a mystery to me

In the midst of the myriad urgent issues facing our nation and world, we lately learn the Trump administration is taking time to broaden rules regarding the hunting of bears and wolves in Alaska. They are revising public land rules to allow the hunting of bears and their cubs in their dens. Oh, and wolves and their pups as well. The new rules also allow for shooting caribou from motorboats and for the baiting of bears.

 I find these rules depraved on every level, but, hey, it makes for great sport, huh?

I am still having trouble getting my head around this. Who, exactly, really wants this? What constituency is pushing for such barbaric rules? And should we not perhaps be concerned about them? 

The National Park Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service maintain that the broadening of the federal rules to accommodate such outright cruelty more closely aligns with state law. 

Hunters and tribal groups reportedly support the changes. For hunters, I question what exactly is sporting about killing animals and their babies in their homes. Tribal arguments about subsistence hunting wear thin as well. Subsistence concerns might be better aimed at simply securing the planet we live on before searching out bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens to slaughter.

Of course this is just a drop in the ocean of maneuvers the administration has made to ensure that we are able to pillage every last thread of life on this earth, but it is especially disturbing in its utter savagery.

What kind of people are we? What kind of animals are we?

interdependence

the naturalist approaches, his hand splayed out in front of us showing four distinct pieces of a porcupine’s scat. he urges us to keep an eye on the trees. we all scan the forest as if the porcupine is right there waiting. the forest looks back at us. later, the naturalist points to the cocoon of a gypsy moth. with a low hum of concern, the group presses close, muttering we’ll know what to look for then. we stop again when the naturalist finds the rotting corpse of a porcupine overhung with thin naked branches, the black and dirty white of its quills stark against the leavings of winter. the group moves on but I stay and look. a man stays, too, silent. finally, he leans down and reaches in. he plucks a quill from the dead porcupine and puts it in his pocket. he looks at me and says, do you want one, too?

what the other animals know

veru05_18_20My best friend seems unaware of the only thing that anyone talks about anymore. Coronavirus is not a thing to him. He appears to feel no fear and no trepidation. He has never worn a mask.

No, Tippy spends his days more concerned about things like the birds and the squirrels that he spots outside the window. He notices the trees in the wind, or the first pitter patters of a rainfall. He loves to nap. And, thankfully, he loves to spend time with me.

As a cat, Tippy does not spend inordinate hours scouring the news. He could really care less. He has his priorities. Aside from eating, pooping, sleeping, and tracking anything that moves, he values being close to me. He likes to sit with me while reading, lay on top of me asleep in bed, position himself in the middle of anything on which I am working. He follows me around.

I have a sneaking suspicion that he knows more than I do, than we all do.

For one thing, he has instincts, and he trusts them. To the letter.

He knows the difference between an actual, existential threat and mind games. Were a big dog to come into view, there is no doubt Tippy would make himself scarce.

That’s not to say that Tippy doesn’t pick up on vibes. He is, after all, my best friend. It’s clear, he ‘gets’ things. He can tell when I’m sad or scared or tense. He knows when I’m awake, staring into the dark. I don’t think he cares at all about what is going on that might affect my frame of mind, but I think he cares a lot about my frame of mind.

Every animal that has graced my life has been a teacher. They have shown me love and patience and humor and joy and tender compassion. Sometimes I have been witness to their fear, suffering, incomprehension, death. I have grown from every encounter – from my beloved cat friend to the cardinal singing in the tree or the snake slithering away from my approaching foot.

With our culture’s anthropocentric perspective, we suppose we know so much more than the other animals. Or the trees, for that matter. We’re all about our brains, and all that we’re able to accomplish with them.

While it is true that amazing and wonderful things have been born of the human brain, we don’t honor how little we really know. Nor do we own the many detrimental purposes to which we put those brains, on a grand scale. The other animals do not behave that way.

I suspect they are, in actuality, more highly evolved than humans. They are extremely observant and they understand the priorities. 

Like Tippy, they pay attention to the fundamentals of life – food, water, air, sunshine, exercise, relaxation, play, shelter, relationships, tribe. They tend to all that without leaving an indecipherable and disproportionate path of destruction. Nor do they just muck around with their own or other species for gratuitous or ruinous ends.

They live in sync with life.

But as the almighty human species, look what we do to the animals. We pen many of them up for their entire shortened lives, use them, abuse them, kill them, eat them in incomprehensible numbers, all while wreaking destruction across the planet.

Maybe the fact that the other animals seem incapable of doing that to us isn’t evidence of their ignorance but in truth shows us how truly advanced they are.

I think during this pensive time it might be wise to ponder the idea that the other animals know more than we do. Maybe give some thoughtful consideration to how they walk their life paths.

My wise and wonderful best friend Tippy never touches on the news, but he reminds me daily about the important things of life and the elements of true health.

if we truly care about health

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If we are so full of fear about health that we can be easily compelled to wear masks of dubious efficacy and to submit to severe restrictions of our freedoms — how is it then, that we fail to take the truly meaningful steps toward health?

