Science and Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! Here is a small glimpse of our burgeoning garden (even lusher due to one of the rainiest winters on record). I’m always amazed at what will pop up on its own, thanks to the rich humus under several large trees, and at the symbiotic relationships between plants and animals (including humans): the Dutchman’s pipevine is the sole birthing ground for the Pipevine swallowtail butterfly; the coast redwood hosts different ecosystems from the ground beneath it all the way up into its crown, and even controls its own environment. And, perhaps most important, as we breathe out carbon dioxide, plants breathe it in and provide us with invaluable oxygen, as they respire.

This year, Earth Day has a confluence with the March for Science, held in over 500 cities across the globe. In the current political climate, climate change, evolution and science itself are under attack, and the time is ripe for reexamining and reaffirming how much we benefit from scientific research, education, and environmentalism. Issues such as women’s health, mental health, children’s health, clean water, clean air, biodiversity, and preserving the outdoors to reconnect with nature all converge with and are inseparable from science.

Jane Goodall writes in Seeds of Hope, to celebrate the “beauty, mystery, and complexity of the world. That we may save this world before it is too late.” Let’s celebrate science and Earth Day!

Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolocchia macrophylla)

Grape hyacinth (Muscari)

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis)

Bearded Iris

Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica)

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Vernal Equinox, with Frogs!

Shooting star (Dodecatheon)

Happy Spring Equinox! After a brief moment of nearly equal day and night, the sun crosses the celestial equator as it moves north along our ecliptic, and Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres are evenly illuminated. Persians celebrate New Year or Nowruz, and in the north we mark the longer days and the sun’s warming of the soil in preparation for planting.

Past equinox posts of mine focus on the sweet tension between repetition and change that comes with the cycles of nature and its seasons of new growth. But at a time when science itself is threatened, I want to venture away from the great comfort I take from those cycles. It seems even more crucial to address species that may escape our attention.

I recently became involved with a research project monitoring amphibian life at the nearby Pepperwood Preserve. There are many such opportunities for citizen scientists.

Here, some of our most fragile yet perseverant denizens such as California newts gestate in vernal pools, somehow weathering drought, pollution, and predators.

   

Frogs, like these Sierran tree frogs, are like canaries in the coal mine, breathing (and thereby also absorbing any toxins or pollutants in the environment) through their skin.

 

Other species found include the California slender salamander, Western fence lizard, Western blue-tailed skink, Southern alligator lizard, and the beautiful Ringneck snake. These animals remind us of our role and responsibility to maintain the delicate balance of the great web of which we are a part. We are not alone in our ecosystem.

            

   

View of Mayacamas Mountains from Pepperwood Preserve

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Ravens and Love in Point Reyes

20170214_143825After weeks of work, I was thrilled by a recent hike B. and I took to Point Reyes National Seashore, a spectacular stretch of the California coast and a very special place for us. After winding through woodlands of rushing streams fresh from winter rains, the Bear Valley Trail meets Arch Rock. Here, the North American Plate meets the Pacific Plate, and juts out into the Pacific Ocean.

A flock of White-crowned sparrows came out of hiding in some nearby manzanita bushes, to explore the bread (and wine) that we brought for our picnic. These tame birds were clearly used to human visitors. A spout, then a slash of back, signaled a whale out at sea.

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Ravens, two clearly paired, softly called to each other on a nearby rock outcropping. They stood close together, groomed one another, and fed each other. “With such affectionate behavior,” B. said, “There’s no reason to believe that animals aren’t capable of emotions like love, just as we are – after all, we are animals!”

Watching these amazing creatures, I couldn’t remember the last time I heard and saw such a concise, eloquent defense of our link to the natural world.

