About admin

Marian Blue has been a freelance writer & editor since 1972; during the past 20 years she has also taught creative writing, literature, and communication at Skagit Valley College (www.skagit.edu, retired 12/15). She is the founding editor of Soundings Review (www.nila.edu). Her own work has been published in the United States, in Europe, and in the Caribbean.

What is Your Web of Life?

You can’t escape the web of life

Maintaining and protecting your web results in a bounty for all. Photo by Cherie Ude. Previously published in Interpretative Guide to Western Northwest Weather Forecasts.

(See Natural Resources, the environment and eco-systems)

If you could separate yourself, you’d destroy your connections to life itself. The Web of Life confirms that, contrary to what we might think, humans are not self-sufficient.

For instance, if you eat, you’re dependent on microbes that maintain soil health. You’re dependent on insects that pollinate crops. These microbes and insects are dependent on clean water and soil.

In other words, if you want breakfast, you need a healthy habitat. Such an environment is good for crops and one in which birds, lizards, and amphibians thrive. These, in turn, help manage insects (both those that pollinate and those that don’t). The entire system maintains clean water and air.

Food Chain or Web of Life?

Perhaps you think of this as the “food chain,” but that is limited and no longer useful for understanding our connections and dependency on the environment. A food chain refers to who eats whom in the wild. A web illustrates where all creatures find what they need to survive in order to be part of that food chain (Food chains & food webs).

Humans have sometimes tried to manage without considering the Web of Life. For instance, in the past, some farmers tried raising crops by plowing without regard to soil damage and by saturating the water, plants, and soil with poisons to kill insects. In turn, they’ve harvested dust bowls, abiotic crop diseases, and residual poisons that have negative effects on people and animals through contaminated food and water. WWF–Sustainable Agriculture

Who Needs Plants?

Perhaps you think you’d get along fine without plants. However, if you eat animals, those animals depend on plants for food. Even wild carnivores, such as lions, get their meat from herds of animals that graze on plants.

So if you eat, you depend on biodiversity and a healthy environment.

In other words, biodiversity is crucial to successful life on Earth. Humans can’t, on their own, create conditions to raise enough plants to feed all the animals and people on Earth. Each living thing has a role in sustaining life. The more this is maintained, the more you’ll have to eat. This is the web of life.

Breathe a Little Light

The sun brings power to plants. Plants pass that power on to all life. Photo by Marian Blue

Taking a step back, plants need more than water. They need the power of sunlight for their complicated process of photosynthesis (6CO2 + 6H2O + Light energy → C6H12O6 (sugar) + 6O2) (Smithsonian Science Education Center-What is Photosynthesis?). In this process, plants breathe, and what they exhale is the oxygen you need to inhale.

If something interferes with the balance and quality of sunlight, the entire system begins to fall apart. That’s why horrible clouds of pollution can kill people (Great Smog of London–Britannica).

Every breath you take is thanks to plants.

So your very life itself–breath, water and nutrition–depends plants.

You depend on an environment in which plants can remain healthy. This is the Web of Life.

Habitat, Ecosystem, & Biomes

You’ll often hear people refer to environment, ecosystem, habitats, and biomes as though the terms are interchangeable. They aren’t. (Wilderness Classroom–Understanding Habitats, Ecosystems and Biomes)


A habitat is where something is native, where it can grow and thrive naturally without over-populating the area. Habitat consists of what you need in the way of food, temperature, humidity, and space. In one sense, your home is your habitat (where you can find food, water, safety, and shelter). (For more on conserving water, see Share the Joys of Water )


An ecosystem is the neighborhood, functioning as a whole. In one sense, your habitat is sustained by connections to water and sewer systems, by trash collectors, by power lines, and more. In the wild, an ecosystem is sustained by water and food supplies. Often these are maintained through plants, both as food and filters to maintain fresh water. Those things encourage animals to move in. In turn, predators move in.


A Biome is a large geographical area. I live in the Pacific Northwest which is a moist temperate coniferous forest biome. It includes some high and low elevations (sea level to 14,000 feet). We have beaches, lakes, and rivers along with a number of different ecosystems for each. Habitats support everything from vast fungi networks to grizzly bears and cougars.

Pacific Northwest Biome

Many kinds of fungi love snags. Critters love fungi. Photo from Interpretative Guide to Western Northwest Weather Forecasts.

The Web of Life in the Pacific Northwest depends on basic plants and fungi. Fungi operate largely unseen, but they play a major role in breaking down organic material in the forest, which, in turn, provides nutrients for growing things.

Many creatures eat fungi as well. Plants, from tiny mosses to giant old growth trees, are all part of the underground root system that provides healthy habitat for microbes, bugs, arachnids, slugs and more. These, in turn, provide a smorgasbord for frogs, salamanders, lizards, snakes, and birds.

This is also excellent habitat for small mammals such as squirrels that thrive on tree cones. Here, too, you find raccoons that enjoy meals of small mammals and fish and other water-bound life on beaches. Beavers build dams and create small lakes that provide bountiful habitat for fish and birds. Salmon that come to spawn provide meals for bears, otters, and eagles. Salmon spawning, in turn, is vital to a host of whales, dolphins, otters and more that live in the ocean biome west of the Pacific Northwest.

This extensive biome Web of Life thrives, as always, from plants. For more, check out Web of Life–Nature North West.

Another Web of Your Life

During Covid, many people discovered how important their social webs are. They depend on other people for recreation, social networks, income, package delivery, manufacturing (clothes, kitchen appliances, cars and more), growing food…the list is extensive. What we sometimes forget is that, in the Web of Life, connections only to people will eventually lead to a dead end.

Everything is connected. We need to protect all the biodiversity and health on our planet, which includes ourselves, our families, our friends, and even things we can’t see.

