February 25, 2000
Air Date: February 25, 2000
Environmental Fist Fight
Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer speaks with host Steve Curwood about the upcoming Washington state primary. Presidential candidate Bill Bradley is turning the environment into a top issue there – and he’s turning up the heat in his attacks on Al Gore. (05:05)
Morocco Solar Surge/ Peter Thomson
Living On Earth’s Peter Thomson reports from Morocco on a sudden surge in solar power. An innovative financing model is bringing together large corporations, solar entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations and Moroccan residents to supply affordable power in rural areas. (14:35)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts and legends about – the raven. Edgar Allen Poe’s poem featuring this bird was published 155 years ago. (01:30)
Irridated Meat/ Diane Toomey
The US government has begun to allow meat producers to use radiation treatments to rid meat of potentially harmful pathogens. Critics complain that the meat-packing industry should focus instead on controlling the causes of contamination. Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports. (03:55)
Radio Expeditions: Tasmanian Devil/ Alex Chadwick
Alex Chadwick traveled to Tasmania to learn the strange and interesting truths of this creature. This report was originally produced for NPR’s Morning Edition and broadcast as part of the National Geographic “Radio Expeditions” series. (08:45)
Writer on the Rocks
Host Steve Curwood speaks with writer Linda Tatelbaum about how she found the inspiration that would help her bulldoze her way through a writer’s block. (10:15)
In response to last week’s almanac about the temple of Ramses the Second, a listener questions our placement of the spring equinox in February. (01:20)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Peter Thomson, Diane Toomey, Alex Chadwick
GUESTS: Joel Connelly, Linda Tatelbaum
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Green issues are looming larger in the Democratic race for the White House. Bill Bradley has stepped up his environmental criticisms of Al Gore as Washington state gets ready for its primary.
CONNELLY: This is a do or die state for Bradley.
BRADLEY: For me the environment is not just an issue. It's a core conviction. And that means more than paddling in a kayak for a photo op.
CURWOOD: And in Morocco, a change in the economics of solar power is bringing electricity to thousands of homes in the developing world.
THOMSON: This is the first electric light ever in this house.
BENALLOU: Exactly. This moment is historical. (Laughs)
CURWOOD: The key is financing, making solar power available as a service for a low monthly charge, instead of having to purchase a lot of expensive equipment. That and more on Living on Earth. First this news.
(NPR News follows)
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The environment is finally emerging as an issue in the Democratic presidential race, with Bill Bradley taking a new, more negative approach.
BRADLEY: The administration has just recently proposed an amendment to make it easier for big timber companies to cut down a million acres of old growth forest. (Boos from audience)
CURWOOD: Senator Bradley's attack on Vice President Gore is being mounted in Washington state, home of the next Democratic primary. Mr. Bradley is taking Mr. Gore to task on a number of issues, including the conflict over dams that are killing millions of salmon.
BRADLEY: He was voting for just about every dam project that came along. (Audience laughter) For me the environment is not just an issue. It's a core conviction. And that means more than paddling in a kayak for a photo op. (Audience laughter, applause)
CURWOOD: But then Mr. Bradley hasn't avoided the politics of photo opportunities, himself. Not long ago he was seen wearing a green sweater and shaking hands with a man dressed as a giant salmon. Joel Connelly, a writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has been giving his views on Mr. Bradley's tougher tactics. Joel, what exactly is Mr. Bradley's beef with Mr. Gore?
CONNELLY: Bradley was arguing that he has walked his talk on environmental issues, specifically such complicated things as reforming the California Valley Project in irrigation water, saving Pyramid Lake in Nevada, and getting dams off our own Elwah River here in the state of Washington. By contrast, he was arguing, and Friends of the Earth, the environmental group that supports him, argues even more strongly that the Clinton-Gore administration has been willing to sacrifice environmental goals too often or has pursued halfway measures, when it should have been bolder and more active.
CURWOOD: Now why choose Washington state to make this stand? Why is Senator Bradley doing this now?
CONNELLY: This is a do or die state for Bradley. It's really his first opportunity to get at the vice president since New Hampshire. We are also a state with many independent voters, a state which has tended to wrinkle its nose at interest group appeals of the sort where a Democrat bows to the teacher's union and bows to the labor unions and bows to the senior citizens. Our voters tend to be a little more independent-minded than that. So Bradley has picked up what he thinks is an affinity and mood, and he desperately needs a breakthrough so that he will be on the talk shows the morning after the election, particularly if that morning is just a week before the California and New York primaries.
CURWOOD: Now, Bradley's turning pretty negative. I'm thinking, during the debate in Harlem recently, Al Gore in fact called him on it. And let's play that tape.
GORE: The problem is these attacks don't solve any problems. They do divide us as Democrats. (Audience applause) They distract us from the real enemy, the right wing extremist Confederate flag-waving Republicans who are trying to roll back the progress that we have made. (Audience applause and cheers)
CURWOOD: Now, does Bradley risk damaging the Democratic Party's hold on the environmental vote, do you think?
