Saturday, October 31, 2009

Arcata Marsh

Our next stop on our long odyssey was Eureka, CA, where I participated in the Author Festival, a biannual gathering of children's authors to visit area schools and sell books to the public. I have attended for many years and always enjoy the experience, which also includes a chance to spend time with our longtime friends, Bob and Frances. We joined them for a stroll in the Arcata Marsh & Wildlife Refuge, where wastewater from the town is treated by circulation through the natural system of the marsh, creating a home and migratory resting place for more than 200 bird species, as well as other animals and many kinds of plants. The more than 5 miles of trails provide a great opportunity to see birds, such as these green-winged teal and American widgeons. Efforts like this show that people can find creative ways to solve problems like waste management that benefit not only people but the natural world.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On the Oregon Coast

Our friends Dave and Diane are botanists who live in Bandon, OR, and are experts in life along the shore, both large and small. We went on a sunset walk on the beach, marked by impressive giant rocks that help turn the place into a photographer's heaven. After admiring the sunset we examined the sea life on this giant rock, revealed at low tide. An amazing variety of life is here, if you look closely. The large seastars and sea anemones are obvious, but mixed in with them are small barnacles and limpets as well as amazing worms, called nemerteans, which you can't see in this photo. I learned about these creatures many years ago in marine biology class. They drape their threadlike bodies over the rock face as they poke around for prey, which they capture using a unique proboscis that they evert from inside their bodies. The more we looked, the more creatures we found, including chitons and sea slugs, all just clinging to the rock, waiting for the tide to come back in.

An Oregon Diversity of Apples, Grapes, Pears, and More

On the way to Bandon, OR, to visit friends, we stopped at the orchard of 82-year-old Nick Botner and his wife, Clara, where more than 4,000 apple tree varieties share the land with hundreds of kinds of pears, grapes, plums, and exotic fruits such as these pawpaws. Nick is a firm believer in the importance of saving rare and unusual fruit varieties and grows many that have yet to acquire names beyond their numbered titles given to them by the various state agricultural programs that developed them.
My father grew up on an apple ranch in Idaho, and my husband Greg and I wrote a cookbook called "A Is for Apple" years ago, which encouraged cooks to try different apple varieties in their cooking and had writeups of the histories of about a dozen different varieties. We're both fans of preserving genetic diversity in both food plants and animals; there could be genes in these less familiar organisms that could be disease resistant, could impart long-term storage capabilities, or could possess other trits we don't know would become useful in the future. Besides, variety is interesting and fun for its own sake!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Portland's Chinese Garden

We're on a long trip right now and stopped in the Portland area to see our friends Roland and Marie. I'd heard about the beautiful Chinese garden in the city, so Marie, Greg, and I visited it on Sunday. It's inspired by the gardens in Suzhou, a city in China famous for its gardens, and built by Chinese artists and artisans.
Being in the garden is like visiting old China, when wealthy and prominant families had beautiful gardens integrated into their homes. Each area of the garden has its own beautifully designed pavement, inlaid with pebbles and tiles. Each has its own theme--the scents of flowers, for example. There's a beautiful pond in the center, with goldfish and lily pads and clumps of reeds along the edges. Walls separating the different areas have artfully place decorated openings that show the neighboring area, giving a sense of space. Even though the garden occupies just a block right in the downtown, it feels like its own peaceful world of beauty, meant for relaxation and meditation.
The leaves of a ginko tree, one of the oldest species of tree on Earth, contrast with the glass-walled modern building just outside the garden. But even though the building is there, the feeling of the garden is stronger, and the building seems more like an optical illusion than something real.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Global Warming or Climate Change?

It's October 9, and I took this photo in the afternoon from my doorstep in Montana. Overnight lows for the next 2 or 3 nights are projected as in the single digits. Brrrrr!!!! Now Montana is in the north, but we "normally" don't get snow until Halloween, and the record lows for this time of year hover around 20 degrees. So, records are getting shattered all over the place around here these days.

This is the kind of event naysayers grasp upon so they can say, "See? How can you say we're having global warming? We're having record cold!"  Such folks have a basic misunderstanding about terminology. The moniker "Global Warming" is indeed meant to apply globally--the average temperatures on the planet are gradually creeping up.  This doesn't mean that the temperature on any given day in any particular place will be higher than it was in the past, far from it.

"Far from it" is a reason for using the term "Climate Change" rather than "global warming."  Our climates are changing, and part of that change is differences in how weather systems perform.  For example, as things warm up in general, not only are warm storms like hurricanes likely to become stronger, cold storms like blizzards are also likely to intensify.  As has happened this week, arctic systems may extend further south than in the past, resulting in brief record low temperatures.  The climate is becoming destabilized in ways that will continue to surprise us as the 21st century progresses.

I have lived here for 36 years, and during that time, what's "normal" has changed significantly.  The first bad year for forest fires I experienced was in 1988, then not again until 2000.  Since then, all but 2 or 3 years have experienced multiple forest fires in our area, including one that forced us to evacuate our home, pictured here as it hurried towards us.  Spring comes earlier now,  followed by a warmer, drier, longer summer, all of which increases the chance for fires to take hold and rage.  Now, the authorities tell is, we must expect our summer skies to turn gray from fire and our air to smell of smoke.  You can be sure of it, the climate is changing.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Back to the Prairie

I returned to the American Prairie Foundation Preserve recently and got to see much more of the landscape. It's quite amazing, from prairie dog towns to a cliff the Indians once used to drive buffalo to their death so they could harvest meat as well as bones and horn and internal organs to make tooks. Little was wasted.
The short grass prairie may be dry, but it's full of life--not just prairie dogs but burrowing owls, elk, lots of pronghorn (antelope), snakes, wildflowers, sagebrush, many kinds of grasses, and more, more, more.
For me, a favorite thing to see, actually just off the actual Reserve lands, is a large polished boulder covered with petroglyphs. Most look like stylized buffalo hooves, and there's a mysterious arrow pointing towards the Missouri River--to what? A river crossing? A favorite buffalo grazing area? Or.....? All a mystery. The Indians leave offerings on the rock such as quarters, bracelets, and a jawbone from a small animal of some kind. Another mystery. This land is full of mystery....