"The Green House"
Weekly Newspaper Column

What's In a Name?
Article from Gold
Country Magazine, 1995

What is Lasik Vision Correction?
Medical Copy for a Lay Audience

The Pathophysiology of C.O.P.D.
Medical Copy for a
Field EMS Audience

Sample of weekly columns appearing in
The Temecula Valley News & Fallbrook Villager newspapers, 2007 to present

Should You Be a Locavore?
A Movement Under the Microscope: Part I
Copyright Laura J. Silver, 2008

The New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2007 was “locavore”, meaning someone who eats primarily foods produced within a certain distance of where they live; a proponent of the local-food movement.

Though you’ve most likely heard of the movement in association with global-warming issues, it does not conform to a single idea. Nor is “local food” synonymous with eating organic or sustainably produced food. It is the result of several unrelated grassroots organizations coming to similar solutions to a variety of economic, political, ecological, and cultural concerns.

You can blame Mary Ann, a reader who wrote to me with a seemingly simple question, for this and the next few columns. Her simple question grew hydra-headed the more I looked at it, and forced me to address the complex issues surrounding local food. (Just kidding about the blame Mary Ann.)

She wrote:

“I've noticed that some produce in the health food stores is labeled organic and it comes from Mexico or South America. Is ‘organic’ from other countries different and how do they compare to our [USDA] standards?”

It’s a good question, and the simple answer is, the USDA’s National Organic Program  (NOP) has certifying agents in 20 countries currently, including Mexico and several in South America. Foods from those areas must meet the same standards as that grown here in order to carry an “organic” label. Whew! That was easy, huh?

Until the questions start:

  • What if that organic tomato has logged more travel miles than a bushel of frequent-flying executives?
  • What about worker exploitation, child labor, Fair Trade concerns with imported food?
  • How do worldwide food shortages, rising oil prices, and food crops as biofuels factor into the equation?
  • What do you put first, your family’s health, global warming, local economics, world food supplies, or your imperiled sanity as you try to figure it out?

The concept of eating locally goes beyond organic vs. commercial food production. It directly intersects with all of the issues above, and more — sometimes in unexpected ways. Over the next few columns I hope to address some of those intersections, and offer resources you can use for further research, or to help you make decisions in your own life.

This week, let’s take a quick look at how we ended up here in the first place. After all, “locavore” may be a new word, but the concept is as old as agriculture in human history. Growing, raising, or trading food close to home has been the only option for most people for thousands of years. Only moneyed classes in large civilizations could take advantage of food surpluses, preservation techniques, and the ability to move edible goods over long distances.

Beginning in the twentieth century, science developed processing, packaging, and shipping technologies that could keep food for years — or move delicacies to far-flung destinations in a matter of hours.

Food production became agribusiness, using the same bigger-is-better model found in other industries. Transportation was cheap. Economies of scale sent food traveling to processing plants, distribution centers, nationwide supermarkets, and eventually into the global market.

One economist who questioned these giant-industry models was E.F. Schumacher. Though he never addressed local food specifically, he foresaw the consequences of resource-intensive industry, and promoted an “economy of permanence, based on human values and sustainable uses of natural resources*”.

Schumacher believed giant industry was dehumanizing, wasteful of both resources and human potential. Sustainable societies and economies could be best accomplished through human-sized community and regional interactions.

His writings, including the 1973 book, Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered, promoted “decentralism” and became the basis of much of the thought behind local-food advocacy — economically, ecologically, and culturally.

Next week: Results of, and Alternatives to, Eating Locally


USDA/NOP List of Accredited Certifying Agents: (use the link on the right side of the page)

Definition of Terms Relating to Organic Labeling:

History of the Local Food Movement:

*E.F. Schumacher Society:

A Different Shade of Green
Copyright Laura J. Silver, 2008

Modern American environmentalism was born in the 1960’s, at a time of massive social change. Science, technology, and industry were being promoted as the hope of future society, but there were cracks in the pristine façade. This was, after all, the Cold War — bomb shelters in our basements, weekly hide-under-the-desk drills in school — and a pervasive sense of dread.

The threat felt very immanent, with death the least frightening possibility. We’d seen the photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors — as well as two-headed DDT frogs, thalidomide babies, and news of human-caused mass extinctions. Science had a dark side that threatened people and the whole natural world.

The Back to Nature movement was a response to this fear, married to the counter-culture “principle of reversal”. What “the man” supports is bad; it’s opposite is good. Science, technology, industry — bad. Unspoiled nature — good.

Sound simplistic, romantic, and possibly a bit delusional? Well, yeah. But sticky bits of this notion permeate American environmentalism — and may be holding us back.

The idea that green is antithetical to technology, that it means doing without, giving up the comforts of modern life; that saving the planet means we must all become homespun-wearing, granola-crunching, commune members, lurks deep in the minds of us all — green converts or not. But scientists, architects, and futurists are positing that the world is the way it is because we designed it that way, and if we rethink, we can redesign it.

For example, it’s a jolt to most of us to think of a green skyscraper. It seems “wrong’ somehow. But Dr. Ken Yeang is trained as both an architect and an ecologist, and his designs completely re-imagine urban space — as a place that sustainably incorporates nature while fulfilling the needs of humans.

His design for the 26-story Editt Tower in Singapore involves taking a piece of “zero-culture” land — completely urban, environmentally denuded — and improving it with a high rise that integrates one third green space, ties into the local environment with non-competing plants, supports 55% of its water needs though recycling and rain catchment, recycles all its sewage in-house, runs partially on solar power, and is constructed of materials that can be recycled/repurposed as they need to be repaired or upgraded over time.

Other architects, as well as scientists, are learning and designing from nature in unexpected ways, too. In a movement known as “biomimicry”. Adherents posit that nature has spent millions of years solving problems we face every day, and can teach us if we will only listen.

Architect Mick Pearce designed a mid-rise building in Harare, Zimbabwe that is cooled in the same way termites cool their mounds  — completely foregoing standard air conditioning and reducing energy use by 97%. Engineers designed a new shape for plumbing pipe — based on the shell of the nautilus — that prevents mineral buildup, extending pipe life and eliminating the need for chemical drain openers.

Many of the changes begun in the sixties have borne positive fruit, but we need to keep changing. We have become the status quo in the last forty years. We must question the assumptions we make, because the problems we face are dynamic and complex — as nature is. It’s too late to “conserve” our way to a greener future, (realistically, can you see most people volunteering for “voluntary simplicity”?)

Despite a very real dark side, science, technology, and industry are not inherently bad — just somewhat outmoded. They can serve us in creative ways to redesign how we live and interact with the natural world, if we can re-imagine how to use them.


Photos of Editt Tower and other designs by Dr. Ken Yeang:

Article about Editt Tower:

Pictures of other green skyscraper designs:

More about Biomimicry and termite air conditioning:

Back to Top

What's in a Name?

Published in Gold Country magazine, 1995
Copyright, Laura J. Silver

Beginning with the discovery of gold in California in 1848, many people willingly braved hardship and death for an opportunity to go west and "see the elephant" — a phrase left over from the time when elephants were first featured in circus parades.

As the story goes, a farmer heard that the circus was in town and loaded his wagon with the dual purposes of taking his vegetables to market and seeing an elephant for the first time. On the way to town the farmer and his horses encountered the circus parade and the much-desired elephant.

While the farmer was thrilled, the horses were not — bolting and scattering his produce over the landscape. "I don't give a hang," the farmer said, "for I have seen the elephant."

The colorful past exemplified by this story has given the Gold Country many unusual names, as seen on local buildings, street signs, and businesses. Some are now-obscure mining references that inspire curiosity, others are of interest more for the stories behind them. While we can't promise you and elephant, here is a tour of some of Nevada County's more unusual nomenclature:

Banner Ridge Lava Cap Road — Nevada City
This has definitely been voted the wordiest street name in the county. Yet, it could have been longer, since it is derived from "The Star Spangled Banner Mine" christened in 1860, and the underlying geological formation of a lava cap, created by magma oozing through ancient fractures in the earth's crust below Banner Ridge.

The Celio Barn
The Celio Barn on Sacramento Street in Nevada City is named for its one-time owner, prominent local grocer William B. Celio, who operated a market on the site of what is now the Creekside Cafe at Sacramento and Broad streets. His parents came west during the Gold Rush, but later turned to farming. They were members of a large clan with various cattle and stage-stop interests throughout the Gold Country, and William grew up exposed to the family's wide-ranging business interests.

