Archive for April, 2015

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Respect Your Mother Earth

April 22, 2015

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“O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!”

We first heard this as children in school, these lyrics of “America the Beautiful.” As a child, it was merely a song, but through the years as I traveled about this great country of ours, the words have taken on new meaning as I saw for myself the incredible splendors sprawled out from sea to shining sea. Each had a character and beauty of its own, and each left an indelible imprint in my memory. I do not exaggerate when I say that the natural wonders I beheld stirred my soul.

White Sands, New Mexico

White Sands, New Mexico

How could this not be so? Gaze upon the pure white other-worldly dunes of White Sands. Stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and watch the sun rise over the vast crevice. Listen as the mighty waves of the Atlantic crash with a thunderous roar on the rocky coast of Maine. Walk in the sand as the seals bob their heads up in the surf along the pristine shoreline of Cape Cod National Seashore. How can the creations of mankind possibly match the staggering majesty of the Great Arch in Utah or the mighty Mt. Denali in Alaska? If you don’t believe me, next vacation, rather than visiting the artificial monuments of glass and steel and neon like Las Vegas, Hollywood, or Disney World, venture forth to explore the grandeur of the Tetons or Yosemite or Acadia or Big Sur. They all speak far more eloquently for themselves than I ever could. In the words of the great naturalist John Muir, “Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

Mt. Denali, Alaska

Mt. Denali, Alaska

So today, April 22, the day which has been designated as Earth Day, the often distracted or oblivious inhabitants of this nation are reminded to reflect on and appreciate the wonders of this land and all its natural glory. As far as I’m concerned, this should be done every day. While we are at it, we might perhaps reconsider the shortsighted intrusions we make on it for our own “benefit.”

The native peoples of the past did not need Earth Day, for they had an instinctive reverence for the natural world and a realization of its delicate balance. It seems that “civilization” has made us arrogant, for the view that the land and all that is upon or under it is merely there for our exploitation is now prevalent. This is a shame that can become a tragedy, for humans have ignored this stark reality: if we do not take care of this planet, we will destroy it, and us along with it. This is not crazy talk. It is not the doomsday rambling of some overzealous tree hugger. It is science. It is common sense. And, in the long run, it is a matter of survival.

Great Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Great Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Natural resources are a finite entity. They are not a commodity to be manipulated for the benefit of national power, corporate stockholders, or personal convenience. Modern man has exploited the gifts of this Earth without regard for their potential depletion or the destruction that is the byproduct of their acquisition. We have disregarded the interconnected nature of all things that make up the ecology of this world, and in doing so, have created an imbalance that is spiraling out of control.

History shows that we constantly overestimate our ability to safely extract the materials that we want and dispose of their waste. The result has been the pollution and destruction of our only environment. How many oil spills, nuclear meltdowns, deforestations, slag heaps, chemical contaminations, oceanic plastic “swamps,” animal extinctions, fouled wells, garbage-laden landfills, toxic dumps, and poisoned water sources do we need to understand this?

upstate New York: another site for "fracking"?

upstate New York: another site for “fracking”?

The cry of some at the moment is more oil, more oil, more oil. Why? Because we need it? No, we do not need it. We just want it. We have become energy gluttons who value convenience over conservation. How about downsizing the gas-guzzling vehicles we seem to covet? How about using more mass transit or even walking or biking? How about foregoing the wasteful McMansions and living in reasonably sized houses with moderately controlled temperatures? How about greater support for developing and making use of the technologies that would allow us to produce energy without destroying our planet in the process?

Teton Range, Wyoming: let the drilling begin?

Teton Range, Wyoming: let the drilling begin?

Americans are the biggest culprits. We have perverted the concept of freedom and liberty into I-should-get-whatever-I-want-and-the-hell-with-everyone-else. That is not freedom; it is license. Just because we have the means and the power to do something does not mean we have the right to do it. Our avarice is reprehensible considering the consequences for the future of life on Earth.

I understand that there will be those who read this and shake their heads. They think this view is far-fetched and implausible. I’m afraid it will take nothing short of catastrophe to convince them. Perhaps they should speak to those folks from Bhopal, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Seveso, and the Love Canal who also once felt that way. Until it happened to them, that is.

