Archive for November, 2008

Joy Shared Across Species

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

     I was startled when I first looked at some of these photos.  The happiness on the face of the chimp as she plays with these baby Siberian tigers is completely human.  The chimp is expressing pure pleasure;  she delights in these babies of a different species.   She recognizes them as her relatives, as I recognize her as my own close relative.–April Moore 

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In Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

     As we gather soon with loved ones to give thanks and to enjoy being together, I offer these beautiful words.  They are from the book Earth Prayers From Around the World, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon.

     “Belonging is the basic truth of our existence.  We belong here.  Life belongs here.  Likewise, at the heart of gratefulness, in its deepest sense, we also find an expression of belonging.  When we say “Thank you” we really are saying “We belong together.”  That is why we sometims find it so difficult to say “Thank you”–because we don’t want to acknowledge our interdependence.  We don’t want to be obliged.  But in a healthy society that is exactly what we seek:  mutual obligations.  Everyone is obliged to everyone and everything else;  we all belong together, we are of each other.  In this awareness we are freed from self-preoccupation–and only then, emptied of self, can we be filled with thanks.  As Brother David Steindl-Rast tells us, “Love whole-heartedly, be surprised, give thanks and praise–then you will discover the fullness of your life.”

     “Within this human impulse to gratitude flow the vast cycles of universal reciprocity–for everything that is taken, something has to be given in return.  If you merely take in a breath and stop there, you will die.  Likewise if you merely breathe out.  Life is not giving or taking, but give and take.  This is the dynamic expression of universal belonging expressed in our thanksgiving.

We give-away our thanks to the earth
     which gives us our home.
We give-away our thanks to the rivers and lakes
     which give-away their water.
We give-away our thanks to the trees
     which give-away fruit and nuts. . . .

All beings on earth:  the trees, the animals, the wind
     and the rivers give-away to one another
     so all is in balance. . . .
(Dolores LaChapelle)

     “In the midst of a pragmatic world in which we constantly ask ourselves how “useful” things are, these prayers may seem “useless.”  Yet perhaps the greatest gift we humans have to offer the rest of creation is our heartfelt appreciation.  The ability to receive in thankfulness the blessings of life is an awesome quality.  We alone on this planet can reflect on all that surrounds us and through our loving recognition the rest of the Earth achieves a deep fulfillment.

Earth isn’t this what you want:  invisibly
to arise in us?
(Rainer Maria Rilke)

     “Our praise and thanksgiving is as essential a part of life’s give and take as are the cycles of oxygen and water or any other nourishment flowing through the biosphere.”

The Climate for Change

Monday, November 24th, 2008

     I feel that with the election of Barack Obama as President, we have entered a time of great hope and optimism.  I am hopeful that our new President will act decisively to make the United States the world leader it should be in stopping global warming. 

     Below is a link to a piece Al Gore wrote in the New York Times.  He too is hopeful that an Obama presidency will mean significant action on the greatest challenge of our times. 

     I find Al Gore’s words stirring.–April Moore

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/opinion/09gore.html

Good News for Now–and for the Future

Friday, November 21st, 2008

     There is some great but overlooked news from the recent election.  Most of the land conservation measures on ballots across the country passed!  Of the 87 municipal, county, and state conservation measures on the ballot in many locations, voters approved 62 of them, or 71%!  Added together, these measures ensure that $7.3 billion in new public funds will be spent to protect land for parks and open space.  The election set a conservation funding record, according to the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national land conservation organization.

     A few highlights: 

  • In New Jersey, voters approved 14 of 22 county and municipal measures that will mean an additional $191 million in conservation funding.  In Hunterdon County, for example, voters extended the Hunterdon County Open Space Trust Fund, which will generate $7.6 million annually for open space, farmland, historic preservation efforts, and stewardship of county and municipal parklands.
  • In Minnesota, voters approved the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment, the largest land conservation measure in history, according to TPL.  With more than $5 billion approved for land and water conservation, the measure will increase the state’s investment in clean water, natural areas, cultural legacy, parks, and trails by $290 million a year for the next 25 years. 
  • In Ohio, voters approved a $400 million bond referendum to renew the Clean Ohio Fund.  And Rhode Island voters said yes to $2.5 million for farmland and natural area preservation.

     It is heartening to me to see that, despite the current economic climate, an overwhelming majority of voters want to protect our precious lands and waters.–April Moore 

    

Now You See It. . .

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

     Last Saturday was a moist, warmish, fall day.  My husband and I took a break from cutting and carrying firewood to sit for a bit on the bench at the top of our driveway.  From there, we could take in the view of the ridge known as Great North Mountain, and the whole tree-covered valley between us and the mountain.  The air felt almost balmy, and it was a pleasure to gaze out at the muted greens, the now-dominant browns, and the trees that were already bare.

     I almost always find when I’m outdoors, that the more I look, the more I see.  This day was no exception.  As I sat, I began to notice movement in a couple of the trees below.  The movement was accompanied by some soft cheeping sounds.  I watched as several birds, silhouettes from my vantage point, flittered about, settling on one branch, and then maybe another.  These birds were joined by several more birds, then more, and still more. 

     Their crested, slightly elongated figures combined with the dark branches to form a graceful shape against the sky.  What were these birds?  Could they be titmice? (What a name for a bird!)  They seemed a little too slender for that.  Could they be jays? 

     A little later, back at the house, I noticed that the same small flock was now flitting about in a pear tree by the deck.  And now I could get a good look at them.  They were cedar waxwings!  I have long had a great fondness for those tawny birds with their fierce-looking crests and eyes masked in a black stripe.  But I didn’t remember seeing cedar waxwings around here.  Maybe they had been eating the red berries from the small Rose of Sharon tree next to the pear.  

     I took full advantage of this rare opportunity to watch cedar waxwings up close.  I hadn’t realized before just how beautiful they are.  Their tails were tipped with yellow, their wings with red, and their backs sported a little bit of white. 

     The birds disappeared soon after that.  I learned from my bird book that a flock of cedar waxwings may suddenly appear in an area, devour the available berries, and then depart just as suddenly.  And that must be what happened, because I haven’t seen a single cedar waxwing since that day.

     My delightful experience on Saturday is a reminder to me of just how much is going on in the natural world at any given moment, and how things are changing all the time.  The cedar waxwings’ visit to our place was fleeting, and I would have missed it entirely had I not taken a little time out of my ‘busyness’ to sit outside and look around.–April Moore

      

Fresh, Frozen, or Canned?

Monday, November 17th, 2008

      Every time we enter the grocery store, we make choices that affect the environment.  Some purchases are easier on the earth, and others are more harmful.  In terms of vegetables and fruits, one might assume that fresh is best for Mother Earth.  But, like many seemingly simple things, the truth is more complicated.  I addressed this question in my book THE EARTH AND YOU:  EATING FOR TWO, published in the 90s by Potomac Valley Press:

     When bought and eaten soon after harvesting, fresh produce is the most healthful and delicious way to eat fruits and vegetables.  Such produce is better for the earth as well because it is more likely to have been locally grown.  That means little energy was spent in transport, and little or no packaging is needed.  Even more important, both for you and the earth, is the fact that locally grown produce is less likely to have been heavily treated with pesticides.

     But if you think that fresh produce is always better for the earth than frozen or canned, read on.  The truth is more complicated!

     Fresh tomatoes or strawberries bought in January are usually imported from Mexico or other foreign countries.  The environmental costs are the tremendous expense and pollution associated with fossil fuel for transportation and the degradation of land and water through intensive pesticide use.  In general, imported produce is much more likely to contain pesticide residues than are domestically grown fruits and vegetables.  During the winter months it is probably better for the earth and you to go easy on fresh vegetables and fruits.

     Frozen vegetables and fruits can be a good buy, both for you and the earth.  Boxes and bags of frozen produce are only lightly processed and so retain most of their nutritional value.  And they are inexpensive too.  During the winter especially, fresh produce may be substantially more expensive than frozen.

