Apr 29, 2008

MAYDAY, updated links, and a few shares

Thursday is May Day (International Workers' Day). The ILWU is shutting down all West Coast ports this Thursday. I'm striking as well: No work, no shopping. I'll be participating in Reclaim The Streets. If you're in SF, come on out and enjoy a day off.

People send me stuff all the time to post here. I'm slow as hell about reviewing/adding it. I've checked the links to the right, these exist, if online only.

Recently added Compact links (or old ones I like):
Alberta blog
I like the blog linked to as "Australia".
Minnesota has a new link for their active site.

And check out a few other things that folks have sent along. (Sorry to do this all in a lump.)

Guerrilla Gardening!
SF Greenmap
Verve Earth Geographers out there might like this one.

Apr 28, 2008

Gardening Greatness!

A few weeks ago we had another garden party. Folks who help put in plots of natives last December, joined other friends who have a greater interest in edibles to plant a patch of vegetables. My housemate, Blake, and I love having folks over, and we need lots of help taking care of the back yard. When the plums start coming, it's a nightmare.

We didn't have to buy anything for this garden party. We did borrow a chainsaw from two friends to reduce the size of one of the plum trees, which was clearly not properly trimmed in the past. All of our baby vegetables were started by my friend, Holly (thanks!!!!!) in Oakland. As always, our tools were a bit inadequate, but we made it work. Our planting space is about the size of a decent bathroom, so I've never had a desire to get a regular hoe or cultivator.

Even without ample tools, it's fun to get our friends outside. Some like to help with the weeding, others love planting, still others like to water at the end. Some just watch and drink beer. I think it's all helpful. So many of our friends have no open space to try gardening.

We can all go to a park and sit on the grass, but the care of that land is usually something we contribute to only by paying our taxes. Most twenty-somethings in these parts aren't busy on the land, and are thus, somewhat unaware of it's patterns. San Francisco is full of transplants, such as myself. Many of us will not understand California's climate until we've tried to bend it to our will by growing something. Even then, if we rely on hoses, we can fool ourselves into thinking that we know this land when we really just know how to create conditions for growth.

Little adventures into a backyard or community garden give urbanites a chance to build a relationship with the land. To understand the systems present on the landscape. Land is a perennial teacher. I learn as much from trying to grow stuff as from reading about wilderness or restoration. We should all be looking for those connections, and helping other folks make them if it's already something that we value. There are lots of self-described environmentalists out there who never get their hands in the dirt, or even boots on the trail. Perhaps they'd be better advocates if they had these connections.

If you've never read the story of our yard, it's pretty bizarre. Our landlord used it as a dump, seriously. We live in the upstairs unit of a two unit building. Grass grows into the lower unit, which is "sided" in the back with roofing materials. We have no street access from the backyard: Anything that goes in or out of the back yard must go through our apartment. When we moved in 4+ years ago, we were too busy removing the dead rodents and painting over grease to even think about the toilets, sinks, doors, luggage, tile, roofing materials, support beams, cinder blocks, rebar, etc that filled our back yard.

As our back door was often broken and our stairs into the backyard also collapsed, we very rarely ventured out there for the first two years of living here. As our next door neighbor was being evicted for an "Owner Move In", the fence between our yards collapsed. So we used his street access to remove as much of the crap as we could afford. That was an entire box truck full of heavy junk. (Side note: That eviction took place two years ago. No one lives in the house where our dear neighbor resided. If I bump into the landlord when she's around to check on things, she says that she's "very quiet". And apparently she's really serious about reducing her carbon footprint because she doesn't use electricity. )

So two years ago we reclaimed our yard for use as a vegetable and native plant patch. There were already 5 fruit bearing trees out there! Two crazy plum trees, one loquat, one pear, and one apple. We also tend and harvest the fig tree in our evicted neighbor's yard, ("quiet" landlord be damned). The soil's not great in our yard, given that it's full of plastic bags and other trash, we're not surprised. But last year we had a slew of tomatoes, and we hope to get some decent vegetable this year.

