Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lights Out! Celebrate Earth Hour on Saturday March 29th

Organized by the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Hour is a worldwide movement calling attention to environmental issues.  Participating is easy: simply turn off your lights from 8:30-9:30pm this Saturday, March 29th!  If you want to take it a step further, you can donate to a number of  Earth Hour crowdfunding projects that address a variety of environmental and conservation issues.  Check out the video below to learn more about this movement:

The Earth Hour campaign is a striking example of the way that people respond enthusiastically to a call to action.  Voluntarily turning off your lights for an hour is a simple request, to be sure, but I think it shows the overwhelming potential for people to mobilize worldwide to take action on environmental issues. Not only are millions of individuals participating, but nearly 7000 cities in 150+ countries worldwide also turn off their lights for Earth Hour. Even the Space Needle will be going dark! The fact that one organization can rally this many countries, cities, and individuals to participate in a movement addressing environmental issues should be a wake-up call to anyone doubting the willingness of our global society to take action. Just something to think about...

So, what is one to do for an entire hour with no lights?  Well, let's face it... if you're really going to get into the spirit of the movement, you'll be turning off your television, computers, and other electronics as well.  Here are some ideas of how to spend an hour sans electricity:

Light up your organic, free-trade, soy candles or click on those LED flashlights for some indoor activities:
  • Read a book, magazine or newspaper
  • Put together a puzzle
  • Sit down with friends, family members, and/or your significant other, and have a conversation.  An actual conversation. About anything.
  • Play a board or card game
  • Write down a list of ways to make your life "greener" to help the environment
  • Tell ghost stories
  • Meditate
  • Write a letter to a friend or family member.  You know, the kind you put in the mail with a stamp...
  • Draw or paint a picture
  • Play hide-and-seek
  • Write a poem 
  • Do yoga
  • Make shadow puppets
You don't have to confine your Earth Hour activities to the indoors. There are plenty of fun things to do outside, weather permitting!
  • Take some blankets and a thermos of hot chocolate outside and look at the stars.  Count how many satellites you see
  • Look at the moon through binoculars or a telescope
  • Round up some friends for a game of flashlight tag!
  • Search for Sasquatch... he's got to be out there somewhere, right?
  • Pull up a chair, close your eyes, and listen to the sounds of the world at night
  • Light up the backyard fire pit and roast some marshmallows
And of course, you can always spend this year's Earth Hour planning out a community event, fundraiser, or party for next year's Earth Hour!

The possibilities really are endless!  Just keep in mind that the Earth Hour movement is in large part about community, so use it as an opportunity to reach out to and spend quality time with friends, family and loved ones. If you can find a way to work in some aspect of conservation, going green, and environmental activities... so much the better!

What are your plans for Earth Hour? Share in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Wanderings: Seeking Spring

“How do you mark the arrival of spring?  Is it a date on the calendar, or something else?”

Last Thursday, on the first day of spring, this question posted on the Yellowstone National Park Twitter account got me thinking.  According to the calendar, spring has arrived—but is that the only indication?  On March 20th, did the world suddenly shift from the harsh cold of winter to the soft green of spring?  

The signs of spring are subtle, yet unmistakable-- often only noticed subconsciously, but overwhelming in effect. Pale winter sunlight regains its depth and illuminates the landscape with warm tones; the rain loses its chill; the earth breathes again, exhaling the scent of the green newness of spring; songbirds return and warble their greetings to the morning; the days are longer, and most noticeably, flowers begin to bloom again.  The annual return of spring is marked for me by the re-emergence of one forest-dwelling flower in particular… the trillium.

Beautiful specimens of trillium growing in the woods near my childhood home. Lainey Piland photo
When I was younger, my grandpa would walk through the woods with me in the early spring, and we would scour the damp forest floor and shaded glens to count as many of the oft-elusive trillium as possible. Our record count one year was eighty-six.  Grandpa told me that you should never pick a trillium, because they will not grow back for seven years; and ever since then, in my annual trillium quests now completed alone after my grandpa’s passing, I have yet to pluck one of these beautiful flowers from their forest dwelling.

I felt something akin to jealousy this year when I saw a local conservation group post a photo on Facebook of “my” flower, with a caption stating that trilliums are now blooming in such-and-such park. A cold feeling of dread clenched my gut. They’re blooming? Have I missed it?  The emergence of trilliums only happens once a year and lasts for a few short weeks, at most.  At this point, I informed my husband that we should go for a walk that upcoming Saturday, not wanting to miss the sight of my favorite flowers heralding the arrival of spring.

That Saturday afternoon, we set out on a short walk through the Redmond Watershed Preserve (my still-healing ankle injury necessitating the short duration). Hoping that the Trillium Trail in the Preserve would live up to its name, I immediately began scouring the forest floor for the characteristic trio of white petals.  However, a little ways in, amid the dim light filtered by the towering crowns of Doug Fir overhead, I began to feel a little uneasy.  Looking around the forest, it appeared as though spring had not arrived here yet.  Last autumn’s maple and alder leaves still covered much of the forest floor in a suffocating paper mache-like layer of soggy, decaying humus.  The winter-bare branches of shrubs were covered in tiny green buds that hadn’t yet unfurled their new green leaves. And most alarming of all: there were no trilliums in sight.  If you had told me that it was November, by the appearance of the forest, I might have believed you.

Although the prospects were not looking promising, I still continued to keep an eye out for the trilliums as we continued our walk.  I pointed out the different cedar, Doug fir and hemlock trees and taught my husband how to tell them apart.  We watched a rotund chipmunk perched on a branch chirping and chortling at us as we walked by.  We greeted fellow walkers passing us on the trail. We dodged a horse and rider galloping madly along the powerline section on the trail.  We found skunk cabbages growing in a creek trickling through a gully.  But still no trilliums.  It must be too early.  Perhaps it is not spring yet after all.

Blooming skunk cabbage.  Pretty, but not what I was looking for... Lainey Piland photo
But then. On the homestretch of our walk, just when it looked as though I would be heading home sans trillium sighting, I saw them.  Growing unexpectedly from a downed, decaying tree spanning a shallow gully were two trilliums. Their stalks were tall and their petals small and almost crumpled-looking—they were imperfect in appearance, but were perfectly what I was looking for.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I threw my arms into the air and jumped up and down in celebration of this discovery, which I had completely given up hope of finding. Spring had arrived.  I found my trilliums.
Two trilliums growing on a nurse log - hard to see if you're not looking for them! Lainey Piland photo
Carefully edging my way down the loose leaf litter of the embankment, I got as close as I could to the trilliums.  I snapped a few photos, thought of my grandpa, and silently thanked the Lord for this ray of hope in the midst of a forest that otherwise still appeared to be in the grips of winter.  My husband offered his hand and pulled me back up onto the trail, and we continued on our way.  We didn’t spy any more trilliums on the short walk back to the parking lot, but I was satisfied.  I hadn’t found the motherlode of trilliums that I had hoped for, but I did find two.  Two faithful flowers that will return every year to mark the beginning of spring… two flowers promising that milder weather and more lovely scenery was on its way, quietly breaking through the remnants of winter one bit at a time.

Lainey Piland photo

Monday, March 17, 2014

World Water Day 2014 - Where does your water come from?

World Water Day is coming up this Saturday, March 22nd.  The theme for World Water Day this year is "Water and Energy".  The website notes that globally, 8% of our energy is used for "pumping, treating and transporting water to various consumers".  That is a lot of energy required just to move water around!  So, where does your water come from... someplace close by, or from a far-flung area that requires a good deal of energy to transport to your home?

Lainey Piland photo

Those of us here in western Washington are very lucky. Unlike so many of our fellow Americans, we are fortunate to know exactly where our water comes from.  In fact, on most days, you can see it falling right from the sky.  As I sit in my living room writing this with an injured foot propped up on pillows and swaddled in ice packs (free advice: don't let a 1,000lb horse jump on your ankle), I can see a steady rain falling outside my window. There is a certain comfort in knowing that this same rain dripping from branches and pooling on the sidewalk outside my home is also falling as snow in the Cascades, shoring up our summertime water supply and refilling the mountain reservoirs that provide water all year long.

So many people in our country are disconnected from the source of their water, especially those living in dry, desert environments like the southwest.  In many cases, their water originated as rain that fell on forests, hills, and mountains hundreds of miles away, which then drained into rivers where it was collected behind a dam and piped hundreds more miles to the faucets in people's homes. 

It is crucial that we all understand where our water comes from -- not only so we become more connected to and aware of our environment, but also to realize what a valuable and delicate resource our water is.  Water is not an endless resource - it is finite, and with freshwater supplies declining each year, it is becoming more and more important for everyone to be aware of their water usage and take steps to conserve as much as possible (for water-saving tips, check out my previous blog post here).  Our water supplies are already stretched thin between the competing needs of people, industries, energy, agriculture, livestock... oh, and let's not forget wildlife and the environment itself.

Where does your water come from?  If you are in the greater Seattle area as I am, then your drinking water likely comes from either the Tolt River Watershed or the Cedar River Watershed.  You can even take a short trip up I-90 to visit the source of your water and learn more about it at the Cedar River Watershed Education Center.  Not sure where your water comes from?  Check with your city or water utility to find out!

You can even see the pipes carrying your drinking water (on the left side of this photo) as you run, walk, bike, or horseback ride along the Tolt Pipeline Trail Note: NOT the horse that stomped on my ankle... Lainey Piland photo

I've heard wonderful things about the Cedar River Watershed Education Center and the programs and tours they offer, as well as the hiking trails in the area.  Perhaps I'll be able to make it out there and experience it firsthand once my foot heals up and I can walk somewhat normally again!  In the meantime, I'll continue watching the rain fall from the heavy gray skies outside my window and be thankful for the water it supplies.  Not everyone in the world is so lucky.

Feeling especially thankful for your readily-available clean water? In honor of World Water Day, consider making a donation to organizations such as to help those in developing countries without access to clean drinking water.  We're all in this together!