New vs. Secondhand Materials in My Art

If you’ve visited my Etsy shop lately, you may have noticed that I’ve made some changes to how I describe the materials used in my works. In my continuing efforts to be more eco-friendly in my art, and to help prospective buyers make decisions that fit their personal ethics, I’ve divided the materials up into two categories:

New or reclaimed from industry materials: “New” describes supplies that I’ve either bought new from a shop or a commercial supplier, like certain jewelry findings, most acrylic paints, and artificial sinew and other thread. “Reclaimed from industry” is sort of the “pre-consumer waste” alternative–it includes scraps from commercial industries that I then reclaim myself or through a third party supplier. These are usually byproducts that the original industry can’t use, but which are kept out of the waste stream (read: the trash) through art and other means. A good example would be the tails and other scrap fur that are left over from garment manufacture.

Secondhand/recycled materials: Secondhand refers to materials that previously belonged to another private individual; this can range from hides and bones that were a part of a person’s private collection, to leather jackets, costume jewelry and other items from thrift stores, yard sales and the like. Recycled materials are things that I’ve otherwise repurposed; for example, handmade paper made from envelopes, unwanted junk mail, and other paper that I would have tossed into the recycling bin otherwise.

As both a mixed-media artist and an avid environmentalist, I feel very strongly that it’s my job to promote eco-friendly practices and materials. Over the years I’ve incorporated more and more green habits into both my art and my everyday life, and I want to encourage others to consider doing the same. By being more transparent and straightforward about where my supplies come from, I hope to inspire people to think more about where the items they’re buying come from, not just art, but in general. Look at the plastic and cardboard packaging that much of our food is wrapped in. You may see a label that says “Made with 75% post-consumer waste” on it, but have you ever really thought about what that means? For me, at least, it’s incentive to keep supporting companies that make use of recycled fibers and other materials, to be extra-careful about sorting out my recyclables, and to reduce my consumption in the first place.

And I want to do that with my art as well. My creations are intended to evoke honor and care for the environment, and by being more clear about the origin of my materials, I am not only offering up the information to others, but I’m also reminding myself of where the things I make things out of come from. As I spent the past couple of weeks updating each of over 300 listings in my shop, I became a lot more aware of the realistic proportions of new to secondhand materials I was working with. Sometimes I was surprised at how little secondhand stuff was in one piece; other times I’d find a piece that was entirely made of reclaimed materials. It’s not that I wasn’t conscious of my materials on some level before, but this exercise brought it into greater awareness. And it’ll keep happening each time I list new items and go through the process of describing the materials in detail.

Of course, just as the 75% post-consumer waste cardboard cracker box doesn’t tell you the whole story–the pollutants that are a result of even the most efficient recycling process, the energy used to make the box and fill it with stuff and truck it to the store–my brief descriptions aren’t the whole story, either. For example, I’m well aware that commercial tanning is a messy process with nasty byproducts, and that although acrylic paint is a much more eco-friendly product than oil paint, it’s not without toxins in its process, either (plus you can’t really clean the bottle well enough to recycle it). That’s part of why I’ve always maintained an open-door policy when it comes to questions about my materials and their sources. I’m happy to explain to the best of my knowledge where something comes from and what its impact is.

I still have a list of changes I want to make to my materials and my processes that are more in line with my environmental ethics. Some of them are out of reach right now because I don’t have the money or space, or because I haven’t had the time to experiment with greener alternatives (or I haven’t found one that fits my needs). But, like anyone, I do the best I can with what I have. I may still be renting from a fairly strict property management company and therefore can’t install solar panels, but my local electric company offers a 100% green energy plan with additional salmon habitat restoration, and I switched over to it a few years ago.

And I’ll keep knocking things off my “green list” as I go along. This shift in my materials descriptions is a small thing, but I hope it helps. Here’s an example of where you can find the materials information on each listing:

example

Please note that I did not include this on items in my Supplies/Vintage category, since for the most part those aren’t items I made myself. I also didn’t include it on the books I’ve written, since I didn’t make the physical books themselves, and it’s not on the custom work available because each custom piece may include a unique proportion of new to secondhand materials. That being said, you can find the new materials information on the majority of the items in my shop, and again you’re always welcome to ask me about sourcing.

I Supported the Great Apes!

Thanks to my booth sales at Pagan Faire last weekend, I was able to make a donation to the Center For Great Apes! This nonprofit organization gives shelter to orangutans and chimpanzees that have been rescued from the entertainment industry, roadside “zoos”, and former pet owners who had no idea what they were getting into. Regular zoos rarely take apes that have been raised (poorly) by humans, so many of these chimps and orangutans had nowhere to go except research facilities, the aforementioned roadside “zoos”, or were simply killed when they got too big.

