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“Your real duty is to go away from the community to find your bliss.” – Joseph Campbell
25 September 2016

Trees And Debates: What Can We Learn From Either?

By: Jon Katz
Learning From Trees

Learning From Trees

Tomorrow, as 100 million fellow citizens prepare to watch what we still insist on calling a debate, I am going to get up early and read more of  Peter Wohllenbehn's wondrous new book The Hidden Life Of Trees, a runaway bestseller in Europe, just published here.

It seems strange to say it, but I think I can learn much more from trees that I can learn for the angry and fearful spectacle we call politics. I am not sure there is anything there for me, but I know there is much I can learn from the trees, I am already learning from them.

(A debate is an argument between individuals, says the dictionary. "More important," says debate.com, "it is an essential tool for developing and maintaining democracy and open societies. More than a mere verbal or performance skill, debate embodies the ideals of reasoned argument, tolerance for divergent points of view and rigorous self-examination.")

I think I have missed the ideals of reasoned argument, tolerance for other points of view, and rigorous self-examination.

Is that really what so many of us will be watching tonight, a debate? I think there is more reason and tolerance in trees than in our political system. How strange for me to be equating these two seemingly different things. The truth is one will upset me, the other inspire me.

The biggest surprise for me in this wonderful book about trees, written by scientist and life-long tree scholar Wohllenbehn, is how social trees are, how much they care for one another, talk to one another, form social networks with each other. The trees in a forest live much longer than human beings, are infinitely more patient.

They take care of each other, sometimes going so far as to nourish the stump of a felled tree for centuries after it was cut down or fallen, they feed it sugar and other nutrients to keep it alive. A tree's most important means of staying connected to other trees, says Wohllenbehn, is a "wood wide web" of soil fungi that connects vegetation in an intimate network that allows the sharing of information and nourishment.

Trees need each other, it takes a forest to create a micro-climate suitable for tree growth and sustenance. Isolated trees have much shorter lives than trees connected together in the forests.

The book, said one reviewer, is a wonderland and this is accurate. But reading it, I was awakened to the  shock of understanding that trees are far superior to us in almost every way other than violence and anger and destructiveness. They are wise in the ways of the earth, sensitive to the environment and to one another. Trees leave room for other trees to share sunlight and rain, they warn one another of ravaging insects, and try to prepare for harsh winters or droughts.

Could it really be that trees are so far ahead of human beings when i comes to recognizing the urgency of climate change, and the bleeding and suffering of Mother Earth? Trees do not belittle and assault one another in a struggle for leadership, they share resources, help one another, live peacefully and accept their astonishing reality.

I am open to trees, and to learning from them, something I cannot imagine having said a few years ago, or felt. A women from San Francisco e-mailed me this morning to thank me for writing about the trees, she said she has been loving them and learning from them for some years (as has Maria). I guess we are different, she said.

I guess so. On this day, I will think about how much we can learn from trees, and how evolved and sensitive and caring they are.  I keep wondering how we can be more like them, instead of simply chopping them down when we need something from them.

"Every day in the forest was a discovery for me," wrote Wohllenbehn. "This led me to unusual ways of managing the forest. When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives with large machines."

Reading this, I was wondering: if we realize that human beings experience pain and have memories and that human parents live together with their children, then perhaps we will no longer chop one another down and disrupt other's lives with large machines.

This, to me, is the great irony of the environmental movement, struggling to get away from the edges of public consciousness. If we can't stop doing it to each other,  how will we ever stop doing it us? I doubt that will come up tonight in the great "debate."

Posted in General

Putting A Face On: Fiber Festival

By: Jon Katz
Fiber Festival

Fiber Festival

At the sheep judging tent, a clown was putting faces on young women, I thought the scene said a lot.

Posted in General

Fiber Festival

By: Jon Katz
Fiber Festival

Fiber Festival

Maria and I went to the Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival this afternoon, we were especially interested in the wool, the yarn, the Romney sheep. I loved this wise old girl, Romney's have some remarkable facial expressions. We are taking fiber more seriously since we got the Gang Of Four.

We were comparing the wool on Griselle, Biddy, Rosemary and Izzy and we are excited about it's color, depth and texture. Fiber arts are playing a larger role at our Open House in October, Maria has invited two spinners to come and work under a tent using our wool to make gloves and other things. Our shearer is coming to shear the Romney's, it seems at least two of them have not bee shorn in several years.

A lot of blog readers were there and came up and said hello, the trip had a kind of family feeling to it. We learned a lot, and we are paying attention.

Posted in General

Talking To Animals. Buy This Book! You Can Pre-Order Now.

By: Jon Katz
How I Learned To Talk To Them...

How I Learned To Talk To Them And They Learned To Talk To Me

My book "Talking To Animals" is nearing production, it will be published in May of 2017. It has a new subtitle, "How I Learned To Talk To Animals, And They Learned To Talk To Me." Selling books is not a simple thing these days, a friend of mine thought it would be funny to say on his blog "buy my book or your puppies will die!"

The animal rights people, who are not know for their humor or irony, did not think it was funny and he is still hearing about it. I would not go that far as far as he did, but my local and wonderful independent bookstore, Battenkill Books, has put up a pre-order page for Talking To Animals.

We are still figuring out what to give away.

Pre-orders are important for a book because they help the publisher determine how many books to print. It's also a neat arrangement because I will sign and personalize every copy of a book purchased through Battenkill (they take Paypal and credit cards.)

You can also call the store at 518 677-2515. Connie Brooks and her staff are efficient and almost shockingly friendly. The book is an account of how I have learned to talk to animals (and listen to them) over the last 15 years, since I moved up to my farm. I think it could be helpful and is, hopefully, also entertaining.

I very much wish to remain a book writer and I am pretty confident this book will touch anyone who loves animals. Anyway, it is now available for pre-ordering and Connie tells me the orders are already coming in. Thanks.

Posted in General

Ready To Eat

By: Jon Katz
Ready To Eat

Ready To Eat

Liam is our most independent sheep, he often wanders around on his own, and he often challenges Red a bit, trying to slip past him or ignore him. He's pretty gentle for a ram, the others line up behind him in the morning to wait for the pasture gate to open.

Posted in General