Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Okay, motivated by my mom’s articles and a recent deluge of GMO-related emails from organizations like Organic Consumers Association (OCA), I have taken action and thrown my considerable weight (insert laughter here) behind several petitions and campaigns to oppose the growing use of GMO products—despite the proven negative effects of previously approved products like maize and cotton—and the continued influence of former Monsanto executives on our agricultural philosophy and policy. So, as part of this weight throwing around stuff, I thought I’d lay out a very brief case against GMOs and the poster child of GMO infiltration, Monsanto.

I want to preface the rest of this polemic against Monsanto and its ilk by saying that I’m not against agricultural innovation, or even GMOs (sorry, mom), per se. What I am against is bad science, unethical (and illegal) business practices, and a blatant disregard for health and human rights. Study after study has proven the ineffectiveness of GMO products to date, the real and potential harm they cause to the environment and animals (including humans), and the real costs of additional pesticides, fuel, and labor required to use them—costs with no demonstrated returns.

It’s worth noting (and even emphasizing) that it’s not like there is lack of innovation in other modalities, specifically the field of organics. For instance, the Union of Concerned Scientists conducted a comparative study of crop yields and found that

Organic [my emphasis] and low-external-input methods (which use reduced amounts of fertilizer and pesticides compared to typical industrial crop production) generally produce yields comparable to those of conventional methods for growing corn or soybeans. For example, non-transgenic soybeans in recent low-external-input experiments produced yields 13 percent higher than for GE soybeans…. 1

This puts paid to the idea that we need GMOs to feed the world. What we need to do is utilize the most effective proven methods available. Those methods exclude GMOs. And Monsanto. And therein lies the rub. Monsanto needs to make money on its investment in GMO research, regardless of its efficacy.

It’s also worth noting that the coalition against GMOs cuts across political, cultural, and philosophical backgrounds. Some of the most vocal opponents of Monanto (and often the recipients of their lawsuits and mafioso tactics) are small farmers and seed companies. There are a multitude of examples. Here are a few from such varied sources as Democracy Underground, OCA, and the AP.

I could go on for many more paragraphs. But I’ll save you from the torture. Instead, I encourage you to follow the links below, sign the petitions, and get educated and involved. I can think of few other things as important as protecting one of the Big Three: food, water, shelter

Prevent a Monsanto lobbyist from getting appointed by Obama

Oppose the USDA’s approval of GMO alfalfa

Whew. All right, I’m climbing off my soapbox and walking away from Speaker’s Corner. For my next post I promise an optimistic and lighthearted topic!

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Two things made an immediate impression upon me on our first full day in Austin:

  1. It is VERY humid
  2. The city’s green roots run VERY deep

I should mention that our decision to move to Austin was based on three factors (this is quickly turning into a list post, isn’t it?):

  1. Denette’s sister, Shawna, very graciously offered to house us while I searched for a job
  2. Austin is one of the greenest cities in the US
  3. The job market was still strong even in the midst of the recession

However, a funny thing happened on the way to Austin. (That sounds like a song title, doesn’t it?) Actually, even before we left California, I had gotten a call from Sherry, my former business partner, about a potential job with Providence Health & Services in Washington. Ironically, this was the company I had been consulting with for more than a year, a company I had come to have a deep respect and appreciation for. I jumped at the chance. Throughout our trip to Austin, I was receiving periodic updates about the possibility that the “chance” would become something more. Once we got to Austin a position had crystallized and we started working on details. Since I wasn’t diving right in to a job search upon arrival, we had an opportunity to explore Austin very thoroughly.

The city was all it was cracked up to be. Right off the bat we found two incredible coffee houses:


and Ruta Maya.

Progress is more traditional coffeehouse; Ruta Maya is an exceptional agglomeration of coffeehouse, bar, music venue, and occasional yoga studio—with a cigar shop thrown in purely to add to the eccentricity. As they have done in the past when I visit cities, these coffee houses formed the anchor of our exploratory trips: we would often start the day with a coffee (and lessons for the kids) before heading out to discover another corner of interest in the city.

One of these corners of interest was the Nature and Science Center, a place akin to Ruta Maya in its agglomeration of mostly related elements. There were exhibits on all the topics above, plus a natural artifact trade center and an entire section devoted to Green technology and living sustainably. We happened to go on Free Museum day, when there was not only free access but lots of additional displays and activities, including a carboard and tinfoil solar oven in which the kids made s’mores.

The heat and humidity of Austin would have taken some getting used to; the friendliness of the people, the eclectic quality of the town, the progressiveness of the city’s policies, and the overall focus on sustainability made us feel welcome and right at home.


