The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Year Without a Summer

October 25, 2016 | by

The climate event that helped create Frankenstein and the bicycle.

Depiction of the Mount Tambora eruption.

A depiction of the Mount Tambora eruption

Last year marked the two-hundredth anniversary of the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora, among the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. This year marks the two-hundredth anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Next year, 2017, will be the two-hundredth anniversary of Baron Karl Drais’s “running machine,” the precursor to the modern bicycle. Strange as it may seem, these three events are all intimately related; they’re all tied together by the great shift in climate that made 1816 the “year without a summer.” Read More »

Venus of the Woods

October 4, 2016 | by

Celebrating the history of the beloved ash tree.

Charles May, The Old Ash, photograph, 1863.

Charles May, The Old Ash, photograph, 1863.

As a small child, my mother was taken to the Lake District, in the hope that she would have a better chance of survival under the shelter of the northwestern hills than at home on the flat, overexposed coast of Lincolnshire. It was early 1940. It would have been a grand adventure, were it not for the constant reminders that things were not as they should be. It was not just the absence of fathers, uncles, brothers, but the presence in the hotel grounds of oddly damaged things: a blind cat, a broken wheelbarrow, a man who had been at Dunkirk and did not seem quite like other grown-ups. What my mother remembers most vividly is a young woman, pale in face and dress, who spent her days sitting outside, staring up into the branches of the tall ash tree and drawing what she saw. When the sun came out, her pencil lines darkened, turning the tracery of tiny branches into black lace veils. She never spoke, but day after day she looked up and re-created the impossible patterns on her large, flat sheets of paper. What did the ash tree mean to that unknown woman? Or to my mother, in whose agitated, impressionable mind it took root and has remained ever since?

The ash tree is known as the Venus of the woods, and it seems to stir powerful feelings in those who gaze on its graceful form. Whether it is standing in spacious parkland or in an unkempt, November hedge, or rising naked from a sea of bluebells, the ash’s curvy limbs taper to an end with tips pointing to the heavens. A young ash is often like a half-open peacock’s tail, not quite ready to display its beauties; the branches of a mature ash, once fully fanned out, will slope down toward the earth, before sweeping up again, as if to send the buds flying. Through the summer the boughs cascade in all directions, wave-shaped and covered in green sprays. There are no angles on a young ash tree—everything is rounded and covered in fluttering foliage, soft as the feathers in a boa or the fur of a chinchilla. The boughs gain a few inches and furrow with the passing years, but with maturity come striking attitudes. In winter their silhouettes stencil clear skies like a row of unframed stained glass windows. The ebullient black buds stand proud, as if impatient for the spring, but in fact the ash is usually the last to come into leaf and the first to shed its seasonal foliage. The uncovered form of the ash, though, is just as compelling as the full-dress splendor of more eye-catching trees. Read More »

Distant Hammers

February 4, 2016 | by

Notes on art and apocalypse.

From Patrick Reed’s “Distant Hammers.”

How will the end come? Did it already come? Did we miss it? That we can ask this last question shows just how far our current mood of millenarianism has traveled from its antecedents in the distant and not-so-distant past. As late as Eliot, poets and prognosticators assured us that we would recognize “how the world ends.” Most visions of apocalypse were spectacular, sublime. The possibility that we have instead whimpered our way into some kind of boiling-frog scenario—marked by slow but irreversible global warming, mass human displacement, and a gradually perceptible slide toward famine, disease, war, and extinction—is a radical departure from the convulsive display we’d long been promised.

