Friday, August 20, 2021

SIREN SONG




Sirens sounded from Missouri Flat Road today, and I wondered if they were related to the CalFire helicopters carrying water to the Caldor fire a few miles away. A few people have already been injured in the fire, and panicked residents are beginning to drive out of this area in case they need to evacuate their homes and businesses. The sirens may be on ambulances, police cars, or fire engines.

Being close to a wildfire is certainly a terrifying experience, but it is entirely new to me. Why, then, does it somehow seem so familiar? Then I realized—the sirens brought back the same dread I felt almost thirty years ago, when an earthquake struck the Bay area.

Harold and I lived in Alameda then, only a few miles from the freeway that joined the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. I had picked him up from work, and as we were driving home, the car seemed to fall into a ditch, then recover. Harold swore and said something unkind about my driving. Then we saw that all the traffic lights were out. Sirens were sounding in the distance. By the time we got home we realized there must have been an earthquake.

Evening came on, our electricity was off, and we sat in the dark listening to the sirens and wondering how bad the quake had been. Battery-operated radio reports gave only a little information at first, but it sounded as if large parts of San Francisco and East Bay cities might have been leveled. After a few hours, the power came on and we were able to get a few television reports showing newscasters standing precariously on the edges of the broken Bay Bridge and below the collapsed freeway. The sirens continued in the distance. The next day we learned sad news of some Alamedans’ deaths below the freeway.

It was only a few days before recovery began. Bad as the quake had been, it was at least not a repetition of the 1906 disaster. Rebuilding the bridge and freeway completely took years, partly because citizens and planners typically disagreed on how they should look, but it did happen. By about 2000 it was finished. There was even a silver lining from my viewpoint: To provide immediate access to The City from the East Bay, the SeaBees came in to build a temporary ferry terminal not far from our Alameda home. The ferry rapidly became my favorite method of getting to San Francisco, as I could savor the view of the Bay while drinking coffee and writing. Later the ferry was replaced with more elaborate boats, and a permanent terminal was built. Another one in Oakland helped provide the triangle of today’s Alameda-Oakland-San Francisco Ferry, beloved by commuters and the occasional savvy tourist.

Though the destruction of these human-made structures was costly in lives and money, the end result for the infrastructure was acceptable. Few drivers on the freeway and bridge today think about the 1989 collapse, but I can still hear the sirens. Worse, I am reminded of another natural disaster, the destruction of our natural environment occurring not far away from my home in the Sierras now. Thousands of acres of trees and associated communities of plants and animals will come back from the fire eventually, too late for me to see it happen. There is plenty of blame to go around. Human-caused climate change has added to natural cycles of drought and abundant water; logging companies used clear-cutting for many years; then we environmentalists urged too many controls over logging.  Among us we destroyed what took thousands of years to create.

Copyright © August 20, 2021 by Carol Leth Stone (a.k.a. RovinCrone)

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

A NEW ECOLOGY

The roof of the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is a garden that looks odd but merges naturally with the park surrounding it. Having a wide variety of plants, the roof attracts pollinators and provides insulation for the building beneath it.

 

https://www.calacademy.org/exhibits/living-roof

When we drove along a large highway in Canada several years ago we were surprised by passing beneath a huge overpass with plants growing on it. It turned out to be a corridor for wildlife, which had been constructed so that moose, deer, and other animals could cross the highway safely. Like the CAS roof, the overpass was a human-made structure that contributed to the natural biome rather than interfering with it.

The Dutch biologist Menno Schilthuizen has pointed out that evolution is occurring quickly all around us. For instance, some spiders have evolved to be attracted to the lights where insects gather, and starlings have even changed their wing shape in a way that allows them to flee from some urban dangers. As every high school biology student knows, peppered moths rapidly evolved in the nineteenth century, becoming dark to match the sooty backgrounds in their industrialized English environments. Parakeets in Paris are of two distinct genetic types that could mix but do not; like many other animals, they have evolved to remain in slightly different habitats.

