Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Good news, bad news - green news

Just when I think we'll never learn how to be good citizens of this miraculous blue planet, along comes some news that lifts my spirits. Like "Executive on a Mission: Saving the Planet," the New York Times profile of Ray Anderson, the 72-year-old owner of Interface, one of the world's largest makers of carpet tiles. In 1994, Anderson read up on environmental issues and realized he was running a company that was "plundering the environment."

So he challenged his employees to turn Interface into a "restorative enterprise," a sustainable company that recycles or reuses all of its materials, is carbon- and emissions-neutral, and doesn't use harmful materials or processes, by 2020. They're well on their way. Much to Anderson's surprise, going green has not only not cost them anything, it's turned a profit. And turned Anderson into a sought-after speaker and green guru for other companies.

Then there's the U.S. Forest Service's announcement yesterday that they're initiating a $1.5 million "Kids in the Woods" project to get schoolkids out of their classrooms and into the out-of-doors. In case you've missed all the recent research or haven't been around kids lately, turns out that a lack of time spent in nature is epidemic today, and has been blamed for the concurrent epidemic of childhood diabetes, obesity, and attention deficit disorder. One-point-five million dollars isn't much when spread over the whole country, but it's an admission that we need to get kids back outside, and not just to play soccer and other organized sports. Like us, they need time to explore and discover the community of the land. It's good for our health, physically, mentally, emotionally. Time spent in the company of other species feeds our often-harried and spiritually impoverished souls.

Then there's the bad news: the mother humpback whale and her calf who swam up the Sacramento River as far as California's state capitol city ten days ago, taking a 90-mile detour into freshwater on their migration north to Arctic waters, are not doing well, say biologists. After charming some 15,000 observers over several days spent in the port of Sacramento, the two started back downriver last weekend. But they only got as far as the Rio Vista Bridge, 20 miles downstream, before beginning to swim in circles, probably, say biologists, because they're confused by the underwater vibrations from the traffic passing over the massive bridge. Now the two, both of whom sport large gashes probably inflicted by boat propellers, are beginning to look bad: their skin is pitted and sagging. There's no food for them in the Sacramento, and the freshwater is not good for their health. They need to get back to the bay and the open ocean, but their navigation systems are impaired by the overwhelming din of humanity.

It makes me profoundly sad to think that we've created a world that is convenient and comfortable for us, but is unhealthy for so many other species, a world where humpback whales, those huge and intelligent creatures, cannot swim their thousands of mile annual migrations in peace as they have for millennia. It's their world too. Their loss diminishes our lives as well.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Why Write? Stories Can Change the World

"We become what we tell ourselves we are," writes psychologist Mary Pipher in The Shelter of Each Other, "Good stories have the power to save us."

I read Pipher's book ten or more years ago, and that particular quote has stayed with me. I believe she is right, and furthermore, I believe that writers have a responsibility to tell the best stories we can, to aim high, to not settle for less than the transformative magic we are capable of. I believe we can change the world with our words. More than that, I believe we should never cease trying.

So today when I read Sarah Weinman's LA Times review of mystery novelist Sara Paretsky's new memoir, Writing In An Age of Silence, I was struck by what Weinman describes as Paretsky's desire to speak out in a nation that has moved from "proud speech into near-deafening silence." Weinman sums up the urgency I feel in the last paragraph:
Paretsky's concerns, especially in the searing final chapter, bring to mind Mike Judge's recent movie "Idiocracy": that if we don't act soon for change, we will end up with the cruel world we deserve.
Isn't that why we write?

So that we won't end up saying "I wish I had spoken out," or "I wish I had taken the time to. . .." You complete the sentence. Then write about it, and send your words out into the world to feed hungry hearts and minds.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Advice for a young writer (or any writer!)

I'm writing an article for a magazine aimed at young artists of all sorts - writers, dancers, actors, visual artists, musicians, and filmmakers. My assignment is to interview noted arts professionals and ask them what they'd say to emerging artists to help them make their work shine, shout out, be noticed.

When I interviewed poet David Lee - Lee was one of the top two candidates for the post of Poet Laureate of the United States the other year and has been called the Mark Twain of humorous poetry - he offered these four nuggets:
1. Believe in yourself. This above all else, to thine own self be true, Polonius from Shakespeare's Hamlet.
2. Have a commitment to what you do. You were probably chosen to be an artist: the words choose the writer.
3. Have an audience in mind. I pick people and write my poems to them. When I think they would like it, it's probably well-written.
4. Be well-read: fifty percent of good writing is good reading.

Nature note: The Indian paintbrush in our restored shortgrass prairie front yard are beginning to bloom, along with the sidebells penstemon with their lavender flowers. The pasque flowers have been replaced by wild Phyllis-Diller-hair seedheads, and the swallowtail butterflies have begun to emerge, fluttering across the yard by ones and twos. In the kitchen garden, my tomato plants have their first buds, and the peas are climbing the trellis. Summer solstice, the longest day of the year, is less than a month and a half away!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Deer in the garden

After a long, snowy and cold winter - we had snow on the ground for six weeks in a row and new residents of this part of Colorado were beginning to ask why it is referred to as the "banana belt," I figured that the Monet's Garden Mesclun lettuce mix I had seeded in last fall was a goner. When we peeled back the row cover the first warm day in March and there were still baby lettuce sprouts alive, I was amazed (thank you, Rene Shepherd for the fabulous seeds!). The Catalina spinach sprouts were actually growing, their dark green and crinkly leaves spread flat on the warm soil surface, but they're tough. I expect them to survive the winter. The survival of lettuce sprouts through nighttime lows down to minus twenty came under the heading of miraculous, and I thought they'd made it through the worst.

As the warm days grew longer, the lettuces began to grow, their leaves lengthening from thumbnail-size to something more visible, and their distinctive shapes and colors beginning to emerge.

Monday, five weeks we uncovered them, fist-sized lettuce heads packed a whole section of my kitchen garden in a beautiful variety of colors and forms - dark red oakleaf lettuces with their leaves sticking out at all angles, tight red-tipped heads of cupped leaves, pale green heads with crinkly leaves, dark green oval leaves curled together. They were gorgeous, and almost ready to harvest. I picked a pound and a quarter of Catalina spinach leaves from the section of the bed next to the lettuce, and said to myself, I'll pick the lettuce tomorrow.

Wrong. That night under an almost-full moon, two mule deer visited our garden, hopping up onto the bench-high raised beds and strolling about, munching what pleased them. Tuesday morning, we found a trail of delicate twin-hoofed prints pressed into the moist soil, the naked stalks where they'd nibbled the strawberry leaves, the nipped-off pea sprouts, and the chewed remains of lettuce heads where my thriving Monet's Garden Mesclun patch had been.

I refuse to fence my garden - fences are ugly, and dangerous to the other wildlife I regard as neighbors. Deer repellents aren't very useful on food plants, but I've had success with other deer-discouragement measures: I plant smelly herbs at the ends of the rows of my garden, which keeps the deer away once the herbs have grown large enough, and I use loose pea gravel on the paths (the deer won't walk there because the gravel makes too much noise underfoot). In early spring though, the deer can jump right up onto the garden beds. Last night, my husband, Richard, figured out how to outwit them: put the winter row covers back over the beds at night. This morning: no deer prints in the garden. Too bad we didn't think of that out before they ate the lettuce.

By the way, writer Bobbi Chukran's featuring deer in her garden blog too. Hers is cuter, and not eating her garden - yet!