Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year of snow, year of plenty

We got quite a bit of snow here a couple of weeks ago, a true blizzard. Nearly all the snow you see here fell in one day and night. The chicken tractor is pretty much buried---not that they're using it right now, anyway. You can barely see the "bee corner," but there is a hive there! We make sure the snow is cleared away from the entrance of the hive so that the bees have ventilation and can take a "cleansing flight" if they want to. Like cats, they are very tidy and won't deposit waste inside their hive.

Sara, Rose and June were snug in Sophia House during the storm. They have two water sources, one down in the coop that freezes and needs to be changed often, and another up in their bedroom. That one doesn't freeze because of a little heater that also helps keep them warm at night. just before the weather turned, Steve moved the coop closer to the house and into the best spot to catch solar warmth; he also fully insulated and shingled it, too.

It seems this little willow tree in our backyard lost a few of its largest limbs, carrying the weight of all that snow that fell so quickly...

As the storm was winding down, we went snowshoeing by the creek...

and even did a little yoga along the way:

We saw this evidence of the beavers that live somewhere near by. Several years ago, on a midnight canoe on the creek, we heard one tailslap the water, and barely caught a glimpse.

This mourning dove was perching much closer to the ground than she normally would, with so much snow coating everything; she's only about 6 feet off the ground here.

Cold and icy though it is, it's a beautiful time of year, too, with the wheel of the year having just turned on the Solstice, and the light returning now. And when it seems there's too much snow, we remind each other of the saying, "A year of snow, a year of plenty," meaning that since there is less chance of the fruit trees blossoming too soon and facing a killing frost, fruit will be more plentiful. We'll be outside less, but we have some down time now to organize and order seeds. Marina is taking a permaculture webinar course online. And soon it will be time to start seedlings! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A holiday letter to send Heifer International

Their programs might look good at first glance (to a non-vegan, anyway), but there's nothing animal friendly or even sustainable about Heifer International, or any of the other "animal gift" schemes popularly given as holiday presents. You might like to send this letter, too. Feel free to use this one, or edit it to suit your own writing style.


Heifer International
P.O. Box 8058
Little Rock, AK 72203-8058

Dear Heifer International,

I am writing to ask that you please remove my name from your mailing list, and that any gift donations given in my name be refused.

For over 50 years, vegetarian organizations and animal advocates have criticized farming animals as inefficient, expensive and environmentally destructive, and livestock donations as especially inhumane and ineffective in fighting poverty as well as being environmentally unsound. Animal gift schemes seek to persuade people of the poor world that their best nutritional interests are served by buying into modern farmed animal production processes, but with that comes an addiction to high capital input systems, additional stress on precious water supplies, environmental destruction, a loss of control over the means of production, bad health, cruelty to animals, and more human poverty and malnourishment.

The "donation" of animals to other countries amounts to nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to spread dairy and meat consumption to new parts of the world, with detrimental consequences for the health of those nations and disastrous consequences for the animals. Many recipients of gift animals are unable to feed them to maturity, let alone feed and raise any offspring, and all farmed animals require large quantities of water, shelter from extremes, and veterinary care, resources typically in short supply in impoverished areas.

I hope that Heifer International will consider restructuring itself to join in reforestation efforts instead of bringing a cruel, unhealthy, environmentally destructive diet to cultures that are primarily vegetarian and creating a nightmare animal welfare scenario.

Please remove my name from your mailing list, and do not process any gift donations given in my name. Thank you.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

That's Soooo Madison!

We had a lovely surprise yesterday: Steve's beautiful purple photo, "Walking the Rails," won an Honorable Mention in the "That's Soooo Madison!" photo contest, and publication in the "Isthmus" newspaper this week! It's online, too, of course. Click on the title to go to the link---it's the 10th photo in the slideshow. (That's me falling off the rails into the sunset in late winter of 2005) This is the second time Steve has had a photo published in Isthmus; the last time was in their 2008-09 "Annual Manual," a guide to Madison. (That photo was one he took of himself skiing in some very nice fluffy snow, by the Monona Terrace Convention Center at night in February, 2008.) If it's online, we don't know where it is...

