Monday, November 27, 2006

As in Life… There is much Beauty & Generosity in Death…

Click on photo to enlarge - a fallen Flicker - © 2006 jim otterstrom

Forty some years ago there was a Sycamore tree growing beside a stream along Old Topanga Canyon Road in the Santa Monica Mountains.

A friend and I, through the early hours of dawn, sat above the stream, hanging our legs off the edge of a large corrugated culvert, which guided a small tributary, beneath the pavement we had driven there on, into the stream below.

We languished there in the cool shade, for minutes running into hours, listening to the trickle of water falling between us into the creek below, watching flying insects, and birds, interact with one another in the exchanges that enable their lives and deaths.

Fluff drifted gently down from the surrounding trees to float away on the surface of the water in the soft morning light.

As we watched the drama of life unfolding there before us, this one particular Sycamore caught my eye. It had two trunks, one of which had tumbled over, and was lying across the stream.

The part of the tree still standing was in full summer leaf, healthy, vibrant, and full of life. But the fallen trunk, which had obviously been down for some time, lay decomposing along the sandy banks.

Upon closer observation, I became entranced with the teaming complexity of life being supported by the rotting fibers of the dead part of the tree. Young plants sprouted glorious green shoots from rich black compost, while shimmering, crawling, slithering insects of myriad description---clamoring, tunneling, over and through this visibly wholesome detritus---searched for nutrition, shelter, and procreation.

Sensitized that morning, to the intricately beautiful details of the non-human, after a long night spent in wonder and celestial celebration atop the jagged spine of the Santa Monica’s, I was experiencing, possibly, my most life-changing epiphany.

There was as much life in the dead part of the tree as in the living (& certainly more diversity), and I stood there for a long time, taking my first clear look into death, and what I’ve come to understand as everlasting life.

Since that fine day of my well-spent reckless youth, I no longer fret over the possibility of roasting eternally in the hell-fires of some control-freak God’s vindictive damnation, because I realized right then, that, like everything else, I’m simply going to metamorphose back into the wondrous matrix of the cosmos, where we continue our journey together for eternity, whatever that is.

There will be no Pearly Gates for me, no bean-counting Saint Peter with his ledger of sins and good deeds, no streets paved with cold hard Gold, nor flaming red Devil with his fork up my ass, and no reunion with long lost humans, family or otherwise.

My re-union will be in the giving back of my body---to the living Earth, as sustenance for the continuance of life, and, in the spirit of my consciousness, freed from the reductionism of being human---as my molecules, atoms, and energy once again wander & mingle among the elements of universality.

How do I know this?

I carefully observe the nature around me, seeing that I’m simply a tiny part of something very huge and complex, and I have faith in what I see.

Isn’t faith what your religion is based upon?

Now I’m in no hurry to die! I very much enjoy life as a human being, but the thought of my death doesn’t frighten me either, it’s purely the reality awaiting me when the days of Jim are over.

We are but cosmic dust, charged and electric, yet look around at all the beauty forged from the combination, and evolution, of these forces during the eons which have led to our lives today.

We hear much talk of “a better world in the hereafter” or “everlasting life in heaven above” from the churches and religions of our time, the same religions that would separate, anthropocentrically, our bodies from our souls, and our species from the rest of nature.

But anthropocentricity---the regarding of man as the central fact or final aim of the universe---is a selfish, ignorant, narcissistic notion, that, in life, deprives us of seeing, and fully enjoying, that we are an integral part of something much greater and more magical than ourselves.

Even in death, we humans continue this arrogant selfishness by having our bodies embalmed or cremated, entombed in wood, concrete or steel, thus depriving the earth of our rich life-giving nutrients for as long as we possibly can.

When I put a dead plant or animal on my dinner plate, I’m thankful for the bountiful generosity of nature, and the exchange of energy between life-forms, which allows this whole thing to continue and evolve. We are all part of the food chain.

And when I see a dead animal or a fallen tree, decomposing by the roadside---or along a trail in the wild---I see the even-handed generosity of nature, allowing with every loss, other lives to thrive and grow.

My body, soul, species, and the nature around me, including the whole of the cosmos, are all of one, and I have no fear of rejoining that larger self.

