Monday, December 31, 2007

Sea Shepherd: The Whale Warriors

I’ve just finished reading the book The Whale Warriors by Peter Heller, an account of his time as a journalist onboard Sea Shepherd’s ship two years ago as they tried to stop Japan’s whaling in the Antarctic. I’ve updated my links list so that clicking Sea Shepherd will now bring you directly to their onship blog covering the whaling occurring right now. The old blog covering the events of the book can be found here.

Before getting into my own thoughts on the book and whaling, I’m going to quote at length the most eloquent page of the book:

Imagine 1.5 million humpbacks patrolling the ancient seas, calling across oceans where only the songs of cetaceans echoed in the deep pelagic blue. There were no engine sounds then, and the water was as clear as krill and plankton would allow. The whales called over great uninterrupted distances in complex syntax while human ancestors were still jumping around in trees. This was the magic of whales, that they had expressed loyalty, grief, gratitude—all well-documented among present day humpbacks and other cetaceans—and had called each other by name, long before we were even a seed of an apple in God’s eye. And they had done it all for millions of years and had swum the oceans in peace. They had left the sea unpolluted, mostly quiet, the reefs teeming; the shores, the mangroves rich, protective; the fish in their schooling numbers as prolific as the stars that wheeled above. They had loved the ocean, if love is a deep attention in which one does no harm. They had perceived it, attended the greens of the reefs and the blues of the deep and all its creatures and passed on, generation to generation. They had not turned on each other with wholesale vengeance and bloodlust, or massacred another species off the face of the waters because they could.

The ocean they swam in now had changed. Old drift nets called ghost nets, thousands of miles of them, abandoned, drifted in every sea; the whales, all the species, could not detect them until it was too late, and then became tangled and thrashed and died by the thousands. Other fishing gear did the same—lines of lobster traps, longlines, abandoned seines. Ships, the sound of engines and props, turned the great currents into a cacophony through which the old distant whale songs were mangled and lost. Low-frequency active sonar now being used by the U.S. Navy, one of the loudest sound systems devised by man, emitted sonic booms that ruptured delicate hearing mechanisms, caused internal hemorrhage, and destroyed cetacean navigation systems so that whole pods washed up disoriented on beaches in the Caribbean and in the Pacific, bleeding from their ears.

Heller, though opposed to whaling, is not the enthusiastic supporter of Sea Shepherd that I am. He questions many of their actions throughout the book, but I think always sees the whalers as the greater evil. After watching a video of a whale being killed, he writes that he felt like vomiting. This description from elsewhere in the book will likely make you feel the same:

The killing of a whale by the most modern methods is cruel beyond description. An exploding harpoon meant to kill quickly rarely does more than rupture the whale’s organs. It thrashes, and gushes blood and begins to drown in its own hemorrhage. It is winched to the side of the kill ship and a probe is jabbed into it and thousands of volts of electricity are run through in an attempt to kill it faster. The whale screams and cries and thrashes. Often, if it is a mother, her calf swims wildly around her, doomed to its own slow death later on. Again, the electricity fails to kill the whale, and it normally takes fifteen to twenty minutes of this torture for the whale to drown and die. Whatever one thinks of whales’ high intelligence, the advanced social structures, the obvious emotions and the still mysterious ability to communicate over long distances, this method of slaughter would not be allowed as standard practice in any slaughterhouse in the world.

The book is a very good read as an adventure tale as Sea Shepherd’s Farley Mowat searches for the Japanese whaling fleet in the vast ocean area. Greenpeace is there also and finds the fleet first but will not cooperate with Sea Shepherd. This conflict between the two anti-whaling groups is one of the themes of the book. Paul Watson, who essentially is Sea Shepherd, was one of the founders of Greenpeace. Among his crew of 43 volunteers (Greenpeace’s crew is paid) is Emily Hunter, daughter of Robert Hunter, who was another Greenpeace founder. She is there to spread his ashes.

Although Greenpeace as an organization will not cooperate with Sea Shepherd, some of its crew is happy to and Watson receives emails and phone calls updating him on the whalers’ location. When his ship arrives, they receive a rousing welcome from Greenpeacers frustrated at their organization’s banner waving and unwillingness to actually act to stop the killing. Meanwhile, the Shepherds dream of what they could accomplish with Greenpeace’s ships and money. The whaling ships which have ignored Greenpeace proceed to flee from Sea Shepherd.

So is Sea Shepherd an ecoterrorist organization, or the only group willing to take action to stop illegal whaling? The International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on commercial whaling two decades ago; Japan has been buying other countries’ IWC votes in an attempt to have it overturned. Japan gets around the moratorium by claiming it is killing whales for scientific research through its Institute of Cetacean Research and the meat is just a byproduct. (Amusingly, if you plug ICR into Google the first result will be the equally wacky Institute for Creation Research.) This whaling happens within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and the Australian Antarctic Territory, but no government will take action to stop the whaling. So the job falls to volunteers.

Japan does this whaling despite a small minority of its own population supporting whaling, the need of a government subsidy to keep the industry afloat, and, because few Japanese eat whale meat regularly, a surplus of whale meat which has caused it to be used in pet food.

Sylvia Earle is quoted:

As supposedly intelligent creatures, doesn’t it seem odd that humans might think that the best way to engage whales is to eat them? When our numbers were small and whales were numerous, killing a few whales for sustenance for people who had few choices about what to eat was a matter of survival. Today, it is a matter of choice. Can commercial killing of whales ever be justified? Biologically, ecologically, economically, logically, morally, ethically, realistically it cannot—not now, not in fifty years, not ever.

The book had two minor flaws. A page listing the crew would have come in handy many times. A few people become familiar during the story, but often a name would appear and I’d wish I remembered what that person’s history and function on the ship were. Secondly, the author, a hunter, at times seems to have an obsession with the word vegan (the Farley Mowat is a vegan ship) and makes several moronic statements. Will it really come as news to anyone that “even vegans” miss their families (well, apparently at least at Christmas)?

The book includes the story of a humpback whale found off San Francisco two years ago hopelessly entangled in hundreds of yards of rope slicing into her flesh with hundreds of pounds of attached crab traps. A team of divers worked for about an hour to free her. When free she swam in circles around them and then returned to each diver individually and nudged them. The author also writes of his own experience of play involving underwater acrobatics and touching with two young sea lions.

The final sentence of the book tells us that the Japanese planned to kill fifty endangered humpbacks this season. Officially, under widespread pressure including that from Australia which says they’ll be observing the fleet this year to gather evidence for a legal case, the Japanese backed off this plan two weeks ago; unofficially, it’s still up to a few compassionate courageous people called ecoterrorists to stop them from killing any whale they choose.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

White Fades to Grey

A big weekend storm was predicted. Saturday, two inches of slop fell early which later froze overnight leaving an uneven icy mess on the sidewalks. Sunday when I woke I looked outside at the trees rattling wildly in the wind and decided I didn’t really need to go out for the newspaper. The wind kept up all day with a fine powdery snow spinning madly but there was no accumulation in sight. My windows all look out on an alleyway with a small wild area across the way where I toss bread and nuts for squirrel and bird entertainment for me and the cat. Usually this area of the alley is where the drifts occur during snowstorms, giving wonderful illusions that the storms are much better than they actually are, but nothing that day despite reports of a foot or so of new snow expected.

The next morning, I headed to the side door of the building and found a three-foot drift right outside. A set of footprints wandered off to the side avoiding the highest points. Thanks to the drifts and plows, some sidewalks that have been cleared only show the top foot or two of most people walking along the white corridor. Around town, especially near big parking lots, there are mountains of the stuff big enough to hide a bus behind.

Back in one version of the good old days, I used to take a bus route which no longer exists across the Lake Superior snow belt of northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to visit a friend who’s no longer there. This bus traveled through the smallest hours of the night so this sparsely populated area seemed even more deserted than usual. Moonlight illuminated wild land home to glamorous species such as wolves and bears and eagles. In the small towns, the sidewalks were like tunnels through the snow; paths cut to the street seemed like they must surely lead to igloos. Or at another time of year, misty fogs swirled around the ghostly apparitions of deer along the narrow highways where the bus was the only sign of conscious human life. Eyes of various colors shone in the headlights. I would even choose this route when I rode the Hound (a dog of a way to get around, as Harry Chapin sang) to Boston, just for the opportunity of passing through this land.

