Sarracenia purpurea

Recently I went to a bog here in southeastern Massachusetts, and discovered the pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) were in full bloom. This is the first time I’ve managed to be in a bog when they were in full bloom — I usually mange to show up just after all the blossoms have dropped their petals.

Below is my photo of one of the flowers. Since this is an endangered plant, I’ve carefully stripped out any identifying information (location, date, and other EXIF data).

Large flower hanging from a stalk.
Flower of a pitcher plant

Soundscapes and ecojustice

Yesterday’s post on the different ways white people, and people of color, respond to charismatic megafauna and mesafauna got me thinking about a recent post by Desireé Melonas at the Blog of the APA. She went to Africatown, in Mobile, Alabama, as part of a group that received a grant to develop environmental justice curriculum materials for students living and going to school in Africatown. Why environmental justice curriculum? Because Africatown is another example of how communities of color and working class communities find themselves dominated by polluting industries.

In this blog post, Desireé Melonas reflects on her first impressions upon visitng Africatown: “…both Vince and Roald [other members of her group] commented on Africatown’s distinct soundscape. In a sort of astonished tone, Vince told of how the community is blanketed by what felt like an eerie absence of sound; no birds could be heard, a sound many of us are perhaps so inured to hearing that we take for granted what about our communities their being there signifies. This sonic experience Vince described paradoxically as ‘suffocating,’ a fitting term given the connection here between the existential experience and the literal source of the sonic absence.”

The lack of birds and other wildlife is a direct result of the toxication of Africatown by the industrial plants sited there, operated by such major manufacturers as the Scott Paper Co., International Paper, etc. So not only are the residents of Africatown experiencing higher levels of cancer from the toxication, they also have to deal with a “suffocating” soundscape.

This reminds me of another aspect of toxication.

Lichens are sensitive to air pollution, and are actually an effective way to monitor air pollution. I experienced some of this when we lived in San Mateo. When we lived downtown next to the train station, in a white minority neighborhood, there were no lichens growing anywhere in our little yard; this should have been no surprise, since we lived two blocks from the train line, right next to a major bus route, a few block from Highway 101, and not far from the usual landing route for jets into SFO; while the air pollution wasn’t terrible (not as bad as in Africatown), it was omnipresent. Then we moved just two miles away, up the hill into the old caretaker’s cottage owned by a nonprofit cemetery (who rented to us at below market rates). The surrounding neighborhood was quite well-to-do, and quite white. Quite a few lichens grew in the cemetery, because the air was a lot cleaner; and, no surprise, I stopped getting bronchitis as often as before. Now we live in Cohasset (which is very white), where there are lots of lichens growing everywhere, and not only have I not gotten bronchitis this winter, but my allergies aren’t as bad as they were a couple of years ago.

So an area that lacks lichens will have enough air pollution to cause noticeable negative health effects. An area that lacks birds is seriously polluted, with major negative health effects. While we don’t need to be sentimental about charismatic megafauna and mesafauna, a lack of such animals in a residential area might be telling us something about the level of toxication there.


Today’s walk took me a little further than intended, and dusk was settling in before I started heading home. Though I was hurrying a little, I stopped to admire a large rock outcropping that rose about twenty feet above a small artificial pond. Although the face of the rock was only about ten degrees away from vertical, it was mostly covered with plants and lichens. The lichens ranged from crustose microlichens, to Rock Tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) the size of your hand growing in large colonies, the thallus of each lichen dangling from its umbilicus and showing bits of the dark lower surface. In addition to mosses growing in several large patches, there were a number of vascular plants, of which the most numerous were ferns, Rock Polypodys (Polypodium virginianum). But there were also two or three small trees that had rooted in the rock face, including a small Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) near the peak.

Rock outcropping with plant life clinging to it, reflected in a small artifical pond.

The different organisms growing on the rock created a patchwork of colors: greenish brown where the Rock Tripe grew, dark green for the Rock Polypody, and various shades of gree for the other kinds of lichen and the mosses. Here and there, the gray rock showed through the life growing on it.

