Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Winter Walk

The snow crunches underfoot
as we make our way
Finding footing by memory
along a path we visualize
Winding through trees
hung with frozen berries the birds
will harvest in late winter
We’ll watch waxwings dart about
Slightly drunk on the fermented fruit
Giddy with the thought of coming spring

Half blinded by bright sun
and sparkling snow
Our eyes are grateful
for the soothing colors that
Nature sets about the landscape
Yellow ochre, umber, burnt sienna, sepia

Like the waxwings
We anticipate the spring’s pale green
fronds and bulbs
Morphing into summer’s dazzling
panoply of colors
And then fall, where we marvel at
Nature’s ingenuity
As her seeds fall, and float, and fly
And scattered about, await rebirth

Nature takes nothing away
but only changes
And even now, watching
our breath fog the air
We see shimmering in our mind’s eye
All the things we love so much
And pointing to dry reeds along
The frozen pond, call out
Come, see how beautiful.

For Maureen & Susan

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Roses and Chokeberries

These last roses decorate the windswept lawn
Brown and yellow leaves scatter hither and yon
Under an overcast, gray sky pregnant with rain

I walked by here this morning and am here again
To photograph this tree with its chokeberries and of course the roses, this one carries
with it memories of something lavender
a color, or a scent perhaps, frankincense and myrrh

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oceans in Peril

The ocean is the birth place of life on earth. Through a very intricate and complex balance of natural phenomena over several billions of years it has developed into what it is today . The ocean remains home to several hundred thousand different plant and animal species. It is essential to all living beings, both in the water and on land. The oceans provide the most basic needs, such as the oxygen we breathe and much of the food we eat. Ocean ecology is severely threatened by pollution and global warming. Read about the threat to our oceans at Marine Environment.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cherry Orchard

These trees, frantic with their fiery leaves
Were only a few months ago heavy with cherries
Bing, and Rainier, and Royal Ann
Hanging like holiday ornaments on their limbs

Photo taken in Kennewick, WA, October 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Apple Harvest

These are Pink Lady apples growing in Kennewick, Washington. They are a sweet, crisp, delicious apple. Best for eating right off the tree. For pies, use Granny Smith apples (I just gleaned a big bucket of 'em).

Apple Pie Recipe

pastry for 9-inch double crust pie
6 cups thinly sliced and peeled Granny Smith apples
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoon butter, cut in small pieces
Preparation:
Line a 9-inch pie pan with pastry. Mix next 8 ingredients and fill pie shell, laying apple slices flat. Dot with the butter. Roll out top crust and cut slits in several places for steam to escape. Moisten edges of crust well with cold water and adjust top crust. With fingers or fork, pinch two crusts together to make a tight seal around pie. Sprinkle a little sugar on top of pie. Bake at 450° 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and bake 45 to 50 minutes longer.

%%%%%

And here's the pie, right out of the oven. Want a slice?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ocean

Blue, green, grey, white, or black; smooth, ruffled, or mountainous; that ocean is not silent.

H.P. Lovecraft

Photos taken at Cannon Beach, OR, October 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dark Forest

The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one's own.

Willa Cather

This is what I believe: that I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go.

D.H. Lawrence

Photo take on Oregon Coast, October 2008

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tangled Thoughts

I took this photograph during a hike in Ecola State Park on the Oregon Coast. The tangle of vines and roots reminded me of representations of the brain's neural networks.

From "The Brain: Understanding neurobiology," NIH. The brain of an adult human weighs about 3 pounds and contains billions of cells. The two distinct classes of cells in the nervous system are neurons (nerve cells) and glia (glial cells). The basic signaling unit of the nervous system is the neuron. The brain contains billions of neurons; the best estimates are that the adult human brain contains 10 to the 11th neurons. The interactions between neurons enable people to think, move, maintain homeostasis, and feel emotions. A neuron is a specialized cell that can produce different actions because of its precise connections with other neurons, sensory receptors, and muscle cells. A typical neuron has four morphologically defined regions: the cell body, dendrites, axons, and presynaptic terminals.

But how to explain our emotions; falling in love, joy in the birth of a child, the pain of loss? Glia, neurons, synapses? Or something more? An intangible humanity, unknowable, ethereal, and eternal.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red

O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red.


Percy Bysshe Shelley

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Elephants

My painting of elephants at a dusty African watering hole is based on a National Geographic photograph.

