Wellness at the Waterfall

 

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Waterfalls…noisily rushing over a precipice of land, crashing to the surface below, the air cooler where the water mists, an ancestral memory. Besides their captivating appearance in nature, waterfalls have been shown to improve mental and physical well being in people.

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One of the psychological effects we’re most aware of when we’re by the sea, lakes or waterfalls is a feeling of awe. There’s something about the beautiful vastness of a natural scene that has a profound impact on the way we feel. Science has found that such feelings can lead to prosocial behavior like altruism, loving kindness and magnanimity.

Waterfalls are a natural source of wonder and entertainment.We hike to see them, stand beneath their plunge, swim in their pools and gasp in admiration. They are a destination that we seek for a variety of reasons.  For reasons we can’t always explain, we feel better when being near waterfalls.

So many drops, so many atoms, so many ions. The area around waterfalls is known to have a high volume of negative ions in the air. It is known as the Lenard Effect.

Atoms are made of electrons and protons. An unequal number of protons to electrons, you have an ion. When the ion loses at least one electron, it is positively charged and called a cation (+) and when an ion has extra electrons, it is negatively charged and called an anion (-).

The standard pH level of the human body is 7.4 which is slightly alkaline – but this balance is destroyed when too many positive ions enter your body because they cause oxidation. When too many positive ions accumulate in the body they increase the active oxygen. Activated oxygen is believed to be a cause of cancer and other serious sickness.

Positive ions are found in profusion in polluted air. They proliferate in closed buildings and sealed environments. Electric devices that produce electromagnetic fields, including computer screens, television sets and fluorescent lighting produce positive ions. Synthetic materials like plastics and manmade fibers , like nylon carry their own positive charge.

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How does being near a waterfall improve the well being in people? The answer is the number of negative ions in the air. Negative ions are absorbed through the skin or while breathing. Once negative ions reach the bloodstream they are said to increase our bodies production of serotonin, which is the chemical responsible for relieving stress and depression and boosting our energy and happiness.

Waterfalls provide soothing sights and sounds that help you relax and destress. They also lower your blood pressure, improving your health. Simply watching a watercourse is a psychological aid in lowering stress levels and is found to be similar to hypnosis techniques.

The mist cleanses and deposits natural minerals in the air which means cleaner, healthier air to breath.

The sound of water is soothing to us. It’s why many sleep aid devices feature a setting that sounds like falling water. Scientific studies show that the sound of running water initiates a flood of oxygen to the brain and diminishes depression, helps to increase mental clarity, gives greater emotional stability and promotes our overall well being. Water sounds have long been used in meditation. In listening to these sounds we learn to be present in the moment and directly experience things instead of lost in rumination. Science suggests that the sound of running water can affect the rhythm of neuronal “waves” in our brains, encouraging a more peaceful pace of thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waterfalls form when there is a watercourse traversing over different layers of rock. Water is a powerful erosive agent, and different types of rock erode at different rates. When a river or stream flowing over hard rock (like granite) where erosion is slow and also flows over soft rock (like shale) where erosion is more rapid, over time the soft rock is cut into by the water, ultimately making the watercourse steeper beyond the hard rock layer. This steepening effect also accelerates erosion as the influence of gravity on the water increases the water’s speed. Eventually, the watercourse steepens until it’s nearly vertical or completely vertical. This geologic stage is the  waterfall we travel to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While erosion is the primary process that creates waterfalls, geologists note that other cataclysmic events (such as earthquakes, landslides, glaciers and volcanoes) may also create waterfalls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On my spring expedition earlier this year I made a special excursion to visit my Aunt Norma in the mountains of western North Carolina. My two cousins, Paula and Tammy graciously took me sightseeing up steep mountain roads to visit the waterfalls seen in this article. It made me happy.

Macon County, North Carolina is in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachians are 300 – 500 million years old, the oldest mountains on Earth. Waterfalls are common in the Appalachian system. In the north, waterfalls are mostly the result of glacial activity during the last ice age. In the southern Appalachians waterfalls are generally formed by the action of water on alternating layers of soft and hard rock.

Next time you are hiking to or visiting a waterfall why not plan on spending a little extra time for your health? It’s an opportunity to meditate on the soothing sights and sounds and absorb more of the negative ions flowing around you. Let Mother Nature help with your well being.

To your health, Dohn

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Preserving History – through old buildings

The winter homes of T. Edison and H. Ford

There are towns and cities worldwide that have preserved the homes of important persons of historical significance. These museum homes promote respect for those that lived in prior times. The town of Fort Myers, Florida has conserved the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, two of it’s most famous residents.

Inventor Thomas Edison purchased a countryside, riverfront property near the fledgling town of Fort Myers in 1885. He then had the land cleared  and built a home the following year. Edison soon set out to improve and beautify the property. The subtropical climate of southern Florida displayed promising qualities for Edison’s interest in experimenting with plants. He grew shrubs, flowers, trees, stands of bamboo and a wide variety of tropical plants, some for study others for their beauty. Edison designed the landscape to include walking paths with benches, fountains, a lily pond, a separate office building, an artesian fed swimming pool and a moonlight garden. “Seminole Lodge” as the new home was called  became a winter retreat for Edison and his family for the next 61 years.

 

 

 

 

 

Conserving old homes help us to understand the history that occurred there, sometimes long before we were born. The winter estate of Thomas Edison attracts over 25,000 visitors a year that come to experience the “spirit” of the place.

The year that Thomas Edison bought the property in 1885 was the same year that the town of Fort Myers was officially incorporated. The population was 349. By 1890 when Edison was getting “Seminole Lodge” in good order the census registered 575 citizens. There were only a few mercantile stores and a handful of businesses in Fort Myers back then. Grocery stores as we know them did not exist. At that time food that needed to be kept chilled was kept in an “ice box”, cooled by blocks of ice. Fortunately for Edison he could afford a full time groundskeeper that supplied fresh vegetables, fruit, eggs and honey for the tale.

