Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

I want to talk about friluftsliv (Pronounce it like it’s spelled. Three syllables). It’s a Norwegian term that combines the words for ‘free’, ‘air’, and ‘life’, and refers to an ancient Nordic philosophy of outdoor living.

The first time the word appeared in print was 1859 in a poem by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. In this poem Ibsen tells the story of a young man who spends a year trekking through the mountains trying to find out what he was meant to do with his life. The term appears in the last line of the poem. Here is the translation of the last four lines:

In the deserted cottage

My abundant catch I gather

There is hearth, a stool, a table

Friluftsliv for my thoughts

In the one hundred fifty years since the word was first published, the philosophy of friluftsliv has become embedded in the Norwegian way of life, one that emphasizes a ‘free-air life’ of exploration and appreciation of nature. According to the friluftsliv philosophy, any piece of land, whether public or private, is open to anyone for walking, camping, fishing, riding bicycles, or for any other form of recreation that causes no harm to the environment.

By encouraging freedom to roam under the guidelines of good behavior, in its essence, friluftsliv becomes a pathway to spiritual connection and belonging. And with that comes the beginning of a sense of responsibility towards caring for one’s surroundings.

When I think about friluftsliv, however, I can’t help but think about our country and about the difference in our philosophy of outdoor management. Under our system of private enterprise, and in consideration of the strict separation we maintain between private and public lands, it would seem that the free-air lifestyle of friluftsliv is impossible.

Yet we have the same need to connect with and take care of nature. We have the same need to roam freely on the land. So how can we reconcile the rift created between our purely economic basis of land management and the need for human connection with nature?

In 1949 environmentalist Aldo Leopold proposed the establishment of an ethic related to the land. With economics as the only guideline for behavior, Leopold said, privilege comes, yet there are no obligations. With an ethic, however, behavior is constrained and grounded in principle and conviction.

Leopold considered the land ethic as the third step in the evolution of the human ethical experience as introduced in the Bible: the first was the Ten Commandments, which placed constraints on individuals in our struggle to relate morally to one another; the second, The Golden Rule, which set down a framework for the struggle for the moral relationship between the individual and society.

This third ethic Leopold envisioned as an ecologic one based on the premise that all members of nature, including humans, are interconnected and interdependent. As such, it would lay out the parameters for the moral relationship of man to all the land, including the soils, waters, plants, and animals.

A more current philosophy of a land ethic is ecospirituality, a global, sacred, nondenominational movement aimed at strengthening our spiritual connection to nature, at changing our very view of what nature is. Ecospirituality affirms the holiness and inherent value of all of nature. By pairing spirituality and religion with science, ecospirituality seeks to transform the human relationship to the land into a healing force for our degraded Earth.

And that brings me back to friluftsliv.

True. Friluftsliv is an ancient philosophy. But within the simple notion of freedom to roam lies the potential for connection and spiritual oneness, a cutting edge idea. Perhaps friluftsliv can be a model for an ecospiritual strategy for healing the earth and for bringing the environment back into balance.

Is it possible, then, that it is time for us, in this country, to rethink our priorities when it comes to managing the land? Trust us. Give us the space, and we shall take care of the land.


What Makes a Piano a Piano?

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

A couple of months ago I purchased a digital piano. I brought it home and began to play around with it, exploring the different features and the different sounds available to me. It was fun, and I discovered I could create some very nice effects with it.

But when I pulled out some of my classical pieces, say, for example, the Chopin Prelude in E Minor (opus 28, #4), and played straight piano with no effects, it became clear to me that something was not right.

That particular prelude has a lovely melody in the right hand which is supported by a continuous movement of chords in the left hand that change subtly throughout the piece. The ever shifting harmonies complement the melody in a beautiful and haunting manner.

What I noticed as I played through the piece was that, even though the notes of the chords were clear and had a nice sound, they lacked warmth and felt empty. My usual emotional response to the piece was missing, and I was disappointed.

It then occurred to me that there must be something inherently different between the sound created by an acoustic piano and that of a digital piano, something that could account for the difference in the effect of the sound each produces. Actually, I started to wonder if they are even the same instrument.

A DISCLAIMER: The science and engineering associated with sound production and perception is very complicated. The following touches on only one basic characteristic of acoustic and digital sound that contributes to the way it is perceived and experienced: harmonics.

