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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

July 3, 1998

Air Date: July 3, 1998

SEGMENTS

Bring Back the Bees / Terry FitzPatrick

A golf course in Oregon has launched a unique project to install native flowering plants to help stem the decline of the wild insects that pollinate them. If successful, it could become a nationwide model for restoring the habitat of some of nature's most important creatures. From our Northwest Bureau, Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports from Pendleton, Oregon. (07:55)

New England Bear Hunt / Sy Montgomery

For the first time in more than a decade, a bear hunt is proposed for southern New Hampshire this fall. Commentator Sy Montgomery wonders why. She says people should just get used to idea of living with bears. Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery lives in Hancock, New Hampshire and is author of Nature's Everyday Mysteries. (02:55)

Wetlands Policy Soaking Up Criticism

Despite a pledge from the Clinton Administration to clamp down on the loss of wetlands, critics are skeptical of a new permit policy proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The new guidelines are out as a proposal for public comment, and one man with his thumb down is Drew Caputo, a wetlands expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Mr. Caputo spoke with Steve Curwood. (06:25)

Listener Letters

Comments from our listeners on recent stories on bottled drinking water, population growth, and the ant-repelling herb Tansy. (02:30)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... 100 years ago, Joshua Slocum became the first person on record to sail solo around the world. (01:30)

Doctor Shaman / Joe Rubin

The rainforests of Central and South America are rich with medicinal plants that are gradually becoming known to modern medicine. Some pharmaceutical companies are prospecting in these regions for beneficial, and profitable, remedies. Now there is growing interest among medical students in the practitioners of centuries old healing techniques. We know them as medicine men or shamans. They are called "yachic" by the indigenous Keechwah Indians in Equador. That's where Producer Joe Rubin traveled high in the Andes to a health clinic where modern doctors work along side shamans, developing the fledgling field of Integrative Medicine. He prepared this report. (11:30)

Tipi Rings / Nancy Lord

Commentator Nancy Lord recently encountered remnants of an ancient civilization. During a trip to Wyoming, she saw her first tipi rings. These dark circles of rocks are believed to have anchored the tipis of the Plains Indians. They reminded her how easy it is to lose something important, if it's not carefully nurtured. Commentator Nancy Lord is author of Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore and she comes to us from K-B-B-I in Homer, Alaska. (02:50)

Thoreauvian Peace & Quiet / Kim Motylewski

In the vast developed areas that sprawl between our cities, quiet places are even harder to find than open spaces. Even Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau's symbol of tranquillity has so many visitors and nearby roads that real solitude is nearly impossible to find there. But, Thoreauvian solitude is what Peter Acker seeks. Mr. Acker crisscrosses New England collecting natural sound from places Thoreau visited and wrote about: the Maine Woods, Cape Cod, and Walden. He plans to release a three CD set of these recordings later this year. Producer Kim Motylewski set out to find out what Peter Acker, and the rest of us, are up against in the search for the true sounds of nature. (08:25)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Terry FitzPatrick, Joe Rubin, Kim Motylewski
GUEST: Drew Caputo
COMMENTATORS: Sy Montgomery, Nancy Lord

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. Despite a pledge from the Clinton Administration to clamp down on the loss of wetlands, critics are skeptical of the new permit policy proposed by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

CAPUTO: The end result is that if you're a developer who wants to build a Wal-Mart or a parking lot or a residential subdivision, or an office park, or an industrial facility in a wetland, these permits would make it easier for you to do so.

CURWOOD: Also, using native plants to halt the calamitous slide in bee populations.

ALLEN: Without the plants, the insects die. Then without the insects, the remaining plants don't regenerate. And then you have fewer and fewer insects, so it's a vicious downward spiral.

CURWOOD: One city's answer: more natural greening for golf courses. Also, Sy Montgomery on hunting for black bears. We'll have those stories and more, this week on Living on Earth. First, the news.

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(Music up and under)

Bring Back the Bees

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Sound of a golf club striking a ball)

CURWOOD: As we settle into summer, the sound of tee shots is a constant rhythm heard out on the nation's golfcourses. But if a group of ecologists is successful, this course in Oregon could also be buzzing with the sound of--bees! The Wildhorse Resort has launched a unique project to install native flowering plants to help stem the decline of the wild insects that pollinate them. If successful, it could become a nationwide model for restoring the habitat of some of Nature's most important creatures. From our Northwest Bureau, Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports.

(Another golfball heads for the fairway)

FITZ PATRICK: Golf courses are among the most manicured landscapes on Earth, requiring endless attention by the grounds crew.

(shoveling sounds)

FITZ PATRICK: However, workers at the Wildhorse Resort near Pendleton, Oregon, are trying to create a little chaos amidst the lush fairways.

(Metal scrapes on rock)

FITZ PATRICK: With picks and shovels, they're transforming out- of-bounds sections into a jungle of native flowering plants, the kinds that bees and other pollinating insects depend on.

(Scrapes, thuds, taps, pats)

DAVIS: If you look to your left and right, most of this is farmed. And there's very few native plant communities left, and so the insects don't really have a place to be.

