Welcome

Welcome to my blog, where I gather thoughts on Heart Wood, the environment, eco-fiction, feminism, writing, and more.

Potato Chip Leaves

Out in my vegetable garden, the late-morning sun scalds my neck as I clip off yesterday’s “potato chip leaves” from my butternut squash plants. In my 40 years of raising vegetables, I’ve never had this problem of leaves air-frying on the vine, crisp and brown like potato chips. My husband comes over with his make-shift shade cover, a contraption of 40% shade cloth stretched over a frame of PVC piping, supported by four bamboo poles. We work together to angle the frame so it protects against the blistering sun. We’ll do the same for the next raised bed…and the next.

In recent years, I’ve focused on growing food we can eat during the winter, so this spring, I over-planted butternut squash. Twelve little seedlings emerged. I transplanted three to another bed, leaving nine healthy seedlings to fill the raised bed. They were doing just fine; the 2:00 AM drip watering and layer of mulch kept the ground moist. And then on July 7th we were hit with a mega-heat wave.

110 degrees Fahrenheit!

I took a photo of the outside temperature reading and sent it to our daughters. “Look at this: 105 degrees! No, wait, it’s now 106.” Every half hour I documented the rising temperature until it peaked at 110 degrees. These were Death Valley temperatures – not our mountain homestead’s. I was so absorbed with the thermometer, that I didn’t think about my veggies until my evening stroll out in the garden.

I’m aware that some leaves naturally wilt on hot days – it’s the plant’s natural response to preserving moisture, especially the cucurbit family: squash, cucumbers, melons. They’ll usually perk up again when it cools if the soil is moist.

But this was different. The sun was hot, but even in the shade, the air itself was pizza-oven hot. About half of my butternut squash and cucumber leaves were dried crisp as potato chips. Young tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants were so shocked and set back, that this will probably be the first year I won’t have enough tomatoes to can.

We’re like the proverbial frog who’s merrily swimming in a pot of cold water, hardly noticing the slowly increasing temperature until it’s too late and he’s boiled to death – which is probably how the extreme heat of 2021 snuck up on me.  Climate patterns have shifted slowly over several decades, but now, they’re ramping up. In the late 1970s when we first settled into the western slope of the Northern California Sierra, it was common to get 2-3 feet of snow at a time. Today we’re lucky to get 2-3 inches at a time. Same with rain. Whereas we used to count on rain starting November, now we’re lucky to start getting substantial rainfall in January or February. We worry that our well might run dry.

The end of gardening as I’ve known it and time for a whole new gardening strategy

The extreme heat wave of July 7, 2021 and subsequent hotter-than-usual days will forever change the way I garden. I’m already thinking of new strategies for next year’s vegetable garden and I’m hoping you might have ideas to add to the list.

Please send your suggestions to me at: heartwoodnovel@gmail.com, and I’ll share them in a future blog.

Here’s my start:

  1. Focus on seeds that are drought and heat tolerant. I’ve a feeling we’ll be seeing more of these in the 2022 seed catalogues.
  2. Create moveable shade covers for my raised beds that can also serve as early/late frost protection. You can do a lot with PVC pipes and shade cloth.
  3. Study how indigenous peoples and desert dwellers grow food in hot, arid climates,  such as the “Three Sisters” approach where corn, squash, and climbing beans create a supportive environment for each other.
  4. Focus on plants that grow well in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall when it’s not so hot.
  5. Let the shade of tall or vertical crops shade plants below. I might plant corn as a wall of shade in each bed.
  6. Continue automatic drip watering between 1-4 am, and mulch, mulch, mulch to preserve moisture. Mist plant leaves by hand in the cool of the evening.
  7. Research the “50 Future Foods” project that I wrote about in Heart Wood.

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I’ll end with a new plant in my garden that is growing well in this year’s heat: the North Georgia Candy Roaster Pumpkin. Originally cultivated by the Cherokee peoples in Southeastern part of our country, it’s like a cross between a butternut squash and pumpkin and stores well. I can’t wait to try it this winter!


Purchase Heart Wood at your local bookstore (support independent bookstores!) Print and eBooks at online retailers and HERE on Amazon.

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Contact the author at: heartwoodnovel@gmail.com

Triads of Women Give me Hope!

Political appointments don’t usually excite me, but the recent headlines following New York Governor Como’s resignation that three women now hold the top three positions in New York, caught my attention big time.

Kathy Hochul, 2017, Wikipedia Commons

On August 23, 2021, New York Times reporters Dana Rubinstein and Luis Ferré-Sadurní wrote that:

“Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who will become the first female governor of New York on Tuesday, selected experienced political aides to fill her top two administration posts. Ms. Keogh’s appointment, along with the selection of Elizabeth Fine as Ms. Hochul’s counsel, means that a trio of women will be at the helm of the executive branch roiled by allegations of sexual harassment by the outgoing governor.”

Kathy Hochul, 2017, Wikipedia Commons

Why does this give me hope?