Acoustic instruments, like a piano or guitar, a saxophone or trumpet, are fashioned out of natural products such as wood or metal. The sound produced by an acoustic instrument occurs within its casing, with a range of natural harmonics available. The “warmth” or “richness” of a sound created on an acoustic instrument results from its having been produced in a particular natural setting – different for each instrument – where the harmonics develop freely.

Digital sound is synthetic and unnatural. It does not include harmonics and is unaffected by the space or the atmosphere in which is it produced. Although technicians have devised ways to add harmonics, it is not possible to replicate the harmonics created in an acoustic environment.  Thus, the perception of “cold” or “empty” sound; particularly in a piece of music that is meant to be played on an acoustic instrument.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that, even though the digital keyboard sounds like a piano, looks like a piano and feels like a piano, it does not act as a piano. A digital keyboard offers performers and composers endless possibilities for creating and combining sounds. The music created on a digital keyboard can be exciting and interesting. But it’s not real sound. It’s not a piano.

As for an acoustic piano, it is limited in its range of possibilities of sound variation. Yet, the acoustic sound, based in natural law, has the power to touch us at the deepest part of the human psyche.

Following are article referenced in this post.




Our Pal Technology

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

When did we start talking about our relationship with technology? (Really. Just search it on Google and you’ll be surprised.)

I believe the notion of a relationship began way back, when we first got the inkling that computers were not simply sophisticated typewriters. That they seemed to have a mind of their own. I believe it was when we started arguing with them and becoming impatient with them. I believe it was when we acclimated to the digitized customer service voice. Calling it ‘she’.

We have come a long way since those early, naïve, days of communication technologies, which, today, seem to be influencing us and affecting our behavior in ways we cannot imagine, distancing us more and more from the natural world, the source of our health and well-being.

As an example, I’ve included here excerpts from a blog, Abu Yehuda, about the extreme influence Facebook is having on our lives:

Facebook’s essential extremism

Posted on August 24, 2018 by Vic Rosenthal

There are 7.6 billion humans on this earth. 2.23 billion of them logged on to Facebook (the number counts “monthly active users”) during the second quarter of 2018.

I don’t know about you, but I found this astounding, considering that Facebook did not exist prior to 2004, and was not open to the general public until 2006. This single “platform” has arguably had a greater influence on human social and political behavior than anything since the invention of radio and television. It may turn out to be as disruptive of the social order as the widespread introduction of movable type in the 15thcentury.

The sheer speed at which Facebook has spread through world cultures along with its constantly changing, hidden, proprietary algorithms mean that its effects are difficult to study. Unlike the decentralized publishing industry that grew out of the advances in printing technology, Facebook is tightly controlled by a single private company….

One of the well-known characteristics of Facebook is its encouragement of ideological bubbles. This is by design. The designers understand that the amount of time one spends on Facebook – and therefore the number of ads one sees – depends on the psychic gratification one receives from the content. It’s well-known that such gratification increases when the content includes ideas with which one agrees, while exposure to ideas that challenge one’s beliefs produces discomfort. So the algorithm that decides which posts a user will see chooses those which – according to an elaborate profile created by the user’s own posts and “likes” – it estimates that the user will find congenial….

The platform itself is structured to encourage its users to behave in ways which support its objective of providing a gratifying experience. For example, a user who posts a “status,” photo, or link, has control of the comments that other users can make about it. If another user posts a comment that the “owner” of the initial post disagrees with, the owner can delete it. As a result, Facebook etiquette has developed in which it is considered inappropriate to post a disagreement. “This is my page, and I won’t allow racism (or fascism, transphobia, etc.) on it,” a user will write, and delete the offending comment.

There is also the way Facebook users get “friends.” Friend suggestions are generated in various ways, such as number of common friends, but also by the platform’s evaluation of common interests, which also means ideological agreement. My personal experience illustrates this. I have been a member of Facebook since 2010, and by now have collected several hundred “friends.” After an initial period in which I befriended relatives and real-life friends, I almost never initiated a friend request. But on a regular basis I receive such requests. Some of them are people with whom I share non-political interests or who were my real-life friends in the past. A few are people that I have interacted with in the comments section. But the majority are people with whom I am not acquainted, but who appear (to Facebook) to have a similar ideological profile…..

