Category Archives: December 2022

Spanish Lesson

By Carolina Garcia

Proverbs with Culinary Themes
A good way for Mexicans to remember their grandmothers is
with sayings and proverbs. Many of these refer to traditional
dishes. Here are some of the most popular and what they really
“Dar atole con el dedo”
Literal meaning: To feed someone atole (a hot drink made with
corn) with your finger , the way you would feed a baby.
What it really means: That you are talking to someone as
though they are stupid.

“Echarle crema a los tacos”
Literal meaning: To add cream to the tacos.
What it really means:
That someone is boasting ,bragging or exaggerating.

“A ojo de buen cubero”

Literal meaning: To watch the good barrel. Cubero is an old-
fashioned word for barrels that used to be used for water, oil

wine or rum.
What it really means:
To make an educated yet imprecise guess. To do something by

“A darle que es mole de olla”
Literal meaning: Go for it because it is mole from the pot.
What it really means: That something needs to be done right

“No se puede chiflar y comer pinole al mismo tiempo.”
Literal meaning: You can’t whistle and eat ground maize at the
same time.
What it really means: Stop multi-tasking.

All of us Mexicans have heard these proverbs from our
grandmothers at least once. Now with the passage of time they
are not as common to hear but they will always be present.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“In our consumer culture, we always want the next best thing: the latest, the newest, the youngest. Failing that, we at least want more: more intensity, more variety, more stimulation. We seek instant gratification and are increasingly intolerant of any frustration. Nowhere are we encouraged to be satisfied with what we have, to think, “This is good. This is enough.”— Esther Perel

It feels as though every December I sit down to write my editorial and I say the same thing- shop less. Our planet and our lives are full of clutter. People have so much junk that the storage business is booming just so they can store their ever-growing piles of stuff.

So rather than issue a de-cluttering challenge where I encourage you to get rid of one thing a day for the next year- a pair of pants you haven’t fit into for the last five years, your CD collection, the junk that decorates your life. Rather than tell you how great it is to do your Christmas shopping from your own home- give your sister those earrings she covets, give your best friend your favorite book with a handwritten note.

This year I encourage you to sit with yourself and ask yourself what you need. What do you need? I guarantee it isn’t an insta-pot or a new dress. We all have a hunger inside of us that needs filling and I promise you it can’t be ordered through Amazon.

Sit with yourself and breathe- even better if you can do this in nature- the forest, the beach, rain, snow or shine- somewhere away from the traffic of consumerism. Search your body and soul for parts you want to fill- listen closely and you will hear them. Maybe your hunger is for more community, maybe you need deeper connection with your children, your spouse, your parents. Maybe you want more intimacy. Maybe you want to feel safe- financially and emotionally. Maybe you want to be less lonely. Maybe you want more time alone.

The information coming at you would have you believe that you can buy your way out of these feelings. Technology has given us a vertical expansion of comparison so that we aren’t only getting feelings of inadequacy from our neighbors buying a new car, we are comparing ourselves to celebrities and people with no visible talent but millions of followers. No amount of stuff, power or money will ever satiate what you really hunger for.

So this year buy whatever you think you want. Throw away the packaging and enjoy your shiny new toys. Then see how you feel after the luster has worn off the high. Sit long enough with yourself and you will find the path to fill the hunger and maybe by the next holiday season you’ll buy less- not because it’s good for the environment but because it’s good for yourself.

Spread love and light everywhere you go.
See you in January,


I really don’t know clouds at all.

By Randy Jackson

I was in my early teens when I first heard the song “Both Sides Now,” a Joni Mitchell song first made into a hit by Judy Collins. Like my contemporaries back then, I was more into the burgeoning rock and roll scene, which didn’t include Judy Collins. But even though I first thought the song was more fitting for my parents’ generation, I was struck by its emotional power, which still resonates when I hear the song today.

It’s the first verse of the song, about the variability of clouds, that sets the stage for the subsequent verses on love and on life. As the song goes, clouds can be like ice cream castles in the air, yet they rain and snow on everyone. Clouds at times represent both the beauty of nature unfolding before us, and at other times they are the raw unleashed power of nature itself. It’s no wonder Joni wrote the line, “I really don’t know clouds at all.”

Clouds, whether they form ice cream castles or storms, are the visual manifestation of climate. Clouds (rain), or their absence (drought), have maintained and destroyed civilizations. Here in Huatulco, we are on part of the lands of the earliest mesoamerican civilization, the Zapotec, the people of the clouds. Although many of us are seasonal visitors here, avoiding the clouds, snow, and storms of winter, globally we continue to see more severe weather events, so it might be wise to know a little about clouds.

Four different cloud types – an interesting sample!

Cloud Type: Shelf Cloud
Photograph location: Yucatan, Mexico

A shelf or wall cloud has a dark bottom and a clearly defined structure low to the ground. Photographs of these clouds are among the most striking images of storm clouds. These cloud formations are very common (although typically not this clearly defined). They bring thunderstorms – if one is approaching, take cover.