Living history museums and preservation homes can inspire visitors to examine models of self sufficiency. Historical exhibits that display traditional methods of maintaining a household may showcase economic alternatives. Herbs and table vegetables, fruit, eggs, all harvested on a property were ways our forefathers were self sufficient. There is much to learn from history where there are alternatives to today’s corporate controlled world.

A very important purpose for preserving old buildings is that they document innovations in architecture. Use of new materials and building techniques mark a specific time when there were shifts in architectectural style. The advent of electrical lighting and the subsequent appliances used at the turn of the 20th century fundamentally changed architectural design for oncoming generations. Edison’s perfection of the light bulb and inventive work with electricity changed how interior spaces could be utilized and added hours to productive or leisure time for a household. Thomas Edison was not only a prolific inventor but a successful business man as well. The lighting fixtures at Seminole Lodge were designed and manufactured at his lighting company.

As changes in architectural design can be placed on a timeline, so to can interior furnishings. New materials and advanced manufacturing are not the only methods that influence style, other influences from the world of politics or art have also changed public taste. For example; world events … In 1853 -54 Commodore Matthew Perry with an expeditionary fleet of U.S. Naval warships and a policy of gunboat diplomacy threatened the island of Japan into a negotiation that ended it’s 220 year period of isolation. The opening of trade with Japan led to a fascination by western countries with Asian culture. The coined term Japanism was first used in France to describe the sweeping Japanese influence on the arts.  Japanism affected fine arts, sculpture, architecture, performing arts and decorative arts in western culture. The influence of this at Seminole Lodge can be seen in the preserved, original bamboo and wicker furniture owned by Edison. The light airy design and materials were well suited to the Florida climate as opposed to the heavy upholstered Victorian furniture in favor a few decades earlier. When maintained wicker and bamboo furniture is long lasting, very durable, the material has sustainable quick growth potential and is biodegradable.

In this age of world wide plastic contamination it is important for all of us to find alternatives to plastic when possible. Bamboo, rattan and wicker are renewable resources. A historical alternative to consider.

Business associate and friend, automobile tycoon Henry Ford purchased a home next to Thomas Edison in 1916. Here Edison and Ford could participate in idle conversation, discuss business activity and share inventive ideas while sitting under shady porches. They could enjoy the waterfront grounds or go fishing and boating on the Caloosahatchee River. Set in such fine surroundings the Edison/Ford winter estates offered a pleasant respite from the cold northern winters where the men lived the remainder of the year. The town of Fort Myers took great community pride in having two such famous people as residents. It could be said that it was one of the reasons that led to the development of the town. There is no doubt that the Edison/Ford winter estates offered opportunities for the growing communities future and since it has been preserved, it continues to offer opportunities for the IMG_0401communities future.

 

 

 

 

Preserving buildings and objects of historical significance is not only a reflection of our history but can improve the economic prosperity of a neighborhood area or town. Maintaining and saving architectural monuments can attract tourists that also stop at nearby cafes, restaurants, attractions, shops, and filling stations. Places like the Edison/Ford historical property stimulate the local economy through employment. Locals are hired for grounds and maintenance, cashiers, office staff, greeters, interpreters and security. Professional positions needing filled  at various old buildings and home museums  might be facilities manager, public relations, historian, archivist, curator, preservationist, exhibits designer and researcher. Preserving old buildings promotes the living heritage of a town. That heritage will continue if preservationists will interpret and manage the resource well for future generations.

It’s ironic that Henry Ford master of the assembly line and mechanized manufacturing would have his winter home decorated in the Arts and Crafts style. Founders of the Arts and Crafts movement were the first major critics of the Industrial Revolution. They sought to return to a simpler more fulfilling way of life. The practitioners of the movement believed that the connection between the artist and his work through handcraft was the key to producing human fulfillment and beautiful items. Ford’s living room area of the home has an extensive use of wood in the trim, ceiling and paneling. A signature of Arts and Crafts architecture. The Gustav Stickley and Mission Style oak furniture compliment the woods natural warmth and the combination exudes a relaxing, less formal comfort to the room.

Notice the fireplace. In Florida during December and January evening temperatures can drop into the 40s and lower. Both Edison and Ford had wood burning fireplaces to keep off the chill.

The difference between the Arts and Crafts style and the earlier Victorian style can be seen by comparing the lighting fixtures at Edison and Ford’s homes. At Edison’s Seminole Lodge the lighting fixtures are fanciful and of intricate design, common in the Victorian Era. Remember, Seminole Lodge was built in 1886.

At The Mangoes, Henry Ford’s winter retreat the lighting fixtures are of the Arts and Crafts style. Built in 1915 and purchased by Ford in 1916 we can affix a point on the timeline when architectural style and design transitioned from older previous fashions. The lighting fixtures at The Mangoes have the identifying handcrafted appearance of the Arts and Crafts movement. In America there was not the ambivalence towards machines used in the manufacturing process as there was in England. The important factor was the style and design.

 

 

 

At The Mangoes there was a wing with servants quarters and a guest room. Simple practical rooms, nothing extravagant. When the Mangoes was purchased in 1916 Henry Ford was a wealthy man, not as rich as he would become in the following decades but quite well off. It’s interesting to note how modest the home and interior design is. An insight into Ford’s personality? Quite a contrast to the vacation homes of today’s wealthy class.

The name Ford is recognized worldwide. Henry Ford’s legacy that started in the early years of the 20th century continues to this day. His development of the assembly line, improved manufacturing processes, innovations in automobile design, marketing a motor car for the masses and business success in operating a company that exists to this day all contribute to his legacy. Thomas Edison on the other hand is not a name as recognized as it once was. One of America’s most prolific inventors, Edison’s work on the light bulb, electrical systems, generators, batteries, telephones, phonographs and movie projectors had a major impact on society at the turn of the last century. Now he is relegated to a historical past. His inventions have been surpassed by new technologies.

