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The Rain

The canvas of our tent echoed as rain splattered our shelter. The rain came lightly at first, like whispers. Then torrents struck the tent—and the rain went on for days.

I loved it.

John and I were safely ensconced inside our tent. Outside, as the rain fell, the river, which was only a few yards away, rose by the hour—we knew we weren’t going to catch our dinner in that roaring torrent. Instead, we played Uno, poker, talked, and listened, closer to the elements than we could ever be inside hard walls.

We wondered, occasionally, when it would end… tomorrow? The next day? We checked periodically for holes in our tent, for damp spots on the tent floor, but the pouring rain didn’t stop our vacation adventure. The rain became an escapade in its own right, rising and falling in intensity, filling our ears with its pounding and with the river’s passing thrust. Inside our cozy tent we played on, and then we slept.

I love the rain. In California when I was growing up, rain came rarely. The first rain of the season always mixed with oils on the roads to create slick conditions; forgetful drivers, who didn’t slow down, skidded into one another, creating a flood of accidents. In summer, thunderstorms struck with ferocity, lightning crisscrossed in the sky, thunder rolled, and streets flooded, losing all that good water to gutters and sewage systems.Pixabay no attrib req lightning-1158027_960_720

Rain in California washed the muck that stuck to smog smothered trees off the leaves and onto the ground, transforming the grey green trees into the deep green of healthy vegetation. Rain introduced Petrichor and ozone into the atmosphere—filling the air with a clear, natural perfume. Negative ions amassed.

Today, we are going on two weeks of nearly daily rain here in Indiana, yet I still love the rain. Tonight I sat outside on my porch, listening to the rain begin, feeling the rising wind just before the rains came, smelling that familiar scent, watching the first drops land upon the plants in my front flower beds.

I tire of overcast days; I need bursts of sunshine and the long sunny days that intersect the rainy season during springtime here in Indiana and make it gleam. But I also love the rain because it is the nurturer that brings on flowers, softens the soil, makes the grass grow, and caresses the world into spring. And I also love spring.

Tonight, the rain has stopped. Flowering trees drip, losing water droplets and clinging blossoms. The sky glows from the horizon to its topmost reaches with a golden pink light. Soft clouds reflect the setting sun’s rays. Vegetation quivers, shaking off excess moisture, readying itself to burst further into bloom. Green grass glimmers.

Rain seems so common. Ubiquitous. Certain. But there, our instincts are wrong.

All over the world, the climate is changing. Yes, it’s true—the four warmest years on record have all occurred in the last decade. According to Climate Central, “2018 was the second-warmest year on record without an El Niño event, behind only 2017.” Scientists know that if we do not address climate change, if we do not prioritize the need for a biologically diverse world, if we do not live more sustainably, nothing is certain.

None of the things that we love.

Not even the rain.

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The God of Other Worlds

My children groan when I mention the documentary “Winged Migration,” which I’ve watched several times. Each time I see it, though, I’m reminded of a world that coexists with ours but is out of sight—often beyond our imagination. In this world high above myriad bird species fly thousands of miles from north to south and back, circling the globe, year after year. Like ephemeral beings, a few enter for a short while into our sight, then disappear. But the world they inhabit in this other sphere is as real as ours, filled with birthing, tending, gathering, singing, exerting, enduring, living, and dying.

sea CaptureAn air world. One of God’s other worlds, intersecting our own.

I discovered a similar world undersea, snorkeling in the warm waters off the Hawaiian Islands. Coral reefs drew sea species to feed. I was mesmerized by this world—where yellow sea snakes slithered; tang and butterfly fish glided by; green sea turtles emerged to investigate and descend again; and damselfish swarmed. I only fingered the fringe of this undersea world, a world of a million species, many yet unknown to human kind.

A great underwater world. One of God’s other worlds, intersecting our own.

Humans are big, and powerful, and violent. We destroy bird species for pleasure, like the passenger pigeon lost long ago. We pollute coral reefs, draw birds to destruction with our lights, chop down forest cover, and over fish the seas. Sometimes we do so unawares, forgetting how big we are. Sometimes we do so out of selfish ends.

The creatures in these worlds are mostly out of our sight. But we are everywhere in theirs. We drain their nesting grounds, dump our rubbish in their waters, and fish their kind to near extinction. They cannot comprehend what we are doing; they cannot stop us. They only know that it is harder to find a mate; their resting place is gone; their coral reef is dying.