Right now we're tustling with the pride of feral cats that dominate the backyards on our block. They're all spayed and neutered, so the cluster has reduced over the years from about 15 to around 6. They love our yard in no small part because my housemate started feeding them when our neighbor (who fed them previously) was evicted. I don't feed them because I'm very conflicted about the situation. The few times that I did feed them in the winter of 2007, I became worried and attached to one who was very sick. Anyway, they're digging in my vegetable garden because since we turned its sandy soil, its quite like a natural litterbox. Mmmmmm, toxoplasmosis in our summer salad, yum. But no worries, if they keep at it, there won't be anything left to eat. They've killed over half of what we put in (well, the cats and a bit too much stewardship in the form of over-watering while I was house sitting just after we planted.)

Whatever, we'll be happy with any yield. We can't fully feed ourselves on the fruits and vegetables of our garden, but we can save a little money and eat very locally. We're experimenting with gray water right now. Taking our dishwater and the excess from the shower out for watering. So far so good. I'd love to get through the summer like this, but it will in part depend on how hot it gets here. Last July was bizarrely hot for SF. I'll post pictures when the crops get bigger!

Apr 23, 2008

Compacting the Transnational Move

After months of vacillating about grad school in London, I've made a firm decision to go, whether I'm funded or not. I'm still really freaked out about how I'm going to pay for getting to London, as well as living there. I can't believe I've chosen a city more expensive than San Francisco.

But there are resources in London for Compact friendly living, right? I'm a little confused about a few things, like what to bring along and what to leave behind. Without any real understanding of the used market scene in London, I feel a creeping paranoia about needing some life necessity that I'll have to break down and get from some crappy corporate store because of my limited funds.
Guess I'll have to do some research on a few things.
1. What are the crappy corporate stores that I need to avoid in London?
2. Where/What are the equivalents to Community Thrift, SCRAP, Rainbow Grocery, Wilderness Exchange, Heavy Metal Bike Shop,?
3. Is there a Really Really Free Market? (SF RRFM this Saturday in Dolores Park. 1-5pm)

While I look forward to answering these questions, I bet I'll be pressed to solve other problems first.
Where the hell am I going to live?!
Do I have time to work? If not, how am I going to get time with animals?
Is there a good bank/credit union that I can use?

And I hope that in dealing with these issues, that I don't end up buying an overpriced fill-in-the-blank from some crappy corporate store. We'll see. It's going to be a challenge to stay true to the Compact on this journey. I began the Compact in San Francisco, where I had lived for 5 years already. I know the resources here and have personal networks that make the Compact possible. I'm also really comfortable being myself in SF. I don't feel out of place in over-sized cargo pants and an under-sized raincoat. I don't know if I'll have as much confidence in London, where I fully expect my mathematical and directional ineptitudes to shine. Will I really be comfortable physically appearing as a disheveled American as I fuck up the currency, ride my bike on the wrong side of the street, and under-dress because I don't understand Celsius? Probably not, but my financial reality will likely keep me fairly true to the Compact regardless.

As with the lottery winning fantasy, I'm looking into metrics and London's mean temperatures with a hopeful vision in the back of my mind. Maybe I'll find a room in a nice collective house. Or a long term dog sitting job (I have the best references ever). If nothing else I'll find my activist community and contribute and learn. I'm letting myself be excited, and part of that means assuming that some things will fall into place.

Apr 21, 2008

Earth Daze

I had a great time at McLaren Park Earth Day. It was awesome to see a lot of my friends out in the park on a sunny SF day. I led a sustainable dog walk through the designated off-leash area. Attendance on the walk was great and I really liked all of the folks who came along. The pups were adorable, too.