So why is this bad? Of course it means that I won’t be exposed to ideas that I disagree with. That’s bad enough. But there is an even worse problem. It is that in an ideologically homogeneous group, a participant gets respect by reinforcing the ideology of the group. I can become a hero to my group of hawkish conservatives by being even more hawkish. Because there are no doves in my group, thanks to Facebook’s algorithm and natural selection, there is nothing to stop me from moving farther to the right. And the next person that wants to make his mark in the group will attack me from the right, moving the discourse as a whole along with him….

As a result, ideological groups develop which then move more and more away from the center. They emphasize different facts and even develop their own facts. They create their own dialects, with each side using words that the other side never uses…. Members of opposing groups would think each other’s ideas are crazy, but they will rarely see them….

Facebook often announces programs to try to distinguish real and fake news, and to remove posts that “violate its community standards,” whatever they are. It certainly does not want to provide a platform for incitement to murder, genocide, sexual violence, racism, or many other undesirable things. But it will never do anything that will significantly impact its primary objective, which is to get people to spend more time scrolling through it and encountering ads.

In short, the platform itself, which is designed to increase ad revenues for Facebook’s shareholders, has the undesired side effect of nurturing and amplifying extremism. Rather than bringing people together, it drives them apart and polarizes them. Unfortunately, this is built into the structure of the platform, and is essential to the attainment of its business objectives. It can’t be fixed with anything other than a wholesale change that would make it unrecognizable, and possibly destroy its ability to make a profit…

So you can see, our ‘relationship’ with technology has taken on a different feel from the days when we argued with our computers. As quoted in an IndieBound review, David Auerbach, author of Bitwise: A Life in Code, wrote:

We engineer ever more intricate technology to translate our experiences and narrow the gap that divides us from the ma­chine. We willingly erase our nuances and our idiosyncrasies—precisely the things that make us human.




Good Fire

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

The American settlers in the Sierra forests at the turn of the twentieth century encountered fire. They had to learn to live with the reality of fire, that it would be as much a part of their environment as the snow, the rain, the thunderstorms and the Mono winds. They built their towns and businesses, their permanent structures, and protected all from fire through total suppression. In essence, they removed fire from the forest.

The native people, on the other hand, who had thousands of years of forest living behind them and had acquired an understanding of fire’s ecological give and take nature, had adapted to the fire-hungry environment of the Sierra forests. Over the millennia they learned to embrace fire and to use controlled burns to create and improve the rich habitats that provided their food, their medicines, and their basketry resources.

In terms of supplying themselves with food, the Indians were agriculturists, not simply gatherers. They studied weather patterns and fuels, cultivated their plants, tended their vast garden with burning, pruning, sowing, weeding, and tilling the soil. They harvested at the right time and in the right amount. In return, the land provided them with leaves such as mint for teas and medicines; grains and seeds for cakes, breads and soups; bulbs, and fruits such as Manzanita, elderberry, choke cherry, sourberry, wild strawberry, blackberry, wild grape and gooseberry.

The oak tree, which produces acorns, the main staple of the Indian diet, received special fire protection from the native people. By directing the smoke from fires built under the trees, they were able to keep the mistletoe at bay. If you’ve ever seen a mistletoe-covered oak tree, you have an idea of the damage it can do if left unchecked.

Even to this day efforts are made to enhance the output of oak trees with the smoke from prescribed fire. Lois Connor Bohna, a Mono tribal member who gathers and processes acorns is always on the lookout for stands of healthy oak trees, free from bugs and mistletoe. “From a good group of oaks,” said Lois, “I can harvest up to three thousand pounds of acorns every year.”

Tending basketry plants was also an important part of Indian use of fire. The Mono woman, who was the primary basket weaver in the Tribe, knew how to gather. She knew when to gather. She understood the elements, such things as that the redbud stick is most pliable and the red color the deepest if cut during the coldest days of wintertime, or that sourberry is good when cut in spring as well as winter.

The weaver looks for materials that will produce baskets that can withstand day-to-day usage, whether for cooking over hot coals, holding water, or carrying a baby. For example, when selecting bluebrush branches for the rims of cradle boards, winnowers, and sifting baskets the weaver will look for brownness, roundness, length and no lateral or side branches, those characteristics of young, healthy plants that grow after fire has been put on the land and the old, dry, inflexible, white sticks have been eliminated.

