Trees Know More Than You Think

I just read a fascinating article, entitled, “Never Underestimate the Intelligence of Trees” by Brandon Keim. It was both gripping and educational from beginning to end. I strongly urge you to read it.

Here are but a few of the things I learned from this article:

  • There is a fungal/root connection that allows nutrients to flow, but it also connects trees to each other.
  • They form networks with mother trees at the center of communities, exchanging nutrients and water.
  • Plants communicate. They perceive and receive messages, and will change their behaviors based on those messages.
  • They remember. They learn.
  • When a forest is under attack, it actually emits a defense chemistry that you can smell.
  • Trees can recognize seedlings that are related to them, and give advantages to those seedlings over those of a “stranger”. They are capable of making that choice.
  • When a plant is stressed out, it releases serotonin, just like we do.
  • If you clip a plant’s leaves or put a bunch of bugs on them, their neurochemistry changes. They send warning messages to their neighbors.

Mind officially blown. I think I’ll be seeing my next hike in the woods entirely differently. Hopefully this new mindset will give me comfort, rather than the creeps. Like I’m being watched. Like their talking about me. Hmm…

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The Elders and the Youngsters

I just saw an animation that brought tears to my eyes. It was the song Father and Son by Yusuf/Cat Stevens. Yusuf sings the father’s part and the younger version of himself, Cat Stevens, sings the son version, taken from a recording of himself from decades ago, obviously.

In the song, the father is trying to urge the son not to go off and do something impulsive that will potentially alter his entire life. (At the time he wrote it, he was imagining a boy who wanted to run off and join the Russian Revolution, but really any scenario will do.) The father says, basically, stop and think. Take it slow. You still have a lot to learn. Be calm. Think of the consequences. “For you will still be here tomorrow but your dreams may not.”

The son, on the other hand, says that he’s been ordered to listen his whole life, but he doesn’t feel like he’s been listened to. He says he knows himself, and that it’s time to make a change. His part is all about the frustration of not being heard and not being taken seriously, and the desire to make his own way.

The reason this animation struck me to the core is that I think, for the first time, it really hit me that I’m not young anymore. That’s a really hard pill to swallow. It took me long enough. I’m 55. (And I know the older readers will say that 55 isn’t that old. I get that. Everything is relative.)

I think everything is getting more poignant with me over time, because we are all on the cusp of radical, terrifying changes, and no one can predict what’s going to happen next. It feels as if the sand is shifting beneath our collective feet, and that’s unsettling at the best of times. It feels like things that used to be just slightly risky are now becoming a matter of life and death. I’m profoundly scared.

It’s really stressful, in particular, to watch the younger people in my life right now. (And by younger, in this case, I mean 40 and below.) So many of them are making crazy, impulsive decisions and not thinking about the long term impact. They are speculating based on a world that no longer exists. They’re risking their lives. They’re settling for relationships that aren’t the best for them. They’re tying themselves down to parts of the country that aren’t politically and/or economically and/or environmentally and/or socially feasible for the people that they are or will become.

I’m frustrated because I see so much potential in these people, and I know they are capable of so much more. I have to resign myself to the fact that their choices aren’t my business, really. I just see them making many mistakes that I have made, and I want to save them the agony that I know they’ll be going through. But in life, there are no shortcuts.

Add another layer onto the anxiety cake by realizing that I’ve had someone die quite expectedly on me in recent years. Poof! Gone. Just like that.

That changes you. It forever colors the way you look at the world. And it makes you realize that no one can fully understand your point of view until they’ve had that sort of experience themselves. People think they can imagine what it’s like. They haven’t a clue.

Life is so precious. It’s so fragile. It’s like a soap bubble. It can all be gone in a pop. Everyone knows this, but those of us who’ve seen that moment of pop are not allowed the luxury of forgetting it. And it truly is a luxury.

Yes, everyone has to make their own mistakes, and also have their own triumphs. But there are so many people that I’d like to shake (and hug) right now. And I can’t.

At the same time, to add complexity to the situation, I am really proud of some of the things the younger people are doing, attempting to make lemonade out of the lemons they’ve been handed. I’m impressed with their innovation and their ability to think outside the box and come up with something different. Even though they’re making a lot of mistakes, they’re also making progress. I just have to remember that the world will keep revolving and evolving, with or without me.

But I can’t say this enough: Life is a gift. It should never be squandered. It shouldn’t be risked. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. Especially now, in the midst of a pandemic with a heaping helping of political unrest.

Good God, am I becoming conservative? Please, no. Anything but that.

I think I’m just valuing things much more than I once did. It’s all so fleeting and final. It’s all so slippery and hard to grasp. Odds are extremely good that I won’t live until I’m 110, and I really don’t want to, if I’m honest. But that means I’m on the downhill slope. And as hard as I’d like to fight it, the slide is inevitable.

But, having climbed up the other side, I would very much like to show those who come behind me that there are easier trails. I want that with my whole heart. At the same time, I understand that blazing your own trail is the whole point. But until you get to the other side, you don’t quite realize that the hill is made up entirely of the consequences that are occurring because of your own actions and choices.

I carry with me a wealth of life experience, as does everyone on my side of the hill. And that experience includes both success and failure. But when you’re young you don’t see that as valuable. You’re too busy making the climb for yourself. It’s a waste and a shame to not learn from others, but everyone has their own hill to climb, and it’s time for me to accept that it’s high time to let go and focus on my next phase in life.

“Hey! You there! Watch out! That’s the exact spot where I tripped and broke my leg! Can’t you see that if you fall, it hurts me, too?”

Oh, never mind. You’ll figure it out.

It’s just all so damned bittersweet…

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A Really Bad Day 240 Million Years Ago

I love fossils. They are moments frozen in time. They often tell a story about what the world was like long before humans came along and mucked it up. We can learn a lot from those stories.

A truly fascinating scenario is the one posited by a fossil that was found in a quarry in southwestern China. It’s of a dolphin-like creature called an Ichthyosaur swallowing a lizard-like creature called a Thalattosaur. You might think that’s your typical day in the Triassic Period, but not exactly. Consider this: the predator was 15 feet long, and the prey was 12 feet long.

Burp. Needless to say, poor Ichthy bit off a bit more than he could chew. That would be like me swallowing something 4 feet long in one gulp. Hate when that happens. Neither survived the encounter.

But what are the odds that we would find such a fascinating fossil? I mean, a freak accident happened 240 million Years Ago, and we get to witness it. It’s like time travel and winning the lottery simultaneously. Woo hoo!

We have learned a lot from this fossil. Specifically, what Ichthyosaur liked to eat, or at least what he tried to eat. Just from this one stone snapshot, I can surmise that even though he looked like a cute dolphin of sorts, he was one aggressive, kick-butt dude. I wouldn’t have wanted to cross paths with him. I also suspect that if I were around during the Triassic, I wouldn’t have been swimming. And I probably wouldn’t have been around for long.

Check out some really cool pictures and drawings of this fossil in this article.


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Museum Sacrilege

I know this will sound contradictory, but I view museums as scientifically sacred. They are institutions that are created to teach us. The things that are housed therein are carefully presented after much research. They are fact-based and are meant to expand our knowledge, and therefore they are venerated by me.

So when I hear of a museum that twists facts to promote an agenda, I am infuriated. The displays in such a place are not based on evidence of any kind. They’re not backed up by multiple historic sources or any type of physical proof whatsoever. Rather than employing the scientific method, these places form a conclusion first and then try to cherry pick reality to suit the purpose of promoting their agenda. These places are often directed toward the indoctrination of children, and that makes me want to scream.

If you had been driving next to my car during my commute the other day, you’d have heard just such a scream. I was listening to a story on NPR about the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky. Apparently, when you enter this privately funded, 27 million dollar museum, one of the things that you’ll see is Adam and Eve standing beside a Tyrannosaurus Rex that is sporting a saddle. And the “docent” will tell you that this creature’s fearsome teeth were simply used crack open coconuts, and that, in fact, all dinosaurs were vegetarians and lived right alongside humans, apparently as domesticated pets.

Oh. My. God. Help.

The difference between science and creationism is that science wants to be disproven. By more science. It encourages further investigation, deeper study, critical thinking, and allows for future discoveries. Creationism, on the other hand, says, “This is how it is. Accept it. Don’t look any further. Don’t think.” I find this appalling. I cannot believe that any rational parent would want to put a choke hold on his or her child’s mind in this way.

According to this article about the debate held by this museum’s founder and Bill Nye, the Science Guy, “fear of death permeates every corner of the Creation Museum.” It seems to want to send the message that if you accept evolution, and think the world is more than 10,000 years old, then you’ve just shown that you are all alone in the universe and your existence is pointless.

Well, then, let’s all curl up and die and leave the planet to the brainless fools who believe in creationism, flat earth, QAnon, and the flying spaghetti monster.


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This Feels Like the End of the World

The west coast is on fire. Fortunately, none of those fires are very close to Seattle. Yet. But all that west coast smoke got blown into the Pacific Ocean, hit an induction current, and headed right to Puget Sound like a freight train from hell. We now have some of the worst air quality on the planet. Poor Oregon has it even worse. I’m struggling to breathe.

The day before yesterday, when I got home from work, I was coughing, my heart was pounding, and I had a headache. Air matters. I kept having to fight down a panic attack when I felt as though I wasn’t getting enough.

My inner child was freaking out. “You’re gonna DIE!!!” “Help me!” I was on the verge of tears for most of the day. This feels like the end of the world.

Yesterday I brought a respirator to work. A respirator. And we thought masks were bad. I would never have predicted that I’d be relying on a respirator. This is not the world I had planned to live in. The smoke has blocked out the sun. It’s a perpetual twilight.

But with time to think, I was able to compare my situation to others. Not being able to breathe is terrifying. I thought of my late boyfriend, Chuck, who had to fight for every breath he took. When he was having a really bad asthma attack, he’d want me to put my hand on his heart and talk calmly to him, so he wouldn’t freak out. “You’re breathing. You’re breathing…” I can still hear myself saying it. I learned to say it even before I was fully awake. Now I get it. I get it, and I’m heartbroken at the thought of it.

I also feel even worse about George Floyd. Lying there in the street, being choked to death by a cop. He was looking at the crowd, who were desperately trying to talk the cop out of this, but the crowd, for good reason, was too afraid to physically intervene. How frightened and alone he must have felt as he died.

I feel for those in industrialized China who have lived with this air quality every single day for years. It’s a travesty.

I’m outraged for those prisoners in Guantanamo. Many are still there, and some have been waterboarded more than 80 times. What animals are we to do that? It has long been proven that torturing doesn’t yield valuable information.

I weep for all the people who have died of COVID-19, each one struggling for breath as they went. And they had no loved ones by their side to put their hands on their hearts and talk calmly to them. So much of this has been unnecessary.

Winter is coming and the fires will die down, but we’ll still have to deal with this pandemic. In the best of times, I struggle with depression during these Pacific Northwest winters. The isolation. Not seeing the sun for weeks on end. The raw, wet, unrelenting rain. Now add a heaping helping of COVID-19 on top of that, and I fail to see how any of us will make it to spring with our sanity intact.

Please, God, do not visit an earthquake upon us right now. I can’t take another thing. Stop 2020. I want to get off.

Stay safe everyone. Wear your masks. Wash your hands. Vote.

Me, just trying to breathe. 9/12/20

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The Ghost Town of Franklin, Washington

To celebrate my 6th anniversary of relocating to Seattle, a place where I had never been before, my husband and I decided to spend the day in places I had never been before. I’ve already written about Flaming Geyser State Park and Green River Gorge Resort. Now I’ll tell you about the last stop of the day, the ghost town of Franklin, Washington.

The remnants of Franklin are very close to the town of Black Diamond, Washington. So close, in fact, that you can hear the gun shots from the Black Diamond Gun Club while standing in the middle of the Franklin Cemetery. That kind of detracts from the ambience. (Or maybe it adds to it, depending on how you look at it.)

Franklin was a coal mining town that was established in the 1885. It was named after Benjamin Franklin. The whole area was lousy with coal, which was why Black Diamond was named Black Diamond. And since I’m digressing anyway, let me tell you that my husband handed me an actual lump of coal the size of my hand recently and it was freakin’ heavy! Am I the only one on the planet who assumed that coal was light like charcoal briquettes? I stand corrected. Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah! Franklin!

Franklin was rather a big deal in its time. It was established in 1885, and had a post office by 1886. At its height, it had a population of 1,100, and the town had a school, saloons, a hotel, a blacksmith shop, and of course, countless company houses. The Seattle to Walla Walla Railroad was extended to Franklin so that coal could be shipped from there to San Francisco. Its people were mostly immigrants from 15 different Eastern and Western European countries.

It was a rough place to live. There were labor conflicts throughout its history. In 1891, the company brought in African Americans as strike-breakers. The scene erupted into violence and two people were killed. The National Guard had to be deployed to quell the strike. Then, in 1894 there was a fire in one of the shafts and the smoke suffocated 37 miners. It was later determined that the fire was intentionally set by one of the very miners who died.

As so often happens with mining towns, as the coal output slumped after 1908, the town started to die. The last mine was closed in 1922. There was some scattered mining here and there until 1981, but by then the town had all but melted into the undergrowth. During its history, though, 4.15 million tons of coal was extracted from the Franklin mines, and there were 88 fatalities.

So now let’s return to the present day, and visit the ghost town. When you leave the parking lot, you have a few choices to make. The first one comes up pretty quickly. Do you want to go to the right and visit the ghost town, or to the left and see the coal car in Green River? We chose right. My husband told me he had pictures of the coal car, and I was sure there’d be plenty online, too. Here’s one. You’re welcome.

Coal car green river

So off we went, on a very well-maintained, wide gravel path which the Washington Trails Association claims is an easy walk on a gentle grade. But I think we gained 400 feet in elevation, and I’m here to tell you that my heart nearly exploded. If anyone with any influence reads this, that path is crying out for benches. (Or maybe that was me.) My advice to you is to wear sunscreen and bring water. The views of the cascade foothills are gorgeous, though.

At some point you come across another coal car, and I was ever so grateful to sit on it for a spell. Then you have to make your second decision. Do you go right, to explore the town, or left, to check out the Franklin No. 2 Mine Shaft and the cemetery?

It was an easy decision for me. I love cemeteries. And we ran into a few hikers that said the town basically consists of a few concrete slabs, so I didn’t mind missing it, at least this time around.

Onward. The path was starting to get narrower, but it is still quite well maintained. A lot of the climbing was over with, too, to my everlasting joy.

Before reaching the shaft, we stumbled across bits of building here and there that appeared to be leftovers of the mining operation. We also saw what looked like a train track suspended about 30 feet in the air, which I later learned was once used to support the pipe that brought water into the town.

The mine shaft was rather fascinating. It was built to go 500 feet below sea level, and we were already pretty freakin’ high up, so the shaft was, according to the plaque in front of it, 1,300 feet deep. I yelled down it. Hello? It echoed. (If some disembodied voice had said, “What do you want?” I’d have made it back to the car in record time.) I also dropped a pebble down there. I never heard it hit bottom. (I wonder how many pebbles are at the foot of that shaft now.) The shaft is covered by a massive grate consisting of railroad tracks and rebar. It looks sturdy, but I still wouldn’t suggest that anyone stand on it.

Beyond the shaft, the trail to the cemetery gets really narrow, as in, deer-path-through-the-deep-woods narrow. And you can tell that in damper times of the year, the path is covered in deep mud. On sunny days like this one, the mud flattens out and dries, and the path has a weird springy feel to it, as if you’re walking on the surface of a drum. Your footsteps make a hollow thumping sound. It’s kind of creepy.

Finally, the path opens up into a giant sloped clearing, and you know you’re in the cemetery. But it’s choked with blackberry brambles. There are a few winding pathways that someone was kind enough to bushwhack for us so that we could visit the few headstones that peek out from the berried vines. People have left coins on the headstones over time. I found that to be very poignant.

The whole place felt very isolated, and I became even more aware of the hollow drum-like thumps that my feet were making. Surely there are dozens of graves here whose headstones had disappeared. Was that hollow sound just the mud, or was I trodding upon graves that were just waiting to cave in?

I wouldn’t want to hang out there at night. But during the day, as I said, you could hear the gun shots from the Black Diamond Gun Club, and, too, we unfortunately ran into a school outing of some sort. About 20 twelve-year-olds screaming and hollering and acting the fool. I don’t enjoy such encounters even in the heart of a metropolis. I really didn’t appreciate it out here among such solemn history.

Still, I stood amongst the graves and brambles and thought about how quickly this bustling town has been reclaimed by nature. So much happened in this place. Lives were lived and lives were lost. And yet, in a few years, much of it will have melted into the landscape and it will be forgotten by most of us.

We all think we make our mark in some way or another. But it’s all so temporary on the grander scale of the universe. It really makes you think.

It reminds me of a poem by Percy Shelley:


I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

If you’d like to learn more about Franklin, Washington, Wikipedia suggests two publications: The Coal Miner Who Came West by Ernest Moore, one of the last residents of Franklin, and From Smoke to Mist: An archeological study of Franklin, WA – A Turn of the Century Company Coal Town. If you read either of them, please let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, enjoy these photos that we took on our hike.


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A Muddy Subject

I love it when I read something that completely alters my worldview. “The origin of mud” by Laura Poppick in Knowable Magazine is just such an article. The title alone intrigued me. I can’t say I’ve ever put much thought into mud unless I’m muttering about it covering my shoes.

It turns out that mud has done much to shape our planet. According to the article, 460 million years ago there were no plants on earth. Because of that, most sediment on land would quickly enter rivers and wash out to sea during storms. We know this because there are lots of fossilized fish from that timeframe, all around the world, that seem to have been choked by catastrophic mudslides. Also, this rapid movement of mud to the sea floor indicates that land consisted of barren rock.

Once plants appeared, things changed. Upon their arrival, there is evidence of 10 times as much mud on land, because roots and stems hold mud in place. That mud, in turn, shaped continents. Plants also reduce flooding and increase the production of mud, because their roots break down rocks into the sediment that is the primary ingredient thereof.

Before plants, most rivers were braided like the one depicted in the artistic textile below. (That photo was taken by my husband on our trip to Denali National Park a year ago.) As you can see, with no plants to hold the riverbanks in place, they’re constantly collapsing and reforming based on the depth and strength of the water flow.

After plants, and the mud that could then cling to the riverbanks, most rivers formed single channels. Yes, they might curve and meander and form oxbows, or they could also be rather straight, but they tended to remain stable and predictable. And bendy vs. straight rivers alter the water’s chemistry and speed, and therefor create a variety of ecosystems.

Animals also had to evolve to be able to travel through the increased mud on land, developing new body parts. Some animals ate the mud particles and produced muddy feces. And loosening up that mud helped to disburse it into floodplains.

I’ll summarize with a quote from the article:

“Life has always congregated around rivers, from the very first emergence of plants and animals onto land. That’s why the early accumulations of mud alongside rivers — and how mud influenced their flow — is nothing to throw dirt on.”

Isn’t Mother Nature awesome?

Braded River Textile Denali National Park

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A Brief Taste of Green River Gorge Resort

To celebrate the 6th anniversary of my having moved to Seattle sight unseen, we decided to visit some other unseen sights. I’ve already blogged about Flaming Geyser State Park, and I will soon post a blog about the ghost town of Franklin, Washington, and when I do, you’ll be able to find it here. But between those two stops, we also popped into the Green River Gorge Resort.

There’s a lot of breathtaking beauty to this place. But to enjoy much of it, you have to be willing to descend into the gorge itself. While I wouldn’t have minded do that, I would have minded the ascent back up quite a bit indeed. And I was anxious to check out the ghost town, so we only had a brief taste of this amazing place. I suspect we’ll be back. If you’d like to see more of the gorge in this area, check out this post by a fellow blogger, Lisa Parsons. Her photos and descriptions are a delight.

Instead of climbing, we chose to park and walk out onto the one lane bridge that crosses the gorge. Hoo, but it’s a long way down! From there we could see the lovely Green River, and the swimmers who were basking in the sun. I definitely can see why people make the effort to go down there, but this was just not the day for it, for me at least.

Washington State has such a varied landscape. Here I was, still in the county in which I reside, gazing at this paradise! Moving out here was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

After enjoying the bridge, we went back to the parking lot, and there was a stunning spring. It was crystal clear, and poured down to various pools before waterfalling into the gorge itself. There were hoses set up so you could fill your own receptacles with spring water. We happened to have a gallon jug in the car, so we filled up and dropped a donation in the box. It’s wonderful water. You can taste the minerals. I felt healthier for having drunk from this spring.

What follows are some photos we took during this brief stop. We didn’t linger, because there was a ghost town in our future. Watch this space!



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Flaming Geyser State Park, Washington

To celebrate the 6th anniversary of me moving across the continent to Seattle, a place I had never seen, we decided to visit some places I had also never been. I hope we make this a tradition, because it’s quite fun.

Our first stop was Flaming Geyser State Park. I have been passing signs for this park for several years now, and the name has always intrigued me. I just never quite got around to visiting up to this point.

Let me start off by saying that if you’ve been to Yellowstone and seen the awesome geysers there, you’ll find flaming geyser, like 2020, very underwhelming. According to Wikipedia,

“The park was named for a flame which burned through a concrete basin, fueled by a methane gas pocket 1,000 feet below the surface. When the pocket was discovered by prospective coal miners in the early 1900s, the test hole hit gas and saltwater, shooting water and flames 25 feet into the air.”

Alas, that methane pocket has since been depleted, so the Flaming Geyser is now flameless and geyserless. You’ll see more action from those foolish boys in every generation who think it’s amusing to set their farts afire.

And yet the park is still very much worthwhile. It’s a beautiful, idyllic place, not far from Black Diamond, Washington, and it’s a part of the Green River Gorge State Park Conservation Area. The park is 503 acres, and it borders the Green River for 3 miles. It has several picnic shelters scattered here and there, and there are 4.3 miles of hiking trails and a mile of horse trails, but it’s probably best known for its fishing, swimming, kayaking and rafting opportunities. There’s even a designated radio-controlled aircraft flying area. When the salmon are spawning from October through December, there are plenty of places along the shores and bridge to view their shenanigans.

If you’re ever in the area, and, like me, are heartily sick of this pandemic, I highly recommend Flaming Geyser State Park. Keep your mask on hand in case you encounter other people, but otherwise, enjoy the fresh air and the gorgeous views. You’ll be glad you did.

After this, we also made a brief stop at the Green River Gorge Resort and then went on to the ghost town of Franklin, Washington. Those are other places I’d never visited before. Blog posts about them will be coming in a few days, and when they’re live, I’ll link those posts to the names in this paragraph.

What follows are some of the photos we took during our visit to Flaming Geyser. Enjoy!

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Humanity’s Impact

There are places on this planet that are so remote that they are uninhabitable by human beings. The Mariana Trench, for example, constitutes the deepest part of the ocean. It’s 7 miles beneath the surface and the pressures down there are unimaginable. Likewise, none of us are setting up housekeeping on the world’s highest glaciers. Not only are they too ever-changing to provide us with a firm foundation, but also they’re cold beyond all imagining. And let’s face it: You can’t get pizza delivery in either locale, and the wifi is nonexistent. So no.

Even so, humans have still managed to negatively impact these places. According to this article, the nuclear bombs that were detonated from 1945 through the 1960’s have doubled the carbon-14 levels in our atmosphere. That carbon-14 was taken into plants, which were in turn eaten by animals (including us). Those animals then pooped, and that poop entered the ocean, even as deep as the Mariana Trench, and the animals down there snacked on said poop, and now have high levels of carbon-14 in their guts. This toxic residue has also been found in mountain glaciers around the world, and those glaciers are melting, also thanks to us. So yay! We’ve conquered the world!


The article also talks about micro-plastics that have been produced by us, and are also found in every crustacean that has been tested from the Mariana Trench, and yes, indeed, they have been detected in glaciers as well. So we have managed to fundamentally alter the entire planet, even in places where we have never stepped foot. What a horrifying realization.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan to put this accomplishment on my resume, even though I’m every bit as complicit as you are. What a legacy. Our mothers would be so proud.


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