Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Buy Nothing Day!

There’s only one way to avoid the collapse of this human experiment of ours on Planet Earth: we have to consume less.

Ask a representative group of people what is the greatest threat facing humankind in the 21st century and a number of suggestions will follow. Terrorism, hunger, poverty and pandemics will probably be among them. Few would probably say that the way we consume should be at the top of the list, but there's good reason to believe that this is in fact the correct answer – especially now, one day before the official UK Buy Nothing day.

The reason is simple. For all its sophistications, our modern culture and the mainstream economics that underpin it do not put a price on nature – and nature is set to be the ultimate limiting factor on human progress and welfare as we head toward the middle decades of this century. In some respects, the natural world is already central to our concerns as renewable and non-renewable resources are depleted, ecosystems are degraded and the climate's stability is threatened.

But the scale of our mishandling of the natural world is much bigger than this. One widely cited study, published in 1998 by US economist Robert Costanza and his colleagues, gives an indication of just how big. They set out to estimate the financial cost of replacing all the services provided to us by nature. The pollination of crops, restoration of soil fertility and recycling of wastes; the coastal protection provided by coral reefs and mangroves; the creation of rain by natural forests and the climatic stability that enables human societies to develop – all of these were estimated to be roughly double the value of GDP in that year.

(Text borrowed from Tony Juniper of the UK Guardian.) Buy Nothing Day:

Downshifting to a less resource-hungry economy need not mean the end of comfort and security, or the beginning of mass unemployment. Going green could create millions of jobs, generate new markets, stimulate new technologies and provide opportunities for dynamic new businesses – and in the process conserve the natural systems upon which we all depend. New measures of economic performance are needed, ones that consider human wellbeing as coexistent with the health of the natural world, and account for the state of nature's capital.

While such a transformation, until recently, sounded like a utopian dream, it increasingly looks like our only option to avoid a humanitarian and ecological catastrophe. The moment has arrived to build a culture and economy fit for a finite planet – the only question is how. A good place to start is with ourselves, by working to change our habits and curb our excesses as individual consumers. And what better way to do this than buying nothing for a day?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

words of wisdom from Mamie...

"I've been told that I've done things that most women just dream of doing. I'm not sure just what they were referring to. Maybe it was the rainy evening I hand-milked seventeen cows in an open corral. Or the years I did the family washing on a washboard down by the creek, with water heated over an open fire and then hung the clothes on the bushes to dry. Or maybe it was when I was leading a string of pack horses into the mountains and one went on the wrong side of a tree, rolling another horse down a hillside, and I was all by myself to get the mess untangled and the horses up on their feet again..."
-Mamie Ferrier, homesteader and founder, with husband Grant, of the Bar X Bar Guest Ranch (nee Smith Fork)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Immersed in my lifestyle...

I am realizing today where my priorities are. My barn is cleaner than my house.

This morning I heard a radio commercial that asked, "What do you think when you identify this sound?" I thought, oh boy, more ice on the water trough to throw off with the pitchfork.

Joke was on me: it was the sound of shattering glass, a commercial for a windshield repair company.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lost and Found

Orange oak leaves mask the ground. I am off my horse- he follows behind me, ears perked, attentive to my anticipation. I am prospecting. My eyes are straining, almost painfully, attempting to distinguish between bone-colored branches and bone, the ivory that once knew warm blood versus the ivory of dead wood.

Last year, some enterprising genius (tongue-in-cheek, there) purchases thousands of dollars worth of elk antler sheds and dropped them-- within view of our horse trails-- around the ranch. Then, he lied to guests and told them they were naturally shed... at 8,000 feet... in January.... obviously our ranch guests are not ecologists. Anyway, I'm told there's four sets that were never recovered. That's in addition to the multiple treasures fallen out of guests' pockets and wranglers' saddlebags. We're on a treasure hunt!

Tulsa wasn't interested in treasure hunting, though. Tulsa just wanted to gallop. No trotting, no negotiating rocks, no jumping creeks, just running as fast as he could. That limited my ability to spot the objects of my search. I found my new gloves, and a radio I lost two months ago (that thankfully still works). I found the skeleton of a steer, and the jawbone of a raccoon, but no elk antlers. Mostly I just hung on for the ride. Maybe the treasure was more in the air I breathe anyway, and the wind in my ears as we pounded along.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

If there's anything more hated than dandelions on the lawn, it must be cows. I woke up to it yesterday: COWS ON THE LAWN! SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING BEFORE THEY WRECK THE MANICURED PERFECTION THAT IS OUR FRONT LAWN! I grabbed Howdy and jumped up bareback. My good gelding goes straight to work, ears perked, body sinuous and eager. The cows are reluctant to move from the good grass, but file out onto the road... in the opposite direction that I want them to go, of course.

