WET AND DRY – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Dry


It’s raining. Dare I say it? It’s pouring. But this is no longer unusual. It used to be the rain came and left. Recently and including today, it’s sunshine that comes briefly then vanishes.

Yesterday was a day during which it didn’t rain. It wasn’t always sunny, but it didn’t actually rain.

Just as well I took pictures because yesterday’s trees with golden leaves are today’s bare, wet bark. At least it isn’t cold. Yet.

It has been raining as if this were Portland. Definitely not anything like Massachusetts in the summer or fall. We weren’t flooded yet, probably because we never got one of the massive hurricanes. We are far enough north that we usually don’t get the full power of hurricanes … but they occasionally show up.

If they don’t show up “in person,” they show up as a close cousin. Always, they bring rain, wind, and weeks or sodden, gray weather. In the winter, they bring the blizzards. In the warmer weather, a nor’easter means nonstop rain plus a full measure of gloom.

But we also have our own little hurricanes, the infamous nor’easters that pound in from the ocean and then sit right over Boston and just keep bringing in water from the ocean in a powerful circular drive.

Two years ago — the worst ear of the 10-year drought — there was no rain, not even a drizzle through May and almost none in June.

This year, the ground is sodden and feels like a sponge. The trees are dark because the bark is wet and has stayed wet for months. There is green mold growing on our vinyl siding. Even the rocks are green.

Dry? When was that?

WHEN ALL THE WORLD WAS EMPTY OF HUMANKIND … Marilyn Armstrong

When the world is empty, there is a Bone #writephoto


We got the word in 2018. Twelve years to fix the world.

It had taken hundreds of years to screw it up. Hundred of years of burning coal, pouring poisons into the streams and rivers and it all flowed into the oceans. And all that while, we were doing it to improve the quality of our lives. Not only our lives but the lives of all the children and grandchildren who would come after us.

They would have the machinery to do what used to be done by hand. The world was gigantic and somewhere, there was an enormous hole into which all the trash could be put. It was an endless hole, so we’d never run out of space and would never need to worry about how much junk we were creating.

Then came the realization that it was cheaper to replace stuff and people forgot how to fix things. Gradually, the gigantic endless hole was not endless and the oceans were full of bottles and straws and floating trash.

The garbage began to spread over the land. It was a slow process, but it was as sure as the earth turning. Most of the world’s cities were full of trash. At first, it was just a little bit, as if a trash bin had been tipped and a tiny bit had spilled on the street.

Then there was more. Eventually, long after the aforementioned twelve years had come and gone, you couldn’t walk through a city or town without wading through garbage. Not just rubbish either. Real putrid garbage.

The land grew gradually poisonous. Just … a little bit. Then, a little bit more. Animals began to die. No sudden collapse. They faded, failed to thrive and ultimately … ceased.

First, the birds vanished. The songbirds and raptors. The long-legged tall birds — herons, cranes, storks, egrets. After that, the big beasts vanished. Many had gone before, but now it was the working beasts — buffalo, yak, wildebeest. Shortly thereafter, cows and sheep and goats declined as well, though no one knew for sure the reason. It just happened.

Eventually — by then no one was surprised — weird epidemics of unknown origins killed turkeys, chickens, and ducks. No more eggs. No matter which came first, all were gone.

The hogs lasted longest. Humans bred them as fast as they could, then hunted the wild ones to extinction. Soon the bees went from many to few and crops could not grow. Ultimately, all that was left was a single white skull on a burned plain where once the long grass had grown across thousands of acres.


It would be a mere hundred years until the world repaired itself. The hidden animals crept from their secret places. The woods returned and oak forests grew tall and dark and deep. A new world without people emerged, but it was a good world.

Someday, another intelligence would come and make it home. Not too soon. Not yet. First, let the ocean and air come clean.

APPROACHING EARTH DAY WITH THE SWANS – Marilyn Armstrong

Usually, when I publish pictures of swans, I clean up the water, but these are the originals … the way the photographs looked before clearing out the rubbish.


As we again approach America’s “Earth Day,” I find myself ready to go on the “lecture tour.” I grew up in a country setting. Technically, it was part of New York, but really, it was a strange little farming community that got surrounded by a city, but never became a part of it.

I grew up with people who raised plants. Wheat and corn. Who raised horses and burros and geese. Who nursed sick birds. Who cared for the trees.

Along the shore – where all the garbage lives

We were surrounded by woods and trees. We learned how to find rare plants and we played in the woods … and apparently children don’t notice mosquitoes as do their elders because we must have been chewed to pieces. But we never seemed to care.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

That didn’t make me “ecology” conscious, of course. What made me conscious of the ecology was — you guessed it — my mother. She grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. That was where most new immigrants grew up, especially Jewish and Italian immigrants.

As a result, my mother believed all trees were sacred — and her personal crusade.  She could not bear the idea of anyone cutting down a tree and that’s why we had so much land. When our neighbors decided to sell the woods next to our house, my mother told my father that he was going to borrow however much money it would cost him to get that parcel because someone else might build factory or an apartment house.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Those were her trees. Really, they were all her trees. From tiny little sprigs to the giant white oaks that towered over the house, they were hers.

Every year, she called the city’s tree specialists to check out the condition of the white oaks on our property. They were the last remaining white oaks in the five Burroughs, all the rest having been cut down to use as masts on sailing ships. How they missed that little corner of New York? Just luck.

I still hate the idea of cutting down trees, even when its obvious the tree needs cutting. We had to take down some trees that were too close to the chimney and we had a cutter come and cut down about two dozen more oaks because they were growing so close together, it was unhealthy. Also, we had no light in the house at all. But it hurt me to see the trees being felled, even though it was necessary, safe, and would in the end, improve the forest.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I grew up hating trash. I grew up believing littering was a crime. That hurting any living creature was cruel and even though I never made it to vegetarian, I feel guilty eating meat. I don’t believe that vegan is a healthier way to eat, but I dislike knowing something died so I could eat. I don’t think it will ever stop bothering me.

I learned early that breakwaters damaged the sea-shore. That sandy beaches can disappear during a hurricane. Several local beaches did exactly that while I was growing up on Long Island. That dune buggies destroy the dunes, the nests, the birds, the baby birds.

Dirty water swan

And my loathing of people who throw trash into the woods or the river grows with every passing year. Every time we go down to the river to take pictures of the swans, I see them swimming through trash and wonder how they can eat whatever is growing in the grungy water that’s full of filth.

It wasn’t hard to make me ecologically conscious and six years working at the University of Jerusalem’s Environmental Health Laboratory taught me much more than I wanted to know. I saw the plumes of pollution pouring out of the rivers into the Mediterranean. I saw the reports of what was in those plumes.

I understood also that just because a microbe is in the water does not mean you will necessarily catch it because not all microbes are absorbed the same way … but after seeing those pictures, I could never bring myself to swim in the Mediterranean again.

At this point, I don’t even like swimming pools. All I see are tubs of microbes.

THE WOODSTOVE – A BIT OF ECOLOGICAL FICTION

The woodstove had been in the family a long time. No one really knew how long, but a few of generations for sure. It had heated the family home for years.

Now the house had real central heating, so the woodstove had been relegated to a corner in the basement for a dozen years or more. It was unclear exactly when it was originally consigned to that odd dusty corner where unused but valued things end up.  The goodfers. Too good to throw away but maybe someday they’d have a new purpose.

For a while the family figured they’d put the stove in the parlor. Or maybe they’d get around to finishing the basement. It turned out the woodstove was too efficient to use like a fireplace. The amount of heat it pushed out its fat little belly was impressive. Log by log, it turned anything but a very large, open area into a sauna. It was much more efficient than oil heat and cheaper too, but oil heat was easy. No one had to split endless piles of logs, stack them in the woodshed, haul them into the house to feed the stove. It cost more money to heat with oil, but no one’s back got broken to keep the house warm.MaineCabinTXT

The woodshed still contained some wood. Enough to enjoy bright fires on cold evenings and keep the wood chopping skills of the men in the family up to snuff. But they didn’t need dozens of cords. It had taken a lot of wood to keep a family cozy through the long, bitter winter of northern Maine.

The year that Hank built the cabin, the woodstove found a new home and a purpose.

Hank built the cabin entirely by hand. It was to be a retreat, a place to get away from everything modern, from televisions and alarm clocks. Hank didn’t own the land, but the lumber company that owned it was willing to lease plots to families who wanted to build cabins by the lake. After the trees grew to maturity, the lumber companies would come and cut the trees, but it would be years before the trees were ready for harvesting.

