Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A thank you letter.

I just finished reading Bill McKibben's latest book, "Oil and Honey, The Education of An Unlikely Activist." 

Relevant links:

Instead of a book report or book review, I'll just share this letter of gratitude I emailed moments ago.  

Hi Bill,

 Just minutes ago I finished reading your book, "Oil and Honey".  I found it in the library yesterday where I had stopped on my way to go stuff envelopes for a local organization that advocates and fights for the preservation of wilderness.  The group of volunteers gathered there to help had discussions with topics ranging from how best to protect the wilderness next to our little town (and our food, water, and air shed) from the specter of fracking, to how best to have an impact on climate change.  Direct action was discussed -- the organization we were volunteering for has shied away from it for now.  I brought up the subject of the movement to amend the U.S. Constitution to say that corporations are not people and money is not speech and was quickly shot down by a man who thought himself wiser and savvier than I, with this missive, "It's impossible to amend the Constitution with our country so divided.  The red states will never let it happen."  He didn't say that he didn't think it should happen, just that he was sure it was impossible.  It knocked the wind out of me, briefly.  

After the envelope stuffing I came home and dived into your book.  Having finished it up this morning, I felt compelled to thank you for sharing your experience.  I've read most of your books over the years as well as books by most of the authors you mentioned in, "Oil and Honey".  I've read most of Terry Tempest Williams' work and followed Tim DeChristopher's story and Josh Fox's.  I've written letters and called my elected representatives and had uncomfortable conversations with family, friends, and strangers.  I knocked on doors for Obama in 2008 and didn't in 2012.  I was watching via the internet during those D.C. protests you organized.  I've wobbled between just trying to do my part to live slowly and intentionally and trying to be involved in this massive fight in a way that is sustainable for my own mental health.  "Oil and Honey" touched me.  

Thank you for sharing the bees and the quiet, the urgency and the tiredness, the deep sadness and the renewed resolve.  

This past summer I attended a direct action training camp in the desert of Utah partially sponsored by Peaceful Uprising which was the lead up to an action to stop oil sands development in eastern Utah.  I came away with a tremendous amount to digest.

I live on a mountainside about an hour's drive from Aspen, Colorado.  The nearest town to my home is Carbondale, a vibrant, spunky, organic, educated, locavore, clean-energy using, bicycle happy bubble of goodness in the world.  In April of this year, I resigned from an 18 year career as a 9-1-1 emergency call-taker and dispatcher mostly because I felt like there were bigger and badder emergencies in the world that needed my attention more than the ones I was answering calls about at work.  So now I am a 42 year old freshman at Colorado Mountain College with the intention of perhaps getting a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sustainability Studies.   

Last week, in my Intro to Environmental Science class, we had a debate about whether anthropogenic climate change is even real.  It was terribly disheartening to me that some folks in the class really, really don't believe that human actions have changed the climate or that we can do anything to mitigate the further warming of our precious planet.  

I continue to ride alternating waves of despair, confusion, hope, optimism, resolve, and gratitude.  

Right now, I am deeply thankful for your most recent book and the so important work that you are doing and I am deeply grateful to the unsung climate heroes all around the world who are surely riding those waves as well.  

Thank you.

~Dawn Dexter
Carbondale, Colorado

Friday, November 22, 2013

Field Trip Report - Rock Bottom Ranch

Most of the folks who know me have heard me say, I'm a "both-and" kind of girl, not "either-or".  And it's true about a lot of things.  Beauty vs. practicality?  No. I choose both.  Beauty AND practicality.  Sustainability vs. luxury?  No.  I say, let's have sustainability AND luxury.  Healthy economies vs. healthy environments?  No.  I know that healthy economies and healthy environments are not mutually exclusive, and that more often than not, healthy economies exist not in spite of, but because of, healthy environments.  

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting a wonderful place that is demonstrating all of the above "both-ands" and one more -- abundant wildlife including large predators like bears and mountain lions existing in relative harmony adjacent to a financially profitable agriculture operation.  Don't believe it?  Read on.  

As many of you know, I'm now a full-time student at Colorado Mountain College (CMC) most likely headed toward a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sustainability Studies.  This semester I'm a 42 year old freshman and loving it.   

