Archive for eco

A Memorial to Nature

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend it than getting as far from lots of people as possible to enjoy the splendors of Nature.  So I’m headed into the woods again to get lost for a few days. Stay posted when I get back for inspiration from the trail!

walking away

Happy Memorial Day, Everyone!

Advertisements

Leave a comment »

BOOK REVIEW: Coming Out of the Woods

Coming out of the Woods, Wallace Kaufman

Wallace Kaufman’s website

Coming Out of the Woods - Wallace Kaufman

I first picked up this book because Mr. Kaufman is an alumnus of the same university I attended, and was a self-proclaimed naturalist. Well, I thought, at least we have something in common. The forest he describes in his tale border the ones I spent several weeks in on my college no-impact wilderness trip, so I felt immediately familiar with the place names and general environment he described on each page. But even if I hadn’t been there before, the way in which this story is written literally walks you through the forest, seeing everything with the trained eye of someone who not only observes, but understands the awesome forces which shape natural (and not-so-natural) history. I learned a lot about ways to detect past human presence in an area simply by observing the trees and bushes around you.

But this book is more than a tale about the woods themselves. It’s about living in the woods, humankind’s constant struggle to understand, adapt, and coexist with nature and her varied forms. As such, and as a tale of fatherhood, this book really shines. I found myself wanting to visit Morgan Branch and sit myself in the cool waters running downhill to join the larger stream. To sit alone and listen to the squirrels and birds and bats fly overhead while old-growth trees wave gently overhead. To help break ancient rocks and lift them into place for a self-built house’s foundation. Truly scenery so lovely deserves the loving documentation it receives in Coming Out of the Woods.

Of course, if you see the title, you’ll understand that all tenures have their end, and this is no exception. What would possess a man who has escaped society by the first Earth Day to rejoin it by the end of the millennium? For the answer to that, you’ll have to read the book!

Leave a comment »

COMMITMENT: Community Service

So I just finished doing a few days of community service around Los Angeles. Out here, you can end up doing community service for almost anything. Jaywalk? Community service. Broken headlight? Community service. Forget your seatbelt…? You guessed it. Specifically, I was in Macarthur Park, made nationally famous by Donna Summer in 1979, but integral to the history of LA much longer than that. Back in the early days, it was owned by the governor’s family, and became a garbage heap, then a huge park at the turn of the twentieth century. In the eighties and early nineties, it was famous more as a place to find drugs (and bodies floating in the lake), but these days, it’s settled back into a respectable place, albeit one where the shop keepers don’t speak English as often as they do.

So as I picked up trash off the grounds and skimmed the lake with a long skimmer, clearing more trash and several varieties of dead animals, I started thinking about trash. What else, it’s all I’d been looking at all week! Even as a kid, my family and I used to go a few times a year and volunteer at the local park cleaning trash, mostly stuff that had floated downriver in a flood and somehow ended up on the banks. It’s not that people didn’t use the park. Sometimes it was downright crowded in the picnic areas. But I don’t remember people leaving a lot of litter behind. And I’m not that old yet, so this isn’t a “I remember when…” story!

Now Macarthur Park is a different story. It’s almost all human trash, and people just have a picnic on the lawn and leave everything there when they leave, like the lawn is some plastic dinner tray that can just be picked up taken to the dishwasher at the end of the day. If I’d melted down the plastic bottle caps I swept up those few days, I’d easily have gotten a chunk the size of myself. And as all you greenies know a plastic cap on the ground isn’t going anywhere anytime soon from biodegradation. At several points, the park director said not to worry about little trash, just newspapers and boxes, and plastic cups… big things you can see from across the park.

This illustrated to me the national situation we find ourselves in with our waste systems. We produce SO much trash that we end up only trying to clean up “the big things”, because we think we don’t have time to concentrate on all the little things. Well, I disagree. You see, if you’re going to do a job, do it right. That’s the motto of 90% of successful people, rich or otherwise. After a day of doing what was asked (and watching people throw things right back onto the half-cleaned areas), when skimming the lake I thought, why do this halfway? A lake that looks sort of trashy will quickly invite people to think of it as a place for more trash. A pristine lake is a scene for enjoyment. So I started skimming, and then when I finished, I went and did it again, checking my work. In the end, the whole lake was clear, and I was feeling pretty good watching the ducks feed their ducklings in an area free of plastic bags and soda bottles. And to prove my theory, I saw a man take out his camera and take a few lovely pictures of the now clean park, and several patrons even stopped and thanked me for cleaning up their lake, asking questions about the wildlife and the lake itself.  All that positivity for a few hours work!

Another thing that I see so often in our current societal system is that we work at odds with ourselves. After three days of cleaning the park, the park managers received word that, in response to anticipated large turnouts at the immigration rallies planned for this year’s May Day celebration, all trash cans must be removed from the park, so they couldn’t be used as weapons against the police (never mind that every barrel was chained down). No plastic bags or paper receptacles either, as they could be torched. What about the trash of the ten thousand or so people supposed to show up? The police’s answer… throw it on the ground. Having just been that person picking up trash for three days, I felt the frustration of someone who watches their sandcastle washed away by the tide. True, picking up trash once won’t cure everything, but couldn’t we as a society learn to coordinate everything a little better so that we don’t expend our resources repeatedly attacking the same problems when we know that by not changing the underlying patterns of consumption we won’t stem the problems themselves?

So community service wasn’t so bad after all. I’m glad not to be getting up at 5 am, but I kind of enjoyed being in the park all day. And when I walked away from the last day’s work, I felt good seeing the green expanses trash-free because of me. It looked like I imagined it in the old days. So here goes, I’m going to make another COMMITMENT. I will find a place, somewhere in LA, and adopt it as my own. It will stay trash free and maybe even sprout a few more plants. People may or may not notice, but hopefully the birds will. Will you do the same? If everyone just adopted a tiny little spot, we could create communities and scenes for enjoyment rather than half-cleaned vistas, waiting to accept another gift of trash.

Leave a comment »

COMMITMENT: Use Public Transportation

Back to the great experiment that is my green life-in-training.  It’s been a while since the last report, but fear not, I HAVE been taking action.  About a month ago, I decided that long distance trips across the country were unacceptably increasing my carbon load on the earth.  True, I still drove much less than the average American, and I shared a ride every trip across the country that I made.  But, when 45% of your emissions are coming from one place… well, that just looks yucky on the pie chart!  So I made a commitment.  Sell the car….  Done. 

What was I thinking?   No, really, it’s not that bad.  During the daily routine, I only drove a few miles a day anyway, and now that’s a little further free walking exercise to be gotten.  No, I don’t mind that at all, especially given LA traffic, which doesn’t quite compete with the intensity of that in my native DC, but certainly makes up for it in volume across great distances.  Yes, LA traffic is frustrating, and I am happy to kiss it goodbye.  Even though it means making a few adjustments in lifestyle (no more meeting people across town unless you’ve got a GOOD reason for paying bus fare and figuring out a route), it’s a better way to get to know your local community, as you WILL interact more with passersby and merchants.

Greyhound Bus - Eco-Friendly Transport

However, the real test of this commitment is the replacement of my regular car travel plans over long distances.  How to get across the Southwest without a car or a monster budget?  In a spirit of conservation and adventure, I recently took my first trip… on the Greyhound bus.  I must say, it was less stressful than driving, with driving’s relentless watching the road while steering, or not quite trusting other drivers and watching the road anyway.  Never a good sleep in a car, unless you’re REALLY zonked.  So, back to the Greyhound.  It was painless, relatively on time, much more eco-friendly, and I met a few interesting people along the way

If you’re contemplating taking the bus when you next travel, may I offer a few pointers?  Arrive earlySeriously.  And when you arrive, ask where your gate is and go ahead and put your bags in line.  It seems to be standard practice that you don’t have to remain with them beyond that point.  So settle in and watch a movie on the big(ger) screen while you wait.  And bring your own food, unless you like two dollar snickers bars in the vending machines and similarly priced sodas.  I’m pretty sure that they’ve never heard of the word organic either.  Experienced Greyhounders relate that they routinely oversell the buses (remember that tip about putting your bags in line?), so if you want to have any choice about what variety of seatmate you want, better get your spot and hold on tight.  It will help you out a lot if you travel light enough to avoid checking baggage.  That also removes you from having to open up your bags for people at every stop.  When I went hiking last month, the travel compartments above were large enough to accommodate an artfully packed trecking backpack and tent – it’s kind of get-it-as-you-come on available space.  After all that, well, sit back and relax!  The bus stops at cities along they way, often for  long enough to get your standard fast-food fare along the highway, make cell phone calls or whatever else you can fit in a quarter hour.  Best of all, if you travel with a friend, one of you can ride for a 50% discount companion fare, reducing costs further. 

So far, life without a car has been pretty good.  I HAVE missed a few appointments and retooled my day a few times, but all-in-all, it hasn’t required too much more time or thought.  And I’ve met several local business owners whose businesses I might not otherwise even have seen whizzing by in a car.  If this is to be a long-term arrangement, I think that I’ll get a bicycle again (last one was stolen, another LA hazard!) or maybe even a little moped that can be converted to use less gas.  Has anyone else made the jump to sell their car?  I’m curious to know how it went/ is going?   I salute you for traveling the road to green-dom (literally!) one step at a time

Leave a comment »

Big Belly: an Appetite for Trash

Now that’s a good idea! Anyone tried one?

Leave a comment »

SEQL: 100 Ways you can improve the environment

Here’s a quick reference for any of you needing a jump start on your energy reduction goals, courtesy of SEQL (Sustainable Environment for Quality of Life). Rather than analyze or reword, I’ll just present the list for you to browse. The full PDF copy of this document is available from their website, www.seql.org. Many of the tasks take under a minute to complete… which ones can you implement today?

Comments (3) »

Tax Refund: Investing in Your Home

So you just finished standing in line at the post office, trying to get that dreaded paperwork off the the IRS in time to get your tax refund this year.  At least it’s easier to take when you think of all the green that will soon be coming your way.  

Tax refund check

If you’re really thinking, you can use that green to green another area of your life… your home.  Here’s a link to a great article from Forbes about how the Federal government allows for tax rebates when you remodel or improve your home.  It’s worth a look through to see in which ways you can actually make that refund work for you in the long run.  While the focus of this article is not expressly on green technology, you can easily apply green building principles to any of the remodeling projects you do decide to undertake.  Just remember to check the list to see what qualifies.

If you’re not looking to start knocking down walls, perhaps you can look into upgrading ceratin appliances in your house to Enrgy Star rated versions, or consider making small investments toward off-grid power use, such as buying a clothesline for your back yard.  (What?  You’re not even getting that much back?  Times are tough…)  Or you could consider spending a day at the local garden store buying plants, which will add value and utility to your house.  The apple or peach tree you plant today will be a welcome respite from the future sun and also provide you with food for barter or decreased dependence on the supermarket. 

Keeping your house in shape will also pay off in the long run because you won’t have to put major funds toward total replacement of items that you keep in good repair.  If we ever hope to green the world, we’d do best to start with our own spaces, leading by shining example, rather than, as the bible puts it, sweeping our neighbors porch when our own remains dusty.  So make an investment in YOUR environment, and put Uncle Sam to work for you.

Leave a comment »

%d bloggers like this: