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Sunday
Jun062010

Adventures in Composting: 100% compostable chip bag? We'll see about that.

We've been composting a long time now, way back to when I was certified as a Master Composter in the early 90s.  As part of Marin's efforts to reduce the waste stream, the County created the program, patterned on the Master Gardeners, to train compost educators and activists.  For a couple of years I gave compost classes around Marin on the weekends, teaching people how, and how to love worms.

In terms of our own operation, we started small at our old house, two big yard-waste bins out back and a worm-box in the kitchen.  I know that might not sound small, especially to those who don't have a yard, but it felt small. And certainly part of what we looked for when we moved was both garden and compost space.  So at this house, we graduated to a three-bin active yard-waste system, a passive two-bin in the very back of the yard for woody stuff that needed to sit longer, and a worm bin for our food scraps.  We've been composting such a long time that it's just a normal part of our little suburban farmer routine.  But I do love it and can still get worked up about how cool it is (July 08, and more recently January 10).

Over the past five years, we've taken to throwing into our compost items which we're told are biodegradable: the corn-starch ice cream spoons from the Scoop in Fairfax, potato-starch spoons from Three Twins.  The spoons have been re-surfacing regularly for five years, no change at all.  And our compost cooks.  I haven't stuck a thermometer in there lately, but judging from how quickly we go from a three-foot pile of clippings, coffee grounds and mown grass to a 1 foot pile of glorious, sweet-smelling compost, it's hot in there.  Transformation, of all but spoons, is happening.

So, naturally, when I saw this 100% compostable Sun Chips bag, I had to buy it.  I admit to a weakness for Sun Chips so that was a no-brainer.  And now that I've finished the entire bag of chips, we get to test the veracity of their claim.  Which is that in a hot home compost pile this bag will go from how it appears at left to nothing in 13 weeks.

  Really, who could resist the opportunity to green the world one bag of chips at a time?

I placed the empty bag in the middle of a pile of compost, then set about methodically layering that cake: dry stuff, green nitrogen-rich clippings, water, partially decomposed stuff from the next bin over, until that bag was buried good. My plan is to look for it whenever we turn the compost over the next 13 weeks, and take pictures of it every time, to see whether it really does break down as they say it will.

Here's where the Sun Chips bag is living for the moment, three-feet of organic matter.

Fingers crossed that this works. If it really does, great and then perhaps they'll use that plant-based material for other applications.  Yay.  But it doesn't work, then I suppose the bag can keep those bomb-proof ice cream spoons company.

Sunday
Jun062010

What are we doing? The damn oil spill...

There have been so many natural disasters recently, the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and the volcano in Iceland. I cared deeply about the people affected in all of those places, but honestly I am so much more devastated by the man-made Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf.

This problem that we caused ourselves is genuinely making me sick, making me re-consider everything, making me so sad and so angry at the same time.  I really can't look at more images of oil-covered pelicans or dead dolphins on beaches as much as I know it's necessary for them to keep re-circulating, for as many people as possible to see them, get enraged, do something about it.  [If you need pictures, check these out.]

I am bouncing between despair and anger, feeling helpless.  I want to never drive my car again.

What if all the manatees are wiped out?

At the precise moment that question crosses my mind, I realize that I'm sliding from EcoWarrior to EcoWorrier.  And worrying doesn't accomplish a god damn thing.

So since last night when I hit a low point of despair and worry about the oil spill, I've been reading, connecting, looking for resources on what to do with this Angry.  Really what I wish I could do is go help clean oil-soaked birds, but since I lack the know-how, that's out.  Instead here's what I'm doing to try and channel my rage:

- Spreading the word about National Wildlife Federation's efforts to help wildlife affected by the spill by sharing their website, joining their Cause on Facebook, posting their graphic upper right and texting them my $10.

- Following efforts by Wildcare, local awesome wildlife rehabilitation facility, to support efforts in the Gulf, standing by to help with supplies, cash, volunteer hours if they ask for them.

- Reading about a local group, Post Peak Living, mentioned in Imagining Life Without Oil in today's New York Times.  Their whole point appears to be that yeah, we need to be prepared for a world without this availability of oil we've grown accustomed to -- meaning that we need to develop the skills to be more self-sustaining.  It's def a bit Y2K for me, but still, I'm reading and pondering.  Of course this is in Marin!

- Checking out MoveOn.org's Oil Spill Vigil taking place on Election Night.

- And I really am going to drive less.  I'm not driving to the studio today for class, for example.  Instead I'm going to go spend two hours in the woods with Jasper before it gets too hot, replacing despair and rage with the sight of trees and my dog's prancing 13-year-old form.  And then stay home, practice some handstands, work in the garden, plant more food.

Yes, our stupid reliance on oil has got to change.  The good thing about those oil-soaked images that live on in my mind is that I will see them whenever I climb in my car now, so I can ask myself, "Is it worth it? Would I trade dolphins, turtles, manatees, birds, coral and fish for this?"

Don't worry.  Be active!

Friday
Jun042010

Happy 100th Birthday, Jacques Cousteau!

