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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category


Solar panels at Cache Creek campground

When we made plans to go camping this weekend, the only solar power we expected to find was the direct rays of the sun. As it turned out, we stayed at California’s first solar-powered campground, at Cache Creek in Yolo County. An easy drive from the San Francisco Bay Area, this region feels more remote than it is. The climate is certainly different from what we’re used to, with summer temperatures as high as 115F (it was only in the 90s this weekend, downright cool!). And the demographic is different, too; while some urban residents make it to this area, most of the clientele seems to be from the more immediate vicinity. You can expect to hear heavy metal blaring into the evening, accompanied by more yelping than I’ve heard in a long time. Glass containers are forbidden on the beach by the creek, but you’ll run across some abandoned beer bottles. And you won’t fit in with the majority of the crowd if you don’t smoke or have at least a few tattoos. So it’s not what you’d picture as a hotbed of sustainability—which just goes to show that our preconceived notions can easily be misguided.

Swallows nesting under the solar panels--you can see little heads in some of the nests

In the 1980s the area might have felt even more far afield than it does today. It was still far from the existing power lines, so the site used generators for all its power needs. The generators were not only polluting and noisy but also costly; at the time, they cost $15,000 a year to run, and they didn’t even provide power 24 hours a day. I suspect that this financial burden was the major factor in the decision to install a solar system. Apparently the system saved taxpayers over $13,000 a year, and that was whenever the signs were made that explain it to visitors—by now, the savings are likely higher. The system was installed in 1985 and is still running.

I love finding solar power in unexpected places! This campground is a great example of how solar can be economically as well as environmentally sound. And the site’s efforts toward sustainability don’t end there: it also features a playground made with recycled materials, including mulch made of old tires. Tires are notoriously hard to dispose of, so this is a great way to reuse them.

Visitors to Cache Creek go there for the lovely scenery and beautiful river, which is popular with rafters and kayakers. No one, including us, is likely to pick a camping spot based on how sustainable it is. But it’s great to see that whatever the motivation, as treehugger reported recently,┬áincreasing numbers of campgrounds across the country are recycling more and using solar and other sustainable forms of power. If people are going to relax by visiting nature, it makes sense that they should help to preserve that nature at the same time.

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“This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such places.” — Edward Abbey

George Lakoff is one of my heros. Among his many great ideas is the one of strategic initiatives. According to Lakoff, a major problem for progressives is that they want to fix everything, so they spread themselves too thin and lose effectiveness. He suggests that instead they focus on strategic initiatives, those that deliver multiple results in one blow.

As one example (maybe my favorite), an alternative energy initiative can help create jobs, ease global political tensions, and improve the environment, all in one swoop.

The author (center) with friends during a recent strategic initiative

The other day, as I was talking to a friend about hiking, I realized that for me it’s akin to a strategic initiative. A hike can be hard to schedule, and it tends to take up a large part of a precious weekend day. So, what makes it worth doing? For me, it satisfies a number of critical needs: beauty, nature, exercise, stress relief, fresh air, time away from computers, and social time with friends.

The first two, like a Venn diagram, overlap but have also have separate aspects. Often, hiking in the gorgeous settings of northern California makes me think of the lines quoted above. The beauty in this area is spectacular. Yet there’s so much more to nature than that. For those of us who live in an urban environment, being around grass and trees and wild creatures is restorative. A park or backyard are nice, but they don’t satisfy me the way a wilder place does.

Heading toward the Steep Ravine trail from Stinson Beach

And the benefits don’t stop there. The exercise you get going up and down the hills in the San Francisco Bay Area is significant, even aerobic. By the end of the day your lungs are full of fresh air, and being off the computer for the day is restful. Spending time with friends is a huge bonus; a chance to gather friends normally spread out around the Bay Area and hang out with them for hours is always welcome. (Hiking alone can also be wonderful, and meditative, so it comes with its own benefits.)

A typical section of the Steep Ravine trail

I’m thankful to live in a place that’s close to so many wonderful hiking trails, yet I find myself not always making the time to enjoy them. In our busy modern lives, it’s challenging to allow time for the important things. Like the progressive that I am, I tend to want to do it all—which can lead to getting very little accomplished. So the next time I’m considering whether to go on a hike, I’ll remind myself that it’s a strategic initiative.

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