Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Mother's Tears

Today I watched the documentary, The Story of the Weeping Camel - released 2004, a film festival darling and Oscar-nominated. It is a beautiful, deserving film. Set in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, the story takes a slice out of the life of a nomadic shepherd family who face a particular challenge one Spring when a new mother Bactrian Camel rejects her white colt after a difficult birth.

Sparse dialogue and harsh landscape provide the perfect backdrop for the gentleness and consumate efficiency of the human family to shine through onscreen. These are people 'in their element' - great grandfather, grandparents, parents, tween, child and baby intermingle with the animals they herd, with neighbours and visitors, with the landscape, with the wind storms - at ease, with a companionable generosity and a traditional order that is peaceful and productive. There is no violence in this film. No depression. Nothing neurotic.

The efforts to coax and press the recalcitrant camel mother into accepting her ailing colt include a sacred ceremony where the shaman speaks of so much damage done to the Earth by humans that the Spirits which have always protected the herders from adverse weather and circumstances have withdrawn. He leads them in a prayer of asking for forgiveness, and they pray sincerely even though they are not the people doing the damage. They are not victims blaming someone or something else, they are active participants in the healing of the world.
However, the prayers are not enough for this camel Mum. She continues to refuse her colt milk and tenderness.

The family then send their two young sons on a journey to find a musician in the nearest permanent settlement. The youngest boy encounters television and market-place selling - all enthralling to him in comparison to the organic life he knows.
The boys return with a Morin Khuur player willing to perform the Hoos ritual. As the story goes, if the camel Mother weeps in response to the music she will accept her baby.

This camel weeps.

But it's not at all a story about whether or not the creature will weep. We knew it would from the film's title. It is a story about people who are exquisitely tuned to Life, for whom doing all one can, practically and mystically, is unquestioningly just what one does to the save the life of one vulnerable animal. The Story of the Weeping Camel offers a pertinent and pressing theme for the wasteful and war-mongering modern 21st Century dwellers - that there is innate worth in every life. Not financial worth. But Worth. The wondrous human Mum notes that the beleaguered colt is beautiful.

Beautiful Life.

That's worth a lot.

The movie was directed and written by Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni when they were film students.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blessed Unrest

Blessed Unrest - How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice and Beauty to the World - by Paul Hawken, is one of those treasured books that expand the mind, quicken the pulse and open the heart. It changes you, and you are grateful to be changed.

Hawken, founder of the Natural Capital Institute and, author of a number of best-selling books, must be one of the brightest and most knowlegable of the Earth's spokespeople.

In Blessed Unrest, he skillfully draws together a minimum of 130 000, that is actually more likely well over 1 million organisations - consisting of 10s of millions of people from all over the world who are actively engaged in environmental, social and indigenous culture protections. Hawken proposes that this disparate, 'under the media radar' movement that holds no guns, is not only the greatest Civil Rights movement in human history but also a response that is akin to a Planetary immune system arising all over the ailing Earth to counteract the rampant greed, pollution and waste inherent in free market fundamentalism.

Contrary to the corporate media depiction of a raggle-taggle bunch of ineffective, mis-guided do-gooders, hippies, activists and radicals, Hawkens argues that this global movement is rich - full of grandmothers, students, poets, professors, businesspeople, designers, tribe members, teachers, artists, friends, mothers and fathers, ordinary and extraordinary people.

It is a movement without leadership, without a single ideology. It is organic, coherent, informed, increasingly connected and self-organising - qualities of a living system, qualities that are highly conducive to Life.

Viewing it with an eagle-eye, Hawkens comments that when asked whether he is optimistic or pessimistic about the future, he responds: "When you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren't pessimistic, you don't have the correct data. If you meet the people in this unnamed movement and aren't optimistic, you haven't got a heart."

For sure, Blessed Unrest is happening in your neighbourhood, right now. If there's a group cleaning up a local stream, a person taking kids out on Nature walks, a human rights organisation intervening in a low-cost housing scheme, a CEO funding a women's shelter, a volunteer bird-watcher protecting a pair of Black Eagles, a school planting a Permaculture food garden - it's all part of Blessed Unrest.

