Ecofeminism, Subsistence Living & Nature Awareness

December 14, 2010

Brain Health or Talkathon

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Health& Safety,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 7:38 am

WARNING, DO NOT HOLD THE PHONE ON THE BODY reads the tiny type on your cell phone. But, you are probably ignoring this suggestion like millions of other people. In fact, you are engaging in “risky behavior” that may cost you your life! Every cell phone releases radio frequency radiation. Use of mobile phones by children should be limited to essential calls, yet many children have their own cell phones. Use a speakerphone or earpiece to keep the cell phone radiation away from your head or other parts of your body! Do not carry it on your body.

Author Devra Davis, scientist and professor at Harvard, has described the evidence of cell phones and the increase in brain cancer she believes is linked. My information here comes form her book Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation. What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family, available at the Fayetteville Public Library.

Devra Davis declares, “No matter how hard I look at various ways researchers have tried to measure the incidence of brain cancer and its rate of change, I remain convinced we should not wait for proof that population-wide shifts have occurred before taking simple precautions to reduce direct exposure of our brains and bodies to cell phone radiation. Science on this complicated topic remains uncertain for two reasons. First of all, science truly is complex and not easily understood by most of us. But a very large part of that uncertainty on this issue has been manufactured by those with deep pockets whose bottom line remains their primary focus. (emphasis mine) Many of those engaged in efforts to study cell phone radiation have made up their minds in advance [having been hired by the industry to perform the study]. The fact that ready money has been there to support those who would cast doubt on the dangers of radio frequency radiation certainly plays some role in the perpetuation of their views, as it did with tobacco, asbestos, benzene, and hormone replacement therapy.” p. 202

Do you realize that cell phones operate with the same wavelength used to heat and cook food in a microwave oven? Yes, the power in the cell phone is reduced, but we are probably cooking our brains when using a cell phone for any length of time! p. 210

Please understand that your smart phone or any cell phone radiates radiation! Author Davis recommends using a landline at home, not a cordless phone. When using a cell phone keep it away from your body. Do not carry it on your body exposing your internal organs to an onslaught of continual radiation. Don’t sleep with your phone turned on while it is near you. Texting uses less radiation, and it keeps the radiating phone away from your head.

Stop pretending that your cell phone is a harmless toy. Recognize your cell phone as a tool with potential to harm you and your loved ones—rather like a power saw. Read this book by Devra Davis and you may disconnect your phone and reach for the clunky landline like ours. You will probably save money too!


Our cats won't knock this clunky phone of the hook, we will not misplace it, and we will receive no cell phone radiation while using it.

September 15, 2010

Pawpaws for Social Change?

Filed under: Global Warming,Homestead cooking,Paula Mariedaughter,Subsistence Living — Paula Mariedaughter @ 7:46 am

For thirty years I have been studying what makes people change our beliefs and our habits. I embarked on this journey in the early 1970s when I enthusiastically embraced the revolutionary ideas of the Women’s Liberation Movement. My experiences as a girl growing up in the 1950s in the segregated south, then as a young woman attending college in the 1960s and working as a flight attendant and union activist all made clear to me that the prescription for girls and women in our society were not in my best interest! The human institutions of patriarchy and capitalism surrounded me and influenced my personal behavior and most of my “personal” decisions.


Young volunteer pawpaw trees growing near the pioneer Mahaffey fireplace from the 1890s located behind our house.

Other women in the Women’s Liberation Movement had named this reality and coined this potent phrase, “The personal is political and the political is personal.” We understand that each of our individual daily choices adds up to the whole. For example, when I was disturbed by the on-screen violence in movies, I realized that each time I bought a ticket to see a violent movie I was “voting” for more violent movies with the purchase of that ticket. My individual actions have not lessened the number of violent movies, but when hundreds of us change our choices and behaviors, change will happen. My personal choice is a political action.

For the last two weeks Jeanne and I have been eating pawpaws as the fruit in our oatmeal breakfasts. Many mornings we cut up apples to add to our breakfast bowls. However, the only apples available this month in our local coop, Ozark Natural Foods, are flown in from New Zealand or Australia. In the past we did not have access to this information. Last summer we were eating apples airlifted to the US. Global warming activists and local food activists have encouraged stores to label the sources of their food.


Our pawpaw grove adjoins our back yard on the west and helps keep the yard a shady spot. Pawpaws thrive in rich moist soil as understory trees in hardwood forests from New York south to northern Florida and west to the south eastern part of Nebraska.

Supplied with this new information, I can choose other fruits or choose dried apples or go without. With pawpaws ripening in our back yard and dropping their edible fruit everyday, we had a perfect alternative! Free, local and tasty! Sometimes called the “false-banana” it is quite sweet and has a texture similar to a very ripe banana. Yet, we have lived here at Cedar Hill for twenty-two years and I have resisted eating this delicious fruit.

In examining my own resistance to eating pawpaws, I believe we can learn something about how people change and make new choices. I resisted pawpaws because:
I did not grow up eating pawpaws,
I was unfamiliar with pawpaws, no one I knew ate pawpaws,
the fruit looked unattractive to me,
the fruit was messy to eat with large seeds inside,
the fruit did not come from my refrigerator,
I believed that food needed to come from the store to be safe,
I believed it did not matter that I bought apples at the store grown far away.

Global warming is affecting us all. I believe I can make changes in my daily life that will impact the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. We can all make personal choices that have political consequences. I am not willing to be silenced by those who tell me to wait for the politicians or the technocrats or the right technology to fix global warming. We, the people, will change the world.


Pawpaw fruit varies in size. Perfect fruit on far left. Pawpaw fruit on far right is over ripe and inedible when this dark. Red dogwood berries found on the ground near the pawpaws.


Two green, almost ripe, pawpaws cluster in the tall branches twenty feet above the ground. Sometimes we can hear the heavy fruit fall to the ground from a light breeze.

Those who stand to profit from our unthinking consumption of water, electricity, gasoline, air conditioning, food-flown-in-from-afar, do not want us to rethink our consumption patterns. They see communities as “markets” and people as “focus groups” and, especially, we are seen as “consumers”. No longer are we citizens who use our critical thinking skills to make informed choices. The corporations and their spokespeople expect us to respond to their marketing strategies and consume whatever they are “pushing” today.

Corporations are not marketing pawpaws. Ripe pawpaws are delicate. The flesh is soft and mushy—they would not ship well. When pawpaws ripen they drop from the trees and are often bruised by the fall. Without a strong protective skin like apples or oranges, pawpaws must be eaten within days of ripening. Edible and delicious, the texture and color recall a ripe mango. The flavor is often described as similar to custard.

Once Jeanne started collecting and eating pawpaws, I had a model to follow. Someone I knew was eating this new fruit and enjoying it. I had tasted it, but was not ready yet to eat them. When I shopped for apples, my conscience would not allow me to buy an airlifted apple. Then one morning before breakfast, I walked by an intact, ripe, pale green fruit laying on the ground. “Perhaps I should try a pawpaw once again,” I thought to myself. It seemed a gift from the forest.

I still resisted because I did not know how to successfully peel the skin away and harvest the edible pulp. But now I was motivated to try. I sliced off the top and used a potato peeler to remove the skin and a paring knife to slice the flesh form the seeds. It did not take much longer than cutting up an apple, but it was messier. Apples were not yet available, and these pawpaws were readily available. I enjoyed my breakfast that morning. I’ve enjoyed knowing that I have eaten from my own environment and have not consumed additional carbon with my oatmeal breakfast imported from Canada.

My observation has been that people change when it is in their self-interest to change. I wanted fruit with my breakfast. I did not want to eat apples flown in from the southern hemisphere because of the environmental consequences involved in that transport. I had a sweet tasting fruit literally fall at my feet. Couldn’t I just pick it up and try it? This would benefit me and benefit the planet. If no one shopping at the coop bought apples from the southern hemisphere this fall, next fall the coop would not order them. When we expect food out-of-season, we encourage long haul transport of our food. Eating food from local sources and eating foods in season will provide us with more nutritious foods, will encourage local farmers and reduce carbon emissions of transportation.


Foggy fall morning looking east toward our main garden. The pawpaw grove is adjacent and to the west of our back yard, that is, behind me as I took this picture.

Pawpaws are an understory tree of hardwood forests and thrive in moist soils. Height to thirty feet, with straight trunks and spreading branches and long leaves, pawpaws have interesting reddish brown flowers in early spring. Pawpaws will form colonies from root sprouts. Wildlife including opossums, squirrels, raccoons, birds, and coyotes enjoy harvesting the windfall fruit. The range of pawpaws is widespread: from southern Ontario and western New York, south to northwest Florida, west to east Texas and north to southeast Nebraska. Pawpaws can also be used for cordage as the earliest inhabitants of the Ozarks did! Jeanne has experimented with peeling the inner bark to twist the fibers together to be used as string or twine. Since hundreds of pawpaws grow together in large colonies, some of the saplings can be harvested year round for cordage.

