Nothing urgent

I really did not have urgent work to do. I am kind of between projects. I planted all the seeds and trees I have. It will be useful for me to use my cutter to clean up brambles near my young longleaf, but there is not much sense in doing that now, since they are just now coming up and will grow back the day after I am done if I cut them now.
I am stiffer today than usual, despite not much work done. I think I may be in danger of overdoing because I get much less exercise in my daily life, now with gyms closed and social distancing making keeping me at home, sitting around.
My real reason for going down to the farms was just to be there. I am very socially isolated on the farms, so I can feel virtuous for distancing. Of course, no doubt I take a big risk with self-service gas 🙂
It is a long drive, but I have audio books. I finished “Extreme Economics,” a very good book and started another “The Narrow Corridor.” It is a lot easier to drive now, since there is much less traffic and gas is a lot cheaper. I can usually just do cruise control the whole way. The only bad part, and maybe it is just my perception, is that trucks are driving faster and more like they always do on I-81. Maybe the lack other traffic enables and emboldens them.
My first picture is me “working”. I have a nice lounge chair there these days. The cycle of life is interesting. Babies & old me look pretty much alike. Of course, most babies do not have beards. Next picture is the view from the chair. The other two pictures are from my cypress area. These were planted in 2012. I think this corridor is very pretty. They remind me of tamaracks back in Wisconsin. You have to wear muck boots, but besides that is is easy. going.
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Funding conservation

Wonderful good news for our North American forests. The American Forest Foundation (AFF) & the Nature Conservancy (TNC) are partnering to facilitate better conservation practices on private land, and Amazon has signed up with a $10 million grant to help fund the project starting in Vermont and Pennsylvania, an investment that will help remove over 18 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – equivalent to 46 billion miles driven by an average passenger vehicle.

Follow this link.

Family forests

Families and individuals in the eastern USA own more forests land than government or big firms. I do not think most people are aware of this. It means that most conservation is done on private forest lands, like mine that I write about so often.

Conservation, however, costs money, both in actual outlays of cash and in money lost by not taking the most cash you can get from your land. This is a tradeoff that most forest landowners are willing to make. Sustainability requires we balance the economic, ecological and social factors in any enterprise. Besides forest products, well-cared-for forest land produces clean water, wildlife habitat and natural beauty. Everybody enjoys the ecological and societal benefits, but the economic costs fall on the landowners.

It is like all of us enjoying a fine meal and a stranger picking up the check, nice but we probably cannot count on a free ride forever, not because he does not want to but rather because he cannot afford to keep it up.

Funds for conservation

TNC and AFF are addressing this issue by making funds available to family landowners to carry on the conservation they want to do, and we all want them to do. Incentives for conservation practices are not new and their history has not always been exemplary. Let me tell you about why I think this time is better, based some on my own role.

I am president of the Virginia Tree Farm Foundation (VTFF), the Virginia affiliate of the American Tree Farm Foundation in turn affiliated with the AFF, discussed above working with TNC. Sorry for the long provenance, but I needed to make the connection.

Land management plans – looking at big ecology

In Virginia, the VTFF foundation encourages conservation on family forest lands and certifies forest land. We are essentially the only practical way a small holder can get his land certified. Small landowners (and we are not always talking very small >500 acres are big for a city boy like me, small when it comes to timber) have often been unable to use conservation programs because of administrative costs. If you own a small place, the cost of registering and reporting may well exceed any revenue you get for being a good steward. Most of us still do it, mind you, but we can do less. I have been able to do institute a regime of patch burning, for example, because I got an NRCS grant. It is something I wanted to do, something great for wildlife and the environment, but not something I could justify spending thousands of dollars of my family’s money on something they could never recover. I was eager to do the needed work and did not mind spending some money, but absent the grant, I could not have done it. Lots of conservation is like that.

A land bank, Virginia and beyond

The AFF/TNC plan would work regionally. Landowners could enroll their land and get resources to do needed conservation, with the upfront and admin costs defrayed by AFF/TNC. Even better, the land is aggregated in an ecological region. The best analogy for this is a bank deposit. Banks make loans to a family that want to buy a house. No individual bank depositor would have the resources, expertise or time to make the loan, but when the deposits are aggregated, it works. Similarly a family that enrolls their land may be unable to keep it locked up for decades, but they can “deposit” their land and allow firms, like Amazon, to “buy” conservation from the group, knowing that individuals may enter or leave.

We are doing right now doing a land management plan in Virginia east of the Blue Ridge, soon to be expanded to the whole of the Old Dominion. This will take into account Virginia’s ecological regions and allow certified landowners to commit their land to conservation w/o losing control over it. It is a win for them, for the firms involved for the environment and generally. Virginia’s plan will be ready by the end of this year. I am 100% behind this and my small part in making this happen is one of my life’s legacies.

Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness

Our efforts will not solve the climate problem or make conservation work always and everywhere, but it is a big step forward, at least in each of our states. I am much enamored with the process. It is persuasive not coercive, which mean that those who participate will be partners, not subordinates. We will get the benefit not only of their work, but also of their innovation, expertise and local knowledge and passion for their land. They will not do what we plan; they will do better.

These are the first steps on a path whose end we cannot know, and a journey will never complete. That means we will never lack for something useful to do.

I like that.

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Forestry folk invented social distancing

Forestry folk invented social distancing, so it is easier for us to adapt to the steps needed to address the Covid-19 crisis. I am not an extrovert, but I miss the routine social interaction, having a beer with friends of just the serendipity of talking to strangers I meet.  This has made my tree farms even more important and I have been using work on them as a form of therapy during social distancing. And with the solitude, I have had more time to think about what I mean when I say I am “working on the farm.”


I enjoy the work although not ever minute doing it. Tree planting is a good example. Pushing through the brambles and the briars, carrying the seedlings, and just poking that dibble stick into the ground thousands of time is an experienced better remembered than lived. And it seems like the best way to make it rain is to go out and plant trees. Much of the work on tree farms is like that.  When I am out doing it, I cannot wait to get done; when I am done, I cannot wait to get out doing it again.

The joy of planting trees comes not from the tedious repetition. The joy is in our minds when we contemplate the past and imagine the future. Tapping into the majestic flow of nature helps with insights for us short-lived mortals about the unknown past to the unknowable future. It is a spiritual type of practical activity.

The American Tree Farm System was created in 1941 to help ensure the future wood supply, an important, practical and prosaic goal that the America forest industry has achieved. Kudos forestry USA. The USA has more timber growing today than at any other time in more than a century.

I think we now need to move beyond this “tree crop” idea. Trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees. When I go to my tree farms, I am pleased to see so much timber. If not for income from selling timber, pulp, and pellets, I could not afford to own my land, and I am glad that the products of my land support local jobs and contribute to the general welfare.  But if income was my only goal, I sure would not own a tree farm. I am typical of a Virginia tree farmer in that our surveys show that most of us are looking for something more than money from our land.

For me that something is being part of a community. My land’s biotic communities are the basics, but I also enjoy being part of the greater local community and the forest community worldwide I love the trees and I love the wood in buildings. This is our community too.

In this time of covid-19 isolation, I know that I am part of many communities, so I go alone into the woods and am reminded.

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Social distancing walk

Doing the social isolation walks in Virginia’s beautiful spring weather. I have never seen so many people out walking. Everyone keeps their distance, but we still feel friendly. Most people smile and wave, as we yield the path to one another.

My picture is one of the big white oaks at Navy Federal grounds. There are maybe a dozen of them and they are at least 130 years old. I am reasonably sure of that estimate, since I counted the rings on the stump of one that they cut down in 2013 (although I think that the downed oak was a big red oak, not white, I figured the same generation.) I have included pictures from that sojourn seven years ago.

I like to come back to the same places to appreciate the changes. I recall that long walk back i 2013. I was still recovering from that peripheral artery problem and it hurt to walk. I am much better now. I stamp my memory on the land I walk on, even if only I know about it. It is a source of connections and joy for me. I have “relationships” with trees and landscape in Milwaukee that go back more than half a century.

Tomorrow I plan to socially isolate down on the farm, & I am going to camp out for the first time on my land. I don’t expect it to be comfortable, but I have been meaning to do it for a long time.

I do not like to camp. I used to do it a lot because I do like to be in nature. In those days, that was the only way for me. I had no car so was was not mobile nor could I afford a hotel. Both those things are changed now. I usually stay at Fairfield in about 20 miles from my land. But in this time of social isolation, I figured I might not.

Anyway, I will be in the Internet shadow tomorrow. I may check from my phone, but if you don’t hear from me, I am in the woods.

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COVID-19 and the Northern Border

I participated in a Wilson Center Webinar “COVID-19 and the Northern Border” on April 14, 2020.  It was a follow up/update to Wilson Center’s publication “Reports from North America’s Borders: Experts React to New COVID-19 Travel Restrictions.”   The panel was introduced by Wilson CEO Jane Harman and moderated by Chris Sands, Director of the Canada Institute. Panelist included:  Alan Bersin, Global Fellow, Mexico & Canada Institutes, Wilson Center; Former Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Policy; Kathryn Friedman, Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Research Associate Professor of Law & Planning at the University at Buffalo; Laurie Trautman, Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Director, Border Policy Research Institute Western Washington University & Solomon Wong, President and CEO, InterVISTAS Consulting Inc.

