Clouds cover the space
above this land
for days now. Fog,
mornings;
mist.
A thunderstorm
(and tornadoes, south of us)
yesterday—the same day
Oklahoma also experienced 11 earthquakes.

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Just before the mammary clouds
rolled in from the north
and dramatic clouds reached
from east to west
in the south, sunshine
poured forth beneath the clouds
and cast golden, copper light upon the land,
as it so often does on these gray days—
the last hour.

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Humans cannot survive in a master/slave relationship to the Earth and her creatures. Love and peace require a different relationship, one of respect, reverence, and gratitude. One of reciprocity.

—Matthew Fox,
Meister Eckhart, A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times

Beavers were indigenous to the prairie
before the settlers came. A keystone species—
their presence affects the habitat
and therefore, the lives of many species—
they have lived on the planet for 10 million years.
(Long before mammoths, beavers were 7 feet long!)
Once there was a continental United States,
there were, at one time,
two hundred
million
beavers.
Alice Outwater writes in her wonderful book,
Water. A Natural History:

…their dams {made} meadows out of forests, their wetlands slowly capturing silt. The result of the beaver’s engineering was a remarkably uniform buildup of organic material {topsoil} in the valleys, a checkerboard of meadows through the woodlands, and a great deal of edge, that fruitful zone where natural communities meet… Where beavers build dams the wetlands spread out behind them, providing home and food for dozens of species, from migrating ducks to moose, from fish to frogs to great blue herons.

On the prairie, before settlement,
the beavers, prairie dogs and bison
helped create a healthy, symbiotic ecosystem.
These were the prairie’s hydrologists.
Outwater writes about the beaver’s contribution:

Water detained in the wetlands behind a beaver dam is more likely to percolate down to the groundwater, raising the water table and creating springs and freshets throughout the watershed. A land with hundreds of millions of beavers is truly rich land, and the wetland associated with beaver dams made the New World’s water plentiful and clear as the dew.

Beavers do more to shape their landscape
than any other mammals—
except for human beings.
With humans’ settlement of the prairie—
and the western European appetite for beaver-skin top hats—
beavers were hunted until their numbers declined
from 200 million to 10 million.
Prairie dogs and bison populations were also hunted,
their numbers drastically diminished,
which critically changed the prairie ecosystem
up to this very day.

Unlike the prairie dog and the bison,
beavers returned to this part of the prairie,
to this part of the prairie we call “our farm.”
And they continue to do what they do:
build.
(Outwater writes that beavers make wonderful pets,
and that even living indoors with people,
they still continue to build—cutting down the legs
of tables and chairs and building
little dams between the furniture.)

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Beaver dam on Doe Creek, and wetland

For twenty years,
beavers had maintained a beautiful dam
on Doe Creek
in a place that didn’t disturb
our father’s farming operation. When we returned
a few years ago, we thrilled
at their presence—
and the sublimely beautiful wetlands that pooled
behind their large dam.
Their presence was more interruptive
at the Big Pond our father built following World War II.
It became the site of our family’s new home,
in the 1960’s. When beavers began cutting down
the trees around the pond,
our father invited trappers
to get rid of them.
For the last several years,
beavers have kept away from the Big Pond.
Until about three years ago,
the beavers continued to live on Doe Creek.
But as the current drought deepened
and Doe Creek dried up, beavers had to leave.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADried wetland

Several months ago,
we saw evidence of their presence
again at the Big Pond. Young trees
along the north side of the pond
had been freshly chewed down.

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DSCN2715Evidence of beavers on Big Pond

Frank saw beavers swimming
on the east side of the pond.
Over the months,
more trees have been cut down
and when the beavers began blocking the culverts
that allow water to flow into the pond,
Ann knew they had to be stopped.
Had the drought ended
and the water in Doe Creek flowed again,
we could have moved the beavers to that
old lodge.
But there seemed little choice:
the Big Pond’s ecosystem is already threatened
by the drought.
Ann has gone to great lengths
to ensure its survival the last three years,
after it dried up completely for five months.
Still critically shallow,
the pond—and life in and around the pond—
needs every drop of water
that falls, or flows, into it.
A few weeks ago,
Ann contacted the department of agriculture
and made plans for the trapping
of the beavers.

About 10 years ago, Ann’s son Ben
planted a Willow tree beside the big pond.
It had grown into a beautiful, 12-foot tree,
which we all cherished. One day, Ann noticed
the beavers had been gnawing on it. And
overnight,
it was down.
We discover
that both male and female beavers
secrete a musky oil that was a popular medicine
in the Middle Ages—
said to cure, among other ailments,
headaches.
Castoreum is high in salicylic acid—
the basic ingredient in aspirin.
The beaver ingests this substance by dining—
wouldn’t you know it—
on Willow bark. This week,
Ben has been visiting from Colorado. And this week,
Ben saw three beavers floating
in the Big Pond. Trappers have confirmed five
dead beavers; predict more.
The Willow,
the beavers,
that headache—
all gone.
Like so many interfaces now
between humans
and other parts of the natural world,
here is great irony.

