Roe Woe

Liberty heading home in grief and disgust

Loss Of Liberties, Trust, & Credibility

How are you doing? Personally, I’ve been flip-flopping between broken hearted crying and being absolutely furious. Watching this disgraceful travesty of a Supreme Court take away rights from American citizens for the first time in the history of the nation is beyond gut-wrenching. It’s infuriating, enraging, and hugely disappointing. It’s also terrifying. Because what’s next? Clearly this is just a step on the way to depriving women (or perhaps I should say ‘chattel’ now) of even more rights. Not to mention queer people, and people in “mixed marriages” (unless that one gets a pass because someone Black happens to be married to a treasonous white woman who hopefully will be in jail soon). The American people are being ignored by this Supreme Court, which has lost trust at home and credibility throughout the world.

Anyway. Where was I? Oh, right. No, oh, wrong wrong WRONG.

Please call or write or both to your elected officials, your state senators and representatives and let them know what you want them to do.

If you aren’t sure where to start, use the scripts-they also include contact information for your people if you put in your zip code. Five calls. 5 minutes. Please.

Posted in Health & Wellbeing, Social Justice, Sustainable Living | Tagged | 8 Comments

Juneteenth, Pride, & Summer Solstice

Juneteenth As A National Holiday

Loving The Longest Day

Solstices are my favorite holidays, perhaps because they’re natural, true division points that mark the ebb and swell of the year. I remember a summer solstice spent in Anchorage, when it was sunny for 22 hours straight and the brief night was just an eerie twilight. It was hard to sleep, difficult even to realize that sleep might be a good idea, and really hard to keep my eyes closed when there was a bright, lovely day gleaming away outside, despite being 11:00 pm. Here in the PNW, this beautiful balance point day offers 16 hours of daylight, enough to revel in and still want to go to sleep at night. I’m glad of some actual dark, because I love the solstice bonfire traditions, sending flames up into the night sky, celebrating what’s joyful, burning away all that needs release.

In our tiny neighborhood, our solstice bonfire is just a little fire in a small fire bowl, but it suffices. Tomorrow, my grandkids will help fill the fire bowl with the wood we’ve been storing in the sun porch so it can dry out. Had we not done that, finding dry wood might be challenging indeed. Some years like this one, when La Nina rules and the skies are grey and it rains at least a little bit most days, people can get grumpy and complain-y. Hearing about heat waves and droughts all over the country and the world, this year most of us are deeply grateful for the grey and find comfort in the rain. A friend’s father, who’s coming to visit from Florida, keeps asking her if it’s still rainy and chilly, and saying he can’t wait to get here and experience the lovely coolth.

Our First Juneteeth Celebration

Yesterday was just such a La Nina day, cool and grey, but for a wonder, NOT rainy. That was lovely, because we Islanders celebrated Juneteenth for the first time, as it’s now both a State and a National Holiday. I’m guessing that what with all the media attention, pretty much everyone now knows that this old but newly officially recognized holiday honors and commemorates the day in 1865 that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were finally told that they were now free people, though it was two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s been celebrated ever since, at first in gatherings where enslaved people sought out relatives who had been sold away, looking to re-weave family ties broken by the inhumane practice of slavery.

Like most contemporary celebrations, ours lifted up Black voices and elevated Black achievements with powerful speeches, moving recollections, and stirring calls to action. We’ve had some ugly racism (is there any other kind?) emerging publicly from some surprising people recently so it was especially heartening to see a good turnout of enthusiastic and positive attendees. It’s also been heartening to watch the rallying of many white women who are willingly taking on the heavy lifting now, calling out the racism, refusing to let it die down and fade into the background. Black people and people of color have had to do so much of the hard work for so long, it’s definitely past time that those of us with white privilege and power use it for good, protecting and elevating our friends and neighbors and shining light on the darkness of racism wherever it lurks.

Taking Pride In Our Community

I’m looking forward to our local Pride celebration, which will do the same kind of elevating and celebrating for our queer community, young and old. The education work I’ve been doing locally keeps me remembering that just as many people are racist, covert or overt, so are many people homophobic and transphobic. It’s not only the obvious haters either; many a closet phobic talks the talk but is very clearly uncomfortable in the presence of anyone obviously queer. As more and more people come out everywhere, this is slowly changing, because very often, when a family member or friend comes out, the phobia gets diluted. A known and loved or liked person coming out can make the whole idea of queerness more acceptable (though sometimes it takes a while!).

I recently got my second covid vaccination booster at a local clinic where the doctor who injected me talked about watching a zoom program I gave to the local Rotary group. We are blessed with very active Rotarians, many of whom volunteer for all kinds of public service, including these vaccination clinics. This fellow observed that I’d gotten a bit emotional during my talk (imagine that!) and said, “It really made me think. I mean, you live with a REAL one! Someone in your actual family! It must be very real for you.” Um, yes? However, as we talked a bit, he said that hearing our story from me, someone he didn’t know personally but knew about in our community, made him think differently about queer people in general and trans people in particular. “I hadn’t really thought about them being someone’s kids,” he said quietly.

