Readiness

Imagine you are a cicada egg!  You have 17 years to get prepared for the big emergence (Some cicadas have it easy and only stay underground for 13 years).  You are first an egg placed in the woody part of a stem.  Somehow you find your way down the tree and into the ground within two feet of the surface.  How incredible to have at least a decade to meditate, eat, grow, get to intimately learn about the soil.  Then, when the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees you emerge, in full readiness for your brief life as an adult.  The insistence of life.

Mayflies really have to know what to do as they only live one day as an adult!

It is difficult to predict when spring will arrive — or any season really.  The non-winter of 2018-2019 unexpectedly shook off its temerity in February and blustered its way into the Gorge for seven full weeks bequeathing three feet of snow on the nearby hills.

Except for the robins who magically (and prematurely?) flocked in just before the snowfall only to re-appear a few days ago, the multitudes of flora and fauna seemed to bide their time, and after perking their ears to the season’s overture, are now courting, nesting, breeding, exploding in numbers, while also hunkering down in brand new homes. Perfectly timed to the spring symphony.

On cue, our brown meadow blob erupted into Oz green.  Blooms exploded in riotous color.  Buds, velvet seeds, sprouts, stalks, stems, spores are all elongating rapidly in all ways possible and expanding their size and territories.

Bees are frenetic in high buzz and a flock of 30 wild turkeys gobbled their joy, wobbling their way in front of our home.

My garden is two months late in planting…but who knew?  Who can ever know what surprises a season may bring  ~

 

 

 

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The Envelope Please

In celebration of International Women’s Day

In all the 118 years of the Nobel Peace Prize, only 15 women have ever been honored.  The first woman to win the prize for environmental reasons, as a result of stunningly successful tree planting projects in Kenya was Wangari Muta Maathai.  The second person to receive the Nobel for environmental work was Al Gore.

World renowned primatologist and conservationist Jan Goodall has been nominated this year.  Ms. Goodall is certainly an outstanding choice as she is considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees after her 55-year-long study on the wild chimpanzees in Tanzania, but she’s also a dedicated advocate and activist on behalf of animal welfare and conservation causes. Her discovery of tool manufacture and use among the chimps led her to argue that “we’re not as different from the rest of the animal kingdom as we used to think.” Today, the Jane Goodall Institute works with people around the world to develop a greater understanding of how we can help humanity while still protecting the natural world.  Ms. Goodall’s Roots and Shoots project funded environmental education in the Columbia Gorge.

I also would like the Nobel Committee to consider Dr. Jean Cypher who created and tirelessly works at the Rowena Wildlife clinic.   The Rowena Wildlife Clinic in Mosier, Oregon was founded in 2000 by Jean Cypher. Dr. Cypher, a 1991 graduate of Washington State University, envisioned a charitable organization along the Columbia River Gorge that could aid wild and domestic animals and foster friendly relations between the human community and their animal neighbors. No injured wild or domestic animals are ever turned away and Dr. Cypher never charges for her surgery and post operative care.

Have you heard of Sylvia Earle? This groundbreaking American marine biologist and oceanographer, who was Time Magazine’s first Hero of the Planet in 1998, is known by her fans as the Sturgeon General! Sylvia Earle set a women’s depth record for suit diving and has helped design research submarines, but she is most well known for her advocacy for protecting Earth’s oceans. In 2009, she used money from a TED Prize to found Mission Blue, a non-profit dedicated to creating protected marine preserves around the world. Earle is also a best-selling author whose writing is increasing public awareness of the ecological importance of the ocean, which she calls “the blue heart of the planet”. And to the delight of her fans both young and old, last year LEGO created deep sea exploration building kits that are inspired by her work — and will inspire the next generation of ocean protectors.

