Transitioning to desert

Carr-fireWe were back in California for a visit last year. It was the end of a road trip, across the US in June. There were fires in New Mexico and Colorado as we passed through, but it was California that was a shock. We crossed the Sierra Nevada at Mamouth to visit Devil’s Postpile, and immediately we were in smoke an ash from a fire in the John Muir Wilderness a short way away. Helicopters, fighting that fire. We saw the great postpiles…

Devil-postpile

Devil’s Postpile: worth seeing

then walked, through smoke and a drizzle of ash, across the scar left by the Rainbow Fire of 1992. There was a forest here before that fire; will there ever be again?

Rainbow-fire

In the midst of that scar, we came to Rainbow Falls, from which the fire got its name. Still worth a visit.

Rainbow_fall_at_Devils_Postpile_National_Monument

The next day, we crossed Tioga Pass and headed across Yosemite into the Central Valley. From the western boundary of the park, for the rest of our visit – another month – we were in smoke and haze, rarely seeing fire but knowing that there were active fires in every direction.

Much is made of houses and even towns burning, and of the problem of houses built scattered in woods on the urban fringe. Yes, that’s a problem: the fire damage is greater, both because houses burn and because the priority of protecting houses can compromise that of minimizing the spread of the fire; insurance companies, the state legislature & local planning commissions will need to sort it out. But, for the houses amidst the trees, we can miss seeing the bigger picture: we are watching the creation of deserts. These Mediterranean climates, which have always been warm and dry, are now getting drier, and hot. The vegetation, live and dead, which had before been part of a healthy landscape, is now just fuel. Mature deserts don’t burn so much, because there’s not much to burn. These places will keep burning, year after year, until there is nothing left to burn.

 

Email from Ouaga, plus Charlottesville

This morning my friend Sabrina, in Bukima Faso for work on sustainable irrigation, circulated this by email:

the horrible terrorist attacks took place in a hotel less than a km away.

I am fine, and have been advised not to go out today, as the office is near an area that was cordoned off for a search for perpetrators.

It’s strange to be here in this situation – I am for now confined, but to a calm and lovely guest house, surrounded by trees and birdsong, and yet so close by, there was such unspeakable carnage. Continue reading

Brain surgery

surgery
Two months ago, Harry Brighouse posted his marvelous Teaching’s not exactly brain surgery, is it? on the Crooked Timber blog. It’s a good thing Brighouse did so right then, because he was playing off of the exalted status we accord brain surgeons, which as we know one American brain surgeon has in the weeks since single-handedly left in tatters. And though we know that, it’s always worth seeing the Guardian’s Marina Hyde pile on in her inimitable style.

I’ll go and help too, vicariously

The joys of teaching at Birkbeck occasionally include emails from students like this

Hi Fred,
I’ve just accepted a 12 month contract to work in Sierra Leone as operations manager for [redacted]. Their focus is to improve the resilience of the Sierra Leone health service post ebola. Started induction in their London office today, will fly out to Sierra Leone 1st July.
I’m still planning to complete my dissertation for first week in September, though would be grateful if we could skype for meetings!
Best wishes
S
Sent from Samsung Mobile on O2