Category: On animals


Bear 71

By John Yunker,

Take 20 minutes.

Find 20 minutes this evening or this weekend and visit this website.

Bear 71 is web-based interactive documentary about a bear that lived and died in Canada’s Banff National Park.

And it’s told from the bear’s point of view.

I’ve included a few screen grabs here, but you really need to dive in. You’ll see footage of bears and elk and ravens. And because Bear 71 was tracked by a radio tag, you’ll be able to follow this bear’s journey.

What makes this documentary so effective is not just its focus on one bear’s journey, but it’s effective use of first-person point of view. You get inside the bear’s head. You understand what she can smell and see and the challenges she faces in dealing with people and highways and railways.

Bear 71 was created by Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes and co-created and produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

 

On writing and empathy

By Midge Raymond,

Having just returned from the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, I’m newly inspired not only in terms of my own writing but by the magnificence of the natural world and the ways in which we can appreciate and nurture it. Spending the week on the water, with deer roaming past our cabins every day, I found it impossible not to think about nature and animals.

Early in the week, poet Ashley Capps gave a wonderful craft lecture on empathy. Among other works, she read Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish” and offered a juxtapoesis — a slide show of images that resemble each other, from a magnified sweat gland that evoked a head of lettuce to the face of a terrified girl next to a calf in a kill chute. Ashley made important connections that highlight the necessity to see ourselves in others and to be empathetic in our lives and in our writing.

I especially enjoyed Ashley’s reading a few nights later, during which she read not only her beautiful poems but an essay she’d recently published with Our Hen House, as a response to OHH’s New York Times call for essays on “why it’s ethical to eat meat.” As Ashley writes in her essay, “In any discussion concerning the ethics of eating animals, it feels important to begin by pointing out a frequently overlooked distinction: that harming and killing animals from necessity is not morally equivalent to harming and killing animals for pleasure…It’s important to realize that, with a few exceptions, when humans kill other animals for food, we’re not doing what animals do in nature. When animals kill other animals for food, they do as they must, in order to survive; they have no choice in the matter. Many humans, on the other hand, do have a choice…”

Most compelling and true was Ashley’s conclusion: “Finally, to harm animals for pleasure is also, ultimately, to harm ourselves. Constantly acting in opposition to our own core values deforms our hearts — and it diminishes our integrity, and hinders our emotional and moral growth….What can it mean for caring people to regularly reject compassionate choices that cost them next to nothing, and to instead embrace unnecessary violence that costs its victims, literally, everything?”

Wow.

For more of her amazing poetry, as well as her writing about animals and compassion, visit Ashley’s website as well as her blog.

Artists helping animals

By Midge Raymond,

I loved reading this article on Ashland artist Dana Feagin, Animal Artists Who Give Back, an inspiring look at an artist who is using her talents to help animals. Dana not only paints adorable portraits of the animals who have been rescued and are up for adoption at Jacksonville, Oregon’s Sanctuary One; she also donates a portion of the proceeds from her work to the sanctuary, which not only cares for animals but also provides educational opportunities for anyone who wants to learn more about how to live harmoniously with animals and nature.

 

 

Dana’s work is one of many examples of the ways in which helping animals and the environment can come in many forms. At the Cynthia King Dance Studio in Brooklyn, New York, the children’s repertory includes dances about animals and nature, aiming to foster an appreciation and respect through the art and discipline of dance. (Cynthia King is also earning kudos for her cruelty-free vegan ballet slippers, which have been embraced by such celebrities as Natalie Portman and Emily Deschanel.)

One of the more heartbreaking — but very important — examples of artists championing animals is award-winning photographer Taiwanese photographer Tou Yun-fei, whose portraits of shelter dogs about to be euthanized highlights the importance of adoption and why we need to rescue animals, not buy them. And photographer Diana Bezanski is yet another photographer who has decided to donate her photography services to animal shelters to raise awareness about the plight of shelter animals (check out some of her gorgeous photos here).

Ashland Creek Press itself was founded with a mission of opening reader’s minds to issues of animal protection and the environment — and while first and foremost we aim to publish excellent books, we hope that one of the “side effects” of reading them is to inspire a greater appreciation for the planet and all its creatures and how to keep it all healthy.

I love the blog at Our Hen House — Art of the Animal — which focuses on, among other topics, the many ways that people all over the world use their own unique gifts and talents to create positive change. And don’t miss their fabulous podcasts, featuring news, reviews, and interviews with many of these amazing people.

 

 

Q&A with Cher Fischer, author of Falling Into Green

By Midge Raymond,

A Q&A with Cher Fischer, author of Falling Into Green: An Eco-Mystery

When did you first begin to form a connection with your surroundings and  the environment?

