Archive for June, 2008

What a Thing It Is

Monday, June 30th, 2008

     In ’teaching’ nature poetry outside to sixth graders, I often read this poem aloud with pleasure.  I hope you will enjoy it.–April Moore

WHAT A THING IT IS
     by Thomas Merton

What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone,
in the forest, at night, cherished by this
wonderful, unintelligible,
perfectly innocent speech,
the most comforting speech in the world,
the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges,
and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows!
Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it.
It will talk as long as it wants, this rain.
As long as it talks I am going to listen.

Animals May Be Smarter Than We Think

Friday, June 27th, 2008

     This funny excerpt from Temple Grandin’s book Animals in Translation is a good example, I think, of animals being smarter than humans realize.–April Moore

     “Not very long ago, Dr. Pepperberg began trying to teach Alex [an African gray parrot] and another gray parrot, Griffin, to sound out phonemes, which are the sounds that letters and letter combinations represent.  English has 40 phonemes altogether.  She and her colleagues wanted to see if the birds understood that words are made out of letters that could be recombined to make other words, so they started training the birds with magnetic refrigerator letters.

     “One day their corporate sponsors were visiting Dr. Pepperberg’s lab, and she and her staff wanted to show off what Alex and Griffin could do.  So they put a bunch of colored plastic refrigerator letters on a tray and started asking Alex questions.

     “”Alex, what sound is blue?”

     “Alex made the sound “Sssss.”  That was right;  the blue letter was ‘S.’

     “Dr. Pepperberg said, “Good birdie,” and Alex said, “Want a nut,” because he was supposed to get a nut whenever he gave the right answer.

     “But Dr. Pepperberg didn’t want him sitting there eating a nut during the limited time she had with their sponsors, so she told Alex to wait, and then asked, “What sound is green?”

     “The green example was the letter combination of ‘SH’ and Alex said, “Ssshh.”  He was right again.

     “Dr. Pepperberg said, “Good parrot,” and Alex said, “Want a nut.”

     “But Dr. Pepperberg said, “Alex, wait.  What sound is orange?”

     “Alex got that one right, too, and he still didn’t get his nut.  They just kept going on and on, making him sound out letters for his audience.  Alex was obviously getting more frustrated by the minute. 

     “Finally Alex lost his patience.

     “Here’s the way Dr. Pepperberg describes it:  Alex “gets very slitty-eyed and he looks at me and states, ‘Want a nut.  Nnn, uh, tuh.’”

     “Alex had spelled ‘nut.’  Dr. Pepperberg and her team were spending hours and hours training him on plastic refrigerator letters to see if Alex could eventually be taught that words are made out of sounds, and he already knew how to spell.  He was miles ahead of them.

     “Dr. Pepperberg says, “These kinds of things don’t happen in the lab on a daily basis, but when they do, they make you realize there’s a lot more going on inside these little walnut-sized brains than you might at first imagine.”  I would like to add that there is a lot more going on than humans perceive.  Dr. Pepperberg and her team are probably the world’s foremost authorities on parrot cognitive abilities, they’ve been working with Alex for 20 years, and yet they had no idea Alex had learned to spell.”

Amazing Photos of Icebergs

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

     I thank Lee Stanfield (by way of Judy Muller) for these amazing pictures of icebergs.  I’ve never seen such pictures before!  Apparently, icebergs in the Antarctic area are sometimes striped, for the following reasons: 

     Blue stripes may be created when a crevice in the ice sheet fills with meltwater and freezes so quickly that no bubbles form.

     Green stripes may form when an iceberg falls into the sea, and a layer of salty seawater, rich in algae, freezes to the underside of the iceberg.

     Brown, black, and yellow strips are caused when an iceberg grinds downhill on a piece of land toward the sea, picking up sediment along the way.

     Enjoy the show!

This SimpleViewer gallery requires Macromedia Flash. Please open this post in your browser or get Macromedia Flash here.
This is a WPSimpleViewerGallery

Fly Lighter–And Better

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

     Well, the summer travel season is here, but flying gets more problematic all the time.   With fuel prices in–well, the stratosphere, the airlines are struggling to stay aloft.  They are trying to shave off weight in every way they can, including charging passengers for every checked bag.

