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Photo: Sarah Matusek/
The Christian Science Monitor.
The Animas View MHP Co-op in Durango, Colorado, sits above the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. It is one of six resident-owned manufactured housing communities in Colorado.

In the world of affordable housing, the trailer park traditionally got no respect. Until now. When residents cooperatively buy the land under them, self-esteem is one of the many benefits.

Sarah Matusek writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “One sunny, cold morning last January, John Egan joined fellow mobile home park residents on a neighbor’s front porch. They needed to organize. But how? 

“ ‘I had to go to the restroom, and when I came back from the restroom, they said, “Hi! You’re president!” ‘ recalls Mr. Egan.

“The half-dozen folks had convened to think through how to buy their Durango, Colorado, park from the private landlord – a move Mr. Egan and others deemed a shot in the dark. But now they at least had a president for what would become an interim board. With guidance from a housing nonprofit and majority support from the community, residents succeeded in purchasing the roughly 15-acre property within five months. They celebrated with a picnic, as the new Animas View MHP Co-op joined some thousand other resident-owned communities countrywide. …

“The resident-owned market constitutes just 2.4% of manufactured housing communities nationwide. Bolstering the health and longevity of mobile home parks is important as they are a critical source of affordable housing, say industry experts. Recent legislation in Colorado offers some provisions for communities like Animas View that hope to secure their future by governing themselves.

‘Everybody sleeps better at night,’ says Steve Boardman, here for 20 years, as he takes out his recycling. ‘We’re in control.’

“River, mountains, grasses bleached blonde in autumn – the Durango mobile homes have a million-dollar view. Largely immobile and costly to move, these factory-built units have been commonly called ‘manufactured homes’ since 1976. They house an estimated 18 million to 22 million people in the United States. …

“The median annual household income of these homeowners – $35,000 – is half that of site-built homeowners, according to Fannie Mae. Manufactured housing fills 6.3% of U.S. housing stock, with more than double that share in rural areas.

“Many residents own their homes but not the underlying land, for which they pay ‘lot rent.’ That model can spur financial precarity: These homeowners are ‘more likely to see their homes depreciate and have fewer protections if they fall behind on payments,’ reports the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

“Media reports have increasingly shed light on private-sector purchases of these parks that often result in rent increases, which housing advocates deem predatory. 

“Mobile home park investor Frank Rolfe counters: ‘When we buy these properties, they’re often in terrible condition, and [we] bring them back to life. … You can’t bring old properties back to life without raising rents.’

“Mr. Rolfe estimates that he and a partner are the fifth largest owners of U.S. mobile home parks. ‘There is this conception I think out there that park owners are in some way hostile to residents buying their own communities, and that is completely off base,’ says Mr. Rolfe, co-founder of Colorado-based Mobile Home University, which trains investors to purchase parks. Three parks he co-owned have been sold to residents.

“Mr. Egan and his wife, Cate Smock, bought their trailer here in 2012 – an affordable move to Durango so their son could attend a better school. But afterward, they saw their lot rent, which includes utilities, increase annually, if not twice a year. … Animas View residents also complained of the previous owner’s lack of attention to their needs and delayed repairs.

“Shortly before Christmas 2020, residents learned that the latest landlord, Strive Communities, intended to sell. Residents began to organize almost immediately. …

“ ‘We don’t tell people that it’s easy’ to become resident-owned, says Mike Bullard, communications and marketing manager for ROC USA, a New Hampshire nonprofit that, along with its affiliates, reports having helped nearly 300 manufactured housing communities become resident-owned. (ROC stands for resident-owned communities.) …

“In Colorado, the network affiliate Thistle ROC helped the Durango cooperative patch together funding for their purchase. But to afford the financing, the co-op increased lot rent by $80 this fall (rent ranges between $755 and $825). While the uptick may seem counterintuitive, it’s not uncommon, says Mr. Bullard. 

“ ‘These groups are buying not just the real estate, but the business,’ he says, adding that lot rent for new resident-owned communities will typically drop down to market rate or below within five years. …

“ ‘One of the first things that we decided when we met as a board was that we would not allow anybody to be forced out of the park because of an inability to pay the rent,’ says former board president Mr. Egan. …

“To ensure folks can afford to stay, the community is developing a rental assistance fund. In addition to seeking outside funding, some residents plan to donate spare dollars themselves.”

More at the Monitor, here. By the way, this all started with New Hampshire’s Community Loan Development Fund, here. I published several articles from them when I worked at the Boston Fed.

Photo: Georgi Mabee/RHS/PA.
A compost bin in the Cop26 garden at last year’s Chelsea flower show. This year, designers have been asked to include biodiverse elements in their exhibitions.

I was talking to Jeanne yesterday about her yeoman’s effort to keep in place the restrictions on those gas-powered leaf blowers we all hate for noise reasons or health reasons or climate reasons. Town meeting voted to outlaw professional landscapers’ leaf blowers by 2025 and personal ones by 2026.

But in the blink of an eye, landscapers, claiming inaccurately that no one had consulted them, acquired enough signatures to bring the issue before town meeting again this year. I asked where they got the signatures. Customers. It seems that most people in this often forward-thinking town can’t live without a leafless vista in front of their house and don’t want to put the lawn service to the trouble of getting the cheaper electric blowers that would save their immigrant workers from diseases and help the environment.

As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Given that her neighbors want leafless lawns, Jeanne is not focusing on the biodiversity trend that encourages homeowners to let the leaves stay and fertilize the soil. But the idea is taking hold elsewhere. Consider the displays at the Chelsea (UK) garden show.

From Helena Horton at the Guardian:

While many expect to see rows of bright flowers and pillowy blossoms at the Chelsea flower show, this year star gardens will also feature such biodiverse elements as fungi and a beaver habitat.

“Garden designers at the annual Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) show have been asked to consider the environment when making their entries. Though many of the traditional aspects of the show, including the prize flowers in the Great Pavilion, remain, many gardens focus on nature rather than conventional manicured beauty.

“For the first time, the gardening power of beavers will be displayed at the show. The Rewilding Britain Landscape garden, by the designers Lulu Urquhart and Adam Hunt, will demonstrate how the rodents tend the landscape and let biodiversity thrive.

“Beavers became extinct in the UK 400 years ago, and only in recent years have they been reintroduced to parts of the country. … It will feature a beaver dam, and a pool with a lodge behind, and show off a ‘riparian meadow’ of the sort beavers create when they partially flood a riverbank and attract pollinators and other wildlife. …

“Favourite trees of beavers, including hazel and field maples, have been chosen for the garden, as well as native wildflowers and plants that encourage and support trees such as hawthorn and alder, which provide winter food for many birds and support dozens of insect species.

“Rather than flowers, the designer Joe Perkins has decided to show off a range of fungi to highlight the ‘inseparable connection between plants and fungi within woodland ecosystems.’

“In between buying new roses and water features for their gardens, attenders will learn about the complex mycelium networks that connect and support woodland life. … The garden will also include species that are used to warmer climates, to highlight how our planting may have to change as a result of a warming planet.

“While most at the show, to be held in May in the grounds of the Royal hospital, Chelsea, usually focus on what grows in the soil, the dirt itself is the star of the new Blue Peter garden. The designer, Juliet Sergeant, is hoping to ‘open the eyes of children and adults to the role of soil in supporting life and its potential to help in our fight against climate change.’

“The garden will feature a subterranean chamber, which will show a soil animation, and soil-themed art by the children of Salford. It also features a roof-top meadow and barley field with common spotted and southern marsh orchids and a two-tonne tree on the planted roof, showing the wide variety of plants that good healthy soil can sustain. …

“Also at the show is a foraging garden by Howard Miller, for the Alder Hey children’s hospital. … The garden will heavily feature heather and bilberries. Miller said: ‘One of my favourite childhood memories is going to pick bilberries with my grandparents. My grandpa Harold had a habit of counting 1,000 bilberries into a bag before he would allow himself to talk to us. My grandma Mary and I would sit and eat the bilberries while he wasn’t looking.

“ ‘The smell of sitting in among heather and bilberries just transports me to that moment. So the takeaway I would like people to have is to give foraging a try, it’s free, it’s good for the soul and it’s a great excuse to connect with nature and each other.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

One Afghanistan Rescue

Photo: Jessica Lustig.
Jessica Lustig, left, and Lesley Friedman Rosenthal, part-time Berkshires residents, went to Portugal to greet students, faculty and family from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Thanks in part to their efforts, the school was rescued and is resettling in Portugal, along with its founder and director, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, center.

