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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

August 22, 2003

Air Date: August 22, 2003


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California Cleaning / Ingrid Lobet

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We hear lots of stories about efforts to ban chemicals. But Ingrid Lobet reports that for Koreans in the Los Angeles area a proposal to phase out the dry cleaning solvent perchloroethylene strikes close to home. (07:30)

Bug Splats

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Bug splatter on your car bumper may be more than just messy gunk. Mark Hostetler, a wildlife biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, has made a small science of studying insect road kill. He talks with host Steve Curwood about the fine distinctions between green and yellow smears. (04:30)

Almanac/Hot Air Balloon

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This week, we have facts about hot air balloons. It was 293 years ago that the first prototype took off and set fire to the drapes in King John V's chambers. (01:30)

Family Ties / Robin White

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We hear a lot about the loss of family farms, but less about those that are making it. Some of their struggles are not financial, but familial. Robin White provides a view from inside. (09:00)

Shirt Scraps / Linda Tatelbaum

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Sometimes when we harvest a garden, we take down more than fruits and vegetables. Commentator Linda Tatelbaum tells her story of the memories that are tied up in her crops. (03:00)

Zen Garden

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Scientists in Kyoto have discovered what may be behind the extraordinarily calming effects of Japanese Zen gardens. Host Steve Curwood discusses these findings with researcher Gert Van Tonder. (03:00)

Emerging Sciences Note/Sensitive Robots / Jennifer Chu

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Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a robot that can sense human stress. (01:20)

Bypassing Bycatch / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

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As fisheries across the nation face closures and cuts that could bring economic disaster, regulators are trying to balance the needs of fishermen and the needs of fish. Others say regulation isn’t the only answer. Some scientists and fishermen in New England are looking instead at fishing gear as a way to solve the problem. Living on Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports. (15:00)

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Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodREPORTERS: Ingrid Lobet, Robin White, Anna Solomon-GreenbaumCOMMENTARY: Linda TatlebaumGUESTS: Mark Hostetler, Gert van TonderNOTES: Jennifer Chu

CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. As fish stocks continue to dwindle, forcing many fisherman out of work, we take a look at some of the latest designs in fishing gear for ocean sustainability. Proponents say a little stitch here, a little stitch there could help save an industry.

MANFRIDI: I do believe that if we deconstruct the wheel a little bit, and make gear a little less efficient – or more efficient at catching target species – we can let these guys fish almost as much as they want.

CURWOOD: And hard times in the mom and pop industry of dry cleaning. The problem is the chemical used to get the dirt out.

CHIN: They invest all there money into this business. They need to get something out of it. They can’t afford to change, and then their family is getting sick, and, you know, the stakes are high.

CURWOOD: Those stories and more, this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this.


FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, and Stoneyfield Farm.

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California Cleaning

CURWOOD: Welcome to this encore edition of Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. There are, in the United States, about 35,000 dry cleaners. Most are run by families. Many of those families are first generation Americans, and most of them spend tens of thousands of dollars on machines that wash clothes using a chlorinated solvent instead of water. That solvent, perchloroethylene or perc, turns out to be dangerous to human health. You don't want to breathe it and you don't want to drink it.

Concerns about contamination of groundwater have regulators in southern California pushing for a phase-out of perc. But as Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports, some of the dry cleaners say perc is not that easy to give up, even if it is harmful.

LOBET: It's hard to imagine an industry that relies more on a single chemical than dry cleaning. So, when southern California air officials said they might phase out perchloroethylene, more than 500 owners, many of them Korean, left their shops for the day and packed a public hearing.


LOBET: The business owners rebuked air officials, saying they understated the costs of changing equipment, and overstated the risks of perc. Charles Kim of the Korean-American Coalition, likened the campaign against perc to the way Korean businesses suffered during the Los Angeles riots a decade ago.

KIM: Ten years after, Korean dry cleaners are here today and are feeling they were being victimized again. We're becoming the killers and polluters, and then you know, we're the cause of the problem. All of this bad air, bad water that we drink and breathe. Of course, who doesn't want to breathe clean air, and also drink clean water? We all do.

LOBET: Dry cleaners say they've clamped down dramatically on perc vapors, and regulators agree. But officials say their surveys show half of what is loaded into machines is still ending up in surrounding neighborhoods. UCLA's Dr. John Froines has studied perchloroethylene for more than a decade. He testified at the hearing.

FROINES: And I can say unequivocally that the evidence of the toxicity of perchloroethylene has increased in the past ten years.

LOBET: Back then he said perc was associated with cancers of the esophagus and cervix.

FROINES: New findings have indicated ovarian cancer in women, bladder cancer and other cancers of the female organs.

LOBET: The manufacturers of perc, including Dow Chemical, say the risk is far lower than regulators claim. The EPA lists perc as a possible or probable carcinogen. Dry cleaning owners insist it's too costly to replace perc machines with cleaner alternatives.

But privately, away from the glare, perc is a more personal story, woven into the lives of dry cleaning families. And some shop owners, like this one on the outskirts of LA, will tell you--perc is making them sick.



