Nature and Environment
News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.

Financial Sustainability in Times of Crisis

financial sustainability

Not that long ago, my mom told me, "I hope I can hold off retiring for a while." 

"Why?" I asked. She had, after all, celebrated her 70th birthday. 

"Because my retirement funds are tied up in stocks that have unexpectedly plummeted because of COVID-19."

This was a sobering thought. Consider all the people who have been prudent and saved and had pension plans - only to find themselves with a much smaller pension than they had counted on if they retire now. They did everything right, yet it wasn't enough to secure a comfortable provision once they stopped working. 

What does this mean? I won't say anything radical like "money is worthless now" or "ditch the money economy". I'm a firm believer in personal finances, putting money aside, and planning for the future. 

But I also believe that the coronavirus crisis has shown us that stability, security, and well being depend on much more than money. 

For example, a recent local COVID-originated shipping crisis has stripped the stores of eggs. You just couldn't buy a dozen eggs anywhere, no matter how much you were willing to pay. The people who had the upper hand in this situation were those who kept their own chickens and had their own eggs. This has resulted in a veritable local boom of urban chicken-keeping, with the price of laying hens doubling and tripling. 

Growing your own food is a major security factor in times of instability. With a well-tended vegetable garden, fruit trees, some chickens, and maybe a couple of goats (wherever the local authorities permit), you're a lot less vulnerable in situations of delayed food shipments and empty store shelves. 

A full pantry is an extension of that. Recent events have shown us that people who had a stockpile just sat back and watched the show while everyone else scrambled for toilet paper and dry beans. So - I'm not telling anyone to hoard that TP, but definitely have a supply of nonperishable goods. Canning, pickling, freezing, and drying produce from your garden is another old-age strategy we can and should go back to. 

Sometimes, skills count more than money. You could, for instance, repair someone's computer in exchange for them repairing your roof; teach someone to knit in exchange for garden produce; and so on. Everyone has barterable skills that might count even more in times of crisis; and even people who don't "specialize" in anything can babysit or weed gardens - one's time and able hands are valuable commodities as well.

Another thing one might consider is making a secure investment of one's money, one that will maintain its value even if the worth of money per se deteriorates. Obviously, one should be careful with that and weigh all the pros and cons. Here, for instance, land and real estate is a pretty much foolproof investment. We live in a small country, and land will always remain inherently valuable. 

Lastly, when the you-know-what hits the fan (and we could make a strong case that it already has) people who belong to collaborative, supportive communities are a lot likelier to be well-off in terms of commodities, food security, etc, than those who rely solely on money to ensure their wellbeing. Now is THE time to support local farmers, local handymen, mom and pop stores, and every product and service that will mean a return of resources to the local community. 

Creative Commons photo from Pixabay

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband, and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens, and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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Recognize and Remedy Separation Anxiety in Dogs


Lucy and her "friend", hedgehog. Photo by Bruce McElmurray

The American humorist Josh Billings once said, “A dog is the only thing on earth that will love you more than you love yourself”. For more than 23 years, we have been with our canine family almost 100 percent of the time. When you are with your canine family members that much time, it is hard to avoid learning about their behavior and traits. Because of the COVID-19 virus and shelter-at-home orders, for those who have canine family members, there exists the unique opportunity to see more of your dogs' behavior.

Dogs as Companions for Homesteaders

Always there. We have three German shepherds and are familiar with each of their traits and, more specially, their love for us. They can heal a wounded heart, brighten a boring day, or comfort us with their love for us. When I get up to do something at least one is right there by my side, and when I come back inside from working outside, there are generally two at the door with smiles and tails wagging. The third one is watching but at 13+ years old and his back legs weakened he will wait for me to come to him — I always do — which makes him happy. For 13 years, he was my constant companion and now it is my time to take gentle care of him in his advanced years.

Dogs attuned to our moods. When the cabin fever starts to take hold of us, they will distract us by play, forced affection or various other means to lighten our day. Those who have been sheltering in place at home may have observed how the canine family is acutely attuned to our every change in mood. They will be at your side for petting or belly rubs and the next thing you know your mind is focused on them and not your own concerns. Petting a dog is just plain therapeutic!

Dogs versus cats. Admittedly, I don’t know much about cats, but it seems to me that cats can consider humans an invader into their domains. Dogs are just the opposite: They just want to be wherever we are and any attention you can give them makes them extremely happy. Cats seem to decide when you should give them attention and appear more independent. Dogs have now become accustomed to having their family around all the time and can react differently when things slowly change back.