CONNELLY: Probably not, because the Republican party in this state has been strongly oriented toward property rights, toward resources, and our own senior U.S. senator, Republican Slade Gordon, has gained the nickname of the Bambi-Bashing Brahmin for his demonizing of environmental groups. At the same time, however, you do have a conservationist Republican, John McCain, who's a co-author of the Arizona Wilderness Bill, and helped clean up the air near the Grand Canyon, who is running on the GOP side and is attracting support from the old kind of wilderness, moderate Republican constituency here in the state.
CURWOOD: Yeah, I heard in fact that McCain had, what -- Roosevelt's granddaughter, Edith Williams, working with him?
CONNELLY: Edie Williams, who is 82 years old and has been a fixture at Sierra Club press conferences calling for reductions and a halt to the logging of national forests, is, in about an hour from when we are speaking, boarding the SS Straight Talk to join John McCain on a trip across Puget Sound.
CURWOOD: Has Gore made any response to Bradley's charges?
CONNELLY: A copious response, mainly using surrogates, though I suspect that he will be heard from a little bit later on in the week. What they have argued is, first of all, that the administration has walked its talk. It promised in 1992, both Gore and Clinton, that there would be a forest plan for the Northwest. There is one that has cut back logging of old growth forests by 85 percent. They have moved to protect 50 million acres of roadless national forest land in the American West. And above all, they argue that it has been Vice President Gore who has insisted in White House budget negotiations that anti-environmental riders be deleted from appropriations bills before President Clinton will sign them.
CURWOOD: All this attention the candidates are putting on the environment in Washington state, do you think that's going to translate into the broader national campaign?
CONNELLY: We should wait until next month to get a reading on that, because the author-organizers of the national Earth Day are going to turn it entirely into an attempt to inject the environment into the 2000 presidential campaign, and hope that it resonates with voters beyond those who are simply members of organizations committed to conservation.
CURWOOD: Joel Connelly is a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Thanks for joining us.
CONNELLY: Thank you for having me.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Coming up, we go off the grid in Morocco, where solar energy is moving fast into the marketplace. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. You've probably seen the pictures of Earth from space at night: a black void broken only by clusters of electric lights. It will be easy to assume that these points of light are the only inhabited places on earth, because for most people electricity equals civilization. But many people inhabit the dark spaces as well. In fact, of the Earth's six billion humans, one third have no access to reliable sources of electricity. Bringing power to these people in a way that's both affordable and environmentally sound is a major challenge. In many places, cells that convert sunlight directly into electricity are the best way to go. But the economics of solar power are complex, and so-called photovoltaic cells are expensive. In a few of the world's dark spaces, though, that's starting to change. Living on Earth's Peter Thomson recently visited Morocco, which is in the midst of a solar power surge. This report is the second in our series on solar power in the developing world.
(Moroccan music plays)
THOMSON: It's early evening in the Place Djemaa el Fna, the marketplace of central Marrakech. Audiences gather in tight clusters around musicians, snake charmers and storytellers. Throngs of people surge through the plaza stores, music shops and food stalls, and the labyrinth of ancient streets beyond: veiled Muslim women, traditional men in hooded robes, more modern Moroccans in jeans and jackets and tourists in T-shirts.
WOMAN: English? (Men laugh) No? (Speaks in Arabic)
(Musicians play to applause)
THOMSON: The plaza is a cyclone of sound, color and culture. And light: neon, fluorescent, incandescent. This is Morocco's Times Square.
(Music continues; fade to wind up and under)
THOMSON: But you don't have to leave Morocco's cities far behind to find yourself in a deep, dark place. Driving through the countryside at night, the darkness is striking. Even near many schools, houses and mosques, there's barely a light to be seen, and rarely more than one illuminated window per house. Almost a third of Morocco's 26 million citizens have no electricity, and many of them have grown tired of waiting.
THOMSON: Under a bright February sun, a man hammers braces into the beams of a thatched roof. The braces hold a cable that runs from a darkened doorway up onto the roof, where it connects to a small blue and silver photovoltaic array.
BENALLOU: We will have electricity from the array today.
THOMSON: Abdelhanine Benallou is the president of SunLight Power. His crew is installing a 50-watt solar system at the home of Abdallah Ballouti. This household is pretty well off by local standards. The family raises cattle and grows wheat, barley and beans on their farm on an isolated hillside east of the city of Fez. But Mr. Benallou says that in remote areas like this, even wealthier residents aren't hooked up to the power grid.
(Children's voices in the background)
BENALLOU: All this region is not economically feasible for the grid. (Hammering in the distance) Depending on the landscape, 100 meters from the grid it starts being not economical. And also, it's not only landscape. You have to look at the dispersion of the population. It's not one cluster to which you can draw one line. If you look at this, for example, you're going to have a big line going in this direction, in that direction, etc. And you can't do that.
THOMSON: Without a connection to the grid, Mr. Ballouti’s family has been spending about $30 a month on other sources of energy.
BALLOUTI: [Speaks in Arabic]
BENALLOU: So he was using exclusively for lighting butane gas, and for TV he had a TV set and he was using car batteries that he would recharge on diesel somewhere.
