Friday, December 26, 2014

Mysterious and Wonderful!

A single toadstool or a clump of mushrooms can appear suddenly, mysteriously, over night, in my backyard or among the leaf litter of the forest– in fact almost any natural place - even in the midst of a well manicured lawns. Mushrooms can appear in a great variety of colors and forms, from minuscule to amazingly large.   Here in northern California they come pop up like magic after winter rains begin.
German New Year's card wishing " Lots of luck" -
 Many people if Northern Europe, Russia, and parts of Asia take mushroom hunting as one of the  joys of life...
The mushroom structure that we see popping up in our garden  is only the tip of the iceberg!  At the end of the season, last year, when mushrooms were ripening, spores were produced in huge numbers, and releasing into the air. Each spore is microscopic – between 1-5 x the size of a typical bacterium.  Spores are designed for waiting.  They desiccate and bide their time – perhaps blowing in the wind all summer– but they stay alive until the winter rains begin the following year. 

Oak mushroom
Now is their moment!  The spore divides once, twice – again and again and forms a system of cytoplasm filled tubes (hyphae) in the rich soil or within an organic material.  The division continues and as tubes come into contact with potential foodstuff; digestive enzymes are released into the material to break it down.  The nutrients are then absorbed back into the organism; and it is now empowered to continue its growth and expansion.  Large masses of fluid filled hypha form an underground tangled mass.  (Mycelium).  Oddly these tubes do not divide into separate cells –but open tubes that permit nutrients to flow freely within the hyphae mass.

growing on a soil rich in decaying organic material
 Finally when the organism has stored sufficient nutrients, an environmental trigger stimulates a portion of the DNA to become activated and a complex series of biochemical reactions occur to cause the mushroom fruiting body to be formed and thrust up from underground and to form a mushroom – often overnight!, to begin the next generation of spore making. Some factors that can contribute to ‘triggering” mushroom formation are temperature, moisture or humidity, light, or balance of gases in the environment.  

Growing on a rotten log in rain forest 

Many mushroom masses continue to live for many years… becoming inactive during times of drought or freezing cold, but when conditions are right again – the growth begins and the expansion to gather more nutrients happens again.

Some mushrooms are given fanciful names - can you guess what these black finger like fungi are called in the rain forest of Ecuador?
Some hyphae masses live in close relationship with living tree or plant roots in a symbiotic relationship.  The tree gains water collecting ability, and nutrients from the soil; and the fungus harvests a small amount of nutrition.  In some cases the fungus takes too much from the plants and the plant dies.   Some fungal masses are enormous – One documented case in a Washington State forest is a single fungal mycelium that extends for over 1500 acres and has lived continuously for at least 2400 years…  This makes them the largest living organism in our planet…and one of the longest lived.
Growing in my raised vegetable bed
Fungi have been superb at evolving to make use of different food sources.  Many have adapted to certain plant communities – adapted for living or dead tissue.  There are some that prefer the more scarce organic material to be found in open soil; and others that prefer the roots of oak trees, aspen trees, or clusters of perennial grass.  In addition to mushroom fungus, some have adapted to human skin (ever had ring worm?), living plant leaves, and organs of living animals, and on and on… In addition to mushrooms the fungus group also includes molds and other non fruiting varieties.

Ring worm on human skin - not a'worm' at all - but a fungus! ( not on me!)
Fungi definitely cannot be considered plants because they don't make their own food – they gain nutrition by breaking down dead or living tissue.  They are definitely are not animals because they have no motion or responsive to their environment.  They are currently considered to be a kingdom of life all by themselves.  To read more:

Underside of log in rain forest ( Ecuador)
One of the grandest of experiences is to join a mushroom hunt with people who know what they are doing … I have several times hunted mushrooms in Europe and once in Kyrgyzstan… A group of people walk in a line though the forest – Each person separated from the next by 15 feet or so… and it is just like when you were a kid hunting for Easter eggs.  “I see one!” “There’s a whole cluster”  “ Look how big that one is”… Of course its true that there are very dangerous mushrooms – and so each group must have a trustworthy knowledgeable person that can make critical decisions about each mushroom - which to keep for eating and which to discard.  And ‘Oh my goodness’ they are tasty – a blend of wild mushrooms sautéed in olive oil and herbs… served with good meat… fantastic! 
The 'forest' of mushrooms was growing in Golden Gate San Francisco

I see such beautiful mushrooms here in California but I do not know enough to trust myself to choose which ones to eat.   Such a pity… there is classes that one can take… But I hear the best strategy is to go with someone who is has the knowledge and learn from them.   Sadly the bad mushrooms are deadly bad.  So this is a high stakes ‘sport’.  Even so I enjoy their ephemeral beauty – they are delicate and wonderful!