Thinking about the consequences of our individual actions is one way to reclaim our power and to acknowledge our responsibilities as responsible citizens of our planet. Considering the individual, daily changes we can accomplish to benefit the planet is an ongoing process for all of us. If any one wants pawpaw seeds, please let me hear from you. I will mail you seeds to plant this fall. Once established, the pawpaw is carefree tree. In ten years, you can harvest your own “false-banana”.

August 24, 2010

Fracking Brings a Living Hell to Earth!

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Economics,Patriarchy,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 6:59 am

Gasland is a documentary movie by Josh Fox who was approached about leasing land near his forest home for gas drilling.

The documentary film Gasland ( introduced me to the people who are living in the earthly hell created by the extreme drilling technique, called fracking, currently favored by the major gas companies who dig 8,000 feet, inject water laced with 596 chemicals (many are very toxic) to pump up natural gas mixed with the water and chemicals. Once the gas is separated, the 7 million gallons of chemicalized water from that one well is a hazard we all have to live with. The closest neighbors to the well—more often multiple wells—will breath the toxic chemical fumes, drink those chemicals in their water. We met those people and heard them describe the severe health effects for themselves, their children, pets and all of nature unfortunate enough to live near polluting gas wells. Endocrine disruption, cancer, asthma and severe headaches are just a few of the results of exposure to the contamination of the air, soil and water caused by the gas drilling industry. Dr. Theo Colborn, a leading expert on this subject has more information available here:

My opinion is that this deep drilling technique is fundamentally unsafe because of the chemicals used, the multiple deep underground blasting and the impossibility of obtaining enough water for the process and finally because the trillions of gallons of used water cannot be safely stored or restored as safe water.

No Regulations from Government!George W Bush and Dick Cheney (both oil men) and earlier Richard Nixon convinced congress to exempt the natural gas industry from meaningful regulation. The industry is not covered by:
the 1972 Clean Air Act
1972 Clean Water Act
exempt from Superfund Cleanup
exempt form Safe Drinking Water Act
needs to provide minimal environmental impact statements

The industry is dominated by several big companies (including Halibuton) who have no oversight—the EPA has no authority to regulate drilling. You may not be aware of the scale of the environmental destruction, even if you are aware of some of these problems with gas drilling. Thursday afternoon I was aware of the problem, but unaware of the scale of the problem. By Thursday evening I had seen images of hundreds of square miles stripped of life and dedicated to pulling gas from deep within the earth and destroying peaceful life in the process!!

After viewing the reality, I could not sleep—haunted by those images. And I was haunted by the faces of the people trapped by circumstances! They had been lied to and treated without regard for their health and safety. It could have been any of us. This was not a natural disaster, but an un-natural disaster, a man made disaster. No one protected them. Some were told to hire an attorney and sue if they felt wronged.

In fracking, the blasting creates mini-earthquakes that blast open underground cracks to release the gas. We are told these blasts are harmless, but do we know that? No, this extreme drilling process has only been in wide use for ten years. Can the earth sustain this assault? Will the earth sustain this assault? Our clean water comes from underground aquifers of ancient water, how will these nonrenewable resources be protected?

And where will the water to perform the drilling come from? How will the toxic water be stored safely forever? Each well drilling requires from 1-7 million gallons of water. The same well can be tapped up to eighteen times and will use that much water each time. Using the low estimate of 1 million gallons per drilling, that would be 18 million gallons of water per well. In the Dallas/Ft. Worth area there are 10,000 gas wells. Again, using the low estimate, 18 million gallons of water multiplied by 10,000 wells equals 180,000 million gallons of poisoned water to store and protect. This is only for the wells in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area!

Water shortages are already predicted to be a major concern worldwide. Safe drinking water will be the luxury of the future, if we do not make major changes now!

Your well and my well, could they be next?
My concern is not merely an intellectual concern. Last year the national forest service leased forest land 30 miles or so south of here to a company determined to use fracking to drill for gas in the national forest. The owners of the nearby resort, Mulberry Mountain, called our attention to the situation and arranged for a public meeting with local officials. The process was described and the concerns and protests we offered were ignored. My understanding is that the drilling has begun and soon there will be 1-7 million gallons of toxic water used in the drilling waiting to be disposed of somewhere. Where and how?


We collect water from our roof for our garden and store it in these open stock tanks. Even this water can be polluted by the chemicals in the holding ponds of polluted water vaporizing into airborn chemicals and released as acid rain.

The gas companies have a legal strategy called “forced pool” that can deny people to decline drilling on their land! Many of us do not own the mineral rights to our land, or own only a percentage of the mineral rights. Imagine the complications this could bring to a landowner not wanting to lease to gas drilling companies.

We could be next! Several years ago, Jeanne and I were contacted by a gas company representative who told us they wanted to drill on our land. Neither we, nor our neighbors were interested. Fortunately, we have not heard from them in years. We have 40 acres of oak/hickory forest where we built our solar powered house and began our organic gardens twenty-one years ago. We love where we live and have invested heart, mind and soul here. Josh Fox, who created Gasland, began his search to learn more about gas drilling because he lived in a similar rural area in Pennsylvania, where his parents had settled in the 1970s. He grew up in the woods and especially loved the stream that meandered through his homestead. The gas company offered him $100,000 for drilling rights. He wanted to learn more. He sought out landowners who had agreed to lease to the gas companies. Gasland showed us streams near drilling sites that are polluted with gasses from the drilling and have pockets of gas in the stream that can be lighted on fire. Often the deep underground blasts force new seams to appear in the underground rocks sending gas and methane formerly trapped underground into pristine wells, springs and streams. We heard people describe all this in Colorado, Pennsylvania and many other places! His worst fear and our worst fear! These were real people stuck in a living hell.

Don’t be fooled by the PR campaign financed by the natural gas corporations that declare gas to be a “clean” energy source. The 10,00 wells around and in Dallas/Ft. Worth emit 200 tons of toxic emissions per day—more than the automobiles in that metropolitan area emit each day. And, the natural gas pipelines have built-in release valves that we are told are not toxic, but it is gas released into the atmosphere on a regular basis, yes?

We need to educate ourselves, our neighbors and our political representatives about all the consequences of fracking. However, the gas companies are big campaign contributors, so we may have to become more creative in letting the politicians know of our outrage that the gas companies call all the shots and we, the people, are left to fend for ourselves.

Stop using natural gas is another radical possibility! Radical means going to the root of the problem. If there is no market for natural gas, the gas companies have no incentive to drill. Build a clothesline! Gas clothes dryers were not common place in Miami Springs where I grew up in the 1950s. We were a family of six with lots of wet clothes and they were all hung out to dry. Put up a clothesline and hang your wash. Change those ridiculous city regulations that forbid clotheslines if you have such restrictions.

I am not a politician, so I can and will express my unpopular opinion: reduce, reduce, reduce. Conservation of all our natural resource use is the central component in saving our planet from the extreme climate changes we are heading for today. Reduce your consumption of all energy sources: batteries, electricity, oil, gasoline, propane, as well as plastic and water and food. Perhaps we can reverse the consequences of our dependence on unlimited access to energy sources. Walk in the woods. Ride a bike. Grow a garden. As my mama used to say, “Actions speak louder than words”!


Destroying habitat of millions of plants and animals from Texas to Ohio and from Pennsylvania to Colorado to extract gas to fuel consumer lust for luxury must stop. Our garden reminds me of how plants and people have coexisted for thousands of years, until now.

For more information about the drilling practices of the natural gas industry proceed to these resources provided by Joyce Hale, president of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. The screening of Gasland in Fayetteville was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Omni Peace and Justice Center and the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

Learn More about Natural Gas Development and Take ACTION!

1. ProPublica online articles
They have intensively developed the topic over the last couple of years. Their investigative reporting is some of the best out there.

2. Become acquainted with everything on the subject at Dr. Theo Colborn is the go-to person for information about the impact of chemicals, particularly on children and the unborn.

3. Make sure that any landowner facing the decision to lease is familiar with OGAP (Oil & Gas Accountability Project). Their free manual, Oil and Gas at Your Door, should be the bible of everyone interested in this topic.

4. Blogs will give you local insight and help you connect with where the action is having negative impacts. Check out: (Arkansas) (Texas) (Texas)

5. Videos are a wonderful way to learn:
a. Split Estate – This documentary about Colorado and New Mexico features the conflict between surface ownership and mineral rights. Health problems are a key part. If you get this video, be sure you watch the “extras” in addition to the main feature
b. Gasland – Film maker, Josh Fox, gained a high profile after winning at Sundance Film Festival and became popular guest with national television interviews. There are HBO showings still being scheduled so check the HBO Documentary section for listings. Copies should be available to buy in December. Go to for information.
c. What You Need to Know About Natural Gas Production – An excellent description of the process and chemicals by Dr. Theo Colborn. It is available at her website or they will send you a DVD.
d. But MOST IMPORTANT is a MUST WATCH 3-part video by the Cornell Professor Anthony Ingraffea, revealing the true economics and scale of this problem. This is possibly the most critical thing to be understood, since it is the only argument that will resonate with the political leadership. They must be shown that they have been listening to one side of the economic equation.

