Wednesday, November 15, 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...

Round from an old-growth tree, Cedar River Watershed Education Center. What a symphony this tree would produce! Lainey Piland photo

Those who've spent time in the forest are familiar with its music: birdsong and scolding squirrels, dripping dew, and the susurrus of wind blowing through tree limbs - hemlock, cedar, and bigleaf maple all contributing their distinctive voices to the harmony.

One breezy afternoon as I was traipsing to a far field to retrieve my horse, I was halted in my tracks by an unexpected sound: the ocean. Looking around in bewilderment at my decidedly landlocked surroundings, my gaze settled an imposing old-growth sitka spruce, a lone tree at the edge of the vast horse pasture. As the wind hit those sharp blue needles, it produced a sound akin to rustling dune grass and frothy tides hissing as they spread thin over wet sand. There was an ocean inside of that tree.

As it turns out, there is another way to listen to the music of trees. Taking rounds of various tree species and translating their rings into music, artist Bartholomäus Traubeck offers a new perspective on what trees might sound like. Take a listen to the tracks below as these trees take a spin on a record player:

That first track brings my spruce tree to life in an entirely different way, yet somehow just as soothing and mesmerising as the sound of waves on the sand or wind seething through prickly-needled branches.

Wednesday, November 8, 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...

Hallett Peak reflected in Dream Lake. NPS Photo

I just love it when More Than Just Parks (MTJP) releases a new film, because that means I've got an easy time finding something awesome to share for Nature Nerd Wednesday. Last week, MTJP launched their newest film, this time showcasing Rocky Mountain National Park.

Enjoy a tour of alpine lakes, grassy meadows, clear streams, rolling forested hills, and yes, rocky mountains, in the film below. The amazing clarity of the picture makes you feel like you're there in person, rather than gaping at the scenery through a computer screen... one can almost feel the bracing fresh air and smell the sweet autumn sunshine.

Note: A proposal was recently introduced to increase National Park entry fees during peak season. The proposal has had mixed responses, with proponents arguing that the fees will provide much-needed funding to address a backlog of maintenance projects within the parks; while those against the proposal argue that the higher entrance fees will exclude those visitors who may not be able to afford the increased entry fees, and that the federal government should increase park funding rather than leaning on park visitors to foot the bill. Learn more about the proposal here, and submit your public comments here by November 23rd.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Environmental Issues: Plastic Pollution

Cannon Beach, September 2011

Salty sea breezes, crashing waves and footprints in wet sand. A visit to the beach brings back nostalgic memories of youth, offers opportunities for discovery, and leaves one with a refreshed perspective as we stand before the frothing tide and gaze outward at the vast ocean. When we look at the ocean, we see an immense body of heaving water stretching to a horizon we'll never reach. What we do not see is the alarming volume of plastic churning within those waves.

While holding the title as the singular material responsible for the convenience and ease of our daily lives, plastic is also causing an ecological disaster. I recently attended a workshop put on by the King Conservation District, Horses for Clean Water, and Plastic Ain't Our Bag on the subject of reducing our use of plastics. Although this is an issue with which I've long been familiar, even I was surprised at the information that was presented on the issue as I sat in horrified awe in the classroom at Brightwater Environmental Education Center late one Friday evening.

Plastic by the Numbers

  • 300 million tons of plastic is produced annually
  • More than 8 million tons of plastic enters the oceans annually
  • Of the plastic entering the oceans, 80% comes from watersheds, meaning it is discarded on land and washed into the ocean through rivers, creeks, etc. 
  • Less than 10% of plastic is recycled. It is more cost-effective to produce new plastic than to recycle existing plastic
  • 100% of the plastic ever made is still in existence
  • 50% of the plastic in existence was produced just within the last 13 years [article]

The Problem with Plastic

Plastic seems an innocuous enough material, and we can recycle it, right? So where's the issue?

The biggest problem with plastic is that it never goes away. As noted above, every piece of plastic ever made since the material was introduced during WWII is still in existence today. Plastic does not biodegrade - if it breaks down at all, it simply breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces over time. These plastics typically end up in the marine environment, where they cause big problems. Fish, plankton, and sea birds consume the plastic, which either causes them to be a toxic meal for whichever predator eats them, or kills them outright as their bellies fill with non-digestible plastic, as happens to so many Laysan albatross chicks. It has been estimated that salmon ingest 30 pieces of plastic per day, and whales can ingest 300,000 pieces per day. Alarming for us humans is the finding that the average seafood-eating person consumes 11,000 pieces of plastic per year in the form of micro-plastics that we cannot see.

Another issue with plastic is its toxicity. Made of petroleum and other harmful chemicals, plastic itself is toxic enough. But set bits of plastic loose in the ocean, and they become sponges for other hazardous materials like persistent organic pollutants (POPs) present in the water, causing plastics in the ocean to be one million times more toxic than the seawater around them. One MILLION times more toxic. Makes one consider that perhaps when a piece of plastic washes ashore, it should be roped off for public safety and removed by someone in a hazmat suit.

Consider plastic's persistence and its toxicity, and you've got a recipe for another issue. Plastics and their toxic loads bioaccumulate. This means that with each step up the food chain you go, the greater the concentration of plastic toxins. This is a problem for those animals at the top of the food chain (like humans and orca whales) who can experience adverse health effects such as hormone disruption from toxins accumulating in their tissues.