Cloud Type: Anvil Cloud
Photograph location: Near the France/Italy border

An anvil cloud occurs when updrafts reach a point in the atmosphere where the cloud can no longer rise so it spreads out in all directions. This is also a thunderstorm cloud, with strong lightning wind and rain potential.

Cloud type: Overshooting Top
Photo Location: Greece

An overshooting top has such powerful updrafts that it bursts above the layer of an anvil cloud forming a dome much higher in the atmosphere. If this dome is sustained for 10 or more minutes, very severe weather is likely. If you see this formation, take shelter.

Cloud type: Roll Cloud
Photo location: Uruguay

A roll cloud is not a bad weather cloud. It occurs when there is a boundary like a cold front or certain breezes that cause a horizontal vortex, often over bodies of water. These unique clouds are fairly rare.

It’s no wonder Joni Mitchell’s line “I really don’t know clouds” has such universal appeal. Clouds are complicated. The International Cloud Atlas has two volumes with 224 pictures describing 10 main cloud families divided into 14 species. Do you know what the largest supercomputers in the world do (besides quantum mechanics)? Weather forecasting. And as we know, they don’t always get it right.

It turns out that clouds are a bit of a wild card in modeling climate change scenarios. Cloud formation modeling requires extremely fine-scale physics. The behavior of water droplets (what clouds are) in concert with temperature, humidity, winds, and numerous other weather variables, cannot be fully calibrated even with today’s supercomputers. However, advances in machine learning may have helped scientists take a step towards more accurate modeling of clouds. Author Chelsea Harvey, in “Clouds May Speed Up Global Warming” (Scientific American, July, 2021), outlines the results of recent machine learning algorithms on cloud formations and climate change. Unfortunately, new computer modeling rules out most of the moderate climate change scenarios. Although bad news for us all, at least knowing something more about clouds is helpful.

The scientific study of clouds is certainly over my head (pun intended, insert chuckle or groan). But there is one thing we all do know about clouds: they can be astoundingly beautiful. One recent morning at Santa Cruz bay, for example, a large bank of dark clouds dominated the horizon. The rising sun, just behind one corner of the cloud structure, was brilliantly illuminating the upper edge of the clouds while projecting geometric rays into the atmosphere. Down below, at the edge of the far horizon, rain clouds connected with the sea. And with the sea and sky the same slate gray color, Santa Cruz bay looked like a water ramp up to the clouds, meeting, as parallel lines seem to join at the farthest point of our vision. It was maybe one of a million beautiful cloud vistas on earth that day. I wonder how many other observers of such vistas, like me, started humming “I really don’t know clouds at all.”

*refer to the post in the magazine to see the photos of clouds with the descriptions

Huatulco’s Selva Seca

By Julie Etra

How many times have you heard a newbie’s surprise upon arriving in Huatulco in the dry season, which corresponds with the high tourist season, wondering what happened to the lush tropical green jungle shown on glossy brochures and websites?

What is the Selva Seca?

Welcome to the selva seca, the “dry jungle.” Huatulco has a caducifolio, or deciduous, ecosystem, an unusual semi-tropical forest in which most trees lose their leaves. Although not unique to Mexico, it is best represented in this country, and it occurs in a number of Mexican states, in particular along our beautiful Oaxacan coast. The selva seca occupies approximately 11.7% (226,898 km²) of the total area of Mexico, along the Pacific coast from southern Sonora and southwestern Chihuahua to Chiapas, continuing to Tehuantepec with small portions in the extreme south of the Baja California Peninsula and in the north of the Yucatan Peninsula. Selvas secas are generally found from sea level up to 1,500 meters, and occasionally to 1,900 meters above sea level in very dry areas.

The selva seca is described as warm-subhumid tropical – it gets HOT. As any Huatulqueño can attest, this warm climate has an average annual temperature of 27ºC (80.6ºF), a bit lower in the ‘winter’ and dry months, with approximately 330 sunny days a year. The rainy season, which dumps an average of 100 cm (over 39 inches), ends around November/December, and starts again in late May/June, preceded by a very hot, humid, and buggy period in mid-to-late April until the rains begin. Soils are typically rocky, with a poorly developed layer of organic matter.

This ecosystem can be further divided into subcategories; the selva seca on the Oaxacan coast, about 66,492 sq. km (about 24,670 sq. mi.), is described as selva baja caducifolia or selva baja espinosa caducifolia, with espinosa meaning “spiny,” as we do have a number of spiny plants and many species of cactus. In English it is also referred to as low (the baja part) deciduous forest, tropical deciduous forest, low deciduous forest, or sub-humid forest. These forests are considered evergreen when less than 25% of the species lose their leaves, sub-evergreen when 25 to 50% of the species lose their leaves, sub-deciduous (50 to 75% of the species lose their leaves) or deciduous (more than 75% of the species lose their leaves). Since more than 75% of the coastal trees lose their leaves, the coast of Oaxaca is best defined in English as deciduous.

Plant Life of the Selva Seca

This forest has approximately 6,000 species of plants, of which almost 40 are endemic, meaning they are only found in these ecosystems and are adapted to drought.

