Environment & Nature

Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes
By Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“I feel very strongly in the sort of planning that I do, that you feel the changes all the time.  It is a changing beauty: from beauty into beauty.” Piet Oudolf

In the introduction of Gardens of the High Line, Richard Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the Highline, addresses the issues that confronted the creators of the gardens. Is the goal to preserve the natural wildness of the vegetation or to recreate entirely? The final decision was to find something in between, that both honors the desire to conserve but also understands the value of change. 

Matt Johnson’s Untitled (Swan) was crafted from one of the High Line’s original steel rails

What resulted was both native and introduced flora:  “[a] multi-season garden of perennials, where the skeletons of plants have as much a part in the landscape as new growth … the wilderness in the city, the art museum on a train track. Like the park itself, the gardens hover between beauty and decay.”  

The High Line gardens are a true reflection of New York City. It is a place of growth and loss, romance and introspection; elements that are fixed and others that are constantly transforming. And, amazingly, it is where these aspects can co-exist.

The book’s prose is as elegant and eloquent as its imagery. It gives multi-leveled insight to not only the creation of the space but the more esoteric motivations beneath. It takes the reader through the history of the High Line and its roots in industry. It discusses its changing identity and evolution and, finally, its reinvention. 

There is also a detailed exploration of wild gardens, citing historical sources, and how untamed growth often transforms ruins. It explains the art that inspires and the craft that designs — and, most importantly — the alchemy that joins the two. This is not your average gardening book.

“Though it’s unlikely there will ever be another place quite like the High Line, it offers a wealth of insights and approaches worthy of emulation in gardens large or small, public or private. Authentic in spirit and execution, the High Line’s gardens offer a journey that is intriguing, unpredictable, imperfect, and, above all, transformative.”

After the introductory analyses, the book begins at the southernmost end of the High Line, at the Gansevoort Woodland, the area that is Gansevoort Street through Little West 12th Street. The route continues north, each section highlighting a different area: Washington Grasslands, Hudson River Overlook, etc., going all the way up to the Rail Yards, ending at West 34th Street.  

Ultimately, the glory of this book is the hundreds of photos by Rick Darke to be seen and savored. The photography is vivid, an explosion of color and texture. The chapters offer dozens of photos that span a range of viewpoints, showing the change of seasons, both extreme and subtle. Each turn of the page reveals the gardens in some different perspective, no two alike, but allowing the viewer to see the similarities as well as the contrasts. The book shows both an unbridled and an organized environment through the prism of the world as nature’s art gallery.

A compass plant frames the view west across the Hudson River to New Jersey.

In the end, the authors see the book’s goal as one that will “serve as a beautiful memory of a great place, as guide to the infinite opportunities it presents to practice the art of observation and as an inspiration to all who, publicly or privately, seek to elevate the nature of modern landscapes.” They have succeeded in a work that honors artistry and insight with deep understanding, celebrated through hundreds of dazzling and breathtaking images.

Published by Timber Press, Gardens of the High Line: Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes is available online at www.timberpress.com, www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.

Joe Glenn, Avalon Park & Preserve, Photo of the Week, deer

PICTURE PERFECT

Joe Glenn was lucky enough to spot this beautiful deer while visiting Avalon Park & Preserve in his hometown of Stony Brook. While the park remains open to visitors, the entrance at the Stony Brook Grist Mill is now temporarily closed for renovations.

Send your Photo of the Week to [email protected]

 

Main Street in Port Jefferson. Photo by Sapphire Perara

By Sapphire Perera

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a temporary solution for the climate crisis. For many years, people have sought out various approaches to bring down greenhouse gas emissions and improve the environment through renewable energy sources. However, the coronavirus pandemic has proved to be the most effective solution yet. The earth is finally being allowed to breathe. Many scientists are calling this pandemic a temporary solution to the climate crisis but I believe that we can continue to have air with lower carbon dioxide levels, water that is clear and clean and a healthy environment if we all worked hard to change our daily routine. 