Yesterday, I watched two documentaries, Grey Gardens (1975) and The Beales of Grey Gardens (2006). Two women named Edith Beales, mother in her late 70s and daughter in mid 50s at the time of filming in 1973 and 1974, former aristocrats, aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, lived with many cats and wild raccoons (who were fed white bread) in a decaying East Hampton mansion. At one point, they faced eviction until Jackie had the place fixed up a bit. They spent a lot of their time singing. Perhaps a little nuts, but oddly attractive and attractively odd, they were very lively eccentrics in a world with no room for eccentrics.

They’ve recently been the subject of a Broadway play starring Tony-winner Christine Ebersole, who attended my alma mater a couple years before I got there. There’s also a movie being filmed with Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as mother and daughter, but at one point in the second documentary Little Edie says she wouldn’t want anyone playing her and I think I’ll honor her wishes and not see the Hollywood version of her life.

The mother died a couple years after filming. Somewhere among the DVD extras of the 1975 film, I heard that the daughter was living in Florida. This morning I learned that the daughter had died of a heart attack in her Florida apartment back in 2002. It was five days before she was found. I felt quite sad.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Your Mommy Kills Animals

That's the name of a documentary about animal rights I saw today. The title's taken from a PETA comic book. The movie's a fairly even-handed look at the subject, with ALF and SHAC looking better to me than PETA and HSUS (both of which refused to appear in the film) and the anti-animal rights folks given plenty of time to express their opinions. Certainly lots of people aren't going to like some of the SHAC tactics seen, but that hardly makes them the country's biggest terrorist threat as the FBI has claimed.

My biggest complaint is that the backing of those antis wasn't identified. I think most people know what a farce the Center for Consumer Freedom is, started as a pro-smoking group by the tobacco industry, and still a mouthpiece for industry. A PETA person exposes them, but only in the process of not answering a legitimate question.

The other big anti spokesperson in the movie came from National Animal Interest Alliance. A check of their website shows their board made up representatives of Ringling Brothers, the rodeo, dog breeders, animal researchers, hunters and cattle ranchers. It's certainly no surprise that these folks will be anti animal rights, but shouldn't they change their name to the Interested in Making Money off Animals Alliance?

One of the people shown in the film is Rod Coronado. Back in September, I posted about the hung jury in his ecoterrorism trial. Here's an update on that from him.

“Dear friends and supporters~

On December 14th, before Judge Jeffery Miller in Federal Court in San Diego, I entered a guilty plea to one count of distribution of information related to the assembly of explosives and weapons of mass destruction. This was the one count I have fought for almost two years now and for which I faced approximately five to ten years in prison if found guilty at trial. In September of 2007, a jury instead voted 8-4 for acquittal and in the ensuing weeks, prosecutors in the case informed us that they would seek an additional indictment in Washington D.C., for a speech I delivered at American University in January, 2003. In exchange for a guilty plea in the San Diego case, the U.S. government has agreed to ask only for a one year prison sentence, drop pending charges in Tucson for my possession of raptor feathers and not to indict me in D.C. I am not required to testify against anyone else in any other investigations, and hopefully this plea agreement will once and for all grant me closure in a well-known campaign of repression against me for my past involvement, association and support for covert campaigns against environmental destroyers and animal abusers. It has long been my desire to put my past behind me and instead build a sustainable existence for myself, my wife, Chrysta, and two children, Anheles and Maya. This decision to take a plea bargain comes only after much careful consideration and a sincere desire to do what is best for my family. Such unconstitutional assaults on my free speech beg for a continued legal battle and defense, but I am instead choosing to reach a settlement that will allow me to move on with my life rather than face years of litigation that might lead to many years in prison.

My children need me. I am a father first and foremost, and have given 20 plus years to the battle against corporate and government policies which destroy our Earth. Now it is time to give of myself to the purpose of raising a family in these troubling times.

For the Earth, and all of her Children,

Rod Coronado

Friday, December 14, 2007

Developing a Rant

It’s not development, it’s destruction. So I sloganeered on the newspaper’s website regarding a new building someone wants to put up in place of the trees and such which are there now.

Development is gaining knowledge and wisdom and compassion. Development is not making the same mistakes over and over. Development is not higher quantities of humans and buildings; it’s a better quality of life.

When will it be enough for these people who always want more? Do they want the whole planet paved and all of us living in one giant skyscraper? I don’t believe that, but if not, what gives them the right to decide when it’s enough after they’ve ignored those of us who say it’s enough right now?

There are more than enough people and more than enough buildings in a world where humans and/or their various forms of pollution dominate the land, sea, and sky. It’s time to draw the line in the sand and say not one more new building unless it’s replacing a building already there. Not one more tree needlessly cut down, not one more species’ home territory thoughtlessly destroyed.

I don’t care if it’s a golf course, a suburb, a hospital, corporate headquarters, summer condos, or free green housing for the homeless. I don’t care about the temporary construction jobs or the low wage service jobs in the new buildings or that the Watkins family thinks they need more space. Not one more goddamn acre of destruction.

And homeless...there’s an odd term. Could there be any culture more removed from its home than this one? We have fancy houses, but no home. Were nomadic people with a deep sense of place and knowledge of the seasons and an area’s plant and animal life and their uses and habits homeless? Or are we, who try to block out the weather and can’t tell one tree from another and would soon starve to death without our transportation system and supermarkets?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Lump of Coal for his Stocking

I've finished browsing through the 2007 edition of The Best American Science and Nature Writing. I'm choosy about which essays I actually read in these collections; I'm at best uninterested and often opposed to most of the popular fields of science these days, so I mostly stick to those articles which fall under the nature category. This year, I enjoyed reading about lemurs, fishers, bears, and gryllacridids (don't mess with the big ones).

Much less appealing was reading about the hundreds of miles of plastic floating in the ocean, and The Rape of Appalachia by Michael Shnayerson. The article is about coal mining by mountaintop removal in West Virginia and focuses in particular on Don Blankenship and Massey Energy, the country's fourth largest coal producer. After you read the article's tales of buried streams, broken impoundments, violations, show-cause hearings, union busting, judge buying, and moving property lines, chances are you'll agree with me that Don's stocking isn't where you'd like to stick the coal.

If the article itself doesn't annoy you enough, there's his letter in reply to it. I don't know if that is the full text of his reply (I couldn't find it on the magazine's site) but he completely fails to respond to anything in the actual article and instead writes about the terrible martyrdom of his company and the unscientific myth of climate change.

Here are some of the groups mentioned in the article who deserve something better for their holiday. Check out the OVEC photo links if you've never seen this atrocity.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Let it Snow, Let us Know

Welcome, December, one of my favorite months. We're getting our first good snow of the season, about five inches so far and maybe a foot or so by the time it stops tomorrow. This makes me happy. I know there are people who don't like snow. I've heard them griping, and I understand that they exist. I just don't understand why, and am especially confused about why they live in places where it snows a lot. Everything is quieting, slowing,'s like meditation without the work, the end of industrialism without the death and suffering. Ahhh.

Along with the snow and crisp sunny days and icy beards, December brings birthdays to the males of my family. If the three of us make it through another three weeks or so, we'll be up to 234 years between the three generations.

I learned of something very cool today. Want to know what they're studying at MIT? It's all free online here. Courses, readings, assignments, even lecture notes. And it's not just engineering; there are literature, history, anthropology, and lots of environmental and planning courses. Makes for some interesting browsing, but it's still the same old way of looking at the world. If some of the following schools follow suit, I'll really be interested.
And if you know any good teenagers, make sure they know about schools like these.

Audubon Expedition Institute
College of the Atlantic
Green Mountain College
Naropa University
Northland College
Prescott College
Warren Wilson College

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Patty Griffin

This has nothing to do with the usual topics of this blog, but I've just watched Patty Griffin's new concert dvd along with a Sopranos episode with a bit of Springsteen's Glory Days attitude (and according to the credits, Southside Johnny as himself though I didn't spot him) and I'm thinking a bit of my old days as well.

For those who've never heard of Patty, she's a songwriter covered by a lot of famous singers and increasingly well known for her own releases as well. Earlier this month she won the Americana Music Association's awards for Artist of the Year and Album of the Year.

I knew Patty in the early 90s when she was working at a pizza restaurant and playing as opening act in a tiny club
in Harvard Square. OK, I'm exaggerating the "knew" part; more accurately, I was telling everyone who'd listen that she was going to be a big star, and I might have looked familiar to her in a crowd.

