Category Archives: Environment and Nature

After the spill

National Geographic has dedicated most of their October issue to a special report on the Gulf oil disaster.

It’s become apparent to me, after reading these articles, that the spill is about so much more than just oiled pelicans and ruined marshes. It’s about the massive amounts of chemical dispersants used that, despite EPA approval, are turning out to have disastrous effects on the Gulf–worse than the oil itself.  It’s about the complete unpreparedness of BP, whose spill response plan was outdated and irrelevant. (Entire pages had been copied and pasted from plans for the Arctic, which did not apply to the Gulf.)

It’s about an entire nation beating up on Louisiana. A nation whose thirst for oil means tearing up the wetlands to make room for ships and drilling platforms and pipeline.  A nation whose hunger for cheap food means chemical fertilizers washing off Midwestern farms end up floating down the Mississippi River and causing an enormous oxygen-depleted dead zone where no fish survive. A nation whose inexplicable desire to continue eating fish caught from the Gulf threatens these species very existence.

A nation that seems unwilling to connect these actions with south Louisiana’s increasing vulnerability to hurricanes.

It is all connected. We are all connected.


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A treeless future

Last night I attended an event to mark the bicentennial celebration of St. Tammany Parish. I contributed to a book on the parish’s history, which was unveiled last night. The huge piles of books made me think that maybe the event could have profited from using an outside document storage company!

The book and its photos are beautiful, and I noticed the predominant color is green. The front cover is a photo of the leafy St. Tammany Trace, my favorite spot to cycle in this part of Louisiana. There are incredible aerial shots of rivers and bayous lined with thick vegetation and of wetlands.

Trees are what I love most about visiting St. Tammany. The concrete of New Orleans wears on me, and when I visit my parents across the lake, I’m struck by how saturated the landscape is with green. It’s almost blinding. I’m always spotting turtles, hummingbirds, deer, rabbits, and possums when I drive around. I think the “natural”/country setting of the parish is what draws so many people to it.

On the way to the event, I passed a new shopping mall. A vast, clear-cut eyesore of parking lots and chain restaurants and offensively large box stores. I noticed numerous wooded lots for sale. Inevitably, when those are sold, all the trees will be cut down, because apparently you can’t build a damn house unless you clear-cut the entire property.

It depressed me that as we honored the history of this beautiful area, we ignored the rampant expansion that’s taking place, that’s degrading much more than just the atmosphere of these small towns. It seems like an incredible oversight on the part of the parish. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it’s hypocritical to honor the past while failing to protect the green spaces that make the parish special.


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Up to my elbows

Here are some photos I took while working out in the marshes around Barataria Bay, Louisiana. I had no idea we were actually going to get IN the water, as one of the volunteer coordinators demonstrates below. Read more about this experience on the Matador Change blog here.

An old fishing boat at the dock we left from.

These “terraces” were dredged to make levees on which to plant tufts of marsh grass.

The small clumps of grass will grow quickly into large bunches and replace the marsh that has eroded and died off.

Shrimp boats siting idle–not sure if that’s due to the spill or not.

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The no nonsense guide to food labels at farmers’ markets

Farmers’ markets today can present quite a challenge to conscientious shoppers. There are so many different labels used to describe produce and meat – local, sustainable, free range, cage-free and so on – that the process of shopping can become rather daunting.

This no-nonsense food label dictionary will help you work out what it is you’re really buying.


This is an unregulated claim. It generally means the hens who laid the eggs were allowed to live outside of cages, as opposed to conventionally raised chickens that are stuffed into high-density cages (and probably fed animal protein).

Cage-free birds don’t necessarily have access to the outdoors, though. It’s best to ask the farmer how he or she raised the birds.

Read the rest of the article online at

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On the bayou

I’d never realized how magical springtime is until I started gardening. Now that the weather’s warm the seedlings I planted have sprouted and the blueberries are getting ripe and there’s this sense of possibility in all those green bunches in the garden.

And then there are times when the whole experiment fails miserably…like when the deer decide the eggplant are going to be their dinner, or when three weeks of torrential rain kills the tomatoes. So, usually, the effect that growing my own food has is that I develop a sense of awe for what farmers do.

This weekend I went kayaking on Cane Bayou, a skinny stream cutting between Fontainebleau State Park and Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. The cypress trees thin out not far from the boat launch and the marsh grass takes over. I passed alligators, snakes, jumping fish, egrets, wild irises, and even the remains of the Native American shell midden I’m writing about for Inside Northside.

I didn’t take a camera along, though, because my dad recently donated his iPod to Lake Pontchartrain and I figure it’s better, sometimes, to look hard and hold those images with your mind, rather than trying to frame it all through the lens.

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Five Essential Rules for Low-Impact Hiking and Camping

If you’re like me, spring has you ready to hit the trails with a backpack and a notebook. Check out these five tips for low-impact hiking and camping before you go:
1. Stay on the trail.

Especially when mud puddles or photographs are involved, it’s sometimes tempting to wander off the trail. The long term effect is to create new paths that carve up formerly pristine areas. Not only does this look ugly, but it can hurt fragile plants and, over time, denude landscapes. Better to get your shoes a little dirty or sacrifice that perfect photo.

Read the rest of the story online at Matador Sports.

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Maybe it’ll be ok after all

Just when I start to lose hope that we can do enough to the planet from complete environmental destruction, there’s good news that helps me feel better, at least for a little while.

This week, Florida and Colorado helped me out. Florida is building the nation’s largest collection of solar panels, which will be equivalent to taking 25,000 cars off the road each year. An enterprising Colorado couple started a concept called “Agriburbia” in which suburbs are developed in conjunction with farms that support communities with hyper-local produce. And speaking of food, the misleading Smart Choices food labeling program is being abandoned by big food-product companies who tried to make processed food like Fruit Loops seem healthy.

And closer to home, a New Orleans man sets out on a quest to save the city’s oak trees and prove that, indeed, one person can make a difference. Read more on his blog.

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