Archives For activism

In my role as a Witch and a Pagan, I pay attention to the land where injustices and social action occur. I pay attention to the energies at work.“ – Jacki Richardson

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[Courtesy of C. Blanton]

It is an intense time in our society. Images and stories fill our news feeds and television screens, reminding us of communities in crisis all over the world. Many people have been called to spiritual activism during these times, and many Pagans have been more vocal and active about their commitment to justice.

Among activists, there is a common understanding on how emotionally taxing this work can be. I have personally experienced the drive to work harder to sustain the balance of spiritual wellness, the physical forms of activism work and socio-emotional self care. I, like many others, have found myself struggling, within this ever changing battle, to sustain balance and to process the traumatizing experiences that come with the intense reality of the times we are living within. The more things that appear to happen within greater society, the more challenging it can be to manage the amount of trauma that comes through primary and secondary traumatic exposure. It has also become clearer that the more I understand about my place in the world, the more I am aware of just how damaging these situations are on an individual level.

The latest rash of unarmed Black people who have died at the hands of law enforcement; the increase in trans murders and suicide; and staggering statistics about the increase of suicides of Native people within this country have reinforced many people’s personal commitments to working for equity and justice. Many are now supporting change in this country for marginalized populations, and stepping up to support these movements nationwide.

Courtesy of Stephanie Del Kjer

[Courtesy of S. Del Kjer]

After attending the April 12 vigil for Yuvette Henderson, a mother killed by the Emeryville police department, I got a chance to think about the toll these situations put on me as a person, a spiritual warrior and a Pagan. There were eight or nine other Pagans at this particular event, pushing me to question the intersections of community and justice work for some practitioners within the modern Pagan community. Although many people have been fighting for social justices causes for years, there appears to be more movement, recognition and understanding of just how these floating pieces are taking center stage in many communities, including our own.

How do Pagans see the intersection of social action and their own spiritual beliefs? How are Pagans impacted by their experiences of justice work? What things do Pagans do to continue this work and care for themselves in the process? While these are a big questions that will have a myriad of answers, looking at the impact of justice work in our communities is important to explore. For many practitioners that are involved with social action, there are some common threads of inter-sectionality that are explored through devotional work, divine mission, passion, core beliefs, and a sense of personal integrity.

Brennos Agrocunos

Brennos Agrocunos

My involvement in social justice movement is definitely connected to my spirituality. Both my Goddess and my morality call me to stand with the Black community during this struggle against a society that’s systemically racist and brutal towards them. The task of restoring Sovereignty to the land is accomplished through service, service the Gods and the Otherworld, service to the land itself and service to our community and fellow humans. My path of priesthood is defined by these acts of service. I am unable to sit by, comfortably wrapped in the privilege of the color of my skin, gender, and heterosexuality, while others face discrimination, violence, and death for theirs.

I’ve been involved in social justice and environmental movements for most of my life to varying degrees. Sometimes heavily involved and other times burnt out and frustrated. Over the past couple of decades I have watched as the political and social spectrum has turned frighteningly ugly and brutal. Becoming involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, being on the streets providing medical aid and support during the demonstrations in this latest iteration of the civil rights movement, has been transformative and inspirational for me personally and spiritually. Meeting the families of the victims of police violence, following the tweets of the leaders of the movement, and witnessing first hand the aggression of the militarized police force, has inspired me to become more involved and more active in the movement and seeing the power and solidarity of the demonstrators has given me a tremendous amount of hope for my community.

Since I tend to find myself in fairly dangerous situations at the demonstrations, I’m primarily concerned with protection. I have a number of ways of keeping myself safe when I’m out there. Before I leave my house I make offerings to my ancestors, spirit allies, and my Goddess. I also carry a small stuffed fox that my daughter made me that is charmed for my protection and that watches my back.

The Gods, our ancestors and descendants, and the spirits of the land are aware of these struggles and take an interest in our community’s well being. Our community goes beyond the realm of the living and the spirits stand with us in this fight. - Brennos Agrocunos

Beverley Smith

Beverley Smith

Your question gave me pause for thought. I hadn’t thought much about my spirituality in regards to my passion for social justice, not until recently. I had a conversation with someone about the rising anti-black sentiment and how do shaman and other magical/spiritual people address the atrocities. He informed me that he had no comment, as he doesn’t “mix his spirituality with politics”.

What?? For me, the two are inseparable. How can I, as a divine being of the cosmos, venerate my Ancestors, heal the Land, honor my Deities, and hold myself up as an example, a priestess, a teacher, or a leader if my spirituality doesn’t extend to the practical needs of my fellow humans on this earthly plane? How is the fight for civil rights incompatible with one’s spiritual life?

I’ve seen too many people define themselves as elders, as spiritual leaders, yet they seem reluctant to stand in solidarity with their marginalized sisters and brothers. I would feel like a phony, a spiritual fraud if my spiritual life and practices didn’t include justice work. How does one call oneself a priestess or teacher, and not give a damn about your oppressed fellow citizens? Who are you fooling when you participate in rituals but your heart remains hard and apathetic toward others?

So for me, social justice work is the root of my spirituality. It’s at the core, the very root. My love and empathy for humankind calls me to this work. And my ancestors demand that I fight the good fight.

Sometimes, I fail to be as gentle with myself, especially during times of heightened emotions, which happens frequently in justice work, at least for me. I need reminders to take care of myself. I’m still trying to find that balance between involvement and self-care.

I find that my yoga practice is crucial to my emotional and mental health. And as an energy healer, using Reiki and chakra-balancing lodestones, I still have to be reminded to turn some of that healing energy inward. - Beverley Smith

Autumn Crow

Autumn Crow

Most definitely, my spirituality and activism are connected and each flows from the other. As a Reclaiming Witch, I see the divine as immanent within all beings, meaning each human life is sacred. Structural racism and other systems of oppression have always undermined this by creating stories that people of certain colors, nationalities, genders, or levels of nominal wealth have lives worth more than that of others. The existence and the defense of these ideas is a desecration I can feel in my heart every time these systems of oppression abuse, imprison, maim, or kill someone. Part of my service to the Goddess is to participate in the dismantling of these harmful stories and their associated systems so we can build a more just world.

I personally feel intentional magic and ritual gives me experience of the mysteries of the divine in ways reading a book can seldom approach. And likewise, participating in social actions led primarily by those directly impacted by systems of oppression teaches me what needs to be done in a way more grounded and authentic than if I were limited to reading websites or clicking on petitions. This is especially important to me as I have both white and (transgender) passing privilege. With those privileges, our culture will happily insulate me unless I make an effort to hear the oppressed and try my best to support them in the quest for justice.

Taking action on social justice issues, especially where directly facing those representing the status quo in a protest or similar situation, is a magical act that can take a lot of my energy. Even if nothing happens in terms of physical violence, the police’s tendency to escalate rather than de-escalate conflict means that people tend to be on edge even in the most peaceful of protests. Keeping myself healthy and in shape to respond to changing situations is a priority. I make sure I have water and first-aid gear in a backpack and continuously reground myself during the action. Afterwards, I am fortunate in that I have a place of refuge in the intentional community I live in to be heard and held, so that my frustrations, my tears, and my hopes can be shared. Without my community and my beloved ones, I could not put myself out there as I do. - Autumn Crow

Jacki Richardson

Jacki Richardson

YES! My primary social action is around the deaths of unarmed Black people. Every single life on this planet is a precious gift, a star, a God/dess that has come to bless the Earth with their presence. Each and every fallen star is worthy of respect, remembering and honor.

I remember vividly the day Michael Brown was shot. I wanted so much to be able to reach through and touch him and let his last recollection of this world be in the presence of those who would honor and respect and cherish him. It wasn’t until later that I learned his mother was at the scene, which of course makes sense. So she was there wanting to be with her son with the desperate heart’s cry of a mother whose son has died and was treated with terrible indifference. Being energetically present to Mike Brown and his parents, holding them in Sacred Space, has left a deep mark on me.

As I moved in closer to what was going on in Ferguson, I noticed how much disconnect there was between what “the general public” was being told and what I saw with my own eyes.  It became deeply important to me to be able to bear witness and say, “I saw this myself.”  In response to my turmoil around how to make my spiritual practice relevant to my experiences, a mentor encouraged me to set aside a dedicated altar space for social action. Around that time, too, a lot of clergy were showing up at protests so I began wearing my pentacle outside my clothes with other “Witchy” items as a way to say, “I am here as a Pagan, too.”I don’t know if I would have developed a sense of alliance or interconnected community without social action as I know it now.  

I keep insisting and my wife can concur: my preference would have been to remain a below-the-radar hermit content staying home and building my own little temple. Being “out there” so much pushed me to building relationships with people of like minds – both in social action and Pagan communities. That, in itself, is a gift on a daily basis for refuge, support, and camaraderie – things I greatly undervalued before.I have come to deeply appreciate the capacity some Pagans have for being able to travel this harsh terrain. It is a terrible Gift to be able to witness the unending chain of brutality and remain soft hearted but unbroken. My primary goal is to increase and maintain my ability to “hold” this space of witnessing and compassionate Presence.  A big lesson for me was the realization that acting as a Witch/Pagan will kick the stuffing out of me differently than acting as a social worker operating from a primarily “middle world” perspective.” - Jacki Richardson

Michaela Spangenburg

Michaela Spangenburg

I think spirituality is foundational to the way that we experience ourselves in the world we live in, and the place we are occupy within that world.

I often hear others make the connection between social justice activism in human spirituality in the more unidirectional way that I’ve experienced it. Often I have seen other Heathens were engaged in social justice work cite the eddas to demonstrate that our faith is one deeply rooted in social justice. This seems to speak to the experience of social justice work as growing out of our spirituality.

For me the relationship between the two is more complex, largely bidirectional. Social justice has taught me just as much about being Heathen as Heathenism has informed my social justice work. And this process is dynamic and perpetual. My daily lived experiences as a multiracial, working class, 2 spirit, female-embodied person is what first taught me the necessity of social justice, out of a place initially of basic survival. I see this ongoing experience as pivotal to my identity as a Heathen, to being called by the Gods to traditions that originate in a time before the mass, systemic oppression of the modern world.

Parallel to our own development as human beings who are initially born free and whole before being quickly tempered by a world rife with injustice and oppression, the Heathen faith is one that has had to struggle against the global shift toward empire and the ensuing onslaught of oppression to survive. Heathenism is a faith that speaks to the experience of continuous, just struggle and simultaneously of restoring and maintaining balance. It’s no surprise that the Gods would call someone like myself, or any of the other countless Heathens of color, working class Heathens, Heathens struggling against ableism, or against gender oppression, or homophobia, or transphobia, or the myriad of other oppressions we struggle against now in this world. We are called not just to the Gods and their larger struggle for balance and justice, but our own struggles against oppression as well. And they help strengthen us in those struggles and guide us. The reality of our souls and the life we are born to is one. As much as I was born to the struggle of black liberation, I was born to the struggle and service of the Allfather, the gods of Yggdrasil and Irminsul, and our Heathen community. - Michaela Spangenburg

The Pagan community has always worked to understand the roles of the allyship, social activism, spirituality and manifestation. The last year we have seen another shift in the needs of our intersecting communities and, as the call for social action intensifies, we are seeing the face of Pagan activism transforming once again.

The emotionally, physically, and spiritually demanding effects of social activism often mean an increased toll on the body and the spirit. I have personally experienced this work as emotionally draining, and know this to be true of most who are present in the consistency of the struggle. The interconnectedness of our experiences puts stress on the delicate balance of holding space for social change, fulfilling our commitments to our deities, spiritual practice, personal growth and allowing one to take care of the self simultaneously.

The ritual of social activism work is a deep and practiced discipline for those who are performing magic through the tools of social resistance, information sharing, coalition building, and community tactics. Holding space for change and equity is a magical act that is not just done within a traditional circle or religious format, but is also being done at protests and vigils.

This is hard work. It is meaningful work. It is visionary work. It is a work of love.

 

Note from the Author: A special thank you to all of those who are fighting for justice in the myriad of ways that promote health and change for all people.

 

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

10171823_657991900922656_4489060788986826316_nOn June 25th in New York City, a “Night of The Witch” will take place, featuring talks from Christina Oakley Harrington of Treadwell’s Books in London, and Pam Grossman, an expert on the occult in Western art who co-hosted of the 2013 Occult Humanities Conference at NYU. Grossman’s talk will be on the figure of the witch in modern art, while Harrington will focus on British Witchcraft from the 1950s through the 1970s. Quote: “British Witchraft revived in the 1950s and 1960s. To the horror and fascination of the English press and public, some of these witches gave interviews and even allowed secret rites to be photographed. They wanted the world to know a non-Christian basis of ethics, a radical concept of the sacred, and the power of altered states of consciousness. Both tradition-based and forward-thinking, they were paradoxical. Tonight’s speaker comes from the UK Wiccan community, and brings these characters to life and shares insights into their vision of the Craft.” Tickets for the event at the Meta Center can be bought here.

Pagan activist Patrick McCollum holding the Earth flag.

Patrick McCollum

Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum is heading to the United Nations, and will participate in a special session on nuclear disarmament. Here’s an excerpt from a statement put out by McCollum through the Patrick McCollum Foundation. Quote:  “Today I am preparing for my trip to the United Nations on April 29th to participate in a special session on Nuclear Disarmament. I already know several of the key players who will attend and I am looking forward to meeting and creating relationships with several others. H.E. Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt the Permanent Observer for the Holy See (the Pope) will be present and I look forward to meeting him and creating a stronger connection with the Vatican. I have already made connections with several Cardinals and a number if Bishops and am continuing to have conversations toward partnering to address world peace issues.” In a statement sent to press, McCollum added that he is “honored to be in such revered company tackling such an important issue at such a high level,” and that he believes “it is only through partnering with others and including the voices of all concerned, no matter what their race, religion, or culture may be, that we can achieve world peace and create a planet that revers the sacredness of every sentient and non-sentient being!”

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

At Patheos.com, T. Thorn Coyle has announced a new public study-group focusing on the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander. Quote: “I want to use this space for a monthly meeting. A study group. Each month, I want to discuss a chapter of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I want us to invoke the Power To Know. There is a call to start a movement to help overturn the devastation of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration through the Prison Industrial Complex. But before we start a movement, we have to know what we are up against. The prison industrial complex and the war on drugs have infiltrated every community in the U.S. They have changed our thinking, and how we build culture. Our assumptions are as unchallenged as the water we drink or the air we breathe. We barely notice they’ve become toxic. I am a Pagan and a Magic Worker. In my experience, everything in life and magic, every act of honoring the Gods or Goddesses, every encounter with our planet’s moon, or an apple tree has this in common: we are called into relationship. Our religious and spiritual practices ask us to deepen these relationships. To re-connect. To re-member.” For those wanting to buy the book from a local, Pagan-owned, source, Fields Books has agreed to stock the title for this initiative. Discussion posts will go up the fourth Wednesday of each month at Patheos.com.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

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  • On a related note, a group of Pagans have founded the Council of The Phoenix (Facebook page), which seeks to address abuse within the Pagan community. Quote: “Every 15 seconds abuse takes place in America, and it is happening in the Pagan community at large. Abuse, whether physical, psychological and emotional as well as sexual abuse is the most under reported phenomenon in our society. It is high time for it to end at our gatherings and festivals. There is too much silence and turning a blind eye about this! We must strive to be violence free and never commit, condone, or stay silent about any act of violence.”
  • Holly Allender Kraig, the widow of author and teacher Donald Michael Kraig, who passed away in March, has posted an update to note that the campaign to help offset funeral and medical costs raised over $15,000 dollars. Quote: “Because of you being you, we were able to raise over $15,522.00!!! I am humbled, honored and blessed by all your love and support.” Kraig noted that a memorial service is still being planned, and will feature a ceremony written by Donald Michael Kraig during the struggle against cancer that claimed his life.
  • The second book in Raymond Buckland’s Bram Stoker Mysteries series will be published on October 7th of this year. You can pre-order “Dead for a Spell” at Amazon.com now. The first book, “Cursed in the Act,” is out now. While Buckland is no doubt an accomplished novelist, he’s best known within modern Pagan communities as one of the people responsible for bringing Gardnerian Wicca to the United States, and publishing several instructional books relating to religious Witchcraft.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary’s 2014 Hypatia Day Drive is winding up, they’ve raised nearly $12,000 dollars toward their goal of $17,000 dollars. Quote: “It’s been a busy spring, and a great many of you have helped us raise an amazing $11,842!  That’s a just over $5,000 away from our goal.  Remember that those who join during this 2014 Hypatia Day Drive will receive a lovely Hypatia altar/desk card. But best of all, you will be investing in the finest education for Pagans available. Click here to join or renew your membership to The Hypatia Society.”
  • Aidan Kelly, who blogs at the Patheos.com Pagan portal, has published a new book entitled “A Tapestry of Witches: A History of the Craft in America, Volume I.” Quote: “I have released the first volume of the history for which I began gathering data about 30 years ago. It covers from 1893 up to the mid-1970s. There were Witches before Gardnerian Witchcraft was introduced to America by Raymond Buckland, and there still are. The relationship between these two varieties is still a matter for active discussion. The book contains several hundred footnotes, mostly documenting the Wiccan and Pagan periodicals from which I gleaned the data about the existence of covens, nests, groves, etc. Hence I am not releasing it as an e-book, because the footnotes would be mangled in that format.” 

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.”John Muir

Today is Earth Day, a moment when we as a people take notice of our interconnected relationship with the planet we inhabit, when, in theory, we take stock of our responsibilities towards good stewardship of the fragile ecosystems that allow the flourishing of life. A moment where we realize that the resources that we depend on for life are not inexhaustible or incorruptible. Originally a teach-in on environmental issues, Earth Day has since become a global point of focus for issues relating to environmentalism, ecology, and the preservation of natural resources. With climate change becoming an increasingly dire issue, it remains to be seen if we can escape the fog of politics and actually work to mitigate some of the worst effects while we still can.

Pioneer trail, Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl.

Pioneer trail, Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl.

While many contemporary Pagans today feel a deep connection with these issues, to the point where many now describe themselves as following an “Earth Religion,” that was not always the case. Nascent Pagan religious culture in the 1950s and 1960s  was more focused on what scholar Chas Clifton, in his book “Her Hidden Children,” calls “cosmic” and “embodied” forms of nature. This former dominant paradigm is underscored by a recent editorial by Fritz Muntean, who argues that hedonism, not high-minded environmental concerns, were the driving force in the community he joined in the 1960s.

 “The people who rallied, with me, around the ribbon-bedecked May Pole of modern Pagan Witchcraft in the early 1960s were primarily hedonists. Many of us, it’s true, were interested in ecology and environmentalism. But all were there, I believe, to fuel the fires of a religiosity that claimed ‘all acts of love and pleasure’ as its sacraments.”

I think that Muntean’s assertions as to how the shift in emphasis from ‘cosmic’ and ‘embodied’ ideas to ‘Gaian’ ones happened suffers from a selective and biased reading of our community’s history, and largely ignores how Pagans of that time were influenced by a much larger groundswell in the West around issues of environmentalism. As Clifton puts it, this cultural shift within Paganism largely happened without premeditation.

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton

“I would stress that Wicca and other forms of new American Paganism stepped right into the opening created, without, so far as I can tell, any premeditation. In more than a quarter century of involvement in the movement, I have not uncovered any instance of any American Pagan’s saying, in effect, ‘Let’s position ourselves as the environmental religion.’ Risking an argument from absence, I think that the unconscious ease with which American Pagans embraced the terms nature religion or earth religion testifies to the strength of Catherine Albanese’s argument that nature religion does exist in the American worldview, whether as a scholarly construct, a way of organizing reality (her first description), or as the ‘spiritual source of secular passion.'”

It should be noted that within the larger Pagan movement, some individuals and groups have, in recent years, rejected labels like “earth religion” or “nature religion,” finding them not accurate descriptors of what they practice or believe. That said, support for environmental causes, a willingness to embrace modern scientific data on issues like climate change, and a general belief that preserving natural resources is a good idea, are still pervasive throughout our interconnected communities. A shift did happen in 1970, one that has changed our religious movement in a deep manner, to the point where environmentalism is often slurred with the epithet of “pagan” by some political conservatives.

“With the demise of the biblical religions that have provided the American people with their core values since the country’s inception, we are reverting to the pagan worldview. Trees and animals are venerated, while man is simply one more animal in the ecosystem. And he is largely a hindrance, not an asset.”

This slur, meant to shock Christians of a certain stripe, is increasingly losing its power in the face of greater ecological catastrophes. The main question now is, will outrage over local disasters, over poisoned resources, over under-regulated oil, chemical, and gas industries, gel into a national movement powerful enough to shift the political will as it did in the 1970s? Back then it took acid rain, rivers on fire, toxic smog, and widespread chemical poisoning of both people and our ecosystem before enough push-back solidified. How much damage, or more accurately, how much irreversible damage, will we as a culture tolerate? It’s clear we will need more than Pagans espousing nature religion, we will need a larger change in how we all encounter and experience the natural world and our place within it.

View from Spencer Butte. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

View from Spencer Butte. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

While I think that documentaries like “A Fierce Green Fire” (debuting tonight on PBS), “Monumental,” “Earth Days,” or Ken Burns’ love letter to the National Parks, can help raise both awareness and a longing for reconnection with nature, nothing replaces experience. Living in Oregon, surrounded by ocean, forest, high plains desert, mountain, and butte, one has only to pick a direction and walk to it. Since moving here some years ago, I have seen my own spiritual framework shift and change as I adapted to my new home. Here, people regularly climb to the summit of local buttes to break through the clouds that are our reality for several months of the year, where almost everyone owns hiking gear, where both REI and Cabela’s thrive in providing equipment for a number of outdoor excursions. As a result, “nature religion” is almost our default setting in a land where religious “nones” are a force to be reckoned with.

Not everyone has access to the lush splendor of the Pacific Northwest, but nature, and our desire to preserve its ability to support us, need not depend on forest or mountain. Pagans can oppose fracking in urban New York City, they can get involved in environmental law, fighting for nature in our courtrooms, they can call awareness to poisoned water supplies, they can stand on the front lines as activists, and perhaps most importantly, they can dig into the history of the land they are on, no matter where that is.

“Many of us look to the land to teach us various internal and external lessons. And most of us look to what has been built before us in order to better understand who we were and are. But we sometimes overlook the idea that the objects and structures that we have built can also serve as powerful lessons about the land itself. Lessons that our ancestors knew but in the present-day we have forgotten, lessons that the land may not be able to tell us quite so clearly, especially when man-made alterations have transformed the historic layout of a landscape.”Alley Valkyrie

I know that there will be many who will say that there is little they can do, that they already recycle, or conserve, or donate, as best that they can. That the problems we face are too immense, that we can simply face forward with stoic composure, or engage in “collapse” scenario preparations, and hope for the best. However, I don’t think that’s true, there is something we all can do, rich or poor, connected or isolated, and that is to stop being polite about the devastation. When the AIDS crisis hit, there were those who were more than ready to consign all who were hit by the disease with death, who readily villainized the sick. However, a group of people decided that they weren’t going to die quietly, and that they weren’t going to give up hope. They forced awareness, they pushed for new drugs, and they pushed for policy changes. As a result, there are thousands alive today who may not have been had they accepted their fate.

Trees and sun in Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

Trees and sun in Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

The way forward, especially for those of us who think terms like “nature religion” or “earth religion” matter, is to keep pushing towards a culture that cares about these issues. Where it is reported on in the news every day, where all politicians are forced to have a position, where every new statistic, every new disaster, every new setback, is discussed openly, even if it annoys some of your connected social network. If nature is sacred, if we are connected to that sacred nature, then “likes” are immaterial in the face of crisis. If we want global change, we must become that change. We must role model what we expect from our leadership, be that spiritual or political. Making every day “Earth Day” has become a cliche rejoinder, but we must instead make it a call to action that promotes a radical shift in our spirit.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

A young Nepalese girl dressed as a Kumari/living goddess. Photo: Narendra Shrestha.

A young Nepalese girl dressed as a Kumari/living goddess. Photo: Narendra Shrestha.

  • Does the presence of goddesses within a faith mean better treatment for women within a culture? A Guardian article complicates the notion. Quote: “Goddesses are worshipped merely as a ritual but in reality, women are generally never seen as their earthly representations,” [Usha Vishwakarma] says. “It is not inspiration or motivation that we look for. Sheer frustration from being ill-treated by men and unsympathetic responses from family drive us to rebel and make conditions better for ourselves.”
  • Scholar Wendy Doniger says India banning her book “The Hindus: An Alternative History” had her “in high spirits.” Quote: “But I must apologize for what may amount to false advertising on my behalf by Mr. Batra, who pronounced my book ‘filthy and dirty.’ Readers who bought a copy in hope of finding such passages will be, I fear, disappointed. ‘The Hindus’ isn’t about sex at all. It’s about religion, which is much hotter than sex.”
  • At HuffPo, Parth Parihar discusses “Hinduism and the eco-activist vacuum.” Quote: “What could be more adharmic than incentivizing the creation of fossil fuel infrastructure that only makes oil a more economically viable means of energy production, thereby impeding progress on combating global climate change?”
  • The head of the British Veterinary Association is advocating that animals slaughtered in Kosher and Halal butchering be stunned first, spurring charges of misinformation and limiting religious rights. Quote: “But Mr Arkush, who is the vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said the Jewish slaughtering practice was a ‘humane act designed to bring about the animals’ end very quickly’. He said that Mr Blackwell’s remarks were ‘completely misleading’ and criticised him for ‘speaking in a way that inflamed prejudice’.”
  • The Straight Dope covers the topic of penis-stealing sorcerers. Quote: “The result of this delusional drama can be pretty ugly. About 20 witches accused of penis theft were lynched in Nigeria in 2001, and 12 in Ghana in 2002. One survey counted 56 separate cases between 1997 and 2003, with at least 36 suspected thieves murdered. In a 2008 outbreak in Congo, urgent messages went out by radio to avoid strangers wearing gold rings in taxis, leading police to put 13 suspected sorcerers into protective custody to prevent lynchings.”
  • Tablet Magazine explores the forbidden books of Jewish magic. Quote: “If most historical Judaisms have taken a transcendental approach to the magic taboo, the transgression-consummation dyad accounts for the simultaneous attraction and repulsion to magic one finds in so many Jewish sources. The highly charged polarity is responsible for producing myriad expressions of anxiety, the tracing of which may shed light on familiar facets of Jewish culture. The binary status of magic gave rise to contested formulations of its cultural position among rabbinic authorities. Was magic the most profound degradation of the spirit, or the highest actualization of human potential?”
  • Police in Siberia managed to stop an attempted witch-burning before it was too late. Quote: “In an unexpected incident worthy of the Spanish inquisition, a couple in eastern Siberia decided their acquaintance was a witch and attempted to burn her alive, though police stopped the impromptu auto-da-fe. The rescue came not a moment too soon, as the couple were at that moment forcing the alleged witch headfirst into a burning stove in an abandoned building, Zabaikalsky Region police said Thursday.”
  • From the “what could possibly go wrong” files, Oklahoma House passes “Merry Christmas” bill that would protect using religious expressions in public schools. Quote: “There is a war on Christians and Christmas, and anyone who would deny that is not paying close enough attention,” Cleveland said in a December 2013 press release. “This bill will create a layer of protection for our public school teachers and staff to freely discuss and celebrate Christmas without worrying about offending someone.” Don’t worry though, the proposed law calls for Christianity to share the stage with at least ONE other faith and/or secular expression. Diversity!
  • A new book from a 20-year devotee alleges widespread corruption, nepotism, and abuse in the empire of “Hugging Saint” Mata “Amma” Amrithanandamayi. Quote: “An Australian woman, who served Mata Amrithanandamayi for two decades, has exposed in her memoir the “hugging saint’s” ashram as a murky world of physical, sexual and mental torture, promiscuity power-madness and intolerance.” The organization’s response? She’s crazy and depressed (no, really, that’s their response).
  • Slate.com mentions Santeria and Vodou elements in the hit HBO show “True Detective.” Quote: “Voodoo and Santeria have long inspired the authors who dabbled in cosmic horror. Louisiana Voodoo (otherwise known as “Hoodoo”), which draws upon African and European folk traditions alike, derives much of its occult resonance from such practices as vengeance by proxy (voodoo dolls), suspended animation (zombification), and gris-gris (talismans, not unlike the knocked-together fetish sculptures that Hart and Cohle discover at the scene of Dora Lange’s murder). The particular appeal of Louisiana Voodoo to cosmic-horror writers like Lovecraft and those who have followed in his footsteps comes not only from its supernaturalism, but from its cultural otherness as well.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Songs-560px-385x480Fulgur Esoterica has announced the publication of “Songs for the Witch Woman,” which features the work of rocket scientist Jack Parsons and his artist lover, Marjorie Cameron. Quote: “Songs for the Witch Woman is a project born from this turbulent love story. A series of poems written by Parsons reveal his feelings toward his often absent lover. And beside these words are images from the hand of Cameron, illustrating and echoing the intimate themes. After Parsons’ tragic death in June 1952 we find the notebook in which this work was recorded continues, as a bereaved Cameron keeps a diary of her magical working in Lamb Canyon, California. In the dark desert her words become a raw lament as she attempts to gain contact with her Holy Guardian Angel. And throughout the working, the memory of Jack is never far from her mind. Now published more than sixty years after it was written, Songs for the Witch Woman stands as a testament to lasting power of love and loss.” Find out more, here.

Altar of the Holy Place of the Elves Gálgahraun lava field IcelandThe Norse Mythology Blog has an excellent in-depth examination of a recent “news of the weird” story about elves in Iceland delaying a road project. As you might expect, there’s more to the story, and the blog reprints a correspondence with a leading expert on elves in Iceland. Quote: “There you have it, gentle readers. Make up your own minds about the original story, the critiques, the letters and the photographs. I simply thought that the professional journalists on both sides of the issue could use a bit of reminding about original research, speaking to sources and following up on a story as it develops after the initial AP report. My faith in modern journalism keeps getting lower as, for example, I repeatedly catch reporters in the mainstream media who are writing articles by literally cutting and pasting from Wikipedia articles.” Do check out the entire article.

Isobel ArthenThe EarthSpirit Community shared a photo by Jenna Pope of EarthSpirit member Isobel Arthen at a student-led peaceful action in Washington DC this weekend against the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Hundreds were arrested at that action, including Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Quote: “Isobel Arthen, a member of EarthSpirit since she was born, takes a stand, putting her spirituality into action to protect our sacred Earth at the student-led XLDissent action in Washington DC on Sunday.” Photographer Jenna Pope added, quote, “people zip-tied themselves to the White House fence during a Keystone XL protest today. Thousands of students from around the country marched through DC, and hundreds of them sat down in front of the White House or zip tied themselves to the fence in an act of civil disobedience.” Jenna Pope’s official website can be found here. More photos from the action, here.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • A formal fundraiser has been launched for author Donald Michael Kraig, to help with medical expenses while he battles cancer. Quote: “Many, many of you around the world have sent healing energies, magick and prayers. They are all appreciated and felt. In order to help offset the bills, we’re asking your help to raise funds for his medical bills.” More on this, here.
  • Next year, two East Coast Pagan/esoteric conferences, Between The Worlds, and Sacred Space, will become a joint shared event. Quote: “The attendees will get to have the benefit of having full access to two conferences for the cost of one. Both conferences are designed to meet the continuous growth and needs of intermediate to advanced practitioners. And for 2015 both conferences chose to cooperate with each other, taking advantage of that synergy of purpose instead of engaging in destructive competition. The two organizations will move forward with the future of both conferences intact, and will also leave a legacy of an example of cooperation amongst pagan/magickal organizations.” 
  • Musical duo Frenchy and the Punk, who have played at many Pagan events, are holding a Kickstarter to fund their next album. Quote: “We are itching to get back into the recording studio and we are scheduled to start in April so time is of the essence! We need your support so we can get in there and record a brand new CD! We will be touring in May – November all across the U.S. and in Europe and we want you to have the new CD. Pre-order the CD, combine it with other cool rewards and YOU become part of the process.”

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  • An IndieGoGo campaign for a new oracle card set, The Burning Serpent Oracle, has already surpassed its goal, but if you like the look of the deck, now’s the time to jump on board and secure a copy for yourself. Quote: “The Burning Serpent Oracle deck, including the set of 40 cards by Robert M. Place (creator of The Alchemical Tarot) and 260 page book by Rachel Pollack (author of Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom), is ready for the printer. To make this happen we need to raise $9000, and so we are launching this campaign.”
  • The full-length version of Margot Adler’s new book, “Vampires Are Us: Understanding Our Love Affair with the Immortal Dark Side,” is now out! Quote: “Vampires let us play with death and the issue of mortality. They let us ponder what it would mean to be truly long lived. Would the long view allow us to see the world differently, imagine social structures differently? Would it increase or decrease our reverence for the planet? Vampires allow us to ask questions we usually bury.”

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

“You may want to consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services.”

This was Sheriff Gil Gilbertson’s advice to women fearing domestic violence in Josephine County, Oregon in the spring of 2012, after drastic cuts to public safety funding resulted in a reduction from 24 sheriff’s deputies to only 6. A few months later, Gilbertson’s chilling warning became a reality when a woman in Josephine County was sexually assaulted by an abusive ex-boyfriend despite calling 911 and pleading for help to the dispatcher for over ten minutes. The dispatcher was not able to send help because there were no deputies on duty at the time. When the Josephine County dispatcher routed the call through to the Oregon State Police, there were also no officers available. Over the course of the call, the State Police dispatcher remarked that it was “unfortunate you guys don’t have any law enforcement up there” and suggested that the terrified caller “ask him to go away”.

The incident made national news a few months later after Josephine County voters once again considered and then narrowly rejected a modest property tax levy that would have provided for adequate law enforcement. Despite having the lowest property taxes of any county in Oregon, and despite the fact that the failure to pass a tax levy the year before resulted in a woman being brutalized, voters had apparently decided that the safety of local citizens was not worth an average of $18.50 per household per month.

On the surface, it would seem easy to simply blame Josephine County voters for their woes, but the situation that led to the county’s financial crisis is far more complicated than just a matter of property taxes. Nearly 70% of the land in Josephine County is owned by the federal government, and the county receives no tax revenue from that land regardless of whether a tax levy is passed or not. Josephine County is one of eighteen counties in Oregon that has been receiving timber payments from the federal government to compensate for the lost tax revenue from federally-owned land since the 1930s. The amounts of payments are dependent on sustainable-yield harvests, and for many of these counties, known collectively as the “O&C counties”, these timber payments have made the difference between feast and famine for nearly a century. And while the O&C counties prospered as a result of these payments up through the late 1980s, over the past 25 years many of these counties have fallen into financial ruin as the payments slowly dried up.

While many felt that Josephine County voters were simply prioritizing their anti-tax sentiment over their need for adequate public safety services, its important to recognize that in rejecting the tax levies, the citizens of Josephine County were not only demonstrating their belief that the federal government has an obligation to help fill their budget gap, but many also strongly believed that rejecting the levies would either prompt Congress to increase timber harvests or would trigger additional financial assistance from the federal government.