William came to Nevada City in 1881, where he operated a dairy for eleven years and spent another seven with the Union Ice Company. He then opened his grocery store, which was an immediate success. On an interesting side note, he married a local woman named Emma Gove, ultimately inheriting her parents home. Their wedding took place in the same room where Emma was born, and where she eventually died in 1923.

The term "diggins" appears in many places in the Gold Country, notably in Nevada County at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park outside North Columbia, and Empty Diggins Lane in the town of Rough and Ready. The word diggins is dialect for "diggings," literally the material "dug out" of a mine. But it came to mean any place where mining was carried out, as well as the miners' living quarters — hence the slang term "digs" for one's abode.

Joerschke Drive
Joerschke Drive in the Brunswick Basin area of Grass Valley is a local pronunciation nightmare, most often interpreted as "Ja-worski," but correctly pronounced "Yersh-kee." It was named for Agnes Joerschke, wife of August Joerschke, who along with his father owned forty-nine acres of land in the Brunswick Basin.

The Joerschke's, pater and filius, operated a bar called The Heidelberg Inn on the site of the present Humpty Dumpty restaurant. August was drafted into World War II, and the bar's name was changed to the Glenbrook Inn to avoid anti-German sentiment. August survived the war and died in 1934, from a fall while making repairs to the inn. His daughter, Adele Joerschke Blackwell, still lives and works in Grass Valley.

Maidu Lane
Maidu Lane, site of the County Government offices in Nevada City is named for the Maidu or Nisenan ("Neesh-ee-non") Indian tribes. They inhabited much of Northern California, including what is now Nevada County, for at least 3000 years before the Gold Rush brought them to near-destruction. Though they are known today mostly for their unsurpassed basketry, the Maidu's was a complex culture, rich in intricate rituals and beliefs.

Unfortunately they fared no better than any Native American group upon the advent of the white man. Some did survive, however, and their descendants are vocal advocates of the preservation of Maidu cultural sites in the county and surrounding areas.

Miwok Path
Miwok Path, in the Banner Ridge area, is named for another group of Northern California Indians with a traceable past going back 10,000 years. Like the Maidu, the Miwok had a complex culture and used acorns as a major dietary staple, blanching the seeds and grinding them into flour using smooth stones often referred to by the modern Spanish term "manos" on large grinding-rock "metates" still found throughout the area. They also relied heavily on roots for food, leading to the 49ers' derisive designation of "digger" Indians.

Their traditional lifestyle was ended in 1848, with the discovery of gold on their lands. Though they worked in the whites' mines during the early days, the relationship soon soured and the tribes were decimated with disease. Many artifacts are preserved at Grinding Rock State Historic Park in Amador County. Call (209) 296-7488 for directions and information.

Kate Hayes Street
Kate Hayes Street off Empire Street in Grass Valley is named for the internationally famous Irish soprano who toured America, including Grass Valley, in 1853. She was a great hit in the Gold Country inspiring effusive reviews and crowd reactions much like those of today's rock stars. Her very first concert in Dublin, Ireland in 1841 was attended by composer Franz Liszt, who urged her to take up a professional vocal career. She followed his advice and earned great acclaim throughout Europe and America.

Ophir Street and the Ophir Hill Acres area are found in the towns of Grass Valley and Cedar Ridge, respectively. The word "ophir" is a biblical reference (Kings ix. 28, s. 11, xxii) from the Hebrew, referring to a land rich in gold — certainly a fitting reference, and seen frequently in the Sierra Foothills.

"Placer," as in Placer Savings or neighboring Placer County, is a geological term referring to a "waterborne or glacial deposit of gravel or sand containing heavy-ore minerals," such as gold, "which have been eroded from their original bedrock and concentrated as small particles which can be washed out." This is accurate, if not very romantic!

Rough and Ready
Founded in 1849, this now-small town northeast of Grass Valley was named for its founders, twelve men who had designated themselves The Rough and Ready Company of Wisconsin.

Besides the unusual name, Rough and Ready is known for its 1850 secession from the Union in order to allow "fair" settlement of an inflammatory legal case. Much to their dismay, after the case was settled, the residents found out that as secessionists they would not be able to hold highly-anticipated Independence Day celebrations. They promptly rejoined the Union so they wouldn't miss the party.

Sneath-Clay Road
Sneath-Clay Road, off Gold Flat Road in Nevada City, is named for Sneath and Clay's Placer Diggins, a mining operation in the Gracie Road area. The mines were owned by John Sneath and George W. Clay, who appear briefly in handwritten 1865 legal records when Clay sued Sneath for nonpayment of a loan of $2,660. Court records show that Sneath's mining interests were confiscated pending payment. The case was later dismissed, so presumably Mr. Sneath paid his debt.

Uren Street
The pronunciation of this Nevada City street always slightly unnerves visitors and newcomers. For the record, it is pronounced "you-renn," and is named for one or both of the Uren brothers, Charles E. and Edward C. They were both local surveyors (Charles was also a civil engineer) who traveled extensively throughout the Western states at the turn of the century, acting as professional witnesses in mining disputes.

Their father was County Surveyor in Placer County, and Historical Society records state that Charles was offered the same position in Nevada County, but turned it down due to business commitments.

You Bet Road
You Bet Road, off of Highway 174, is named for the town of You Bet, which was founded as a 12-foot-by-12-foot saloon in 1857 by a man named Lazarus Beard. Mr. Beard's saloon became the popular "watering hole" for the nearby residents of the town of Waloupa.

Naming the saloon took quite a while, thanks to Beard's tendency to discuss it over free whiskey with his assistants William King and James Todkil, who made every effort to prolong the discussions — and thereby the whiskey.

One day they jokingly suggested the saloon and growing town be named "You Bet," after Lazarus' favorite slang expression. To everyone's surprise, the town council approved the name and the town of You Bet was born in the first of its incarnations.

Over the next sixteen years, the town was successively burned down, washed away by its own mining operations, moved down the road, and burned down again in its new location. Rebuilt after each disaster, You Bet survived in one form or another until it was abandoned in the 1940s. Little of the town survives today in any recognizable form, but there are still people living who grew up in You Bet, California.

For More Information
These are just a few of the colorful place names and stories here in Nevada County's Gold Country. For more information on the origins of local names and terms, visit the Searls Library/Nevada County Historical Society and the Historical Library in Nevada City, as well as the Grass Valley and Nevada County libraries.

Back to Top

What is LASIK Vision Correction?
Copyright Laura J. Silver, 2007

LASIK (laser in situ keratomileusis) is a surgical vision correction technique that uses a computer-controlled laser to reshape the cornea of the eye and improve vision in people with nearsightedness, farsightedness, and/or astigmatism.

The cornea is the clear portion at the front of your eye that covers the colored iris. It's job is to refract incoming light through the pupil to the back of the eye where the light is turned into electrical impulses and sent to the brain as a visual image. Any imperfection in the shape of the cornea can affect the clarity of what you see and the point at which it comes into focus.

LASIK uses very sophisticated computer software to map the surface of your eye, figure out where the imperfections lie, and what is needed to correct them. During surgery the excimer laser, which has been preprogrammed with your exact correction, removes a very small tissue flap from the inner portion of the cornea. Then short laser pulses are used to correct the curvature of the cornea before the flap is smoothed back, bonding into place in matter of minutes.

 The LASIK procedure is short (around 10 minutes per eye) and painless. You can be driving and back to your normal life in as little as 12 hours after surgery.

Benefits of LASIK Vision Correction

Millions of people need some form of vision correction to get through normal everyday tasks. Some people's careers even depend on good vision, such as airline and military pilots, who are not allowed to wear glasses or contacts to fly.

While even science-nerd frames are considered a fashion statement these days, many people still dislike the look or feel of glasses. Contact lenses are a good option, but can be a hassle. They also come with ongoing expenses of several hundred dollars per year for lens replacement and special cleaning and storage fluids.

LASIK eye surgery can minimize or even completely eliminate the need for glasses or contacts. It gives you a wider field of vision than glasses and reduces the worry of misplacing or damaging your corrective lenses in an emergency. Your improved vision can eliminate the corrective lens requirement on your driver's license and even open up new career options.

Risks of LASIK Surgery

Realistic expectations are paramount with LASIK surgery. It won't solve your financial woes or make your mother-in-law like you (unless she is your eye surgeon and appreciates the fee!) You may even still need glasses or contacts in some situations after your surgery. For example, "presbyopia" — the condition of aging that causes a need for reading glasses — is not corrected by LASIK surgery. If you needed reading glasses before surgery, you may need them after as well.

While the incidence of negative outcomes is small, it is important that you know and weigh the risks, and discuss them thoroughly with your doctor before you decide if LASIK is for you. Some of the risks and complications of refractive surgery are:

• Glare halos and double vision affecting vision at night and in low-light situations (though the new Wavefront technology has nearly eliminated this outcome)

• Under- or over -correction leading to a need for contacts or glasses to bring you to 20/20

• Severe dry eye syndrome

• Patients who are corrected for farsightedness may find results diminish over time

• As with any surgery there is risk of post-surgical infection and inflammation. Your doctor will prescribe medicated eye drops as part of your post-surgical care to reduce or eliminate this risk.

LASIK vision correction has many benefits and some risks. Discuss with your doctor what you hope to achieve with LASIK correction and how likely you are to reach your goal. It is a good idea to do some research on your own and not to rely solely on accounts from friends or even on what your doctor tells you. The more you know the more  comfortable you will be with whatever decision you make about surgical vision correction.

Back to Top

The Pathophysiology of C.O.P.D.
Copyright Laura J. Silver, 2007

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or C.O.P.D., is a term used to refer to three different types of chronic lung disease: emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and adult asthma.  Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are most often the result of cigarette smoking, though long-term environmental exposure to some chemicals and industrial byproducts, as well as chronic lung infections are other potential causes. Asthma that has not been outgrown by adulthood can cause some of the same secondary effects as the other two diseases, and field EMS personnel should keep that potential in mind during treatment.

The chief physiological feature of C.O.P.D. is a loss of elasticity in the alveoli, the tiny air sacs that line the lungs. Human lungs contain hundreds of millions of alveoli which are the primary sites of oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange. In their normal, healthy state they are shaped rather like bubbles that are open on one side. This shape allows them to present more than 100 square yards of capillary-filled lung surface to the air being drawn into the lungs, maximizing the O2/CO2 exchange exchange.

In emphysema and chronic bronchitis the alveoli are damaged and lose elasticity, allowing the edges of the "bubble" to slump and impede the O2/CO2 exchange. The loss of tone in the tissue traps CO2 in the alveoli and full exchange for incoming oxygen cannot occur. In chronic bronchitis this impediment to air exchange is exacerbated by chronic mucous production, which reduces the available surface area even further.

These patients suffer the effects of hypoxia upon exertion, and as the disease progresses, become hypoxic as a chronic state. Their field treatment is considerably complicated by the secondary effects of the higher than normal CO2 level in their bloodstream, which damages the neural respiratory drive.

The primary breathing drive in the brain functions by constantly monitoring the level of CO2 in the bloodstream, telling the body to increase respirations and raise oxygen levels when the CO2 is too high. In patients with chronically high CO2 levels, these receptors burn out, leaving the patient dependent on the backup system housed in the carotid arteries. These carotid baroreceptors constantly check the arterial blood flow for oxygen levels, rather than CO2, and can actually shut off the respiratory drive in the presence of what they consider to be “too much” oxygen.  So a chronically hypoxic patient who has called 911 because he is now acutely hypoxic can actually stop breathing when given oxygen.

These patients must be carefully monitored in the field and started on very low doses of O2(1-2 liters/minute) and, if necessary, can be gradually increased to a maximum of 6 liters by nasal cannula. Oxygen masks should not be used. Low dosages of oxygen are remarkably effective in relieving these patients' acute shortness of breath, and when combined with medication in the ALS setting, can return them to their everyday state in a short period of time. Even where O2 is the only treatment, as in the BLS setting, these patients frequently improve quickly with low levels of oxygen supplementation.

The above is consistently true for emphysema and chronic bronchitis patients. It is worth noting that adult asthma patients, who may suffer some of the secondary effects of high CO2 levels, are generally more tolerant of higher oxygen dosages. They can usually be started at higher levels and are not necessarily limited to 6 liters by cannula. However, it is prudent to be aware that their respiratory drive may be compromised and it is best to increase O2 levels gradually, even if you start at a higher dosage.

Back to Top




Web Site/Writing Samples

About Good Design