Contact JOYCE HALE 479-527-2777 or


Gasland documents severe health problems for people, domesticated animals, and wild animals when exposed to toxic water, fumes and noise related to gas drilling. Children developed asthma, others experienced severe headaches. Endocrine problems were common complaints of those living near drilling sites. Some of the animals lost much of their fur. Striper is one of our seven household animals we are concerned about.

Postscript from Paula: Here at Cedar Hill we heat our 800 square foot house with locally purchased seasoned firewood, and do not use air conditioning. Solar energy collected from eight vintage solar panels located on our roof provides our electricity including the biggest energy hog: refrigeration. (We do use a Sunfrost refrigerator which operates off a 12 volt system like ours and is built to be super energy efficient. We do not have enough solar electricity to operate the freezer unit.) Propane is the energy source we use to cook and bake, although in winter when we have our wood stove burning we heat water and cook some food on the woodstove. We consider this bonus energy! Our 100 gallon propane tank lasts us about nine months. We have had to do some research to find out where and what propane is. Do you know?

Propane is a gas often found with natural gas and even with petroleum deep within the earth. Some sources name it as a by product of processing natural gas and of petroleum refining. The processing of natural gas involves removal of propane and butane from the natural gas, to prevent condensation of these liquids in natural gas pipelines. Additionally, oil refineries produce some propane as a by-product of production of gasoline or heating oil.

Because we want to reduce our use of natural gas to a minimum, this means that one of our goals is to reduce use of propane in every way possible. Instead of heating water on the stove for our showers, we are now depending more on using the sun to heat the water in our solar shower bag for a refreshing hot shower. We will wash our laundry in Fayetteville tomorrow because we are going there to do our grocery shopping at Ozark Natural Foods Coop. To avoid burning all the natural gas it would take to dry our clothes (and the electricity used to turn those large tumblers) in the gas dryers, we will hang everything here in the hot August sun to dry. Actions speak louder than words….

August 2, 2010

Are We Trapped in Recreational Shopping?

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Economics,Subsistence Living — Paula Mariedaughter @ 6:43 am

This huge bale, or mitumba, of fabric heading out of sight

I shop for treasures in unlikely spots. I enjoy my time browsing through thrift shops and flea markets. As a lifelong admirer of quality fabric, textiles are a weakness for me. I can almost always think of a possible use for an attractive piece of cotton or silk. As a quilter, the range of possible uses for a particular pleasing textile is unlimited. I love fabric—whether it is a richly colored teeshirt, a vibrant plaid, a large scale floral or a swirling batik, I want it in my life! Imagine my shock when I arrived at the parking lot of the local salvation army and saw tons of fabric compressed like junk into two huge bales. Each bale was as large as a railroad car! At first I did not know what I was looking at: it seemed to be new wall beyond the building. I looked closer and grabbed my camera because it was an unbelievable sight. When you look at the pictures I took that day, you will see the fluttering corners of hundreds of white plastic bags among the flattened clothes. I experienced it as a chilling, unworldly sight.

As a regular shopper here, I had never seen such a sight. When I inquired inside, I was told that they ship several bales this size every week. They send it “overseas”. The worker explained that most of the clothes they receive as donations will not be purchased, so they move it on as quickly as possible. In a recent book, Fred Pearce wrote, “On average, each of us buys around 75 pounds of textiles a year. We eventually throw about 65 pounds of that into the landfills and hand over about 10 pounds to charities….” It seems that most of those charities bale up most of their donations and many sell the bales to raise money for their other projects. Often the bales are sold to importers in African nations who then sell the individual items to poor people for a profit (emphasis mine). “In Tanzania, they call old shorts and shirts and skirts and socks mitumba, meaning a bale. That’s how the clothes come, in bales unloaded from shipping containers at the Dar es Salaam dock.” Mitumba is big business in Tanzania where most of the ordinary people wear the Western world’s cast-off clothes. This invisible connection to the consuming lifestyle of most Americans has been traced by Fred Pearce in Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff. The author offers you an extensive research on the life of stuff once it leaves your hands.


Closeup of the bale with all the flapping plastic bags

Compulsive consuming often involves “recreational shopping”. Recreational shopping was a central part of my girlhood and family life in the 1950s and 1960s. What is recreational shopping? The easy definition I use describes recreational shopping as something to do when you are feeling down, something to do to celebrate an occasion, and something to do if you are just bored and want to get out of the house. Shopping becomes central to existence.

I noticed this recreational shopping phenomenon in my own life only after I became actively involved with the Women’s Liberation Union in Kansas City, MO in the early 1970s. There I learned about the power of capitalism to dominate the lives of us ordinary people. At the same time my mother had been divorced by my father and was struggling financially. She observed, “You can’t go out of the house without spending money!” She was experiencing the limitations of her reduced income, and noticing a phenomenon she had not seen before in her own life. These were the early days of consumerism—credit card use was not yet wide spread. Today we are now consumers rather than citizens or neighbors. We live in markets, not cities or towns. Have you even noticed this change in terminology in the media?

My values and consciousness were changing as I examined many parts of my life. My good friend Kate Kasten wrote a guide to the thrift shops in the Kansas City area in the mid-1970s. We enjoyed searching for “finds” and “necessities” along Main Street’s bargain spots. When each of us purchased vintage houses in downtown KC we shopped for furniture and appliances with a past life. It was great fun for me to search for items that caught my eye and pleased my sensibilities. I was not buying what was being promoted at the furniture and department stores. Often I bought better quality than was available new! I furnished my 1888 Queen Anne Victorian house with style!

Thirty-five years later I still get a thrill looking for unique items at thrift stores and flea markets. Fashion is irrelevant to my life. Quality fabrics and well made furniture and tools draw my attention. I do enjoy shopping, but I avoid any, and every big-box store. The majority of my clothes are treasures I’ve found at thrift shops. One of the advantages of shopping where clothes cost five dollars or less is the freedom to not wear something uncomfortable. One cannot always tell how comfortable a particular item will be until worn in real life. If it doesn’t work out, I can wash it and redonate it to the thrift shop. Many of us have a few things in our closet that have become our favored outfits because we feel good when we are wearing them.


Paula is outfitted in her second-hand clothes and feeling good.

Here is my favorite outfit. The picture was taken as I stood by the special exhibit I pulled together for our quilt guild’s 2009 quilt show. The blue knit shirt, the cotton slacks and the black and white ikat unlined jacket all came from thrift shops. I have worn the slacks, shirt and the jacket regularly for at least the last eight years. They will not be donated to a thrift shop any time soon. Shoes, underclothes and well-fitting pants are items I generally purchase new. I choose carefully and expect each to last a long time. I stopped wearing fashionable women’s shoes in the 1970s because of the long-term damage such footwear does to women’s feet. At the time I worked as a flight attendant for TWA. The airline required me to carry the doctor’s letter declaring I needed to wear the low heeled, lace-up leather shoes for health reasons. My flying partners sometimes couldn’t resist making comments like, “Those shoes look (long pause) comfortable.” We worked long hours and walked many miles, but fashion trapped many of my women coworkers in uncomfortable shoes.

How did I make drastic changes in my life? Radical means “finding the root” and I was part of a movement of women who looked for the roots of sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, colonialism and capitalism. We read, talked, argued, laughed and grew together. I consciously chose to limit my exposure to advertising and to the content of television after reading Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, I gave away my second hand tv in 1974 and I’ve never missed it. Fads, fashion, celebrity gossip, and catchy commercials are not part of my life. However, I still am a consumer on many levels: driving a car, using a telephone, buying food at the farmer’s market or at our local food coop. All these require my participation in the capitalist economy.

Yet, I have successfully limited my participation emotionally and financially in our consumer society. Adrienne Rich clarified my efforts when she wrote, “The most valuable educational experience a woman can have is one which teaches her to identify and analyze—and resist—the conditions in which she lives, the morality she has been taught, the false images of herself received from high art as well as cheap pornography, classic poetry as well as TV commercials.” This is my ongoing effort: to identify and analyze oppression and injustice and to resist. Often I turn to the garden for renewal.

January 24, 2010

My Fair Share

With “developing” and wealthy nations now battling over obtaining their fair share of global carbon emissions, the belief that all people will someday enjoy the standard of living of the wealthy nations has become an unmistakable fantasy. Human societies are already in overshoot, consuming the resources of one and a third earths every year. If everyone on earth were to consume as much as people in the United States, humanity would be consuming the resources of five planet earths and there would soon be little of nature – or us – left. Yet the rising and very numerous middle classes in rapidly industrializing nations such as Brazil, India, and China are joining the shopping spree. Meanwhile one fourth of humanity, 1.4 billion, live on $1.25 or less per day and are unable to meet their basic needs.

The belief that the poor nations and poor people of the earth would eventually catch up and enjoy an abundant standard of living has allowed well-meaning people in the wealthy nations to act as if their own high incomes and consumption were unrelated to the poverty of others. Now that the limits of the earth are at hand the question “What is my fair share?” is getting tough to avoid. I want an answer to this question. I don’t want to participate in destroying nature and I don’t want to be responsible for other people living with hunger. But, I do want to live. How much can I have?

heirloom corn

Stowell's Heirloom Corn from Seed Savers growing behind comfrey, astragulus, and sage plants.

To discover my fair share I started with statistics from the World Bank (World Development Indicators: 2008). The average per capita gross national income for the world in 2008, equalized by “purchasing power parity”, was $10,357. The purchasing power parity correction makes it easy to compare income in different countries, despite the fact that the same amount of money can buy much more in some countries than others. For example, you could buy half a dozen bananas in India for the same amount of money that would get you one banana in New York City (example from Norm Myers and Jennifer Kent in their book The New Consumers). The purchasing power parity correction rate for India is 5.35 (as of 2002). The international standard is the U.S. dollar so the same amount of money goes 5.35 times further in India than in the U.S. In other words if you are in the U.S. you can think of the $10,357 average world income as actual U.S. dollars. If you are in any other country, then you must use the purchasing power parity correction for your country.

But, the figure of $10,357 is the average gross national income, which is not the same as personal income because it includes things like the average amount of money your government spends on infrastructure. In 2008 gross national income in the U.S. was $46,970, but U.S. personal income before taxes was $40,189 and spendable income was $35,486 (Bureau of Economic Analysis, According to Myers and Kent, actual purchasing power for the world in 2002 was 60% of gross national income, corrected for purchasing power parity (and 70% for the U.S.). Let’s say then that my actual purchasing power would be roughly $6500 (somewhere between 60% and 70% of $10,357).

Whoops! What about Carbon?
But, wait! There’s a problem. At current levels of world income humanity is producing such a large quantity of greenhouse gases that we are threatening the continuation of human civilization and much of life on earth. The Global Humanitarian Forum, a think tank directed by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, estimates that global warming is already causing 300,000 human deaths per year. To reduce greenhouse gases either income and related production must be reduced from the current world average (meaning I’d get less than $6500), world population must drop significantly, or every dollar spent must result in much less carbon entering the stratosphere. Damage to the environment is commonly calculated by multiplying these three factors (i.e. Impact=Population x Affluence x Technology). Both population (.7% per year) and income (1.4% per year) are growing. The most palatable option for the world’s rich is the third option, commonly known as reducing carbon intensity.

Carbon intensity can be decreased by increasing efficiency (producing goods and services with less energy) and by using non-carbon energy sources like solar power. Over the past 25 years carbon intensity has improved by almost 23% worldwide. But, this downward trend has not been consistent over the years. Since the year 2000 carbon intensity has worsened worldwide. With worsening carbon intensity, increasing income, and increasing population the total amount of carbon going into the atmosphere has increased by 3.5% per year since 2000 (up from under 1% in the 1990s). This rate of increase is far higher than the rates assumed in any of the models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in making its predictions of future global warming. Even with the Kyoto Protocol, no part of the world has succeeded in diminishing its carbon emissions.

Prosperity Without Growth, a recent report from the United Kingdom’s Sustainable Development Commission, has calculated the improvements in carbon intensity that would be necessary to offset projected growth in population and income between now and 2050 and still reduce carbon in the atmosphere down to 450 ppm. While in 2007 carbon intensity was at 768 grams of carbon dioxide per dollar we would need to get down to 36 grams per dollar by 2050. In other words carbon intensity would need to improve by 21 times! Remember that 25 years of technological improvements between 1980 and 2005 were only able to improve emissions 1.3 times (from 1000 to 768 grams carbon dioxide per dollar). This projection allows for slow income growth, but no equalization of income between rich and poor countries. If world income were to equalize at current European Union levels by 2050, allowing no income increases in the developed world, carbon intensity would need to diminish to 14 grams carbon dioxide per dollar, 55 times better than today. This last scenario presumes no income growth in the European Union, a loss in income for the U.S., and large gains in income throughout the developing world.

Prosperity Without Growth concludes that these levels of improvement in carbon intensity are not feasible and that economic growth cannot safely continue. Worldwatch attempted to put similar figures into perspective by pointing out that for everyone on the Earth to live at the EU levels expected in 2050 if “normal” growth continues we would need cars capable of getting 700 or 800 miles per gallon! It looks like even my fair share of $6500 is too much unless a revolution in technology dropped carbon intensity down to nearly nothing. Since new technologies take decades to come into common usage, the hope for such a revolution is just a fantasy, albeit a popular and dangerous one. The only other alternative – and this is just a personal solution – would be for me to find a way to spend my dollars on products and services that emit almost no carbon.

Shrinking Ecological Footprints
Carbon emissions are not the only constraint on growth. Globalized industrial patriarchy has been stripping the earth of every “resource” and is already butting up against other shortages such as water. The resource thieves in the “developed” world, myself included, must cut back their lifestyles. The world average gross income of $10,357 gives us a rough and too high upper limit and a clear message that drastic lifestyle cuts are called for since most people in the developed world have far higher incomes than this. Ideally, entire nations will take up the challenge to quickly dismantle their polluting systems and adopt new ways of life that involve far less consumption. While we as individuals are pressing for the massive social change needed, we can begin the process by changing own way of life and setting an example for others.

But, where to start? Whether setting about change at a national level or an individual level, a measure that quantifies how much different activities take from the earth is necessary. Here’s where calculating national or individual ecological footprints can help. With an ecological footprint analysis, the resources required to produce the specific products and services consumed can be estimated and translated into a land equivalent, measured in square yards, square meters, acres or hectares. For example, a pound of potatoes requires about 33 square yards of land if grown using industrial farming methods. The potato plants themselves use a small growing space, but the chemical input, farm machinery, and transportation to market all contribute to the footprint or land area required to produce the potatoes. Similarly, a kilowatt hour of electricity from the grid uses 31 square yards of land, while the solar equivalent takes under a third of a yard. A full ecological footprint for a nation or an individual is the land equivalent for everything consumed in a year.

In the United States the average ecological footprint for each person is 23 acres. But, if you divide the amount of productive land on the earth (2.8 billion acres excluding polar regions, deserts and deep sea) by the earth’s population of over 6 billion, the bioproductive land available to each person to produce everything consumed would be 5 acres. Therefore, in the U.S. we are each using 18 acres of land more than the earth can spare for us. These figures do not provide land for all the other species on the planet, so each person’s 5 acre allotment must be cut back further.

Jim Merkel’s excellent book, Radical Simplicity, provides detailed instructions for calculating your own ecological footprint, along with tables that show the land equivalent required for a wide range of products and services. As a longtime practitioner of radical simplicity Merkel has lived on $5000 and an ecological footprint of 3 acres of land for many years. His book describes scenarios for a life lived with a 1 acre, 3 acre, or 6 acre ecological footprint.

On 3 acres, an amount that is enough less than the world personal allotment of 5 acres to allow at least some room for wildlife, the sample lifestyle is far removed from that of the typical American. While plenty of veggies, fruit, beans and grains could be eaten, meat, dairy products, juice, and alcohol would be excluded from the diet because they require too many resources. The living space would be quite small (150 square feet or so) in a very energy efficient building such as a straw bale house. A very small allotment of fuel oil or firewood for heating would be possible. Transportation would be largely by bicycle or on foot with 50 miles of bus travel and a couple of gallons of gasoline allotted per month. Air travel would be impossible.

Returning to Traditional Lifeways: The Real Sustainability Revolution
If all of this sounds like returning to a third world way of life, then you are correct. The average ecological footprint of the low income nations is under 2.5 acres. The peoples of both Africa (3.4 acres) and Asia/Pacific (4 acres) consume less than their share of the Earth’s biocapacity while those in Latin America (6 acres) and the Middle East/Central Asia (5.7 acres) slightly exceed their share. People are obviously capable of living on less than a 5 acre footprint. Although some people in the global South have far too few resources, this does not mean that one cannot live well without overdrawing the Earth’s biocapacity. Deprivation results when traditional peoples have their ways of life disrupted by thefts of land, water, or other resources, as has happened to many, thanks to the powerful forces of first colonization and now globalization. Where necessary resources are still available and communities are left intact, traditional and truly sustainable ways of life continue (See Ecofeminism by Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, 1993). The peasants and indigenous peoples still living largely traditional lives in direct interaction with the Earth and each other are the models that those of us living in the heart of globalized industrial patriarchy need. Although small scale, traditional cultures may (or may not) have problematic patriarchal social structures, these cultures are able to maintain the Earth’s fertility and health and do not require huge amounts of energy from dangerous energy sources.