Sapphire Perera

The COVID-19 started healing the environment in China: the most polluted country on earth. Due to the forced closings of factories, shut-downs of manufacturing plants and mandatory quarantines for its citizens, there were reductions in coal and crude oil usage. It resulted in a reduction in CO2 emissions of 25 percent or more, which is approximately six percent of total global emissions. Italy was the country next in line to feel the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic. However, with everyone in quarantine, Italy followed China in terms of environmental revival. In only a few months, the people of Venice were able to see the fish and the bottom of the canals that were once murky and polluted. In India, similar improvements were being seen. The beautiful snow-covered Himalayas were once hidden by smog but after months of quarantine and a strict curfew, they could be seen by the Jalandhar citizens from more than one hundred miles away; they claim that it’s the first time in 30 years that they’ve clearly seen the Himalayas.

These changes to the environment are being seen all across the world. However, once quarantine ends, the earth will be suffocated by humans once again. To prevent this, I believe that more time and resources should be invested in the search for permanent solutions that would ameliorate the climate crisis. In terms of individual change, I know that there are hundreds of ways for us to stop partaking in the activities that promote the oil industry and fossil fuel industry. For instance, we can stop using cruise ships and motorboats for personal entertainment. According to the 2016 Pacific Standard report, “each passenger’s carbon footprint while cruising is roughly three-times it would be on land”. 

In addition to regulating our carbon footprint through marine activities, we can also start placing more emphasis on alternative sports that don’t require corporate culture producers who promote environmentally unfriendly functions and corporations. Also, while this last one might be a small change, it can have a great impact. This change requires us to use less of our private vehicles to get places, and more of the public transport system. Transport makes up about 72 percent of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. If public transportation is increased to the point that families are taking buses and trains more than their own cars, we might be able to significantly reduce the percentage of gas emissions that come from driving.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY-14 Bronx) Green New Deal reinforces some of these ideas and has already shown results through the pandemic. Some proposals in the Green New Deal include high-speed rail, removing combustible engines from the road, upgrading all existing buildings, and retraining coal workers. 

One very important aspect of this Green New Deal is to reduce air travel. Many people find that to be too drastic a step towards fixing climate change, but is it really? According to a Center for Biological Diversity report, airplanes will generate about forty-three gigatonnes of planet-warming pollution through 2050. But with the current travel restrictions and just a few months of limited air travel, we are seeing clouds of nitrogen dioxide begin to evaporate from places above Italy and China. In addition to being less dependent on air travel, we are now less dependent on the coal mining industries. This has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the employment of coal workers; over 34,000 coal mining jobs have disappeared in the U.S. in the past decade. Fortunately, the Green New Deal focuses on training the coal workers in occupations pertaining to renewable and clean energy, and infrastructure. By eliminating the coal mining industry we would be making great leaps in the fight against the climate crisis. 

Ever since the green revolution, humanity has been taking more than they need from the environment. We have abused Earth’s natural resources and expanded into territories that were inhabited by other species. I hope that this coronavirus pandemic has shown us that humanity doesn’t have to behave like a virus. We don’t have to continue worsening the climate crisis but instead, we could learn from this pandemic and start implementing regulations such as limited air travel and increased public transportations. We can turn consumerism to conservation, capitalism to socialism, and industrialism to environmentalism. 

Sapphire Perera is a junior at Port Jefferson high school. The “Turtle Island,” as the name for this ongoing column refers to the Native American mythology about North America existing on the back of a great turtle that bears every living being on its spine.

SPRING GARDEN

Stony Brook Camera Club member Pam Botway snapped these gorgeous photos to share with our readers  in perfect timing with Earth Day. The East Setauket resident writes, “Here are some cheery photos of spring. Reminding people to look for the good or be part of the good, during these scary times.”

'Nature's Best Hope'

Reviewed by John L. Turner

Author Doug Tallamy Photo by Rob Cardillo

Authors have differing goals for writing. For some, the motivation is to entertain, for other’s it’s to illuminate some slice of life, and for others still it’s to explore some fascinating historical event. In rare cases, though, the author writes with the not-so-modest goal of changing the world by presenting a new and novel way of looking at things, the result being a change to a person’s perspective on an issue, concept or their set of values.