The height of the dominant woody vegetation is often 15 meters or less (under 50 feet) for the selva baja. In addition to trees, this ecosystem supports a variety of shrubs, lianas (vines), epiphytes (the pinkish pineapple-like piñuela seen in the planting beds of many of the medians on major roads) and agaves.

Small trees include the huaje or guaje (Leucaena leucocephala), for which Oaxaca was named (it means “place where the huaje grows”), which produces a pea-like pod replete with peas. Some trees like the cuachalalá or cuachalalate (Amphipterygium adstringens), whose bark is used for medicinal purposes, drop their leaves at the very beginning of the dry season – snowbirds never get to see the leaves.

The guanacastle or guanacaste (Enterolobium cyclocarpum), Huatulco’s magnificent huge shade tree, welcomes visitors and residents en route from highway 200 to Huatulco, along the median just south of the Fonatur logo. In early to mid-April, the guanacastles exhibit new bright green leafy growth, having detected the increase in ambient humidity.

There are at least five species of copal (Bursera spp.), all of which drop their leaves in winter. One species, known commonly as mulato, has the gorgeous flakey red bark so visually outstanding in the native forest. Copal trees produces a resin which hardens into incense used in spiritual ceremonies for centuries; the bark apparently also produced pigments for painting the ancient ruins of Mexico. Most people who visit Mexico, however, will encounter the wood of a copal tree when they purchase an alebrije, the colorful, fanciful figures carved and painted by Mexical folk artists.

What Stays Green in the Selva Seca?

Of course, not all our native species fall into the 75% deciduous category (by the way, coconut palms are not native, but we do have a native palm, the sabal Mexicana whose pencas (fronds) are used in palapa construction). Riparian corridors stay green, the shrubby ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens or madcogalii), with its white or red flowers, respectively, is barely deciduous, and the ceiba tree, also called pochote, can look a little ratty, but not for long.

The Best of the Selva Seca

What I especially love about the dry season is the number of trees that flower! We have three species of macuil (Tabebuia rosea) with their big, showy purple, pink, and yellow flowers, the guayacán (Guaiaccum coulteri)with its yellow-centered purple flowers, and the magnificent cojón de caballo or cojón de toro (Tabernaemontana donnell-smithii), its large yellow flower appearing early in the winter, contrasting with its smooth white/silvery bark. Translated, as you might guess, as the horse- or bull-ball tree, it is named for the shape of its fruit, which grows in pairs.

The final benefit of being in the selva seca in the dry season is the birdlife, both residents and winter migrants. They are so much easier to see and identify in the less leafy landscape, making this area a winter birder’s paradise!

Ocean-Saving Innovations

By Kary Vannice

The Eye has published any number of articles on threats faced by our oceans – here’s a review of progress achieved with the use of innovative technologies.

Restoring Our Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are critical underwater ecosystems that contribute to the overall health of our planet, not to mention the global economy. Coral reefs are major harbingers of biodiversity. Even though they occupy less than one percent of the ocean floor, they are home to more than 25% of all marine life. And more than 500 million people worldwide rely on reefs for their livelihood, food, and protection from natural disaster. Economically speaking, the value of coral reefs is around $7 billion US annually.

Because of their environmental and economic importance, protecting, regenerating, and restoring ocean reefs has become a major driver of scientific innovation and design. Australian researchers have recently tested two very innovative ideas to help regenerate the Great Barrier Reef, one above the water and one below.

Hoping to prevent the coral from dying out, a team of scientists created a special turbine that sprays microscopic sea particles into the sky above a reef. This fine mist creates a cloudlike shadow over the reef, which cools the water temperature below. The idea is to use this technique during heatwaves to protect the delicate habitat below from what’s known as “coral bleaching,” which puts the coral under extreme stress and often leads to its death.

Another team of Australian scientists has been testing a unique theory based on sound. They recognized that the more damaged a reef was, the less noise it produced. So, they began playing the sounds of a healthy reef over a loudspeaker underwater in an unhealthy reef location to see if it would have any beneficial effects. After a 40-day “acoustic enrichment” experiment, the number of fish within that section of the reef doubled, and the number of other species increased by 50%.

Cleaning Up Fossil Fuels

Over the last few decades, social and political pressures have forced major oil companies to clean up their act and work to prevent large-scale oil spillage. But a “hidden” pollutant may pose an even bigger problem in this area. In September, the US-based National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report that said land-based runoff is up to 20 times higher than it was 20 years ago. Most of that runoff comes from highways, parking lots, vehicle washing, and vehicle fluid leaks that find their way into local streams and rivers that eventually run into our oceans.

With this kind of rapidly increasing pollution, cleaning fossil fuels out of our oceans is quickly becoming an environmental priority.

In May of this year, a team of Mexican scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) made the news with a new technique that can be used to clean oil and other substances, like fertilizers, out of the oceans.

