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…..

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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?

Birds in Trees–Natural, Right?

When we walked the Nisqually Delta on a warm spring day last week, this was a sight we never expected to see. I’m guessing you’ve never seen it, either.

Nisqually Delta, to set the scene of this abnormality, is a jewel of Washington State–almost 800 acres restored to a natural estuary, located just north of Olympia. It had been diked for farmland, but in 1974, the area was bought up and made into a refuge. This was about the first time I visited it. Then in 2009 the dikes were removed. The refuge now has four miles of trails, much of it in wooden walkways over the tidal flats, although I enjoyed the walks beside the river and through the woods even more. When we returned the second day early in the morning, we were able to see more birds, and what was probably a beaver swimming near us.

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Beyond the woods, the boardwalk extends over tide lands

These were days for swallows practicing their acrobatics. We also saw a red-winged blackbird, green-winged teal, robins and sparrows, coot, grebe, mallard ducks, bufflehead ducks, shoveler duck, great blue heron, and gulls. We watched bird-watchers watching hummingbirds, but never saw them ourselves. One of our best sightings was a pair of beautiful wood ducks up close. With the leaves not quite open on the trees, we had a good view of the birds.

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A pair of handsome wood ducks

The second day brought the surprise. We came upon a bird-watcher with his tripod focused high up into a cottonwood tree. When we asked what he had found, he pointed–there, high up in a fork of the cottonwood, sat a Canadian goose! It took me a moment to remember that geese have webbed feet. They do NOT land in trees. But this silly goose had. My companion, a veteran bird-watcher who is always excited about any sighting, just about fell over, “That’s the damndest thing I’ve ever seen!” Tripod Man agreed.

A short distance down the path we met a woman who was watching a hummingbird nest, so we led her down the path to the goose. She was quite excited, “So that’s what they were talking about! I had been asking at the visitor center about the long-eared owl. I watch for that nest being built every spring and hadn’t seen it this year yet. They told me that the eggs hadn’t hatched, the owl had abandoned the nest, and a goose had taken it over!”

The goose we saw wasn’t setting on a nest–you can see him in the photo standing in the tree, but I’m guessing it’s the same one.

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Can you find the goose in the tree?

After a little bit of research, I learned that geese in trees are indeed occasionally seen, but not often. One Nisqually Delta blogger says that they are seen quite often at the Delta, but these two birders we met had never seen them before.

Spectacular place to visit! The two weekdays we were there were the first warm days of the year, and there was a parade of moms with strollers and small children, old birders like us, and flocks of photographers with tripods. They were all as much fun to watch as the wildlife.

When I recently experienced a grief spell over the lack of interest in tending to climate change problems, I decided I could do three things to deal with it. One, I would contribute what I could to 3-4 very reputable groups who are actively campaigning to protect the earth. Secondly, I would write letters occasionally to newspapers or organizations about climate change issues–and mention them in conversations, as well. Finally, I would spend more time treasuring and enjoying all the natural beauty around me. Part of that beauty is the unexpected–geese in trees!

 

The Dark Side of the Wild

The shriek woke me out of a sound sleep, and then I heard a second one. I’ve heard these other years, but it’s still chilling enough to make me pull the covers up over my head. If I had house guests from the city, they’d have dialed 911 on their cells.

I know, though, that I live next to a woodsy area where raccoons, owls, rabbits and coyotes hang out. I used to think the dreadful sounds were raccoons fighting, and sometimes I think it is. But this spring I think the coyotes are cleaning out the rabbits one by one. And rabbits can produce human-like screams when attacked.

Those cute little critters have overtaken my yard the last few years, forcing me to fence one of the vegetable beds devoted to their favorite crops. Easy job. What was more difficult was watching them eat the crocuses and tulips down to green stubs every spring. They turned up their little button noses at the daffodils.

This spring the crocuses, like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football one more time, somehow gathered enough strength and courage to push themselves up out of the dirt and they’re blossoming! Dark purples, some yellows, a little lavender, so lovely–the first of spring flowers in my yard, along with a few daffodils. Are the rabbits gone? I’ve only seen one in my yard in the last few weeks–and I haven’t seen him since the shriek in the night.

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Crocuses nestled up against some hyachinths

Living on the edge of the wild is not always as idyllic as it may seem. My stately old madrona next to the water develops a disease and rots away. An old crow takes several days to die out behind the garage. I find blue baby bird shells in unusual places. Once I found a dead snake in the bird bath, partially eaten.

My sister also lives away from the city. Several years ago, she described her horror as she watched a neighbor’s young cat being picked up and carried away by an eagle. She, an artist, resorts to the canvas instead of a keyboard, and did a striking portrait of the experience–angry black slashes against a blue/gray sky.

Not always lovely, no.

But still. The bright crocus colors overwhelm the darkness. We’re in that season of rebirth, of new life. The following quote, from Parker Palmer in a colder part of the country, pretty much sums it up from a different angle:

“There is a hard truth to be told: before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created.”