Changing the world, or at least a part of it, by shifting our collective mindset is Doug Tallamy’s goal in his highly insightful book Nature’s Best Hope. The target of this change? The front and backyards of suburbia, dominated as they are by grass lawns and non-native shrubs. As Tallamy makes clear our yards are a virtual dead zone, biologically speaking, requiring vast amounts of water and chemicals and which provides little to no food or shelter for wildlife, large and small.

In its place, Tallamy sees a suburbia vibrantly alive with wildlife — butterflies and moths, pollinating bees, and abundant birds — all sustained by widespread plantings of native, life-sustaining plant species — white oaks, willows, and black cherry trees; elderberry, arrowwood and spicebush shrubs interspersed among beds of wildflowers including goldenrods (not the producers of hay fever!), asters, evening primrose, blazing stars, and milkweeds. He sees residential landscape design incorporating new values beyond just aesthetics to include the needs of the local ecology by providing species that help maintain, and to a large degree enhance, local food webs. 

What does he call this interconnected webs of land with interconnected native plant and animal species flourishing within? Homegrown National Park, a place every bit as diverse as any national park existing today and “Nature’s Best Hope” for restoring highly important ecological relationships.

‘Nature’s Best Hope’

As Tallamy makes clear, the spread of “sterile suburbia,” dominated by turf grass and exotic trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, is not a small problem. Collectively, lawns take up approximately forty million acres of land in the United States, equivalent to the combined size of the states of New York and Massachusetts. And it is growing daily.

And as Tallamy further makes clear, this growth has come at a high ecological cost. Forests and fields, filled with native plants that sustain caterpillars, bumblebees, squirrels, and Scarlet Tanagers, are replaced with exotic and sterile plants — Callery Pears, Arborvitae, hostas, and English Ivy, to name but a few. These plants and other exotics are fed upon by very few species, causing food webs to fall apart, a trend that portends an ominous future.

Here’s but one example — butterfly and moth caterpillars are the major source of food that songbirds feed their young — and oak species sustain 557 caterpillar species! If there are oaks, and other native trees, then the local food web is intact; remove and replace them and other native plants with non-natives and it unravels — insects decline followed by birds and mammals.

And this unraveling, happening quietly before our eyes, means that Tallamy’s idea isn’t just an interesting one — it is vital to our survival! Birds are not the only group of animals dependent on insects for their survival — we humans depend upon insects too. If we were to do away with all insects, human society would soon collapse and humanity would simply not survive long-term for there would be no replacement agent to pollinate the nearly 90% of all plants that they currently depend upon insects for.

Many insects are in trouble, a trend which scientists have labeled the “insect apocalypse.” Several North American bumblebees have already gone extinct and 25% of our other native bumblebees risk extinction. Many other of the continent’s 4,000 bee species are in trouble too, not to mention countless moths, butterflies, and beetles. Even the workhorse European honey bee is in trouble.

Tallamy is a fine writer with an interesting and clear style and he presents subjects and concepts in logical sequence. Color photographs of numerous plants and butterflies (and their famous larvae-caterpillars) fill the book and there’s an informative question and answer section in the back of the book. Also, an extensive bibliography is available if the reader is interested in digging deeper into some concept covered in the book.

And the most important chapter in the book? Chapter 11, entitled “What Each of Us Can Do.” The chapter includes a bunch of common sense ideas: shrink the size of your lawn; remove invasive species; plant native plants that are ecologically important like the aforementioned oaks and goldenrods and be generous with these plantings; talk to, and team up, with your neighbor to coordinate plantings; install bee hotels; place covers over sunken window wells that can serve as death traps for small mammals and amphibians; use motion-sensing security lights that only go on when needed (security lights that stay on all the time can kill hundreds if not thousands of moths attracted to the light); and do not spray or fertilize — native plants don’t need it.

Each of us can do some or all of these things. If we do any of them, we are helping to expand Homegrown National Park!

Released in February through Timber Press, Nature’s Best Hope is available online at www.timberpress.com, www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com. For more information on the author, visit www.bringingnaturehome.net.

