Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Winter Solstice and the New Year

NASA Goddard Photo - The Winter Solstice - 12/22/2011

Circles, cycles, wreaths and rings; round and round we go. Seasons are cycles and cycles are circular and "to everything there is a season." It is no surprise that the wedding ring represents the everlasting commitment of marriage with no defined end. Likewise, wreaths - circles of evergreen boughs symbolizing eternal life - are fitting celebratory decorations for the Christmas holiday.  Winter is a significant part of the year’s cycle.

After the holiday madness is over, the winter solstice should be a time for all of us to go inside during the darkness and take a respite – to pause, rest and renew. Just like the metabolic slow down of hibernating animals during winter or the dormancy period of many plants, humans benefit from this down time also. The cessation is important and is a great gift – we can rethink, reevaluate and revive. During winter, the sleeping seeds of inspiration may later sprout into a garden of delightful changes or ideas. Use the darkness well. In a few short months the next season will be upon us; days will get longer and longer and take back the darkness of winter.

The New Year’s celebration and the fitting image of Janus – the two-faced god looking forward to new beginnings and glancing back on the past – is perfect. Our past is a part of our present and future; it can be the ground from which we grow and change. I think it is important to ponder what is no longer working in one’s life and say good-bye mournfully - then slowly over time reinvigorate it with the surprises life springs upon us. 

When we were children we believed anything could happen in our lives – all was possible. The New Year gives us this mimicry of youth and new beginnings every January. It is a chance to give birth to the possibility of a new self. This is the best present of all! Happy New Year and Bonne annĂ©e!

Monday, December 19, 2011

They're Back: Beaver along Cherry Creek!

American Wigeons dabbling in Cherry Creek

Walking a stretch of the Cherry Creek bike path lined with the naked willows of winter and the occasional cottonwood tree looming large, I heard the unmistakable sound of a child’s squeaky toy. Well, perhaps it was a dog’s squeak toy? I looked around for a shaggy canine sporting a well-worn rubber toy in his mouth but found none. Glancing further and looking into the stream, I saw the noise makers. There they were - a pair of adorable American Wigeons - complete with their unmistakable pale blue beak. Now, seeing a blue-beaked duck may not excite very many people but to me it is like finding a semi-precious jewel in the dirt. Something not expected on my daily sojourn. I am used to seeing the ubiquitous Mallard in the creek, a handsome duck indeed; yet when I see something other than the Mallards I tend to get excited. And then, not a minute later, I saw a different duck with a huge white cheek mark vivid against its otherwise dark head, a Common Goldeneye. Not that a casual observer can really see his “golden eye” from this distance but that is this duck’s name nonetheless.

These dabbling ducks were enjoying a glassy-surfaced little lake that had been created by twigs, branches, brush, and a felled tree that were slowing down the water flow of the creek. For a few weeks it was hard not to notice the chewed-up remains of tree trunks I had observed along the path, and I knew there could only be one animal doing the chewing. Indeed, it was the North American Beaver (Castor canadensis). This hard working animal had inhabited this creek on and off for centuries. Long ago, about the time that the historic Four Mile House (located a mile downstream) stood as a respite for Colorado immigrants, travelers, and Native Americans, they frequented Cherry Creek until trapping diminished their populations.  How lucky I was living in a city and seeing wildlife doing wildlife things right before my eyes not from a TV screen.
The hard work of the North American Beaver
Beavers are what is called a “keystone species,” which is a term given to an animal that alters an ecosystem in such a way that it paves the way for other species to exist in this environment. Like the keystone in antique arched doorway, if it is removed, the whole arch collapses in on itself. The beaver’s diligent dam building creates a wetlands environment that opens a door for other species to inhabit. While it is true that none of us want every cottonwood tree felled along the creek because of the negative impacts this would cause, nor do we desire flooding from the ponds onto private property. However, there are ways to mitigate the beaver’s behavior without destroying this amazing animal. Wouldn't it be interesting if both beaver and humans could both live in and enjoy this area?

