Posts Tagged United Nations

International Mountain Day

This is a United Nations holiday, actually. The idea is to increase awareness of the identity of and challenges faced by indigenous people living in mountainous regions. Even though I live pretty far away from any populations that would technically count as mountain people, I figured I could try to identify for at least a little while today.

The highest point in Wisconsin is Timm’s Hill in Ogema, about four hours north of Madison. We had a vet appointment this morning (Koda is now officially on a diet) and I had to get my oil changed, so a multi-hour road trip wasn’t really in the cards this weekend.

Madison is lake country, so it’s pretty low lying. The city’s tallest point is the sledding hill in Elver Park, Madison’s largest community park. Elver Park is a great spot, with a disc golfing course in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter. The local country music station sponsors a more than decent fireworks show at the park every July. In Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid, Elver was on the proposed bike route.

My plan was to head over to Elver after our errands and hike up to take some pictures of the city from our “mountain.” However, I was thwarted by Wisconsin winter. We’re currently under a blizzard warning with, according to one of those handy National Weather Service alerts, expected snow accumulation of 10-16 inches and wind gusts of up to 45 mph.

The rain started as I was en route to Elver. By the time I got there it was a mix of rain and snow, and it was coming down pretty steadily. I knew I needed to be quick and get home before things started to freeze, so I skipped the hike. A few die hard sledders were still going, but it was definitely cold and very wet. A trio of young kids who had just come off the hill ran past my car, shrieking as they stepped in the quickly-forming puddles.

I snapped a few photos, then cranked up the defroster and navigated home through the slush. I supposed whether you live at a few thousand feet or several hundred, we all have our own environmental challenges.

Elver Park, Madison WI

The hill at Elver Park during today's blizzard warning.


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Each year, the United Nations promotes the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. Bulky name aside, the day is about remembering the “unpublicized victim of war“–the environment. The UN, which has officially recognized the day since 2002, established IDPEEWAC (they don’t use the acronym, but I’m going to get a hand cramp if I don’t) to: “strengthen awareness and vigorously prevent or condemn warfare that deliberately exploits or destroys the environment that is our most precious and life sustaining global public good.”

War takes an inarguable toll on the environment. Fire, poisoned air and water, and destroying crops or other terrain are all damaging to both people and nature. Yes, I understand this. My question is, how to honor a day dedicated to this issue? According to the UN in 2002, the answer is to achieve world peace: “In this regard, we have to avoid any further escalation of this situation through exploitation of environment in war and armed conflict. The only viable course of action, which would allow us to leave a sound planet to our heirs and their progeny, is to take preventive measures more vigorously and resolve disputes peacefully.”

Well, I wasn’t able to make it to Iraq or Afghanistan today as my schedule was just too tight. Since I couldn’t stop current wars in order to save the planet we already have, I decided to just create some new nature. Therefore, I planted a tree.

Bonsai kit

Ok, yes, it’s a small tree, but a tree nonetheless. My best friend, M, gave me a bonsai tree kit for my birthday in August, and I held off planting it because of Koda’s love for eating anything living and/or green. Bonsai, which is pronounced bone-sigh rather than banzai, is a form of art that means “tree in pot.” The art of bonsai arrived in Japan from China via Zen Buddhist monks and became prevalent among both the elite and general populations as an expression of the Japanese philosophy to reduce everything to essential, refined elements. Simply planting a tree in a shallow pot isn’t enough–apparently, I will have to “train” my tree to give the “illusion” of being an aged miniature tree (thanks Emperor’s Bonsai).

I’ve wanted a bonsai tree for ages, but I’ve always been a little wary of the time and effort involved. However, duty calls today, and I must not let down the UN. (By the way, I don’t mean to make light of this cause–I just think if an international organization is going to take the trouble to pass an actual resolution commemorating a day, they ought to make public some ways for global citizens to get involved. This appears to not be the case for IDPEEWAC.)

With a grand sense of purpose, I opened my bonsai kit and discovered a tiny booklet with a surprisingly complex set of directions. The six seeds provided have to be soaked in water for 24 hours, then placed on a paper towel, enclosed in a plastic bag and stored in the fridge for seven days. After that, I have to pour warm water over the peat disc included in the kit, and when it expands, I can plant the seeds.

This sounds relatively straightforward, but I have a hard time with directions. I pulled out the peat disc and the booklet, but I didn’t notice the tiny plastic bag with the seeds still in the bottom of the box. I thought the peat disc was in fact the seed packet, so I plopped it in a bowl of water before reading the complete set of directions. As the peat began to break apart, I commented that I wondered where exactly the seeds were and that I hoped they wouldn’t get lost when I pulled the mess out of the water.

G’s voice came from the living room: “I have the seeds.” And in fact he did, holding a tiny plastic bag up for me to sheepishly grab. I then pulled the disintegrating peat disc out of the water and laid it on a paper towel to dry.

The seeds are now floating in an old salt shaker. Rebuilding the environment is hard.

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