Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wheel of Misfortune
I am not a TV person.  Haven’t had one since I lived at my parents house when I was 17.  I think the programming is mostly shallow useless time wasting fluff or violence.  I know there are exceptions…those exceptions still do not feel like they balance out the utter crap. 
I realize that I am out of the mainstream when it comes to discussing shows that have been popular for either the past twenty years or the past two years.  I asked JC what that show was called with all the good questions and he shook his head and said “Jeopardy”.  I guess that is common knowledge to most people.  Wouldn’t that be a great question to have on that show?  See if the contestants could remember the name of the show?

Where we are currently parked with our home on wheels, we have the misfortune of having TV reception.  Our camper came with a TV as standard equipment.  It is a built in thing that lives in our living room.  Luckily we rarely have reception.  I love the places that have no phone, TV or internet reception. 
JC has been obliging enough to wear headphones so I don’t have to hear about bladder control drugs and the explosive diarrhea I could get from taking an anti-depressant.  I also don’t have to hear what now passes for “news”.  I pass through and glance at the thing every once in a while. He is there with his headphones on watching and listening.  What I see only makes me that much more grateful for not being part of the human/black box relationship. 
There was some “reality” show on when I passed by the other evening.  Some half-dressed young woman was crying about something that didn’t go right on their island.  I laughed at her belief that what she was experiencing on that island was actually reality. 

But, Sunday night I passed by and saw Jane Goodall on the screen.  I immediately unplugged JC’s headphones and found out that she was going to be one of three segments on 60 minutes.

I think I actually sat down in a chair to watch it. Someone should have caught that rare moment on film.

(Here is a bit of personal background:  HOME has been a constant holy grail for me.  I test everything and everyone with my litmus test of “does this feel like HOME”?
I am like Dorothy.  There is no place like HOME and it has been inside me all along. I never left HOME.
Yea yea, whatever….I still have my HOME tinted litmus paper handy at all times.)

So, from my perspective, all three segments of the 60 minutes show were about HOME.  (It's like Woody Allen thinking everything he hears relates to anti-semitism....)

The first 60 minutes segment was about the folks in Silicon Valley who once earned six figures and are now unemployed.  They are collecting recyclables from people’s trash, selling their McMansions and living in everything from stranger’s attics to their cars. What they once assumed would always be their HOME got pulled out from under them.  This is exactly why I never wanted to get used to some fancy high price lifestyle.  I always wanted to know that how I live was sustainable in any economy and in all situations.  I want to always be happy with few material goods and I want to know the ins and outs of surviving during apocalyptic situations.  You want to live near me if the shit hits the fan in this country.  We would survive just fine.

The next segment was about a very popular automobile TV show in Britain.  It is called Gear something or other.  One of the hosts was interviewed.  The big bruiser guy was talking about caravans (that is Europeans call rv trailers).  He said, “Oh yes, just what I want to do, go out in the freezing rain and live in a metal box parked in a field.  With Americans it is different.  You Americans like that kind of thing.”  
Hmmm, here we are with bright sunshine parked in the national forest in the metal box we call HOME….and loving it. JG
Then, Jane Goodall appeared.  Can I just say, I LOVE this woman.  First, her beautiful relationship with the chimps as a twenty something non-academic untrained scientist…then her visit with them as a seventy something spokesperson for all living beings.  The forest habitat that serves as HOME to the chimps is being chipped away at.  Jane points to once forested hillsides that are now barren.  She is delighted to find that many of her old chimp friends are still alive in the forest and have children and grandchildren.  But, their population is a fraction of what it once was and she blames habitat destruction, killing them for bushmeat and killing them to steal their babies for the exotic animal trade.
I feel for these chimps who just want to be HOME…with their familiar surroundings, family, friends and food.

It is really so little to ask.

I cried tears of gratitude for Jane Goodall's clear compassionate voice.  And for just a moment I was glad that the black box brought Jane right into our living room.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Blow Away That Symbol of Peace!

