Together with tribal Task Force, students produce outreach poster to help reduce cyanotoxin harm

Cyanotoxin Poster Page 2

Clear Lake, California’s oldest and largest lake, is experiencing recurrent toxic algal blooms: blooms composed of photosynthesizing algae, including blue-green cyanobacteria. Certain species of harmful cyanobacteria produce toxins known as microcystins that are lethal to humans, pets, livestock, and wildlife.

The environmental protection offices of the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians and the Elem [Pomo] Indian Colony have taken the lead in water sampling and creating area maps showing sites around the lake that are “repeat offenders” for cyanotoxins. In 2014-2015 half of the Clear Lake locations sampled cyanotoxin levels exceeding the cautionary threshold  of 0.8 ppb (parts per billion) for public health risks. Measurements reached 16 ppm (parts per million) for cyanotoxins in 2014 and 10 ppm in 2015 – thousandfold increases above the threshhold.

Tribes with ancestral ties to Clear Lake gather basketry material, wild-harvest edible wildlife, and perform rituals along the shorelines. “Tribes use the lake heavily, and for things that aren’t necessarily captured by measurements geared to what the general public is doing,” says Big Valley EPA officer Sarah Ryan, who, together with Elem EPA officer Karola Kennedy, founded the Clear Lake Cyanobacteria Task Force.

Composed of an impressive array of city, county, state, and federal agencies representing environmental protection, human health, water resources, and state parks, the Task Force monitors lake nutrient, pollutant, and toxin levels, and meets routinely to discuss sampling results, associated field studies and agency actions.

At the lowest cautionary levels, the public is advised not to swim or wade near algae or scum, to keep children away from algae in the water or on the shore, not to drink the water or use it for cooking, not allow pets or livestock to get into the water, drink the water, or eat scum on the shoreline, to avoid eating shellfish, and to dispose of fish guts and clean fish fillets with tap water or bottled water before cooking.

Ensuring cyanotoxin-free areas is especially important for ensuring the safety of the participants and sacred purity of ceremonial sites. When toxic algal blooms appear, public signage is voluntary, and the placement of signs can be a political issue. “People in positions of power are often violently opposed to the signage,” noted a local health official, referring to the fear of economic losses when signs go up and people stay away from the lake.

Cyanotoxin poster Page 1

To counter the lack of local signage, San José University Students Phillip Spink and Benjamin Davidson carefully researched pollutants affecting Clear Lake – including methyl mercury, a generations-old toxin impacting the lake waters since the closure of the Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine,  a Superfund site immediately next door to the Elem Indian Colony that turned Clear Lake into the most mercury-polluted late in the world.

The pair designed a two-part outreach poster, focusing on the Lake’s primary health threats, for local distribution. The poster combines health and human safety information from a variety of public sources, re-interpreting the information in a clear, graphics-based format. The poster is available for free, to anyone interested. The students hope their informational poster can reduce the risk of harm for all Clear Lake residents and visitors, especially the tribes and tribal communities whose lifeways are so closely interlinked with the history and future of the Lake.

To download copies of the poster, click here.

Becoming Carbon Neutral

With climate change threatening everyone’s future in uncountable ways, and continued government inaction, what’s a conscientious citizen to do? How can we effect change, how can we be the change, one life at a time?

Ever since I began a professional focus in the environmental sciences, every year I push myself to change one more thing in my life to become more ecofriendly. I’ve grown and processed my own food (chickens! tomatoes!), drastically reduced my waste (less than one garbage bag per year), purchased 98% of my clothing from Goodwill and consignment stores, and downsized my living space.

The next big step involves becoming carbon neutral. Essentially, this means holding myself accountable for my carbon footprint (to the best of my abilities – this is not yet an exact science), and working with my adopted Indonesian tribe (the Tado) to sponsor planting of culturally significant species (bamboo, teak, sugar palm and Imperata grass) that help improve their lives.

Six months after making this decision, my story has reached almost two hundred thousand viewers on YouTube. Filmmaker Dylan Magaster documents my journey towards carbon neutrality here:

If you’re interested in becoming carbon neutral yourself, a step-by-step guide is in progress on my new “Beauty and Love” website.

(Caveat: this is just my journey, I’m far from perfect, and I’m always trying to improve. I encourage everyone to act instead of indulging in armchair critiquing – doing so creates happier lives and more positive vibes!)

True Stories Beat Out Reality TV

Selected Memories

The art of truth telling has never been more important. True-to-life stories (otherwise known as nonfiction) involve disclosure and risk, pathos and pleasure. These stories are more gripping than any reality television show; more daring, more authentic.

One of the nation’s foremost creative nonfiction literary magazines, Hippocampus, has pulled together their finest essays from five years and published them in a slim volume entitled Selected Memories.

My Pushcart-nominated essay “Until We Have Loved,” a finalist in Hippocampus’ 2015 contest, is included in this volume (and singled out for praise by a reviewer) along with thirty-two other amazing writers covering a wide range of human experiences.

Perfect summertime reading.

Hippocampus Selected Memories blurb 2

Scorpions, And.

During my years in Eastern Indonesia, I experienced a wide range of flora and fauna, from the microscopic (tropical parasites) to the macro (Komodo dragons). A few species were so memorable they merited a written tribute.

Bite Me” my most recent essay published in Lowestoft Chronicles (a free, humorous online lit zine), tells the story of my extremely up-close-and-personal encounters with the widely ranging members of the Order Scorpiones.


Book #2 Featuring a Traditional Pomo Story Produced by University Students

“This is an animal story of the old days. They lived there at Forest Depths. Many animals of different kinds lived there. They played games…”

When my Fall semester students – Courtney Bautista, Chelsea Carner, Danny Perdomo and Sarah Presno – in the Nature & World Cultures course I teach at San José State University presented their book during our final class, everyone’s jaw dropped to the floor.


The illustrations are gorgeous: as in crazy-amazing gorgeous. The story, told by Eric Wilder’s (Kashia Pomo) relative Herman James to ethnographer Robert Oswalt in 1958, languished quietly for almost fifty years in a mimeographed text and audio file, deep in the University of California at Berkeley library archives.

Three years ago, as part of class assignments to actively contribute to biocultural diversity conservation, my students began interviewing elders and excerpting stories from archival records to bring them back to life: as animated story-films and animated texts. The original Native (in this case, Kashia Pomo) text is juxtaposed next to the English translation, allowing for language learning.

The second in a series of open-access books published on Issuu, “The Skunk Brothers and the Elk Doctors” is a fascinating, laugh-out-loud story about the innate nature of beings and their appetites, of inter-relationships and co-dependence in native ecosystems.

Read it to yourself, read it to a child. Read it again and again, today, tonight and for many nights to come.

My Roadkill Habit

We all have secret habits. Mine was a habit with a purpose.


For several years I stopped my SmartCar by the roadside to gather recently perished beings into my arms, bring the beings home, and do whatever was necessary to pass their contributions on to others.

“My Roadkill Habit” is the title of a recent essay, a national finalist in the 2016 Creative Nonfiction Contest held by the journal Hunger Mountain and judged by Robert Michael Pyle.

They come to me in repose, limbs splayed. Bodies still warm. They come in the moments before crossing over; the anima in their eyes transmuting from luminescence to abstraction to absence. There is just enough time to pull over, find the tobacco, lift the creature and singsong a prayer.

Fox, deer, flicker. Woodpecker, squirrel, owl, snake. Gold-tipped fur, softly shimmering scales. Feathers of soul-piercing intensity, beauty beyond measure.

When my habit attracted the attentions of a Yoeme healer, he piled my arms with enough tobacco to sprinkle, and enough sage bundles to burn, for years of roadside finds.

“Don’t be so stingy,” he said in half-jest, intuiting my technique. “No more of those small pinches of tobacco: fill up your entire hand. Be generous with your gifts.” 

Stop the press! Gorgeous storybook on the Waterdog by SJSU students

What happens to Waterdog (a.k.a. the California Red-bellied Newt) when he tries to hook up with Little Frog? And then runs into Bullfrog and Water Snake?

This traditional story, told by Elizabeth “Belle” Lozinto Cordova Dollar [Dry Creek Pomo] to UC Berkeley linguist Robert Oswalt is depicted in a storybook produced for the Grace Hudson Museum (Ukiah, California) by three students from my Summer 2016 Nature and World Cultures class.

Waterdog story

In the space of a mere five weeks, Lauren Davidson, Yu (Emily) Hsuan Liu, and Jorge Morga pulled together an elegant digital text telling the story within a story: the story of Waterdog, yes, but also the story of Elizabeth Dollar. The entire book is available for free on this link: Waterdog and the Love Charm.

Read and share widely!

(With deep thanks to GHM Director Sherri Smith-Ferri for providing the story and biographical material.)