Butterflies and “Women Writing the Environment Into Fiction”

Monarch on lavender Photo: Katy Pye

Monarch on lavender
Photo: Katy Pye

Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior, photography, ignorance, and a meadow walk aligned like personal, fated stars one day last month.

My first photography show, Flora abunda is a wildflower image exhibit at CA State Parks’ Ford House Museum. As a hobby photographer and rank amateur in biology and botany, pulling all the pieces together has been a delightful, if sometimes challenging, eye-opener. A local expert made sure my plant i.d.s were correct, and pointed out, in passing, two plants that are food sources for the immature stage of two rare and endangered butterflies: the Behren’s Silverspot and the Lotis Blue – a species considered extinct here for over 30 years.

Behren’s silverspot (Speyeria zerene behrensii) Source:http://espm42speyeria.wordpress.com/

Behren’s silverspot (Speyeria zerene behrensii)
Source:http://espm42speyeria. wordpress.com/

Lotis Blue  photo: PG & E

Lotis Blue (Lycaeides idas lotis) photo: PG & E

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While compiling the show, I was also writing a short article for the San Francisco Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. They wanted my thoughts on women authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ann Patchett who, like me, feature the environment (and related human interactions and impacts) in current novels. I’d recently read Flight Behavior and Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things back-to-back. One afternoon flower photos, Latin names, endangered lives, words and themes clogged my brain. I headed out to a nearby forest park and meadow to strain the mental debris. As I stepped out of the woods into the bright, grassland light, I had a my own “Dellarobia” moment.

Spring azure (likely). A common butterfly.  Photo: Katy Pye

Spring azure (likely). A common butterfly. Weren’t all our now endangered species once “common?”
Photo: Katy Pye

A blue butterfly, barely bigger than a quarter, lit on a grass blade beside me. My feet became one with the path.

The Lotis! It’s got to be. Can’t be. “Are you?” I asked.

It took less than ten minutes to get home, retrieve my camera, and return to the spot. As I crept closer, it seemed impossible he would still be there. Ten minutes in butterfly years is probably twenty human years. He had precious little life to spend waiting for me. I’m sure I heard his rebuke at my approach.

“Finally! You people fly so slow.”

“Just give me a few seconds,” I pleaded, snapping shot after shot.

For a few hours I rode on hope he was the Lotis. Turns out he’s naught but a common variety blue. Still, my encounter proves–as if it needs proving–books fire imagination and the best ones, connection.

My WNBA blog post: “Women Writing the Environment Into Fiction”

Flora abunda wildflower exhibit continues until June 30th, 11:00 to 4:00 daily. Opening reception Saturday, April 12, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Sponsored by the Mendocino Area Parks Association (M.A.P.A.)

Trillium albidum copyright Katy Pye

Trillium albidum
Photo: Katy Pye

Elizabeth’s Landing is Truckin’ to the Yucatan!

Six copies of Elizabeth’s Landing rolled out of our post office last week headed to the city of Progreso in the State of Yucatan, Mexico. Cultural and educational exchange–I can’t think of a better way to start 2014.

Package to Kitty 60650

Elizabeth’s Landing boxed and ready (don’t worry, it went with the full address).

My husband supports a low-cost and extremely well-run program called the Progreso Apoyo Program (PAP). Each year (based on donation levels) it provides school-required supplies and uniforms to over 90 of the city’s poor, yet high-achieving students (grades 7-12). A separate grant program, Career Advancement Program of Progresso (CAPP) moves those who qualify on to and through college. Together, and student by student, these projects help weaken the cycle of poverty in Progreso.

Program director, Kitty Morgan, was delighted when we offered to donate the books. Kids begin learning English in 7th grade, she said, so the majority of the books will go to city schools and libraries. I was also happy for a chance to learn more about sea turtles living and nesting along the Yucatan.

250px-Progreso,_Yucatan

Progresso, a major port with the longest pier in the world–4 miles.