THOMSON: Now the family will be able to stop lugging around batteries and gas canisters. They're replacing them both with a solar electricity system for less money -- an initial deposit of about $40 and a monthly fee of $20.
THOMSON: The SunLight Power crew has promised Mr. Ballouti that the electricity and television will be on by four o'clock.
BENALLOU: Why four o'clock? Because there is a soccer game at 4 PM. Morocco is playing, I think, Nigeria. He's waiting to watch that.
THOMSON: Inside an electrician finishes installing a switch.
BENALLOU: We have the lights already.
THOMSON: A small fluorescent bulb flickers on and casts a pale white light.
(To Benallou) This is the first electric light ever in this house.
BENALLOU: Exactly. So this moment is historical. (Laughs)
THOMSON: The advent of electricity in the Ballouti home is part of a sudden surge of solar power in Morocco. More than 2,000 household systems have been installed here in the last two years. And the government has recently announced plans to subsidize solar installations as part of a massive program to bring electricity to rural areas. That could mean 120,000 more solar homes in the next few years, bringing electricity to more than a million people.
THOMSON: For many Moroccans, this flurry of solar activity begins in places like this: a dusty lot in a tiny village where men in robes or wool jackets dodge cars and mule carts in a hurly-burly market called a souk.
(Voices on the radio)
THOMSON: Souk customers wind their way through stalls piled high with vegetables, clothing, household goods, and cassette tapes. And some stop at a tiny van with the SunLight Power Maroc decal on its side and a small photovoltaic array on its roof.
(Man speaks in Arabic and Berber)
THOMSON: At the back of the van there are glowing bulbs and a battery. Speaking in both Arabic and Berber, a SunLight technician explains to a group of men how the system works. He tells them that light from the sun excites electrons in the panel's silicon crystals. The electricity lights the bulbs, and some of it is stored in a battery so lights and TV can be used at night.
(Technician explains, music in the background)
THOMSON: Photovoltaic energy isn't entirely new to Morocco. Scattered businesses have sold PV systems here for years. They've long been an alluring option in a country with virtually no conventional energy resources, but an average of 300 days of sun a year. Free solar fuel. PV systems are cheap to operate, but they're expensive to manufacture. And since this is a poor country, there just haven't been many buyers. Abdelhanine Benallou of SunLight Power says there's one big stumbling block.
THOMSON: In his office in Morocco's capital, Rabat, Mr. Benallou says it's been difficult to bridge the gap between the short-term cost and the long-term savings of solar electricity.
BENALLOU: The people would like to have access to the solar energy, but you would have to solve the financing problem. If you take a solar module today, it's between $500 and $1,000, but it's something that can last for 20 years. If you factor that, you're going to see that it's going to be cheaper than using candles, cheaper than using butane gas.
THOMSON: About 80 percent of rural Moroccans regularly buy candles, butane gas or kerosene, or recharged car batteries, and they might spend $1,000 or more on these things over ten years. But they almost never have that kind of cash all at once. So Mr. Benallou’s company has adopted a new payment scheme for its solar installations. SunLight sells photovoltaic electricity based on what customers already pay every month for light and power. Essentially, they've turned the transaction from a very expensive one-time purchase into a much more affordable long-term service. Mr. Benallou says it's like signing up with your local utility. You pay for your electricity but you don't have to buy the whole power plant. He thinks this solves the problem of PV's high cost.
BENALLOU: You're going to be asking these people to pay only their electricity consumption monthly. You are not asking them to pay for the investment, and you are offering them something which is cheaper than the candle, cheaper than the kerosene, and that's it.
THOMSON: It's a seemingly simple innovation, but it doesn't eliminate the expense problem for PV systems. It merely shifts the big up-front cost from the customer to the company. So firms like SunLight Power need a lot of capital, and they need investors who aren't afraid of the uncertainties of a new market in the developing world and who aren't concerned about making a quick profit. That's a tall order, and solar companies have had trouble filling it. In fact, it's such a tough challenge that there's an international network of interests working to jump-start the market for solar power in the developing world. It includes the governments of countries like Morocco, The World Bank, American foundations, and venture capital companies that are trying to attract big piles of money with small strategic investments. It's become a grand experiment in sustainable development, and it may be starting to work.
VAN DE VEN: Okay, Jos van de Ven. I'm responsible for global rural electrification within Shell Solar.
THOMSON: That's Shell Solar as in the giant multinational oil company Royal Dutch Shell. In early February executive Jos van de Ven was working on a deal for Shell to make a big investment in a Moroccan solar company called Noorweb.
VAN DE VEN: We're thinking of taking a 40 percent share into the company. It's giving us a position in the rural electrification markets, and being a shareholder we will also be able to provide our modules that we are manufacturing in the Netherlands.
THOMSON: Mr. van de Ven says Shell now sees itself as more of an energy company than a petroleum company, and he sees a huge market for non-petroleum energy.
VAN DE VEN: There's two billion people who don't have electricity today. We want to take part of that market. We consider Morocco as one of the 14 countries that are on the top of our list to be active in.