Notes from each participant are included below.  They were in general as upbeat as you could expect given the nature of the crisis.  The good news is that the closing of the border was done with consultations between the USA and Canada and carried out in the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, bred of long and trusting relationships.

Canada and the USA agreed to temporarily restrict all non-essential cross-border travel for the first time since September 11, 2001.  The agreement restricts travel for tourism and recreation but allows business travel crucial to our integrated supply chains.  Until the closure, $2.7 billion worth of goods crossed the Canada-U.S. border every day.

Please refer to the earlier comments of participants hereYou can also watch the event at this link.

Alan Bersin – Global Fellow, Mexico & Canada Institutes, Wilson Center; Former Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Policy

Governments Canada and USA agreed on how to let goods pass, if not people, so not like 9/11.  Not unilateral.  Ended up with a North American approach.  First time we had something like this. Also, not indefinite shutdown.  USA and Canada announced 18 March for 21 March with review a month later.  This was an orderly shutdown and not a complete one.

Recognized importance of keeping supply chains.  Public health concerns well balanced with economic ones.  People cooperating.  Not much confusion or anger.

Question is how to restart economy.  We can say that instead of being a source of grief and conflict, it may be a bright spot, as way to help the general restart of economy. An example for good.

Re 3M exporting masks to Canada.  Trudeau called the WH and it was changed. There was talk about barring PPE for export but explicit exception for Canada and Mexico.

It is working well because of relationships and trust and confidence built over a long time.

Supply chains v human traffic

A weak point has been sharing information about supply chain integrity.  In future will need more information developed and exchanged.  New techniques in information technology will allow us to share information w/o comingling, which might compromise sensitive or proprietary information.

Recognize the importance of North America.  Use C-19 experience to think about how North American can work even better.

Kathryn Friedman – Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Research Associate Professor of Law & Planning at the University at Buffalo

Buffalo-Niagara Passenger traffic down 98%, bus traffic down 99.6%.  28-30% commercial traffic down.  Industries that rely on cross border (mostly tourism) are badly hurt.

People mostly abiding by rules.  On the USA side, there is not much problem.  On Canadian side harder. People who work in the USA must quarantine when they come back.

USA-Canada – shows how a good relationship can work.  We always have to “weed the garden” but the system is working well.

Laurie Trautman – Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Director, Border Policy Research Institute Western Washington University

In NW not many workers pass back and forth.  Concerned that Canadian discretionary spending will not be back very quick.  Canadians buy gas, get their Amazon purchases etc.  Flow of American going north was much smaller and they were not shopping much.

Hopes this crisis shows the importance and effectiveness of working of the border.

Solomon Wong – President and CEO, InterVISTAS Consulting Inc.

Passenger traffic almost gone, but decline not so much, since cargo has filled some of the void.  Delta etc are converting to cargo very rapidly.  Moving medicines and perishable good.

Some experience with SARS and MERS, so they can better adapt to risks.   Air travel has been a conduit for super spreading.  Flights from China are coming back.  Flights from China to Vancouver have been full, still not going back.

Role of big data – finding asymptomatic carrier of disease is fundamental challenge.  The undiscovered territory is what can be done with large data.  In China they can check where you went.  Lots of potential privacy issues.  Chinese less concerned with these issues.

Lots of room to grow.  Do not focus only on tech or too much on tech.  People and process matter.


Jane Harman kicked off.   Have we learned lessons since 9/11 re other countries?

Wong – lesson learned is that people need to be reassured. If there are too many different forms, too much complexity, it makes people afraid.

Friedman – Maybe cannot handle other countries as easily as Canada.  Our countries are extraordinarily integrated. No other place is like that.

How will restriction complicate supply chains and family reunification.

Trautman – trucks are still moving.  Changes in demand are affecting more than peculiar border issues.  For example, Washington State processes oil and ships back to Canada. They are doing less, since there is a big drop in demand.

Friedman – family visits are still problems due to quarantine.

Have you heard timeline for more stringent measures?

Bersin  – had not heard of more stringent. April reassessment will identify what worked and what did not, maybe develop best practices.  Tension between more bureaucracy and more local initiative. So are is working okay.

We will need to resume step by step.  Border can be crucible for opening other sectors, based on data.  Mechanisms still not up to do this.

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America emerges

The news seeping out now is that the USA had enough ventilators and ICU beds. In fact, we have more ICU beds both in absolute total and per capita than any other country and there are no reports of anybody being denied a place.

Better in our minds

We can always imagine better and we always fear worse. This is part of human nature. We need to resist letting our projections & projections become the narrative. We cannot let the imagined perfect be the enemy of the actual good, nor let our crazier fears determine our reactions to real situations.

The American reality is always less good than we can imagine, but usually better than things we have seen.


Experience shows that our big and diverse country requires diverse and distributed decision-making. This means that we almost always come up with optimal (for the real world) solutions, but it also means that success will not be equally distributed. Over the long run, and even the medium one, it means that the general level has improved more than had we determined the one “best.”

Adaptive and flexible beat the one right thing

Adaptive and flexible systems, as ours is, just outperform command and control in complex and uncertain situations in all but the shortest of time frames. Their problem is with the narrative, again a feature of human nature. We think in terms of stories with somebody doing something leading to results. The problem is that in a distributed decision system nobody is in charge of the whole thing and solutions emerge not from the mind of a signal leader, but rather from the interaction and relationship of many minds, often coordinated by networks we cannot see, run by nobody. Embracing this has been a secret of American success that has perplexed the world, and most of us, for around 250 years. It is counter-intuitive to think that we do not need a central leadership.

e pluribus unum

We must resist our intuition on this. One people, one country, one leader appeals emotionally to many people, but recall where the slogan comes from and that is sounds even better when shouted in German.

The better slogan is out of many – one.

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Forest legacy

Espen and I were down on the farms. I did some cutting around the new longleaf, but mostly I wanted to show the latest developments. He and his brother and sister have helped a lot, since they were little. Espen remembered when he first walked on Diamond Grove. The trees you see in the picture #3 were so small that you could not be sure they were there, covered as they were by grass and brambles. He is getting a better perception of flowing time. Good.

The trees I love today take decades to mature; the ecosystems they help regenerate take even longer to develop. I hope to live a few more healthy years, but realistically we are talking a couple decades, tops.

I will never finish of what I started. It is important to me that Espen, Alex and Mariza carry on a multi-generational endeavor. I find beauty and great meaning in being part of what I cannot finish, to find my path and take it as long as I can. I want the kids tol carry on theirs, to develop theirs. This I cannot do for them, but I can make available the ingredients. It is a gift that I can give.

My first picture is social isolation. Next is Espen Matel doing same. Picture #3 is our recently thinned trees on Diamond Grove with me as height comparison. Last is gas at Pilot at Exit 104. Gas is only $1.39. It has been a long time since gas was so cheap.

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Classical music

I liked classical music when I was a kid and my favorite among the few scratched records we had around the house was Scheherazade. I could whistle almost the whole thing, a skill most people found passing annoying. It is not really the kind of music you can properly whistle and some people think no kind of music is the kind you should whistle.

My taste was not sophisticated, but my mother encouraged me. Her taste was also not sophisticated but we tried. A lot of our suggestions came from a commercial selling the “Great Classics.” It featured some classy looking guy with an English accent telling us that so many popular tunes were actually the great classics.

Another source of classical music for me were “Bugs Bunny” cartoons, that featured soundtracks with classical music.

In those benighted days, before we had all the advantages of Internet and YouTube, the capacity to be an aficionado were truncated. Mostly you had to listen to radio. Only the rich or serious collectors could have more than maybe a dozen records and they did not sound very good on our cheap equipment. I am still sometimes amazed at the richness of sound in my old favorites when played on modern machines.

I can still recall most of what my mother had. Besides Scheherazade, she had “New World Symphony,” “Liebesträume & other Hits” (which I thought was lebensraum. I was much surprised in world history when I learned that that Germans were fighting for that in WWII. Didn’t seem worth fighting for.) a couple by Tchaikovsky, the rather lowbrow “Beethoven’s Greatest Hits” featuring famous cuts, and “Victory at Sea.” That was it. Maybe Christine Matel Milewski recalls others.

As much as my mother was proud of my esoteric tastes, I was ashamed of them. My friends thought I was weird enough, so I tried to keep it a secret. I still recall with horror a time when my friends came to “call for me” and my mother told them that I would be out later because I was listening to a symphony. I had to put with the ridicule for weeks and that opprobrium has a half life of years.

Kids can be very cruel and their memories are long for mistakes. There was a kid who peed in his pants in kindergarten. We called me “pee pants” until he grew bigger and stronger than most of us and the teasing diminished.

Anyway, I just finished enjoying this music.

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Spring forest 2020

Practicing social distance down in the woods. Everything is starting to grow. I planted some wildflowers, but I busted my buster. Well, I only sheared off the bolt. Easy to fix, but I did not have a bolt, so that part of my work was done for the day I didn’t have too much other urgent work, so I had time to look around.
The bald cypress have started to leaf out. My first picture shows some of them and the lacy pastels of April. The cypress were planted in 2012. They were suppressed by the loblolly, both by getting less light AND less water. We harvested the loblolly two years ago, and the cypress have responded. I expect a lot of growth this year.
Next picture is my ATV loaded with rocks. I needed to armor a stream bank. Our neighbor is Vulcan Quarry, and they dug the quarry there for good reason. I have lots of rocks laying around on Freeman, but they are scattered. They would be too heavy to carry, but the ATV can do it. I had to make a few trips, but I got enough to get the job done.
Last three pictures are my 2012 longleaf pine. They are getting ready to grow. Some have already candled. The fire burned hotter in some places than it did in others and scorched some trees more, but I think that all the trees, or at least almost all have survived. Some have all the needles burned off, but they are sending out candles.
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My old house

My old house is up for sale. It was a nice place to grow up; it seems to be nicer now. They have exposed hardwood, replaced appliances and updated the bathrooms. I would not mind living there again, if I lived in Milwaukee.

Always like the neighborhood. That also has improved some. There is some gentrification.

Look at the pictures of back yard. On your left is a basswood tree and on the right a silver maple. The basswood is fifty years old. I brought it back from the woods on College Avenue, then just a woods but now Cudahy Forest. It had only two leaves when I brought it home on my bike.

I loved that forest. I spent a lot of time walking around in it. It was a comfort when my mother got sick and died. It was across the street from my cousin Ray’s house, and I would often visit him and Carol, his wife.

Sorry to go off on such a tangent, but it brings back feelings of home and that is a joy to remember it. I am going to indulge myself. I invite readers down the path with me, but will not be surprised or troubled to walk alone.

It is a maple-basswood forest. Just about a half mile nearer Lake Michigan there are beech trees, but this forest is just far enough from the lake’s cloud shadow that beeches do not thrive. I have seen a few beech trees, but they are few and far between. Beech trees are common in Virginia and they range naturally from the Atlantic Ocean, through New York, Ohio and Michigan, but they stop in Wisconsin, with only a sliver hugging Lake Michigan by the time it gets to Milwaukee.

The story I heard about this woods was that it was a virgin forest. That is why and how I found it. The paper reported on a controversy that someone wanted to cut the trees down and make a parking lot for trucks. I wanted to see it for myself. I wrote a letter to the County to protest. I doubt anybody read it, but there were enough others complaining that the County acquired the land and made a park. I think it unlikely that this is a real virgin forest, in that never been cut, but it is a very old growth. Likely somebody used this as a woodland, for wood and hunting. The maple-basswood system is old succession; it took at least 100 years to reach that stage. The trees in it are old and the soil is deep. Maybe it is a virgin forest, at least parts never cleared.

Anyway, returning to the 50 years old tree in the picture. Consider how it still is not really that big. Some basswood trees in the Cudahy forest were much bigger. Imagine how old they must have been.

A few more additions form Memory Lane. Christine Matel Milewski might enjoy. Tony Dunigan, Dorothy Bozich & Barbara Levreault also lived in the house for a while. Our house and the two up hill were built at the same time. Our’s is different because the porch was taken up when my parents built the front room The siding is redwood, but they have painted it over now.

My parents contracted Banner Builder and I recall all the complaining. The foundation is made of cinder block. The first guy they had setting it up was literally moonlighting. He showed up at night and worked by lantern light. It was a crap job. My parents demanded a better job and they got it.

My father had the blue siding put on. He hired a couple of drunks. They did a good job when they were working but they were not working much. My father had a special place in his heart for drunks and kept them on. They finished the job okay and it is still holding up. I am not sure what year they did that, but it was before 1975 (I think).

I am sure that they updated the boiler. My father and grandfather built the old one with scavenged parts. It was very inefficient. It was built to burn coal, but it was converted to natural gas. I do not know how that works. I am sure that my father did not either, so it is good that he did not try to do that work himself. My father was a mechanic in the Army Air Corps during World War II. I always wondered about that, since his mechanical ability seemed something like mine.

My parents bought the house from my grandpa soon after they were married. I don’t know when grandpa bought it. Grandpa lived with my parents until he died, soon after I was born.

Anyway, nice to see the old house. It is 101 years old this year. Somebody in my family owned it for at least half that time.

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