19

Jun

Our mantel at The Kennedy-Warren in DC. Evening Ice in Antarctica by Maria Coryell-Martin, October 2006.

Our mantel at The Kennedy-Warren in DC. Evening Ice in Antarctica by Maria Coryell-Martin, October 2006.

The legendary giant Paul Bunyan once overwintered in a lumber camp in northern Minnesota. It was so cold the lumberjacks’ cuss words froze midair. Tough living, rough language. In springtime when sunshine warmed the air, the words all thawed and assaulted their ears!

Likewise, reentry to our home in Seattle after two plus years in Washington, DC, suddenly highlights every item stored, shipped, lost, found. “Do I need this? Do I use this? Do I love this? These questions of organizers in the business Empty Your Nest founded by our adopted sisterperson now residing in Berlin, Germany, echo relentlessly in my ears. And, is there a friend who would enjoy this item? Is it recyclable or saleable and at what cost? If I toss it, what life awaits in the landfill or at sea?

Feeling at sea myself, queasy with responsibility, awareness pressing on my conscience, I reflect that paralysis is not helpful. As Seelye has continued to work on the cryosphere for NASA, I remind myself that upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the space shuttle routinely loses protective heat tiles. Prepare for fatality, expect friction, ride the ride.

Coming home, I notice that trees are taller and elders, shorter. Our cat sleeps more and bosses us more authoritatively. Government has poured more cement, especially around highways. Life and place are both familiar and new. It seems imperative to live into our aging differently than our parents and boldly to extend “the examined life” into our footprint on the land and ecosystem.

In the financial meltdown, amidst species loss, swine flu threat, so many changes seem logical, if unanticipated consequences of past policies. I stick to the simple, the concrete. I seek first principles. There is no going back. This Earth is our home, and faith, a refuge.

When she wrapped me toga-style in a towel from my bath, my mother taught me, “Friends, Romans, and countrymen, let me lend you my ears…” Jesus said, “Let those with ears, hear.” What are we hearing now? Can we begin the deep conversations needed to respond, creatively, honestly at the fundament, the very root? And what of the branches, the evolution, our future?

Fatimata's house, Karal, Mali. Walnut ink on tinted paper by Maria Coryell-Martin, February 2005.

Fatimata's house, Karal, Mali. Walnut ink on tinted paper by Maria Coryell-Martin, February 2005.

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Chinese figurines, Tang style at the Weizmann Home, Weizmann Institute, Rehovoth, Israel. February 2008.

Roman ruin at Masada, Israel. February 2008.

Roman ruin at Masada, Israel. Tristram's Grackles. February 2008.

22

Apr

Magnuson Park Dandelions, Seattle, April 2009

Magnuson Park Dandelions, Seattle, April 2009

Spring is fulling, the ground, still moist. Woolens beg for washing to withstand hungry moth larvae soon to invade closets and cupboards. Welcome sunshine emboldens myriad yellow Compositae family Taraxacum officinale flowers that dot garden beds and carpet the lawn. Left to seed, each head can produce hundreds, maybe thousands of offspring. Mulling my computer, the economy, and the dandelions, big numbers engross me.

Determined, I address the task of hand-pulling or dousing them with five percent vinegar. Although in a week, I have spotted only one head gone to seed, time presses. What can one woman do? Purportedly introduced to her medicinal garden by pioneer nurse Catherine Broshears Maynard (1816-1906) in the early days of Seattle Alki, meaning by and by, now they penetrate everywhere. Edible, the young greens can be added to salad, the roots roasted, and the flowers fermented into wine. Still, neither the slow cooking movement nor the pangs of poverty have sparked harvesting them for food or drink.

This week, Seelye is surveying by airplane the ice extent of the Arctic Ocean and Greenland ice sheet to assess multiyear and first year ice. As I poke, pry, uproot each plant, I consider its age and extent. Often the wily plant releases its surface green leaves and stems to preserve the root below, like a salamander shedding its tail to escape capture. The older the plant, the more entwined with grass, moss, other plants the roots grow, resembling sexy ginseng or carrots, creatures with fanciful underground legs, some hairy, some smooth. Occasionally, the complete plant yields neatly to my tug. Multi-year dandelions and first-year slim-jims.

Lao Tze asked, “What is the usefulness of the useless?” I ponder. Why do I do this? What can I hope to achieve? Last week I worked so hard, I broke a blood vessel under my wedding ring. My finger and hand numbed and tingled. I ached in my armpit and across my chest. I called the consulting nurse who went into high gear to ensure that I was not having a heart attack. Not breathless, not nauseated, not dizzy. Good. Yes, weary, sore and feeling depleted. Grateful to have health insurance, and embarrassed at the scrutiny, during my wait to see the doctor, I rested! The young doctor validated my reading of my body. Catch and release.