There are still small community newspapers that are doing actual reporting. Not where I live, where the the “local” paper mostly republishes content from a chain headed up by USA Today. It’s been so bad for so long, a group of community leaders is raising money for a nonprofit local newspaper such as we’ve begun to see around the country.

But I digress. Today’s Berkshire Eagle article is not a local story but I am not sure it would have happened if the reporter had not taken the time to interview local people.

Felix Carroll wrote that from a home in Otis, Massachusetts, “a daring, dangerous, complicated and ultimately successful rescue effort was coordinated beginning last August. …

“The denouement came on Dec. 13, when a community of school children from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) landed in Lisbon, Portugal — to safety, freedom and a future far afield from one that would have demanded their silence.

“Lesley Friedman Rosenthal, a part-time resident of Otis, was in Portugal to greet them. So was Jessica Lustig, a part-time resident of Great Barrington.

“ ‘It was remarkable to watch the young music students, their faculty and families come off the plane,’ said Rosenthal, president of the United States-based Friends of ANIM. ‘These 273 individuals, whose names, birth dates and national ID numbers I had helped work through so many lists for government agencies, and about whose lives and safety I had been so concerned in the past four months, suddenly appeared before us, with a look on their faces I can only describe as hopefulness.’

“Rosenthal and Lustig make up two-thirds of the board members of Friends of ANIM, the charitable group that, beginning in 2016, has supported the school, the first and only music academy in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.

“The school, which was inaugurated in 2010, had gained international fame for teaching Afghan and Western music to a co-ed student body against the backdrop of threats from the Taliban, the militant Islamist regime that had prohibited nonreligious music outright when it led Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

“The third member of Friends of ANIM is the school’s founder and director, Dr. Ahmad Naser Sarmast, who still suffers the physical effects following a Taliban attack on his school in 2014.

“The philanthropic efforts of Friends of ANIM took a dramatic turn in August upon the withdrawal of U.S. military troops in the country and the ensuing consolidation of control by the Taliban.

“Rosenthal, who serves as chief operating officer of The Juilliard School, the performing arts conservatory in New York City, and Lustig, the founder of a New York City-based publicity, advocacy and consulting business, engaged in round-the-clock efforts to assist Dr. Sarmast in rescuing the school.

“They reached out and received the support of political leaders, military veterans, academics, and artists, including local musicians Yo Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax.

‘It became clear, just in a matter of days, that the only way to salvage the school was to actually do a mass evacuation and airlift of the entire school community,’ Rosenthal said.

“In the meantime, videos began surfacing of Taliban members making a public show of destroying musical instruments. The Taliban had taken over the school campus. …

“News reports from Kabul told of how seven busloads of people associated with the school were left waiting at the airport for 17 hours, unable to board their plane amid fears of a terrorist attack. With that in mind, the evacuation efforts became less conspicuous; the efforts moved more slowly and comprised waves of smaller groups.

“In the end, the evacuation consisted of five airlift flights of 273 school members (including students, staff and immediate family) over a six-week period from Oct. 2 through late November.

“The first stop was Doha, in Qatar, whose government provided shelter and helped negotiate with the Taliban to ensure safe passage. Then, the school community flew on Dec. 13 to Portugal, where they have been offered asylum.

“ ‘Friends of ANIM is now working to reestablish the school in Portugal so that Afghan music and music education can continue for the girls and boys of the ANIM community,’ said Rosenthal.

“Rosenthal and Lustig had never imagined that their charitable efforts to support a school 7,000 miles away would ever come to this — essentially to establishing a war room in the Berkshires in the year 2021. …

“In December 2014, [a] suicide bomb attack at a student concert [in Kabul killed] an audience member and injured many others. Sarmast had to be airlifted to Australia for treatment. His hearing has been permanently damaged.

“ ‘The needs were clear,’ said Lustig. ‘He had threats to his life and threats to his school.’

“With the formation of Friends of ANIM in 2016, Sarmast and his staff and students would come to know that the world has his back.”

More at the Berkshire Eagle, here.

Photo: Lin & Jirsa Photography.
An example of India wedding choreography as shown at Maharini Weddings.

This is a fun story about the way entertainment has taken over weddings. Although our own family’s weddings have included Swedish customs (e.g. when the bride makes a trip to the ladies room, all the woman go kiss the groom) and Egyptian customs (e.g. a belly dancer with lighted candles in her hair), some families in the southern part of India are really going beyond the beyond. Mujib Mashal and Suhasini Raj reported the story for the New York Times.

“Weddings in India’s south, particularly in the coastal state of Kerala, have transformed into a festival of color — and dance, lots of dance.

“Unlike those in the north, weddings in the south used to be subdued affairs centered on a feast that, at best, would occasionally include a live band. Now, the ceremonies draw on the latest entertainment from across the country, including the breathtakingly fast rhythms of Tamil and Telugu dance music, and the colorful costumes and drumbeats of Punjab.

“Dr. Sheha Pfizer’s wedding had something extra. …The ceremonies in Kerala have become so colorful that they are the talk of the town and viral discussions online. There is the favorite Punjabi dhol drumming, but also troupes that perform Egyptian, Mexican and Sufi dances — all with lavish outfits. People hire water drummers, pole dancers and acrobats.

“About 60 percent to 70 percent of the weddings in Kerala now include choreographed dances, said Mayjohn P.J., a former wedding singer who started a wedding management agency, Melodia, a decade ago.

“Mr. P.J. has no doubt about what has fueled the transformation: social media. Couples find inspiration for their weddings on Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, before posting their own ceremonies onto the same platforms.

“Wedding planners, part of an industry that brings in tens of billions of dollars every year in India, offer video and photo packages that are tailored to get clicks. The packages, usually costing $2,000 to $5,000, include an ‘Instagram teaser’ and the ‘wedding highlight,’ essentially your own five- to seven-minute blockbuster film.

“The most ambitious ones incorporate the narrative tricks of Indian soap operas for emotional effect, and deploy the latest technology — steady cams, drones and lots of musical special effects — to create the climax of a techno concert. …

The lingering pandemic has also brought changes to weddings in India’s south, where the peak season runs from December to February.

“Health regulations limit capacity to 200 people (as opposed to as many as five times that in pre-Covid times). So families have turned them into multiday affairs of smaller ceremonies — inviting a different set of guests for each so that everyone feels part of the celebration.

“Perhaps the busiest man during the wedding season is the choreographer Manas Prem.

“He has been commissioned to choreograph 500 wedding routines in the coming months. Most of them are small, and Covid has forced much of the training online.

“His frequent challenge is older relatives who get cold feet when they see the audience. ‘They get shy and they don’t want to do it,’ Mr. Prem said. ‘Then I have to fill the gaps.’

“Both Dr. Pfizer, 25, and her husband are Muslims. Their wedding was a display of Kerala’s largely seamless diversity. Her childhood friends performing for her wedding were a mix of Hindus and Christians. …

“Dance runs in Dr. Pfizer’s family. Her mother was a dancer. One of her grandmothers performed with a folk ensemble in the 1960s and 1970s.

“The bride started training as a dancer even before kindergarten — a large stretch of it under the tutelage of Mr. Prem. Pictures of competitions when she was younger adorn the walls of his small dance studio. …

“As the guests took their seats in the hall for the evening ceremony, the dance troupe changed costumes repeatedly — a Sufi entrance with the groom, a Punjabi bhangra number that included a cameo by the bride, a mash-up of the latest hits where the dancers displayed their hip-hop moves. Another group, all women, performed a traditional Keralan Muslim dance, oppana, a hip-hop dance in jeans and T-shirts, and a flamenco-inspired routine.

“In between, the tall wedding singer, wearing a turtleneck and chic glasses with transparent rims, entertained the crowd. He announced the bride’s first entrance.

“The heads turned to the back, where Dr. Pfizer, surrounded by the female troupe of dancers, beamed with excitement in a dazzling ocean-green dress paired with stunning jewelry. Mobile phones came out for pictures. Music blared as the dancers shimmied and snapped their fingers, parting the aisle for the bride.

“But before the bride had climbed the stage to take her seat, someone realized that the main camera that films the ‘wedding highlight’ for YouTube and Instagram wasn’t set up yet.

“The bride and the dancers had to go back to their starting point at the entrance and do it all over again.”

More at the Times, here. Lots of great pictures.

