A Child’s Earth

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She just turned two. When she wants her grandpa’s attention, she trots over and stands beside him at his computer. She doesn’t say anything. She stands there ever so quietly until he notices her. Who could resist such adorable sweetness? Grandpa might ignore a child tugging at his sleeve or whining (for awhile), but this is irresistible. She’s only two, but she knows what gets results.

Kids are so smart. They notice. They see. When my son was seven or eight, back in the ’80’s during the arms buildup, I noticed him stretched out on the living room floor, studying the “Ground Zero” map on the front page of our local paper. He could tell that since we lived only a few miles from a base where nuclear warheads were stored that we were a target on Russian military maps.

About the same time, a friend told me that his young son was having nightmares about nuclear attacks. That child knew the possibilities. He understood the potential.

I remembered these incidents when I heard a young boy’s response to someone asking why he was walking in the big march last month. “Because of global warming,” he said. Our national leaders may choose to ignore it, but the children understand what’s happening.

I don’t remember how we discussed that bulls-eye newspaper map. I do remember reading a psychiatrist’s suggestions for how to deal with children’s fear of nuclear war. Children who see the “big people” in their immediate lives (parents, grandparents, etc.) actively DOING something to make a difference (not just talking about it) experience a sense of reassurance. They sense that their parents care about what they care about and are acting to change it.

Global warming is scary even for adults. Kids are smart. They’re aware of news coverage and conversation–melting glaciers, fires in tinder-dry areas, more erratic weather and storms, polar bears trapped on melting ice floes, rising waters, the “hottest year on record” reports, and, yes, even the disappearing sea stars I wrote about last month. If they see us acting to try to keep the world safer and healthier, they absolutely will notice. They’re smart.

We don’t have to lie down on the railroad tracks to block a coal train. We don’t even have to march in a parade. We can call or write postcards to legislators about maintaining international climate change agreements, make some small changes in our own energy consumption, or join a local group trying to preserve some wild spaces. The earth needs those big expanses of wild areas for the health of its atmosphere. If the children can be involved somehow, even better yet.

And then, support some environmental organizations that are working on a national scale to bring much larger and more urgent change. Some of my favorites that are very reputable are Union of Concerned Scientists (factual, no nonsense, research-based), Earthjustice (“because the Earth needs a good lawyer,” highly rated), Sierra Club (becoming more political, lobbies politicians), Nature Conservancy, and Natural Resources Defense Council. Not everyone is comfortable with Greenpeace. They are aggressive and confrontational because they recognize the urgency of the situation.

Read more about these groups and others online. You can check a site like Charity Navigator to verify that the money you send is being used well.

And by starting to act yourself on behalf of the child in your life, a remarkable thing will happen. Not only will that child experience a sense of hope and reassurance, but you will, too.

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“There is nothing more difficult, yet more gratifying in our society than living with sincere, active, constructive hope for the human spirit.” –Maria Popova

Wasting Away

On my walks along the shore on dark January days, one bright spot has always been seeing an orange sea star (or starfish) down on the beach at the water’s edge. They made my day!

Starfish - one is not like the others

And then one day they were gone.

I wondered if it was connected to the warming ocean water, but a fellow walker reassured me, “No, no–it’s just a disease. I have a friend on Hood Canal who knows about them. He says they’ll be back once the disease passes!”

But they have not come back in the four to five years since this “wasting disease” was first identified. And they’ll likely never be back this time, say scientists. Warmer ocean waters make animals more vulnerable to disease. This particular disease has hit some 20 sea star species.

The situation is recognized as being the largest observed die-off of an ocean animal. Not all the species are gone yet, but the disease continues, especially along West Coast bays where the waters have warmed significantly. Local ecologists describe this “wasting disease” as a “horror show,” where the animals literally melt into a goo, falling apart.

I remember my children exploring tide pools when they were barely old enough to walk. Some of the first animals they encountered there were sea stars–bright splashes of orange, dark red, or purple in that magical star shape.

They knew these animals were tidal pool superheroes. They could lose an arm and re-grow a new one! Those gazillion tube feet on their undersides made it possible for them to grab and hold onto anything.

I have shed tears over the lost sea stars–not only for the children who won’t see them, but for myself.