Many of Schilthuizen’s examples sound more like variations in species than true evolution, but his point that changes are occurring swiftly within organisms in urban and natural environments cannot be denied. Surprisingly, he is hopeful that we can work with many of the changes rather than resisting them.

Ever since the sixties, I have agonized over human alterations to our natural environment. Even our wonderful national parks and wilderness areas have suffered from pollution, urban sprawl, mining, and other obscenities. In traveling in a motorhome throughout North America I have watched the crumbling of many ecosystems. Conservation of current natural resources has seemed like environmentalists’ only worthwhile goal. Perhaps Schilthuizen has the right idea. If some organisms evolve in a way that benefits them and their surroundings, we can encourage them. If some become extinct, their replacements may be worth preserving. Those of us who mourn the loss of familiar plants and animals can try to imagine future ecosystems and design appealing cities for them. We cannot stop evolution, but we can search for new ways to live with it.

 

Copyright © July 25, 2021 by Carol Leth Stone (a.k.a. RovinCrone)beneath it.

Monday, April 12, 2021

THE LARGE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

The media finally have the message: People care about the environment. It’s nearly impossible to turn on a television channel—especially   PBS—without seeing David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, Greta Thunberg, or Bill Gates, of all people, urging us to take care of wildlife, conserve natural resources, and reduce our carbon footprint. As a fervent environmentalist for many decades, of course I am delighted to see that viewers care about these issues and that research on possible fixes is proceeding.

Why, then, am I hesitant to applaud this progress? It’s because I see scarcely any mention of population as part of our environmental  problems. In the 1960s the world population was about 3 billion; today, about 8 billion.  So much damage results from that growth: The huge population easily transmits diseases such as covid-19. Supplies of water are scarce in some areas, while the changing climate causes torrential rains in other areas. We convert large areas of forest or wetlands to space for growing coffee or other desirable foods. There is simply too little useable space for everyone.

In the 1960s population biologists such as Paul Ehrlich and Garrett Hardin began pointing out the necessity of limiting population size. Many of us responded by limiting the size of our families and joining Planned Parenthood. All over the world, people realized the danger of overpopulation. China even instituted a draconian  “one child” program that led to forced abortions and other undesirable results and was eventually discontinued. The world population size that had grown 2% annually in the 1960s now grows at about 1%. That decrease is very encouraging, but 1% of 8 billion is still 80 million, about ten times the size of New York City. Can the planet sustain adding ten New Yorks a year? I think not.

Today, however, the ubiquitous TV programs about nature and climate change seem almost oblivious of how much population size affects the environment. Is it because corporate sponsors discourage it? I don’t know the answer but am suspicious.

Some United States economists actually warn that the country needs more babies. Presumably this is to increase consumption of goods to stimulate the economy, and to provide a larger pool of workers. That’s the dilemma: Stimulating the economy depends partly on population growth, while helping the environment depends on shrinking it. While a larger population may actually be desirable in some ways for some countries, would it not make more sense to encourage more immigration from crowded countries than to boost the number of births? Immigrants are desperately trying to enter some countries to escape terrible conditions in other places. Most are willing to work, to buy goods, to help the economy.

Currently, anyone who encourages limiting population size is likely to be accused of racism or “anti-natalism.” In recent years far-right politicians have taken advantage of religious opposition to abortion to attack Planned Parenthood. The women who began that group around 1900 as a way of helping poor immigrant women control their lives are said to have favored genocide of Blacks. Margaret Sanger, the main founder, was one of eleven children in an Irish family. She personally experienced the sad results of women not being able to control their reproduction. She is criticized greatly now as being a eugenicist, but her goal of helping women voluntarily escape the burden of having too many children is still laudable.

Planned Parenthood and similar groups are attacked by people who oppose abortion. However, the best way to avoid abortion is to provide contraception. Many women in rural or poor areas of the country have no access to free contraception. As a result they are faced with the terrible choice of having an abortion or giving birth to an unwanted baby and adding to the population size. If women have access to education and contraceptives, they become free to better control their lives, to find jobs, to have children in the number and when they choose to. Individuals and society both benefit. Bill and Melinda Gates have seen how important population control is for Africa, and have invested in programs to help women, but who will sound the alarm for America?

