Review of The Compassionate Hunter’s Guidebook

Earlier this year, I preordered a copy of Miles Olson’s new book, The Compassionate Hunter’s Guidebook: Hunting From the Heart. I promised you all back on Therioshamanism that I’d review it once it arrived, and so it has as of last Friday (it was a quick read), and so I now shall proceed.

Now, let me preface this by saying I am not a hunter, have never hunted (though I have fished), and don’t intend to take up hunting any time soon. I am, however, an omnivore who occasionally is able to indulge in some wild game meat when others see fit to gift me with some, and who otherwise is concerned with where her meat comes from. Furthermore, I feel that one of the great failures of this society is that we have become so detached from the processes by which our food–animal and otherwise–is produced. It’s allowed us to enact a great deal of abuses upon ecosystems and their inhabitants, and I believe strongly that we should be educating ourselves about our food’s origins so we can make better decisions going forward. It’s in that spirit that I bought this book. Even though I do not hunt, I wanted to know more about the actual process of hunting and the aftermath thereof, with the added bonus of an author whose ethics seemed to be pretty well in line with my own.

Suffice it to say, I was not at all disappointed. Within these pages is a step-by-step guide of how to prepare for a hunt, how to find game, how to get a clean kill, and what to do once you’ve made that kill. Olson is concise but thorough, and I was impressed by how much information he was able to pack into less than two hundred pages. While I’m sure there are other hunting manuals with more information on things like how to attract deer, or how to sneak up on game birds, for a basic point-A-to-point-B overview of the hunt, this is a good one, accessible to the layperson as well as the seasoned hunter.

If you don’t think you can get anything practical out of this book because you don’t hunt, think again. Killing your deer (or pheasant, or rabbit) is just the first step. A large portion of the book is dedicated to explaining how to butcher the animal (with multiple options), ageing and preserving the meat, and even some recipes thrown in for fun (try the deerskin gelatin!) Probably the most valuable chapter in that regard is the one in which he virtually dissects an animal for you, explaining each part and how it may be used in alphabetical order, from the adrenal glands to the windpipe. This doesn’t just hold true for wild game, either–buy a whole free-range pig or cow or chicken, and you can apply the same basic concepts. This goes well beyond making stock out of a chicken carcass; he really does explain how to use every part of the animal!

Most of all, though, I appreciate the spirit in which he writes this book. Throughout the entire thing you can sense his regard and compassion for the animals he hunts. Using all of the animal isn’t merely a practical tactic–it’s almost a sacrament of sorts, meant to honor the life taken to sustain another. Like me, he decries the tendency in this culture to take the animals, plants and fungi that we kill to live for granted, and invites us to have a more mindful approach. In speaking of how hunting is one activity that brings us to face face with the reality of these deaths, Olson writes:

…when the hunter eats the animal they have killed, it becomes part of them. A death becomes a life; the predator and prey become one and the body of the dead, in a sense, lives on. This gets to something else that can be shaken through connecting with our food: our separation from the living world. When you kill and eat a creature [Lupa’s note: or plant, or fungus], you are very literally integrating its body into yours. You are also integrating the land which that creature came from into your body, since their body was entirely a manifestation of that land. This is amazing, a dynamic that I think lies at the very heart of most people’s desire to connect to the land, whether it be through gardening, hiking, foraging, crafting or hunting: shattering the boundary between self and other, human and nature; piercing the illusion that in many ways defines our culture. (p. 16)

We don’t just eat because we’re hungry, or to stay alive. We eat to incorporate the tissues of another living being into our own. We are descendants of the earliest microscopic beings that first evolved to engulf others rather than subsist on sunlight and fragments, and we’ve been eating our fellow beings ever since. The thing that struck me the most in the above quote was the assertion that we’re really eating the land our food grew up on; for a deer it may have been open fields and forests, while for a factory farmed cow it could have been a grassy pasture for the first several months of its life, followed by a crowded feedlot in which everyone was given corn grown hundreds of miles away. That, to me, illustrates how utterly broken our food system has become. We can no longer identify the land we’re eating through our food.

We can all learn from Olson and his compassionate hunting, even if we don’t hunt ourselves. By considering the sources of what we eat, we can start to pick apart the unseen industries that bring us our food, and assess the real impact on the animals, plants, and ecosystems affected by them. We can learn to have more compassion for all the living beings that die for us to live, animal and otherwise. We can be more conscientious in not wasting our food, and making the most of every scrap, even down to tiny bits of meat and vegetable for soup stock. And we can make more responsible choices in our diets while still respecting our personal health and dietary needs, time and financial restrictions. It is perhaps a shorter book than, say, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but it is just as elegant, and even more primal, a look at the same challenges that all too many of us blithely ignore at every meal.

If you would like your own copy of The Compassionate Hunter’s Guidebook, you can order it directly from Olson’s website here; it is also available through Amazon and Powell’s, and you can ask your local independent bookstore to order it if they don’t have it in stock.

One final postscript: I am rather excited that I won a copy of Olson’s other book, UNLEARN, REWILD: Earth skills, Ideas and Inspiration for the Future Primitive at the recent fundraising event held by Rewild Portland. I’ll get a review of it up here once I’m done with it, though at the very least I want to finish up the gigantic book of prehistoric life I’ve been chewing my way through for a few weeks now.

The Tragic Treatise of the Teacup Tauntaun: Part 2

Note: This is a piece of fan fiction I wrote for a booklet accompanying my Star Wars-themed altered taxidermy piece, the Teacup Tauntaun. You can see more pictures of this piece and find out more about its construction here. Part one of this written piece

Also, a quick shout-out to Cory Doctorow BoingBoing for sharing this critter in a post–many thanks!

A Victim of Its Own Success

Vordon was never particularly good at promotion, and although he sent a few dispatches out regarding the availability of new litters of Teacup Tauntaun, few visitors came to see his stock, and no one made a purchase. It is said by those who survived the experience that the normally noxious scent of the Tauntaun was concentrated even more greatly in this smaller version, which led to suspicions that Vordon had a particularly poor sense of smell, even for a Hutt.
Irrationally and desperately hoping that supply would create demand, Vordon continued breeding Teacup Tauntauns irresponsibly and only with an eye toward what he thought would be fashionable, with frequent inbreeding and little care for the animals’ health. He purchased more caves in which to keep his animals, and redoubled his meager promotional efforts, all to no avail.

By 68 ABY, even Vordon had to admit that things were not looking good for his scheme. The very traits that he had selected had become so exaggerated as to become harmful—sometimes even lethal—to newer litters of Teacup Tauntauns. The large pair of horns, meant now to be more ornamental than practical, had grown so long that they often extended far beyond the muzzle of mature animals, making it impossible for them to eat without assistance. Even the smaller horn buds had become hazardous; as the average size of a Teacup Tauntaun’s skull shrunk with each generation, the horn buds became more crowded, until one pair was routinely located so as to interfere with the animal’s ability to move its ears properly.

Sometimes this skull shrinkage would outpace the downsizing of the brains of Teacup Tauntauns. After several generations, some unfortunate animals would be born with skulls too small for their brains, leading to sometimes severe and painful neurological problems that eventually proved fatal. Others had such badly malformed hip joints that they were unable to walk properly. The list of health problems goes on and on: spinal deformities, missing teeth, and a disease that progressively robbed the animal of the ability to absorb nutrition from its food, leading it to slowly starve to death—or die from a burst stomach from overeating in desperation. The normally social Tauntauns at times would resort to killing their own suffering offspring to end their pain, displaying more compassion and intelligence than their breeder apparently showed.

Worse, a famine struck the region of Hoth where Vordon’s operations were located after the lichens that composed an important link of the ecosystem were stricken by a periodic bout of lichen blight. Wild stocks of Common and Glacial Tauntauns died of starvation, and the Teacup Tauntauns in their relatively flimsy pens became repeated targets for hungry Wampas. In the space of a year, the number of Teacup Tauntauns dropped to less than a dozen.

And Then There Was One

In 90 ABY, less than seventy standard years after Vordon began his ambitious project, the last Teacup Tauntaun passed away from a combination of congenital defects. Due to her stench, which was caused by the waste system of a Common Tauntaun being concentrated into the smaller body of a Teacup Tauntaun, and which as a result was repulsive enough to cause even the last two male Teacup Tauntauns to avoid her, she never reproduced. With her death, her species came to an ignominious end. Shortly before the animal—nicknamed “Yipo the Fluffy”—passed away, your beloved author was able to examine her and make a deal with Vordon to purchase her carcass once she had died of natural causes. It was the only Teacup Tauntaun Vordon ever sold.

Her head is mounted on a board decorated with idyllic scenery that belies the harshness of Hoth, her ancestors’ home planet, and reflects the romanticized imagery Vordon used in his sales pitches. She has been preserved with traditional Krish taxidermy techniques to best approximate her appearance in life, and with care this rare piece of history should last for a long, long time. Further, she should be seen as a reminder of our responsibility to our fellow creatures. When most species go extinct it is a tragedy; in the case of the Teacup Tauntaun, extinction was the final mercy.

About the Author

Haali Dendrac grew up in the floating city of Avtuu on her ancestral planet Ithor. From a young age, she knew she wanted to join the Ithorian nature priesthood, and voraciously questioned anyone she could about the flora, fauna and fungi that resided “in the arms of Mother Jungle”. When she came of age, she was made an acolyte of the priesthood and was allowed to accompany them on her first journey to the surface of Ithor, and nothing was ever the same. After the destruction of Ithor, she became one of the strongest proponents for the restoration of the planet’s ecology and continues to act as a consultant in the early efforts toward that end. Her youthful curiosity about the diversity of life on her home planet led her to further explore life on other planets, and she has dedicated her life to documenting her findings for the enjoyment of all. The Tragic Treatise of the Teacup Tauntaun is her fourth publication.

Artist’s Note

This piece is meant as a parody concerning the overbreeding of certain breeds of show dog in our world. While I am not against purebred dogs as a general concept, I find that many breeders, especially of popular breeds, put profits before puppies. There are few pure breeds today that do not have a slew of congenital defects. I have chosen to draw on a few of them in my discussion of the fictional Teacup Tauntaun. For example, it is estimated that over half of all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have a condition known as syringomyelia, in which the skull is too small for the brain, which is pressed out the back of the skull cavity and causes both seizures and immense amounts of pain. And my own favorite breed, the German Shepherd, is frequently plagued by hip and elbow dysplasia, along with spinal myelopathy, a degeneration of the myelin sheath on the spinal cord which leads to a progressive numbing and eventual failure of the back half of the dog.

It is my hope that this piece will help raise awareness of the problems with inbreeding and indiscriminate breeding without care for these inherited health problems in pure breed dogs. Additionally, a portion of the funds from the sale of this piece will be donated to Multnomah County Animal Services to help them take better care of the animals waiting for forever homes there. MCAS is often overlooked in lieu of “sexier” shelters like the Oregon Humane Society, but when the time comes when I can finally get a dog of my own again, MCAS will be my first choice. I hope you’ll consider them the next time you wish you adopt a dog or cat, too.

Also, if you’d like to see the Teacup Tauntaun itself in person, it will be on display at Good: A Gallery here in Portland, OR for the month of May. The group show officially opens this Friday, May 2, from 7pm – 10pm; here’s more information.

The Tragic Treatise of the Teacup Tauntaun: Part 1

Note: This is a piece of fan fiction I wrote for a booklet accompanying my Star Wars-themed altered taxidermy piece, the Teacup Tauntaun. You can see more pictures of this piece and find out more about its construction here.

The Tragic Treatise of the Teacup Tauntaun

By Haali Dendrac

Author’s Note: As a sign of respect to my fellow living beings, I have chosen to capitalize the names of all species of animal described in this book, may Mother Jungle watch over them.

Introduction

On a lonely, frozen planet called Hoth, within the Anoat sector, there is a genus of creatures known as Tauntauns. Several species are native there, to include the Common (or Giant) Tauntaun, the Glacial Tauntaun, and the smaller Climbing Tauntaun. But there is a fourth species—or, rather, there was a fourth species—of which you may have heard: the Teacup Tauntaun. It is infamous for being the only completely domesticated species of Tauntaun, and it is the reason why the name Vordon the Hutt should provoke feelings of repulsion even in the most tolerant of Ithorians.

Vordon the Hutt

Vordon the Hutt was born at an undisclosed location around 245 BBY. Competitive from a young age, he nonetheless lacked the characteristic shrewdness of his kind, instead throwing himself wholesale at any get-rich-quick scheme he could concoct. As a result, he frequently found himself deeply in debt, and soon wore out his financial welcome with his immediate relatives and acquaintances. He showed a particular talent for flattery, however, and was able to talk his way out of more than one potentially detrimental debt collection effort.

Eventually Vordon, in the employ of several members of his clan, was able to pull himself out of debt and amass a small financial surplus. While age and experience helped him to preserve this gain, they had not fully tempered his impulsiveness, particularly when fed by envy for more successful members of his clan. Frustrated at seeing other Hutts of his age beginning to establish themselves as economic forces to be reckoned with, Vordon thirsted for a similar opportunity.

The Teacup Tauntaun

Shortly after the first Galactic War made more sentient beings aware of the existence of Hoth and its wildlife, Tauntauns, particularly the Common Tauntaun, became the object of great curiosity. While Hoth already had visitors in the form of both renegades, explorers, and those with a particularly rugged idea of “leisure activities”, it became fashionable on certain wealthier planets to take ecotours to view the traditional range of the Common Tauntaun, particularly the herd from which came the steed that bore none other than Luke Skywalker.

Vordon had watched his cousin, Filpat, make his fortune on the manufacture and sales of stuffed toy Tauntauns. Not to be outdone, in 23 ABY the ambitious Vordon traveled to Hoth himself to see what opportunities he could find. It was while he was touring a domestic Tauntaun breeding facility that he was struck by inspiration: if people liked cuddling a toy Tauntaun, wouldn’t they enjoy cuddling a real one even more?

Vordon cut his trip short and returned to Nal Hutta. There he procured a high-interest loan on short notice, with which he arranged the purchase of a choice piece of ice cave with a heavy lichen carpet, and two dozen of the smallest Common Tauntauns to be found. These animals, as small as half the size of their normal relatives, came with a warning that they should not be bred, as they were runty and therefore in ill health, but small size is exactly what Vordon wanted.

The Hutt immediately set about breeding his stock, choosing the very smallest animals from each litter and breeding them, even if it meant inbreeding. Because Teacup Tauntauns reached maturity more quickly than their wild ancestors, Vordon was able to breed and crossbreed his stock with alarming speed. Additionally, because of their relative genetic malleability thanks to a few key mutations early in the breeding program, each new litter could display remarkably pronounced changes compared to their parents, for example substantially larger horns or thicker, more extensive fur. Within a few years Vordon was drafting the first official species standards for the Teacup Tauntaun in anticipation of what he hoped would be a glorious unveiling to galaxies far and wide.

Hoth was never considered a particularly glamorous planet, even by those who visited it for cold-weather recreation. But Vordon set out to romanticize Hoth and its inhabitants to a degree that no one else would have bothered attempting. An early advertisement that was drafted but never published described “bright, shining dunes of the purest white snow, flanking crisp frozen seas”, and populated by “vast herds of noble Great Tauntauns traversing the plains under a mist-wrapped sun, while Mynocks flit hither and yon above them”. (Vordon was apparently unaware that Mynocks parasitize Exogorths, not Tauntauns.)

Official Species Standards

These are the newest version of the standards, put forth by Vordon in 61 ABY under the guise of the Intergalactic Teacup Tauntaun Fanciers’ Club, which boasted a membership consisting of himself and Jixi, Vordon’s pet ice scrabbler which he saved from being consumed by his herds in a moment of unusual sentimentality.

General Appearance

At first look, the Teacup Tauntaun is a scaled-down version of its larger Common cousins. However, upon closer inspection it is a much cuddlier beast, with more of its form covered in soft fur. The females are slightly larger than the males, though both give an impression of being sturdy and fleet of foot, with an intelligent air about them.

Temperament

The Teacup Tauntaun is bred to be a companion animal, and so should be quiet but not docile. The young may be playful and rambunctious, but ideally settle into a more stable adult manner. It is intelligent enough to be trained, whether that is to perform tricks for table scraps, or as a casual hunting animal provided the chase is secondary to a place in the home. This species is known for its loyalty to those it considers its herd, so early socialization with the entire family is a must. While the wild Tauntaun may bolt at the merest sight of an approaching Wampa, the Teacup Tauntaun will bravely defend its herd until all are safe, and its natural wariness makes it an ideal home guardian.

Size

The desired height is between twenty-four and thirty inches at the shoulder for a female, slightly smaller for a male. Longer than it is tall, the teacup Tauntaun should ideally have a 1:1 ratio of body length (not including tail) to height (from shoulder to ground), with the tail being as long as the body to provide the proper balance.

Head

The head is more slender than that of the wild Tauntaun, though not delicate. The long, curving horns are retained, and should be of equal length. The lower half of the face is covered in fur, to include around the mouth and eyes; the Teacup lacks the large, unattractive scaly bags around its eyes, and any appearance of these should be considered a serious fault. The upper portion of the face is covered in scaly skin of a beige, brown or gray color, and the nose has prominent ridges leading to the two pairs of nostrils. The ears are also covered in short fur, with longer tufts at the ends. The Teacup Tauntaun has five to ten smaller horn buds upon the top of the skull; these should be arranged symmetrically.

Body

The body should give an impression of strength and speed, but not too much thickness. It is a bottom-heavy animal, with powerfully muscled legs and broad feet. The legs are carried well underneath it, providing a balancing point between the head and the tail. The forelimbs are smaller than the hind, but stable enough to support the animal on all fours for grazing. There should be five toes on each foot, fore and hind, to include the dewclaw. The tail is long and finely scaled, slender but not skinny, and solidly attached to the body with a smooth transition along the spine.

Coat and Color

White is the only acceptable color for the Teacup Tauntaun, though a small amount of beige, brown and gray shading is allowed around the eyes, mouth, and wherever fur and scales meet. The body fur should be long and flowing, while the hair on the face is shorter. More fur is preferential to less, with the exception of the top of the head and the nose ridges.

Movement

The animal should move more gracefully and lightly on its feet than its wild cousins. The gait should be smooth, to include when running, and only the hind legs should be employed when moving any faster than a slow graze.

Unacceptable Flaws

Missing dewclaws
Cropped ears or tail
One set of nostrils
Lack of fur around eyes or mouth
Lack of tufts on ears
Broken, missing, misshapen horns, or horns of different lengths
Broken, missing or asymmetrical horn buds
Coat color other than white
Curly coat
No fur

**********************

So what happened to this beastie? What parallels does its fate have with an animal native to our won reality? And just who is the author, Haali Dendrac? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

Also, if you’d like to see the Teacup Tauntaun itself in person, it will be on display at Good: A Gallery here in Portland, OR for the month of May. The group show officially opens this Friday, May 2, from 7pm – 10pm; here’s more information.

Eco-Friendly Pagan Ritual Tools–On the Cheap

It’s Earth Day, and while my blog tends to be pretty eco-centric year-round, I wanted to write today about a particular topic that comes up a lot in paganism, particularly among newcomers: ritual tools. Now, it’s been said many times by many people that you don’t actually need tools to be a pagan. I do agree that you can perform rituals open-handed, with nothing but yourself and the spirits/gods/energy you’re working with to make things happen. However, some people just like having the tools themselves; they help heighten the ability to suspend disbelief. And some people feel their tools have spirits of their own, thus making them allies in ritual.

Mass-produced tealights and their holders are frequently sold at chain stores. Photo by Tracy at http://bit.ly/1fll5dz
Mass-produced tealights and their holders are frequently sold at chain stores. Photo by Tracy at http://bit.ly/1fll5dz
A lot of new pagans, especially young ones, look for inexpensive ritual tools since money’s tight. However, a lot of the suggestions I see made are things that are distinctly not eco-friendly. The most common one is some variant of “Just go to Wal-mart/Dollar Tree/other chain store and get your candles, candle holders, bowls and other tools there!” Sure, you could get a four-pack of taper candles for a buck, but what’s the real cost? Here are the likely reasons your candles are so cheap:

–The wax is probably petroleum-based, which means it benefits from fossil fuel subsidies from federal and state governments. The chemical company that developed the dye might also have gotten subsidies as well. This means that these companies are getting money for free, out of people’s taxes, and therefore can sell their products more cheaply. These companies are also usually not required to pay for the effects of the pollution that’s a byproduct of their processes.

–The candles were likely to have been made by underpaid, sometimes abused workers in a factory in China or another East Asian country, with inadequate protection against the chemicals and machinery being used. There’s a good chance that any chemical byproducts of the process are not properly disposed of, and may just be dumped directly into the nearest river, saving them the cost of paying for safer options.

–They were shipped en masse on a boat from their country of manufacture to wherever you are, again using subsidized fossil fuels. The shipping company doesn’t have to pay for the pollution their boats cause to the ocean and the air, so they can keep their costs down.

We don’t have a solid number on the real cost of pollution from the manufacture of these candles, but suffice it to say you’re getting your candles cheaply in part because the entities who made them and their components are passing some of the cost on to the environment. And we add to that, too, any time we burn candles made with noxious chemicals that add to air pollution in our homes and elsewhere. We speak with our dollars when we buy these cheap things–we say “We don’t care, so long as we save a few bucks in the name of practicing a nature religion*”.

So what’s a pagan to do when money’s thin on the ground? Here are some options.

Use What You’ve Got

By Frank C. Müller. From http://bit.ly/1lCfjfZ
By Frank C. Müller. From http://bit.ly/1lCfjfZ
You may already have the things you need for your ritual right at home. In generic Wicca-flavored neopaganism, common tools include an athame or other sacred knife, a bowl for salt or water, a wand, an incense burner, and something to put it on. A common kitchen knife may not be the most flashy thing in the world, but it will work, and you can decorate it if you want to dedicate it just to ritual work. If you have a favorite bowl in your kitchen, you can reserve that for your sacred work as well. Any stick or rod will work as a wand–I’ve even heard of using a ruler for one! You can easily make an incense burner out of aluminum foil; just make it into a bowl with a few layers, put some sand or dirt in it, and place the incense on that. Then put the burner on a hotpad or trivet, or even a very flat rock or thick ceramic dish, and you’re good to go. You can decorate the dish/hotpad/etc. if you like, though it’s not necessary (and make sure that anything flammable is kept well away from the burning incense!)

These are just a few ideas based on one particular set of ritual tools; you can get pretty creative depending on your needs, so treat it like a grand scavenger hunt! (Just make sure that you’re using only your stuff, or that you ask permission to use anything that belongs to someone else.)

Secondhand First

I am a huge fan of thrift stores and other secondhand shops. Sadly, here in the U.S. there’s a lot of consumerism, with much more stuff being produced for our demands than is absolutely necessary. I wrote a few years ago about the immense amount of clothing, housewares and other discarded stuff I found at just one Goodwill outlet store in just one city, and wondered how much more goes to waste every day. A lot of it is perfectly serviceable, too. I could easily build a dozen altars with the items found in one thrift store.

Yet there’s this unfortunate superstition floating around paganism that somehow you can’t cleanse secondhand items, that the histories they have will linger with them and will always taint them as ritual items–but of course, all a brand-new item needs is a quick cleansing! I call bollocks on that one. If you can purify a new glass bowl that’s been made in a sweatshop soaked in human suffering and death, created from materials that cause great devastation to the natural environment, and conveyed to your town while leaving a trail of fossil fuel pollution behind it, you can damned well purify the energy of a similar, secondhand glass bowl that sat on someone’s grandmother’s dining room table with wax fruit in it for thirty years. Most of my ritual tools over the years were secondhand, to include items that other practitioners used in their own rites, and I never had a problem making them ready for my work.

So get over that superstition, and start thrifting! You never know what kind of cool stuff you may find. (My only caution is that it’s really easy to come home with a cart full of secondhand tchotchkes for cheap, which may put shelf space in your home at a premium.)

Foraging At Its Finest

Great_sand_stonesMany nature pagans like having sticks, stones and other natural items in their homes to remind them of what they feel is sacred. In fact, you can make your entire array of ritual tools from things you found outside. If you work with the four cardinal directions and elements, for example, you might have a stone in the north, a feather or bit of dandelion fluff in the east, dried wood or moss as firestarter in the south, and a vial of rain water in the west. The best part of all this is that, other than some containers for things like water, it’s all free.