One might ask how ancient indigenous use of fire in the forest could inform twenty-first century forest restoration planning. It’s been suggested that, by discovering the approaches used by the Indians in a particular ecosystem, forest managers will be able to tailor their restoration practices to each environment and avoid a one-size-fits-all policy. “A major thrust of restoration ecology,” wrote anthropologist M. Kat Anderson in her introduction to Omer C. Stewart’s Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness,

is to restore ecosystems to a semblance of the historic structures, composition, and functions prior to major Euro-American settlement and development. Ecological restoration can be defined as the practice of reestablishing the historic plant and animal communities of a given area or region and the renewal of the ecosystem and cultural functions necessary to maintain these communities now and into the future.


Anderson, M. Kat. Taming the Wild: Native American knowledge and the management of California’s natural resources. Berkeley: University of California Press. 2005.

Blackburn, Thomas C. & Anderson, Kat, eds. Before the wilderness: Environmental Management by Native Californians. Ballena Press Anthropological Papers. 1993.

Cermak, Robert W. Fire in the Forest: A history of forest fire control on the National Forests in California, 1898-1956. USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region. 2005.

Goode, Ron. Cultural Burn. Tribal Chair North Fork Mono Tribe: Personal Paper Presented to the Dinkey Collaborative. 2014.

Stewart, Omer C. Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness. Henry T. Lewis & M. Kat Anderson, eds. Norman, Oklahoma; University of Oklahoma Press. 2009.


Fire: Friend and Foe

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

That fire requires oxygen is something children learn early in life. In a second grade science lesson a jar is placed over a flaming candle. The flame dies out. The wick smolders and cools.

Oxygen, heat and fuel, the fire triangle of the child’s lesson, has been fire’s story since its appearance on Earth, which, according to fire historian Stephen J. Pyne, was 400 million year ago, when all the ingredients were in place and the triangle was completed.

For 400 million years, fire has followed a consistent principle: after ignition – which occurs naturally in the form of lightning – sufficient heat, fuel and oxygen must be present if fire is to take hold and thrive. The removal or reduction of any one of these elements during a fire diminishes or extinguishes the fire’s energy.

How was it that human beings were able to grasp this principle and make fire their own? Perhaps they observed the slowing down of a forest fire when the nights turned cool, the halted progress as a fire crept up against a granite wall, or the flare up of flames in the presence of a sudden breeze.

Whatever it was that allowed them to connect the fire triangle dots, somewhere in the course of their evolution people learned they could start and stop fires and keep them going. They learned about fuels, figured out which burned hotter, which cooler. They put their fire triangle knowledge to use and manipulated fires of different types—to cook their food, clear their fields, shape their tools and weapons, run their cars, and, to fight their wildfires.

Anthropologist M. Kat Anderson, proposes that control of fire was “the greatest invention in the history of humankind,” allowing ancient people to stay warm, cook food and repel predators. Fire might have encouraged them to remain awake after nightfall, contributing to a social life, or prompted them to venture out and settle in otherwise forbiddingly cold areas.

Fire’s connection to humans is only one part of its narrative, however. As a force of nature, fire tears through the living world, feeding on biomass, drawing out its energy; in essence, killing it. “Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, melting glaciers, these are purely physical,” wrote Pyne. “Not fires. Fires need life.”

Yes, fire feeds off of living matter. But in forests where fire is a natural part of the environment, like those in California, fire meets its match. It comes up against life that can resist its onslaught. It encounters plants that even depend on fire to sustain and improve their species.

In the Sierra National Forest, many examples exist of plants that have adapted to the presence of fire or make use of fire for propagation and improvement.

The ponderosa pine grows a bark thick enough to protect the tree from fire’s destructive heat. The dormant seeds of the Buckbrush burst open and germinate with fire, even when the mother plant has been killed. Flowering after fire is enhanced in the Mariposa Lily and Penstemon. In the ubiquitous Bear Clover, a.k.a. Mountain Misery, the deep and complicated root system and tenacious underground series of horizontal stems produce sprouts after the plant’s bout with fire.

Then there is the giant sequoia. In its relationship to fire, the sequoia resists fire by its rutted fibrous bark which has been known to grow to a thickness of two to three feet. The Sequoia defies fire by sending up shoots after fire has passed, the only conifer in the Sierra that sprouts.

The Sequoia also recruits fire to open its cones, which are the size of a chicken egg – two-and-a-half inches in length. A mature tree could have eleven thousand cones, but some can produce up to a hundred thousand. The cones, each containing an average of two hundred flakes of seed, can remain on the tree for decades waiting for heat from a fire to dry them and open them, releasing hundreds of thousands of seeds in the course of a year.

As they float to the ground, the seeds can travel up to six hundred feet from the base of the tree. Once the seeds settle, they need a soft rich soil in which to embed, a condition brought about by fire that cleans out the pine needles and other debris—duff—around the base of the tree. The seeds will become covered with a tiny layer of the mineral soil, and there germination begins.

What takes life, gives life.

Fire Talk

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

California. Mid-summer. It’s early evening, and several of us are out taking a walk. The sun sits above the horizon, a perfect circle, and bright red! Beautiful. Awesome. We stand and stare.

“Oh, that’s because of the smoke coming from all the fires going on,” someone remarks.

“The smoke has really been getting to me this year.”

“It’s the Mendocino fire.”

“I thought I heard thunder,” someone remarks.

“Maybe we’ll get some rain. What a relief that would be.”

“Scares me. You know, thunder means lightning, and that could mean more wildfires.”

This is California fire talk. It happens every year during fire season.

For those of us who do not live in the direct path of wildfires, fire season begins when fires begin, when we read the daily reports and are forced to breathe in the smoke.

For those who live in fire-prone environments, the season begins in early spring, with the anticipation of the wildfires that surely will come. By July, as the dryness sets in and the temperatures rise, the prospect of fire becomes ever more real.

People tend to become more vigilant. They might begin to watch for the telltale red sun or brown hazy sky. Or they might wake in the middle of the night and look out their windows, sniff the air.  Has a fire started somewhere as they slept? Fire talk enters their conversations.  In coffee shops, at the supermarket they chat facilely about fuel loading and suppression, backfiring and cutting line.

These people accept that they have chosen to live with wildfire. It’s not simply that they learn to clear brush from around their homes or to plan for potential evacuation. Or, that from time to time they will have to endure weeks of smoke-filled air because of a wildfire somewhere in the forest. It’s that they become acquainted with fire as a breathing machine that needs oxygen to thrive and maintains a unique and vital relationship to their living world.

They learn that fire can take on a life of its own and get out of hand. All it needs is the opportunity to get so hot that it starts feeding on oxygen from all sides, sucking the air in, creating an updraft from the inward gusts of wind, propelling the flames as through a chimney hundreds of feet into the air. The wind whirls around the burning column, counter-clockwise, generating a hurricane-like firestorm with winds that can travel ten times faster than the surrounding winds, and temperatures that can climb to above three thousand degrees Fahrenheit. During such a firestorm, plumes of white pyro cumulus clouds that look like thunderheads – known to billow as high as eight miles into the air – can form as the fire enters the cooler upper atmosphere. (see illustration below)

For those who live on the periphery of wildfire country, a fire thunderhead appearing above the horizon is a pronouncement that a wildfire has taken charge somewhere in the forest.

Is it any wonder, then, that firefighters relate to wildfires as if they were alive? They speak of fires as running uphill and creeping along the ground, jumping rivers, and spotting across fire lines. They say that fires can throw embers and firebrands. They can escape, even shape an entire forest. To firefighters, wildfires are mean and wily and show exceptional endurance or fierceness or moxie. They are full of surprises, an enemy that must be defeated. They are alive and moody, feed on oxygen, suck in the air. Fires are driven.

A lookout volunteer reflected on her experience sighting fires:

It really does seem like it’s a living thing you’re dealing with. It’s almost as though it’s trying to spite you. Jump on that thing. Strangle it. It kind of brings out that kind of defense in you. You want to get it.

A Forest Service fuels specialist relates to fire as if it were a dragon:

It breathes. You watch it pulse, the wind will stop dead for a minute, like the fire is almost taking a breath. Then whoosh, it really starts going.

Here is an illustration of a Firestorm.

Who is this Cat of Mine?

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

The story goes like this: 12,000 years ago in the Middle East, along the Fertile Crescent, people broke away from their nomadic ways, settled down and grew wheat and barley, nuts and fruits. Soon mice came to raid their stores, and wild cats followed to feast on the mice. The farmers and the cats recognized a mutually advantageous situation. Food for the cats and rodent-free homes for the farmers.

And so began the tacit relationship between humans and cats, what scientists call the cats’ self-domestication. They showed up, wild, and made the farm their home, living side by side with the farmers, but independently, probably wandering back and forth between the wild and their adopted homes.