Recycling is Not the Answer

Especially not now. Just weeks ago, China imposed a ban on importing plastics and mixed paper from the United States, which has left American recycling companies without a market for these materials. You might be thinking hold on a minute - I thought the recycling companies like Waste Management and Republic Services actually recycled the things I put in my curbside bin? I thought so too, but as it turns out, those companies typically only collect and sort our recyclables, which are then compressed into bales and sold to other entities who do the actual recycling. Chinese recycling companies have found plastics coming from the US are too contaminated to be feasibly recycled, which means that because we Americans aren't rinsing our laundry detergent jugs and scraping out peanut butter jars well enough, we may now be without an option to recycle our plastic items.

I was shocked to learn of this development when I attended the workshop. Why is no one talking about this, especially the companies who provide our recycling service?! I have heard NOTHING from Waste Management about this problem, although I now have an inquiry in to them to see how they're addressing the issue. We shall see if they respond. In the meantime, the plastic items in our recycling bins may soon be destined for the landfill rather than new life as a recycled item.

[Update 11/10/2017: Waste Management replied to me with this information: The ban limits contaminated recycling from entering the country, but WM is continuing to focus on quality improvement to ensure that the recyclables are clean, high-quality products. Additionally, WM has well-developed relationships with a variety of end-market recycling companies. For example, many recyclables will be shifting to an end market in Spokane, WA by the end of the year. Good news for my recyclables, anyway...]

We All Contribute to the Plastic Problem

You don't have to litter to contribute to the issue of plastic pollution. Even those who dutifully recycle their plastic and who would never consider tossing that empty pop bottle or used plastic fork out the car window are still participating in the problem. If you purchase items packaged in plastic, if you use cleaning products or personal care products containing plastic microbeads, if you wear synthetic clothing, if you use any plastic in your life at all - and that's all of us - then you're complicit. We pollute waterways with plastic simply by showering, washing laundry, and cleaning the house, so it's important that we recognize our part in creating the problem, and our responsibility to address it, by making changes in our own lives and as consumers demanding that manufacturers do the same.

Just think about this for a minute... when you purchase a six-pack of soda or beer, what do you do with the plastic rings that hold them together? We all do what we were told, which is to cut the rings so that no animal, fish, or bird can become entangled in it. Then we toss it in the garbage. We are acknowledging, by the very action of cutting the rings apart, that this piece of plastic will likely end up in the environment after leaving our possession, whether in the ocean or on land, and we do not want to be responsible for entangling and killing a wild creature.

Okay, so we have a material that is persistent, toxic, produced in huge volumes, and soon may not be recyclable. This is not sustainable.

It's time to consider a new approach to our lives that involves less plastic. Much less. No plastic, if possible. It will be better for our own health, better for the oceans, better for wildlife and the environment as a whole. Plastic pollution is an enormous issue. I presented an overview of the problem here, and in an upcoming Going Green post I'll share some solutions, after I do some investigating and experimentation with my own routine to find plastic-free options that work. In the meantime, here are some simple steps you can take right away to reduce your use of plastics:
  • Reusable grocery bags. Keep them in your car, and you'll always have them at the ready.
  • Reusable (non-plastic!) water bottles and hot beverage travel mugs.
  • Say no to plastic straws and silverware: stash a reusable metal or glass straw and a spork in your bag for dining out.
  • Ban microbeads. Forego the soaps, toothpaste and cleaning products with microbeads and opt for more environmentally-friendly options with natural ingredients. Healthier for you, too!
  • Avoid purchasing products packaged in plastic. For instance, give regular old hand towels a try in place of those Costco paper towels, which are individually wrapped in plastic, then wrapped in more plastic to hold them all together. Being able to recognize excessive plastic packaging for what it is - rather than assuming it's normal - is an important first step in making these changes!
Stay tuned for more.

For more information:

Wednesday, November 1, 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...

The vestiges of last week's mild flood reflect fall colors on this farmstead in the Sno Valley. October 2017. Lainey Piland photo

"From the north and south, the valley is even simpler to find.  You start at Mount Baker and walk south.  A friend starts at Mount Rainier and walks north.  The place where you meet, in the shadow of a leaning gambrel barn or a rustling cottonwood or a silent hawk wheeling overhead, is the Snoqualmie Valley."
~Lainey Piland, contribution to Orion Magazine's 'The Place Where You Live' web page

I'm not sure whether this is an extraordinary year for autumn foliage in western Washington, or whether the sunshine and brilliant weather we've had recently has simply highlighted the colors particularly well this fall. Regardless, the trees are surrounding us with all the splendor of the season, lending warmth to even the thickest foggy morning, and I'm fortunate to revel in the scenery during my long commute to work through rural Snohomish and King Counties.

New England gets all the glory for autumn color, but I think it's difficult to find a more beautiful place than western Washington this time of year. We may be known for the evergreen trees, but the deciduous ones are holding their own! The bigleaf maples, alder, and cottonwoods are especially stunning in the Snoqualmie Valley right now:

Snoqualmie Valley, late afternoon. October 2017

Now that November has arrived, the colors won't last long... but what a show they've put on this autumn!

Wednesday, October 25, 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...

Chester Morse Lake, Cedar River Watershed. Lainey Piland Photo

Whether birdsong wafting through the window and interrupting a busy workday, colorful autumn leaves drawing our gaze from the sluggish line of traffic on our commute home, or the smell of rain filling our lungs as we hurry across the parking lot to an appointment, the beauty of nature is always ready to intercept our attention from the busyness of daily life and create some breathing space.

