Thursday, June 25, 2015

Diggin the trees.

There's a fence around the UW Memorial Union parking lot this morning. It extends into the street (Langdon St.) and almost blocks my access to The Union from the east. My bike and I are forced onto the sidewalk to pass between these construction 'pens' as I make my way to Peet's for coffee. This too will close in August for the second phase of remodeling.  But this isn't about fences -- or Peet's.

The old parking lot had a center island with nice trees. As I am writing this, these are being cut down and chipped.  The plans call for replacing these trees -- and the parking lot -- with a green space (pedestrian mall) and hopefully, more trees.  I like this idea of  more green space, and I believe this will be an improvement to the campus. But, did they have to cut down the trees?

I've noticed more and more that trees get in the way of progress.  When they decide to improve  a road, or erect a building or some other monument to civilization, the first thing to go are the trees. Young or old, it doesn't seem to matter. There seems to be no thought whatever given to this life that will be lost. It is a mere blip on their radar that is easily torpedoed. "We'll just plant a new one." seems to be the attitude. "It's easy and, after all, it's good for the economy."(These days anything that is 'good for the economy' is considered sacred.)

For the past 20 years I have been planting trees in an attempt to establish a woodlot. One thing that I have learned is that Nature is much better at planting trees than I am. She knows which tree species (or individual) will thrive in a certain spot -- and which will not. No matter how much I study, or how much I think I know, my efforts are little more than guesses.  So when a tree grows and thrives in nature there is a reason for this that involves much more than merely whether a seed lands on the ground.

A professor of mine once told me that when you learn all the things that can kill trees, you will give up trying to raise them. There are soil conditions, nutrients, water, and climate that determine if a seed will sprout. Then the seedling must survive competition (eg. grass, weeds and other trees),  animal browse (eg. deer, rabbits, gophers, and mice), winter kill, hunters in their trucks, herbicide drift from neighbor's corn fields (or lawns),  deer rub,  pruning 'accidents'.  Or simply trying to plant the wrong tree in the wrong place (or time).

So with all these things working against success, it's a real accomplishment when a tree manages to grow up to be big and strong -- and, dare I say, happy. But then comes along a new 'boss' with a different idea and suddenly this tree is in the wrong place and has to go. Who knows, they may end up planting a new tree right where the old one stood (it is to become a green space after all). But these days it's easier and more economical (there's that word again) to bring in the heavy equipment; wipe the slate clean; start over from scratch.

After all, it's for the good of progress. It's for the good of the economy. It's just too bad for that tree.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Flies are Amazing

Every Tuesday morning, Jack takes a walk down to the local coffee shop where he joins a bunch of his old high school buddies for an hour or so of smart talk and/or tall tales. On this fine Tuesday morning in June, everyone seems to have something better to do than sit and drink coffee. So today it's just Jack and Glen Denning. Glen is probably the only guy in town who is farther 'out there' than Jack. 

" I never realized how amazing flies are."; Glen leaned back in his chair and took another bite out of his Danish.


"Yeah, you know those iridescent green flies."

"Okay. What's so special about them?" I asked; "They're flies."

"No, listen to this."

"Oh boy," I thought, "here we go."

"I was out in the woods yesterday, working on my hunting stand, you know, cutting sight lines so I could get a better shot at the deer. Clearing brush and that, you know." He brushed some crumbs off his chest and leaned toward me and said softly; "You know, I stopped in here for one of those great greasy steak and egg breakfasts and then headed out to the woods."

I wasn't sure why he was whispering.

He continued aloud; "Well I was just cutting away and having a great time when I got this rumbling feeling in my stomach. Just a little gas, I thought, and it would pass." He laughed at his own joke. "But it didn't, you know. It started cramping and I kinda knew where this was going so I put down the saw and started heading for the car. I figured that I'd better get to the house and take care of this."

"This isn't going where I think it's going, is it?" I said as I looked at my half eaten Danish."

"No, listen." He said. "This is cool."

"So." He continued; " I got in the car and started it up but the cramps were getting worse -- and fast. So I got out of the car. I figured I was gonna have to take care of this right away. You know, old style."  He laughed again. "So I had to find a tree to lean back against. I was wearing my big boots and saw chaps so it's not safe to just squat -- you gotta lean back against something in order to get a clear shot at the ground."

"You said this was about flies?" I asked -- hoping to change the subject.

"Yeah, I'm getting to that." He said; "Well, by now I was cramping really bad that I knew that I couldn't hold it much longer.  I leaned back against the first tree I could find and started  tearing at my chaps buckle and belt. I was holding as hard as I could but it wasn't enough to stop the inevitable."

I pushed away the Danish.

"I dropped the pants and chaps down to my boot tops and slid down the tree trunk into full squat but the deed was half done. I was able to clear my pants and my boots so I was feeling a little better -- until I looked at my underwear. You've had kids. You know what a full diaper looks like." He laughed.

"Yeah, I've seen a few of them."

"Well trust me, this was worse. Lucky I was wearing tighty whities. It was all 'contained' you know. But now there I was; stuck, you might say, with my back against the tree and full pants. How do I extricate myself without doing more 'damage'".

"You said this was about flies, right?"

"Patience. I'm getting to that. Well lucky for me, I had my hunting knife -- I always carry that when I'm in the woods. You know; habit. So I took out the knife and cut the underwear off through the leg openings and waistband. Folded it up like a diaper and tossed it clear (for now)." Then I grabbed some leaves from one of the bushes I'd just cut and wiped as well as I could. It's a far cry from Charmin, you know - leaves. But what are you gonna do, you know."

"We're really spoiled, I guess." I smiled.

"So I worked my way back up to standing and pulled my pants up again. But you know what's amazing? There were already a dozen or so of those flies just eating happily away on that shit. It was only like a minute. Where did they come from?"

"Out of thin air - you might say." I laughed.

"Yeah, I guess." He said; smiling. "But seriously; isn't that amazing."

"What's amazing is that you told me that story this while I was eating."

"But those flies can't just be everywhere. Can they? They must have an incredible sense of smell to pick that up so fast." 

"Maybe they are everywhere and we just don't see them until someone shits in the woods."

"Whatever, I still think it's amazing. Can you imagine how useful they could be if we could train them to be -- like bloodhounds. They could track down fugitives by smell. Or find lost kids."

"And once we train these flies how do we track them? Tiny little GPS transmitters attached to their tiny little legs?"

"Yeah, funny. You know, I'm just saying."

He sat back and sipped his coffee. After a while he said; "We'd have to train swarms of them and then we could follow the swarm with a drone or something."

"How do you train a fly?"

"I don't know. It must be coded in their genes, you know, to sense the smell of food. All we need to do is find out what gene codes for the smell of shit and change it to code for the smell of lost boy."

"Simple." I laughed. "Then we only need to inject that new DNA into millions of maggots and we're all set."

Glen nodded and said; "You'd probably need to modify the mother fly before she produced her eggs to get this to work. How long does it take for fly eggs to hatch and maggots to turn into flies?"

"I don't know. By then the lost boy would probably be dead and you'd have to change the gene to code for dead lost boy."

"Still, " Glen smiled as he finished off the last bite of his Danish, "you've gotta admit, flies are pretty amazing."

Bottle Fly, aka Blow Fly, aka Cadaver Fly