Tuesday, January 27, 2015


My Dad died last week and I've been sort of overwhelmed with the shock, grieving and details that come with a life event like this. I wasn't planning to blog about it. It's not my style to share that kind of personal event with the public. And I didn't think that the loss of my Dad fit into my discussions about nature and my feelings about it. But when my husband and I were driving back home from the airport, I suddenly realized that my Dad had always been at the heart of my relationship with nature. I don't know how I had missed it for all these years, but while writing his obituary and looking over old family photos, it was staring me in the face.

My dad taught me to love animals. He loved animals and he always had pet dogs and cats. His dad had hunting dogs, but in my family we had pets that were never well trained and ran the house. We had cats that walked on the counters and dogs that slept on the bed and wouldn't sit or stay. Dad told me stories about a dog (I think it was a Jack Russell Terrier) that he had as a kid in Marin County, CA. He said that the dog learned to ride the bus and that it would get on by itself and take rides around town. The bus driver knew the dog and would stop and let it on for a ride. I don't know where the dog was going, and now I can't ask. But the story made me laugh.
My Dad and his Dad and one of their pet dogs

He had another dog, Mandy, who got lost in a snowstorm and managed to survive on her own in the foothills around Salt Lake for several months before finally turning up, exhausted and thin, somewhere around Beck Street, quite a long way from Dad's home. He loved that dog and had worried so much about her, and often marveled about her intelligence and determination that led her back to him.

Dad taught me to enjoy spending time in the outdoors. He loved to ski and when I was about 12 he enrolled me and my brother in ski lessons. The lessons didn't take so well for me, but both my brothers are good skiers and enjoyed family ski weekends together. My favorite ski memories are of our trips to Brighton. I liked the slow and winding trails that led me through the trees, where I could see snow piled on branches and shadows on the snow.
Dad skiing

Most of my childhood camping experiences were with my Dad. We would usually go to the Uintas to get away from the summer heat. I remember camping at Spirit Lake, which my Mom tells me was also a favorite campsite of his dad, my Grandfather. We took our old army tent that had belonged to his dad. The tent weighed a ton. It was made of canvas and had a wooden pole with umbrella-like supports in the center. Our parents had to find a flat camp site, then dug a trench around the tent to channel rain water away from the tent. It seems like it always rained, and we always woke up with soggy sleeping bags, despite best efforts to the contrary. On one memorable trip, we camped in a wild area closer to Vernal. It was not in an improved campsite, so we had to dig a latrine and our friend taught us the "Latrine Song" as we dug. We brought our dog, Oddo, on that trip and that's how we found the moose and its calf, browsing in the creek near our camp.

When I was in middle school, Dad took me on my only backpacking trip, also into the Uintas. I have no idea now where we went. We were only out for a few days, but I was so proud being able to carry my own gear. We didn't know much about lightweight stuff, and I'm pretty sure my pack didn't even have a frame. My big, bulky sleeping bag and foam pad were tied on the bottom of the pack with a rope! We carried frozen cornish game hens to roast over a campfire. I remember that we saw moose and beaver on that trip.

The names of animals and plants didn't really come up when I was exploring nature with my Dad. He would point out hawks and eagles, but otherwise the specifics weren't that important. Instead, he took us to places. We swam in the Great Salt Lake, off the shores of Antelope Island where my hair dried hard with the salt. I cried when the salt got into my eyes and scratches on my legs. We hiked to Lake Catherine in the mountains behind Brighton and admired the wildflowers along the way. I was sure we were going to be lost when he used a topo map to follow the Pony Express routes, and to find Topaz Mountain in Central Utah. But we got there and hiked and looked for bits of clear topaz. We camped at Lake Powell in the South and Bear Lake in the North. We drove to Yellowstone and the Tetons in Montana and saw Elk and Bears and Bison. In Wyoming we saw Antelope and Jack Rabbits. He took us to the World's Fair in Spokane and down the coast of Oregon, where we saw Seals and ate smoked salmon. In California, we found giant pinecones and visited tide pools. He took us to the Anaheim amusement parks and then down to Tijuana.

Dad and Family Picnicking at Bear Lake

I didn't realize it until just now while I was writing, but my Dad probably sent me on my path to being a photographer. He gave me my first real camera as a high school graduation present. He liked to take photos and even set up a dark room in his basement. We developed photos there together under the red lights. He encouraged me to think about shadows and patterns and helped me see interesting shots. One of his favorite photos was one that a friend took, of a parrot that was sitting on top of its cage. The lines of the old cage were elegant and curved and the parrot looked particularly proud of itself for being on the outside.