The team created nanotubes made from a combination of an aluminosilicate clay mineral (halloysite) and a highly magnetic mineral (magnetite). Once the nanotubes are deployed, they can apply a magnetic field and essentially “pull out” the oil. Their project leader, Marina Vargas Rodriguez, explained, “If the spill occurs near the beach, we will have the option of pulling the contaminant into the open sea so that it does not affect our beaches and, at the same time, the oil can be recovered and reused.”

This new technology does not adversely affect marine wildlife, and once the oil is recovered, it can be reused, so it does not go to waste.

Addressing Acidification

The ocean naturally absorbs about 30% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) from our atmosphere. Industrial activity has steadily increased the amount of CO2 in our air, which means the ocean now absorbs significantly more than historically normal levels. As CO2 dissolves into the ocean, it combines with seawater and becomes carbonic acid. This changes the pH of the water and acidifies our oceans.

A Newfoundland-based non-profit called GreenWave has developed a system of ocean farming that regenerates underwater ecosystems by creating carbon and nitrogen sinks. This trapping of excess carbon and nitrogen helps to reduce ocean acidification. This innovative underwater framing model focuses on vertical farming of scallops, mussels, oysters, and clams, all for human consumption, and seaweed that is turned into animal feed, fertilizers, and plastic alternatives.

This project not only helps to reduce acidification, but it also produces environmentally friendly farmed shellfish and other organic byproducts to help reduce environmental pollutants like chemical fertilizers and single-use plastics.

Another, perhaps less practical, but equally innovative attempt at acidification reduction comes from the San Francisco-based nonprofit Vesta. With a team of scientists with a range of disciplines, Vesta proposes to cover 2% of the world’s beaches with crushed olivine – the area required to offset 100% of human CO2 emissions. Olivine is a green volcanic mineral that naturally absorbs CO2, which means it’s basically an air purifier, naturally sucking carbon dioxide out of the sky and ocean, locking it inside, and eventually becoming part of beneficial marine environments such as coral reefs.

Olivine can absorb up to 1.25 tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of olivine, but this process normally takes millions of years. However, Vesta researchers theorize that if they grind the olivine into a fine sand and distribute it on beaches, wave action can accelerate the process and help reduce acidification more quickly. There are already four strikingly green olivine beaches that occur naturally in Hawaii, the Galápagos Islands, Guam and Norway.

These are just a few of the thousands of innovative projects focused on saving our ocean ecosystems. If you’re interested in learning more about creative innovations that aim to solve our current climate crisis, you can check out the World Economic Forum’s open innovation platform,, which facilitates entrepreneurial “positive systemic change for people and the planet.”

Things I Wish I’d Known about the Climate
before Moving to HUX

By Brooke O’Connor

If you come from a country north of the border, here are some things you may not know about Huatulco’s climate; here’s my experience of how I learned to adjust.

The Sun

Full sun in Huatulco means a UV index of 11+ most of the year. Check out this chart to see what that means for your skin type – the chart shows the time it will take before your skin starts to burn.

I did not believe I could burn within 10-15 minutes. I was wrong. We are close to the equator and closer to the sun.

My must-haves:
● Long-sleeved rash guard from 12 pm-4 pm if on the beach
● Wide-brimmed hats
● Good sunglasses with a UV rating
● Reef-safe sunscreen (more on that later)
● Homemade after-sun treatment – aloe gel mixed with generous amounts of lavender essential oil. This is magic and will take out the red overnight if applied liberally after a shower.
● Shop in the morning, stay indoors until late afternoon


All that sun and the abundant humidity make it hot. Heat stroke is a real issue. Cervesas and margaritas are delicious on a hot day, but dehydrating alcohol needs to be balanced out with water.

Fortunately, the needed water comes in many forms. Suero drinks (electrolyte drinks), agua de sabor or aguas frescas (fruit-flavored waters), and good old agua natural from the bottle. Drink some of each daily.

Fortunately, the needed water comes in many forms. Suero drinks (electrolyte drinks), agua de sabor or aguas frescas (fruit-flavored waters), and good old agua natural from the bottle. Drink some of each daily.

I’ve heard of several people going to the hospital for IV fluids because dehydration sneaks up like a pouncing jaguar. The minute I feel a headache, or dizziness, I know I’ve got to kick into gear and guzzle some form of agua.

My must-haves:
● Salt liberally with good natural sea salt, not table salt (which contains only sodium). Sweat drains the body of essential minerals that keep things going – like your heart!
● Drink a good amount of water in the morning, then keep track during the day. Drink half your weight in ounces or half your weight x 30ml per day.
● After every alcoholic drink, have some water.
● Eat more fruit! It contains mostly water and a lot of vitamins and minerals. The ladies selling sliced fruit on the beach are wonderful.


Almost everybody sweats, some of us more than others. The crossroads of humidity, heat, and menopause have drastically increased my output. This created the perfect storm for rashes and constantly wet clothing.

My must-haves:
● Only natural fiber clothing – linen, cotton, and silk.
● Lowered my sense of modesty. No one here cares if you have fat arms or cellulite. Be cool.
● A quick rinse-off shower during the day.
● Body powder. I have an assortment, from lovely smells to medicated, depending on the body part and the need. Use liberally.
● Forget makeup. It melts off. Hurray for tattoo brows and eyeliner. Embrace the lip gloss.


