Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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...

Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. 
~ Henry David Thoreau

I've noticed that while hiking lately, my focus has shifted from the large trees dominating the scenery and spanning the sky overhead instead to the small, delicate plants growing alongside the trail and covering the forest floor. I used to ignore most of the other vegetation while allowing those mighty trees to command my attention, but ever since my early-spring trillium hunt that required intense scrutiny of the forest floor, I've found that there are many beautiful and interesting sights right at my feet.

This past Memorial Day weekend, I was lucky enough to hit the trails twice: Saturday at Saint Edward State Park and Monday at the Redmond Watershed Preserve. These are my go-to places when I'm in need of some nature experiences! Here are some of the tiny, beautiful things I found blooming, leafing, and greening on those damp forest floors...

I love the row of leafy starbursts in the center of this photo from Saint Edward State Park - Lainey Piland photo
A Herb Robert Geranium leans against a mossy bigleaf maple at Saint Edward State Park - Lainey Piland photo
Broad-Leaved Starflower at the Redmond Watershed Preserve - Lainey Piland photo
I'm pretty sure this is Miner's Lettuce. Redmond Watershed Preserve - Lainey Piland photo

The Washington Trails Association has a great article to help identify some of the most common plants found in Pacific Northwest forests. Check it out here, and be ready to look for these tiny, beautiful plants the next time you're out in nature!

There are plenty more photos to share, and I'm working on the follow-up to my Conifer Confusion article... stay tuned for that!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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...
In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.
~ Aristotle
Lainey Piland photo

It's true that even in scenes which appear unremarkable at first glance, we can find things of interest, beauty, and intrigue, if we look long enough. I took the photo above during my trillium hunt at the Redmond Watershed Preserve back in March. For some reason, this scene - typical of any lowland Pacific Northwest forest - caught my eye and drew me in. 

There was something about the way the pale sunlight filtered through the canopy overhead and illuminated the cedar branches covered in vibrant green moss; something about the way those branches curl and swoop and frame the swampy, skunk-cabbage filled forest floor below. Moss, mud, skunk cabbage, swamp... none of those things sound appealing or beautiful, but in that particular place, at that particular moment, they reflected a luminous tranquility surpassing the mundane and unremarkable - creating a scene one might call... marvelous.

Marvelous scenes abound in nature. Take time to look around and soak in the sights next time you're hiking, walking, biking, gardening, or spending time in the outdoors.

Monday, May 18, 2015

In the News: Front lines of climate fight move to Seattle as city declares "Shell No!"

Space Needle at night. Lainey Piland photo

When Shell's Polar Pioneer oil drilling rig chugged into Puget Sound amidst much controversy last Thursday afternoon, it brought the ever-shifting front lines of the climate fight right here to Seattle.  And can I just say... I am so proud of the way that our city has responded to the arrival of this behemoth: stating loud and clear that the Emerald City has no interest in being the home base for Shell's arctic drilling fleet and participating in the destruction of the climate, the environment, and the lives of indigenous peoples in the Arctic.

During its journey from Port Angeles to the port of Seattle last Thursday, the Polar Pioneer was closely followed by news helicopters and its movements monitored by thousands of people on social media. It became a spectacle, and was even a trending topic on Twitter. Upon reaching Seattle, the rig was greeted by a small fleet of "kayaktivists" (okay, does it get much more Seattle than that?! Please tell me we coined that word...) bearing signs emblazoned with the words "Shell No," "Climate Justice Now," and the ominous "Chief Seattle is Watching".

On Saturday, the Shell No Flotilla consisting of hundreds of kayaks and canoes and one brave swimmer hit the waters for the "Paddle in Seattle" in protest. A harbor seal even hitched a ride and joined in on the fun. The protestors were dwarfed in comparison as they swarmed around the monstrous yellow legs of the 307-foot tall drilling rig; chanting, drumming, singing, and holding banners and signs aloft. I don't know if the world has ever seen a protest like this one.  The aerial photos of the Paddle In Seattle are astounding, with so many colorful kayaks clustered on the water that Puget Sound appeared to have had a handful of confetti blown over it. Check out a photo gallery here.

On Monday, hundreds of protestors hit the streets and marched to Terminal 5 at the port of Seattle, where the Polar Pioneer is now moored, and successfully slowed down - if not stopping altogether - Shell's operations for most of the workday by blocking workers from accessing the terminal. There was chanting, singing, dancing, sign-waving and even pizza eating. According to a few Tweets I saw, police were "present but relaxed," and there were no arrests.

I really have to hand it to the organizers of these protests.  The events were carefully planned weeks in advance and thoughtfully, peacefully, and respectfully carried out.  There were no arrests that I'm aware of, no violence, no riots, and no destruction (although it was - ahem - gently suggested that perhaps the drilling rig should be scuttled and repurposed into an underwater reef...).  This is how you gain respect and attention for your cause! Great job, "Shell No" protestors, organizers, and kayaktivists!

Here I am kayaking a few years ago....  Not part of Saturday's flotilla, but I was there in spirit!

