Bees, Butterflies, Birds (Non Humanoid Life) – Dr. Plastic Picker

Category: Bees, Butterflies, Birds (Non Humanoid Life)

Beautiful cover.

July 9, 2022

by Dr. Plastic Picker

It happened. I had been asked to contribute a short article to Sketches, San Diego Audubon’s quarterly magazine It was a short piece, and I was writing another piece with one of our students for a popular science magazine in the Yucatan. But during that time, I wrote from my heart. I’m writing and publishing more now than I ever imagined possible. I’m mostly just documenting my evolving thoughts as a pediatrician awakened to the climate and health crisis – and how I’m trying to help stop this existential crisis. Meeting so many interesting people with different ideas and training backgrounds, and then it percolates in my brain with my experiences as a litter picker – and something happens. And this article happened. Thank you San Diego Audubon. This article is a spring board to further bend the arc of history toward a livable planet for birds and kids.

ReWild: What’s Good for Birds Is Good for Kids

Wetland conservationists and pediatricians have a lot in common. The conservationists work to preserve habitat for endangered birds. Pediatricians advocate for a built environment that promotes children’s health. We also have in common the northeast corner of Mission Bay, which is critical to the health and well-being of birds and children. The ReWild wetlands site is a literal nursery for juvenile fish and bird species and is the figurative nursery we seek to make available for children to improve their health. This is how the collaboration formed between San Diego Audubon and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) San Diego.

I work through the AAP California Committee on Environmental Health, trying to help move legislation to protect the environment as it relates to children’s health—a pediatrician’s prime responsibility. Climate change is a pediatric public health crisis. The long-term health consequences of climate change have disproportionately affected children, with increasing cases of asthma and higher rates of premature
birth. Children are the most vulnerable victims to climate-related natural disasters. Air pollution, heat waves, and water-born pollution affect little bodies more because their organs are still developing.
A child’s greater body-to-surface area of epithelium to total body surface area exposes them to more environmental toxins. Children will suffer the most due to climate change, especially those who live in
environmental justice areas.

Our communities need to commit to ReWild Mission Bay. The local climate change math does not add up unless we maximize wetland restoration. But when I think of the ReWild work, I also think of the possibilities of how this area can function to improve the physical and mental health of children. AAP San Diego has officially joined the ReWild Mission Bay Coalition to bring healthcare voices to wetland
conservation. Pediatricians as a group have spent many hours with wetland conservationists at this site. Working together, pediatricians and wetland conservationists are imagining how we can collaborate
and make this wetland part of community healing.

It is well established that reflective time in nature improves mental health. There is now a national call to document adverse childhood events (ACES). Children who have suffered more ACES have higher levels of toxic stress. This has been associated with adverse health outcomes like asthma, heart disease, and poor mental health. Programs that combine nature bathing, mindfulness, and mentoring from caring adults like healthcare professionals and scientists would be a nature-based solution to ACES. Rather than building more concrete clinics, would it be possible to practice medicine on the wetlands? Meandering the wetlands with children, together listening to the sounds of the marsh, noting the anatomical details of our bird friends, and then checking our own vital signs? I think we will all find what studies have shown—our subjective well-being and stress levels are improved. I imagine affordable and accessible primitive camping opportunities for local San Diego children, as camping is shown to be one of the most effective ways to address the sleep problems facing our increasingly digitized young people. AAP San Diego invites
you to come and meet us on the wetlands and let your imagination wander. Join us in this important work. For me, the northeast corner of Mission Bay has been a literal nursery—where I’ve brought
pediatric patients and my own teenage children to wander and heal. And this is where I realized after meeting wetland conservationists, that what’s good for birds is good for kids. San Diego Audubon and
AAP are aligned and working together for the Wildest option for the northeast corner of Mission Bay.

Vi Thuy Nguyen, M.D., is Assistant Chief of Pediatrics at Kaiser San Diego. She is a Fellow of Environmental Health as part of the American Academy of Pediatrics and serves as Co-Chair of San Diego’s AAP Climate Change and Health Committee

June 2, 2022

by Dr. Plastic Picker

Real owl at the Love Your Wetlands Day.