Climate Impact of Food

We do not have a plant-based diet in our house, although I’ve been taking baby steps in that direction as far back as the early 1970s when my little sister (now departed) gave me the Frances Moore Lappé book Diet for a Small Planet. This was when my sister was still in college and studying to be a poet. Long before she went to medical school and became a doctor.

I used to make an eggplant, mozzarella, and brown rice dish from that book. It was yummy but took too long to make. I’m a lazy cook.

Still, I keep being reminded that the effort is important — for example, when Robyn Vinter wrote for the Guardian in October about the environment summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

Vinter reported, “Plant-based dishes will dominate the menu at the Cop26 [Conference of the Parties no. 26] climate conference. … The low-carbon menu includes 95% British food, especially locally sourced Scottish produce, and each menu item has an estimate of its carbon footprint, ‘helping attendees make climate-friendly choices.’

“Delegates will be served dishes such as potato, leek and rosemary chowder, smoked salmon and ‘a spiced mushroom and onion burger served with a vegan tomato mayo, slaw and shoots.’

“Caterers are using sustainable suppliers including Edinburgh’s Mara Seaweed, which is abundant, entirely sustainable and does not require fertilizer, fresh water or soil to grow, and carrots and potatoes from Benzies, which uses wind turbines to power their cool storage, biomass to provide heating and recycles the water used. Hot drinks will be served in reusable cups that can be washed 1,000 times, which organizers say will save 250,000 single-use cups.”

How does the list at the Guardian sound to you?

” Winter squash lasagne (0.7kg CO2 equivalent emissions) – celeriac, glazed root vegetables and winter squash, with a vegan cheddar.
” Organic kale and seasonal vegetable pasta (0.3kg CO2 ee) – spelt fusilli, field mushrooms, kale and seasonal vegetables.
” Braised turkey meatballs (0.9kg CO2 ee) – with organic spelt penne pasta in a tomato ragu.
” Organic spelt wholegrain penne pasta (0.2kg CO2 ee) – with a tomato ragu, kale, pesto and oatmeal crumble.”

Mmmm. Maybe it’s worth the effort.

Meanwhile, at the Harvard Health newsletter, you can read why a plant-based diet is also better for your health. Katherine D. McManus, MS, RD, LDN, says, “Plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.

“What is the evidence that plant-based eating patterns are healthy? Much nutrition research has examined plant-based eating patterns such as the Mediterranean diet and a vegetarian diet. The Mediterranean diet has a foundation of plant-based foods; it also includes fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt a few times a week, with meats and sweets less often.

“The Mediterranean diet has been shown in both large population studies and randomized clinical trials to reduce risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, certain cancers (specifically colon, breast, and prostate cancer), depression, and in older adults, a decreased risk of frailty, along with better mental and physical function. Vegetarian diets have also been shown to support health, including a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and increased longevity. …

“Here are some tips to help you get started on a plant-based diet.

” Eat lots of vegetables. Fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner. Make sure you include plenty of colors in choosing your vegetables. Enjoy vegetables as a snack with hummus, salsa, or guacamole.
” Change the way you think about meat. Have smaller amounts. Use it as a garnish instead of a centerpiece.
” Choose good fats. Fats in olive oil, olives, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados are particularly healthy choices.
” Cook a vegetarian meal at least one night a week. Build these meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables.
” Include whole grains for breakfast. Start with oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, or barley. Then add some nuts or seeds along with fresh fruit.
” Go for greens. Try a variety of green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, Swiss chard, spinach, and other greens each day. Steam, grill, braise, or stir-fry to preserve their flavor and nutrients.
” Build a meal around a salad. Fill a bowl with salad greens such as romaine, spinach, Bibb, or red leafy greens. Add an assortment of other vegetables along with fresh herbs, beans, peas, or tofu.
” Eat fruit for dessert. A ripe, juicy peach, a refreshing slice of watermelon, or a crisp apple will satisfy your craving for a sweet bite after a meal.”

To read McManus’s meal suggestions and her answers to readers with specific diet problems, click on the Harvard Health newsletter, here. More at the Guardian, here. And don’t forget to investigate Diet for a Small Planet, here.

Photo: Nathan Klima for the Boston Globe.
Health care professionals at a Mass. General vaccination van parked near the La Colaborativa food pantry administered COVID-19 vaccines and tests for residents during a mini-festival for teens in Chelsea, Mass., on Oct. 06, 2021.

Today I’m thinking about all the people who keep on keepin’ on. Some may think they have no choice, but that doesn’t make them any less heroic to me. There is a kind of unconscious daily heroism of putting one foot in front of the other without any expectation of light at the end of the tunnel that I used to see among tired commuters on the subway. Endless Covid has a bad effect on my gumption, so I greatly admire truckers, grocery workers, nurses, doctors, hospital cleaners, housecleaners, farmers, teachers, and the many others who just keep going.

Today’s article from the Boston Globe shows, I hope, that such dedication pays off. Even if things get worse after they get better, it pays off again and again.

Felice J. Freyer, Bianca Vázquez Toness and Diana Bravo wrote last fall, “The crew had been out on the streets for more than an hour before they found a man who needed a shot.

“The five young people in torn jeans and mint- and cantaloupe-colored T-shirts had already accomplished a lot on this bright late-September day. Stopping stroller-pushing moms on the sidewalk and knocking on the doors of triple-deckers, they told people about the food pantry, the English classes, the sports and music lessons for children, the upcoming block party, where to get help with a leaky oil tank — even how to register to vote.

“But until they came across Gato, sitting at the open door of a shed under the staircase to his home, the promotores de salud — community health workers — did not have occasion to talk about the vaccine against COVID-19, an illness that had stormed this small impoverished city with notorious ferocity.

“ ‘Have you been vaccinated, Gato?’ asked Natalia Restrepo, the 29-year-old engagement coordinator for La Colaborativa, the community service group that hired and trained the promotores.

“ ‘No,’ he said. Restrepo knows Gato; he’s friends with her husband. But she did not know this troubling fact about him.

“He was a member of the unvaccinated minority. According to state data, 74 percent of Chelsea residents are fully vaccinated, above the state average of 67 percent. That happened even though Chelsea’s population is dominated by groups traditionally hard to reach — immigrants, poor people, Latinos. …

“And new COVID-19 cases in Chelsea have plummeted to below the statewide average. Chelsea has made itself into a vaccination standout, the result of a person-to-person campaign by multiple community groups.

“ ‘The Chelsea experience is one we really need to learn from,’ said Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association. ‘It’s one where we can see the value of efforts that are locally designed, locally led, and developed by the people most familiar with the community and most trusted by the community.’ …

“The pandemic had raged like a wind-whipped fire in Chelsea, a 2.5-square-mile city across the Mystic River from Boston, bringing fevers and hacking coughs to apartments and houses packed with grandparents, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — a mysterious sickness that rode home with folks who took the bus to jobs serving food or cleaning hotels or hospitals.

“In April 2020, according to a new report from the environmental group GreenRoots, the COVID-19 infection rate in Chelsea was one of the highest in the nation, 57 per 10,000 residents, higher than the worst days in New York City, six times the statewide infection rate. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that by April 2020 one-third of the city’s residents had acquired antibodies to the virus, indicating they’d been infected. …

“But sickness wasn’t the only source of pain: By June 2020, with the economy flattened by the pandemic, one in five Chelsea residents was out of work. …

“Founded in 1988 to serve a new influx of Latino immigrants, La Colaborativa [offered employment and more]. It set up a food pantry, delivering food and medicine to those in quarantine. ‘We became the survival center,’ said Dinanyili Paulino, the chief operating officer.

Gladys Vega, the CEO, recalls encountering an 11-year-old in the food line. The girl had been left to care for her 6-month-old sibling when their mother was suddenly hospitalized with COVID-19.

“ ‘We adopted that girl for three weeks,’ Vega said, making sure she had diapers and food, and neighbors checking in on her.

“So when it came time to vaccinate, Paulino said, community members wondering whether the vaccine was safe turned to La Colaborativa —’the people that have been with them from the beginning.’ …

“When the COVID-19 vaccines were approved in late 2020, the organization trained mothers to form a cadre of promotores, who teamed up with doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital going door to door to talk about the importance of vaccination. …

“Despite such preparations, despite the severity of COVID-19 in Chelsea, the vaccine itself was slow to arrive. … Advocates were outraged, and undeterred. …

“The first big vaccination clinic in Chelsea opened on Feb. 4. The doses didn’t come from the state. Instead, the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center received them through a federal program and agreed to set up a clinic at La Colaborativa.

