Posted by: venajensen | April 9, 2011

A Greener Start

Snow Geese in Flight

Snow Geese in Flight Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

I’ve lived my entire life in an area known to be a mecca for “tree-huggers,” a place where people take environmentalism seriously. Organic-ness is the culture in Eugene, Oregon and eco-friendly practices are second nature; I’ve been recycling, reducing, reusing, composting, organic gardening, conserving, preserving, riding my bicycle, choosing bio-degradable and chemical-free products, eating organic as often as possible, carrying my own shopping bags, coffee cup and water bottle and trying to lower my carbon footprint for several decades now. And yes, my favorite drink (besides French Roast coffee) is Kombucha.

I assumed that, by now, everyone else on the planet was on board with the common goals of breathing clean air, drinking clean water, and living harmoniously with nature. Moving to a houseboat on a tributary off of the Columbia River a year ago changed my awareness; pollution is still a major issue for our waterways. Where there should be pristine river water flowing by my houseboat there is a constant barrage of garbage – mostly man-made durable plastic items like plastic water bottles, hairbrushes, and things like mattresses and shoes, things people mindlessly throw away. Despite the daily cleansing of the tides, there is still evidence of suds and muck and sludge and yech…..

I live on the edge of a 5,000 acre wildlife refuge, a place where birds migrate to from farther north to spend the winter. It saddens me to realize how incredibly small the flocks of birds are today compared to the myriads of thousands of flocks that Lewis and Clark wrote about when they wintered here two centuries ago.

The world’s climate is changing dramatically. The effects of global warming are no longer only a prediction – we see evidence of the changes all around us. Unless we do something now the effects will be even more significant and damaging than they already are.

Every day we read or watch reports about global warming and climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and our dependency on fossil fuels. Everywhere one looks there seems to be a message urging us to “go green.” There is so much conflicting information (paper or plastic bags, cloth or disposable diapers?) how do we know what “earth-friendly” changes will really make a difference? And more importantly, what green practices and products are a good fit for each person’s lifestyle, their family and their workplace?

The more I thought about what is happening to nature, and the more I researched and investigated, the more concerned I became about the current state of natural affairs. One recent early morning, while having my morning (deep breath) delectably rich French Roast coffee that is sustainably grown, ecologically beneficially farmed, grown free from harmful chemicals and pesticides, fairly-traded, not grown in forests which lie along migratory routes, roasted with energy-efficient wind turbine operations, and purchased from a locally owned, community operated business, (breathe again) with the herons, geese, ducks, song birds, otters, beavers and other wildlife friends who live near my houseboat, I decided I wanted to be a conduit of information and a resource for others to take steps toward making changes that will have an impact on our natural world.

I decided to add a new component to my consulting business – Eco-Consulting. Soon I will complete my training through Green Irene (an amazing company, by the way!) and will launch my new business – Clarity Green – with some help from family and friends. I look forward to learning and sharing with others how to integrate eco-consciousness into our lives without sacrificing style, convenience or flair!

The good news is we can make a difference when it comes to the environment. And we don’t have to make significant sacrifices to the lifestyle we enjoy now. The changes that need to be made are easy to achieve and simple to do.

The future holds good choices for you, your family and your workplace that have a light and gentle impact on Earth. Together we can take action that is simple, fun and rewarding – because what we do – each of us! – really does make a difference.

I look forward to meeting up with you on the green path…

Posted by: venajensen | August 18, 2010

Henry the Hairy Heron

We call him Henry the Hairy Heron a.k.a HHH, our next door neighbors call him Scar (because he has a scar on one of his wings,)

Henry the Hairy Heron

Phylicia and Orin, who regularly feed him the too-small pike minnows they can’t turn in for the State’s bounty, call him Alfred and Maya the Matriarch of the Marina simply calls him Heron.   I’m positive he’s had many other names, but no matter what we call him, we all agree he’s the mascot of the marina. 

He is almost always around somewhere:  on Herman’s roof, resting in the nearby trees, fishing off the bank or dock, sleeping overhead on the power cable, or hanging out next to Phylicia and Orin’s boat well, waiting for handouts.  Fiercely territorial, we know he’s courting when he allows his girlfriend to hang out on a stump near his haunts.  He is majestic in flight, statue-like when getting ready to strike, and seems to be completely at home here at the marina.  He has a curious habit of stalking the newest residents of the marina; he stood outside our houseboat for several weeks right after we moved in. 

Henry is an amazing angler.  He cocks his head, eye-balling the fish below the surface.  He will stand for hours, frozen in motion.  Then he will move – oh so slowly…slowly…slowly…NOW!!! lightning-quick he spears the fish with his beak and in on smooth movement gulps the silvery minnow down.  One evening I spent hours fishing with Henry a few feet away…darn creature ate all my catch for the day.  Still, I couldn’t help but marvel how incredible it was to hang out and fish with a large wild bird.  While quietly watching Henry expertly catch his dinner, I wondered how often the natives who lived here a century ago practiced this same end-of-the day ritual, and if they thought he was as marvelous as I do.

