Tag Archives: ECO-ADVENTURE

In An Octopus’s Garden By the Sea

octopus
My close encounter with an octopus at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

I met Steve Vogel after a Rotary International meeting in Carmel, California. Steve is the head of animal husbandry at the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. He had come to our club to make a presentation on how the Aquarium tags sharks.

I have had up close one-on-ones several times with sharks so there was no news to me there. I was interested in the octopus.

As I explained to Steve, I was at the Monterey Bay Aquarium several years ago during the “member sleep-over.” Yes, as an Aquarium member, you may spend the night inside several nights each year. Now the term “sleep-over” is a misnomer since there is no actual sleep involved due to restless kids and snoring grandpas, but you get to snuggle up with the kelp forest tank none-the -ess.

I should mention that from age six to college, I aspired to be a marine biologist. My first open water expedition revealed that I get invariably seasick. I am now a botanist—a much more terrestrial endeavor—but I still yearn for the sea.

One Aquarium sleep over night, I was wandering around in places uninhabited by the other guests. Of course, they show the movie Jaws at midnight, thus removing all the children from the rest of the venue. I came upon a large enteroctupus dolfleinii, also known as the Giant Pacific Octopus. She or he (Steve made it known that they are not sure of octopus sexes) was attached to the thick Plexiglas side of her tank. I stood there marveling at her anatomy (I will use the term ‘she’ just for reference). She opened her eyes seemingly from a little nap and spotted me. Her eyes locked on to mine and she began to move. In an undulating fashion, she placed her magnificent body right in front of me while I was standing at her tank. She spread her eight tentacles in calculated moves as if she wanted to wrap her arms around me. But that is not what astounded me.

She looked deeply into my eyes, first with one eye, and then the other. The only way I can describe the experience is that we had a “moment.” We related somehow. I am not sure how cephalopods relate to each other, much less a human, but this was really something. I will never forget how that felt.

I described this event to Steve Vogel. I told him that since that encounter I refuse to eat Nama-tako (octopus in Japanese) at the sushi bar. I told him how mortified I was during Red Wing hockey games, without knowing why, when deranged fans threw dead octopi on the ice (this has since been outlawed, thank goodness).

He tilted his head. “Would you like to meet one?” Would I!!!!! As a science and environmental writer, I do get to do some pretty cool stuff. But this was special. It took several emails to make the arrangements, but yes, I did get to be with one.

My Magic Moment

I arrived with my old friend Danny McCarty, a professional photographer, and his 14-year-old daughter Alea. We were greeted by Cynthia Nolan, the new COO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who had been apprised of the encounter. I actually had not slept the night before as I was so excited. After all, how many people in the world get to do something like this? Steve arrived and took the three of us deep into the bowels of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Steve was very clear. “The octopus is a wild animal. It may or may not like you. If it doesn’t, it will go to the bottom of the tank and ignore you completely.” I knew this but was secretly hoping that we would have the “moment” that I had with the other octopus a few years before. That being said, I would be heartbroken if she rebuked me.

So we entered into the dark underbelly labyrinth behind the scenes at the world-acclaimed location. Steve led us up the stairs and opened the enclosure to the octopus’ garden.

“Now, it may not come. It has been fed already and it won’t be interested in eating.” Steve then started splashing water gently towards the creature. She was not far from us and reached out a tentacle. He splashed her a little more. She came right to me.

Octopi have taste receptors in each and every sucker. They have an incredible sensory and nervous system that can maneuver, extrapolate, decipher, and analyze information. She reached up to me and touched my arm. Then, the realization of my wildest cephalopod dreams, we fell in love.

She engulfed my upper torso. She stroked my face, my arms, my waist, and my shoulders. She looked at me as she caressed my body. She gently tried to assuage me to join her in the tank and I wanted to acquiesce. She was very strong. Steve mentioned that she was only twenty pounds. They had a seventy pound octopus before aptly named Octzilla. I was glad I was not so enamored with that big boy, because that could be dangerous.

My friend Danny reached his hand out to one of her larger suckers. She spit him out. She had no interest. She somewhat liked Alea, but not so much.

Now keep in mind, I was careful not to apply any lotion, oil, make up, or anything that would taint our tete a tete. I wanted an authentic experience, not to mention not wanting to spoil her garden.

Truth be told, things got a little heated. She had me engulfed, tugging hard to get me to dive in and play with her. Steve had to peel her off me to slow things down a little. She was excited. I felt her pull me into the center of her body. When I could feel her beak in the innermost folds of her skin, I asked Steve if she would bite. He said that she absolutely would not bite me, she never had. About three minutes later, she gave me a little love nibble. I will proudly wear that scar for the rest of my life.

After Steve pulled her away, sucker by sucker, tentacle by tentacle, we sadly said goodbye. I was so exhilarated by the experience, I practically skipped down the stairs. Steve led us through another labyrinth and out into the Aquarium itself. We looked at her through the Plexiglas in her own little garden where we had just been entwined. She was still lingering by the enclosure entry where we had been. She already missed me.

So I am now an advocate for the appreciation and conservation of the octopi. They are sentient beings living their lives the best they can—just as we are. How would you feel if someone came and yanked you from your home to be the nightly special at the sushi bar?

As stewards of this planet and all of its inhabitants, it is important to keep ourselves open to those “moments” with creatures with which we co-exist. It is imperative to protect their habitats and their lineages. There is something special between us Hominidaes and the other Kingdoms, Phylums, Classes, et cetera.

Something very special.

Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, Belize, Central America

REVIEW FROM A TRAVELER IN CONSERVATION

FullSizeRender
Brandon Wiggins, center, with resort owners, Dave and Dana Krauskopf

Hamanasi Resort in Belize is one of my new favorite spots on the planet. The property is clean, modern, well-staffed, and an overall delight. It is a small resort, only about 75 guests, but it seems as there are just as many sweet and courteous attendees to fulfill your every wish.

Hamanasi (translated as “almond tree” in the local Garifuna dialect) is an all-inclusive resort—including a different adventure every day. I swam under a waterfall, saw howler monkeys (including a mom with a baby in tow), manatees, agouti, sting rays, dolphins, hundreds of varieties of fish and birds, and a plethora of exotic flora and fauna.

The food is plentiful and mostly delicious. The fruit salsa cannot be beat. Freshly made bread of all varieties and fresh fruit juices and plates abound. The pineapple is so sweet that you will abandon ever eating it again anywhere else.

The most appealing thing about Hamanasi is that it is a place where like-minded people have the opportunity to converse about various subjects in conservation. In my meetings with the owners, Dave and Dana Krauskopf, their commitment to environmental sustainability is evident in their enthusiasm. I was surprised to see that they served beverages with plastic straws. When I mentioned it to Dana (when I went down to the bar to get a drink in my jammies—that’s how comfortable it is here) I could see the wheels turning in her head. My guess is that the next day, she was sourcing paper straws for the resort.

On property is an organic garden, which feeds the guests (speaking of which, Hamanasi just received their organic grower’s certificate three days before my arrival), a compost area, a beach, a pool, an adventure center, bountiful hammocks, and a pond complete with crocodiles.

I had to try to imagine what it would be like to conceptualize, design, and implement a project like this in a country like Belize. Dana and Dave had lived all over the world, including Moscow, and were experienced in sustainable precepts. Dave’s mother was very involved in the Sierra Club, so he cut his teeth on the cause.

Dana described their greatest accomplishments in sustainability with passion in her eyes. Unlike the atrocious resort next door and many other local resorts, the Krauskopfs did not clear cut and burn the property to make way for the buildings. They positioned each and every room and building in and amongst the indigenous flora and fauna. I was fortunate enough to spend my first night in the deluxe treehouse (something I would not recommend as a solo traveler as it is a whole lot of romantic space wasted…) where I took a hot tub on the deck by candlelight in the company of a lady iguana and an agouti.

Every detail was attended to perfectly, even the housekeeping staff drew my bath while I was at dinner.

I transferred to a beach bungalow with amazing breezes and views. An epic lighting storm ensued as I danced on the patio in the rain. The beach accommodations were equally enticing as the tree houses, just in a different way. I would highly recommend both.

Dana and Dave have plans to make the resort even more eco-friendly. They have procured an additional 4-5 acres behind the resort where they endeavor to have a black water processing and treatment facility, a solar energy station, and staff housing, while reforesting the lot.