“Offering the vaccine at their headquarters, Vega said, ‘sent a strong message that, if we are welcoming the vaccination, that means that you as an individual should get vaccinated.’ ”

More at the Globe, here.

Photo: Nathanael Coyne, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Native tribes have wonderful stories about relations with animals, including “man’s best friend.”

This morning I got a kick out of talking to Stuga40 in Sweden about my post on dog research and the entertaining corroboration that Hannah sent. So I decided to continue the theme with something from the radio show Living on Earth.

“BOBBY BASCOMB: Many Native American communities belong to a clan which identifies with an animal. There are bear, deer, and loon clans to name a few. Those animals are featured in their traditional stories. So, to hear some of them I called up Joe Bruchac. He is a storyteller and musician with the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe of Vermont and Upstate New York. And Joe carves and plays traditional flutes. …

“JOE BRUCHAC: We say that the flute came to be when a woodpecker made holes in the hollow branch of a tree that was broken off at the end and the wind blew over it and created that first flute music. So when we play the flute, we try to keep in mind, it’s a gift of the trees and the wind, and the birds. A flute could be played for pleasure or to keep yourself from feeling lonely. …

“BASCOMB: I hope to hear some more of your flute music a little later in this segment. But first, can you get us started with a story? I understand you’re going to tell us a traditional story about dogs.

“BRUCHAC: That’s right. They say that long ago, the one we call Gluskonba, the first one in the shape of a human being was walking around. This was the time before the people came to be on this land. Now one of the jobs Gluskonba had been given by the Creator was to make things better for those humans when they got here. And so he thought, I wonder what the animals will do when they see a human being for the first time. I better ask them.

“And so Gluskonba called together a great counsel of all the animal people. And then as he stood before them, he said, ‘I want each of you to come up and when I say the word for human being, tell me what you will do.’ Now the first one to step forward was the bear. In those days bear was so large, he was taller than the tallest trees. His mouth was so huge, he could swallow an entire wigwam. And when Gluskonba said the word ‘alnoba,’ which means human being, the bear said ‘[bear grunt] I will swallow every human being that I see!’

“Gluskonba thought about that. He thought to himself, ‘I do not think human beings will enjoy being swallowed by bears, I’d better do something.’ And so he decided to use one of the powers given to him by the Creator, the power to change things, a power that we human beings also have and often misuse. Gluskonba said to the bear, ‘You have some burrs caught in your fur, let me comb them out with my fingers.’ And so the bear sat down in front of him, and Gluskonba began to run his fingers along the bear’s back and as he did so, combing out those burrs, he also made the bear get smaller and smaller, until the bear was the size that bears are to this day.

“And when Gluskonba said to him, ‘And now what will you do when you see a human being?” that bear looked at itself and said, ‘[bear grunt] I will run away!’ Which is what bears usually do to this day.

“Now the next one to come forward was one we call Kitschy moose: the big moose. Moose by the way, is one of our Abenaki words, it means the strange one, and that moose back then was really strange. It was so large that his antlers were bigger than the biggest pines, they were sharper than the sharpest spears, and when Gluskonba said the word ‘alnoba’ that moose said, ‘I will spear every human being I see, spear them on my horns and throw them over the tree tops, and stomp them with my hooves until they’re as flat as your hand!’

“And again Gluskonba thought, ‘I do not believe human beings will feel much pleasure at being speared and flattened by moose. I’d better do something.’ So he said to that moose, ‘Nidoba, my friend, you appear to be very strong. Let us have a contest, I will hold up my hands and you will try to push me backward.’ The moose agreed, it leaned forward, putting its nose in one of Gluskonba’s hands, its huge horns in the other, and began to push, and push. But Gluskonba did not move. And that moose’s horns got smaller and rounder and the moose itself got very, very, very much smaller than it was before and also his nose got all smushed in. And the moose looked at itself when Gluskonba said, ‘And now what will you do when you see a human being?’ the moose said, ‘Uhh, I will run away.’ Now one after another Gluskonba talked to many animals. There’s almost for everyone a separate story. … But finally, just one animal was remaining.

“It sat there in front of him wagging its tail. It was of course the dog, and Gluskonba said to dog, ‘Nidoba, my friend, are you going to do something to harm the human beings when they arrive here?’ And the dog shook its head and said, ‘No, I’ve been waiting for human beings to come! I want to be their best best friend, I want to play with their children, I want to go hunting with them, I want to live in their houses with them and share their food and even climb in bed with them, I want to be their best best best best friend!’

“And Gluskonba looked at that dog, and he saw that dog’s heart was good. He said ‘Nidoba, my friend, you will be the best friend that human beings will ever have, a better friend than some of them deserve; and so we will know you by this name: Aalamos, the one who walks beside us.’ And so it is that to this day, it is the dog who walks beside us, our best best friend.”

For other delightful animal stories and some Abenaki flute music, click at Living on Earth, here.

South African Kayakers

Photo: Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor.
Juliet Mzibeli (front) is 12 and has been kayaking with the Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club (SCARC) since she was nine.

Every story I share here comes bundled with Covid-era caveats. You know: are the people still doing on Saturday what was reported on Friday? I’m counting on the thought that Omicron having peaked in South Africa, the kids in this article are back to enjoying their sport.

Ryan Lenora Brown reported from Soweto for the Christian Science Monitor, “As a kid growing up in South Africa, Nkosi Mzolo and his friends had a front-row seat each summer to Africa’s largest river kayak race, a 75-mile endurance paddle over bone-rattling rapids.

“But as he sat on the banks of the Msunduzi River near Durban watching the paddlers stream by in a rainbow of bright spandex, he couldn’t imagine being in their shoes. ‘I thought that was a sport for white people,’ he says.

“But Mr. Mzolo happened to grow up straddling a revolution. When he was born, in 1988, Black South Africans like Mr. Mzolo couldn’t vote or live in most parts of the country, let alone play sports with white people. By the time he was 12, though, paddling was changing in post-apartheid South Africa.

“A local Black kayaker invited Mr. Mzolo to learn the sport. … Now Mr. Mzolo runs a canoe club that trains Black paddlers, opening up a world to them, just as it opened to him.

“ ‘Canoeing pulled my life off the course it was on and put me on a different one,’ he says.

“Today, he coaches more than 75 young, Black kayakers in Soweto, near Johannesburg, hoping the sport, known to South Africans as canoeing, might do the same for them. ‘I want to give them something in their lives to look forward to,’ he says.

“In a sports-mad country still wrestling with the legacies of segregation and colonialism, integration in sports is a deeply political issue. During apartheid, South Africa was banned from international competitions like the Olympics for refusing to send racially mixed teams. Today, there are controversial racial quotas for the national teams in most major sports. But Mr. Mzolo’s paddlers are part of a generation that grew up thinking they could play whichever sport they chose.

“The club Mr. Mzolo now leads, the Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club (SCARC), was started in 2003 by Brad Fisher, the advertising executive and paddler who sponsored Mr. Mzolo’s education. He later hired Mr. Mzolo, who was working as a gardener in Johannesburg, as one of the club’s early coaching recruits.

“Since then, the club has trained some of the country’s top Black paddlers. Mr. Mzolo himself has gone on to finish the Dusi Canoe Marathon, the long-haul race he watched as a boy, 17 times. But more importantly for coaches like Mr. Mzolo, the club has given thousands of kids a passion they might never have otherwise found.

“ ‘My talent is in the water,’ says Chwayita Fanteni, who is 16 and has been paddling for three years. ‘I like the energy I get from winning.’ … 

“ ‘My goal is to go to Russia. For the Olympics,’ says Nhlamulo Mahwayi, who is 12 and has been training with SCARC since he was nine. So far, he’s only been as far as Cape Town, which he rates as ‘so fun and so clean. I saw people surfing.’

“Like many of the young paddlers here, when Mr. Mahwayi joined the club in 2018, he didn’t know how to swim.

“ ‘Ninety-five percent of these kids, I would say, they come here not knowing how to swim at all,’ says Mr. Mzolo. That too is a legacy of apartheid, which barred Black South Africans from most pools and beaches. Today, many parents never teach their kids how to swim because they themselves don’t know how to.

“New recruits to SCARC, then, often spend months in a nearby public pool before they ever dip a paddle in the water. …

“Mr. Mzolo comes here when he can, when he isn’t working a night shift as a firefighter and paramedic, or sleeping one off. … It’s exhausting, he says, but nowhere near the worry he felt last year when the club was closed for five months during South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown.

