November Shimmer

November Shimmer

November Shimmer

The air was still, the light was soft and diffuse, the trail beckoned. I haven’t always been a fan of fall but Illinois does it really really well. The ticks and mosquitoes have gone away, mercifully, and the temperatures have moderated. There is a lovely lavender cast to the sky which makes the fall foliage pop.

In this particular woodland there are some hills to climb which I appreciate, both for the exercise and for the vistas. I’ll be bringing you more, soon, I hope. These sisters are maple saplings. I’m a little ambivalent about maples, to be honest. They would love to replace our oak-hickory forests, which are maybe not as pretty but which provide valuable food and shelter for a great number of creatures. In my mind, maples belong along the Eastern corridor. But one thing nature has tried to teach me is that life is all about change. So, I look for the meaning in these shifting forests.Β  There is a question many don’t want to consider…maybe the ecosystems we work so hard to protect were not meant to be held in amber.Β  Over the course of nearly 3 decades I’ve participated in restoration work, mostly as a volunteer. As the years passed I noticed that the list of invasives grows every year, land managers grow ever more stressed out, and herbicide use has increased tremendously. I’ve never been a fan of using chemicals on the land, but I was told that it was the only way to control invasive trees and garden escapees that are overrunning our natural areas. I went along with this, reluctantly, for awhile. Until I began to notice that it doesn’t even work. So I’ve been asking the question~what if we don’t do that anymore?Β  Yes, I suppose some species will be lost but maybe they won’t. Or maybe a new balance will establish itself, if we stop getting in there and trying to control it.

I dunno. I’d love to see some studies on it. I am starting to see some books appear on the library shelves, other people asking the same question. What a relief it would be if our preserves could go back to being a place to relax and stop being battlegrounds. Who knows, maybe other aspects of life on this planet would also find a natural balance if we would all stop trying to control everything. Isn’t that what religious extremism of all stripes is, the desire to tell the other guy how to behave?

Of course, my mind immediately tosses up “yeah, buts” at me. What about the stand of trees I saw this week with a dense carpet of reed canary grass growing under the trees, choking out all else? I don’t know. I do know that throwing chemicals and either/or mentality at it hasn’t worked. What do you think? Does anybody have any experience in this idea of helping new species live in harmony with existing ecosystems?

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66 thoughts on “November Shimmer

  1. “Who knows, maybe other aspects of life on this planet would also find a natural balance if we would all stop trying to control everything. ”
    Yes!! Sing it, sister! Your point is well taken. I also wonder what part we have played in creating the invasion problems–I suspect it is large. I suppose it is our nature as humans to continually try to modify our surroundings to our liking/whim? Maybe we are finally seeing the serious consequences, and we can slow down and reassess? Keep asking the questions, please! Nature will have its way with us anyway, so better to go with its flow than against it–we may suffer a lot less in the long run…

    1. You are so wise, Catherine. I love what you said, “Nature will have its way with us anyway…” Yes, it certainly will. And you are right, we have been moving species around the globe for a very long time, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. We really cannot undo that although taking a moment to reassess is a really good idea.

  2. You’ve posed a difficult question. One thing you said I agree with completely is about trying to tell others how to behave and what they believe is wrong.

    How to handle the invasive species is really a tough one. I don’t want to give up the fight against some of them. But, I fear, I’m in a losing battle.

    1. I’ve been interested in different things I’ve been reading, Jim. In England, for instance, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a truly native plant at this point. But they don’t get all upset the way we do. They make use of the plants. Native Americans used all parts of cattails, and so I imagine cattails never grew to form monocultures the way they do now.

  3. I’ve been thinking along the same lines. And a good point is that it is better to be at peace than in resistance. When it comes to invasives, my land is at least 50%, probably more, non-native. The birds have adapted to eating the berries and spreading them more. Are they nutritious enough fruit – who knows? One thing that is certain is that the earth is always changing, evolution is a constant, it is unrealistic to expect our environment to be static. Granted, humans have accelerated the process by globalization, so we are in the midst of a vast experiment with an unknown outcome, which may very well be the Sixth Extinction. No worries, the earth will recover in umpteen million years…

  4. I agree, Eliza. I may not like all the exotics rampaging through my area, but they are here so there is no point wringing my hands about it. Better to see what they might be good for, as your birds are doing.

  5. Beautiful artwork and description of the landscape. I’ve pondered the same thing about using pesticides/herbicides. I don’t use anything in my yard and have seen a wonderful variety of insects, reptiles and birds. I do have some invasive weeds but try to pull some out. They are pests but still provide a food source. Prickly pear cactus was introduced to Australia in the 1800s and covered millions of acres. It was a jungle of cactus and animals and humans couldn’t walk through. The introduction of cactoblastis moth from South America fixed up the problem though. Many years ago I worked with an entomologist who was researching natural biological control. Given a little help it can be an effective way to keep species balanced without the side effects of poisons. Unfortunately, we do have some terrible weed problems in Australia, brought about by over-grazing, removal of other vegetation, drought, and introduced species that flourish in our conditions. In some areas the only plant you can see for km is one species. In that case mechanical and chemical methods seem to be the only way to bring back some species. There are risks though. It’s a difficult topic. Most times it’s a problem we’ve created ourselves of course.

    1. Hi Jane πŸ™‚ Thank you, I’m so glad you like the painting!
      I agree that the weed problem is one we’ve created. In a garden, a weed often points out the problem. As you said, overgrazing, overcultivating, those things can disturb the soil and welcome in weeds. Sometimes the weeds can help by fixing nitrogen or correcting the pH. Also, plants have vulnerabilities, so if we but learn them we can control an invasive plant without using chemicals. Or at least, I believe this to be the case.

  6. Beautiful painting, Melissa. We do restoration work here too. We still try to get rid of invasives, not with chemicals, though. It’s hard, but so many invasives make it impossible for other things to grow. We usually have many volunteers, so that helps a lot. Native willows and cottonwoods are really easy to plant. It’s hard to get rid of the tamarask and Russian olive, but when you cut them down and replant with native species, they have a better chance of competing. There are many invasives that are poisonous too, so we try to get those out. I hear the part about change, and I also like to help with the balance when it was people who brought in the stuff that out competes the natives. We created this imbalance, so…

    1. I’m pleased to learn you do your restoration without chemicals. When I first got started, the conversation was about reversing 50 years of burn suppression and restoring the land to natural processes to the best of our ability. Somewhere along the way it became about fighting invasive plants. Not only are natural areas hampered by being chopped up, they are also beset by these invaders. So really, it is an entirely new phenomenon (from the perspective of millenia) for the world to cope with. Of course, the dust carried by wind has always carried an astonishing amount of seed and even little creatures from one continent to another. Still, not on the scale of human activity, moving species around. It could be quite interesting, if we pause long enough to really look. As a species we really seem to be too busy thrashing about to really see what is there for us to see. Who knows~maybe a new mix of species will be just what our world needs.
      When my family first moved to Illinois I had the run of hundreds of acres that didn’t seem to belong to anyone. Woods, field and wetland. To my knowledge nothing terrible had ever happened here. Fire suppression, some sheep farming. Yet I could not find any wildflowers and only a couple of species of tree. Cattails filled the wetland entirely. I wonder, was the absence of fire responsible for the dearth of diversity? This was before Buckthorn, Phragmites, Purple Loosestrife. It has always troubled me that such a large patch of land left to its own devices for so long had so little life in it.
      Also interesting to me is when I read information that suggests that different Native American tribes actively planted trees that they valued far from where one would expect to find them. It makes me wonder about the whole concept of native. Thank you so much for bearing with me as I muse on this, and for sharing your thoughts. I think the work you do is immeasurably valuable.

  7. It’s a lovely painting, so my instinct was to click on it to see more details, but like the image in your previous post, it’s also not enlargeable. If this is a trend, what made you change?

    On the more contentious topic of extremism, it’s easy to see a virtue in forbearance, but let me pose a hypothetical. Suppose we find out that a group of people in our town are practicing infanticide (as many societies throughout history have done, and some still do). If we intervene to stop the practice, would those people be justified in saying that we’re imposing our self-righteous way of behaving on them and that we should leave them alone?