 

Thomas Edison is mostly associated with electrical inventiveness and the copious number of  his patents. Lesser known about him was his interest and passion for plants of all kinds. In 1925 Edison planted a four foot tall, two inch diameter Ficus Benghalensis (India Banyan tree). The tree produces a white sap that Edison and his friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone hoped to use in making natural rubber. The banyan was not the answer to the rubber experiment but it has remained. It has been preserved. It has been protected.

The tree now dominates the entrance to the Edison Ford Winter Estates. It is the largest banyan tree in the continental United States, covering more than an acre and supported by more than 350 roots. A living memorial to Thomas Edison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting historical properties reminds us of the possibilities of humankind. Monumental structures or a simple cottage both tell a story. They are part of a communities heritage. When those buildings are lost so to go the old stories, and the living heritage is diminished.

Preserving old buildings and the homes of historically significant people promotes respect for those that lived in prior times. These places can attract visitors that come to experience the “spirit” of a place. Old buildings show that there are alternatives to today’s corporate controlled world by relearning the ways our forefathers practiced self sufficiency. Preserving old buildings document innovations in architecture. To slow down the world wide plastic contamination a historical alternative to consider is the use of renewable resources like bamboo, wicker and rattan. In the past the Edison/Ford winter estates offered opportunities for the growing communities future and since it has been preserved, it continues to offer opportunities for the communities future. Preserving buildings and objects of historical significance can improve the economic prosperity of an area. Maintaining and saving architectural monuments can attract tourists. Places like the Edison/Ford historical property stimulate the local economy through employment and tourism. Preserving old buildings, historically significant homes and various monuments makes good sense.

Whether it be sentimental nostalgia, research studies for a historical project or simple curiosity, old buildings and homes provide educational resources. History can teach us much about living, including alternatives to today’s fast paced world.

Be well my friends, Dohn

 

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Reflections on Earth Day

For the beauty of the Earth

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I was an activity organizer for the first Earth Day in 1970. That was forty nine years ago. I was naive. I had assumed that if people knew the extent of harmful pollutants in the waterways and atmosphere they would do something.

Country roads were being used as dumpsites. Trash and litter was everywhere, spoiling the landscape. I didn’t think (or know much) about toxic chemicals leaching out of back road dump sites and curbside debris. Discarded engine parts, old appliances, broken glass and construction waste was just an ugly mess. Something I didn’t want to see while enjoying any natural surroundings. It seemed to me that it was just a matter of raising awareness. It seemed so simple. Organize clean-up activities of beaches, shorelines, stream sides and hiking trails. Notify and involve the city in removing known unregistered  dump sites. Start a publicity campaign for pride of place. Educate people that their rubbish does not just dissolve away in a week or two or even a year. Clean up the mess, dispose of trash in the proper place, compare the beauty of cleanliness to that of previous slovenly behavior and the problem would be solved. Shurely people could see that. Shurely people would participate. It seemed so simple. I was naive.

On December 7, 1972 the astronaut crew aboard Apollo 17 took photographs of the Earth  as they left the atmosphere of the planet. NASA subsequently published the now famous “Blue Marble” photograph. It changed everything about my world view. This tiny blue marble travelling through the vast darkness of space encompassed all that was known to man. All of our joys and sorrows, our lives and the lives of all the animals, all of the mountains and forests, all of the plants, all of the deserts, all of the streams and rivers, all of the oceans and fish of the sea, all of the birds that flew overhead, all cohabiting a tiny blue dot in the heavens. That photograph was a whole new perspective for me.

At that time new words like ecology and sustainability were entering the language. Concepts of the greater environment, habitat, the finite supply of resources and the interconnectivity of natural systems and all the species with which we share the Earth were new studies. We needed to observe a big picture of a small planet. We needed to learn the consequences of human activity. We needed to learn that we are all one.

There were 3 million gallons of oil leaked into California’s Santa Barbara Channel in 1969. The same year the Cuyahoga River in Ohio became so polluted that it caught on fire. The following year the first Earth Day was organized and observed April, 22, 1970.

During the early 1970s lakes in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York were discovered to be devoid of fish. The reason, acid rain. Fish catch along the Atlantic coast was reported to be declining and well below historic levels. 1986 saw the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster and three years later the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Reading the reports, learning the facts, it was easy to point the finger at industry for destroying the environment. Extractive industries in particular. I knew first hand the effects of mining operations and clear cutting of forests. It was not just those however, The clothing industry, the automobile industry, pharmaceutical companies, farming operations, all used chemicals that were dumped in waterways, disposed of into soils and discharged in the atmosphere. It was easy to point a finger at industries that put profits before the health of its workers and the community at large. In time I came to realize that these same industries provided employment, paid taxes, supported the economy, provided goods and commodities to manufacturers and supplied merchandise to the public. For modern society to exist a heavy burden has been placed on the environment.

The issues are complicated and complex. They have become more so in recent years. Are there solutions? I believe there are. One thing that is needed is for the general population (and elected officials) to have a broader understanding of the dynamic systems at work in the atmosphere, geosphere and hydrosphere. When these natural systems are disrupted the effects are experienced globally. To understand this, education is the answer and that begins in the classrooms of our youth. Another possible alternative to confront threats to the environment is to limit the influence of political action committees. In particular corporate special interests. When the coffers of legislators are stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars over and over again by corporate interests the outcome of a vote on any restrictive laws is a foregone conclusion.

These are just a few thoughts, there are many different approaches to address degradation of the planet and there are many wonderful organizations that you can join or support. We can all take a part, there is a place for everyone.

“I think that 1970 will be known as the year of the beginning, in which we really began to move on the problems of clean air and clean water and open spaces for the future generations of America”.    President Richard Nixon on December 31, 1970

1970 was a start. Strides and setbacks have occured in the past 49 years. What happens in the next 49 years will have a global impact that will last for centuries but I’ve found that people don’t always act in their own best interests or that of the community. It’s a curious thing. Meanwhile…..

For the Earth,   Dohn

 

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Thomas A. Edison: Botanical Research

The Final Experiment

Thomas Alva Edison’s 1928 rubber project represents a major advance in modern research on producing materials from renewable resources. More than 17,000 plants were tested in Edison’s quest for latex.

Thomas A. Edison is an outstanding genius in the history of technology. He was instrumental in the development of lighting technology, power systems, perfected the phonograph, developed motion picture cameras and the alkaline battery. He amassed a record 1,093 patents: 389 for electrical light and power, 195 for telephone, 150 telegraph, 141 storage battery and 24 for the telephone. Not only an inventor, Edison was a successful manufacturer and businessman who was highly skilled at marketing his inventions and himself.

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Taking a vacation from the cold northern winter in New Jersey (where Edison had his home, business office and laboratory) he enjoyed early 1885 relaxing in Florida. Traveling with a few friends he visited Fort Myers, Florida on the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Attracted to the area, Edison considered having a winter retreat in this subtropical environment. In the countryside about one mile from the town of Fort Myers, Edison found a parcel of fourteen acres, with waterfront along the Caloosahatchee River. He arranged for a purchase of $2,750.00. The land was simple wild vegetation and scrub, although there was a stand of Giant Green Bamboo which Edison had experimented with as a natural filament for his incandescent light bulb. The exceptional riverfront would facilitate shipping of building supplies to the site.

Drawings and designs were completed by Autumn of the same year, 1885, for Seminole Lodge. For the next 45 years Edison visited, entertained, had family time, designed the landscape and added constant beautification to the property. Within a few years of living there, hundreds of flowering plants surrounded Seminole Lodge and there were well developed gardens of bananas, tangerines, guavas, limes, lemons, paw-paws, mangoes and 50 orange and 100 grapefruit trees.

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Seminole Lodge was a welcoming place to visitors from around the world. In 1914 Edison invited his friend Henry Ford to visit his Florida home. A few days into the visit Ford decided he wanted to stay. Henry Ford quickly initiated proceedings to purchase a modest Craftsman bungalow adjoining Edison’s riverfront property. The purchase of “the Mangoes” home was completed in 1916.

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford first met in 1896 when Henry Ford worked as a mechanic at the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit. Several years later Edison invited Ford to his New Jersey home for a visit and to see his laboratory. In 1912 Ford asked Edison to design a battery for his self-starting Model T automobile. As neighbors in southern Florida the two men could relax while discussing important ideas. The conversations they would have had while sitting on the veranda of the “Mangoes” must have been fascinating.

The bicycle craze of the 1890s and the need for rubber to make pneumatic tires gave an economic boost to the rubber producing countries of Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. The Amazon Forest was the only naturally occurring habitat for rubber producing trees in the world. Rubber was not an often used product and Brazil had been able to meet all supply demands. Then came the automobile. The automobile mass market was a phenomena. An interest in the value of a reliable resource of rubber quickly became apparent worldwide. No rubber – no tires. No tires – no automobile.

Traditional methods of collecting rubber in the Brazilian Amazon was for workers to traverse the jungle, tap wild trees for sap and carry buckets back to a camp. A labor intensive process, and that plus transportation determined the cost structure. To protect it’s valuable resource, Brazile passed laws banning the export of seeds and seedlings of rubber trees. However: in 1876, before demand was high, Henry Wickham of England sent 70,000 seedlings to Kew Gardens in London. The British Government invests in Kew Gardens for botanical research that will benefit the empire.

Within a few years Dutch and British interests were developing rubber plantations in India, Congo, Dutch East Indies, and Malaysia. The plantations in Asia offered wages, better living conditions and medical care that attracted Indian workers. Japanese and Chinese immigrated for the higher wages. The Asian market transformed the previous cost structure and capacity of the industry. The British controlled Asian plantations came to dominate 75% of world rubber supply in the early 1900s.

Following the high demand for rubber during WWI came a period of low demand and overstock of rubber in the market. Prices were volatile and producers struggled to forecast future supply and demand conditions. Rubber prices had taken wide swings in the past several years. The British Rubber Growers Association came up with the Stevenson Plan which would stabilize prices by limiting the tonnage of rubber exported. The Federal Legislative Council of the Federated Malay States passed the Export of Rubber (restriction) Enactment in October 1922.

By 1925, high prices resulting from the Stevenson Act were seen as a threat to American interests. Herbert Hoover, United States Secretary of Commerce considered rubber to be a vital resource, particularly in time of war. He told the British that if the Stevenson Plan stayed in effect, that the United States would protect itself any way it could. Hoover authorized the Commerce Department to subsidize a worldwide search for possible rubber production sites. Two years earlier tire manufacturer Harvey Firestone had sent experts to Liberia to test soil samples. Firestone was justifiably concerned with America’s reliance on Asian rubber and discussed the matter  while visiting Thomas Edison at Seminole Lodge.

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Rubber is made of latex, a natural substance found in many trees and plants. Milkweed and poinsettia contain latex. When the plant is cut latex seeps out acting as a bandage. For Henry Ford latex was needed not for a bandage but for the tires and hoses of the growing automobile industry. By 1925 Ford Motor Company had produced over 10 million Model T Fords. Ford understood the need for a domestic supply of rubber.

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In 1927 Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone formed the Edison Botanical Research Corporation. The objective – to find a domestic, latex producing plant that could meet the supply and demands of the American rubber industry. Edison took on the challenge. The headquarters would be in Fort Myers. Edison believed the subtropical environment, long growing season, and proven ideal conditions for growing oranges, pineapple and sugarcane would be well suited for botanical research.

The following year 1928, a state of the art laboratory was built. As the project progressed, a variety of structures and acres of research beds filled the landscape. Edison was convinced that a viable source of latex could be developed from a plant species other than Hevea Brasilliensis the Brazilian Rubber Tree.