(Shovel delving)

FITZ PATRICK: Landscaper June Davis says wildflowers were common before farmers and urban developers plowed them under. This pilot project will determine if native bee populations can recover when the natural plants are restored.

(Scrape, rattle, brushing off of hands. Woman's voice: "All right, here you go, baby!" Then pat, pat.)

FITZ PATRICK: Ms. Davis is installing a diverse assortment of plants, such as yarrow, choke cherries, sumac, wild grape, and woodsy rose.

(Shovel sounds, pats)

FITZ PATRICK: Each one attracts a different type of bee

(Energetic soil firming sounds. Woman's voice: "...get that packed down..."

DAVIS: There, we have a nice little basin, that after we can come and water.

FITZ PATRICK: There are more than 4,000 species of bee in North America, and while there are no firm statistics on their decline, many ecologists sense there has been an alarming drop. Melody Allen, of the Xerces Society for invertebrate conservation, blames the lack of native vegetation, such as the vast expanses of grass, on golf course like this.

ALLEN: Without the plants, the insects die. Then, without the insects, the remaining plants don't regenerate. And then you have fewer and fewer insects. So it's a vicious downward spiral.

FITZ PATRICK: Unchecked, this spiral could threaten the pollination of thousands of species of plants, even plants that people depend upon for food. The domesticated honeybee hives that farmers rely on, have been devastated in recent years by parasites, and scientists think native bees might offer a solution. Ms. Allen and other back yard gardeners have noticed that on a small scale, planting wildflowers helps wild bees to rebound.

ALLEN: I went from a back yard that had grass to a back yard that is filled with native plants, and this is in urban Portland. And it is absolutely alive with insects. I mean you walk into my yard, it's just amazing. They are so busy and they're so productive and they're so beneficial. And it's a pleasant sound; it's equivalent to the sound of bird song in the morning, to go out in the afternoon, on a sunny afternoon, and hear. It's like a music of insects. It's just beautiful.

FITZ PATRICK: Ms. Allen believes her back yard experiment can work on golf courses nationwide, where there are millions of acres of land that is out of play. The Wildhorse course was picked to go first, in part because the Indian tribes that built it have a special nursery to reintroduce native plants. Monica Sanchee is the nursery manager for the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes.

SANCHEE: We're trying to complete a cycle. It's a circle. We're trying to put back into the circle all living things that create a whole. This is what makes the land work for itself.

FITZ PATRICK: Still, some tribal members weren't sure they could embrace the return of bees and wasps on their new golf course resort. But superintendent Sean Hoolehan says people came around when they learned the project does not involve the swarming, stinging honeybees that people are familiar with.

HOOLEHAN: The key is to save pollinators, not bees. When you save bees, people's eyes rise and -- for instance, on my staff I have some people who are allergic to bees. But when we talk about it and tell them, explain to them what really we're talking about, about a more solitary kind of species and their importance, everybody kind of buys off. I haven't had any negative comments.

FITZ PATRICK: In fact, many people wouldn't recognize a wild bee even if it did come up and try to sting them. They're nothing like the honeybees people commonly think about.

(Many buzzing bees)

FITZ PATRICK: Honeybees live in huge colonies, with thousands of individual insects.

(Buzzing continues)

FITZ PATRICK: Actually, though, honeybees are not native to North America. They were brought here by Pilgrims centuries ago.

(Buzzing continues)

FITZ PATRICK: Most naturally-occurring bees in the US do not live in hives. They live alone. They're far less likely to sting, and their venom is weaker.

(sound of boxes being opened)

TEPEDINO: We have 51 species of bees and 32 species of wasps.

FITZ PATRICK: In a lab at Whitman College in nearby Walla Walla, Washington, Vince Tepedino is opening boxes with specimens of native pollinators. Dr. Tepedino is with the US Department of Agriculture's bee research center in Utah. He tells students who will monitor the Wildhorse golf course that pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, and colors.

TEPEDINO: Blues, bright greens, some purplish reds. Some of them are amazingly beautiful. They're like jewels.

(Creaking styrofoam)

FITZ PATRICK: The specimens are pinned to a styrofoam panel.

(To Tepedino)These are absolutely amazing.

But even with a magnifying glass, I couldn't recognize them as bees.

(To Tepedino) They look more like big flies, or dragonflies.

TEPEDINO: They're far too beautiful for flies.

FITZ PATRICK: (Laughs) You're not a fly fisher, are you?

TEPEDINO: No, I'm not.

(Wooden boards being hammered)

TEPEDINO: Want to come hold? (A woman speaks in reply.)

FITZ PATRICK: Out on the golf course, Dr. Tepedino is helping the experiment by erecting nesting blocks for native pollinators to call home.

(A drill runs)

FITZ PATRICK: Atop a 3-foot stake, he attaches several boards with small holes where females can lay eggs.

(More hammering)

FITZ PATRICK: Like a bird house, bees will come to a bee house?

TEPEDINO: Oh yeah. Yeah. These are bee condos.

(More drilling)

FITZ PATRICK: In a natural setting, fallen logs would provide nesting habitat like this. But for now, Dr. Tepedino says the blocks will do.

