Saturday, March 26, 2016

Letter #77--Micrograms

Dear Governor Ducey,

            My book Micrograms, a short book of microessays about micro things, was just published by New Michigan Press. The micro essays include stories about microsoccer and microchips and microbursts and microclimates. This little book is part of a larger book about climate change and other environmental catastrophes and how little things can make big changes. For instance, at ASU’s Center for Biodesign, researchers there study how microorganisms can repair polluted water. Example: Run-off from fertilizer used in agriculture sometimes results in nitrates in waterways, leading to overstimulation of algae, depriving fish of oxygen. At the Center for Biodesign, they have found a microorganism that chemically reduces nitrates back into simple nitrogen. I write about Eric Glomski of Page Springs who, in building his vineyard, had to study the microclimates of Oak Creek and the air masses moving down from the mountains and swirling around the river to figure out where to grow his Chardonnay grapes best. By studying tiny organisms and making small manipulations, researchers and vintners can discover ways to rise to these big challenges.
            I take heart in the tiny things. The way my son tucks my hair behind my ear. The way my daughter scares me with her zombie walk. The way my husband builds a fire in the wood stove. The small owl pellet I find at the bottom of tree. The quick look to see, ah ha, there is an owl, or maybe just the wind, but either way, my eyes have been lifted up: The sky an embracing blue. Even goofy things, like a ball rolling down the sidewalk and stopping in a crack or the sound of a rock kerplunking in a lake, these little things, these tiny delights, accumulate to make the difficult or the bad manageable, even, potentially, hopefully, fixable.
            But then, there are days when the small things get me down. We did another road-side clean up on Huntington by Walmart. Cigarette butts, plastic Walmart bag, Styrofoam coffee cups, plastic bottle, plastic bag, hamburger wrappers, mini-bottles, plastic bags, plastic bottle, CDs, plastic lids, plastic bag, plastic bag. So many little things that are discarded, never thought about by the person letting them go out their car window. How can we make big changes when we’re still at a seventies level of environmental awareness, Give a Hoot, Don’t pollute? Or not even there yet?  with people tossing their cigarette butts on the ground, dropping their coffee cups, letting fly their plastic bags, plastic bags, I swear if you spent two hours cleaning up the road side you would, instead of prohibiting Flagstaff from banning them, ban the plastic bags from all the land, or at least all of Arizona. I said to Zoe, “If there were no plastic bottles, plastic bags, or cigarette butts, there would be almost nothing for us to clean up. No more orphaned highways in need of adoption.”
            I think of the accumulation of plastic—that plastic patch in the ocean the size of Texas, the way the plastic turns particulate but never disappears. The way the tiny plankton eat it, the tuna eat it, the whales eat it. The plastification not only of the streets and fields and sidewalks but the whole planet, wrapped in plastic. Preserved, maybe, but, like a 2-liter 7-Up bottle lying in the sun, getting ever-hotter.
            Accumulation is a neutral term. Things accumulate for the better and for the worse. I guess the whole system is one of balance. Someone pollutes the water, someone finds a microorganism to eat the pollutant. Someone tosses a water bottle out the window, someone else picks it up. Balance, in itself, doesn’t necessarily register as good or bad, either, and yet, as the legislation has been so against the many in favor of the few of late, I am hoping the individual actor, though small, will begin to act, to accumulate, to add up, and tip the scale.

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