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Winter Solstice and the Longest Night

Happy Solstice! On this shortest day and longest night of the year, autumn’s harvest season ends and winter begins. Nearby, a wonderful local bookstore hosts the Point Reyes Books annual reading, named after Wendell Berry‘s “To Know the Dark”:

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

Each year around the winter solstice, I go to the sea to take time to remember my father, who died 35 years ago. The ocean was his passion and he passed that love to me. At home we light candles and drink toasts to him, honoring his memory by reading poems he loved.

This year has been more difficult than most. After our election delivered a devastating loss, it’s natural to feel despair – but dangerous to do so for too long, when our friends and neighbors and fellow humans across the world will need help and protection, governance and issues will need vigilant activism in our communities. Maybe above all, this is a time for self-examination.

A dark night of the soul, the existential crisis when we confront the shadows within ourselves and use this time for reckoning, is a time for turning inward and contemplation before girding ourselves for the coming year. In what is traditionally the season of death, the earth still keeps turning on its axis, there still returns the lengthening of days, and preparation for the new growing season. In that, there is always hope.

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Pumpkins for Day of the Dead

Halloween, Samhain, Day of the Dead: this most important holiday commemorates the end of the harvest season, and the start of the fallowing of the earth as it rejuvenates in slumber until the following year. Fortunately, recent rain brought us a harvest with a plethora of pumpkins. Ancient lore tells of the incredible power of this versatile winter squash that magically transforms into soups and curries, pickles and pies. In a previous post I even located tales of vampire pumpkins!

This also is a time of mourning the dead, celebrating their lives, and communing with the loved ones no longer with us in this world. Most of all, I miss every day my mother, gone for more than four years now. But I also think of my father, whom I lost long ago, when I was much younger. Perhaps this is why I’ve always felt an affinity for the dark, the melancholy, the gothic: the poetry and fiction of Hawthorne; Poe, Stoker and other death-obsessed Victorians; even modern speculative fiction and fantasy, which delves deeply into the existential horror of the loss of those we love the most, and finally, our own mortality. I find it comforting, though, to remember – and in this way, to be with – those we’ve lost. Emily Dickinson wrote:

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

 

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So many shades, all from one strain of seed

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Our pumpkin patch – the behemoth at upper left was 26 pounds!

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Autumn Equinox and Equal Night

20160613_111224On September 22, the Autumnal Equinox, fall “officially” arrives here in the Northern Hemisphere (although the Southern Hemisphere marks the return of spring). The sun rises due east and sets due west, shining directly on the Equator. Both hemispheres experience nearly equal day and equal night – hence the Latin name “equinox.” After the sun rises and sets farther and farther north throughout summer, the Earth halts on its axis for this brief period of time, then again begins its tilt and gradual lean away from the sun, signaling the coming of winter, season of slanting light and longer shadows.

Many different cultures have celebrated the occasion from Asia, to Europe and beyond. This can be done by feasting on summer’s harvest and preparing for winter’s colder temperatures and longer nights.20160805_115220
20160726_19074020160901_175804Days are noticeably shorter now, and our garden is filled with the songs of birds and bugs, joining us as we gratefully celebrate our own bountiful harvest.

 

 

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Celebrating Lammas and Lughnasa with Bounty from the County

20160713_182120 It’s Lammas (also known as Lughnasa) once again! The Wheel of the Year has turned already, which is unbelievable to me. This holiday marks the beginning of harvest season, and I’m filled with gratitude for the bounty in our garden.

This year the drought was relieved for a moment, with needed rain that came perhaps to honor Lugh, for whom this festival is named. While we eat and drink the fruits of our own harvest, share with friends, neighbors, and other farmers, and can and freeze to preserve whatever is left over, I’m constantly aware that many others at the same moment are going hungry, sometimes without even a shelter over their heads.20160719_191631

The simple fact of this process of nature – this warming of the soil and awakening of seed into fruit, then flower, then full circle into seed again, brought about by the longer days with more sun – means quite literally not just sustenance for the soul, the mind, the weary heart, but the very stuff of life itself. 20160708_204256

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