Welcome to Green Gal's blog, where you'll find stories, recipes, gardening updates, and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems. This blog is written by a young woman entrepreneur who is also a beginning farmer-gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Earth Day 2010

On Thursday, I celebrated my 18th birthday as well as the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970. My mom took me hiking in the morning since school didn't start until 10:40 (thank you STAR testing!). At lunch, my Environmental Club had an Earth Day party and we ate leftover popcorn and had cookies from the night before when we'd shown the film FLOW to the public--at least 100 students attended (most for extra credit) and the event was a huge success.

Thursday evening, my family went out to dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant and then at 7:00, we all attended a lecture titled "Sustainability: Then and Now." The City Naturalist Eric Nicholas spoke about how sustainbility was a necessary aspect of life for the Ohlone people who once lived in this abundant valley we now call home. (For more information about the event, see this article: Pleasanton Take Steps toward Sustainability.)

After the event, we went home for vegan, gluten-free cake and some presents, including a coffee maker for my dorm room, National Parks: America's Best Idea on DVD, and a beautiful slideshow presentation by my sister Kelsey of pictures of me from the time I was born until the present day.

I had a great birthday and Earth Day and am inspired anew to go outside and spend time with nature. Oh, and now I can vote :)

Berry-picking basket or some other sort of collecting basket, acorns and tree galls

Soap root brush made from the soap root plant, a very useful plant that grows on shaded hillsides. The glue made from the plant is used to hold the end of the brush together. (More information about the plant can be found here.)

Animal figurine made from tree galls (I think that's what those are called...can someone confirm that?)

My sister Kelsey with the display table on which the above items were sitting on. Eric Nicholas referenced some of these items during his presentation.

Here are some notes I took about what he spoke about:

He asked us to remove the buildings, towns, streets, and infrastructure of our town and peel back time about 500 or 5000 years into the past, when the valley was a more natural setting. At that time, sustainbility was not an issue as it is today. It came naturally to the Native Americans, the Ohlone, because it was such a necessary aspect of their lifestyle that was so deeply ingrained in their living that it didn't pose any barriers as it does today. Before European contact and before the valley was paved and built upon, the land was abundant with life. Forty thousand elk, a large grizzly bear population, and water trickling down to the valley from the surrounding hills. There were many lakes, ponds, and wetlands and thus many grizzlies, who thrive in wetlands and rolling hills. They were sustained by the steelhead trout populations living in the nearby rivers of the valley.

There is evidence, he told us, of humans living at Mt. Diablo 9000 years ago. It is now believed that humans lived in the Bay Area 13,000 years ago. Those people living here had to maintain that abundance the land offered if they wanted to subsist comfortably. It was an aspect of their religion to maintain a balance with the natural world. And they weren't just wandering people happening on berries and elk--they were highly trained in the lives of the animals they hunted and the distribution of the plants they relied on. They didn't move around a lot, but remained in the same area for most of their lives, highly aware of the location of what they needed to survive. They were "well acquainted with the land and resources." A major part of sustainbility is that understanding of how nature works and being able to fit into that natural cycle and way (just this moment I'm reminded of the Tao, which is something we're studying in my World Literature class. Sustainbility is also living according to the Tao, or following the path and not forcing anything, but letting it take you along in life. I love when different aspects of my life fit together!).

Eric then picked up the soap root plant and asked if anyone knew what it was. I did, of course, but I let someone else say it. He listed some of its uses: the ground bulb becomes soap; insect repellent; wound disinfectant; glue; bundles of the fiber become a brush and the glue becomes the brush handle; it's flammable so it was used to start fires; and the onion-like bulb could be cooked and eaten. He didn't mention this, but the plant was also used to stun fish in rivers so they could easily be caught. This was only done on occasion when a large quantity of fish were needed and this practice is illegal today because it kills off so many fish at one time.

With so much available to them, the Ohlone wanted to maintain it so they'd always have access to it. Thus, they sustained it by living so that they didn't ruin any of nature's offerings. To keep the land healthy and fertile, they set controlled burns, which removed the cluttered undergrowth that hindered plant growth, including plants that were used medicinally like yarrow. Today because we do not have such controlled burns, our wildfires in California are deadly and out of control. The land used to be more open underneath trees and in forests, but today it's cluttered. The people who once lived here truly knew how to safely manipulate the land in a way that didn't steal the abundance from other life.

