Gory science education remembered across the years

What do you remember about your early years at school? If you’re like me, chances are not too many of the specifics.  But I am pretty sure that my oldest son, now in the second grade, had one of those lessons last week. Why do I say that? Because I have a very similar memory from my time at school, as does my mother. More than 60 years separate these lessons, but they are essential the same.

And the lesson? Dissecting an eyeball and extracting the lens.

My mother worked on a sheep’s eye. I dissected a cow’s eye. And my son got to do the same with an anchovy.

It was amazing watching a class full of normally twitchy seven and eight year olds settle down and learn what makes a fish a fish.  The climax was removing the lens and feeling the tiny hard sphere that you could then take back to class. It made science-education real — if a little smelly!

The staff and many volunteers at the Shorebird Nature Center at the Berkeley Marina did a great job turning these students into scientists for the morning. I have a hunch that one of his early school memories will be of this day and that little anchovy.

Do you have a favorite lesson that has stuck with you through the years?

Dissecting an anchovy.
Dissecting an anchovy.

Remembering Martin Litton’s passionate and indomitable spirit

I was saddened to learn earlier today that Marin Litton, a passionate conservationist, passed away yesterday. I met Martin during my time at Save the Redwoods League. We connected on the redwoods (of course) and over his time in England during World War II fly gliders from airbases likely built by my grandfather.

I will never forget the first time we met.  It perfectly exemplifies his fierce independence and passion.  We were hosting a memorial tree planting for Martin’s former boss at Sunset Magazine, Ambassador Bill Lane. Given that many of the guests were getting on in years, we’d arranged for a bus to bring people up to the redwoods from the Bay Area.  The bus was running late. Very late. And Martin was the reason.

Martin stepped out of the bus with a bloodied and bruised face. In the early morning light, Martin had slipped in his driveway and landed heavily on his head. He’d laid there until his wife found him.  Undaunted they dusted hims off and he and his wife drove to meet the bus.  Our staff encouraged (implored!) him to go to the local hospital to be checked out.  But that would mean missing the event to honor his long-time fellow champion of the Sierra. Martin was getting on that bus if it was the last thing he was going to do.  Finally a compromise was reached and he agreed to visit the Garberville emergency room to be checked out when he arrived.  Anyone who has done that drive in a car knows its a long and slow drive. Imagine doing that with a bloodied, bruised head? I can’t!

It didn’t end there.  Between checking in to the hotel and getting Martin in the car to the hospital, his wife slipped. So we took them both to be checked out.  Fortunately both were fine, if bruised. Martin joined everyone the next day for breakfast, complete with a massive bandage and incipient black eye.   I can tell from reading his obituary, that this was the real Martin. He was an unstoppable force and the mountains and the forests of the West are better today for it.

Rest in Peace, Martin.

Bruised, but unstoppable, Martin Litton talks about his friend Bill Lane.
Bruised, but unstoppable, Martin Litton talks about his friend Bill Lane.

Remembering Harold

Harold Hoyle was my great uncle.  Born in the late 1800’s, he died near the Front on August 25, 2018 in the closing weeks of World War I. This past weekend, my mother along with other relatives, gathered in Earby, northern England to lay a poppy at the town’s war memorial. The oldest of the clan was my uncle Martin — Harold’s half brother. The youngest, my nephew Mylo.

My mother shared her memory of grandmother, Harold’s step-mother, telling the story stood of him leaving for the last time. She was stood on the very step he left from never to return.

Harold Hoyle was my fathers half brother and lived at Hodge Syke in Earby. He was an essential mill worker but was given the white feather one Friday evening by two mill girls so went to war. He was injured in France and came home to recuperate for 5 months and then went back. I remember Pauline Mary Hoyle (my grandmother and his step mother) telling me about the day he went back, standing in the doorway at Hodge Syke and telling her he would never come home again. She cried when she told me this and although not much more than 10 years old at the time (I’m 70 this year) I have never forgotten her look as she remembered the event.