“During those months, he spent his days rushing COVID-19 patients to hospitals, and his nights wondering how his athletes were doing, many attempting to do homeschooling with no internet, computers, or even sometimes electricity. Some lived in informal settlements with no reliable water or power. Many of their parents had lost their jobs.

“With public facilities like parks and dams closed, the club couldn’t train. Mr. Mzolo went door to door visiting his athletes and bringing food parcels to their families – just as he often did before the pandemic. … On a recent afternoon, the coaches arrived in a minibus loaded with heavy bags of cornmeal, rice, tinned beans, and oil, enough for every athlete to take home a share.

“ ‘Looking at myself, I started where these kids are,’ he says. ‘Now I’m trying to be part of their journey.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

Your Bilingual Dog

Photo: Raúl Hernández.
Kun Kun has been participating in tests to tell if dogs can distinguish one language from another. Here is Kun Kun taking a break from the MRI machine.

Anyone who has ever been attached to a dog, talking to the dog and studying its reactions, must have wondered what dogs understand and how they understand it. Among the studies that have been done on the question is a recent one about being able to understand different languages.

Alejandra Marquez Janse and Christopher Intagliata present the story at National Public Radio.

“Imagine you’re moving to a new country on the other side of the world. Besides the geographical and cultural changes, you will find a key difference will be the language. But will your pets notice the difference?

“It was a question that nagged at Laura Cuaya, a brain researcher at the Neuroethology of Communication Lab at at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest.

” ‘When I moved from Mexico to Hungary to start my post-doc research, all was new for me. Obviously, here, people in Budapest speak Hungarian. So you’ve had a different language, completely different for me,’ she said.

“The language was also new to her two dogs: Kun Kun and Odín.

” ‘People are super friendly with their dogs [in Budapest]. And my dogs, they are interested in interacting with people,’ Cuaya said. ‘But I wonder, did they also notice people here … spoke a different language?”

“Cuaya set out to find the answer. She and her colleagues designed an experiment with 18 volunteer dogs — including her two border collies — to see if they could differentiate between two languages. Kun Kun and Odín were used to hearing Spanish; the other dogs Hungarian.

The dogs sat still within an MRI machine, while listening to an excerpt from the story The Little Prince. They heard one version in Spanish, and another in Hungarian. Then the scientists analyzed the dogs’ brain activity.

“Attila Andics leads the lab where the study took place and said researchers were looking for brain regions that showed a different activity pattern for one language versus the other.

” ‘And we found a brain region — the secondary auditory cortex, which is a higher level processing region in the auditory hierarchy — which showed a different activity pattern for the familiar language and for the unfamiliar language,’ Andics said.

“This activity pattern difference to the two languages suggests that dogs’ brain can differentiate between these two languages. In terms of brain imaging studies, this study is the very first one which showed that a non-human species brain can discriminate between languages.

“They also found that older dogs brains’ showed bigger differences in brain activity between the two languages, perhaps because older dogs have more experience listening to human language. Their findings were published this week in the journal NeuroImage.

“Amritha Mallikarjun is a researcher at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Philadelphia. She wasn’t involved in this study, but has been working on similar research about dogs and language. … While this work relied on brain imaging, Mallikarjun said it would be worth investigating whether dogs could differentiate between languages in behavioral studies, too…. ‘Because often with neural studies, you can find differences that don’t play out in the behavior.’ ” More at NPR, here.

Being curious about the choice of The Little Prince for the text, I went to the original study: “Our linguistic material consisted of a recording of the XXI chapter of The Little Prince written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry read by two different native, female speakers, with similar timbre, and vocal characteristics [one] in each language. … The text, as well as the speakers were unknown to all dogs and the text was recorded with a lively, engaging intonation.”

So then I looked up the passage, finding it described at a website call Shmoop: “The little prince tells the fox that he is unhappy and asks him to come play with him; but the fox says he cannot because he is not ‘tamed’ (21.8). He explains that ‘to tame’ means ‘to establish ties’ (21.16). Through the process of taming, they will come to need each other, and will become special to one another. The fox requests the little prince to tame him.”

Photo: Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia.
The forested western slopes of Washington State’s Fidalgo Island overlook the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The pandemic may have distracted you and me from the environmental crisis, but many indigenous tribes have tackled Covid while also keeping their eye on the ball. In this article from the Washington Post, Jim Morrison explains that for the Swinomish people, it has something to do with their holistic world view.

“For 10,000 years,” he writes, “the Swinomish tribe has fished the waters of northwestern Washington, relying on the bounty of salmon and shellfish not only as a staple of its diet but as a centerpiece of its culture. At the beginning of the fishing season, the tribe gathers on the beach for a First Salmon ceremony, a feast honoring the return of the migratory fish that binds the generations of a tribe that calls itself the People of the Salmon.

“At the ceremony’s conclusion, single salmon are ferried by boat in four directions — north to Padilla Bay, east to the Skagit River, south to Skagit Bay and west to Deception Pass — and eased into the water with a prayer that they will tell other salmon how well they were treated.

“In recent years, though, the tribe’s harvest, diminished by vanishing habitat and warming waters fueled by climate change, hasn’t been sufficient to feed the hundreds of people who come to pay homage to their ancestors and to the fish that sustained them.

“ ‘We don’t have that abundance anymore,’ said Lorraine Loomis, an elder who has managed the tribal fishery for 40 years. ‘To get ceremonial fish, we buy it and freeze it.’

“For the Swinomish, perched on a vulnerable, low-lying reservation on Fidalgo Island, the effects of a warming world have been a gut punch.

“The tribe has responded with an ambitious, multipronged strategy to battle climate change and improve the health of the land and the water and the plants, animals and people who thrived in harmony for generations. In 2010, the Swinomish became one of the first communities to assess the problems posed by a warming planet and enact a climate action plan. An additional 50 Native American tribes have followed, creating climate strategies to protect their lands and cultures, ahead of most U.S. communities.

“The Swinomish see the tasks beyond addressing shoreline risk and restoring habitats. They look at climate adaptation and resilience with the eyes of countless generations. They recognize that the endangered ‘first foods’ — clams, oysters, elk, traditional plants and salmon — are not mere resources to be consumed. They are central to their values, beliefs and practices and, therefore, to their spiritual, cultural and community well-being.

“Loomis is 80. Every member of her family, from her grandfather to her nine great-grandchildren, has fished the tribe’s ancestral waters. She has watched over the decades as the salmon disappeared and her family turned to crab, geoduck and sea cucumbers. She’s seen the salmon season drop to only a few days per species from the eight months — May through December — of decades past in order to protect populations. The Skagit River is the last waterway in the continental United States that’s home to all five species of Pacific salmon.

“Progress has been slow; some researchers say it could be 90 years before the salmon recover. Loomis is taking the long view. ‘If I didn’t believe we would recover [the fishery], I guess I wouldn’t still be working on this,’ she said.

“In recent years, the tribe has fostered salmon recovery through a variety of projects. It has restored tidelands and channels, planted trees along streambeds to cool warming waters, and collaborated with farmers to increase stream setbacks to improve water quality.

“Restoring salmon populations is just part of an ambitious climate action plan to blunt the effects of increased flooding, ocean acidification, rising river temperatures, more-destructive storms and habitat loss.

“The Swinomish are rebuilding oyster reefs for the native Olympia oyster. They’re planning the first modern clam garden in the United States on the reservation’s tidelands, reviving an ancient practice. They’re monitoring deer and elk populations through camera traps to understand the climate change pressures and to inform hunting limits. And they have ongoing wetland restoration projects to explore preserving native plants and to help naturally manage coastal flooding.

“ ‘They’re doing really innovative climate adaptation,’ said Meade Krosby, a senior scientist with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. ‘They were way ahead of the curve.’ …

“Their plans merge traditional and academic resources. When looking at ways to protect wetlands, Todd Mitchell, the tribe’s director of environmental protection, discovered that knowledge about traditional plantings passed down through the generations was lost. So he turned to the University of Washington, which had archived notes by ethnographers and anthropologists who had interviewed tribe elders in the 1950s and 1960s.

“A tribal member who earned a geology degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree at Washington State University, Mitchell returned to work for the tribe 20 years ago. ‘I think the missing piece [is] how to take this straight-up science in the academic sense and put it together with traditional knowledge.’ …

“Jamie Donatuto, the tribe’s environmental health officer, and Larry Campbell, a 71-year-old tribal elder, have created a tool, Indigenous Health Indicators, that goes beyond typical morbidity and mortality measures and considers ecosystem health, social and cultural beliefs, and values integral to a community. …

“Seen through that lens, restoring ‘first foods’ is important not just for diet and nutrition but for nourishment of the soul. Living somewhere for a long time fosters a sense of place, and a sense of place fosters stewardship.