Calls for social justice also complicate the overpopulation issue. One proposal for lessening the wealth gap between rich and poor suggests giving each baby born in the US $20,000. Invested over the years, that could help pay for college, a starter home, and other advantages that wealthier people have. Unfortunately, it might also encourage having more children.

Important as population control is, there will always be opposition to it for a variety of reasons. However, the need is overwhelming. Sooner or later, world population size will fall. If it is not decreased by voluntary means, nature will control it for us by delivering pandemics, storms, wildfires, lack of enough food and water for everyone, and so on. We need  to act soon.

 

 Copyright © April 12, 2021 by Carol Leth Stone (a.k.a. RovinCrone)

Sunday, March 14, 2021

VACCINATION IGNORANCE


The English physician Edward Jenner is famous for his 1798 discovery that smallpox could be prevented by vaccinating someone with pus taken from a cowpox victim. The antibodies to cowpox fortunately protected against smallpox as well. Just as today, there were anti-vaccers in Jenner’s time. In 1802 a cartoonist showed how some actually feared that the inoculation could turn a person into a cow.

Doubtless there were other misunderstandings about the smallpox vaccine, but Jenner’s results were stunning, and today no one questions its effectiveness or safety.

Some of the objections to the covid-19 vaccines are understandable. They were developed more quickly than medicines usually are. They have not yet been tested in every possible group of people. Side effects might appear later on. However, at this time the vaccines are performing extremely well, protecting up to 95% of those receiving them and having only a few rare adverse reactions. Considering how deadly covid-19 often is, it seems stupid to pass up the vaccine. Indeed, millions of people are doing everything possible to compete for vaccinations while the supply is limited.

The anti-vaccers pay little attention to that success story. Some of their objections are based on false information, such as the idea that a vaccine can cause autism. (That rumor was begun more than twenty years ago by the former physician Andrew Wakefield, who published a paper in the influential journal Lancet. He was subsequently discredited and can no longer practice mediciene.) Other objections come from conspiracy theorists, who want to use any method to oppose their political rivals. Still others cite “herd immunity,” thinking that if a large proportion of citizens have recovered from the virus, they do not need a vaccine; these anti-vaccers ignore the fact that acquiring immunity in that way may be fatal. Misinformation about vaccines still abounds in spite of credible public health studies supporting vaccination for many diseases.

At the age of eighty-three, and having some underlying health issues, I’m not taking any chances. After a year of self-imposed partial isolation, I had both doses of the Moderna vaccine weeks ago with some minimal side effects. Now I feel  able to begin venturing out of my apartment. On the other hand, I’m continuing to wear a mask, to stay six feet away from most people, and to wash my hands often. Too many people out there are still unvaccinated and pose a threat to everyone around them.

Copyright © March 14, 2021 by Carol Leth Stone (a.k.a. RovinCrone)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

LIFE IN INDEPENDENT LIVING

Last month I had my second Moderna vaccination. How lucky I am to benefit from this potential life saver! Even though I’m over 80 years old and have underlying health conditions, because of the fierce competition for vaccination I’m one of the small proportion of that group to have actually received it. If I were not living in a retirement community that includes a skilled nursing facility, I might have to wait months for even the first shot. (Correction: Recently the rules for prioritizing elderly people for vaccination have relaxed, and now I think anyone in an independent living facility is eligible. Hurrah!)

Being vaccinated is only the latest advantage of life here. Yes, it’s expensive, and I had to sell my house to have enough money to move in. (Whether the money will last until I die is another question. I am cautiously optimistic.) However, having a safe, reasonably comfortable old age is the best use I can think of for my money. Not having any children waiting anxiously to inherit my home or money, I can be selfish about this.

I can understand people who want to continue living in their own homes as long as possible, but that way of life may be overrated. Those who live alone may have very little social life. Transportation is a frequent problem. Planning and cooking meals may no longer be enjoyable. Medical problems such as arthritis can make even simple housework very difficult. For me, all these drawbacks outweighed the positive aspects.

