Monday, April 23, 2012

Travel Notes: If This Is Monday, This Must Be Baltimore

It’s not Brussels, that’s for sure. In fact, it was tricky leaving Brussels because airport security just couldn’t figure out what the shoe horn tucked away in the travel bag was until they unpacked everything and took it out.

What a horrible way to die by the hand of a terrorist with a weapon like that.

Hard rain and un-Spring like cold winds on Sunday here in Baltimore but I was warmed by crab cakes and Love Stout out of the pouring rain at Phillips Seafood in the Power Plant. Blew out two umbrellas in the afternoon, something that’s never happened in the other B & B (Brussels and Bellingham).

Monday morning’s just cold, breezy and overcast, and who knows what the weather will be like tomorrow night when the Orioles return home to Camden Yard.

Before more crab cakes, it might be a good idea for me to catch up on what’s happening in Chesapeake Bay. Good place is the venerable Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Bay Daily.

--Mike Sato

Friday, April 20, 2012

Travel Notes: Islands in the Salish Sea in Brussels

Brussels public art
Our lives are global when we least expect them to be.

A few weeks ago I answered an inquiry about the history of the Orca Pass International Stewardship Area, a non-governmental stewardship initiative launched in the late 1990s in the transboundary waters of the Salish Sea. In the course of that email exchange, I learned that researcher Henriette Bastrup-Birk resides in Brussels.

Henriette has been a tireless researcher working on her doctorate, tracking the educational, social and governmental aspects of Washington-British Columbia transborder relations in the Salish Sea. She’s attended the biennial Puget Sound-Georgia Basin research conferences and has met with many of us who have worked the ‘transboundary’ issues over the years.

Last evening, after a wonderful dinner in the home of Henriette and her husband Peter, I perused a copy of Islands in the Salish Sea by Sheila Hamilton and Juli Stevenson, published in 2005 and reprinted in 2007.

I admit: I am easily overcome by juxtapositions of time and space. We spoke of Denmark, London, Portland, Honolulu— and Bellingham, Brussels and Vancouver. I am practicing: I will yet to become a true citizen of the world.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Travel Notes: What Am I Doing Here?

Luxembourg City
That’s the title of a collection of Bruce Chatwin travel essays.

It’s a good questions to ask — and answer— while travelling.

I travelled to Luxembourg on a day trip tour by bus because it was too expensive to take the fast train to Paris for a day trip. English predominates but the tour guide moved as easily to French and Spanish and back to English. The mixed forestland south of Brussels fell away to flat pasturelands broken by wind turbines, then the rolling hillsides at Namur crossing the Meuse R., then the tighter hills and valleys of the Ardenne.

We received our history lesson before stopping in Bastogne, near the epicenter of the Battle of the Bulge. To those of us on that bus who stepped off to walk through the memorial, it is another’s time, we did not live through that war, that battle, that place. We are told in English, French and Spanish the facts, the meanings— but it is hard to be touched. What am I doing here?

“You are now in Luxembourg,” the tour guide announces as we speed along the narrow countryside road. “No one saluted.”

There is interesting history of how the Low Countries came to be nations— if that interests you. More immediate is the massive building boom EU bureaucracy and finances have brought to the Kirchberg Plateau area in Luxembourg City. Most immediate, we disembark in Old Town, “Hot City,” the little signs say.

Tiny Luxembourg is a rich country. We arrive at the start of the “Finance Race” a marathon-like foot race along the city’s walkways. Unlike Brussels, Luxembourg has elevation, highs and lows, visible layers of fortifications above the Grund area below the Old Town. Elevation pleases the eye.

Two beers in the “Colors” brassiere— Battia and Bofferding — and a thick haze of cigarette smoke. One can still smoke in public places in Luxembourg. I don’t smoke any more; I am pleasantly amazed to have discovered this for myself.

To discover that little fact is what I am doing here.

