Archive for July, 2009

The ‘What a Planet’ Experience

Friday, July 31st, 2009

     My husband Andy Schmookler wrote this piece, which I like very much.  I think he does a good job of expressing the ‘Wow’ that many of us feel at those moments when the beauty of our planet just takes our breath away.–April Moore

Once in a while, I get an experience that leads me to say, “What a planet!”

I remember the very first time I actually made that exclamation.

It was in Arizona, in the mid-1970s. At the time, I lived in Prescott and whenever the trip from home was to southern California, the route was to take Hwy 89 south out of Prescott and follow it down till it hit Interstate which we’d take west across into California at Needles.

There’s a spot on 89, still in the high country but with the road heading down toward the low desert, near a little town called Yarnell where there’s a pullover for people to look out over the landscape stretching out below. It’s like a moonscape. It’s like a desert. It is an astonishingly beautiful and eerie glimpse into a primeval record of planetary forces, a mysterious panorama worthy of a Star Wars adventure for travelers or warriors mounted on strange beasts.

“What a planet!” I cried out looking over this vast panorama, shimmering in the twi-light.

My “What a planet!” moments are special to me, connected with some of my deepest religious feelings. They are moments of being seered with beauty. More fundamentally, they are moments of sudden epiphany about where we live, which is also to say about from what we arose, which is also to say about what we are.

One of these moments is conveyed in a piece presented here before, “The Forest is Coming” (at I describe there my “Aha!” moment one spring about a decade ago as I discovered how, in the years I’d lived on this Virginia ridge, the forest had been recovering from the human assaults it had suffered, and was advancing on all fronts into the spaces that had been cleared.

What was visible to me was that something powerful was emerging from the earth—emerging not just in this burgeoning spring, but over the ten years since we’ve moved here. It was as if my mind were now able to play out a years-long time-elapsed film, and could discern in that mental reel what it is that the earth is up to.

The earth here wants to create a great forest…

My exclamation at that time wasn’t “What a planet!” but rather “Wow!” But the meaning was the same. I saw the earth as this living thing with its powerful determination to create life in the forms that thrive most mightily in any given place.

Another such experience I recall from back in 1987, when my family and I were traveling in New Mexico (long before we had any notion we’d ever live there). Toward the end of our summer trip around the wild, northern part of the state, my wife, April, and my two older children (April’s and my son would be born the following summer) were camping overnight, in two little tents, along a canyon northeast of Santa Fe.

During the black of night, a thunderstorm struck. (Summer is monsoon season in New Mexico.) Water flowing down the hillsides soon saturated our sleeping bags, and many of the hours we’d expected to spend sleeping we spent huddled, wet, in our car. But there were a few moments that, for me at least, made it all worthwhile.

The flashes of lightening were dramatic, though not easily seen because of the twisting canyon walls. But the thunder! I can recall still –quite vividly– the “What a planet!” sound that came with that thunderstorm: this indeed was ROLLING THUNDER.

I’ve always loved thunder, but never have I heard thunder like that. It was majestic, as could make one think thunder, as peoples have, the voice of earth’s creator. But, confined to the canyon, the thunder was intimate as well, like the 1812 Overture played in a room built for chamber music.

The great sound would begin further up the canyon, and then come cascading down, taking the twists and turns and gathering strength like a flashflood made of sound till it struck us full force and then bounced off the canyon walls till it splashed on beyond us down into the plain where it dissipated till the next cataclysmic clap.

This was a “What a planet!” moment accessible to the blind: oh what a brave new world that makes such stirring music as this.

It’s only a few weeks since my most recent such experience, which is the one that got me thinking about this genre of meaningful planetary epiphanies.

April and I were out for a long bike ride in the countryside (longer than planned as a result my not having noticed where 717 and 703 branched off, and of my staying on 703 whereas our car was parked back up 717). I had mapped our journey taking into account the forecast that rain was a possibility beginning around 2 PM: had I not missed that turn on 717, we’d have been done by 1:30. 703 however had us way off near Conicville at 1:30, which was very far from the country church were our car, with its bike rack, was waiting to keep us dry and take us home.