Because it’s time. If you’ve read my speculative fiction novel, Heart Wood, you know that the power of women working in triads is one of the main themes.

It’s time that the feminine approach to decision-making and getting things done becomes our leadership style. Just look around at what we’re experiencing: environmental destruction, political unruliness, polarized communities. I don’t need to rant on about how the masculine approach has brought us to the brink of self-inflicted chaos. (Please note, I’m not talking about males and females, but about masculine and feminine approaches to life. It’s not necessarily gender-based).

Have you ever awakened in the dark of night with the answer to a problem? When I wrote Heart Wood, I struggled with how to portray how feminine leadership is different. I kept putting it off until I had written myself into a corner. I went to sleep, knowing that when I work up in the morning, I had to create a scene to illustrate how the feminine style of decision-making and getting things done differs from the masculine. To make it more challenging, I gave this task to Eliza in 1915.

In a dreamy haze, I awoke thinking about a class I took back in 2007 as part of Sierra Health Foundation’s Health Leadership Program. The instructors, Dave Logan from the Marshall School of Business, USC, and John King, JLS Consulting, had us experience the power of setting up triads in our work setting instead of the more traditional leader-at-the-hub-of-the-wheel or top of a pyramid.  I don’t have a background in sociology or organizational development, but this model has been helpful to me ever since. (You can research Dyads/Triads online for a deeper description).

Triads? Threesomes? Trios? Each person is connected to two others, forming a triangle that can independently problem-solve and move forward. Stable like a three-legged stool, each triangle is connected to other triangles for support. It felt like a feminine way of working: cooperation, collaboration, communication. It wasn’t a perfect model, but it felt right. 

When I began writing that morning, the creation of an analogy came easily. What did women in early 1900s do? Quilt. I envisioned Eliza working on a quilt made of triangle-shaped pieces as she talked with her daughter about how she would organize her departments as the new president of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Here’s the scene from Heart Wood, Eliza, 1915 ( page 383)

     Eliza reached for the pincushion, pulled out a needle with enough pink thread to work with, and started on the pink calico triangle. They continued stitching in a silence, punctuated by needles slipping in and out of each triangle with a quiet pop. Eliza thought back to all the times she and her mother had worked on quilts together. And the Bowtie quilt her mother had hung on the back porch. Who would have guessed it was a signpost pointing the way to safety for escaping slaves? Hidden in plain sight, it was.
     “Mother?”
     Eliza didn’t reply, for she was deep in thought, drawing her index finger along the seam lines, moving from color to color, edge to edge, triangle to triangle.
     “Mother, are you finished?”
     Eliza held up her hand; she needed more time to think. After a few moments she rose abruptly. 
“Of course!” 
     Dottie followed her to the dining table and watched her rearrange the stacks of files from one side of the table then back again. 
      “Help me take these into the parlor, Dottie. This table is simply not the right shape.” 
After pushing the furniture back against the walls, Eliza worked trance-like, for the next hour. She covered the carpet with her department files arranged into sets of three, each set forming a triangle by bordering with and connecting to the other two; each of those creating another triangle with its neighbors, until the floor was like a quilt of interconnecting triangles. It was a bit awkward using rectangle files, but as she straightened her aching back, she saw what had been hidden in plain sight. 
     “Do you see how this works, Dottie? Each department head is connected to two other heads. They form a unit; help each other out, share resources. On either side of each woman is, in turn, another triad of women, making each woman and department stronger. You can go on and on, creating as many connections as you need. This is as stable as a three-legged stool. And no one woman has to bear all the weight.”
     Eliza threw open her arms with excitement. “This is how women work - we reach out to each other, we set personal issues aside in order to strengthen the whole. This is women’s power.”

And so I have hope. Hope that the newly installed New York Governor, Kathy Hochul, along with Karen Keogh (Secretary to the Governor) and Elizabeth Fine (Counsel to the Governor), will usher in a fresh wave of New York politics; that they show us how to work together for the community’s benefit, and that we are all smart enough to learn from them.

As Eliza concluded:
     “We’re all so accustomed to the organizing structure that men have handed to us,” she told them. “But it is a structure that keeps women from our power. I propose we try something more aligned to our female nature: a structure that facilitates sharing connections and power, not merely an exclusive hierarchy of power. One that promotes the integrity of our planet, not one that destroys the planet for man’s selfish gain.”  This, the women understood.”  

Heart Wood – Four Women, for the Earth, for the Future

Winner: In “Visionary Fiction,” National Indie Excellence Award (NIEA)

Finalist: for “Thought-provoking” Books, The Montaigne Medal, Eric Hoffer Awards

Finalist: Self-published Review Award

Recommended: US Review of Books

Purchase Heart Wood at your local bookstore (support independent bookstores!)

HERE on Amazon, and in Nevada County, California, at Harmony Books, The Book Seller, JJ Jacksons, Reflections Skin Oasis, and SPD Markets.

