Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. She manages Mother Jones' Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program.
Flames from the High Park Fire west of Ft. Collins in June 2012.
The severe flooding that barreled through the Colorado foothills last week and took at least 8 lives resulted from a freak tempest that's been deemed one of the worst in the state's history. In just a few days, Boulder received more than half its normal annual precipitation. It's quite a reversal from the persistent drought and destructive wildfires Coloradans have recently contended with; in 2010, the Fourmile Canyon fire outside of Boulder became the state's most destructive to date, until it was surpassed last summer by the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires of 2012, which caused tens of thousands of evacuations along the Front Range. These extreme swings—from parched and burning to flooded—have led some to wonder if climate change is at play; Chris Mooney does a great roundup of the thinking on this in a piece yesterday.
Torrential rainfall, rather than past wildfires, was the biggest factor in Colorado's flooding.
There's also been speculation that effects from these recent wildfires could have worsened the flooding: A National Geographic post points to how a lack of vegetation causes denuded hillsides to fail to trap enough water, and Live Science notes that debris slides were spotted in recently burned regions like the High Park Fire area and Boulder's Fourmile Canyon. There's good reason to wonder if burn-scarred areas might've exacerbated the problem. Wildfires affect soil quality and can increase stream flows and erosion by 10 to 100 times compared to normal forests. Scorched hillsides can send more debris down canyons.
The experts I reached out to with this question agreed that flash floods are often a result of thunderstorms hitting burned areas with repellent soils and lack of vegetation. But most of Colorado's recent flooding doesn't exactly fall under this scenario: "Remember that the area that has been burned compared to the area where rain fell is relatively small," says Lee MacDonald, a hydrology expert at Colorado State University. Some of the rivers that were flooding and causing problems last week, such as in Big Thompson Canyon, weren't coming out of large burn areas, he says. Instead, the unusual rainfall—deemed "biblical" by the National Weather Service—was the biggest factor in all the runoff.
Wildfires have a large effect on small and medium flooding events, but when rainfall is off the charts, the effect of burned areas shrinks. "It's going to be difficult to separate out the part of the flooding that was increased because of fire because it was just so much water," says Kevin Hyde, a post-doc studying post-fire erosion at the University of Wyoming. Proximity could play a role: "the closer you are to the burned areas," Hyde adds, "the more impact the rainfall has."
Still, the compounded damages from the cycle of wildfire and flooding could very well be amplified on the Front Range in coming years. Climate models foretell larger regional storms, and scientists have also predicted bigger, more intense wildfires in Colorado's future. "What is that going to mean for the people living in the mouth of these areas?" wonders Hyde. If the 100-year flood that turned Boulder inside out last week is any indication, living at the base of the Rockies—while arguably worth it—isn't getting any less complicated.
Square dancing at the 2012 Berkeley Old Time Music Convention
When I catch fiddler Suzy Thompson on the phone, she's pretty amped to tell me about the 10th annual Old Time Music Convention in Berkeley, California. As BOTMC's director and founder, Thompson has coaxed old-time musicians from around the world to not only perform at the small annual festival, but to lead its square dances and workshops with eager local participants and amateurs. The outdoor string band contest, held at the park near the Berkeley Farmers' Market, often takes center stage: jug bands, Italian tarantellas, a Greek band complete with undulating belly dancer—"anything goes as long as it's unplugged," the program reads. The result is a gathering modeled after Appalachian fiddle and banjo conventions that emphasize "doing rather than just watching." There's not much separation between the stars and the regular folk who take part.
That attitude is what attracted Foghorn Stringband fiddler Sammy Lind to old-time music in the first place. "I was really drawn to the social aspect of it," he tells me during a break from his current tour in Washington. "I loved getting together; it felt great to be part of a crew of people like that."
A security light in a Tres Piedras, New Mexico, parking lot. "If you look closely, there's a shielded light in the background lighting the post office parking lot," Paul Bogard says. "The bright light is totally unnecessary."
A country whose capital, Paris, made history with its "City of Light" glowing streets is suddenly trying to dial them down. Starting this summer, a French decree mandates that public buildings and shops must keep lights off between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m in attempt to preserve energy and cut costs, and "reduce the print of artificial lighting on the nocturnal environment."
As France's move suggests, civilization's ever-growing imprint on the night sky has more than just stargazers concerned. In his new book, The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, writer Paul Bogard bemoans how our last dark spaces are slowly being devoured by the "light trespass" of artificial rays. A team of astronomers recently projected that while the US population is growing at a rate of less than 1.5 percent a year, the amount of artificial light is increasing at an annual rate of 6 percent. It's more than just a nostalgia for primordial darkness that's eating at Bogard: Too much light causes animals to go haywire, derails natural cycles, and damages human health.
The greatest sources of light pollution in cities worldwide are street lamps and parking lots, partially because we've been bred to believe that public lighting equals safety. Take this recent map of the number one 311 complaint of New Yorkers during the summer of 2012; people wig out when there's a dark bulb on their block.
But there's a chance we have it all wrong, argues Bogard. In the late '70s, a US Department of Justice report found no statistical evidence that street lighting reduced crime. More recently, similar findings—such as this 2008 review by California's public utilities company—have been largely ignored by the general public.
Optometrist Alan Lewis, former president of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, argues in the TheEnd of Night that the glare of poorly designed street lamps ("probably eighty percent of street lighting") can even make it harder to see things at night. Our eyes don't have a chance to adjust to darker areas, and the extreme contrasts make our night vision poor.
