Once in a while you win

It was a clear warm early fall day in Vermont almost 50 years ago. Was walking with my wife to be through the mixed fields and scrub trees struggling to reclaim the once tended pastures, following or climbing over the old stone walls that marked forgotten boundaries, a few miles from the nearest farms, drawn on to finding “the right place” as in “you will know it when you see it”, in no hurry. The nights had been cold enough to color the trees, brief flame before browning and dropping for the fast approaching freeze. After an hour or two we stopped to soak up the early afternoon sun, warm our bones, and bask in the stillness, so different than our life in Boston a hundred miles away. Here we were silent too, a prayer to the beauty, a revery to a different distant time. We were blissed and blessed.

After a spell a loud clumsy crashing noise, the breaking of small downed branches, interrupted our meditations. It was quite dry, even the grasses crackled. First thoughts a drunken bear or moose, drunk or shot. The noise went on for some minutes, seemed longer, and finally a figure emerged from the scrub to the east, a 30 something guy all decked out in the latest brand new dark green forest camo carrying a shiny compound bow and broadheads, a pack, and bedroll, standing out in the dry yellow grasses. We had not moved or spoken. He stood stock still when he finally saw us sitting there about 50 feet away.

I decided to break into the silence that descended when he stopped. “What are you doing?” “Oh, huntin’ deer, seen any?” He was a coupla days unshaven, so trying to size him up a little more I asked how long he had been at it. “This is the third day” he said as he came closer. So not letting my eyes leave his, not wanting anyone unknown near us with a silent quite deadly weapon, i replied that we had seen a couple yesterday down in the shallow draw about a mile to the west. He thanked me and continued on toward the west, finally crashing and crackling his way out of earshot. There wasn’t a breath of wind. Amazing how far sound travels in silence.

Turning to my gal i said “must be lost and blind too, out of his element”, and nodded in the direction of the two young does with their spotted fawns that were bedded down for the afternoon about 20 feet away to the north, heads up watching us for a few seconds before curling back up and closing their eyes again.

Atlantic.com discussion of the usage of “tribe”

Please read if you will
https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2017/11/tribalism-before-and-after-the-virginia-vote/545408/

The following is a comment from the peanut gallery (author unidentified) that is at the heart of concepts that i had not been able to find the words for… Not only relating to human interactions but to our relationship to the other species and co-habitants of this planet.

Continue reading “Atlantic.com discussion of the usage of “tribe””

Halloween visitor

October is an unusual month, the turn of summer into winter, the sun getting lower now, a little weaker. And it ends with All Souls night. On the 31st of October 2016 a little black kitten showed up and moved in. Several times in the preceeding days i thought i had seen a dark shape duck back into the tall pasture grass along the road just catching movement out of the corner of my eyes figuring it was an unusualy dark mongoose. During the seven years we have been here many feral cats of all descriptions had come and gone with the surging tides of field mice and tree rats but none had shown any inclination to stay. During the previous summer while i was away an extended perod my partner had succumbed to the lure and adopted two once male kittens from a friend. These had grown, from mad tumbling chases around the upstairs to brave exploratory tree climbing, and following us further and further from the known territory of the barn where we live.

Our new visitor was not much bigger than my fist and was quickly named “Little”. Feral, shy and reclusive it could be found sleeping up in the joists above the foundation, the only one of the cats small enough to fit in that space. It seemed determined to stay from the start, taking quickly to the meals of kibble and occasional scraps. Apparently too young to hunt, it was a wonder how it survived before. We had a cloth mouse toy on a string left over from the twins so i dragged it across in front of Little until it became interested, seeing that i was trying to play, jumped on it and batted it around. i eventually tied it to a small branch of a tree so that it jumped around in the South Point breeze. Little jumped and jumped to get it over and over. The next day i saw the first live mouse in her jaws, but it was quickly taken away while she was playing with it and eaten by a bigger “brother” who knew exactly what to do. That was the last time. With the next one i heard loud growls and saw Little run off with the treasure. A row of nipples became apparent and it was clear Little was female. Never once did she allow me to get within arms reach, though once every few days i could get one pet in when she was feeding. Usually she just moved off if i even looked in her direction.