Those who utilize public transit in King County can also find this breathing space during their commute, thanks to the Poetry on Buses program bringing the words of local poets to this shared space. This year's theme is "Your Body of Water," described as a poetic exploration of our connections to water and how it is protected and cared for by King County and Seattle Public Utilities.

A new poem is shared every day, and you can find all of the poems to date on the Poetry on Buses site here. What a rich collection of perspectives and voices speaking on the force of nature that unites us all as Pacific Northwesterners: water. Whether in the form of the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, Snoqualmie River, tap water, or rain, water holds importance to each of us personally, and to the place we call home. Take some time to get lost in the wondrous words of these poems - we have some talented poets in our region! Here's one I particularly connected with:

Wednesday, October 18, 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...

Deception Pass State Park. Lainey Piland photo

"You didn't come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here."
~Alan Watts 
These words appeared on my Twitter feed recently, and as I read them a feeling of great relief and peace washed over me. I was surprised by the feelings those words evoked, and hadn't realized there was a tension, disconnection, dissociation building within myself that needed to be dissolved. We need these reminders every so often, to stop and look around and let our minds linger on the small beauties, the expansiveness of the big picture, or the everyday sights that aren't as mundane as we've been deceived into believing.

You are not a stranger here.

Such comfort in those words! We're as much a part of this earth as the birds we hear singing in the trees as we hike through the forest; as the orcas who we delight to see swimming in Puget Sound; as the trees whose colorful leaves litter the streets, sidewalks, and trails this time of year. The fact that we're not strangers here implies that, although we so easily distance and separate ourselves from "nature," we humans yet retain an innate knowledge of, and familiarity with, this earth. We all belong here.

While pondering these soothing thoughts, take in the peaceful sights and sounds of the Cracroft Point Orca Lookout webcam, located in the islands off the coast of British Columbia.

Wednesday, October 11, 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...

Bigleaf maple, Lord Hill Regional Park, November 2016

An old page from the October 5th, 1912 edition of the Duvall Citizen newspaper was shared on Facebook recently, and the words from a column entitled "Autumn" struck me. I recognized immediately a kindred spirit in C.D. Woodman, the author of the article and a resident (I presume) of the Snoqualmie Valley who was as touched by that place as am I. Here are some of his thoughts on the season:
"The falling of the leaves tells us that we are in what the poet calls the 'melancholy days…the saddest of the year.' But we need not take this gloomy view. Autumn is a golden period.

What if the frost has touched the tender herbage? What if the summer birds have carried to other lands the gladness of their songs? The skies are still bright, the air is pure and bracing, and the blood courses through the veins in an electric current. Mind and body are both in better condition than during the summer heats.

...and who would not rather be striding through the breezy autumn woods, with his free thoughts for companions than lying in a hammock in the tropics subjected to the enervating influences of the torrid heat?"
You can find the full text of the column here. The Duvall Historical Society has made all copies of these old newspapers available in electronic format, thanks to a grant from 4Culture

Autumn tends to be for me a season of reflection, of turning inward and taking stock of my life. As I read Woodman's words above, I wondered whether he knew they'd still be read and treasured 105 years later. And 105 years from now, will any of my words still be bouncing around in the cobwebbed corners of the world wide web?

I've found that life's deep questions are best pondered while walking, perhaps in those "breezy autumn woods" on a leaf-strewn dirt path.

Wednesday, October 4, 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...

Fall colors on the Blue Lake trail, September 2015. Lainey Piland photo

Autumn colors are just starting to flush the lowlands with hues of yellow and orange, but the high country is already displaying the full glory of the season. Golden larches, red huckleberry leaves, and meadows of pink, orange, and yellow are carpeting the alpine regions. I was lucky enough to witness the colors firsthand two years ago while hiking to Blue Lake, but stuck to the lowlands this year I'm grateful for the photographers who are bringing the autumnal beauty right to our computer screens.

I've been enjoying the photos shared lately by KR Backwoods photography. Take a look at the North Cascades album for magical fall colors set against the rugged Cascade mountain peaks.

The image above is particularly ethereal and serene, and it's hard to believe it was taken after dark, in the moonlight! One can almost feel the quiet landscape, surrounded by the fading warmth of autumn as the stars blink steadily overhead... I wouldn't mind getting lost in that scene for a few moments.

Wednesday, September 20, 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...

Autumn hues in the Cedar River Watershed, September 2016 Lainey Piland photo

Autumn is nearly here! As of tomorrow, we officially bid farewell to a long summer that has been hot, dry, and smoky - a season that bore too many "days without rain" and left us native Pacific Northwesterners parched and praying for precipitation.

Difficult as it may be to believe, it was only a few weeks ago that we were sweltering in 90-degree heat and coughing beneath smoke-filled skies. Now, the air has cleared, the rain has returned, and a distinct chill in the mornings signals the turning of seasons.

Take a look at the film below, created by Shawn Liebling and filmed in the mountains of Oregon... a cool shower to soothe and refresh the summer-weary soul!

Fall Rain from Shawn Liebling on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Wanderings: Saint Edward State Park (again)

Crow along the Lake Washington waterfront, Saint Edward State Park. Lainey Piland photo

One of the best things about hiking is that you can return time and again to the same place, and not once will you have the same experience. The landscape changes with the seasons, the weather, the time of day. What you notice - hear, see, and smell -  will vary depending on your companions, mood, the pace at which you're walking.

