One straw at a time.

THE LAST STRAW —How Starbucks can change our culture for the planet’s best interests

Starbucks is a worldwide phenomenon. Not only does the company employ hundreds of thousands of people, it constitutes a brand that most urbanites embrace, nay, cherish.

Since Starbucks corporate policy has embraced the preservation of Mother Earth, perhaps they could help instill a different culture in the consumption of beverages for the massive number of the java-enamored. This change would mean one itty, bitty urge in the direction of conservation for their patrons, and more important to Starbucks, give itself another push in the name of coolbranding. In the process, it could save billions of tons of petroleum based waste.

I give you – the straw. When did the straw become an absolutely essential appurtenance for every beverage? God gave us lips for crying out loud! Unless you are a 2-year-old and are in need of a sippy cup, this utensil is superfluous.

Straws are made of plastic and yes, most plastic is petroleum based, although we are making huge strides in other compostable bio-based eating accessories. Starbucks is on the leading edge of this technology.

The reality is that only 27% of all plastics get recycled. The other 73% goes into landfills and particulate matter in the ocean.

The use of straws with beverages goes back to the Sumerians in 3000 BC. Straws were made of gold and lapiz and were presumably used to keep the settled matter at the bottom of home-brewed beer away from one’s palate. Modern day straws were patented by the creative and thirsty Marvin C. Stone, in 1888, whilst sipping a mint julep on his front porch on a hot day in Washington, DC. The straw of choice in those days was made from a type of rye grass. Although tremendously eco-friendly, Marvin did not care for the way it tainted his bourbon. He had the notion (after a few juleps I’m sure, as the most creative ideas appear at such auspicious moments) to take a strip of paper, wrap it around a pencil and apply glue, later perfecting his invention with wax.

Every beverage in most every corner bar and eatery provides you with a straw, even when one asks specifically for its deletion. Try it and you’ll see, even when you remind the well-intended server that you didn’t want a straw, they will take it out of your soda and throw it in the trash. When you order another drink, purposefully leaving the straw on your napkin to be used with the subsequent beverage, they will throw away the napkin and the straw, missing the point entirely.

The Starbucks staff has the wherewithal to not insert the straw into your drink. In fact, by company policy, they are not allowed to touch it. There is a bevy of straws lounging on the Starbucks condiment table covered in paper sheaths (provided by trees of course) for each customer to insert at their own discretion. My research points to the fact that nearly 99% of customers exercise that option.

But almost every other restaurant, diner, bar, coffee house, and deli will insert a straw in your drink, happily toss it in the trash when you are finished, and provide you with a brand new tubular utensil with your next order, even though you are drinking the same gin and tonic and possess the same lips.

This oral addiction has been totally engrained in the hospitality industry.

Paper straws are not common. They tend to get soggy, like the rye grass straw, especially with warm liquid. Take in point my Sikh friend who was in definite need of a straw for sipping his chai tea as his mustache and beard (the pruning of which is against his belief system) would coalesce foam remnants on his glorious grey facial cascade. The paper straw at Flora Grubb was a great and heartfelt concept but not exactly practical, not to mention the fact that they are not really earth-friendly either. They are derived from trees after all.

Sometimes a plastic straw is covered with a plastic sheath – both being discarded in regular trash (yikes, a double negative!).

Let’s say you spend your afternoon at Starbucks on your laptop and drink three Caramel Machiattos, extra espresso, low-fat whatevers. Most patrons will garner three straws. Since it is the same beverage and you have the same mouth, harboring the same germs, wouldn’t it be environmentally prudent to remove the straw from your first oral orgasmic experience and re-use it for the rest of your laptop jabbing afternoon? After all, it has been marinated. Not to mention, straws give you upper lip lines, like those found on smokers’ faces.

And, let’s not forget the cost (both fiscally and environmentally) of manufacturing the straw, transporting the little culprits, and the price of all that extra trash. Starbucks would not only look cool if they campaigned against straws, they would save tons of cash!

Are straws important for certain people like my Sikh friend and Stephen Hawking? Absolutely.

Are there millions of plastic straw particles swirling around in no less than five global garbage vortexes floating in our oceans? Yes.

Are they necessary for the general public? No.

Straws are occasionally appropriate. But, every day? With every beverage? For every person? No way. We have got to get a collective grip!!!

