Land w/o people

Chrissy’s parents were dairy farmers and the family farmed in Wisconsin since their first ancestors arrived from Norway in the 1850s. She can trace her ancestry back in Norway to the 1500s. They were farmers there too at least that far back. It ended in this generation. Farming is hard work and it is easier to make money off the farm. And the economy has changed forever. We can grow more on fewer acres with a lot fewer people.

This is good for general prosperity. Yet we lose a lot when too many of us lose our connection with the land, with productive land. Visiting parks and hiking in the mountains is great. It is great to be IN the natural world, but not the same as being OF the natural world. That requires (IMO at least) a steady and interactive relationship with the land, one that persists for years.

I don’t know how we can achieve or maintain this in our changing world, but I think it is important to try.

As Aldo Leopold wrote, “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

Notes from longleaf academy

There was a lot more to the Longleaf Academy than I will report. This is not a summary, but rather my take-aways. This was the first Longleaf Academy in Virginia, but there were literally a hundred before. 2600 people have graduated from “longleaf 101.” I attended one in Georgia a couple years ago. This one was different in specifics, but similar in the basics.
More longleaf growing
First the good news. We (longleaf advocates) are succeeding in bringing longleaf back from the edge of the abyss. Longleaf today is the second most planted species in the USA. About 1.5 million longleaf seedings were planted last year in Virginia (and I understand 60-70 million in the USA total). There is nothing like the extensive longleaf ecosystem that covered southeast North America when the first settlers arrived. Longleaf ecosystems will never again be as extensive as they were and it will take many years to restore something even approximating the full-complement of species, but it is a good start. `
Only 200 Virginia native longleaf survived in 2000. From this base, Virginia Department of Forestry has been gathering seeds and last year the Garland Gray Nursery produced 126,000 native Virginia seedlings. That is still not enough to satisfy demand in Virginia, and most of these seedlings go to official plantings, not individual landowners, but it is getting there.
Longleaf on the Virginia piedmont
Let me voice an apostate opinion. The trees I plant on my land are from North Carolina. I am unconcerned about the “native” factor. My thinking is that nature doesn’t recognize that line separating Virginia from North Carolina. Ecological conditions matter. Virginia has roughly three regions: tidewater/coastal plain, piedmont & mountains. There are subtle differences in climate and more significant ones in soils and topography. My land is in the Virginia piedmont, less than fifteen miles north of the North Carolina border. I can drive 100 miles south along I-85 and not see significant differences, but If I drive 50 miles east along US 58, conditions are very noticeable different. My land features more of the clay soils of the piedmont than the sandy ones found on the tidewater. Conventional wisdom held that longleaf prefers sandy soils because they were usually found in sandy soil, but they also thrive in heavier clay soils. My own longleaf are a testament to that. Maybe they are found mostly in sandy soils is just because sandy soils were not good for agriculture, so they left them alone.
My part of the Virginia piedmont is more like the adjacent North Carolina piedmont than it is like the Virginia tidewater, where the current crop of native Virginia longleaf come from. Botanists tell us that the northern subspecies of longleaf pine grew from the Neuse River to just south of the James River. These North Carolina trees are native to my land as far as I am concerned.
The piedmont longleaf pine ecology must be different from that of the coastal plain for a variety of reasons. Besides topography and soils, the ground vegetation is different. The classic coastal plain longleaf system features wiregrass, for example. Wiregrass grows naturally in no part of Virginia. It was never part of our pine savanna. Ours would have featured bluestem and lots of transitional plants like broom sedge. I observe on my land sumac and brambles that seem much less common on the coastal plain. The piedmont longleaf ecology was likely less purely longleaf and more likely mixed more with shortleaf, loblolly and oak. We just don’t really know.
Burning is not a disturbance; the disturbance is suppression of fire.
Something not seen for 300 years and maybe something new
One of the exciting things for me about growing longleaf on the Virginia piedmont is that nobody really knows what it will become. I planted pollinator habitat, but w/o much success, but nature picked up the slack. The area under the electrical wires is a great seed bank and has/is providing all my land needs. All we need do is burn it periodically and we will soon have a beautiful northern pine savanna. It is what we have now is some pockets.
Some longleaf natural factors