Beaver tree sculpture?

For people to coexist with beaver there are several solutions that have been developed. Flexible pipe can be installed as “pond levelers”; these devises are simple (see "beaver solutions"). They allow a creek to continually flow through an opening in the beaver’s dam without completely restricting the water flow thus managing any flooding that is the goal of the beaver's dam. This is a win/win situation; it allows a portion of the beloved pond habitat to remain and the beaver's living quarters while minimizing damage. To protect important riparian area trees from being felled by the beaver, various cylindrical wire cages can be wrapped around the trunks to discourage this behavior. Both solutions are not expensive or difficult to apply.

An amazing feat of dam building

A recent success story of beavers living alongside human development occurred in Martinez, California.  After the town spent huge sums of money to restore a once channeled creek called Alhambra Creek, the waterway became not only more attractive to the human eye but also to a beaver family that quickly took up residence. The beaver started building dams along this nicely refurbished waterway and flooding certain locations. Soon, the beavers and their dams were slated for removal or extermination in October of 2007. An outcry throughout the community allowed for further investigation, research, and education to determine the best way to solve the situation. A community effort called “Worth a Dam” coalesced that saved the beavers along Alhambra Creek. Experts were brought in (Skip Lisle from Vermont) to install a flow device made from flexible pipe. Today the Alhambra Creek beavers, now known as the “Martinez Beavers,” are a large tourist attraction. Their antics are viewed from a town bridge to the delight of children and adults. It has made the locals proud and happy to live successfully with wildlife.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Will the real cat please wake up?

Powder pondering his true self.

Who is the real cat inside of us? How do we really know which personae we put out into the world or which mask we wear is the authentic one? The game face that we put on may bring about some wins from time to time but what are we really losing? If we are honest about who we are and let it all hang out, will we be punished by ostracization from society? No one really wants to be banished; we all want connection. I often philosophize about these things.

These thoughts bring to mind a part in the children’s book, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” where the Skin Horse is sharing his knowledge of how he became “real.” In a nutshell, what the Skin Horse says is: becoming “real” takes a really long time, it can hurt, and you lose a ton of hair. Bumble says, “Sounds like the aging process.” 

At the turn of the century, I worked doing US Census taking and my assigned territory included an active adult senior community. Knocking on doors, meeting the residents, and asking them the appropriate census questions led to interesting conversations with these mature folks. After a few days all I wanted to do was sit and listen to their stories – stories of times gone by and of lives remembered in eras I only knew about from Hollywood. They were stories told from a bold perspective of looking back with nothing to lose  - to just share with a stranger. At the time I was so enthralled with the stories coming from these older folks I wanted to record them.  I went to a local documentary film maker and pitched my idea. She said, “Yeah, well no one wants to listen to old people – I am not interested - it won’t go anywhere.” After melting in a heap on the floor with my idea, I wrapped it up and stored in away in my idea file.
Dr. Brene Brown - and if you haven’t heard of her work, I suggest you explore it - is a research sociologist. During her doctoral research she found something a bit unexpected from her original predictions and theories. She found that the people who explore and deeply search for a well-lived life all seem to incorporate these three elements:
Authenticity - the courage to be who one really is with emotional honesty,

Connection -  the feeling of love and belonging which begins with compassion and acceptance of all the imperfect parts of oneself and one's life, 

Resilient spirit - the ability to tell one's story and  truth while embracing vulnerability and hope.

Dr. Brown named her discovery “WholeHeartedLiving.” People who exhibit a certain amount of courage and allow themselves to be vulnerable live more authentic lives. The root of the word “courage” is cor (or cuer) or heart -- if one lives a life working towards these elements, they are living with their whole heart. This courage to be vulnerable and imperfect takes compassion and that compassion starts with one’s self. To tell your real story with wholeheartedness means you have to accept yourself with all your warts and hope one day someone else will also. Authentic connections with others happen when we are truly honest about sharing ourselves. One must rise above shame and quiet that awful inner voice which says that we are "not good enough."  Being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign we believe we are "worthy of love and belonging" and that we are good enough just the way we are.  This is really truly amazing!