VOICEOVER: Well, to be quite frank with you, when it comes to perchloroethylene, this is a toxic substance. It is toxic.

LOBET: This shop owner asked us not to use his name, fearing pressure from the Korean-American Dry Cleaner's Association. Above us swung the laundered clothes of working people, in plaid and denim.



VOICEOVER: Basically, I've been in this business for about 16 years and lately I have begun to feel that maybe there is something not quite right with my breathing these days. Sometimes we end up inhaling the vapors, and sometimes we inhale a lot. That's when I start experiencing these sorts of problems, and just the feeling is just not good.

LOBET: His symptoms may not be related to perc, but in visits to other cleaners, people tell similar stories. Bill Pourdavoudi used to run his own shop. Now he sells dry cleaning equipment.


POURDAVOUDI: You know, I've been in this business 20 years. The reason I quit the job was the perc. I had the allergy. I couldn't continue. There’s so many problems, your kidney, your liver, skin problem, rash. Sometimes I get a rash, or sometimes getting headache. You don't realize. You don't realize right away, but after a while you will find out.

LOBET: But even though people, especially in the Korean community, have lived with perc for many years, rarely is it discussed publicly as a community health issue. Dr. Sue Young Chin works with KHEIR, a large Korean health organization in Los Angeles. She says it's a hard subject to broach because so much capital, so many dreams, are wrapped up in this one industry.

CHIN: People do get sick, and they don't know why they're getting sick. Because, you know, Korean immigrants aren't told "Well, these are the side effects of the chemicals." They invest all their money into this business. They need to get something out it; they can't afford to change, and then, their families getting sick. And, you know, the stakes are high.

LOBET: So common is dry cleaning among Koreans that few people are many steps removed from it. Dr. Angela Jo is a resident at a clinic in LA's Koreatown. I asked her how difficult it might be for a Korean physician to speak openly about the potential health effects of dry cleaning solvents. She sighed.

JO: Hmm. That's actually a tough question. You know, specifically because my parents are dry cleaning business owners, and, you know, they raised my siblings and me, and they sent two of us to medical school, and one is finishing up his Ph.D. So we have a lot to be grateful for, you know, for this small business that my dad and mom ran.

LOBET: Those, who like Dr. Jo, do favor gradually doing away with perchloroethylene, nearly always stress that the government must ease the cost of changing to an alternative: hydrocarbon solvent, silicon, liquid CO2, or wet cleaning. Estimates of this cost vary widely, from $30 to 90,000. In the San Francisco Bay area, one of out of every six cleaners is already using a perc alternative. But Paul Choe, president of the Korean American Dry Cleaner's Association, says the prospect of switching methods has him in knots.


PAUL CHO: I have to worry about my house payments and car payments and support my children's tuitions. At night when I go to bed, I get nervous, and I don't know what to do.

LOBET: Air officials vote on phasing out perc December 6. One proposal would let businesses keep using the solvent, but require they get newer perc technology. Another would make dry cleaners replace equipment as it becomes 15 years old with a cleaner alternative. In that case, the region would become the first in the country to force a phase out of perc.

For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.

[MUSIC: XTC “Millions” Drums & Wires Artist Direct BMG (2002)]

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Bug Splats

CURWOOD: If you've just come back from a long road trip, chances are you picked up a few thousand squished hitchhikers. But before you take a squeegee to clean those insects off your windshield, consider that you can learn a thing or two from bug splats.

That's what Mark Hostetler would tell you. He's a professor and wildlife biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville who has been studying windshield splatter as a hobby. The result is his book, That Gunk on Your Car: A Unique Guide to Insects of North America. Mark Hostetler joins me now from his primary research location, the Greyhound bus station. Welcome, sir.


HOSTETLER: Glad to be here.

CURWOOD: So why are you down at the bus station?

HOSTETLER: While we're here, there's a few buses that will be coming in from Jacksonville and Tallahassee. And given the weather – it's pretty humid out – they're going to be covered in insects. And we're going to check out some of the remains of these insects and see if we can identify a few of them.

CURWOOD: Now how do you identify an insect from just a smear? What do you look for?

HOSTETLER: Well, its color, texture, size. I did not do taste or smell for people. But many of the insects you can tell by, what we call, different families or orders of insects. So I can tell the difference between, let's say, a dragonfly versus a butterfly.

CURWOOD: What exactly is the difference between a dragonfly splat and, say, a butterfly splat?

HOSTETLER: Well, the butterfly splat tends to be much more yellow. That's the combination of the inside portions of the insect and also the pollen that it's carrying. So those tend to be much more yellow, creamier than a dragonfly splat that tends to be a little bit gunkier. It tends to be more three-dimensional, with parts of the dragonfly in there. And it tends to be more of a gray, creamy color.

CURWOOD: What's the strangest insect splat that you've ever found?

HOSTETLER: Probably the one that's the most fascinating is, if you ever hit a firefly or a lightning bug, as they call those up north, when you hit them, it's like going through a time warp because they actually leave a glowing residue for a split second on your windshield. So as you drive through a batch of them, you actually have a bunch of glowing residues going off your windshield.


