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

Durable Trades: Family-Centered Economies That Have Stood the Test of Time (Book Review)

Durable Trades book cover (from the publishing site) 

Cover photo from Wipf and Stock, the publishing site

Rory Groves has given us a beacon of light at the end of a tumultuous year of medical, political, educational, career, and social unrest. Rory asks, and attempts to answer, what our response can be to brittle systems and challenges. He seeks to show how families can build their economies in a time of shifting sands. Through extensive research he lays out how we got here and tries to identify what will last and what will crumble under its own weight.

“Resilient nations rely on resilient communities, which rely on resilient families. Historically it has been decentralized, interdependent families and communities working together that have best weathered the storms of adversity.” The Industrial Revolution was a time in which handcrafted goods gave way to machine-aided production. In a single generation this had the effect of fracturing both home and community as work moved from home to centralized factories. Urbanization, with its concomitant financial abundance and disorienting fragmentation of families, came upon us.

Through historical research, Rory demonstrates how overly complex societies eventually collapse and details the ways in which Western culture is rushing in that direction. “For too long, work has driven a wedge into families, dividing husband from wife, father from son, mother from daughter, and family from home.”

“We are abundant with things but wracked with loneliness and starved for meaning.” Is it possible that the current resurgence in small batch handcrafting (be it beer, clothing, or furniture) is in reaction to the complexity and distance between us in society? Is it demonstrative of a desire to reconnect meaningfully to individual people even through the things and services we purchase?

Durable Trades Lead to Durable Families

Rory shows how we can reclaim meaningful work among strong families and resilient communities. We can build an inheritance that we can pass on to our children. “Family-centered trades are not only the most durable throughout history; they are also the ideal context by which parents can pass their values, faith, and culture on to the next generation.”

Trades that exist today and have endured across time are evaluated on their resiliency, stability, family-centeredness, income, and ease of entry. Over 60 vocations are identified as “family-centered and still viable to those who want to build durable futures for their families.” Individual vignettes under each trade help illustrate how that trade is being plied successfully today. 

Too far along traditional paths (and age) my husband and I couldn’t see our way clear to fully pursue this path ourselves yet wanted our son to know how and to be able to pursue his vocations and avocations within a family context. Like the Groves, we achieved that by first moving to the country and beginning to raise our own meat, eggs, and vegetables. Over the years since that move, we’ve been able to help our son to identify his God-given gifts and passions, and then give him a place to start and build businesses which can include his wife and children when God so blesses him. Now as a musician, music educator/tutor, future piano technician, and author his work is different than what we thought it would be, but richly rewarding and flexible enough to incorporate other interests and gifts within his own family. Being in the country gives him space without land use restrictions on which to pursue many different directions. It was exciting to see that Rory included most of our son’s pursuits in his list of durable trades.

If you desire to build your life and work around a durable, resilient, and family-centered career then Durable Trades is an excellent place to start your journey. It matters not whether you are traveling this road at the start of your adult life, as a young married couple, or even well past middle-age to help your children as we did.

How to Start

  1. If you are looking to change your career/trade, or are a young person trying to decide what work to pursue Durable Trades is a great place to start for well researched information on work that is lasting and resilient.
  1. Dick Bolles’ book, What Color is Your Parachute, is a good place to begin evaluating where lies the intersection of your deepest desires, God-given gifts, and society’s greatest needs. This life-changing book has been updated and re-released annually since the 70’s.
  1. If, like us, you simply want to provide opportunities and know-how for your children, then you’ll want to make both books a part of your active family library. Talk about these values with your children and give them a safe place to try new things. It helps to be in a rural area and on at least a small piece of land (we only have 5 acres). Teach them the value of families working and achieving great things together.
  1. Before jumping in feet first, find someone successfully working in the trade in which you are interested and ask them lots of questions. See if they will allow you to shadow them, intern for them, or even apprentice with them.
  1. If you still want to move forward after that, ask this same person the best ways to train for the field and request that they serve as your formal mentor. Since they have gotten to know you through your early interest in their work, they will often have a vested interest in seeing you succeed.

family business signs 

Our son did just this before starting to teach piano a few years ago. He did the same when he more recently decided to pursue piano tuning as an adjunct to his music teaching and performing work. Much as Rory Groves has recommended, our son looked to add something that:

  • tied in with his passions
  • could be entered without debt
  • capitalized on his ability to build customer relationships
  • overlapped his other work
  • created repeat business
  • could include his children one day

He had developed a relationship with the piano technician who serviced his studio piano and began asking career questions during each tuning. That eventually led to a recommendation on how to train while still running his other businesses. Now during that training phase, this wonderful man is serving as our son’s formal mentor.