Do keep in mind there are certain legal and other restrictions. Federal and state parks in the U.S., for example, prohibit the collection of any natural items found within the park without a permit (some cities do this as well). You’ll need to ask permission when foraging on private property. And some items, such as some animal parts, are illegal to possess regardless of how you got them; most wild bird feathers in the U.S. cannot be possessed, even if they were naturally molted, as one example. (You can access my database of animal parts laws here.)

Grow or Make Your Own

DIY is a wonderful thing. Not only do you get to cut costs, but you get to gain skills, too! For example, some folks like to use herbs in their spells and other magic, and luckily a lot of these herbs can be easily grown, even in a pot by the window. If you worry about having a black thumb, there’s plenty of information on the internet about how best to care for a particular kind of plant; the most common ways to kill your herbs is through too much or too little water and sunlight, the wrong sort of soil or not enough fertilizer, and disease or parasites. If you notice a plant isn’t thriving, you can research online or in books at the library what the possible causes may be, and you can ask garden shops or people on gardening forums for advice.

Other tools can be homemade, too. If you want to have a permanently decorated altar, maybe with a scene depicting your patron deities or symbols of the four cardinal directions, you can paint a secondhand table with acrylic paints**, or carve or burn the designs if the table’s wood. A well-worn broom can be decorated with dried flowers and ribbon, and even re-bristled with straw and other plant materials. A particularly sturdy branch may make a nice wand as-is, or you can choose to decorate it to your preferences.

Support Local Artisans

Fox skull rattle by Lupa. From http://etsy.me/1i6ot0T
Fox skull rattle by Lupa. From http://etsy.me/1i6ot0T
It’s okay if you don’t want to make your own tools. Maybe you don’t have the time, or you don’t feel your work is quite up to your own standards***. In this case, you may wish to consider supporting a local artisan. Of course, this may not necessarily be the cheapest option; an individual artist has to pay a lot more for their materials per piece than a factory, and puts a lot more time and effort into the creation, too. However, many artists will have items along a wide range of prices. Some may even have some items on sale or clearance, things they’ve had sitting around a good long while. And some artists are open to barter as well.

You’re always welcome to ask an artisan about their materials. I talked earlier about cheap, petroleum-based candles from the dollar store; however, there are candle-makers who specialize in eco-friendly alternatives like beeswax and natural dyes, and who avoid candle wicking with lead in it. And the same goes for everything from ceramics to woodworking to paintings; usually there’s somebody who specializes in greener materials out there.

(Shameless plug for my own recycled hide and bone and other natural materials art here, though there are many artisans within the pagan community and elsewhere whose works would be lovely ritual items. Try Etsy, Artfire, and Storenvy for some possibilities.)

Conclusion

I hope now that you see that buying ritual tools on a budget doesn’t have to feed into environmentally harmful processes and practices. In fact, taking care in one’s shopping choices can be an act of spiritual devotion in and of itself. If you feel nature is sacred, then let that speak not just through your rituals and special moments, but in your everyday actions as well.

* With the understanding, of course, that not every person who identifies as a pagan focuses their paganism on nature, and there are some pagans for whom the gods, for example, are central.

** While not without their pollutants, acrylic paints are some of the safest paints that are easily obtained commercially. There are more eco-friendly recipes for homemade paints out there, but acrylics are best if you don’t want to go quite that far in your DIY-dom.

*** The effectiveness of a tool, by the way, is not in how pretty it is or how perfectly crafted. Even if you don’t think you’re an artist, it’s the intent behind the creation that matters. So don’t let that get in the way of making your own tools if you’re so inclined.

Big Chicken, Little Chicken: On Saving Ourselves Only the Best

My partner and I are both omnivores. It’s what works best for our health and, quite honestly, we both like meat, seafood, eggs and dairy quite a bit. But we’re also aware of the environmental impact of meat, ranging from commercial slaughterhouses and their manure lagoons, to the fossil fuels and water in agriculture in general, and the vast amount of habitat lost to wildlife so cattle have places to graze. So we’ve been trying to reduce our meat intake some, and buying more free range meat (of the sort that I know grew up outside, not in a barn), plus we use the Seafood Watch app religiously when shopping for fish and such.

One of our recent purchases was a whole free-range chicken from the local farmer’s market. Now, the heritage breed roasting chickens there are a lot more expensive than at the store–what would cost about $5 at a standard chain grocery store here in Portland was priced at $20, though I’ve toured the place they’re raised and it’s worth it, since they are raised in outdoor pens on the grass. Being on a budget and wanting to buy a few other things, I ended up buying a little stew chicken instead, about half the size of your average roasting hen, possibly an old laying hen. Still, it was good meat, and so I took it home, popped it in a roasting pan with some seasonings, and it cooked up just fine. Of course, it had less meat, but there were enough leftovers on the carcass that the next night I made a good soup, too.

Okay, so it's a poussin, not a stew chicken. But it's about the same size. Source: http://bit.ly/1tnAd3A
Okay, so it’s a poussin, not a stew chicken. But it’s about the same size.
I never see chickens this small at the regular supermarkets, though I remember seeing them twenty-five years ago when I was a child. Occasionally I’ll see them at a Mexican or Chinese market, but never at Fred Meyer or Safeway or WinCo. I imagine it’s because a lot of people who shop there don’t often make their own soups from scratch, what with all the pre-packaged options available, so there’s not so much demand for soup chickens. And continuing from my discussion about scavengers vs. hunters last week, culturally there’s also a tendency among many (though certainly not all) Americans, particularly middle class and up, to demonstrate that they can have the best food, not just the scrawny little leftover chickens. We’ve gone from the Depression-era “a chicken in every pot” as a standard of success, to today’s consumerist “bigger, meatier, sooner, cheaper”.

Funnily enough, chickens weren’t always seen as the commonplace cheap meat they are today. 100 years ago, due to limitations in farming practices, year-round production of chickens for food wasn’t really possible, and so chicken was more a special occasion meat. It wasn’t until industry changes were put into place, like utilizing Vitamin D to increase egg-laying and streamlining the connections between hatcheries, farms and meat processors, that year-round production of meat chickens was possible. And this ready availability made the chicken more of a common commodity than a luxury.

