Lewis Weil

this is a purple martin bird house in a park near my house.

purple martins were nearly extinct. invasive birds* had crowded them out of their nesting sites. the species has made a resurgence because people started keeping artificial nesting sites for them. now 90% of purple martins nest in structures maintained by volunteers. what we do as individuals to help nature matters, every little bit adds up.

*introduced by someone who wanted all the birds mentioned Shakespeare to be in nyc central park!

When one thinks about environmentalism they are probably thinking about conservation. Actively protecting beautiful, natural places. Or maybe one thinks of waste reduction and recycling. Or maybe planting trees. Which are all needed and wonderful actions. What I am personally interested in is a practice called Ecological Restoration. It is the science and art of trying to rebuild ecosystems on land damaged by human action.

In the process you remove what you can from human activity, get rid of invasive plants, and plant a large diversity of grasses, flowers, trees, that would have been there before the land was altered. To try to restore wildlife habitat.

I think restoration is beautiful and poetic environmental work. Most of us can't create a national park or protect untouched wilderness. But anyone can make the little bit of ground they have access to better for wildlife by planting native plants. Doing that creates habitat for wildlife. Helps the soil hold water, sequesters carbon, and it's beautiful. It is something I am trying to make a bigger part of my time on Earth. I think if a place can be wild that it should be wild.

One can restore their yard to be wild, spread native wildflower seeds in an empty lot, or volunteer with restoration projects in your town. We can undo some of the damage humanity has done and make the world a more vibrant and healthy place.

My side yard where I removed the lawn and am planting local grasses and wildflowers.

This is a blog post about getting a desk. This post is the first thing I am writing from my desk.

For the first time since college I don't have a pet or an aquarium. This morning someone came and bought all my aquarium stuff and then shortly after that my friend Amber brought me the desk I bought from her. For environmental and style reasons i like to buy used/vintage everything, with all biodegradable parts.

It's a midcentury all-wood teak desk. She bought it used and now I'm buying it from her. I am very happy to have found such a perfect desk and to have been able to get it from a friend.

I am trying to think and experiment much more about my spaces that I live and work in. This desk is an exciting part of the process. And don't worry, I'll have an aquarium again before too long.

LeVar Burton, Mr. Rogers, and a Fishtank

Spring arrived all at once yesterday in Austin. The cicadas started calling, the redbuds opened, and the first bluebonnets bloomed in the hellstrip prairie!

My job and hobbies have been taking care of others. My entire life I've had pets and aquariums. My job is taking care of 90 different households and their full range of problems. I'm the CEO, so I also take care of the company and my colleagues. I took care of my dog. When he died I thought I would redirect my energy into my corals. Then the blizzard ended that.

I miss Bub so much, I would much rather still have him. I wish I hadn't lost my corals. But for first time in my life I don't have another creature depending me. I have me. I'm going to give myself my energy for awhile. The notion of this terrifies me. I could always tell what my animals want. Dogs bark. Fish tanks I know by instinct. What do I need?

During the nearly week long power outage I saw talk about how much it must suck to have an electric car when you don't have power. True, you can't recharge at home off the grid. But it actually was wonderful to have my Leaf last week. Electric cars are enormous batteries that happen to have some car seats sitting on top of them. Before the blizzard I made sure my car was fully charged and then I sealed it up and put away the charging cable. We had no power for days, but we several kilowatts sitting in the driveway. My mom also has an electric car. It was great for both of us because you can safely go sit in the car to warm up without worrying about carbon monoxide. I've heard from people who slept in their EVs in their garages. You can't do that with a gas car. We were able to use my car to keep our power banks charged. I would charge them during the day and then we could plug in our phones and stuff at night. I let my neighbors know if they needed emergency warmth they could warm up in my car. We were iced in, no one was going anywhere, so it didn't matter that I had limited range. But I did know if I really needed to I could find a charger in a part of town that didn't lose power. Gas pumps need electricity too, so no one was refilling their vehicles in neighborhoods without power.

I'm now considering getting solar panels and battery backups so we can avoid this in the future. But that is tbd.

i found a small miracle today. some of my corals are still alive. they are in bad shape and may not make it, but they aren't dead yet. i am still planning on removing the tank, for reasons i'll elaborate on some other time. but what started as a plan to tear the tank down turned into a coral rescue.

i had the tank covered and the room locked up the last couple days because it smelled awful. in the freezing cold, in the dark, and without reliable water there wasn't much i could do.

yesterday we got power back and it seems to be staying on. our water is flowing. so rather than wait for the tank to smell even worse i decided to break it down today. i gathered my energy, physical and emotional, for a grueling and sad task. with aquarium projects you are dealing with water, living creatures, and electricity. you have to have a plan, be careful, and not stop until you are done. my plan was to remove all the electrical equipment so i could work safely. remove the dead animals. and then drain as much of the water as i could. the tank was full of bare coral skeletons and lots of detritus.

but there were a couple corals showing signs of life. enough that i thought they could possibly be saved. luckily i had some clean seawater already mixed and on hand. i removed all the equipment as planned. removed the dead corals. and then siphoned off as much funk as i could and then added back clean seawater.