The short explanation behind Josephine County’s financial crisis is that the rapid deforestation of Oregon’s old-growth forests over the past century eventually led to a steady decline in timber harvests, which in turn reduced the federal timber payments down to a trickle. The larger story behind that simple explanation, however, of how and why Oregon developed such a pathological dependence on timber in the first place and why basic municipal infrastructures are so rapidly failing as a consequence of that dependence, is an interesting tale of money and politics that stretches back over 150 years. And while critics had pointed out for many years that Oregon’s failure to diversify its timber-dependent economy would eventually lead to both economic and biological disaster, few ever truly imagined a day where in the words of a local forest activist, “we are now being told that protecting women from rape is contingent upon raping the earth.”

Clear-cut forests near Eugene, Oregon. Photo by Calibas.

Clear-cut forests near Eugene, Oregon. Photo by Calibas.

It all started with the desire for a railroad.

The Oregon and California Railroad Act, passed by Congress in 1866, dedicated nearly four million acres of land to be made available to any company who would build a railroad from Portland to San Francisco. The Act dictated that the land was to be distributed in 12,800-acre land grants for each mile of track that was built, with an amendment three years later requiring the railroad company to sell the land adjacent to the rail line in 160-acre parcels to be priced at only $2.50 an acre in order to encourage settlement along the corridor. The theory behind the land-grant arrangement was that the sale of the parcels granted to the railroad company would financially compensate the railroad company for building the railroad in the first place. Meanwhile, the value of the government parcels would increase significantly over time due to the building of the railroad as well as the development that would occur on the parcels that the railroad sold to settlers, which would financially benefit the government in the long-term. Similar land grants had successfully enticed railroad companies to construct what became the first transcontinental railroad, which broke ground in 1863 and was completed in 1869.

The O&C parcels were laid out in a checkerboard pattern, extending twenty miles out from each side of the tracks, with the parcels designated for settlers alternating with parcels that were retained by the federal government. Construction was first started in Portland in 1868, and the route was completed over Siskiyou Summit into California by 1877, at which time the Southern Pacific Railroad took control of the railroad line. But while the laying of the tracks itself went smoothly, selling the available land parcels to settlers proved to be quite problematic. The terrain, which was rugged, mountainous, and consisted mostly of old-growth Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock, was not ideal nor practical for development, and the land proved to be difficult if not impossible to sell to potential homesteaders. Timber companies, on the other hand, coveted the parcels, but the land grant stipulated that the land was to only be sold to bona-fide settlers. This left the railroad company unable to recoup the money that was spent on building the railroad, as was the original purpose of the land grant.

And from this dilemma, a massive land-fraud scandal was born.

The racket was brilliantly simple. The president of the Southern Pacific Railroad hired a former surveyor tasked with rounding up working-class folks from the bars and saloons on Portland’s waterfront. The surveyor would escort the saloon patrons over to the land office and pay them to pose as a settlers, where they would register and pay $2.50 an acre for an O&C parcel and then immediately sell the parcel back to the railroad company. The railroad company then sold off the parcels in large blocks to the highest-bidding timber companies, who then harvested the timber without restrictions. This continued throughout the first decade of the 20th Century, until a disgruntled lumber employee tipped a Portland newspaper off to the scheme. The investigations that followed led to hundreds of federal indictments.

After the subsequent trials and convictions, the question remained as to how to legally handle the issue of the land fraud and the parcels themselves. A flurry of lawsuits between the state of Oregon, the federal government, and Southern Pacific resulted in a 1915 Supreme Court ruling that found that although the railroad company had violated the terms of the grant, they had a right to retain the land because the railroad had still been built as per the agreement. A year later, Congress overrode the Supreme Court’s decision with the passing of the Chamberlain-Ferris Act, which declared that 2,800,000 acres out of the nearly four million acres granted were to be revested back to the United States under the control of the General Land Office, which later became the Bureau of Land Management. Under the Act, the land became known as the “Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands”, commonly referred to thereafter as the “O&C Lands”. The original plan under the Chamberlain-Ferris Act was for the land to again be re-sold into private ownership so that the counties could recover their tax base, but once again selling the land to settlers and developers proved to be difficult if not impossible due to the rugged terrain.

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Finally, in 1937, Congress passed the O&C Act, revising the terms of the Chamberlain-Ferris Act and mandating that the land be managed for forest production and that the 18 affected Oregon counties be compensated for the loss of tax revenue. The Act guaranteed the counties 75% of the revenue from timber sales on O&C lands, which could be used by the counties for any purpose they chose. A year after the Act was passed, Oregon surpassed the state of Washington as the number-one timber producing state in America.

Under the terms and financial structure of the O&C Act, the counties themselves became the most vocal champions of timber production. More production meant more money flowing into county coffers, and for the next fifty years, the O&C counties in Oregon produced more timber than any other region in the entire world, leveling over 80% of Oregon’s old-growth forests in the process. Between the jobs created through the timber industry and the revenue that flowed through the O&C counties as a result, timber was not only the most dominating economic force throughout Oregon, in many rural areas it was pretty much the only economic force. At the height of the timber boom in the 1940s and 1950s, loggers harvested several billion board feet per year from the O&C lands, and by the 1960s more timber was being harvested on federal lands than any private land in Oregon.

Clearcuts on O&C lands outside of Oakridge, Oregon

Clearcuts on O&C lands outside of Oakridge, Oregon

For years, as old growth was logged and the O&C counties flourished, environmentalists watched the massive deforestation and subsequent destruction of a thriving ecosystem with horror. Under the terms of the O&C Act, however, there was little they could do to halt the logging. Years’ worth of environmental lawsuits had failed to produce any results, and yet the effects of deforestation on certain species were becoming plainly apparent. In 1986, environmentalists first petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Northern Spotted Owl as a threatened species. The USFWS reviewed the petition in both 1987 and 1989, but declined to list the owl as endangered. In the meantime, forest activists started to blockade federal forests in order to stall logging operations while more lawsuits worked their way through the court system.

The Northern Spotted Owl

The Northern Spotted Owl

Finally, in 1990, the Northern Spotted Owl was listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Loss of old-growth habitat was listed as the primary threat the owl, which gave environmental activists the ammunition they needed. A lawsuit was filed, claiming that logging timber harvesting old-growth habitat was in violation of the Endangered Species Act due to the presence of the Northern Spotted Owl, and in 1991 logging was halted on the O&C lands via court order. This order provided immediate relief for the owl and the forest, but also had an immediate and devastating affect on the timber payments that the O&C counties relied on, and officials stated that anywhere from 30,000 to 150,000 jobs would be lost as a result of the court order.

During his first campaign for office, presidential hopeful Bill Clinton promised Oregon voters that if elected, he would work to break the deadlock. Clinton kept his promise, and in 1994 his administration adopted the Northwest Forest Plan (NFP), which was intended to balance the need for logging on federal lands with the need to protect the habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl. The plan strongly decreased the amount of timber yields that were allowed under the original O&C Act, and set aside several million acres of old-growth forest as habitat for the Northwest Spotted Owl. And while the compromise set forth in the Northwest Forest Plan was arguably better than the stalemate that had preceded it, neither side was happy with the results. Environmentalists and forest activists pointed out that the plan did not go far enough to protect old-growth forests and municipal watersheds, while timber executives and county officials insisted that the allowed yields were not high enough to sustain the timber industry and the economic health of the O&C counties. Over the next several years, the concerns of both groups came to fruition. Environmentalists witnessed, documented, and publicized the negative effects that the logging was having on the ecosystem, which further empowered the forest defense movement to take up blockades in the forest. Meanwhile, the timber revenues of the O&C Counties continued to plummet, and timber jobs steadily started to vanish. Rural towns descended into poverty, while municipal and county governments struggled to stay afloat.

Once again the O&C dilemma compelled the federal government to act, and in the year 2000 Congress created a safety net for the Oregon timber counties as well as other rural areas affected by declining timber harvests by enacting the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. The Act allowed the O&C counties to receive the average of the three highest timber payments from 1986 through 1999 in lieu of the payments owed based on actual yields, which at the time was an average of only 150 million board feet a year. The Act originally was set to expire in 1996, but was renewed several times without lapsing, with the amounts decreasing with each renewal. In early 2012, however, the bill stalled in Congress and the federal timber payments lapsed for the first time since they began in 1937, which directly resulted in Josephine County’s drastic public safety cuts and Sheriff Gil Gilbertson’s ominous warning. Although Congress eventually renewed the payments, the Act is again set to expire in a few years.

Today, only 10% of Oregon’s old-growth forests remain, and two more “compromise” bills working their way through Congress are being championed as problem-solvers but also potentially threaten much of the remaining old-growth habitat. The competing bills, one sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and the other sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), have both come under fire from environmentalists and forest activists for increasing timber harvests on the O&C lands. DeFazio’s plan would turn over portions of the O&C lands to a state-managed trust for harvest, while granting federal wilderness protections to other sections of the O&C lands. Wyden’s plan is strikingly similar, claiming that it will boost timber harvests from the current 150 million board feet a year to anywhere between 300 and 400 million board feet a year while protecting trees that are over 150 years old. It is inevitable that one of the bills will become law, which in the long run will only serve as another band-aid that will not satisfy either side. The potential agreement only furthers Oregon’s dependence on a finite resource that is undeniably running out.

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Forest defenders blockading threatened old-growth habitat

Growing up on the other side of the country, it was my fascination with the forest defense movement in the Pacific Northwest that first lured me to Oregon a decade ago, where I spent two weeks in the Willamette National Forest assisting with a tree-sit at a timber sale on the O&C lands. At the time, I knew little of the history and politics that led to the action I was participating in, but the experience of climbing 200 feet up a Douglas fir and the effects of sleeping and waking surrounded by old-growth had forever altered my understanding of the sacred. It was also in the forest that I first regarded the actions of forest activists as a militant form of earth-worship, and it was the energy and passion of certain individuals within that movement that strongly factored in my decision to permanently relocate to Oregon a few years later. Since then, my experiences with the land and the people here have greatly expanded my understanding of the timber-related history and politics that have driven and controlled this area for the past century. Never have I seen or experienced a single issue that so strongly reverberates through so many people and so deeply within a place, and never have I been at more at a loss for answers or solutions. Often I can’t help but feel that Western Oregon is a real-life version of “The Lorax”, complete with an equally grim and predictable ending.

In the meantime, it was announced last week that petitioners in Josephine County have gathered enough signatures to place another tax levy on the ballot this coming May. And while I can’t predict exactly what the future holds for Josephine County or any of the other O&C counties for that matter, what I do know for sure is if the long-term safety, security, and livelihood of the citizenry is dependent on the consumption and destruction of our old-growth forests, we will have retained neither our security nor our biodiversity in the end.

“I’m in a lot of pain right now,” Daisy said to me quietly.

I wasn’t sure exactly what type of pain she was referring to at that moment. For as long as I have known Daisy, which is going on six years now, she has lived a life of constant pain, both physical as well as psychological. She was sober and alert at the moment, which led me to think that she was referring to her arthritis as opposed to her inner trauma and emotional turmoil.

“But I’m still a fighter,” she added with a smile.

The fact that she was a fighter was undisputed in my mind. Daisy has been on the streets of this town for an untold number of years, with a notable portion of that time spent either stumbling through various stages of intoxication or stumbling through various stages of the criminal justice system. Despite the tragedy and trauma of her everyday life, however, her spirit was anything but broken. She is one of many chronically homeless individuals in downtown Eugene who the police refer to as “frequent flyers” due to the frequent amount of times that they are arrested and released for minor offenses directly related to homelessness and/or addiction. Rarely can you find a business owner or resident in the downtown area who isn’t familiar with Daisy, and unfortunately much of that familiarity falls with the context of negative interactions that often result in police intervention. This has resulted in her being banned from entering several local businesses, which further affects her stabilization and well being. For anyone on the street, but especially for someone like Daisy, a lack of access to public establishments means lack of access to quality food and other survival necessities, which triggers stress, which then triggers behavioral issues, which results in another episode, which results in yet another exclusion and/or trip to jail, and so on and so forth. It’s a tragic cycle, one that is seemingly impossible to break under the current conditions and limitations of the system.

The alleyway behind my building, where I have often found Daisy asleep.

The alleyway behind my building, where I have often found Daisy asleep.

Much like the business owners and residents, the police hold a variety of emotions and attitudes regarding Daisy that range from compassion to frustration to contempt. In my many conversations over the past few years with allies in the police department, it has been made clear to me that they are quite aware that constantly arresting, jailing, and prosecuting Daisy and others like her for the “crime” of being a chronically homeless alcoholic is neither effective nor sensible, not to mention a huge waste of taxpayer money. And yet they stress that they have “no other tools in the toolbox” in terms of methods of dealing with people like Daisy, and I sympathize and agree with them on this point. Their training prepared them to be law enforcement officers, not social workers or crisis intervention counselors, and their duty to uphold the law often requires that they treat Daisy as a criminal in situations that they acknowledge would be much more effectively handled by trained crisis intervention workers as opposed to law enforcement.

I’ve gotten to know Daisy pretty well over the years. I’ve experienced her many moods and phases, and while I understand and sympathize with the frustration and anger that police and businesses often feel towards Daisy, I have quite the soft spot in my heart for her. I’ve gotten to know sides of Daisy that most have never experienced. I’ve interacted with sober Daisy, happy Daisy, worried Daisy. She’s told me jokes that made me laugh until I cried, and she’s told me stories about her life that have simply made me cry. I see Daisy as a person, not a “problem” or “nuisance”, and its impossible for me to every be truly angry with her despite often wanting to scream in hopeless frustration. I refuse to blame or condemn her, and I’ve been known to intervene when others feel they have the right to do so. At the end of the day, I feel nothing but sympathy and love and compassion for Daisy.

Many argue that such an approach and attitude is akin to “enabling”, but I don’t love and accept (and often defend) Daisy as she is because I approve of or condone her behavior. I love and accept and defend Daisy as she is because I recognize her beauty and worth as an individual despite her flaws and I strongly believe that she deserves a better life, even and especially when she does not always believe so herself. Daisy’s behavioral history and current condition is the result of a complex combination of medical, social, psychological, and economic factors, not a personal moral failing on her part as many would believe. It’s been said that a society is judged by how we treat our most vulnerable. In my eyes, Daisy’s situation signifies a society that has failed in this regard, and as a result of that failure so many people are systematically marginalized, condemned, alienated, and stripped of their dignity.

More than anything else, at the very, very least Daisy deserves to be treated with dignity. No matter how intoxicated, how angry, or how unmanageable she can be, she is a human being who has had a tougher life than most of us could possibly imagine, and regardless of her past or present challenges, Daisy is as worthy and sacred and divine as any and all of us are. She may not be able to “work” to earn her keep in her current state, but that does not mean she does not have value as a person and as a member of our community. She deserves respect and dignity, and she deserves a warm, safe place to sleep at night. All human beings need and deserve a place to sleep.

It has been said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again and expecting different results. Under that definition, the city’s approach to handling Daisy over the years is completely insane. It’s recognized on both a local and national level that criminalizing addiction as well as criminalizing life-sustaining behaviors is a dead-end to nowhere in terms of effectiveness, and Daisy’s situation perfectly demonstrates the utter failure of a criminalization-based approach. Police acknowledge that more than anything else, Daisy and others like her need a place to sleep and supportive services, not endless rounds through the criminal justice system. But sadly, the only dry and legal place to sleep that Daisy regularly experiences is a bed inside a jail cell.

Police in the process of arresting a homeless individual for public consumption

Police in the process of arresting a homeless individual for public consumption.

The city’s approach regarding Daisy and the other “frequent flyers” is not only logically insane, but it’s a prime example of financial insanity as well. Estimates can vary widely, and such costs are deliberately not itemized, but its been whispered in many corners of city government and the social service sector that some of the frequent flyers cost the taxpayers upwards of $100,000 per person, per year. The majority of these costs, which usually consist of numerous trips to the police station, the jail, the emergency room, the psych ward, and the detox facility, are directly related to living on the street without shelter options, and most of these costs could be greatly reduced by adopting the “Housing First” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Housing_First) model for chronically homeless individuals like Daisy as opposed to criminalizing their existence. In states and cities that have implemented Housing First, the cost-savings has been significant, one example being a stunning 2/3 reduction in costs per-person in Colorado. And while city officials are open and eager to adopting such practices in Eugene, the funding is currently not available on either a local or state level. In the meantime, for over a decade now Daisy and so many others have had no other option than to live on the streets.

For the past few months, however, Daisy has been living at an unsanctioned tent city at the edge of the downtown district known as Whoville. The Whoville camp is a self-governed, community-funded project that has been providing sanctuary for as many as 50 people at a time on a 4,000 square foot public lot since late September. Whoville functions as a collaborative effort between those who were living on the streets and members of the community who are able and willing to provide support: activists, non-profits, church groups, and concerned citizens alike. Whoville currently provides a safe place to sleep, regular access to bathrooms and handwashing stations, access to healthy food and a place to cook it, and a strong network of community support from and for a wide range of people from all walks of life. In many ways, the Whoville population is a perfect microcosm of the homeless population as a whole. Whoville residents range from the recently unemployed to the permanently disabled, from those simply down on their luck to those who suffer from addictions or severe mental illnesses. There are people at Whoville who have only been homeless for a few months, and others who have been homeless for a significant portion of their lives.

The Whoville camp as seen from the street

The Whoville camp as seen from the street.

To be fair, the formation of Whoville in itself arguably falls under the above-referenced definition of insanity. For over thirty years, camping laws have been regularly enforced throughout the City of Eugene, with little to no tolerance of tent communities of any kind. Both history and common sense suggest that any tent community that is formed on public land in Eugene would be disbanded by police, without exception. And yet, in the midst of an immediate crisis in which some of the most vulnerable members of our community had nowhere to go, a public tent city seemed to be the only option. Desperation often leads to insane thinking, and granted we were desperate. But we also knew from past experience, street folks and activists alike, that even though camp would certainly be shut down, that it was what happens within such a camp while it exists that often holds more power than the inevitability fate of the camp itself, which provided the motivation to go forth despite what seemed to be a foregone conclusion.

