Retire the Rescuer


“A born caretaker, I could probably develop a codependent relationship with a pet turtle.”

Interesting how a click of the mouse can change your perspective.

While composing my last post on the Odyssey, I searched for a figure for the 2012 defense budget ($683.7 billion). My underlying conviction is that the more we invest in defense, the more likely we are to have conflict. After all,  if you have something, you have to do what it’s for. In searching the Internet for that statistic, however, I found others that gave me a potentially transformative pause.

The site I happened on was It is produced by a gentleman named Christopher Chantrill, and it caught my eye from the outset because the information seemed unusually objective. The standout figures were the following: (1) Government spending started out at the beginning of the 20th century a5 6.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). (2) It surged to 45 percent of GDP during the 2008 economic meltdown and is expected to settle at 40 percent of GDP. (3) Federal spending on health care alone has risen to around 7 percent of GDP–higher than the total of government spending as a percentage of GDP at the beginning of the century.

Hmmm. This is indeed an unsettling trend. Those irritating people I have tuned out have a point. Read Full Post »

The Odyssey Revisited


“So how long will it take us to get home?”

Due to a series of coincidences, the Odyssey attributed to Homer has come up recently, and I decided to read it for the first time. A couple of days after beginning, I realized how appropriate the timing of my project was. The Odyssey is the story of Ulysses’ journey home at the end of the ten-year Trojan War. After fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for ten years, the United States is trying to get home. It took Ulysses ten years. I hope we can make much better time.

The Trojan War has always been considered a story of great heroism. However, at this remove, more and more questions have begun to arise about whether our engagement in the Middle East will ever enjoy a similarly gratifying summation. Contradicting perspectives are beginning to show up even within the military.

We lost about 3,000 people in the terrorist attacks of September 11. About 6,000 American service people have died in the war since then, and we have spent about $1 trillion on it. The day before Memorial Day, The New York Times ran an article quoting two officers at West Point with opposing views about whether it has all been worth it. The author, Elisabeth Bumiller, pointed out that West Point prides itself on “academic freedom and challenging orthodoxy.” Read Full Post »

The Numbers for President


“We have always thought a lot of Pythagoras, so . . .”

Since I’ve been on the subject of numbers, I thought I would do something I have been thinking about for some time–check on the numerology of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Groan. I can just imagine the left-brain response. The irony, however, is that numerology is a means of exploring the proposition that “life, and the universe as  whole, is an orderly system and that numbers reflect tht orderliness.” That’s very left-brain, I think. And according to the book I just quoted, Numerology by Hans DeCoz, it was the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, who combined the mathematical disciplines of Arabic, Druid, Phoenician, Egyptian, and Essene sciences to create the Western form of numerology. We have always thought a lot of Pythagoras, so . . . Read Full Post »

Oracle Mouse


“When mouse appears, it is a time to examine life’s lessons, especially those going on at the moment.”

As mysteriously as it appeared, my mouse problem has disappeared. The traps were still loaded this morning, and I could not find a single dropping anywhere. Amazing. There is more to it than just this, of course, but I must digress.

The invasion was an intersection with nature, and I have learned to pay attention in unusual ways. Over fourteen years of walks in nature with a beautiful white dog, I tapped into the idea that we live in an “ensouled” world that is animated and communicative. Symbolism seems to be the preferred language, and I have collected quite a library in the process of increasing my vocabulary. As I’ve written before, numbers also have special meaning, and that came in handy with the mouse issue. Read Full Post »

Mouse Attack


“It doesn’t matter what happens to you in life; what matters is how you deal with it.”

I have been invaded by mice. “How can this have happened?” I wondered indignantly. “Here I have just spent three weeks being a good citizen serving as juror on an intense and emotionally draining trial, and this is my reward? A mouse invasion?”

The further horror is that this could have been caused by my bird feeding, which ended several days ago. I have been watching for mice, because my neighbor has been having problems. (“Please don’t let me have caused it,” I prayed. ) Over the weekend I swept out my garage and found not the tiniest sign. But then on Monday morning, I discovered little droppings all over the kitchen counter. There were so many that I wondered if the creatures were extrusion-propelled. They were in a living room window. There were even two inside my bathtub in spite of the tall, slick walls. A desk drawer revealed a stack of unused manila envelopes with the sticky edge nibbled away. Either they like the taste of glue, or they are building a nest nearby.

I am a careful housekeeper to the point of being obnoxious, I have gathered, so this is major. My mind reeled. Where did they gain entry?  Read Full Post »

Final Worm Class


“Things will never be the same, but her legacy is a beautiful garden near the playground.”

Due to my involvement for three weeks as a juror in a death penalty trial (see “Life Sentence”) I was unable to schedule my last worm class at Acequia Madre Elementary until this morning. As a review for new readers and inspired by my sister’s experience with worm farming, I wrote a book called The Red Wriggler Teaching Manual, which was designed to teach math, science, social studies, and language arts with the help of the composting worm. For five years, I have been working with this material in the class of Ms. Barbara McCarthy, who retired today.

In my last post on this matter (see “Worm Day”) I explained that on the last day of class I would read a story the students had helped develop called “The Prince and the Dirty Kingdom.” I gave them the general outline, and after much discussion, they gave me the names of the three princes who would compete for the hand of Princess Claire. They also came up with two unsatisfactory ideas for disposing of garbage so that the prince who knew about composting worms would win. In gratitude for her hospitality, I gave Barbara a puppet of a raven, her favorite bird.

The students ended the session by decorating boxes I gave them in which they would place the notebooks they had been working on all year and the story of “The Prince and the Dirty Kingdom.” My hope is that they will keep the story as a treasure to be shared with family and friends–and eventually their own children.

Barbara provided me with a wonderful experience at Acequia Madre, and she has been loved by everyone. Things will never be the same, but her legacy is a beautiful garden near the playground. Fruits, vegetables, and flowers grow luxuriantly there due, at least in part, to the compost emerging from piles populated by the red wriggler. And now for the story: Read Full Post »

Solar Eclipse


 Sooner or later, the movement will overstep and bring the tipping point.

I kind of doubt that this was deliberate, but I was amazed at how beautifully aligned the Sunday editorial at The New York Times was with the symbolism of the partial solar eclipse that evening. “What symbolism?” you may ask, so let’s take a look.

First of all, the partial solar eclipse–the first in 18 years–occurred at  new moon. As I have written before, the new moon is classically associated with rebirth, resurrection, and the second chance. Interesting that the new moon and all it signifies created the eclipse and coincided with the newspaper article.

The genders imaginatively associated with sun and moon have switched back and forth over time and have differed among cultures. Since we live in modern times and in the West, however, I am working with the dominant paradigm that the sun is masculine, the moon feminine. A thirteenth century text describes how God created two lights, the foremost being the sun, of course. He ordered the moon to diminish “herself” in order to lead the “lower ranks.” It goes on to say that “From that time she has had no light of her own, but derives her light from the sun. . .” (I’m getting this from The Moon by Jules Cashford.)

So here we have the idea of the lesser being, the feminine being, which became firmly established through the various patriarchal religions including Christianity. Read Full Post »

The Life Sentence


“Disagreement can be both intelligent and honorable.”

I have just emerged from three weeks as a juror in a trial to impose a sentence–either life imprisonment or the death penalty–on a man convicted of murder. The victim was Deputy James McGrane, who was murdered in Tijeras, New Mexico, on March 22, 2006, while he was on duty. The defendant was Michael Astorga, who was convicted of the crime in 2010. Serving as juror in this matter has been the most intense and grueling experience of my life.

The salient facts are that, minutes after calling in a license plate that was traced to Astorga, Deputy McGrane was killed by a bullet from a 10 millimeter Glock. The bullet entered his jaw and severed his spine, and he died instantly. It was traumatic seeing all the photographs of the murder scene, and the horror deepened as the jurors learned more about how dedicated and well-liked McGrane had been. We repeatedly saw so many photographs of him in death; but finally at the end of the trial, his parents and sister shared pictures of how attractive and appealing he had been in life. Their testimony was heart-breaking.

During the course of two weeks, the jurors had gotten a major review of evidence from the previous trial, but additional material was brought in. The incriminating testimony that was presented from Astorga’s friends and acquaintances provided a glimpse of a reality that must have been pretty alien to all of us. His community was basically completely dysfunctional. Who can say all the reasons–poor parenting, lack of intelligence and education, psychological disorders, and poverty–but his circle seemed to be a collection of people living disordered lives based on mistakes that continually multiplied. They made matters worse by begetting children who would inevitably extend the reach of the disorder.

They did so many stupid things, and the first and foremost was to get involved in drugs in any way, shape, or form. The undertow of misdeeds included criminal records in some cases, tax evasion, irresponsible parenting, possible infidelity, drug running, and keeping drugs and equipment in the home. It all resulted in panic and vulnerability to police inquiry. Those who testified repeatedly contradicted themselves, compromising their credibility; and they all paid a price for even knowing Astorga. The undertow of misdeeds will get you. Read Full Post »

Lessons at the Bird Bath


It’s hard to know how to intervene appropriately in nature.

I am referring to feeding the birds around my home. When I first moved here, there was a desolate feel to the property, which had sat vacant for about five years. There is a lot of open land in the development, and the lot behind me is vacant, adorned only by the occasional juniper. I hung a bird feeder on the tree beyond my coyote fence, and after what seemed like a surprisingly long time, birds began to appear. Soon I added a birdbath, and it was fun to watch the pigeons, sparrows, and purple finches begin to visit. Doves arrived late in the spring, and then mountain bluebirds and western scrub jays passed through.

After a while, brown squirrels with almond-shaped eyes began to appear, and they sipped from the birdbath and became gymnasts on the juniper, harvesting from the bird feeder. Ground squirrels multiplied, and the entrances to burrows both small and large aerated the sandy soil. My property was now full of life and interest, but some of it was tragic.

Various birds crashed into my window and died on the portal–a dove, a goldfinch, several sparrows, and a pigeon. I felt badly. I wanted to provide for them, not put them in danger. And then, of course, a variety of hawks began to game the system, including a red tail and a Cooper’s hawk. Things were getting complicated.

Over winter, only the birds visited while all else hibernated. And then this spring, I began to realize that I had created a problem. I had attracted quite a community, and the land around my home was now riddled with holes that seemed to be getting bigger and bigger and threatening some of my utility devices. I had to face the need to begin to retreat on my hospitality, and I have begun gradually to reduce the amount of seed I put out, hoping all the creatures will venture farther afield. I worry about having to deprive them just as breeding season begins.

This reminds me of an observation I made about prairie dogs in Frenchy’s Park in Santa Fe. There is a big open field where the prairie dogs roamed and a small area in the middle of the parking lot where a “save-the-prairie dog” group left food for a little community. My elderly dog loved the excitement of their emergence and chatter when we walked there several years ago. Then the day came when I realized that the prairie dogs were getting so fat they could hardly move. People were leaving piles of lettuce and watermelon and vegetables near their burrows, and they had become avid diners. The next time I dropped by the pet shop where the prairie dog lovers collected donations, I told the owner, “You’ve got to get them to back off. The prairie dogs are becoming morbidly obese!”

We had the Las Conchas fire nearby last year, which burned up over 150,000 acres, and I hate to think how much wildlife perished. We continue to be in a drought that seems only to deepen, and development around here will continue, so the amount of wildlife will inevitably diminish. I think I will focus mainly on the birdbath as time goes on; because the wild creatures will be best served, I guess, by adjusting their numbers to the food naturally available. An important lesson for all of us perhaps.


Worm Day


So how did I get to be “the worm lady?”

Next week, I will have my last worm day of this school year, and I’m sad.

For five years now, I have been volunteer-teaching a class on the composting worm at Acequia Madre Elementary School in the historic, residential area of Santa Fe. It is a small school, only about 177 students, very charming, very friendly, and graced by a beautiful garden where students learn how to grow all sorts of flowers and vegetables. All that time, I have worked with Barbara McCarthy, a third-grade teacher who lives on a farm and is passionate about environmental issues. She is retiring this year after teaching at the school for almost 30 years. It feels like the end of an era, and I have the most wonderful memories of my time with her and her students.

So how did I get to be “the worm lady?”

It started when my  younger sister, Kate, inherited a worm farm southeast of Albuquerque from her late partner. I was living in Tennessee at the time and volunteered to help her develop promotional materials. Through my research, I became fascinated with eisenia foetida, better known as the red worm or the red wriggler or wiggler. When I divorced and headed to Santa Fe to make a new life, I immediately began to help her with the worm farm on weekends.

For three years we worked very hard to make it go, and hard physical labor was involved tilling 39 raised beds measuring 4′ x 8′  in a big barn. We worked in shredded newspapers, horse manure, and vegetable and fruit garbage from a wildlife sanctuary. Unfortunately, a tragic event decimated the population. A Tennessee Walking Horse breeder inadvertently donated manure from horses that had recently been “wormed.” It took us a while to figure out what had happened, and at that point, Kate called “Time out.”  The enterprise was never profitable, and she had a very successful software consulting business that needed all her attention. The High Desert Worm Farm was shut down.

While it was operational, we attended many conferences about organic production, selling containers of about 2,000 worms each that we harvested ourselves. (Very tedious work.) Teachers would often come up to us at these events and say something like, “I’d really like to work with worms in the classroom.” The idea intrigued me, and so I set about writing The Red Wriggler Teaching Manual, which contained lesson plans on how to use the worm to teach science, language arts, social studies, and math. Barbara McCarthy and Bonnie Granieri, a teacher at Alvord Elementary which has since closed down, gave me the opportunity to try out my curriculum with second and third graders.

I always embarked on a class whimsically hoping that the angels would be with me. Nevertheless, there would be times when I returned to my car thinking, “Well, I’ll never try that again.”  At other times, I would exit feeling as though I were walking in the light. It was that much fun, that rewarding. Read Full Post »