Turn Back, It's a Trap!

Most wild horse and Western movie fans know of the box canyon trick for capturing a band of horses.  The unsuspecting herd is gradually hazed down a valley into a high-walled canyon with no egress.  Meanwhile, a fence is thrown up or gate closed across a narrow part of the valley to block escape back through the valley.

It all starts innocently enough.  The wild horses range rather freely, grazing on a variety of grasses and moving around constantly, which prevents overgrazing.  They know where the good watering holes are and where predators hang out.  The band cooperates for survival.  They live in natural rhythm with the land and seasons and other wild animals.

Once upon a time, people grew most of their own food.  They had small farms with gardens, grains, and a collection of livestock.  Some of the folks lived in town, but they purchased their food from their farmer neighbors.  In turn, the farmers bought goods and services from the town folks.  Because there were lots of small farms, a person usually had a choice about where to buy their food and they knew who was growing it.  Farmers knew their reputation was at stake, so they worked to earn the trust of their patrons.

One day, some riders appear.  They fan out around the select group of horses, and start gradually moving them in the desired direction.  If the horses are particularly skittish, the riders may spend several days camping near the band to have the horses become accustomed to their presence.  As long as there is food and water, the wild horses seem fairly content.

Gradually, cities grew. Machines were invented. People worked in factories, producing various items of necessity. Tractor power replaced horse power on the small farms, and one farmer could tend to more land.  Some farmers bought up more land from their neighbor farmers, who were willing to sell for various reasons. Some farmers began to specialize in raising one type of crop, such as corn or wheat, or one type of meat animal, such as chickens or hogs. At the same time, the processing of these crops and meat animals started to become a specialty; it was no longer done on the farms, but at facilities owned by companies.  Food was distributed to city dwellers by various companies.

The wild horses steadily move away from the riders, who, in turn, steadily follow.  The band groups together; some are becoming alarmed.  They pick up the pace, attempting to put distance between themselves and the intruders.   When the band attempts to change direction, the riders carefully manage the detour and pretty soon the band is again on its way toward the canyon.  The valley gradually narrows.

Companies and corporations are formed to pool money for the purpose of accomplishing tasks that are too large for an individual or a small group of individuals. This has always been a two-edged sword. The danger is made manifest when the corporation becomes too large or corrupt, and wields more power than individual citizens or communities. Corporations began to buy crop land or pay farmers to raise crops for them.  Corporations began to hire livestock producers to raise animals that the corporations owned. Mono-cropping (raising fields of one crop type) left crops highly susceptible to disease or pests.  Crowding of livestock resulted in high levels of disease and parasites.  Chemical pesticides, herbicides and medications came into wide-spread use.  At first the problems seemed solved.  But the weeds, parasites and bacteria evolved.  They became resistant, thus necessitating deadlier chemicals.  The cycle repeated itself over and over.  Still, the farms grew in size, while the number of actual farmers plummeted.  Citizen consumers, meanwhile, became enamored with grocery stores and supermarkets.  No longer did they have to milk the cow; milk appeared in bottles and cartons.  For awhile, food was basically recognizable.  Gradually, all manner of boxed and canned items materialized, with claims of nutrition and incredible flavor. So many choices!  So easy to fix! Never mind that the list of ingredients became ever longer and the names of the ingredients more unpronounceable. This was food heaven.

The wild horses break into a run, disturbed that the riders are still following so close.  Some of the lead horses surge ahead , looking for escape routes.  A few try again to veer off the path; the riders deftly and decisively force them back to the herd, knowing that it wouldn’t take long for the rest of the band to catch on and bolt away from the intended trap route.

Corporations, being rather organized, wealthy and very un-democratic, began to work together to shape economics and laws that benefitted themselves.  Farming became ever more expensive, which heightened the barrier preventing new farmers from even getting started.  Weather and markets contributed to volatility in farming, as they always had.  The central government at some point stepped in and offered subsidies, designed to stabilize agriculture and provide food for citizens.  Consumers were fairly oblivious, thanks to the lower costs of their increasingly complex food items.  Little by little, the large corporate farms began to merge, thus gaining larger market shares and subsidies.

When the central government would attempt to protect citizens and communities from the growing hazards of industrial farms, livestock production and feedlots, the corporations would lobby for their rights, which had been steadily granted by various legislative bodies.  Meanwhile, the meat-packing plants and food manufacturing plants grew and consolidated until only a handful now remain. This fact has been disguised from the citizen consumers by peppering the multitude of products with scores of different brand names, thus creating the illusion of choice. Low food prices, due in part to low wages paid to production workers, lulls the consumer into complacency.

By now the herd is strung out, but lined up and galloping toward the trap.  In their panic, they are no longer aware of much else.  Moving forward seems equivalent to survival, so onward they run.  The stragglers, young and old, fall back – exhausted, injured, dying; the riders don’t care.  Suddenly, the herd leaders find themselves in the box canyon, with its high, steep walls.  There is no way out!  They turn and begin to gallop back the way they had come.  They encounter the other members of the herd, and chaos ensues as the horses mill about , deciding whom to follow.  Which way do we go?  What has happened? How did we not sense the trap?