It’s 540AM and it’s been a few moments since I got up at what is my natural wakening time to blog. I’ve been binge-watching Kdramas for the last few months, in between my climate work and work work. I have enjoyed it immensely and my Korean is a lot better now. The longest Kdrama with “The Young Lady and Gentlemen” which was over 50 episodes. It was kind of getting ridiculous when the main male lead gets amneia for the 2nd time though! Let’s just say my family and Mr. Plastic Picker have been staging an intervention(s)! If anyone from work is reading, certain nursing friends of an Asian-persuasian are not helping the matter by encouraging my addiction LOL. It’s fun to talk about our latest show and current Kdrama boyfriends at work. This is the life of a middle-aged happily married litter-picking pediatrician.

But one of the things that awoke me this morning from my slumber having slept deeply and restfully, was the morning birdsong. The backyard birds were signing this morning. “Arise Dr. Plastic Picker. Arise!!! You have earth work to do!” And with that, this is absolutely true. I have earth work to do. Besides a half day clinic or work work, where I was happily chatting with patients and teaching my little patients how to be little doctors – I also had three phone conversations that were climate related. Those were important conversations with two of our premed interns, setting them on the right path on their various projects. And one with an MD/PhD student who works with us on one of our climate groups, and manages our new twitter account. I’m not on twitter, but I guess I need to be.

So the birds woke me up this morning, and I need to send a good number of climate emails this morning. Single-use plastic reduction project. AAP resolution on single-use plastics. Several emails to the San Diego Audubon Society. I’m also going to make Red Lobster biscuits for the kids’ breakfast. I need some cooking inspiration and I just grabbed one of their biscuit mix boxes at VONS. Red Lobster used to be the fancy fancy place to eat when we were young. I still think Red Lobster is really fancy.

Awoken by the morning birdsong this morning, and will spend another hour doing climate work before work work. I hope the birds were singing to you also this morning. If not, likely we need to add some green space and native shrubs to the built environment around your house.

Beautiful fake animals.

February 13, 2022

by drplasticpicker

Yesterday was a lovely day. It was one of those lovely unexpected days. We had dropped off our teen son at a friend’s house, as the three best friends were hanging out before the winter formal at Sea World. Our son had his father’s wedding suit which was a Ralph Lauren morning coat ala Hugh Grant, and a $35 top hat that came in an amazon package to compliment. Our son actually forgot his top hat, and his father had to drop it off after the boys had gone to dinner. But between dropping off teen son with reused wedding suit and dropping off the new top hat, the remaining three of us (Mr. Plastic Picker, Dr. Plastic Picker and younger teen daughter) stopped by one of the local master planned parks in metro San Diego.


Willets I saw yesterday on my plogging journey Sunday morning.

December 13, 2021

by drplasticpicker

Here are some wandering wondrous willets I saw at the La Jolla Ecological Preserve. The beach I clean is a dedicated Marine Sanctuary area. There is a reason that the shorebirds only come from Crystal Pier and north, and the more north you go away from the commercial district and into the more wild areas where the kelp are allowed to remain and the insects flourish – there are more birds. I’ve seen snowy plovers, marbeled godwits, black turncoats, black phoebes, curlews, snowy egrets and now for the first time in a long while – I saw a flock of willets. They feed on insects, small crustaceans, mollusks and worms.

I don’t get out to the beach to “plog” as often as I had before. I think healing my heart and my mind in other sustainable ways has been important. I eat plant-based, reduce food waste, reuse what I can, minimize our consumptive lives and I think and write more than I’ve ever done before. I sleep. But the plogging trips are balms to my soul for sure. I always learn something about myself and the world, when I’m there.

In my environmental journey, the importance has been the quiet details. The butterflies, the shorebirds, and the little bits of plastics. It’s only my noticing the details than I can understand the big picture.

And dear reader, let your mind wander during the weekends. It’s only by letting your mind wander and explore and play, that you can laser focus on your goals and “your why” and help recreate the world that we want.

Thank you for being here with me as I let my mind wander in the mornings.

Little monarch catepillar that is injured. Trying to get it by with some squash.

July 8, 2021

by drplasticpicker

Yesterday I had two baby monarch catepillars that my mother-in-law mistakenly thought were pests. I came home after clinic and she said there was a slug eating up all the little plants I had asked her to grow from seeds I brought home. She had painstakenly grown those plants, and they were native milkweed from Nurse Lan’s garden. He had given me seeds. And we had just 6 little plants that were not more than 2 inches tall. Two catepillars had eaten them all up. My mother-in-law brought them for me to see, and they were floating in water. They were monarch catepillars and those milkweed plants were meant for them.

Poor little catepillar.

My mother-in-law did not know, and I knew how hard she had worked to grow these seeds I had brought home. We started the seeds late this season, and there are not enough for two hungry monarch catepillars. I read on the internet that sometimes zuchinnis or pumpkin or some kind of squashes will do, but to be careful of the pesticides even in “organic” squash. We had a small pumpkin, the first of the summer squash crop that is organic and grown from our own yard. So I did what the internet said, and placed them in a chopstick for the catepillars and also threw in a few of the remaining milkweed leaves. I’ll bring them into clinic if they are still alive today, and see if Nurse Lan can’t give them a home in his garden.


New space in the home.

June 14, 2021

by drplasticpicker

I created a little seating area on the 2nd floor balcony off the game room. It’s a balcony that overlooks our backyard and I can see the amazing container garden and outside living area we’ve created on the concrete parking pad that used to house the Honda Odyssey Minivan. Selling the minivan was overall positive for our financial bottom line because it was an extra car we did not need and helped avert some carbon emissions, but it ended up having a cascading effect in our lives that we never imagined.


The aroma is wonderful, but there is only so much parsley you can eat in one sitting.

May 18, 2021

by drplasticpicker

I got through the day yesterday. I was definitely dragging during morning clinic. My sleep schedule was off due to blogging at 2am rather than at 4am, and then after finishing a blogpost – I went to sleep on the couch. Obviously I was not able to finish an entire sleep cycle. Therefore I woke up groggy and not in my best form. But I dragged by eco-avatar middle aged body through the morning routine and was able to make it into work. I forgot my phone at home which ended up being a blessing in disguise. An entire day of phone detox is a good thing. I sent an email out to the department to let them know I had no phone, and just to call if there were issues. There were no issues that I was aware of. There are many of us in leadership that were available via instant text, so my being in my office just an actual email away – was okay.


Spekboom, guerilla gardening.

March 26, 2021

by drplasticpicker

We have kind of a big decision to make in SDPCA. I can’t elaborate right now but it really challenges me to question this journey I have been on these last two years. Has it been about me? Or has it been about the earth? I thought it was about the earth, but there has been a miraculous amount of self-discovery and growth. And fundamentally I am a pediatrician, and I identify as such. But just like I know we can’t save the earth with just the liberal left, we need our conservative family as well (which is 40% of this country). I also know not just pediatricians can save the earth. We need all specialties. So I will think and talk to my friends and let nature lead the way. I believe the ocean will tell me what to do.


March 4, 2021

by drplasticpicker

I had a good nights sleep last night. The puppy was barking at Mr. Plastic Picker and he was again working. I told my husband that he really needs to find a hobby, and that your brain works better if you have something non-work related to meander to as well. But I took our puppy, who likes to sit and bark at my husband as she is his little annoying super-fan, and I carried her little 12-lb furry warm body up onto our roofdeck. It had rained yestserday and the air was crisp and the concrete of the roofdeck was wet. Ascending the spiral metal steps up to the roofdeck is like entering a different world.

I had turned on the outdoor lights, that are low to the ground but gives one enough illumination to tread safely. When we reached the top, our puppy sniffed the plants cautiously. I’ve planted a blueberry bush, coastal rosemary (which I learned afterwards is not edible and not a rosemary! LOL), clementine dwarf tree, orange dwarf tree, juniper pine, many succulents, Dr. Jill Gustafson’sa actual rosemary I’m trying to propogate, and three small pretty pots of strawberries with onions. I added a lavender container late yesterday afternoon. Then there are the tray of baby succulents I’m working on.

But we were up there together, and it was quiet. She sniffed everywhere including the artifical turf from my brother’s house that I salvaged. It is now a small square area for her to hang out when we are up there together. It’s the first time she has seen in, and let’s just say she “inaugurated” it. But after cleaning up her mess with a plastic bag I had handy up there, I picked her up and held her to the top of the conrete wall that keeps us from tumbling down three stories. We overlook all of mission bay and can see right to the lights of Sea World and Mission Bay and the beautiful Pacific Ocean. She loves to close her eyes and feel the wind on her doggy face. I think it’s probably because scents are also carried on the wind. I wonder what our fur baby thinks about?

It’s nice to have that little retreat. We’ve had this area for years since our house was built, but it was really never used. But I’m up there often now. I planted most of those things really to combat the urban heat island effect, and to grow food. I am trying to change the micro-climate but without buying too much “new” things.

But after our puppy and I had our moment last night, I did just a few yoga moves. Then both of us relaxed, I picked her up and we returned to the 2nd floor. Mr. Plastic Picker was returned a calm puppy that was minus some poop and also some canine anxiety, I’m sure. She layed at his feet for most of the night and was less her usualy annoying self.

As for me, I wondered downstairs to check on our human children and chatted with our teen son. I checked the pantry and kind of mentally prepared for tomorrow’s meals. And then I went back upstairs and did 20 minutes of Yoga by Andrienne and was feeling very relaxed. And then I put my phone away somewhere out of arms reach and had a good sleep. As I was falling asleep, I do what I do more often these days – I visualize soil and compost and microorganisms recreating an entire ecosystem in the places that I’ve planted.

Gardening, composting, and farming have been around since before we were who we are – but I’ve only as a physician recently noticed it’s importance. I’ve had gardeners around my whole life, but I never fully realized what was happening to create the nutritious food I’ve always had or the shaded and wooded areas that always have made where I live – more comfortable than others.

But now I am becoming aware and growing in my knowledge. I really love composting and making dirt. I love trying new gardening projects and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. And when I can’t sleep, I visualize soil and it regenerating and sequestering all the carbon that we need to sequester.

Pictures from yesterday from our roofdeck.
Black Phoebe. My favorite bird.

February 18, 2021

by drplasticpicker

The Black Phoebe is my favorite bird. You could say she is my spirit animal, in a non-religious way. The Black Phoebe belongs to the order of birds Passeriformes, which means in Latin sparrow – like. Can you tell I’m reading Wikipedia? These are usually songbirds and perching birds, that have 3 toes pointing forward and one toe pointing backwads. Half of all birds belong to this family. Most passeri are smaller than other birds.

The Black Phoebe is part of the Tyrant-Flycatcher family. This bird’s range is from southern california to Oregon, and does venture to central and south america. Usually the Black Phoebe stays within it’s range and doesn’t really migrate. She is a songbird, and eats mostly insects. From Wikipedia, “The phoebe can be recognized by a characteristic “tail-wagging” motion, in which the tail is lowered and the tail’s feathers fanned out. It accomplishes almost all locomotion by flight, which is direct, with steady wing beats.”

Anyway, I love the Black Phoebe. I see her a lot. She’s a pretty little black bird. Now that we have our composter which is working well in the corner of our backyard, I think the Black Phoebe is visiting more as there are little insects that are the natural part of the decomposition process. One was perched on my mother-in-laws fig tree the other day, sallying forth eating some unknown insect in our new container garden and bird habitat.

I also made this beautiful upcycled succulent planter basket, in between my chores yesterday. Most of the components of the upcycled succulent basket was going into the landfill. But because I always have cactus/succulent potting mix, I created something I think is lovely. I made it myself.

Pretty views of my new planter.

It’s ready in the back of my plug-in hybrid, and I will put it on one of the outside employee lunch tables at work. I need to spruce up our outside work space. Plus, I think it will bring people joy. They’ll look at it and think a little bit. If someone takes it home, that is okay. Maybe they needed a bit of joy. I hope it can stay and grow though, and provide happiness to my fellow co-workers who are sitting outside and eating lunch.

Last view. Plus it is helping sequester carbon, as succulents are great carbon sequesterers. Keeping things out of landfills is important too.