Shoes See Everything

After that last post, I had to revert to reminding my future-scary-mind of the wisdom of Mma Ramotswe & friends in the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency .  I was thrilled a few years ago (no wait – I think becalmed is a better characterization of that emotional state) to discover that some of these lovely stories had been made into an HBO series that was actually filmed in Botswana - watch out Frasier!  I’m not sure I’ve read every single book (- uh, I see now from my own link above that there’re at least three more to go -), but thankfully there was one onhand in the real-paper pile (Double Comfort Safari Club) that met my urgent need.

Thank you, Alexander McCall Smith, for Mma Makutsi’s new boots.  ‘Shoes see everything’IMG_1851omg I could run on with this foot-based metaphor forever, so bear with me!

Shoes protect our precious human primate feet from – well – the earthly climate!  Their soles help us navigate around ocean-worn stones & volcanic jagged rocks that behave, uh-huh, rock-like in the middle of our path…even when the left foot & right foot may disagree on the best route around them.  Not to mention that shoes are the object of satisfying & functional retail therapy (- as Mma Makutsi & you ladies already know).

So, how to step more lightly in those new boots.  I’ve promised some ideas about what we can do about global warming & the climate change it’s causing.  But first, I want to tell you another (short) shoe story.  About going dancing.  By myself.  Yeah, I know that’s kinda weird.

But helplful.  Because I’ve been in a major funk about this drought & warming stuff. Ungrounded, you could say.

R was away on business.  I REALLY didn’t want to hang out alone with my computer (no offense FB friends!) & it was too late to try to find a girlfriend who was game, so I actually dragged myself over to the local neighborhood venue (Crow’s Nest) desperate for whatever live music was happening there…&…wow, had a great time!  Once a slew of ladies (& handful of men) braved the empty dance floor, I had a short chat with my dancing shoes & slid off my corner seat to join in.  Yup, you just have to ignore the angst & get into the groove (as they used to say) & I’m glad for once I listened to my own advice, because music & movement in the company of others was what this human primate needed that night.

So.  OK.  I’m ready to get back to the topic of the day…of the century, really.  & unless you’re part of the ever-smaller denier crowd (& it’s hard to believe anyone who reads this blog would be part of that group), I’m sure you already have some notion of what’s going to be on the climate change to-do list.  Here it is, short & to the point (you’re welcome):

ONE:  Do your part.  Susan Solomon says drying clothes on the sun-warmed line outside would make a difference & yeah, she’s probably right…no doubt it’s a wonderful activity to fill up our abundant spare time. (Remember, you asked!)  She also says, quoting that favorite-baby-boomer-revolution-fantasy icon Chairman Mao: ‘Let a thousand flowers bloom’.  This repurposed slogan is now geared toward new technological innovation which can help us deal & adapt (the new climate change buzz word).  Of course, I agree, &..but…

…I also say…think about how you get around.  Think about the energy & water you use, & waste, & then…modify.  reduce.  reuse.  You know the mantra.  The key is making a habit of it.

TWO:  NO FREE PARKING!  Heartily & with vociferous enthusiasm support any & all taxes on fossil fuels: carbon taxes, pollution taxes, gas taxes, cap & trade schemes, etc. Why taxes?  Think of it as disaster insurance.  At a minimum, we’re gonna need it to recover from all those warmer-air-&-ocean-caused extreme weather events.

THREE:  Debate the deniers.  I’m sure you know a few, because yeah, kinda unbelievably, they’re still out there.  They’re even your friends & mine.  Maybe this link to a great user-friendly NOAA climate change website can help you out with all of this.  A common understanding will help us all manage the changes we’ll need to accommodate to into our inevitably warmer future.

FOUR:  Don’t count on moving to another ‘habitable’ planet as the solution to making this one uninhabitable (…never mind that this fantasy is apparently beloved by brilliant brainiacs & rich techies).

And, finally, FIVE:  Cherish those cool zephyrs.