It’s a trivial sight, something you see every day. I don’t know why it caught my eye today. I admired it for a minute or so, then hurried on my way.

Fifth shot

I got my fifth COVID shot today, the so-called bivalent booster.

Getting a COVID shot is boring now. But it didn’t used to be.

We got our first shots the day after our age group was eligible. We had to drive an hour to find an appointment. There was an elaborate check-in process. After getting the Pfizer shot, we had to sit down for fifteen minutes until they were certain we weren’t going to pass out or go into anaphylactic shock. Four weeks later, we got the second dose at the same drugstore, going through the same elaborate process. I was ill for two days after the second shot. Then it became a big topic of conversation for the next month: Did you get vaccinated yet? Which vaccine did you get? How long were you sick for afterwards?

We felt invincible for about four months, until the Delta variant hit. Then at last we were eligible for our first booster. This time, we got an appointment at a mass vaccination clinic, held at the San Mateo Event Center, formerly called the county fairgrounds. We waited in a long line of cars while volunteers in fluorescent yellow vests directed us into a big barn. Did we want Pfizer or Moderna? We had heard that you should get the one you didn’t get the first time. So we got Moderna. Then we had to drive into a big parking area while they monitored us to make sure we didn’t pass out. Once again, it was all very dramatic. And I was ill for a day after I got the booster.

For the second booster, I went to the Redwood City medical center where my primary care physician had her office. It was just like getting my annual flu shot. A nurse told me I shouldn’t worry about sitting in the waiting area after getting the shot. I got the shot, left the building, and drove home. My arm hurt for the rest of the day, but I didn’t feel ill.

Today I drove to Braintree to get both my annual flu shot and my third COVID booster. My appointment was at an older, somewhat dingy pharmacy. This time I remembered to wear a short-sleeved shirt. After I got my shot, the pharmacist told me to sit and wait fifteen minutes. I heard the man talking to the pharmacist as he got his shot. “Another shot, I can’t believe it! We’re going to be doing this forever,” he said, in his high querulous tenor voice. She murmured something soothing. “I guess it’s like getting your flu shot every year, isn’t it. And these people who don’t get shots. Can you believe them?!” Another soothing murmur. By this time I had waited five minutes. I decided I wasn’t going to pass out and walked out of the store. There was nothing exciting about any of it.

I still worry a little when I hear about people I know getting COVID. But getting your COVID shot is no longer exciting. It’s just part of the annual routine.

Pharoah Sanders

The man Ornette Coleman called the greatest tenor player in the world, Pharoah Sanders, has died at age 81.

He may have been the greatest tenor player in the world, but I tend to think of Pharoah Sanders as the master of spiritual jazz. His extended musical meditation on peace, called “Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah” on his 1969 album “Jewels of Thought,” remains a touchstone of spiritual pacifism for me.

Click on the image above to listen to listen to “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah” on Youtube.

At the beginning of this fifteen minute musical prayer, Sanders says:

“Peace is a united effort for co-ordinated control
Peace is the will of the people and the will of the land
With peace we can move ahead together
We want you to join us this evening in this universal prayer
This universal prayer for peace for every man
All you got to do is clap your hands.
One, two, three….”

And then he chants:

“Prince of peace, won’t you hear our pleas
And ring your bells of peace,
Let loving never cease.”

That simple chant has stuck in my mind (and heart) ever since I first heard it. It continues to support me in a world that’s inching closer to nuclear war in the Ukraine. That chant, in addition to the warmth and deep spirituality of all of Sanders’ music.

He will be sorely missed.


The pagan holiday of Lughnasa traces its roots back to old festivals that celebrated the first fruits of the harvest. In northern Europe, early August was the time when agriculturalists would begin to know what kind of grain crop they’d harvest this year. And they’d begin to have fresh grains again, instead of having to rely on what was left from the previous year’s harvest.