HOSTETLER: Here comes a bus right now. Let's go over there and take a look at it. This bus is from – I believe it's from Jacksonville. And we're in Gainesville. So it's gone across maybe about 70, 80 miles. And we're looking at the front. It is pretty much covered full of those very specimens here. There's a lot of mosquitoes and midges because it's been a cloudy day. And they've come out even during a cloudy day, the mosquitoes do.

CURWOOD: How can you tell it's a mosquito versus a midge? Isn't it just sort of muck or yuck?

HOSTETLER: Well, with the buses, this is the way I identify them for the book, actually collect the data, is that when they hit the flat surface, they stick. So you have portions of the bodies along with the splat there. So I can look at the bodies and determine what they are.

When you hit them on your windshield on your passenger car, your windshield is sloped, and usually they'll ricochet up over your car. So you won't see the insect again. And, there's actually a couple of – what is that? It's a ladybug, upside down ladybug that's stuck on the bumper here.

CURWOOD: What's the easiest insect splat to identify? And what's the hardest?

HOSTETLER: Well, probably the smaller insects are the hardest. Like, we have a chapter in the book called No-See-Ums. And these are just little watery smears. And you don't know which no-see-um, or is it a small fly, et cetera. So the smaller the insect, the harder it is to identify.

But the easiest ones are definitely the moths and butterflies. Those tend to be the largest splats. And the way their wings are structured when they hit, they actually drag up your windshield. So it's not usually a compact splat. It's strung out for a number of centimeters.

CURWOOD: What do you find on motorcycle helmets?

HOSTETLER: I have not checked motorcycle helmets. Now that's an up close and personal encounter with a splat!

CURWOOD: Mark Hostetler is a wildlife biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He's also author of the insect guide That Gunk on Your Car: A Unique Guide to Insects of North America. Thanks for speaking with me today and happy hunting.

HOSTETLER: Yeah. Have fun. Thanks a lot.

CURWOOD: You can hear our program anytime on our website. The address is livingonearth.org. That’s livingonearth.org. You can send your comments to us at letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 20 Holland Street, Somerville, Masaachusetts, 02144. And you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That’s 800-218-9988. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15 dollars. Just ahead, how to keep the family down on the farm. You’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Badly Drawn Boy “Delta (Little Boy Blues)” About a Boy [Soundtrack] Artist Direct BMG (2002)]

Related link:
That Gunk on Your Car: A Unique Guide to Insects of the United States
By Mark Hostetler (Illustrator), Rebekah McClean (Illustrator), Meryl Klein

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Almanac/Hot Air Balloon

CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: John Williams “Paradise of Charioteers” Summon the Heros Sony (2000)]

Everyone knows hot air rises. But 293 years ago this week, Bartolomeo de Gusmao demonstrated that objects can go up with it. The Brazilian priest and inventor was showing off the first prototype of a hot air balloon to no other than Portugal's King John V.

During a court audience, he told the king that straw fire would lift a small half globe of paper to the ceiling of the king's royal chamber. De Gusmao's contraption took off, all right, but disaster was barely averted when the balloon drifted off and set fire to drapes and furniture. Nevertheless, humanity's dream of flight had literally left the drawing board.

Today's long distance balloons rely upon both helium and regular hot air that are contained in different compartments within the conical-shaped structures. Adventurers have reached altitudes of over four times the height of Mt. Everest in these heavy-duty balloons.

Now consider that materials like ultra-light Mylar and carbon alloys didn't exist in the 18th century. And you can see that it was far from easy for two French brothers, Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Etiene Montgolfier, to launch the world's first aeronauts in 1782.

King Louis XVI and 130,000 onlookers oohed and ahhed outside the palace at Versailles as they watched a very startled sheep, duck and rooster rise 1500 feet in the Montgolfier brothers' balloon made of linen. The airborne menagerie landed safely eight minutes later and two miles away. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.


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Family Ties

CURWOOD: We hear a lot about the demise of the family farm and it is true that corporate agriculture owns most of America’s farm acreage. But if you look at the numbers of farms, 98 percent are still owned by families, according to the federal government. That means from Omak, Washington, to Swainsboro, Georgia, perhaps two million people wake up each morning and step outside to work with their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, husbands, and wives. We don’t often hear about their struggles, but for two years, Robin White followed a farm family in California where the stress that comes from working with your relatives is pretty close to the surface.


WHITE: When Ted Bucklin returned to the tight fields of vegetables and flowers at Oak Hill Farm in Sonoma County, he knew nothing about running the place. He was studying for a Master’s in social work when he got a call from his mother. His stepfather had died and the family was deciding how to run the farm. It sits under an oak-covered mountain in the heart of the wine country.


WHITE: Pretty soon, Ted found himself supervising 13 employees, some of whom had been on the farm half his life.

BUCKLIN: Well, this is Chuy Soto. Chuy’s been working at Oak Hill Farm for 20--how many years, Chuy? Twenty-two years.


WHITE: In the cutting room, three men are clipping the ends off flowers and tying them into bunches. Ted introduces them by full name, and then he points up.