(To Tepedino) So it seems your strategy right now is sort of the field of dreams strategy?

TEPEDINO: (Laughs) Yeah, that's exactly right. Build it and they will come.

FITZ PATRICK: It will take all year to learn if the bees do come in sufficient numbers to make this effort worthwhile.

(A golf ball is hit)

MAN: That's a good ball.

FITZ PATRICK: It will also take time to assess if golfers will accept an audience of insects.

(Another ball is hit)

FITZ PATRICK: But if the project is a success, native plant restoration could expand to public parks, corporate campuses, and highway medians, providing a mosaic of habitat where people and pollinators can coexist. For Living on Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick on the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton, Oregon.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

New England Bear Hunt

CURWOOD: For the first time in more than a decade, a bear hunt is proposed for southern New Hampshire this fall. Commentator Sy Montgomery wonders why. She says people should just get used to the idea of living with bears.

MONTGOMERY: No one knows how many bears live in New Hampshire. They've never been counted. No matter; some folks think any bears are too many. They're the folks who call the Fish and Game Department: "Come get your bear out of my yard!" they'll whine. A shocking number of people hate bears because sometimes bears raid their bird feeders. They put out food for wildlife and then get mad when wildlife shows up.

Some complaints sound more legitimate. This year one was about a bear frequenting a school bus stop. But wait. What was a bear doing at a school bus stop? Turns out there was an open garbage dumpster there. Rather than move the bear, it's a lot easier to move the dumpster.

It's true that today all over the eastern US there are more black bears than 100 years ago. Thanks to curbs on hunting and regrowth of forests, black bears have made an astonishing comeback from the edge of extinction. Unfortunately, we have lived without bears for so long that most of what people know about them is wrong.

The fact is, black bears, unlike grizzlies, aren't aggressive. I know. With biologists I followed bears in 3 states. I once stuck my face into a bear den inches away from an alert mother with cubs. She didn't even snort. The last time a bear killed anyone in New Hampshire was 200 years ago, and that was a drunken hunter who thought the bear he shot was already dead.

When we don't train them to be foolish or tempt them with our garbage, bears can be almost ethereal. Mark Ellingwood, the Bear Project Leader for New Hampshire, told me about following a radio-collared mother bear with cubs through the forest. Even though he had a clear radio signal and the bear was very close, even though they did catch glimpses of her, she kept disappearing as if into thin air.

To have wild bears among us again is a blessing beyond measure. Every Indian nation on this continent considers the bear a sacred animal. Many tribes recognize the bear as the original medicine woman, who taught people the secrets of the healing herbs. Bears still have much to teach us. The most important lesson may be tolerance. If we cannot make room in our world for bears, we will have made an astonishingly foolish trade. We may save a few plastic bird feeders or not have to bother securing our garbage, but we will lose a significant part of the wildness and wonder of our woods.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery lives in Hancock, New Hampshire, and is author of Nature's Everyday Mysteries.

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(Music up and under: "Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife. I mean the bare necessities. Old Mother Nature's recipes that bring the bare necessities of life...")

CURWOOD: For a transcript or tape of Living on Earth, please call 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988, for transcripts and tapes. Coming up: thousands of acres of wetlands are being lost every year in the US, and one expert claims a new Clinton Administration plan would speed up those losses. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Wetlands Policy Soaking Up Criticism

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Wetlands are some of the greatest powerhouses of nature. They provide critical breeding habitat for wildlife. They can filter huge amounts of pollutants out of water, and they protect against flooding by soaking up rain like giant sponges. That's a lesson many communities are learning the hard way with this year's heavy downpours. More than half of the wetlands in the US are already gone, disappeared under office parks, condominiums and other developments, and the rest are going fast. Two years ago, President Clinton vowed to protect wetlands from overdevelopment by directing the Army Corps of Engineers to redraft its Wetlands Permitting Guidelines. And now the new guidelines are out as a proposal for public comment. One man with his thumb down is Drew Caputo, a wetlands expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

CAPUTO: Among other things, these new wetlands permits would cover many thousands of acres, more wetlands than are covered under the current permit, Permit 26, which itself does a terrible job of protecting wetlands from all sorts of development.

CURWOOD: So you mean the larger the area the rules cover, the more opportunity for developing the wetlands? Is that what you're telling me?

CAPUTO: Yeah. What these rules do is they establish sort of a streamlined permitting process, which really isn't much of a hurdle at all for developers who want to fill a wetland. There's very little regulatory review over development activities that go through this sort of nationwide permitting process, and there's no public input or even public notice whatsoever as part of the process. It's a big loophole, basically, for developers. The end result is that if you're a developer who wants to build a Wal-Mart or a parking lot or a residential subdivision or an office park or an industrial facility in a wetland, these permits would make it easier for you to do so.

CURWOOD: Now, the Administration said it reviewed this whole wetlands permitting process and wanted to change it because they said that too much development was being allowed under the present regime. Now, why do you think they're actually loosening restrictions as you claim they are?