How To Be A Good ALLY

That’s a small example of how we can all be good allies for whatever we care deeply about, whether it’s the safety and wellbeing of queer people, Black people, people of color, women, children, the earth. Talking openly and in as friendly a way as we can manage goes a long way towards changing negative attitudes and assumptions. So in this balance point time between light and darkness, let’s talk. Onward, right?


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Cottonwood Fluff Is Nothing To Sneeze At

Cottonwood fluff is the snow of a la Nina June

Fluffy Snow In June?

Walking around our village yesterday, I noticed many people pointing at or playing with heaps of what looked like snow. It edged every planting bed and decorated streets and blew through doorways to make fluffy mounds on doormats and carpets. I met a lovely multi-generational family laughing as they nudged the heaps with their feet to make them float around. Both the young kids and the grandmother were even trying to make “snowballs” from the fluffy stuff. When they asked me if I knew what it was, I explained that the floating fluff was a massive crop of female cottonwood seeds, wandering with the wind, seeking male pollen to fulfill their reproductive mission. I find it fascinating that, far from being allergens, quite a few female seed producers actually help clean the air of pollen.

How? Female tree flowers have a negative electrical charge, while male pollen develops a positive charge from its wind blown journey. Who knew? The result is that female flowers attract male pollen and capture it, clearing it from the air (good news for allergy sufferers!). Once the girls have accumulated a sufficiency of pollen, they sink to the ground, hoping to land in a hospitable spot. Most, of course, do not, but a fortunate few will find a safe landing place and produce another generation of trees. Cottonwood trees can be male or female, and unless there’s a male somewhere in the neighborhood, those fluffy seeds will collect pollen in vain, as none of it will be the right kind. If you have a cottonwood on your property, you can tell which it is by looking at the catkins in early spring; male catkins are yellow, while the girls are green.

From Tree Of Life To Trash Tree

Cottonwoods are big, beautiful native trees, cousins to aspens and poplars. Fast growing and sturdy, cottonwoods grow all over North America, and various species were prized by many Native American tribes, who used the wood for masks and medicine, ritual and ceremonial objects of many kinds and sizes, from sacred poles to Hopi kachinas. Black Cottonwood, the PNW coastal species, has the familial large, heart-shaped leaves and can reach 150 feet in favored places. Tribal people had dozens of uses for this medicine tree, from eating the sweet inner bark in spring to making salves from boiling buds with deer fat to treat sore throats and baldness, boiling old leaves into soothing wraps for arthritic joints, and much, much more. Cottonwood trees offer ingredients for paint and poultices, canoes and carrying bags, baskets and buckets, sweat lodge poles, spinning fiber and shampoo. The sticky gum makes glue for arrowheads and feathers, and the antibacterial resin is even used by native bees to seal and protect their hives. Perhaps observing this may have led ancestral people to explore other uses, just as watching squirrels licking maple trees encouraged East Coast Tribes to discover sweet maple sap and learn to make syrup millennia ago.

Sadly, the cottonwood is now considered the most hated tree in North America, mainly because of that abundant fluff but also because this large tree is out of scale with today’s small housing lots and shrinking public parks. Cottonwoods get cut down because their roots break sidewalks and their fluff clogs drains, because branches can break in high winds, and because they’re simply TOO MESSY!! In many communities, cottonwoods are actually classified as “trash trees”, a designation that ought to be illegal and unthinkable. No Native tradition calls any plant “trash” and no such disrespectful, presumptuous term would ever be used for anything in Nature.

When Trees Get Messy

I was once asked to recommend a good arborist who could remove a healthy, beautiful American cottonwood tree. It wasn’t blocking a view or threatening to fall on anything, and the yard had plenty of light, so I asked why this lovely tree was slated to die. Turns out the owner didn’t like the fluffy seeds that cover his patio with each June. He was also sure that it triggered his seasonal allergies, but on that score, I was able to reassure him (not sure he totally believed me, though). Though female cottonwoods often get blamed for allergies, many other trees have been tossing out the pollen for months by the time that cottonwood sends out its seeds. Despite the rains of spring that can wash pollen from the air, much of it is still present in backyards, gardens, parks, and meadows, and on windy days, wind blown pollen old or fresh can still be an issue for the sensitive.

