Archive for April 2011

In Spirit of Spring

April 20, 2011

My last post was about plants that can kill — nuclear power plants. This one is a few words about real plants and the great power for rebirth in nature. It is a perfect time for that, especially since on April 22 we are celebrating Earth Day.

Earth Day was established 41 years ago (in 1970) as a day dedicated to educating people about the importance of understanding and protecting our environment, and to celebrate our planet.


Apparently the idea of Earth Day has caught the emotions of many, and today more than 100 different countries celebrate Earth Day. The idea was originated by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin in the 1960s and evolved over several years. You may wish to read “How the First Earth Day Come About” written by Senator Nelson himself.

Thinking about Earth Day and being familiar with Native American culture, I wonder if the concept of an Earth Day does not feel a bit strange from their perspective — after all for them every day was (and is) an Earth day. Their culture is rooted in connection to and respect for Mother Nature.

The vitality of the earth is pronounced this spring in our yard more strongly than in past years. Many plants of southern Arizona suffered great damage this winter which was unusually harsh — I do not remember such a cold winter since I moved here, and that was 11 years ago already! Oh, of course it was a very mild one in comparison to other places in this country, but for the plants not accustomed to such low temperatures, the freezing cold was deadly. So I was watching our yard anxiously, looking for signs of life in each plant. Some of them just did not make it, some are badly hurt, and some survived remarkably well.

prickly pear with new spring growth oleander with new spring growth
Mesquite tree
Fresh growth: prickly pear, oleander, mesquite tree

Seeing new growth is very exciting and calls for celebration. So this Friday, which is Earth Day, planting some new plants and trimming the old ones would seem an appropriate tribute that could even extend to the weekend.

It just happens, however, that this year April 22 is also a Good Friday, followed by Easter Sunday. These days are very important and celebrated by many in traditional ways, as in my native Poland for instance.

Coming from Polish culture I have kept some of its Easter traditions, like coloring Easter eggs and inviting family and friends for an Easter brunch. Not being a religious person, I see that holiday as a celebration of spring and new life.  So when I was introduced in this country to the concept of the Easter Bunny and to the fun of an Easter egg hunt, I embraced both with pleasure. I was nicely surprised to learn that the Easter Bunny was not an invention of American marketing, but was introduced to the States by German settlers in the 18th century.

The Easter egg (according to Wikipedia) is “a pagan symbol of the rebirth of the Earth in celebration of spring and was adopted by early Christians as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus.” Most cultures accepted the symbol of an egg as a start of new life. In springtime, birds are nesting and laying eggs, and rabbits and hares are prolific. Therefore, it is not surprising that eggs, chicks, and rabbits are common symbols of spring.

This year with Easter in late April we can all, religious and non-religious people, celebrate Earth Day and Easter at the same time and in a variety of ways. I see this as a very attractive, peaceful, and unifying time for all.

Alicja Mann's Easter Egg collection blue pot of flowers

Happy Earth Day, Happy Easter weekend, Happy Spring!

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Photo of Earth from the sumeRemus blog, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 France License. Text and other photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

Plants That Can Kill

April 7, 2011

Oh, Spring! Who does not love it? Plants are awakening and blooming tenderly. The month of April in my native Polish is called nicely Kwiecien, derived from the words kwiecie meaning blossom and kwiat meaning flower. It is a month when many plants show their spring bloom.

Yellow tulips

Plant — a living organism, other than animal, capable of photosynthesis. In Polish the word is roslina, in German, die Pflanze and in Russian, rastenie. English also has another meaning of the word plant which these languages don’t — equipment, a factory, an industrial place of mechanical operation or process — and that was always strange to me.

So a plant in English can also be a nuclear power plant.

Nuclear Power Plants
Arkansas Grand Gulf

This spring we are all deeply concerned about the fate of these kinds of plants — the nuclear power plants of Fukushima, after Japan experienced the deadly earthquake and tsunami a few weeks ago. Indeed there are serious reasons to be alarmed and fearful! A lot has been written about that already. I highly recommend reading The New Yorker March 28 issue, The Nation April 4, 2011 issue, and also the blog Redtree Times of GC Myers dated April 3, 2011.