     What about canned vegetables and fruits?  Are they as good a choice as frozen?  Nutritionally speaking, canned foods are slightly inferior to fresh and frozen.  Most canned vegetables are fairly high in salt, and the vegetables are usually overcooked.  Canned fruits are often packed in sugary syrup.

     In terms of the environment, there are a few small advantages and disadvantages to both canned and frozen fruits and vegetables.  Canned foods have the advantage that their containers are more easily recycled than the cardboard boxes and plastic bags in which frozen vegetables and fruits are sold.  And canned fruits and vegetables require no refrigeration or freezing.  But the labels on many cans are made with inks containing lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals that may leach into groundwater.

     Frozen vegetables have the advantage of being more healthful than overcooked, salty, canned vegetables.  Yet frozen foods require a great deal of energy to keep them frozen from the time they are processed until they are transported to stores, sold, and eaten.  However, since almost all refrigerators have an attached freezer anyway, buying and storing frozen foods uses no extra energy.  In fact, a full freezer uses less energy than an empty one.  Only when a separate freezer is used do frozen vegetables use a great deal of energy.  A stand-alone freezer can be one of the most energy-consuming pieces of equipment a household can operate.

     While frozen vegetables and fruits can be a good choice for health–yours and the earth’s, the good news does not apply to all frozen foods.  Many frozen entrees, microwavable frozen dinners, and frozen snack foods are excessively packaged and high in fat, salt, and sugar.  Simple is better.

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

  • Purchase fresh produce when it is in season, and preferably when it is locally grown.
  • During the winter months avoid high-priced and heavily sprayed imported produce by buying frozen vegetables and fruits.
  • Purchase frozen foods in their simplest form, such as lightly cooked broccoli or peas.  Avoid frozen products that come with sauces, pouches, etc.  They are usually packaged wastefully, and they tend to be high in fat, salt, and sugar.  They are also expensive.April Moore

 

The Stream of Life

Friday, November 14th, 2008

     The following excerpt from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali was sent to me by my friend Judy.   The Bengali poet published it in 1910.–April Moore 

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances
in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow. I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.
-Rabindranath Tagore

 


Nature Made Simple–Too Simple

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

     Many years ago I was part of a group touring the Shenandoah Caverns in Virginia.  At one point, our guide showed us some fascinating straw-like shapes that had formed on the ceiling above us.  When I asked him what had caused these strange-looking formations, our guide admitted he didn’t know the answer. 

     Just then, a man behind me in the group piped up, “It’s a freak of nature.”  At the time, I had the impression that he wasn’t joking, that he believed he was actually providing an answer.  But what does ‘freak of nature’ mean?  Isn’t it really a way of saying we don’t have a clue about one of millions of  intricate structures in the natural world?

     I have been thinking about this incident lately, as I have been contemplating the notion of ‘instinct.’  We explain the actions of many animals with that single word.

     For example, how do birds know to fly thousands of miles to the very same place each winter?  Instinct. 

     How does a kangaroo rat know to perform an escape jump maneuver when it hears the sound of a rattlesnake, even if it has never encountered a snake before?  Instinct. 

     How does a spider know to avoid the sticky threads in her web that could ensnare her along with her prey?  Instinct.

     Instinct has been defined as a ”stereotyped, species-typical behavior that appears fully functional the first time it is performed, without the need for learning.” 

     I am not knocking instinct–survival strategies that animals seem to be born knowing.  But I think we humans tend to forget that this single word covers millions of complex processes in our fellow creatures (and in ourselves) that we cannot begin to understand.  

    I have come to think of the term ‘instinct’ as short-hand for the mind-boggling array of behaviors that thousands of species have evolved over millions of years, behaviors that awe me, that appear so mysterious, that work.

    And as I muse on the term ‘freak of nature,’ I see it as implying a single occurrence, something accidental, a mistake.  But in  fact, what is called a ‘freak of nature’  is actually the result of some deeply complex process that is beyond our understanding. 

