Fauxhasset Paroder, 16th Edition: Oh deer, deer, deer

By Thamanda Crompson
Fauxhasset Paroder Staff Reporter

Car accidents involving deer are piling up. There were another dozen crashes this week, including two that involved a soccer mom whose Range Rover was totaled by a deer earlier this month.

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Officials say the beast has been slain. Unofficials not so sure; advise “stay woke.” Photo credit

“I’ll say the same thing I said the last two times,” said soccer mom Marissa Marsh, standing away from a seven-car pile-up that included her brand-new Tesla. “That thing was not a deer.”

Marsh shook her head and added, “Fauxhasset’s supposed to be such a great place to raise your kids, but my sons are terrified, and my husband and I don’t want them outside with some… some monster on the loose. I can’t believe those idiots at Town Hall haven’t done something about this.”

As a matter of fact, those idiots at Town Hall had done something about it, or at least they’d tried.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can,” said Town Manager Mown Tanager at the scene of the accident. “For such a large creature, these deer are incredibly hard to track. We don’t even know how many of them there are – is it the same animal causing accidents over and over, or are there hundreds of them out in the woods somewhere? We just don’t know.”

“And by the way, we don’t know for sure that they aren’t just ordinary deer,” Tanager added. “I’m inclined to say that they are, but the witness reports are uncannily consistent across the board, and we can’t just ignore that.”

Before the accident, the Local and Regional Animal Whisperers (LAW and RAW) had been tracking the creature for most of the day, assisted by Radiation State Park Senior Ranger Roc Rubble with his flask of whiskey and Rookie Ranger Devan Branch, part-time Jedi, with his light saber.

They arrived on the scene shortly after the accident and pursued the creature into the woods. As tow trucks were hauling away the last of the wreckage, the LAW returned with Branch’s light saber in one hand and a crown of antlers in the other.

“The beast is slain,” he announced. He brought the antlers back to the police station as evidence and for possible use in the creation of reinducks for pulling Santa’s duck boat on Saturday.

The others didn’t come out of the woods for several more minutes, and police almost sent a search team after them, but at last they emerged.

The RAW immediately got into his Hum-vee and drove into the forest to collect the carcass. Rubble declined to comment and instead tried to drain his flask, which was already empty. Branch cast about for his light saber, a circuit which brought him close to the Paroder reporting team.

“Don’t listen to Tanager and LAW,” Branch muttered. “Whatever that thing is, it’s not a deer, and it’s not dead.”

Look for more on this issue in an upcoming edition of the Paroder.

Climate change fighter spills the dirt on biochar

It’s safe to say that biochar is a miracle.

It doesn’t look like much. Just a handful of dirt. But this innocuous black mound is actually the perfect marriage of nature and science.

It acts like fertilizer in healthy soil, adds nutrients back into depleted soil, and even combats climate change by pulling carbon out of the air and putting it back into the earth where it belongs. It can be used on any garden or lawn and can help plants weather or recover from drought.

“I learned about biochar five years ago,” said Debbie Cook, who was working as the greenscapes manager for the North and South Rivers Watershed Association at the time. She’d been researching environmentally-friendly methods of lawn care, but what she actually found was even bigger and better.

“I thought, ‘It can’t be this good,’” said Cook. “It’s a true miracle. I’m obsessed.”

Which is how she found herself in Peru at the Sachamama Center for Biocultural Regeneration, making and sharing biochar with Kechwa farmers whose slash-and-burn-style agriculture was depleting soil beyond the point of recovery.

Cook met Frederique Apffel-Marglin, a Smith College professor of anthropology, at a potluck dinner in Cambridge, where the professor told her about a Peru service trip she would be leading. Cook knew right away that she had to go. She didn’t know who else was going or where they would stay, but it didn’t matter; she had to learn more about this miracle substance.

It was Cook and 16 others, most of them millennials – students of Apffel-Marglin or her daughter, who is also a professor. Despite their generational differences, Cook said everyone got along well, had fun, and learned a lot.

Over the course of six weeks, the team built special stoves in four villages in the region. The ovens heat organic material to a high temperature without oxygen through a process called pyrolysis; this is the key to creating biochar.

 The result is a porous, inert carbon, which has lots of room for storing vitamins, minerals, and moisture for plants to use as they need it – as well as for all that extra carbon that’s been hanging around the atmosphere, pushing global temperatures ever higher.

“I call it a condominium or house for microbes and water,” Cook said.

With the stoves in place, the team taught the Kechwas how to use them. This variety of biochar was called “Terra Preta” and included microbes from the forest floor, cow manure, nuts, and coconut shells.

Making Terra Preta is an involved process that requires an investment of time and effort from everyone in the community. But the investment pays off within a year, when gardens that have lain fallow for generations are suddenly – miraculously – able to produce vegetables again.

If biochar catches on in the region, it could herald a marked improvement in quality of life for the Kechwas. Because the tribe has been practicing slash-and-burn agriculture for so long, they have to travel further and further from their homes to reach their farms and gardens, sometimes as far as six hours away – and there’s no fast or easy means of transportation.

The irony is that biochar originated in the Amazon. Cook cited Charles C. Mann’s book “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus,” which says that a substance like biochar was once widely used in that area.

Researchers today are unsure exactly what went into this ancient recipe, but they know it sustained millions of people along the Amazon, a region whose soil is today considered too poor to support such a population. One ingredient would have been fermented human waste, because the indigenous people did not keep farm animals whose manure could be used.

When European explorers brought smallpox to the Amazon, millions died, and with them went the knowledge of biochar. There were not enough people left to continue making it, and that’s when the people turned to slash-and-burn agriculture using steel and machetes brought by explorers.

The new method could completely deplete a plot of soil within two years. Now, with the rediscovery of biochar, that same soil can be fully replenished in the same amount of time.

Cook used biochar in her own garden this summer and said that, despite the drought, her chives and lavender doubled in size. A contact of hers, Bob Wells, who makes and sells biochar ovens all over the world, uses it on his sandy Cape Cod property and now regularly wins the Eastham turnip festival.

If you’re looking for the inevitable downside of biochar, so far, it’s only this: biochar must be “charged” before use by leaving it to sit in compost for two weeks. Otherwise, especially if you use it on your lawn, it will start grabbing up all the nearest microbes – the ones that are in the plants. Biochar needs to be fully loaded with microbes before application.

It’s worth the effort, if you ask Cook and other proponents.

“If we’re going to keep our climate habitable, we need less than 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Last week, we exceeded 400,” Cook said, quoting national climate leader Bill McKibben of 350.org.

350.org is building a global climate movement through online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions, coordinated by a global network active in over 188 countries.

 “The only reason we’ve escaped for now is that the oceans have sequestered carbon dioxide,” Cook went on, “but it’s making the oceans acidic; it will eat the shells of lobsters.”

That’s why she couldn’t stop with Peru. In November, Cook and Apffel-Marglin are going to Morocco to introduce this new form of agriculture at the Marrakech Climate Change Conference. They’re preparing a TED-style talk, which Cook would be thrilled to share with other audiences.

To inquire about Cook’s presentation, or to try our biochar for yourself, contact Debbie Cook at debbiecook281@gmail.com.


This story originally appeared in the Cohasset Mariner.

Greener Grass

I used to want to be in a touring band. At the time, I thought it was for the music, but I wasn’t good enough, and I never loved performance enough to become good. To be sure, I craved the sound waves. I swallowed the amplitude like a pill. Some nights, I swear my heart would have stopped but for the kick drum. Heat rising from close bodies, throats sharing the same words like in the time of bards, souls all pointing in a single direction as though the man on stage were Magnetic North himself: these were my drugs, and I believed they could save me from the rot of stagnation. But at its heart, the dream was always about travel. I didn’t want to rock and roll; I wanted to be a rolling rock (let the moss grow where it may).

Call it wanderlust. I believe the scientific term is “Greener Grass Syndrome (GGS)” – that is, when forced to maintain the same life pattern in the same location for more than  year, I grow first bored, then restless, and, finally, depressed. People with GGS imagine there must be greener grass elsewhere and so, compulsively, we must sometimes simply pack up our cars and go to find it. The reason I keep returning to Vermont is that the grass actually is greener here. The sky is actually bluer. The world actually looks the way Ben and Jerry’s ice cream tubs would have you believe – yes, Pantone color scheme and cotton ball clouds included. I have definitely been rained on here, and yet I have no memory of any days in Vermont where it didn’t look exactly like this:

A typical day in Vermont, June 17, 2014

The crazy thing about Vermont, besides all the old hippies and the wee college freshmen, is this. You can be walking down any old street, and many people who pass you on this street will actually make eye contact with you. Make, and maintain, like it wasn’t some embarrassing bungle on their part to have acknowledged a person outside of their own body. And then, these people who look at you, oftentimes – they actually smile! Some of them even wave, or go so far as to ask how you’re doing.

I went to Burlington alone for four days. More than once, I came to myself mid-conversation with someone who had been a stranger thirty seconds before. It would happen halfway through a crosswalk or schlepping back up Main Street toward Willard Street Inn, where I stayed. It would happen on a bike path/dog trail, where I had neither a bike nor a dog; suddenly I would have not only a new human friend, but a new canine one, too. I ate my first meal in the state with a homeless lady I met on a corner (hi, Rita, if you ever read this!). The writers of the city welcomed me into their fold, even inviting me to work in their studio outside of scheduled meet-up hours. I danced an entire concert with someone just because he had on a Twenty One Pilots t-shirt.  I gave away my last Guatemalan quetzal to a barista at Muddy Waters because he said, gesturing at the foreign bills and coins affixed to the doorframe behind him, that the café collected them, and it didn’t make me sad to part with it. I don’t expect it back, but it felt more like sharing than like giving it away.

I think all of this has a lot to do with Vermont being full of dog people. You can start a conversation with any dog person, no problem. People love it when you ask about their dogs. Sometimes they love to tell you even when you don’t ask, but even as a non-dog person, I don’t think this is so bad. It says they have time for someone other than themselves. It says their life has room for something besides day-in, day-out drudgery (and if it doesn’t, at least many Vermonters are allowed to bring their dogs to work). It says that, not unlike the friend at the end of their leash, they would be content in this world if everybody would just look at you and say hello and maybe scratch your back a little once in a while.

Happy people, like dog people, are easy to talk to. They have time for you. In whatever small way they can manage in a split second on a sidewalk or waiting in line for lunch, they care. In spite of the whole rolling stone thing, if I ever have to grow some moss, I am thinking Vermont would not be a bad place to do it.