So, yesterday, I got to go to Rock Bottom Ranch, in the El Jebel area in Colorado, with the rest of my Intro to Environmental Science class (ENV-101).  What a treat!  

Muckers. Sexy? To me, yes! BECAUSE they are so practical.
We arrived during a lovely late autumn drizzling rain.  Some of us arrived in casual shoes, some in athletic shoes.  Some who came from up valley near Aspen arrived in winter boots, because it was snowing up there.  Some wore what I call muckers.  The muckers had it right.

The staff offered muckers to anyone who needed them.  They have several sizes available just for the purpose of sharing with folks who come for farm tours, which they offer every weekday at 11 am. 

Rock Bottom Ranch (RBR) is a part of Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), an organization dedicated to "building a strong community of knowledgeable, capable, and motivated environmental stewards" and to the conservation and restoration of natural environments through a strong focus on education.  RBR is 113 acres, 70 of which are reserved only for wildlife.  ACES bought it at a time when it was under scrutiny for a 50+ unit housing development.  It's a very special property, because it borders wild lands and it is a crucial link for wildlife migration from the higher altitudes of Crown Mountain and Mt. Sopris to the Roaring Fork River, on the valley floor.  Not to mention - it's breathtakingly beautiful with a mixture of pastures, riparian areas, woods, and mountain views.

View from the back porch of the farmhouse / office at Rock Bottom Ranch.

ACES has worked with Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT) in creating conservation easements to protect this land in perpetuity.  If you don't know much about conservation easements or land trusts, I highly recommend reading up on them at AVLTs website.  

Rock Bottom Ranch Director and chef, Jason Smith, gave us a wonderful tour.  He started by telling us about the basics of Multi Species Rotational Grazing which is also sometimes known as Management Intensive Grazing.  If you have read the Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan or heard Joel Salatin speak about the practices used at Polyface Farm you will already have an idea of what Jason was talking about.  At RBR it currently goes like this: 

  1. There is already about 30 acres of established pasture on the property that is separate from the wildlife corridor.  You could go really deep and wide with a discussion of what a healthy pasture is.  Basically, it's grasses and legumes like clover.  The pasture is the first step in the entire system.  It takes sun and water and converts it to food for ruminants like cattle, sheep, and goats.
    Fuel made from sun, soil, & water aka grass aka pasture.
  2. The ruminants currently at work at RBR turning grass into meat, milk, and fiber are sheep and goats.  Using a system of portable electric fences, the staff at RBR move the sheep and goats to different small areas of pasture every 5 to 7 days, more or less frequently depending upon how fast they are consuming the pasture.  The ruminants are mowers.  

    Mowers aka ruminants aka sheep.  Also, beings who convert pasture into wool - magicians!
  3. When the ruminants are moved to a new area of pasture, the pigs are moved to the area where the ruminants just were.  They like to root around with their snouts looking for grubs and roots and such.  The staff at RBR are currently considering moving the pigs away from the pasture and into a more woody area because they have been disturbing the soil more than is ideal.  Pigs are natural tillers and just like with mechanical or man made tillers, it's important not to over-till the pasture.  Pigs can be very helpful to woodland systems because they till the fallen leaves into the ground which helps create the next generation of growth of trees.
    Tillers aka the cutest pigs I've ever seen.  Also, bacon.
  4. The cleaners.  After the pigs follow the sheep and goats to a new area of pasture, the chickens come along.  They like to scratch around for bugs, grubs, and larvae.  When chickens are present in an ecosystem, the population of mosquitoes often declines, which, I personally think is an excellent side effect of this type of egg and meat production.  
    The cleaners aka chickens.  Also, egg makers.
That's basically it for RBRs Multi Species Rotational Grazing system.  Pasture, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, portable, lightweight electric fencing, a portable chicken house, a portable shade structure for the pigs, a small portable shelter for the goats, and small, portable, water containers for all the animals.  It takes 3 or 4 members of the staff just a couple of hours to move all of the animals to a new area of pasture when it is time to do so.  

