Reading Fire

Sand-brown grass.

Twigs that snap.

Crunchy leaves.

Dry. Desiccated. Hot.

Smokey the Bear teaches 5 year olds to read the signs of flammable.

Read nature, only you can prevent forest fires.

Post-Totality Tuesday

“Winter is coming!” cries a young boy as the moon slowly eclipses the sun. A warm summer morning in central Oregon turns to downright chilly as dusk sweeps across the land. I watch as a line of fire ants scurry onward seemingly unperturbed. At 10:18 AM totality is marked by a small group of humans shouting: “Stars! I see Venus! I see Sirius!” Coyotes in the canyon below join in with howls. For a full minute,  the plasma of the sun radiates in an uneven diamond shape around the black disc of the moon. I choke up with tears, in utter awe of the beauty and power of our solar system’s star. A burst of light serves as both a promise of the sun’s return and a public service announcement to all humans to don their eclipse glasses post-totality. I feel jittery yet still, like I had drunk far too much caffeine beneath a lake, and am utterly grateful to live as a tiny ant human on this planet.

“A million moons” whispers an 8 year old boy crouched over the crescent shadows on fine desert dust. Barring mathematics, intuition and years of tracking the sun, moon and earth’s arcs to predict such an event, I am delighted to learn that to predict an eclipse one could read the crescent-shaped shadows on the ground at 90% totality. If I see crescent shaped shadows, I’ll know to get ready to shield a baby’s eyes and get comfortable should I ever find myself in an apoceclipse.

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.

– Albert Einstein, February 12, 1950



Preparing 4 Totality

Packing for the path of totality, half a minute of total solar eclipse, feels like prepping for a gourmet apocalypse:

Destination: Sisters, Oregon

Transport of choice: 1980 Rabbit Truck with full cans of biodiesel

Shelter: Tent, two cots, sleeping bags and pads, pillows

Water: 6 gallons of water for 2 x 3 days

Fire: Colman stove. No campfires allowed. If we really need a flame there are wildfires blazing all around our destination of Sisters, Oregon

Reading: “Armageddon in Retrospect” by Kurt Vonnegut

Food: Potato chips, corn chips, cheddar cheese crackers, gummy bears, hummus, broccoli, kale, peppers, avocados, bread, cheese, boiled eggs, peanut butter, milk, cereal, boxed mac’n cheese

Bartering goods: Red wine, cider, beer, bubbly water, coconut macaroons, gummy bears

Playlist: Tom Waits

Media: Eclipse glasses

Medium: Nature

See you on the other side! Post-totality Tuesday.

“Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Trained as a biologist I have spent many an hour peering at biological phenomena such as barnacles, seaweeds and juvenile salmonids. While hiking out to a field site at 3am in order to monitor sea creatures at low tide was an experience I treasure, I lost sight of the purpose and thus my motivation when expected to quantify things that aren’t truly quantifiable. Studying complex ecosystems challenged my western view of the world as discrete, objects that can be understood by their component parts. I spent a year and a chunk of change for a Masters in Holistic Science to begin decolonizing my training in western science, but author and ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer takes us there in a beautiful 384 pages of her experience connecting “indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants.” Braiding Sweetgrass is a remarkable story that illustrates science in relationship to scientist, culture and subject. Her view of science through her life’s work as discovery, connection and story gives me hope that humans will join the world yet, not as  separate, objective viewers but as interconnected, awake participants. 

Excerpt (p. 6): “…One otherwise unremarkable morning I gave the students in my General Ecology class a survey. Among other things, they were asked to rate their understanding of the negative interactions between humans and the environment. Nearly every one of the two hundred students said confidently that humans and nature are a bad mix. These were third-year students who had selected a career in environmental protection, so the response was, in a way, not very surprising. They were well schooled in the mechanics of climate change, toxins in the land and water, and the crisis of habitat loss. Later in the survey, they were asked to rate their knowledge of positive interactions between people and land. The median response was “none.” I was stunned. How is it possible that in twenty years of education they cannot think of any beneficial relationships between people and the environment? Perhaps the negative examples they see every day – brownfield, factory farms, suburban sprawl – truncated their ability to see some good between humans and the earth. As the land becomes impoverished, so too does the scope of their vision. When we talked about this after class, I realized they could not even imagine what beneficial relations between their species and others might look like. how can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like?…” – Robin Wall Kimmerer