The Center shelters dozens of apes; these include some you may have seen in movies and other media when they were younger and more manageable:

—Bam Bam, who was an orangutan “nurse” on the soap opera Passions

—Sammy, who, among other roles, played the title character in Dunston Checks In (Sammy sadly died in 2010).

—Bella the chimp, who was used in a number of advertisements, including one of Careerbuilders.com’s infamous chimpanzee Super Bowl ads

—Bubbles, a chimp who used to belong to Michael Jackson

—Jonah, a chimp who was cast as Pericles in the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes and was also in some of the Trunk Monkey commercials

—The orangutan Popi was in Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can as the “girlfriend” of the orangutan Clyde, who was beaten to death during the making of the second film. She was also one of the apes in Going Ape!

And these are just some of the examples of chimps and orangutans being used in the entertainment industry or as pets while young, and then being discarded when they’re too old. The Center For Great Apes fills a much-needed role, giving them a place to go that’s humane and comfortable.

If you’re looking for a good organization to support with a few extra dollars, this is an excellent choice!

“Up North”

Have I ever told you all about “Up North”? No? Then let me tell you a story about one of the deepest places in my heart.

When I was just past my twelfth birthday, my family moved to a new house across town. The house itself was bigger, the yard was bigger, and as it turned out I had a bigger piece of open space to explore, too. Whereas at our old house I had about a half an acre field of grass and scrubby little cedar trees with rabbits and garter snakes, our new yard backed right up against an old farm. Most of it was cordoned off with barbed wire and “NO TRESPASSING” signs, but one little patch, maybe about an acre or so, was open and sign-less, so I felt okay exploring it.

It was a wonderful little spot, the perfect mix of micro-systems. To enter, I walked down a path, maybe twenty feet long, that wound through young-growth trees and shrubs, with a big semi-permanent puddle in the thick of it. The trail led out onto a ledge overlooking a tiny wetland created by the storm sewer drainage pipe from the street my house was on. The only way to go further was to slide down this ledge and carefully pick my way through the wetland (complete with cattails, which delighted me to no end) and then back up onto a dry, chert-surfaced plateau with a giant black walnut tree growing there. A little further on was the creek that the wetland drained into, a little meandering thing with minnows and crawdads and the occasional water snake or turtle. And past that was another piece of woods choked with heavy vines and a sharp cliff overlooking the creek.

Not even two years after we moved there, this beautiful little place was completely bulldozed to make way for a new subdivision, complete with overpriced houses and winding suburb-style streets. I’ve talked about this destruction before, and how much it hurt me, so I won’t elaborate here. What I want to talk about is what happened next.

For the most part my will to explore was completely shattered by this experience. But just one more time that wild spark flared, for the fence that had kept me out was gone, too. The fields where the cows had grazed were still there, sliced through by one red dirt culvert where a road would be soon built. But for the moment, the wide fields I had looked longingly at over the barbed wire were open to me, and so I took the opportunity to start heading north through them.

Where before I’d had only one acre, now I had dozens. I wandered over more little tributaries to the creek, lined with tiny scrubby trees and mosses, and I walked through high grass spotted with dry cow pats. It was still cool enough that I didn’t need to worry about ticks or poison ivy, and was able to be more free with my attention.

As I continued further north, I came to a small manmade pond. Now, I’ve always been deeply attracted to waterways; I think perhaps it’s because I grew up landlocked and had only very rare opportunities to visit larger bodies of water. But in that moment I felt as though I had found a magical place in this scummy little pond ringed with old hoofprints and dry dirt. Were there any fish in there? What would live there in the summer (besides mosquitoes)? What drank from here? Could I put a tiny boat out on it and float around? The possibilities for this discovery were endless.

But I never had the chance. The weather was beginning to turn, and I had to head back home. Shortly thereafter, the depression that had started when the bulldozer did its damage ramped up, and I lost even the interest I had in this new place. Why bother connecting to something that was surely going to be destroyed? I couldn’t do anything about it; I was just one young girl whose opinions and feelings didn’t matter in the face of development and profit and the business of real estate. Like the rabbits and snakes and crawdads that would be displaced or killed as the houses went up and the creek was dredged (“to avoid flooding”, they said), I was insignificant. I stopped going outside beyond our yard, and the depression took me over for years, my last real coping mechanism amid bullying and anxiety now gone.

