Tag Archives: Puget Sound

What Makes Us Human, What Makes Us Good

moon-over-forest

Photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I am walking in the woods alongside the sea pondering these questions: what makes us human, and what makes us good? And the answer, it seems to me, is the extent to which we are connected to, and value, wildlife.

Consider the whales in the sea and the trees in the forest. Consider the elephants if you please.

Strong mother-child bonds characterize the Orcas whale as well as the elephant. Offspring often stay with their mothers for life. And upon death, Orcas keep vigil, actively mourning the passing of one of their own.

“They’re not killer whales, they’re lovers,” writes reporter Hayley Day in “Wired for Orcas Love,” published online, The Journal of the San Juan Islands, 2/14/17.

Ken Balcomb, Founder of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, suggests, “They may be a superior species actually. They’ve certainly been around longer than us. They may think ‘those monkeys’ on the beach have almost whale-like intelligence.”

Or not.

Turning now to the trees, I am realizing from the beautiful little book I am reading, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, that the forest is another remarkable social network. Trees too are social beings, and a solitary planted tree would be hard-pressed to enjoy the benefits of those in the forest. Growing near each other, like families, trees support each other, share nutrients, and care for their sick and elderly. They communicate through both roots and leaves, warn each other of dangers—such as insect infestations, and accommodate for one another’s growth rather than crowd each other out. Together in a forest, trees create a hospitable climate that one tree alone would be incapable of achieving.

My woods here is full of deer, but continents away from the Puget Sound elephants tell a remarkably similar story to the trees and the whales. Elephants also form close family bonds particularly between mother and offspring, and live in a complex, matriarchal, social structure. Elephants greet one another, work in teams, and exhibit emotions such as crying at birth and death. They grieve, bury their dead, and frequently return to revisit the body. Elephants care for each other’s orphaned offspring, sharing food when it is scarce. Capable of enormous empathy, elephants do not do well in isolation.

Whales, trees, or elephants, there is resistance in numbers. We must remember this.

Only four weeks into the Trump Administration and the future for wildlife—wild animals, fauna, flora, mammals, fish and birds–looks bleak. And with it, would go our humanity.

Climate change is locked in denial by the very man chosen now to lead The Environmental Protection Agency. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt fired off multiple lawsuits against the EPA on behalf of oil, gas, and coal industries. Long an adversary against regulation to control pollution, can’t you hear them all laughing in the fossil-fuel board rooms now?

What did the American people expect? A developer looks at a forest and sees a golf course, hotels, casinos. He sees trees for cutting down. To him, an ocean is for skimming his yacht across. His sons trophy hunt in Africa, like Colonialists out of the 19th century.

And we, the monkeys on the beach, are rendered less healthy, less humane, and less human for this.

 

 

 

Advertisements

7 Comments

Filed under wildlife

Of Trees and Seas

Starfish

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

When Susan Orlean asked John Laroche in her book The Orchid Thief why he loved plants, “He said he admired how adaptable and mutable they are, how they have figured out how to survive in the world.”

But I wonder… we may outfox them yet.

I recently picked up and devoured Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, a memoir of a woman in the natural sciences. But whereas I might come at nature from the I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree brain hemisphere, Jahren, recipient of three Fulbright Awards in geobiology and tenured professor at the University of Hawai’i in Honolulu, sounded alarms good and loud from the science department.

“Planet Earth is nearly a Dr. Seuss book made real: every year since 1990 we have created more than 8 billion new stumps,” she states. “If we continue to fell healthy trees at this rate, less than 600 years from now, every tree on this planet will have been reduced to a stump.”

Some disappearances happen almost without notice in the course of one’s lifetime. Some in a matter of decades—like the colorful coral reefs in the Caribbean, now bleached. And some practically before one’s eyes, such as the magnificently large orange, red, and purple sea stars that lit up our boating trips to marinas in the Puget Sound just a few short years ago.

You know it’s a good book when what you are reading puts you in the author’s mindset. Lab Girl had me seeing like a scientist. While she examined seeds, soil, and trees, I hopped on a dock at Ganges Marina on Salt Springs Island, British Columbia and spotted starfish—something whose disappearance we have witnessed. The West Coast starfish Plague. First they go clear, and then they are gone.

You can’t imagine my delight in finding one.

Like sea life, “plants have more enemies than can be counted,” notes Jahren.

At the end of her memoir she requests that each reader plant a tree, nurture, and protect it. And “to try to see the world from its perspective.” For we are all in this together, the trees, sea stars, and us.