Humidity brings mold. It’s that simple. No more waiting to do laundry. No more balling up towels on the floor. Wear it, wash it, dry it well, and store it in an area with ventilation.

The key is never letting the mold take hold. Mold is hard to kill, and many items have to be thrown away after the smell and black spots appear, like my favorite straw hat.

Bugs like dark places where there isn’t a lot of movement. I used to clean my closet every year in the states. Now it’s a weekly job. Under sofas, beds and chairs can quickly become spider hangouts. But there are ways to keep critters at bay.

Things I do now:
● Empty the beach bag immediately. It either needs to be washed or hung out to dry. Nothing waits till tomorrow.
● Never start a load of laundry unless I’m committed to seeing it through to the end of that day.
● I don’t like chemicals, so I use diatomaceous earth powder in the dark corners, and occasionally around window sills. It dehydrates most bug bodies while keeping a nontoxic home for myself.
● We embrace and encourage the house geckos. They don’t seem to harm anything, and they go into dark places to hunt. Diatomaceous earth only harms invertebrates, so I know I’m not poisoning them.
● We have a bat. I only know this because it leaves poops on the windowsill. Although not my favorite animal, it keeps the mosquitoes away, and it hasn’t tried to suck my blood on the full moon, so I think we’re safe.
● Keep as many items as possible in bins, baskets, and containers so it’s easy to pull out and put them back.
● Silicone packets. I used to throw them away as soon as I opened a package. Now I deliberately put them in everything I can. They can be reused by drying them in the oven. Check out this how-to info:


Fruits and vegetables grow like crazy here. They also wither and die quickly. They haven’t been sprayed with chemicals or bathed in bleach, so the natural bacteria do their job.

On top of that, fresh produce needs to be washed and disinfected because the soil here is healthy, and has organisms we don’t find in the north. It can cause some tummy upset if your gut biome isn’t used to it. I know some people use a few drops of bleach in the water, but I use a colloidal silver preparation called Quality Day – you can buy at the supermarket in the veggie section.

Things I do now:

● Shop several times a week and keep food rotated.
● I opted for special fridge containers to preserve fresh fruit and veggies.
● Cook large batches in the morning (cooler time to cook), and freeze individual portions.
● Immediately put baked goods into sealed containers and in the fridge.
● Dry my fresh cheese (if it’s wet), and put it in the fridge without a cover. After one day it goes in a sealed container.
● Use thermal bags to do shopping.
● Take antiparasitic medicine every 6 months.
● Make sure the refrigerator is working at the right temperature.

Rainy Season vs Dry Season

When I moved to Huatulco, I imagined the rainy season meant monsoons and months of flooding. What it really means is the possibility of rain. Many times, there are evening showers or overnight pours. Very few days are rainy all day.

Hurricanes don’t usually hit Huatulco. This part of the Pacific is the birthing place of many storms, and because of our unique position, we will only get the tails of it for a day or two.

The dry season is exactly that. Dry. No rain for about six months. So when the rains come, we rejoice. The trees come alive again, the fruits start to grow, and the animals are relieved from the relenting heat.

Coral and Sea Life

Whether you believe in climate change or not, one thing for sure is the temperature of the waters has gone up. This causes the coral reefs to become covered in algae, which chokes them from getting sunlight, and they eventually die. When the coral dies, the fish population dies.

A few things we learned:
● Do NOT touch the coral reefs. Not only can you get cut, but you can damage the reef.
● Treat yourself to good, reef-friendly sunscreen. Unfortunately, they don’t sell it everywhere. When I find it, I stock up.
● Do not take the seashells or pieces of coral home. There’s a hefty fine if they find sand, shells, or coral in suitcases at the airport. Removing these essential parts of the ecosystem is eroding the beaches and damaging sea life.
● Don’t touch the animals in or out of the water. They aren’t pets and can be damaged.


Overall, we’ve found Huatulco to be one of the healthiest and most beautiful places to live on the planet. With a little preparation, all things are possible in paradise!

Update on the Monarch Butterfly

By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken

Mexico plays an important role in the life cycle of Mariposa monarca, or monarch butterfly, a species that is rapidly dwindling due to climate change. Every year monarchs migrate thousands of miles from northeastern US and Canada southward for the winter, and then northward for the summer. The southbound destination for about 70 percent of all these butterflies is in a forest between Michoacán and Estado de Mexico that has been set aside by Mexico as the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. This 56,000-hectare (140,000-acre) reserve was established in 1980, at which time the number of butterflies migrating there was estimated in the hundreds of millions, approaching a billion. This was well before any significant level of concern about climate change.

Monarchs are known to have migrated to this area since pre-Hispanic times, centuries ago. Studies of the legends of pre-Columbian indigenous people in Michoacán found descriptions of swarms of butterflies flying high overhead in November. The legends depicted them as protectors of the souls of deceased relatives who were returning for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is celebrated around the same time.