    The question that you raised about natives versus non-natives is also a difficult one. One complicating factor is that species can change their native range all by themselves with no human intervention, although I’ll grant that in many cases human agency has greatly sped up the process. When I was in west Texas two weeks ago I noticed some little plants that grew as weak stalks with tiny reddish flowers on them. They appealed to me photographically, and I got down on the ground to take pictures of them, but they turned out to be Russian thistle, a.k.a. tumbleweed.

    1. Thank you, Steve, I’m so glad you like the painting. WP seems to have changed format on me again, and I’m not sure what is going on. I did notice on some of my paintings that they looked terrible when enlarged, so I thought if I made them larger to begin with people could see them fine without enlarging them. However this last post, WP wouldn’t let me set the size.
      Deciding when it is ok to step in is a slippery slope. Obviously a group that was committing infanticide should be stopped. But, as I understand it, certain Muslims have decided we must all be killed because of the rowdiness of our culture. And many of us, in turn, would like to wipe them off the planet. I can’t help but think of the Christians marching off in the Crusades, a bunch of self-righteous terrorists to be sure. Or the good folks who decided women should be burned at the stake because they understood how to use plants for medicine and therefore must be witches.
      The bottom line, maybe, is we cannot apply Occam’s razor to life’s decisions. So often I hear people try to over- simplify the challenges of today’s worlds so that blanket solutions can be decreed and we can all go back to our regularly scheduled program, or something. Plant by plant, situation by situation, each must be judged independently and not be treated to knee-jerk reactions such as gallons of herbicide or cries for war. If we can keep hatred and fear out of our judgement we should come out alright.

    2. Hello again,
      I went back and enlarged the image. Does it look bigger on your computer? Also I noticed that my link didn’t work so I redid that. That way you can look at it on my website which should let you embiggen it, as Jim would say πŸ™‚

  8. I do love your talent for painting. I envy you the ability to choose whatever light you like instead of waiting to be blessed by Mother Nature. πŸ˜‰

      1. Bank-wrangling is a dreadful way to spend a day. I was train-wrangling. My 60 min journey took over 2 hours as someone jumped in front of the train in front of us 😰

  9. I think so. Some species may not be able to compete with new species, but if we must continue to prop them up then it probably makes sense to let them sort themselves out, as you suggest. Thank you for commenting.

  10. I’ve found the image unclickable. But I like it quite a lot as it is. I enjoy seeing larger to appreciate your work. Sometimes things do “break down” a bit with enlargement, but generally we should be standing at a distance when studying a painting or a photograph so that’s understandable.

    Once introduced and gaining a foothold, I think that invasives can only be defeated by manually removing all traces which is not an easy task. I’ve tried that on a smaller scale here in the yard on Spurge, Lily of the Valley, Spiderwort and Wood Anemone.The tiniest bit of root is all it takes for a colony to reestablish.

    As to politics and religion…I’ve more or less bowed out of the discussion ( I reserve the right for a weak moment). Those who agree with us will agree and those who don’t won’t. Minds are rarely changed by a chat on the internet.

    1. Thank you, Steve.
      It is true that once established exotics can be hard to remove. But my point is, what if you don’t try? There are instances where they increase biodiversity, and by definition they are robust enough to handle the world as it is, global warming, pollution and all. A growing number of scientists are thinking they may even be what saves our soils and habitats, going forward.

  11. First, I have to say how much I like this painting. For whatever reason, I think it’s my favorite of all I’ve seen. You’re right about the lavender cast that autumn can bring, and it’s lovely.

    I had to smile when you said, “In my mind, maples belong along the Eastern corridor.” One of the most cherished and most visited natural areas in Texas is called Lost Maples. It’s named for an isolated stand of bigtooth maples. The wiki says, “Evidence suggests that the maples that give the preserve its name are relics: remnants of a larger, more widespread population that flourished during the cooler and wetter climate of the last glacial period. Today, soils and microclimate control their present distribution.”