Which means that we demanded the best of the chickens that were available. No longer did we have to settle for whatever was available, big or small or missing a leg or not enough white meat. Now if one store didn’t carry plump roasters, we could go to the next that did, and that demand edged out the demand for smaller soup chickens, especially as cooking from scratch diminished in necessity. Hell, these days you can even go to most chain grocery stores in the U.S. and buy a pre-roasted chicken in a bag, ready to take home and eat, no cooking necessary. And that chicken is almost always one killed in the flush of its youth at six or seven weeks, carefully bred for a maximum of flesh and sometimes so heavy it couldn’t even walk properly.

What happened to all those smaller chickens? Some may have ended up in processed food products for people, while others may have been reduced to pet food, fertilizer and the like. Out of sight, out of mind–why even consider things that are thought to be second-rate? And yet, just as our meat comes to us bled out, eviscerated, scrubbed clean and wrapped in plastic and styrofoam to hide its origins as the remains of living beings, so the small, the old, the imperfect are all tucked away behind the scenes, not to reappear until drastically remade into forms considered acceptable to our aesthetics.

All that bread, and not a broken loaf in the lot. And the rich man on the left is hoarding it all. Some things haven't changed since 1600. ("War and Peace or Rich and Poor" by an anonymous Flemish painter. http://bit.ly/1kO3pN0
All that bread, and not a broken loaf in the lot. And the rich man on the left is hoarding it all. Some things haven’t changed since 1600. (“War and Peace or Rich and Poor” by an anonymous Flemish painter. http://bit.ly/1kO3pN0
And that ties into the tendency–if you’re well-off enough–to only value what’s best and turn your nose up at anything else. Granted, lots of animals will do the same, but only when food is very plentiful, and there’s always another animal around to take up the leftovers. Trouble is, in order to get the best chickens to meet the demand for “only the best”, we have to raise more birds overall and discard some in the process, and we can’t really afford to be as picky as we are about the matter. We use a tremendous amount of resources in factory farming in particular, and we’ve already caused immense environmental damage because of it through habitat loss, pollution and more.

Imagine if every American household that bought a chicken got twice as many meals out of it by making soup with the bones. That could cut consumer-direct demand for meat chickens pretty significantly, plus help people save on their grocery bills. Sure, there would still be demand for chickens from other industries like pre-packaged foods and pet food and the like, but it’s a start. And if people made use of every bit of the chicken, feeding the last tiny scraps of meat to pets as a treat, and turning the bones into fertilizer for the garden, we could even cut down on that demand, too.

But it takes a shift in mindset, away from the consumer throw-away culture where the animal is only a commodity, and toward a culture where every resource is used and appreciated, not just for its value to us, but because in order for us to have it, another being had to give it up. That goes for the bones of chickens, and deer habitat turned to wheat fields, alike. This is not to feel guilty for the sheer act of existing, but simply to be more appreciative of and careful with what we do have.

And we need to be okay with not only having “the best”, but making use of everything available to us, whether our favorite or not. The little chickens are just as useful as the big ones, and they carry some good lessons, too. After all, there’s no shame in having a little more cooking experience and learning how best to use a carcass for soup and other leftovers. And while even my favorite free-range farm removes the giblets, feet and other “icky” parts of the hens before packaging them to sell, it’s worth it to also know how to use a truly whole chicken, end to end.

So I’m going to keep buying the little chickens, and the whole fish that need cleaning, and the carrots that still have their tops, and the other things not so convenient or perfectly presented, and make the most of them that I can. I’m going to learn how to do more with the resources I have, and share with others what I find. I don’t deserve “only the best”. I am fortunate enough to have access to a wide variety of healthy food, easily and affordably, and I’m going to do my best to appreciate that.

Our Birthdays Are Not As Important As We Think They Are

Recently on Facebook someone passed along a little “quiz” about one’s birth number and what it means in your life. You take your birthdate (for example, 1-1-1901) and you add up the numbers (1 + 1 + 1 + 9 + 0 + 1 = 13, and then 1 + 3 = 4). Supposedly your personality is somewhat influenced by this number; a four, for example, may mean you’re a practical, down to earth person, while an eight means a flashy show-off (or something like that; I didn’t save the post that had the information). If you Google “birth number” you’ll get a bunch of other metrics by which you can be categorized–some only look at the day of the month you were born, others consider the day to be a “primary” birth number while your day plus month plus year is only secondary, or the big add-up is your life path number, and so on.

How well does the Gregorian calendar match up with the seasons, anyway? http://bit.ly/1irJUGR
How well does the Gregorian calendar match up with the seasons, anyway?http://bit.ly/1irJUGR
The thing is, it’s based entirely on one of hundreds of calendars that have been developed by humans over the millenia, the Gregorian calendar, which was finalized in 1582 AD, itself an update to the Julian calendar of 46 BC, itself a modification of the older Roman calendar. And the Roman calendar was simply an attempt to try and rectify the 365 day year with the twelve lunar cycles (and a few extra days) in that time. But the choice to go by the moon is just a choice, not a mandate; the Mayan Tzolk’in and Haab’ calendars are based on twenty day cycles, for example. Plus the number we assign to the year is based entirely on when people think Jesus of Nazareth might have been born, and therefore associated with one religion in particular; it’s hardly the only system for counting and numbering years that’s existed in the history of humanity.

Then there are the traits that people supposedly have simply by virtue of being born on a particular day of the month, or because the day, month and year numbers associated with their birth according to the Gregorian calendar happen to add up to a particular sum. I looked up the “meanings” of these numbers from a bunch of different sources online, and not only did I find some disagreement on meanings, but I could see traits in almost every definition that described me to one degree or another. Of course, these descriptions were so vague that they probably could have been made to apply to almost anyone–and that’s really how this whole thing works, isn’t it? You’re seeking your importance anywhere you can, to include mostly arbitrary human-created patterns, and giant cosmic cycles that really have very little to do with us at all. It’s quite self-centered.