In the entire history of humanity, there has never been so much energy, skills and creativity committed to the restoration of grace, justice and beauty in the world.

It is an immense time.


Read: Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In the Mirror: One Species

Before I was a Mum, I could read a book in a day. Things change. I am currently enthralled by Peter Heller's book "The Whale Warriors" - his account of the 2005 expedition of the controversial Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's campaign to save whales from hunters in Antartica. Despite being gripped by this rollicking and wrenching eco-escapade, I feel like I am actually limping through the chapters, grabbing at the time it takes to absorb the words on the page inbetween my other loves and responsibilities.

What is echoing in my mind though, in the spaces between the absorption of a great story and living life, is Heller's quote of Sea Shepherd leader, Captain Dave Watson that: "To the Earth Warrior, a redwood is more sacred than a religious icon, a species of bird or butterfly is of more value than the crown jewels of a nation, and the survival of a species of cacti more important than the survival of monuments to human conceit like the pyramids." Heller adds that Watson reitierates that all of our human arts - music, poetry, architecture "were as dust when compared with the survival of a single species of bird or insect."

I have a great love for human arts - but I still agree wholeheartedly with Watson.

Our greatest, most meaningful love is a fundamental love of Life. Irascrible pirate that he is, Watson's call is a call for Reverance. I believe this is so vital to human beings today. Without reverance for Life we are so very vulnerable to follies. Unacceptable follies that cost other species their existence, impoverish our present world and degrade the places our own children will inherit.

To be of any real good use, our capacities to respect and care need to extend throughout the Web of Life that sustains us now, into the long future. Every species counts. Whaling and logging, polluting and mining, burning and treating with chemicals must stop. Why are we still doing this? Let's use all that human ingenuity and energy to renew, restore, re-create and re-build. It's not just time, it's overdue...

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Species is Important

A couple of years back I was at a social gathering with a father-of-four who is a keen ocean windsurfer. He was bemoaning the fact that our Atlantic coastline is so polluted that is dreadful for sportspeople to be in the water, and that our Indian Ocean bay is now so riddled with big Great White Sharks because of the hunting ban, that is it perilious. He advocated the hunting of adult sharks in the East so that his sport could be safer and cleaner. (Not that we clean up the West.)

I took him to task as a father, rather than a sportsperson, and I did so, insensitively. I have always regretted that I was adverserial rather than constructive in that moment. But still, I did have a point that is even more critical now. We do need to care for existence of all species. Whether or not we like them. Whether or not we know and understand them. Whether or not they inconvience us. For the sake of our children.

Whoever we are - parents, sportspeople, urbanites, searchers, researchers, investment bankers, singers, professors, presenters etc. - we need to be aware of our connections in the Web of Life that supports us and our offspring.

The odd thing about us humans with our gigantic intellect and our arrogance is that we don't even know what there is on Earth. We destroy without knowing the names - to our own detrimint.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


How different everything would be
in a world without enemies
without the need to define anyone else as 'other'
without the need to make anyone else 'wrong'
without the need to call anyone else 'freak'
to understand, truly understand
that We are One
to love, to support and encourage
to hold, to uphold and protect
to delight, to rejoice and give thanks
that We are One

Friday, August 21, 2009


Let Beauty Be Enough

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Keen on Kindness

If I were a boy at a Dance
- which I am not -
I would seek out the kindest girls
and ask them to move the Earth with me

If I were a vigilante in my Community
- which I am not -
I would seek out the kindest families
and do my utmost to protect them

If I were a whale in a Pod
- which I am not -
I would seek out the softest souls
and stay very close to them for a very long time

If I were a speaker in a Corner
- which I am not -
I would stand on my box and talk about kindness
Fierce Kindness

Fierce Random Acts of Kindness
Bring them on
I Am...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The difference between knowing and empathy

I am really interested in the gaps, the spaces, the chasms and canyons between hearts and minds.

Intellectually, we all well know we are part of Nature, deeply invested in the Web of Life, and yet somehow many of us are emotionally aloof - affording the Living little respect, nevermind love, kindness and empathy.

How is it that with our great minds we know, and with our great hearts we fail to feel?