--Mike Sato

Monday, April 16, 2012

Travel Notes: Brussels High and Low

We tourists all look up in awe at the spire of the City Hall in Grand Place; we are all compelled to gather at the feet of Manneken Pis, the little pissing boy sculpted in 1619 by Jerome Duquesnoy.  The small shops in the vicinity hawk chocolate replicas of the little chap in various sizes you can take home.

Why the fascination? To be honest: it’s liberating to be naughty. Especially for tourists visiting a made-up country divided between Flemish and French, a state where the European Union Parliament can meet with the least contention.

The streets and walkways of the Old Town are small, square blocks of stone, which draw a deep rumble when autos, motorcycles and luggage pass by. I spend as much time looking down at the streets and pavements as looking up at the building facades.

I am hearted to find that the peregrine falcons that live at the top of St. Michael’s Cathedral are doing well. Two years ago I watched a female sit on eggs via the live feed black and white monitor at street level. This year, I watched a parent return with a rat and tear it apart to feed three fledgling chicks.

I could do some audio of the afternoon bells at St. Michael’s and the rumble of suitcase wheels on the stone streets but will leave that to your imagination. Better you share the wonders of Falcons For Everyone.

--Mike Sato

Friday, April 13, 2012

Travel Notes: Brussels

City hall at Grand Place, Brussels
The nine-hour time difference between Brussels and the US West Coast works out well. I’m posting this on Friday the 13th from Brussels after a pleasant breakfast-- while readers in the west are fast asleep. The photo of the city hall at Grand Place was taken early Friday morning, a bit after midnight, which was mid-afternoon Thursday for you on the ‘west’ coast.

Delta flew us from SeaTac to Amsterdam Schiphol in about 9 hours. Laid over for about 4.5 hours before taking the CityHopper to Brussels. Schiphol is hugely bustling. In a 10-minute period I heard pages for people traveling to Iran, Athens, Munich,  Zurich, Milan, Bonn, Rwanda, Nuremberg, Aberdeen, Hamberg, Washington, Dubai...

Layover was time enough to learn that Schiphol opened, according to Wikipedia, in 1916 as a military airbase and is named after the former Fort Schiphol. You get two 30-minute segments of free wi-fi at the KPN Hotspot. (My second 30-minute segment turned everything on my platform into Dutch...)

Belgium from the air and from the ground is flat flat flat. Small wonder armies moved across its borders so easily. Brussels is an outrageous mix of ancient (we’re in Old Town), colonial (Leopold II), and steel-glass modern (one of the capitols of the European Union). It hailed and rained late yesterday afternoon, then cleared for sunset.

This morning is overcast with breaks of light blue sky between light puffy clouds. Take a look at the clouds and skies in Magritte’s paintings. That’s what he saw.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Things People Say

(Three Sheets NW)
The companion to this blog is a weekday news clipping blog, Salish Sea News and Weather, that draws comments on the issues and items highlighted. Some comments come by personal email and are worthy of being shared, sans names.

In regards to the story by Deborah Bach, New bill makes it easier for big boats to visit Washington waters, a reader writes: “I can sympathize with those cash strapped 1%ers who can't afford a pilot to move their megayaghts.  After all, who can afford $150 to go to the marina gas station when you are buying hundreds or thousands of gallons of fuel?  Those pilots are overpaid anyway, and seriously, who really cares if a couple smaller craft get run over in the process, or a few drops of oil spilled from the occasional collision with submerged reefs?  It’s actually their fault for being in the way.  Now if we could just get the Corps to blast away the remaining rocky reefs, we wouldn't even need GPS and sonar to drive these rigs!   Making those cocktails on the bridge so much sweeter.”

And, our reader continues, regarding orca scientist Ken Balcomb’s guest editorial about the death of L112 (Sooke),  Bombing range or sanctuary? One in the same for endangered orcas, “Speaking of blasts, Ken Balcomb's comments are right on the money.  Sounds like the Navy gets away with whatever it wants, as long as they don't have to produce real evidence. “

My comment: Like getting away with murder.

