Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Paving Paradise

child walking on gravel road

You can’t stop progress.  Maybe that’s true.  But what is considered progress to one person is not necessarily the same for everyone.

In a province where elected officials and bureaucrats are especially sensitive to  being called ‘backwards’ and ‘backwoodsy,’ on December 10th 2013, Halifax Regional Municipality Councillors voted unanimously to pave five gravel roads in the Flandrum Hill subdivision.  Although property owners had been formally surveyed by HRM last Spring and the majority voted against paving the roads, Council decided they knew what was best for  HRM. Since HRM’s own policy recommends that a minimum of 50% of the residents must be in favor unless it is in the best interest of HRM, one wonders what interests would be so great as to override the wishes of the majority?

view from the top of flandrum hill road

View from the top of Flandrum Hill Road

Of course such decisions are easier to make when you’re not a homeowner looking at a $6,500.00 bill (calculated at $35 per linear foot of frontage).  It’s also easier when you don’t have to consider environmental impact.  An environmental study was not undertaken.  However, that doesn’t mean the environment won’t be affected.


Maritime Garter Snake crossing Cow Bay Road in summer

When warmed by the sun or tire friction, asphalt releases harmful greenhouse gases. During the paving process, fumes from the oil used to bind the aggregate are known to cause sickness in humans.  Might be a good idea to keep children indoors when the roads are paved later this summer.  Somebody ought to give the wildlife a heads-up too.

ditch along flandrum hill roadDrainage considerations have to also be addressed with paved roads due to potential problems with run-off. Unlike a gravel road, pavement does not absorb precipitation. Though this isn’t as much of a concern for folks who live at the top of a hill, paved roads can potentially contribute to flooding in low-lying areas.

Drivers are known to speed more on paved roads than gravel ones. With its steep incline, Flandrum Hill Road will most likely see an increase in speeding.  Woe to the children who get in their way!

The cost of neglecting asphalt can be scary. Repeated freezing and thawing over the winter months takes a regular toll on all our Nova Scotia roads.   It’s one thing for homeowners to share in the cost of paving roads initially, but what happens when a municipality has to bear the burden of increased maintenance costs without raising taxes? In recent years, some counties in the U.S. have converted their paved roads to gravel once again.  See:  Roads to Ruin:  Towns Rip Up the Pavement

Many of us moved here because we liked the idea of living closer to nature.  We have no bus service and we’re still on well water and septic.  Gravel roads just seem to be another part of a lifestyle that the majority of us consider simply part of rural living.

Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.
If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.
~ C.S. Lewis

All photographs and text copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2014

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The ancient Celts believed that barren wastelands existed because their leader and people were cursed.  Surely whether or not a space is a wasteland has more to do with one’s point of view than a curse.  A few days ago I visited a bog that I hadn’t seen since Hurricane Juan hit in 2003, destroying the old logging trails I used to follow to reach it.  Due to the slow tree growth typical in bogs, it had changed very little. 

For over a decade I walked through this bog daily with my dog, careful to place my feet on higher ground so that I wouldn’t sink into the bottomless black mud.  Though the bog looked especially pretty in spring with its bright pink orchids and rhododendrons, in winter it could be equally wonderful.  One cold day I suddenly heard wings flying above me and was surprised to see two bald eagles hunting for hares or other bog-dwelling prey just a few feet overhead. 

Snowshoe hare tracks in the bog

Body preserved in bog for over 2,000 years

Bogs were once considered magical places, probably owing to their reputation as cursed wastelands.  Some Northern European cultures sometimes buried their dead in bogs and it’s suspected that human sacrifices were made there during the Iron Age.    

Bogs were also places where treasures were hidden from invaders.  In 2006 the Irish found a thousand year old illuminated psalter manuscript in one of their bogs.  Could treasures still be waiting to be discovered here in Nova Scotia?

Today bogs are just beginning to be valued for their role in absorbing extra precipitation and acting as filters for air and water borne pollutants.  Sphagnum moss which is abundant here is also being studied for its role in absorbing oil from disaster spills.

