Friday, July 31, 2015

I am walter palmer

I am Walter Palmer because I have coerced orangutans from the safety of their habitat for my palm oil laced food, cleaning and beauty products.

I am Walter Palmer because the maiming and torture of cow, pigs and chickens is an implicit reality of the factory-farmed meat I consume.

I am Walter Palmer because I have allowed cows to suffer before their untimely deaths as a result of conventional dairy products in my diet.

I am Walter Palmer because I too sport my trophies: shoes, coats, couches and bags.

Although I have never hunted, held or fired a crossbow or gun, I am Walter Palmer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

tugging at nature

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, one finds it attached to the rest of the world." John Muir

I have had the same compost bin since 1999. It’s just a rectangular piece of hardware cloth shaped into a cylinder with the ends twisted together. Each spring and fall I untwist the ends and form a new cylinder next to where the old one was and transfer the contents with a pitchfork. Each time I turn it I’m greeted by a nest of mice, a few snakes and of course a bunch of bugs. At the bottom of the pile I’m always rewarded with dark, rich soil for my garden.

An open bin means birds and whatever else eat from the compost sometimes litter the yard with food they weren’t quite able to make off with. It also means occasionally dumping kitchen scraps on an opossum. Nothing’s quite as startling at seeing a furry white face peering at you in the dark. Sometimes I’m so startled I fling the compost at them. They don’t move. They actually play possum. 

For years my backyard has been an unruly gnarl of weeds and invasive vines. I want to upgrade to a composting tumbler because changing the way I compost is phase one of my backyard renovations. I am determined to beautify it.

A friend gave me a two-barreled tumbler that I spent a June morning transferring compost into. When I got near the bottom of my old pile, I heard something scurry away. As I shoveled decaying matter-leaves, rotting vegetables, paper napkins-into the tumblers, I happened to shovel in a bright pink something. I took a closer look. It was five baby mice, no more than a day or two old. Pink as new erasers, blind, furless, all huddled together, straining their tiny heads around, shivering. I could almost see their hearts pounding through their translucent skin.

I called for my seven-year-old, who would be enthralled with their discovery. She came running over and asked me to put them in her hands. No easy task since suddenly my hands seemed huge and potentially harmful to their delicate skin and sheer smallness. She held them for a long time asking questions. Where is their mom, can we keep them, can we keep just one, why are they furless, where will they live now, why are their eyes closed, can we keep one, why are they clumped together, when will they look like mice, why can’t they crawl, can we keep one, are they cold, why are they shivering, do they need to nurse, can we keep one.

She then wanted to build a little nest for them. In the compost pile she found an avocado shell, relatively intact and lined it with fresh dirt, nestled the babies into it then blanketed them with orange lily petals. She wanted to keep them overnight. Just one night, maybe just one of them, can we sleep out here with them, can we keep one. I told her the mom was nearby watching and waiting for us to leave so she could get them. We found a leafy sheltered place near the old compost pile and we left the little avocado lifeboat.

I am grateful for my daughter’s curiosity regarding the mice and the tenderness with which she handled them. I’m grateful she didn't recoil at their appearance. I'm grateful she had the opportunity to interact with nature in a way most of us normally don't get to.

Maybe the scurrying I had heard earlier was the mom abandoning her collapsing home. Or maybe the mamma mouse was indeed nearby watching and took them by the nape one by one to a new nest. But I suspect they perished or were eaten by something else, as is the way of things.

Even if I’d kept the compost pile as is, who’s to say these mice wouldn’t have grown up and found their way into the mouth of something bigger or to a trap in someone’s home, as is also the way of things.

For 16 years, I had unwittingly provided a little world for some creatures. It contained biodiversity and everything these particular mammals needed to live. But just as unwittingly, I demolished that world, 'improving' my backyard. 

Each day I interact with nature in ways I’m completely unaware of. May I bring awareness to these interactions. May I also bring curiosity and tenderness, like my daughter.

May this underscore my relationship to all beings around me.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

patriotism-July 5

Because the large park near my house encompasses a hill and a ball field, it has become a favorite site for fireworks. Independence Day evening, the typically quiet neighborhood streets surrounding the park gradually become lined with cars, kids on bikes and families pushing strollers. People wearing various combinations of red, white and blue bring blankets and picnic while waiting for dark. The woman smoking on the blanket next to us has little flags painted on her fingernails. Having personally never lit anything stronger than an incense wand, I am shocked by the spectacular fireworks set off by ordinary people.

The park bottoms out onto the trail I frequently run. The morning of July 5, here is what I find:

For weeks we have traversed flag lined neighborhoods and observed flags in every possible public space. Where is the patriotism, the national pride, the day after the 4th of July? The sovereignty of this actual, physical, tangible land was hard fought. It seems decidedly unpatriotic to treat it so carelessly, so disrespectfully.  

I know city crews will eventually clean up the park. But there are several problems with this. One, the US spends  $11.5 billion yearly on litter clean up. Given all that strapped for cash municipalities have to maintain, cleaning up after its citizenry isn’t ideal use of taxpayer monies. I would prefer my city use that money to improve the aging sewer system. Two, city crews are not combing this almost six-acre park looking for trash. They will simply empty the overflowing trash bins. Three, who will comb through are the mowing tractors, grinding up trash into smaller bits. The plastic film encasing cardboard packaging, Styrofoam food containers, firecracker pieces, cigarette butts from flag nail lady. All this litter will eventually end up in the ocean and in the stomachs of critters mistaking it for food. And on its way, further compromise our sewer system.

I am fairly certain love of liberty does not entitle us to use public spaces in any way we please without responsibility to those same spaces. Wouldn’t true liberty mean we’re not reliant on others to clean up after us? Wouldn’t true pride in one’s own extend beyond fireworks and flags?

I am not patriotic. I hold instead with the I am a citizen of the world philosophy. The earth and everything in it is my compatriot. As such, I understand my choices reverberate wide and far, beyond fabricated boundaries.

So next year, on July 5, I want to start a new tradition. Let us again line the typically quiet neighborhood streets. Let us again picnic. Along with our food and drink, let us bring trash bags. Just as we would clean up after parties in our small private countries-our homes-let us clean up. Let us clean up this land that was made for you and me. And let us remember it was made for everything else that calls it home.