These corporations have also contributed vast sums of money to politicians, who would then grant them favors after gaining seats in local, state or federal governments.  Corporate officers were appointed to various government committees.  Now the foxes were guarding the hen houses.  At some point, the corporations were given permission to patent the “life” – seeds and animals – that they developed through genetic engineering.  These new entities were considered similar enough to natural entities to allow for their use without extensive testing.  The corporations sell the seeds to farmers, who plant them and raise the crop.  But the farmers  cannot keep any of the seeds produced by the plants grown on their land, because the corporation owns the rights to them.  The farmer must buy new seed every year, at the price conveniently set by the corporation.  The farmers attempt to buy from other corporations instead, only to find that there are really only a few to choose from, and those few collude to keep prices in their favor.  Pollen from the altered plants spreads to neighbors’ fields; corporations accuse these unsuspecting farmers of stealing, and file lawsuits against them.

Some of the citizen consumers are becoming increasingly alarmed by the chronic diseases associated with rapant chemical use, the outbreaks of new and deadly strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria found in some food items, the unquestionable degradation and loss of our once incredibly rich, productive soils, the ballooning volume of chemicals and toxic waste polluting our various sources of water, and the untested personal and environmental consequences of genetically modified organisms. These people also realize the danger of having a handful of megacorporations controlling all of their food supply chain, from planting, to production, to distribution. This fact is very ominous; it is contrary to any idea of personal and national security.

The herd of wild horses has turned, racing back toward their former lands.  The riders are using all their tricks to stop them.  The barrier fence has been closed across the valley opening and the riders form a menacing wall.   But this may not be enough to stop a group of determined horses who have realized their mistake, and refuse to give up their freedom so easily.  If the herd is large enough…

The last decade has seen the explosion of farmer’s markets and various types of community supported agriculture systems. People want to meet the farmers that are growing their food.   Increasing numbers of consumers are seeking out produce, meats and other products that are grown in manners that support the environment; these consumers are willing to pay more for these products.  Methods of farming that heal the soil and ecosystems are being shared and adopted.  One by one, the farmers themselves are being restored to a higher place of honor.  Young people are seeking to apprentice with farmers and to buy their own farms.

Even city dwellers are planting their own gardens, in place of their former lawns, or in pots on their patios and rooftops.  Abandoned lots are being converted to gardens.  Chickens abound in some city backyards.  People are choosing to eat locally produced and seasonal foods.  Communities are becoming stronger as their members support each other’s businesses. Groups of citizens are demanding to know what chemicals or genetically modified organisms are in the food products, so they can make their own choices. These citizens are demanding that the governing bodies remember they exist to serve the true human citizens, not the artificially-created, private corporate entities.  If enough citizens join these efforts…

How do these stories end?  That, dear reader, it up to you…

Author’s note:  My story is not intended to be a comment on the wild horses of today; I’m aware that their situation and management is a complex issue.  I just felt this allegory was useful in my attempt to portray the larger picture of what is happening to our food system.  I purposely did not include dates or names; the reader can easily find plenty of information with a little research.  The topic, players and details are less important than the perspective needed to see this pattern as it occurs over and over: the attempts by a greedy and powerful few to entrap, and thus control, the many.  This pattern is repeated in so many areas of life.  Constant vigilance, taking personal responsibility to educate oneself, and participating in civic affairs are the actions necessary for maintaining true democracy and choice.

Sustainability and the Equine World

A term that is seen more frequently and in more places these days is “sustainability”.  What does this actually mean?  What is its significance to the equine world?

In 1987, the United Nation’s World Commission on Environment and Development offered this definition: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  Most feel the term encompasses three parameters: environmental, social and economic.

The international organization, The Natural Step, suggests that these parameters can be thought of as inter-nested spheres.  The largest sphere, which contains the others, is the earth and its environment.   This is also known as natural capital, the natural resources and ecosystems that support our lives and businesses.  The middle sphere represents humanity and how we interact with each other (society).  The small center sphere is the economy, which has no real meaning without the other spheres.  I offer that the social sphere could include our equine partners.

I personally feel that with the privilege of living here on earth comes with a responsibility to treat it with care and consideration, and to make sure the generations yet to come have abundant, healthy resources available, too.  As a mother and a horse owner, I am especially aware of this necessity.  I also feel we need social and economic policies that honor all people.

Sustainability is a way of living.  It is a thought system.  Its practices grow from its ground of principles.  It encompasses a whole system perspective, involving a wider, deeper and longer way of seeing than we are accustomed to in our daily routines of survival.   It takes willingness, dedication, courage and patience.

Where does one start?

First, one comes to the realization that there is a need for adopting sustainable life styles.  If you have been paying attention, you already know this. Human populations keep expanding and renewal of natural resources is not keeping pace with consumption.  Most biological systems are in decline: soil, forests, water availability and quality, fisheries, plant and animal biodiversity and so on.  Fossil fuels, which formed over great lengths of time, are not renewing as fast as we are extracting them.  What does this mean for future generations?

More regulations are being implemented to prevent further degradation of the planet, though these are constantly fought or undermined.  Humans expect ever increasing quality of life for themselves.  The economic system is in turmoil.  All these pressures create the effect of moving into a future where the funnel is narrowing steadily.   At present, there is still time to aim for the small opening that is left to avoid hitting the wall of the funnel.  This is the opening into a sustainable future.

