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Interview with Susan Silber


Interview with SusanSilber

What is the vision, mission and goals for the NorCal Community Resilience Network? What have been some of your successes? Some of your learnings?

The mission of the NorCal Community Resilience Network (NorCal Network) is to activate and support community-based and ecological solutions to climate change, economic instability, and social inequities. We seek to transform our homes, neighborhoods, and communities into vibrant, regenerative, and resilient places. Our work increases capacity for grassroots projects and programs, builds solidarity across divides of race, class, sector and region, and broadens support for the Northern California community resilience movement as a whole. Some of our successes include:

+ Building solidarity within the movement by putting the spotlight on permaculture educators and solutionaries from underserved communities:

The Network played a major role in producing the 2015 and 2016 Convergences at the Solar Living Institute, notably the most diverse and largest Permaculture Convergence in the United States. The Network hosted cutting edge discussions about Indigenous Voices and permaculture, recruited notable keynote speakers, and helped to raise funds to bring nearly 75 individuals from diverse communities to the Convergence.

+ Organizing work parties that introduce hundreds of individuals and dozens of groups to the community resilience movement, all while growing food, saving water, and building community solidarity:

We have co-hosted numerous work parties in collaboration with our partners, bringing in new audiences to build both gardens and community. And for three years, we have spearheaded the East Bay’s Community Resilience Challenge, inspiring thousands of individuals, businesses and government agencies to save water, grow food, and conserve energy as they build community. We worked with close to 40 partners to co-host events and projects, ranging from garden work parties to water conservation tours.

+ We are strengthening our own organization: We are currently in the midst of a strategic planning process to grow the organization into a diverse and effective nonprofit. In March, we are launching our innovative membership model—our “Circle of Collaborators”—with an initial core of approximately 30 community-based organizations and businesses. We are also expanding our Steering Committee and Advisory Board to reflect the diversity of the communities we serve, and are actively seeking funds to make the Network more financially viable.

We are learning all the time how many amazing projects and organizations there are there! We wish we could visit them all!

I see the need to integrate permaculture, transition, spirit, nature and mythology. Do you have a similar vision in the work that you are doing with the Network?

Yes, the Network is all about integrating and weaving in various pieces of our movement. Transition was born from permaculture, and permaculture is rooted in a deep respect for nature. Likewise, it’s my belief that a deep respect for nature is spiritual; while mythology helps to capture some of the magic that is present in all this work.

What does you mean by “our movement”? What would an inclusive movement look like to you?

“Our movement” to me is regenerative culture - permaculture design, food justice, living low-carbon and simply, supporting community and collaboration and connections. It goes beyond sustainability to really look at a whole systems approach that embraces the heart, the hands and the head.

Inclusivity to me means that everyone has access to jobs, resources and whatever it will take to build resilient homes, neighborhoods and communities. And that we look at every aspect of our movement - from providing scholarships to PDC’s to making sure that events are accessible for everyone, to prioritizing working on projects in marginalized communities.

One of the Principles in the Circle of Collaborators project involves environmental justice principles. What are these specifically, and what is your vision for integrating them into the Network?

To summarize a piece from the NRDC about environmental justice: People who live in polluted areas are most often living in poverty, and most often people of color. They are most often targeted to host facilities that are polluting. That’s environmental racism! You can find the core principles here, which were adopted in 1991. They are spot-on, and our Network will be taking a close look at them to see how we can best integrate them into our programs and work with our Collaborators.

Please tell us some stories from the last international convergence.

It was pretty intense first of all, merging with the North American Convergence this year. We had close to 800 people from around the country, with some from India and other countries as well. We hosted some really cutting-edge discussions, including a memorable one about decolonizing permaculture that Susan Park led and a panel discussion with Indigenous leaders. The music was super fun too - Jasmine Fuego tore up the stage with her Pop-up Band, among many amazing acts. I also loved listening to Alfia Walking Tree and the Thrive East Bay choir.

So, it was a beautiful combination of art and discussions, and was extremely diverse besides. Of course, it was a challenge organizing the whole conference in a matter of just four or so months so we had some logistical challenges, while it was insanely hot as well. But overall I thought it was a big success. We had a great time who really worked hard to pull it off.

