Monday, February 26, 2007

"The Great Turning"

There are times when the old dictionary seems too small, times when one has a kind of vocabularic growth spurt. For example, a new job often requires new jargon. Illnesses have their own language--I remember the months when "metastisized" first worked its way into my conversations. Sometimes it's a new interest--with biofuels, I'm learning about B100, B20, E85, SVO and WVO. Who knew?

Right now, climate change seems to be triggering a crop of hybridized terms and ideas. Ideas like food miles, sustainability, voluntary simplicity, and green are entering our conversations in new ways. One of my favorite new terms, used as the title of a book by David Korten, is The Great Turning. I haven't started the book yet (being belly-deep in The Omnivore's Dilemna) but I find the title evocative.

So often it feels like instead of life being a road or a path, it's more like one of those giant carnival slides. It's as if we're rocketing toward our destination, with too much momentum to change.

The fact is, no matter where we are, how far we've wandered down a path, we can reassess our direction. We can make adjustments, we can take few exploratory steps, we can even undertake a great turning. Maybe we can't go back, but there's always more than one way to reach a destination. "The point of no return" is a convenient myth, one that gets us off the hook when we're tired of our options. It may feel like your butt's on the burlap and some clown is getting ready to push you down that slippery slope, but the fact is, you can stop. Take a breath. And choose. Stop. Take a breath. And choose.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Howzabout them resolutions?

My friend George pointed out recently that my 2006 resolutions were like a forecast from Oppositeland.

Well, that wasn't exactly what he said, and it was actually a couple of months ago that he said it, but the point is that well-before their 365 day term was over, my January first resolutions had been cast aside, quicker than flannel pajamas.

Which is why I love Lent.

I'm not Catholic, but I appreciate the chance to refine my (often already compromised) new year's resolutions a bit and then having just 40 days to live with them.

We're making a lot of positive changes at the ranch--less driving, lower thermostat, simple foods... In some ways I feel that we've been working so hard already, there's not much left to renounce without donning the Holy Cloak of the Cranky Martyr.

At the same time, I've never felt more urgency to change. The bizarre weather we've been having reminds me that the stakes are very, very high. Perhaps that's the slogan for this era of climate change—Renunciations: they're not just for Lent anymore!

On the personal level, Lent is like a celestial dare, a cosmic "oh yeah? prove it!" I just can't let the challenge pass.

So, for this year, I've committed to cooking vegan meals when we eat at home (with the exception of eggs from our own hens). Good motivation to dust off the recipe books, forsake quesadillas, and cook out of my comfort zone.

Let the countdown begin.

Friday, February 16, 2007

"Celebrating" Presidents' Day?

Not this president, that's for sure.

This holiday is intended to celebrate our great leaders. In elementary school, remember making construction-paper portraits of Abraham Lincoln with his stovepipe hat, or Washington with his cotton-ball hairdo? Back in the day when we often had two 3-day weekends in a row, before we decided to honor our dead presidents by moving their birthdays around to make for more convenient holidays (heck, it worked for Jesus Christ's birthday, right?). Back in the day when we signed first name, last initial. Jesus C., Abraham L., George W. Before the worst president ever put his cooties all over the first president's name.

How should we celebrate this Presidents' Day? How to honor what the presidency has been, and can be, while recognizing what it isn't?

Let's begin by wearing black. This Presidents' Day feels like a day of mourning and remembrance, not celebration.

Any other ideas?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I'm Spartacus!

As another sister would say:

"Who you calling a bitch?"

Queen Latifah, "U.N.I.T.Y."

The Spartacus Project

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

History! Pagentry! Stupid little barrettes!

The ranch dogs can't figure out my fascination with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and I'm not sure I can either. There are a lot of things to dislike about it. While rescue groups struggle to find homes even for purebred dogs, some folks are breeding litter after litter hoping for a puppy whose muzzle is just a little wider or narrower or longer, a puppy who will define the ideal of a breed whose original purpose is something like "monk's foot warmer" or "badger slayer" or "sled hauler"—all noble tasks to be sure, but rare roles for dogs in America today. Dog shows are elitist, snobbish places where the people who succeed believe in ugly puppies. Ugly puppies? Seriously.

To be fair, it takes a lot of dedication—and money—to get a dog to Westminster. The people there are at the top of the sport. They are passionate about breed histories, pedigrees, and bizarre grooming rituals. Generally, Westminster dogs are not field champions or workers. At its root, Westminster is a canine beauty contest. At least Miss America is expected to have some kind of talent or skill. The dog who wins Best of Show at Westminster just looks more like its breed than other dogs look like their breeds. It sometimes feels like the orangiest orange winning over a very appley apple.

So, why do I watch? My best guess is that as a mutt lover, it's kinda like flipping through our dogs' family albums. Our current mongrel pack represents well over a dozen breeds, packed into five furry bodies.

In the Terrier Group, I see where one dog might get his brindle coat. With the Working Group, I notice the familiar bounce of ears that suggest one of our dogs is part Boxer or perhaps flying nun. I can watch a dozen Chihuahuas and Chow Chows. I can thank God I don't have a Chinese Crested. I suppose it's voyeurism, but it's also curiousity.

That's the deal with shelter dogs. We'll never know where our dogs came from, what their lives were like before they joined our pack. We can't be 100% sure of their parentage. We didn't see them as puppies, and they'll never have puppies of their own. But if they did, there is no way, no way, any of those puppies would be ugly.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Cutting the Cheese

It's been over twenty years since two jobs collided to push me off Meat-Eater Mountain. Working for a veterinarian during the week and a restaurant on the weekends, one day would bring a dachschund in surgery and the next a ham on the slicer. Perhaps it could have gone the other way, and I might have developed a craving for dachshund, but at it happened neither sounded too appetizing after awhile.

I was also reading a lot about the environment, including the classic Diet for a Small Planet, in which Francis Moore Lappe pointed out that with the enormous amount of resources required to produce a pound of beef you could grow a hill of beans. I was also concerned about animal welfare, and as I learned about factory farming I realized that I cared more about cows than I cared for beef.
By Lent of my senior year in high school, I was ready to give up red meat for good. I gave up poultry about six-months later.

I've never been an evangelical vegetarian. I am too lazy for fanaticism. My goal is to keep a balance in my life between our nutritional needs, my idealism, and convenience. Fish still appear on the Fuller menu occassionally, with efforts to be mindful of what's local and low-impact. To avoid factory-farmed eggs, we have three little hens who give us a dozen fresh eggs a week and eat bugs from the garden.

Some part of me thinks that if I were really walking the walk, I'd go vegan. 100%. I mean, I can see the merits: it's likely that dairy cows do even more environmental harm that beef cattle, and factory farming is factory farming. but... no grilled cheese??? No gorgonzola salad? Will I still be able to appreciate Wallace & Gromit?

It's kind of a drag that the more I focused I become on growing our own food and avoiding agribusiness, the harder it is to ignore the damn source. I'd like to find a local organinic dairy in Santa Barbara, but failing that, I may have to cut the cheese. Maybe not 100%, but maybe 80%. Or 60%. Depending on how the soy pizza works out.

Frances Moore Lappe's Small Planet Institute is worth a visit. And David Roberts recently shared his Vegetarizing Moment on Grist.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Yes, but will we?

Thus did NASA scientist James Hansen began his lecture: "Can We Avoid Dangerous Climate Change." Hansen has been doing research on global warming since the 70s. Based on his presentation last night, he has spent countless hours poring over computer print-outs, with few opportunities for public speaking. He was not a dynamic presenter, yet the event filled UCSB's largest venue and TWO overflow lecture halls with standing room only. Having ridden our electric bikes from the ranch, we arrived in time to find seats in the overflow rooms.

Fortunately for Fuller & Fuller, the crowd thinned out after the talk, and we were able to get a seat in Campbell Hall for the panel discussion with UCSB's David Lea and UCSD Scripps Institute's Ralph Keeling (son of Charles "Keeling Curve" Keeling). This part of the evening was far more lively than Hansen's lecture, even Hansen was more lively than Hansen had been.

An interesting spirit of patriotism and solidarity filled the room. Hansen started it off by saying "I think our founders would be disappointed..." which drew a round of agreement from the audience. Rather than turning to despair, Keeling encouraged us to return to the "can do" spirit that was so critical in founding our nation. The audience agreed. As the man of the ranch whispered to me, it's not the can do attitude we need, it's the can do without. That was my favorite quote of the night.

Riding past Goleta Beach on our way back to the ranch, the waning moon cast a bright reflection across the waves and illuminated the ridges on the mountains.

I love this place. I hope we won't ruin it.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Ostrich: Smart Bird or Super Chicken?

I don't know if it's cowardice, short winter days, or emotional-self preservation that's making me want to bury my head in the sand lately.

I seem to remember feeling this way before; in junior high, I started reading horror books. I spent a lot of time at home alone, and was prone to getting the creeps, but I still read horror books. About halfway through a Stephen King or John Saul, I'd find myself so freaked out that I couldn't get out of my chair unless someone else was home. Sometimes I was stuck for hours. No thirst, no hunger, no need to pee could move me. The only things that could break the spell were my mom coming home, or finishing the damn book. No matter how petrified I was, I was compelled to keep reading and reading until the end, until the resolution, when the monster was finally (if not permanently) conquered.

So, now we have global warming, and I'm getting that feeling again. Fortunately, not the "can't get out of my chair" part, but the compulsion to delve deeper and deeper into some stuff that's scaring the heck out of me. This week's headlines don't help: scientists are coming forward about being pressured into silence, other scientists conclude global warming is likely caused by humans, still others find that yes, it does create stronger hurricanes.

Sometimes I feel that maybe I've just tuned into it, the way you suddenly notice a new band only to find they've been getting airplay for months, or the way that Chihuahua owners notice Chihuahuas. Whatever the reason—and excuse the pun—global warming is a hot topic. It's everywhere.

So I keep reading and reading. The book selected for our community reading program, Santa Barbara Reads!, is Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, by Elizabeth Kolbert. I've just started it. Chapter 1 summary: unprecedented artic ice melting. Stop me if you've heard this one...

I'm not complaining about the book itself. It's very well written. Yet I wonder why I'm reading it. I wonder if I will learn anything new, or if I'll just come away with more images of drowning polar bears and more dire details that confirm what I already believe. I suppose it's part morbid fascination, part thirst for knowledge, part quest for cure, and part just can't stop reading even though it's scaring me witless.

I'm considering a self-imposed media moratorium, simply avoiding the issue to give myself a psychic rest. Wallowing in the rising waters isn't very good for me. At the same time, along with bouts of despair, I get moments of hope when I see our leaders and lawmakers creating real change. It's a good time to be a Californian. Sometimes.

I don't know. Days like this, I just wonder if maybe the ostrich has the right idea.