I gave out seeds for planting, biodegradable poop bags, and coupons for my friend, Jeannine Giordan's, new critter supply shop, Hazel and Gertie's at 22nd and Guerrero. Props to Jeannine for opening her business in a Compact friendly fashion. All of the furnishings are used, giving the place a really homey feeling, distinctly anti-Ikea. Hazel and Gertie's also offers environmentally friendly products that I didn't even know existed. There are dog beds made from recycled soda bottles and durable, rubber-like toys also made from recycled materials. Did you know that stuff was on the market? I guess I'm out of the loop after 2+ years of the Compact.
I'll bet at H&G's regularly for food and Earth friendly litter. It's the only shop where you can get smallbatch, raw cat or dog food made from organic, local ingredients. My cats are going to be better adherents of the 100 mile diet than I am. (I still think I get points for being vegetarian.)

Today I should be working on the analysis of my data from the Bernal Hill observations. Instead I'm worrying about funding for grad school. After 4 nail-biting-hours of searching for new funding sources, I've got a stomach-ache and a strong urge to eat ice cream. How conflicted is that? To stave off the ice cream craze, I'm blogging. I love ice cream so this could be a super long post.

San Francisco is rumored to be a pretty wealthy place. Who's a girl got to meet to get some funding around here? Maybe I need to get out of the park and mingle. Maybe I should spend some time outside of the southeast quadrant. Sometimes I just want to shake this town and scream, "Hey! I'm trying to make this city a better place for plants, animals, and people, can you help me out?"
The same goes for the state, country, and planet.

But it kinda seems like the money for conservation is drying up just as it should be flooding. California has proposed closing 47 state parks this year because of a budget shortfall. Instead of water conservation education and incentives, which have the capacity to solve our current water shortfalls, Schwarzenegger proposes new dams. Americans have no savings so the Treasury offers us $300 and tells us to go to the mall. With solutions like these, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that funding is so elusive.

I'm going to avoid these angry and dismal feelings toward economic policy makers with dinner and You Tube. bread and circuses, ya know.

Apr 18, 2008

Celebrate Nature Where You Live

As you likely know, Sunday is Earth Day. I tend to think that everyday is Earth Day, but I'm as thrilled as the rest of you to have one special day to celebrate our hospitable planet.

I did not organize for Earth Day in McLaren Park this year, but I will be participating. I will be leading a sustainable dog walking demo at 2pm.
Our companion animals create an extension of our family's footprint. I've written about the billion dollar consumer goods industry aimed at dog and cat guardians. And while a pup's ecological pawprint is affected by toys, processed food, driving to walk, and dog fashion items, I like to focus on the most important part of a dog's life: the walk.

We'll talk about ways to enjoy a satisfying walk while protecting the ecosystem and trails. I'll point out some wildflowers, but this will mostly be a landscape scale discussion of dog walking tactics. This walk is for professional dog walkers and individual guardians.
As a general overview, I'll focus on a few techniques and principles.

1. Visit areas of low sensitivity first. For our dogs, the most exciting part of the walk is often the first 20 minutes. I like to let them burn their energy in areas where we're least likely to disturb wildlife, trample wildflowers, or contribute to erosion. So on the walk I'll point out ways to identify sensitive landscapes in McLaren Park.

2. Throw balls on stable surfaces. It's easy to impact where your dog runs when you're playing fetch. Chuck the ball on stable surfaces rather than eroding hills. If you want your dog to get an uphill workout, identify the best place in your park for this activity. For example, at Bernal Heights Park there are two large areas that were quarried. There is no soil or vegetation, and no trails under threat if we play fetch in those areas. So I throw balls there, rather than on the crumbling slopes on the north and west sides of the park.

3. Prevent all digging. While digging is an innate dog behavior, it is very destructive to the land. Digging threatens wildlife and the unique flora of San Francisco. Furthermore, digging often damages our trails, which limits access for dogs and humans alike. In my experience, dogs dig most fervently in the rainy season, when the ground is pliable. Off-leash access comes with the responsibility to have our dogs under voice control. Prevent digging to protect the parks and our off-leash access to them.

