Mars or Bust!

Yo, yo, yo people! We are going to Mars! Yes, we are leaving this tired old, used-up hulk of a planet to the trash heap. Soon enough global warming will bake this ball of space dust into a shriveled-up cinder incapable of supporting even a cockroach. Time to get out of town! 

Yes, NASA is working on plans to develop a one-way manned mission to the great beyond. OK, no jokes about who you might like to reserve a seat for, because this is some serious stuff. NASA and DARPA (the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) have embarked on a mission to build a Hundred Year Starship, a vessel intended to voyage to distant stars and drop off passengers, permanently, along the way. First stop? Maybe Mars.

"Reluctant Astronaut" Universal City Studios photo

Hard to say just how serious they are about the plan. So far the two mega agencies have coughed up $1.1 million in start-up fiunds, an amount dwarfed, no doubt, the by the Pentagon's budget for donuts. Still, those in the know say they might be blasting off the first ship in as soon as 20 years. Since we've let the home planet go to pieces, the plan is to get to Mars, carve out a foothold, then terraform the place and start all over again. (Note to self: This is why those fat-cat, greed-monger CEOs and banking execs need to make obscene amounts of cash and don't care about trashing the planet and its people in the process--They're saving up for tickets!) 

 Here are a couple quotes from a Popsci story about the effort. (Illo above is "Atomic Avenue #1" by Glen Orbik. Hat Tip: DRB)

“The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds,” Worden said, according to a Singularity University blog that covered the event.

Incidentally, thats exactly the proposal in a new paper in press in the Journal of Cosmology, a relatively new, peer-reviewed open access journal. Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies suggest sending astronauts to Mars with the intention of staying for the rest of their lives, as trailblazers for a permanent Mars colony.

They would get periodic supply missions, but they would be expected to fend for themselves for water, shelter, nutrients and mineral/chemical processing. They would be expected to develop some kind of homegrown Martian industry, which could ultimately serve as a hub for an expanded colonization program. Plus, leaving some people on another planet would probably ensure that we’d want to go back, to visit them and see what they created.

Thinking about enlisting? Sign up for a tour to see future real estate hotspots such as the Tharsis Volcanic Region or the Utopian Plains. If you like what you see, become a Martian citizen

On Mars, new settlers can revive the great traditions of our earthly past. They can slaughter the hapless natives (as in the Donald Newton illustration above), raze the landscape, build soaring cities (like the one envisioned by Frank Paul), and get busy extracting and plunder anything and everything of possible value--like maybe whatever shimmering blue liquid lies lakelike in the crater below (in a scene actually photographed by NASA on the red planet). Then after another couple years, they'll have to head off for the next stop.

Sorry to rain on this particular parade, er, launch, but a change of address isn't going to solve our problems. No, relocating humanity, even seeding it throughout the universe, is not the answer. We don't need to change our location, we need to change our values. We have to try to live in harmony with--rather than in domination of--the place we call home. Our species managed just that for tens of thousands of years, until fairly recently. How hard can it be? 


Fab Foliage Friday

Today's fab foliage is not a plant, it's an idea. The idea that you don't need anything but leaves to make a compelling garden vignette, This big leaf bonanaza comes from the ever-amazing Longwood Gardens, from a spot deep inside the coils of its vast conservatory. Don't know whether this particular chlorophyll-filled chamber has an official name; to me it is always the Hall of Steroidal House Plants. Whatever you want to call it, the plants speak for themselves. Eloquently.


Me @ BBG

I'll be doing my PowerPoint presentation on The Crazy Mixed-Up Border at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, MA next Saturday, Nov 6. I've taught and lectured there in the past and always love returning to stroll the inspiring grounds. My talk starts at 10 am-for more info or to purchase tickets, go here.

Gardyn Music

There's probably no one out there who hasn't already seen this video by the Australian sound artist Pogo (aka Nick Bertke)...but what the heck! I find each viewing more compelling than the last, so I keep watching it. The flow of time in this video seems frozen yet fluid; I consider that feeling of loopy suspension to be a big part of the magic. This is a work of sonic genius (the visuals are pretty good too), a notion affirmed by the video's selection as as one of the 25 most innovative, unique and groundbreaking video works of the past two years, as determined by the YouTube Play jury. This video, along with the other jury picks, was recently celebrated at the Guggenheim Museums in New York, Bilbao, Berlin and Venice.


Wordless Wednesday 10.27.10

Photographed @ Longwood Gardens


The New Amazonians

I don't intend to chronicle the discovery of every new species, but they are always worth noting. In an era with more than 25,000 annual extinctions, it seems as if we're hurtling toward another mass die-off, an evolutionary gateway that has swung shut--killing off 50-90% of the species calling earth home-at least five times in our planet's past. The last mass extinction, the Triassic-Jurassic die-off 65 million years ago, killed off the dinosaurs and made possible the rise of mammals. Some scientists believe global warming, with an assist from other human-driven catastrophes--pollution, land clearing and overfishing--could lead to another mass extinction as early as 2100.

