Archive for December, 2008

In the Point of Rest At the Center of Our Being

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

I can think of no words that resonate for me more deeply than these by the Swedish diplomat and Christian mystic Dag Hammarskjold.  Contemplating these sentiments seems to me a good thing to do as we think back on 2008 and look ahead to 2009.  Blessings to you.–April Moore    

In the point of rest at the center of our being, we
encounter a world where all things are at rest in the
same way.  Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud
a revelation, each man a cosmos of whose riches
we can only catch glimpses.  The life of simplicity is
simple, but it opens to us a book in which we
never get beyond the first syllable.
 

A New Day for Planet Earth. . . .And Not a Moment Too Soon

Monday, December 29th, 2008

     I am feeling very hopeful that the United States is finally going to tackle climate change.  President-Elect Obama has shown that he intends to put the full muscle of the federal government into halting, and then reversing, the greenhouse gas emissions that are, at this point, still accelerating. 

     And not a moment too soon.  The world lost eight valuable years with George Bush dithering and denying the gravity of climate change.  While a great deal of damage to the planet and to many of our fellow creatures cannot be undone, I am hopeful that over the next four years we will make significant headway in averting catastrophe for the entire planet.

     Following is a brief description of Mr. Obama’s appointments to important environmental posts that are inspiring me with hope:  

  •  John Holdren, science advisor.  According to Science magazine, this president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science has “more combined expertise on both climate science and clean energy technology than any other person who could plausibly have been named science advisor.”  Holdren clearly understands the seriousness of the problem, having said recently, “It is too late for avoiding dangerous climate change.  We must focus on avoiding catastrophic climate change.”
  • Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy.  This Nobel Prize-winning physicist takes climate change very seriously.  He said recently that scientists have come to realize that the earth’s climate is more sensitive than was thought previously.  The world’s other top emitter of greenhouse gases–China–has hailed the appointment of a Chinese-American to the Energy post.  Chu may be uniquely suited to engage in successful negotiations with China regarding emissions reductions by our two countries.
  • Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator.   Perhaps the most controversial of Obama’s environmental picks, Jackson has been praised for her leadership on climate change in her role as New Jersey’s chief environmental regulator.  She is known for pragmatic approaches, some of which have angered environmentalists, others of which have angered industry.  She is expected to act aggressively on climate change in her new federal position.
  • Nancy Sutley, chief, Council on Environmental Quality.  She is an expert on climate, energy, and air policies and has worked at the local, state, and federal levels.  The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) praises her extensive political skills.
  • Carol Browner, Energy Tsar.  In creating this new position, Obama has underscored his position that clean energy and climate protection are keys to spurring economic recovery, while safeguarding the planet, according to NRDC.  Browner, EPA Administrator during the Clinton years, was given high marks for her efforts to protect environmental rules from Newt Gingrich and the GOP, who were trying to dismantle them, en masse.  Browner’s role as ‘Tsar’ will be to coordinate energy and environmental policy among the myriad federal agencies and to head a National Energy Council.

The More I Learn About the World. . . .

Friday, December 26th, 2008

     The following is a very hopeful message, I think, as we move toward a new year.  And I thank my friend Ginny for the book from which this piece comes, Green Spirituality by Veronica Ray.–April Moore

     “The more I learn about the world, the better my interactions with it will be.

     “Education is our first step toward improving all our actions.  Whether we learn from courses, books, experiences, or other people, everything we learn can help us improve the world and our effects on it.  Whether we learn individually or collectively, all learning helps stretch humanity beyond its past mistakes.

     “H. G. Welles wrote, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”  We now know of so many potentially catastrophic problems in the world that it may seem overwhelming.  But everything we learn, every forward step we take with our true understanding, can change the way we think and act, and that will change the world.  We can begin making amends for the mistakes we’ve made in the past and stop making the same ones now and in the future.  We can use our uniquely human capacity to learn.”

The Puffins Are Back!

