Green Burial at No Unsacred Place

Over at No Unsacred Place, I talk about green burial as a “best last gift”, endangered vultures in Asia, and how you can build houses out of cemeteries. From the post:

“I am decidedly agnostic when it comes to the idea of an afterlife of any sort. If there is one, great! The adventure continues. If there isn’t, though, then I would spend my last moment of awareness horrified if I felt I hadn’t made the most of this life. This includes the responsible disposition of my remains once I’m gone. I have no guarantee that there’s any life other than this one, but I know for sure that what I do in this moment can have reverberations in this world well beyond my own departure. I am not motivated by fear of a horrible punishment after I die. I am motivated by the care of the beings I share this life with right now. And I feel that the best last act I can do for this world is to responsibly return the resources I used to build my body back to their source once I’m done walking around in the flesh.”

Read more here.

Sometimes It’s Hard to Admit I Need the Wild

I spent this past weekend at PantheaCon in San Jose, CA. It’s been one of the highlights of my year since moving to the Pacific Northwest in 2006, and as always it was a wonderfully executed convention wherein my interaction with others was mainly in five and ten minute conversations in passing. I got to speak on plant and fungus totems (and got some preorders for my upcoming book on the topic) and still feel like an utter dumbass for missing the Llewellyn ancestors panel because I thought it was at 1:30pm instead of 11:00am.

But that mix-up was part of a personal theme for this year’s PCon. February’s been a challenging month for me; after the burst of positive energy that resulted in my event Curious Gallery, I found myself drooping and tired afterward, not at all surprising given that it was a LOT of work, and because I’m enough of an introvert to need some recharge time after big social events. The time that I thought I’d have to recover before PCon, though, was taken up instead by one of the freak snowstorms that Portland gets about every five years or so. It was only a few inches, but given that we have a dearth of plows and sand/cinders, only the highways were getting plowed for the first couple of days, and I was NOT about to go sliding around messy streets with a bunch of people not used to snow driving, chains or no chains. I more or less spent the better part of four days apartment-bound, minus a walk to the grocery store for rations. And once the snow melted, I had to start getting prepared to head south.

Sycamore bark, Alum Rock Park, San Jose, CA. Lupa, 2014.

Sycamore bark, Alum Rock Park, San Jose, CA. Lupa, 2014.

Which means that I haven’t gone hiking all month, and barely did last month due to Curious Gallery prep. Even before we hit the road, I was cranky and travel-anxious and generally out of sorts. Throughout the weekend I kept finding myself running short on energy and social tolerance, and while I very much enjoyed my time at the convention, I felt I wasn’t as present as I’ve been in previous years. I kept finding myself looking forward to getting outside at some point soon.

So because my Saturday schedule at PCon was almost entirely open, I decided to go hiking, and ended up at Alum Rock Park east of San Jose proper. It was an incredibly refreshing break, quiet other than occasional families with loudly excited children, and some amazing views from the South Rim Trail. I was surrounded by Steller’s jays, a lovely reminder of one of my “home” totems back in Oregon, and broad-shouldered sycamore trees, and uplifted ridges covered in scrub, with Penitencia Creek meandering throuugh it all in spite of drought. And then on our way home, my friend who I was traveling with and I stopped off at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. It was just at dusk, so the birds and jackrabbits were out in force; I traded calls with great horned owls, and we enjoyed a lovely sunset on the water.

So I got my wild time and I felt much better for it. But I admit I felt some guilt. I’ve long been an advocate for green cities, partly as a way to free up more space for wildlife without humans interfering, and partly to make cities more habitable, especially for those who are unable to leave them. Granted, San Jose isn’t exactly overflowing with sustainability (though I’m sure it has more resources than meet the eye, mixed in the confluence of interstates and the airport and such). But I spend most of my time in Portland in a neighborhood with lots of green space and yards. Shouldn’t that tide me over?

South Rim Trail, Alum Rock Park, San Jose, CA. By Lupa, 2014.

South Rim Trail, Alum Rock Park, San Jose, CA. By Lupa, 2014.