When that time does arrive, I’d like nothing more than to become healthful nutritious worm food.

Yes, these are thoughts of death, but to me, they’re not depressing or melancholy.

They are thoughts about our place in nature, about harmony, balance, and exchange.

They're the result of long-studied observations, and my deeply-felt optimism concerning the bio-centric, egalitarian laws of nature---and the interdependence, resilience, and self-perpetuating tendancy toward diversity inherent to life itself---in its passionate desire to persist and to flourish.

But these are probably not very welcome, comforting, or even fathomable observations to the anthropocentric, who would have the world, or rather, the entire universe, revolving around themselves.

Click on photo to enlarge - the decaying shell of a Carp

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Giving Thanks...

Click on photo to enlarge - courtesy of NASA and my tax dollars.
A planet this lovely is very hard to come by.
We give thanks today for the bountiful world we inherited and every species we share it with...
Thoughts on November...
"Even On It's Brightest Day,
November Sings A Solemn Song"
Lene Gary at Counting Petals
Lene asked me to share my reflections on her November 20th post here at Earth Home Garden, so here they are, slightly edited.
Born on November 14th, mid month, I must say that, even on my brightest days, I sing a somewhat solemn song.
Solemn being defined as:
1. Deeply earnest; serious; grave.
2. Of impressive and serious nature.
3. Performed with full ceremony.
4. Invoking the force of religion; sacred.
5. Gloomy; somber.
The American Heritage Dictionary
I'm often guilty of those solemn November traits, but I might eliminate the word religion and re-phrase the number 4 definition to read, 'Invoking the force of the sacred.'
But then, I guess my religion is Nature, all of which I find sacred.
Winter is a very serious time for survival in the natural world and by November it may be too late to prepare oneself for the long cold darkness.
Thus come the solemn thoughts of self-doubt, when I sometimes feel as if we humans are in the November of our existence, ill-prepared for December and January, as we stare at our reflections in the ice...
...but, when Spring does come again, I'll dance & sing, and devour her as if she were the last delicious supper.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Along This Mornings' Five Mile Walk

Click on photos to enlarge
A kind of soft gray November morning defined our walk today except for a few brief moments when the sun peaked through the clouds to light up that stately old Western Juniper along the lakeshore for me.
Dallas had a great time playing in the water and shaking the evidence all over me and the camera. But his patience only goes so far as you can see in the photo where he gets between me and the tree I was photographing with his 'it's time to move along look'. He was right, of course, because around the bend the lovely female mallard was waiting to pose for us and a little bit further came the big surprise of the morning. A Great Egret (Great White Heron?) stood fishing for breakfast right before our eyes and I managed to get a couple of hasty shots before Dallas scared it off with his meanderings.
I've seen Snowy Egrets here before but can't remember ever seeing a Great Egret on the lake, what a gorgeous bird!
Addendum 12-02-06
After a question from jules on the comments page, I did a little research and have determined the large white bird is a Great Egret (Casmerodius albus), not a white morph of the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodius). They're very similar looking but the egret has dark legs & feet, and the Great White Heron is typically found only in the Southeast U.S.
The bird was standing too deep in the water for me to get a look at the legs but I got a quick shot of it flying away and the feet are very dark.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

November Gardening

Click on photo to enlarge
A row of young lettuce plants thrive in their fiberglass-covered raised-bed today, in mid-November, at 6,750' elevation. We currently have 2 beds of lettuce and 4 beds of spinach, a bed of chard, and a bed of kale in various stages. This is the largest of the lettuce from our fall planting and, in just a few weeks, could be providing us with fresh winter salad greens.