Little grew slowly. but one day i noticed she was getting a belly and remarked that she was getting fat. Later in the day my partner gave a look and said that’s not fat, she is going to have kittens. Oh so young. Periodically i had seen a neighbor’s stocky long haired siamese skulking around and heard the yowls from the usually silent twins, or seen the interloper chasing them around so figured maybe he was the lucky one. She grew bigger and bigger, then one day disappeared. When she showed up to feed in the evening quickly disappeared again, not staying to play. Several days later i watched her climb up to a joist space above the shop. After several days of seeing her go there i checked while she was feeding and low and behold there were a bunch of furry lumps back in a place very difficult to see. Over several days i tried to get a better look without much success. I got a drop light, tried the flash on the cell camera. Nada. Several times when she finished eating quickly she found me trying to get a peek back into her place, never challenging me just climbing back up in there and getting comfortable. A few weeks later i checked and they were gone, but then saw her back behind some scrap lumber on the ground. They musta started moving around and could easily tumble out of the joist space, so she moved them. A week later they were climbing around the top of the 5′ stone foundation wall. Three all black, two with long hair so they looked like baby bears, and one solid grey. The next week they were walking along the top of the wall, and bravely learned to scramble up and down to the ground. They ran and chased and tumbled over each other for an hour then slept for three. The next week they were trying to follow Little up a tree managing only a coupla feet. More fun than a barrel of monkeys, always something. But… What were we going to do with 7 seven cats? Reality set in. In a few months there might be a dozen, might be two dozen. Yikes!

A friend pointed us in the direction of the spay and neuter folks that come around every so often, and a date was set a month away. I could only hope that Little wouldn’t come into heat again before then, and the siamese wouldn’t come a calling. By then i would find all five twenty feet up in the christmas berry tree on the small branches near the top. The cages showed up and the towels for covers. The day approached. Then all too soon the day was here. And it fell to me to get them into the cages the night before. The whole thing left me out of sorts but i plowed ahead. Two of the new kittens were easy, i just picked them up gently and put them in their cages. Little fell for the trick of putting her dish into the cage, i watched her go in, then closed the cage. The third kitten fell for the same trick. This was going to be easy. The forth one had watched closely and would not go for the food in the cage, but i picked it up, place it in the cage, and went to close the door. The door jammed open just enough that the kitten shot out on the run. Now what? He kept his distance. He knew what i had in mind. He’d seen everything and got it. I racked my brain. Outsmarted by a kitten. Time was getting short. Aha! I got the fish landing net on the long pole. A couple misses, and he figured out the range staying just out of reach. I set the pole net down to refigure. Time was fast approaching for the appointment. Looking around for the kitten, now named “Speedo”, i found him batting at the fishnet, rubbing it in. I grabbed the pole and set the net ahead of him running away. He dodged it. A coupla more tries and i gave up, it was time to load em up and head em out. Last of the mighty hunters alright.

Later, going to pick them up, all four were hurting, scared and alone in covered individual cages, after being such a happy little family such a short time ago, that very morning. Two kittens went to one friend, the other to another. We drove back to the farm and left Little in the cage overnight as instructed. In the morning Speedo was waiting for me at the bottom of the steps, as if to say “See, no hard feelings, that was yesterday.” I let Little out and they got together immediately. But Little continued to call the others. She had lost three of the four and she knew it. Thankfully Speedo had escaped. He hadn’t been fixed when he wasn’t broken. The way it was meant to be.

Though the play fighting is getting more intense, Little and Speedo have been together almost every minute of every day since. And we have all been better for it. Reports are that all three of the other kittens are well loved and have become people cats, jumping on the couch, and getting petted.

It’s Halloween again and this year it is Speedo who is out in the light of the coming moon.

Guest Post: by Elizabeth West

Note:  I found this article at Resilience.org to resonate with so many of our themes here I emailed Elizabeth and asked if I could reproduce it.  – Michelle

On the Road to Extinction Maybe It’s Not All About Us

It is crystal clear—unlike the smoky skies where I live–to most of us who are willing to consider the facts: this summer’s ‘natural’ disasters have been seeded anthropogenically.  Wildfires in the northwestern United States and Canada, in Greenland, and in Europe are often referred to in the media as ‘unprecedented’ in size and fury. Hurricanes and monsoons, with their attendant floods and destruction, are routinely described as having a multitude of ‘record-breaking’ attributes. No one reading this is likely to need convincing that humans –our sheer numbers as well as our habits—have contributed significantly to rising planetary temperatures and thus, the plethora of somehow unexpected and catastrophic events in the natural world. I’d like to include earthquakes, particularly those in Turkey (endless) and Mexico (massive), in this discussion, and while intuition tells me that there is a connection between them and climate change, research to support this supposition is just emerging, so for the nonce I will leave the earthquakes out of it.

Our proclivity for advancing our own short-term interests has made a mess of things from the beginnings of this current iteration of civilization. Irrigating the Fertile Crescent, which was not very fertile prior to the ingenious innovation of bringing water from the mountains down into the dusty plains, opened the way for a massive increase in food production and a concomitant population rise. Cities grew and became kingdoms. After a reasonably good run, though, irrigation led to salination of the soil and ultimately left it sterile and useless (for agriculture) once again. Many people and their livestock starved or were forced to migrate in large numbers. Great idea, irrigation.