It’s good for maintenance, to be sure. But I always need regular trips to wilderness areas, whether forest or desert or coastline. Nothing refreshes me quite like the quiet and soft fascination, and I don’t think it’s just my introversion. Something deep inside me needs those open areas to roam, perhaps even more than most people around me who may enjoy and benefit from it, but don’t necessarily have a deep, soul-sprung craving for wilderness.

I suppose the conundrum I’m left with is: does this need for wilderness negate the concept of green cities? Is a more sustainable metropolis only a temporary solution to a problem that can only be cured with the sort of setting we evolved in–open, untamed, populated by all the wild beings we grew up with? Maybe the sorts of people who reblog pictures of wilderness settings with sayings like Thoreau’s “in Wildness is the preservation of the world” and the anonymous “nature, not cities” are right.

But wait–that’s falling right into the false dilemma fallacy. Surely there’s some middle ground in between “stuck in a depressing, dirty city” and “a perfectly clean idyllic life deep in the wilderness, insulated from all other humans”. My need for wilderness on a regular basis is not proof that city life is wholly unsuitable for me. I can survive in a rural area much better than my urban-born partner could, and there are days I long for a life in a place with deer in the back yard and quiet, star-filled nights. But cities are where my work is, by and large, and they’re generally more friendly to those of us of alternative subcultures. There are benefits to Portland, to be sure.

Mineral spring grotto at Alum Rock Park, San Jose, CA. By Lupa, 2014.

Mineral spring grotto at Alum Rock Park, San Jose, CA. By Lupa, 2014.

When I feel that deep longing for wilderness, it’s not a sign that I need to abandon the city for good. In fact, at the end of my hike or camping trip, I feel energized and ready to return to the busy-ness of my everyday urban life. (Plus the traditional hot shower upon my return home is a definite perk.) I love the quiet of small towns, but right now I need the resources and opportunities and diversity of cities. Furthermore, there are plenty of restorative environments within Portland proper, the largest being Forest Park. There’s no need to abandon urban life; I just sometimes need to tilt the scale more toward “get out into the woods more and don’t work so hard!”

Like most potential answers to a complex problem, my solution is likely to be an ongoing balancing act comprised in part of reflection sessions like this one. And a challenge to a strongly-held conviction is not cause for worry; instead, as always, it’s an invitation to recalibrate that conviction. As my younger self would have said, “Stagnation is death!” (Some of the time, anyway.)

The Compassionate Hunter’s Guidebook

hunterSo, I recently preordered this book; while I am not a hunter myself (not yet, anyway), I still really want to read it, since a lot of the hides and bones I work with in my art and spirituality are from hunted animals, and because I’m very interested in showing people there’s a lot of room between NEVER KILL ANIMALS EVER and KILL ALL THE ANIMALS ALWAYS. Here’s the back cover blurb to entice you further:

The act of harvesting wild meat directly from the land demands that one enter a world of awareness, wildness, life and death that as a culture we have lost our connection to.

The Compassionate Hunter’s Guidebook is a guide for those that come to the act of hunting with pure intentions, motivated by a desire for healthy food that comes directly and humanely from the earth where they live. This practical guide suggests that hunting is not a ‘sport’ and the animals whose lives are taken are not ‘game’. It combines a deep, honest exploration of the ethics of killing with detailed practical instructions geared toward the beginning hunter, including:

  • Understanding your prey;
  • Tools, techniques and preparation;
  • The act of the hunt;
  • From forest to table – processing, preserving and preparing your kill.

A unique and comprehensive, fully-illustrated guide to the complexity, ethics, and spirit of the hunt, The Compassionate Hunter is a must-read for beginning and experienced hunters alike. It will appeal to anyone who wishes to delve more deeply into the complex, humbling and ultimately profound reality of our relationship with the food that nourishes us.

If you want to preorder your own copy from the author, here’s the relevant page. It’s also on Amazon and Powell’s for preorder, but I strongly recommend supporting authors as much as possible, and ordering from his site will get him the biggest percentage of the cover price.

There will, of course, be a review in the future once it’s out and I have my copy in my hot little hands.

Like My Writing? Then Give This a Listen!

So on Sunday I was a guest on the Pagan Musings Podcast. The initial topic was animism and my anthology, Engaging the Spirit World. We did start off in that direction—but then we wandered far off-trail into topics ranging from ecopsychology and environmental activism, to humanistic/naturalistic pantheism and other theologies, to my work with skin spirits and animal remains, to how we can best communicate about the things we feel strongly about. It essentially went from “interview” to “rambling, lovely conversation”, and we went for three hours!