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

     Great news!  Eastern Egg Rock, in Maine’s Muscongus Bay, is once again home to nesting puffins.  The funny-looking, penguin-like birds who once lived there in large numbers, had been all but wiped out by the early 1900s.  Prized for their meat, eggs, and feathers, they had been hunted so extensively that they disappeared from the eastern United States.

     Enter Steve Kress, an Audubon scientist.  In 1973 he launched Project Puffin, the world’s first seabird colony restoration project.  For 13 years, Kress and his team transplanted almost 1,000 young puffins from Newfoundland’s abundant population to Eastern Egg Rock, in hopes that the birds would thrive and establish a colony there, where their ancestors had once lived.

     Kress and his crew helped the puffin chicks survive by digging burrows for them on the island and by bringing them fish to eat.  Once the first group of chicks matured and left the island, Kress waited excitedly.  Knowing that puffins typically return to nest where they spent their ‘childhood,’ he hoped that these resettled chicks would come back to Eastern Egg Rock when it was time for them to nest.  And they did!

     Slowly, the colony took hold, and today, according to the National Audubon Society, is growing rapidly.  Last summer there was a record 101 pairs of nesting puffins on Eastern Egg Rock!  It looks like there will be more next year!–April Moore

A Thank You—And A Request

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

      With 2008 drawing to a close, I am feeling grateful for many things.  One of the greatest blessings of the year for me has been  www.TheEarthConnection.org.  I am especially grateful to my husband Andy Schmookler for conceiving the idea of this site in the first place.  And I am thankful for his encouragement throughout the process of creation;  there were many moments when I wondered if I, a bumbling technophobe, had what it takes to manage a website!    

     www.TheEarthConnection.org means a great deal to me.  Knowing that there are people who are interested in my postings has been heartening.  As you well know, the earth is my passion.  The joy I derive from the natural world is deep, and so is the pain I feel whenever I see, or learn more about, the destruction we humans are wreaking on it.

     This web site is a rich and wonderful opportunity for me to share with others my delight, my hope, my learning, and my natural bent toward activism.  The site has been a means for me to live more from the part of me that is deeply connected with nature, the part that loves that connection. 

     I thank you for reading my postings.  And an extra thanks to those who have taken the trouble to comment from time to time. 

     This website has yielded an unexpected benefit.  I am finding an artist stirring in me.  I see that I am noticing more when I am outside, or even when I look out the window.  Ideas pop into my head for words to describe my experience, words that feel true and pleasing to me.  The knowledge that people will be reading my postings is a fine muse!

     Now for my request.  I am eager to get this website out into the world more widely.  My  request for a ‘Christmas present’ is that you, if you feel happy to do so, share www.TheEarthConnection.org with two people in your life who, you think, might find the site of value to them.  I thank you in advance!

    Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to you!  And I hope you also enjoyed the solstice.  I like the pagan celebration of darkness, which is just as important, after all, as the light.–April Moore

Holiday Packaging for the Earth

Friday, December 19th, 2008

     When it comes to packaging gifts this season, you can do the earth and wildlife a favor by avoiding Styrofoam.

     While those little ‘peanuts’ may be good for protecting breakables in the mail, Styrofoam–or polystyrene–poses major problems.  Pieces of it can end up in rivers and oceans, where birds and other animals often mistake the light, floating plastic for food.  Polystyrene is bad for us too.  Its components can alter DNA structure, damage the nervous system, and may even cause cancer. 

     So if you’re thinking of purchasing a bag of polystyrene peanuts to protect the fragile gifts you’re giving, please rethink the idea.  Perfectly adequate alternatives include:  wadded up newspaper;  popcorn (real popcorn, that is, preferably unsalted and unbuttered);  crumpled up plastic or paper bags;  even rags or old towels.

     And what to do with the polystyrene peanuts that accompany gifts you receive this holiday season?  One approach is to carefully gather all the peanuts into a container, and then reuse them the next time you have a package to mail. 

     Polystyrene peanuts can also be recycled.   The Plastic Loose Fill Council operates a “Peanut Hotline.”  If you call 1-800-828-2214, you will hear a recorded message tailored to your calling location.  When I called, I was given the addresses of two drop-off sites within an hour of where we live.  I was pleasantly surprised, since I live in a rural area at least two hours from any major city.–April Moore 

A Morning Wrapped in Ice

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

     As soon as I looked outside this morning, through the small space between the curtain and the edge of the glass door by our bed, I knew I was in for a treat.  The few small branches I could see were encased in ice.  But I would have to move fast;  I knew from experience that the sparkling wonderland the woods had become would soon melt away.

     Taking time only to dress and to tend our two woodstoves, I dashed out.  Hearing what sounded like a steady rain, I knew I had already missed the ice-enveloped scene at its peak. 

     What sounded like rain was instead water dripping from hundreds–thousands–of branches, twigs, and berries, as the warming morning released them from their icy embrace.  To walk beneath a tree was to be ‘rained’ on. 

     Walking from the front door to our driveway meant stooping to pass beneath a new, temporary arch.  The slender holly tree that usually stands upright next to the house was bent over, under the weight of the ice that outlined its branches.  As I moved farther up the driveway, the stalks of bamboo growing at the driveway’s edge were bent far over, many of them resting on the driveway.  While I could lift the bamboo stalks only with difficulty, I knew that they would begin to straighten as the ice melted, and before long they would completely resume their usual posture.

     I had to visit the deeper forest while this transformation lasted.  So down the side of the ridge I walked, marveling as I went.  Now at the corkscrew willow branch resting on the ground, its curling twigs made all the more vivid by their frame of ice.  Now at the graceful little dogwood, its red berries shining all the brighter from within their glassy coatings.  And now at the red maple, always pleasing in the spare, curved line of its trunk, today looking even more elegant under its low, wide crown glistening with ice.

     Once I descended a little farther, I saw a dramatic scene.  The little white pine saplings that dot an  open area were all bowed reverently, their tops touching the ground.  These tiny bending figures immediately brought to mind the Muslim children I taught several years ago, who prayed every day,  with their heads to the ground.  Unlike the children, however, the bowed pines did not all face Mecca.

     After some time in the forest, I climbed the steep hill to the top of the ridge and followed the dirt road that runs along it.  What a pleasure to look out to the east on such a morning.  Hills, some near, some far, and others in-between, were interspersed with misty clouds.  As in a Chinese painting, the hills were softened, made more mysterious by the mists that partially obscured their shapes.  

     Turning and heading back toward home, I noticed here and there, beside the road, sparkling bits of ‘glass,’ blown from the branches before they could melt away.  For a few moments these bits of ice were little jewels.  Then they disappeared into the soil.–April Moore

Our New Friend, the Rat

Monday, December 15th, 2008

     For most of us, rats evoke more of a shudder than a feeling of appreciation.  But, as this short piece from The Week, December 12, 2008, points out, rats have some assets worth valuing.–April Moore

     “They may not be cute and cuddly, but rats have become man’s new best friend, says The Boston Globe

     “Because they spend their lives foraging for food, rats have supersensitive noses, which scientists have learned to utilize in two new lifesaving projects in Africa. 

     “In Mozambique, giant rats have been trained to sniff out thousands of land mines left from pervious conflicts.  The rats’ “noses are far more sensitive than all current mechanical vapor detectors,” says Harvard Bach, a mine-clearing specialist with an international aid organization. 

     “Unlike dogs, rats are so light-footed that they do not trigger land mines.  Their amazing success in detecting mines may lead them to be employed in other regions in Africa, as well as in Asia and
Europe, where millions of mines that remain buried from previous wars kill and maim thousands of people each year.

     “In Tanznia, the rat’s sense of smell is being used as a medical testing device:  they sniff saliva samples for traces of tuberculosis.  The animals are able to identify early-stage infections that may not be found by a microscope. 

     “Rats get a bad rap, says Alberto Jorge Chambe, a rat handler for the Mozambique project, but they’re smarter and friendlier than you might think–and far less expensive than trained dogs.

     “Rats are usually considered pests or enemies of humanity,” Chambe says.  “But rats are helping my country escape the shadow of death.”

