Originality is overrated

Thoughts based on this article for New York Times  – The Accidental Plagiarist in All of Us

I am proud to admit it. I never had an original idea. That is what education is all about. You tap into the great ideas others have expressed earlier or better.
This is an interesting article, but I think the premise is wrong. The author supposes you COULD have an original idea. You cannot. All new ideas are mixes of older ones. We call them new to the extent that the mix is different from ones we heard before.
Ideas are like viruses. They have no living existence outside their human hosts and each host has some variation of the symptoms depending on the host-idea-cultural interaction. They are always changing and developing.
It is a persistent and pernicious myth that creative people develop ideas by themselves. It is the old picture of wise individuals in quiet contemplation figuring things out. In reality, the most creative people are connected to others.They promiscuously appropriate the ideas around them and alter them to fit different circumstances and requirements. That is a big reason why it is so hard to determine who “invented” or “originated” a great idea.
So stealing, appropriating, plagiarizing ideas is unavoidable and often unconscious, as the article mentions. And it is usually good, should be encouraged. I understand that we have to parse the terms when money or credit is involved, but in all other cases we should just be proud that someone was able to use our raw materials to produce something beautiful and useful.
I recently read an essay about the ancient Greeks, possibly the most creative people ever. The essay’s author did not think so. He wrote that all the innovations credited to the Greeks had their roots elsewhere and he was probably correct, but he missed the point. The difference between the work of a master chef and a terrible cook is not the ingredients or even the recipes. It is in how they are put together. And yes, I am sure I have stolen that metaphor, but I don’t care. Creative people are smart enough to recognize and appropriate value.
The great thing about ideas is that they are not like physical goods. If you use my idea, I can still keep it too. Or to steal from Thomas Jefferson directly, “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

Clear cutting

We thinned 86 acres in 2010/11. We did our first clear cut harvest last year (June 2015). Some people hate clear cutting and it certainly is not appropriate everywhere. But if you want to grow pine trees, clear cutting is the only option. The little trees will not grow in the shade of the bigger ones, I have explained and illustrated below.

You need to look at clear cutting in both place and time. A clear cut forest is STILL a forest. It is in transition. We need old growth forests, young forests and middle aged ones. Each provides a particular sort of ecology.

My pictures show the land that we clear cut 14 months ago. You see how fast vegetation has grown it. It is now a wonderful place for wildlife. It is full of deer, rabbits, quail and our neighbors have seen a few bear. I am unenthusiastic about the bear. This part of the forest transition is very productive.

We planted around 20,000 seedlings in April, but the trees in the background are supplying even more. We will need to thin back. The land will be covered with trees in a few years. The last picture shows trees that are about thirty years old. This piece of land has been clear cut harvested three times according to my neighbor who is about my age and has seen three harvests.

Stream management zones

Best forestry practices tell us to protect the water of Virginia by not cutting timber within stream management zones. We give at least 50 feet, usually more. Where several streams come together this can be a fair amount of land. Our Diamond Grove farm, for example, is 178 acres. Of that 68 acres are in SMZ. For my Milwaukee friends and relatives, the comparison is Humboldt Park, which is 70 acres, or the area of about 61 football fields, not a small amount of space.

These pictures are from the Freeman farm. It is interesting because you can see the natural succession. The big trees are planted loblolly pine. They are probably 50-70 years old. Somebody planted them, probably with the intention of harvesting, but never did. The pines are the biggest trees, but notice that there are no little pines. They will not grow in the shade of their parents. This SMZ is transforming into a hardwood forest. Eventually, in this part of Virginia, it will be a forest dominated by beech and maples, with understories of things like holly & hornbeams. But it takes time for these things to arrive. The loblolly will live a few more decades and form I kind of nursery for the hardwoods. Absent disturbance, the hardwood will soon be established. Well … soon in the ecological sense, maybe around 2050. The first and second photos just show the SMZ. It is becoming a deep forest. Picture #3 is flower I thought looked nice. Picture #4 shows the big loblolly looking up the last picture shows that these trees were planted. You can still see the rows.

August 23, 2016 forest visit

Took advantage of the nice weather to go down to the farms and spent most of my time clearing brush and pulling down vines.
We are planning on burning under the longleaf pine in January. Longleaf are fire dependent. My pictures show the longleaf pine planted in 2012. You can see that the brush and grass is getting high, but the pines are getting up there too. The longleaf is a very rich ecosystem because it combines grass and forbs with trees, all moderated by fire.
My pines have grown remarkably. You can see the pines today. They are many sizes but the smallest are about my height. The first picture of me with the pine tree was taken on April 18, 2015. That was the biggest one at that time. The other one was taken last month. Note that the pine changes but I stay the same.


Big trees in Williamsburg

There are lots of big trees in Williamsburg, more than you would probably find in a similar area of a natural forest. People protect these trees. In my first picture, you can see the cable of a lightning rod that protects the large sycamore from lighting. My shadow in included to show reference.

There are also lots of very large catalpa trees around town. Catalpa is widely planted around the U.S. but is not native to Virginia, so strictly speaking this is not an authentic Williamsburg tree. But it grows very well. My other pictures show a live oak and some sycamores.