Deciding what items to take to an independent living facility can be difficult. Many people have children who are willing to store some items, and that can help greatly. Being childless, I had to make final decisions when I sold my house and had a series of moving sales. From what I’ve seen, the most common mistake is taking too much. A writer friend of mine insisted on taking boxes of books, unpublished manuscripts, and other writers’ paraphernalia, and could scarcely move in her small apartment. The living space may look large in a floor plan, but it’s limited. Just as if you’re packing for travel, you need to concentrate on the items you really will use. For me, that meant taking electronics such as a laptop computer and printer; my old desk (which has a lot of drawer space) and other basic items of furniture; a few books and a Kindle; the basic wardrobe that had served me well during years of RV travel; financial files; simple kitchen equipment; some pictures and photo albums. It was a little like packing for dormitory life when I went to college. Now as then, the most important places where I spend time are common areas—activity rooms, a gym, the dining room, the library, and so on--rather than my own apartment. This game room is across the hallway from my apartment.

This may sound very Spartan, and it is. However, the dirty little secret of this life is that people leave continually, deciding to move in with their children or dying. The contents of their apartments are often sold to residents at very low prices. If you find that you actually need or want some item you didn’t bring, you can probably replace it. I had an old, small TV when I moved in, but soon bought a large, nearly new one to replace it for $40. A friend bought a lovely designer purse for a few dollars.

Selling my large collection of books was traumatic but necessary, and it forced me to pack only the books I would actually open again or couldn’t bear to give away. If I want to reread a book that I no longer own, the local library will deliver it, or I can order a digital or printed copy. As my vision deteriorates with age, I find it much easier to read books on my Kindle reader than as traditional printed books. In addition, the Kindle’s built-in dictionary and links to other sources are very helpful. Altogether, I have been pleasantly surprised to find I’m no longer clinging to hardbound books. When I do succumb and buy one, I may pass it on to another resident after finishing it.

Most facilities provide transportation to medical appointments and other places. I sometimes miss having my own car, but can always rent one if necessary. (During the pandemic, I feel a little uncomfortable about using ride services.) A friend sometimes gives me a ride. Not having expenses associated with owning a car help greatly with paying my monthly rent.

Altogether, this is a good life. Even five years ago, I might have felt too restricted. Today, I am grateful not to have to worry about home ownership. Aging itself presents problems enough, and I can concentrate on them rather than on trimming shrubs or paying high home-insurance premiums.

Copyright © February 24, 2021 by Carol Leth Stone (a.k.a. RovinCrone)

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

WAS LAURA INGALLS WILDER A RACIST?

After seeing a PBS documentary recently, I went to the bookcase and took out my personal copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, which was given to me in 1945. At the time I was interested in reading other things, such as Wonder Woman comic books, and so I never got around to reading the remaining Little House on the Prairie books. Now I have read this one, and can fully appreciate Wilder’s writing. She showed readers her own remembrances of nineteenth century life for a poor family far from city life. Though The Long Winter is considered a young-adult book, Wilder never talked down to readers, and even adults can read it with pleasure.

By 1945, some critics had already begun pointing out the prejudiced attitudes in Wilder’s books, and some of the early editions were revised accordingly. In The Long Winter, Ma (Wilder’s own mother) “didn’t like to see women working in the fields. Only foreigners did that. Ma and her girls were Americans above doing men’s work.” When Pa went into town and was warned about the storms to come, the warning came from “only an Indian.” He came home and described the warning, and “Ma looked as if she were smelling the smell of an Indian . . . Ma despised Indians.” Somewhat to his credit, Pa answered “there’s some good Indians.” in another of Ingalls’s books, someone says the awful “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Yes, remarks like these make us cringe today. It’s understandable that Native Americans and other groups have protested the books’ use in schools and libraries, even when they are used as examples of prejudice. However, it’s good to consider the context. Early in American history, both Indians and white settlers engaged in terrible acts. If the Ingalls family only heard stories of settlers being tortured, they might well have been frightened enough to believe the worst.