Edison solicited friends and colleagues from around the nation to send seed and samples to the botanical research company for analysis. Edison oversaw the beds of research plants, the machine shop where he had built, from his designs, apparatus for harvesting, leaf stripping of stalks, cutting and grinding machines and other needs of various structures used in agriculture. Edison tirelessly worked with his team of young chemists in the laboratory to conduct chemical analysis and methods of testing for hundreds of specimens. Copious notes, sketches and photographs with detailed test results were compiled.

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Over 17,000 plant samples were tested at the Edison Botanical Research Corporation.

Specimens had to be cleaned, stripped of leaves and twigs, dried, cut, pulverized and ground into powder before testing. Most of Thomas Edison’s known inventions involved electricity and it is how his legacy is remembered by many. In fact Edison was a chemist at heart going back to the days of his youth. He relished the work he was doing in Ft. Myers.

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The Goldenrod plant was eventually selected as a possible source for domestic rubber production. Goldenrod had ideal qualities. It tolerated cold weather, could be harvested mechanically, grew quickly and had a high rubber yield. Acres of different varieties were planted and surrounded the laboratory. Edison cross pollinated a variety that grew over 10 ft. tall and contained significantly more rubber than the average plant. His experimental nature had proven once more successful.

The goldenrod experiment was to be Edison’s last. He died October 18, 1931 at the age of 84 years.

Five years after Edison’s death the rubber project was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Edison Biological Research Corporation was dissolved in 1936.

More than any other individual, Thomas Alva Edison is credited with building the framework for modern technology and society in the age of electricity.

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In 1947 Mrs. Mina Edison deeded Seminole Lodge including original furnishings and accessories to the city of Fort Myers for preservation. The following year the home was opened to the public. Included in the transfer of the property was Edison’s perfectly preserved laboratory. As if it had just recently been vacated were workbenches, filtration flasks, Buchner funnels, test tubes, mortars and pestles, beakers, condensers, analytic balances, funnels and ovens. The final experiment of Thomas A. Edison frozen in time.

The Edison Ford Winter Estates, grounds, museum and research laboratory are open to the public daily from 9am to 5:30pm. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Edison Ford Winter Estates, 2350 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers, Florida, 33901.

Keep Exploring,

Dohn

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A Perilous Situation in the Everglades

Restoring correct water flow in the Everglades is of vital importance

Red tide; millions of dead rotting fish cover the shoreline. A massive bloom of toxic neon-green algae; millions of tourist revenues lost. Retreating mangrove estuaries; leave coastal communities more vulnerable to storms. Fresh drinking water for 8 million people; in jeopardy. Habitat loss for plants and animals. Possible extinction of the Florida Panther. Everglades National Park ecosystem is threatened and one of the national parks most infected with invasive species.

An underwater plateau of land existed in the southernmost portion of the eastern United States since archaic times when the continents occupied different positions on the planet. Submerged beneath the ocean for thousands of years, coral, shellfish and fish skeletons piled up. This created a layer of limestone over hundreds of feet thick. As glaciers in the north expanded and melted the Florida peninsula emerged and submerged with rising or retreating sea levels. At this time the ancient Appalachian Mountains were eroding. Silt and quartz sands were carried south by streams and rivers to blanket the Florida peninsula. In the south central area of the peninsula a large geological basin existed. Until about 6,000 years ago the basin was dry. A layer of silt built up that compacted more than the underlying sand and limestone. Slowly water accumulated in the basin, eventually forming Lake Okeechobee, the third largest freshwater lake in the country.

The Okeechobee Basin played a defining role in formation of the Everglades ecosystem and is still as important as ever. It is the water from Lake Okeechobee that replenishes aquifers and trickles southward through a sawgrass prairie to the sea. During the summer rainy season, fresh water overflows the south shore of Lake Okeechobee and flows in a sheet about 100 miles long, dropping only 12 ft. to 14 ft. in elevation, to reach the terminus in Florida Bay.

In freshwater sawgrass marshland and salty mangroves of the Everglades, organic soils (called peat soils) develop under persistent flooding. Peat soils are comprised of plant material that accumulates faster than it can decompose. About 5,000 years ago peat soil began to accumulate from the remains of aquatic plants preserved in the waterlogged conditions. In the deepest freshwater marshes peat soils are 2 ft. to 3 ft. in thickness. In Everglade mangroves, peat soils thickness can exceed 10 ft.

In the early years of the 20th century southern Florida was seeing an unprecedented surge in population, real estate development and land speculation. At the time, draining of Everglades swamp land was seen as a progressive movement that would open virgin land for agriculture, oil and gas exploration and provide for urban development. Canals, ditches, dams and levees were constructed to redirect waters flowing from Lake Okeechobee. The Everglade habitats were segmented and natural occurring cycles were being altered. Raised roadbeds, like the Tamiami Trail that crosses the heart of the Everglades, dammed the low relief slow moving sheet flow of  water.

In 2000, the United States Congress passed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which forced both federal and state officials to develop a plan to route water south to refresh stagnant swampland in southwest Florida.

Everglades National Park is recognized as a World Heritage Site. In 2017 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (INCN) issued a report on the health of the Everglade bioregion. These are their findings.

  1. Conservation Outlook: Critical. Unless more restoration projects outside the site to deliver more clean water to the site as correctly timed sheetflow, and are not compromised the essential qualities and habitat will continue to be lost.
  2. Values: Critical. Water quantity, quality, distribution and timing are deteriorating. Invasive species and climate change is creating overriding impacts to the system and the deteriorating trend of so many values puts the parks World Heritage values in a critical situation.
  3. Overall Threats: Very High Threat. Reduced water flows, water pollution and shifting habitat threats include hurricanes, climate change and ocean acidification.