Protect and maintain your Web of Life for yourself, your family, your Earth. (6 Ways to Preserve Biodiversity)

Marian Blue is pleased to announce her publication of her prose poem, “Wild Spaces Without and Within” in the current issue (Spring/Autumn 2021) of Snowy Egret. This outstanding magazine celebrates the “abundance and beauty of nature and examine(s) the variety of ways, both positive and negative, through which human beings interact with the landscape and living things.” It’s an honor to have material included.


Share the Joys of Water! Conserve, Don’t Hoard!

The joys of water fill my life!

A golden eagle has a bath, something birds need to get rid of parasites, to stay healthy. Photo by Marian Blue

Hot showers after a sweaty day. Swimming. Cleaning and washing dishes. Tossing clothes into a washer. Flushing waste away. Irrigating a garden of brilliant flowers or fresh veggies. And, of course, those long, refreshing drinks of clear and cold water right from the tap.


Water makes my life easier, more productive, healthier, and pleasant. Water symbolizes my status in the world: I am privileged.

No water joy? Is Water Shortage a Real Problem?

According to the U.S. Water Alliance, about two million people in the U.S. lack access to clean, abundant water. Meanwhile, most of us have what appears to be an unlimited supply. This idea is obviously deceptive if two million people lack that access. In addition, water supplies are dwindling. Pollution is growing. Worldwide, a water crisis is growing.

Imagine if you suddenly became one of those in the US, or the millions around the world, who lack safe water. Think in terms of small losses first.

Reduce taps in your home by half. You might have to carry water from one room to another and maybe shower with the kitchen sink sprayer.

Now imagine that your water supply is restricted to a few hours a day and that the water isn’t safe. Indoor plumbing doesn’t exist.

Santiago, DR residents getting water in 2020 as Covid intensified challenges for everyone. Photo from from Dominican Today

When I lived in the Dominican Republic, our home drew water from our cistern. The cistern had a slow, dripping water supply into it for one or two hours a day, so it wasn’t always full. The water itself was an opaque green and had abundant life in it, including bugs and frogs, which often came through the tap. The water was fine for baths and cleaning the floor and could, in a pinch, be used for cooking or drinking if boiled first. We usually had bottled water delivered for those purposes.

Again, I was privileged. Most people in the Dominican Republic had no running water in their homes and when they hauled in water, they had to boil it; they lacked funds to buy bottled water. Today, decades later, one million people die each year because of water issues (see Fighting the Water Crisis in the Dominican Republic).

What Would You Do?

With such lack in mind and continuing with our hypothetical situation, mentally shut off all water to your house. You have to go to the city water supply building to get needed water, which is rationed. Not only do you have to schedule time to get water, you have to plan ahead for its use.

Gray water is reused sparingly. House plants are a luxury, as is that absurd habit of swishing out a clean glass with water and then dumping it.

When water availability drops, every creature suffers. Keeping water resources clean is essential to life. Photo by Cherie Ude.

Lawns and ornamental plants may have to exist on rainwater. Even providing a drink for wildlife might be difficult.

You probably won’t face this extreme shortage in your lifetime (not in the U.S.), but rationing is already a fact of life for many U.S. towns and cities where water was abundant a decade or two ago.

We have a well on Whidbey Island. That well has a meter on it, as do most wells. When the time comes for rationing, the meter will be put to use.

Hoarding Isn’t Conserving

Humans too often try to prepare for disaster rather than take steps to prevent disaster. For instance, we skip conservation and try hoarding. We build dams, drill wells, install pumps with huge water systems. We sequester, purify, and seal water off from natural areas and other creatures. In the process, we often foul the environment and create more problems.

An example of short-sighted and expensive hoarding is Glen Canyon Dam. Built in my lifetime, the desert flooded…a human-engineered, desert sea. I prowled the area as it filled. Today, water levels are at the lowest since it filled; drought plagues the southwest. The dam is going to have to be re-engineered to preserve the biological integrity of the river.

Learning to build and live compatibility with other creatures and their environments would increase human success. Compare people with beavers.

Water Joy Nature’s Way

Beavers build dams, too, but those dams nourish the environment, allowing plants and animals to thrive, salmon to otters to plants. Their dams slow waterflow in ways that prevent erosion and create wetlands, cooling water reservoirs. See Environmental Benefits of Beavers .

Wildfires are becoming increasingly common, from Florida to California and Canada to Mexico. Preserving the natural environment will help fight climate change droughts, thereby reducing fires.                                    Photo by Cherie Ude

Beavers are also being heralded as firefighters (National Association of Science Writers) . We could learn a lot from beavers. Unfortunately, many people fight against their very existence. As people learn more about the benefits of having beavers in our environment, they’re making a comeback, and we’re all benefiting. (National Geographic)

Meanwhile, many human dams are being removed or re-engineered like the Glen Canyon Dam. Why? Because they plug up systems, drown wetlands and other habitat, block animal use, and otherwise artificially convert the landscape (American Rivers).

Too often, we act without thinking beyond our immediate needs. Small culverts are installed under roadways, blocking fish from continuing to use the stream. Highways are put into areas without considering how they block wildlife from accessing water resources; as a result, wildlife try to cross highways and loss of human and animal life ensues (we blame the animals, not ourselves). Examples abound.

Water is Life

The need for water influences human and animal migrations, relationships, and survival. Using water without thinking ultimately shortens water availability for all life, including our grandchildren. To continue the joy of abundant, life-giving water, consider your life within the cycle of water resources.

To live successfully, sustainably, means conservation (for other conservation ideas, check out Plant a Tree and The Nature of Pets).

Conservation is NOT hoarding. Remember that every drop of water you drink, flush, spray on plants, or use to clean has circled the globe. After being part of an ocean, a river, or an animal, it returns to you. Some of our wells pull up water that has been in aquifers since dinosaurs took long drinks.

Water molecules are estimated to be 4.6 billion years old. The water cycle doesn’t make water; it recycles it: USGS–Follow a Drip Through the Water Cycle

Water is, indeed, a treasure. Something we need and want in our lives for cleanliness, recreation, and life itself. Share your joy: conserve.