Longleaf cones are big, and they take a couple years to develop. They are not serotinous, i.e. they do not require fire to open. This is an important indicator of the tree’s habit. Trees like jack pines & lodgepole pines have serotinous cones. They open after hot fires that have killed most of the trees in the stand. Longleaf is adapted to regular but cooler fires. Fire rarely kills mature longleaf. Longleaf regeneration is irregular, very heavy in some years, almost none in others. The seeds are big and do not fall far from the tree. 71% of the seeds fall within 65 feet of the parent tree. They fall in November and germinate right away, sending down roots during the cooler, wetter but rarely freezing southern winters. All this contrasts with loblolly. Loblolly is a prolific seeder every year. The seeds are light and carried long distances by the wind and they germinate in the spring of the next year.
Aspects of longleaf management
Ad Platt advised that we plant longleaf tight, 600-700+/acre. This is different from specifications I heard and read about before. I was aware of the disagreement about how thick to plant loblolly but thought that it was settled that we should plant fewer longleaf per acre. His logic was that you can put them in tight and cut back later, but it is harder to add more if you don’t have enough.
We have been planting at around 500/acre and I thought that was tight. As Big Woods, they planted at around 600. If you plant around 600/acre that means that you plant one tree every four steps (at least four steps for me). The picture of the longleaf plantation shows 500/acre planting at about ten years.
Longleaf has denser wood than loblolly and one reason is because it grows slower, at least at first. Longleaf grow significantly slower than loblolly and are not as valuable as pulp. At about 20 years, longleaf & loblolly will be about the same size, but by then they will have missed the first thinning for pulp. That is in ordinary or poor soils. Longleaf is well adapted to poorer soils. Loblolly will outcompete longleaf in better soils, since it responds better to fertilization. Longleaf is not competitive with loblolly in the pulp or fiber market.
Longleaf has better economic value than loblolly in that it is more likely to produce saw timber and a lot more likely to produce poles. Poles are the most valuable use for pines. That is a long-term investment, however. Poles are harvested when they are around 45 years old. It is important not fertilize or thin in the years immediately before harvesting for polls. It is important to have tighter rings at the end.
Speaking of harvesting, for ordinary timber trees can get too big. Really big logs don’t fit into the processing machines and so are worth less than slightly smaller ones.
Pine straw can be a big source of income for longleaf pine growers. Ad Platt said that you can make as much as $200-300 an acre every year, more than the annualized timber sales. I have mixed feelings about this. Raking needles means a closed canopy. The big advantage of longleaf ecology is that the open canopy allows a lot of diversity on the ground. The needles also carry the fire necessary for the total ecosystem health. Ad Platt says that you can gather needles in moderation, not raking by picking them up with pitchforks taking some leaving others. He calls it lifting and flipping. I still am not convinced.
Southern pine beetle
Southern pine beetle is the most destructive native pest in southern pine forests. They are endemic, usually killing only weakened trees, but they can break out and kill healthy trees too.
Fortunately, the beetles have not been very active in recent decades. From 1960-1990, there were major outbreaks every 5-7 years. There have not been any big outbreaks in Virginia in more than 20 years. There are lot of theories about why.
Genetics have improved. The new generation of pine trees grow faster and stronger. This allows trees to mount a more aggressive defense. They push out sap and resin that kills the beetles. Another factor is forest fragmentation. This is usually a bad thing, but it does make it harder for the beetles to act.
Maybe the biggest factor is spacing. Trees are planted less densely and thinned earlier. The beetles are not that mobile and the farther they need to do, the less likely they are to be successful. The way the beetle works it that a female establishes on a tree and sends out pheromones that attract males. The more distance between trees, the more the wind can disperse pheromones and confuse the bugs.
We also did field trips to Garland Gray nursery and to the Piney Woods preserve, owned by TNC, where they are managing for the red cockaded woodpecker. The red cockaded woodpecker prefers to nest in longleaf more than 70 years old, but they will nest in big loblolly, as you can see in one of the pictures. We also went to the Big Woods state forest, where they are planting longleaf.
Pictures – the first picture shows cones at Garland Gray. Next is Bobby Clontz talking about his work at Piney Grove. Bobby has more on the ground experience with pine savanna and prescribed burning than anybody else in Virginia. Picture # 3 is a RCW nest side. After that is an example of longleaf underplanting. In the shade, they stay in the grass stage for a long time. That one is seven years old. After than is a “Sonderegger pine”. This is a hybrid between a longleaf and loblolly. That one you see is only a year old, less since it spouted this year. It grows very fast, but w/o strong wood and with little resistance to fire. Speaking of fire, the picture after that shows some ten year old longleaf harmed by fire. Longleaf are not immune. The stand had a lot of Chinese lespedeza. That burns very hot, too hot on that day. The picture after that shows a longleaf “forest” that had no site preparation. They just let it grow. This situation is good for wildlife, but not so much for timber. The last picture is a longleaf plantation – ten years old, 600/acre.