Please consider leaving a review on AMAZON and GOODREADS. It’s a great way to support independently published authors. Thank you!

BLOG – Sign up to follow at:  https://shirleydickard.com/blog/

WEBSITE:  https://shirleydickard.com/

Contact the author at heartwoodnovel@gmail.com

Elon Musk’s Neurolink: Harbinger of the “Nib”?

Elon Musk has bold visions for the future of humanity. His inventions include the Tesla electric car, Space X Starship, and Starlink– space-based internet. But when he unveiled the latest developments of his Neuralink – a wireless implant into the brain that could someday let human brains directly interface with digital devices, my skin crawled with goosebumps.

Elon Musk describes his “Neuralink” brain implant

I went back to my early 2016 drafts of Heart Wood – to Amisha’s future world (2070-2090) in which everyone has a “Nib” implanted at birth behind their ear– a miniscule micro-chip that eliminates all need for external electronic devices. It would be like having a continual “Siri,” “Alexa,” or “Google” active in your head, clouding or overriding your personal thoughts, providing you with information and giving directions in anticipation of what you might or should want. With less need for other humans, eye contact and physical touch would wither from disuse.

Amisha was a young child when she was retrofitted with the new, mandatory Nib…

“Amisha hardly remembered the time of silence, before her parents took her to the tall building, the line of other little children, the sharp stab in her neck, the prickles that grew behind her ear beneath her skin, and the new voice she began to hear.” (Heart Wood)

I pondered what to call my imaginary implant. “Chip” was too predictable. My friend Mark Jokerst helped me come up with the word “Nib” (Neural Implant Bot Sensor).  I like that “Nib” also had a brief appearance in the late 1800s as the nib of Eliza’s fountain pen – both communication devices, two centuries apart.

Musk describes his Neuralink as like a Fit Bit in the skull with tiny wires that connect the brain to computers/phone via Bluetooth. To insert, an advanced robot surgically implants the Neuralink (0.9” wide/0.3” tall) and its 1,024 miniscule electrodes into the brain matter. Its battery life lasts all day; you charge it at night. Like your Tesla.

“Amisha nodded to the rain pelting the bedroom window and, with a right-flick of her eyes, queried her Nib: Didn’t it already rain twice this year? Last rain: April 14, 2075. Four point six inches of precip in one hour temporarily raised the Bay five inches. Seawall was moved back two feet. Your closest umbrella stand is corner of Grove and . . . Amisha halted her Nib feed with a left-flick of her eyes.”

 Musk is serious about his invention, predicting it will enable people with spinal cord injuries to control their prosthetic limbs. He goes on to say that future applications will cure blindness, seizures, depression, and other mental health conditions. Eventually, he speculates, you’ll be able to record, replay, and upload your memories. Neuralink may one day upload and download thoughts. People with implants would be capable of telepathy—not just sending and receiving words, but actual concepts and images. “The future’s going to be weird,” Musk said.

“Menting” in Heart Wood is a version of telepathy. Like mental texting.

“Orion!” she called from the bathroom. Of course, he was still gaming. She sent him a mental message but got no response to her ment. Breathe in . . . out . . . in . . . out. She left Orion an urgent ment to contact her. –I.P. hours in thirty minutes, reminded her Nib. A pedi.cab is passing in eight minutes. Amisha dropped a handful of general purpose Pharm.food packages into her aquamarine crocheted bag for her midday food, then checked her route for shootings and outbursts and decided it was safe enough to walk. She needed to clear her head from last night’s dream.”

How close is the Neuralink to reality? With great fanfare, Musk held press conferences on August 28, 2020 to show off the Neuralink implanted into normal-acting pigs, and on April 12, 2021, showing a monkey playing video games with its Neuralink-enhanced brain.  Links to these are below.

As new technologies like Neuralink infuse into our future, I see bioethical red flags being raised regarding privacy invasion, consent, and misapplication by military, political, commercial, and government interests.

But I have an additional concern: that something essential to being human will be lost.

As Amisha grew up, she modified her Nib’s voice:

” …first upgraded as girlfriend Talia, then briefly Jordan, until she got tired of hearing a man’s voice. Eventually she installed a nameless voice, programmed to be both competent and comforting to her. Over the last few months, however, she had detected something new, a murmur so faint she thought at first it was static from her Nib. Now and then, a word would break through, then just as quickly be covered over by a wave of Nib drivel. Something was weaving through her dreams at night like a root tip seeking water, seeking her. She’d wake up shivering.”

It’s our inner voice that we stand to lose – the source of intuition, nudges, insights, and the unique expression of our spirit.

Technology will integrate deeper into our daily lives: A.I. leads us to our destinations, Google searches distract us down rabbit holes, podcasts fill our quiet moments, and every click adds to our profile. These probably won’t change. For me, the question is how do we keep our inner voice alive and vibrant?   