When I’ve lived in New England, as I am once again, Lughnasa becomes a bitter-sweet celebration. More and more fresh vegetables make their appearance at farm stands and farmer’s markets. Raspberries are at their peak, and it won’t be long until we start getting the first summer apples.

Yet at the same time, this is the time of year when you first begin to sense that the days are growing shorter. Some birds begin to drop out of the morning chorus; when I went out for a walk early this morning, I didn’t hear any more Willow Flycatchers. In a drought year like this year, you even begin to see red leaves in early August; we took a long walk on Sunday and here and there were Poison Ivy vines with brilliant red leaves.

It’s both the peak of summer, and the beginning of the turn towards winter.

Saco, Me., to Westport, Mass.

We stayed up late last night singing around the camp fire. Glenn mostly led the singing, with help from Amy, and drumming by Richard. Jon and I helped out where we could with uke and guitar. At Jean-Pierre’s urging, Milene sang us a traditional French Canadian song. Chantelle and some others went to bed at ten, but we kept going until quiet hour. It was after eleven when we got to sleep.

We had a leisurely morning. We packed up our campsite and loaded up the car. I enjoy packing up campsites and loading cars, so this proved to be a pleasurable morning for me. Then we ate an early lunch at a picnic table. Richard happened to be there, and we had a long talk, covering everything from Gilles Deleuze and the relationship between colonialism and religion on the one hand, to updating each other on the details of our personal lives on the other hand.

After lunch, I went out into the woods behind Ferry Beach Park Association, while Carol-the-extrovert went off to talk with people. I took a number of photographs of plants and other organisms which I uploaded to iNaturalist. I was sad to see that nearly all the Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga heterophylla) were infested with Hemlock Woolly Aldegids (Adelges tsugae), an invasive insect from Asia. Many hemlocks were badly infested, and I also saw several dead hemlocks. I have also noticed that there were almost no Black-throated Green Warblers nesting in the woods this year, in contrast to past years when they were numerous. I wonder if the Black-throated Green Warbler prefers hemlocks for nesting, so that the loss of the hemlocks may mean the loss of the warblers.

On a more pleasant note, I came across a Glossy Ibis in the pond just to the north of Ferry Beach Park Association. I’ve never seen a Glossy Ibis there.

We began driving south at a quarter to four. I asked Carol if she’d mind driving because I didn’t think I was alert enough to drive. It was a good thing she drove, because I slept for most of the three hour drive.

We arrived at our summer rental at a quarter to seven. We got dinner at Lee’s Market in Westport. We met one of our neighbors, a skunk who appears to be living under the house. We feel quite settled in, and now we’re ready for bed.

Moving by the numbers

We’re getting ready to move to Massachusetts, some 3,150 miles away (give or take a couple of hundred miles).

Right now, we’re packing all our belongings into four moving containers that are approximately 8 feet deep, 5 feet wide, and 7 feet high, or 1120 cubic feet. When we moved to California in 2009, we fit everything into a moving container that was 8 feet by 8 feet by 12 feet, or 768 cubic feet. Somehow in the last 13 years we’ve accumulated another 352 cubic feet of belongings. We would be poster children for consumer capitalism, except that many of our belongings have been scrounged or otherwise obtained outside of consumer capitalism.

We’re using a lot of cardboard boxes to pack up all these belongings. I find myself astonished at the number of cardboard boxes we’re packing up, and schlepping out to the moving containers, and then stacking up. After a week of this, my muscles feel a little sore. I don’t like owning all this stuff. But I have enjoyed spending this past week not sitting at a desk, or logging onto videoconference meetings, but instead engaging in constant physical activity. I’ve lost an inch around my waist, and I feel fit and strong.

We’ve also been giving lots of stuff away. Carol is part of the local Buy Nothing group, and they’ve taken some of the stuff we don’t want to move. One woman just came up and mostly filled the back of her small SUV with things she wanted to take away, including a Tree Mallow (Lavatera sp.) we had growing in a galvanized metal washtub. Another of Carol’s friends is coming up this afternoon to take away an eight foot high potted bamboo plant. Carol has also sold some clothes on Poshmark, and we’ve taken other things to Goodwill. There is a thriving network of exchange that exists partly within the dominant capitalist economy (Poshmark, Goodwill), and partly as a non-capitalist parallel economy (the Buy Nothing Project).

