Throughout the eastern United States, one of our most iconic forest trees is dying. Eastern hemlock (a.k.a. Tsuga canadensis; Figure 1) is being sucked to death by a small insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid (a.k.a. Adelges tsugae). As a scientist, I study how our forests may respond to the loss of this “foundation” tree species.[i] As a human being, I cry, I mourn, and I look to the future for hope.
To reconcile the desire for knowledge and the emotional tearing that affects many of us who study eastern hemlock and all of us who are living with these fading trees,[ii] I have partnered with two artists—David Buckley Borden and Salua Rivero—to develop Hemlock Hospice: a collaborative, field-based installation that blends science, art, and design that  respects eastern hemlock and its ecological role as a foundation forest species;  promotes an understanding of the adelgid; and  encourages empathetic conversations among all the sustainers of and caregivers for our forests—ecologists and artists, foresters and journalists, naturalists and citizens—while fostering social cohesion around ecological issues.
Starting today, and over the next several weeks, we’ll be installing Hemlock Hospice in and around the oldest stand of eastern hemlocks in the Prospect Hill Tract at Harvard Forest, and I’m using this space to keep track of its background and progress. I’ll also be presenting an overview of Hemlock Hospice in a five-minute “ignite” talk at the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Portland Oregon, August 6-11, 2017.[iii]
Well, I had hoped to finish writing my last post about Valparaiso before I left for another around-the-world journey, but… here I am in Khartoum, on the east bank of the Nile, and one must live—and write—in the present.
I left Boston for the long trip to Khartoum on the afternoon of Tuesday the 31st of January, just a few days after “45” (he-whose-name-shall-not-be-written) issued the now-stayed executive order banning immigration from seven countries, one of which is Sudan; ironically, and barely noted by the media, two decades of economic sanctions imposed by the US on Sudan had been lifted by President Obama a fortnight earlier, apparently with the agreement of incoming-45. My itinerary took me from Boston to New York to Frankfurt to Cairo to Khartoum, where I arrived at 03:30 local time on Thursday, about 32 hours, and four on-time flights (thanks JetBlue, Singapore Air, and EgyptAir!) after I had checked in at Boston. I was met plane-side on the tarmac by my hosts from the University of Khartoum School of Forestry, passed rapidly through Sudan’s passport control (far more rapidly than I expect to get through US CBP—given the two-page Sudanese visa that now graces the middle of my passport—when I return to LAX in mid-March after my sequential trips to Germany and Australia that follow my stay in Sudan), had a nice cup of tea in the VIP lounge, and finally settled in, around 05:00, at the University of Khartoum Guest House. My colleague, host, and former Ph.D. student, Asst. Prof. Ahmed Siddig of the Forestry School at the University of Khartoum, thoughtfully laid in a few snacks to tide me over until breakfast the same day. Although I slept through until 13:30, barely having enough time to scarf down a quick lunch before my first meeting (click on an image to see larger ones).
With but ten days to go before I leave for another extended overseas trip (a six-week journey that is taking me to Sudan, Germany, and Australia), I’m still catching up on visions of Valparaiso. This post has a small parallel with the incredible displays of political energy in yesterday’s marches all over the US and around the world, in which good people everywhere spoke out against the forces of darkness threatening us all.
As I wrote in my last post, Valparaiso gives me hope. Long a hotbed of activism, activists, artists, and art, Valparaiso (and much of Chile) was in the midst of a municipal workers’ strike while I was there in November, a strike in protest of the inequitable private pension system that was set up in 1981 under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. As a visiting researcher and occasional tourist, I learned some things about the underlying issues, and also witnessed one of its impacts on a central attraction of the city—its ascensores.
Perched in the São Paulo airport, in between Belém and Houston, thence to Boston, my 14-month sabbatical is coming to what seems an all-to-soon close. But it has been an awesome year, capped by a really excellent two-and-a-half weeks working with Rogério Silva, mostly in the rainforest at Caxiuanã. But Belémdeserves mention, too. A sprawling, filthy, and yet exuberant city of more than 2 million people perched near the mouth of the Amazon River, it has a waterfront with pedestrian esplanades, museums and forts, working docks, and an iron market with all sorts of delicacies from the Amazon basin. And at least one superb restaurant. In this post, I share four of my most notable memories of Belém: a cool breeze, the flanelas, the iron market/waterfront, and a dinner out.
Today is our last day of field work at the Ferreira Penna Field Station in the Caxiuanã National Forest Reserve, and as it will be some time before we have all the data analyzed and written up, I thought I’d share some pictures and videos from the last ten days of ants and ant ecologists in the field.
Having spent the better part of two weeks moving down the Amazon River from Tabatinga to Belém, I’m now in the midst of the last 2-1/2 weeks of my year-long sabbatical leave, working on all things ants with my friend and colleague Rogério Silva at the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi. Rogério and I have been working on ecological similarities and differences between temperate and tropical ants. He’s visited me twice at Harvard Forest and now, with support from the Museum in Belém, I have an opportunity to learn first-hand about the ants of the Brazilian rainforest.
Ashore in Belém after five days and four nights on the Amazon and its tributaries on board the Amazon Star, here’s the travel-blog of what I though would be my final trip on the Amazon. But in truth, I’ll head back upriver on Wednesday for 11 days of field work… more on that coming up!
23 November 2016
Up at dawn, lock the duffel, stow the laptop, scarf down fruit, granola, chocolate cake, and tea at the Go-Inn Manaus buffet, and head for the river.
My riverine interlude between Leticia and Belém has been punctuated by a stopover in Manaus, a bustling industrial and most unlikely city of more than 2 million people located at the junction of the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimões. Following the 4-day, 3-night boat trip from Tabatinga described in the first part of this travel-blog, I arrived at Manaus late Saturday. A long walk up the floating ramp brought me in sight of the famous plaque of river heights, a wonderful example of “physical” data visualization (for more, check out this web-site: http://dataphys.org/list/ which I recently discovered thanks to my friend and colleague David Buckley Borden).
As I well knew, 2015 was one of the highest levels on record, surpassed only by 2012 and just barely by 2009. The four years 2012-2015 were in the top 10 since records began more than a century ago, whereas 2016 was in the lower-middle of the pack. A great classroom exercise would be to digitize and plot these data relative to other indicators of climatic change.
I had hoped that I’d spend a couple of nights in Manaus and then catch a boat on Monday further downriver to Belém. I learned Sunday morning, though, that direct boats to Belém leave only Wednesdays and Saturdays. So rather than take a boat Monday to Santarem and then chill there for another boat onward to Belém, I opted to book the Wednesday boat and spend a couple of extra days exploring Manaus.
After five days in Colombia—two in Leticia bracketing three at Parque Nacional Amacayacu, I crossed the transparent border between Colombia and Brazil, from Leticia into Tabatinga, where I boarded the ferry boat F/B Diamante for a four-day trip down the Amazon to Manaus (click on the thumbnails to enlarge the photos).
After nine weeks and nine provinces, I left China on October 15. I spent the following week in Japan – a short vacation in Tokyo and at a ryokan in Hakone – before returning to the US on October 21. Just in time to vote early in my home state of Massachusetts (I was the first in my small town to vote on the first day of early voting in Massachusetts, October 24), before heading on to South America for the last two months of my sabbatical.