4. Keep a good pace in sensitive habitat. I like to visit the sensitive areas within off-leash parks. When the pack and I enter a wildflower area, quail habitat, or the like, I lead the group by staying on the trail and maintaining a comfortable pace until we've reached a less sensitive area. I stop to play fetch or chat with friends in the less sensitive areas of the park, and make it my goal to get both my and my dogs' heart rates up as we move through rich landscapes. If I have a dog who I know will not stay on the trail or will harass wildlife, I will use a leash temporarily, until we get through that part of the park. But usually, if I lead on the trail, my dogs will fall in line behind me.

5. Prevent the flushing of wildlife. Like digging, the pursuit of wildlife is innate within our dogs. And while we may view this as natural behavior, we must also recognize that the number of dogs in San Francisco drastically outstrips it's carrying capacity. In other words, we would not have over 100,000 predator canines in 49 square miles under wild and natural conditions. Just as we protect our dogs from cars, we should protect wildlife from our dogs.

6. Scoop the poop. Most dog folks in San Francisco do this already. The few irresponsible folks out there make us all look bad. About once a month I'm approached by someone who thinks that it's worse for the environment to put the poop in a bag than to leave it in the park. The SF Dept of the Environment is working on a source for truly biodegradable bags so that we can do a pilot project with a methane digester for the poop in Duboce Park and Bernal Heights Park. (Apparently the ones currently on the market lack a catalyst to start the reaction between the poop and the bag.) Until then, let's not turn all of our land into landfill. Water run off is affected by dog poop, and so is habitat. And often, so is my shoe. So even if you're torn on this one, please pick up. Again, the majority have this under control.

Apr 5, 2008

On Not Flying

I miss my parents. A lot. It's been 18 months since I've seen them because I've been trying not to fly. I'm from Georgia but I live in San Francisco. My sister and best friend from high school both live here, and I've acquired other family out here. But my parents still live in Georgia with several of my animals.

We all know that flying emits a lot of carbon. The first year that we started the Compact, I did my ecological footprint and came out as an average American because of my flying habit. I graduated college that year (2006), so I did more traveling than I ever had before. But I was still surprised that I was average in carbon consumption given that I don't use cars, don't shop, am vegetarian, have a heatless apartment, etc.

So I haven't been to Georgia since October of 2006. My folks and I have a great relationship. They flew the coop from Missouri to Georgia when my dad was 19. I was 19 when I moved out here. So we all understand long distance family communication and such. I'm a freak for letters and stuff and we do pretty well with phone calls.

But I've never gone this long without hugging my mom and dad. I hate it. I have to consider whether it's sustainable for me to live so far from them. My sister's here though, so that complicates matters. We have totally tried to get them to move out here but the reality is that they couldn't afford a home in California. We all complain about the exchange rate from the US to Europe, but there's also a big difference in dollar value between the South and the West or North.

Today my dad sent me great letter and locks of hair from all of my critters. It was so thoughtful, and all his idea. Now I miss them more! And no doubt, I miss Georgia. I just watched "Man from Plains", and I was totally homesick seein' that red clay and pine landscape.

But I'm not flying home. I'm going to drive to Georgia this summer. Blake's coming too and we'll probably do some rideshares along the way. It's better for the environment this way. It takes longer and will probably be more expensive since we don't have a car, but whatever. I want to rent a hybrid but haven't looked into it yet. I'm not a purist or a saint though. I'm going to have to fly to get across the pond for grad school. So I'm saving the emissions for that big flight.

Apr 1, 2008

Back in the Field + Updates and April Fools

I injured my neck in February while "playing" a game of "weeding Twister". In other words, I was removing invasive species from an area so dense with wildflower sprouts that I couldn't find the surface area to put my knees on the ground. Thus I totally tweaked my neck. This has kept me out of the field with respect to habitat restoration. I've still been doing my dog walking, but with the flowers blooming, I miss working for habitat. But I'm outside a whole lot at the moment, and it's a nice time for it, too.

I guess I was still working for habitat as I finished up the outreach phase of the Green DogWalks project. But outreach is such a laborious and thankless job, that sometimes it doesn't feel like I'm doing anything at all. Whereas when I work in the field, I can see changes, often subtle, but I know exactly what effect I've had. With outreach or public education work, it's hard to know if anyone's listening, in part because it takes information a long time to percolate.

