Spring cleaning our Mother Earth

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Pogo

Living in Eugene, Oregon, in the early 70s, while attending the University of Oregon, I volunteered at the first Lane County recycling center, housed in an old warehouse. People dropped off bags and boxes of glass bottles outside the warehouse all hours of the day and night.  Boxes and bags of bottles piled up.  My volunteer shifts were spent hoisting cardboard boxes of glass bottles over my head, dumping them down a chute into a huge, noisy, glass-crushing contraption. Crushed glass was literally everywhere. It was unsafe to say the least! But those of us who volunteered were dedicated to recycling.

Cartoonist Walt Kelly drew this cartoon for the first Earth Day in 1970. He first used the quote in his book, the “Pogo Papers” in 1953. It is a parody of  “We have met the enemy, and they are ours”,  sent in 1813 from U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry to Army General William Henry Harrison after his victory in the Battle of Lake Erie.

On the first Earth day in 1970 I was living and going to college in Washington DC where the event gathered a large crowd to hear inspiring speeches. I remember the educational booths of various environmental organizations and early “green” businesses. When I attended this event I didn’t know Earth Day had been proposed by Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin  determined to convince the government the planet was at risk. It was a bipartisan supported campaign that resulted in the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts being passed later in 1970. Nelson had announced his Earth Day idea in the fall of 1969 at a conference in Seattle, the city of my birth.

Washington state, where I live, is my “homeland”. Most of my relatives live here, my parents grew up here. Northwest roots shape my values and attitudes about Nature and the planet.  My dad, an active member of the Sierra Club later in life, had backpacked in the Cascade and Olympic mountains in his youth and from infancy until we moved from Washington when I was 4, our family spent summer vacations and weekends at a family owned cabin on Dabob Bay on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula. When we moved to the east coast we continued to camp weekends and summer vacations from Canada to the Carolinas.  My parent’s love of the outdoors was instilled in my brothers and I early in life. Also instilled in us were their depression-era values and the values they both inherited coming from farm based families (dad grew up on a small chicken farm, mother’s mother grew up on a dairy farm). Those values include reuse. Don’t create waste. Keep and fix what you have. Be frugal.

How do you instill these values in people who missed that early “programming” to appreciate Nature and to not be wasteful? Because in the decades since that first Earth Day, in spite of large municipal recycling programs, in spite of environmental education taught in schools, in spite of a multitude of public awareness campaigns, and in spite of science based warnings that go back further than Earth Day, we as a society continue to destroy resources (our own and those of “developing” nations), to litter, to pollute our waters, to make and consume cheap goods that eventually break, become unused and are tossed into landfills. (Landfills! What a term, fill the land, the earth, the planet we live on with our garbage. What were we thinking!) How do you teach people who never have felt connected to Nature that everything they do, every choice they make, impacts the planet they and all future life is dependent on?

Like the people leaving those bags and boxes of bottles outside that early recycling center, people feel good recycling but do not stop and think – what happens to all this stuff. Nor do they change their consumption practices. They think they are doing good because they recycle. And they are, sort of.  Recycling is not enough, it never was and now recycling itself has become an international waste disaster.

My commitment to living a planet-friendly life sometimes gets eroded with a sense of “what difference does my small effort make”, an unfortunate attitude shared by many people.  As aging and health challenges drain my energy I often let things slip, making decisions based on what’s “easy” but not necessarily the best for the planet, and thus, ultimately for myself. There is stress when our actions do not reflect our values, and I feel that stress.

What we need to remember is communal and global shifts occur when many people do small things.  Positive action, repeated every day by millions of people, creates the energy of change.

So here are the 5 Rs, popular guidelines for making personal decisions that make a difference and help focus on values important to all of us who care about the Earth:

Refuse…..Consume less, don’t buy things you don’t need, don’t take freebies just because they’re free, say no to single use items, i.e. plastic utensils in the deli or plastic produce or grocery bags. Purchase and use reusable items. Say no to plastic packaging. When possible, purchase items with the least packaging. Buying local eliminates added packaging when items are shipped, as well as the energy used to transport it.  Tip: A great place to say no – don’t upgrade your cell phone just because there’s a new model, they consume huge amounts of valuable, some rare, resources.

Repair……Fix or have fixed what you can – clothes, furniture, appliances, etc. Buy quality, the best you can afford (buying less overall allows you to purchase better quality items you need to buy). If something is made better it lasts longer and is more likely to be fixable.

Reuse……..Up-cycle clothes, building materials, containers, etc. If you can’t reuse it, someone else might, so give it away and look for used items yourself rather than always buying new. But only give away what is truly reusable, a lot of charitable “donations” end up in landfills.

Recycle……A last resort, because there isn’t much true recycling going on. Currently most plastic is not being recycling. Find places that truly recycle before thinking you are doing good when you might just be passing on to someone else the act of tossing it in a landfill.

Rot…….Compost everything you can, which is most kitchen scraps and even some paper. Choose products that say they are biodegradable, and be sure they are. If you doubt it (like something plastic that says “biodegradable”) it probably isn’t. Get a worm bin (there are kits designed for people in small living spaces). Employee these tiny recyclers!