In my own childhood, we hadn’t advanced very far. In the forties and fifties, I heard patronizing or prejudiced attitudes toward Blacks. Living near a resort area, I saw many Jews who came out from Chicago. As in all tourist groups, a few of them were obnoxious. I often heard the words “kike,” “sheenie,” and so on. It would be many years before I fortunately met enough people of other races and religions to lose my prejudices, and to marry a Jew. If I had written a book about my own childhood, I might have included remarks as bad as those in The Long Winter and other Little House books, simply to show accurately how my own community behaved.

I have been lucky in this respect. Spending many years in various schools and working for or with a variety of people, I have overcome those attitudes. There are still many who have not had my privileges. Though yahoos and hypocrites stir my anger, I can understand them also. Yes, we need to be sensitive to concerns of minority groups, and to speak and write carefully. On the other hand, we should avoid a revisionist approach to history. I hope the Ingalls books stay on bookshelves along with enlightened comments about them.

Copyright © January 12, 2021 by Carol Leth Stone (a.k.a. RovinCrone)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

WHERE TO?

My life has changed enormously during the past year. Back in February I was leading a life of what Thoreau called quiet desperation, spending too much time on just trying to live a healthy life. At the age of 82, it was simply too hard to shop for food, prepare it, wash the dishes and cooking utensils afterward. These tasks, which once made up a small portion of my day, took over my life. I stopped writing, did too little reading. My social life revolved around rare trips to the library and frequent visits to doctors’ offices. For a long time I had been considering moving to an independent living community where meals and transportation would be provided. It also might provide some social life. I had lived for year in the area and made only a few friends. My partner is good company but is somewhat of a hermit. I was lonely, missed interaction with interesting people. Would moving to a retirement community solve my problems? 

Then the decision was taken out of my hands. I had a minor accident in which I was unhurt, but my car was totaled. To this day I am unsure what happened. I remember pulling into a parking space at the library, braking as usual. Suddenly my foot was on the accelerator, and I didn’t react quickly enough to brake. I crashed into a concrete wall. Did my foot just slip because I was momentarily inattentive? Or did I have a TIA? I suspect it was either a TIA or some other temporary mental difficulty that might occur again at any time, and would rather not take a chance on it. Instead of replacing my car, I stopped driving. Perhaps I’ll go back to it at some point when I regain my self confidence. In the meantime, the bus at the retirement community will take me to many places. I like public transportation for environmental reasons anyway. 

 Soon after reaching that point, I was gobsmacked along with others by the pandemic. Now the retirement community looked like a safe refuge from covid-19. I began preparing to sell my house, though for a couple months real estate offices were closed. Finally they reopened, and my house went on the market. Again, I expected to have a long wait before anyone bought it, but within two days I had a more than acceptable offer. The next month was a whirlwind of activity. Moving sales, frantic packing, mountains of paperwork to be completed. Suddenly I found that most of the contents of my three-bedroom house had been transported to a one-bedroom apartment. It’s a little crowded, but somehow it worked. I’ve lived here for about four months now. 

So far I am extremely happy with my new life. The building I live in is a little bit like a college dorm, with people around at all times. Someone else is doing the cooking and cleaning, and I actually have time for blogging and other writing. Lovely gardens are tended by others. My balcony looks out from the second floor into trees, so I may resume the birdwatching I began long ago. My new life has begun. I will continue blogging about it, and am curious about how this will turn out. Will I get bored with my insulation from “normal “ life? Or will I have the time and space I’ve craved? Where to from here?

Copyright © December 27, 2020 by Carol Leth Stone (a.k.a. RovinCrone)

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

SUCH INTERESTING PEOPLE

One morning the old guy who lives down the hall walked up and asked loudly whether I had been out drinking in the parking lot the previous night. What? Finally I figured it out. I had gone out to gaze at a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, and of course had looked up through my binoculars. From a distance and in a dim light, the binoculars looked to him like a bottle. I tried to explain, but he looked skeptical. This place is a gossip mill, and I’m probably pegged as a drunk now.

