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!


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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!  

Where will the sea first enter San Francisco?

This is first in a series: Behind the Scenes of Heart Wood

San Francisco 2075 –

“San Franciscans were surprised by water falling from the sky. Most water crept in at them from the sea.”  (Heart Wood, page 5)

I originally wrote the opening scene for Amisha (year 2075) set amidst the rising sea levels propelled by continued climate change. The sea would first encroach San Francisco along the Pacific Ocean side, I imagined, then move eastward and slowly flood the city from the beach, up the avenues and into Golden Gate Park.

I was wrong. 

According to professional future projections of rising sea levels, salt water is first going to enter San Francisco from the bay side and flood the waterfront piers, Embarcadero, Financial District, and China Basin – areas mainly built on landfill.

I discovered this, thanks to my friend Mark, who sent me websites that project future sea level scenarios – websites used by land use planners as tools to help understand, visualize, and anticipate vulnerabilities to sea level rise and storms.

This San Francisco map is from Our Coast Our Future (OCOF) at 6.1 ft – 20-year flood. Light blue areas are under water.

Try it yourself! Select a map location on these websites and play with various scenarios. California: http://cal-adapt.org/sealevel/ and USA: Sea Level Rise Viewer  https://coast.noaa.gov/slr/

Based on these projections, I moved the rising sea level scenes away from Golden Gate Park near the Pacific Ocean, and in its place, described the park as “a three-mile long tent city that generously houses Oceania’s Pacific Rim immigrants.”  

According to a 2017 report, at least eight low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean have disappeared under rising seas. 

After studying the map projections, I decided the most likely place for Amisha to encounter the encroaching sea was in the San Francisco Bay, across town.  From Heart Wood:

(Earthquake) Rubble that wasn’t hauled into the ever-moving sea walls of the Embarcadero, Mission Bay, and Financial Districts was piled high, casting shadows over surrounding buildings. (Page 39)

Amisha and Orion walked through the old Financial District while waiting for the ferry to take them across the bay to the Martinez dock.

Amisha felt herself losing ground. “How much longer ’til the ferry?” she asked, reflexively waiting for Nib’s reply, but getting nothing.

“Forty minutes, at least.”

“Let’s walk then.” She struggled out of the truck and started down the street toward the old Financial District but didn’t get far. The district, once a vibrant collection of purposeful high-rises, was now a forest of toppled buildings standing like barren tree stumps in a swamp. The street ended abruptly at lapping water. Boats floated in front of each building. When did electric power start failing? If she couldn’t remember on her own, then how was she going to know things now? She reached for Orion’s arm, feeling a queasiness return. She could still stay. He’d cover for her.

“Eight minutes,” Orion said, and guided her back to the truck.

When did the sea invade the ground floors? she wondered, unable to stop thinking about the inevitable. (Page 40)

Are rising sea levels inevitable? With the COVID-19 pandemic and political uncertainties currently sweeping the world, we have so many new, urgent problems, yet in the background, the earth continues to warm; the seas continue to rise.

How does global warming cause sea levels to rise? When I’m faced with a complex situation – more than I can get my head around – I first look for easy-to-understand descriptions and suggestions. Here’s a start:

First, as carbon-dioxide traps more heat on the planet, the oceans get warmer and expand in volume. Second, ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica as well as other glaciers start melting, pouring more water into the oceans. Once these processes get underway, they won’t stop quickly, even if we ceased putting carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere tomorrow. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2012/11/01/can-we-stop-the-seas-from-rising-yes-but-less-than-you-think/

Is it hopeless? In imaginary conversations with my character, Amisha, year 2075, she asks me if I even tried to do anything, or like Harmony, did I give up assuming it’s too big a problem for one person to make a difference? With a little research, I found a list of “Seven things you can do today to reverse sea level rise.” 

I decided to start with these:

Check the list yourself https://www.thebalance.com/sea-level-rise-and-climate-change-4158037  Maybe there’s some things you can commit to as well.

I invite you to browse my website, www.shirleydickard.com, where I will be gathering information and links to issues covered in Heart Wood.

PURCHASE HEART WOOD at your local independent bookstores or online at Amazon

Open House at shirleydickard.com

You’re invited to an Open House at the newly remodeled website dedicated to my eco-novel: Heart Wood – Four Women, for the Earth, for the Future.

