Saturday, April 22, 2017

Musings: Earth Day 2017

I wasn't going to write an Earth Day blog post this year, but had an eleventh-hour change of heart and am blinking blearily at the computer screen late on Earth Day Eve, trying to string some coherent thoughts together. The dire state of things in Washington DC on Earth Day 2017 has thrown additional environmental catastrophes into our realm of possibility, with potential effects that will reach far beyond the borders of our own country.

The Environmental Protection Agency has had "environmental protection" removed from its mission; the president is rolling back protections for clean air and water; tar sands pipelines are being greenlighted despite the known pollution risks and contributions to climate change; and a proposed wall along the US-Mexico border is an affront not only to humanity, but to the endangered species whose habitat spans across the border. And, as we reach a never-before-seen-in-the-history-of-humanity 410 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon dioxide, let's not forget the ever-present threat of climate change looming over our tumultuous present and tenuous future, and the ruling party of our country who proffers nothing but wilful ignorance and blatant denial of the reality of this problem.

Things are not looking good.

I can write lengthy posts about the current state of environmental policy and environmental issues in our country, and I can share the perspective from my own homeground as I did in last year's Earth Day musings, but despite my best efforts I can still fail to express the urgency with which we all need to act and participate in addressing these issues and ensuring a livable planet for the future.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is the picture that changed my mind and motivated me to write this post.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this view of planet Earth as a point of light between the icy rings of Saturn on April 12, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

This is Earth, seen through the rings of Saturn. Captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft just ten days ago, this image should cause all of us to pause. That is Earth. That is us. All of us. That is a family photo of the entire human population, and the flora and fauna with whom we share the planet. Every human who has ever existed has lived and died on that planet. Every living thing in the vast universe (as far as we currently know) has evolved, existed, lived and died on that planet. We are a bright point of light in the utter darkness of space, a tiny pinprick illuminated by a blazing star that is situated close enough to keep the planet from freezing solid, but far enough away to keep us warm without being burnt to a crisp.

That tiny pinprick of light is all we have. That is our planet, and if it fails, then so do we. Where else do we have to go?

Even if we knew of another habitable planet, there is no conceivable way to transport the seven billion humans of planet Earth to a new home. And what of the rest of the living beings on Earth? Would we press our noses to the windows of our spaceship, waving goodbye and wishing good luck to the wildlife we leave behind on a poisoned, ruined planet? There is no ark to shuttle us to safety, and the Lord above isn't going to rescue us from a once-perfect creation that we knowingly ruined out of greed and arrogance.

This is it. We know how our actions are affecting the planet. We know what the problems are, and we have the technology and knowledge to fix them. What we are collectively lacking - globally, and in our country's current leadership - are the very characteristics that typically distinguish humans from other species: the ability to plan for the future, and the altruism that allows us to choose to do the right thing, even if that prevents our own personal gain. We need the wisdom and humility to recognize that sacrificing our own gain and choosing what is good for others is, in the grand scheme, the best for all of us.

Environmental issues are the most pressing problem we face. Forget the economy, forget jobs, forget petty and transient political quibbles and grammatically abhorrent presidential Tweets... without the basic life-support systems of a healthy and functioning planet, we're all sunk. Clean air, clean water, healthy ecosystems, a stable climate, and thriving biodiversity are all necessities for survival, and all are threatened by the political interests currently governing our country. We cannot sit by and allow these things - and our futures - to be destroyed before our eyes.

There is a March for Science being held today. The People's Climate March is making a comeback on April 29th. People are speaking up and fighting back. Pay attention to these marches and the actions that arise from them. Participate, speak up, and call your elected representatives.

The future of our planet is more important to me now than ever. With my first child expected to be born any day now, I have a greater imperative to do what I can to ensure a livable planet for future generations. I will now be leaving behind a human - my own flesh and blood - on that tiny pinprick of light someday, and want my legacy to be one that says "I was here. I cared. I tried."


Past Earth Day posts:

Musings: Earth Day 2016

Nature Nerd Wednesdays - April 22nd, 2015: Earth Day Edition

Earth Day Musings: The time to act on climate change is now (2014)

 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Nature Nerd Wednesdays

Welcome to Nature Nerd Wednesdays, your mid-week nature break to reconnect with the calming, refreshing, and inspiring effects of nature. Take a deep breath and enjoy...