How do social responsibility, social justice and permaculture values intersect?

Permaculture is all about earth care, people care, fair share - so they should all be overlapping!

How might the East Bay permaculture community effectively more effectively promote your events and projects? Can you please share any personal or “unwritten” rules of participation that the 900+ members could agree on in our listserv?

I think that it would be great to limit the back and forth of conversations, and to reserve any opinions or judgments for simply directly talking to the person. And to please try to limit the listserv just to announcements, and I would say that just one posting per week is fine. It is my belief that most people simply want to hear about announcements, but I could be wrong. Maybe we could have a separate listserv for posts about politics and people’s writings, I dunno.

The Network will be starting a blog and newsletter so we could help to make these announcements. The X-Pollinator platform would be great to use for promoting events and our conversations.

Are you partnering with local corporations currently?

Not extensively. It would be great to provide corporations with opportunities to support local resiliency efforts, from volunteering at various farms around the Bay Area, to donating resources. Many corporations really encourage volunteering, so this is a huge possibility.

What is your vision for a resilient thriving world, in the year 2045?

My ultimate vision would be everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) to live in a low-carbon world, with all of our basic needs met locally, and living in community if they want to. It would be great to have bicycles dominating our roads instead of cars, urban homesteads instead of suburban tract homes, local organic farms instead of industrial agriculture. Everyone working in their Right Livelihoods. And radical women of color at the forefront of our government and decision-making.

About the Oakland Palestine Solidarity Mural

Interview by Willi Paul Studio/

Susan Silber, NorCal Steering Committee Member. Susansilber07 at Susan was introduced to community resilience after learning about the Transition Movement and co-founded the Berkeley Transition Initiative five years ago. Susan was co-producer of the Building Resilience Communities Convergence in both 2013 and 2015, and Community Resilience Challenge for two years. She also worked as an environmental educator for the past 25 years, and is proud to have introduced thousands of youth to the joys of nature, working with the Green Schools Initiative, Hostelling International, the Peace Corps and other programs.

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Ecotourism Meets Agritourism in Nebraska: Dances with Prairie Chickens, Part 2


The Greater Prairie Chicken courtship display has all the elements of a successful reality TV show: romance, conflict, suspense. It even adds in showy dances and colorful costumes. You can witness this courtship in the wild, if you’re willing to wake up early in the morning, head to a blind and patiently wait quietly. As fascinating as it is funny to watch, this ritual plays out on a stage of buffalo grass and wide expanse of prairie in what's called a lek, or “gathering place,” where these birds annually meet and mate each spring. The experience is guided by Prairie Chicken Dance Tours on a ranch outside McCook, Nebraska.

As we wrote about in our first article related to the great Sandhill Cranes migration in Nebraska, you don't need to travel half way around the world to experience an ecotourism adventure. Just a two hour drive from the blinds at Rowe Sanctuary where you can witness the Sandhill Cranes is an entirely different nature experience that puts you less than fifty feet away from where Greater Prairie Chickens strut, boom, stomp and clash in a courtship display where the toughest male wins his mate.

“To earn a spot on the lek means you are the toughest guy on the block,” explains Carol Schlegel, Director of the McCook/Red Willow County Visitors Bureau and one of the visionaries behind this tour idea that’s an ingenious blend of both ecotourism and agritourism. “One to two males at each lek are responsible for more than 80 percent of the copulation,” she shares with a wink.

From roughly the end of March through April, there is a window of opportunity to get out in the field at dawn to view these birds. Only recently has the mating ritual evolved into a growing tourist attraction thanks to Prairie Chicken Dance Tours’ launch in 2012. “It’s one of those things that the locals take for granted but visitors from far and wide descend upon McCook to view this one-of-a-kind sight,” admits Schlegel. “We just have one reservation from our 308 local area code this year so far.”