Years ago, when Heart Wood was in its infancy, I created my first website and blog. Having since outgrown the space, I’ve been working with a web designer to give it an updated look with new rooms and décor. Please stroll around and take a look!

There is one last room I want to remodel and I’m hoping readers can help me. If you click on the “Research” tab, you’ll see tabs for Past, Present, and Future. These are where I’m gathering Present data and evidence of mankind’s cumulative impact on the Future, as well as my family’s historical documents from the Past.

If you’ve read Heart Wood, you may share my concern for what we’re doing to our air, water, food, and earth, and the impact on our health and longevity – especially of our children. You can contribute by sending articles and links that I can post. Discussions welcome!

Thank you to Sky (who actually spent her first years in the mythical “Luna Valley”) for this first article: Why the World is Becoming Allergic to Food  https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-the-world-is-becoming-more-allergic-to-food?utm_source=pocket-newtab.  Cue the rise of Pharm.food!

For history buffs, especially my family, I will post all the documentation I gathered about my great-grandparents, Emily and Charles Hoppin of Yolo, California – the inspiration for the characters of Eliza and Silas in Heart Wood. In my research, I found previously unknown speeches, writings, and interviews with Emily Hoppin. She was a woman before her time and now, 100 years later, her voice can be heard! I invite anyone with information about Charles and Emily Hoppin to add to this documentation on my website.

Please sign the guest book by leaving a comment. If you see any corners that need attention, let me know. I’m learning how websites nowadays must work across all types of screens: computers, tablets, and mobile devices – rather like a three-dimensional tic-tac-toe board! My appreciation to Katie (who also grew up in the “Luna Valley”) and her design team at Urban Sherpa Marketing: www.urbansherpa.marketing 

Dams: A 19th Century Solution to a 21st Century Problem That Won’t Go Away

Dams have been in the news and on my radar again. Just as I’m revising the chapter in my book about fighting a dam back in 1990 (yes, the novel’s still in progress, but I’m pedaling faster now that I’m working with a writing coach!), here in Northern California the Oroville Dam spillway break caused the evacuation of 200,000 people in the Yuba-Sutter lowlands,  and a new dam is being proposed on the Bear River in Nevada County. 284

I totally emphasize with all that would be impacted by the Centennial Dam that Nevada Irrigation District (NID) is currently proposing for the Bear River west of Colfax (Nevada and Placer Counties). Back in 1999, the Moonshine Road area of Camptonville was faced with the prospect of a dam on the Middle Yuba River. Without benefit of today’s social media, our very small community of 600 people organized, educated, then partnered with SYRCL to form our own MYRACL (Middle Yuba River Area Citizens League). Eventually, the Yuba County Water Agency took the Freeman’s Crossing Dam off the list of options for flood control. But in the current political culture of abrupt reversals, no one can afford to be complacent. Thankfully today, myriads of new organizations have joined SYRCL to focus on protecting our rivers and environment. Folks are better connected, informed, and proactive.

If you want to become informed about the Centennial Dam proposal and learn how to impact the process, here’s some links to check out. Citizens have until April 10th to give public comment to the Army Corps of Engineers, so do it soon!

www.SaveBearRiver.com, and SYRCL’s http://yubariver.org/get-involved/

Now back to my writing. Dams provide the dramatic backdrop for my present-time character, Harmony, a back-to-the-lander religiously devoted to saving the planet.  Based on the true events  in Camptonville, Harmony  was part of a group that struggled to ward off a dam that would have inundated over a third of the families in her small, rural, community.

But in the end, it was the children who saved the river.

Excerpt from The Desk:   (Note: “The Desk” was the former working title for “Heart Wood” before 2020)

       Back then, the prospect of this dam hung like a shroud over our school kids. In classrooms, bathrooms, lunchrooms, and recess, all they could talk about was that half of their friends would be flooded out; families would be forced to leave; the school would have to shut down.

      Mrs. Watson, the fifth grade teacher, understood that the best antidote for anxiety was action. She assigned her ten-year old students the project of creating a plan. What did they want to happen?  Who could they approach?  What would they say? Soon parents and school staff got on board and helped the class get on the Supervisor’s Agenda. TV and news media were alerted, and at ten am, the school bus dropped twenty children into a throng of reporters and cameras in front of the county government center.