The Everglades is the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in the United States. It is also provides habitat for a number of species found no place else on Earth and it also provides fresh drinking water for over 8 million people. Mostly due to past human activity The entire Everglades ecosystem is severely threatened.

Invasive Species

The Everglades bioregion is  suffering from a barrage of pressures. Invasive species is one of them. The most successful invaders out compete native species and typically have few biological controls to keep them in check. Over the last decade, snakes from around the world have been turning up in Everglades National Park. The Burmese Python is the best known and most problematic of these snakes. Mammal population numbers have declined sharply in the park as a result. Non-native reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, fresh and saltwater fish species have all invaded and now make the Everglades home.

In terms of exotic plants, Everglades National Park is severely infected. Brazilian Pepper is the most serious long term threat. Other invasive plant species such as Melaleuca, Australian Pine, Seaside Mahoe, Leather Leaf and Old World Climbing Fern have also established themselves in the park. Because of limited funding only a small number of the exotic plant species can be targeted for treatment.

Threatened and Endangered

The United States Congress established the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973 to provide a framework to conserve and protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats. The Endangered Species Act is a key legislation for both domestic and international conservation.

In the listing of plant and animal species the Endangered Species Act uses the term Threatened to indicate the species is likely to become endangered and the term Endangered to mean in immediate danger of extinction.

Threatened and endangered plant life of hardwood hammocks and rocky pinelands in the Everglades include: Brittle Thatch Palm, Buccaneer Palm, Florida Thatch Palm, Krug’s Holly, Lignum-Vitae, Manchineel, Silver Thatch Palm and Tree Cactus.

Marine and estuarine regions of the Everglades provide habitat for Florida’s population of Green Sea Turtles. Green Sea Turtles have been listed as endangered since 1978. The declining population is attributed to commercial harvesting for eggs and food as well as incidental bycatch in fishing and shrimp nets. Hawksbill Turtle, Atlantic Ridley Turtle and Leatherback Turtle are listed as endangered and Loggerhead Turtles as threatened.

Bird species listed are: Everglades Snail Kite, Woodstork, Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, Red-cockaided Woodpecker, Piping Plover, Bald Eagle and Roseate Tern.

The Florida Manatee is listed as endangered.

The only known breeding area for the Florida Panther is in Big Cypress Swamp. The  Florida Panther is one of the most endangered species in the world. Loss and degradation of habitat has doomed the panther population. There are only 70 to 100 that remain. Note; While I was visiting southwest Florida in February 2019, it was reported that two Florida Panthers had died, due to being struck by vehicles on the Tamiami Trail in the region of Big Cypress Swamp. 

Retreating Mangroves

Mangroves are made up of coastal vegetation that grows in salty or brackish water. They are considered crucial buffers to storms and saltwater intrusion, as well as key habitats for certain marine creatures. Mangroves filter pollution, hold nutrients and provide food and nesting. Florida’s mangroves are a vital part of the ecosystem.

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Mangrove forests are retreating inland, leaving behind open water and imperiling coastal communities. Researchers collected sediment cores from mangroves and analyzed aerial photographs and satellite imagery taken over the years. What they discovered was that mangroves south of Miami were retreating about 100 ft. a year. According to the study, this trend is related to salt water intrusion caused by sea level rise and water management practices.

The Florida Oceans and Coastal Council in Tallahassee, Florida is studying the consequences of mangroves retreating from coastal areas. They have addressed their concerns as follows:

  • Changes in barrier islands, beaches and inlets.
  • Changes in estuaries, tidal rivers and coastal forests.
  • Higher storm surge and impacts on coastal infrastructure.
  • Threats to coastal water supply and waste water treatment.
  • Increase in beach erosion and renourishment.
  • Impacts on coastal planning.
  • Increased flooding risks.

Drinking Water

Nearly 8 million people depend on the Everglades for drinking water. The Biscayne Aquifer is located just below the land surface in southeast Florida. The aquifer sits atop a highly permeable layer of limestone and covers approximately 4,000 sq. miles, underlying Broward County, Miami-Dade County, Monroe County and Palm Beach County. Most of south Florida residents, visitors and businesses are dependant on water from the aquifer. Because the Biscayne Aquifer is so close to the surface it is extremely vulnerable to surface contamination.

When developers built out Miami-Dade it was often less costly to install individual septic tanks to new homes rather than wait for municipal infrastructure to catch up with sewage treatment lines. In southeast Florida groundwater is especially close to the surface. Since the 1960s, the amount of precipitation that falls during the heaviest of storms has increased. Miami Beach and Key Biscayne are often inundated. More intense flooding and rain storms that swell the water table are sending partially treated human waste into the aquifer.

Miami Drum Services company operated within a few blocks of an aquifer well head in Miami-Dade County for over a decade. In 1981 the business was forced closed for pollution warnings. Miami Drum Services became a Superfund site. The E.P.A. later said the space was leaching arsenic, cyanide, mercury, nickel, lead, cadmium, chloroform and oil into the groundwater.

Increased flooding can dislodge the toxic chemicals that remain in Superfund and other industrial sites, pushing them into the Biscayne Aquifer.

As the ocean rises, salt water is being pushed into the limestone substrate and is creeping inland. As the saltwater advances westward across the aquifer it will reach wellhead intake valves enveloping them in saltwater, rendering them useless.

Nutrient Pollution

Because rainfall contributes most of the water,  soils and water in the Everglades are low in nutrients, especially phosphorus. Plants and animals that colonized the area became well adapted to survive in a low-nutrient, freshwater habitat. Farmers in agricultural areas cultivated their crops in peat soils to allow their crops to flourish.

To expand productive agricultural land a network of canals were dredged to drain surface water. When we deprive marshes of freshwater, peat soils breakdown, resulting in soil loss. Once exposed to air, drained soils are gradually oxidised away by aerobic bacteria. As much as 2/3 rds of past productive peat soil has been lost because of water drainage programs.