Separation anxiety. As life returns to semi-normal, your canine family member may not see it as you do and act out of character so be prepared. Our canine friends may exhibit excessive panting, more barking or, in some cases, destructive behavior like damaging things in the home. In extreme cases, they may drool, tremble or howl. They may scratch at furniture, try to escape from a crate or room, and exuberantly greet their dog parent as if they haven’t seen them in months or years when you return. I once knew a dog that tore the Sheetrock out all around a door due to separation anxiety. While they are smart, they don’t always adjust well to a change, like returning to work following a long absence.

Solutions for Solving Separation Anxiety in Dogs

We have always been able to resolve separation anxiety by taking measured absences from home. A few for 15-20 minutes and then make the absences gradually longer and longer so your canine family member realizes that you will always come back home to them. We also leave them with a distraction like a hard rubber Kong with peanut butter and dog biscuits frozen inside the cavity. That will keep them occupied long enough to establish a state of tranquility until you return. When we return we act like we never left and don’t make a big fuss over them.  

Dogs like routine. It was Martin Buxham, American poet, author and editor who once said, “A dog wags it’s tail with its heart”. Some dogs can smile (ours do) but all dogs can wag their tails when they are happy to see you. To your canine companion/s we are their entire world and they are a major part of ours. A sudden change in lifestyle or disruption can impact their conduct and lifestyle. Dogs like a consistent routine and when that routine is changed they can act out in various ways.

Dogs give all themselves. Canine companions will give 100 percent of what they have: loyalty, obedience and love — and most will protect you. I frequently read stories of the heroics of our canine companions. They will sometimes sacrifice themselves to protect you. Dogs put your safety and interest above theirs even if it may cause them injury or cost them their life. Mark Twain once said, “It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog”.

Coronavirus reopening can impact dogs. Now with states reopening and starting to go back to normal it could present a challenge for some of our canine family members, so it is best to be aware of that possibility and be prepared ahead of time. Taking progressively longer absences from them will condition them to what used to be their normal life when you were at work or shopping.

Final thoughts. There are thousands of well deserved quotes from famous people regarding the attributes of our canine family members. All essentially true and wouldn’t it be nice in these current turbulent times if there were as many quotes about the outstanding characteristics of us humans? Will Rogers once said, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went”. And Billy Graham said, “God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there."

If our canine family members can draw such high praise from many well known people, then maybe we should be more appreciative of our canine family members while they are still with us. We need to let them know how important they are to us. A little extra attention never hurts.

Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site at Bruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.



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What Monsanto's Roundup Trials Teach Us About Justice in America

Photo by Vitor Dutra Kaosnoff from Pixabay

Over the last year and a half, we have watched the slow legal grind against Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup make tremendous progress (see my previous reporting for Mother Earth News). Perhaps most shocking, Bayer has now offered to settle the class action lawsuits with a lump sum of $10 billion. These trials are a major victory for the health and rights of people, and great news amid an ever chaotic world.

Today, however, I don’t want to talk too much about the Roundup trials themselves. Instead, let's take a deeper look at what the Roundup trials show us about justice in America. And what these trials can teach us moving forward.

You Have a Right to Be Heard

The first lesson that the Roundup trials teach us, is that you legally have a right to be heard. And in this instance, I am not talking about protesting in the streets. Anyone who has been wronged can raise charges against another in court, whether the wrongdoer is a corporation like Monsanto or Bayer, or the government itself.

If you have a valid complaint against someone else, and file your lawsuit properly, your legal rights as a citizen can bring them to court to answer your complaint. (And if they fail or refuse to do so, you could win by default.)

What the Roundup Trials Say

One of the most important lessons the Roundup Trials teach is that your right to be heard may best be exercised in the courts. How many protests against Monsanto over GMOs and pesticides have there been around the world? Certainly a lot. I have taken part in a few of them myself. And the net result of those protests? Sadly, not very much.

However, in August of 2018, a Dewayne (The Groundskeeper) Johnson, took a stand against Roundup — and won! Now, 2 years later, as a result of his stand, tens of thousands of lawsuits have been filed against Bayer over their Roundup product. This flurry of lawsuits has forced them to come into court and hear the complaints against them. Furthermore, these trials eventually forced them to pay what is now billions in damages, not to mention the legal fees.

In my opinion, the Roundup Trials have served as one of the greatest expressions of the People’s right to be heard. But, unfortunately, this excellent system of expression and action is still too often overlooked.

Why Don’t More People Use the Courts?

Many people overlook the courts for 3 major reasons: 
  • Reason 1: People think legal action is too expensive. One of the biggest obstacles most people see is the cost. And truly, if it’s one thing lawyers are known for, it’s racking up legal fees. It often costs more to hire an attorney than the damages you will receive. As a result, most people simply write off the courts.
  • If you are seeking reimbursement for damages caused by someone else, and you learn how to use the courts without a lawyer, it truly doesn’t cost much at all. In fact, it may not cost anything if you get the court fees waived.
  • Reason 2: People think the courts are too complex. The reason people think court is complex is actually a result of people thinking that court has to be expensive. Unfortunately, school doesn’t teach us much about how courts actually function. As a result, we grow up thinking that the court system is simply too complex to understand. However, that is certainly not the case. Nearly all of the answers to questions we may have are right at our fingertips.
  • There are tons of great resources to help you navigate in court, even without an attorney. Take the time to learn.
  • Reason 3: People don’t organize. People often overlook the courts, because they fail to organize with others to use the courts. Truly not everyone has the time to learn the legal system. That is exactly why working together is important. Sharing legal expenses with others, or working together for a cause, significantly limits everyone's burden.

Photo by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

The Truth: The Court System is Not That Complex

Really, one of the biggest reasons that more people don’t use the courts is because they simply don’t understand them. I felt the same way for years. But then I finally sat down at the computer and looked into the matter, finding that the court system was actually much simpler than I thought.

One of the first resources I came across when I began my research was a self-help legal course called Jurisdictionary, started by Dr. Frederick Graves, an attorney who went to law school for the sole purpose of helping bring information about how to use the court system to the public at large. Dr. Graves makes it so anyone can learn to use the courts without an attorney.

I reached out to him for this article, and this is what he had to say:

All that’s needed is for people to know the power is available to them and for them to make up their minds that complaining doesn’t get much done. Action is always the only long-term solution.You and everyone you know have the right to sue for money damages and, if you’ve been paying attention, that is how change is effected by the people directly without political cooperation! Lawsuits change the law every day of the week … much more often than by legislatures or executive officers acting.

Most of the myths we heard about courts are simply untrue. Anyone that can read and write can represent themselves in court. With or without an attorney.

Together, We Can Find Justice

Unfortunately, we have been deceived into ignoring one of the greatest resources we have to seek justice. Sure, voting and marching are important, but there are other, often more direct method for forcing corporations, or the government, to pay for their wrongdoings.

The Roundup Trials, along with a long list of less publicized cases, prove this to be true. The courts are the People’s best form of direct representation in the government. The law is shaped everyday by the courts. More importantly, the more we, the People, learn how to operate in the courts without lawyers. The better we can work to protect our rights, our land, and our future.

The Bottom Line on Justice in America

Although it may not appear to be true. Justice is alive and well in America! It simply wears a different face than most of us expect. And with the courts, that face of justice may be your own. For example, the Roundup trials, kicked off by one man in 2018 who didn’t back down, served to dust off the scales of justice, and proved it!

It’s true, we live in a fast-paced world and the courts may feel like a slower resolution than we desire. However, if we can put our feet in the streets, we should also take time to put pen to paper. Whether a local corporation is polluting your water or the government is acting toward you in an unconstitutional manner, you have the right to take the matter to court and force the government and corporations to take proper action.

Standing Rock and the DAPL

The day before finalizing this article, production of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) was cancelled. This was in large part due to a rapidly changing legal landscape, which, according to Dominion Energy, “created an unacceptable layer of uncertainty and anticipated delays for ACP”.

Meanwhile, the People of Standing Rock, and their battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline that drew the attention of the world four years ago, is still ongoing. Although the protests ultimately came to an end, the battle for their rights to clean water still continues in court to this day, and is worth our attention.

Douglas Dedrick is landscaper, documentarian and environmental law writer. When he’s not looking for things to investigate, he is usually writing articles about lawn care. Connect with him at Healing Law, and read all of Douglas’ 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.

Burning Question: Safely Incinerate Trash and Debris at Home


The more self-sufficient our home lives become, the more need we have to manage our homestead trash efficiently. If you already burn your trash regularly or are considering doing so, make sure that you're going about it safely. What follows, are a few important safety tips that you can use to help keep your property safe.

