Category Archives: Earth

Yosemite in summer…

… is not something I’d really recommend.

It is the Disneyland of Nature, at least down in the valley, where it parodies itself (the Yosemite that once might have existed): You can go to the gift shops to buy postcards of the scenes you can’t see because you’re in your car, stuck in traffic, unable to park and get out and being yelled at by the park “ranger” who’s mad that she’s really a traffic cop.

When you do finally get out, there are fences with signs posted about how there’s restoration going on and ‘please don’t enter this area.’ The subtext of course is that there have been too many people entering the area and now it has to be “restored” to some “more natural” or “more pristine” state. My guess is that those areas will never be reopened. They would just get trampled and trashed.

I’m conflicted between a desire for experiencing that pristine state and recognizing that humans are part of New Yosemite’s ecosystem. We’ve essentially overrun it, but we’re part of it. As are our cars, our waste, our noise. THAT is Yosemite.

I tried to find a way to have a suitably reverent state of mind. It is awe-inspiring, those sheer cliffs rising above you and framing the sky or the vista encompassing massifs and vast horizon, forest and falls. I was selective about the photos I took – they’re distinctly NOT pictures of the crowds on the handrail-lined trail, of the milling about in the gift shop (or of the gift shops at all), of the heat shimmering off the lined-up roofs of cars. Those photos would have been more honest, though.

the honest picture

I think I have a very unpopular opinion – that maybe it’s inappropriate to make it accessible to all (from the comfort of an air-conditioned gas-guzzler). Maybe such grandeur deserves to be met after some amount of effort on our part (not just handed to us after purchase), after, even, some degree of struggle following which we are grateful for the beauty and the wonder instead of just expectant that it’ll appear around the road’s next bend.

Also, my opinion reveals my hypocrisy. I’m thinking of driving there in the fall, so that my limited-mobility dad, who, by the way, is obsessed with our driving culture (the irony does not escape me) can see it. So, I won’t be trekking in or through Yosemite, or backwoods camping or climbing Gary-Snyder-like into a fire lookout to end up formulating an environmental ethic or a novel or great works of poetry infused with the spirit of place. Instead I’ll be one-eye on the road, one on the hunt for the next bathroom  or picnic-lunch spot or vista.

I’ll be wishing for contact with something that’s just out of sight.

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and, as if the intrusion of automobiles and the extending of infrastructure into the region didn’t provide enough catalyst for change, there’s evidence that the forests themselves are changing and drastically. Drought, climate fluctuations, and concomitant stress and weakness leading to pest infestations are taking their toll. It’s a whole new world.

image credits: Wendy Smyer Yu

Planting a Paradise

I finally have a garden space that allows me to experiment.

For me experiment = play = happy me + hopefully reproducible results that can lead to happy others too.

The secret of this garden — and by that I do not mean the secret to my garden’s SUCCESS (which hasn’t happened yet),  but the secret to its focus (before food and medicinals, fibers and flowers) —  is amazing SOIL. Everything I am going to do will center on that.

 

How-to-Garden-Australia-Soil-Improvement

I am completely inspired by the thought that I might be able to assist in turning a plot of compacted, suburban fill (pretending to be topsoil) into a water-holding, micro-organism-filled, nutrient-cycling network of a landscape.

If that weren’t amazing enough – and really, that IS a pretty awesome thing to aspire to all by itself – but if it weren’t amazing enough, I am so excited to cultivate that soil (by which I mean, culture it, not dig it up) because of how it will support communities of plants! And the plants will benefit the soil – through their relationships with soil organisms and by the biomass they accumulate and add to it.

I have all sorts of strange constraints to deal with in the planting of our garden. Each year at least half the year is hot and dry – not a drop of rain in sight and hardly a cloud. Plants can struggle with too much sun and our mineral-laden ground water. Then there’s the other half the year when, if we’re lucky, we get enough rain (or maybe we don’t and the plants suffer then too) but  it can be cold. The soil here doesn’t drain well, so many plants are going to have to tolerate cold, wet, feet. We’ve thankfully got a great solar orientation for our yard, but we still have to deal with fence and building shadows – so some plants will have to do well with almost no sun in the winter. This isn’t a problem if you plant deciduous things but our warmer winter days allow for other-than-northern-region deciduous plants.

Ha ha, my inner plant geek is trying to take over this post! It wants to talk to you about California natives and perennial productivity… but I’ll stop there, as best I can and get to the next point I wanted to make.

Our garden, has another secret focus – bees! Until I grow the soil, I can’t plant the plants that will flower and produce ample, year round forage for bees, but as I select the plants and figure out which grow best where, I’ll be having exactly that in mind.

I cannot wait to have bees living here – not because of their honey – but because of THEM! I think they’re fantastic. If they do really well and have honey to share, that’ll be fine, too, but I just want to create a haven for them. It turns out that urban and suburban beekeepers are doing just that, creating bee-safe (and bee-saving) environments. Often there is more for urban bees to forage and fewer toxins than are found out in the fields, farms and orchards where one traditionally finds bee hives. This makes some sense – urban and suburban gardeners are often plant and habitat focused (if they’re not just planting the typical summer veggies). If they or their lawn-focused neighbors can be convinced to limit pesticide use, urban bees (of all species, including the natives) can flourish.