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Burn 6: Earth on the Grill

Warning: Increasing Frequency of Climate Change-Induced Panic Attacks!

If you know me, you know I’m not kidding – at least I’m not alone with my climate anxiety, which makes me feel a little better, thank you.

I have a good excuse for my blogging delinquency: I’ve been spending my daily computer time participating in a World Bank-sponsored online course* about climate change.   You’ve probably already suspected that this topic is a favorite of mine – relevant posts are over there to the right under ‘A Changing Planet‘.  It’s something I’ve been worried about for years.  No, wait – even longer: CO2 emissions & how they’re warming the earth’s atmosphere were also the sub-text of working at the Regional Transportation Commission, & of the lifestyle we enjoy here in lovely (drought & flood-prone) Santa Cruz, California.

This class is really sounding the alarm bells, though.  With new facts.  Revised & (omg YIKES!) shocking projections by the world’s preeminent scientists.  Reviews of new & upcoming reports from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  What will happen if we continue with our (admittedly often useful) delusion & denial strategies & keep burning fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow.

There is a tomorrow, though, & it’s heating up right under our short-term-thinking noses. That’s part of the problem - we’re not really programmed to think too much about the future.  When we or people we know personally experience the consequences of unusual flooding, or our garden withers because of a multi-year drought, or we get stuck in the Baltimore airport for days due to an abnormally-prolonged snowstorm, we kind of get it, but when it happens to people on the other side of the globe, we pretty much go on about our business as usual.

Business as usual won’t work in this case.

The impacts of climate change will be very different in different parts of the world.  We’re going to collectively & creatively need to apply that special prefrontal cortex part of our human primate brain so that this very real threat to our survival takes up a larger slice of our daily attention-span pie.

I know you know our climate is warming. If you live in California, this winter’s drought (irrespective of the recent wow-we’re-sure-thankful-for-a-little-moisture-&-look-at-all-those-new-weeds! rains) is already one for the history books (figuratively speaking of course).  If you live further afield, there’s no doubt you’ve experienced (or will experience in the near future) your own variety of the serious impacts of an increasingly warm Earth:

  • more precipitation due to increased evaporation from warming oceans
  • significant changes in precipitation patterns around the globe, causing severe water shortages &/or too much water runoff which can overwhelm systems &/or be out of phase with demand.
  • more extreme summer heat waves, forest fires, floods & drought.
  • more unpredictable, intense & catastrophic weather
  • sea level rise, particularly in tropical regions, due to warming oceans & melting ice sheets in Greenland & the Antarctic.
  • severe impacts on crops & agriculture, causing food shortages & social upheaval, especially in poorer regions.
  • risk of increased exposure to malaria, heat stress, mental health disorders, & malnutrition.
  • mass extinctions (“The Sixth Extinction“), possibly on the order of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
  • projected loss of coral reef ecosystems & severe impact on marine life due to ocean acidification.

Wait – ocean acidification – what the heck is that?  Some call it global warming’s evil twin.  Oceans cover over 70% of the Earth & are apparently sucking up not only over 90% of the heat from all the carbon pollution we humans are creating (equivalent to 4 Hiroshima atom bombs per second), but also, about 1/3 of the CO2 itself is going into the oceans.  This, on top of warming, is making the chemistry of the world’s oceans more acidic – a potentially catastrophic change to the Earth’s ecosystem that in the past has led to large-scale extinction events.

The future does not look pretty – & we’re not just talking about the world of our children & grandchildren.  We’re talking about tomorrow, next week, next year.  Scientists are putting more effort these days into assessing some of the Earth’s climate tipping points - sadly, it looks like the results thus far will only further increase the frequency of these panic attacks.

So yeah, grim tidings.  I almost feel compelled to apologize for subjecting you to my hysteria over the increasingly alarming news (…assuming you’ve managed to read this far).  I won’t, but thanks anyway for hanging in there.  I wish I could say you won’t need to hear about this here ever again, but most likely it will continue to be one of my core blog themes…even though writing about evolution & everyday human primate life is way more fun!

