there’s still no cure for dying

You’re probably rolling your eyes at this apparent not-joy-t0-the-world holiday season post.  But hang in here with me – this topic could fuel unusual & maybe even helpful family dinner conversations.  Still skeptical?  Well, just remind yourself that there’s nothing more important to religious holidays than life & death.

hsc3105_hiWorrying about death is uniquely the province of the human primate.  It’s where religion has a big jump on science: our species spent its early millennia around the campfire constructing stories of why & what & how & where & when.  Science only came along within the past 2,500 or so years…a mere scratch (albeit getting deeper daily) on the surface of our ancient narratives.  It’s no wonder we have a hard time letting them go.

Trying to grasp the fact of death, surviving others’, & anticipating our own are arguably among the most emotionally painful experiences of being human.  Other primates & mammals (& also, I’ve observed, chickens) may mourn the death of their offspring or peers or elders, but it seems only humans can anticipate this end for themselves.  It’s no wonder we avoid the topic.

I recently read a provocative article about this particular avoidance (…one of many things humans love to ignore – doing something about global warming being another…):  Why I hope to die at 75 by Ezekiel J. Emanuel.  The first hit from this article is the reminder that now we really do have something to worry about: living too long.  Average human life spans have increased significantly in the past 100 years, primarily as a result of much lower rates of infant death & death by disease.  More of us (& there are a lot more of us now) are living longer than ever, & instead of these diseases, we’re dying of chronic conditions that accompany old age (heart disease, cancer, etc).  Many older folks are losing their minds in the process: 1/3 of people over age 85 have Alzheimer’s disease.

So, how old is old enough?  That’s the resonating question of this essay.  In particular, the author questions the myriad measures routinely promoted by the US health care system to prolong the life of what he calls the ‘American Immortal’.  While not a part of this particular opinion piece, others have noted that about 25% of all US health care expenditures are made within the last year of life.  Some have accused Emanuel of being “adolescent” in his opinions (after all, he’s only 57…75 seemed old to me too when I was in my 50’s…) & others have reacted by touting the wonders of old age.  Of course, it’s the concept, not the number, that’s worthy of some thought & maybe, action…or rather, in this case, inaction.

These sorts of things have been on my mind for a while now, but Emanuel’s article reminds me that we do have a choice in this. The palliative care & compassionate death movements are right-on in this regard, but our choices need to start way earlier than the last days…as in months & years before our DNR’s & advance directives kick in.  While we’re still of (at least moderately, we hope) sound mind.

I don’t want to live to be 100.  or even 90, really.  I know, I know, once I’m faced with a death more imminent than it feels like at this moment, my tune could change, & I’m sure I’ll be sad to miss seeing how things turn out.  My ideal post-death scenario (which, granted, isn’t very original) would be to time travel about 200 years into the future…long enough that I wouldn’t know anybody but short enough to see if we figured out how to survive on a frightfully hotter home planet.

If I can, I’ll let you know what I find out – around the campfire of course.

ps., all this rambling is mostly just a way of sharing a slightly-dark tune about being alive…a little break for you from ubiquitous jingling.  We’re nearing the winter solstice, after all.


Posted in Cackling Crone, Just an Everyday Life, Our Primate Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Encyclopedias & Other Precious Stuff

Yikes. It’s been over two months since my last post.  I’m trying to not feel delinquent.  I have lots of excuses.  Tell me you’ve missed me!

Mostly, I’ve been consumed by stuff.  My stuff.  Our stuff.  Our kids’ stuff.  Our parents’ stuff.  Work stuff.  Stuff from decades past & from last week.  Consequences of inertia & consumption & our human-as-consumer culture.  Stuff I’m trying to shed.  Recycle.  Let go.  Release.

It’s mostly the stories that are consuming.  The preciousness of an object is proportionate to its emotional packaging.  Stories are us!  How can I shed the object also shedding the story?  No, I can’t let this thing go – my life’s in there!  Or that thing either – I might need it someday. It’s actually a relief to pick up something relatively useless that evokes no readily-retrievable memory…quick – into the recycle bag!  Whew.