Shore Stewards have great ways to conserve water






Invasive species threaten habitat and human health.

Whose fault is it? Who can fix the problem?

The word itself–”invasive”–blames unwanted behavior on the invaders themselves. Vikings storming through Britain; Imperialists denying the rights of native citizens;  Nazis invading, well, almost everyone: these suggest willful and aggressive purpose.

But when it comes to the environment, the term invader (or invasive) is misleading. Animal and plant invaders aren’t willfully charging into new environments to conquer them.

In addition to being hazardous to young trees, rabbits can also cause other problems (see Plant a Tree-Sunbreak Press)
Photo by Cherie Ude

The first step in understanding invasive species is to define what an invader is. With stomping boots, flailing swords, and booming canons, it’s fairly to define and denounce the aggressive behavior.

But what transforms a warm and fuzzy bunny into an invader? (See National Geographic for the history of  rabbits in Australia).

How does a species become an invader, destroyer of habitat, and a danger to human health?

Definition of Invaders

Defining an invasive species has proven controversial (Smithsonian Magazine). For the purposes of conservation, the definition from The International Union for Conservation of Nature, (IUCN) given in the Smithsonian Magazine article is commonly accepted:

“…animals, plants or other organisms introduced by man (emphasis my own) into places out of their natural range of distribution, where they become established and disperse, generating a negative impact on the local ecosystem and species.”

Clip Art Library Invasive Species Cartoon #2307916

In other words, humans not only identify and define the problem, they cause the problem.

Because of unthinking human behavior, defined invaders include animals and plants that we love and those we hate; those we brought with us on purpose and those who hitched rides on ships, planes, and even automobiles.

Because invaders enter new territory, they either quickly perish (wrong conditions) or thrive (no predators and more aggressive). Because of these factors (Invasive Species Specialist Group), invaders often eliminate natives and consequently alter entire ecosystems.

“Invasive alien species (IAS) are one of the five most important drivers affecting nature, and the fourth most important direct driver of species extinctions (Butchart et al. 2019; Ichii et al. 2019).” (PMC)

In other words, by creating this problem, humans are the cause of Invasive species that destroy habitat, damage ecosystems, and drive extinction. Since humans are the initial cause of the problem, humans must provide solutions. First, we must understand the problem.

Illegal Wildlife Trade–Many Victims

The illegal wildlife trade is responsible for many invaders. Animals are captured, transported, sold, and often die because someone wants the prestige of an exotic pet. Unfortunately, few people are able to care for exotic pets. People try, for instance, to keep full-sized jaguars in the city.

Even those who are supposedly professional find that providing fresh meat, ample space, and vet care exceed what they can provide (U.S. Department of Justice).

When care becomes too difficult or just boring, people “free” animals into the wild. Some don’t last long, but some find an Eden with no known predators, such as Burmese pythons and other exotic animals in Florida’s swamps National Geographic article.

Defying laws, people often think they have a “right” to own or consume any animal they want. However, wildlife trafficking is not a victimless crime. Consider this information from the 2022 US budget:

Law Enforcement—The 2022 budget provides $95.0 million, an increase of $8.1 million over the 2021 level, for the law enforcement program to investigate wildlife crimes and enforce the laws that govern the Nation’s wildlife trade. FWS continues to work with the State Department, other Federal agencies, and foreign governments to address the serious and urgent threat to conservation and global security posed by illegal wildlife trade and trafficking. A program increase of $7.7 million will provide for proactive law enforcement efforts to target and stop illegal trade; ensure sustainable legal trade through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; reduce demand for illegal wildlife products in consumer countries; and provide technical assistance and grants to other nations to build local enforcement capabilities. FWS will also continue to strengthen its smuggling interdiction efforts at the Nation’s ports of entry by using trained wildlife detector dogs in its frontline force and working with the State Department to support attachés in key wildlife trafficking countries in Asia, Africa, and South America. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

So the burden of policing and cleaning up after wildlife trafficking is placed on taxpayers. The same is true in other countries trying to prevent this crime. Citizens in these countries also suffer as animals go extinct and habitats are lost. Humans risk their health as well (World Wildlife Fund and above BBC article). Meanwhile, animals, too, endure capture, injury, and death.

Although many species come from other countries, we can’t simply blame other cultures for illegal wildlife trafficking. No one would capture the animals unless the market existed. For instance, social media has helped make the pangolin one of the world’s most trafficked animals – and not just because it’s cute. People unabashedly buy products made of their scales. World Wildlife Fund Is this a non-issue in the U.S.? No. This Portland, Oregon woman was selling the scales in the US U.S. Department of Justice.

The US is one of the largest consumers of illegal wildlife and products (One Green Planet: America’s Role in the Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Trade and How to Stop It).

The cute and cuddly aren’t the only deliberately purchased wildlife. Consider the lionfish, originally from the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, are now found in Florida coral reefs (NOAA ). People buy and then release these and other tropical fish in the sea. Now bounties are being offered to divers for killing lionfish (who have no local predators) before reefs are devastated. Again, the clean-up is costly and the environmental destruction extensive.

Kudzu sculpting a different forest landscape. (Photo by Kerry Britton, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

With plants, people who think something is pretty or interesting can create a serious environmental problem. Kudzu is swallowing up some landscapes.

At the same time the Himalayan blackberry offers a tasty treat, it can also overwhelm native plants (and even houses).

In some cases, the plants that take over an area can be hazardous to livestock and humans, such as tansy ragwort.  Tansy (WSSA World of Weeds ) has been in the States for hundreds of years, and is considered noxious everywhere. It probably came over on ships accidentally, in ballast or agricultural products.

