Friday, November 14, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
National Forests, where old-growth is still being cut at a feverish pace, don't fare much better. Here at the Northcoast Environmental Center we're gearing up for "salvage sales" of trees that burned during this summer's big fires. These stands in particular are very fragile and need to be left alone.
Good for you for recommending contributions to a conservation outfit. Your readers may want to know that the Northcoast Environmental Center is the largest and oldest regional conservation organization in northwestern California. We are in the trenches every day protecting these vital North Coast gems.
Enjoy the ride!"
Northcoast Environmental Center
1465 G Street
Arcata, CA 95521
Sunday, October 26, 2008
I worry at times that these blog entries become too mundane. Another round of “we went here, saw this, it was beautiful, here are the pictures.” I try to find interesting stories, or different angles to describe things to keep it somewhat interesting for those of you who read. It is a testament to the natural beauty left in this country that we have been blessed to see so much. In spite of all we have seen and all the places we have been, there have been few days that are indescribable. For a brief few days in mid-October, we experienced a place that truly is impossible to communicate in words or pictures.
After leaving Oregon by way of Highway 199, we crossed the boarder into California late in the afternoon. We drove down the Smith River valley towards the town of Hiuchi, which is the gateway to Jedidiah Smith State Park and Redwoods National Park. If you have never been to Northern California and seen the giant redwoods, I honestly cannot describe their grandeur. Believed to possibly be the largest, and some of the oldest, living organisms in the world, the redwood forests are a trip back in time. And I am not talking about a trip back to the turn of the 20th century when the Save the Redwoods League began organizing to protect the remaining stands of these ancient monsters, I am talking about a trip back to the time of monsters. It is believed by many scientists that redwoods populated much of the area we now recognize as North America during the time dinosaurs roamed the earth. It is further believed that although a giant meteor and its subsequent cataclysmic fire wiped out the dinosaurs, the fire resistant nature of the redwoods allowed them to survive.
What the redwoods couldn’t survive, and still can’t, is the saw, axe, and logging truck. Three creations of man that still reduce their numbers to this day. But, in the cobbled together sections of state and national parks that protect various old growth stands, you can glimpse a small picture of what this great forest looked like 2,000 or 3,000 years ago, when the largest trees still living today were sprouting from seed. And while what remains is a small piece of history, it is nonetheless breathtaking.
The largest of the redwoods stand more than 300 feet in the air, with trunk diameters reaching more than 20 feet around. They grow to these astounding sizes with a broad, shallow root structure, that is rarely more than 6 feet deep. Stand at the base of one of these giants and look up and all you will see is the beginning of the canopy, which often doesn’t start until 200 feet. Walk into a grove of large trees and you feel like you are surrounded with massive living columns that reach farther into the sky than you can see. The forest floor in these groves is dark and cool all day, with ferns, redwood sorrel, and fungus growing in the undergrowth.
This is our second visit to the redwoods, and just like our previous one 10 years ago, it will remain etched on our minds forever. The forests feel haunted. Not in a scary, uncomfortable way, but with a sense that you can feel the eons that these trees have seen. You can look at their bark, almost totally covered in moss and ferns; see the giant fire holes that the tree grows right around; marvel at the car sized burls hanging off the trunks; all the while feeling your insignificance in comparison. The oldest of these trees has lived for about 40 average human lifetimes.
What we didn’t know on our previous visit, and are only know finding out, is how amazingly complex the canopies of these trees are. I just finished reading a book about the scientists who study the redwood canopies. The book is called Wild Trees by Richard Preston, and it is astounding. What scientists have learned is that there are entire ecosystems living in these canopies that never have contact with the ground. Ferns and huckleberry bushes grow in giant nooks and crannies, squirrels and birds abound. There are species of salamanders that live high in the trees and never come down. One species was just discovered this year. There were even crustaceans found in the trees. A species that scientists never knew could exist out of the ocean: and they have no idea how it got there.
Despite this amazing, relatively unexplored ecosystem, as you drive up and down the California coast, you are nearly colliding with logging trucks at every turn. In writing this blog, I have tried my best to avoid politics and preaching, following the rules of good dinner conversation, but the fact that these forests are still coming down is a complete and utter freaking tragedy. If we keep logging out these forests, leaving just a few museum curiosity anachronisms to gawk at, the ecosystem will fade and die. It takes many hundreds of years for these trees to mature and the biggest ones are at the apex of their lives. They won’t be around too much longer (at least in redwood time).
So, go see the redwoods when you have a chance, it is worth the miniscule price of admission. While you are at, send a few bucks to the Save the Redwoods League. They have been fighting a Quixotic battle since 1917 . . . they could use some reinforcements.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Since I am thankfully not, at the present time, intimately involved in the vacuum formerly known as the American economy (with the exception of making an unhealthy contribution to Exxon, Chevron, Shell, and BP), I was not aware of the passing of that most precious of holidays: Bosses Day.
I was only made aware of this monumental passing by a truly kind woman working in the flower department at the Bend, Oregon Safeway. As we were pacing around the pharmacy department waiting to get our flu shots, this woman, resplendent in her Safeway embroidered golf shirt, black Safeway apron, regulation black slacks, and sensible black shoes came up to us and asked: “can she have a balloon?”
Being the truly cruel parents that we are, we had just denied Maggie a helium balloon, not wanting to go through another two weeks of running into that crinkly floating chunk of mylar in every corner of Francine. Despite grasping tightly to the new box of Barbie Band-Aids we were going to let her get (in anticipation of needing them to calm her after the flu-shot experience), she was pretty grumpy about the no-balloon situation. She has always loved balloons.
Needless to say, in Maggie’s eyes, the Safeway woman was an angel from heaven. An angel bearing a bouquet of balloons for bosses. Maggie settled on a beautiful light blue number which said: “You’re a Great Boss!” The Safeway Angel informed us that since Bosses Day had recently passed, her boss had instructed her to throw away all the pre-inflated, un-purchased Bosses Day Balloons. However, rather than just toss them in the trash, this lovely women came to the conclusion that she would just give them away to all the little kids in the store that day. As she put it: “this is much more fun than just throwing them away.” How true.
Not only did this gift make Maggie’s day, it illustrated the insanity of having a holiday honoring bosses. On this one day, the boss just wanted to be rid of the old stock of balloons, while the employee saw an opportunity to spread joy to young kids, all the while creating thankful paying parents/customers. Who was the leader in that situation?
I have always wondered who the narcissist was who created Bosses Day. I suppose it is conceivable that it was created by some incredibly thankful staff member who had the best job in the entire world, but I doubt it. More likely it was created by some advertising executive, or that mysterious Hallmark marketing genius who men like to blame for the proliferation of inane holidays in which cards, flowers, or gifts “must” be purchased. Do we really need a day celebrating Bosses Day? Isn’t absolutely every day Bosses Day? On which day does the average American employee, who isn’t the boss, go to work with an agenda other than performing his or her tasks in accordance with the boss’s general wishes?
When I was in my first year of private practice, my legal assistant came into my office and asked me what I wanted for Bosses Day. It turned out that all the staff would make treats for the attorneys they worked for and the whole office would have a little celebration. Completely embarrassed, I asked suggested that nothing would be appropriate, given how much she did to keep me organized and productive on a daily basis. Despite my plea, she assured me that this was not an option and the “holiday” went on as planned.
As we walked out into the bright sunshine on a beautiful fall day, I was again thankful (for the countless time) that for a while I didn’t have a boss, didn’t have any staff, and was free to travel this great country with my family. Then, I looked over at Maggie, who was clutching tightly to her “You’re a Great Boss” balloon while asking for this, wanting to go there, and expecting us to provide her what she wanted. Lisa and I looked at each other with a smile and realized that maybe the balloon’s message was more accurate than we thought. Maybe we do have a 40 inch, 35 pound boss. She is just really cute, funny, and a joy to go to work for every day.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
After our days exploring Portland, we headed back out to the coast, arriving first in the town of Newport, OR. Newport is definitely a tourist town, you can tell immediately. Scores of restaurants, shops, and attractions abound. At the same time, it feels like a real town, like most of the towns on the Oregon coast do. There is a sense that real people live here still and that the area is not just populated with tourists and second homeowners. Some of the coast towns are still a bit gritty, in a way that hints at the fact that boats still come in and out and the people in these towns still work on those boats and on the docks.
In Newport we stayed at South Beach State Park, which is one of the largest parks in the Oregon park system. Even in October, it was till relatively crowded, with a large number of campsites filled. South Beach has an incredible dune ecosystem on its beach, which is made slightly incongruous by the view of the huge Newport bridge and the town when you reach certain parts of the beach.
In addition to hiking the dunes and exploring the park a little bit, we took Maggie to the Oregon Coast Aquarium to see fish, sea otters, seals, crabs, sharks, rays, and tons of other marine life. Needless to say, she had a blast. Running from exhibit to exhibit, giving lectures on every fact she had just learned moments ago. After the aquarium, as we were crossing over the Newport bridge, a stunning double rainbow appeared as the sun broke through the clouds (see, I didn’t even mention that it was raining…). The typical legend has it that if one finds the end of the rainbow, a pot of gold awaits. Well, at the end of this rainbow, jutting out into the harbor, was the Rogue Brewery, which was close enough to gold as far as we were concerned. We lunched heartily on Kobe beef hamburgers and enjoyed some of their fermented artistry while Maggie held forth on the sights at the aquarium with the waitress and whoever else would listen.
After leaving Newport we headed further down the coast to Sunset Bay State Park. Rarely is a park more aptly named than this. The beach at this park is a beautiful protected bay, with quiet water and towering sea cliffs that frame the western sky perfectly for each sunset. Last night we hiked down to the beach, with a bucket of sand toys for Maggie, so that we could watch the sunset after a beautiful, and surprisingly bright and sunny, October day. The sunset didn’t disappoint. There was not a cloud in the sky, save for a few, beautiful bands of clouds out over the Pacific, that appeared to be divinely applied to the sky to magnify the beauty of the setting sun.
For me, it really felt like a spiritual bookend to the sunrise we watched in South Carolina months ago. It now feels like we really have come all the way. This feels like a trip that is beginning to wind down: to set as the sun, to come to a close with the change from fall to winter. For all of us, it is beginning to feel like it is time to settle down, to find a home, and to start building a new life in that place, whether it be a new place or an old one.
As I stood on the beach with Lisa, watching the sky turn colors, then fade away, I had that palpable sense that this was a moment I would remember for the rest of my life. One that we will look back on and talk about for years to come when we reflect on this journey. Probably too because the moment was perfectly framed by Maggie, who was tearing around in circles on the beach, roaring like a lion at her imaginary friends (yes, their still with us), who she was trying to scare. Unique is one word that definitely comes to mind.
Today we are off to California and the great groves of Redwoods on its northern coast. This is the last part of our journey that we have really planned. We will see the Redwoods, make a quick jaunt back up to Ashland, Oregon, and then, from there, we are completely unsure. In fact, we are so unsure that we may even engage some reader participation, on the form of a poll, to help us decide the next phase of the adventure.
Portland earned its nickname, The Rose City, in battle, or at least because of it. Not many cities can say that, I would guess. In the early 20th century, as World War I was raging in Europe, Portland planted a garden. This was not just any garden, it was the International Rose Test Garden. A safe haven, to be exact. While men were dying in battle, a certain subset of Europeans (namely gardeners), feared not only for the fate of their countries, but the fate of their roses. In order to prevent those roses from being bombed, burned, and trampled into extinction, they sent samples of them to Portland for safe keeping, trusting in the knowledge that the green thumbs of Oregon would preserve them. Well, mission accomplished (and not in the premature standing on an aircraft sense). That rose garden now holds something crazy like 5,000 species of roses.
You might think, after an introduction like that, that we would have visited this garden. Sorry, we didn’t. I just really liked the story. We did, however, visit two other phenomenal gardens in Portland, which certainly did nothing to dissuade us from the belief that in the hands of the Portland gardening community, nearly every plant on the planet is safe. The first garden on our itinerary was the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. This garden is, indeed, a classical Chinese garden, and a beautiful one at that. To build it, the city ripped up a parking lot and facilitated the creation of the garden on one city block in the middle of Portland’s China Town (which was once one of the 4 largest China towns in the U.S.). The garden is spectacular. With plants, trees, bodies of water, and traditional Chinese buildings creating an incredible oasis in the middle of the city.
Our second garden visit was to the Portland Japanese Garden. I love Japanese gardens. In fact, when we re-landscaped our mini backyard in Erie, I specifically had the designer incorporate elements of Japanese gardens into it. While our backyard turned out wonderfully, you will not be surprised to hear that the Portland Japanese Garden is better. It is so good that the former Japanese Ambassador to the United States once said that he believed it might be the finest traditional Japanese garden in the world, including in Japan. Now you can see why those European rose growers felt confident in the fact that Portland was a good choice. This garden spreads across 5 acres and includes formal tea gardens complete with a tea house, strolling pond filled gardens, and Maggie’s favorite, the Zen garden: a classical sand and stone garden usually reserved for Buddhist monasteries. The Zen garden is about the size of 1/2 of a football field and it takes the gardener who rakes the sand 3-4 hours to complete the job.
We coupled our visits to the gardens with little journeys through parts of the city. Portland is a great city. If Seattle is the high tech, green, progressive city, of the west coast, Portland would be its younger sibling. That younger sibling that maybe dyed his hair, got a few tattoos, ran with the wrong crowd a bit, but still could solve differential equations while quoting poetry over a cup of coffee. While Portland certainly has its hip, trendy, glass building/imported car neighborhood, it also is still awash in funky, bohemian neighborhoods that attract all kinds of people and give off a great energy. A huge plus for Portland is also the fact that it is home to the finest bookstore in the United States of America (without hyperbole), Powell’s City of Books.
Powell’s is a book lovers nirvana. The flagship store in the center of Portland is a four story building that covers an entire city block. Apparently, you could put the Chinese Garden in there. I wouldn’t know for sure, but I can tell you that if you are looking for a book, you can find it here. Or more likely, you can ask one of the myriad employees who work there to find it for you. If you don’t seek help, you may find yourself far enough away from your starting point that water and some trail mix would be appreciated. In addition to the flagship store, Powell’s has stores dedicated to technical books, home and garden books, and neighborhood branches in other parts of the city so that you don’t need to burn an ounce of foreign oil to get your books, which are probably printed on paper from the many clear cut forests of Oregon. Kind of a Hobson’s Choice it would seem, but one that at least can provide for a dose of written enlightenment.
Our 3 days in Portland were outstanding, it is a city that I look forward to going back to each and every opportunity I get.