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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When Growing Roses is a Matter of Life or Death

Being a writer makes life a lot more interesting. The week after my feature story on growing roses appeared in the Tacoma News Tribune it became the catalyst for a couple of conversations that still make me smile every time I think of them.

The first one occurred in a shop in Tacoma. As the cashier rang up my purchases we starting talking about my article. Soon two more women who'd overheard joined in and there we were, four of us, in the middle of one of those spontaneous and sometimes personal discussions women who might be total strangers have no qualms about. (It's yet another female trait men just don't "get" at all.) Of course the topic was how best to grow roses.

"One of my friends says she puts coffee grounds around the bushes," said one lady.

We responded with a collective "Hmmmmm.... interesting."

"Well that makes sense," said another, "because I hear they really love
organic stuff."


As soon as she spoke that word a charming older lady began to smile. She smiled like someone with a secret too good to keep to herself. And it was.

"Well girls," she said, lowering her voice even though no one else was around, "just between us, that's where Fred ended up." Pause. She winked and nodded. "In the rose bed." All of our eyebrows lifted and I felt my own cheeks compulsively contract into a stupid grin.

"Really?" I said. I'm usually the first one to open my mouth.

"Oh yes. You know, he just loved being out among his roses and fussed over them so much. One day he came in from the yard and said 'Honey, someday when I die I want you to scatter my ashes in the rose bed.' We were married for almost sixty years and when his time came I just did what he wanted. Then I sold the house and moved away. But the new owners don't know a thing about it." She giggled and went on. " And girls, the next summer my old neighbor called me up and said, 'Dorothy, you're never going to believe this. You should see your roses. They've just gone crazy this year, more beautiful than ever. And you remember that Tropicana you guys always had so much trouble with? Well it's gorgeous now! It MUST be because of Fred.'"

"How wonderful!" I blurted out, my imagination in high gear. "Just think of it . . . the rose bushes he loved are taking up the organic matter that was . . . Fred, and (this just chokes me up) he's becoming a real part of them. It's like Fred is actually living on, right in the roses, right in the blooms. That is so SWEET!"

My impassioned little speech kind of hung in the air self-consciously until drifting away, like the rest of us. But I think Dorothy liked it, and I left with a smile and a story idea.

Then there's my friend, "M" . . .

Just a day or two later I saw her at the gym and she said "Hey, Candace. You know, I was thinking about you last weekend when I was pruning the h_ _ _ out of my roses."

"Oh?" I gulped. It was the darned article again. I knew she meant the part that said it's not as important HOW you prune your roses as it is that you do prune them.

"Yeah. As I took the chainsaw to them, (and here she gestured like a madwoman with a McCulloch) I said, 'There! Take that! Candace says you'll be FINE!!!!!!!'"

Then I shivered, imagining her maniacal laughter echoing through the neighborhood above the whine of the saw.

Now I just hope "M" and her husband weren't the ones who bought Fred's old house.

P.S. I didn't make up the part about "Fred" but I did change the names.
Rose photo is courtesy of Weeks Roses. The name is "Strike it Rich".

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rain Barrels- an idea to consider on Earth Day

It must have been the rain here in Tacoma this morning that made me feel so cozy in bed, not wanting to crawl out. But what could be more perfect than to wake up on Earth Day 2009, planning to write a blog post about rain barrels, and find it raining?

I know that one local guy named Dan Borba woke up happy when he heard the rain. I can just picture him with that grin of his, listening to the gurgle in his down spouts and thinking "YAHOO!" Why? Because when Borba hears that sound it means he's harvesting rain. He's an expert at it, THE guy to talk to if you want to learn about making and using rain barrels to create an off-the-grid source of free water for many uses beyond watering your lawn and flower beds. Some people have even figured out how to access it to flush toilets.

He sells rain barrels at local farmers markets and through his fascinating website for Natural Rain Water. Check the website for interesting and thought provoking articles, instructions on how to build your own, where to locate them and how to install, "gadgets and gizmos" and other information. You can also see photos and read about some ways people in Tacoma benefit from rain barrels. You'll be amazed to learn how much free rain water you've been missing out on if you don't have a rain barrel.

"A 1,200 square foot roof in Tacoma has roughly 27,000 gallons/year falling on it!," Borba says. "With four downspouts, that's about 7,000 gallons/year running through your rain barrel!" If you're curious about the potential rain harvest where you live, check on rainfall statistics by clicking HERE.

"Wait a minute," you're saying. " Aren't you in the Pacific Northwest where it rains all the time?" Sorry folks, but that's just a myth we perpetuate to keep everyone from moving here. The past two days have been unseasonably warm and sunny and sometimes it can get pretty dry here in the summer months. That isn't to say we regularly run short of water, but we can, and Borba sees no reason why this abundant natural resource should be wasted. He has a lot of good reasons for harvesting rain that range from the condition of salmon streams to self sufficiency. But part of the attraction is what he refers to as the "childlike joy" of having his own water system. It's part of Borba's sense of freedom as a human being, and hey, it's just plain fun.