Invader Laws Vary

Every location that has had humans also has invasive species, both plant and animal. Each place has different rules and laws for invasive species management. For instance, the eastern grey squirrel is considered a “non-native” species in Washington State where I live. It’s legal to kill them, but illegal to move them off your property. Debate continues about how seriously they threaten native wildlife.

On the other hand, the European green crab (brought to the country aboard sailing ships) is a serious threat, and people are encouraged to report sightings. Check out National Invasive Species Information Center for specific information for your area. If you violate wildlife laws, you become subject to prosecution according to your state’s laws.

What Can You Do?

Be part of the solution.

  1. Read all labels when you purchase items, from clothing to furniture to toys to food. What are the materials and where do they originate?
  2. Buy certified products (US EPA Identify Greener Products and Services)
  3. Don’t buy exotic pets. If you want a pet such as a parrot, check out rescue centers. Many exotic pets need homes. Understand the animal’s needs before obtaining it.
  4. Don’t support markets or pet stores that sell any products that aren’t certified.
  5. Report any illegal wildlife trade. Share information about the problem with friends and family.
  6. Eco-tourism choices will help support local environmentally friendly economies.
  7. Support charitable organizations that fight wildlife trafficking. Check out World Wildlife Fund to start.
  8. Be informed. Do some research. Then be ready to speak out in person, on social media, or in letters to newspapers or congress about the problems and solutions.

Be part of the solution!

Next post will be on WATER in early April

Plant a Tree

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
― Chinese proverb
Big Leaf Maple-Photo by Marian Blue

To plant a tree in the 21st century is to think in more complicated ways than in the past if you consider today’s conservation needs. Providing for wildlife and planting for future climate changes are considerations, along with concerns people have always had: beauty, shade, and other value.

Planning for wildlife has become increasingly important as pollinators (such as bees and butterflies) are on the decline. Yet we often think in terms of flowers or shrubs only. Pollinators also rely on trees. Trees provide shelter, food, and nesting sites for birds, bats, raccoons, frogs, and more.

When you plant a tree, you’re creating a substantial resource for decades, maybe centuries.

To Plant a Tree

Step One

Red-bellied woodpeckers love trees and the food they host. Photo by Cherie Ude

The first step in planning is to consider your site, both geographically and in details. What seed zone are you in and how is climate change apt to affect that? The forest service has a mapping tool for considering both these issues: USDA Seed Zone Applications. If you want something less complex, many nurseries and other organizations provide seed zone maps online or in their garden centers. If you’re thinking in terms of climate change, don’t make significant changes–move south one or two hundred miles and go for that seed zone.

When you know your seed zone it’s easy to find out what trees are recommended for your area. Local conservation districts are a good source (as well as nurseries). My local conservation district provides information, resources, and an annual plant sale: Whidbey Island Conservation District. Because it’s local, the plants are already selected for the area. Note that for pollinators, the trees Madrone, Big Leaf Maple, Black Hawthorne, and others are included. Sometimes species that provide important resources for wildlife might surprise you.

Some northwest recommended wildlife trees are included at National Wildlife Federation Ten Favorite Trees for Wildllife

Step Two

The northern cardinal brings flashes of brilliance.
Photo by Cherie Ude

Consider your specific site and personal goals. Even sites in the same area can vary radically.

Space–how much open area do you have? Does it suit the future size of the tree you’re considering?

Location—will roots be too close to septic tanks, power lines, or house foundations? Will spreading branches overshadow gardens that need light? Will the tree eventually be tall enough to threaten buildings from falling branches or the tree itself? Also keep in mind that different towns have different rules about trees; some neighborhood associations are particularly restrictive. Even if no restrictions are enforced, consider how your tree will affect your neighbors.

Light—Shade is lovely, almost as effective as AC, but will the tree eventually block a view or windows? Also, how much light is available for the tree? Some trees are shade tolerant…some are not.

Drainage—What kind of soil do you have? More clay means slower drainage whereas sandy loam will drain well. Also, is the tree in a low wet spot? A high, dry spot? You can dig a hole, fill it with water, and see how quickly it drains to get an idea of drainage. You might want to also evaluate the pH values of the soil.

Future plans and goals—If you’re thinking of enlarging your home or putting in gardens or selling in the near future, consider how the tree fits into those plans. Do you want the tree to be a legacy tree, a place for a tree house, a graceful setting for family gatherings or lounging in a hammock? Are you thinking long-term?

Douglas Squirrels cone-bearing trees, favoring those such as Douglas fir.
Photo by Cherie Ude

Pests–Will this tree lure in unwelcome guests? Consider what sort of insects and animals are apt to arrive as the tree becomes more inviting; this will vary with geography. Some people, for instance, want squirrels, raccoons and/or opossums; some don’t.

Purpose of tree–Perhaps you want something that provides color changes through the year or maybe an evergreen that keeps its foliage. Maybe you want to harvest fruit or berries. Maybe you want to plant memories. To this day, I remember the weeping willow that filled my aunt and uncle’s front yard. We played hide and seek among its branches that swept the lawn, and we could swing from those same branches.

Step Three

Planting a tree should be a thought-out process. Depth and width of hole, root conditions of sapling, etc. Remember that this is a future fulfillment. This Seattle government site has a ton of good information about planting: Planting and Care of Trees

Deer and rabbits can be hazardous to young trees.
Photo by Cherie Ude

Protect the tree after planting. Rabbits and deer are particularly hard on young trees. Deer can damage or even kill older trees by rubbing their antlers on trunks and foliage to remove velvet. Many products are available, from fencing to repellents, to help with this. Humanely Protecting Young Trees and Shrubs provides some quick tips on ways to protect your plants.


Every day we’re learning more about trees and their roles in our world. A delightful Webinar about how trees communicate and bond with each other and with us is at Daily Dose of Nature Webinars.

When you’re planting a tree, you’re making a statement about the future and how you want it shaped. Remember, trees are valuable even after they die; see Snags . Consider getting the whole family involved in the process.

