The Absence of Plastic

Towards the end of January in 2017, I cleaned out the three birdhouses in my back yard. They all had nests inside but I noticed that none of them had been used; one was barely begun and another I judged to be abnormal.

the 3 bird nests

The one I considered abnormal had practically filled the whole bird house. The top of it was flat and solid, there was no place for a mother bird to lay or sit on her eggs. Like the others, that birdhouse was made of many natural materials, but it also included many small pieces of plastic.

I ended up taking that bird nest apart. I soon discovered it contained a tremendous amount of plastic. Below you will see a photo of the plastic that I found in that one nest.

I wondered if the bird’s brain had been poisoned by the plastic and if that was why the top was flat. My heart ached when I thought about the many ways humans contaminate nature.

This experience occurred soon after we started working on restoring the Greenbelt property that is adjacent to my house. The land at that time was full of trash, big and small, and there were a lot of small plastic pieces in and on top of the ground.

It was near nesting season, so we decided to invite the Bala Kendra group from our Amma satsang to do a Greenbelt litter pickup work party. It was amazing to see how much trash the children gathered in an hour’s time.

In the years since then, numerous truckloads of garbage have been removed from the property.

This year, when I cleaned out the bird houses in preparation for nesting season, I found that two of the houses were practically empty. Only one contained a complete nest. It didn’t look like it had been used, but at least it had been built normally; there was a cup indentation on top, a place for the mother bird to lay her eggs.

I didn’t take apart the nest this time but the absence of plastic was very noticeable. I only saw one small piece on the outside of the nest and another small piece at the bottom of the cup.

***

You can read the full story about my 2017 experience in a three part series. It includes many more photos, some of them microscopic. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Beauty During the Pandemic

I have essentially remained in my house since the stay at home order went into effect; but I have gone to the grocery store occasionally and have also walked up and down my street or around the block from time to time.

Yesterday, I took photos of some of the plants I’ve been seeing on those short ventures.

Click on any of the photos below to enlarge them.

FOTD

Stay at Home Photos

Like most of us, I imagine, I’m spending most days in my house. While over the years, I have developed the habit of leaving the blinds on the front window down since they help keep the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer, now that I’m indoors so much, I often find myself pulling the blinds up during daytime hours.  

Still my eyes may not see what’s in front of my face. One morning in May, I gazed towards the front window and really “saw” the view. I had known this rhododendron shrub had buds, but I hadn’t noticed it had come into full bloom. The sight was stunning. 

FOTD

The Truth I Live By

I shared this piece written by my younger brother on this blog in May of 2014. He wrote it before he died of cancer at the age of 39. This seems like a good time to share it again.

The Truth I Live By

(William John Smith 1953-1992)

 Everything makes sense. This can be paraphrased many different ways, although many attempts are less accurate. One of Voltaire’s characters stated, “All is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds.” This is unnecessarily optimistic. My phrasing doesn’t imply that everything that happens to us is good either in the short or the long term. Everyone experiences moments or long periods of unpleasantness. One can hope that over the long period of a lifetime these sad times may not add up to much overall, but most persons with a little thought can think of individuals whom “fate has treated unkindly,” i.e. who have received more than their share of agonies. I think this is one of the hardest things for you, C., that what has happened is just not fair. I’m not sure how long ago I came to believe (or realize) that fairness isn’t the issue. There is nothing fair about life, either in distribution of rewards or unhappiness. And what’s to say that it should be fair. If each of us had an opportunity to create a world, then maybe that’s an attribute that we would build in. But this world is not of our making, and all of the mental checklists that we might make comparing who’s gotten more breaks than we have, etc., will never change the fact that we have to make the best of what we’ve got, not despair over what we perceive as inequities. So life isn’t fair. How do we cope with that? One way might be to remind ourselves that no matter how bad things seem to be at any one time, a little time spent flipping around the TV channel or reading a news magazine will serve as a reminder that we should be embarrassed to be heard complaining about the vast majority of things that concern us. I don’t doubt for a second that I have lived a very privileged existence compared to 90% of the world’s people.

I’m not sure that that is the best way to approach a new tragedy, though (i.e., making ourselves feel better by thinking of others doing worse). I would appreciate a more optimistic approach. The best way to greet each unpleasant event is to grab it by the throat and make the best of it. C. and I have both had our share of suffering, almost all of it, I’m happy to say proceeding our first date. There is no doubt that led to a degree of maturity that made our time together (pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis) much more meaningful than the lives of those growing up “with the silver spoons.”

Is cancer unfair? Is it fair that we should expect billions of cells in our body to reproduce over and over again, over an entire lifetime, and always get it right? Doesn’t it make more sense to recognize the initial miracle of our birth, the magnificence of our growth into feeling, loving, praising adults, the privilege of experiencing enough of life that we can despair over not having the time to spend longer doing the same? One of the things I am most grateful for is that many, many years ago I learned to be grateful for what I’ve been given. I didn’t, as occurs with many, only get shocked into this realization by a terminal tragedy. This type of appreciation often does begin in the midst of despair, and for that reason I am actually glad that I had enough hard times as a young man, to allow me to think hard about what things are and are not important. Accordingly, for the past 15 or 20 years, I’ve been able to ignore aspects of 20 th century American living that are of no consequence to me (parties, cars, frivolous chatter, clubs, etc.) and concentrate on things that touch me personally. I am forever grateful for what it was that dropped the blinders from my eyes so many years ago.

I am very sad that people seem to see so little of the world around them. I can’t walk outside without seeing the beauty of our created world, from the rainbow in a line of earthworm slime, to another visible ring on Jupiter. We have been given this magnificent world to study and enjoy in limitless detail at any level, microscopic to cosmic. Even though I have enough things to interest me another 10 lifetimes, I must take solace in knowing that, at least compared to others, I’ve had much more than my share even in half a life time..

I am blessed to have had a brother who could embody these attitudes.  I hope those of you who read this find his words meaningful in your lives as well.

Happy Vishu!

Today is the Zodiac New Year in India. In the state of Kerala, that day is called Vishu. Amma sent this message on Vishu a few years ago. It seems a very fitting way to begin this post.

The color of Vishu is yellow. In honor of Vishu, I’m going to post a series of yellow flowers I have taken over the years.

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Beautiful flowers
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And I will add a yellow vegetable and a yellow leaf!

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Happy Vishu!

Another Adventure

Al and I bought a house on Beacon Hill in Seattle in November of 1973. Soon thereafter, we bought the lot behind our house. The properties on both sides of our new lot were completely overrun with blackberry vines; but our lot, thanks to the people who had lived there since sometime in the 1930’s, was well maintained. It was terraced and had several fruit trees. We added vegetable gardens and did our best to keep the property free of blackberry vines and weeds.

After we divorced in the 80’s, I sold the lot; there was no way for me to keep it up and I needed the income. At that point, the blackberry and ivy vines began to invade the property. The person I sold it to, sold it to someone else and that person sold it to the city when they were buying property to create the Seattle Greenbelt.

In 2014 and 2015, I attempted to remove some of the blackberry and ivy vines, particularly around big cedar tree and a big alder tree. Sometimes I enlisted a friend to help, but we barely made a dent in the invasive vines.

In March of 2015, I saw some yellow down by the alder tree and was intrigued; I wanted to see what it was. I picked up my shears and made my way through the dried blackberry vines. It was not easy to get to the yellow, which turned out to be daffodils, but I eventually made it.

The daffodils were beautiful and when I looked inside one of them, I was surprised to see a spider.

If you would like to read more about that 2015 adventure go to: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize)

In fall of 2016, GreenFriends members joined with Green Seattle Partnership in restoring this section of the Greenbelt. Our site not only included the lot I had once owned but three other lots as well.

A few days ago, I was looking out my kitchen window and saw yellow in the distance. I knew immediately what it was. I took a photo from the kitchen. Look at the photo below and see if you can see any hint of yellow.

Then I took a closeup photo, still from the kitchen window. Can you see the yellow in the distance now? Don’t worry if you can’t; you will be able to see it soon!

The next day, I decided to get as close as I could to the flowers. This time my journey would not be hampered by blackberry vines but it might be halted by my physical mobility issues (poor balance and dizziness). I decided the safest way for me to get to them was to walk down the Hanford Stairs, because those stairs have a handrail. I would also bring my cane.

Once I arrived at the entrance to the lower path, I left the stairs and entered the Greenbelt. There was so much new growth on the site. This unfolding fern was one of the first things that caught my eye.

Next, I noticed that several of the wild ginger plants we had planted in 2017 were now dwarfed by fringecup volunteers (volunteers in this case are plants that sprout on their own, i.e. we hadn’t planted them). In the photo below the wild ginger is peeking out from under the fringecup. Both are native plants.

As I came close to the main part of the site, I saw a flowering tree in the distance. What in the world was that?

Before I turned the corner into the clearing, I passed a planting area and saw that horsetails were coming up en force! I knew from experience, that before long we won’t be able to see anything other than horsetails in the lower areas of the site!

When I entered the clearing, the flowering tree mystery was solved; the blooms were on the top part of the big tree that had fallen during the first week in March.

(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

From this area, I was able to get a view of the fallen tree from a different perspective than I had before. There was still no way to capture all of the tree in one photograph.

Soon, I continued my journey to the daffodils. They were on a slope, so I didn’t feel safe to get close to them but I did take some closeup photos from the path.

Then I looked at the nearby planting areas.

I decided to return to my house using the stairs behind my house since I am much more stable going up stairs than down them. On the way back, I saw how much the pearly everlasting shoots have grown. And there are so many of them. If you would like to read my previous update about those plants go to: Pearly Everlasting Shrubs pp. 24-27.

The next day, I decided to see if I could get a little closer to the daffodils. I noticed that if I walked towards them from the south side, the ground was almost flat. I knew I still couldn’t take ground level photos like I did in 2015 but I was very happy to get a closer shot…

… and to have completed another adventure!