Ian L. McHarg called humankind “A planetary disease … an epidemic, multiplying at a super-exponential rate, destroying the environment upon which he depends, and threatening his own extinction.” When we act like a disease, we imperil other worlds.

We imperil other worlds when we forget who we were meant to be. Like Tolkien’s Ents, we were meant as creation’s caretakers, not “takers” for our personal pleasure.

We imperil other worlds when we forget what the other creatures are. God is a God of other worlds. These worlds are His handiwork. They are His creation. They give Him pleasure.

We live on a beautiful planet, home to 7.6 billion humans. But it is also home to others—in the air, on the land, and in the sea—with billions of other species living lives of their own. We should ensure that these other worlds, ephemeral to us but vital, can continue.

We think we are the dominant species, but we are nothing without the other species with whom we share this planet. We live in a world of intersecting worlds. God’s worlds. Doom these other worlds, and we doom ourselves.

Cherish these other worlds, though, and joy upon joy! Now and then, we intermingle—ephemeral encounters with a world of winged migrations and swarming creatures of the sea.

 

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Surprises from the Untamed World

My daughter pulled into my driveway with two of my grandchildren. Scrambling out of the car one called, “Grandma, do you have any tweezers? I’ve got a splinter.” The other said, “Grandma, I have a black eye! I fell down.” Children–full of surprises; always something new.

A bit like nature.

I confess, since moving to the Midwest, my explorations in nature are less frequent in winter than they are the rest of the year. On my way to a party on a slippery ice day last year, carrying a bottle of pinot noir, I tumbled, crashed onto the sidewalk beside my car and lay shaken, sore, amidst shards of glass, watching a growing red pool ooze from beneath me. Had I cut arteries? Broken bones? I waited. After several minutes the pain subsided. I stood, slowly. The pool was not my blood, only the pinot. I was fine. So I cleaned up, located another bottle, and went on my way—more cautious now about icy weather and outdoor ventures.

The rest of the year, though, I’m outside as much as possible.

I’m a gardener. As a child, my mom encouraged my love of gardening as we planted carrot beds, tended roses, and trimmed camellias. I love the gift of nature in its cultivated grandeur. I’ve gardened in four states and visit gardens wherever I travel.

Yet I realize that the more our time in nature is spent in less tamed places, the more we experience the surprises offered by the natural world.

I’ve moved from suburbs equally manicured, planted with the same shrubs and trees, beside similar houses–to the less tamed bedlam of an old neighborhood, speckled with 100-year-old arboreal giants, lined with houses from differing decades, planted with flora in and out of vogue over a hundred years.

I’ve walked in farmland, with verges walled by hedges covering an under-story of flowering weeds, semi-cultivated–to hikes in the woods, cut by a trail bordering a running stream, hiding unexpected ruins or unanticipated encounters of the animal kind.

I’ve been blessed by the rugged adventure of backpacking in high mountain terrain, where the acclivities and declivities are acute, the animals bigger, the dangers more significant.

There are many climbs I have not made and won’t, to places barely reachable by human beings, where ice cracks, avalanches occur, storms erupt, and life is always at risk.

In cultivated gardens, and especially in untamed out-of-the-way locations, the world is full of surprises, always changing.

Why do we need natural places? What is the value to us in protecting them? My sister Jacqueline suggested:

While an understandable attraction for our own kind should be part of our lives, humankind was always meant to live in fellowship with the rest of creation. I think our human sense of isolation and loneliness is, in part, a yearning for our immersion in the natural world. Too much time spent in a human made world is deadening. Too much time in cars, concrete buildings—even our own homes, is like only looking at life as a reflection of ourselves, instead of standing outdoors and experiencing a full sensory engagement with the natural world—listening to sounds, feeling the wind in the air, smelling the fragrances, seeing 3D reality.

We need this “full sensory engagement” with a moving, active, living, natural world, a world where we encounter the unexpected through the land, air, water, flora, and fauna. Because we cannot control what will come next into this space and moment, we attend.

We listen. Feel. See. Learn. Engage.

Come alive.

Hear the whispers of God.

Learn about ourselves.

We must protect all of nature, but particularly the remaining untamed places, for this is part of our inheritance: a world filled with surprises there to be discovered.