Leopold landscapes

Aldo Leopold Foundation is asking people to talk about their encounters with Leopold’s ideas in 500 words or less. This is my contribution.

My high school biology teacher introduced me to Aldo Leopold. I don’t recall that it made much an impression on me. I went to college in Stevens Point & Madison, Wisconsin and spent a lot of time in Leopold landscapes. His influence on me was subliminal and indirect, drawn from the places he lived and worked (Leopold designed parts of the Wisconsin Arboretum) and from people who knew him, likely some people who knew him personally. After all, I was at the University of Wisconsin less than thirty years after the publication of “Sand County Almanac,” but I didn’t think much about Aldo Leopold specifically.
It turns about that Leopold’s effect on my personal and spiritual ecology needed time to manifest, decades as it turned out. In my work as a U.S. diplomat, I always made a special effort to get to know local environments and meet conservation leaders. We designed public diplomacy programs about environment in Brazil, Norway and Poland, where I was assigned, and my contributions always had elements of Leopold’s thought, but – sorry to repeat again – w/o a conscious component.
I always wanted to have my own forest land and finally got the opportunity in 2005. I now have 435 acres of land in southern Virginia. Owning that much forest land is not common for guys like me, ones that do not inherit land or have other background in land management. I was a professional in the Foreign Service, not the Forest Service. When people asked me why I did what I was doing, I found myself talking about Aldo Leopold’s land ethic.
It had been decades since I had read “Sand County Almanac,” and I had long since lost track of my old copy. Was I was getting it right? I bought a new copy and got reacquainted with Aldo Leopold and with my younger self. The reunion was good.
Leopold’s “land ethic” is both simple and profound. We all live in the natural world and should be mindful of our choices, action and inaction. Things tend to improve the biotic communities on the land are good and those that harm are bad.
I apply Leopold’s wisdom on my own land every time I set foot on it. His “Axe in Hand” essay is my special favorite. As president of the Virginia Tree Farm Foundation and board member of the Forest History Society, I spread the word to others. In Virginia, we are developing a landscape management program to encompass our tree farms on the ecosystem level. I had a lot of input into that, and Leopold had a lot of input into me.
As Aldo Leopold says, land ethics are written on the land and informed by what the land tells us. I have been developing, continually developing, my own specific land ethic. I integrate the biotic and human communities related to my land.Most of all, I use the Leopold method: observe – participate – reflect – observe … It works.

Planting after a hot fire

Looking at the bright side, I have some great markers to plant my baby longleaf and to find them later on. Those benefits, unfortunately, result from dead trees falling down. Our May 2018 fire got a little hot in one section. I held out the hope that some of them would recover, so I treated my longleaf planting as an under planting.
Now that the bark has come off most of the trees and several have blown down, I think I can be reasonably sure that I should replant denser, assume it is an clearing.
I regret the loss of my trees, but I see it as an opportunity. What I have is a restoration project after a hot fire. I can imagine my little longleaf coming in under and among the burned out logs. I am also going to take advantage of natural regeneration of oak and shortleaf pine. I think this will become an interesting learning experience and I look forward to interacting with the changing land.
Given that I am treating this as an opening, I think I will need about 1000 trees and it will take me a couple days to get think in the ground. I am not as fast as the professionals, but I like the idea of doing it myself.
My first picture is me decked out in orange. It is hunting season, so good idea not to blend in with the bushes. Next three pictures show the future longleaf grove. Last is the panorama of loblolly. We planted them in 2016, so they are only four years old. Most are 6-8 feet tall. Good result. The reason I took the picture, however, was the beauty of the hardwoods in the background, showing their vibrant fall colors.
The most beautiful time to look at fall colors, IMO, is just before dusk. The colors show up better than in full light. I did not take a picture of that. No picture would do it justice.                                            