CAPUTO: Well, Steve, the honest answer is I'm having a hard time explaining why this proposal makes good sense from the Administration's perspective. Because back in 1996, when they decided to phase out Permit 26, they took and received political credit for doing that in order to do a better job of protecting wetlands. So it doesn't make sense to replace one permit which you admit is bad for the environment with new permits that are also bad for the environment. My only explanation is that the development interests are powerful ones, and that they've been putting pressure on the Army Corps of Engineers to at least keep the status quo, which is to allow them to have some broad permits that make it easy for them to fill wetlands.

CURWOOD: Well tell me, how much is being build on wetlands right now under the present rules?

CAPUTO: Well, the data's not very good. For Fiscal Year 1995, which is the last full year that data is available. The Corps admits to 34,000 development activities being permitted, and that those parking lots and shopping malls and things like that caused roughly 8,500 acres of wetlands lost. I personally think that's a pretty big underestimate, and it is an estimate.

CURWOOD: Eighty-five hundred acres? Doesn't sound like a big number at all.

CAPUTO: You need to keep in mind, first of all, that I think that is a low estimate. But even if you were to just take that number, you need to consider a couple of things. First, this wetlands filling that's going on under these permits isn't existing in a vacuum. It's on top of all of the wetlands filling which has happened since the first settlement of the country. In the lower 48 states in America we've lost more than half of our original wetlands. And in some parts of the country, in California for example, the amount of wetlands lost has gone over 90%, which means that each acre of remaining wetland is that much more precious. Now, one way to look at this is that almost 10 years ago, it's actually 10 years ago this year, George Bush made the famous national commitment of no net loss of wetlands. And 10 years after that national commitment, it turns out that we're still losing in America more than 100,000 acres of wetlands a year.

CURWOOD: Can you share with us where you get this 100,000 a year loss of wetlands figure from?

CAPUTO: Last fall the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which is one of the expert Federal agencies which deals with wetlands, issued a comprehensive study that indicated that during a 10-year period between 1985 and 1995 the United States lost more than 115,000 acres of wetlands each year, every year. If you were to ask the Corps to explain where those 100,000 acres of wetlands that are being lost each year, what permits they came under, the Corps' numbers wouldn't match. They would come up with a much lower number of the permitting that they could account for. There's a lot of wetlands loss going on out there; some of it the Corps knows about. Other of it the Corps doesn't even know about. And part of the reason the Corps doesn't know about it is that it issues these broad permits, which anybody can use without necessarily even telling the Corps.

CURWOOD: Over the next 2 months the Administration is going to get a response from the public about these proposed guidelines. What do you think is going to happen in that process? Do you think that the public much cares about this, or the development interests, which would like to see an ease in restrictions, do you think they're going to prevail?

CAPUTO: Well, I think development interests are powerful. But the public is more powerful than any special interest in this country. And in my job I spend a fair amount of time talking to ordinary people about wetlands And particularly after you talk with them about how wetlands go about protecting water quality and wildlife habitat and protecting against floods, people are pretty clear that they want the government to do a good and a better job of protecting wetlands. The way I look at it is that what we're trying to do here is to strike a reasonable balance between the 2 interests that we have here. On the one side we need to do a good job of protecting the environment. On the other side we need to allow and facilitate responsible environmental development. My view is that there's no reason why we can't write wetlands permits that do a better job of protecting the environment while still making it possible for responsible development to go forward in a timely fashion.

CURWOOD: Drew Caputo is a wetlands expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Thanks for being with us today.

CAPUTO: Thank you, Steve.

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(Music up and under)

Listener Letters

CURWOOD: And now it's time for comments from you, our listeners.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Malcolm Drake of Grant's Pass, Oregon, heard our recent series on drinking water on KSMF in Ashland. He says that his perspective on water purification has changed, after visiting Latin American cities including Lima, Peru. Where, he says, people buy bottled water for drinking and use the mildly treated but non-potable tap water for washing and irrigation. He writes, "Only a tiny fraction of the water we use needs to be potable, and there's quite a bit of chemical pollution involved with purifying water enough to make it potable. Why should we be paying high costs to purify water, almost all of which is being either flushed down the toilet or bathtub or sprayed on a lawn?"

Allen Cooper called us from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where he listens to WCPN. He feels that our interview with Daniel Este on China's environmental problems would lead most people to believe that the United States leads China in environmental protection. But, Mr. Cooper says, the US lags behind China in at least one key policy.

COOPER: The Chinese continue to try to stop human population growth, while the United States has no policy or program to deal with our runaway population growth. And of course, with too many people, environmental degradation is unavoidable. The US Census Bureau tells us that our population is on its way to doubling in less than 70 years, 80% of that due to immigrants and their descendants.

CURWOOD: And we got a flood of messages from people who heard last week's garden spot with Michael Weishan but who missed the name of the poisonous ant-repelling plant. It's called the Tansy. That's spelled T-A-N-S-Y. Its Latin name is Tanesetum vulgare. It's available through most herb catalogues. And here's Michael's advice on how to use it.

WEISHAN: You just put a few of the leaves wherever the ants seem to be crossing on the trail, and you will have no ant problems at all.