    The point, I suppose, is that what we see today isn’t necessarily “how it’s ‘sposed to be.” It’s only how it is, now. Of course we’ll want to preserve certain areas. Lost Maples was designated a State Natural Area rather than a State Park precisely so that the number of visitors and permitted activities could be limited, and great attention is paid to educating people on how to enjoy the area. (For example, the trees’ shallow root system is relatively delicate, so off-path hiking is discouraged.) But there’s evidence of long-term cycles of change throughout the state. The silting in of shallow bays along the central Texas coast has meant that farmers — including some I’ve known — have turned over Spanish anchors and other artifacts with their plows. The fossilized clams and whelks that I plucked from the hillsides of the old place outside Kerrville recall a time when the sea covered the land. And so on.

    It seems to be an unpopular opinion today, but making ourselves and our time the measure of all things seems foolish to me.

    Something else that occurred to me when you mentioned fire is something I was told about prairie restoration in Kansas. The various prairies are dependent not only on fire, but also on the bison. Because their grazing patterns are different from cattle, they actually increase plant diversity where they’re allowed to roam. Given a home wihere the buffalo roam, many native plants will have a chance to thrive. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that these systems are far more complex than I’ve ever imagined.

    And I’m going on too long, so I’ll bid you good night and to go bed, with thanks for a great, thought-provoking post.

    1. I’ve been thinking about this all day, and doing some reading. I think you might enjoy this, from Aldo Leopold:

      “”The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little we know about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not.

      If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

      1. Oh, yes! This is one of my favorite passages of his writing. I read a wonderful passage by Martha Beck yesterday that has stuck in my mind. She said that a bad artist pretends nothing bad ever happens. A good artist gets stuck in the bad place, like the artists who insist on painting or singing about the grit and crime of a city. A great artist is one who can find their way through hell and back to the peace and grace of the other side. She was saying that we are all artists, in the way we create our lives and our response to the world as it is. I think, then, that Mr. Leopold would not have ranted about invasive species that, like it or not, have arrived. I think rather he would have sought a way to incorporate them into the habitats he worked to restore.

    2. Thank you so much! I am honored that you like this painting and this post so much.
      I’ve read of the Lost Maples and love that story. It is a reminder of the mystery that surrounds us, and the history of change you mention.
      Yes, it is startling to realize that the presence of bison will actually increase the number of plant and bird species, isn’t it? I recently read of a ranch in California where cattle are raised strictly on pasture~no grain. Not only are the cows more healthy, but so is the land on that ranch. It is a last stronghold of a rare salamander, its habitat maintained by the presence of grazing cattle! I found this very heartening. I do not know how to create links here, but you may be interested in reading about the accelerator ring at the Fermi Lab in Illinois. Bob Betz set about restoring the land inside the ring to prairie, and the crowning touch was to return a small herd of bison there. Isn’t that neat?

  12. As others have noted, your painting is beautiful. For me the ‘aliveness’ of the tree in the foreground really spoke to me. Though it is small in stature compared to the larger tree in the duller background, kind of speaks well to your questions about invasive species. What I like the most in your piece here was the moment of asking the question: what if we let the invasive species be? I think the more we ask ourselves these type of questions that seem to be one hundred and eighty degrees out of phase with the typical perspectives, the more we discover there are neither simple nor universally right answers. Everything, as you said in one of your comments, seems to be dependent upon its context and surroundings, and as we discover this, and realize the fluidity of change, if we are willing to see it we can get into a really interesting place where we learn to savor living with the question. It’s a hard thing to do I think. But we realize how little we know, and how what is is at once more delicate and more complex than we had dared to imagine. For me the answer lies in giving ourselves to that which we love, having a vision for what we desire to create, and a connection to the land and all of the elements involved so that our work is a statement of relationship with the scene before us.

    Thank you for such an interesting question!


    1. Hello, Michael, and thank you for your wonderful response. You are so good with words, you’ve expressed what I was reaching for beautifully.
      I’m grateful for coming across your blog.
      Peace to you.

  13. Gorgeous painting :-). Fall was such a long time ago here. The yellows, bright reds and maroons made it easy to forgive the much colder mornings. And now there is the sparkling snow and sunsets that are 15 minutes later than Vancouver’s.

