Earth Lovers

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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.

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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

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“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

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

2018–The Year of the Bird

I never really saw the hummingbirds in the abelia bush until some New Zealand visitors stayed in my house for a week one summer. I have a beautiful water view and an interesting house with nooks and crannies that was built in 1908, but all they could talk about were the hummingbirds out the front window.

2018 is a year to celebrate–it’s the Year of the Bird, a plan by Audubon and National Geographic, and supported by more than 40 organizations. Perhaps this is the year that we all can stop and take a second look at our birds, learn a few new names, and then focus on the canary in the coal mine.

You know, of course, about the coal miners who carried cages of canaries into the mines to use as a warning signal for dangerous gases. They could beat a hasty exit if a canary died.

The Winter 2017 issue of Audubon has an amazing research photo of 10 Red-headed Woodpecker specimens and 10 Horned Lark specimens from the Chicago Field Museum. In the photo, they’re laid out on their backs in two neat rows, their white bellies all showing.

A study was conducted on over a thousand specimens collected over the years from 1880 until 2015. Researchers found that the soot on the specimens’ white bellies corresponded to estimates of black carbon in the Rust Belt cities during those years they were collected. They noted that a dramatic change happened in the 1950’s when the environmental movement pushed for the Air Pollution Control Act and the Clean Air Act.

The photo of those bird specimens is dramatic. The bellies of the specimens at the left end of the line are a dirty gray, but they get progressively whiter as you look down the line to the right. The whiter ones are from years when environmental protections were enacted.

The lungs of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren? What will happen as Congress and our President focus on dismantling laws that have protected our air and environment for generations?

In this Year of the Bird, it’s time to go beyond watching birds to speaking for them. Check the statistics of the “canary cages” (populations, migration route changes, etc.) and then start joining and supporting environmental groups, marching, writing letters, phoning legislators–especially at the local and state level. Research on climate change by respected scientists shows a significant impact on birds, our canaries.

No, one voice perhaps won’t make a difference, but joining with a flock? It can!

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.

cows

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.

clamshells

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=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/88379351@N00/30538314015″>Moo</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

photo: photo credit: Frankenstein <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/37996582271@N01/29509260353″>Lunch</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc 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

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.