Saint Edward State Park has long been one of my favorite places to visit, and has been featured in many posts here on the blog. It was the place where, on a field trip with my college ecology class, I first forged a connection with nature in a way that piqued my curiosity, commanded my respect, and fostered a sense of stewardship. It was the first place my older sister and I hiked together, the beginning of our adventures which have since taken us to some pretty spectacular places. It was the place my husband and I frequently visited to escape the summer heat when we lived in a condo nearby. It was the first place I took my son for a hike when he was a month old, and the place our family returned to in early September, this time with a four-month old who is already beginning to love the outdoors.

Early on Labor Day morning, we pulled into the parking area at Saint Edward, hoping to get in a quick hike before the day reached its forecast high temperature in the mid-nineties. I'd spent the long, sweltering weekend shut inside my house with my son, with all the blinds closed and curtains drawn, and our faithful portable air conditioner attempting to cool much more square footage than it was designed for. Needless to say, I was going stir-crazy and starting to wonder if my eyes were permanently adapted to dim lighting.

Happily, the air was still a comfortable temperature and I wasn't blinded by the morning sunshine as we packed Lucas into the baby carrier my husband wore and headed for the North Beach trail. It was immediately evident that the forest here was suffering as a result of the hot, rain-bereft summer. The trail was dry and dusty, the consistency of powdered sugar. Dust covered everything: sword fern fronds were caked, and the usually-glossy salal leaves were dull beneath the layer of dirt. Salmonberry leaves withered on their branches, and bigleaf maple were already beginning to drop golden leaves in our path.

The trails were surprisingly busy for this time of the morning. Other hikers seemed to have the same idea to beat the heat as we did, and many were already passing us on their way back to the parking lot and the air-conditioned comfort of their vehicles. We proceeded down the trail at a much slower pace than usual. My husband was being cautious of his footing, not wanting to take a misstep and risk a tumble while he carried our son, and I was ever more aware of the tree roots and rocks poking up, pointed them out on the path in front of us. Lucas seemed absolutely delighted to be outside (he was probably feeling as stir-crazy as me!), and would give us a huge grin whenever we talked to him.

I haven't officially introduced him here on the blog, but here is Lucas, my little adventure buddy who has added a whole new dimension to my life!

After descending to the Lake Washington shoreline, we followed the sedge-lined trail through the cool shade, passing through a grove of indian plum, the leaves of which were beginning to turn yellow as summer wound to a close. I swatted spider webs from my face, spotting them by the glimmer they gave off as the sun rose over the ridge above us and began to light up the trail. The noise from the Kenmore Air seaplanes was especially loud and noticeable this morning, likely because all else was still calm and quiet at this early hour. Again, I was reminded of Thoreau's words in Walden:
"The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my woods summer and winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer's yard, informing me that many restless city merchants are arriving within the circle of the town, or adventurous country traders from the other side."
Despite the fact that we were hiking in the forest, seemingly immersed in nature, the sounds of civilization are ever-present. The blaring noise of each successive seaplane takeoff announced the departure of dozens of people, heading out on their own adventures while we followed our own quiet path along the lake shore.

A handful of people and leashed dogs were milling around as we reached the clearing at the main beach. Waves lapped quietly at the rocky shoreline, ducks bobbed bottoms-up in the water, and crows poked around the fallen logs. It was a peaceful and drowsy scene, one that seems common on those summer mornings anticipating the hot temperatures to come.

As is our custom, we picked up the South Canyon Trail - my favorite - to head back up to the park. We passed only two other hikers on this typically quiet trail. Again, the vegetation here looked a bit wilted and tired after the long, dry summer, although the maples in my beloved "maple cathedral" still formed a vibrant green canopy overhead. The creek running through the ravine had slowed to a syrupy trickle through its deep bed of black mud, and I was surprised to find any water there at all. One of the beautiful aspects of this trail is the way in which birdsong echoes back and forth between the hillsides, filling the canyon halls with melodies of a dozen different species. Among the voices today was that of my son... Lucas was telling his own story in his typical high-pitched squeals and delighted shrieks as we ascended the trail.

We reached the end of the uphill climb on this half-mile trail, and I was gasping, trying to move the thick, humid air in and out of my lungs as stars danced before my eyes. I was desperately out of shape, and the warm, humid air wasn't helping. As I tried to catch my breath, I looked at the canopy of cottonwood and maple leaves overhead, stirring languidly in a sluggish breeze. At least I wasn't the only one dragging today.

Emerging from the forest back onto the park grounds, I stopped to appreciate the old orchard tucked into a clearing. I haven't stopped to photograph it before, but today the old gnarled apple trees looked peaceful as they stretched their boughs over empty lawns and picnic tables. This place always occurred in my thoughts as a contemplative place to steal away and write, should I ever have the opportunity to do so.

Lucas was by now fast asleep in the carrier, his little arms and legs limp and flopping with each step my husband took. We followed the asphalt path around the back of the seminary grounds. The vast lawns which were normally filled with picnicking families were now eerily empty. The grass had gone brown and dormant during the dry summer, and the barbecue stations were covered with black plastic garbage bags to prevent anyone using them due to high fire danger.

Arriving at the car just as the morning sun was beginning to feel toasty, we loaded a now-awake and smiling Lucas into his car seat for the ride back home. He wouldn't remember his trip here today, but being able to share this special place with him created yet another new and memorable experience for me. Just wait until he's able to walk... these visits will again be something new altogether!