The cabin was intended to be a warm weather retreat, just for the summer. It turned out to be so pleasant, despite it having no electricity or running water, family members and their friends liked going to it from early spring into the late autumn, sometimes even after the first snows had fallen.

The woodstove was ready and willing to keep the cabin toasty. It gave more than heat. The smell of the woodstove was friendly, familiar. The tang of smoke in the air reminded everyone how their houses used to smell of wood smoke. They recalled choosing wood for its scent. Apple, maple, sassafras, oak, even pine … each had special qualities.

It turned out you could cook on the stove too, though the technique of cooking on a woodstove was sufficiently different that each person who used it had to reinvent the process.

Over many years, many springs, summers and autumns spent by the lake, listening to the loons calling across the water, the woodstove came to symbolize a simple and peaceful life. It was the heart of a cabin deep in the woods, far from a paved road. Drinking water came directly from the lake, along with a goodly number of fresh water bass and trout, caught from the canoe and consumed with corn harvested from local farms, blueberries picked on nearby burns.

Even in cool weather, you could bathe in the lake, then warm your chilled body by the stove. It was where you hung your clothes to dry them after washing. The same place around which everyone gathered in the evening to tell stories. Once upon a special time, a quiet time, telling stories and laughing around a fire or an old woodstove was enough entertainment for any man or woman. Rowing on a crystal lake was fine. No one needed a speed boat. Friends were enough.

As the years rolled on, many people with cabins on the lake bought generators so they could have electricity. They installed washing machines. The lake water was no longer safe to drink. They brought televisions and at night, you couldn’t hear the calling loons. There were telephones, water pumps and plumbing.

It wasn’t the same and after a while, no one came to the little cabin. Hank passed away, the kids moved away. The cabin began to collapse.  Finally, it was gone, its contents including the woodstove, junk, rotting and rusting in the woods. It was as if it had never been.

It didn’t matter anyway, because enough years had passed. The trees were mature. The lumber companies came and clear-cut the woods. The rubble from the cutting washed into the lake and the fish died.  With the fish gone, the loons  didn’t have enough to eat and they flew off to nest on other lakes.

That world went away. Memories linger. I have pictures.

LAST CHANCE FOR A PLANET

After months in a cryo-tube, they finally woke me. What a headache! Sheesh. And holy moly, I really had to go to the bathroom, after which I needed not so much a shower as a sandblasting. That cryo gunk is sticky and it gets into places you just wouldn’t … well, maybe you would … believe.

Then there was food. Never in my entire life have I wanted to eat a starship, including the cargo. Talk about an appetite. Not just me. Everyone had just been wakened at the same time and we all felt hollow.

T.S. Eliot was spinning in my head:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

I remembered more of the poem.

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

I hoped the poem was not a predictor of explorations to come. Given the awful condition in which we left Earth, we needed to find a new home. A fertile planet on which crops will grow. Where the battered human race could remember its better self. We had not been superior to cockroaches in a long time.

Finally after eating for what seemed an eternity, we donned our lime green suits — the lightweight ones for worlds that are not hostile, merely unknown — and they opened the doors. We emerged. Into paradise.

Breathtaking. The colors were a bit odd. The plants were all kinds of colors, like a riotous flower garden. The whole planet was a garden. So we named it “Eden” — which I thought was a mistake. We got kicked out of Eden already. What do I know? I don’t make the Big Decisions. Way above my pay grade. I was just along for the ride. Before we got back on board the ship, I had a thought. I dawdled. Picked up the litter we’d left behind. Found a big piece of cardboard.

Must have been a box of some sort, but it would make a pretty good sign. I found a piece of wood to which I could attach it. I had a nail gun in my tool kit and a big marking pen. It hadn’t dried out and worked in the lower gravity of this new planet. New to us, but home to so much other life. Like Earth had been before we stripped her of everything but trash. I put my sign near where we’d landed. Hopefully future expeditions would land in more or less the same spot.

I wrote my message. In my best handwriting. Using huge letters so no one could miss it — or mistake its meaning:
72-gods-rules-in-eden

LAST CHANCE FOR A PLANET

ARE WE IN OZ YET, DOROTHY? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My ex husband, Larry, and I lived through a very atypical evening in Florida many years ago. We were visiting Larry’s mother, Dorothy, in Pompano Beach, Florida. She lived in a fifteen-story condo right across from the ocean and had a magnificent water view.