Discovering the Lek and Prairie Chickens

“I first found the lek by accident. My neighbor has one so I figured I must have one too,” says Angus Garey, describing how he first found the lek for the Greater Prairie Chickens on his ranch, land that had been in his family since they settled here in the 1870s. “I got up early one morning and drove up in my pasture and I thought, well I’ll get up on this high spot and then I’ll listen. And maybe I can hear where they’re at. Sure enough there’s starting to just barely be light and I can hear them starting to move.”

"It got just about half light, when all of a sudden I saw one flying right in front of my pickup. And I thought, wow!" Garey continues. With his wool plaid cap and leather jacket, the tall, lanky rancher spryly narrates his discovery of the lek with the glee of a young boy on Christmas morning. "Pretty soon I had half a dozen of 'em just walking around my pickup. I’m just sittin’ there, right in the middle of the lek. They weren’t very impressed. And they kinda tried to move around me, then they all flew off. I knew about the lek about fifteen years ago. Then Carol with the tourism group said: 'I want to see this.' So we actually we sat on five gallon buckets in a pop-up tent and watched. That’s how this whole thing got started.

Prairie Chicken Dance Tours, based in McCook, bring out small groups every spring to witness the mating ritual, antics and, sometimes, heated battles. “If you want to truly visit something, go directly where it lives,” advises Schlegel.

A key advantage to these tours is the full preparation you receive before you immerse and engage in this one-of-a-kind experience. The tour kicks-off the evening before your morning field outing with an orientation by Garey and Schlegel that gives you a crash course overview of Greater Prairie Chickens, including their behavior, what to expect in the blinds and viewing etiquette.

Then it’s off to bed early as the tour starts before sunrise the following morning. The town of McCook offers a range of accommodations, including the Chief Motel. Stop by the Coppermill Steakhouse for classic Nebraskan fare or journey an hour east to Sage Hill Vineyard & Winery for local sips and bed down in the “Winemaker’s Loft.”

Dance, Stomp and Boom of the Prairie Chickens

In the dark of night -- very early in the morning -- our group of about twenty, the most who would ever go out with Prairie Chicken Dance Tours, were shuttled from McCook to Garey's ranch, down a rough dirt road into a patch of prairie on his land. Upon arrival, we were split into two groups, funneled into two horse trailers that served as makeshift blinds. We were advised to dress warm for those early morning breezes, but kind host Garey had blankets out just in case. While bundled up, the icy cold of the early morning was tempered by the shelter of the blinds and blankets.

We sat, silently, and waited, moving our fingers and toes to keep warm. Just as the first specks of light make the prairie around us visible, six male Prairie Chickens swooped in and landed around the perimeter of the lek, with the dominant male moving into the center. If the Sandhill Crane viewing is like a big Broadway musical with thousands on stage, the Greater Prairie Chicken encounter is an intimate, intense dramatic play where you have a front seat. These slightly larger than a football-sized birds exhibit their own special combination of motion and sound, stomping and drumming their feet rapidly in one spot while uttering a crazy mix of cackling. We stare spell-bound as the birds inflate their neck air sacs to attempt to establish dominance, popping out like a vivid, ripe orange.

“The whole thing has to do with sex,” Garey said with a smile at the orientation the previous night. “You’ll see a female sometimes walk through, strutting her stuff and looking like she isn’t paying any attention but quietly observing who she thinks might be the best male.”

As the morning sun rises, the colors pop around us. A vivid prairie palette with shades of mustard yellow, gold and dark green make us feel like we’re viewing a painting from inside our blind window. One of the males jumps several feet in the air, lands, then lowers his head and runs right into a neighbor male. Just like television, a few feathers may fly, but it’s mostly for show. Greater Prairie Chickens are rarely hurt in these skirmishes. But with an end goal of love and serving as ruler of the lek, the birds remind us it’s worth putting your heart and feathers fully in the game.

When fully light out, perhaps after an hour or a bit more, the birds suddenly fly off to feed for the day. The mating dance and ritual is on hold, until tomorrow.

Lisa Kivirist is a writer, the author of Soil Sisters and founder of the Rural Women’s Project of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. She is also Senior Fellow, Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota. With her husband John D. Ivanko, she has co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently,9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Tips to Prepare for a Thunderstorm (Climate Change Edition)


Does it seem like storms are more severe and occur more frequently today than in the past? There might be something to that claim. Various scientists, environmental groups and government leaders point to evidence that suggests our warming atmosphere may be causing more extreme weather.