So when a new species is discovered, it's as if there is a new star in the sky, a new reason for hope. It suggests we are not killing things off faster than we can discover them. I hope. Anyways, the latest discoveries come from the imperiled Amazon basin, the vast, green lungs of our planet, which are being ravaged by settlers, loggers and miners for short term gain. World Wildlife Fund researchers and others have discovered 1200 new species--a rate of one every three days during the last decade, a feat detailed in Amazon Alive..

Among them are the electric-looking fish at top, Apistogramma baenschi (photo by Kris Weinhold), one of 257 species discoved in the mother of rivers and its tributaries. How about the stylish spider with the pink slippers, Avicularia braunshauseni, a tarantula with a sharpshooting talent for blasting pesky intruders with perfectly aimed jet of excrement--accurate to 3 feet (photo by Karl Csaba). Then there's the Rio Acari marmoset (lensed by Georges Neron) and the last of this little sampler, a boon for all you flower lovers, is this handsome bromeliaceous Bromelia araujoi photographed by E. Esteves Pereira. Long may they shine!


Making an Impression

My efforts at garden making, diverse though they may be, tend to rely largely on contrasting the shapes and textures of foliage. Flowers too (and how about those way cool dahlias and Lantana trfolia-a plant I am so hunting for next year.) And since, when it comes to gardening, I'm one of those more-is-better guys, I like dramatic juxtapositions of plants with wildly differing attributes. But on a recent whirl of garden visiting I had to admire an approach almost opposite to mine, an approach that often groups plants by their similarites rather than their differences, an approach that I find ethereal, airy--almost to the point of spectral, and oh-so appealing. Perhaps its allure lies in the likelihood that this is an effect I rarely strive for--with any measure of success--in my own gardens, because the truth is that I have utterly no idea how to go about achieving it, so...I'll just appreciate this vaguely impressionistic effect that to me uderscores a garden's fragility and its transitory beauty.

Take the opening image of Nicotiana mutablis, its pinky white flowers creating a starry firmament above the clouds provided by Euphorbia characias 'Glacier Blue' and Agastache 'Acapulco Salmon and Pink.' The scene looks fragile, almost ghostly, as if it might disappear in a gust of wind. But this vignette at the Ladies' Border at the New York Botanical Garden exhibits real staying power, it will provide that punch for weeks if not months. It's all about the massing of tiny details.

Likewise. on the other side of the NYBG conservatory, I happened upon the Seasonal Walk, this year a Dutch treat courtesy of uber-designers Piet Oudolf and Jacqueline Van der Kloet. Oudolf is known for the creation of evolving, seasoanlly rich plantscapes--many of whicxh are built upon the very frilly, linear shapes which so baffle me whenever I try to group them into combination. But there's no denying the windblown beauty of their creation, and the sheer eye-popping pizzaz of those dahlias nodding amid the plumes of grasses.

Farther afield, at Chanticleer, a similar scene revealed itself. And though horrid lighting prevented capturing a good representation of the tableau, there's no denying the effective use of lots and lots of linear shapes. The grasses, the yucca (is that a rostrata?), and the rest gathered in festive celebration of the airy line. That it works, no doubt. How the conceptual process that pulled it all together evolved, no clue.

Finally, this Chanticleer reverie really got me motivated to try some of these more impressionistic approaches to garden making. Foliage is doing nothing for this flowery fantasia, but the ethereal beauty of these colorful clouds-in primary hues of red, yellow and blue--make this something worth striving toward. And so I shall work next season, once again, to make my own scene that is more gauzy than gaudy, one that relies on likenesses rather than differences, one that is subtle, not shocking. Maybe I'll get lucky.


Fab Foliage Friday

Clatter Valley may have a tropical flavor-at least for part of the year--but as yet there's very little in the way of that most iconic of tropical plants, the palm tree. Now and then I'll pick up something sold as a houseplant at Lowe's Depot and plunk that in the garden for a palm effect, but I never took them too seriously until I happened on a specimen of silver Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis var, cerifera). Wowza! What a foliage plant. A symmetrical dome of fan-shaped silver foliage -each leaf comprised of long splintery, slivers of silver--crowns a knobbly , primeval looking trunk. Those glorious leaves, which glimmer like moonlight, are perched atop long stems lined with hooklike thorns which look like a raptor's claws.

It's a plant brimming with beautiful details: the blades of the rounded, fanlike leaves, the thorns, the knobby trunk, the silvery hue, the overall silhouette--this thing's a keeper. And this native of Morocco's Atlas Mountains is among the hardiest of the already hardy (relatively speaking) fan palm clan. It grows a mile up in those semi arid mountains, where the weather is often cold enough to provide the palm a dusting of snow. Which means I can leave it out in its pot at least until Thanksgiving. And since it is so slow growing, this plant is a great candidate for containers. All it needs is plenty of sun (though color isn't bad even in part shade) and excellent drainage. Once it grows too cold outside here, my silver Mediterranean fan palm will come indoors for the winter to live as a houseplant. It's definitely worth the effort-this one's a keeper.