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Michael Pollan: The modern hunter-gatherer

Michael Pollan, NY Times
Walking with a loaded rifle in an unfamiliar forest bristling with the signs of your prey is thrilling. It embarrasses me to write that, but it is true. I am not by nature much of a noticer, yet here, now, my attention to everything around me, and deafness to everything else, is complete. Nothing in my experience has prepared me for the quality of this attention. …. In the places too deeply shadowed to admit my eyes, my ears roam at will, returning with the report of a branch cracking at the bottom of a ravine, or the snuffling of a. . .wait: what was that? Just a bird. Everything is amplified. Even my skin is alert, so that when the shadow launched by the sudden ascent of a turkey vulture passes overhead I swear I can feel the temperature momentarily fall. I am the alert man.

… Notice the freshly rototilled soil at the base of that oak tree? Look how the earth has not yet been crisped by the midday sun; this means wild boar — my quarry — have been rooting here since yesterday afternoon, either overnight or earlier this morning. See that smoothly scooped-out puddle of water? That’s a wallow, but notice how the water is perfectly clear: pigs haven’t disturbed it yet today. We could wait here for them.

…Since there’s nothing he can do to make the encounter happen, the hunter’s energy goes into readying himself for it, and trying, by the sheer force of his attention, to summon the animal into his presence. Searching for his prey, the hunter instinctively becomes more like the animal, straining to make himself less visible, less audible, more exquisitely alert. Predator and prey alike move according to their own maps of this ground, their own forms of attention and their own systems of instinct, systems that evolved expressly to hasten or avert precisely this encounter.. . .

wait a minute. Did I really write that last paragraph? Without irony? That’s embarrassing. Am I actually writing about the hunter’s “instinct,” suggesting that the hunt represents some sort of primordial encounter between two kinds of animals, one of which is me? This seems a bit much. I recognize this kind of prose: hunter porn. And whenever I’ve read it in the past, in Hemingway and Ortega y Gasset and all those hard-bitten, big-bearded American wilderness writers who still pine for the Pleistocene, it never failed to roll my eyes.

…I had never hunted before, never had the need or the desire or the right kind of dad. One of the world’s great indoorsmen, my father looked upon hunting as a human activity that stopped making sense with the invention of the steakhouse. What first got me out there, in the oak chaparral of northern Sonoma County that morning last spring, hoping to shoot a wild pig, was a conceit. I’d gotten it into my head that I wanted to prepare a meal I had hunted, gathered and grown myself. Why? To see if I could do it. I was also curious to experience the food chain — which has grown so long and complex as to no longer even feel anything like a food chain — at its shortest and most elemental. And I had long felt that, as a meat eater, I should, at least once, take responsibility for the killing that eating meat entails. I wanted, for once in my life, to pay the full karmic price of a meal.
(26 March 2006)
Long well-written article by one of our best writers on food, gardening and sustainability.

California’s clean break

Toronto Star
…After 30 years of effort — with more and more people using more and more power-hungry gadgets — California has made itself the most efficient place in North America.

Remarkably, since it began during the oil price shock of the early 1970s — as its population and economy soared, and electricity demand everywhere else in the U.S. grew steadily — the state’s consumption per person has stayed the same. As a result, the state has avoided having to build another 65,000 megawatts worth of generating stations — equivalent to more than double Ontario’s current total capacity. It saves the average household about $1,000 (U.S.) a year in energy costs.

Ontario is trying to catch up.

“I’m jealous of the 30 years they’ve had,” says Peter Love, Ontario’s chief conservation officer. “We’ve had 10 months.”

Energy Minister Donna Cansfield insists the province now has plans and targets even more ambitious than the Golden State’s. But we’re starting well behind, she notes. California had to create a “culture of conservation … . It didn’t happen overnight.”
(26 March 2006)

Greening of America
More home builders are turning to environmentally friendly products and building techniques

Associated Press via
…The answers all point to “green” building, a trend that’s picking up speed across the United States as homeowners struggle with high utility bills and leaders begin to talk about shifting the country’s diet from oil to more renewable energy sources.

Hundreds of home builders, architects and industry experts gathered recently in Albuquerque to share their ideas as part of the National Association of Home Builders’ Green Building Conference.

“Ten years from now, it will be the way of doing it, not because it’s mandatory, just because it’s the right way of doing it,” said Armando Cobo, an Albuquerque designer who has been active in promoting the home builders association’s green building standards.

…”It just makes 100 percent sense,” he said. “For a small amount of money, you can have a better house, more energy-efficient house. Why would you want something that doesn’t meet those standards? It’s a no-brainer.”

…Now, solar power systems can be hidden on rooftops, insulation made of recycled material becomes invisible behind walls covered with nontoxic paint, and more efficient heating and cooling systems are woven into the home’s inner skeleton.

…Some builders who cater to the masses are going green by engineering heating and cooling systems to work more efficiently, framing thicker exterior walls to provide more insulation and installing low-flow toilets and other fixtures designed to conserve water.

But home builders association officials admit the number isn’t high and they want more mainstream builders to jump on board.

…Both he and Cobo noted that the basic principles date back centuries to a time when people were conscious of their surroundings and built dwellings that worked with the environment.
(26 March 2006)

Farm goes against grain to get economic, ecological diversity

John Dodge, The Olympian
OAKVILLE — One logger’s junk wood is another woodworker’s valuable piece of lumber.

That’s one of the many lessons learned at Wild Thyme Farm, home to a grand experiment in managing a family-size farm for sustainable economic and environmental diversity.

At Wild Thyme Farm, deformities in wood add character to high-priced pieces of big leaf maple and red alder that are fashioned into fireplace mantles, guitar backs and other specialty wood products.

Limbs and branches from cherry trees and cedar trees are transformed into legs for rustic tables and benches or frames for handmade mirrors.

It’s all part of an evolving master plan for this multi-use farm where medicinal native plants, mushrooms, bamboo, perennial flowers, nursery stock, fruits, roots and shoots are nurtured for human use and habitat.

Wild Thyme Farm has come a long way from the days when it was just an abandoned dairy farm featuring beaten down pastures, eroded stream banks, tangled masses of blackberries and forests stripped of most marketable timber.
(27 March 2006)

US, African scientists seek biotech answer to hunger

Carey Gillam, Reuters via Washington Post
…The goal is to turn sorghum — a common U.S. row crop used in animal feed, cereals and industrial products — into a plant that can not only weather devastating drought but also yield a rich blend of vitamins and minerals. Researchers believe such a combination could help combat the hunger and malnutrition ravaging parts of Africa.

“A lot of people have died on the African continent, quite unnecessarily,” said Mehlo, a molecular biotechnologist who came to Iowa from South Africa in October. “We seek to have a crop that will enable us to survive during disasters and food shortages.”

…Pioneer will have no rights to revenues from the biotech sorghum once it is developed and commercialized, said Anderson. But the company, already locked into tight competition in the commercial seeds market, hopes that success with biotech sorghum might help open doors for other biotech crops in countries currently skeptical of genetically altered crops.

Chief funding for the project comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with the National Institutes of Health.
(27 March 2006)