Shelf fungus - can grow for many years - adding a new layer each year... (Nor. Cal. coastal fog zone)

One of then strangest - This Northern California  fungus is called "Slime Mold" -
...the cell mass can actually move very slowly from one place to another seeking a better food source.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Are you looking for a memorable gift for that special someone?

I asked my wife Judy what she wanted for Christmas this year.  She answered without hesitation that she wanted a pig… I said, “Great – I want a goat!”  We are talking about supporting Heifer Project International work … we buy the animals and the animals are delivered to poor rural families, in an impoverished part of the world, The families first receive intensive training and help preparing facilities to care for their new animal, Heifer assists in assuring proper nutrition is available.  Complete follow up and veterinarian services are provided for the recipients.

Tanzanian  woman and her dairy cow!
Both pigs and goats are “miracle animals. Pig farmers average 23 piglets per year per breeding sow. A piglet can be sold in East Africa for the equivalent of $50, in a country where the average income is $200/ a year. One piggy can be sold for more than enough to send a child to school for a year, or money to raise the diet of an entire family… The first litter of 8-10 can be delivered within 6 months, and there are generally 2 litters per year.  One pig can, within a few years, lead a family out of poverty to a much higher standard of living.  

These are actually Czech pigs - but they are the best pig photo I can find!
More children around the world rely on goats' milk than on cows' milk. Perhaps that's because goats can thrive in harsh climates where other livestock can't--surviving on grasses and leaves that other animals won't eat.
Heifer goat - note careful construction of barn
 Heifer goats can give a family up to a gallon of milk every day. Many families use what's left over to make yogurt, cheese or sell at the market for income to pay for clothes, school and medicine. Plus there are two to three kids each year!  The family is trained to raise forage for the goat goats  rather than turn them loose in the countryside where they can damage fragile environments.

Goats have wonderful eyes and they are so friendly - (except some Billys!)
The policy of Heifer project is to fully explore which varieties of animals are best suited for a location, before giving the gift...

Heifer also has developed a process called “Passing on the Gift”.   Those who received Heifer gifts become donors and give a young female animal to others in the community…and the process happens over and over…In some projects the passing on of the gift has continued for more than 20 cycles… all from the original gift of one animal.  
After projects are established, families receive on going support from Heifer—such as vet.  services, training, seed, and more.  This whole process has been quietly going on in many countries of the world, including the US, since 1944. 

Chickens - eggs - some to use, some to sell, and some to keep for starting the next generation!
What could I possibly receive for Christmas that would match the experience of bringing an improved life to an entire family? A Heifer gift provided not for one good meal but starts an ongoing process of community development. Over the years, Heifer has continued to grow and develop new services as new needs become apparent.  

Banana coop in the highlands of Ecuador 
Currently Heifer has begun finding new ways to assist community groups – such as organic farmers, salt-water fishermen, and fresh water fish farms by providing training, organizational support, and micro loans at low interest.  An individual alone cannot compete with corporate farms or powerful fishing groups… but a coop of 150 trained and organized individuals can.

Woman coop in Tanzania - the woman turn the milk of their cows into butter and cheese
Judy and I have a special love for the work of  Heifer.  We have been presenters available to talk about the work of Heifer to civic groups; churches, ‘community events’… and twice we have gone on study trips to see Heifer in action – first in Tanzania, and a few years later in Ecuador… It’s inspiring!

Coop in Ecuador transforms raw chocolate from their trees into confection chocolate bars sold in the market
Here are a couple of Heifer stories:
1. In Tanzania we met a woman who had to spent over two hours a day to walk to a distant spring to fill to large ‘Jerry’ cans with water, which she then balanced on her head to provide her family with water. Heifer gifted her with a donkey … She was as happy as if she had been given a pick up truck!
The happy recipient of her very own donkey

Small organic farm coop in Ecuador - receive help in crops and marketing of produce
2.  Small hillside farms in Ecuador can be used for raising year round crops.  With training the farmers can learn to grown their crops organically without pesticides or fertilizers.  Crop yields improve and the organic crops sell for a higher profit.  Training, purchase of seeds and tools, and the newly formed coop can support marketing.  Training and support are paid for through a Heifer International project

PACAT market in Ecuador where organic farmers sell direct to customers -
 ( their produce sells better than the non organic vegetables!)