The local paper, The Craven Herald, carried his death notice along with two moving poems on September 20th, 1918.

Private Harold Hoyle, Duke of Wellington's Regiment.
Private Harold Hoyle, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

Private Harold Holye, Earby

Private Harold Hoyle, Duke of Wellington’s, killed in action on August 25th, was 25 years of age and the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Albert J. Hoyle, Hodge Syke, Earby. He was wounded last October and returned to France after four months’ recuperation in England. Altogether he had been two years at the Front and was formerly an engine-tenter at Grove Shed, Earby.

HOYLE – In loving memory of our dear son, Private Harold Hoyle, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, who was killed in action somewhere in France, August 25th, 1918.

Somewhere in France in a soldier’s grave,
Lies our dear son among the brave;
From earthly cares to heavenly rest,
Missed by those who loved him best.

–From Father, Mother, Brothers and Sisters

Somewhere in France in a soldier’s grave,
Lies my dear sweet heart amongst the brave;
But the unknown grave is the bitterest blow
None but an aching heart can know,

–Ever remembered, Mollie

100 years after the end of the Great War, I find the story deeply moving. Harold was doing his part for the War effort on the home front, and yet something as flimsy as a white feather —  a potent symbol of cowardice — led to two years at the Front of the most brutal war and ultimately to his death in battle. Rest in Peace, Harold.

 Martin and MyloIMG_0317

What would Stephen Mather think about WiFi in National Parks?

The National Park Service is developing plans to bring WiFi and better cell-phone access to parks, including the iconic Yellowstone National Park. It’s triggering a heated debate, evidence by the recent article on Mashable that has been widely shared. Do elk and moose need access to the internet? Or more importantly, do the visitors who have come to be with nature also need to be connected to the internet so they can post a selfie instantaneously?

As we come up to the Centennial of the National Park Service it had me wondering what Stephen Mather, the first head of the National Park Service, would think of this debate. Of course, we’ll never know, but I have a hunch he’d have been an advocate.

Mather was a fascinating individual who had made his millions out of 20 Mule Team Borax. He understood the power of brand and the importance of getting people into the parks. He professionalized the park service, developed the iconic image of the Park Ranger (think of that hat), promoted Park Highways, and introduced concessions into Parks to provide for the needs of the visitors attracted to the parks he was building. He understood that parks needed protecting and the best way to protect them was to have passionate advocates who loved them.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he’d understand the importance of introducing WiFi and internet access in a careful and limited manner to both encourage new visitors and provide new services to the visitor once they arrived. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we need access everywhere all the time, but I do believe parks need to keep pace with current trends to ensure they remain relevant to all visitors.

What do you think?

Failing streets open up opportunities to build green infrastructure

Late last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Committee released a report on the state of the streets in the nine-county Bay Area. As anyone who has been jolted when there car or bike hit a pot hole, it will come as no surprise that the situation is pretty dire. In many cities and counties, routine maintenance is not enough to even maintain the status-quo, let alone rebuild for the future. Across the region, 43,000 miles of streets are stuck in the “fair” category, with no sign of improvements on the horizon. I might add that my home town of Albany had one of the lowest scores and has shown steady declines over the past three years.

There was a short segment on KQED’s forum this morning about the report. The discussion focused on the need to develop new funding mechanisms, and how cities like El Cerrito have successfully raised new revenue to fix up old streets.  While the MTC report and radio debate touches on the concept of “Complete Streets” –streets that are build for cars, bikes, and pedestrians — they both missed another element from my perspective. Namely water.

Essentially, our street system has extended and in some cases replaced the system of creeks and rivers that used to drain into the Bay.  In a region that is defined by the Bay, we should use every opportunity we can to enhance its protection. And in a time of scarce public resources, we can not afford to solve one problem at a time. Fortunately, in the case of streets you can solve the pot hole problem, create a safer and more livable street, and protect water quality at the same time. It’s already happening in pockets around the area as “low impact development” ordinances are adopted and implemented. What is needed now is a comprehensive set of ordinances to ensure that as our streets are upgraded, we’re creating green streets for the future.