The first properly apocalyptic writings in the monotheistic tradition are the books of Joel and Zechariah, two of the twelve minor prophets in the Tanakh, or Jewish canon. Joel, whose account may date to the reign of King Josiah, around 800 B.C., and who may therefore be the oldest prophet, begins by describing a coming locust infestation, which he claims will be coincident with famine and widespread misery. The lament transforms into a hallucinogenic description of locusts as God’s army (“the increasing locust, the nibbling locust, the finishing locust, and the shearing locust”), of a fire that consumes the world, and of a day of thick darkness “like the dawn spread over the mountains.” The more famous book of Daniel follows approximately in this mold, albeit with new messianic trappings. Read More »

Letter from COP21

December 11, 2015 | by

All photos © Sara Fox

Day 0

There are more police than protestors at Place de République. White vans block the ten streets leading into the square. Officers wearing black shoulder pads, batons, tear gas canisters, machine guns, pistols, pepper spray, walkie talkies, cell phones, earpieces, sound grenades, assault rifles, plastic shields and handcuffs casually chat as the protest grows. On a side street I watch a policeman pass a large Tupperware container filled with salad around to his fellow officers.

The planet has warmed rapidly since the late nineteenth century, and nearly two hundred countries have come to Paris to talk about it. Protestors from half as many nations came, too, and planned the largest climate march in history. It was supposed to start in Place de République this morning. Since the Paris attacks of November 13, the government of France declared a state of emergency and banned the march, along with most other large public gatherings. Read More »

Essex Girl

February 21, 2013 | by



We traveled from East London in a Zipcar, beating the traffic bound for Lakeside, the out-of-town shopping center. The pier car park was sparsely filled with cars. Abandoned in a corner was a statue of the Virgin Mary the size of an umbrella stand. Out of season, the Essex archipelago lures only the most hardened. By October, the weather is spitting and icy, and its landscape is too bleak and monotonous to qualify as ruggedly beautiful. A Wikipedia entry had told us there are nineteen islands off the coast of Essex, most of them owned by the British Ministry of Defence and contracted to private companies testing ammunitions. The individual entries were nearly all stubs, waiting to be filled in. An archipelago struck a curious exotic note in a place associated mostly with commuting, military test sites, and, most recently, “constructed reality” television.

American import Jersey Shore inspired The Only Way is Essex, a show similarly centered on the intricate love lives of pneumatic people living in an area derided for being culturally bankrupt, despite its proximity to one of the most exciting cities in the world. Jersey’s Essex County was even named after the UK’s own historical Essex, in 1683. Maybe there’s no need to make analogies between the UK’s Essex and anywhere else because its reputation is internationally bad, and we don’t defend it. The county town Chelmsford, where I was born, was voted eighth best place to live in the UK on the prerecession property-porn show Location Location Location. Residents promptly rang in to call it soulless; flashy on one hand and tedious on the other, like a nouveau riche neighbor with dull preoccupations. Read More »


Watching the Oil Spill

June 14, 2010 | by

Dear Lorin,

It’s strange that, right as you confer on me the undeserved (but I hope not wasted) honor of Southern Editorship, this region would reclaim its hold on the American imagination. I refer to the underwater live feed of the oil leak. Are you watching it? Down here we do little else. I made these notes on the experience. They may not be appropriate for the new blog. You said on the phone, if I remember, that you wanted to cover “the intersection of culture and everyday life.” But the leak has simply overpowered culture, to the extent that anything happening in that department now assumes a ghoulish cast.

You can feel the other millions of people watching, especially late at night, and at times there has even been a Lincoln’s Death Train quality to this thing, a sense of shared, and deliberately prolonged, mass shock.

On YouTube, collections have formed of people’s favorite moments from the feed, sequences they found beautiful, or ones that appear to support a theory they developed about something BP did and lied about.

When something odd occurs in the frame—when three orange sponge-looking objects float by, for example, or when a striped tube-shaped thing rises up at the left and vanishes into the oil—there’s this reflex to call out to the others, and verify that they’ve seen it.

One clip going around shows an eel that swims up to the plume and hangs out for a few seconds, like, What the . . .

It looks as if they’ve somehow beamed a Victorian-era smokestack to the bottom of the ocean, and it’s billowing brown ash.

Read More »