Which reminds me of the discussion on anthropocentrism in spirituality that Alison Leigh Lilly has been thinking about the past few months. She’s perhaps gentler about it than I am, but we both have criticisms of the idea that, as she so neatly puts it:

Anthropocentrism is the philosophical view that human beings are separate from and superior to the rest of the natural world, possessing intrinsic value that other beings and entities (such as plants and non-human animals) lack. (Source.)

Now, it’s perfectly natural to favor our own species. The ability to differentiate between one’s own species and another is a very, very ancient ability indeed, and humans have turned that into a particularly complex ability to define “us vs. them”, both interspecies and intraspecies (and sometimes both at the same time!) Trouble is, we might have gotten a little too good at it.

From
http://bit.ly/1mXzQbg
We are products of a combination of nature and nurture. Every living being is born with a set of DNA passed down from its ancestors; how the genes are expressed, and which ones are expressed at all, are significantly affected by the environment the being grows up in. This is backed up by a mountain of scientific evidence. While we’re still figuring out some of the details, like the proportions of nature to nurture in individual situations for example, we have numerous examples where there’s a clear causation between Factor A (in the genes or the environment) and Result B (in the living being). And this is a phenomenon that affects every single living being on Earth, humans being just one species among the rest.

The birth number thing is just the opposite–it’s based entirely on one particular way in which humans divide up time, and assigning values to numbers that have absolutely no basis in anything objectively provable, and then saying “this number unlocks the secrets of who you are! Aren’t you special!” And somehow this is supposed to have as much of an effect on who you are as a person as billions of years of cumulative evolution of life on this planet. Let’s say I gathered 10,000 people who believed in birth numbers and considered the fact they’re fives to be an important thing, and then another 10,000 people at random from the population of the world whose birth number is five regardless of whether they believe in birth numbers or not, and then a sample made of 10,000 people pulled from the population at random regardless of birth number. And then say that I was somehow able to interview them all over a long enough period of time to see how well they matched the supposed profile of someone whose birth number is five. I would be willing to bet everything that I own that the first group (“Yay, we’re fives!”) would have a higher rate of self-reporting that they matched the “five profile” than the other two groups. Moreover, I predict that the self-reported results of the second group (the fives who may or may not realize they’re fives) would NOT show a degree of statistically significant difference from the results of the third group (drawn from the general population regardless of birth number). (On the other hand, if I was able to somehow objectively observe every person in all three groups in their everyday lives to see how many exhibited the traits of a birth number five, I’m willing to bet that all three groups would have about the same results, and the people whose birth number was five would have about the same range of personality traits as the rest.)

However, let’s say I ran another experiment, this time focusing on long-term negative effects of the stress responses that are ultimately rooted in hundreds of millions of years of animal evolution. I’d have 10,000 people who spent 50% or more of their childhood until age 18 in a war-torn location, 10,000 people who never spent any time in a war-torn area, and 10,000 people chosen at random regardless of background. Judging from my own research and psychological training regarding anxiety disorders and other long-term negative stress responses, I would predict that the sample from war-torn areas would show a much higher rate of these responses and their corresponding effects on the the brain and body as well as psyche. The 10,000 people who had never been exposed to war may have a lower than average rate of stress responses, though other factors like domestic abuse and other non-war-related causes of long-term stress responses could complicate the findings.

This is not *quite* how evolution works, by the way.  http://bit.ly/1lHoatg
This is not *quite* how evolution works, by the way. http://bit.ly/1lHoatg
Still, the difference between the two experiments stands: you can clearly measure the effects of genetics and physical environment on living beings, human and otherwise, in a way you cannot measure with something like birth numbers. This means that I am much more likely to take to heart a profile that is based on my place as an animal, with all the evolutionary history I have behind me and how I respond to my environment, than a profile based on the numbers that happened to be assigned to the day I was born (itself an event that had more to do with my development and my mother’s body than the numbers on the calendar). And what I say about birth numbers can also be applied to any of a number of other esoteric systems that supposedly predict or declare who you are.

Now, with all that said, I do not take the reductionist view that all we are is a bunch of neurotransmitters swimming around in meat suits; I’m more of a romantic than that! If you personally find value in things like birth numbers and other numerological concepts, or astrology, or divination by birds, or whatever other structure for meaning you choose, by all means go for it! One of the things that–as far as we know right now, anyway–is particular to our species is an intrinsic need for meaning of some sort. It may just be a side-effect of the big brains we evolved, but the numerous religions, philosophies and other structures we’ve created point to our desire for meaning, to include meaning that we feel is personally relevant to us as individuals. And that’s okay; better to embrace it if it leads a person to a more mentally healthy, happy life.

http://bit.ly/1jpA8ae
http://bit.ly/1jpA8ae
Where I feel the waters get muddied is when people look at something like a birth number (or similar thing) and assign it the same level of importance in the formation of who they are as a person as, say, the environment they grew up in. While a lot of people see their birth number or their daily horoscope as a mild curiosity or something to wrap into a more multi-faceted understanding of self, there are also those who swear up and down that these things hold great sway over who they are as people and even base important decisions on them. By giving things like birth numbers so much weight we may be ignoring the much vaster effects that nature as a whole, not just the human-specific portions of it, has on us. If you’ve had a traumatic history to the point where the effects are having an ongoing significant negative effect on your life today, you’re probably going to look for solutions so you can get better. But if you’re focusing mainly on the calendrical circumstances surrounding the moment of your birth and not paying attention to research on PTSD and how trauma can permanently affect your brain and body, you may have a much tougher time getting the necessary tools to heal yourself.

Meaning-making comes into play, too. There’s a definite difference in depth of understanding both of ourselves and of our place in this world and the universe at large. Birth numbers say “You are who you are because some human decided at some point that this number that happens to coincide with your birthday means this special thing about you”. Nature says “You are who you are in part because of the experiences of countless living beings over three and a half billion years and the tools they left you as a result”. Birth numbers say “You share traits X, Y, and Z with a bunch of other people whose birthdays happen to add up to the same number/who were born on the same day of any month”. Nature says “You share a portion of DNA with every single living being that has ever existed on this planet and will ever be here. Look to your development before you were born, and you see the history of life unfolding in the space of nine months. You, humanity, are just one of countless species that have walked this earth, moved through these waters, glided through these skies.” (Granted, these interpretations are influenced by my personal biases, but there is a lot more time and knowledge associated with evolution than birth numbers.)