Beneath the layers of depression, though, that feeling of exultation in my one day of adventure never quite went away. Just that one time I’d had what I’d always wanted when feeling constrained by half-acre and one-acre plots of scrub woods–I’d had a large area to roam, big enough to get tired in while walking from one end to the other. I’d finally gotten to go “up north”, past the boundary of my little world, and no one could take that experience away from me. Though I was never able to go back, that place and my visit to it ended up being something I chased for years without even realizing what I was after.

Over two decades later, and “up north” still haunts me. Whenever I am feeling constrained and trapped in my life, I have dreams where once again I get to go “up north”. I walk through my little acre of land–miraculously restored to its former beauty and variety–and I cross the downed barbed wire fence and head northward. Where my journey then takes me varies. Sometimes I go back to that little pond, but more often the terrain changes beyond what was ever there in reality. Most often I find myself in mountains, cutting through valleys and scaling peaks. Sometimes the impossible happens and I am even able to fly. A few dozen acres turns into hundreds of miles of wilderness, and I can spend all night dreaming about what’s “up north”.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have that experience again in real life. It’s harder to find places where one can be completely alone in the wilderness, especially for someone as busy as I am and therefore unable to disappear into a place for days or weeks at a time. More poignantly, I am an adult, and there are things a child can get away with that an adult can’t. No one thinks to question a child walking across an open lot to look at some cows. But an adult walking on that land is trespassing–who knows what they may be up to. As a child I could wander through my old neighborhood’s yards at will and no one thought a second time about it; it was just what kids did. If I walked through those same yards today I’d likely have the police called on me. Children have access to places where adults are barred, and I miss that freedom and the assumption of innocence.

Occasionally I get to have just the tiniest taste of “up north” in my waking life, and I hang onto those moments like gold. On my most recent excursion to Catherine Creek on the Washington side of the Columbia River, I took the less-traveled trail up under the power lines and then up the ridge on the east side of Catherine Creek itself. There was no one else up there, the trail was tiny and quiet, the views were amazing, and the day was absolutely perfect weather-wise. Although I know quite well that this was far from uncharted territory, the experience of being on this unmarked trail I’d never been on before, with no one around, and with no agenda in mind raised that old feeling of adventure again. (I was even going north, to boot!) It’s been a couple of weeks since that time and I still feel the glow. I intend to go back soon, too, once this latest spate of rain passes us by–it’s a bad place to get caught in a thunderstorm (as I almost did my first time out to Catherine Creek a few years ago).

Perhaps someday when things relax a little more here and I have the time and money to get out for a longer time I’ll go find a wild place I can explore. Not so wild that I’m in danger of getting lost, but remote enough that it can just be me and the wilderness, my feet on wide, open ground ready to explore.

And maybe then I’ll get to go “up north” again.

Photo by Lupa, 2011.
Lupa, 2011.

Ecology Discussion on the Pagan Musings Podcast

Over the weekend I was one of several guests on the Pagan Musings Podcast; I’ve been on the show a couple of times before, and it’s always been a positive experience (the last time ended up being a really good, long conversation indeed!). This past Sunday, though, I was part of a group of pagan folk discussing ecology, environmentalism, and related topics. We went into topics ranging from the real cost of food (not including subsidies and the like) to optimistic views of the future in which the environment is seen as something to preserve and align with, not use and destroy. We even coined a couple of new technical terms that we’re sure will become part of the everyday lexicon 😉

If you’d like to hear a recording of the podcast, and peruse some relevant links, click here.

Cooksonia Caledonica as Plant Totem

When I say every species has a totem, I mean it! This includes the species that have long since ceased to exist on this physical plane. They often have a different view on this world and our concerns because they no longer have physical counterparts here, but I find them fascinating to work with.

One of my favorite plant totems in this regard is the totem of the ancient species we know as Cooksonia caledonica*. This plant and the rest of its genus (at least the species we’re aware of) is the oldest plant known to have the beginnings of a vascular system. This makes it a bridge between the bryophytes like mosses and liverworts, and more advanced vascular plants like the various flowering plants, trees, and so forth. It’s also one of the earliest land plants, and the vascular tissue in its stem was an important evolutionary step that helped plants further colonize dry land.

My relationship with Cooksonia is one of shared curiosity. Most of our interactions involve us sitting back and observing the world today, with its diversity of plant life, and being astonished at how far the plant kingdom has come in the past 400 million or so years. Cooksonia really had no idea at the time how far that one little adaptation would go, and the fact that we have redwoods and sequoias that built on the same basic system that Cooksonia evolved delights this good-natured totem. It also doesn’t seem particularly bitter about the extinction of its species; part of this is due to the great amount of time since the extinction, but it’s also that Cooksonia sees a bit of its children in their descendants today.

More than most totems, Cooksonia enjoys interacting with modern physical plants and their totems. You know how grandparents and great-grandparents admire and dote on their (great) grandchildren? it’s much like that, only with many, many more generations involved. All the Cooksonia totems have a tendency to cluster together like the old “aunties” of the family. I talk about the totem Cooksonia Caledonica in singular here, but very often it’s just the most outspoken of the group who join me in watching the world go by for a while–Cooksonia Pertoni, Cooksonia Banksii,** and the rest. They love going hiking with me and sometimes they’ll spend a great deal of time convincing me to stop and look at this particular leaf, or the shape of that trunk there.

Really, if there’s any totem that embodies my sense of awe and wonder at the world, it’s Cooksonia. I certainly haven’t had the long view on things that any of the plants have, but I can borrow their perspective for a while, and Cooksonia Caledonica is more than happy to share.

* Due to some physical structures, some scientists have assigned this plant a new genus, making it Aberlemnia caledonica instead. The totem seems to like its older name better, so I generally stick to that in working with it, but I thought it was important for readers to know the different opinions on the nomenclature for this species.

** For those not familiar with my personal formatting conventions: when talking about a physical species, I use the proper scientific nomenclature in italics and the species name starting with a lowercase letter (Cooksonia caledonica); when talking about the totem, I treat it like a proper name without italics and both the genus and species names beginning with a capital letter (Cooksonia Caledonica).

If you liked this post, please consider (pre)ordering a copy of my book, Plant and Fungus Totems: Connect with Spirits of Field, Forest and Garden, due out May 2014 from Llewellyn Worldwide. Your support is greatly appreciated!

My Little Planet: Nature is Magic

Riding on the momentum of my last post, I’d like to trot out one of my pet peeves: the notion that this world doesn’t have any magic.

It’s a sentiment that I’ve heard here and there over the years among pagans and others. It generally starts with a discussion about how we can’t actually fly without support or shoot fireballs or change the color of our eyes with a spell, and complaints that there aren’t any dragons or unicorns or telepathic horses running around. This sometimes devolves into speculation that, as in some urban fantasy novel or White Wolf RPG, this world once had magic but somehow lost it when technology took over. Of course, no one ever provides any compelling evidence that this was the case in the past, and the speculation is usually defended with “Well, you can’t prove it wasn’t that way, so I believe it was!” This is then postulated as being as real a reality as that explored by science over the centuries, and no one can dissuade the speaker that there isn’t some huge government conspiracy to hide magic from the commoners.

Public domain book plate, 1890s.
Public domain book plate, 1890s.
Now, I like a good fantasy novel as much as anyone, and I exercise a healthy imagination thereby. And while over the years I’ve become more skeptical of the idea that ritual magic is anything more than elaborate confirmation bias, I can still see its value when couched in personal or cultural beliefs, or when used to focus particularly strong emotions and desires. In either case, magic is a manifestation of the desire to have more avenues of possibility and action than are normally assumed. For example, if I am looking for a new job or contract or other income opportunity, I’ll do a ritual with the totems American Badger and River Otter. Badger is grounded and very tenacious, and understands the need to preserve one’s den (even if badgers don’t pay rent). But Otter reminds me to look for work that I can enjoy on some level, and to not forget to make time for self-care and having fun on a regular basis. By asking them for help, it may be that I am employing spiritual beings that help nudge the possibility of finding the right kind of work, and soon, more in my favor. Or I could just be revving myself up for the hunt, boosting my confidence and energy, and making me more aware of opportunities when they arise. Whether I’ve tapped into something external or internal (or both), I’ve made use of a resource others may not have, and which are not just the usual “send out the CV, write an inquiry letter, feature a new piece of artwork, etc.” that anyone can do.

But what I don’t do is discount the everyday actions associated with finding work. I could whine that because owls on the wing aren’t bringing me job offers from an office of magical arts and that I have to hit the pavement like everyone else, the world has fallen from a former height and sunk into a morass of banality. Or I could just appreciate that it’s a fact of life that, generally speaking, you get out of life what you put into it, and the door to a world of applications and interviews is right over yonder. It’s still no guarantee of a job, especially in the current economic climate, but I can put forth as much effort as I possibly can under my current circumstances and work within the restrictions my reality presents. Not as much fun as a teaching position at Hogwarts, but much more likely.

So what does this have to do with dragons and other mythical beasties that supposedly once roamed this land? Well, while the fossil record is far from complete, there’s yet to be any evidence of any creature that violates the laws of physics in the way Smaug and his winged, fire-breathing dragon counterparts would. The biggest flying reptile that we have evidence for, the Cretaceous-era pterosaur Hatzegopteryx, had a maximum wingspan that topped out at just under 40 feet, and it probably didn’t hoard gems, breathe fire, or speak any human language. And no animal has ever evolved that, other than the occasional genetic mutant, had one single true horn in the middle of its forehead (the tusk of a narwhal is a modified tooth, not a horn). The closest thing we have is a rhinoceros, and probably no one would mistake that for a horse or deer-like creature in the 21st century.

But rhinos are pretty awesome in their own right. Like the other African megafauna, they’re a relic of paleolithic times when giant mammals roamed many continents. While their northern woolly cousins passed into extinction thousands of years ago, the five species still living have survived changes in climate and the rise of humanity as a dominant force on earth. And they’re absolutely necessary to the African savannah where our species came about: In areas where the white rhinoceros has been removed from its historical territory, for example, the entire landscape changes, from the soil on up. White rhinos add crucial nitrogen to the soil through their droppings, which sustains the vast grasslands in the savannah. Take away the rhinos, and the whole ecosystem suffers.* You know the story of how a European unicorn could purify poisoned water with a touch of its horn so that all the animals could drink it? The backside of a rhino may be less romantic, but it has a similarly positive effect for all the creatures and other living beings in its homeland.

Draco volans. Public domain by Alfeus Liman
Public domain by Alfeus Liman
So that’s the unicorn. But what of dragons? Well, there’s the Komodo dragon, of course, the biggest of the monitor lizards, reaching up to eight and a half feet long. It doesn’t breathe fire, but it does have a nasty bite that’s both loaded with bacteria and venom for a double dose of awful. The females are capable of parthenogenesis, or reproduction without sperm involved, a pretty rare accomplishment that some human women may wish they could repeat! On the topic of dragons, I’d also like to introduce you to Draco volans, the flying dragon. It’s a small lizard from South Asia that has membranes attached to elongated ribs that allow it to glide from tree to tree. It’s the closest thing we have to a winged reptile, and it’s pretty cool-looking if you ask me. It’s a lot smaller than fictional dragons, too, at less than a foot in length. And you can apparently have them as pets, though the usual caveats about pet reptiles, to include making sure they were domestic-bred rather than wild-captured, and being very aware of the animal’s unique care and needs, apply particularly strongly here.

If mythical beasties aren’t your thing, what about a dash of alchemy? The ancient alchemists sought a way to transmute base metals into gold, as well as perform other internal and external transformations. But we don’t need gold to live; what we do need is energy, and we have the Philosopher’s Stone for that right in our front yards. I tend to go on and on about how awesome photosynthesis is, and for good reason–it turns sunlight into food, to explain it very, very simply. A more complex explanation is that plants have organelles called chloroplasts; these take the energy from sunlight and use it to turn the carbon from the carbon dioxide the plant breathes into a type of sugar, a simple carbohydrate. And if you think this is nothing special, consider that our experiments with artificial photosynthesis are comparatively crude and inefficient compared to the streamlined process that the plants have evolved over millions of years. We have yet to be able to successfully transform a base element (carbon) into the absolutely crucial “gold” carbohydrates we need to live, yet plants have the process perfectly streamlined. In fact, every bit of energy you get from your food started out as the product of photosynthesis, whether you ate the plants directly or the animals and fungi that ate the plants. In this regard, the green kingdom has better alchemists than we ever could dream of.

Why do I make such a big fuss about this? Partly because I feel that people who are overly fixated on fantastic escapism are potentially missing out on the wonders of this world and what they have to offer. It seems like such a sad viewpoint to see this world as utterly devoid of any magic, beauty, or wonder. I recognize that this can come about from a variety of valid causes, from depression to deep cynicism, things that all my perky “yay, nature!” cheerleading can’t negate. And sometimes fantasy and other fiction can be a nice temporary vacation from the cares of this world. However, all things in moderation: it’s not healthy to completely cut one’s self off from this world, and nature can be one way to be enticed back to the things that are good about the Earth**. You don’t only have to obsess about environmental issues, either; it’s okay to just sit in nature and absorb its restorative benefits.

