Sunday, 28 November 2010

'Cultural ecosystem services' in everyday life

'Cultural ecosystem services' in everyday life

Leave aside (re)defining just what role 'culture' plays in ecosystem services -- I'm currently writing up an 'unwrapping' of this, working title 'Nature in the Mind'. Once you (I) start looking for them, the texture of daily life is thick with them. Here's a tally from my recent days:

Yesterday (Friday): sunshine!

Maysie Memorial community garden:
quick weed/clear-up session. Two 'social relations' roles: 1) working there is as much episodic conversation with passers-by as it is gardening -- older, settled residents who know about it, and others asking about it. This session, I was offered a hydrangea bush -- and decided that we might as well expand the garden area to accommodate it, and some fuchsias that others have offered, and make more space for the lavender and rose bushes I ordered from our Council grant. 2) The site, where our residential street meets a local main (distributor) road used to be heavily littered -- these days, very little litter. I think this is a combination of less being dropped now it's a garden, rather than just dog-emptying grass, and passing residents picking up litter as their contribution to the garden. Whenever, I produce a newsletter, it thanks people for helping keep the garden litter-free. Interesting how many people just don't see the noticeboard there despite having just walked past it -- large, bright green -- until I mention it to them.

I contemplate the problem of pigeons: vast herd of them trampling one end of the garden. They are used to finding whole or half loads of bread, and dropped take-aways from the shops across the road. Realise that once the roses and lavender go in, they should provide reasonably effective anti-pigeon baffles. Must draw a 'please do not feed the rats' sign for the noticeboard -- or ask some of the local kids to do it.

Broadwater Farm/Lordship Rec:
Walk through Downhills Park, past the new clay-puddled pond (about half-full), into Lordship Rec --past the wildlife woodland, then along the (culverted) Moselle, where more of the ancient willows are being cut right back to their trunks, to the Community centre, where a friend who lives at the Farm is holding her 60th birthday lunch at the weekly 'Community Cafe'. This is run by Back to Earth, a small local social enterprise/charity, as part of much more ambitious plans to 'Revive the Rec'. The cafe provides food hygiene and catering training and certificates, which draws in Farm residents -- the cafe features a different national cuisine each week. Last Friday each month a Food Co-op runs alongside it -- organic veg direct from a nearby (Herts) farm, and range of organic dry goods. I've volunteered to help on it next week, so check what time to turn up. Three of the dozen or so birthday group are allotmenteers -- one a neighbour on our allotment site -- so we talk gardening.

Daffodil sharing: I take some spare daff bulbs around to the old British Legion building -- now Chances Club, another local social enterprise. I ordered 50kg at bulk wholesale discount as part of our Maysie Garden order, so am now sharing the spares around. I'm working down a little list of about 20 local places and projects: church, arts centre, other community gardens... Lots of lights on at Chances, but no-one answering the doors.

Fox: gate open down to the railway track back of the sports centre, with 10-12 yo boy hanging just inside. I stop, wondering what I should say about danger, trespassing. He puts his finger to his lips and whispers "There's a fox!" In the dusk, I don't expect to make it out until it moves, but gradually resolve a foxy face and ears, and coiled up body and tail, lying in the tussocky grass on the far side of the track. It promptly stands up, stretches, and disappears into the brambles behind. The Turkish-looking lad and I head on down the street; I pull the gate as we go.

Ferry Boat Inn for dinner: walk down to the Lea, swans swinging through pearly mist and reflected lights, past the Paddock Local Nature REserve, to our local country gastro-pub by the Walthamstow Reservoirs SSSI/SPA/Ramsar site. More swans, mistier when we walk back home again.

Thurs: skulk indoors, theorising 'culture as process' which mediates all human interaction with nature. Autumnwatch and Unsprung on the evenings TV menu: focus on starlings. We've not had them turn up at our back garden feeder so far this winter -- though the robin and blackbird are now in attendance. We get blue and great tits, sparrows and chaffinches, goldfinches and three types of pigeon (collared, wood, feral) all year -- blackbird, robin and wren mainly just as winter visitors. JN is backgarden bird cafeteria manager -- keeps the feeders full, mail orders big bags of bird-feedery.

Weds: swim at sports centre -- at one with my inner fish. Murals: tropical island paradise at shallow end beyond the kiddie-pool,Mediterranean fishing village at the deep end. Both, of course, as seen from the sea lapping them. Pigeons and seagulls shuffle on the translucent roof panels, presumably for heat that rises up from the pool, the seagulls distinguishable by leaner shape, more distinct feet even when not strutting about, and gleam of white breast.

Before that? Memory gets patchier. Last weekend: Horniman Museum on Sunday -- world-famous anthropological collection -- but very poorly labelled. Set in gardens, but its dripping with rain so we duck inside. I'd noted from the info that it has a natural history collection: huge stuffed Wandering Albatross, but the main natural history galleries under renovation. But: in the kiddie-teeming 'nature box' room there's a live glass-sided bee-hive, a mass of real live bees, the queen marked with a white spot. In a corner, a case of dried grasses -- then I spot a tiny furry face with beady eyes that vanishes with the flick of a long tail -- harvest mice! Real live teensy-weensy micromus! And down in the basement, an aquarium -- its stars a case of spectacularly graceful black-star nettle jellyfish, a ballet of pulsing parasols and long, long, long elegantly trailing silver strands catching the light against a deep blue background. In other cases: a yellow sea-horse, hermit crabs, a Caribbean swamp with four-eyed fish and a shy chap whose head just popped up from his burrow in the mud every now and then. And of course, a tropical reef -- a real live screensaver -- with a kaleidoscope of multi-colour fishies including the obligatory Nemos bathing in the tickling tentacles of their sea-anemones.