You can have both your birth number and your evolutionary history as important things in your life, of course. Bringing things in from the huge-picture view to the more personal, we each get to choose our own meaning-making structures, and that’s part of what gives humanity its glorious diversity even among all the things we share in common. Personally as well as in the big picture, I find a lot more meaning in my species being one of many jewels in the crown of the Earth, an ever-changing display, than in trying to figure out whether my life path is following the proper profile of a “nine” or not.

(I’ll still happily sing you “Happy Birthday” on the anniversary of your entrance into this world if you like, though. I still think that’s important.)

http://bit.ly/1oIIVcM
http://bit.ly/1oIIVcM

Will You Be a Hyena With Me?

American culture (at least the portions I’m most familiar with) has this weird thing about power and hunting. If you’ve ever seen The Lion King, you’ll notice that (despite never actually hunting a prey animal in the movie), the lions are the noble hunting animals, while the hyenas are merely skulking scavengers. And indeed it’s often assumed that hyenas only take the food other have killed, while lions do all the hard work. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. While all hyenas scavenge, spotted hyenas are some of the most successful hunters in the animal kingdom, both as individuals and groups. And while lions can certainly bring down their own game, they’re not above chasing other predators, like cheetahs or leopards–or, indeed, hyenas–off their kills.

From http://bit.ly/1iyrhQf
From http://bit.ly/1iyrhQf
Yet in popular culture, Lion the Hunter and Hyena the Scavenger continue to be presented as a good guy/bad guy dichotomy. Why? Chalk it up in part to our culture’s obsession with rugged individualism and independence. Freeloaders aren’t welcome, and if you benefit from the efforts of another, there’s something wrong with you, or so they say. You’re supposed to do for yourself, and then success will be yours.

But just like the myth of the lone wolf, this whole hunter/scavenger split doesn’t really reflect nature as it is. The truth is that the majority of predatory animals won’t turn their noses up at a carcass someone else killed if it’s fresh enough for their tastes and abilities. After all, hunting is a dangerous activity that can lead to injury or even death for the hunter, and can be energy-wasting too if a kill isn’t made. It wouldn’t make sense for a meat-eater to turn their noses up at a free and easy meal, and it’s thought likely that humans started off as scavengers before we were more active hunters.

Nature isn’t fussy, and it doesn’t waste a thing. Even when a predator doesn’t eat its entire kill, many other beings will benefit from the leftovers, from insects and other smaller animals to bacteria to fungi and even plants. In fact, entire ecosystems may benefit from the kills of one species; for example, when grizzly bears in North America hunt salmon during spawning season, in a good year they may only eat the most nutritious parts; the remains are left in the forest, sometimes quite some distance from the river, where the younger, smaller bears brought their fish to be eaten without being bothered by their bigger counterparts. The nutrients from the rotting salmon then go into enriching the soil that the forest ecosystem depends on, and in years where the salmon run isn’t as healthy, you can see the effects on the various other beings in the forest because fewer nutrients are being added to the system.

Does this mean that the rats and the trees and the fungi and burying beetles and other living beings that benefit from the bears’ leftovers are lesser beings simply because they scavenge what they didn’t kill? Of course not. Every being in an ecosystem is important, and its absence would be detrimental to the whole. We often glorify bears because they’re charismatic megafauna, big and impressive and so forth, but the burying beetles are just as amazing a bunch of critters, and every bit as necessary, regardless of our biases about them.

American burying beetle. From http://bit.ly/1sHaqCW.
American burying beetle. From http://bit.ly/1sHaqCW.
And we could stand to learn a lot from the burying beetles and others. We spend too much time feeling entitled to the very best the world has to offer. I’ve seen too many people not pack up their leftovers at a restaurant, and leave another meal’s worth of food behind–too many times for it to only be out-of-towners without access to fridges. There are those who brag they’ve never bought any clothing secondhand and look down on those of us who have. Some folks refuse to buy anything but a new car, not for reliability but for status. And it all ties into the same wasteful, prideful attitude that makes us think that hunting is better and more noble than scavenging.

But there’s a reason nature doesn’t waste–it can’t afford to. It’s most efficient to recycle and reuse anything possible, and waste is too expensive for such a massive and intricate system. Nature doesn’t draw on resources without returning them, yet somehow we think we can do the same and somehow defy one of the basic realities of life: nothing lasts forever. So we scoff at scavengers, our own and others’, and think that the ideal is to be the best hunter of fresh, new resources possible, whether that’s new clothing at the mall or a new site to frack for oil.

It’s only been in the past century or so that the U.S. has become such a resource-hogging behemoth. It’s been even less time since our culture shifted, in times of crisis, from responding by tightening the belt to responding by pretending nothing’s wrong. People in my grandparents’ generation went through the Great Depression and the rationing of World War II, when the government said “You can sacrifice a bit for your country!” Today, when we face some of the greatest environmental challenges our species has ever encountered, we’re told to keep spending, keep buying oil, and turn a blind eye to the evidence that says anything’s wrong. We’re spoiled; we don’t want to give anything up.

And we don’t want to be scavengers. We don’t want to dirty our hands with the leftovers. Yet any predator that turns up the chance at leftovers is less likely to succeed in the long run. How have we forgotten that in our pride?

I say it’s time we get back to our roots. We got as far as we have as a species through great resourcefulness and adaptability. But we’re throwing away a big part of that, the ability to get the most use out of resources before they’re completely used up. Let’s be creative scavengers and hunters and foragers again. Let’s make “reuse, reduce, recycle” not the niche domain of dedicated environmentalists, but something that belongs to everyone again. Let’s reduce new mining and logging efforts, and see what we can do with the resources we’ve already taken that are just waiting to be made into something new. Let’s make the creativity and resourcefulness of scavenging a point of pride, not just of hides and bones and scraps of meat, but steel and paper pulp and silicon.

Because we are human apes, and we’re in good company with hyenas and lions, vultures and eagles, wolves and foxes and coyotes, all of whom will hunt and scavenge as the opportunities and needs arise. These are all noble, resourceful beings; let’s remember that we are, too.

Will you be a hyena with me?

From http://bit.ly/1jwDeck.
From http://bit.ly/1jwDeck.

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.
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