meet at an eight-lane pool.  That meant the junior varsity (me) got to be in the same pool as the varsity.  I swam 400-Freestyle for the first time. To my surprise and that of everybody else, I came I second.  One of the guys from the other team won the race, but I came in ahead of everybody else, including our two varsity swimmers.   This outcome did not delight my varsity teammates.  Our lead swimmer for the 400-Free was a guy called Rutowski.  He was good looking and extroverted, inordinately proud of his wash-board abs and incredulous that a skinny wimp like me could come in ahead.  The varsity coach, a guy called Czarapata (yes lots of odd names) had never much noticed me.

The consensus was that I was just lucky Swimming is not a sport where luck plays a big role, but every sport, every human activity, has a social dimension.  I stayed on the Junior Varsity for a couple more meets, but as my times were faster than those of the “starters” the coach finally displaced one of them and swam varsity but remained JV. That is why I did not get that major letter.

Rise of the Machine
In all fairness, it was easy to miss me in the crowded practice pool.  I was introverted, so I did not push myself forward. I had a clumsy and thrashing form while swimming.  We did not have swim-offs.  Rather the coaches assigned you to a race based on their judgement of your potential.  My first assignment had been the 100-butterfly.  I never learned to do that stroke well, so I usually came in 4th in a field of four.  I guess I had done so poorly that they stuck me into 400-free, which was not a popular distance.  In the meet mentioned above, I had never swum that fast before over that distance, but I just kept on going because I wanted to keep up with the faster guys.  My teammates gave me the nickname “the machine” because of my persistence.  I was proud of that.

The beauty of not knowing the challenges
My times were improving fast. Since I did not understand math very well and never heard of the law of diminishing returns, I determined that I should get the school record in 400-free.  It was an old record; as I recall from 1953.   I figured I could knock it off within a couple years.  Ignorance is bliss.

This would not happen w/o effort. This I did understand.  So I went to library and got a book called “The Science of Swimming” by a guy called James Counsilman. Coach Czarapata talked about this book.  The coach did not notice me, but I listened to him.  I read the book very carefully and made up a plan that included off-season swimming and weight lifting.   I lifted weights every day for the next three years, taking off only when I was preparing for a meet or seriously ill.  I did endurance even days, 300 reps, and strength on odd days.  It worked.  When I came back to swim practice the next year, I was much more muscular and much faster the first time out.  Coach Czarapata noticed me.

I woulda, coulda, shoulda got the school record that year, but I had a serious problem.  I coughed up blood and the doctor said it was an ulcer. He said I should not do so much as a pushup if I wanted to get better. I think it was a misdiagnosis, since I never had an incident since.  The diagnosis did, however, keep me from joining the Airforce ten years later and stopped me from swimming during the crucial time in my second year.  I recovered after a few weeks, too late to make a good season.  It was the biggest tragedy in my young life, I thought.

I worked out even harder after.  During that summer of 1972, I went swimming every non-raining morning at Kosciuszko Park swimming pool.  It would have been a perfect summer, followed by a winning season, but my mother died.  Now THAT was the biggest tragedy of my young life.  My mother had been very proud of my swimming success.  I thought I should carry on and I did.  Only in hindsight do I see the profound effect that had on me, but that is another story.

The best year ever
The swim season went well, the best Bay View had done for a long time, maybe forever. We won ALL our dual meets that year and I won all my dual meet races, except one, and this is ironic.  We had a meet with Marquette University HS, not one of our usual public-school competitors.  They had a really fast guy in the 200-free and 400-free.  They said I could not beat him, and they were right.  It was in my home pool and I tried hard to get ahead and then just keep up, but he was faster.  So, I was surprised when my teammates seemed happy and congratulated me when I – defeated – pulled myself out of the water.  I beat the Bay View school record, even if this guy now held the pool record.

I never did better.  In the Milwaukee city tournament, I missed my first flip turn and ended up in third place.  I have always referred to that as my “Freudian flip,” since it gave me an excuse to lose.  There was never question about doing well in Wisconsin state meets.  Milwaukee boys never won. We were not good enough.  Kids in the suburbs were on teams since they were little kids.  We started competition when we were in 10th grade. We never caught up.

There is small compensation that my swim record was never bested.  A few years later, the swim competition went to 500-free.  The first person to swim that won the record, but he did not beat me.

Sic transit gloria mundi
My swim team experience was a passing but very important part of my life.  It kept me out of trouble in HS. I was so concerned with my training that I never drank booze, smoked or took drugs.  I became interested in improving my diet and I learned how to set achievable goals. Nothing I learned in HS was as crucial to my future as was the swim team.   I got the record in the 400-free, shared the record in the 400-free relay and was co-captain.  Not too bad. But after a few years, it didn’t really matter if I won or lost.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

A son’s need for his father’s approval
My father was less interested than my mother in my swimming. He thought sports were a little … dumb.  But he did come meets twice.  He came to the city relays and to the city championship.  I like to think he was proud of me, but his comment was interesting.  In the city relays, we swam against Boys’ Tech. They were the perpetual champions, since they literally had twice as many boys as anybody else – a bigger field to choose from.  I was the third leg in the 400-free relay.  We were behind when I jumped in. I caught up and passed the Boys’ Tech swimmer.  Although we lost in the last leg (they had a great guy), for a brief shining moment it looked like somebody would beat Boys’ Tech.  All the other teams were cheering for us.  As I got out of the water, I was mobbed by joyous teammates and members of other teams. I still recall the elation.  When I met my father after the meet, he said simply, “You did okay.  I didn’t know you could swim like that.”