I inquired about the recycling infrastructure in the country of Belize. Dana tilted her head. Since the number one industry in Belize is tourism, the fact that when you are taxied to the resort you pass mounds of plastic trash, one would think that the government would make a concerted effort to remedy that situation.

Dana gave me a brief history of the recycling infrastructure that began in 1995 (Dana and Dave began conceptualization of Hamanasi in 1991-1992). It is in need of modernization, but Dana mentioned that in parts of Belize they are using “crush and reuse” bottles for construction. Many of Hamanasi’s paths use crush glass as an concrete aggregate. Dana and Dave are working with the local governments on changing the culture of the indigenous peoples as well as remediating the recycling and trash conundrum. (FYI – I JUST HAD A CONVERSATION WITH THE MINISTER OF TOURISM AND THE PRIME MINISTER’S BUSINESS PARTNER ABOUT THIS!)

When I inquired about the functionality of local governmental entities, Dana was very complimentary in her dealings with the Belizean government. Since Belize was previously a British colony, everyone speaks English and American dollars are welcome (the currency is tied $2 BZD to $1 USD). Bribing is not necessary to run a successful business. They function under a legal system based on British Common Law. From my experience, Belize offered the best of Latin America without the drawbacks. Back to the resort itself.

When you enter the newly constructed guest dining room, you will get a treat when you look up. The trusses exhibit the traditional Caribbean architecture coddled in a 600 piece ‘puzzle’ of a Phillip Flurry design. Santa Maria and Mahogany woods embellish this dormered ceiling with cast ironed tie rods and 10-foot ceiling fans that will astound you.

I also encountered many more families and children than I had anticipated. Dana reminded me that it was spring break (Oh yea, I forgot about that) but also mentioned that when the kids come, they are unwittingly enticed into the concept of being unplugged. The children—and yes even the teenagers, of which there were a substantial number—were engaging. Even with their parents…

Amazing.

Dana’s foresight on eco-friendly travel was highly positive. She feels that the educated traveler is seeking out adventures such as this. As a mother herself of three  young boys (who were zip lining with their dad that afternoon), she sees the future of travel—and environmentally conscious guests—as where the trend is going, and staying.

When I asked this forward thinking entrepreneur and mom what would be the number one thing that she and Dave would wish to pass on to their boys, with respect to the environment, she paused for a moment. “I would like for them to promote long term thinking and planning in government and infrastructure.” She paused again. “I would also like them to champion the cause of holding big polluters accountable and pay for the social costs of their activities.”

Amen, sister.

She wants for her children to have a better environment than we have today. She does not feel overly optimistic that we have not already tipped the balance.

Then I looked at her three little boys. I felt optimistic.

Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort is a place that I may have to visit on an annual basis. It really did feel like home, but way more fun.

Brandon Wiggins, Author, Conservationist

Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, Belize, Central America

REVIEW FROM A TRAVELER IN CONSERVATION March 2015

FullSizeRender
Brandon Wiggins, center, with owners Dave and Dana Krauskopf

Hamanasi Resort in Belize is one of my new favorite spots on the planet. The property is clean, modern, well-staffed and an overall delight. It is a small resort, only about 75 guests but it seems as there are just as many sweet and courteous attendees to fulfill your every wish.

Hamanasi (translated as ‘almond tree’ in the local Garifuna dialect) is an all-inclusive resort – including a different adventure every day. I swam under a waterfall, saw howler monkeys (including a mom with a baby in tow), manatees, agouti, sting rays, dolphins, hundreds of varieties of fish and birds, and a plethora of exotic flora and fauna.

The food is plentiful and mostly delicious. The fruit salsa cannot be beat. Freshly made bread of all varieties and fresh fruit juices and plates abound. The pineapple is so sweet that you will abandon ever eating it again anywhere else.

The most appealing thing about Hamanasi is that it is a place where like-minded people have the opportunity to converse about various subjects in conservation. In my meetings with the owners Dave and Dana Krauskopf, their commitment to environmental sustainability is evident in their enthusiasm. I was surprised to see that they served beverages with plastic straws. When I mentioned it to Dana (when I went down to the bar to get a drink in my jammies – that’s how comfortable it is here) I could see the wheels turning in her head. My guess is that the next day, she was sourcing paper straws for the resort.

