Walking on the Wild Side

Toshiba Digital CameraI have walked down my road every day for about 50 years. The “wild side?” Eagles, osprey, kingfishers, sometimes a seal. Blackberry bushes that reach out to grab. A crow picking at a clam he has just dropped on the pavement in order to crack it.

But the walkers are the wildest! So much fun! Most of them are friendly creatures. They make eye contact and smile and often say, “Hi!” or “Hello!” or “Good Morning!” Or they will smile and nod. If they’re on the other side of the road, they will often smile and wave. We’re all out there for the same reasons–to get some fresh air and exercise and enjoy the view. We’re in this together–we’re a team. On the holidays, I always get several cheery greetings from strangers, “Happy Thanksgiving!” or “Happy New Year!”

Occasionally a walker will make a crazy remark. I recently met a couple for the second time on our routes–we both had turned around and were headed in the opposite directions. “Look at that,” the husband said to his wife, “She’s there again! I think she’s a stalker!”

A very few do not make eye contact or smile. They’re in their own world and I respect that. They have their reasons.

I love the Angel Walkers and they’re among the few that I recognize. Litter Lady carries a plastic bag and a “grabber stick” and picks up scraps of garbage, even though she does not live on this road. I worry about her when I haven’t seen her for awhile.

Clippers Man is a tall older man who always has a dog on a leash and occasionally has a clippers in his other hand. As he walks, he reaches over to clip any blackberry vine that is intruding.

I enjoy the bikers, even though they’re a wilder and more dangerous bunch. If they’re coming head on, no problem. Sometimes they’ll nod, and sometimes they’ll greet me with a quick “Hi!” as they pass. They’re always going fast–I stay out of their way. I admire their speed, their muscle, their passion, and their fancy outfits. I am astounded that they have enough breath to be racing by and carrying on conversations with each other at the same time!

The cyclists coming up behind me are the dangerous ones. Some of them will give a “Heads Up!” warning, especially if they’re in a group, or some kind of verbal alert. Sometimes I hear someone cough or clear his throat. I appreciate that. But often, there’s no warning before one swishes by almost close enought to bump me. If I had, for whatever reason, taken a step to the left (part of the route I’m walking is on the right hand side of the road where the trail is wider), one or both of us might have gone down in a fiery crash….or at least a tumble.

I’m an introvert, so I don’t initiate conversations often, but occasionally I will visit with someone and we will walk together for a short distance. These are often amazing conversations–walkers often share a lot of themselves.

Today a woman knocked at my back door. “My husband and I have walked by yiour house for years and admired your persimmon tree. In fact, it inspired us to plant three of our own, but they’re just beginning to bear fruit. Would you mind if we pick your persimmons for you and then take some for ourselves?” I encouraged them to pick as many as they like, and shared some recipes with them.

After 50 years of meeting all these wild walkers (and bikers), I am convinced that a friendly greeting, just a quick “Hi!” and a smile can make a stranger’s day!

 

“We’re all just walking each other home.” — Ram Dass

“Gratitude is something of which none of us can give too much. For on the smiles, the thanks we give, our little gestures of appreciation, our neighbors build their philosophy of life.” –A. J. Cronin

 

 

 

Advertisements

Would You Buy a Hairy Plum?

Gardeners don’t distinguish between invasive and aggressive plants, but I do. My St. John’s wort is invasive. I planted just a few plants along the driveway, and they creep out of their space whenever I turn my back. The wisteria is also invasive.  I planted one plant and it has set its sights on the next county over. I think it has a good chance of making it. Actually, it is also an aggressive plant. They’re capable of attacking a house.

But kiwis are the tigers of the Plant Kingdom. they reach out, take hold, and hang on. They attack. Walk a little too close to a kiwi and it just might reach out and grab you. We planted a male and a female plant (you need both to produce fruit) on a large, heavy pipe framework, about 20 feet long by 5 feet wide by 5 feet tall. They quickly grew onto the frame, and then kept going. Sure, they produced lots of kiwis, but in the end, I was spending way too much time trying to keep them contained to their space. I finally had them removed.

My friends Linda and Pat have two plants that produce more than 1,000 kiwis every year. But Linda says, “They have attacked our blueberry bushes, marionberry plants, rhubarb, boysenberry plants, and keep growing over the top of the greenhouse and through the roof vents.” She says the plants are at least 15 feet tall and can be seen from Google Earth.

