Habitats and Cultures
Our trip began in Big Basin State Park, amid the coastal redwood trees protected in this park. Here we learned that the park owes its origin to the efforts of Andrew P. Hill, a photographer and artist and a group of concerned citizen/activists he drew together. The importance of individuals and non-government organizations was a theme that developed throughout the trip.
Much of the nation's fresh fruits and vegetables are grown in California. The Pajaro Valley has some of the richest agricultural and in the country, and is renown for its strawberry crop. We visited farms with exemplary practices. A large-scale grower, working on leased land adjacent to the Elkhorn Slough, has rehabilitated the property through development of buffers, leading to marked improvement in the water quality in the adjacent estuary. Live Earth Farms provided insights into a whole new agricultural paradigm of organic, community supported and serving agriculture.
Strawberry variety "Albion" met with approval!
At Live Earth Farms, the farmer avoids all chemical pesticides, rotates crops, and employs enlightened labor practices. His farm serves a local clientele. This model of community supported, sustainable agriculture is appealing, but challenging at the same time. We could see no difference in productivity, appearance or flavor between the organic and "chemically" grown strawberries. But, coming from Michigan, would we be willing to only eat what our farmers could grow locally?
Strawberries ready for the picking. Though many best management practices are used, this grower still uses methyl bromide periodically to fumigate the soil.
To "pay" for our time with the farmer, we spent a few hours helping out on the farm, washing produce, packing shares, moving seedlings out of the greenhouse and planting flats of vegetables.
While in the Watsonville/Pajero Valley area, we camped at Sunset State Beach, on a bluff overlooking Monterey Bay. Most evenings, the Sunsets lived up to expectations.
History and People
An interesting part of this trip was our interaction with Professor Dianne Guenin-Lelle's class in French Culture, which was also on a trip in the area. This allowed us to explore historical and cultural aspects in more detail than we normally do on these trips
In Lafayette, the historic center of Cajun culture, we visited Vermillionville to explore its living history displays of what life in the area was like over a hundred years ago. Here the group pulls a ferry across an inlet in the river.
Cajun culture today is expressed in food, music and dance. The group experienced all three in Randol's restaurant in Lafayette. Here Amy and Chie enjoy the omnipresent crawfish. The next day we say many examples of crawfish farms.
A group photo in St. Martinville on Bayou Teche. The owner of this property maintained that this is the true 'Evangeline oak", not the tree with the historic marker half a block away. Regardless, both trees, and the historic town, were well worth the visit. In this area, we also visited the Longfellow - Evangeline State historic site, with its early 19th century indigo/sugar plantation.
We ended our trip with a day in New Orleans. Here the group gathers in Jackson Square for a lecture by Professor Guenin-Lelle. People then dispersed to explore the City on their own. We were impressed that the city is a world that appears to be separate from the surrounding wetlands. The fact is, loss of wetlands means loss of the buffer that helps protect the city from the sea.
A significant aspect of the deltaic habitats is the salinity gradient that exists between the river and the sea. Fresh water marshes yield to salt marshes over many miles, providing a range of habitats that supports the region's biodiversity.
In the State Arboretum, near Lafayette, Laura inspects skink eggs in a freshwater marsh. We also saw upland forests in this wonderful preserve.
Cypress is one of the hallmark species of the area. Many old growth stands of cypress have been lost, and with them species dependant on this habitat, most notably the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, once a hallmark species in the area.
A swamp tour from Houma took us from fresh into brackish marsh. During the tour, we met a fisherman who had caught a saltwater fish (redfish) in an area that had been a pasture during the memory of our guide...startling testimony to the related problems of subsidence and saltwater incursion in the area.
We had a chance to see the Gulf of Mexico from Grand Island, one of Louisiana's barrier islands. The water was chocolate colored from suspended sediment. We could count over a dozen off shore oil rigs on the horizon, testifying to the economic importance of this area.
Restoration of the Bay is easy to talk about, hard to accomplish. A major point of our trip was to talk to people working toward this goal. Their efforts range from scientific research to public education and political action. Overall, we were impressed with the effort, the level of public awareness and resources being brought to bear on the problems besetting the bay.
Understanding the complexity of biological, physical and social factors that affect the Bay is the first step to saving the bay. We spent a fascinating day at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) near Annapolis. This world-class research center hosts a wide range of studies relevant to the Bay and broader issues as well. Above left. we are looking at a long-term study of the effects of elevated CO2 levels on carbon cycling in a salt marsh environment. A SERC scientist discusses his research in marine biology with one of our students.
The National Aquarium in Baltimore hosts research, public education, and bay restoration projects. In addition to the behind the scenes tour seen on the left, we enjoyed a session on the aquarium's educational program, and an afternoon of unstructured time in the aquarium and Baltimore's inner harbor area.
Our time at the Bay culminated with a visit to the Phillip Merril Center, headquarters of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The building is the first to receive the U.S. Green Building Council's Platinum rating for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The Foundation hosts an impressive number of restoration efforts, including public education in its many protected areas and work with policy makers to encourage public action. It was a fitting place to end our visit to the Bay.