“ ‘It’s a different worldview,’ said Donatuto, who has a doctorate in resource management and environmental sustainability from the University of British Columbia. ‘The salmon and the crabs and the clams are relatives. They’re living relatives. They’re not just resources. And so you treat them with a symbiotic respect. They feed you because you take care of them. It’s a very different way of thinking about why these areas are important.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

Photo: Chris Bell/The Culture Trip.
Tourists in La Guajira, a remote part of Colombia. Nowadays the focus is on a vaccine outreach to wary indigenous residents.

John assures me that pandemics always peter out as variants emerge weaker and weaker. I hope he’s right. Meanwhile, some experts are saying we won’t be done with Covid until we vaccinate the whole world.

Samantha Schmidt at the Washington Post wrote recently about an effort to reach a remote corner of Colombia — one step in vaccinating the whole world.

“The vaccination team had spent an hour bouncing and bucking down a dirt road and over train tracks when the van driver issued a warning. The toughest part of the drive was still to come. The two women gripped their seat cushions as the van jolted, climbed a mound of dirt and fishtailed in the slick mud. Driver Toto Girnu honked at passing goats as he followed a path blazed only by tire tracks. In the distance, he spotted dark, menacing clouds.

“If the group was lucky, the drive through this remote desert would take four or five hours. If it rained, as it did when Girnu made this trip a few days earlier, it could take more than 10.

“But this was the only way to reach the Indigenous families who live in this arid swath of land in the northern department of La Guajira, where there are no paved roads, no electricity, no running water and no other access to the vaccines that would protect their communities.

“Travel is only part of the challenge confronting the team, one of many contracted by the Colombian government to deliver vaccines to some of the country’s remotest peoples. There is also a lack of information about the coronavirus, hesitation around vaccines and a general mistrust of authorities.

“The van, ‘Route of Hope’ written across the windshield, came upon a roadblock. Adults and children here string ropes across the road, to be lifted only in exchange for water, food or cash.

“ ‘Are you vaccinated?’ vaccine team coordinator Katherin Gamez shouted to a young man. Girnu gave the man a fist bump, tossed him a small bag of water and translated the question into Wayuunaiki, the language of the local Wayuu Indigenous people.

“ ‘For what?’ he asked.

“Across the Andes, a region that has reported some of the world’s highest covid-19 death rates, teams are traversing deserts, mountains, rainforests and rivers to vaccinate isolated communities.

“Such teams are particularly active in Colombia, a country of more than 48 million people, where about 16 percent of the population lives in rural areas that were often neglected by the government during more than five decades of armed conflict. …

“About 35 percent of Colombia’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Health Ministry. More than half of residents in major cities — 62 percent in the capital of Bogotá — have received at least one dose.

“But in La Guajira, home to the country’s largest Indigenous population, only 38 percent have received at least one dose. … Years of government abandonment and mismanagement have caused many Wayuu residents to mistrust the health system. Only 4 percent of Wayuu people here have access to clean water, Human Rights Watch reported last year; 77 percent of Indigenous households are food insecure. In Alta Guajira, where the largest number of Wayuu people live, there is only one hospital, and it offers only basic care. …

“ ‘By the time a lot of them get to care, they’re so near death … there’s this perception that maybe the care didn’t help,’ said Shannon Doocy, an associate professor of international health at Johns Hopkins who co-wrote the Human Rights Watch report. …

“ ‘We’re getting close,’ Girnu told Gamez and Eliana Andrioly, the team’s Indigenous leader. They sped down a salt flat, their view miles of sand and the distant bay. …

“A team of nursing assistants and a doctor were waiting. The providers spend 15 days at a time living in a dormitory next door, sleeping in hammocks and showering with buckets of water, to stage daily medical missions to the surrounding communities.

“The organization, IPSI Palaima — ‘land of the sea’ in Wayuunaiki — was founded in 2007 by an Indigenous woman who grew up in the area. It is one of the only providers in Alta Guajira with a permanent vaccine refrigerator, in a medical center powered by solar panels.

“The team member in charge of shots this week was Daniela Vergara, a 21-year-old nursing assistant who had never been to AltaGuajira before she applied for the job. Each day, Vergara aims to vaccinate at least 10 people — a modest goal that often requires a massive effort.

“On this Monday, she had not yet reached her target. She packed her cooler — a blue backpack filled with vials of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot that has been a godsend to rural vaccine teams — and set out for a community across the bay. [Then] they drove to a gathering place where they hoped to meet people interested in the vaccine.

“ ‘There’s no one here,’ Vergara said. ‘We got here too late.’

“A local leader suggested they go house to house. As darkness fell, the team members asked anyone who looked 18 or older if they wanted the vaccine. Soon a woman recounted a rumor they had heard many times: Outsiders were pushing a vaccine that was sickening members of the Wayuu community.

“The woman, a teacher who spoke some Spanish, knew what was at stake. She had contracted the virus a few months earlier, after a trip to the town of Uribia. For a month, she suffered chest pains, headaches, an intense cough and the loss of taste and smell. … She worried about a 66-year-old neighbor who had no interest in getting a shot.

“ ‘Many people are dying from this disease,’ Juan Larrada, a Wayuu doctor in the group, said in Wayuunaiki. He said the vaccine could have side effects, but it would protect them from serious illness. He asked Amaita Uriana why she did not want it.

“ ‘Because I was afraid of getting sicker,’ she said. ‘I really feel very sick. I carry pains in my body. That’s why I refused when a girl came here for the same reason. Besides, she was very pretentious. And we had already heard about the experiences of other Wayuu who had been vaccinated and become ill.’

“ ‘The vaccine can have those effects,’ Larrada agreed. ‘Fever, muscular pains, that’s normal.’

“Understanding the doctor as he spoke to her in her own language, Uriana assented. She closed her eyes; Vergara emptied the syringe into her arm.”

Read about the many Wayuu who cannot be persuaded and why that is, here. The photos in the article are terrific, but I can’t share them because they’re blocked. If you have a subscription, you are in luck.

Photo: Kurt Stüber.
Some amaranth species are cultivated as leaf vegetables, says Wikipedia. The Guardian adds, “The plant is indigenous to North and Central America but also grown in China, India, Southeast Asia, West Africa and the Caribbean.”

Here are a couple stories on plants that may hold the potential to feed the world. One is the amaranth; the other is a bioengineered wheat grass called kernza. Pretty sure that one will not go over well with the non-GMO crowd.

Cecilia Nowell reports on amaranth at the Guardian, “Just over 10 years ago, a small group of Indigenous Guatemalan farmers visited Beata Tsosie-Peña’s stucco home in northern New Mexico. In the arid heat, the visitors, mostly Maya Achì women from the forested Guatemalan town of Rabinal, showed Tsosie-Peña how to plant the offering they had brought with them: amaranth seeds.

“Back then, Tsosie-Peña had just recently become interested in environmental justice amid frustration at the ecological challenges facing her native Santa Clara Pueblo – an Indigenous North American community just outside the New Mexico town of Española, which is downwind from the nuclear facilities that built the atomic bomb. Tsosie-Peña had begun studying permaculture and other Indigenous agricultural techniques. Today, she coordinates the environmental health and justice program at Tewa Women United, where she maintains a hillside public garden that’s home to the descendants of those first amaranth seeds she was given more than a decade ago. …

“Tsosie-Peña and her guests spent the day planting, winnowing, cooking and eating them – toasting the seeds in a skillet to be served over milk or mixed into honey – and talking about their shared histories: how colonization had separated them from their traditional foods and how they were reclaiming their relationship with the land.

“Since the 1970s, amaranth has become a billion-dollar food – and cosmetic – product. Health conscious shoppers embracing ancient grains will find it in growing numbers of grocery stores in the US, or in snack bars across Mexico, and, increasingly, in Europe and the Asia Pacific. As a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, amaranth is a highly nutritious source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and antioxidants that may improve brain function and reduce inflammation.

