Sunday, July 31, 2016

Flood Flash

HOW TO HELP -- Ellicott City Parternship

Ellicott City encompasses 30 square miles of the northeastern corner of Howard County, Maryland, but to people from the western suburbs of Baltimore, the name refers to the charming shops along a single street in a small granite ravine.


I enjoyed frequent visits to Ellicott City during my days as a student at UMBC, and once even walked the seven miles from my apartment just to enjoy a stroll along Main Street. The first breakfast of our honeymoon was enjoyed there, and we visit any time we find ourselves visiting family, including my in-laws who live in a modern condo perched high above College Avenue. I most recently blogged about Main Street in 2012, shortly after taking a haunted tour of  our old haunts.

We enjoyed shopping in Ellicott City just over a week ago, and were thus all the more shocked to learn of the devastation that took place there last night. Notice on the map above that several streams converge near the upper end of Main Street and then disappear into buried channels.

Last night SIX INCHES of rain fell in this area in just two hours.


Estimates from Doppler Radar show the greatest intensity of rainfall centered over this narrow valley, and local rain gauges indicated even greater intensity. The results were devastating -- a beautiful streetscape gutted in a very short period.
Photo: Scott Weaver on Just In Weather
Rushing waters quickly undermined buildings, some of which may not be salvageable. More than 100 people were rescued from automobiles and from the Phoenix Emporium at the bottom of the hill by heroic firefighters, police, and civilians.

From Baltimore Sun archives --
Photos from previous floods. 
Notice the 1868 marker ABOVE
the bridge.
During our most recent visit to Ellicott City, we noticed a great density of Pokemon hunters, which means that plenty of smartphones were on hand last night to document the damage as well as the rescues. For some of those images and videos, see Flood Destruction (Just In Weather) and State of Emergency (Howard County Patch). The arts community is vital in Ellicott City, and has already begun raising funds for recovery.

The fact that this flooding occurred where natural streams had been put into underground pipes reminds me of the successful daylighting project in  Yonkers that I described earlier this year.  Given the extreme intensity of last night's storm and the very narrow topography of the Main Street area, however, it is doubtful that a comparable project would have been enough to make a difference in last night's events.

Lagniappe

Dan Somers recorded two minutes of cars being swept down Main Street during the flood.

YouTube user fatosh69 filmed 5 minutes from the window of a second-story restaurant. Warning: this is the most unsettling video of these events in real time. One local friend -- who recently survived a tornado -- describes this as horror-movie footage.

David Franklin Perry recorded a 20-minute walk-through with police during the night. He begins in the middle of the affected area, moves uphill and then back down to the base of Main Street.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Muir to the Story

I like to think of myself as too bright and wise to engage in hero worship, but I must admit that certain people occupy high pedestals in my view. John Muir is one of them. I am not alone in this his name graces many schools, natural features, buildings, and even a minor planet, according to a recent article by Justin Nobel, The Miseducation of John Muir.

Muir is best known as the founder of the Sierra Club (of which I was an active member when we lived in Texas) and for his role in establishing the National Park Service. I learned of him in the first geography course I took as an undergraduate -- Conservation Thought -- in which his views we contrasted with those of Gifford Pinchot, the first director of the National Forest Service. In modern parlance, the two would be considered "frenemies" -- one dedicated to the preservation (non-use) and the other to conservation (sustainable use) of wild areas. Despite understanding the importance of balance between the two, I must admit always liking the purist Muir a bit better than the pragmatic Pinchot.

For those who admire Muir as I have -- or who love the National Parks that are his legacy -- I recommend Nobel's article, which exposes some "ugly truths" about Muir, along with some more benign but little-known aspects of his early biography.

First, the benign. I did not know that he had been  both a worker and a mid-level manager in the Industrial Revolution; the wilderness he loved was a strong contrast with the machinery that was equally dear to him. He also had walked the post-war American South long before he walked the Cascades of California, covering 1,000 miles on foot.

And now the ugly: His writings about that walk extol the natural beauty while describing the people -- especially indigenous people -- in very ugly terms. He did not recognize -- at least as a 29-year-old explorer -- that the views of nature he advocated were already held by people he viewed as primitive.

Looking back, Native Americans today are critical not only of those ugly attitudes but also of the adulation Muir received for doing things -- like the long walk itself -- that were already part of their cultures. In this way, Muir is a focal point for the deeply problematic way in which even European-American approaches to land stewardship have usually marginalized those who were its stewards long before colonization.

Lagniappe
After reading Nobel's article, I checked this blog for references to Muir and was surprised to find that my 2009 Botanical Travels post had actually mentioned controversy related to indigenous people in Yosemite.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hashtags - Plural


When I was in graduate school, one of my fellow doctoral candidates wore his #12 jersey in solidarity on any day the Chicago Bulls were playing. That geographer -- Ralph -- did so because he was a Chicago native, a season-ticket holder, and a loyal fan of  the Bulls in general and Michael (as he called him) in particular.

Ralph comes to mind as I read the latest news from Michael Jordan because of the focus of his research -- community policing. Yes, that is a very appropriate topic for a dissertation in geography, and Ralph had studied policing from Boston to Chicago to Los Angeles.

And Michael Jordan is one of the best-known geographers in the United States, though he is better known for pursuits not directly related to his undergraduate major.

The latest news, of course, is that Michael Jordan has decided to speak out against the violence that is gripping our country -- two aspects of that violence in particular. As NPR reports in Michael Jordan Speaks Up for Black Lives and Police Officers, the basketball star has donated $2,000,000 to two organizations that he hopes can help to heal communities -- one established by the NAACP and the other by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Like most Americans, he knows, respects, and values both African American men and law-enforcement officers. Like most Americans, he probably knows people who qualify as both. I certainly do. Rather than pretend that neither category matters, however, he is not choosing hashtags. For Jordan, it is not #blacklivesmatter OR #dallas5. It is #blacklivesmatter AND #dallas5.

If you have taken the time to read this blog post, I hope you will read the NPR article and more importantly, Michael Jordan's own statement, I Can No Longer Remain Silent.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Skipjack Learning



"Thought into action," my old traveling buddy (and fellow geographer) Mike used to say, whenever we actually followed through on some talked-about adventure, whether it be spelunking in Virginia or our 8,500-mile jaunt to Ensenada in his old VW.

That phrase came to mind as I prepared for a small adventure on Great Shellfish Bay, better known as the Chesapeake. It was near the Chesapeake that I first became a geographer -- as a student at UMBC -- and it is also where I was fortunate to experience learning geography in the field for the first time. Dr. Parker's courses on the Amazon are what drew me into geography, but he was not able to take us there (I of course went later on my own a few times, taking a student with me once).

But his colleague Dr. Miller was able to take classes to one of his study areas -- the nearby Chesapeake Bay. I took a whole course on the bay, reading Beautiful Swimmers and hearing from local experts who came to our class. A real highlight was going out on the bay itself, on a research craft operating from another University of Maryland campus. Little did I realize back then how important experiential learning would become in my own work as a geography educator.

A couple of years ago, I found out that only a few skipjacks -- which I had learned about in the course -- were still sailing, and that it was sometime possible to go aboard, in or out of oystering season. I have grown increasingly interested, as I continue to learn about the maritime history and coastal geography of my adoptive home from the seats of replica whaleboats. "Some day," I thought, "I'll do that." As I prepared for our latest visit to family in the area, I decided that this would be that "some day," and I put thought into action. As a bonus, I was able to bring my brother along, as we had the same day free.

We went to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael's, from which we departed on a two-hour cruise aboard the H.M. Krentz. (Museum admission is included with the price of a sailing tour, but not vice-versa, of course.) The H.M.Krentz is one of a very small number of craft that continues to harvest oysters under sail, and its captain is a font of knowledge about the maritime history, ecology, and economy of the Bay. This is a very nice way to support regional ecotourism, learn about local fisheries, and get a bit of fresh air at the same time.

The H.M. Krentz is berthed aside a classic Chesapeake Bay lighthouse, many of which once dotted the shallow waters of the Bay. They were specially designed to be stable in soft sediments. This was the last of a couple dozen photos I took on board, all of which are in my Skipjack 2016 folder on Flickr.
I can also recommend grabbing a coffee at the nearby Blue Crab Coffee Company on Fremont Street.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Yemen: First Coffee

Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia, by a goatherd named Kaldi, according to legend. But it was first cultivated across the Red Sea in Yemen. Because this all happened some time ago, we should add "what is now" to the place names. We should also note that we call the main species of coffee (comprising 70 percent of world production) Arabica because Yemen is on the Arabian Peninsula. About 30 percent is known as robusta because it comes from a heartier, heat-resistant plant that originated somewhere in West Africa.
I was thinking of this recently because a new friend told me of a fort he had visited in Yemen -- constructed by the Portuguese to protect exports of coffee to Brazil. Of course, Brazil itself eventually became the leading producer of coffee, currently growing about 1/3 of the world total of both major types.

This led me to revisit some of my earlier posts about Yemen. In Missing Coffee (2013), I point readers to a whimsical but informative essay by a professor of food science, who explains the importance of Moka. In Arabica and Arabians (2010), I point to a few items related to Arabian iconography in the coffee business.

Coffee grows on terraces at unusually high elevation in Yemen, where it is too hot and
dry for coffee to be grown in more typical circumstances.
Image: Al Mokha
In my coffee seminars, students work in small groups to do research about the coffees of specific countries. They make posters and brew coffee from each country, which we present and serve at a large tasting event. Only one group has undertaken to research Yemen. They had difficulty finding much information about the current status of the coffee industry there. They learned that production is small -- something like 1/10 of one percent of the world total -- and the only vendors they could find were selling by the container (37,000 pound minimum). This suggested that most Yemen coffee production is for commodity markets, but I did find a single-origin source in the strangest place: Amazon.com, which does coffee from Yemen by way of several roasters.