It gets much worse than not being able to see in the dark. Scientists have unearthed troubling links between artificial light and our most feared diseases: obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular risk, and cancer. Apart from preventing people from getting adequate shut-eye, electric light at night has been shown to suppress the body's production of melatonin, which is thought to play an important role in keeping certain cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer, from growing. Potent "blue" lights—such as those used in certain energy-efficient LEDs, and on tablets, cellphones, computers, and TVs—may be the worst culprits. "It turns out that the wavelength of light that most directly affects our production of melatonin at night," writes Bogard, "is exactly the wavelength of light that we are seeing more and more of in the modern world."
Lukas Volger's mushroom burger with barley, from his cookbook "Veggie Burgers Every Which Way"
It's a warm summer evening, and you're on a back porch with a group of friends, drinking a beer and getting ready for dinner. Someone passes you a paper plate, a seeded bun, and—wait, you don't eat meat? Oh. Well, here's a tomato and some lettuce.
If you steer clear of beef, you've probably experienced a similar scenario. If you're lucky, you maybe even found a frozen soy patty masquerading as a burger that, when grilled, sort of tasted like nothing, and drenched it in mustard.
Luckily, there are savory alternatives to this dilemma, made from ingredients you probably have at home. I reached out to a few vegetable-oriented chefs and cookbook authors for their favorite burger recipes, which are shared below. Some of them are vegan and gluten-free, too. And you can always freeze them after you've made a bunch, so next gathering, you'll come prepared with a burger made with unprocessed ingredients and devoid of mystery chemicals.
Mushroom Burgers with Barley (vegan)
Lukas Volger takes his vegetarian burgers very seriously, as evidenced by his book on the topic. He also hosts the cooking show Vegetarian Tonight; see below for the episode featuring the mushroom burger with barley, which Volger cooks while clad in a neatly arranged apron and hipster glasses. Volger opts for potatoes rather than eggs when binding his burger, meaning the result is vegan. Writes Volger: "This burger, based in part on the fortifying soup, is simple and delicious and abundant in mushroom flavor. Substitute other mushroom varieties, such as oyster mushrooms or plain button mushrooms."
Makes four 4-inch burgers
1 small potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 portabello mushroom
12 cremini mushrooms
10 shiitake mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup cooked barley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Steam or boil the potato until tender. Mash with a fork. Trim off the stem of the portabella mushroom and scoop out the gills. Chop into 1/2-inch pieces. Thinly slice the crimini and shitake mushrooms. Preheat oven to 375° F.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Cook the portabello mushrooms and dried thyme for 6 to 8 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to soften and sweat. Add the crimini and shitake. Cook for 10 minutes, until the mushrooms have sweat off their moisture and it has dried up in the pan. Deglaze with the vinegar, scraping off browned bits with a wooden spoon.
Transfer mushrooms to a food processor and coarsely purée. (Alternatively, chop the mushrooms finely by hand.) Combine the mushroom mixture with the potato, barley, salt, pepper, and mushroom mixture in a mixing bowl. Shape into patties.
In a large oven-safe skillet or nonstick sauté pan heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the patties and cook until browned on each side, 6 to 10 minutes total. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the burgers are firm and cooked through.
Don't forget to "go crazy with the condiments," adds Volger: yogurt sauce, caramelized onions, homemade pesto, or more sauteed mushrooms, as pictured above.
Recipe editor Emma Christensen loved the legendary beet burgers at the Northstar Cafe in Columbus, so she and fellow Kitchn bloggers set out to recreate their own version. The resulting burger, writes Christensen, "had a deep, savory umami flavor" and unlike other veggie burgers, "captured that unique hamburger texture." Dice the beets really small, she notes, and don't use a food processor if you're trying to avoid mushiness. I liked how this burger uses lots of cheap and readily available ingredients; find the full recipe here.
Falafel Burger (vegan and gluten-free)
"Whole-food dishes like falafel—chickpeas ground up with spices and then deep fried—might be a better beacon towards a less meat-intensive future," writes MoJo's food and agriculture blogger, Tom Philpott. Falafel might be the ticket to a better burger, too.
Hip-hop artist Dessa's new album "Parts of Speech" hit shelves on June 25.
The word "music" traces back to Greek's mousike, or "art of the Muses," those seven goddesses presiding over song, literature, and dance. The muse Euterpe, "giver of delight," embodied music and lyric poetry; she'd have approved of the following contemporary songbirds, for whom timeless Greek tales inspire and enrich songs about modern life and love.
Minneapolis-based Dessa might not fit your stereotype of a rapper: Poised and contemplative, you might find her lecturing on creative writing or feminism in a college classroom, cozying up to a David Foster Wallace novel, or jotting down lyrics in the tattered Moleskine she keeps in her backpack. But that doesn't mean her latest album, Parts of Speech, is tame. Released June 25, the album offers a potent blend of pop, R&B, and hip-hop strung together by Dessa's sultry voice and explosive songwriting. ("Call Off Your Ghost," which you can listen to below, is a case in point.)
Dessa is a poet and former philosophy major, so it's no wonder Greek characters pop up in some of her songs, such as the the haunting "Beekeeper," where she sings: "Sweet Prometheus come home / they took away our fire / and all that this scarcity promotes / is desperate men and tyrants." (In Greek mythology, the cunning Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give to humans). "I think I go to myths because you get to import a tiny piece of the poetic tradition that you reference," Dessa says.