I wrote Heart Wood in part as a reminder that beneath all the technology, we have our unique, still, small, voice. The small oak desk is a metaphor for what connects us to a deeper, more universal, earth-based wisdom.  We can ignore it or pile our “stuff” on top of it, but when we finally sit quietly with no distractions, our inner voice can be heard.

I feel this is one of the most important things we can share with our children: to make time every day for the bliss of boredom. Just sit quietly, perhaps out in nature. Notice what you see and hear around you. Maybe close your eyes. And as Shima’a said to the future…

Listen to the Silence

Heart Wood – Four Women, for the Earth, for the Future

Winner of the National Indie Excellence Awards for Visionary Fiction.

2021 Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award’s Montaigne Medal for the most thought-provoking books that either illuminate, progress, or redirect thought.

Finalist – Self Publishing Review and RECOMMENDED by the US Review of Books

Purchase Heart Wood at your local bookstore (support independent bookstores!), here on Amazon, and in Nevada County, California, at JJ Jacksons, Reflections Skin Oasis, SPD, and of course, Harmony Books and The Book Seller.

Please consider leaving a review on Amazon and Goodreads. It’s a great way to support independently-published authors. Thank you!


To read more about Elon Musk’s NEURALINK:

Thought Provoking?

I received a notice that Heart Wood was a finalist for the 2021 Eric Hoffer Award’s Montaigne Medal. The significance didn’t sink in at first.  Although I had applied for several book awards, the Montaigne Medal was not one of them. As an independently published author, I didn’t have the resources of a publishing house to do the necessary marketing for me, and since it was a busy day, I filed the letter away to re-read later.

When I returned to the letter, I was blown away. The Eric Hoffer Award judges had pulled Heart Wood out of the 2,500 books being considered for other award categories and selected it for their Montaigne Medal as “one of the most thought-provoking books that either illuminate, progress, or redirect thought.”

To me, there’s no greater honor than being recognized for my underlying motive in writing Heart Wood. Thought provoking? Perhaps it was because I posed more questions than answers: What if we ignore the Earth’s cries for help all around us, and continue at the pace we’re going? What if we could lean back into the past or forward into the future and influence thinking and outcomes? What if women led the way with their unique style of working together to make decisions and solve problems? What can we do today that our descendants will thank us for? What if we let the Earth speak first? What can we learn from silence?

When the two winners of the Montaigne Medal were announced mid-May (books from the University of California and the John Hopkins University Presses), it didn’t detract from the honor of having Heart Wood recognized as a thought-provoking book of exceptional merit.

Here’s more about the Eric Hoffer Book awards, from their website: (www.hofferaward.com/home).

“The Eric Hoffer Book Award was founded at the start of the 21st century to honor freethinking writers and independent books of exceptional merit. The commercial environment for today’s writers has all but crushed the circulation of ideas. It seems strange that in the Information Age, many books are blocked from wider circulation, and powerful writing is barred from publication or buried alive on the Internet. Furthermore, many of the top literary prizes will not consider independent books, choosing instead to become the marketing arms of large presses.

“Throughout the centuries, writers such as Emily Dickenson, James Joyce, Walt Whitman, and Virginia Woolf have taken the path of self-publishing, rather than have their ideas forced into a corporate or sociopolitical mold. Today, small and academic presses struggle in this same environment. The Hoffer will continue to be a platform for and the champion of the independent voice. Since its inception, the Hoffer has become one of the largest international book awards for small, academic, and independent presses.”


Heart Wood interweaves the lives of three family women who live in the past, present, and future, yet reach across time to bring a feminine perspective to the environmental issues of their era, including exploration of the long-term impacts of gold mining activity, early California land reclamation practices, the controversy of dams in the 21st century, and the development of new ways of living with minimal water and resources. 

Heart Wood readers have this to say:

   “I am thinking that the ultimate review of a book is one that says the reader has been rationing the daily reading of said book. Well into your book, I started rationing the number of chapters I could read at a time.  I have now progressed to rationing the days that I could read it, because I really DO NOT want it to end. It is truly wonderful, and my friends that I have given copies feel exactly the same. Thank you SO MUCH for being so spot on about where we are and expressing it so well.  Let’s just hope we are in a better position to turn things around.” -Marcia P.

Just finished Heartwood and it has now taken its ”proper”  place in my den between Gary Snyder’s This Present Moment and Steve Sanfield’s The Right Place. Proper because the best of the Sierra should be able to rub dust jackets if not elbows. Loved it – thanks for the gift of this wonderful book. -Al D.

Heart Wood – Four Women, for the Earth, for the Future is published independently through Sierra Muses Press, a small collective of four local women writers. It can be purchased at local bookstores, on Amazon, or directly from the author (autographed) by emailing: heartwoodnovel@gmail.com.