The Piping Plover could be completely lost from the shores of Long Island due to climate change. Photo by Kimberley Caruso/Audubon Photography Awards

By Brooke Bateman

Brooke Bateman

Fifty years ago on April 22nd, millions of Americans made their voices heard. It was this first Earth Day that brought on the environmental movement as we know it today, where concerned individuals collectively said that it was time to take action to be better for our planet. 

Across the country, people demanded that action be taken to clean up our air and water and protect our environment. The momentum of that day helped bring about public support in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and helped usher through the passage of key laws including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. 

As Earth Day 2020 is set to be celebrated in nearly 200 countries, this year’s celebration may look different to the crowd-filled events and rallies typical of this day; we are in truly unprecedented times. As I write this we are a few weeks into the pandemic quarantine, but I am blessed to be outside listening to the familiar calls of the birds I have come to know in my neighborhood. 

That’s the thing about birds; their presence can connect us to the local rhythms of nature, the signature of a time and place. As the majority of people are spending their days at home on lockdown, I have had many friends reach out to me about how much solace they are finding in birds right now. As one of the most beloved and ubiquitous forms of wildlife, birds are our connector to nature around us. Birds are also our messengers and if we pay attention, they’re showing us that our world is changing. 

Over the last 50 years, America has lost over one quarter of its birds, nearly 3 billion birds less fill our skies today then in 1970. Yet, the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is being dismantled, making it much more likely that even more will be lost and without any accountability for incidental loss. 

We are losing nature at an unprecedented rate, yet we are seeing rollbacks on some of our bedrock protections such as the Clean Air and Water Acts, making it easier for our planet to be polluted yet again. Looking forward to the next 50 years, climate change is the biggest issue both birds and people alike will face. Birds are already telling us that our climate is changing — birds ranges are changing, shifting and contracting as the climate conditions change across the globe. Birds like the Rusty Blackbird are lost to large parts of their historical range as climate conditions worsen. Whole communities are collapsing, with mass seabird die offs now happening yearly off our northern shores due to warming sea temperatures. Seabirds like puffins and murres are dying from starvation from the changes in the food web brought about by extreme heat in the oceans. 

Bird migration has shifted. As spring arrives earlier and earlier, birds are either having to migrate earlier or find themselves out of luck when they arrive too late and their resources have past their peak. Even the herald of spring, the American Robin, has decided that it may not have to fly south after all, sticking around through warmer winters in many places. 

Without global action, such as the Paris accord (of which the U.S. is no longer a part of), how can we meet the significant actions needed to limit global temperatures to 2C (or preferably 1.5C)? The consequence of not doing so is that our planet would be transformed into a more inhospitable place. 

The consequence is potentially losing billions more birds. Audubon’s Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink, a report forecasting the survival of birds to climate change, shows that two-thirds of North American bird species are at risk of extreme range loss and potentially extinction from unmitigated climate change. In New York, 116 species are vulnerable to climate change, including charismatic species like the Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, American Woodcock, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and Piping Plover. 

The Piping Plover could be completely lost from the shores of Long Island due to climate change. No species will escape climate change, with birds (and the places they share with us) also facing multiple coincident climate change-related threats. New York will experience greater extreme heat events, increased coastal and inland flooding from sea level rise and heavy rainfall, increased pressures from urbanization, and disrupted ecosystems.

But this loss is so much more than just numbers. It is the loss of some of our familiar neighborhood birds we have come to know and love, of nature and our sense of place as we know it. It is not being able to share the joy of seeing a Piping Plover on our beaches with our children. It is the loss of our familiar seasons and weather patterns, where extreme events and natural disasters become more frequent. It’s some of our more vulnerable communities being put at further risk, as climate change will disproportionately affect our children, our elderly, lower income communities, and communities of color. 

However, we still have time, and as the threat of climate change grows, so does the work we need to do. If we can limit climate change to between 1.5C to 2.0C, then we can limit the loss we will come to see. Indeed, 76% of bird species will be better off if we can do just that, and our communities and environment will also not see such drastic affects. 