I add to this list Recreate, in Nature, because I believe we care for and feel more connected to that which we are familiar with. Connect to the Earth, then remember her when you make decisions.

If this list represents the values of our parents and/or grandparents, how did so many people in the “baby boom” generation turn away and exploit Nature, ignoring the consequences of their actions?  It can be attributed to self-centeredness, greed, and campaigns to encourage consumerism, such as one that was implemented following WWII to boost the economy and create jobs.

At its core it is a disconnect from our spiritual selves, the part of us that knows we are interconnected to a bigger web of life and need to, want to, care for it. Reconnecting to Nature helps establish a relationship which, like all relationships, we need to nurture.

A few daily choices I make:

Using cloth bags for small produce items that need bagging, i.e. peas, green beans, etc., bulk grains and nuts eliminates plastic bags. I make bags from fabric I have (including vintage cloth rice bags).  If you want to buy bags and can’t find bags locally, you can buy cloth bags on line, if you like cute home made ones check out Etsy, there are a lot!

Buying bulk household items, i.e. dish soap, using the same container over and over (which is an old plastic dish soap bottle, but a glass pump bottle, like we use in bathroom, works too) reduces plastic bottles. Next on my list is to make dish soap and cleansers, a relatively easy process. We also purchase sponges made from nature materials, like walnut husks, that are biodegradable.

IMG_6500

this simple body and face cream is yellow from calendula infused oil and beeswax, it does not color the skin.

Making simple personal care products, i.e. healing and moisturizing salves. It really is simple, if you want to try find a recipe using basic ingredients – a good quality oil such as coconut and/or olive and a little beeswax. I use herb infused oils for salves, but plain oils work fine for moisturizing lotions. In fact plain coconut oil works well as is! Many recipes include essential oils for fragrance, but some skin can be sensitive to essential oils so I don’t use them. (You can usually buy chemical free products made locally by small businesses who package them in glass jars.)

I’ve suggested to an herbal supplement company we buy many products from that they consider switching to glass bottles. Whenever possible we buy glass or cardboard containers. We have found a rice pasta we love that comes in a box, no plastic.  (Glass “recycling” isn’t as determental to the environment as plastic, but the production of glass is not chemical free so reuse when you can.)

These are just a few ways we try to live our values.  We are not ‘zero waste’, but our efforts not only contribute to the whole, but feel good to us and simplify life.  I have a list of steps yet to take, i.e. making shampoo or finding a bar shampoo I like and making laundry soap, also relatively easy.

Share your suggestions and ‘action steps’ in comments below. There are many resources on-line for “zero waste” living, for following the 5 Rs (sometimes it’s the 4 Rs), for making simple home products, many similar to those previous generations used.  You can find blogs by younger people who will still be here when I and my generation are long gone, who understand the crisis and are working against time to clean up the planet by changing values. I find their passion inspirational and it helps me remember my own passion….the one that made me crush glass when I was 22….. for earth friendly living.

Happy Spring cleaning as we clean up this planet together!

 

Women, Bugs and Storytelling

“The Hexapods are funny folk who have six feet. That is they have six when they are grown up, though some of the children have none at all, and some have as many as twenty-two. You can tell from this that they are strange people, and you may call them fairies if you like!

They have wings, – the grown-up ones do, – wonderful wings of many shapes and colors. Luna’s wings are green, – pale, pale green, – and very lovely, with a purple border on them. Perhaps there is nothing more beautiful in the world than Luna’s wings. When Van flies, you can see the yellow edge of her brown wings; and when she alights – hesto! presto! you can see nothing at all; for she disappears from sight even though she is near enough to touch. Carol wears her wings neatly folded like a fan, except when she is using them. And Gryl, the little black minstrel – oh, Gryl fiddles with his wings.”

Photo from edithpatch.org, web site about Edith Patch, including list of her children’s books.

Thus begins the introduction to Hexapod Stories by Edith Marion Patch. Patch wrote a series of children’s books, (sadly now out of print, but older copies can be found) which were not written just as whimsical tales of make-believe characters, but as tales that educate, with scientifically accurate details and illustrations, about the natural world. Luna (a moth), Van (a butterfly), Carol (a grasshopper), and Gryl (a cricket), are the characters of three of the tales in Hexapod Stories. In each of their tales of adventure the reader learns about their lives, life cycles, habitats, etc.

Dr. Edith Marion Patch was first and foremost an entomologist. Growing up she studied water, bugs, birds and plants, but it was bugs that became her career, both as researcher and educator. Though women in the sciences were not common in her time, especially in entomology (they still aren’t), in 1904 Edith became the head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Maine, and in 1930 she was elected president of the Entomological Society of America. She was the first woman in both these positions.

In her lifetime she was known not only for her discoveries of species, but for her passion to educate the lay person about Nature. Besides her children’s books, written in the early 1930s, which sold well, in the mid 1930s she had a radio show focused on making the natural sciences interesting to the public.