Do you get frustrated with “large” world problems that seem insurmountable – you can be the agent bringing conform and peace to some of the poor communities of the world. If you long for a Christmas without the hyper commercialization that modern marketing practices have foisted onto us – If you want to be free of the guilt trip that commercial interests have convinced us is necessary – buy a goat, a pig, a flock of ducks…! It will make you feel good and change lives.

Dairy cow in Tanzania - notice stall and rain proof barn to left...

To learn more visit Heifer Projects gift catalog: Please take some time to explore the links – the photos alone make it worth your time.

A Facebook link that I saw recently…

10 Things Christians Shouldn’t Do At Christmas
Trout farms in Educator make use of natural year round spring... planned and financed with Heifer help
Trout are harvested and sold directly in the city market

A Tanzanian widow who must provide for her parents, and extended family

Friday, December 12, 2014

I admit it... I have a problem...

I recognize that I have definite beliefs about many topics.  I call myself politically a Democrat, a progressive protestant in religious matters, and socially/economically I support the rights of people to be respected and all citizens to vote, and I oppose the right of the very rich to control the economy to their advantage at the expense of the poor.

Example of a post that elicits polarization
I grew up in a community of farmers and small merchants… the political views that best matched their experience were those of self sufficiency, self reliance, and minimal government interference.  Now I live in a more complex society with many different social groups living in close proximity, with a wide range of needs and interests.   It seems to me that the growth of diverse views has resulted from  greater mobility and the emergence of complex problems without easy solutions.  It is no time to try to place the solutions of the past to solve the problems of today. In 1950 the US population was less than 258 million, today it is more than 317 million… and a much more diverse society at that…

Being prevented from entering a theater because of the man's race

How do I live with my views and also live within our broader society?

a.     I can bluster on about what I believe – maybe have to argue with somebody with a different idea…
b.     I can shut up and in my mind pigeon-hole that person:   Once placed in a category we tend  to keep them there…  labels are convenient: “Conservative” “ Liberal” “Socialist” “Militarist” “Environmentalist”…
c.     Convince the other person with the power of reason that they are wrong and I am right… (Paulo Coelho, the modern philosopher say: “Don't waste your time with explanations. People only hear what they want to hear. ")
d.     Enter into an open dialogue with the goal of establishing an agreement to really listen to the other person… The goal is to explain my beliefs and listen to learn about their beliefs.  How often have I been in a discussion where I am thinking of my next response to the person, instead of listening to 

When have you done tried this approach?
OK – I have attempted all of these methods and my goal is to be more mature and be a “d”, but sadly I often still seem convinced that “c” will work, despite repeated experience that it doesn't.    Once a few years ago I said to myself that because I had reached a certain age it was time for me to stop holding back about my real views. …Well maybe – but my rational brain knows that I am no more likely to change someones belief position  by talking at them as they are to change mine.

Yup!  its true...
So getting back to Facebook – what am I to do?  If I post a really cool site expounding one of my favorite ideas, my Democrat friends say – “Oh yeah! I agree.” – they may even “like” my posting.  My Republican friends say… “ There goes John again –spouting off again..”  or worse they try to argue me out of my belief. We both leave feeling alienated and frustrated.   

Cesar Chavez... Loved and hated...

The one thing I can say for Facebook is that it is one of the most genuine meeting places for people of different opinions. Most of us watch news casts with which we agree. (Rachael Maddow v. Fox)… read internet sources that we like ( Washington times v. New York Times) … and we seldom encounter points of view different from our own.

I'm curious what draws us to take a stand... and also curious why we seek to avoid  standing up for our beliefs
...this photo gives part of the answer...

When I receive an outrageous posting the first thing I do is to look at its source.  Does it sound reliable?  Sometimes I click on the source link to get more information. I may run it through to get their take on it.  I approach a strange piece with an attitude of cautious hostility...knowing that I disagree and trying to decide what to do with it.    
ML King among a group of supporters

After years of neglecting Facebook I am now clearly hooked – I check it most every  day.  I enjoy making contact with old friends,  past students, relatives… I love seeing photos… What the heck – can you tolerate me once in a while posting one of my ‘challenging’ sites…? Feel free to go ahead and be challenging yourself!