Posts Tagged ‘insects’

Medicine Birds

Monday, July 24th, 2017

hawk

Hawk pen and ink by Todd

Long ago when I lived in Sacramento, someone gave me Medicine Cards, a book and accompanying deck of cards written by Jamie Sams and David Carson, and illustrated by Angela C. Werneke. Each card features a picture of an animal or bird or insect or reptile or amphibian. For purposes of divination, the user randomly chooses cards from the deck and reads the text in the book corresponding to those cards.

Each animal represents some aspect of power in the natural world. For instance, ant medicine involves patience and trust and hard work, badger medicine is the wise use of aggression, and beaver medicine helps us pursue our goals through cooperation and planning and persistence. The text of Medicine Cards reflects the teachings of various indigenous peoples of North America regarding the physical, energetic, and spiritual attributes of forty-four non-human beings.

When I moved from Berkeley to Mendocino twelve years ago, I found myself in a world populated by most of the beings represented in the Medicine Cards, so I no longer needed to draw cards from the deck to ignite my wondering about what Nature wanted to tell me. And last week, in the course of a single day, I had three extraordinary meetings with non-human beings that gave me much food for thought.

In the morning of that remarkable day, I walked from our house to the commercial district of Mendocino—about a mile—and upon completion of my errands decided on a circuitous route home that took me through the graveyard at the south end of town. And there amidst the gravestones I came upon a magnificent Great Blue Heron, stalking gophers—the living seeking sustenance among the dead.

The Great Blue Heron is not one of the birds in the old Medicine Card deck I have, but herons represent to me the power of stillness and stealth and careful observation, three important skills that herons use to catch fish and frogs and rodents to sustain their lives and empower them to fly.

Home again, my mind filled with visions of the Great Blue Heron among the graveyard monuments, I shed my pack, drank a glass of water, and went to see how my carrots and lettuce and chard and zucchini plants were faring in the heat of day. And whilst perusing my garden, I decided to nitrogenize the soil, otherwise known as taking a piss.

Now on several occasions in my life I have been wielding a garden hose when a hummingbird arrived to drink from the cool flow of water—a most delightful happenstance. But this piss I speak of was the first I’ve taken that attracted a hummingbird thirsty enough and brave enough to take a sip of my warm salty flow.

According to Jamie Sams and David Carson, hummingbirds are bringers of joy, and I must say that this piss-drinking little beauty certainly made me smile in wonder at both her appetite and her audacity.

In the afternoon, I needed to make another trip to town and took our trusty old pickup. I turned onto Little Lake Road and was going about fifteen-miles-per-hour when a huge Red-tailed Hawk flew across my path no more than ten feet in front of the truck and only a few feet off the ground. I hit my brakes, missed the big bird by inches, and she flew away to the south. Phew! What a relief not to have killed her.

And I wondered if almost hitting a hawk meant something more than almost killing a hawk. Is life a random meaningless crapshoot? Was the universe communicating with me by sending the hawk across the road at that moment? Was the hawk telling me that death is always near, so enjoy life while we may? Was she a harbinger of a publisher calling to say she wanted to present my books to the greater world? Or was the hawk asking me to consider the question: “What’s the big hurry?”

Sams and Carson write, “Hawk may be bringing you the message that you should circle over your life and examine it from a higher perspective. From this vantage point you may be able to discern the hazards which bar you from freedom of flight.”

At dusk on that day of visitations, mammals took over the harbinger business, and a young doe with a nest in a copse of redwoods on our property brought her two fawns to the clearing outside our office windows, and we delighted in the adorable baby deer until they wandered away.

Sams and Carson write, “Deer teaches us to use the power of gentleness to touch the hearts and minds of wounded beings who are trying to keep us from Sacred Mountain.”

And let us never forget: there’s no telling what a hummingbird might do.

We’re In It

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

presidio medium

We’re In It  ⓒ Copyright David Jouris (Presidio Dance Theatre)

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“So make sure when you say you’re in it but not of it, you’re not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell.” Stevie Wonder

We’re in it. Those thousands of articles about the coming consequences of global warming, over-population, and environmental pollution? Those consequences are here. Yes, things are going to get worse, but unprecedented climatic events are not coming sooner or later, they are here. Hundreds of millions of people are starving or about to starve. Insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers will not one day wreak havoc on the world, they are wreaking havoc now, big time. The oceans are rising and acidifying. We’re in it.

There is a drought in Brazil that we know is the direct result of humans cutting down too much of the Amazon rainforest, yet the cutting down of that rainforest continues at a frightening pace. Brazil’s agricultural sector is suffering terribly from the water shortage and Brazil is building archaic fossil fuel power plants to replace the loss of electricity from hydroelectric sources because the nation’s rivers are drying up.

NASA recently released the results of their satellite assessments of the world’s aquifers. The most depleted aquifer on earth is the one beneath California’s Central Valley, and the second most depleted aquifer is the Ganges Brahmaputra aquifer. California’s drought may last decades, and the monsoon that feeds a billion people in India and Pakistan and Bangladesh was late again this year and will provide less than the minimal amount of water needed by farmers in those badly overpopulated countries.