Is the mirror simply reflecting our failure at self-love? That is, if we were more adept at caring well for ourselves, being truly friendly to ourselves - would we find it easier to care well for the places where we live? - The places that include many other life forms.

I guess the Big Question is what will it take to make Life sacrosanct? My life, your life, the CEO's life and his company workers' lives, the Humpback Whale's life and the Purple Bacterium's life...

Many of the effective change agents today are saying that issues of social justice, environmental justice and spiritual consciousness are indivisible...

Sunday, August 16, 2009


I am in awe when I come across the work of people with incredible, effective commitment to saving the Planet. From people like Paul Hawken of Natural Capital and WiserEarth, who focuses his brilliant mind and warm heart on constantly teaching, informing, connecting and advising - to people like Julia Butterfly Hill who spent two precious years of her youth sitting up high on a platform in an ancient California Redwood to prevent it from being logged.

People do extraordinary things with their lives for the benefit of Life. I feel really thankful about that.

Along with my awe and my gratitude, I also feel a sharp disappointment in myself that I haven't yet stepped up in such a way. It's an enormous personal challenge.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

10 Assumptions We Can No Longer Afford

Our Governments will take action at the last minute

Corporations will go green before it's too late

Technology will save us

People won't change/ can't change

We don't need Tigers anyway, it will be okay without them

Global climate change won't affect me

Whatever I do doesn't make enough difference

We can just move to another Planet

Doing less harm to the Earth is good enough

I can't do anything

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Story of An Accidental Avocado Grower

Over the past few years, young avocado trees have been sprouting up on my compost heap - mostly from organic seed. The first "yield" presented more than 20 trees! I obviously couldn't leave them where they were. They were such beautiful little trees with such nutritious potential that I also could not bear to pull them up and return them to the heap. I live in South Africa where despite the affluence of some, about half our people live in unacceptable poverty and approximately 1.5 million of our precious children under the age of six years are permanently damaged by malnutrition.

So, I started to transplant the avo saplings into re-used containers and supply them to local community and schools' food gardens. By now, I've lost count of how many avo trees have come to life in this shady, unassuming corner of my garden. It was a sharp realisation for me, how the waste of a family who can afford to buy organic avocados from the supermarket can be turned into good food for the future with hardly any effort at all. Since then, I have been saving seed from much of the organic produce I buy - collecting, sharing and also growing in my small sunny plot.

Here is something special that I love about avocado trees:

The avo is bisexual, that is a single tree does produce male and female flowers.

However, the trees present what my landlord once described as a "conundrum of fecundity" - a biological condition known as 'synchronous dichomagy'. A clumsy phrase for a mysterious process - what happens is that the flowers of different avo cultivars open on 2 subsequent days presenting different sexes.

It works like this: Day 1 - A Hass avocado tree flowers presenting the female stigma ready for pollination but the stamens are all bent away at right angles, young and release no pollen. On Day 2, the flowers open with stigma shrivelled and unresponsive when the stamens are laden with pollen and leaning in a little closer. When the flowers close at the end of the second day they never re-open and so the opportunity for self-pollination of the Hass tree cannot happen even though it's got all the necessary gear.

On the same days, a tree of the Feurte cultivar will open its flowers first with ripe male parts and close; followed by ripe female parts on the second day. So you need a few trees of different cultivars in the same vicinity for the bees to do their work successfully.

This means that the avo tree is structurally bisexual and functionally unisexual. I wondered if this might be because avo trees, like horses, like people, have powerful needs for friends?

Nature is extraordinary...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Earth Circles

I so value the Internet for the way it connects us, empowers us and enables us to learn. I also love the way that smart, creative, conscious people use the Internet to make wisdom, information and tools freely available to others. Today, I discovered - a really well-conceived resource that provides the structure, guidance and an excellent workbook for people to transform their deep concerns about climate change into meaningful local action.

As with much of the leading work in this area, Earth Circles acknowledges our collective and individual grief at our disconnection from Nature and the damage we are doing to the planet. That grief, suppressed and ignored results in denial, numbness, evasion and feeling so overwhelmed that we justify staying on the same mechanistic, materialistic, consumerist treadmill - even though we know it's wrong, even though it makes us feel terrible, even though it's destroying Life...

Drawing on Joanna Macy's despair and empowerment work, Earth Circles encourages the meeting of small groups of people to provide the supportive opportunities to air their despair and tap its power to transform our current human lifestyles into sustainable, just, more fulfilling, more conscious ones.

For humans to live in balance with all other life forms, we need a radical change in our thinking and ways of seeing the world. The prospect of radical change frightens and immobilises us. By working in small groups, Earth Circles propose that we will find the comfort, the will, the inspiration and a greater intelligence that will help people to move. It's clear from a browse through the seven sessions in the Earth Circles workbook, that participants will not only be better equipped to take effective action, but will have gained valuable skills in self-reflection and connection with others. It's a great curriculum for raising human consciousness.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Word Play

Today was a cold, blustery public holiday. We took our children on an outing to the Aquarium. The awe I feel at seeing extraordinary, beautiful creatures so easily, so close-up like this is always tarnished by a greater sadness at the beholden's aimless captive existence.

It reminded me that not so long ago, humans too were displayed for the interest and 'education' of people who would pay.

Once, the rights we afforded to business enabled and fostered hundreds of years of the mass death, trade and enslavery of other people. Still, the rights we afford to business enable and foster the ongoing mass death, trade and life-long servitude of other living species.

What helps us justify this ruthless exploitation is the words we use - we don't call them "species", we don't refer to them as "living", we certainly turn away from calling them "beings". We call the tigers and trees, the whales and wetlands, and every other life form we want to make money from - "resources".

It's an old trick playing out again and again. Our forefathers didn't call slaves "human beings" or "people". Today we call people who work in sweat shops "labour" or "the poor".

Words are important.

It's not just about some words, it's also about the ways we put lots of words together - the philosophies people find in their religions. This is why there are factions in every major religion, who in the face of the Earth crisis, are now scouring their texts to mitigate against old proclamations that humans have an unfettered, short term profitable dominion over all other life forms and landscapes.

I looked a great turtle in the eye today. I said: "I'm sorry."

But it's not good enough. I need to take my child out into the world and show her these creatures where they live - in what's left of the wilderness. That's a thrill I have known, and it shaped me every time so that I lack the structure to enjoy an aquarium. I think that's a good thing.

There's something truly obscene about regarding other living beings as "resources". They are not. They are Caspian Tiger, Green Turtle, African Lion, Common Octopus, Emperor Moth, Outeniqua Yellowwood, Streletzia Nicolai, Blue Crane, Honey Bee, Black Oak, Bumphead Parrotfish, Pel's Fishing Owl, White-lipped Peccary, Sockeye Salmon, Quinine Tree, Crested Quetzal, Purple Bacteria, British Otter, Clivia miniata, Oyster Mushroom, Cape Vulture, California Condor, Bald Eagle, Koala Bear, Mountain Gorilla, Bactrian Camel, Pink Star, Indian Elephant, Evening Primrose, White-tailed Tropic Bird...

We love these creatures and plants. They are our companions and our connections in this wondrous web of Life.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dancing the Love of My Life

Dancing the Love of My Life

On a sunny day
I gave my prayer wings

I stared at the wind for hours

A child looked at the blue sky
and pointed out the pale moon

I looked my Patience in the eye
and asked it for evidence
of its usefulness

I found a burrow
where I could curl up my dreams
and the grass sang

I reached out a hand
to a woman in a veil
She lit a candle
for my hope
and made a promise
to snuff out my fears

I rubbed gold coins in my hands
until they were hot

I wondered, what could I believe?
and a Starfish melted under my foot

I blew ashes into bubbles
but nobody saw this

I watched an egg laugh

I heard a song
no one has sung
and for a moment
an Owl smiled at me

I wrapped up my Blessings
and put them in an envelope
I bought a stamp from a man
who sold flowers

I went to the park
when the cherry trees blossomed
and I waded into the waters

I burnt off my limbs and my face
and my hair and my heart

so that you can love me

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A kingdom less explored

I photographed these mushrooms today in a corner of my garden - a community of them pushing up through the mulch in the deep shade near the compost heap. They look delicious and safe, but I can't identify them yet, so we won't eat them - yet.

It reminded me of a conversation I had a couple of years ago with an ethno-botantist who talked passionately of Mycelium that can absorb toxic waste out of an oily soil and break carbon-hydrogen bonds so effectively that you can pick the mushrooms and eat them after they've cleaned up our waste in the soil. Mycelium even use radiation of a source of energy.

Fungi is one of the Earth's Kingdoms that we have largely ignored - if we understand these life forms well we could do so much. Early studies show incredible anti-bacterial and anti-viral qualities.

Paul Stamets is a leading mycologist with a passion for sustainability. Check out his TED talk:

Friday, August 7, 2009

Creating Conditions Conducive to Life

I've just read an article in Chew Magazine Issue#07 by Frankie Chevalier titled The Green Screen that irrtated me.
The writer, putting down 'eco-friendly' fashion efforts in order to punt trendy remakes as the NEW 'NEW', authoritavely states that when it comes to textile production 'no matter how you do the Maths it will never come to zero'. No references are cited to back this up. The writer overlooks the fact that there are number of USA and European textile manufacturers who have attained Cradle to Cradle accreditation.

If some textile manufacturers can operate profitable waste=food businesses - then they all can.

And this is the important point the Chew writer completely misses - we are not trying to get to zero. Sustainability is about waste=food; that is creating value for other species in the eco-system, not achieving no value.

To back-up the arguments for fashion remakes, the Chew writer asserts that the goal of sustainability is putting in place the 3 R's - reduce, re-use, recycle.
For sure, the 3 R's are important - recycling is essential, reducing and re-using are a good start and a virtuous habit. But the 3 R's are not the whole bottom line of sustainability - and they certainly weren't proposed to be interpreted as some kind of a zero-sum guide to Life on Earth...

The bottom-line of sustainability is for humans to stop using up the Natural Credit that belongs to our children and to join in Nature's efforts to constantly create conditions conducive to Life. At the baseline Nature doesn't just re-use, reduce, recycle - Nature also builds, cleans, restores, renews, recreates... As a principle Nature keeps creating more and more conditions for more and more life - that's the nub of true sustainability...

I am paraphrasing here from Janine Benyus's excellent book, Biomimicry Innovation Inspired by Nature - here's the way Life works to create more conditions conducive to more Life:
  • Nature is powered by sunlight and only uses exactly the amount of energy it needs
  • Nature relies on diversity
  • Nature fits form to function
  • Nature recycles everything - the waste of one species is food for others
  • Nature rewards co-operation
  • Nature needs local expertise
  • Nature curbs excess from within
  • Nature uses limits as power

What's critical here is to break free from the effeciency-imperative of the current economic model and shift into thinking like the living beings we are. Then, we might re-connect to the importance of effectiveness, instead of being lured by the smokescreen of efficiency.
Nature is not efficient - most especially, not by any business school standards. Nature is abundant. Bill McDonough, poineer of the Cradle to Cradle concept uses the example of a cherry tree that yields thousands of blossoms, many of which fall to the ground without bearing fruit. Waste? Not at all. There were enough possibilities for the tree to bear enough fruit, and the surplus flowers have provided food for countless creatures and micro-organisms, as well as building the fertility of the soil to support the tree's next blossoming.
The goal of sustainability is to foster more Life.

Yes, reduce, re-use, recycle - but also sweeten the place where you live by building fertility, cleaning the air and the water, making food, using limits as a source of power, adding information to structure, drawing your power from the sun and only using exactly what you need. Value diversity, co-operate and be part of developing local expertise.

Think like you are part of an ecosystem, because you are.

If one way be better than another, that you may be sure is Nature's way.

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics
More information on Cradle to Cradle:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Growing Our Own Food

Growing our own food at home, at schools and in the community using natural-systems farming techniques such as Permaculture, is one of the most fundamental ways we can all make a great difference in the world today.

Just meeting a few of your seasonal fruit, veg and herbs needs by growing food in the place where you live has a postive impact. You don't even need to set aside a plot of land - many veg and herbs are happy pot-dwellers making dense-urban food gardening a pleasure.