Climate Change and Storms

Climate models have for a long time predicted one of the effects of climate change would be more extreme weather events. Scientists are now starting to see those predictions coming true.

The earth has started to experience a growing number of increasingly intense heat waves, thunderstorms, rainfall, flooding, winter storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts and wildfires. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nine out of the top 10 years for one-day extreme precipitation events have occurred since 1990.

The United States experienced 32 weather events between 2011 and 2013 that led to damages of at least $1 billion. Climate change is starting to more directly affect the lives of everyday people, and it’s getting their attention.

Other Impacts of Climate Change

Some weather events are more closely linked to climate change than others. The Union of Concerned Scientists say that there’s the strongest evidence for a connection between climate change and:

1. Heat waves

2. Coastal flooding

3. Extreme precipitation events

4. Extreme drought

Climate change could reduce the difference in temperature between the poles and the equator by increasing the level of water vapor in the air. This will lead to warmer temperatures and cause the biggest change outside the equator, where it’s not already humid.

Tips for Severe Thunderstorms

As far as storms go, reducing this temperature difference may lead to less frequent storms overall but increase the intensity of storms.

The International Panel on Climate Change wants governments to help prepare their citizens for extreme weather events and released a report aimed at helping them do that. Here are a few tips that you can use to prepare yourself for severe thunderstorms.

Stay Informed. Always be on the lookout for storms, especially if you plan on being outside for a long period of time. Check the weather report before going out. If there’s a chance of a storm, take an AM/FM or NOAA weather radio with you. Watch for signs of an incoming storms when you’re outside as well.

Be Prepared. You should always have necessities on hand you might need in the case of severe weather. Put together an emergency preparedness kit that includes a flashlight with extra batteries, food, water and a first aid kit as well as any essential medications. You might also want to have backup phone chargers and a generator in case the power goes out. It’s important to figure out what size generator you need before investing in one. This applies to both home generators and those used for businesses.

Find Shelter. When the storm starts, find the most protective shelter you can. If you’re inside, get into a secure room with no windows and stay away from doors and off porches. You should also avoid lying on concrete floors or leaning against concrete walls.

If you’re outside, avoid taking shelter under trees. If you’re driving, pull to the side of the road in a safe spot and stay in the vehicle but try not to touch anything metal.

Avoid Water. Water conducts electricity, so stay away from it as much as possible. If you are on open water, get to shore and then get far from the water. If you’re inside, don’t use plumbing to wash hands or take a shower.

Don’t Use Electronics. Avoid using electronics connected to power during a storm. Anything that’s plugged in could potentially be harmful. Turn off equipment like air conditioners and desktop computers if possible before a storm to avoid a power surge.

Tips for After the Storm

If you encounter any downed power lines, don’t touch them as they may contain live electricity. Check on people who might need extra help such as children and the elderly. Seek out updates by using a radio.

Thunderstorms can be dangerous, especially when they’re severe. Because climate change may increase the severity of storms, it’s even more important now than ever to be prepared for the possibility of an extreme storm event.

Photo credit:  Unsplash

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living and has an especially strong passion for helping others increase their mental health and happiness by improving their daily productivity and positivity. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts oProductivity Theory. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Curating a Community Table for Earth Day

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A great gathering is in the details. Herewith, simple ideas for spreading the love on Earth Day!

Creating a Waste-Free Feast

 When we gather together to break bread and share platters of vegetables sourced from our favorite farmer, the where of what we eat is just as important as the how. Feasting with friends doesn’t have to mean stocking up on single use plates and paper napkins.

So bring a little more beauty to your life by focusing on a waste-free feast. Invest in a gorgeous glass carafe for herbal tea and check out your local hardware store to scoop up lovely Mason Jars to take the place of Dixie Cups. A smattering of cloth napkins is an elegant antidote to paper and scoring a few extra plates, forks, and spoons from your neighborhood consignment shops means there is no need to turn to the plastic junk at the party store. These small details make a gathering truly special and sustainable.