And so Whoville was formed, and it grew, and it was supported. It grew some more, and it gained more support. The camp moved around from parcel to parcel for five weeks, then strategically decided to stand their ground at a vacant public lot just outside of downtown. And over the course of four months, Whoville relationship with both the police and the community at large went from adversarial to cooperative. Local opposition morphed into wary but gradual and steady public acceptance. As Whoville grew, downtown business owners noticed that less people were sleeping in doorways, in parks, in alleyways. There were fewer behavioral issues downtown, fewer incidents related to disorderly conduct, fewer calls to the police department. Some of the frequent flyers had all but vanished from downtown.

For years, activists and advocates as well as the homeless population itself has consistently approached the city with a very simple and sensible message: If you don’t want downtown full of frequent flyers and other subpopulations that are experiencing the realities and effects of homelessness, give them somewhere else to go. If you’re going to tell people where they can’t be, you need to tell them where they can be. People exist, they are made of matter, they do not have the ability to disappear or vanish at will, they have bodily needs and survival needs that cannot be ignored, and they need a place where they can legally exist.

This concept has seemingly fallen on deaf ears for years, as the city continued its policies of criminalizing their existence with the insane hope that one day the homeless will just disappear or go somewhere else. But Whoville, acting on the belief that survival and dignity are more important than ordinances and citations and therefore worth fighting for, has demonstrated and proved that having a place to be not only results in the relocation of those who formerly had nowhere to be other than downtown street corners, but it has also demonstrated to the community that by providing such a place, even the most challenging members of the street population can stabilize to an extent. Not only have behavioral issues reduced, but the corresponding costs to the public of dealing with such issues have been reduced as well. Echoing the results of the Housing First model, the “frequent flyers” at Whoville have needed far fewer law enforcement interventions or emergency services than they had while living on the streets, a fact which has been noted by both police and social service providers. It’s a testament to the fact that while sheltering individuals indoors is obviously preferable, even an outdoor space where they have a place to exist and stabilize within a community results in both instant as well as long-term benefits as opposed to leaving people on the street with nowhere to go.

Even more important than the economic benefits, however, is the transformation and healing that has occurred for many in the Whoville community through the course of its existence. In the time since she has been at Whoville, the improvements in Daisy that myself and others have witnessed has been nothing short of remarkable. The day she whispered to me about her pain, I had stopped by Whoville early in the evening, and it was obvious that she had been sober all day. She was alert, she had a healthy skin tone, and other than her pain issues, Daisy was more upbeat and even-tempered than I had ever witnessed in all the years that I’ve known her. She was functioning within a community, as part of a family, being taken care of, and trying to take care of herself as well. When she reminded me that she was a fighter, it literally brought me to tears. For so long, I had dreamed for something better, anything better for Daisy than what I had been witnessing for years. And finally, she had somewhere to be, was a part of a community, and was taking steps on the road to healing. For Daisy and many others, the community brings a sense of acceptance and belonging that is an essential component of anyone’s well being. I can point to many individual factors that have been an improvement in Daisy’s life as a result of Whoville, but the most powerful factor that I’ve witnessed in the improvement of many here is the power of community itself, both the internal community of Whoville residents and the outer community that supports them.

Formerly a favorite “frequent flyer” hangout, with much less foot traffic as of late.

Formerly a favorite “frequent flyer” hangout, with much less foot traffic as of late.

Ironically, I was walking past an area near my building a few weeks ago and had paused at a spot where I would often find Daisy in the past when I received a text message from my primary contact at the police department, requesting a meeting later in the afternoon. I knew immediately that I was about to be informed of the City’s intent to evict Whoville. Despite everything the community had provided and demonstrated over a period of four months, the City’s response would be no different: send them packing with nowhere legal for them to go and act as if they’ll just disappear. The meeting confirmed my expectations down to the smallest details. No alternate campsites would be opened. No emergency shelter of any kind would be provided. The camp would be evicted sometime in the immediate future with no alternate arrangements made and no real consideration given to the fact that some of the Whoville residents desperately needed supportive services and were not able to adequately care for themselves on their own.

I’ve often observed that the primary narrative concerning the issue of homelessness in this community is dominated by two vocal minorities: the homeless themselves and those who advocate for and support them, and those who believe that the homeless people are all “lazy bums” who are only looking for a “handout”. Often lost in this polarized atmosphere are the sentiments and feelings of the general public as a whole. Both sides of the debate will often claim “public support” for their position, but both sides are arguably equally speculative in those assertions. There is a lot of compassion in this community, but there is also a lot of ignorance.

But this time, while voices obviously rose loudly from within and around Whoville in opposition to the city’s plans, an entire separate chorus of voices also rose up against the plan – the voices of the general public. After four months, people in all corners of the community had recognized the value of Whoville, and many made their opposition to the closure known through social media, letters to the editor, as well as statements sent directly to the City Council. Other influential parties also chimed in, notably Occupy Medical and the city’s Human Rights Commission, speaking out in opposition to dispersing 40 people with nowhere safe for them to go. For the first time, public sentiment seemed to be truly understanding of the idea that if we force people to leave, we must give them somewhere else to be.

And under pressure from many directions, public officials responded, and last Wednesday the City Council granted Whoville a 30-day reprieve while viable alternatives can be explored. While the decision does not guarantee that there will be a place for Whoville to relocate a month from now, it is a decision based on the recognition that pushing people out with nowhere for them to go is neither humane nor sensible, nor does serve any legitimate purpose. Its also a recognition of the fact that Whoville is meeting a vital community need that has gone unmet due to holes in the social safety net, and that the stabilization and healing that people are experiencing at Whoville is a benefit to the community as a whole. Many are starting to recognize that the segment of the street population that the city has deemed ‘unmanageable’ can often function quite well with the right kind of community support. The decision gives the community an opportunity to face this issue for what it truly is and to come forward with actual solutions. For once, an attempt at a common-sense approach is being attempted as a resolution, as opposed to the usual bureaucratic insanity that has been the status quo for years.

It’s a simple idea, really, the idea that someone who has been systematically marginalized and abandoned will show consistent improvement if and when someone shows them a little love and kindness. For someone like Daisy, the results have been nothing short of miraculous. We speak of “community” often, but I find that the word is so often used in a hollow sense, devoid of any real substance, and the true meaning and of community has either been forgotten or has never understood by so many. Whoville is a testament to the potential power and effectiveness of solidarity and horizontal collaboration as practiced in a community setting. United in the belief that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity, Whoville offers stability and sanctuary to those who have been all but forgotten, and their ability to self-govern and support each other is an example to us all.

Each of us is sacred and worthy, and we all deserve support and safety. And while its long-term future is still up in the air, if a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable, let Whoville be a beacon of light that guides others towards the right path.

(*Author’s Note: Daisy’s name and a few minor details have been changed for privacy reasons.)

I want to acknowledge the passing of legendary folk musician and activist Pete Seeger, who died on Monday at the age of 94 of natural causes.

Mr. Seeger’s career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10, from college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama. For Mr. Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action.”

While not a Pagan, Seeger did briefly belong to a Unitarian-Universalist church, and ascribed to himself a kind of pantheistic view of religion

“I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. [I used to say] I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.”

Throughout his life, Seeger was an actively and unapologetically left-wing in his politics, which led to him being blacklisted by the entertainment industry for decades after his appearance at the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955.

“I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis, or yours, Mr. Scherer, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.”

There are many, many, places out there paying tribute to Seeger, for his politics, for his environmental activism, for his role in (at least) two folk-music revivals, but I want to leave this short tribute on a more whimsical note. You see, Seeger had a hand in popularizing the filk-music classic “That (Real) Old Time Religion,” which became something of a classic amongst certain portions of our community.

In the end, Seeger was someone who wanted everyone to sing along, to be engaged, and for that alone, he should be remembered and honored.

“He was a person who believed deeply that people should sing, in groups, with harmony, in public — and not just in church. He was a passionate director of probably thousands of pickup choirs, formed at the beginnings of performances and disbanded when they were over. That became even more true as he got older and his voice weakened, but it was true all along.”

Rest well Pete, thanks for everything.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’m re-printing my tribute from 2012, which I think still resonates as one way we as Pagans can acknowledge this great activist and religious leader. I would also recommend John Beckett’s post on King’s paper regarding Mystery Religions.

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter From Birmingham Jail”

Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, both wearing garlands, are received by admirers in New Delhi, India, February 10, 1959. (AP Images)

Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, both wearing garlands, are received by admirers in New Delhi, India, February 10, 1959. (AP Images)

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when we celebrate the life and work of the Rev. Dr. King, who helped wage several successful challenges to the racist and segregationist policies of America during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s. King was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and  shortly before his assassination in 1968 he began to broaden his scope of activism, working for an “economic bill of rights” to address the underlying causes of poverty. Throughout his career, King espoused the principles of nonviolence and civil disobedience to bring change.

