Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: human modification (page 1 of 4)

The Bugle-Observer

Last week I visited my family’s lake cottage in New Brunswick, and did the usual dash in to the nearest town, Nackawic, for food and drinks. I grew up in Nackawic, and left in 1991 for university and beyond.  After 26 years it is often an uncomfortable outing, undertaken with stealth: I’m always worried I’ll see someone I should know but whose name eludes me. This trip was happily anonymous. I was able to linger in my annual nostalgia trip:  peering in the window of the bowling alley (which seems to have shut down without removing its Open sign); popping in to the post office where I was a frequent customer in the days well before digital (sending letters to many penpals, collecting stamps , and returning Columbia House monthly choices to avoid billing).

At the checkout of the grocery store,  I spied a headline on the regional paper, the Bugle-Observer, “Good News for future of Forest City Dam – maybe” (sadly paywalled). Anything dam-related catches my eye, so I grabbed it to read at the cottage, which has no TV or internet access. The future of the small dam that holds back the enormous East Grand Lake on the border between Maine and New Brunswick at Forest City is at question, motivating owners of the 2,000 cottages around its perimeter to organize to keep the water levels up. Under the fold was another story related to dams, also written by Doug Dickinson.  A fellow named “Hoot” was being inducted into the Atlantic Salmon Hall of Fame, and he “still names his favourite fishing spot as the long-gone Hartland pool” on the Becaguimec Stream that drained into the St. John:

That all changed after dams were constructed on the St. John River. Smith said the salmon fishing was still good after the Tobique Dam was built, but declined after the Beechwood Dam was finished. The Mactaquac Dam put an end to the Hartland Salmon Pool.

One of my new research interests is the use of digital archives to understand cultural change in regions that have faced infrastructure change like hydroelectric dams and related inundation.  Newspaper archives is one of those I’d like to explore in this way, so we can look back and understand how host communities are affected over time, and how they adjust. This newspaper would make for an interesting case: 50 years later dams are still front page news. What else hasn’t changed? The third front-page article: Meet Miss New Brunswick 2017″.

Dr. Sherren’s Day Off

I’m enjoying a stopover in Chicago on the way to the ISSRM in Michigan. The city has always been of interest to me, as a once-aspiring architect and child of the 80s, but this has been my first chance to visit. I re-watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on the flight here (happy 30th birthday), and headed straight for Frank Lloyd Wright sites in Oak Park upon arrival. A real highlight of my visit has been the Art Institute of Chicago special exhibition America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s. This expertly curated and described exhibition explores the response of artists to the ‘fall from grace’ that America felt after the stock market crash of 1929: some looking backward to pastoral ideals and others conveying dust bowl realities; showing stoic tradition or grotesque modern life; and documenting the dominance of industry in landscape and economic life conveyed as utopias (in some work sponsored by corporations) or the opposite by socialists. The industrial (Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth) and agricultural (Grant Wood, Alexander Hogue, Marvin Cone) landscapes were particularly compelling to me: telling of fears and hopes, as well as ambivalence. Functional landscapes were in eye as well as in mind as I travelled Chicago by L-train (elevated), which provides a great view of the working parts of the city, as well as its unique features such as the dominance of brick construction, steel bridges (including old drawbridges) over its many rivers, and water towers (which may have something to do with the Great Fire of Chicago, ca. 1871). I was also reminded of urban/nature juxtapositions at the wonderful Garfield Park Conservatory, where the marvelous fern room brought relief on a very hot day, in how the City Garden meadow beautifully framed industrial buildings. I look forward to returning to Chicago, maybe in a cooler season.

Industrial buildings for the Garfield Park Conservatory behind the natural meadow of its City Park

Industrial buildings for the Garfield Park Conservatory behind the natural meadow of its City Park

Mactaquac commentary abounds

In the months leading up to the Mactaquac decision, the editorial pages of the Telegraph Journal is filling up with opinion pieces. Early in May, Keith Helmuth of the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Research group (who was an expert at our citizen jury) spoke out for dam removal, looking towards more efficient, greener energy options for the same investment and a boon for agricultural production. LarryJewett of Lakeway Houseboat Rental on the headpond (who rented us the houseboats we used for floating focus groups in 2013), and Friends of Mactaquac Lake, responded to support the rebuilding of the dam and generating station, for the local amenity it has become. Since then, Peter Cronin of the Atlantic Salmon Federation has responded to both in a two part commentary (1 and 2), supporting dam removal to foster a healthy river and restore fish stocks, among other things. While TJ has a firewall, as a subscriber the commentaries are just as interesting. A recent blog post on the NiCHE website by once-NB now-Maine environmental historian, Mark McLaughlin, uses our Before the Mactaquac Dam storymap to illustrate the need for academics to avoid focusing on stories of environmental decline: dams dramatically change landscapes and ecosystems, but are the exception among infrastructure in creating new amenity. I’m heading next week to the ISSRM meeting in Michigan, where I am co-convening a five-session stream on energy landscapes and transitions, which will examine just such trade-offs.