Please do feel free to take a listen; I cover some things I haven’t really had the chance to talk about, and my gracious hosts helped this become a wonderful spoken creation, IMO.

Click here to hear the show!

Animals, Activism, and Dialectics

Having worked with hides, bones, and other animal parts in my art and spirituality for 15+ years, I’ve had my fair share of people questioning me about what I do (or being even more high-volume in their responses and reactions). I understand it can be a pretty emotional subject for a lot of people; death is a difficult thing for a lot of people in this culture, and unnecessary death even moreso. But there’s this thing that the occasional dissenter does that drives me a bit batty. Somehow in their mind “you make things out of animal parts” turns into “you can’t possibly like animals because you eat/wear/make things out of dead ones!” It’s an accusation tossed out at other people, like hunters, taxidermists, omnivores, and so forth. And it’s completely based in a logical fallacy, with such varied names as “excluded middle”, “either/or fallacy”, “false dilemma”, and so forth. (You can find out more about this little cognitive blip here.)

First, such a statement narrows the potential options down to two, based in the idea that “you’re either with me or against me in this argument”. There’s no gray area between “If you love animals you’ll do everything I do” and “If you don’t agree with me it means you don’t love animals”. Furthermore, it completely invalidates my actual feelings on the matter. I do love animals. I’ve had many pets through the years that I cared for dearly and took good care of. I admire the beauty and diversity of other beings, and I appreciate the lives of the animals whose remains I now work with in my art and spirituality. I have always put aside some of the money from my art and book sales to donate to nonprofits that support wildlife and their habitats, not because I want to keep having hides and bones to work with, but because I want there to keep being a great diversity of life independent of any subjective (and especially material) value humans may place on it. I know my own heart and why it carries what it does.

Speaking of my heart, let’s look a little more at that idea that I don’t care as much as they do about animals (or at all). First of all, there’s not an empirical tool for measuring “caring”, or “love”, or “attachment”. And second, the idea that omnivores, taxidermists and the like “don’t care about animals” is a complete falsehood (and something I touched on earlier this year.) I can give you plenty of examples of people who eat, wear, and even kill animals who also love animals, which invalidates that “you don’t REALLY love animals” argument. I grew up in a small town with a significant farming community. I didn’t grow up on a farm myself, but I went to school with a lot of kids who did. I grew up around people who named baby calves and pigs, took good care of them, spoiled them rotten, and then took them to the FFA show or the county fair or the livestock auction and sold them to someone who would slaughter the animals for meat. Or their family would do the killing themselves, and they’d eat the meat of the same animal they cared for all year. This wasn’t seen as a contradiction. It was just the way livestock farming is; you care for animals, and some of them you kill later so your family (or another family) has food to eat. Sure, some of those farm kids grew up to be vegetarian because they didn’t agree with what they were raised with. But others kept that life/death balance, and they’re not more or less right than the ones who changed their minds.

It’s the same with hunters. Some of the most passionate nature-lovers I know are hunters. It’s not, as some animal rights people like to say, “go out and admire nature’s beauty and then kill it”. Hunters in cultures around the world, indigenous and otherwise, honor the very same animals they kill. So do many farmers, and other people involved in killing animals for human consumption, food and otherwise. In fact, it’s a sentiment that I think needs to be more widespread in the more corporate, overgrown areas of agriculture where the animals are just seen as a commodity. Seeing them as beings deserving care and respect does not mean that they are not also a source of sustenance. I do feel that as a culture we could honor the animals we depend on much more than we do, and that this could lead to changes in how we raise and kill them, and treat their remains afterward. But this requires the ability to accept both the life and the death of the animal and our involvement in both.

