Friday, June 29, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limericks


Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: David McTaggart, fire or fireweed. 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, June 28, 2012

Fireweed

Photo by Dawn Endico
It's a good bet that next year this plant will be flowering in Colorado Springs. It's not called fireweed for nothing.

This is a "pioneer species," one that comes in after disturbance and paves the way for others. As the name implies, fireweed especially thrives after a burn, but it's also one of the first settlers in areas cleared by a bulldozer or avalanche--or volcanic eruption.

Following the May 18, 1980 eruption at Mount St. Helens, fireweed was one of the first plants to show up. When I worked as a naturalist there, just five years after the big blast, snowy white seeds of the plant billowed through the air like thousands of summer snowflakes.
Seed pods at bottom, flowers in middle,
buds at top.
© Copyright David Baird and licensed for reuse
under this Creative Commons Licence.

One of the visitors to St. Helens told me he associated the plant with his military days in World War II. He'd been stationed in London after it had been bombed and burned, and saw acres and acres of blooming fireweed. He recalled it as a lovely brightness in the dark aftermath of war.

In the summer, each plant displays buds, flowers, and seedpods simultaneously. Fireweed opens its flowers successively, starting at the bottom. Once these first, lower flowers have been pollinated, the blooms develop into long, slender seed cases. Meanwhile, the upper flowers continue to open successively and be pollinated. The seed cases eventually dry and spilt open lengthwise into four thin strips that curl backward, releasing hundreds of seeds on silky white tufts.

Its ability to quickly colonize via those floating seeds earns fireweed strong associations for some of us. I will always remember the startling purple/pink in the gray volcanic landscape; after 45 years, the WWII vet still recalled a bombed-out Europe; and chances are, the residents of Colorado Springs will come to associate fireweed with the return of life after the devastating fires of 2012.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Those dangerous blue eyes: David McTaggart ... Greenpeace Days

Oh, those eyes were an intense and lovely blue. In 2001, on a online memorial for David McTaggart when Greenpeacers around the world mourned his death, one entry referred to his "dangerous blue eyes." Yes. Yes, they were.


McTaggart, head down, middle, under assault aboard his ketch.
(Photos were taken by his girlfriend and sneaked off the boat.)
In 1972 and '73 McTaggart and a small crew sailed his ketch into the restricted zone around Mururora Atoll, to prevent France from setting off a nuclear test. The idea was that as long as the crew was in the danger zone, the bomb could not be deployed. It worked--until infuriated French commandoes boarded his ship and beat David so badly they ended up taking him off the ketch and to a hospital. One of the truncheon blows struck his right eye, nearly blinding it.  

From the Greenpeace website: "Between 1975 and 1991, McTaggart was a driving force behind Greenpeace campaigns to save the whales, stop the dumping of nuclear waste in the ocean, block the production of toxic wastes, end nuclear testing, and protect the Antarctic continent from oil and mineral exploitation."

But here's the thing about McTaggart: he wasn't some saintly do-gooder, patiently working on behalf of the environment. David was the most complicated--and fascinating--mix of characteristics that I've ever encountered in a single person.

Consider how Brian Fitzgerald launched that online memorial to a worldwide organization in mourning: "I hope my colleagues will join me here in posting their recollections and testimonials to a man of great humour and warmth and vision. I'm sure we'll also remember to mention that he was a cold-hearted bastard armed with Machiavellian ethics, and that whether we loved him or hated him (and everyone who knew him usually regarded him with a mixture of both) the world is a less interesting place without him."

And here are some excerpts, as we followed Brian's lead:


David could be so aggravating that you’d want to throttle him. So contentious and provocative and sexist and downright duplicitous that you could not imagine working with him one more minute. But he had faith in people and he challenged us to be tough, to take on the big things. He trusted me to get him his boat back and so I did. 
He was both charismatic and enigmatic. And incredibly stubborn.
For me, his impact was as the ultimate inspiration. Not in the sense of being someone you aspired to be like, god knows he had his unpleasant side, but in the sense of making you realise at first hand that one person really can make a difference. That one person, through bloody hard work, determination, focus, courage and sheer willpower could move a nation, and even the world.
He could work harder than anyone I ever met but was the best drinking companion you could ever hope to share a beer with.
We all have our memories of David, and without exception, they are vivid memories, strong memories of one of the most unforgettable people any of us are ever likely to meet. We've all on occasion disagreed with him and have experienced the full force of his personality; we've all on occasion been grateful to him beyond bounds. 
McTaggart was a visionary--he could see/analyze potential outcomes to actions (literally) years into the future.  Sometimes the rest of us were numbskulls compared to him.  But he was ruthless in pursuing his vision(s).  He was charismatic and confounding.  I can think of no other person both so revered and reviled in GP. 
Unconventional, stubborn, iconic. A thorn in the sides, a pain in the butt, and a twinkle in the eye.
For me David's defining strength was his uncanny ability to see what was important, focus on that and then his single-minded determination to get there. He was a true leader, and visionary. 
Although to many of us he was almost superman, he did not win the war. But he did show us it could be won.
The world is a better place because he knocked so many of our heads together and told us to just get on with it.


Today, June 24, is McTaggart's birthday; he would have been 80 years old. Whether or not you ever had the opportunity of sitting with David in a pub (while he drank you under the table), I invite you to raise a glass in his memory today. As it says on the Greenpeace website: The world will never see another one of him.



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

Friday, June 22, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limericks


Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: spotted owls, 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.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Spotted owls

Late one night, back when I was a naturalist at Mount Saint Helens, the truck headlights illuminated a small bundle on the road. I pulled over to investigate, and to my surprise, it was a dead spotted owl. Like many good naturalists who find an interesting dead animal, I took it home and put it in the freezer.

Like a bad naturalist, I didn't report it immediately. Word got around, and the staff Wildlife Biologist showed up to confiscate my owl and deliver a stern lecture about the penalties of harboring both a raptor and an endangered species. I never saw Spotty again.

But happily I have have since seen live spotted owls in old-growth forests. Those spots help them blend into the background so that it's easy to walk past one without ever seeing it. But of course the main reason they are so rarely seen is that they are, well, so rare.

If you lived in the PNW during the 1980s and '90s, you'll remember the fights that erupted between environmentalists trying to save old-growth, and the logging interests trying to save jobs/make money. Because spotted owls were dependent on old growth, they served as a focal point for the conflict, although the real issue for environmentalists was destruction of an ecosystem.

Those issues have quieted over the years, but the spotted owl faces another challenge: the barred owl. This more aggressive, and slightly larger species, moving in from eastern states, outcompetes its relative for food. In territory disputes, the barred wins.

Some biologists hold out hope that the two species can coexist if given enough time and enough territory. 

Nearly 15 years after I'd found the dead owl, I happened to see another owl land in a tree near that same road. I grabbed my binoculars and peered through the increasing dusk. Brown streaky spots on a lighter breast (rather than white spots on a darker background) revealed a barred owl. Getting an uncommonly good look at such an evasive, nocturnal animal as an owl should have pleased me more. But that night the barred owl's proximity to an area I knew had harbored spotted owls simply seemed ominous.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Monday's Nature Quote

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet 
and the winds long to play with your hair.
             --Kahlil Gibran



Friday, June 15, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limericks


Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: snakes, snake sex, 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.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Snake sex...in case you wondered...

I was walking home from work the other day, and spooked a pretty little garter snake basking on the sidewalk. Because they're active during the day, garters are by far the most encountered snakes in the Northwest.

Garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis
And like other Northwesterners, these snakes appreciate spring sunshine. They've spent the winter hibernating, often in communal groups tucked into rock crevices. After emerging in the spring, female garters leave scent (pheromones) trails in their wakes, which males follow, flicking their tongue to pick up the taste/smell.

When a male tracks down a female, he rubs his chin along the length of her back, and attempts to lie beside her. Eventually, after the males repeated twistings and attempts at alignment, a convinced female opens her vent and allows him to insert one of his two hemipenes (twinned penises) into her cloaca. Her body will store his sperm until the eggs are ready for fertilization.

Rather than laying eggs, garter snakes retain the eggs within their bodies and birth live young, usually between July and October. With the birth of her snakelets, the mother's duties are finished, and family members go their separate ways...maybe to hang out on a nice warm sidewalk.

Seen any snakes lately?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday's Nature Quote

The only solid piece of scientific truth about which I feel totally confident is that we are profoundly ignorant about nature.
~ Lewis Thomas, Medusa & the Snail
Photo by Douglas Brown 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limericks


Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: hiking, Bruce Springsteen, 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.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What kind of hiker are you?

Springsteen was insisting baby, we were born to run when I pulled into the parking area. As I grabbed my daypack and plunged into the woods, I thought not today, Bruuuuuce. But he got me to considering different hiking styles.

When I was a teenager and young adult, I did hit the trail at speed, baby. I was eager, angry, or angsty and needed to move fast until the eagerness/anger/angst dissipated and I could finally slow down for much-needed communion in the woods.

And over the years I've been on many companionable hikes with one or more friends, during which we stop to admire this overlook or that elder tree. Such trips are often about conversation and friendship, with a fabulous backdrop.

These days, most of my hikes are solitary and most are about paying attention. Because I'm on my own, I can stop to watch a little stream, even when nothing in particular is happening in it. I can pet inviting mounds of moss or flip up fern fronds without having to explain myself. And when the spirit moves, I remember to repeat the Navajo prayer. Contemplative hiking, I suppose you could call this.

What's your hiking style?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Monday's Nature Quote

It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the Earth and, in the contemplation of her beauties, to know of wonder and humility. 


~Rachel Carson




Photo by Gonzak 


Friday, June 1, 2012

Weekend Haiku & Limericks


Your challenge: write a haiku or limerick featuring one of the subjects discussed here in the past seven days: beach hoppers, 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.