Eric told us that when settlers first came to California, they described the landscape as that of an "English garden." There was color everywhere and such abundance of plant life that today we don't really see because of the non-native plants that have been introduced. We think golden hills are iconic California, but it didn't used to be that way. They used to be lush and colorful, but non-native species have taken over and left the beautiful hills brown. Today, we have our grocery stores, hardware stores, clothing stores, medicine shops, etc. But for the Ohlone, their stores were the land and the items that we now purchase were, in a more natural form, something the Ohlone could get from the land. They knew how to maintain their stores, too, so they could always have access to those items they needed. The Ohlone didn't practice agriculture as some other Native Americans did (the Native peoples who did use agriculture were those who lived in less abundant areas like the Southwest who needed to develop more complex tools and ways to survive in the harsh landscape...the Ohlone had everything they needed to live and didn't have to develop agricultural methods to have enough food), but they did shape the landscape so they'd have access to their needs.

Many Native cultures made pottery, but not the Ohlone. They were basket weavers, along with many of the other California tribes. The Pomo especially are known for their intricately beautiful baskets. Eric showed us an example, a willow basket. He noted the straightness of the individual willow branches used to make the basket. The Ohlone would actually prune willow tree branches to grow straight so they could use them in their baskets. How awesome is that!?

Like other Native peoples, the Ohlone utilized everything they gathered or hunted; nothing was wasted. They didn't take everything, for they didn't need everything and wasting it would mean there would be less of it next time they needed it. The Ohlone also had a much, much smaller population than we have now and because of this, they had great abundance in the valley.

The Ohlone were so well-off, they only had four-hour work days and didn't have to work very hard to survive. For example, there were so many water birds in the valley that if all the birds were to fly into the sky at once, they would blot out the sun.

A man asked about how the grizzly bear population affected the people living in the valley. Grizzlies avoid groups of people and the Ohlone knew it was not safe to travel through a forest alone. They likely had encounters, but both the grizzlies and the people were aware of how to avoid confrontation. Also, Eric said, because there was less undergrowth, the grizzlies couldn't hide, so people would see them more easily and be prepared.

Someone in the audience asked a question about the Alviso Adobe Community Park. They asked if the Ohlone actually lived at the site. There is a bedrock mortar there dating back to 3500 BC. Eric said that the cupules found at the site were not used to make acorn mush, which is typically what people associate mortar cupules with. There isn't a large supply of water, like a river, near the rock, but the cupules are also too small to have been used for acorns. He said the site was definitely frequented and was like an "inbetween place" for the Ohlone. To the southwest of the site where the park is there was an Ohlone settlement and northeast of the site there was a burial site. The site where the park is was likely a ceremonial gathering spot between these two places and the cupules were likely used in preparing medicine for ceremonial purposes. I never knew that before!

Eric spoke a little about the Alviso Adobe park itself. Some people in the audience had never been up there, and he encouraged them to visit. He talked about the experiment going on at the interpretive park. It's an "experiment in connecting with the land," he said. "Which is important." According to him, students seventh grade and down have grown up with recycling and sustainbility and for them it's the "norm." That's so great to hear because I don't know anyone that age, so I hope that's really true. That means in just a few years, there will be kids interested or trained in those areas who will be entering high school. Let me tell you, the high schoolers now are definitely not aware of those concepts, except very basically. He told us that at the Alviso Adobe, native plants and covercrops have been planted. Covercrops are vital and include nitrogen-fixing plants like wild peas. The community is participating in this experiment by volunteering to plant new natives and take out the non-natives. He hopes to transform the park to the landscape of the past.

I was actually at the park yesterday after school to meet with him regarding an article I wrote about the summer camp he runs called Ridge Runners. The park is so beautiful this time of year, with lots of color and green plants. This summer, I hope to be a counselor for Ridge Runners camp and, if not, I will definitely be up there volunteering often.

Thanks for reading! Happy Saturday.
Green Gal


Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.
-- John Muir

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, John Muir!

As Spring really takes hold, with rainy days (like today) and then hot, sunny days that feel like summer, I'm getting excited for the end of the school year and for my post-high school adventures. Spring is always a rapid season in the school year, with testing and finals in classes speeding things along and then before you know it, the year's over.

