Tag 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.

***
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

SONY DSC

and this

SONY DSC

into something more closely resembling this

PINC-straw-bales-

and this.

pollinator-garden-1024x576

 

****

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.

****
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

Dan’s Documentary

sambadragni-landscape-blog2-1024x468

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

“Something inside you won’t stop loving the world, no matter what weather comes.”

In a beautiful, brief, meditative post on autumn and life’s tenuous tenacity, Charlotte Du Cann writes,

Some things you can’t capture in a photograph in a time of fall: the scent of woodsmoke, the perfume of a quince, the sound of the sea roaring in the darkness, a sky with bright constellations, the knowledge that once this was the time of the reed, now sere in the marshes, which was gathered to thatch the rooves of houses. A time of shelter from the storm and of waiting…

In her typically grounded-in-place writing style, she considers a downed thrush, still warm in her hands and what the un-photographable has to do with being

In a world that is fast losing its songbirds and its poets. On a day when you struggle to pick up the camera and go into the lane and photograph the colours and shapes of those things you write . . . . and yet you go. Because something inside you won’t stop loving the world, no matter what weather comes. It’s a covenant we made with the earth a long time ago.

Read her full post here, it’s really lovely.

The Livingness of Things

(This is a repost of an article that first appeared on my old site.)

Stephen Harrod Buhner’s The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature leaves a trail of tidbits to coax the intellect along on the path to heart-centeredness. Here are excerpts showing some of the landmarks. Food for the brain, if you will.

From subatomic particles to atoms and from atoms to molecules meeting, mixing and cohering into compounds, a profound ability to self-organize is present in all matter.

Bubblechamber

When a large number of molecules congregate in close proximity, the random motions of the billions and billions of molecules will at some point show a sudden alteration in behavior; all of them will start to spontaneously synchronize. They begin to move and vibrate together. They begin acting in concert, actively cooperating and become tightly coupled together into one, interacting whole exhibiting a collective, macroscopically ordered state of being. They become a unique living system of which the smaller subunits (the molecules) are now only a part. (36)

667px-Bubblechamber2c

These systems of organized matter are given the descriptor “living” because they exhibit the tendency to seek out and maintain balance between states of organization/reorganization.

At the moment this threshold is crossed, at the moment when self-organization occurs, the new living system enters a state of dynamic equilibrium. And to maintain self-organization, the system constantly works to maintain that state of dynamic equilibrium… (40)

2388-004-2B346319

In our culture we usually find the notion of inert matter having “life” so foreign that I even have to put quotes around it here, as though it is can only be conceived as a sub-category of alive-ness. But matter engages in behavior that cannot by accounted for by chance or randomness – it has an intelligence (an ability to sense and respond to information) and a preference.

In that moment of self-organization, the system begins to display something other than synchronicity as well. It begins to act as a unit, to have behaviors. The whole, tightly coupled system begins to act upon its microscopic parts to stimulate further, often much more complex, synchronizations. A continuous stream of information begins flowing back and forth, extremely rapidly, between the macroscopic, ordered whole to smaller microscopic subunits and back again so that the self-organizing structure is stabilized, its newly acquired dynamic equilibrium actively maintained. (37)

In the case of the image below, some of the information being processed by the system includes temperature fluctuation.
1-s2.0-S0921509300018566-gr4

In self-organized systems, the information from the smaller subunit – which travels to the larger whole as chemical cues, electromagnetic fluxes, pressure waves and so on – creates a response in the larger system, which is fed back to the initial site as a new informational pulse. This informational waveform travels through the system affecting and altering everything it touches. And these informational pulses travel back and forth extremely rapidly, for as long as the system itself remains self-organized. (38)

mitochondria

Self-organized systems are living identities that engage in continual communication, both internal and external. They are not isolated, static units that can be understood in isolation. To examine them in isolation kills the living entity itself, and paying attention to the thing and not its communications – its balance-initiated information exchange – reveals very little about the true nature of what is being studied. (41)

From here Buhner continues to explore the ways self-organized systems (of all scales) are designed for interaction (inter-action, it’s not one-directional). Surfaces are complex and extensive (just look at that mitochondria) to allow for greater contact.