Retracing our path was out of the question, as a matter of principle, and by then was of no advantage. There was another fine route to get us home– fine, that is, if the weather held up, which the clouds gathering in the southwest suggested it would not.

About midway on this improved return route, the rain began. We don’t mind getting a little wet, so we continued. Then, the rain intensified. We were right near a thick grove of oaks by the side of the dirt road when getting wet was about to turn into getting soaked, so we stopped under that big natural umbrella. This umbrella had its leaks –I put my watch in my pocket– but at least we’d be spared the kind of soaking that chills the bones.

We looked around, and to one side there was a field of pastureland, with grasses standing about a foot or two tall. One could see the grassy land stretching from about fifty yards from us off for another three hundred yards. The raindrops also were visible for much of that distance, for this was no drizzle but a rain of substance.

Then the hard rain became a downpour. Little wind. No lightning or thunder, but a pounding rain drubbing the dirt road, pattering on the oak leaves, and driving silently into the grassy field.

It was watching the rain falling onto that field of grass that gave me that “What a planet!” experience. It had been a dry couple of weeks, with summer heat baking out the land. And now the rain was coming, filling the air with countless pixels of wetness descending into the green blanket of the field, which absorbed it all without a word but with what I felt was intense vitality infused with a kind of vegetative gratitude.

It was, I felt, a primeval scene, played out on this planet for hundreds of millions of years. Rain falling out of the sky, replenishing the life of the earth’s green children.

Well, those are some of my most memorable “What a planet!” experiences.


Share a National Park With A Child

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

     When I heard that admission to all U.S. national parks will be free the weekend of August 15 and 16, I got to thinking.

     What a great opportunity to share one of these natural treasures with children.  And they need it!  We’ve all become aware that few children are playing outside these days, much less exploring our fabulous national parks.  Far too many children have never experienced the excitement of exploring a cave or a crater or a fumarole.  Many have no idea of the pleasure of hiking  amid wildflowers and snowy mountain vistas.  The delights offered by our national parks are just too great and too numerous for children to miss.

     So I’ve taken it on myself to declare Saturday and Sunday, August 15 and 16, ‘Take A Child to a National Park Days,’ in the tradition of the well-established Take a Child to Work Day.

     If you’re like most Americans, you live less than a day’s drive from one of our 391 national parks.  Why not consider inviting a young neighbor, a relative, or the child of a friend or colleague, to take a jaunt with you to your ‘local’ national park?  If you have children yourself, take them.  But do bring along another child who hasn’t had the opportunity to spend time in a national park before.  

     Sharing one of our country’s most splendid wild places with a child will likely prove memorable for both of you.  The child may recall for a lifetime the joy of discovering fascinating land formations, of observing animals living free and uncaged, of the many sights, sounds, and smells of natural places.  And the pleasure of being with you.  Don’t underestimate the thrill a child feels when an adult cares enough to share something special.  And I imagine you too will find such a day greatly satisfying.  After all, you will be doing something good for the child and for the planet, as well as nourishing yourself with natural beauty.      

     I have come to believe the best way to ensure that children will grow into adults who love the earth and who care what happens to it is not to focus on school programs to save the whales or the rain forests, but simply to get kids outdoors.  Get them out there playing, enjoying, discovering the glory of nature with its many faces. 

     Of course, saving animals and habitats is very important.  But kids can’t really do much to solve these problems that even adults are struggling with.  What kids can do, however, is get to know the natural world, to feel their need for the soothing comfort, for the fun and excitement the nature offers them.  Then when they are older and have more tools at their disposal, they will act, I hope, to protect the earth.  It will matter to them.

     I’ve also thought about the fact that a foray to a national park means more global warming emissions.  But I think the benefit of exposing a child to one of our spectacular wild places and helping to instill in that child a love of the natural world outweighs the downside.

     Even if you don’t live near a national park, there is no doubt some beautiful state park or other natural site nearby that can awaken a child’s love of nature.–April Moore  

     For a list of national parks and information about each one, just click on the link:   

Joshua Tree National Park, near San Diego

Joshua Tree National Park, near San Diego










Olympic National Park, near Seattle

Olympic National Park, near Seattle







Everglades National Park, near Miami

Everglades National Park, near Miami

The Stimulus to Benefit Coasts and Rivers

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

     In late April I reported that funds in the massive federal stimulus package had been directed to restoring  and refurbishing our national parks after years of neglect. 

     There is more good environmental news stemming from the stim.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has just spent the $167 million it had been allotted for the restoration of marine and coastal habitat.  NOAA has named 50 projects in 22 states and two territories to receive the money.  The projects will: restore damaged wetlands, shellfish beds and coral reefs; reopen fish passages; and remove debris from U.S. coasts.

     The projects will bring about the restoration of more than 8,900 acres of habitat.  More than 700 stream miles will be opened for fish migration and spawning.  Oyster beds will be rebuilt and threats to coral reefs will be reduced.  And more than 850 metric tons of debris will be removed  from coastlines.

     The projects will also support 5,000 jobs–for laborers, nursery workers, design engineers, botanists, and others.

     Following are just a few examples of the types of restoration that will soon be underway, thanks to the stimulus money:

      Milwaukee River and Restoration Project:  Fish access to riverine habitat will be re-established through a removal of multiple fish passage barriers and a dam.  More than 100,000 acres of watershed habitat will be restored, and more than 150 stream miles will be connected with Lake Michigan.

     Northeast Florida Wetland Restoration:  More than 1,000 acres of wetlands will be restored.  By removing dredge spoil and impoundment dikes across 100 acres, natural tidal flow will be returned to natural mangrove habitat.

     Alaska Marine Debris Removal and Restoration:  At 16 locations along Alaska’s rural coast, more than 450 metric tons of debris will be removed.  Most of it is fishing gear that currents have deposited along the coast.  

     Magnolia Marsh Restoration:  More than 40 acres of urban wetland will be restored in southern California’s Huntington Beach.  By reuniting this wetland with the ocean after many decades of separation, significant habitat will be restored for birds, shellfish, and coastal marine fish.

     West Galveston Bay Estuary Restoration:  More than 300 acres of intertidal wetlands in Texas’s Galveston Bay will be restored.  These intertidal wetlands will act as buffers to mitigate flood and storm damage.  The wetlands will also reduce erosion and stabilize shorelines by trapping sediment.–April Moore

The Milwaukee River

The Milwaukee River

Northeast Florida wetlands

Northeast Florida wetlands


Alaska coast

Alaska coast








West Galveston Bay Estuary

West Galveston Bay Estuary




When a Wonderful Event Becomes an Outrage

Friday, July 17th, 2009

     Ordinarily, I look forward to the Winter Olympics.  I find it thrilling to watch some of the world’s greatest athletes perform on ski slopes and skating rinks in gorgeous mountain settings.

     But I don’t think I will be able to enjoy the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.   Planned for Russia’s Black Sea  resort town of Sochi and the nearby Caucasus Mountains, the Games are shaping up to be an environmental disaster.

     At stake in the 2014 Games is the Western Caucasus World Historic Site.  This Site “is the only large mountain area in Europe that hasn’t experienced significant human impact,” according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  It is a place where endangered, rare, endemic and relic animal and plant species are concentrated.  The Site includes four-fifths of the ecosystems of the Caucasus, which is a world center for plant diversity.

     Contained in the Western Caucasus World Heritage Site are the Caucasus Nature Reserve, home to one of the few remaining herds of bison living in natural conditions, and the 2,000 square kilometer Sochi National Park. 

     It is in this area that the 2014 Winter Olympics are to be held. 

     Environmentalists are angry that this pristine environment of global importance is being sacrificed to humans’ desire for a new venue for the winter Games.  The massive destruction of land and habitat that is going into creating the Olympic site will cause incalculable damage to the region’s biodiversity, says Dmitri Kapsov of Environmental Watch of the Northern Caucasus.  Land deals are shrouded in mystery, permits are questionable, and environmental impact studies are absent or fixed, Kapsov told National Public Radio.

     To accommodate the Olympic Games in such an undisturbed environment, Russia must double power capacity in the area and build new water and gas lines.  New roads, a new airport terminal, and a very expensive 30-mile railroad from the city of Sochi to a new ski resort are all part of the plan.    Even a new port must be constructed at Sochi to bring in needed building materials.  

     The International Olympic Committee (IOC) acknowledged, on a recent visit to the site, that never in the history of the Olympic Games has the staging of the Games been so difficult as at Sochi.

     Environmentalists charge that Gazprom, a Russian company contracted to build the site, is flagrantly ignoring environmental laws and regulations.  For example, the company illegally built a road through a protected floodplain, resulting in landslides.  And activists discovered an illegal quarry near the nature reserve, with gravel that had been extracted from a protected river.  The scale of the extraction changed the river’s course, activists report, causing a major flood.  There have been many, many more violations, environmentalists say.  They have filed lawsuits and complained to relevant governmental agencies.  But the government has largely turned a deaf ear. 

     Even if the Russian government and its contractors were conscientiously doing all they could to minimize the damage to the environment (as they claim they are doing), I would still be angry.  Even though the Olympics are a wonderful occasion to celebrate human talent and achievement, I don’t think the 2014 Games are worth the massive destruction of an area so beautiful, so undisturbed, so full of animal and plant diversity that it has been given a global designation. 

     But as I think about it, I realize that the Olympics always involve quite a bit of environmental damage.  Such damage is inevitable when host countries must prepare for an onslaught of many thousands, and put in place the infrastructure to house, feed, and entertain them.

     So I ask, isn’t it time to start thinking of the planet?  With wild places rapidly disappearing and global warming threatening the well-being of many species, isn’t it time to stop ploughing up unspoiled places for our various human events?

     So I offer an alternative idea to the International Olympic Committee:  Forget about your process of choosing a different country to host the Games every two years.  Instead, go back to the cities that have already hosted and who want to host again.  They have already created competition venues, athlete housing, and all the trimmings.  Sure, these host cities may need to do some updating of their facilities, and that will have some environmental impact.  But it will be nothing compared to imposing our human activities on locations that are unspoiled. 

     And for God’s sake, let’s keep our human activities out of some of the last truly unspoiled places on the planet.–April Moore



Hummingbirds “Fall” In Love

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

     The following short article from last week’s The Week  magazine reveals some incredible tricks the male hummingbird uses to impress females!–April Moore

Look, sweetie, I’m falling

When it comes to love, a hummingbird falls hard and fast—so fast it is buffeted with more G-forces than a landing space shuttle.

To impress females, males of the Anna’s hummingbird species dive toward the ground at 90 feet per second, or nearly 400 times their body length per second. Then they quickly pull up and bullet skyward, multiplying by 10 the gravitational pull of the earth—a G-force that would knock out human fighter pilots. If hummingbirds weren’t built so strong for their tiny size, Chris Clark, a biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, tells Science News, “their wings would just break off” during the maneuver.

And it’s all driven by the mating game. When Clark sat female hummingbirds in a nearby cage, the males typically performed this showy stunt up to 15 times in a row. Yet they always oriented their dives so that the sun reflected brightly off their feathers, Clark says. “They look like a little magenta fireball dropping out of the sky.”

Babies Are Universally Cute!

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

     I thank Jim Zelenski for forwarding me these wonderful–and varied–baby pictures.  Babies don’t have to be human to evoke delight!  Please be sure to scroll all the way to the end;  there are some blank spaces.–April Moore
























































































































































Which Countries Are the Greenest–and the Happiest?

Friday, July 10th, 2009

     I thank Earth Connection reader John Cochrane for forwarding me the following account of a fascinating study.