If we truly care about health, we would change how we eat.

We would walk away from animal agriculture. We would say no to animal foods laced with antibiotics and unhealthy fats. We would not tolerate a system of slaughterhouses staffed with suffering, at-risk workers surrounded by suffering, doomed animals. We would walk away from dairy and processed foods, and head straight for the fruits and vegetables.

But, hey, we have masks.

If we truly care about health, we would seek fresh air and sunlight.

We would be outside every day, soaking up the vitamin D and oxygen, and moving our bodies. We would connect with nature instead of staring at screens as we huddle in our homes.

If we truly care about health, we would demand a healthy environment.

We would recognize that pollutants both on our earth and in the air we breathe are factors in the conditions that predispose a person to succumb to illness. We would recognize the terrible contributions of animal agriculture and other industry to the degradation of our environment and its impacts on health. We would refuse to support the practices, corporations, and government leadership that kill the planet upon which we depend. We would demand new leadership, and find new ways. We would stop walking around our yards spraying weed killers, too. Got your mask?

If we truly care about health, we would question our medical system.

We would insist that health care be readily available to all, not just to some. We would take the profit motive out of health care. We would insist that health care for all issues not be delayed or neglected while providers are busy flattening the curve or idled or laid off. We would look at the implications of the many drugs and treatments our system prescribes in both the current crisis and beyond. We would seek multiple perspectives from a diverse group of medical professionals. We would recognize that a system that promotes extended lockdowns by fiat across society is turning a blind eye to a host of serious health problems. We would denounce blatant propaganda and censorship attempts to thwart access to full information. We would question the mad rush to a vaccine, with all the risks and unknowns that entails, being prioritized over actually working to improve health.

If we truly care about health, we would insist on supportive community and government.

We would be intelligently going about the business of life, which involves other people. We would admit that forsaking actual community for virtual ones – or often, none at all – does not support health, but, in fact, compromises it. Going without employment, social commitments and relationships impacts our very ability to live at all, cutting off both economic means and derivation of purpose and satisfaction. We would demand a responsible, independent media. We would reject any form of censorship. We would not pick sides and vilify the others, rather we would join together to solve our problems – with new leadership that actually works for the people. We would reject any form of surveillance knowing that no thinking adult human being watched and tracked thrives under such treatment. We would insist on education that supports critical thinking. We would recognize that health does not derive in extreme authoritarian overreach that subverts the very foundations of a free society.

If we truly care about our health, there are so many things we could and should actively be doing — not just for the current moment but for the future. This business of corporate control of health, food, media, and government systems; extensive authoritarian lockdowns; economic devastation and instability; censorship; surveillance; pervasive fear, distrust, division, anonymity — this is not it.

If we care so much about health, our own and our neighbors’ and our loved ones’, we need to let go of our cowering fear. We need to own our responsibility in this — and that means far more than wearing a mask.

dog walks at the shelter

veru2_20_19Walks with my canine friends at the shelter continue. There is always a need.

Most of my furry buddies are pretty excited to get out into the snow, delighted to snuffle their noses a bit in the white stuff. They want to chase things down into the bushes, and explore the tracks of those who’ve gone before them. There are actually quite a few birds flitting around in the trees and brush, teasing the dogs with their chirps.

Some of the residents are so incredibly loving and anxious for affection — they are more interested in cuddling or petting than walking. A few are so bruised from their personal histories that they are petrified with fear. It breaks my heart on both ends of the spectrum.

They wear the ghosts of their histories. Just like people, they are each interesting and individual and feeling. I am glad they have a safe, warm, and caring place to be right now, but I am sad for the path that led to their arrival there.

I come away from my shelter walks with a smile, but always feeling blue, too.

coming around to a planetary health diet

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It’s old news for at least some folks. A recently-released report, researched and written by scientists, suggests that our animal-centered diet is unhealthy and it’s bad for the environment in a big way.

“Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems” proposes the “planetary health diet” as a major part of the solution to our health and environment concerns. They assert such a diet would help us to avert climate change while preventing millions of deaths and improving health around the globe.

At the crux of the proposed diet? Globally significant reductions in foods like meat and sugar (by more than half), and doubled consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts – you know, plants.

Surprised? I thought not.

At the same time, we’re awfully slow and tentative in our embrace of a way of eating that holds the promise of so much positive outcome. Those outcomes go well beyond the commission’s vision, too.

Back in 2005, Dr. Will Tuttle beautifully and painstakingly explored the roots and impacts of our animal-based diet here in the US, and he proposed a happy alternative in his book The World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony. When you grasp the picture Tuttle paints, you realize the wild extremes of the startling damage our animal-centric diet inflicts on us, the very way we think, our relationships, on others with whom we share our earth, and on the world.