And I can’t wait to see the transformation from this

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and this

SONY DSC

into something more closely resembling this

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and this.

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soil image from http://howto-garden.com.au/rejuvenate-your-garden/the-soil/
the picture of the cob studio at Permaculture Institute of Northern California is from the Regenerative Design website
and the pollinator-friendly garden photo is from the website of permaculture.org.

gratitude songs

May 2014 end well for you and 2015, fed with gratitude and attention, flourish.

All living growth is emergent, arising from a previous state as though it were the most natural thing in the world, which it is —  though of course the new state of being is only one option among many.

In recognition that each moment fuels the moments to come, each action opens opportunity for other action, each phase of being is the child of that which came before and the parent of what is yet to exist, I hope for a beginning of a year that naturally unfolds and leads toward greater fulfillment.

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For a New Beginning

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

– John O’Donohue

World Building: Ambassador to the Soil Magicians

Sometimes I think I want to do the impossible here on Wander-Bird: try to tie in all my disparate interests and reveal the common thread that I follow intuitively.

For example, I write stories and I’m a plant geek and apprentice permaculture designer. It seems it would be hard to write a post that would tie those things together, right? Unless I wanted to set a murder mystery in a botanical garden (hmm, maybe that’s a good idea!). I think I figured out from the following video, though, that both interests are fundamentally world building. I’ll be darned, I never saw that coming!

I’ve learned in writing (with the help of the How to Think Sideways course), that the answers to story problems are usually in plain sight and just require training the unconscious mind to actually SEE what’s been observed. As I work on becoming a better writer, I’m still learning to stick to the trail of the story. When I lose it, I find I have to “feel” around the work and let what I’ve observed about it settle in my awareness, letting it percolate at the edges and then -*pop*- up comes an idea for a solution.

The same kind of method is a fundamental part of permaculture design – long observation forms the basis of eventual understanding of the patterns nature uses to generate life in all sorts of situations. It ought to be self-apparent that learning from and emulating nature will always be a good strategy, but since we’re a kind of slow-to-learn-species, I’m glad there are “ambassadors” reaching out with the things they’ve learned (whether about writing or designing communities). I have a lot of respect for those who are willing to stand at the edges of disciplines or established ways of doing and understanding things and try something new. For example, Paul Stamets is a mycologist who, through deep respect for fungal life forms, has explored ways to partner with them to repair damaged land by promoting healthy soil biology.

That’s already pretty fabulous!

But he takes it to another level in his recent research. I don’t think he’s projecting a fantasy world, but it does rely on imagination. Without an observation-fueled imagination, he wouldn’t have figured out a possible way to keep bees healthy in this era of catastrophic collapse.

Check out the video, it’s pretty cool stuff – and he actually does refer to the fungi as soil magicians! :)

*all my links to Holly Lisle's classes and workshops are affiliate links meaning that I make a commission on purchases made through my links at no additional cost to you.

Seasonally disoriented

I’ve been in California for a little more than a week and have had the chance to travel almost half the length of the state along highways and roads I traveled as a kid. I thought I knew what home was supposed to feel like.

On the surface things seem kind of normal. Some of the places I’ve driven are urban and  vibrate with intention and activity as cars slide into place next to each other and whiz along. In other places I was the only driver for miles. Every day I’ve been here it’s been sunny and warm.

It’s a classic California image – but it’s hiding a catastrophe in the making. From what I can gather, in the town I’ve in lived most recently, we should have had something like 10 inches of rain since November. We’ve had less than one inch.

drought_california_mapThere has been a drastic shortage of  snowfall in the Sierra Nevada this year (usually you can see the snowy peaks from down in the valley – now the barely dusted mountains are hidden by the haze of unwashed sky) and that means that unless massive storms roll in between February and April, we’re going to have a severe water shortage.

20131104_141628In just these past few days, on a ground level and personally, I’ve felt really discombobulated about what time of year it actually is. I flew out of a cold (but not excessively so) northern German winter (with no snow, just some clouds and rain) to bright days in the 80s (around 28 degrees Celsius) but what’s been most disorienting of all is the fact that the hills are still brown. Right now they should be vibrant green with this year’s wild oats springing up underneath last year’s stalks. There’s no sign of winter’s flush of growth and trees everywhere appear stressed and even dying. The deciduous trees are normally bare at this time of year – the sycamores, cottonwoods and white oak – but they’re not even laced with green buds. The evergreens (not just pine but eucalyptus and live oak, too) look tired and the chamise (a common plant in the chaparral plant community that populates stretches of non-agricultural land up and down the state) looks dried up.20131104_134951

So the weather feels like summer, the hills look like late autumn (no longer summer’s golden, they’re brown), while in stark comparison the irrigated agricultural land looks like fresh green spring and the migratory birds in their winter numbers descend in interlaced spirals onto the flooded rice fields.