But fate had something else in store for us. Instead of a southeasterly trending line, our move ended up taking on the shape of a very squiggly isosceles triangle. I accepted the position of Recruiting Manager with PH&S; I would be working at their Everett location, for Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, to be precise. On a plane I went.

This might seem like quite a change from our initial trajectory, and superficially it is—there aren’t many days in Austin that require an ice scraper—but in many ways there are strong similarities between Austin and many cities in Washington. It’s also a serendipitous one. While I loved many things about Austin, the natural environment didn’t speak to me in anything more than a conversational tone. And given the preponderance of poison oak, ivy, and even sumac, it would probably have always kept me at arms length.

Western Washington, on the other hand, sings to me. And we dance, oh, how we dance. The green, the cold, the rain, the ocean’s pungent tang, the Cascade’s dramatic skyline, and, above all, the trees, sing a beautiful rhythm that I can feel the moment I step off the pavement. This is the climate that creates in me an almost overwhelming sense of an earlier life. I feel connected, whole, energized, and preternaturally aware.

From what I’ve seen so far the city of Everett itself reminds me in many ways of the city of SLO: it’s smaller, with a recognizable downtown core of older homes and businesses; it’s surrounded by some ugly spots of sprawl; it has a small cadre of engaged and aware citizens; and it has a polity that is sometimes progressive, sometimes utterly backward. A wonderfully eclectic local coffeehouse, Zippy’s Java Lounge, will form the anchor (no surprise, right?) for our continuously deeper investigation of Everett and it’s conscientious movement towards sustainability and a green sensibility.

Good news! We found a house to rent and will be moving in February. One of the first things we plan on doing, of course, is finding a suitable place to place a couple of raised beds. The worms won’t be far behind. Followed, I suspect, by audio and video of events, people, and general goings-on. I can’t stand on the sidelines for too long…it’s not in my nature. But you already knew that. 🙂

Buckle up for more fun.

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I’m sure you’ve probably noticed: the past five months have been tumultuous for us. In September our family left  San Luis Obispo, our home for 10 years, bound for Austin, TX, with fingers crossed that I’d have better luck finding a job in a bigger city. How we ended up in Everett, WA is a very interesting story that bears telling. As does the story of how my continuing love affair with the natural world was only made stronger by driving across four states.

I was thinking recently about our general disconnectedness as a culture, and how the threads of our existence are only tenuously attached to others, even to our family. This  is not surprising, given that I just spent Christmas in a new town without extended family.

One of the reasons for this tenuous connection has to do with the vagabond nature of our existence: a move always tugs at the threads–even if it’s just down the street or across town. Turn that move into a 1,766 mile odyssey to a place you’ve never visited and many of the threads will snap, some permanently.

Other threads are almost infinitely elastic. I found two that—as they were stretched—actually seemed to grow thicker and stronger: my connection to my family and my connection to the natural world.

The move was predicated on my need for work. I had been holding out for more recruitment consulting work, but after five straight months of nothing our funds were running low and we had to make a decision: find some menial work and pray for the economy to recover or take a deep breath and dive into the unknown. After applying to several of the aforementioned menial jobs and getting no response or a rejection, our second option quickly turned into our only option. (I actually did a couple of really cool green landscaping projects while I was waiting for my consulting to pick up. I’ll write about those in upcoming posts).

We packed the cars, threw  most of our stuff into storage (literally threw: our storage is a disaster), craiglisted or freecycled the rest, and made for Austin, where Denette’s sister lived at the time.


Our last stop in California was a fittingly idyllic setting: the beachside bungalows of Crystal Cove, where we stayed with one of my friends from college. Despite all the upheaval of the past few months, a few minutes in Jessi’s house and the stress evaporated, leaving me instantly lighter, happier, and less scattered. Later that afternoon in Jessi’s livingroom,  watching the waves roll in from the endless expanse of blue and gray, my visceral connection to the water welled up in me. I wanted to spend the rest of my life on the beach and in the water. I settled for a few hours on the beach, fresh fish tacos, and a wonderful night listening to the surf and breathing in the salt tang.


Our only non-nature-centered stop was in Las Vegas. And it was Las Vegas that cemented my desire to be outdoors and to experience natural as opposed to man-made wonders. Not really a fan.


Our main destination was the Grand Canyon. It is every bit as breathtaking as I had heard, and equally as frustrating to capture on film. But I tried. Oh, how I tried.

