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)

 

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!