CURWOOD: Incidentally, we've also heard that peppermint leaves and cinnamon ward off ants as well.

You can put some spice into this program by getting in touch with us. Call our listener line any time with comments and questions. The number is 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or send us an e-mail at LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can find our Web page at www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth -- all one word -- .org.

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You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include: the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; The Bullitt Foundation; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Just ahead, a new twist in the growing trend to combine the medical practices of industrial and traditional societies. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm Yogurt: profits for the planet, supporting initiatives that protect the earth.

(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth; I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: A hundred years ago, Joshua Slocum became the first person on record to sail solo around the world. He was 51 years old when he set out from East Boston. More than 3 years and 46,000 miles later, he returned to Massachusetts on July 3rd, 1898. Captain Slocum had circumnavigated the globe several times before, but never alone or in such a small vessel. His 36-foot sloop was called Spray, a rebuilt oyster boat which itself was more than 100 years old at the time of the voyage. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Captain Slocum went to sea at age 16. He was a sailor who didn't know how to swim, and writer who didn't know how to spell, as he had about a 3rd-grade education. That did not keep him from writing about his record-setting adventure, full of tales of pirates and squalls. His book, called Sailing Alone Around the World, was compared to Thoreau's Walden for its dry wit. It was an immediate best-seller and is still in print today. Joshua Slocum disappeared in 1909 aboard the Spray enroute to South America. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

Doctor Shaman

CURWOOD: The rainforests of Central and South America are rich with medicinal plants that are slowly becoming known to modern medicine. Pharmaceutical companies have set up shop in these regions to prospect for beneficial and profitable remedies. And now, in what many see as the next logical step, there's growing interest among those educated in medical schools in the healing techniques of people who have used these medicinal plants for centuries. We know them as medicine men or shaman; they're called "yachic" by the indigenous Keechwah Indians in Ecuador. And that's where producer Joe Rubin traveled, high in the Andes to a health clinic where doctors work side by side with shamans developing the fledgling field of Integrative Medicine. He prepared this report.

(Milling voices, a cow moos, followed by various animal sounds)

RUBIN: As the sun rises over the spectacular mountain peaks that surround Otavalo, Educador, it illuminates an Andean town already in high gear. In a bustling open-air market just off the Pan- American highway, shoppers and merchants haggle over the price of farm animals. Five centuries after the arrival of Spanish Conquistadores, this region remains steeped in the traditions of the indigenous Keechwah Indians. Though it's not untouched by outside influence.

(Doors opening and shutting, a babbling child)

RUBIN: Up the hill from the market is the Jambi Huasi Medical Clinic. And like the rest of Otavalo, it, too, is busy this morning. The courtyard is crowded with people. Many have come by foot from distant villages to be seen at one of the world's most unique health clinics.

(Ambient voices)

RUBIN: The Ambiwasi Clinic is on the cutting edge of Integrative Medicine. That's the increasingly popular practice of combining Western medicine with alternative methods of healing.

(Someone whistles; tapping)

RUBIN: Javier Peragachi is tapping a wooden instrument around the body of an older woman with a heart condition. Peragachi is among the most respected healers in all of Ecuador. He is a "yachic," which is the Keechwah word for shaman. A role Mr. Peragachi says he was born to.

PERAGACHI: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: My grandparents, their grandparents, my dad and mother who had passed away, I was with them all since I was little. Since I can first remember. And they all knew how to prepare the herbal remedies into a drink.

{Rattling sounds)

RUBIN: Javier Peragachi's's office is lit by the warm glow of candles. The first thing you notice when you enter are herbs, hundreds of them, neatly labeled in containers stacked from floor to ceiling. Some he gathers himself. Others come from Ecuador's Amazon Jungle lowlands. Among this patients this morning: a recovering alcoholic and a young boy with a baffling stomach ailment.

PERAGACHI: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: The sickness that the boy had was anemia. Western medicine couldn't cure him. They gave him pills but they had no effect. He had a stomach ache, bloating, palpitations, but it wasn't parasites. He had an inflammation. We checked out his blood. He wasn't feeling well at all, but now he's back to normal. He's eating. He has quite an appetite. He plays, he laughs, and he participates with other children.

(Tapping instrument)

RUBIN: Mr. Peragachi spends about 20 minutes with the boy. He talks to him quietly, mostly in Keechwah. He taps instruments around his body and blows smoke and powders at him.

PERAGACHI: (Blowing) Whoosh....

RUBIN: After this treatment, he prepares an herbal drink that he pours into a plastic bag.

(Liquid pouring)

RUBIN: It all looks pretty mysterious, but Mr. Peragachi explains what he does rather matter-of-factly.

PERAGACHI: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: I am purifying the entire body. I'm bringing things back to normal. I'm changing the energy. And that way the patient is going to feel better.

RUBIN: Javier Peragachi is a true believer in his herbal elixirs.

(Metal clanks; liquid pours)

RUBIN: He's also a strong believer in the clinic's approach of integrating Western medicine with Keechwah healing techniques.