About 1400 cattle are pastured on the adjacent forest service land each summer, and each year end up occasionally on the ranch. (With 360 acres of fencing, do you really believe I have time to check it ALL? Not this year!) The cattle belong to neighboring ranchers, and have been using this range for years. They're more gentle than any forest service cows I've met previously, and they know their gates as well as I do. These probably know the closest gate is Second Creek, but they're hoping on staying in my pasture for the next week, so they're going to head south instead.

Strung out along the county road, I get the five head moving. Oh good, there's another five bawling to them... from behind my east pasture fence. I jump off Howdy (who is annoyed at having to be distracted from watching cows) and lay open the barbed wire gate onto the road. Might as well get them all together before they start tearing down fences. We walk back to the barn. If I have to push these cows nearly a mile to the next forest service gate, I might as well have the security of a saddle.

Gunner is waiting at the gate, so he gets to be the lucky one. There's a certain synchronisity when working cows by horseback. Your horse feels your energy, your attention, your focus, and moves almost with your thought. I didn't speak as we gathered the ten cows together, moving them, feinting and pushing them, circling them and guiding them on to the gravel. Now, I know you should only push cows at a walk, but I had chores to do, and herding stray cattle was keeping horses from being fed. I hurried them along at a nice trot, aiming for the Needle Rock Pass access gate.

Of course, as I mentioned, these forest service cows tend to be pretty sensitive to a gate (especially when I'm putting some pressure on them), and they were eager to jump through the break in the fence, onto L & M's cleanly mowed turf. I saw that first cow go and Gunner and I sprang forward, cutting off seven more. Gunner spooked hard left at the gate lying on the ground, and we leapt through the opening after the three strays. Cutting around them, we turned them back, and suddenly I hear my name. "Ciara! Ciara!" I look around. L is standing in her doorway, gesturing like Gunner and I should stop by for tea. I shout back "hello!" and she shouts something else but there are two pickup trucks coming down the road threatening to scatter the other seven cows and the three strays are headed in the direction I want them to go and I assume L treasures her lawn enough to forgive my rudeness but I'm obviously in the middle of something here. The cows jump and pop through the gate as though they are surprised at having gone through it, and I swing them in an arc to the north, toward the eventual gate onto forest service land, and away from the oncoming pickups and our neighbor Joe Cocker, who has chosen this moment to walk his two elderly dogs and probably wasn't expecting a wild stampede, not to mention TWO pickups (which is about what our road sees in a day!).

The cows are acting slightly insulted as I push them through an irrigation ditch, so when they sull up in a hole of scrub oak I back off and let them reconvene. I circle quietly around them and head up trail to open the locked gate. Gunner is jacked up and trots off as I mount, toward the cows which have split in two groups. A shifty-eyed Angus is already looking for escape. I push her ahead, and four follow. Three are undecided about moving, and two have wandered back toward the road. Hearing our movement through the brush, they hesitate, and slowly rethink their situation. My first cow walks sullenly past the gate. From holding in hesitation, we bound in leaps in a half circle, trying to turn her back without upsetting the others. The blonde cow gets the picture. She's had enough of this running around nonsense, and walks through the gate with her head held aloft, as though she's been affronted. I work the tail of the line and their herd mentality takes over, the last few eager to catch up, running through the gate like it's the sanctuary they've been looking for all along. They'll follow the trail over Little Coal Creek, and then around Land's End Mountain over the next day or two. I lock the gate behind them, pat my horse's neck, and turn back for home.

"Where did those cows come from," Joe Cocker asks as I greet him. Eloquently, I explain, "You know, the forest." Realizing I am mostly human and only part horse, and therefore probably should be able to communicate better than I am, I add, "There must be a break in the fence somewhere." Joe looks back up toward where the cows are snuffling around the sagebrush, lazily climbing the hill. "Don't they have someone you can call? You shouldn't have to do this yourself." The sweat on Gunner's neck is cooling and the adrenaline in my system is ebbing and I wonder how I can possibly answer that question. Finally, I just say, "I hope not."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Skill or stupidity?

Push Gunner into a swift trot in the stiff sunshine. He is energetic, and as we turn the corner up Second Creek, he breaks into an enthusiastic lope. At that exact moment, a small black fly darts directly into my eyeball.

At this point, I consider slowing down. After all, a large foreign object wiggling its way under my contact lens is cause for concern.

However, it's a big bug. It should be relatively easy to dislodge. Plus it doesn't hurt, so I'm probably safe to keep loping.

Thus, I jab a finger into my eye to remove the nasty offender, and Gunner runs blithely on as Gunner does, tripping over rocks and throwing himself around corners. The bug works its way out, and I sit up, triumphant in my ability to see with both eyes!

It is at this point that I recognize the ridiculosity of what I had just done. I've spend all summer watching dudes cling with their legs, lean forward awkwardly, concentrate with all their ability to remember to breathe while learning to lope. Here I am, performing complicated eyeball surgery on myself while loping up a rocky, hilly trail. If I was anyone else in the world, this was a task I couldn't have completed. It was one of those moments when you realize just how lucky you are to be you.