This morning is the birthday-anniversary of my nature-loving Grandpa, who first taught me to love birds and flowers. The robins are singing, bluejays squawking, mockingbirds showing off, bees buzzing and sunshine pouring down like honey on the lushest, greenest, noisiest spring morning since our long California drought. We have a loud spring here on the Central Coast this year, the bird and bee chorus just tuning up for the day's performance. That's the wonderful news. But we can't take it for granted.
I recently had a peek at a gorgeous, engaging, soon-to-be published children's picture book, titled Spring After Spring. Stephanie Roth Sisson's storyteller the story of the life of Rachel Carson, the brave scientist who told us the truth about the dangers of pesticides in her 1962 book Silent Spring. We never want to go back to that time. I expect to see Stephanie's book on teacher's desks and bookshelves around the world by next Earth Day, inspiring our littlest ones to be vigilant and observant and brave. Because we can't afford to forget the past.
Round Up weed killer is suddenly everywhere again, in virtual monuments to human short-sightedness. We know it kills or sickens whatever it touches. Round Up has apparently been given a wink and a nod by our not-very-green new Administration (Actually, it's looking as orange as the color of dying grass after a shower of Round Up.) But the good news is, we're free here in America. We don't have to buy the stuff. We can pull our weeds, or mow, or whack them, or get a goat or sheep to munch them. We can, (where they aren't causing a fire hazard,) leave them alone, and admire the beauty of native grasses blowing in the wind, giving small creatures a place to raise their young in grassy nests and burrows. Yesterday I was surprised by two speckled fawns, completely hidden, napping in the grass off the side of the road, and my dog startled a wild turkey from her nest under a tent of grass. We could look at grass as a habitat, not just something to slash and poison.
But here's Good News: (all taken from this weeks Economist)
China is finally getting on the green bandwagon and teaching their children about conservation! It turns out Hong Kong has an avid bird-watching population. A nature center in the Mai Poi Marshes, (a huge waterway between mainland China and Hong Kong,) is bringing in throngs of schoolchildren to observe birds, teach them about migrating waterfowl and inspire kids to protect their planet. And--in Tawain, a conservation movement has rescued the spoon billed sandpiper from extinction, by prohibiting hunting and by fighting development in their nesting grounds. And Glory Be, China is suddenly realizing they have a great deal at stake if this climate change business is actually real! Even if the US Administration doesn't believe in it, China is actively looking to cut coal use, invest in green technology, and experiment with ways to reduce green house gases. Prime Minister Li Keying pledged last month, "We will make our skies blue again."
And more good news: Ireland is ditching burning peat bog, which has fueled their country for over 1000 years, in favor of wind energy. They're building wind farms as fast as they can, which is exciting because burning Peat Bog is far dirtier than burning coal (over 23% more carbon spewed into in the air burning bogs) By 2030, Ireland expects enough wind electricity to meet domestic demands, with leftover energy to export to other countries. Cleaner air around the world means cleaner waterways and healthier, noisier springs for us all.
And finally, a small story on foolishness and fear:
I slowed my car as I approached the bridge to avoid hitting the guy. The neighbor that comes every year, with his backpack of chemicals and spray pump, up and down the road, all along the creek. Spritz. Spritz. Spritz. I know he's a man with good intentions, trying to protect us all from fire danger. His yard is always weedless. Now he's focusing on the highways and byways near our homes. Spritz, spritz, spritz, on the waving grass in the culvert which empties into the stream just yards below, home to beavers and fish and herons and ducks, and crawdads and turtles and who knows what else? I've educated my nearest and dearest about this stuff, but I don't intrude into my neighbors' business.
But as I drive past, my stomach is churning. I don't know this man. He looks responsible and serious, like someone who doesn't suffer fools. I don't wish to look like a fool. Also, by nature, I avoid being confrontational, or political, or telling others what to do. Yet, somehow, my car seemingly turns itself around and rolls down it's window, in the space of ten seconds. And my voice is (foolishly) calling out
"Excuse me, Sir. Is that Round Up you're using?"
(No, honey, it's just a little wine spritzer to cheer up the weeds.)
"Yes, it is," he replies, pleasantly enough.
Now I'm stumped. I don't even know how I got here, much less what I'm going to say, but words suddenly come tumbling out.
"Well, Sir, you're so close to the creek, and that stuff's going to kill all of our fish if you keep spraying. And the beavers and turtles will get sick, and--I'm sorry. I'm just sort of a nut about this."
He looks at me blankly. My heart pounds. I feel both foolish and happy. At least I didn't just drive by him this time. I thank him for listening and drive up the road to turn around. When I drive past again, he's taken off his backpack and is heading home. I toot my horn and wave. He gives me a curt nod.
Did I change his mind? Probably not. But I changed a bit, from a woman who never speaks up, to one who just did. And nothing terrible happened. Maybe if we all speak up, when we need to ,even if we feel foolish and fearful, this lucious, fertile, rip-roaring Spring Chorus can continue, spring, after spring, after spring.
It's a celebration on the Salinas River. This is a banner year, because the Salinas is actually flowing, after six or seven of not-flowing. Years of drought turned it into a playground for dirt bikers and ATV fans. After 40+ inches of rain and wild floods, it's now a playground for songbirds, ducks, herons, spring breezes and an alphabet soup of wild things.
I scan for steelhead, knowing that even though I don't see them, they are silently, beating their way upriver to spawn in their native streams, seeking safety in shadows and under tree roots. Anadromous" is the Greek word for these salmony kinds of fish, which roughly translates to "Running Upstream." As living creatures on planet earth-- there are days when "running upstream" can describe any one of us.
Some days, some years, it seems like all I do is struggle against the current. I make everything harder than it needs to be. I worry. I try to micro-manage my loved ones, who (shockingly) neither cooperate, nor appreciate my efforts. I rail against politicians who do not share my views on rivers and streams. I have the bewildering thought that I should have something to show for my 58 circles around the sun--besides wrinkles, scars and offspring that find me both somewhat amusing and (more than somewhat) annoying. But I have no idea what that "something" is. I'm an ordinary woman, having an ordinary life, apparently needing the same lessons over and over.
Still, these gritty little fish inspire me. They don't give up, even after years of this river offering only dust and dirt-bike tracks. They wait it out, until the conditions are right, and then they just swim with all their might. That grit, that refusal to give up, is what makes them survivors. It's what takes them, finally, to the quiet pools where they lay their eggs, propelling their species into the future.
Life has such conflicting messages. "Go with the flow." "Swim harder." Maybe there is a time for each. But today, rambling up river with the pound parolees (who never worry and are deliriously happy just to be here) I'm thinking that maybe the only lesson I need to learn right now, is just to be truly awake, truly aware, of this glorious moment I've been given, with river and sunlight and birdsong. And if the weather forecast holds, there's another blessing coming: more rain on the way, which my fierce little swimmers will love. Happy rambling!
Welcome to Streamriffs.com, a place for fellow creek- walkers and nature lovers. Lori Fisher Peelen lives in California with her family.