So, what's the big deal with this oil drilling rig? Why is everyone protesting the presence of the Polar Pioneer in Seattle? There are a few main reasons:

1. Risk of oil spills during drilling operations. We remember the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Alaska. We remember the Deepwater Horizion oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Neither of these ecosystems have recovered - or likely ever will recover - from the toxic effects of all that spilled oil. There is great concern that the Polar Pioneer's offshore drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northern coast will lead to a devastating oil spill in the ecologically fragile Arctic. Due to its remote location, any spill in this area will be difficult - if not impossible- to clean up. Adding to this concern is the fact that the Polar Pioneer is operated by Transocean: the very same offshore drilling company that owns the Deepwater Horizon rig responsible for the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

2. Climate change. The scientific community at large has agreed that we must limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. In order to have even the remotest chance, the slightest whisper of hope to accomplish this, all fossil fuels that are currently underground need to stay there, and this includes any oil that would be drilled from the Arctic by the Polar Pioneer. We cannot afford to drill or mine these fossil fuels and burn them. Doing so would push us far beyond the 2 degrees of warming and into truly frightening territory where we face a planet so warm as to be unlivable for most species.  Including humans.

3. Justice for indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples of Alaska and the Arctic are already suffering the effects of climate change. Allowing the Polar Pioneer to drill for oil right in their backyard is a slap in the face to these communities already facing warmer temperatures, melting permafrost, rising sea levels, and changes in the abundance and availability of food. Not to mention that any oil spill that poisons the ocean and harms marine life would further jeopardize the ability of these peoples to continue a way of life they've known for thousands of years. The Huffington Post published an excellent but heartbreaking case study of an Alaskan town devastated by climate change: read it here.

Bill McKibben lays out these concerns amidst his scathing critique of the President's recent decision to green-light oil drilling in the Arctic - read it here.

Ultimately, the protests in Seattle are making a statement that the Emerald City does not want to be a host to the fossil fuel industry. These dirty, dangerous fuels are a thing of the past, and it is time to move forward toward a better, brighter future fueled by clean energy and leading to a healthier planet and livable climate - the joyful, hopeful spirit of which permeated these recent rallies and protests.

The people didn't get any choice in the matter when the decision was made to allow Shell to park its Arctic drilling operations in Seattle.  But we're making our voices heard now!

Lainey Piland photo

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

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...

First light - Lainey Piland photo

This time of year, I like to leave the window open - just a little bit - while I sleep at night, so I can listen to the dawn chorus of birdsong when I wake up in the morning. It's so pleasant and invigorating to awaken to those joyful voices singing to greet the morning... and even helps to stifle some of the grumpiness that accompanies the alarm clock going off!

Few things on this planet are as soothing and relaxing as the sounds of nature: rushing rivers, whooshing winds, crashing waves and trilling birdsong. Visual artist Johnnie Lawson perfectly captures these tranquil elemental sounds in his nature films, which he creates for the purpose of relaxation, meditation, and healing. The film below - like many of Lawson's films - is eight hours long. Eight glorious hours of singing birds and a rushing mountain stream and gently waving tree branches and enough mossy greenery to remind any Pacific Northwesterner of home, although this was actually filmed in County Leitrim, Ireland.

Punch play on the film below, and listen to it while you work, meditate, or sleep, and allow the nature sounds to infuse some relaxation and tranquility into your day.

I love that Johnnie Lawson's films utilize the soundtrack of nature itself, rather than overlaying pretty scenery with classical music, as so many nature films tend to do. Check out more of Lawson's fantastic work on his YouTube site.

Do we have any bird nerds that can identify the birds singing so beautifully in this film? Let us know in the comments!

Related Posts: 
Musings: Noise Pollution and the Search for Natural Soundscapes

Nature Nerd Wednesdays - February 18th, 2015: Guided Hike Through Hoh Rainforest Soundscape 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

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...

Sweet sense of accomplishment: the view from atop Cedar Butte. Lainey Piland photo
"But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended."
~ Nelson Mandela

This lovely quote came to me by way of the Sierra Club's "Daily Ray of Hope" e-mails. On the surface, this is a quote that any nature lover or outdoors person can relate to, but it also speaks on a deeper level to our lives in general.

The photo above was taken on my recent hike to Cedar Butte, and it was a triumphant moment for me. I'm a terrible uphill hiker. Any trek with significant elevation gain (more than a few hundred feet) is usually struck from my list of hiking possibilities immediately. However, Cedar Butte seemed manageable, so I tried it, and was rewarded with an incredible view for my efforts.  Although I hate the burning legs, burning lungs, and red-faced sweatiness that often accompany these sorts of hikes, it is undeniably sweet to revel in a feeling of accomplishment as you stand on the summit and gaze down on the world way down below. The place where you started looks so small and far away.

But my long walk is not yet ended.  There are more spectacular sights to see, and many of them require uphill treks. I won't linger in the sense of accomplishment of hiking Cedar Butte, but will instead set my sights on the next destination.

In a less literal sense, Mandela's words above encourage us to push forward in every aspect of our lives, stating that in fact, we have the responsibility to do so, rather than stagnating in the afterglow of a great accomplishment. Climbed a mountain? Great, now go climb another one. Fulfilled a long-held desire to volunteer for a cause or nonprofit organization? Great, now go volunteer more - there is plenty of work to be done. Wrote a book? Great, now go write another one - there is more to be said. Grew some flowers? Great, now go plant some more - there are many places in the world that need brightening. Graduated from college? Great, now continue growing and learning every day in the great classroom of life. And on and on....

So let's take a cue from Mandela and from the hills that we climb... let's not long rest satisfied in the feeling of accomplishment after meeting a goal or doing something good. There is too much to see and do in our short lives on this great planet... enjoy for a moment and then move on to that next "great hill".

Resting atop Cedar Butte, reveling in the moment and gazing at the mountains in the distance. Lainey Piland photo