Photo credit: Rich Beedle, a friend who spends a great deal of time in nature, gave me permission to use some of the photos he’s taken while exploring out-of-doors. All of the photos in this post are from his photography of Indiana wildlife. 

Gratitude Practices

I often begin my morning listing five things for which I’m grateful. Often they are small things—a cardinal outside the window, a call from a friend. I have much to be thankful for, and I make this practice part of my devotions. I think I’m going to start a thankfulness list, though, for the foods I am privileged to eat today, for many foods are treasures that are here today, but may be gone tomorrow.

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Orange Grove in the Inland Empire. Credit below.

My home in the Inland Empire sat 30 to 35 miles east of Los Angeles. Our street, like many in the burgeoning towns that eat into the California desert today, was commandeered from the lemon and orange orchards that once were ubiquitous in this part of California, and our developments were sculpted from them.

 

Rich earth had fed those trees, and we, the residents of the developments that caused their demise, inherited what remained of that good earth.

The oranges came to California in the early 1800s with the mission padres, who carried individual trees north from Baja into Upper California. The first sweet orange grove “was planted in the garden of the San Gabriel Mission by Father Francisco Miguel Sanchez in 1803,” according to a history compiled by the Inland Orange Conservancy, a non-profit group dedicated to protecting the few remaining groves in Southern California. They were largely confined to mission compounds until the 1850s—the time of the California gold rush. (For those interested, here’s the link to the Inland Orange Conservancy – Home | Facebook page.)

In the 1880s Eliza Tibbit, a famous horticulturist, agronomist, abolitionist (and more) used her connections to obtain a new seedless orange, which originated in Brazil. Her trees flourished and laid much of the foundation for the orange industry in California; by the 1940s, an impressive 75 million cases of navel oranges were being shipped from southern California orange groves throughout the United States, Europe, and the world!

These orange trees were later confiscated by developments like the one where I grew up, developments that were built to house half a million or so of the 16 million soldiers who, like my dad, my uncle Roy, and countless others, returned en masse from World War II.

My development had been surrounded by block-long groves to the west of my house, and more, further to the north and east. But I watched these groves progressively disappear throughout the march of my childhood.

The groves were doomed, cornered like stray orange pieces sewn here and there in a cement-colored quilt of growing feeder streets and suburban developments. As the groves disappeared, the rich earth they fed on went too, covered by stucco structures and asphalt pavement.

Most of the groves of my childhood experienced a demise. Today, though, whole foods that we depend upon are at risk of disappearing.

orange tree16142454_10208240366751717_4284977956070090556_nOranges and lemons, from California, to Texas, to Florida, to the U.S. Virgin Islands, are at risk today from a plant disease known commonly as Citrus Greening (short for Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus—a name I’ll never remember). Apparently it is one of the most serious plant diseases in the world. The United States Department of Agriculture offers a list of things people can do to help avoid spreading the disease.

Coffee and bananas are both in trouble. Forbes just published a story on a report that “60% of wild coffee species are under threat of extinction. This includes the wild species of Arabica, the most popular cultivated coffee species accounting for 60% of global production.” Coffee’s potential demise is directly attributed to the changing climate in coffee growing regions.

Bananas have been at risk for decades. In Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, Dan Koeppel reminded me that the bananas I ate as a child tasted better than the ones I find in my grocery store today (which may be why I loved them then but don’t like them now).

We grew up with a banana called the Gros Michel, which tragically became commercially extinct in the mid-1960s from Panama disease. Banana growers were forced to switch to the less tasty Cavendish, which stores sell now. But the Cavendish and many lesser known banana varieties are under threat by a new form of Panama disease that has traveled from Southeast Asia and is now ravishing Africa. Scientists are working overtime to find solutions to this new threat.

Our memories are short. But once a grove or species is lost, it is hard or impossible to replace it.

  • Recognizing that we were granted stewardship of this planet by God to protect it, and not to use it for selfish ends,
  • acknowledging the reality of climate change and getting on board with efforts to address it, and
  • beginning gratitude practices for the good fruits of the earth

may help us start to appreciate these treasures and stop taking the harvests of this amazing but fragile good earth for granted.

