The Day before Christmas Donation

Think globally, give locally.

This year spread some holiday cheer in your own community by donating to a local nonprofit, volunteering your time, or better yet both.

Two years ago, I wrote a post entitled Day after Christmas Donation in hopes of encouraging readers to join me in wrapping up our holiday seasons by making a charitable donation or committing to volunteer with a nonprofit or faith-based organization. For 2018, I decided to dust off the idea but change it to the day before Christmas.

In as little as five or ten minutes, you can make an online donation, write a check and put it in an envelope, or send an email with an offer to volunteer in the future.

I realize that December 24th could be an overly busy day for you. If so, I hope you will take 15 seconds to write a note on your calendar or enter a reminder in your smartphone for a day when you will have time between now and the end of the year.

There are many national and international nonprofit organizations worthy of your money and your time, but I propose that this year we give to a nonprofit in our own communities, towns, or counties.

Think Globally, Give Locally

On this day 50 years ago, the NASA Apollo 8 crew took the now iconic photo of Earth rising behind the moon shown at the top of this post. This image clearly shows that we live on a sphere with air, water, and the land connecting us to each other. What we do to the environment we do to ourselves and all the other living things on Earth. Our fate is interwoven.

By caring for our own tiny patch of the planet, we can contribute to the overall wellbeing of Earth. Local nonprofits act as sort of a multiplier helping us do this collectively.

Like a for-profit business, nonprofit organizations need both money and people to fulfill their missions. Everyone has something to give whether it is money, time, or both (a little or a lot).

Nonprofit organizations need volunteers to solicit donations, create websites, prepare grant applications, man booths, bake cookies, call people, write newsletters, post on social media, conduct research, attend public meetings, play music, plan events, wash dishes, pull weeds, track volunteer hours, paint signs, write letters to the editor, film activities, greet people at events, write press releases, take photographs, manage membership lists, track budgets, put up tables and chairs, hand out flyers, create marketing materials, serve food, stuff envelopes, write blog posts, answer phones, do presentations, round up speakers, act as docents, plant trees, build things, take out the trash, coordinate with other groups, prepare reports, run programs, do public relations, emcee events, fix equipment, shop for supplies, and write thank you notes.

Chances are there is a nonprofit in your community doing work you feel is important and that could use your help. My interests tend to lean towards organizations doing environmental-related work because my children, your children, and everyone else’s children need a habitable planet to live on now and in the future.

Here is what I am doing for my day before Christmas donation.

Volunteering – Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is a public open space on the edge of the Pacific Ocean adjacent to the small town my spouse and I moved to about eleven years ago. We enjoy walking on the bluff path almost daily. Yet in all the years we have lived here, I had never volunteered to help take care of this beautiful place until last May.

Part of Volunteer Group in Front of One Pile of Ice Plant Removed at Fiscalini Ranch on April 28, 2018
Part of the Volunteer Group in Front of One of the Piles of Ice Plant Removed at Fiscalini Ranch on April 28, 2018 – Photo Credit Holly Sletteland

I thought I had signed up my spouse and me to volunteer at a wildflower show but we ended up at the Ranch pulling up three-foot long lengths of ice plant, which is considered an invasive plant here because it chokes out everything else. Removing invasive plants is good for the environment because it allows native plants a chance to thrive. Native plants play nice with others, use water wisely, and provide habit for local winged, scaly, and furry denizens.

That day it hit home that each one of us is responsible for caring for our community parks, open spaces, and gardens and that they need us.

We completed our third ice plant removal activity two weeks ago. Now I am on the “likes to remove ice plant” email list.

Donating – San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

I am a fan of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden in our county. Their mission “to honor and preserve our connection with nature” dovetails with my own mission to convince others and myself to live more lightly on Earth.

Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon
Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon at El Chorro Regional Campground in San Luis Obispo, CA on February 3, 2018 – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Besides having a wonderful display of the plant life of Mediterranean climate zones, the Garden grows and sells plants, hosts activities for kids, and provides fun and educational events for people of all ages. I have attended several events at the Garden, shopped for native plants at their plant sales, and been a regular visitor who enjoys wandering through this special place.

Today I am making a financial donation to help the Garden fulfill their mission.

Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not, today, I hope you will join me in donating money to a local nonprofit, committing to volunteering your time, or both. It all adds up.

Merry Christmas!

Featured Image at Top: Earthrise – Photo Credit U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968. That evening, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft.

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Native Plants are Good for the Environment

Offer native plants a place in your yard.

Native plants give you beauty, a sense of place, and an environmentally friendly yard that does not need fertilizers, pesticides, or intensive watering.

Unfortunately, it took me many years to gain an appreciation for native plants (which includes trees and grasses). Now, it just makes sense to me that native plants should be our go-to plants, not the thirsty turfgrass lawns brought to the United States by wealthy European landowners or the exotic plants that colonists and immigrants brought with them from their far-flung homelands.

Trying to force plants to live in areas that they are unsuited for is not good for the plants or the environment. Why not reimagine your yard and try native plants? If you give them a chance, native plants will find their way into your heart.

Reimagine Your Yard

When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, my family and I lived in a new subdivision of ranch-style homes near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Landscaping varied from house to house but every front yard and most backyards had a swath of lawn, a few trees, and whatever ornamental plants the homeowners fancied (which might have included native plants).

A few streets away, rebels must have been living in the white house with black trim because their yard did not comply with the neighborhood norms. It looked weird, out of place. Small speckled rocks covered the front yard interspersed with groupings of hardy-looking yet attractive plants. Years later, I realized that these rebels had chosen an easy-care drought-resistant yard well suited for the low rainfall and warm climate of Southern California.

Later as an adult still living in Southern California, my spouse and I maintained landscaping that fit in with our neighborhood including two turfgrass lawns, two dozen rosebushes, several hydrangeas, a handful of azaleas, and an array of pots that we rotated with seasonal flowers. Possibly the only native plant on the property was a lovely old oak tree that had taken up residence in a corner of the backyard long before we arrived.

Sprinklers Water Turfgrass Lawn and Sidewalk
Sprinklers Watering a Turfgrass Lawn and the Sidewalk – Photo Credit iStock/marcutti

Moving to the Central California Coast, eleven years ago, during a drought, caused me to reimagine what makes a yard beautiful and stirred my interest in learning about native plants. Instead of green lawns and flowering ornamental shrubs, our yard here is mostly wild and is frequented by mule deer, wild turkeys, and a variety of birds searching for water, food (plants and bugs) and a place to hang out.

I began observing the plants and trees noticing that some seemed to do well even during our dry summers and others died without irrigation. Some plants coexisted with a variety of different plants and some like ice plant and Italian thistle seemed intent on taking over the yard meaning they are invasive. I got an idea into my head that we could restore our land to a happier and more environmentally sound state appropriate for our location.

Mule Deer Bucks Napping in Our Yard
Three Mule Deer Bucks Napping in Our Yard among Native Monterey Pine Trees in June 2013 (see the patch of invasive ice plant in the background).

Armed with a pair of clippers and a shovel, beginning with ice plant and thistle removal, I embarked on an amateur yard restoration project that is still in progress. I knew that to be a good steward of our yard I would need to learn about both native and invasive plants. If you want to, you can read about some of my experiences as a native plant novice in various posts including Wood Chip Mulch Mountain, Weed Whacking – Do it Yourself, Adopt a Native Plant, Arbor Day 2018 – Join Millions of Tree Enthusiasts, and Making Water Conservation a Way of Life – Outdoors.

Pause and take a moment to reimagine your own yard as a place where native plants, bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife can thrive and so can you.  If your yard is already full of flourishing native plants, please share your story.

What is a Native Plant?

While I was working on this post, I found myself returning to a question I have often pondered, “What constitutes a native plant?” I wanted to find out and I thought you might want to know, too.