& thanks for paying attention – it will make a difference.  Because ya know, we could pretty easily end up like the dinosaurs.

p.s.  Way to go, John Kerry!!

*  “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 Degree C Warmer World Must Be Avoided”

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Remembering the Whole Earth

Yesterday I conducted a little archaeological dig into our dusty shelves of neglected cookbooks.  I can’t recall when I last pulled out one of those oil-spattered old friends…these days, I most often cook our usual fare ad hoc or, like many of you, take inventory of the fridge/pantry & – in order to avoid grocery shopping – google recipe options (preferably from fellow bloggers) for new, yummy-sounding veg-spice-condiment-protein combinations with stuff we have on hand.

Anyhow, I was searching for our ancient copy of the Whole Earth Cook Book.  The one with us looking like hippies (we weren’t, really!) in the photo on the back cover.  The one written by our friend & mentor Sharon Cadwallader* during the time we all worked at the Whole Earth Restaurant up at UCSC.  The one we pretty much knew by heart because we were satisfied beneficiaries of many evenings of recipe testing in that small, Guanajuato-decorated 12th Avenue beach house she shared with her son Leland.  The one written on the crest of the whole earth phenomenon that we thought was going to save the world.

I landed on this particular Whole Earth in 1970 upon returning to university after a year in Munich. My friend, housemate, & Cordon Bleu graduate Karan, who unlike me could actually cook, had similarly returned from Europe a few weeks earlier, gotten a job at the newly envisioned & just opened ‘natural foods’ restaurant, & apparently convinced Sharon that I might be a decent dishwasher/cashier.  Over the next two years (future husband) R & I became friends over kitchen scraps, midnight chats (i.e., I talked & he listened) & pots of hard-boiled eggs.  When we took a break from those dishes or from preparing sandwich fixings for the next day’s lunch crowd, I managed to finish my last two years of anthropology courses while he hopped around the country on freight trains.  We only fell madly in love after I graduated & it dawned on me that the easy camaraderie of the restaurant would be lost as we both moved on.  Or at least that’s my version of the story.

This all bubbled up over the holidays – as the past is wont to do.  In a cozy Hope Valley cabin, we talked all morning about Sharon’s robust presence in both of our lives during that time, & when I started concocting a lunch of random veg items from the cooler, it became clear that the Whole Earth – the concept, the cafe, the cookbook, the community, the cooking, & yes, the easy camaraderie – the Whole Earth, real & envisioned, was our original super glue.  In some ways, it’s still is.

I found that precious old cookbook.  The covers are gone (??), some of the stained sepia pages look like an art project gone wrong, & one seriously singed corner might in one careless moment have sent the whole cherished volume up in smoke, but the original inscription is still there: for Linda and all her love and laughter!  I wish you a lifetime of sunshine.  xx Sharon.

Well.  You never know how life it going to get on, do you?  We were all so young & idealistic, & sorta unbelievably, that vision of the home planet floating out there in the void has carried us through these satisfying & sometimes intense lives of family, community activism & public service.  It wasn’t all sunshine for Sharon & no, not for our family either.  & although too many relentlessly bright days can cause even sunshine addicts to wish for the drippy release of rain, I (nearly) always take a moment to bask.

And, to remember that the Whole Earth will abide.  With us and without us.


* Sharon wrote the Whole Earth Cook Book (1972) together with co-author Judi Ohr, who (in my recollection) was primarily responsible for the baking section & who, according to Sharon, wasn’t able to field test her recipes with a similarly sophisticated collection of tasters as she, Sharon, had enjoyed.  Her introduction “What are natural foods?” moved this concept into the general food lexicon, just ahead of ‘organic’.  Also of note is the preface by Paul Lee (July 1971) on the meaning of the first whole earth photograph.  The Whole Earth Restaurant served its unique fare on the UCSC campus until 2002.