A Winter Piece

Friday, December 12th, 2008

This fairly long poem, by the nineteenth century American poet William Cullen Bryant, is full of strong, vivid images of winter beauty.  

 

  The time has been that these wild solitudes,

Yet beautiful as wild, were trod by me
Oftener than now; and when the ills of life
Had chafed my spirit—when the unsteady pulse
Beat with strange flutterings—I would wander forth
And seek the woods. The sunshine on my path
Was to me as a friend. The swelling hills,
The quiet dells retiring far between,
With gentle invitation to explore
Their windings, were a calm society
That talked with me and soothed me. Then the chant
Of birds, and chime of brooks, and soft caress
Of the fresh sylvan air, made me forget
The thoughts that broke my peace, and I began
To gather simples by the fountain’s brink,
And lose myself in day-dreams. While I stood
In nature’s loneliness, I was with one
With whom I early grew familiar, one
Who never had a frown for me, whose voice
Never rebuked me for the hours I stole
From cares I loved not, but of which the world
Deems highest, to converse with her. When shrieked
The bleak November winds, and smote the woods,
And the brown fields were herbless, and the shades,
That met above the merry rivulet,
Were spoiled, I sought, I loved them still,—they seemed
Like old companions in adversity.
Still there was beauty in my walks; the brook,
Bordered with sparkling frost-work, was as gay
As with its fringe of summer flowers. Afar,
The village with its spires, the path of streams,
And dim receding valleys, hid before
By interposing trees, lay visible
Through the bare grove, and my familiar haunts
Seemed new to me. Nor was I slow to come
Among them, when the clouds, from their still skirts,
Had shaken down on earth the feathery snow,
And all was white. The pure keen air abroad,
Albeit it breathed no scent of herb, nor heard
Love-call of bird, nor merry hum of bee,
Was not the air of death. Bright mosses crept
Over the spotted trunks, and the close buds,
That lay along the boughs, instinct with life,
Patient, and waiting the soft breath of Spring,
Feared not the piercing spirit of the North.
The snow-bird twittered on the beechen bough,
And ’neath the hemlock, whose thick branches bent
Beneath its bright cold burden, and kept dry
A circle, on the earth, of withered leaves,
The partridge found a shelter. Through the snow
The rabbit sprang away. The lighter track
Of fox, and the racoon’s broad path, were there,
Crossing each other. From his hollow tree,
The squirrel was abroad, gathering the nuts
Just fallen, that asked the winter cold and sway
Of winter blast, to shake them from their hold.
 
  But Winter has yet brighter scenes,—he boasts
Splendours beyond what gorgeous Summer knows;
Or Autumn with his many fruits, and woods
All flushed with many hues. Come when the rains
Have glazed the snow, and clothed the trees with ice;
While the slant sun of February pours
Into the bowers a flood of light. Approach!
The incrusted surface shall upbear thy steps,
And the broad arching portals of the grove
Welcome thy entering. Look! the massy trunks
Are cased in the pure crystal; each light spray,
Nodding and tinkling in the breath of heaven,
Is studded with its trembling water-drops,
That stream with rainbow radiance as they move.
But round the parent stem the long low boughs
Bend, in a glittering ring, and arbours hide
The glassy floor. Oh! you might deem the spot
The spacious cavern of some virgin mine,
Deep in the womb of earth—where the gems grow,
And diamonds put forth radiant rods and bud
With amethyst and topaz—and the place
Lit up, most royally, with the pure beam
That dwells in them. Or haply the vast hall
Of fairy palace, that outlasts the night,
And fades not in the glory of the sun;—
Where crystal columns send forth slender shafts
And crossing arches; and fantastic aisles
Wind from the sight in brightness, and are lost
Among the crowded pillars. Raise thine eye,—
Thou seest no cavern roof, no palace vault;
There the blue sky and the white drifting cloud
Look in. Again the wildered fancy dreams
Of spouting fountains, frozen as they rose,
And fixed, with all their branching jets, in air,
And all their sluices sealed. All, all is light;
Light without shade. But all shall pass away
With the next sun. From numberless vast trunks,
Loosened, the crashing ice shall make a sound
Like the far roar of rivers, and the eve
Shall close o’er the brown woods as it was wont.
 