It’s scale demands your presence. And the sheer variety of each unique formation invites you to explore the landscape in minute detail. I was sorely tempted to plunge down the Bright Angel Trail for a day of total immersion. It beckons to me even now. The Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite at the floor of the canyon—those rocks most recently exposed by the sandpaper action of the Colorado–are around 2 billion years old. The latent dynamism of the canyon is intoxicating. Despite the relative sparseness of plants, life is everywhere, even in the rocks.

But the best part by far was the uninterrupted time I spent with Denette and the kids. No electronic disturbances; everything within bicycle distance; the fresh, cool, pine-scented air; the open fire and the aroma of woodsmoke; the ravens barnstorming between the trees with only the flash of black and the whooshing of air between their pinfeathers to mark their presence. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as my connection to nature grew more powerful, so did my connection to my family.

As a quick aside, I want to mention that I recently watched Ken Burns’ series, National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Seeing the fistfight for control between greedy and destructive “capitalists” (more like thieves masquerading as businessmen) and those men genuinely interested in preserving the Grand Canyon’s natural beauty for future generations, I felt a new pride that we as a country were able to rally and to create such an inspirational and farsighted system as the national parks.

Our next stop was an unplanned one: signs on the road announced Meteor Crater. With a name like that, we had to stop. I’m so glad we did. 

Kaia was particularly taken with the mock reentry vehicle the Apollo astronauts used when they trained at the crater—a crater blasted into existence by a 150-foot wide iron/nickel meteorite.

Logan was taken with the program that allowed you to blow up a computer-generated earth with a comet the size of the moon. You probably won’t be surprised that I left the exhibit a little rattled and thinking about the precariousness of our existence.

This noticeable scar outside of Winslow, AZ made our celestial connection very real. Here was 2.4 miles of circular evidence that we live in an active, chaotic universe, and that things don’t always happen in geologic time. Which made me all the more cognizant of the beauty of each and every day.

If this story seems to be mostly about rocks that’s because it is. I’m not sure if that has to do with the path of our travel or my preferences. And we’re not done yet. Our final destination of note is about entirely about rocks. Tons of rocks.

New Mexico

The most overwhelming stop was our last. Carlsbad Caverns is, quite simply, mind blowing: a completely alien world made of things we see every day. Beneath 750 feet of solid rock, an admixture of minerals form the most impossibly exquisite designs I have ever seen.

My love for our natural world, already piqued by my experiences over the past week, became a belonging that cannot be put into words.

And if I was in awe, then the kids were overwhelmed. The were fascinated with the colors and textures, and the fact that we were beneath 750 feet of solid rock, something Logan continuously and gleefully reminded Denette about. (Denette was NOT excited about this fact).

The kids’ excitement only increased my own. There are over 110 caves in the Carlsbad system, some of them accessible through guided tours, and I plan to return for more.


By the time we reached Texas we were focused on our destination, the city of Austin, one of the greenest cities in the country. And, as I’ll write about in my next post, being green was something they celebrated in a big way. The Texas way.

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logan lizard

And what a lover he is. I mean really. How precious is this? It is not just because I am his gam′e, well maybe it is and every grandma feels the same way but all I know is I am in love. My grand babies call me gammy. One day when Logan was just learning to read and write words he wrote me a little note and addressed it To GAME. He sounded it out and that’s what gammy sounded-out looks like. Of course it is. I’m GAME. I didn’t ever want to lose this spelling so I said,  “Let’s just add a little apostrophe after the M and that makes it GAM’E forever. Now Kaia girl, Logan’s sister, always asks me what my favorite color is so she can write notes in blue crayon To GAM’E  with an apostrophe after the M. They all go on my refrigerator, of course. Kaia’s 4. Logan’s  6 3/4 and I am in love. And that is not what this blog is about but I just had to share this little piece of heaven with you all. Back to the picture of Logan holding a baby lizard.

Logan was out in the garden doing his usual recon work and came across this baby fence lizard. Dad took a picture and sent it to me.  Well, I had all kinds of questions. How old was it? Do lizards have live births or hatch from eggs? How long is gestation? How many ‘litters” do they have each year? And of course one thing ALWAYS leads to another so that is how we ended up on Lyme disease. You will understand how we got there. But first, lets start at the beginning. This is what we found out about the lizard and in particular the blue belly western fence lizard and to be exact Sceloporus occidentalis.

Habitat: Rocks and fences

Food: Insects, spiders, centipedes, and snails.

