...if we are stronger healers than they are warriors...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Chicken petition

Hey folks - this just in from my friend Jane Wells. I wish i had more time to write about this now, but the first semester is almost done and I'm in the final push, with projects and assignments. Did want to post this so that word got out a little more -


City friends,

Okay I know this isn't exactly a high priority political act, but keeping chickens in the backyard is actually a great idea. They eat kitchen scraps, bugs and grass, and their crap is high in nitrogen, so an excellent natural fertilizer. Fresh eggs are far better for you than store-bought eggs (significantly higher in nutrients, lower in cholesterol and saturated fat). They also sound very sweet if you pop your head into their roost at night.

The petition below is to make it legal to keep chickens in Toronto yards - it is legal in many US cities, including Manhattan, and quite common in Britain. The cause is supported by a number of city councillors already.

To fresh eggs,


"Toronto Chickens" http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/torontochickens?e

PLUS - found this hilarious and great photo at the WebUrbanist site (www.weburbanist.com). Don't those chicken houses look a lot like those older sleek and space-agey mac desktop computers?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

how do we hope?


Here we are, in a new government here in Canada. New/old actually - our PM called an election to take apart the minority government we had...only to get a minority government, just with some worsening. More conservative seats sprinkled across the country - but worse of all in our riding right here, our incumbent Peggy Nash was ousted by the Liberal candidate.

Now - i'm not huge on big 'P' POLITICS, preferring these days the small p kind of community, neighbourhood, city, education...BUT...Peggy Nash is the only politician that i've ever believed in. She REPRESENTED me, and i felt really good about her sitting in Parliament working to shape a better country for me and our community.

And now she's been replaced, and i feel cut loose.

Not only that, but there was the lowest voter turn-out for this election on record. Which terrifies me even more. i guess i understand to a certain degree - the PM called this election when he said he wouldn't and even passed a law making it illegal and then went ahead and did it anyways. He then went on to waste people's money on an election that no-one really wanted and that got him almost basically what he had before. It wasn't a consolidation of power, it wasn't a strengthening of his government, and all it did was gain a few seats, and lose some. What does it mean though, when voters don't come out and speak their mind, the government goes on doing whatever it wants and we have less and less of a voice?

Yesterday it felt like hope was leaking slowly out of the world. That is a terrible feeling. Not at all what i want to feel, not at all the way i want to live. There is an onslaught, however, of things in the world that push me thinking that way - i think i need to spend more time in the garden to work it off.

Tuv made me a CD called Hope to bolster my spirits. I'll listen to it and do my homework to become a teacher who encourages kids to vote and make sure they are represented well and make their voices heard - who work towards preserving the green embrace and making the world a place where we can live together, not chopped up into little pieces, fighting over more...

The garden, the sunlight, wise words and work, rest and visiting and holding new babies - that's today's recipe for more hope.

Friday, October 10, 2008

oh, home...

Well - things are going crazy!!!

Economies crashing, climate crisis worsening, and big elections all over the place. Thank goodness there are a bunch of smart folks doing things of all sizes all over about it all.

Look here -

and of course the brilliant Starhawk

and watch this youtube video

Saturday, September 20, 2008

oh, fungus among us...

I am really excited about mushrooms these days.

I'm in the midst of reading MYCELLIUM RUNNING by Paul Stamets, an amazing book that shares his ideas of the four major ways that mushrooms can help save the world. I can talk about mushrooms at length, and do, at the drop of a hat. At the drop of anything, really...it doesn't just have to be a hat.

Mycellia are the organism that produce the fruiting bodies we know as mushrooms. Mycellia are made up of networks of thin, threadlike cells that grow beneath the soil and do the most incredible things, like create ecosystems.

Mycellia, along with soil microorganisms and bacteria, are responsible for breaking down all the dead and waste stuff of the planet so that everything else can use it to live and grow. Mycellia hold soils together, enrich it by breaking down matter into constituent molecules easily absorbed by other living organisms and in doing so BUILD the soil, one of my favourite things to do and something that should be a new goal for humanity, in my view.

I can go on and on about how great mushrooms and their mycellia are - it could fill several books. I don't want to write all that now, so i'm skipping to the 4 ways Paul Stamets proposes mycellia will help us save our world.

