Archive for September 18th, 2011

Why I’m Donating My Heinz Award Money to the Fight Against Fracking

Sandra Steingraber beautifully shares why the fight against fracking is so important.


Posted 15 September 2011, by Sandra Steingraber, AlterNet,


Photo Credit: todbaker

I’m thrilled to receive a Heinz Award in recognition of my research and writing on environmental health. This is work made possible by my residency as a scholar within the Department of Environmental Studies at Ithaca College. Many past and present Heinz Award winners are personal heroes of mine–and Teresa Heinz herself is a champion of women’s environmental health–so this recognition carries special meaning for me. And it comes with a $100,000 unrestricted cash prize. Which is stunning.

As a bladder cancer survivor of 32 years, I’m intimately familiar with two kinds of uncertainty: the kind that comes while waiting for results from the pathology and radiology labs and the kind that is created by the medical insurance industry who decides whether or not to pay the pathology and radiology bills. Over the years, I’ve learned to analyze data and raise children while surrounded by medical and financial insecurities. It’s a high-wire act.

But as an ecologist, I’m aware of a much larger insecurity: the one created by our nation’s ruinous dependency on fossil fuels in all their forms. When we light them on fire, we fill the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases that are destablizing the climate and acidifying the oceans (whose plankton stocks provide us half of the oxygen we breathe). When we use fossil fuels as feedstocks to make materials such as pesticides and solvents, we create toxic substances that trespass into our children’s bodies (where they raises risks for cancer, asthma, infertility, and learning disorders).

Emancipation from our terrible enslavement to fossil fuels is possible. The best science shows us that the United States could, within two decades, entirely run on green, renewable energy if we chose to dedicate ourselves to that course. But, right now, that is not the trail we are blazing.  Instead, evermore extreme and toxic methods are being deployed to blast fossilized carbon from the earth. We are blowing up mountains to get at coal, felling boreal forests to get at tar, and siphoning oil from the ocean deep.

Most ominously, through the process called fracking, we are shattering the very bedrock of our nation to get at the petrified bubbles of methane trapped inside. Fracking turns fresh water into poison. It fills our air with smog, our roadways with 18-wheelers hauling hazardous materials, and our fields and pastures with pipelines and toxic pits.

I am therefore announcing my intent to devote my Heinz Award to the fight against hydrofracking in upstate New York, where I live with my husband and our two children. Some might look at my small house (with its mismatched furniture) or my small bank accounts (with their absence of a college fund or a retirement plan) and question my priorities. But the bodies of my children are the rearranged molecules of the air, water, and food streaming through them.

As their mother, there is no more important investment that I could make right now than to support the fight for the integrity of the ecological system that makes their lives possible. As legal scholar Joseph Guth reminds us, a functioning biosphere is worth everything we have. This summer I traveled through the western United States and saw firsthand the devastation that fracking creates. In drought-crippled Texas where crops withered in the fields, I read a hand-lettered sign in a front yard that said, “I NEED WATER. U HAUL. I PAY. “

And still the fracking trucks rolled on, carrying water to the gas wells. This is the logic of drug addicts, not science.  I also stood on the courthouse steps in Salt Lake City while climate activist Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in federal prison for an act of civil disobedience that halted the leasing of public land for gas and oil drilling near Arches National Park. Before he was hauled away by federal marshals, Tim said, “This is what love looks like.”


Permaculture institute celebrates 25 years in Basalt

Permaculture institute celebrates 25 years in Basalt

Basalt permaculturist Jerome Osentowski collects the fruits (and vegetables) of his labor at his greenhouses. Scott Condon/The Aspen Times


Posted 18 September 2011, by Scott Condon, The Aspen Times (Swift Communications, Inc.),



BASALT — There’s a Garden of Eden carved into the piñon and juniper forest on the sunny south side of Basalt Mountain, a one-acre paradise where fruit trees and grape vines flourish outside and greenhouses cradle everything from fig trees to particularly prolific passionfruit.

The Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute (CRMPI) is celebrating its 25th year, an amazing feat considering permaculture’s overshadowed status in the gardening world and a catastrophic fire in October 2007.

The paradise is the creation of Jerome Osentowski, who has been involved in growing food in one way or another for more than 30 years and is recognized as an expert in building greenhouses and successfully filling them.