One of those roasters is among those I found in today's research -- a company that is based in my home town and that is deeply committed to the coffee farmers of Yemen. Even though Yemen is not a major producer, its coffee industry is thought to employ one million people, or about 4 percent of the world's population. Washington-based Al Mokha (The World's First CoffeeTM) is connecting customers directly to those workers through direct trade, development programs, and consumer education. I hope to visit with Al Mokha staff during my next trip to D.C.

It is from Al Mokha's blog that I learned about a 2004 report on Yemen's coffee from the U.S. Agency for International Development. A dozen years is a long time -- especially in coffee -- but the great detail of the report suggests that it would be valuable for understanding at least the background of the current coffee scene in Yemen. Yemen's Coffee Revival is a briefer but more recent (2014) report from the regional news magazine Al-Monitor.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Coffee Week

Yes, Coffee Week (Not Weak)!

Beneficio Hayes-Boh: Doing the
dry-mill process at home on a
very small scale.
Coffee Week (Not Weak) is a course that I am offering -- with the help of many coffee professionals -- during the second week in July. I arrived at that quirky title because two other good titles were already taken. Geography of Coffee is my annual study tour in Nicaragua (coming soon to Peru and Ethiopia) and the Secret Life of Coffee (cleverly named by my wife Pamela) is the speaking-intensive seminar I offer each spring.

As soon as I read the notice that our university was offering faculty a new format for courses -- allowing us to teach all day for five days (or in half-day segments for 10 days), the Coffee Week concept was born. To make it punnier, I wanted to call it Coffee Week -- Not Weak Coffee, but that would not fit in the scheduling software. Hence the cryptic, parenthetical subtitle.

The reason I was able to visualize the course so quickly is that our region is rich with coffee-related resources, including all kinds of excellent cafes and a handful of the world's most important roasters. The 8-hour class sessions give us a chance to visit quite a few of these, hearing directly from the people for whom coffee is a way of changing the world ... for the better.

Most of the places we will visit are independent cafes -- by their very nature, these are ideal places for discussion of any topic. The cafes will serve both as venues for conversation and topics of conversation. When millions of dollars are being spent on the marketing of commodity coffee in generic storefronts, what makes a local shop with limited resources survive and even thrive?

Our visits will also include a couple of those important roasters -- important because they focus on the fair treatment of the people who actually grow the coffee -- and some non-profit organizations with coffee connections.



Legend:
. - MONDAY - TUESDAY - WEDNESDAY - THURSDAY - FRIDAY - 

This map is not complete, by any means. I could easily fill a second week, including full days in Providence and Boston. I am willing to bet, though, that the six students taking this class will find their own way to more of our region's coffee treasures in the near future.

Find reviews of more than 100 independent cafes on my GeoCafes blog. This includes many student reviews and a few of my own, of cafes throughout New England and as far away as Shanghai. That blog has its own map, of course!

Read more about the original plans for Coffee Week (Not Weak) on my November 2015 Cafe Crawl for Credit post. Learn more about all of my endeavors -- coffee-related and otherwise -- through my new portal at www.doctor.coffee.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Retiring Home

Photo: Lancaster Times
Garrison Keillor tried to retire a couple of times, but it seems this is the real thing, and it is fitting that he has ended A Prairie Home Companion 42 years after he started it. Not quite the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, but pretty close. I have not listened every week, but I have listened many weeks, and I remember hearing him for the first time early in the run. Pamela Hayes-Bohanan and I never saw the live show, but we did have the great privilege of seeing him as a solo act at our wonderful Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford -- a real treat of nothing but his story-telling.
Another public-radio great -- Scott Simon -- shared a moving tribute this morning, crediting Keillor with creating public radio as we know it.

We will miss him, but few deserve a retirement more than Keillor, and I suspect that he will continue to spin stories for years to come. And when he finally does set down his microphone for the last time, we have four decades of great works -- audio, print, and even a little bit of film -- to explore.

But what is so spatial about Keillor? In other words, why is his retirement acknowledged on a geography blog? The short answer is that just about everything that interests me can be seen as related to my way of thinking about geography. But in this case, I can offer a few specific connections.

First, Keillor told fictional stories about people we eventually came to feel we knew personally, and he put those characters in a place that he described with many details and with obvious affection. We could tell that it was similar to -- but distinct from -- the places he had grown up in. Almost like Tolkien, he created an entire imaginary world, but in this case it was a world quite small in scale and quite close to our own.

Second, he took the time to get to know the places where he found his audience. I spend a lot of time learning about New Bedford, but heard quite a few new things about it from his most recent monologue there. I was reminded of this when I listened to part of his penultimate PHC broadcast, from Tanglewood in the Berkshires. Not only was he sharing information about western Massachusetts with his audience, he was bragging about its many virtues, even though he does not live there. He simply loves places, and that makes him a geographer!

Third -- and this is a reach -- he named the most famous radio variety show of the past four decades for a biome. It does not get much more geographic than that!

Lagniappe
The New York Times also published a nice tribute, with a lot more detail about Keillor, including some early photos that are quite funny.

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