 

Orange grove photo credit: By Internet Archive Book Images – https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14784771735/Source book page: https://archive.org/stream/armstrongnurseri1909arms/armstrongnurseri1909arms#page/n8/mode/1up, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42134261

God’s Immanence in a Rose: Reflections from New Year’s Day

Scotland 12 37217421_10212201409055299_7486753352756232192_nAt the Rose Parade, flowers reign. For those unversed in parade rules–every surface inch on every float—from huge twirling elephants to the image on the elephant’s IPad—must be covered in natural materials–dried stretched seaweeds, tea leaves, cranberry seeds, corn, beans, or rice. Herbs like cumin and cloves. Carnations, mums, daisies, orchids, bird of paradise flowers, and half a million or more roses. No artificial plant materials or coloring are allowed—nature’s colors are dramatic enough.

New Year’s Day, to me, always means the Rose Parade. Watching in 2019, its 130th anniversary, the parade of floats evoke the sublime!

I lived in Pasadena, the Parade’s home, for six crucial years of my life. I attended Pasadena City College for one year (before transferring to Occidental College nearby), worshipped at a Pasadena church, met and married my husband in Pasadena, graduated from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, and stood on Colorado Boulevard watching the Rose Parade as often as I could.

One year when I was a child, my dad packed my sister and I into our VW bus, drove to Pasadena, parked near the parade route, and staked out a viewing place while my sister and I struggled to sleep in the van. The overnight celebrations on the parade route are lively. We didn’t sleep much. By the time we found our spot and the parade began, I could barely keep my eyes open.

I’ve camped in the van, slept on the sidewalk to get a seat at the curb, stood behind deep rows of crowds to catch parade glimpses, and sat in the bleachers (once).

Many of my pivotal life memories occurred in this city that dedicates its parade to roses—a parade that reminds me how much poorer the world would be without flowers.

To me, God shows up in flowers.

God as transcendent, who exists above Creation, and God as immanent, who can be met through Creation, join harmoniously in the theology that guides my life. As St. Patrick put it:

I arise today, through God’s strength to pilot me,

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me….

I arise today, through the strength of heaven,

The light of the sun,

The radiance of the moon….

To the Christian academic and writer C. S. Lewis, beauty—like music or the scent of a rose—serve as a metaphor of our longing for Heaven. In his sermon “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis wrote:

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing…. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

God present in the world He has made. Through it, God hinting at a world we have not yet seen. God present in roses—even at the Tournament of Roses.

One more reason to protect the flora and fauna of this world.

Even Giants Risk Extinction

In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s Ents battled ferociously when Saruman and his orcs, acting like a vicious “planetary disease” sought to uproot and chop the ancient Fangorn Forest to extinction. Ripping free from their stupor the Ents fought heroically, heaving rocks and loosing floods, until they ended the destruction.

Ent giants, Middle Earth’s trees unchained. In Tolkein’s story, the Ents were the trees’ shepherds; they would fight deforestation to the end. 

Our earth’s trees are sessile, tethered by roots. In our world, if trees are to have shepherds to fight their destruction, those shepherds will have to be us.

A few years ago, the giants in Indiana were heavily breeding. Our silver maple let loose thousands of spinning seedlings, and I regretfully became the tree’s adversary as I plucked hundreds of new born maples from their successful implantations in my lawn. Ash trees lining our street were dense with seeds clusters. Sycamores in the woods bulged with pods.

I asked a tree expert, a state employee whose job involved growing trees used to repopulate forests deforested by industry, if something was up.






By USFWSmidwest https://www.flickr.com/
photos/49208525@N08/13985429209/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/
w/index.php?curid=61073572

He explained: Silver maples were seeding madly statewide. To protect their kind, when trees sense danger, some varieties bear offspring in far greater quantities than usual. That year, they were doing this throughout Indiana. They knew something. Two past summers, hot with drought, had killed trees throughout the state. A long cold winter gave warning.

Giants communicating with giants in voices unheard. Instinct urging. The trees listened, acted, wise with the centuries’ accumulated wisdom. Better go all out this year, they whispered. The future is precarious. They understood: even giants risk extinction.

The most majestic tree giants that I have seen are the huge redwoods of my native California. We visited them as a family when my sister and I were children, and I felt the awe such trees inspire. The California coast hosts the largest remaining virgin redwood forest in the world, with 2,500 year old trees. They are the tallest trees on earth. Massive at their base, redwoods are planted firmly on wide set legs, sufficient to hold each tree’s towering form.

We build buildings that emulate the shape of those tree trunks.

