Wednesday, April 21, 2010

40th Anniversary of Earth Day

For the last 40 years, on April 22, we have celebrated Earth Day, both as a global celebration of the progress that we have made in our efforts to clean up the environment – and as a means to increase awareness of environmental issues. Cities and neighborhoods around the U.S. and the world observe Earth Day in their own fashion, some with large events, some with small. The current trend to “go green” has given Earth Day greater significance in recent years, but often lost in the effort is the event that triggered the whole movement.

On a Sunday afternoon in June, 1969, a fire erupted on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio. Thought to be ignited by molten steel or a spark from a passing train, the incident was not regarded as particularly alarming at the time. Indeed, rivers that flowed through many US urban centers were used as convenient sewers for industrial and human wastes, and river fires caused by the accumulating oil and debris were common between the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The Cuyahoga flows past Akron in northeastern Ohio and empties into Lake Erie, resulting in severe water quality deterioration, fouled shoreline and loss of fish population in the lake. Heavy industry in cities along the shores of Lake Erie also contributed, but the damage was caused largely by the pollution of the Cuyahoga.

By 1969, the Cuyahoga River had caught fire at least a dozen times before the 1950’s, causing substantial damage to docks, ships, dockside properties and becoming a hazard for local shipping. So when the Cuyahoga ignited again in June of 1969, local officials took it in stride. No one called the Chief of Police. The fire was handled by the regular firefighting tugboat crew, who routinely dealt with oil slicks and maintained constant watch for river fires. The blaze was under control within a half hour.

William E. Barry, then chief of the Cleveland Fire Department was quoted as saying, “It was strictly a run of the mill fire.” The story barely made the local news.

But this “run of the mill fire” was different. It caught the attention of Time magazine, who commented in August of 1969, “Some river! Chocolate brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases. It oozes rather than flows. ‘Anyone who falls into the Cuyahoga does not drown,’ Cleveland’s citizens joke grimly. ‘He decays.’ ”

Other national media gradually picked up the story, but perhaps the greatest awareness came from Randy Newman’s song, “Burn On, Big River” and a famous photo of news reporter Richard Ellers removing his blackened, gooey hand from the waters of the Cuyahoga.

As national media began taking a closer look, it became obvious that the inches-thick black goo and floating debris causing a fire hazard on the river was also causing severe ecological damage. A year before the ’69 fire, a Kent State University symposium had already determined that the Cuyahoga was in trouble. Their study found that accumulating sludge increased the water temperature and slowed the river’s velocity, causing anaerobic action, a reduction in oxygen levels in the water, killing off plant and animal life.

Unlike previous fires along the river over the past 100 years, the fire of 1969 became a source of shame and ridicule to the city of Cleveland and local and federal government.

Sorely embarrassed, Congress acted quickly to pass the Clean Water Act of 1972, followed by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada to significantly reduce dumping and phosphorous runoff into the Lake Erie Basin. The Cuyahoga incident also inspired the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA).

In a speech to a fledgling conservation group in Seattle in September of 1969, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D. Wisconsin) announced his idea for a “teach-in” on the deterioration of the environment, to spotlight issues such as oil spills, raw sewage, toxic dumps and pesticides and to spur enough of a grassroots outcry to be heard in Washington, D.C. And Earth Day was born.

Despite attempts to organize the movement into one cohesive effort, Earth Day took on a life of its own, bringing together once-disparate groups fighting for recognition of their particular environmental concerns. April 22, 1970 marks the inception of this modern environmental movement.

Today, the water quality of the Cuyahoga River has improved enough to support the return of 44 species in river reaches once devoid of life and Lake Erie has seen the return of economically important fish species such as the walleye.

In 1998, the Cuyahoga River was designated as one of the 14 American Heritage Rivers. In 1986, REM commemorated these events in their song, “Cuyahoga,” as did Adam Again’s song “River on Fire” in 1992. And the Great Lakes Brewing Company named their Burning River Pale Ale in honor of the event.

In the movies, this is the part where the triumphant music swells, the camera sweeps over cheering crowds and a closing shot of a once murky, sludge-filled, debris-strewn river now sun-sparkling, flows freely, abundant with fish and plant life once more.

But the story isn’t over. Earth Day is not just a celebration of a job well done. It is a reminder that the job is ongoing – and there is so much more to do.

Pollution is still a serious problem for America’s rivers, including the Cuyahoga, where the source is now urban runoff, combined sewer overflow and stagnation caused by dams. For this reason, the EPA includes certain areas of the Cuyahoga River Watershed as among the 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. The Environments Working Group ( lists 50 rivers and waterways as endangered among them: the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Tennessee, the Savannah, the Missouri, the Susquehanna, the Delaware – and the Cuyahoga.

Back in the 1970’s, environmentalism was a little known concept, often attributed to hippies and “tree huggers.” Since then, greater awareness and, perhaps, economic problems have brought recycling or “going green” - and Earth Day - into fashion.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Do you realize what time it is???

I didn't get the telling time thing down until I was in 3rd or 4th grade - it's numbers, right?
And numbers and I have a long standing hate/hate relationship. So already I'm at a disadvantage.