1. Mycofiltration - meaning filtering with mushrooms. By growing mycellial networks, it's been discovered that dangerous organic pollutants like fecal/agricultural runoff can be cleaned out of groundwater. The networks use the super-rich pollutants (manure runoff that gets into the ground water from feedlots, for example) to grow themselves, filtering the waste out for their own use and letting the clean water continue on.

2. Mycoreforestation - meaning growing forests with mushrooms. Amazing studies have shown that a type of mycellium known as mycorhizal fungi create networks that sustain other plant life in a very deliberate manner. The mycellium will grow right into the root systems of plants and trees, and funnel nutrients right into them! One incredible study done involved a small copse of trees where there was also a mycorhizal network present. The copse was made up of a douglas fir, a cedar and a birch tree. The experimenters wrapped the douglas fir in fabric so that it couldn't photosynthesize, and then dumped some tagged sugar into the soil so that they could track it. The study found that the mycellium fed the doug fir that couldn't photosynthesize more of the tagged sugars than to the birch or the cedar - taking care of the tree in distress.
From studies like this, it's believed that forests depend on mycellial networks to grow and flourish, to help regulate growth and distribution of nutrients, and that promoting the growth of fungi is what's been missing in our present reforestation projects.

3. Mycomedicinals - meaning medicine from mushrooms. Many, many mushrooms produce all sorts of enzymes, chemicals, antibiotics and antibacterials that have been found to be helpful to humankind. Research has been done into treating cancer, smallpox, anthrax, flu and AIDS with medicinal compounds sourced from mushrooms, but very little is known. Many cultures have used mushrooms medicinally for thousands of years, but science hasn't quite caught up. We could have a medicine chest growing under our feet and in the woods all around us, in danger from deforestation and terrible logging practices, and we don't even know it.

4. Mycoremediation - meaning cleaning up pollutants with mushrooms. Similar to mycofiltration, the bioremediational aspects of fungi are astounding. One study quoted in Paul Stamets' book was of a remediation study done in an old diesel refuelling lot. The soil was scooped up into four mounds, and then three of the mounds then had a remediational technique applied to it, keeping the fourth as a control. The mound inoculated with mycellia underwent profound changes and a staggering drop in the percentage of pollutants found within eight weeks, while the mounds that had been treated with bacteria and chemical enzymes were still as stinky and polluted as the control mound.

It boggles me to think about the huge implications mycellia could have. We could heal our cities and polluted areas and ourselves, regrow healthy forest ecosystems...it makes me crazy-excited! So...coming in the mail in a week or two will be the spawn of our own mycellial networks, for our gardens. We're revamping our gardening techniques to include these new fungal allies - i've been looking into no-till gardening techniques. I'll report all kinds of stuff on all this later. Hooray mushrooms!!!

mushroom pics by Ken Blackwell, Malcolm Storey and Dave Hughes, all found on the internet.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An open letter to the Prime Minister - a call to arts not arms

Hey all - This is an amazing letter from the playwright Wadji Mouawad, who works in Ottawa at the National Arts Center. I'm posting it because even tho i'm moving a little bit away from the arts world while i'm in school, i still care and am deeply affected by the heinous things the Harper govt. is doing to arts funding in Canada. The arts have as much an effect on living in sustainable ways as eating organic food, not driving cars and composting. They work in the dimension of the unconcious and the imagination, the underlayers of our cultures and are therefore part of the soil in which we are all planted. ART KEEPS US HEALTHY.

This letter is a beautifully wrought call to arms, or call to ARTS more like it, for the arts community, which surprise surprise, turns out to be everybody!

It was published in the Devoir, in Montreal, last week, and translated into english by John Van Burek.

An open letter to Prime Minister Harper:

Monsieur le premier ministre,

We are neighbours. We work across the street from one another. You are Prime Minister of the Parliament of Canada and I, across the way, am a writer, theatre director and Artistic Director of the French Theatre at the National Arts Centre (NAC). So, like you, I am an employee of the state, working for the Federal Government; in other words, we are colleagues.

Let me take advantage of this unique position, as one functionary to another, to chat with you about the elimination of some federal grants in the field of culture, something that your government recently undertook. Indeed, having followed this matter closely, I have arrived at a few conclusions that I would like to publicly share with you since, as I’m sure you will agree, this debate has become one of public interest.