Researchers at the University of Washington tell us that elephants face the risk of extinction as soon 2020 as a result of habitat loss and poaching.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Artic Sea Ice Retreats

This map shows the extent of sea ice on September 17, 2008, measured by the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.

The extent on September 17 was clearly much smaller than normal. Although this is not the first year the Northwest Passage has been navigable, it is the first year on record that both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route, on the opposite side of the Arctic, were both open.

For more information, go to NASA's Earth Observatory.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Path without Form

I painted this after reading the book, The Dancing Wu Li Masters -- An overview of the new physics, by Gary Zukav.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hiking the Horse Heaven Hills

I climbed the Horse Heaven Hills today. The elevation gain is only 1000 ft., and the climb was gradual. I’d spotted some antennas on top and wanted to investigate. I carried my camera, 2 jugs of water, some trail mix, and my cell phone (I was expecting a call from my banker reassuring me that despite the market collapse my money was safe – the call never came). It took me only 20 minutes to reach the top. I found some odd stuff up there, like the erratic in this photo that someone felt it necessary to protect from graffiti artists by erecting a triangular wire cage around the rock. Not to be denied their canvas, the artists tore the front of the wire fence out and had their way with the rock.













But really, what looks worse, the cage or the graffiti?

I’m not a geologist, but the rock is probably a glacial erratic. I know that some 15,000 years ago glacial ice blocked what is now the Clark Fork River and water level rose to some 2000 ft. When the ice dam broke, the resultant flood was catastrophic and literally moved mountains and shaped what you can see in this photo of the Columbia Basin. That’s Rabbitbrush in the foreground. Botanists call it Chrysothamnus Nauseous and it is apparently a member of the Aster or Sunflower family. I’ve read that the nauseous adjunct comes from the plant’s aroma, which smells like cloying room freshener, cooked broccoli, and formaldehyde. The hills are part of the area’s shrub-steppe, and are covered in sagebrush, bitterbrush, wheatgrass, Indian Rice Grass, and Idaho fescue, among other things. I was careful to stay on the trail (a road, really), but stepped to the side to see the crust of algae, lichens, liverworts, and mosses that cover the soil and is a critical component of native grasslands and shrub-steppe communities.

I stumbled across this small grave up there on that windswept hill. I stood there looking down at the handcrafted cross wondering...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

National Issues

The issues facing our nation are complex and interrelated. All center on a government that works and works for we the people. Thus, our first priority must be to strengthen and preserve our democratic form of government.

I've circled the issues in the above diagram that are most important to me, realizing all the while that we must ultimately address all those things threatening the country we cherish, whether it be the massive debts sapping the strength of our economy, the terrorists threatening our safety, or human influenced climate change that threatens the entire world.

Click on the diagram to enlarge it.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Badger Mountain

I hiked Badger Mountain this morning -- a beautiful, sunny, cool morning. This area was once shrub-steppe, a quilt of sage brush, tumbleweed, prairie grass, and various wild flowers, depending on the season. The foothills below the mountain are being developed -- lots of upscale homes are being built. Fortunately, some farsighted people established a grassroots effort, Friends of Badger Mountain, to preserve the trail and over 500 acres for hiking and recreation. If you're lucky, you'll see coyotes, deer, jackrabbits, rattlesnakes, and other wildlife, plus beautiful desert flowers in the spring. It's a steep climb -- 800 ft in a little over a mile, but the views are well worth the effort.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Last Best Hope

When I tell someone that I’m an American I am conveying not just where I’m from, but in a larger sense, who I am. Today, I’m no longer sure who that is.

I served in the United States Air Force from 1961 to 1981 and during that time I served in a number of different countries. Most people I met in these places invariably admired Americans. They always wanted to shake my hand. It may be that they idealized us. I know they thought everyone in America was rich. But more than that, I believe that they saw America as a model to which other countries could aspire; that “shining city on a hill” that former President Ronald Reagan spoke of when he said that we Americans are “the last best hope of man on earth.”

I was proud to be a person thought to reflect the grand idea of America. I knew that America was not perfect, nor was I -- we were never perfect -- but never have we been so imperfect.

At one time admired and respected for our sense of decency and fair play, we are today justifiably reviled for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the abomination that is Guantanamo, the injustice of extraordinary rendition, and the evil and hypocrisy of enhanced interrogation.

