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Living and Writing in the Natural World

400 ppm and counting / "They endured" (Faulkner)

What mainly struck us as drove up the switchbacks climbing Mauna Loa on Hawaii’s Big Island in 1983 was how cold it was. Heather and Holly were attired for the beach when we started, but were jumping around to keep warm as their dad made them see the dull, scientific buildings at the 13,679 foot summit. In the distance to the north,  Read More 
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Canyons I Have Known

I returned yesterday from a road trip with my buddy Al, which might have been called “Small-town Mexican restaurants of south-central California” or “800 country miles of nature preserves along the San Andreas Fault.” So many of our miles were on little-traveled county or state roads that on day three we drove 250 miles and saw exactly ten vehicles (though thousands of Beechey ground squirrels, Brush rabbits, and red-tailed hawks). This was the day we ate lunch at a diner straight out of 1950s Oklahoma (Al had chicken-fried steak,  Read More 
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Heart on course, Head wandering

On Earth Day early last week, California redwood cloned saplings supplied by an outfit called Archangel Ancient Tree Archive were planted in California, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Iceland, Canada, and Germany. Five months earlier, the group planted California redwoods and giant sequoias on the coast in southern Oregon. Their goal is to reforest the planet with redwoods and sequoias to preserve the ancient trees, soak up carbon as they grow, and save the planet from global warming. What could possibly go wrong with such a noble project?
Plenty, as it turns out.  Read More 
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Spring Gardens I have Known

“And now that’s done,” as Blind Pew said to Billy Bones. No, I haven’t been distributing black spots. Today I got the garden planted, and it feels good, aching knees and all. One and a half planting beds of tomatoes, weighted heavily to Early Girls; half a bed of basil; and three rows of okra. For me, my annual garden is, as they say of second marriages, the triumph of hope over experience.  Read More 
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Celebrating St. John's Birthday

April 21, this coming Sunday, is the birthday of John Muir. Appropriately enough, the next day is Earth Day. Muir, called the father of the American environmental movement, gave us two great gifts. First, he taught us that time in the natural world heals humans by connecting us to our roots. And second, he initiated  Read More 
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Washington, Jefferson, Madison: Founding Gardeners

We often assume that the environmental movement in America began with Henry David Thoreau and John Muir in the latter half of the 19th century, but a recent (2011) book by English author Andrea Wulf shows that the roots go further back—to Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, in fact.  Read More 
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Only the rain abides

I awoke night before last, sometime after midnight, the sound of spring rain pulling me up to consciousness—to a sleeper, it’s more of an echo or a vibration than anything, but I know it and it draws me. I got up and opened our bedroom sliding glass door and drank it in. The full sound now, composed of the rain hitting both the roof and the trees outside; and best of all the sweet smell of rain, not as pronounced tonight as I’ve smelled before, but still there, clean and intriguing.
Back in bed, I lay listening and smelling, the night “far too precious for sleep,” as Li Po said. Another poem came to mind,  Read More 
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Waterfalls and Hanging Valleys

With my buddy Cal and our sons, home on spring break, I hiked to Feather Falls in the rugged Feather River canyon country southeast of Chico (northern California) this weekend. The nine-mile round trip wound through lower montane habitat with gorgeous Canyon live oaks spreading their twisting limbs over hillsides, and unusual patches of California nutmeg trees and reddish-barked madrones. The 640-foot waterfall, billed as the sixth tallest in the contiguous U.S., did not disappoint, especially viewed from the splendid overlook perched on a rock spur facing the falls head-on across the canyon, barely 100 yards away. If this is number six, I wondered, what are the five taller?  Read More 
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The reign of light begins

Today and tonight mark the Spring Equinox, the most exciting of the four “backbones” of the year in the traditional Chinese solar calendar. With daylight length finally catching up to night (“equi” “nox” in Latin is “equal to night”) the planet is again at equilibrium so far as life-giving daylight is concerned. Starting tomorrow the reign of light begins, to last until the fall equinox in September. This matters--a lot--because on our planet at least, sunlight powers  Read More 
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Yoghurt, attics, and the joys of broad, flat rocks

The American environmental movement is sometimes criticized as being overwhelmingly white, with the ethnicities conspicuously under-represented. That may or may not be true for “card-carrying” environmentalists, but this last week reminded me what I've long known, that appreciation for the wonders of the natural world cuts across ethnic boundaries, to judge by my encounters with the South Korean couple that own the local yoghurt shop, and a pair of Mexican-American laborers who blew insulation into my attic.  Read More 
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