Regarding a guest editorial that wasn’t highlighted in the daily news clippings (WHATCOM VIEW: Infill meets Bellingham's goal of no development sprawl by Linda Twitchell of the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County), a reader wrote: “...the op-ed in the Bellingham Herald ... reminded me of a conversation that took place at a recent meeting of the PSP’s (Puget Sound Partnership’s) Ecosystem Coordination Board.  Will Hall from Shoreline and Linda Berry-Maraist from Poulsbo (both local elected officials) were bemoaning the lack of environmental support for in-filling and made some very compelling arguments.  Linda said “there’s 2 things people hate, density and sprawl” and it was right on. They called Tom Bancroft and Chris Davis to task for not doing more to get the environmental community to support good high density projects in urban and urbanizing areas.  I think this is a really ripe topic for debate and will look for other articles on that point that might be worth sharing with your circles.”

Agreed. This is a very good point to discuss and reading Linda Twitchell’s piece is a good place to start. The Padden Creek development proposal is within the Bellingham city limits but neighbors don’t want the density. The city does not support expanding its urban growth boundary into an adjacent watershed. In the meantime, Whatcom County and cities are trying to work together on planning issues like urban growth areas and the annexation of them into city limits. (Whatcom council approves urban planning agreements with seven cities) Included in the agreement between the county and the city of Bellingham is a provision allowing for mitigating wetlands loss within the city by creating wetlands in the county. Activist Wendy Harris asked that the section be deleted: “Our goal should be urban infill, not infill at any cost.”

What might you have to say?

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

San Juan County Council Says “Yes!” To BLM Lands Protection

Watmough Bight (Susan Muckle)
The San Juan County Council voted unanimously this morning to send a letter to the Interior Department supporting permanent protection of Bureau of Land Management lands in the islands.

Islanders Thank San Juan County Council For Unanimously Supporting Permanent Protection of Local BLM Lands

San Juan County islanders thanked its county council today for unanimously supporting permanent protection of local Bureau of Land Management federal properties in the islands. The county council voted to send a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Washington congressional delegation expressing their support of either congressional action or presidential proclamation to achieve federal protection.

“We thank the council for its leadership and thank the many, many people who have expressed their support,” said Asha Lela, chair of the group Islanders for a San Juan Islands National Conservation Area. “We will continue to make sure that there is permanent protection for the BLM lands and that islanders are involved in the management of these lands.”

Asha Lela and other concerned citizens have been working for several years on federal legislation seeking permanent protection for the BLM lands in the San Juan Islands with a strong community voice in their management.

Congressional legislation to permanently protect the BLM lands as a National Conservation Area was introduced by Rep. Rick Larsen and Sen. Maria Cantwell but has been stalled in Congress.

Most recently, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and BLM officials have discussed permanent protection of the federal lands through presidential proclamation based on the congressional legislation and working with local elected officials and citizens.

For more information, contact Islanders For A San Juan Islands National Conservation Area, 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Watching The Grass Grow

March came in like a wild boar and went out like a damp puppy. We had rain Saturday night, snow on Sunday morning, then sunshine later in the day.

Next year we take out all the lawn, but ths year we gave in and had Andy’s lawn care crew cut the grass last week. I swear that on Sunday afternoon I could hear the grass growing.

I don’t think I was supposed to be able to see it grow.

The web site Watching Grass Grow: The most exciting/boring web site in the world says, “While the time-lapse photography on the main grass growing page clearly shows ... grass growing ... it actually doesn't grow fast enough for the human eye to detect. In a week, grass may grow 2-6 inches (depending on temperature, humidity, time of year, etc.). So do the math - that works out to about a thousandth of in inch every 15-20 minutes ... would be hard to see! ;-) “

Ah, Spring.

--Mike Sato