Setting a Seasonally Inspired Table

Setting a table consonant with the season’s abundance is an easy way to infuse the everyday with magic. Consider the following suggestions a blueprint for building a better party.

1. Gather together friends and family to craft simple arrangements from native flowers.

2. Reusable glass jars filled with tangles of spring herbs invite conversation and inspire reverence for the natural world.

3. Use wooden boards to serve delicate spring green tapenades and local cheeses.

Cultivation Community

A potluck is an easy way to share the harvest and nourish community. Invite friends with kitchen chops to join you in making more complicated dishes and encourage guests who aren’t as experienced to bring a simple side dish, sauce, or salad. Everyone should have a place at the table!

The Ecology Center is a non-profit eco-education center focused on creative solutions for thriving on planet Earth. You can find our complete Earth Day Toolkit here.

Evan Marks is founder of the The Ecology Center, a non-profit eco-education center focused on creative solutions for thriving on Planet Earth. The Center works to inspire communities around simple solutions that empower individuals everywhere to be part of the solution. Follow The Ecology Center on Instagram and Facebook to learn about what you can do to build a thriving world. Read all of Evan’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Garden Thriftiness


I’ve shared my tendency toward picking up treasures from others’ trash here and there in my blog posts. I wrote about the old pool ladder claimed as a trellis for my gourds from my neighbor’s trash and the repurposing of cardboard from Lowes and Kroger to help transform lawn into garden beds. I spoke of the reuse of bricks for a compost pile as well as the redirection of toilet paper tubes and milk containers for seedlings.

Remembering that the world is larger than us two-legged human animals, I shared how to repurpose odds and ends for the birds. I told how other animals (through the generosity of their human companions) have helped enrich my garden beds for months. I also showed how I incorporated another farming friend’s cast-off rocks into our garden.

In a way, I can’t help myself. I’ve been a thrift-loving person for as long as I can remember. There’s a certain thrill (unlike any other) that I get when I save money by utilizing something I found for free, at severely discounted cost, or that someone gifted me. I love the accompanying excitement when my mind employs its ingenuity for either artistic expression or creative puzzle solving.

I used to attend auctions for my antiques business. In the course of doing so, I picked up many of those aforementioned bricks. I also collected my $1 pitchfork, $2 shovels, $2 garden benches, old wrought iron railings and bed parts (often used as trellises), and the awesome $250 garden cart that I splurged on paying only $40. This last purchase has served me well for nearly 20 years and has long outlived the splurge-guilt I felt the first week afterward.

In fact, that very cart is being used quite a bit lately due to the arrival of a huge pile of free goodies. We use Cundiff’s Tree Care when we need our large trees pruned because they employ trained arborists who know how to tend to a tree with its health and well-being in mind. I refuse to call any of the local tree butcherers who chop willy nilly not realizing (or not caring) about the damage they are doing and the lives they are cutting short.

Last time Cundiff’s were here cleaning out our accumulated dead and damaged limbs, I asked if they would please drop off some mulch from other jobs they had nearby. Most tree services are happy to comply because they have to otherwise dispose of this “trash” themselves, sometimes paying to do so. It becomes a win-win situation since they are making their customers happy and they don’t have to haul anything longer distance.


I happily gave them a jar of my mustard in anticipation of their delivery. A few weeks later, we discovered a nice little pile in our driveway just where I’d asked them to put it. The weather was still too cold for me to enjoy moving mulch around but before long, another pile was added doubling my treasure. I was able to eek out a couple of good days moving mulch around while working out in my head just how many beds I could cover without risking not being able to cover my bank which runs the entire length of our property. I had become fairly certain that I would be able to make it work when we returned home one day to find that the pile had once again doubled! I was in heaven! With two recent 7-hour days behind me, and the loss of a few pounds, I am henceforth referring to my bark chip pile as the gym. I expect to be working out for the foreseeable future.