On property is an organic garden, which feeds the guests (speaking of which, Hamanasi just received their organic growers certificate 3 days before my arrival), a compost area, a beach, a pool, an adventure center, bountiful hammocks, and a pond complete with crocodiles.

I had to try to imagine what it would be like to conceptualize, design, and implement a project like this in a country like Belize. Dana and Dave had lived all over the world, including Moscow, and were experienced in sustainable precepts. Dave’s mother was very involved in the Sierra Club so he cut his teeth on the cause.

Dana described their greatest accomplishments in sustainability with passion in her eyes. Unlike the atrocious resort next door and many other local resorts, the Krauskopfs did not clear cut and burn the property to make way for the buildings. They positioned each and every room and building in and amongst the indigenous flora and fauna. I was fortunate enough to spend my first night in the deluxe treehouse (something I would not recommend as a solo traveler as it is a whole lot of romantic space wasted…) where I took a hot tub on the deck by candlelight in the company of a lady iguana and an agouti.

Every detail was attended to perfectly, even the housekeeping staff drew my bath while I was at dinner.

I transferred to a beach bungalow with amazing breezes and views. An epic lighting storm ensued as I danced on the patio in the rain. The beach accommodations were equally enticing as the tree houses, just in a different way. I would highly recommend both.

Dana and Dave have more plans to make the resort even more eco-friendly. They have procured an additional 4-5 acres behind the resort where they endeavor to have a black water processing and treatment facility, a solar energy station and staff housing, while reforesting the lot.

I inquired about the recycling infrastructure in the country of Belize. Dana tilted her very beautiful head. Since the number one industry in Belize is tourism, the fact that when you are taxied to the resort you pass mounds of plastic trash, one would think that the government would make a concerted effort to remedy that situation.

Dana gave me a brief history of the recycling infrastructure that began in 1995 (Dana and Dave began conceptualization of Hamanasi in 1991-1992). It is in need of modernization, but Dana mentioned that in parts of Belize they are using ‘crush and reuse’ bottles for construction. Many of Hamanasi’s paths use crush glass as an concrete aggregate. Dana and Dave are working with the local governments on changing the culture of the indigenous peoples as well as remediating the recycling and trash conundrum. (FYI – I JUST HAD A CONVERSATION WITH THE MINISTER OF TOURISM AND THE PRIME MINISTER’S BUSINESS PARTNER ABOUT THIS!)

When I inquired about the functionality of local governmental entities, Dana was very complimentary in her dealings with the Belizean government. Since Belize was previously a British colony, everyone speaks English and American dollars are welcome (the currency is tied $2 BZD to $1 USD). Bribing is not necessary to run a successful business. They function under a legal system based on British Common Law. From my experience, Belize offered the best of Latin America without the drawbacks. Back to the resort itself.

When you enter the newly constructed guest dining room, you will get a treat when you look up. The trusses exhibit the traditional Caribbean architecture coddled in a 600 piece ‘puzzle’ of a Phillip Flurry design. Santa Maria and Mahogany woods embellish this dormered ceiling with cast ironed tie rods and 10-foot ceiling fans that will astound you.

I also encountered many more families and children than I had anticipated. Dana reminded me that it was spring break (Oh yea, I forgot about that) but also mentioned that when the kids come, they are unwittingly enticed into the concept of being unplugged. The children – and yes even the teenagers (of which there were a substantial number) – were engaging. Even with their parents…

Amazing.

Dana’s foresight on eco-friendly travel was highly positive. She feels that the educated traveler is seeking out adventures like this. As a mother herself of three fine young boys (who were zip lining with their dad that very afternoon), she sees the future of travel – and environmentally conscious guests – as where the trend is going, and staying.

When I asked this forward thinking entrepreneur and mom what would be the number one thing that she and Dave would wish to pass on to their fine boys with respect to the environment, she paused for a moment. “I would like for them to promote long term thinking and planning in government and infrastructure.” She paused again. “I would also like them to champion the cause of holding big polluters accountable and pay for the social costs of their activities.”

Amen, sister.

She just wants for her children to have a better environment than we have today. She does not feel overly optimistic that we have not already tipped the balance.