“On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree.”
― W.S. Merwin

Next month’s blog “Invaders!”


The Nature of Pets


Haiku and Rhododendron
Photo by Marian Blue


is it in the nature of pets to love the environment?

Are we damaging nature with our pet love–fish to cats, birds to dogs, snakes to rats?

If we answer these questions honestly, we have to admit that pet care often equals environmental damage.

Here we’ll pause to acknowledge that pets provide many benefits.

It’s the nature of pets to:

  • assuage loneliness.
  • help us stay physically fit.
  • probably help lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, aid sleep.
  • teach children responsibility.
  • act as service and rescue animals.
  • and, if nothing else, make us laugh and play.
  • and more Benefits from Pets.

Few (any?) people advocate eliminating pets. Does that mean that environmental damage must continue to be in the nature of pets? Or can changed human behavior change that?

Change Can Happen

In the past, people have adapted, changed their behaviors.

For instance, when I was a kid in the 1950s, leash laws were a rarity; dogs trotted freely from yard to yard and even from neighborhood to neighborhood. My mother and other shoppers regularly included one or more of their small dogs in the cart kiddie basket as they wandered grocery store aisles.

Buying pet food was optional. Dogs usually got scraps off the table. Cats earned their living off rodents and birds as well as scraps from dinner tables and trash cans (where dogs also often dined).

As for picking up poop–! I was an adult before I saw a person cleaning up after a dog. Not until the 1970s did poop laws appear.

Today, leash laws are common, poop bags are ubiquitous, and pet food is a multi-billion dollar a year business.

Change For the Good

Unfortunately, many of those changes are now damaging our environment, not because the changes are bad but rather because hindsight is better than foresight. The changes didn’t incorporate today’s awareness of environmental issues. Consequently, pets and the pet industry contribute tons of plastic, carbon, and waste to the environment.

The good news is that we can make wise changes to improve the situation and keep our pets, too.

Pick It Up—Then What?

We mostly acknowledge that picking up pet poop is essential for the environment and for our health (see…Scoop the Poop). Unfortunately, we mostly use plastic bags to do the job. Even worse, some people leave the poop-filled bags on the beach, hanging from branches, or hidden under rocks.

First, you have alternatives to plastic: Paper waste sheets, paper bags (such as Pooch Paper), newspaper, portable tools, and some bags that aren’t plastic (plant-based). Unfortunately, there are a host of bags marketed as compostable or biodegradable that aren’t.

Picking up poop and leaving it for someone else to pick up? Pick up then dispose of responsibly. Photo by Abandoned Poop Bags

Read the label, which should advise what the bag ingredients are, how long break-down takes, and how to best dispose of the bag. Using alternatives to anything plastic is best. However, if you’re a user of plastic in the home, at least re-using the plastic is helpful rather than buying poop bags.

Once you’ve picked up, dispose of poop appropriately, usually in the trash.  The city of Bothel has these excellent hints. Safe Poop Disposal

Cats Poop, Too

While thinking about poop, remember that cat poop isn’t sweeter, better for the environment, or cleaner than dog poop. Dispose of cat poop and litter in the same way as dog poop. Avoid using plastic to line litter pans.

Cleaning up after cats is complicated by the fact that cats, unlike dogs, wander where they want. Unfortunately, that means cat poop can wind up in someone’s flower or vegetable garden or even in children’s play areas. This saves concern for owners who chose to let their cats wander, but makes cat poop other people’s problem.

Don’t believe that cats are somehow wilder than dogs. See Wild Things Sanctuary. Why do we treat cats as free agents? This site addresses some our social history regarding cats and why they aren’t legally required to be contained: Michigan State University

Attitudes about cats are changing. Keeping your cat on your property (or on a leash) might well be required in the near future. People are building catios and making their yards secure. Check out the Humane Society page. This not only benefits people who object to cat poop, it also protects birds (American Bird Conservancy), squirrels, and the cats themselves U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Beyond Poop

Plastics for pets: leashes, treat packaging, the lining of food cans, can covers, dental supplies, water/food dishes, toys (and even squeakers in toys), medical containers…our pets are plasticized. Photo by Marian Blue

When buying pet accessories–toys to food to beds to dishes to cleaners–consider ways to avoid plastic, especially one-use plastic. This includes bags and packaging. Pets, like people, aren’t helped by ingesting plastic. Plastic and Your Pet Note that plastic is often hidden in what you buy, such as the lining of pet food cans.

Other information abounds, including

Changing Lives

Every day brings opportunities to live harmoniously with all other life (see Living In Harmony With Wildlife ). By thinking more deeply about how to care for both our pets and our environment, we can bring ecological awareness into loving our pets. Then we can say that the nature of pets is good for people and the environment.

Next Month’s Blog: What Trees and Plants are Best for Your Yard?

Saving the Natural World

Saving the Natural World Feather by Feather
Photo by Cherie Ude

For those of us who love wild and natural places, saving the natural world for future generations, both human and wildlife, takes priority. Obviously saving the natural world isn’t a one-person job. Yet each of us plays a significant role by sharing our love of the natural world with people, showing them ways to enjoy and interact with wild and natural places. People love what they know.



Educating people about our world doesn’t mean telling them what to think, how to think, or what to do. Nor do you have to be an expert yourself. Sharing your experiences doesn’t require an impressive resume.

Everyone has stories about nature. Even if you live in a megalopolis high-rise, you, yourself, are a part of the natural world, sensing the air, temperature, breezes, rain, and sun every day. You can find a lifetime of writing from your own backyard or window box.

You’ve interacted with fall leaves drifting down or you’ve fed wild birds or seen a butterfly exploring a flower. Books have been written about spider webs. Anything that captures your attention is subject matter.

Your encounters suggest ways in which other people can both experience the natural world and share those experiences.

If you enjoy photography, you’ve got people’s attention–perhaps without writing a word! For instance, this kayak photo lures the eye and mind out into the open water.

