Natural Arrogance

Hippos happen.

Recently a friend posted on Facebook that after trying a variety of methods, he had had no success keeping the rabbits out of his garden. He said if he saw another rabbit in there, he was going to shoot it. I’ve never understood this reaction.

Yes, it’s got to be frustrating, caring for a crop and then finding it decimated by wildlife. But where do we get off believing that we “own” vegetables? That’s as ridiculous as saying that you own the sunshine that fed them or the water that nurtured them or the soil that cradled them.

I look at my garden much differently. I tend to it, and if I’m lucky, it thanks me by producing vegetables that I get ahold of before anything else does. When that happens, it’s a gift, and I’m very grateful for it. It’s really a miracle when you think about it, and because of that the veggies taste all that more delicious.

All animals were put on this earth with the expectation that if they are to survive, they must eat. We are the only animals that think of food as property, as far as I know. It’s a unique concept, and I’m sure other animals would find it quite odd, indeed, if they had any awareness of it.

Personally, I enjoy seeing creatures in my garden. I may not like every single one of them, but I do find them endlessly fascinating. I don’t use any pesticides, in hopes of not causing further damage to the web of life.

Currently there are two rabbit warrens in my garlic patch. They do relatively little harm, and I’m honored that they feel safe there. And there’s nothing cuter than watching two adolescent bunnies chasing each other around the yard.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to protect your crops within reason. Fencing, sure. Scarecrows, even. But don’t poison or shoot animals simply because they’re trying to eat. That’s heinous. And if you welcome them, you might find that they don’t eat that much. And if they do, they must have needed it.

I remember hearing a story on NPR once. This guy wondered why tomatoes weren’t grown in his part of Africa. It was the perfect climate for them. He decided to plant a few dozen acres worth, to see how it went. Sure enough, the tomatoes really thrived there. This was good news for the region, because this would give them a unique cash crop, and that would help the struggling economy.

The night before the tomato harvest, the man was really excited. When he woke up the next day, he discovered that a herd of hippos had come through during the night and ate every last tomato, plant and all. Now you know why tomatoes aren’t planted in his part of Africa. I’m sure he was furious. But my response would be, “Hippos happen.”

Yes, my yard is full of mole holes and rabbit warrens and crows and all sorts of creatures. It’s mostly a peaceable kingdom. Sure, I wish more of the strawberries made it to my mouth, but you know, enough do to make it worth it.

In the end, we all get what we need.

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A Muddy Subject

I had never given mud much thought until now.

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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Plant Panic

I’d like my garden to be as Eden-like as possible.

I just watched an interesting video, 41 seconds long, entitled, “Scientists Discover Plants ‘Panic’ When It Rains”.

It says that droplets of water, containing bacteria, viruses, or fungal spores, are the main cause of disease spreading among plants. For that reason, when it rains, plants release a protein that causes the plant’s genes to prepare to defend themselves. So it’s kind of like human panic. Red alert, all hands on deck!

Nature is amazing. I’m impressed that plants have this coping mechanism. Anything that allows them to thrive is spectacular.

But it also makes me sad, because one of my favorite things to do is water the plants in my garden. I know I have a tendency to anthropomorphize things, and that’s a bad habit, but as I water my plants, I’ve always imagined them thinking, “Ahhhh, that feels good. Sweet relief. I was thirsty.”

Now I get to think that I’m freaking them out.

The last thing I want to do is cause my plants distress. At the very least, I’ll be directing my water stream at the roots as much as possible from now on, in hopes of maintaining a peaceable kingdom. I’d like my garden to be as Eden-like as possible.


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Chicken Gizzards

I have Chicken Gizzards to thank for my first trip to Disney World.

I had my first job when I was 10 years old. I used to buy large plants, break them up into much smaller plants in smaller pots, nurture them until they were thriving, and then sell them at the flea market. 25 cents here, 50 cents there…I wasn’t exactly on a path to riches, but it allowed me to buy school clothes, and it helped me fulfill a dream. I wanted to go to Disney World like it was killing me.

We had just moved to Central Florida, and we were in dire straits financially. Getting enough money for food was the priority, but I was still a kid. I wanted some fun, and I knew we’d never get to Disney if I didn’t take matters into my own hands. Back then, the admission for three people was 20 dollars. (That tells you how old I am, right there.) 20 dollars seemed like an all but unreachable goal.

I enjoyed working with plants. I took pride in offering a wide variety, and I knew all their names and could give advice on their care. But my biggest sellers, by far, were the Chicken Gizzards. They were very colorful, with their green and white stripes with the occasional quirky splash of red, and they were not very common at all. People would laugh out loud when they heard what they were called. I always sold out of Chicken Gizzards.

I haven’t seen one since, or I’d have bought it right away. I loved those plants. I almost thought it was a misremembered dream until I googled them, and sure enough, here’s a picture. Aren’t they cool?


As much as I loved working with the plants, I hated the sales part. It was torture. I was painfully shy. As often as I could, I would bury myself inside a book until a customer approached. I remember the senior citizens that frequented the flea market telling me that I needed to smile more. Sage advice, I’m sure, but I had very little to smile about back then. Poverty is a lot more stressful on children than most people realize. It’s scary, feeling like you have no stability at all.

My profit margin was thin to begin with, what with plants, pots, and potting soil, and then a lot of those profits had to go for clothes. So it took me about a year, but finally, I was able to scrape together that 20 dollars, and my mother, my sister and I piled into the car and off we went to Disney World. My mother must have paid for the gas, the parking, and for lunch, too, because I don’t recall including those things in my calculations. But there we were! I was so excited!

I’m willing to bet that I’m the only person on earth who has Chicken Gizzards to thank for a trip to Disney World. It was a wonderful, hard-won adventure. Somewhere I have dusty old pictures of me with Pluto, me in front of the Country Bear Jamboree, and one of Cinderella’s Castle.

It was so exciting that about halfway through the day I worked myself into a major migraine and didn’t want to tell anyone for fear that we’d leave early. After it took so much for me to get there, I didn’t want to cut the day short. I had reached the promised land, and no amount of excruciating pain would keep me from it.

I managed to keep it together until we got back to the parking lot that evening. I then proceeded to throw up all over the place. Much to my chagrin, I drew a crowd. I was relived when we were finally able to leave the (by then almost empty) parking lot.

Come to think of it, the fetid pool I left behind kind of looked like Chicken Gizzards. Things do have a way of coming full circle.


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Hope for the Planet

We might just be able to turn climate change around.

I just watched an amazing TED Talk thanks to this Wired article. It has given me more hope that we can turn climate change around than anything I’ve read up to this point. Seriously. I feel like I can finally exhale.

Thanks to plant biologist Joanne Chory and her team, there is a possibility that we can dig ourselves out of this very dark and suffocating hole that we have placed ourselves in. And while the solution takes a great deal of expertise, it’s actually rather easy to understand. Here’s my condensed version.

  • Humans have put too much CO2 in the atmosphere, which is causing global climate change. (If you haven’t come to accept that fact, there’s really no point in reading the rest of this.)

  • Plants take in CO2 and release oxygen, but they’re currently unable to keep up with our pace.

  • But this team has come up with a way to modify plants so they’ll take in more CO2.

  • Suberin is a waxy substance that some roots have that allows them to take in more CO2.

  • This team has figured out a way to genetically modify plants so that they’ll produce more suberin, and also produce more roots and deeper roots, without having a negative impact on crop yields.

  • At the end of a plant cycle, unfortunately, a lot of plants rot, which causes them to release the CO2 back into the atmosphere. That’s why the root depth is so important. If we can get roots to go deeper, they’ll hold the CO2 longer, and rather than release into the air, the carbon will go into the soil, making it much more fertile for the next crop. (Soil depletion has been causing reduced crop yields for years, even as our population increases, so this is an amazing side benefit.)

  • This enriched soil also has the ability to retain moisture.

  • This team believes they are within 10 years of creating wheat, corn and rice crops that will have all these enhanced traits. How exciting. How amazing.

I see only two downsides to this endeavor:

  1. People are terrified of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms.) That has a lot to do with this trend toward a fear of science in general, and it’s a pity. I genuinely do not think that all GMOs are bad. In fact, genetic modification occurs in nature all the time. Nothing that you eat now is genetically identical to what was going on in nature a thousand years or more ago. So calling this stuff “Frankenfood” is inaccurate at best. (This article from WebMD backs me up on this.) But if people refuse to buy these products, then farmers will refuse to plant them, and all this amazing research will be for naught. There’s a solution in our future, folks. Let’s not torpedo it with our ignorance.

  2. Dr. Chory, the team leader, is experiencing increasing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. So she is in a race against time to get this research completed. I hope that her team could carry on without her, but I think her knowledge and experience and leadership is greatly needed, so I hope she’s able to beat the clock, for the sake of the planet.

Despite the hurdles, I finally feel like I can take a breath, because I know there are thousands of other scientists out there who are also running this race and coming up with answers. If we are going to be saved, it’s the scientists who will do the saving. There are also plenty of us who care about the environment enough to make sacrifices and also push for green energy solutions.

So take heart, dear reader. Take heart. All is not yet lost.

Hope for the Planet

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book.

Making My Mark

It’s time to make this place ours.

It’s a strange experience, occupying a space that someone else had made her own for decades. All the furniture has been picked out, all the walls are painted, the art chosen, the plants planted. She’s not here, and yet she’s everywhere.

Which is not a bad thing, necessarily. For the most part, I like her taste. I would have liked her, I’m sure. But it’s time to make this place ours.

Slowly, but surely, we’re introducing change. We’re adding the new and getting rid of the old. We’re keeping the good, and getting rid of what no longer fits. We’re rearranging. We’re changing colors, here and there. We’ve had a garage sale. We’ve planted a tree.

Just recently we painted a glow-in-the-dark milky way on the ceiling. Adolescent as that may sound, I’ve had it in my last two houses, and I find it comforting to stare at as I drift off to sleep. So doing that meant a lot to me.

You don’t really think too much about marking territory unless you have dogs, but we humans do it, too. We just do it with paint and pillows and photos. It’s how you make a house a home.

Interior Design

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The Sonoran Desert: Here There Be Thorns

Ah, but it’s a dry heat.

I really must be in love, because on my fiancé’s behest, I was about to fly to Tucson, Arizona. In August. If I wanted to experience 100 degree temperatures, I’d have stayed in Florida. And yet, here I was, on a plane, heading into what felt like the world’s biggest pizza oven.

Ah, but it’s a dry heat. The better to desiccate you with, my dear. It felt as if the inside of my nose was going to crack open and crumble to dust.

And yet, upon arrival, a funny thing happened. I fell in love with the place’s unique beauty. I strongly suspect that Arizonans are treated to more thorns per capita than residents of any other state in the union. Saguaro cactus. Organ pipe cactus. Barrel cactus. It has more plant species than any other desert in the world. Cholla. Prickly Pear. Creosote bush. Bur sage. Palo verde. Mesquite. Ironwood. Acacia. I was enchanted.

And running around amongst that flora was an amazing amount of fauna. An astounding variety of lizards, too quick to be photographed. Turtles. Bats. Rabbits. Coyote. Gila monsters. Hummingbirds. Quail. Roadrunners. Snakes. And lest we forget, the troublesome Javelina.

It seems like life should be impossible in the blistering heat of this desert, and yet there it was, all around me. The terrain was amazing, too, with its mountains and plains and dry washes. And, being monsoon season, when it rained, my goodness, it rained, causing floods where one would think water had never been before. And then the temperature would drop 25 blessed, blessed degrees and the desert would bloom and be as lush as it could ever be.

Would I live in the Sonoran Desert? No. I’d miss moisture and grass and nothing scary to step on when barefoot.

Will I visit again? I hope so! There’s a certain poetry to the place. But I hope I won’t be back in August. Please, God, not in August.

Here are some pictures we took of this beautiful land.

I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that?

Even Weeds Belong Somewhere

My whole life, I’ve felt as though I didn’t quite fit in. So much so, that at some point I gave up trying. In fact, these days I seem to have gone to the other end of the bell curve entirely. I kind of delight in being out in left field most of the time.

Except when I’m feeling vulnerable. When I’m tired, I feel much more insecure. When I’m improperly dressed at a party, and have no idea which fork to use, I’m not going to lie–that kind of sucks.

But it isn’t anyone else telling me that I don’t fit in. It’s entirely me. And it’s based on some pretty arbitrary social rules. It always makes me think of weeds. I’m a weed.

During my young adult life, I lived in a town called Apopka, which called itself the “Indoor Foliage Capital of the World.” (I wonder if they still do? It’s been many decades since I’ve been back.) Back then, you couldn’t throw a rock in that town without shattering a greenhouse window. It made me look at plants in an entirely new way.

It amazed me how much people were willing to pay for stuff that you can find growing entirely wild somewhere or other. People do love the exotic, but even exotic things have to be commonplace in some location, or they wouldn’t exist.

So, a weed is simply something that doesn’t fit in. It’s not where it’s supposed to be. Worse case scenario, it’s invasive. But that’s not the weed’s fault. It never asked to be uprooted. There it was, minding its own business in its natural habitat, when some fool decided to send it half way across the world without considering the consequences. And then the name calling begins. (Damned weed. Get out of my yard! We don’t want you here!)

So it’s all about perspective and location. We all have our place. It’s just a matter of finding it. So maybe as you walk along the path of your life, try being a little less judge-y of the other living things that you encounter who are feeling out of place. They, too, have their journey. Just sayin’.


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So, it’s official! I am buying a house! I’m so excited.

During this waiting period, while all the paperwork gets processed, and in between packing by fits and starts, I am starting to imagine the many ways I will make this house a home.

First of all, this place is really, really small. And it has very little storage. I see several trips to IKEA for shelving and cabinetry in my future.

And while the house is small, the yard is fairly big. My dog Quagmire is going to love it! But I’m going to need a lawnmower. And lots and lots of plants, to take up some of that space so I have less need for the lawnmower. I’ve always wanted a weeping blue aster pine, but I’m not sure if they fare well in Washington State. I’ll have to do some homework. I also insist on having a lilac bush and a forsythia, because my mother adored them. And I love Chinese maples. Oooh! And tulip trees! And junipers!

And I’ll need a couch. And tools. And…

Whoa, Nelly. Get a grip. All this is going to cost money. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Yadda yadda.

Oh, leave me alone! Can’t you see I’m nesting, here?


A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving!

The Little Things

On my drive to work today I got tears in my eyes; tears of gratitude. I came around a curve and saw a tree with flaming red leaves. You don’t see too many trees whose leaves change in the fall in this Emerald City of Seattle, but you see enough. Enough to make you appreciate them even all the more. I am back in a place where leaves change color! I can’t explain how much that means to someone who hasn’t seen it in 30 years.

There are so many other things here that bring me back to the climate of my childhood. Moss. Rocks. The smell of rich, dark earth. Soft grass. Water that actually tastes good. It’s all so precious to me. Priceless, because it took so much for me to get to this place of abundance. So forgive me for being maudlin, but tears are bound to flow.

Here are a few more pictures of little things that have made my heart squeeze.


Plants that I’ve never seen before.


Sunlight sparkling through crystal clear rippling water onto smooth stones.


A large snail in a city lake.

Abundance is mine!