Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Munich’s Beautiful Botanical Garden

By Samantha Rothbart

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The Munich Botanical Garden may be a little sparse at the moment, but even without the vibrant green foliage that dominates the city in the summer, it is an impressive sight. You might expect the leafless branches to create an air of dejection. On the contrary, they serve to highlight the beautiful structure of the trees and plants—what Roy Campbell called the “clear anatomy” in his poem Autumn.

Even so, new signs of life are starting to soften the severe edges. Green shoots peek through the rich, dark soil in the ornamental garden. Soon, the tulips will begin to flower and the plants will need to be potted and then replanted, Dr. Andreas Gröger explains. He is a botanist and the scientific curator of the Botanical Garden. Though he is not overly fond of the stylized beauty of the ornamental garden—he was initially quite hesitant about having to assume responsibility for it—he acknowledges that it’s a magnet for the “normal” folk who find themselves out and about for the day. The manicured lawns and whimsical flowers are a gateway drug for first-time visitors and would-be botanists. They draw us deeper into the secretive greenhouses of the wild species that so fascinate Gröger, and expose us to what he calls “real ecology.” Continue reading


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Making Tracks: Anitra Nelson

“Goolengook and Guernica”

By Anitra Nelson

In the Guernica of today’s universal threat from future climate change, environmental campaigners fight for light-bulb suns, such as the ecologically precious “Goolengook.” In the southeastern state of Victoria, Goolengook was the site of the longest-running forest blockade in Australia’s history. From January 1997, activists kept vigil for more than five years until a final, successful, raid in March 2002 by the government agency responsible.

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Mural of Picasso’s “Guernica” made in tiles and full size. Photo: Papamanila (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons. {FoP-Spain}

During this period, Goolengook became an icon and battleground to protect the old-growth forests of East Gippsland, forests said to have given birth to the eucalypts of southeastern Australia. Covering more than one million hectares, the forests of East Gippsland harbor hundreds of rare and threatened species of plants and animals. Such forests are villi in the lungs of the planet, significant carbon sinks. If, and as, they are cleared—for timber, settlements, agriculture, and even monospecies plantations—the entire planet suffers. Continue reading


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Making Tracks: Paula Ungar

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

“Walking the Line between Worlds”

By Paula Ungar

The first thing I wrote of which I have clear memory is a short verse from when I was nine years old. It was dedicated to a bird that got caught in my grandmother’s tenth-floor apartment in Bogotá, to which we had recently moved from the countryside. After several minutes of distressed wings flapping between armchairs and porcelain figurines, the pigeon managed to escape through a window, leaving a solitary feather behind. I stuck it next to my inspired writing—for some reason, I felt the need to attach proof to the volatile words.

We used to live in the countryside, in a small village near Bogotá. If I close my eyes I can still see the silhouette of El Majuy, the mountain that watched over us from behind our house, and the water falling in silver threads out of the watering can when I tended to the garden, changing the color of the earth around the coriander plants from dry grey to rich black. The smell of that black earth often comes back to me, along with the distant barking of the neighbors’ dogs and the awkward feeling on my hands of the legs of scarabs, which visited our porch on cold, rainy afternoons.

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Páramo de Sumapaz, Colombian Eastern Andes. Photo: Paula Ungar.

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Snapshot: Busy Urban Mining Bees

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Andrena mining bee (probably Andrena cineraria) looking for a nest tunnel on a street verge in Munich. Photograph: Harriet Windley

The warm temperatures we saw here in Munich at the beginning of April were likely the trigger for the frantic mating spectacle of Andrena mining bees. These busy little bees overwinter in burrows and over the course of a few days in spring, the adults emerge to reproduce. A frenzy ensues as the males wrestle each other to catch and mate with the emerging females. The females dig new tunnels stocked with pollen and nectar in which to lay their eggs, which may then be infiltrated by other cleptoparasitic bee species. Mining bees prefer sandy and loose soils and, for this reason, are commonly found in tended lawns and verges in urban areas. The bee captured in the picture above seemed to be searching for a tunnel entrance amid human litter.


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Bavarian Beavers Remind Us of Lent

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A tree felled by beavers next to the Isar in Munich. Photograph: Robin Aschoff.

Walking along the Isar and Würm rivers in Munich you can see the remnants of trees that have been felled by the resident, nonhuman “ecological engineers.” Conservationists are delighted by the success of beaver reintroduction programs, but residents on the receiving end of beaver-related damage and safety hazards are beginning to find cause for complaint. Even the Deutsches Museum has been affected—the leveling of shores surrounding the museum, necessary for vital restoration work, caused concern given the protected status of resident beavers. However, it seems that the landscaping did little harm, and the animals remain a popular feature of city tours of the area. Where the construction and feeding activity of beavers meets human spaces and agriculture, problems are bound to arise. Scientists in northwest Germany, with the help of ecotourists, are analyzing the expanding beaver populations in the hope of understanding how best to mitigate future conflicts.

There is also another especially timely reason to turn our attention to beavers right now—in the meat-free forty days of Lent, beaver is (historically) fair game. Apparently—along with other “amphibious” animals like otter, and barnacle geese (a whole other story)—beaver is aquatic enough to constitute a non-meat addition to the Lent menu. We once hunted them to near-extinction, but could beavers again become so numerous that they reappear on our menus? If you want to know a bit more about the fascinating history of beavers at lent (and what beaver tastes like), take a look at former RCC Board member Dolly Jørgensen’s  2014 blog post!

 

 


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Making Tracks: Salma Monani

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

“70mm is Big!” Rethinking Cinema, Otherness, and Ecological Relations

by Salma Monani

Going to the movies during my childhood in the mid-1970s and early 1980s in India was a rare and occasional outing. Theaters, unlike the multiplexes of today, had one huge “Cinerama” screen, affectionately called “70mm.”  These were so deliciously huge that South Indian restaurants served up their famously enormous “70mm” dosa in honor of the big screen—so big that the crispy crepe roll overflowed into your neighbor’s space at the table.  Before I knew that 70mm referred to the special film stock used for theater projections, and not to the screen itself, I was always delighted that tiny millimeters could suggest something so large. Continue reading


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CfP: Foreign Bodies, Intimate Ecologies: Transformations in Environmental History

Conveners: Dr Emily O’Gorman (Macquarie University), Dr Ruth Morgan (Monash University), Prof. Christof Mauch (Rachel Carson Center), Dr Cameron Muir (The Australian National University), Dr Alessandro Antonello (University of Oregon)

Sponsors: Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU, Munich, Germany; Sydney Environment Institute, University of Sydney, Australia; Centre for Environmental History, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia; Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia; and Faculty of Arts, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

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