Archives for the month of: August, 2021

I go to bed early. At around 1am I wake up, the winds are ferocious. My window is always open, secured by the screen window that holds the glass windows in place.  I enjoy the gentle flow of fresh air that reaches through my sleeping area. The trees that enclose my backyard are full blown in the open field as the yard is on the outer ring of the little village. A few big oaks, maple, beech and apple trees sway and swing. I love the sound, even though it keeps me awake for a while. I think about “TheSoundscape, our sonic environment and the tuning of the world” written by R.Murray Schafer in 1977. A book that, when I first read it, changed my being in this world. One idea  discussed in the book, is that each tree creates its own specific soundtrack, based on the organization and shape of its leaves; becoming aware of it makes that you never ignore the trees in your surrounding. 

Schafer put sound on ‘the map’ and I was sad to hear about his passing a few weeks ago. Sound as a source of knowledge, as a means of communication at all levels. 

Trees in the northern Frisian landscape beyond my backyard, a landscape that would be a delta if not for the dykes along the coast. Flatland, grassland, the trees are an anomaly. Villages and Isolated farmhouses cordoned by trees, to break the wind. Traversing the land on my bike I always wonder why there are so little trees along the roads to make it a little easier. When one of my neighbors tells me about the Dutch Elm disease that decimated the tree population, I begin to understand. It is so, it is not easy, and it lead to the formation of the tree watch, can organization to manage and prevent the die back of trees in the region. Since the 1990’s the Elm has been hit hard. Elm trees were then replaced by Ash trees, a managerial decision. Ash trees were thereafter hit by a fungus, going by the beautiful name of Chalara fraxinea, that since 2012 invaded the ash tree population in the region. Transported by wind, Chalara settles on all parts of the Ash, where it feeds freely. 

It sounds all too familiar, forest management and reforestation through planting of fast growing species, often those that take over native species, and/or deplete resources. Short-term thinking. What we need is diversity, not just to keep keep parasitic behavior in check. Somehow it remains a difficult concept, especially in policy. 

The wind has died down, I doze off, arboreal whispers linger on…important messages transpire.


On Wednesday I watched the premiere of the film Glory Days (Hoogtij Dagen) by Dutch film maker Ben van Lieshout at Eye filmmuseum in Amsterdam. It is a film about the Soviet times of the Kola Peninsula, situated at the extreme northwest of Russia, bordering Norway and Finland on its western end, its territory almost completely within the Arctic Circle.

The region has a long occupation history, but the focus in the film is on the glory days of the industrial development of the Soviet Union and its subsequent decline. The vibe of optimism can still be felt in the stories of people interviewed by van Lieshout, when the industrial complex took off  at the beginning of the 20th century, as a result of the discovery of premium industrial resources, such as apatite, nickel, nuclear power, aided by strategic position of Murmansk as the ice free coast. As a consequence of this exploitation however, the peninsula suffered major ecological damage and since the end of the Soviet Union, that particular industry is no longer supported like it was before. The economy went into decline, leaving a generation that is hoping their children will move elsewhere. Not all of them do. The film shows mainly the aftermath of a disillusioned older generation, and despite efforts of rebuilding the industrial economy in different ways, ecologically damaging production still continues. Besides the resource industry, another source of new income is spurred by the rise of “dark tourism,’ referring to tourism that involves travel to places historically associated with death and tragedy. As one hotel sign in the film proudly advertises ‘view on the smelters’.

The film shows a young man, who is content in the job he was offered as the director of an elementary school. A scene of playing children on a playground amidst the apartment blocks and a shot of children’s drawings shows that not all is desperate. And while the film focuses on people who moved here in the early 20th century, attracted by new opportunities, the drawings shown in the scene all depict Sami lifestyle and a Sami flag. Kildin Sami have lived in this region for the longest time. 

Absence of mention of Sami in the film is poignant, but not unexpected, as Indigenous peoples everywhere have been neglected, their rights been violated customarily. People have lived in the Kola Peninsula for a long time, especially the northern part, at least since a the 7th millennium, but by the 1st millennium only the Sami people remained. This changed beginning in the 12th century when Pomor traders became aware of the richness of natural resources, such as fish, and gradually the region became an appropriated part of Novgorodian lands. The Sami were forced to pay tribute to the Novgorodian republic as well as their Scandinavian neighbors, when a border between Novgorodian and Scandinavian countries became necessary,  and was formalized in a number af treaties, When the Novgorodians started to establish permanent settlements on the peninsula during the 16th century, the Sami were forced into serfdom, but traditional ways were shared within the community.

It was not until the Soviet period (1971-1991) that radical change occurred; rapid population increase, industrialization, militarization and urbanization.  At first, because of a focus on peasant-centered society  the state implemented laws that encouraged the development and protection of Sami language and culture, but this changed  during the Stalinist era. At that time the Sami people were subject to forced collectivization, (communal and collective farming), and relocation. The largest concentration of Sami people today live in villages around Lovozero, in the Murmansk region. The foundation of the Arctic Council was an important step in the acknowledgement of indigenous rights across the Arctic region, but challenges remain. 

Other than the earlier settlements and repressive government, the Soviet developments eventually led to ecological disasters, with new towns that were named after the mined resources, Nikel, Apatite in addition to natural gas winning and military, nuclear, development that had sparked economic optimisms in Cold War times.