In a speech she gave in 1936 at the meeting of the Entomological Society of America called, “Without Benefit of Insects,” Patch urged the protection of insects, predicting that by the year 2000, if the heavy use of pesticides was not curtailed, many species of birds and insect pollinators would decline, some becoming extinct. Sadly, her science-based warning was not heeded.

There is a good chance you never heard of Edith Marion Patch. In spite of her popularity in her life time, primarily due to her children’s books, and her prolific attempts to make the natural sciences popular, like many women in science, her reputation is known only to those in her field, and likely not even to all of them. Edith died in 1954.

Preceding Patch by a few centuries, there was Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), considered the founder of entomology and, by some, the first environmentalist.  Merian was the first to observe and understand insect metamorphosis. Her life story is remarkable, made more so by the era in which she lived, when not only were women not scientists, but science itself was suspect. Median’s influence on the general public’s knowledge of Nature was through her beautiful and detailed art.  Though she made many breakthrough discoveries in scientific research of insects, she is known mostly for her art.

A few detail paintings of insect life cycles by Maria Sibylla Merian. (Three articles on the life of Maria Merian – Christian Science Moniter, Botannical Artists, Brainpickings)

In reading about these women I reflect on a contemporary woman in science, botanist Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, born in 1953, a year before Patch died. I imagine they would have enjoyed each other’s company, as Patch would of enjoyed Maria Merian (and undoubtedly knew of her!). I’ve been reading two of Kimmer’s books – Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. As a member of the Potawatomi Nation, Kimmer’s perspective and writings on Nature blend and reflect the cultural perspective and values of her tribe with her knowledge as a scientist. Her observations of Nature are delightfully detailed, her observations of the relationship between people and Nature poignant. She brings the same awe and passion to her observations and writings that Patch brought to her children’s stories, that Merian brought to her art. Her books are popular, her observations resonant with and educate readers.

There are other women of science who were, and are, remarkable in their contributions to scientific knowledge. What stands out as I read their stories is how many of them desired not just to learn and discover the mysteries of Nature, but to share those mysteries, to educate others.  They are story tellers.

“Dancing with Bugs”, from a series of flower doodle girls I made. Nothing scientific about it, but I like my bug! And I hope it tells a story of joy in Nature!

When I was growing up I wanted to be a botanist (also a historian!) but challenged by math comprehension in high school, I gave up that goal. As a child I had my little nature desk in the garage where I would collect and observe bits and pieces of the natural world, from a dead beetle or butterfly to an unusual rock or plant, a habit I’ve never outgrown! But my goal was not research, but education, to become a ranger or summer camp teacher to “turn on” other folks to the mysteries of Nature. Perhaps it’s a “woman’s thing”…..to teach and share Mother Nature. To be story tellers.  I wonder if I had known of Edith Patch or Maria Merian I would have been inspired and not given up my interest to learn more and share my love for the intricate wonders of nature.  Though they both faced obstacles even greater, in the 1960s girls were still not given much support for such endeavors. I had great science teachers, but math teachers simply told me I couldn’t do math, there was no extra support available, no calculators, and to advance in science, I had to advance in math. Or so I was told.

If you have a desire to pass on your love of nature to children or grandchildren, I encourage you to track down copies of Dr. Edith Patch’s books. They are available for download on-line and can be found in bookstores that carry old books.  Delightful and educational, they are stories for children and adults! Reading them to girls will send the message that bugs and birds are cool and becoming a scientist and studying them even cooler!

And if you have not read Kimmer’s books (many of you have likely read Sweetgrass), I highly recommend both. I’m grateful for her perspective and consider her one of the top contemporary Nature writers and a spokesperson for the environment……for the Earth.

 

When carrots give hope!

the guard at the gate and his friend moss rock

the guard at the gate and his friend moss rock

January 20 was an uncomfortable day for many people, myself included. Not wanting to focus on the ‘changing of the guard’ in Washington D.C., and recovering from my second bout of flu/cold virus, I did not want to feed myself, or the universe, fear and negativity. I’d had enough of that. So I went to the woods. A peaceful walk down our trail ended in a place where I often offer prayer. I poured out my heart to the Divine above and the Earth below. Part plea, part invocation, I felt heard in that somewhat quiet place, with Nature as my only witness.

buds-of-western

Turning around, I was enchanted, as always, by the winter sun filtering through the open canopy of a mixed conifer and deciduous forest. The bare branches of giant, aptly named, Big Leaf Maples allow the low, side-ways sun to flood places shrouded in shady tones under the summer canopy. This light will eventually awaken the first signs of wild bleeding hearts, nettles, and other early spring plants, which will thrive until the Maples block the light. But it is early, and the winter has been exceptionally cold for the NW. Here on our hill the ground was frozen with heave and ice crystals from mid-December until just last week. No signs of spring in the woods…but signs of survivors. Impressive are the tender leaves of little-green-plants-whose-names-I-forget that are fresh and green, while others around them succumbed to weeks of being frozen.

dsc01921

The peacefulness I was feeling as I stooped to photograph the brilliant green glistening water of a wintertime mini-pond was rudely interrupted by loud repetitive gunshot. For the past few years we have been hearing gun shot frequently. A gun enthusiast  seems to spend his free time on holidays and weekends shooting whatever, somewhere across the street from where we live. But this was closer, and louder. After a minute or so of repetitive shots, there was a long volley, and then it stopped. I suspect it was a celebration salute to the moment of transition in D.C.