THOMSON: Big companies like Shell, it's hoped, with deep pockets and the ability to provide lots of solar panels, will help take care of the supply side of the photovoltaic market. Small local companies like Noorweb and SunLight Power, meanwhile, are showing that there are millions of rural residents who can and will pay for photovoltaic systems. They're helping take care of the demand side. Executives of Noorweb, the company in discussions with Shell, say they see their forces lining up to develop a permanent market for solar power in Morocco, even after the government subsidies are gone.
BENOUNNA: When you create a market, sometimes the market stimulates additional demands.
THOMSON: Amin Benounna is Noorweb's technical director. He says that once rural Moroccans have met their initial needs for light and television, many will want more electricity for things like refrigeration, small appliances, and machinery.
BENOUNNA: Most of these people have no water in their houses -- not even a tap in their village. What about pumping? We think that between 10 and 45 percent of these people may need system extensions. Basically, they will need a lot of additional stuff.
THOMSON: And Mr. Benounna, a physicist by training, has learned another important economics lesson.
BENOUNNA: I'm not an economist, but I remember that the market penetration increases when you reduce the prices.
THOMSON: Amin Benounna says he hopes that the market for solar energy is on the verge of what he calls a scale change, in which increased demand will stimulate increased production, which will eventually help bring prices down. And that in turn will create still more demand in countries like Morocco and even in the U.S. So, poor rural Moroccans buying photovoltaic panels today could eventually help lead the way to more affordable solar power for Americans.
THOMSON: Back at the Ballouti house, the last copper wire for the television hookup is being twisted and tucked into place. At 4:05 PM, the TV is plugged into the home's first electric socket and clicked on.
(Sounds issue from TV)
THOMSON: The Morocco-Nigeria soccer match is underway and coming into Mr. Ballouti's living room courtesy of the sun hitting his new photovoltaic panel on the roof.
(Music over the TV)
THOMSON: Mr. Ballouti invites the installation crew to stay and watch the game with him.
BENALLOU: Yeah, he invited us to sit down. He's going to bring tea.
THOMSON: We sit around a short round table on the floor. Soon there are cups and glasses, strong dark coffee, and sweet mint tea.
THOMSON: There's little conversation. All eyes and ears are on the TV. Suddenly, a clean Nigerian kick sails over the goalie's head and into the Moroccan net.
(Shouts and cheers on the TV)
BENALLOU: Morocco is losing.
THOMSON: The group gives off a quiet sigh and continues drinking their tea.
THOMSON: After a few more minutes we step outside to say goodbye. I ask Mr. Ballouti what he thinks of his new solar system.
BALLOUTI: [Speaks in Arabic]
BENALLOU: He said for the moment, so far, so good. Very good.
THOMSON: So he's not going to send it back even though Morocco's losing.
BALLOUTI: [Laughs, speaks in Arabic]
BENALLOU: Soccer is that way. That's the ball. It goes and comes back. And this time we lose. Some other time we're going to win.
THOMSON: So the ball goes this way, the ball goes that way, but hopefully the sun stays on.
BALLOUTI: [Laughs, speaks in Arabic]
BENALLOU: He says that's from God, and it's going to stay there forever.
THOMSON: For Living on Earth, I'm Peter Thomson outside Sefrou, Morocco.
(TV sounds fade to Moroccan music up and under)
CURWOOD: Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write to 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is email@example.com. Tapes and transcripts are $15. And you can hear us any time online at www.loe.org.
(Moroccan music up and under)
CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Moroccan music up and under)
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; and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues.
(Moroccan music up and under)
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: Coming up: The government has approved a process to make meat safer, but some question its safety for humans. The irradiation question is ahead, here on Living on Earth.
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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Barrett Communications, delivering strategic marketing communications and design for business worldwide: www.barrett.com.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. One hundred and fifty-five years ago, Edgar Allen Poe published "The Raven," his poem in which a dark and foreboding bird answers, "Nevermore," to questions about the afterlife. Because of their black feathers and habit of scavenging off carrion, ravens, and their smaller cousins crows, have been seen by many cultures as a link to the world of the dead. They have also been thought to possess secret knowledge. Crow augury has been practiced since Roman times. The old rhyme, "One for sorrow, two for joy," counted crows to predict the future.
Other legends emphasize the cleverness and curiosity of crows and ravens. The Norse war god Odin had a pair of ravens for scouts. He named them Thought and Memory. In the present-day, crows and ravens continue to prosper because, like humans, they can adapt to a variety of habitats. In fact, crows have adapted so successfully to farms and cities that some states have established crow hunting seasons. Hunters need to be wary, though, of crows' tendency to band together and mob their attacker, a tactic they use against hawks and other natural predators. Several years ago, crows chased a coyote through the streets of Seattle into a federal office building. The coyote ended up trapped in an elevator. Quoth the raven, "Seventh floor." Sorry, Mr. Poe. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
CURWOOD: Food-borne illnesses kill about 5,000 people in the U.S. each year and sicken thousands more. E-coli and salmonella are the names of the most notorious pathogens. The federal government has recently approved a debatable way to eradicate those microorganisms in meat. The process is called irradiation, and proponents say it will ensure a much safer food supply. Critics, though, are worried that this high-tech solution may lead to other problems. Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports.