Celebrate Earth Day 2009 by learning more about water conservation and checking out Natural Rain Water. You can meet Dan Borba at the Proctor Farmers Market in north Tacoma's Proctor business district any Saturday spring through fall, or contact him through his website. He'll be happy to answer your questions. Then you too can start smiling more when you wake up to a rainy day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Celebrate and Get Involved on Parks Appreciation Day

Don't miss out on the fun this weekend. Between 9:00 and 12:00 Saturday morning, April 18, 2009, Metro Parks Tacoma is holding four celebrations in one. Earth Day, Arbor Day, National Park Week, and recognition of our wonderful local parks are each reason enough for a special event, but here in Tacoma and Pierce County they're combined into one big party on Parks Appreciation Day, now in its eighth year. No matter where you live in this area there's a park near you where volunteers of all ages will gather to help prune, clean up trails and beaches, and plant flowers and trees. Here's a perfect chance to get out of the house, involve children in a meaningful activity, meet new friends, make a real contribution and have FUN!

Every year the events grow in size and scope and Nancy Johnson, Communications Manager of Metro Parks Tacoma, is excited about new developments:

This year, we are doing a schools challenge. Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium will bring a live animal ambassador to the school with the highest participation. The keeper and animal will visit each classroom that has the greatest participation for their grade level. As with other groups of 10 or more, large school groups that plan to participate should pre-register by and/or calling 253-305-1060. When they check in,they also need to sign in on the Tacoma Schools clipboard to make sure their volunteer time is credited to their school.
One of our goals at Metro Parks Tacoma is to reconnect children with the natural world, so pairing participation in Parks Appreciation Day with the reward of an educational visit from the zoo helps kids to recognize the important ways they are helping nature when they volunteer in parks.

Last year over 2,000 volunteers contributed 6,000 hours throughout the county. They planted about 2,300 plants, filled over 200 bags of litter, and spread hundreds of yards of mulch, chips and gravel. If tax payers had paid for all that work its value would have exceeded $90,000. But what about the value you can measure in numbers? What about the values we teach our children? What about the pride of place and sense of community these activities can build?

Click on these links to view a list of local Contact Organizations, and a list of Park Sites. If you plan to bring a large group please call ahead to let the organizers know to expect you. If you're coming as an individual or with your family just show up at the park of your choice, appropriately dressed, and bringing along some helpful tools from home like clippers, loppers,rakes, shovels, gloves, etc. Even small wheelbarrows, marked with names, are welcome. Don't forget to bring a smile and sense of fun too. The folks at Metro Parks Tacoma appreciate the help of citizens and want everyone to have a great time. Johnson says:
"This year's participants will receive 2-for-1 coupons to their choice of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium or Northwest Trek -- two great places to reconnect with our role as stewards of the planet!"

Here at Good Life Northwest I love pointing out the positive, like how lucky we are to live in this region where so many people care about the environment. It makes me proud of our city, community groups, individuals, and corporate sponsors who get behind such worthwhile projects. Since I live in Tacoma, I'm focusing on this area, but similar events are happening all over the country. Just check with your local city government or parks department.

I can't imagine a world without parks, but some of us take them for granted. In these tough economic times volunteerism is more important than ever. Let's appreciate what we have, including each other.

If you click here you can see a list of other Pierce County Earth Day activities.

Photos are from Parks Appreciation Day 2008 and are courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Time, Connections, and a Guy Named Joe

Time warped last Sunday, on Elliot Bay. It happened as I admired the view of Seattle's skyscrapers through the rigging of a 1913 schooner, and it made me ponder the nature of time and connection. Others aboard must have had those thoughts too. Like Joe Follansbee. We'd never met before but by strange coincidence both showed up for the public sail on the historic schooner ADVENTURESS, along with several people I know from Tacoma. It turned out he knew some of them too.

I was happy to see one of the teen-age girls from the Self & Sound program I've written about, with her family, and people associated with Tall Ships Tacoma. Somehow we had all ended up together on that gorgeous April day because of connection as strong and circuitous as a halyard around a sheave: our love of maritime history. That included the entire crew and Catherine Collins, Executive Director of Sound Experience, the not-for-profit organization that owns ADVENTURESS.

Everyone savored the afternoon, leaning against varnished surfaces that reflected the sun while holding its warmth. Enough of a breeze came up to arch out the yards of canvas and let us get a taste of what we'd come for: the timeless and organic triad of water, wind and wood. To the east the city spread out before us, so different now than the year ADVENTURESS was built. To the west the Olympic mountain range still white with snow, made a breathtaking border between blue water and blue sky. But of all the pleasures of the day, meeting Joe Follansbee and learning how deeply this man cares about Pacific Northwest maritime history, was one of the greatest. It seemed most fitting aboard a 96-year-old ship in the year 2009.