Then I looked at her three little boys. I felt optimistic.

Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort is a place that I may have to visit on an annual basis. It really did feel like home – but way more fun.

Brandon Wiggins, Author, Conservationist

prlogpolarbearsAs a scientist, an environmentalist, and a single mother, I have certain criteria for dating. First, my date must be bright. Second, a potential partner must be rational. Third, he must have a sense of self and the ability to stand for something worthwhile.

So, I tried online dating. I met some interesting people – an optometric surgeon, an astronaut now working for Google Maps, a Vintner. One date I encountered was a plant pathologist. Nice guy, my age, very sweet. Since I am a botanist, a plant pathologist was right up my alley.

You would think.

As we got into a conversation about nothing in particular, the subject came around (as it always does with me) to climate change. His tone immediately changed as he cited the remarkable rebound of the Polar Bear population. I slightly smirked and decided not to pursue this little snippet and changed the subject.

Then it came around again. He mentioned the fact that the hole in the Ozone layer has shrunken substantially over the last few years.

I nodded my head and smiled prettily while sipping on my Vodka soda (without a plastic straw of course).

Deciding to ignore these comments I agreed to a second date.

We met again and sat down for dinner. We chatted for a while about this and that and then I went for it.

“So you know that the Polar Bear population has increased substantially because of the International Agreement for the Conservation of Polar Bears, which outlawed hunting of them right?” I said matter-of-factly. He looked blank.

“Yes, since the agreement in 1973 it has been illegal to hunt Polar Bears. Their worldwide population has gone from several thousand to around 25,000. That being said, they are finding more and more corpses of starving and diseased bears due to the severe reduction of the sea ice from which they hunt.”

He furrowed his brow.

“Oh and by the way, you were absolutely correct about the Ozone layer! It has gotten smaller. The reason there is a hole in the first place is because of the use of CFCs (chloroflourocarbons). They were globally banned by the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The use of Hydroflourocarbons took its place. Recent studies are showing that HFCs, an even stronger greenhouse gas, could be worse but at least the Ozone layer – which protects our planet from deadly UV rays – does not have an ever widening hole at this particular juncture.”

I ordered another drink in response to his silence.

After several pregnant moments he replied.

“It is obvious that so called ‘climate change’ is a hoax. The ‘greenies’ (cringe) are only after the money.” He smugly sat back in his chair. “There have been many ‘climate changes’ throughout the millennia and this is just another one. Anyone who believes that global warming is caused by man is drinking the Kool-Aid.”

Drinking the Kool-Aid?

I looked at him thoughtfully. It was clear that this relationship didn’t have a snowballs chance in you-know-where.

I called over the waiter and paid for my drinks.

I stood up and thanked him for a lovely afternoon.

“And by the way, where are you getting your information?” I asked sweetly.

He chortled, “Well, Fox News of course! The only real news station.”

I should have guessed…

So, I’m sure he was bright. And I’m sure that he was rational in most parts of his life.

As far as having a sense of self and standing for something worthwhile? Wow, um, my guess is that he stood for whatever Fox News made him believe.

Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid…

 

Pruning

PRUNING

Available on Amazon.
Available on Amazon

Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

The wind from the shattered window in front of her offered a welcomed breeze directly in her face. She was once again lulled, but this time with a profound sense of despair. Only her father’s long-ago words broke through:

Pruning is perhaps the most important aspect of horticulture. In the horticultural world, we try to mimic nature. In the natural arena, there are frosts, drought, stampedes, insects, constant nibbling by creatures, viruses and bacterium, and any number of possible assaults to decimate foliage. This is by far the hardest thing for most people. It is difficult for them to ‘hurt’ the branch or cut away part of something that is living. The result is that much energy is spent on unhealthy parts that should have been removed.

In nature, the weak and unhealthy are eliminated without hesitation. Pruning, and I mean hard pruning, enables the root and stem structure to become more established—thus retaining and distributing nutrients to the healthy parts of the plant. The plant on the whole has a chance to regenerate itself without the burden of the old and diseased material.

