(The following is a memoir piece I’ve been working on off and on for several years about my family’s annual camping trips to Yosemite in the late 1950s and 1960s)
In August, my middle class family packed up our ’56 Chevy Bel Air red and white station wagon and left our suburban L.A. home to camp among the cool pines of the Yosemite Valley. We left in the wee hours of the morning to avoid driving in the oppressive Central Valley heat. My older brother, Steve, and I would occupy the “way back,” converted into a bed with layers of soft quilts. This functioned as our sleeping and play area. Seat belts were not even thought of back then. There was no digital world in the late 1950s and early 1960s so upon awakening we would occupy ourselves by reading our stash of comic books and Mad Magazines. We would play endless card games of War. When we were tired of that we would sing folk songs in lively two-part harmony, our parents joining in on “I’ve been working on the Railroad, Suwanee River, Clementine, or our favorite, “the Titanic ”.
Refuge- it’s personal where one feels a sense of peace and security. In the last few years, numerous of my natural refuges have been destroyed by wildfires, development, and clearing for agriculture. There is no stopping it. Climate change marches on despite my best efforts. I live lightly, donate money, and write letters without the satisfaction of seeing much change. Thus I’ve taken to the one thing I do have control over which is my own backyard. I mean that in a literal sense.
I’m starting to take one section of my yard at a time and rewilding it by putting it into a native plant garden. I really don’t know what I am doing but thus far determination and a boatload of good advice have been enough despite my fears. It was a big deal to have a dump truck arrive and deposit 5 yards of soil in the middle of my driveway then the following week spend over a thousand dollars on native plants. Vison is a strong force when you act on it.
I’m trying really hard to stay positive as the news gets grimmer and grimmer. The Delta variant and now Afhanistan on top of everything else. A good friend of mine gave me the prompt “unprecedented” to write about. We’ve been hearing a lot of that word lately. Here’s my take….
We were driving back from a blissful writing workshop up in a remote area in E. Oregon when we came back into cell service. I’ll never forget my friend, Linda saying “Oh my god- there’s this thing called a heat dome that’s moving into the Pacific NW. It’s going to get up to 116 degrees F!” Seriously I thought she was joking until she insisted it was true.
We live in a place where occasionally we will experience triple-digit temperatures in the low hundreds but not this. These are Death Valley or Phoenix temps.- not Oregon. Another blow- last year it was the forest fires and now in late June extreme heat. Add to that the pandemic, politics and it’s beyond cataclysmic.
My house has no AC. There have been few times we have needed it as it is well insulated. This time, however, since it only dropped into the high 80s at night the house would not cool off and remained at 89 degrees inside. This was intolerable- especially for me as I am highly sensitive to the heat and can get ill.
In the 28 years I’ve lived in my home I’ve watched the surrounding hills logged acre by acre making way to vineyard land. I used to live out in the country. Now I say I live in the “wine country” to add a reference point to the location. To some this is no big deal, but for me losing our forests is a tragic loss of shady walks, natural habitat, and carbon storage. We shame the loss of tropical rainforests but turn a blind eye to the logging of our own temperate forests.
When this happens nothing is left for wildlife, no corridors for migrating birds for deer, or any of our native species to survive on. Where do all the creatures go that made those forests home? Most die. It’s all for human profit now. This collateral damage is met with barely a shrug. Add to that the recent catastrophic wildfires in Oregon have left thousands of acres of forest graveyards. I was heartsick on a recent camping trip to the Cascade Range where we drove through miles of blackened mountains, burnt towns, and majestic forests turned to black matchsticks. This was once verdant scenery. Rampant salvage logging is only making matters worse for long-term recovery.
I have written letters to editors, congresspeople, and blogged about the environmental issues at hand but reciprocity to nature is not a concept our culture embraces. It’s about profit. There is a total disconnect in our relationship to the earth and the long-term consequences of our consumerism. We take without giving back and that will be our ultimate demise. I’ve realized through all this the only real power we have is through our actions and not those of governments or corporations. This includes our own piece of ground.