My moment of woodsy peace was broken. Abby was gone, though I didn’t see her leave. Though I wanted to make a mandala in the woods, I reluctantly walked back to the house to find a shaking dog on the front porch. Not willing to go inside myself, mandala making took place on the back porch, with whatever I found close at hand.

"survivor" carrots, minus the big ones I ate and the ones in the mandala!

“survivor” carrots, minus the big ones I ate and the ones in the mandala!

The biggest surprise find was the carrots. I noticed them when the ground first froze and heaved back in December. Left behind when I dug out our two little rows in the fall, the frozen ground had pushed them up, but also held them tight. I wrote them off as frozen food, soon to be mush when the thaw came. I forgot about them as I struggled through December into the New Year being sick. Frozen carrots in frozen ground were not on my mind!

But on this sunny day, there they were, brightest color around, freshly washed from the rain, half out of the ground, green tops long gone.  They stood like little round-topped, slightly tipsy sentries, and not the least bit mushy! About a dozen carrots, most small, edible, and tasty!

I made my mandala and thanked Mother Nature for giving me a small, somewhat humorous sign, that “we can survive” (and even be bright and colorful doing so!).  The next day, as millions marched peacefully throughout the world, I have no doubt we will!

dsc01929

A medicine mandala for hope, with anti-viral and anti-bacterial usnea, leaves of pain-relieving fever few, another survivor of the below freezing temperatures.

How did you survive inauguration day?

Heaven and Nature Dancing Together

It's name being Trail Plant, this lovely plant has dusky gray undersides to its leaves and grows...along trails!

It’s name being Trail Plant, this lovely plant has dusky gray undersides to its leaves and grows…along trails!

If you live in the Northwest, you know today was not a day to be inside, so this is short!  For me it was a day for taking my iTouch, my smallest camera, and heading into the woods where I found favorite plants along the trail.  It was a day for my senses to experience some of the heavenly delights Nature has to offer.

The first ethereal (dictionary definition: extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world) gift from Nature was in song. The Swainson’s Thrush, an elusive member of the thrush family, is related to the American Robin, though, unlike the Robin, it is not likely to be in your front yard looking for worms or nesting in your eaves.  Though I’ve occasionally seen Swainson’s Thrushs near the house, (sadly, I found a dead one that had hit a window several years ago) they generally nest and forage in conifer forests, where in the evening and morning, they sing a song that is both eery and heavenly.  You can listen to a recording of it here: Swainson’s Thrush, but a recording does not have the ethereal sound when Big Leaf Maples and giant Firs provide the acoustics for the high notes as they resonate throughout the forest.  On gray days the birds often sing all day.  Though a sunny day, this morning several Swainson’s Thrushes sang well into early afternoon before they abruptly stopped. Being territorial, each song was coming from a different direction…a surround sound stereo performance!  As I sat on the back porch I felt transported to another place, a celestial place.

IMG_0277While on my walk in the woods my next sense delight from Nature was the heavenly scent of Bald Hip Roses. These diminutive little roses, growing on spiny, spindly bushes, are the most scented of the wild roses, possibly of all roses.  Bald Hip Roses do not have the aggressive growth habits of our other native rose, the Nootka Rose.  Single bushes are found here and there in semi-dense forested areas.  They are at the peak of their bloom this time of year.  Short lived blossoms fill the surrounding air with a rose scent that can send one swooning. Roses have represented the Divine for centuries, their scent being described as the scent of God. And of course poets have written of roses as the quintessential symbol of romantic love. The petite Bald Hip Rose is truly Nature’s gift of love to our olfactory senses!

IMG_0284The final representation of this dance of  Heaven and Nature was the arrival of the first Clodius Parnessium butterfly in our yard.  Parnassiam Butterflies are the most ethereal of butterflies with their semi-transparent wings. One can imagine that they are the butterflies of Angels!  In their caterpillar stage they are completely depend on bleeding-hearts, making them very habitat specific. Fortunately we have a forest full of wild bleeding-hearts so each June we see the arrival of newly metamorphosed Parnessiums floating around to necter on blooming Dame’s Rocket.

Another trail favorite, a plant that loves moist soil, is Fendler's Waterleaf

Another trail favorite, and another plant that loves moist soil, is Fendler’s Waterleaf

The title to this post was inspired by a chant by Paramahansa Yogananda entitled Spirit and Nature Dancing Together.

Heaven and Nature seemed to be dancing all day today! Hope you had time to enjoy the performance!

Bumblebee Magic

IMG_6436

although it is pouring rain out today, these tough little fuzz balls are out foraging for pollen. They aren’t so tough against insecticides and vanishing habitat.

Bumblebee magic helped Mike and I through another weekend of waiting for conflicting medical information, but the humble bumblebee needs our help, everyone’s help, so it can survive and continue to do its pollination work…..read on…. 