Objectives for owning forest land

My Freeman farm was used as one of the case studies at the Longleaf Academy today and we talked about land management plans. Every good land management plan starts with landowner objectives. What do you want to do on your land? Why do you have land in the first place? I could easily explain what I wanted to do with my land, but the meta question – the purposes principle – why I had the land, that was a harder question.
Family tradition
Lots of landowners inherit their land. A big part of the purposes question is answered for them. It is the family. They are carrying on the tradition, stewarding the land they got from their grandparents for their grandchildren. I have only the second part of that equation, and it does give me satisfaction to think that my kids will somebody appreciate the land. Few of the things I do on the land will pay off fully in my lifetime. I like to think that my effort extends at least into the next generation. I like to think that when they contemplate the subliminal beauty of their own piece of nature, that they will remember me in it. This is both a selfish and a selfless sentiment. I choose to emphasize the latter.
The kids are willing to help. They planted trees last year and will do again. I am not sure they appreciate it all right now, but I am confident that they will
A story – we needed to spread some rip-rap to protect the stream bank on our Diamond Grove place and I needed the boys to help. For those unfamiliar with riprap, it is made up of rocks, most about the size of a basketball, but irregularly shaped. I bought twenty tons of riprap and had the truck driver drop it about twenty feet from the stream. I did this because I wanted the boys to “place” the rocks where the future stream should go, not just push them into the current one. Alex and Espen dutifully began to move the rocks. Hard work. After about two hours, one of them asked, don’t recall which, “couldn’t they have dropped the rocks a little closer to the stream?” I replied, “Sure, they could have done.” I like to think they thought that was funny. I am confident that they will someday look back and laugh. They did a good job, BTW. The rocks they placed support the natural bend in the stream, erosion is controlled and the water that passes over that spot flows clear and clean, unvexed on its way to the sea.
Community – natural & human
Another reason I own land developed after I got the land. Developed in interaction with the land and the biotic and the human communities on it. It was not my part of my plan because I didn’t know to plan it. I had a reasonable idea about the biotic communities from my long acquaintance with Aldo Leopold and the land ethic. It was the human community that surprised me. When I bought the land, I became an apprentice into a community. There was the community on the land itself, the guys at the hunt clubs and the neighbors who were so helpful. I feel that I have earned a place among them. I often run into community members on the land. Today, for example, I talked to the guys at the Reddy Creek Hunt Club. They were out hunting deer. Scott Powell got one. When on my way out, I saw Scott. I told him that I heard three shots, so assumed that they had bagged three deer. Scott said the first two shots were just to clear the shot.
We cooperate to make the land prosper for my forestry and their hunting and recreation. A prime piece of advice I would give to any absentee landowner is get a good hunt club. I am not sure I could comfortably own the land w/o them. I certainly would not with as much joy.
I accept my role. I suspect I provide stories, comic relief, but it is worth it. Last year I made the mistake of going down one of my muddy roads. I thought that all-wheel drive on my CRV could handle the mud and I was correct. Mud was not the factor. The problem was that my vehicle slipped off into two wonderfully parallel ditches. My SUV balanced on the middle with none of the wheels touching the ground. Your vehicle cannot move if the wheels do not contact the surface. I had a shovel, so I figured I could dig myself out. After about an hour, I gave up. Since much of my digging involved laying on the road and trying to dig into the road, I looked like a mud man. I called my local friends and a short time later they pulled me out, no doubt adding to local lore.
There is also the greater conservation community. I knew a lot of the people at the Longleaf Academy and they know me. We exchange information and experience, and many are friends, people I can count on. This means a lot to me. I think we all want to have a valued place in society. It need not be extraordinary. The simple rule is that is a lot of people would miss you if you were not there, you have a meaningful life.
When I contemplated retiring from the FS, I worried a lot about my identity. The great thing about retirement was that I was pulled into something I wanted, not pushed out. It has been great so far.
The triple bottom line
When I talked about landowner objectives in the Longleaf Academy, I mentioned the triple bottom line. Any successful enterprise must produce value for the community, i.e. good for people, for the environment, i.e. sustainable and better regenerative, and for the economy, i.e. it has to make money. Failing at any one of those bottom lines means that the enterprise is a failure. Succeeding at all three means success, even if none of the three is optimized. This I believe.
One more thing that gratifies me as I work on my land. When I first hatched the idea of buying forest land, it was objectively stupid. Who buys forest land? Certainly not some city boy with no actual experience with land buying, land owning or land working. Chrissy trusted me to make this buying decision and for that I am grateful and gratified. She must have had doubts, but she supported the “investment.” I am glad that I didn’t let her down. The land is not wildly profitable, but it neither is it a drain. The enterprise will break even, even if it does only after I am dead. I made it work on all three of the bottom lines and that is important to me.
Meaning in life
As I have said many times, knowing the meaning of life is something unavailable to the mortal man, but we can find – and should seek – meaning IN life. For me, my land and the communities and all the other things that go with it have been the book of life. I feel better every time I turn a page.
My pictures are tangentially related to the text. First is from the the conference, discussion of pine beetles. We mostly have them under control. Next is the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry. Chrissy asked me to get a picture. You can see what the ferry looks like in the corner of the picture. Last is a train crossing. Not many roads are surface train crossings these days.

