ON THE SCENE: Cat-proofing the Christmas tree and Biden picks

Lucy patiently waits in her box. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

When I was growing up at our motel on Wilmington Road, having a Christmas tree was a bit of a challenge. We had cats that liked to leap up at low-hanging ornaments, especially the round silver or gold ones, really anything that had a reflective or sparkly surface. Once they were destroyed, the cats would scale the tree in search of a few more.

My first effort to decorate the tree in a cat-proof way was to hang the string of lights, ornaments, tinsel and star above in the traditional way; all except I left out the tree. I hung everything from thin black threads attached to the ceiling. It took several days to accomplish this task, but plugged in, the treeless Christmas tree lit up, and everything tinkled and looked wonderous, but no tree. The cats were not happy, and our motel guests were agog.

The next year, I hung the tree upside down from the ceiling, which frustrated the cats to no end. Of course, the problem was that you couldn’t water the tree, so it began shedding needles after a week. No good deed goes unpunished, I thought. Now I get a smaller tree, always from the Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service tree stand, and set it on top of a small table too high for my current cat Lucy, now 15, to reach. That seems to work well.

The second year I did that, to make it more visually dynamic, I stood the tree in a small bowl. To all appearances, it seemed to be balancing there with no visible means of support. What kept the tree from falling over was the thin piano wire that I attached below the top and connected to the ceiling. Lately, I’ve been using a traditional tree base that sits on the top of the little table, saving me the trouble of climbing ladders to attach wires to the ceiling.

Two years ago, I made the mistake of having the tree too close to a large table. At first, Lucy tried a few swipes from the side, but it was just out of reach. Whew, I thought. Then Lucy jumped. The result was not pretty — or quiet. It took a while to clean up the mess.

Christmas tree (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Today, the undecorated tree is perched on top of the small table as I think about how to decorate it.

In the meantime, I am reveling in President-elect Joe Biden’s announced new environmental team. Addressing climate change is a priority of mine. It seems each day there is a new revelation about the accelerating rate of glaciers melting, the impact of pollution on wildlife, more violent weather and forest fires, and so forth.

When I was growing up, we generally had one significant thaw a winter, named the January Thaw. Over the last few years, it seems as if we have a thaw every other week. We also have far less snow, lakes freezing over later in the year and fewer birds chirping in our forests. Lake Champlain now rarely freezes over, making life increasingly frustrating for those who love to ice fish. Invasive species of all kinds are on the rise as is both the temperature and the amount of mercury and salt in our lakes and streams.

We’ve had plenty of Republican and Democrat leaders who have been strong on the environment, as well as those who have not. As an example, President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the Clean Air, Endangered Species, Marine Mammal Protection, and the Safe Drinking Water Acts into law.

President George H.W. Bush strengthened the Clean Air Act and signed the Energy Policy and Global Change Research Acts into law.

President Bill Clinton built on Bush’s efforts through such actions as accelerating the worst toxic waste site and supporting a series of actions to address environmental justice in minority populations. President Barack Obama accomplished a string of initiatives ranging from establishing the largest marine reserve in the world to a ban on microbeads that have been polluting our waterways and harming the fish and other aquatic creatures in our lakes and oceans. He also raised fuel efficiency standards and invested in green energy initiatives that have spurned solar and wind power growth.

Good as all that progress has been, it pales compared to the challenges we now face under the broad heading of climate change, made worse by rollbacks of previous accomplishments over the past few years.

Thus, when Biden announced his climate team, I was thrilled with his choices coupled with his selecting Sen. John Kerry, the former secretary of state, as a special international envoy for climate change under the auspices of the National Security Council. Kerry’s national counterpart will be Gina McCarthy, who will head a new White House Office of Climate Policy. McCarthy served as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama.

The team is notable for having a lot of practical experience, diversity and understanding of environmental justice like Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico). She, a Laguna Pueblo, if confirmed, will be the first Native American to hold a cabinet secretary position and to lead the Interior Department. Accepting was an emotional experience for her as she pledged to protect public lands.

“I’ll be fierce for all of us,” she said.

Others named by Biden are Black Americans Michael Regan, designated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, where he once worked before becoming North Carolina’s Secretary of N.C. Department of Environmental Quality; and the longtime environmental attorney Brenda Mallory to chair the Council on Environmental Quality.

For Deputy National Climate Advisor, Biden selected Pakistani American Ali Zaidi, who currently serves as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Deputy Secretary for Energy and the Environment and chairman of Climate Policy and the Environment. Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan, was named to be the Energy Secretary. Granholm gave passionate remarks about her commitment to driving advances in solar and wind energy, electric vehicles’ development and use, and energy efficiency. Like several others, Granholm stressed the many jobs that will be created.

“Over the next two decades, countries and companies are going to invest trillions in electric cars, batteries, and wind turbines, solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, and buildings,” said Granholm. “They’re going to upgrade their electric grids using smart technologies. Millions of good-paying jobs are going to be created. Millions.”

Underscoring the urgency of addressing climate change when announcing his national team, Biden said that his proposed team members are, “Ready on day one, which is essential because we have no time to waste.”

As I look over to the tree, my thoughts are snapped to a potential catastrophe at hand. I see Lucy has managed to get onto the small table and is peering up into the branches. She is ready for me to hang the first ornament. I, too, have no time to waste in seeking to protect my environmental peace of mind here at home.