I was born in Spokane, Washington, a beautiful place, but no one knew that the local nuclear-weapons-making site was polluting the local groundwater, rivers, and food supply (and would eventually become the largest Superfund toxic clean-up site in the country). Not my mom and dad, or me, in utero. It would take many years before I was finally diagnosed with a disease inherent to exposure to high levels of radiation—hypothyroidism—even though I had a goiter that was visible from birth, since there were no heritability factors, my pediatrician did nothing about it. So, I went on with my life, usually feeling a little spacey, sometimes downright ill, and emotionally fragile, to be sure—but in that fragility, I believe my internal communion with nature was born.

You see, I literally had to rely on my sense of nature, my intuition of what was around me, to survive. Some MDs I’ve spoken to say I shouldn’t have lived beyond a few years with a severely impacted thyroid. But live I did, and I’ve always been innately compelled to protect the environment. At eight years old, I wrote my first of many activist letters, this one to the editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, demanding the conservation of forests.

Still, because my hypothyroid went untreated until I was an adult, my development was slow, and compared with my peers, I’ve done everything … late. I got married late, got my doctorate in psychology late. I had a child late. And, finally, I’ve written my first novel, Falling Into Green, late. But, then, late is better than never. And as for the green movement in the United States, where a cohesive environmental policy is so late in coming it sometimes seems like it will never happen—it will. I feel I can help stand testament to that.

 How did you come up with the idea for this book, and how long did it take you to write it? Did you have a special routine or place in which you wrote?

Falling Into Green is a novel that has swirled inside my mind for years. I’ve always wanted to write something that would compel readers to engage with, and maybe even be entertained by, ecology. Finally, with this eco-mystery, I believe I’ve found a way.

My muse is one of the most unstable geological formations in the northern hemisphere: the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Portuguese Bend. When my son was born, I desperately wanted him to have a relationship with nature, and in Los Angeles, with its ever-expanding crisscross of concrete, that can be hard to do. When we moved south of LA to Palos Verdes, I got to spend remarkable hours each day with my toddler on the peninsula, exploring plants, trees, and relishing the turquoise coast. When my son began school, I let the land take up my imagination, and the character, Dr. Esmeralda Green, who ceaselessly and happily adapts to the transformative ecology, was born.

What is Esmeralda Green’s relationship with nature? 

She’s able to immerse herself in her environment. She has the ability, both innate and learned, to integrate psychology, ecology, forensic evidence, and emotion so she can understand the wholeness of something—for instance, a crime.

How can a person achieve a relationship with nature? 

Nature isn’t static, it’s fluid, and sensory, and in our highly structured perception of the world, we lose those connections to something that runs like a river through us, rather than a dam. To go out in a place of nature, even a small park down the street, and simply breathe is probably the first step to getting back in tune with a healthy appreciation of the environment (and subsequently, oneself). Then, to model it in a way; to immerse oneself in the kind of freedom that only ecology can offer. We have to remember nature is meant to be free—unpredictable, and frightening at times—but also a growing, living entity—just as we are—so get out in it and breathe, have fun, and let your endorphins run wild.

Do you ride horses like Esmeralda Green does? 

Not so much anymore, but I grew up riding Western saddle, and my parents in Minnesota own, along with a wonderful trainer, a thirty-five acre working stable. I think respect for horses runs deep in my family’s blood—we love them.

What is the inspiration for Ez’s house—not only its family history but also how it’s slipping from the land?

I wanted Ez to symbolize the human ability to change—to adapt. We really are so adept at that, and yet, beginning with the shift from hunter-gatherer to agrarian to industrial to technological, we’ve become progressively hardwired in our thinking, particularly about nature. It could be said that throughout history, our species has strived to control nature by predicting it to protect ourselves—but as we see on an almost daily basis, nature is getting harder to predict, and thus protect against. So once more, our ability to adapt in the face of challenge becomes important. Ez’s flexible perspective on adapting her beloved ancestral home, a home her grandfather built himself, to the slippery slope beneath it is actually a tribute to our ability to recreate ourselves. Ultimately, for Ez, the only way she can keep her home is to let it change, and to change with it.

What is “ecopsychology,” exactly?

Ecopsychology, or green psychology, is a groundbreaking psychological theory that goes so far to include nature in the development of the human psyche. Whereas many theories in psychology have not included an external force in the development of ego, superego, and id, ecopsychology stipulates that nature is inherent to the formation of an individual’s perception of the world, and his or her response to that world, whether it’s functional or dysfunctional.

As human beings, we often reflect what we see and what we experience, and when we are constantly barraged with trash, concrete, pollution, smog, waste—our behaviors will often mimic those very things. I think it’s no coincidence that we’ve adopted the word “toxic” into our cultural vernacular to describe negative behavior. We don’t realize the abusive relationship we sometimes have with nature on a personal level. And we often help to facilitate a larger entity, an organization or industry in an abusive relationship with nature because … it’s easier. Then, we don’t have to face our own stuff … our own personal responsibilities. And again, like any abusive relationship, it could end up killing us.

How/when did you first realize you wanted to specialize in ecopsychology?

Ecopsychology led me to psychology, and psychology led me back to ecopsychology. I wouldn’t have studied psychology had I not read a book titled Ecopsychology, by Roszak, Gomes, and Kanner, which struck me to the core of my being as authentic.

I’ve always been an environmentalist. I remember, as a three-year-old, playing at a small, mossy bank in our backyard that was teeming with green and tiny creatures, and I felt, even then, a kinship with that natural world. I spent my life advocating for nature on some level, whether it was campaigning through my neighborhood for dolphin-safe tuna, or getting into semi-brawls with the hunters in Minnesota. I even used to forgo driving a car while living in Los Angeles, of all places, taking the bus and carrying my groceries home in a duffel bag. I finally bought a Geo Metro, which got roughly 50 miles per gallon, and kept that car until the Toyota Prius was available. Now, our family has a Ford hybrid.

So, I studied psychology to understand ecopsychology—to be able to integrate the two theories into one.  That is ultimately what ecopsychology’s about—the integration, the connection between all things: the “me” and the “other.” Nature and nurture. Everything’s connected.

Why is ecopsychology an important field right now?

Well, if we go with the idea that everything’s connected, then in taking that one step further: What are we connected to? What are we connected by? Are we connected to each other and our earth in a healthy, sustainable way? Or is it an unhealthy, unsustainable way? I think we all have a pretty good idea of what our world and our connection to it looks like—and feels like—in the twenty-first century: unhealthy. And our behaviors are manifesting that unhealthy connection.

I often liken this relationship to the child who grows up in a domestic abuse situation—the learned behavior is abuse, so the child grows up and abuses or is abused, and the pattern repeats to the point at which we have a very clichéd phrase in our cultural vernacular to describe that learned behavior: the cycle of abuse. Well, taking that into the greater world, our learned behavior in our home, the earth, has been for millennia one of abuse—and when we grow up, we abuse the earth or become victims of abuse (i.e., victims of carcinogens in our water, food, etc.), and we’re willing to accept it because that’s what we’ve been taught—that’s our learned behavior. If we want to survive—as individuals and as a species—we need to break that cycle of abuse we practice toward nature.

What advice do you have for those suffering from “eco-anxiety” and concerns about the environment?

Break the cycle of abuse! Most anxiety disorders stem from feelings of lack of control of one’s own life, so recovering from eco-anxiety must be about taking control and “changing the world.” I know that term is bandied about a lot these days, but change really is the key, whether it’s in reference to a domestic abuse situation or an eco-abuse situation—take the first step, whether it’s buying organic, buying local, driving a car that gets better gas mileage, or urging your community, school, or workplace to adopt green standards.

People told me for years that I was crazy when it came to being concerned about the environment. I can’t tell you how many times I was laughed at for taking the bus in LA. Now, those same people take the bus, or drive a hybrid, or a ride a bike to where they want to go—because they’re experiencing the ravages of climate change, the volatility in weather, and, unconsciously, the manifestation of volatility in human behavior—and they want to do something about it, to initiate change.

Start with yourself, and you’ll touch a life, and another, and so on …

Cher’s eco-mystery, Falling Into Green, is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your favorite indie bookstore, as well as on the Kindle, the Nook, and in the iBookstore

Raising awareness of a plant-based life, one book at a time

By John Yunker,

 

Every year, the Farm Animal Rights Movement sponsors a Meatout day to, well, urge people to give up meat.

At least for a day.

Or, better yet, one day a week, a very popular trend known as “Meatout Mondays.”

There is ample evidence that cutting back on meat will improve your health.

As readers of this blog well know, our focus at Ashland Creek Press has been to publish books that raise awareness of animals and the environment.

We are proud to have published three novels so far that include strong vegan characters:

And we have more on the way.

What’s important to us about these books is that they’re character-driven stories, with characters that happen to be vegan. It’s time that veganism no longer be viewed as a fringe lifestyle but a normal lifestyle — and it’s time that our literature reflects this growing trend.

Which is a large part of why we’re here today.

PS: If you’re a writer that is working on an “ecolit” novel, we welcome submissions.