Rather than getting rainwater off our streets and into the storm drain as quickly as possible, we need to allow it to percolate back into the groundwater. This can be achieved through curb-cuts, bioswales, rain gardens and cisterns. Not only do these enhance water quality, they also create more liveable green space in our community. If done correctly, it can also open up new funding mechanisms focused on water quality and supply.

If I’m going to be asked to tax myself to pay for road upgrades, I want to ensure we’re building streets for 2050, not taking the region back to 1950.

What would you prefer? More concrete or a green rain garden?
What would you prefer? More concrete or a green rain garden?
A curb-cut captures water from the street and directs it into a rain garden.
A curb-cut captures water from the street and directs it into a rain garden.

What does Topanga smell like? To a four-year-old.

Walking back from dropping his brother at school this morning, my middle son suddenly shouted out, “I don’t see Topanga, but I smell it!”  Asked what does it smell like, he responds, “It smells like mountains full of bears.”

We were in the Bay Area, far from Topanga Canyon and many miles (I think) from the nearest bear. So what was he smelling?  The sun was out and shining on the trees, so perhaps it was the smell of morning sun warming up the trees.

We hadn’t been together in Topanga since late summer. It was a good reminder of how smell can trigger strong memories. And as we never saw a bear in Topanga, it also shows how young minds blend fact and fiction seamlessly. Now I am wondering how to include protecting natural smells in our conservation plans!

The distinct smell of the mountains of Topanga
Enjoying the mountain trails, Topanga Canyon

 

 

Governor Brown: Turn that Umbrella Upside Down

Governor Brown is so far ahead in his race for re-election that he’s throwing his weight, and war-chest, behind the campaign to pass Proposition 1 and 2. That’s the water bond and the state’s “rainy day” fund. I’ll be voting yes on the water bond. It’s a smart investment in the state’s water future. It will enable us to clean up groundwater, invest in conservation and recycling, and develop stormwater capture projects.

I have yet to make a decision on Prop 2, But the imagery being used for the “rainy day fund” is just wrong in the context of a joint campaign. The picture of an umbrella shedding the rain is as classic as it is wrong. In the context of the water bond, the last thing we want to do is to shed the rain — we need to capture it and save it for later! The same is true of course for excess revenue during flush years. One of the problems we face across the state is we have paved over the earth and now when it rains water is shed from our cities, picks up pollutants and rushes into our rivers, bays and ocean. We need to turn the umbrella upside down — to use it to capture the rain where we can direct it back into our groundwater to be used during the inevitable dry times ahead. Doing this will help our regions secure their own water futures.

So nice job marrying these measures up, Governor Brown. You just need to overhaul your imagery!

Prop2RainyDayFund

When sustainability is not enough.

Sustainable. Barely a day goes by without hearing something about “sustainability.” The City of Los Angeles has a Chief Sustainability Officer. Most large corporations have a sustainability plan. And goods from furniture to wine tout their sustainability credits.

But is it enough? I don’t think so. At it’s simplest, sustainability means meeting today’s needs without compromising those of the future. Sounds like a good thing to strive for. Trouble is, we have been borrowing from the future for generations and at some point we need to pay it back and leave the world better than we found it. I believe we’re past that point.

A quick example. If you were given a lump- sum of cash to invest and live of the interest for the rest of your life how would you feel? Pretty fortunate if you were given $10 million. You could live a rich life on $500,000 a year. If you were given $100,000 you’d be scraping by on about $5,000 a year.  You’d struggle to keep healthy and fit at that level and life would likely be short and brutal.

Well, the same is happening with the natural capital of our planet. Every year we are borrowing from the future to sustain our standard and way of living. It’s time to start paying back. To move from the goal of having a a sustainable society to one that is regenerative.

