Festivities of Natural Annual Events: Equal Length of Night and Day

March 18, 2014 by Categorized: Earthly Rites, Nature in the News.

F.N.A.E. articles are written with Ehoah phrases

Ehoah Phrases

Seasonal Occurrences

During the Borealis Equilux (this year on March 20) the equator is facing directly toward the sun, making the sun’s rays hit the two hemispheres equally causing equal lengths of day and night worldwide. At noon along the equatorial line virtually no shadows will be cast. Globally on this day, the point where the horizon crosses the sun’s disk is due east and west. Making it a good time to figure out landmarks that aid in direction throughout the year or building projects that are reliant on the sun’s rays.

Ehoah-Globus_Borealis-Equilux

For Borealis it will be going into longer days seeing the earth’s daily turning view of the sun higher and higher north; and for Australis there will be longer nights with the daily turning view of the sun lower along the north horizon. At the poles, it marks the start of the transition to 24 hours of nighttime in Australis and 24 hours of daylight in Borealis.

Global-Conditions_Borealis-EquiluxWhere the majority of earth’s population is (at and north of the Borealis Sol Axis with the addition of Southern & Western Europe) spring is coming into effect with new leaves and flowers coming in and wildlife either expecting or just receiving the next generation. The warmer regions will be bringing in their first harvest. Farther North of the Borealis Sol Axis and the other regions of Europe winter is dissipating, either just beginning its thaw or in full flow feeding the watercourses and water table.

For the Tropics, this is when the Tropical Rain Belt is beginning to reach the equator, moving toward the Borealis Sol Axis.

South of the equator it is overall getting darker, colder and the precipitation is lessening.

Seasonal Customs

In Borealis, most of the temperate climes are celebrating the beginnings of spring, where eggs are a common theme. For the warmer climes of Borealis, spring would be in full swing. Both climes have themes this time of year that celebrate life – particularly new life; and with the longest nights well behind, themes of a new day often symbolized as dawn. Because of these occurrences many regions regard this as a time for new beginnings, thereby it marks the New Year for their respective calendars.

Various activities around the time of Equilux include: Accepting the many experiences life holds in its many forms in dishes symbolically flavoured as different emotions; Bonfires and festivities on the full moon nearest Equilux; Decorating and splashing each other with bright colours; Acceptance of raucous and pranking behaviour; Getting outside for extended periods with camping and other outdoor recreational activities; Growing sprouts and starting harvest vegetation to plant; Dancing Egg; Martenitsa/Mărțișor; Courting customs and rituals by young adults to gain better chances at obtaining a spouse; House cleaning and symbolic rituals to shed away the darkness of winter, ‘evil’, or bad luck; as well as enacting rituals for fertile land and good harvest to come.
A growing custom that is well received is putting out loose fiber balls among the trees or other easily found places for birds to use in their nest building. For a festive touch these can be brightly coloured fibers or the loose shape made to look like a bird or other recognizable seasonal shape.

Not much is known of the seasonal festivities of Australis. What is known for this time of year is that it is the beginning of the kumara harvest in New Zealand. Karakia would be offered at dawn, and the first kumara dug were those that had been ritually planted as the first seeds in spring. These special tubers were cooked in a separate hangi and offered to Pani so that the tapu of Rongomatane, God of the cultivated crops, was laid to rest. With the rains receding from Australis, most regions partake in netting or trapping large amounts of fish to store for the months to come. In general, it is the main harvest season for Australis.

 

BOREALIS

CELEBRATION

GENERAL DATE

SPECIFIC DATE

CALENDAR

REGION OF ORIGIN

CULTURE

Holi

Early February – Late March

Full moon nearest Equilux (may vary depending on calendar used)

Indian national calendar and Older Regional Calendars

South Asia

Indian

Chahārshanbe-Sūri

Early March

Last Tuesday before Equilux

Zoroastrian calendar

Western Asia

Persian

Nowrūz, Kha b-Nisan

Late March

Equilux

Zoroastrian calendar, Solar Hijri calendar

Western Asia

Persian

Ostara, Alban Eilir

Late March

Equilux

Gregorian calendar

Wheel of the Year

Western Europe

German

Equilux

Late March

Equilux

Ehoah Year Wheel – Gavia, Borealis Kalendar

Global

Saegoah

Baba Marta

Early March

March 1st

Gregorian calendar

Eastern Europe

Bulgarian

Hōnen Matsuri

Mid March

March 15th

Gregorian calendar

East Asia

Japanese

Sham El Nessim

Late March to Early April

First Sunday after full Moon Following Equilux (originally on Equilux)

Gregorian calendar

North Africa

Egyptian

Ugadi, Gudi Padwa, Chaitti, Basoa

Late March to Early April

1st Day of Chaitra – Either Equilux or the first morning after the new moon after Equilux (may vary depending on calendar used)

Indian national calendar and Older Regional Calendars

South Asia

Indian

April Fools, poisson d’avril , prima aprilis, aprilsnar / Sizdah Bedar

Early April

April 1 / 13th day after Nowruz (Equilux)

Gregorian calendar /

Zoroastrian calendar, Solar Hijri calendar

Western Asia

Persian

 

 

AUSTRALIS

CELEBRATION

GENERAL DATE

SPECIFIC DATE

CALENDAR

REGION OF ORIGIN

CULTURE

Mabon, Alban Elfed

Late March

Equinox

Gregorian calendar

Wheel of the Year

Western Nations

Neopagan

Poututerangite Ngahuru

Late March

Equinox

unknown

Oceania

New Zealand / Maori

Equinox

Late March

Equinox

Ehoah Year Wheel – Sphenisci, Australis Kalendar

Global

Saegoah

 

GLOBUS
World Water Day – on March 22
International Day of Forests – on March 21
World Citizen Day – on March 20

For World Citizen Day, there is a related on going petition to the United Nations Ambassadors about achieving a globally recognized world passport #WorldPassport #WorldCitizen

 

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Poison in the Heart of the World

January 17, 2014 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News, Restorying the Sacred, Science & Spirit.

Blue Ridge Red Shift. Photo by Andrew Flenniken

I was born and raised, as the phrase goes, in the desultory tail end of the Appalachian mountain chain as it swings through north Georgia on its way to Alabama, and the twangy lilt of Appalachia persists in my voice through graduate school and nearly thirty years down from the mountains.  Since I reached adulthood, I have lived both in the rolling Piedmont and in the sandy-soiled, pine and palmetto strewn coastal plains, and spent most of my time in and around the buzzing, sprawling, urban tangle of Atlanta.  I’ve learned to love all of the places I’ve lived, sometimes with a bit of negotiation and difficulty.  But some part of my heart is full of a wild yonder, smoke-blue mountains rising to hazy blue distance.  I was a fleet feral barefoot child there, and a serious-minded poetic young girl.  Even when nobody else in the world understood me, the wind in the pine trees and the ancient worn-down ridges and peaks held serene. Whenever I go home to visit family, as soon as I can see those mountains, my heart lifts.

The Elk River is poisoned.  You may have heard.  It may seem far away, but rivers are long, and connect to other rivers.  The Elk flows into the Kanawha, which flows into the Ohio, which flows into the Mississippi, which flows into the Gulf…which has had more than enough crap dumped into it already.

Amicalola Falls. Photo by Andrew Flenniken

There is magic there, in those mountains.  Inherent in the woods and hollows, tumbling down the mountain sides, rising up like mist, but also in the people:  their songs and stories and ways, their yarbs and praying rocks, their burn-talking, water-dowsing, blood-stopping charms.  Things get remembered there that other people forget, until one day somebody wonders where that Child ballad or old-timey cure went and comes looking to find it, kept safe in the memory of the mountain and its folk.  It is not a coincidence that Faery, the most well-known “home grown American strain of religious witchcraft” as Ronald Hutton called it, has its roots in Appalachia.  If you have any love of such things, know that the tributaries of your knowledge have springheads in those hills.

The magic cannot be separated from the land.  You can put the knowledge in a book, perhaps, but that does not preserve it; once everything is gone but the dry pages, they only point to what is lost.  Magic is alive, as the mountains are alive, as we are alive. One of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth cloaks those mountains like a mantle woven from a million colors. Richness, true wealth, in the living breathing threads, wealth we barely comprehend because it seems so ordinary, precious beyond anything else we know or could tell.  Like the old ballads, we remain ignorant of its value, perhaps, until it is lost…except when a thing is finally gone from these mountains, the oldest in the world, it is gone forever.

The truth is, this latest calamity isn’t new.  It hasn’t been new in my lifetime…or in the last century.  That glory has been being slowly poisoned to death all this time.  In Night Comes to the Cumberlands, Harry Caudill chronicles the pattern of destruction and exploitation carried out all over the region:  First the trees, then the coal.  Starting in the late nineteenth century, the dense forests were razed; then, when mineral wealth was discovered under the now denuded ground, coal companies secured deeds to mineral rights with contracts that would cause Mephistopheles to blush with envy:

The broad-form deeds passed to the coal companies title to all coal, oil, and gas, and all “mineral and metallic substances and all combinations of the same.”  They authorized the grantees to excavate for the minerals, to build roads and structures on the land and to use the surface for any purpose “convenient or necessary” to the company and its successors in title. Their wordy covenants passed to the coal men the right to use as mining props the timber growing on the land, to divert and pollute the water and to cover the surface with toxic mining refuse. The landowner’s estate was made perpetually “servient” to the superior or “dominant” rights of the owner of the minerals. And, for good measure, a final clause absolved the mining company from all liability to the landowner for such damages as might be caused “directly or indirectly” by mining operations on his land.

…a single acre sometimes yielded fifteen or twenty thousand tons [of coal]….For this vast mineral wealth the mountaineer in most instances received a single half-dollar.

It is evident that the modern descendents of yesteryear’s coal men view this period as a golden age,  a time when they could plunder freely without any pesky environmental or safety regulations or indeed any legal restraints whatsoever. They are anxious for those days to return.  The usual defense is to explain at length how they have brought in jobs and industry; the benefits of their reign can be seen in that a hundred and twenty years later, after many many billions of dollars of mineral wealth have been extracted from the region, how well the descendants of those original landowners are doing.  Hardly an Appalachian child goes hungry, and poverty is a thing of the past.  Oh, wait…

How can this be?  How can the rest of America sit by complacently and watch this unfold, with barely a flicker of outrage?  Well, part of the reason is that we have been carefully taught that Appalachia is a worthless backwater, full of ignorant, racist, inbred, willfully impoverished, disposable people who aren’t worth listening to and can’t be saved.

Understand that this is a lie.  Understand that it is a lie that has legs because it serves the interests, not only of the rich and powerful, but of every person who benefits from cheap coal and natural gas.  This means you. If you live in the service area of a coal-burning plant…and you probably do…understand that people who look and sound like me die to keep your lights on.  You are complicit, but so am I.  We live in a world that shapes our choices, and only through a collective rebellion can we change that reality in a way that will do some good.  That’s why politics, rather than personal moral choice, is the answer to certain kinds of systemic problems.

But the hillbilly stereotype, like other kinds of prejudice, serves other motives as well.  It is classism, pure and simple, as well as the kind of cultural prejudice which is next door to racism, and like other “isms” serves a twofold purpose:  It punishes the exploited, disheartens them to keep them down and saps their will to fight, and it divides them from their potential allies. It gives those who might otherwise feel some solidarity or a modicum of guilt the ability to rationalize that “those people” deserve what they get.  Like Eric Waggoner and Zada Mae and Betsy Phillips and Byron Ballard, I have less patience with that:

“this country has a long history of believing every terrible thing it hears about Appalachia…”  — “The Hillbilly Backlash”  Betsy Phillips

“To hell with everyone who ever asked me how I could stand to live in a place like this, so dirty and unhealthy and uneducated. To hell with everyone who ever asked me why people don’t just leave, don’t just quit (and go to one of the other thousand jobs I suppose you imagine are widely available here), like it never occurred to us, like if only we dumb hilljacks would listen as you explained the safety hazards, we’d all suddenly recognize something that hadn’t been on our radar until now.”

- “I’m From West Virginia and I’ve Got Something to Say About the Chemical Spill”  Eric Waggoner

“The same progressives and liberals who would have us believe they care for the underprivileged and oppressed also like to point at the working class white people in WVA and use words like ‘redneck’ and ‘snuff dippers’ and ‘hillbilly’ to describe them.