To see another of Steve's prize-winning photos published on the Internet, (and find out how I got the nickname Goatgirl!), scroll down the sidebar here to the right, and click on Lance Armstrong at around 6:31pm. That photo was taken in 2001, and won second prize in's photo contest in 2002.(The first prize winner was of a little girl and a very attractive jellicle (aka black and white) cat, and we had to concede that it was more worthy of first prize.) The prize was a very nice postcard of the Adelaide Railway Station that Dave, the talented, funny and nice creator of, sent us from from Broome, in western Australia, as he was biking 4,000 miles crosscountry.

Happy Tofurky Day to everyone, especially the turkeys! If you're in Madison, come to the free vegan Thanksgiving dinner sponsored and prepared by Alliance for Animals.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Listening to The Voices

Yesterday morning, I was busy getting ready to leave the house for my annual mammogram. This week was the five year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, so I was a bit preoccupied. An apple crisp was baking in the oven, and I had to keep on eye on it as well as on the cats and the chickens, at the same time making sure I had all the lists and bags and such that I needed for the several errands I planned to run afterwards. Then I looked out the front window and saw Tina, one of our neighbors, kneeling on the bike path in the park across the street, holding her hand out to a slender, medium-sized black dog. I remembered Steve's telling me yesterday that he thought there might be a stray dog in the park. The dog had fled as soon as he came out on the porch, and he'd been afraid to pursue her; he didn’t want to frighten her towards the busy street to the north, half a block away.

Watching Tina coax the dog with little luck, I thought about what I should do, one eye on the clock. Here came another neighbor, Leila, with her beagle mix, Bonnie, safely on her leash, as always. The black dog wagged her tail, sniffing Bonnie, but raced far away as soon as either human made a move towards her. I thought to myself, "Well, she's in good hands, I don’t need to do anything. They’ll take care of it." But I kept coming back to the window. The black dog was soon alone in the park again. I called the police dispatch number, and was told someone would call me back. Nearly 45 minutes passed. I went outside with an open can of cat food, but the black dog wouldn't come within 100 feet of me. She skittered about the park, shy, aimless and disoriented, and ever closer to the busy street. I felt disoriented, too; I don't have much experience with dogs, and didn't really know what to do. She was just close enough for me to see her dark collar and tag, but it was obvious I wouldn’t be able to get ahold of her. When bicyclists came down the path, she hid in the bushes. I left the cat food at the foot of a tree in the park, and went back home.

Washing up, brushing my teeth, gathering my knapsack, and so on, I kept thinking: I should call the 24-hour emergency clinic for animals. Why wasn’t exactly clear. They're a vet clinic, after all, not a clearinghouse for lost pets. I made a few more phone calls, hoping to find someone else, (read: a Dog Person), who could come over and catch her. No luck. But finally I listened to that little hovering, pesky cloud of a thought telling me to call the emergency animal clinic. "I don't really know why I'm calling you," I told Lori, the woman who answered. Her voice sounded puzzled and curious, and she said, "Where do you live?" I was already puzzled, and then I got curious, too---I told her where I was, and Lori said, "Is it a black dog?" A man who lived just a few blocks away from us had told them he'd lost his young black female dog. I called this man, Rick, and somehow, he was at home, hadn’t yet left for work. He exclaimed excitedly, “Try calling her! Her name is Baby Girl!" While we were still on the phone, I went out and called. “She stopped running,” I told him. Within a few minutes, Rick was pulling up in his black car, and running into the park towards the black dog, calling her name, and she was leaping into his arms and licking his face. I'm so glad I listened to that little voice!

Baby Girl looks pretty much like this dog, whose name is Rogue, who is one of the dogs up for adoption at the Dane County Humane Society.

(Posted by Marina)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Pollinator's Eye View of Our Back Forty (Feet)

Before it gets too cold and snowy for photos of the lush green garden to start feeling like a distant memory, here's a bird's or pollinator's eye view of our backyard, aka the Back Forty Feet, a photo taken in late July, in full summer bloom. You'll see the chicken tractor over on the left, along with a wheelbarrow full of various invasive plants. Our year-old peach tree (which has doubled in size and produced only teensy little inedible fruits this year but should bear good fruit next year) is blocking the view of the chicken coop, which was in a good "summer" location at that point---not in too much sun and so as to catch the breeze. Keeping chickens cool is important. It now has wheels and can be moved more easily around the yard. Mulch under the peach tree is hay from the chicken coop.