First longleaf academy in Virginia

This is the first longleaf academy in Virginia, so even thought I attended one before (in Georgia), I really wanted to be here for this one that started yesterday and will finish tomorrow. Around a million acres in Virginia were covered by longleaf when the first settlers arrived at Jamestown. It was our founding forest and among the first exports from Jamestown was pitch from Virginia’s pines. Longleaf was too valuable and settlers thought it was limitless. They were mistaken. By around 2000, there were only 200 native Virginian longleaf. That is 200 trees, not 200 acres.
Timber cutting, pigs and no fire
I will say more about the history in my next posts. For now, suffice to mention three factors: the timber value drove the settlers to harvest, over harvest, the forests. They might have grown back except that the settlers also brought with them pigs and allowed them free range. Pigs especially favored longleaf roots and rooted up whole forests of seedlings. Even that might not have finished longleaf, but they also stopped burning. Longleaf ecology is fire dependents. All these factors together doomed longleaf in Virginia, but we nothing is really destroyed until it is replaced. Longleaf could have become a forest champion, except that loblolly proved more economical.
Loblolly is a great tree
Loblolly is a wonderful tree. I have a lot of them on my land and I am happy with them. It grows faster than longleaf in its first twenty years and twenty years is sometime all you need, since they can be made into pulp before that. A longleaf pine can live more than four hundred years, while a loblolly is lucky to live past a century. But nobody needs more than fifty years if they are harvesting timber. Loblolly is the kind of tree that you can plant and mostly forget until you harvest. Longleaf is harder to grow and it requires fire. I know the travails of growing longleaf from personal experience. Why bother?
Value of forest diversity
I have written elsewhere about the great ecological value and diversity of the longleaf ecosystem. The longleaf ecology is the most diverse in non-tropical America. I want to restore in Virginia what was and can be again. Let me vastly simplify here. Trees are more than wood and forest are more than trees and all of us at this conference understand the value of forest, not just trees and trees, not just wood, or at we least want to understand better.
All ecosystems are wonderful; some are wonderful(er)
All ecosystems are wonderful in their own ways, but there are some that are iconic in their regions and some I especially love. I love the white pine ecology and the beech-maple-basswood forest of home. I feel a special bond with the ponderosa pine-montane forests in the Rockies. And my most recent love, the one I can really work with, is the longleaf pine. This is important. I can admire many, but this is one where my efforts can make a (small) difference. That is why I am here.
More notes tomorrow.

My first picture is from the opening of the conference. It is held at Southeast 4-H Educational Center in Wakefield. Next two pictures are from there. Last two pictures are the ferry over the James River. When I got a hotel for the conference, I chose one that was about 30 miles away. There is not much closer, BTW, since this is fairly rural. I did not count on the commute. You have to take a ferry across the James River. It is okay and it is free, but it adds about a half hour or more when you include transit and waiting time.

Cutting, marking and scouting

I know my land like I know that back of my hand, and if you ask me to describe the back of my hand w/o looking at it, I cannot tell you in any detail. Today I did a some cutting, some scouting and some marking.

Our December prescribed fire is less than a month away. I am preparing by making lanes, so that we don’t get stuck in the brambles and the fires can be more easily directed. I admit that I maybe am getting a little carried away, since I like to use my cutter. I am also cutting around and marking bald cypress, since I do not want the fires to kill them.

It is much easier to find them now, since they have are in their rust red fall colors. I am pleased to find more than I thought there were. There are some very little ones that I planted last spring and the bigger ones that Eric Goodman planted in 2012. The older ones are almost sure to survive if I give them a little help. I will need to be very careful with the new ones.

Speaking of not knowing the back of my hand, i.e. my land, I had to scout along the edges of the SMZ. Our plan is to let the fire drop into the SMZ, where it will die out, maybe doing a little good by clearing some brush. However, I wanted to be sure that actual streams would be there as the last line of defense, should things not go as we want. I was glad to confirm that the streams form a continuous barrier.

Both belt and suspenders
In an abundance of caution, I want to make a black line along the stream before we do the rest of the fire. I tested the duff. It does not easily burn, which is good in this case. I want to fire to die out when it hits that layer. Of course, I don’t know what the precise conditions will be o/a December 9, but my assumption is that it will not be that different.

I think the land is ready and there is not much more that I can do to prepare. Hope to make is easier for Adam Smith and DoF. In fact, it might be better for me to leave it alone now. It like playing a video game. As soon as I get one thing done, another seems to show up. But I am at the point of very diminishing returns. I can clip now, but I will be clipping what the fire will get anyway.