   

CV Students Oppose Dam 1999
Grass Valley Union Reprint, April 28, 1999

  Once inside the Supervisors Chambers and called to speak, students displayed their six-foot, hand-drawn poster depicting how the dam would destroy their community. One-by one, four students stood at the microphone and read the speech they had practiced in class. How, they asked, could the Supervisors purposely wipe out one of its own communities?

     Towering above them from their elevated desk, the five Supervisors leaned back in their seats, taking in the children, cameras, reporters, then back to the children. The Chairman thanked the students politely and announced they would make their final decision by the end of the afternoon, then added he wished he could to bring his own constituents to the school to learn how to make a good presentation! 

     The next day the school’s hallways were plastered with news coverage of the childrens’ appeal….the children who saved their community from being flooded.

Flash forward to 2,020. Having once defeated this dam that would have flooded her home, Harmony is now faced with the revival of the 19th century solution to the 21st century problem of droughts, decreasing water supply, and increasing demand. What is now different in this (hopefully)  fictional account is that by 2,020, the environmental regulatory process has since been dismantled. No more red tape, pesky regulations, meddling oversight, or tedious public input. Developers are freed at last to finally get things done!

May I repeat how you can impact our future right now?

Check out: www.SaveBearRiver.com and SYRCL’s http://yubariver.org/get-involved/    The public has until April 10th to comment on NID’s plans to construct Centennial Dam – a new reservoir on the Bear River between the existing Rollins and Combie Reservoirs. It’s up to us citizens to take notice and take action.

Despair

Wednesday, November 9, 2016my-2-pink-flowers

I stare into the open refrigerator, my bare toes curling on the cold linoleum. I need comfort food. Where’s the custard, or mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese? I woke up feeling punched in the stomach. This is not my morning; he is not my president; this is not happening. Joe comes down the stairs in his robe and I shove the refrigerator door closed. He shakes his head; we exchange glassy stares.

Curled into a chair, I hug my knees. All we’ve accomplished in the last eight years will be wiped out in one coup. I listen to Dora sputtering a message on the answer machine but can’t bear to take it.

”No one saw this coming,” Joe says, his fists are curled tight like he wants to bash someone.

I rummage around the pantry shelf hoping that the old box of Cream of Wheat is still there. It isn’t. I settle for polenta instead and pour my grief into the hot water along with the yellow corn.

“Such a sad, sad day for Mother Earth.”

“And health care, honesty, clean energy, integrity, respect…”

I stop Joe with a wave of my hand, too weary to commiserate.

After a warm bowl of polenta smothered in melted butter, I change into sweat pants and go outside to rake leaves, same as I did when my father died, or when words are too much a struggle. I haul a garbage can full of musty oak leaves up to the garden and dump them into the open graves of my raised beds.

“I’m so sorry,” I whisper, as I yank a few dandelions out of the carrot patch and toss them onto the pathway.

I thought maybe you could change something, comes a whisper back.

I drag myself to the house, heavy with despair. I can’t think, can’t read, can’t write. I draw the curtains and curl up on the couch.

My stomach remembers third grade.

“Draw something that you really care about.”  Mrs. Clark gave us two days to create a masterpiece, and I worked on it every spare minute I had. While boys drew hot rods and fancy bicycles, I drew flowers. Not just flowers, but intricate specimens from the garden beds that surrounded my home: pink hydrangeas, red bottle brush, white calla lilies, purple rhododendrons. From mom’s cutting garden I drew snapdragons, pansies, and zinnias. I even drew a few weeds, like the ones with long pointed swords you could join together to make scissors.

The day our art projects were due, I still had one blank space to fill in, and decided I could finish it during morning recess. Though I knew it was off limits for third graders, I slipped my art page into a big picture book, hid a yellow and a green pencil in my pocket, and sneaked out to the baseball diamond where I knew dandelions grew by the dugout. I was almost finished when shadows from behind loomed over my page.

“Looks like your flowers need some dirt to grow in.” Fat-bellied Percy dribbled globs of mud onto my page then leaned over and smeared them into my flowers. His friends laughed and jostled about, even Bruce who would never hurt a fly. “Good goin’ PC,” they said. I froze.

“Hey, let’s make flower seeds and plant them.” PC snatched my beautiful flowers and in slow motion, tore them into small squares that drifted to the dirt in front of me. Ricky, David, Bobby, and even Bruce hung around PC, slapping his back; all wanting to be just like him as they strutted back to the classroom.