We do not have unlimited time to solve the problem even if the skeptics change their view. The very things that make life possible are being endangered, and damage that is being done now to our atmosphere and oceans cannot be reversed. Unlike the dinosaurs, we will have no one to blame for our extinction but ourselves. If you listen carefully at this very moment, you might be able to hear the sorrowful cries of your Mother Earth as she witnesses the betrayal of the humans who inhabit her. Or perhaps that is just the sound of the ice caps melting.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” -- John Muir

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” — John Muir

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The Creel Affair

April 13, 2015

Each of us gathers an assortment of knowledge throughout our lives. Some of it was the result of a directed effort, as in school, to attain a specific goal. However, much like that one drawer in our homes that has a wild assortment of odds and ends that were picked up incidentally along the way, so too does our brain have a miscellaneous collection of strange and often useless information.

Useless, that is, unless you play Scrabble.

I think Scrabble is an acquired taste. I say this because those times when it is suggested as an activity, quite a few members of whatever group is present will opt out, often immediately and vehemently.

I happen to like Scrabble. I like the combination of chance (getting good letter tiles and spaces in which to use them) and skill. Most of all, I like the opportunity to dip into that assortment of extraneous knowledge residing in the back corner of my brain.

One such occasion occurred while on a family vacation in the state of Washington. We were staying in the gloriously rustic Timberline Lodge (the hotel in The Shining) on the slope of Mt. Hood. After supper as we relaxed on the balcony overlooking the lobby, someone in the family found Scrabble in the game bin and asked if anyone was interested. I was willing, as was Paula, my sister-in-law, with whom I had played before. We had a bit of a history with this game; she often accused me of making up words when we played (untrue, of course). She, an eminent New York City children’s book publisher, was highly competitive, so the games were usually rather lively. This time proved no exception.

The game was drawing to an end; few letter tiles remained. Paula and I were far in the lead, and our scores were fairly even. Each move would now be critical.

It was my turn. I studied my letters and the spaces available on the board that would get the highest return. I had my eye on a “double word score” spot. There was a strategically located “c” on which to build. Then I spotted it: the perfect word. I coolly placed the tiles down, reaching the double word score space with the final one.

“Creel?!?” Paula cried out in disbelief. “What kind of word is that? You’re making them up again!”

“No, Paula, it’s a word. It’s a piece of equipment used for fishing.”

“Well, I never heard of it. What the hell is a creel?”

Now had the movie Slum Dog Millionaire been out, it would have been an easy analogy. The accidental, or fateful in the view of some, acquisition of certain random pieces of knowledge is unplanned but can suddenly become useful in ways one would not have predicted. I was never that deeply involved in fishing, but somewhere along the line, I learned about the creel.

“You mean ‘reel,’ don’t you?” Paula continued.

“No, creel. It’s a basket hanging from the shoulder that fishermen use for the fish they catch.”

Normally I would follow this by, “Look it up if you want.” However, as we were tourists in the pre-smart phone era, no dictionary was available, and Paula was not about to take my word for it.

Just at that moment, a gentlemen with camouflage pants and a cap with fishing flies attached — surely an outdoorsman — walked by. Here’s my chance, I thought.

“Excuse me, sir. Do you fish?”

“Yes, I do,” he amiably answered as any fisherman with a prospective audience would do.

Paula stiffened, watching attentively in case an attempt at some conspiratorial clue were to be made.

“Do you know what a creel is?” I asked in my most objective tone, eyes fastened on Paula to show my compliance with her unstated demand.

“Why, sure,” he replied, smiling at such an elementary query. “It’s the basket we use to put our catch in.”

I raised my eyebrows in a gesture asking Paula if this was acceptable evidence. She scowled and conceded with a dismayed, “Oh, all right!” The points I gained turned out to be the game-winning difference.

I haven’t played Scrabble with Paula since. I believe she still harbors suspicion that I somehow set up that encounter with the fisherman. I have never had the occasion to use the word “creel” again, either.

So if you ever worry about the clutter of facts floating around in your noggin for no good reason, don’t fret. One of them may come in handy one of these days. After all, there’s always a Scrabble game going on somewhere.