Perhaps the crowning achievement of his career is what he has accomplished — with staff, friends and volunteers — at the 1,800-square-foot Phoenix greenhouse, so-called because it replaced a greenhouse that burned down four years ago. It’s an amazing place, 2.5 miles from downtown Basalt, that makes visitors feel like they’re in a tropical jungle, sans the dangers.

A passionfruit vine dominates a section of the overstory, racing along 40 feet on a trellis in one direction and 20 feet in another. It was allowed to climb all over to shade the greenhouse interior from the sun and keep it cooler during the summer. The vine will be cut back this fall so the sun heats a flagstone patio and stone gabion walls on the north wall of the greenhouse. The rocks will release their heat after dark and help stabilize the greenhouse during the long nights of fall and winter.

Along with the passionfruit vine, the lush overstory in the greenhouse is completed with papaya, guava, avocado and dragonfruit plants along with four types of citrus trees. The banana plants, with huge leaves drooping down like elephant ears, command the entire west end.

The understory looks like a Rocky Mountain garden gone wild. There are common plants — peppers, cucumbers and sweet potatoes — but they reap the constant benefits of a warm, humid environment.

“We take what’s outside, put it inside and bump it up a few climate zones,” Osentowski said.

The subtropical environment of the Phoenix greenhouse won’t drop below 40 degrees at night, and it stays between 70 and 80 degrees during the day. A sauna heated by a wood stove is attached to the greenhouse. Warm air will be released from the sauna into the greenhouse during the coldest periods of winter. Numerous vents keep it cool during warm weather.

Solar panels provide the power necessary for the greenhouses; CRMPI is off the grid.

Mixed in with the veggies in the understory are exotic varieties of plants: fragrant night-blooming jasmine, Chinese date trees and aromatic medicinal plants like ginger.

Osentowski said he and his staff follow the forest-garden model where there are layers of cohabiting plants outdoors. “We try to mimic that,” he said.

All spaces are filled with plants. Sometimes they don’t work out in a particular place, but usually they find their niche.

“We’re not trying to play God,” Osentowski said. “We’re doing some logical mimicking of nature.”

The soil beds in the south section of the Phoenix greenhouse, clear of the lush overstory, is laid thick with annuals and winter salad greens. The diversity of plants means there is always something to harvest — “phases of abundance,” as Osentowski calls them. The idea, he said, is to avoid being one-dimensional like agri-business and most other greenhouses.

A smaller Mediterranean greenhouse adjacent to Phoenix is dominated by a massive fig tree that Osentowski calls “the grand dame” of CRMPI. The fig started from an 18-inch-high cutting 15 years ago and is now a twisting tree with numerous branches that take up roughly 100 square feet and produces mouth-watering fruit.

CRMPI is constantly building the soil of its greenhouses with leaves from the orchard outdoors and from rotting vegetation from the indoor plants themselves. When a huge leaf falls off the banana plant, it’s best left at the base of the plant to provide nutrients rather than tossed out. Tidiness isn’t necessarily a virtue in the greenhouse. Mulch covers the soil beds and certain areas are devoted to particularly thick mulch, where worms are added in heavy concentration. They break down the mulch and create rich humus.

A small pond on the property is home for ducks and tilapia. The soil from the pond is occasionally scraped up and used as fertilizer, as is the manure from chickens and Nigerian goats on the property. The “waste” goes back into the system. That sustainability is central to the permaculture concept of whole systems management.

Osentowski teamed with other instructors to teach CRMPI’s 25th Annual Permaculture Design Certification Course in August. The two-week course teaches students the essential elements of permaculture so they can better design and maintain sustainable systems such as forest gardens and greenhouses.

Osentowski said public interest in permaculture is picking up. The New York Times ran a lengthy article this summer about its growing popularity, and Osentowski and his staff have received a book contract to write about the system and CRMPI’s history.

Still, permaculture hasn’t been embraced to the degree Osentowski thinks it deserves.

“The floodgate hasn’t opened. It’s still a small movement,” he said.

He senses it will grow, particularly if the economic challenges continue to plague the world for years to come. Osentowski is proud that CRMPI has its own woodworking shop so the staff can create what it needs. It produces its own food. Passive solar and solar electric systems supply the power.

“We’re the ultimate survivalists, really,” Osentowski said. “The beauty of CRMPI is it’s built on a shoestring budget, it works and it’s replicable.”