In town, where the landscape is managed some trees are leafed out AND blooming at the same time.

They’re confused too.

10TANKER-3

In my hometown they’ve got a a DC-10 tanker waiting at the airport. A huge plane, one of only two of its kind, its crew is just waiting for the inevitable. Fire season is usually in the summer but it’s already started for this year.

I’m hoping for rain.

 

 

image credits:

CA drought map satellite image from NOAA, found in this news report. Also, to be fair, it shows a lack of snowfall in Nevada, as well. The drought is serious there too.

the two pictures in the middle were taken with my phone on my first trip back in November

DC-10 tanker just found in  a google search, though the news report about it waiting in central California is here.

Dan’s Documentary

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As you may or may not know, my husband is a cultural anthropologist who does research on a variety of topics including the cultural & ritual practices that tie people to place. He’s done his fieldwork in Tibetan regions of western China (mostly Qinghai province/Amdo) and in his first film (2011) he focused on a community’s sense of connection to sacred mountains and their perceived place in the order of things.

It’s currently available for free online viewing at Culture Unplugged.

About the film, Dan writes:

Embrace (2011) documents the ritualized relationship of an Eastern Tibetan (Amdo) community engaged in tantric practices, and the land that supports them. Engaging the deities of local mountains and the spirits of water and weather, a father and son share their yogic understanding of the state of their environment as a reflection of consciousness-in-place.

Please take a look if you’re interested!

Earthlings

In case you need evidence that we’re inherently suited to being on this planet here are some videos to remind us of the beauty, grace, and strength a human on earth is capable of.

William Trubridge – Freediver from The Avant/Garde Diaries on Vimeo.

Some months ago I read this article on the New York Times Magazine website. Like nearly everyone else who comes across the details of Kilian Jornet’s accomplishments, I was astounded and wildly impressed. I’m not particularly athletic and have never been a runner so to hear about Jornet running up mountains was already amazing enough.

I read with some degree of detachment, though,  thinking that Jornet was another example of the kind of mindset that causes people to want to “conquer” mountains. Statements like, “Jornet has won dozens of mountain footraces up to 100 miles in length and six world titles in Skyrunning, a series of races of varying distances­ held on billy-goat terrain” and “ On summer mornings he will set off from his apartment door at the foot of Mont Blanc and run nearly two and a half vertical miles up to Europe’s roof — over cracked glaciers, past Gore-Tex’d climbers, into the thin air at 15,781 feet — and back home again in less than seven hours, a trip that mountaineers can spend days to complete,” seemed to reinforce that.

As I continued with the article, though, I found details that made Jornet more interesting to me, beyond what his physical accomplishments inspired. My initial suspicion was replaced with respect when I came across descriptions like this, “His parents tried to instill a sense of humility and a deep feeling for the landscape. “Por las noches we walk out to the wood, the forest, without lamp,” Burgada [Jornet’s mother] says, describing how she sometimes took Jornet and his sister, Naila, a year and a half younger (and today also a SkiMo racer), out barefoot into the night dressed only in pajamas. Listen to the forest, their mother told them. Feel the direction of the wind against your cheeks, the way the pebbles change underfoot. Then she made her children lead the way home in the darkness. “All this,” she says, “to feel the passion of the nature.”

The article continues,

And this gets to the heart of Jornet’s talent. Observers and competitors describe him as someone who draws endurance and vitality, Samson-like, from being among high peaks. Runners who have served as pacesetters for him have told me with amazement how, when he was midrace at Lake Tahoe, Jornet didn’t run with his head down in focused misery but instead brushed the hairgrass and corn lily that grew along the trail with his fingertips and brought the smell to his nose, as if he were feeding off the scenery. Sometimes in his all-day solitary runs, stopping only to eat berries, he can seem half-feral, more mountain goat than human. He likes to move fast and touch rock and feel wild, he told me; he feels most at ease and performs best when wrapped by the silence and beauty of the mountains. He can’t abide cities for more than a few hours. The sea — its unrelenting horizontality — scares him. Leading long races like Western States, he’s been known to stop and exclaim at a sunrise, or wait for friends to catch up so he can enjoy the mountains with them instead of furthering his lead. “It’s almost insulting,” Krupicka told me. But it’s just Kilian being Kilian, Krupicka said. “He’s not rubbing it in anyone’s face. He’s truly enjoying being out there in the mountains, and he’s expressing that.”

I would love to see/read/hear Jornet’s own take on his experience, but maybe that’s best exemplified by his physical presence. The list of accomplishments is secondary in a way (at least to me) except insofar as they give a clue to the kind of connection he’s learned to cultivate and nurture through physical relation to and being truly embodied in a place.

More than once during my visit, Jornet compared the mountains to a lover. To really know a deep love, you have to give yourself completely to another, he told me, which means making yourself vulnerable.

kilian-jornet