Seagulls in a row at Liberty Park, taken when I was in high school and developed in the basement darkroom
Mostly Dad was a fisherman. He taught me and my brothers how to bait a hook with a worm or salmon eggs, to attach lead weights and our bobbers, to cast the line, and to sit patiently and let the fish bite. We were never as patient as he wanted us to be, and fishing often ended in whining and chaos, like when my brother caught his own ear with the hook when he cast out. I didn't like to kill the fish, so I'd pass them to my brother who would knock them out and clean them. Dad tried to convince me that if I was going to catch them, I had to do the whole thing, but I figured that's what little brothers were for. We fished from row boats on lakes and from the shore near our campsites. No camping trip was complete without trout for dinner. And our freezer at home always had little foil bundles of fish from a bountiful catch. One of my proudest moments as a little kid was when we visited Dad's uncle's fish farm in Kamas and I caught the biggest fish! I don't fish now and have forgotten almost everything he taught me, but the idea of just sitting patiently and enjoying the moment did stick.

What Dad really loved, though, was to fly fish. I only got to try that a few times with him. He really preferred to do that by himself, where he could stand in the water in his waders and cast in peace and quite. He loved the Provo and Weber rivers and would often go there at the end of a work day in the middle of summer. I don't even know where his favorite spots were, because I think he'd just pull his car off to the side of the road and run across the street to a place that looked good. I wish I had any photos of him fishing, but I don't. I'll just have to hold onto my created image in my mind.
No photos of Dad fishing, but it was in his heritage for sure. This is his Great Grandfather and friend with their catch.
I think just how much I will miss my Dad is going to continue to creep up on me and compound with time. You never know how much you'll miss someone until they're gone. Thank you, Dad, for giving me the world.
Me and my Dad, about 1963

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

New Year's Resolve

2015 is brand new and all full of promise for positive change. Most years I make a list for myself of resolutions for the coming year. As with most people, my resolutions have mixed results. I usually do ok on the easy ones like "get outside more" and "travel to interesting places". I don't do as well with "eat fewer sweets" or "exercise regularly", probably because my conviction is lacking. But this year I have just one resolution, and I'm serious about it. I am going to double down on my efforts to reduce my harmful impact on the environment. I've been working on this already for many years. I already try to cut back on driving and walk or bike when I can, I keep the thermostat low in the winter and high in the summer, I bring my own shopping bags to the store, carry my own water bottles, conserve water and don't use many chemicals around the house. But I had an eye-opening experience this week that has made me want to concentrate on reducing the amount of waste, specifically plastic, that we produce in our household. I have to give you a little background first.

My husband and I traveled a lot after Christmas this year. First we visited Santa Cruz, California. (I'll have a post about that soon.) Immediately following that trip, Art attended a conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, and I tagged along so I could see some South Florida nature, so we flew from coast to coast (a blog post about that will follow, too.) On the last day of his meeting, I decided to go visit John D. MacArthur State Park, which was about a half hour from our hotel. It's a barrier island and because it has a long stretch of undeveloped beach, it is a good place for sea turtles to nest in the summer months.
Old sea turtle egg shells from a summer hatching that I found on the beach.
But this was January and there was little hope that I would see a wild sea turtle, although I hoped I might. I turns out that they do have some rescued baby turtles in tanks that the park holds for a few years before being released. It's hard to photograph turtles swimming behind glass, but here is a baby loggerhead:

Tiny Loggerhead Turtle
I walked along the beach for a while, watching the waves and scanning for dolphins. It was a gorgeous day with blue skies and water. I saw some gulls, osprey and pelicans and a few beachcombers. Kind of a quiet and peaceful spot.

Miles of Undeveloped Beach
Then I spotted something rolling in the surf and went to investigate. It was hard to tell what I was looking at for a while, but then I saw the shell. A sea turtle! I was so excited and waited and watched to see what it would do. But the turtle kept rolling in the surf and didn't change position much. Occasionally I saw a flipper or its head and I hoped that it was just concentrating on eating something.
Sea Turtle?

Not Looking Good
It soon became clear that there was something wrong with this turtle and I decided to call the ranger station. (What did we do before cell phones?) I found my park map, made my call, and soon two Park Rangers showed up carrying a plastic bin in case the turtle could be rescued.

Ranger Rob swam into the water and reached the turtle in just a minute.
Retrieving the Turtle

Looking for injuries or signs of life

The turtle didn't make it.
I kept thinking that I could see some movement from the flippers, but it was wishful thinking. After looking at it in the water, Rob indicated that the turtle was dead. He brought it back to shore and placed it in the plastic bin and I was able to get a closer look. The rangers told me that it was a Green Sea Turtle that appeared to be a couple of years old. It had no obvious injuries and was pretty freshly dead. They noted barnacles on the shell which could indicate that it was a weak swimmer before it died. They thought that a necropsy would be done to determine the cause of death. Then conversation turned to one of the greatest hazards to sea animals--plastics. There was always the chance that the turtle had ingested plastic and may have choked, or its stomach maybe have become filled with plastic bits that could cause it to starve because it couldn't fit any food in. This turtle did not look malnourished, though.