     While this move by the airlines can make flying more expensive for travelers, it may also be an opportunity for the flying public to reduce the amount of carbon that planes spew into the air.  Fewer bags = less weight.  

     But can you actually fit everything you’ll need–well, maybe want–on your vacation, into just one carryon bag?  At  www.onebag.com, you’ll find sound advice for how to travel with just one carryon bag, whether it’s for just a weekend or for an entire month.  

     Here are five tips from www.onebag.com.  I encourage you to visit the site to learn much more.

**Use a good packing list.  A list of things you MIGHT want is different from a list of items you can’t live without.  From this site, I learned the value of making a generic list that I refine over time, rather than making a new list for every trip I plan.  Before adding an item to your list, ask yourself whether you really need it or whether you will be okay if you leave it at home. 

**Cut back on the amount of clothes you bring by choosing a compatible color scheme of one or two colors.

**Choose clothing that is light-weight and easily washable by hand.  Then you won’t need to do so much ‘just in case’ packing.

**Bundle-wrap your clothing to save space and reduce wrinkling.  The site offers detailed instructions as to how to do this.  For instance, the less easily wrinkled clothing should be closer to the core of the bundle, while larger, more tailored garments should be on the outside.

**The bag matters.  To qualify as a carryon, the length, height, and width should add up to no more than 45 inches.  Rectangular is better than a rounded shape that sacrifices internal volume.  A soft bag is better than a hard-shelled one, because it can more readily be stuffed into an overhead bin.  Light synthetic fabrics are better than leather.  Leather might look nice, but it’s heavier and more susceptible to mildew if you’re traveling in humid places.

  

Goethe on Nature

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

     I thank EarthConnection subscriber Jim Zelenski for alerting me to this powerful piece by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  The great German writer, philosopher, and scientist must have been one of the most alive, creative people who has ever lived.  In the short piece below, Goethe wrote with awe and passion about nature.  With each reading of the piece, I find more to wonder at.  It is truly marvelous.  I recommend it.–April Moore

Nature–A Fragment

Nature!  We are surrounded and embraced by her–powerless to leave her and powerless to enter her more deeply.  Unasked and without warning, she sweps us away in the round of her dance and dances on until we fall exhausted from her arms.

She brings forth ever new forms:  what is there, never was;  what was, never will return.  All is new, and yet forever old.

We live within her, and are strangers to her.  She speaks perpetually with us, and does not betray her secret.  We work on her constantly, and yet have no power over her.

All her effort seems bent toward individuality, and she cares nothing for individuals.  She builds always, destroys always, and her workshop is beyond our reach.

She lives in countless children, and the mother–where is she?  She is the sole artist, creating extreme contrast out of the simplest material, the greatest perfection seemingly without effort, the most definite clarity always veiled with a touch of softness.  Each of her works has its own being, each of her phenomena its separate idea, and yet all create a single whole.

She plays out a drama:  we know not whether she herself sees it, and yet she plays it for us, we who stands in the corner.

There is everlasting life, growth, movement in her and yet she does not stir from her place.  She transforms herself constantly and there is never a moment’s pause in her.  She has no name for respite, and she has set her curse upon inactivity.  She is firm.  Her tread is masured, her exceptions rare, her laws immutable.

She thought and she thinks still, not as man, but as nature.  She keeps to herself her own all-embracing thoughts which none may discover from her.

All men  are in her and she in all.  With all she plays a friendly game, and is glad as our winnings grow.  With many she plays a hidden game which is ended before they know it.

Even what is most unnatural is nature.  The one who does not see her everywhere sees her nowhere clearly.

She loves herself, she adores herself eternally with countless eyes and hearts.  She has scattered herself to enjoy herself.  She brings forth ever new enjoyers, insatiable in her need to share herself.

She delights in illusion.  Whoever destroys this in himself and others she punishes as the sternest tyrant.  Whoever follows her trustingly she takes to her heart like a child.