The story: Calm open water ahead!
This photo was used by Sound Water Stewards in their book Getting to the Water’s Edge.    Photo by Marian Blue

If you’re a little uncertain about your photography or how you can use it for saving the natural world, check out Court Whelan As a professional photographer, he provides these free Webinars that explore ways to tell stories through photography.

Combining a few written words with a photo can help someone’s imagination catch fire.

Type conservation in Twitter and see the many examples; some of these have thousands of likes. Photos catch the eye on Facebook but even a few choice words or a link in a colored box can have an effect.

One of my books, How Many Words for Rain, includes my poetry and Lynne Hann’s photos. These poems and photos aren’t meant to educate so much as to simply show beauty in the world and human connection to that beauty.


  1. Re-create the experience. Provide the colors, sounds, emotions. Let readers know how you felt at the moment, how you feel when remembering, or why you want to share. Don’t tell them; show them.
  2. Avoid expressing your personal opinions. Let the experience speak for itself. If you start lecturing, people will leave. For instance, my opinions about hunting crept into the first blog of this Conservation series. A professional forester called me on it, and I revised it.
  3. Read other nature blogs and newsletters from organizations such as Audubon. This is an international interest. Reading about conservation is a great way to find inspiration.
  4. Your writing can be in any genre: poetry, essay, fiction. It can also be for any audience, adult or child. You can slant it for interests, fantasy to realism.
  5. If you do wish to provide researched information (as I did in my two past blogs), make sure your sources are legitimate and vetted. Don’t grab information off a social media site or other random site. The best sources are .org or .gov or such. Check out this site for evaluating your sources: CMU library


Many magazines that focus on nature love to receive submissions. For instance, Snowy Egret Magazine, published a short story of mine called “Badlands” years ago. This fictional story about an elderly man’s connection with his land was reprinted in my collection of short stories Sailing Off the Hook. Meanwhile, I have a short essay about a memories journey into the wild forthcoming in Snowy Egret.

A day in Viera Wetlands! Photo by Cherie Ude and poem by Marian Blue published together at Points & Parks online magazine.

Recently, one of my poems, combined with one of Cherie Ude’s photos, was published this year at Parks & Points Parks & Points Magazine.

The poem tells a story about a day at Viera Wetlands, and the photo illustrates both dawn and twilight.




Your only limitations come from doubt. In essence, writing about and helping to save the natural world is as much a part of you as breathing.

Get started now by taking a look at  International League of Conservation Writers


Next month: Preserving the wild while living with pets.

Snags for Good Health

An old forest snag:            Something to Cherish? Photo by Marian Blue

Snags abound in healthy forests.







Something to Cherish?

Today, many landowners cherish snags and, if none are present, create them by topping or even girdling trees.

Why would you want to keep this possibly dangerous eyesore on your property, much less create one?

Wildlife Habitat

According to the National Wildlife Federation, about 1,000 different species, nationwide, use snags. These uses are varied and essential.

  1. Home

            Birds, mammals, insects, and even amphibians settle in these quarters. Pileated woodpeckers and other related species (known as primary cavity dwellers) create new cavities for their nests each year; snags provide softer and drier wood to carve away.

A toppled snag revealed a former nesting cavity, smoothed and enlarged with use. Photo by Marian Blue

Woodpeckers also create cavities when seeking insects that are attracted to the dead/dying snags as seen in the snag photo above.

Other critters (known as secondary cavity dwellers) include owls, raccoons, chickadees, squirrels, nuthatches, and others who often call them home as well as a dinner resource Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Snags, in essence, are a foundation for good wildlife habitat.

Snags provide lush growth with abundant food supplies.







  1. Food for plants and animals.

Snags grow fungi, moss and even plants. These gardens attract insects.

Although you wouldn’t want to share your home with them, insects attract a wide variety of insect-eating critters (birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals) and are essential to good wildlife habitat. The pacific tree frog, for instance, eats a variety of items, including moss, decaying vegetation, and insects. Raccoons, owls, and snakes eat frogs. A variety of other creatures also eat tadpoles and frog eggs. Thus, from moss to raptors, snags grow a habitat that suits many.

Good snags mean a healthy forest.

Many kinds of fungi love snags. Critters love fungi. Photo from Interpretative Guide to Western Northwest Weather Forecasts.

Predators find snags useful for lookout perches and even dining tables. Photo by Marian Blue












3. Hiding

This cedar log has hollowed out, providing a hiding hole, food (moss), and a bounty of bugs and shelter underneath. Meanwhile, it’s providing a place for new growth. Photo by Marian Blue

Ducking for cover preserves the life of many small birds, squirrels, and other critters.

Snags provide look-out perches for predators, such as raptors, too.

Snags provide places to hide both when standing and after falling. The job of a snag extends beyond life, beyond falling, and even beyond decaying; nutriments that build soil occur as mosses and fungi break down the wood.

Forest soil usually becomes rich very slowly, so each fallen log, branch, and leaf is valuable. In addition, logs often become nurse logs for the forest’s next generation of trees. If you see, for instance, a line of hemlocks, they likely began their lives along a fallen log.

This old stump has grown a garden that includes salal, huckleberry, ferns, and a hemlock. Photo by Marian Blue

A hemlock got its start on a stump; now it appears long-legged as the stump rots away beneath it. Photo by Marian Blue


How Many?

The number of snags for your property depends on both the diameter and the type of tree. A general number is three snags of 12” diameter and one of 15” diameter per acre. In addition, at least 4 downed logs per acre helps to ensure a healthy habitat. More specific details and information, including use of habitat brush piles, are abundant online. This site is specifically for the northwest but includes other resources (Northwest Natural Resource Group). In some cases, landowners can find financial assistance in creating wildlife habitat (and corridors) on their property. A healthy environment benefits people and animals alike.