And that’s where we run into what I see as a big deficiency in this culture–a lot of people have trouble with dialectics. They don’t seem capable or willing to hold two seemingly conflicting ideas in their mind at the same time; it has to be either/or for them. We really aren’t prepared for the gray areas. Look at our two-party-dominated political system, and look at how they tear into each other during campaign season. Look at how often religious beliefs are framed in us vs. them terms. Same thing with sex and gender, race, and other group affiliations. We have the chorus of “right vs. wrong” drilled into our heads from an early age, and no one really prepares us for the possibility that things may be more complicated than that. I think sometimes when there comes a depiction of gray areas, there are those who shun them, and those who latch onto them; look at the strong positive response to Miyazaki’s film, Princess Mononoke/Mononoke Hime. One of the reasons it’s so beloved by its fans is because it’s not a simple good buy/bad guy picture; here’s a wonderful short comic that illustrates something profound that Miyazaki said about good vs. evil. I think we need more of that here. We need more challenges to this black and white way of viewing a complicated, sometimes messy world.

How do we learn to be more comfortable with dialectics? By being willing to face the uncomfortable reality that there will always be someone who disagrees with us vehemently. By accepting that people will have different solutions to complicated problems, and that our way is not the right way for everyone. By knowing that what may seem like a contradiction to one person may make complete sense to someone else, and that they may put every bit as much consideration into their viewpoint as the first person has (or perhaps more!) By being willing to try and understand the other person’s perspective, and remembering that “understand” is not synonymous with “agree with”. And, finally, by not seeing a dialectic as an excuse to attack or try to force the other person to choose between two black and white ways of seeing the issue.

Finally, I invite you to question how you approach those you disagree with, to include on really difficult, emotionally laden subjects, because you may not be completely at odds. Consider that I may agree with you on Opinion A, B, and C, all the way, but I may disagree with you on X and Y, and feel that Q and K are better options for me. It doesn’t mean I don’t still agree with you on A, B, and C, and I may even join forces with you on those. For example, I’m not a supporter of banning hunting, but I am a supporter of humane treatment of animals killed for meat, to include the quickest and most humane death possible. I don’t agree with trophy hunting or killing just for the sake of killing, but I’m okay with preserving the beauty of an already dead (natural death or not) animal for education, for a museum, or even for artistic expression. If you and I both think that bees and other pollinators need to be protected, my aesthetic appreciation of taxidermy doesn’t change that. But you may need to accept that I have different relationships with the bees and the deer, that lots of people relate to different beings and situations in varying ways, and that this sort of complexity is normal in this world.

Being able to understand and accept this complexity and the conflicts it may bring is, as far as I’m concerned, a more productive way of dealing with disagreements than hurling logical fallacies and invalidation at someone else. Instead of saying “I can’t see how you could possibly see things that way (and I refuse to even try)!”, try saying “Can you explain why you see things that way?” If what they say doesn’t mesh with your own opinions and you accept that disagreement instead of trying to force them to your way of thinking, at least you haven’t wasted your time with a pointless argument no one’s going to win and everyone’s going to resent. And you may still be able to find common ground on another issue that you can then join forces to work on. I’d rather have people approach me with that attempt at cooperation than accusations and fallacies; it’s a better use of scarce time and resources.

(One final note: as with many things, just because I can articulate things I think need to be improved doesn’t mean I don’t make the very mistakes I cite. If anything, this issue is closer to my mind right now in part because I can see where I screw up in this regard, to include recently. These posts are at least as much a reminder for myself as an invitation to others.)

Here’s What You Can Get Me For the Holidays

I’m a pagan. And pagans tend to like tchotchkes. I’ve cut down quite a bit over the years, but there are still times when I’ll see a wrought-iron candle holder and think “Hey, that’d be great on my altar!”

These days, my knickknack and curio shelves are mostly full of natural history specimens, little stone animal statues, and house plants, and I try to not add much to the collection (since, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m in a tiny apartment). These days I usually only add to my collection with secondhand thrift store finds or handmade creations, and even then sparingly. But I know plenty of my fellow pagan folk are still in the market for these sorts of goodies, whether for gifts and offerings, specialized altar pieces, or simple home adornment.

Many of these items are representative of nature–animals, plants, landscape photos, and the like. And while I don’t want to discourage creative home decor, especially that which reminds us we aren’t the only important beings in the world, I do wonder how much money we put toward them each year? And how does that compare to the amount of money we give to efforts to protect these beings of nature we value so much? If we spend even a quarter of the money that we spend on specialty gifts on donations to nonprofits instead, how much of a difference could we make?