Starbucks has a very unique and perhaps THE most influential opportunity to affect this beverage application culture. Starbucks could implement a sincere start for cultural change for the benefit of our one and only planet. This cool, no-straw policy could create a huge branding in the positive and essential global direction, amassing necessary cultural changes. Just a little coercing from a giant like Starbucks (yes, there are over 500 Starbucks just in China!) could make a small stab at the reversal of climate change.

And right now, that’s all we’ve got – small stabs. But collectively, on a planet with billions of people, cultural changes could be the most influential.

One straw at a time.

Author and Conservationist, Brandon Wiggins

Helping Kids Learn About Plastics

Hi Brandon, 

I just wanted to write you to thank you very much for coming and speaking to my class last week! I know the kids were a little restless due to the miscommunication of their schedule but they definitely took a lot away from the talk. We have just started sending emails and setting up meeting times with our targets.   Once again thank you for taking the time to help motivate the students even more in their fight against plastic!

Best, Skylar

Skylar W. Knight  University of San Francisco Arts and Sciences | Biology Biology Department | Peer Adviser Phi Delta Theta CA Chi | Warden

Chevron and Me

An Interesting Foray to the Chevron 2019 Shareholders Meeting

The Chevron National Headquarters in San Ramon is an imposing campus. On the morning of May 29, 2019, I left my absolutely horrid hotel, where I had spent a miserable night, via Uber to the nearby Marriot, where I supposed the bulk of the shareholders were staying since the meeting started at 8am. It was the case and we were shuttled about a mile to the Chevron Headquarters.

There were at least 60 armed guards, police, rangers and security agents stationed at the entrance guard gate. Oddly enough, the Chevron Corporate logo had been covered with a steel plate. Security took my purse and held it through the meeting. I went through a body scanner and then a personal scan by an non-uniformed woman who subsequently patted down my hair.

Brandon and her shareholder certificate
Brandon and her shareholder certificate

I had the impetus to go to this meeting upon receipt of a proxy statement from Chevron. I was vetted via email for proof that I actually owned Chevron stock. I only own one share but according to Adam Sandler and Mr. Deeds, that entitled me to entrance and hopefully the ability to hold Chevron to some accountability regarding the environment.

As it turned out, I was not the only one.

We were led into a large conference room and directed where to sit. The newly anointed Board of Directors came in last to assigned seating. They were sequestered from the general audience, even when using the restroom. It was not a diverse group, mostly older white men, dappled with the occasional Asian and African American, about 20% women. The Chairman of the Board was very ‘John Kerry-esque’. He was tall and handsome, intelligent and well spoken, able to think fast on his feet. A menace in Armani.

He gave a little speech, introduced his Board, showed us a little video about how much Chevron cares about the environment, touting their new ‘ever cleaner’ mantra, and then announced the question and answer period. There were about 20 people in line and we were given a ticket with its match in a bingo-style hopper. There were not enough time slots for everyone so it was a crap shoot if I would even get to speak. You were allowed exactly two minutes and then your microphone was turned off.

A nun from Philadelphia apparently comes every year to plead for the cause of fresh water as a human right. I discovered that Chevron’s practices in oil extraction use massive amounts of fresh water as well as contaminating water sources in extraction and refinery locations worldwide. I quickly inserted that issue in my unscripted speech about algae based biofuels, if I got the opportunity to speak.

They cut her microphone off at exactly the two minute limit. She continued to speak passionately off mic. The Chairman thanked her and she was dismissed.

Another round of speakers came from Ecuador where an entire village of indigenous peoples have been harmed beyond repair. The Chairman retorted to the accusations of the Ecuadorians with respect (or disrespect I should say) to their attorney. He mentioned casually that said attorney had been caught in a corruption scandal and was recently disbarred.


A woman dressed in manly attire spoke as an ambassador from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a global coalition. She referenced a letter written to Chevron about their massive involvement in climate change only to be dismissed and thanked after the Chairman called her ‘mister.’

Other speakers got their two minutes, almost all pleading their cases about Chevron’s part in climate change. The scripted Chairman stuck to his ‘ever cleaner’ slogan.

Only one time slot left. The other people in the queue looked at each other. Who was it going to be…?

“Number 210 please.” I looked at my ticket. It was me.