Wednesday, September 6, 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...

New life growing from a fallen giant. South Whidbey State Park. Lainey Piland photo

No matter what, we always have the power to choose hope over despair, engagement over apathy, kindness over indifference, love over hate.
~ Cory Booker 

Life has been so busy lately and I haven't had time to blog for several weeks. As things settle a bit, I'm going to do my best to get back on track. Writing the Nature Nerd Wednesday posts every week does me a great deal of good, as I hope reading them does for all of you! As I sit here in my dark house with blinds closed and curtains drawn against the heat and thick sulfurous smoke that's raining ash outside, I believe we could all use some hope right about now.

In Washington, Oregon, and Montana, some of the best-loved and most memorable landscapes are going up in flames. So many are trying to process the loss of these beloved places with which they've had a lifelong connection. We can try to remind ourselves that fire has been an important ecological process in the region for millennia, but that notion offers little solace when said fires are set by careless humans and worsened by conditions brought about by climate change. We can try to find hope in the fact that landscapes have rebounded, regrown, been rebuilt and flourished decades after catastrophic fires, but that doesn't ease the feeling of loss over the familiar landscape that is now gone.

Eventually, we will get to a place where it's possible to choose hope, engagement, kindness, and love -- where we can look to the future and find our part in reconciling this new landscape with the memories of what once was. In the meantime, let's support one another in the hard times, be grateful for those on the front lines fighting impossibly difficult conditions to save these landscapes, and reflect on the good memories. Let's SHARE those memories with one another and keep the beloved places alive in our stories.

Join me in getting lost in this film by Stephanie Campbell that highlights the beauty of our Evergreen State, a state that has been shaped by ice, floods, fire, and earthquakes:

What do these landscapes mean to you? Do you have a story to share? Please leave a comment or share a link below!

Wednesday, August 16, 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...

The sky is the daily bread of the eyes. 
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have you heard about the upcoming celestial event? I think it's going to occur next Monday, and it's some kind of eclipse or something...? Of course you have! We've all got eclipse fever, and even those of us not flocking to squeeze in among the crowds in the narrow strip of totality are looking forward to seeing as much of the eclipse as we're allowed from our current location (here in Seattle, we're expecting to see about 92% of the sun eclipsed). Whether eclipses, meteor showers, northern lights, or supermoons, any phenomena gracing the skies above has the mysterious power to draw us outdoors in numbers, captivating our imagination and commanding our attention.

While we're in the mindset of gazing heavenward, let's take a look at a truly marvelous sight filmed recently by astronaut Jack Fischer on the International Space Station: the green lights of the aurora flickering and undulating through Earth's atmosphere. Surreal and eerie when viewed from Earth, the aurora is even more so when seen from above!

Has that gotten your "ooohs" and "aaaahhhs" tuned up for next Monday? I'll be at work, as I assume most of us will be, as the moon passes in front of the sun and plunges the world into midday darkness, but I think this once-in-a-lifetime event deserves an extended morning break! Be sure to get outdoors to watch the event unfold, from whichever vantage point you've been given, but do so safely! Protect your eyes and check out these safe viewing tips from NASA.

Wednesday, August 2, 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...

Raindrops on Barclay Lake, May 2016. Lainey Piland photo

We've certainly been feeling the heat here in the Puget Sound region, with temperatures this week in the mid nineties - or hundreds, if we're unlucky - and a dry streak that's on pace to break the all-time record for continuous days without rain.

Am I the only born-and-raised Washingtonian who's been having rain hallucinations? Squinting out at the Olympic mountains and swearing I see clouds out there, and is that a hazy curtain of rain I see? Nope, just smog. Or, awakening in the middle of the night, convinced I hear rain dripping from the gutter above my bedroom window (no, that can't possibly be the rain-shower white noise machine next to my bed that I hear) and upon rushing to the window finding that the street outside remains dry, and the stars are blinking in a disappointingly clear night sky above.

If you're missing the rain and despairing of the sweltering forecast, join me in soaking up the film below. Titled Pursuit, this film by Mike Olbinski captures spectacular footage of storm clouds and that blessed rain! Although I can certainly do without the tornadoes, I'd rejoice over a good rain storm right now.

Pursuit (4K) from Mike Olbinski on Vimeo.

I named this blog A Day Without Rain because such a day is generally rare and a cause for celebration in Western Washington. That seems not to be the case anymore, at least in summer time! Perhaps I should consider a name change... A Day With Rain? A Very Rainy Day? If that would entice some precipitation to head our way, I'd do it in an instant!

Wednesday, July 19, 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...

We are well into the long, lazy days of summer now, and enjoying some very comfortable and sunny weather here in the Seattle area (although if I'm being honest, I've been desperate for a nice rainy day lately, for the familiar sound of water gurgling in the gutters and leaving the world all green and fresh and drippy).

Nothing says "lazy summer day" like a blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds that just beckon us to pull up a patch of grass and get lost in observing their slow procession across the sky, moved by winds that we cannot feel in the soporific warmth and stillness below. If you're lacking the time or access to view such a blue sky and fluffy clouds, take a look at the Nature 365 film below, which will be a nice stand-in for the time being.

Now, let's put into practice the "word of the day" shared recently on Twitter by writer Robert McFarlane:
Apricate - to bask in the sunshine.