Mexico’s Caribbean beaches are prime nesting habitat to most of the world’s eight sea turtle species, including the Kemp’s ridleys featured in Elizabeth’s Landing. While ridleys rarely nest along the Yucatan Peninsula, its beaches are important for hawksbill, green, and loggerhead turtles.

Protecting sea turtles and nesting sites in the Yucatan is big, particularly in the State of Quintana Roo along the “Riveria Maya” (Cancun to Tulum). Large tracts of beaches and inland wild areas are national parks, both in Quanta Roo and the State of Yucatan. Some are remote and not easily accessible. Others along the Riviera Maya face damaging impacts from exploding tourism. 

Thanks to the work of organizations like Flora, Fauna, and Culture of MexicoCEA (Centro Ecologico Akumal)and SEE Turtleslocal groups educate kids, adults, businesses, and tourists about sea turtles and their environments. Every December Flora, Fauna, and Culture of Mexico and The Travel Foundation present the “Amigos de la Tortuga” awards to Flora, Fauna, and Culture of Mexico Amigos de La Tortuga Awardhotels that incorporate and champion turtle-friendly behaviors and programs within their businesses. 

Successes Face Difficult Future

Despite these ongoing efforts, high tourism areas face serious problems not just for the turtles, but residents, too. A summit sponsored by CEA reports that 20 years of national and international study within the Riviera Maya area called Akumal (“place of the turtle” in Mayan), shows it at a “critical moment.” Lack of infrastructure in the face of increasing/uncontrolled tourism* is seriously degrading natural and marine ecosystems. Since 2008 “50% of the coral and 40% of the seagrass have died, and fish populations have declined by 60%.” Akumal’s community and economy “depend on the delicate balance and functionality of this ecosystem. *(tourism has grown significantly in the State of Quintana Roo in the last ten years. In 2005 there were 61,335 hotel rooms. In 2012 there were 85,141. New housing and business markets also boomed, all using resources and producing waste).

Different state, different priorities

The State of the Yucatan and beaches in the city of Progreso have a history of nesting sea turtles, too. Tourism is part of everyday life here, but the situation is very different. 

“When I first visited here in 1999,” Kitty says, “high school students patrolled the beaches, marking turtle nests and handing out literature to people, living right on the beach, about what do do (and not do) if they found a nest. I was thrilled that turtles were nesting here — right in my own back yard! But no more as there are now street lights along the beach which confuse and deter the turtles (ME: beach furniture and sea walls are barriers and may not allow turtles to crawl to safe nesting spots above the high tide line, or hatchlings to reach the water).

Progreso beachfront. Wikimedia Create Commons

Progreso beachfront. Wikimedia Create Commons

The few stoic creatures who do manage to nest only provide a nice meal for the 3,000+/- feral dogs in the area. Progreso’s local government cannot deal with its street dog problem. There is no dog catcher, no pound, no shelter; the dogs simply breed and suffer by the hundreds.”

Twelve years ago, Kitty helped found the only “duly registered” humane society in Progreso in hopes of educating people about the problem. This March, thanks primarily to donations from ex-pats living in Progreso, they will open a small clinic. 

The other good news is, Kitty’s Apoyo Program sponsored a young woman who is now studying aquaculture. She will go on to college, maybe become another advocate for the region’s sea turtles. She’s definitely getting a copy of the book.

When I began writing Elizabeth’s Landing almost seven years ago I didn’t know whether it would see the light of day, ever be read by anyone but me, family, and a few close friends. To my great surprise, like the writing process itself, the book has become a bridge into foreign and exciting territory.

Kitty Morgan’s PAP and CAPP programs:

…are always looking for new partner donors to sponsor the children. Every cent goes to filling their school needs (books, pencils, paper, uniforms, etc.). We are constantly amazed how far she spreads the money. She does all the shopping, absorbs all administration costs, and provides each donor with basic information about his/her sponsored child. Every year my husband receives a photo and a thank you letter (translated by Kitty, if necessary) from his student, thanking him for his support and relating school progress, interests, and future plans. Kitty sends a detailed expense report on each child.

If you are interested in making a simple donation or becoming a sponsor in either education program, e-mail Kitty at kbmorgan_99@yahoo.com. Be sure to put PAP or CAPP as the “Subject.” She will respond with more specific information on the program(s).

If you would like to support the animal clinic, mail checks or money orders (US or Canadian), payable to Protección de Perros y Gatos a.c.  Apartado Postal No. 30, Progreso 97320 Yucatán, México. Any amount is appreciated, but donations of $100 US (or equivalent) puts your name, or that of a beloved pet, on a prominently displayed plaque in the clinic’s waiting room. Help a dog–save a turtle?

Traveling to the Yucatan?

Consider supporting certified eco-friendly hotels, restaurants, and tours. There are also a number of fine “volunteer tours” where you can work directly with sea turtle conservation programs.

Green sea turtle feeding

Green sea turtle feeding.
Creative Commons-Wiki

If you encounter sea turtles while swimming, enjoy them, but keep your distance. Conservation biologists note increasingly green sea turtles avoid traditional underwater grass feeding grounds where there are too many people or people too close.

Info and links to the Riviera Maya sea turtle conservation groups:

Flora, Fauna, and Culture’s, Sea Turtle Conservation Riviera Maya Tulum Program (Facebook) “…one of the oldest and largest in Mexico. It protects nesting turtles, their nests and hatchlings in 13 of the most important nesting beaches of this coast (Punta Venado, Paamul, Aventuras-DIF Chemuyil Xcacel-Xcacelit or, Xel-Ha, Punta Cadena, Tankah, Kanzul, Cahpechén, Lilies Balandrín, Yu-yum and San Juan) and many beaches located in protected areas, such as the Sea Turtle Sanctuary Xcacel-Xcacelito Park National Tulum and Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an. This means protection and monitoring of 38.5 km. beaches, in an area of over 120 km., and our base camp on the Xcacel. We annually protect an average of 6,500 nests and free an average of 500,000 baby sea turtles.”

CEA Centro Ecologico Akumal: Established in July of 1993, CEA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the ecologically sustainable development of the Cancun-Tulum corridor. CEA promotes conservation of the natural habitat and native culture through research and education.” Facebook

SEE Turtles: “…is working to protect endangered sea turtles by growing the market for conservation travel to support small conservation programs around the world. SEE Turtles also connects volunteers to conservation projects and educates students both in the US and near key turtle nesting sites around Latin America.

Pyewacky Press will donate–

1 copy of Elizabeth’s Landing to any U.S. sea turtle conservation group’s library or store, also 1 (English language) copy to 10, non-U.S. groups. Representatives can use the Contact Me page to make a request.

Peace and do what you can. 

6 Ways to Celebrate-and Help Save-Pacific Leatherbacks Join Their Conservation Day 10/15/13

Numero Uno~
Watch this beautiful video of Lula by filmmaker, Boombaye

author tuttle for .28 hi

The Ancient Past

Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtle species (up to 6 ft long, 2000 lbs), arguably not the prettiest, but certainly the deepest divers. While not as old as sharks at 320 million years (here even before trees), leatherbacks, like all sea turtle species, are ancient creatures–over 100 million years on the planet.

Archelon skeleton, an ancient sea turtle. Photo from the Peabody Museum at Yale. 80.5 million years old

Archelon skeleton, an ancient sea turtle, 80.5 million years old. Photo Wikipedia, from the Peabody Museum at Yale.

The ancient Archelon above, believed to be a direct ancestor to the leatherback, was swimming the oceans in what is now South Dakota.

Fast forward–skidding toward the cliff?

Here we sit 100 million years later, staring into the barrel of extinction for the glorious, ponderous Pacific leatherback. Important Western Pacific nesting sites have dropped 78% in 30 years. Higher global temps warm nesting sands, leading to male-only hatches.

