Winds of change are blowin’ | Field Notes

Gary Eduardo Perless
Posted 9/1/21

Fire season reveals two important truths: The winds that circle our planet care not for political boundaries, and this shared atmosphere we are breathing is what makes our planet livable. (Take a …

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Winds of change are blowin’ | Field Notes

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Fire season reveals two important truths: The winds that circle our planet care not for political boundaries, and this shared atmosphere we are breathing is what makes our planet livable. (Take a deep breath.)

Here on the peninsula, we are blessed with generally fresh air, thanks to abundant forests, and oceans of generous phytoplankton. But this month, our fresh northern breezes turned smoky, bringing news of large forest fires up in Canada, and elsewhere. 

During the recent heat wave, a small, local blaze — apparently sparked by careless humans — threatened nesting seabirds on Protection Island, and put human residents on edge as well.  Fortunately the heat abated, the winds shifted, and moisture returned. (Take another deep breath.)

TAKE A LITTLE TIME

If your stress level wasn’t already revved up, now we’re contemplating “apocalyptic” events on a rapidly warming planet — whew! Time to take a moment, and another good deep breath. There is some good news out there.

There is a worldwide movement happening. People are reconnecting with nature, and demanding a healthy planet as a fundamental right. More than 110 countries around the world have already added environmental rights to their constitutions (UN Environment Programme). More than 100,000 Canadians have signed the Blue Dot petition. 

Young activists from Canada’s Blue Dot campaign explain it this way:

“Environmental rights ... means every human being has the right to access clean air, clean water, safe food, biodiverse ecosystems, information, a say in environmental decision-making and justice if a healthy environment is threatened or violated.” (https://bluedot.ca/stories/humans-of-blue-dot-franny-rupert/)

Are humans part of nature, or apart from nature?

Scientists working to restore the ecological balance are finally giving due to the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of indigenous cultures.

The National Park Service is revising its takeover of Native lands, and beginning to allow traditional harvesting again. In Glacier Bay in southeast Alaska, for example, Tlingit people who had for centuries lived, hunted, fished, and gathered at Bartlett Cove, suddenly were banned in 1925, excluded from the newly-designated Glacier Bay National Monument. 

Now, nearly a century later, the Huna Tlingit and National Park Service are formalizing the tribe’s return to Glacier Bay, with dedication of a new tribal house and a renewal of traditional harvesting of Glaucous-Winged Gull eggs in the park. 

Closer to home, native Americans have for centuries managed prairies by repeatedly setting small fires. 

This prescribed burning stimulates regeneration of camas (an important food plant), and by keeping the forest at bay, the habitat offers good hunting of deer and elk. 

Settler colonialism broke the cycle, took over the land, and once the burning was discontinued, the forest — as well as the development of the town — overgrew much of the prairie. Today, just a small remnant of this original, human-maintained prairie ecosystem remains, at the Port Townsend golf Course, offering a history lesson with a dazzling array of spring wildflowers.

COMING BACK INTO BALANCE

We are smart, figuring out how to reshape the forests and prairies, streams and shorelines, to meet human ends. 

Could we re-envision our relationship with nature as a more cooperative one? Permaculture (“permanent agriculture”) is a movement that has perfected many small solutions that together help create a more harmonious relationship with Nature, while meeting human needs like building soil fertility, reducing waste, and growing an increasing diversity of crops. 

We are social creatures, and thrive in community. Yoga and other activities that get us to breathe deeply — even laughing — can reduce stress (watch funny movies together), whereas things that get in the way of breathing fresh air (smoke, face coverings, sulfurous mill emissions, etc.) can raise our stress levels, and risk putting us in a fight-or-flight fatigue — we’ve all seen it. 

“When stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on ... The long-term activation of the stress response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body’s processes, putting you at increased risk of many health problems.” (www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037)

To counter stress, turn off the continual stream of news, take a moment, take a deep breath. Be mindfully aware of the air you breathe, of your body’s wisdom, and find balance in all things. Your body knows how to stay healthy, and reducing stress is key.

I am reminded of the traditional Hawaiian/Pacific Islander way of greeting, of touching foreheads and sharing a breath together. Aloha. 

WINDS OF CHANGE

The winds of change are blowing across the world. We are all connected by the shared atmosphere that encircles the planet, carrying with it tiny particles of dust, pollen, spores, microbes, and sometimes volcanic ash or trace amounts of chemical pollution. Humanity is seeing with new eyes the urgency to live more in harmony with the living world we inhabit. Earth is the only planet we’ve got, and it’s a good one, so let’s find a new way to relate, and take our place among the community of life.  

(Gary Eduardo Perless is education director with Admiralty Audubon Society. Find out how to join one of his bird walks by looking at the Events page at admiraltyaudubon.org.)

Comments

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Richard Hefley

Excellent article.

Would controlled fires on Protection Island be recommended from a "bird point of view," after the chicks have fledged?

Wednesday, September 1