Enough.  Enough.”

- “But what am I to do with all this fury, all this rage?”  Byron Ballard

Photo by Andrew Flenniken

Do you think the beauty of the mountains is somehow in ironic contrast to the ugliness and squalor of its human inhabitants, that they just somehow wound up there by happenstance and are as insensible to the complex living world around them as so many bumps on a log from a old-growth tree? Or are you willing to contemplate the idea that they are the descendents of people who chose to live in all that beauty despite the difficulty of making a living there, and that that could say something about who they are? that their enthusiastic preservation of oral storytelling and old ballads and music and arts of all kinds indicates a love of such things for their own sake? that their ingenuity and ability (not yet entirely lost) to make anything out of two sticks, a rock, and a piece of home-made string, or to cure sickness with weeds out of the yard, are due to an intimate knowledge of the environment which might be useful somehow? that you have been sold a bill of goods, about the region, about the people, about us?

I am not trying to romanticize the people of Appalachia, either; that’s just another trap. I am just saying that one of the answers to “If things are so bad there, why don’t you just move?” is “Because we love these mountains.” Another is, “To where?” This is not just a story about Appalachia, you understand. This is a story about everywhere.

A segment of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. Photo by Andrew Flenniken

To contribute to relief efforts aimed at some of the hardest hit, go here.

United Watersheds of America?

November 25, 2013 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News, Science & Spirit.

Last week, Reid Wilson published an article with the Washington Post outlining what the continental United States might look like if state lines had been drawn along watersheds instead of the various boundaries they have today. John Wesley Powell, a geologist and civil war veteran, proposed this very idea; unfortunately, he was outgunned by Cyrus Thomas and the railroad lobby, who stood to benefit greatly from the more artificial ways in which state boundaries are drawn today.

John Lavey and Cameron Davis of the Sonoran Institute. Click for larger version.

Click for larger version.

Enter John Lavey and Cameron Davis of the Sonoran Institute. Together they created a map that shows what the country might look like had Powell had his way, and posted it online this past September. Most current states would have very different boundaries; some major cities would be in different states. To be sure, it would be a change that would be incredibly costly and inconvenient for a while.

Even if this never comes to fruition, though, it’s worthwhile to think about the land not in the way of artificial lines and roads, but as delineated by its own contours and inhabitants of all sorts. It’s a reminder that we ourselves are far from the only force shaping and changing the earth, and that the winds, waters, and stones were here long before even our ancestors existed. Thinking of ourselves in bioregional terms–”bioregions” are often defined by watersheds–places us more firmly in the context of the rest of nature.

So, U.S. readers, what you do you think of your potential new state?

A Call for Urban Greening

October 17, 2013 by Categorized: Nature in the News, The Sacred in Suburbia.

A while back, I read this article on a community who came together to green a formerly filthy, crime-ridden alley in an impoverished neighborhood. Funded by a grant, one resident got the ball rolling on transforming the alley into a sustainable garden. This in turn invited other residents to participate, and eight years after the effort was begun the alley is now an urban oasis with loads of food-producing plants and flowers.

The top image shows an alley similar to that in the article prior to its overhaul. The bottom one shows the featured article as it is today. From the Daily Mail.

The top image shows an alley similar to that in the article prior to its overhaul. The bottom one shows the featured article as it is today. From the Daily Mail.

The effects have been pretty dramatic. Apart from the physical overhaul of the alley itself, the people living along it now feel more comfortable spending time outdoors among the green, growing things. Being outdoors has a number of psychological health benefits, and given that impoverished places are often disproportionately more likely to be affected by pollution and other environmental ills, it’s heartening to see this blossoming in a poorer area rather than being limited to a wealthy suburb.

Too often environmentalists look at cities as sources of evil. However, with the human population as high as it is, and unless and until we voluntarily lower it through better access to birth control and more education on overpopulation, we need to find greener ways to house and care for the people who are here. There are more people living in cities than in more rural areas, and this is unlikely to change. This is not a bad thing in and of itself. There are some definite environmental benefits to urban living.

For one thing, they take up less space than if all the people in them were living on several acres per family out in the middle of nowhere. My apartment complex takes up less than an acre of land, and yet there are several dozen people living here in a dozen apartments. There could be even more on this one plot of land if the building was more than two stories high. Building up, not out, is key to land preservation as the population remains as high as it is. And the less land we occupy per person, the more land there is for wildlife to roam unfettered.

Plus when we live closer together, with grocery stores and other resources close by, we use fewer fossil fuels to get from place to place. I grew up in a small town with no public transit, and everyone drove everywhere. Sometimes you’d have to drive to the next town over, or the next, to get what you needed. Here in Portland, I can walk to one of three grocery stores (if I want to walk a mile), along with a movie theater, several restaurants, a low-cost medical clinic, and stops for three major bus lines. If I’m not carrying anything heavy (like five bins of artwork and all my gridwall and other display materials, for example) I don’t even need the car my partner and I share.

But this also brings up another issue of inequity. I live in one of the nicer neighborhoods in Portland–nothing really fancy, but certainly not one of the marginalized slum areas. I don’t live in a food desert, and I live down the street from the community garden I have a plot at. I can live green because I am fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood that has the right resources for it, and I have an income that allows me to take advantage of some of these resources.

If we’re going to green the cities, then we need to not just limit it to the “nice” neighborhoods. I benefit from the fact that urban developers and corporations poured money into this neighborhood, but in the process they caused housing costs to rise and drove out poorer people. In the article I linked to above, it took one resident taking the initiative to get a grant and put in countless hours of cleanup to make any change occur. Even today, eight years later, the alleyway is still cared for by residents. And it’s still a poor neighborhood–at least unless gentrification occurs. The efforts to green impoverished neighborhoods are largely left to the residents themselves, and a few nonprofit endeavors.

Part of what frustrates me about the “back to the land” movement is that it can sometimes promote the abandonment of cities–and the people who stay behind in them. Not everyone is willing or, more importantly, able to live rurally. People with some physical disabilities, or who don’t have the money to move to a new place, or who lack the skills and resources to grow their own food, are all just a few examples of those who may be better off in the city. But these are not bad people who want to ruin the earth; they’re just as deserving of the opportunity to live greener and have healthier lives because of it.

And that’s why I love actions like those in the article above. It didn’t take much to completely change an entire small community. The amount of money it would take one family to buy a plot of land big enough to homestead on, plus all the resources and supplies necessary, could revitalize an entire urban neighborhood. And given that it was the efforts of one woman which sparked this change, imagine what a whole family could do–or, for that matter, all the pagans who daydream about going and buying “pagan land”.

Sometimes the solution isn’t to scrap everything and start anew. Perhaps it is more eco-friendly to make changes to the existing infrastructure–to apply reduce, reuse and recycle to our communities as well as our resources. What can you do in your community to green it for everyone?

Festivities of Natural Annual Events: Midway Solstice & Equinox

July 30, 2013 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Earthly Rites, Nature in the News.

 F.N.A.E. articles are written with Ehoah phrases

 Ehoah Phrases

What is Seasonally Occurring

During the transition between the Solstice and Equinox the northern hemisphere is tilting away from the sun. In Borealis the days are getting shorter, seeing the earth’s daily turning view of the sun lower on the southern horizon; for Australis the days are getting longer with the daily turning view of the sun becoming higher along the north horizon; The equator will be seeing the daily turning view of the sun closer to the center of the sky from the north.

Within the Borealis Polus Axis the view of the sun is sinking towards the horizon, and within the Australis polus Axis it is getting brighter.

South of the Borealis Polus Axis it is the beginning of harvest season and it is the warmest time of year.

For the Tropics, this is when the Tropical Rain Belt is at its most northern point in the year. In the Northern half of the Tropics monsoon season has begun where monsoons occur and it is the wettest time of year, getting the majority of their annual rain fall during this time. Hurricanes will also be increasing in frequency in the Atlantic. On the continent of Africa the rains on the Ethiopian and East African mountains would bring the flooding of the Nile to its peak this time of year* Many regions in the Borealis Tropics are beginning to sow their crops as a result of the fertility the floods bring and the much needed rains.

South of the equator it is the coldest time of year and the driest for most regions. Certain regions are having a second harvest or sowing.

GlobalConditions_Borealis-Transequinox

Seasonal Customs

In Borealis, most of the climes are celebrating the beginning of the harvest season. In particular the first grains and fruits of the year.

Various activities around this time of year include: Ceremoniously harvesting the first corn or sheath of grain, a blindfolded individual harvesting the last sheath of grain, going out for berry picking, bringing the various grains harvested as offerings to the local rivers, celebrating the fertility the monsoons bring with floating offerings of in season vegetation, sowing for second harvest, offerings of various sorts are tossed into water bodies to seek blessings from a deity, decorating selves with feathers moulted by birds this time of year for celebrating fledging from home and for attraction in courtship, giving heart shaped pastries from the first harvest of grain and fruit as a courtship offering, Handfastings and weddings, ceremonies of thanks for harvest of grains and fruit, feasting, fire baking bread, wine making, libations of said wine, and rituals to prevent wildfires.

In Australis,various activities in Australis include: well springs are visited, offerings made to spring and spring waters gathered for use as blessings, bonfires, preparing materials to be used for celebrations in the coming year, greeting cards with hidden messages sent to loved ones, having a clue based treasure hunt, crafting gifts for babies yet to arrive in late spring and expecting parents, house cleaning and house warming parties.

BOREALIS

CELEBRATION

GENERAL DATE

SPECIFIC DATE

CALENDAR

REGION OF ORIGIN

CULTURE

Wafaa El-Nil

Early August

August 15th

Egyptian calendar

North Africa

Egyptian

Transequinox

Early August

August 5th/6th

Ehoah Year Wheel – Gavia, Borealis Kalendar

Earth

Saegoah

Lammas/Lughnasadh

Early August

July 30th / 31st, August 1st

Gregorian calendar

Wheel of the Year

North Western Europe

Celtic

Aadi Perukku

Early August

August 2nd/3rd

Tamil Calendar

South Asia

Tamil

Vinalia rustica

Late August

August 19th

Roman Calendar

Southern Europe

Roman

Vulcanalia

Late August

August 23rd

Roman Calendar

Southern Europe

Roman

Opiconsivia

Late August

August 25th

Roman Calendar

Southern Europe

Roman

AUSTRALIS

CELEBRATION

GENERAL DATE

SPECIFIC DATE

CALENDAR

REGION OF ORIGIN

CULTURE

Imbolc

Early August

August 1st / 2nd

Gregorian calendar

Wheel of the Year

North Western Europe

Celtic

Transequilux

Early August

August 5th/6th

Ehoah Year Wheel – Sphenisci, Australis Kalendar

Earth

Saegoah

*In 1970, the High Dam at Aswan was built and the flooding of the Nile stopped down stream. Those farther north no longer have the silt from the flooding to farm on and now bring in fertilizers.

This year has seen monsoons and rains that have been the heaviest since recordings began, breaking many records and causing great infrastructure damage. (search Alberta, Toronto, and India Flood)

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Guest Post: The Land Wights Do Not Like Your Fourth of July Fireworks

July 12, 2013 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News.

By Jennifer Lawrence

Wisdom is something that comes very slowly to humans, as a rule, and this is all the more obvious in connection with the environment. By and large, the majority of humanity sees the world, its resources, and attendant living plants and animals as a resource to be exploited rather than our partners and roommates on the planet. When it comes to wisdom, one of the maxims that we accept theoretically but have trouble applying practically is “Just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should do it.”

This past week in the United States saw the celebration of the country’s Independence Day, where we ritualize the anniversary of gaining our freedom from the country that formerly claimed possession of this corner of the world, as well as the unjust ruler of that country. Independence is a fine thing, when celebrated thoughtfully and appropriately. Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, there is very little thought of independence, or of our ancestors who fought to achieve our freedom from England. Instead, Independence Day has devolved into another sort of celebration entirely, which we call the “Fourth of July”, and all too often, we celebrate it in ways that have nothing to do with wisdom.