Fast forward 4,000 years on the island of Cyprus. A cat is buried alongside a man. The archaeologists cannot say definitively that this was a domesticated cat. The skeletons of wild cats and tame cats are too similar to be able to make that distinction. But they presume that it was domesticated because wild cats are not part of the ecology of Cyprus, and being an island, the first cats had to have been brought there by boat. The scientists reject the possibility that wild cats made the journeys to the island.

Another 4,000 years later, in Egypt, cats became an object of worship.

Only much later did the cat establish itself as a pet, a domesticated animal kept for pleasure rather than utility, as defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

And here we are. It’s 2018. And cats have become one of the most popular domestic pets in the world. Still independent. Still living side by side with us. Our pet cats are aloof, solitary beings. Unlike our pet dogs, we cannot train them to do our bidding. They do not want to be our companions, nor do they care about pleasing us. And, given the chance, they wander, only to return to their home base and grateful human house mates at day’s end.

When you think about it, these traits are probably not unlike those of their ancient ancestors of 12,000 years ago. Recent studies have shown that our house cats share 96% of their DNA with wild cats such as tigers, which began its evolutionary journey over three million years ago.

Smithsonian Institute archaeologist Melinda Zeder’s comment in a New Yorker magazine article really pinpoints our odd relationship we have with our pet cats:

I think what confuses people about cats is that they still carry some of the more aloof behaviors of their solitary wild progenitors. Sometimes they don’t give a damn about you, but they are very much part of your niche. Cats have us do everything for them. We clean their litter, stroke them, admire them, but unlike dogs they do not have to constantly please and satisfy our needs. They are probably the ultimate domesticate.

As David Zax remarked, “Makes you wonder – who’s domesticating whom?”









Science. Denial. Graphic Novel.

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

This is not a blog about climate change.  This is about domestic cats.

How is it that this common every-day pet has become the focus of a bitter, ostensibly unsolvable controversy that has pitted animal advocates and conservationists, bird lovers and cat lovers, animal scientists and animal activists against each other? It’s simple. We allow our pet cats to roam freely outdoors, effectively turning our neighborhoods into wildlife battlegrounds.

Why do we do that? We would never let our dogs run free. And we would not tolerate our neighbors’ dogs free-wheeling around. Are we mystified by cats? Do we enjoy what we perceive as their wildness, admire their resistance to training? Perhaps cats bring out a bit of our own rebellious tendencies. It’s difficult to tell. But it appears that we appreciate their independent nature so much that we are willing to relinquish one of the basic rules of responsible pet ownership, ensuring our pets will not impinge on the health and well-being of our neighborhood.

There is almost uncontested evidence amongst scientists and conservationists that an estimated 60 million free-roaming domestic cats in the United States participate with feral cats and strays in the killing of between 500 million and one billion birds and billions of small mammals each year.

Such numbers cannot be ignored for their potential negative impact on habitat and bird and animal populations. Not surprising, there is fierce resistance among animal advocacy groups like Best Friends Animal Societies and Alleycat Allies to accepting these statistics, claiming misinformation and scaremongering targeted against outdoor cats.

Interestingly, a research project conducted by National Geographic and the University of Georgia that followed 55 urban, free-roaming cats via camera (Kitty-Cam) revealed that several of the cats had found second homes where they received food and affection, and that only 25 of the 55 subjects spent their time hunting, primarily small lizards and mammals. Many of the subjects spent a great deal of time resting – very cat-like behavior!

In an attempt to bring cat- and bird-lovers together, an organization called Nature Canada has developed a program to celebrate the contributions cats and birds make to our lives, our environment, and our communities… Their aim is to help Canadians learn how to take care of birds and cats. In 2016, Nature Canada collaborated with author Margaret Atwood in the production of Angel Catbird, a series of graphic novels aimed at bringing attention to the specialness of both birds and cats, and to encourage behaviors that would keep both cats and birds safe.

By and large, to protect both birds and cats, the advice is to keep cats indoors.

I have three indoor cats. But I keep them indoors for self-serving reasons. I am able to regulate their diet (with a supplement of ‘cat grass’ I purchase from the local pet store when the cats have vandalized my house plants in search of green nutrition.) I have avoided an infestation of fleas, given up the ‘joy’ of receiving gifts of mouse and bird carcasses, and any other presents my cats decide to bring home. Plus, I have, so far, avoided huge vet bills resulting from cat encounters with predators, as happened to my pet Zeke when he was an outdoor cat. Zeke had a confrontation with a raccoon, which cost him an eye and which cost me $500 in rehabilitation expenses.
Do I think this approach is best for my cats? I don’t know. Frankly, everything in me says they should be outside doing what comes natural to cats; stalking, hunting, exploring.