This past month, the Potter and I strolled through the Luther Burbank gardens in Santa Rosa, California with my son. We can thank Mr. Burbank, the botanist, for developing more than 800 varieties of new plants back in the early 1900’s, including the Shasta Daisy and the Russet Burbank Potato. He received seeds for a “hairy plum” from New Zealand and propagated them. They were never accepted in this country until many years later–marketed under a new name, “kiwi.” Kiwis actually originated in China, by the way, but then were introduced to New Zealand, and then to us.

We walked through the beautiful gardens and then under a long arbor.The walkway had a long display of photos from Burbank’s life and work. I had strolled the whole length of the walkway before my son called to me, “Look up!” Hundreds of kiwis hung above us on a heavy framework. It was well-trimmed–someone is clearly keeping them confined–but every here and there was a wild branch stretching out, reaching for an escape.

Here’s my son’s photo of me in front of Mr. Burbank’s kiwis.

kiwi photo2

A Pebble in Your Pocket–or Their Shoes

Do you know what 528 pebbles look like? My friend Doreen gathered that many pebbles, each one picked for its unique color and shape. 528 beautiful little pebbles. She put them in a clear glass bowl, took a picture of them, and sent it to her representative in Congress with this message:

Here are 528 pebbles which I offer you to take to Congress. Remind your colleagues of the children waiting to be reunited with their families. Perhaps slip a pebble into a shoe of each Congressperson….the irritation a reminder to resolve this disgraceful situation.

img_0933.jpg

Please don’t let them forget these 528 children. Maybe carry a pebble in your pocket to remind you to think of them. Feel free to copy Doreen’s photo and message to send to your senators and/or representatives. It’s time to get these children back where they belong!

Hey You! Look at Me!

It’s an almost insidious sensation that catches me off guard every summer. I walk around the corner of the house. It’s late afternoon and there’s just a slight breeze coming down off the hillside above the house. Suddenly I’m almost knocked off my feet by a fragrance like none other–sweet, heady, it sweeps away any other thought in my mind and sensation in my body. I’ve never used mind-altering drugs, but it must be something like this.

I always come to a stop. It demands my attention. It’s the Little Leaf Linden tree up on the hill behind the house. It emits this lovely aroma as it blossoms for only a few days in late July. This year, because it’s so warm, it only lasts a day or two. Sometimes, when I have a window open, I can smell it inside the pantry, on the back side of the house. One year I swore that the next summer when this happened, I would move a lawn chair out into the gravel driveway the second I smelled it and just sit and take it in. And I did.

Toshiba Digital Camera

And then the peaches! They’re the right color, so I reach up and feel their fuzzy, warm skin. Stone hard. Will I wear them out by pressing their skin to see if there’s any “give?” Then suddenly, after I decide I really must leave them alone for a few days longer, I notice a peach on the ground. They’re ripe! Half the peaches on the tree are ripe and begging to be picked–like right now.

Summer surprises! I suppose every season has its own, like the intense red leaves of the blueberry bushes in autumn reflecting onto the kitchen walls, casting a fire-like glow in the kitchen that always makes me catch my breath. The first sound of whirring hummingbird wings in the spring. The call of an eagle that demands I look up–that sound belongs to all the seasons, but it still catches my attention.

We can’t ignore the signs and signals going on in the world around us. They call us to act sometimes, like when we see a dead baby orca being carried for days and days by its mother, or by seeing refugees caged like animals. Or by the smoky haze that reminds us that our climate is changing–and it’s changing much faster than what is natural.

Other times we’re called simply to stop and take it in, relax and breathe. We learn to balance our fears and horror, and we learn to love the earth and “all who dwell therein,” becoming just a little more human as we do.

Necessary Losses

Have you seen the video of rescuers removing a plastic straw lodged securely in a big sea turtle’s nostril?

Have you seen photos of the vast islands (continents?) of plastic floating in the ocean?

Have you walked on a remote ocean beach and seen all the plastic washed up on shore?

1

I’d seen enough. When China announced it could no longer accept all our plastic for recycling, I realized I’d become sloppy. I was buying way too many plastic bags and wrap. Sure, I often carry my own cloth bags grocery shopping, and I keep all my clean plastic bags to return to the grocery store for recycling. But I am no longer confident that much of that is actually getting recycled anymore.

Plastic bags last 10 to 20 years. Plastic cutlery? Between 100 and 1,000 years. Some plastics last forever.