The state where I live, Indiana, is known mostly as a rural area, part of the country’s heartland and breadbasket, where food is raised — both plant and animal — to help feed us. The jobs from those industries help support many fine people. And the land that raises that food, both on a large and small scale, is home to many spirits, equally large and small, who are far more intimately bound up with the land than we are with our celebrations.

Indiana also happens to be one of the states where it is legal for anyone over the age of 18 to buy and set off fireworks. There is a fairly large cottage industry set up in my part of the state (and others, too, I imagine), with a number of franchises setting up shops to sell a huge variety of firecrackers, sparklers, fireworks, and similar entertainments at various locations. Many of these shops are set up right next to the off-ramps of the interstates where buyers come from Illinois, where fireworks are illegal to purchase.

Fireworks are one of those inventions that started with components found in nature — sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (or, as the last two are most commonly found in nature, burnt wood and bat guano) — that were combined in a specific proportion by humans to create something utterly outside of nature. The earliest known historical mention of gunpowder is in an 11th century Chinese text (although they were believed to use it as far back as the 7th century), and the Chinese used it for both fireworks and weaponry. Its use spread across the world until there are very few places these days where one can’t find it used for either purpose.

Our use of fireworks in the United States dates back before the War of Independence itself; the use of them to celebrate the Fourth of July dates back to the very first Independence Day in 1777.

And that’s how long we’ve been poisoning the land, its attendant creatures and plants, and the spirits of the land, with the debris from our pretty light shows.

Entirely aside from the human injuries caused every year by fireworks (of which there were several awful examples this year, most notably the incident in Simi Valley, California), it’s long been established that the larger physical debris from fireworks — cardboard tubes and end caps, bamboo sticks, leftover wires from sparklers — can hurt or even kill animals via ingestion and accident. This harm doesn’t stop with birds or fish, but spreads throughout the ecosystem of a surrounding area, including not just wild animals but outdoors companion animals and livestock such as cattle, swine, horses, sheep, and goats, as well.

But the damage from those pretty lights doesn’t stop there. Whenever a firework bursts — whether it’s Joe Average’s Roman candle or the larger 1.3G fireworks that cities use to put on their long Fourth of July celebrations — it releases a bouquet of chemicals and smoke into the air as it ignites and burns. The smoke is bad enough, and has been known to measurably increase particulate air pollution with the residue of the spent gunpowder, but such blasts also contribute to other pollutants entering the air, water, and land. The pretty colors seen in most fireworks are created by adding heavy metal particulates such as copper (blue), barium (greens), lithium and strontium (reds), and yellows (sodium) to the gunpowder in the rockets. These chemicals, which generally enter the atmosphere at low levels (in most cases, much lower than airplanes are cleared to fly at), can contribute to asthma and other respiratory illnesses in humans. The effects of the chemicals on animals is not well-documented, but it would seem likely to have just as severe an effect on them — or possibly worse.

Nor is that damage restricted to animals, or solely to inhaled particulate. After every Fourth of July, I usually spend two weeks picking fireworks debris out of my many gardens. The plastic, which is non-biodegradable, is bad enough, but easy to pick up; the cardboard fragments from tubes and end caps is worse; being in close proximity to the gunpowder and chemicals, they are usually liberally coated with residue, which washes into the soil when any water — be it rain or watering the garden — hits it. The cardboard, if left uncollected, eventually breaks down and joins the soil, carrying a large dose of residue impregnated into its bulk into the soil with it.

Airborne residue also drifts down in the wake of the fireworks explosions to cover every plant, clogging the openings on top of the leaves, called stoma, which the plant needs to take in carbon dioxide and expel oxygen. Without those openings, gas exchange in the plants lags and slows, and may be stop entirely, killing the plants, if most or all of the plant’s stomates are completely clogged. Although the stomates of some plants are on the undersides, rather than the tops, of the leaves, and some plants — mostly aquatic ones — lack stomates at all, windborne residue can coat the undersides of leaves as well, and poison the water where aquatic plants dwell, being drawn up into the plants’ cellular structures by their roots.

It is not unthinkable to believe that what affects living plants and animals (and people, as we are just as much a part of our ecosystem as they are) affects the spirits of the land, as well. Whether you call them totems, wights, dryads and nymphs, or aos sí, the land’s spirits must feel the pain we cause to its living inhabitants in much the same way a mother feels the pain that harms her children. The idea that garbage in any form damages the land itself on a spiritual level is not a new one, but it is easier to overlook the damage done by something “pretty” than it is to ignore a huge pile of plastic water bottles and aluminum beer cans at the beach, or discarded fast-food garbage, or the hulks of rusting, abandoned cars. There are ways to celebrate Independence Day that don’t involve doing damage to the natural world around us, nor needlessly spend large amounts of money that could be put to better use trying to help save the environment rather than destroy it, and pagans, who claim to revere the land and esteem their connections with it, should be seeking out those ways rather than using fireworks or supporting fireworks shows. Planting trees, picking up garbage, or donating to environmental causes on the Fourth are all ways of showing one’s pride in one’s country, and the sacrifices our ancestors made to earn our freedom, than defiling the land that they fought for.

And the spirits of the land would doubtlessly agree.

Bio: Jennifer Lawrence is a multi-trad polytheist with deep roots to the Midwest, where she was born, grew up, and spent most of her life. Trained in herbalism by her mother and maternal grandmother, her interest in the magical and medicinal properties of plants led to a deeper engagement with all of the natural world. An avid gardener, wildcrafter, and naturalist, she spends her free time writing poetry, hiking in the woods, playing with her cats, honoring her ancestors, and worshipping the gods and nature spirits. She works as an office manager for a major corporation and as an editor for a pagan-owned publishing company. She is a member of ADF, the Troth, Ord Brigideach, and Hellenion.

A Call to Hope

July 1, 2013 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Natural Reflections, Nature in the News.

tumblr_mnablbhB4P1sr22dlo1_500A while back on Tumblr, I reblogged a picture of a mountain forest with the words “No humans. No chaos.” on it. The implication seemed to be that humans are the sole source of chaos and disorder and other bad things. I criticized this in my reblog, pointing out that there’s plenty of chaos in nature. Volcanoes, earthquakes, tectonic uplift, forest fires, floods, plagues of locusts, roaming packs of wolves—these and many more forces of nature can wreak varying degrees of havoc on an ecosystem and its inhabitants. Even evolution, traceable as it is, grows through random mutations, not deliberate changes. In fact, some people define “nature” as the disordered and chaotic parts of the world not entirely brought to heel by human hands.

The problem with that last definition is that it still sets humanity apart from the rest of nature, which promotes some very unhealthy attitudes and behaviors. I feel the point’s been belabored more than enough that humanity has changed the world in some very drastic and sometimes irrevocable ways; we’ve castigated ourselves as a species to the point of counterproductivity. As has been pointed out, if all we focus on is the negative then it breeds hopelessness and, in turn, inaction. A person who is constantly told they’re bad for the environment is more likely to avoid the environment and care less for it, and thereby become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Pictures like the one above just perpetuate the problem. The person who put it together probably wants the world to be a more eco-friendly place, but they’ve sabotaged their own efforts by relying on distancing and guilt rather than encouragement and inclusion. They’re berating their audience.

We need alternatives to that guilt and negative focus. One of the reasons I love Richard Louv’s writings so much is that he brings hope to the table. We focus so much on the dire predictions of a dystopic future that we’ve forgotten to imagine what could be instead. In his book The Nature Principle, he includes an essay, “Imagine a Newer World”, in which he describes the sort of world he’d like to see:

We seek a newer world where we not only conserve nature but create it where we live, work, learn, and play. Where yards and open spaces are alive with native species. Where bird migration routes are healed by human care. Where wildlife corridors in every city serve as the bronchial and arterial passageways of life and meaning. Where not only public land but private property, voluntarily, garden to garden to garden, is transformed, by us, into butterfly zones and then, across the country, into a homegrown national park. Where neighbors use land trust law to create their own button parks—small enough to sew on themselves. Where cities become incubators of biodiversity. (Louv, 2012, p. 321.)

And on and on he goes, weaving even more images of a hopeful future. Neither does he smash it down with “Well, it’s going to be difficult to make it this way, and here’s what’s stopping us”. He has spent part of the book outlining concrete things that people have done to increase sustainability, and this gives these efforts even more direction. What he does, in fact, is give us the opportunity to let our imaginations run unfettered by the “mustn’ts, don’t, and impossibles”, as per Shel Silverstein. We need that hope. We need hope that isn’t immediately followed by “Well, but that can’t happen” or “It’s too late to change things”. We need to have something besides discouragement over actions that are deemed too small and ineffective. We need to celebrate even our tiniest victories, because they give us the strength to do more.

That means breaking ourselves of the tendency to only view ourselves as agents of “bad things” and our seeming desire to keep all humanity out of the rest of nature. It means accepting that we are natural beings and we do have a place in our ecosystems. A sense of belonging breeds a sense of responsibility, and we need to invite everyone in. We all deserve to take part in, and give strength to, hope.

Update on Coal and the Columbia

April 15, 2013 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News.

Back in November I wrote a post about some of the challenges facing the Columbia River, to include the threat of coal transport through the Gorge. There have been a few updates since then, so I thought I’d pass them along here.

First, a bit of good news: the Port of Coos Bay, one of five proposed export points for coal that would have gone through the Gorge, ended the proposal after a year and a half of work and debate. If it had passed, it would have allowed trains a mile long to haul coal through the Gorge as well as through urban areas like Portland and Salem. This may not seem like such a big deal, but as was discussed at the meeting I attended last November, due to the potential for coal dust to explode from sparks caused by friction, the coal cars have to remain uncovered.

The only dust prevention is a chemical surfactant sprayed on the coal–which, of course, also ends up polluting the areas around the railroad, and even then it doesn’t prevent all the dust from flying away because the surfactant will split if jostled too much. This means that the trains would leave a trail of coal dust wherever they went–and we’ve already seen the negative impact that’s had over on the Washington side of the Columbia, where coal trains have left dust in the water and on the ground as well as in the air. The Sierra Club plans to sue six coal companies and BNSF railroad, who transports their coal, for violating the Clean Water Act.

The protest against coal is having an effect: a coal mine in Wyoming has ceased operations due in part to lack of transport to the Pacific. In case anyone is concerned about the local economy and jobs, there’s a wind farm just up the ridge from the mine that has 80 windmills providing cleaner energy not from fossil fuels. If coal continues to diminish as a commodity as it has been, perhaps its empty niches will be filled by more sustainable options. It’s already happening in the Pacific Northwest.

There’s still work to be done, though. Every time a coal train derails, there’s a mess left behind. In the U.S. alone, there have been thirty derailments in the past year, over a third of those since 2013 began.

I’ll keep you folks posted on news as I get it. In the meantime, if you’re absolutely craving news about the Columbia River, you can read about my adventures in keeping my little adopted stretch of it clean over at Therioshamanism. For those wanting to response with a bit of slacktivism, here’s a petition asking Interior Secretary Jewell to stop the federal coal leasing program. And, of course, if you can, cut down on your consumption of energy, especially fossil fuel energy. If you’re a Portland General customer, for example, there are a few options for switching your electricity to greener sources; I swapped mine out in the fall, and my winter electric bills were barely higher than last year even living in the same place. Seattle also has similar programs, including a neat-looking solar community program. Check with your local utility provider to see if there are green options available.

Festivities of Natural Annual Events: Equal Length of Night & Day

March 19, 2013 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Earthly Rites, Natural Reflections, Nature in the News.

F.N.A.E. articles are written with Ehoah phrases

What is Seasonally Occurring
During the Borealis Equilux (this year on March 20) the equator is facing directly toward the sun, making the sun’s rays hit the two hemispheres equally causing equal lengths of day and night worldwide. At noon along the equatorial line virtually no shadows will be cast. Globally on this day, the point where the horizon crosses the sun’s disk is due east and west. Making it a good time to figure out landmarks that aid in direction throughout the year or building projects that are reliant on the sun’s rays.

Ehoah-Globus_Borealis-Equilux

IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons – Modified, Northward Equinox

For Borealis it will be going into longer days seeing the earth’s daily turning view of the sun higher and higher north; and for Australis there will be longer nights with the daily turning view of the sun lower along the north horizon. At the poles, it marks the start of the transition from 24 hours of nighttime to 24 hours of daylight in Borealis, and vice versa in Australis.