One of my first blog posts I wrote was about the grief I felt over the disappearing glaciers. I had been in a second hand book store when I spotted an older book of large photographs of glaciers and I found myself weeping as I remembered standing on one of those glaciers. I never imagined a day when they would not exist.

Depending on fossil fuels for so much in our lives is coming at a high, high price.

It’s not an honor to be a witness to the “largest observed die-off of an ocean animal.” It’s a profound grief.

Photo credit:photo credit: IronRodArt – Royce Bair (“Star Shooter”) Starfish – one is not like the others via photopin (license)

Turning on the Light

I’m at the laundry room tub, mid-afternoon
The overhead light starts to flicker.
“Please, please, do not die!”
The light flickers again and dies.
Finish washing up.
Need to change the bulb.

Out to the garage, haul in the ladder.
Grab a new light bulb from the cabinet.
Up the ladder, old one out, new one in.
Down the ladder, flip the switch. No go.
Up the ladder, tighten the bulb.
Down the ladder, flip the switch. No go.
Stamp my feet.

Hmm. Maybe the new bulb’s bad?
Up the ladder, unscrew the bulb.
Down the ladder, get a new one.
Up the ladder, screw in the new bulb.
Down the ladder, flip the switch. No go.
Up the ladder, remove the light bulb.

Now my mind begins to go:
Whole fixture is bad.
Need to call an electrician.
Can’t call anyone till I pay for the new roof.
Too much upkeep.
Time to sell and move to a condo?
If I had a handy husband, he’d fix this.

Return both new light bulbs to the cabinet.
Throw out the old one.
Stash ladder away in the garage.
Shuffle back into the house.
Say a few bad words to the empty socket.
Glance at the microwave to check the time.

No time! No microwave light!
No electricity!
Power outage!
Yay!
Don’t need an electrician.
Don’t need a condo.
Don’t even need a handy husband.

Out to the garage, haul in the ladder…..

Dead Zones (revisited, revised for this month of change, November, 2016)

His back ached and he could still taste grit between his teeth, but as he rocked in the porch swing at the end of the day and looked out over the land, he could see it going on for years and years. His children and their children would continue to grow the small herd of beef cattle and the vegetable crops for the local market. Perhaps they could pick up that piece just west of them and expand their holdings.

He didn’t know about dead zones.

The years passed, and he passed, too. His children went to war and wandered to the cities. The land was divided and sold. The years passed and the land was divided again and sold. And then again.

And when my friend Connie and her husband bought one of those much smaller pieces, just a fraction of the farmer’s, they hauled in rich topsoil all around the house. They set about developing beautiful gardens–a small orchard down near the road, raised vegetable beds behind the house, flowers for every season surrounding it, and a lush carpet of lawn in front.

Connie doesn’t have a green thumb–she has ten green fingers. Past president of the garden club, she can grow anything.

Almost anything. Connie didn’t know about the dead zone.

She planted a plum tree by the side of the house that had a great southern exposure. It died. She pulled it out and planted another fruit tree nearby. It died also.

In frustration she finally contacted the county extension office. They weren’t surprised at her question. They’d heard this complaint before. Many years ago, farmers often kept one area, perhaps a corner, away from the house and their animals, as a dumping ground for any chemicals, old fertilizers, or poisons. This, a dead zone, passes on and on for generations.

Dead zones also exist in the oceans, areas where the oxygen concentration is so low that animals can’t live there. These areas can occur naturally, but human activity can also create or enhance them. Excess fertilizer runs off the land (hence the concern about septic tanks or farm animals close to streams, rivers and salt water) and then into the sea. Those nutrients promote algae growth. As that algae decomposes, the process consumes the oxygen in the water that’s necessary for marine life.

Connie’s farmer had neglected to visualize that division of his land, the population growth, the loss of the farm. He didn’t know that what he was doing would continue to contaminate the soil for generations after he was gone. Connie dealt with her dead zone by planting grass whose shallow roots didn’t run beneath the rich topsoil. She calls it the “Dead Zone.”

Today we know about the dead zones, in the water and on the land. We know that whatever we spray or sprinkle on our little patches of ground will stay there. We know the lawn chemicals won’t magically evaporate or sink into nothingness, in spite of what the manufacturers claim. They accumulate over the years, over the generations.

