Archive for April, 2009

The Weight of the Earth. . .

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

     If you have managed to maintain your ideal weight, congratulations.  Not only are you caring for your health, but you’re benefiting the planet as well, according to recent research.  If, however,  you are overweight or obese, those extra pounds are creating more of a strain on the planet than you probably realize, the research shows.

     I thank my husband Andy Schmookler for forwarding me the following article from World Science .  Please click on the link to read the piece.–April Moore

http://www.world-science.net/othernews/090420_slim

 

    

My Beef with Development

Monday, April 27th, 2009

     Development.  It doesn’t sound like a bad word;  in fact, it has some good meanings.  

     Development implies growth, progress, improvement.  We develop from a microscopic embryo into a complex, fully-grown human being,– a positive, natural process.   The word ‘development’ also means fundraising, acquiring the money necessary for charities and non-profit institutions to fulfill their mission.

     But, in my mind, the word ‘development’ also has a dark side.  There is a use of the word that makes me cringe.   When people talk about ‘developing’ a piece of land, they are talking about building something on it, like a house, a school, a resort, or a shopping center.  The traditional view is that an ‘empty’ piece of land is ‘improved’ once a building sits on it.  After all, the land has gone from being simply an unused (by humans) space to a useful space that supports some human activity.

     I question the notion of ‘empty land,’ the idea that a piece of ‘vacant’ ground is somehow less developed than   land that is used as the platform for a human-made structure.  Quite the reverse is true.   

     Regardless of what plants inhabit a piece of land, whether it’s a forest, or just a tree or two in a meadow, or an assortment of wild plants, or even just some dirt  and weeds, the life processes going on there are so complex as to be beyond our comprehension. 

     And whatever plants may be found on a piece of ground, they invariably support animal life–squirrels, birds, or maybe insects, worms, grubs.  Even such small animals are highly complex. 

     But it’s not just the plants and animals we can see that make a piece of land highly developed, even without our covering it with a building.  On and under any piece of ground are billions of single-celled organisms known as microbes!  They are breaking down rocks, depositing minerals, fertilizing soil and conditioning soils, among other functions.  

     In fact, microbiology is the fastest growing area of biology, as scientists are beginning to understand how microbes  have shaped and are shaping the planet.  Scientists now estimate the number of microbial species in the billions, exceeding the number of ‘large’ species by several orders of magnitude. 

     Now compare the complexity, the extreme level of ‘development’ of any piece of land, where life is teeming, even if largely unseen, with a structure humans have made of steel and concrete.  Can there really be any question as to which one is more developed and more complex, and which one is simpler, less developed?   How can we think that a structure simple enough for us to know how to build could be a ‘development’ of the land?

     While we may decide that we need–or want–to put a building on a given piece of land, we shouldn’t kid ourselves by thinking we are developing that land.  We are actually destroying some of the complex life present in and on the land, perhaps diminishing its complexity. 

     So because I know it’s ludicrous to think that the addition of a building develops land into something more or better than it was in its undisturbed state, I am offended when I hear talk of ’developing land’ by building on it.–April Moore

  

TLC for our National Parks–At Last

Friday, April 24th, 2009

     Good news for all of us who love our national parks!  Some of the money in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, aka ‘the stim,’ will fund projects to maintain national parks in 48 states.  This is great news, especially after the Bush years, when national park budgets for maintenance and repairs were slashed.

     With $750 million of the stimulus package devoted to national parks, “American workers will revitalize our parks’ infrastructure, rehabilitate visitor centers, and tackle long-deferred maintenance projects,” says Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.  He describes the money as “an investment in telling the story of America to future generations by conserving our awe-inspsiring landscapes, our diverse history, and our rich culture.”  And, he adds, the projects will create jobs and stimulate local economies.

     Following are just a few of the projects that will be completed with stimulus funds:

  • In Shenandoah National Park (Virginia), a portion of Skyline Drive will be rehabilitated, along with many of the park’s scenic overlooks.
  • In Denali National Park (Alaska), new trails will be created, a hazardous mine will be closed, and unneeded structures will be removed.
  • In Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado), photovoltaic (solar power) energy systems will be installed  on the historic headquarters buildings.
  • In Everglades National Park (Florida), solar water heaters will be installed in campgrounds, and failed dams will be replaced to keep salt water from seeping into Cape Sable, a freshwater home to several endangered animal and bird species.
  • In Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona), trails will be repaired, and energy efficiency and wastewater management will be improved throughout the park.
Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

   

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

     A year ago today I launched The Earth Connection.  ‘Doing’ this website has been a rich experience for me.  I am grateful to be able to share with others who also love the earth, and I have appreciated the comments and contributions from visitors to the site.