Envied for the freedoms we enjoyed and admired for the physical and intellectual courage we demonstrated in earning those freedoms, we are looked upon today as a country, gripped by fear, meekly acquiescing to spying on our fellow citizens, and teetering on the edge of a police state.

And where so many other countries struggled valiantly to light the torch of democracy, and we were looked to as a beacon in the surrounding darkness, now that beacon flickers and dims as our elected representatives sell their votes, gerrymander congressional districts to favor their party, and deny the vote to minorities and the poor.

As for being rich, America, once the world’s biggest creditor nation is now the world’s biggest debtor nation. We have for more than 3 decades failed to address our energy future and now find ourselves held hostage to exponentially rising energy costs. We are spending borrowed money to pursue an ill-conceived and executed military strategy of preemptive war, and prioritizing military spending over education, healthcare, science, and economic opportunity programs for the growing proportion of Americans (some 13%) living in poverty – today, 37 million.

I want an America with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and a people unwilling to permit the erosion of human rights that is a legacy of that government. I want an America that has faith in its leaders, its institutions and its self. And an America whose faith in a higher being is an individual choice that manifests itself in acts of compassion and generosity towards its citizens and its neighbors. I want an America that values not material wealth per se, but the wealth of talent, ingenuity, and spirit that create the quality of life that we all work to afford. I want an America that abrogates to no nation leadership in exploring the frontiers of knowledge. I want an America whose conquests are of hunger, disease, poverty, ignorance, deceit, and hate, at home and abroad.

I want my America back, my last best hope.

The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power

On the night of Thursday, Aug. 7, forces of the Republic of Georgia drove across the border of South Ossetia, a secessionist region of Georgia that has functioned as an independent entity since the fall of the Soviet Union. The forces drove on to the capital, Tskhinvali, which is close to the border. Georgian forces got bogged down while trying to take the city. In spite of heavy fighting, they never fully secured the city, nor the rest of South Ossetia. On the morning of Aug. 8, Russian forces entered South Ossetia, using armored and motorized infantry forces along with air power.

The Russians were ready. Was the United States?

See the analysis at the STRATFOR web site.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

Intelligent Design – The Joke's on Us

The average price of a gallon of gas in the US last week was over four dollars a gallon. It’s hard to know what’s causing the steep rise. Some say hedge fund speculators. I suspect it’s God, angry with us for being fat and lazy. It makes sense. Jack up the price of gas we’ll have to walk more. The price of food is also going up drastically. Clearly, God’s doing that to make us eat less (too bad about the starving Africans). Now that I think about it, God’s probably behind global warming, as well – make us sweat off those extra pounds. I’m less sure about these wild fluctuations in the stock market, but I’m sure there’s a supernatural intelligence of some kind behind what’s happening in our economy (the Devil, you say?).

Yes, these and other developments in our world may be troubling, but it’s comforting to realize that one doesn’t have to work at understanding them, any more than we have to puzzle about how we evolved, if indeed, we have. The answer is in God’s intelligent design. You have to admit though, that as intelligent as God most assuredly is, she sure has a peculiar sense of humor.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Stars

The stars
They do not see you
Stretching to the beginning of time
They do not see you

Lie upon your back and stare
Look out as far as you can see
Look upon infinity
And wonder

No
They do not see you
No
They do not hear your plea

Dance your dances
Around fires
Or in the colonnades
Make signs

Seek recognition
From the heavens
Seek an answer
At least that

Why am I here
Ask them
Why

But they do not see you
They do not hear you sigh

And when you die...

The stars

Friday, August 8, 2008

The same clear glory

Smog is again blanketing the Chinese capital the day of the Olympic Games opening ceremony, despite it being declared a public holiday, with fewer cars on the roads. The Olympics venues in the centre of the city are barely visible from even a few hundred meters.

Full Moon

Isolate and full, the moon floats over the house by the river
Into the night the cold water rushes away below the gate
The bright gold spilled on the river is never still
The brilliance of my quilt is greater than precious silk
The circle without blemish
The empty mountains without sound
The moon hangs in the vacant, wide constellations
Pine cones drop in the old garden
The senna trees bloom
The same clear glory extends for ten thousand miles

Tu Fu, One Hundred Poems from the Chinese.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Eating the Earth

“They're not creatures you can fight--they're an elemental--an 'act of God!' Ten miles long, two miles wide--ants, nothing but ants! And every single one of them a fiend from hell; before you can spit three times they'll eat a full-grown buffalo to the bones. I tell you if you don't clear out at once there'll he nothing left of you but a skeleton picked as clean as your own plantation."

Just as the voracious Army Ants in Carl Stephenson’s short story, Leiningen Versus the Ants, devour all before them, we seem a people insatiable, searching every last shore, aquifer, forest, plain, and plateau desperate for that last barrel of oil, that last board foot of lumber, that last drop of water. We stumble on imprisoned between ignorance and greed, to be delivered into the annihilation that is our god.

The earth has existed for some four and half billion years, created in some cosmic catastrophe of colliding matter and formed from toxic fumes and molten rock, its history replete with cataclysmic events of unimaginable magnitude and violence. It was 800 million to a billion years after the earth’s fiery birth before the first vestiges of primitive life were created in the form of cyanobacteria that ultimately reacted with other elements to transform the earth into an habitable planet. And along came man. But not for billions of years.

Homo sapiens, or “modern man” emerged only about 120,000 years ago. That makes man’s time upon the earth clock about 2 seconds out of 24 -- a blip of miniscule proportion. But, like a bacteria, we have morphed and multiplied many times over.

At the dawn of the first millennium A.D., the world’s population was around 300 million people. Growth into the second millennium was modest, but by the time of the American Revolutionary War, the population of humans on earth had grown to over a billion, despite the ravages of the Black Plague in the thirteen hundreds. Human population is today, some 230 years later, over 6.7 billion and growing exponentially. By 2050, 42 years from now, the number of people on earth will increase by over 40%, to 9.5 billion.

It is unreasonable to expect that a presence of such magnitude and rapacious appetite would not change the earth upon which it dwells. According to some geologists, humans have so drastically altered the earth that the Holocene epoch, which started 10,000 years ago, has ended and we have entered a new epoch - the Anthropocene.

Early humans, hunter-gathers -- had little impact on the planet. But with the advent of technology, the human footprint grew disproportionately. Man is dominant on the earth, and like the cyanobacteria of eons ago, is reshaping the earth dramatically, but not in ways that make it more habitable. We are making the world hotter, drier, dirtier, and biologically less diverse. We have destroyed over half of the world's wetlands and original forests, polluted rivers and the ocean, and poisoned the land. We cause the extinction of an average of 100 species per day. Sociobiologist E. O. Wilson predicts that if we don’t slow our consumption of natural resources, we’ll extinguish half the species of plants and animals by the end of the 21st century.

According to Lord Robert May, Professor of Zoology at Oxford University, and winner of the Royal Society’s Copley medal, the world’s oldest prize for scientific achievement, "We stand on the brink of a global extinction event -- the sixth episode in the history of the Earth." The most recent extinction event, approximately 65 million years ago, closed the Cretaceous period and ended the reign of dinosaurs. "The difference is that the current global extinction event is being caused by the actions of a single dominant species rather than a 'natural' event," said Lord May. We are part of the Earth's great fauna, but we are also its greatest menace.

The human species has become a plague on the face of the earth.

And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth...for it repenteth me that I have made him.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Laughing Matter?

A lot of Americans are exercised over the price they pay at the pump for gasoline. This is important, because it’s the only exercise most Americans get. Who can blame them for being irritable? The nominal average price at the pump has gone up over the last 4 years from $1.74 to $3.87 per gallon. That means filling up those GMC Yukons, Chevy Tahoes, and Ford Expeditions is costing drivers over $100 a shot. Heck, you can buy a month’s worth of lattes for that (assuming you’re limiting yourself to only one a day). In real terms – price adjusted for inflation -- we’re paying almost as much now as we did in the 1980s, when U.S. automakers’ fleet fuel economy averaged 12.9 mpg.Due to the onerous “CAFE” standards imposed by resolute congressional lawmakers, these SUVs are today averaging a whopping 13 to 14 mpg on the way to Wal-Mart.

Pressed at the pump, Americans now resonate with arguments promulgated by concerned oil company executives (and picked up by savvy politicians seeking further corporate contributions) for removing restrictions on offshore oil drilling, and drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Both presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, previously opposed to drilling in these environmentally sensitive locations, sensing the mood of the public, have changed their tunes, seeking something American drivers will consider music to their ears, which are plugged with cell-phones, MP3 players, and, for concerned seniors, wax. Obama said recently that he would be willing to compromise on his position against offshore oil drilling if it were part of a more overarching strategy to lower energy costs. He said he’d always felt this way, but apparently only revealed his true feelings to Michelle, who gave him a fist bump for his willingness to compromise, and to do the dishes. McCain said, “What was the question, again?”

The Energy Information Administration, a government agency whose studies and analyses are followed closely by almost no one, certainly no one in government, argues that lifting the restriction on offshore drilling won’t lead to any additional domestic oil production until 2017 and at its peak in 2027, the extra production won’t have any significant impact on oil prices. Drilling in ANWR won’t produce crude before 2018, would peak in 2027, and during that time, won’t have any significant impact on oil prices. Who do they think they’re fooling? McCain said just the other day that industry executives told him that they could produce crude in a matter of months (120?). Well, he’s talking to the right people. They know their business. After all, they made the highest profits in history last year.

A lot of market-savvy politicians have argued that just lifting the bans on drilling would lower the price of oil and in turn, gasoline. Markets look to the future, after all, unlike most politicians. Someone pointed out that if world oil markets continue to work as they do today, OPEC could neutralize any potential price impact of offshore or ANWR oil production by reducing its oil exports by an equal amount. Sure, like that’s gonna happen.

Still, every little bit helps make us less dependent on those terrorist-loving Middle East nations, our politicians pronounce, proudly wearing their flag lapel pins, and ignoring the fact that we get over 50% of our imported oil from Canada and south of the border – holla! Cumulative oil production resulting from the opening of ANWR from 2018 through 2030 will produce a whopping 2.6 billion barrels of oil! That’s not chicken feed (chicken feed is what KFC workers are being paid). It is, however, just a little less than 3% of our current 8 billion barrels a year consumption. Gosh, that is a little bit. But it’s our little bit!

Well, I just got back from a vacation to Austria and need to post my photos. Boy, was it expensive over there. Hmm, I wonder if the declining value of the dollar has had any impact on the price of oil?

Friday, August 1, 2008

River Walk

I walk along the river
Stepping from stone to stone
Pausing at mirror pools
Watching for things that live here

Such lovely water
Blue-green swirls
of Arabic script
That fade and blur

Beneath the surface
I see shapes of things
I see shadows
Swirling in the mist

My mind at peace
Gentle, quiet
Flowing as the river flows
May it never cease

On either side of the river, was there the tree of life...and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Beating Around the Bush

New revelations about the Bush Administration’s arrogant disregard for responsible governance seem to come cascading down around us every day. The latest comes in the form of a Justice Department investigative report that concludes that hiring decisions at the Justice Department were illegally politicized. In other words, the sign over the door read, Bushies Only. We suspected as much when former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, testifying before Congress on the firing of prosecutors claimed not to “recall remembering” being involved in or even being aware of the firing of prosecutors who were not Bush loyalists. Now, the report by the DOJ's own Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility states that
Monica M. Goodling, the White House Liaison at DOJ, and her deputies had broken civil service laws, run afoul of department policy and engaged in "misconduct" in the hiring and firing of prosecutors, judges, and other DOJ applicants/employees. Goodling is another Bush appointee chosen not because she was the best qualified for the job – she graduated from Messiah College and Pat Robertson’s Regent law school – but because she was a Christian conservative Bush zealot.

The Bush Administration has been infamous for its distortions and manipulations of the truth on many fronts. In another case, the panel that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on lead poisoning was planning to strengthen lead poisoning regulations in response to science showing that smaller amounts than previously understood could cause brain damage in children. Before the panel could act, then Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tommy Thompson, a Bush appointee, rejected the recommendation and replaced two members of the panel with individuals tied to the lead industry.

It was also under Thompson that HHS downplayed the true cost of the prescription drug benefit law by $150 billion. The actuary that pointed out the true cost was threatened with termination if he revealed to Congress his estimate.

Last month, the NASA Inspector General found that White House political appointees in the NASA press office "reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized" studies of global warming, toning down politically unwelcome conclusions. A news conference on global warming was postponed, according to a senior scientist, because the Bush Administration did not want any negative environmental news before the 2004 election.

Under the Bush Administration, scientists who work for and/or advise the federal government have seen their work manipulated, suppressed, or distorted, while government agencies under the direction of Bush appointees have systematically limited public and policy maker access to critical scientific information. The Union of Concerned Scientists has constructed a clever web site in the form of a periodic table illustrating the wide spread manipulation of science by Bush and his minions.

But hey, "Great job, Brownie."