Enter the Mushroom: Sustainable Packaging

Tonight, I watched an enlightening TED talk that is related to previous posts. I wrote eben bayer ted talkabout the Great Pacific Garbage Patch two posts ago, and this sparked the conversation my friend and I and our children were having around the campfire in my last post about Huntsville State Park. I had gotten them all fired up about the prevention of plastic and packaging ending up in our oceans. My son had this brilliant idea that we needed to find a celebrity to promote the cause of clean oceans.
Well, he might not be a celebrity, but Eben Bayer and his company, Ecovative, are doing just that – helping to keep trash out of the ocean by solving the problem of plastic and styrofoam packaging materials. What his company does is take local agricultural byproducts, such as cotton hulls or pea pods, the part of the plant left over when we harvest it, and then uses it to form a base for mycelium, the root-like part of the mushroom materialsmushroom. They process the raw materials, and then place this and the mycelium into a pre-formed mold.  In about five days, the mycelium has used the raw materials to grow fibrous strands that take the shape of what it is they are trying to make – such as the corner protection for furniture or TVs, the part that protects the ends in a box.

This kind of packaging is usually made of styrofoam, which then is thrown away and ends up breaking down into our environment. Styrofoam uses a large amount of petrol and energy to make, and is practically indestructible. It will sit in the environment for tens of thousands of years, it is projected. This alternative, the mushroom packaging, can just immediately be tossed out in the yard, will biodegrade rapidly and improve the quality of the soil, is very efficient to make, and makes use of raw materials already at our disposal.
It is solutions like this that we need in this time of increasing earth destruction. I was just reading this wikipedia article the other day that made this suggestion, albeit far-fetched, that perhaps the Last Prophet we are all waiting for is the earth itself – that how well we take care of it may be part of the great lesson mankind has left to learn. I think we have come a long way in our understanding of how we can take better care of the earth, but it is imperative we apply the knowledge we have gained so far in coming up with real-world solutions such as this.

Huntsville State Park #2

campsite 2
Finally, a camping weekend. It’s been a long six months since we went camping. Last time we went, we were actually at this same park. It’s not the closest state park to us, but it might be the most popular, especially with the scouts. Last time we were here, it was with scouts, and this time we were surrounded by them. There was even some kind of misunderstanding where they thought our campsite was part of their reserved lot, and even after they realized their mistake, scouts were kinda spilling over into our site. A green pup tent claimed a part of our land, quite a bit beyond our tents, but we didn’t put up much of a fuss about this. Scouts were out and about riding bikes, playing lacrosse, hiking – all over the park.
We chose this park this weekend because it was the closest one to a family we are best friends with, who had just gotten some yaks and wanted to try them out. They didn’t really have a way to transport said yaks, though, so we headed over there first to strap them on top of the luggage rack of our van.
I was trying to to figure out for a few weeks the puzzle of how we were all going to make it on to the water this time around. We had the two yaks, but they were very small, so the most likely candidates for that were the two teenage boys, but neither of them had been in one before. My parents wanted to meet us up there with the canoe, but they wanted to take it out on the water, with a small child in it (preferably my youngest). I wanted to be out on the water with the boys in case they needed help, my friend thought her daughter would not like it if she was not out there as well – and we were in need of another vessel. Fortunately, they do rent boats there. The park leases canoes and paddle boats for $10 an hour, or $25 for three hours (for canoes).
So this is how Jen and I found ourselves furiously cycling a paddle in the midday on Lake Raven trying to make it from the boat house on one side of the lodge to the boat ramp on the other side, where the boys were waiting for us before they could their yaks in. We wanted to make full use of the hour we had!
On our way over there, I got this shot of the outdoor patio area of the lodge, where I want J and I to have our wedding at later this year. I’ve been shopping for ideas, including making an arch very similar to this, so I thought it was really cool to see how these people had their set up.
wedding hsp
We ended up spending most of our hour watching the boys try out the yaks very close to the boat ramp area, and then picked up my youngest boy, who had just finished his canoe ride with his grandparents, and took him with us on the paddle back to the boat house. In all the times I have been to this park, I have never rented water vehicles here, so I am glad to know about this service they offer.
After dropping the paddle boat off, my friend took her daughter swimming in the swimming area right there between the boat house and the lodge, and I went back over to join my parents for a little longer. They had gotten the boys some lacrosse sticks, and the boys were learning how to play. My dad used to play lacrosse for many years, and it is nice that he can share that with my sons during this time. Soon after, they left and I took the boys to join Jen and little K at the swimming area, where we cooled off in the shady (albeit) crowded beach area. I also had never used this feature of the park. It was truly a water weekend for us – I guess that is what happens when we finally clear out all the geocaches in the parks – we actually try NEW and different things that are also fun.
chinquapin trail 1
We had spent the morning before this hiking along the Chinquapin Trail, testing out the limits of our hiking abilities. Jen and I really want to go on some long distance hikes, starting this year. We wanted to do long backpacking trips. The problem is, I have this leg injury I am still recooping from, and she has this young daughter, who just turned four, that she has sole care of most of the time. It is a rare day that she is without her daughter and not working, so we have come to accept the idea that little K is going to have to join us on many of the hikes we plan on taking. We went about two miles, at a relatively slow pace, with no gear – and that was about my limit, as I was limping by the time we got back and needed to rest my leg. It was also little K’s limit, as she was asking to be carried and telling us she was tired, wanted to go home, and was hungry and thirsty by then. The boys had a really good time on the trail, and we let the older boys have a sense of independence on the way back, which satisfied their need to prove themselves a little bit.

chinquapin trail 2
During this water adventure, J had some solo time at the campsite, and took the dogs for a long walkin the woods, so that was a good respite for him. He had worked really hard to load all our gear up and get us and Jen’s family set up the night before with tents and whatnot, and the kids had been driving him crazy so it was good for him to get a break. When we were done swimming, he brought the van back over to pick us up, and we went back to the campsite to cook our dinner, start our fire, and get some s’mores going.
He and little K went to bed first that evening, while Jen and I stayed up with the boys talking around the campfire. There was a long conversation about who was going to be our celebrity environmental spokesperson (Ted Danson, we decided, after reviewing the dossier of several candidates), and then told spooky stories around the fire. In the morning, we thought we might take another hike, but packing up and breakfast took all the remaining time we had before having to rush back to get a kid to a school related project meeting. chinquapin trail 5
Wildlife we saw over the weekend: a raccoon sneaking into an open trash can as we pulled into the park, a big alligator lazily making his way up the lake as viewed from the fishing pier, a red shouldered hawk flying from tree to tree in the afternoon sunlight above the lake, a small copperhead snake making its way from our campsite to the scouts, squirrels, ravens, cardinals, a tufted titmouse who landed on the ground in our campsite to say hi, a pileated woodpecker checking out different trees near the newer restrooms in the campgrounds, and many other little birds we didn’t identify (forgot to bring our bird book or get our binoculars out). An amazingly large amount of bullfrogs were up singing to each other during the night – it was almost overwhelming. Bullfrogs are in no danger of going extinct at HSP, that is for sure.
It was a fun camping trip – almost too short, although we were sufficiently exhausted when we got home. Hopefully the first of many more trips to come this year, as I am ready to get back out there and play!

Gryes of the World, and Great Pacific Garbage Patch

gyresmap I have been obsessing about the “garbage patches” in the gyres of the world since reading some information about them I hadn’t previously heard. In the book “The World Without Us”, by Alan Weisman, he tells the story about Captain Charles Moore, who in 1997 inadvertently steered himself into the largest collection of garbage in the ocean, a spot in the North Pacific Gyre that scientists termed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This patch, like others in the ocean, is formed by a combination of factors: rotating patterns of hot wind, resulting in circular currents in the ocean swirling into a vortex, and then the accumulation of trash from our rivers that empty into the ocean, as well as trash that is dumped directly from ocean-going vessels being sucked into the circulating vortex, like a big giant toilet that won’t flush.
The current size of this patch is estimated to be about twice the size of Texas, although it is hard to measure precisely. In 2005, Captain Moore began making references to it encompassing 10 million square miles – nearly the size of Africa. By this time, Moore had formed the Algalita Marine Research Foundation to study this patch and try to find a way to remedy it. Moore’s original estimate of the amount of trash in this pacific gyre was initially 3 million tons of plastic; an estimate corroborated by the Navy. Later, he went back with a trawling device and realized it was much more than that, and that the ocean in this spot carried six times more plastic by weight than plankton. It is suspected that 80% of the trash inside this patch, and the other large patch like it on the other side of the earth, originates from the land: flying away from landfills, dumped into our rivers, plastic bags on a runaway mission to join this collection and entangle marine mammals. The remaining 20% comes from ocean vessels, which contribute a shocking amount: a typical 3,000 passenger cruise ship produces over eight tons of solid waste weekly, a portion of which ends up in the patch. As early as 1975, it was estimated that ocean going vessels were dumping an average of 8 million pounds of plastic annually. More recent research quoted in Weisman’s book suggests the merchant fleet is dumping about 639,000 plastic containers every day.
The sad fact is that the ocean life is being affected in alarming ways from this.  “Ghost” fishing lines and nets can entrap ocean animals.  Animals get the plastic caught up on them and suffer as a result.  Also, the plastic bits in the trash are ending up in all parts of the food chain.  Some of the plastic slowly breaks down by the process of photosynthesis and ends up in small particles at the surface of the ocean, where it is consumed by filter feeders.  Small nurdles of plastic (nurdles are the tiny pieces of pre-production plastic resin) are consumed by krill, which then die prematurely.  These nurdles make up a good portion of the garbage patches, and act like sponges for toxins such as PCB and DDE, which then intensify as they attach to the nurdles, becoming 100 million times higher in levels than surrounding seawater.  Puffins have been found with this alarmingly high amounts of PCBs and DDE as a result of consuming these nurdles.  Seabirds are found dead with stomaches full of plastic.animal impact plasticSince at least 2008, concerned scientific groups have been trying to come up with a solution on how to clean up these areas.  Some of the ideas are really promising, like an idea presented at TEDxDelft2012 by a Dutch Aerospace Engineer named Boyan Slat that proposed using surface currents to let the debris drift to specially designed arms and collection platforms. Running costs would be virtually zero, and  the operation be so efficient that it may even be profitable. According to Boyan Slat’s calculations, a gyre could realistically be cleaned up in five years’ time, collecting at least 7.25 million tons of plastic combining all gyres.