With this system, the animals do most of the work that machines and chemicals often do on a "conventional", modern farm.  They mow, till, fertilize, and help control pests and weeds.  At the same time, they produce meat, milk, fiber (wool), and eggs and have a great quality of life.  

Rock Bottom Ranch has recently been certified as Animal Welfare Approved.  This certification and food label lets consumers know that these animals were raised in accordance with the highest animal welfare standards in the U.S., using sustainable agriculture methods.  Buying food with this label is the next best thing to visiting the farm yourself.  The myriad of food labels out there can be confusing, even if you are just talking eggs.  If you want to know more about this particular label and why it is considered the gold standard and a badge of honor for farms, the AWA website is a good place to start:
Pasture, chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, woods, mountains, sky.  Ahhhh.  

You might be asking yourself about those aforementioned large predators that are often strolling through the nearby wildlife corridor.  How does RBR staff deal with those?  Jason said that the electric fence helps with mountain lions and bears.  Also, having a 600 pound boar nearby will deter them from attacking mama and baby pigs.  The chickens can hide under their house from owls, hawks, and eagles and the roosters will fight to defend the hens.  At night the chickens go into their house and the staff simply closes the door to keep predators out.  Another strategy that is often used is having guardian animals like sheep dogs and, this one surprised me, donkeys.  Apparently donkeys will drive away predators.  (My smart husband, Adam, is just now telling me that llamas will also drive away predators.  A friend of ours told him she has seen her llamas chasing coyotes off of her property.)  

We also learned about why Rock Bottom Ranch is in the process of building a climate battery.  A climate battery is a system for extending the growing season here in temperate Colorado.  It's a way of heating a greenhouse with very minimal fuel input.  Pipes are laid under the ground of the greenhouse.  Thermometers sense the temperature and turn on fans when the air is warm enough during sunny days.  Those fans pull the warm air into the underground pipes using the thermal mass of the ground to insulate them.  Then, at night when it gets pretty darn cold, the fans blow the warmed air back into the greenhouse.   At RBR the fans will be run by solar power, just as the electric fences are.  
Soon to be a greenhouse with a climate battery.  Very cool.  

Rock Bottom Ranch is working to create scalable systems for regular people.  Jason and his wife ran their own farm in North Carolina, before moving back to the Roaring Fork Valley to be a part of RBR.  They were able to earn a very comfortable living with a small amount of land and they want to help others learn to do the same.

But isn't food grown in this way more expensive than with "conventional" methods?  Sometimes, but not always.  It depends on how you look at costs and which costs you factor in.  If we consider the costs of the health problems that come from the environmental pollution and degraded food quality that factory and industrial food production create, we may see that the methods I've mentioned here are, in fact, less expensive.  Also, I believe that we consume smaller quantities of food if we are consuming higher quality food and that can lead to better overall health for individual humans and for our planet.  

Jason told us that a pig grown in an industrial system isn't even afforded enough room to turn around and they never have access to outside.  In industrial production pigs' tails are cropped so they don't bite at each other and cause infections.  This isn't a problem at RBR where the pigs have plenty of room to move around and root in the dirt.  Also in industrial farms the piglets are weened at just 4 or 5 weeks of age and the sow (that's the mama) is bred again.  Sometimes it becomes necessary to modify the piglets teeth so the sow can handle the constant nursing.  At RBR the mama pigs decide when the piglets will be weaned and RBR has chosen a breed of pigs called the Large Black Pig partially because they are good mothers.  None of the animals at RBR have to be modified to keep them from damaging one another.  This pig breed was also chosen because they tend to be docile and they have high quality meat.  In an industrial system pigs go to market after about 6 months weighing about 300 lbs.  At RBR they have a market weight of about 250 lbs after about 9 months.

I thought it was so interesting that the Large Black Pig breed was one of the most popular in the United States back in the 1920s but became nearly extinct by the 1970s.  With a return to farms that raise multiple species and breeds of animals AND vegetables, we may see a come back of these types of pigs.  

There is so much more to tell.  I learned so much on our visit to RBR and got to see practices in action that I'd only read about.  