This is starting to happen in pockets around the world. In the redwoods, groups like the Mendocino Redwoods Company are rebuilding the productive capacity of the forests even while they manage them for timber today.  In places, these forests used to have in excess of 200,000 board feet an acre. Today, many have less than 5,000. Sustained yield on a forest with 5,000 board feet an acre is insignificant compared to the potential of these forests.

In the ocean, Marine Protected Areas are being established to restore the productive capacity of the ocean.  In these set-aside zones, there are more fish, they are larger, and more fecund. They also stray and rebuild the fish stocks of the rest of the ocean.

We need to multiply these efforts around the world. With more than half of the world living in cities, these efforts are going to have to come to cities as well. Rather than striving for a sustainable city, we need a regenerative city.  One that is striving to leave the world a better place.

Do you have any examples of cities adopting bold goals that go beyond sustainability? I’d love to hear from you!

Black perch congregate in MPA off Catalina Island (Heal the Bay)
Black perch congregate in MPA off Catalina Island (Heal the Bay)
Towering Redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks
Towering Redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks

What would you give up for an endangered Crane?

Sometimes conservation can get a little abstract. The primary drivers of loss are often things we don’t personally do — I have never personally cut down the rainforest, or poached a rhinoceros horn. But once in a while I come across a story that makes the abstract very real and personal.

This great PodCast from RadioLab did just that.

Simple question. Would you be willing to give up your bird feeder to save a critically endangered Whooping Crane? Pretty easy, “yes.” What if watching birds around the feeder was the only way your husband of 50+ years was brought back from the dark recesses of Alzheimer’s disease? Not so easy.

Some form of this question gets asked and answered about 7 billion times each day. The net result, human population continues to soar while one by one species around us go extinct.

Goodbye Santa Monica Bay: Hello San Francisco Bay

Last week, I was driving along PCH listening to Katy Perry sing about plastic bags floating in the wind and wondering whether that song was about to become history with the stroke of Gov. Brown’s pen.  I looked right at the ocean just before Temescal Canyon in Pacific Palisades, and there a few yards out two dolphins enjoyed the waves in the light of the early morning. It’s a sight I will cherish, even as I step away from my role as CEO of Heal the Bay and move back to Northern California to be closer to my young kids.

My decision this week to leave Heal the Bay by the end of the calendar year was ultimately an easy one.  We’ve had some big wins in the past year and laid the groundwork for the next phase of work for Heal the Bay.  Alix Hobbs, a 16-year veteran of Heal the Bay who most recently served as chief operating officer, has been promoted immediately to president and CEO.

Alix’s journey from volunteer to Programs and Educations Director to Associate Director to now CEO has given her the ideal perspective to manage across the entire organization. Dorothy Green, our founder and personal friend of Alix, would be proud to know she has assumed the reins.

I am immensely proud of what I’ve accomplished with the staff over the past year.  We’ve had some ground-breaking wins that will forever protect the bay and all of California’s coastal waters.

We led the charge on adoption of a statewide plastic bag ban, the first in the nation.  We have established an ambitious Local Coastal Plan in the Santa Monica Mountains.  And working with our partners in the beach cities, we created a Pier Ambassadors program in the South Bay to educate the general public about sharks in the Bay.

Under my leadership, Heal the Bay has become a more forceful advocate about water supply issues and other drought-related policies. Our science and policy team will continue to integrate these issues throughout all our programs and public initiatives. Heal the Bay will be a major player regionally in educating the public about drought and driving policy in the years to come.

While I will miss the Bay, I know that it’s in safe hands. I will continue to serve as an advisor to the organization through the end of the year.  I am looking forward to Thursday evening soccer practice up in the San Francisco Bay Area, safe in the knowledge that I played a part in making the Santa Monica Bay a safer place for those dolphins.

Out on the Bay

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