Make Your Own

If your property lacks adequate snags, you can make your own. A wide variety of ways of doing this is found at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife . By killing some trees to create snags, you can improve the health of your property for both flora and fauna!

Bad Snag

Snags are a natural resource for a healthy forest ecosystem. Photo by Marian Blue

Snags aren’t static. You don’t want a large snag next to your home or other structure.

In addition, because they attract insects, you don’t want snags where you’re combating insect invasions (next to your home, for instance).

Beautiful Snag

Beauty comes from understanding. Once you appreciate a snag’s value as a contributor to a healthy ecosystem, you can see the beauty in the same way animals do when looking for a new home or a good meal.


Next Month: Nature Writing


Wildlife Corridors–Living in Harmony with Wildlife

Losing Your World

Imagine this as your front yard.

Imagine walking out your front door, perhaps to go to work or shopping, only to discover that all roads, sidewalks, and paths have vanished. Trees are growing where roadways should be, where you were cursing chuckholes the day before. Creeks are chuckling along, gleefully replacing bridges and culverts. Bogs and rocks and fallen trees have taken the place of mowed parks and groomed yards. You can’t tell where your yard ends and a neighbor’s yard begins.

Through determination and ingenuity, you find your way to a grocery store, but a big gate is across the doors. If you figure out how to get through the gate, you find that individuals start shouting and shooting at you. The world you and your family have known is gone.

Saving and Building Environments

Wildlife faces challenges daily very similar to the above idea.

Humans often develop their nests by destroying the preexisting environment.

Suppose the above woods went to this overnight? Image from South Whidbey Record

They mow down wildlife’s homes and food sources to pave roads, sidewalks, and parking lots. Wild places of safety are replaced with groomed yards full of hazards: domestic animals, poisons, dead ends at gates and fences.

Desperate to protect their nonnative bushes, trees, and pets, people use poison, hunting seasons, traps, and other lethal measures to eliminate hungry and homeless wildlife.

Even if these animals are only trying to travel from one native food or water source to another, their routes are turned into deadly mazes of highways, fences, and bare landscapes where they and their young are vulnerable to death or injury.

You have a choice

Such situations aren’t inevitable. Each person can do something about the conundrum of living harmoniously with wildlife, which, it turns out, we need to do to maintain the healthy environment, including air and water, that humans also need to survive.

Conserving Natural Environments Harmoniously

  1. Support the idea of intelligent planning on the part of your neighborhood, town,

    Planning green areas improves water and air quality for all life. (Image from SmartCitiesDive)

    county, and state. Make sure development includes corridors of easy travel for wildlife from one natural area (parks, streams, beaches) to another. Help make every park connected to every other park with areas of native trees, bushes, and free-flowing streams. These are areas where snags provide food, places to hide, and nesting spots for birds and small mammals; where brush provides shelter with berries and insects; where fallen debris creates brush piles where animals can hide. If roads are nearby, control where these corridors cross; animals will use safer areas. This protects both wildlife and humans. Tunnels, overpasses, and high fences funneling to crossing spots also help. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Corridors and New York Times article, May 31, 2021:Wildlife animal crossings provide more information.
  2. Plan yards that fit with the environment. You can plant native plants and trees for both beauty and for wildlife habitat. This can be designed to fit within the area’s corridor plans. If you want exotic plants or if you want to raise vegetables, fence them securely. If you plant within an animal’s home and then spread a tempting buffet, you can expect them to try it out. Keep poultry and other small animals secure as well.


Animals feel safe when they know they can escape into wooded areas. This corridor passes between homes and pastures.
Deer, coyotes, and many other animals and birds use this forested corridor between Glendale Creek and Holst Road on South Whidbey Island.



Problems with wildlife are usually the result of human behavior within the environment. People can live in harmony with their environment and wild creatures. Think ahead. Plan wisely. Relish the world around you and think about how to preserve it for all life.

You’ll find many resources online about living in harmony, about helping to create a healthier environment for all life. Natural Habitat Adventure Travel (in conjunction with World Wildlife Fund) is a fun way to start learning about living with wildlife. Check on this and other videos: Daily Dose of Nature Webinars. This is also an important resource for living harmoniously with wildlife: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Next blog: Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about snags (http://sunbreakpress.com/2021/09/05/snags-for-healthy-habitat/)

Free Critiques

Workshop Suspended?

Staying Home?

During these “stay at home” days, many writers are unable to gather for their workshops, classes, and interactions that help keep them motivated. To help in a small way, Marian Blue will be offering one free critique a week based on a random drawing. This will continue as long as the “stay at home” restriction is in place for Washington State.

To apply:

  • Send an email to Sunbreak Press with Free Critique in the subject line.
  • Attach, in a Word document, your manuscript.

Manuscript requirements:

  • Must be a Word document.
  • Must be 5,000 words or less.
  • Any genre (fiction, poetry, nonfiction), but only one complete work. (One poem, one short story, or one essay/memoir). Please don’t send selections out of larger works.

New Drawing Each Week

Every Wednesday, a random drawing will take place from all of those manuscripts submitted. If your work is selected, you’ll receive a critique via your return email address before the next drawing. If your work isn’t selected, it will be eligible for the next drawing.

Looking forward to reading your work

Wish more could be read, but time doesn’t allow. However, your critique will be thorough. You’ll receive a Word document response (with Track Changes) on your manuscript.

View more about Marian Blue at About Marian BlueBlue & Ude Writers Services, author bioAmazon Author page, Marian Blue; or The Independent Author Network, Marian Blue.

Creating Book Collections–Five Steps to Success

Compiling your short stories, poems, or essays into a compelling book collection involves alchemy.

You’ve written, revised and published several dozen short stories or poems. Editors like your work. Friends suggest a collection. You realize that if you collect your work in one book, it comes to almost 400 pages.

You compile your book and receive, at best, a lukewarm reception to the collection. Why?