The Symbolism

Firstly, it seems that you might benefit by surrounding yourself with counsellors who will be attentive to the symbolic aspects of your Government’s actions. I am sure you know this but there is no harm in reminding ourselves that every public action denotes not only what it is but what it symbolises.
For example, a Prime Minister who chooses not attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, claiming his schedule does not permit it, in no way reduces the symbolism which says that his absence might signify something else. This might signify that he wishes to denote that Canada supports the claims of Tibet. Or it might serve as a sign of protest over the way in which Beijing deals with human rights. If the Prime Minister insists that his absence is really just a matter of timing, whether he likes it or not, this will take on symbolic meaning that commits the entire country. The symbolism of a public gesture will always outweigh the technical explanations.

Declaration of war

Last week, your government reaffirmed its manner of governing unilaterally, this time on a domestic issue, in bringing about reductions in granting programs destined for the cultural sector. A mere matter of budgeting, you say, but one which sends shock waves throughout the cultural milieu –rightly or wrongly, as we shall see- for being seen as an expression of your contempt for that sector. The confusion with which your Ministers tried to justify those reductions and their refusal to make public the reports on the eliminated programs, only served to confirm the symbolic significance of that contempt. You have just declared war on the artists.
Now, as one functionary to another, this is the second thing that I wanted to tell you: no government, in showing contempt for artists, has ever been able to survive. Not one. One can, of course, ignore them, corrupt them, seduce them, buy them, censor them, kill them, send them to camps, spy on them, but hold them in contempt, no. That is akin to rupturing the strange pact, made millennia ago, between art and politics.


Art and politics both hate and envy one another; since time immemorial, they detest each other and they are mutually attracted, and it’s through this dynamic that many a political idea has been born; it is in this dynamic that sometimes, great works of art see the light of day. Your cultural politics, it must be said, provoke only a profound consternation. Neither hate nor detestation, not envy nor attraction, nothing but numbness before the oppressive vacuum that drives your policies.

This vacuum which lies between you and the artists of Canada, from a symbolic point of view, signifies that your government, for however long it lasts, will not witness either the birth of a political idea or a masterwork, so firm is your apparent belief in the unworthiness of that for which you show contempt. Contempt is a subterranean sentiment, being a mix of unassimilated jealousy and fear towards that which we despise. Such governments have existed, but not lasted because even the most detestable of governments cannot endure if it hasn’t the courage to affirm what it actually is.

Why is this ?

What are the reasons behind these reductions, which are cut from the same cloth as those made last year on the majority of Canadian embassies, who saw their cultural programming reduced, if not eliminated? The economies that you have made are ridiculously small and the votes you might win with them have already been won. For what reason, then, are you so bent on hurting the artists by denying them some of their tools? What are you seeking to extinguish and to gain?

Your silence and your actions make one fear the worst for, in the end, we are quite struck by the belief that this contempt, made eloquent by your budget cuts, is very real and that you feel nothing but disgust for these people, these artists, who spend their time by wasting it and in spending the good taxpayers money, he who, rather than doing uplifting work, can only toil.

And yet, I still cannot fathom your reasoning. Plenty of politicians, for the past fifty years, have done all they could to depoliticise art, to strip it of its symbolic import. They try the impossible, to untie that knot which binds art to politics. And they almost succeed! Whereas you, in the space of one week, have undone this work of chloroforming, by awakening the cultural milieu, Francophone and Anglophone, and from coast to coast. Even if politically speaking they are marginal and negligible, one must never underestimate intellectuals, never underestimate artists; don’t underestimate their ability to do you harm.

A grain of sand is all-powerful

I believe, my dear colleague, that you yourself have just planted the grain of sand that could derail the entire machine of your electoral campaign. Culture is, in fact, nothing but a grain of sand, but therein lays its power, in its silent front. It operates in the dark. That is its legitimate strength.

It is full of people who are incomprehensible but very adept with words. They have voices. They know how to write, to paint, to dance, to sculpt, to sing, and they won’t let up on you. Democratically speaking, they seek to annihilate your policies. They will not give up. How could they?

You must understand them: they have not had a clear and common purpose for a very long time, for such a long time that they have no common cause to defend. In one week, by not controlling the symbolic importance of your actions, you have just given them passion, anger, rage.

The resistance that will begin today, and to which my letter is added, is but a first manifestation of a movement that you yourself have set in motion: an incalculable number of texts, speeches, acts, assemblies, marches, will now be making themselves heard. They will not be exhausted.

Some of these will, perhaps, following my letter, be weakened but within each word, there will be a spark of rage, relit, and it is precisely the addition of these tiny instances of fire that will shape the grain of sand that you will never be able to shake. This will not settle down, the pressure will not be diminished.

Monsieur le premier ministre, we are neighbours. We work across the street from one another. There is nothing but the Cenotaph between our offices, and this is as it should be because politics and art have always mirrored one another, each on its own shore, each seeing itself in the other, separated by that river where life and death are weighed at every moment.

We have many things in common, but an artist, contrary to a politician, has nothing to lose, because he or she does not make laws; and if it is prime ministers who change the world, it’s the artist who will show this to the world. So do not attempt, through your policies, to blind us, Monsieur le premier ministre; do not ignore that reflection on the opposite shore, do not plunge us further into the dark. Do not diminish us.

Wajdi Mouawad

the photo was found on the internet and traced to Ursi Paltenstein

Monday, September 8, 2008

Gaviotas - oh hope!

Holy moley - folks, i've just finished an amazing book about an amazing place.
Gaviotas, a visionary community in rural Colombia survived 27 years of drug wars and western culture to continue to be an incredible inspiring hopeful potential future.

Begun in 1971 by Paolo Lugari, the village is in the middle of a inhospitable grassland savannah call the llanos. Technicians and visionaries began working in the middle of nowhere to create and build innovative 'third-world' technologies, as an alternative to importing Northern development aid. Lugari's vision was to develop methods, tools and ways of surviving in the llanos, thought to be one of the least hospitable environments to human habitation on the planet. By bringing in interested people and university students working on graduate studies, Gaviotas became an oasis of innovation and imagination. Concentrating on developing renewable technologies for resource-poor areas, technologies that would be appropriate, human-scale and ecological in 'third-world' environments, Gaviotans created incredible things - solar kettles, pumps that harnessed the energy of kids see-sawing and swinging in their school playgrounds, and incredible hydroponic gardening techniques.

In the middle of nowhere, answers to riddles we are struggling with worldwide were being developed. I read this book with my heart in my throat, fully expecting to get to the end and read about how Colombia's tumult and violence destroyed the dream of these incredible people. INCREDIBLY, that's just not the case. Gaviotas is alive and well today, and doing incredible things still.

I want the whole world to read this book. I am just so moved and heartened to see how our dreams can actually come true. I just hope we don't have to move into the middle of nowhere in Colombia to make it happen.

love the rain...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Jeanette Winterson and soothing the freak-out

So. The tomatoes in the backyard are beginning to ripen and I'm going back to school in two days, for the first time in 14 years. And i'm freaking out about it - what am i thinking? Why the hell would i do such a thing? When there is so much garden to grow, so much art to make, so much ELSE to do?

"Stronger healers than warriors". I chant this to myself when i start to panic. And then i go make some compost, or read some of the smart smart smart heart-deep words of Jeanette Winterson.

JW is amazing - a crusader for art and earth and humanness. Bolstered by her words, books and journalism for years, i turned to her again this morning, worrying about whether i am making a terrible, gut-slicing mistake by changing my ways, going thousands of dollars into debt for something i'm not sure of. A voice inside me is telling me to do this thing. The voice, which is more of an insistent feeling, feels like "why are you fighting this?" and "go this way". I have decided to trust that voice, that push. Regardless of the boxes i will be required to put myself into, and i have resisted boxes for a long time - instead going for the rambling style of plants in fields or tangled woods - i am going to listen to this voice, which is also a current and see where it take me. Trust is so hard, feels so blind, but is so necessary for me to learn.

JW talks of this a lot - work hard to make the world saner and deeper in beauty and humanity, and enjoy the world for all that it offers up. We visited our friends Jan and Jim up on the Bruce Peninsula a week ago, and Jan had wise words (always) to offer along the same lines. Their son Galen was killed in a bike accident three years ago, and she said that since then she has really felt the fleetingness of life. The way ANYTHING can happen, good or bad, in the blink of an eye. Life is so short, she said, that we should enjoy it.