Friday morning I woke up wanting to write about magic and miracles.  I can’t remember why, was it due to a dream? I think it was just my muse knocking on my psychic door, and both subjects have been dancing in my head lately.

An unexpected and disturbing phone call from Mike’s doctor’s office put a tailspin on my thoughts and writing attempts.  My muse was drowned out by frustration, questions and more phone calls. Why was his doctor recommending chemotherapy? Did the second pathology report have differing information? We will find out tomorrow…and we will be getting a second opinion next week.

Definitely put a damper on our weekend. Mike distracted himself by going to see Star Trek. I fumed awhile longer.  But magic came last night as I watched my husband, crouched down, guidebook in hand, get up close and personal with a hundred or so bumblebees in the huge evergreen huckleberry that engulfs our front porch.

Mike recently has taken an interest in bumblebees, they are everywhere in our yard, more than any other year, and we have always had a lot.  After dinner I read to him from my favorite bumblebee book Humblebee Bumblebee by Brian L. Griffin.  For the record, I love bumblebees. I want to pet them. I spend a lot of time trying to photograph them, a challenge as they are always moving and vibrating, and being so furry, they usually end up a blur or simply not there in most photographs. One summer bumblebees stung me twice – because they simple flew into me while I was walking on our sidewalk, a fly way for everything.  I work around them all the time in the yard and have never been stung since. I’ve had bumblebees land on my jeans and just hang out to rest for what seemed like a long time. I think of them as the teddy bears in the world of pollinators.

Last month, while staying at an Ayurvedic health clinic for a week, I intended to stay off the Internet, yet went on-line briefly each day to cast my vote for the bumblebee to appear on a new Endangered Species Chocolate bar. It was a close race and every vote counted!  The bumblebee was a winner! The Xerces Society will receive 10 percent of ESC net profits, a guaranteed contribution of $10,000 annually. This is huge for a small organization.  As a supporter of the Xerces Society, I know how difficult it is to get people to take seriously the importance of protecting insects, especially pollinators.

from the Xerces Society facebook page, the new bumblebee chocolate bar, available in 2014.
from the Xerces Society facebook page, the new bumblebee chocolate bar, available in 2014.

Back to Mike and his furry friends. Bumblebees stay out later than honey bees, perhaps their warm coats enable them to do so, but more likely it is because they can thermal regulate, meaning they can adjust their body temperature to the conditions. The light was dim as Mike ‘stocked’ the busy bees.  Although I know from my experience the difficulties in identifying different species, I did not want to discourage Mike as he intently watched the buzzing bush.  Once you get past the basic differences of black with yellow stripes, or yellow with black stripes, or yellow and black with an orange stripe, the subtleties are too detailed to determine which species you are looking at on a constantly moving specimen! Griffin lists 50 different species in his guidebook.

SO…where is the magic you might ask? The magic is the amazing bumblebee.  One singular mama bee, full of sperm from her pre-hibernation courtships, crawls into a hole, covers herself up, and sleeps away the fall and winter.  She emerges in spring to begin life anew, finds a cozy nest, tenderly cares for her first 8 or so eggs as they become larvae, then pupae, then emerge as her first little brood of daughters, who will help raise more and more daughters, filing the nest hole with a waxen castle of pollen chambers, honey stashes, and new nurseries for new eggs, larva and pupae. (Males come later in the season, their only purpose being for reproduction.)

And how does mama bee feed herself when all alone, starting out? It is critical she keep her young, especially in the larva and pupae stage, warm on cold, early spring days and nights. What if rainy, even snowy, weather prevents her from foraging for pollen?  She creates a tiny little honey pot, placing it between herself and the door of the nest chamber, close enough she can drink from it while on her nest…and she fills it with nectar.  I find this enchanting!

DSC08651My description is brief, I encourage you to read Griffin’s book, it is a short, yet delightful story of these amazing pollinators.  And why do you want to know about bumblebees?  Well, first of all, they are magical! You will enjoy understanding more about their life cycle.  Secondly, they’re survival is threatened, one species is endangered. Thirdly we are very dependent on them, even more so than honey bees.  By reading about them you can learn how easy it is to encourage, protect and provide for these gentle pollinators in your own yard.  At the very least, learn how not to harm them.

And why do we have so many in our yard? We are not very tidy gardeners, hard to do with health challenges and surrounded by an ever encroaching forest. We have areas where so-called ‘weeds’ go to flower, many loved by the bumblebees. A short list of what they like here includes: an early blooming Rhododendron, called “Christmas Rhody” is an early first food for bumblebees; the run amok comfrey in our garden an all-season favorite; holly was also a favorite, but we did cut it down. “True” geraniums, which have seeded all over the place, are covered with bumblebees, as are wild mustard, tenacious buttercup, dame’s rocket, raspberries, and of course the evergreen huckleberry (we’ve planted 9 more, they have some growing to do).  We have several native trees that bloom, I see bumblebees mostly in the cascara. Griffin’s book, and others, list plants you can grow to encourage bumblebees.  It is equally important to learn about their nesting habits. As with all native pollinators, and other friendly insects, a chemical-free, not-too-tidy yard provides diverse habitat.