I've been working on Green DogWalks for two years. It's my baby and I have rampant thoughts of infanticide. This may sound ungrateful given that the project was a smashing way to end my undergraduate education and it was surely the clincher for my acceptance to University College London. The project's also been a great link for me to the SF ecological community. I know I've reached some of the Bernal Heights community with the outreach efforts. I'll understand better the effect Green DogWalks has had at the end of this second data collection, hurray for being in the field! Here's hoping there are measurable changes that will encourage other park agencies to use positive outreach as a tool for managing dogs in sensitive habitat.

Despite the gains and potential effects, I have mixed emotions about this project. Doing the second data collection feels weird. Among other things, I'm essentially measuring the efficacy of the Green DogWalks outreach plan and the execution of that plan. With two years invested in this work, I'm a bit nervous about the results. Research at this park is tense at times anyway. People are so suspicious. Suspicion usually has a root in truth, but I've encountered belligerence, condescension, and snarkiness through every phase of this project. It's tiring. This is not to say that I haven't heard kind words of appreciation and support, because I certainly have. But I think most folks can recognize that even one jackass can totally screw up your day if you're already a bit tired or doubtful of yourself.

Another conflicting aspect of this project is that I got into grad school with this work, but I do not want to continue it myself so I have failed in finding funding for my studies. Though it appears to have presented enormous opportunities, those opportunities are a bit narrow. I really want to work in the field. And I don't mean that I want to stand in the field (ie a park) begging people (ie park visitors) to be sensitive to habitat. That's such crucial work, but my heart's not in it. I want to pull weeds, harvest seed, monitor landscape changes, etc. I know that some public education and engagement is required for that as well. Cool, I think I'm prepared for that given this experience.

I also have some strange feelings about the way the animal welfare and sustainability communities approach Green DogWalks, me, and each other. It's a difficult relationship and I'll leave that there.

But, I love observing in the park. I love watching dogs, particularly when I'm just noting volume from a high ridge, removed from most of the humans. And I'm so lucky to be allowed to watch the red tail hawks and kestrels at all hours of day. Along the ridge at my favorite observation spot is a vibrant patch of wildflowers. They're opening up more and more each day and it's really fun to get a fresh glimpse of them when I arrive. I look at the Viola penduculata with a bit of pride, knowing that I'm working to protect its habitat. (Viola penduculata is the larval food plant of the Callippe silverspot, a federally endangered butterfly found nearby). It's a damn pretty patch of flowers. Yarrow, lomatium, lupine, and Johnny Jump-up clinging to the side of a human created cliff - cut on one side for a road, quarried on the other by idiots looking for gold.

In other news, I loved the responses to the lotto question. Very cool answers. Clearly we all hang on to the hope of being free from financial worries. It was illuminating to hear more than a few say they would take care of health stuff if they had money. Me too, folks.

I also wanted to recommend a new site, neighborrow.com. Obviously a site like this will need some folks to try it out to make it successful. I love love love the concept and hope you'll give a look and perhaps a post.

And we have a Compact France, now! Check it out at http://compact.over-blog.com/

Finally, did anyone else read the news today and think, "This must be an April Fools joke"? I thought the story that the Berkeley Marines Recruiting Station is pulling out was a joke, but folks are swearing it's real. On the other hand, I did not believe the Nature in the City story about the Iraq War funding being pulled for ecological purposes. But the folks who really got me (and I say "got me" even though I have no definitive source saying it was a joke) are the founders of V, a new vegan restaurant opening in SF sometime soon. I get emails from these guys because I wanted to invest in their place - yeah, that was before I understood what "investing" means. Still, I love hearing about the restaurant, until I got an email today that said they're going omnivore and installing "decorative" solar panels with the help of investment partners at Chevr0n. Seriously, I fell for it as I skimmed with a quickening pulse. I was getting indignant and outraged ... and maybe (melodramatically) a bit frightened for the world. These guys are awesome, and the thought of them selling out was really scary. Thank god it was a joke (I think).