There aren't as many flowers in our yard as we'd like, but there just isn't that much sun; we hope to add more eventually, though. There are stands of day lilies that threaten to take over, underneath the clothesline, mostly; Steve's cousin Matt worked very hard to dig alot of them out this summer. Here you can see Joe Pye weed in flower towering over the red raspberry bushes, just to the left of the chicken coop; the black and purple raspberries are to its right, and also over by the fence on the left side of the yard, just west of the fern garden. Back in the far corner on the left is the compost heap, with the shiitake mushroom logs nearby. (This winter, we'll try to devote a whole posting to the great 2007 innoculation of the mushroom logs.) Wild grape and a trumpet vine cover the back fence; domestic grape vines have been planted on the fence near the clothes line, but won't be producing for a while yet. You can also see lots of wild grape vines twining around the phone line that comes from the house (bottom right corner), but the oyster mushroom logs next to the garage (bottom left corner) are out of sight. The invasive wild rose bush at the far end of the clothesline posts will be replaced next year with a native rosebush that doesn't spread wildly and has good quality rosehips that are a good source of Vitamin C. We made a nice rosehip syrup a few years ago, and it was delicious. Somewhere back by the chicken coop and over by the oyster mushroom logs are two hazelnuts, just leafy twigs right now, but within a year or two, they should be producing well. Steve keeps a little herb garden in the area by the back steps, which you can't see (bottom left corner). We wondered for quite a while what all the vines covering the silver maple snag were, and finally identified them: While there is the lovely red and green Virginia Creeper, there's also (ack!) poison nightshade and some other pretty but invasive vine in our bioregion, so we've been removing those. Tricky without pulling other things out... On the bottom right border along the fence there is a forsythia bush, also solomon's seal, bloodroot, may apples, wild ginger (which we have yet to try), bluebells, jack in the pulpit, and at the foot of the snag are crocus and trilliums.

And what's in the garden, which is the whole bottom right quarter of the photo? Zucchini, sweet potatoes, squash, Swiss chard, broccoli, and probably some other things. Our other gardens plot is a community plot a couple of blocks away, and that's where Steve grows potatoes, tomatoes, peas, sweet corn, peppers, onions, and other veggies. The garden deserves its own the winter, when we've got more time...

In the other (far right) corner of the yard is the honeybee hive, our newest addition! When our friend Eric, who knows about these things, moved away at the end of June, he sold us one of his honeybee hives, and our neighbors have one of the others, just on the other side of the fence. Steve built this little fenced-in corner to protect curious felines, and the screened portion is so the bees' flightpath isn't blocked by the fence. They've made honey, but there's only enough for them for now; we hope that we can safely share some of it next year. From Eric, we've learned that honey bees aren't as important as pollinators as native bees, like mason and leafcutter bees. These wild bees help increase crop yields. If you look very carefully, you'll see just to the right of the silver maple snag, high up on the fencepost, a wooden block that is nearly hidden in the leaves. This is one of our two homes for leafcutter bees in our backyard. For more information about how you can help native bee populations and become active in pollinator conservation, go to The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation's webpage on pollinator conservation:
Yes, I am lame and lazy for not making this a link, but you can also click on the post title to go directly to that page.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sara Chicken's Favorite Biryani with Seitan

The solar-oven-baked pizza from Friday was particularly delicious, but I was too hungry to wait and get a photo of it! So here's what we had for dinner last night, recipe upon request of our honored guest, Bryan, who is trying very hard to go vegetarian. It's Sara Chicken's favorite biryani, and ours, too. Lots of spicy flavor without any heat, pretty easy to prepare, and heats up well. I have no idea where Steve found this recipe, but we've made it for years. We haven't tried freezing it, but that might work okay... For dessert, we had delicious frozen desserts, quite a splurge: One was chocolate hemp milk and chocolate & hazelnut coconut milk. Both were incredibly good, but I'd have to say that the hemp milk dessert had a slight edge in richness. I'd hate to have to pick, though...

Sara Chicken's Favorite Biryani with Seitan

2 c. brown rice
1 large onion, diced
2 T. olive oil (divided use)
1 lb. drained seitan, "chicken style"
1 c. peas (frozen is okay, thaw if so, or use snow peas)
2/3 c. almonds, toasted
1/2 c. raisins
1/2 cup biryani curry paste
10 oz. chopped tomatoes (canned or fresh)
3 3/4 c. boiling water

Preheat oven to 375.

Cover brown rice with cold water and soak for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In small pan, saute half of the diced onion in 1 T. of the oil until soft/golden. Add the drained rice and saute 3-4 minutes. Set aside. (You could use the solar oven for this step, too.)