Spring wildflowers at Deception Pass State Park, April 2016. Lainey Piland photo

April showers bring May flowers

After a winter of record rainfall here in western Washington, let's hope that May brings forth the most glorious profusion of flowers to brighten our soggy environs! We can keep our fingers crossed, but the amount of rainfall may not necessarily correlate with the quantity of flowers we can expect to see... unless you're in the desert, that is.

The deserts of California are experiencing a "superbloom" of wildflowers this spring following a particularly wet winter. After years of terrible drought in the region, these long-dormant wildflower seeds have burst into bloom in spectacular fashion; painting the desert with acres upon acres of vibrant color.

Take a look at the photos in this EarthSky article for a peek at the desert superbloom.

And of course... there's a timelapse for that!



Although it can be a long time in coming, when beauty arrives after a long spell of hardship, it's all the more wondrous... and all the more worthy of appreciation!


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Nature Nerd Wednesdays

Welcome to Nature Nerd Wednesdays, your mid-week nature break to reconnect with the calming, refreshing, and inspiring effects of nature. Take a deep breath and enjoy...

One of the hummingbirds in my backyard last fall. Lainey Piland photo

Spring is here, and that means nesting season for the birds! As I watch the hummingbirds visit my backyard feeder, I imagine them flying back to their tiny nests made of spiderwebs and bits of leaves, and feeding their nestlings with the nectar cooked up in my own kitchen.

Taking the time to pay attention to the wild lives paralleling our own human ones feeds our sense of wonder and compassion for other species. If you don't have a feeder or nest to ponder in your own yard, then take a look at these live webcams, which offer a close-up look at the daily lives of our avian neighbors.

The Rosie Hummingbird nest cam is a popular one, especially with one recently-hatched egg and another that's soon to follow!



The Decorah Eagles nest cam is a big hit, too. There is a fuzzy and awkward looking eaglet in the nest right now!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Nature Nerd Wednesdays

Welcome to Nature Nerd Wednesdays, your mid-week nature break to reconnect with the calming, refreshing, and inspiring effects of nature. Take a deep breath and enjoy...

Canada's frozen MacKenzie River Delta. NASA Earth Observatory photo.

While noticing and appreciating the details of the small beauties around us is important, it's also important to take a step back... in this case a 250-mile step into earth's atmosphere... and soak in the big picture.

Spend some time getting lost in this gallery of 100 photos of Earth from the International Space Station, captured by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who is currently on a six-month mission on the ISS ending this May.

The diversity of patterns, textures, colors and light that adorn the surface of our planet is awesome to behold. One can clearly see the scars of civilization and the vast emptiness of wilderness. I imagine it must be a challenge for the astronauts on the International Space Station to tear themselves away from the windows and views of earth below long enough to get any work done!


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Wanderings: Seeking Spring (2017)

About to follow the trail through the "trillium portal"

Yesterday, in the warming afternoon hours following a cool and rainy morning, my husband and I headed for the Trillium Trail in the Redmond Watershed Preserve, seeking to find this trail's namesake flowers, which should have begun to bloom. We'd strolled through the Watershed two weeks ago, more for exercise and fresh air than anything else, but I'd secretly hoped we might catch a few early trillium. Alas, at that time the forest was still well in the grips of winter and there was nary a trillium to be seen among the damp humus of last autumn's fallen leaves.

The spring trillium hunt is an annual tradition for me. When I was a child, my grandpa and I walked through the woods around my house to count as many trillium as we could find. Now that my grandpa is no longer with us, my husband - who is a trillium-spotting pro - accompanies me on the yearly quest for these simple white flowers. The trillium hunt is a way to reconnect to the memories forged in those childhood rambles through the forest, as well as to seek hopeful signs of spring in the bright white flags blooming through a winter's worth of decay.