PERAGACHI: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: The peasants and the indigenous people who don't come into the city, they don't know about pills. The older, wiser ones, we're telling them that they should come here to buy pills. I say buy these pills and take them along with an herbal drink. Take it, I say, and I will make you better.

{A woman speaks in Spanish)

RUBIN: Upstairs from Peragachi's office, the director of Ambiwasi, Dr. Olga Faranango, gives a woman a tetanus shot. Like Javier Peragachi, Dr. Faranango is Keechwah Indian. Although she studied medicine in Ecuador's cosmopolitan capitol of Quito, she sees no contradiction in a modern clinic here.

FARANANGO: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: There's no contradiction to say that we're practicing both Western medicine and natural medicine. We respect both. We doctors don't know how to do exactly what a yachic does. For that you need a lot of time. They spend their lives learning it, the same way we physicians spend our life learning about medicine and things like pediatrics and obstetrics clinics. They have to go through a similar learning process, don't they?

RUBIN: Ambiwasi's unique practice of combined medicine has attracted a lot of attention. The United Nations helps fund the clinic, and physicians from around the world have come here to study. Among them is Stanford University's Dr. Susan Anderson. She came to do research as a Fulbright Fellow 4 years ago and returns each summer to work as a volunteer.

ANDERSON: I was totally impressed with both the experience of the yachic and the midwife and the care and sensitivity that they took care of with the people that came to see them.

RUBIN: This summer, Dr. Anderson plans to study the clinic's alternative approaches scientifically. She'll then compare them with Western techniques.

ANDERSON: Sometimes we're so fixed in our western training and scientific approach that we're not open to new things. But when we go and we're living at 9,000 feet in the Andes, and the most common way of treating individuals might be using traditional medicine, we begin to develop a greater appreciation for alternative approaches.

RUBIN: Anderson says that much of the healing practices that take place at Ambiwasi can easily be adapted by clinics in the US. After all, books on alternative medicine are now perennial best sellers, and herbal remedies are becoming increasingly popular. Even medical schools like Harvard, Columbia, and Stanford have begun Integrated Medicine programs. But Ambiwasi's Victor Sanchez uses one ancient healing technique that probably won't be required at the finest teaching hospitals.

(Squealing sounds)

RUBIN: Sanchez is an expert in the thousand-year-old indigenous practice called guinea pig radiography. With a tight grip, Sanchez vigorously shakes a guinea pig around the patient's body. Believers say the animal absorbs the energy of the sick person and dies. Then Sanchez dissects the guinea pig and makes a corresponding diagnosis of the patient based on what he finds inside.

SANCHEZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

RUBIN: Today Sanchez is treating Osvaldo Vasquez, one of Otovalo's famed weavers. A year ago he hurt his back while playing volleyball. Now he has trouble sitting at his loom for prolonged periods, and has pain in his arms and legs. He's been to several doctors, but no one's been able to alleviate his symptoms. As Sanchez dissects the guinea pig, he points to a nerve in the animal's lower back that is still mysteriously pulsating. His diagnosis is a problem with the sciatic nerve in Vasquez's lower back. Sanchez believes the problem has to do with imbalances in the body. Ambiwasi's director, Dr. Olga Faranango, says that despite what some outsiders might think, the clinic's use of all types of traditional healers has empowered the local population.

FARANANGO: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: We have to see it from the point of view of the local people. We can't say to people, "Stop believing in our traditional ways." We need to respect what the people think, because each culture has its own ways. And this is an important part of the people and their culture.

(Noises: children yelling, a car starting up)

RUBIN: A ride in Ambiwasi's old but sturdy ambulance demonstrates that even in distant mountain villages the clinic's integrated approach is taking hold. I'm traveling with Ambiwasi's community health promoter, Mercedes Menada. We're carrying an unusual cargo for an ambulance: medicinal plants.

(A dog barks; a horn beeps, engine running; a door shuts)

RUBIN: When we reach the remote village of Guayapul, Mercedes jumps out of the ambulance and runs up a hill that overlooks the village.

(A child or woman yells)

RUBIN: Soon, about 20 women, most with small children, join her.

(Women talk and laugh)

RUBIN: Mercedes unloads Tomate de arbol plants from the back of the ambulance.

MENADA: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: For the most part in the communities, people use medicinal plants. For example, it's a great idea to plant this type of tomato fruit. You can apply the juice to your skin and you can drink it. It has a tremendous amount of vitamin C, and that can really help you.

(Digging sounds)

RUBIN: As the villagers dig holes in the ground for the medicinal plants, I wonder if the seedlings will survive the harrowing winds which blow through the Andes. It's easy to romanticize Ambiwasi as a model of culturally sensitive integrated medicine, but Ecuador has serious health problems. Thousands of children die each year from preventable conditions like diarrhea. Malaria is epidemic in parts of the country. Critics of alternative medicine would say what's needed in Ecuador is modern science, not this strange blend of Western medicine with shamans, herbs, and guinea pigs. But embracing the mystic over the modern is not what Ambiwasi is about. Having spent a week here, I was impressed by how naturally the practitioners of ancient techniques make the connection which often eludes Western medicine: the link between mind and body. And I was surprised by how often indigenous healers chided their patients to drink bottled water to avoid intestinal problems. As yachic Javier Peragachi explains, it's an unusual but effective prescription.