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.“Letter From Birmingham Jail”

I want to make a special point of honoring King on this day, as a Pagan, because I think too many of us conceive of him as only a Christian hero. A great voice for social justice, but someone who is operating outside our religious context. In reality, King’s methods of nonviolence and civil disobedience were deeply influenced by thinkers outside of his faith, and he was quick to give credit to those voices. The two most obvious were leading transcendentalist and author Henry David Thoreau, whose teachings, according to King, “came alive in our civil rights movement,” and Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi, pioneer of satyagraha. In 1959 King made a month-long pilgrimage to India where he met with disciples and confidants of Gandhi, and ended up using many of Gandhi’s methods as a model in the Civil Rights Movement.

“Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love, for Gandhi, was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months. The intellectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social-contracts theory of Hobbes, the “back to nature” optimism of Rousseau. the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”Martin Luther King, Jr., “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”

Even in King’s famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail” he twice mentions Socrates as a practitioner of civil disobedience to be honored and emulated.

“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. […] To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.”

The ethos of King: nonviolence, social justice, and civil disobedience in the face of injustice, is not isolated to Christianity. These values can be found in most cultures and faiths throughout history. The first recorded labor strike happened in ancient Egypt, and in 494 BCE plebeians effected a shutdown of Rome to guarantee more economic and political rights. These tools are picked up again and again in different contexts and situations, and continue to find new life in today’s protest movements. While King was an ardent Christian, he was also a man who saw beyond the boundaries of his own faith, who acknowledged the wisdom and knowledge that can come from other cultures and philosophies. In this, as in many other things, we should emulate the great man. King was not afraid to enrich himself with the wisdom of others, and always strove for  justice, two qualities that any Pagan should be proud to embrace.

The View From Above

Alley Valkyrie —  December 28, 2013 — 11 Comments

I must have driven past the Delta Ponds dozens of times without really giving it much thought or notice. While there was a certain swampy seductiveness that called out on foggy days, it never occurred to me while whizzing by at 55 mph that there was any real story there. It wasn’t until I got lost on the bike paths last spring and ran into some Great Blue Herons on my way to lunch that I realized that this secretive oasis was not only a thriving wildlife sanctuary, but that its existence told an interesting story of the destruction and restoration of a crucial part of the local ecosystem.

The Delta Ponds on a foggy winter morning

The Delta Ponds on a foggy winter morning.

The herons caused me to stop. Standing there, face-to-face with the Delta Ponds, it quickly occurred to me that they weren’t natural ponds. I looked around and took in my surroundings, in the middle of an isolated and strangely preserved natural area between a river and a highway. Suddenly, several clues came together, and the combination of the geographical location and the surrounding place names provided a pretty accurate assessment of the area’s history. The Delta Ponds were right alongside the Delta Highway, which essentially acts as a driveway up to the current riverfront mining operation of Delta Sand and Gravel. I only had recently learned about the mine at the northern end of the highway, but my visits up there had provided an instant reference for the use and nature of the immediate area.

Delta, I thought to myself. These ponds must be restored gravel mines which have been reconnected to the river, which means that this spot is possibly a former channel or side-channel of the Willamette River. The name of the road which loops around the Delta Ponds, Goodpasture Island Road, suggests that this patch of land was once cut off by a waterway, and used for grazing prior to it being mined for gravel. Not only was it a gravel mine, but the highway leading up to the current mine was most likely paved with the gravel that was mined right here.

A few minutes of iPhone research confirmed the bulk of my theory as well as filled in the missing gaps. The area was indeed once a side-channel of the Willamette, which was an important component of the river ecosystem, but the side-channel dried up around the turn of the century due to man-made alterations of the land. The land was then marshy pasture that was mined for gravel in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and then sold to the City after the gravel was exhausted, where the pits sat untouched for nearly forty years as the land around them was further altered and developed.

During that time, it suffered the same fate that many old gravel pits do: the pits flooded, and while they became a natural wildlife habitat over time, the pits also became over-run by invasive species such as blackberry and Scotch broom. Finally, with help from the Army Corps of Engineers, the city embarked on a $9 million-dollar restoration project, taking the greater part of a decade to complete, which removed the invasives, altered the steep slope of the gravel pits, and eventually reconnected the ponds to the river. Today, the restored side-channel habitat is the home to nearly 150 bird species, including herons, falcons, owls, and several varieties of hawk. A beautiful, concentrated wildlife preserve birthed out of an old gravel mine, strangely nestled between a river, a highway, and scores of condominiums and housing developments. It was a wonderful and unexpected discovery; despite its urban backdrop it felt hidden and sacred. And while I immediately appreciated the areas for the rare and beautiful habitat that it was, I also realized not only did this area stand out as an exception of sorts, but that it most likely stays off people’s radar as much as the issue of gravel mining itself does.

The restored Delta Ponds with the Willamette River in the background

The restored Delta Ponds with the Willamette River in the background.

Unlike the more well-known resource extraction practices such as clear-cutting, which leaves a visual scar that’s simply impossible to ignore as one drives or walks by, gravel mining is naturally much more obscured from public view, given that it often occurs in a pit. For the most part, the impacts of gravel mining are rarely seen from ground level, and citizens are often ignorant about mining operations that are practically occurring in their neighborhoods. As a result, while clear-cutting practices are the subject of much public outcry and heated debate, few words are said of the deliberate ecological destruction and devastation of our riverbanks that has been occurring since the early 1900’s. Most people generally have no idea that the vast majority of land along the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette rivers north of town is owned by gravel mining corporations, or that much of the land which stretches from the confluence of the Middle and Coast Forks of the Willamette eastward towards and past Mt. Pisgah had been mined continuously for the past eighty years. Pristine parks and recreation areas border former gravel mines, and those using the parks are usually completely unaware that the remnants of gravel mining are out in plain sight only yards away.

Flooded gravel pits between the Middle Fork and the Coast Fork of the Willamette River. The grassy field at the very bottom is the site of the annual Faerieworlds festival.

Flooded gravel pits between the Middle Fork and the Coast Fork of the Willamette River. The grassy field at the very bottom is the site of the annual Faerieworlds festival.

Standing out over the Delta Ponds, it occurred to me that there’s a blessing in the fact that at least certain gravel pits can be restored in a generation, as opposed to clear-cuts that easily stand out fifty years later. The Delta Ponds, however, is a rare exception in that it is restored, as flooded gravel pits dot the landscape up and down the riverbank for miles and most are either listless or overgrown with blackberries. When I first gained awareness about the amount of gravel mining in the area, I visited several sites, on foot, on bike, and driving by. But aside from the occasional large crane sticking up out of the sky, it was hard to gain a real sense of the mines themselves. It wasn’t until I started studying Google aerial satellite images that I truly started to understand the impacts, cycles, and sheer ugliness of open-pit mining. Taking in the view from above is what really drilled it home.

Pit mine on the south bank of the McKenzie River

Pit mine on the south bank of the McKenzie River

The cement drills outside my window last summer also recently drilled it home. From May through September, a good number of the roads downtown were re-paved in a massive project paid for by a voter-approved bond. The condition of the roads and the actual need for repaving was somewhat debatable in my opinion, but the repairs created much-needed jobs, and provided a significant economic boon for the local sand and gravel companies. As I learned has been the case since the 1920s, the roads were paved exclusively by local companies and mined from either the Willamette or McKenzie, a fact that was stressed by company heads as a positive aspect. And while tapping into the “keep it local” energy was a brilliant move on the part of the gravel companies, it was bothersome to noticed such a disconnect on the part of the community. Well-meaning citizens celebrate keeping it local, but they fail to understand exactly how local and how significant the impact is, and they truly fail to recognize that not all of those local impacts are positive. While the Delta Ponds stands as a testament to something sacred that can be created out of the profane, it’s a very small gain when compared to the overall amount of land that has been or is being ripped apart for gravel.

Confluence of the Willamette and McKenzie rivers. Gravel mining operations are outlined in red.

Confluence of the Willamette and McKenzie rivers. Gravel mining operations are outlined in red.

Last June, the “finite” aspect of what are recognized as “finite natural resources” became a subject that caught the public’s attention. Delta Sand and Gravel’s most recent application to expand their mining operation at the end of the highway was rejected last spring by County officials, and in the ensuing media coverage Delta representatives stated that without the expansion, the company is set to run out of gravel in less than 15 years. For nearly a century, the aggregate that makes up the entirety of roads, sidewalks, jogging paths, and driveways has been “proudly” mined in Lane County by Delta and other companies, and Delta is forecasting a potential end to that tradition, at least in terms of their operation. The County is currently (and rightly) maintaining the need to protect zoned farmland, but Delta’s statements signal a future and possibly significant showdown over land-use on the riverbank. Even if current land-use laws were ignored, the reality is that the supply of gravel is still finite. One day the mining companies will be out of land. The land-use battles of present and future will only determine how much arable farmland is still available when that does happen.

In the meantime, however, Delta Ponds exists as an example of how such destruction can be successfully restored, and I am grateful for its existence and for my stumbling upon this place and the story behind it. For me, the ponds stand as a reminder of how environmental destruction can be taking place right in our midst and yet still remain hidden from view. Sometimes it takes an adjustment, a different perspective, to be able to see a situation clearly for what it is. In this case, I found great value in the view from above.