Thursday, March 27, 2008

Earth Hour - Lights Out for a Brighter Future

This Saturday, March 29th, Richard and I will be staying with my parents at Gateway Canyons Resort in western Colorado's remote red-rock canyon country. My mom's sole wish for her birthday this year was "spring." So we're taking my folks on a four-day spring-finding expedition to the slickrock desert.

At eight o'clock Saturday night, we'll turn off the lights and appliances in our cabin in observance of Earth Hour, a global effort to dramatize the need to take action to slow global climate change. There in tiny Gateway, we'll join millions of people around the globe in sixty minutes of saving energy.

Why join this symbolic effort? Because it forces us all to pay attention to the energy we use. When we turn off the lights in our cabin, no one will likely notice. But when all of Sydney, Australia, went dark last year on the first Earth Hour, when the lights winked out at the Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, and buildings across the city, it was visible from space. (Check out the video at Earth Hour.)

Switching off the nonessential lights and appliances for an hour isn't much of a sacrifice, but it is useful in showing us just how much energy we use, and how much of that we actually need. It's an opportunity to change habits and find ways to conserve, as our personal contribution to greening our footprint and lowering the amount of greenhouse gases each of us is responsible for adding to Earth's atmosphere. It's a way to begin to lighten our impact on the planet.

So spread the word, and join millions of people the world around this Saturday night in showing you want to make a difference. Turn out your lights and turn off your appliances from eight to nine o'clock. And turn on your global consciousness.

While you're at it, go outside and look at the stars. The moon won't have risen yet, so the Milky Way should shimmer like a silvery river running across the sky. Looking south, the bright star you see is Sirius, the closest star to Earth, in the constellation Canis Major, the Big Dog. Looking at the night sky is a great way to refresh your sense of wonder, and remember how easy it is to love this living Earth and the galaxy it spins in.

Listen to my podcast this week for more on Earth Hour.

I'll be on the road until April 15, so won't be posting again until after I return. After the find-spring outing, Richard and I will drive US 50, America's loneliest road, to the Pacific Coast, where I'll be doing some research for my next article for Audubon magazine, on how we can "green" death. (Check out "Raising the Roof," my article on green roofs in the current issue.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spring spinach for localvores

It didn't snow today here at 7,000 feet in the southern Rockies, so after last night's silvery coat of frost burned off in the morning sun, we took the row covers off the spinach in our kitchen garden. The crinkly green leaves are just starting to lift off the warm surface of the soil, but they're not quite big enough to pick yet. After an unusually long and cold winter, I'm eager to get back to eating food grown from my own soil.

I planted the spinach last fall just in time for them to sprout and grow a few tiny leaves before the weather got too cold and the days too short for them to do more than hang on under the insulation of the row covers. But now that the equinox is almost here, and the days are lengthening relatively fast, my spinach plants are perking up. I'll thin them this weekend, and by next week, I'll pick a few leaves for our lunch time salads. The localvore in me is getting impatient to taste my terroir again!

It's time to plant the sugar snap peas too, plus some other spring greens. Last year we discovered chervil with its lacy leaves and delicate licorice flavor - it's a wonderful addition to sandwiches and salads. This year I'm going to plant tat soi (also called bok choi), turnips (I'll pick them tiny to steam greens and all), and I'm trying gala mache, also called corn salad or lamb's lettuce as well.

As always, I rely on plantswoman and cook Renee Shepherd of Renee's Seeds for my gourmet kitchen garden seeds. She knows gardening, and she knows flavor and cooking, and the combination makes for unbeatable seed varieties and prodigious and yummy harvests. Thanks for satisfying this localvore's hunger, Renee!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Greening the places we live

Since returning from Albuquerque last month, where I spoke at the New Mexico Xeriscape Council's national conference on water conservation and sustainable landscaping, I've been thinking about the rich rewards of living close to nature, of nurturing the community of the land right at home.

My husband, Richard, and I live on a half-block of formerly decaying industrial property on what used to be the wrong side of town, a place that once was a blight in its neighborhood and now blooms so exuberantly with wildflowers in summer that passers-by stop to take pictures. Our kitchen garden, sprouting in raised beds where above-ground oil tanks once sat, is so bountiful that we feed friends and family and still have enough left over to feast ourselves. Our house, while not yet finished, is so full of light and so inclusive of the views from all around that people exclaim in delight about its connection to the world outside when they walk inside.

In the decade-plus since Richard and I adopted this property, we've put in a lot of work. But it hasn't been hard, or expensive to return the place to health. It just took vision, and a good deal of stubbornness. (The latter, anyone who knows me will tell you, is a quality I have in spades.) The return for our work is an abundance of joy in watching what we've nurtured grow and flourish. Greening this half-block gives us hope that our species can have a positive impact on the places we live. It's profoundly uplifting to see what living lovingly and generously on the land can do. It brings us home as part of the community of the land right here where we live. That's a gift I cherish.

(For more on the story of our restoration of what we only half-jokingly call our "decaying industrial empire," read my entry in the Audubon Magazine blog: "Greening our very own decaying industrial empire.")

Talking books on Title Page tv

If you've not seen the newest entry in the genre of book discussion shows, go look at Titlepage tv. The first episode of this internet book talk show is up now, and it's a good beginning. Host Daniel Menaker interviews four novelists I didn't expect to see sitting at the same set: Richard Price, Colin Harrison, Susan Choi, and Charles Bock. Each of them gets a chance to talk about their latest novel, prodded by good questions by Menaker, and then the four talk about creativity and the writing stories. If I were teaching creative writing, I'd want my students to watch this episode in part to see these four novelists, but also to get a glimmer of how writers come up with profound stories and how they choose to describe their work. But it's not a class, it's a discussion between artists, shaped by an informed and intelligent host who has actually read the books he's talking about. (He even reads passages on camera.)

Here's what I loved most about this first episode: Menaker is a charming and knowledgeable interviewer, and the novelists were . . . just themselves. Not tarted up for tv, not stretching to explain their story in a 30-second sound-bite. They had time to talk, and some were clearly better at articulating the whys and wherefores of their novels than others. That was refreshing. For example, Richard Price starts out stone-faced, slumped a bit in his chair, holding his head at a funny angle and saying "uh" a lot. And as Menaker draws him out, his answers become more animated and his eyes light up, and pretty soon he's sitting up and gesturing with his hands and making his novel and its characters come alive. That's the treat: getting to hear a novelist show us his or her passion for the story they birthed.

Titlepage tv isn't perfect: the camera work needs, well, work. The set is pretty spare. And it would be really nice if they'd take questions from readers. But it works. It's like getting to sit in on a book group with writers talking about their own books. For free. On your computer or iPhone or other browsing device anytime you want to listen. How cool is that? Very cool, I'd say.

Thanks Titlepage! I'm looking forward to watching your work evolve.