I'd see her walking around the Square and, in what I now think of as a 'what if' moment, once we met as each was walking alone
in opposite directions around Jamaica Pond. She looked sad, as she's said she often was in those days, and our eyes met but we didn't speak. I told myself on the next loop around I'd tell her how much I enjoyed her music and see if she wanted company, but she didn't make that next loop.

Then she disappeared for a few years, moving back to Maine if I remember right, and I wondered what was wrong and why she wasn't a star yet. Finally in 1996 came her first major release and I went to a signing she did at a store in Boston. I brought with me a six song tape she'd released five years earlier and she signed it, "Can't believe you have this!"

Fast forward and she's the star I said she'd be. It was an easy prediction. She has a powerful voice which resonates inside people causing chills and hair-raising whether she's shouting or whispering the words to her mostly sad sounding songs. But hey, if you need cheering up there's the love song
(Heavenly Day) to her dog.

So, the point. Go buy some Patty Griffin music. For memories, I still prefer her old stuff with just her voice and guitar as on that old tape and her first CD Living with Ghosts, but if you prefer a band and more production try this year's award winning Children Running Through, and then you can work on getting the four in between.

We now return you to the ongoing collapse of industrial civilization...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

In Which You Imagine What I'd Write

I still haven't shaken a cough that began four weeks ago, and I'm having trouble concentrating on anything including the life and death matter (for my cat at least) of looking for a new job, so I'm going to clear the desk of some blog ideas that I haven't gotten around to writing.

1) I'm shocked, shocked I tell you, to find that hunters are acting illegally and unethically. According to an article in today's Duluth newspaper, 2/3 of the DNR officers quoted think 40-50% of the bowhunters in town are illegally using bait to lure deer. This is not only illegal throughout the state but people taking part in this special hunt are specifically told in person that it is not allowed. Another article reports hunters seeing fewer deer in this third year of the hunt and speculate the hunt is reducing the population. This is truly complete speculation because the completely unscientific hunt was authorized with no idea of what the deer population was to begin with, much less with any attempt at monitoring the population as the killing took place. Meanwhile a recent poll
on the newspaper's website regarding hunting showed almost 60% of respondents (at a steady rate which made me guess the results were at least legit if not scientific) were "rooting for the critters", which seems a landslide in one of the country's major hunting regions. With two of the three biggest original proponents of the hunt off the City Council in January, and an incoming Mayor who was less than enthused about expanding the hunt in the city's parks, perhaps it's time to start working on eliminating or at least reducing this slaughter.

2) I attended a student dance performance at the university Friday night, which had me thinking of revisiting a column I wrote a couple years ago. I love modern dance for its athleticism, sensuality, creativity, expressiveness. It's my favorite art form, perhaps in part because my earliest exposure to it involved works with strong themes of nature and paganism. At a student event like this with 16 short works, I also get to hear some music new to me. Didn't write anything new but I did add a bunch of dance dvds to my Netflix queue.

3) A month ago as I flew east with two favorite books of essays, The Hopes of Snakes by Lisa Couturier and The Abstract Wild by Jack Turner, I jotted down some ways in which I'd compare and contrast. Respectively, east vs west, suburban vs wild, female vs male, literary vs plainspoken, compassion vs action, emotion vs ideas, individuals vs species. Didn't write anything...are you noticing this pattern? you know why I never finished that MA in English...but it was good to read them again and make a bunch of notes in the margins.

4) That was an idea from a month ago unacted on. You think that's something? A couple years ago when I was doing a biweekly column, I intended to write one titled In Praise of Ecoterrorists. In my mind this has now expanded to a three part series about the so-called ecoterrorists, the real ecoterrorists, and the silently complicit (like me) who let what they profess to care about be destroyed through inaction due to issues of fear, security, obedience, etc. I'm going to be requesting my FBI file soon; if I find that I don't have one after all those years of marching, writing, and donating, I'll probably be disappointed enough to get to work on this idea.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Cassie the cow didn’t jump over the moon for your entertainment. She jumped a six foot fence at a slaughterhouse in a desperate attempt to save herself. And compared to most cows, she got lucky. In her case being lucky has involved post-traumatic stress disorder, anti-depressants and sedatives, agoraphobia (fear of going outside) as well as fear of people and being with other cows (slaughterhouse memories). Attempts to socialize her have mostly failed but she has become comfortable being in her own stall with an open window with other cows on the outside. Though her history was detailed on a sign, I’ve recalled it from a few notes and memory so may be off on some details.

After another sanctuary couldn’t handle her needs, Cassie now lives at Maple Farm Sanctuary, formerly a dairy farm for three generations, which is located about ten miles from my father’s house and run by a constantly busy couple of approximate age 60 with the help of never enough volunteers. Their MySpace page includes a newsletter and the heartbreaking/warming story of the life journey which led to beginning the sanctuary. The 150 beautiful rolling acres are home to llamas, cows, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, horses, a miniature pony, and two piglets.

I attended a benefit to raise funds to build a better home for Cassie at the sanctuary a few weeks ago. Peter Young, who served two years in prison for releasing fur farm minks, spoke about how actually seeing chickens being slaughtered was what changed him into someone who had to act directly. He said he’d heard all the Starbucks jokes; I wrote one myself in an old column: “After years living undercover, Young was caught shoplifting CDs from Starbucks and I certainly can’t condone that. Everyone knows you shouldn’t go to Starbucks.” Seriously, I completely agree with the goal of putting furriers, fur “farmers”, and trappers out of business. But I don’t support releasing thousands of mink into the wild to kill native animals and where almost all the mink quickly die themselves. If a habitat were capable of supporting thousands of native mink, they’d already be there. This is just an alternate version of humans acting as if they have the right to do whatever they please with the natural world. There weren’t any questions following the speech so I approached Young later to discuss this but he was deep in conversation with a couple adoring fans, and since I was from 1000 miles away and thus the stranger (i.e. the FBI guy) to everyone there, I let it go and walked away.

I’ve always been the stranger: an only child who started school early, then skipped a grade. Academically, the school wanted me to skip two years; socially, my father decided one was enough. Maybe I might have been an oceanographer or another worthless millionaire if I hadn’t absorbed the values of the 60s, but at age 11 I was first published, a letter in Newsweek supporting the American athletes who raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the national anthem. Growing up, I hiked through nearby woods beginning my love of nature and explored an old graveyard where the inscription “Died from wounds received at the hands of her husband” led to my first attempt at fiction.

In my mid-twenties, I joined Mensa for a year. My partner at the time berated me for being an elitist. It’s true that I am somewhat of an elitist in dealing with people, but hey, at least I don’t think my species is better than all the other species on the planet. No, that’s all the supposed non-elitists who think that. In any case, I didn’t join Mensa because I wanted to feel superior; I joined because I was looking for community I didn’t find in the everyday world. Nor did I find it in the group; I remember some good games of Trivial Pursuit and a rainy hiking weekend in the mountains of New Hampshire where I gave myself a mild case of hypothermia (what a genius!) but I found the same mix of beliefs and values and attitudes that existed everywhere else.

I deeply believe this is a contemptible culture, not only because of how we treat other species, but because of how we treat other humans and ourselves. When someone asks what you do, they’re not wondering if you meditate, read the classics, walk in the woods observing phenology, or volunteer at a homeless shelter or wildlife rehabilitation center; they want to know how you earn money. Tell someone you’re going to college to learn or follow your passion for art or history and you’ll get a strange look because you should be training to make more money. It’s the obsession with money which assigns a cost to other species and steals their true value.

I’ve marched with tens of thousands against wars and for abortion, been to stadium sized sports events and concerts, but always knew we had just an issue or song in common. The only time in my life I’ve been in a crowd of hundreds and known we all shared basic core values was at Maple Farm Sanctuary. That was a powerful day, and that unusual feeling of peace lasted through the two quiet weeks I spent at my father’ the past it hasn’t taken two days before we got into an argument.

The feeling came without any big dramatic moments with people or other animals at the farm. I did some small talk, ate some processed veggie food, mostly ignored the music being played, got a cookbook at the silent auction. There were a few goats and cows in an area where they could come over to a fence for human touch if they wanted (and at least one of them usually did), a mix of llamas, goats, and turkeys in one less accessible fenced in area, and five more cows to watch at pasture far beyond a temporary fence to keep the humans out. More animals were in a barn which could only be visited on a tour...I went on one of the early tours and then again on the last tour of the day. This is where Cassie could be found in her area at the end of the barn. Among other animals along the way were a llama who removed my hat to smell my hair and two piglets who, before arriving at the sanctuary, had already had their tails docked and bore blue dye to indicate to the dockers which pigs still needed to be mutilated. The feel of their snouts against my hands was the most interesting sensation of the day because I’d had no previous experience with pigs. Throughout the day, I know many people were sharing my desire to spend more time touching the animals and it was hard to remind ourselves that this was not a petting zoo but a rare place where these animals were fortunate to find life.