As a technology consultant and founder of multiple software business, Rory Groves may seem an unusual advocate for sustainable and family-based trades, yet his well-researched and intelligent rating system in Durable Trades make this ground breaking book well worth reading and pondering. You will find that it demands a permanent place on your bookshelf as well as thoughtful reading and discussion within your family.

Discount available: Wipf & Stock is offering a $10 savings on the book through February 2021 – enter coupon code FAMILY.

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth Gardener and Grit 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.

Ginawaydaganuc: An Algonquin Worldview to Guide Us Through Troubled Times

ginawaydaganuc explained 

As yet another United Nations Code Red warning flashes around the world, I join with those who propose that ginawaydaganuc is an essential and realistic mind set, and who encourage general, wholehearted embrace of all that it denotes and connotes.

What in our vast, entangled cosmos is this thing called ginawaydaganuc? Suffice for the moment to say that it's a word from one of the original languages of North America, Omàmiwininìmowin (Algonquin). That language has been extant on North America for many thousands of years - a vital vernacular.

This Algonquin word is easier to say than you might at first imagine. It's pronounced with a soft ‘g’: gee-na-way-dag-a-nook. Try speaking the word aloud phonetically, and experience how the sound feels in your head, heart, and soul. Ginawaydaganuc denotes the fundamental reality that we are all related - with each other, with the natural world, with the cosmos.

There's more to say. But before contemplating the ramifications of ginawaydaganuc, take a moment to breathe, and to absorb the full impact of one of the latest Code Red warnings. This one comes from the UN's 2020 report, The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene.

Unprecedented Moment of Human History

"We are at an unprecedented moment in the history of humankind and in the history of our planet," the report says. Under relentless pressure from climate chaos, species loss, inequality, natural destruction, and COVID-19, our planetary and social warning lights are "flashing red."

"We have taken the Earth for granted, destabilizing the very systems upon which we rely for survival...Now is the time to choose a safer, fairer path for human development." The report urges governments, businesses, and citizens to pursue actively a new kind of progress that protects the environment.

In its conclusion, the UN report states that nothing short of "a great transformation–in how we live, work and cooperate–is needed to change the path we are on." 

A Law of Nature

The knowings described by the Algonquin word ginawaydaganuc provide essential guidance for that "great transformation." They can help to keep a great transformation moving forward in wisdom, beauty, efficacy.

Ginawaydaganuc - we are all connected - expresses a central part of the Algonquin world view. It denotes a law of nature, and it connotes an outline of our responsibilities to each other and to the earth.

I first heard the word spoken in the 1990s as a participant on a long walk from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a walk I describe in Odyssey of the 8th Fire. The walk was guided by a respected Algonquin Canadian elder named Ojigkwanong (Morning Star), known generally as Grandfather William Commanda. His worldview was grounded in the fully inclusive concept of ginawaydaganuca - way of expressing what modern physicists would speak of as the Unified Field. It's not a theory. It's reality.

My deeper appreciation for the importance of the word came from reading the 2017 doctoral thesis of Grandfather Commanda's longtime companion and biographer, Romola Vasantha Thumbadoo Ph.D. Her thesis is titled Ginawaydaganuc and the Circle of All Nations: The Remarkable Environmental Legacy of Elder William Commanda (1913 – 2011).

Romola and Grandfather Commanda

Romola Vansanta Thumbadoo, and Grandfather William Commanda 

Thumbadoo writes, " the all-encompassing word William Commanda used constantly, affirmative of his belief that all are inextricably connected, both people and all else in the cosmic world we inhabit, contrary to the dualistic and divisive understandings that dominated his times."