I hung my head. I knew I shouldn’t have been out there. Fighting back tears, I rushed to the bathroom, closed the stall door, held my stomach, and cried. I didn’t recognize the anger then, I thought it was shame.

Mrs. Clark cocked her head when I dropped my white page with two nondescript pink flowers onto her desk. I lowered my eyes, and back at my seat, buried my face in a book. A week later, I got my page back with a frowny face on top and her note: “It looks like you didn’t try.”

(From The Desk, a work in progress)

 

 

Acting Locally

Just when I thought my life was perfectly full, I take on something really big.  It wasn’t my idea – well, of course it was – but somehow I had made the decision without telling myself.  I realized this when I woke up at 4 am and started writing notes on how I was going to run the local community newspaper.

The Camptonville CourierBeing Editor of The Camptonville Courier was never, ever on my retirement radar.  Five months ago the last volunteer Editor left, and though people in our small town said how much they missed the monthly “community voice,” no one has come forward to take it on.  Certainly not me!  I’m a writer.  That doesn’t mean I know publishing or want those responsibilities to take over my life.

Yet, something’s right.  Here I am, one month after that fateful night, and loving what’s happening.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I feel supported and delightfully challenged by all I’m learning about running a newspaper. More importantly, I have a crew of twelve community volunteers who are helping by taking on pieces of the work.

What cinched it for me is this is one thing I can do for my community. I’ve often grappled with what is right action, considering all the suffering and planetary deterioration around us.  Not surprising, Christie, the present-time character in the novel I’m working on, grapples with the same question. She knows that by the end of the century, her future great-granddaughter Amisha will be grappling with the impact of the actions we do/don’t do today.  Here’s a draft excerpt from The Desk (Note: “The Desk” was the former working title for “Heart Wood” before 2020, and “Christie” is now “Harmony)

“It seems no matter what route I take, I always end up wallowing in the same pool.  Signs are everywhere.  My humming laptop has already collected the morning’s emails – Outrage! Warning!  Take Action! Thank god lots of people are working hard for causes, yet I sit here paralyzed by despair.  I’m not a hero.  I’m just me, living my life with right intentions as best I can, yet sensing there’s a huge tsunami coming toward us.

I go downstairs and refill my coffee cup.  On the way back up, I rationalize that in small ways I am doing something.  I grow my food, reuse cloth shopping bags, frequent farmer’s markets, and shop locally before checking Amazon. I’m a poster child for “One Hundred Ways to Save the Planet.”

Seated at the desk, my new fountain pen is poised in my hand, ready to write. I’m in love with it. Compared to a ball point, the ink flows almost as fast as my thoughts.

     Amisha taps me on the shoulder.

     “Thank you.”

     “For what?” I ask, startled at her voice in my head.

    “For water.  The hand pump still works.”

     “Oh that!” I laugh softly.  My husband wanted a fancy solar pump and back-up system, but I told him I wanted simple.  Too much high-tech stuff makes me feel helpless.

     “You planted fruit and nut trees,” she continues.

     “It’s what we back-to-the-landers did.”

     “But they lasted.  Even without anyone’s care.”

      “So the drought-tolerant ones really were?”  I’m impressed.

     “I couldn’t have survived without them.”

     I shift in my seat, feeling uneasy.  “But it wasn’t enough, was it?”

     “No, it wasn’t.” Her voice is cold and dry inside my head. I cover my eyes, despair drawing me down like quicksand.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2014, except as otherwise noted.

Day 2 – A Personal Writing Retreat

The Bed Nook
The Bed Nook

I reluctantly leave my cozy down comforter,  knowing I have miles of words to write today.  After yesterday’s drizzle, the sun is invigorating.  First, a tall mug of black coffee and a bowl of hot oatmeal, then I open my laptop to where I left off in the Scrivener program.

Hummer and Rupalini pop up on the screen to greet me.  They’re the old couple who escaped the growing dystopic world of the mid-2000’s and settled in the hills.   He’s saving his last 2 bullets from his now empty stockpile;  her mind long gone, she’s obsessed with finding out when the world turned.

After that chapter, I return to the present day narrator, wondering what will move her from feeling overwhelmed and hopeless about the state of the world and get her motivated into action.

Skyline Meadow
Skyline Meadow

Scott knocks at my door with a refilled jar of brown sugar and the most recent copy of Yes! Magazine from Diane.  I’m drawn into conversation with him, and write down his blog,  The Rambling Taoist.  He came to Skyline Harvest for a short visit and stayed. Skyline attracts such interesting people!