In addition to draining soils, farmers also fertilized the land. Over the years a variety of chemicals have been added to the Everglades agricultural area.

In the mid-1980s scientists reported problems with eutrophication in Lake Okeechobee. Eutrophication results in rapid overgrowth of plant and algal species due to excessive nutrients. In 1988, federal, state and agricultural interests agreed on an approach to reduce phosphorus levels entering the waterway. By 1992 phosphorus levels had dropped from 150 ppb to 30 ppb, a significant achievement. The goal is further reduction of phosphorus to 10 ppb which would resemble naturally occurring levels. The goal may not be achievable. A massive algal bloom invaded southwest Florida in 2018 with devastating effects

 Salt Water Intrusion

Saltwater can encroach coastal areas as a result of development. Some of the saltwater has migrated inland in response to the lowering of inland groundwater levels adjacent to canals constructed for drainage of low lying areas and near large well fields. Construction of drainage canals lowered freshwater levels and allows landward movement of saltwater and into the aquifer. The canal becomes a tidal channel that conveys saltwater inland. Low freshwater flow (because of water management) and saltwater intrusion can change an affected area by loss of land eventually leading to the area becoming open water.

The speed at which Florida sea level has increased and is now rising as much as 1 inch every three years. In Miami-Dade County, the groundwater levels in some places are not high enough relative to rising sea levels has allowed saltwater intrusion into drinking water and compromised sewage plants. Many traditional methods to solve sea level rise and flooding in Florida won’t work, because water can flow through permeable limestone and below sea walls.

Sea Level Rise

When Congress passed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in 2000 they did not take into account issues of sea level rise.

Everglades wetlands dip below sea level at the coast and gradually rise as you move north at a slope of about 2 inches for every mile. So, for every 2 inch increase in sea level we can expect to see about a one-mile wide strip of freshwater Everglades exposed to saltwater. The Pensacola Bay and St. Johns River watersheds and southern Florida from Palm Beach to Miami, the Florida Keys, Naples and Fort Myers are especially vulnerable to saltwater intrusion.

Sea level rise is the greatest threat to Florida’s environment, economy and culture over the coming decades. There will be unprecedented challenges for sustainability, urban planning and political action.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”     Dr. Suess

Restoring correct water flow in the Everglades is of vital importance.

Mālama ke Kuleana o ka ʻĀina – Hawaiian phrase for Take care of the responsibility of the land

Till next time, Dohn

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Birdwatching: Big Cypress Swamp, FL

Celebrate the Beauty of Birds

Big Cypress National Preserve has a variety of excellent birding locations. The preserve is located in southwest Florida in some of the most rugged land in the state. Big Cypress Preserve encompasses approximately 729,000 acres of a freshwater swamp ecosystem, offering refuge for a wide diversity of birds. The Audubon Society calculates that bird diversity in Big Cypress Swamp is 177 native species.

Big Cypress Swamp is a place that is beautiful and rare. Drastically different than where I live in the southern Rocky Mountains, where long cold winters are the norm; conversely the months of November to April are the best times to visit southwest Florida. Temperatures are mild during the Florida dry season and the nuisance of mosquitoes is at a minimum. In mid January 2019 I began to make plans for an expedition into the Florida Everglades. Wetland habitat is limited in my area and an opportunity to explore the “river of grass” and watery environment of the Everglades captured my imagination.

I arrived in southwest Florida early February, intent on understanding and experiencing the Everglades ecosystem. I wanted to absorb the geology, hydrology, wildlife, (and warm subtropical climate) as a lasting memory. Several days were spent in Big Cypress National Preserve as part of the expedition. I recommend a stop at the Ernie Shorter viewing area as being rich in biodiversity as it straddles an ecotone of marl prairie and cypress swamp.

Discovering the complex biodiversity at Big Cypress Swamp was quite an amazing awakening. Wildlife viewing was all that I hoped for. I was especially gratified viewing our feathered relatives in their natural habitat. Anhingas, egrets and herons are found in plentiful numbers.

” In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence”     Robert Lynd 

 

American Crow

Length: 7.5″ Wingspan: 33″-44″  Population: common  to abundant.

 

 

 

 

 

Persecuted in the past by farmers and hunters. Crows are still legally hunted for sport in many states.

 

 

 

 

Duck, Mallard (male & female)

Length: 23″ Wingspan: 30″-40″ Population: common to abundant

 

 

 

 

 

One of the ducks harvested  in greatest numbers by waterfowl hunters.

Prone to lead poisoning from ingesting spent lead shot with food from bottom ooze.

 

 

Prairie Warbler

Length: 4.75″ Wingspan: 7.5″ Neotropical migrant. Population: common but declining.

Vulnerable to habitat loss with maturation of forests.

 

 

 

Anhinga

Length: 35″ Wingspan:  45″ to 48″ Population: Common in breeding range.

In the past often killed by fisherman fearing fishing abilities of this bird.

 

 

 

Black Crowned Night Heron, (Juvenile).

Adults have a black crown and back with the remainder of the body white or grey.

 

 

 

 

Adult Length: 25″ to 28″  Wingspan: 44″ to 45″. Population: Overall stable or increasing.

Benefited from general protection by state, federal and conservation agencies.

Loss of habitat affects food supply and reproduction.

 

Green Heron 

Length: 18″ to 26″      Wingspan: 26″ Population: common and stable.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Blue Heron

Length: 24″ to 29″    Wingspan: 40″to 41″ Population:  Increasing and expanding.

Responding to protection of nesting colonies.

 

 

 

Great Blue Heron

Length: 46″ to 52″    Wingspan:    77″ to 82″ Population: Stable and widespread.

 

 

 


 

Have benefitted from protection of breeding colonies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Ibis

Length: 21″ to 27″ Wingspan: 38″ Common to abundant coastal marshes.

Population: Florida population lower than previous levels.

