Sweden <--> Ohio: Student

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Trees and Rain

Soft persistent rain today. The ground is in good shape - plants are growing, flowers are blooming, trees feel like they've been in full leaves for weeks now. -- that being said, I have no doubt farmers are rejoicing about the rain. It hasn't rained here for more than 5min (rarely, that!) in something like 3 weeks. The last serious precipitation here was snow.

So back to the trees - yesterday's education class was a walk through several different ecosystems within a 15min walk of campus. We saw a "grazing area" (a wild meadow), a section of dead forest (storms), old forest, new forest (perhaps from older storms?), and a bog.

The bog was the coolest. The wow factor of jumping up and down on 'ground' and feeling it move yet remain solid was undeniable. (Also, cranberries grow as ground cover, blueberries grow on tiny little plants and sphagnum moss really does grow in the wild - and is apparently used in packing wounds in Germany after being dried and sterilized)

We spent the most time in the meadow - educational exercises, learning birdsongs (no, I can't perform any of them), learning to interest kids in the specific aspects of nature that we're loosing. The teacher for this class was a guy who has written books and many articles aimed at educating adults as well as children about nature. In addition, he takes pictures and has had a bunch of those published too. He's dynamic, interesting and engaging.

The 'dead forest' wasn't actually dead, just short on 'big' organisms. Moss, lichens, grasses and little white flowers were everywhere. There was a storm in 2006 (the worst ever) that uprooted an entire year's timber (link to PDF) and damaged even greater numbers of forests (I've heard estimates of 40% loss, but am not finding sources for that number). I've heard from several people (but am not finding English-language sources online) that suicides skyrocketed as some farmers (40% of forests in Sweden are family farms) committed suicide. Also, twisting the tragedy of this story further is the knowledge that storms will increase in severity due to climate change. (Link is also source for picture below)

Our guide told a story that I want to retell here. It's the story of his favorite early spring water bird. He demonstrated it's call and told us how he listens every spring for it's formal arrival announcement as exemplified by this water bird. He described running along the lake, starting in late winter, keeping an ear open in the hopes of catching it. He described this year, watching spring arrive in full force and still listening, hoping it was just late this year. The story ended with his hopes that it will be back next year.

I'm not sure if he tells this story to children, but for adults - it was a pointed and timely reminder of the consequences of our own actions. As much as I feel veterinary public health is my passion, I'm curious if there's a way to 'do' public health (particularly veterinary pubhealth - I'm picturing farm runoff!) in a less environmentally disruptive way. While this is an issue close to my heart - it's not 'mine' except in the personal decisions, personal responsibility and feeling of shared responsibility for the consequences discussed above.

(Note: the rain started yesterday - our nature walk was dry - but we got soaked on our walk home - and there was hail!)

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