Wave patterns

Wave patterns

This is the pattern left behind in the sand on Playa La Ropa in response to a local rock that the feathery pattern describes an arc around. It reminds me of the pathways of celestial bodies, the sun, the moon, and the tides that respond to their pull.

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Is a safe life worth living if it means missing out on awe?

I love lightning. I love watching it and the excitement of the wind and temperature changes and rattle of hail and heavy rain that accompany dynamism of weather. I have especially learned to love lightning from the safety of observing it from a train, a lookout, or any place inside looking out. I may have come to that pleasure of wonder from close encounters scaring me to the adrenaline rushing, heart pounding brink of dangerous situations. Most of those experiences were in the backcountry, far from the security of any building. The most vivid memories were from backpacking in the Sierra when the clockwork afternoon thunderstorms allowed us to plan for seeking the relative security of a site less likely to be struck.

I imagine one of these typical storms set off the fires raging in my former home, Yosemite, at least one of which has resulted in yet another huge wildland fire east of Half Dome. In discussing the fire, where and what is being burned, favorite places that will be drastically changed, if not forever, at least for the rest of my life, I learned of a fascinating paper by the National Outdoor Leadership School that describes in fascinating detail how lightning behaves and thus informs us in best practices for staying as safe as we can when away from the shelter of structures.

One statement struck me as sadly too true of our times:

“Backcountry lightning safety data is sparse, so these suggestions are “best hunches” by experts who study lightning safety. Random circumstance is a significant factor in where lightning might strike, meaning that these behaviors help reduce your “Las Vegas” odds of lightning injury, but can never make you safe. If you need to stay safe, you need to remain indoors in well protected buildings.”

(emphasis added by me)


Safety is what we are increasingly convinced by the media and lawmakers is the most important goal to pursue. But what if paying attention exclusively to our utmost safest choices robs us of the opportunity to experience the awe and wonder of being intensely alive and in the moment, without which, life may be too dull for words. Beyond that, is a safe life really a life worth living?

More and more wild land is being leveled and built into ever larger homes to drive to in bigger, heavier, “safer” cars and enclose ourselves in to protect ourselves and, to even greater detriment, children from the unpredictable wild world with all its risk and with that its wonder.


Yes, I can safely experience a sense of wonder and awe from indoors. However, I must at least be aiming my focus towards the outside to capture moments that are more breathtaking than any photo or video, no matter how highly defined, can ever be.

Just this morning, a calm, relatively grey dull day, no lighting possible in the immediate future, while standing at my laptop next to a window, so I can look at the screen while observing the yard beyond, a hummingbird poked its proboscis into a tiny lavender blossom on the shrub no more than an arm’s length away on the other side of the glass. She then rose above the plant and approached the window. Was she aware of me? or merely caught a glimpse of her reflection and took a closer look?

Am I more likely to be watching for and paying attention to these things because I have lived out among them unseparated by glass, or walls and doors? I know I am one of the lucky generation of Americans to have been allowed to roam more freely than any since. How do we make it okay for children to have experiences not hemmed in by too much safety? Which is the truer value? Safety? or experiencing the awe and wonder of the world? Would you be willing to trade either for the other?


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Sea Stars

DSCN0260Starfish on the Toast, Starfish in the basement. Growing up, I called them Starfish. Now I know they are referred to as “sea stars” because they are NOT fish. Although any animal that comes from the sea and dies begins to smell about the same. Well, actually, the smell of the starfish I tried to clean and dry overnight in the basement probably smelled worse than any dead fish my brothers brought home. As a girl I loved sea stars, in all their variety. Who wouldn’t be drawn to such amazing creatures, some with dozens of “arms” others with the amazing five that made them seem both of the universe and somehow humanish like DaVinci’s iconic human with arms and feet spread to a pentangular shape. As a teen, I loved Donovan’s song, even though I could not imagine why anyone would want to put a starfish on Toast. Now, when I hear my beloved sea stars are “wasting” from some as yet unidentified cause, my world is suddenly shaken to a degree I have not experienced before. What have we done? what are we doing? what will YOU do? Saving the sea stars won’t happen unless we save the entire world and that is bigger than anything we have ever done.

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The light in Robin William’s eyes

DSC00852Thinking about Robin Williams. If there was ever someone who embodied wonder and awe it was him. I have also been startled into homesickness several times since hearing of his death by glimpses of artists’ versions of the iconic mountain of Marin County, the place I shared my high school years with someone I never knew personally. There is a connection we all have in living on this planet. Nonetheless, some of us share particulars that connect us less tenuously than others. Growing up in Marin in the ’60’s was a bonding experience.

Even though Robin reportedly lived in Woodacre, he attended Redwood High School rather than the school other Woodacre residents attended, Sir Francis Drake HS. Had he gone to his “home” school, maybe I would have known him in the drama club. Instead of being a Drake Pirate, he went to the school where the “better off” kids went, our arch rival, the “Redwood Giants”!

The idea of “better off” and the “privilege of wealth” also got me thinking about choices, in light of other news this week. Freedom of choice is on a continuum. Learning to choose is a skill that must be practiced just like any other acquired ability, it is not an innate trait. Those who have the least have the least choice in their lives. Each apparent choice presents opportunity for options, or necessities. The necessities must be met and the other options may not really be such or not open to bonafide decision making.

Hence, those with little also have less opportunity to learn how to make good choices, unless they have adults who conscientiously teach them about how to choose among competing options. At the other end of the spectrum, those who have plenty of everything and anything and “want for nothing”, also have little opportunity to learn about making choices, unless someone intentionally trains them in that art. If you can have anything you want and someone willing to give you whatever you ask for, what does that imbue in the way of finding out what really matters?

In the middle, between the two extremes of having nothing and not getting basic material needs met, and having all material needs met and any other wants as well, there are those who have enough and may make choices about which kind of basics and what “extras” are most important based on options that clarify personal preferences. I feel most fortunate to fall into that middle ground.

My parents may have scraped by at the end of some months when the cupboards became a little bare. We may have made do with one pair of shoes each school year, but we did have sturdy shoes, at least until spring, when, if we outgrew those shoes, we got a jump start on summer with a pair of “zories” (aka “go-aheads”) to get us through the school year until we went without even those for a barefoot summer. I do remember my parents making an intentional choice between either a television set or a stereo. We could afford one or the other but not both. They opted out on the TV and went with the Hi-fi stereo and an ever expanding collection of intentionally chosen record albums.

Anyway, reading between the lines about Robin Williams, I assume he would have been closer to the far end of the “anything you want” end of the spectrum. Also, looking at the timeline of his childhood before he landed in Marin, there was a divorce and a maid who raised him for some of the time after that as well as a brother who apparently stayed with his mother while he moved to the opposite coast with his father. While I did not know Robin, I have known others who had childhoods of similar circumstances. My sense of them was that they were forever seeking a sense of value, what they were worth, and never felt truly happy, no matter how many possessions or friends they had.


Seeking some sort of insight, and wondering about how Robin may have shared some of what I experienced of the magic of Marin. Besides the crazy teen times in proximity to the mecca of hippies, he was also a runner and I like to think he was exposed to the incredible wildness that was right out our back doors growing up there. Without sources for that sort of information, I went to the other source readily available: YouTube archives of comedy shows of Robin Williams’ early days.

He was the funniest. He possessed the brilliant ability to play and creatively interact with whatever was thrown his way. The moment that really stuck with me though came at the very end of “An Evening with Robin Williams” recorded in 1982 in San Francisco, that playground of the late ’60’s that kept calling him back.

At the very end, (at an hour and fifteen minutes) in the final encore and then after it all appears to be over, he gets into something more sensitive and maybe revealing of his core self than all the other silliness. In his alter ego as a newsboy, he shares a special autograph he got from Albert Einstein. He shushes “Mr. Williams”, then goes on in a quiet, serious voice, “He once said ‘my sense of god is my sense of wonder about the universe.’ … Look at his eyes. There’s a guy you see the lights are on and everybody’s home. … you got a bun in the oven (referring to Zak, his first son who he mentioned earlier in the act) … when your child is born you pass it on to your kid; that way they see somebody that does, you know, see the light.”

Then as he is leaving the empty theater, he encounters the newsboy he played at the beginning, addressing him, “Is that you, Pops?”

“Pops” reminds him of “the old days” when he “saw something in your eyes” he says, speaking to the stand-up Robin Williams who has dropped the stage swagger and is just himself. The “newsboy” pulls out a framed  A. Einstein autograph from under his jacket saying “you just need a little taste of reality.”

“Very special man wasn’t he Mr. Williams?” and gives it to him as the “keeper of the flame.” to give to his little one, adding, “When they grow up they give it to someone special, that way he keeps goin’ on.”

As they go out the door together, the newsboy turns and adds, “You know Mr. Williams, What’s right is what’s left after you do everything else wrong.”

A foreshadow of a little of his legacy?

All I can say is that what is left of Mr. Williams is all the “right” he left to the rest of us. And a lot of that was a sense of wonder about the universe. Yes, Robin, I do believe you and Einstein did have something in common and you got dealt a different set of choices.

I can’t choose to wish Robin to rest in peace, I would rather wish that he play in pure wonder and joy with no more fear of whether he would ever be good enough. May you get the lights back on and welcome everybody home, Mr. Williams.

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no water for drinking?

This quote leads me to go beyond my own personal boycott of Nestle’ and Arrowhead and put this out to the blogosphere with a plea. We must do everything we can to turn around the unraveling of the climate. Our world is such a precious place. We cannot abide this sort of wanton disregard for the fragility of our home.

Nestle has two plants on the Colorado River Basin that take in water to bottle and sell under its Arrowhead and Pure Life brands. One is in Salida, Colorado, on the eastern edge of the Upper Basin; the other is in the San Gorgonio Pass, halfway between San Bernardino and Indio, Calif., on the western edge of the Lower Basin. According to annual reports filed up to 2009, Nestle bottles between 595 and 1,366 acre-feet of water per year — enough to flood that many acres under a foot of water — from the California source. The company takes 200 additional acre-feet per year from the Colorado source. This means altogether Nestle is draining the Colorado River Basin of anywhere from 250 million to 510 million gallons of water per year

Do the math. I know that from June first to the last day of July last year our household used 11,220 gallons of water. This year, even though we put in a more extensive vegetable garden than we did last year, we have used only 6,733 gallons for the same two months, nearly half as much as last year. A big portion of that may be due to having installed four 55 gallon rain barrels. Almost all of our garden watering has come from the rain that we have collected in those barrels. If we had to, we could use that water for drinking.

That means about 70,000 households our size, or about half of Elk Grove, the fastest growing city in the US just 8 years ago, could have their entire water needs met for a year with the amount of water Nestle is extracting from the Colorado River Basin for its own profit.

I think I would even rather drink out of our rain barrels if we had to than resort to Arrowhead water. For a short-lived disaster preparation plan, I would rather rely on a few large BPA free containers of relatively potable water than expect to go to a store and buy cases of individual servings of plastic encased water of dubious sources, especially when the source is a location struggling with the greatest drought it has in decades.

Which leads to my plea. If you are in the habit of buying Arrowhead or Pure Life brands, please consider an alternative. Please don’t buy ANY bottled water unless absolutely necessary. If you MUST buy bottled water, please do whatever it takes to avoid the Nestle’ brand. Maybe if we all stopped buying it they would have no reason to take it out of the river.

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Did you see the moon last night?

Wondering how many others who read this blog do turn away from their computer screens long enough to notice the moon. If you are reading this, please reply with a quick comment. When and where did you most recently see the moon? what, if anything did you notice about it?

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Footprint calculators can inform how we live and let live.

I found a post on the following list:


kate ming-sun outdoors

that includes a link to a “footprint calculator”.

These are always fun, so I am sharing this one, as well as a much borrowed and rewritten post based on the one Kate posted just a couple of days ago.