We went to Nightlife at the Academy of Sciences last night, for the debut of Ocean Voices and to observe the 100th anniversary of Jacques Cousteau's birth.  When I read about this event on-line and that two Cousteau grand-kids (Fabien and Celine) would be on hand to introduce the special show in the Planetarium, it was a done deal.  I know I'm not alone:  I can only imagine that my generation of kids -- those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s -- was pretty universally glued to Cousteau specials on television, grew up wanting to be him.  He is definitely a hero of mine from early childhood, so it felt like a necessity to be there, particularly in light of this madness with the oil spill and following on the heels of our dreamy morning tidepooling at Duxbury Reef last weekend.

Having been to Nightlife a few times now, I feel like I have the system down.  My timing was pretty perfect in arriving.  We were first in the Members line.  I know that's utterly meaningless, really, but I enjoyed knowing that  my feet would be the first in the door, guaranteeing that I'd be able to snap up tickets to Ocean Voices (done), then head downstairs champagne in hand, to enjoy the quiet, empty Aquarium.

And dream come true: the giant Pacific octopus was on the side of her tank, eye-level, in all her glory.  This tank is my first stop *every* time I visit, the sight I most crave. To be able to stand in that dim room, just Joe and me, and look at her eye, watch her breath, observe the tip of one tentacled leg slowly curling and unfolding, was such a treat.  And moments later, we were joined by someone in an orange Academy coat who regaled us with info about this particular animal and her kind generally.  Oh, other than being underwater, that is so my favorite!

So many of the creatures we saw in the Aquarium last night seemed so much more active than usual, or than I've ever seen there before.  The flounders were cruising around, eels, too.

I've decided that I'm not the target audience for Nightlife.  I do appreciate the lack of children and strollers --that's Genius, really.  I like having an experience of the Academy that is not about it being a playground.  And there's something wonderful about looking into brilliantly-colored displays with a drink in your hand, especially before it gets crowded.  But Nightlife is its own form of playground, for grown-ups, and I'm not sure it's the experience I really want to have, either.  I wonder whether there needs to be so much going on at once in one night: really, do we have to have two DJs and the Crucible with their fire stuff happening outside and in the center area and the usual theme-based tabling, not to mention all of the regular Academy happenings, the volunteers pushing around carts of skulls or bacula?  I'd be happy with just one thing, and maybe a jazz trio for example.  Maybe a quieter version of Nightlife, just once, so that I could avoid the feeling I had in the Extreme Mammals exhibit last night, around 9pm, that I was back in high school surrounded by tipsy idiot girls in party dresses.

But, no matter what, I was so glad to be there, to be in the same room with Cousteaus, to dedicate the great excitement that I feel when I see marine creatures back to the person who first unveiled this universe to my eyes: back to the original Zissou, Jacques Cousteau.  Long may we honor all that you gave us!

Wednesday
Jun022010

I [heart] David Attenborough

We've been watching the utterly remarkable Life of Mammals series (full episodes available via the link, hosted on youtube).  I have loved and revered David Attenborough since I saw him on some PBS show years ago, on hands and knees, intrepidly digging for eggs in a crocodile nest.  The Life of Birds changed my life.

The Life of Mammals series only strengthens my long-held desire to be David Attenborough when  I grow up.  I can't imagine a fuller, better life than the one he leads, roaming around, talking to animals.  There is simply something so exuberant about him.  I am always inspired by his example, cheered by his choice of words, deeply moved by his narration.  I am grateful to still be learning something new every day, especially when David Attenborough is the teacher!

And what great preparation for the introductory mammalogy class I'm signed up for in the Fall.

Here's the first episode in its entirety for those so inclined.  Echidna and platypus: enjoy!

Tuesday
Jun012010

It's little, but still: it's *something*

Any work-day that follows a blissful four-day weekend is bound to be a let-down.  Today was sucky enough just by virtue of comparison to the freedom and fun of what had gone immediately before, and then made worse by an absurd payroll-service problem that resulted in a gross error on my boss's paycheck.  She emailed me from Italy to ask if there had been a mistake, unaccustomed as she is to being paid $12K net every two weeks.  Uh yeah, unaccountable error on the payroll-service's part that ate up most of my afternoon.  But I fixed it.

I was delighted to get home to my clean house and darling dog.  Since it's Tuesday night and Joe is out with his team, this is a night that I love since I have the house to myself for a while.

I made myself something simple to eat and started flipping through the local paper.  I started reading something that sounded familiar, then realized that it was a piece I'd sent to the Marin IJ in late April.  I'd received an automated reply, but nothing else, and had frankly totally forgotten about it.  I squeaked, "heeeeeeey!," and jumped out of my chair for a second.  Surprised and delighted.  Then read it and wished I'd edited it better.  But still, delighted.

It's a really small thing.  It's just the local paper, which generally I bitingly criticize for reporting all major news 48 hours late and for devoting way too much space to the Grateful Dead.  [Side note: I keep forgetting to start my project of counting the number of days between mentions of Jerry or Phil so that I can prove that no more than 14 days can ever go by without their appearance, front page and above the fold, but until then, it's pure conjecture on my part.  Educated conjecture, but conjecture nonetheless.]

But still, though a small thing, being published in our local rag represents something bigger to me: that I'm really serious about this direction I'm taking, that I think it's working, that through constant attention and commitment, one foot after another, I will most definitely make this change I crave.

I'm doing it, dang it.  And so glad!