“ ‘This is a plant that could feed the world,’ said Tsosie-Peña. …

“ ‘Supporting Indigenous people coming together to share knowledge’ is vital to the land back movement, a campaign to reestablish Indigenous stewardship of Native land, and liberation of Native peoples, Tsosie-Peña said. ‘Our food, our ability to feed ourselves, is the foundation of our freedom and sovereignty as land-based peoples.’ …

“Amaranth is an 8,000-year-old pseudocereal – not a grain, but a seed, like quinoa and buckwheat – indigenous to Mesoamerica, but also grown in China, India, south-east Asia, west Africa and the Caribbean. Before the Spanish arrived in the Americas, the Aztecs and Maya cultivated amaranth as an excellent source of proteins, but also for ceremonial purposes. When Spanish conquistadors arrived on the continent in the 16th century, they [feared] that the Indigenous Americans’ spiritual connection to plants and the land might undermine Christianity. …

“Although the Spanish outlawed amaranth when they arrived in Central America, Mexico and the south-western United States, Indigenous farmers preserved the seeds – which grew with remarkable resilience. …

“While amaranth is no longer banned, Tsosie-Peña says ‘planting it today feels like an act of resistance.’ Reestablishing relationships with other Indigenous communities across international borders is part of a ‘larger movement of self-determination of Indigenous peoples,’ she says, to return to the ‘alternative economies that existed before capitalism, that existed before the United States.’ …

“Every year … farmers with [a Guatemalan agricultural community called Qachuu Aloom, or ‘Mother Earth’] have traveled to the United States to share their knowledge of amaranth with predominantly Indigenous- and Latino-led gardens. … In 2016, when Tsosie-Peña and her colleagues at Tewa Women United broke ground on their public garden in Española, Qachuu Aloom was there to plant amaranth once again. …

“Tsosie-Peña says that this exchange between North and Central American farmers isn’t just about amaranth as a crop; it’s also about reconnecting to ancient trade routes that have been disrupted by increasingly militarized borders.

“Maria Aurelia Xitumul, a member of Qachuu Aloom since 2006 who has traveled on exchanges to California and New Mexico, echoes Tsosie-Peña.

‘The goal is to share experiences, not necessarily generate income, like capitalists. What we want is for the whole world to produce their own food. … For the seeds, distance doesn’t exist. Borders don’t exist.’ …

“The week before the emergency declaration of the pandemic Tsosie-Peña was in Guatemala. When international borders began closing, she had to rush home to the United States. But a few months ago, after vaccines were widely distributed in the US, she and a handful of delegates from each of the farms that had begun planting Qachuu Aloom’s seeds traveled back to Guatemala. With them, they brought seeds from the amaranth they had each grown in their home gardens … to plant in a shared plot: a kind of solidarity garden.

“ ‘We’ve always viewed our seed relatives as relatives and kin,’ says Tsosie-Peña. ‘We have co-evolved with them as fellow Indigenous peoples of this place.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

Meanwhile another plant that’s supposed to feed the world was described recently at the Washington Post. Sarah Kaplan reported on kernza, “a domesticated form of wheatgrass developed by scientists at the nonprofit Land Institute. … A single seed will grow into a plant that provides grain year after year after year. It forms deep roots that store carbon in the soil and prevent erosion. It can be planted alongside other crops to reduce the need for fertilizer and provide habitat for wildlife.” More on kernza here.

Hudson River Artists

Photo: Peter Aaron/OTTO.
Jean Shin’s installation “FALLEN” at the Olana State Historic Site, part of the recent “Cross-Pollination art show.

I don’t know if growing up near the Hudson River has anything to do with it, but I’ve always loved the monumental nature paintings of the Hudson River School. In recent years, different kinds of art have made the region famous, including art shown at Dia Beacon and the offbeat Visitors film screened at the ICA in Boston and elsewhere. (That’s the one with the Icelandic musicians playing haunting music in the bathtubs and salons of a ruined Hudson River mansion.)

Not far from Rokeby, the ruin in question, another mansion has been turned into a museum called Olana, and today’s post is about putting its classic paintings together with more modern conceptions of nature.

Sarah Rose Sharp wrote at Hyperallergic last October about Cross Pollination, “a collaborative exhibition that spans institutions and centuries, to put artists in conversation with each other on the topic of ecology — and hummingbirds.

“The exhibition is organized between the Olana Partnership at the Olana State Historic Site (once the home of Frederic Church), the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. The historic presentations include 16 paintings from a series of hummingbirds and habitats — The Gems of Brazil (1863-64) — by naturalist and painter Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904).

“This Audubon-like survey of Brazilian hummingbirds — and the resulting writing on the artist’s part to protest the overhunting of their populations — serves as the aesthetic and philosophical inspiration for a series of new works commissioned for the exhibition. The exhibition also includes paintings by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, as well as botanical works on both paper and porcelain by Emily Cole, Cole’s daughter, and Isabel Charlotte Church, Church’s daughter. This generational affair also features some highlights from natural specimens collected by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, including items from the Church family’s extensive collection of bird eggs.

“The exhibition is presented simultaneously at both Olana State Historic Site in Hudson, New York, and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, New York.

“With these 19th-century collections that focused so intently on natural systems as their inspiration, a cohort of 21st-century American artists present works in response. The contemporary artists are known to take on issues of biodiversity, habitat protection, and environmental sustainability, and contributions include new works by Rachel Berwick, Mark Dion and Dana Sherwood, Lisa Sanditz and Emily Sartor, and Jean Shin.

“On location at the Thomas Cole Site, ‘The Pollinator Pavilion’ is a public artwork by Mark Dion and Dana Sherwood created for the exhibition, where pollinators and humans can share the same space. Jean Shin used the remains of a fallen hemlock tree at the Olana site to create a memorial artwork in its memory, titled ‘FALLEN’ (the tree died of natural causes). …

“Ironically, though Heade, Cole, and Church advocated for the preservation of natural spaces, the fad of biological specimen collections like the ones being presented fueled a market for hunting the birds that Heade idealized. Even these days, as evidence of our excess mounts in flaming piles on land and sea, it seems we can still hardly even agree that the planet is a finite resource, let alone determine who is entitled to take any little piece of it that catches their eye. Perhaps this exhibition [holds] the seeds of change within it.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

The video below did a pretty good job of educating me, but it’s painful. The “10-Minute” professor doesn’t ultimately shy away from our destruction of nature and native tribes.

The Art of Subtitling

Photo: Netflix/Lupin.
“The French mystery thriller Lupin became the most-watched non-English series on Netflix and is also the platform’s most popular series of 2021; it’s been lauded for its seamless translations,” reports Zocalo.

I’ve spent many months plowing my way through The Magic Mountain mainly because I’d read about the challenges Thomas Mann’s first English translator, Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter, faced. I was curious. If characters suddenly start speaking French, how do you show they aren’t speaking German anymore? One character is a real Mrs. Malaprop. In German. What do you do? If a different character purposefully makes a play on words, how do you translate that and still make sense?

Most people are exposed to this sort of thing when they read subtitles on foreign films. Although I like having subtitles on all films (British accents can be hard to understand; Americans mumble), if I know a bit of a foreign language being badly subtitled, I find it really distracting. There’s an art to translating well.

Recently, translator David Buchanan wrote about subtitling at Zocalo Public Square. “If you don’t notice my work,” he says, “it means I’m doing my job properly.

“I’m an audiovisual translator, which means that I — and others like me — help you understand the languages spoken on screen: You just click that little speech bubble icon in the bottom-right corner of your preferred streaming service, select the subtitles or the dub, and away you go. …

“I decided to become an audiovisual translator because it allows me to combine cinema and French culture, my two favorite things. But there is also something about the anonymity of the work that appeals to me, which is the name of the game for our craft. As Bruce Goldstein, director of repertory programming at New York’s Film Forum, put it in The Art of Subtitling, ‘Good subtitles are designed to be inconspicuous, almost invisible.’

“Of course, it’s impossible to be truly invisible. Translating film and TV always involves some form of compromise. … Whether working (as I do) from French into English, from Spanish into German, or Japanese into Swedish, the process is always the same: We pay close attention not only to the meaning of the words, but to the actors’ emotions, the cadence of their speech, their body language, the themes and narrative structure of the script, the historical period, and the social context. Together, these cues provide a host of tiny hints, all of which add extra layers of meaning and must be accounted for in the translation.

Translating all these layers is a bit like solving a Rubik’s Cube — it’s easy to do one side, but what about all of the others?

“Say I’m dubbing a ghost story set in a bourgeois Parisian household in the year 1850. The French grandmother stands in a doorway and whispers, ‘A tout de suite, mon petit.‘ How would you dub that into English? I might try, ‘See you in a minute, my darling,’ but that doesn’t sound stuffy enough for the 19th-century bourgeoisie. It needs to be more uptight, more formal. So what about, ‘See you in a moment?’