“We claim the following actions in sincere support of Tortuga the wild child, and the anti-civilization prisoners of these lands: -Mexico

“We claim the following actions in sincere support of Tortuga the wild child, and the anti-civilization prisoners of these lands: -Mexico


Posted 17 September 2011, by , Act For Freedom Now!,


anonymous report (translation):

“We claim the following actions in sincere support of Tortuga the wild child, and the anti-civilization prisoners of these lands:

-With spray paint, we vandalized a Kentucky Fried Chicken; all the front windows were painted with anarchist symbols.

-A reptile kept in captivity was liberated into an ideal environment where he can hunt insects and live without any human impediment.

-We went to an ostrich farm in Zumpango (Mexico State), where the animal’s skin is cut off to be sold. But we did not arrive with empty hands; we brought a large incendiary device that we planned to place in one of the trucks. As we lit the incense that would spark the fire, a guard surprised us and we started our escape on our bikes. The guard followed us in his car until we came to large fields of corn where after a few hours, now late at night, we lost him. It’s true that the action was frustrated, but this will help us to come back next time more prepared, and when they least expect it.

Animal Liberation Front”

“Nos adjudicamos las siguientes acciones en apoyo sincero al niño salvaje de Tortuga y con los presos anti-civilización de estas tierras:

-Con pintura en aerosol hemos vandalizado un Kentucky, esta vez todos sus vidrios frontales amanecieron pintados con símbolos anarquistas.

-Un reptil que se encontraba en cautiverio lo hemos liberamos en un ambiente optimo donde podrá cazar insectos y vivir sin ningún impedimento humano directo.

-Llegamos a un criadero de avestruces en Zumpango (Estado de México), a las cuales les cortan la piel para comercializarla. Pero no llegamos con las manos vacías, traíamos un dispositivo incendiario de grandes proporciones que colocaríamos en uno de los camiones del criadero. Cuando prendíamos el incienso que desataría el fuego, un guardia nos sorprendió por lo que comenzamos la huida en nuestras bicicletas, la persecución de desato, el guardia nos siguió en su patrulla hasta unos grandes campos de maíz en donde después de unas horas y ya de noche lo perdimos. Es un hecho, la acción se frustro pero esto nos sirvió para regresar más preparadxs y cuando menos se lo esperen.

Frente de Liberación Animal”



Welcome garter snake into the garden food web


Welcome garter snake into the garden food web


Posted 16 September 2011, by Reeser Manley, Bangor Daily News,




in the woods

snake came

like a whip

like a piece of circle

like black water

flowing down a hill.

“Watch me,”

it whispered —

then poured

like black water

through the field —

then hurried down,

like black water,

into a mouse’s hole.

— From Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Leaf and the Cloud”

We first found Lucy, the garden garter snake, sleeping in tight loops atop a pile of wood chips. She was not disturbed when we pulled back her blanket, a tarp to keep the wood chips dry, and we watched her closely for several minutes before resuming the morning’s work. When we returned several hours later to recover the pile, she was gone.

Late in the afternoon we found her sunning atop one of the firewood logs used to hold the tarp down.

At dusk I went out to the garden with the camera, looking for Lucy. She was still coiled on the log, but as I crept closer she slowly unwound and slithered across the ground until the distance between us seemed safe. She stretched out in front of me, 3 feet long with a dark gray back, red-brown stripes along her sides, and a light gray belly. Her eyes were cloudy blue.

Lucy let me take her picture, several frames with long exposures, then several more with flash, before she slid away. “Watch me,” she whispered, and I did, until she was out of sight.

Two days later, when the sun came out, we slowly pulled back the tarp, hoping to find Lucy sleeping among the wood chips. Instead we found her just-shed skin stuck to the bottom of the tarp. I now know that cloudy blue eyes mean a garter snake is about to shed.

In my mind I carry a picture of the garden food web, always pleased to make room for another creature like Lucy, Eastern garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis. To fit her into the picture, I had to do some research. I learned that she eats insects, primarily grasshoppers, as well as earthworms, small rodents, salamanders, frogs, tadpoles and slugs.

Finally, something that eats slugs! I wish there were a hundred of her.

She doesn’t dig holes. Do you hear me, Reilly the Brittany? She doesn’t chew or damage any plants in the garden. She avoids the gardeners at all costs.

And what eats the garter snake? Birds of prey, such as the sharp-shinned hawks and kestrels that lord over the garden from the top of an old spruce snag, are probably the major predators.

Perhaps the skunks or raccoons that meander around the garden at night would make a meal of her. Lucy is probably safe, sleeping under her tarp blanket.

For many years, I have measured success as a gardener by the diversity of life in the garden, by the number of interconnecting lines in the garden food web. I believe that our gardens can offset the current crisis in loss of biodiversity caused by habitat destruction and invasive species.

It all came into focus recently as Marjorie and I walked around the garden. Looking through the foliage of a young red oak to view new seed cones on a distant balsam fir, we noticed that the upper leaves of the oak were ragged and torn from a summer of constant insect chewing. And then we spotted a black-and-white warbler in the oak, feeding on whatever was feeding on the leaves. And so it goes, or should.

No sign of Lucy lately, but somehow I know she is around, watching me, seeing me far more often than I see her.


(Ed Note: Please visit the original site to view a photograph of Lucy.)



“Ethical Oil” is Not an Oxymoron

Ethical Oil” is Not an Oxymoron


Posted 08 September 2011, by , No Unsacred Place,


As a follow up to John’s recent coverage of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, below is a video of a speech given at the Tar Sands Action protests in Washington D.C. this past weekend by Naomi Klein, an activist and author of books such as The Shock Doctrine and No Logo:

I have never seen anything quite as audacious as the campaign to rebrand the Tar Sands “Ethical Oil.” Do you know that Bill McKibben was on a debate with one of these guys on BBC, and he compared the Tar Sands oil to fair trade coffee and free range chickens? Do you know that they’re running ads on Oprah’s Network saying that by buying Tar Sands oil, you’re helping to free women in Saudi Arabia?

I mean, I’m from Canada, and let me tell you something. We don’t have ‘ethical oil’ in Canada. We have Tar Sands oil, which is like regular oil, but a whole lot dirtier. It ravages the earth as it is extracted. Ravaging bodies, ravaging the land as you just heard from our brothers and sisters from the Indigenous Environmental Network. And it ravages the earth at the point of combustion. When all of that carbon, three times as much carbon, three times as much greenhouse gas is emitted as it takes to produce a regular barrel of crude. And all of that carbon enters the atmosphere, and destroys and threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the world. And it also threatens the earth when it is transported in pipelines like the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. It threatens waterways, drinking supplies, ranches, the land that people and animals depend on.

“Ethical Oil” is not an oxymoron. It is an outrage. It is an insult.

Meanwhile, today over on Spirituality and Ecological Hope, Margaret Swedish asks if we can still talk about “hope” in a culture that seems so hell-bent on denial, self-destruction and environmental devastation:

But, seriously, how is it possible to approach the challenging concept of hope in a nation of this much cultural denial, media manipulation, and irrational religious extremism (you know, the kind where God gave us brains and then demands that we not use them), in a nation in which we have allowed a few very wealthy billionaires and mega-corporations involved in fossil fuel production to make off with the truth about our situation? […] I long ago gave up equating ‘hope’ with a belief that we can still keep very bad stuff from happening. Bad stuff is already happening and more bad stuff is going to happen, and we still can’t address our reality like adults fully cognizant of the danger we are in.

So what are we hoping for? What does it mean to hold on to hope in the face of on-going environmental disasters, heat waves, droughts, floods, raging fires and ever-larger storms. For Klein, hope is a stubborn commitment to keep fighting and working towards a better way of life:

As we gather today, new tropical storms are gathering, and people are in that familiar state of huddling by their television sets, wondering, wondering if they will be safe. We don’t really have summers anymore, we have disaster season. And disaster season just seems to be longer and longer. […] We are here because we don’t want to live this way, careening from disaster to disaster. […] We are here because we know that we can do better. That we do not have to attack our earth with ever greater violence in order to live happily and fulfilled. We know that there are energy sources based on renewing and amplifying life, not sucking it dry. And that on this path there are tens of millions of safe and dignified jobs, jobs that workers can be proud to go to every day.

For Swedish, hope rests on the evolving ecological concept of conviviality — living in “good company” with the earth and with each other, accepting and embracing a lifestyle of responsibility and limits as a first step towards greater abundance for everyone.

After a long summer of disasters and bad news for the environment — how do you hold on to hope? And what do you do to pass it on to others?

Categorized: Nature in the News.

Tags: , , , ,


McHenry County Installs Raingarden; Xeriscaping Garden is Next

McHenry County Installs Raingarden; Xeriscaping Garden is Next

Gardens to provide residents an example of how to conserve water, with threat of water shortages in the future.


Posted17 September 2011, by Cassandra McKinney (McHenry County), BarringtonPatch (Patch Network),


Water conservation in McHenry County is serious business now and for the future.  In an effort to demonstrate ways that it can be done, the County is building demonstration gardens on the McHenry County campus in front of the Administration Building.

Funding for the gardens was provided by the McHenry County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Illinois American Water Environmental Grant Program.

The first to be installed was a raingarden, which can be best described as a garden planted with native plants that use and reduce storm water runoff.  These gardens filter pollutants and improve the soil’s ability to absorb water.  Insects, birds and butterflies benefit from the raingardens because they provide food, shelter and habitat for them.

In late-September, a xeriscaping garden will be built.  This garden will create a landscape to reduce water use with proper plant placement and the use of native, drought-tolerant plants.  This garden has the dual goal of first reducing water use, then the need for extensive lawn maintenance.  In both the raingarden and the xeriscaping garden, signs will be posted to describe the different plants and their unique traits, as well as information about how the gardens were constructed.

Mary McCann, Chairman of the McHenry County Environmental and Natural Resources Committee, said, “The raingarden and xeriscaping projects will be excellent examples for residents to see how they can easily and successfully conserve water on their own.  It is important to show the benefits and affordability, since it has been recognized that McHenry County may experience water shortages as soon as 2030, if nothing is done to conserve water quantity and quality.”

McHenry County has developed a Water Resources Action Plan (WRAP) to ensure that a sustainable water supply will meet the demands of projected population growth for the County in 2030 and thereafter.  A major section of WRAP is water conservation where the importance of reducing the demand for water, improving the efficiency in the use, reducing losses of water and improving land management practices are highlighted.  The development of the raingarden and xeriscaping are examples of how residents can help meet those goals.

For more information, contact McHenry County Water Resources Manager Cassandra McKinney at

This news release was provided by McHenry County.

Related Topics: McHenry County, raingardens, and xeriscaping

The Tale of Mabon: A Bedtime Story

The Tale of Mabon: A Bedtime Story


Posted 11 September 2011, by , No Unsacred Place,

The kids sit each in their beds, the littlest one propped up half upside-down on her elbows, her tiny bare toes playing over the pinewood slats of the bunk above hers. Their father has just finished lighting the candle of the newly created altar, its offering bowl already overflowing with small gifts from the day’s explorations in the park: acorns, stones, leaves and feathers and cicada shells. Everyone rests, quiet and attentive at the busy day’s end. I speak softly.

“When we picked out this statue in the store, your dad and I wanted to get you something that would remind you of your own mother, and of the Mother Goddess who watches over you all the time. And I know some of you—” I wink gently at the second-oldest, a serious girl who frowns a little in thought, “some of you liked the other statue better, the two parents cradling the infant, because it reminded you of rebirth and renewal. I liked that one, too. But the more I look at this statue, the more it reminds me of a story. It’s a story about separation and loss, and of finding family again in unexpected places. And I think—I hope—that when you hear this story, maybe you’ll begin to like the statue a little better and it will have new meaning for you, as it does for your dad and me.” The kids are silent, stretching restless limbs beneath their sheets.

“The story I want to tell you begins, ‘Once, a long time ago when the world was new…’”

Once, a long time ago when this ancient world was still very new, there was a mother. Her name was Modron, which means Great Mother, for she was beautiful and strong, and her love shone from her as light from a great sun. And Modron had a son whose name was Mabon, which means Great Son. Mabon glistened and glimmered with his mother’s love, and within him, his own heart also shone with love in return. Those who looked upon him were dazzled by his great youth and energy. But when he was still just an infant, a tragedy occurred. Mabon had not yet slept three nights at his mother’s side, suckling at her breast and nuzzling into her arms, when he was stolen away into the darkness! When Modron awoke to find her beloved son gone, and no one who could tell her who had stolen him away, she mourned and wept, and her tears swelled and flowed like a great ocean. For a Mother’s sorrow, too, can be great as her love.

Many years passed without sight or sound of Mabon, and all this time Modron continued to grieve and hope. Then, one day, a king arrived seeking to speak to Modron of her son. The king’s name was Arthur, and he came with a retinue of skillful and courageous knights following behind him. King Arthur and his knights had been set an impossible task: to hunt the huge and terrible boar called Twrch Trwyth. This boar was so strong, and so fast, and so tough, that no hunter in the world could track him down and kill him, save for the greatest huntsman of all. No one knew who this huntsman might be, but rumor in the land whispered Mabon’s name, the Great Son who had once shone with such energy even when just a babe. The people said that if Mabon still lived and could be found, surely he could kill the boar. And so King Arthur had come to Modron, to ask her if she knew where her son might be found.

The question pierced her heart and made her laugh through her sorrow. “Do you think I have not wondered that myself, all these long years? And yet, though my sorrow is as great as the deepest ocean, as vast as the darkest expanse of sky on a moonless night, I have never been able to discover where he is, or if he is even still alive. You have come a long way, King Arthur, but I cannot help you. You may as well ask the blackbird where the boy is hidden!” she added with a sad, helpless wave of her hand.

King Arthur, too determined to give up, went and did just that. He and his knights searched out the Blackbird, an old creature who had long guarded the gateway into other realms on the edge of dawn. “Blackbird,” Arthur called, “We are looking for Mabon, son of Modron, who was stolen from his mother’s side three nights after his birth. Do you know where he may be hidden?”

The Blackbird peered down at Arthur and his knights with quick, obsidian eyes. “I am old, as you well know,” he said at last. “You see this dusty spot here where I sit? When I first was born, there used to stand here a smith’s anvil, the biggest you might ever see, made of the hardest iron. Yet no hammer ever touched this anvil, except that I pecked at it with my beak gently every day. Now, nothing is left of it but this dust beneath my feet. That,” said the Blackbird, stirring the dust with his wings, “is how old I am. And yet I have never seen nor heard of Mabon, son of Modron.

But,” the Blackbird continued, “I know of one who is even older than I am, and I will take you to him.”

Arthur and his knights thanked the Blackbird for his kindness, and followed his lead. He soon led them to the bright Stag of the forest, whose old coat glistened as with midday sunlight. “Stag,” called Arthur, “We are looking for Mabon, son of Modron, who was stolen from his mother’s side three nights after his birth. Do you know where he may be hidden?”

The Stag lowered his huge, antlered head and gazed at Arthur and his knights with ancient amber eyes. “I am old, as you well know,” he said at last. “You see this massive oak tree beneath which we stand? When I was first born, this oak tree was barely a sapling sprung up from its acorn, and yet now it is the biggest tree in the forest, thick with years of growth, its heavy limbs stretching wide in all directions, and the prongs of my own antlers number just as many as its branches. That,” said the Stag, swinging his head with pride, “is how old I am. And yet I have never seen nor heard of Mabon, son of Modron.

But,” the Stag continued, “I know of one who is even older than I am, and I will take you to her.”

Arthur and his knights thanked the Stag for his kindness, and followed his lead. He soon led them to the Owl, whose rippling, moonshine eyes had watched the comings and goings of night for unknown ages and now looked on King Arthur with placid kindness. “Owl,” called Arthur, “We are looking for Mabon, son of Modron, who was stolen from his mother’s side three nights after his birth. Do you know where he may be hidden?”

The Owl adjusted her silent wings and turned her haunted, blossomy face towards Arthur and his knights. “I am old, as you well know,” she said at last. “You see this ancient forested valley in which we stand? When I first was born, there stood a forest here even older and more wild than this one, and I watched as the people of the land moved in and cut it to the ground; yet as the people slowly abandoned the land for more fertile soil, another forest grew up in its place and that, too, became wild and strange with age, until again the tillers of soil moved through slashing and ripping up the roots from the earth, and the forest withered and disappeared and the valley became like an empty bowl beneath the sky. But the lives of people are passing, so easily will they go to war against each other, so quickly do they drain the sacred land dry—and so again human beings left this valley to the gods of wild places, and this is the third ancient forest I have watched grow to wilderness here. That,” said the Owl, her low eyes shimmering like deep pools, “is how old I am. And yet I have never seen nor heard of Mabon, son of Modron.”