Global-Conditions_Borealis-Equilux

IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons – Modified, World Average Air Temp. & World Precipitation Levels

 

Where the majority of earth’s population is (at and north of the Borealis Sol Axis – Tropic of Cancer with the addition of Southern & Western Europe) spring is in full effect with new leaves and flowers coming in and wildlife either expecting or just receiving the next generation. Farther North of the Borealis Sol Axis and the other regions of Europe winter is dissipating, either just beginning its thaw or in full flow feeding the watercourses and watertable.

For the Tropics, this is when the Tropical Rain Belt is beginning to reach the equator, moving toward the Borealis Sol Axis

South of the equator it is overall getting darker, colder and the precipitation is lessening.

What are The Seasonal Customs

In Borealis, most of the temperate climes are celebrating the beginnings of spring, where eggs are a common theme. For the warmer climes of Borealis, spring is in full effect with winter as history. Both climes have themes this time of year that celebrate life – particularly new life; and with the longest nights well behind, themes of a new day often symbolized as dawn. Because of these occurrences many regions regard this as a time for new beginnings, thereby it marks the New Year for their respective calendars.

Various celebrations around the time of Equilux include: Accepting the many experiences life holds in its many forms in dishes symbolically flavoured as different emotions; Bonfires and festivities on the full moon nearest Equilux; Decorating and splashing each other with bright colours; Acceptance of raucous and pranking behaviour; Getting outside for extended periods with camping and other outdoor recreational activities; Egg Painting; Growing sprouts and starting harvest vegetation to plant; Courting customs and rituals by young adults to gain better chances at obtaining a spouse; House cleaning and symbolic rituals to shed away the darkness of winter, ‘evil’, or bad luck; as well as enacting rituals for fertile land and good harvest to come.

A growing custom that is well received is putting out loose fiber balls among the trees or other easily found places for birds to use in their nest building. For a festive touch these can be brightly coloured fibers or the loose shape made to look like a bird or other recognizable seasonal shape.

Not much is known of the seasonal festivities of Australis due to it being heavily Christianized – with old traditions being mostly abolished and replaced with Christian festivities done at the same time as done in Borealis even though it is out of season. Depending on the climate of each region it can be assumed that most harvesting is done around this time of year and has potential for light ceremonies and festivals in response to the growing dark. There are some earth based traditions that have taken root in Australis that accommodate for seasonal celebrations. Two of which are referred to in the Australis Chart. If there are any other known seasonal festivities that are in Australis, please comment below so they can be accounted for.

 

BOREALIS

CELEBRATION

GENERAL DATE

SPECIFIC DATE

CALENDAR

REGION OF ORIGIN

CULTURE

Holi

Early February – Late March

Full moon nearest Equilux (may vary depending on calendar used)

Indian national calendar and Older Regional Calendars

South Asia

Indian

Chahārshanbe-Sūri

Early March

Last Tuesday before Equilux

Zoroastrian calendar

Western Asia

Persian

Nowrūz

Late March

Equilux

Zoroastrian calendar, Solar Hijri calendar

Western Asia

Persian

Ostara, Alban Eilir

Late March

Equilux

Gregorian calendar

Wheel of the Year

Western Europe

German

Equilux

Late March

Equilux

Ehoah Year Wheel – Gavia, Borealis Kalendar

Earth

Saegoah

Sham El Nessim

Late March to Early April

First Sunday after full Moon Following Equilux (originally on Equilux)

Gregorian calendar

North Africa

Egyptian

Ugadi, Gudi Padwa, Chaitti, Basoa

Late March to Early April

1st Day of Chaitra – Either Equilux or the first morning after the new moon after Equilux (may vary depending on calendar used)

Indian national calendar and Older Regional Calendars

South Asia

Indian

April Fools, poisson d’avril, prima aprilis, aprilsnar / Sizdah Bedar

Early April

April 1 / 13th day after Nowruz (Equilux)

Gregorian calendar /

Zoroastrian calendar, Solar Hijri calendar

Western Asia

Persian

 

AUSTRALIS

CELEBRATION

GENERAL DATE

SPECIFIC DATE

CALENDAR

REGION OF ORIGIN

CULTURE

Mabon, Alban Elfed

Late March

Equinox

Gregorian calendar

Wheel of the Year

Western Nations

Neopagan

Equinox

Late March

Equinox

Ehoah Year Wheel – Sphenisci, Australis Kalendar

Earth

Saegoah

 

GLOBUS

World Water Day – on March 22

International Day of Forests – on March 21

World Citizen Day – on March 20

For World Citizen Day, there is a related on going petition to the United Nations Ambassadors about achieving a globally recognized world passport #WorldPassport #WorldCitizen

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Guest Post: Sighthill Stone Circle Urgently Needs Help

March 18, 2013 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

By Duncan Lunan

Sighthill Stone Circle 1The first astronomically aligned stone circle in the UK for over 3500 years was built in
Sighthill Park in Glasgow, in 1979. It began as a Jobs Creation project in 1977 with the brief
to build a copy of an ancient site, either Stonehenge or Callanish, out of modern materials, in
one of the city’s parks.

In that form it attracted no applicants, and when I was asked to become Project Manager
in 1978, the first thing I had to do was convince the Parks Department and the Manpower
Services Commission that it wouldn’t work as described. The layout of each ancient site is
specific to its latitude and to its local skyline; furthermore the rising and setting positions of
the Sun and Moon at significant times have altered, because the tilt of the Earth’s axis has
lessened by half a degree since the Neolithic era, and the rising and setting positions of the
stars have altered still more due to Precession of the Equinoxes.

To create a monument which would work in the present day I would have to find a suitable
site and design a structure according to ancient principles. Having won that battle, I then
argued that we should go the whole mile and build it in stone, making it a tribute to Professor
Alexander Thom, Dr. Archie Thom, Dr. (later Prof.) Archie Roy, and Dr. Euan MacKie,
all experts in archaeoastronomy who were prominent staff members of Glasgow University.
Sadly, only Dr. MacKie is still with us, Archie Roy having died in December 2012.

The Principal Landscape Architect for the city gave me a choice of eighteen possible sites,
and by far the best for astronomical alignments on a clear skyline was the newly designated
Sighthill Park, on the Broomhill overlooking the M8 motorway and due north of the city
centre. Historically it was almost ideal. Glasgow Cathedral to the southeast was built on an
ancient Neolithic site, and in the 18th century when the Broomhill, Summerhill and Sighthill
were a huge dairy farm, the drover’s road called ‘Dobbie’s Loan’ still ran from the Cathedral
to the base of the Summerhill pointing straight to midsummer sunset. Summer Solstice fairs
were held on the Summerhill until stopped by the church in the 17th century, and from the
Summerhill, the midsummer Sun rose over the Sighthill. Dobbie’s Loan then ran westward
towards Byres Road, not surprisingly, but projected west, the line meets the river Clyde
at Knappers (as in flint-knappers) in Clydebank, where a huge Neolithic complex was
excavated in the 1930s.

Soon after finding the site I was joined on the Project by the late John Braithwaite, afterwards
Scotland’s only maker of astronomical telescopes until his untimely death in February 2012;
and Gavin Roberts, now Principal Teacher of Art at Airdrie Academy, who documented
everything from then on photographically. The story of the circle’s design and construction
is told in our book, “The Stones and the Stars, Building Scotland’s Newest Megalith”,
published by Springer in November 2012.

The whinstones for the circle came from Beltmoss Quarry in Kilsyth (known as the Back
of the Hill Quarry, it was the last one in Scotland still using black powder). On Professor
Thom’s advice the largest stones were allocated to the lunar alignments, marking the
Moon’s most northerly and southerly rising and setting points every 18.61 years at the
Major Standstill, and the corresponding ones 9.3 years later at the Minor Standstill. As the
prehistoric stone circles were built with the highest technology available we felt we should
do the same, and the solar stones and star stones were flown in by Royal Navy Sea King
helicopter, at the spring equinox of 1979, starting with the midsummer sunrise stone and
proceeding sunwise around the circle. Local schools were given the morning off and the
operation was watched by hundreds of cheering children, with Professor Thom in pride of
place among them. Appropriately, from inception to that point had taken just a year and a
day.

As a goodwill gesture the quarry had denoted five spare stones, and one of those was needed
because one of the bigger ones broke during transport into Glasgow. John Braithwaite and I
proposed a phase 2 in which two of the remainder would be used to mark sunrise and sunset
at the equinoxes, and the other two would support an explanatory plaque, saying what the
circle was, to whom it was dedicated and how it works. Within days of completing phase
1, however, the project was denounced by the newly elected Conservative government, and
work on it was stopped. The circle wasn’t landscaped into the park until 1982, and then the
plans were misread and the stones were partly buried, while the last four stones lie unused
nearby to this day, and there’s nothing to tell anyone what it is or what it’s for.

Sighthill Stone Circle 2That hasn’t prevented astronomical observations being made, and the solar events, the Major
Standstill lunar ones and the rising of Rigel have all now been documented on site. The
Rigel alignment is intended to date the circle for future archaeoastronomers, and a similar
alignment for 1800 BC is to show that we understand what the ancient builders knew. Had
the calculated alignments been perfect, not much would have been learned, but because they
aren’t (due for instance to increased atmospheric refraction over the city), it’s possible to
demonstrate that the ancient builders could have achieved the accuracies which are claimed
for them, by naked-eye observations alone.

In 2001 a project was started to regrade and complete the circle, and funding for it was
initially agreed with the City Council, then postponed and finally cancelled. Interest began
to grow again in 2010, however, and with the book about to be published at last, there were
growing hopes towards the end of 2012. On November 26th, however, my wife and I were
called to a meeting with Development and Regeneration Services, to be told that the circle
would be demolished almost immediately, to test the ground for possible contamination, in
order to show that Glasgow was serious about bidding for the 2018 Youth Olympics.

A petition was raised by our friend Mandy Collins and has gained nearly 3300 signatures
at the moment of writing, plus another 600 supporters on Facebook, while media backing
for the campaign has been excellent and it has cross-party political support. It has become
clear that the circle means a great deal to a great many people, for various reasons including
spiritual ones, and in particular that the Pagan and Druid communities have been using it

for private and ceremonial purposes, even though that wasn’t part of the original intention.
My wife Linda has now started her own ALL Seed Group, which uses the Stone Circle for

meetings and rituals on occasion (http://www.anluchtlonrach.net/seed.asp).

The issues concerning contamination have now become somewhat clearer: there was a
chemical factory on the site in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, and although the
ground was tested and pronounced clear in 1978-79, preliminary soil samples indicate that
below the circle’s foundations there is ‘made ground’ which may well be contaminated. If
the area is to be redeveloped, clearing that will require the destruction of the park. The new
object of the campaign is to ensure, if we can, that the circle is retained or replaced in its
present location at the end of that process.

Linda and I remain very grateful for all the support we’ve had hitherto. To back the
campaign, please go the website, www.sighthillstonecircle.com, and sign the petition
under ‘Save Our Stones’. Letters to Glasgow City Council would also be helpful. For any
enquiries please contact me on duncanlunan@talktalk.net.

________

Duncan Lunan is an M.A. with Honours in English and Philosophy plus Physics, Astronomy
and French, and has a postgraduate Diploma in Education. A full-time author and speaker
with emphasis on astronomy, spaceflight and science fiction, his books to date are “Man
and the Stars”, “New Worlds for Old”, “Man and the Planets”, “Starfield” (edited), “With
Time Comes Concord” and “Children from the Sky”. “The Stones and the Stars, Building
Scotland’s Newest Megalith” was published by Springer in November 2012. He has
contributed to 23 other books and published over 820 articles and 33 short stories. As
Manager of the Glasgow Parks Dept. Astronomy Project, 1978-79, he designed and built the
first astronomically aligned stone circle in Britain for over 3000 years, described in “The
Stones and the Stars”.

Duncan was a Curator of Airdrie Public Observatory for 18 years, and in 2006-2009 he ran
an educational outreach project from the Observatory to schools, funded by the National
Lottery. His other interests include ancient and mediaeval history, jazz, folk music and
hillwalking. After 30 years in Glasgow he recently returned to his home town of Troon,
Ayrshire, where he lives with his wife Linda.