    Tough question. I always think of invasive humans when I read about invasive plants. Some invasions are less destructive than others. And some counter-invasion measures are better than others. It was interesting to read others’ responses. I have a feeling that the key to a healthy ecosystem is diversity. So, maybe, as long as that is maintained, life is thriving. I liked that Jane mentioned the introduction of a moth to counteract the overabundance of a cactus. Life is so complicated. So many little players enhancing and suppressing each other!

    1. Thank you, Myriam πŸ™‚ You are right, life is complicated.
      I’m reading more about this, and am finding that a lot of invasive ecology policy is set by agencies that are funded by Monsanto and Dow. Hm.

  14. Yes, I recommend “The New Wild” and “Beyond The War on Invasive Species”. The first is entertaining, the second is a bit more grim but full of good information.
    I hope you have a merry Christmas!

    1. Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll check them out some time soon. I’m still enjoying Aldo’s encounters with nature in A Sand County Almanac. I find many of his descriptions beautiful and touching. And he makes some interesting observations – on hunting and on how human activity is changing the land around him. I find it interesting that he wrote it many decades ago. Some things are the same and some things are different.

      I travelled to see some family a little before Christmas, which was nice. Hope you had some merry holiday times :-).

  15. Hello, Melissa, thanks for following my miniscule blog πŸ™‚ Your art is fabulous and I look forward to perusing more of your thoughtful posts. I need to get it together and put something up on mine, haha.

  16. Beautiful painting and a thoughtful post on a difficult subject. I’ve been working with a local conservation group that does invasive species removal, so I’ve thought about it and worked on it on a modest scale.

    It’s a daunting problem, but I’m inclined not to just give up. Some people in conservation that I know have given up because of the scale of the problem and the expenses of dealing with it.

    If we pick our battles by finding areas that are important, removing species that are taking over, and trying to make it possible for native species to compete successfully, we can make a difference. That won’t eradicate invasives, but it will help alleviate them.

    I prefer mechanical means to remove invasive plants, but I’m not averse to approved chemicals such as glyphosates, if they are used properly. Or to biological controls for invasive insects after they have been tested, such as the beetle that has been introduced to control purple loosestrife or the fly that may help with winter moth.

    1. Thank you, Tom πŸ™‚
      It certainly is nice to have the purple loosestrife under control. Now my friends and I can go out in the field and say, “Oh, isn’t it pretty?” instead of “OH NO!”. The trouble with the chemicals is that the substances they break down into do not just go away, as I’ve been told they do. Glyphosate, for example, binds up the minerals in the soil, making them unavailable to plants. This is what kills the target plant, but may explain why we see native plants struggle to recover in the same spot. And, it doesn’t even work. I’ve seen places where intense work was done to eradicate buckthorn, with brushcutting, Roundup, and burning, followed up with seeding of native species. A few years later the site is a solid stand of buckthorn once again. I think what we need to do instead of trying to rid ourselves of an invading species is ask ourselves what exactly the species is doing there. What disturbance is occurring to favor it, or what wound is it trying to heal. It may be that it is a master of bringing nutrients up to the surface, or it copes with a toxin or land use regime in the area that native plants aren’t equipped to handle. If that is the case, no amount of warfare on the invasive will restore the former ecosystem. In many cases I think we are shooting the messenger without finding out what the message is.

      1. I hadn’t hear that about glyphosate – the New England Wildflower Society suggested glyphosates for invasive plants such as knotweed in a presentation I heard a few years back.
        Glossy buckthorn comes back, I assume, because of dormant seed, or it’s reseeded by birds. YOu jst have to keep after it.
        Some invasive plants outcompete native plants because they are free of the things that consume them in their native ecosystem. That was the reason for introducing the loosestrife beetle – the beetle is what controls loosestrife in its native Europe.

      2. I didn’t know that about glyphosate!

        Buckthorn comes back because of dormant seed, or resowing by birds. You just have to keep after it. Garlic mustard seeds are viable for 7 years, so you have to keep pulling for that long, or so.

        Some invasive plants outcompete native plants because the invasives have escaped from what consumed them in their native ecosystem. The theory behind the loosetrife beetle was to introduce something that eats purple loosestrife from Europe, the native habitat for loosestrife. But after making sure that the beetle only ate loosestrife, and wouldn’t ravage native plants.

