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

Pollen's Perils and Promises: What Allergens and Flower Essence Teach Us During Pandemics

Allergy image by cenczi/Pixabay

If you are drawn to read this then it's probable that you are already familiar with the perils of pollen, the aggravations of allergy. Enough about that. But as you reckon with pollen this season -- while coronavirus drifts ominously across the land -- you may find it strengthening to reflect on the promise pollen signals as an agent of the flowers.

When I was writing Legend of the Rainbow Warriors decades ago, I gained some uncommon insights into the many-petaled mysteries of flowers. My senses were roused through color, form, fragrance, and essence

That book included a chapter titled Blossoms in an Age of Flowers, and that chapter included an interview with Cherokee and Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Ven. Khandro Dhyani Ywahoo of Vermont.

Dhyani shared with me her observation that many people are out of alignment with the Earth. This is in part a result of the long-term drugging of our farms and our food. For decades we've been using artificial fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and preservatives, meanwhile gobbling jars of artificial vitamins.

Because the plants are jazzed up, so also are the farm animals who eat the plants in their closely confined industrial quarters, and who then become meat for human beings. It's an overall chemically jazzed-up diet for most people. 

Having ingested great gobs of artificiality over years, our bodily systems may become unbalanced and consequently respond to natural substances as antagonists.

Yet the very flowers that release the rhythmic cascades of pollen, also offer us insight into personal and planetary well-being. Flowers are a way to bring spirit light into our lives. In releasing pollen as a messenger they attract the attention of human beings, albeit in uncomfortable ways. Acting as a quickening agent, the pollen demands our attention and response. We must strive to put ourselves, and our world, back into balance.

In my experience, chemical drugs are not the way to restore balance to human bodies, or to farm fields.

As Dhyani explained to me during our interviews, "flowers give light and joy. They also have a very subtle consciousness. They have a unity of mind. Flower energy is peaceful, and flowers are great medicine.

 "Flowers move with the sun; thus they have a certain committed solar consciousness, They know the proper relationship between spirit and earth. The flowers remind us to look up to heaven and to actualize the solar energy in our own lives -- to speak more clearly and to act more clearly.

On the level of fundamental appreciation for the floral possibilities signaled by pollen, The Flower Essence Society teaches that flower essences address health in a broad sense. They strengthen the links between body and soul.

Borage image by flockine/Pixabay

Flowers are the highest, most beautiful, and most refined part of plants. They can help awaken and develop the highest, most beautiful, and most refined parts of ourselves.

In our time of coronavirus, as we all contend with the pandemic swirling through our lives, it strikes me that many people could benefit from engaging the essence of one flower in particular, borage. Borage can help lift feelings of heavy heartedness, encourage the quality of courage, and generally add a note of buoyancy to the soul. 

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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Getting Through the Coronavirus Crisis

 container potatoes

During times of crisis, every self-reliance skill will give you a major advantage over those who don't have it.

With the coronavirus crisis taking over the world, the preppers, with their stashes of non-perishable goods and their remote bug-out locations, don't seem so out of touch with reality anymore. All of a sudden, those who have taken the trouble of getting ready for a crisis way ahead of time, have the privilege of looking smug and telling the rest of the world, "we told you so." 

Living in a quiet little town and working from home, we haven't had to make any major adjustments so far, although the quarantine is sure to create a heavy, oppressive atmosphere. I am looking ahead with cautious optimism, however, and hope that with the timely measures of our government, the virus will be contained. 

While many panic-spreaders like to talk about everybody isolated at home, hiding behind stacks of canned beans and towers of toilet paper, if you live in a small community and you know for sure your neighbors are responsible people who don't take risks and mostly stay put at this time, I see no reason why one shouldn't keep socializing (on a small scale). Banding together won't only help maintain a feeling of normalcy, but it might also reduce the need for contacting outsiders at this time. 