Many of the lichens that hang from the trees in bogs also absorb moisture from the atmosphere.  The most marvelous of these can convert nitrogen in the air to a form usable by plants and animals. 

Unfortunately, in Nova Scotia, bogs are still considered wastelands and cheap real estate.  Locally, they continue to be filled with rubble and developed into subdivisions.  If the original evergreens left standing at the edge of new streets appear stunted, chances are that the homes nearby were built in a bog.  Sadly, once bogs are filled, they cannot go back to their original form.  If urban planners refuse to consider the role bogs can play in alleviating flooding and cleaning the atmosphere, perhaps we really are a people cursed.

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A clever way for thieves to steal from a store is to switch price tags on items, putting low prices on items of higher value.  The thieves then purchase the  items.   This technique works best in stores where cashiers are oblivious to the true value of the merchandise and too busy to take notice of obvious discrepancies. 

Like the pre-occupied cashiers, we don’t know the value of our natural resources and are too busy to notice that they are grossly undervalued.  We might be tired and overworked, or so distracted that we don’t clue in.   Developers keen to turn a quick profit are the ones who stand to gain.

This happens in third-world countries where rainforests brimming with biodiversity are razed to make way for single crops that strip the soil of its nutrients and contribute to erosion.  It also happens in wealthier nations where scrub lands with shorter trees are filled with concrete by residential and business park developers focused on turning a quick profit. 

In resource-rich Canada, we take for granted the cleanliness of our seemingly endless supply of clean air and water, not fully realizing the role trees play in their presence.  In one year, a large tree can supply enough clean air for a family of four to breathe and a single medium-sized tree can filter over 2000 gallons of water.  We cut down old growth forests and pat ourselves on the back when we fill the bare spaces with tiny seedlings that will take several lifetimes to mature.  We fail to appreciate how much trees buffer noise, create windbreaks, intercept rainfall, hold and create soil, absorb carbon dioxide and provide a habitat for wildlife.  Even their beauty is uplifting.  But because we have so many trees here in Canada, we take them for granted. 

The law of supply and demand dictates that our trees will increase in value as they become less abundant.  But why do we have to wait until then to appreciate them?  The United Nations has declared 2011 to be the International Year of Forests in an effort to heighten awareness of their value to mankind.

If a 24K bar of gold weighing 28 lbs is worth approximately half a million dollars, what is the value of a single tree? 

For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.

~  Martin Luther

Gold bar photo credit:  Sybil Nunn

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According to the Canadian Ice Service, an enormous chunk of ice, 260 sq.km. in size, separated from a glacier in Greenland last week, becoming the most spectacular event to take place in the Arctic in 50 years. The broken piece will eventually fragment and inevitably melt in warmer waters, contributing to rising sea levels worldwide.

The first 6 months of 2010 were the hottest globally on record.  [See Ice Island Breaks Off Glacier at the Weather Network].

It’s dawn and the sandpipers are gathering at low tide along the shoreline in the marsh.  They’re so intent on eating that they take no notice of humans next to them on the trail.  Their gentle piping calls to one another are a fitting accompaniment to the rising sun.

Sandpipers have always seemed to me to be among the most delicate of the shore birds.  Like the endangered plovers, their fleeting movements, whether in flight or along the edge of the water,  never give me a chance to appreciate them for long.  I wonder if they’ll be affected by the oil spill down south when they migrate this fall.  [See BP oil spill could affect Maritime plovers at CBC].

Further along the shore, growing near the strandlines, statice is beginning to bloom.  It seems odd that such a delicate flower chooses to grow here along such a rugged shoreline.   Yet it manages to survive, despite winter’s stormy waters and winds.

When I think of rising sea levels, I wonder how wildlife such as sandpipers and statice will be affected in the years to come.  Will they simply disappear?  Or will they find a way to cling to life beyond the present shoreline?