It will be great to see what wildflowers come up after the fires. After the 2017 fire, it was really fun to see the succession of wild fire regimes. It should be even more interesting now that we have added more variety of seeds. And I have new seeds to spread – some I gathered and others I bought, so we will have the full panoply of forbs and flowers.
My picture is are trees against the sky this morning. There was a woodpecker in the tree, but the picture could not catch it. I think the picture looks artistic anyway.

Food through my ages

What food did you like and how has it changed? – My story worth for this week.

I grew up in the days of Wonder Bread and Oscar Meyer wieners and simple foods in general. Milwaukee in the 1960s was not a mecca for a variety of foods, at least around where I lived. We did not even have a McDonald’s until I was in 10th grade. I tried my first Chinese food when I was already in college. I don’t know if you can call Taco Bell Mexican food, but my first exposure to that sort of food came when I was about sixteen.
Simple foods to start
My mother’s food was good, but simple – meat and potatoes, although never steak. I had my first steak when I was in college. Pot roast and pork chops were our main meet dishes, along with beef stew and backed chicken. We had a lot of spaghetti, Kraft Dinner (macaroni & cheese) and lots of potatoes – mashed, backed and scalloped. My mother’s spaghetti was very simple and not very Italian. Meat with tomato sauce. My cousin married an Italian woman, Irma, and when they lived upstairs from us, I got very good spaghetti. This was when I was already in college, however, and would come home on visits. I admit that I made sure my father told Irma when I would be home, so that I would have her great spaghetti waiting. I have a story about her that I think is funny. Good thing about spaghetti is that it is as good, better maybe the second or third day.
Salamander in the basement
 It is not so much about her as the situation. I had a pet, a red and black salamander. He lived in a terrarium in the basement. I forgot to put the top on right one day and he escaped. I couldn’t find him and presumed him dead. Later, must have been years later because I was off at college and on a visit home, my father told me that he “wondered about” Irma. “Wondering about” someone was his code for saying that he thought they were acting crazy. He told me that Irma claimed to see big lizards in the basement. Milwaukee is a northern city. We do not have big lizards just crawling around like in some places in the south. I asked Irma about that lizards next time I saw her. She said it was red and black and ran off when she saw it. She ran off too, so she was not sure where it went. I never did find this “lizard” but I think it was my salamander. Those things can live twenty years. Our basement was not what you would call “finished.” It still had a dirt floor in some places and the water pipes dripped (my father and grandfather had put them together and there was never a time when they were not drinking beer while they did the work). There were lots of spiders down there, so I presume lots of whatever it is that the spiders were eating. I expect a salamander might feel at home in an environment like that.
The best sausage in the world
Milwaukee has the best sausage in the world, and I learned to love, and still do love bratwurst, liverwurst & kielbasa. Most of our vegetables came in cans and I still like canned peas better than fresh ones and I like canned peaches, but I am not fond of “real” ones. I don’t like the peach fuzz.
College food: good and cheap, well cheap
I stayed in the dorms as an undergraduate and had the meal plan. My father paid for it (thanks, Dad). I kind of like cafeteria food, but it was not really very good much of the time. Breakfast was good. You could get eggs and ham or bacon. I liked that. I was lazy my first years in college, so I did not wake up early. Sometimes, however, I would get up early to get breakfast and then go back to sleep.
My budgets were much more constrained in graduate school, since I was on my own. With no meal plan, not much money and no cooking skill, I ate mostly baked potatoes and beans. I used to bake up a whole pan of beans on the weekend and then eat them the rest of the week. It is very cheap and so monotonous that you are not tempted to overeat. I lost maybe fifteen pound my first months at University of Wisconsin. My haggard appearance alarmed my father when I went home for a visit. He made sure Irma made extra spaghetti and some lasagna that I took back with me.
It was also during that time that I worked at McDonald’s. I worked the lunch rush. In addition to the big bucks they paid me for working there, I got a free meal. If you worked up to four hours, you got a small sandwich (hamburger of fish sandwich), small fries and a coke. My colleagues usually made sure my small fries were filled tightly and you could fill up Coke as many times as you wanted, so it was sufficient for my needs. I worked at McDonalds for nine months and then quit because they would not give me a $.05 an hour raise. They said I had the wrong attitude, didn’t take the job seriously enough.
The boss said that if I didn’t like it, I could quit. He seemed surprised when I walked out. By then, I was also working delivering mail and running errands at the History Department. Between the 20 hours at McDonalds and about the same at the History Department, I was putting in a full-time job. I wanted more time to study (I was a nerd in those days), so my courageous decision to walk out of McDonalds was not so courageous after all.
