This Wild Weather! (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

The Earth's Face (Retrieved from huffington.com, January 16, 2016)

The Earth’s Face (Retrieved from huffington.com, January 16, 2016)

As a society, we must become increasingly concerned about the weather, the environment, our planet, and the sustainability that remains on Earth.  On Christmas Day here in Snellville, Georgia in the United States, the outside high temperature at my home was 76.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  While it was wonderful to enjoy such balmy weather in the winter, we must be reminded that such a temperature is off the chart for this time of year!  Such high temperatures in winter are definitely disturbing and unsettling.  The expected temperature in my area for this time of year is likely between 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, so the 76.5 that was reached recently is definite cause for concern.

During the last week of December 2015, it was so warm at my home that I had windows open and the heat was off.  My heat was off for the entire week – in the last week of December!  Rather than turn on the air conditioning – which I simply was unable to bring myself to do – I believed it a better alternative to allow the outside air to flow through the house by opening some windows.  I’m not sure that Mother Nature knows what is going on either; she definitely appears to be confused!

This brings me to the causes of such wild weather.  If we look back even 100 or 150 years ago, we will see a more substantial amount of forest coverage on Earth.  Last year, my son completed a project about international deforestation, and the information he gathered was shocking!  The Amazon rain forest, as well as old growth forests in Columbia, Canada, the United States, and other countries continue to disappear at alarmingly rapid rates.  When I think of the absence of all of those trees, I also think about the decrease in oxygen produced for our consumption, and the increase in carbon dioxide that also contributes to higher air temperatures and the greenhouse effect.

Pollution and acid rain are other factors that negatively affect our environment, increasing air temperatures and damaging or killing trees, respectively.  The United States is a country that has implemented and done much to enforce laws to decrease pollution being cast into the environment.  While more could be done here, it is already more than what is being done in many other highly populated countries around the globe.  In places such as China, Russia, India, Mexico, and other countries, I wonder what, if any, laws regulating pollution exist or which may be enforced at all?

About 25 years ago, I first visited Eastern and Western Europe, studying in Poland for part of one summer.  I recall that the smog and pollution in Warsaw, Poland hung over the city like a large black cloud.  When I first saw it, I thought it unusual that a rain cloud appeared so low over the ground, and concentrated and immobilized directly over the city.  In the next moment, I realized that it was all of the pollution in the air.  It was incredible!

While washing my hair in the shower in my dorm at Krakow, Poland, it was as if brown dye was coming off of my hair – and I have never dyed my hair!  It was sickening to see and realize the great amount of pollution in which the people in Poland lived.  While I stayed in Poland, I made sure to drink imported, bottled spring water, and to occasionally wash the dirt and grime out of my hair with it, as well.  It is no wonder all of the people who had cancer, miscarriages, and other medical conditions in Poland when they are breathing polluted air, and cooking with and drinking polluted water.  It was definitely angering and saddening to think that I could do nothing about it to help those people.

Further, this brings us to sustainability.  How many more resources remain on Earth to sustain people, plants, animals, and to maintain a healthy and safe environment for all into the future?  It is quite possible that Earth is already beyond it’s carrying capacity.  With average yearly temperatures continuing to increase, the Polar ice caps melting, vast forests disappearing, pollution continuing to devastate the environment, further expansion of the holes in the ozone layer, huge oil spills in the oceans, what will be left, not only for us, but for our future generations?  Will there be future generations that will be able to adequately function and survive on Earth?

We, as a people, have contributed to the destruction of our planet.  We are destroying our beautiful habitat.  So much more must be done to save our planet, but I wonder if it may already be too late?  We all have to do our part.  Sometimes, we may wonder how much one person can do, however I believe it is important to do whatever possible.  One person can recycle as much of their waste as possible – plastics, metals, glass, paper, cardboard.  One person can use less electricity, natural gas, and gasoline.  One person can wear a sweater or use a wool blanket rather than cranking up the heat another notch or two.  One person can take fewer and more economical trips driving a vehicle, combining all errands into one trip rather than several on different days.

Certainly, I do not have the power to enforce laws that regulate pollution or that protect our environment, especially when it comes to big companies.  However, I am one who can say that I have done my part, that I have done as much as possible to preserve the environment, and to teach and encourage others to do the same.  I can encourage children and adults to have an appreciation for the outdoors, to learn about the environment, and to be aware of ways to save and protect it.  I can take responsibility for reducing the pollution and energy use that I cause, and to oversee the recycling efforts of my family.

I have to believe that one person can make a difference, even if it is a small difference.  And, I am a person who lives to make whatever positive difference that I can, not only for myself, but for others, as well.  How will you make a positive difference for our environment, for future generations?  What will you do?  Whatever you will do, do it now, before it’s too late!

“Poland and my Polish Heritage” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Four Generations of my Family, 2006

Four Generations of my Family, 2006

My grandparents (now deceased) on my mother’s side were pure-blooded Poles, having left Poland and immigrating to Germany before coming to Ellis Island around 1950.  My Polish-American grandmother was Władysława, or “Lottie,” and my Polish-American grandfather was Janek, or John.  I never knew either of my grandfathers as they both died before I was born.  Grandfather John died following a two year battle with cancer, possibly brought on by working with the many chemicals at the Tannery in Gowanda, New York, where he lived.  Both of my grandparents worked very hard to put food on the table and keep a roof over the heads of four children, one being my mother.  Sometimes, my grandmother worked two or three jobs at a time, such as waitressing at a local restaurant and tending plants at a local nursery.

Life was not easy for my Polish-American grandparents who left Europe after World War II.  But, they left because they did not want to take the chance of experiencing another Great War, and they wanted better opportunities for their children.  After all, America was the country that was flowing with “milk and honey,” as they had heard.  For two people who did not have more than an elementary or middle school education, nor knew any English upon setting foot in the United States, they certainly worked hard and did the best they could.  Sponsorship of their family by cousins already in America helped pave the way for a different fate for their family than occurred for the siblings of my grandparents still in Poland.

My grandfather was one of about 10 children in his family.  I remember being told that his mother apparently told him when he was a young man that no woman would want to marry him because he had a glass eye.  In those days in Poland, being poor and having a disability meant having fewer opportunities, as well as potentially being a societal outcast.  When I think of such a statement, now, I think of how ridiculous it sounds, particularly with so many people who have disabilities making the best of their lives.

Me with the Drewin's, Krakow, Poland, 1992

Me with the Drewin’s, Krakow, Poland, 1992

My grandmother was the middle child in a family of three daughters.  Her sisters were Staca (pronounced “Stashia”) and Marianna.  Many years ago, Marianna visited and stayed with my grandmother for three months in the United States on a temporary visa.  And, many years following that, I had the privilege of studying at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, and seeing her again!  As a senior at the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, New York, I participated in the popular study abroad program to the Jagiellonian University in 1992.

In the midst of studying intensive Polish language at the Jagiellonian – with the intention of being able to properly communicate with my Polish relatives in Poland – I sent a postcard to Marianna.  A few days later, Marianna and her family arrived at my dormitory building, surprisingly unannounced, and took me out for the day.  I then made plans to visit them for a weekend, and got to meet 15 of my Polish relatives in Poland, including Marianna’s family, the Drewin’s, who lived in Kielce.  It was wonderful to see and visit with them all, and to provide monies to them that I brought specifically for them from the family at home.

Jagiellonian University Study Group at Wawel Castle and Cathedral, Krakow, Poland, 1992

Jagiellonian University Study Group at Wawel Castle and Cathedral, Krakow, Poland, 1992

Studying in Poland at the Jagiellonian University was a wonderful experience.  If I could have the opportunity to do it all over again (and at the same age as I was at the time), I would.  Studying abroad in Poland was highly recommended to me by my fellow student colleagues who were members of the University at Buffalo Polish Club.  Many of them lauded praises about the program.  Because so many of them said such great things about their experiences, I decided to apply for the opportunity to go.  It was very exciting to be accepted into the program, and to have taken the opportunity to go there.

Tapestry in Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland, 1992

Tapestry in Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland, 1992

While in Poland, I did much sight-seeing with my English-speaking (mostly composed of Americans) study group at the Jagiellonian University.  We visited the historic Wawel Castle and Cathedral, the amazing Wieliczka Salt Mines, the religious pilgrimage destination of Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa,  and had regular opportunities to see Krakow’s St. Mary’s Basilica and visit Krakow’s main market square.

Entrance Building at Wieliczka Salt Mine, Wieliczka, Poland, 1992

Entrance Building at Wieliczka Salt Mine, Wieliczka, Poland, 1992

On my own, I also traveled to and visited Berlin, Germany during one weekend; and with a student colleague, I went to Prague in the former Czechoslovakia, for another weekend.  On yet another weekend, the same student colleague and I visited Vienna.  I found Berlin to be a historic city, one in which a person could still obviously observe the differences between the former West and East Germanies.  And, Prague is just an amazingly beautiful and historic city, with many historic structures still standing, having not been demolished in previous wars.  Vienna was an incredibly beautiful city, also being extremely modernized and commercialized.

Life-size Madonna and Child Statue in Wieliczka Salt Mine, Wieliczka, Poland, 1992

Life-size Madonna and Child Statue in Wieliczka Salt Mine, Wieliczka, Poland, 1992

I have many memories of my time spent studying abroad and travelling in Europe.  I had such a wonderful experience in studying abroad that I returned to Europe two years later.  At that time, I travelled with my mom through the British Isles, including England, Scotland, and Ireland.  Following that, I went solo, traveling through many European countries.

St. Mary's Basilica, Krakow, Poland, 1992

St. Mary’s Basilica, Krakow, Poland, 1992

While in Europe in 1994, I used my Brit Rail and Eurail passes to travel by train, everywhere.  I traveled lightly with only a couple of bags, and remained in Europe for about one month.  In all, it was a fabulous experience, and I highly recommend it.  I would definitely do it all over again if I ever had the opportunity.

I am very proud of my family, my ancestors, and my Polish-American heritage.  While there are additional nationalities in my make-up from which I am descended, the Polish part of me is the strongest next to that of being American.  I am thankful that my Polish-American grandparents had the fortitude and courage to come to America, where they succeeded in creating a better life for their family, and their descendants to come.