I’d already made two good changes over the last few years–using my own shopping bags, and recycling as much as possible. Both of those have become routine and super easy. But somewhere along the way I’d grown weary of washing and re-using plastic bags. That all changed when I discovered that the Potter, this man who is proud of the thick layer of dust on his dresser and can keep a tray of cinnamon rolls on his kitchen counter for weeks at a time, was actually washing out and re-using plastic bags.

This morning at Safeway, the woman ahead of me in line had each of her produce items in some odd-looking bags. I asked the checker about them.

“Yes, they’re becoming quite popular–re-usable mesh bags. You can find them sometimes in the produce section (for purchase) or buy them online.” I will watch for those. I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to discover them.

2.jpg

Replacing plastic wrap? I bought 3 sheets (different sizes) of non-plastic wrap online. It did not come cheap ($18 at Etee, no shipping fee), but can be washed and re-used time after time. They work well–not quite as tight as plastic wrap, but my food doesn’t sit in the frig for a long time anyhow. And I’m using my plastic containers a lot instead, especially see-through containers that I’ve bought with food in them.

Just this month Seattle outlawed all use of plastic straws and cutlery in food service. Every time I go to a fast food restaurant, I’m asking politely if they have paper straws. I know our city hasn’t made that switch yet, but it makes sense to let them know that there are some people out here who are ready to eliminate those turtle torture tools.

From everything I’ve read, it’s easiest to implement one change at a time until that practice becomes routine and easy. Then it’s time to make another change. The EPA is relaxing lots of clean air and water standards–it’s up to us!

Does this save the world? Of course not! It doesn’t even make a dent. But like that woman ahead of me in line at the grocery store, I’d like to maybe influence a little bit of change. Big changes start small. We can’t all do the same things, but we can do something.

I’m interested in any ideas you have found that work well to eliminate plastic, especially at the grocery store. Shop the farmer’s markets instead? Resist buying anything in those stiff plastic containers? There’s a comment section somewhere on this page.

Someone recommended a book to me once, Necessary Losses. It was a popular book some years back about dependencies and grieving that we need to give up in order to move forward and grow. As a world we need to give up a lot of plastic not only to move forward, but in order to live.

3

Photo credits:

1 – <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

2 – <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

3 – <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

 

Spinning Gold out of Air

If you had told me that I would pick up and read The Alchemy of Air, a book about….well, basically about chemistry and fertilizer, I would have laughed at you. Not only did I read it, but it was the best book I read in the last year.

I’ve belonged to the same book group for about 40 years. We have increasingly been reading more challenging, non-fiction books. Sometimes I long for the old days when we could read books like Bridges of Madison County (yes, groan….we did!) or a Harry Potter book. On the other hand, I am reading books I never would have attempted otherwise. Last month we read Sea of Glory by Nathaniel Philbrick. This swash-buckling tale about Charles Wilkes, the volatile leader of a highly successful, but disastrous exploring expedition in the early 1800’s was a page turner.

But this month’s book was even better. The Alchemy of Air, by Thomas Hager, is about two German men, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, both brilliant–but flawed. In the words of the author, “This is the story of two men who invented a way to turn air into bread, built factories the size of small cities, made enormous fortunes, helped engineer the deaths of millions of people, and saved the lives of billions more.” Both men received Nobel prizes for their work. Haber, incidentally, was Jewish, and that fact played a lot into his drive for success in a country that, even before the rise of the Nazis, made it difficult to succeed if you were Jewish. His compromises ultimately put him into some unfortunate situations.

Much of the book dealt with early 1900’s German history, but some of my favorite chapters centered on the early and frantic guano trade along the South American coast. Yes, the book is about fertilizer! It’s a story of pulling fertilizer out of the air, the stuff of fairy tales. But fairy tales end happily and this one was hardly that. The Haber-Bosch process did produce fertilizer for crops (today it’s used all over the world), but it also produced gunpowder and high explosives, poisonous gas, and a problem we all face today–nitrogen pollution. The author also views the obesity pandemic today as a result of this process. He points out that there is no shortage of food, but there is a problem (due to wars and natural disasters) of getting it to the people who need it.

I appreciated the short chapters and the readability for a non-scientific person like myself. I found it hard to put the book down. This was a history I did not know–and  the others in my book group admitted the same thing. I am even looking at my vegetable garden and the plants in my yard in a different way.

Toshiba Digital Camera

Sharpening Our Vision

Toshiba Digital Camera

It’s just a little unsettling that as we get older, before we invest in updating any body part, we consider its life expectancy. I have a friend who is “making do” with a temporary crown on a tooth.