She observes that the word describes a multi-dimensional relationality, the all- encompassing reality of our inter-relationship with all life on Mother Earth, and in the cosmos. This primary relationship requires full-time, full-focus respect.

Ginawaydaganuc celebrates diversity as the principle creative force in evolution. In response, Commanda and Thumbadoo created a discourse around this principle of diversity, and birthed the Circle of All Nations - a vector for weaving Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge systems for environment, relationships, peace, and social justice.

Kindergarten Dropout

A kindergarten dropout, backwoods guide, and birchbark canoe maker, Commanda late in life was recognized with two honorary doctoral degrees. Then in 2008 he was appreciated with the highest civilian honor of his nation when he was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada. Grandfather Commanda was cited for his leadership as an elder who promoted intercultural understanding.

In her doctoral thesis Thumbadoo reports that when accepting the honor, Commanda said: "Inherent in the prayer of the Indigenous Nations of Turtle Island is the deep knowledge that we are all connected - my people in the east say ginawaydaganuc. The prayer is a celebration of the profound knowledge that we are connected with the each other, as well as with the chief elements– Mother Earth, Water, Air and Fire - the animate and inanimate, the plants and animals, and the larger universe, connected energetically."

Thumbadoo explains that Commanda was keenly aware that ginawaydaganuc - this fundamental law of nature - has been under unceasing assault by the driven will expressed by colonial material industrial forces. The consequences of this assault are evident in the great number of Code Red Warnings that scientists and native elders keep flashing before our collective, global face.

Deep Agroecology is informed by Ginawaydaganuc

Agroecology approaches the task of providing sustenance for all the world in a way that honors the reality of ginawaydaganuc through our farms and food. A widespread, still-emerging international movement, agroecology is expressed through a wealth of creative and urgently needed agrarian initiatives

As the UN's Human Development Report makes plain, now is the time to choose a safer, fairer path for human development. That's where the farm, food and land approaches of agroecology can make a tremendous difference.

I regard agroecology as our main chance: the most immediate, practical, and hopeful pathway forward, past the Code Red catastrophes, and onward into a worthy future.

Agroecology is a subject with depth, breadth, and sophistication. It offers a penetrating critique of the status quo, and a far-reaching, environmentally enlightened, justice-based vision of better ways to care for land, plants, animals, and people.

Rather than a mechanistic formula for domination of nature to produce profits for a small group of investors, the core ideas of agroecology arise naturally from living, rhythmic, biological appreciation of the world and the life that inhabits the world—ginawaydaganuc.

Consequently, the global movement toward agroecology has the capacity to continue recognizing and employing systems that bring human needs into right relation with the needs of the natural world.

Some of the systems under the broad conceptual umbrella of agroecology bear names such as organics, biodynamics, regenerative agriculture, permaculture, food coops, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and more.

In addition to engaging Mother Earth with respect, these agroecological forms generally embody awareness of the absolute necessity of advancing social and economic justice for all the people who participate in the food web that stretches from farm fields and fisheries to our dinner tables. That's respectful relationship, a fundamental necessity. That's ginawaydaganuc.

Spiritual Maturity

As environmental, economic, and social realities push us hard to enact more intelligent ways of drawing our life from the land, our intelligence cannot be limited to material, mechanical, mathematical, efficiency-dominated systems. Such a limited approach would be tragically inadequate.

Along with ethical science and technology, we need also a feeling, intuitive, nurturing, wholehearted, respectful, and intelligent visionary engagement with land, life, and the cosmic matrix of subtle energies that weave it whole. That would be an expression of spiritual maturity on a cultural level, and it absolutely requires a radiantly healthy agricultural foundation.

Deep agroecology ratifies and embraces the ideas and approaches of agroecology and strives to call wide public attention to the healing agrarian pathways it represents.

Further, deep agroecology explores realms of subtle energy and their consequent influence on farms, food, and people, showing how deeply rooted wisdom ways can help guide both cultural and agricultural practices along necessary evolutionary pathways.

As artist, scientist, and teacher Dennis Klocek has noted in his writings on the New Alchemy, “Sacred agriculture is not just the manipulation of resources, but rather a spiritual act. This is an imperative of evolution, as well as an imperative of survival.”