I write all morning, take a break for lunch and a short nap, then continue into the afternoon.  My word count is mounting, but not fast enough.  I console myself that the time I spend thinking through larger aspects of this project doesn’t show up as word counts.

There’s a lot of good stuff in Yes! Magazine’s Summer 2013 issue.  Here’s a few notes I took:

  • Will we turn against one another in a struggle for the last resources, or turn to one another in cooperation and community?  (Sarah van Gelder)
  • How to create new cultural stories and what we consider sources of true happiness? (van Gelder)
  • Definition of Revelation (Latin) and Apocalypse (Greek) is “A lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden; coming to clarity.”  (Robert Jensen)
  • It’s an illusion we can maintain an extractive economy indefinitely.  Our planet is not just a mine and a landfill. For some, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of air conditioning! (Jensen)
  • “Prefigurative  Interventions” – Playful Protests, Pranks & Serious Works of Imagination.”  Look it up!   Beautiful Trouble, a Toolbox for Revolution at  http://www.beautifultrouble.org

The Ranch House
The Ranch House

The afternoon sun beckons me out to pick some figs from the huge tree next to the Ranch House.  I also explore the other buildings for future stays.  Each one is cozy in a grandmotherly kind of way.

The Cabin's Livingroom
The Cabin’s Livingroom

The Cabin
The Cabin

Gazebo
The Gazebo

Next time I come to Skyline Harvest, I might stay at the Cabin with its multi-level outside deck.  Or if I had a group, we’d take over The Ranch House.  I probably won’t have time to spend writing in the screened Gazebo, but maybe next visit.

After dinner and another session with Diane, then an hour of cello practice, I’m revitalized to write again.  Work Table -NightThe moths check in on me against the lighted window, wondering how I’m doing.

When I close the laptop at 11:30 pm, I’m at 2,159 words for the day, for a grand total of 2,525.  Not as many as I’d hoped.

As my Grandma Moffett would say, “Well, it is.”

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Day 1 – A Personal Writing Retreat

The Old Pendola Ranch
The Old Pendola Ranch

As I turned off Highway 49 onto Pendola Road, traveling to the Skyline Harvest Retreat Center, it was like traveling through time.  I followed what was once a narrow dirt road that early Gold Rush settlers had carved from the hills,  scanning the downslope for vestiges of old mines and water ditches while staying alert for on-coming cars around the many blind curves.   Further along, the woods opened up into the pastoral Pendola Ranch  – where hillsides were once covered with vineyards until Prohibition stepped in and hacked the copper stills to pieces.

.Road into Skyline Harvest

Passing through the gate to Skyline Harvest

Bullards Bar ReservoirBullards Bar Reservoir is to my left.

I settle into The Hermitage.  It’s too perfect!

The Hermitage

 A corner table for eating and writing, a futon couch, meditation chair and kitchen fill up the main room.  The single bed is in an alcove tucked behind a folding wooden screen, and a modern bathroom with shower is in a separate room. Two chairs wait on the deck for watching wildlife in the small clearing outside.

Work Table

Bedroom AlcoveKitchen

11 AM.  Food, books, laptop, clothes all in place, I fix a bowl of soup and watch the rain drizzle outside.  After a short nap and cup of coffee, it’s time to write.  I’ve decided arbitrarily to set a goal of 7,500 words for these 48 hours.  Let’s see – that comes to 156 words an hour.  Can I write in my sleep?

I plunge ahead, not knowing where my story is going next. Though I know the general arc of my novel, The Desk, (Note: “The Desk” was the former working title for “Heart Wood” before 2020), I’ve learned to quiet my mind with meditation before starting, then have faith that the characters will surprise me.  And they do. Like today, Hummer appeared.  I’m mid-way through the future section – Year 2088 – my prospective  great-granddaughter Amisha’s story of struggling to survive on a planet irreparably damaged by man’s impact.   Hummer and his woman, Rapalini are one of the old folks who fled to the hills early on.  What do they know?

3:30 PM.  I’m startled by a knock on the door. It’s Diane Pendola who (along with Teresa Hahn) founded and is Director of Skyline Harvest.  I’ve asked for some of her time to help me think  things through – drawing on her experience with indigenous wisdom, Gestalt Therapy, theology, The Enneagram and her mentors, Ramon Panikar, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, to name a few.