TOOMEY: Scientists say irradiated food does not become radioactive. The process, they say, is akin to pasteurizing milk. You end up with a safer product, especially for those with weak immune systems like the elderly and children. Researcher Dennis Olsen.
OLSEN: I would be a little hesitant myself to not buy irradiated ground beef that I'm going to serve to young children because in the event that it gets a little undercooked, we don't have to worry about whether that product can be dangerous to those children.
TOOMEY: Mr. Olsen works at ground zero, so to speak, of irradiation science: Iowa State University. He's been studying different ways to disinfect meat with radiation. One technique uses a linear particle accelerator to zap meat with a stream of high-energy electrons. Another exposes the meat to the gamma rays emitted by a piece of radioactive cobalt. Either way, Mr. Olsen explains, the result is the same: Any bacteria, parasite, or insect on the food gets its DNA dismantled.
OLSEN: DNA is kind of unique in that a few chemical breaks in DNA causes that to be non-functional. And so, in fact, things that are living that are exposed to this high energy are destroyed. And so that's how we basically kill bacteria without really causing any other significant changes in the food product.
TOOMEY: Its taste and vitamin content, Mr. Olsen says, remain virtually the same as non-treated meat. Actually, irradiation is nothing new. It's been done on fruits and vegetables since 1986. And for the past seven years a small percentage of poultry producers have tried it. Now, with scares of tainted food routinely in the news, beef and pork producers have won government approval to use the technique as well. Mr. Olsen thinks it's a big step in improving public health.
OLSEN: We need to see it being implemented so that we have fewer hospitalizations. I mean, it's kind of a shame that we have a technology that can in fact significantly reduce illnesses and that we're not using it.
TOOMEY: Some ardent food safety activists claim this process hasn't been proven to be safe. But the watchdog group, The Center for Science in the Public Interest, gives irradiation its qualified approval. The group's director of food safety, Carolyn Smith DeWaal, fears some companies will use irradiation to avoid cleaning up the meat packing process in the first place.
DE WAAL: Irradiation is really an end-of-the-line solution to sanitation problems that could be cleaned up earlier in the process. So we want to make sure that the meat industry is using steps all the way from the farm to the table to make sure their meat is safe, and not just relying on a single step like irradiation to clean up problems that should be really cleaned up much earlier.
TOOMEY: Whatever their motivation for irradiating, the meat packing industry won't be flooding local supermarkets with treated meats. Only four facilities in the country have government approval for the process, with two more in the pipeline. But you will be able to tell if your pork chops or roast beef have been treated. They'll have to display a special symbol: flower petals surrounded by a green broken circle, along with a statement explaining the meat has been irradiated. For Living on Earth, I'm Diane Toomey.
(Music up and under: Merrie Melodies)
CURWOOD: You may know the Warner Brothers cartoon character Taz, based on the Tasmanian devil. But as NPR's Alex Chadwick reports, the truth is far more interesting and stranger than the Hollywood version. He prepared this series of vignettes.
(A Tasmanian devil growls)
CHADWICK: Part one: the creature and its place. From the London Illustrated News of 1861.
MAN: (Reading) The Tasmanian devil. The Uzran Desiur belongs to the group of carnivorous marsupials and is remarkable for its savage and untamable disposition, whence it has acquired from the settlers in Tasmania the name of "the devil." In a state of confinement they appear to be untamably savage, biting severely and uttering at the same time a low, yelling growl.
CHADWICK: That's actually what appealed to our colleague David Dubalay, the National Geographic photographer, on Tasmania, south of Australia, a couple of months ago.
DUBALAY: It's afternoon, and the sun is just beginning to touch the tops of the cliffs. It's very thick forest up here. We are in a wilderness beyond a wilderness. Tasmania sometimes can be almost dreamlike.
CHADWICK: David traveled to a rural part of the island, where Carolyn and John Hamilton run a local wildlife center.
(Wind, bird song)
HAMILTON: I've been living in the area for nearly 20 years now, and am totally overwhelmed by the beauty of the place. We have the tallest cliffs around the Australian coastline here. Magnificent walking trails. It's just a superb place to live. And best of all, there are very few people who live here. So it's a pretty precious place. It's my place on the planet.
CHADWICK: The Hamilton Center rescues all sorts of orphaned or injured creatures: owls, eagles, and the legendary Tasmanian devil.
Part two: in which David Dubalay observes breakfast for a group of Tasmanian devils, provided by Carolyn Hamilton.
C. HAMILTON: Well, we'll just go and feed the females. But if you're going to get in with them, you'll have to be very aware, because they're just a bit more bitchy than the males. These ones are okay, but getting in with the females you have to be very careful and watch what you're doing.
CHADWICK: Field notes from Tasmania. The devils sound bigger than they are. They're about the size of large beagles with short, shiny coats of black hair, long tails, and practically no neck. Instead, the jaws seem to start where the shoulders end.
(Tasmanian devils munch)
CHADWICK: David Dubalay watches in amazement as several of the devils are devouring a dead wallaby. That's an animal like a small kangaroo.
DUBALAY: Fur, muscle, bone, everything is going down, disappearing. Nothing is left.
C. HAMILTON: I always love to tell people that we are not a zoo or a zoo-style animal park. We're actually a rescue center.
CHADWICK: Part three: in which David Dubalay interviews Carolyn Hamilton about the Tasmanian Devil Center and its inhabitants.
C. HAMILTON: Our main focus is on raising, rehabilitating, and releasing native animals back into the wild.
DUBALAY: People all over the world imagine that the Tasmanian devil looks very much like the Warner Brothers cartoon Taz -- the guy who makes whirling sounds and eats everything. And when they see them for the first time, how do they react?
C. HAMILTON: People are generally shocked to find out that firstly, he's black, he walks on four legs, he's a marsupial like a wallaby or a kangaroo. Some people just think he's a cartoon character that doesn't even exist.
DUBALAY: Where does the devil part come in?
C. HAMILTON: Sometimes when it stands up on its hind legs, balancing with its tail, and the sun is behind it glowing through their red ears and the black collar, I think it really does look a bit like a devil. But also I think its nature is pretty devilish as well. It's not a friendly animal. I always say that a devil gets out of bed on the wrong side every morning, and every day is a bad day. They are so cranky.
DUBALAY: Do you like them?
C. HAMILTON: My immediate reaction is to say no, I don't like them. But having said that, I would have to say I think they are the most curious animal that is alive today.
CHADWICK: We do many stories about various animals and birds and fish that are threatened with extinction. The Tasmanian devil, most definitely, is not.
(Traffic. A horn beeps)
CHADWICK: Part four: David Dubalay explores the circumstances that have the devils thriving. And bear in mind that David is a color photographer.
DUBALAY: It's night now, and we're driving to a place called Pirate's Point. The twin headlights of the automobile put kind of weak pools in front of the car. The white line in the road has all but disappeared. And the road, plunging through this night, for the animals in the bush is like an arena of death.
CHADWICK: An arena of death? He means there's a lot of roadkill.
DUBALAY: Tasmanian devils are opportunistic feeders, and this is an opportunity. This road is a dining table for them.
CHADWICK: Because of roadkill, wildlife experts think there actually are many more devils now than there were before roads and cars. The Devil Center uses mostly roadkill to feed the devils it cares for. Their diet is principally the wallabies -- like the devils, marsupials. That just means animals that raise their young in pouches.
Part five: John Hamilton guides some tourists visiting the center.
J. HAMILTON: My name is John Hamilton. Welcome, I should say. We'll be bringing out Tasmanian devils in a moment.
(Tasmanian devil growls)
J. HAMILTON: You can see that these have obviously got extremely strong jaws. And a great characteristic of the devil is its bone-crushing ability. We understand that the devil possibly has the strongest jaws of any creature that lives on land.
J. HAMILTON: Aah, stop it. And if it hasn't fed for quite a while, the Tasmanian devil will eat whatever it can. It really stuffs itself. And it has the ability to overeat one third of its body weight, and that's pretty much the same as the waiter coming to you in a steak bar and saying, "Sir, would you like a 50- or 60-pound steak for dinner tonight?"
CHADWICK: Part six, and final: The kitchen of the 100-year-old country house on the Devil Center property. John and Carolyn Hamilton.
J. HAMILTON: We often leave the door open during the summer. And the sounds of the animals in the park really do carry. We can hear the master owls chattering [makes chattering sounds].
C. HAMILTON: And the owls. [Both make whooping sounds]
J. HAMILTON: And also the devils growling and the possums chattering. It's wonderful, actually, to think that nature's out there, and somehow that quite a few of these animals have survived certainly due to our efforts. I think quite a few people think we're extraordinary. "How are those devils going?" is the question we'll be asked by people because we're just about the only people in Tasmania, perhaps the world, who have lived with Tasmanian devils for so long. And not everybody thinks we're all together. Some people think it's a bit of a silly thing for us to be doing, but we don't.
CHADWICK: That radio expedition, with the National Geographic Society's David Dubalay, was produced by Carolyn Jensen and recorded by Les Gilbert of Majion Design Studios in Melbourne, Australia.
(A Tasmanian devil growls)
CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick.
CURWOOD: Our story on the Tasmanian devil was produced for NPR's Morning Edition and originally broadcast as part of the National Geographic Radio Expedition series.
Just ahead: a writer, her writer's block, and big rocks. The difficulties of living the simple life in Maine. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Linda Tatelbaum has a unique nostrum for writer's block. When the words don't come, she goes outside and lifts rocks. Ms. Tatelbaum lives in Maine in a house she and her husband built in 1977. Determined to live the simple life, they got by for many years without electricity or running water. And while over time they've made some concessions to solar power, telephones and a computer, they still grow and make much of their own food. Linda Tatelbaum is a professor of English at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and the author of two books, both of which she's published herself. Carrying Water as a Way of Life was her first, but the process isn't easy. In her newest book, Writer On the Rocks: Moving the Impossible, she describes the agony of hitting a writer's block and feeling totally helpless. Until one afternoon, when she found inspiration in a bulldozer smoothing the land where she would build her house.