Deep agroecology appreciates this imperative. I regard it as a direct, conscious, and enormously practical and helpful way of engaging and respecting the reality of ginawaydaganuc, and thereby meeting the challenges embodied in the cauldron of Code Red warnings.
Independent journalist
Steven McFadden is rooted in cyberspace at Information about his wider work and all of his nonfiction books is available at and on his YouTube channel. 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.

Natural Balance for the Garden: Create a Toad House

Two Toad Houses 
Photo by Barbara Hengstenberg

While working on my latest garden idea, my dad’s work ethic and singsong grace filled the air. Although Dad died over three years ago, the sounds of roofers nearby, whistling their workaday tunes, brought his memory to life. Dad was a whistling carpenter for most of his 90 years...though he insisted on using the title “builder.” He was creative and could find a use for most any everyday object.

Today, I was priming a collection of terracotta pots, readying them for an alternative use: toad houses! As I’ve been planting and weeding in my flower garden this spring, I’ve had the privilege to see a few toads hopping through. These nocturnal creatures eat up to 10,000 pests in a summer -- from spiders to slugs, grubs, snails, moths, and other pesky insects. My garden currently has two beautiful rose bushes, which inevitably become plagued by aphids in summer. I’m hoping that, by placing two of my toad houses beneath these bushes, I will soon welcome more toads as natural pest deterrents. No need for pesticides, which can harm toads (as well as damage many necessary garden critters). Dad would be pleased by the utilitarian use of these small houses.

Toad House Primed
Photo by Barbara Hengstenberg

An Inviting Home for Amphibians

An upside-down clay pot serves as an inviting home for these amphibians, as toads like to live in cool, damp places such as under tree roots, boards and rocks. A toad house can be made using a plastic container or a clay pot. Clay will serve as a cooler, more natural environment for these garden helpers. And because these miniature homes will adorn my garden, I’ve turned them into garden decor. After coating the outside of the terracotta pots with white primer, I used acrylic paints to decorate them. Spray polyurethane will serve as a protective coating.

Toad House Flower Top
Photo by Barbara Hengstenberg

Placement of Your Toad House

Toad houses should be placed beneath foliage, upside-down on either a circle of small stones with openings for the toads to enter in the front and back, or the rim of the house can be propped up on one steady stone. Be sure to place shallow water dishes nearby, as toads enjoy moisture and absorb water through their bodies by sitting in the water. Keep these water sources rinsed clean and refilled at least weekly, and you should soon be welcoming some happy and helpful amphibians to your garden. If you’re looking for arts and crafts for kids to work on this summer, this is a fun project for any age -- from young children to seniors.

Any day spent reminded of listening to Dad working is a day well spent. Creating these small toad houses that will contribute to a healthy environment in my garden would have given my dad something to whistle about.

Toads Only
Photo by Barbara Hengstenberg


  • Arsenault, Rachel. How to Attract Frogs and Toads to Your Garden. Grow a Good Life. May 16, 2016. Web.
  • Moorman, Christopher, et al. Reptiles and Amphibians in Your Backyard. NC State Extension Publications. Aug. 23, 2017. Web.
  • Rhoads, Heather. Toads In The Garden - How to Attract Toads. Gardening Know How. April 5, 2018. Web.

Photo by Pixabay/2000holmes

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.

Celebrate the Winter Solstice with Traditions from Around the World

beach bonfire

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

I am Christian by tradition. I celebrate Christmas and all the family events associated with Christmas. However, I’m also a naturalist in the sense that I observe natural phenomenon and I note how natural phenomenon impacts my life. The Winter Solstice is one natural event that is particularly important to me because it signals the return of the growing season and the lengthening days of sunlight.

We are traveling this year, so we won’t get to hold our annual solstice bonfire on the beach. In years past we would go to Ocean Beach in San Francisco and build a big bonfire and roast hot dogs and have a winter picnic with the waves crashing nearby and the wind howling all around us. This year I don’t know what we are going to do. Our current campground doesn’t allow campfires because of fire hazard. Maybe we can find a lake shoreline nearby but I’m not holding out a lot of hope.

Here are some solstice traditions from around the world. How do you celebrate the cycles of nature?