You can follow my blog at: https://shirleydickard.com/blog/

Creating Historical Fiction

Note to reader: I am struck by the irony of my post Creating Historical Fiction that I planned for today. Start with the facts, I write, but if you want a richer, more powerful story, try converting your story into a fictionalized version. We’re living in a time when a president is attempting to stay in power by creating a fictional version of the election. Future historians will help us understand the facts and how we responded thereafter. (SD – 1/12/21)


A thin, wavering curtain separates historical facts from the imagination of fiction. Research files may bulge with historical documents that provide the framework for fictionalized ancestors, but imagination and inspiration weave them into a deeper story.

Start with the Facts

Nearly every family has colorful characters and fascinating stories. You can probably think of a few yourself; maybe you have considered writing about them. But how? When I first became interested in my gold-rush era great-grandmother, I decided to write a biographical account of what I knew about how she came to California, ran an 800-acre farm, and worked to better the condition of her community.

Facts evolve into Fiction

At some point, I realized there was a larger story to tell – not just of her life and work, but how it related to the present generation, and even to our unknown future generations who will inherit our stories. I was encouraged to stretch into the realm of historical fiction. Gary Noy, editor of The Illuminated Landscape, A Sierra Nevada Anthology, agreed that fictionalized history carries an emotional resonance that far exceeds the presentation of facts. By writing a novel inspired by historical facts, I was free to tell a deeper, unhindered story.

From Fiction Back to Fact

Like the tip of an iceberg, fictionalized characters are more believable because of the bulk of research that lies beneath their story. Now that my fictionalized version is published, I return full circle to all the facts that launched Heart Wood. In conducting years of research, I’ve been delighted to know my great-grandmother as a larger-than-life thinker, writer, and activist. This research is now posted on my website under “Historical Research.” I am pleased to share my findings with my greater family and to make it available to the public for historical research.

I invite you browse the research that went into the creation of the past in Heart Wood. Perhaps it will be an inspiration to create something from your own family’s story!

Emily and Charles Hoppin (Yolo, California, 1850-1915)

The ancestors whose story inspired me to create Eliza and Silas in Heart Wood

I have recently posted over 25 documents and photographs on my website , including:  

Charles Hoppin’s letters home from the Gold Rush (1850-1863)

An oral history with my grandmother, Dorothea Hoppin Moffett, about growing up on the Yolo Ranch with her mother, Emily Hoppin

Pages of Emily Hoppin’s personal scrapbook (1890s-1915) with news clippings of her campaign for president of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1915

Photographs, maps, and selected documents from internet research

Conducting historical research has changed dramatically over the years

The Internet was unheard of when I first started investigating my family’s history in the late 1980s. To locate and read documents back then, I had to get in my car and travel to distant libraries and archives. Today, it’s a different world: my recent internet search for “Emily Hoppin, Yolo” found over 240 references to her in the California Digitalized Newspaper Collection!

AND…without the invaluable assistance of the Yolo County Archives and Records Center, Emily’s scrapbook would still be sitting on my bookshelf.  I am grateful to Coordinator Heather Lanctot who scanned each page with their large-sized scanner so that the scrapbook can be read on my website, and in time, will be a permanent public record at The Yolo Archives. Like all volunteer-based organizations during this time of COVID, The Yolo Archives appreciates donations (bit.ly/fyca-join).

I hope you will enjoy browsing my Historical Research page and perhaps be inspired to be creative with your own family’s history. If you’re curious about writing historical fiction, traditional memoir, or a biography, you can find a wealth of support on the internet, on-line classes, writing coaches, and books.

“Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges into the past.” – James Joyce, Ulysses


Heart Wood can be purchased online and at all bookstores

Thank you for supporting independently-published authors and local bookstores!

HERE: To support your local, independent bookstore

HERE: To purchase on Amazon (ebook and paperback)

www.shirleydickard.com


Three Books that Shaped “the Future” in Heart Wood

I’m often asked, “what influenced your creation of a dystopic future in Heart Wood ?” Although I’ve read speculative novels by amazing authors (think Margaret Atwood), my answer is always the same:

The three dystopic novels forever branded into my memory are:

Earth Abides,” “The Great Bay,” and “Feed

Each novel influenced how I wove the 2075 journey of great-granddaughter Amisha into my vision of the future. Coincidentally, two of the authors described a great pandemic that wiped out most of mankind – a premise that now gives me chills. That wasn’t the premise of Heart Wood, although I did mention “the flu” as something Amisha often endured as a child.  In Heart Wood though, there’s a sense of something else….

“EARTH ABIDES” by George Stewart. Written in 1949, Stewart details the earth’s transition and rebuilding after a virus wipes out most of civilization. Saved by the venom of a rattlesnake bite, the character Ish survives the virus and wanders through Northern California in what civilization has left behind. In vivid detail, Stewart describes the waves of transition the earth experiences, now freed from mankind’s influence. This book helped me let go of what I assumed is vital for the future. “Men go and come, but earth abides.” (Ecclesiastes, 1, 4)

“THE GREAT BAY” by Dale Pendell. Written in 2010, the late Pendell who lived in Nevada County, details the Great Collapse in California from 2021 to 16,000 years later. This takes place after a global pandemic in 2021 kills most of mankind – more than 200 million die in the U.S. in the first month alone. Chillingly prophetic!  Pendell moves forward decades and centuries at a time with detailed stories of survivors and maps that show the steady filling in of Central California to form a “Great Bay.”

