Living with a Dying Earth

Actually, the Earth is NOT dying. It will continue to live on long after you and I and all humanity are gone. It will be different, yes, but it will live on and evolve. When I get too down about the dying starfish on my beach and polar bears trapped on ice floes, it helps a little to remember this.

When I was young, we heard nothing about “extinction” or “endangered animals” because it happened so rarely. Today a lot of life on Earth is dying way too fast. If we continue at the rate we’re going, 75% of all species on Earth will be extinct in just a few hundred years.

We are in what scientists call the “Sixth Extinction.” Over Earth’s history, there have been five big extinctions, all millions of years ago. The dinosaurs disappeared in the last extinction period, about 66 million years ago.

But this Sixth Extinction is unique. Since the last extinction there have been many warming and cooling periods. But for the first time in Earth’s history the actions of one species is accelerating the warming period we are in right now. That rate of warming is going at an incredibly fast speed, unlike most other extinctions that took thousands of years.

The reality? Insects and rats might survive this Sixth Extinction. Even if we made drastic changes instantly, we will never return to the Earth we used to have–we’ve put too much carbon into the atmosphere.

So what? So what does a few hundred years matter to us? We won’t be around. The reality is that we are already being affected–increasing wildfires, severe flooding, atypical storm systems, rising sea water, all signs of climate change. As much as some leaders can claim that the changes we need to make are too expensive (and they ARE expensive), we are already paying a high price in damages. The costs ahead of us, however, will be much higher.

I’m always an optimist. We are the first generation to understand climate change and recognize it as a fact, even though scientists have warned us for many years. More and more people are becoming informed and concerned. We have an incredible opportunity to make changes that, if they do not solve the problem, at least give scientists and specialists a little more time to develop a miracle–and that’s been done before.

Some scientists see a “perfect storm” of new laws at some local, state, national and international levels right now. The Paris Climate Accord, signed by every nation in the world, is historic! All the countries in the world recognize the problem and know that action needs to be taken.

We all know what needs to be done. It’s just a matter of re-committing ourselves–recycling, buying less plastic, using resources sparingly, using clean energy, living more simply. No, those small actions are not enough, but they serve as a visual, concrete reminder to us and our neighbors of the bigger steps our country and the world need to take.

The greater steps? We need to DEMAND that our local state, and federal governments clean up their acts. We demand by writing postcards, making phone calls, attending legislative meetings, marching, and joining groups to gain more power. We support organizations that are actively working to effect change, especially at the legislative level.

Seeing us taking these actions will also give our children and grandchildren hope instead of cynicism. We don’t have the leisure to “let someone else deal with it.” We don’t have the leisure to wait until the spirit moves us.

I loved the sign that appeared in a recent march. It said something like this, “No one’s going to blame you for not doing anything to stop global warming. Except your children and grandchildren.”


Cryptid in the Kale

I didn’t have any problem when the Sasquatch wandered out of the woods and down the hill from behind my house, but when it headed for my patch of kale in the garden that has fed me all winter, it was too much.

“See here!” I shouted as I stormed out the door, “What do you think you’re doing?”

The Sasquatch looked me up and down and then sniffed. Loudly.

“Just having a little bit of nourishment from this modest patch.” Feminine voice, but her shape gave me no clues–she was covered in shaggy brown hair from head to foot, and towered over me.

“So who ARE you?”

“I’m a cryptid.” She spit the words at me.

“Cryptid? What are you talking about?”

“A cryptid! Don’t you read? Good grief–I can’t believe you humans don’t keep up with what’s happening in government! Your crazy state legislature is considering making me Washington State’s official cryptid. Can you believe it?”

I wasn’t sure what to say, so she continued, “You do know what a cryptid is, don’t you?” I shook my head.

“Oh honestly! Mythical creatures! Creatures that haven’t yet been proven to exist! Me! They’re calling me a cryptid! They’re putting me in the same category as that silly Loch Ness Monster! Look it up if you don’t believe it. Wikipedia has a long list of cryptids and I’m on it. Even my cousin Yeti is on it. What a farce!”

She had continued pulling off leaves and munching as she ranted, but now she paused and lowered her voice, “Um, might you have a nice bottle of Chardonnay to accompany these lovely greens?”

I shook my head. No way was I giving alcohol to a Sasquatch.

“So are there a lot of you cryptids around?”

“I am NOT a cryptid–here, pinch me–I’m real!” No way was I going to pinch her, either.

“You mean the real unreal cryptids, right? There’s the Hakawai from New Zealand, a mythical bird that people have heard but never seen. And the Kaijin from Japan–a sea monster most frightening. You know about Nessie, of course. But how about the Beast of Bladenboro from North Carolina? An ugly vampire, a cat-like monster. You don’t want to cross paths with that one! And oh, so many others. But I do not belong in that club, and I do so hope the legislature straightens out this gross misconception.”

She gave me a long look. “Hmmm….might you help me? It wouldn’t be so difficult. You could start by calling your senators and representatives. Maybe you could write a letter to the governor? I know–send a postcard to the president and ask him to give these jokers the facts! Have you friends? Perhaps a march–yes, a march would be excellent! That’s a delightful idea!” Her eyes glowed as she looked off into the distance.

As she pondered that idea, I stepped back and scooted into the house. I figured she wouldn’t venture any closer. The letters and phone calls? I suppose I could contact my senator and let her know that I saw a very real Sasquatch in my garden. A march? I knew some people with marching experience. I suppose I could contact a few friends and get something started. If it doesn’t work out, you might see someone on the street corner with a sign, SASQUATCHES ARE REAL. It’s me.

Clams and Cows

An unlikely pairing, right? Not here in the Salish Sea area, where our days and days of winter rains wash everything into the bays–sewage overflow from malfunctioning septic systems, oil from the roadways, pet and wildlife waste–and manure from big dairy farms.


And in Whatcom County, north of Seattle, dairy farms are big business, so it accounts for a large amount of contaminated run-off. It starts small, though, with fecal coliform washing into the small streams and ditches around the farms, moving down into larger streams, then into the Nooksack River, and finally dumping into Portage Bay.


Presently, some 800 acres of shellfish beds are now closed during six months each year due to pollution. The Lummi Nation has traditionally harvested those beds for thousands of years, and through treaty rights with the United States, are entitled to continue harvesting them. Tricky to do when they’re contaminated.

After the tribe decided to sue the seven largest dairy farmers, the two sides started to meet and talk and try to avoid a lengthy, costly court battle for both of them. Last month they signed an agreement whereby the farmers will pay the tribe for the losses they are incurring, and make efforts to clean up their operations–buffering their streams and areas where manure run-off occurs, and installing above-ground steel containers for holding manure. It can more safely be spread on fields during the dry summer months. Expensive? Yes, but not as expensive as litigation.

But the agreement also forges a bond between the two sides so they can address other sources of contamination as well, and they hope to encourage the public to become more aware of ways they can help.

I liked the quote from one of those seven farmers (reported in the Bellingham Herald. “We and the Lummis probably have not understood each other for years. We did our thing out here and they did their thing over there….we have to understand each other and talk and learn about each other.”

Our Congress could learn a thing or two from these people–and perhaps we can, too.

Photo credits:

Cow photo: photo credit: will_cyclist <a href=”″>Moo</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

photo: photo credit: Frankenstein <a href=”″>Lunch</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=” Clam /2.0/”>(license)</a>


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!
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?

Toshiba Digital Camera

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,

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.”


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.

–from Second Beach near LaPush, Washington