Published on Sunday, July 5, 2009 by the Observer/UK
by Ashley Seager


Costa Rica is the greenest and happiest country in the world, according to a new list that ranks nations by combining measures of their ecological footprint with the happiness of their citizens.


Britain is only halfway up the Happy Planet Index (HPI) , calculated by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), in 74th place of 143 nations surveyed. The United States features in the 114th slot in the table. The top 10 is dominated by countries from Latin America, while African countries bulk out the bottom of the table.


The HPI measures how much of the Earth’s resources nations use and how long and happy a life their citizens enjoy as a result. First calculated in 2006, the second edition adds data on almost all the world’s countries and now covers 99% of the world’s population.


NEF says the HPI is a much better way of looking the success of countries than through standard measures of economic growth. The HPI shows, for example, that fast-growing economies such as the US, China and India were all greener and happier 20 years ago than they are today.


“The HPI suggests that the path we have been following is, without exception, unable to deliver all three goals: high life satisfaction, high life expectancy and ‘one-planet living’,” says Saamah Abdallah, NEF researcher and the report’s lead author. “Instead we need a new development model that delivers good lives that don’t cost the Earth for all.”


Costa Ricans top the list because they report the highest life satisfaction in the world, they live slightly longer than Americans, yet have an ecological footprint that is less than a quarter the size. The country only narrowly fails to achieve the goal of what NEF calls “one-planet living”: consuming its fair share of the Earth’s natural resources.


The report says the differences between nations show that it is possible to live long, happy lives with much smaller ecological footprints than the highest-consuming nations.


The new HPI also provides the first ever analysis of trends over time for what are supposedly the world’s most developed nations, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).


OECD nations’ HPI scores plummeted between 1960 and the late 1970s. Although there have been some gains since then, HPI scores were still higher in 1961 than in 2005.


Life satisfaction and life expectancy combined have increased 15% over the 45-year period for those living in the rich nations, but it has come at the cost of a 72% rise in their ecological footprint. And the three largest countries in the world – China, India and the US, which are aggressively pursuing growth-based development models – have all seen their HPI scores drop in that time.


The highest placed western nation is the Netherlands. People there live on average over a year longer than people in the US, and have similar levels of life satisfaction – yet their per capita ecological footprint is less than half the size. The Netherlands is therefore over twice as environmentally efficient at achieving good lives as the US, Nef says.


The report sets out a “Happy Planet Charter” calling for an unprecedented collective global effort to develop a “new narrative” of human progress, encourage good lives that don’t cost the earth, and to reduce consumption in the highest-consuming nations – which it says is the biggest barrier to sustainable wellbeing.
© 2009 Guardian/UK

To read the complete report, click below:



Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

     I thank my friend De Herman for sharing the following lovely piece that she wrote.–April Moore




It rained steadily all day yesterday 

The creek is moving again

Leaves on bushes look refreshed

People greet each other pleasantly

No one snaps at Marcel, the eco-friendly dry cleaner

The air, so much cooler, begs me to don a jacket

And go for a walk beside the creek

I haven’t walked here since Monday

I’ve missed my dear friend Talia

Today she greets me heartily

Her quiet beauty beckons me to look up

Her rough skin sparkles with moisture

Her expressive arms reach out

Her leafy hair rustles in the breeze

Her shapely trunk shows off her sinuous curves

Talia, I say, you’d never make it as a telephone pole

And for that I’m grateful

But you look healthy and alive

As if you’d just stepped out of the shower

What do you want to tell me today?

I finger her bark, press my ear to her trunk and listen 

This she shares with me:


Keep tending the creek and the path.  It will make for a more soothing place to walk, to meditate, to contemplate.  Meditation and contemplation will yield up sweet fruits for the world.  Notice what things you pick up and place in your bag.  Mostly, they are containers for things you put in your mouths—things you drink, things you chew, things you smoke.  While you and your fellow humans constantly attend to your oral fixes, my friends and I must bear the burden of your thoughtless ways.   Believe me, it’s a high price to pay, especially when we go through such a long dry spell.


Talia continues.  Think of this:  while you and your kind yearn for love, you mistakenly substitute acquiring things for loving, when you lash out at one another over inconsequential matters, you miss the point about living.  Believe me, I know the hurt is so great it feels unbearable.  The only way you try to relieve it quickly is to pack more walls of defensive acquisitions around you.  The risk of allowing cracks to break open the walls of your fortress is too scary.  But here I am, standing naked before you, with all my warts, and I can only speak my truth. 


I breathe so you can breathe.  Your breath gives me breath.  I grow my green leafy canopy to make my food and to provide respite from the glaring sun for you and other creatures.  But I’m not invincible, nor are my friends.  You see, many of them didn’t get as good a start as I did.  Like an amputee, they’ve lost limbs; like a desert traveler, they’ve faltered for need of a long cool drink.  Yet, against the odds, they’re still trying to do their sacred work day after day.


Talia concludes.  It is possible to create a peaceful co-existence between us.  We can even cultivate a mutually satisfying life, attending to the sensory requirements we all share, as well as those that are idiosyncratic.  But you and your kind, lulled into a drunken sleep a long time ago, must arise, clear your head from the hangover, and open your eyes wide.  See, question, learn, and do what needs to be done to correct the wayward course you’ve been on.  Only then will the rain come in its season.  The creek, recharged, will quench our collective thirst and wash the rocky banks on its way to the bay.  And the growing things, like me, will flourish, shed our seed, and replenish ourselves for all time.










Take a Vacation the Planet Will Also Enjoy

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

     If you haven’t yet decided how to spend your vacation this year, how about considering a volunteer eco-vacation?

     Opportunities abound for people who are up for spending their vacation in a beautiful place, working with others to protect the natural environment.  Such vacations are also comparatively inexpensive. 

     Can you imagine yourself maintaining a trail in remote western mountains, helping to establish a strategy for protecting crocodiles in the Nile, or learning about organic farming by engaging in it?  A volunteer vacation could be a great adventure for you and your family.

     The following are just a few organizations that sponsor environmentally-oriented volunteer vacations: 

     The Sierra Club is looking for people of all levels of skill and stamina for its 90 annual volunteer vacations.  Trips are available all over the country, with some in Canada as well.  You can work with researchers at a whale calving ground in Maui, help with archaelogical restoration in New Mexico, restore a wilderness area in Idaho, just to name a few possibilities.  

     Participants usually work under the guidance of a forest service ranger or a park service staffer and are often offered access to areas that are off-limits to the casual visitor.  In many cases, the work and social contact are so satisfying that participants return year after year.  Sierra’s trips also include time off for hiking, swimming, and relaxing.  Meals, accommodations, and evening campfires are part of the package.

     If you are thinking international, and you have more money to spend, consider one of the trips organized by the Earthwatch Institute,  This international organization runs volunteer trips in 50 countries.  Children as young as 10 are welcome, and no special skills are required.

     More than a vacation or an eco-tour, an Earthwatch project is a hands-on way to protect the world’s engangered animals and habitats, according to Earthwatch.  Whether you’re banding penguins in South Africa, measuring rocks in Iceland, or working directly with Kenya’s Samburu people to protect threatened zebras, you can count on having an experience like you’ve never had before!  And what could be more satisfying than knowing that your efforts are helping to restore the health of our planet?  

     Earthwatch sponsors trips designed for families, teen groups, and for college and community groups.  Participants report such thrills as seing adolescent polar bears wrestle playfully and serving as a chair for a meerkat!

     Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms,, is an organization of more than 1,000 organic farms around the world that host volunteer workers in exchange for meals and accommodations.  A WWOOF vacation is a great way to learn organic farming skills, to explore another geographic area, and to get involved in the real foods movement.  WWOOFers, as the volunteers are called, contact organic farms directly to arrange for the stay.  You can learn online about the many different organic farms in the U.S., Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia. 

        So have a great vacation this summer.  And if you do choose an eco-oriented volunteer vacation, I would love to hear about your experience!–April Moore

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