This is a beautiful planet and not at all fragile.  Earth can withstand significant volcanic eruptions, tectonic cataclysms, and ice ages.  But this canny, intelligent, prolific, and extremely self-centered human creature has proven himself capable of more destruction of life than Mother Nature herself…. We’ve got to be stopped.

~ Michael L. Fischer

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Starfish are common finds at Rainbow Haven beach this summer.  They can also be found clinging to rocks under the bridges along the Salt Marsh Trail.  Starfish rely on a constant intake of moisture for all their life systems, including mobility, and can’t survive out of water for more than a couple of hours.  

Many collectors dry starfish, pinning them while still wet in order to preserve their symmetry.  I shudder to think that the dried starfish I purchased years ago in Florida met with such a grisly end.  These days, I choose to fling the starfish I find on the beach back into the water.  Recently, I found a dried starfish flattened on a cement barricade near the parking lot.  It looked like it had been pounded flat while wet.  I know it’s just a starfish, but it seemed like such a waste of life. 

Over the years, I’ve seen children take buckets full of starfish and living molluscs away from the beach.  Unless they had a salt water tank at home ready to receive these wild creatures, why would parents allow this?   When and where do we acquire or lose our reverence for living things? 

 Awe is a big part of reverence.  Though often present in childhood, sometimes, as we grow older, it becomes difficult to keep that sense of awe alive.  Familiarity with a natural environment can also make us take it for granted.   In its practice,  reverence reveals to the world that we humbly acknowledge the presence and needs of other human beings and living creatures besides ourselves.

Litter at the beach is another sign that reverence is lacking.  People come to the beach to be refreshed by nature but don’t realize their role in maintaining this setting for others to enjoy.  Even worse, they don’t care about the living creatures that make their permanent home at the beach.  Homeowners living nearby also get extremely frustrated by the excess of litter.

Despite the presence of park signs advising owners to keep a rein on pets, dogs are frequently seen off leash.  It’s not just people who are intimidated by dogs running wild.  Piping plovers, ground nesting birds, no longer make their home on this beach due to loss of undisturbed habitat. 

As our beaches become more crowded during the summer season, it’s even more important for everyone to practice reverence towards one another and the natural environment.  We’re not alone.  Let’s not act as if we were. 

If a man loses his reverence for any part of life, he will lose his reverence for all of life.
~ Albert Schweitzer

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heron in marsh

Despite their beauty, salt marshes are often considered wastelands.  Like bogs, they’re usually filled in populated coastal areas in order to make space for urban development.  Surprisingly, although salinity and flooding are factors that cause special problems for wildlife, this type of environment is just as biologically productive as a rainforest. 

Salt marshes are common in Nova Scotia where they act as transitional zones between the sea and land.  They are not as frequently found on Canada’s Pacific coast, where rocky shores are more prevalent.

flooding marsh waters

Daily tidal flooding brings in nutrients to the marsh that feed a number of salt tolerant species of plants and animals.  Although the many types of cordgrass found in the marsh may not be eaten, they provide sustenance for microorganisms as they decompose.  Eventually these life forms at the bottom of the food chain are consumed by fish and others.  A thriving web of life supports such diverse creatures as crabs, coyotes, eagles and clams. 

marsh in september

Lying on the edge of the vast ocean, a salt marsh acts as a buffer, shielding the land from severe weather.  Plants in the marsh can survive longer periods underwater during occasions of extreme flooding and trees such as the white spruce are more tolerant of salt spray.  As hurricanes become increasingly common in north Atlantic waters, this function will become even more important. 

Clamdiggers heading into the marsh by boat

Clamdiggers heading into the marsh by boat

Salt marshes are also places where air and water are purified.  They detoxify wastes brought in by the tides on a daily basis.  Microorganisms work non-stop to neutralize pollutants found in water, a great benefit near populated urban areas.

Considering all these benefits to the surrounding environment, it’s no wonder that in some places around the world, salt marshes are now protected and attempts are being made to restore them to their original state.

marsh apples

Apple trees thrive along the edge of the salt marsh

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