Fishing with Henry the Hairy Heron

Here’s how the Great Blue Heron came into existence, according to ancient native lore. 

One of the creatures was a great fisherman. He was always on the rocks or was wading with his long fishing spear. He kept it ready to thrust into some fish. He always wore a little cape, round and white over his shoulders. The Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things transformed him into Great Blue Heron. The cape became the white feathers around the neck of Great Blue Heron. The long fishing spear became his sharp pointed bill.

He has become a familiar sight; when we see Henry we feel we are where we belong – right at home.

Posted by: venajensen | March 29, 2010

Blustery, Stormy Day on the River

Monday, March 29, 2010

Finally, after a stormy, blustery day so cold and wet that you would swear it was still winter, a break in the clouds appeared and the sky became a lighter shade of gray.  The storm took a short, mid-day break;  the spring foliage looked like dripping-wet, unwrung laundry hanging out to dry.  For a few minutes the sun illuminated the raindrops, birds emerged from their shelter and the wind died down.   An avian orchestra, led by the sparrows, sang a symphony of melodies rivaling any choir.  An hour or so later, the heavens spread a cloudy down comforter over its expanse; the horizon was no longer visible, and the rainy automatic drip commenced once again.  As the gloomy, wet weather descended, I noticed that the river’s water table was as high as I had seen it; the water swirled by with uncommon force and speed.  The river otters, who came out during the short dry period, disappeared, the bird’s chorus ceased; it seemed like the natural world was hunkering down, ready to wait out the bad weather. 

During the dark, showery afternoon, Michael and I watched “The Blind Side” starring Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron.  The movie was better than I feared; I often do not appreciate the simplistic racial and gender roles so often portrayed in these types of dramatic films.  The fact that the movie was based on the true story of a white family who opened their home to a homelesss African American youth was its saving grace.  In the end, I would have liked the film to have given the young man in the center of the drama more credit for his dedication, hard work and willingness to adjust to a new lifestyle. 

By the end of the day the river’s water table was as high as I had ever seen it.  The water swirled by with phenomenal force and mounting momentum.   This is definitely an evening to stay home, stoke the wood stove, and snuggle into the warmth and relaxation of home and family.   I hope everyone is as cozy and comfortable as I am tonight.

Posted by: venajensen | March 28, 2010

An Ominous Osprey

Saturday, March 27, 2010

This morning I woke to the shrill voice of an osprey, a sure sign that spring is here.  Ospreys winter in Southern California and South America, and migrate back to the area late March, heralding the promise that sunny days are ahead, despite the interminable gray clouds and rain for which the Pacific Northwest is well-known. 

Fortunately, today turned out to be a sunny spring day, once the gray clouds from the morning blew over.  In the afternoon, while on the way to the Columbia River to take advantage of the chinook salmon spring run, I saw an osprey perched on top of a pier near the public boat ramp.  He appeared to be eyeing the boat traffic; I wondered if this was the same bird that woke me earlier in the day. 

Ospreys are magnificent birds, closely related to eagles and hawks.  The males sport mostly black markings on their backs and white in the front, with a distictive white head.  The females are brown and white, tradionally plain compared to the male. 

I live on a houseboat in Ridgefield, Washington on Lake River, about a mile south of the mighty Columbia.   As I watched the osprey take off in flight today it occurred to me that writing a blog to chronicle my bird and wildlife discoveries might be a good way to share my experiences as I learn about my new surroundings.

An ancient Chinookan village called Cathlapotle (Cath-la-pote-lay) was located here, sheltered from the harsh weather that haunts the Columbia River Gorge.  It is easy to imagine the native people living here, well-fed by the bountiful game and fish, roots, berries and plants grown in the rich soil.   I often imagine them easily navigating the waterways in their canoes; even today it is not uncommon to see groups traveling by canoe pass by our houseboat.

The Native Americans characterized the osprey (or fish hawk) as forewarning a potentially dangerous accident or injury, and sure enough, I pulled a muscle or tendon in my knee climbing back in the hatch from the bow of the boat after unhooking the anchor.  Luckily, it was a minor accident, although it has been difficult to get around since I got back from the trip.  My wonderful husband is taking good care of me and the house, which is giving me extra time to start this blog.

The appearance of the osprey today may have signaled an impending injury, as portrayed by the native americans of the region, but today he also symbolized a link to the ancient people who lived here, and to a warm, bright future spring and summer.   I am looking foward to pleasant, light-hearted days ahead, exploring this beautiful wonderland that is known as Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Columbia River waterways and channels – and to sharing my observations with you, dear reader.