My personal fear and immense dislike of nuclear power plants started a long time ago — in 1979 after the Three Mile Island accident. I was already living in this country and the mother of two small children. I was simply terrified because we lived in North Falmouth on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and were only 20 miles from a nuclear power plant named Pilgrim in nearby Plymouth. Till today Pilgrim is the only plant in Massachusetts, built in 1972, and therefore relatively new at that time.

My response to the Three Mile Island accident was very intense — as a mother, a biologist and a budding writer. I participated in a variety of organized protests and rallies, took nuclear awareness workshops, and read everything I could find about the Karen Silkwood case. In my personal protest I drove around the Pilgrim power plant with my children sitting at the car windows and with “No Nukes“ and “Split Wood not Atoms” slogans pasted on the bumper of our car. Finally I wrote a poem and illustrated, printed, and distributed it whenever I could.

Here is a reproduction of the original copy. If it speaks to you, please use it (with an appropriate credit).

"Stony Tulips" by Alicja Mann
Click to enlarge and/or print (PDF)

That was 1979. Then came Chernobyl in 1986. Again I was strongly affected — this time through the connection to my native Poland that borders with the Ukraine, which at that time was a republic of the Soviet Union. Some clouds of Chernobyl arrived in Poland, causing a lot of fears and anxieties because the trust in the Soviets’ abilities to deal with that magnitude of crisis was next to zero in Poland. I responded with one of my op-ed columns titled “Hiroshima and Chernobyl”. In the meantime the dispute over the nearby Pilgrim nuclear plant became again intense.

Time passed, no accident occurred at Pilgrim, and people got used to living with this deadly plant or were resigned to its dangers. Recently, Travis Andersen (The Boston Globe online. March 14, 2011) surveyed Pilgrim’s neighbors about Japan’s nuclear crisis and found that some were fearful, while others shrugged it off. For instance: “Heather Cole, who has lived near the plant for 15 years, said she would not even leave in the event of an emergency, preferring instead to ‘grab a six pack’ and dig in her heels, in part because she feels the evacuation would be ‘a nightmare’.“

Cape Cod is a peninsula stapled with two bridges to the mainland where Ms Cole lives. The evacuation of the Cape’s residents would be even harder to imagine! That reminds me of a T-shirt design that addressed the issue of evacuation from the Cape in case of nuclear disaster. A drawing of the Cape was printed on the shirt with the question, “Evacuation plan?” The answer was, “JUST SWIM!” showing small silhouettes of people jumping into the water off the Cape.

Today, in view of Japan’s tragedy, it is time to be awakened again to the dangers of the very existence of nuclear power plants. So I was excited to see The New Yorker cover with the art work of Christoph Niemann titled “Dark Spring.” It was good to see that someone else imagines nuclear reactors as “living plants.” His cherry tree blossoms and my tulips are symbols of these powerful deadly plants.

The New Yorker Magazine cover fragment, March 28, 2011

According to Christian Parenti, a contributing editor to The Nation, “We get less than 9% of our total energy needs from nuclear power, so with proper conservation, we can make up some loss. Fukushima is trying to tell us something.”

Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker ends her comment on the nuclear risk, “We’ve more or less pretended that our nuclear plants are safe, and so far we got away with it. The Japanese have not.“

Jonathan Schell in his commentary in The Nation (April 4 issue) suggests that instead of abandoning nuclear power, “Let us pause and study the matter. For how long? Plutonium, a component of nuclear waste, has a half-life of 24,000 years, meaning that half of it is transformed into other elements through radioactive decay. This suggests a time scale. We will not be precipitous if we study the matter for only half of that half-life, 12,000 years. In the interval, we can make a search for safe energy sources, among other useful endeavors.”

I could not agree more with all three statements. It is highest time to replace nuclear power plants with alternative energy sources.

Wind Farm by Alicja Mann

Let us “plant” these graceful and harmless windmills. Let them bloom in our fields!

Let us have bright and happy springs in the future.

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Photos of nuclear power plants from New Yorker cover art “Dark Spring” – copyright © 2011 Christoph Niemann / The New Yorker. Text and other photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

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