  17. Beautiful, just stunning painting Melissa! I discovered your site through Steve Gingold’s blog.

    Our attempt to control nature are rooted in demands of an uncontrolled population growth by our own species as well as the never ending demand for GROWTH. Farms need to be more productive, increasing yields. Economies demand continued growth as a sign of “progress”

    Sadly I am a bit pessimistic that we will ever get our act together unless forced by some catastrophic global events.

    1. Hi Mark,
      Thank you so much for stopping by and your kind comment about my work.
      It is true that there are a lot of challenges created by our species and it can be discouraging. Sometimes pessimism swamps me but finding other people who care and who take personal responsibility for their choices helps me keep a spark of hope alive. May you feel hope today and going into this shiny new year.

      1. Your welcome Melissa. I agree with you, I do find hope in those that take those responsibilities, but often find myself discouraged at the same time because it takes so much more than those that are currently doing it. It seems our society almost has a built in end date. I do appreciate your positive thoughts and need to focus mine in that direction as well! πŸ™‚

  18. A beautiful and very topical post, Melissa. The eradication of invasive species is taken very seriously in NZ, though I have heard suggestions during a recent radio interview that perhaps trying to eradicate every single mammalian pest could do more harm than good. This article from The New Yorker about NZ is very interesting. There are wonderful areas in Christchurch where invasive plants have been eradicated and natives planted. Or where wetlands have been restored. However, to eradicate all the unwanted species in NZ is a massive task, and maybe not even feasible on such a large scale. In some cases it may well be better to adjust and co-exist. The Welcome Swallow introduced itself to NZ in the 1950s. Some feared it would push out the native fantail (which in fact also introduced itself from Australia). This has not happened. Both do well. And we call them our own natives. πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you! I really appreciate your kind words.It can be a depressing subject. I am only recently coming on board with the idea that removing exotic species can do more harm than good and that perhaps we would do better to embrace “novel ecosystems”. This is easier here, especially when I read that Native Americans had a lot to do with what European settlers found here than was at first thought. But…(my dad used to tease me about saying “yeah, but” there are exceptions. What a loss it would be to lose the essence of NZ.

      1. And here’s another little thought. Bumble bees were introduced to New Zealand to help pollinate red clover crops. If we were to return NZ to its pristine NZ state we would have to eliminate the bumble bees. That would not be a happy state!

  19. I believe we should live in harmony with nature. Much of our “progress” has taken a toll on the earth and on the human race. In Oregon we have a standoff over land rights that ended in one person’s death. Yes, we need places to refresh our souls. Portland has many parks which is wonderful. Good post! Lori

  20. This one is very beautiful. I’m a huge fan of fall.. aside from the fact winter follows.
    My degree is in Natural Area’s Mgmt and I’ve also read all the other comments before writing.
    I agree with most. To bring the land back to the past, we must go back to the past and that’s not happening. Bison grazing and fire are not practical in all areas anymore. I also agree that chemical maintenence is not the answer either. I’m going for a preventative approach. We need to stop the selling and the planting of invasive species.
    I work for a landscaper, who’s last designer was hooked on planting pears, burning bush and countless other invasive species. Since she’s gone now, I’ve stopped using those species and now use either natives or ‘not so invasive’ species in my designs. Sadly, my boss is hooked on pears and we plant at least 50 a season. I cringe every time I order one. Now, if these weren’t available to buy, he’d be SOL.
    I’m rarely for ‘big government’, however someone has to stop uneducated landscapers from planting these invasives in bulk and regular Joe’s from buying them from a nursery.
    Take mulch volcanoes for example… Goodness! How did this become standard landscape practice?!? The regular Joe’s see the ‘professional’ landscapers do it and think it’s right. I can’t believe the widespread effects of this tree abuse.
    Ok. I think I’ve rambled on enough. Prevention is my angle. Period πŸ€“

    1. The best policy, for sure. I know what you mean about the pears. And don’t get me started on mulch volcanoes. My family watch me with concern when I see another tree in the neighborhood getting suffocated by one. Can’t people see the bark rotting away? I ask the same question~how did that get started?

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