If living in Duluth for six years hadn’t put me in debt that requires an income, I’d ask the folks at Maple Farm if they wanted a full time worker in exchange for room and board. Instead for now I’ve been compiling a list of sanctuaries and studying websites. Maybe when I’ve broken free of my own imposed obsession with money I’ll become a traveling volunteer, knowing that sanctuary is always just ahead.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Boston Half-baked Beans

Public Garden

After landing on a dark and stormy night, I got outside as quickly as possible the next morning and strolled beneath the fully-leaved trees in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue. It seemed incredibly lush after the near bare trees I’d left behind in Duluth. This took me to the Public Garden, one of my favorite spots in Boston, where I returned often during the next two weeks. Towering Belgian Elms among many other species, the man feeding rock doves perched on his hand, the lagoon with its geese and mallards, the Arlington Street Church with my memories across the way, tourists taking photos of bright red maple leaves and hefty but sleek grey squirrels. As I sat on a bench jotting notes and thinking how lucky I was to have lived most of my life in this city, I glanced up to see an attractive woman, one of the many who’d already made an impression, smile at me.

She and the other women of Boston had me fantasizing about losing twenty years and pounds, and feeling more aware of that aspect of life than I am in Duluth. I’ve reached an age where I’ve started to have some regrets about my past choosiness in taking lovers, while paradoxically being so much choosier now that I’m really not looking for any new ones at all. Not that the near-vegan, deep ecologist, non-driving, atheist pool is very large anyway; there ain’t a lot of fish in that sea, and I’ve learned over the years that relationships with women who don’t share core values are doomed and not worth much. Except maybe when you’re old and thinking back about missed opportunities of shallowness.

Veggie Food Fest

After a day flying followed by little sleep in a hot smelly noisy hostel, I wasn’t in the mood for the crowds of the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival this year. They really must find a larger space to hold this event. I only stayed for an hour, collecting a bag full of free samples and saying hello to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. The highlight was the award-winning carrot cake from Cafe Indigo. Asked on my second walk by if I’d tried it, I said, “Yes, could I try it again?” Fortunately, my visit the following day to Maple Farm Sanctuary, which I’ll write a separate entry about, made the date of my trip worthwhile.

Arnold Arboretum

Visiting the arboretum was a trip back in time on many levels, not only due to many memories from years past, but also a step back to fall colors after bare trees, and to the sound of blue jays whose brethren had migrated through Duluth in the thousands weeks earlier. My favorite part of the arboretum had always been Hemlock Hill, an area currently being destroyed by the non-native woolly adelgid. It’s very sad to see this spot in decline with most of the trees dying and what had been a dark cool habitat opening up to the sun. My sadness was relieved somewhat when a snake appeared and I watched him for a few minutes. As a winter lover with limited time, I focused the rest of my visit on the conifer tour. Where among these dozens of trees from around the world did I find Eastern Grey Squirrels? Why, under the local native Pitch Pines, of course.

I used to live a couple blocks from the arboretum on the only dirt road (a short alley actually) I knew of in Boston, with a view of tall oaks where I saw fat raccoons. After a couple years, the road was paved and all the space between buildings turned into a parking lot. As I walked past on this visit, I saw on the paved parking lot, they put up some condominiums, and they’ll charge all the people an arm and a leg just to live in them. Incidentally, I was never that much of a Joni Mitchell fan but her latest CD Shine is a good collection focused primarily on the natural world and our destruction of it.

Into the Wild

Saw the movie version in Boston since it never came to Duluth and I thought this might be better on a big screen. I didn’t find any of the book’s power in the movie, although several (Holbrook, Keener, Stewart) of the supporting cast do a great job of bringing their characters to life. What I didn’t feel at all though was the connection with Chris McCandless I get when reading the book, so the movie felt empty to me.

Here Come the Suns

Browsing a bookstore, I found interesting November issues of two magazines I used to buy regularly. Shambhala Sun is a Buddhist mag but this issue includes articles by many people familiar to those interested in issues concerning the nature/society relationship: Gary Snyder, Joanna Macy, Theodore Roszak, Dianne Ackerman, and a Bill McKibben review of a book by Paul Hawken. Toss in an article about songwriter Leonard Cohen. The second magazine, The Sun, was long one of my favorites, allowing no advertisements and with much of the content written by its readers. This issue has an animal theme with Derrick Jensen writing on zoos, Sue Hubbell on a rehab bird named Bird, an essay on ravens, another on dogs in church, animal photos set to words of Walt Whitman, and animal related quotes including this one by Ed Abbey: “When a man’s best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem.”

Why I Went to Sea and What I Saw There

I didn’t actually. I stood in line in the cold wind for about 45 minutes before the whale watch was canceled due to high waves, and I wasn’t able to reschedule as their season ended a couple days later. But I’d already thought of the title and wanted to use it for Walden fans. Why I went to sea in the past? Because watching a humpback whale breach, or seeing her uniquely patterned flukes slip back into the water following a surfacing is a powerful experience. Because there is a great peace in being 30 miles from shore with no other sign of humanity in any direction, a peace not easily obtained on land.


Sickness had kept me from doing much in my second week other than enjoying being in the area as the Red Sox won the World Series and rereading a couple essay collections I’d brought along and plan to write about. Maybe taking life slowly was what led me feel like I was Home again, which I hadn’t felt on previous trips or even during the last few years I lived there. I found myself appreciating the landscape of hills and heavily forested countryside, amazed by how tall the trees were even in residential areas like the one where I was staying.

So I didn’t make it to Walden Pond until the day before I flew back. After arriving in Concord on a delayed train, I first stopped at Fairyland Pond which I had to myself except for a dozen geese in the water and perched on a fallen tree. Oak leaves and pine needles covered the ground in a combination I hadn’t realized how much I missed. Many other memories of humans and other animals I’d shared this place with hung in the air with the low clouds.

Still heavily congested, cluttered with thoughts of the trip home if not Home, and planning to make a couple more Boston stops that day, I wasn’t in a very alert naturalist mode but I still noticed part of a crushed turtle shell as I walked along the road to Walden, where I found one area of shoreline collapsed (most of the walk around the pond is a narrow path with a fence on both sides to help prevent erosion) but another shoreline area covered with many four-foot pines. There was a big crowd of kids at the cabin site so I didn’t make my usual stop there, nor did I make it downtown to the gravesite for my usual reflection and thanks. The shop was closed due to construction so I also wasn’t able to buy a book I intended to get. Much hadn’t gone as planned both on this day and on this vacation but they had still been good ones.

The Return

The trip east had been made over heavy cloud cover with no good views even during landings and takeoffs. I had much better luck going west as we took off over Boston Harbor with good views of the city and Cape Cod, and heading west over Quabbin Reservoir, Hudson River, Finger Lakes, Niagara Falls, Lakes Erie and Michigan. Coming into Duluth over Lake Superior, we paralleled the sand bar with a good view of the shipping entrances and one of my favorite hiking spots.

A smooth travel day until I actually got here. After landing, it appeared my bag had been lost as it didn’t appear. After waiting at a counter and filling out a form, I took a look up the luggage ramp on my way out. Up at the top I thought I just might be seeing a little silver which just might be my black and silver bag in the darkness. Back to the counter where I had someone climb the ramp...YES, my bag was here. Then another wait for a cab (yes, here one must call for a cab at the airport). I’d given my only apartment building key to the person feeding my cat, and with the managers and everyone else I tried calling out, it took me an hour to get into the building. OK, Universe, no need to be so subtle. Just give me that lottery win to pay expenses and I’m outta here.

First thoughts on seeing my cat after two weeks with a miniature dachshund: So Big, So Black, So White.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Until November...

The greys continue: more rain yesterday with the east wind blowing pounding waves of Lake Superior to Duluth, fog this morning, and another big noreaster due tomorrow into Friday when I'm due to fly away. Though I expect to have plenty of time to write during the next couple weeks, I won't have a computer so I'll probably do a lot of typing in one session when I return in November followed by restocking the kitchen and ugh, job hunting, which I usually regard as a lose lose proposition. My long forecast unemployment began Tuesday afternoon with a sigh of relief, unsure which was the frying pan and which the fire; this afternoon I had an interview which was arranged quickly because I'll be out of town during the normal process. I have to call mid-vacation to see if I'm still in the running.