But even giant redwoods are disappearing. According to the 2018 State of the Redwoods Conservation Report, this region along the California coast once boasted 2.2 million acres of tall, old growth redwoods, a forest in existence since the age of the dinosaurs. Now, due to factors such as rapid logging since California’s gold rush in the 1840s, the old growth forest has shrunk to a meagre 113,000 acres.  

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=621584

Tragically, these “arboreal giants” are also being attacked by poachers. Much like the big animals of Africa—the elephant and rhinoceros—giant redwoods have been murdered for economic gain. Poachers with chain saws extract redwood burls—some nobs, burls with beautiful, swirling patterns—weigh hundreds of pounds. Even when the tree survives, the New York Times reports that “removing a burl cuts into a tree’s living cambium layer, which can weaken it and make it vulnerable to insects and disease.” [Follow this link to a storyboard showing the destruction.]

Tethered, the redwoods have no recourse but to stand proud and endure when they are attacked—no running for them. Brave and determined forest rangers (tree shepherds!) are closing roads and trying to stop the poachers—but too frequently, more trees are defaced. 

California’s recent fires have also put redwoods at risk, fires made more likely by human-induced climate change. California’s redwood forest has been designated a world heritage site. But like sites situated in war zones or stressed by uncontrolled human encroachment, even these giants risk extinction.

Across the globe trade wars, which can lead big consumers to burn more woodlands to cultivate additional crops, further imperil the Fangorn forests of this world.

Nature has a well-honed instinct for survival. I’ve seen trees at the brink of a riverside cliff, clinging by root threads to rocks and sand, living, growing, persistent. I’ve seen ancient trees like the ponderosa pine, because of its relative inaccessibility and, of improbable benefit, unattractiveness, doggedly surviving.

Living creatures are tenacious. Seeds proliferate, survive, and sprout. Trees hold on, gripping, digging their roots deeper, wider. Life clings, hopes.

But nature is vulnerable, as well. Fragile.

In our world, where humankind has so often imitated Saruman and his orcs, acting like “planetary diseases,” our ancient forests are under attack.

We cannot count on trees unchained. We are the trees’ shepherds.

It is up to us to fight for the survival of the giants of this world. We must rise from our own stupor and do battle, for even giants risk extinction.

[Part two: “How to Battle Like the Ents” will be published soon. For more on Man: A Planetary Disease, go the Ian L. McHarg’s 1971 B. Y. Morrison Memorial Lecture.]

A naive quest for a wooden treasure

Rough branches brushed our car. Birds cawed nearby. The jungle was impenetrable—we could see only a short distance in any direction. Had we been utterly naive? We were, after all, driving by ourselves deep into an unfamiliar jungle searching for a prison. Following the advice of locals, who had assured John and I that the prison was the only location on the big Island of Hawaii selling items carved of Kou wood, we had set off that morning, along a long road leading deep into the jungle.

Trees have inspired me all my life. As a small child, I found escape from family troubles in a simple, roofless tree house—a stumpy box, really–constructed by my father in the hefty fruitless mulberry canopying our back yard. Trees provide places for little girls to escape.

In cold climates, when tree leaves unfurl in spring, they transform our grey-brown world. In fall, when they reveal their true colors, they remind us of hidden truths unveiled.

Trees offer windbreaks, fruit, nesting sites, and covering for plants and animals. They give flat vistas verticality, produce oxygen, and even clean the soil. And inside their protective coverings, their rings and burls affirm the remarkable beauty hidden throughout creation.

“Just follow the road inland,” the locals had said. “Keep driving. It’s a ways, but if you keep going, you’ll get there.” So they’d said.

We had been “going” for nearly two hours, and it looked like we were getting nowhere. Edgy, we considered turning back. And then, we saw it–a high, cut-edge barbed wire fence came into view where the jungle parted. Now we just had to climb out of the safety of our car, call someone on the phone attached to the prison gate, and ask to be let in.

Before long, we found ourselves inside the prison in a room displaying an array of products carved by inmates out of native woods. We bought a Kou fish tray as a gift for my mother (which I have today), and then drove two hours back the way we came.

John and my appreciation of native Hawaiian woods began when we first traveled to Kauai on our honeymoon. For Californians, the islands were a common destination. Of course, like other visitors, we loved everything—snorkeling, sunsets, grilled ahi from our favorite restaurant, the Dolphin. Greenery. Green valleys, green trees, green jungle vegetation. And products local artisans made from native Hawaiian trees.