“BUT!” the boy chimes in loudly from his upper bunk, and I laugh. “That’s right!” I say, “I see you’re catching on…”

But,” the Owl told Arthur, “I know of one who is even older than I am, and I will take you to him.”

Arthur and his knights thanked the Owl for her kindness, and followed her lead. She soon led them to the noble Eagle, who held his head aloft and flourished a beak and talons so sharp and true they might slice the air itself in two. “Eagle,” called Arthur, “We are looking for Mabon, son of Modron, who was stolen from his mother’s side three nights after his birth. Do you know where he may be hidden?”

The Eagle regally preened a few stray pinfeathers into place and blinked at Arthur and his knights with benevolent, piercing eyes. “I am old, as you well know,” he said at last. “You see this tiny rock I clutch between my talons? When I first was born, there stood here a mighty standing stone, so lofty that it towered above every mountain, and I could sit upon it every night and lift my head to strike my beak against the upper limits of the black sky, and each peck pierced the darkness and became a star. And yet the stars you see now are numerous, beyond counting, and I made every one; and the standing stone that thrust up from the earth met wind and rain, the elements of air and water, and together the three joined in a dance that wore the stone away, until now all that remains is this mere pebble at my feet. That,” said the Eagle, clacking his beak that had made the stars themselves, “is how old I am. And yet I have never seen nor heard of Mabon, son of Modron.”

The children moan in sympathetic exasperation, and I hush them and quickly return to the story, riding the energy of their anticipation, pulling their attention taut as a bowstring.

By now, as you can imagine, King Arthur was beginning to despair that he would ever find Mabon, the Great Son of Modron, to help him hunt the wild, terrible boar. His face was haggard with searching, his eyes sunk deep from sleepless nights and long journeying to these ever more ancient beings, none of whom seemed able to help him. His knights, though loyal and trusting in their king, were beginning to tire as well, and being a good king to his people and friend to his companions, Arthur knew he must soon call off the search for their sake if not his own.

The Eagle, whose keen mind could read the fatigue and stress in Arthur’s expression, had sympathy for the weary king. “But let me tell you a story,” he said to Arthur. “This story begins: Once, a long time ago when the world was new…. There was a great famine in the land. I was still young then, and had my fair share of suffering and hunger. One day, I had flown far from my usual hunting spots in search of something to eat, when I spotted far below me, in a small pool shaded by nine hazel trees, the quick shimmer of a fish in the water. Without second thought, I dove! I clenched onto the fish with both feet, sinking my talons deep determined to catch the thing, for if I didn’t I would surely starve before nightfall. But the fish was blessed with an almost monstrous strength, and it dragged me under, down and down into the spiraling, swirling darkness of the pool. If I had not finally relinquished the thought of my own hunger gnawing within me and released my quarry, I would have drowned.

“This creature, I learned later, was the ancient Salmon of Wisdom, even older than I, who had lived for ages upon ages in the sacred pool, feeding on the hazelnuts which fell into the pool from the surrounding grove. Hazelnuts, they say, are food for the gods, and I would not be surprised if the Wise Salmon herself were a goddess dwelling in that strange and mysterious place. A mere king like myself,” said the Eagle, “could never presume to capture a goddess against her will! But let me tell you, Arthur—if the Salmon of Wisdom still dwells within that pool, I can take you to her. Although all the oldest creatures of the land could not tell you where to find Mabon, son of Modron, certainly she will know and she will help! And if she cannot, then your quest truly is beyond all hope.”

And so, with new hope and fresh energy, Arthur led his knights with the Eagle as their guide far across the land, over gentle green downs and through dark twisting woods, until at last they came to the sacred pool in the hazel grove. Exhausted, King Arthur knelt by the side of the pool. Its surface moved in subtle wavelets from where a small stream fed into the pond, weaving and trickling between the roots of the trees. It seemed to Arthur, as he looked upon the water, that there in the reflection of shading branches he could see the ancient, sparkling eyes of a goddess smiling at him—then they were gone! In a flash, the silver body of a fish flickered by, and Arthur called out, “Salmon of Wisdom! We have come a long way to seek your help. We have spoken to the Blackbird, and the Stag, and the Owl, and the Eagle, and of all these ancient beings, none could lead us to what we seek. We are looking for Mabon, son of Modron, who was stolen from his mother’s side three nights after his birth. Do you know where he may be hidden?”