“FEED” by M.T. Anderson. Another prescient book written in 2002. Although this Young Adult novel was written before smart phones (introduced in 2007), Anderson absolutely nailed how insidiously this communication technology would infiltrate and control our lives. Like the Nib in Heart Wood, almost everyone has a chip implanted in their brain that connects them to “The Feed.”  I listened to this as an audio book first and was hooked.

About Heart Wood – From Sandra Rockman, Theater Director

Wow! What a feat! A really good read, mammoth detail and impressive imaginings with the Nibs, etc. Although sobering to read right now in the midst of the pandemic and the election – such an important story and sensibility. Thank you for all your work on it. The world needs this book right now.

Heart Wood – Four Women, for the Earth, for the Future

The perfect gift for holiday giving; the perfect read for the times we’re in.

You can purchase your copy of Heart Wood at all local bookstores.

HERE: To locate your local independent bookstore. (Available at The Book Seller and Harmony Books in Nevada County) And HERE for Amazon (ebook and paperback)

Visit me at: www.shirleydickard.com

If you enjoyed Heart Wood, please consider giving a review on Amazon or Goodreads. It’s one of the best ways to support me and all indie authors. Thank you!

The Challenge of Zooming in the Mountains

It’s shivering cold inside the room where I’m about to take part in my first webinar panel about writing Heart Wood. If this had been old Japan during a freezing mountain winter, I might have kept warm by sitting at a table with a brazier of hot coals by my legs and a thick futon draped around the table to enclose the heat like a tent – a warming method called a kotatsu.

But it’s 2020, and without broadband internet access at home, I’m seated in our unheated Community Center in the Sierra with my own version of a kotatsu. Instead of hot coals by my feet, I have a small electric heater under the table. The wool blanket draped around the table and a wool sweater on my shoulders keep me warm so my teeth don’t chatter as I discuss writing with the other authors.

Kotatsu zooming in the mountains

My guess is that webinars and virtual zoom meetings are here to stay, so I’d better figure out how to make them work! I’m not a luddite, but I tend to embrace new technology reluctantly – just ask my husband. Without his penchant for upgrading all things techie, I’d still be getting up from the couch to change the channel at my trusty-old 1980’s-era TV set. 

Being an active participant via Zoom is easier said than done when you live in the mountains without cable, where satellite connections are fickle, and where there’s an awkward half-second lag before people hear the words you just mouthed. (BTW-most of us mountain folk still cling to our landline phones because mobile phones don’t always get good reception – a fact that’s lost on my urban friends!) But necessity is the mother of invention, so when I must be at my virtual best, I reserve a room at the local Community Center and use its high speed WiFi. 

Looking good on camera is another problem. YouTube is now filled with people offering advice: how to place your lighting so you’re not a shadowed monster; where to place your script; what colors to wear; how to sit and look natural;  background do’s and don’ts; and group conversation manners. Most sites offer at least one link to merchandise that promise to make you look professional: halo lights, tele-prompters, webcams, etc. It’s a booming business.

Before educating myself on YouTube, I didn’t realize that with my camera lens located at the bottom of the screen, it makes me look like I’m following a trail of ants across the screen instead of looking at the audience. I tried various suggestions, like elevating the laptop, but to no avail. In the end, a friend loaned me her plug-in webcam to hook on top of the screen and that did the trick.

I used to hate struggling with problems, but my attitude changed when I realized how many new brain synapses are formed in the process of problem-solving. At my 70+ age, that’s important!

How did the webinars go? The Sierra College OLLI Class on “Writing Your First Book” wasn’t recorded, but the “Friday Fiction” Panel on the Nevada County Library’s Virtual Author Showcase, 11/6/20, can be Viewed Here.

Heart Wood is the perfect gift for the holidays, whether for curling up in quarantine or as thoughtful consideration for how we can touch each other’s lives, give the earth a break to recover, empower a more feminine approach, and create a future that all forms of life can live in.

You can purchase your copy of

HEART WOOD

HERE: To support your local, independent bookstore!

Also available at The Book Seller and Harmony Books in Nevada County.

HERE: To purchase on Amazon (ebook and paperback)

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Strategies for surviving crazy, uncertain times

Expand…Contract…Expand…Contract…that’s my experience of the yo-yo ride of these past few years. One moment I feel expanded and happy, then I check the news and become contracted and anxious. I think the terms expand and contract aptly describe how my body and mind have responded to what’s happening in so many arenas at once: divisive politics/2020 elections, changing climate/extreme weather events, social justice/Black Lives Matter, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Friends have their own descriptions for this: like being on a roller coaster, flung between hope and despair, up and down, empowered or immobilized.

