On Noticing Small Things

Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.  Mary Oliver

vintage-1135015_1920I was never much of a noticer until I took Glen Moffat’s Natural history class in my sophomore year of college. Until that time most birds other than gulls, jays, & hawks were all little brown things that flit about in the trees.  Wildflowers were all pretty.  Trees were either pines with needles or trees with leaves.

We wore hiking boots to that class.  Armed with binoculars and magnifying glasses off we went on various field trips up into the Bay Area hills and beaches.  Mr. Moffat was a short middle-aged guy with the jan-meeus-xV7Fxi5xjJM-unsplashexuberance of a young golden retriever.  His enthusiasm was infectious.  Suddenly all those little brown birds were visual wonders with names.  Among the many were wrens, bluebirds, flycatchers, tanagers, warblers, and sparrows with all manner of coloring, beaks, and feet.  Ducks were not ducks any more but dabblers and divers, shovelers, canvasbacks, and scoters.  There were actually five types of gulls I could img_2728identify: Ring-billed, California, Herring, Glaucus, and Western.  I began to recognize the calls of birds. The wildflowers took on identities of their own and I learned to tell them apart, asters, shooting stars, goldenrod.  There were differences in the shrubs, gooseberry, goat’s beard, California buckeye.  The pine trees became firs, hemlock, cedar, red, yellow, and white pines.

My fear of science dissipated to the point that when I transferred as a junior to a university I changed my major from Art to Natural History, an interdisciplinary study of botany, ecology, zoology, and geology. My studies of botany turned more intimate. I peered into dissecting scopes and marveled at the inner structures of flowers, algae, lichens, and fungi. Slime molds had designs that were worthy of a display in an art museum. I was introduced to the world of mushroom-2786789_1920lichens, mosses, algae, & liverworts.  I learned that most fungi were not mushrooms but rather molds and yeast.  Mushrooms were merely the fruiting bodies of the spidery white webs of mycelia living underground or in rotting material.  Latin names swam about in my psyche. Now everywhere I walked was a treasure hunt of natural wonders.

Eventually, I became so adept at plant ID that as a junior I was hired on a botanical study to map rare and endangered plant species in a potential wilderness area.  The plants we found, among them, a sundew (a small sundew-2783310_1920insectivorous plant) eventually converted the land into a protected natural area.  After graduation, I worked in Alaska for a forest fire ecologist, cataloged sea life with NOAA, and mapped vegetation types with the US Forest Service.  I walked the sandy barrier island off the coast of Prudhoe Bay identifying sea birds on a study with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and counting the abandoned but ever warm eider-duck-2020993_1920downy nests of eiders.

Those years of scientific study are long behind me but I am still an observer always looking for acquaintances in the natural world around me. I know the name of the birds about my yard and their calls.   I don’t have to worry about filling the hummingbird feeder so full as I noticed that their skinny tongues are over two inches long.  I noticed that the little myotis bats that darted about on warm summer nights have all but vanished as with the

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Courtesy phys.org/news

warblers, the tanagers, swallows, cedar waxwings and other seasonal migrants. This troubles me. Some years back after the neighbors sprayed the brambles on the fence line, the quail disappeared. The red wind blackbirds still pass through winter and springs filling the air with their songs.  This year, the aphids did not show on my kale!

 

When I learned to notice nature, my life changed radically to the point I made a career out of it.  Science became my friend rather than something to be afraid of. The environment became something to enjoy and protect.  It is not necessary to go to the extremes I did but it is important to be aware of the natural world that surrounds us.  It can form and direct us. We humans as the decades pass are losing our connection to the earth as we retreat further and further into technology.  But it is keyboard-393838_1920important to remember that our so-called civilized lives are built on the back of nature from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the raw materials in our house, cars, devices, and the fuel in our vehicles.  Without a connection to the earth, we continue to degrade the planet to the point it will be unable to sustain a quality of life for ourselves or its other inhabitants.  It’s happening now with climate change, pollution, and degradation of the land and oceans.

roof-768735_1920One way to keep that connection is to learn the names of the birds, animals, and plants that inhabit your environment.  Even in the city, there are species that have learned to cohabitate with humans.  If you look closely, you may see there is more than one type of sonny-ravesteijn-xsJka-hK8Gs-unsplashsquirrel, & brown bird.  Watch the crows going about their day.  There are communities in the sky conducting business you are not savvy to.