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My Mother’s Spoons

I wasn’t born with one of these in my mouth, but I love using them to scoop up my morning Cheerios or the (occasional!) evening ice cream…in my home, they’re not IMG_1529hidden away.  That’s the way it was for my mother though – we used stainless 362 days/year while the silver lay cloistered in soft velvet, revealing its sleek glory only for Easter, Thanksgiving, & Christmas.

There’s nothing like ‘the holidays’ to harken tradition.  For better or worse.  When you’re raised suburban middle-class christian in southern California & in spite of it all fall into everyday primate ways, religious tradition can seem tedious. The bigger picture takes over, & parochial family ways are rejected, lost, buried.  Thankfully, food saves the day.  As usual.

I’ve already written about our family’s lefse tradition.  This year I reverted to the nostalgia of gingerbread cookies in a (largely successful actually) attempt to recapture some winter holiday spirit.  Once 4-year old grandson D was convinced that playing with cookie IMG_1578dough is just as much fun – no, more fun – than playing with our well-greased pile of play-doh, his hours of deep practice yielded yummy results.  (NOTE: if you try this day-long project in your own home, the energy forecast is for extreme caloric highs & possible endurance lows.)

We celebrated the winter solstice yesterday with a gorgeous (if I do say so myself) German pancake - another family food favorite…I guess there’s something to this tradition thing after all, at least when it involves apples & maple syrup.

R & I are heading out of town tomorrow – I’m worn out from all this enforced holiday activity.  A recent Xmas day was spent flying to Tokyo.  We’ve so enjoyed our past holidays in Scotland (you guessed it: fabulous food!) that we decided to spend a few days up in the Sierra’s this year with the visiting Scottish-tethered relatives.  I still have to pack, but was happy to find that 35+ year old down jacket still hanging around in the closet to help out with a clear & cold no-snow forecast…yikes, more dry weather…!

We’ve lost our way with this western world winter holiday.  I know I’m not the first person to make this observation.  In spite of my determination to rein it in, I feel worn out way before the holiday parties even start to tumble in one after another…don’t get me going about why everyone feels they have to have one.  Hey, let’s do something in March instead, celebrate the spring equinox or something!  Oh – I guess that’s what we call Easter.

Well.  So.  I do love the tradition of wishing good will, and I really do wish that for you & yours.

We’ll keep working on this December problem, OK??  & please, let’s not make it into a November problem as well.  

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Waking Up to Water

I’ve really been enjoying this bright November of golden leaves & comfy old scarves, but I can’t recall ever being so happy to hear the rain as I did upon waking up yesterday morning…not the usual drippy harbor fog kind (which I usually love too), but real run-off-in-the-streets sort of rain.

The day before, anticipation of rain was the main topic of casual conversation at the grocery store, in the doctor’s office, on my walk down the street: do you feel it coming? we really need it!  wow, this drought is scary, my trees are really drooping.  what’s going to happen with the desalination proposal? yes, yes! yes mine too, I don’t know.

I’m a member of the Santa Cruz City Water Commission in the one seat reserved for a representative of non-City residents who are Water District customers.  Ergo, I’m probably thinking about rain more than most.  As things warm up on the home planet, I think more of us are finally waking up to water. There’s nothing more fundamental to how life happens on earth than the big W – salinated or not, too much or too little. 

After over 20 years of intensely studying our regional water supply situation, the proposed joint City & next-door Soquel Creek Water District regional seawater desalination project was progressing as a long-term approach to future demand & anticipated drought.  Three months ago however, sensing mounting opposition from parts of our so-called environmentalist sector, the Mayor & City Manger turned off the desal spigot; coincidentally or not, the Water Department director of 27 years retired a month later.  We’re now embarking on a new community water discussion which will no doubt demonstrate the virtues & foibles of how folks in this small but passionate burgh on California’s (dry) central coast debate what we envision for our future.