My mother-in-law, Dorothy, with our son, David on her beach

One night, Larry and I decided to go to the movies. Dorothy decided to stay home. We got out of the movie after dark and headed home. We came upon a police barricade complete with flashing lights and multiple police cars. We were routed off the road and in the wrong direction.

A short ways down the next road, we came upon another phalanx of police cars with flashing lights detouring us even further away from the condo. What was going on?

Larry and me on Dorothy’s balcony in Florida

Larry decided to ignore the barricades and head back in the direction we needed to go. Suddenly we saw a tree uprooted and leaning against a house. Next we saw a car upside down on the roof of a garage. One whole side of the street was total chaos and the other side was perfectly intact. I could see a glass collection in somebody’s front window on the safe side of the street.

As we got closer to the condo, we noticed that there were no lights on in any of the houses. We caught sight of the condo and it was also dark. We started to pull into the car port outside the parking garage at the condo. But it was gone! The roof was off, smashed and folded in on itself, lying on the ground. The cement blocks that held the roof up were strewn around, as were several cars.

We left our car outside and ran into the building to make sure Dorothy was okay. Just as we got to the building, the lights went back on. That meant that power was back and we could take the elevator up to the apartment.

Apparently, while we were in the movie, a tornado had hit the town, going directly through the condo’s parking area. A tornado on the water is apparently unheard of. We were the exception that proves the rule!

There was extensive damage all around. It took months to fully repair the damage to the condo. Dorothy weathered the storm safely inside, but a lady in a nearby condo was sucked out through her patio doors as she tried to close them. She was killed.

It happened so quickly, we managed to miss the whole storm. We avoided what Dorothy described as a terrifying experience full of horrifying sounds and flying objects. We were pretty freaked out just seeing the damage a tornado can do first hand.

I’ve seen disaster footage on TV many, many times. But it doesn’t hit home until you see it in person. It gave me a new respect for Mother Nature. And a new fear for what climate change may have in store for all of us down the road!

GEORGE R. STEWART’S WHOLE EARTH VISION REALIZED

To See: George R. Stewart’s Whole Earth Vision Realized

George R. Stewart was an “inventor” of the Whole Earth Vision – the recent realization that Earth, in an immense universe, is one small, blue, life-bearing place, only fully understood if it’s explored from two perspectives – that of the ecologist, who studies it from ground level, and that of the astronaut, who examines Earth from space.

Stewart used that vision for the first time in Ordeal By Hunger.  He begins the book by asking the reader to “imagine yourself poised in space” in what we would now call LEO or Low Earth Orbit, about 200 miles up.  In the book’s Foreword, he describes northern Nevada precisely, as photos taken by the International Space Station reveal. Stewart used the techniques of fiction to make the history dramatic and engaging and did it so well that some readers think they’re reading a novel.  They’re not; they’re reading history.

The book then moves into the ecologist’s point of view, ground level, as Stewart makes the case that the Donner Party’s tragedy was the result of the party’s ignorance of the ecosystems it passed through.  At the book’s end, he writes, “It should be obvious … I consider the land a character in the work.”

The land, of course, is the ecosystem.

Today, most of us can wander our ecosystems easily. So far, the perspective of the astronaut is restricted to a lucky few.  But, would Stewart not love this?

NASA Strategic Planner Jesco von Puttkamer suggested we are now living in the “New Enlightenment of Spaceflight.” The Enlightenment began with Stewart’s Whole Earth Vision. The New Enlightenment expanded its reach exponentially with the first photos of the Whole Earth from space, most dramatically “Earthrise” from Apollo 8. Von Puttkamer’s slogan for the age, borrowed by Star Trek for the series’ first movie, is:


Space:  The Human Adventure is Just Beginning

Today, we know Stewart’s pioneering Whole Earth vision from both perspectives – of the land, and from LEO.  We have joined von Puttkamer’s New Enlightenment of Spaceflight, and gained Stewart’s Whole Earth vision and have a greater understanding of and love for our home planet.

We have become enlightened.

earth_and_limb_m1199291564l_color_2stretch_mask_0

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University\

SOURCE: TO SEE: GEORGE R. STEWART’S WHOLE EARTH REALIZED