It was not just the economic and the arms race, but also science was subject of fierce competition during the Cold War. One in particular, was won by the Russians. The story of the Kola Super Deep Borehole SG-3 features prominently in the film by van Lieshout. The scientific drilling project attempted to drill as deep as possible into the Earth’s crust. The project, largely forgotten, started in 1970, reaching its deepest point – 12,262 m-  in 1989 (about one third into the Baltic Shield).  Some interesting findings resulted from the research, such as  the discovery of large quantities of hydrogen gas and microscopic plankton fossils at 6 km deep. The project was abandoned in 2008 due to unprofitability. Up until this day, it is the deepest manmade hole in terms of depth below surface.

Removed from our regular gaze, it is time to pay more attention again to what is happening within the Arctic Circle. ‘Glory days’ may not be over yet. Sources of our energy dependency are abundant, as are sources of our ecological downfall.

Russian oil and gas –

From the field

I wake up around 4 in the morning, I know because the church bells toll, the cows know, they are restlessly moo-ing in the barn on the other side of the church. changing weather, lighting …thunder, coming our way, more changes to come. Beyond our imagination? Is the question. I know cows are smarter than we usually think, and wonder if they would move away if given the chance. The new IPCC report crosses my mind, climate change will spare none of us is the general gist. Nothing to be optimistic about, downfall imminent. For, the last half decade, economic profit has been prioritized in any decision making. Who says humans are the smart ones.

 I think about  the fields around the small village,, some of the potato plants strangely orange- brown, prematurely dying leaves, but also efforts to incorporate places for meadow birds further afield, awareness is growing, finally.  And the fields spark a memory, my first dissertation research topic that never made it … 

From the ‘archives’

It seems research was more straightforward back in the days, but maybe that is a twisted form of nostalgia. Study a topic and making sure you read all the dominant contributors in the field, the pro and contra of the angle you wish to pursue. Now there is so much information available and the connections endless, but has helped us to finally acknowledge that our role in the changing climate is undeniable. Denial has been a long-term strategy, one that the biggest polluters have used ever since the first clear signs of our (self)-destructive behavior became apparent in the 1970’s. 

It is not that civilizations have never declined, they all do, this time however it is at global scale. In fact, my initially proposed research focused on a cause of decline around 1450 AD of the site of Casas Grandes/Paquime in the Chihuahuan desert in present day, Northern Mexico. I wished to test an idea, of then recently published  scientific research on how a certain size of field of mono-culture crop, would cause local atmospheric circulation (read: rainfall patterns) to change, a tipping point of size. If true, this would not only contribute to archaeological research, but would have implications for modern day agriculture. The proposal was denied, vague reasons, and I went on to do something else controversial. The eerie thing was that the research I based my idea on, disappeared from the records. 

At first I thought it was a fluke, until I began to read about similar cases. First in the book Cradle to Cradle, and I began to suspect that whenever science and especially certain scientist made headway into real change, a different way of thinking about our future, they were stopped in their tracks. Corporate funding krept into science, research embedded in the neoliberal program. It is not a happy thought. I have no idea how this plays out globally, I am not optimistic, but not desperate either. 

I recently returned to a research institute. As an archaeologist I am trained to create stories of other (past) worlds based on limited clues. I will offer my skills not in the archaeology department this time, but in art and design. Speculative design will be my focus, imagining other worlds, not just for our shared future, but parallel ones that have always been here, but ignored mostly. It will be even possible to imagine worlds where fields were never large scale mono-crop. where other cultural accomplishments not simply crushed and ignored, but nurtured into different ideas and hypotheses, different, pluralistic sciences. I gladly accept this assignment. Reverse Pluricide! 

La via Campesina – Artists for Food Sovereignty 

As a fan of running, hiking, camping and organic farming, I’ve always been conscious of the materials I use and carry, the cups, plates, pots and pans. Carry water bottles, first the plastic Nalgene and increasingly, stainless steel, to keep things cool, but also warm, as a preferred material for the thermos. When not hiking lightweight, just staying longer term in different places, I always like yo bring my own ceramic cup, one of my favorites is made from clay from my homeland. It is easy to carry and immediately provides me with a sense of belonging in a new place when I drink coffee from my cup. The cup has a stamp of place of origin. 

But with our consumerism on a rollercoaster, lately I more and more question the provenance of raw materials, even, or maybe, especially, the presumed sustainable ones. Resources that may not be exhausted anytime soon, like sand, soil, but are non-renewable nonetheless. Clay, the source for ceramics, stainless steel, the only chromite mine in Europe for instance is located in Finland (Kemi Mine). No problems yet, but still gets me thinking about which materials to use. How nice would it be to have information about the production life of each object, such as with my organic vegetables. Each week, my vegetable bag comes with information of the farm(s) they were grown. 

The cup and tiles from Makkum, the Netherlands, the thermos from my time at the National Park Service but no idea where the material comes from, the mat is Japanese, actually a small, comfortable, seat.

Biking around in my neighborhood, the material to use would be the Frisian clay, sea or river clay, and traditional  ceramic and porcelain is still made in the region. But there is something else, something more ephemeral, the flax, and the rustling reed along the fields, material that can be used to make basketry, a local craftsman demonstrates his skill of making duck baskets. Although very nice, I am reminded of the most beautiful baskets from the archaeological record I know, woven more than 1000 years ago. It is hard to stamp with a mark like in clay, but then basketry can be woven into such beautiful designs to mark their maker(s). Maybe it is time we become more intimate with our surrounding green, and learn some skills. 

Look at these beautiful baskets, incredible skills

at the local basketmaker (Blija) and local green (below).