Favorite food:

To assure species success the female will have two to three clutches per breeding season. She will expend more energy in the present season in case of her death before the next. Her first clutch will have the largest egg size and the final the smallest. To compensate for the difference in egg size the female will expend more energy on the care of the last clutch than the first, to maximize offspring survival (Angilletta,2001). Once the eggs are laid they can range in size from six to fourteen millimeters, she buries them under shallow moderately moist soil (Angilletta,2001). If consistent with similar species of reptiles the female will bury and care for the eggs without assistance from the male. The eggs usually hatch after two months in late April to June or July. Clutch sizes can range from three to seventeen and appear to increase with higher latitudes; larger females typically have more offspring (Schwenkmeyer,2001). After a couple of months the infants emerge at around twenty six millimeters in snout-vent length. Most of their growth will occur during their first year of life.  Life expectancy is 4 years if they die of natural causes.  High mortality rate due to predators and most only live to one year.  If they lose their tail in a get away it can take from 3 months and up to 2 years for the tail to grow back.  A new tail does not have the same markings as the original.  The pattern is muted but still does the job of releasing in an emergency.


Plateau lizards (commonly called fence lizards) are quick little lizards that are usually found sunning themselves on logs or rocks. They will run up a tree to escape predators, and the color of their scales helps camouflage them. Fence lizards, as all reptiles, are cold-blooded, which means that they have no internal heat regulator as mammals do. Therefore, they will find warm places to sit in the sun, such as fence posts, trees, logs, and rocks. This helps keep their body temperature warm.

underside of Male

underside of Male

You will often see fence lizards in these places. When you catch a fence lizard, turn it over and look at its belly. If it has two metallic blue stripes, it is probably a male.


If it has blue spots, it may be a female.  Eeks,  Where did that spider come from?

underside of Female

underside of Female


Fence lizards do bite if they feel irritated. However, their bite is usually no more than a pinch. If you do catch a fence lizard, be nice to it. Do not make it bite your ear or do other stupid things with it. It is always a good idea to let it go where you found it when you’re done holding it. They are territorial.  Both the male and female establish their own territory with the male taking a little larger area than the female.
Source: www.benjaminbruce.com/herpetarium/fieldguide.pdf

western fence lizard

Full grown fence lizard

It is thought that the presence of western fence lizards diminishes the danger of transmission of Lyme disease by ticks. The incidence of Lyme disease is lower in areas where the lizards occur, and it has been found that when ticks carrying Lyme disease feed on these lizards (which they commonly do, especially around their ears), the bacteria that cause the disease are killed.Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_fence_lizard

A must read on Lyme disease for every parent http://www.lymedisease.org/. This site was started by a woman who was misdiagnosed for over 10 years.  It has been an unbelievably difficult time and her health was unnecessarily comprised because she was not properly diagnosed with Lyme disease. “The ticks that carry Lyme disease have been found in all but two counties in California. Infected ticks have been found in 42 of 58 counties. Studies have not been conducted in all areas.” There is a map of California showing the affected areas. This site is a labor of love by a group that is devoted and dedicated to the prevention of Lyme disease,preventing misdiagnoses, and proper treatment.  There is information here that every school and doctor’s office should have on hand. It is astounding how misinformed and simply uninformed our medical community is on this subject.  It is a must read.  You will want to make copies and get the word out.


Nymph the size of a poppy seed

This picture is from the Lyme disease site.


It is a amazing isn’t it where a simple little question can lead you?  I don’t know who said, “There really are no stupid questions only stupid answers.”  Kids always ask the best questions.  Logan asked me the other day, Gam’e what did you look like before you were old?  I can’t remember what I said but I am sure it was something stupid.

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A carbon footprint is a way of measuring how much energy, Carbon Dioxide, CO2, we use to sustain ourselves. Average American household uses 53 tons of carbon each year. Average World use, 11 tons per household. I took the carbon test and our (2 people) carbon count was 15 tons. 15 tons of gas seems like a lot for 2 people. However, carbon is a naturally occurring substance. As a matter of fact it is a necessary element for life. Without it we would die for sure. So the trick here is balance. That is what Nature is all about. Balance. That is Mother Nature’s sole purpose in Life is to maintain balance and there is no stopping Her.

Things get out of whack and she reacts almost instantly to set things right. Less fruit on the trees in dry years, more fruit in wet years, more baby animals are born when things are good and food is abundant, less when things are lean and mean you know the drill. She does whatever she has to do to keep things balanced.