The most important thing for you to do in your life is diligent pruning. You must cut off damaged parts that can hold you down and take away energy from your growth. It is imperative that your expenditures are directed to healthy endeavors. And when I say ‘hard pruning,’ Skyler Morgan Smith, I mean not only do you need to cut hard—cutting away the damaged parts and dispose of them entirely—I mean that it will be hard to accomplish. It will take a great deal of perseverance, and perhaps reliving of the hurt, in order to rid yourself of the burden. But it will be worth the pain.

The Cork Oak

THE CORK OAK

Available on Amazon.
Available on Amazon.

Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

She went back in time to a picnic that she had prepared for her father by the Carmel River.

cork bark tree planterThe majestic Cork Oak, Quercus suber, grows to sixty feet both wide and high and has an incredible bark structure. The gnarly thick cork is the bark of commerce. That lovely cabernet I enjoyed last night was protected by that mighty oak’s ‘skin.’ The oak displays a rich palette of color and texture. The leaves have a waxy deep green surface while the under leaf is a fuzzy grey. The cork bark can get up to a foot thick and uses the principles of torque in order to achieve its abstract geometrical branching form. The very attribute that this giant embraces for her notoriety— as well as her protection—is the one attribute that causes her downfall. A common trait in humans.

Lovers and winemakers have desecrated her bark for millenniums. The vintners of ancient times only needed a primitive knife to seal their latest fermentations, while lovers carved eternal inscriptions. Nowadays, industrial wine merchants ravage her completely. Even the industrious woodpecker takes advantage of her soft temperament to shove her own acorns into her skin, assaulting her inner anatomy as they hunt for wood boring beetles. Each one of these assaults is small individually but when accumulated over time, can take down the benevolent elder—the damage becoming irreversible. Each little jab, every insult, all moments of disrespect can result in disease and an eventual structural breakdown.

Human’s personal relationships are exactly like the life of this giant sentinel. A personal relationship is the sum of its parts. The twists and turns of human relationships result in the being as a whole, each event causes branching in a new direction, thus furthering to stabilize the overall structure. When nutrients and illumination are added, the fundamental structure will strengthen. However, in human interaction, each small jab, every tiny insult—even if waived off with a hand—leaves a hole. The natural process can survive a myriad of insults that life will bestow on you gladly and in perpetuity. Winemakers and lovers will readily leave their marks. Yes, there will be a few old initials carved on your own bark, but one must work hard so the holes do not overcome your own wellbeing. To protect your personal structure, you should walk away from anything inflicting little holes, for if you have enough of them—they can take you down.

Fertilizer Philosophy

FERTILIZER PHILOSOPHY

Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

The warm glow of her father’s speech enraptured her.

Fertilizers are a tricky thing, you know. There are the big three, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Nitrogen is for the greening of the plant, phosphorous is for flowering and bud set, and potassium is for root and stem structure. There are the micronutrients—calcium, sulfur, and manganese. Iron and some trace elements are also necessary. The funny thing is that if a horticulturist applies fertilizer incorrectly, either in a concentration that is too high or with too many applications, the plant will suffer what is called fertilizer ‘burn.’

Amazingly, fertilizers are salts. Salts have a negative charge, the root nodes that are their targets, have a positive charge. When applied in the proper ratio, one negative attracts to one positive. The necessary nutrient is then extracted from the salt and sent up into the plant material. When the ratio is upset, the salts attach en masse to the root node, plugging them up, and the plant gets nothing. Not only that, salts ‘burn’ the roots just like when you put salt on a snail. Too much of a good thing, I would say.

People’s lives are just like that, Skyler. When you are older you will meet people that have improper ratios. Some people will be incapable of their complete growth for lack of any nutrients. Some people have been given too much to absorb so they end up with nothing, none of the proper nutrients going into their hearts. I knew a woman once that had everything. In fact, she had so much of everything that it made her mad because even though she had so much, she was still the same miserable person she was before. You will meet those people, Sky, and nothing you will be able to do will make them happy. But you will also meet people that have barely anything—and are the happiest people on the planet.

Sky smiled to herself, feeling like one of those people.

Communities

COMMUNITIES

Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

Sky could visualize Dr. Merrill in class. When he was lecturing in the areas that were held by his passion, there could be a no more intellectual or more riveting equal. She had always been inspired by his lectures, always enthralled by the purity of his intent.