“The issue there is the cinematographer has lit the scene so the actor casts a sinister shadow into the room. She’s not just standing there, she’s lurking, and if I were a grandmother trying to lurk in a doorway, I wouldn’t say, ‘See you in a moment.’ However, I might say ‘See you soon.’ That could work — especially when you consider the spooky quality about the alliterative s’s and the ghostly ‘ooh’ in ‘soon.’

“ ‘See you soon, my darling’ perfectly fits the atmosphere of the scene. Except this introduces a new dilemma: ‘my darling’ doesn’t sync with the actor’s lip movements. Her mouth is closed for the ‘p’ in ‘petit,’ whereas the ‘d’ in ‘darling’ would require it to be open. In dubbing, the end of a sentence is one of the most important parts to get right: If the last word is poorly lip-synced, it sticks out like a sore thumb. …

“In an ideal world, I’d find a new term of endearment that syncs with ‘mon petit.’ … In this case, a compromise is necessary. At the end of the day, a loose translation is less distracting than bad lip sync.

“At times, I also must compromise when it comes to personal taste. For example, I might be subtitling a rapper renowned for Eminem-style punchlines, like: ‘C’est le retour de la légende de Jimmy, même si j’peux craquer à tout moment comme Djibril.‘ With these lyrics, they’re making a tasteless joke, comparing themselves to Djibril Cissé, a French footballer who has broken both of his legs. I don’t find broken legs especially funny, nor is it a joke that I would ever make myself. Still, this sick humor is a key element of their controversial persona, and the English-speaking audience deserves to understand what they’re saying so they can make up their own minds. A translator must never censor the source material: I must put my own opinion to one side and render the translation as faithfully as possible. It’s a challenging task, but also an instructive one.

“In this case, since most Americans are unlikely to have heard of Cissé, I start by ‘translating’ his name into that of another famous sportsman, a popular figure that an American audience would recognize by name. In order for the punchline to work, I need someone who would have suffered some kind of terrible injury. A fairly gruesome Googling session suggests the late basketball player Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash. Now I need to reverse-engineer the scenario. At first, the rapper pretends to be arrogant (légende), then undercuts themself by admitting they’re scared of failure (craquer… comme Djibril). After looking for an arrogant-sounding phrase that rhymes with ‘Bryant’ —eventually settling on ‘rap giant’ — I must find a way to describe Bryant’s accident that also acts as a metaphor for failure. … The offensive punchline leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but because it leaves the same bad taste as the original French, it feels like a faithful translation. …

“These days, though there are more films and TV from around the world than ever before, in many countries (such as the UK, where I live, or Spain, where my colleagues assure me the situation is even tougher), rates are falling and deadlines are getting tighter. This has inevitable repercussions on quality, not to mention our livelihoods. It can be hard to publicize our achievements because we usually sign non-disclosure agreements, and more often than not, filmmakers regard us as an afterthought, something to be rushed through at the distribution stage. Thankfully, many of the best filmmakers realize how important the translation stage is and are closely involved in the subtitling and dubbing process. They also pay fairly, so that we can take our time getting it just right.

“It’s possible for subtitles and dubs to be so seamless that they feel invisible without pushing audiovisual translators ourselves out of sight. I’m proud of what I do, and I want the world to know how much care and consideration I, and thousands like me, put into our work. That being said, there is still a certain satisfaction in being the hidden conduit between cultures, the solitary name that appears in a film’s credits after everyone has left the cinema. …

“Translation is about helping people to understand each other, and it feels good to be able to do that on a daily basis.”

More at Zocalo Public Square, here.

Photo: Andy Nelson/Special to the Christian Science Monitor.
On a hiking trail in Ashland, Oregon, signs of a controlled burn. Says Brian Hendrix, who works for an outreach program that helps homeowners protect their properties from wildfires, “We try to help residents see that their own safety is linked to their neighbor’s safety.”

When Martin Kuz interviewed residents of Ashland, Oregon, for the Christian Science Monitor, he found that the shared determination to prevent wildfires tamped down ideological fires.

He reports, “A municipal water tank built into the forested hills above Ashland offers postcard views of the mountain valley town on clear days. This warm September morning is not, alas, such a day. Wildfires burning elsewhere in Oregon and to the south in California have blurred the blue skies, turning the city into a soup bowl of ash-gray smoke.

“Standing atop the storage tank, Chris Chambers points toward Hald Strawberry Park, visible through the haze about a half-mile away and encircled by homes. Drought has browned its grass and many of its pine and madrone trees. The parched land presents a fire threat to the town’s 21,000 residents – and, he explains, another chance to better protect them from the flames.

“ ‘I want to burn that whole thing. It’s an island of fuel,’ says Mr. Chambers, the wildfire division chief for the city fire department. … ‘There’s a choice: We can burn the land on our terms, or we can let nature burn everything – and we won’t like the effects.’

“The prospects for his plan appear bright in a town that over the past quarter century has emerged as a leading light in the American West for its sustained, communitywide approach to wildfire prevention. Since the late 1990s, acceptance among Ashland’s residents of the need for collective vigilance has grown in tandem with the number, scale, and intensity of infernos across the region. …

“ ‘Calling these huge fires of recent years natural disasters – they’re very much not natural disasters,’ says Mr. Chambers, who joined the fire department in 2002. …

‘We have to think of these fires and climate change as human-made disasters and realize we can unmake them. And, really, we have to if we want to live in the West.’

“This summer delivered more proof of that charred reality. … Propelled by ferocious winds, the Almeda Fire gutted the neighboring towns of Talent and Phoenix, leveling 2,500 homes. The calamity brought into tragic focus the principle of shared responsibility that Mr. Chambers and other fire safety officials promote as they seek to lower wildfire danger and enhance forest health.

“The emphasis on collaboration has drawn together the city, U.S. Forest Service, and conservation groups to restore the town’s watershed, a heavily forested area that slopes down from the 7,500-foot peak of Mount Ashland. The innovative initiative has enabled the partners to treat 13,000 acres of land through prescribed burning, selective logging, and brush clearing.

“Local officials have cultivated broad support in recent years to strengthen homebuilding and landscaping standards to improve wildfire safety. Fire Adapted Ashland, an education and outreach program, works with homeowners to safeguard properties and distributes small grants to individuals and neighborhood groups to replace flammable vegetation and trim trees.

“The culture of solidarity in the former timber town, now best known for hosting the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, has attracted fire safety officials from other Western states and as far away as England and Spain. They learn that an informal policy to persuade rather than dictate guides the city’s strategy. …

“The bitter struggle over clear-cutting and spotted owl habitat in Oregon, Washington, and California resulted in tight logging restrictions on federal lands as popular sentiment shifted toward saving old-growth forest. 

“In the ensuing decades, the ban on most timber operations – along with the enduring practice of extinguishing wildfires as quickly as possible – has deepened the crisis of ailing forests. The added impact of climate change and drought has burdened Western states with an estimated 6.3 billion standing dead trees. The competition for water and sunlight in clogged forests stunts the growth of young trees and diminishes the capacity of older, more fire-resistant trees to withstand flames and disease.

“ ‘The bias for a lot of the public is that any tree is a good tree,’ [Kit] Colbenson says. ‘But what you end up with is a forest that has more fuel and is more susceptible to big fires.’ …

“Forest Service and city officials raised the idea of restoring the 15,000-acre watershed through brush removal, controlled burning, and limited tree thinning to reduce fire danger and preserve the town’s sole water source at the time.

“The initial discussions elicited angry opposition from critics who suspected a Forest Service plot to revert to clear-cutting. Masked protesters stormed the agency’s local office in 1996. …

“Years of meetings followed as federal and city officials sought input from environmental groups and timber interests to forge solutions. A mutual willingness to keep talking dissolved the distrust that prevailed at the outset, and by 2001, the Forest Service and Ashland had agreed to rejuvenate 1,500 acres in the watershed. …

“The collaboration has won praise as a national model and subdued the town’s memories of the timber wars by striking a rare balance between ecology and economics. Environmentalists have come to accept that selective logging and brush thinning can increase the watershed’s resilience to fire while sustaining ample habitat for wildlife, and the funding has benefited timber companies that work under [Lomakatsi Restoration Project] supervision.

“ ‘I won’t ever say we’ve got it all figured out,’ says Mr. Chambers, who envisions expanding the project area and treating portions of the land on a 10-year rotating basis. ‘But there’s been a commitment to finding common ground.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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