Leatherback_sea_turtle_CC-ryan Somma

Leatherback sea turtle
Photo: Ryan Somma, Creative Commons

Recognizing the Pacific leatherback’s peril and the importance of jellyfish feeding grounds off the Golden State (a stunning 7,000-mile migration), legislators placed restrictions on fishing practices and created fishing exclusion zones along the California coast. Oregon and Washington adopted similar restrictions in an effort to protect and extend loggerhead migration and feeding territory. In 2012, California designated the Pacific leatherback our State Marine Mammal. The annual celebration day, October 15th, is a chance to remember they’re here, but more importantly to recognize their escalating decline and double down on conservation efforts. Nothing short of rapier-sharp vigilance, hard work, and strong education efforts will ensure the Pacific loggerheads’ future.

Let’s start with the fun (subtext: cheerful education leads to action).

Celebration ideas: 

Leatherback hatchling Photograph: Scott Benson NOAA

Leatherback hatchling
Photograph: Scott Benson NOAA

2) Spread the word! Visit Sea Turtle Conservation Program’s list of celebration ideas. I’ve taken the pledge, visited, “Liked,” and shared the Leatherback’s Celebration Facebook page. Read, share or gift books about sea turtles. Fiction or non-fiction, there’s something out there for all ages.

3) Collect and cut out the plastic! Plastic and beach debris collection is paramount to keeping litter out of the mouths and guts of sea turtles (leatherbacks are particularly prone to eating any plastic, including balloons, that looks like a jellyfish). Beach debris can block hatchlings from reaching the ocean and make them more vulnerable to predators.

   A challenge: try going without plastic for 1 week. track how much and what plastic you avoided using or buying. Post what you learned here, your own blog, Facebook, etc. What can you turn into permanent changes to your plastic use? My Plastic Free Life is an encouraging and practical blog (and book) to make the shift a whole lot easier. Here are two products I’ve adopted. Eliminated plastic shampoo and cream rinse bottles and plastic floss container. Love both products.

Almost plastic free. Floss roll is in a little plastic bag to keep the mint oil fresher, longer.

Almost plastic free. Floss roll is in a paper box, but uses a little plastic bag inside to keep the mint oil fresher, longer. Unflavored floss and non-plastic toothbrush next on the list.

Celebrating=balloons, right? WRONG! Balloons and their ribbons deplete scarce and dwindling helium supplies (critical to medicine and science), drift for miles, and end up as deadly trash for sea turtles, mammal marine life, and birds. Balloons Blow has festive, safe alternatives and more information.

4) Food fun. Bake dinner rolls, breakfast treats, or breads in the shape of sea turtles to give to friends and family with info about loggerheads and the Celebration Day.

Boudin Bakery Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons.

Boudin Bakery Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, CA © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons.

How about turtle cupcakes to give out in class with a note asking people to reduce plastic use and to learn about sea turtles. Give them a link or three to your favorite leatherback websites, photos, or articles.

     Healthier alternatives? Make a turtle-shaped fruit bowl from a watermelon. Invite the neighborhood in. Here’s a charming, and edible, fable about how land turtles went to the sea (complete with carved vegetable and egg turtle characters and curry recipe) from VegSpinz.

5) Artistic Fun. Halloween’s coming. Carve a turtle image into your pumpkin and hand out info on how balloons can turn into real-life “ghouls” for wildlife.

see link above for more ideas, or create your own

see link above for more ideas, or create your own

6) Donate. Leatherback sea turtles, like every endangered species, hugely depend on us human beings stepping up to solve problems driving them to extinction. Species celebration days are reminders of our part and our responsibilities.

Give, if you can, money, time, and/or talent to your favorite sea turtle organizations. Two that work for Pacific leatherbacks are Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Sea Turtles Forever and See Turtles (eco trips to work with leatherbacks).

Re-post this blog or find others. Then reach deeper and farther. If petitions cross your social media or e-mail, ones asking governments to enforce turtle protection laws, please read and consider signing because…

Threats to leatherbacks (and many other sea turtles) continue to grow:

Egg and turtle predation: by humans and animals. Poaching (with increasing links to drug use and trafficking) in third-world countries tops the list of species decline. Quasi-legal egg collection is sometimes part of agreements between locals and turtle conservationists who share the eggs for mutual benefit (80%/20% for example in Guatamala). One group for livelihood and food. The other for hatch and release. 

Longline and shrimp bottom trawl shrimp fishing (pelagic longline fishing is now banned off CA, OR, and WA coast).

However, “Spiraling loggerhead deaths (are) linked to fishing gear off Baja California” October 2, 2013. “This year, 705 dead loggerheads were reported by officials”… in two months. “Scientists say the official numbers are far below the reality.”

leatherback caught in long-line fishing gear. Photo by Philip Miller Creative Commons via Seaturtle.org

leatherback caught in long-line fishing gear. Goes from being a turtle to being “by-catch” of the fishing industry. This turtle was cut free and returned to life as a turtle. Photo by Philip Miller Creative Commons via Seaturtle.org

Up to half the leatherback turtles each year are caught and killed or injured in longline fisheries. They continue to drown in shrimp nets due to lack of Turtle Excluder Device rule enforcement and low fines. Longline targets migratory fish species: tuna, swordfish, and halibut and the rapid reduction in the numbers of Pacific leatherbacks may be telling us current regs and practices aren’t working.

Marine pollution: After fishing, THE MAJOR CAUSE OF DEATH among adult leatherbacks: plastic bags, styrofoam, and other marine debris that mimic their food–jellyfish. Entanglement and drowning in fishing gear, oil spills, and boat strikes also take their toll.

Beach development: Increased erosion and night lights disorient hatchlings who head toward the brightest light, their guide to the horizon and water. They end up in someone’s patio or mired in dune grass instead.

Sea Turtles Forever has “established a Sea Turtle Hotline for people to report sea turtle sightings in the Northeastern Pacific foraging areas. Please call 1-503-739-1446 or e-mail us at info@seaturtleforever.com to report a sea turtle sighting in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean or on any Canadian, Washington, Oregon or California Beaches.”

Other information sources used in this blog.

Marc Carvajal, San Francisco State University (The Biogeography of Leatherback Sea Turtles); Sea Turtle Restoration Project (“Amazing Facts About Leatherbacks” pdf download); Wikipedia.

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For a true-to-life sea turtle and family saga, visit Elizabeth’s Landing: a novel by Katy Pye

Ages 10 to adult. Widely available in paperback and e-books.

I donate part of book sale profits to sea turtle conservation programs. 

//

Praise for novel, Elizabeth’s Landing

Diane Wilson book jacketThis was too long for FB, but I HAD to share.

I just received this endorsement from Diane Wilson, the most compassionate, courageous, and powerful woman I have the privilege to know. After being blown away by her book, I drove to a 1 day writer’s conference in Santa Barbara several years ago just to see her talk. I’d written the first “solid” draft of all the shrimping sections, having spent hours and days reading about the issues, the history of conflict over the turtles, and regulations shrimpers are under. I’d watched many YouTube videos to see how the fishing is done and described what I saw. 

I cornered Diane on a break and told her about the book and asked if she knew a shrimper I could talk to, who might help me make sure I’d gotten it right. After hesitantly saying she’d be glad to help, the first thing she asked was, “Is Grandpa a Gulf shrimper or a bay shrimper.” Uhhh, embarrassing. I had no clue; didn’t know there was a difference. I’m surprised she didn’t walk out right then.

Shrimping rewrite support-2-rs-1_edited-1

My desk during the rewrites. Diane’s book for courage, her photos for inspiration, and the sweetpeas as a reminder there is a garden and world beyond my computer screen.

But she stuck with me, read, corrected, re-read my fixes, and when she said Grandpa was real, I knew I could relax. Some of my favorite parts of Elizabeth’s Landing are there thanks to Diane’s own doggedness. Thank you, Diane. Your praise, and all you do and stand for, touch my heart. And give me strength!

If you haven’t read her books on her own environmental and social justice work, please do. Amazing stuff, read like novels, but all true.