     In addition to posting the works of others and to writing about good news, information, and helpful actions people can take, I have also been stretching myself as a writer.  Over the past year, I have written a few pieces describing my own observations of the natural world, about my own strong feelings about the earth.  This mode of writing is new for me, a departure from my usual reportorial style.  And at first I felt unsure about sharing such pieces.  But the responses from readers have shown me that many people appreciate writing that comes ‘from the heart.’

     So I am thankful this Earth Day that The Earth Connection has been thriving for a whole year.  I wish you a Happy Earth Day, and I hope you are celebrating our beautiful planet today in some way that is meaningful to you.

     I also post here some wise words from Black Elk.  He was an Oglala Sioux whose writings have touched me deeply.–April Moore

‘Then I was standing on the highest mountain of
them all, and round about beneath me was the
whole hoop of the world.  And while I stood there I
saw more than I can tell and I understood more
than I saw;  for I was seeing in a sacred manner the
shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of
all shapes as they must live together like one being.
And I saw the sacred hoop of my people was one
of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as
daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one
mighty  flowering tree to shelter all the children of
one mother and one father.  And I saw that it was
holy. . . . .
     But anywhere is the center of the world.’–Black Elk

Turn Over a New (Green) Leaf

Monday, April 20th, 2009

     Don’t have an Earth Day event to go to?  Or the time to go to one anyway?  That’s fine. 

     You can celebrate our incredible planet by making a change in your daily life that will lessen, even if just a little, humanity’s burden on the planet. 

     I have put together a list of 10 things you can incorporate into your daily life for greener living.  I invite you to choose one or two and commit to them. 

     Please think positive.  It’s better for Mother Earth–and for you–to make one or two lasting positive changes than to beat yourself up for all the things you’re not doing for the planet.

     Here goes:

1)  Buy in bulk whenever possible.  You’ll cut down on packaging and may save money as well.  Go even greener by bringing your own plastic bags for the nuts, grains, or whatever you’re purchasing in bulk.

2)  Suggest to your employer that s/he can take a step toward a healthier planet by making it possible for you and your fellow employees to work at home from time to time.  Even just a day at home every month will reduce carbon emissions associated with commuting.  And once a month could later become once a week.  While some jobs probably cannot be done at home, most probably can, at least from time to time.  

3)  If styrofoam cups are the norm for coffee drinkers at your workplace, bring in your own ceramic mug.  You might even bring in a few extras that you don’t need at home and encourage your co-workers to do the same.  That way visitors to your workplace can also drink out of reusable containers.  Saying no to styrofoam (polystyrene) matters because its manufacture is harmful to the environment and difficult to recycle.

4)  If you have an old cell phone that you no longer use, or batteries that you’re ready to get rid of, recycle them.   Find the nearest recycling drop-off site  by calling 1-800-822-8837. 

5)  Grow some of your own food.  You will be making a dent, even if a tiny one, in the fuel-intensive food distribution system.  If you’re not a gardener, then start small.  Even a couple of tomato plants in a sunny spot are a good start.  My friend Gail who grew two tomato plants last year inspired me, saying she got “a ridiculous amount of pleasure” out of the tomatoes produced by her two plants.  There’s nothing like home-grown tomatoes!

6)  If you are pregnant or planning to be, a decision to breastfeed will be better for the earth as well as for your baby, than formula.  When you nurse your baby, you can bypass all the manufacturing, packaging, and shipping associated with formula.  And you’ll save money besides. 

7)  Save water in the kitchen.  Instead of rinsing dishes before loading them in the dishwasher, keep a bowl in the sink to catch the water that’s unused when you turn on the faucet for kitchen activities.  Then rinse dishes in your bowl of water before loading them into the dishwasher.  And refrain from running your dishwasher until it’s really full.

8)  Revive the timeless art of sharing.  Major household items that aren’t used on a daily basis, like a lawn mower or an upholstery cleaner, can easily be shared.  Propose to a neighbor or two that you buy certain items together and use them as needed.  You’ll save on money and storage space, and there will be a little less ‘stuff’ in the world.