Winona LaDuke learned early in her life about the challenges facing Native Americans: her father, an Objibwe man from Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation, had a long history of activism relating to the loss of treaty lands. Within her tribe’s traditional connection to the land, she also saw the potential for a new model of sustainable development and locally-based, environmentally conscious production of everything from food to energy. Her non-profit the White Earth Land Recovery Project  has revived the cultivation of wild rice in Minnesota, and sells traditional foods under its label Native Harvest. She’s also the co-founder of Honor the Earth that provides grants to Native-run environmental initiatives. “Power,” she says, “is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.”

Like many girls in Gambia, Isatou Ceesay was forced to drop out of school at a young age — but that didn’t mean she was oblivious to the environmental challenges around her. The colorful plastic bags that she used to admire were now gathering as trash all over her village, injuring livestock, helping mosquitoes breed, and strangling plants… and unlike the woven baskets her community was used to, they never decomposed. So in 1997, Ceesay founded the Njau Recycling and Income Generation Group. This revolutionary community recycling initiative turns waste into wealth: women collect the recyclable materials and bring them to a center where they separate out the plastics and upcycle them into bags, mats, purses, and more. Today, she is known as the “Queen of Recycling in The Gambia” and over 100 women gain income thanks to Ceesay’s organization. You can learn more about her program or buy a bag at One PlasticBag.com

And the winner is….

Light is Life

“Ô, Sunlight! The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”
Roman Payne

How is it that we live on a medium sized planet that just happens to be 93 million miles away from its light source and situated at that astronomical distance, Earth is perfectly positioned to receive life-giving illumination and warmth?!  So sorry Mars and Venus.

Most every living thing on our depends on light to exist. While a few animals somehow persist in pitch darkness for long periods, life on Earth both needs and appreciates the light.  All of the terrestrial and sea-based food chains start with the Sun and are based on photosynthesis.  We teach, “The sun is the source of energy for living things.” Our spiritual well being is soulfully connected to the appearance of each dawn’s sun.  With nearly two feet of sun currently blessing the ground outside our door, knowing that it is mid-February and that the amount of day light is rapidly increasing takes away any possible winter chill.

Light bathes our world in many miraculous ways.  I’ve seen the ocean’s phosphorescence light up the surf.  I long to see the Northern lights. Harnessing lightning brought us fire.  Animals can somehow drum up the light as well.  Once when we were walking back from our neighbor’s home, halos on the ground revealed our first ever glow worm sightings.   And to anyone reading this Blog in the eastern United States, your summer delight is the nightly firefly show.  With the help of bio-luminescent proteins, glorious jellyfish can create the most beautiful underwater scenario as they emit an otherworldly glow. And we might be awestruck viewing the sea sapphire, a small, parasitic crustacean. Tiny and transparent, this creature is found in the marine environment all over the world. These animals don’t glow: they sparkle due to their iridescent, crystal plates inside the epidermal cells which catch light and reflect it back.

Sensing changes in daylight is a major trigger for bird migration, while the constellations guide their flights.  When blindfolded for an hour each autumn day, snowshoe hares turn white earlier in the season than do un-blindfolded rabbits, so intricately attuned to the waning light

Thank you Guy Murchie for your profound book Seven Mysteries of Life, where he writes “These are the merest hints at the influence of light upon life and its countless rhythms cadenced so inexorably to the motions of the  celestial spheres.  For, like gravity and temperature, light is as abstract as it is pervasive, and there is no known end to the constituents in its dominion.” ~

 

The Green World 50 Years Ago

People alive in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were witness to the only time in U.S. history where environmental protection was a nationwide priority for citizens everywhere.  That widespread concern prompted politicians to enact the most far reaching conservation legislation in history.  In his State of the Union Address of 1969, President Nixon (yes a Republican) detailed a 37-point message on the American environment that included goals ranging from monitoring motor vehicle emissions standards to halting all dumping in the Great Lakes. President Nixon’s endeavor would lead to creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Almost hard to believe!  This endeavor was the first attempt by any administration to specifically address environmental problems through a newly created, independent agency.  The first Earth Day occurred in 1970 and multi-millions participated.