Allotment on Saturday: harvested raspberries, corn salad, sorrel, alexanders, rocket and garlic mustard leaves, mass of chard. JN pollarded back as much as he could reach of the sycamores along the (south) boundary hedge. Light faded before I got around to sowing broad beans. Must sort out seed collection, so know what to order for next season. Must remember to bring along saved shallots and get them into the ground. Must empty out the made compost from 'dalek' bin -- now, which bed should get it? Dumped half a sack of old horse manure onto the rhubarb, as both blanket and feed.

Before that, Friday: manifestation of St David of Attenborough, bringing ancient fossils to life. With added Richard Fortey, several of whose suberb books we've acquired and read -- including Trilobite! and Earth: an intimate history. I also have, sitting on my bedside 'To Read' chair, 'David Attenborough -- Amazing Rare Things: the art of natural history in the age of discovery' -- the book of an exhibition of the Queens holdings of five natural history artists including da Vinci.

Somewhere in there: hyperbolic coral reef crocheting -- colourful plastic bags cut up into 'plarn' strips, and crocheted up a couple of coral creatures from some of them, as TV-watching handiwork, by way of prep for running a 'crochet coral reef' activity stall at next Sustainable Tottenham 'Skill-share', 5th Dec at Chances, if you're in the area. Background info will cover the collapse of marine biodiversity, death of turtles, and the floating 'plastic continent' at the heart of the Pacific (and Atlantic?) gyre. I have also been actively procrastinating about repotting various house-plants, planting up tulip bulbs into window boxes for spring, err long list...

Nature, and ideas and imagery, attraction and enjoyment of nature, just permeate human life -- even in the densely built up megalopolis. We use nature to humanise the bricks, tarmac and cement of the ant-heaps we live in.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Hibernation season?

Grey days close in, leaves are stripped from the trees, and the seasonal clutch of 'Seasonal Affective Depression Syndrome' articles appear on 'health & lifestyle' media pages. Personally, I reckon SADS comes down to modern industrial economies that make no concession to the desire to just curl up and hibernate until the sun comes back. We're not phsiologically adapted for proper deep hibernation, metabolism shutting down for the duration, nor is the UK cold and dark enough to warrant it. Nor, as a species that left Africa a mere 100,000 or so years ago, are we adapted to short winter days and waking up while the world is still dark. Until the Industrial Revolution, there wasn't much alternative to winter slow-down, huddling around hearth-fires -- just venturing out to top up wood and fuel supplies, or throw a defiant, fire-centred winter festival. But coal, oil, nukes make artificial light, tarmacked over muddy roads to keep trade and transport running, kept machinery clacking over -- and humans rat-racing to keep up. I've found two approaches that help deal with the winter cooped-up, stir-crazy depression: one is ways of upping my sunlight, the other indulging the hibernatory instinct. I suspect most of us use pretty much these strategies to cope without special sunlight SADS lamps.

Getting an allotment has helped immensely: we head down there most winter weekends, just to check it over, and end up spending a couple of hours, usually until the sun goes down -- there's always more than we remembered that we really ought to potter into order. A couple of hours down the allotment seems to provide sufficient sunlight 'fix' to last most of the week, even on a grey day -- out under the open sky it is always much brighter than it looks from inside.

By contrast with outside, inside the house even with the lights switched on is very dim, much lower light levels. This really came home to me after we put a 'solatube' above our home stairwell, to channel natural sunlight down through the heart of the house. On clear days, it's bright as a floodlight, extravagantly stronger than any normal home lightbulbs, even the 120 watt equivalents in our living room. So I recommend solatube or lighttube (google them) as zero-carbon SADS treatments.

Number three 'light and bright' adaptation is going swimming in a tropically heated turquoise pool -- the one just behind our house even has tropic murals painted on the walls at each end. The exercise itself, getting the endorphins kicking along,in itself helps see off depression. Despite having spent a lifetime avoiding organised sports and embracing laziness, even I found that a winter of being cooped up indoors (or in Tube trains) left me craving muscular exertion. Yep, not adapted for proper hibernation.

Hibernatory behavioural adaptations: the unforgiving pace of modern life, at least in London, makes it harder to actually slow down and opt out -- but I find that simply acknowledging those mornings when you just can't tear yourself out of the warm cavern of bed-covers into the cold world, or just want to curl up and drowse, as perfectly justifiable and sensible hibernation helps a lot. So of course do the traditional stodgy warming comfort foods -- soups, stews, puddings, choccies -- and cosy woollies to huddle into.

I wonder what research has been done on relative incidence of SADS in dog-owners and others who spend regular time outdoors in winter, compared with those who don't -- or on change in incidence of SADS after taking up outdoor winter activity?