A Permaculture family food garden is a particular asset that provides a healthy, outdoor activity for children and parents.

Here are a few reasons why it is worth the effort:

  • You can produce much of your own fresh, organically-grown veg in an extremely cost-efficient way, reducing or freeing up some of the family food budget.

  • You will be participating in the global movement towards eating more locally-produced food – you cut back on your household contribution to ‘food miles’ and reduce your family’s ecological footprint by producing food just a stone’s throw from your own kitchen.

  • You can put your family back in touch with Nature’s seasonal gifts and most especially, give children a first-hand awareness and appreciation of how good food is produced.

  • You can save seeds from season to season building up a valuable store of healthy, natural seed - and share them in your community.

  • You can reduce your household waste and make more efficient use of resources.

  • You can experience the satisfaction of reaping your own harvests and creating rich family traditions around the growing, preparing and eating of fresh, healthy foods grown by your own hands.

  • Your family can become an inspiration when you share your bounty with other gardeners and families.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Circle

My Circle

I woke into the circle of my life

Under a silver shawl of dew
shining on my skin
and my nails
and my hair

I wore the fronds of ferns
the mould of dead leaves
and bits of bark that had been
scratched by squirrels

I opened my throat
and howled

like a wolf
like a wave
like a wind

I felt joy
and then power
touched my cheek

I was

I spoke to a particle
and it gave me
good advice

I called to a swallow
and it showed me a
delicate map

I smiled at an owl
in a camelthorn tree
and it blinked
its great eyes
into a desert

As if by magic
the owl conjured up
a salty whale
steaming in the Ocean
It slapped its great black tail
and scattered my stars
all across the lonely sky

A bear looked up
and shook its head

A tiger growled

A giraffe walked
the grassy plain

At the lake’s edge
a goose
nestled down
on its eggs

Deep in a tree’s roots
a wombat
curled up warm
with its baby

An old mountain

A bat fluttered
and then settled
in a pitch-dark cave

A dry seed
broke into a wet life

I lay on the floor of the forest
a mollusc
divided from
an impossible shell

In celebration
I burnt the fern fronds
the leaf mould
and the bark
scratched by squirrels

I breathed in the grey smoke
of an unknowable future

And I died.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Why are we numb?

The Planet is in crisis
solutions exist but we don't yet use them
all over the world, people and their people-structures
are trying to uphold unsustainable systems
rather than change
It seems so strange
A friend said: "People need to know. If they know they will change."
I don't think this is true.
Joanna Macy, revered pioneer of the 'Work That Reconnects' says we do know.
And it is our deep knowing that causes our disconnect.
At our most fundamental cellular level,
and at our most fine soulful level,
we know that what we are doing and how we are living;
what we think and how we act must change -
We think, say, act and be numb because we have a big grief
we don't want to deal with -
we are losing Life,
robbing our own children
We have to face our grief, our guilt and shame -
and, get over it.
We have to grow up
So that we can be something so much better.
We can do it.

Looking Deep into Nature

Look deep into nature,
and then you will understand everything better.
Albert Einstein

The exciting field of Biomimicry gives me hope for the future.

Imagine a world where everything that humans design - everything, from water waste systems to sunglasses - is based on the principle of creating conditions conducive to Life.

Nature already has solutions to all our design problems. Life is billions of years old, and the millions of organisms on Earth right now embody perfect designs for enduring Life. As leading Biomimcry advocate, Dr Janine Benyus points out, the essential mind shift that needs to happen is for humans to change from learning about Nature to learning from Nature.

Biomimicry upholds Nature as Model, as Mentor, as Measure...

When we learn from Nature, we can create colour from structure instead of using toxic chemicals and dyes...
We can build homes that maintain a near-constant internal temperature using vents and tunnels, as termites do...
Like a lotus leaf, we can make self-cleaning surfaces that require no harmful chemical maintenance whatsoever...

Biomimicry offers us a myriad of inspiring opportunities to redesign, recreate and remake our human environments so that we can live well, wisely and respectfully within the bounds of Nature.

It's irresistible...

Read: Biomimicry Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine Benyus