We parked at the north entrance of the Watershed to allow us to access the Trillium Trail more quickly, since being eight months pregnant has limited the distance I can comfortably walk, and I wanted to spend as much time on the actual trail as I could. Access via the south parking area requires a bit more walking to reach the Trillium Trail itself. Setting off into the woods, I immediately felt doubtful that we'd spot any trillium today. Still-bare salmonberry branches reached for us as we passed, lacking the delicate growth of new green leaves to soften the stark nakedness of their thorny limbs. Very little greenery pushed up from the forest floor, save for a few patches of lacy bleeding heart. It didn't look promising.



We followed the trail as it rounded the north shore of the pond and crossed the wide grassy swath of the pipeline corridor. Taking a deep breath, I received a pungent lungful of skunk cabbage, which was blooming with gusto in the shallow waters of the pond. Those odd yellow flowers with their undeniably skunky scent are another herald of the spring season - just not the one I was looking for!

Around the bend in the trail lay our best hope for finding trillium, if there were any to be found. We were about to step through the trillium portal, the short section of trail wherein one can usually find the motherlode of these white flowers. Hope still intact, I proceeded down the trail with slow, methodical steps and began to search more intently than ever. My gaze probed among the glistening sword fern still looking flat and tired from a long wet winter, among the vivid green bleeding heart leaves holding rain droplets from morning showers, and among the tiny clusters of unknown leaves that aggravatingly tricked the eye into believing they belonged to a trillium.

A few yards back, my husband called for my attention and pointed to something down the slope from us. My heart leapt - had he spotted one? I quickly backtracked and let my gaze follow his outstretched arm... and there it was. The first trillium of the year. No wait... there was not one trillium, but two. My mouth fell open slightly as I soaked in the sight before me. Of course, of all the trillium we might first spot, this trillium - these two trillium - would have to be it.


They were unusual. Two trillium, facing one another with their white three-petaled buds only partially opened and bowed with the weight of clinging rain droplets. They leaned against one another, rain-sodden leaves wrapped together, each holding the other up. I felt like I was witnessing a private moment between two people.

Now, I'm not a fan of incorporating one's own life story in the telling of nature experiences. When writing them myself, I typically prefer that the experiences remain unfettered by our own agendas and narratives and just be what they are, because those experiences stand alone in their simple beauty without us imposing sweeping life lessons or revelations on them.

But in this case, I couldn't help but stare at those trillium and think of the week I'd just had. After enduring a week that was anything but normal, I had stepped into the forest today not just to look for trillium, but also to seek the hope and reassurance that some kind of normalcy still existed in the world - in feeling the mud squish under my feet, the clean earthy air filling my lungs, and in finding these flowers that come without fail every spring. Without getting into the details, I'll just say I had to spend several evenings in the hospital this past week being monitored for what appeared to be preterm labor and was poked, prodded, and frowned over by enough doctors and nurses to make one feel rather nervous. In the midst of wondering whether our baby was okay; whether I was okay; whether we were all going to be okay; my husband and I had just one choice: we leaned on one another. Like the two trillium, we held each other up as the anxiety and fear rained upon us, weighing us down with uncertainty.

And now I stared at the two trillium before me that had endured their own storm and still held one another in a wet, leafy embrace. Everything had turned out okay. I was fine, the baby was fine, and my husband and I were just fine, although coming out of this we are perhaps holding each day a bit closer, a bit more carefully. We now stood before comforting proof that trillium were blooming once again this spring, as they do every year. The world wasn't completely upside-down, then.

Continuing for another quarter-mile down the trail, we spotted a handful more trillium before my increasingly sore hips and back determined that it was time to turn back. Many of the trillium hadn't bloomed just yet, and were still holding their buds tightly closed, like someone squinting against the rain. A few lacked even buds, and were just small stalks with three glossy green leaves.



Comparing this year's trillium sightings with those of years past, it appears that our colder-than-normal winter may have convinced these delicate flowers to slumber in the ground a bit longer and wait for warmer days before sprouting. However, those that have emerged early and braved the rain were met with grateful appreciation from this nature nerd desperately seeking spring.

Check out previous trillium hunts here:

Wanderings: Seeking Spring (2016)

Wanderings: Seeking Spring (2015)

Wanderings: Seeking Spring (2014)

 

 

 


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Nature Nerd Wednesdays

Welcome to Nature Nerd Wednesdays, your mid-week nature break to reconnect with the calming, refreshing, and inspiring effects of nature. Take a deep breath and enjoy...

Indian plum - Redmond Watershed Preserve. Lainey Piland photo

Spring is here! On Monday, we welcomed the verdant season of rebirth, reawakening, and renewal. The air is warmer and sweeter, birds are singing the dawn chorus, and a slow blush of green is beginning to overtake the tired browns of winter.

Have you ever wondered why we call this season spring? This Mental Floss article explains:
Starting in the 14th century, that time of year was called “springing time”—a reference to plants “springing” from the ground. In the 15th century this got shortened to “spring-time,” and then further shortened in the 16th century to just “spring.”
A few weeks ago, after a long hiatus from any forays into the forest, I went for a short walk through the Watershed Preserve in Redmond to scope things out. Well before the first day of the spring season, I found that things in the forest were already springing! Namely, the indian plum and red huckleberry. These plants, along with skunk cabbage and salmonberry, are always among the first to show new green leaves, buds, and blossoms.

Red huckleberry.

Indian plum

Before too long, we will have trillium springing forth! Stay tuned for the annual trillium hunt coming in the next few weeks!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Going Green: Lights out for climate during Earth Hour 2017


Ready... set... lights out! Well, not just yet. Make plans to turn off your lights for Earth Hour on March 25th at 8:30pm local time to demonstrate your solidarity in the fight against climate change. With more than 170 countries and millions of individuals participating, Earth Hour is truly a global event during which we can come together and commit to fighting this problem affecting us all.

The need for action and solidarity in the fight against climate change has never been greater. In 2016, a year that was globally the hottest on record (surpassing the longstanding record set way back in 2015), atmospheric carbon dioxide levels hit 405 parts per million (ppm). No human being in the history of our species has lived on this planet with carbon dioxide levels that high, until now. It seems like just yesterday we passed the 400ppm milestone, and now we find ourselves on a rapidly warming planet, staring down the likelihood of reaching 410ppm this year or next - a number well above the "safe" upper limit of 350ppm that would allow us to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

It is well-established that CO2 in the atmosphere traps heat and warms the planet. It is also well-established that human activity is causing CO2 levels to increase. We know what the problem is, we know what's causing it... now where are our solutions?

Take a look in the mirror. Look out your window at your neighborhood, at your city. Look to your state capitol. These are the people, are the places, from which climate action and solutions will arise. These are the places in which you need to become involved. As we face a new administration in Washington DC that is distressingly unwilling to acknowledge the reality of climate change - which is in fact, actively rolling back any progress our nation has made on the issue - actions at the individual, community, and state level are ever more important, and will likely lead the fight on climate change going forward.

So, coming back to Earth Hour... how will shutting off our lights for an hour help fight climate change? When it comes to Earth Hour, it's not the act of turning your lights off for an hour that really matters - it's the commitment behind it. It's acknowledging that climate change is an issue, that it affects every corner of our planet, and that you are dedicated to being part of the solution - not just for an hour, but for as long as it takes to tackle the problem. Which in all likelihood, will be the rest of our lives.

Now the next question is, what do I do during Earth Hour? The lights are out, the candles are lit... now what? Do whatever it is that will build community, inspire solutions, and encourage you to make efforts in your own life. Write something. Read something. Meditate. Get friends together. Call or write your representatives. Participate in an Earth Hour event near you. Make plans to host an Earth Hour event next year (in years past, events in the Seattle area have included a prayer vigil at St. James Cathedral, or for something completely different, a glow-in-the-dark Bingo/root beer/recycling event hosted by the City of Bothell). Write your City Council and encourage your city's participation in Earth Hour next year.

The state of our climate is dire, but there is hope to be found in the actions we can all take within our sphere of influence - a sphere which is much larger than you may realize.

My Earth Hour two years ago: reading Orion Magazine by candlelight.


For more information on reducing your carbon footprint, check out the Going Green page here on the blog.

Related posts:
Environmental Issues: Washington State Climate Change Update
400: A sobering milestone
In the News: National Climate Assessment 2014 
In the News: Maps Show a Sweltering Future for the U.S.