most of the corals died, and it was sad pulling them out. but amazing several small corals and a large beautiful “platygyra” brain coral was still alive. this is a very delicate animal. i am shocked it survived. if you know what to look for it is particularly expressive, for a coral. it is alive and looks pretty good! im going to give it a few days and make sure it pulls through. but right now i am very pleased and encouraged to get to see it.

i had high hopes for it when i got it and was especially sad about the idea of losing it. they can live hundreds of years. it would be terrible for its life to be cut short because it ended up with me. i've talked with a few other aquarium keepers and many are in the same situation, losing most or all of their animals. and it hits them just as hard. once i know this coral is going to make it i hope to re-home it to help someone rebuild their reef.

heads up this post is a huge bummer. seriously, please stop reading if you don't want to be sad. we all have sad things we are dealing with. mine are far from the worst, but they are mine. i'm not fishing for sympathy, i just got to get this all out of my head.

as i write this it is thursday february 18. i haven't really found the words to convey the situation in Texas, and specifically in our neighborhood in austin. winter storm, blizzard, extreme cold don't capture it. this is unprecedented but may be a new normal event. we all saw the forecasts and knew it was going to be extremely cold.

last thursday, feb 11 it was sleeting when i was in the car in front of the veterinarians office making the decision to put our dog to sleep. it was icing while i waited for my wife to arrive at the vet to come say goodbye. i was scared for our safety but we needed to say goodbye. we had to say goodbye to him in an entryway to the office because we couldn't both go in due to covid rules. i went inside with him and walked out without him.

the next day we ended work early and made a run to the grocery store before it dipped below freezing again. it was precarious and we almost didn't go. i had a very scary experience in a sudden ice storm a few years ago and am very wary of going out in winter weather. we got supplies for the weekend and made a plan to stay inside through monday. the forecast was for it be very cold and some possible snow, with the temperature hitting its lowest monday morning.

that is not what happened.

late sunday night we got notice that due to incredible demand on the power grid there would be rolling blackouts. they were to last around 45 minutes. the power went out and we went to bed. i woke up, surprised, in a cold house the next morning. the power had been out all night. we filled bowls full of snow and put them in the fridge and freezer to try to protect our perishables. later we moved our supplies of milk and eggs to a cooler filled with snow. my saltwater aquarium full of delicate corals had dropped in temperature and not had circulation for 12 hours. i start heating tank water on the stove, thankfully the gas stove was working. and then floating the bags of hot water in the tank to try to keep it warm. i blowed bubbles with a tube to oxygenate the water. i've done this before. ive been in blackouts. ive been in cold weather. but never anything like this. we got power again in the afternoon on monday for about an hour. but lost it again very soon after that. i couldn't keep up with the regimen to take care of the tank, and take care of the house, and myself and my wife, and running the stove in these conditions is a carbon monoxide risk. plus i couldn't keep doing it throughout the night. the temperature kept dropping. everything in the tank died. i shut the door to the room and can't bear to look inside. aquariums aren't like other pets. they don't love you back. you don't miss looking into their eyes and taking them on trips with you. but you still care. i had grown most of the corals from little rescued pieces into big thriving colonies, a lot of time and energy went into it. it is a source of warmth and joy. and i couldn't save it. after losing my dog i thought i would redirect my energy into my corals. but i then i lost them just a couple days later. i couldn't save either one.

we had another hour with electricity on tuesday. on wednesday we never got power. even just a few minutes to reheat the house helps a lot. as the ground and walls lose heat the house gets that much colder. we had taken to doing chores, cooking, and cleaning when there was daylight. and then sheltering in a bedroom to concentrate our heat at night. thursday morning, today, we got power back. we are keeping the house warm but largely trying to act like we were, to conserve energy. conserving power helps the grid expand back out to more people.

my mom in south texas lost water and power but she managed to get a hotel room. it was awful knowing that my 72 year old mom was trying to get through the blizzard by herself but she did ok. thankfully our family in other parts of texas are doing ok too. there are many who are much worse off than us.

its been infuriating but not surprising seeing that the neighborhoods that lost power were historically segregated parts of town. all the critical infrastructure in austin is built in wealthier, whiter, parts of town and didn't lose power at all. and if people who had power had reduced their usage more homes could have kept their power but that largely didn't happen.

some local leaders showed initiative and moved heaven and earth try to help but most relief came from individuals helping each other, neighbors helping neighbors. the governor and a particular senator are damn cowards and are not accepting any of the blame. they've been in charge for decades yet somehow say this catastrophic failure is the fault of people who literally and figuratively have no power.

we still have power now but are ready and expecting to lose it again. normal feels so far away. we can't even shelter with friends and neighbors because there is still a pandemic raging, the one that again state leaders have made so much worse.

it might be days still before we reliably have power. between dealing with my dog's illness and death, and then a week without power i've been mostly away from work and feel tremendously guilty and anxious about it. i usually wait until night to use my phone's internet connection to get online. its something i can do in the dark. but seeing horror stories, blame, and sadness on social media isn't helping. if you read this, i'm sorry. we all have our own bummers to deal with, and these are mine.

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