For example, if I need a tool or a certain service right now, and I check among my neighbors and find someone who can help me, I have saved a potentially risky trip to town. The community that has its own carpenter, plumber, computer tech, etc, is at a big advantage.

I am no expert, but I believe that this crisis will have effects on the economy that will last long after the risk of contagion is curbed. We might experience an overall recession. Money may lose some of its value. Some imported goods that we have become used to taking for granted might not be as readily available anymore. And I think many people are now beginning to see how problematic it is to rely so heavily on foreign industry for just about everything. 

Communities where people understand the value of self-sufficiency and support local businesses and local production of food and commodities are and will be less vulnerable, both in the short term and in the long run. Apart from keeping safe, which is paramount, there are also other things we can and should promote. 

Start a vegetable garden. Learn to forage. Check the possibility of keeping a few hens in your backyard. Learn to repair rather than discard and buy new. Learn basic plumbing, roofing, and carpentry skills. All of this will surely come in handy - and in times of crisis or economic recession, it might just be the thing that helps you keep one step ahead. 

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.

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.

Compost as Solution to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Black Tumbler Style Composter 

Putrefaction. Fermentation. That’s what vegetable scraps in a kitchen garbage or landfill go through. It’s also called anaerobic decomposition, which occurs in oxygen-poor environments. As “putrefaction” implies, this is a stinky process. Yet much of the Western world puts vegetable scraps in a kitchen can and thinks nothing of it until it’s time to tie up that fetid, hot, weeping plastic kitchen garbage bag and drag it out. Putrefaction’s end products are methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, organic acids, and heat.

Carbon dioxide is not the only problem. Methane is the problem, too, says Sally Brown, PhD, an environmental researcher and author of Carbon sequestration in urban ecosystems (Springer, 2012). I corresponded with Professor Brown by email about her research. Methane is not “clean” despite what fossil fuel companies’ commercials say when they are selling natural gas. Methane is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its heat-trapping ability over a 100-year timeframe. And atmospheric methane levels are rising faster than carbon dioxide, according to NAOA. Decreasing methane emissions is the number one reason composting is important.

Compost Depends On an Oxygen-Rich Environment

Professor Brown says we should be composting vegetable scraps rather than sending them to kitchen garbage cans and landfills. A ton of food scraps sent to compost rather than a landfill prevents the emission of the equivalent of one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — of course, with a lot of variance based on what materials went into the compost.

Unlike decomposition in a landfill, which occurs without oxygen, composting requires an oxygen-rich environment. Composters have openings for oxygen to enter as opposed to air-tight garbage cans and compacted soil-covered landfills.  Compost piles should be small to moderately sized so that they can be turned over to create oxygen-rich pockets allowing the aerobic microbes that degrade vegetable scraps to breathe. My composter, the one in the photo, is on rollers allowing the contents to be rolled over to mix it with air.

The are benefits with this process, aerobic decomposition. Aerobic microbes breathe like we do. Like us, their respiratory end products are carbon dioxide, water vapor, heat energy and, in their poop, ultimately minerals. Plant-accessible minerals make soil healthier. Healthy soil means healthier plants. Healthy plants photosynthesize more carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere.

Reducing Fertilizer-Related GHG Emissions

There are other carbon dioxide-reducing benefits of composting. Using compost as fertilizer eliminates the need for commercial fertilizer. This eliminates the carbon dioxide emissions incurred by commercial fertilizer manufacturing. Adding compost to soil is a way to return carbon to earth’s solid part where 99.96% would normally be stored.

Composting doesn’t just return carbon to the soil — it recycles nutrients. Think about it: We grow corn. We eat the kernels and send the husks and cob to the landfill. The husk and cob also contain the nutrients nitrogen, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, chlorine, iron, boron, manganese, zinc, copper, and nickel. We have removed nutrients from the earth and locked them in a toxic landfill where we can never use them again. It’s not sustainable.

Composting is practical. A composter is outside the house. This eliminates fruit flies in the house, the reason I was forced to get one originally. Plus, the kitchen garbage won’t get so smelly. There’s also less trash volume. Less garbage to cart away means reduced fuel and emission costs with transporting it, less financial burden on municipalities. Less trash means smaller landfills, another urgent need. The constant growth of landfills is not sustainable.

Compost Has Its Caveats

Unfortunately, sustainability is not yet a common value. Few policymakers, albeit a growing number, even use the word. Still, many of us feel the need to do good. We use the word “organic” unaware that to be organic, a practice should also be sustainable but is not always under legal definitions.  Therefore, a kind of, what I call, “organic dissociative schizophrenia” has emerged.

For example, the pesticide-free organic banana which finally doesn’t contaminate compost comes with a plastic label which will contaminate compost with microplastics or nanoplastics during the 400-year plastic degradation process.  Regarding this, Sally Brown, PhD issues a caveat to the well-intentioned composter.

First, be careful to remove all the plastic labels from vegetable scraps before putting them in the composter.  Second, action is needed to change how food — really all things — are packaged. This is the next be wave. She says ultimately our economy should be driven less by spending on “stuff” and more on the intangibles that matter. Three hundred dollars spent on a good night out on the town is better for the environment than six synthetic, multicolored hoodies which will end up in a landfill. I’ll see you out on the town.

Brian Frank reports on environmental issues locally with a passion for using numbers to define sustainability challenges and solutions. Connect with him on his blog, Subsurface Stories, and read all of Brian’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.

Landscaping Inspiration from Public Gardens

Alfred Maclay garden 

Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo by Carole Coates.

When my husband and I escaped our cold climate for a week in Florida’s panhandle in early February, one of our first stops was the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park in Tallahassee. Since the Maclays made Florida their home from January to April, Mrs. Maclay insisted on being surrounded by plants that would bloom during that time. (Small fee.)

I came away with a new inspiration and the determination to landscape our property so we will have continuous color as many months as our climate will tolerate. That got me thinking.

I love to visit public gardens. Though those properties are planted on a grand scale, they are chock full of ideas we everyday humans can scale to our own needs. And garden features can be found in all sorts of places: zoos, college campuses, city and state parks, sculpture gardens, historic homes, and even cemeteries. We found a fascinating topiary garden open to the public in a small-town in South Carolina.

The Daniel Boone Native Gardens are not only in my back yard (so to speak); they feature flowers and trees that grow naturally in our local environment. What could be easier than selecting local, native plants to grace your landscape? (Small fee.)

My state has more than two dozen public gardens for me to wander, dream, and photograph to help me plan my own garden spaces. The Sarah P. Duke Gardens, on the grounds of Duke University in Durham, have so many features, it’s impossible to take them all in during one visit. That’s a good thing because each season brings its own charms. With an Asiatic arboretum, a carnivorous plant bog, a woodland garden, a moss garden, and nearly two dozen other sections, a garden aficionado is bound to find plenty of inspiration for a home landscape. (Free; small parking fee.)

Urban Gardens

Yet, at fifty-five acres, it’s small-time. The Bronx’s 250-acre New York Botanical Garden. It boasts eleven different plant habitats right in the heart of the city. (Fee) And the Chicago Botanic Garden clocks in at 400 acres. (Free; parking fee.)

New York’s Central Park is the iconic urban garden. A much smaller and newer urban garden would surely win the Sow’s-Ear-to-Silk-Purse award. (Free) Still under development, but operational since October, Louisville’s Waterfront Botanical Gardens are built atop a former landfill. (Free.)

You can find yet another fine urban garden example with Nova Scotia’s Halifax Public Gardens, the oldest Victorian garden in North America. If I worked in downtown Halifax, I’d spend every seasonable-weather lunch hour there. (Free.)

Halifax public gardens

Halifax Public Gardens, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Photo by Ron Wynn.