Time to get back to working, putting cardboard boxes into moving containers. Watch this space for further updates….

Far too many cardboard boxes inside a moving container

View from Grizzly Peaks

In the 2003-2004 school year, I drove to work every day from Oakland to Kensington along Grizzly Peaks Boulevard. The road winds through the Berkely Hills, rising to almost 1,500 feet above the level of San Francisco Bay, just a few miles away. That commute had the most spectacular views of any commute I’ve ever driven. On my way home from work, I could stop at a number of roadside pullouts, and admire a spectacular view of the Bay, the Golden Gate, and the Pacific Ocean beyond.

Today we went to visit my cousin Nancy, who lives in North Berkeley. Nancy suggested we drive home via Grizzly Peaks. We wound up on the highest point of the road right after sunset. The city has blocked off the roadside pullouts and posted No Parking signs everywhere, but scores of people parked along the road anyway to enjoy the last red-gold light of the setting sun over the Pacific Ocean. We pulled over (right in front of a No Parking sign) to enjoy one of our last views of the sun setting in the ocean. In another month, we’ll be in New England, on the other side of the continent, watching the sun rising up out of the ocean….

Foreground: Slopes of the Berkeley Hills. Near distance: University of California and downtown Berkeley. Middle distance: San Francisco Bay with (l-r) the lights of the Port of Oakland, the Bay Bridge, Yerba Buena Island, Treasure Island. Opposite side of the Bay (l-r) part of San Bruno Mt., San Francisco; the Golden Gate is just out of the picture to the right.

Two Oaks to Coe State Park HQ via Poverty Flats

At 5 a.m., I got up to make breakfast. The temperature was about 45 degrees — cool enough for a sweater, a jacket, and a warm hat. After eating breakfast and packing up, I spent some time looking at the huge mistletoes growing on a nearby oak tree. Two of them must have been more than fifteen feet long, huge dark masses hanging among the branches of the oak.

I started hiking at 6:25, climbing up and then turning right to hike down the Middle Ridge Trail. In about three quarters of an hour, I passed the junction with Fish Trail, then went up a little knob through a stand of Bigberry Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca). The dramatic contrast between the rich green leaves and dark-red twisted trunks of the manzanitas was quite beautiful. More visual drama was to come. As the trail wound down Middle Ridge, every so often I’d catch sight of a huge bank of white fog filling the valleys beyond Poverty Flats.

Fog in the distance from Middle Ridge Trail, Coe State Park

Walking through such a landscape didn’t leave much room for other thoughts, which was fine with me. I looked at flowers, and walked, and that’s about it.

At about twenty past eight, suddenly I heard the sound of running water, and then rounding a bend I could see the Middle Fork of Coyote Creek. After crossing the creek, I dropped my pack, and spent half an hour resting. An Anna’s Hummingbird buzzed close to my head, and lots of other birds were singing in the brush along the water. A female Wood Duck was startled when I walked too close to her, and flew low along the water to another hiding place.

Middle Fork of Coyote Creek, looking back up at the Middle Ridge Trail

Poverty Flats Road climbs fairly steeply up from Coyote Creek, rising about 800 feet in a mile and a half. I took my time, pausing frequently to look at flowers, or to admire the view of Middle Ridge across the valley of the Little Fork of Coyote Creek. A couple of state park trucks drove down the road; those were the only two people I saw for most of the morning. Then once I got to the junction of Forest Trail and Corral Trail, at about 11:45, I passed several groups of people — dayhikers and backpackers starting the Memorial Day weekend early.

At ten past noon, I arrived back at park headquarters. While I ate my lunch, I talked with one of the park rangers. Then it was time to head home before the Memorial Day traffic got bad. And as I drove north up Highway 101 to San Jose, I could see that it was already stop-and-go traffic headed south.