That fractal geometry is found in the surfaces of self-organized systems is important, for it is actually a highly sophisticated and crucial aspect of maintaining stability. The folding and fracturing that occurs along and between dimensions in living organisms allows them to couple with – to touch- the world around them at a nearly infinite number of points, a great many more than if their edges were merely straight lines. For when any organism wrinkles its exterior (or any interior) surface, it tremendously increases the area of that surface and the length of its edges. This increase significantly expands the organism’s ability to gather information from its external and internal environments. And when it wrinkles its functioning, it tremendously increases the number of possible behavioral responses available to it. Having a nearly infinite number of responses allows an organism to maximize its behavioral options for any potential internal or external environmental flux that its nearly infinite touching reveals to it.(41)

sea-anemone06-carpet_17647_600x450

When an organism or system has a repertoire of behaviors, ways it can respond to change (inputs and losses), the more resilient it is. This resiliency is behind the strength of diversity. Mere diversity (an agglomeration of differences) is of little use unless it can provide new paths and patterns of behavior to turn to. Again, this relates to self-organized systems’ constant dance of balance in which new balances can be found and maintained – never is this static.

meandering-river

Anything a self-organized, living system detects – anything that touches it – affects its balance. And this stimulates the system to shift its functioning, however minutely, in order to maintain its dynamic equilibrium. All nonlinear systems – all living organisms – are like this. And what facilitates their ability to respond to the minute touches of the world upon them is that they are not in a permanent equilibrium, not in a static state of being. They are poised, powerfully balanced, held in dynamic tension from one tiny fractal moment to the next. There is no one state to which they return when they are disturbed. They are always shifting, altering themselves, always about to fall into disequilibrium from environmental perturbations and always reorganizing – reestablishing a dynamic equilibrium – in new ways.(42)

This is why, in spite of a certain predictability or regularity to the form and structure of such systems, there is still vast difference. A cypress tree looks like a cypress tree (and not a sycamore), but every cypress tree is different for having lived its own life (which was informed by its parent material) with an immense amount of informational input.

DSC_0105-M

… it is the information, the meaning encoded within the perturbation, that is important, not the form in which it is delivered. The form is merely one possible language of communication out of myriad possibilities. In the end it is the meaning inside the behavior that is significant, not the behavior itself. It is not the chemical released, nor the movement of the body, nor the electromagnetic field that is important, but the information, the meaning that it carries. And for too long scientists have assumed that there is no meaning in Nature. As a result they have spent their time studying static, dead forms, when the communications of meaning themselves are the essential thing. (It is no wonder then, that after years of schooling, so many of us now believe that life is meaningless, or that scientists have made Prozac to help us not notice how we feel.) (43-44, emphasis added)

774 - Neuron Connection - Pattern

All self-organized systems are, in fact, intelligent. They have to be. For they must continually monitor their environments, internal and external; detect perturbations; decide on the basis of those perturbations what the likely effect will be; and respond to them in order to maintain self-organization. (45)

All the millions upon millions of signals or perturbations that impact cells affect their equilibrium. They process the information encoded in the stimulus that pushed them back into disequilibrium and use it to generate behaviors that restore equilibrium. (46)

If you suspect that we only obliquely made it from the intellect to the heart (if we made it at all) keep in mind (ha!) that the heart of course is a self-organized system (made of other self-organizing systems) in dynamic equilibrium that is constantly “updated” with meaning generated from everything around it. It is, in fact, a meaning-making generator and a meaning-perceiving receiver. We just tend to propagate the notion that it’s a pump and only a pump.
***
Image credits: First two images display results found in a bubble chamber used to track the paths of subatomic particles. Numerous copies exist online and I was unable to find the original sources, though the second is available here.

The third is from The Encyclopedia Britannica.

The fourth, the dual image, includes the caption:  Electron diffraction patterns observed from rapidly cooled (a) and slowly cooled (b) Al70Ni20Ru10 alloys. Image source: Ordered structures in decagonal quasicrystals with simple and body-centered hypercubic lattices, by Hiraga, K. et al, published by Elsevier on Science Direct.

Next is a picture of a mitochondria – an organism in a cellular universe. But a cell is also an organism, in its own universe (like an organ, say) and an organ is an organism in its own world or habitat as well (that can be kept alive outside the body in some cases), and what we conceive of as the individual is also an organism in its own universe… ad infinitum? Image found in several locations, including here (Science Illustrated – Australia – and they cite it as a Shutterstock image. In which case I probably shouldn’t post it, but it IS pretty!).

The sea anemone is from National Geographic.

The meandering river (the Williams River in Alaska) appears here, with credit given to N.D. Smith.

The 106 year old Mendocino Cypress shown here looks different from its relatives in Mendocino because of the efforts of a member of the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society  (I had trouble finding a good, unlicensed, photo of the massive trees in their native place. Next time I go I’ll see what I can do – though it may be a while).

Illustration of a neuron/connection by Patrick Hoesly