Posted in Uncategorized

How Much Is That Doggy In the Window?

Bandit, who is rescued and is the goodest boy

The text of my final speech for Communications Class, meant to be a persuasive speech. The fact that my semester is winding down means I’ll have more time for writing that’s not college assignments, yay!

Maybe you’ve heard the children’s song “How Much is that Doggy In The Window?” The answer is, several hundred dollars probably, up to a couple of thousand, but the real cost of that pup in the pet store is in lives. Roughly 4 million of them a year. One, every 11 seconds. While I’m talking to you, 50 animals will die in shelters.

We have a pet overpopulation problem. The annual cost to taxpayers to impound, shelter, euthanize and transport unwanted animals is 2 billion dollars. According to PetSmart Charities, There are 70,000 dogs and cats born in the United States EVERY DAY. Do you know how many humans are born every day? 10,000. So if every man, woman, and child can adopt seven dogs and cats (that’s 21 animals for a family of three), that number is sustainable. But I think you’ll agree that it’s not, not even for a serious animal lover.

So we can’t adopt our way out of this crisis. That makes spaying and neutering crucial. A single female dog can theoretically produce 67,000 descendants in her lifetime. ONE dog. That number for a single cat, which are much more commonly left to roam and reproduce at will, is 420,000.

I worked as a veterinary technician for 20 years, and I currently serve on the Board of Directors of Friends of White County Animals, so I’ve seen this problem up close. Please, please spay and neuter your pets, and if you haven’t yet, contact your local humane society for low-cost options. But, I think we’ve all heard the reasons we should do that, so I want to talk today about why you should heed the slogan, “Adopt, don’t shop.”

Even though we can’t adopt our way out of the pet overpopulation problem and concurrent pet slaughter, when you’re ready to get a new dog, it’s really important to adopt to make the problem better, not worse. Let me tell you a little bit about what you are supporting when you buy a puppy from an online breeder or pet store, versus what you are supporting when you adopt from a shelter or rescue. I’m going to cover puppy mills, backyard breeders, accidental or one-time breeders, shelters, and breed specific rescues.

First, puppy mills. A puppy mill is basically a dog farm or for-profit factory. Because they are purely for profit, the dogs’ welfare is secondary. If you want to spend a horrific afternoon, you can find some dream-haunting pictures of the dogs kept in these facilities online. HSUS estimates 10,000 of these in the US, but only 3,000 are licensed and regulated. The regulations are much too lax for the dogs to be well cared for: the cage only has to be 6” larger than the dog, they only have to be given water twice a day, there are no regulations on the temperature in the facilities so they sometimes freeze or cook to death, and on and on. In addition, when breeders violate these regulations, they are just given a slap on the wrist and allowed to keep breeding.

In addition, there is no regulation on the quality of dogs bred, either by the USDA, or by the AKC. So you should be aware that having AKC “papers” does not assure the quality of the dog, only that both its parents were of the same breed. Since these operations are for profit, cheap dogs means more money. They are not well socialized, and so the dog you get may be prone to inherited disease, communicable diseases, and behavioral problems. If you take nothing else away from this talk, don’t buy from puppy mills. The dogs are overpriced, poor quality, and you are supporting an industry of cruelty.

There are also for-profit, smaller scale backyard breeders. If you buy a dog online or from an ad, beware: they may be dealers selling puppy mill puppies or not much more reputable. These are the things that should throw up red flags:

  1. They have many breeds or “designer dog” mixed breeds.
  2. They won’t show you the parents or the facilities.
  3. They have little to no paperwork on the dog’s previous care.
  4. They don’t offer a guarantee if the dog turns out to be ill.
  5. They are more interested in making the sale than the quality of the home the dog is going to.

While we’re on the topic of so-called designer dogs, I’d like to tell you a bit about the history of them. Mutts are, of course, as old as time. In fact, purebreds are more or less a recent human construct within the last hundred years or so, when eugenics became all the rage and people started breeding for bizarre traits. This is according to Adam Ruins Everything. However, in the late 90s, a group in Europe started breeding what they hoped would be an ideal seeing eye or service dog — Labrador for friendliness, poodle for brains and a non-shedding coat. Labradoodles. They were carefully bred for this purpose, and they were ideal, and within a short time they became all the rage in the US. People imported them and were paying up to $3000 for one.