TATELBAUM: On the last day of the site work a bulldozer was just smoothing out behind the house to make the water flow, you know, away from the house. And suddenly the blade of the bulldozer nicked the side of this really big rock. And I watched it, almost in slow motion. I watched this huge rock just kind of pivot and fall off the wall, to the back of the wall. And I'm screaming, "Stop, stop!" But of course, you can't hear over a bulldozer. So there it was. It was crooked, it was at a horrible angle and lying behind the wall. And it bothered me for years.
CURWOOD: You've nicknamed it The Big One.
TATELBAUM: The Big One. And I would look out the window and think, "Some day I'm going to get that rock back where it was." So at a certain point in my life, I had sort of said by the time I'm 50 I want to get that rock back where it was. I was 30 at the time. So here I am now in my 40s, approaching 50, and I'm thinking I'd better get going on some of these things I vowed to do by the time I'm 50. So I started working on this thing, and tried all different kinds of contraptions, of trying to roll it and trying to, you know, wedge it in all these different ways. And I would sometimes succeed in moving it. But I was never able to get it back up where it was because that's like trying to lift this huge rock up against gravity. And I worked on it for three years. And the book kind of goes over the story of all the different ways I tried to do that and how frustrating that was to me. It became a symbol for me of trying to put back things that had changed. I had lost some friends to death, and I was having this writer's block. And I wanted things to be the way they were, darn it. And I was going to move that rock, because to me that was like, if I can move this rock then I can do anything. But finally, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to get it back where it was, but I was going to be able to get it on the wall, just in a different place. And in a moment of insight I realized, if I just push it forward it will go right up onto the wall without as much effort as I'd been expending for three years. So to me, that was a big lesson, too, about revision when it comes to your dreams. You try and you try and you try, and instead of getting frustrated and giving up, you say well, what about if I did it this way?
CURWOOD: So your story, your book Writer on the Rocks, is about your writer's block and how you get out there and you move rocks. And at one point you tell the story of a rock you consider big and beautiful and it's out on the road. And a guy in a pickup truck comes by and says, "Hey lady, I'll give you $50 for that one."
CURWOOD: And you get nervous, and you think oh, he's going to come back and rip it off when I'm not here. And you cover it up with branches or something.
CURWOOD: Linda, it's just a rock.
TATELBAUM: (Laughs) It's just a rock, but I've discovered I have this fierce territoriality. And I feel like the protectress of trees and rocks and everything on the property that I own because I see so much change going on around me that I have this one place where I can keep things the way they are. And yes, I know it's just a rock, absolutely, but I feel somehow that geology dropped them there, and that's where they should be. Maybe they could be on a wall, but they should not be transported to town, where they go into some fancy estate. Somehow I have this instinct to keep them where they should be. Where they belong, again.
CURWOOD: In your book, on page 35 there's a picture of you. You're wearing a nice broad-brimmed hat. And in your lap is an adorable rabbit. Big eyes looking out. And in the course of the book I find out that you raise these rabbits, and you kill them for food. In fact, you literally do it. You do it yourself. A neighbor, Arthur is his name, I think. . .
CURWOOD: . . .taught you how to butcher rabbits. Your description of this whole process and what it meant to you is really compelling. Tell me about that.
TATELBAUM: Well, my son actually wanted to have a farm, what he called a farm. He wanted to have a whole barn full of animals. His name is Noah, so that makes sense. And we, you know, we would explain to him, you really can't do that without completely committing your life to having hay fields and being home every day to milk cows and all that. So we decided we would raise rabbits, and we did that for nine years. And he fed them and I killed them. And it was a real spiritual experience for me, because in order to kill something you have to really know what you're doing. You have to really be consciously choosing to do that at the moment that you're doing it, and you have to love the creature that you're killing for it to fell clean. I mean, this is the way I experienced it. We raised them, we watched them be born. We took care of them. We talked to them. And at a certain point they do become a lot more -- as I say in the book, they start to look a lot more like dinner every day because they get bigger and they bounce around in the cage a lot more, and they get to be kind of a pain. So killing them to eat them is part of the process. I've always raised vegetables, and it's a very similar process. But of course, here you've got something that has eyes. And I think that when something has eyes and is looking at you, it's a lot different.
CURWOOD: And it can scream, too. Rabbits scream.
TATELBAUM: And they do scream. That's the worst part.
CURWOOD: And you talk to your students about killing the rabbits, too.