I have been studying the road atlas so that I can figure out the details of our winter plans.  I have been reading more of the road atlas than ever before in my life.
And I am shocked.  While I have been busy studying those maps in the front, there has been a whole section that I could have been enjoying in the back pages….The Festivals of the USA!
The festival section has lots of pictures and ideas, including:
For the kids!
-Photo of a boy in a kid’s rodeo called Mutton Busting. Kids cling to terrified sheep in a rodeo arena.
-Photo and description of kids in the specially flooded Center St. of Spanish Fork, Utah.  The center of town is turned into an artificial pond and is stocked with hundreds of trout.  The kids can use their hands or plastic bags to catch a trout and every kid who participates gets to take home a 10 inch trout for their family.
(What better way to teach kids about our connection with the natural world and the other animals in our big animal family)
For the Adults
-Endless rodeos and Renaissance Festivals where you can grab some lamb or a turkey leg and show off your unique human skills.
I actually could not find a single page that did not include some glorification and celebration of violence in our culture…..
I pretty much held my breath in horror as I looked through page after page of “Americana”.   As I was reading them to JC he was sure I must be making some of this stuff up…especially when I was reading to him about “Mike the Headless Chicken Festival” in Colorado.  I am not kidding.
Finally I let out a sigh of relief when…at the bottom of one page, I got to the National Lentil Festival in Pullman Washington….There was of a guy dressed as a giant brown lentil wearing a baseball cap.  Now there is a festival I can get excited about…..Between that and the Gilroy CA garlic festival, they are finally talking my language.  (Well truthfully the lentil looks like an M &M and is very corny.....but I am desperate to find a non-violent image in the atlas!)
I like anything that makes me feel like I almost belong in this country.

Today, JC, Bean and I were hiking in the beautiful national forest.  About an hour into our hike, a gunshot was fired less than 50 yards from us.  Bean came running back to us and I watched the smoke from the gun rise above the bushes just in front of us.  We held Bean close and I whistled and shouted so the hunters would stop shooting.  They did not answer my whistle or shout, which makes me assume they were hunting illegally.
We turned around and left the area just before getting to our destination on the ridge top.
I came home and looked up the hunting season in New Mexico to see if they were poaching. 
Fish and Game….a government agency supported by tax dollars….has a website that is almost as shocking as the Rand McNally Road Atlas.
A few of the “highlights”:

Private land owners are now paid to allow hunters to kill on their land.  And the most exciting part is that these private lands are open just in time for killing the world symbol for PEACE (doves)!  Here is the news from their website:
New Mexico landowners and the Department of Game and Fish are working together to provide New Mexico hunters more opportunities to pursue game on private land across the state, including more than 102,000 acres available just in time for the Sept. 1 opening of dove season.
The 5-year-old program is funded by $4 Habitat Management and Access validations required with every hunting and fishing license. This year, 19 landowners have enrolled in the program to offer public dove hunting.
“This program is great for dove hunters because some of the best dove hunting is around water tanks and agricultural fields on private land,” said Aaron Roberts, coordinator of the Open Gate Program. “At the same time, it benefits the landowners by putting some money in their pockets and keeping the birds off their crops.”
Participating landowners are paid for allowing hunters or anglers access to their property or for allowing access across their property to landlocked public land. Lease agreements are negotiated individually and can vary according to property descriptions, easements and hunting opportunities. Statewide, landowners have enrolled more than 105,000 acres for dove, quail, turkey, waterfowl, javelina and deer hunting, and some angling. 

Dove hunter with his kill. 
How I imagine this boy 50 years later........

And more “great news”…..Kids “learn to kill” programs are in full swing.  And for you adults who are not satisfied with viewing the glorious Sandhill Crane, you can legally shoot them and carry them home in the trunk of your car. 
Applications are due Wednesday, Sept. 8, for 2010-2011 youth waterfowl hunts at Bernardo Wildlife Area and for special-permit sandhill crane hunts. More than 200 youth waterfowl hunts are available at Bernardo and hundreds of special crane permits are available in various areas around the state.

OK, call me a stick in the mud, but I actually think that all land should be considered no hunting unless it is marked as a place that some land owner has decided to allow hunting.  Instead most states have strict regulations for exactly how you must post your land if you do not want hunting on it.  Is it me or is this backwards? 