And then there is Moose. (Though I avoid using real names here, I can’t think of a good substitute, and of course Moose is just her nickname.) I’d heard some people mention her, and had a mental image of a hulking, awkward creature. Instead, she turned out to be the petite, graceful woman I’d seen dancing when a local band was performing. Moose is a hundred years old, and proud of it. She could pass for 80. Not only is she youthful and graceful, but she’s sharp and funny.

I used to think old people were boring. One of my grandmothers lived to be 96, and I could have asked her so much about her life that began in the nineteenth century, but I didn’t. By the time my mother died at the age of 101 I had wised up a little, and we had many good conversations about her life. Now that I am old, I can appreciate the elderly people around me. We have lived through events that seem like ancient history to the young. Not only do we remember them, we can see and describe them in the changing contexts of surrounding events, attitudes, and fashions. We are better able than younger people to understand and forgive those who may seem racist or otherwise intolerant.

Copyright © December 9, 2020 by Carol Leth Stone (a.k.a. RovinCrone)

Friday, October 16, 2020

EATING DURING THE PANDEMIC

A beginning student of anthropology is likely to be struck by the amount of time “primitive” people must spend on finding food. They hunt or gather, perhaps cook over a fire made of sticks. In comparison, those in modern societies may seem to spend little time on getting food. 

Until I became an octogenarian, I blithely shopped for groceries, cooked meals, and cleaned up afterward without thinking much about the time it took. Eating-related tasks seemed to occur almost in spare moments. Then, as I aged and my health declined, I found all that work burdensome. 

Since moving to an independent-living apartment, I’ve found that I suddenly have much more time on my hands. Though I still spend time eating (most of the meals are delicious), someone else has taken care of all the work involved. I am extremely fortunate. 



My meals are delivered to my door in Styrofoam containers. Plastics are an ecological nightmare but a necessity during the pandemic.


 Meanwhile, many people who are quarantined or otherwise forced to stay home because of the pandemic are having a harder time than I ever did. They may have to shop in off hours to avoid crowds, practice social distancing, wear masks or other protective gear, search for items that no one has touched. Stores often run out of popular items. 

Even worse than lack of time for getting food is lack of money. As the pandemic has damaged the economy, many workers have lost their jobs or are making less money. They may even have to choose between paying the rent or buying enough groceries. At this time—shockingly in this wealthy country-- fourteen million children in the U.S. have too little nutritious food. Only a few years ago, obesity seemed to be a major pediatric difficulty. It still is, but now it is more likely to result from reliance on cheap but fattening foods. Getting enough protein and vegetables is hard for those on low incomes. 

We can no longer take food for granted. Like those in third-world countries, we are suffering from too little nourishing food for all citizens. Sadly, our political leaders are largely to blame. I can only hope that in the next few months, we will elect leaders who can reverse this trend. 

 Copyright © October 16, 2020 by Carol Leth Stone (a.k.a. RovinCrone) 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

STANDING ON THE SIDELINES

The past few months seem all too much like the late sixties, when after centuries of oppression and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., African Americans grieved and rioted. Back then I wanted to be part of the civil rights movement, but did only a very small bit. I wrote letters to newspapers, helped to integrate an all-white neighborhood in Chicago. It was all too little, of course. Others fought and died in that battle.

While Chicago police clubbed demonstrators in Lincoln Park, I lay in a hospital bed recovering from surgery. It gave me an excuse for not doing something more, for merely being on the sidelines of a major battle.

Now I am 83, “too old” to go out and march in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the murders of George Floyd and others. It would be ludicrous, I say to myself. Would police treat gently an old lady using a walker? They might, considering my age and “white privilege” status. If they clubbed or tear-gassed me, that might be a useful protest, but I’m too cowardly. Once again, I will watch braver souls on TV, write the occasional letter, and hope that this time there can actually be an improvement.

 

 Copyright © September 27, 2020 by Carol Leth Stone (a.k.a. RovinCrone)