Her children are without number.  From none does she withhold all gifts, but upon her favorites she lavishes much and for them she sacrifices much.  She has lent her protection to greatness.

Her creatures are flung up out of nothingness with no hint of where they come from or where they are going–they are only to run;  she knows the course.

She has few mainsprings to drive her, but these never wind down;  they are always at work, always varied.

Her drama is ever new because she creates ever new spectators.  Life is her most beautiful invention and death her scheme for having more life.

She wraps man in shadow and forever spurs him to find the light.  She makes him a creature dependent upon the earth, sluggish and heavy, and then again and again she shakes him awake.

She gives us needs because she loves movement.  A miracle, how little she uses to achieve all this movement.  Evert need is a favor.  Soon satisfied, soon roused again.  When she gives us another, it is a source of new pleasure.  But soon she comes into balance.

At every moment she prepares for the longest race and at every moment she is done with it.

She is vanity itself, but not our vanity.  For us she has given herself paramount importance.

She lets every child practice his arts on her, every fool judge her;  she allows thousands to pass over her dully, wihout seeing her.  In all this she takes joy and from it she draws her profit.

We obey her laws even in resisting them;  we work with her even in working against her.

All she gives she makes  blessing, for she begins by making it a need.  She delays so that we long for her; she hurries so that we never have our fill of her.

She has neither language nor speech, but she makes tongues and hearts with which to feel and speak. 

Her crown is love.  Only through love do we come to her.  She open chasms between all beings, and each seeks to devour the ther.  She has set all apart to draw all together.  With a few draughts from the cup of love she makes good a life full of toil.

She is all.  She rewards herself and punishes herself, delights and torments herself.  She is rough and gentle, charming and terrifying, impotent and all-powerful.  All is eternally present in her.  She knows nothing of past and future.  The present is eternity for her.  She is kind.  I praise her with all her works.  She is wise and still.  We may force no explanation from her, wrest no gift from her, if she does not give it freely.  She is full of tricks, but to a good end, and it is best not to take note of her ruses.

She is whole and yet always unfinished.  As she does now, she may do forever.

To each she appears in a unique form.  She hides amid a thousand names and terms, and is always the same.

She has brought me here, she will lead me away.  I trust myself to her.  She may do as she will with me.  She will not hate her work.  It is not I who have spoken of her.  No, what is true and what is false, all this she has spoken.  Hers is the blame, hers the glory.

 

 

 

 

More Americans Are Enjoying Nature

Friday, June 20th, 2008

     Good news!  More people are enjoying wildlife.  According to a national survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the number of Americans engaging in wildife-related recreation has increased since 2001.

     Nearly one-third of Americans aged 16 and above–over 70 million people–report that they participate in some type of wildlife-watching activity, up 8 percent from 2001.  More people are observing birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and insects.  Birds are especially popular, with almost 50 million people reporting that they enjoy watching our feathered friends.

     I find it encouraging that more Americans are taking pleasure from observing our fellow creatures.–April Moore

Touching the Sacred—via the Internet

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

     I am feeling thankful for my experience with www.TheEarthConnection.org.  ’Doing’ this website has had an effect on me that I might have wished for, but didn’t really trust would happen.  As I delve into the works of poets, scientists, naturalists, and photographers, and create my postings–I find that I am changing, deepening actually.  

     I find I am actually living in a state of greater love for the earth than usual, because of the website.  More sensitized to the natural world around me, I am more apt to notice birds singing, and I revel (yes, revel!) in their music.  When I learn that something terrible has been done to a grove of ancient trees or to some animals, I am more able to let myself feel the pain of it.  I have less need to attempt to harden myself against news that is too painful to bear.  

     In announcing to the world, through the site, that the earth is my passion, I have challenged myself to live from that passion.  While I have always felt a strong love for nature, only now have I put that love at the center of my creative work life.  My enviromental activity is no longer relegated to the edges, with the core of my life consumed by work I care far less about.   

     So now the earth is at the center of my work and creative life.  And while I may not make a living doing the site, it’s a true expression of the best I have to offer to the world and myself.   