St. Lucia Day, Scandinavia

In Scandinavia, St. Lucia Day on December 13 (the solstice by the old calendar) marks the start of the Christmas season with a procession of young women in white robes, red sashes, and wreaths of candles on their heads, lighting the way through the darkness of winter. Gingersnaps, saffron-flavored buns, and warm drinks are traditionally served.

Dong Zhi, China

This festival is celebrated on December 21 with family gatherings and a big meal, including rice balls called tang yuan. Thought to mark the end of the harvest season, the holiday also has roots in the Chinese concept of yin and yang: after the solstice, the darkness of winter will begin to be balanced with the light of the sun.

Stonehenge, England

Modern revelers gather at dawn the day after the longest night to witness the magical occurrence of the sun rising through the stones.

Shab-e Yalda, Iran

This Persian festival celebrates the end of shorter days and means “birth”. Yalda is marked by family gatherings, candles, poetry readings, and a feast. Nuts and fruits, including watermelon and pomegranates, are traditionally eaten.

Toji, Japan

The winter solstice is called Toji in Japan. Traditionally, kabocha squash is eaten, because it would have been one of the few foodstuffs that would have been available. A hot bath with yuzu citrus fruits refreshes body and spirit, wards off illness, and soothes dry winter skin.

Santo Tomas Festival, Guatemala

This festival is celebrated for a week leading up to the winter solstice. Like many Latin American holidays, it’s a mix of Catholic ceremonies with native rituals that were timed to the solstice. The feast is marked with brightly colored costumes, masks, parades, fireworks, and music. The highlight is the death-defying custom of the Flying Pole event: a brave person climbs a 100-foot pole, ties on a rope, and jumps off the top.

Soyal, Hopi Tribe

The Hopi people of Arizona celebrate the winter solstice as part of their religious tradition of kachina, which are spirits that represent the natural world. In the Soyal solstice ceremony, the sun is welcomed back with ritual dances, gift-giving to children, prayers for the coming year, singing, and storytelling.

Illuminations, California’s mission churches

In the Spanish Mission churches in California at dawn on the winter solstice, a shaft a light appears through a window over the door, illuminating the altar and its sacred objects.  The churches were apparently built to align with the sun’s path, in what could have been an effort to merge the indigenous peoples’ reverence for the solstice with Christian beliefs. Today, people gather at the churches to witness this recently re-discovered phenomenon.

Dongji, South Korea

“Little New Year” is marked in South Korea with the eating of a red bean porridge called patjuk. Red is considered to be a lucky color, so in doing so, the celebrants make good wishes for the coming year. Other traditions include giving calendars and socks. This is also a day Koreans wish for snow: cold weather on the winter solstice is said to bring a bountiful harvest, but warm weather will not.

The preceding were from Reader’s Digest, edited for brevity.

Renée Benoit is a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who currently lives in a 26-foot travel trailer with her husband, a cat, and two dogs while they travel the Western United States in search of beautiful, peaceful vistas and hijinks and shenanigans. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Cozy and Comforting Sustainable Cottage Holidays

Country Holiday Tablescape

The holidays are different for 2020. By embracing the quiet, less hustle and bustle, and less stress, these YouTube sites will have you calmly choosing earth-friendly gifts, crafting, decorating and savoring their simple, sustainable lifestyles. Make a cup of tea and travel to Cornwall, Ireland, the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest and visit these warm, cozy country cottages with talented and creative women recording and sharing their own philosophies of the simple life.

Madeleine Olivia is renovating a cottage in Cornwall while living a minimalist, sustainable life. Tour of the cottage

Madeleine Olivia Vegan and Sustainable Gift Guide

Fairyland Cottage with Niamh Traynor living a simple, sustainable cottage life in Ireland. Visit her website and watch her videos on low and zero waste gifts and decorating.



Includes links to her natural body care products recipe videos.

Link to a tour of her Irish cottage.

Find a homemade Christmas at Bealtaine Cottage home of Colette O’Neill’s permaculture project. Colette shares her Christmas tree made of a garden trellis and greenery brought in from her woodland sanctuary.

Artist Paola Merrill, lives a simple, rural cottage life of creativity in the Pacific Northwest creating art for her Etsy shop. TheCottageFairy tour of cottage. Winter wreath gathered from nature

Ohio-based Kaetlyn Kennedy is the 'girl in calico' living a slow, simple, faith-led life through the seasons and running an online business at Calico and Twine. See Kaetlyn’s blog and business profiled here, and her gingerbread baking video here.

Wendy Gregory spent her career working with children as a culinary and gardening teacher in an arts-based summer camp for at-risk children in Nelsonville, Ohio, and as the director of a children’s museum in Lancaster, Ohio. She is a freelance writer exploring the ways seniors can contribute, grow, and reinvent themselves in a new chapter of life. Read all of Wendy’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.

Stalking the Wild Christmas Tree


Here I am next to our lovely tree. Thank you, lovely tree!

Getting a tree from the wild guarantees that you stay socially distanced plus it gets you some outdoor activity in fresh air. This is always good. Every year we venture up into the mountains of the National Forest near us to find the perfect wild Christmas tree. With a bit of preparation and knowledge you can, too.

The first thing you need is a permit. Go to your nearest Forest Service office and they will sell you an inexpensive permit as well as give you rules and regulations for cutting one. It will have to be from designated areas and the Forest Service will supply you with a map of those areas. It will also have to be no more than a certain height and a certain trunk diameter and will also have to be a certain distance from the road. I don’t say exactly what the rules are for you because I don’t know what state you are in so check with the Forest Service in your area and you will know everything you need to know.

Tree Choice

My favorite tree is always a fir tree and my favorite of all fir trees is the Silver Tip also known as a Red Fir. It only grows above 4,600 feet and is a tree that has stiff branches to allow for heavy snow accumulation. Therefore it holds heavy ornaments very well and has space between the branches so the ornaments are visible. Unfortunately, it is native to the mountains of southwest Oregon and California so if you don’t live there this tree will not be available to you. However, there are many trees like it so you will be able to find a suitable alternative.

The following information is from the U.S. Forest Service website.

Balsam Fir

If you live east of the Mississippi, the Balsam fir will be for you. It grows throughout the Forest Service’s Eastern Region, from New England south to Pennsylvania and west to the Great Lakes states. It also grows from sea level and into the mountains. For example, it grows to 6,200 feet in New Hampshire. It has a lovely dark green color, a great fragrance, and long-lasting needles.

The Douglas Fir

The tree I call the Doug-fir grows everywhere throughout the Rocky Mountains, Southwestern and Pacific Regions. It is the most common Christmas tree choice for westerners. Just so you know, the Douglas-fir is not a true fir, which is indicated by the hyphenation in its name.  There are two main Douglas-firs: the coast and the Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir. They both have a wonderful fragrance.

Sub-Alpine Fir

This is a popular tree that is very similar to the Red Fir/Silver Tip. It grows wild throughout high-elevation forests from Alaska to Arizona and has nicely spaced branches that are ideal for your favorite ornaments. The stout branches won’t bend under the weight of even your largest decorations. The blue-green needles are long-lasting and have blunted ends, making them soft to the touch. The Sub-alpine fir grows best at elevations above 2,000 feet.

Preparing for Your Jaunt

Know the roads and the weather conditions for where you are going.

Take a small greenwood saw* or, if you’re proficient, a small gas-powered chainsaw**. If you’re not already proficient with a gas chainsaw this is not the time to start practicing. Wear warm clothes and bring refreshments such as hot cocoa and an extra pair of dry socks just in case. A pick-up truck with 4-wheel drive is preferred as a passenger cars may not make it on gravel or dirt country roads with their low clearance even if they have 4 wheel drive. The roads are not going to be paved so be prepared. As a matter of fact, it’s a good idea to scout the roads before you go. Also, you might ask a local woodsman or hunter for recommendations on where to go. Sometimes they won’t be very helpful because they want the prized trees for themselves but ask anyway. They’ll certainly be happy to help keep you safe.

Take a good length of nylon rope to tie the tree into the pick-up bed and don’t forget your permit! The Forest Service will want you to attach a tag to your tree before you drive off with it.

Check the weather, of course. If you think there might be snow where you’re going, bring chains.

