The Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina is on fire. An acreage the size of Williamsburg is burning, and is likely to continue to burn for weeks or months. The smoke is so voluminous that it can be seen in satellite photos from space. And this morning, in the early hours, the winds brought that smoke to our town.
In the night, we awoke to the smell of it: campfire and peat, filling the house. At dawn, we saw it at last, blanketing the lake, encircling the trees and houses, and screening the sun, which shone red from behind. Shepherding breezes have prodded much of the smoke onward over the course of the morning, though some haziness and much of its scent still lingers.
We wonder what tonight’s full moon will be like.
The August moon is often known as the Dog Days Moon. The name has origins with the Greeks and Romans, who termed the summer days when the dog star, Sirius, and the sun rose simultaneously in the sky as the Dog Days of Summer, since the event typically occurred between July and September and coincided with the hottest part of the season. It’s interesting to note that this simultaneous rising of Sirius and the sun no longer comes at summer’s peak due to shifts in the Earth’s axis of rotation – and, hence, the dates of the equinoxes – that have occurred since Roman times.
Enjoy the full moon, and remember to kick back to breathe easy on this Code Red day, southeastern Virginia friends!
A couple weeks ago, walking past an oak tree by our driveway, I smelled vinegar, strongly.
“Huh. Weird,” I thought as I walked into the house. ”Is something fermenting?”
That afternoon, Matt and I noticed a fleet of yellowjacket wasps hovering, landing, and crawling across two lightened spots on one of the tree’s roots. ”Are they nesting?” we mused, but didn’t get close enough to inspect.
A couple days later, we did look closer, and saw not only yellowjackets but also carpenter ants and other wasps visiting the spots, sometimes tussling with each other. ”Could yellowjackets be raiding an ant nest, or vice versa?” we wondered.
We looked even closer and realized that the light patches on the tree root were oozing a white liquid, which was apparently the insect attractant. ”I’ll bet you that white stuff is the source of the vinegar smell,” I thought.
So I consulted Google and got an answer right away: my bet was right!
Turns out, our tree has a case of a plant disease called, sexily, slime flux. It is caused by a bacterial infection often associated with heat stress. (And what U.S. plant — or person – hasn’t been experiencing heat stress recently, really?) The infection usually begins in a natural crack or in a damaged area of the tree.
There are two types of slime flux — alcoholic and acidic — and the acidic type results in a vinegar odor as the bacteria ferment the tree’s sap.
Some sources say there’s nothing to be done to help the tree; others say to wash the wound with diluted bleach. Maybe my horticulturist father can offer advice (hint, hint)?
[Update: Originally, we identified the tree as a sweet gum. There are sweet gum branches hanging down all around at eye level. There are sweet gum seedlings sprouting up at its base. But if from the start we'd taken two seconds to follow the trunk upward to double- check its own true leaves, we would have seen that it was instead an oak, and that all that sweet gum evidence was from the real sweet gum tree growing right beside it. Whoops. Apparently, our natural history observation skills have become a bit rusty since Bennett was born! *blushing*]
March’s full moon is commonly known as the Windy Moon, although this year, the March full moon is perhaps becoming better known as the Supermoon.
Tonight’s moon will be the largest in 18 years, thanks to the coincidence of a full moon occurring at the lunar perigee, the point in the moon’s orbit where the moon comes closest to Earth. (NASA explains it all here.) To human eyes, the Supermoon will appear 14% larger and 30% brighter than other full moons.
Supermoons only come a few times in a lifetime, so head on out tonight at moonrise and take in the gorgeous sight! I’m on my way outside now…
Last Sunday, we went for a walk with our families along our favorite trail. The day was sunny and warm, and in the wetland, the turtles were out basking, soaking up the sun’s rays before a long winter underground.
Turtles cannot make their own body heat, so they sunbathe to raise their body temperature. The warmth allows them to better digest their food, rid themselves of parasites, and (for females) develop their eggs. And, it turns out, like us, turtles need ample sunshine to manufacture Vitamin D for healthy bones!
The large turtle in the middle, who held out its hind leg in a reptilian arabesque, was particularly charming.
Happy Autumnal Equinox, everyone! I do love these natural holidays, courtesy of the tilt of the Earth and its annual journey around the sun. We get four such holidays per year: two solstices, two equinoxes. How lucky we are!
Today, daylight and darkness are in perfect balance. Tomorrow, nighttime edges past day, growing steadily longer until we reach the winter solstice on December 21 — the longest night of the year, and my favorite natural holiday, as it marks the slow but welcome return of the sun!
Traditionally, the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox is called the Harvest Moon. This year, the two events fall on the very same date! For Native Americans and colonial farmers, the Harvest Moon was an ideal time to gather corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice from the fields. Under the light of the moon, the peak harvest could continue late into the night.
Though I love the moon, the sun has my heart. From babyhood, in fact — my first word beyond “mama” and “dada” was light!
In honor of the autumnal equinox, and in halting farewell to the sun, excerpts from this, a favorite poem:
One More Hymn to the Sun
You know that like an ideal mother
she will never leave you,
though after a week of rain
you begin to worry
but you accept her brief absences,
her occasional closed doors
as the prerogative
of an eccentric lover . . .
You like the fact that her moods are an orderly version of yours,
arranged, like the needs of animals,
by seasons: her spring quirks,
her sexual summers,
her steadfast warmth in the fall;
you remember her face on Christmas Day,
blurred, and suffused with the weak smile
of a woman who has just given birth
The way she loves you, your whole body,
and still leaves enough space between you
to keep you from turning to cinders
before your time! . . .
She never gave up on you
though it took you billions of years
to learn the alphabet
and the shadow you cast on the ground
changed its shape again and again
- Lisel Mueller, The Missouri Review, 2.1, Fall 1978
For anyone interested in learning about healthy childbirth, Lamaze International’s Six Healthy Birth Practices are a fantastic resource. If you are pregnant, finding a maternity care provider who supports the practices (not all do!) is a great step forward on the path toward a healthy, satisfying birth.
Two outstanding birth blogs — Science and Sensibility and Giving Birth With Confidence, both affiliated with Lamaze — recently hosted a series of wonderful blog carnivals, one for each of the Six Healthy Birth Practices.
(For those not familiar, a blog carnival is the blogosphere equivalent of a special issue of a magazine: the carnival host solicits entries on a particular subject; bloggers in the field submit their best and most relevant blog posts for consideration; and the carnival host collects, edits, annotates, and publishes links to the posts, creating an excellent round-up of the most cutting-edge information on the subject at hand.)
The blog posts selected for the Six Healthy Birth Practices blog carnivals are thought-provoking, fascinating, and well-informed. Reading them can be addictive — and will introduce you to many of the best pregnancy, birth, and mothering blogs out there!
Here, I’ve collected links to Lamaze International’s articles and videos on the Six Healthy Birth Practices (the Lamaze website itself can be somewhat of a maze to navigate), as well as links to all six of the blog carnivals, all in one place!
Explore, watch, read, and revisit at your leisure. I hope you find this collection of links helpful!
Six Healthy Birth Practices: Introduction
Healthy Birth Practice 1:
Let Labor Begin On Its Own
Healthy Birth Practice 2:
Walk, Move Around, And Change Positions Throughout Labor
Healthy Birth Practice 3:
Bring A Friend, Loved One, or Doula For Continuous Support
One great way to find a doula near you is doulamatch.net, a site that allows you to search for a doula by your due date and location, and that provides informative doula profiles and client testimonials, too! You can also search for doulas at DONA International, the non-profit organization that is the gold standard in doula training.
Healthy Birth Practice 4:
Avoid Interventions That Are Not Medically Necessary
Healthy Birth Practice 5:
Avoid Giving Birth On Your Back And Follow Your Body’s Urges To Push
Healthy Birth Practice 6:
Keep Mother And Baby Together – It’s Best For Mother, Baby, and Breastfeeding
When a new season of Mad Men — the AMC drama set in a Manhattan advertising agency in the early 1960s — is released, we Netflix it. Because, well, really, who can resist the allure of Don Draper or the curves of Joan Holloway?
The many secretaries on the show are continually lifting old-school telephone receivers to their shapely ears as they transcribe shorthand at their typewriters. Seeing that lifting action repeated again and again made me realize how much, in this cell phone age, I have missed a real telephone: a full-size receiver with good sound quality and a nice heft. The kind you can prop between your ear and your shoulder and still be clearly heard. (Since 2005, Matt and I have had no landline — only cell phones.)
“I want a retro handset,” I said to Matt as Mad Men played in the background.
“Well, they do make them for cell phones,” Matt said.
“Really.” And he sent me to this site.
The folks at Novophone — and soon, I imagine, other companies — do indeed make the very object of my desire, but for $27.95 — a price steep enough that I hemmed and hawed for several weeks over the decision to drop so much cash on what is essentially a mound of molded plastic with a cord.
But then I happened across the third act of this episode of This American Life (which begins at minute 45:55): an interview with journalist Christopher Ketcham, who wrote this article for GQ on the biological effects of cell phone radiation. (As a sidenote, there is also this recent article on the subject in Harper’s Magazine.)
On the surface, the results of research into the matter seem to be a toss-up, with half of the studies showing negative health effects (i.e., increased brain cancer risk), and half not. But when the research is divided by who funded it (the cell phone industry, or independent funding agencies), an interesting pattern emerges: while only 25% of studies funded by the industry show biological effects, 75% of the independently-funded studies do. The risks appear to be greatest for individuals who begin using cell phones under the age of 20, as their brains are still developing and their skulls are thinner than adult skulls, and therefore do not provide as much of a radiation barrier. But young’uns aren’t the only ones at risk.
There was the nudge I needed to get my cell away from my ear. I ordered my Novophone that very afternoon. The handset comes in two colors (red or black) and two styles (with or without a button on the handset that allows you to answer the phone without touching your cell).
I opted for black and buttonless, since various reviewers at Amazon.com (where I ordered the phone with free shipping) commented that it was easy to accidentally hit the button and hang up in the middle of a call. (If you’re interested, check here to see if your cell is compatible with the Novophone, or if you’d need an adapter.)
I have to say: I LOVE this phone handset. The feel of it in my hand, and the quality of the sound, are exactly what I had hoped for. And it has the added bonus of cutting down my daily EMF exposure! I’d had a hands-free headset for my cell, but never liked it much — and the people on the other end of the line had complained that I sounded like I was talking from a tunnel. Not so with the Novophone!
As I talk on it, I invariably think of the Mad Men secretaries, and of the inventions that each generation creates and brings into widespread use, insisting on their innocuousness until faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary (the type of evidence that takes decades to build and great effort to bring to light). The Mad Men era had asbestos, leaded gasoline and paint, and widespread cigarette use. My best guesses for our era’s follies? To name a few: widespread use of pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors like flame retardants (which we’ve applied to just about every upholstered, electronic, and synthetic-furniture item in the U.S.), and phthalates and parabens (which we’ve managed to mix into just about every personal care product Americans use).
And, of course, cell phones. Only time will tell.
Aaaaaaaannnnd, we’re back! (And, boy, am I glad about it!)
In a few days, look forward to a special announcement and the full details behind the blog’s late-spring hiatus.
Until then, I hope you enjoy the resumption of regularly scheduled programming!
This animation of a mini-lecture (10 minutes) by Professor Philip Zimbardo is worth your while to watch! It’s an exploration of how a person’s perception of time (each of us falls into one of six personal “time zones”) affects his or her lifestyle, health, pace of life, and behavior in the world.
It’s interesting and thought-provoking. The accompanying white-board visuals are fun to boot! Quite honestly, this little video gave me helpful new perspective on people who had previously confounded me. Now I can rest a little easier knowing that we simply inhabit different personal time zones.
Maybe it’s time for me to track down a copy of Robert Levine’s The Geography of Time at the library…
New York Peak (7,533 ft), New York Mountains, San Bernardino Co., California, USA.
23 April 2006.
New York Peak: the first summit I ever reached without a trail.
The East Mojave view that spreads out below it is breathtaking. California to the west, Nevada to the east. Sun and sky. Bajadas and mountains. Dunes and dry lakebeds. Creosote and cactus.
Nearly unspoiled, except for the black snake of I-15 and the gaudy spectacle that is Stateline Primm.
Nearly unspoiled, that is, until later this year, when one of the largest solar installations in the world is erected near Ivanpah Dry Lake.
I am in complete support of solar development in wise places: already-degraded lands near the communities that will use the power.
But I am NOT in support of solar development on remote, vital BLM land — habitat of an endangered species, the desert tortoise — chosen for its relative lack of red tape rather than for the long-term sensibility and sustainability of its location.
Deserts are old places. But that does not make them dead places. Deserts are not wastelands. In the desert, the ground is alive. Life — plants, animals, insects — is everywhere, if you only look for it. Deserts persist on a time scale different from the rest of the world. They grow slowly. They recover slowly, if given a chance.
But from this development, that land will not recover.
The next time I climb that peak, oh, how different the view will be.
It breaks my heart.
America, let’s remember: these lands are our lands.
Why are we letting corporations plunder them for profit, when viable alternatives lie elsewhere?