So far, I’ve landed on two approaches for living within these polarities – for staying healthy and sane, yet aware enough to take action if needed:

Spend more time WALKING in nature

Limit how much CONTRACTION time I allow in my life

This excerpt from Heart Wood describes the first fairly well. Overwhelmed by what’s happening to the planet, Harmony takes off to walk by the river.

Harmony

2009, Luna Valley, Northern California

 A whole morning spent scanning through email alerts and reading Dora’s endless summaries of county supervisors’ meetings gives me little more than a headache. Time to escape to my favorite place—the river. Like a homing pigeon, my old yellow Volvo glides down the switchbacks of the narrow mountain road until I enter the Third River canyon. Here the road parallels the shallow, trout-filled water—shallower than normal for spring runoff, I notice. Should I be concerned? I hang right into the parking area, where I can pick up the river trail.     

Sandals off, hiking boots on, I find the dusty trail head and start walking. The first part is rocky and unstable, but I know it will smooth out around the bend and I’ll soon strike a cadence.     

My boots pick up a deep, thudding rhythm alongside the steady flow of the wild-rushing river. Each step drops me deeper into the mindless presence I came here for. My forehead smooths, my jaw loosens, my breath deepens. River’s good medicine.

Heart Wood Page 233

EXPANSION is bouyant. My chest feels light, my heart open. I notice little details around me – like the colors, smells, sounds of the approaching autumn. Small things lift my spirits: playing with the dog, an unexpected phone call from a friend, a news story of youth tackling an environmental problem. I feel optimistic. I’d like to stay in expansion forever, but as I move through the day, I know that contraction may be next.

CONTRACTION weighs heavy, making it difficult to think or move. My shoulders curve inward, it’s harder to breathe. Feelings of panic and hopelessness build as I lay awake wondering how our country and democracy are going to survive. Will we have to accommodate to more erratic hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and drought? Will we ever return to hugging our family and friends, listening to live music, going to school and work, taking vacations? What kind of world will our grandchildren live in?

WHEN I’M FEELING THIS CONTRACTED, I try to avoid the news, but it’s too easy to pick up my phone and take a quick peek at what’s happened since the last time I checked, which is sometimes only a half-hour before. At least I have some control. In Heart Wood’s future world, newsfeed from the Nib implanted behind Amisha’s ear can’t be turned off. We’re not there….yet.

MY SECOND APPROACH to surviving these times is first, to recognize when I’m beginning to feel contracted, then to consciously limit those experiences. Like the thermostat in my house, I can adjust my exposure up or down as I need. If I’m cold, I turn up the heat; too warm, I turn it down.

I’M LEARNING TO GAUGE which news source I can handle at the moment by whether its style leaves me feeling expanded or contracted. Same with conversations with similar-minded friends. It’s satisfying to vent about what’s happening, but afterwards, how do I feel? Distress may motivate me to take positive action, but not if I’m worn down by it. I’m learning I can change the topic or change the channel.

BACK TO WALKING. Even if you don’t have the natural world right outside your door, trust me, the simple act of walking is good medicine. You can start small, add city blocks and minutes as you can, pay attention to what you’re feeling, and appreciate where bits of green nature show up.  It’s good for the heart and spirit, and it’s free.

ON MY DAILY WALKS, like Harmony in Heart Wood, I may start out walking fast, eyes narrowed straight ahead, mind turbulent with worrisome thoughts. Then something happens. After 15-20 minutes, my pace slows, my senses expand. I see that dogwood leaves are blushing red, feel acorns crunch beneath my shoes, and smell the clear air after months of wildfire smoke. I stop thinking. When I return to the house, I feel calmer, more resilient. And more ready for the next wave

I really wasn’t prepared for how many readers returned to buy extra copies of my eco-novel for giving to friends and family. Now is the perfect time to order Heart Wood for the upcoming holidays!

Purchase your copy of Heart Wood:

HERE: To support your local independent bookstore!

HERE: Amazon (ebook and paperback)

Wildfires are our future?

Turbulent clouds from the North Complex Fire cover our Northern California sky – September 8, 2020

The sun hides its fiery crimson ball behind the gray pall overhead and I can hardly make out the ghostly outline of pines beyond my window. Friends report the sky over San Francisco is a dystopic burnt orange. We’ve all been breathing smoky air for days along the entire west coast and as I write, the Air Quality Index in the Sierra is Hazardous at 303.

So much for my original plans for this Blog: Is Elon Musk Musk’s controversial Neurolink the precursor to Heart Wood’s Nib? I’ll come back to that later. Today I want to write about something more pressing: Is there anything we can do to lessen these massive wildfires, or should we and our children’s children expect to live with them from here on out? Here’s what I’ll cover: 1) Wildfires in California’s future – my artistic literary vision and some scientific projections. 2) How the Paris Agreement is designed to help us locally and world-wide (which the president withdrew the US from, but many states are pushing ahead anyway) 3) One tangible way to impact how our legislators vote for the environment.

So here we are. It’s mid-September and I remind myself that wildfire season in California has only just started. As much as I’m grateful we’re not one of the tens of thousands who have lost their homes to this season’s wildfires already, and I’ve sent donations to the Red Cross to help those who have, I’m so aware that we all share in the destruction of our air quality, respiratory, and environmental health.

I “saw” an eerily similar scene years ago when I was writing about the future in Heart Wood and envisioned Amisha moving about in San Francisco in 2075:

The old vase on her dresser was shimmering red the next morning when Amisha raised her head from the pillow. Most days started this way. Though the rising sun was rarely seen, its warmth caused micrometal particles suspended in the air to scintillate in a vague morning glow, casting a sense of dawn across the city.     (Heart Wood, p 14)

“Micrometal particles” suspended in the air? Though I left the details up to the reader’s imagination, it’s not hard to envision a ghastly mix of wildfire smoke and the toxins emitted from a burning civilization, as well as pollutants from industry and indestructible micro-plastics.

By 2075, wildfires have already burned most of the Sierra as Amisha and Charlie head up into the Sierra:

Amisha took another swig, then returned the canister to its hiding place. “What’s up there?” she asked, pointing to the hint of peaks in the distance. “You askin’ ’bout hills? Not much.” “People?” “They’ve come and gone, mostly farther north.” “Oregon?” “Farther. Canada’s still deciding its immigration policy.” “They say fires took out most of the foothills. Anything survive?” “A structure here and there.” “Trees? People?” “Can’t say,” Charlie climbed back into the wagon. “Why are you going up there?” Amisha asked. “Can’t say that either.”  (Heart Wood p 93)

These 2075 scenarios were heavily influenced by the study: California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, 2018 sent to me by Ashley Overhouse, River Policy Manager for SYRCL (South Yuba Citizen’s League: https://yubariver.org/)  The study gives projections for California in 2100 (temperature, water, wildfire, sea level, public health, communities, and governance). Here’s what they say about future wildfires in California (https://climateassessment.ca.gov/)

Projections: Wildfire

From: https://www.energy.ca.gov/sites/default/files/2019-11/Statewide_Reports-SUM-CCCA4-2018-013_Statewide_Summary_Report_ADA.pdf

Impact: Climate change will make forests more susceptible to extreme wildfires. By 2100, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, one study found that the frequency of extreme wildfires burning over approximately 25,000 acres would increase by nearly 50 percent, and that average area burned statewide would increase by 77 percent by the end of the century.

TABLE 9 | CLIMATE IMPACTS IN CALIFORNIA UNDER DIFFERENT EMISSION SCENARIOS

Table 9 presents estimated impacts to California assuming compliance with the Paris goals, as compared to a historic baseline and RCP 8.5 scenario. (RCP 8.5 is a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario that would result in atmospheric CO2 concentrations exceeding 900 parts per million (ppm) by 2100, more than triple the level present in the atmosphere before human emissions began to accumulate).

SCENARIO
CLIMATE IMPACT IN CALIFORNIABASELINE: 1976 – 2005RCP 8.5 End of CenturyPARIS AGREEMENT 1.5°CPARIS AGREEMENT 2°C
Annual Average Temperature14°C (57ºF)19°C (66ºF)15.2°C (59ºF)15.6°C (60ºF)
Number of extreme hot days: Sacramento1.614.32.42.9
April 1st Snow Water Equivalent18.8 inches-74 %-22 %-22.8 %
Soil Moisture11.8 inches-10 %-1.3 %-2.5 %
Wildfires: area burned484.5 thousand acres+ 63 %+ 20 %+ 20 %
Sea-Level Rise (2100 relative to 2000: mean values)NA137 cm (54 in)28 cm (11 in)41 cm (16 in)

Considering the Paris Agreement on Climate Change Mitigation, you may remember that in June 2017, President Trump announced his highly controversial plans to withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement. He wanted an agreement on terms that were fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers – in accordance with his America First Policy.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_withdrawal_from_the_Paris_Agreement

No mention of being fair to the health of our environment.

Twenty-four state governors formed the United States Climate Alliance to continue working collectively toward the goals of the Paris Agreement, including California, Oregon, and Washington.

What can one person do? – Start by supporting the League of Conservation Voters and by voting!

I love this group because they work hard to elect politicians “who stand up for a clean, healthy future for America,” and defeating “anti-environment” candidates – at both federal and state levels. The League of Conservation Voters tracks the voting records of members of Congress on environmental issues in its National Environmental Scorecard, and it annually names a “Dirty Dozen,” a list of politicians whom the group aims to defeat because of their voting records on conservation issues, and their political vulnerability. (The group also names a state-level Dirty Dozen.)

Check them out: https://www.ecovote.org/

Like Harmony in Heart Wood’s present time, I have despaired that one person can make much of an impact. Yet collectively we have more power. Vote to elect decision-makers who will work for the earth!