PERAGACHI: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: We're working from both sides, together with Western medicine and natural medicine. We're combining the two: the pills of the West and the herbal drinks. And that way people are getting better.

RUBIN: For Living on Earth, I'm Joe Rubin in Otavalo, Ecuador.

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(Andes music up and under)

Tipi Rings

CURWOOD: Commentator Nancy Lord recently had a run-in with the remnants of an ancient civilization. During a trip to Wyoming she saw her first tipi rings. Those dark circles of rocks are believed to have anchored the tipis of the Plains Indians, and they reminded her of how easy it is to lose something important if it's not carefully nurtured.

LORD: To find the rings, I walked up a red dust road and along a truck track, then over a mesa to a bench of land that looked down on a creek. The snowy Bighorn Mountains rose on the far side of a wide valley. The half-dozen rings, an obviously human construct, lay in the short cropped grass among fragrant sage plants, and many cow pies. Rocks no bigger than footballs were laid end to end and side to side. After so much time they were embedded in the earth, with only their rounded licheny tops showing.

I strolled across one circle, pacing it to 12 feet. In its center, more rocks, hearth stones at the heart at what had been a home. I told myself as I sat cross-legged within one ring that old cliche about the only constant in life being change. People came and went over the plains, even before white people arrived to wrest the land away. I didn't know which division of nomadic people, Crow, Shoshone, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Sioux, had camped on that bench or how long ago. Still, there was something very sobering in the presence of their artifacts, and the absence they implied.

I looked down off the mesa at the creek now lined with ranch- style homes at the highway to Sheridan. At greening fields full of black cattle and irrigation equipment. Once there were no highways or fences, no cattle. Once, down there, some of the Great Plains' 70 million buffalo roamed. Once the land went on forever. It was rich in a way it will never be again.

At the tipi rings the wind blew as it always has, hard out of the mountains. I understood why the people, in their homes of buffalo hides, needed to anchor themselves within solid circles of rocks. We owe something, I think, to the land where we live and where we visit. We might look for the history in it, the stories it can tell. In Wyoming, all those buffalo gone, and the buffalo people who depended on them, gone. Prairie grasses, unfenced space, other ways of knowing and being, all nearly gone.

I put my hands on what remained: sun-warmed, lichen-roughened rocks. Sometimes it takes just this kind of hard evidence to help us remember what we've lost, and what we still stand to lose. Not just in the west, but in Alaska, in our oceans, in our back yards, in the world. And not just open space and wildlife, but human cultures and their hard-earned knowledge, the wealth that lives in diversity.

(Flowing water or water rattle, fade to Native American flute music up and under)

CURWOOD: Commentator Nancy Lord is author of Fish Camp: Life on an Alaskan Shore. She comes to us from KBBI in Homer, Alaska.

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(Music continues up and under)

CURWOOD: We welcome your comments. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or try our e-mail at LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG.

Coming up: the search for the songs of nature without the chorus of engines, horns, and humans. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Thoreauvian Peace & Quiet

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In the vast developed areas that sprawl between our cities, quiet places are even harder to find than open spaces. Even Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau's symbol of tranquility, has so many visitors and nearby roads that real solitude is nearly impossible to find there. But Thoreauvian solitude is what Peter Acker seeks. Mr. Acker has crisscrossed New England, collecting natural sounds from places Thoreau visited and wrote about: the Maine woods, Cape Cod, and of course Walden. He plans to release a 3-CD set of his work later this year. We sent producer Kim Motylewski to find out what Peter Acker and the rest of us are up against in the search for the true sounds of nature.

(Bird songs)

MOTYLEWSKI: At 5 in the morning lots of birds are up but not many people. That's the way sound recordist Peter Acker likes it. He's about to sample the soundscape in Esterbrook Woods, one of Henry David Thoreau's haunts across town from Walden Pond.

ACKER: If I can walk out of here with a minute of (laughs) -- of uninterrupted sound from Route 2 and 95, I'll be happy.

MOTYLEWSKI: Acker's breath is visible in the dawn light.

(Sounds of velcro; other bumps and grinds)

MOTYLEWSKI: He plugs in a battery pack and snaps cable together. Then he pulls out a lifelike black plastic head and screws it onto a pole.

ACKER: I call him Max. I mean, the technical name is the KU-100, but Max just sounds a lot friendlier.

MOTYLEWSKI: Max has microphones embedded in each ear. He hears a lot like a person.

ACKER: Now I'm pulling out his rock star wig. It actually helps with the stereo imaging; don't ask me why. It just does.

(Bird song amidst shuffling sounds)

MOTYLEWSKI: Black and curly.

ACKER: I wish I had hair like that.

MOTYLEWSKI: Acker jokes, but he works quickly. His morning mission is to record a few peaceful moments uninterrupted by machine noise. He's tried Walden Pond but found it too noisy, so he's moved on to Esterbrook Woods. Acker's goal seems as ambitious as the spiritual quest Thoreau launched in 1845.

MAN: (Reading from Walden) I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately. To front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

MOTYLEWSKI: Thoreau often wrote of Esterbrook Country in his journal. Many farmers had pastures, woodlots, and sawmills here, including Thoreau's father.

(Footfalls)

ACKER: Right now we're going to go down to the -- there's a little marsh down here where the geese hang out. (Breathing heavily) So we're going to go check that out.

(More footfalls)

MOTYLEWSKI: Peter Acker figures he's got maybe an hour of quiet ahead. He balances Max on his shoulder and walks briskly.

(Footfalls; geese honking)

MOTYLEWSKI: It's 10 minutes to 6 when we reach the marsh. The sun hovers below the horizon, coloring the clouds violet. A veil of mist hangs over the water. We hear the geese approaching overhead, and Acker jogs over the embankment, stands Max on the ground and begins to record.

(Geese honking louder; joined by jet)

MOTYLEWSKI: But the honking is soon blanketed by the drone of a passing jet.

(Geese honking and jet)

MOTYLEWSKI: That must be very frustrating. I mean here we are, this great moment.

ACKER: Oh yeah. You know, especially the imagery with -- you had the perspective of the geese flying in from behind you and low overhead; it was wonderful. And then there's the jet. (Sighs amidst honking) Oh darn. (Laughs)

MOTYLEWSKI: Acker walks a fine line. He must stay true to this place. He never layers or processes sound on his recordings. But he has to produce something that people will pay to hear. That means no planes, no cars, no motors. Even though as Thoreau notes, engines have breached the quiet here for more than a century.

MAN: (Reading from Walden) The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my wood summer and winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer's yard, informing me that many restless city merchants are arriving within the circle of the town. Or adventurous country traders from the other side.

ACKER: People will clamor and raise a stink if, you know, there's a cellular tower that goes on a distant hill. And wouldn't it be nice if we had that same sort of uproar about noise pollution. It's not very often that you are away from that. And when you are it's something special. I think it kind of wakes up everything else.

MOTYLEWSKI: Acker figures he's through for the day. Flights from the nearby Air Force base have begun, but we pursue the geese one last time.

ACKER: It sounds like they flew off.

MOTYLEWSKI: Shall we try the field?

ACKER: Yeah, let's take a peek.

(Footfalls)

MOTYLEWSKI: Acker shoulders his binaural buddy again, and we bushwhack up a short rise. Then Max has a fashion crisis.

(Footfalls)

MOTYLEWSKI: You lost your wig. He lost his wig. Hey, Peter.

ACKER: Look at this hair sample, where do you think it's from? I don't know, a bear maybe. (Laughs) Good God. If my mother could see me now. Let's try this again.

(Footfalls)

MOTYLEWSKI: We wander around a bit without much luck. Around 6:15 we're back at the pond's edge, feeling discouraged. Then several geese float across the water and an orchestra of song birds rises around us.

(Honking geese with bird song)

MOTYLEWSKI: And this time, no airplanes, no cars. Peter Acker scrambles down the embankment once more for a front row seat.

(More honking and bird song, growing louder)

MAN: (Reading from Walden) A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth's eye looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

(Honking and bird song continue; geese fly with beating wings; honking fades)

MOTYLEWSKI: What do you think of that?

ACKER: That was pretty damn nice. Pretty damn nice. I like it. And now if you just pick a spot and sit, nature happens around you. Yeah, and it's really great.

MOTYLEWSKI: It was as if we'd slipped between 2 moments and found a still point, not a piece of Thoreau's world but a pause in the commerce of our own that allowed for something ancient to happen. We stood stock still; our hearts and ears kept time with the geese and the song birds. Nothing else mattered. Peter Acker calls these live performances of nature, and they're mind- cleansing.

ACKER: If this work has brought something to enrich my life, that's it. Listening. I mean, just -- just being there, being in that moment.

MOTYLEWSKI: Such moments are harder than ever to find, and a recording is no substitute for experience. But Peter Acker's CDs serve a timeless purpose. To honor the chorus of life, quiet the mind, and whet the listener's appetite for the real thing.

MAN: (Reading from Walden) Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness. To wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow hen lurk, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. We can never have enough of nature.

(Geese honk; birds sing)

MOTYLEWSKI: For Living on Earth, I'm Kim Motylewski.

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(Geese and birds continue; fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Our production team includes Daniel Grossman, George Homsy, Jesse Wegman, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, and Miriam Landman, along with Peter Christiansen, Roberta De Avila, Peter Shaw, and Julia Madeson. We had help from Jim Frey, Elsa Heidorn, Rebecca Sladeck-Nolis, Jody Kirshner, and KPLU in Seattle. And thanks to Raoul Nieves, Marta Valentine, Elba Aviles, and George Kapachio. Our technical director is Eileen Bolinsky. Peter Thomson heads our Western bureau. Joyce Hackel is our senior editor. And our senior producer is Chris Ballman. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with Harvard University. I'm executive producer Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture.

(Music up and under)

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