I’m learning to live
in irony, paradox,
anxiety.
I’m learning to wrestle
with limits.
I’m learning to swing wide
the heart and mind
to outrageous possibility…
I wish these beavers—all beavers—
could live
where they won’t be inconvenienced
by humans.
I wish we humans could use our capacity
for creativity
to learn from the beavers,
with respect and reverence
for these incredible engineers
and spend some time
figuring out how to live together.
A symbiotic relationship
would be wise: for one thing,
the prairie could use some wetlands,
some recharging pools
about now.

In ecology,
there is a term for “the edge effect”—
a transition between two diverse communities.
A beaver-engineered wetland,
for instance,
is an edge.
This is called an ecotone.
Outwater writes that an ecotone is unique in that
it “contains organisms native to each overlapping community
as well as organisms characteristic
solely of the ecotone itself.”
The edge effect, then,
results in an increased variety and density
at community junctions.
Probably, it’s not only the edgy
communities here on the prairie
who could learn from the ecotone
between the beaver
and the human being.
I hope we human beings
live long enough
to learn how to live
with the beaver,
with diversity of all kinds.
I don’t think
we have the beaver’s 10 million years
to figure it out.

 

 

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Each morning now,
a Red-tailed Hawk stands
on the last post at the south end
of the corral, facing the pasture.
This morning, there were two—
one nearby on a giant bale of hay.
I’m thinking
they are the best mousers.
I greet them
from the back porch,
not as chicken- or kitten-hunters,
but as mousers. They don’t take their eyes
off the pasture.

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In the evening,
Canada Geese almost cover
the reservoir pond
south of the farmhouse. They honk
at each other, a gaggle of sound. I don’t know what
they say. Surely, it’s about something
routine; not the events of the day…
as they’ve been together, mostly.
They’re louder as something sets
them aflight… Well, maybe they weren’t
all together all day: They form three
groups, one heading out of sight to the north,
one, closer, but to the west—I imagine
to the big pond on the Robertson Place. And one
circles back, crossing the orange sky,
silently now… I’m not
taking my eyes off them.

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Our December Newsletter:
Hello 2015. At Turtle Rock Farm

Leaving The Year of Wonder
and entering
A Year of Engagement

I took a peek
at Commonwealth Urban Farm‘s
vegetable washing shed
one day last week—
the last pick-up day
for their CSA
(Community-Supported Agriculture)
members, who have been receiving
a bag of fresh, organically grown vegetables
weekly,
since last April.

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DSCN6375Pea Sprouts

What Lia Woods
and the Commonwealth Urban Farmers
in northwest Oklahoma City say
is true:
fall gardens do great in Oklahoma.

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I was staying in the home
of friends who are members
of Commonwealth’s CSA, the Veggie Club.
There was all-around appreciation and awe
at the abundance and beauty
when a bag of colorful, fresh, nutritious vegetables
was unloaded in the kitchen. In
December!

“I am passionate about quality basic education for children that starts with and builds on the local language and culture in poor, rural and underserved areas.”

My favorite place
for holiday-shopping
is Pambe Ghana,
a Fair Trade market
in Oklahoma City.
It is run completely by volunteers,
the items are all handmade
Fair Trade items
and the proceeds all go to support
bi-lingual education
using Montessori teaching methods
in a village in Ghana.
La Angum Learning Center was founded
by an Oklahoma City University
alum who received her master’s
in Montessori education, then returned
home to her village
to found a school so that children
could learn while speaking their native language.
Ghanan schools traditionally
teach only English—a language unknown
by the children—in the first three grades.
Alice Azumi Iddi-Gubbels
established the school in 2007. Each year,
a new class is added and villagers
construct the expanding school
using local materials, including bricks
made of mud. Children can now attend
school at La Angum through the sixth grade.

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At so many levels,
holiday buying at Pambe Ghana
is sustainable:
the people who make the goods
get fair prices;
the goods are beautiful;
buyers learn the stories
of people in other cultures
who make the items;
shoppers get to meet
the wonderful volunteers
dedicated to helping Alice
and her school;
the children of a Ghanan village
receive an excellent education;
Oklahoma buyers stand in support
of a Ghanan village full of parents
who care about their children;
and the gift-receivers connect
with so many
when they open,
use and enjoy their presents.

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Some of my favorites
are beads made by a group of women
who have been accused of being bewitched
(though they are not)
and come together for healing
to be able to re-join their communities.
Brightly colored,
amusing, hand-knitted finger puppets.
Bells (friends receiving these will be invited
to send love and healing to Earth
when they hear them ring.)
Seed pods (made by a family that collects
the pods seven hours from their home)
painted brightly and made into fanciful African birds.
Gorgeous, sturdy, roomy Ghanan baskets.
Exquisite textiles,
including batiked fabric
and a wall-hanging perfectly crafted
with potatoe-stamping.

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Pambe Ghana
is at 6516 Olie St.
in Oklahoma City.
(Two blocks north of 63rd Street;
one block east of Western.)
It’s open noon to 6,
Tuesday through Saturday
through December 23.
Look for them too
next week at the “Pop-Up Market,”
mid-town Oklahoma City—
10th and Walker. See more
about Pambe Ghana on their
facebook page.

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