UNB lecture on dam removal

Jeff Duda, USGS research ecologist, has been studying the effects of dam removal in the Pacific Northwest, such as on the Elwha River. He is in New Brunswick this week to give lectures on the process of dam removal and its ecological impacts, a topic very much front-of-mind as a result of the pending Mactaquac decision. He is also on the Science Advisory Board for the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study (MAES) being undertaken by Canadian Rivers Institute. Duda was interviewed on CBC about his planned talks on March 22 and 23. We have a long list of dam removal videos, collected by Larissa Holman for the Energy Transitions team during her summer internship with the project in 2014. Some of these were from the Elwha River, showing the dam removal, with time-series photography, changing sediments in former lakebeds, salmon coming immediately back, and the impact on sandbars at the river’s mouth.

 

Akenfield

My 1978 Penguin edition of Akenfield.

My 1978 Penguin edition of Akenfield.

Another second-hand bookstore treasure from someone who knows me well, Akenfield (1969) is a remarkably engrossing (and surprisingly undated) study of an anonymized rural Suffolk village, in the voice of fifty or so local residents. It tells the story of post-war England, agricultural modernization, social liberalization but also lingering fealty and class boundaries. The author, Ronald Blythe, interviewed and synthesized each voice, sometimes adding a sympathetic preamble of description and context. Surprises abound, such the description of WWII as a boon: conditions were so mean pre-war, that young men worked to the bone on farms found war service easy (with more food), and even bad farmers grew rich to supply that food. Some of the most compelling parts for me related to the farm landscape and how it was perceived and used. For instance, in the Introduction:

“…its hedges – now being slaughtered – were planted in the eighteenth century and, where they remain, shelter all the wild life of the particular fields they surround. Earlier field boundaries can be easily traced by ridges and ditches, and here and there a great tree spreads itself out in Time, making no sense at all. The clay acres themselves are the only tablets on which generations of village men have written … I am, but nothing remains of these sharp straight signatures.” (p. 14)

About the taciturn field workers, the last holdout of peasantry, working over generations for the same farmer, for compensations that keep him bound – a farm cottage, etc – Blythe writes: “Science is a footnote to what he really believes. And what he knows is often incommunicable “ (p. 15) . That younger generations continue to look to farming is described such: “perhaps, they have inherited the small residual static quality in all village life, that thing which is either condemned as apathy or praised and envied as contentment, but yet which is really neither of these. The attitude contains something determined and enduring, and also incorporates some kind of duty or loyalty to the village fields” (p. 91). For instance, a young ploughman bemoans the loss of the hedges, being undertaken to expand farms and enable increased mechanization, which make it difficult for a ploughman to keep his bearings:

“A well-kept hedge is a good sight and tells you where you are. The hedges belong to the village. You get used to seeing them standing there – they are like buildings and you miss them when they are knocked down. Some hedges are important and when they go you feel as bad as if a wood had been taken away. I think that there are certain hedges which the farmer’s shouldn’t touch without asking the people – although I can’t see this happening.” (p. 279).

An older farmer, an emigrant from Scotland, gives an outsider’s perspective on the impact of landscape on long-time residents, reminiscent of Swift’s observations in Waterland of what flat fenlands make of fenlanders: “The big skies leave the East Anglians empty. The skies are nothing. The horizons are too wide. There is nothing for a man to measure himself by here. In Scotland you have the hills, the mountains. They diminish a man. They make him think. … they last and he doesn’t.” (p. 320)

Blythe’s anthropology is thorough and generous, but does not shrink from difficulty. I do not know how he negotiated access and approval within such a small village given the blunt assessments many interviewees make of one another, individually and collectively, but it is a true gift that he made this record. It was made into an eponymous film in 1974 and is still in print – I just saw a new edition in Bookmark last week. This book is of a piece with early and modern tales of shepherding by Hardy and Rebanks discussed last year, as well as Robert Macfarlane’s Old Ways. A recording of Blythe and Macfarlane on the dais together at the Charleston Festival in 2013 for a celebration of rural life and sense of place is worth a listen.

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