In a big frying pan or wok, saute the remaining onion in the remaining 1 T. of oil until soft/golden. Add the seitan and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in peas, almonds, raisins, biryani paste and tomatoes.

Combine this mixture with the rice mixture in a Dutch oven. Add the boiling water, stir, cover, and bake for 60-75 minutes, depending on your oven/the sun. IMPORTANT: CHECK WATER AT 45 MINUTES. If you need to add more, use boiling water.

Serves 6-8.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A busy summer

It's been too long since I've posted anything, but then, that's the irony of it...once the weather warms up, it's more of a challenge to find the time to spend on the "living in tune with the seasons" blog because the outside is singing so many songs that we need to join in on! Sometimes easier said than done, for sure. Right now, I'm feeling sort of grumpy because the solar oven (a birthday present for Steve's last birthday) is taking so long to cook my pizza. Next time, I'll try to remember to set it up sooner, so the oven has more time to heat up. This is my first solo solar oven experience, and I'm still getting the hang of it. (I've only had to call Steve once, and only knocked the whole thing over once!) It's actually pretty easy once you accept that it's going to take a little longer, and you need to work with the sun and the clouds. And it's good for making candles as well as cooking! These pictures were taken back in May; Steve's melting down candle remnants(which we get off the curb, mostly, or cheap from yard sales), using a baking powder can as a mold (and an old pot for the melting of the candles). I love that creamy vanilla color. We solar-baked chocolate chip cookies for my stepfather Andy's visit in June.

He came and visited us on Father's Day, which was great, as he has his own kids and grandkids back in Omaha, so we felt very honored. He rode here for 8 hours on his motorcycle in 90 degree heat, and he will be 86 in November!

We've had an extraordinarily cool and dry summer (I'm wearing socks and jeans and it's July 31st??), but have gotten some monstrously big shiitakes, anyway:

Even Natasha was SHOCKED!! (Sergei, uncharacteristically, had nothing to say.)

And the chicken girls (l to r, Sara, June and Rose) were more than a little intrigued. (They love shiitakes.)

I have been doing alot of yoga (keeps me happy and healthy) and drove a tractor for the first time when we visited Steve's family down in Illinois for the annual birthday May/June birthday celebrations...

...and Steve started working on the roof again this month. The cupola is not only beautiful, but contains a whole-house fan, which is the next best thing to air conditioning.

This photo is actually from last fall. The cupola is finished now, and The Roofing Crew is focusing on the north side of the roof. (We're getting lots of help from lots of friends.) This will be the hard side, with two chimneys and two skylights, as well as various solar implements (like a hot water heater), but we think the whole thing will be finished before the weather turns cold.

In late June, we took some time off to camp out for a night and see a great evening production of Shakespeare's "Winter's Tale" at American Players Theatre (an outdoor theatre) with friends Joyce, Joan and Ellen, and hung out at an art fair after stuffing our faces at The General Store in Spring Green. No photos from breakfast, sorry, but here we all are on the front porch of TGS:

As fans of Claire's fabulous blog, "Here's What You're Missing" will know, we had a few of Steve's old workmates from North Farm Co-op (a natural foods distributor that went belly up in the early 21st century) for a potluck reunion. The challenge was to bring a dish made from food from North Farm, though lo these many years. We still had some NF dried seaweed, so Steve made a pasta salad with roasted red peppers, and the centerpiece on the table was a heart-shaped bottle of bath oil I got at the NF outlet store. Here, Gary, Alan and Mike try to remember just exactly how many pallets of outdated soy smoothies the employees were allowed to take home every night...

And now for a completely gratuitious food photo! It's a stir fry that we made this spring, with mung bean sprouts, carrots from last year's garden, whole grain rice noodles, but I can't recall now any of the other things that were in it...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Cats at MAPPAR: Midwest Animal and Pot-Bellied Pig Rescue

Today, I visited MAPPAR, Midwest Animal and Pot-Bellied Pig Rescue, which is about an hour north of Madison. It was the first time I've been there, and somehow, despite the name, I was surprised to learn that they have animals other than pot-bellied pigs! My friend Betsy and I were there to visit two older dogs, Cap and Winnie, who recently went to live at MAPPAR after their human, our friend Helene passed away. Of course, while Betsy hung out with the dogs, I had to go and see the cats. I didn't bring a camera today, but I wanted to share photos from the MAPPAR website of some of the cats there who are available for adoption:

This is Ms. Kitty. A fine and queenly little tortoiseshell who is front declawed, she waited until I peeled the other cats off my lap and came over to her.