Themed Gardens

Does art inspire you as it did for the developers of Topiary Park in Columbus, Ohio? The garden’s sculptured greenery is a living reconstruction of Georges Seurat’s famous pointillist painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. (Free.)

Looking for an interactive children’s garden? Try Richmond’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, rated by the Travel Channel as one of America’s best public gardens. (Fee.)

Lewis Ginter gardem

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Ron Wynn.

Another garden to make the Travel Channel’s cut is the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. A perfect palette for Southwesterners to draw from, it features only desert plants—50,000 of them! (Fee.)

If roses are your thing, you can’t beat the International Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. Literary gardeners will find inspiration in the park’s Shakespeare Garden. (Free.)

Balboa Park in San Diego has fifteen themed gardens, such as the Spanish-themed Alcazar Garden. (Free). Find authentic Asian horticulture in the Furman University Asia Garden in Greenville, South Carolina. (Free.)

Balboa garden pic

Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park, San Diego, California. Photo by Carole Coates.

Chocolate garden, anyone? Not to mention iris! Check out the Swan Lake Iris Gardens in Sumter, South Carolina. (Free.)

Quilting gardeners will be wowed by the quilt garden at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, also home to a world-renowned bonsai exhibition garden. (Free; parking fee.)

North Carolina arboretum 

Quilt Garden, North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville, NC. Photo by Carole Coates.

And More

The United States Botanic Garden was part of George Washington’s vision for the young nation’s capital city. On the grounds of the Capitol, it is one of oldest botanic gardens in North America. (Free.)

I long to visit Longwood Gardens, 30 miles from Philadelphia near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. But I’ll be sure to take a good pair of walking shoes. At more than 1,000 acres of gardens, meadows, and woodlands, Longwood has everything from fern to Mediterranean to tropical to silver gardens. I want to see them all! (Fee.)

Time to get busy planning. How about you? Where do you take your garden inspiration?

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, and modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

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.

Engaging the Heart of the Earth with Deep Agroecology

deep agroecology grain

We will define our destiny by the ways we farm, and the ways we eat.

Back in the 1980s, perhaps earlier, Trauger Groh articulated that foundational idea. An agrarian adept and a CSA farm pioneer, Trauger (1932-2016) was my coauthor for both Farms of Tomorrow, and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited. His ideas made an enduring impression on me, and many others.

I felt then and I feel today that the point is irrefutable. Farms and food are the foundation of our corrupted present. They also embody the practical promise of a wholly balanced and healthy destiny on earth for human beings, animals, and plants.

Because we are at a critical stage of our group life on Earth, I wanted to emphasize this foundational idea again. That’s one key reason that motivated me to write another book, Deep Agroecology: Farms, Food, and Our Future.

After over 40 years of engagement with farms, food, and the escalating climate crisis, I regard agroecology as our best set of tools for tending land and animals, for feeding ourselves wisely, and for making an intelligent, strategic effort to stabilize the deteriorating environment.

While still forming an identity in America, agroecology is an emerging international concept. Like an umbrella, the concept stretches over a range of familiar and positive initiatives: organics, biodynamics, regenerative, permaculture, farm-worker movements, CSAs, coops, community gardens, community kitchens, farmers markets, native knowings, and a host of other sustainable pathways leading to a sane future for our children and grandchildren unto the next seven generations.

The basic idea, the spirit of agroecology, is approaches to farming and food that are clean, sustainable, humane, egalitarian, and just, rooted in ecology and other sciences, and - importantly - indigenous knowledge.

Emerging agroecological models are more than visionary. They are real, practical, clean, just, and ready for wide implementation. These models, and others, already exist. Now they require massive public attention and energy to stabilize us through these times, and to give us a solid, sustainable foundation for the high-tech, digital culture wave which continues to surge through the world.

