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Weird robins. June 20, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading.
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Silence Dogood here. Hawk’s Haven, the property our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, is full of trees. We have dozens of trees. So why are our robins all nesting on our house?!

The robins nest on (or next to) our air conditioners. They nest on the bends in our downspouts. They even nest on a grapevine wreath on our front wall.

If I were a robin, I’d try to hide my nest in a big, leafy tree. I wouldn’t be exposing my nest and endangering my offspring by building a nest on somebody’s house. And then flying away every time anybody and/or their dog leaves said house, exposing eggs or nestlings to the cold. Yowie kazowie.

Anybody know why this happens?

‘Til next time,


Partnering with nature. June 12, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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As nature lovers, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are privileged to live in the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside, surrounded by fields, woods, and mountains. But recently, the tranquility of our haven has been threatened. Not ten miles down the road from us, farm fields are giving way to the worst kind of construction: massed condos, townhouses, and duplexes piled high against each other like scale insects covering an infested branch.

These horrors are being built on a hundred or more acres, so there was plenty of room for yards, parks, and common areas, but instead the builders seem intent on covering literally every inch of ground with these ghastly encrustations. The owners of these things don’t even have a strip of yard, just—if they’re lucky—a small balcony or deck sticking out the back.

Who on earth would want to live there?  To turn a gorgeous view into an instant eyesore, into a resource sink, into a lifeless zone where only humans are welcome speaks to me of a terrifying alienation from our world and the others who share it with us, but whom we seem determined not to share it with in our turn.

This strikes me as a microcosm of the great destructions we’re wreaking on the planet—global warming, rainforest destruction, desertification, poisoning, and, of course, destruction of the oceans through oil spills, garbage dumping, and overfishing, just to name the worst—in the name of almighty humankind. And having trashed our own planet, now we’re even sending garbage into space.

How could we have become so alienated from the paradise we were born to that we seem bent on first destroying it and then ourselves? Be we never so cyber-enhanced, we cannot survive the extinction of all other life, the pollution of air and soil and water. How could we have come to know so much but understand so little?

Our friend Ben and Silence agree that the best way to begin to undo the damage is to reconnect with nature, to put ourselves back into the web of life rather than acting like the spider who consumes anything it finds on it. Silence has been reading a library book called Partnering with Nature by Catriona MacGregor (Atria Paperback, 2010) that attempts to help people do just that. One of the activities Ms. MacGregor suggests is going on what she calls a “nature quest,” where you put yourself in nature and try to really see, hear, smell, feel, and sense it.

Ms. MacGregor points out that this is a great way to find yourself. We think it’s also a great way to lose yourself, to stop being the “I” as opposed to “them,” to simply stop thinking about yourself at all. Many people in many traditions do this through meditation: counting breaths, stilling thoughts, silently repeating a word or mantram (“mantra” is actually plural).

But we think that’s taking the hard road. Sitting on our deck, looking past our colorful display of deck plants and Hawk Run, the stream that passes beneath the deck bridge to the deep green of the great trees and the expanses of sky between the branches, the birds and butterflies in constant progression, it’s easy to forget ourselves and just watch, just be. Easier still is looking out at the land spreading on and on beneath us from the heights of Hawk Mountain, or watching the waves crash upon a sunlit or stormy beach, then retreat to the horizon. The distinction between the viewer and the view drops away, and while it lasts, you yourself embody the connection of all life.

If this all sounds way too Zen for everyday life, think about the last time you went to a really good movie. The lights went down and you dropped into the action, right? You stopped thinking about the meeting you had the next day or the phone call you forgot to make or what you were going to cook for supper or whether your parents were really going to visit next month or if Julian or Julia really loved you or was just marking time. Until the closing credits, you didn’t think about anything. You forgot yourself, “lost” yourself in the action. It’s easy to do that in nature, too, without the stale air, uncomfortable seats, popcorn reek, gum-coated floors, and, need we say, ticket price.

If you’re a gardener, of course, you already know this. Getting out in your garden is an escape, a vacation, a chance to reconnect with nature. Have your blooms started turning into tomatoes or zucchinis yet? Was that a hummingbird you saw at the rose-of-Sharon last evening? Has the new rose settled in and started sending out new shoots? Are the daffodils poking out of the ground yet? Are those monarch butterflies on your butterfly weed?

There’s nothing like weeding to focus your attention on something besides yourself! And nothing like sinking your hands in the earth to reconnect you to the Earth and remind you of your role in it. That role is caretaker, not destroyer. Nurturer, not Terminator. Harvester, but also sower and replenisher.

Gardening also puts us in touch with the cycle of life, soil to seedling to bloom time to ripening to harvest to soil. As Deuteronomy reminds us, so it is, so it must be for us all. No one knows the passage of the seasons, the lengthening and diminishing light, the chartreuse and green and ravishing oranges, reds, purples and golds of leaves, the rebirth and ripening and rotting like a gardener. To garden is to truly know that all is born, dies, and is reborn in its season. Nothing in nature is lost, unless we in our selfishness stop the cycle.

To us, gardens—be they a sustainable backyard system with raised beds, rain barrels, and solar season extenders; a community garden plot; a few containers on a deck, patio, or balcony; a home full of houseplants; or a landscape designed for beauty, for native plants, or for Permaculture—are a great way to partner, to reconnect, with nature.

A garden brings nature’s lessons home like nothing else, because it makes them personal. In that way, it’s like a Vision Quest, where you undertake a trip involving fasting, isolation, and spiritual hardship in the hope of attracting a vision that will direct your life.

The challenge is to make the personal universal. To make that leap from “Gee, there aren’t any monarch butterflies in my yard this year” to “Ohmigod, the monarch butterfly population has been decimated! Can I do anything to help them?” And to make that leap requires education and effort. But it’s worth it: Our very lives, and quality of life, and the quality of life on our planet hang in the balance.