Wednesday, July 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...

The photo above brings peace to my soul. Rolling hills of grass slope down to a pond obscured by leafy willows and reverberating with the deep croak of a bullfrog. A resident red-trailed hawk wheels overhead, just a tiny speck high in the blue sky above. Closer to ground level, the air is thick with chattering barn swallows and violet-green swallows swooping low through the humid morning air, catching a belly full of insects to take back to the hungry young mouths waiting in their nests. The ground below is still damp with dew, warmed by the morning sunlight and emanating the sweet scent of blooming clover buzzing with fuzzy bees.

Where did I have to go to find such a scene? It wasn't a remote wilderness hike or a special protected natural park. It was at the barn where I keep my horse, a place I visit several times per week. This is one of the many reasons I'm grateful to have been a lifelong horsewoman... since they live outdoors, my horses force me to go outdoors to care for them, and as a result I get to be immersed in scenes like the one pictured above. Most of the time I go gladly, knowing that I'll get to spend quality time outdoors, but other times, perhaps in the midst of a freezing spell in winter that forebodes frozen water buckets or a particularly rainy and dismal day in autumn that promises thick mud, it's a bit more of a chore to get myself out there.

We all have one of these places where we encounter nature not by choice but by necessity: a place we visit or pass through regularly because it's part of our schedule, our life's routine. It might be our own yard as we stroll to the mailbox; the walk across the parking lot into work; our drive home through a particularly scenic area; the ball field where we attend practice or watch games. Although we may be "all business" as we visit and pass through these places, it's worthwhile to also take advantage of the opportunity they offer us to connect with nature, and all the benefits it provides.

Here's a short video of my morning at the barn. My horse is a bit of a camera hog, but you can still pick up on some of the sights and sounds!

Where is the place you regularly encounter nature?

Wednesday, July 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...

Fireweed... how's this for nature's fireworks?

Yesterday was the Fourth of July, a holiday that is perhaps more well-known for blowing things up than it is for actually celebrating the independence of the United States. I've never been a fan of the holiday, because of the fireworks with their loud blasts, spent shells littering the street, and the smoggy air the next day. Not to mention their penchant for setting homes on fire and causing the loss of various bodily appendages.

Who would want that when we can just look outside and see natural "fireworks" far more spectacular than any set off by a fuse? We can point to the wildflowers bursting with color in yards, on trails, and along the roadside. When night falls, we can look up to the dark skies overhead and appreciate the stars twinkling silently, the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon, or the occasional meteor flashing through the atmosphere.

Take a look at the film below from Wild Northwest Beauty Photography, featuring plenty of natural "fireworks" in the Oregon skies.

Again, the line from the Christmas carol comes to mind, as "the silent stars go by." Rather the silent spectacle of stars than the jarring explosions of sulfurous fireworks! But then I got to thinking: are stars silent? If we were to stand right next to the sun (without burning up, of course), what would we hear? I imagined that the fiery furnace of hydrogen fusing into helium would sound like the roar of a rocket booster, or perhaps it sizzles like an egg being dropped into a sputtering skillet. Perhaps it was a quiet whoosh like a furnace igniting, or maybe it was loud and explosive after all, like an entire fireworks stand going up at once. After doing a bit of googling, wouldn't you know, I discovered there are researchers aplenty studying the sounds of the sun. Researchers at Stanford University have compiled several different audio recordings of the sun. Take a listen!

The sun is much quieter than I had expected! As it turns out, the low grumble of fusion in our closest star is at a frequency too low to be heard by our limited human ears. With the assistance of technology, we find out that the sun sounds more like the murmur of an idling engine than exploding fireworks... a sound that I discovered is excellent white noise for fussy babies, as I listened to the solar audio recordings with my two-month-old son on my lap.

Now if only we could celebrate the Fourth of July by pulling up lawn chairs in the gathering dusk, tilting our heads heavenward and relaxing to the murmuring stars twinkling above. And maybe throw in some ice cream. Who's with me?

Wednesday, June 21, 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...

Foxglove and daisies blooming in the Cedar River Watershed, late afternoon in summer 2016. Lainey Piland photo

It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside. ~Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, 1941

Summer began yesterday, June 20th! Farewell to the damp days of spring, and welcome to the warmer, drier, long days of summer. The quote above speaks so well to the ambiance of summertime. While it might not smell of roses outdoors (Nootka roses, perhaps...) those in the Pacific Northwest are well acquainted with the heady smell of fir balsam; of alder sap and cottonwood; of warm, damp earth and ripening salmonberries; of a grassy field warmed in the golden sunlight of late afternoon.

These are just a few of the fragrances that perfumed my walk around the neighborhood yesterday afternoon, and how refreshing they are! What smells say "summer" to you?

Blooming fireweed: a sure sign of summer! Lainey Piland photo

Wednesday, June 14, 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...

Stormy evening captured from my deck a few years back.

Waves exploding against a rocky shoreline, a windstorm howling through treetops, snakelike tongues of lightning flickering across the sky to the deafening rumble of thunder... we encounter the raw power of nature in many different forms. Those in western Washington may recall the unusually potent thunderstorms that rolled through our region at the end of April.