On our first trip, we stopped at a small woodworking shop and were greeted by a graying woodcarver of Hawaiian ancestry who showed us a few unfinished vases from a Kou tree. The old woodcarver told us the Kou was going extinct; the carvings were from one found downed naturally. And so we bought a vase.

It was years later that we set out on our quest to find this second Kou product in the jungle at the big island’s prison.

In those years, we did not understand the impact humans were having on native trees in Hawaii and elsewhere. We did see the beauty hidden in the trees’ bowels.

Fortunately, the Kou is still living in parts of the Islands. But other trees in our world are disappearing. According to a 2017 Newsweek article, “9,600 types of trees” across the planet are “threatened by extinction.” Such extinctions are particularly devastating in rich and fragile natural environments, like Hawaii.

Home to over 10,000 endemic species (native species, found nowhere else on earth), Hawaii’s forests helped conserve water, allowing this stunning assemblage to thrive. These forests are now among the world’s most endangered, though, due largely to the invasion of humans, pigs, cows, goats, rats, insects, and non-native plants introduced in the past few centuries.

Over the years I’ve learned to ask questions about the wood products I purchase, to ensure that I am not purchasing products from endangered species.

My environmental awareness is under development, and I trust I am growing wiser with the years.

Trees like the Kou and others native to Hawaii are worth all of our endeavors to save them. For the trees themselves; for our interconnected ecosystem; for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children not yet born—working to save whole forests and individual tree species from extinction is imperative. Trees—appreciating and saving them–are part of the reason I began this blog. And they are a reason I’ll keep trying to find my way to make a difference.

The Day I Met a Goat

1019181232-1_resizedWhile driving through the countryside this week I met a goat.

It was a field of goats, actually, although most of the herd ignored me; only one made the effort to become acquainted. I spied the flock on my way to Tuttle’s Orchards, where I went in a search of great, white pumpkins.

My knowledge of goats is limited, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was a Boer Goat.

For those who live outside the Midwestern United States, harvest looms big in a state like Indiana. Farmers construct corn mazes, build pumpkin towers, and devise hay bale climbing frames; they preserve fresh produce, can jams and jellies, cook apple pies, and sell home grown corn, beans, squash, and tomatoes. Farms become playgrounds, where schools unload busloads of children, and where families converge to pick apples and buy fall pumpkins.

At harvest time, some farmers outdo themselves.

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During my visit to Tuttle’s, I bought a bag of organic basil pasta, a jar of strawberry rhubarb jam, a loaf of home baked cinnamon bread, and five white pumpkins.

On my drive there, though, I was a bit nervous about the “low tire” indicator light that lit up a few days ago, which I hadn’t yet investigated. Abrupt 20 degree changes in air temperature make my tire indicator lights skittish, and I never know if the tires are low or just sensitive. When I first learned to drive (decades ago), “service” stations (aka gas stations) checked my tire pressure for me. Now, I must check the pressure myself or visit my Honda dealer (where they kindly add air if needed and turn off the indicator light free of charge).

How to read my car’s indicator symbols, check the tire pressure, and turn off indicator lights are only a few of the skills I am trying to develop now, skills that once were part of someone else’s area of expertise.

Once, businesses had secretarial assistants, and universities, like the one where I work, had administrative and teaching assistants. Now, in my position as a Senior Lecturer in English, I type my own letters (or emails), sort my own files (which is why my desk risks being hemmed in by heaps of old student folders), and build my courses on an ever changing electronic learning platform, meant to “enhance educational management and delivery.”

My life has grown increasingly complex, and I constantly seem to need new skills to deal with it.

This may be why I felt great joy driving through the countryside and meeting a goat.1019181232a-1_resized

I think this escalating complexity could also be one of the reasons why many people deny climate change and ignore environmental crises that must be addressed. Despite the “world’s leading climate scientists” confirmation “that climate change is running faster than we are – and we are running out of time”–people still try to deny its existence.

When we want to simplify life, it is easier to say, “The temperature is always going up and down” or “The climate changes ‘back and forth, back and forth’” than it is to examine the complex interplay between human induced deforestation, human produced carbon dioxide emissions, and rising temperatures melting glaciers that have protected life on our planet for millennia.