By naming the plants and creatures we encounter, we offer them respect and become aware that the earth does not just belong to us. We become advocates for our environment rather than just exploiters. Give your children binoculars and magnifying glasses rather than devices to rob their minds. Give yourself some too. Look up and around you and learn to notice the magnificent gifts that this planet has to offer.

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Cheering on Greta Thunberg

greta 2The world take note..we have a new spokesperson for the planet…

I had been ignorant of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish girl who has thundered on the world stage as a climate activist, that is until last week when I tuned into her Ted Talk. I was awestruck by her composure, her knowledge, and her willingness to cut to the truth of what is happening to our planet and then chastising our greta-thunberg-best-quotes-school-strike-15th-march-780x405complacency to take real action in spite of the scientific facts.  Greta’s intensity is riveting as she speaks.

Greta at age 8 heard about climate change, fell into a deep depression, and went mute.  This resulted in her diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome  (a high functioning form of autism), obsessive-compulsive 330px-greta_thunberg_4disorder, and selective mutism.  She started pulling out of her depression when she began to formulate an action plan for climate change. First she wrote essays.  Then inspired by Parkland students, she decided to organize a school strike.  Since no one else would join her she started striking from school alone sitting in front of the Swedish Parliament for three weeks handing out leaflets.  Her demands were that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement.  Eventually, through social media and the press, her fame began to spread.  Since then, she’s inspired school strikes around the world and has become the hero of thousands of school children as well as adults. Greta speaks globally about the importance of action to solve climate change.  Time magazine featured her on the cover of their May 27th issue and she has made the list of the 100 most influential people of 2019

Continue reading “Cheering on Greta Thunberg”

Pausing for Bumblebees

Covered in pollen in a zucchini flower
Bliss in a zucchini flower

It is the height of summer blooms. Bumblebees are to be found everywhere about my yard.  I find them in the cool of the morning sleeping in flowers, drunk from the previous day’s feeding.  As the day warms I pause to watch them at their work, mindfully probing into pistils within blooms sucking out nectar.

They are especially fond of compound flowers, those in the genus, Compositae, the daisy family, the largest example being a sunflower. These are flowers within flowers.  Look closely in the middle of a dahlia, zinnia, daisy, dandelion sunflower, etc. and you will find multitudes of tiny flowerets surrounded by showy petals. It’s like one-stop shopping for bees.

Bumblebees make up the genus Bombus with 255 different species.  Generally, they are black with varying stripes of yellow and sometime red. They make nests near the ground under logs, duff in small colonies.  They are honey producers but in smaller quantities.

Though bumblebees don’t get as much press as their smaller cousin, the honey bee, they are extremely important pollinators.  Bumblebees are particularly good at it. Their wings beat 130 times or more per second, and the beating combined with their large bodies

photo courtesy livescience.com
photo courtesy livescience.com

vibrate flowers until they release pollen, which is called buzz pollination. Buzz pollination helps plants produce more fruit.  Bumblebees flap their wings back and forth rather than up and down like other bees. Researcher Michael Dickinson, a professor of biology and insect flight expert at the University of Washington likens wing sweeping like a partial spin of a “somewhat crappy” helicopter propeller,

They are gentle bees, single-minded in their work and rarely sting which is good because their sting can be particularly nasty.  I have never been stung even though I sometimes gently pet their fuzzy backs then they are immersed in feeding.  Such sweet bees.

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In Praise of Bumblebees

They probe dreamily in the center

Of pie sized yellow flowers that nod towards the east

Keeping me company

As I work in the garden

 

These tiny winged beasts do their work

Heads up down, up down

Placing in precision their needle-like proboscises

In a sea of stamen and pistil

 

Gentle black creatures

Intoxicated by pollen and nectar

So immersed in their work

My finger can stroke their furry backs

 

I find them in the morning exhausted

Dozing in the midst of flowers

Dusted with yellow

Dreaming bumblebee dreams

 

Buzz and bumble

Find purpose in my zinnias, my dahlias

And sleep until the warmth of a new day

Calls you to your tasks again

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Fun facts thanks to livescience.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of a Different Feather

daiga-ellaby-h43VqtlnV7U-unsplashA cup of steaming tea in hand

From my padded perch with propped up pillows

I gaze out the bay window

Observing morning activity at the feeder

 

Among the usual finches, chickadees, & nuthatches

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Author’s photo

Unusual activity catches my eye

A petite junco carefully feeds seeds to a juvenile robin

Three times its size

 

Wait, this cannot be!

This bird is of another feather

With no natural obligation

But my eyes do not lie

 

This little junco is clearly committedimage2977637_web1_shaw-1

To care for this young robin

As another to its own

From mindful feedings

To standing by at the edge of the concrete bath

As the youngster bathes and drinks

 

I wonder, what is the story of this orphaned robin

And how did it come under the junco’s care?

I would like to think mercy to save another not of its kind

2018_bird_week_15_dark-eyed_juncoI can only conjecture

But still, I find hope

In the actions of this tiny little bird

And its very big heart

 

*Note: According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, “cross-species” feeding is a very rare thing to observe.  You can read more about it here.

 

 

A Serving of Good News for the Environment

Remote rives in GAARYou don’t often hear positive news of the environment- especially in the U.S. these days, so when an email from the Natural Resources Defence Council of a similar title showed up in my inbox yesterday, I thought I would share some heartening tidings.  BTW, the NRDC is one of the strongest environmental lobbies in this country, if not the strongest.  I have been a monthly contributor for years and am also one of their email activitists.  That means numerous times a month I send out emails to urging government officials to support environmental legislation.

The NRDC has filed 87 lawsuits against the current administration since its inception 2 1/2 years ago.  On average that is one lawsuit every 10 days.  Of those, 47 of those have been won in favor of the environment with only 3 setbacks. The others are still in litigation.

Some recent  groundbreaking legal wins include: (Copied directly from the NRDC newsletter)water-3340044_1920

  • Defending our natural heritage in the Southwest: A federal appeals court ruled in our favor, finding that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) illegally approved the drilling and fracking of oil and gas wells in the Greater Chaco region of New Mexico, a spectacular landscape sacred to indigenous tribes. The court reversed the approval of 25 drilling permits, and the landmark case has national implications for BLM decisions to allow drilling. Read more here
  • Forcing energy giants to pay up: Another court blocked the Interior Department from trying to repeal regulations closing loopholes that enriched fossil fuel companies at the expense of taxpayers. The repeal would have let oil, gas, and coal companies avoid paying millions of dollars in royalties for mining and drilling on our public lands. Read more here
  • Upholding President Obama’s permanent ban on offshore drilling: A judge ruled that Trump illegally sought to reinstate oil and gas leasing in the pristine, sensitive Arctic Ocean and wildlife-rich Atlantic deepwater canyonsRead more here
  • Opening the door to protecting threatened giraffes: An NRDC lawsuit finally forced the Trump administration to concede that giraffes may warrant protection under America’s Endangered Species Act. Giraffe populations have plunged by 40 percent in the last 30 years. And America is a big importer of giraffe hunting trophies and bone carvings. Read more here
  • Protecting whales on the brink: In the face of NRDC legal pressure, the Trump administration finally listed the Gulf of Mexico whale as endangered after dragging its feet for years. An estimated 22 percent of the species were decimated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and there are only 33 of the whales left on the planet. Read more here

The NRDC is still waging dozens of other critically important courtroom battles: lawsuits to save the Clean Power Plan, protect national monuments like Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante, restrict the use of bee-killing pesticides, stop the climate-busting Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, and so many more.

Consider contributing to environmental causes no matter what country you reside in.  I like the NRDC since most of the money received from donors goes directly to the cause.