Today we know that the over-emittance of greenhouse gases is contributing to the increase of Earth’s temperatures at an alarming rate. Scientists have warned us about this for years. We’ve resisted their warnings for a long time. Now we’re beginning to feel it in the changing weather patterns. We can no longer claim ignorance.

Today we know that if we don’t make significant changes in the way we live, we will be producing more dead zones all over the world.

We know all about the dead zones. What will our grandchildren and their children inherit?

We know better.

Memory Restoration

My mother, who turned 99 last week, has begun losing her short term memory, to the point of worrying that she might not remember mealtimes, or she might forget a friend is coming for a visit.

Me? My short term memory is good, but my long term memory is questionable.

I’d convinced two old friends to come for four days for a mini-reunion. Linnea and I had roomed together in college for two years. I didn’t know Glenda well then–she was in science classes and we didn’t have a lot in common. But she and I found teaching jobs in the same school and city, far from other friends and family, so we agreed to share an apartment.

As the end of that first year of teaching approached, we knew we’d be going to summer school, and decided that if we had to go, we may as well choose an interesting, maybe even exciting, location.

Our first choice, Glenda remembered, was UC at Berkeley. That was nixed when a couple who would become my in-laws insisted that was too dangerous. We absolutely could not go there–Mario Savio was there! So we chose San Francisco State College instead, and convinced Linnea to join us.

I remember it as a great summer. I can see the flat we found, up a flight of stairs to the upper unit. I can remember the chilly, foggy summer mornings that sometimes, but not always, burned off in the afternoons. I have a clear picture of the three of us driving together to school. I can see the kitchen where I dyed my hair in the sink–the only time I’ve done that–a shade scarcely different from my own color. I remember driving through the Haight Ashbury district, awash in bright colors. I have a hazy recollection of Golden Gate Park.

Over the years, whenever I’ve mentioned the experience to anyone, they’ve commented on what an exciting time we must have had.

“Oh, no….we all three were students and all I remember was studying all the time.”

Not so. Glenda and Linnea reminded me that we had, with the help of Glenda’s book, The College Student’s Guide to San Francisco, made it a point to get out every weekend to go somewhere–often inexpensive somewheres. We had driven down that twisty Lombard Street, had drinks at the Top of the Mark, and eaten at Omar Khayyam’s. We’d wandered through the Japanese Gardens at Golden Gate Park and gone to Chinatown. We’d visited Fisherman’s Wharf and Sausalito. We’d attended more than one concert at Stern Grove, and visited Coit Tower. We visited Glenda’s aunt in Carmel. Linnea thinks we saw a Shakespearean play. Glenda remembered we’d driven on the sand  at Cannon Beach in her new Mustang on the drive down–and gotten stuck.

My loss of memory became the object of much hilarity, of course. When they tried to tell me we went water skiing with a friend of Glenda’s at a lake, I assured them that I was quite positive I’d never been to a lake that summer. I had them convinced until one of them pulled out a photo of the lake scene–and there I was.

I did a little reading on long term and short term memory as I thought about this later, but it was too technical. When the article started linking long term memory and degenerative diseases, I quit reading. One interesting section described the positive effects of sound sleep–it helps to “anchor” experiences into long term memories. I’m pretty sure Glenda and Linnea grabbed the more comfortable beds that summer.

It was a wonderful reunion. I hadn’t seen Glenda in some 40 years, and all those years just melted away. The two of them restored some lovely memories for me, and as I think about them, bits and pieces are coming back.

My mother may be having problems with short term memory, but some of her long term memory is remarkable. On one of my last visits with her, my friend The Potter was telling her about taking his children many years ago to see the big draft horses at the county fair, “You know….those big horses…what were they called?” And without skipping a beat, she chimed in, “Percheron.” Perhaps those genes will surface when I get a little older?

For the Curious

Have you ever wondered about invasive stowaways in Puget Sound?

Or maybe wanted some information on Red Tides and a good photo of one?

And why is Salish Sea slime vital for shorebirds? What IS Salish Sea slime?

What’s the effect of underwater noise on our marine animals?

Do killer whales really attack porpoises?

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Moon snail shell and part of a moon snail egg case, Liberty Bay

Here’s your chance to find answers to all the above questions plus lots more information about Puget Sound (and, often, the whole Salish Sea) at one site–the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, http://www.eopugetsound.org

When I opened it a few days ago, the first thing that caught my eye was a tweet from someone reporting that the first invasive green crab I’d been hearing about lately in the news had been caught in Puget Sound, in the waters off San Juan Island. Since then, I’ve seen it reported in the news media. This is current information!

The site was launched in 2012 and is geared toward scientists and policy makers at the local, state, and federal level, but it’s also available to anyone interested in what lives in the waters of Puget Sound and the health status of those waters.

I found the recent articles on the first page most interesting–the home page opens to recently published ones. The magazine, Salish Sea Currents, found in the menu across the top also features a lot of current articles. I found the “Species” section difficult to use. And I mistakenly thought I could identify the shoreline habitat in front of my house by using the identification chart in the “Shoreline Habitats” section. It lists 95 different kinds of shoreline habitats in Puget Sound!

I’ve really missed seeing sea stars on our beaches, so I looked for an update on Sea Star Wasting Disease–I’ve been hearing that the sea stars were coming back. All I found was an article about the disease, no recent information. Perhaps with a little more practice, I would have more success with these research challenges.

The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound is yet one more site to put on your “Favorites” list for browsing now or later.

Time Catch

A friend recently reminded me of a poem I had included in my little book on tidal action. In remembrance of all those summer months at all those beaches and all those tides, I’m re-visiting the poem this month, “Time Catch.”

IncomingTide

The tide laps closer. It seeps
into the dungeon and moat,
and finally absorbs the castle.
Up and up and almost to our log,
and then it pauses.

We watch the hesitation step
and wait. The day the baby
choked, everyone stopped, leaned
forward and waited, and then
breathed again when he coughed.

The tide recedes. It bares
wet beach and exposes
all the other secrets.
It moves out and out and beyond
where we had ever walked.
And then it pauses. Beyond
the lover’s question and before
its answer we wait. The ocean
has skipped a heartbeat.

2ndBeach,LaPush
–from Second Beach near LaPush, Washington

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixing Colors

After a visit to Sequim, Washington, I propose we color all our states purple, not red and blue. After all, if you mix red and blue–if people are talking together and united in love for our country, our world, and for each other–we’d have purple, right?

We visited Sequim (pronounced “Squim”) one week before its annual Lavender Festival. Purple, lavender, and magenta shades were everywhere. Every shop we wandered into (including a thrift shop) highlighted a display of some kind of those flowery hues near the entry. Besides that, everything was so spiffy and clean we could have eaten our lunch off any sidewalk.

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This small city has a lot going for it. Lavender fields, of course. Also, located in the rain shadow on the Olympic Peninsula, close to the beaches of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Sequim Bay, close to the Olympic Mountains, and a couple of hours from Seattle, it’s become a popular retirement city.

The small museum, just off main street, is delightful. One corner features the story of the mastadon bones that were discovered here in 1977 by a farmer excavating an area in his field with a backhoe to put in a pond. A slide show about the discovery is narrated by the farmer himself. What made this find especially interesting is that a spear point (made from another bone) was embedded in this mastadon, indicating the interaction of humans and mastadons at this site about 12,000 years ago.

Another area of the museum features the story of the rowing team from the University of Washington who not only made it to the Olympics in Berlin in 1936, but beat out Hitler’s German team for first place. One of the American rowers was from Sequim. His story is told in The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown. It’s a fascinating story–and it’s one of those books I plan to re-read. The museum attendant also started a video there for us–footage of the actual race.

We will go back. One day was not enough. I had been at lavender farms in the area before, but would like to visit them again. And next time we’ll also visit the Dungeness River Audubon Center. If the season is right, we’ll stop at a u-pick berry field.

We’re already a mix of skin colors. Let’s mix up the reds and blues, too, for some shades in the color of those fragrant purple/lavender flowers. We may need to learn to listen first.

photo credit: <a ref=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/93799798@N00/27699117930″>DSCN0954</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

March to June, Step by Step

This month of June will be warm, and my veggies will stretch up and out, green and leafy and showy, but March came in like a lion not so long ago. Like a ravenous lion whose favorite fast food was slow walkers like me.