Religion, Spirituality and Earth Stewardship

March 5, 2013 by Categorized: Natural Reflections, Nature in the News.

Last month, Slate featured an interview with Dekila Chungyalpa, the founder and director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Sacred Earth program. In it, Chungyalpa explains how religious leaders can use their influence to encourage their communities to be better stewards of the environment. This may seem like an odd bailiwick for religion, but belief can have a strong impact on a community. This gives religious leaders a great deal of responsibility, both toward their congregations, and toward those beings and places that may be affected by the people.

Some of this is achieved through communication with the community. Religious leaders in Africa stood together against the poaching of critically endangered wildlife. Not only did these individual people choose to make this stand, but they took these ideas back to their congregations and communities. Beyond Africa, Chungyalpa stated that the WWF has been partnering with religious leaders in parts of Asia where the demand for rhino horn and other black market animal parts for medicine is high. Not only has this involved promoting the protection of wildlife in and of themselves, but also educating people about why these folk remedies are ineffective, and how to get medicines that actually work.

Modeling is another effective tactic. Himalayan Buddhist monasteries have been creating organic gardens, adopting solar power, and actively educating their communities. There and in India monks have planted trees and cleaned up rivers, and in Nepal they’ve created recycling programs. Again, people who look up to these monks for inspiration see what they do, and may be inspired to adopt these greener practices themselves.

But it’s not just in Africa and Asia where religious leaders can have an impact for the better. Christianity, the dominant religion in much of the Western world, is often associated with Genesis 1:26, where it is said that humanity shall have dominion over the Earth, an attitude that has often been used as an excuse to pollute and destroy with impunity. Add to that the idea that this world is flawed, and that more care should be taken in preparing for the next one, and you have a tradition of environmental degradation excused by religion. But that’s just part of the story. For one thing, industry and the linear concept of “progress” have been even more instrumental in environmental destruction than Christian doctrine, so we can’t just pin it all on the Church and go from there.

For another thing, holy writ is constantly being reinterpreted. Think the Bible is just a tool for “dominion”? There’s The Green Bible, a companion to the Bible that helps readers look at the scripture in a more eco-friendly manner. Books specific to particular Christian denominations exist, too; Care For Creation explores a Catholic approach to environmentalism, as just one example. This follows a growing trend for individual congregations and even entire denominations to move toward more sustainable ideals. In 2006 the Presbyterian Church passed a resolution encouraging members to aspire toward carbon neutrality. Earlier, in 1989, the Episcopalian Church founded the Episcopal Ecological Network, which helps members to be more caring of God’s creation and demonstrate why this is an integral part of religious practice.

This all may seem like old news to many neopagans who consider themselves to be part of nature-based spiritual paths. In fact, if you’ll forgive the pun, for you regular readers of No Unsacred Place it very well may feel like I’m preaching to the choir here. But we often take our community’s environmental proclivities for granted, especially those of us who are in a sort of ecological echo chamber where everyone’s passing around the same Care2 action alerts and news about the newest oil spill or mountaintop removal.

Part of this is because neopaganism is fairly anti-authoritarian. We don’t have centralized religious hubs–Witchvox has been a pretty fantastic resource for many years, and well-established festivals like PSG and PantheaCon are valuable for community-building, but they’re no Vatican City. We don’t have popes, and our clergy largely serve small groups and individuals, not mega-circles with hundreds of congregants every Sunday. To become a Big Name Pagan, you start by writing a good book, and then you get a lot of people to read it and talk about it, and you teach classes and workshops and go to festivals, but there’s no point at which someone hands you a funny hat and a title and suddenly that means you’ve made it.

This means that dissent and debate over things like environmentalism within pagan beliefs and practices (and whether paganisms are nature religions by default or not) happens among the people, not just the leadership (such as it is). It’s not as though people in other religions never, ever question their leaders; quite the contrary. But there’s more likely to be an adherence to a congregation’s group mentality in the main religions of the world, even with personal differences. Pagans, on the other hand, tend to form our beliefs individually and then come together to compare notes (and argue, if we so choose).

The end result is that there is no single “pagan way of belief” when it comes to environmentalism. We run the gamut from pagans who feel their religion has absolutely nothing to do with activism and earth-friendly practices, to those for whom sustainability and activism are the framework of their belief systems. Neither of these extremes is wrong, and neither is more truly pagan than the other. If you can say one thing about the people under the broad umbrella of “paganism”, it’s that we’re a rather diverse lot.

What’s most important in all this isn’t necessarily how ideas and information are disseminated, but the fact that they’re disseminated at all. Whether through the preacher speaking of compassion to a Sunday congregation, or a pagan workshop leader having a round-table discussion at a festival, people have the ability to use the connections forged in common beliefs to further discussion about environmental issues and to encourage each other to be kinder to the Earth. We seek religious communities to have mutual support in what we believe, and to have a social setting in which we can be open about what has meaning to us. These things can foster some very strong connections in a group of people, not just negative examples like brainwashing and cult behavior, but education and discussion and consideration.

I don’t feel that the leaders of other religions who go and encourage their spiritual communities to be more eco-friendly are trying to force these ways on others. They seem to be working largely through example, which is a far more effective teaching tool than “do as I say, no matter what I do”. I feel that’s a very important lesson for us to take away as pagans. Because we are so diverse and because so many of our communities (particularly online) are based in discussion rather than action, often we do fall prey to too much argument and “trying to be right on the internet”. What I would love to see is more demonstrating and modeling, and people expressing when they’ve learned through these things instead of just taking it for granted that everyone knows.

Part of why I write about my own personal environmental activities here and on my personal blog (among other places) is because I want to show rather than just tell. I’ve had people take up gardening because I write about my adventures in trying to grow tomatoes over on Livejournal. I know of at least one small group of pagans who have been inspired to adopt a waterway because I write about my adoption of a bit of the Columbia River shoreline. And in turn I’ve been inspired by a number of pagans and other folk throughout the years. Just three of many examples include James Endredy and his eco-centric approach to shamanic practice, Starhawk’s many years of environmental and other activism, and Ravenari’s deep connection to the wild desert places in her home of Western Australia.

None of these people had to shove it down my throat. They simply existed, and walked their paths, and that was enough to inspire me. And I think that’s where a lot of the work of eco-activists in other religions is going, too. The most effective way to get people to change is to let them change at their own pace. We can work to raise awareness and change laws, but in the end a person has to make a decision for themselves, and nothing can take the place of that choice.

What do you think of all this, dear readers? Where do you feel religion overlaps with environmental awareness and action, if at all? How important and effective are the activities of the WWF’s Sacred Earth program and other initiatives, as well as the work of individuals, both avowed activists and otherwise?

Festivities of Natural Annual Events: Midway Solstice & Equinox

February 1, 2013 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Earthly Rites, Nature in the News.

For the duration of this article and others by me (Rua Lupa) I’ll refer to the Hemispheres, Solstices, Equinoxes, and Cross Quarters by the Ehoah associated names for two reasons, 1) It is what I am familiar with and 2) It takes a lot less words, so it summarizes nicely.

Legend of Ehoah Phrases

Borealis (Northern Hemisphere),

Australis (Southern Hemisphere),

Equilux (‘Equal Light’ – Vernal Equinox)

Translux (‘Transition to Light’ – midway vernal equinox and summer solstice)

Lux (‘Light/Day’ – Summer Solstice),

Transequinox (‘Transition to Equal Dark’ – midway summer solstice and autumnal equinox)

Equinox (‘Equal Dark’ – Autumnal Equinox)

Transnox (‘Transition to Dark’ – midway autumnal equinox and winter solstice)

Nox (‘Dark/Night’ – Winter Solstice)

Transequilux (‘Transition to Equal Light’ – midway winter solstice and vernal equinox)

What is Seasonally Occurring

Right now it is between the solstice and equinox for both hemisphere’s.

For Borealis this is midway Nox and Equilux with noticeably longer days and the coldest time of year nearer the north pole.

In Australis it is midway Lux and Equinox with noticeably longer nights and the hottest time of year nearer the south pole.

 

Where the majority of earth’s population is (at and north of the Tropic of Cancer with the addition of Southern & Western Europe) the first signs of spring are appearing, usually in the forms of early flowers and returning/nesting birds. Farther North of the Tropic of Cancer and the other regions of Europe, it is the last of winter.

 

For the Tropics, this is the point in time when the Tropical Rain Belt shifts from its farthest southern point to moving northward. Thus, for the Australis Tropics, it marks the last of the raining season, and the beginning of a rainy season for the equator, where rainy seasons occur.

Source: Wikicommons, Tropical Rain Belt

 

 

What Are The Seasonal Customs

In Borealis, most of the temperate climes are having winter carnivals, where almost every community organizes wintry themed activities, such as snow sculpting, ice fishing, ice skating and so on before the snow melts in the following months. For the warmer climes of the northern hemisphere, there is more focus on the coming warmth and light of summer, banishing the dark, cleansing (ritually with fire or through diet or with thorough housecleaning) and celebrating the beginning of spring. Many regions celebrate with brilliant colours, a healthy dose of mischievousness and youthful gaiety in the excitement of spring. As the night still comes early for both climes, there are usually fireworks, bonfires and light displays during or marking the beginning or ending of the festivities.

 

 

Northern Hemisphere

CELEBRATION

GENERAL DATE

SPECIFIC DATE

CALENDAR

REGION OF ORIGIN

CULTURE

Patras Carnival Late January

17 January until 7th week before first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox.

Gregorian calendar

Southeast Europe

Greek

Sadeh Late January

50 days before Northward equinox (~March 21)

Zoroastrian calendar

Western Asia

Persian

Tu Bishvat Early February

~296 days after the night of a full moon after the vernal equinox

Hebrew calendar

Western Asia

Hebrew

Imbolc Early February

1-2 February or nearest full moon to this date or first signs of spring

Gregorian calendar

Celtic calendar

Wheel of the Year

North Western Europe

Celtic

Transequilux Early February

45 days after winter solstice /45 Days before the Vernal Equinox (Dusk of Feb 3 – Midday Feb 4)

Ehoah Year Wheel – Gavia, Borealis Kalendar

Earth

Saegoah

Chūnjié – Chinese New Year Early February

When the sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 315° ending on the 15th day – around February 4 and ends around February 18 (February 19 East Asia time)

Chinese calendar

East Asia

Chinese

Groundhog Day Early February

Feb 2nd

 

Gregorian calendar

Central Europe

Pennsylvania Dutch

Lupercalia Early February

February 13 through 15

Gregorian calendar

Southern Europe

Roman

Maslenitsa Late February

last week before the 7th week before first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox

Ecclesiastical calendar

Eastern Europe

Eastern Slavic

 

Southern Hemisphere

CELEBRATION

GENERAL DATE

SPECIFIC DATE

CALENDAR

REGION OF ORIGIN

CULTURE

Lammas Lughnasadh Early February

February 1st

Gregorian calendar

Celtic calendar

Wheel of the Year

North Western Europe

Celtic

Transequinox Early February

45 days after summer solstice / 45 days before autumnal equinox

(Dawn of Feb 3 – Midnight)

Ehoah Year Wheel – Sphenisci, Australis Kalendar

Earth

Saegoah

 

 

Most of the celebrations described on this time of year reflects the northern hemisphere’s side of things as information on celebrations elsewhere are difficult to come by. Anyone with information on seasonal festivities for the equatorial region and the southern hemisphere please comment below so that these regions become better represented.

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Big Garden Birdwatch

January 19, 2013 by Categorized: Fur and Feather, Nature in the News, Science & Spirit, The Sacred in Suburbia.

It’s that time of year again – the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ Big Garden Birdwatch!

YouTube Preview Image

Next weekend, on the 26th and 27th of January, the RSPB invites the UK general public to participate in one of the biggest wildlife surveys in the world. So dust off your binoculars and dig out your identification guides and get counting. You don’t have to be a member of the RSPB to get involved; last year, 63% of participants were not members. Since 1979, the Big Garden Birdwatch has been providing useful data in monitoring bird populations. For example, over the past 25 years Starling numbers have declined by 80% yet many people who feed garden birds still consider them ‘vermin’.