So. That's the plan. I'll work hard to grow the world in saner, more sustainable directions - teaching little kids how important earth and thoughtfulness and beauty, as well as reading and arithmetic are, might turn out to be a major way that i do that. Learn how to ease myself into boxes - for short amounts of time - will help me stay flexible, and relish the open spaces more. And I'll do my best to enjoy what comes.

I'll do breathing exercises to calm my freak-out, and read good honest words that'll work like compost on my heart.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

sage seeds, education and the helpfulness of 'UN' -anything

Why am i writing this? I'm not really sure, but it might prove to be an interesting record of this time later on.

I collected 7 seeds from the golden sage in the herb garden just now. Shook them off into my hand, like magic. Seven round brown seeds, complicated creatures tucked inside them. Like little worlds.

Got excited today about education...Elyse my dear friend, philosopher artist and Waldorf teacher extraordinaire sent me a letter she wrote to Barak Obama about intuition and education, nature and the role of teachers. I am excited, although feeling a little leery of the EDUCATION SYSTEM. How will i navigate it, with it's checks and balances and bureaucracies, tests and exams and boxes and numbers? As i enter into dedicating my life to working with kids in a way that hopefully helps them become whole people with deep relationships with their worlds, their ecologies, themselves and others, how will i work inside it? I might be asking myself these questions for a long time.

Elyse's letter, and a chunk from John Gardner's 'The Secret of Peace and the Environmental Crisis', published in 1971, got me thinking along these lines. It is still so so relevant, which is unsettling. Here's a quote i liked.

"It seems to me that when teachers can settle down quietly to the real business of education, which is to awaken, empower and improve human beings, they will be glad to do so. When children are so taught, they will respond. When external goals and pressures are removed, teachers and students will begin to listen to what life says to the heart and to the conscience. And this concern will bring to pass what we need more than anything if we are to stop the ravaging of the earth."

Brilliant brilliant brilliant.

A thought occurred to me today - calling ourselves artists of 'unwaste' is framing the situation from the point of view of WASTING and the culture we live in that is built on waste and greed. I would love to re-frame our approach, and come from a place of celebration rather than negation. Sort of like talking about non-violence - we are still operating inside a paradigm of violence - and what we want to do is move beyond violence, imagine other responses and ways of living.

However, we are FIRMLY embedded in a culture that is incredibly and intolerably wasteful, so to even speak the word UNWASTE is a radically different thing to do.

Turn straw into homes, garbage into soil, waste into resources, grey concrete-ridden urban hardlands into green and growing communities that revere life and the precious things that support its flourishing.

more later!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

a beginning...

I am so excited by gardening, composting, permaculture and working towards living in ecological ways these days. I am so into exploring these things, and also am facinated by the influence these things have on community-building. For some reason i want to create a blog to write and play with some of the stuff i'm learning about. So, here's this blog.

It's inspired and influenced by all kinds of things. The name comes from something a character in Starhawk's book The Fifth Sacred Thing says about the amazing community that the citizens have made of San Francisco. That it may look like they have unlimited resources - water flows through the city, food and flowers are growing everywhere, it's green and lush all over - but they have merely learned how to recycle everything as much as they possibly can, and live within their own means.

"It looks so lush. She took a long, deep breath, then another. You'd think we had plenty of everything, plenty of land, plenty of water. Whereas we've simply learned how not to waste, how to use and reuse every drop, how to feed chickens on weeds and ducks on snails and let worms eat the garbage. We've become such artists of unwaste we can almost compensate for the damage. Almost." - Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing.

I send out thank yous for the inspiration to Starhawk, the gardens, Heather C. Flores of Food Not Lawns, the mycorrhyzzal fungi that co-exist with forests, our old 57 acres in the Marlborough Swamp where i began to learn about nature and myself, mint, Linda Chapman who first taught me the word permaculture, the housies, the housies of the past, compost, the climbing trees, community gardens everywhere, seed savers, The Stop Food Community Centre, permaculturers, paradise gardeners, food activists and foodies everywhere, and earth itself.