I’m not a slow walker. It’s just that I get distracted, so I slow down to look, and before I know it, the wind is taking a bite out of me. One March day I had stopped in a strong wind to see a body in the road. Two crows were nibbling on a small dead being, but I couldn’t tell what it was. Not willing to get any closer, and not wanting to interrupt their fine dining, I turned and walked on. About seven paces later, I saw a bit of fur at my feet. And then another–and another. Rabbit fur, dinner leftovers that the wind had re-positioned, and an answer to my question. They looked so soft I wanted to hold one to my cheek, but thought better of it.

I’ve been walking this route for almost 50 years. You’d think in that time I’d have seen it all, but I continue to be surprised.

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Walking beside the waves, low tide in May

Recently a pickup truck stopped beside me and the driver called out, “Look up–see the eagle at the top of that tree!” The tree was almost right beside me and I would have missed the eagle if not for this man, a neighbor I do not know well.

A friend has started walking with me quite often and she, a creative artist, is more aware of the visual than I am. One of the first days we walked together, she stopped suddenly, looking down at something at her feet. Frothy-topped weeds beside the road were throwing their shadows onto the pavement, creating intricate, lacy patterns that looked like Chinese writing.

The kindness of a stranger, the mystery of a meal, the beauty of shadows. All of us are facing tough lives in one way or another. Walking is such a simple and ordinary activity. It’s just one activity that eases us through the tough parts–at the least. At the most? An adventure!

    This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.
              –Maya Angelou

Bathroom Gardening

Bathrooms and who can use them are the news of the day. In my house it’s no different–my bathroom is the most popular room in the house right now. No, it’s nothing fancy–the old fixtures are rust-stained and the ceiling needs a coat of paint.

I must admit it’s a little awkward when a guest comes in the back door and I say, “Please come into my bathroom–I want to show you something!” I haven’t had anyone refuse me, although with all the media hype around bathrooms, that may happen yet.

The small window in that very private room is about 24 inches by 16 inches. As you look out the window, this is your view looking to the left:

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To the far left you can see the white rhododendron “Unique” that blossoms near my birthday. Next are the shy lavender and salmon-colored azaleas, and then, on the right, the  stately, dark red rhody “Jean Marie.” Branches of the cherry tree are in the background. Underneath the azaleas is a little native ground cover that moved in on its own some years back and decided to stay. It will have small white flowers and then die back during the summer.

Now take a second look out the window. This is your view looking to the right:

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The striking “Jean Marie” rhody again claims the middle of the stage, and a calla lily is just to the right of her, holding the promise of more blossoms. To the right of the calla lily is a native fern just beginning to unfurl its new fronds, and then the rosemary bush, also blossoming. It got an expert trimming from a gardening friend earlier this spring. Below the rosemary are those lovely little lilies-of-the-valley. Behind the rosemary is a peony bush that has a couple dozen buds about to pop. You might see a hint of dark blue behind the fern. Those are the bachelor buttons, or cornflowers.

Right behind the calla lily you can see a lush-looking plant. It is the most obnoxious plant I’ve ever met. I’ve written about it in a previous post (“The Curse of the Voodoo Lily”). A botany professor described its aromatic fragrance as “a mixture of cow dung, carrion, dead fish, manure and halitosis.” The voodoo lily isn’t blossoming yet, but when it does, visitors will no longer linger at my back door–or possibly even in the neighborhood.

I once went skinny-dipping with a friend in her big old claw-footed, sun-heated bathtub out in her back yard, with native woods all around us. If the UPS truck had come, we might have been in trouble, but her yard was so remote, that thought never occurred to us.

I swear you can find anything on the Internet. When I googled “Bathroom Gardening” today, the first bathroom that popped up was one that I could live in as a house. It had some gorgeous plants, including one good-sized tree. Another site, “Outdoor Bathrooms and Indoor Gardens” had photos of really lovely bathrooms–yes, outside. The only drawback to these tropical-type rooms was that I was pretty sure there was a snake curled up in the corner of almost every one.

I think my bathroom garden, the showpiece of my yard, tops them all. And the irony is that for all the hours I spend weeding in other areas around my yard, this bathroom area, for the most part, just takes care of itself.

Perhaps people who use public bathrooms can do the same thing?