I realized this morning that it is the birthday of John Muir, the famous naturalist writer, among other things he was. I don't know if this was done on purpose, but I find it perfect that his birthday is the day before Earth Day. I also think it's something like fate that my birthday is tomorrow, on Earth Day. I didn't really even realize this fact consciously until I started becoming something of an environmentalist and nature-enthusiast myself. My good friend Blue was the first person to tell me "Happy B-Earth Day." I'm glad he was the first to do so, because he's one of the people I was close friends with around the time I become more conscious of the natural world. Thanks, Blue!

Yesterday, I saw a blue jay (I'm not sure exactly what kind of bird he is, but I refer to him in my journal as blue jay, so I'll just call him that for now) standing in the grass in the rain. He was hopping around and he disappeared behind a pot. I ran for my backyard journal and grabbed a pen and rushed back to the window. He had jumped up onto a pot with wilting tulips and was pecking at the dirt. Then he did the same thing in the pot of alyssum. So I wrote a poem about my friend the blue jay, who I see often in our yard. (There are two of these birds. One time I caught them kissing on a fence!)

A blue jay in the rain
finding seeds in untended pots
where tulips bloomed.
What does he call the rain?

Before this past September, I've never been much of a bird watcher or backyard nature observer. I did some homework in the backyard earlier this year and realized how much fun bird watching can be--and how easily it can distract you from work! I felt it was fitting to share some of my observations today, since it is John Muir's birthday and he was one of the grandest nature observers I've ever read. So here are some observations I've made in my backyard over the past months:

September 5, 2009
Peculiar sparrows (?) eating seeds off the ground under the cherry tree, kicking up dirt to find them. Three of them shuffling around.

October 19, 2009
Delightful little shoots of grass and plants, the result of a recent downpour. Baby tears by the left bushes positively thick and luscious! I could live in that greenness! Some growing near Butterfly bush. Shed roof window slid down the other day during the storm. In there today, it's so delightful and autumnal to see the views from inside. Could live in there if more weatherproof! The spiders are none too welcoming, either!

Though this picture was taken March 25, this is what the Baby tears under the bush look like. Recently, they've been as thick or thicker than they were in October.

February 22, 2010
Tulip shoots in the pots! Leftover from last year, they've sprouted without my even realizing it! Watched a Blue Jay just now (1:40pm) in the yard, carrying a peanut. I saw him with the full shell go into a neighbor's yard. He hopped on the fence to the cherry tree with a single nut. He was looking for a place to store it on the branches. Found a spot. A bee frightened me and I ran inside and now I've no clue where he's gone. Our yard is overgrown, a perfect wild place. Oh here's Blue Jay! I watched him breathing earlier, his little chest puffing out. There are two! They've just kissed or shared food. Delightful! He rubbed his beak on the fence post. I've tried whistling but he ignores it. He's just puffed his chest feathers out. Both on the fence, apart. What do they see, I wonder? He's staring at me. So agile! Earlier saw a smaller bird dipping her beak in cherry blossoms. He got his peanut! There's a squirrel in a rear-yard tree. The birds rule the garden, up on their high tree perch. Here's the little bird come from her nest. Squirrel in the same place. The jays have flown off. So much for doing my Economic homework. Oh--huge fly! Buzz. Squirrel jumped away. Lucy, the little bird with the nest in the cherry tree, is out on the branches, blending in with the blossoms. She's on the branch--Lucy chirped! 2:10pm. Skinny brown bird flew to shed roof. Is now hiding on the fence where a bush shields him. Jerry is his name. Cleared some grass from around the tulip shoots. Told them why and made sure none were flowering (don't want to upset the fairies!). Jerry (or a friend) is on chair under Butterfly bush. 2:50pm. Is it possible I hear Lucy's babies chirping?
Example of how overgrown the backyard was. Now, there's mainly dirt with some leftover grasses. My mom pulled up all the "weeds," which I find pretty...though they do turn ugly when the hot weather hits.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of my dear bird friends. Next time I see them, I'll try to take some pictures.
Happy Birthday, John Muir!

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
-- John Muir

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2010 Goldman Environmental Prize Ceremony in San Francisco

Yesterday, April 19, my dad and step-mom, four other Environmental Club members and I attended the Goldman Environmental Prize Ceremony. Here are some pictures from the inspiring event that took place in San Francisco:

The ceremony took place in the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center/Opera House. We sat in the top balcony with the other youth groups from the Bay Area.

The five of us in our seats at the event. My dad and step-mom came with us.

Peter Coyote was the Master of Ceremonies (he narrates The National Parks: America's Best Idea series...I knew I recognized his voice!). You can see him in the bottom left of the picture and on the screen. The man in the wheelchair is Richard N. Goldman, who established the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1990 with his wife Rhoda. With him is his daughter, Susan R. Gelman.

Six awards are given out to represent the 6 inhabited areas of Earth. The first award went to Thuli Brilliance Makama of Swaziland, Africa. From the Goldman website: Thuli Brilliance Makama, Swaziland’s only public interest environmental attorney, won a landmark case to include environmental NGO representation in conservation decisions and continues to challenge the forced evictions and violence perpetrated against poverty-stricken communities living on the edges of conservation areas.

For Islands and Island Nations, Humberto Ríos Labrada of Cuba: "A scientist and biodiversity researcher, Humberto Ríos Labrada promoted sustainable agriculture by working with farmers to increase crop diversity and develop low-input agricultural systems that greatly reduce the need for pesticide and fertilizer, encouraging Cuba’s shift from agricultural chemical dependence."

From Europe, Małgorzata Górska of Poland: "Małgorzata Górska led the fight to protect Poland’s Rospuda Valley, one of Europe’s last true wilderness areas, from a controversial highway project that would have destroyed the region’s sensitive ecosystems."

Before the prizes were awarded and following the third prize, Baaba Maal performed. The man on the screen isn't Baaba Maal, but his drummer. Baaba is in the center, playing guitar.

From North America, Lynn Henning of USA: "A family farmer in rural Michigan, Lynn Henning exposed the egregious polluting practices of CAFOs –concentrated animal feeding operations- gaining the attention of the federal EPA and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations."

From Asia, Tuy Sereivathana of Cambodia: "Tuy Sereivathana worked to mitigate human elephant conflict in Cambodia by introducing innovative low-cost solutions, empowering local communities to cooperatively participate in endangered Asian elephant conservation."

From Central and South America, Randall Arauz of Costa Rica: "Drawing international attention to the inhumane and environmentally-catastrophic shark finning industry, Randall Arauz led the campaign to halt the practice in Costa Rica, making his country the new international model for shark protection."

"The Goldman Prize amplifies the voices of these grassroots leaders and provides them with:

•International recognition that enhances their credibility
•Worldwide visibility for the issues they champion
•Financial support of $150,000 to pursue their vision of a renewed and protected environment"

After the ceremony, there was a brief youth ceremony in which a poetry group called Youth Speaks performed a poem. It was very neat! There was a reception for youth following the event, but we didn't stay.

The event was interesting, inspiring and informational! For more information, visit the website at http://www.goldmanprize.org/

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Knight's Ferry, Sonora and Tuolumne

I returned from my best friend's grandma's house in Tuolumne on Sunday afternoon and was enjoying my extended time away from the computer, so I didn't post about what I learned at that time and still haven't gotten around to it. I've been mulling the experience over in my head and will eventually write about my time there and what I learned. For now, with so much going on at school and One Act rehearsals beginning tomorrow, I'm just going to share bits of it and let my pictures tell some stories, too...

Here are some photos from Thursday, April 8. We bought Strawberry-Rhubarb pie at a stand along Highway 120, visited Knight's Ferry (in which we walked to the Stanislaus River edge and explored the nature and history museum), and had lunch in Sonora before going to Alexys's grandmother's house. My mom and sister drove us up there.

One thing I learned while I was staying in Tuolumne is that in the Me-Wuk tribe, there are different clans, like the Turtle and Bear clans. There are many more than those two, but on Thursday, I only knew there were those two at least. On Sunday, I learned the other clan names and will share those with you when I post about Sunday some other time.

Thanks for reading and looking,
Green Gal

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gooooo Banana Slugs!

It's official. I've posted it on Facebook, we bought the family t-shirts and sweatshirts, and my dad even bought himself a "Dad" mug. Oh yeah, and I accepted admission on the website. I am going to UC Santa Cruz in the Fall!

We visited the campus yesterday for their Spring Spotlight tour and I fell in love with everything about the school. I learned a lot during the tour and I'm now so excited for next year. Though I saw one in fifth grade at Outdoor Ed, I can't wait to see my first banana slug at Santa Cruz and give it a kiss! Their skin makes your tongue numb if you lick them and they have no known predators! Woohoo!

Here are some pictures from the visit. Credit for the photos goes to my dad, who snapped pictures during the entire tour!

College Nine. There are 10 colleges and every student is a part of one. They create smaller communities on the large campus. My first choice is Stevenson College, but a lot of them look interesting. The total enrollment at UCSC is 16,000.

At one point, the school's mascot was changed to the sea lion. Students were outraged and fought for their beloved Banana Slug mascot. Eventually, it was changed back. Every year, students paint these sea lions yellow and attach antennae, saying they're really banana slugs in disguise.

The campus consists of 2000 acres. For every acre they build on, they have to keep one acre of forest.

Our entertaining tour guide, Stephen.

Quarry Plaza, named for the limestone quarry that used to operate on the land where the campus was built

My dad with his new Banana Slug Dad mug

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians

As I have mentioned here before, my best friend Alexysjayd is Native American. Though she is Cherokee and Choctaw, her family moved to the Sonora area and her grandmother and family live with the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians (if you visit the website, be sure to turn the sound on!). The Tuolumne Me-Wuk are known for their annual Acorn Festival in September, which I hope to attend this year.

I plan on studying anthropology, Native Americans, and ethnobotany (also a some wildlife education would be cool) in college next year--likely at UC Santa Cruz--so I am very much looking forward to next week when Alexys brings me up to her grandmother's house to spend time at the reservation, learning about the Me-Wuk people and spending time in Sonora, possibly horseback riding, hiking and exploring. I've been going to Pinecrest since I was a baby, and Sonora is a town nearby that I love exploring. It can't be mere coincidence that Alexys and I became best friends within a week of meeting each other last school year and that we both have a connection to the Sonora area.

A map of Native American tribes of North America that my friend Taylor gave me. Alexys has the same map in her room.

Because we're going up there, I picked up some books from the library on California Indians. I'm reading the sections about the Miwok (which is the most common spelling I've seen, but varies depending on who you ask). Yesterday, my sister and I walked to Starbucks in the rain and spent some time reading and sketching. I took many notes from Before California: An Archaeologist Looks at Our Earliest Inhabitants by Brian Fagan. I copied down a Miwok creation story that he included within the first few pages:

"'Before the people, there was only water. Coyote looked among the ducks and sent one particular kind to dive. It went down, reached the bottom, bit the earth, and came up to the surface. Coyote took the earth and sent the duck to dive for seeds. He mixed the earth and seeds into a ball, which swelled until the water disappeared and the earth came into existence...'" (page 4).

I've also taken some notes from Stephen Powers's Tribes of California. It is a historical account of the tribes he observed in the summers of 1871-1872 and contains some interesting first-hand accounts and information about the customs of the different California Indian tribes. Because it was written for an American audience at the time, it does contain some stereotypes and racist terms, like "savages," but I've been trying to look beyond the stereotypes to get a better picture of the California tribes at that time.
The desk in my room with book and notebook open. The table cloth is actually a Kenyan Masai fabric I purchased at an event during which a Masai warrior spoke. The flat stone on the right is some sandstone the city naturalist Eric Nicholas gave me at an ancient tools event last weekend. I have been working on carving a mountain scene on it. Near my Native tribes map, you can see some rabbit fur with a stone on top of it. I purchased the rabbit fur in Columbia, California when I was really young. I have a brown fur also. I have been waiting for the day when I figure out what to do with them. Any suggestions?

I can't wait to spend some time with the Me-Wuk people in Tuolumne. I've never been to a Native American reservation before, and will be sure to share with you all what I learn and experience.

On another note, Happy Easter!

Thanks for reading,
Green Gal


"Everything in this world talks, just as we are now--the trees, rocks, everything."
-- a Wintun man from the west bank of the Sacramento River

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