And now, because the cat just sat on this table staring at me and waiting for me to cross my leg to arrange his favorite lap position for him, it's time to sign off and begin 36 hours of quality cat time because I feel horribly about leaving him for so long. If I had a TV show like Ellen, I'd cry for you all about it. Have a good couple weeks.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I and 16,000 of my closest friends are participating in ecoblog day.
Of course, every day is ecoblog day here at greentangle. You'd think they would have consulted me, because I'm too busy to do this properly with links today.

I'm firmly convinced the only thing which could save the human species from the hellish path of a delusional meaningless life removed from a natural world destroyed by us, and the only way to avoid the extinction of most other forms of life, is a major change in attitude and how we relate the natural world around us. More technology and conservation isn't going to save us or keep this way of life going beyond this century. Leaving aside the matter of how likely I think this change is, I'm presenting a list of books and activities to lead toward that change.

Your first stop may be Walden by Henry Thoreau. Questioning "progress" long ago, he was never afraid to speak his mind. A more recent outspoken advocate for the natural world was Edward Abbey. From fiction such as The Monkey Wrench Gang to nonfiction like Desert Solitaire and his many books of essays, he'll make you laugh, fume, and think. Just as he intended.

Stock up on field guides: mammals, insects, birds, trees, flowers, mushrooms, weather, stars. Maybe a book on a specific species, whether a porcupine or an oak tree. Whatever you might have a little interest in, learn some more, and watch. Realize it's not all just a backdrop for your life. You're just one part of something much bigger.

Are you interested in the history of ideas? Try Nature's Economy by Donald Worster, or Nature's Web by Peter Marshall (no, not the Hollywood Squares guy) for an exploration of ecological thought through time and around the world, or The Rights of Nature by Roderick Nash to learn how ideas about environmental ethics have changed. There are also many good books about nature writers, and others which explore the role of nature in religion, psychology, literary criticism...whatever you can imagine is probably out there.

Question consumerism with Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin, A Reasonable Life by Ferenc Mate, or The Poverty of Affluence by Paul Wachtel. Learn why it, and our population growth, can't go on in Overshoot by William Catton.

Take a break for some poetry by Robinson Jeffers and Gary Snyder.

Think about the ethical implications of your diet after reading The Way We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason or The Food Revolution by John Robbins. If those get you thinking about how animals are treated, one basic text to explore among many is Animal Liberation by Singer.

Get some inspiration from people acting on their beliefs from Free the Animals by Ingrid Newkirk and Eco-Warriors by Rik Scarce.

Just want to do some good reading without becoming a radical? Try any essay collection by John Quammen or the books of turtle expert/artist David M. Carroll. Two slim but wonderful collections of essays I'll be rereading on my next trip are The Hopes of Snakes by Lisa Couturier and The Abstract Wild by Jack Turner.

That's a lot of reading. You need to get out more. Get out of your climate controlled house, get out of your car. Walk by a stream or the ocean and let the sound of the water soak into you. Lie on your back, feel the earth beneath you, and play the cloud shape game. Keep records of when you see the first skunk cabbage or bluejay of the year...these records will show you the effects of global warming. Watch a migration, be it bald eagles or green darner dragonflies. Shiver in the winter and sweat in the summer. Snowshoe, don't snowmobile. Follow those animal tracks in the snow and see where she goes. Consider that animal not as your meal or an object, but as you think of your pet, as your companion on this journey. Slow down. Breathe deep. Think, but don't forget to feel.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Body and Soul

That's a great song done by Coleman Hawkins, one of my favorite saxophonists. But that's not what this is about.

Spent part of the afternoon going back and forth in my usual decision-making style as to whether to spend a long day (6:30 AM to 10:00 PM by bus) going to the Cities tomorrow for a few errands and delights but after writing up a schedule of plans decided to let it wait for a month when I'll have to go down for an overnight anyway to take a job test rather than rush through things tomorrow. Whew, that sentence (or was it a fragment?) was almost as long as the day would have been. And I deliberately didn't use any commas. So there.

Trying to make a decision involved checking some websites and I kept surfing once I'd decided. Found this article about where I'll be soon:

Seeds of change
Boston Vegetarian Food Festival gives fresh look at meat-free eating
By Kerry J. Byrne |
Wednesday, October 10, 2007 | | Food & Recipes

Just because something is labeled “vegan” “doesn’t mean it’s health food,” insisted Colleen Patrick-Goudreau in a telephone interview from her San Francisco home. If you want something healthy, eat broccoli, she said. If you want to spoil yourself with a savory snack or decadent dessert, eat her textured corn bread or her chocolate cake sweetened with plenty of sugar and vanilla.

Patrick-Goudreau is the author of the recent “The Joy of Vegan Baking: Compassionate Cooks’ Traditional Treats and Sinful Sweets” (Fair Winds Press, 2007). She’ll be in Boston with scores of other vegetarian vendors on Oct. 20 for the 12th annual Boston Vegetarian Food Festival at the Reggie Lewis Center (

The event is an attempt to “demystify” vegan and vegetarian cuisine, and to shatter the myths that surround the diet, said Evelyn Kimber, president of the Boston Vegetarian Society, which sponsors the festival. Stereotypes abound: vegan and vegetarian diets are bland, limited - all about health and not about flavor. Not true, argues Kimber and other local proponents of the vegetarian lifestyle.

“Look at our menu,” said Cuong Van Tran, owner of the Original Buddha’s Delight, a vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown, pointing to a thick menu of more than 200 items. Meat-substitute proteins, such as wheat gluten flour and a variety of soy products, are marinated in spicy sauces for 24 to 48 hours, giving them plenty of flavor. Tran also offers scores of additional vegetarian options at My Thai Cafe in Brookline.

“I look back on my prevegetarian diet of meat, potato and vegetable as boring and bland,” said Kimber. “There are only a handful of meats you cut out of your diet. There are thousands of plant-based foods to discover.”

Many foods derive flavor from spices, fats and oils. Spices, naturally, come from plant products. But people forget that “there are plenty of fats and oils that come from plant-based foods,” said Patrick-Goudreau. “The vegan diet is healthier than a meat-based diet,” she added. “But you can still spoil yourself.”

Buddha's Delight is the restaurant I long for when I think of my Boston days. I first ate there 20-25 years ago when its edge of Chinatown was still surrounded by the famous Combat Zone, Boston's adult entertainment district which is gone now except for the one strip club whose entrance you can check out from Buddha's upstairs windows. The stairs going up to Buddha's have probably scared many people away. Let's just say people don't go there for the decor. The My Thai Cafe is new to me but I expect to eat there a couple times as well as having my first meal at Buddhist Tea House which is located at a temple in Cambridge.

Surfing onward, I found a couple blogs where people had taken the following test to discover their most appropriate religion:

My results:

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (93%)
3. Liberal Quakers (83%)
4. Theravada Buddhism (79%)
5. Nontheist (72%)
6. Neo-Pagan (64%)
7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (60%)
8. Taoism (57%)
9. Orthodox Quaker (50%)
10. New Age (50%)
11. Mahayana Buddhism (47%)
12. Reform Judaism (42%)
13. Jainism (37%)
14. Bahá'í Faith (36%)
15. Scientology (30%)
16. Sikhism (28%)
17. New Thought (27%)
18. Seventh Day Adventist (26%)
19. Hinduism (23%)
20. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (22%)
21. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (21%)
22. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (16%)
23. Eastern Orthodox (15%)
24. Islam (15%)
25. Orthodox Judaism (15%)
26. Roman Catholic (15%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (11%)

Naturally, being the cranky sort I am, I have some issues with that. As far as I remember, I've always been an atheist (at one time a very passionate one who belonged to atheist organizations, hated religion, and had an extended newspaper debate with the head cheese of the Massachusetts Moral I'm pretty indifferent to the whole issue) which may be what they mean by nontheist at #5.

But I've never considered myself a humanist. In fact, one of the books I consider most important is The Arrogance of Humanism by David Ehrenfeld. Humans are not my God any more than God is, and the ideas that we're the most important part of the universe or the planet or the ecosystem, or that we can and should do anything that occurs to us, or are capable of fixing all the many things that we've somehow screwed up in all our omnipotent majesty in the past and present...well, frankly they're all repulsive to me. And more important than my repulsion, I think those ideas and values do enormous damage.