This was one of my very favorite days of school this semester because it gave me so much hope.  In environmental studies we learn so much about the problems for the environment and for humanity.  I don't advocate living a life with eyes closed to challenges, far from it, I think we should live with our eyes wide open to what IS, so that we can make smart decisions based on real information.  But here again, I'm a "both-and" girl.  I want to know about the biggest, scariest, craziest challenges we face AND the most creative, smart, doable solutions.  I'm so grateful to all the people in the world who are really giving their all to make the world not just a better place for future generations, but a great place to live NOW. 

I'll leave you with a quote from ACES CEO Chris Lane, "At Rock Bottom Ranch, ACES works to showcase how wild and agricultural lands can not only co-exist, but also thrive."  Hurray for "both-and" people and solutions!

If you live nearby, I highly recommend a visit to Rock Bottom Ranch.  Take the tour or just stop by and see what they are up to.  The wonderfully friendly and dedicated staff is sure to welcome you.  

Beauty AND practicality.  Sustainability AND luxury.  Healthy economy AND healthy environment.  Healthy, happy, abundantly productive farm AND vibrant wildlife population.  Yes AND Yum!   

(all photos taken by me with my phone)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lives vs. profits. A false choice.

Two miners died in Ouray, Colorado this week.  Somebody's Dad.  Somebody's Granddad. Somebody's husband.  Somebody's friend.   

They were mining silver, gold, and lead.  

There is a human cost to planned obsolescence and always having to have the newest, best, fastest, coolest gadget.  Food for thought before the next upgrade to your phone / computer / camera?  

There is a human cost to cutting corners in mining.  

I have been in conversation with several people lately who have lamented government regulation of any and all industry because of the financial cost.  

They say that regulations are job killers.

It seems to me that lack of regulations and / or lack of regulations with teeth and / or lack of enforcement of said regulations are people killers.  Dad killers.  Husband killers.  Granddad killers.  Friend killers.  

I know that Dads and Husbands and Friends need jobs.  But asking us to choose between jobs and regulations is a false choice.  Asking us to choose between human life and profits is a false choice.  We can have both healthy, vibrant communities and healthy, vibrant, profitable workplaces.  

We can choose, as a society, to create and enforce, regulations that insist on best-safety practices in mines and all industries.  If we do, we might save someone's Granddad's life.  


Sunday, June 16, 2013

My favorite "socialist" institution.

"Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries." ~original source debated

"Socialism - noun - System of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control; also, the political movements aimed at putting that system into practice. Because “social control” may be interpreted in widely diverging ways, socialism ranges from statist to libertarian, from Marxist to liberal. The term was first used to describe the doctrines of Charles Fourier, Henri de Saint-Simon, and Robert Owen, who emphasized noncoercive communities of people working noncompetitively for the spiritual and physical well-being of all (see utopian socialism).Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, seeing socialism as a transition state between capitalism and communism, appropriated what they found useful in socialist movements to develop their “scientific socialism.” In the 20th century, the Soviet Union was the principal model of strictly centralized socialism, while Sweden and Denmark were well-known for their noncommunist socialism. See also collectivism, communitarianism, social democracy." ~Concise Encyclopedia 

"The Boston Public Library opened in 1854, and is usually considered the "real" first public library--that is, intentionally founded, not a happy accident. Its statement of purpose basically says:
  • There's a close linkage between knowledge and right thinking;
  • The future of democracy is contingent on an educated citizenry;
  • There's a strong correlation between the public library movement and public education; and
  • Every citizen has the right of free access to community-owned resources."  ~

I am deeply, joyfully, nearly giddily grateful for libraries!  

This week I have checked out music to do yoga by, music to dance to, music to get the creative juices flowing, and music I have not yet heard, so I suppose that would be music as adventure.  I have checked out a book about two guys who turned a foliage bereft vacant lot into a permaculture paradise and how they did it.  I have checked out two DVDs that promise to expand or enhance my knowledge of yoga, one which promised to teach me to sign, one about a girl who is an amazing musician even though she is deaf, and one documentary based on Jared Diamond's book of the same name, Guns, Germs, & Steel, which I have read and enjoyed.  

I've also checked out seeds.  Yes, seeds.  Basalt Library now has the coolest seed sharing program.  Each adult who has a library card may borrow 5 packets of seeds.  You check out the seeds, plant them, harvest the plants, save the seeds from the healthiest plants, and then return them in the same envelope for someone else to plant in years to come.  I've borrowed Swiss Chard, Oriental Mustard Greens, Cucumbers, Mesclun Zesty Salad Mix, and a very cool "Kids Starter Pack" that includes Bean, Watermelon, Zucchini, Radish, & Pumpkin. 

Libraries, in my humble opinion, are the most civilized thing about civilization.  They really are the great democratizers.  Where else can you get so much knowledge for FREE?  Where else can you check out a bunch of seeds and then a bunch of books or magazines or DVDs to teach you how best to grow those seeds?  

This morning, with just $2 to my name, I read about a book I really want to read (The Transition Handbook:  from oil dependency to local resilience by Bob Hopkins).  I went to the website of the book and found that it had been sold out.  So, even if I did have some money to buy it, I couldn't.  So I went to the library webpage, did a search, found out that my local library does not have a copy, but that 10 other libraries in Colorado do have copies and within minutes I had requested a copy.  Now all I have to do is wait for the email from my local library saying that it is there and go pick it up.  

I can't wait to plant these seeds and then sit down to do some reading and then do some yoga. 

Thank you library.  And thank you people who originally thought of libraries.  And thank you taxpayers around this valley, around the country, and world, who have miraculously kept public libraries going.  

What are you reading / listening to / watching / planting today?  What are you grateful for?  What is making you smile or dance or think?  What brings you peace and joy?  What are you passionate about?

Here's the article that prompted me to go find The Transition Handbook which is what prompted me to write this blog:  from - How the Transition Movement Is Spreading to Towns Across America

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Something "impossible" before breakfast.

How does your intuition speak to you?

Mine seems to be speaking to me through my body lately and if I ignore the quiet messages, it gets louder.  Yesterday it got loud in the form of my neck seizing up.  Over the course of several hours, as I crunched the financial numbers and told myself "no.  can't afford it right now." about several things that I wanted to do, the range of motion in my neck, my ability to turn my head side to side, shrunk until I could only look straight ahead without pain.  

I recently saw a quote that said, "You don't get what you deserve, you get what you believe."

I don't know if that's ultimately true.  I don't even know if I believe it.  But I pondered it.  

This morning, when I woke up, I thought about this physical pattern in my life - how my neck seizes up periodically.  I thought back to yesterday and the day before and any physical activities that might have contributed to this particular painful freeze.  And when I didn't find any obvious causes there, I started looking at the mental/emotional patterns that might be associated with this pain in the neck. 

Since inability to turn my head was really limiting my ability to see to either side or look over my shoulder I asked myself, "How are you limiting your own vision?" "How are you limiting yourself?"

And the answer seemed obvious, I was telling myself no.  And then I realized that the way to say no without words is to turn your head back and forth to the left and right.  Exactly the motion that I could no longer do.  OK, intuition, you've got my attention.  

So I started to wonder, if I did this to myself, can I undo it?  Can I heal it myself?  

I started by remembering how countless chiropractors through the years have adjusted this very same issue in my neck.  And the various stretching exercises they've assigned after giving the adjustment.  

I asked the two sides of my brain to work together to help me find the solution.  I called on my experiences in yoga as a student and teacher and I listened to my body.

I experimented with small motions.  Turning my head side to side made a lovely crunchy noise in my neck.  Nodding my head, like saying yes, as I turned my head side to side slowly, alleviated the crunchy noise and allowed me to move into the tender places and stretch them.  

I spent half an hour nodding yes, very slowly.  I started out with very, very small movements and moved into deeper nods.  

And now?  There are still tender places, like muscles overused, but I have the full range of motion in my neck again.  

It seems like my intuition is trying to tell me not to be so stingy with myself or in other words, be a little more generous with myself.  

It's hard to allow myself a $15 concert ticket or a $14 drop-in yoga class or a $12 book when I'm no longer getting a regular paycheck.  

The deeper question for me seems to be, "Do I believe I "deserve" to have those things, since I'm no longer working a regular job?"  If a friend asked me the same question about herself/himself, I would answer, of course you do.

I'll be nodding and saying a quiet, "yes" to myself, over and over and over again today, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.  

It's not really the items that matter.  I don't actually need to go buy the concert ticket, the book, the yoga class, I just need to stop treating myself like a naughty child for reaching for them.  

I thought for sure I was going to have to cancel my plans for the day and go to the chiropractor and I was thinking, I can't afford to go to the chiropractor right now.  I didn't wake up thinking it was possible to heal my own neck problems, but it seems I've done one impossible thing before breakfast.  That's a good start.

Do you ever act as your own oppressor?  Do you limit your own vision of what's possible?  

How can you change and release those patterns? 

Now, instead of checking for typos, I'm simply going to post this and run out the door to help plant beautiful, delicious gardens that will feed anyone who is hungry.

How cool is that?  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

whisper wild light

Flirt with Disaster.  Check.  

whisper, Wild Light
the Stars sing Peace tonight
Fish and I flew differently,
believing in magic
Mirror cried, "glow Child!
Dream Gardens spring from Love Rain"

~Dawn, 2001

---- la la la la la - la la - la la la ---- If I knew how to write music, these la's would come with a melody, but alas, I do not yet know how to notate music in pixels, so I simply leave you with this......

what, in this moment, do you most want?

i want to sleep in everyday and dream and dream and dream

i want to get up early every morning and meditate and do yoga and run and do my spanish lessons

i want to listen to fabulous music and melt into it and let it saturate my night dreams as well as my day dreams

I want to know where my son is and if he is well and happy

i want him to have amazing adventures and follow his dreams and his heart and I want some amazing girl to love him so much and make him feel amazing and I want him to honor her love and them to live happily ever after and

I want to be a teenage girl again knowing all that I know now and

i never want to be a teen again and

I want to have the body of a teen and the knowing of who I am now

i want to live be 157 and dance everyday between now and then and

to laugh and sing in 20 different languages or more and

I want to play the accordion while riding my unicycle and wearing a top hat that really fits me and

i want to be able to walk in high heels and

I want to write something enigmatic and clearly true and fatasmagorical

I want to see that movie Avatar and

i want to live in a place so beautiful it makes my heart hurt and to defend it with my life and win and

I want adam to know how much I love him how some mornings when he's still sleeping and I'm awake my heart aches because he is so perfect and beautiful as if he were my newborn child even and

I want my niece to be forever as vivacious as her 6 year old self is-- how selfless and overflowing with love she is

I want to be that loving

I want the world to let her be that joyful and not hurt her ever

I want to make my house the most warm, welcoming, joyful, loving, comfortable, beautiful, intriguing, fantastic, organic, place to live and grow and be

I want to take a nap

I want to drink coffee

I want to climb a mountain and dance on top

I want to feel the cold, cold air on my face and laugh and dance and sing like I did on the way to work the other day when I got up early and caught the earlier bus and walked 20 minutes from a further away bus stop and the stars were just giving the last sight of them before the sun came up behind the mountains and the trees were stark against the barely lightening sky and it was so cold and I was so happy and

I want my son to feel that kind of unmitigated joy at just being alive and

I want to grow and eat blueberries and avocados and

I want the world to find out that we don't need guns to protect what's really important, that sense of aliveness

i want to drink fresh water and eat unimaginable deserts in strange new lands (yes thank you rob brezsny for making that part of my background thinking)

I want to drive a car fast to the the end of the world and jump off and grab a falling star and fly across the universe in luxurious comfort and amazement and not have to write any of it down because I can transmit that feeling to someone just by looking at them

I want to be able to touch each book in the library and immediately "grock" it without having even to open it.

I want someone to paint white wings on my tan back and for my long hair to fall across the wings, partially obstructing the view of them and

I want to be a secret angel superhero who scatters largess and delivers little miracles and

I want to feel the sun on my face when I have a nap in the sunbeam on the couch like the cat and

I want to be able to simply look at the most jaded and guarded and angry persons I meet and have them know how perfectly safe they are and for them to begin to know the simple joy of breathing and the deep joy of sharing something anything with someone anyone

originally posted by dawn on a blog on gaia/zaadz, dec 17, 2009