Without a radical change to our plastics practices, though, it might be a futile attempt.  We need ways to package food to keep it fresh and free of bacteria that is truly biodegradable and will not contaminate our oceans and our earth as it decomposes.  We need to figure out ways to keep our trash in our landfills and not in our oceans.

For more information, see:

Grandfather Caches of Massachusetts

canoe launch

I found myself in Massachusetts over the weekend, and I had some time on my hands to go exploring. What else would I rather do than go find grandfather caches in the woods?

In case you have missed the definition of the term, a “grandfather” cache is one of the active original caches hidden within the first four months of geocaching’s birth. I have a list of them up there on the top called the 100 Oldest Active Geocaches. I try to find them whenever I can, to get them off my “to-do” list before they get archived, although these are truly the ones that have stood the test of time.

main trail

When I realized I was able to spend some time caching in this beautiful state, I looked at my list to see which of these grandfather caches were nearby. There were potentially up to four of them in the vicinity of my drive, but I also was doing other things and didn’t have the whole time to cache. On Friday I found Camera Cache, and on Saturday I found Lowell, aka Second Mass. These pictures here are from the latter.

I actually would have found them both Friday, but I had trouble finding the parking spot to Great Brook Farm State Park, where this second cache is located.  They posted parking coords on the cache page, but it didn’t help me because my GPS was not working, and I didn’t know how to mark or follow coordinates, and not just waypoints, on my smartphone. I drove down shady lanes trying to find the parking lot according to Google Navigation, but I could not find this elusive spot.  That night at the hotel I googled the location of the parking lot, and figured it out, and made the short hike the next day.

boardwalkThe trail starts at the canoe launch in the first picture, then one takes the main trail up about a quarter of a mile before turning off on a side trail. The trail was very reminiscent of the piney woods of Huntsville State Park, except with large boulders.  It was essentially also a pine forest that was found here, something that surprised me because I was expecting hardwoods.

The cache itself was a classic large ammo can, tucked into a rock covering near one of the infamous stone walls of New England.  In this book I am reading, “The World Without Us”, by Alan Weisman, he talks about how the stone walls of New England cover some 260,000 miles.  They were present in all the little nature preserves, arboretums, and parks I visited in my little tour of New England.

J was a little worried about me hiking all by myself in this big ole forest with my recent leg issues, but my leg felt great and there were lots of families out enjoying the nice weather in this park.  Apparently during the right time of year, you can follow the trail to the end, where there is a working dairy and ice cream shop.  I didn’t know that at the time but next time I go back, I might check it out.  I did venture over to the other side of the street from the parking lot, to another trail, where I found little woodcutter’s cabins tucked back next to rolling brooks.

The other grandfather cache, the one I found the day before, Camera Cache, was a lot less camera cache 1exciting but still a cool little classic.  For this one, I drove to the back of a sunny park in Shrewsbury, MA and parked my car next to a concrete road block.  I walked about 0.13 miles down a little wooded trail that lay between two fields, currently being used for lacrosse practice.  Four players ran shoulder to shoulder around the fields to my left, while on the right, the coach gave me the hairy eyeball while two of his players searched for a missing ball in the nearby thicket.

The coords were a little off, but the hint helped me find the ammo box located along, again, the stone wall along the forests edge.  As I was signing the log and preparing to put the cache back, a great swarm of lacrosse players spilled out from the tennis courts behind me, and came running alongside me, nary giving me a glance, on their way to join the few already on the practice fields.  I had to wait for several minutes for the horde to pass before being able to put the cache back unnoticed.

Shrewsbury on a mild spring day seemed to be a place for boys; all through town, I saw groups of boys jogging, practicing sports, riding in cars, eating ice creams.  It was very interesting, and made me wonder where the girls were in this town.

These caches were the 50th and 52nd oldest active caches, according to my list.  They were great little adventures, not difficult to get to, yet giving one a perspective of the area they were in.  In my next trip to New England, I want to get the other grandfather caches in the area, and do some more exploring of the Great Brook Farm Park.  I also want to have other New England adventures, like exploring Walden Pond, the exit for which I saw a few times and was tempted.  No matter how much you explore, there is always more to see in this great big land we live in.

second lowell