As for the rest of the top ten, the only church I've attended which I enjoyed was a politically and socially active UU one, the only religious woman I've dated whose religion I felt at all comfortable with was a Quaker, I've taken classes in paganism and enjoy the nature-centered theme of many of those groups, and I feel a pretty strong attraction to Taoist views. Based on what I know of it, I would have expected Jainism to score higher, but I'm not at all surprised to see my childhood indoctrination of Catholicism down near the bottom of the list. As far as I can recall, I never believed one bit of it for one moment. I did however keep going to church weekly well into my teens, but that was mostly to check out Ellen Smith's ass a couple pews forward. Body and Soul indeed.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Be careful out there

Living in the heart of hunting country, I'm used to being disgusted a lot of the time, but I was taken by surprise this morning. A free weekly newspaper got delivered and I saw an article headlined Look out Bambi, you're next with an accompanying photo of arrows labeled A Bouquet of Death. The article is a bland pro-hunting advertisement for a local store, but if you need to see it to believe it, you can try Googling "Budgeteer Bambi" to see if it comes up for you; it's one of those registration sites which isn't allowing my link to work.

I fired off a quick email:

“Look out Bambi, you’re next”? “A Bouquet of Death”? It appears you have a teenage boy fresh from a long session at his video game writing your headlines. I consider modern hunting an equally immoral act whether done by an educated naturalist or a drunken yahoo, but it’s clear which audience you’re aiming at. I hope you’ll have an equally amusing headline the next time one of the fools shoots another hunter.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Batting 2nd, HD Thoreau

I was planning to go to St Paul this weekend to attend some lectures on Thoreau, and do the other usual things I do when I visit there: sell as many books as I can carry (no one buys in Duluth), stock up on bagels (my favorite chain's not in Duluth), eat some good veggie restaurant meals (there are good ones in Duluth but the options seem repetitive after 6+ years here). All available in a neighborhood I love and investigated moving to last year before I discovered how tiny the local apartments were and decided that the Twin Cities area isn't very encouraging for public-transiting jobseekers. Too much sprawl and not enough transit, like most of the US between the coasts. And most of the coasts, for that matter.

When I lived in the Boston area, I was an occasional member of the Thoreau Society, as well as spending many days in Concord on my own. The Society is made up of an interesting mix of literature professors, history buffs, and folks who, like Henry, see the world in many unusual ways. Since my long-ago year as a graduate assistant taught me I had no interest in teaching, I qualified through my many unusual ways. The group gathers annually in Concord on the weekend closest to Henry's July 12 birthday, for lectures and various presentations, nature hikes, canoeing, and book sales. I'm much more of an antisocial hermit than Henry ever was (really, he wasn't at's a myth put forward by people who know nothing about him) and this was one of the rare groups of people that I enjoyed hanging out with.

Anyway, some members are giving lectures in Minneapolis this weekend so I had made a hotel reservation. But I canceled that when the Red Sox playoff schedule was announced and I realized the trip would cause me to miss seeing two games.

Baseball is the only sport I still follow, though I wish they'd get all the dead cows out of the game. Pro football and college basketball fell off my radar long ago. At my college, the big sports were wrestling and soccer, which I probably would have gone on enjoying if there had been an easy way to keep up with them. But's a whole other world.

My grandfather (still a fan at age 102) had some baseball connections and back in 1967, the year of The Impossible Dream, I met one of the Red Sox pitchers who took my program back to the clubhouse for a cover full of autographs. Which came first, following the pros or playing on the wild local lot which was shaped more like a football field? We all learned to hit to straightaway center; pulling the ball landed it in the many pine trees (there was a massive one closest to the field, protecting its young) to the left or through a window on the right. Hitting it out to the street was a home run. It's all gone now, subdivided into more ticky tacky boxes.

I remember pitching with a metal splint on my broken finger and how it curved around the ball when I caught a line drive back to me in that ungloved hand. And playing center, racing in for a sinking curving liner, catching it awkwardly waist high and flipping it to 2nd to pick off the runner for a double play. Innocent memories are often lies though; in cruel boyhood, there was also an unfortunate incident involving baseball bats and toads which I try to repress. When not outside playing, I bought games with cards based on players' statistics from the previous season and rolled dice for hours recreating games and batting averages and pennant races.

Many years later, I worked for a Boston company with a private box at Fenway and caught a game from that elevated vantage point, while some strange coworkers stayed inside the attached room watching the game on television instead. We got a foul ball that night.

So rather than listen to words about Henry this weekend, I'll be watching the games unfold on my computer. But baseball players are not my heroes now if they ever were. Among the Red Sox, there are hunters, Republicans, religious fanatics, the macho and the immature. Not folks I want to spend time with. I just want to see the game.

So when I visit Boston later this month, even if the Sox are still playing I won't be going to Fenway to worship and put more money in their overpaid pockets. I will be spending a quiet day by the side of a Pond and at the foot of a grave of one of the greatest Americans and greatest writers, who dared question American 'progress', who went to jail rather than pay a tax he considered immoral, who would be labeled a terrorist today for his vocal support of John Brown's armed uprising, who valued other species, who thought his inner voice was more important than what governments or religions or neighbors told him he should believe. He'd still be ahead of his time today.

But this week, it's fall ball. Let's play.

Monday, September 24, 2007

This, Then That

I needed Satan. Oops, I kneaded seitan. OK, actually I kneaded gluten because it’s not seitan until it’s cooked. Or, as for some mysterious reason they refer to it here in Minnesota, mock duck. Not a big deal really, but it’s the first time I’ve made my own. Whatever the small cost of the flour, soy sauce, and onion and garlic was, it didn’t come close to the $4 charged for the premade box and I made about five times as much. True, it doesn’t really taste as good so I’ll have to look for some more recipes.

A hot and hazy morning for late September, with leaves turning and falling. Took some time to enjoy some spiderwebs in the sunlight on a railing overlooking Lake Superior, with a couple kayakers passing and a ship anchored. Last night I saw Gordon Lightfoot sing his famous song about one of those ships which couldn’t handle what the Lake had to offer.

I’m rereading Into the Wild (about Chris McCandless’s vagabond life which ended in starvation in Alaska) in preparation of seeing the movie of the same name. This was an important book to me when I first read it ten years ago and remains a very powerful subject for me because I share many of his values but didn’t make his choices, and reading it again is causing lots of reflection about my own life. We’ll see if I feel like making a soul-baring entry, or just social commentary, after seeing the film.

Good appears the government can’t just yell “Ecoterrorist!” and be guaranteed a conviction. Last week, Rod Coronado’s latest trial resulted in a hung jury in favor of acquittal. We might learn later this week if they intend to try again. Here’s a link (probably temporary) to a new LA Times article which gives the basics of the case via an article focused on three vegans who went to jail rather than testify. It doesn’t mention the government witness whose inflammatory testimony of what Coronado said was disproved by a tape of the speech which the prosecution hadn’t known existed. Whether you think Coronado’s past acts are heroic (my inclination) or terroristic (the opinion of whalers, hunters, animal researchers, the government, etc.), it’s nice to know that sometimes the facts still matter in a courtroom even in these Green Scare days.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Opening Day

It’s opening day of the three-month-long citywide bow-hunting season here in Duluth, though they start it later in the areas more heavily used for other purposes. Whenever I think of this going on, I truly loathe the fact that I live in this city. They’ll tell you how safe “harvesting” (not killing) is, of course, but still it’s not that great for public relations in a tourist-driven economy for the average hiker or birdwatcher to have bleeding deer run by, or to stumble into a pile of entrails. As the hunting group’s rules state, “the goal is to keep the public unaware the hunt is taking place.” Keeping the public unaware is the goal of many politicians and CEOs as well, and most of the public is happy to cooperate.

I planned to write two entries on the subject, had a couple nifty titles planned, one for eloquent arguments about deer and human populations, the causes of those populations, family tradition, keeping in touch with one’s inner caveman, all the usual hunting debates, and one for the raw disgust and rage and sadness I feel over the matter and the people who take part in it. But I’ve written many columns and letters on those subjects since moving here, and the idea of writing it all over again didn’t hold much pleasure for me. If I wanted writing to be a chore, I suppose I would have made a living at it. I think creativity needs to have a spontaneous and joyful birth, not an outline.

Still, within a few miles of me as I write this, there’s a deer being shot, leaving orphans and friends behind. I have little doubt that phrase strikes most people as ludicrous, sentimental, anthropomorphizing, blah, blah, and blah. And that’s the problem. As long as humans set themselves apart as unique and superior, they’ll always have contempt instead of respect for other life.

