The Fringe is Our Stronghold by Oxana Poberejnaia


Women and historically other oppressed persons will often create their own spiritual traditions to stay sane, feel valued, survive.

oxanaRecently I have come across several stories of women’s fringe spiritual movements or practices. This made me think about the role of outsiders’ or minority views in religions and society.

Patriarchy pushes women and their issues to the margins of society and religion. It seems that there women sometimes invent their own spiritual practices. These allow women to stand their own ground in religious matters, to preserve self-respect and to keep the hope of the highest spiritual attainment.

Quite often these beliefs and practices seem shocking in their bizarreness and their stubbornness not to accept orthodox norms.

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Seed Banks–the Genetic Future


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Most of us think minimally about our food, where it comes from, the seed.  With a rapidly growing world population the genetic diversity of the seed from which we grow food becomes increasingly crucial.

The United States contains 20 gene banks:  three in California, one in each of the following states, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Hawaii, Texas, Iowa, Arkansas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia, Ohio, New York, Maryland, Florida, and Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.  This system holds about 600,000 varieties.  The seed bank in Ames, Iowa, contains 53,000 genetic lines of maize (corn) and other crop seeds–1400 species.  The Illinois bank grows more than 2000 varieties of seeds per year.

Maintaining genetic integrity can be difficult.  Some crops like corn are particularly difficult because corn easily cross pollinates.  Researchers use these seeds to develop certain types of new varieties, e.g. varieties more resistant to disease, to drought.

Gene banks remain crucial to the future of agriculture and food even with the current controversies over GMO.  Some farmers note that any hybrid whether deliberate or by accident is genetically modified.  These modifications have existed since the beginning of agriculture.

A possibly more dire issue is the lack of wild relatives of key crops.  Global gene banks lack many of these.  The online journal, “Nature Plants” notes 1076 wild relatives of 81 crops were insufficiently safe-guarded.  Up to 300 species could not be located in any gene bank.  The lack of tropical crops in gene banks is particularly worrisome.  This is important for the future of agriculture and the world food supply.  Seed banks create safety nets for the future.

Perhaps the most remote and “safe” bank lies in Norway 800 miles from the North Pole.  The Svalbard Global Seed Vault can store seed for 25 years without power.  This vault stores seeds at -18 C and contains 825,000 crop varieties.

 

Note:  the photo is corn close to the Nile Falls near Bahir Dahr, Ethiopia

 

Ethiopian Journey–The Castles of Gondar


When my friend told me we were going to visit the Castles of Gondar, I thought he was kidding.  It sounded too much like a movie title, plus castles in Ethiopia?  Seriously.  Then I looked it up and sure enough, there are a lot of them, built by a series of kings, fathers and sons, and a queen.  Some remain in reasonably good repair at least on the outside.  Others crumble in the rain and humidity.  All are in a sort of compound arranged together.

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This castle is near the entrance and in rather good condition.  Restoration work is most complete here so it is safe to walk to the second floor.

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The view from a second floor window.  Because of the altitude and moisture–contrary to popular opinion, a large portion of Ethiopia is mountainous and green–especially during the rainy season, upkeep is not easy.

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The same castle, looking out the door onto the balcony which can be seen in the first photo.  The floors have been restored.

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Looking in the opposite direction from the first castle, several castles and the ruins of others show the layout of the compound.  Our hotel was near the top of the mountain in the distance. Many locals roamed around when we were here.  It is popular to take wedding, anniversary, etc. photos here.

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This photo shows the first castle–in the background–from another side.

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The style of some of the castles, like this one, is more intricate than others.

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This building housed the royal lions.  Tradition for keeping lions goes back several centuries.  The last Ethiopia emperor, Hailie Selassie, was often referred to as the Lion of Judah, the latter referring to the Ethiopia tradition of believing that they are descendants of Solomon and Sheba.  Ethiopian lions are a different sub-species than other African lions, smaller with darker, sometimes black, manes and tails.

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These castles provide a perfect venue for photography.  You can see my friends sitting on the stone wall.

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The royal stables obviously housed many horses.

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The royal dining hall currently receiving restoration work.

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The path to the exit.

The news the last couple of weeks from Gondar has not been pleasant.  Many people have been protesting the government which they view as tyrannical and favoring one ethnic group over the others.  More than ten protesters were killed during the first protest.  Just this past week thousands came out in another peaceful protest.

Gondar (sometimes spelled Gonder) is a business, commercial, and education center.  It is a main route for commerce between Ethiopia and Sudan.  For more detailed information about Gondar, the castles, and the surrounding area, see my blog posts from Aug-Sept. 2014.

 

 

Isabella–En Memorium


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The crematorium handed me the 6″ by 4 ” dark brown wooden box.  I knew it would be heavy; Isabella was an eighty pound wolf dog. I thought I was prepared.

Driving home, memories:

March 2006, daughter calls; two year old grandson wants a beta. I drive to PetSmart.  Daughter tells me I must see these unusual, incredible seven-week-old puppies.  Alert brown eyes look at me.  Too big, black ears wiggle.  The label says wolf, German Shepard, Blue Heeler.  The two remaining puppies look like light colored German Shepherds or Belgium Malinois.  I had not planned to get a dog, not yet.

Two years later I move into my new house:  canyon edge, horses, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, road runners, mockingbirds, rattlesnakes.  Isabella guards her property, sits on the patio where she can check for invaders.  She rarely barks, growls.  When she does, high alert–I check.  Neighbor dogs, coyotes, foxes, chased off–not bobcats.  She watches them.

I remember the day she dismembered a skunk, drug the carcass everywhere.  After eleven baths at PetSmart, the skunk smell remained.  The one day she growled, I shocked, investigated–a man walking down the arroyo toward the house.  Growls became increasingly loud.  Out on the patio, she stands, the man sees her, turns and runs.  I feel safe, Isabella guarding, telling me if something unusual occurs.  She’s mixed breed; I think she’ll live long.

Every morning, evening, she completes horse chores with me, chases bunnies, roadrunners.  Two months ago, I, mesmerized, watch her catch, gobble two half-grown bunnies in less than one minute–nothing left.  Mixed breed; I think she’ll live long.

Friday morning she helps me with chores, chases bunnies.  Friday afternoon she can hardly move.  At the vet, blood work like a four year old; x-ray shows a little something wrong.  They give her two shots, schedule an ultra-sound for Saturday morning at another vet’s.  Meds working, Saturday morning she’s her usual lively self, eager to travel in the truck, nose wet and cold.

Ultrasound vet tells me there’s little hope.  Shocked, I stand there.  “If she were your dog, what would you do?”

“Put her to sleep.  She’s not in pain.  She has a tumor the size of your small fist on her intestines–might be cancer, hard to operate.”

I look at the vet, frozen.

At 8:00 Wednesday evening, I open the box, take out the bag of Isabella’s steel grey ashes, walk out to her patio spot, the place where she guarded her kingdom, toss a handful of ashes into the wind, watch them float and scatter down into the canyon, tears tracking down my face.  I close the bag, walk to the place where our long yearling colt, Star, is buried, dig an eight inch hole, bury another handful of ashes.  I take the one tablespoon of ashes left back to the house, put them back in the black velvet bag and into the box with the card with her paw print, the crematorium certificate, the sympathy card signed by all the employees where they euthanized her, place it on top of a stack of old magazines in the Chinese cabinet.

At bedtime, I forget, go to call her in.  This morning I find her hairs–she shed so much, wolf undercoat.  Evidence of her presence permeates.

It will never end.

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Naked and Unafraid: Mahasveta Devi (1926-2016)


A powerful story of the power of woman and in this case of “right”.

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Mahasveta Devi died last month at the age of 90 in Kolkata, India. A widely acclaimed Bengali writer, she identified as an activist first, clearly evident in her meticulously researched “fiction.” Most of her stories champion the cause of those living on the margins of society, particularly the Adivasis or original inhabitants of India; poor, unemployed and itinerant, they traditionally subsisted off the land, and continue to struggle against exploitative upper caste landowners.

I cannot claim to be an expert on Devi or her activism, but there is a story I read a few years ago, which never fails to haunt me, whether because of the rawness with which she describes the harsh reality faced by tribal people or because of what can be seen as the violent but ultimate triumph of its female protagonist, I cannot tell. Perhaps because of both, or because…

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Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico


At Tamaya Resort, this past week I attended a regional conference of the Alpha Delta Kappa teachers’ sorority.  Run by Hyatt, this resort resides on Santa Ana Pueblo land near Bernalillo, New Mexico.  Although the word pueblo is Spanish for town, in New Mexico its meaning extends far beyond town.

There are 19 pueblos in New Mexico.  Several are near Albuquerque:  Santa Ana, Santa Domingo, Sandia, and farther to the north, Taos Pueblo near the town which bears its name.  Many  pueblos have been inhabited for many centuries, e.g.Santa Ana since the 1500s and Acoma since the 1200s.  Each pueblo is synonymous with a particular American Indian tribe.

Santa Ana Pueblo land borders the Rio Grande River.  Tribal members number approximately 900.  Their children attend public school in Bernalillo.  The tribe’s income comes primarily from the Tamaya Resort and a casino. Employees at the resort come from all over the United States as well as other countries.  Our waiter at one of the four restaurants came from a small town in Yucatan, Mexico.

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All the buildings show the traditional pueblo style.  The horno–oven–on the left in this photo is actually used.  The courses and activities for guests are extensive, including making bread and baking it in this horno.  Golf, horse back riding, hiking to the Rio Grande, swimming–there are four pools, jewelry making, bike riding, creating your own dream catcher, and many others options keep guests busy.  Their horse rescue center is the largest in New Mexico.

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The trail to the bosque and river start just below the lounging and grill area.  Bosque (forest or woods) is another one of those Spanish words, here used specifically in relation to the forested area along the Rio Grande.  Like in most of the West, rain is always welcome.  It rained several times while we were there.

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The intense blue of the New Mexico sky mixed with storm clouds make for perfect photos.

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After approximately a mile of walking, the hiker arrives at the Rio Grande.  Because of the rains, it became higher and higher.

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Looking down river.  The river was moving so fast that I could hear it rolling along.

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Looking slightly up river.  Seeing this, it is hard to believe that by the time it arrives at the Gulf of Mexico, it is a mere trickle.

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Early morning hikers on the bosque trail.

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While hiking, I looked up and could not help it; I had to photograph the famous New Mexico sky which Georgia O’Keefe loved to paint.

White Privilege: Confessions of a Poor White Girl by Cynthia Garrity-Bond


Worth the read. I am a white mother with a 1/2 Nigerian daughter who is not very dark and who many think is Polynesian because of the way she looks. My grandson’s father is Mexican and Spanish. My grandson also is part Nigerian, Swiss German (from me), a little of other European, and Navaho. He has straight black hair, light skin, and obsidian eyes. When people ask what he is and he answers, they often think he is lying.  I did not grow up in poverty. My daughter is educated. She has a Masters Degree in Nursing and I have a Ph.D. Nevertheless, she has experienced discrimination and people have made comments to me such as, “Your daughter is really doing well for a Black girl”. Seriously!! In this country both class and race matter and get intertwined in all sorts of complex ways. No one says to an educated white woman with a good job, “You are really doing well for a white girl.”

cynthia garrity bondRecently FAR contributor Sara Frykenberg posted an article to Facebook that caused me to think again about the now-famous essay by Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” In “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person,” Gina Crosley-Corcoran does an excellent job of including issues of class, meaning poverty, into the discourse about race and privilege using the theory of intersectionality.  If I am honest, the tensions between race and poverty have made the owning my white privilege challenging.

Like Crosley-Corcoran, I was raised in poverty. After my parents divorced in the early 1960s, our fall into poverty was pronounced.  My mother liked to move, so much so that I attended no less than 15 different schools before high school.  We lived in one house for two years without hot water. I learned early on the stigma of poverty, when even a Catholic school uniform could not…

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My Ethiopian Journey–Simien Mt. Natl. Park


No way was I prepared for these mountains.  Do you think of numerous peaks over 13,000 feet when you think of Ethiopia?  Probably not. There are even a few over 14,000 feet.  The whole area is often referred to as the Roof of Africa.

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There is only one road into the park.  To get in, a tourist must stop at the park office, sign in, passport number, address, etc.  Plus, you will be assigned a guard and a guide.  Our guard in the photo above carried an assault rifle.  No, it is not to protect people, it is to protect their rare animals from people, from poachers.  Wonder why he is wearing all these clothes?  It is cold at 12,000 feet even if you are near the Equator.

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The drop offs are terrifying, thousands of feet, the vistas endless.  Even though I have lived and been all over the Rocky Mountains and been to the Himalayas in both Kashmir and Nepal, I have never seen anything like these mountains for beauty, green, and endless vistas.

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My friends near the cliff are much braver than I.  In the foreground stands our guide, Michael, who spoke excellent English and was super funny.  He had us laughing all the time. People live and farm in these mountains–if you look closely in the middle of the photo, you can see fields.  However, the government is slowly relocating people in order to make the park a refuge for rare wildlife.

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The above photos were all taken on a hike early one morning.  Everything was wet because it was either raining or misty or we were in the clouds.

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Because I kept slipping and sliding, I decided not to walk along the cliff with my friends and the guard, who spoke the same Ethiopian language as my friend.  Michael and I took off across a meadow and suddenly here we were in the middle of all these gelada baboons, who paid no attention to us at all.  They were very afraid, however, of a predatory bird that decided to fly over. How do I know?  They suddenly started “talking” to each other in frightened voices.  Experts now think these primates actually have a language and do talk to each other.  Gelada are the last primates that are herbivores.  They eat grass.  All other herbivorous primates are extinct.  Gelada live only in the high mountains of Ethiopia and no where else on earth, a reason for a guard.  At night they climb down the cliffs into caves to protect themselves from hyenas and leopards.

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If you look very carefully in the middle of this photo, you can see several duiker which are considered so common it seems no one thought to stop to really take a look so I took the photo as we drove along.

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Here we are above the timberline where some very unusual plants thrive.

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And some exceedingly rare animals whose camouflage makes them almost invisible until they move.  At this point we are about 14,000 feet just under one of the highest peaks in Africa.  Look carefully in the middle and you will see walia ibex.  People come from all over the world to see these endangered animals that live only in this park.  Sometimes the fog rolls in and no one sees anything.  We were lucky; we saw more than twenty of them. And then the fog rolled in.

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These giant lobelia thrive above timber line.  Some were considerably taller than I am.

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If you grow red hot pokers in your flower beds and think they are semi-arid flowers, think again.  Here they are growing wild.

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You can see red hot pokers in the middle of this photo by the stream.  These mountain streams run down to and often across the road, making the road a muddy mess.  Without 4-wheel drive and an expert driver we would have gone nowhere.  In fact, at one point we did have to stop because two stuck trucks blocked the road, one of which had a flat tire.

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The highest waterfall in Ethiopia is hard to hike to unless you are not at all afraid of heights.  My friends did hike there. Look a bit to the right of the groove through which the water actually falls.  You will see a sort of flat area.  It is only a few feet wide with a drop-off on each side.  Yes, that is where you hike.  When I saw this view, I was rather glad I decided to wait, look for birds, and chat with the driver.

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The fire pit at the highest bar in Africa is a very popular place on a cold night.  Even though we had beautiful rooms, with no heat at 12,000 feet it is not exactly warm.  Even the guides and guards were bundled up.  The only people who seemed toasty were Scandinavian tourists with their heavy wool sweaters.  The hotel staff gave us hot water bottles to put in bed with us at night.  Actually, it works.  Nevertheless, when you get up in the morning, it is really cold.

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The guards and guides live near the park.  We dropped off the guard here and watched him walk toward his house down where the trees are.  We dropped off the guide near his house in the town when we left the park.

 

Slow and Steady Wins Big on a Cocoa Farm in Costa Rica


This illustrates how it is possible to farm profitably and sustain the environment including wildlife.

The Frog Blog: US & Canada

Sloth with bebe FINMAC A sloth and her baby mosey along a monorail cable at FINMAC.

At FINMAC, an organic and Rainforest Alliance Certified cacao farm in Costa Rica’s Atlantic region, it’s not uncommon to see a mama sloth hanging from one of the monorails used to transport cocoa pods, inching her way along with a baby sound asleep on her belly. And not just on the monorail: visitors walking through this lush 600-acre (244 hectares) farm are likely to see dozens of sloths hanging from cocoa trees, as FINMAC provides habitat for no fewer than 450 of these charming creatures.

Surrounded by conventional pineapple, banana, and cattle farms, FINMAC is a forest oasis: it has at least 120,000 cocoa trees planted under the shade of hundreds of almendro, sota caballo, cristóbal and eucalyptus trees, and hundreds of plantain and coconut palms. This agroforestry system, known as cacao agroforest, is an ideal habitat for…

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