People immersed in globalized industrial patriarchy view traditional ways of life as inferior because these lifeways have been the target of an enormous smear campaign since the era of European colonization and then the inception of industry. Traditional people (and this includes all our ancestors) leave the land and their traditions when the powerful forces of industrializing, colonizing or globalizing patriarchy take the land and destroy their communities. Forced into cities or other participation in the globalized patriarchy, the propaganda of the dominating culture eventually persuades most displaced people that the old ways of life are inferior or too hard. But, now it is time to reverse this process! We can recognize the value of traditional ways of life linked directly to nature and local communities, dismantle globalized industrial patriarchy, and build new subsistence cultures. The traditional lifeways of indigenous peoples, peasants of the global South, and our own ancestors are our models for sustainability. Many of these small-scale, traditional cultures are also models for equalizing distribution of resources and more equitable social relationships. Some have matriarchal social structures (matrilineal, matrilocal) and these cultures deserve the closest study. Low-tech, modern inventions like bio-intensive gardening and perhaps bicycling can also help us to build subsistence cultures, as can social practices like consensus decision-making and consciousness raising.

In contrast, the vision of “sustainability” put forward by most of the political and educated classes of the industrialized world leaves many of the deadly bases of the dominant society untouched: industrialization, consumerism, capitalism, inequity, domination, patriarchy. Almost all the books, government reports, and even non-governmental organizations proposing solutions to climate change assume that industrialized society must continue. They call for major changes in practice – energy efficiency, recycling, de-carbonizing energy sources, even sometimes for an end to inequity – but do not address the roots of the problem. How can a system based in domination (patriarchy) and greed (capitalism) and therefore dedicated to giving more power and more goodies to some people create equity among people and live in balance with the Earth? Why would a sane people who care for the earth want to gamble that an aberrant way of life can be reined in enough to preserve the climate when there are existing ways of life that have worked for our species for thousands of years? Perhaps there may (or may not) be ways to live with the earth that could include some benefits from modern technology, but revolutionary changes are needed, not a new consumerism and more of the same old patriarchy. Only by getting rid of the social elements that have created the climate crisis, poverty, and ecological overshoot – patriarchy, capitalism, domination, consumerism – will we save the Earth and save our Selves.

Writing about my fair share has not been easy, but the writing is the easy part. How will I ever get my income and ecological footprint down to a level that does not hurt the Earth and steal from much of humanity? One step at a time is my only answer. The largest part of our ecological footprint here at Cedar Hill comes from the miles driven in two four wheel drive vehicles, the firewood burnt for heating the house, and, to a lesser extent, the food we eat. Our automobile usage seems hard to modify at the present moment due to our remote location, rough roads, lack of public transportation and a commitment to eldercare for my mother. We are currently creating window quilts and sealing up the house more effectively to reduce firewood use. We’re also growing more of our food on site and moving away from trucking in garden inputs. Fortunately, reducing income does have a clear upside: less time spent working for money and more time available for fighting patriarchy, spending time in nature, and working and playing on the homestead!

January 22, 2010

Trust Women, Every Day, Everywhere!

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Patriarchy,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 4:10 am

Fall, 1950
Marie said to her long-time doctor, “As you know I have had four pregnancies in six years. I have three healthy children, and I have my hands full! I’d like a tubal ligation to insure that I don’t get pregnant again. I do not want any more children.”

Dr. Boughton replied, “Now Marie, you’re young. (She was thirty.) You’ll change your mind—I can’t do that.”

This is a reconstructed conversation relayed to me by my youngest sister Lea who heard the secret from our father long after Mother’s death in 1979. According to our father, Mother had some kind of “breakdown” after this third child’s birth. She went away for a week or so, leaving him with the children. Marie stayed with women friends and (he says) played bridge with them for that week. We don’t know if her request for a tubal ligation happened before or after this “breakdown”. In telling Lea about this episode in Marie’s life, our father was not sympathetic.

My mother, Marie Virginia Donovan Neilson, was a strong woman who had overcome a number of obstacles in her life. But seeking control of her fertility was out of her reach in 1950. The shame of this situation is not my mother’s shame! She was a victim of the shameful attitudes of the patriarchal medical institutions we live with. Today, 60 years later, we are in mortal danger of returning to the days of enforced motherhood and unsafe, illegal abortions! I am writing about family planning today because 37 years ago on this date the US Supreme Court upheld a woman’s right to choose a safe legal abortion within the first months of her pregnancy in the case Roe vs. Wade. The assault on this decision has been ongoing and quite successful!


A favorite family photo of Mother, Paula (far left) and my sisters relaxing in our camper and photographed by Dad about 1959. Our brother Karl is not pictured here.

Women and girls live in intensely woman-hating societies in most parts of our planet! Facing this fact is not easy for any of us.

Our strengths are called weaknesses. Our unique ability to nurture new life within our own bodies has long been treated as a shameful condition by patriarchal societies. Pregnant women are at higher risk of physical abuse from their male partners who often beat and kick them in their growing bellies. Choosing when and how to bring forth new life is the most personal decision anyone can make. The decision to have a baby is different for a woman than it is for a man. The frank reality that motherhood and fatherhood are not equal decisions is obvious and usually ignored! Women risk their lives to bring forth new life, men do not. Men cannot give birth. Men do not risk their lives to bring a child into their lives. Nor do they bond with the unborn baby in the same manner that a woman who carries the growing child within her own skin can do.

Pregnancy is a potentially dangerous undertaking. In fact, an abortion in the first three months of the pregnancy is much less dangerous to a woman’s health than a full-term pregnancy. Every woman makes a series of choices in her life that may or may not lead to her becoming pregnant. Many times she is forced to have sex against her will. Once pregnant, we must decide what is right for us, and for the fetus beginning to grow inside of us.

In the fall of 1973, I believed I might be pregnant. I remember walking home from the doctor’s appointment, kicking leaves as I walked, and not knowing the answer to that question. For days I considered my options. I thought about the possibilities of raising a child at that point in my life. I decided I was not ready to risk my life, or to bring another child into the world–I would have an abortion. Then I discovered I was not pregnant.

Trusting women to do the right thing is not a principal of patriarchy! Patriarchy is about domination of mind, body and spirit. Dr. George Tiller was an abortion provider. When Dr. Tiller wore the words “Trust Women” on his chest, he became a traitor to the idea of male domination of women. George Tiller’s actions to allow women to choose when, and if, they wanted to become mothers, put him at grave risk. He knew the risks to himself and his family. His commitment to women who had few choices to legally terminate their pregnancies grew from all he heard from women and girls. Dr. Tiller was murdered on a Sunday, while serving in his church in May, 2009 because of his commitment to women!

Assassinations such as Dr Tiller’s accomplish multiple purposes including eliminating an individual, as well as intimidating the rest of us. Assassinations also make clear the political agenda hiding behind the slogans of the love for the unborn. Abortion is a legal right in most western countries, but the assault on reproductive rights here in the US has been effective:
Conservatives, energized by the success of their antiabortion drive, are ratching up their offensive [against birth control]. They’re doing it in their churches and in their faith-based organizations and with the help of numerous point people in Congress. Those on the right claim they’re honoring women by preserving the sanctity of motherhood, but their real beef is the freedom birth control affords women to enjoy a healthy, safe, sex life while avoiding unwanted pregnancies. That speaks for the forty-two million–or seven out of ten–American women in their childbearing years who are sexually active (and heterosexual, I add) and don’t want to get pregnant.

This warning is from Barbara J. Berg’s new book, Sexism in America: Alive, Well, and Ruining our Future. Many women depend on effective birth control and assume that will protect them from considering an abortion. (It can’t happen to me, thinking.) However, many birth control methods are being redefined as abortions! Berg informs us that so-called Right of Conscience Regulation created by the recent Bush administratination broadens “the definiton of abortion to include many kinds of birth control, especially oral and emergency contraception, and allows health care providers to withhold available medical information if it conflicts with their moral or religious beliefs.”(p. 154)

What does “sanctity of motherhood” mean? Mary Daly, one of the most influential thinkers in the women’s liberation movement, warned us to be aware of patriarchy’s reversals of reality. For me, “sacred motherhood” or “the sanctity of motherhood” begins with respect for a woman’s capability to make informed choices about her life and to make the right choice about bringing new life to our crowded planet. Every child born into a wealthy nation consumes eleven times the resources of a child born in a developing country. All our personal choices affect the planet. We have come to understand the resources of our bountiful planet are not infinite. We are embarking on a new world where we must trust women–every day and in every way!

January 5, 2010

Insanely Dedicated?