From a Aja'ibu-l-makhlukat (Wonders of Creation) by al-Qazvini.  18th century or later, public domain.
From a Aja’ibu-l-makhlukat (Wonders of Creation) by al-Qazvini. 18th century or later, public domain.
But that does bring up an even more widespread reason to see the magic inherent in the everyday world: all the living beings here, humans included, are at great risk of extinction if Homo sapiens continues in its overuse of resources. Part of how we’ve been able to do this with impunity has been ignoring the effects we have on the planet and its denizens, and turning a blind eye or deaf ear when problems are discussed. We take for granted what we are privileged to have. We may be the only planet in the universe on which life has developed, and I don’t feel we consider how incredible that is nearly as much as we could. It’s not just for the purposes of meditation, either. As I mentioned in my last post, when people feel wonder and awe for something, they generally feel more compelled to preserve and protect it. At a time when both human and non-human nature are taken for granted and endangered, I feel we could use a refresher on the magic inherent in what we have right here. What a shame it would be if the last rhinoceros was slaughtered for its horn because too many people were chasing after unicorns instead of addressing the very real problem of poaching.

This, of course, is not to say that one’s life should be all activism, all the time. Everyone needs to make their own decisions as to how much to involve themselves in environmental movements (and whether they think a given movement is even valid). But if you’re going to complain that “this mundane world has no magic!” then I’m going to vehemently disagree with you. Just as you have to learn how to sense the magic inherent in things like spells, so you can also learn to see and feel and otherwise sense the magic that permeates every atom in this physical world–right down to the invisible force that holds the atom together. And sometimes perception, experience, and understanding are the best magical tools of all.

* There’s a fantastic BBC documentary series, “Secrets of Our Living Planet”, which addresses this and many other intricate relationships in nature.
** There are other ways to find wonder in the world besides nature, too. Human technology is a big one for some people; even I think it’s amazing that we can now print human tissue and organs! And the cultures of people past and present are another wellspring of curiosity and exploration, even if you can’t travel. And the arts, and exercise, and more–all of these have the potential for meditation, for creating change above and beyond our everyday lives, and for carrying spiritual inspiration through wonder and awe.

Why Must I Defend the Animals?

I have wild love affairs with much of nature these days. I deeply adore the way that water careens down from clouds in the sky, finds the easiest route to the nearest rivulet or storm sewer, and appreciate its brief layover in the pipes and spouts and drains of my home. I caress stones and soil with the reverence of a penitent clutching a holy relic promising salvation. I share intimate breaths with stomata, and I pull leaves and flesh and fruiting bodies into the literal core of my physical form.

These daily sacraments are a source and focus of my wonder and awe at this world I love. But my first love will always be the animals. They were the ones to first escort me into the broader world beyond humans cares and parameters, making me a fan of what we generally call “nature”. And while I marvel at the ways and processes of plants and fungi, stones and water and weather, inside I’m still that seven year old who ran around rattling off the latest facts about animals I’d discovered amid blades of grass and pages of books.

So I think perhaps I take it a little more personally than I might when someone writes off an entire species, genus, even family of animals with a few words. Twice recently on Tumblr I found myself defending the honor of maligned or ignored species, once when rabbits were declared “useless” simply because they sometimes fall prey to predators smaller than they, and once to bring the lowly maggot out from under the shadow of the often-romanticized wolf. I consider the rabbit’s evolutionary path to swiftness and a strong kick to be quite admirable traits, and more than one wounded soldier down the years could thank maggots for their life-saving feasts upon necrotizing, infected flesh.

But should I? After all, these defenses of animals are still working toward a human bias–to see other animals as wondrous, worthy beings who deserve a place on this planet. In reviewing my responses in these posts, I see an effort to convince other people that animals are incredible beings (or, as my seven year old self would say, “really, really COOL!”). Ultimately, my efforts are an exercise in applying perceived value to creatures that, for the most part, don’t particularly care whether humans exist or not. (Domestic dogs would, for the most part, be a vocal exception to this, ferals notwithstanding.) Sure, it’s better than only valuing the animals that most benefit us, but even a positive bias is still a bias. Perhaps this wonder at animals is a selfish evaluation that only benefits me through making me feel better. In this moment I find myself considering whether it wouldn’t be better to try and simply accept that animals are here, without judgement in either direction, the deepest expression of “live and let live”. Not “wolves are vicious predators” or “crocodilians are amazing for having survived so many millions of years unchanged”, but instead “Frogs are. Deer are. Sponges are.” and so forth.

It’s an interesting thought experiment, to be sure, and worth trying if for no other reason than an increase in mindfulness. But, as in all things, the best response to a question is rarely the most extreme answer. One of the things I love about humanity is our ability to consider and evaluate and, yes, even judge ourselves and the world we live in. It’s part of how we make sense of it all. And like any tool, it can be used for harm or for benefit. We’ve spent centuries deciding that certain species aren’t useful enough to us to be preserved, and have even systematically eradicated some just because we don’t want them around. My effort, conversely, is to find what makes each species unique, to determine what solutions it evolved to answer the same basic life-challenges we all must overcome to survive, and, most importantly, to experience wonder and awe at these things.