I ate things I did not like in quantities I did not want, but sometimes good
Poland – Zurek
One of the most important jobs of a Foreign Service Officer is to eat and drink for your country. This is harder than it seems. Anybody can eat when he is hungry, but it takes a real man to eat when he is full. At official receptions or dinners, I ate things I did not like in quantities I did not want. Our policy was to eat whatever the host gave us and claim that you loved it. Sometimes – often – the food was very good, but not always. You could get used it, however. There is a kind of sour soup you get in Poland called Zurek. I detested it the first time I tasted it. Continued exposure moved me to tolerate it, and by the time I left Poland I looked forward to getting Zurek. Now I miss it. Zurek is hard to come by in the USA. Most Americans have not gone through the learning process I did.
Norway – Lutefisk
Lutefisk is something I never got to like. They eat that in Norway and also in Norwegian communities in Wisconsin, so I was forewarned. Lutefisk is a kind of decomposed codfish. It has a kind of gelatinous texture, bad taste and strong and unpleasant smell. Norway in the old days was a poor society, with long winters and sparse rations. My guess is this kind of thing was at the bottom of the barrel and everything tastes good when you are really hungry. After a while, they made a virtue out of necessity and called it a delicacy. I guess I never gave it the chance I gave Zurek. Of course, Zurek was commonly served. Lutefisk was reserved for special occasions, thank God.
Brazil – Churrasco
Brazilians have churrasco. This is great. The main drawback is that it is too good. It consists of various cuts of meat, mostly beef, served on spits. It is all you can eat, and I learned to eat a lot. My favorite was something they call picanha. I think it is a rump or flank steak. The grill it on an open fire with lots of salt and then cut off thin slices, cooked crispy on the outside and still rare on the other side. They have these places now in the USA too. Near us are “Fogo de Chão” and “Texas do Brasil.” I would eat at those places every day, if I knew it would not soon kill me to eat so well.
Iraq – Goat grab
The Iraqis used to invite us a lot of “goat grabs,” where you had sheep or goat barbecued and put on a bed of rice. It tastes great, but I was less enthusiastic about how you eat it. They put it in the middle of the table, and everybody gathers around, ripping off pieces with their hands. I don’t mind using my hands, but as an “honored guest,” others rip off pieces and give them to you. You have to eat, bad form to turn it down. I always assumed (hoped) that everybody’s hands were reasonably clean, and I never got sick, so I figure it must have been okay.
There was a lot of good fellowship at the goat grabs. My translators were often behind the curve. A guy would say something evidently important and sincere, talking for a while. The translator would say something like, “he says the goat if fresh.” My several sentence replies were also distilled into a short phrase in Arabic. I am not sure communications were as well served as the goats. Even though I often could not understand what the others were saying to me, they seemed happy and friendly.
Good translation saves my life
Speaking of translators, my best was a guy called Sam Said. He got all I said and more. I may owe him my life, as he talked us out of a dangerous situation with an angry mob in Rutbah when I made the mistake of moving around a couple of parked cars in the market, leaving my Marines very close but so far away. I listened intently, smiled when it seems appropriate and answered questions, but Sam supplied all the cultural lubricant. Lucky, I had my best man with me. Meanwhile, the Marines were getting very nervous. “Sir, get the hell outta there.” I told them that I sure would like to do that but, I figured the safest way out was forward. It ended well. The guys were aggrieved by their treatment by local authorities. They had more trust in Americans and their anger drained with every second we listened. I told them I would inquire, and I did. I followed up a week later. The local guys told me all was okay, but I admit to having no independent way of knowing.
In Heaven there is no beer, no beer in Iraq either
A big problem in Iraq is that there is no beer, at least we were not allowed to have any. As friends know, I am fond of beer, but that is not the reason I missed it so much in Iraq. Beer (vodka in Poland, aquavit in Norway or Cachaça in Brazil, actually beer in those places too, or other alcohol) is a social binder. You drink to others, toast their virtue or just mention some commonality. I suppose you can hold up a piece of meat and say, “this bite is for you,” but it lacks.
These days, I often revert to old form. Today, for example, I will bake up a few potatoes and we will have potatoes and vegetables.
My first picture is me cooking at the Embassy for our “Burgers w/o Borders,” the event where we launched our participation in “Science w/o Borders”. Eventually, around 30,000 young Brazilians went to the USA to study in STEM. Next is a churrascaria in Goiania. Picture # 3 is a goat grab in Haditha, Iraq, followed by a picture of Polish bison vodka. Last is Arthur Treachers, the now defunct fish & chips place. I liked it a lot, but stayed with it when the quality dropped.