Now, I didn’t look like any of the other speakers. I was dressed in a suit and heels. I had been smiling throughout the meeting and trying to engage board members visually. When I got to the microphone, hoping that the mic couldn’t detect my heart beating out of my chest, I smiled and all of the board members turned around to look at me. They had been looking forward the entire meeting, not glancing backwards at the speakers.

I greeted the board, the chairman and the stockholders, then took a deep breath.

I was glad I was unscripted. it enabled me to focus on the new fresh water information I had received. I said roughly the following:

“Mr. Chairman, I would like to know the current status on your R&D into algae based biofuels. Since the use of those fuels can be easily implemented in any combustible engine, reduce the CO2emissions by at least 50%, be cultivated in non-arable land, and clean out all municipal wastewater from heavy metals to pesticides before it is released into the water system, what can we expect from Chevron in the future?”

I’m not sure if I spoke the full two minutes or I was just cut off, but apparently my speaking time was up. The tall handsome chairman smiled, thanked me for my interest, and said, “Well, the scale was just not there.”

I had gleaned from previous speeches that morning that Exxon Mobile was their nemesis. I put that knowledge to use.

Sans microphone, I spoke up. “Mr. Chairman, you are aware that Exxon Mobile has just invested a boatload of money into this field.”

The entire Board of Directors had eyes on me. Their interest had been enrolled.

“Yes,” he said. “I am aware of that. That was a big investment for them.” Then he half smiled like the Cheshire Cat. “We’ll see who the winners and losers are.”

I was the last speaker and the meeting was adjourned immediately after. You could say, I had the last word.

As chance would have it, there was no shuttle back to the hotel. I said goodbye to the many armed guards, police and security, thanked them for their service and set out on foot. A very nice man accompanied me as we were both going the same place. I learned that his wife was a new board member and they had flown in from London for the meeting.

We chatted in those ten or so blocks. He was curious about algae based biofuels as opposed to corn and other ethanol products. I explained to him the extreme water usage issue in those fuels. I enrolled him in my vision and he even bought my novel, Pursuit: Ya Kuwinda. My last words to him were, ‘Have your wife ask about algae based bio fuels – it’s a thing!”

The experience was enlightening and yet exactly as I had expected: corporate dollars decimating the planet for established and profitable policies. They are hell bent on extracting every drop of fossil fuel from the earth until it is depleted. What they are not taking in to account is that green energy isthe new economy. They should be putting every asset in to sustainable energy. The costs of climate change will far and away outspend any R&D today.

Now, I have a history of starting things. I went to the Board of Directors at Starbucks – yes, made it to Seattle – to get them to eradicate plastic straws. It took over eight years for them to incorporate that policy and I’m sure there were many other factors in their January 2019 policy of plastic straw eradication, but I like to think I had a hand in starting the movement. I did the same thing in the city of San Francisco, where I spoke to a middle school about plastics. Those kids, God bless ’em, went to the city council and started the movement for plastic straw eradication. They were successful in 2018. I also made a presentation to the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea about three years ago. You know where that went.

So I seem to start things. Let’s hope the deaf ears that heard my little Number 210 speech might one day open their eyes and see the future.

Yours in conservancy,

Brandon Wiggins

Lasting happiness in a changing world

(Taken from The Book of Joy written with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

The subject is neuroimaging research into a unified theory of the happy brain by Doctor Richard Davidson.

According to Dr. Davidson, there are four independent brain circuits that influence our lasting well being.

1) The first curcuit encompasses our ability to maintain positive states and positive emotions. The ability to maintain these positive traits directly impact one’s ability to experience happiness. The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop conject that the fastest way to this state is to start with love and compassion.

2) The second circuit is responsible for our ability to recover from negative states. One can be adept at maintaining positive states but may easily fall into an abyss of a negative state from which one has a hard time recovering. Being human in this world is difficult. The ability to overcome hardship is a definite challenge but humans have overcome unthinkable events in history and have managed to survive thus far.

3) The third circuit, independent but essential to the others, is our ability to focus and avoid mind-wandering. This has been influential for the invention and embracement of meditation. Neurological scans show intense brain chemistry changes when a subject is in a deep state of meditation.

4) The forth (and my personal favorite) circuit is connected to our ability to be generous. Yes, we have an entire brain circuit devoted just to generosity. It has been shown that when we help others or are helped by others, or even witness others being helped, the neurological circuit is triggered in a way that cannot be reproduced with any other stimuli.

According to Dr. Davidson, there is strong and compelling research that human beings come factory equipped for cooperation, compassion, and generosity.