Before man started burning oil, coal, and gas roughly around the time of the Industrial Revolution in the 1700’s, everything was pretty much in sync. Oh, there was the occasional Krakatoa, ice age, melting of the ice caps, meteors crashing into the earth, forest fires from lighting strikes, but nothing as devastating as the sustained and constant abuse from the newest addition to the food chain, human beings. Naturally billions of tons of atmospheric CO2 are removed from the atmosphere by oceans and growing plants, and are emitted back into the atmosphere annually through this natural processes. When in balance the total carbon emissions and removals from the entire carbon cycle are roughly balanced. Before the Mechanical/Electrical/Transportation Age the demand on nonrenewable resources, the coal, oil and gases from the dead plants and dinosaurs buried in the earth, was pretty sustainable for everyone and everything.

One day Krakatoa erupted.



It put tons of extra stuff into the atmosphere. And then it stopped. For the next 5 or 10 years Nature worked it’s little hoofies to the quick getting everything cleaned up and back in sync. Humans on the other hand are an on-going-never-ending Krakatoa. We do not stop erupting. We do not allow for down time to regroup and replenish our resources. We are like the energizer bunny. We just keep using that nonrenewable energy like there was no tomorrow.

Unlike Mother Nature, who only uses what she needs and recycles everything, we humans just gobble up the resources without thinking about where our next meal is coming from. This is not going over real big with Mother Dearest. We use way more energy than we produce and that causes the balance of things to get all screwed up.  Things have to be balanced in order for them to work properly. And the worst part is that upsetting the balance just pisses Mom off. A pissed off Mom is never a good thing. She WILL get even and that is not always a pleasant thing.

In the past She pretty much looked to the 4 and 2 legged inhabitants as the source of her frustration with the imbalance. Remember that dinosaur thing? Then on the other hand plants, trees, vegetation in general seem to get it. They know what it means to be fair and equal. It is what they do. So She doesn’t pick on them so much and perhaps for good reason. They don’t piss her off nearly as much as humans who are always taking more than they need and giving back less than is required to maintain a balanced cycle. She does have a way of weeding out the gross polluters and currently all indicators of a malfunction in Her perfect world is pointing to us.

So, if I want to stay on Mother Nature’s good side my carbon footprint better start looking like  broccoli


or a sweet pea or, oh yes, a chicken. Chickens are great little eco factories. Food in food out. Pretty ‘eco’ nomical.  My 15 is going to come up on Her radar screen sooner or later. I could do a couple of things to get the number down. One thing, and not my first choice, is die. That pretty much forces me to stop using carbon and to start giving it back (decomposing is a great equalizer). Another way, and my favorite, is plant some plants. This would help offset at least some of the nonrenewable energy resources with some renewables. Planting a tree, preferably a female one, or anything green kicks the recycling thing into gear. This would explain why deforestation is such a big problem. The Rain forest is disappearing at the rate of 3,000 acres an hour. Without trees the ocean is working overtime processing the excess carbon we are burning and is just not able to keep up. The ocean can recycle but honestly it can’t do it alone. It takes both the photosynthesis of live plants and water to make things work right.    No wonder Nature gets pissed off.  She gives us all these great gifts air,water, sunshine, trees, plants, animals, (mosquitos and roaches not so great ) for free, and we destroy them without even thinking about it.

If you would like to see what your footprint looks like and what your true color is take the test.   http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/calculator/. If you come up smelling like a rose, then good for you. Now convince one other person to do the same. However, if you come up smelling like c—p, a stinky, gassy emitter, you may want to make some changes. This is really what being green means. We have to act more like a  tree or bush that creates renewable energy and less like a dead dinosaur that is stinking the place up with a lot of bad gas. Pee you.

I am pretty sure if we don’t do something about this carbon thing Mother Nature will do it for us. She has been very patient with us up until now. But that patience may be wearing thin. We have seen some pretty bizarre weather patterns of late. Could this be a warning of things to come? Whatever is happening all I know for sure is that Mom is at Her best when everything is Balanced. It is all about Balance.

Bill McKibben is on this Carbon thing and is doing his level best to get us back on track. He has an event scheduled in October. It is going to be a biggie. Read all about it. www.350.org

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We did some pickups for Episode 3 last week. Logan loves doing the “Man vs. Wild” thing. So he and Kaia went to find some lizards. It took a bit of searching: most of our reptile friends are doing their best to stay under cover and keep warm. But after much diligence (and an assist from dad), success! A couple of Sagebrush lizards to show off.

Logan’s pointing them out to the camera, explaining all the good things Sagebrush lizards do: “Kill bugs, and, um, eat insects.”

Kaia tells Denette, “It’s okay, mom, he’s sleeping. You can touch him now.”

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