“I can vouch for Ms. Pye’s dedication to the truth and her compassion for sea turtles.  I’m a shrimper from the Gulf Coast of Texas, and when Katy Pye asked me to make sure her depictions of shrimpers and shrimp boats in her book was accurate, I was a bit hesitant.  I am a fifth generation shrimper and despite our faults, funny and hard nosed ways, these are my people.  I love them.  I think many people don’t understand them so I’m a bit protective. But Katy was dogged about seeking me out!  Wow, Katy! You are as bull-headed as any shrimper I know.  So Katy’s narrator, Elizabeth, is pretty close to Katy.  Same stubbornness.  Same feistiness. I admire Katy for tackling this difficult subject and taking such care and thoughtfulness in her characters.  Katy is as much the heroine of her life as her character Elizabeth is of this book.  A wonderful read!”

Find Diane’s first book here at Chelsea Green or the usual online stores.

seagulls on cable-adj_edited-1

A photo Diane shared with me, which inspired an image in the book. These are wires connecting the boat to the net during a shrimp drag.

Elizabeth’s Landing-Nook e-book!

FOR AGES 11 TO THE AGELESS

It’s true! It’s a miracle! Okay, that’s overstating it, but how it feels after six years. An e-book version of Elizabeth’s story is available through Barnes and Noble’s Nook site. If you don’t have a Nook device, don’t worry, you can download the app for free and read on your computer or other mobile devices. Go to B&N’s Mobile Apps webpage to sign in, sign up, and connect to the right download.

If you’re the something soft and flexible, tree-based-book type person, the Print-on-Demand version will be out by June through Amazon. A Kindle version will go up about the same time, maybe sooner if I’m successful formatting it myself, as I did the Nook. Watch my Facebook Author site, Follow me here, or leave your e-mail on the Contact Me page above for updates.

PLEASE, once you’ve finished the book, leave feedback and ratings at these sites, Goodreads, Facebook it, blog it, etc., because…

single turtle fleuronA portion of all my book sale profits support worldwide sea turtle conservation and education programs. B&N has e-book gift cards. Bookstores do, too. I’m just sayin’ . . .  shrimp fleuron

Gull patrol

MENDO LAUNCH

Flags are flying–get out your calendar. The revised book launch date at Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino, CA. is June 30th, 6:30 p.m. Tux, tails, and formals optional, but my tiara’s getting steam-blasted and the side seams of my Senior Prom dress are sprung WAY out for the event.

I’m working on Grandma Linnie to do some of the catering.975 Apple, pear, blberry pie 2010_edited-1

Deepest thanks to everyone who has given writing help, an ear to moments of pain and joy, celebrations at key steps, and for believing all these years I really was writing a novel.

Photo by Katy PyeIndie publishers and indie bookstores are trying hard to work together so each can survive and grow. I’m publishing with the “big houses” (interpret at will) because it is the most direct, profitable way for me to get books into readers’ hands. Please support your local, or any independent bookstore, and encourage them to carry books you want to read. I’m working to collaborate with them, too.

Book Blurb

Port Winston—home to sun, sand, and shopping. What’s not to like? Everything, to 14 year-old Elizabeth Barker, uprooted mid-school year to the Texas coast. When Grandpa, with more judgments than the Old Testament, pronounces her 10¢ shy of worthless and headed for trouble, Elizabeth bolts for Wayward Landing beach—the county’s last wild haven.

A chance encounter with an endangered, nesting sea turtle ignites new purpose, friendships, and trouble even Grandpa couldn’t predict. Her fight to save the Landing unearths complex family ties to the powerful developer and catapults her against those she loves. When the Deepwater Horizon oil slick threatens the turtles’ Louisiana feeding grounds, Elizabeth’s journalist mom hits the front lines. And Elizabeth’s fears and plans hit overdrive.

Elizabeth’s Landing, a compelling environmental and family saga, bridges risk and loss to hope and hearts —human to human, human to animal, human to world.

single turtle flip fleuron

Ages 10 and up.

P.S. Turtle nesting season has begun along the Gulf coast. Info under Elizabeth’s Sea Turtles tells you the best places to visit to see turtles or hatchling releases. Donations are always welcome.