The Archbishop and the Dalai Lama espouse that the ability and desire to cooperate – and be generous to others – should be harnessed personally, socially, and globally.

These enlightened men constantly strive to remind us that we are – in fact – one group.


This is why I am a Rotarian.

The Science of Autumn Leaves


The show exhibited by deciduous trees in the autumn is triggered by multiple ambient and chemical factors. Most people associate the splendor with cooler temperatures but in fact there are many different factors attributing to both the color change and the loos of foliage.

Autumn Leaves

The process is an intricate dance of events beginning with the deciduous trees’ growth cycle. Most of these trees have a very short period of annual growth from stemming from overwintering buds. But the days must become long enough and the weather warm enough to support new growth. Most trees in the northern hemisphere have completed their annual growth by late June. The next year’s leaf buds are also set at this time. And will not open until there is enough of a chill for a long enough time followed by certain warm temperatures and certain amounts of daylight. These days are called GDD’s (growing degree days) which coerce and modify all kinds of organism’s behavior. Think of it as Mother Nature’s internal clock.

Oddly enough, it is not the daylight that triggers growing habit, it is the length of the dark period which prompts the cells near the juncture of the leaf and the stem to divide rapidly, but without causing expansion.

This abscission layer is a corky layer that blocks nutrients such as carbohydrates from being absorbed from the leaf to the branches. It also blocks the flow of nutrients and minerals from the roots to the leaves.

During the growing season, chlorophyll is constantly being replaced in the leaves. Chlorophyll breaks down with exposure to light so it must be manufactured constantly. When production of chlorophyll ceases and the connection between the leaf and the rest of the plant, the chlorophyll disappears. Thus when the color of the leaves change, it is not that the leaves are turning orange or red, they are losing chlorophyll.

During the summer, the chlorophyll masks the yellow pigments of the leaves (xanthophylls) and the orange pigments (carotenoids) which are exposed once the chlorophyll has ceased production. Red and purple pigments are manufactured in a different process involving anthocyanins and sugars trapped in the leaves.

As the season progresses, the cells in the abscission layer become dry and more cork like, causing the leaves to break off. Like chlorophyll, the other pigments break down with light exposure or are frozen leaving only the tannins, which are brown in color.

Dark hour length is by far not the only factor, it just heralds the beginning of the process. Temperature, sunlight, soil moisture as well as the GDD’s will influence the quality of the foliage display especially after the abscission layer has been formed. An early frost will destroy the machinery responsible for manufacturing anthocyanin. Drought can also trigger the early formation of the abscission layer.

The best weather conditions for a jubilant color display an wet growing season (spring) to early summer), followed by a dry cool autumn marked by warm days and cool but frostless nights will be rewarded with the best color show.

Here is the kicker. While the whole process of fall color is fairly well understood, the reason for it is less clear. Xanthophylls and carotenoids play an important role in photosynthesis by helping to capture light for carbohydrate manufacturing processes.

The benefits of anthocyanins are not understood.

Some entomologists postulate that the purpose of the plant’s evolutionary response is to warn pests. Other scientists believe that anthocyanins serve as a sunscreen to inhibit the loss of chlorophyll. Or perhaps to prevent frost injury to leaf tissues, or perhaps to limit water loss during dry spells. It would seem more evolutionarily beneficial for the species to remove all the carbohydrates they can muster from the leaf before letting it fall to the ground. If this were the case we would not see the red and purple pigments in say – a sugar maple.

So it is clear that the orange and yellow pigments are born from a completely different mechanism than the reds or purples. Who knew?

So the process embraces multiple factors. Many are consequential but how they interact defines the behavior of the organism. As a member of the human organism species. It is apparent that my growing habit, my triggers to manufacture necessary nutrients, and my abscission layer shedding unnecessary baggage in favor of setting up future growth is dependent upon many factors – most of which are out of my immediate control.

Also as a human, I am compelled to believe that in my infinite wisdom, I can recognize the extraneous factors and how I am affected by them. If that were the case, I could measure and modify my GDD’s to suit a more robust growing season.

Alas, that turns out not to be the case.

I am positive that the deciduous tree has a better grasp of the situation.

In An Octopus’s Garden By the Sea

My close encounter with an octopus at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

I met Steve Vogel after a Rotary International meeting in Carmel, California. Steve is the head of animal husbandry at the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. He had come to our club to make a presentation on how the Aquarium tags sharks.