The answers I found on the Internet varied quite a bit and left me wondering, “How am I supposed to plant native plants if no one seems to know what defines a native plant?” I discussed it with my family over dinner. They did not seem to understand why I was having a dilemma or why I felt the need to ask the question. Undaunted, I plucked up my courage and posted my question on the Facebook group page for the California Native Plant Society.

California Native Plant Garden with Bench
California Native Plant Garden with a Bench – Photo Credit Jeff Silva (click the photo to open it on Flickr).

Apparently, I was not the first person to have asked for a native plant definition and it created a small flurry of responses including “Not this again!” and “We are sworn to not be crabby towards newbies, remember?”

I did receive some useful responses but not a definitive answer. Some people suggested that a native plant (at least in the U.S.) is one that was growing here before European colonists brought plants from home and other distant lands. Others said that a native plant is a plant that evolved in a particular area or region over thousands of years. Several people said that a native plant is able to survive on its own without human intervention.

Okay, I accept that science is not black and white. I came away with the general understanding that a native plant is one that has evolved over a long, but indeterminate amount of time, adapting to the climate, terrain, soil, wildlife, and other plants in a particular place and requires little or no care from humans.

Botanists and other plant scientists use historical records, field observations, and scientific testing to determine whether a plant is native to a certain location.

The next section will cover why native plants are good for the environment.

Native Plants and the Environment

Native plants are good at their jobs. With no need for micro-managing bosses, native plants routinely perform their job responsibilities including using water wisely, running on renewable energy, recycling materials, storing carbon, providing food and habitat for others, keeping toxins and diseases out of their workplaces, and reproducing new generations. Each year, they take a vacation, well, actually a staycation going dormant in preparation for the next growing season.

California Yard with Native Plants and Palo Verde Tree
California Yard with Native Plants and Palo Verde Trees – Photo Credit Steve Hartman (click the photo to read the California Native Plant Society blog post).

Moving away during environmental downturns is not an option for native plants. It is in their best interest to adapt to the conditions where they find themselves not relying on humans to apply fertilizers, pesticides, or extra water. This also makes native plants good for the environment.

Synthetic fertilizers are made from fossil fuels that are dangerous to extract, disastrous when spilled or leaked, and emit greenhouse gases when burned. Fertilizers running off from yards and agricultural fields cause dead zones in water bodies where nothing can live so not using them in your own yard reduces this problem.

Pesticides are poisons created from fossil fuels to kill specific living things that humans consider pests, but their use results in collateral damage to humans and nonhumans. By not using pesticides in your yard, you are eliminating a hazard to bees, butterflies, birds, pets, and you and your family.

Using water sparingly protects groundwater basins that provide drinking water for tens of millions of people and irrigation water for hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland. Overdrawing your account at the bank is not a good idea and neither is overdrawing a groundwater basin. A groundwater basin is overdrawn when it cannot be refilled on an annual basis by rainfall, snowmelt, or a combination of both.

California Yard with Native Plant Landscaping
California Yard with Native Plant Landscaping in Bloom – Photo Credit Pete Veilleux (click the photo to read the California Native Plant Society blog post).

Maintaining biodiversity is another beneficial trait of native plants. In the wild, nature encourages a wide variety of plants and animals to live together keeping the overall ecosystem in balance. Of course, sometimes things get out of balance but native plants are better equipped to handle it than non-native plants. Evolving over a long time, native plants have experienced adversity many times and adapted to it so they have a long history of making comebacks, sort of a plant version of “Been there, done that.”

The environmental benefits of native plants motivate me to grow them in my yard. Having fun is why I grow some of my native plants from seeds. We will continue this conversation in the next post.

Featured Image at Top: California State Flower California Poppy– Citation Smith, C. 2010. Plant guide for California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Plant Materials Center. Lockeford, CA 95237. I found this photo on the California Native Grasslands Association website.

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