Predictably, people in the US caught on pretty quickly and started breeding labs and poodles here, with no regard for health or behavior, and selling them for exorbitant prices. Then they started mixing small breed dogs — which are always more profitable to breed because they’re adorable and sell well, and you can stack up cages and breed tons of them — and calling them “designer dogs” like they were a Gucci bag — puggles, pomchis, Maltipoo. My brother had a Chorkie he paid $1500 for. With money like that on the line, it’s not surprising that these dogs are being churned out at a rate of 2 million pups per year from large-scale operations.

But what about the simple dog owner who just wanted one litter. If they are charging more than one or two hundred dollars for this dog, you’re likely dealing with a for-profit breeder, regardless of what they say. And, buying from this person is still unethical for a couple of reasons.

  1. Paying someone who bred a dog, intentionally or not, is basically a vote with your dollars. It’s saying “I support this practice; keep breeding your dog for profit.”
  2. For every dog bred and bought this way, another dog dies in a shelter.
  3. Purebred dogs bred without regard to their health history or behavior profile (i.e. “my sister-in-law also had a yorkie”) are very likely to develop health and behavior problems.
  4. All this said, this IS a better option than puppy mills or for-profit breeders.

The third option is shelters. Why should you adopt a dog from a shelter? First, the obvious, because you’re saving a life. In reality, you’re saving two or more lives — your dog, and the dog who fills the cage he vacated, who might otherwise have been euthanized due to overcrowding. Also, your money funds more rescues, not more breeding, and part of it funds the vet care, spay or neuter for the dog you’re taking home. If no one buys puppy mill puppies, profit-driven mills will cease to exist because their reason for existing will be gone. And, supporting your local shelter means it can continue operating. Communities with no shelter often have horrors like shot dogs and drowned puppies and kittens, as we’ve found out in White County, where we have no shelter options for cats.

Finally, there is also the option of a rescue organization. Quite often, these organizations do not have a facility where they keep dozens of dogs. Rather, they have a network of volunteers who foster the dogs in homes, often training them in the process. Foster moms know much more about a specific dog’s temperament, health and habits than a puppy breeder can know, even a good one. Rescue organizations usually also require spay or neuter and your adoption fee pays for it and previous vet care. If you really really love a particular breed of dog, you can absolutely find a rescue organization for that breed specifically just by googling “Golden Retriever Rescue”. This can be an absolutely fantastic option, and is my favorite on this list. I intend to rescue a retired racing greyhound for my next dog.

Dogs have been our best friends for eons of human history, guarding our homes, protecting our families, herding our sheep, going to war with us, and just making us laugh and offering a furry shoulder to cry on when we need it. We owe it to them not only to give our own dogs the best life possible, but to make sure other dogs don’t suffer and die needlessly.

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Posted in Poems

Small and Uncatholic

Image by DDP

I remember places. I have
assorted memories of place
from childhood,
remembering patterns in carpets,
or that little cubby hole,
or climbing into the little house at
Grandpa and Grandma’s that was meant for
the Blessed Virgin statue.
I was that small,
that uncatholic.
I remember how when Mary
was reinstated, she stood
with her arms
beatifically spread,
her head tilted modestly.
Sacred Heart Jesus
had his own house in the yard,
and Grandpa and I
would tool around them
on his riding mower,
singing
Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush and
Pop Goes the Weasel.
I remember painting a red dot on the porch railing
because I knew Grandpa would never see it
in our regular game of
I Spy. He didn’t.
I wonder sometimes,
is it still there,
and who does he play games with now?
Maybe Mary and Sacred Heart Jesus,
for whom he built little houses,
so he could always be near them.

Posted in Sermons

Hey Wiretap! Do You Have a Recipe for Pancakes?

The following is a speech I gave in Communications class at Motlow State Community College on April 2, 2019.

Good morning. I’m Pepper Traymore. Oh wait, that’s my porn star name. I was on Facebook last week and there was a thing on there that said, if you take the name of your first pet and the road you lived on when you were a child, that’s your porn star name. What’s yours? We don’t have time to share all of them, but maybe take a second and tell the person next to you if you find it amusing.

Those things on Facebook are always a lot of fun. Take this quiz and find out what breed of dog you are, cut and paste this list of personal questions and tell your friends about where you had your first kiss, and what year you graduated from high school, and more.

Unfortunately, I’ve just baited you into sharing two pieces of personal information about yourself with the person next to you, who might be a relative stranger. Those pieces of information might be things you used as a password to your Facebook account, or your online bank account.

Maybe you’ve seen the above meme. It highlights the fact that in 50 years, we’ve gone from deeply suspicious of government spying to basically sharing our private information with the world voluntarily. I’m going to give you a brief history of technology and personal information, talk about what They with a capital T might be doing with your data, and give you a few ways to safeguard your data and your privacy while living in the world and on social media.