To register for the Big Garden Birdwatch, pop over to their website. Participants receive a free information pack and a voucher for £5 off purchases in the RSPB shop.

If you have information on similar projects in your part of the world, please contact us here at No Unsacred Place so we can share it with our audience.

[PNC-Juggler] Environmental Pagan Movies of 2012

December 28, 2012 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News.

chasing-ice-shot-202x300 Our fellow PNC Blog, The Juggler, features brief reviews of three 2012 films of interest to environmentally-minded pagans. While not every pagan may see environmentalism as a spiritual virtue, the primary focus of No Unsacred Place is aimed in part at green pagans, and you are all invited to go over and read the original set of reviews.

[PNC-Juggler] Environmental Movie: Trashed

December 15, 2012 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News.

No Unsacred Place‘s fellow PNC blog, The Juggler, recently featured a review of Trashed. The film follows the route of garbage in the United States, from consumer use to landfill and beyond. We invite you to read the review for yourself!

Watering Restrictions and the Element of Water

December 8, 2012 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News, The Sacred in Suburbia.

It has been my experience that a lot of contemporary books on connecting with the element of water tend to focus on immersive or water-heavy activities. Take a long bath or shower, they say. Consider visiting a river or the ocean. Stand out in the rain. Essentially the message is that it’s a good idea to find an abundant source of water and become its best friend.

In Perth, Western Australia, we are under Level 4 Water Restrictions. This means different things depending on whether you’re a commercial corporation or a home-owner. But for the majority of residents in Perth using scheme water (i.e. who do not have their own bore), it means the following:

- A complete winter sprinkler ban.
- Two legal days of watering in summer (assigned to you based on your house number, and not on what’s convenient to your lifestyle), encompassing sprinklers and reticulation. On these days, the garden or lawn may only be watered once.
- No watering after 9.00am or before 6.00pm.
- Not using any hand-held hose to clean buildings, roads or driveways.
- Additional temporary water restrictions based on severity of the weather.

This is because – among other reasons – our dams have been running at a deficit for some time due to prolonged drought. Dam water makes up approximately 25-45% of Perth’s potable water (or priority water), and we are expected to run out of dam water as a resource due to prolonged drought, within the next fewyears. The rest of our water primarily comes from ground aquifers which are sorely stressed, and a desalination plant provides about the other 17% to Perth residents.

Part of the water processing plant at Koondoola regional bushland, an integral source of water for North of the River residents.

As water is primarily pulled from the groundwater table, trees have to reach further and further to drink deep from the groundwater that is available. Eventually, the trees cannot compensate for the speed at which the water is drawn away, and it can cause massive deaths within the bushland, as well as severely degrade wetlands. The latter is particularly terrible, for aside from the immense cleaning capacity of wetlands and their great biodiversity, Perth was once actually an extraordinarily wetlands heavy environment. The Urban Bushland Council of WA points out that we have lost 70% of our wetlands to agriculture, development, pollution and groundwater table issues. Groundwater dependence can permanently damage or destroy local bushland habitats. Groundwater threat increases the susceptibility of the bushland to fire, which additionally – along with habitat threats – disturbs local fauna and flora further. Many of these types of bushland are found nowhere else in the world, and are considered endangered, or critically endangered biomes.

Koondoola bushland, a critically endangered stretch of kwongan, and also the site of a water processing plant, shows signs of overall degradation due to – among other things – groundwater management issues.

Water is a tricky subject here in Perth. Everyone has different ways of attempting to conserve it, though some try harder than others (and some, of course, don’t really seem to try at all). Here, it was my connection with the element of water, how much I love water, and its crucial connection to our local environment, that allowed me to make certain changes in my living environment.

The ways in which we consciously conserve water include things like: we don’t showers longer than 2-5 minutes. We don’t run the taps when we’re brushing our teeth. We choose washing machines that are always conservative about water usage and only wash with a full-load. We elected to have a garden that is composed entirely of Australian plants with a majority percentage of local endemics that are accustomed to drought, which we keep well-mulched with the addition of a water penetrant to aid in water retention. We made a decision earlier this year to bite the bullet and get a good quality synthetic grass, since it has a smaller carbon footprint proportionately to ‘real’ lawn, and requires no water wastage. Spill-over in the kitchen sink is often dumped directly onto plants. We use double-flush instead of single-flush toilets. Instead of keeping our sprinklers turned off only for winter, they stay off for approximately 9 months of the year. We only use sprinklers on our very small, front garden, and only hand-water the back for three months of the year, approximately once a week (twice if it’s likely to be above 40C several days in row, which is even hard for endemics, as they’re dealing with an unusually long drought too!)

Part of our garden built up on endemic natives. This section requires no watering, aside from what it gets naturally, 12 months of the year.

The reality is that water conservation is a part of our lives. We are regularly reminded by our Water Corporation to be conservative with water usage. There are advertisements on TV and billboards erected in the streets, and last year’s campaign of ‘Target 60’ (litres of water a day) was – along with the previous advertising methods – also plastered in newspapers, magazines, on buses, at bus-stops and talked about on the radio.

The element of water here, particularly that of refreshing, drinkable water, is an element that I think about often. My relationship to water elementals is much stronger since I began to consciously make large-scale decisions on my water usage. Choosing to live a life where I was consciously aware of the difficulty fresh water has in staying in the Perth landscape, allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for my local ecosystem. I became avidly interested in cloudspotting and meteorology, I learned about the problems with the acidification of groundwater and issues in wetlands management, I keep my eyes open and ears peeled for information on the current state of Perth’s fresh water. One day, I would like a rainwater tank, and to begin to use greywater (i.e. water from washing machine and dishwasher usage).

Lechenaultia formosa – an endemic native growing in our garden. Once established, requires very minimal summer watering.

An additional spiritual impact of caring for our local water supply, was that I went from having a difficult relationship with the element of water when I was younger, to having a strong, loving, compassionate bond with the element. We have a lot of water in the form of our continuous, beautiful beaches, but it was my need to interact with drinking water more respectfully that really cemented an ongoing ability to commune with the element of water and make it a meaningful part of my everyday life in a very aware way. I am enamoured of the rain, and feel extremely grateful to be able to drink and stay hydrated on a day to day basis.

So when contemporary books about connecting with water elementals say things like ‘have a long shower / soak in the bath,’ I have to smile, because that’s the last thing that would respect the element of water here in our dry city of Perth. These books are not written with us in mind! The reality is that our drinking water deserves to be cherished and not wasted.

And so, with that in mind, regardless of how much fresh water your region gets, how do you respect your drinking water? Do you know the conditions of your local wetlands? Do you live in a region which has an abundance of fresh water or a lack? And is that a constant, or is it changing over the years? When was the last time you had a chat with the element of fresh water, or sunk some time into researching it?

Perth is facing a time when it may be almost completely dependent on desalination plants and meagre rainfall for all of its potable water. It’s a scary time indeed, considering the population boom we are experiencing and the fact that many corporations and governments still don’t take this issue as seriously as they should. Speaking to local, fresh-water elementals, I am always aware of how giving water can be even when the sun and climate is working against it. I have met elementals that want to sustain, to give life, and wasting the water they command, or damaging the ecosystems they protect is a sorry way to repay them.

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Ash Die-back makes it to the UK

December 1, 2012 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News, Science & Spirit.

What is Ash Die-back?

Ash Die-back is a disease that primarily affects the Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), through it is having an impact other Ash species. It has been devastating Ash trees across Europe since the 1990s, where it was first identified in Poland, and has now made it to the United Kingdom. It is caused by two forms of a fungus:

  • Chalara fraxinea – this form causes the symptoms on the Ash trees
  • Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus – this causes the fungus to fruit and spread through leaf litter

There is ongoing discussion as to how the spores move from tree to tree. In areas without human intervention, the disease is spread by the wind. However, human activities have sped up the transmission of the disease through the movement of infected trees and material. Animals and birds are not thought to be involved in the spread of the disease.

Why should we be concerned?

It is nigh impossible for a lay-person such as myself to predict what impact Ash Die-back could have in our woodlands, but I can make an educated guess. Ash makes up around 10-15% of the UK’s broadleaf woodlands, and provides food and shelter to a variety of species. With the loss of Ash trees a huge part of our woodland ecosystems could vanish, having a knock-on effect on the plants, animals and fungi that are interlinked.

We should be concerned, but we do not need to panic. Few species are solely dependent on Ash trees, and the loss of Ash could open up new niches for other tree species. Perhaps we should look at Ash Die-back as an opportunity – a chance for woodlands to evolve into a new structure as part of the natural life/death/life cycles. Nature abhors a vacuum, and ‘she’ is a survivor. As long as we do our best to limit the spread of the disease, ‘she’ will be fine.

What is being done manage Ash Die-back?

In October 2012, the UK government brought in legislation which bans the import of Ash plants, trees and seeds and also bans the movement of Ash plants, trees and seeds within the UK. It is hoped that by limiting the movement of Ash, the spread of Ash Die-back will be limited too.

The disease has no cure, so it probably cannot be eradicated. Trees vulnerable to the disease, such as saplings, will be identified and destroyed while older, more resilient trees will be left for as long as possible in hope that they will develop a resistance in much the same way we can develop a natural resistance to disease through exposure.

What can we do to manage Ash Die-back?

We, as Pagans, are in a privileged position to enjoy the natural world with an awareness and sensitivity that some other people may not have. As such we have a role to play as custodians. You can help to limit the impact of Ash Die-back by not moving Ash material, even for personal collections. If you suspect that an Ash may be affected by Die-back, then please report it.

In Autumn and Winter, Ash trees can be easily identified by their smooth grey bark and black buds. In older trees, the bark can begin to crack. Symptoms of Ash Die-back include leaf loss, crown die-back (where leaves at the top of the tree die) and damage to bark. If you spot any of these symptoms, please report them to the following agencies:

For England, Scotland and Wales:

FERA
Tel: 01904 465625
Email: planthealth.info@fera.gsi.gov.uk

Forestry Commission
Tel: 0131 314 6414
Email: plant.health@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

For Northern Ireland:

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD)
Tel: 0300 200 7847
Email: dardhelpline@dardni.gov.uk

More information can be found on the Forestry Commission’s website: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara

Challenges Face the Columbia River

November 30, 2012 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News.

It’s no surprise that the watersheds of streams and rivers often mark the boundaries and definitions of bioregions. While ponds and lakes are lovely in their own right, moving water moves us in a way no still, quiet pool does. In a way, rivers, streams, creeks and their ilk are the bloodstream of the land, carrying necessary nutrients and other resources to ecosystems all along their lengths. We humans have made great use of their capacity for locomotion; every day we move everything from timber to wheat, vehicles to people, up and down their liquid tracks.

By Kmusser on Wikipedia

The Columbia River, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest, is at the heart of this ecoregion. It starts far north in British Columbia and winds its way down through Washington until it creates the Washington-Oregon border. Born in the Rocky Mountains, it then carries much-needed water to desert territories before crossing the Cascades into temperate rain forest, and finally emptying out into the Pacific Ocean. So much depends upon this single river, just from an ecological standpoint.

Human dependence abounds as well. Industries use the waterway to carry goods up and down its length. Many communities rely on the series of hydroelectric dams placed across it over the years. Recreation is on the rise; residents and visitors alike fish, boat, windsurf, and otherwise enjoy the broad expanse of water. Tourist locations along the river, such as Multnomah Falls, increase local revenue.

For all the value we place on the Columbia, some have been taking it for granted. Foreign coal interests plan to move thousands of tons of coal per year via barges and uncovered train cars. This not only raises the amount of barge traffic on the river, which can be dangerous to people using the river recreationally, but also puts more of an environmental strain through barge pollution and loose coal dust in the air and water. The exporters aren’t allowed in just yet; the potential environmental impact has yet to be assessed, and the issue is up for public comment.

Attacking the river from another angle, the Nestle Corporation wants to set up a bottling plant taking water directly from a spring that feeds into the river. This would necessitate building the bottling plant, with all the pollution that entails, plus providing yet another potential source of pollutants going into the Columbia itself. There’s a public comment event on Dec. 7 here in Portland; I’ll see about posting follow-up as I plan to go. As of 29 November, the public meeting has been canceled–more information here.

Barge on the Columbia River at Hood River. Photo by Lupa, 2012.