     Launching the site has been a surprising journey.  A VERY slow learner when it comes to technology, I have struggled with virtually every aspect of managing the site.  So I was skeptical that the Internet, of all things, could help me connect more deeply with nature.  But of  course it’s not just the Internet.  It’s the way the Internet has enabled me to share with all of you, who also love the earth, and who take note of my postings.  Contact with you is both heartening and scary, as I put my heart out there for the world to see.  But it’s deeply good for me.  I thank you–and the Internet.  Yay, Al Gore, Inventor of the Internet!–April Moore  

Lessening Your Impact on the Planet Made EASY!

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

     Sure.  We all know we should be making changes around the house to reduce our impact on the planet.  But for us un-handy types, the prospect of installing a low-flow showerhead or figuring out how to insulate the water heater is daunting!  The prospect of trying to figure out a complicated set of instructions can make even the most dedicated environmentalist procrastinate!

     So I was pleased when I found the Sierra Club’s ‘we can do it’ videos.  With an investment of less than five minutes, you can  watch as the Sierra Club’s Owen Bailey SHOWS you what to do.  His no-frills explanation, combined with his upbeat, encouraging manner, will give you the confidence you need to actually make a change in your home, a change that will be a plus both for the planet and your pocketbook.

     There are four ‘we can do it’ videos.  They include:

**How to install a programmable thermostat that will save energy and money.

**How to wrap your water heater in an insulating blanket that will save energy, while lowering your heating bill.

**How to install a low-flow showerhead, which can save the typical household 8,000 gallons of water a year.

**How to get started with composting.

     So click on http://www.sierraclub.org/wecandoit/videos/ .  Choose the eco-action you feel most ready to take, and spend a few minutes watching the video.  Then you’ll have the know-how to make a changthat you can feel very good about.–April Moore

    

We’re All Connected

Monday, June 16th, 2008

     The following short passage comes from Ursala Goodenough’s book THE SACRED DEPTHS OF NATURE.  Ms. Goodenough reminds me that it is not just the fascinating mammals or the awesome mountains that are worth celebrating.  It’s all of us, including the microbes, maybe even especially the microbes, that weave together to create a wondrous whole.

     I walk through the Missouri woods and the organisms are everywhere, seen and unseen, flying about or pushing through the soil or rummaging under the leaves, adapting and reproducing.  I open my senses to them and we connect.  I no longer need to anthropomorphize them, to value them because they are beautiful or amusing or important for my survival.  I see them as they are;  I understand how they work.  I think about their genes switching on and off, their cells dividing and differentiating in pace with my own, homologous to my own.  I take in the sycamore by the river and I think about its story, the ancient algae and mosses and ferns that came before, the tiny first progenitor that gave rise to it and to me.  I try to guess why it looks the way it does–why the leaves are so serrated and the bark so white–and imagine all sorts of answers, all manner of selections and unintended consequences that have yielded this tree to existence and hence to my experience.”–Ursala Goodenough 

Wake Up, America. We’re Driving Toward Disaster

Friday, June 13th, 2008

     This thoughtful piece makes a lot of sense to me.  There may well be changes ahead beyond what most of us are imagining today, changes that we would do well to think about and prepare for.  In the coming years, I don’t think we will be living essentially the same lives we now live, only with an oil substitute.  Our lives will likely change much more than that.  

 by James Howard Kunstler

     Everywhere I go these days, talking about the global energy predicament on the college lecture circuit or at environmental conferences, I hear an increasingly shrill cry for ‘solutions.’  This is justanother symptom of the delusional thinking that now grips the nation, especially among the educated and well-intentioned.

     I say this because I detect in this strident plea the desperate wish to keep our ‘Happy Motoring’ utopia running by means other than oil and its byproducts.  But the truth is that no combination of solar, wind and nuclear power, ethanol, biodiesel, tar sands and used French-fry oil will allow us to power Wal-Mart, Disney World and the interstate highway system–or even a fraction of these things–in the future.  We have to make other arrangements.

     The public, and especially the mainstream media, misunderstands the ‘peak oil’ story.  It’s not about running out of oil.  It’s about the instabilities that will shake the complex systems of daily life as soon as the global demand for oil exceeds the global supply. 