So in an act of defiance, I am bringing nature home to my one little acre in Oregon. I am starting the slow process to convert my land into a tiny nature sanctuary by planting native plants and creating a wildlife friendly habitat. Until recently I landscaped my yard the way everybody does-by what would look nice. That meant planting common cultivars from Asia without a thought to what nutrition and cover they would provide to native species including pollinators, butterflies, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Will this make a difference? Well to me it does! To future furred and feathered visitors it will, and if enough other homeowners join in it will make a huge difference. All I know is that when we recently planted a big leaf maple in our yard and planted my overgrown planter barrel by the porch entrance with milkweed, and native wildflowers I felt empowered. If you would like to join me on my radical gardening journey, tune into my other blog, One Sweet Earth where I will be sharing my process bit by bit.
September has been a gruesome month in my home state of Oregon. We were traumatized by wildfires and smoke that began Labor Day Weekend staying in our homes for 10 days to avoid breathing the toxic cloud of air that descended over the state. Thousand of people were evacuated from their homes. The fires ravaged over a million acres of land burning several 2800 structures including homes and businesses. About 11 people lost their lives. Many are homeless and without jobs. The towns of Detroit Lake, Talent, and Phoenix were decimated as with many communities up the McKenzie River Hwy. Many of the larger fires are still burning.
Particularly heartbreaking to me is knowing that some of my favorite places were hit especially hard; the Breitenbush Hot Springs Community, the McKenzie River corridor, and the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center and Wilderness. These were places that recharged my soul. Nature will renew them- but not in my lifetime. It looks like my ashes will be scattered among the ashes.
We are among the lucky. Thus far we have only lost power and internet service. There is a fire a few miles away but it seems to be holding. My heart goes out to those who have lost everything and the 500,00 who have had to undergo the stress of evacuations.
As Oregon Burns
A dry wind howls from the east
We extinguish the candles
and do not sleep
As Oregon burns
A black cloud draws across the sky like a flat curtain
Just when I thought the world couldn’t get any crazier, it has. The issues confronting this country (and the world beyond) makes one tempted to roll over on ones back, legs up in defeat. I need not mention them. You all know- especially in the USA.
This enormity of disasters makes one wonder- is it all hopeless? What good can I do that will make a difference? I’ve been thinking all this week about this question “why bother?” This is what I came up with…
On this, the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, consider this…
Most of us are taught when we are young:
It is better to give than to receive
Don’t be greedy – leave some for others
Be a good neighbor
These principles seem to apply except when it comes to the earth we live on. Our culture looks to nature as something to devour rather than something to honor and celebrate. Consider the term “natural resources” rather than “natural gifts.” As our society has lost its connection to the land, the messages we are given now are:
Profit trumps sustainability and the well being of our fellow species
Increasing consumption not thinking about environmental consequences
Gross national product vs gross national happiness & health
We shrug our shoulders about Climate Change, the great garbage patches in the ocean, microplastics in the water supply, mass extinctions of species, loss of our forests, clean air, and clean water. It’s uncomfortable to think about. It’s too big. Someone else will take care of it. Actually no and for certain, apathy will not.
Now, why would I want to do that to myself? Like building and maintaining a blog with almost weekly posts isn’t enough of a responsibility? The short answer is that I have more to say about an entirely different subject than this blog on my personal meanderings can handle. My new genre is on how to take action to preserve the health of the planet in the age of climate change and other environmental degradation. This form of activism is by making small lifestyle changes.
I started chipping away on the concept of my new blog “One Sweet Earth” in late 2019 with the hopes of a New Year’s launch. That was wishful thinking as I forgot how daunting building a new blog can be. Selecting the right theme, how to build a menu with categories and pages is daunting enough without wrestling with WordPress’s new block editor. Then there’s writing content and in this case illustrating it. A good portion of “One Sweet Earth” is in my sketchbook.