Giving Thanks for the Earth’s Bounty by Janine Donoho

Presentation Xeriscape Landscape Design

Immanuel Lutheran Church

Immanuel Lutheran Church

This last Saturday, the delightful women of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Havillah welcomed me into their fold. Temporarily, yes, but a warm reception just the same. In celebration of autumn, women gathered from their Washington-Alaska District to celebrate ‘Lord of the Harvest.’ They sang hymns, renewed bonds, and bestowed their farmed bounty upon all present. Then Linda Kuhlman invited me to share my program on ‘Xeriscape Gardening.’

We grew this

We grew this

Since xeriscape is yet another passion of mine, the attendees’ enthusiasm gratified. We explored together the larger cycles that make this earth viable, which incidentally contribute to soil productivity. Then we delved into how to apply xeriscape techniques to our landscapes. We even used the ‘S’ word when a participant asked about her Norwegian pine’s excessive cone output, which of course led to a brief discussion of plant sex and potential stressors. I’d have loved to stay for ‘Scripture Gardening’, which lends itself beautifully into another of my delights, cultural ethnobotany. Unfortunately, Intrepid Guy had a thing scheduled and I needed to leave.

Reflective view

Reflective view

In parting, we considered the exposed bank beside their community space. Now they’re considering native Arctostaphylos uva ursi aka kinnikinnick or bearberry or even low-growing cotoneaster to both beautify and hold the slope. Since I’m all about sustainable practices, contributing to this event gave me joy while allowing me to spread a little of the same. Thank you.

Achillea galore

Achillea galore

Stachys (Lamb's Ear)

Stachys (Lamb’s Ear)

Mints, sages & sedums

Mints, sages & sedums

Spring beauty

Spring beauty

July's summer garden

July’s summer garden

Late summer garden

Late summer garden

September color and texture

More reflections of beauty

More reflections of beauty

1st Peony grown from seed

1st Peony grown from seed

Choices We Make before the Fire by Janine Donoho

Harbinger from Canada

Harbinger from Canada

As the western part of the United States enters into desiccated autumn, we’re told that the official fire season has begun. In fact, fire season now begins nearly as soon as our shrunken snowpack melts. Once the native and invasive species of plants dries, we’re vulnerable to lightning strikes. Yet lightning causes only 10-20% of our wildfires. The other 80-90%? Human caused.

Slide Mountain near Washoe Valley

Slide Mountain near Washoe Valley

In the high Sierra Nevada Mountain range, where I spent my formative years, snowpack has declined for decades—more precipitously as we blow past the latest tipping points. That means wildfires in winter and early spring—the new normal. This aspect of climate change affects the western side of our continent from Alaska to Bolivia, excluding only the more tropical regions. For Okanogan County in Washington State, our wildfires began in late May this year with smoke plumes as harbingers.

Wildland wildfire in Nevada

Wildland wildfire in Nevada

Over a decade ago when we first moved here, Intrepid Guy, who grew up in Spokane, Washington, and I committed to fire proofing our home and property. We wanted no soft-bodied firefighter to stand between an inferno and our house. Our house perches where sagebrush steppe meets Ponderosa pine communities, landscapes that normally thrive with periodic fires. However, lowering water tables, beetle infestations, and fire suppression have reduced these communities’ resistance to wildfire damage. Here are the choices we made:

  • Fire-resistant fiber-cement siding (Hardy Board);
  • Metal roofing;
  • Lava rock mulch out 10 feet plus from the foundation;
  • Rock based circular driveway;
  • Islands of native and drought-resistant plantings with rock mulch and drip system hydration;
  • Native grasses and brush cut back at least 40 feet;
  • Lower branches of our Ponderosas and Douglas fir removed;
  • Predominantly metal structures versus wooden within 50 feet of the house; and,
  • Buried 1,750 gallon tank, topped off and better than spitting on a fire.
Firewise living

Firewise living

When the first wildfire threatened our home on July 4th seven years ago, it started within a quarter mile—bordering the steep slope leading to our home. Not good. Fire devours landscape uphill in its quest for oxygen.

Exemplary Department of Natural Resources (DNR) crews along with local volunteer departments aided by water and fire-retardant air drops limited this human caused wildfire to nine acres of non-fireproofed landscape. Trees crowned, wildlife fled or died, and I baked muffins, although not well, while brewing iced tea for the crews. The DNR incident manager designated our home as a safe house for sheltering firefighters. When we were told to evacuate, we did. We pay hefty fire insurance fees, keep important papers in a safe deposit box, and again, don’t choose to have a person stand between us and fire.

Flames through the trees

Flames through the trees

With this season’s injuries and deaths of Forest Service firefighters, the loss of 7 million acres—and counting—in the western United States, we all need to assess our part in these disasters. Beyond addressing human caused climate change, what else can we do to minimize the destructive force of wildfire?