It turns out that those wondrous experiences aren’t just for my own benefit, either. To be sure, the positive psychological effects that I get from them are considerable, and mean a great deal to me personally. But they also perpetually renew my sense of responsibility toward the world and its inhabitants, a responsibility that I then act on to the best of my ability. So what starts internally, with my thoughts and feelings, moves outside of me through my actions. Such is the way of things.

And as social creatures, we’re able to influence the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of others. Certainly there’s the crucial element of free will and the fact that people respond uniquely to different methods of persuasion (which brings up adages about flies and vinegar and honey). But both through empirical evidence and personal experience I think that modeling (human see, human do!) is one of the best ways to propagate positive and constructive thoughts and actions. Which means that my habit of extolling the virtues of my fellow inhabitants of Earth, human and otherwise, can be beneficial to everyone involved!

See, whenever I talk about how awesome it is that clownfish can live in the tentacles of a sea anemone and not get stung, or that plants turn sunlight into food through photosynthesis, I almost always get good comments as a result. Often it’s people who already knew those things agreeing that yes, these are really, really neat things and aren’t we glad we know them? But there are also occasions where someone gets to learn something new, not only making them happier, but also fueling that same feeling of connection with and responsibility toward the world around them. Because if you realize there are amazing things in the world, and then you find out that these amazing things are threatened with extinction, you just may be more motivated to protect them.

In a perfect world, perhaps, we wouldn’t need that personal touch to get people to be more environmentally aware; it would just be a given. But the reality is that too few people have that awareness and act upon it, and any constructive tool we can use to change things for the better, even if it has some self-centered components, is okay by me. If the proverbial donkey isn’t moving already, a carrot might be just the right solution.

Plus when it comes to my love affair with the world, I’m more than happy to share–the more, the merrier! So I’ll just keep right on “defending” the bunnies and grubs, the molds and bryophytes, erosion and uplift. If they can use it, so much the better, and even if not, I’ve made my own little world a little brighter.

Preparing For Spring

PNCnature_iconRecently, my fellow writer, Rua Lupa, posted to No Unsacred Place about her goings-on for Transequilux. This is the time of year that many pagans refer to as Imbolc, Candlemas, etc., midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In her path, Ehoah, the spring equinox (or Equilux) is the new year, which I feel is a more fitting time than the middle of winter. She described a variety of projects she was undertaking as the equinox approached, including a lot of eco-sustainable activities, but also some personal endeavors as well. It reminded me something of the time-honored tradition of “spring cleaning”, in which the detritus of winter is shucked out the door and everything is organized anew to greet the arrival of warmer, sunnier days. And as the land is waking up in here in Portland, this shift to greater activity and improvement seems especially apt.

Winter has historically been a tough time for me, some years moreso than others. Start off with the fact that I am a warm weather kind of person (despite, or perhaps because of, growing up in the Midwest where winters get harsh), and winter just isn’t the best season for me. And this past winter had a lot of particular challenges; I spent the entire summer into fall working a day job in addition to my usual art and writing schedule, and so I spent a lot of beautiful, warm days stuck indoors. I hardly had time for hiking, and camping was a distant memory; I was going through serious wilderness withdrawal. As soon as I got my time back, fall was settling in, and the leaves began to fall while I recovered from the exhaustion. By the time I was ready to engage with the world again, the skies were gray and I couldn’t go outside without at least four layers of clothing. Add in that I had a lot of other deadlines and obligations to corral and deal with , with not a lot of breathing room, and I was one very knotted ball of stress.

But over the past few days (the chilly weekend notwithstanding), the temperatures have been climbing up into the upper 50s and even low 60s, and the sun has made appearances amid the much-needed precipitation. On the way back from a hike

The Sandy River east of Portland flowed cold and deep the day before Christmas. Lupa, 2013.
The Sandy River east of Portland flowed cold and deep the day before Christmas. Lupa, 2013.
with my dear friend Emily on Friday, we got a good look at Mt. Hood, the sun shining on a coat of snow that draped much lower than it had a month previous thanks to February’s snow and rain. I felt much like that mountain, staving off drought with a longer hem of white–given more leeway than before, suddenly feeling more like myself.

And it’s resulted in a greater burst of energy than I’ve had in months. There’s the push of urgency that I used to get through running Curious Gallery, followed by trips to PantheaCon and FaerieCon West back to back, but so many mornings all I wanted was to go back to bed, dredged up from slumber much too early, and frenetically chasing commitments hither and yon. In the warmth of the first days of March, though, I feel the sunlight soaking into my skin, and the layers of fatigue and angst fall away like heavy clothing off my shoulders.

