A Prophet for All Seasons

This film about Aldo Leopold’s life and the development of his thinking about our relationship with land is a true gem. I could not find when it was created, however, the people interviewed are his biographers and scientists who knew and worked with Leopold. It was shown on Wisconsin Public TV. A special treat is narration by Lorne Greene best remembered as “Pa” on Bonanza.

The film gives viewers an in depth history about Aldo Leopold’s life and how his ideas about The Land Ethic evolved over his lifetime.


It’s Raining on the Desert

Monsoon on  Sonoran Desert
Monsoon on Sonoran Desert

The adjacent photograph was actually taken in 2007 before I left Tucson, AZ for Pensacola, FL. The location is near my friend’s home in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains that form one boundary of the City of Tucson.

Today I am writing from the Baker’s home on a September afternoon and once again the monsoon rains are falling on this high desert. The desert’s flora is in full glory, cacti swollen plump with water, blossoms forming in colors of lemon and peach, and aqua blue prickly pear pads sprouting cherry red fruit. If you have never visited or seen the Sonoran Desert, it probably seems an oxymoron to call this desert a place of lushness, but, it truly is such a wonder.

Barrel Blossoms
Barrel Cactus Blossoms Ready to Bloom

The Southwest is experiencing a late and strong monsoon season that some expect may go right on into the rainy winter season. If so, that will be a huge blessing for a region in a long-term drought. Rain on, oh great monsoon clouds! Let the liquid wonder work its magic down into the desert pavement, and travel into the arteries of the giant saguaro, and down the throat of desert critters, and gather below in rock lined aquifers. Rain on! Rain on!


Prickly Pear Fruiting
Prickly Pear Fruiting


Through the lens of E.O. Wison

E. O. Wilson (Image: http://natureandculture.org/
E. O. Wilson

E.O. Wilson reigns in my mind as our most important scientist-author of our time. He is University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard. Wilson has two Putlizer’s under his belt, for On Human Nature (1979) and The Ants with Bert Holldobler (1991).

The adjacent photo is from Nature and Culture International: Board of Directors, one of many organizations E.O. Wilson serves with his visionary gifts.

He has penned dozens more books that have stayed on the New York Times Bestseller lists over decades of his career. He writes for the public as well as scientific community. If you have never read anything by Wilson, I recommend The Diversity of Life as a starting point. While published first in 1992, it is still relevant to understand the diversity of life across the planet, and – most important – the conservation areas that Wilson recommends must be preserved for the healthy functioning of the biosphere.

But, my reason for this post is to review his recent book, The Meaning of Human Existence (2014). Why is it important to read? He is most likely the most erudite scientist writing for the public today. His understanding of who we are as a species and society is informed by his comprehensive grasp of our genetic inheritance, the dynamics of sociobiology – how we function as a group – and the challenges to our existence in the near and distant future. Yes, it IS that significant.

The book calls for the reunification of the humanities with science. Wilson argues that the current separation of these two great ways of knowing our human nature, is at the crux of our possible self-destruction by lack of understanding our roots in nature. He explains the most basic evolutionary path leading to our essential human nature: our dualistic nature, usually ascribed to the humanities to explain.

Wilson shows us how our “selfish” genes and “altruistic” genes evolved, and how they work in a multilevel natural selection. This is relevant in understanding why we do what we do, predicting the kinds of decisions we will probably make, and – once understanding this – how we could use this knowledge to make critical decisions about new technologies that may doom human existence or secure our continued success into the future.

The Threat of Gene Engineering of Human Beings

He is writing about the new potential to design our own genetic endowment – design humans like we want them. This can also be applied to new threats from artificial intelligence (AI), a topic he does not address in this book, but which occurred to me as I read the book during a time when the nation is discussing the challenges inherent in AI development.

If we do not understand, who we are, and know how to understand our behavior, how can we possibly make these new, complex ethical decisions? Wilson writes that religion, which introduces a supernatural being who is in control of humans and the universe, is an outdated way of knowing that currently blocks human society’s ability to understand how the world works and based on that, to make the collective decisions we need to determine to secure that human life on earth will go forward as we know it.

What do you think about that? Does religion prevent us from knowing who we are biologically? How can we bridge the gap between these two powerful ways of knowing our story on Earth? Please comment so that we can discuss this online.

Silence: Near Extinction?

Last Day in the Woods 049Gordon Hempton tracks silence. Far from a vacuum of sound, Gordon explains that silence is the “absence of noise.” During a 2012 recorded interview by Krista Tibbett, Hempton said that silence is on the verge of extinction, and that silence is now measured by intervals where there is no noise. There are only 12 places in the U.S. where there is silence for 15 minute intervals (without the interruption of noise). None of them are protected according to Hempton.

Click here for the 2012 interview with Tibbett on OnBeing.org. Very thoughtful exploration of the role of natural sound in our quality of life, ability to be present, and about human impact on the earth.

Click here for Gordon Hempton’s Website with a video of his 30-year tracking of silence around the world, and tracks of the sounds of silence.

Don’t Forget Florida’s Forgotten Coastline

20140217_100305The Forgotten Coast of Florida near Port St. Joe, on the St. Joseph’s Bay, is one of the remaining intact ecosystems in the state and well worth a visit. This photo is near an Indian midden where you can view layer upon layer of broken shells left behind by Indian communities that shelled and fished on the productive bay.

Near the Old Salt Works Cabins on highway 30E, the bay is accessible down long weathered boardwalks. Visitors walk out into the muddy recesses or shallow waters where they can see urchins, tunicates, fiddler crabs, and juvenile fish that use the area as a nursery. 20140216_095052_4_bestshotPeppered through the sea grass beds we found the casts of horseshoe crabs from molting seasons before. My friend, Barbara, is an ecologist who spent the four days of our trip collecting casts and abandoned urchin shells. She described the sea grass beds along the bay as a treasure of Florida’s natural environments because they function as a nursery for numerous species of crustaceans and fish that are important economic species for the Gulf region and primary filters of pollutants that keep the water quality high.

We met a young family from the Atlanta area who were putting together a small catamaran to sail around an enclosed area of the bay on the St. Joe’s Peninsula that arcs like a curved arm protecting the shoreline from storms. Their young sons were busy seining for fish and other sea life. My friend joined them to teach a little ecology in the best environment in the world where children can see the ecosystem at work.

IMG_7142Earlier we had visited the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory and Education Center founded by Jack and Anne Rudloe, two of Florida’s important writers and educators about Florida’s marine wildlife. Priceless Florida, The Living Dock, In Search of the Great Turtle Mother, and Shrimp are just several of their many books. The lab and education center are filled with touch tanks and aquarium where families can learn about many species not easily seen from shore such as loggerhead turtles, and octopuses.

20140217_115901Later we visited the St. Andrews Marina which is a working marina where you can observe a variety of fishing vessels. The one pictured here has turtle-excluder devices (TEDs) that allow fast escape of turtles when they are caught up in the netting. Before this apparatus was invented, sea turtle deaths were much more numerous.

St. Joseph’s Peninsula State Park is a wonderful place to snorkel, kayak, fish, camp, and bike. Carl, Barbara’s partner in life and biking enthusiast, enjoyed the 27-mile round trip on a newly completed bike path from the Old Salt Works Cabins to the entrance of the wildlife refuge. The refuge on the last seven miles of the peninsula is a terrific walk where you can observe thirty foot dunes – how much of Florida’s coastline once looked before massive storms and human activities have diminished their size and capacity to shelter the coastline.

The Soul of Nature

Rachel Carson wrote that without the beauty and peace from nature some part of our humanness is retarded. As we destroy natural areas or replace them with human-made versions we will further diminish our soul.

The very soil on which we walk is the source of energy we utilize to walk, run, work, love, laugh, and create. Because modernity has intervened, covering up the planting, harvesting, delivering and even preparation of food, modern people take it as something packaged and sold. This is a profound tragedy and may spell our own end.

What got lost is the connection, the appreciation of the special role of each creature and the action of rain, sunlight, wind—a whole community’s symphonic creation of the firm red apple, golden corn, or juicy watermelon we buy off the shelf of Publix or Kroger’s.

It is said that the First Americans caressed the Earth with their feet when they walked. That reverent act arises from such knowledge of the whole of creation and of the human’s complete dependence on all its fellow creatures.

What kind of advancement, civilization, or intelligence loses the knowledge of its origins and sources of its continued survival? It is a mind that believes it can replace or improve on what took the universe billions of years to produce. This must be distinguished from the natural curiosity of a human being and participation in the processes he or she observes in nature and then emulates or even strengthens. What is the ballast that balances each of these minds? For the latter it is sure knowledge of the interconnectedness of living communities (ecosystems) and a resultant respect for life. The former arises from values of utilization of nature and its resources for the good of one species only and the resultant oppression or subjugation of life for material purposes.

Both of these minds exist on this American Continent and their values mix in some citizens’ approach to living and doing business of Earth.

Now is a time for each of us to reexamine our personal relationship with nature, with all the life around us. Do we truly value it; do we really understand the profound relationship there?

We are all overdue on unplanned time in a place of beauty and quiet, that is, if we can find one. If you know that place or places, go there but go lightly, and quietly. Create no waste, no sign of your having been there, be silent and just receive its healing qualities. Breathe deeply and wonder. Find your soul by reconnecting with the soul of nature.

Red Snapper Season Is Here!

Lutjanus_campechanusPensacola News Journal featured the opening of Red Snapper season. The joys of living on the Gulf include the punctuated celebrations with each new seasonal harvest of ocean and bayou species (from shrimp to crawfish, pompano to king mackerel to red snapper – my favorite. Below I’ve provided a couple of links to how to prepare Red Snapper. Done right, the flesh is so flavorful and creamy, it melts in your mouth. The You Tube below will show you how to prepare the snapper from fishing line to table.

Besides local fare and recreational fishing, Red Snapper harvests are a commercial industry. In the 1930’s the Louisiana Department of Conservation reported nearly 10M pounds of red snapper were harvested in Florida. An ironic and fortuitous outcome, the 4,000 oil rigs in the Western Gulf of Mexico built since 1946 have increased reef habitat for snapper resulting in a huge gain in potential maximum harvest, according to Dr. Bob Shipp, Chairman of the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama.

While this new maximum harvest potential is hopeful, the fact is that the majority of red snapper catches are young. This means they will not be reproducing for the normal lifespan of up to 50 years of age. Ocean Conservancy:

“Most red snapper caught in the Gulf today are between three and six years old, which means they miss out on decades of reproductive opportunity. Bigger, older red snappers produce many more eggs than young ones.”

Sport fishermen and commercial fishing operations harvest young snapper by the millions of pounds each season. So while reef habitat may be increasing the habitat and thus the population of red snapper in the Gulf, the harvest is disproportionately taking younger snapper. That’s why you may hear about the increased populations of snapper while others warn of over fishing. Fishermen should take larger fish in deeper water (100-300 feet).

For more information about Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper go here.

Recipe of Pan Seared Red Snapper

You Tube: How to Cook Red Snapper

The Green Fire We Must Ignite

Aldo Leopold has long been a guide to me. He is one of the great conservationists of our time. Below is a new film about him and about the Land Ethic he developed over his career as a forester in the U.S. Forest Service. Leopold beautiful essays and scientific papers are nearly 60-80 years old yet many of them still resonate with present day citizens and scientists. He captured in words the wisdom that we need today to respond to climate change—to create a new vision and set of principles to guide our decisions as individuals, communities and nations. Here is the trailer:

Walking Our Talk?

David Suzuki Foundation Legislative Action – Might Give US Citizen’s an Approach to Working with Congress. I like their “Let’s put some green in the next federal budget.”

Hogan Lovells Government Relations Report on Energy and the Environment: The courts and Executive Branch are likely to continue to drive the direction of energy policy in 2013. Key Administration priorities for 2013 include: reducing GHG emissions, and other pollutants; cleaning and restoring water resources; addressing climate change and energy production on public lands; reducing imports of crude oil; and, mitigating potential environmental impacts of domestic production. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to conduct an inquiry into whether the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) is in the public interest. Hydraulic fracturing will continue to receive attention on the Hill. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee will also consider the development of a clean energy standard and can be expected to increase the number of oversight investigations of the departments and agencies under its jurisdiction. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) remaining as Ranking Member. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will continue as Chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is the new Ranking Member. In the House, Fred Upton (R-MI) remains as Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee with Henry Waxman (D-CA) as Ranking Member. Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) will continue to serve as Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee with Ed Markey (D-MA) as Ranking Member (although a Senate bid may take the Congressman’s attention away from Committee work in early 2013).

Write these Congressional Leaders directly to let them know your thoughts on Tar Sands Oil Mining and the Keystone pipeline, as well as other energy and environmental issues.

View this video from the National Resource Defense Council to educate yourself on the environmental impact of mining tar sands all in the name of national security.  The pipeline will cross the U.S. and move oil from Canada to the Gulf. The Nebraska governor just changed his mind to support the pipeline in Nevada. He had previously opposed it and now believes it is a safe technology. What changed? Not the technology. Pressure for revenue and jobs once again cave resolve against harmful technologies that cause long term impacts on ecosystem and human health – all for short term gains. An old story in America and the cause of environmental regulation. Greed is a powerful force.

Read this report below by the Sierra Club: Tar Sands Pipelines Safety Report


On President’s Day Weekend, Sierra Club and 350.org will stand in solidarity to press President Obama to reject the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline and to live up to his promise to take a leadership role to reduce the U.S. contribution to climate change and develop a national agenda for alternative clean fuel development. Those are the kinds of jobs we need.

Good Company

I am continuing to read Round River—a meditation of immense wisdom in journal form.  What am I learning?

  • That land is different than country
  • That the hobbies of common people following their own curiosity can be more powerful than the most sophisticated science because these humans are puzzling-together the life story of a  plant or an animal, its natural history
  • That trying to change a person’s mind or behavior by threatening them with calamity does not work
  • That we are diminished in direct proportion to the incremental loss of wilderness

With Aldo Leopold I enjoy easy company with a man who understood what it means to be human.