When the fire bear comes over the mountain

When the fire bear comes over the mountain

When wildfire eats toward us, we take what’s most important: the living critters we’re responsible for and each other. The house and landscape? That’s just stuff.

What matters

What matters most

Wildfires & Smoke—A Study in Still Life by Janine Donoho

Washington State wildfires continue to devour our landscape with devastating effects to wildlife and human residents. We evacuated during level 3—returned to level 1 and severe smoke. Consider us relatively unscathed.

Those who valiantly fight these fires battle exhaustion and extreme hazardous conditions, even as three Forest Service people lost their lives and others are injured. Weeping as I write this.

Pictures speak the language best. Here’s the situation.

Wildfire map 8-21-2015 with 100 square miles burned since then.

Wildfire map 8-21-2015 with 100 square miles burned since then.

Wildfire at night

Wildfire at night

Smoke from space 8-23-1015

Smoke from space 8-23-1015

Valiant firefighters

Valiant firefighters

What a sunny day looks like today.

What a sunny day looks like

Trying not to inhale

Trying not to inhale

Our way out

Our way out

Subdued landscape

Subdued landscape

Acrid air

Acrid air & low visibility

Bunny grazing on groundcover in our driveway

Bunny grazing on groundcover in our driveway

When we can see Lake Osoyoos--2 days ago

When we can see Lake Osoyoos, it’s a lake of fire—2 days ago

Fawn with smoke in background

Fawn with smoke as backdrop.

Another flare up across the Canadian border--2 days ago.

Another flare up across the Canadian border—2 days ago

Too close for comfort on Hwy 97 near Tonasket.

Too close for comfort on Hwy 97 near Tonasket.

Rainbows in moderate smoke

Rainbows in moderate smoke—yesterday morning.

Where there’s smoke… by Janine Donoho

Coming over the hills

Coming over the hills

Not a thing of beauty

Not a thing of beauty

We had a week—a level 3 evacuation due to wildfire pushed by strong south winds. Level 3 means danger currently affects your area or is imminent, and you need to leave immediately. As fire lines closed in on our Hardy Board home with its metal roof and defensible space, we hit the road. No house is worth a soft body standing between you and the inferno.

Air drop within reach of our home

Air drop within reach of our home

Undone by kindness, first at Osoyoos Lake Veteran’s Memorial Park, where they offered overnight space for our trailer and truck in a day use area, then the next day, when Atkins Harvest Foods responded with baked goods for distribution to fire fighters—gratis. We distributed goodies to BLM, DNR, and Forest Service crews along with local contractors, then took what was left to our local high school, the 9 Mile Fire incident headquarters.

Too close

Too close

At this point, 4675 acres have burned with two homes lost, 30+ buildings destroyed, and the fire’s 50% contained with too many hotspots to count. With parched sagebrush steppe and Ponderosa forest communities untouched, there’s still plenty of fuel to act as tinder for ongoing high winds, lightning strikes, and stupid/malicious humans. The latter ignited this conflagration.

So, on-on.

What does firewise mean to you? Have you changed your landscape to minimize wildfire damage?

Line of approaching flame

Line of approaching flame

Fire line within reach of home

Fire line within reach of home

Our burning Wildlife Sanctuary

Our burning Wildlife Sanctuary

A forest lost

A forest lost

Pines burning from the inside out

Pines burning from the inside out

Stunned wildlife take refuge wherever they can

Stunned wildlife take refuge wherever they can

Wildfire in context

Wildfire in context

Our Not-so-wild National Forests (Earth Whispers – Part 4) by Janine Donoho

Skewed use of our forest lands

Skewed use of our forest lands

Shinrin-yok (森林浴) in Japan and China and Sanlimyok (산림욕) in Korea offer the gift of ‘forest bathing.’ As you breathe in the mercurial essences of wood oils, you also experience the soothing effects that decrease hormones associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome. Visiting forested spaces reduces negative emotions, too. Plus walks in natural spaces foster the healing powers of deep sleep. Really.

Grazing exotic species for all

Grazing exotic species for all

Degraded intermittent creek

Degraded intermittent creek

What gold mining looks like

What gold mining looks like

As epicenters for land uses such as logging, mining, grazing, and poaching, our national forests offer anything but that experience. From 1789’s Bill of Rights forward, the intent of law to protect our commons has been bent, spindled, and mutilated to the economic benefit of the few. Now our degraded national forests have become less a place to nurture and appreciate our natural world, and more of a bonanza for Takers intent on financial gain from our public lands. Over the last thirty years, that devastation has escalated.

What the Takers leave behind

What the Takers leave behind

Here in the Okanogan National Forest where I hike every other day, if you’re an international gold mine such as Crown Resources Corporation’s Buckhorn Mine, you can count on taxpayer dollars to help build the equivalent of a superhighway through national forest lands to enable your lucrative extraction, even as you mine and pollute our limited freshwater to do so. The same occurred during the heights of logging.

Exudate from Buckhorn Mine

Exudate from Buckhorn Mine

Coyote dragged to death by stupid humans

Coyote dragged to death by stupid humans

If you’re a poacher, you can count on reduced funding to our forestry and wildlife services. Lack of personnel shrinks your chances of being held responsible for your year-round illegal acts of hunting bear with dogs, killing protected species, and further degrading the public lands for your own gains.

If you’re a cattle owner, you can graze your exotic species in our public lands, spread exotic weeds from their feces, and not be held responsible in any way for mitigating your destruction of intermittent creeks even as you benefit financially. Perhaps worse yet, our apex predators, necessary and native to our forest lands, become the villain, since they prey on your literal cash cow.

Yes to exotic species

Yes to exotic species

So let’s up our game on this. Our national forests belong to all of us. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and return these commons to a level of Shinrin-yoku Forest Therapy that benefits all but the Takers. That means getting political, too.

Open the road to joy

What are you doing to conserve the commons that are our national forests? How do you plan to proceed in restoring our national commons to all of us?

Doe through the trees

Doe through the trees

Glorious Nature by Janine Donoho

Mountain lion in snow

Mountain lion in snow

Black bear and cub

Black bear and cub

Where we choose to live speaks volumes about who we are. That’s especially true of the wildlife sanctuary where Intrepid Guy and I live. After more than a decade in this space, we continue to coexist with the natives.

Weasel, eater of eggs

Weasel, lover of eggs

Except for a few aggressive yellow jackets, no critters have been harmed during this sojourn and, by enhancing our landscape, more have benefited. We minimize disruptive interactions and remain courteous. In retrospect, human exchanges prove much more challenging.

Please enjoy this pictorial view of a few striking critters in our ‘hood.

Red-tailed hawk landing

Red-tail hawk landing

Deer in silhouette

Deer in silhouette

Flock of wild toms

Flock of wild toms

Immoderate Blue Grouse Male

Immoderate Blue Grouse Male

Coyote eyes

Coyote eyes

Young Kestrel

Young Kestrel

Mountain goat

Mountain goat

 

Osprey with fish

Osprey with fish

Goshawk

Goshawk

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

Moving toward Grace by Janine Donoho

Bodilicious new pack member.

Bodilicious new pack member.

I suspect we all struggle toward thankfulness when stress and exhaustion overwhelm our intent. During a brief stay on the coast a few weeks ago, a wise friend redirected my tendency—okay, total embrace of the whine—toward appreciation. After restarting my meditation practice a few mornings ago, today I’m advancing toward gratitude.

Shakedown cruise

Shakedown cruise

Last week we combined the shakedown cruise of our new sixteen foot home-on-wheels with expanding our pack by one puppy. Intrepid Guy’s latest labs show great improvement and full remission’s within view. During last night’s microburst of gale force winds, then lightning strikes, we emerged unscathed. Now Department of Natural Resource (DNR) crews are attacking the three wildfires started by strikes.

Lightning flash

Lightning flash

Mind you, this is just the big thanks stuff. My gratefulness goes much deeper and has an infinite horizon. Now I close thinking of my geographically distant friend who embodies grace. She’s also a mentor, albeit a continent away—too far for a cuppa. Oddly enough, or perhaps not, her name’s ‘Grace.’ Here’s to you, my friend.

Viceroy butterfly meets geranium

Viceroy butterfly meets geranium

When Dawn Erupts with Sunshine (Earth Whispers – Part 3) by Janine Donoho

Earth from the space station

Earth from the space station

As a conservation biologist, it’s difficult to keep from running around screaming, “The sky is falling.” Not only does that abuse my throat, it’s not at all productive. Besides, there are success stories associated with projects that could be emulated worldwide. Let’s shift gears and tout those for a change.

Shidhulai fleet boat

Shidhulai fleet boat

Amid our earth’s manmade landscapes—a veritable crazy quilt of sprawling urban centers punctuated by degraded swathes of natural resources—we’re also under the constant influence of our radiant sun. For many of us, that means gallons of sunblock and fabrics woven to keep our skin from flipping out and punishing us. Then there’s solar energy and I break into a happy dance. As Elon Musk said, “We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun, you don’t have to do anything, it just works. It shows up every day.” So how’s that harnessing of the sun’s energy going?

In at risk Bangladesh, you’ll find Mohammed Rezwan’s nonprofit ‘Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha’, which means self-reliance. You see, inundated Bangladesh is drowning with over a third of its landmass underwater each year. Rezwan’s floating and solar-powered fleet of schools, libraries, sustainable farms, and health clinics work to offset this loss of actual land. Solar photovoltaics (PV) power this vision. Brilliant on so many levels.

SolarPACES Members

SolarPACES Members

Other projects worldwide include concentrating solar power (CSP), often by transferring energy into steam. At this time, nineteen countries are committed to these forms of solar energy. The issue at hand? Connecting generating sources of solar power into a grid that delivers to urban centers. The usual suspects of fossils—er, fossil fuel tycoons—continue to make this more difficult than it needs to be.

Solar Energy

Solar Energy

Not listed as a member nation? Sweden. One of their most successful solar projects is Ripasso Energy with 32% solar-to-grid energy so far. And the Swedes just get better. Since 1970, this country’s renewable geothermal, wind, and solar use, including collaborative infrastructure along with rigorous building codes, have led to 90% less oil dependency, nearly 10% decreased CO2 output, and markedly reduced sulfur pollution. Woo-hoo!

So yes, let the sun shine down. The star at the center of our solar system still belongs to all. The lower cost of residential solar power has also adjusted into a more doable realm. Now it’s up to us to block insatiable oil magnates and their legislative minions from further taxing that, too.

Are you using solar power to rock your world? If not, do you plan to do so?

Fusion for all

Fusion for all

The Inherent Music of Storytelling by Janine Donoho

Dancing with my veil

Dancing with my veil

Our brains on music

Our brains on music

“Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.” –Yehudi Menuhin

Melodic impulse suffuses our lives. We’re creatures of rhythm, beginning with biological cadence—the rush and wash of our mother’s blood sustains us. Our emotional responses to music go deeper yet.

First as inquisitive child, then dancer and choreographer, and finally as storyteller, aural patterns enrich my existence. When I discovered Bach, especially as interpreted by Yo-Yo Ma, his suites blended with breath and heartbeat, freeing me to move into relaxed openness where creativity thrives. Count this as therapy on many levels.

Different musical patterns stimulate our brain’s emotional, motor, and creative areas. Yet generalizations that the right brain equates with creativity and the left, logic, have proven to be an oversimplification. Better to visualize different parts of our brain lighting up dependent upon pitch, volume, tonality, and rhythm.

Colors of music

Colors of music

Now ponder the secondary effects of music on involuntary responses. Our vision, language, and memory align to tuneful variations. This torrent generates the subjectivity of our song choices. I won’t even get into how our unique chemistry transforms those reactions.

The one hardwired response? Emotion. The basic distinction between overtly sad and happy tunes affects us. As we age, those effects increase.

So while Mary McLaughlin’s “Sealwoman/Yundah” provided a cadence to strive for in Soundings: Water Elemental, the piece may—or may not—elicit the same response in you. How successful my writing proves to be in reaching that pinnacle? I leave that to you, dear readers.

How does music elevate your life? What are your current favorites?

Music and our brains

Music and our brains

Skirt dance.

Skirt dance.

Zils and the dancer.

Zils and the dancer.

Going There by Janine Donoho

 

Eumelanin levels &  UV intensity

Eumelanin levels & UV intensity

There is no such thing as “race.” Really. This toxic sorting process to stratify according to skin color has no basis and the human construct of “race” is just that—a fabrication. With yet another mass murder of exemplary people by one who’s not-so-much, I’m giving my inner biologist full rein.

Let’s keep this short, simple, and to the point. The origins of skin hue are geography and melanin. Melanin’s the pigmentation found in most organisms except spiders—go figure. Most notably the eumelanin version affects our skin, hair, and iris colors. As for the geography connection? In early humans living closest to the equator, abundant eumelanin darkened their skin, hair, and irises, offering protection from ultraviolet radiation damage, and thus reducing cancer risk. The further away humans moved from the equator, the less protection needed, which culminated in less coloration. Eons ago and in the usual way, these adaptations passed onto their offspring.

That’s it. Really. Darker colorations equate with higher levels of eumelanin and once corresponded with proximity to high levels of UV light. All other cultural nonsense associated with skin, hair, and eye color can be tossed into the overflowing bin of noxious tribalism. And yet…and yet this superficial difference continues to initiate racist murders, socio-economic retribution, and frankly, daily travail for those seen as the wrong shade.

Since I still have the bit in my teeth, I’d like  you to repeat after me:

There is no such thing as “race.”

There is no such thing as “race.”

There is no such thing as “race.”

Unfortunately, there’s still plenty of homicidally stupid out there. Ignorance kills, and to fix that, we really need to go big.

Eumelanin levels &  UV intensity

Eumelanin levels & UV intensity

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries

Soundings, Water Elemental

LaunchFebruary 27th, 2015
The big day is here.

Newsletter signup

Join in and receive a FREE short story as my gift to you. Exclusive promos, book deals and contests available only to subscribers.

%d bloggers like this: