The Bears and the Bees

The most recent meeting at the Oxford Hills Honey Bee Club hosted Scott Lindsay, a wildlife biologist from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, to go over information about black bears. Apparently the only state in the lower 48 with a higher population of black bears is Oregon.

At the moment, it is probable that male bears, boars, are are out and about on warm days, 40 degrees and up, but they’re still going back to sleep in between. The female bears, sows, likely won’t be up and around until early to mid-April. That’s also when you’re likely to see cubs in softwood and mixed wood trees. If you do, walk away calmly, since their mother is probably watching nearby.

Interestingly, it takes about a week for their digestion to ramp up after their four to five month hibernation, so their first forays out aren’t gorging. The other interesting piece of information is that as much of a food jackpot as a beehive is, it’s not actually their first choice. If they can find other, natural sources of food, that’s what they prefer. The hard part in the beginning of spring is the limited food supplies outside of the hives ramping up their brood for summer nectar flows.

When I was in Colorado, the bee school emphasized both electricity and physical sturdiness of the structure. Scott prefers making the area around the hive, or anywhere else you don’t want to have a bear, an unpleasant place for the bear to be. This includes electric fencing with a charger giving no less than .5 joules (the horsepower of electricity), and at least a 5,000 volt shock. Something that the bear will remember. However, you can also do things to make the general area unpleasant. There are pyrotechnic shells, cracker shells, that you can get for your 12-gauge. Speak with the ATF and/or USDA for permission. Air horns and firecrackers can also be used to make loud noises. There’s this thing called a propane cannon, but he recommended against using it if you’re in a populated area since it upsets the humans, too. If being annoyingly loud isn’t enough to discourage the bear, you can add some pain stimulus. Aside from the electric fence, you can also get beanbag rounds for your shotgun. If you get rubber bullets, make sure you aim for large muscle masses. The idea is to make the animal uncomfortable, not actually injure it.

If you have a younger bear in the area, they’re easier to train. Because bears are territorial, having a local bear trained to not eat your hives is the best of all outcomes. It will protect its territory, because that’s what they do, and therefore accidentally protect your hives from any not yet trained bears. Not training your local bear means relying on luck to keep your hives safe. Apparently some hives can go years without being touched but half a mile away is an apiary that gets cleaned out on a regular basis. The hard part is that can change without notice. Once the bear finds the easy food source, they’re really, really hard to discourage. A lot of people would like such a bear removed. That’s the second-to-last choice for the department, and it’s also not very effective. First, they’re placed in already claimed territory, annoying the bears on the Quebec border, then they tend to just walk right back home. It really only works with boar bears in the four to five year age group. The odds are, that’s not your bear.

Legally speaking, if a bear is causing harm or damage to you or your livestock, you are allowed to shoot to kill. For it to be legal, you have to call your local game warden within 18 hours. However, most bears have no interest in attacking us and with a little work on our part, they can be discouraged from attacking livestock, too.

One last point. On the off chance that you run into the very, very rare bear that is genuinely predatory and not just trying to intimidate, fight back. Playing dead will not work. However, convincing them that you’re not an easy meal might make them look elsewhere.


A Farmer’s New Year

IMG_6156January has come and gone. Ok, so has February. It is past time to be thinking about what I learned last year and what I’m going to be doing this year. We are well into the season of seed catalogs and getting into the season for starting those seeds. Farming is a highly seasonal occupation, so it’s also time to order bees, chicks, and poults for the coming summer. Unfortunately, I have only just been given permission to put a little weight on my broken ankle and I don’t have an ETA for being functional.

One of the things I learned, after losing my flock to predators, is that I can acquire chickens who are between a few days and a few years old pretty much any time over the summer. However, the older they are, the more habits they’ve established. My current flock is made up of older hens that came from a stationary coop and run that had been scratched down to dirt and younger hens who had been raised in a strictly indoor coop for four months. This has left both groups far less likely to do things like attack the pumpkins I chuck in to them as treats or do serious scratching for bugs. They were getting better at it before it snowed, but they weren’t up to the level of the girls I raised myself and chucked out on grass the minute I could. I also learned that I need to move their mobile coop very regularly to keep the ground clean. That will need to start as soon as it’s warm enough to be planting in the garden where they are currently living. Two strong legs really help with moving the coop.


Maybe ducklings again? They are adorable.

The latest I can order chicks through the Paris Farmer’s Union is early May. My preferred place to start the chicks, however, is the bathroom upstairs. I should be doing stairs again by the pickup in June, I think. Of course, I also thought I’d be going back to work a month ago. At my bee meeting on Saturday I sat beside a fellow small farmer and we commiserated over broken legs. She broke hers in a February and wasn’t in physical therapy until that August. I was promptly sorry I’d asked about the healing time. There’s not much point in getting chicks in August, since they probably won’t be fully feathered by the first snow. They certainly won’t be big enough to stick up for themselves in the winter coop that is a bit undersized.


Dead hive in the fall. I think I did the powdered sugar treatment too late. They got damp and caught a chill, most likely.

The real sticky situation is the bees. I have a line on a full 20-frame local hive, but I have to pick it up and do so no later than early May. Because of where my apiary is located, the hive has to be hand carried, and we can’t really break an active hive into smaller pieces to make it lighter. I think my brother will help me with the actual lifting, but it has to be something he can carry, since there’s no way I’ll be able to walk across uneven ground carrying 70# or more of hive and colony by May. The bees are even more time-sensitive than the chickens. If I don’t get them this spring, I won’t stand even half a chance of splitting over the summer to maybe, hopefully, have multiple colonies going into the fall. The other option is to order a box or two of bees. They’re much lighter to handle, but they also won’t have as strong a start and I’ll need to be installing them in mid-April. Of course, they’ll be going into hives with drawn comb, unlike the last batch, so that will help. On the other hand, I’m still going to be on at least one crutch, I’m sure, so checking the queens and feeding them will be extra challenging. Either way, I need to make my decision this week.


This is last year, this year these are wintering over in the garden.

I had hoped to start a patch of nettles in the yard. I’m not going to be able to get to the boggy parts until it’s too late to plant the seeds. I haven’t even thought about any plants I might want to start for the garden, in no small part because I can’t get down the stairs to our nursery in the cellar. I’ve been struggling with the sprouts I’d like to be feeding my hens before there’s grass available because there is a limited amount of space that I can get to at the moment where there’s both a sink for water and warmth.

Spring is well on its way, the farming year is about to hit its stride, and I am trying to figure out when I’ll be walking again. Happy new year.

Dirty Money Documentary

The documentary Dirty Money unmasks several companies that have been behaving badly. Throughout the series there is a definite common thread. When money and success are sought for their own sake, a whole lot of things fall by the wayside. Silly little details like morality and being a good citizen.

It starts off with the Volkswagen diesel scandal. Did you know Hitler was all about getting Volkswagen up and running? It is literally the people’s car. I had no idea. The company did great for a while, then it did terrible for a while, then it was ready to do great again, but perhaps didn’t have the chops to keep up with the world market anymore. So they, you know, fudged things a bit. Then they got caught. They said, oops, we’ll fix it. Instead, they doubled down on making sure that their cars tested well and who cares about their actual ability to avoid making smog. They got caught again, and, well, we’re still working that out. So why did they fudge the data on how much disease causing mess was coming out of the tailpipes anywhere but in the testing area? Because that was how the man in charge of the company was going to put Volkswagen back on top. Who cares if “clean diesel” is a lie as long as people buy it and buy the cars attached to it?

Episode two has an interesting quote. When Scott Tucker, payday loan business owner, was asked if he was a moral man he replied, “I am a business man.” I really wanted to say that wasn’t the question, but more and more often in today’s business climate, that is one of the options to that question. Moral, not moral, business person and therefore exempt. While I feel terrible for the people that were sucked into his scheme because they just needed a little help, I kept getting stuck on his employees. Specifically, it was the recorded conversations with the phone reps that were really painful for me. These people were told what they were doing was legal. I’d say the odds are they were being paid in the $10-$14 range to spend eight plus hours per day listening to upset, angry customers. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them needed payday loans themselves at times. They were doing their best to be responsible citizens and then they find out that their terrible job was also part of an illegal scheme. Moral, immoral, or just trying to make ends meet?

Speaking of modern business practices, how about a pharmaceutical company who believes “Bet on management, don’t bet on science”? The stock market loved Valeant since their income and net worth went up every single quarter. Why? Because they weren’t doing silly things like coming up with new drugs and therapies, those are too hit or miss. No, they were gobbling up companies that had come up with unique drugs and then jacking up the prices of those drugs. Why did this work so well in the stock market? The people that are making decisions on Wall Street understand M and A (mergers and acquisitions). They are less familiar, and patient, with R and D (research and development). One gives you results within a quarter or two, the other not so much. Who cares that there are people now forced to choose between food and medication as long as the stock keeps going up? Fun fact: nothing the drug company did was illegal. People were becoming uninsurable due to drug costs anyway.

The next episode isn’t Wall Street per se, but HSBC is London’s big bank. Actually, they’re kind of the world’s big bank. They’re also, evidently, the favorite bank for drug cartels. They get caught for doing that and pay what is essentially a wrist slap of a fine. Why? “[W]e don’t want to take them down, we don’t want to cost thousands of jobs, we have to think about the innocents.” Hmm, yes, those poor innocent VPs and CEOs that are making millions on laundering drug money. Why would they casually disregard all of the rules about handling money designed to catch money launderers? Because . . . money. The more they had, the more they made. Money itself is amoral, so it goes very quickly from a bad thing (supporting murdering drug cartels) to a potentially good thing (small business and housing loans). Now because this bank is so big and has its fingers in the pies of so many countries, destabilizing it would be bad for the world economy. Arresting the people who made the decision to launder drug money would destabilize the company. Therefore, they get to keep doing what they’re doing because they’re “too big to jail.” Why protect the innocent when you can protect the rich?

The next episode is interesting, since both sides make really good points. It starts out with learning that Canada has a Strategic Reserve of maple syrup. And someone stole $18 million from it. Naturally, the biggest theft in the history of Quebec was maple syrup. What had led up to the theft was a group, the Federation of Maple Syrup Producers, doing what they could to stabilize syrup prices to encourage younger people to get into the market. People try to avoid taking risks in markets that are more likely to bankrupt them than let them retire. Over time, prices tripled to around $1800 per barrel, meaning it might be a genuine livelihood for some producers. The ones against the “OPEC of maple syrup” also had some valid points. They disagreed with sales restrictions and fines imposed by a group they never agreed to join, and it’s not as if they could move their trees out of Quebec to get away. With prices rising and a fair number of discontented producers, a black market is inevitable. Which is where the theft comes in. The syrup stores well and how do you prove this bottle is stolen syrup while that one isn’t? I’m less sure of who was in the wrong here, aside from the thieves, but I am sure that massive amounts of money in play had a lot to do with what went wrong.

The weird orange icing on the top of the cake is our very own president, Donald Trump. A man who can’t support his claims about his net worth because they’re based primarily on how much someone will pay him to plaster the Trump name on their building. He positioned himself and his brand as the businessman savior we needed to fix this country. Since he’s been working the brand of businessman for a couple of decades at this point, it’s not so crazy that people believed him, and goodness knows we needed something that wasn’t the status quo. But if you scratch the golden trimmings you’ll see it’s not even gilt, it’s pyrite, and probably unpaid for at that. All he has is a successful brand and a rather long string of disasters in his wake. In fact, his disasters were so big that the banks didn’t want him to declare bankruptcy. They couldn’t afford for him to not pay them back. At one point, he was actually on an allowance from the banks of $450,000 per month just to get by. I’m sure it was a terrible struggle on such a stingy amount. Trump’s disinterest in due diligence and long-term investments in favor of gut instincts and quick cash are well hidden behind being a fantastic pitch man. Unfortunately, it’s not clear that he ever actually intended to become president and he may have finally hit an audience that he can’t con with his current national and international stage.

What have we learned from this series on Dirty Money? To start with, they’re going to need a lot more episodes to even scratch the surface and I’m looking forward to them. Secondly, short-term profits being valued over due diligence and quality is a bad plan. It’s also a very common plan in a world where the business’ worth is rejudged with each quarterly report. We really need to work on a new plan, instead of rewarding this outdated, unsustainable way of doing business.


Regaining My Power: Gritty as Pudding

I finished reading Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit. In it, there’s a quiz to see how gritty you are. I come up as approximately pudding level. Not that she would ever describe it that way.

The caveat attached to the test noting that this is how you feel about yourself at this very moment in time was very interesting. Your score may well have changed from the past and she goes on to outline how you can change it for the future. While I am pudding at the moment, I didn’t used to be that way. Anyone who knew me really through my mid-twenties could confirm that I had one of the things that made up grit. Passion. An interest in something that was bordering on obsessive. To the point that one job interviewer asked that I tell her about a time when . . . and this time not use horses as an example. Hey, if you want me to tell you about overcoming obstacles and going above and beyond? Work examples are not going to be my defining moments. I’d get up at 4 am to braid for a horse show even if I wasn’t riding. I have never, ever been willing to get up at 4 am for a job.

This passion, this purpose to my life then gave rise to the other half of grit. Perseverance. The willingness to do whatever it takes to move forward and grow in pursuit of my passion. She quotes a Japanese saying, “Fall seven, rise eight.” I’ve been thrown from horses, stepped on, bitten, kicked, knocked into the mud, and placed last in shows more than seven times, but for years I always got up one more time than I was knocked flat.

That’s not how pudding behaves, so what happened? It wasn’t sudden. I can’t point to the second Tuesday in March of a specific year as my pudding date. There were little things. I had to sell my mare. It was coming down to paying my rent or hers and while I think she would have been ok with me moving in with her, my employer at the time would not have been. I got thrown from a couple of horses and literally couldn’t get up, I’d gotten injured. I started working for a company that had a very specific image of itself and since I’d decided to play it safe and go the corporate route, I went about trying to reshape myself into that image. I tried my hand at a couple of other physical pursuits, but I broke my knee in martial arts and never quite made it back. Ballroom dancing suffered from the same problem as horses, it’s terribly expensive and at a certain level it really, really sucks to not have a partner. Of course that one was interesting, since I had to switch from being the brains of the pair with my horse background to being the beauty of the pair. That transition taught me a lot about myself.

Somewhere along the way I realized that the dream I’d always had of having a farm was just that, a dream. It was never actually going to manifest. I lost horses, too, in a more general sense. I can’t afford lessons, and even if I could I know how hard life is for the “heavy rider” lesson horses and I can’t do that to them. Not when I know in my heart of hearts that I’ll never get beyond that level again. The corporate route failed for me; it really doesn’t have much interest in subject matter experts that don’t care to climb the corporate ladder. Then having a job in general failed for me, when being employed full time far more often than not really didn’t cover the bills. I would love to take up dancing again, but being a single female ballroom dancer, particularly in a strange town, sucks. None of these support a bigger picture anymore. There’s no longer a bigger picture to support.

So here I am, a bowl of pudding, wondering where I once got the energy to work full time, help out at a barn, do martial arts, and dance all at the same time.

According to Grit, effort counts twice in the equation. Talent is a great start, if you have it, but it’s talent times effort that makes skill. Skills are great, once you have them, but it’s skill times effort that causes achievement. This is why it’s so possible for wildly talented people to fail and untalented people to wildly succeed. I, personally, probably land somewhat in what she calls the “fragile perfect” group of people. These are the people that are talented enough to skate through most of life doing relatively well without much effort. That was certainly the case in most of school. It sounds like a great thing, until the fragile perfect hits some sort of major bump/detour/challenge. If you haven’t been thrown against increasingly more challenging tasks, ones that demand a stretching of who you are, those serious challenges come as a shock. Getting bucked off a horse wasn’t that big of a deal. I knew how to fall and I was always able to get back on right away. When a buck ended in a broken collarbone which grounded me for weeks, all of a sudden I was faced with whether or not I really wanted to get back on at all. This was no longer within the boundaries of what I knew I could handle. I hadn’t been learning how to push those boundaries outward, so they started moving inward.

Now that we know why I’m pudding, and why that’s a bad thing, the next step will be to talk about how to change it. How do I move up the scale toward Rocky Road? Yeah, it involves being a little nuts.

Injured in America

I broke my ankle. It’s winter, which means ice and snow in Maine. Thanks to that wonder, Climate Change, it’s more ice than snow this year. I stepped on what I thought was snow that would give me footing. It wasn’t. I went down hard. I didn’t look at my foot, but according to the EMTs, it was laying at an abnormal angle.

I have insurance, luckily, so this is only a mildly horrifying story, instead of a really horrifying one. But in order to limit the damage to my $14 per hour income, since I’m generally in good health, I picked the high deductible plan.

I’ve been out of work for a month now. Luckily, my employer does offer short-term disability pay at full pay, which is apparently unusually generous. I do not, however, qualify for federal protection of my job since I haven’t been employed there for a year. I had been doing the job for 10 days short of a year when I got hurt, but since the first four months were as a temp employee, that doesn’t count as working there. Human Resources has confirmed that my job will be safe as long as I don’t stay out longer than “an ankle usually takes to heal.”

As it is tax season, and I’m not able to do much else, I got that out of the way. It also gave me some good information. Last year, I made $30,300.03. My health insurance deductible is $5,500. That’s 18.15% of my pre-tax income and does not include my premiums. My after-tax income, after adjusting for my tax returns, was $24,613.68. That bumps the deductible up to 22.35% or $211.54 per $946.68 bi-weekly paycheck.

Let’s think a little bit further about this. I don’t pay rent because I can’t afford to if I’m going to be making any other financial progress in my life, but if I did, we’re told to budget about 30% of our income for that. That’s $284 per paycheck (after tax, since that’s what I actually have to work with) and I’m only able to rent a room for that amount. My commuting/car expenses average about $384 per month last year, or about $192 per paycheck. (Ouch, tires are expensive even over 12 months.) I spend $50 per month on my cell phone, $25 per paycheck. Last year I spent about $60 per month on primarily work clothes, or $30 per paycheck. The food I purchased was about $300 per month, or $150 per paycheck. The total for not very extravagant living expenses comes to $681 per paycheck. Adding in my health insurance premiums of about $36 per paycheck brings me to $717.

946.68  total after-tax income -717.00  basic living expenses = 229.68 – 211.54 to cover my annual deductible = $18.14

This tells me that on average, after covering my basic living expenses and my healthcare deductible, I am left with less than $20 per month to cover electric bills, internet bills, random book purchases, extra gas because I want to go to the fair, and any random awshit that might crop up. Like being out of work for a month with a broken ankle if my employer didn’t cover short-term disability pay.

But, hey, once I’ve been there for a year, my company will match if I put 6% of my income into my 401(k). Because I have $70 to spare from each paycheck to set aside for retirement.

My doctor’s sister apparently broke her ankle recently, but she’s living in Canada. She told him coming down was too far, but I have to wonder if she also didn’t want to end up paying two or three months’ income for the pleasure of American healthcare.

What the Health Documentary

I’m rather torn about this one. I really, really disagree with the final assessment that going vegan will fix everything, but the research inditing the food industry is impressive. The commercial meat and pharmaceutical industries are terrible and the people that should be protecting us from dangerous food and practices are in the pockets of the companies we need to be protected from.

American medicine works on the disease model. In other words, you get sick and go to the doctor to be treated. We don’t go to the doctor to learn how to prevent getting sick in the first place. I, and the documentary, really don’t blame doctors for this. Between having no time with patients, patients that only come in when they’re sick, and never actually being taught that what you eat can do you good or harm, modern American doctors aren’t in a position to be able to prevent disease. This, of course, works very well for the pharmaceutical industry. If you don’t ever fix the problem then you may well be medicated for the rest of your life. Each of those medications that you take has a profit margin. Unfortunately, according to the documentary, the folks in charge of deciding what doctors learn appear to be actively opposed to changing this and teaching nutrition.

There is, actually, an up side to doctors not providing nutritional advice. If they did, there are a limited number of options they can give without risking being called a nut job and being sued for bad advice. The first place they always turn is to the current food pyramid which is created every five years by the US Diatary Advisory Comittee. This committee is made up of folks who have taken money from one or more of the following: McDonalds, Kraft, Mars, Dannon, the beef industry, the egg industry, the dairy industry, and Anheiser Busch. I’m not really sure why a beer company felt the need to contribute, but I’m sure they had their reasons.

Of course, it isn’t really any sort of secret anymore that government is run for and by big business, so let’s look at non-governmental bodies who care about our health. If you can wade through enough pages, the American Diabetes Association promises to give you food tips to help manage your blood sugar. I’m sure they aren’t influenced by the money the group gets from Dannon, Kraft, or Bumblebee. According to the documentary, chicken is actually the worst meat for carcinogens since we eat it far and away more than any other. Surely the American Cancer Society . . . Oh, they take money from Tyson and Yum who owns KFC. The American Heart Association is totally against red meat and cholesterol. There’s no way their beef recipes in the healthy eating section are influenced by the income from pretty much every beef congress in the country, along with Tyson, Subway, and Domino’s Pizza. (I am having a hard time finding their list of corporate sponsors to link.) As a last ditch effort, surely Susan B. Komen, that pure, pink bastion of cancer research and cure effort can be trusted to only put their stamp on things that are good for you! Like Dietz & Watson, makers of processed deli meats which are a Group 1 carcinogen like cigarettes. (They aren’t actually equivalent, but they are in the same group.)

Then there’s the direct influence that the big food companies have on government. The meat and dairy industries apparently disclose spending $138 million annually on lobbying. This has resulted in things like ag-gag laws where you risk being branded a terrorist if you record the current state of corporate animal husbandry and share it. It is, of course, the big companies that enforce it, not your neighbor with 75 laying hens and a milk cow. I’m sure they don’t have a single thing to hide behind a law like that, right? That amount actually pales in comparison to what the pharmaceutical industry spends. At $238 billion annually, they spend almost twice what the oil and gas lobbyists spend. I can’t be the only one that finds that frightening.

They do go through the usual song and dance about us not being carnivorous apes and being anatomically frugivores. And, of course, if you have trouble with a veg*n diet it’s not because there’s anything wrong with the diet, but you’re obviously doing something wrong. What I can go along with is that there are major changes in people’s bodies within the first couple of weeks of going vegan. Positive changes. That actually makes a lot of sense if you’re pulling someone off a standard American diet. All of a sudden the body is being given fiber and vitamins. It’s being given the building blocks of life instead of fast food and soda. This is no different than feeling better on a juice diet or fasting. It’s being given a break from the daily abuse it’s been absorbing. What I have to wonder, though, is if a veg*n diet is being used in place of medication and one is expected to then be veg*n for the rest of one’s life, is this really different than being medicated for the rest of your life?

In the end, the documentary leaves me impressed with the facts that support their final conclusion, I just think they came to the wrong conclusion. Get off the standard American diet, eat more vegetables, think about where your food comes from and who is paying the people that are telling you what to eat. Just look at all of your options before you decide exactly which whole foods diet actually makes sense to you.

The Gift of Other

When my sister wrote this post, it got me thinking about a family I haven’t talked to in far too long. She has her own memories of them, and that Thanksgiving food fight was epic, but there was so much more than that. Being reminded of them in the context of a bigger world made me realize that they had given me a gift I think many people never have.

The mother and her son, the one I was friends with at least, were both very proud of their Native American heritage. The son and I met in preschool and remained friends even after they moved to another city before middle school. Part of being friends was spending time at each other’s houses and with each other’s families. It was running around in the back yard and playing by the river and pond. It was playing house and eating what the hosting mother was making for lunch. I distinctly remember launching G.I. Joes off the ceiling fan at his house since we could reach the blades from the stairs.

For me, at least, it was also learning about a world that wasn’t my own. My biggest memories of that were the annual dances at Indian Steps Museum. I was always invited, but I was always invited as a guest. There was no doubt in my mind that they wanted me there, but it was also very clear that there were things that I wouldn’t be able to participate in. I was, as they put it, a white girl, not a red girl. So I would always look at all of the wonderful crafts for sale by the Natives from their own cultures and imaginations and I would join the dances that were open to everyone. Well, I would be coaxed into joining, since I was shy. But I also learned to sit outside the circle and simply observe the dances that weren’t open for everyone. I learned to share in something from a respectful distance.

Native American cultures have always fascinated me, no doubt starting from this early introduction. It wasn’t until fairly recently, though, that I realized I might not approach wanting to learn from them in quite the same way as others do.

When I was living in Colorado, I met a woman who was working on convincing the local school to let her teach brain-tanning of hides to elementary students the way she had taught her daughters. I was dearly hoping she would expand this past just the school children because I wanted to learn from her. This wasn’t a wilderness school that took basic information and made it accessible, not that there’s anything wrong with that. This was someone who was teaching what her parents had taught her and their parents had taught them. This was not just a practical skill, but a culturally specific way of doing it that had the weight of generations behind it.

When the protests against DAPL were going strong, I had given some thought to going out to Standing Rock to offer my services. I was willing to be told to peel potatoes, write blog posts, or stand in front of the cops. The leaders would know where I would be of the most use to the people trying to protect a water source. I never went, but I did hear that a lot of white people did show up. No few of them treated this fight for basic rights like it was a Burning Man festival.

When I moved to Colorado and realized I wanted to start growing there, I knew that the best place to go for information were the people that had been there for generations upon generations. (The oldest white family I came across was one whose great-grandfather had been a mountain man.) I was living in a high desert, a place totally unlike the East Coast where my recent family had come from and totally unlike Western Europe where my ancestral roots have been traced to. Water was in my bones, water to excess. Dryness, the ability to thrive when water was limited, that was in the bones of the local Native Americans. I didn’t study them. Somehow, I never really made time for it. I learned how to make raised beds, a very European/East Coast piece of knowledge. I never did try out the lowered beds I saw in the Native exhibit at the Denver Botanic Gardens. In a place where water was scarce, I learned what was being taught. That was how to get water out of the area I wanted to plant, not to keep it in. But when you look at who’s teaching the bulk of gardening courses and doing the gardening research, it’s people with water in their bones, not desert. Most of us just never see that as a problem.

What that family gave me all those years ago was the ability to understand that what I know, what I see as normal, is just one way of seeing things. And it’s not a given that it’s the right way. By sitting and watching these other cultures be themselves, I was exposed to other ways of viewing the world. By being asked to sit outside the circle sometimes, I was given the chance to be the outsider, the token, the minority.

I forget this lesson on a regular basis. I get so caught up in just getting by, just being “normal,” that I forget normal is entirely relative. Much of it stemming from your own relatives, at that. There are other normals out there. We’re losing them at a remarkable pace as the Western, white, consumerist culture devours them, picking out the best pieces to keep and destroying the rest. They aren’t dead yet, though, and I think it would benefit all of us to remember/learn that all of those others exist(ed) for a reason. Just because it’s not my culture, not in my bones, doesn’t make it any less valid. It is in someones bones, and they are the people to ask about it.