Together we can make a difference.  For more information go to NRDC.org

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BE A FORCE FOR NATURE

Defending our air, water, communities, and wild places requires more than a single voice. Join the movement.

On Not Minding My Own Business

erika-fletcher-YfNWGrQI3a4-unsplashI’m going back to just making art and not being an artist.  Having had the goal for years of being a successful artist, I recently woke up to the fact that indeed, I had arrived.  That means I’m good with where I’m at.  It’s kind of like where to stop on a painting without overworking it.  Once I attained the label of “Artist” it came with art fairs, shows, social media, websites, marketing, basically business.  I am NOT a business person and am an introvert on top of it. Looking back I had way more satisfaction when I was just playing around and gifting my work to friends and family. Seeing looks of delight on their faces was payment enough.

I used to think that being accomplished was something akin to notoriety, copy-3129360_1920profit, fame, status or similar. Now, I’ve come to the conclusion after many years, that for me, fulfillment is in the creative process and the sharing. Monetary gain is just an added bonus. It’s kind of like fishing.  It’s great being out in nature no matter what and if you catch a fish- even better.

Now that I have less of my life before me than behind me, I am becoming very mindful of how I spend my life’s energy.  Do I want to spend hours at my computer marketing my work on Facebook, Instagram, & Etsy?  What am I giving up to do that?  After experimenting withbranding_131 all that the last few years, it’s felt too sleazy, like dressing in clothes that aren’t me. Do I really need to brand myself?  Seriously, I don’t want to fit in a box like Ritz Crackers. Art galleries are there for a reason.  They take 50% of sales but they could work on the selling while I could be out hiking.

Author Marsha Sinetar, famously said in her 1989 book titled the same, “Do what you love, the money will follow.”  Well, maybe.  For me, it’s turned out to be “Do what you love because you love it- and get a day job that you can tolerate”. Retirement works too. Otherwise what you love may turn out to be another form of the daily grind.

It’s an individual thing crafting a creative life.  THEY (whoever THEY are) may say do this and that, but ultimately it’s very personal what being successful is.  For some, they are content with the time invested in marketing themselves.  Their time is justified. I applaud them. But for me, creativity is a spiritual experience. Monetizing it takes away the joy.   So with that realization, I am taking the priority of selling my art out of the img_2831equation.

My last public show will be the local Art Harvest Studio Tour in the first two weeks in October.  Lately, I’ve been in the studio doing lots of work.  I will have an array of mixed media prints, found object sculpture, and ceramics on display.  After that, my remaining pieces will be in local galleries and online light.  Then, I’m going to design that patio and walkway I’ve always wanted, write more, play more music, and do more hiking. See you on the trail!

To check out my page on the tour go here

follow your nose

 

Twelve Breaths

spiral-1000782_1920“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
 Thich Nhat Hanh

There is power in the breath and it is so easily forgotten.  Sure you get reminders in yoga and exercise classes but once in a while isn’t enough.  Earlier in the week, I had a profound connection with my breath.  I was feeling a migraine coming on, not too surprising with stress over medical issues and an elderly parent.  Oh…then there’s that whole the state of the world thing and the anxiety that often comes with the creative process.

I examined my usual options- ride it out for a couple days of excruciating discomfort or take the prescription for it, which works, but gives me a hangover the next day.  I decided to try a new option- lie down and deep breathe through it.  When I say breathe, I mean deep belly breaths that seemingly fill my body.  Amazingly enough, my headache was gone in about 15 minutes.

This was a huge breakthrough for me.  What if I used breath throughout the day as a preventative to keep stress and headaches away?  Now I have adopted a practice (in keyboard-393838_1920addition to my 12-minute daily meditation ) of focused breathing.  Three times a day I sit or lie down, close my eyes and take twelve DEEP breaths. Inevitably my shoulders relax and I get back in a centered space.  I set a reminder on my phone.  Try it.  Even one time a day can make a difference.  Air (for now) is free and no mantra is required.

For added stress reducers I’ve deleted the news app, and social media apps on my phone (too much information). Often have my phone in the “do not disturb mode” and keep it out of my bedroom at night.  There is also great power in taking charge in one’s own brain…

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