9)  Buy and sell used.  Whether it’s furniture, appliances, dishes, or just about any other household item, you can find practically anything you need on Craigslist (www.Craigslist.com).  By the same token, you can likely make a little money on items you no longer need by advertising them on Craigslist.  

10)  Most commercial poultry ‘farms’ make a big carbon footprint.  And they are extremely cruel to chickens.  Most of the birds spend their lives confined in cages so small that they can never spread their wings.  If you live near anyone who sells eggs from free-ranging chickens, that’s the place to buy your eggs.  If not, speak to the manager next time you’re in the grocery store, and ask him/her to begin stocking eggs from free-ranging birds.  Some grocers are already doing this because they know that many consumers are willing to pay a little more for such eggs.

     Happy Earth Day!  Enjoy celebrating it by adopting one or two more earth-friendly habits!–April Moore

 

Drumming of the Grouse

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

     Yesterday morning my husband Andy summoned me out to the deck to hear an amazing sound.  After we leaned quietly on the railing for a few moments in the brisk, spring sunshine,  we heard it.   A loud, rapid drumming down in the forest.

     We turned to each other, smiled knowingly, and settled in for some happy waiting.  In less than a minute the silence was again pierced by a powerful drumming on wood.  Again silence.  A few seconds later, we heard more trilling, only much fainter, farther down in the forest.  Brief silence.  Then a loud round of drumming nearby. 

     We both knew that these sounds were not being made by  woodpeckers.  Even the giant pileated woodpecker, who can make wood bits fly with the vigorous pounding of its beak against a dead tree, is not this insistent, not this loud. 

     No, this springtime sound is the grouse.  It’s mating season for these large, shy birds.  Here and there in the woods below us, a male grouse had found a log that suited his purpose, and he was perched there, ready to seek a mate.  Unseen by us humans, he was calling for her, telling her where to find him by intermittently beating his wings rapidly against the log.  His drumming echoed through the forest. 

    Until yesterday I had heard no drumming.  But all day yesterday, I heard it again and again, sometimes near and loud, sometimes distant and faint.  And as I have been writing this morning, in the living room with the door open, I have heard the drumming several times.

     It pleases me to hear the drumming grouse.  And I hope the female grouse are listening.– April Moore 

A male grouse drumming to attract a mate

A male grouse drumming to attract a mate

Appreciation for Darwin

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

     The article below, published in the New York Times in February, salutes Charles Darwin on the 200th anniversary of his birth.  How he rocked the world with his original–and irrefutable–theories of natural selection and sexual selection!  

     Two years ago I read The Origin of Species and found it fascinating.  While a bit tedious to a modern reader, the book showed convincingly how ‘ingenious’ life is at filling any niche that opens up. 

     I think it is a shame that the number of Americans who accept the theory of evolution as truth is only 38%.  And this is a lower proportion than a decade or two ago.  In other words, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence in support of evolution, Americans are increasingly inclined to reject it.–April Moore 

Op-Ed Contributor

The Origin of Darwin

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 By OLIVIA JUDSON

 Published: February 11, 2009

London

MY fellow primates, 200 years ago today, Charles Darwin was born. Please join me in wishing him happy birthday!

Unlike many members of the human species, Darwin makes an easy hero. His achievements were prodigious; his science, meticulous. His work transformed our understanding of the planet and of ourselves.

At the same time, he was a humane, gentle, decent man, a loving husband and father, and a loyal friend. Judging by his letters, he was also sometimes quite funny. He was, in other words, one of those rare beings, as likeable as he was impressive.

For example, after his marriage, Darwin worked at home, and his children (of the 10 he fathered, seven survived to adulthood) remembered playing in his study. Later, one of his sons recounted how, after an argument, his father came up to his room, sat on his bed, and apologized for losing his temper. And although often painted as a recluse, Darwin served as a local magistrate, meting out justice in his dining room.

Moreover, while many of his contemporaries approved of slavery, Darwin did not. He came from a family of ardent abolitionists, and he was revolted by what he saw in slave countries: “Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have stayed in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal …. It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty.”

He practiced a kind of ideal, dream-like science. He examined the minutiae of nature — shells of barnacles, pistils of flowers — but worked on grand themes. He corresponded with lofty men of learning, but also with farmers and pigeon breeders. He observed, questioned, experimented, constantly testing his ideas.

Could plants from the mainland colonize a newly formed island? If so, they would need a way to get there. Could they survive in the ocean? To find out, he immersed seeds in salt water for weeks, then planted them to see how many could sprout. He reported, for example, that “an asparagus plant with ripe berries floated for 23 days, when dried it floated for 85 days, and the seeds afterwards germinated.” The Atlantic current moved at 33 nautical miles a day; he figured that would take a seed more than 1,300 miles in 42 days. Yes, seeds could travel by sea.

He published important work on subjects as diverse as the biology of carnivorous plants, barnacles, earthworms and the formation of coral reefs. He wrote a travelogue, “The Voyage of the Beagle,” that was an immediate best seller and remains a classic of its kind. And as if that was not enough, he discovered two major forces in evolution — natural selection and sexual selection — and wrote three radical scientific masterpieces, “On the Origin of Species” (1859), “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex” (1871) and “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” (1872).

The “Origin,” of course, is what he is best known for. This volume, colossal in scope yet minutely detailed, laid the foundations of modern biology. Here, Darwin presented extensive and compelling evidence that all living beings — including humans — have evolved from a common ancestor, and that natural selection is the chief force driving evolutionary change. Sexual selection, he argued, was an additional force, responsible for spectacular features like the tail feathers of peacocks that are useless for (or even detrimental to) survival but essential for seduction.

Before the “Origin,” similarities and differences between species were mere curiosities; questions as to why a certain plant is succulent like a cactus or deciduous like a maple could be answered only, “Because.” Biology itself was nothing more than a vast exercise in catalog and description. After the “Origin,” all organisms became connected, part of the same, profoundly ancient, family tree. Similarities and differences became comprehensible and explicable. In short, Darwin gave us a framework for asking questions about the natural world, and about ourselves.

He was not right about everything. How could he have been? Famously, he didn’t know how genetics works; as for DNA — well, the structure of the molecule wasn’t discovered until 1953. So today’s view of evolution is much more nuanced than his. We have incorporated genetics, and expanded and refined our understanding of natural selection, and of the other forces in evolution.

But what is astonishing is how much Darwin did know, and how far he saw. His imagination told him, for example, that many female animals have a sense of beauty — that they like to mate with the most beautiful males. For this he was ridiculed. But we know that he was right. Still more impressive: he was not afraid to apply his ideas to humans. He thought that natural selection had operated on us, just as it had on fruit flies and centipedes.

As we delve into DNA sequences, we can see natural selection acting at the level of genes. Our genes hold evidence of our intimate associations with other beings, from cows to malaria parasites and grains. The latest research allows us to trace the genetic changes that differentiate us from our primate cousins, and shows that large parts of the human genome bear the stamp of evolution by means of natural selection.

I think Darwin would have been pleased. But not surprised.

Olivia Judson, a contributing columnist for The Times, writes The Wild Side.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

The Tall People: Reflections on Humans and Trees

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

     This lovely piece was written by my husband Andy Schmookler.  It first appeared on his website www.NoneSoBlind.org

April and I are lovers of trees. In no small part, it is the love of trees that brought us back from the High Desert of New Mexico to the wooded mountains of Virginia. And making the most of our being here, the other day we went on a walk through our woods.

With us was our slim and slinky and silvery pussycat, Pitter. (Her sister, Patter, also used to walk these woods with us but, alas, she met her end on the same day as Senator Wellstone’s plane went down—a day that will live in sorrow.)

As we walked along the bed of leaves and amid the upright trunks of oaks and hickories and maples and pines, April said, “Do you think Pitter thinks of the trees as ‘the tall cats?’” I instantly recognized the joke, semi-private as it was: for April has long appreciated and often cited something she learned years ago from the book Hanta Yo, namely that some tribe or other of Native Americans called trees “the tall people.”

After giving a chortle of acknowledgment, I addressed the question as if serious: No, a cat would not identify with the trees as we people do, because they’re horizontal, spinally speaking, and what makes the trees the ‘tall people’ is that we and the trees share our upright stance in the world.”

It’s a lovely notion, this identification of us people with trees, because trees are such splendid creatures. April is of the opinion that trees are more likely to be God’s favorites than humans, and I can certainly see her point.

(She’s expressed beautifully one of her many appreciative takes on the trees in our world in a recent piece on her website entitled, “Trees on Winter Nights,” to be found at www.theearthconnection.org/blog/2009/03/trees-on-winter-nights/)

Trees aren’t the only upright things in nature, but they may be the one’s we feel best to connect ourselves with. Tulips, lovely as they are, are too fragile, too slight, too fleeting. We like to think of ourselves as made of stronger stuff, of more substantial and enduring than such temporary upthrusts from the earth as the flowers of spring. Better the noble tree that towers above the land, that lasts through the years.

We see ourselves as tree-like, and we like the connection. Tall, dignified, enduring, a thing of beauty.

As my mind turned toward this likening of trees with humans, a phrase from Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline, came to my mind: he says of the trees that they “stand like Druids of old.”

He speaks of these trees as he conjures up “the forest primeval.”

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic…

The Druids of old tell us of the solemnity of the trees. The dignity, the looming presence of a great force. The trees speak with the voices of prophets.

The trees represent an elevated, flattering view of human possibility.

I would be glad to think of us as ‘the short trees.’

Earth Day is Coming!

Friday, April 10th, 2009

     As you are no doubt aware, Wednesday, April 22, is Earth Day!  It will be the 40th year the Earth has been honored with its own special day.  

     It seems to me that the number of people who love our planet has never been higher.  About a billion people are expected to celebrate this year’s Earth Day, making it the world’s largest secular event, according to Earth Day Network, an umbrella organization working in 174 countries.

     If you want to contribute to a healthier planet, you can likely find just the activity that will fit your interests and your time schedule.  The Earth Day Network’s website (www.earthday.net) is a trove of information on an incredible range of Earth Day activities in which volunteers can engage.

     For example, students can find out about campus-based events scheduled at colleges and universities all over the country and can get help in organizing an event at their own campus.  Teachers can find sources of green teaching materials and can network with thousands of other teachers to work for greener schools.   Members of faith communities can find out what others of the same faith tradition around the country are doing and how to join in.  Business owners can see what other businesses are doing to celebrate, and register an action of their own.   

     Individuals can also use the Earth Day Network site to find out about community Earth Day celebrations  planned for their city and how to get involved.

     You may want to focus on a particular environmental concern this Earth Day.  For example, thousands of people concerned about global warming, in hundreds of communities, will meet face-to-face with others in the National Conversation on Climate Change.  People will be discussing substantive solutions to climate change and local climate action opportunities. 

     Or if you’re among the growing number of people concerned about the growing demand for water, you can participate in a ‘Water for Life’ campaign to raise awareness about the importance of stewarding global water resources.

     An Earth Day event can be just plain fun, like a family day for playing and learning on a nearby river, or a  community drama performance. 

     Since Earth Day falls mid-week this year, many events will be held the weekend before or after Earth Day.        And if you want to launch an event but don’t know how, just click on http://www.earthday.net/node/88.  Here you will find “Earth Day in a Box”–an organizer’s guide that will tell you everything you need to know to organize an Earth Day event.  

     I’m sure we can all find or initiate some kind of Earth Day activity that engages our enthusiasm for our fabulous planet!–April Moore

    

A Day of Sunshine

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009
a windy spring day

     This poem, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, perfectly describes, I think, a sunny, windy day of spring.  I included this poem in my poetry notebook for my seventh grade English class many years ago!  I still derive pleasure from reading through those poems, all around a weather theme.–April Moore

A DAY OF SUNSHINE
     by  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

O gift of God!  O perfect day!
Whereon shall no man work, but play;
Whereon it is enough for me,
Not to be doing, but to be!

Through  every fiber of my brain,
Through every nerve, through every vein,
I feel the electric thrill, the touch
Of life, that seems almost too much.

I hear the wind among the trees
Playing celestial symphonies;
I see the branches downward bent,
Like keys of some grand instrument.

And over me unrolls on high
The splendid scenery of the sky,
Where through a sapphire sea the sun
Sails like a golden galleon,

Toward yonder cloud-land in West,
Toward yonder Island of the Blest,
Whose steep sierra far uplifts
Its craggy summits white with drifts.

Blow, winds!  and waft through all the rooms
The snowflakes of the cherry blooms!
Blow, winds!  and bend within my reach
The fiery blossoms of the peach!

O Life and Love!  O happy throng,
Of thoughts, whose only speech is song!
O heart of man!  canst thou not be
Blithe as the air is, and as free?


 

 

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