Ranger Art talking about the sea turtle
I spent a few minutes looking at this beautiful animal, with its perfect shell, shiny brown scales and sad eyes, and felt like crying. All of us were sad. And then the rangers solemnly carried the turtle away in the plastic bin.
It was so special to be this close to the turtle

Sad, beautiful eyes

Carrying the turtle back to the ranger station
I stood on the sand for a while, soaking in the enormity of the tragedy. It was too early for me to head back home, so I planned to walk along the beach for a while more in the peace of the park. Then something blue caught my eye. There was a large tangle of rope and fishing line lying in the sand, where any critter in the surf could get stuck in it. I couldn't believe I was seeing this right after finding the dead turtle and felt so angry at humanity for creating this garbage. I went over to pull it out of the sand and carry it to the trash, but it turned out that it was stuck in the rocks and I couldn't get it out.
Rope stuck in the rocks under the sand
It was a defeating feeling. Even though I didn't know what had killed my green sea turtle, I felt protective of it. It felt to me that if I left this rope in the sand, there was no way I could protect the rest of the sea turtles. But right next to the rope I found an old shoe. And a plastic bag. And then a can. I remembered that I carried a plastic bag in my camera bag "just in case", and so I loaded up the trash I had collected. Suddenly I could see bits of trash all around me. Somehow I had just been blind to it as I walked up the beach, but now I had "trash vision", and a mission--Save the Sea Turtles! I picked up every bit of trash I could see between there and the boardwalk. It felt therapeutic.

What's wrong with this picture? Little plastic pieces everywhere.

Don't get me started on balloons. I hate them. This one was caught in the protected dune plants so I didn't go in after it. I'm sure the park staff will take care of it.
Another beach walker stopped and thanked me for cleaning up and invited me to the beach cleanup on the weekend. I told him that I wasn't from the area, but after finding the dead sea turtle, felt moved to do my part to help that day. He told me that people clean up the beach all the time, but more trash washes up every day. I asked about the rope stuck in the sand and he said there were a lot of things like that on the beach, including a huge ship's engine that had been stuck in the rocks for years. Sometimes there is only so much you can do. And yet there is so much that needs to be done.

When I got back to the trash can, I had planned to lay out all my collection and take a photo to show how many small plastic bags, plastic shoes and bits of styrofoam I had found in my half hour of cleaning, but I was afraid the wind would blow it away. This is my bag, pretty much full:

Just a small assortment.
I couldn't help but feel that we humans must do a better job with our stewardship. I've read about trash islands the size of Texas floating in the ocean, and dead sea birds that when autopsied are so stuffed with bits of colorful plastic that they starved. Sea turtles gobble plastic bags and balloons that look like their favorite food, jellyfish, and they choke and die. There are microscopic bits of plastic in the bellies of most sea animals. This is absurd. Here's an interesting chart from Mote Marine Laboratory that shows how long it takes for various kinds of ocean debris to degrade:

So where does the trash come from? Some is probably just carelessly dropped by visitors to the beach. But some washes off of boats, blows off of piers, out of trash cans, and even flies out of garbage trucks on the way to the dump. I witnessed trash blowing out of a garbage truck as I drove away from the park down A1A later in the day. So even if you put your trash in the can, it might blow out and end up in the environment. Some people are careless, but sometimes accidents happen. You can read an interesting article about ocean trash from National Geographic News by clicking here.  It seems like the best solution is just to create less waste. But it's not that easy. I'm all for measures like banning plastic bags and plastic water bottles, but they are just a small part of the immense problem. In our disposable society, there is plastic packaging on almost everything and our products are not made to last. When something breaks, we just throw it away and buy another. The coasts and parks and ditches are loaded with old tires, TV's, and other crap that people didn't want any more and just tossed. I was surprised and sad to find trash in the Peruvian Amazon when we visited a few years ago. The importance of reducing my impact isn't new news to me. I've been aware of it for much of my life. But somehow seeing that beautiful turtle made it more real and urgently important. I don't even know if it was trash that killed it, but I want to work harder to make the world a better place for other turtles and other creatures, including myself. It's important to me to be able to someday see a free, healthy sea turtle in the wild, and not only through the glass of an aquarium. So I resolve to do my part to cut back, to reduce, re-use and recycle with a vengeance, and keep my crap from ending up in the ocean and the environment. This is for the sake of the turtles and for the world we all live in.
We all have to do our part.