TATELBAUM: Well, I never used to tell anybody about it, just because I felt like my two lives were very separate. I'm a teacher during the week, and you know, on the days I'm not here teaching I'm at home being a homesteader. And I never really mix those two. But it accidentally happened to come out one time. We had just finished reading Carolyn Chute’s book The Beans of Egypt, Maine, in which some of the characters are hunting for rabbits. And the students were saying, "Eew, eating bunny rabbits, that's gross!" And so I said, "Well, what's so gross about it?" And I kind of wanted to engage them in the whole issue of meat, which -- I think the issue of meat-eating is a very interesting one. And so I, you know, they said, "Well, would you ever eat rabbit?" And I said, "Sure." And they said, "Have you ever eaten any?" And I said, "Well, sure." And they said, "Well, where do you get it?" And I'm like, duh, now I have to say where I get it. So I told them about it, and they were very shocked. They said, "Oh, our English teacher kills bunny rabbits." And then we talked about it for the whole rest of the class period. And in the end they ended up thinking it was the most interesting class of the whole semester, because it raised a lot of issues about, first of all, maybe, your public image versus your private image, what you eat and how responsible you're going to be for that, what it means to kill and to love.
CURWOOD: You said the last time we talked that you have managed to continue living the way you do because you've learned how and when and how much to compromise. What are the compromises that you feel you've had to make in the last couple of years to stay where you are?
TATELBAUM: I think that compromises have to do with, in a way, having become a publisher has pulled me out into the public a lot more, and has made me busier than I used to be, and has made the phone ring more often. It's interesting because I'm writing about the simple life, and I've made a move here, a career move, that's kind of made it a lot less simple. So that's something that is now my current struggle, to keep the balance between what I'm writing about and what matters to me, and also reaching out to other people, to be a teacher, to be a model for people, to hear about what other people are thinking about values in their lives.
CURWOOD: Can you keep it simple if there is the movie, "Carrying Water as a Way of Life"?
TATELBAUM: (Laughs) Well, I don't think it would make such a good movie. It's pretty much day to day to day. There isn't much intrigue, except whether we'll have a good crop or not.
CURWOOD: All the years that you've been homesteading in Maine, you have been in touch intimately with the life cycle, with birth and death and rebirth and death. In fact, you say that you're dying in one of the lines you use in your book. You say, well, I'm dying.
TATELBAUM: I don't mean -- I'm not knowingly dying at this moment, but I mean we all are dying all the time, from the moment we're born. But I think what makes it poignant is starting to think about what mark you're going to leave with your life. I'm very interested in finding old things and thinking, well, the person who had this thing or who, you know, made this stone wall, or who had this Mason jar that I found buried in leaves, thought of themselves as a permanent fixture on the landscape. And yet we're not. We pass. We pass through, and our life period is not very long --- a hundred years maybe at the most, if we're lucky. So it makes me think a lot about what I'm doing with my life, and what kind of a mark I'm leaving, and how long I really realistically think that's going to last.
CURWOOD: Is that why you took the hobby or the avocation of moving rocks, building with rocks on your land? That it's something that might stick around for, instead of 100 years, maybe 1,000 or so?
TATELBAUM: Yes, it is actually why I took it up. Because I like the idea of building something that I have a feeling is still going to be there. But I'm realizing and looking at all these fallen stone walls all around where I live, that that, too, is impermanent. The thing that's permanent about a stone wall, though, is the stone, and I think that accounts partly for my territorial instinct about wanting the stones to stay where they are and not be hauled off to town. Because I feel like, yeah, the wall that I build is probably going to tumble after another 100 years or so, but those rocks are not going anywhere. And that gives me a real sense of security somehow.
CURWOOD: Linda Tatelbaum's new book is entitled Writer on the Rocks: Moving the Impossible. It's published by About Time Press in Appleton, Maine. Thanks for joining us, Linda.
TATELBAUM: Thanks a lot, Steve.
CURWOOD: And a final note. Last week we described a temple in Egypt where twice a year the rising sun shines through a narrow opening to illuminate statues of Egyptian sun gods. We said the phenomenon, which falls on February 22nd, coincided with the spring equinox. That error prompted this response from Michael Charney, who listens to WBUR in Boston. "If February 22nd is the spring equinox," Dr. Charney wrote, "which planet Earth is Living on Earth living on? Here on the far side of Harvard Square the sun equinox is precisely one month later, in March. Is this a cosmic Y2K bug, a new proof of relativity, or is one of us suffering from eastern Egyptian equinoctial encephalitis?" While we could find no reference in the medical literature to this rare diagnosis, of course we agree with Dr. Charney. The vernal equinox is in March. Perhaps we were suffering from a touch of New England post-Valentine, spring-over-anticipation syndrome.
Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write to 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week we visit Rainbow Bridge, the world's largest sandstone arch in southern Utah. Like several other national parks and monuments, such as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Rainbow Bridge is held sacred by Native Americans.
(Native American singing)
MAN: We respect other religions and their sites. If you go to Jerusalem, it's on a hill, it's on a rock. The Pyramids is a rock. The Acropolis is a rock. They hold those very sacred, so why not the Native American have the respect that other cultures have?
CURWOOD: A tribute to Rainbow Bridge, next time on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our show is produced this week by Jesse Wegman and engineered by George Homsy. Our staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Hannah Day-Woodruff, Steven Belter, and Emily Sadigh. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is our science editor, and Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Terry FitzPatrick is the acting senior editor, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the Surdna Foundation; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advance environmental protection and human prosperity; www.wajones.org.
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