From the depths of the pool there came a lovely, watery voice, barely distinguishable from the bubbling of the stream. “And did you ask his mother?”

“Well, yes!” Arthur said, “But she said she did not know!”

Sad laughter bubbled up from the glimmering darkness. “Modron’s sorrow over the loss of her son is as great as an ocean, and as obscure,” said the Salmon, “but the ocean is my home, and I know the secrets of its depths as I know my own. Every year I return to this pool and follow the stream far into the hills of this country, all the way to spring in the courtyard of the Castle of Light. And I tell you, Arthur, that for many years now I have heard the weeping and sorrow of one lost and alone when I have come there.”

“Do you think, Wise Salmon, that this sorrowing sound may be of the Great Son?”

“I have no doubt,” said the Salmon firmly. “And I will take you to him. You may ride upon my back as I swim—but, I can only carry two. So you must come alone, Arthur, so that when you have freed the son from his captivity you may both ride back together.”

So King Arthur took leave of his knights, who saw their king off with a mixture of courage and trepidation, and he clambered aboard the long, slippery back of the Salmon of Wisdom. Quick as light glinting over the water, the Salmon swam with Arthur astride her, and it seemed the countryside sped along on either side of them with a magical speed so that in almost no time at all they were approaching the place where the stream began its journey, the spring by the great Castle of Light.

Now the Castle of Light was strangely named, for in fact it was a dark and forbidding place, overgrown and half-rotted and ruined from long neglect. As the Salmon of Wisdom drew closer to the fortress, Arthur too could hear the weeping and sorrowing sounds echoing from within its mossy stone walls. Leaping from the Salmon’s back, he charged into the dim courtyard of the castle and battered the hilt of his sword against the inner door. But the door was old and spongy with rot and gave way before him, and he thrust it open, following the sobbing noises down and down into the dripping dungeons of the Castle. There, at last, he came upon the hunched, weeping figure of a man huddled in a corner. At the noise, the man looked up, and though his eyes were red from crying, his face was radiant and youthful beneath the grimy streaks of tears.

“You there,” Arthur said, with the command of a king in his tone, “Are you Mabon, the Great Son of the Great Mother, Modron?”

The young man sniffled and wiped his nose with the back of his hand, straightening up. “For sure I am, sir, and I’ve been locked in this dreadful dungeon for ages upon ages.”

“Well,” said Arthur, “the doors have rotted and the walls have crumbled, and I have need of a great huntsman to stalk the wild, terrible boar called Twrch Trwyth. So I have come to set you free. Will you come?”

“Of course!” Mabon said, and followed Arthur swiftly from the black of the dungeons up into the wan sunlight above. Together they mounted the Salmon of Wisdom, who looked on the young man with secret gentleness and did not strive to keep the King and his huntsman dry on their return journey home. Waters from the stream splashed and danced against their sides as the Salmon leapt and plunged, her glistening body writhing with the joy of dodging rocks and limbs, and soon all the dirt and strife of years in the dark had washed from Mabon’s face and his whole being seemed to shine, strong and healthy again.

And this was how he came to his mother, Modron—bright and gleaming, accompanied by the majesty of Arthur and all his brave knights following behind—and she swept him up in an embrace of gratitude and happiness that was greater than the ocean, greater even than the sunlight and the sun itself. Then she released him, with a smile and one last thankful kiss, and gestured that he could go, with her blessing, to help Arthur hunt his ugly boar.

For, it turns out, he was indeed the greatest huntsman in all the land, and he made a swift end to the huge boar that had eluded so many before him. Then, there was a great feast and celebration afterwards, which I assume Modron and Mabon both attended with pleasure, seated honorably at the King’s own table. And that is as good a place as any for the story to end.

The children all begin asking questions at once: “Who was it who stole Mabon in the first place?” “How could he be good at hunting when he was locked up since he was a baby?” “Why did it take so long for them to find the Salmon, when she knew all along?” “Where did you hear that story, did you read it in a book?” the oldest asks. And the boy, perched on the edge of his bunk, asks, “Why did Arthur need to hunt the boar?”

“Why did Arthur need to hunt the boar?” I repeat, with a wink. “Well, that’s a whole different story, for another time!”

Categorized: Natural Reflections.

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