A little over 7 billion humans currently share the Earth. In 1959 we each shared our home with 3 billion other humans.  Our population has more than doubled in less than my one lifetime. We cannot sustain this kind of growth.

Every other species on Earth lives in a relatively definable range or habitat. However, we humans keep pushing our own boundaries as well as expanding those of some species that are more destructive than others. Browsing magazines in a waiting room yesterday, one article stunned me with the description it gave of the many species that are invading habitats in the US and doing significant harm to native plants and animals, disrupting entire ecosystems. 

No wonder scientists are sending probes to Mars seeking evidence of life and water in our solar system. I just read an article in the March 2014 issue of Natural History magazine called “What Is It about Planet Earth?” that lays out the basics of what has kept life going for billions of years on our special home planet.

Even though biological and geological processes are always and will eventually bring the earth to balance, it may be at the cost of our own species extinction. What if we took better care of this home planet? I am concerned about the environmental legacy we are leaving the born and yet to be born and the message we’re sending those future generations.

In the early 1990s, scientists at the University of British Columbia came up with an easy-to-use calculation that has been adapted and modified by many organizations including the World Wildlife Fund, the Center for Sustainable Economy, and the Earth Day Network among others. This calculation looks at your food consumption habits, travel habits, the type of home you live in and how it’s fueled, consumer goods habits, and then factors in where you live and allocates you a portion of societal services such as government, military, infrastructure, etc. Once you’ve entered all of your inputs the calculator tallies up how many acres of natural resources your way of life requires.

The specificity of questions and available answers from calculator to calculator leaves you with a potentially wide range of results. None of them allow for inputs that could benefit humanity in general, such as planting trees. It focuses solely on activities you can do to reduce your own footprint.

The benefit of these calculators is that they show the result in a simple and easy to understand form.

This particular calculator shows me that if every person in the world lived the same way I do we would need 1.56 Planet Earths to support all of us. My scores that most closely approximate that of others in my country are my carbon and housing footprints, which are each about one-third of the scores of the average US citizen. Short of moving to an even smaller home and flying fewer than the 3-4 times a year up and down the west coast that I did this year. or moving to a less-developed nation, I can’t do much about the services.

I am already making better choices than most about how and what I eat: no meat or dairy, a little fish and mostly locally sourced ingredients. Our household generates far less waste than most and in addition to using our recycle and yard waste bins to the maximum (as well as living in a community with waste management systems in place that supports these habits!) we do as much composting as we can on site and return those nutrients taken up by growing our food through our compost spinner and worm bin.

Little changes can go a long way. If we are going to retain our wild spaces to be cared for and protected for the wildlife limited to the conditions specific to wildlands we each need to reduce our own footprint. My intention is to include in my own life and work the notion that everyone needs time in nature to reconnect with themselves and nature.

Do you know what your ecological footprint is? Calculate it at this link and let me know in the comments what you think of your results. Have you found a more accurate calculator than this one? Please share it.

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Contemplating wonder and awe and the fit with doom and gloom

Bringing congruity to otherwise disparate thematic focii is something my brain does smoothly with surprising regularity. However, I am also aware that when a blog is headlined as “keeping in touch with wonder and awe” a reader might expect something more uplifting than links to depressing news articles past and present and reminders of the catastrophes we are presently in the midst of experiencing.

In that regard, the opening of the tagline “keeping in touch” is the part of that brief phrase that indicates the challenge of experiencing wonder and awe when the world does seem to close in and the brightness dims.

I have been reading “My Stroke of Insight” by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. One of the most stunning aspects of her recovery is that even while she worked like the dickens to regain use of her left brain, she retained the fluidity and oneness perception of her right brain dominance that she acquired by virtue of the stroke. It is a fascinating peek into the realm of ALL of our brains’ potentials to access that understanding of one-ness and connection that anyone could learn.

In the midst of all the downer information we are inundated with daily, it is all the more important to intentionally and consciously bring to mind and awareness those opportunities for wonder and awe that are always available.



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