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Tractors Of Yesteryear - A Calendar

Click on photo to enlarge
During our recent trip to Utah, my family and I were out one day exploring the farm country of the Bear River Valley where my mom now lives.
We came across the 400 acre farm of a disarmingly accommodating couple, Garth and Veda, who had a fantastic collection of old tractors. I had a blast photographing the dead machinery and told Garth I wanted to make a calendar from the pictures so I could send him one.
Once I started working with the images, I liked them so much that I decided to carry the project a bit further, and actually get the calendar published, so here 'tis.
These are infernal combustion machines I can truly appreciate, because they don't run anymore, having now become artful sculptures from the bygone era of cheap and abundant oil.
I've had requests from a few blogfriends to make some of my artwork available for sale, so anyone who wishes to have one of these calendars can purchase them here at for $13.50 plus shipping.
If you are immediate family, or a close friend (and I feel you might enjoy this sort of thing), don't buy one, because you'll probably be getting it in the mail as a Winter Solstice gift.
I hope you don't think I'm turning Earth Home Garden into a commercial venture, because my cost for these is $11.30, so I make $1.76 from each calendar, while the publisher, Lulu, gets 44 cents (the rest is printing costs, although, if you buy quantities, the per-calendar price does go down).
So, I created the calendars for fun, buying 48 as personal gifts, and then, thought I'd make them available to everyone, in case someone else happens to want one. These really do look quite nice in print, 2007 is just around the corner, and calendars are useful items.
Here's my description of the calendar as posted at Lulu.
A farmer's collection of over 100 antique tractors inspired this calendar featuring 12 of his colorful rusting relics. The images of these rugged, and often graceful, old machines are windows into the lives and ingenuity of the people who designed, manufactured, operated, and maintained them. An almost archaeological look into America's very recent past, this calendar differs from most antique machinery calendars in that the tractors are portrayed more as works of art, in their own right, than restoration projects. Much of their beauty results from the forces of time, weather, and the artful hand of nature, like the worn carvings of an ancient temple. The pictures have been slightly altered by the photographer to enrich the color and lend an almost hand-painted effect. Calendar events include standard U.S. holidays as well as solstice, equinox, and full moon dates.
The more I think about it, every calendar sold nearly pays for another bottle of 'Two-Buck Chuck' Cabernet Sauvignon from Trader Joe's. Have at'em folks!
I've only just discovered this self-publishing website and it's pretty cool. All of you writers, poets, photographers, artists, and musicians out there, take note...
At Lulu, you can publish not only calendars, but autobiographies, how-to manuals, childrens books, poetry, photography books, drawings, whatever, in beautiful hardbound or paperback editions of one or thousands. Those with musical talent can also publish CDs there too, and Lulu can even set up distribution, beyond their website, through retailers like and Barnes & Noble.
I'm quite impressed with the printing, paper, and production quality of the tractor calendar. The layout is exactly as I submitted it, the ring binding is neatly done & sturdy, while the colors virtually glow from the pages. And ours is just the standard calendar, they also offer a larger premium version with other paper options.
It took a couple of hours to find my way around the Lulu software and design, revise, & publish the calendar to my liking. With books there are many more options, and maybe a little steeper learning curve, but you can bet that I've got a few ideas fermenting away in this old grey matter of mine.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Click on photos to enlarge
Jimmy & Sandra-
It was great talking with both of you on the phone this morning.
Thanks for the call, and I hope you guys have a great day roaming around together on the back-trails of your island paradise.
We've invited Grant and Bill, from next door, and Cheri, from across the street, over for Mexican food tonight in celebration of our birthdays.
For those who don't know, our son Jimmy and I share the same birthday. Today he's 25 and I'm 61. Another coincidence in our birthdays is, that every year of our lives, if you take the numbers of each of our ages and add them together, they are always the same number. This year his 2 and 5 make 7, as do my 6 and 1.
Just one of life's interesting little oddities.
I love you man...
...and Sandra, we love you too!

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Homo colossus - A colossal failure of values