     These systems can be listed concisely:  the way we produce food, the way we conduct commerce and trade, the way we travel, the way we occupy the land, the way we acquire and spend capital. 

     And there are others:  governance, health care, education and more.  

     As the world passes the all-time oil production high and watches as the price of a barrel of oil busts another record, as it did last week, these systems will run into trouble.  Instability in one sector will bleed into another.  Shocks to the oil markets will hurt trucking, which will slow commerce and food distribution, manufacturing and the tourist industry in a chain of cascading effects.  Problems in finance will squeeze any enterprise that requires capital, including oil exploration and production, as well as government spending.  These systems are all interrelated.  They all face a crisis.  What’s more, the stress induced by the failure of these systems will only increase the wishful thinking across our nation.

     And that’s the worst part of our quandary:  the American public’s narrow focus on keeping all our cars running at any cost.  Even the environmental community is hung up on this.  The Rocky Mountain Institute has been pushing for the development of a ‘hypercar’ for years–inadvertently promoting the idea that we really don’t need to change.

     Years ago, U.S. negotiators at a UN environmental conference told their interlocutors that the American lifestyle is ‘not up for negotiation.’  This stance is, unfortunately, related to two pernicious beliefs that have become common in the United States in recent decades.  The first is the idea that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.  (Oprah Winfrey advanced this notion last year with her promotion of a pop book called THE SECRET, which said, in effect, that if you wish hard enough for something, it will come to you.)  One of the basic differences between a child and an adult is the ability to know the difference between wishing for things and actually making them happen through earnest effort.

     The companion belief to ‘wishing upon a star’ is the idea that one can get something for nothing.  This derives from America’s new favorite religion:  not evangelical Christianity but the worship of unearned riches.  (The holy shrine to this tragic belief is Las Vegas).  When you combine these two beliefs, the result is the notion that when you wish upon a star, you’ll get something for nothing.  This is what underlies our current fantasy, as well as our inability to respond intelligently to the energy crisis.

     These beliefs also explain why the presidential campaign is devoid of meaningful discussion about our energy predicament and its implications.  The idea that we can become ‘energy independent’ and maintain our current lifestyle is absurd.  So is the gas-tax holiday.  (Which politician wants to tell voters on Labor Day that the holiday is over?)  The pie-in-the-sky plan to turn grain into fuel has come to grief, too, when we saw its disruptive effect on global grain prices and the food shortages around the world, even in the United States.  In recent weeks, the rice and cooking oil shelves in my upstate New York supermarket have been stripped clean.

     So what are intelligent responses to our predicament?  First, we’ll have to dramatically reorganize the everyday activities of American life.  We’ll have to grow our food closer to home, in a manner that will require more human attention.  In fact, agriculture needs to return to the center of economic life.  We’ll have to restore local economic networks–the very networks that the big-box stores systematically destroyed–made of fine-grained layers of wholesalers, middlemen and retailers.

     We’ll also have to occupy the landscape differently, in traditional towns, villages and small cities.  Our giant metroplexes are not going to make it, and the successful places will be ones that encourage local farming.

     Fixing the U.S. passenger railroad system is probably the one project we could undertake right away that would have the greatest impact on the country’s oil consumption.  The fact that we’re not talking about it–especially in the presidential campaign–shows how confused we are.  The airline industry is disintegrating under the enormous pressure of fuel costs.  Airlines cannot fire any more employees and have already offloaded their pension obligations and outsourced their repairs.  At least five small airlines have filed for bankruptcy protection in the last two months.  If we don’t get the passenger trains running again, Americans will be going nowhere five years from now.

     We don’t have time to be crybabies about this.  The talk on the presidential campaign trail about “hope” has its purpose.  We cannot afford to remain befuddled and demoralized.  But we must understand that hope is not something applied externally.  Real hope resides within us.  We generate it–by proving that we are competent, earnest individuals who can discern between wishing and doing, who don’t figure on getting something for nothing and who can be honest about the way the universe really works. 

Home | About | Blog | Contact | Newsletter

Earth Connection is proudly powered by WordPress
Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).