The world’s largest financier of fossil fuels, up to this point, JP Morgan, has just this month sounded a five-bell alarm to its clients, warning that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity. The bank's report said climate policy had to change or else the world faced irreversible consequences. Don't wait for government or multinational corporations to come to the rescue. By and large, for reasons profitable to them, they are in denial. Citizens - that's us - are going to have to do it ourselves.

Deep Agroecology

One of the key reasons for writing Deep Agroecology was to explain to readers what agroecology already is, and what it can become. We’d be making confidence-building progress if every citizen learned about the multitude of possible agroecological initiatives, and supported one or more. 

But I had additional reasons for adding the concept of “deep” to agroecology,

In my conception, deep agroecology embraces and ratifies the ideas and approaches of agroecology and strives to call wide public attention to the healing agrarian pathways it represents.

Deep agroecology also acknowledges and ratifies the insights of deep ecology. In particular, the understanding that the well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have inherent value in themselves, independent of their usefulness and profitability for the human world.

Deep agroecology explores realms of subtle energy and their consequential influence on farms, food, and people. It also demonstrates how native wisdom ways can help guide both cultural and agricultural practices along necessary evolutionary pathways.

Deep agroecology calls for engaging and raising both the gross and the subtle energies of farms to such a degree that they serve as oases of environmental health. In this manner they may radiate a high, clear vibration to their surroundings, including the pervasive high-tech, digital ocean of technology, and then finally outward more widely into the world through the food they produce.

Deep agroecology is a philosophical and survival approach to this imperative undertaking, with intimations of destiny and activation of our spiritual potential as human beings. While this is new territory, it’s natural territory.

I wrote Deep Agroecology not just for farmers, but for all people. We must alter course, and we must do it together. It’s going to take more than 1% of our population – the farmers who touch the earth for the rest of us.

Agroecology and deep agroecology are not my limited personal visions, but rather resonant national and global visions that have been dreamed and then acted upon by millions of people around the world. They are an expression of practical, purposeful, and realistic hope. Many millions more people, actually billions more, are needed to take up and follow the vision now. That is a development devoutly to be wished.

With agroecology and deep agroecology we engage our minds, hands, and hearts with the earth in a circle of mutual respect and upliftment. Now is the time to dig in.

cover good agro

Grain image by Hans Braxmeir,  Book cover by Angela Werneke, River Light Media

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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Buy Pastured Beef to Help Grasslands and Birds


For most of the 20th century, one could easily find evidence of cattle ranchers harming prairie grasslands and the wildlife that depend on this ecosystem. Overgrazing, drought, chemicals, and loss of habitat have decimated birds that call Western grasslands their home. Damage to the prairies and pastures in my former home state of Colorado was evident from corner-to-corner and seemed to have no end.

But then, Audubon Society came to the rescue in 2017 with the Audubon Certified Beef Program, or ACB. Audubon recognized that to effect lasting positive change in the grasslands of the West, private landowners/cattle ranchers would need to be partners in the restoration. The trick was convincing cattle ranchers that by making significant changes in their practices to benefit birds, would also help cattle ranchers in the long run.

Newly enlisted ACB ranchers work with Audubon to keep cattle moving so grasslands flourish instead of suffer under the hooves of cows. Free technical assistance is provided to ranchers to manage cows in a way that mimics former buffalo herds — aka American Bison. Proper cattle ranching provides aeration of the soil from cow hooves, fertilization from cow pies, and stimulation of plant growth by the way herds feed on the move as buffalo did for thousands of years.

Cleaner Beef

Ranchers who sign up for the Audubon Certified Ranch Program meet Habitat Management protocols that are tailored for each region. Other regulations in the program include animal health and welfare and environmental guidelines. Feedlots—the stinky scourge of the West — aren’t allowed, and consumers get a cleaner beef product because hormones and antibiotics are prohibited. Curtailing herbicides and pesticides are another benefit to the environment in the ACB program.