Today, public interest in the environment is barely a blip.  When it comes to reasons to vote for particular candidates, “the environment” ranks at the bottom.  While global climate change mobilizes  people world-wide, we are light years away from the environmental fervor of 50 years ago.  Still, American viewpoints are finally shifting In 2014, the vast majority (87 percent) of scientists said that human activity is driving global warming, and yet only half the American public ascribed to that view.

Today, over half of Americans (58%) understand that global warming is mostly human caused, the highest level since surveys began in November 2008. By contrast, three in ten (30%) say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment – the lowest level recorded since 2008.

While positive polling is a good sign, we need to reach out quickly to those 42% climate deniers.  We could start with a flurry of ads shown to the whopping 100 million Americans who will watch the upcoming Super Bowl game!  Imagine what half-time performer Maroon 5’s environmental-centric music could do to change the world! We need teach all children about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming.  While we desperately need lawmakers to enact climate change reducing regulations, in the end, we will need hearts to change to drive deeply the fact that global warming is both an environmental and human-impacting phenomena that requires our utmost attention and lifestyle change work.

My deepest wish is for folks younger than me that didn’t see the sea change of environmental concern 50 years ago to experience not only a renewed Earth Day in the U.S., but also worldwide.  If we can see that day happen, we will turn the world green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generativity

Thanks to my brother for giving me the new book about Mr. Rogers coupled with a timely visit from our dear friends David and Terri, I have learned a new word and concept that seems perfect for the season and as a volition for the New Year: Generativity.

Generativity” is a term coined by the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson in 1950 to denote “a concern for middle-aged people establishing and guiding the next generation.” It can be expressed in literally hundreds of ways, from volunteering, mentoring, from writing a family history to restoring land. You try to “make a difference” with your life, to “give back,” to “take care” of your community and your planet.

Generativity refers to “making your mark” on the world by caring for others as well as creating and accomplishing things that make the world a better place. Conversely, if one is not focused on living a “re-generative” life, we can become/remain Stagnant.   Stagnation refers to the failure to find a way to contribute, being stuck in a point of life lacking purpose. These individuals may feel disconnected or un-involved with their community and with society as a whole.  Think: Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation from the ultimate stagnate life to one of pure giving and joy.

Assisting the natural world can bring us the deepest fulfillment in ensuring a legacy by making our ecological home sustainable and life-giving.  Planting trees alone will ensure that future generations receive the shade from our work.  While Messrs. Rogers and Erikson generativity writings focused on assisting children, guiding youth to the outdoors serves two noble purposes, and bring the greatest satisfaction of all ~

 

 

 

Earthly Giving

We can not expect too much from our federal government these days regarding land ethics and ecological priorities.  As a result, we turn to non-profit organizations to do the noble work of conservation land buying, environmental education, research, and legal action.  Some of these groups are expansive like the Nature Conservancy and others are tiny, solely run by volunteers.

This November 27 is called “Giving Tuesday,” where many organizations will be requesting your donations.  Instead of Black Friday consumerism, it is a moment to give back to those who keep our communities humming, natural, and just.

It is hard to choose which organizations to support because there are a plethora operating around the world and those whose missions focus on one place.  Recently, there have been some environmental success stories to note and praise.  A week ago I learned that against steep odds, mountain gorilla populations are expanding.  “This is a beacon of hope,” stated Tara Stoiniski of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

From David Berger, I smiled to read, Olive Ridley sea turtle hatchlings have been spotted for the first time in decades on a Mumbai, India beach that was rejuvenated in the past two years by a massive volunteer cleanup operation. “The world’s largest beach cleanup project,” beams the United Nations was orchestrated by Afroz Shah, working alone and with The Wildlife Institute of India.

There are innumerable ways to support conservation, from cash donations, to volunteering your time.  On Saturday, February 2, Friends of Trees and the Sandy River Watershed Council will be coordinating the planting of another 1,200 native trees and shrubs at the Sandy River Delta.   The Friends of the Gorge will be offering dozens of hikes in spring, 2019.  The Columbia Gorge Ecology Institute needs classroom assistance in teaching children about ecology and helping facilitate field trips.

Whether donating a dollar or volunteering for a day, the Earth needs your help…and will you pay you back in ways we can only imagine. ~

 

After Tuesday

“Be kind to unkind people – they need it the most.” —  Unknown

 

We are a few days away from Election Day 2018, a beacon of light or darkness depending on the voting outcome.  Then Wednesday will arrive.  Our lives will go on and we will cope with the election results.  How will we find ways to re-charge, re-focus, carrying forward our lives positively, deepen our community involvement and especially  in the way we interact with folks who we find little in common?

I do not believe that after 200 years of uttering unspeakable words and putting down your opponent in the worse possible terms that the way we carry out elections will ever change.  I do believe we can act differently when the votes have been cast.  How do we possibly leave election hangovers and those divisive feelings behind the day after?

Athletes who pour themselves into their game, afterward by tradition, go and congratulate their opponents, while coaches shake hands.

Perhaps, we simply need to double our efforts at kindness and service to others.  We know we can only increase the fire of hate with hate, and that only love and compassion and being a full human can bring us back together as a civil society. We desperately need to make time to be nice to one another.

Can this process start at a young age? Does any public school course teach Ethics or Values any more?

The notion of reaching out to all people of loving all Thy neighbors has been received as impossibly naive in the past.  Today, we need to carry out good deeds and kind words because we can, and because we have no alternative if we want to bring our country back to some kind of equilibrium.  I like what Tommy Lee Jones said, “Kindness and politeness are not over-rated at all.  They are just underused.”

I learned a lesson this evening from dear friend Marc, who said he was recently in the tiny, remote town of Bickleton, Washington to seek support for a Congressional candidate.  When he stopped for lunch, the restaurant only featured one long table, family style.  Marc joined the regulars for lunch and learned that during the 2016 election 50 townsfolk voted for Clinton and and the exact number voted for Trump.  When he struck up a conversation about his Congressional candidate, he was politely informed that there is no place for partisan politics at the restaurant nor in town.  For the Bickleton community to stay whole and unified, they don’t foster political dissension.

Now that’s my kind of town!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reducing Rumination

With the onset of winter and the reduction of natural light, holidays, and ugh…the elections, we may have a tendency to fall into rumination. As a biologist rumination sounds like ruminants, which are mammals like deer that are able to acquire nutrients from plant-based food by fermenting it in a specialized stomach prior to digestion through microbial actions. It can be fun and rewarding to ruminate on a thought, pondering, digging deep into the realm of pure focus. Rumination, however, is a medical term describing the focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions.  Rumination is the retracing of past mistakes.

Rumination shows up as increased activity in a brain region called the sub-genual prefrontal cortex, a narrow band in the lower part of the brain that regulates negative emotions. If rumination continues for too long unabated, depression can set it.

While visits to psychologists to cure one’s ruination might be expensive, one of the most effective cures is free.  An American nature philosopher penned the answer to rumination more than 150 years ago. In 1862, Henry David Thoreau wrote  “When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods.”   Thoreau extolled (and extolled and extolled) the virtues of walking in untamed environments. In the decades since, psychologists have proved him right. Exposure to nature has been shown repeatedly to reduce stress and boost well being.

The same research promoting walking in nature also shows that mere walking, especially in an urban/suburban environment does not yield the same effects. For a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Stanford scientists examined whether a nature walk could reduce rumination in 38 mentally healthy people. They picked city dwellers because, the researchers predicted, they would have “a somewhat elevated level of rumination resulting from the ongoing and chronic stressors associated with the urban experience.” Half the participants walked for 90 minutes through a grassland dotted with oak trees and shrubs (“views included scenic hills, and distant views of the San Francisco Bay”). The other half took a jaunt along El Camino Real, a four-lane, traffic-logged street in Palo Alto.

