The Power of Weed(s)

As my classmates and I stand before a real prairie like the type we have been reading about, my professor makes it a point to say, “Plants will never lie to you.” After, he went on to point it how we could read the landscape as being a healthy one versus an unhealthy one. He pointed out the flowers that are often delicate and need a specific type of environment to thrive. Some plants can live in very damp soil while others prefer a little dryness and minimal moisture. He also goes on to point out the pretty plants we often find in our landscapes that are great at blending in with all of the “real” nice flowers, those that actually belong in a prairie landscape. All of this came to mind while I read Michael Pollan’s Weeds Are Us.

Ever since I became curious about working in the yard, I was always told to pull out the weeds and shown which of all the plants the weeds were. Now that I think back, I was never taught what the flowers were called but I knew how to distinguish a good green from a bad within a summer. I am sure I wondered how they ever got there if the person I was pulling weeds for clearly did not invite them. After reading Weeds Are Us, I actually sympathize with these plants.


“If we confine the concept of weeds to species adapted to human disturbance,

then man is by definition the first and primary weed under whose influence all other weeds have evolved.”

– Jack R. Harland in Crops and Man

Weeds were never native to the landscape to this country before the puritans arrived. They only grow and thrive in places where man has disturbed the land enough that native plants can no longer easily survive while weeds can. It is true when I recall the places where I see weeds growing the most. They arise from the cracks in the asphalt and pavement. They grow along the edges of buildings and in turf grass that has not yet been treated to get rid of weeds. We are in fact their creators and ignorantly struggle in vain to rid our desired landscapes of them. For these reasons, I feel that unless you are attempting to restore the landscape to what its native state would be you should be more patient with the weeds that come up before the rosebush. I feel that these guys deserve a chance or at least the time to be dealt with if you are providing the right environment for them unintentionally. I will no longer feel guilty about admiring the clovers, the dandelions, and the Queen Anne’s lace I come across. I will not refer to them as “wild” either as I have just learned that it wasn’t until the Puritans came over and expanded “civilization” that these plants arose.  


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Our Lawn


The sporting culture of hockey has its’ fair share of superstitions, and one that is evident today would the “playoff beard” through which fans take up the hockey player’s tradition of not shaving throughout the playoffs.  Well, during the Chicago Blackhawks 2013 playoffs, one resident of the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge took the superstition to a whole new level by embracing what he called the “playoff lawn”.  Although claiming this to be a shear happen-stance moment, the homeowner seemed at peace with the notion that their lawn would continue to become “unruly” in sacrifice for their team performing well in the playoffs.  As to be expected, the city of Park Ridge felt differently in the matter.  After sending notice that the lawn needed to be maintained, and still receiving no compliance by the resident, the city then sent someone to mow the lawn for the homeowner. 

If we treat the lawn as nature, then to say this “playoff lawn” needs to be one certain way over the other is to stake claim to only one suitable form of nature.  However, what I find compelling about this sequence of events is the apparent dichotomy of the lawn’s public and private ownership.



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Conquering the Elements

Repeatedly, humans have tried to conquer natural phenomena and control ecosystems, small and large. 20% of The Netherlands lies below sea level, Venice has struggled to stay above water for centuries and continues to do so, and many large cities, Chicago included, were built on land previously unsuitable for building.

Despite these achievements, many events have proven that we have little defense against catastrophic events. Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in the United States, and the recent typhoon in the Philippines have proven that. Despite all of these occurrences, people continue to try to conquer nature.

Shell, one of the largest fossil fuel extracting companies in the world has just completed the hull of a ship that is longer than the Empire State Building is tall. Used for nothing but natural gas extraction in the sea north of Australia, this behemoth, named Prelude, is built to withstand the cyclones of the region. Shell claims it will produce enough natural gas to power a city the size of Hong Kong.  It just makes you wonder, this ship is the prelude to what?

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Vacations in Nature


Recent trends have seen people begin to vacation near and among the world’s natural wonders. While this can be good in many ways, drawing positive attention and the associated money to ecological areas of importance the reality of these vacations is far from good.

Years ago, the “thing to do” was take a vacation in the tropical rainforest, be it Central America or Southeast Asia. However, what really happened was thousands of westerners flocking to remote locations, burning fossil fuels all the way, to then stay in a 5 star resort in the middle of the jungle. Doing these neither does justice to the nature of the places, as spectacular as they are, nor do these vacations even deserve to be called “within nature”.

After reading an article about the possibility of underwater hotels, I can only think of the true way to experience these places. Get cold, get wet and maybe even bitten by a snake. That is a vacation in nature.

Photo: Viceroy Bali Hotel, Bali, Indonesia

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Lines on a Map

Lines on a Map

Even today, nations battle over lines on maps. Territorial disputes have existed since the dawn of man, and today they are as prevalent as ever. Most people think of disputed land in the Middle East, and there is no doubt that exists. Palestine and Israel continue to fight over borders arbitrarily drawn by outsiders 50 years ago.

However, recent developments in the East China Sea have brought one of the modern nations, and one of the most rapidly modernizing nations into conflict. A group of islands, known as Senkaku to the Japanese, and Diaoyu in China, are the focus of this most recent tension. Taiwan also claims the islands. Last September the Japanese government nationalized the islands, increasing the levels of tension. The islands are located near lucrative natural gas fields, and shipping lanes and as China’s maritime power has grown it has further pushed the envelope. Last month China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone that includes the disputed islands and overlaps with Japan’s preexisting zone. This in itself does not mean any physical conflict is looming, but in this modern era the lines on a map should not mean enough to cause war, but the reality is much different.

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Traveling Via V

“The conscious emulation of life’s genius is a survival strategy for the human race, a path to a sustainable future. The more our world looks & functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.”


I do not know how people have thought to model things to resemble the designs found in nature. However, this idea was genius and I believe that current advancements in technology can attest to that. Who knew that while trying to develop solutions to what we believe to be new and exotic to the present generation, the answer may lie in nature and actually be hundreds of years old? One example that impresses me is the idea of implementing the V-formation bird flocks take into jets flying cross-country. When birds travel in v-formation, one bird’s flapping wings creates a small updraft that lifts the bird that follows that one. Then, as each bird passes the others to get to the front, each one adds its own energy to the stroke of the other birds helping the flock to maintain flight. Alternating their order throughout their flight also helps in dispersing the exertion.

Why is any of this important to us? Well, if you like to travel than you are aware of one method used daily: the airplane. People are constantly flying and there are several jets that go out daily to and from different airports. These vehicles also require fuel just like any car. A group of researchers at Stanford University have envisioned that passenger airlines could learn from this and save fuel by imitating the birds’ tactics. They imagine jets from airports on the West Coast meeting up and flying in packs to their East Coast destinations and applying the birds’ technic of rotating position during flight. They have estimated that jets would save up to 15% of the fuel typically used! Considering that we are worried about gas emissions into our atmosphere, I do not see any reason why this should never be implemented. I also think it’d be quite an experience to fly during this process and even interesting, still, to spectators down below.   

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Earthquakes of Man

CoalmineEarthquakes are commonly thought to be caused by plate tectonics and volcanic activity, but there are many more reasons out there, some of them due to the influence of people on the Earth. When a human-caused quake happens in an area with no active faults the results are minimal, but if people agitate an already active fault the results could be devastating. 25% of Britain’s earthquakes have been initiated by humans, according to Christian Klose, a geohazards researcher at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. (Klose. Occurrence of Earthquakes 2013) Most of these were caused by the mining of coal and potash. These earthquakes have little to do with explosions and blasting, but simply the movement of massive amounts of mass, aided by machines of course. Australia’s only fatal earthquake, in 1989, is thought to have been caused by 200 years of coal mining.

Our thoughtful species has caused earthquakes in a number of other ways as well. Building dams can increase the weight of water in concentrated locations and injecting liquids into the earth’s crust, as the US Army did with waste in 1961, both have caused earthquakes. Presently many US states are undergoing legal processes determining how to address the issue of hydraulic fracturing. But is there even a debate? We have seen human caused earthquakes already, and is a few more years of fossil fuel dependence worth it? Let’s stick to sporting events to cause quakes.

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