The good news for ranchers is the program is free to ranchers, and in most cases, 100 percent, grass-fed beef sells for a higher price. This program puts consumers in a place of power, voting with their dollars, rewarding ranchers taking care of the environment and its wildlife.

Tracking the benefits to the environment is carried out by third-party verification. Bird counts are held on participating ranches each year. The number of birds and types of birds showing up in bird counts is encouraging in this young program. So far, some 60 ranchers have signed up to provide consumers ACB products. Participants range from near Sacramento to Eastern Missouri, and south of Houston to North Eastern Montana and many points in between.

 Why does the ACB program matter

If you’ve never heard a meadowlark sing its melodic song of the prairie, or seen a sage grouse burst out of the ground like a tornado, you might still have a chance thanks to ACB ranches. Many of the ACB members like Rafter Ranch in Colorado, invite customers to come to see how the cows and environment are treated. It’s not often you can go to the place of your food’s origin and take a look before you buy meat for your table. Take a walk and see a healthy pasture where meadowlarks, prairie dogs, badger, coyotes, antelope, rattlesnakes, insects, and numerous birds live in harmony.

Colorado grassland antelope

Where to Buy Audubon-Certified Products

To find stores that carry Audubon Certified Beef, visit Audubon's "Where to Buy" page. Sadly, those of us living east of the Mississippi River will need to buy ACB beef online as this program only has ranches in the West at this point. On the Audubon website they write,

Industry experts state that growth in non-traditional beef has grown 25-30 percent annually over the past decade and predict that this growth will continue.

This change in consumer demand for clean, grass-fed beef bodes well for the environment and our health. In stores west of the Mississippi River, look for the green logo stating, Grazed on Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Land.

I buy my beef from sustainable ranches like Pop’s Old Place, a Maryland Century Farm where the owners are raising grass-fed heirloom Randall Lineback beef that’s humanely-treated, and easy on the environment. Check out their website to find a comparison of the health benefits of grass-fed beef versus grain-fed beef.

Another source

Your local farmer’s market is also a great place to find grass-fed beef. Seek out those ranchers that eschew antibiotics, hormones, and grain to raise cattle. The environment and your health will most likely benefit from buying and eating grass-fed or grass-finished beef.

Please leave a comment on where you buy environmentally-friendly beef products that are free of growth hormones, antibiotics, and not finished on feedlots.

Kurt Jacobsohas been a chef for 40 years and, after attending cook school in the U.S. Coast Guard, he trained in many restaurants under both kind and maniac chefs. Kurt is starting his seventh year of container and raised-bed organic gardening in his backyard. For other published stories by Kurt, check out his travel blog, Read all of Kurt's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


Whether a farmer is raising one cow or a herd, Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle is the most reliable reference for ensuring a successful, healthy cattle operation. In this fully updated, full-color fourth edition, longtime cattle rancher and author Heather Smith Thomas explains every aspect of bovine behavior and provides expert guidance on breed selection, calving, feeding, housing, pasture, and health care. Along with in-depth information on raising grass-fed animals, there’s also advice on creating a viable business plan and identifying niche markets for selling beef. Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

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.

Lessons from Ashes: A Mountain Homesteading Community Finds Strong Leadership After Wildfires


Recently a post on social media caught my attention. It was a small, remote cabin very similar to ours on a mountainside and about the same size. It was posted with a question of whether you could live there. There were about 400 comments and numerous re-posts. Most comments were from people who loved it and the solitude and peace it presented. Only a few were from people who were committed city dwellers who could not live like that. Several were from people who would like to vacation there but not live there. There were the usual questions about how far was shopping, medical, and groceries.  

Could you live in our cabin? The photo of the cabin coupled with the comments reminded me of our Colorado mountain cabin and the comments I have heard in the more than 23 years we have lived here full time. Because of the wildfire in 2018, our nearest neighbor is now about one mile away. Approximately half of our community lost their homes, so neighbors are more scarce. Self reliance is more of a reality now, because there are fewer full- or part-time residents in the community. Having watched this community grow over our time and now seeing it partially destroyed is heartbreaking. 