And yes, I will have more to say about magic and miracles. Nature, and life, is full of both! :o)

Here is a list of articles and resources for learning more about the humble bumblebee: DSC04525_2

The Xerces Society offers a book entitled: Befriending Bumblebees as well as other books on pollinators, butterflies, and more. If you are on Facebook I encourage you to ‘Like’ the Xerces Society page to learn about how bumblebees and other endangered bugs are doing, and how you can help them: Xerces Society

Humblebee Bumblebee was self-published in 1997 by Knox Cellars Publishing Co., a small publishing company in Bellingham WA, started by Brian Griffin and now run by his daughter Lisa. You can buy the book directly from them. They also carry Griffin’s other delightful book on Mason Bees, other books about pollinators, as well as starter kits for raising Mason Bees, etc. They are all about supporting backyard, native pollinators and those wanting to encourage them. Here is their book link: Humblebee Bumblebee, and here is their main site: Knox Cellars. You can also find them on Facebook: Knox Cellars

You can also find the book on Amazon.

Here is one of many articles found in a search about the importance of bumblebees in pollinating crops, and why they are endangered: Bumblebee Loss Threatens Food Security

If you are serious about helping bumblebees and other pollinators you can learn more and sign the pollinator protection pledge on the Xerces Society web site: Pollinators Protection Pledge.

The Oak Lady of San Juan Island

Mature Garry Oak trees, once abundant on San Juan Island, became rare, but now, thanks to restoration efforts, will thrive for future generations.

From the San Juan Island National Historic Park website:

“…native peoples collected foodstuffs such as acorns, camas roots, and bracken ferns…and burned the forests regularly to create habitat for game animals, promote the growth of weaving materials and food such as camas, and maintain an open prairie…lack of fire in recent years spurred an increase of Douglas fir trees, which have deprived the oak trees of sunlight, water, and nutrients.”

Through prescribed burns, the park has initiated a program to bring back the native Garry Oaks, an important tree in the unique-to-western Washington prairie ecosystem of the island.

Elsewhere on the island, on a mountain hillside, lives a remarkable woman equally dedicated to re-establishing native Garry Oak forests on the island.  She has supervised the demise of hundreds of Douglas Firs and personally planted hundreds of oak seedlings.  As she walks the land she shares with her partner, she points out each young plant, tenderly planted, caged and cared for.  She is distressed when she can’t find one, or finds it has died.  With determination she voraciously pulls out fir seedlings, an ‘invasive species’ in the island prairie habitat.  The oaks are her ‘babies’, though the slow-growing trees will barely be out of childhood and into their adolescent years in her lifetime.

In her own words, excerpted from an article she wrote in 2009 and published by the Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team in Vancouver, Canada, she describes the property:

“….[it] is comprised of 20 acres..…a south-facing slope divided by micro-habitat types into thirds…ranging in elevation from approx. 600 – 400 feet. The top third is open grass meadow with a few [mature] Garry Oaks and minimal rock outcroppings; the middle third is mainly rock outcroppings, shrubs of Snowberry and Nootka Rose, wildflowers, Arbutus, Garry Oaks and ancient Douglas-firs; and the bottom portion is primarily a dense Douglas-fir forest with trees ranging in age from 300 to 20 years old. Our restoration project is concentrated in the top two sections of the property.”

Her article continues to describe the flora of the land, project objectives and challenges, the different methods used to remove the firs, and how she encouraged other native plants to become established.  It is not a paper written by an arborist, or biologist, or nurseryman, it is written by a person in love with a piece of land she is honored to steward, a love that grows from a passion for Nature and Place.  It is a privilege to know this special Lady of the Oaks.

Mike, the tree-planter, helping the Oak Lady plant her oak babies

Cousins by birth, friends by Nature!

Shaun, a paternal cousin and close friend, is the closest I have to a biological ‘sister’.  Though we did not grow up together, my family having moved east when I was 5, she 3, the sister title comes through a familial friendship which grew when we “met” after I moved back to the NW in my 20s. When I was living in Oregon we had an annual tradition of  “double dating” to the Joffrey Ballet when it was in Seattle. Once I moved to the Peninsula there were long phone conversations over the woes of relationships, jobs, life, once we had a ‘crush’ on the same guy; another guy, who was my dance partner, fell head over heels for Shaun.  She unequivocally filled the previously empty sister-role in my life.  She was the last-minute-brides-maid at our wedding in CA, and played my favorite waltz at our wedding party in WA a week later.  I have contra danced to her fiddling in Seattle, Port Townsend, and at Deception Pass, where I played along on my autoharp and called out the dances.  She provided me retreat and respite when, after 2 years of serve illness, I took my first car trip alone and headed to her island home, and when plans for my 60th birthday trip fell through due to new health challenges, she again was the place I turned for Mike and I to have a November get away.