The internal combustion engine seemed a brilliant response to the need to move more commodities more efficiently as the Industrial Revolution created both increased product and demand. Though not necessarily so intended, the automobile initially offered humans wildly expanded freedom and ease. It also led to pumping the innards out of the Earth, filling the atmosphere with CO2, and oil-grabbing wars that left hundreds of thousands of people dead.  Another great idea with a few minor issues that did not get worked out ahead of time.

Plastic.  Now there is an incredible invention. Tough, pliable, lightweight, eternal…this stuff filled a myriad of needs. And conveniently, it could be produced using the fossil fuels we were already extracting for those internal combustion engines. Sadly, we never imagined it would come to microscopic plastic filaments in our drinking water, our sea salt, and even our beer. Not to mention in the bellies of just about anything that lives in the Earth’s oceans.

The list of creative inventions designed to make our lives better is long and varied, but almost inevitably, given enough time, our interference (or improvements, if you prefer) upon the natural state of things comes back to bite us.  And hard.  Fukushima could easily head up that list; most of us would have no trouble adding to the tally of follies flowing from Homo sapiens’ clever life hacks.

If you delve into the motivation behind these ‘advances’ there is generally a desire on the part of people to make life safer or more comfortable or easier in one way or another.  Maybe for themselves and their tribe, or their class, or their nation, but still—the impetus does not tend to flow from a place of malignity. We simply use our big brains to see what is adversely impacting our species (or sub-group thereof) and devise a fix for it. How could that possibly go so wrong?

Hindsight, they say, is always more acute than foresight. Could this be because we do not understand fully how our world works?  Is it possible that we lack a lot of critical information about the ways in which this planet’s life forms and forces are interwoven and connected?  Maybe our superior intelligence, while it has been billed as a powerhouse in the problem-solving department, does not really have the scope of vision that would ensure that problems—solved–stay solved?  Hmmm…might there be an issue with hubris here?  And how do we solve that?

What appear to be straightforward challenges that should yield to linear corrections are in fact predominantly multifaceted and many layered. We see only what we see—because we do have limits in terms of perception– and we act upon that. No real fault there. But you do something over and over and over and get consistent results, you keep being bitten by your brilliant solutions. Quick gains, long-term disasters: this is a pretty common human story. Are we capable of examining it? Even acknowledging it?  Of recognizing that our anthropocentrism and self-assurance may be doing us more harm than good despite (or possibly because of) our fêted cognitive capacities?

So here we are: the summer of 2017 with the arctic ice melting, the temperatures rising, the oceans rising and acidifying, our non-human companions on the planet going extinct like nobody’s business. We thought about ourselves from the get-go.  From the beginning of known human history, we wanted better lives, longer lives, happier lives. For ourselves. We used our gifts to reach for what we wanted, like toddlers, with no sense of the bigger world around us, no notion of the consequences of our actions. No awareness of the unfathomable complexity and the perfection of balance represented by the environment we inhabit.

Or, no will to act from that awareness. Because in all fairness, someone has always pointed to it. Not everyone thought situating nuclear power plants on earthquake faults was a bright idea. And no doubt there was someone back in Sumer who advised stridently against the moving of mountain waters to the fields in the valley.  But the collective, or the powers that own the collective, were not interested in anything that thwarted short-term gains.

We have careened along, from one improvement to another, many of them requiring their own fix a bit down the road.  Now we look at super-storms and mega-fires and what do we see?

Unfortunately, as is almost always the case, we see our own interests and little else.  I have been perusing reports and commentary from a wide variety of sources and there is a lot of factual information: the size of the fire, how many miles per hour the winds are blowing, how many acres are still uncontained, or in thrall to the winds and rain. Then, there are stories about losses. Photos and videos and details about homes destroyed, businesses wiped off the map, human injury and death.

But do we talk about the other life forms affected by these human-accelerated events in nature?  In nature, I repeat.  Do we read or talk or hear about the animals who die?  The trees lost? The sea life and habitat ruined? Yup, there are bits and pieces about the animals that belong to us, which are, like our houses and businesses and automobiles, more possessions.  Pets, livestock, even zoo animals are considered.  How do we shelter the cheetah at the Miami Zoo?  Or what about the Cuban dolphins airlifted out of danger to a safe place on the opposite side of the island? Heartwarming, I suppose, and good for those dolphins, but what happened to the wild ones in the sea?