I have had up close one-on-ones several times with sharks so there was no news to me there. I was interested in the octopus.

As I explained to Steve, I was at the Monterey Bay Aquarium several years ago during the “member sleep-over.” Yes, as an Aquarium member, you may spend the night inside several nights each year. Now the term “sleep-over” is a misnomer since there is no actual sleep involved due to restless kids and snoring grandpas, but you get to snuggle up with the kelp forest tank none-the -ess.

I should mention that from age six to college, I aspired to be a marine biologist. My first open water expedition revealed that I get invariably seasick. I am now a botanist—a much more terrestrial endeavor—but I still yearn for the sea.

One Aquarium sleep over night, I was wandering around in places uninhabited by the other guests. Of course, they show the movie Jaws at midnight, thus removing all the children from the rest of the venue. I came upon a large enteroctupus dolfleinii, also known as the Giant Pacific Octopus. She or he (Steve made it known that they are not sure of octopus sexes) was attached to the thick Plexiglas side of her tank. I stood there marveling at her anatomy (I will use the term ‘she’ just for reference). She opened her eyes seemingly from a little nap and spotted me. Her eyes locked on to mine and she began to move. In an undulating fashion, she placed her magnificent body right in front of me while I was standing at her tank. She spread her eight tentacles in calculated moves as if she wanted to wrap her arms around me. But that is not what astounded me.

She looked deeply into my eyes, first with one eye, and then the other. The only way I can describe the experience is that we had a “moment.” We related somehow. I am not sure how cephalopods relate to each other, much less a human, but this was really something. I will never forget how that felt.

I described this event to Steve Vogel. I told him that since that encounter I refuse to eat Nama-tako (octopus in Japanese) at the sushi bar. I told him how mortified I was during Red Wing hockey games, without knowing why, when deranged fans threw dead octopi on the ice (this has since been outlawed, thank goodness).

He tilted his head. “Would you like to meet one?” Would I!!!!! As a science and environmental writer, I do get to do some pretty cool stuff. But this was special. It took several emails to make the arrangements, but yes, I did get to be with one.

My Magic Moment

I arrived with my old friend Danny McCarty, a professional photographer, and his 14-year-old daughter Alea. We were greeted by Cynthia Nolan, the new COO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who had been apprised of the encounter. I actually had not slept the night before as I was so excited. After all, how many people in the world get to do something like this? Steve arrived and took the three of us deep into the bowels of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Steve was very clear. “The octopus is a wild animal. It may or may not like you. If it doesn’t, it will go to the bottom of the tank and ignore you completely.” I knew this but was secretly hoping that we would have the “moment” that I had with the other octopus a few years before. That being said, I would be heartbroken if she rebuked me.

So we entered into the dark underbelly labyrinth behind the scenes at the world-acclaimed location. Steve led us up the stairs and opened the enclosure to the octopus’ garden.

“Now, it may not come. It has been fed already and it won’t be interested in eating.” Steve then started splashing water gently towards the creature. She was not far from us and reached out a tentacle. He splashed her a little more. She came right to me.

Octopi have taste receptors in each and every sucker. They have an incredible sensory and nervous system that can maneuver, extrapolate, decipher, and analyze information. She reached up to me and touched my arm. Then, the realization of my wildest cephalopod dreams, we fell in love.

She engulfed my upper torso. She stroked my face, my arms, my waist, and my shoulders. She looked at me as she caressed my body. She gently tried to assuage me to join her in the tank and I wanted to acquiesce. She was very strong. Steve mentioned that she was only twenty pounds. They had a seventy pound octopus before aptly named Octzilla. I was glad I was not so enamored with that big boy, because that could be dangerous.

My friend Danny reached his hand out to one of her larger suckers. She spit him out. She had no interest. She somewhat liked Alea, but not so much.

Now keep in mind, I was careful not to apply any lotion, oil, make up, or anything that would taint our tete a tete. I wanted an authentic experience, not to mention not wanting to spoil her garden.

Truth be told, things got a little heated. She had me engulfed, tugging hard to get me to dive in and play with her. Steve had to peel her off me to slow things down a little. She was excited. I felt her pull me into the center of her body. When I could feel her beak in the innermost folds of her skin, I asked Steve if she would bite. He said that she absolutely would not bite me, she never had. About three minutes later, she gave me a little love nibble. I will proudly wear that scar for the rest of my life.