Now in my hunt for these lions, I proceed more mindfully. Shorter sessions, with a new long-handled weeder allow me more angles and exercise, even standing up! I experiment with delivery and quantity of vinegar. I lie down and drink water more consciously. Clever plants – when mowed, they grow back with shorter stems! Tempted to poison them, the view of Lake Washington squelches that thought. I seek help, reinforcements.

Lions’ teeth, they have their place in the universe. I cannot escape their presence. I would miss never seeing a single one. These sun-savvy dancing legions clamor: in my home, garden, neighborhood, in my skin, heart, bones, and in my family, genus, species – how I live matters.

Happy Earth Day!

Northwest Invasives. Horsetail, Dandelion, Ivy, Himalayan Blackberry

Northwest Invasives. Horsetail, Dandelion, Ivy, Himalayan Blackberry

23

Mar

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This poem draws on classic Chinese poetry composed of characters brushed in parallel vertical rows combined with my love of anagrams and Scrabble. In the midst of multiple computer woes, expressing myself trumped stressing myself.

21

Feb

Window, Row House 2100 block Calvert St., Baltimore, MD

Window, Row House 2100 block Calvert St., Baltimore, MD

“From the Greek nostos, to return home and the Old English genesan, to survive,” the word nostalgia also denotes a “wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.” Pilgrimage refers to “the journey of a pilgrim or wayfarer especially to a shrine or sacred place and the course of life on earth.”        [Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition].

Before returning from Washington, DC, to Washington State, Seelye and I retraced the neighborhood haunts of our courtship and first married life in Baltimore, MD. As now, we lived then on a threshold between university life and science, family and faith.   Despite cloudy windy cold weather that warmed with the day, the Sunday morning drive sped us first to the Baltimore Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, the seat of Maryland’s fourteenth bishop, Rt. Reverend Eugene Taylor Sutton. As canon, Eugene had signed me up as a volunteer in the National Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage, November 28, 2006. On June 28, 20008 the National Cathedral filled with witnesses to the joyous consecration of this prayerful, bold-hearted bishop. As Bishop Claggett, Maryland’s first and first to be consecrated on American soil, was a slaveholder, Bishop Sutton’s call, with the election of the forty-fourth President of the United States, heralds a deep healing in our country.

Lacking a transept or crossing, the small, narrow Gothic Cathedral of the Incarnation teems with children and manifests careful loving intense use. To the right of the entrance the poignant chapel to Children of the Light, names the murdered youths of the city, thirty-five to that date. Two more the next week. A banner bearing bells and a satin ribbon for each teen or child drapes over the stair rail leading down to the Peace Chapel, Columbarium, and undercroft. There the dark wood floor is newly painted with a beautiful blue labyrinth. Everywhere the eye sees pictures, icons, windows, sensing the spirit of mindful, whole-hearted occupancy, and history.

Next we approached Johns Hopkins University, retracing Seelye’s old running route along San Martin Drive. Everywhere new buildings! Finding a parking spot near new Decker Court, a map pointed us to Latrobe Hall. The familiar end doorway allowed a glimpse of the same hallway leading in the past to the Hydraulics Laboratory. There Seelye had built wave tanks, paddles, stratified water with 100-pound bags of salt and prepared his thesis.  Satisfied about the science, we could not find our way to St. Paul Street.

Few people braved the cold wind, but an angel appeared: a Nigerian-born security officer guided us through the 1963 familiar walkway, past the Merrick Barn theater to the entrance at 33rd Street. Two blocks east and turning south, there was our same rear porch with the trash chute, the courtyard with the lion head fixed to a new longer, wider green-painted wall, and a new wooden gazebo visible to the rear. Today the entry sports a handsome black iron grill gateway; flower pots fill the right side. The entry doors are painted red! Maroon awnings over each side of the gate and a big sign all announce St. Paul Court Apartments. The old A&P across the street is now an attractive independent Eddie’s Market. Next we strolled around the block along Calvert Street, noting that the alley where we rented our garage for $10 a month, is new built, but plenty of similar ones survive. Along Calvert Street I noted and photographed the sign depicted above: Nostalgia.

Returning along 31st Street to St. Paul we happened into Donna’s Restaurant on the corner for a tasty colorful lunch in a warm place. Waitress Julia arrived only two months ago, but enjoyed our story and attended us cheerfully. An intense happiness infused my partaking of the meal with Seelye. Communion. We walked past Seelye’s bachelor apartment, a studio with bay window on the ground floor of number 2125 St. Paul Street, around the block of gorgeous stone buildings and across St. Charles St. to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

A student of my father’s from California days, then a crystallographer at JHU, had given us membership as a wedding present. How we enjoyed trips there and renting pictures from the rental gallery. Now the City of Baltimore subsidizes BAM and the Walters Art Gallery so admission is free! To browse the uncrowded galleries ’twas very heaven.” The European paintings (remembered as inferior to the Boston Museum collections) sparkled, the British landscape drawings and watercolors lured, the Cone collection, remodeled in 2001, simply shone. Two independently wealthy sisters who mostly purchased directly from the artists and their travels, formed the single largest collection of Matisse works. Benefactor Joseph Epstein’s collection of European paintings struck me as choice. And, since our time, a trustee has donated eight exquisite miniature rooms. The New England sea captain’s salon has a tiny telescope a little rounder than a toothpick, pointed out the window. Squinting, you can see light through it! The one room of Chinese art is spaciously and informatively arrayed. Small, but distilled pleasure.

Such a car ride offers time for a particular intimacy: one does not look the other in the eye. The freedom from interruption fosters rumination and sharing thoughts.

“We may not have as much money for retirement as I hoped,” Seelye observed.

“Yes, my nest egg has dropped by a third. I have been thinking and praying about getting older. We have been blessed by wonderful experiences and travel in life. Three things money cannot buy: time, health, and friendships.”

Which brings me to fibrinogen. Created in the liver, the plasma protein circulates in the blood. When clotting is needed, with the catalytic action of the enzyme thrombin, fibrinogen forms the insoluble fibrous protein fibrin, forming clots. The molecule fibrinogen has served me faithfully as metaphor for friendship, especially created in response to life’s inevitable losses.   As we prepared to marry, my mother died, and Seelye found our first apartment, applying in choosing his love for tall ceilings, windows for light and air, wood floors, workable kitchens and inviting bathrooms. Mourning my mother, that first summer in Baltimore, until we furnished the spare apartment, I suffered shin splints. I taught myself to plan, shop, and cook delicious and nutritious meals. Where my mother knew Prometheus, I invoked Hestia.

My father used to call me his little duck. In the 1980s I found in San Francisco’s Chinatown, a carved Chinese miniature ivory “looking-back” duck. Later, dropped from the mantel, the duck lost its head. Looking back is salutary on occasion, but not a way to live.   “Seelye,” I said in the car driving home, “we could not know our journey from 1965 to today. No more can we tell what lies ahead. Beyond money, we can take care of our bodies, our minds, our spirits. As Palestine Patriarch Miles Sherrill used to intone, ‘Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be’.”

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Seelye and Julie,  3120 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. November 16, 2009

03

Dec

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Culps Hill, Gettysburg, PA. Neither did the bag witness the battle, nor the combatants know plastic.

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Motel, Baker City, OR. The accumulation of plastic from 6 days on the road, DC to Seattle 10/08

It’s the numbers, expanding large and small: giga- to tera-, nano- to peta- scale. Physicist Hans Bethe explained that shopping between the world wars in Germany taught him the value of big numbers. He would bicycle to the shops for the items his family needed. Gradually, steadily it took the capacity of his handlebar-mounted basket to carry the stack of inflating Deutsches Marks to pay the merchants. Orders of magnitude, times ten.

According to the website http://www.reusablebags.com, “Well over a billion single-use plastic bags are given out for free each day.” They form an incoming stream to my household in the form of grocery and farm market goods, dry cleaning and laundry bags, shipping bags for clothing and medications, book and miscellaneous purchase-carriers from garment bag-size, to bubble wrap-liners and Styrofoam chips or peanuts. Then, too, the difficult-to-substitute containers for yoghurt, and drinks, the quart and half-gallon boxes and jugs all labeled #5 or #6, are not currently recyclable, and so expand the trash.

Down the chute, but not out of mind. Truthfully, it is my mind, my serenity that feels threatened.

With the inevitable rise in petroleum prices due to production reaching the long-heralded and long-denied peak oil, and for living in a fifth-floor small apartment in the Capitol City, I have begun to question how to reduce this tide of incoming one-use plastic? How to educate myself and others to analyze the true, lifetime costs of production, product, and disposal. Plastics are eternal.

In The Upside of Down(2006), Canadian scholar Thomas Homer-Dixon helpfully defines the energy return on investment, EROI. The rise and decline of a civilization or nation state correlates with the ease of marshalling energy. For the Roman coliseum and the aqueducts, engineers mobilized a well-fed labor force to build ingeniously designed and precisely crafted arches, stones, tiles and bricks. The agrarian economy produced the high quality calories, food for laborers and animals to build and maintain such works. However, “locked into a food-based energy system, as the Roman empire, expanded and matured; as it exploited, and in some cases exhausted, the Mediterranean region’s best cropland and then moved on to cultivate poorer lands; and as its grain supplies snaked farther and farther from its major cities, it had to work harder and harder to produce each additional ton of grain.” (P. 55)

In our time, petroleum yields three great essential energies: chemicals including fertilizers, plastics, and fuel. Farmers choose to use manure-based fertilizers with some dangers of pathogens persisting, and still requiring fuel to heat, transport and distribute, or chemical fertilizers. Farmer Eddy Rankin of Twin Springs Fruit Farm, Orrtanna, PA, reports that last year he paid less than $360 per ton of 19-19-19 (NPK) fertilizer. Now it tops $1000, a three-fold increase. To protect soil fertility and crop yields, he and his partners continue to apply the preferred fertilizer, and only modestly raise prices at the stand. Does this price increase herald a change for energy return on investment, EROI?

At the time of sale, producers of the corn crop face three choices: feed people, feed livestock, or feed fuel tanks. Purchasers compete. Heifer International reported in 2008 that the proportion of annual greenhouse gases in the United States is 18% from producing livestock for meat compared to 13% for all forms of transportation. These choices explain why food costs have risen, will continue to rise, and illumine the widening gap between rich and poor, well nourished and starving. Again, the numbers are staggering and hard to comprehend. Furthermore, the income gap between billionaires and poor people is so great that compounding increases will fail to reduce the gulf for generations to come (Homer-Dixon, 2006).

At the Republican Convention the cheer, “drill, baby, drill” roiled the crowd, hot to open the last great North American wilderness in Alaska to resource exploitation. Too many Americans do not yet grasp the idea of energy return on investment. Furthermore, Elizabeth Kolbert quotes “The Department of Energy estimates that there are eighteen billion barrels of technically recoverable oil in offshore areas of the continental United States that are now closed to drilling. This sounds ample, until you consider that oil is traded globally and that, at current rates of consumption, eighteen billion barrels would satisfy less than seven months of global demand. A DOE report issued last year predicted that it would take two decades for drilling in restricted areas to have a noticeable effect on domestic production, and that, even then, ‘because oil prices are determined on the international market,’ the impact on fuel costs would be ‘insignificant’.” (The New Yorker, Aug. 11 & 18, 2008).

Who will ask, “Is it worth it?” What about species loss as the Arctic Ocean shrinks and habitats change? What about rising sea levels? Since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we are slightly more sensitive to the power of nature, and newly appreciative of wetlands. Still, half the United States’ supply of oil passes through the ports of Louisiana (NPR, All Things Considered, 5 September 2008). Can we afford to abandon the drilling platforms, refineries, and transfer points of the Gulf of Mexico to exploit and maybe exhaust the Alaskan coasts?

Living in Washington DC, I have searched for food sources like Puget Consumers Cooperative in Seattle for local, organic foods. I carry a handy nylon bag and extra clean plastic “T-shirt” bags while shopping. I wash, dry, and reuse every possible plastic bag. Following the example of my daughter and my website designer, I carry a sealable plastic 12-ounce thermal cup, especially on airplanes. We avoid restaurants serving on Styrofoam and plastic. Remembering the one billion plastic bags handed out free worldwide per day, I talk with merchants as I unfold my recycled bags.

Nonetheless, the waste stream appalls. Because the air pollution controls are looser than in the United States, some “recycled” items go to Asian countries where they are burned. We eat meat as a condiment and pay attention to the source and species of our seafood. We combine trips and limit our use of the car. People can sign up for Terrapass and purchase carbon credits for travel expenditures.

“Little drops of water, tiny grains of sand, make the mighty ocean and the spacious land”goes the song learned in first grade… the numbers… the math. Plastics are eternal. We Homo sapiens are mobile bags of water with about 15% other chemicals, that somehow embody a mind, a spirit. Can we govern ourselves, reign in our desires, understand and meet these sweeping changes? Can we imagine life as other living beings live, whales and elephants, tuna and turtles, bacteria and in-between viruses? And live as though the future matters? I hope so, I pray so, I write so.

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L. View of Little Round Top, Gettysburg, from Twin Springs Fruit Farm, Orrtanna, PA

R. Greenhouse, opposite direction

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L. Julie and Eddy Rankin with fresh-picked apricots, July 4, 2008

R. Shogo Hayashi and Seelye buying from Martha at the TSFF Saturday Market

All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church, Washington DC

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