Here is the thing: we helped make these disasters because we always thought about ourselves and neglected to consider the balance of life.  Because our needs were far and away more important to us than the spotted salamanders’.

And maybe that is true. Maybe our lives are more valuable than all the other lives. Who am I to say?  I too am human and subject to the same hubris and shortsightedness as everyone else.

Still…if something is not working, I ask: why keep doing it?  Even if you have no natural affinity for the pine martens who die in the fires or the sandpipers who are flung to their deaths in the monsoons, pragmatism would suggest a change in practice.

We can’t prevent the suffering and dying of wild life, and the Earth herself, when confronted by the unleashed forces of fire and water, but we can include them in our assessment of the cost. We might even grieve for them. Their losses are indeed ours, and if we do not see them or their importance to our lives, if we continue to either ignore and/or dominate all other life on this planet, it won’t be long till we join them.

This piece of writing is, in a ridiculously small way, an attempt to acknowledge those losses that have gone unseen. It isn’t much, but I invite you to join me in taking a few minutes to honor and mourn those who have died in this summer’s conflagrations and deluges. We won’t know much about most of them, but we do know that they lived and we know that they died.  And that we are all diminished by their deaths.

Elizabeth West has a lifelong interest in revolution, and in exploring the interstices where love, truth, imagination and courage meet, sometimes igniting wild transformation. Her political writing has appeared in CounterPunch and Dissident Voice. Write her at elizabethwest@sonic.net or visit her website www.loveslonging.com

keep your eyes and heart open, you never know what you’ll see

taking off on the idea of communication without words by using words has a certain charm, just like having a secret channel on the oh so public net.

willingness… first i am honored to be included in a conversation with a couple of no doubt troublemakers ornery enough to challenge the capacities of the previous herd enough to be banned from that digital island.  without knowing any particulars sometimes it is not productive to try to describe colors to the colorblind.  it’s not their fault and time is short. will try and live up to the spirit animasoul implies and speak from the heart as we get to know each other.

the world of the possible… there have been times when i’ve been allowed to “see behind the curtain” (if we were in wizard of oz land), more precisely seen something beyond the levels of education and understanding that i had  been exposed to and absorbed. Raised in a science based family where direct observation and repeatability were the required cornerstones of the world view,  many times some of the more rigid precepts have crumbled in moments, and each time i was left feeling that i had been allowed, priviliged actually, to see the inner workings of an entirely different world.

an example… many years ago 5 of us were fishing about 125 miles offshore  in an antique wooden vessel built in 1927.  she was a classic hull but with that age came the necessity of having seven primed pumps running continuously in order to keep her afloat. Before we sailed i discovered that there was going to be a total eclipse visible from the area we were bound. Normally might have been able to use the dark glass in a welding helmet to look directly at it but this vessel did not have that equipment so put one of the small glass plates in my seabag.

If i remember correctly it was the time of full moon, the tides normally strong there, now ferocious with the moon,  the old girl did not have a lot of horsepower. The trawl gear tangled and snarled repeatedly, culminating in an hours long repair on the morning of the coming afternoon eclipse. I decided to have some fun with the young Portugese shipmate Junior who had been at the wheel when the disaster occurred, humor often helps to break the monotony of long or difficult trips, bad weathers etc.  i told him that because of his lack of attention earlier there was going to bring more bad luck later in the day. He was going to pay for it!

the time came and it began to darken. Junior had the wheel again so out of sight on the stern i checked progress with the glass seeing that initial bite out of the side of the sun, and proceeded to let him know his time was coming. Ever so slowly the early afternoon sky darkened. it seems to take forever, then finally that eerie almost darkness of totality with the purple ring of flames. He looked at the sky but could not see the sun, Finally i let on about the eclipse and gave him the welding glass.  Meanwhile i turned to look around and was imobilized at what was going on. Struck dumb then yelled for him to stop looking at the sun.

For as far as you could see in every direction giant blue tuna were leaping out of the water, dozens of them, twisting and turning. Then they were running at high speed along the surface and launching themselves toward the sky over and over. Shear exuberance.  Tail dancing to the perfect alignment. A celebration of absolute magnificance.  Pure joy !

All too soon it stopped, they disappeared.  all of them. Speechless, the joke was on me.  I was ashamed, making a poor attempt at demonstrating a little knowledge, when the larger truth was that this was the special time of celebrating a holy communion of Joy…

Were they concious? how could they be leaping repeatedly into the sky and not know what they doing? were they self aware?  self concious ? or is that a peculiar affliction of the hominids, putting actions into verbal thoughts, putting thoughts into sounds about actions, the difference between music and singing, and reading printed text about music.

a little lesson about what we think we know