“Holy moly!” she says, “I’m 75 years old! How much longer am I going to live? I’m chewing just fine with the temporary–I think it will last!”

I was unprepared, however, when I drove the Potter to his eye appointment, where, after his exam, he scheduled appointments to have cataracts on both eyes removed. He was a little quiet in the car riding home.

“You know,” he finally said, “I have a decision to make. I can simply have the cataracts removed and Medicare and my insurance will cover it. Or, if I pay extra, the doctor can correct my vision. I wouldn’t have to wear glasses anymore.”

Another long silence. “I really don’t mind wearing glasses–I’ve worn them most of my life. That would just be a vanity thing and I don’t care about that. The real issue is that I’m 81 years old–if I knew how much longer I was going to live, it would really help to make this decision. It’s not worth it if…..” And his voice trailed off.

That evening when he called, he said, “Well, I’ve made the decision! I’m going to go for the complete fix! You know what helped me decide? I can see through binoculars a lot easier when I’m bird watching–I can get the binoculars right up to my eyes if I’m not wearing glasses!” He was joking, but I know how important those binoculars and birds are to him.

There is a delicious irony here. You know about birds’ eyesight, right? Birds have the biggest eyes, relative to their size, of all animals. So yes, they have much sharper vision than we do. Raptors, especially, have keen eyesight. I have read that if we traded eyes with an eagle, we could see an ant crawling on the ground from the roof of a 10-story building. And, birds see certain light frequencies, including ultraviolet, that we can’t see.

Will I remind the Potter of this? Probably not. He’s been in a foul mood lately–he might not even chuckle at that pun. In this Year of the Bird, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of the most important conservation laws in the world, is turning 100 years old this year. A reason to celebrate, right?

Wrong.

This law prohibits the unauthorized killing of migratory birds. Viiolations are criminal offenses. The Interior Department has just issued a memorandum ruling that corporations and businesses that accidentally kill migratory birds during their operations are no longer in violation of the act. Under this new ruling (or Rep. Liz Cheney’s similar House bill), BP Oil would not have been legally responsible for the one million birds that were killed in the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf.

So we are gutting one of our most important environmental laws in this Year of the Bird.

It’s another attack, and another reminder to all of us. We renew our support for local and state conservation efforts, we continue to support those national organizations that fight for birds and science (Audubon, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Union of Concerned Scientists, Nature Conservancy, etc.). And we continue to send letters and make phonecalls, and make sure our families and friends are all registered to vote.

We need to demand our lawmakers sharpen their vision. This is not a time to be short-sighted.

Earth Lovers

4_0004 - Copy

Earth Day is Sunday, April 22, but since I know you are all Earth Lovers, I think we need to start early and spend the whole month in celebration of this beautiful planet. The earth is under attack from a number of different directions–another reason to spend a little extra time this month in thinking about it. I have no words, but here are some thoughts that I treasure from some wise people. See how many you recognize!

“The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves.” –Terry Tempest Williams, from Talking to God: Portrait of a World at Prayer.

“In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” –Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist.

Toshiba Digital Camera

Skunk cabbage

“Love all that has been created by God, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf and every ray of light. Love the beasts and the birds, love the plants, love every separate fragment. If you love each separate fragment, you will understand the mystery of the whole resting in God.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” — Rachel Carson

“When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.” –John Muir

“To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” –William Blake

“We should notice that we are already supported at every moment. There is the earth below our feet, and there is the air, filling our lungs and emptying them. We should begin from this when we need support.” — Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones.

“Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” — Rachel Carson

“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray, where nature heals and gives strength to body and soul alike.” –John Muir

Toshiba Digital Camera

“When we come upon beautiful things, they act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space.” –Elaine Scarry

“Remember to look up at the stars.” — Stephen Hawking

“I had assumed that the Earth, the spirit of the Earth, noticed exceptions–those who wantonly damage it and those who do not. But the Earth is wise. It has given itself into the keeping of all, and all are therefore accountable.”                    –Alice Walker

Earth Lovers love to read about the earth! And some authors make that easy. Here are just a few as reminders. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the “Comments” section below.

The poetry of Emily Dickinson

The poetry of Mary Oliver

Loren Eiseley

John Muir

Terry Tempest Williams

Rachel Carson–consider reading a biography of this oh so courageous woman!

Wendell Berry

The Wind in the Willows, written for children, but challenging and earth-loving

 

 

 

 

What’s for Dinner?