Joe Follansbee is a prolific writer and journalist with an impressive list of published articles in print and online, and four books to his name, including Shipbuilders, Sea Captains, and Fishermen: The Story of the Schooner Wawona. He was one of the people who tried to save WAWONA, and is one of many who now mourn the loss after her recent demolition at Lake Union Dry Dock. She’d been a celebrity since her beginnings in 1897: a three-masted beauty and the largest schooner ever built in America. On the deck of historic ADVENTURESS, wind in our faces, how could we not honor WAWONA’s memory and try to imagine her under sail?

Joe’s involvement with old ships goes beyond WAWONA. He’s project manager of the website Maritime Heritage Network, which is owned by 4Culture, King County's arts and heritage agency, and writes the MHN blog. He also serves as Director of Communications for the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, an educational organization that owns and operates two replica ships, the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain. He keeps busy on issues of local history. He's one of the people who cares. Without people like Joe I'd never have had the chance to see the current Seattle skyline and the rigging of the historic ship juxtaposed.

After three hours on the water ADVENTURESS tied up again at the Elliot Bay Marina and we all went our separate ways. I turned to take a look at her among the modern yachts, the past alongside the present. But what of the future?

I don't know when, if ever again, I'll end up in the same place and time as Joe Follansbee. But I'm glad I met him. From the perspective of a writer, I admire and respect his work. As a human being I am grateful to him and all the others like him who are dedicated to preserving our past. Maybe we'll never truly understand the concept of time, but luckily for us, Joe Follansbee is making the most of his.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

WANTED: Citizen Scientists

On March 19, 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar released a report with alarming news. Of the 800 species of birds in the United States nearly one third are endangered, have significantly declining populations, or are threatened in some way. The U.S. State of the Birds Report, the first of its kind, uses bird census data gathered by thousands of professional biologists AND citizen scientists. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service coordinated the efforts to create this report, as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, along with help from partner organizations. The School of Ornithology at Cornell University is one of those partners, and you might like to participate in their project called NestWatch. By clicking on the NestWatch link you can learn all about the program, how to register a nest or nest box in your own backyard, how to build nest boxes, watch web cams, learn about focal species and much more. Your backyard observations make an important contribution.

“Citizen science plays a critical role in monitoring and understanding the threats to these birds and their habitats, and only citizen involvement can help address them,” said National Audubon Society’s Bird Conservation Director, Greg Butcher. “Conservation action can only make a real difference when concerned people support the kind of vital habitat restoration and protection measures this report explores.”

Joe McGuire, who lives in University Place, near Tacoma, Washington, may never have thought of himself as a scientist, but he's the kind of citizen whose observations count. He's seen bird populations decline alarmingly since 1933, when Joe's parents moved the family out into rural Pierce County, southeast of Tacoma. During those years of country living Joe discovered his love of birds. "Back then there were a lot of stumps and snags we just don't have around these days," he says, "and the cavity nesting birds need those." Now, at age 84, he continues his hobby of many years: building nesting boxes, or plain old "birdhouses" as he still calls them. He could never count the number he's given away or sold, donating all the money to the Tahoma Audubon Society. He's an expert on how they should be made.

"I make sure it's big enough so the bird can sit comfortably on the nest, and deep enough that predators can't reach in," says McGuire. "It shouldn't have a perch, because that can be used by predators too, and the roof should be hinged." One of the worst predators, he says, are cats. The baby birds of some species don't learn to fly straight from the nest, but actually spend up to three days on the ground, a time of great vulnerability.

Speaking of babies, McGuire adds, "The wood needs to be rough and unfinished so the baby birds can have something to grab onto to climb out. I don't build my birdhouses so people will think they're pretty. I build them so birds will want to nest in them." He knows just what a chickadee, bluebird, or woodpecker wants, and Joe delivers. I asked if I could purchase a nest box from him and ended up with an invitation to come visit. That's one I think I'll accept, gladly. Joe says people can also buy nest boxes from Audubon or local bird feeding supply or hardware stores, "although they may not be the way I think they ought to be," he says. Or you might decide to just build your own.

A major concern right now is the fact that some bird species are nesting earlier than usual due to global warming. If the eggs hatch too early, before it's warm enough to have adequate insect populations, adults may not be able to feed their offspring. You can read about this situation and see an interesting video at ScienCentral . But there's good news too. The U.S. State of the Birds report shows that species can, and do, respond well to conservation efforts. Please consider becoming a citizen scientist. It's a great way to involve children in the appreciation of nature and is as fun as it is valuable. Let's help save America's birds.

Note: Photo courtesy of NestWatch