Next, one begins to practice whole system thinking and life-cycle analysis.  For example, your horse is a whole system.   It is more than just its hooves, or digestive system, or muscles, or skin, or brain, or behavior, or breed, or color, or history.  Its health and well-being also involve more than some food and water.   A conscientious horse owner strives to provide for all the physical and mental needs of the horse.

The same is true for your facilities, and beyond that, for your neighborhood, bioregion, and so on through the level of the whole planet.   Each is a part of the whole; they are all connected.  But we usually don’t think much past the level of our own equine facility.

Life-cycle analysis thinking is based on the way the natural world operates.   Everything flows in a cycle.  Nothing is wasted.  The only input into this closed system we call Earth is the energy from the sun.   Water and nutrients constantly circulate.  Life, death, life happens.  Seasons cycle year after year. Unfortunately, humans think and live in a more linear way.  Birth, death.  Resource, product, consumption, waste.  Worse yet, we make synthetic products and chemicals that the earth can’t even biodegrade back into useful  nutrients.  We disconnect from the cycle of things; we flush or deposit our trash and it goes “away”.   Only, there is no “away”.

This is not sustainable.  We humans cannot continue to live in this manner indefinitely.  In fact, I suggest we cannot continue to live in this manner during our own lifetimes if we intend to pass along a planet with the same resources available to the next generations.

The time to begin thinking and living sustainably is now.

Though the aspects of sustainability – environmental, social, economic – are interrelated, it is a bit easier to address them individually first.  What do the environmental practices of a sustainable equine enterprise look like?

The primary impact on the environment, other than our personal daily living, is probably from the horse (or donkey or mule) itself.  They eat plant material, deposit manure, walk around on delicate soil and affect water quality.  Were there a limited number of horses wandering loose and kept in population balance by large predators, this would not be so much of a problem.  However, this is far from the case.  In the USA alone, there is an estimated 9 million horses.  Most of these are concentrated in stables or small operations.  They require large amount of food, water, and bedding.  They produce tons of manure that must be managed properly to prevent contamination of water and prevent the spread of parasites and disease.  All this care requires energy, which, at this point, is primarily sourced from fossil fuels.

As we start to look at the whole system, we realize that energy and resources are also required for all the aspects of horse care and usage.  We build barns, arenas, racetracks and fences; we manufacture tons of equipment – feed buckets, horseshoes, trailers, tack,  tractors, veterinary supplies; we create huge amounts of chemicals for the horses; we trailer them to competitions, trailheads and races.  How much of this is made from recycled material?  How much is recycled after its use is over?  Do any processes or traveling use renewable energy?

While some owners are beginning to adopt measures to be environmentally-friendly to their land and water, the practices are not yet common throughout the equine world.   And not many of the industries that supply the equine world are actively pursuing environmentally-friendly practices.

What is the social realm of sustainability?  The social sphere mainly addresses how we treat each other.  We need human companionship in order to lead physically and mentally fulfilling lives.  Our daily existence is a complex web of interactions between humans: how we meet our basic needs for food, clean water, clothing, shelter; our work and leisure lives; our family and community relationships; the peaceful coexistence of nations. Humans flourish when they have the ability to meet their basic needs, have respect for diversity, honor fairness and equality, and share love and compassion.  When we consider the needs of others along with our own, when we do what we can to address famine and poverty, when we live within resource limits of the planet, when we take into account the basic needs of the future generations, then we live in a socially sustainable manner.

In the equine world, I say this social sphere also includes how we treat our equine partners.  Each person needs to answer the question: do I support my equine to live a healthy, fulfilling life?  Do I consider my equine partner a mere commodity, an object designed for my pleasure, or a fellow being who deserves the same quality of life that I have?

What is the economic area of sustainability?  The economy is basically the system designed by humans to define and manage the flow of goods and services, the exchange of value, production and consumption.  There are many economic systems operating around the globe.  Nearly all are based on the premise of continuing, infinite growth.  Nowhere in the natural world does this bizarre idea exist or play out.  It is absolutely unsustainable.  While ideas for alternative economic systems are not yet well developed, it is becoming clear that “business as usual” is no longer a viable option.

One of the main problems with the current models is that most economies and businesses do not incorporate the true costs to the environment into their products and services.  They harvest the profits and leave the external costs (of cleanup and regeneration) to the public.  We consumers are complicit in the destruction of natural and social capital by our never-satisfied desire for novelty and pleasure, for more and more.  Whereas the advances in technology and innovation can bring life-enhancing results, these must be evaluated within the context of the whole system of life.  What impact does this “latest and greatest” have on present and future generations and natural resources?  Does it support an increase in social equality?  Does it support an economic system that is in balance with the other aspects of sustainability?

And more simply, will each new thing bring us lasting joy and satisfaction?  These feelings are rarely dependent upon material possessions, beyond our basic needs.  True prosperity is far more than the pile of money one accumulates.

An economic system that results in increasing numbers of families that work for less than a living wage is also not sustainable. Millions in our own nation can’t afford to buy a house or pay for health care and insurance.  Yet the tiny percent of our population at the top continue to become exponentially wealthier.   When members of this elitist group fill the ranks of all of the political, academic and corporate entities, who is left to advocate for the rest of humanity?

For a horse owner, one’s personal economic system should also consider the well-being of the horse, especially if it is involved in generating income for the owner.  It is not hard to find examples of horses (and humans) being mistreated for the sake of making a few more dollars.