Creating compelling collections involves more than a table of contents. To understand, imagine that I’ve taken five of my favorite foods–maybe ice cream, lasagna, eggplant, strawberries, oatmeal–and mixed them together. Want a taste?

Collections alone don’t improve your stories or poems; however, poorly designed collections can detract from good writing.

Similarity is a place to start. Coins in a butterfly collection? Probably not. Similarity alone, however, isn’t enough. Even if you have all poetry or fiction or nonfiction, the alchemy might fail. In fact, you can mix those major genres, and if you’ve performed alchemy, the collection can still work.

Many collections fail because writers forget that they’re no longer working with individual stories or poems but with a whole. Because of this, the first step in putting together a collection is changing your role. You have to transform yourself: You must stop being a writer.

Become an editor.

An editor is aware of alchemy: weave connections through juxtaposition and suggestion within the title and the cover illustration. Everything is brighter. The collection changes everything.

Becoming an editor requires increasing the distance between you and your work. Granted, this is easier to say than do. This is a little like treating your child as a separate individual (individuation) and not as your intelligent, attractive, kind, creative … you get the idea.

Step 1

Do you have enough material?

If you must include everything you’ve written to meet the minimum requirements, the answer is no.

Go back to writing. You need to have so much excess material that you can readily exclude material during the selection process.

Another option is to think smaller. Instead of a full-length collection, think about a chapbook.

This Differences Between a Short Story, Novelette, Novella, & a Novel is an article by Syed Hunbbel Meer that discusses lengths of different formats from flash fiction to novel.

Step 2

A compelling collection needs a theme. Become familiar with your own themes.

You can do this by reading your work with the idea of finding a one-word theme for each piece. Including a word about tone is good, too. When you’ve finished, you can sort material according to theme, topic, tone.

As you do this, you’re sneaking up on identifying your worldview as an author. Most authors aren’t aware of their own worldview or style as they write. That identification is often relegated to reviewers and editors (and often authors disagree with those evaluations).

Sometimes it helps to think about the style, tone, and worldview of a favorite author or two. For instance, Terry Pratchett uses humor, puns, irony, and sarcasm to display the illogical behavior of people and interactions with their own cultures. Although the books are purportedly about non-human cultures in a fantasy world, the wit is obviously directed at human foibles. The wit is sharp, but the attitude toward characters is benevolent. His work has an overall expectation of good.

You should be able to explain your work in these terms. If you can’t, seek help (from your workshop, reader friends, or a professional editor).

Step 3

Getting Your Ducks in a Row

After you’ve become familiar with yourself as author, again consider the work. Read it again while taking notes about theme, tone, and topic. Make marginal notes about repeated images or phrases. This can help you recognize connections within the work. Think about flow. If your work is dark, a little comic relief might be needed. Try not to have all the long poems or prose together. Think about the emotional play. Where will your reader need breathing space?

As you arrange your work, consider which story or poem is weakest. You want the best work in the beginning. Then consider a very strong piece for the middle and the end. You can use that strength to build energy.

Of course, collections don’t have to be read in chronological order, but most readers do so, at least for single-author collections. This comes, in part from experience. The flow in many classic collections builds and weaves; the nuances are lost if readers jump about within the pages. For instance, James Joyce’s collection Dubliners ends with the story “The Dead.” In the final scene, the main character is staring out his hotel window at the street.

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

The book has opened from the perspective of the street looking into a lighted window. It ends on the inside looking out.

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson is another collection that, in my opinion, builds nicely when read in order and feels choppy when read out of order. The material resonates as the chapters continue.

Step 4

Your collection, now arranged, is ready for some finishing touches.

Should you have sections? If this is prose, you probably don’t need sections. The titles alone can work, especially with a clear break (extra page) between stories and table of contents. Poetry sometimes works better with clear breaks.

First, consider the length you now have. If you’re down to a chapbook, sections might create a choppy effect. If you have a full-length book, lack of sections could bog the material down.

If you use sections, you have many options. You could just create breaks where you have clear transitions, such as tone or setting. Or you can have a blank page and then just a number for the new section. For another option, you could add an appropriate quote. For instance, when organizing How Many Words for Rain, I used quotes that were in the public domain for section breaks (such as Shakespeare). Sometimes a poem title is a link to all the work in a particular section.

Step 5

Collection title. Your collection should now be composed with an overall theme within which the individual titles and sections all fit. Your title should integrate your theme, worldview, and emotional tone.

Whew! That’s a lot.

Sometimes, the title of your strongest story/poem/essay fits. Sometimes you can combine a couple titles. Sometimes you need to reach outside the collection and come up with an umbrella word.

One of the best ways to come up with a title is to have a conversation about your writing, your themes, and your worldview with a friend. Explaining yourself sometimes gives you a different perspective. Then the right title words align themselves.

Another route is to work with an illustrator for the cover. After the illustrator reads the work and responds artistically, a title can come along like the tail of the dog.

Titles help unify collections. Remember that a collection, unlike an anthology with many authors, suggests the works have been chosen out of a wide selection to represent some particular aspect or theme within the author’s work. Collections often have titles that indicate themes.

The stories in these collections deal with refugees; libraries/books/language; and men without women. No surprises. Throwing a story about a dog’s love for a duck into any of these books would be like inserting a recipe for dog biscuits into this blog.

The Parts Become Greater

This article on poetry collections by Jeffrey Levine has been around a while, but the good ideas haven’t faded: Making the Poetry Manuscript.

When a collection has been put together with a theme in mind then arranged for emotional resonance, each piece is even better than it was on its own. In essence, new creation has taken place.

  1. Illustration to Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ (act IV, scene I), the three witches around a cauldron, proof state. 1806 Etching and engraving on chine collé Courtesy of British Museum.
Marian Blue has taught writing, literature and communication for Skagit Valley College, Writers Digest University, Old Dominion University, and Portland Community Schools as well as many writing conferences. See longer bio at “about Marian Blue”