Summer Solstice, with Pollinators

Purple sage

The Summer Solstice is here, appropriately in the midst of a terrible heatwave (although it’s now Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere). In the Northern Hemisphere the earth in its orbit tilts on its axis, facing the sun for the longest period of the year. The above website will live-stream extraordinary telescope views of the sun from around the globe! With worldwide celebrations from places like England, Ireland, Finland, to Spain, Greece, Russia, from Yakutia to Santa Barbara, California, in traditions such as jumping over bonfires, watching the sun rise, and ritual bathing, we honor the burgeoning new life in the ground, and anxiously await the fall harvest.

 

 

Tomatoes, basil, lemon balm, cucumbers

Arugula flowers (with some blue ceanothus)

 

Catmint (above) and white California buckwheat

In keeping with this theme (and in honor of Pollinator Week), I recently attended a lecture at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Environmental Center on cultivating habitat gardens for pollinators such as bees, butterflies, bats and birds. Humans traditionally have a harmonious, symbiotic relationship with some of these: bees provide us with a third of all the food we eat – from fruit to vegetables to nuts! In fact, some crops are over 90% dependent on bees for pollination. All these creatures are threatened by pesticide/herbicide use, disease, predators such as cats (my favorites!), and habitat loss due to climate change and development.

 

 

 

Butterfly bush

 

Spanish lavender

We can help by planting largely native plants – which are also more weed- and disease-/pest-resistant, as well as more drought-tolerant. By eliminating pesticides (substitute a mix of 1 gal. vinegar, 2 cups epsom salts, and 1/4 cup blue Dawn dish soap), adding water sources for all (in locations protected from predators), diversifying plants for year-round blooms and letting them go to flower and seed, and avoiding pruning and clearing away brush and leaves during nesting season, we can encourage these amazing animals to be part of the small ecosystems in our yards. And, we get to enjoy interacting with them and observing their beauty every day! Happy Midsummer!

 

 

Abutilon

 

 

Posted in Birds, Climate Change, Conservation, Garden, Nature, Seasons | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

May Day

May Day (or Beltane) celebrations traditionally involve bonfires, and dancing around a Maypole to commemorate the coming of summer and the fertility of the growing season ahead. Observances such as our local march pictured here, also honor labor for International Workers’ Day, all across the world.

Our current global climate of conflict, inequality, and increased threats to science and nature itself reminds me again of the connection between nature and humanity.

We rely on the natural world for sustenance (physical and spiritual), for scientific and medical research. Nature must be protected because any imbalance affects millions of species, and that includes us as humans. And also reminds me that we must, more than ever, act not only as guardians and stewards, but as the inseparable part of nature that we are.

  

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Nature, Seasons, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

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)

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Garden, Nature, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

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

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Local Area Hikes and trips, Nature, Seasons, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

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.

20170214_145414

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.

20170214_144242

 

 

Posted in Birds, Geology, Local Area Hikes and trips, Nature, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

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.

20161214_155848

Posted in Family, Local Area Hikes and trips, Nature, Poetry, Politics, Seasons, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

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.

 

20161012_125205

So many shades, all from one strain of seed

20161012_123039

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

Posted in Family, Garden, Mythology, Nature, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments