Friday, November 10, 2006

walking in the footsteps of giants

This New York Times article has beautiful ecology notebooks from 1930s California in its Multimedia section. Ecologists at UC Berkeley are retracing the steps of the first director of the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Joseph Grinnell, who knew that one day, one hundred years from then, we would not have the same California. He knew that we would want to know what has changed, so starting in 1904 he and his team took over 2,000 photographs from all over California, and some 13,000 pages of notes.

His work has begun to move ecology from a descriptive science to a predictive one, and it's not a second too early. According to David Tilman, the McKnight presidential chair in ecology at the University of Minnesota, “The world faces immense environmental challenges that we will only resolve if we can forecast how ecosystems respond to alternative practices and policies.” New data and old will be celebrated when the UC Berkeley has its centennial celebration.

Grinnell's vision for the collection is posted on a plaque outside the library. “I wish to emphasize what I believe will ultimately prove to be the greatest purpose of our museum,” he wrote in 1910, “and this is that the student of the future will have access to the original record of faunal conditions in California and the West, wherever we now work.”

Talk about a visionary.

Amazon grows more during the dry season

The green color in this image of South America shows vegetation that is growing during during the dry season. Reddish areas "brown down" in the dry season. The black line marks the boundary of the Amazon rainforest -- red areas within the boundary indicate areas where the primary forest has been disturbed. Image courtesy of the Terrestrial Biophysics and Remote Sensing Lab, The University of Arizona.

The Amazon rainforest has been photographed from satellites, the 'greenness' been made into an algorithm, and they've found that old-growth rainforests grow more during the dry season than the wet. It is surmised that older trees have deep roots that can still reach water even during dry seasons when the sky is clear more often and thus more photosynthesis can take place.

This information is a clue in the puzzle about the global cycle of carbon, and has implications for fire regimes in the Amazon, where during El Niño years even tropical forests succumb to fire. This also provides valuable perspective on the ecological cycle of the forests and why old-growth forests are more for sustainable and promote biodiversity.

More at: Monga Bay

Monday, September 25, 2006

Grasshoppers: A Notebook by Peter Campion...

A book of poetry I read tonight contained the following poem, which struck me as interesting because of something that happened earlier while driving in the darkness to come to a friend's house. After I filled the gas tank and as I drove to the highway along roads my father bicycled as a child I saw an amber sliver of the moon falling into a black horizon from an indigo sky. On the highway I was cut off by a large truck that had just pulled into the freeway, and I had to slow down considerably. I was annoyed and staring at the truck and the cars whizzing by on my left and suddenly an enormous bird flew up and over the bridge and nearly crashed into the truck that was just in front of me, and then he flew away. He must have been a large owl. Probably a great horned owl. I've seen a couple. They are beautiful birds. I've only seen their eyes in photos because usually I see them at night, in a tree or sitting on top of a telephone pole, hunting. All I see is their silhouette, and they have very charming ear tufts that stick up on top of their head. They have a lovely deep Whoo.

It disturbed me, this owl sighting, because I do not like to think of owls crashing into trucks on the highway. And I thought of a girl I had seen that afternoon who I'd known in high school (we ran into each other at the stationary store) and how once when Arwen and I were riding with her she ran over a skunk on the highway. It was horrible. One or two of us screamed. It could have been me who screamed, I couldn't tell. I hate to see poor little things whose lives have been so altered by human existence. I once stopped to let a baby fawn with wobbly legs (newborn) cross the road after his mum. It was a rainy day and I was shaken just thinking of how close I came to hitting that baby thing. So tiny. I cried all the way to school that morning.

And then I read this (my eyes just glanced over the page).

There was dying here tonight, after
dusk, by the road: an owl,
eyes fixed and flared, breast
so winter-white he seemed to shine

a searchlight on himself, helicoptered
near a wire fence, then suddenly
banked, plunged, and vanished
into the swallowing dark with his prey.