As the Climate Warms, Monarchs Disappear

The population of migratory monarchs is estimated annually by measuring the area in Mexico’s Biosphere reserve that is covered with butterflies in mid-winter. Analogous measurements are made for the western monarch butterfly, which overwinters in California, including at a reserve near our US home. A few decades ago, there were so many butterflies that the sound of their wings in the trees was like a rippling stream or a rainstorm. Now visitors or scientists have to stand quietly still and stare carefully to observe any butterflies.

The decline in the number of butterflies overwintering in Mexico has been so precipitous (estimated at up to 99 percent in this century, and currently averaging 22 percent per year) that in July 2022 monarchs were placed on the threatened species list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), meaning that they are in danger of worldwide extinction unless there is major intervention.

Climate change has impacted the migratory pattern of the monarchs, both in the US and Canada where they breed and in Mexico where they overwinter and become dormant. The temperatures where the butterflies become dormant need to stay cool enough so the butterflies’ metabolism is suppressed and they don’t need to eat nectar (which is nonexistent in the winter) to survive. As temperatures rise in the overwinter destinations, the butterflies become more active but do not have the food they need for survival.

The butterflies actually have developed an adaptation to address this problem. Researchers who take measurements annually observe that the monarchs adjust upward the elevation of resting places they choose in the forests of Mexico. However, the adaptation (around a meter upward a year) has not been adequate to counteract all effects of climate change. For example, climate change has also produced unpredictable fluctuations between too hot and too cold for the butterflies, or between too rainy and too dry.

As Habitat Disappears, So Do Monarchs

Another effect of climate change particularly important to monarchs is the gradual disappearance of milkweed in fields of the US and Canada. Milkweed plants are the only location where female monarchs lay their eggs, so their absence leads to an interruption of the reproductive purpose of the northward portion of migration. In addition to climate change’s detrimental effect on milkweed plants, grasslands containing milkweed and nectar-producing wildflowers in the areas on the butterflies’ migration routes are being converted to cornfields to produce cattle feed and to ranches where the herds can range. The more corn and cattle, the more methane produced by the cattle, the more climate change, the fewer wildflowers and milkweed plants, and thus fewer monarchs.

So what, aside from eschewing steak and hamburgers, should be done to help prevent extinction of the monarchs? The World Wildlife Foundation has a simple recommendation that can be carried out by individual families on the migratory routes. Their motto for this recommendation is “all it takes is one square foot.” By planting native local wildflowers in a garden or flower box, you can assist all kinds of pollinators – not only monarchs but bees and hummingbirds, which are also experiencing declining populations.

You may be rewarded by the sight of monarchs coming to sip nectar from your minigarden – not the erstwhile millions, but in sufficient numbers to know we haven’t entirely wiped these beautiful beings from the face of the earth.

Fighting for the Oceans

By Sandra Roussy

The oceans are in danger. Ocean habitats and marine biodiversity are being threatened by unsustainable and unregulated fishing practices, exploitation of marine wildlife, and plastic waste. Human activity is proving to be destructive to ocean ecosystems, coral reefs, and coasts all around the world at an alarming rate. Marine environments need biodiversity to survive and remain healthy. Some species simply can’t survive when ecosystems become unbalanced, which in turn affects a variety of other species. That includes us.

Ocean conservation organizations help to protect and defend marine wildlife, ocean ecosystems, and habitats through direct action tactics, research, and outreach programs. Most ocean conservation groups are non-profit organizations that rely on donations and active hands-on help from people. People like you!

“If the oceans die, we die.”
– Captain Paul Watson

What You Can Do to Help Save the Oceans

Ever wonder how you can do your part to help the oceans? Saving the oceans is an enormous challenge; it can leave you feeling helpless before such a monumental task. But when you start consciously doing things that are beneficial and not harmful to the ocean, you can say that you are doing your part. Big or small, it all counts. Don’t throw your hands up because you don’t have the time or the skills to get on a boat to go stop illegal poachers off the coast of Africa, or dive into the coral reefs in Australia to document their destruction. There are other simpler ways that you can step in to help preserve the oceans and marine wildlife.

Donate to Ocean Conservation Organizations: Donate money directly to conservation groups. This is the easiest thing you can do if you don’t have the time to allocate to action. Your money goes directly to the ships and crews out there protecting the oceans and defending marine wildlife full-time.

Go to the website of your conservation organization of choice and find the donate button. They all will take one-time donations and most will also have the option of setting you up with a monthly recurring donation.

Also, some groups participate in environmental fairs and other events where they do outreach and accept donations on the spot.

Volunteer Your Time: The next best thing to do is become active with ocean conservation groups. Find operational chapters in your area and inquire about where and how they need help.

I am part of the Sea Shepherd onshore volunteer group, and together with the ship crew, we sell merchandise and educate people about what is happening in the oceans.

Purchase Merchandise: Show your support by wearing a t-shirt from your favorite ocean conservation organization!

Non-profit ocean conservation organizations finance most of their activities through donations but also a big chunk of funding comes through sales of merchandise. Go to their websites and check the shops.