Tuttle’s answer to that is pretty simple, logical, and indeed doable. It certainly jives with the EAT-Lancet Commission’s conclusion. From their summary report:

The global adoption of healthy diets from sustainable food systems would safeguard our planet and improve the health of billions.

World Peace? Healthy life? Planetary Health? Hell, yeah!

And yet, here we are still simply romancing the concepts. They look good from a distance, but folks remain reluctant to get close. We continue to be wooed by the old, abusive amour, and thus our unhealthy addictions continue with only minor concessions to our better judgment.

It’s time. It’s time to step up. Take care of yourself. Take care of your kids. Take care of our earth. It’s right there in your kitchen. It’s one thing you can actually control – at least for now.

Even if you can’t make it to vegan yet, move in that direction. Do it with full intent, with purpose, with a plan to ultimately go full bore. There are plenty of books, blogs, and vlogs out there to help you find your way, but, honestly, it’s not complicated. We make it complicated for ourselves by our extreme dependence on all things animal and processed and advertised.

Start now. A few things to shoot for:

  1. Reduce your animal consumption, at least by half. Start reading labels and be astonished by how huge a role animals play in your food beyond that burger on your plate.
  2. Eat more plants and a wide variety. The less processed, the better. Greens and beans are your friends.
  3. Support each other. Let’s move past the snide comments about rabbit food and work compassionately together for the better.

It’s your health and our planet we’re talking about here. 

Okay, then. One. Two. Three. Go! Enjoy!

change must be

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I remember it with both joy and melancholy.

I was finally preparing to leave. Everything was just about packed up. The house was already taking on that empty feeling. It was getting down to the wire, just days before saying goodbye to this place that I dearly loved but felt I had to leave.

I don’t know what made me look out just then.

I went deliberately to the window, and gazed out, the field stretching away to the west. And there she was, so close I could almost have touched her.

The fox stood still outside my window. There was a profound aura of peace and magic about this elusive, beautiful animal. I knew she was there on purpose. I knew we were connected somehow. Then, as if satisfied that her work was done, she disappeared.

I lived there for fifteen years, and never saw a fox before that day.

I was simultaneously calmed and distressed by the fox’s visit. I couldn’t help but wonder why the fox came to me. Was this reassurance about the path upon which I was about to embark? Or was this a warning?

It hurts to recall this moment. Stepping back into this particular past always does. Much pain and sadness surrounds the memory.

And yet, there is such beauty and peace and sense of connection in the memory, too. Even joy.

Like so much, I carry the fox in my heart.

Change must be. The fox knows, and she goes with me.

smiles

veru12_15_18Smiles are pretty awesome.

They generally come to us spontaneously, a happy, observable expression of joy or pleasure or contentment. A genuine smile touches anyone on the receiving end, too, usually evoking a similar response of happiness or pleasure. Good for everyone!

Even alone, perhaps reading a book or working on a project, when a smile comes to us, it is a small moment of transformation or illumination – an irrepressible flow of goodness that expresses through our face.

My best friend cat smiles at me. I don’t quite know how he does it, but he does. When he smiles at me, I just kind of melt with my own smile of love and happiness.

A dog that I visit regularly smiles, too. It is a ridiculously goofy, extravagant smile and simply wonderful to receive. There is no being down in the face of that smile.

Out and about, we come across strangers, some of whom acknowledge us with a smile, and many remaining aloof. The smilers change our day for a few moments, just lifting the spirit for a little way.

I have a couple of acquaintances who are big smilers. They smile all the time. There’s nothing fake about it, either. Their smiles are an expression of their personalities – positive, forward-looking, accepting, generous, fun. Their smile is kind of a habit. It affects everyone around them.

That’s not to say that people who don’t smile all the time are not all those things. I know plenty of non-smilers who are warm and fun and generous, too, and their smiles are all the more precious to receive.

I remember sitting in a waiting room at a doctor’s office years ago. I was kind of miserable. An older woman came and checked in. She was smiling. She took her seat in the waiting room, still smiling. Time passed, she smiled the entire time. I have no idea who that woman was, and I never spoke to her, but all these years later I remember her simply for that constant smile. I marveled that her inner state of being expressed itself outwardly like that. Even though we did not overtly communicate, she brought some peace and reassurance into the room with that smile.

No one likes a forced smile, nevertheless, I’ve been working on being a little more conscious about smiling. As a ridiculously introverted, overthinking sort of person, I don’t think I am much of a smiler. I tend to rather seriously and intently listen to other people – I am trying to remember to smile more during those times. That would be a true reflection of my feelings, too, because I am generally very appreciative of others and all that I learn from them.

Even when I’m alone, I’ve noticed I can change how I feel by smiling. Tasks are a little easier to do with a smile. I can make myself feel more optimistic or adventurous by smiling. I encourage myself when I smile.

Hey, it’s free and it’s easy. Why wouldn’t I?

Maybe I will have to tie a little string around my finger, just to remind me for awhile, while I develop my practice.