A year ago I posted here about water & desalination.  It seems to me that in this part of the world, humans are pretty clueless about the luxury of having fresh water on demand. What I’m learning in this new W commissioner role is that similar to most challenges on our ever-changing planet, there’s no cheap, easy answer.  As far as I know, no one disagrees that here in geographically-isolated Santa Cruz County we’ll continue to experience both severe surface water shortages & severe overdraft of groundwater resources into the future…& we can’t fall back on importing water from Sierra Nevada mountains like our San Francisco friends to the north.  It’s what to do about it that gets us riled up.

One thing I learned from my transportation work (which is a drastically simpler problem in many respects) & also from being a parent (which isn’t), is that it makes sense to have a variety of tools in the toolbox: if one approach isn’t reliable or breaks down too often, there’s another one (or more) available to fill in.  A word we used a lot in the transportation arena is ‘robust’, & it’s a good word to keep in mind in this upcoming W conversation.

In the meantime, although Santa Cruz County has nearly the lowest per-capita water use in California, I’ll keep switching our kitchen faucet to the lower water spray setting, I’m replacing a quaint but not-very-efficient toilet, & I’m hoping for a washer rebate program in the upcoming round of new water conservation measures.  I get annoyed when I see farmers watering their fields mid-day or a dysfunctional hydrant gushing for (seemingly) hours – it just doesn’t seem fair.  But we really are all in this together, & imho, our proposed solutions need to reflect serious pragmatism as well as the rampant idealism for which we are famous.

Here’s hoping that we’ll actually have mud to slosh around in as we muddle along with this community process.

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Burn5: Fired Up About Art

I’m an artist.  Yep, you heard that right.  I suspect ‘artist’ isn’t your primary association with this particular primate, but I’ve decided it’s time to paint a fuller picture of what makes us human.  Because we all started out as artists.

Many scientists say human nature started with art.  Although they haven’t yet agreed how creativity, language & increasingly complex cognition meshed over the past 500,000 thousand years to hasten human differentiation from our ancestor primates, we do know that our (relatively) recent compulsion toward body adornment, song & dance, narrative, pattern-making, ritual, & eventually, de novo art forms was intimately IMG_1429interwoven with the development & success (in evolutionary terms) of human primates & human social communities.

And that’s still the case.

One of my favorite things to do artwise is collage cards in the company of other female primates.  It’s social.  It stretches me.  I (usually) stay in the present moment, & even though firing up the glue gun is (usually) as hot as it gets, I love working with color & texture, scissors & paste.  It’s therapeutic.  It’s play.  I can write a few words of love inside the art card & drop it in the mail to family & friends – remember that old-fashioned gesture??  & I can allow my artist alter ego to take over for a few hours – some of you may even recognize her: the beloved puppet Moon Ma created by one of my (many) incredible family-member artists, sister-in-law Paula.

B0002775Moon Ma fires up my muse & she’s in it for the fun.  Ergo, my claim of ‘artist’ should not be construed as ‘working artist’.  On the few occasions when I’ve really had to work at art, I could understand, for a few moments, the satisfaction of making art into work, but it doesn’t light my fire.  It was admittedly satisfying to once be paid for my art (random worldbead bracelets compulsively strung during one of those early grieving holiday seasons – my friends were so sweet to come by & buy them up) & once* I was paid to solicit payment for art created by another.  I’ve often & happily paid for works of art created by others & paid others for working (playing) myself at creating art.

There’s a hot community (& broader) discussion going on about what’s going on at our local Museum of Art & History.  The MAH is embracing the participatory model of artistic engagement with a broad range of artforms & collaborators.  I’m on the board of trustees of this fiercely experimental small city museum; when I was asked to join the board, I initially said no – my experience of this museum was reminiscent of (imho) sterile art on the wall, deadly quiet hallways, & a lackluster community presence.  But I was behind the curve – under new leadership, this museum is now on the cutting edge of an international movement to bring art back to the people within whom it has too long been quiescent.  I changed my mind & said ‘yes’.

A hot community debate about art?!  How cool – bring it on.  A few in our lovely burgh pine for the ‘highbrow’ days.  Not me.  Hearing the lively music & chatter as I climb the Front Street steps, First Fridays at the MAH puts a grin on my face that seems to linger for days.  I revel in the abundantly creative buzz of activity & the increasing diversity of a lively & churning crowd.

This museum is helping bring out the best in our little community with its mission to ‘ignite shared experiences & unexpected connections’.  Being artists together is our human primate heritage, & it’s one (fun) way we’ll survive the future.


*  At the Regional Transportation Commission, we were early advocates for public art as part of rebuilding the Highway 1/Bay Avenue Interchange in Santa Cruz County.  The wonderful Susana Arias & her rendering of ‘Finding Our Past’ along the freeway underpass received a California Environs Enhancement Award in 1997.

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I know, artisan beers are all the rage these days, & for good reason.  You can make beer anytime anywhere, it accepts a wide variety of flavorings, & it’s one of the most popular beverages in the world: only water & tea are consumed more often.  Beer is the people’s drink, the heart of pub culture, crafted & beloved by humanity everywhere.

There are a good number of us, however, who incline toward the fruit of the vine. Humans have been drinking intentionally fermented grape juice about as long as we’ve been tilling the soil – around 10,000 years.  Before that, I’ve no doubt that when our ancestors trekked out of Africa & happened uponB0000406_2-1 those ancient grapes oozing sugar on Near Eastern autumnal vines, returning to those vines became an annual migration ritual for the tribes.

B0002825_2-1My most favorite thing about wine is making it; right now it’s ‘crush’ season for winemakers everywhere.  We don’t crush grapes with our feet too often any more…although I do recall us resorting to that very key part of our anatomy a few years back when our human-powered destemmer/ crusher was too wimpy for some hardy local chardonnay grapes.

I also of course, now & then (more then than now…still in recuperation mode…) deeply enjoy my share of delectable sips of artfully fermented fruit juice.  There’s truly nothing more satisfying than sharing a bottle of good wine that you first tasted as a nubile grape & eventually hand-corked in the backyard of an oak-shaded garage ‘winery’ in the San Lorenzo Valley.

There are dozens of local wine co-ops in our area, each with it’s own volunteer Winemaker:  Mike is ours & he’s a marvel.  We’re not commercial wineries: while some grow their own grapes, most local wine-making co-ops purchase grapes from central coast as well as northern & central CA vineyards.  Our 35+ year old co-op usually pays cash for 1/2 ton+ of each grape varietal – enough for one barrel – & we make about 4 barrels of wine/year – roughly 100 cases which we share among the group with a cost of about $8/bottle.  (A few admittedly debatable favorites: Alexander Valley Cabernet, Carneros Tempranillo, Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, Arroyo Seco Viognier, & Mesa del Sol Syrah.)

Recently though, discord disturbed the tribe.  For a number of reasons (many of which I’m sure you can surmise), it was no longer appropriate to use our long-time co-op name, Ohlone.  To the generally younger &/or newer members of the group, this was kind-of a no-brainer…whatever, no problem.  But to some of the older, original members, it was tantamount to heresy.  It’s taken us the better part of a year to work through this, but after many meetings & email exchanges we have, and thankfully no one deserted the group because of it.  We don’t yet have a new name, but our perseverance has confirmed that what we all still love to do together is produce ‘a wine made among friends’.

This year too, to my great disappointment, I’ve had to miss most of the crush season due to that icky illness.  But there are still two bins of fermenting grapes to press, & I plan to be there if only to hold the babies, chat with the little boys, & gossip with the elders.


Secretly, though, I’ll be there to inhale the seductive aroma of the future.         

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