Local Beach Clean-Ups: Organize beach and coastal clean-ups in your area or join an existing group. Every plastic bottle, fishing net, or other debris that you remove from the beach will not end up in in a marine animal or sea bird. I regularly do local beach and coastal clean-ups with the Sea Shepherd team and local volunteers. We meet a minimum of twice a month and more frequently during the stormy season when a lot of plastic and trash ends up on the beaches from the runoff of the rivers.

Check Facebook pages in coastal areas for active beach clean-up events in your area and join them or create your own.

Crew on Ships: Do you have what it takes to be on the frontline? If so, become an active crew member on a ship. They are in constant need of captains, deckhands, cooks, researchers, and media people to help keep the boats busy on campaigns. Check ocean conservation websites and apply to become a crew member.

Personal Actions: There are simple things that you can do in your daily life to help protect the state of the oceans. First, educate yourself. Find out where the fish you buy comes from and whether it is a sustainable species. Second, minimize your use of single-use plastics and properly reuse or recycle your plastic consumption so that it doesn’t end up polluting the ocean.

Ocean Conservation Organizations

Ocean conservation groups all have the same goal in mind, but vary in the way they tackle their missions. Some use aggressive non-violent direct actions to confront poachers and other illegal activity, while others concentrate on assisting in research and educating future generations.

The pioneer ocean conservation society Sea Shepherd is an international and non-profit marine conservation organization that has been fighting to defend, conserve and protect the world’s oceans for over 45 years. Sea Shepherd has gone and will continue to go where no other conservation groups dare to go to safeguard marine wildlife. Their ongoing international direct-action campaigns are meant to stop illegal exploitation and outdated fishing practices.

Sea Shepherd’s goal is to defend the biodiversity of marine ecosystems by acting against environmental destruction. In 2018, after a 40-year battle, the organization managed to put a stop to commercial Japanese whaling activities. You may remember the “Whale Wars” documentary series that ran on Animal Planet from 2008 to 2015. Sea Shepherd has active international campaigns, notably the Milagro campaign to help save the almost extinct vaquita porpoise in the Sea of Cortez here in Northern Mexico.

Captain Paul Watson recently left Sea Shepherd, the organization he founded over 45 years ago, to start a new initiative, the Captain Paul Watson Foundation. The Foundation will work to continue Watson’s passionate defense of the seas by using aggressive but non-violent tactics to stop illegal operations that exploit life in the ocean.

Many other organizations, like Ocean Conservancy, Ocean Conservation Society, 4ocean, and Oceana are out there protecting the oceans every day and they won’t stop as long as the oceans are still threatened.

Visit these websites for more information about ocean conservation and learn how you can support the movement.

*Featured image from Proceso Magazine

It Was A Very Good Year: Best Reads of 2022

By Carole Reedy

The incomparable Maria Callas said once of an opera, “An opera … becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I have left the opera house.”

I would use the same words to describe the way I feel about the books I read this year – each is unique in style, structure, and content. All of them enrapture and engage, while giving us food for thought long after we’ve finished reading. They are lush and contain all we hope for in a reading experience.

To Paradise, by Hanya Yanagihara
After turning the last page of this book in March, I knew it would be my top read of 2022. As with her earlier masterpiece, A Little Life (2015), Yanagihara dissects and analyzes while elaborating on the world she creates for the reader.

Yanagihara’s newest story is divided into three parts set a century apart. The first part starts in 19th century New York City, but not the New York we think we know. Yanagihara has designed a new entity out of the territories of the US following the Civil War. As a result, life is very different.

A century later, we are taken to Hawaii, and then a century after that to a new dimension. Although this is a lengthy book, you won’t need a list of characters or a family tree before you begin. As the flow and tension of the writing consumes you, the characters become evident in their placement in history.

Great Circle: A Novel, by Maggie Shipstead
I heard about this book through my book grapevine, which includes readers of all ages and backgrounds. Published in 2021, here’s a book that is widely admired and loved. And little wonder. The two stories at the center, one present day and the other 50 years earlier, are centered around strong women characters.

The current-day heroine is an actress, the counter heroine an airplane pilot. Their lives parallel in many ways, and the juxtaposition makes for a compelling, enjoyable, and even educational read.

The Marriage Portrait: A Novel, by Maggie O’Farrell
This historical novel arrives with great anticipation on the coattails of O’Farrell’s beautifully rendered Hamnet (2020) and it is a worthy successor. In The Marriage Portrait we live and empathize with the 16-year-old Lucrezia de Medici who lives her life in the lush Italian Renaissance world with all its conventions and excesses.

O’Farrell’s novel is said to have been inspired by the Robert Browning poem “My Last Duchess,” just as the author’s previous novel was based on the life of Shakespeare and his play Hamlet. O’Farrell relies on poetic justice to weave the intricacies of this story and period with a flair and sensitivity rarely found in historical novels.

Lessons: A Novel, by Ian McEwan
For me, this is McEwen’s magnum opus. In his lifetime’s worth of novels he has blessed us with a constellation of style, length, and personages. This surprisingly lengthy (449 pages) novel simply follows the story of a man across all the upheavals of time and history.