The clothes closet is probably the easiest – though most females hold out hope eternal of being able to fit into those supple old jeans.  CD’s & old tapes…huh, what are those??  (I lie – we do still have a working CD player.)  Handwritten journals, ugh: a major source of anxiety…tucked away in an old grocery bag, waiting for their author to have the nerve to toss it into a random dumpster (although burning has more dramatic appeal).

The books & old encyclopedias are the hardest.  These wonderful tomes I intend to but probably never will read, or, tbt, ever crack open again.  My friend Lisa recounts an axiom she heard: if we read about one book a month (or week or year…this = X) & estimate that we have Y number of months/years left (…an unknown, usually, but make a guess), we’ll read about X x Y more books in our lifetime.  Hence, we can shed all the rest.  A sobering calculation for those of us who still read books.

Not to mention the artwork that’s surrounded us for so many years.  Local Santa Cruz & family artists have been well-represented on our off-white walls, but what would someone else do with this colorful collection?  In my attempt to go simpler, I’ve put only about half of the artwork back up after the deferred home maintenance project (inspiration for this current shedding exercise, btw), but the rest rests against a wall in the guest room.  I’m trying to talk my friend Suzanne into hanging some of it in her home…knowing it’s living somewhere would be almost as good as seeing it everyday myself.

I’ve felt a little smug all these years about the benefits of a small house – not much space to accumulate…or so I thought.  Ergo, it’s been a shock to really understand how much stuff has slowly piled up, & how difficult it is to let go.  Ergo, the blogging drought.

Since incrementally is usually the only way humans will willfully change, I now have a new daily ritual: select at least one (yes, it can be small) pile or file or basket or box per day & deal with it – stories & all.  Well, most days anyway.  It can be exhausting, & I’m not even moving.

And then there’s Ritual #2:  appreciate the open(ed) space.  Avoid refilling.





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We’re All Migrants

We’re all migrants from somewhere.  There are probably a few of us left in our (so far apparent) homo sapiens hometown of East Africa, but the rest of us are migrants, or children & grandchildren of migrants.  These days we love to slam that door behind us, or vilify those knocking on the door.  Or whom we’ve displaced.  Or whom we feel displaced us – long ago or yesterday.

Home is where we make it. It’s one of our fantastic human adaptations – maybe not as phenomenal as bipedalism, but highly functional nevertheless. When things got too tight with the neighbors way back when, it probably wasn’t too hard to move our campfires a few hundred feet further along the coast or up the hill… & we could still saunter back & visit grandkids in the old hood.  It’s just…well, it’s just our problematic, parallel compulsion to believe that we own where we are.  Some of us believe that there’ve been cultures that advanced beyond this belief…cultures which understood that this human primate is part of nature.  I dunno…not many of them survive to tell.

I’m a Santa Cruz immigrant from LA, drawn north by the new University (…yeah, that was a while ago).  My parents migrated west from Minnesota.  Their ancestors migrated across the Atlantic Ocean from northern Europe, & their ancestors were transplants from Africa, maybe via Asia – we may never know for sure.  The story of ancient human migrations is ever changing, thanks to new discoveries of old fossils & new ways of analyzing old data.

We’ve lived in ‘our’ Live Oak Avenue home for 26 years.  Daughter Z has moved at least nine times in the past nine years.  Worldwide, tens of millions of humans are on the move every year – voluntarily or involuntarily.

This past week we’ve been voluntarily displaced from our home.  It’s disturbing.  I cook soup to feel attached to the (very charming) upstairs apartment we’re temporarily inhabiting; I spread my things around; I put my ear to the open window trying to figure out what’s making those unfamiliar sounds.  I am across the street & two doors down from our home.  I am clearly a migration wimp.

Millions of humans don’t enjoy that luxury.  Severe economic distress, civil wars & water wars, dysfunctional governments, natural resource depletion, climate change, population growth – these & other factors will only increase human migration into the future.

It’s probably time to figure out a better way to welcome our new neighbors.  Next year they may be us.




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Burn7: The Dangerous Art of Feeding

So right now I’m writing this instead of starting supper.  I should be starting supper.  I’m (habitually at this time of day) thinking about what to make for supper.  My thinking is peopleandthe planet.comgenerally tempered by two factors: 1) what do we have in the house, & 2) what do I have the energy to put together right now.

Some days, my thinking about supper starts in the morning.  These are days when the energy quotient is high, the agenda minimal, & the grocery shopping was happily accomplished the previous afternoon.  Supper on these days might be (unnecessarily) elaborate dinners for two, usually involving pods of leisurely prep activities liberally sprinkled with time-wasting forays into the garden. Somedays, I have this time for leisure & waste.  Somedays, the result actually measures up to the effort.

My mother-in-law Jean made supper for nine humans of various ages nearly every single day for three decades.  My own mother only had to cook for six; she was lucky to have a IMG_2164break when we went out for lunch Sundays after church, & weekly in the summer when my father toyed with coals in the backyard BBQ.

Yeah, women are the ones who feed our families multiple times every day, assessing what’s available, how much time it will take to accomplish this particular ‘household chore’ (among many) in order to get food on the table at a reasonable hour, & to what degree the food we offer up might achieve a sense of satiation & satisfaction for our husbands, children, grandchildren, friends, other family members, etc etc.  OK OK – I know there are men who are the family cooks, & not just a few women who refuse to succumb to this ancient sexual division of labor, but the norm is, well, still the norm.  Worldwide, women are the household cook 7 times more often than men in Asia, & 4 times more often often than men in the ‘developed’ world.

So here we are, feeding the flocks day in & day out, with our smoking fires & our sharp (or not) knives & our rough hands & our hot pots.  Nevermind that other family animals may also be underfoot: cooking is dangerous work!  It’s inevitable that the knife will slip, the pot will spill, the fire will burn…I’ve taken my share.

It’s curious to me that women get so little appreciation for our perseverance with this fine art of feeding…&, to top it off, that men are revered as the finest cooks – ah, excuse me, chefs.  I guess curious really isn’t the right word – totally annoying is more accurate.  I read a quote somewhere in defense of this (only-one-of-many) manifestations of sexism (- hey, there’s a classic word we should bring back) that, well, “men cook, women feed.”

Yes sir, we do feed.  Watch out though – someday we may tire of it.  My long-time friend Zig recently declared that now she’s only cooking “when I feel like it” & “when I can be creative”.  This surprising announcement from a sister also afflicted with the ‘good wife’ syndrome got me seriously IMG_0904assessing my own feelings about daily feeding.  Thankfully, R is definitely showing great chef potential.  He doesn’t yet feed, but that’s OK – he’s (only) a guy.

Always Praise the Cooks!!


Posted in Burn Series, Cackling Crone, Humans Love Food!, Just an Everyday Life | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Walking The Line

There are so many lines to walk. Fine lines. Thin lines. Deadlines. Straight lines. Front lines. Borderlines. Picket lines. Fire lines. Yellow lines … whew yeah, we’re just getting started here with the line thing.

rodeo gulch, santa cruz rail lineToday it’s about walking that fine rail line at the end of Live Oak Avenue.  Traversing 32 miles of central coast towns, cool beaches & colorful fields from south to north, this 140 year old now-publicly-owned line is patiently awaiting its post-carbon destiny.

In the meantime, I walk it.

My friend Lisa & I have become experts at walking the rails. Our goal is to walk the entire line – we completed the Capitola-Santa Cruz-North Coast segment last month, twice!…back & forth from each starting place & different views in each direction.  I’ve also walked much of the line with Santa Cruz historian Sandy Lydon, which was nearly as fun as my walks with Lisa.

So here’s the trick*:  walk at your own pace as much as possible.  Sometimes you’ll step on ties worn smooth, sometimes on the rocky ballast in between, sometimes both in the same step.  If the edge between the two is too manresa state beach, santa cruz rail lineradical, there’s probably another, easier path somewhere nearby…that’s how you know others before you have overcome a similar challenge. Sometimes, most often on a bridge or trestle, you may, for a few moments, need to adjust your pace to match the ties beneath your feet.  Pay attentionellicott slough national wildlife refuge, santa cruz rail line & activate that core! (i.e., don’t let the distraction of animated discussion or the amazing vista that just came into view trip you up).

The downside of walking the line is:  you have to look down! So when you see people walking along the track who seem depressed or a little off, remember we’re really all just trying to stay upright.

There are multitudinous reasons why I love moving along this line:  it’s nearby, it’s basically flat, it takes me to places I want to go, I don’t have to be in a car with otherhistoric farmer's co-op, live oak, santa cruz rail line cars in annoying traffic, it’s scenic, it’s our history, & it’s our future.  & oh yeah, I put a lot of effort into making sure it came ‘back’ into public hands to be available for that future.

Sometimes, the line feels abandoned & invisible.  Somedays we’re dodging ticks while wading through weeds grown up between the ties; some parts of the tracks are flooded due to illicit drainage from adjacent properties.  Somedays the trash & detritus feels oppressive; somedays we find a rusting treasure in the weeds.  Most days, though, we just walk at our own pace, trying to paynorth coast, santa cruz rail line attention, appreciating the light, enjoying the birdsong, reviewing local debates, envisioning possible futures.  I know some of those futures might preclude the need for these rail-walking strategies, but hey, if & when, I’ll manage!

& of course, I’ve gotta end this one with that all-time favorite by those memorable Traveling Wilburys.

lisa at the end of the santa cruz rail line






*  Although it goes without saying, I hope, please don’t try this if there are actually trains or streetcars on your rail line.


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Carrying Water With Neandertals

A Short Paleo Fantasy

Setting: Along a creek somewhere in, say, what we now call Tuscany
Situation: The Middle Paleolithic Era, about 45K years ago
Starring: Neanda & Sapia, two middle-aged (slightly different) hominin* women 

[Scene opens as Neanda & Sapia are filling water skins to carry back to their respective caves.]

S:  OMG Neanda, it was a stressful evening in the cave last night.  The boys were squabbling about who’s stronger & smarter – our fire-mates or yours.  The only reason they didn’t end up with broken bones is that your daughter’s-daughters started making fun of them going on about such silliness.

N:  Yeah, I know what you mean.  Hey – looks like that grass over there is nearing its seeding time, maybe by the Egg Moon?  Y’know, last night when the fire was low, Sapio whispered to me that he’s worried about the coming dry season – the days are still short but the creek below our cave is drying up already.  That means longer water-carrying walks for us, & y’know Sapia, this water sure feels heavier than it used to!

Women in rural Kenya spend an average of three hours per day carrying water to their homes from distant sources. ( I couldn’t find a flattering picture of my two starlets, so please note that in spite of this one above, people of 100% African heritage are the only humans who DON’T have Neandertal genes.)

S:  Oh come on girl – you’re as strong as you ever were!  So what if we’ve got a few creases on these worn faces & our tired-out milk-jugs are a little droopy – we can still dig roots & gather snails & sticks more quickly than those sleepy daughters of ours.  Poor things, day & night, day & night – all they can do is feed the babies & throw sticks on the fire & try to keep the older babies from wandering too…Aack – watch out!  A snake!

N:  Nah, don’t worry, it’s only a small grey one – not even worth trying to catch for a snack.  Those big fat green ones though, roasted in the coals?  When I’m hungry, those can even taste better than the meat our hunters sometimes bring home, doncha think?  Of course, sometimes I wonder what they’re really doing out there while we get all the water & dig all the roots & smash the seeds & comfort our daughters in their pains & feed our milk to the older babies….

S:  Ha!  I’d rather gnaw on dried roots & berries though than eat a snake…personal preference & all that.  But [sigh], I really do love it when we have enough mammoth meat for us all to share, especially those tender belly slices – although of course our daughters need that more than we do.  I have to say though – I don’t miss the hunt…even with our complaining I’m happier carrying water!

N:  Hey, look at the birch saplings over there – maybe at the Hunter’s Moon they’ll be ready to offer us some sweet young bark to help repair our spears during the cold season.

[The two women walk in silence for a while.]

N:  But y’know, another thing that’s worrying Sapio & me is that our son’s mate has no children.

S:  Yeah, you know that ours doesn’t either, at least not yet.  Even Neando’s noticed that it makes our son & his mate very sad, although they’re still some of our tribe’s best hunters, & like I said, you can’t have enough roasted meat!  We’re lucky though that our daughters’ve had some healthy babies, even though too many of all our children are buried in the dark passages far from the fire…[sigh, long pause].  Hey look!  A bird’s nest with eggs!

N:  Uh oh, mama bird, wherever you are – so sorry but we’re going to have to steal your lovely blue eggs.  The older babies will love cooked egg-meat!  Y’know Sapia, it makes my heart lighter to walk & talk together like this – my stooped old grandma, who lived through many cold seasons, told stories of the Old People & the New People & how at first they were scared of each other & couldn’t understand what each other was saying…some people just ran away from the fire & never returned.

S:  Hmm, we have some stories like that too, but it’s odd, our stories call us the Smart Ones & you others the Dumb Ones.  Which was the reason for that silly fight last night & so ridiculous too, because I don’t know how we’d ever have yummy mammoth meat or warm clothes or strong hearths for our fires without the tricks we learned from you & your fire-mates.  & I just love these shell necklaces that you & I traded with each other!

N:  The one you gave me is my most favorite possession, thank you, Sapia.  It seems we’re all in this together now, & that’s a good thing when times are hard – which seems to be most of the time!  Whew – we’re nearly home…I’ll be sooo relieved to put down this sack of water.  See you in the morning – Sleep Safe & Warm.

S:  You too, Neanda.  Sleep Safe & Warm.


*  The hominins in this story (if you hadn’t guessed) are homo neanderthalensis & homo sapiens.  Recent source material can be found here & here; see also this earlier blogpost, Neandertals Are Us.  They are.  New research is showing that collectively among human populations outside of Africa, 20% of the Neandertal genome shows up in our own genes, at various genome locations in various people, for an average range of 1.5-4% Neandertal genes overall in any non-100%-African-heritage human being.

Although there can be numerous explanations for this (still to be revealed by scientific inquiry – I can hardly wait!), imho, it doesn’t seem possible that these high percentages are the result of just an occasional illicit liaison during the exciting times of the Middle Paleolithic (about 200K – 40K years ago).  Ergo, this little fantasy.

via nat geo




Posted in Cackling Crone, Humans Love Food!, Just an Everyday Life, Our Primate Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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 please, let’s step together here for a few.

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:  Eat less meat, & always, cherish those cool zephyrs.

Posted in A Warming Planet, Cackling Crone, Just an Everyday Life, Our Primate Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Burn6: 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 Warming 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 an 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 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 UCSC after a year in Munich. My friend, housemate, & Cordon Bleu graduate Karan, who unlike me could actually cook, had similarly returned a few weeks earlier, gotten a job at the newly envisioned ‘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 have, in a careless moment, sent the whole volume outta this world. 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 is going to get on, do you?  We were all so young & idealistic, & sorta unbelievably, that vision of the home planet floating in the void has carried us through satisfying & sometimes intense lives of family, community activism & public service.  It wasn’t all sunshine for Sharon & not for our family either.  & although too many relentlessly bright days in wintertime 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 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 Sierras 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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