Existing industries have taken their toll as well. News recently came to light that Teck Resources poured heavy metals and other pollutants into the river for an entire century. Projected cleanup of this and other companies’ accumulated pollution is estimated to cost upwards of $1 billion. And further up the river at the Hanford site, radioactive waste from San Francisco company Bechtel was leaked very close to the Columbia, posing a significant risk to the watershed and river. The facility, which is currently under construction, has demonstrated a number of other flaws and shortcomings which could increase the risk of leaking nuclear waste in addition to the 520 gallons already released.

For all these assaults, the Columbia isn’t without its defenders. Friends of the Columbia Gorge engage in activism, as well as organized educational hikes along the many trails in the Gorge. Nestle’s attempts in particular are countered by the Keep Nestle Out of the Gorge Coalition; among others, this coalition includes Bark, an organization dedicated to protecting the wilderness around Mt. Hood. For those who prefer to protect the river, its tributaries and watersheds through hands-on volunteering, there are organizations like the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership, SOLV, Columbia Riverkeper, and Willamette Riverkeeper, among others.

I could say that the Columbia River is fortunate to run through an area that is so full of people conscious about sustainability and environmental issues. To an extent this is true, but there are too many reasons the river needs protection in the first place. Our industries, while beneficial in many ways, were not originally created with the environment in mind. Instead a linear ideal of progress, ever higher and more complex, took the center stage. And while the stretch of the Columbia between Portland and the Cascades has a lot of advocates, this is just a small portion of the river itself, much of which has been affected by dams, industries, and more.

Perhaps Woody Guthrie’s words in “Talking Columbia” were taken a bit too optimistically when he sang how the dams on the river:

“Run a thousand factories for Uncle Sam.

Makin’ ever’thing from sewing machines to fertilizer
Atomic bedrooms!… Plastic!
Everything’s gonna be made out of plastic!

Salmon’s smaller cousin, rainbow trout, in a tributary of the Columbia. Photo by Lupa, 2012.

Yet just before then he sings “Salmon! That’s a good river!” Salmon do make a good river, but between the many challenges of the dams, and the pollution and habitat loss caused by other industries, the Columbia salmon are struggling to survive. So are the many other animals and plants that live in and near the river and its tributaries.

It will take all of us–volunteers, nonprofit organizations, and other advocates–to keep the Columbia from being degraded beyond repair. We’re not defeated yet, though. A recent study by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality shows that while there is plenty of work to do, some factors such as water quality could be much worse (our river hasn’t caught on fire yet, for example). There is hope, and we can hang onto that as we continue our efforts to save the Columbia River.

Wolf packs in Oregon successfully interbreeding

November 24, 2012 by Categorized: Fur and Feather, Nature in the News.

Much of the news surrounding the environment and its inhabitants is negative; therefore a bit of good news is more than welcome. One bright spot involves the recovery of the gray wolf in the lower 48 states: a recent report from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife revealed that there are multiple distinct packs in the state. Better yet, they’re interbreeding with successful litters as a result.

Picture by Mariomassone on Wikipedia.

This means that Oregon wolves are diversifying genetically, which improves their chances of establishing a permanent population here. Wolves were exterminated in the state almost 70 years ago, and their recent return has prompted mixed feelings. Ranchers are already concerned about the safety of their livestock, despite the existence of nonlethal wolf deterrents. On the other hand, advocates of wolves are thrilled by the news; a wolf tagged as OR-7 who cross all the way through Oregon and into California has become a particular celebrity, and even earned the unofficial name “Journey”.

It remains to be seen what impact the wolves will have on Oregon ecosystems as they reintegrate. The species was gone for less than a hundred years, and although in its absence its ecological niche is often filled by coyotes (and human hunters), wolves are capable of reclaiming their historical roles. The ODFW already has a comprehensive plan for managing the growing wolf population, from tracking individuals and collecting data, to outreach to communities and ranchers as wolf-human interactions increase.

For my own part, I’m rather thrilled by this development. It’s not just because I support the return of wolves to their historic range in the lower 48 United States, though that’s certainly important. It’s also because my very first totem was (and still is) Gray Wolf. I’ve never before lived in a state with a wild population of wolves, so this is a new experience for me. Although they’re clear on the other side of the state from my home of Portland, I look forward to the day when I get to see a wolf in the wild, even if it’s at a distance, running down the next ridge over.

Pagan Activists

May 25, 2012 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

I spent the greater part of last week in Chicago advocating for progressive change in the US and around the world. There were all kinds of groups in Chicago doing the same: Occupies from all over the country, civic groups, military groups, religious groups. But what I didn’t see was a Pagan group.

While marching, I saw this woman. We talked and I found she too is Pagan. I asked her about a Pagan contingency of activists. She said there were individual Pagans in the crowd but they were not marching together as an organized (or quasi-organizied) group. And surprisingly, there’s wasn’t a group of climate change activists though there were individual climate change people in the #noNATO march on Sunday.

I would’ve liked to have marched with Witches for Change (I just made that name up) or Pagans Against Climate Change (another name I made up) or any Pagan group committed to peace, social justice, and solving/undoing climate change. But there is a vacuum of sorts. It seems no such group exists or no group attended the week long events in Chicago. Not that I saw anyway.

It makes me wonder if we are really that difficult to organize. And it brings me back to my inaugural post Leader of the Environmental Movement where I wondered aloud why Pagans aren’t leading the charge against climate change.

Nature Worshipers and Northern Pass

May 4, 2012 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

The First Amendment aside, historically nature worshipers have always been at a disadvantage in the United States. Our rights, and the rights of Native Americans who understand this on a generational level I never will, have been trampled on, ignored, and/or outright prohibited since the inception of this nation.

It seems Northern Pass is maintaining the status quo for nature worshipers.

Northern Pass is a proposed 180 mile corridor to bring hydro energy from Quebec to the electric markets in Boston and Hartford and potentially New York City. The corridor will enter the US in one of New Hampshire’s northern most tows of Colebrook or Pittsburg and end in south eastern New Hampshire in the town of Deerfield (map). Over 1000 towers, upto 140 feet in height, will be dispersed about every 800 feet to bring electricity to southern New England. New Hampshire will not consume any of the electricity traveling through our state.

Northern Pass will gobble up about 40 miles of the White Mountain National Forest and will disrupt the Appalachian Trail. It’ll also disrupt farms, forests, swamps, waterways, migration paths, the health of all the organisms living along the 180 mile corridor.

There are many elected officials in New Hampshire opposed to Northern Pass but those who represent me support it. I stated my reasons for my opposition when I called my State Representatives last year: the detrimental affects on the environment and health, the un-greenness of HydroQuebec, and because there are many places along the corridor where I worship. My comments about worshiping in nature where met with uncomfortable silence. Throats were cleared, feet were shuffled, and shoulders were shrugged. I explained one of the reasons I moved to this area is because of the abundance of Nature and how I work to bring Her back into balance. Each one of the three had something negative to say about my Gaia practices. I asked all three if Northern Pass would even *consider* putting a tower in the place where St. Paul’s now stands. Each were smart enough not to answer the question with a yes or no but I could tell I got them thinking, even if just for a moment.

In Canada, there’s a significant movement to protect the last two undammed rivers in Quebec (that’s the 2 out of 63!). A group of Innu are walking 900km to log their opposition to damming up the Romaine River for HydroQuebec’s profit. Here is a perfect example of Nature worshipers losing their rights to worship — and their way of life since where they live will likely be flooded — as they see fit! Tribes in New Hampshire are starting to coalesce into formal opposition of Northern Pass but Pagan groups have yet to get on board.

There are some really great non-Pagan groups working on getting more people educated about Northern Pass. Hands Across NH is a grassroots group working to create an event later in the summer to show opposition to Northern Pass. Live Free or Fry discusses the health ramifications of such large towers and power lines. Trees Not Towers and No Northern Pass both provide routine updates. Twitter, of course, also has some no Northern Pass people who tweet including @handsacrossnh and @nonorthernpass1. It’s time, I think, for Pagans in New Hampshire and around the world to start paying attention to Northern Pass. As I’ve stated before, it is our Keystone XL. If Northern Pass isn’t approved by the New Hampshire Legislature, the plan could easily shift to the east to go through Maine or to the west and go through either Vermont or New York.

Northern Pass has become my topic du jour. It’s the only thing I talk about to friends, family and those I worship with and I’m sure they’re getting sick of hearing of it. However, since the consumers of HydroQuebec’s electricity will be in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and possibly New York, I feel it’s my obligation to Mother Earth to get the word out to those living in areas that will be consuming this electricity but whose landscape and way of life will remain unaffected. Do you feel the same obligation?

Image credit

Earth and Nature Holidays – April 2012

March 31, 2012 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

All over the world, people are celebrating and honoring earth, nature and environmental awareness and education in their communities. Here are just a few national and international “green holidays” to liven up your month.

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International Year of Sustainable Energy (2012)

  • The United Nations General Assembly declared 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy in order to “increase awareness of the importance of addressing energy issues, including modern energy services for all, access to affordable energy, energy efficiency and the sustainability of energy sources and use, for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, sustainable development and the protection of the global climate, and to promote action at the local, national, regional and international level” to work towards ensuring energy access for all and to protect the environment through the sustainable use of traditional energy resources, cleaner technologies and newer energy sources. You can learn more about this project and related events on their website.

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Keep America Beautiful Month

  • “In 1953 a group of individuals formed an organization called ‘Keep America Beautiful‘ aimed at reducing the amount of littering on public lands, highways and waterways, encouraging Americans to take pride in America. It is the nation’s largest volunteer based community action and education group. Since its conception, it really has grown in leaps and bounds with campaigns and promotions such as:
    - ‘Close the Loop, Buy Recycled’ U.S. EPA partnership
    - Web-based educational tools, including Clean Sweep U.S.A
    - ‘Back By Popular Neglect’ PSA campaign

    “Each April is Keep America Beautiful month drawing attention to the campaigns and research done by Keep America Beautiful and their three primary areas of focus: litter reduction, waste minimization, and beautification.” (from ecofriendlydaily.com)

National Garden Month

  • “Every April communities, organizations, and individuals nationwide celebrate gardening during National Garden Month. Gardeners know, and research confirms, that nurturing plants is good for us: attitudes toward health and nutrition improve, kids perform better at school, and community spirit grows. Join the celebration and help to make America a greener, healthier, more livable place!” (from the official website)

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International Holidays

  • April 7World Health Day
    “Every year, World Health Day is celebrated on 7 April to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO in 1948. Each year a theme is selected for World Health Day that highlights a priority area of concern for WHO. The topic of World Health Day in 2012 is Ageing and health with the theme “Good health adds life to years”. The focus is how good health throughout life can help older men and women lead full and productive lives and be a resource for their families and communities. Ageing concerns each and every one of us – whether young or old, male or female, rich or poor – no matter where we live.” (from the official website)
  • April 12Yuri’s Night
    “Yuri’s Night is an international celebration held on April 12 every year to commemorate space exploration milestones. The event is named for the first human to launch into space, Yuri Gagarin, who flew the Vostok 1 spaceship on April 12, 1961. In 2004, people celebrated Yuri’s Night in 34 countries in over 75 individual events. Locations have included Los Angeles, Stockholm, Antarctica, the San Francisco Bay Area, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, and the International Space Station. The goal of Yuri’s Night is to increase public interest in space exploration and to inspire a new generation of explorers. Driven by space-inspired artistic expression and culminating in a worldwide network of annual celebrations and educational events, Yuri’s Night creates a global community of young people committed to shaping the future of space exploration while developing responsible leaders and innovators with a global perspective. These global events are a showcase for elements of culture that embrace space including music, dance, fashion, and art.” (from Wikipedia)
  • April 15 – 21World Creativity and Innovation Week
    “World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 – 21 is a celebration of our ability to get new ideas, use imagination and make new decisions to make the world a better place and to make your place in the world better too. Do what you can, do what you like. There’s only one rule: do no harm.” (from the official website)
  • April 15 – 21International Dark Sky Week
    “International Dark-Sky Week (IDSW), held during the week of the new moon in April, is a week during which people worldwide turn out their lights in order to observe the beauty of the night sky without light pollution. This event was founded in 2003 by Jennifer Barlow of Midlothian, Virginia, and its popularity and participation increases every year.” (from Wikipedia)
  • April 18World Heritage Day
    “World Heritage is the shared wealth of humankind. Protecting and preserving this valuable asset demands the collective efforts of the international community. This special day offers an opportunity to raise the public’s awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage and the efforts that are required to protect and conserve it, as well as draw attention to its vulnerability.” (from the official website)
  • April 22Mother Earth Day

    “The proclamation of 22 April as International Mother Earth Day is an acknowledgement that the Earth and its ecosystems provide its inhabitants with life and sustenance. It also recognizes a collective responsibility, as called for in the 1992 Rio Declaration, to promote harmony with nature and the Earth to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations of humanity. International Mother Earth Day provides an opportunity to raise public awareness around the world to the challenges regarding the well-being of the planet and all the life it supports.” (from the official website)

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National Holidays Around the World

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Did I miss one? Leave a note (and a link, if you have one!) in the comments letting us know what “green” holidays you’re celebrating this month!