  • Before burning, check conditions and your local weather forecast . Make sure that conditions are neither windy or dry.
  • Make sure that there's no restrictions for your area.
  • You may also need a permit . Make sure that you're burning the right materials.
  • You are permitted to burn vegetation growing on your property, unless local ordinances specify otherwise.
  • Plastics, tires and household trash are not recommended for burning . Some local ordinances may prohibit these items from being burned.
  • If using a metal burn barrel make sure that the barrel is 100% metal,  properly constructed and equipped. Meaning, the barrel is fully intact, with at least three, evenly-spaced, 3-inch metal screen vents coming up the side of the barrel (from bottom to top). The barrel should also have a metal top, with metal screen enclosure.
  • Look up - There should be no: power lines, tree limbs, buildings, structures, vehicles or equipment near the burn site.
  • Look around - There should be a vertical clearance at least three times the height of the burn pile. A 10-foot radius, formed of dirt or gravel, should radiate out from the burn pile, forming a complete perimeter surrounding the burn pile.
  • Keep the entire perimeter area surrounding the burn pile watered down and always keep a shovel handy nearby.
  • Keep the burn pile small and manageable, adding more debris as the pile becomes smaller from burning.
  • Do not leave an active fire while burning. Always stay with a live fire until it's totally put out.
  • To put out a fire, drown the fire and ashes with water, turn ashes over with a shovel, then drown again with water. Repeat the process several times, making sure the fire is totally out.
  • Check the burn area regularly the next couple of days, even the next couple of weeks following a burn, especially if the conditions are dry, warm and windy.

Create a Fire-Resistance Zone

If your property is in a wildland-urban interface (zone of transition between wildland and human development), create a 30-foot fire-resistant zone around the property.

  • Also consider using fire-resistant plants and landscaping.
  • When disposing of charcoal, always completely cover and stir with water several times making sure the fire is completely out.
  • When people are smoking outside on the premises, make sure to keep a 3-foot clearance around the smoker.
  • Always grind out a cigarette, cigar or pipe tobacco in the dirt, not on a log, stump or wood.
  • It's best to use an ashtray.
  • No smoking on trails. Ashes could land in dry brush and sparks could start a fire.

Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she's growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 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.

Introducing a New Dog Into the Home


In an earlier blog post, we addressed choosing the right dog for your family and homestead and to be sure the potential new addition would also choose you, including the traits to look for when choosing the new family member. Assuming the choice has been made and the rescue dog and new family are compatible, what comes next? It is time to bring the new family member into the home but it is best to be prepared ahead of time. Before you bring the dog home, it will need its own food bowl, water dish, leash, collar or harness, and a bed to sleep on that will be its own.

Create a safe area. If you have a fenced backyard, it should be inspected to make sure there are no gaps the dog can get out through. It should be high enough so the dog can’t jump the fence. You also want it high enough so other animals can’t jump into your yard. Our fence is 6’ high specifically to keep predators out. The home should also be made dog proof and safe for the new addition.

Predators come in all forms. We walk our dogs on a 6’ leash to be sure they are safely close to us. In our 23 years here in the mountains, we have not had a serious close encounter in spite of the fact we have numerous predators around. When we see a predator, we cautiously head the other way to avoid conflict. Incidentally, bears mostly graze on the wild grasses we have and the cats have abundant deer and elk so they are not attracted by a human walking large dogs. From our experience, there are more predators in and around more populated areas than found in remote living. We have found wild animals to actually be far more respectful than many of the two legged variety.

Go for the first walk. When it is time to actually bring the new canine member home, it is a good idea to take this new member for a walk first to allow them to expel some of that pent up energy. If they will be joining other canine family members they should be introduced away from the home one at a time. Having two or three other dogs greet the new member can throw that new dog into a full panic. Even though they may have met at the rescue or shelter and done well, it can be totally different when they are thrust into a new home environment.

Introduce the "pack" one member at a time. This method has worked for us for many years. The way we introduce the new dog into our pack is at a distance of roughly 100 yards from the cabin. We bring the current dogs one at a time to meet the new member. We watch carefully for any sign of aggression/dominance and if there is any, we quickly separate the dogs and let them try again once they have calmed down. When they have all met, and it goes well, we then take the new family member and our other dogs for a short walk together and bring them back home together.

Bring into the house slowly. When back home, leave their leashes on and allow them to wander around the backyard to relieve themselves if needed. We then take the new addition into the cabin first and then allow the other dogs in. The new dog will in all likelihood sniff everything as they explore the cabin. We are close by to avoid bathroom mistakes which is why we give them ample time to go outside before they come into the cabin. Males may tend to want to mark their new territory which invites the other males to respond. We want them to do any marking outside.

Give time to adjust and relax. Now that the new member has been introduced safely and successfully, it is time to give the new pack member time to familiarize and adjust to their new environment. While it is tempting to give the new member lots of attention, remember this is all new to them and they need space to adjust. Excess attention can also make other pack members jealous. We assume a calm and easy going posture and let the new member explore on their own. We discourage play as that can easily lead to dominance issues and we want the new addition to realize we are the alphas and not the other pack members.

Recognize varying times to adjust. It can take a few days or weeks for the new member to adjust to our routine and perhaps longer to fully adjust to their new environment. That depends on the dog and we allow ample time for the adjustment period. It took Ruby (see photo) almost 11 months to adjust fully and to be comfortable enough for her wonderful personality to emerge. Being deaf extended her adjustment so keeping a consistent daily routine was especially important for her. Other new canine members have taken from three days to three months. Lucy, who is only 1½, adjusted quickly but her initial introduction had some challenges.

Exercise patience and understanding. Lucy was terrified when she was brought home and when she was taken out of the car, we put her on an expandable leash so she would not feel cornered. She ran around ears back, tail between her legs, eyes wide; however,  our two senior dogs, Bozwell and Ruby, gave her distance remaining calm. Lucy soon took their lead and calmed down and gradually they engaged and sniffed each other. They gave her plenty of space until she was fully calm and they could safely interact. After a level of tranquility was established, we followed the above mentioned routine and now have three very well adjusted and compatible fur family members. It was an education watching the senior dogs calmly transform Lucy into a calm state and then welcome her home as one of the pack.

Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site at Bruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his 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.

Building a Green Community on a Suburban Street

Neighbors In Parking Lot Garden

Head Start work party prepares containers


We are seeing a steep spike in interest nationwide in gardening. Where I live in Eugene, Ore., I am seeing new front yard gardens here and there in my neighborhood a mile northwest of downtown. The local business that makes compost and garden soil at an industrial scale has become a very busy place. Instead of driving right up to make an order, you have to wait for 6 or 8 vehicles in front of you in line. Meanwhile, vegetable seeds are hard to find in area stores.


Historically, gardens have been a wonderful feature for homes, but with so much disruption caused by the coronavirus this year, gardens are looking like a better idea than ever. Our neighborhood is already known in the area for its many gardens, but we want to see more.


Neighborhood Association Advocates Container Gardening


“We” is our neighborhood association. The River Road Community Organization (RRCO) is affiliated with the City of Eugene. There are 25 neighborhoods in Eugene. Our neighborhood has a website, a monthly e-newsletter and, in normal times, monthly meetings about important issues relating to the neighborhood. RRCO also has a positive history and standing in the neighborhood.


I serve as one of eight neighborhood associated Board members and we have agreed to reach out to the neighborhood to encourage more gardens. We sent out the garden initiative notice in our monthly newsletter and each of us sent out the same message to our own contacts in the neighborhood.


A Google Form identifies what we are offering and provides a way for people to indicate their interests. We are offering several approaches to making homes and lifestyles more green and resilient. First, we are making available 3-gallon nursery containers filled with a soil mix, at cost, ready to plant. We see containers like this as garden “training wheels.”


A month later, nearly 400 containers have gone out! Some people wanted two or three — one fellow has 25. Our local Head Start program took 200. We had a big work party out front of my house to fill the Head Start containers with garden mix. Those containers will go out to many less privileged kids and could be the start of a lifelong friendship with plants and gardens.

Two Gardeners Building Raised Bed

Brand new cooperative raised bed

New Connections on the Street


We also started a micro community garden on the property of one of our neighbors. Five people share a large raised bed. Several of the participants did not know each other before the garden, including a woman who recently bought a house down the street. We all water the entire raised bed as needed. It’s great to see the plants thriving and new friendships forming. Building social relations are just as important as the tomatoes, strawberries and beets.


One day, I was passing by the garden on my bike and saw one of our garden members. I pulled in and we had a great conversation about the garden and various chit chat. After a few minutes, the woman who owns the property with her husband came out and we all had a great conversation that lead to her giving us a tour of her garden closer to her house a short walk away.


She had a beautiful garden with paving stone raised beds — it looked like a mini Versailles. Their home would make for a nice feature in a garden magazine. She explained how she was away for a week 10 years ago and when she returned, her husband had built all the raised beds to make her garden work more comfortable for her at 65 years of age.


She also asked us to be aware that they had an efficiency apartment for rent and described the kind of person they would like to rent to. We had a very nice tour as we all learned more about each other in a very casual way.


Suburban Homestead Backyard Garden

A site tour here will show and tell many resilient features.

Becoming Acquainted with a Familiar Place


I have met a number of new people on my suburban street and have seen several backyards and small gardens for the first time. There are all kinds of interesting details we don't normally see, even on our familiar street — until we take the time.


Another day while out for the mail, I saw one of our garden group members, and we talked for a while. It turns out that he had told his girlfriend about the nearby apartment for rent. They had seen it and she will move in next month, making their seeing each other much easier. She will join the garden group. Another couple of neighbors over my backyard fence are very interested to make big changes to their large and sunny backyard, and they want me to help design and guide them through the multi-year process.


A chance front yard chat yesterday with another neighbor brought me up to date. After several years of unanticipated distractions, he is now returning to the task of reclaiming his half-acre property from invasive blackberries and producing more of his own food.


We now have a site tour planned for my home in a few weeks. There is a lot to see – grass to garden front and back, edible landscaping, rainwater catchment, passive solar, a tiny detached house, and much more. The idea is to show and tell and encourage others to adapt smart ideas to take into their own lives and property.


Imagine two parallel rows of eight houses and a street in the middle. And then imagine lines connecting those houses that represent spontaneous chats, sharing a tool, trading a plant. These are all small beginnings of more robust interactions that changing economic, social, environmental, and now public health circumstances will call for — people connecting more and more for common cause.


It’s so much fun and very satisfying to make connections with neighbors. There are so many benefits to be gained. We all have stories to share and relationships to build. We have more assets to work with to create a more green and resilient place to live, be they the neighborhood association or our own properties.


That makes me think: We should have a promenade on the street and then meet at the park for a picnic.


Jan Spencer has been transforming his quarter-acre suburban property for 15 years. The project shows what home economics and suburbia can look like — taking care of more needs closer to home. Read Jan’s book, Notes from the Suburban Frontier, as well as listen to his podcast, check out his YouTube channel, and find community-building resources at Suburban Permaculture.He is available for making presentations about transforming suburbia, economy and culture. Read all of Jan’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.

Walking Under the Whirling Rainbow: All-Faith Cross-Country Pilgrimage Celebrates 25 Years

Whirling Rainbow odyssey 

A quarter of a century ago — June 23, 1995 — a band of pilgrims gathered at First Encounter Beach on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They came on behalf of all the people, plants, and animals of the Earth. From this place of sand and sea at America's Eastern Door, this intercultural band of pilgrims took the first steps on the epic Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth. In many respects and in a global context, everyone is still walking.

The small, ecumenical band of sunbow pilgrims journeyed from the Atlantic to the Pacific over a span of eight intensive months. They walked under the Algonquin teachings of the Seven Fires, the inspiration of a White Buffalo, and the global skysign of the Whirling Rainbow (Sunbow).

The walkers paid close attention to the image of the Sunbow. When this natural phenomenon occurs, a full 360-degree rainbow circle appears in a wide ring around the Sun. The colorful, whirling vortex is said to signify critical understandings that lead to a healthy, inclusive, sustainable future for all.

For the purposes of the walk, the number 5 was added to Sunbow to signify five colors of human beings: Red, White, Black, Yellow, and Brown. The sunbow pilgrims were walking from the Eastern Door on the Atlantic toward the Western Gate at the Pacific to help unite all peoples and all nations in honesty, caring, sharing, and respect.

Their epic spiritual adventure involved untold U.S. and world history, pressing environmental and social issues, a convoluted web of personal relationships, and a wealth of spiritual insight with direct relevance for our era.

Now as world culture continues on a larger, more challenging journey from an old time to a new time, our long walk together under the whirling rainbow may serve to illumine some of the steps.

All of this is outlined in the freely available, nonfiction online saga, Odyssey of the 8th Fire. Beyond the basic story of a band of pilgrims off on a mission to understand and to care for Mother Earth, Odyssey of the 8th Fire is also a compendium of teachings. The long walkers met with dozens of learned elders along the trail from east to west. They generously shared many of the key wisdom knowings of Turtle Island (North America). Those teachings—long ago left by the side of the trail—remain urgently relevant.

My sand painting 

Whirling rainbow sand painting.

Seven Fires

I first met Grandfather William Commanda, in the late 1980s at his home at Bitobi Lake on the Maniwaki Reserve, Quebec, Canada. We sat in his living room and talked for a long time. Deep in our conversation, Grandfather shared with me the Annishinaabeg (Algonquin) teachings of the Seven Fires and the Seven Prophets.

To cut to the heart of the matter, Grandfather spoke of the seventh prophet, who came to the Algonquin peoples many generations ago and warned of dying trees and poisoned waters, a time when strange sicknesses would arise, when deranged people would see no purpose in living other than to horde the world's treasures while other human beings went hungry, and when soul and social sicknesses would breed immense sorrows.

Drawing on his own knowledge as keeper of the Seven Fires Wampum Belt, and on the work of Eddie Benton Banai, Grandfather explained that the seventh prophet also said that '"in the time of the Seventh Fire there will arise Oshkibimadizeeg (a new people) who will emerge from the clouds of illusion. They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the side of the trail long ago. Stories that had been lost will be returned to them. They will remember the Original Instructions given to the human beings by Creator. They will find strength in the way of the circle...If the new people remain strong in their quest, the sacred fire will again be lit."

That's what caught my attention back when I first heard the tale, the part about the new people retracing the footsteps of the ancestors to seek out what had been left by the side of the trail. As it turned out, that element of the story caught the attention of many other people as well.

Thus 25 years ago under the guidance of Grandfather Commanda, a man named Tom Dostou and his wife at the time, Naoko Haga, assembled a band of walkers, a multiracial, multispiritual group that fluctuated in numbers from 7 to 100 or more over the nearly eight months of the coast-to-coast odyssey.

By the time June 1995 rolled around, people were primed to go. The walkers had been moved by the directness and integrity of the Seven Fires story, by the authority of the long-awaited Hopi elders' message at the House of Mica (UN Headquarters on Manhattan), by the promise expressed in the birth of a White Buffalo, and by the mounting distress evident all around them in human beings and the environment. They were of one mind to begin. 

saga 1 

The Teachings of Our Heart

The long walkers gathered on June 23, 1995 under the summer sun at noon around a blazing ceremonial fire at First Encounter Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. During that send-off ceremony, elders representing different traditions offered messages, and brought us together in focused prayer for the safety of all walkers, and for the realization of the vision.

Taking an eagle feather in his hand, Algonquin elder Frank Decontie paced intently around the wind-whipped fire, and offered an eloquent oration. "I ask you to listen," he said, "not just with your minds. I ask you to listen with your hearts, because that is the only way you can receive what it is, what we are giving. These are the teachings of our hearts."

When Rev. Eugene Callender of the Harlem Presbyterian Church in New York City spoke by the fire, he created a frame of historical reference: "I began walking a long time ago, you know. Forty years ago, I began walking in a little town in Alabama, in Selma. People decided that they could walk no longer the way they had been walking. They knew that they needed to walk with dignity. They needed to be recognized as children of God. That walk helped to spark a tremendous transformation.

"Today we know that there are chords of disharmony in the symphony of our lives. This is why we must walk again, and recognize with grateful heart that we are all God's children. How can we wipe away the tears of the people, of all the people, if our hands are like knives? We cannot. Our hands must be open and filled with love and understanding.

"This walk, I sincerely believe, will honor the Creator, and uplift the consciousness of people everywhere that the walk goes...This is a pilgrimage of righteousness. This is a pilgrimage of healing. This is a pilgrimage of truth. I am honored to be here at the start. I pray a blessing on my brothers and sisters of all colors, of all faiths, as the walk begins."

After lining up behind a crack in pavement of the beach road, the walkers looked up and beheld a Red Eagle circling directly above, a great bird soon joined by shrieking crows intent on mayhem. Then off the sunbow pilgrims went, down the road heading south to Cherokee, then west across the continent, day by day, step by step.

Now, a quarter century after the beginning of this great global adventure, it's clear it's not over. The mission is incomplete. We all have miles to go before we sleep. Walk on.

Independent journalist Steven McFadden is rooted in cyberspace at Information about his wider work and all of his nonfiction books is available at You can read all of Steven's Mother Earth News blog 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.

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