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Global Warming,Jeanne Neath,Patriarchy — Jeanne Neath @ 11:36 am

The lesbian feminist movement was sizzling, with formerly heterosexual women racing out of stagnant relationships with men and into the beds of their best women friends. This was the mid 1970s and I was going to graduate school in social psychology at the University of Kansas and undergoing huge life changes including a divorce, coming out as a lesbian, and then adopting radical lesbian feminist and lesbian separatist politics. No one suggested to me or to the thousands upon thousands of formerly heterosexual women that lesbian genes were required to be a lesbian. I stayed in graduate school for a little longer than an eternity because I was so involved in doing lesbian and feminist political and cultural work that I had little time and interest in my graduate studies.


Jeanne, age 32, in front of Spinsters Books, 1983

On graduation, with my PhD in hand, I continued working in a low wage horse tour job and devoted my best energy to Spinsters Books and Webbery, the lesbian feminist bookstore and women’s center in Lawrence, Kansas. My work at Spinsters was mostly unpaid and I lived with my Dalmatian and cat on about $500 a month in a small semi-finished garage. By 1984 I became somewhat dissatisfied with my life situation, not so much because of my low income, but because the feminist movement was cooling down and some of my friends had moved away. I continued on with the bookstore for several more years, but eventually I began to feel resentful and not properly appreciated for the work I was doing there. While I was living on a small income and devoting my best energies to Spinsters, other lesbians and feminists I knew were moving upward in their careers. My separatist and radical feminist political views elicited mostly defensiveness from much of the larger feminist community in Lawrence, though our collective at Spinsters held similar views. Eventually I had had enough of giving so much of myself to a fading feminist community. I no longer was receiving an adequate return for my work and I moved on to a new adventure, homesteading on lesbian land in the Ozarks.

Several years ago a young female student at Smith College interviewed a number of the lesbians involved with Spinsters and a local lesbian journal called Monthly Cycle for a class project in her “Queer Publics” course. This student had grown up in Lawrence and became interested in its lesbian herstory. Not surprisingly, from her postmodern, queer perspective she was unable to fully understand the motivation of the lesbians creating Spinsters in that very different era. Although she valued the contribution the lesbians of Spinsters and Monthly Cycle had made, the conclusion of the paper she wrote for her class implied that we were not quite sane. She seemed to agree with one of Spinsters’ collective members she had interviewed: the lesbians of Spinsters and Monthly Cycle were “insanely dedicated”.

As I look back now to my years at Spinsters I see quite the opposite. I admire the dedication that my younger self and her sister revolutionaries had. The problem, then and now, is with all of the women (and men) who aren’t dedicated to creating an ecofeminist revolution, who instead find their niche in patriarchal society, enjoy the rewards of overconsumption, and make their own contribution to destroying life on this planet. We did not give too much to Spinsters or to feminism. Others gave too little. If everyone, then and now, tried their hardest to challenge the patriarchal social system that is killing the planet and took only enough to live a quality life, then we could all be supporting each other with the gifts of our consciousness, our revolutionary fervor, and our lives of voluntary simplicity. We would create the life-loving and ecofeminist society we need.

In the 1970s it took a strong vision, like that provided by radical feminist or lesbian separatist theory, to be able to see how deadly patriarchal society was. We knew that the patriarchal society we lived in could not be reformed and we were committed to building an alternative ecofeminist society. At Spinsters we attempted, not always successfully, to manifest lesbian feminist revolution in our day to day work in the bookstore. We did not care about getting ahead in the larger patriarchal society because we wanted to radically change that society, not participate in it. To someone immersed in patriarchal society we may have looked crazy in our dedication. But, we already knew at that early date that patriarchy was destroying women’s lives and life on earth.

Global warming is now demonstrating to everyone who isn’t actively denying reality what we already knew back then. This society is deadly and has to be stopped. The kind of vision and dedication possessed by the radical lesbian feminists and lesbian separatists of the 1970s is what is needed now in order to stop globalized industrial patriarchy before it is too late. The results of this patriarchy’s practices are now clear for everyone to see. Thousands of the world’s top scientists are telling us that business as usual will have devastating consequences for humankind, plant and animal life, and the Earth’s ecosystems.

Unfortunately, much of the response to the problem of global warming is guided by the same patriarchal mindset that has created global warming. We desperately need to use the insights of radical feminist and ecofeminist theories and dismantle globalized industrial patriarchy. These radical ecofeminist insights can be used in conjunction with those of the world’s indigenous peoples, matriarchal peoples, and others still living close to the earth on the margins of patriarchal civilization. Those of us in the wealthy nations that have created global warming need to transform our own lives and our society, leaving behind our large incomes, our ridiculous overconsumption, our dependence on industry, and our domination of nature and other humans. We need to face up to the entirety of our problems. We need to insanely dedicate ourselves to creating an ecofeminist future, a future that ends domination, restores women to a central place in society, and returns the earth to the way she was before patriarchal civilization:

“From the air we breathe to the water we drink to the food we eat, every one of these has been altered from the way our ancestors experienced those things. The earth itself, when you pick it up and analyze it, is not the same. Everything has been changed. Yet if nature is sacred, it would be our mind to change it back to make it the way it was when it was supportive of life on the earth. This would mean to make the food the way it was, to make the water the way it was, to make the air the way it was, to make our bodies and everything on the planet the way they were, the way nature made them to be.” (from John Mohawk’s essay “Clear Thinking: A Positive Solitary View of Nature” published in Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future)

October 12, 2009

Vultures, Magnificent Birds with an Unsavory Job

Filed under: Paula Mariedaughter,Wildlife — Paula Mariedaughter @ 6:58 am

Igor, the vulture with a wingspread five feet wide

Vultures are majestic birds with an important part to play in the health of our ecosystem. Vultures take their job as scavengers seriously and want our respect enough to wear tuxedos to collect the garbage! Seriously, isn’t this a beautiful bird? If you saw it, and I told you it was a relative of the huge California condor and we called it an Arkansas condor you might be more inclined to admire the common turkey vulture. The condors have a 10′ wingspan! Our local relative has the same red head with a 5 1/2′ wingspan. Both are impressive as they cruise the skies soaring along the currents above the trees.


Igor, catching his balance

When this turkey vulture spread his huge wings preparing to lift off, I felt the breeze. The powerful wings pushed a rush of cool air toward us. This huge bird was tethered to the gloved hand of Lynn Sciumbato of Morning Star Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Lynn brought four common raptors to the Shiloh Museum for a program sponsored by the Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society on Saturday, October 11, 2009. I was sitting front and center with my new digital camera and asked beforehand if it would be permissible to take pictures. Five feet in front of me were birds I knew from living in the mountains of northwest Arkansas for the last twenty-three years, but I had never been within feet of touching them.

Lynn brought two owls; the smaller was an Eastern Screech Owl (about 8” tall with pointy ear tufts and a wingspan of 20, weighing a mere 6 ounces), and the larger was a Barred Owl (about 21” tall with pronounced bars of dark gray and a wingspan of 42”, weighing 1.6 pounds with no visable ear tufts). These owls are more common in woodland settings and tend to be heard rather than seen. The third of the true raptors was a Red Tailed Hawk, also a big bird and the most rambunctious bird as it waited for its turn to view the crowd. Each bird traveled to the event in a large plastic dog kennel with towels draped over each kennel to minimize stimulation. Red Tailed Hawks (about 19” tall, with the distinctive long rusty-colored tail feathers and a wingspan of 49”, weighing 2 ½ pounds) are often seen soaring high above open spaces or perched near roads and highways.


Eight inch high eastern screech owl with an injured left eye. Note the heavy leather worn to protect flesh from the razor sharp talons

When Lynn first introduced us to the diminutive screech owl I was impressed by the respectful manner she handled the owl and by how comfortable the owl seemed perched on her gloved hand even surrounded by strangers. Lynn is a former teacher and is licensed to rehabilitate wild animals at the sanctuary located in Gravette, AR. Her calm, gentle manner and warm sense of humor pervaded the room. Each of the birds seemed to trust her. Someone asked if she was not nervous having the bird’s sharp beak so close to her face. Lynn explained that in her mind the beak was comparable to a knife and fork used for eating food. With emphasis she explained that all the raptors have razor-sharp feet for seizing and killing prey. When she is attempting a rescue of an injured raptor, she must protect herself from an attack of those deadly claws. According to my dictionary, raptor comes form the Latin word meaning to plunder or snatch. Their name describes their actions for survival–the raptors all grasp their prey with their weapons know as talons.

Because of DNA evidence, vultures have recently been moved from the raptor grouping and are now classified with storks. The weak claws of vultures make them distinct from the raptors. Without the predatory claws, vultures are not capable of ripping open a tough hide on dead animals–they depend on other predators (many with cars) to open such a carcass. Vultures even have a vestige of webbing between their toes that makes their feet similar to storks.

We learned that frogs and lizards are common prey for this diminutive owl with the tufted ears. At Cedar Hill we often hear the distinctive high-pitched whinny call of the screech owl. The haunting sound is common, but an actual sighting is difficult because they roam the woods at night. Note that the feathers on this owl look like tree bark–camouflage is a protection against other bigger predators like the barred owl Lyn brought out next.


Almost two feet tall, with bars of color on the tail--one big owl!

Barred owls may look like a cuddly stuffed animal, but remember those razor sharp talons! Lynn noted that the barred owl may look big and heavy, but said it was a illusion caused by the fluffy feathers. She demonstrated by poking her finger in about two inches among the feathers before reaching the owl’s body. This big owl was almost two feet tall, but weighs less than 2 pounds. The wing span is 4 1/2 feet across and the owl makes not a sound when it swoops down with its feet out-stretched to sieze a rodent. We know our local barred owls only by their thrilling calls back and forth to each other in the evenings. Barred owls perch on a favored tree during the day. Occassionally, we have discovered evidence of their residency in the form of pellets the owls drop below the tree. This sign is full of compacted bones and fur–the remains of the prey that could not be digested.

In discussing the general disposition of the barred owl , Lyn thought them to be relatively easy to deal with in her experience. She said when she is called upon to rescue an injured barred owl it looks at her with its dark eyes and says, “Please help me.” In contrast, she said that when called upon to rescue an injured great horned owl, she looks into the gold eyes that seem to say, “I will rip your throat out if you approach me.” She summed up by saying that this disposition difference is why she does not bring any great horned owls to these public events.


Red tail hawks have a dark back, light underside often with a belly band of reddish color which this one lacks.

Lynn characterized the red tailed hawk that was rattling around in the kennel as her “diva” bird. Apparently, this elegant hawk had been acquired as a young bird by a falconer who trained the hawk to hunt. The falconer hunted with the bird and was quite upset when the hawk injured its left wing in an hunting accident. While the falconer watched, the hawk siezed a rabbit, but the rabbit twisted in a way that pulled the hawk off balance and the hawk’s left shoulder/wing hit the ground hard injuring the shoulder severely. The falconer spent thousands trying to have the hawk’s wing repaired. Lynn pointed out that this injury could happen to any bird of prey when siezing its dinner, and if it did, that the bird would probably starve because it could not fly well enough to feed itself. Or it would be killed by a stronger bird. Landings and takeoffs are always the most dangerous parts of flying. This is further complicated if you are hauling up a struggling animal in your talons.


The trust level between this big hawk and the woman amazed all of us viewing the interactions.

Red is a crude way to describe the coloring of red tailed hawks because the rich rusty color is difficult to describe. The young birds do not have the red tail. Many red tailed hawks have a horizontal band of reddish color across the chest below the wings. This belly-band varies among individual hawks and some, like the visitor Lyn brought, had no band of color across the white chest. The red tailed hawk is a stocky bird; it stands about 2 feet tall and displays the prominant hooked nose characteristic of most hawks. With a wing spread of four feet, we can easily spot a red tailed hawk from the ground as it is soaring over fields and the edge of forests looking for likely prey–especially small rodents. With excellent eye-sight the red tailed hawk can detect the slightest movement in the grass as a mouse feeds.

When driving north on Highway 540 in the winter months, Jeanne and I have sighted up to forty red tailed hawks perched in trees or on fence posts in the section of highway between Fayetteville and Kansas City. Again, these birds are visually scouring the ground for their next meal. Rarely, we have seen two red tailed hawks perched in the same tree along this route and speculated about their connection to each other.


Lyn lectures, but Igor wants her attentions! Lyn indulges her turkey vulture pal. Both species are social creatures.

“A fluffy white tennis ball with a black head” is how Lynn described Igor as a ten-day old chick when she rescued him. This was twenty years ago when a fisherman competing in a fishing contest at Lake Fayetteville noticed the strange creature at the edge of the grass and Lyn was called to rescue the baby thing. Igor lived in her kitchen for the first month in a effort to keep him warm enough to survive. With all that early contact the tiny turkey vulture imprinted on Lyn and believes they are family. Igor lives in an outdoor flight cage and occassionally other vultures will perch on the upper wire of the enclosed area looking down at Igor. Lyn reports that Igor will look up at the other vulture, but does not attempt to interact.

Most birds do not have a good sense of smell. Turkey vultures are an exception; they depend on their excellent sense of smell to locate a carcass from high above the ground. This is a valuable talent for a scavenger. Black vultures flying the same skies depend on visual sightings and are at a disadvantage. Black vultures watch the actions of these gifted smellers and follow the turkey vultures to a new carcass.


The bald red head serves the vulture well because it is more easily cleaned after attacking a decaying carcass.

Turkey vultures are often sighted in groups. While driving along highway 16W (before the county line) there is a dead tree favored by vultures on cool, misty mornings. I have seen about twenty vultures sitting in that tree. All are facing the rising sun with their wings spread as they dry their feathers after a damp night. Each time I see this sight I think, “These vultures are true sun worshippers!” These groupings probably include several pairs of adult vultures and their offspring who roost together and forage together.


After living together for twenty years, the turkey vulture knows what to expect on these public appearances.

Expect the unexpected! I went to this event at the Shiloh Museum primarily because my photo had won a third place in the amateur outdoor photography contest sponsored by the Audubon Society. What I experienced seeing the raptors and the vulture up close is impossible to describe. It is a highlight of my life because my view of my world has expanded. Witnessing the relationship between Lyn and the birds she has rescued, inspired me to document the birds and their mentor. Morning Star Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is performing miracles each and every day.


Lyn appears here to have a guardian dressed up in a tuxedo.

August 17, 2009

Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter: Flora or Smart Economics?

Filed under: Economics,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 9:17 am

Both. Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter is a unique tomato developed by a man nicknamed Radiator Charlie for his skills at his radiator repair shop. This was Charlie Byles who sold his unique tomato plants for one dollar each in the 1940s and was able to pay off most of his mortgage of $6,000 in six years with this extra income. This story came to me from Amy Goldman in her fabulous book The Heirloom Tomato. She elaborated by writing, “ ‘Mortgage lifter’ is a generic term that refers to a set of big old tomatoes, characteristically pink, from central Appalachia.” This tomato was big and juicy, of a beefsteak shape, often with several lobes. Not good for shipping, but great eating!


Homegrown Foxgloves in Bloom

Radiator Charlie understood the oppressive nature of another holding a mortgage on your home or business! This is smart economics to look after your long-term interests. Getting out from under a mortgage was understood to be an important effort in creating stability in one’s life. “Lifting” your mortgage was a life goal. Why would we want to gamble with the home or business that shelters us? In my parents’ generation one did not gamble in this manner unless desperate. Buying a house was a long-term investment.

Not owing a mortgage opens up options and possibilities. Jeanne and I knew this when we considering how we were to make a living in rural northwest Arkansas. This is a guiding principal we used to help us understand our options:

“The less money you need,
the freer you are,
the greater is your choice of jobs
and the less entrapped you are.
There are all sorts of things
we can do for ourselves.
If we have a tiny bit of land,
A small garden,
we can grow things.
We can do all sorts of things ourselves,
instead of buying everything.”

Before we moved to Cedar Hill in 1978, I latched on to this quote from E. F. Schumacker in an East-West Journal article circa 1977. I copied it in my own handwriting and posted it where we would see it every day. (I took the liberty of writing his words in verse form.)You may remember Schumacker as the author of Small Is Beautiful.

“The less money you need the freer you are,” seems an obvious statement today as many people are losing their jobs and, often times, losing their homes too. Home ownership is a precarious undertaking! Most people who loose their homes do so because of unexpected illness or unexpected job loss—who expects these things anyway? (Universal health care would help in this personal and economic disaster.) By buying bigger and fancier homes we gamble that neither illness nor job loss will affect us. With smaller homes and a smaller mortgage we have a better chance of weathering a financial storm. For example, with a smaller mortgage or no mortgage, we should be able to set aside some money each month just in case the “unexpected” happens. Perhaps you could set aside enough to live on for six months to a year should you have to cope with the unexpected.

My birth family lived in a modest house from 1947 until 1979. When the family outgrew the two bedroom house about 1954, my father built an addition of a large bedroom with bath and a family room. With four young children my parents knew the family needed more space; they liked their neighborhood and did not want to move (and could not afford to do so). My father, Paul, built a delightful space for his three daughters. Our room had a hardwood floor, knotty pine walls and we each had a walk-in closet. Dad built this while working full time as a land surveyor. This arrangement worked well for us for decades. With that addition, my family more than doubled our living space and created a multi-use, adaptable house. When the house was sold, I was told that those who purchased it planned to use that space for an ailing parent.

Sometime in the last thirty years the concept of “starter houses” appeared. Realtors encouraged families to keep “upgrading”. A highly mobile workforce also encouraged more buying and selling of homes and mortgages. Each of these developments benefits banks, realtors and other businesses that take a big cut every time a house changes hands. The more expensive the sale, the more those businesses will profit. When we let the industry decide how large a mortgage we can assume, we are engaging in foolish and risky behavior! We must think for ourselves and consider all the risks involved. We cannot let ourselves be seduced by large lots and pretty pools or big-screen TVs. The consequences may be dire. Remember, the less money you need, the freer you are!

Big house, little house, on in between–with someone else holding a mortgage on your home you are vulnerable to loosing the roof over your head if you have money troubles. Isn’t this obvious? And the more money you owe to the mortgage holder the more risk you take. Isn’t this obvious? In my ongoing exploration of both fiction and nonfiction books written by Sandra Dallas, I have been enjoying the book Gingerbread & Gaslights: Colorado’s Historic Houses. Dallas gives a guided tour of castles, mansions, huge ranch houses, and Victorians covered with “gingerbread” trim. When she was writing about these unusual houses in 1965, many had been torn down or abandoned. Some became museums or resorts. But most have not survived the decades. Each was a treasure. In reading the descriptions of the houses, the families that built them, and then the fate of the edifice, I kept thinking of the gambles that life presents to rich and poor. I once owned a large Queen Anne Victorian house at 1718 Summit St. in Kansas City, MO. It was in a poor neighborhood, but the house had been rehabbed by a neighborhood nonprofit. I loved that house. I still love that house. But I could not move it to my forty acres in Arkansas, so I sold it and that sale helped to finance our building our humble home here.


We Put Local White Oak Siding on Our 20' x 40' Humble Abode

My closing thoughts about mortgages and the value of “lifting” or avoiding a mortgage (when possible) involves the value of “staying put”. When we “stay put” we make connections—to the land, to friends and family. We care about the environment. For example, we won’t welcome a landfill like the one planned a decade ago near Delaney which the local community successfully stopped. We think about any chemicals we might consider using on our yards or near a stream because we are going to live with the long term consequences of that action. Putting down roots and creating a stable living situation for ourselves and our loved ones means more to me than living in a fancy house with an oppressive mortgage hovering in the background every day.

E.F. Schumacker reminded me that, “We can do all sorts of things ourselves, instead of buying everything.” Home grown food, homegrown entertainment and home-produced electricity are some of the ways we at Cedar Hill do for ourselves. Mostly it feels good. Especially, it feels good when we do not have to wake to an alarm clock! Usually I wake up about six and wander outside in the garden while it is cool. I weed and wake up. Sometimes, like this morning when Jeanne picked a handful of strawberries, and we savored the sweetness of a just-picked berry I believe I have everything I need.

July 27, 2009

Sustained Commitment: the Gardener’s Challenge

Filed under: Homestead garden,Paula Mariedaughter,Subsistence Living — Paula Mariedaughter @ 7:49 am

Clematis Among the Eastern White Pine Cones in Paula's Wreath

Spring finds every gardener full of enthusiasm for the turning of the seasons. We want to turn the soil of our gardens and work magic with Mother Nature. We are ready to turn our backs on winter and our faces toward the sun. We gather our seeds, tools and bring our grand hopes to our plantings. The new seedlings and spurts of growth spur us on to get up early and work long days in our grubby garden clothes. As the days get hotter and the insects arrive to torment us and our vegetative friends, we can falter in our efforts to weed, water and pick hornworms. Tim Stark put it this way, ” After twelve years of growing vegetables, I have learned to accept that every [growing] season presents a unique set of conditions that invariably prove to be less than optimal.” Stark wrote this in Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer. Wind, rain, no rain, bugs, heat, cold, and/or animal attacks can overwhelm the most enthusiastic gardener.

I try to look to my successes and minimize a focus on the non-successes. When I started quilting in 1994, my mentor Lila Rostenberg interrupted me when I tried to point out the mistakes in my current project. Lila assured me that there was no need to point out my mistakes. I took Lila’s advice seriously and always pass it on to my quilting students. I also appy it to my garden projects. When I am in my garden I employ the same strategy–it is a strategy you know! I learn what I can about the plants that do not thrive and I keep trying until it becomes clear that my garden is not meant to grow, for example, lovely delphiniums because they cannot tolerate our hot days and hot nights. I look for similar alternative plants. In the case of delphiniums, I found larkspur which do thrive here and even self-seed themselves for next year.

Today I’ve prepared a garden tour of some of our early-season successes starting in our main garden. At the center “grows” a driftwood figure we call our Dancing Goddess! The original was a piece of driftwood we discovered down the mountain along the river after a storm. It took a decade for the first Dancing Goddess to melt back into the earth. The current goddess is formed from part of the root system from an Osage Orange (also called Bodark or Hedge) tree we had to remove twenty years ago. Her outstretched arm holds this pinecone wreath I fashioned from the cones from the Eastern White Pine. I am fascinated by the curvy shapes of these cones. Not pictured, but below the Dancing Goddess, lounge bright red bee balm flowers to entice hummingbirds.


Striper Hunts Bugs Under the Tomatoes

Striper was a howling kitten when Jeanne found him abandoned down by the river. Named for his distinctive bold orange stripes he is posed below the thriving tomatoes. Each morning and evening, Striper also looks for bugs while I scan the tomato stems carefully for the camouflaged hornworms disguised as just another tomato stem. Below Stiper are the basil plants and to the right are sage plants spilling into the path.


Cleome or Spider Flowers Dot the Garden with Color by Mid-Summer

When we expanded our garden this spring I moved these purple coneflowers, the silver lamb’s ear and the cleome to our former visually neglected compost area. We needed the bed space for edibles. I landscaped with large rocks from the river to provide steps in this steep area. In the background you can see that Jeanne has created a huge mound of fresh materials to make fresh compost. The gold flowers are the first blooms of the rambling pumpkin patch. Some of the ten foot vines reached to the fence and the deer pulled on the vines through the fence to consume the tender growth.


Jeanne's Carefully Mounded Compost Pile in the Background with Huge Gourd leaves on the Far Left of the Picture

Our birdhouse gourd vines exhibited exuberant growth up the bamboo trellis I’ve provided. They seem to grow ten inches overnight and the long curling tendrils reach out for support and comfort (or so it seems,)when I walk by. Yesterday I found the first of the delicate white flowers that will transform themselves into foot long gourds in less thatn two months. These miracles of creation draw me back to the garden day after day. I depend on them to renew me. And I depend on these miracles to renew my commitment to hauling water and attending to the other needs of a successful garden–most of which I enjoy.

Gourds large and small were used by native peoples for serving dishes, mixing bowls, plates, dippers, storage and even for heating liquids. Once dried and cured gourds are strong and useful tools. To heat liquids in a gourd, one does not place the gourd over a hot fire. Instead, one heats several small clean rocks on the edge of a fire. Then using wood tongs the heated rocks are carefully dropped into the liquid transferring the heat from the rocks to the liquid.

Birdhouse Gourds in the Background and Lavender in the Foreground

Birdhouse Gourds in the Background and Lavender in the Foreground

Jeanne and I choose to add flowers and herbs to the mix in our vegetable garden. From comfrey and astragalus to foxgloves, coneflowers and morning glories we depend on these to bring pollinaters and to offer spots of color and texture to the garden canvas. This is our most ambitious garden; we are growing strawberries, corn, basil, garlic, cucumbers, yellow squash, carrots, pumpkins, watermelon, three varieties of tomatoes, gourds, several types of beans and a variety of greens. Last fall we planted three apple trees and cleared around a “found” mulberry tree.

Morning Glories

Morning Glories Beginning to Climb the Obelisk

Our yellow crookneck squash are buzzing with bees and beginning to produce the tender squash as the flowers fade to fruit, or in this case vegetables. The leaves are over a foot across and erect like an umbrella. We are seeing unwelcome signs of powdery mildew on the leaves of the squash and the cucumbers. Both of these plants have prickly hairs that irritate the forearms as we pick underneath the leaves searching for young fruit before they become oversized. Some people have a severe reaction to this irritant. Beware.

Squash Plants

Lush Growth on the Squash Plants with many Cleome in the Background

Our end-of-July garden tour of Cedar Hill closes with a closeup picture of the tendrils that tether these luxuriant birdhouse gourd vines to any nearby object. Each tendril has its own agenda as it stretches and twines toward a stationary object. The bamboo is harvested from our own homegrown stand. Our bamboo trellis lifts the vines off the ground and toward the sunlight allowing air to circulate among the leaves. Circulating air minimizes the chance of invasions of unfriendly mildew spores here in the garden as well as indoors if not using air conditioning.

If you look closely you will see that I have used jute to train the vines up the slippery bamboo poles. Gourds too have prickly leaves, but assisting the vines by tying them carefully to the bamboo is part of my ongoing relationship to the summer garden. Cool moist mornings are my favorite time of a day in the garden. The early morning promise is rather like the hopefulness of spring. Sustained commitment to nurturing and harvesting rewards you with snacks of perfect strawberries and tastes of green beans so tender when plucked off the bush that you do not dream of cooking them. Munch them whole while they last. It will be a long wait until next year’s crop.


Tethering Tendrils of the Birdhouse Gourds

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