So as you’re pulling together holidays gifts this year, or simply shopping around for yourself, consider the next nature-themed item you’re tempted to buy, whether that’s a piece of clothing or statue or picture (or even a piece of my own artwork, for that matter!) And then think about whether you could put that money instead toward the animal or plant or other denizen of nature it represents. Instead of buying that shirt with a tiger on it, why not send the $20 to Panthera or the World Wildlife Federation to help them protect real tigers in the wild? Or, rather than creating a new altar with an endangered teak wood table from Pier 1, consider pitching the $50 for it to Rainforest Relief, the Rainforest Conservation Fund, or another organization helping to prevent the further destruction of the Asian and African forests the teak calls home. You may even be considering buying a cute stuffed wolf from the Defenders of Wildlife, but you’d be better off just giving them the entire amount of money, rather than making them pay for one more Chinese-made plush toy.

This isn’t a call to stop buying trinkets altogether. It is, however, a reminder that the nature you glorify through these items is often highly threatened by our actions, including through the manufacture of the items themselves. Rather than perpetuating the problem, consider turning at least some of your gift budget this year toward donations in the names of those you’re buying for, for the benefit of the natural world we all need to live. In addition to the organizations above, see if there are any local nonprofits working to protect the ecosystems you’re in or near, or organizations that work with habitats or species you’re fond of. Or check out this list of a few of my favorite organizations:

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
628 NE Broadway St #200
Portland, OR 97232
(503) 232-6639
http://www.xerces.org

This organization works primarily on pollinators and other invertebrates. Often overlooked because they’re “just bugs”, the invertebrates are an absolutely critical part of every ecosystem.

The Nature Conservancy
4245 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 100
Arlington, VA 22203-1606
(800) 628-6860
http://www.nature.org

Focuses on protecting habitats around the world, and educating people about the importance of healthy ecosystems. This includes direct protection of individual habitats in conjunction with local communities.

The Ocean Conservancy
1300 19th Street, NW
8th Floor
Washington, DC 2003
800-519-1541
http://www.oceanconservancy.org
Works to protect the world’s oceans and to create awareness of how crucial the oceans and their inhabitants are to the planet’s health as a whole.

The Sierra Club
85 Second Street, 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105
Phone: 415-977-5500
http://www.sierraclub.org

One of the oldest and largest environmental nonprofits, combines government lobbying with grassroots organization for a variety of ecological causes.

Natural Resources Defense Council
40 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011
USA
(212) 727-2700
http://www.nrdc.org
Lobbies for the protection of both wild species and their environments, and is also instrumental in helping communities become more sustainable.

The Wilderness Society
1615 M St., NW
Washington, D.C 20036
1-800-THE-WILD
http://www.wilderness.org
Many plants and fungi that face extinction are vulnerable due to habitat loss; this group works to preserve wilderness areas, to include crucial habitat.

Green Cities Addendum, and $5 Ebooks

Thing the First: On the heels of my post yesterday about the ecological advantages of city living, here’s a great article about a former Chicago meatpacking plant that’s being converted into a huge vertical farm. This is exactly the kind of change I want to see in making our cities greener. So often our cities are expected to expand outward, not upward (unless it’s fancy-schmancy skyscrapers). However, we can make better use of the space we’re taking up if we do build higher, and especially if we repurpose the usable infrastructure already in place. I wish the folks behind this vertical farm the best, and hope for more success stories to come. (Here’s where you can follow their progress on Facebook, by the way.)

skinspiritsThing the Second: For those who have asked, yes, most of my books are available as ebooks. Almost all of my titles from Immanion Press/Megalithica Books are available on Smashwords (scroll down as mine are mixed in the list) in a variety of formats for $5 each. Additionally, most are also on Kindle (though New Paths to Animal Totems, which is published by Llewellyn, costs a bit more via Kindle). You can, of course, get dead tree versions, but for those who have e-readers or who are on a tighter budget, the ebooks may be a particularly good option. (On the other hand, I can’t sign an ebook, so you’re always welcome to buy signed paperbacks from me, which I always appreciate since I get to keep more of the cash to pay bills!) Finally, continuing in the budget discussion, while my IP/MB published books tend to not cost much less used than new, New Paths to Animal Totems is selling for under $3 for used paperbacks on Amazon.