I just love a stormy day, and these storms were especially vivid for me. That afternoon I'd left work early for an appointment at a nearby hospital. Parked on the roof of the parking garage as was my custom, I looked out over the freeway, over the distant treed hills and was astonished by what I saw as the forefront of the storm approached with a miles-high wall of purple-grey clouds dragging hazy curtains of rain across the landscape as lightning spit from their bellies. It was a transfixing sight. My appointment ended just in time for me to jump in my car and hurry home with the storm close on my heels, then hunker down in my living room as the storm overtook us and illuminated the evening sky with those electric flashes of plasma and window-rattling thunder.

These moments where nature shows its powerful and dangerous side are exhilarating awe-inspiring to witness, when we can watch from a place of safety! And what's safer than experiencing those storms from behind your computer screen, and miles above Earth's surface?  Take a look at the video linked below, featuring that stormy Seattle evening captured by NASA's GOES-16 satellite. (Hint: the entire United States is shown in the frame... hone in on the upper left corner for "our" storm!)

Watching those lighting strikes from a distant perspective really shows just how potent those storms were!

Wednesday, June 7, 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...

View looking east from the Sauk Mountain trail. Lainey Piland photo

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
~ John Muir 

This blog is all about connecting people with nature, especially on Nature Nerd Wednesdays.  I think we can all identify with Muir's description above of being the "tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people" of modern society. Whether you're stuck in an office all day, studying in a classroom or are at home caring for a three-week-old baby like I am, the circumstances of our lives can cause us to become separated from the larger natural world "out there" of which we are a part.

Monday this week was World Environment Day, an occasion that occurs on June 5th every year. This year, the theme was "connecting people to nature," a theme that "implores us to get outdoors and into nature, to appreciate its beauty and its importance, and to take forward the call to protect the Earth that we share." Given the current political climate in this country, this ethic is ever more important to develop in each of us.

That's what I'm all about here on A Day Without Rain: encouraging all of us to explore, connect with, and protect the natural environment - whether that connection occurs while we're hiking to remote alpine lakes or strolling around our neighborhoods, or just stopping by the blog for some Nature Nerd Wednesday inspiration.

Lately, my connections with nature have come in the form of creating these blog posts, taking short walks around my neighborhood with a sleeping newborn strapped to my chest... or even listening to the nature and bird sounds play on my son's infant swing as I sit on the floor next to him, as I'm doing right now. Although I live in a typical dense suburban housing development, there is plenty of nature to appreciate on my brief rambles: the rufous and Anna's hummingbirds at the backyard feeder, the violet-green swallows swooping and diving overhead, the cottontails that appear at the edge of the forest across the street from my house every evening to browse the green grass, the bumblebees buzzing in the lavender outside my front door, the blooming thimbleberry and ripening salmonberries in the undisturbed natural remnants that remain tucked behind rows of cookie-cutter homes. Small things though they may be, they are "fountains of life" indeed for this nerve-shaken new mom.

Another good way to connect with nature when you can't actually get outside? Taking a short break with one of the fabulous daily Nature 365 films by Jim Brandenburg. Take a look:

The connections are all around. How do you find them?

Wednesday, May 24, 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...

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us. ~Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat

As they say... April showers bring May flowers, and if that statement bears truth, we can expect to see an abundance of flowers as we stroll through the neighborhood or hit the trails, thanks to the prolific rainfall we've seen this spring. 

This is National Wildflower week, and there is no shortage of beautiful blossoms to be found here in western Washington. Some of the best wildflower hikes I've experienced were Deception Pass and Sauk Mountain, where colorful flowers speckled the grassy bluffs and alpine meadows, respectively. Although I give most of my attention to the trillium blooming in spring, there are plenty of other unique and beautiful flowers to be found.

Columbine at Sauk Mountain
Chocolate lily at Deception Pass

Nootka rose at Deception Pass (these smell heavenly!)

Here's a short video from the National Park Service unit at Olympic National Park, featuring some of the wildflowers to be found blooming there from now through the summer. The flowers in this film can be found on trails all over western Washington. How many do you recognize? 

Can't you just feel the warm sunshine and smell the sweet fragrance, imagining yourself wading through the knee-high field of flowers buzzing with bees? Wildflowers are not only beautiful, but they are important to sustain pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Consider celebrating National Wildflower Week by adding some of these native blossoms to your own yard!

Wednesday, May 10, 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...

I always thought "gloaming" referred to the golden quality of light at sunrise or sunset... alas, it means "twilight" or "dusk".  Saint Edward State Park, Lainey Piland photo

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

~ John Muir

These are my favorite words from John Muir, and never fail to give me a thrill in my chest and goosebumps on the back of my neck. It's awe-inspiring to take a step back and consider the planet as a whole; somewhere the sun is rising, somewhere it's raining, somewhere the aurora is undulating its green ribbons across the night sky, somewhere it's scorching beneath a hot sun. 

I think back on the places I've visited, that right now there's probably a cloud settled atop Mount Si; the wildflower-strewn flanks of Sauk Mountain may be swathed in mist; the shoreline at Saint Edward State Park lies quiet as early-morning walkers watch their dogs sniff the water's edge. It's a great exercise in wonder and compassion (and a great way to mentally escape if you're stuck in the office!) to sit and consider that the world is larger than what we see surrounding ourselves at this very moment.

Speaking of this grand eternal show, more fitting words could not be applied to this National Geographic photo gallery I came across, featuring photos of National Parks captured from space. From such a high vantage point, we can clearly see the awesome diversity of these parks within the context of their surrounding landscapes. It's easy to get lost in the photos and imagine what may be occurring in each of these places, at this very moment.