Floyd is a beautiful boy, probably a Siamese mix. He was more than happy to pile on my lap with two other cats, and didn't even mind when he ended up on the bottom of the pile.

Silver Fox looks alot like Floyd, but is darker and a little bolder. He loved being petted, and gave kisses, too.

These are all older cats, who aren't as easy to find homes for. After having fostered a kitten for only three days and nights recently, I'm inclined to say that unless you've got as much energy as a kitten, an older cat is probably going to be a better companion!

MAPPAR is trying to raise more funds to build a bigger, better cat building than the one they have. Although that one is pretty good, full of treats, toys, cat trees, places to hide, etc., they would like to have one with an outdoor area for the cats, like this:

Please visit the MAPPAR website (click on the title of this post) to find out more about adopting an animal (if you live in southern Wisconsin), or to make a donation to help care for them and finish the new cat building (no matter where you live!). I hope to go to MAPPAR again this weekend with a camera and lots of cat treats, and I'll post more photos after that visit.

(Posted by Marina)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Permaculture Art: Arborsculpture

Okay, earthsip is supposed to be an ad-free blog, and this posting is KIND of an ad, but if the means are the ends... Being a reader of the Celtic Tree Oracle (aka Ogham), I (Marina) have a particular affinity for trees, and maybe that's why I find arborsculpture so appealing. Arborsculpture is also permaculture in action, an ancient art form now enjoying a resurgence. Arborsculptor Richard Reames shapes the trunks of young, flexible saplings so that they grow into chairs, fences, gazebos, garden borders, benches, tables, trellises, or earth art. Some of the trees are left in the ground, to continue as living artwork or furniture, like the kitty perch, above, and some are cut after being grown into the shape that's needed, like this chair:
While some of these creations are very elaborate, and take decades to grow, you can also do something simpler. I couldn't find a good enough photo, but I particularly like the living table and chairs grown of willow, and still rooted in the ground. (And no, they apparently don't grow too big to continue using them as furniture.) As Reames says, "Everyone with sun and a container of soil can grow trees into the shapes of their desires." Arborsculpture is sustainable, cheap, unique, and beautiful, as well as an example of several permaculture principles---the First Principle of Conservation, since the use of energy would be minimal and you would use only what you need. It also illustrates the Second Principle, Stacking Functions, getting many yields (outputs) from one element (thing) in your system, because as long as the tree is growing in the earth, it can provide shade, shelter wildlife, be the building material itself, be a wind break, fertilize the soil, prevent erosion, raise the water table, and sequester CO2. Depending on your available time and skills, it could also be an example of the Third Principle, Appropriate Scale, where what we design is on a human scale and can be done with the available time, skills, and money that you have. And practicing arborsculpture will certainly help anyone learn the patience necessary to figuring out what your particular spot on earth needs. As Reames says, "The entry price to practicing this art is to check your speed at the garden gate and enter the slow motion world of tree time."

To learn more about arborsculpture and Reames' techniques, or to sign up for one of his classes, or purchase his most recent book, "Arborsculpture- Solutions for a Small Planet," check out his website or his blog His website includes a fascinating, well-done video on the history of arborsculpture, as well as instructions on how to grow a living chair and a living fence.

(But please don't do this with your bicycle! :))

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Rose and June set up coop-keeping with Sara---and a Hawk Attack

Happy Ostara/Easter/Passover/whatever holiday you may celebrate! We're just relieved that Sara is still here to play her part in the Easter animal parade (figuratively speaking, of course). Yesterday, this red-tailed hawk attacked Sara, and although we're still not entirely sure why, it seems to have been scared off when we heard the terrible commotion, and came outside. (Either that, or Sara fought back?) The hawk didn't go far, though---just flew up to the top of what's left of our silver maple (maybe 14 feet high?), and didn't even flinch when Steve tossed sticks up in that direction to try to spook it. S/he still was eyeing up Rose and June, who had wisely taken refuge under a forsythia bush.

Sara lost quite a few feathers in the attack---the hawk seems to have been systematically plucking her right underwing---and she was pretty shaken up at first, but now she seems otherwise okay.

There's a nick in her skin from the plucking (it hurts to even think about it!) but she didn't bleed, thankfully, and her feathers will come in again. Lesson learned by the humaniamals. Even in the city, hawks are hungry. So the days of our chickens wandering freely around the backyard are over. Their coop is plenty big for the three of them, of course. Still, we hate the idea of keeping them in a cage, even if it is one that's roomy and moveable, as their "chicken tractor" will be. We need to keep them safe, but it does make you think about what it means to keep what is essentially a prey animal safe from predators in the outdoors...

Otherwise, Rose and June have been settling in nicely to their new living situation with Sara. Sara's still boss chicken, and Rose, who is smaller, doesn't get as much of whatever there is to get, but...she has a secret treat source that Sara and June don't know about! Steve cut back the wild grape vine, and showed it to her, so now she drinks the sap that drips from it, as you can see from the photo.
It's still pretty brown and bare here in south central Wisconsin; we're just south of the north woods, after all. It sure will be nice when more greenery emerges. Things have at least dried out a little, though, the chickens can enjoy dust baths, and they aren't wearing boots of mud. (Wish we had a photo of that to post, because they look really funny running towards you with their mud "clodhoppers"! Next time it rains, maybe...)

Crocuses are coming up, though...

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Story of Sophia: The Luckiest Chicken in the World

We lost our little "yellow bird," last Thursday, March 19th. Sophia (full name: Sophia Fezziwig Chicken) was always enthusiastic, always the first one out of the coop in the morning, chirping and clucking, She never slowed down until sundown told her it was time to go up to roost. That day was no exception. When I went out in the backyard to check on them in early in the afternoon, though, Sophia couldn't stand on her own, and while she didn't appear to be in any pain, she wouldn't eat even her favorite noodles nor drink any water. The kind veterinarian at the Emergency Clinic for Animals was unable to save her, and she passed away that evening.

The vet is still trying to figure out exactly what happened, because their grain mix (18 different grains!) is 18% protein---the % that our research indicated was appropriate---but the condition of Sophia's liver seems to indicate she was eating too much protein. Why is now the question. Moreover, she also may have died from that problem, plus a birth defect, as well as an acute condition such as having eaten moldy birdseed from the outdoor birdfeeder, or even from the supply in the coop. The small container in the coop that they ate from had probably not gotten eaten down to the bottom during the winter, and just a few days before, it had gotten knocked over. She might have eaten the feed that was at the bottom, which may have grown aflatoxin (which is about as dangerous as it sounds, both to chickens and humans). In other words, it might have been our fault that she died. Needless to say, we want to do everything we can to fix the problem, and make sure it doesn't happen again; we've moved the coop and cleaned everything, taken away the birdfeeder, swept up all the old grain, etc. Sara seems to be fine, but is now on a special diet---cooked brown rice, leafy greens and veggies and fruits only---and upon the advice of the vet, we'll be giving her milk thistle tincture to cleanse her liver, just in case.

The three nights that Sara spent alone were clearly distressing ones for her. During the day, she spent much of her time standing under the rosebush in the corner, not doing much, and sought us out whenever she could; she also didn't want to go in the coop at night. The second evening, I was sitting with her for a bit, and she jumped up on my lap, something she'd never done before---never being as affectionate as Sophia---and then started climbing up onto my shoulder and head. I realized that this was like what she used to do with Sophia, when the two of them would scramble over one another in bedding down for the night, deciding who was going to get comfortable. Clearly, we needed to find Sara more hen sisters, and fast!

Happily, yesterday some generous folks who had more chickens than they needed gave us two Rhode Island Red hens, 2 year-olds. These folks hadn't named their chickens; it feels funny not to call them something, but we're waiting to see what they're like first. Both are somewhat shy and nervous. They're almost identical in appearance, a beautiful deep red chestnut brown color, but the larger hen has a black feather in her tail and is a little bolder, and the other has lighter colored feathers at the ends of her wings, and is the shyer of the two. Unlike Sara and Sophia (Aracauna chickens), they have big, floppy combs and full wattles, and their combs are different, too. They cluck softly when interested in something, becoming much more vocal when they're confused or afraid. The bigger hen and Sara tangled at first, which is normal, (if worrisome to watch. Eventually, Sara asserted herself as queen of the coop. (It was the same with Sophia and Sara---Sara was top chicken.) It looks like they're all going to get along fine, now that the pecking order has been established. Best of all, after they all went up into the coop last night, Sara was singing, which she hadn't done since before Sophia died.

We'll always miss our cute, curious little girl, who trusted people and always wanted to be picked up and petted by everyone she met, but it helps to remember that Sophia was one very lucky little chicken. A million chickens are killed every hour in the U.S. alone. We were very lucky to have known her.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Compassion Begins with Mother Earth


Earth based spirituality covers such a wide spectrum of diverse religions and spiritual traditions, from indigenous traditions to modern NeoPagansim. We share no unified dogma, and no one person carries the authority to speak for all, certainly not me.

But I can say personally that the common thread I find in all our traditions is the deep understanding of interconnectedness. We are one interwoven tapestry of life on this earth, and from that basic insight arises compassion.

Compassion extends beyond love and sympathy for other human beings. Compassion includes compassion for the earth, for all the interrelated and interacting life forms, for the plants, animals, birds, trees, even the microorganisms that sustain life. For if we don't include that broader community in the scope of our compassion, if we continue to destroy the very systems that support our lives, we cannot survive. And we will create the devastation that leads to immense human suffering, loss and death.

Here's a compassion story: In the forest, the roots of trees are linked by a network of mycorrhizal fungi, whose threadlike hyphae interpenetrate the root hairs and extend their reach for water and nutrients. Scientists have traced pathways with radioactive isotopes, and learned that through these webs of fungi, trees feed their young. Moreover, trees growing in the sun will feed trees growing in the shade--even trees of another species. That's compassion!

Here's another: a couple of billions of years ago, life was simple. Just bacteria, simple cells without even a nucleus, floating in primal seas as they had already done for a couple of billion years. But even at that time, life was linked in complex associations. The green things, the ancestors of plants, used sunlight to make food from water and the carbon dioxide that filled the atmosphere. They gave off oxygen, and breathers evolved to make use of it, to burn food and use the energy, giving off carbon dioxide. All of life was linked in one common breath, passing back and forth from green to red.

Photosynthesizers could just lay back and be, basking in the sunlight. But breathers had to work, to go about and find food. They gobbled each other up with gusto.

But one day, as one primal organism chowed down on another, compassion intervened. Instead of dissolving and digesting its meal, the eater let its victim remain whole inside of itself, fusing into a new form of being, the ancestor of the cells in our own bodies and all complex organisms--cells with nuclei, eukaryotes.

Fusion became the rage. The new cells were bigger and could develop in all kinds of interesting ways, developing specialized organelles to do particular jobs, like making energy or propelling the whole thing around. And with their membranes relieved of many metabolic tasks, the new cells were free to combine in new ways, leading to an explosion of multicellular life, and all the strange and interesting things that came after.

And so compassion is embedded in every cell of our bodies. Imagine, then, what beauty and diversity might evolve if we made compassion the foundation of our religions and social structures.


Starhawk is, in her own words, "the author of many works celebrating the Goddess movement and Earth-based, feminist spirituality. I’m a peace, environmental, and global justice activist and trainer, a permaculture designer and teacher, a Pagan and Witch. To see how it all weaves together, follow the many strands of my web." She is also cofounder of the Reclaiming collective in San Francisco, California (USA), and wrote one of my favorite novels, the compassionate utopian/antiutopian novel of the future, The Fifth Sacred Thing (1993), which manages to see both the worst and the best possibilities for our future and, most importantly, gives us the tools to help us realize how to make the best choice. Her newest book is The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature. Committed to bringing the techniques and creative power of spirituality to political activism, Starhawk travels internationally teaching magic, the tools of ritual, the skills of activism, and classess in permaculture (both online and off).

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Letter from

Humane myth. An idea being propagated by the animal-using industry and some animal protection organizations that it is possible to use and kill animals in a manner that can be fairly described as respectful or compassionate or humane.

We are a community of former farmers, animal rescuers, animal sanctuary founders, educators, and artists working to create a just and nonviolent future.

Currently, both the animal-using industry and some animal advocacy organizations are propagating the idea that it is possible to use and kill animals in a manner that can be fairly described as respectful or compassionate or humane. We believe that this "Humane Myth" misrepresents the realities of animal use, and cultivates a positive image of activities that are neither just nor kind nor sustainable. The purpose of the web site is to correct the misinformation that is associated with the Humane Myth, and to inspire a form of working for the peaceful transformation of our society that fully respects the inherent dignity and worth of animals and people alike.

The public deserves to be told the full truth of who animals are and what is being done to them behind closed doors, as well as the catastrophic impact that the continuing consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy products will have on human health, wildlife and the environment. We will do all we can to uphold this public trust.

As animal advocates committed to compassion and justice, we will refuse to take part in the exploitation of others or to collaborate with those caught up in such injustice. We will do our best to present a clear and uncompromised message to the public, a sincere and respectful message that is free of cynicism and manipulation.

Recognizing that progress toward social justice is gradual and depends on more and more people becoming aware of the truth, we will do all we can to insure that each of the steps our culture takes is toward an accurate understanding of the ways animals are being harmed, and away from the false and misleading idea that the production of meat, eggs, and dairy products can be carried out without cruelty, violence, or injustice.

Recognizing that fostering cultural transformation requires a variety of creative approaches, we will support a broad range of nonviolent programs and initiatives that eliminate or reduce the use and killing of animals, as well as measures that reduce the level of abuse and agony experienced by animals being exploited for human purposes, provided such measures involve NONE of the following:

1. Offering a misleading or incomplete portrait of the confinement, social deprivation, mutilation, reproductive manipulation, indignity and premature death endured by animals being exploited for profit.

2. Minimizing or failing to reveal the full impact on human health, wildlife and our environment from the continuing production and consumption of animal-based foods.

3. Developing, endorsing, certifying and/or promoting any animal products, including those that are labeled as being "humane," "cruelty-free," "cage-free," "free range," "organic," "compassionate," etc.

4. Developing, endorsing, praising, applauding or promoting "new and improved" methods for using and killing animals.

5. Providing individuals or corporations with promotional or public relations benefits that have the effect of making the use and killing animals or the sale of any animal product more profitable or more socially acceptable.

James LaVeck and Jenny Stein

1616 Free-Living Buffalo Were Killed in Winter 2007-08: How Can We Stop This Carnage?


As of April 16, 2008: Yellowstone National Park had trapped over 1,600 wild bison migrating to winter range in the Gardiner Basin, and sent 1,276 bison to slaughterhouses. Hundreds more bison are trapped inside pens at Stephens Creek operated by the U.S. National Park Service. 7 wild bison died or were killed as a result of injuries suffered in captivity at Stephens Creek. 6 wild bison were shot by livestock inspectors for migrating just beyond the park borders. 112 wild bison have been separated from their mothers and family groups and sent to a USDA quarantine pen near Corwin Springs, Montana. The Montana Department of Livestock has trapped 146 wild bison on Horse Butte on national forest land and private lands, and shipped them to slaughterhouses. Another 166 wild bison were killed by hunters. By the Park Service's own estimate, two-thirds of Yellowstone's bison herd have been slaughtered or perished in the winter kill this season. Since the bison "plan" went into effect in 2000, over 3,500 wild bison have been slaughtered or removed from America's last wild bison herd. As if this wasn't bad enough, the cost of this wanton slaughter of America's last wild bison herd is all paid for by the American taxpayer, averaging $3,000,000 a year - now eight years into a fifteen year "plan".


Buffalo Field Campaign is the only group working in the field, every day, to stop the slaughter of the wild American buffalo. Volunteers defend the buffalo and their habitat and advocate for their lasting protection. Currently, the Montana Department of Livestock manages wild bison that enter Montana, a role authorized under MCA 81-2-120. Under this law, crafted by Montana's cattle interests, wild bison are managed as diseased pests and forbidden to enter the state without being subjected to harassment or death. "It is a serious conflict of interest having the Department of Livestock in charge of managing wild bison," said Mike Bowersox, a coordinator with Buffalo Field Campaign, "You might as well trust the fox with guarding the henhouse."

Bison Advocates are calling on the Montana Legislature to repeal MCA 81-2-120, and instead support reasonable alternative management of wild bison as outlined under the Montana Wild Buffalo Recovery & Conservation Act of 2009. The Montana Wild Buffalo Recovery & Conservation Act of 2009, crafted by the Bozeman based Gallatin Wildlife Association, would place the management of wild bison in the hands of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The bill would also recognize wild bison as a valued native wildlife species of Montana. The bill also provides for the protection of private property for landowners who do not welcome wild bison.

For decades Montana has been squandering a national treasure by perpetuating a wild bison killing spree that has no basis in sound science nor any reasonable foundation whatsoever," said Buffalo Field Campaign spokesperson Stephany Seay. "It's time for sensible change; it's time to welcome wild bison back home to Montana."