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I recently came across a remarkable story from Yarmouth, Maine, involving a 101-year-old man and a 235-year-old tree.

In 1956, Frank Knight was appointed volunteer tree warden for the seacoast town. At the time, there were still hundreds of elm trees lining the streets of the town. It was his misfortune to have to oversee the cutting down of one after another as they fell victim to Dutch Elm Disease.

Except for one.

This one was one of the oldest and largest in New England. The experts told him nothing could be done. Frank didn’t want to let it go. And so he took care of it. Nursed it. Kept it alive for the next half a century.

But now the tree – known by locals as “Herbie” – is too far gone, and will be taken down on January 18.

Frank is philosophical about it.

“Nothing lasts forever,” he said in an article in the Boston Globe.

But Herbie will not be forgotten. A fund-raising effort, called the Herbie Project, is raising money to plant more trees in the town. They’re selling T-Shirts emblazoned with the message “Advice from Herbie: Stand Tall … Remember Your Roots … Enjoy the View.” The wood will be distributed to local craftsmen to make souvenir bowls, cutting boards, and other things.


I’ve always tended to use the change of seasons as guideposts, in much the same way beancounters hover over their financial quarterlies. Sometimes I’ll look back and think about what I’ve been up to. Occasionally I’ll set up a resolution to start something, or to do something different.

This time last year I decided I would take the plunge, force myself to get back to writing, start a blog. I’m glad I did.

Writing is remarkably easy to put off. In the old pencil-and-paper days, I would spend a half-hour sharpening a handful of pencils – not with my pencil sharpener, but with my little pocket knife, whittling away until got the perfect point. Then, of course, I had to hunt up a fresh pad of paper.

The computer got rid of all that. I still manage to put it off. After all, this thing is hooked up to the internet, and I can always check my email. If I really feel like procrastinating, I’ll read some spam.

There were some fits and starts to the blog. I wasn’t sure how often I wanted to post something. I wasn’t really sure about what direction I wanted to go in. But now, I’ve settled in to once a week, and that feels about right.

I’ve started to write for an online news site, Digital Journal, and that’s given me a real boost.

I was going to write about the winter solstice, and how I noticed that the earliest sunset actually occurred a few days ago, according to the almanac. Not only that, the latest sunrise takes place in January.

I was going to start this blog on the winter solstice, but it was really a day or so later. I was going to save the look back for next week, but here I am. I have a strange relationship with time. In small things I tend to be punctual down to the minute. In larger things, I don’t think in terms of days, or weeks, or even months, but in seasons. Maybe I’m just giving myself more leeway to procrastinate.

It’s snowing again. I’m going to take down my skis and go for spin through the fields.

A number of things have caught my eye in recent weeks, and I slowly realized they all had a common thread.

A year ago last August, a Worcester, Mass., grandmother noticed an odd-looking bug in her driveway. She was concerned that it might be harmful to her grandchildren when they came over to visit. So, she took a picture of it on her cellphone and sent it off to the regional office of the Dept. of Agriculture. That touched off an all-out war against the Asian Longhorn Beetle in the city and the surrounding region.

Last summer, an amateur astronomer in Australia was the first to observe the effect of a meteor’s impact on Jupiter.

And middle school students in Maine are going out into the field gathering data on invasive species in their neighborhoods.

I apologize for not having their names and more detailed information on these people, but my point is this. They are not scientists, they are not activists … not that there’s anything wrong with either group. These are just people who are curious about the world around them, and we’re all the better for it.

I especially like the story of the middle schoolers in Maine. It’s not just one school. I believe about a dozen are involved. These students are doing real science, collecting and contributing their data to a central database for other researchers to use. There are a few similar programs out there, opportunities for all of us to get involved, to lend a hand.

The work of one famous citizen scientist is still yielding useful information 150 years his death.

Henry David Thoreau kept meticulous records of all kinds of natural phenomena – the weather, the blossoming date of flowers, the arrival of different birds … and now researchers are going through his journals and notebooks to help them get an understanding of how the landscape has changed.
Thoreau knew he was doing valuable work. It took the rest of us a while to catch on.

Nature Blog Network


RSS The Ecocryptic

  • Maine DEP update July 31, 2013
    Maine Department of Environmental Protection has reversed itself and will schedule a public hearing on proposed changes to the state's clean air standards. No date has been set.Environmental groups, legislators, and the general public were outraged when the Portland Press Herald reported yesterday that the state agency had tried to sneak through the cha […]
  • At Maine’s DEP, it’s the fox guarding the henhouse July 30, 2013
    What happens when you put an industry lobbyist in charge of environmental protection? Just take a look at what’s going on in Maine. According to an article in today’s Portland Press-Herald, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection wants to weaken the state’s clean-air regulations, and they don’t want anyone to know about it.No public hearings have […]
  • Northern Pass Rears Its Ugly Head (Again) July 15, 2013
    Despite massive public opposition, significantly over-budget, and three years behind schedule,  the CEO of the Northern Pass Project vows the controversial high voltage transmission line will be built.The project is a 180-mile power line that would bring power from Canada to New England. It first came to the attention of environmentalists and others when the […]
  • Stung by Criticism, Utilities Go on Tree-Cutting Rampage August 11, 2012
    Here in the northeast, we’ve been hit by a succession of “weather events” – ice storms, wind-storms, hurricanes, early snowfall, late snowfall. Each one offered the utility companies serving this area to demonstrate once again that they were completely unprepared. In each case, customers in the most advanced country in the world were left without power for w […]
  • Victory for the Blackstone: Court backs EPA, Worcester must stop dumping sewage into river August 7, 2012
    Score one for the Blackstone River, and all the people who care about it. The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals has lifted a stay of enforcement of an EPA order that will force upgrades at the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement district sewage treatment plant, according to an article in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.The problem is a simple o […]
  • NH Senate Denies Eminent Domain for Northern Pass – Or Does It? January 30, 2012
    Under intense public scrutiny, the New Hampshire Senate last week approved a bill that supposedly sets limits on the use of eminent domain to seize property for public projects and excludes using it for privately-funded projects. That would seem to exclude the controversial Northern Pass project, a proposed 180-mile transmission line that would bring hydroel […]
  • Northern Pass Developers Pushing State To Take Land By Force January 24, 2012
    Ever since the controversy began over the construction of a new transmission line to bring power from Canada into New Hampshire slicing through some of that state’s most scenic landscape, the backers of the project have been quietly lobbying for eminent domain powers to force reluctant landowners along the proposed route to sell.The issue gets its first real […]
  • The Balsams Landscape Has Been Saved! January 15, 2012
    Every once in a while the good guys win one.The Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests has reached its goal of raising $850,000 to buy a 5,800-acre parcel of land near the famous Balsams Grand Hotel in Dixville Notch, NH. They made the announcement in a statement yesterday on their website.The land was considered a key piece on the proposed ro […]
  • Worcester officials cite city parks to defend continued pollution of Blackstone River December 29, 2011
    I was trying to find a short, pithy way of describing the gist of an article that appeared in today’s Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette.Here’s the story.The Blackstone River has its source in Worcester and flows through Rhode Island into Narragansett Bay. Since colonial times, residents and businesses have regarded it as their personal sewage system. […]
  • Slick media campaign hides the dark side of Northern Pass October 23, 2011
    The campaign to approve the billion-dollar plan to bring hydroelectric power from Canada to New England is in full swing. The home page for the project features pictures of all the things we like about New Hampshire, things like pristine lakes and woods. What it doesn’t show are the 140 miles of transmission lines criss-crossing the White Mountains, with 135 […]

RSS Martin Laine – Digital Journal

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    As the months of extended darkness loom in the northern latitudes, so does the lethargy and depression known as “winter blues.” One Stockholm taxicab company is offering to have a therapist talk with their passengers during their ride.
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    Beginning today, a new home test for colorectal cancer will be available by prescription. The hope is that the millions of Americans who have been avoiding the unpleasant alternative testing methods will take advantage of it.
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    While officials in many western countries are wringing their hands over what to do about those citizens who want to return after fighting with one of the extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, Denmark welcomes its returning Jihadists with open arms.
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    Pity James Tully who has the misfortune of resembling Eric Frein, the object of a massive manhunt following the ambush shooting of two police officers six weeks ago, and who lives in Canadensis, Pa., the epicenter of the search.
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    Nine people, including a family of six, have been ordered to stay in their homes for the next three weeks while public health officials check for signs that they have contracted the Ebola virus. None of them have shown any signs of the illness so far.
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    What started out as an investigation into an alleged contract fraud scheme by a U.S. Navy directorate involving untraceable rifle silencers has raised questions about whether they were part of a secret mission or rogue operation.