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg gives an idea of life in Virginia a few centuries ago. It is a pleasant place with lots of period buildings and big trees. But it is more pleasant in our modern contemplation than it was to live in those times.

The English were not prepared for Virginia. It was deadly to many of them and you can understand why. We live in a tamed Virginia today. Back in those days, there were all sorts of dangers ranging from unusual diseases, to very hot and humid weather to hostile natives. We do not really live in nature as they had to do.

They built as they did in England. You can see examples in the photos. These houses are adapted England’s generally cool wet climate. In pre-airconditioned Virginia, these neat, buttoned-up houses must have been stifling. Of course, people spent a lot of time outside.

Busch Gardens

Went to Busch Garden with the whole family and rode of the various roller coasters. The new one – Tempesto – is fun, but Apollo’s Chariot remains my favorite. It was a very hot, but fun day.

The best thing about Busch Gardens is not the rides, but the grounds. It is a pretty place, very well-planned. It is a good place to test out and see urban planning and crowd management.

The park is 383 acres, with villages themed to England, France, Germany, Italy, Scotland and Ireland. 383 acres is not that big and the villages are very close to each other. But they do a good job of making them seem separated and distinct. They are separated by bridges or arches, which create transitions. It would be good if we deployed these techniques more often in our non-theme part communities.

There is a good classic on this subject called “A Pattern Language.” (https://www.amazon.com/Pattern-Language-Build…/…/ref=sr_1_1…) The authors studied patterns of landscape and architecture and discovered ones that people of a variety of cultures find pleasing. People tend to like things like winding paths. transition zones and clusters. This makes intuitive sense and the patterns tend to be present in our most beloved places, usually the ones that grew organically over generations. We can use these patterns in our plans and subdivisions.
Theme parks are good places to test some of these ideas.

American traditions: National Guard & Post Office

Alex and I went downtown to see the Postal Museum and the National Guard Monument nearby. Both near Union Station.
The exhibits at both were good, but better was that they provoked some thoughts about America and how we built our country. Both the Post Office and the National Guard have deep roots and were essential to making American what it became. Both go back to the beginning.

Virginia National Guard
The National Guard is obvious. It is the descendant of the famous Minute Men and the tradition of citizen soldiers has been tightly entwined with the American character from before the Revolution to today. Serving as a citizen soldier is both a duty and a right of an American citizen. These are the guys who extended and protected our frontiers.
And they fought in all our major wars. Alex’s unit – 116th Infantry Regiment from the 29th Infantry Division from Maryland, DC and Virginia – landed on Omaha Beech on D-Day. A Company from Bedford, Virginia proportionally had the highest D-Day losses. More recently, the Virginia Guard has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, Alex recently returned from his deployment in Qatar.
The Post Office
Like the National Guard, the Post Office predates the American Revolution. Ben Franklin was a postmaster.
The Federal footprint was small in the early republic and the Post Office was often the part of Union average citizens saw most often. The letters people wrote helped bind our nation together and the letter immigrants wrote back to friends and family in the old country brought in more waves of immigrants.
It is easy to forget how important connection through the post were before our age of easy communications. Divided by time and distance, people were bound in epistolary relationships. These could be as dense and were often deeper than those we enjoy today. People took time to compose their thoughts and share them. Much of our historical writing is based on letters. Letters between John & Abigail Adams, or between John Adams & Thomas Jefferson are worthy of being called literature.

W/o a reasonably effective Post Office, American would never have developed into the great country we are today. Today it is fashionable to ridicule the Post Office. “Going postal” is a way of describing crazy. This is likely unfair today and it certainly was not appropriate in the past. Besides the connections mentioned above, careers in the Post Office were instrumental in helping generations of poor and immigrants to pull themselves into the middle class.

Tree farm visit – August 2016

The boys and I went down to the farms to check on the pines and talk to the NRCS soil folks in Lawrenceville. They have programs to help with longleaf pine restoration. Brunswick County is the north and westernmost county to be eligible for longleaf conservation programs, since the edge of its natural range ran right through the middle of the county.
You can see how the longleaf grow in my pictures. The first picture is me standing next to one of the biggest ones that were planted in 2012. Notice the shape. It has few lower branches and kind of shoots straight up. This is an adaption to frequent fire. A fire on the ground will burn the lower parts of the tree, prune them, but leave the important terminal bud. They sometimes have arms like cactus or maybe Joshua Trees.

We burned this land in 2011, before planting the longleaf. We will burn again in January next year and after that every 2-3 years in order to recreate the ecology of Virginia around 1607. My next picture shows 20-year-old loblolly. You can see me, very small, in the middle for size reference. The last picture shows the growth on the cutover (clear cut in June-July last years and replanted in April this year.) You cannot see the little trees underneath. We will manage this with fire soon. You can see some of the wildflowers coming in. I cannot identify many of them. Something I need to learn. I have some native plants, such as butterfly weed, Joe-Pye weed and black eyed Susan, but there are also daisies and Queen Anne’s lace, which are very pretty but invasive.