BUCKLIN: If you look on the ceiling, you can see all the statice and corn and different flowers that we dry, going upstairs in the barn here you can see more flowers, and then there’s boxes of flowers. And so, year round we’re always sort of chasing after this rainbow of stuff that’s growing on the farm.

WHITE: If Ted Bucklin sounds a little overwhelmed, it’s probably because he’s had to learn the business quickly and he’s made some big mistakes. His mother hired him. He may not have been the best man for the job, but family farmers often put family ties first, especially when they’re short of cash. When Ted took over, the farm was losing $60,000 a year. He increased efficiency and fired some long time employees.

BUCKLIN: That’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do. We’re talking about families that lived on the farm for 15 to 20 years, children who were born on this farm who had to move. This was their home. Ugh.

WHITE: The firings led to protests among the employees. Out in the fields, Chuy Soto is in charge. Chuy says Ted tried to move too fast.

SOTO: At the beginning it was kind of hard. He wanted this place to change dramatically and he thought it would be changed [SNAPS] like that. I’d say, “Well, you know, it’s not going to happen just suddenly.” Yes, we have hard times. I’ll tell you, once or twice I was ready to quit because we couldn’t communicate.

WHITE: Ted was risking one of his best employees. But it wasn’t just the workers who were upset. Some of the customers at the farm store were friends of the fired workers. In this small agricultural county, everyone is tied to everyone else and word got around. It was so unsettling that pretty soon Ted’s own job was on the block.


BUCKLIN: Hello, Mother. Can I come in about 15 minutes?

Mom has been to the point of such dissatisfaction with me that she fired me and I just refused. I said, “No way, and you’re a fool for trying to.” And since then, I’ve actually convinced her that she was wrong.

WHITE: Ann Teller is Ted’s mother.

TELLER: We have made a lot of mistakes. Some of the mistakes we’ve made together and some of them we’ve made in opposition to one another. And I’m sure it’s true in any family. You know, blood and money doesn’t always mix.

WHITE: If you spend any time in farming communities you start to hear stories of brothers who farm next to each other, but don’t speak anymore because of old arguments. And it’s not uncommon for older farmers to have trouble letting go of the reins. Steve Schwartz is with Farmlink, a Sacramento organization which helps farmers transfer property to the next generation.

SCHWARTZ: The best story I think was a dairy farmer. And he said, “You know, myy son, I’m really looking forward to him taking over the farm. He’s a great dairyman. He’s good with the cows. But he’s just not good with the books. So he’s really not ready to take over the farm yet.” So it turns out this farmer is 87, and his son is 65.

WHITE: Schwartz says poor communication is all too familiar for families working together.

SCHWARTZ: We talk to a guy who literally had a 45 second conversation with his mother 15 years ago and she said, “I don’t think there’s room for you here.” And he took that to mean, “I better go move off soon and take my family and rent somewhere and do my farming elsewhere.” And that’s not exactly what she meant.

WHITE: Chuy Soto understands the differences between things said and things understood. The workers he manages at Oak Hill Farm are his own relatives, another family on this farm. He likes the confidence of hiring family, but sometimes he has to say hard things.


SOTO: If we take this outside of work, it can be tough. He’s my uncle, he’s my cousin, he’s my brother-in-law. And sometimes if I am hard on them, for whatever reason, I go out there and apologize--“this is work related and don’t take it personal.”

WHITE: If disputes are allowed to rankle, it sometimes takes a long time to get over them.


WHITE: One farming family with a lot of history is the Hansens of Selma, California. On a walk around his peach orchid, farmer and writer Victor Hansen points out an old white hay barn.


HANSEN: Barns are kind of strange. I see them all over. There’s one over there. They have no shape that’s of any value.

WHITE: There are no draft horses needing these hay these days, and the barns are no longer much used, but people still hold onto them. It’s the same with family feuds. Back in his old farmhouse, Victor tells of grudges that went back four generations.

HANSEN: I was told that when my great, great grandmother died, this must have been about 1877, one of the brothers walked into this very house and hadn’t seen her for 30 years, and stripped all of the rugs out of the house and then demanded his land. I have no idea if that’s true, but my side of the family told me that and I was not to like that side of the family.

WHITE: A few years ago, Victor made his own brother angry by writing a book about their farm. His brother found the book too close to the bone and the men didn’t speak for two years. Only later the brothers began talking again. They still have things in common.

HANSEN: One hundred twenty years on a farm. There’s depressions, there’s war, there’s people who have been killed. There’s incidents like that, and they come and go.


WHITE: Back at Oak Hill Farm, things have also come full circle. Ann Teller has, more or less, stepped down. And, one by one, Ted’s brother and his sisters have returned from living across the country. Together, they’ve launched a new venture. They’ve always grown grapes, but they used to sell them to Ravenswood who’d turn them into a famous zinfandel. Now, the Bucklins have decided to make their own wine

BUCKLIN: This is our first bottling and we sort of have it down. We’re having fun. I’m really enjoying this. Yesterday, we made a thousand boxes. It’s kind of fun being part of a family machine.

WHITE: Will Bucklin is the vintner. Kate and Arden and their friends are also here giving up their weekend to bottle the new wine.

ARDEN: I’m a sister. I’m the member of the family. There are four of us.

WHITE: They’re four of you. So, you’re the last…

ARDEN: Well, I’m actually the second, if you must know. Will is the last.

WHITE: And Ted is the oldest?

ARDEN: Ted is the oldest, yeah. It’s really obvious.

MAN: We do whatever Ted tells us to do.

ARDEN: That’s not true.

WHITE: The cap on the new wine bottle is inscribed with “B4”, for the four Bucklin siblings. Kate Bucklin says, most families are not as close as they are.

KATE: We’ve really grown as a family. Whereas, I don’t think most families have that opportunity to really go through and, one-by-one, knock off the big problems.

WHITE: The farm ties the family together. And for all the hardships, the Bucklins and the Hansens say, they wouldn’t do anything else.

For Living on Earth, I’m Robin White in Sonoma.

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Shirt Scraps

CURWOOD: The late days of summer mean lots of ripe tomatoes down Maine. Commentator Linda Tatelbaum has been spending a lot of time in her garden at her home in Rockland, and finding it can add up to a lot more than cooking and canning.

TATELBAUM: Today I'm taking down my tomato plants. It's not as simple as it sounds, because with them I'm taking down the shredded evidence of my past. The plants have been staked to my past all summer, festooned with strips of torn cloth. Here is the flannel ripped from one of many plaid shirts I've given my husband for his birthday. Here's the pink flowered nightgown that comforted me when I was a student, freezing in Paris. I stuff the scraps into a bag. The empty plants flop to the ground.

I kneel to loosen a knot from the old crib sheet. It's dotted with Disney characters; not the garish ones that march across a lunch box or a video screen today, but the modest, 1950's version. The sheet was already a hand-me-down when my little boy landed on it in October, 1979. Now here it is October again, the row of maples turning red as when he was born. After all these decades, this threadbare piece of Mickey Mouse has done its time. I toss it into the compost heap along with the uprooted Big Boy tomato plant it held aloft.

All things go down to dirt in the end, but there is still more wear left in the strips of a lilac T-shirt my husband bought for me at the Rochester Airport in the early eighties. It says, "I'd rather be in Rochester" which isn't exactly true, and never was. But that day, I was a sad young mother leaving my parents’ help with the baby. I wanted to raise my son in the country, but I was crying at the daunting prospect of my return with a baby on my back, to the toil of our Maine homestead – tending vegetables, carrying water, cooking on a wood stove.

I shove a T-shirt scrap into the bag, and yank the tomato plant from the soil. Maybe it's I who am anchored to the stake, tied to tomatoes, believing that nothing changes. I tend the same vigorous plants year after year. We don't say they're aging, but ripening. We don't call it death but harvest, as they pass into our mouth, our blood, our thoughts.

Next fall the same fruits will stream into the basket and onto the table, under the knife and into the jars. I do not mourn for passing vegetables. This perpetual abundance deceives me, though. Here I am, still myself, and my same husband too. But my mother lives in a nursing home. My father is dead. My son is a man. Every year the pine trees on these acres grow taller. How many hints will it take?

I reach back into the bag and pull the scrap out again. I run the faded strip through my hand. This lilac ribbon connects me to Mom, recalling how much a young mother needs a mother, and how much an old mother needs a daughter. In all the days between my need and hers, face it, we are ripening. The ripening of tomatoes ends in the joy of eating. Soon it will be winter, then spring again. Mom will not be here forever. But as long as I am here, hanging out with tomatoes, dragging my scraps around in a bag, I'll be tethered to her.

CURWOOD: Linda Tatelbaum lives in Maine, and is author of “Writer on the Rocks – Moving the Impossible.” You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth.

FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Support also comes from NPR member stations and Bob Williams and Meg Caldwell, honoring NPR’s coverage of environmental and natural resource issues, and in support of the NPR President’s Council; And Paul and Marcia Ginsberg, in support of excellence in public radio.

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Zen Garden

CURWOOD: Japanese zen gardens are landscaped with raked gravel and carefully placed rocks and moss. And although they look sparse and bare, these can have a strong calming effect, as I found out once when I visited the Ryoanji Zen Garden in Kyoto a few years ago.

Now, a team of scientists is saying that the rocks and moss there conceal an image of a tree that exists only our minds. Gert Van Tonder, a visual cognitive researcher at Kyoto University, explains what happened when his team started doing mathematical computations with the patterns in the garden.Now, a team of scientists is saying that the rocks and moss there conceal an image of a tree that exists only our minds. Gert Van Tonder, a visual cognitive researcher at Kyoto University, explains what happened when his team started doing mathematical computations with the patterns in the garden.

VAN TONDER: I first thought I would just get a scattered pattern of lines going off into various directions. But it turns out that the medial access lines in the simulation form a converging pattern. And it converges onto the main viewing area of the veranda in the temple.

And this converging structure resembles a tree. We did a number of analyses on these branches. And, for example, we found that, if anybody would just randomly throw their rocks onto that piece of gravel, they wouldn’t nearly come close to finding such a nice converging tree structure.

CURWOOD: How would you explain this to our listeners? How do you explain the idea of seeing a tree in negative space?

VAN TONDER: Try to image to see a tree that’s invisible, except for its leaves. So, in a similar way, in the garden here, the rocks form the leaves of this invisible tree. And while you’re not necessarily aware of it, the branches and the trunk is right there in front of you.

CURWOOD: How much do you think the designers of this garden were aware, or knew about, the subconscious picture that they were creating?

VAN TONDER: Well, I think we would be a bit reluctant to say that they consciously thought of a tree structure, and then went ahead with the design. But they must have had a very highly developed or sophisticated intuition of their own subconscious perception so that they could adjust the rocks and, thereby, also this invisible tree until it felt just right.

CURWOOD: How important is it for the calming effect that a tree is the image that’s implied?

VAN TONDER: Well, I think I can only answer with a puzzle. The image of a tree in Buddhism is important in the story about the moment when the Buddha finds enlightenment. And he does so at the foot of a tree. So, that could be a possible clue for people who want to think about this.

CURWOOD: Thanks for speaking with us today.

VAN TONDER: It’s a pleasure.

[MUSIC: Moby “Porcelain” Winter Chill 2 Hed Kandi (2000)]

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Emerging Sciences Note/Sensitive Robots

CURWOOD: Coming up, designing fishing nets that let some of the big ones get away. First, this environmental science note from Jennifer Chu.


CHU: Researchers at Vanderbilt University have designed a robot that can pick up human stress levels. Instead of using visual or vocal cues that humans rely on to gauge each other’s moods, researchers programmed their robots to analyze physiological data. First, they outfitted human subjects with a variety of sensors, then asked people to play a progressively difficult video game and recorded measurements from each sensor.

Early in the game researchers established, what they called, a baseline of boredom in which the subject was relatively stress-free. They then determined a threshold at which a subject became stressed. They programmed this information into the robot and fed it a continuous stream of sensor readings as it moved randomly around the room. When the robot detected readings above the stress threshold it would come to a halt and say:

MALE: I sense a high level of anxiety. I am coming to you for help.

CHU: That’s one of the researchers recruited as the voice of the robot. Scientists believe a robot able to sense human emotion would be helpful in detecting anything from an injured soldier on the battlefield to a bored or restless patron at a museum and come to the rescue.

And that’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Jennifer Chu.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Stevie Ray Vaughn “Lenny” Texas Flood Epic (1983)]

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Bypassing Bycatch

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. From the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico, fisheries are in turmoil. Citizens, scientists, and regulators are struggling with declining fish populations and a declining fishing industry. In some cases, it's a problem of over-fishing; in others, a concern for endangered species.

Over the past decade, many fishing grounds have closed. Many fishing boats tied up, perhaps for good. The traditional response to these problems is fishingquotas. When, where and what quantity of fish may be caught. Now, the industry is looking at how fish are taken to see if gear can be modified to keep stocks healthy, and boats in business. Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports from off the coast of Massachusetts.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Twelve miles east of Gloucester, Massachusetts, the small green fishing boat, Dolores Louise, is the only vessel as far as the eye can see. On her deck, Joe Scola and Vin Manfridi stand ankle-deep in flounder.


SCOLA: What do you need? What do you need?

MANFRIDI: No, I think it’s okay.

SCOLA: Are you sure? I don’t want to lose anything, have to go dredging for it.

Joe and Vin are trying to attach a camera to one of Joe's new nets. Even with a couple of fingers half missing, Joe deftly threads the twine. He pulls it tight, knots it off. But he's impatient. The boat's burning fuel, and his nets on deck, catching nothing.

SCOLA: Hey, come on, work like an animal, will ya?

MANFRIDI: All I gotta do, Joe, is clip that off, I just need some,

SCOLA: What do you need? Speak to me. Is this your first time?

MANFRIDI: Yes, it is.

SCOLA: Okay, you’re doing a good job, let’s throw it overboard.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Joe and Vin are having one of the most amicable tiffs I've ever witnessed between a fisherman and scientist in the New England Fishery. Joe fishes out of Gloucester. Vin works for the state's Division of Marine Fisheries.


SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: And the reason the Dolores Louise is the only boat out here is that these fishing grounds are closed to help stocks recover from a near collapse in the early 1990s. Joe and Vin have an experimental permit to test fishing nets they hope will reduce the need for closures by solving one of the Fishery's major problems, bycatch.


SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Bycatch is trash fish, like skate and dogfish that get caught in nets, but won't get bought at market. Bycatch is also fish like cod, fish so popular, they're strictly managed to protect them from over-fishing. Here on Stellwagen Bank, if Joe and Vin net more than 400 pounds of cod while fishing for flounder, they have to toss the excess or bycatch back into the sea. By then, most of the cod are dead.

SCOLA: Okay, we’re gonna press record and then go out and take care of the rest.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Joe's experimental net and the camera are heading toward the ocean bottom. Vin is a little nervous.

MANFRIDI: This is the first time I've actually deployed the whole system on my own. I've helped out with it a lot. But I've never been the chief operating scientist, I guess you could say.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Joe and Vin wade through the fish, and scurry into the pilot house. They fix their eyes on a small black and white monitor that's attached by a long cable to the camera on the net they've just dropped. That gives them a view of the ocean bottom.

MANFRIDI: There's a flounder. There he goes into the sweep. See that flounder trying to get away.

SCOLA: He ain't going to make it. I'm going forward--

MANFRIDI: Joe, this net is amazingly low. I'm surprised this net actually caught cod at all.

SCOLA: It does sometimes when they're down on the bottom feeding. That's the only time you get them.

MANFRIDI: This is what it's all about. I'm happy that we got this footage. Let it roll, baby.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Vin hopes the tape will prove that Joe's experimental net can help reduce unintentional cod catch. The design is simple. The mouth of a typical net measures about ten feet from top to bottom, where it drags along the seabed.

Joe has sewn his net much smaller so the top sits only three feet off the bottom. The idea is to scoop up the bottom fish, like flounder, which spend their time on the ocean floor, and avoid the cod, which generally swim up higher. To Vin, the goal is ambitious.

MANFRIDI: I do believe that if we deconstruct the wheel a little bit and make gear a little less efficient or more efficient at catching target species, we can let these guys fish almost as much as they want.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The notion of trying to avoid cod in the waters off New England seems almost farcical. Once, these were the richest cod grounds in the world. There was so much cod, they named a cape after the long white fish, and hung a wooden replica of it in the State House in Boston.

But the 20th century brought engines and big boats, then faster engines and bigger boats. By the 1950s, floating fish factories from Spain, Portugal and Russia were sweeping the ocean floor of everything in their path.

The U.S. government kicked out the foreign fleets in '77. Then it subsidized its own fleets to get bigger and faster and more efficient. Sonar, computers, even spotter planes were used to track fish down.

By the earlier 1990s, codfish were growing scarce. Regulators closed many fishing grounds. Tough limits were set on days at sea, and fish size, and net size. And many boats were tied up at dock, losing money.


GLASS: This is quite a unique cod end.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Chris Glass is working to get the boats out to sea again. Chris makes fishing gear at the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences on Cape Cod Bay. From a tall pile of green mesh, he pulls out his latest design.

GLASS: And, you'll see in a minute, when I lay it out, why it's different from other nets.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: A standard net is made of a diamond-shaped mesh which shuts tight as it pulls up fish.

GLASS: What we've been doing is experimenting with this very new netting, which is called hexagonal mesh, which you can see, when it goes under strain, it doesn't close up. The meshes remain open which allows fish to escape even when there's a lot of fish in the net.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Chris says his new mesh design is yielding good results.

GLASS: We've been reducing cod by catch by up to 70 percent in some cases.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Chris thinks fishermen will try experimental nets if it means a stronger fishery in the long-run. He tells the story of one group of fishermen he met up in Portland, Maine.

GLASS: We got there, and there were five or six trucks sitting on the pier. And it transpired that these were fishermen from all over Maine who had heard that we were going to be there, and starting a research program. And they got out of their trucks, and they started looking at this design. And they asked questions. And five hours later, most of them were still there helping to rig the net even though they weren't part of the program. That was a truly fantastic day for me.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: But not all fishermen are convinced that new nets will save them.

MARCIANO: We can modify our gear. And there's a point to what we can do. But again, where are we going to go with this?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: On Rose's Wharf in Gloucester, Dave Marciano is getting ready to fish for grey sole. He'll be out for at least a few days. He's only allowed about 80 for the whole year. If he could, he'd fish a lot more. Like most Gloucester fishermen, Dave says the fish are back in numbers sufficient to ease up on restrictions.

He doesn't believe scientists who say he must be patient and let the stocks recover. He's also skeptical that new nets, like the ones Chris Glass and Joe Scola are designing, will truly benefit fishermen. For starters, he says it's an insult to the entire profession to make gear that's purposefully inefficient.

MARCIANO: Where I see this going is, somehow, we're supposed to devise a net that, in spite of the fact that we have an ocean full of fish, I can still throw it in the water and catch no fish. Is this what we want?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Dave thinks there could actually be an adverse environmental impact using nets that catch fewer fish.

MARCIANO: If you're going to go out there and fish with inefficient gear, it's going to take longer to get the trip done. So if you have habitat concerns, or bottom concerns, you would want the boat to go out, fish as efficiently as possible, catch its fish, and come home. That's less impact on the environment overall.


SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: But if you follow the coast south from Gloucester, and then east out the length of Cape Code to the end of its curved tip, you'll meet a man who made gear modification work for both fish and for fishermen.

RIVAS: My name is Luis Rivas. I'm a fisherman from Provincetown, or in Provincetown. I come from Portugal.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Twenty-five years ago, Luis Rivas left Portugal to work on German factory trawlers. Then he came to the States. Now, he owns two small boats of his own. A few years ago, the Whiting Fishery here was shut down because fishermen were bycatching too much flounder and lobsters.