How do these three areas of sustainability relate to each other?  A person or facility can adopt environmentally-friendly measures, but still not endure for the long term.  If the social relations fall apart or finances are mismanaged, the person or facility will falter.  On a larger scale, for example, the issue of abandoned horses (social problem) is tightly related to the national recession (economic problem).  We will not find a good solution to the first without addressing the latter.  If an equine facility boards or breeds too many horses in an effort to make money, but destroys their land and facilities, they will ultimately fail.  If an equine-related industry is financially successful, but is caught polluting the environment or mistreating workers, they may be fined heavily or shut down.

When an equine enterprise has a long-term vision that takes into account its natural resources (natural capital), the well-being of the humans and horses (social capital) and careful management of its financial resources (economic capital), that enterprise has a far better chance of being a successful, healthy, vibrant place for generations to come.

Living sustainably is complex.  The web of connections between the choices and actions of daily living is a challenging puzzle.  And this is just at the level of the individual; what about at a community, national and global level?  Complicating the effort to live sustainably is the fact that many of our current social and economic structures support the very opposite way of living.

The transformation to a sustainable world won’t happen overnight, but it will happen and it is already happening in many small ways.  Where does the equine owner start?  In one’s heart and mind.  Be willing.  Be open to learning the principles and adopting the practices.

When to start?  Now would be a good time….

Riding The Bus

Since it is always good to “walk your talk”, I thought I’d better start riding the bus to work, instead of driving my car.  Mostly to save on oil (gasoline) consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  Besides, with 201,000 miles under her belt, I thought I’d better stretch what life was left in the ol’ girl (a 1986 Honda Prelude) who had served me well.

With a bus stop a block away and several times and buses to choose from, I could no longer justify NOT riding the bus.  Granted, it meant that I would have to allow a little more time for getting to work (ahh, discipline).  I was in a bad habit of flying out the door with enough time to zoom downtown if the traffic lights were blessing me.  Yes, this would take some shifting.

But one day, I took that step; I rode the bus.

I really enjoy riding the bus!  Besides the benefit of experiencing a cross-section of humanity, I also get a chance to relax before and after work.  I read or look out the window or chat with people.  I think about my day, or look forward to spending time with my son or my horse.  All that in the span of about 10 or 15 minutes!  Who knew?

I still remember the Latino girl and her young son who were at the bus stop that first day.  She told me, yes it was where I could get Bus 5, and how it became Bus 6 at the downtown depot and continued to “southtown”, where she lived.  Meanwhile, Bus 6 would arrive at the depot (usually a few minutes late) and switch to Bus 5, which I could catch home at quarter past or quarter ‘til.  Other Buses stayed the same number and had longer routes.  Yes, Bus 7 also stopped at my neighborhood post.  I thanked her and waved goodbye as I disembarked at the depot!

Such a variety of people ride my buses!  Being a university town, there are students of many nationalities.  Sometimes I close my eyes and listen: Spanish, Asian, Middle Eastern, European.  It is like being on the Disneyland “Small World” ride for real!  One woman had the unique and beautiful eyes, and 3 lovely children who looked just like her; where was she from?   Young girls with veils get on the bus.  I smile at them: “as-salamu ‘alayukum” (peace be unto you), as an old Pakistani friend taught me to say.  Yes, may we all live in peace.

There are elderly people; the driver lowers the bus for them to step on and off.  Some have shopping bags.  Others just seem to ride for fun.  Occasionally, someone is in a wheel chair; the passengers fold up the side seat and help the person secure his wheels.  There are lots of young people.  Young boys (age 10?) going to the library by themselves.  There are mothers with children, and sometimes both parents.  Let’s sit here, Dad! – in the seats that face each other near the back.  Such an adventure to be had!  I find myself smiling.

Teens: all flavors from geek to Goth, singles and groups.  Fashion clothes, black tees and chains, or whatever’s clean even if it doesn’t match.  Some with ear buds in and world out.  One day I sat and chatted with a teen I recognized.  She is going to be senior, and is worried that she won’t have friends at school since some took the GED route and others don’t like each other.  Ah, yes, the days of identity chaos – be unique, but find a place to belong.  Actually, those seem to be the two bookends of my life even now!  But I worry less about it and choose to welcome all who would like to ‘belong’ in my world.

I find it fascinating to discover who people are beneath the surface.  Like my African-American friend whom I met that first day.  An older student in forestry management, but so much more, too.  She is working for women’s rights, an end to poverty, and respect for the land.  She is a voice of Divine Love for all people.

There are folks who are clearly around the poverty line and probably can’t afford a car.  I at least have a choice about riding the bus.  There are people who talk to themselves, or have some form of mental challenge.  Their lack of social restrictions is actually a bit refreshing – they are more like inquisitive children than stuffy adults!  There was the young man who bummed bus fare from me and asked if I knew any single girls.  Plenty ride the bus, so maybe he will find what he is looking for.  Most bus riders smile and make eye contact; they thank the driver as they leave the bus.  Have a good day! Others, for what ever reason, keep to themselves.  When I’m tired, I can understand their desire for solitude.