From The Hearth by C.K. Williams

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Earth & Environmental Science Journalism Dual Master's

As I'm sitting here in the backyard of my mother's house and thinking, "What is the next step?" I sometimes consider going back to school to learn how to deal with all of the things I learned in Peru. Here is a program at Columbia. The Earth & Environmental Science Journalism Dual Master's Degree Program sounds like something close to what I could really use right about now. I'm overwhelmed by the task I've set myself—getting to know and then portraying people, farming techniques, and the issues facing them. I've never tried to do anything like this before, at least not on such a large scale and definitely not without some guidance (where are my teachers?).

Another program that sounds pretty awesome and on-target is the UC Berkeley Journalism school's program on Science and Environmental Reporting. I have good intentions and I really do believe that farming in the Incan way has potential to show us something about farming in the US, but what evidence do I have? I am but a humble photographer who is trying to figure out some way that photographs can do more than just observe. I need an agronomist, and an ecologist, and someone who knows about public policy.

Then again, there's the problem of how to organize what we already have into something powerful and compelling, and worth all the time and money that's been invested thus far.

What I feel right now is that I can (and have) read the studies and now I am trying to make some sort of cohesive idea about it myself, but I want someone to check it when I'm done to make sure I understood everything correctly. And that doesn't happen when you're not in school, except when the critics get ahold of you and tear you up. Eeee. That's how I feel. Squeamish.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


This is what I'll be wearing as the sun changes its course. I've liked Uggs too, but for now I really appreciate the handmade quality of these puppies—Windwalkers. In fact, one of these coming days I really want to drive out and see her at work, and see if she can fix mine up a little—they've worn through just a bit at the back because they're a tiny bit big. When you order yours (as I'm sure you'll do) then just make sure you send in a trace of your foot, so you're sure to get the right size, no guessing. This is what keeps me warm and cosy and feeling like I'm still wearing flip flops.

Hungry Planet

Hungry Planet photographer Peter Menzel photographs families from around the world with a week's worth of groceries (link to photos in German magazine article) (link to NPR interview with Menzel and D'Alusio). Published by Ten Speed Press in Sept 2005.

Photographed in the same style as the Material World project (where families were photographed with all of their possesions in front of their home), the diets are sometimes astonishing, sometimes inspiring (I must eat more veggies!), and sometimes embarrassing (try Bhutan vs. Brooklyn). How much food do we need? And what are we eating?

Here's a blurb from their site (note foreword and essays by some of my favorite authors):
To assemble this remarkable comparison, Menzel and D'Aluisio traveled to twenty-four countries and visited thirty families from Bhutan and Bosnia to Mexico and Mongolia. Accompanied by an insightful foreword by Marion Nestle, and provocative essays from Alfred W. Crosby, Francine R. Kaufman, Corby Kummer, Charles C. Mann, Michael Pollan, and Carl Safina, the result of this journey is a 30-course documentary feast: captivating, infuriating, and altogether fascinating.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commision

The Truth and Reconciliation Commision was put into place to resolve the discrepancies between what the government, the army, and the terrorists did, what the newspapers reported, and what people experienced in the years of Fujimori and Sendero Luminoso. An extremely important organization whose existence made it possible for the citizens of Peru to reconstruct exactly what they experienced, so that they could leave the past behind and put their energy into rebuilding their democracy.

State of Fear

State of Fear is a documentary film focusing on Peru during the years of Sendero Luminoso and the reign of Fujimori. A good place to start if you don't know much about the terrorism of The Shining Path and the role the government played in those years. There are also interesting correlations drawn in the film between the way former president Fujimori stretched the limits of democracy through fearmongering to retain power, and the current War on Terrorism in the U.S. We could stand to learn something here... Democracy is a fragile thing.

Ancient canals discovered in Peru

Evidence of ancient canals suggest that civilization began much earlier in South American than was previously thought. Here is a New York Times article about ancient irrigation canals discovered in Peru January 3, 2006 Science section

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Organic farming and the UN

Organic farming points way to reducing rural poverty, UN says January 25 2005 UN article.
This article was something that really struck me as I researched the Peru project—organic farming could have significant impact on rural communities worldwide, helping the economy and preserving the environment.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Happy spring from the Seedling Project (May 2006)

Hello folks,

Hannah and I are back from our stint in Peru for a few months to look for funds. We will be in the U.S. until sometime in the beginning of December, when we plan to head back to the wilds and hopefully see some of you there for a visit in the next year (our publicity-person-to-be, Amy, came and loved it... she wants to go back).

The latest on the movie plot line is that we are going to be filming ourselves as we try to do what we've learned from the Peruvians. We are getting a chakra (plot of land) and we are going to plant beans (these lovely big Lima beans) and peas (delicious when fresh) and probably corn and potatoes (both usually eaten with cheese). Getting home we have been disappointed with the potato selection available in the stores, not to mention the corn (it was just harvest season when we left). Not to worry, though, we are really excited to be home and there are lots more FRUITS in the grocery store, and there's almond butter and millions of kinds of bread. And here in the US there is hot water in the faucets --I'd forgotten all about that. It's cushy here!

We are going to be giving some talks in our respective high schools at some point, which will be good practice for the NPR interviews we want to do later in the project... Any information regarding those talks will be forthcoming. At present Hannah and I can be found in NY, editing when we're not working our day jobs (for now Hannah has the only day job--she's the token breadwinner).

While Hannah's working I'm going to write some articles to start our series of instructions for everyday peruvian mountain living on the website, which we might do in conjunction with Make Magazine. This is meant to be the start of the project in which we teach a class of about 15 students to make a magazine with step-by-step instructions on how to do things that they do every day, like make cheese or plow with bulls or irrigate corn using the canals--things that are second nature to the older folks but that the kids don't care to learn all that much. This way we'll record knowledge that might otherwise be lost and teach people how to communicate with the developed world at the same time. For that project we're looking for digital cameras (old ones are fine) and maybe a used computer or two (preferably macintosh). If you or someone you know has recently upgraded, please consider donating your old model to our project.

Big news for newsletter readers: we now have proper newsletter software set up (thanks to Hannah's friend Dan) and you can subscribe and unsubscribe automatically. It's very easy.

That's about it for the moment. Enjoy the photographs, and as always feel free to pass along this info to anyone you think might be interested.

Related links:
We will soon write for: Instructables

Donate here: DER

And a shoutout for people who are helping us.
Amy's site: adproductions
Dan's site: easy cgi

For those of you who want more, down at the bottom you'll find that I've written out the story of how I lost my bag.

Here's a photo from Amy's trip--a bus we saw that had flipped over on the pampa. This was one of three bus accidents we saw (not the worst).

Hannah took this photo at an aporque in Tumay Huaraca. An aporque is when they hoe the soil up around the potato plants, usually done communally, with flutes piping (not the kind you hear in the subway) and plenty of chicha to drink.

This is a place in the field that typically receives more frost because of the way the ground is sloped. You can see in the photo that they have planted a type of frost-resistant potato just along that line, interspersed with a native type that is a bit more delicious. This technique means one potato helps protect the other against frost and guarantees a harvest--which means the farmers and their families will have food to eat.

Hannah took this photo at a cooking class given by the Cusichaca Trust where people learn how to cook foods with vegetables that can be grown locally. They also teach people how to grow the vegetables themselves. It's an important class because many people trade in their potatoes and fresh milk for store-bought noodles and canned Leche Gloria (evaporated milk).

Potato harvest in Andamarca--the bulls pull the plow and turn over the soil, while a crew of people help find the potatoes in the dirt (like little lumps of gold...). We ate freshly harvested potatoes with these folks, served with a side of chilis and cheese. They boiled a pot of water to cook the food right alongside the field.

I lost my bag of most important things on the combi that goes from Andamarca (my town) to Puquio (a minor but necessary hell hole in the mountains--you must cross it to get to Lima or Cusco). Leaving Andamarca we set all our bags down in a neat little row to be put on top of the combi but when we arrived in Puquio we were minus one.