Scientists have also proven conclusively that the collapse of honeybee populations worldwide is caused by the use of insecticides containing neonicotinoids, yet the supranational chemical-pharmaceutical companies responsible for producing these poisons refuse to remove them from the market. With the exception of a few European nations, national governments are apparently powerless to force these poison-manufacturing corporations to do the right thing.

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” Sylvia Earle

I went to the farmers market in Mendocino last Friday and was surprised to find local egg producers asking eight, nine, and ten dollars for a dozen eggs. This seemed exorbitant to me, so I passed. But when I went to buy eggs at Corners, where last week I was shocked to find a dozen eggs selling for six dollars, the price had risen to nearly eight dollars.

Yes, the new state law requiring bigger cages for mass-produced chickens and chickens confined for the purpose of mass producing eggs has caused an increase in egg prices, but that doesn’t explain why local free range chicken eggs have nearly doubled in price in the last year. Inquiring of a few chicken owners I know, I learned that feed prices have skyrocketed due to less production of key grains due to the ongoing drought. We’re in it, and one-dollar eggs could be the new norm, and eggs, as you know, are key ingredients in myriad foodstuffs, so…

In other local climate change news, this past winter was the first in my nine years in Mendocino when we did not have a single night of freezing weather, the lowest temperature being thirty-four degrees, with only a week or two when the temperature got below forty degrees. Oh joy, sing the millions of mosquitoes and fleas and earwigs whose eggs did not freeze to death this past winter.

Speaking of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, thousands of people have died of heat stroke there in the last couple weeks, with temperatures topping 115 degrees for several days in a row. Crops are wilting in the fields and animals are dying along with humans. We’re in it.

 “We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inward at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.” Stephen Hawking

So yesterday I’m coasting down the hill in my little old pickup on my way to the commercial sector of Mendocino, and I’m thinking about The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, a book I read when it came out in 1968 and naively hoped would change the world, when a snazzy new sports car speeds up behind me and the driver starts madly revving his engine. I check my speedometer and see I’m going five miles an hour over the speed limit, this being a school zone.

I can see in my rearview mirror that this older male driver is apoplectic and wants me to pull over so he can speed by, but I’m only going a half-mile to town and I don’t want him careening recklessly through our neighborhood full of children and people walking their dogs, so I keep my speed at thirty and try to ignore the guy, but he starts swerving out into the oncoming lane as if he’s going to pass me and then zipping back in behind me and riding my bumper.

Thirty seconds later, we reach the stop light at Little Lake Road and Highway One. I am first in line at the red light with Insane Man right on my tail hysterically revving his several hundred horsepower engine. When the light turns green, Insane Man hits his horn and keeps honking as we cross Highway One and cruise into town. Now Insane Man rolls down his window, sticks his arm out and shakes his fist at me, flips the bird, and by reading his lips I determine he is saying many unkind things about me.

As fate would have it, when I turn left, Insane Man turns left. When I turn right, Insane Man turns right, and now I’m getting mad because Insane Man keeps almost crashing into me and shaking his fist at me, when all I’ve done is drive to town a little faster than usual.

I park in front of Zo, the best and only copy shop in Mendocino, and as Insane Man speeds by he screams, “Die you motherfucking scumbag!”

And by a remarkable coincidence, his words echo my wish for him.

No Honeybees

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2012)

“The busy bee has no time for sorrow.” William Blake

I am not a master gardener. I’ve been growing vegetables and flowers and herbs for fifty years, and at various times I’ve made my living as a landscaper, gardener, and pruner of fruit trees. A renter for most of my life, I have moved many times and had many gardens ranging in size from quite large to very small. I have gardened in cool climates and moderate climates and hot climates, in sandy loam and rich black earth and barely arable pygmy; and I’ve made a habit of picking the brains of other gardeners about the how’s and why’s and do’s and don’ts of growing things. Which is all to say, I know something about gardening, but would not describe myself as an expert.

People exploring my gardens used to ask, “How do you attract so many honeybees?”

And I used to reply, “Borage and white clover.”

I was twenty-one and the proud creator of a big vegetable garden in Santa Cruz when I discovered how incredibly attractive borage is to bees, and I have known about the bee-seducing power of white clover since I was a boy and had the arduous task of mowing a large lawn of white clover with an old dull steel push mower, a weekly chore that gave me bigger muscles than most of my friends and made me the dreaded enemy of hundreds of happily grazing honeybees.

However, as of early June in my Mendocino garden of 2012, I have yet to see a single honeybee visiting the big beautiful borage plants with their myriad blue flowers, nor have I seen any honeybees delighting in the robust white clover growing between two of my vegetable beds. Bumblebees abound, thank goodness, as do various other pollinating insects, but honeybees are notably and sadly missing from my garden this year. How come?

“What is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee.” Marcus Aurelius

For several years now I have been reading articles about the ongoing and accelerating collapse of honeybee colonies in the United States and Canada and around the world, resulting in the shocking disappearance of honeybees. I have counted myself extremely lucky to have plenty of honeybees in my garden here in Mendocino given the dire state of honeybee populations elsewhere; but right now there are no honeybees in my garden, and I think I know why. Someone around here is using neonicotinoids.               

Neonicotinoids, as with previous generations of insecticides, kill insects by attacking their central nervous systems. But unlike these predecessor poisons that killed bugs during and shortly after spraying, neonicotinoids are absorbed into the tissues of plants and remain there, fully toxic, through an entire growing season (or seasons) which, of course, includes those weeks and months when the poisoned plants are flowering and being visited by unsuspecting honeybees, who then return to their hives coated with poisonous pollen and poison the entire hive.

The science confirming the direct causal link between neonicintoids and honeybee colony collapse is indisputable, so much so that France, Germany and Italy, among other nations, have wisely banned the use of neonicotinoids. However, the giant pharmaceutical/pesticide companies, including Bayer (of Bayer aspirin fame) that produce and sell neonicotinoids, are spending many millions to dispute the science so they can continue making billions selling this latest greatest poison, of which jillions of gallons are sold and deployed in the good old U.S.A.

“Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain.” Friedrich Schiller

Can we agree that manufacturing and knowingly employing a chemical that is the proven cause of honeybee annihilation is stupid and shortsighted? Good. Yet isn’t it interesting that people acting in such stupid and shortsighted ways are frequently (as in most of the time) the captains of industry and the rulers of nations? Why would this be? Darwin suggested that Nature selects for traits that aid in the continuation of a species. If that is true, then stupidity must contribute (or have contributed) greatly to the survival of the human species, for why else would stupidity of such epic proportions be so prevalent in so many human societies and a dominant trait of leaders in those societies?

I realize that traits often come in bunches, and that avarice and greed and cruelty and narcissism might be bundled with stupidity to give certain individuals a survival edge over others. But it still seems odd to me that people who knowingly extinct honeybees should have any advantage over those who dedicate themselves to making the world a wonderful place to be a bee.

If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble.” Moliere

I am very sad about the disappearing honeybees and our collective unwillingness to put an end to the cause of their disappearance. I am also very sad about the broken down nuclear power plants at Fukushima continuing to radiate the earth and the ocean (speaking of incredible shortsightedness and stupidity) and our collective unwillingness to shut down all the nuclear power plants in the world. Then, too, I am sad about our collective unwillingness to address the gigantic problem of human overpopulation. I am also sad that…well, the list is long and I will only add that for the first time in forty years of growing garlic, I am losing a sizeable portion of my crop to root maggots. And though there is no obvious causal connection between the absence of honeybees in my garden this year and this onslaught of root maggots, I cannot help feeling the two phenomena are related.

I have no doubt that a pharmaceutical agribusiness consultant would tell me, “Now see, if you had drenched your young garlic plants in neonicotinoids, or better yet planted garlic cloves soaked in neonicotinoids, you wouldn’t have a root maggot problem. No sir, because neonicotinoids kill bugs dead and keep on killing.”

“Insects are born from the sun. They are the sun’s kisses.” Alexander Scriabin

When I was ten and eleven, I was an avid collector of butterflies and insects. I had several cigar boxes filled with specimens of dragonflies and bumblebees and beetles and wasps. Each specimen was carefully skewered on a long pin that passed through the insect body at a perfect balancing point and then stuck firmly in the bottom of the cigar box. A small square of paper identifying the bug—both the common name and the Latin name—was skewered on that same pin beneath the specimen. My butterflies were displayed in black-framed cases of glass pressing down on specimens arrayed against a background of white cotton, an ensemble suitable for hanging on the wall.

I had an excellent butterfly net and a glass jar half-filled with solidified gypsum plaster soaked in formaldehyde. Most bugs dropped into this jar with the cover quickly affixed would die in a matter of seconds, though there were some beetles and larger butterflies that lived on for several terrible minutes before dying. I did not like killing things, but I loved hunting for butterflies and bugs, and I wanted to have fine specimens of every insect in my domain. I remember it took me dozens of attempts before I successfully skewered a mosquito so it appeared to be a mosquito rather than a squished blob of protoplasm.

One day while roaming the fields, I caught sight of a Black Swallowtail butterfly, a species rarely seen in our watershed, and I was desperate to catch her, for then my collection would be second to none in the neighborhood. I chased that big beautiful butterfly over hill and dale, and though she eluded me for a good long time, she eventually alighted on a bush of bright red flowers and I netted her and killed her in a tizzy of triumph.

But when I added her beautiful black-winged body to the case in which I displayed my most spectacular butterflies, I suddenly felt stupid and mean; and I never hunted butterflies again and nevermore showed off my insect collection to admiring friends. Not that I think there is anything wrong with a child collecting insects. I learned a great deal by doing so, and I had many wonderful adventures while questing for those marvelous beings. But ultimately I realized that I was trying to catch happiness and keep it in a box, which turns out to be impossible. Better to leave the bugs to live their lives as they leave us to live ours, with the exception of ticks and mosquitoes. I do try to kill those little buggers when they come to bite me.