What’s more, grasses start shedding pollen around the same time as the cottonwood seeds are released. Many ornamental grasses are tremendous pollen producers, as are most lawn grasses, not to mention the weedy ones along roadsides and native grasses in natural areas. All that adds up to a lot of sneezes, but cottonwoods are not the culprits. As that unhappy cottonwood tree owner talked about his aging body and the trouble caused by dealing with cottonwood fluff and leaves, he was ready to clearcut his whole yard. However, as we talked a little more, it was clear that he truly did appreciate the greenery that wove a gentle green privacy curtain around his home. Even in winter, he liked seeing the deciduous trees’ graceful shapes. Our joint solution? Hire a reliable yard service instead of an arborist and learn to love the natural abundance. Onward, right?

That’s a lot of fluffy stuff!


Posted in Garden Design, Gardening With Children, Health & Wellbeing, Native Plants, Pollinators, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Teaching Gardening | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Of Coffee & Pride

June Musings

Yesterday I attended a remarkable program at the Bainbridge Island Art Museum, part of their DogEar Festival, a celebration of artists’ books and printmaking. This particular event was Queer Writers Read, with a stellar lineup of readers. Two young female-identified readers especially caught my interest because both included multiple references to God and sacrament, rite and ritual. I chatted with them after the reading and asked about that, since such views are very unfashionable and rather bold these days. Both laughed cheerfully and replied that in their view, God is definitely transgender, gender-fluid, and/or probably pre- and maybe post-gender, or all of the above.

Earlier that morning, I had attended the local UCC church to hear a compelling and powerful sermon delivered by a gay pastor, who noted that the UCC (United Church of Christ) was formed in 1957 by melding four similarly congregationalist denominations, all run on ‘of the people, for the people and by the people’ lines, in direct response to the Civil Right Movement. Mark’s sermon wove local civil rights history with national history, reminding us that June is Pride Month because of the Stonewall Uprising, which occurred on June 28, 1969, when long-abused gay people stood up to brutal attacks from NYPD officers who had been harassing, beating, and jailing gay people for years simply for being gay. He talked about the courage and fear, loneliness and loss, pride and strength of the queer community. I found myself remembering how Jesus hung out with outcasts and poor people, not the proper and prosperous.

June Is For Uprising

Mark reminded us that this local Bainbridge Island UCC had been the focal point for civil rights actions, including during the removal of our local Japanese American citizens to internment camps during WWI, and through multiple rights movements. He talked about social justice movements and necessary uprisings, about growing up gay and afraid, ashamed and lonely, about fearing that if he was openly out as a gay man, he would not be ordained. This refreshing frankness made me realize that THIS is the church I’m hungry for; a church where social justice is not just an intellectual concept but a lively, living, daily way to live.

So many of the sermon’s themes were echoed in the Queer Writers’ readings; isolation and fear, loneliness and rejection, shame and humiliation, finding community and acceptance, learning to take pride. All this made me think about the many ways in which marginalized people are often especially kind and accepting, encouraging and supportive. About fifty years ago, inspired by Saint Francis and Saint Claire, I studied (briefly) with a Jesuit teacher, longing to become a Poor Claire nun. It didn’t go well, but I never lost the desire for being part of an accepting, nurturing community. How rich, then, to discover that that’s exactly where my life has brought me. I’m finally seeing that such communities may not be ready-made, but they are for us to weave together, here and now.

Coffee For Coughing

During the reading at the museum, I inadvertently sat near someone wearing perfume, which triggered an allergy attack. Coughing convulsively, I slipped out into the lobby-cafe, where a kind barista handed me a cup of fresh coffee. She said as an asthmatic, she had learned that a few sips of coffee will stop the coughing in moments and she was right. A few sips of hot black coffee and shazam! The kind barista said she’d heard that the tannins in coffee can disrupt coughing spasms, and though I don’t keep coffee on hand, after walking home through gusts of wind-blown pollen, I brewed myself a cup of coffee leaf tea. Sure enough, when the cough started up again, a few sips of the coffee leaf tea shut it down. Yay for another good home remedy!

I’m very fond of coffee leaf tea, which I find both refreshing and mildly sweet, with none of the bitterness of brewed coffee no matter how long it’s steeped. The flavor is gentle yet distinctive, with a warm, almost nut-like quality reminiscent of green teas. Rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, coffee leaf tea is a traditional anti-inflammatory with about half the caffeine of a cup of black tea.

Coffee Leaf Tea

Every few weeks, I’ve been plucking a few leaves from my sturdy young coffee plant and drying them on a wire mesh cooling rack. Once I’ve got a cupful or so, I briefly dry-toast them in a cast iron skillet, then oven-roast them at 200 degrees F. for 20 minutes to dry completely. Stored in a tightly sealed jar out of direct light, the leaves last for months. I make my coffee leaf tea by putting two teaspoons of crumbled dried leaves in a mesh tea brewing basket and covering them with simmering water. Steeped for anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours, the tea is lovely warm or cold for a refreshing summer iced drink.

Posted in Care & Feeding, Health & Wellbeing, Recipes, Social Justice, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , | 4 Comments