Sometimes I meet people as I walk the blocks to and from my downtown work.  Like the angry young hippie who fell into step with me and proceeded to tell me why he hated America, how his girl left him and broke his heart, how people didn’t understand him and sometimes spit on him, how they were kinder to his kitten (that rode harnessed on his backpack in front of his guitar) than to him, that he didn’t do drugs and knew lots about rocks and gems and spiritual stuff, and so on… for several blocks.  Even if I could have thought of some good advice, I wouldn’t have been able to interject it into his tirade.  So I just listened.  Finally, nearing the bus depot, I simply asked him his name.  He stopped, a bit stunned, and then shook my hand as he introduced himself as Nate.  Nice to meet you, I’m Becky.  I don’t think he knew how to respond to someone who treated him with respect, because after we chatted a few more seconds, he turned and headed back up the street.  I have thought of the kid many times.  He was just passing through town; I wish him well as he finds his way through life.

I walk those blocks at various hours, when the town is sleepy and when the streets are flowing with impatient cars.  I, too, used to zip along, eyes front to avoid rear-ending someone.  As I walk, I randomly choose my path, gazing in the windows of shops and restaurants I have frequented, and those I haven’t.  Few have a name recognized across the country; most are family-owned businesses.  Some are new and some have stood the test of time and generations.  As everywhere, the economy has been challenging, to say the least.  A few businesses have faltered and quietly passed away.  Others are kept afloat by the age-old principles of loyalty and community.  They are friends and family, we greet each other by name.   All understand the interdependence of our lives.

I have always admired trees, but hadn’t noticed just how many grow in town.  They are everywhere!  I heard the city even employs an urban forester to look after them. From the back seats of the bus, I am eye level with their curving branches.  When it is hot, I walk along under their shade.  I look up through the canopy (and hope I don’t trip on the sidewalk).  I stop to feel the texture of their bark.  Some I recognize from long-ago Botany class.  Instead of a forest floor, they are surrounded by concrete or asphalt.  Yet they grow, sometimes pushing the man-made ground out the way with their mighty roots.  They have observed decades of transition.  A few old ones probably carry the memories of Native Americans who lived in this area, before settlers arrived in 1845 and changed everything.

I have been surprised by the fact that I almost always leave the house with time to spare.  One day I was even ready fifteen minutes early, so I caught a different bus.  This gave me time to browse through the gathering of artists displaying their amazing creations on the courthouse lawn.  I purchased a magical little print from an artist friend there, and every day I delight in its colorful strokes of sun, moon, earth and sea.  Have I missed other treasures in my fast-paced life?  Hmmm.

Though most of the time the buses run true to the clock on the nearby courthouse tower, there are exceptions.  I call them lessons in patience and flexibility.  When I drive, I get irked if I have to sit through two rounds of the traffic light.  But the other day, when the Bus 5 mysteriously never appeared, I shrugged my shoulders, dug out my book and prepared to wait another half hour.  Meanwhile, Bus 4 appeared, running 15 minutes late.  I hadn’t taken it before as the nearest stop is about a 7 block hike from my house.  Hmmm, take a sure thing or gamble on Bus 5?  I hopped on Bus 4.  Be flexible!  Besides, what are a few more blocks of walking?  My sister lives on a ranch; her motto is, why walk when you can ride a horse.  Well, yes, but my horse doesn’t live in town with me!  And the extra walking, from bus to work and back, has paid dividends: my clothes fit looser.

I look forward to more days spent floating along in the “aquarium on wheels”, a microcosm of the larger sea of humanity.  Riding the bus reminds me to not only tolerate differences, but to celebrate them.  That diversity brings a richness to life.  That people are vastly more complex than the simple categories my rapidly assessing mind files them into.  That strangers can sometimes be kinder than friends or family.  I see bits of myself in all of my traveling companions and I smile with understanding.  I feel part of a community and it feels good.

Thinking Outside the Body

The world is awash with all manner of concoctions which promise to ameliorate any perceived malady of skin and hair.  These lotions and potions run the gamut from common ingredients one finds in the food pantry, to highly secret – and, of course, very rare – balms for the aristocracy.  We are encouraged to beautify, detoxify, de-wrinkle, detangle, plump up, shine up, colorize, emphasize, exfoliate, erase, tone, and protect.

Hair – in the “correct” place – is valued; otherwise, it is cut, waxed or shaved from existence.  We have hair products to clean and condition, color, curl, straighten, add or reduce volume or frizziness.

We diet and exercise our way into the “correct” figure shape.  Cellulite, especially if visible, is a four-letter word!   On the other end, there is too skinny or too flat.   With enough money, you can “buy” your perfect body from the plastic surgery store.

We can pamper ourselves or pay someone to pamper us.  Facials, manicures, pedicures, hair care, massages, saunas, oils, hot rocks, tanning, waxing, and even mud baths.

Then we have the adornments, also known as clothes, shoes, accessories, jewelry, tattoos and piercings.  Value equivalent to price.  Price equivalent to worth as a human being.  Or so we are taught.  It’s all available, whether you want to blend in or own a one-of-a-kind.  What amount of our energy and time is traded off to afford our must-have styles?

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of this!  Taking care of our bodies is important.  And designing, producing, selling and buying all these body-related products and services provides an outlet for creativity, discovery, and commerce.

Yet, isn’t it interesting that we don’t extend these ideals of care to the earth?