Winter is coming. It was about thirty degrees when I headed out this morning, but I put on too many layers. The sun is still packing heat. I’m longing for the first snow, and hoping for another big one this winter which will shut down the human world for at least a few hours, muffle the noise and stop the cars. I’ve been busy making plans for a trip which will include a vegetarian festival, a farm sanctuary, a whale watch, a primate protest, veggie restaurants, a great arboretum, concerts, real bookstores, a visit with my long dead mentor Henry, and waves every day instead of only when the wind blows a certain way. There’s joy. As long as I don’t think about that deer. Just need to keep myself unaware.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Summer reading, some are skimming

I started a lot of unusual books this summer which I expected to love, but wound up not finishing. The most well-known is World Without Us by Alan Weisman which examines what would happen to our artifacts and the natural world if humans disappeared. I take great pleasure in seeing plants forcing their way through human construction but this book is actually a mishmash of unrelated chapters, some of which actually cover the main topic. As a Bostonian, I especially enjoyed the chapter which describes the gradual collapse of New York City. Unfortunately, too much of the book actually deals with the present and past.

Another book begun but not yet finished is Endgame by Derrick Jensen. Jensen presents his anti-civilization view step by step with a lot of spur trails along the way, and then questions what we need to do to end the mess we've created. He even advocates what's misleadingly called ecoterrorism these days. I have no problem with that, it's just his rambling conversational writing style which makes it hard for me to finish his books even though I usually agree with all his points.

I also traveled some of Wild:An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths. This is a much more literary rant against modern civilization, a 21st century political feminist version of "In wildness is the preservation of the world." In the sections I read, the emphasis is on the wild human as she travels the world. She lives an unpampered lifestyle, takes drugs with the natives, and uses all the four letter words, not as insults or adjectives as commonly abused, but with the real meaning of the words. At another time I might love this book, but I found it a little too much about her for my interests on this reading.

Unlike all those eagerly anticipated but disappointing books, my favorite read of the summer is a few years old and I'd never heard of it until a few weeks ago. City of Pearl is the first of six books in a sci-fi series by Karen Traviss. The final book is due out in April 2008 so my timing has worked out well, if the series continues with the topics and quality of the first book. Here are some of my favorite highpoints from almost 300 years in the future as humans meet several species new to them:
  • A gene pool of the only remaining earth crops not owned by corporations.
  • An alien who wipes out a city to protect an endangered species. It's nice to have might on the right side for a change.
  • A colony of 1000 or so vegan humans who take their dead to be eaten by a native species rather than filling them with poisonous chemicals and locking them in a box.
  • A scientist executed for vivisection of the child of another species.
  • A cop who helps ecoterrorists and is haunted by her memory of a lab gorilla who kept repeating the same signs to her. Lied to by the lab worker, she later learns the true meaning of the communication: "Help me, please."
  • The philosopher Targassat: "The universe is not here for our convenience alone. If we assume it is simply our larder, we shall starve. If we think that damage we cannot see cannot cause harm, we shall be poisoned. Wess'har have a place in the universe, but we should take no more from it than we absolutely need. Being as strong as we are now, we can take everything from other beings. But we have a duty not to, because we have a choice. Those who have choices must make them. And the wider the choices one has, the more restrained one must be in making them."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Omnivore’s Disdain

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan is widely considered a well-written book. I haven’t read it because I have no interest in supporting a man with the values on display in the book, but I have read a lot about it, most recently in an excellent article called “Hard to Swallow” by B.R. Myers in the September Atlantic. I urge people to read this article on the subject of gourmets and morality. My comments on a couple bits from the book quoted in the article follow.

“I have to say there is a part of me that envies the moral clarity of the vegetarian, the blamelessness of the tofu eater. Yet part of me pities him, too. Dreams of innocence are just that; they usually depend on a denial of reality that can be its own form of hubris.”

While there are some vegetarians who do have a childlike illusion that they’re living a life with no harmful side effects, I’ve found a lot more who have thought much more deeply about these issues than Pollan and act as they do because of their understanding of reality and the consequences of their choices. In any case, his last sentence above more widely and accurately applies to Americans’ view of themselves in the world.

Edited 9/26 to add OOPS! I got the following quote from a blog which presented it as a quote from the book itself, but it is apparently actually from the article by Myers.

“How arrogant, in other words, how pitifully close to mental illness, to want to be a better person! But this is where the Christian and the gourmet part ways.”

That is where the atheist and the gourmet part ways as well. I do not believe that all choices are equal, or that a person seeking to reduce the amount of suffering and violent death in the world is pitifully close to being a mentally ill serial killer. But Pollan’s disdain for ethics certainly explains his own behavior.

Yes, on the subject of diet at least, I think I’m a better person than Pollan and make no apology for it. I think the 15 year old vegetarian whose questions about killing chickens Pollan wouldn’t answer at the dinner table is a better person. For that matter, I think the wild pig he shot and chicken whose throat he slit for the sake of his book were also better people. But then, I don’t have very high expectations of someone who believes his appetite more important than ethics, and considers the hurt human feelings he imagines while playing at vegetarian to be of more significance than the lives of the animals he eats.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bye bye, Bubba

Though I’m a former zoo docent who played catch with Bubba a couple times, I have to say I never felt any particular connection with the polar bears. They were the zoo’s most popular attraction, but I preferred spending time with the brown bears, cougars, ravens, magpie, eagles, hawk, the snakes and other education animals, and in the nocturnal section.

So when word came of Bubba’s death from what is believed to be liver disease, I didn’t feel any strong reaction. It wasn’t until I read comments on the zoo’s website from people describing their sadness and tears that I started to feel a little choked up myself. I was glad to see people not only had been affected by an animal’s life and death but were willing to acknowledge those feelings.

At the same time, I understood the reason people had those feelings, and why this bear had been more important to them than the other animals at the zoo, was because they saw him as an entertainer, not a bear. If he hadn’t thrown a ball back and forth, he wouldn’t have been the star attraction. He would have been another animal briefly stared at before the people moved on to the next cage. Even assuming the best intentions, the zoo couldn’t really teach people about Bubba as polar bear because once he was captive in a cage instead of living life in his own ecosystem, surrounded by predators and prey and cohorts, affected by the weather and moving with the seasons, he really no longer was a polar bear. One learns biological data such as skin color and insulation properties, but one doesn’t learn the being. Learning and appreciating the actual beings which surround us would lead to societal changes in the behaviors which are likely to cause the extinction of wild polar bears. Has society changed its behavior because of its great love of all the Bubbas in its zoos? In fact, they’ve used their cars to get to the zoos and sped up the process.

I went to the zoo (by bus, slightly better than a car) for the day of Bubba appreciation and asked a docent I knew if any changes had been noticed in Berlin’s behavior after Bubba’s death since they had lived together all their lives. I was told there has been some pacing behavior (always bad news and something you’ll see almost all zoo animals do, at least until they lose even that much spirit of frustration and resistance) but she is eating, and I’d seen pacing in the past. Berlin was swimming and seemed OK when I saw her. Since the zoo’s loss of accreditation, they are not allowed to get another polar bear so solitude is her future which may not be so bad in this case since they are solitary animals anyway. The advanced age of many animals, the fact that many can now not be replaced when they die, and the lack of funds to make the improvements needed to regain accreditation may mean the fate of this zoo is already determined but just needs to be played out.

I shake my head at the idea of searching for intelligent life in space because I think we show very little of our own here and have no appreciation for that of other species because it is exhibited in ways other than our way which obviously must be superior. Rather than making the logical assumption that all beings have emotions, we caution against applying “human emotions” to other animals. Keeping that wide divide between ourselves and other species is the only way for people to live with their treatment of other beings and maintain the economic system which depends on their continued abuse. Our civilization has used the same bigotry to destroy other forms of human society which lived in closer harmony with the natural world.

Being a docent was a great opportunity and experience for me, but it was an opportunity taken at other beings’ expense, not an experience shared freely. Ultimately, a zoo is a place of sadness for me, and after being away for over a year, this one was even sadder for me with many animals I used to watch now gone. It seems unlikely I’ll be going back, and that’s a sadness of another kind.