Getting your own tree guarantees that the tree will last for a month or even longer without losing needles all over the place. You also know it's 100% organic and won’t be impregnated with preservatives, fire retardant or green spray. Now we're at home with our lovely tree. I look at my husband and remark "There's a tree in our living room!"  T'is the season and we hope it's jolly for you!

Renée Benoit is a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who currently lives in a 26-foot travel trailer with her husband, a cat, and two dogs while they travel the Western United States in search of beautiful, peaceful vistas and hijinks and shenanigans. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Cats in the Garden: Helpers or Hazards?

garden helping cats 

My cats have always been more people than cats. I know this because I’ve met plenty of cat cats. I’ve even lived with several that belonged to my sister. She kept pets, I had feline friends. I was reminded of this just yesterday when a visiting friend commented on how friendly my cats were compared to her mother’s who are constantly biting or scratching the hand that feeds them.

I’m not sure how common that catlike behavior is in the general public but I’m guessing that it’s common enough to warrant the age-old argument of cat vs dog. But I believe there are enough folks out there like me to fuel the cat-supportive side of that discussion. Don’t get me wrong, I like dogs too. It’s simply that cats have almost always been and always will be a part of my daily life.

My first feline friend entered during my early youth. The unfortunate demise of this first cat friend at the hands of a budding psychopath (who also took out our basset hound and her 10 puppies) didn’t serve to deter my love of cats though it did delay them coming back into our home for a few years.

Flash forward to my adulthood where I continued to live with assorted cat friends along with come-and-go hummings until I met my husband of three decades. During our initial dating, I learned that he was allergic to cats and he learned that I would always share my home with cats. I’d spent 18 months without them once and would never repeat that again. He’s still allergic and we have far too many feline housemates but at least the numbers are in natural decline.

During the early years of sharing space, my cats were the indoor/outdoor variety. They were free to roam during the day but always came in at night. That changed one horrible night when three loose dogs killed one of my closest cats in our backyard before I could stop them.

Most of my cats have been indoors ever since—the exceptions being various strays who cross my path and the pair who currently share my garden space on a daily basis (seen in these photos). TobiCatz (the gray sweetie depicted) wandered out of my forsythia and right into my lap as I was digging potatoes a few years ago. He was a stray kitten that I hadn’t previously seen or heard but whom had undoubtedly been watching me for some time. I have no other explanation for an otherwise feral cat doing such a thing.

We already had a houseful of felines at the time and certainly didn’t need another. I tried to get my best friend to adopt him but she wasn’t ready for another—having recently lost one and with other life upheaval going on. Long story short, he joined our crew indoors but upon reaching tomcat status began spraying throughout the house—especially my husband’s favorite chairs. He first transitioned back outdoors staying in the garage at night. I was sad that he had to be alone but then Byrneesse (the tuxedo kitten in these photos) joined us after having been abandoned across the street.

cat jungle gym

When the deep cold of the winter set in, I moved them into our basement at night and set them each up in their own kitty condos (aka dog carriers). They also stayed in during rough weather—be it snow, cold or thunderstorms. The current iteration has them outdoors for varying amounts during the day, indoors in one of the bedrooms for part of the day and evening, then back in their condos for sleeping.

Many people insist that cats be kept indoors due to a declining bird population. I can’t argue that there are many cats who make their mark depleting that population. However, I would argue that it’s more likely stray colonies and cats that belong to people like my sister or friend’s mom—those people who accept that cats will be cats—than cats like mine who honestly believe themselves to be people. I see my cats more like humming toddlers, and treat them as such.

I have seen Byrneesse with one dead bird in 4 years and I rescued another from her jaws to have it fly to freedom. She knows exactly how I feel about this behavior. I feed my cats very well and always work to redirect their unacceptable hobbies—killing birds definitely falls in this category. Frankly, the insects in my garden are far more at risk than my feathered friends—at least from my cats.

I also work to keep the birds in our garden happy by supplying plenty of nesting opportunities along with supplies as well as making sure they have an abundance of food and water sources. Our Carolina Wrens often help me by letting me know exactly where Byrnie is in the garden.

Whether or not my cats actually help with my gardening is another matter completely. They may slow me down at times but they also keep me company and often have me smiling—truly, who could ask for more?

communing with cats

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.



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