After Steve pulled her away, sucker by sucker, tentacle by tentacle, we sadly said goodbye. I was so exhilarated by the experience, I practically skipped down the stairs. Steve led us through another labyrinth and out into the Aquarium itself. We looked at her through the Plexiglas in her own little garden where we had just been entwined. She was still lingering by the enclosure entry where we had been. She already missed me.

So I am now an advocate for the appreciation and conservation of the octopi. They are sentient beings living their lives the best they can—just as we are. How would you feel if someone came and yanked you from your home to be the nightly special at the sushi bar?

As stewards of this planet and all of its inhabitants, it is important to keep ourselves open to those “moments” with creatures with which we co-exist. It is imperative to protect their habitats and their lineages. There is something special between us Hominidaes and the other Kingdoms, Phylums, Classes, et cetera.

Something very special.

Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, Belize, Central America


Brandon Wiggins, center, with resort owners, Dave and Dana Krauskopf

Hamanasi Resort in Belize is one of my new favorite spots on the planet. The property is clean, modern, well-staffed, and an overall delight. It is a small resort, only about 75 guests, but it seems as there are just as many sweet and courteous attendees to fulfill your every wish.

Hamanasi (translated as “almond tree” in the local Garifuna dialect) is an all-inclusive resort—including a different adventure every day. I swam under a waterfall, saw howler monkeys (including a mom with a baby in tow), manatees, agouti, sting rays, dolphins, hundreds of varieties of fish and birds, and a plethora of exotic flora and fauna.

The food is plentiful and mostly delicious. The fruit salsa cannot be beat. Freshly made bread of all varieties and fresh fruit juices and plates abound. The pineapple is so sweet that you will abandon ever eating it again anywhere else.

The most appealing thing about Hamanasi is that it is a place where like-minded people have the opportunity to converse about various subjects in conservation. In my meetings with the owners, Dave and Dana Krauskopf, their commitment to environmental sustainability is evident in their enthusiasm. I was surprised to see that they served beverages with plastic straws. When I mentioned it to Dana (when I went down to the bar to get a drink in my jammies—that’s how comfortable it is here) I could see the wheels turning in her head. My guess is that the next day, she was sourcing paper straws for the resort.

On property is an organic garden, which feeds the guests (speaking of which, Hamanasi just received their organic grower’s certificate three days before my arrival), a compost area, a beach, a pool, an adventure center, bountiful hammocks, and a pond complete with crocodiles.

I had to try to imagine what it would be like to conceptualize, design, and implement a project like this in a country like Belize. Dana and Dave had lived all over the world, including Moscow, and were experienced in sustainable precepts. Dave’s mother was very involved in the Sierra Club, so he cut his teeth on the cause.

Dana described their greatest accomplishments in sustainability with passion in her eyes. Unlike the atrocious resort next door and many other local resorts, the Krauskopfs did not clear cut and burn the property to make way for the buildings. They positioned each and every room and building in and amongst the indigenous flora and fauna. I was fortunate enough to spend my first night in the deluxe treehouse (something I would not recommend as a solo traveler as it is a whole lot of romantic space wasted…) where I took a hot tub on the deck by candlelight in the company of a lady iguana and an agouti.

Every detail was attended to perfectly, even the housekeeping staff drew my bath while I was at dinner.

I transferred to a beach bungalow with amazing breezes and views. An epic lighting storm ensued as I danced on the patio in the rain. The beach accommodations were equally enticing as the tree houses, just in a different way. I would highly recommend both.

Dana and Dave have plans to make the resort even more eco-friendly. They have procured an additional 4-5 acres behind the resort where they endeavor to have a black water processing and treatment facility, a solar energy station, and staff housing, while reforesting the lot.

I inquired about the recycling infrastructure in the country of Belize. Dana tilted her head. Since the number one industry in Belize is tourism, the fact that when you are taxied to the resort you pass mounds of plastic trash, one would think that the government would make a concerted effort to remedy that situation.

Dana gave me a brief history of the recycling infrastructure that began in 1995 (Dana and Dave began conceptualization of Hamanasi in 1991-1992). It is in need of modernization, but Dana mentioned that in parts of Belize they are using “crush and reuse” bottles for construction. Many of Hamanasi’s paths use crush glass as an concrete aggregate. Dana and Dave are working with the local governments on changing the culture of the indigenous peoples as well as remediating the recycling and trash conundrum. (FYI – I JUST HAD A CONVERSATION WITH THE MINISTER OF TOURISM AND THE PRIME MINISTER’S BUSINESS PARTNER ABOUT THIS!)

When I inquired about the functionality of local governmental entities, Dana was very complimentary in her dealings with the Belizean government. Since Belize was previously a British colony, everyone speaks English and American dollars are welcome (the currency is tied $2 BZD to $1 USD). Bribing is not necessary to run a successful business. They function under a legal system based on British Common Law. From my experience, Belize offered the best of Latin America without the drawbacks. Back to the resort itself.

When you enter the newly constructed guest dining room, you will get a treat when you look up. The trusses exhibit the traditional Caribbean architecture coddled in a 600 piece ‘puzzle’ of a Phillip Flurry design. Santa Maria and Mahogany woods embellish this dormered ceiling with cast ironed tie rods and 10-foot ceiling fans that will astound you.

I also encountered many more families and children than I had anticipated. Dana reminded me that it was spring break (Oh yea, I forgot about that) but also mentioned that when the kids come, they are unwittingly enticed into the concept of being unplugged. The children—and yes even the teenagers, of which there were a substantial number—were engaging. Even with their parents…


Dana’s foresight on eco-friendly travel was highly positive. She feels that the educated traveler is seeking out adventures such as this. As a mother herself of three  young boys (who were zip lining with their dad that afternoon), she sees the future of travel—and environmentally conscious guests—as where the trend is going, and staying.

When I asked this forward thinking entrepreneur and mom what would be the number one thing that she and Dave would wish to pass on to their boys, with respect to the environment, she paused for a moment. “I would like for them to promote long term thinking and planning in government and infrastructure.” She paused again. “I would also like them to champion the cause of holding big polluters accountable and pay for the social costs of their activities.”

Amen, sister.

She wants for her children to have a better environment than we have today. She does not feel overly optimistic that we have not already tipped the balance.

Then I looked at her three little boys. I felt optimistic.

Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort is a place that I may have to visit on an annual basis. It really did feel like home, but way more fun.

Brandon Wiggins, Author, Conservationist

As a scientist, an environmentalist, and a single mother, I have certain criteria for dating. First, my date must be bright. Second, a potential partner must be rational. Third, he must have a sense of self and the ability to stand for something worthwhile.

So, I tried online dating. I met some interesting people – an optometric surgeon, an astronaut now working for Google Maps, a Vintner. One date I encountered was a plant pathologist. Nice guy, my age, very sweet. Since I am a botanist, a plant pathologist was right up my alley.

You would think.

As we got into a conversation about nothing in particular, the subject came around (as it always does with me) to climate change. His tone immediately changed as he cited the remarkable rebound of the Polar Bear population. I slightly smirked and decided not to pursue this little snippet and changed the subject.

Then it came around again. He mentioned the fact that the hole in the Ozone layer has shrunken substantially over the last few years.

I nodded my head and smiled prettily while sipping on my Vodka soda (without a plastic straw of course).

Deciding to ignore these comments I agreed to a second date.

We met again and sat down for dinner. We chatted for a while about this and that and then I went for it.

“So you know that the Polar Bear population has increased substantially because of the International Agreement for the Conservation of Polar Bears, which outlawed hunting of them right?” I said matter-of-factly. He looked blank.

“Yes, since the agreement in 1973 it has been illegal to hunt Polar Bears. Their worldwide population has gone from several thousand to around 25,000. That being said, they are finding more and more corpses of starving and diseased bears due to the severe reduction of the sea ice from which they hunt.”

He furrowed his brow.

“Oh and by the way, you were absolutely correct about the Ozone layer! It has gotten smaller. The reason there is a hole in the first place is because of the use of CFCs (chloroflourocarbons). They were globally banned by the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The use of Hydroflourocarbons took its place. Recent studies are showing that HFCs, an even stronger greenhouse gas, could be worse but at least the Ozone layer – which protects our planet from deadly UV rays – does not have an ever widening hole at this particular juncture.”

I ordered another drink in response to his silence.

After several pregnant moments he replied.

“It is obvious that so called ‘climate change’ is a hoax. The ‘greenies’ (cringe) are only after the money.” He smugly sat back in his chair. “There have been many ‘climate changes’ throughout the millennia and this is just another one. Anyone who believes that global warming is caused by man is drinking the Kool-Aid.”

Drinking the Kool-Aid?

I looked at him thoughtfully. It was clear that this relationship didn’t have a snowballs chance in you-know-where.

I called over the waiter and paid for my drinks.

I stood up and thanked him for a lovely afternoon.

“And by the way, where are you getting your information?” I asked sweetly.

He chortled, “Well, Fox News of course! The only real news station.”

I should have guessed…

So, I’m sure he was bright. And I’m sure that he was rational in most parts of his life.

As far as having a sense of self and standing for something worthwhile? Wow, um, my guess is that he stood for whatever Fox News made him believe.

Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid…



Excerpt from PURSUIT: Ya Kuwinda.
This is Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series.
The newly-revised 2nd Edition was released in 2018.

Harper’s face was pressed against what remained of the window. The wind coming through the jagged hole offered a welcomed breeze.

Again she was lulled, but this time with a profound sense of despair. Only her father’s words from long-ago broke through:

Pruning is perhaps the most important aspect of horticulture. In the horticultural world, we try to mimic nature. In the natural arena, there are frosts, drought, stampedes, insects, constant nibbling by creatures, viruses and bacterium and any number of possible assaults to decimate foliage.

This is by far the hardest thing for most people. It is difficult for them to ‘hurt’ the branch or cut away part of something that is living. The result is that much energy is spent on unhealthy parts that should have been removed. 

In nature, the weak and unhealthy are eliminated without a hesitation. Pruning, and I mean hard pruning, enables the root and stem structure to become more established, thus retaining and distributing nutrients to the healthy parts of the plant. The plant on the whole has a chance to regenerate itself without the burden of the old and diseased material.

The most important thing to do in your life is diligent pruning. Cut off damaged parts that hold you down and take energy away from your growth. It is imperative your expenditures are directed to healthy endeavors. And when I say ‘hard pruning,’ Harper Morgan Smith, I mean not only do you need to cut hard, cutting away the damaged parts and disposing of them entirely, I mean it will be hard to accomplish. It will take a great deal of perseverance, and perhaps reliving the hurt, in order to rid yourself of the burden.

But it will be worth the pain.

The Cork Oak


Excerpt from PURSUIT: Ya Kuwinda.
This is Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series.
The newly-revised 2nd Edition was released in 2018.

Her mind traveled back in time to a picnic she prepared for her father by the Carmel River.

The majestic Cork Oak, he told her, Quercus suber, grows to 60 feet both wide and high and has an incredible bark structure. The gnarly thick cork is the bark of commerce. That lovely cabernet I enjoyed last night was protected by that mighty oak’s ‘skin.’

The oak displays a rich palette of color and texture. The leaves have a waxy deep green surface while the under leaf is a fuzzy grey. The cork bark can get up to a foot thick and uses the principles of torque to achieve its abstract geometrical branching form.

The very attribute this giant embraces for her notoriety, as well as her protection, is the one attribute that causes her downfall.

A common trait in humans.

Lovers and winemakers have desecrated her bark for millenniums. The vintners of ancient times only needed a primitive knife to seal their latest fermentations, while lovers carved eternal inscriptions. Nowadays, industrial wine merchants ravage her completely.

Even the industrious woodpecker takes advantage of her soft temperament to shove her own acorns into her skin, assaulting her inner anatomy as they hunt for wood boring beetles.

Each one of these assaults is small individually, but when accumulated over time, can take down the benevolent elder, the damage becoming irreversible. Each little jab, every insult, all moments of disrespect can result in disease and an eventual structural breakdown.

People’s personal relationships are exactly like the life of this giant sentinel. A personal relationship is the sum of its parts. The twists and turns of human relationships result in a whole being, each event causes branching in a new direction, thus further stabilizing the overall structure. When nutrients and illumination are added, the fundamental structure will strengthen.

However, in human interaction, each small jab, every tiny insult, even if waived off with a hand, leaves a hole. The natural process can survive the myriad insults life bestows on you gladly and in perpetuity. Winemakers and lovers readily leave their marks. Yes, there will be a few old initials carved on your own bark, but one must work hard so the holes do not overcome your own well-being. To protect your personal structure, walk away from anything inflicting little holes, for enough of them can take you down.