The beautiful face in the mirror is more important to us than the view out our windows.  We like our nails and lawns manicured, but disregard the environmental damage done in producing these displays.  The natural flora of a place is not as exciting as the exotic, just as natural beauty is shunned for artificial.  Wild and scenic is valued in body art, but trivialized in the countryside.

We liberally apply sunscreen to our bodies, but ignore the thinning ozone layer.  We brush dandruff off our shoulders, while we litter our roadsides.  We are far less horrified by the cellulite mountains of garbage we pile on the planet than by our own.  We hydrate with specialty bottled waters as we dehydrate our lakes and aquifers.

We soften our skin with lotion and harden the land with pavement.  Our personal baldness is far more a concern than our rapidly thinning forests.  Our antioxidant preparations often contribute to the environmental toxification we are using them to protect ourselves against.  We tolerate relentless conformity of our food crops, but fight for the right of individual self expression.

We would never exfoliate to the point of scraping away the dermal layer, yet we have nearly done this to our topsoil layer.  Consider the horrendous scars and voids left by strip mining; we would absolutely hide such if on our own bodies.  We worry more about keeping our arteries unclogged than we do our rivers.  We deodorize and purify the air inside our houses, while oblivious to the noxious fumes polluting the air outside our houses.

Maybe the greatest paradox of all: we do everything we can to extend the length of our lives, while doing nothing to make sure we have a healthy planet on which to live those extra years.

Isn’t it time we started thinking beyond our own bodies?  Do our bodies really have a physical boundary anyway?  Are we not part and parcel of all that is around us?  Part of the whole system we call life on earth?  What if we expanded our thinking to this Whole Body?

The Great Contentment

Probably most of us have parents or grandparents that lived through the Great Depression.  Even though it occurred decades ago and the economy seemed to heal, I’m not sure we Americans ever recovered psychologically from those times.  At first, practices of frugality, reuse of items and establishment of an emergency fund were carefully followed.  Communities worked together, and supported each other’s businesses.  But then, much like coming off a very restrictive diet, we went on a binge.  Gather, hoard, consume, get rich quick became the goals of the generations that followed, as if these endeavors would protect them (us) from scarce and scary times.

In many ways, community and family have been replaced by the individual.  “Every man/woman for him/herself!”  Somewhere along the line, “he would give you the coat off his back” became “he will take the coat off your back if you let him”.  Never satisfied, we justify “more is better, it’s mine, and I earned it or at least figured out a way to take it from you”.  I find it interesting that, in a nation where we profess to be serious about our spirituality, and most religions and spiritual paths emphasize treating others at least as well as you treat yourself, we have become so possessive, greedy and competitive.  Do we even read our spiritual guidebooks?

It is said “we create what we defend against”.  In defending against scarcity, we have indeed created a sense of scarcity in our minds.  And in the current economy, apparently.  Hence, the lack of sharing and the unwillingness to support others to thrive along with your own efforts to thrive.  We politely ignore appeals to give voluntarily of our time, talent and money.  We adamantly oppose any formal legislation that would require us to do so involuntarily.   What is the answer then?

Yes, it is important to take care of myself.  I am responsible for my life.  But I don’t think that means “look out for number one” only.  Far more can be accomplished when we move from an independent to an interdependent mind set.  Collaboration and cooperation allow for great results, and, I say, more fun and enjoyment.  Creating an economy that meets the needs of all, including animals and the planet, is not beyond the capacity of our collective intellects.  We just have to be committed to doing so.

It is time to say goodbye to the “great depression” of our hearts and minds.  It is time to recognize that it is not things, and the acquiring of more of those things, that will bring us true joy.  It is through loving ourselves and others, and accessing the abundance within us, that we will finally feel satisfied.  I extend an invitation to you: join me in ushering in a new era, one of Great Generosity; of Great Enjoyment; and of Great Contentment.

A Granddaughter's Essay

The year is 2040.  I am living on this wonderful horse farm today, thanks to Grandmother Becky.  Back in 2010, she made the choice to adopt the principles of tri-nested sphere sustainability.  She integrated the practices into all areas of her life.  Others realized the wisdom of these living choices, and they worked together to find equine-related product and service providers who met the guidelines of long-term sustainability in the three spheres of environmental, social and economic factors.  It seems odd now to me that there was any other way to live, but back then, she and the others were pioneers.  Her son, my father, continued this legacy.

Equine enterprises were among the early leaders in sustainability in the world.  Each sustainable equine place developed practices that worked best for their situation.  Yet all are based on similar principles, which are just as valid today as they were years ago.  And, of course, these principles also apply beyond the equine world.

The deepest foundation principle of all is love.  Loving kindness, respect, compassion, consideration, a sense of oneness.  Arising from this foundation, every thought and action is infused with a powerful energy.  Another related principle is wholeness.  Whole system thinking; everything is connected.  Awareness of the effects of choices on the whole, not merely on the direct line of action.  “Relatedness is the organizing principle of the universe.”  Concepts such as interdependence, integration, cooperation, collaboration and dialogue live in whole systems design.

Whole system thinking includes life-cycle thinking.  Everything in the natural world is part of a cycle.  Day and night, moon phases, seasons, birth and death, carbon and other nutrients, water, tides, and so on.  Grandmother’s generation saw the transformation from the unintelligent “take-make-waste” practices, which had become the norm, to the “life-cycle design” systems for production of goods.  Today’s common phrases, such as “cradle to cradle” and “waste equals food”, were born back then.