     We humans often don’t want to admit that we don’t understand.  We would rather employ some simplistic explanation, even if it explains nothing.  But in doing so, we miss out on the wonder, the sense of mystery, the awareness that nature is not only more complex than we know, but more complex than we can ever know. –April Moore   

Little Yellow Fish

Monday, November 10th, 2008

This lovely poem recalls a delightful experience with a fish.  It was written by my friend Jan Frazier.

Little yellow fish,
     you swim somewhere
          in the turquoise Caribbean

that laps the reefs of St. John.
     You slice ripply shafts of sun,
          mouthing algae from the chalky ridges

of a brain coral.
     Or maybe by now
          you are in the belly of  red snapper.

But once
     you were in my hands,
          two cups of flesh

pooling your small finned body.
     What am I
          to make of the way

you stayed still,
     let me stroke you?
          You let yourself be

in the shadow
     of my bobbing body,
          beneath my chest, within hands

held loosely
     in the posture of prayer.
          I gave you room to slip away,

my fingerbones spread and rounded,
     a leaky bathysphere.
          You stayed.  Each time

I stretched my arms out front like an arrow
     and stroked, pushing water
          to propel my body to shore,

I lowered my chin,
     expecting to find you
          gone, startled, washed away.

You stayed,
     a constant yellow flame
          flickering at my heart.

I want to think
     it was kinship kept you with me
          from the reef a hundred feet out

all the way to the glittering white beach–
     that held you to my leviathan body,
          snorkeled and alien–and not

some inkling that plankton
     mght spill from my mouth.
          At the limit of your world,

I sat in two inches of warm, salty blue,
     ran a finger the length of you
          for goodbye,

and stepped back onto my dry world–
     white, hot sand
          that took the imprint of my foot.

I want to think
     you would remember me
          if I returned to your water,

that you would find me
     again
          as you did that day.

                     

Take the Train

Friday, November 7th, 2008

     If you’re going to be flying this holiday season, then you may be dreading the hassles–taking off shoes and belts, cramped seating, and now fees for everything from baggage to peanuts.

     But you might be able to avoid the unpleasantness of flying by taking the train.  The train is spacious,  offers plenty of leg room, and the seats are comfortable.  You don’t have to remove clothing, pay extra for your suitcase, or worry about how much liquid you are carrying.  And trains, at least in the northeast corridor, have an excellent on-time record.  

     If it hadn’t occurred to you to take the train this holiday season, who can blame you?  Train service in America has for many years withered for lack of federal support.   Last year, for instance, Amtrak received just $1.3 billion in federal funds, compared to $14.5 billion directed to the airline industry. 

     Over several decades of neglect by the government, passenger service on trains diminished dramatically, and most people lost the habit of even considering traveling by train.

     But the train industry is coming back, in spite of a lack of federal support.  A record 26 million Americans traveled by train last year.  And even though many cities and towns have little or no train service, there are many places you can get to by train. 

     I was pleasantly surprised by my own recent experience.  It would not have occurred to me that I could travel by train from Washington, DC to Amherst, a small town in Massachusetts.  But I learned from a friend that she had made just such a trip by train.  And it turns out that that same train makes many other stops in New England as well.  While the northeast is better served by rail than are other parts of the country, I am sure there are other such pleasant surprises to be found by checking Amtrak’s website, www.Amtrak.com.      

     So I took the train.  And my first train trip in many years was just great!  I was comfortable.  I could relax.  I could work.  And since train tracks don’t always run parallel to roads, I had the pleasure of watching forests and fields pass by. 

     But the most important advantage of train travel over air travel is its minimal environmental impact.  Air travel is the fastest growing contributor to global warming, emitting 10 times more climate-warming gases than train travel, according to some estimates. 

     So even if you assume that the train is not an option for your upcoming trip, I encourage you to find out for sure by visiting www.Amtrak.com.  You may be pleasantly surprised.  

     I also invite you to click on the link below to view a short video about train travel in the U.S. today.

  http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/02/cbs_forget_flying.php

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