Happy Earth Day, 2021! May Hope persist like Dandelions

An artistic attempt with dandelions

Eleven years ago, I did one of the least earth-friendly things in the world. I had a baby. We debated it for a few years. Should we have a baby? Why would we bring a child into this kind of world? I’d already been studying climate change for nearly 15 years and an aficionado of disaster movies. So why then?

We thought about how much we love to learn. How much we love to explore and solve problems and how there were so many cool things we would never get to discover again for “the first time.” A first snow, the first Christmas, the first family pet, the first day of school and so on. A child gets these “firsts” but we could experience them again vicariously through them. We could be first-time parents too. I wasn’t even sure I could have children. It’s putting it mildly to say that me and my body have been through a lot over the years. I’m a survivor of many things and there are some things I wouldn’t want any child or person to experience and yet, I persist.

I see horror in the world, but I see beauty in it too. After a year, it seemed like parenthood was not going to be in our future. We remember it differently, but this is how I remember it: We went on a trip to Yellowstone. It was a great trip. I’ll never drive 14 hours straight anywhere again though! That part was not so great. I was so tired I was ready to curl up on the side of the road and go to sleep. Maybe keep some rattlesnakes warm for the night with my body heat. Somehow, between the two of us and our dog, we did make it to our rented cabin.

I started to get nausea a lot near the end of the trip. It must have been the sulfur from the mud pots and sulfur springs, I thought, but the nausea continued even after we got home and then I took a pregnancy test and sure enough, it had a “+ sign” and that’s the first thing my husband saw when he woke up one morning.

It was a high-risk pregnancy, there were lots of little scares. Having to suddenly leave work to go to the Doctor’s office to get this or that checked out. My Supervisor was amazingly supportive and is now a lifelong friend. I was induced late on April 20th. I went the first 14 hours without any pain medication until eventually it was, “Give me every drug you got!” In total 27 hours of labor. They need to get the baby to move. Nurses kept coming in each bigger than the last one making human origami out of me. I felt like they could have made one heck of a hockey team! Then our heartrates started dropping, we were both so exhausted. I have a rare condition where anesthesia takes a while kick in and then burns off quickly. It’s as terrible as its sounds. I’ve had anesthesia wear off in the middle of surgery before! When our last resort was an emergency C-section I grabbed the anesthesiologist by the lapels and made myself very clear that he was to give me the highest level dose possible. He did and joked that he’d given me enough to drop a full-size horse. One of the nurses chuckled that I’d be out for a very long time then, but after the doctor put the last stitch in me and showed me my baby, she nearly dropped the tray she was holding when she turned around and I was clear-eyed and asked, “What next?”

Our child is our hope for the future. Every generation needs its leaders, and we hope that he and his peers will continue the work that we have started. Having a child is a leap of faith that things can be better. We hope that humanity will get it’s shit together and figure out how to survive thrive in the coming years. We want future generations to resolve issue previous generations have both created and failed to solve by learning to work with nature and not by trying to dominate it. We tried that already, to some great successes that have actually become our own undoing as a species.

Picking Dandelions

Yesterday, I had the brilliant idea to try making dandelion wine. I went out and bought a few supplies. My son helped me pull a lot of dandelion heads. We had fun! I thought maybe we were actually getting too many. I started dreaming big, then.  I’m going to make wine, and tea and dandelion dye and it’ll be awesome! Maybe I can make a cottage industry out of this!

Four hours later, I’m exhausted from pulling the calyx (green parts/leaves) because its only now that I’ve realized the wine recipe wants just the leaves. In all that time, I was able to muster a quart worth of just the little leaves and the recipe calls for two quarts. Yeah, well at this point I’m just going to half the recipe. What will this yield me? One bottle of wine! I also won’t know if I’ve done everything right until it has fermented for two years!

I watched a couple of videos, checked a few other recipes but they all say/show, just the flower petals. So yeah, if you were thinking about making dandelion wine, consider setting yourself up where you can watch a couple of movies or something while you work! Maybe you’ll be faster than me, but you should still be forewarned that it’s still going to be a lot of work and patience if you want to try it.

Dandelion Leaves

Like most people, I wish dandelions weren’t quite so prolific at taking over my driveway, but they do. I’m still not going to come at it with poison though. I might not have been able to make them as valuable as I had hoped for myself, but they still provide value to the rest of the landscape and I can live with that. That’s part of what it means to me to be “nature-led”; recognizing that something has value even if it doesn’t have a lot of value to you specifically.

You see a lot of negative news everyday about climate change, politics, the pandemic, mass shootings, etcetera. I know, I get it too. Which is why I want you to know that every time I make a post, I make a conscious effort to offer a shard of light in the darkness. Hope takes shape in many forms and comes to us in unexpected ways. Hope like nature, belongs to us all. The worst we can do is give up. I’d argue that we owe it to future generations to keep trying to do better. Some things can’t be solved in one generation. Do what you can in a way that works for you. I know it’s rather blunt, but someone in high school told me, “Don’t bother complaining if you’re not going to offer any solutions.” I took that to heart. It’s true that whining isn’t going to help. I do what I can to try and offer solutions and maybe I don’t have the right solution myself, but maybe it inspires someone else to get it right. Shouldn’t we all be on team Planet Earth?

An Army of Little Poopers

The clues started to emerge that they were coming, nay, that they were already here! Grabbing a pan from the drawer below the oven I spied small bits of play dough at the bottom. Strange that it would be there. No reason for it. I make it for my son and it goes from pot, to kneading on a cutting board, to official play dough container where it gets played with on the dining table. Most kids have outgrown play dough well before his age, but we could give it a new name to make it cool again, we would call it “brain dough” instead. Artists come by inspiration in many ways, and I would say even people who consider themselves “non-artist” have a form of art within them either unspecified or unnurtured.

For my son, the tactile feel of the malleable blob helps him open his mind to shape stories. The secondary evolution of these characters in his head have recently started to come out more through drawing. Maybe it all will stay as lifelong hobby, leads to an eventual career, or get put aside for other things. It doesn’t matter he’s only ten. This still doesn’t explain the play dough in the oven drawer though, but it was late, and I decided to deal with it tomorrow. Then yesterday morning my spouse remarks that the dog must have snuck down in the middle of the night and finished her last little bits of kibble. No, I knew then it was a mini intruder or intruders. A little play dough hoard, little missing bits of dog kibble, sounds like mice to me!

Sure enough I took all the pans out of the drawer find lots of hard play dough bits and mouse poo. I track the lines of poo along the edges of the wall. I can see where it’s been. It’s like they drop a turd for every step they take. How terribly inefficient. There was no smoking pile though, no obvious enter/exit point. I thought for sure it would be some small hole behind the refrigerator, that would be classic, but alas, I can find no entry point to block so I’m likely going to have to call for help. My regular guy recently retired. Despite being an exterminator, he was a nice guy, and like me doesn’t believe death needs to be unnecessarily cruel or painful. Some of the exterminators around here are shadier than any rat could ever be. They can fleece you out of thousands of dollars in their abatement schemes.

I just want the mouse or mice to not be in here, pooping along my baseboards. They should be out in the field, that’s why we call them “field mice” not “house mouses.” (Don’t get me started on that shady Micky Mouse either!) Another nature friend of mine, a former coworker, woke up one morning and felt a small fuzzy body curled up next hers once, it was a mouse! She did not freak out. She took it outside and let it go. That mouse was lucky! It knew it was curling up next to nice a human. We don’t really want to kill this mouse either. If I could catch it and put it outside to go live in the woodpile, we would do that.

When I was in India in 2004 I took an eight hour train ride from Bengaluru (aka Bangalore) to Raichur with my undergraduate group. We were there to study social and environmental issues in India as part of a study abroad program. I was the oldest student by about 5-7 years. Just before the doors closed in Bengaluru a mouse came on the train. Someone before us have eaten shelled peanuts and left them on the floor. Some of my fellow group members got all into a panic. The seats on the train were benches stacked two tall. So all the scared-y cats piled up on the top two benches and I got the peanut seat all to myself, until Kedar, one of guides/translators for the trip was happy to join me and equally chill about the presence of the mouse. I pushed the peanut shells deep under the seat where the mouse could pick through them without harassment.

Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

Kedar and I spent the whole train ride talking. We talked about his upcoming arranged marriage and drafted schematics for bioreactors. A machine that can speed up the rate of decomposition for solid human waste into organic compounds for fertilizer. The tricky part isn’t technical or mechanical issues but getting the “material” from the producers; everyone in society, to the consumers; farmers that can use it to help their crops grow better. In manufacturing this is called a “closed loop system” or “cradle to grave” product because it is continuously redistributed. This is how we need to revolutionize manufacturing throughout the world if we want to survive as a species. This is why “single-use plastic” is a loaded term. When someone is using this term, they are telling you; “This item does not break down. It can stay with us for a millennia.” There are billions of single use plastics polluting the earth. You can do your best to reuse it as many times as possible, you can recycle it to be made into a new bag perhaps, but eventually its going to end up in the landfill, waterways, or landscape. It delays the issue; it doesn’t solve the issue. There is hope on the horizon, by promoting certain strains of bacteria that has evolved to eat plastic and poop out inert organic compounds.

Don’t let the doom and gloom of climate change stories leave you resigned to a fate of destruction. While I too occasionally get depressed over terrible stories or things that I witness I’m incapable of giving up. Letting go is hard to do, but I can do it when I know it’s the right thing to do, but I won’t give. I won’t give up on the life of this planet, little poopers and all.

A few stops before Raichur with only Kedar and myself still awake during the all-night train ride we watched the mouse get off at his stop. I knew exactly where it was going as if it could feel by internal rhythm or the smell of the air that this was its stop. I turned to my friend and said. “Ah look, how nice of the city mouse to come visit his cousin, the country mouse.”

More to explore, External Links:

Amazing Facts about Mice | OneKindPlanet Animal Education & Facts

How Do Bacteria Eat Plastic? | American Council on Science and Health (acsh.org)

Bioreactors Types: 6 Types of Bioreactors used in Bioprocess Technology (biologydiscussion.com)

Bioreactor landfill – Wikipedia

Aesop’s Fables  The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse – Wikipedia

Eat the Children

“Grandma enjoys cooking her grandchildren and dogs.”

“Grandma enjoys cooking, her grandchildren, and dogs.”

Some people, like sentences, need to be approached with caution. One of the things I miss the most about our current life in this pandemic is walking my son to and from school. Those brief strolls in nature, fresh air, and the opportunity for him to decompress and tell me what’s on his mind. Sometimes we get to see things like these cool mushrooms. *Do not eat*

I can’t tell you how many adults I meet that ask, “What is this plant/fungi?” Follow by, “Can I eat it?” Like the natural world is some kind of giant salad bar! Leave it to the children to ask more sensible questions like “Is this poisonous?”

Earthstar mushrooms

The other thing I liked about walking my child to school were the brief interactions with other parents. Nothing overwhelming for this devout introvert, just a brief “Hello” and “How about that rainstorm last night?” During one afternoon however, a mom whom I’d never met before strolled up to stand beside me. I thought she just wanted a simple chitchat, but she quickly whipped out her ulterior motive. “So what do you like to eat?” (hmm, strange conversation starter but okay.) “I’ve been a pescatarian for 23 years, actually. Which means I’m mostly vegetarian, but I eat fish once or twice a month.”

She turns to me and gives me this really scathing look and says, “Well, that’s not good enough!” She looks me up and down in disgust and proceeds to say, “You need to do better. You need to be Vegan!”

Whoa, Lady! Now I get it; why some people would get all shady and defensive when I’d mention being mostly vegetarian. They must be holding their breath waiting for some kind of lecture or critical assessment about their diet. Many don’t realize I’m a vegetarian until YEARS into our friendship or association with each other. Honestly though, you could eat old leather shoes for all I care. I’m not interested in telling other people how to eat. I’m happy to offer my perspective and concerns about certain topics, but your choices belong to you. I realized that woman had walked up to me spring-loaded and ready for a fight. She must be fun at parties.

I looked her dead in the eyes with a slow creeping smirk. Sinister? I was going for sinister. “You know you’re right. I could use more protein. I think I’ll add VEGAN CHILDREN to my menu!”

Of course, at that moment the bell rang and all the kids came pouring out around us. “Which ones are yours?” I asked.

I haven’t seen that mother since.

Photo credit? Uncredited, found on Pinterest ☹

So yeah, we could all probably do better on making our diets healthier and less of a strain on natural resources, but I’m not going to do it because some crazy lady yelled at me. If you or a loved one has worked through a major life change, then you should know change only happens because the person is invested in making those changes for themselves. All you can do is provide support. They/You have to do the work.

I would like to recommend eating less meat though. The choice is yours. From my personal experiences, I refuse to accept or ignore inhumane treatment of any living thing. I refuse to support factory farms, especially where the lives of animals are concerned. Factory farms in the U.S. are decimating the competition, which are your local, family-owned small farms and ranches for profit. Generations-long family farms and ranches are breaking under poorly managed government subsides, the lobbying power and money might of factory farms and climate change. What bothers me most is that I know factory farms don’t care about the wellbeing of their workers or the animals they process. They also don’t care about the degradation to the land around them. I know, because I’ve been a food factory worker. I’ve worked at places that treated their workers as well as one could hope for in such an industry and I’ve worked for one that treated us like meatsack automatons. It’s grueling invisible work that damages your body and crushes your spirit if you let it.

In 2004, I had the opportunity to go to Karnataka, Southern India as part of my undergraduate degree for Social & Environmental Issues. I met with several Indian nonprofit groups who were trying to make positive changes in their communities. Some of the people I had to meet in the middle of the night, trucked out in the middle of nowhere because they feared for their lives. Their only crime was being gay and wanting to advocate for gay rights, other were survivors of corruption schemes by government entities or a major corporation. One of the groups was informing farmers of their land rights. Some of the farmers had no idea their lands were about to be claimed in the name of Imminent Domain because the notices were being posted in English in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) newspapers as notices. The farmers cried. This is not the end. We can still be agents of change like the Great Green Wall project across several African nations helping to repel desertification and support affected communities.

Where ever you live, you have the power to affect the great good. It’s always been there. You can make change happen. The factory farms make things cheap and easy for you to mindlessly buy from them. I’m asking you to stop for a moment and add a comma (a pause) to consider your options. Will you buy it because it’s cheap and you don’t have to think? Would you notice if the ingredients list started to change?

We may not be eating the children (yet), but we consume their future world with our choices.

Links:

Earthstar Mushrooms Geastrum saccatum – Wikipedia

U.S. Farmers: Climate, tariffs, debt and isolation drive some farmers to suicide. (usatoday.com) This is a photojournal that may take longer to load due to the large picture files.

Indian Farmers: Burdened by debt and unable to eke out a living, many farmers in India turn to suicide | CBC News

Meatless Monday – Meatless Monday (mondaycampaigns.org) A movement started to encourage people to go meatless one day a week. Includes recipes, resources, and inspirational stories.