Wiretapping is almost as old as the telephone. Americans were outraged when they first learned of law enforcement’s use of wiretaps in the 20s, so laws were made limiting the use of electronic surveillance by police.

With World War II came relaxations of prohibitions of government spying on citizens. President Roosevelt authorized the use of wiretaps to monitor “subversives.” In wartime this meant potential Nazi and Japanese spies, but in the 50s, it broadened to include progressive activists fighting racial segregation. “Subversives” went from meaning foreign nationals to American citizens who disagreed with the government. Do you see how dangerous that is?

Fast forward 50 years to 9/11. In the wake of those attacks, Americans feared terrorism, so they were willing to accept new legislation like the Patriot Act, and the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, which was later found to be monitoring American citizens. And then, of course, the advent of social media, in which we willingly share vast amounts of private information. Technology has developed so fast that new gadgets come out faster than we can even begin to think about what effects they may have on our lives and our privacy.

In 2013 Edward Snowden revealed ways in which the NSA was monitoring American citizens that alarmed some people. Other people took the attitude, “Well, I’m not doing anything wrong, so I have nothing to hide.” But all of us have things we would prefer other people not know about us, things we might tell our best friend or our doctor or no one at all. And as Orwell’s novel 1984 pointed out, a society that monitors its citizens breeds subservience, and quashes creativity and dissent. Throughout all of our history, we have associated these tactics with Communist and Fascist nations and dictators, not with democracy.

When I started researching this topic, the amount of information out there and the number of ways that your data can be tracked boggled my mind. One TED talk described us as walking around in a cloud of information. Everything we do leaves a little digital trail, not just online but in the real world, too. But I want to narrow my focus to two ways “they” might be tracking you.

The first is the things you like or favorite on Facebook. That innocent click tells data miners so much about you. Information can even be mined by how long you pause while you’re scrolling, you don’t even have to click the like button. So what can they tell? Algorithms have developed so much that information can be had about your religion, your political ideals, your sexual preference, your sexual behavior, how much you trust your friends, whether you are using drugs.

One example in Forbes magazine told a story about a high school girl who received a flyer from Target offering pregnancy and baby products, alerting her parents before she had told them she was pregnant. How did Target know? She had looked at ads for vitamins, and bigger purses.

In addition, if you allow Facebook and Google to monitor your location, you are providing information about where you go, what stores you frequent. This is used for targeting ads to your particular demographic. Have you ever had the experience of just talking about something you were thinking about buying, and then suddenly seeing ads on Facebook for that very thing? It’s something we sort of joke about, but when you think about it, all of that information that is being gathered can be used for nefarious purposes, even manipulating the things you think about. Hacking the human brain is becoming a reality, and no hardware need be installed when we spend hours a day interacting with the software.

The other way companies are mining your data is through the use of smart devices. Kashmir Hill is a journalist who lived for 2 months with 18 smart devices, all linked with an Amazon Echo. She had a computer scientist monitor the information the devices were sending back to the companies who made them. You can get smart refrigerators, smart TVs, even smart sex toys. In those two months, there was not one hour of radio silence. The Echo was relaying information to Amazon every 3 hours, and all of the other devices were sending data to their manufacturers, who then sell that data to other companies. The computer scientist knew what TV shows they were watching and for how long, how often they went to the refrigerator, and yes, the smart sex toy was sending information about its use back to the company, as well. Do you feel watched yet? As I said, these are only two ways you are constantly generating data that is available for use and for sale by the corporations who run every website you interact with, and create the items you use, and you do not generally know it is happening, nor can you control it if you did.

But, there are some ways you can protect yourself.

  • First, use smart passwords. Don’t use pet names or information about you that is obtainable through the quizzes on Facebook or other easy data mining. Never reuse passwords, which is more dangerous than using easy passwords. Of course, never give out your password.
  • Review your privacy settings on social media, and review it REGULARLY. Facebook updates its algorithms and terms of service often, and you might find that somehow your phone number and email are public information. Be wary of friend requests from people you have already friended; it could be a new account, or it could be someone trying to get information about you or hack you account.
  • Be careful about what you share on Facebook. Be aware that when you apply to a college, or apply for a job, or anything else that is important to you, one of the first things those people are going to do is check your facebook account. If your wall is public and full of images of you drunk at parties, you’re not likely to get the job.
  • Don’t be too trusting when asked for private information. Be your own “human firewall” and educate yourself on the ways data is being gathered and used. Be careful about checking in. Just checking in or posting vacation pictures to a public Facebook account can alert someone that you’re not home and give them an opportunity to rob your house while you’re gone.
  • Finally, it’s important to keep abreast of the latest information about cyber security. Experts say it’s not a matter of if you’ll be a victim of a cybercrime, but when. It may be worth it to look at identity protection, but do your research.

Big Brother may be watching, and there is a lot we don’t have control over when it comes to how our information is shared and sold, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful where we do have control. Be safe out there.

Posted in Poems

I drowned…

Photo by Tim Marshall

I drowned in my dream last night
in a tidal wave that
crashed
over me, and I can remember
every vivid sensation
and struggle.
I woke, gulping for air,
wandered to the bathroom and back,
slept again.
And in the strange manner of dreams I
replayed the tidal wave,
only this time I saved myself,
and isn’t this a metaphor for life?

Posted in Big Questions

What is Renaissance Life?

This is the transcript of the introductory speech I gave for my Communications class at Motlow State Community College, March 19, 2019, on being a polymath or multipotentialite.

I’m 48 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. When I graduated high school in 1989, I was at that time a Jehovah’s Witness and I thought I knew what I wanted to be. JWs don’t encourage their young people to go to college, so despite being a very good student with a 3.65 GPA, after high school I became what they call a pioneer, spending 90 unpaid hours a month preaching, and for a while I even went to help with less-served congregations in rural areas.

As it turned out, a pioneer was not what I wanted to be, and in fact a Jehovah’s Witness was not what I wanted to be. Since then I have had many different jobs — I’ve done cleaning jobs, worked in retail, I’ve been a veterinary technician, a medical transcriptionist, a mom, a homeschool teacher, a vacuum cleaner salesperson, and I now make my living creating artisan wire jewelry and some other kinds of art. I don’t want to give you the impression that I can’t stick with a job; some of those things I did for 10 or 20 years. And, of course, here I am in college after 28 gap years, embarking on a new journey entirely.

I struggled with not being able to focus on one area of expertise, for years. Partly, life got in the way. I got divorced at age 27 and found myself the single mom of a 3yo. In those situations, you do what you have to, to pay the bills. But also, I struggled with anxiety when I thought about anything big. I considered going to vet school for a while, and for a while I thought it might be fun to be a history teacher and teach history in a way that students would actually enjoy. But those things involved college, and money, and that spelled COMMITMENT. If I spent thousands of dollars learning how to do something, I really ought to make it my LIFE’S WORK. I wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I settle down and pick something? I’d been convinced in high school that I should be a writer, because I’m pretty good at it. It felt like a calling. I wrote a lot of poetry. I got some of it published. And then I realized that poetry pays in copies of the magazines it gets printed in, and I got depressed. In our society we tell young people that they have to pick something, starting at around age five. What do you want to be when you grow up? Not only do you have to pick something, but once you get to a certain age you’re judged on the respectability of whatever you’ve picked. This felt like a life crisis to me, and a terrible weight.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who gets fascinated with one thing after another. Some names for this have been around a long time: Renaissance man. During the Renaissance it was expected that you’d have a wide range of interests. More recently we’ve been called Jack of all trades, master of none, which is not very flattering and reflects the Protestant work ethic we have now that says, pick something, show up every day, suck it up. Today Renaissance people are speaking up, and you can find self-help books and TED talks and the endless information the Internet provides. The names for people with a wide variety of interests include scanner, polymath, multipotenntialite.

Polymaths continually get distracted by learning or trying a new thing, getting bored as soon as a new thing is mastered, struggling to choose a major or a profession because you hate the idea of being stuck doing the same thing for the rest of your life. But, I’m really good at picking up new things because I do it constantly. When my husband and I were taking a pottery class he said I was good at everything — not true, I’m just good at faking it at the beginning — and he also tells me if I could just pick one thing, I’d be amazing at it. Maybe. I’m sure I’ll never find out.

Twenty years ago, I met a man at a craft fair who made furniture for American Girl dolls. He excitedly told me about all the things he’d done and shared his list of things he still wanted to try, at age 70. Something resonated in me. I wanted a list, too. And when I heard the voices of other people who feel the same way I do, I settled down, and I started looking at the positive aspects of being the way I am. Trying to fit yourself into someone else’s mold for you never works. I decided I had to find my own strengths and capitalize on them.

Not only is there nothing wrong with being a polymath, but it’s a unique way to be wired that really is a gift if you embrace it. I have learned a wide variety of skills from my various occupations and interests. According to polymath Emilie Wapnick, who gave a TED Talk a few years ago titled Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling, polymaths have 3 superpowers.