For this chore, I’m using my treasured, auction-bought garden cart to move free bark chips in my repurposed cat litter buckets and cover garden beds that used to be lawn but were rerouted with free cardboard. The plants in these beds are mostly relocated from other parts of our garden, gifted or swapped with friends from their gardens, or purchased on sale at season’s end. I have been using gloves purchased in bulk at the end of the season for clearance prices.

Also in my garden, I have used old field tile collected from yet another friend’s farm piles in my Mothers’ Altar and other areas. The mothers’ vignette also contains a kitchen sink that offers water to the birds and insects during much of the year. It was collected from a different neighbor’s trash pile.

I also consistently reuse the baling wire or twine that comes around the straw bales that I purchase. It helps connect the wire mesh barriers to support poles that I put around some of my beds to keep the bunnies and cats out. Just this week I cut new pieces to secure some wire mesh to a soccer goal that I picked up a couple of blocks away last fall. I have to wonder if the gentleman who answered the door when I asked if his goal was free for the taking smiles as he drives by these days. While it spent the winter in our garage, his goalpost is now secured in one of my beds awaiting the cucumber plants thriving under our grow lights.

Cucumbers at the Ready

I highly recommend opening minds and seeing beyond the normal use for things before casting them aside. While I know there is a huge movement toward cleaning out, simplifying, and purging—and agree that there is great purpose in doing so—there can be just as strong and useful a purpose in redirecting some of those cast-offs into honorable duty.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Heartworm At High Elevations


We are multiple dog parents that live remotely at high elevation. When it comes to canine disease we are  lay people with no specific training other than years of accumulated experience. We have been told by several veterinarians that heartworm is pretty much non-existent in our area because of our location and weather conditions. It is usually not even considered much of a possibility in our locale. 

One of our four German Shepherd Dogs recently developed a dry cough and we took her to our vet for diagnosis and treatment. An x-ray was taken and all her vitals were good except it appeared she either had bronchitis or ‘possibly’ heartworm. Heartworm was discounted somewhat in favor of bronchitis since our area is not known for being heartworm infected. She is on treatment for bronchitis; however if she does not clear up soon she will be tested for heartworm even though our area has such low exposure for heartworm. As I studied her x-rays I was concerned from what I saw so I did some research on the parasite.  

Heartworm Transmitters 

Mosquitoes are the primary transmitter of heartworm in dogs and cats. An adult male mosquito has a lifespan of 10 days. A female adult mosquito has a  lifespan of 42-56 days. In everything I have read and experienced pertaining to mosquitoes I have not discovered one single redeeming quality in the pest. I discovered that the males buzz to attract females but the males do not bite. The females are the ones who bite and suck blood. 

How Heartworm Is Transmitted 

Adult heartworm living in an infected animal produces microscopic baby worms called microfilaria that circulate in the animal's bloodstream. When that infected animal is then bitten by a mosquito the insect picks up the baby worms that within 10-14 days develop into an infectious larvae stage. When that mosquito then bites another host animal the larvae are deposited on the skin and enter the animal via the wound left by the mosquito. Then they travel to the blood stream as they further develop into the adult stage and end up in the heart and lungs where they develop into adults up to 10-12” long. They continue to reproduce inside the animal generating even more worms. Adults can live in an animal up to 7 years.  


Mild persistent dry cough, loss of appetite or weight loss, lethargy, rapid or difficult breathing, and reluctance to exercise are all heartworm symptoms. There are other illnesses that also have some or all of these symptoms so a blood test needs to be conducted by a veterinarian to rule out or diagnose heartworm. Heartworm is a life threatening disease that will ultimately kill the pet therefore early detection through testing is imperative.  

Risk Areas

Different areas of our country carry different elements of risk. Some subtropical  areas have high risk and other areas like ours may not have measurable risk. Our winters are long and our summers are mild which makes a mosquito's lifespan less prolific. Through what I have researched I realized that because heartworm is minimal or nonexistent in our area that it may still pose a potential danger.

Heartworm can inadvertently be brought into our area from other high risk areas. Many people travel from different parts of the country to our area and the mosquitoes can come in vehicles or campers. I learned that mosquitoes can be blown vast distances by the wind or carried in by other infected non-domestic animals like wolves, coyote, or fox. Those who travel with pets which may have been previously infected, and not treated, can be bitten by local mosquitoes and hence the baby heartworm can be transferred to other susceptible animals. In summary our area is not at risk but is not immune to importation of the dangerous heartworm from other sources.     