 

 

 

Juvenile White Ibis

As the young birds mature the darker feathers will moult, being replaced with all white.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great White Egret

Length: 40″ Wingspan:  52″ to 67″ Population: abundant and widespread.

 

 

 

 

 

Early twentieth century was hunted to near extinction to supply millinery trade.

Threat (all wading birds) is continued drainage of wetlands.

 

 

 

An image of a Great White Egret, flying with wings spread, is the logo and emblem of the National Audubon Society.

 

 

 

Anyone can become involved in birdwatching anytime, anywhere. All it takes is a bird identification book, some binoculars and curiosity.

When you start to take notice of the birds around you, you might find yourself more curious and perceptive. You’ll notice sounds you might have previously overlooked. You might start to notice details in your surroundings, like trees and other plants. You might start to perceive time differently as birds come and go each season.

Bird watching can also be a social activity. Beyond being a fun family activity, birding clubs and park rangers offer opportunities to meet other people. Bird watching can be a doorway to recognizing and appreciating a wider world that was there all along.

There is a growing body of evidence that shows definitively that we need nature for our health and well being. Due to their accessibility, birds are a useful tool for environmental education and awareness of environmental issues.

You don’t have to be actively looking for birds to practice birding. Take note of the birds you see or hear on your walk to work or school, while you are looking out the kitchen window or while doing other outdoor activities. Being observant and aware of your surroundings can heighten your senses and help you find other surprises in nature, too.

Get Outside!

Happy Trails,

Dohn

 

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The Rich Biodiversity in the Everglades

Species diversity is a measure of community complexity

Located at the southern tip of the Florida peninsula encompassing 1.5 million acres, the Everglades is a national treasure. Everglades National Park was established in 1934 and dedicated in 1947 to protect and preserve the biological diversity (biodiversity) that existed in the vast wetland environment. Everglades National Park is the only national wetlands park in the United States. Many of the plants and animals found there exist nowhere else on Earth, and the richness of diversity makes this a truly unique environment.

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Biodiversity is the occurrence of different species of organisms, with the whole range of their variants, adapted to different climates and environments, along with their interactions and processes. The American Heritage Science Dictionary defines biodiversity as: “the number, variety and genetic variation of different organisms found within a specified geographic region.”

The Everglades form a complex wetland mosaic. There are nine distinct habitats found there: Hardwood, Hammock, Pinelands, Freshwater slough, Freshwater Marl Prairie, Cypress, Marine and Estuarine. Everglades National Park is at the heart of a group of protected areas in southern Florida’s ecosphere, including: Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne Bay National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, several national wildlife refuges and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

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For many people living in towns and cities wildlife is often something seen on television or at best a squirrel at the backyard bird feeder. Over a million visitors from around the world visit Everglades National Park each year to capture the essence of wilderness and view wildlife in their natural habitat. There are 1,033 plant taxa, 344 bird species, 44 mammal species, 372 fish, 78 reptiles, and 16 amphibian species identified. The total number of insect varieties is unknown.

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Each species has a place in the food chain and is valuable as a relevant part of the ecosystem. Some species in the Everglades biosphere are not seen with the naked eye. These are the decomposers at the bottom of the food chain. These detrital dwellers of the food chain feed on dead organic matter.  In the marl soils of the sawgrass prairie, microbes, fungi and bacteria chemically break down any plant or animal detritus. These microbes and fungi are consumed by single cell protozoans. In turn the protozoans are eaten by worms and insects. Insects are a primary food source for fish, lizards, small mammals and birds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An example of the food chain in the water environment might begin with mosquito larvae which are eaten by sunfish which are then eaten by a largemouth bass and the bass is eaten by a river otter. Another aspect of the food chain begins with plants. Plants are consumed by herbivores such as rabbits and the herbivores are eaten by carnivores, such as bobcats. Every species has a place in the food chain.

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The plants and animals that inhabit the Everglades wetland environment have had to adapt to fluctuations in the water cycle to survive. The water cycle (hydrological cycle) is essentially a closed loop that moves water from the sea and through the process of evaporation, water vapor is absorbed in the atmosphere where clouds form and are blown by winds over land and as the water vapor condenses it falls to the land and then travels back to the sea. Southern Florida receives 50″ to 60″ of rain per year but this occurs mostly in the summer months, June to October. The winter months are typically dry, often with periods of drought. As water level changes from drought to flood, two critical adaptive behaviors are essential to the survival of Everglades watershed creatures: the capacity to live through floods and droughts and the ability to spread rapidly, recolonize and reproduce when rains return. Water is the lifeblood that sustains this ecosystem. The largest breeding ground in the United States for wading birds is found in the Everglades. It is also a significant (and consequential) refuge for migratory bird populations that increase the biodiversity when there.

In the subtropical climate of the Everglades, plants thrive in the warm temperatures. The many and varied plant species within the Everglades have an intimate relationship with the insects, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals in the ecosystem. Plants also play an important role for the atmosphere and the carbon cycle. In the presence of sunlight, plants absorb carbon dioxide and water vapor from the air in the process of photosynthesis. In a chemical process plants then produce the oxygen that animals and humans breath. The carbon that is absorbed remains stored in the plant fibers until the plant dies and is then released back into the atmosphere during another chemical process of decomposition by microbes, bacteria and fungi. The 1.5 million acres of the Everglades is a significant resource for clearing and storing carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere. The plants of the sawgrass prairie, pinelands, cypress strands and mangrove estuaries are a benefit to all species including humankind.

As I sat quietly for several hours in the Big Cypress Swamp area of the Everglades I slowly began to realize the incredible biodiversity found there. It is such a unique environment. The activities of its innumerable plants, animals and microbes, physically and chemically unites the atmosphere, geosphere and hydrosphere into one environmental system.

As Marjory Stoneman Douglas said ” to be a friend of the Everglades is not necessary to wander around out there.”

I thank those of you that support preserving the wild places.

Malama Ka Aina,

Dohn

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