When we’re struggling to learn what we need to know to maintain our cars and keep our jobs, it is easier to ignore the downgrading of entire ecosystems around the globe than to take a serious look at how humankind’s removal of what scientists call “keystone species” have led to the collapse of once thriving ecosystems in our rivers, air, land, and seas. [See the documentary “The Serengeti Rules” for more on keystone species and on new hopes for reviving our natural world.]

Like it or not, though, we have to face climate change and today’s other environmental crises.

Our species’ actions have an out sized impact on the rest of the planet. We simply cannot stand by and let these actions destroy it.

Despite the complexities of modern life, we need to accept our responsibilities for climate change, degraded ecosystems, and disappearing species.

A drive in the country may reconnect us to this wonderful natural world of which we are a part.

Maybe we all need to slow down, take a drive, and meet a goat.

My Love Affair with Scotland

I’m in a love affair with Scotland. I lived there for three years thirty years ago, and in the intervening years, I’ve returned thirteen times.

This past summer, I spent five weeks in Scotland: exploring Edinburgh anew, a city of turrets and spires; revisiting Midlothian where our family resided; rambling through coastal villages in Fife; visiting my sister, her husband, and dear friends; and feasting on visions of “drystane dykes” (stone walls without mortar) and rolling vistas descending to the Firth of Forth.

The skies were clear blue; flowers–roses, fuchsia ‘trees,’ lavender, and poppies, all at their peak–overflowed pots and beds.

And the golf courses and hillsides—unexpectedly—were turning from their usual emerald green to yellow-gold and then to shades of brown, far too early for this predictably rainy country.

One of Scotland’s well-known, humorous postcards is divided into four boxes, each containing one of the four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Each box pictures a sheep standing in the rain—winter snow/rain, spring rain, summer rain, and fall rain.

“Welcome to Scotland, where the seasons don’t matter” says a joke.

When it rains in Scotland, people just get on with it.

Rain has made Scotland a haven for flower lovers, like me, and a go-to-place for a lot of golfers. (It’s a country of only 5.3 million people, but Scotland boasts 550 golf courses!) It is not known as a go-to-place for a summer tan. But it was this year.

This year—the summer of 2018–the seasons mattered. During the five weeks I was there, it rained only twice.

Scotland’s churches celebrate harvest Sunday in September. But this summer, Scotland’s farmers started harvesting in mid-July.

On June 28th, Glasgow, Scotland, topped 91.7 degrees—the second highest temperature ever recorded anywhere in Scotland. The BBC reported that “The ‘weatherproof’ membrane on Glasgow Science Centre’s roof melted and dripped black ‘goo’ down the building” because of the heat—Scotland, like many other places, isn’t prepared for such temperatures.

In a report from the Met Office (the people behind British weather forecasts), “there has been a general increase in summer temperatures averaged over the country as a result of human influence on climate, making the occurrence of warm summer temperatures more frequent.” And they add, “Every region of the UK is forecast to see average summer temperatures rise by around three degrees over the next 60 years.”

Scotland wasn’t alone in experiencing such a summer. During the first week of July, in the north, from Siberia to Canada–and across the rest of the globe—the planet baked.

Scientists from both NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have said that “17 of the 18 warmest years since modern record-keeping began have occurred since 2001.” Seriously.

As the Washington Post said, “No single record, in isolation, can be attributed to global warming. But collectively, these heat records are consistent with the kind of extremes we expect to see increase in a warming world.”

Scotland 11 37534591_10212238571584339_3993478377280372736_nA warming world could be considered good news for those who want Scottish suntans. It could portend trouble, though, for Scottish golf courses, bird life, fisheries, flowers, and farmers.

The Scientific community has agreed that humans are playing a leading role in climate change. They do not and will not agree on how fast it is warming, the extent of our species’ role versus other causes, or the specific consequences of climate change. Science doesn’t work this way. Science hypothesizes and tests out theories to get nearer to good conclusions. But thousands of experiments have led to their consensus that climate change is real, dangerous, and an emergency the whole world must address intentionally. Now.

Scotland is determined to be one of the countries taking the lead. According to the Scottish government, they plan to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 90% by 1950.”

All of Scotland’s efforts won’t be enough, though, unless the rest of the world—including the United States—is on board.

Friends, we need to vote out anyone who says they don’t believe in climate change. We need to vote in those who acknowledge it and plan to do something about it. We need to stand with local, state, and federal agencies that are making climate change a priority. We need to get on board, and we need to get our country on board, as well.

