This September of Our Lives

Petroglyph
Petroglyph

My cultural heritage is one of linearity. Americans progress, move forward, dream of the future and its possibilities. Yet, this conceptualization of time is not shared by many cultures on earth.

Now, some westerners are reconsidering whether time is linear. Einstein demonstrated that space and time bend at certain velocities of light. Physicists document the structure of the universe as part of “parallel universes.” It might be possible one day to travel in a worm hole to other times, future or past.

In Threshold, Luna Lopez, a Tohono O’odham youth, is learning basket-making from an elder. She discovers the recurring pattern of a maze on her teacher’s baskets and queries what it means. Rather than tell her outright, Mrs. Romero tells an old Pima story. Luna is left to interpret it in her own life.

As the narrative unfolds, Luna recognizes circularity in things around her: seasons, natural history of trees and plants, and her own circulation system. She begins to intuit that the “man in the maze” is about her inner life.

Does time bend each September allowing us to return to it, to perhaps increase our understanding? If so, let us approach it with reverence.

 

 

Creating a Character: It’s a Wild Ride

A friend recently asked me how I created the characters for Threshold, my first novel. As all new writers do, I took classes, read books about character development, and read great character writers. Yet, nothing prepared me for what happened as I began to write the story.

Carla takes over!
Carla takes over!

In Threshold, Dr. Carla Connor took over. She did not follow the path I had planned for her. She emerged as a person who changes considerably over the course of the story, finding new parts of herself not even in her own plan for her life. She impacted other characters so that I had to reshape them as well. Yet Carla was perfect for my intent.

Nobody tells you about this phenomena. Just Google “How to Develop Character” and see what comes up. There is nothing about the character coming alive and driving the narrative.

Louise Erdrich, whose characters pop from the page, explained this phenomenon recently with the release of her National Book Award novel, The Round House. Listen to this interview. If you do not want to listen to all of it, advance  to 4 minutes where she explains how a 13-yr old boy took over her story, how she lived his experience, and even how she misses him now that the book is “out there”

So go be kidnapped by characters; let them show you the way to the end. Just a warning: the process also comes with mile-high drafts, buckets of sweat and tears, emotional ups and downs, and slings and arrows.

Wonder who I will meet in my next book?

 

 

The New Normal

Novel about Climate Change in Tucson and the Southwest
Novel about Climate Change in Tucson and the Southwest

We hear the expression “the new normal” so often that the phrase has entered the lexicon as a substitute for transformation of something previously thought to be a truth or a given. It means thinking about or doing something differently with a new set of parameters.

The New Normal is a pulse that heralds a significant change so that what is present no longer resembles what was past, and the operating instructions are still under construction.

Tucson’s New Normal” 115 degrees and more?

“Our big heat waves in Tucson won’t be 115, 117. They’ll be 130. And that means we’re going to have more than 100 days, probably pushing 150, 200  days a year above 100 degrees,” [Johnathon] Overpeck said. …What is the new normal we can expect?

“(It will not be) long before we start breaking 120 in Tucson and maybe even 125 or hotter in Phoenix. So that’s the new normal that we have to get used to,” Overpeck said. “(We’ll) probably continue to warm until about mid-century, but slowing down as we reach that point where we stabilize things. And then we’re stuck with that climate for hundreds of years.” ~ From Tucson News Now

READ THE NEW NORMAL FOR WILDFIRES IN THE WEST IN HIGH COUNTRY NEWS – Lindsey Gilpin, 8-13-16

 

Follow the Trees?

From Mt. Lemmon Homeowners Guide: http://mtlemmonhoa.org/plant-information.html
From Mt. Lemmon Homeowners Guide: http://mtlemmonhoa.org/plant-information.html

If we were really paying attention, we’d notice that trees are on their way up the mountains. With increasing drought and heat, soils evaporate more moisture. Trees are gradually found in greater abundance at higher elevations. Lower ranges where trees forested the landscape are turning to grass and woody shrubs.

In Tucson, where my novel, Threshold, takes place, a long term study dramatically revealed this “march up the mountains”.

Richard Brusca and a team of scientists found the lower ranges of mountain conifers and trees had advanced up the mountain over a 60-year period. During that time they also documented a decrease in average precipitation and a 10 degree increase in average temperatures on Mt. Lemon in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson.

A study conducted in the ’60s established the baseline data for a companion study using the exact same transects and protocol to count the numbers of species in the study area. This allowed scientists to compare and document  changes over time.

The message? Forest communities are undergoing ecosystem change on a large scale and in a relatively short time.

 

 

Why My Characters’ Zip Code Matters

Teenager_Boy_clip_art_mediumEnrique, a youth living in Tucson’s poorest neighborhood, begins his life with “the cards” stacked against realization of his dreams. Caught in a web of drug traffickers who recruit disadvantaged youth in his barrio, he navigates each day as one in a war zone with the goal to survive between sun up and sun down. Yet like each of us, he has innate potential that, under supporting circumstances, can change his life.

On the back stoop in the alleyway, he lit a cigarette, drawing deeply, breathing out a cloud, letting the afternoon sun warm his chest and arms. His thoughts turned to friends who had joined Bloods Southwest. He decided to talk to Pepe tomorrow at school. Then he went back inside to do his math homework. At least he could work numbers with no problem. He liked that math was governed by rules that never changed, and when he sought answers, he could always work them out.                                                ~ Threshold (2016), Fireship Press, Tucson, AZ

Research shows that a person’s zip code predicts how healthy they will be, how long they may live, what degree they may earn in school, and the size of their pay check. Your zip code can predict your chance of being obese, asthmatic, a drug addict or alcoholic, whether your baby is likely to be born prematurely or with a disability — and even how likely it is that you will live past age 5.

Where you live is a powerful determinant of your life outcomes. What’s more, your zip code may determine how resilient you can be as climate change advances.

How can we end this terrible injustice? Read Threshold to learn how characters find solutions.

 

GRID FAILURE: Are We Ready?

Living on the Gulf Coast I am painfully aware of what its like when the grid goes down. Moist, hot coastal air enveloped residents in Pensacola after Hurricane Ivan. In some areas of the seaside city, residents were without power for two weeks. Life came to a halt: no business could be conducted, no schools could function, only emergency services were available; finding  potable water and food became residents’ daily preoccupation.

But, what if the power grid in the U.S.A. went down? Security would be nonexistent, vulnerable people would perish from lack of cool or heat depending on the season. Markets would be down and silent. No trade could take place. The lifeblood of capitalism would be cut off.

How vulnerable is our grid? An article in the Wall Street Journal, How America Could Go Dark, reviews how substations on the grid are wide open to sabotage:

The U.S. electric system is in danger of widespread blackouts lasting days, weeks or longer through the destruction of sensitive, hard-to-replace equipment. Yet records are so spotty that no government agency can offer an accurate tally of substation attacks, whether for vandalism, theft or more nefarious purposes.

In my novel Threshold, a plot to disable the grid where hydropower is generated along the Colorado River system is discovered. It is designed to deliver a double whammy: loss of power and water. In the Southwest, that could be devastating.

The point is this: life percolates along in the face of climate change and other long-term security problems as long as citizens can turn on their lights and get water from a faucet. We are distracted by what is immediately before us : terrorism and violence and a failed political process that obfuscates the truth. Meantime, we are not paying attention to the trumpets sounding for our action.

Solutions will come at all levels of society. For example, the millions of dollars we need to secure our grid will require governments and business collaborations to make it happen. On the community level, citizens can bring pressure on officials for these reforms, and they can plan on municipal and neighborhood levels to protect people in the event of a grid failure or compromised water supply. See what Tucson is doing to promote neighborhood organizing for the latter.

Record Ice Melt in the Arctic: Albedo or Libido?

Suzanne Goldenberg reports for the Guardian July 7, 2016

January and February obliterated global temperature records, setting up conditions for the further retreat of the Arctic summer ice cover, scientists have warned.

Researchers did not go so far as to predict a new low for the entire 2016 season. But they said the ice pack over the Beaufort Sea was studded with newer, thinner ice, which is more vulnerable to melting. Ice cover along the Alaska coast was very thin, less than 0.5 meters (1.6 ft).

In my novel, Threshold, Carla Connor – a climate scientist who studies the mass of sea ice – is stunned when the summer ice cover in the Baltic Sea is reduced to open water on her monitors. Later she spars with Ed Flanagan, a conservative businessman about the reality of climate change:

Carla: “Temperatures on the planet are regulated in big systems that most people don’t completely grasp. The polar caps by virtue of the albedo factor reflect an enormous amount of solar energy.”

Ed: “First time I’ve heard the polar caps have a libido,” he quipped.

The loss of the reflective white ice cover in the polar regions exposes more of the absorptive dark ocean to solar heat, causing the water to warm up. This goes on to raise air temperatures, and melt more ice – reinforcing the warming trend.

Scientists have warned the extra heat is the equivalent of 20 years of carbon emissions.

Can a city make its own energy?

solar-farmThe novel Threshold explores possible outcomes in Tucson, Arizona as climate change continues to dry out and heat up the Southwest.

The National Climate Assessment targets heat, drought, and insect outbreaks among other impacts for the Southwest. Surface water supply is expected to decrease as snowpack and stream flow decrease.

Projected regional temperature increases, combined with the way cities amplify heat, will pose increased threats and costs to public health in southwestern cities, which are home to more than 90% of the region’s population. Disruptions to urban electricity and water supplies will exacerbate these health problems.

Threshold tells a story about characters caught in a spiraling heat emergency and black out that stuns the city. South Tucson, a city within the Tucson city limits, rises to become more self-reliant through a solar field and solar gardens.

Yesterday, Reuters published an interesting review about changes in solar industries, showing how big solar (large scale solar fields for example) are becoming cheaper and more efficient than roof-top solar.

Many trace the tipping point for utility-scale solar to a 2014 announcement by Austin Energy that it would buy power from a new 150 megawatt solar plant – enough to light and cool 30,000 homes – for 5 cents a kilowatt hour. At the time, it was a record low price for solar power. Since then, projects have brought the price below 4 cents a kWh.

In Tucson, the  Bright Solar program offers residents an opportunity to buy blocks of solar power from a solar field. When the grid goes down however, how can residents continue to generate power if they do not have their own home or neighborhood solar panels and battery storage?

It is important to think carefully about these new technologies and the opportunities they offer people for more democratic ownership of common resources. See the concept of Solar Commons.

As solar power becomes cheaper to generate, will everyone benefit? How can a city and utility work to make solar power available to everyone? As the solar industry develops, how can communities make sure their residents have access to new training and skills necessary for employment in the solar power industry?

In Threshold, South Tucson answers those questions and solves another challenge: the high rate of unemployed youth in their community.

 

The Fate of Jaguars: Juma and Duma

Jaguar SilhouetteThe  Olympic Games in Brazil may be remembered most for the list of woes it has accumulated as Rio 2016 approaches the August games. Now the death of a jaguar has cast a longer shadow over the event.

Images of a jaguar in a heavy metal collar and chains as the Olympic flame was passed from one runner to the next were quickly followed by news of the animal’s death. Juma, a 17-year old jaguar born into captivity at a zoo on a military base, was apparently brought out to provide a dramatic image at the Olympic ceremony. When he escaped and approached a soldier, he was shot and killed. As the public learned of Juma’s death. it caused worldwide outrage.

In my novel, Threshold, Duma is a jaguar born in the Sky Islands–mountain ranges that span the U.S. – Mexico border. He wanders into an area near Nogales, Arizona where surrounding cattle and sheep ranches lure him closer to human settlements. Duma is sighted and captured. Readers follow him from one facility to another while his fate is determined.

The role of zoos and aquariums is being reconsidered as the public is less comfortable with animals on exhibit. Is there a new role for zoos in the 21st century?

Research with dolphins, grey parrots, chimpanzees, and elephants, among others, show these fellow earthlings share similar life’s experiences as humans do. The movie Blackfish which revealed the stresses on killer whales in captivity, and the recent killing of Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, are just two recent examples that have furthered discussions about our responsibilities to the animals we love to see at zoos and enjoy knowing may still inhabit natural areas.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, an AZA accredited institution, is one of several settings in Threshold. As the story unfolds, readers learn that climate change is causing stress on animals and keepers alike. The Desert Museum is a leader in care and exhibition of animals for public education.                                     Explore ASDM’s website and publications to learn more.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THE ROLE OF ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS. POST YOUR COMMENTS ON THIS POST.

Update: Here is the latest in a discussion at the Center for Humans and Nature:

Zoos as Gateways

Monsoon Season: The Blessing of Rain

cropped-img_0968.jpgOne of the unique aspects of living in the Southwest’s desert region is the phenomenon of the 5th Season – the Monsoon.

The Sonoran desert rhythms include a bi-modal summer: May and June are the hot dry summer and July and August the season of storms that bring sudden downpours of rain.

In Threshold, Luna – a young teen of the Tohono O’odham Nation – longs for the sheer relief and joy of the first monsoon rain:

Luna anticipated the cold dollops of summer rain, the torrents of water running in the washes, and the scent of the creosote bushes after the storm. She loved to be inside when the giant cloud beings grumbled and heaved their lightening swords onto the earth.

Desert flora and fauna are adapted to these rhythms. While the giant saguaros look withered from drought, they still have enough energy to push forth headdresses of huge, creamy blossoms. In May and June bats and birds imbibe the sweet nectar, and as they land, saguaro top to saguaro top, pollinate the flowers to make a rose red fruit that ripens in the hot June air and is harvested by animals and people, each spreading the seeds for renewal of the saguaro.

So as the rest of us observe the hot dry temperatures in the Southwestern deserts – which have been in three digit figures – we might also note how heads are turned upward to the clear cerulean sky for those first cumulus clouds, piling upward over the mountain ranges, collecting moisture and electrical energy that will burst over the desert to bring the season’s blessing. Let us all pray for a strong monsoon season for our fellow Americans living in the desert Southwest!

Go here to learn more about the Southwestern Monsoon Season. *Readers from the desert regions, please post your own experiences here with the monsoon season.