I began asking the bus company lady what I should do. She told me to call Andamarca and see if I my things had been left behind. We called and told them my bag was missing. Meanwhile Hannah tried the internet. She got in touch with someone from Andamarca, but the message got a little garbled on account of the spanish and the fever she had from an illness we all often had but will not describe in great detail. So then we then thought the bag might be in Andamarca and that it might arrive on a subsequent bus.
The bus lady said that a man called Mambu had been seen taking care of a black bag and that I ought to look for him, but she couldn't tell me his last name or where I could find him. I wandered through the streets of Puquio for about half an hour, asking everyone I passed if they had heard of a guy named Mambu. It reminded me of the children's book 'Are You My Mother?'. I ended up in front of the locked door of the bus company, Etrapumsa, where I knocked politely with my fist and then when that didn't work, I knocked politely with a can of Leche Gloria (evaporated milk--one of my only remaining possessions as I'd been carrying it in my vest pocket). I got no answer but the people all up and down the street got a good laugh.

We gave up after that, and ate food, checked email and then we went to bed. At four a.m. I got out of bed and went into the cold pre-dawn to wait for the first combis from Andamarca to arrive. I ended up outside until six thirty am (that's how reliable the arrivals are) and I never saw my bag or the combi, and the bus company lady was about as helpful as a rotten log.

So we went to Cusco that day with a fancy new police report to say how my bag just disappeared, and we visited the consulate who took my name and number and tut-tutted us back out again. She thought for sure my bag had been stolen, which is what most people thought.
I went back to Andamarca, still kind of bummed that I'd lost my leatherman and my sleeping bag and my dollar copy of Earthly Paradise by Colette (my favorite book). We went all the way back to Andamarca and I began telling everyone in town that my bag was missing in case someone decided to help me out and tell me what I ought to do. I got many suggestions, most of which consisted of making the bus company pay me something. However, I knew that the bus company couldn't pay me what the things I had lost were worth. I had lost my digital camera, my passport, my rain gear. Total net worth of said bag was approximately one thousand dollars, which is what a family here earns in 2-4 years.

The big break finally happened like this. The other bus company told me to talk to the teacher up at the high school who had his own radio show in the next town over, and could spread the word fast. So we went up there and chatted and he took down my information (missing bag: reward offered) while about five people stood around and asked me questions. And then I talked with our friend William Zelada, who is a police captain, and he questioned the bus company lady in Andamarca. Their conversation went like this:
Zelada: do you know the name of the driver of the combi where she lost her bag?
Lady: Nope, we don't have those records. But he came by just this morning.
Zelada: Ok, well, was he the one who came in here in the early morning? Around four?
Lady: Yes, that was him.
Zelada: well, you tell him he's facing charges for not telling the police about that omnibus tipped over up there on the pampa. He drove by them, then drove through here and didn't tell the police about the accident.
Lady: Oh, that wasn't OUR guy. Did I say he came in at four? No, he came in around 8 am, just after the other company had arrived.

That was the interrogation. Then we all ate tuna fruits on the side of the road and shot the breeze.

Nothing happened for a couple of days. We went to Puquio again and dropped Amy off on a bus from there to Cusco, and came back. That night we went to the scissor dance competition in town with Pelayo, one of our good friends. Andamarca is famous for its scissor dance--a dance performed by young men who shake a special non-functioning pair of scissors to the accompaniment of a harp and two violins (or sometimes two harps and four violins). They compete against each other in ritual dance competitions that last sometimes for days. On the way to the competition we were stopped by one of the three water alcaldes (mayors) who I had met way back in August at the water festival.

"Pelayo," he said, "didn't this girl here lose a bag? My shepherd saw another shepherd find a bag up in the pampa and it had a camera in it." It turned out that Pelayo was somehow related to the guy who supposedly found the bag, which must have just fallen off the combi as we drove. The next day Hannah and I went up to find my bag with Zelada (the policeman), the town doctor (he didn't have anything else to do that day) and Pelayo. We went to the house of the shepherd and spoke with his señora (and pet the kitten whose whiskers were curled from sitting too close to the fire) and they brought out my bag. My bag! But it was missing the camera and some other few things, so we asked the señora where to find them. She didn't know, but her husband would be home soon and she told us we ought to ask him. We settled down to have some oranges with everyone in the house while we waited, and talked politics and about how frightening their dog was (smaller than a teacup but barks like a doberman on helium). Soon the boys got impatient so we got in the truck again and drove up to the pampa to look for the shepherd. We trolled along the roads looking for our man, who was reputedly tending a flock of sheep, not alpacas or llamas (and that is how we found him--lots of alpacas up there, not so many sheep).