  And it is pleasant, when the noisy streams
Are just set free, and milder suns melt off
The plashy snow, save only the firm drift
In the deep glen or the close shade of pines,—
’Tis pleasant to behold the wreaths of smoke
Roll up among the maples of the hill,
Where the shrill sound of youthful voices wakes
The shriller echo, as the clear pure lymph,
That from the wounded trees, in twinkling drops,
Falls, mid the golden brightness of the morn,
Is gathered in with brimming pails, and oft,
Wielded by sturdy hands, the stroke of axe
Makes the woods ring. Along the quiet air,
Come and float calmly off the soft light clouds,
Such as you see in summer, and the winds
Scarce stir the branches. Lodged in sunny cleft,
Where the cold breezes come not, blooms alone
The little wind-flower, whose just opened eye
Is blue as the spring heaven it gazes at—
Startling the loiterer in the naked groves
With unexpected beauty, for the time
Of blossoms and green leaves is yet afar.
And ere it comes, the encountering winds shall oft
Muster their wrath again, and rapid clouds
Shade heaven, and bounding on the frozen earth
Shall fall their volleyed stores rounded like hail,
And white like snow, and the loud North again
Shall buffet the vexed forest in his rage.

 

 

This Christmas–Give Clean, Green Gifts

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

     This Christmas, my friend Jeanne Russell is giving gifts that may go on giving for years to come–to her loved ones who receive the gifts, and to the earth as well.  At the same time, Jeanne’s gifts will save their recipients substantial sums of money, leaving more ’green’ in their pockets. 

     So what is Jeanne giving?  Everyone on her list will receive a small bucket of some of Jeanne’s favorite earth-friendly household cleaners, along with a book of recipes for scores more cleaners designed to meet just about every household cleaning need.  

     Having grown concerned that the many toxic ingredients contained in a wide range of commercial household cleaners may be adversely affecting her and her son, and the planet too, Jeanne set out to learn how she could clean her home without exposing herself and her son to harmful chemicals and without sending harmful chemical residues into the environment. 

     Jeanne went online, found and bought Karyn Siegel-Maier’s The Naturally Green Home, a veritable ‘cookbook’  of recipes for cleaners that will clean appliances, laundry, grease- or wine-spattered surfaces, toilets, tile floors, mirrors and windows, and much more.  

     Jeanne has tried quite a few of the book’s recipes, and she’s sold on them.  “Not only are these cleaners effective,” she explains, “but they are cheap too.”  By stocking up on such readily available items as white vinegar, Borax, baking soda, and Murphy’s Oil soap, she has most of what she needs to prepare the various cleaners.  Some of them also call for other ingredients that Jeanne can usually find in a health food store. 

     “Then there’s the special ingredient,” Jeanne notes, “the essential oil.”  Most of the book’s recipes call for just a few drops of  peppermint, lavender, citrus, or other oil.  In addition to giving her cleaning concoctions an inviting smell, the essential oils also have anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, or anti-viral properties, Jeanne explains.  “Citrus oils, for example, are especially good at cutting grease,” she says. 

     Here are a few of Jeanne’s favorite recipes that she will be mixing up for the people on her list for Christmas:

Laundry soap
1 oz. liquid Castille soap
2 T. glycerine (look for it in health food stores)
1 cup washing soda (available in grocery stores)
1 cup baking soda
6 cups warm water
10 drops any essential oil (available in health food stores)
Combine all ingredients in a large glass or heavy plastic container.  Shake.  Use 1/4-1/3 cup with a load of laundry.

Lemon blast appliance cleaner
1 t. liquid Castille soap
1/8 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups water
6 cups citrus seed extract
1 t. Borax
Mix ingredients in a spray bottle.  Shake before using.  Spray surface and wipe dry with a damp cloth.

Mirror Bright–for glass and stainless steel
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup water
8 drops citrus essential oil
Mix ingredients in a spray bottle.  Shake and spray.  Wipe dry with a clean cloth.

 –April Moore  

      

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