Testing For Heartworm 

Dogs and cats should be tested on an annual basis for heartworm. The test for heartworm is a quick easy blood test. Our dogs have been tested but since there is no heartworm activity in our area and the tests were negative they were not re-tested. They stay with us on our homestead and we did not consider the potential of invasion from the outside.They are not exposed to areas where heartworm is even slightly prevalent.   

Changing Weather Patterns

Additionally, weather patterns have greatly changed so the parasite could have been introduced from an outside source and mutated or now finds our area more compatible to its lifecycle. At our elevation I have been bitten in both February and March this year by mosquitoes. Highly unusual for our area especially with 2’ of snow still on the ground. If you have lived in an area that was similar to ours where heartworm was virtually non-existent it may be wise to rethink taking precautions against heartworm. It is my personal opinion that climate change should be a quantified scientific fact and not a political agenda. Clearly our weather patterns are visibly changing or I would not get mosquito bites in February.    


We try to take sensible precautions to keep our pets free from parasite infestation. When the conditions warrant we apply a recommended spray to keep the pests off them. If we need to apply deterrent against mosquitos ourselves then our pets need some also. We had used heartworm preventative in the past but since our immediate area was not considered at risk for heartworm we discontinued this preventative treatment.  

We are hopeful our sweet girl’s (see photo) current condition is bronchitis and will respond well to treatment and is not heartworm which is a far more serious condition. We hope we do not regret taking our fur family off preventive treatment because we live in an area where it has not been a factor in the past.  

Environmental Changes 

With changing weather patterns and the prospect that mosquitoes can be carried on the wind for vast distances or brought into our area inadvertently on other hosts - we now are thinking much differently. We now think it is best to use preventive measures and not take any risk of infection by heartworm parasites. It only takes one bite from a mosquito that is carrying the parasite to infect a family fur member. It should be a conversation to be discussed with your veterinarian as to applicability and risk.     

Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their four German Shepherd Dogs live at 9,800 feet elevation in  a small cabin which they heat with a wood stove in S. Colorado. For more about them and their four German Shepherd family members go


Ecotourism in Nebraska: Part 1, Sandhill Cranes Migration


It's an aerial spectacle like no other, with over half a million Sandhill Cranes converging on the Platte River valley in Central Nebraska on their epic journey northward every spring, from late February to early April.

Jane Goodall calls the arrival of the Sandhill Cranes here one of the world's ten greatest wildlife migrations.  We call it mesmerizing and transformative, unparalleled in our thirty years of travel around the world.  If you have a bucket list, this needs to be near the top -- even if you're not necessarily a birder or hardcore wildlife enthusiast.  For those whose only Nebraska experience involves whizzing through on Interstate 80, start planning your detour trip off the main drag to bond with these birds.

This is the first of a series of posts covering some ecotourism adventures we enjoyed in Nebraska, a "fly over" state perhaps more frequently known for its massive fields of corn and home to William “Buffalo Bill” Cody — buffalo hunter, soldier and showman of America’s Old West.  While Nebraska farmers do, in fact, have millions of acres planted in corn -- and Wild Bill seems to comes to life at his ranch, now a state historic park in North Platte -- we found an unexpected abundance of ecotravel that uniquely immersed us into nature and paid dividends to the conservation efforts underway, helping preserve exactly what we can to see for generations to come.  Beyond the Sandhill Crane migration, we witnessed up close the intricate prairie chicken mating ritual from a blind, plied the braided currents of the Platte River in kayaks and biked through prairie on fat tire bikes.

Sandhill Cranes’ Roosting Hotspot

“This spot is the largest bird roost in the world,” shares Chuck Cooper, President and CEO of the Crane Trust, a non-profit dedicated to preserving this migratory bird habitat along the Platte River.  “We call it 'habitat,' but three hundred years ago you just called it [land that would become] Nebraska.  We had to come up with a name for it because there is so little left.  No matter how many birds come in during your viewing, you’ll still see more birds in one place than anywhere else in the world.”

And see birds you will, from thousands to potentially tens of thousands.  Wave after wave, the cranes stop in this single Nebraska spot for a short few weeks every spring, just as they have for millions of years as they fly north from Mexico to their summer nesting grounds as far north as Siberia.  Cranes are among the oldest living birds on Earth.  With the shallow river waters offering protection from predators and a buffet of spent grain in the nearby crop fields giving nourishment, Nebraska imparts the perfect resting spot.  It’s estimated that more than 80-percent of the world’s population of Sandhill Cranes converge here.  Hundreds of other bird species, including eagles, ducks and geese, can also be seen.

Only about an hour's drive apart, the two best places to view the spectacle are at the Crane Trust, near Grand Island, and the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary, outside Kearney.  Prime viewing will be at sunrise or sunset.  While each spot has a visitor center, it's their blinds that you'll want to snuggle into in order to witness the birds arriving to roost at night or as they depart in the early morning.  The blinds are as close as you’ll ever get to being one of the flock without getting wet.  The strategically placed and camouflaged covered shelters have viewing slats or openings, allowing our group of twenty to watch or take photos, undetected by the birds.

Crane Trust Near Grand Island

The sheer breadth of the scene unfolds as you peer from the blind where you witness either the arrival of the Sandhill Cranes as the come in to roost for the night or at pre-dawn as they slowly wake up and prepare to lift off for the day.  Their rowdy clatter captivated us. The Sandhill Cranes’ calls can be heard over two miles away as the birds connect with their mate and other family members, or dance around while searching for a possible lifelong partner.  With an impressive height of up to four feet and six-foot wingspan, the Sandhill Crane possesses the ideal evolutionary combination for the thousands of migratory miles they fly every year.

Classy comfort meets cranes when you upgrade to the Crane Trust’s all-inclusive VIP Experience, giving you premiere access to their toasty heated blinds, lodging on-site in their cozy Legacy Cottages (each with private bathroom), dinner and breakfast, plus a wine reception.  Open your window at night in the cottage and listen to the distant chatter of cranes or calls from coyotes as you drift off to sleep. 

“The sun will crack the horizon in sixty seconds,” whispers our personal guide in the blinds, Ben Dumas, Excursion Manager for the Crane Trust. Looking like a layer cake with bands of orange and blue from the sun and clouds, the sky filled with thousands of cranes already airborne in V-formations as far as the eye could see.

In the morning, the scene typically crescendos to a series of blissful moments when the birds suddenly take to flight en masse, perhaps spooked by a bald eagle landing along the river bank, as in our case. Thousands upon thousands of them lift off.  Their squawking rings out as they circle about while others depart from the river, heading to feeding grounds in nearby corn fields.


Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary

At the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary, you’ll be led to and from the blinds in reverent silence, meandering along a gravel trail the cuts through a tall grass prairie. Seasoned volunteers come from as far away as Alaska to share their passion for these cranes, guiding our way to the blind with red flashlights.  The Rowe Sanctuary is a 1,150-acre refuge in the Platte River valley that serves as a welcomed resting spot for these birds. The volunteers and staff at Rowe believe conservation and land stewardship grow when we experience nature’s splendor.

We discovered during our final evening perch at Rowe Sanctuary that it only takes one to get the show underway.  One crane, that is.  As we gathered in anticipation for the cranes’ evening roost under cloudy skies, the shallow river bed sits open, awaiting potential evening guests.  We peer forward when one crane lands on a nearby sand bar, in anticipation.  Then another lands, followed by ten more.  Then a hundred or two birds descend, right in front  of our blind and less than a hundred feet away.  Their calls riotous.

“This is like Christmas for us,” we recall Bill Taddicken, Director of Rowe Sanctuary, saying before we set out that night.  Now we understand. It’s the gift that keeps on giving as darkness falls and the cranes settle in for the night.

Lisa Kivirist is the author of Soil Sisters and founder of the Rural Women’s Project of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. She is also Senior Fellow, Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota. With her husband John D. Ivanko, she has co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.

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