Ventura County Strawberry Festival Lady
Ventura County Strawberry Festival Lady

Plant communities and their health are the crucial elements of natural survival. Take the plight of the commercially produced strawberry. Driscoll Inc. has, as we speak, one hundred and eighty thousand acres of strawberry fields grown with one—and only one—variety of strawberry, fragaria var. This is called monoculture: note that, it will be on the midterm. The result in the case of predators, including fungus, insects, virus, and bacteria is that when any plant in the group gets infected, the rest of the population is not only susceptible, but likely to succumb. The grower has to overdose the fields with methyl bromide to combat crop devastation.

The purpose for plant communities is that different varieties exhibit different growing habits, harbor beneficial predators, attract a variety of pollinators—well, the list is almost endless. In the natural arena, speaking generally, one variety will house the insect or bacteria that will inhibit the pest of its neighbor. Another good neighbor may drop seedpods that can alter the local PH, stalling a bacterial infection. Perhaps more importantly, each member of the plant community occupies a different niche. In a natural habitat, you will have the arboreal members, the vining members, the low semiherbaceous shrubs, the taller woody shrubs, the annuals, the perennials, etc. Each member inhabits its own area of expertise in order to thrive. It is imperative for the habitat that each position be filled and functioning.

Human communities are no different. If all the members of the community have the same function, who will harbor the beneficials? If we have all annuals, what will the pollinators and predators do during the dormant season without perennials? Nature is, by design, a place for all different types of inhabitants. If a habitat shuns one of its natives, the community is out of balance and will eventually expire. I guarantee the concept of ’tolerance’ was not ever an issue in a natural situation. If you fulfill your niche in your own community, you will thrive and be a crucial contribution to the whole.

Branching Structure

BRANCHING STRUCTURE

Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

Branching tree / OSU
Branching tree / OSU

Skyler was mesmerized by the motion as darkness fell. The encompassing green friendliness lulled her into her own comfortable space, a space that had been recently shaken into a questionable existence. She immersed herself in the comfort and beauty of her surroundings as her father’s voice penetrated her thoughts.

The deciding factors of a tree’s branching structure are both numerous and mysterious. Sunlight availability, the growth hormone and communicator auxin, as well as nutrients, genes, and sheer physics dictate branching geometry. Mathematics play a huge role in branching in that many species use the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci numbers to form branching structures, especially in the whorl forms.

Without the proper branching design, continuously adjusting to physical and environmental challenges, the tree not only cannot compete for sunlight, but will topple in the forest. An overabundance of foliage on one side will eventually succumb to gravity. When you grow up, Skyler, you must branch out in many directions in order to achieve balance in your life. Any branch too heavy in one direction will bring you down. If you do not branch at all, you will not receive the necessary nutrients to flourish.

I know that it is sometimes petrifying because you will most certainly fail. Humans unfortunately do not have the brilliant auxin as a guide. Well, in actuality we do, it is called a brain. However, humans have the misfortune of desires and ego, which perpetually cloud our branching strategies. If you do not branch, and branch well, you will sit on the forest floor and be stunted, never showing the true beauty of a perfectly balanced person. It takes much work, sapling, constantly stretching away from the known. But you must.

The Holdfast

THE HOLDFAST

Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

Sea kelp tidepool
Sea kelp in a tide pool

Although not a plant per se, as there is no real root system, sea kelp is the perfect instrument of photosynthesis. Most people don’t know or care much about kelp species although many of the products they use on a daily basis, such as toothpaste and shampoo, are made with kelp ingredients.

In fact, most botanists are not even aware that kelp forests have both annual and perennial members. Nereocystis and Agarum display a very similar growing habit to your basic cyclical terrestrial forest.

Growing up to six inches a day under even the most strenuous of circumstances, kelp is the most sustainable organism on this planet.

The kelp’s most amazing attribute is the ‘holdfast.’ Not a root, mind you, a holdfast. Just because the root structure is not conventional doesn’t mean it is not superbly suited to its function.

Without your own ‘holdfast,’ Skyler, you will float away and get caught up with the torrents and predators of life. Due to circumstances beyond your control, you have no proper root structure. You must develop your own ‘holdfast’ — and it must be strong. Extremely strong.