The NRA works so hard to ensure hunters have the right to go out there and blast away.  But what about land owner and hiker’s rights?  Private land and National forests are suddenly war zones during hunting seasons across the USA.  Most people head to the forest for silence and beauty.  The most beautiful time of year for being in the woods, turns into an act of courage (or insanity) if you love hiking.  The Fish and Wildlife page reminds those of us who are not hunting to wear bright colors.  Right.  Hunters never shoot other hunters in bright colors.  Right.  Hunters always make sure that their target is clearly identified.  Right.  Hunters are never blurry eyed and hung-over because they never drink on their hunting trips.  Right.  Hunters are very responsible guys who love following regulations.  Right. 

All of this reminds me…it is that time of year….time to pull out one of my favorites:
A Holiday Thought.  You can find this on our website ( in pdf form to print out or send around:

A Holiday Thought…
    Aren’t humans amazing? They kill wildlife - birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.
    Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal -  health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer.
    So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases.
    Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.
    Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once-a-year send out cards praying for "Peace on Earth."
    ~Revised Preface to Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm by C. David Coates~

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Bliss of Ignorance
Maybe I am reading too much these days.  I don’t mean the wonderful novels I have been getting from the library.  I mean the news…the daily news of what the humans on earth are up to right now.

I am a visual person.  Seeing images (today) of stitched up teenage boys who were beaten and sodomized with baseball bats and other weapons because they were having a relationship with another boy breaks my heart.  I have tried to shake the images all day.

Yesterday, I was researching non-human primates for a lesson plan that I am writing.  The Wikipedia entry for non-human primates is filled with photos and descriptions of the horrors that they are being exposed to in labs across the country.  It is information I already knew and photos I have already seen and still, I cannot keep from sobbing when I see the images and look into the eyes of these innocent beings being tortured.$7029818$300.jpg 
(I am intentionally not showing any images of what is done to these primates)

Hang in there, these different incidents are all related….trust me.

I reconnected with some old friends on the phone yesterday and they were doing what they often did when we used to hang out together: teasing me about my vegan lifestyle choice.  They themselves love dogs and wildlife dearly…..but that love does not extend past the arbitrary boundary set up in their heart and mind:  Animals we love, Animals we don’t love.  They would consider themselves to be the most compassionate and liberal people around and yet they cannot let themselves see beyond the limits of their current circle of compassion.  Vegan is a joke to them.  It is non-violence and compassion…..not always easy to live up to in this world and certainly not a joke. 

I cannot laugh at the suffering of the primates and other animals being tortured in labs and I cannot laugh at the horrific violence against those teenage boys. 

Today, I am overwhelmed by the amount of needless suffering on the planet.  JC thinks it is hormones.  Probably is.  But it is also the reality of the human actions on the planet on one of those days when it seeps into some little gate I have left open inside me.

A part of me wants to hide from it all and not engage in any of it….and a part of me wants to do all I can to at least have a smidgen of positive impact on this crazy beautiful painful earth.

I had a thought that if I did not have a computer or a phone, I would never have experienced any of those three incidences. I might have been in blissful ignorance of all of it. 

I work hard to leap over what often feels like giant obstacles to find a way to lovingly connect with those who seem like they do not care or want to know what is going on. 

A dear friend of mine in Maine often asks me, “How can you keep doing this work?  How can you keep witnessing the violence and suffering?   Doesn’t it take its toll on you?”

I think it does take its toll.  Today, while riding my bike into town to the food coop with the beautiful hills in the background, I cannot shake the images of the teenage boys.  I cannot stop mourning.  I cry the whole ride into the coop.

This is what happens when you decide you will look directly at life and feel it fully.  Or maybe you don't decide to do decides you.  You cannot help but witness what is happening.

I sat down to meditate this evening.  I had ants in my pants.  I could not sit still.  I got up and grabbed dog biscuits for Bean and put peanut butter on them and lined them up carefully in front of her.  It wasn’t until I had lined them all up that I remembered, “I am supposed to be sitting on that cushion in there with my eyes closed.”  I got back to the cushion and forced myself to sit still.  And that is when I knew that the antsy-ness was me trying not to feel.  I got as still as I could in my body and mind and the tears fell down my cheeks and into in my lap until there are no more tears.  And then there is just my breath.  And for the first time all day, I was not haunted by the pictures of the boy's black and blue butt cheeks with stitches the whole length of their cheeks and thighs.  For the first time all day, I was just exactly where I was sitting.