Through the characters we experience decades of disruption and tragedies brought about by war and man’s flaws. It is beautifully rendered and said to be quasi-autobiographic.

Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart
Shuggie Bain, the young boy in the novel of the same name (2020), was the creation of Douglas Stuart based on his own life. There are few writers who can so adeptly transport us to an alien world and also break our hearts. In this book, Stuart generates an empathy rarely experienced by readers. I felt it a privilege to be taken into Shuggie’s sphere and life in 20th century Scotland.

This second novel is equally worthy. Here the teenage Mungo suffers the trials of poverty and being different in a society struggling with religious conflict. Once again, Stuart’s lyricism captures the essence of this world and brings it clearly into our hearts and minds.

Hell of a Book, by Jason Mott
While awaiting the world to return to normal as the calendar changed from 2021 to 2022, I read this novel by an author I didn’t know, but I knew immediately it would be on this list at the end of the year.

We book enthusiasts love to read about books, publishing, and even the whirlwind author tours. While telling this story, the author takes us on a double journey, with the writer/protagonist performing the tasks expected of his publisher, but also tackling the ghosts of his past.

Watt deservingly won the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction for this most engaging novel.

Babysitter: A Novel, by Joyce Carol Oates
This is the Joyce Carol Oates I love, a novel reminiscent of her 70s masterpieces. It is frightening in its spot-on depiction of a rich suburban housewife and her emotionally charged, rash decisions. Every fiber in your body wants to shout “Don’t do that!”

A supporting sub story tells of another suburban nightmare: the threat of a serial killer in the midst of a closed, pristine community. As always, Oates tightly knits the daily chaos of our modern world into a compelling story, a talent she’s mastered over the years.

Oates has been writing for more than 50 years and has produced more than 100 written works, from short stories and essays to many of our favorite novels. Her early novels – Them (1969), A Garden of Earthly Delights (1967), Expensive People (1968) – and a couple of decades later, We Were the Mulvaneys (1996) and Blonde (2000) have assured her a prominent place in the history of American literature.

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, by Alan Hochschild
Published in 1998, this is the sole nonfiction book to make my list. To me, it reads like a novel in its detailed plot and character development.

The story is told through main characters who are involved in the corruption and dismantling of the Congo by imperialist Europeans in the late 19th century. It is probably one of the most disturbing books I have read, depicting the greed and divisiveness of white men in their attempts to protect the status quo and their white empires. King Leopold II of Belgium desired exceedingly to head an empire, and the jealousy he feels toward his counterparts and cousins in other European countries who had their own empires leads him to take over the Congo, depleting the area of its valued ivory and rubber, making the rich even richer and the poor dead.

Alan Hochschild also has described the tragedies of the Spanish Civil War in his recent well-regarded book, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (2017). He depicts the Americans who traveled to Spain to participate as freedom fighters against the dictator Franco. Both books are fine examples of how fact and history can entertain as well as educate.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh
This author’s name seemed to come out of nowhere, and now you see it everywhere. Justifiably, the waitlist is lengthy at the Chicago Public Library to obtain any of her novels, including her book of short stories, Homesick for Another World (2017). Moshfegh’s attraction is her style, which I would describe as “patient.” In My Year of Rest and Relaxation, published in 2018, as in her novels Death in Her Hands (2020) and Eileen: A Novel (2015), the protagonist’s dilemma is resolved only after a careful and thorough rendering of the situation.

This book isn’t quite as easy-going as the title suggests, and the approach is even more complicated. What appears simple is complex, as the writer takes us slowly through each step of the protagonist’s recovery.

Ottessa Moshfegh is a name to remember. She’s an American of Croatian and Persian descent. I am sure we will see more of her work in the future.

Trust, by Hernan Diaz
As I wrote this entry, I coincidentally received the news that Trust had won the Kirkus Prize for Fiction for 2022 (Kirkus is a commercial book review service that covers an enormous range and number of books).

Trust comprises four manuscripts, in varying states of completion, that explore the capacity of money “to bend and align reality.” There is a novel-within-a-novel about a Wall Street tycoon who benefited from the 1929 stock market crash and his wife, who ended up mentally ill in a Swiss sanitarium; the partial memoir of a second Wall Street tycoon; scraps of some diaries by the wife of this second tycoon; and a long memoir by the ostensible ghost writer of the second tycoon’s memoir. Kirkus recognition is often heavy on plot, short on praise, and never gushes. Here’s what they say about Trust:

“The novel overall feels complex but never convoluted, focused throughout on the dissatisfactions of wealth and the suppression of information for the sake of keeping up appearances. No one document tells the whole story, but the collection of palimpsests makes for a thrilling experience and a testament to the power and danger of the truth—or a version of it—when it’s set down in print. A clever and affecting high-concept novel of high finance.”

The four-part novel is clever but not manipulative. And it is thoroughly enjoyable.

Now, on to another year and the anticipation of new books. What joy!