  1. Idea synthesis. When you have skills in a variety of fields, you make connections that people who specialize deeply in one field may not see.
  1. Rapid learning. We are used to being beginners, and we get really good at it.
  1. Adaptability. We have the ability to take on different roles in different situations because of our broad list of skill sets.

Last year I stopped working for someone else, took a chance, and moved to doing my own business full time. I make Chainmaille and wire-wrapped jewelry, and I often incorporate other skills into my work. I love watercolor painting, so I painted tiny original watercolors on bisque porcelain and wire wrapped them. I wanted to learn glass working, so I took a couple of workshops on that and made my creations into jewelry. My years as a pioneer have been very helpful in being able to talk to people at craft shows. My work as a transcriptionist has given me computer skills that I regularly use in marketing. My passion for writing means I can write convincing item descriptions when I sell online.

I passionately believe that no learning is wasted. My bucket list isn’t a list of places to go, but things to learn. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that I haven’t definitely picked a major yet, but I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to fix the biggest regret I had, not going to college. If you are young and don’t know what you want to do yet, I say, do a little of everything, look for the connections between the things you love and use them to create something new. And don’t let them tell you that you can only be or do one thing.

Posted in Sermons

Blessed Are the Tree Huggers

This is a sermon I gave at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cookeville on March 24, 2019.

<Read The Giving Tree>

Do you think this is a healthy relationship? If this was a human relationship between two adults, what would you think of the boy? What would you think of the tree?

I loved this story when my son was young so much that it was one of two children’s books I kept after he got older, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t think about it much. It’s good to be giving, right? It’s good that the tree was happy, right? The telling words are after he took her trunk to go far away: “The tree was happy… but not really.”

The boy might have loved the tree in his own way, but would you call him a tree-hugger? Really, he was exploiting her in every way imaginable. Would you call him an environmentalist?

Now, when I look at this story, I see it a lot different than I used to. I see it as a metaphor for humans’ relationship with the earth. The earth is our Mother, and she gives us everything we need to live. But, not content to accept her as as place to climb branches and play and eat apples, we plunder all of her resources with no regard for her well-being, or for what she will have left to give us when we have taken it all away.

The earth is so perfect for human habitation that altering things in the slightest way would make her uninhabitable by our species. There are so many ways that this is true, but since we’re talking about trees today, here are ten ways trees make your life better, or even make your life possible:

1. Trees produce oxygen. Two mature trees produce enough oxygen in a year for a family of four.

2. Trees filter the soil they are planted in, cleaning it of pollutants and toxins.

3. Trees and forest ecosystems support biodiversity, creating habitats for creatures, some of which we depend on directly.

4. Trees reduce the greenhouse effect. During photosynthesis, trees take in carbon and store it in their wood, so the more trees there are, the slower global warming affects our planet.

5. Trees produce fruit and nuts.

6. Trees prevent soil erosion. Their networks of roots keep the soil intact. Without this, we lose the vital top layer of soil where other plants grow best. When land is stripped of trees, often very little else will grow, producing deserts or barren wastelands.

7. Trees provide shade and reduce evaporation. If your house is in the shade of a tree, you’re probably using less energy to cool it, another way they help with global warming.

8. Trees filter the air. They trap particulates like smoke, ash, and dust that can damage the lungs of mammals. These things then wash to the ground at the next rainfall, and can then potentially enrich the soil.

9. Trees add beauty to our life. Here in the first breath of spring, I probably don’t have to tell you this. You’re probably as excited as I am to see the flick of spring green on the end of branches, the flowers on deciduous magnolias, redbuds, and dogwoods. It’s like an old friend returning. And of course, they are beautiful not only in spring, they are beautiful year-round, in so many different ways.

10. Trees improve mental health. Studies have shown that spending time in nature and in the company of trees improves cognition and memory, and reduces stress.

So, and you knew this question was coming, I want to ask you: when was the last time you hugged a tree? If you’re feeling stressed, depressed, or anxious, have you considered forest therapy? They don’t charge by the hour.

There is a tree on the farm where my horses live, a huge, ancient pear tree. The horses stand in her shade and as often as I can, I take advantage of one of her gnarled roots to use as a meditation cushion, closing my eyes to just listen and be. Often when I do this, the horses come to me and lower their heads and half-close their eyes to meditate with me. Do I hug her? Yes. I thank her for the embrace of her gnarled roots and for taking care of my horses with shade in the summer and pears in early autumn.

Today I’d like to introduce you to the original tree-huggers. They belong to a Hindu sect in the arid northern Rajasthan region of India, called the Bishnoi. The sect was founded in 1485 by a man who came to be called Guru Jambheshwar or Jambhoji, and even back then, it was caste-neutral.

Jambheshwar witnessed the clear-cutting of trees during times of drought to feed animals. You see, the region is mostly desert, subject to cruel dust storms. The local Khejri trees are a marvel, with deep roots that access water that humans and animals can’t get to, which is stored in the wood and leaves of the tree. So when drought is severe, sometimes the only way to get water is from the trees. But in Jambheshwar’s time, people were clear-cutting the trees to feed animals, and the drought went on so long that the animals died anyway, and then the trees were gone.

Jambhoji preached ecological responsibility. He gave his followers 29 principles, from which their name comes; the Bishnoi, which means 29. Eight of these principles preserve biodiversity, such as prohibitions on killing animals, sterilizing bulls, or cutting green trees. Ten of them deal with health and hygiene, and four have to do with daily worship. The Bishnoi’s proscription on cutting allowed shrubs to grow in the desert, protecting it from wind erosion, and they also developed, hundreds of years ago, water harvesting systems to preserve life. Jambhoji also called for tolerance during discussions, and 120 Shabads or sayings are recorded in which he preached love for all living beings.

In this region of Rajasthan there is a town called Khejarli for the groves of Khejri trees nearby. These trees became particularly sacred to the Bishnoi, because of their remarkable endurance and ability to help sustain life in the desert.

But in 1730 the king of Jodhpur sent men to cut the Khejri trees for construction of his new palace. The Bishnoi protested, but their protests fell on deaf ears and the king’s men continued with their plans to cut. One young Bishnoi mother, Amrita Devi, threw herself upon the trees, wrapping her arms around the Khejiri and hugging them, telling the king’s men that they would have to go through her before they could harm the trees. She said “To lose one’s head to save a tree is a good bargain.”

She lost her life, as did all three of her daughters. The king’s men killed them, and felled some of the trees. Aghast, Bishnoi from all over came to protest. In the end, 363 of them, from 83 different villages, lost their lives as they wrapped themselves around their sacred trees to try to save them, perhaps the world’s first ecological martyrs.

The king heard of this and ordered his men to cease logging. He was so impressed with the bravery of the Bishnoi that he declared Khejarli off limits for logging and hunting, and to this day it is illegal to cut one of these trees. Khejarli is beautiful and verdant in a region that is mostly desert, and it is preserved today as a heritage site. In 1988 it was named by India’s government as the first National Environmental Memorial.

In addition, the actions of Amrita and the Bishnoi prompted what is known as the Chipko movement, from a word that means “to hug”, a nonviolent movement to protect other trees in other places. This is a successful nonviolent protest in India almost two hundred years before Gandhi’s protests.

For all of us, it is not a stretch to say that trees are life, but for poor people in rural areas and less developed countries, it is much more true. When the environment suffers, they are always the first to feel the crisis. <slide> I’d like to introduce you to another tree hugger who has lived in our own time, although as she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, perhaps you have heard of her.

Wangari Maathai was born in Kenya and educated in the US. She became the first East African woman to hold a Ph.D. When she returned home from America, she was distressed to compare the affluence here with the terrible poverty in her homeland. Women around her native Nairobi would often have to walk miles and miles to get firewood because the forests had been clear-cut to make way for building. This was having effects on soil erosion, water supply, and so much more. Wangari worked with the National Council for Women, and in 1977, she had an idea to enlist poor women to plant trees, to provide fuel, prevent soil erosion and desertification. She gave the women a small stipend to do the planting. She said in an interview, “I started simply to meet the needs of women.” But in so doing, she was meeting the needs of the environment as well.

The response shocked her. She discovered that Kenya’s corrupt government and a few powerful people controlled these resources, and they did not like a woman defying traditional gender roles, speaking up, and empowering the destitute. She was arrested, imprisoned, and bullied. But when the government changed, she was given a place in its environmental department, and continued to make a difference up until she died in 2007.

Her?? Green Belt Movement has to date planted 51 million trees, gave people a voice in standing up to their government, employed people who desperately needed help, and trained 30,000 women in forestry, food processing, bee keeping, and other skills. The movement has since expanded to teach women in many other African nations how to steward the land.

Over their lifetimes, those 51 million trees will capture and store the carbon dioxide emissions from burning 25 billion pounds of coal. This is why trees are critical to slowing climate change. In areas where trees are sparse, climate change wreaks havoc. And, as both these examples have shown, planting and caring for trees can have a positive influence on the lives of people, especially on the lives of people who desperately need help.

In addition, I want to point out here at the end of Women’s History Month, that both of these stories highlight the courage, ingenuity, and tireless work of women environmentalists, and of course they are only two examples among many. In an echo of the Bishnoi protest, in 1997 Julia Butterfly Hill lived for some 700 days in an old-growth redwood tree to save it from being cut by a lumber company, raising awareness for the importance of old-growth forests, and she continues to stand on the front lines of environmentalism.

Russ and I went for a drive yesterday, through forests just beginning to flicker with green, punctuated with purple-garbed redbud branches. Where I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, for the most part, forests existed where they were protected. We are so fortunate to live in this green land full of trees everywhere, not just in parks. So I ask you to consider planting a tree or two this spring, and even if you can’t, consider hugging one and offering it your thanks for the hard work it’s doing on your behalf.

In the midst of an administration that is anti-environment, it’s easy to lose hope or give up. Don’t do that. I offer you quotes from two of the women we talked about today. Julia Butterfly hill said, “You, yes you, make the difference.” And Wangari Maathai said, “We cannot tire or give up hope. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk.”

Posted in Big Questions

Free Write on Being a Woman

I used to free write as a way to spark creativity, and I ran across this old one (14 years, what?!) and it spoke to me again. I thought I’d share.

I am woman in all my denied raging femininity, full of unexpected curves to get lost among, full of — just full. I touch beyond myself unwittingly, drawing close and pushing away in the confusion of clashing hormones and post-menstrual tenderness, lost in my own gestures of grace.

Know that I must protect myself from my own curse of giving ness, lips unwilling to form one syllable No, one wide to an advantage-taking world. And yet I am selfish. But I am warm and soft and my breasts form as good a pillow as any, and if child-bearing hips were the criteria for a good woman I win, hands down.

The small things of admitting my womannness I flatly refuse; I will not migrate to lavatories with the herd, and I am not what you would call a domestic wonder, and I carry a wallet instead of a purse. How lost am I between estrogen and testosterone, and when will I admit that I bleed? Somewhere in this curse and Lessing I will find my way, and you will see i m y eyes the generations that shall call me Mother.

Posted in Poems

Falling

Photo by Bruce Christianson

Sense and Nonsense

Given the scope of my Truth
and the fact that i have been getting to know it
all these years,
I wish for a promise
that I cannot fall,
cannot fail,
but here I am

Spread-Eagled

in infinite Space
and I have been falling for years.
Not only is there no safety net,
but there is no ground.

At first you panic, flailing,
looking for ground that you are certain
will be The Death Of You
but it spins out of control.
There is no control in this
Space.
Nothing to push off of,
no orientation, no trajectory.
When you realize that,
when you settle into the space
between Beingness and Unbeingness
and enjoy the ride,
you realize that this
is not a fall to your Death
but your First Flight.

Posted in A Day In The Life

Where I’ve Been

On February 2, I was at an event and had an attack of acute pancreatitis that was, I can tell you, among the most pain endurable. My doctor said, it’s like the alien in Aliens bursting out of you. Pretty accurate. I was in such agony that I was writhing, moving constantly, trying to find a slightly more comfortable position, to the point that I was sore the next day. My husband called it “agony aerobics.” Also accurate.

As it turned out, I had acute cholecystitis too — gallstones, causing the pancreatitis. My gallbladder was full of them. They took it out on the 7th. I stayed in the hospital until the 11th, and I’ve been recovering since then.

Why do doctors tell you some crazy conservative estimate of how long it is going to take you to recover from surgery? Two weeks, they told me. Maybe some people recover from having their gallbladder removed, but I am not one of them. Here I am, a month later, still struggling.

To literally add insult to injury, on the 25th I got a call that one of our best friends, Joe, had collapsed on his sister’s lawn and was life-flighted to Erlanger, and the next day, he was gone of a massive stroke. Joe gamed with us every week and was best man at my wedding and was just a light to everyone around him.

Needless to say, February has not been kind. I feel like I’ve been gone, on another planet, and am coming back to a world that went on without me (because of course it did), and am struggling to remember how to fit in and function. I have a month of course work to make up when I return to class on Monday. I haven’t worked in a month.

So this is me, tentatively stretching my muscles, writing something because despite everything, this is still the year I write. I still don’t know what, exactly. It doesn’t matter, so long as I am writing. I couldn’t even focus enough for several weeks to write in my journal, and that is really remarkable. It’s strange how pain makes it impossible to focus on anything but yourself, and I guess that’s true of emotional pain as well as physical pain. I’m struggling with both, but both are getting better.