Using forests to reduce CO2 works IF we harvest wood to build with wood

There is important nuance here. Mature forests store carbon, but they do not, on balance, capture much from the air. This is because decay balances growth in a mature forest. Forests may be the “lungs of the world” but mature forests produce about as much CO2 as they take it. It has to be this way, else forests would have long since absorbed all the CO2 in the atmosphere and ended life on earth as we know it.
Life giving CO2
We NEED CO2 for life to go on as much as we need oxygen. We just need rather less of it at this time.
How can planting trees take carbon out of the air? The short answer is that – on balance – they can’t. What? A lot depends on the conditions and what happens after.
Coal is fossil wood
Consider how coal was formed. Millions of generations of forests used the power of sunlight to convert billions of tons of CO2 into wood. Wood is about 1/2 carbon by dry weight. The key to forming fossil fuels is that the wood did not decay. Over time, geological forces pressed it into coal. Fossil fuel – coal is wood that did not decay in distant past epochs. When we burned that coal, we released the energy of billions of sunny days and also that carbon that had come with it.
It is a problem, but the thought of coal is awesome and poetic in its own way. What are our current prosaic options?
Forest life cycle matters
A mature forest stores, but does not capture carbon – on balance. I am going to stop saying “on balance,” so please just assume it going forward. A young forest captures carbon but does not store much of it. Most American forests these days are middle aged. They are transitioning from young to old because of the peculiar way they grew. There was a big forest regeneration in the early & middle of the 20th Century. These trees are now reaching maturity. I could go into that interesting story, but I need now to stick to this one. The thing to remember is that America forests have been capturing carbon for the last century but they are at the point where they will stop doing that.
Don’t let nature decide
If we “let nature decide,” nature will choose to release more carbon from our forests, given the age structures. (BTW – there really is not let nature decide option. Our choices are good human choices of bad ones.) But we have a wonderful option open to us, one that will allow carbon to be stored for another century, will keep our forests young growing and healthy and keep them capturing carbon. All the while this is going on, it will make our built environment more ecologically friends and more human friendly.
If we responsibly and regeneratively harvest our forests in ways that respect the forest ecosystem, we can continue to store carbon in roots and soils. This has the added advantage of improving soil texture, making it better able to absorb and hold water helping protect our drinking water and avoiding floods. It also helps us to prevent disastrous wildfires, landslides and just makes everything better.
The next step is to use the harvested timber to replace less environmentally benign options in building, materials like concrete and steel. Let’s be clear. Wood cannot replace these materials in all way, but in a lot of cases it can.
This is a virtuous cycle. There are wonderful benefits and literally no important costs (I will say again here on balance.).
Some references
Environmental costs of  concrete
Wood replaces concrete and steel

Finding the little longleaf

Thank you Mariza, Brendan, Alex, Colin, Espen, Andrea & Chrissy for planting longleaf for me last winter. I went looking for them with my cutter today on the farm, i.e. I cut around some of them so that I could see them better.

It was nearly impossible to see them, since they are in the grass stage and they look like … well … grass. But now that the grass is brown you can see the green longleaf.
We got these trees from Aaron Bodenhamer/ Louie Bodenhamer and will get the next ones there too. All the Longleaf on the Freeman place are from Bodenhamer farms.

Burn then plant
We are planning to burn the week of December 9 (depending on weather). The kids will come down soon after to plant the next few thousand longleaf, but I wanted to show them the green trees. The fire will make them look dead. They will NOT be dead, but it might be depressing to see them that way. We will inter-plant a little, but mostly plant the quarter acres clearings among the loblolly.
Protect the bald cypress
I am a little worried about the bald cypress I planted last spring. They are in the wetter areas, so the fires should not be too hot. As a precaution, however, I cleared around some of them and made a fire line for the rest. Labor intensive, but it makes me feel more secure. On the fire day, I will go around and start the fires at the edges so that it burns out. I think they will survive.
Rattlesnake master
I also gathered some of the wildflower seeds, especially from the rattlesnake master. I will spread them after the fires. Rattlesnake master is not showy, but the bees and butterflies love them. Seeds are not so easy to find, so I am glad I have a bunch. I admit that I like it because of the cool name.
It was a “can’t see to can’t see” day, i.e. I left home in the dark and came back in the dark. I pushed it a little, since I figured that I could find my way back along my cut paths even if it got dark, since there was a nearly full moon.
I took a picture of the moon. It did not come out well, but I included it anyway. The first two pictures are the little longleaf looking good. They spend their first year or two sending down roots. This is the grass stage. Then the grow up fast. They call it the rocket stage. Picture # 3 is one of the bald cypress. I put the orange string on some of them, since they will have dropped their needles by the time of the fire and impossible hard to identify otherwise.