I want to still see pots and beds that are bulging with flowers, and fields that are emerald green, on my next visits to the Scotland that I love.

Why Dad? From High in Our Mulberry Tree

When I was just big enough to climb trees, my dad built my sister and me a tree house: flat-bottomed, 4’/4’ square, with 1’ high sides. He built it in our sturdy fruitless mulberry tree, where the bark was rough, the leaves ample, and the environment suitable for a small girl who needed to escape her house, with its many tensions, and who would always need to explore the outside world.

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The fruitless mulberry. Wikimedia.

The tree house had a rope attached with a bucket, where my mom could place sandwiches and supplies. This made it perfect.

I often ventured into the upper regions, stepping near the trunk where the branches were strong. From my perch high in the mulberry, I had my first glimpses of a wider world.

Of course, I’d traveled in every direction I could see—from the Alpha Beta grocery store in the Northwest, to my elementary school in the Northeast; from Stater Brothers in the Southeast, past track homes like my own in the Southwest. But from high in the tree my mind wandered, and I wondered what lay further, what was beyond all that I could see.

From this tree I could stretch my eyes—I had a need to see distant places.

We humans need to stretch our eyes and see beyond our tiny worlds—physically and psychologically. We imagine something more, and we pursue it. We see an unknown object, and we examine it. We wonder how something works, and we attempt to repeat it. We see another way of doing something, and we consider its value for ourselves. We meet an unanswered question, and we ask “how?” and “why?”

This is the way we discover new views, ideas, perspectives, understanding, or facts.

I tell my first-year college students that one difference between high school and college is that in high school, you were frequently told who, what, when, and where, and the answers seemed settled. In college, you are expected to ask how and why, and to examine both the process and the results.

With a father like mine, asking how and why was inbred. Sometimes, such a querying spirit has felt troublesome (or it has appeared troubling to others). To me, being curious about the how and why has sent me on a path of never-ending exploration and growth.

When I was very young, my dad and I built a go cart together. I remember hammering and painting it, and I recall practicing with it on the pavement, but I do not remember ever using it in a go cart race—although that was our voiced intention.

“What makes it go, Dad? How will it stop?”

“You’ll make it go. You have to kick!” he explained. “We’ll put a brake on. I’m not going to let you race down the street without a damn way to stop.”

Or our homemade rock grinder. My dad built it from scratch—it looked like a cylindrical washing machine tube extracted from the machine, on legs.

“What is it dad; how does it work?” I asked, walking around it on all sides, my stumpy pigtails swinging.

“It’s a rock polisher! It spins, and uses rocks and sand to rub the rough edges off stones, like beach waves use sand to polish beach pebbles. I’m polishing obsidian nodules.” I looked at the machine dubiously. It spun slowly, rocks clanging, clunking.

How long will it take?” I queried.

“Days. You can’t be impatient.”

Why did you make a rock polisher dad? What are you going to do with the rocks?”

CO OBS Stone 3“I’m conducting tests. I want to know how long it takes to polish these raw stones.”

My dad kept records of his experiments. Periodically, he would remove a partially polished obsidian nodule, record the hours it had been in the polisher, and label it with tape. Today, I have some of these nodules, still marked. The longest recorded time says “72 hours.”

I learned to ask how and why because my dad was insatiably curious and interested in testing known and unknown processes for himself—and of course, I wanted to know what he was doing, how, and why.

When my dad learned that the soil in the Inland Empire was too cool to hatch tortoise eggs, he tried alternatives.

Why are you digging up the tortoise eggs, dad?!” I queried.

“They won’t hatch. We’re too far from the desert—it’s too cold here,” he explained. “So I’m putting them someplace warmer.”

He began by putting them in a box, covered by cloths, beneath the water heater. Later, he moved them to a home-made incubator with a temperature controlled light. His experiments worked—we hatched dozens of tortoises using these methods.

When some didn’t hatch, despite his efforts, he wanted to examine them. He placed unhatched eggs in a box and stored them—where else—in our refrigerator, for later study.

Give my mom credit for patience.

We all need to learn to go beyond what we already know or believe; to discover what we do not yet understand; to learn from God, nature, and others—those like ourselves and those quite different—to grow into truly empathetic human beings.

It takes humility to do that. Self-awareness, without pride. The space to stretch our eyes to new horizons and different ideas.

We may all want to begin by spending some time in a good tall tree.