I hope that life has been much gentler with you, and if not, please remember to be gentle with yourself. Cherish this day and the friends and family who inhabit the wonderful places in your life. Take nothing for granted. Love and light to you. ❤

Posted in Daily Writing

Restless

This is a screech owlet I rescued. My neighbor cut his tree down and asked me to save him.

The following did not happen. Since 2019 is the year I write, I need to write, and this is where I’m starting… fiction that is more truth than fiction, and the person in the story is very much me, doing things I do, but this particular sequence of events is out of sequence, and fictional. But I guess I’m hoping there are struggling Polymaths out there who, like me, struggle with rotating obsessions and wondering at midlife or later what they want to be when they grow up.

I was sitting in a coffee shop, sipping a double latte, extra cream, and nothing much was going on. I felt like I was sitting in a bubble of voices, carried on them, but not really understanding them, not part of them, not even looking at their owners. I was looking out the window at a glorious blue day, but I wasn’t really part of that either.

Being a polymath is a long string of triumph and frustration with yourself. You get really, really good at learning new things, and at failing and being cool with that. The next thing will get better. If you do a next thing; you might just as well decide that you’re done with that activity and obsessed with something else today, and sometimes it’s like a switch flipped and you’re just not in love anymore. Thanks for the good times, Photography, but I’ve met Poetry and we’re… well… in love. It’s not you, it’s me. It’s always me.

Anyway the blank page sits before me again, and I feel like this is where I live my life, on the edge of the greatest idea I’ve ever had. This is it, I think, my life’s mission. Only when I’m not on the edge of that eureka, I’m worried that I don’t have a life’s mission.

I sighed and put my too-hot latte down. How do you know, you know? How do you know what you’re supposed to do when one day you’re so fired up you can’t sit still and the next day you’re bored out of your mind with the same thing? In my mind I am having this conversation with a meet-me-at-the-coffee-house friend that I don’t have today.

I clapped my poetry book closed without so much as a new mark on it and trudged back to the counter. “On second thought,” I said, “I’ll take this to go.”

“Sure thing,” the barista said cheerfully, and dumped the cup into a styrofoam (ugh) mug with a cardboard cuff and a plastic lid. I’m part of the problem, I thought glumly as I accepted today’s contribution to the local landfill enveloping that sweet, milky, caffeinated addiction, and walked out into the street, which seemed quiet after the buzz of coffee house conversation. The poem about conversation buzz and caffeine buzz lands in my head not ten steps out of the door, naturally. Should I find a park bench and write it anyway? Nah. It’s not that good.

I wonder sometimes how many of these ideas I let go might have been The Epiphany if I gave them time and nursed them. I just know for sure that I’ll see a bald eagle sitting ten feet from me in a tree, or a perfect rose, or some other thing I’ll curse myself for not having my camera for. Any one of them could have sent me running back to my photography obsession, if I caught the shot, if I was focused on one thing.

Sometimes I’m here, in flux, in between obsessions and worried I’ll never amount to much because I’m all over the place. On the other hand, I know something about a lot of things, and we need people in the world like that, too, right? Right?

It turned out, after all, not to be an eagle or a rose, but a baby bird, in the middle of the sidewalk, its paper thin, translucent throat stretched out in supplication, its peeping faint but audible half a block away. I stopped close to him, peering up into the just-budding branches of the tree above me. The nest was a mess and there was no putting him back in it.

Luckily, feeding baby birds is on my long list of things I know how to do, because I once worked for an avian veterinarian, fostering baby birds and syringe feeding them. I am not a certified wildlife rehabilitator, because that would have taken focusing on a thing for a long time and it’s not that high on my list of obsessions, but I know some things, and I know some people. I dumped the remains of my latte, carefully wiped out the inside of the cup with a pocketed napkin, lined the cup with more napkins, and scooped the little fellow into the cup while his head bobbed, hoping mom would find it and regurgitate him some food. “Sorry, my dude,” I told him, wrapping my hands around the cup to warm him against the spring chill. “I haven’t eaten any worms today.” I’d take him home, get him some food to syringe-feed him, and then find someone who could legally raise him. I get questions like this all the time, from my friends. I rescued this baby bird, what do I do with him? I just got a new crock pot, you have some good recipes I can make in it? I need photos taken for my son’s first birthday, would you do it? I rescued this kitten, I’m planning a protest, I’m painting my bedroom, what’s a good app to meditate…

“You know, Harold,” I say to a baby bird newly christened Harold, “maybe being a Jill of All Trades isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

If I’m willing to find a way without a crop, gizzard, or worm breakfast to regurgitate for him, he could not agree more.