The nature walkers showed decreases in rumination and in activity in their sub-genual prefrontal cortices. The urban walkers showed no such improvements.

Decreases in rumination are linked to so-called “positive distractions,” like taking part in a hobby or enjoying a long chat with a friend. You’d think that walking in uninterrupted nature wouldn’t provide many diversions from a whorl of dark thoughts. Surprisingly, the opposite seemed to be true: Natural environments are more restorative, the authors write, and thus confer greater psychological benefits.

On this Sunday, brimming with color autumn day, it is time for a walk.~

The Ecological Beauty of Wasps

Our first full day of autumn has arrived and the oak leaves have already shown brilliant reds and yellows.  Bluebirds and other migratory birds are doing their zugunruhe dance, and though predicted to be a poor year, steelhead trout are returning to their freshwater homes.

It is also a great time for picnics because our friends the wasps are starting to wane and soon disappear when cold temperatures take over.   A new study (not at all surprising) places wasps at the bottom of our insect like list, while their close relatives, bees are now a favorite.  From minus five to plus five choices, 750 surveyors from 46 countries gave wasps an average of minus 3.  Common words associated with bees were “honey, flowers, and pollination,” and with wasps “stinging, annoying, and dangerous.”   However, wasps also pollinate flowers, and are just as important to the environment as bees.

Nearly every pest insect on our planet is preyed upon by wasps.  Wasps are so adept at destroying true pests that the agriculture industry regularly employs them to protect crops! As a pollinator, without wasps we would be overrun with insect pests, and we would have no figs, and no Fig Newtons.

While the wasp sting is generally feared, only percent of wasps sting for defense. Most are solitary.  Some have great names like tarantula killer and mud dauber.  When the colonial yellow and black wasps show up at your next picnic, they are most more interested in finding insect prey to bring back to their hives to feed their larvae.

Wasps and Yeast

Researchers at the University of Florence recently discovered another important role of both hornets and paper wasps–they carry yeast cells in their guts. We know little about how yeast lives in the wild. The researchers found that wasps and hornets feed on late-season grapes, which are rich in wild yeast. The yeast survives the winter in the stomachs of hibernating queen wasps and is passed on to their offspring when the mother wasps regurgitate food for their young. The new generation of wasps carries the yeast back to the next season’s grapes. So raise your glass to the wasps and hornets!~

 

Small Water

lake-itasca

Lake Itsaca source of the Mississippi River

 

Many ponds make a bucket.  Many ponds make a lake, and many lakes make an ocean.”       Percy Ross

After four months of triple-digit drought, to feel the sensation of cool wind-driven mist last evening, I offer an Ode to Water, a hearty salute to small bodies of water such as springs, seeps, ponds, invisible ground water emanations and of course puddles!

Every river starts somewhere.  I am fortunate to be writing by a fair-sized river and amazingly I am alone here with gray skies and non-swimming temperatures.  Somewhere upstream lies the river’s source, its entry to the world.  No Olympics-worthy steelhead trout can negotiate the steep terrain to access that precious locale.  No one has any interest in recreating there.  No environmental regulations protect the vital space.

These watershed beginnings will dictate the condition of their downstream brethren.  Whether the creek flows year-round may depend on how much flow is pumped by the headwaters during the dry months.  If the small water riparian area is logged, flooding will be exasperated, and if livestock stir the silt, spawning area salmon eggs could suffocate. And while the rivers teem with the big fish, minnows and froglings frolic in small waters.

To our societal credit we seem to protect our small water drinking sources.  Portlanders can trace their sweet tap water to the utterly pristine Bull Run Lakes, off-limits to humans. Now, if we can only extend our blanket of conservation priorities to other oases.

Take care of small waters and the big waters will rejoice.  ~