To get there we need to listen to the science, and make changes now both as individuals and as a nation. We have done this before. One of the greatest environmental successes of our time came as concerned Americans listened to what the birds were telling us. Toxic pesticides, pollution and ecosystem destruction were devastating some of our beloved birds including the Bald Eagle and the Brown Pelican. We gathered evidence, and looked hard at our values. 

As Americans, we decided that we value clean water, clean air, and healthy ecosystems for our wildlife and natural spaces. We decided we did not want a world where unchecked environmental destruction quieted our birds as described in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. We listened to the science and we took action, and as the environment got healthier, the birds returned. I now marvel at the Bald Eagles and Osprey that have returned to Long Island, having never been a feature of my Long Island childhood.  

So where do we stand on this 50th Earth Day? We need to yet again examine our values and embrace science-based conservation. We need to take action, to set in motion the momentum to spark the next environmental movement taking us beyond just one day. We need to face these incredible challenges and opportunities collectively, to do what needs to be done to solve this climate crisis. 

The science illustrates how our warming planet will impact both the birds we all love, and the people in our communities, but also shows us that if we act there is still time to create a brighter future for birds and people. If we do something now to stabilize climate change, then we can improve the chances for the majority of these species. And we already have a lot of the tools we need to reduce the effects of global warming. 

Climate change is a global crisis, a threat that humanity faces as a whole. Even as we face the current global pandemic threat, the need for effective and coordinated advocacy for climate change action is greater than ever. We have shown through our current pandemic crisis we are able to come together (even by being apart), and we must harness this united energy as the climate is changing and the window to act is closing. Birds are telling us, the time to act on climate change is now. 

This Earth Day, and every day, we need to come together and listen and to act on our values.  We once again need to be a collective voice of change to protect the earth we all share. 

Brooke Bateman is a mother, nature lover, and scientist. She received her PhD in Ecology and Conservation and is the Senior Scientist, Climate at the National Audubon Society. The Stony Brook resident also sits on the board of Four Harbors Audubon Society.

Peregrine falcon. Photo by Carl Safina

By Carl Safina

Carl Safina. Photo by Ines Dura

When I was 15 or so, an older neighbor took me fishing to his secret pond in Flanders. It was 1970, the year of the first Earth Day. He led me along a narrow trail through the pine woods to his special spot. It was a modest-sized pond, and the first thing I noticed was that right across the shore was a huge nest made of big sticks. It was a little dilapidated. Abandoned. 

I’d always loved birds. And among birds, I particularly was thrilled by hawks, eagles, and falcons. But living in a cookie-cut suburb of central Nassau County, my real-world contact with wild nature at that time was very limited. Much of what I knew was from books. I knew what that nest was. And I knew why it was abandoned.

It belonged to a spectacular species I’d never seen: huge fish hawks called ospreys. And I knew, also — from reading Newsday and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring — that I would probably never see them because DDT and other hard pesticides had caused all their eggs to break. Adults were now dying off wholesale due to old age, and ospreys were already erased from most of the region. 

I knew all this from reading, but actually seeing that nest made me realize in a very visceral way how narrowly I’d missed growing up in a world that contained what it was supposed to contain. I could not believe the bad luck of the timing of my life. 

Bald Eagle. Photo by Carl Safina

And speaking of bad timing; that same year The New York Times Magazine ran a story on my favorite bird — another that I had only read about and seen photos of. The title of the story: Death Comes To The Peregrine Falcon. I would never see my favorite bird, because the same pesticides that were snuffing out ospreys had also wiped peregrine falcons from their cliff-nests from the New England to the West Coast and indeed all across Europe. 

Bald eagles — forget it. A few left in places like southern Florida and Alaska, places I was sure I would never get to. 

I assumed the trends would continue. I did not yet know that a small group of people based in a place called East Setauket were about to sue for the cessation of aerial spraying of DDT and some other chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides. But they did. More surprising — they won! 

In a few years, with those pesticides banned, the new Endangered Species Act in place, and the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act signed into law by a president named Nixon, the natural environment became noticeably cleaner. 