Small community problems. Our small community has been a micro reflection of our country. It was deeply divided over a broad spectrum of issues and subjects. People were divided and unwilling to cooperate with each other, making it hard to achieve a common goal. I’m guessing that most still residing in the community have forgotten the many small battles over the years and those who are no longer here and had their investment wiped out in a moment of time don’t consider those battles or issues worth remembering.

Disputes that divide are a waste of time. For those of us remaining on this mountain, our lives are now consumed with issues like snow removal — we get an average of 260 inches per year — finding firewood, roads being kept open, and land restoration, instead of picking fights or finding arguable issues with each other. Due to our length of time in this community, we are finding that skills and insights from our past serve us very well now. We have always been private people and now with even fewer people living nearby, we are less affected than those that crave social involvement.

A disaster brings out the best in some people. Our local leaders have risen to the new demands and are bringing our community back without partisan agendas. Disasters bring out the best in some people and our local leaders have certainly risen to the occasion. As I reflect back, I was involved in two disputes. Both were reported in blogs for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. One was regarding reckless application of an herbicide without regard for community safety. The other was about damming up a creek that adversely affected our native fish population.

Some issues deserve opposition. Both issues were serious threats to our community and those who would live here in the future. There are multiple ads on television now from lawyers seeking to represent people who believe they were affected by an herbicide. The damned stream was one of only a handful of streams that had native Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout, fish that had been in our stream for thousands of years. Our government agencies were at a temporary stalemate recognizing they lacked proper legal backing for saving these native fish. Since then, a Colorado-New Mexico pact has been achieved to make sure these fish will be safe for future generations.

Minor issues waste time. Fierce battles that divided the community, like what type of a security gate, purchase of road equipment and a host of other community conflicts, all seem pretty petty now considering our community has been reduced by half. A wildfire — the third worse in Colorado's history — has pretty much solved the petty squabbles of the past that previously plagued our community. If not for the wildfire and the resulting mud slides that washed out roads and property, I expect our community would still be somewhat fractured. Post wildfire, I have witnessed responsible leadership to deal with the difficult subsequent challenges.

Choosing our battles as a community of homesteaders. It has always been my opinion that a person should choose their battles carefully and only ones you can ultimately win. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers facilitated winning restoration of our stream and the Colorado Department of Agriculture helped win the reckless herbicide spraying issue. The herbicide was toxic and needed control and oversight by proper authorities. The dam in the stream was placed exactly where I had caught a 15-inch trout and I personally found it offensive.

Working together solves problems. As I see the news reported, I have compassion for those across our wonderful country that find benefit in dividing people over issues that one day will most likely be meaningless. Our community is only a tiny microscopic version of the larger problem and it took a disaster to put our community back on the path of an improved, forward thinking and cooperative community. It should not take a disaster for people to realize they can accomplish more by working together than against each other. Hopefully it won’t take a disaster to bring our entire country together again and working together for a common interest will once again prevail.

Reflecting as a community rebuilds after fire. This time of year when I go outside to shovel fresh snow surrounded by the total silence that fresh snow brings, I remember how it was before the wildfire and how it is now. There are new people building homes or buying houses that survived the wildfire where the owners no longer wish to chance another wildfire. It is an unforeseen new start and hopefully past history will not be repeated and it will be a community to enjoy life and mutual cooperation among neighbors.

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.

wildfire-cover Author and researcher Linda Masterson knows what it's like to flee a wall of flames in the middle of night, with just minutes to escape with her life and very little else. Her home in northern Colorado burned to the ground in the Crystal Fire in 2011. Now she's sifted through information, resources and expert advice from across the country to put together a practical handbook and personal pocket guide for homeowners who want to be better prepared if disaster strikes.Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

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.

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