Thinking About Water

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

The topic of water has been coming at me in many forms these last weeks.

A list:

  • a stirred interest in water sources for the area’s rivers and streams (since my relocation to Davis)
  • California’s new water conservation laws
  • phantom sprinklers on my property, watering plants in a shut-down system
  • an article about border patrol agents in Arizona destroying emergency water supplies in the desert
  • a request by a neighbor for donations of water for the homeless
  • an article about the water cycle and the origins of water on earth
  • astounding statistics about our use of water (i.e. 5.7 billion gallons a year flushed down toilets in America)
  • accidentally leaving a hose running for half an hour

When I think about the ubiquitousness of water I am reminded of something Charles Fishman wrote in his book The Big Thirst (p. 2): Water is the most familiar substance in our lives.  It is also unquestionably the most important substance in our lives.

Over the next weeks I shall begin to look at water from this standpoint.


Back to the Basics: Ocean Ethics

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

I received an email from Edward last week in response to the 4Ocean plastic cleanup blog of June 7. In it he talked about the multi-layered issues associated with ocean pollution and cleanup.

Ecologic impact, for one. “The establishment of the 4Ocean business plan, while admirable,” he wrote, “doesn’t in itself solve the ecological impact of the ever-increasing amounts of trash in the ocean or along it’s shores.”

These effects are enormous. Large numbers of marine wildlife are being harmed, many killed, through ingestion of small bits of plastic and other trash mistaken for food. Starvation. Poisoning. Internal bleeding and digestive illnesses.  These are a few of the direct attacks on those creatures of the sea who eat trash.

Another direct impact on sea life comes from fishing boats that discard their gear and their damaged nets into the ocean, bringing about a situation called ‘ghost fishing.’ In a bizarre way, this flotsam floating around continues to ‘fish’ as it traps marine life within its grip and, consequently, reels in larger predators that come to feed on the trapped fish.

Indirectly, pollution that brings about an imbalance in the ocean’s ecosystem – marine habitat destruction, for example – can put us all at risk. As described by the International Union for Conservation Nature (IUCN), Oceans are the lifeblood of planet Earth and humankind. They flow over nearly three-quarters of our planet, and hold 97% of the planet’s water. They produce more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and absorb the most carbon from it. So it would appear that we have a personal interest in getting the ocean back into tiptop shape.

And then Edward wrote about the business community.  “Ridding the ocean of massive accumulations of trash must begin with changing the business practices of the world’s maritime industry as a major polluter,” he said.

I know we started out talking about plastic.  But with Edward’s challenge I became curious about the laws associated with maritime dumping, what is considered a pollutant, what not.  How is it monitored?  I shall not attempt to summarize this complex topic. But I thought you might be interested in reading the following list of items considered, under the law, acceptable for ocean dumping.

Help me out here.  I don’t get how some of these are not considered pollutants.

The London Protocol (of 2006) expressly prohibits incineration at sea and the export of wastes and other matter for the purpose of ocean dumping. Under the London Protocol, dumping of all wastes and other materials is prohibited except the following materials listed in Annex I of the London Protocol (“the reverse list”), which may be considered for dumping: 

  • Dredged material.
  • Sewage sludge.
  • Fish wastes or material resulting from industrial fish processing operations.
  • Vessels and platforms or other man-made structures at sea.
  • Inert, inorganic geological material.
  • Organic material of natural origin.
  • Bulky items primarily comprising iron, steel, concrete and similarly unharmful materials for which the concern is physical impact, and limited to the circumstances where such wastes are generated at locations with no land-based alternatives.
  • Carbon dioxide streams from carbon dioxide capture processes for sequestration in sub-seabed geological formations.

Given the vastness of the ocean and the immeasurable number of private and commercial ocean-going vessels, can we suspect that all are virtually free to pollute the ocean? A kind of guilty until proven innocent situation?

After all, laws can be made. Satellites can be launched. Ecology patrols can swarm the beaches and monitoring crews can board ships. But in the end it appears that this is a self-monitoring, voluntary honor system; that once again we are down to right and wrong. To ethics.