We stalked out over the sagebrush plain for our meeting with the man of the highlands. Alfredo Flores was chewing a wad of coca leaves so black I think he must have been on it for at least a month. He didn't know about my bag just at first, but when we told him we'd already seen it he asked, "Now, aren't those documents kind of important?" But he would tell us nothing about the camera--"What camera? It didn't have a camera." That's when Pelayo broke in with some heavy negotiations in Quechua and after a few minutes everyone heaved a sigh of relief when Pelayo told the boys, "Oh, his son Coki has the camera." I had no idea what they were talking about, but the boys all say not to worry because they all play soccer with Coki and he's a fine chap. We headed back down to the house with the rancher in tow and we gave him his reward: 50 soles, a plastic bag full of grain alcohol and a big 2 liter bottle of Andina Kola. A little later that afternoon, Zelada dropped off my camera and my iPod charger (must've thought they went together). And that was that. Pretty lucky, I think.

Items still missing:
thick white wool sweater
face wash
Zoe's ring
my comb

The Seedling Project in March (2006)

Hello from Cusco,

The Seedling Project is going like gangbusters at present. We wanted everyone to know that we've updated the website (take a look at ) with funny new features like recipes, a dictionary of Peruvian slang, and maps and such. We've also added a new staff member. We always wanted the website to be bilingual and lo and behold Joshua Blanchard, a Spanish-British citizen of the world, showed up on Cusichaca's doorstep to volunteer this last month. He ended up signing on with us instead, and will be busily translating the whole new website in the next few months.

In the past month we've also seen a lot more having to do with chemicals in the countryside. Andamarca has a few people using chemicals on their potatoes, which we didn't know was happening. According to the agronomists at Cusichaca, the chemical (Tamaron) has been banned in the US since 1997, is about as potent as DDT, is carcinogenic, and has killed off all the toads (the very creature that kills the worms the chemical is trying to combat). This of course just makes us feel like what we're doing is vital, since organic methods are extremely effective when used properly. What we're doing will help promote organic farming here in the mountains as well as enter the international discourse on sustainable agriculture. We also found a really great poster selling chemicals (see photo).

We are looking for funds if anyone hears of any likely grants or programs that they think we ought to know about. Our information is also up on the DER website (Documentary Educational Resources) so online tax-deductible donations are now possible. When we get back in mid-April we'll start editing what we've gotten so far and plan to have a fundraiser (likely in May).

In other fun news, Hannah and I have borrowed a chacra (plot of land) of our own from our friend Pelayo. We've got about four andenes that we'll be planting with some late-season crop to see if we can use the organic methods we've learned about. I think we'll be borrowing bulls from Pelayo and should be plowing in a few days (wish us luck). We're not sure but think it might be a sort of funny/interesting bit of the film (though I am reluctant to see myself in front of the camera).

We've gotten a lot of interviews this month, including an interview of our friend Prisco Iruri's dad, who is a 72-year old alpaquero (alpaca rancher). He laughed at me when I admitted that I didn't know how to make cheese. "It's easy! You just add casein to milk! It's best when the casein is from an alpaca! Delicious." Still doesn't explain how you make casein...

We also interviewed a man named German Marchena and his son Raul, who live in the most lovely house high in the mountains above Pampachiri. When we asked them if they considered themselves poor, they said, "No, not at all. We have everything we need, we have vegetables and fresh air and the ability to make our lives here. People in Lima are surrounded by concrete. If they have no job, they cannot eat, they have no place to live."

Oh, also we have a logo now. It's in the shape of a plot of land being used for systema laymi in the mountains (we just traced the plot of land from a photo). Check out for more on that.

As always, feel free to forward this along to anyone you think might be interested, or tell people to sign up for the newsletter by emailing . Muchisimas gracias.

That's the latest from all of us. Hope all of you are doing well and looking forward to spring.
Andrea, Hannah and Jon (and now Joshua)

Let me know if you'd rather be off the list. Happy to oblige.