Shaun, (who has 3 fabulous ‘real’ sisters) as any sister might be, is different than me in myriad ways.  We rarely see one another due to full lives and differing lifestyles.  There are too many ferries between us and our paths rarely cross.  But our strongest bond, besides the shared genes, is a mutual passionate love of Nature…especially Nature in its native garb here in Washington.  She is the only person I have ever talked with for an hour, on the phone, about noxious weeds, looking up pictures on the internet and sharing woes and knowledge of different plants we battle in our differing habitats.  In the spring we are both out photographing the tiny new blooms showing up in our respective environments, sharing the photos and the joy of seeing them, as if for the first time.  We speak of Spring Beauty and Star Flowers.  She sends me pictures of Mt Baker from her island home; I send her pictures of the Olympics and my trips to Mt Rainier.  We are Washington women!

Why do I write of this Nature loving, fly fishing artist, photographer, musician and world traveler on my blog?  Because she, my ‘little sister’ and friend, turns 60 this week, a life event she will commemorate with her partner Harold and their friends at various social events.  I sent her a modest gift for quiet moments back in her island home after the festivities, but  I write, and writing of her life is my gift, my tribute to her.

Besides restoring the Garry Oaks to Cady Mountain on San Juan Island, Shaun also has been involved in the Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project to bring back bluebirds to the island.  She has hosted a breeding pair for several years.  Her support of the project has been bittersweet, with successes and disappointments.  But with Shaun’s persistence, I belief there will be a time, perhaps by the end of this new decade of her life, that she will look out her window to see and hear bluebirds singing in her oaks!

Shooting Stars flourish in the prairie atop Cady Mountain

Until then a newly awakened prairie of shooting stars, camas, chocolate lilies, and other wild flowers will greet people who walk the proposed nature trail to the Cady Mountain Preserve owned by the San Juan County Land Bank.  Those flowers, the growing oaks, the wildlife that enjoys the newly formed habitat will all have a home far into the future, as the land that Shaun and Harold now steward eventually combines with the Land Bank’s  Preserve.  Thanks to Shaun’s vision and hard work, future generations will see what island prairie hillsides looked like in the past when Shaun’s maternal ancestors were among the earliest white settlers and the oaks were big and plentiful.

Happy Birthday Shaun, you are a mere 60 and you have already created a legacy, made a difference, and changed the world where you live.

Mother’s Day Ruminations & Cowbirds

“Every woman is to me a representative of the Mother.  I see the Cosmic Mother in all.  That which I find most admirable in woman is her mother love.” 

Paramahansa Yogananda

This quote is a reminder to all my women friends, including those who do not have children, that most of us spend our lives nurturing, caring for, loving many to whom we did not give birth.  There has long been the discussion of  ‘nature’  or ‘nurture’ ~ are women innately ‘pre-programed’ to nurture, is it instinctual, triggered by hormones when giving birth?  Or are we taught through social conditioning and expectation.  I know many a ‘tom-boy’ who, though dolls were not their choice of toys, became wonderful moms, and many ‘childless’ women who lovingly raised adopted children, became exceptional teachers, mentors, aunts, cared for ailing friends, husbands, parents, women whose hearts are brimming with unconditional love.

But of course on Mother’s Day I reflect on the amazing women I know who have raised, or are raising, remarkable children.  It is cliché to say, but it is the most difficult job, and hopefully the most rewarding.  There are a dozen or so women I have had the honor of knowing throughout their motherhood ‘career’, from the beginning to the present, for there is no end, no matter how ‘grown-up’ and independent children become, even when they have grandchildren of their own, the role of mother is too personal, too deep in the heart and soul to ‘retire’ from, though there are moments when every mom I know was ready to change jobs!

As in the animal world, there are those for whom motherhood is not easy, those who have had to work a little harder.  A mother hen or dog, or cow or goat, who seems to take their role of mothering lightly or abandons the idea all together is not that way through poor upbringing or not having a good role model mom themselves! It is an unsolved mystery why the instinct to nurture is stronger in some, no matter what the species.  And of course good role models for mothering in the human species can impact how women carry out the job themselves, yet some of the best mom’s I know lacked that advantage.

As I write this a flock of cow birds land in the tree outside my window. A great example of giving ‘birth’ but not providing the nurturing!  Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Their young usually hatch first, get fed first, grow the largest, and at the expense of the off-spring of their ‘adopted’ mom, thrive while their nest mates die.  Cow birds are despised for this seemingly neglectful behavior, abandoning their eggs, seeming to have no mothering instincts at all.  But is that fair?  Perhaps in a way that is difficult to understand, they do provide, their young do survive.  Another of nature’s mysteries.  We all know stories, or have first hand knowledge, of animal mom’s raising, even nursing, babes of other species.  I had a male collie who knew exactly how to care for a tiny kitten, only days old, raising it, licking it after it was fed to stimulate its digestive system.  Another mystery of nature and nurturing.

But there is no mystery to the wonder of motherhood!

My own role model for unconditional love & nurturing, Mom at 91, having a night out at the Ajax Cafe, enjoying one of their many hats!

Happy Mom’s Day and much gratitude to all the moms I know for choosing a job with no pay but many benefits! Thank you!

Nature’s Heart

An Oyster shell worn by time and the ocean into a heart-shape

There will be an abundance of quotes, articles, blog entries, and Facebook posts for Valentine’s Day about love, chocolate, and other related topics. What I find fascinating about Valentine’s day is the remarkable heart-shape, found throughout Nature, and having little resemblance to the human heart.