The photo of Olympic National Park is especially captivating for this Washingtonian, as we see the majesty of the forested, mountainous park dominating the foreground, and the familiar sights of Seattle, the floating bridges, the I-5 corridor, Everett and the Skagit valley in the background. Seen from this zoomed-out vantage point, we can see how close in proximity these places really are to one another, although standing inside the photo looking out, it's easy to feel distanced and isolated from this larger landscape. But we are closer to these places than we may think; together experiencing sunrise and sunset, rain and sunshine, beauty and ugliness... each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.


Wednesday, May 3, 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...

Lainey Piland photo
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
~ Kahlil Gibran
Birdsong and morning. The two go together so naturally and are so common that we easily ignore the warbling sound of morning as we grumpily slap our alarm clocks into silence and drag ourselves out the door to work every morning. This tends to be my attitude, as I'm so focused on getting myself together and off to work on time that the earnest birdsong wafting through the open window often falls on deaf ears.

Lately though, as I try to be more mindful and aware throughout the day (yes, even in those groggy and grouchy wake-up hours), I've found it hard to ignore the cheerful singing of the robin who leads the dawn chorus outside my window every morning. How can anyone start their day off sounding so enthusiastic? Listening to his singing is a reminder of the simple beauty by which we're constantly surrounded, but which we so easily tune out.

I recorded the dawn chorus at my house at 5:30 yesterday morning. By setting my phone next to the open bedroom window, I captured the chorus unique to my own little place in the universe. You can hear the robin singing with several other birds (any bird nerds that can help me out and identify some of those voices?), you can hear the traffic rushing past on the busy street a block away, and you can hear the shuffling footsteps of an early-morning jogger. The only thing it doesn't capture is the sound of a woodpecker, who just moments later traveled from house to house testing out the acoustics of the metal gutter downspouts!

With robin on woodwinds, woodpecker on percussion, and rising sun conducting, this is a natural orchestra to be appreciated!

Take a listen: (audio only, no picture)

Why do birds sing so early in the morning? This Wild Birds Unlimited article explains that the dawn chorus is comprised mainly of male birds aiming to defend their territory or attract a mate. Read on for more info!

What does the dawn chorus sound like at your house?

Wednesday, April 26, 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...

Looking out toward Haro Strait from the Lime Kiln trail, Lime Kiln Point State Park, San Juan Island. Lainey Piland photo

These islands form an unmatched landscape of contrasts, where forests seem to spring from gray rock and distant, snow-capped peaks provide the backdrop for sandy beaches.

So states the Presidential Proclamation designating the San Juan Islands National Monument on March 25th, 2013. Those fortunate enough to have visited this place can attest to the unique beauty of the islands, and the way in which they bring you into close communion with the natural environment of the Pacific Northwest.

I myself have only visited San Juan Island so far, but have seen enough to know what a special place it is, with rolling grassy bluffs where bald eagles fly alongside you at eye level, and rocky shorelines from which you can spot the exhalations of passing minke whales, or perhaps a glimpse of orcas breaching.

Leaving Friday Harbor on a late-night ferry last autumn, we made a brief stop at the small, almost- primitive looking dock at Lopez Island. I was standing on the ferry deck in the chilly night, watching the stars blink overhead in a sky darker than any I'd encountered in decades, thanks to the lack of light pollution in the islands. Completely immersed in the twinkling vista overhead, I was startled as we lurched against the dock and a familiar, intoxicating perfume wafted toward me through the darkness. It was the smell of trees, of evergreen needles, so unexpected and strong that it utterly overwhelmed the smell of saltwater, and had it not been for the swaying ferry deck beneath my feet, I would have sworn I was standing in the midst of a forest. It was as if I were Odysseus and Lopez was a siren, calling to me to shipwreck upon her forested shores and stay awhile. And someday, I may just do that.

I will never forget my encounter that dark night on the freezing cold ferry deck; one of those moments where after emerging from it, you feel a bit dazed by some supernatural force and wonder what just happened there?

Here's some more San Juan Islands enchantment, in a short film from photographer Christopher Teren:



The San Juan Islands are a special place, and deserving of their status as a protected National Monument. Unfortunately, the President is expected to today sign an order that all National Monuments created since 1996 be "reviewed" to ensure that they weren't created through misuse of the Antiquities Act. This would put two National Monuments in Washington State under review: San Juan Islands (2013) and Hanford Reach (2000). This is the stated intent of the President's order, although the conservation community and general public know it to be an attempt to overturn the Monument designations for sites that could be valuable for fossil fuel development, such as the recently-protected Bears Ears National Monument. [Update 4/26 AM: I'm reading this morning that the executive order applies to monuments 100,000 acres or larger, which exempts San Juan Islands (at just 1,000 acres) but still put Hanford Reach at risk.]

While our Washington State National Monuments likely don't fall into the category of "high potential for fossil fuel development" and therefore are likely safe from being stripped of their protected status, we should still be aware and speak up for the National Monuments being threatened around the country. These lands do, after all, belong to all of the American people. We know how we love our San Juan Islands and would never stand to have them threatened. With this sentiment, we can empathize and stand with others who are at risk of losing beloved National Monuments and landscapes in their own home states.

I had to mix a bit of your Nature Nerd Wednesday nature escape with a bit of activism here... but given the current administration in the White House, that combination will become a necessity for all of us in the coming weeks, months, and years.

On the bluffs of American Camp, San Juan Island. Lainey Piland photo

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)