Scientists at Cornell University had succeeded in breeding some of the last peregrine falcons in the U.S. — hatchlings collected in Arctic Alaska. So in 1976, I drove up to Ithaca, tucked my long hair under my collar, and entered the office of the breeding facility to make the strongest case I could muster for why I would be a good candidate for helping to release the first generation of captive-bred peregrine falcons into a world newly cleansed of the worst pesticides of the time. 

Carl Safina with a peregrine falcon at the age of 21

And thus I started my professional career by securing the first of several dream jobs, spending part of the summer caring for and managing the release of three precious falcon chicks that were not just birds; they were three promises we were making to ourselves and to the future of Life on Earth. If it was going to be up to us — and it was, of course — this wondrous species, the fastest living thing in the world, would not vanish from this planet.

That was also the year that I saw an osprey in Cold Spring Harbor.

Other Cornell scientists, who refused to see our ospreys wither into oblivion, moved viable eggs from remaining Chesapeake pairs to failing Long Island nests, keeping a few remnant pairs on reproductive life-support so that a smattering of new young birds might survive and return to the region. 

It all started working. Ospreys did start coming back, laying eggs that no longer broke. Slowly at first and then to a degree I never could have imagined, ospreys recovered and came off the Endangered Species list. New York City now hosts the densest known nesting population of peregrine falcons in the world, sited on bridges and tall buildings, back in the Hudson’s Palisades, and even, locally, around Port Jefferson Harbor. 

Bald eagles are nesting on Long Island for the first time in our lives, with perhaps a dozen pairs now, and regular sightings in our Setauket and Stony Brook communities. All of that we owe to the few, early, never-say-die scientists and environmentalists of the first Earth Day era.

When the continued existence of several species of whales was very much in doubt, people who are now friends and colleagues of mine worked tireless, hard-fought battles that achieved, in 1986, a global ban on most commercial whale hunting. Another of my friends was burned in effigy for her tireless work to secure regulations that would prevent the last sea turtles on the East Coast from drowning in shrimp nets. 

But whales are now so common in our waters that it is no longer exceptional to see them from our ocean beaches. Sea turtle numbers have sky-rocketed from 1980s lows. Since the 1990s I’ve worked on several key campaigns to turn around the deep depletions in our fish populations and some of these, too, have worked beyond our — and our opponents’ — expectations. 

Osprey on a nest. Photo by Carl Safina

Last summer, a friend told me of seeing several whales from the beach in East Hampton. He said they were feeding just beyond the surf on dense schools of herring-like fish called menhaden. Because they formerly existed in enormous schools, are very energy and nutrient rich, and are eaten by many kinds of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals, menhaden have been called “the most important fish in the sea.” And because of recent hard-won catch restrictions, they’ve been rapidly recovering.

The morning after I got my friend’s tip, I checked five beaches from Amagansett to the west side of East Hampton. To my astonishment, I saw whales, dolphins, and dense schools of menhaden at every stop. The next morning I took my boat around Montauk Point for a water view. I first encountered the menhaden schools just west of the Point. Millions of fish extended in an unbroken school twenty miles long, with a humpback whale or two lunging spectacularly into breakfast every mile and a half or so. I went as far west as Amagansett, traveling just beyond the surf. I took a bunch of photos and decided to head back, knowing that the fruits of these spectacular recoveries continued far down the beach.

Nature is under withering pressure worldwide. But we here on Long Island are beneficiaries of some of the best successes I know about. And the successes are both spectacular and instructive. 

When we give natural communities and endangered species a break, and make the slightest accommodation to coexist and let life live, they strive to recover the abundance, vitality, and beauty of the original world. Two things are required: we have to want it, and a few people have to move a few obstacles and let it happen. And then we can have, and pass along, a more alive, more beautiful world. It can work.

Carl Safina is an ecologist and a MacArthur Fellow. He holds the Endowed Chair for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University and is founder of the not-for-profit Safina Center. He is author of numerous books on the human relationship with the rest of the living world. Carl’s new book is “Becoming Wild; How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace.” More at CarlSafina.org and SafinaCenter.org