Like Rua Lupa, too, I’ve been taking that energy and putting it to good things. You’ve seen how I revamped my website, clearing out old HTML whose roots are fifteen years old and paring down links and sub-pages like husks on corn. Offline, when I arrived home from FaerieCon West weekend before last, I came to the realization that I’d let my art room go to utter disarray in the busy-ness of events and preparation and stocking up. So I took the time to not only put things back in their place, but to go through the bins and crates and destash the things that needed new homes, projects I probably wasn’t going to get to, supplies that may be better in another artist’s hands. We’re preparing to do the same to the garage, all of our extra stuff that we do need now and then, probably not valuable to anyone but us, but worth hanging onto despite the space it takes up. In fact, the entire apartment is due for a deep cleaning anyway, and now’s as good a time as any.

One of my happiest seed purchases in years. Lupa, 2014.And in clearing away the old, there’s room for fresh growth. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks saving my community garden plot from weeds, and I’ve been left with full, rich soil that benefited heavily from the minerals and bone meal I put on it last fall. It abounds with life beneath the dead plants; the presence of overwintered cutworms signaled a need to find an organic solution before my fresh seeds become tasty sprouts, and a survey of one cubic foot of soil found fifty-five earthworms when I turned the earth to prepare it for planting, though the opportunistic crows that swooped down to the turned earth as I left probably reduced the population a bit. I even discovered a few daffodils that I transplanted to the northern edge of my plot where a bunch of of mystery bulbs are due to reveal their identities in the weeks to come. (I inherited this spot last summer, once all the bulbs had bloomed and died back, so I’m looking forward to pleasant surprises.)

I rewarded all my weeding with seeding; for roots I have turnips, two types of beets, two varieties of radish, and a newcomer to my garden, parsnips. For early greens I’ve laced the earth with the tiny seeds of spinach, arugula and kale, and rounded out the lot with peas and onions, both personal favorites of mine. I realized too late that I was planting some things in the same spots as last fall–radishes and turnips and kale in identical rows–which means greater vigilance against disease and pests. But it’s only the second time, and I’ll remember to rotate next time through.

So it is that I make my own preparations for changes and developments, and clear away space for growth and evolution. I always look forward to spring, but this year I can almost feel myself growing, plant-like, toward the windows even as I carry about my business indoors, and every trip outside feels like the biggest, most satisfying stretch in the world. I need this shift now, more than in most years, and the sweet smell of cherry blossoms and tender grass studded with little brown mushrooms can’t get here soon enough.

A Fresh Start

As you can see, this is a brand-new blog. I am not, however, a brand-new blogger. You may consider A Sense of Natural Wonder here at the Green Wolf to be the progeny of my previous blog, Therioshamanism.

When I overhauled my website, it gave me an opportunity to think about whether Therioshamanism was still a good fit for where I am in life now. I began in in September of 2007, six and a half years ago, which is a respectable age for a blog. Its birth was in a desire to create a more formalized neoshamanic path for myself; however, over time my spirituality took a turn in the opposite direction, away from rituals and journeys and toward a more integrated nature spirituality. You can read more about that transformation here.

The title for this new blog is inspired by the subtitle quote which was a recent addition to Therioshamanism: “All spiritual life begins with a sense of wonder, and nature is a window into that wonder” (Richard Louv). Where six years ago I focused heavily on shamanic journeying and spirit work, trying to consciously (perhaps too consciously) create a path, today I find myself inspired primarily by wonder, especially (though not exclusively) via the non-human natural world. My spirituality has become so deeply intertwined with my art and writing and other elements of my life that it’s more a complete synthesis than a series of parts. Perhaps that’s where I needed to be all along; I can say for sure that I’m much more comfortable now than I was in 2007.

So is this still (neo)shamanism? I suppose that all depends on your definition. If you take a strict definition in which shamanism requires journeying and traditional animistic spirit work, then no, my path wandered away from that a while ago. But if you take a more meta look at the shaman in the context of their culture, being an intermediary between their community and some other force (another community, nature, spirits, their own psyches) then perhaps this is a sort of shamanism yet. I’m less concerned with labels, so I’m not going to belabor the point any further.

It is definitely still paganism, and nature spirituality too. And I intend to continue writing the sorts of things I’ve written most recently at Therioshamanism, so don’t expect a drastic shift. I’ve just changed locations, and otherwise my writing will continue to evolve at its organic pace. Thank you for following me here.

%d bloggers like this: