Friday, March 30, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limericks

Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: boomers/mountain beavers, ocean dumping, agitating, Rémi Parmentier, or something from Monday's nature quote. Feel free to mine the comments, too.

Post your haiku or limericks in the comments, below. Remember the pattern of a haiku is: 

First, 5 syllables,
the second line has seven.
And 5 at the end.

A limerick is a wee bit more complicated. Here's one description.

Kindly post your haiku or limerick in the comments, below.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mariana Trench and the Nasty Little Agitator

Aaah, it's so lovely to sit back and remember a win on behalf of the environment.

Rémi, the hippie on the lower left--crew aboard
the Rainbow Warrrior, 1978
So a few days ago when film director James Cameron (you know: Avatar, Titanic) made the first solo dive into the deepest place in the world's oceans, the Mariana Trench, it got Rémi Parmentier (aka the Nasty Little Agitator) to reminiscing.

Back in 1978, a long, hard battle to ban radioactive dumping at sea began, and the Mariana Trench was the starting point. Had the governments of the U.S., Japan, and Taiwan succeeded, the Trench--and other designated areas--would have become dump sites for radioactive waste. (What? Water pressure would have crushed the canisters, allowing radioactive waste to leak out? No worries! The nuclear industry just called that the "dilute and disperse" strategy).

Rémi Parmentier worked for Greenpeace, at that time an environmental group beginning to gain a reputation, and he had an idea the others found difficult to swallow. Here's a description from fellow Greenpeacer Brian Fitzgerald:


"Back in the early 80s, much of Greenpeace believed we should never set foot in a meeting room. Treaty negotiations and arguments about brackets and compromising language were for others, and we needed to be the thin green line way out front. Need to stop radioactive waste from going into the North Sea? Get in a boat and stop it.

Remi just about singlehandedly woke the organisation up to the fact that your chances of winning rose exponentially by being out in that boat opposing dumping AND in the meeting room with the people who had the power to stop it. If that meant putting on a tie, somebody just had to swallow their pride and make that sacrifice. Remi turned people around not by talking about winning campaigns in the meeting halls -- he actually did it. And he did it by being as bullheaded, stubborn, and uncompromising inside the meeting halls as anybody out in the boats.

He learned, and taught us, the art of 'political judo' -- achieving results greater than your size would suggest possible. One frustrated government official called him a "nasty little agitator" after a particularly gruelling experience at an international convention. Remi liked that so much, he put it on his business card."

The plans to use the world's oceans as radioactive dumping grounds were shelved in 1983, through the London Convention. Ten years later the Convention was amended to permanently ban radioactive waste dumping at sea.

Merci beaucoup to all those who helped make this happen, and especially to Rémi, the Nasty Little Agitator who was willing to put on a tie for the sake of the planet. 


(Want to read more about Greenpeace days? Click on the "Search this Blog" box to the right and enter the word Greenpeace.) 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Boomer aka Mountain Beaver

It seems odd that an animal the size of a rabbit and indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, could be completely unknown to so many people who live here. But then the mountain beaver is an odd sort of animal.

For one thing, it hosts the world's largest flea (3/8th of an inch long--yeeks!). And despite the name, they're not beavers, and they are more commonly found at lower altitudes than in the mountains. Another common name for this rodent is boomer, because they can emit a low moaning sort of sound.

Though boomers are primarily nocturnal, burrowing creatures, occasionally day hikers have peered at one in the rustling underbrush and wondered, "What the heck is that?" (Well, okay, at least I have...)

But tree farmers and foresters know all about mountain beavers. Although they favor sword fern, at certain times of the year they'll also eat seedlings and can girdle--and thereby kill--young trees.

Boomers have extensive burrows that include food chambers, a sleeping chamber, another chamber for fecal pellets, and tunnels that link all. You may not see a boomer on your next hike in the PNW, but chances are there's one somewhere along the trail, right under your nose/boots.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday's Nature Quote



What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn't have any doubt - it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn't want to go anywhere else.
~ Hal Boyle



Friday, March 23, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limericks

Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: common murres, oil spills, or something from Monday's nature quote. Feel free to mine the comments, too.

Post your haiku or limericks in the comments, below. Remember the pattern of a haiku is: 

First, 5 syllables,
the second line has seven.
And 5 at the end.

A limerick is a wee bit more complicated. Here's one description.

Please (oh please!) post your haiku or limerick in the comments, below.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Common murre--oil spill

Donna A. Dewhurst, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
I didn't know much about seabirds when I volunteered to help clean the ones caught in an oil spill off Grays Harbor, Washington, in December 1988.

I was shown how to hold an alarmed bird's beck scissored between two fingers to avoid being stabbed, how to wield the water-piks and soft toothbrushes used to loosen the worst of the black gunk, and how to work the oil-cutting suds in between feathers.

I was then handed a black bird and told that it was a murre. As the water sluiced away the stinky ooze, I was amazed to discover that the bird in my hands had a breast of startling white. This is how I learned that murres resemble penguins when not covered with killing oil.

Other volunteers kept new basins of water coming as we washers worked--each bird had to be repeatedly transferred to clean, warm water--to survive they needed to have every speck of oil washed away, and they had to be kept warm while this hour-long procedure took place.

Common murres were particularly vulnerable to the oil spill. They feed by diving beneath the water surface and so became thoroughly coated with the oil. Also, because they are gregarious, a large segment of their population was affected. Other seabirds share these traits, but because murres are more numerous, they came into the hastily-created center in staggering numbers.

There are two murres I remember most clearly from the scores I handled during those terrible, hectic days of cleaning. One was the first, with its bright white feathers suddenly revealed; the other was one who had endured the spill, the capture, the wait under warming lights with all the other soiled seabirds, the force feedings, and nearly the entire hour of washing, only to die in my hands as I rinsed away the last suds.

This was not unusual. Birds that initially survive a spill may not survive all the handling needed to capture, clean, and eventually release them. Many die of shock.

I later learned that of the 10,000 seabirds collected in that relatively small spill, 9,000 were dead or died in captivity (statistics show that seventy-five percent of cleaned birds die); only 1,000 survived the ordeal and were released back to the ocean.

Should we try to clean oil-coated birds? What do you think?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limericks

Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: Northern harriers/ marsh hawks, classism, or something from Monday's nature quote. Feel free to mine the comments, too.

Post your haiku or limericks in the comments, below. Remember the pattern of a haiku is:

First, 5 syllables,
the second line has seven.
And 5 at the end.

A limerick is a wee bit more complicated. Here's one description.

Kindly post your haiku or limerick in the comments, below.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Northern Harrier (aka Marsh Hawk)

photo by scotclose on Flickr
I took my teenage daughter on a quick drag hike at Cooper Mountain Nature Park last weekend. Despite the cold, she was willing to humor me...but only so much.

When I enthusiastically pointed out a bird hovering over a meadow, her response was a noncommittal "Huh" (which I considered a step-up from the anticipated "Meh.")

Thwarted by her lack of interest, I'll share with you instead what I thought was so interesting about this Northern harrier. These birds are known to hover over their prey, but due to a fierce oncoming wind, this one was absolutely motionless, just hanging in the sky, as if it had been painted there.

A Northern harrier is one of those birds that can be recognized almost more by what it's doing than how it looks. Other hawks that hunt in grasslands and meadows are apt to swoop or stoop (dive) to the kill. But a harrier rarely flies higher than 7 feet above the ground; its wings are held in a slight V, its head is down.

There's a good reason for this technique: harriers listen for squeaks and rustles. Unlike others in their sharp-eyed hawk family, they rely more on their hearing than vision to locate prey. A "facial disk" (like that of owls) helps--the feathers around the harrier's eyes and beak create a concave surface, something like that of a satellite dish, which directs sound into the harrier's ears.

What do you think? Doesn't that deserve more than a huh or a meh?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday's Nature Quote

Your deepest roots are in nature. No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.  
~Charles Cook



Saturday, March 10, 2012

A touch of class(ism): Human Nature

The woman who called was short on her rent. She had a job lined up, she explained, she'd never had to ask for money like this before. 


I said I'd check what we could do and call her back, but I knew we couldn't bridge the entire amount she needed. She said she would continue calling around and try to piece together the rest.   


I get a lot of calls like this--and people show up at the door in need of help. But there was something a little different about this conversation and its resonance with me...and I realized it was because the woman was middle-classed. 


This was revealed by the way she spoke, her choice of words. It set me back for a moment; that I had recognized her class over the phone--and that--I'm laying all my cards on the table now--it made me more eager to help her


I could be more circumspect about what triggered this response. I could say that it was because our small contribution could truly make an enormous difference in her life--as opposed to offering what often feels like such a temporary stop-gap--a drop into a bucket with a huge, obvious leaking hole. And that might have been part of what I was responding to. 


But the take-home lesson for me was that those people who understand the social code in our country can more easily negotiate with the gatekeepers... gatekeepers like myself, or those at the phone company or the credit card company, or the gas or electric companies. If you can speak the language the right way, you are more likely to be granted a reprieve. But if you never learned the code, the gatekeepers can tell; we may not think consciously about this, but we can tell.   


When I called her back to let her know we could contribute a small amount toward her effort, the woman burst into tears. "I think I'm going to be able to do this! Everyone I've called has been so nice to me!" 


Yes. Like recognizes like.



(Want to read more of these stories? Click on the "Search this Blog" box to the right and enter the words Human Nature.) 


Friday, March 9, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limericks

Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: climate change and its denial, murky brain pans or something from Monday's nature quote. Feel free to mine the comments, too.

Post your haiku or limericks in the comments, below. Remember the pattern of a haiku is: 

First, 5 syllables,
the second line has seven.
And 5 at the end.

A limerick is a wee bit more complicated. Here's one description.

Post your haiku or limerick in the comments, below. You folks are so clever! I love to see what you come up with each week!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Climate change denial? There’s an app for that.


Here’s the idea behind the Just Science app: integrate all major existing databases of land and sea surface temperature records from 1800 through 2009, color code them so they’re readily understood, superimpose them on a map of the world--and load it all into an app. 

Then let people noodle around with the app, zooming into specific areas or years, and leave them to determine what the science tells them.
Admittedly, the people who created the app have been convinced by the data that climate change is real, but that’s their point: the data convinced them and it will convince others--including laypeople--who are given the same raw data as well. 
Those who play with the Just Science “get” the reality of climate change, says Nick Orenstein, the developer.  “The young barista at my go-to coffee shop in the Mission district of San Francisco got it.The old Republican Texan Judge from Wichita Falls at a fancy Dallas wedding got it. The lawyers at a birthday party got it. ... Everyone can get it, and should get it. It’s just science, y’all, and if taught properly it ain’t that hard to understand the fundamentals. The pictures speak for themselves.”
And the app is free, y’all. Download it here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday Nature Quote


Humans have a tendency to fall prey to the illusion that their economy is at the very center of the universe, forgetting that the biosphere is what ultimately sustains all systems, both man-made and natural. In this sense, "environmental issues" are not about saving the planet—it will always survive and evolve with new combinations of atoms—but about the prosperous development of our own species.

~Carl Folke is the science director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University


                                                                         Photo by steve_lacy941 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limericks

Your challenge: write a haiku featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: sea cucumbers, the Lorax and SUVs, or something from Monday's nature quote. Feel free to mine the comments, too.

Post your haiku or limericks in the comments, below. Remember the pattern of a haiku is: 

First, 5 syllables,
the second line has seven.
And 5 at the end.

A limerick is a wee bit more complicated. Here's one description.

Please post your haiku or limerick in the comments, below.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sea cucumbers

Photo by pfly 
Behold the California (or giant) sea cucumber! 


That colorful skin reportedly contains a toxin that deters most predators. Still, a sunflower star might be interested in a munch. If one of those multi-armed sea stars attacks, a cucumber's main defense is to eviscerate itself. The animal contracts, which squeezes the water inside its body, exerting pressure that forces out its internal organs, usually via the anus. Apparently the idea is that the predator will be interested in the offal, and let the cucumber make its getaway (it has tiny tube feet, so it's kinda a slow getaway).


The loss of internal workings doesn't seem to hinder the creature, and it regrows them within a few months. Which is good, since it seems to be its standard response to everything else it finds unpleasant, such as internal parasites, dirty water, or changes in water temperature.


Have you ever seen a sea cucumber?