Here’s hoping Lab Girl sells, and sells well.

3 Comments

Filed under starfish, the environment, trees

Drunk on Light

Tree Surgeon

 

My father had warned me it was coming.

The Arctic Outbreak reached our shores this week. Temperatures in this normally temperate region plunged to below freezing. Currents changed course in the Puget Sound. High crisp winds slammed down trees and power lines. Busy with projects in our remodel, we hadn’t even been aware of Super Typhoon Nuri, and suddenly remnants of it were upon us.

Whatever am I going to do one day without my Dad watching out for all of us?

The problem was, our projects were all too close-up and indoors. Hanging wood blinds, installing door knobs, painting trim and doors, finding storage solutions, and finishing two baths.

We are at the end of our budget. No, we are well over budget. The contractors have moved on, and the rest has been up to us lately. With one exception: the men in trees.

We called them in three weeks ago, men who hoist themselves up mile high trees to clear away hanging-down lifeless limbs (“widow makers,” my husband called them) and clip ever-climbing, ever-choking ivy. What was called “elevating” in the city, with a great deal of political uproar, is referred to as “wind clearing” out here.

And here is where people know better. In the tradition of Native Americans, we are relieving the trees of stress and burden. Our pruning stimulates new growth and vitality. Life-changing for both of us, trees and people.

The view is wider now, our light is brighter. What was once a frontal snapshot of the water became panoramic, wrapped with a point of land to both the left and the right. It strikes me for the first time, we live in a cove.

The old growth forest had worn shade like a cloak. She has shedded that now. The sun moves our way across the cove in winter, and her light pours onto the property, reflected onto the decks, and streaming through the windows.

Even in frigid temps, we are warmer than we ever remember being in all our years in the Pacific Northwest.

In the end these windstorms have driven me back out to clear branches and brush. All the joys I’ve ever known, in interior design and gardening, and clearing brush as steward of a piece of old growth forest on San Juan Island has become my prayer, my meditation.

6 Comments

Filed under light

Roche Harbor, Roche Harbor

It had to have been a dark day in January when a “Save the Date” card arrived for the Grand Banks Rendezvous, May 10-13, at Roche Harbor Marina on San Juan Island in the Puget Sound. I’m sure I looked at the photograph like I was looking at another life, long ago and far away. Nevertheless I posted the card on the kitchen wall, and last week we packed up, grabbed a good friend and our dog and headed out.

First I should explain that my husband has had two expressions of mid-life crisis that I know of, one is a silver Boxster Porsche, and the other, a 36’ Grand Banks trawler. One is speedy and the other, slow. Boating has so capsized our world, we are beginning to dream of living on the boat in all the summer months of our retirement. Cares are left on land and water becomes an elixir. But that’s another story. The one I want to tell now is of the annual Grand Banks Rendezvous, which is fast becoming more fun than college reunions. More fun than anything.

People from all over–Aspen, Philadelphia, and somewhere in Texas, as well as some of our own neighbors in Seattle— keep their boats in the Puget Sound. Grand Banks owners tend to be former sailors who have moved onto something that is a little less work. This sets everyone apart from other stinkpot owners, or so we like to think. Grand Banks slip in and out as quietly as kayaks. And while many other boats are designed to be condos at sea, there is something so outdoorsy and friendly about the Grand Banks. Like a row of front porches tied up to the dock.

That’s the nostalgic quality of both the boat and Roche Harbor, which has to be one of my favorite spots on planet earth. For me Roche Harbor is reminiscent of The Bandbox, a big music hall on a small lake in my childhood in Connecticut. For my husband, it’s the Catalina Casino building, where he summered. Everyone has someplace. It’s sunny, people look healthy, and I think it’s the light. Have I mentioned the whole subculture of children and dogs? Papa may be in an engine class, mama busy mastering navigation, but children are endlessly entertained with a simple fishing pole or just a bucket and a net. In all my times out there, I have yet to hear a baby cry, a child whine, or an adult have a cross word. Everyone is away from cell phones, ipads and computers, and our dogs get a taste of life off-leash.

All my bright colored clothes come out here, I stow them on the boat, all the reds, whites and blues–saving the khakis, blacks, browns, and grays for Seattle. But that down pouring of light, nostalgia, and particular patriotism—with a call to colors at every sunset, saluting the British, Canadian, and American flags and proudly playing all anthems. Here it feels almost like international waters, and it’s rather fun for an old counter-culture girl like me.

2 Comments

Filed under patriotism