So, with the help of state scientists, Luis designed a net with a raised foot rope that targeted whiting that swim above the ocean floor and avoided the bottom-dwellers. The net reduced bycatch to five percent. And the Whiting Fishery was reopened. Then, Luis turned his attention to cod. He won a grant to design two new nets.

RIVAS: To try, you know, the best that I can for avoiding the codfish because these closures all because of codfish.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Luis set to work on his nets, both with altered tops to let cod escape. The results have been impressive. One day, he used a traditional net for one haul and caught 20,000 pounds of cod. Then he rigged the experimental net. When it came up, Luis still had a good load of flounder, but only 200 pounds of cod.

RIVAS: No more close. It is enough. No more cut days at sea. It’s enough. I no want to be a hero--but what I want is sea let me go fishing. I can use this net. Let me go. That's it.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Luis says his nets may reduce his overall catch. But what he catches, he can keep. He tries to explain this to other fishermen. Some are interested. Others aren't. Ultimately, Luis says, very few will ever try his nets unless they're required by law. But fishery managers say they're not ready to take that step.

David Sissenwine directs the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He says new gear can help stocks recover, but it won't solve the problem.

SISSENWINE: The problem is that there aren't a lot of other species in which you could increase the catch. But if we develop new gear which allows more fishing without catching cod, but more catch of the other stocks, then we'll have the same problem in those other stocks.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Sissenwine says the main problem is simple: too many boats and too few fish.


SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Back on the Dolores Louise, Joe Scola is hauling up his experimental net. Yard after yard of green mesh winds back onto the winch. Finally, Vin Manfridi's camera appears. He cuts it free.

MANFRIDI: It looks really good. No damage to anything whatsoever.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Then the winches roll again.


SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It's a tense moment just before the catch comes into view. Then, it's up. The bag is straining with flapping, shining fish. Joe reaches a hand under the net. He grabs on and pulls. A mass of fish hits the deck. It's a good catch, about 2000 pounds, and mostly flounder like they wanted, and not very many cod.

But Joe's boat is only one of a handful the state has the staff and money to work with on their gear. And Massachusetts is one of the most advanced states in fishing gear research. Elsewhere, fishermen have taken it into their own hands to modify their nets and traps.

Long-lined fishermen, from Alaska to Hawaii, created devices to ward off sea birds like endangered albatross that were getting snagged on their hooks. In the Gulf of Mexico where the government imposed turtle exclusion devices, shrimp fishermen came up with their own design, one that would keep more shrimp while still allowing the turtles to escape.

Despite the success stories, Vin Manfridi says the conservation engineering gang, as it's called, has a hard time getting respect.

MANFRIDI: I think that it's difficult to get the faith that is required from not only the legislature, but from the National Marine Fishery Service itself. I have a feeling--and I've been at many meetings--and I am kind of convinced that, at this point, they still view us as sort of a juvenile project. And, that's not the case.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Making such innovation mainstream will require a change in attitude at the top. Congress is now working on the next major fisheries law. One provision would offer $10 million a year in grants to fishermen and scientists to do gear research, not only to reduce bycatch, but also to reduce the gear's impact on the seabed.


SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Whether or not the gear money makes it into the final bill, you can be sure someone, somewhere, out at sea will be fine-tuning their nets, mesh by mesh, knot by knot, until they can convince others it's all worthwhile. For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum on the Dolores Louise.

[MUSIC: Neil Finn “Doat Down” Rain [Soundtrack]]

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that’s Living on Earth. Next week, we take an in depth look at cutting edge science on the connection between childhood lead exposure and criminal behavior later in life. The effect of lead on impulse control and anger may hold the answer about why some young adults are out of control.

FEMALE: If I don’t just sit down and just be still, and just try to cool down, I just blow up. I just be so mad, but I just can’t help it sometimes.

CURWOOD: It’s the Secret Life of Lead, next time on Living on Earth. And remember that between now and then you can hear us anytime, and get the stories behind the news, by going to livingonearth.org. That’s livingonearth.org. We leave you in the heart of one of Europe’s most beloved cities.

[BELLS, CITY SOUNDS: Michael Rüsenberg/Hans Ulrich Werner “Trams/Soundmarks & Signals” Lisboa! Zerwig Productions (1993)]

Michael Russenberg and Hans Ulrich Werner collected and mixed these sounds from the place the Portugese call Lisboa.


Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. You can find us at livingonearth.org.

Our staff includes: Cynthia Graber, Andy Farnsworth, Tom Simon, Elizabeth Kline, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Nathan Marcy and Liz Lempert. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. Our interns are Carolyn Johnson, Julia Keller, Taylor Ferguson and Mary Beth Conway.

Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.

Our Technical Director is Al Avery. Ingrid Lobet heads our western bureau. Diane Toomey is our Science Editor, Eileen Bolinsky is our Senior Editor, and Chris Ballman is the Senior Producer of Living on Earth.

I’m Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

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