I’m interested in the questions raised in my story –  not so much the answers.  Diane asks if mankind can move  from an era that’s been shaped by man’s ability to circumvent the natural checks and balances of nature,  into one that recognizes that we are part of a universal consciousness? If not, what kind of world will Amisha live in?  That’s where my story goes.

We jump up two hours later – time has flown into the dinner hour.  Diane departs, and I take a cool walk along the firebreak road to watch the golden sun set into the departing clouds.

Skyline Sunset
Skyline Sunset

A fox scurries past as I return to The Hermitage and prepare my dinner, heating with the wood stove instead of the gas range.  My gourmet husband has sent me here with a chicken cacciatora, a beef stew, garden salad, and a bottle of red wine.  He’s amazing and I’m so lucky!

After dinner, I check my word count.  Yikes, only 366 words!!  This is going to be a long evening!  But then, that’s what I’m here for.

But my cello also calls me.  I unzip its case intending to practice a few scales, but  instead, I  play for an hour – improvising in  C minor harmonic – a moody, searching key. Crickets add a chirping accompaniment, though I’m too tired to see if there’s any correlation with my playing.

10 PM.  Off to bed.  Got lots of words to write tomorrow!

September 30, 2013

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Planetary Compassion Fatigue

Morning emailsEleven political and environmental emails today.  Ten deleted.  I’ve got planetary compassion fatigue.  How to do the right thing when I’m buffeted between hope and cynicism ?  So many people working on urgent causes trying to elevate awareness, concern and of course, money.  But it’s too much.  I snap my laptop closed with a decisive click.  Time for the river.

My Honda knows the way to my favorite river trail.  It glides down the north fork river canyon, following the intricate twists and switchbacks of the mountain road until the road flattens out and parallels the shallow, trout-filled waters of the north fork. Shallower than normal for this time of year, I notice.  Every year’s different, but I can’t help feeling a smidge of concern.

 Middle Fork Yuba RiverSandals off, hiking boots on, I find the dusty trailhead.  The first part is rocky, but I know it will smooth out around the bend and I’ll strike up a cadence.  I pull off a handful of manzanita berries and pop them in my mouth.  Crunchy, slightly sweet. My husband and I made manzanita berry sugar last week, experimenting with what’s edible in the wild. I hope I never have to live on them, I think as I spit out the granular seeds.

My steps fall into a rhythm against the soft dirt, sending waves of vibration up my spine.  Thump, thump, thump – base notes to the river’s wavering alto.  Hermit Thrushes fill in the soprano voice.  My mind lifts off and floats along.

I’m troubled with information overload, I think.  There’s so much to be concerned about, but what can one person do?  Sign the next email petition, press the “Donate Now” button, listen to the phone pleas, call my Senator?  What actually makes a difference? I kick a rock from the trail, watch it tumble down the bank and splash into the river.

Thanks to technology, I know what’s going on almost as soon as it happens. Great-Grandmother Eliza only had telegraph, newspapers and back fence gossip, I muse.

“Hah! But it was sometimes a week after it happened.” I’m aware of Eliza’s voice and let it come through. “You want to do the right thing,” she continues. “You’ve got the whole world literally at your fingertips. I had to use my feet – hitch the buggy, go house to house.  Except Sundays – one more reason to go to church.  Oh, and letters.”

“Snail mail,” I snort.

“It’s all we had until telephones became common.

“But you made some important changes.  You got the saloons closed; got land set aside for state parks.”

“Did it through face to face persistence. You’ve got to look them straight in the eye, see into their soul.”

“Video conferencing,” I think.

“Someday you won’t even have that.”  My future Great-Granddaughter enters the conversation. “Just voices inputting information in your head. And even that will die.”

I pull off the trail to make way for a hiker from the other direction.  He smiles, nods, and passes through.

I pick up the thread of conversation. “I wonder sometimes if information overload is intentional. I get so distracted and overwhelmed: public drinking water privatized, elephants wiped out for tusks, tax breaks for corporate “farms”, oil spills, bee-killing pesticides, sex trafficking, GMO’s, fracking….  After a while, it all becomes background noise and I stop caring enough to do anything.”

“Then you should stop listening,” Amisha cuts in.

“Don’t let her get away with that,” Eliza says. “I did what I could with what I had … and what I cared about.  Think of the power you have with your Internet and what you all call “social media”, she says.

Is it power or illusion? I wonder.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.