Principles based on the wisdom of the natural world began to inform all aspects of living.  Resources started to be used only at the same rate as they were renewed.  The impact of harvesting or mining was studied on a comprehensive level before any action was taken.   Biodiversity became recognized, appreciated and encouraged.  The sun became the basis for supplying most energy needs.  As the toxic effects of many man-made chemicals became unmistakable and deadly, people reacted swiftly to block their production and to replace them with naturally-occurring alternatives or found ways to live without them.  Needless to say, the earth and our equines also benefitted from this change.

Though by Grandmother’s time overt slavery was illegal and considered immoral, there was a hidden “slavery” which no one thought much about.  These practices included underpaying workers directly and also indirectly by doing business with companies that underpaid their employees.  These greed-based practices also included questionable, and outright cruel, treatment of horses and other equines, in the name of profit for the owners.  I am happy to say that, today, equines are considered beings of value in their own right.  While some still help generate income, they are viewed as more as companions than commodities.  People and equines learn from each other.  All equines live fulfilling lives, and are treated with dignity from birth through death.  Unwanted horses are, thankfully, a disgrace of the past.

People have learned to embrace their own innate value and take responsibility for their own lives.  We access an internal source of joy and peace, and focus more on the content of our lives rather than the form our lives take.  Who a person is inside outshines his or her appearance or possessions.  We reach out to each other, sharing a sense of belonging with family, community, and the wider world.  Service, not authority, has become the highest form of leadership.

The economy is now based on sound principles, which include full-cycle factors and the environmental costs of all products and activities.  We value a culture and economy that is designed to allow everyone to meet their basic needs. The vision and practices of a business are more highly regarded than its financial bottom line.  A business person’s ability to create meaningful employment for others, or guide young entrepreneurs, is honored far above any personal or business net worth.  A culture of giving and sharing has replaced the culture of taking and hoarding.  A sense of abundance permeates life.

When principles of design and creation are based on consideration for all life on our planet, the products and services work so well that there is little need for government regulation.  Competition serves only to encourage improvement and innovation.  Knowledge is shared and imagination is supported.

All these ways of being and acting were modeled by the past generations, and gradually became the common practices of today.  I live in gratitude for the deep thinking and conviction of my predecessors.  I am committed to continuing to provide a profound and awesome future for my descendants and their animal partners, generation after generation.


“Relatedness…” Joseph Jaworski, Synchronicity, The Inner Path to Leadership

“Cradle to cradle” Originally, Walter Stahel; McDonough and Baungart Cradle to Cradle

“Waste equals food” McDonough and Baungart Cradle to Cradle

Conversing with Animals

The first animal communicator I became aware of was Dr. Doolittle.  It didn’t matter to me that he was merely a character being played by Rex Harrison.  I was enthralled!  What a great ability to have; why couldn’t we all do that?  Apparently that is a common desire, because the movie was remade (starring Eddie Murphy), and followed by sequels (actress Kyla Pratt), for my son’s generation.  As a youngster, I was also a big fan of the “Mr. Ed” show (the talking horse, for those of you born much later than I…)

Two other movies have caught my attention lately.  One is “UP”, the marvelous animated story of finding adventure in life, even if it isn’t how you planned it.  If you’ve seen this Disney/Pixar movie, you know about the dog collars that translate dog speak into human languages!  (“Squirrel!”)

The other movie is “Avatar” (20th Century Fox).  I won’t even try to explain how the human-like Na’vi beings connect to the minds of various animal creations, such as the direhorses, but the resulting ability to share thoughts is way, way cool!  The movie is awesome for other reasons, too, so watch it when you get a chance.

Mythology has many examples of direct communication between humans and animals, and even some beings that were a physical combination.  Most of us are familiar with the image of the centaur: human upper torso with the body of a horse.  The human in this image is still the thinking entity.  Fewer are familiar with the mare-headed human-torso goddess form of Demeter.  Here, the horse represents the wisdom of the natural world; what a novel thought that humankind would not only partner with nature, but would even consider letting nature take the lead.  Linda Kohanov tells the story of Demeter in her Way of the Horse book and card set; Kim McElroy created a beautiful rendition of this mystical being for the card.  Demeter gave birth to twins, one of which – Aerion – was a horse that had the gift of human language.

Ah, don’t all of us wish our horses could talk that easily to us!  As David Walser says of Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado, in their book Gallop to Freedom, “Roles are reversed: the horse whispers in their ears. He becomes ‘the Whisperer’.”  Frederic, Magali, and so many others of us are committed to listening to the horses we love, in hopes of elevating our level of understanding.

I have met some talented animal communicators, and I believe they have innate gifts.  I have taken classes to learn how to chat with the animals, but still feel rather inept.  Like with any other skill – keep practicing, I guess.  What I do know is that a deep love and respect for the animal is fundamental to the ability of any person to communicate with an animal.  We must believe the animal is a sentient being in its own right.  We must feel that we are all connected in some manner, all parts of the same whole.

Living Consciously

I was raised with the ‘work hard’ ethic.  Hard work was admired and rewarded.  It was all that was needed to be successful.  Working hard left you feeling good about yourself.  To an extent, much of this still rings true for me and I’m not afraid to work hard when it is needed.

But I don’t think it is the only way.

In later life, the phrase, “work smarter, not harder” came into use.  Prioritize projects and tasks, delegate, combine, organize, urgent versus important.  All valuable!  All designed to carve out more time for leisure, or for more work if you are a workaholic!

Still, something was missing for me.

Am I really supposed to work, work and die?  Is playtime earned only by hard – or smart – work?  Can anything of value be accomplished by playing?  Would I become just as disillusioned by playing all the time?

What am I searching for on a truly deep level?

I think I want to simply live.  I want to experience life.  I want to give to life.  I want to live an inspired life.  I want to live consciously.  For me, that means being connected to and guided by Consciousness itself, the creative source of all that is.  As I live consciously, all I do is infused with aliveness.

I have lived this way sporadically; I am ready to live this way all the time.  When I do, life flows.  Tasks are accomplished almost effortlessly.  Less of making things happen, more of allowing things to happen, to fall into place more perfectly than I could have planned.  I am present to, and follow, the ebb and flow of my energy.  I am guided from within, from that connected place.  I quiet my mind, hold the space for creation; I rest and dream.  I learn when to be and when to do.  I am at peace.

Can it be this simple?  Joyful, fun, light, living in the moment.  Inspirations come, I take action, work and play blend, collaboration and cooperation happen, ideas manifest into material form.  The Universe is moving, and I am part of the journey.

Father Really Did Know Best

My father, like many of his generation, was a master at ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’.  We just thought he collected and kept useless junk.  All manner of parts and pieces grew in the dark corners of his workshop and garage; it crept into the yard and fringed the barn.  Sad looking carcasses of the automobiles that had served us well dotted (and still dot) the hillside, mostly out of sight from the house, thank goodness.

As much as it drove us all nuts, I have to admit that he could transform these castoffs into amazing and functional items, thus granting new life, while confirming the old adage, “a penny saved…”.

Many cars today have heating and cooling vents right near each passenger.  Dad’s solution for heating the covered bed of our GMC pickup was to make a tiny wood stove (yes, out of scraps…) with a chimney poking out of the back corner of the metal shell.  I’m sure people wondered about the smoke trail as we tootled down the highway.  But I have to say, we did stay warm!

It was the mid 70’s when we moved to the ranchette.  Translated, ‘ranchette’ means can’t make any money, but get to live with our horses.  Since there was no house yet, we camped out in a trailer and tents – Mom, Dad, we five kids, several dogs, and occasional relatives and friends.  Our solar shower consisted of a black 55 gallon drum, heated by sun and wood fire, with a hose feeding cold water into it, and another hose taking the heated water to the extra-large outhouse built over the septic tank.  It worked very well, though you didn’t want to be the first or the last shower-taker.  We all learned to take quick showers!  Having a well for a water source made us conscious of our water use and we always conserved.

By winter we got to move into a 30’ by 50’ cinderblock house, set into the hillside at the back.  Yes, all 7 of us.  The doors and windows were from my high school that had been demolished.  The interior walls were old curtains from a church.  Thankfully, the shower stall moved indoors!  Pot-bellied stove for heat, with electric backup.  No TV, which wasn’t appreciated at the time.  Now I realize that forced us to play games, read, create and actually talk to and laugh with each other.

We gradually harvested logs from the surrounding forest (careful selective cutting), which we skinned and let cure in the sun.  Dad designed a jig to trim two sides of the logs flat and one to scoop out the ends where the logs overlapped at the corners.  Slowly but surely, a log wall grew on top of the cinderblocks.  Passive solar wasn’t talked about much in those days (and nobody had solar panels), but my father knew enough to have lots of south-facing windows, including on the roof.

It has taken me five decades to wake up to the fact that he had a great deal of talent and ingenuity.  Though Dad has passed on, my mother and one sibling (with her husband and twins) still live in the house.  I have lived in a variety of houses, but realize I am happiest in small, simple spaces.  I conserve water and heat, buy mostly second-hand clothes, recycle everything possible, reuse plastic and cloth bags – all ways of living I learned from Dad and Mom.  Yes, I guess they did know a thing or two!

Seeking Intelligent Life…

Much is written, both seriously and jokingly, about the search for intelligent life “out there”, elsewhere in the universe.  Sure, why not – could be useful.  At the same time, I suggest we cultivate the intelligence that exists collectively here, on our little planet.  We (self included) operate at such a suboptimal level, despite the immense potential of our brains.  I’m including all types of intelligence, such as linguistic, logical, spatial, musical, kinesthetic, naturalistic, intrapersonal, interpersonal, and whatever else there might be.  All are so necessary for expanding the experience of life.

The connection to sustainability?  I feel sustainability is less of a moral issue – doing good to planet and people – and more of an intelligence issue.  Living interdependently with nature and each other is the smart thing to do.  It works and it works well.  Nature, if you look closely, is more about cooperation than competition.  I am certain that we have the innate abilities it will take to design systems for living which are more in line with nature.  Many innovators are already on this path.  Others are leading the dialogues needed for creating respectful social systems that support our global community.  Still others are questioning traditional economic practices, especially those which do not take the cost of natural resources into account.

If each of us called forth even a fraction of our creative potential that lies ready, waiting to be summoned…  Let’s astound the future generations!