And then, as soon as I got the hang of it, out
they came with digital clocks -
so now those of you who are like me - and you know who you are - don't even have to bother. I resented digital clocks for years - I had mastered analog, dammit! Now what was I supposed to do with this great knowledge? And how do you feel good about an accomplishment when it's obsolete just a few years later? Is this fair???

Now I have to deal with time zones! Yes, I do understand about distance, curvature of the earth, the sun's trajectory across the country and all that.
I get it. But it's just weird to me to know that when I get up at 6 am in Virginia, it's only 3 am in LA - and my family and friends would be less than thrilled if I called to chat while I have my morning coffee. And a little part of me feels somehow cheated that when it's already pitch dark here and still bright sunlight there!

When Brooke and Eddie moved to Virginia a year ago, it took me awhile to get used to the idea that if I called at 8 or 9 pm my time, they were already sound asleep and Brooke would answer sounding decidedly cranky.

So if you someday get a call from me at some obnoxious hour, please forgive. I just wanted to reach out and touch you and I forgot that my time is not your time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

From Island to Farm Country!

Well, here I am, in Culpeper, Virginia. No longer an "islandgirl," hence the change in my blog.

I've been here one week now and I'm still learning my way around.
Culpeper is a charming, small, semi-rural town surrounded by farms and rolling green hills.

And trees - lots and lots of trees!

One thing Culpeper does not have - and neither does this whole region of Virginia - is skyscrapers. Very few buildings are taller than the treetops!

What is most noticeable are the vast open spaces between homes and business areas. On our way to the market, we pass open fields, some with cows grazing.

I don't do cows. I do cheeseburgers! Live cows don't belong standing there chewing alongside the road on the way to Target!

The town is also becoming a tech center, so there are boutiques and bistros and shops much like the ones Old Town Pasadena had, before the big chains moved in and the higher rents pushed the small businesses out that had drawn all the attention in the first place.

Culpeper has two live theater groups and - a writers group! I'll be checking them out in the next couple of days.

We live at Southridge, a condo development of white clapboard buildings that look like farmhouses scattered amid lush green lawn and flower beds. The apartments are very pretty and comfortable, with nice layouts, dishwashers, a/c and in-unit washer/dryers - all for $800/month!

Across a little road from our complex is a small pond, where a gaggle of Canada geese hangs out. And when I first arrived last week, the cherry trees were in full bloom. They're greening up now, and losing their blossoms. But for a little while, they were spectacular!

We are very close to James Madison Highway, which is the main route into town, but you can't see it or hear it. The whole area is very quiet: no traffic noise, no screeching brakes, no horns honking, etc. And no smog.

Coming from Catalina Island with no Target or Walmart at all, it's a bit of a shock to come here and find each one big enough to park a passenger jet inside! These stores have everything.

There is a little red and green trolley that stops just a 3 minute walk from our apartment and takes me into town. It stops at the hospital, the senior center, Target, Walmart and the market.
It costs 50 cents for a round trip - and, on Mondays, seniors (55+) ride for free!

Having ridden the trolley twice now, I've discovered that the drivers and the passengers all know each other, so the ride is full of friendly conversations, catching up on each other's news.
When they found out that I was from SoCal, everyone wanted to know what brought me to Culpeper and how I like it. And I do like it!

A small, semi-rural town in Virgina might seem like a far cry from Catalina Island - and in many ways, it is. But Avalon is a small town, too. And I'm used living in a not always convenient environment. I miss Catalina Island/Avalon geographically - the ocean, the beauty of the Island and I miss my friends there. But I do not miss the crippling political situation that costs the Island its unique identity and robs it of any creativity. I agree with the theory in Avalon that the writing is on the wall - and it was better to leave now, when it was my choice.

The idea of my moving to Virginia first came up last September when I visited for Brooke's birthday. It was actually Eddie's idea - did I mention that Eddie has dain bramage?! Brooke chimed in, but I laughed it off. At the time, I hadn't seriously considered moving off the Island, let alone clear across the country! But as time wore on, the changing political climate in Avalon accelerated, the usual off season slow down in business was made far worse by the bad economy and severe computer problems at the store I managed all came together in a perfect storm of stress, a flu that knocked me flat for weeks (despite a flu shot) sleep deprivation and malaise that started me thinking maybe moving to Virginia wasn't such a bad idea.

Then Brooke played her trump card. She and Eddie, due to get married this September, will be starting a family in the next few years. Did I really want to be a whole continent away from my grandchild? No. I didn't. And if I waited to make this move, it might be much more difficult and inconvenient than it was right now. Or maybe even impossible.

So here I am, surrounded by something new and unfamiliar around every turn.

And history! Eight US presidents were born in Virginia: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Harrison, Tyler, Taylor and Wilson. And Custer's horse was shot out from under him right at the spot where the Visitors Center is now - so they say.

Virginia is about half way between New York and Florida, so these places are now more accessible - and some great road trips are in the future!

So for those of you who think that I went mental and moved to the far side of the moon - y'all just have to come visit and see for yourself how beautiful, peaceful and interesting a place this is!