Hurricane Hiatus

Hello, everyone!  Walking in Season will be a little late this month…  Our city — and especially our neighborhood — were hit pretty hard by Hurricane Irene.  Thankfully, we three weathered the storm safe and sound.

However, a giant oak tree crashed onto our roof during Irene, and our neighborhood is still without power — downed trees and downed powerlines are everywhere!

So, life is in a bit of a tizzy for now.  When the power is back on (the prediction is that it will return by early next week) and things have settled, we’ll make our monthly trek around the Greensprings loop and bring you photos of the post-Hurricane trail.

Until then, have a wonderful Labor Day weekend!  And, to those of you who still working through Irene’s aftermath, stay safe and hang in there — our hearts are with you!


For a Coming Extinction

Zen Buddhist W.S. Merwin is our nation’s new poet laureate!  I could not be happier!

The BP oil spill in the Gulf continues.  I could not be sadder.

After watching this video of over 100 dolphins and a sperm whale struggling in the oil (footage begins around minute 6:10),

I felt that this poem of Merwin’s was the right one to share today.

For a Coming Extinction

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

I write as though you could understand
And I could say it
One must always pretend something
Among the dying
When you have left the seas nodding on their stalks
Empty of you
Tell him that we were made
On another day

The bewilderment will diminish like an echo
Winding along your inner mountains
Unheard by us
And find its way out
Leaving behind it the future
Dead
And ours

When you will not see again
The whale calves trying the light
Consider what you will find in the black garden
And its court
The sea cows the Great Auks the gorillas
The irreplaceable hosts ranged countless
And foreordaining as stars
Our sacrifices

Join your word to theirs
Tell him
That it is we who are important

- W.S. Merwin, from The Lice (1967)


Summertime Changes

Howdy, folks!  For the next month and a half, posts here at A Life in Season may be a bit shorter and less frequent than usual — for me, these upcoming weeks will be a busy time, happily filled with many out-of-town visitors to be entertained, and big (non-blog-related) projects to be tackled.

For this short while, on the blog I’ll be featuring mostly favorite book excerpts, quotes, and links to good content elsewhere on the ‘net, until the time arrives where I can generate more original content again!

But you have my word: by the Summer Solstice, the blog will be back, with a few exciting new changes!

In the meantime, enjoy the extra breathing space that summertime offers.  Remember to slow down, unplug, relax, and make time for family and friends, old and new.  There is no better season!

A thought to that end:

One of the greatest titles we can have is “old friend”.  We never appreciate how important old friends are until we are older.  The problem is we need to start our old friendships when we are young.  We then have to nurture and grow those friendships over our middle age when a busy life and changing geographies can cause us to neglect those friends.  Today is the day to invest in those people we hope will call us “old friend” in the years to come.

- Grant Fairley


Updates at A Life in Season

This week, A Life in Season has undergone a few exciting changes!

First, it’s official: A Life in Season’s address is now http://alifeinseason.com.  Update your bookmarks and blog readers if you feel so inclined!

Second — and especially for those new to the blog (welcome, welcome!), and for those who subscribe via a blog reader and have not visited the homepage for awhile — two (hopefully helpful) new pages have been created.  You’ll see them in the header at the top of the site:

1.  A Popular Posts page featuring links to the blog’s most popular posts, listed in reverse chronological order and by category (Stories + Essays, Nature + Walking in Season, Health + Wellbeing, Poetry + Poets, etc.).  If you’d like, take a moment to click around and explore.

2.  A Photos page with links to the blog’s photo albums on Flickr.

If you have other requests or suggestions for the structure, organization, or content of the blog, please do speak up here in the comments.  It’s always great to hear from you!


Honeybee Deaths, Pesticides, and Why Choosing Organic is Important

Honeybees are essential to modern agriculture.  Pollination by honeybees is a required step in the production of one of every three bites of food we take!  When honeybees began dying in droves several winters ago (a phenomenon termed Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD), a flurry of research into the reasons for their decline began.  The fruits of those research efforts are now beginning to appear.  And folks, the news ain’t good.

A number of factors behind CCD have been identified, including infection of honeybees by viruses and pathogens, as well as immune-system stress and malnutrition due to modern migratory beekeeping practices.

One additional standout factor, pesticide exposure, was also widely suspected, and a recent study by university and government researchers provides new support for that hypothesis.

In their paper, the researchers present the results of a broad survey of agricultural chemical levels (miticides, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) from all parts of bee hives (honey, pollen, honeycomb, foundation wax, and the bees themselves) in both healthy and CCD-affected bee colonies across 23 states and one Canadian provence.

The researchers found unprecedented levels (and diverse combinations) of these chemicals, particularly in pollen (the food of both baby and adult bees) and beeswax (the bees’ housing material).  The researchers conclude:

The widespread occurrence of multiple residues, some at toxic levels [for bees] for single compounds, and the lack of any scientific literature on the biological consequences of combinations of pesticides, argues strongly for urgent changes in regulatory policies regarding pesticide registration and monitoring procedures as they relate to pollinator safety.  This further calls for emergency funding to address the myriad holes in our scientific understanding of pesticide consequences for pollinators.  The relegation of bee toxicity for registered compounds to impact only label warnings, and the underestimation of systemic pesticide hazards to bees in the registration process may well have contributed to widespread pesticide contamination of pollen, the primary food source of our major pollinator.  Is risking the $14 billion contribution of pollinators to our food system really worth lack of action?

In short: our current agricultural practices are likely poisoning our bees, and if we don’t change our approach, we will lose both bees (honeybees AND wild bees) and their pollination services.  Already, each winter since 2006, we have lost 1/3 of our country’s standing population of honeybees, with no end in sight without widespread changes to our chemical use.

Overhauling our country’s agricultural practices to be bee-friendly is an enormous task.  But supporting our nation’s bees by buying organically-grown produce is a simple, immediate, and effective action that we as individuals can take!  Research shows that bees — both honeybees and wild bees — who pollinate at organic farms thrive!

Buying organic can be expensive, it is true.  Maybe you can’t afford to buy all organic all the time.  That’s okay — remember, some organic is better than no organic!

I am still searching for a list of the most chemical-intensive bee-pollinated crops (if you know of such a list, please let me know!), but in the meantime, I’m prioritizing my organic shopping using this handy pocket guide to The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen — the fruits and vegetables that possess the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residues, respectively.  These lists will help you identify which foods are best to buy organic (The Dirty Dozen) and which can be bought conventional if needed (The Clean Fifteen).

We keep a copy in the notebook in which we make our weekly grocery lists.  It is surely a help!  Here’s the rundown of The Dirty Dozen, some of which are bee-pollinated, and some of which are not:

1.  Peaches
2.  Apples
3.  Bell Peppers
4.  Celery
5.  Nectarines
6.  Strawberries
7.  Cherries
8.  Kale
9.  Lettuce
10.  Grapes (imported)
11.  Carrots
12.  Pears

Put organic versions of these fruits and veggies into your shopping cart whenever you can, and know that you are being good to yourself, to the environment, and to bees!

Additionally, if you farm on any scale and are interested in adopting bee-friendly practices, check out these general agricultural guidelines and these organic farm guidelines from The Xerces Society, a truly wonderful nonprofit invertebrate conservation organization.


Toppling Trees

Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky,
We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness.

- Khalil Gibran (January 6, 1883 – April 10, 1931)

A scheduling conflict has me working from home and not the library today.

This gray morning, workmen with big machines and chainsaws arrived to clear the lot next door, evicting the trees to make space for new human tenants.

With powerful thuds, toppled trunks have struck the ground again and again, shaking the house and everything in it.

Including me.


Big Snowflakes

I’m hunkered down at home today, working on a proposal for a small grant.  But this morning I slipped outside for a few minutes to watch the huge snowflakes fall.  They disappeared from the sky within an hour, and we don’t expect much more snow here today — unlike our friends further north!

Stay warm out there, everyone!

[11 AM update:  The College has canceled classes for the day, so Matt will be joining me soon in work at home.  Hooray!]


Amy Dickinson at the Library

Emily Mason, a junior at William and Mary, and her mother, advice columnist Amy Dickinson

I am an unabashed Amy Dickinson fan.  I first came across Dickinson via her advice-columnist appearances on Talk of The Nation and her weekend stints as a panelist on my favorite Saturday morning radio show.  I love her kind manner.  I love her honest humor.  I love her fantastic warm-staccato-giggle-laugh.

She gave a reading from her recent memoir yesterday afternoon at my new on-campus home.  A sizeable crowd turned out despite the weather.  We were greeted with huge trays of cookies (yummmm), hot tea in oversized white cups and saucers (oooooooh), and a sweet and lovely rendition of the story of the journey Dickinson and her daughter, Emily Mason (now a junior at the William and Mary), took to deliver Mason to Williamsburg her freshman year of college (awwwwww).

In 2003, Dickinson took over Ann Landers’ newspaper column after Landers’ death.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read Dickinson’s column (alas, I’m a New-York-Times-online gal), but she has surely charmed me over the radio!

The Q&A after the reading was heavily skewed to questions about the column.  I considered outing myself as the lone NPR geek in the crowd by asking my burning question: How much of the wonderful and seemingly-spontaneous comedy in “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” is scripted beforehand? But I decided I didn’t really want to know the answer, suspecting that I’d regret my newfound knowledge every time I listened to the show, and so I stayed mute.

One elderly woman asked Dickinson how she handled the pressure of stepping into Ann Landers’ formidable shoes.  Dickinson responded that with every career she’s ever had, when the pressure has felt overwhelming, she has told herself  — honestly and sincerely — that she only had to stay on the job through the next Friday, and then she could quit if she wanted to.  Friday after Friday has come and gone, and as each has passed, she has chosen to stay.

I decided to adopt that policy for myself.  It just may be the only thing that pulls me through to the end of this dissertation!  And when I head back to upstate New York to defend, I’ll find myself a short 20 minutes from Freeville, Dickinson’s hometown, the place in which her memoir is set, the place she returned to collect herself after life had given her a pummeling.  The place she started anew!


Full Moon at Perigee

Tonight, bundle up, step outside, and fix your gaze on that big January Wolf Moon.

This evening, the full moon will be at perigee — the point in the moon’s asymmetrical orbit at which it comes closest to Earth.  As a result, tonight’s moon will appear 14% wider and 30% brighter than any other full moon this year!

Because of a trick of human visual perception, the moon appears largest to us — both in person and in photographs — when it’s close to the horizon.  So if you hope to snap a photo, hightail yourself and your camera outdoors near sunset as the moon rises (5:02 PM at my GPS coordinates), and click away.

Clouds and snow may block our lunar view here in Virginia over the next few days.  So those of you with clear skies tonight, count yourselves lucky, indeed, and send along a photo or two!


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