Mr. Muscle came this morning and whipped my three raised beds into shape in time for planting. You can almost see the food sprouting out of them already–peas, beans, carrots, kale, zucchini (ONE plant only), pumpkins, spinach, lettuce, beets,  and radishes. Three long boxes, each divided in half–it’s like six blank canvases. My fingers are just itching to paint-plant.

Toshiba Digital Camera

Three raised beds crafted by the Potter many years ago.

But I have other diners at my table to consider. Because the rabbits also relish my lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, and peas, those seeds get planted in the one box that has a low fence around it. One year I was able to plant a “spicy lettuce mix” in an unfenced area and they didn’t touch it–but it was too spicy for me, too, so that was a lost effort.

For years the peas mysteriously disappeared every spring–every single seed–and sometimes before they had even sprouted out of the ground. I suspected the rabbits of hopping the fence, but nothing else was touched. Eventually I noticed a Stellar’s Jay methodically working his way down the row of peas. Now I also cover the whole fenced area with a berry net.

Toshiba Digital Camera

Crocuses nestled up against some hyachinths

I found another mystery last year when I noticed many of my beautiful purple crocuses ever so neatly clipped off. Already this year, the bed is looking like a bridal path of scattered purple petals. The culprit? Rabbits again. Turns out their tastes run beyond veggies. Some of the crocuses are eaten right down to the ground.

Toshiba Digital Camera

No way could I blame the disappearing little green figs on the rabbits. Every fall, after the fig tree drops its leaves, it holds onto a second crop of small, hard green figs that never develop. Later we rake up a lot off the ground, but I’ve noticed squirrels in the tree making off with the rest.

After the peas are up several inches, I can move the netting onto the blueberries. Small birds still figure out intricate, secret routes underneath the netting, but I manage to save some for myself this way.

The August a flock of crows was slashing their way through my beeautiful juicy yellow pears was also the month a crow died in my neighborhood–by sheer coincidence, I swear. When we hung the two wings in the tree, the crows shrieked for a time, and then left. I hange those two wings each summer and I’ve never seen a crow in the tree since.

One summer I saw signs from a bear underneath an old apple tree that had several broken limbs. Every few years a few beautiful deer wander through and sample from the different apple trees. I figure they’re comparison shopping.

The wildlife and I exist side by side. I love seeing them all, even the crows. We enjoy trying to outwit each other, making life entertaining for all of us critters.

Looking Back and Stepping Ahead

IncomingTide

My high school speech teacher Mr. R. liked me. No, not in that way. In a fatherly, interested way. He gave me extra attention and advice. He liked the speeches I wrote. I got A’s in his class and in a number of my other classes, and was taking some college prep classes.

One day he called me aside to chat about a speech. He hoped I was making plans for what I would be doing after high school. And then he suggested what he thought would be the perfect career for me–I should become a stewardess! His daughter had done that and it would be perfect for me, too. I could travel the world and meet a handsome pilot, get married and have a family.

I remember my feelings to this day. Confusion. Embarrassed perhaps? Did he not think I was capable of going to college? My parents had always expected I was headed to college, but perhaps they were wrong. Mr. R. would know better than they. Maybe I wasn’t “college material.” Today I know that I was experiencing shame–I never told my parents, nor did I mention it to any friends.

However, in kind of a perverse way, he was correct. I remember reading a study about 25 years ago reporting that women coming out of college had lower self-esteem than women who did not go to college. Counter-intuitive, right? Not really. Those college women saw the guys around them having all kinds of careers to choose from. When I went to college in the early ’60’s, I could graduate and become a teacher, nurse or social worker. That was pretty much it. Perhaps there were some women in the business classes, but I don’t remember many. The women doing well in science were generally heading into teaching careers. There were exceptions, of course, but not many.

Much has changed for women today, thanks to those “nasty women libbers” who ranted, raved, marched, and demanded. They carried signs. Yes, they may even have “shrieked,” and did they really burn bras? Whatever. They got the job well under way. Some worked so quietly behind the scenes that we never noticed them. They were strident and they were powerful.

This weekend of President’s Day, I am not celebrating our presidents. We seem to have sunk to a new low when it comes to presidents. I am celebrating all those women (and some outspoken men, too) who continue to push for equality. Thanks to them, my grand-niece who was born this month can choose from all those careers. Yes, she can become a stewardess. However, if she chooses not to go to college, she will not be expected to automatically marry and bear children.

Me? I had a strong woman as a mother who would never have allowed me NOT to go to college. I listened to her instead of Mr. R.