Williams, Margery. The Velveteen Rabbit: Or How Toys Become Real. New York: Doubleday Books, 1958. Print. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Job Opportunity for a Good Woman

Yes, finally a job that fits some of my qualifications!
(photo taken at Buffalo Bill Museum Cafe)

Having trouble finding the career of your dreams? Having trouble just finding a job that pays over $10/hr.?  You are not alone.  I did the "get an education" thing and equipped myself with several degrees by "following my bliss." After finishing up my most recent educational adventure in 2010, completing a degree in library and information science (MLS) with a 4.0 (yeah, who cares?), I assumed I would be able to find a nice little job in a local library. Information science was something I wanted to share with folks from a research perspective and a creative educational standpoint. I was ready and willing to work part-time and not stress the budget of any library. Salary was the least of my concerns; I just wanted to give back to the community like Oprah always suggests. For almost two years, I worked as a "student worker" in an academic library, gaining experience performing a multitude of tasks and learning the ins and outs of different library software systems. Ready to hit the streets, I sent out into the cosmos of my local library system my clean, clear and concise resume, accompanied by a brief yet informative cover letter. I waited and waited for a response. I applied again.  Um, nothing, nada, rien, nichts, zilch ever came back. Not even a "thank you for your application." I am indeed invisible or my application and resume are. How can a piece of paper transferred to a computer screen reflect the true essence of a person? And what if somebody looks "good on paper" but is really not good in person?

Perhaps I do not have the talent for creating connections with the important people in human resources and networking properly to get my foot in the door. Is there a school for that? Is it really all about who you know or who you are related to? What happened to the days of visiting an establishment and talking with the manager (or department head) letting them determine if you fit their team mold or fold? When was the last time the people who should be intimately involved in putting a team together for their work force could personally experience your smile, personality, or vibe and decide right then and there to hire you (or not)? Now, most job application processes are run through the anonymity of a human resources department where young, inexperienced personnel are mandated to determine from a piece of paper who is a good candidate for various positions. If one is fortunate enough to get an interview, they are then run through the wringer, asked ridiculous and canned phony questions and the equally phony replies are noted in the same fashion as if one were sitting with Dr. Freud. "So where do you see yourself in five years? "Well, I see myself sipping fresh-squeezed-lime juice margaritas sitting on the white sands of Ipanema Beach gazing out at Sugarloaf Mountain about 15 lbs. thinner - tall and tan and young and lovely."  Uh oh, wrong answer. The person who spins and sells the best lie wins. The human resources department might also demand the applicant take a multiple-choice test to be sure he/she fits some psychological profile (or to find out if one has the potential to become an ax murderer). I believe they also scrutinize one's education with the sole purpose to discount and undermine whatever schooling one has mastered in order to come to the conclusion that the applicant falls short of some class and their education is not enough.

Whatever happened to human intuition and gut feelings? One hiring experience I had decades ago and still cherish is the day I walked into a plant nursery for a job and chatted with the owner. I told her briefly about my horticulture experience and passion about all things botanical. The owner said, "Start tomorrow." I asked if she wanted my resume or master gardener certification and she said, "No, I can tell right away what kind of person I want here."  Voila! This is the kind of job interview and hiring practice that is sorely lacking in the post-globalization corporate and bureaucratic world. Put the “human” back in human resources and let the personnel begin again to trust their observations and instincts rather than have job applicants fit a geometric grid or business model. It is hard to get those fleshy round blocks into square holes. Can all those phony canned questions be trashed and an interview become a real conversation between two people who may one day work side by side?

Anyway, back to the job opportunity above: I can sew, cook, gut clean and shovel horse shit as well as the next person. I am a good woman and I still have my saddle and chaps, but not my horse. As a bonus, I can throw together a kitchen garden in the warm season. Any takers?