There is a debated theory that the heart-shaped seeds of a plant called Silphium, found in ancient Cyrene (now Libya) may be the origin of the heart shape representing love. Used both for seasoning and medicinally, the basis of the theory comes from one of the plant’s medicinal uses.  By regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle, it was used as a method of birth control. This connection to sexuality is the basis of the theory. This plant is thought to be extinct, though that too is debated.

A compelling theory, but it is not necessary to look to antiquity to find botanical heart shapes with a love connection.  Here is a sampling of plants which are likely growing in your garden, or seen while walking in the northwest woods. These are all good candidates for a heart-shape-as-symbol-of-love theory (some better than others!)

Violets, which even on this cold winter day are lush and green outside my door, have perfect, tiny heart-shaped leaves.  Used for many medicinal purposes, Viola tricolor is listed as a heart tonic in many herbal manuals.

Lemon Balm, or Melissa officinalis, a personal favorite, also outside the door, this year the hardy leaves surviving our mild winter.  Among its many culinary and medicinal uses, it is used as a relaxant, calming anxiety, and in treating depression.  Hey, chocolate makes the same claims and it is the “official” food of love!

Lungwort, Pulmonaris officinalis, a common garden flower in shady NW gardens, has beautiful, often speckled, elongated heart-shaped leaves.  It’s medicinal claims, clearing lungs and treating bronchial infections and coughs, may not be romantic, but who can be romantic with a bad cough! It may well have a role in a successful tryst on a wintry day!

False Lily-of-the valley, Maianthemum dilatatum, is a NW native wild flower with heart-shaped leaves.  It was used as a wash for sore eyes by native people…let’s see, there might be a connection here between the saying (while looking at one’s sweetheart) “you are a sight for sore eyes.”  Even if not directly love related, it is a lovely heart-shaped plant.

The blooms of Pacific Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa, while not as distinctively heart-shaped as domesticate Bleeding Heart flowers, are none the less heart-shaped at the base.  They are the singular host food for the caterpillar of the beautiful Parnassian butterfly. That alone makes it a love plant in my book! And of course the garden variety Bleeding Heart is a beautiful flower that evokes love by both its shape and passionate pink color.

This list could go on and on, other NW species with heart-shaped leaves are Wild Ginger and some Trilliums.  If you are looking for heart-shaped seeds, several mallows, specifically the Velvet-leaf plant, have little hearts.

Hearts are everywhere in Nature. Who has not found a heart-shaped rock? And, this is weird I know, but the rear view of several animals, Mule deer in particular, are a nice heart-shaped patch of white.  Maybe not sexy to you, but I bet it is to an amorous potential sweetheart for the deer!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

nothing says "Be Mine" like Bleeding Hearts & Forget-me-nots!

Slow down…

This photo has nothing to do with this post, except it shows the slow, transforming power of Nature, as the ocean carves these 'sea stacks' at Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park

As I posted my thoughts about trees falling, and falling trees, I reflect on how incredibly boring this topic, and no doubt many of my posts, would be to the majority of people in our urban, fast paced society.  A whole blog entry on trees falling down! Get a life lady!  My blog certainly does not follow the ‘rules’ for keeping a blog interesting – be clever, fast paced, contemporary.  There are of course wonderful blogs full of philosophical, even spiritual sentiment and positive guidance.  I hint at such in some of my posts.
Perhaps my slow blog, (should I start a ‘slow blog’ movement?), moving at the pace Nature often moves here in the Northwest (think slugs, snails, big trees,mountains, though some of them move quite speedily when erupting!) might slow down a few readers. If I put people to sleep that would be a great service as insomnia reaches epidemic status!  
If slow is not your thing, think about this, in Nature life forms which go, or grow, slow – giant tortoises, elephants, Redwoods, Spruce, even our Douglas Firs – will out live us, and most everything else.  Obviously not all in Nature is slow – gazelles, waterfalls, bamboo, move or grow quite accelerated! But we’re talking slow here.
To create what we want requires focus and intent.  In order to eliminate something in our personal lives or as a society we need to turn our attention, thus our energy, away from it.  Our energy, or life force, is designed to nurture and create.  Continually staying focused on, and pushing against, what we want to bring an end to nurtures it.  Seems counter productive doesn’t it?  Right now in the world many well intended and energized people are not creating the future, but are engaging, and thus buttressing, the status quo.
Psychologists, philosophers and spiritualist alike have expounded upon this truth. It has come down through time.  I humbly subscribe to it, having seen it work in both the grand scheme and my own little life.  
So I offer up small, anecdotal reflections and stories about Nature, for it is my simple but steady way of staying focused on what I believe is a powerful antidote to the stress and troubles we all face.  Reconnecting to the slow, healing power of Nature, drawing from it substance to nurture and create our future as individuals and as a society shows wisdom. Nature offers us lightness and teaches us humbleness, it shows us when to slow down like a tortoise, when to take action like a gazelle.  We must first slow down to allow ourselves to be in its presence.
Are you falling asleep yet?  Good-night!