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Disturbing the Bones of the Beloved Dead

March 12, 2012 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

Now don’t forget me, little darling, while I’m growing old and gray.
Just a little thought before I’m going far away.
I’ll be waiting on the hillside on the day that you will call,
On the sunny side of the mountain, where the rippling waters fall.

- “Sunny Side of the Mountain,” old folk song

 

This month’s issue of Sierra features “Move Not Those Bones,” a heart-wrenching story about a consequence of mountaintop removal coal mining that is often overlooked: the destruction of centuries-old family cemeteries nestled among the wooded hollows of the Appalachian Mountains.

Making the land uninhabitable is only one consequence of destroying it to pick it clean of coal. Burying drainages with rubble causes flooding, just as releasing particulates into the air and poisons into the water leads to a variety of illnesses. A 2011 West Virginia University study shows that communities near mountaintop-removal sites have a cancer rate double that of more distant towns. On top of all that, mountaintop-removal mining is destroying the people of Appalachia’s connection to their history. Most of the cemeteries here predate the arrival of the coal companies; some were established before the founding of the country.

Many of the small communities scattered throughout Appalachia, where mountaintop-removal mining has done so much damage already, face the destruction of cemeteries that have been part of the wooded wilderness for centuries, left to become overgrown and sometimes forgotten as younger generations leave the area. These grave sites might not be officially registered or marked on any map, leaving them vulnerable to destruction from mining companies that buy up property and indiscriminately strip the landscape bare in an effort to reach the valuable coal deposits underneath. What minimal laws there are protecting cemeteries only apply to registered sites marked off by a fence and regularly maintained by a caretaker, and the historical value of family cemeteries can be difficult to prove, especially in cases where graves are unmarked or headstones have fallen into disrepair.

People like Dustin White and Larry Gibson, whose anti-mining environmental activism in West Virginia centers around the protection of family cemeteries and grave sites, have been marginally successful in protecting some hallowed ground. These cemeteries remain like small islands, grave-studded copses of trees surrounded by acres of bare rock and debris. They are often inaccessible to family members who want to visit the graves of their deceased loved ones. The proposal suggested by coal companies to consolidate family graveyards in a single public cemetery, freeing up mountains for demolition, would likely mean only moving a few remaining headstones and maybe a dirt sample, as some of the older graves would be almost impossible to exhume.

Mountaintop Mining: Aerial View 5
Image courtesy of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

It is a painful irony that so many of these small cemeteries were originally planted on high ground because such places were considered especially safe and sacred.

It’s no accident that many Appalachian family cemeteries are on the tops of mountains or other high ground. People wanted to be buried high so that floodwaters couldn’t reach them, ideally in graves facing east to catch the morning sun. In the past, mountaintops represented safety. Today they represent easy access to coal.

My family’s roots are firmly planted in the rural, working-class coal country of central Pennsylvania where for generations small communities have thrived, or floundered, because of the mining industry. There is an uneasy relationship with the influence that coal companies have had in the region over the decades. Traveling east to west along the turnpike over beautiful forested mountains, it isn’t uncommon to see billboards celebrating coal as a source of energy and jobs for a region that has often struggled with poverty, but with little acknowledgement that mining operations can often make these landscapes dangerous or even uninhabitable for workers and their families. This cognitive dissonance has led to an abiding sense of bitterness for many people in the area that once led Obama to make his now infamous comment about folks in coal country clinging to their bibles and their guns. As flippant as that comment was, it’s not entirely untrue. Central Pennsylvania, like much of rural Appalachia, tends to have very conservative, very Christian small-town communities.

Yet reverence for the land where our ancestors are buried is something common to almost all spiritual traditions, transcending the dogma of any one religion. I never knew my great-grandparents or even my grandparents all that well, but there are certainly ancestors of mine somewhere among the unmarked graves of Pennsylvania coal country. Those graves were dug reverently by conservative Christians who, though they would probably be pretty uncomfortable that their great-granddaughter has turned out to be a tree-hugging dirt-worshipper, nonetheless wanted their final resting places to face the rising sun. Though it might seem impossible for the modern Pagan to find common cause with conservative Christians, stories like this show us how poignant the grief is for all of us, regardless of our religion, when faced with the loss of history and our connection to the past as the lands of our beloved dead are desecrated by callous self-interest and exploitation.

In the image of those lingering islands of trees protecting old, half-forgotten cemeteries in the midst of miles of desert-like strip-mined mountains, we can also discover a poignant metaphor for the spiritual work of reconnection and restoration:

Dustin White looks back at the clump of trees that rings the small island of Cook cemetery. “The good thing about having a cemetery up here is, that’s where things will start over,” he says, already looking forward to the day when Cook Mountain is mined out and the reclamation work starts. “The seeds from these trees will replant the forests here.”

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Earth and Nature Holidays – March 2012

March 2, 2012 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

All over the world, people are celebrating and honoring earth, nature and environmental awareness and education in their communities. Here are just a few national and international “green holidays” to liven up your month.

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International Year of Sustainable Energy (2012)

  • The United Nations General Assembly declared 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy in order to “increase awareness of the importance of addressing energy issues, including modern energy services for all, access to affordable energy, energy efficiency and the sustainability of energy sources and use, for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, sustainable development and the protection of the global climate, and to promote action at the local, national, regional and international level” to work towards ensuring energy access for all and to protect the environment through the sustainable use of traditional energy resources, cleaner technologies and newer energy sources. You can learn more about this project and related events on their website.

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International Holidays

  • March 14International Day of Action for Rivers
    “March 14 is the International Day of Action For Rivers and Against Dams. Every year hundreds of people around the world lift their voices to celebrate the world’s rivers and the thousands of people who struggle to protect them. The International Day of Action For Rivers is a day to celebrate victories such as dam removal and river restoration. It is a day to take to the streets, demonstrate and demand improvements in the policies and practices of decision makers. It is a day to educate one another about the threats facing our rivers, and learn about better water and energy solutions. Above all, it is a day to unite – by acting together, we demonstrate that these issues are not merely local, but global in scope.” (from the official website)
  • March 20Vernal / Autumnal Equinox
    Religious and spiritual traditions all over the world celebrate the autumnal/vernal equinox as a holy day in the cycles of the seasons.
  • March 22World Water Day
    “International World Water Day is held annually on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. An international day to celebrate freshwater was recommended at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The United Nations General Assembly responded by designating 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day. Each year, World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. On this page, we present a brief overview of the different themes that have been the focus of World Water Day celebrations.” (from the official website)
  • Mrch 23World Meteorological Day
    “The United Nations’ (UN) World Meteorological Day is annually held on or around March 23 to remember the World Meteorological Organization’s establishment on that date in 1950. World Meteorological Day often features various events such as conferences, symposia and exhibitions for meteorological professionals, community leaders and the general public. Some events aim to attract media attention to raise meteorology’s profile. Many countries issue postage stamps or special postage stamp cancellation marks to celebrate World Meteorological Day. These stamps often reflect the event’s theme or mark a country’s meteorology achievements.” (learn more here)
  • March 31, 8:30 – 9:30 PMEarth Hour
    “Hundreds of millions of people, businesses and governments around the world unite each year to support the largest environmental event in history – Earth Hour.

    More than 5,200 cities and towns in 135 countries worldwide switched off their lights for Earth Hour 2011 alone, sending a powerful message for action on climate change. It also ushered in a new era with members going Beyond the Hour to commit to lasting action for the planet. Without a doubt, it’s shown how great things can be achieved when people come together for a common cause.” (from the official website)

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National Holidays Around the World

  • March 1Baba Marta (Bulgaria)
  • March 1International Day of the Seal (USA)
  • March 1National Pig Day (USA)
  • March 1Mărţişor (Romania)
  • March 1St. David’s Day (Wales, International)
  • March 3Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival) (Japan)
  • March 4 – 10Sea Week (Australia)
  • March 5National Tree Planting Day (Iran)
  • March 11 – 17National Groundwater Awareness Week (USA)
  • March 12Arbor Day (China, Taiwan)
  • March 14Dita e Verës (Summer Festival) (Albania)
  • March 17St. Patrick’s Day (Ireland, International)
  • March 17 – 23National Water Week (Nepal)
  • March 19Tree Hugging Day (USA)
  • March 20World Frog Day (USA)
  • March 21Nowruz (Persian New Year)
  • March 21International Day of Tree Planting (Belgium)
  • March 21National Tree Planting Day (Lesotho)
  • March 21Festival of Trees (Netherlands)
  • March 21Arbor Day (Portugal)
  • March 22North American Wildlife Celebration (USA)
  • March 24National Tree Planting Day (Uganda)

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Did I miss one? Leave a note (and a link, if you have one!) in the comments letting us know what “green” holidays you’re celebrating this month!

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The Death of Trees

January 12, 2012 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

some trees live, some trees died

It is no exaggeration to say that Pagans love trees.  Our ancestors had tree alphabets and World Trees.  We admire trees, photograph them and hug them.  We hold sacred gatherings under them and among them.  At times we commune with them.  They are beautiful, strong, resilient and supportive of other life.

So it was saddening to hear news reports that last year’s drought killed as many as 500 million trees, up to 10% of all the trees in Texas.  Some may only be dormant, but as the drought is expected to continue at least through the Spring there is little reason for optimism.

That’s the high end of a Texas Forest Service estimate.  An exact count will take much longer, so it’s possible the actual number of trees killed by drought will be lower.  But even here in North Texas where the drought isn’t quite as severe the effects are clear and unpleasant.

There isn’t a lot we humans can do.  I made sure the live oaks in my front yard got enough water (watering restrictions wisely give trees a higher priority than lawns), but those are two trees out of billions.  If the drought breaks later this year further damage will be avoided, but if the long-term climate really is becoming hotter and drier then millions more trees and perhaps whole species will disappear from the region.

If we can’t stop the trees from dying is there at least something we can learn from all this?  For me there is.

Some trees are persistent – they’re green all year.  Others are resilient – they’re stripped bare in Winter and then full of green in Spring.  But an extended drought can kill either.  Nothing lasts forever.  Whatever good is in your life, love it, honor it, and enjoy it while you have it.  Experience it and commune with it as deeply as you can.  But don’t cling to it, because some day it will be gone.

For every living thing – from the simplest single-celled organism to dolphins and humans and giant redwoods – there are environments that are favorable and environments that are unfavorable.  And since environments constantly change, so must we.  If our surroundings become unbearable we must either change our environment (by modifying it or by moving) or change ourselves.  We are more adaptable and far more mobile than the greatest tree, but in the end all species and all creatures face the same harsh but unavoidable choice:  adapt or die.

Will this be a short-term drought and things will soon return to normal?  I don’t know.  Will this be a long-term “dust bowl” drought that will kill millions more trees and change the landscape for years to come?  I don’t know.  Is this the beginning of a climate change that will make North Texas unsuitable for large trees for centuries?  I don’t know.

But I do know this.  If it gets too dry for oaks, mesquite trees will grow.  If it gets too dry for mesquite, cactus will grow.  Go to the driest desert, the deepest ocean, the darkest cave, or the coldest mountain, and you will find life.  A forest burns and a whole cycle of life begins.  One species dies off and another moves in.  An old tree falls and a dozen acorns sprout.

Life persists.

So should we.

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