Click on photo to enlarge-photo by an unknown passerby
A post-election rant...
At 8:30 this morning, during a 5-mile nature-walk with Dallas, I found myself staring at this advertising poster on the front of a gas station mini-mart.
It reminded me of television, of consumerism, of Capitalism and economic growth, of propaganda and corporate funded mind-control, of the recent elections, and, of the colossal failure the human species faces.
As I stood there dwelling on thoughts of colossal import, pondering the species known as Homo sapiens, I remembered sociologist William R. Catton's term for our species as it exists today, Homo colossus.
Catton wrote, in his groundbreaking 1980 book, 'Overshoot-The Ecological Basis For Revolutionary Change';
"The more potent human technology became, the more man turned into a colossus. Each human colossus required more resources and more space than each pre-colossal human. Contrast the environmental impact of the Central Ohio Coal Company and its huge machines with the environmental impact of the Stone Age people who inhabited the same area a few centuries before. The Indians had not necessarily possessed any more virtue; they simply used cruder tools. They were non-colossal.
The same kind of problem would be much easier to recognize if mankind were afflicted with some kind of mutation that had the curious effect of causing children to grow to twice their parents' adult size---so that they required twice as much food and fiber per capita to sustain life and comfort. Suppose, further, that the effect were somehow cumulative, so that each generation grew twice as large and voracious as the preceding one. Quite obviously, the world's carrying capacity would be much less for later generations of giants than for earlier generations of runts. Just as obviously, neither conventional political rostrums nor revolutionary agitation could do much to remedy the situation.
Perhaps we would know this if we ceased to call ourselves Homo sapiens and began to call ourselves Homo colossus. If we were accustomed to thinking of a human being not just as a naked ape or a fallen angel but as a man-tool system, we would have recognized that progress could become a disease. The more colossal man's tool kit became, the larger man became, and the more destructive of his own future."
...and later in the book.
"History will record the period of global dominance by Homo colossus as a brief interlude. Our most urgent task is to develop policies designed not to prolong that dominance, but to ensure that the successor to Homo colossus will be, after all, Homo sapiens. Developing such policies must be so enormously difficult that it is not easy even to accept the urgency of the task. But the longer we delay beginning the more numerous and colossal we become---thereby trapping ourselves all the more irredeemably in the fatal practice of stealing from the future."
Those words were written nearly 30 years ago and no such consensus for change has emerged. On the contrary, population growth, consumption habits, resource depletion, species extinctions, widespread pollution, toxic contamination of food & water supplies, and global warming are all spiraling, exponentially, out of control.
But wait, Jim! Haven't you heard the good news?
There's been a "paradigm shift" in Washington!
Great change is on the horizon because the democrats have trounced the republicans in the American political arena.
Hogwash! When's the last time you heard a democrat argue against economic growth or global Capitalism?
Here's a quote describing the differences between democrats & republicans by another author, Rita Mae Brown, whom, much to my liking, speaks truth with a rather down-to-earth bluntness.
"The difference between the two parties is the difference between syphillis and gonorrhea. Neither one of them has a very compelling program for America. They don't question our whole economic base, and I'm not talking about being socialist or anything like that. What we need to look at is whether our economy is safe for the earth."
As far as I'm concerned, you can apply that very analogy to Capitalism, Communism, Socialism, Libertarianism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.etc. etc., and any other anthropocentric notion that separates Homo colossus from his place among Nature and her universal laws.
What would be needed for our long-term survival is a profound, species-wide, paradigm shift (combined with a lot fewer people), because, as long as we place ourselves above Nature, instead of within her, the ways in which we live our lives will continue to be a disease upon (or at dis-ease with) the earth that supports us.
And, evidently, that paradigm shift isn't going to happen.
It's become quite obvious that, as a civilization, we are incapable of understanding the colossal changes we need to make in ourselves if we wish to continue as a viable species. Eventually though, forces beyond our apparent control will greatly reduce our numbers, and, for the sake of our species, as well as the diversity of life on earth, I hope that happens before we ourselves end up on the ever-growing heap of extinctions we are causing.
So, did I vote?
Yes, I always vote...
...although, in recent memory, I haven't voted for anything, or anybody, that had much of a chance of winning. Yet I keep on voting lest those creeps in power think I just don't give a damn. I go to the polls and make my contrary little statement of displeasure with the status-quo, no matter how inconsequential that statement is.
It's kind of like the words, and time, I've wasted here today, when the above picture already said it all...
Still, I often feel a need to speak my mind, and, as I said in my October 11th post, "I’ll take protest and dissent over war or collapse any time", but that doesn't imply that I usually get my way, because world events almost never go in the direction I'd like to see them go.

Labels: , , , , ,

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.