Monday, August 13, 2007

On the other hand

Last month I wrote about the local hiking and the beauty of the land as being examples of why this is a special place to live. That's still true; this morning I spent a couple hours enjoying the Lake from the ledges area though of course I had to walk through the destruction zones to get there. A goldfinch about to land was startled to see me sitting there and changed his mind. Later on the Lakewalk, a swallowtail caterpillar got an assist from me out of the way of tourists in horseless carriages. As I stood in the shade watching him, a red-breasted nuthatch flew by and explored the tree a foot in front of me. Good moments, but...

A lot of major negative things have happened in this town in the past 2-3 years which have made it a much less desirable place to live for me. I recognize that others may see my negatives as positives, and before griping I'll salute the completion of the Superior Hiking Trail and all the other trail work being done in town as the biggest positive of the past couple years.

At the top of the list of evil: hunting being allowed in town. It's a short list of things I consider as vile an act as modern day hunting: animal experiments, working in a slaughterhouse, child abuse. I've written many letters and columns on this subject and I'll collect my points into another post, but the City Council's unanimous approval of this guaranteed that none of them would ever get my vote again.

The loss of the foghorn, caused by the Coast Guard, the city, and a small number of residents, removed one of Duluth's best qualities. Gone from the fog was the atmospheric sense of history and mystery, and the feeling of being in a unique location. Instead we were left in a dreary bland anywhere with an annoying whistle like a hated pop song ringing in our ears.

Those destruction zones mentioned above were mirrored in all directions. From shoreline to ridgetop, wetland to forest, downtown to outskirts, a city with a declining population, many struggling to survive, allowed the building of more condos and houses to cater to those with too much money. A green building (from so-called environmentalists) where there were green plants is still destruction.

Everyone involved should have known the zoo's loss of accreditation was coming as the city let years go by without meeting its financial responsibility there as in many other areas. More importantly to me, it didn't meet the moral obligation it took on by having a zoo. As a former docent, I know the people who work there care about animals, but unless a deep-pocketed benefactor appears, I don't see anything but continued deterioration in the zoo's future and hope they shut it down before it becomes much worse.

The arts in town continue to be completely unstable. Music venues come and go, the Norshor couldn't make it as a movie theater but someone thinks one replacing the Red Lion can, the community wouldn't support American National Ballet (if only the country worshiped dancers as professional athletes instead of football players), KUMD seems on the verge of becoming a radio station I'll no longer listen to.

As everywhere, civilized humans do their best to destroy the natural world. Remote location, few overpaid jobs, and rugged winters (well, we're losing that one) have combined to save more of this area than in most of the country and I remain grateful for that. It's quickly becoming one of the last reasons to live here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

It's a strange world, Sandy

I watched Blue Velvet again a few days ago, one of my favorite films by David Lynch, one of my favorite directors. Hence the title which is just seeming appropriate these days.

While waiting for the bus today, a beautiful and underfed calico cat befriended me as I feared I was about to see him run over before my eyes. I debated taking him home to at least feed him but didn't, primarily because of the other cat on my lap as I type this. Based on a cat sample of one (no doubt unscientific), Walden seems to get along much better with cats than he does with humans. Like human, like cat, I suppose. But I worried about the possibility of calico fleas and more life-threatening problems, the fact that I may very well only be able to take care of the cat I have for another year or so, and given the record number of shelter kills this year hoped that someone else would take him in. I was reminded of a similar situation a couple years ago when I visited a friend in Ohio and we found a new mother feline in a wooded park which neither of us could take. We brought food back which was eaten but couldn't find her again a few days later. I've helped a few animals in my time but I'm always troubled for a long time by each one I can't save.

When I started writing this blog, I told myself I wouldn't write about jobs at all, but yesterday was too unbearable to not mention and after all, I am just a temp soon to be gone anyway. In the course of 4 1/2 hours in a loud office where it's impossible to not hear others' conversations (especially since they're just shouted out to the crowd) I heard about an attempt to run over a rat which turned out to be a skunk, the dragging of a deer carcass back and forth along the road (maybe the only deer tale of recent months which didn't include joking reference to the Wisconsin guy who likes to have sex with non-human animals), shooting at raccoons on a bird feeder, and that a new restaurant sucks because they make their own ketchup instead of serving Heinz. Is it any wonder I try to work as few hours there as possible?

Why are there people like Frank?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Values of Deep Ecology

When I peeked out from the avalanche of library books I’ve been reading, I noticed that a class was apparently told to blog their thoughts about deep ecology...something I’d been planning myself since it expresses many of my core values. I’d been formed by the 60s and Thoreau but it was deep ecology, probably first encountered through Earth First!, which really led me to my deepest and most important beliefs.

Here is the platform first formulated by Arne Naess:

1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent worth). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.

3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.

5. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.

6. Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.

7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between bigness and greatness.

8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.

There’s not anything there I disagree with, and to me it can largely be summed up with the words respect and humility. It’s about catchphrases such as quality vs. quantity, wants vs. needs, small is beautiful, and being a part of nature instead of apart from nature.

I believe the majority of people who first advanced these ideas thought of them primarily in terms of species rather than individuals. I find that adding respect for the individual increases the platform’s relevance to daily life. The platform as is justifies my opposition to all new human destruction of natural space for homes, businesses, highways, etc. It’s empathizing with the individual life which leads me to not eating animals, spending some of my sidewalk time avoiding stepping on ants, and feeling as much wonder and delight when watching a common rock dove as when watching the rarer peregrine falcon.

I own five books with “Deep Ecology” in the title; a quick check shows four of them unfortunately out of print, although I do think more people are now aware of the ideas above. Despite the mainstream awareness of global warming at the moment, I find far fewer new nature titles of interest to me being published. Time to do some rereading when I get all these library books off me.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hiking in Duluth

This morning was a reminder, like Outside magazine's recent second listing of Duluth as one of the best places to live, of the very special positive side of living here. I walked a block from my door and caught a city bus, hiked for 5 hours over varied terrain experiencing great views, wildlife encounters, solitude, peace, and good exercise then took a different bus route which dropped me off three blocks from home. Most people would have to drive for hours to have the same experience.

I was content enjoying the typical moments: the croak of a raven, red-winged blackbirds, a variety of fungi and lichen, the red berry cluster of jack in the pulpit, a black squirrel, a woodpecker drumming. Then things started getting more distinctive.

I had considered wearing running shoes because I knew I'd be doing quite a bit of road walking on the section of the Superior Hiking Trail I was exploring for the first time. Once I started doing my best mountain goat impersonation on the rocky trails of Hawk Ridge, I was glad I'd opted for the hiking boots. Along with the rocks come downed trees to scramble over, around, and sometimes through, and undergrowth which often prevents seeing exactly where you're putting your foot.

Before starting my red/orange/yellow/blue trails loop, I sat on one of the rocks at the main overlook and breathed in the view of Lake Superior and the urban wilderness of Duluth below me. I hadn't been up there in 2 or 3 years and had forgotten just how stunning and relaxing it is.

Then, more hiking. As I came out of the woods onto the powerline, two deer stood ten yards away staring at me. I stared back. We were in each other's way and no one was moving. Finally, I crossed the powerline into the woods on the other side. As soon as I did, the deer took a few steps forward but now I had moved behind some shrubs and couldn't see them. I didn't believe they were going to walk within a few feet of me, so I poked my head out to see what they were up to. At that point they gave a snort which translated as, "Enough of the stupid human," and bounded into the woods.

The deer were the largest wildlife I saw, but I was just as pleased to see the startling white body of a male common whitetail dragonfly as he flew around and, after landing, camouflaged himself very well considering his distinctive coloring. As I came out onto Summit Ledges, a large bird gave a startled sound I'd never heard before and flew away before I could attempt an ID. A smaller unseen bird traded his call with me many times, but I couldn't pinpoint the species when I listened to birdcalls on the stereo later. Though that was frustrating, it was fun watching my cat standing on his hind legs, poking his face into the speaker as he tried to find the birds.

After the rugged descent from the ledges came the walk through my favorite section, the wet and overgrown pine plantation, where following the trail seems impossible but can actually be done through a combination of instinct and many blazed trees. I paused for a few moments to remember my old cat Hijack who returned to the earth nearby after spending 19 years playing fetch and moving around the country with me.

Walking back along Skyline, I found the head of one of the sandpiper species, spotted I believe. I wondered if this was the work of the peregrine falcons I've spent many hours watching in downtown Duluth or of a different predator. After a final rest at the lookout, I took one of the steep downhill trails over the protests of my aging knees. Back to the land of houses and cars, lawns and roads, which most people call the real world. I'd been refreshed enough by my time in the real real world to get through this one for a while longer.