During the last two years, I fell in love with salmon. Not the way most people fall in love with salmon — poached, grilled, etc. (although I’ve been there, too). I fell in love with the magnificent creature that is spawned in a small, woodsy stream, navigates increasingly treacherous rivers to spend a few years at sea, and then finds its way back to its natal stream to die. Yes, I’m talking about a fish. But what a fish! Seriously, watch this PBS/Nature special, “Salmon: Running the Gauntlet,” which turned out to be one of the most-watched Nature specials ever (the full episode can be watched at that link).
And read “Grace Behind Glass,” a wonderful essay in High Country News, by Ana Maria Spagna. This part always gets me a little misty-eyed:
A digital ticker above the emergency exit lists the number of each species that passes through the dam. So far today the video monitor has counted 238 chinook, 242 steelhead, 28 sockeye, three lamprey. The miracle, I realize, is not just that the fish survive, but that they’re shepherded past this dangerous place. By biologists, engineers, activists, judges and ratepayers. We’ve made mistakes, God knows. No surprise there. The surprise is that, despite rancor and derision, despite terrorist protections and antiquated facilities, despite our ignorance, even, about why salmon runs swell or deplete, we can still, collectively, decide to spend $107 million to try to get juvenile fish downstream. Just so they can come back up. What hard-wired instinct is this? In a world of such weight and trouble, to care for a creature shorter than my shin.
Most people close to me expected me to write mostly about gorillas and chimpanzees when I tackled interspecies justice in my dissertation. But when it came down to picking a good animal to “think with,” it turned out to be fish, and I zeroed in on salmon. One of the carrots I dangled in front of myself through the long writing process is that I would start volunteering with SPAWN (Salmon Protection and Watershed Network) one or two Saturdays/month when I finished. Although I finished several months ago, I haven’t yet freed up the Saturdays – but I will! In the meantime, I will tell you that this organization does great work, protecting and restoring coho salmon habitat, and training citizens to do the same. And between now and December 31, your membership contributions will be matched and thus doubled. As I said in the last entry, I love a matching donation campaign.
(Almost forgot to mention: for some truly gorgeous salmon images, check out Todd Mintz’s incredible photos of a sockeye salmon run in British Columbia.)
I confessed at the beginning of this Advent “calendar” project that I can be quite Scroogey about Christmas. But I do have at least one tradition: every year since 1986 when it was first released, I listen to Jimmy Webb’s “The Animals’ Christmas,” featuring Art Garfunkel and Amy Grant. I am not ashamed to admit it: I love this CD.
I hope that one of my gifts to animals this year is that I finally go all-the-way vegan. Yes, the Better Half and I have been talking about it for years. And we get so close to the goal. But then someone waves a little Cowgirl Creamery “Red Hawk” or Harley Farms pesto- or sundried-tomato- or cranberry goat cheese under our noses, and we discover that we are masters of the art of rationalization.
So 2013 is our year.
Meanwhile, there are things we can all do.
- Last February, an industrial chicken producer left 50,000 chickens to starve to death at a “farm” outside of Turlock, CA. Most were indeed dead or so weakened they had to be euthanized. But several thousand were cleared to be placed with rescue groups or sanctuaries. Animal Place in Grass Valley, CA took almost all of these birds, cared for them, and worked throughout the year to place them all in permanent homes or sanctuaries. The last five hens went to a new home today. Animal Place is not a particularly big-budget group, and they do good work with what they have. Donate here.
- If you lean toward the other coast, check out the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, NY, instead. CAS rescues abused and neglected farm animals, and offers educational programs about “the devastating impacts of agribusiness and institutionalized cruelty on animals, people, and the planet.” Donate here.
- Sasha Farm is the largest farm animal sanctuary in the Midwest, but it operates on a shoestring budget. The terrible drought this past year reduced the amount of hay available, and at least doubled the price. Help them feed over 250 animals by donating to their Hay Drive.
- Right across the bridge, in San Rafael, CA, the Humane Farming Association is working hard to stop the egg industry’s outrageous effort to make egg cages a national standard that could never be challenged by voter initiatives such as California’s Proposition 2. HFA’s lobbying division, Humane Farming Action Fund, has been actively and effectively lobbying against factory farming since 1991. My friend J. thinks of HFA every time she sees a nativity scene: “…imagine the holy family crammed into a factory farm stall!” Well, that’s an image. Donate here.
- The Farm Animal Sanctuary probably has a bit more name-recognition than these other groups, and I was featuring the others for that reason. But I’m a sucker for a good matching-gift opportunity, and they have one: donate by December 17 and your donation will be doubled.
That’s FIVE organizations you can donate to (and I don’t work for any of them)! This is my way of making up for a few missed days of Advent-posting. Imagine you forgot to pull open the doors on your Advent calendar over a busy weekend, and you get to open several at once to catch up.
Now, feast your eyes on the awesomeness that is Amy Grant’s 1986 hair and parachute pants. Then close your eyes and listen to “Carol of the Birds,” from the aforementioned “The Animals’ Christmas” (seriously – close your eyes, because the sound appears to lag behind the video and will start to drive you to distraction).
Perhaps you’ve heard of El Sistema, the marvelous program in Venezuela that provides years of music education for many hundreds of thousands of at-risk kids. Its showpiece, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra – now called the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra – is currently touring the US, to rave reviews everywhere they play. The success of the program has spawned similar efforts all over the globe, including here in the US – where a decade (at least) of budget cuts and sad ideas about education in the arts being a “luxury item” have compelled public schools to eliminate music programs and curricula. Even though study after study demonstrates that music students do better in high school and college.
Tonight my co-blogger abc41 and I went to a benefit concert/recital in Vallejo, CA, where our church choir director is helping to launch an El Sistema-inspired program, “Awake the Music Vallejo.” More power to them! When I find out if they have a way to collect donations, I’ll update this entry. But in that spirit, I encourage you to explore the map of El Sistema programs in the United States and support one of those.
We live in a pretty small house that doesn’t accommodate more than a few book cases and shelves. During the dissertation-writing process, my books sprawled out onto two flimsy, temporary Target bookshelves in the dining area, accumulated in piles around my computer, and teetered on the teeny shelf behind me. Additional books from my MA and PhD programs were in 2.5 book cases in the bedroom. General interest and fiction books are lined up two rows deep on the only other two shelves in the bedroom. All the other books we own – the majority, I’m embarrassed to say – are in Rubbermaid bins in the street-level garage under the house.
After I completed the PhD, I was able to temporarily shift some of my course books to the bins in the garage, rotate the dissertation books into the bedroom, and give away the Target shelves. I also filled 4 bankers boxes with books we hope to trade in at a used bookstore. But the sobering reality is: we own too many books. And too many of the books we own remain unread, or incompletely read (that is in part because we inherited some – but only in part).
Then there’s the stuff on my Kindle. :-\ If only I actually read as fast as I seem to think I’ll read.
Still, I’ve got some good reading-related plans for LATA. Three friends/colleagues have written books this year, and I’m reading each of them so that I can invite the authors over to the blog for a little “chat.” And I’ve got a couple of book review-essays in the works.
I’ve also got a great Advent Giving Calendar suggestion for today. My friend Rev. Martin Russell helped get this project underway when he was an ELCA synod staff person in Nebraska. The project is called Textbooks for Tanzania. The ratio of students-to-textbooks in the classrooms of Lutheran secondary schools in Tanzania is 10 to 1. In some cases, 40 students share one textbook. For just $10, you can put another textbook in a classroom. That’s a lot of bang for your buck. Want a less Lutheran-centric book-giving opportunity? Check out Books for Africa, which sends library books and textbooks all over the African continent. You can read about their specific regional projects here.
(Well, shoot. I thought I could sneak this post in on the 6th, but it’s 12:10 a.m. on the 7th. Might just have to double-up again today!)
In the last few years, I’ve been gradually allowing music back into my daily life, after having all but banished it for a number of years. During that rather quiet spell, I took very little pleasure in listening to music (I did develop a fixation with oud music for awhile), almost entirely stopped trying to play an instrument myself (some might say that was a blessing), and had to be compelled to attend live performances. I blame this sad state of affairs on the passing of a dear friend whose whole life was all about music (she would be appalled, needless to say). After she died, it was suddenly very hard to listen to anything classical or choral – her specialties – and then, by gradual association, anything potentially meaningful at all. Yep, the music died. I know, I know… cue the violins. (On second thought… don’t!)
Strangely enough, through this melancholic period, I continued to buy music (CDs, mp3s, books of guitar music, etc.) and I continued to read about music makers, perhaps hoping it would make me less Grinchy about it all. But the breakthrough came, I think, when I had the chance to take an affordable Hawaiian slack key guitar class with the extremely talented Patrick Landeza. Having paid for lessons, I had to show up for them! And showing up every week at The Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, where the classes were held, guarantees incidental exposure to all kinds of really great music and people who love making it. It made me want to be a better musician. Which, of course, requires listening to and playing more music.
There is still some music that might be forever banned from my iPod playlists (I’m lookin’ at you, Morten Lauridsen and your “Dirait-on”!). But there’s also a whole lot more than I ever used to listen to – and some friends will tell you that my tastes were already quite eclectic. Better still, my guitar and ukulele now see the light of day several times a week, instead of once every few years. And, in a moment of wild abandon, I signed up for a ukulele “meet-up” group… although I have yet to attend a session. Baby steps.
Today’s Advent Giving suggestion is the Killian Mansfield Foundation. I learned about Killian through a friend who knows his family, and for a short while I followed the blog Killian’s mother wrote at what turned out to be the end of his life. Killian was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer, synovial sarcoma, when he was 11 years old, and he endured painful treatments and several radical surgeries before he died at age 16. During the last year of his life, he devoted his energies to his advocacy for children with cancer, and to his music. Killian was a very talented musician, and his passions came together in a delightful CD he recorded – with a little help from Todd Rundgren, Levon Helm, Dr. John, Kate Pierson (B-52s) and John Sebastian! Sales of the CD, “Somewhere Else,” benefit his Killian Mansfield Foundation, which supports the research, development, and availability of integrative therapies (e.g., acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology and nutritional advice) for children with cancer. So you can give two ways: you can treat yourself to this CD, and know it’s for a tremendous cause (in fact, if you use that link, the Foundation gets a little kick-back). And you can also give directly to the Killian Mansfield Foundation.
(You’re probably thinking I already missed a day, just three days into my Advent Giving calendar. But due to my own technical incompetence, I posted twice on the 3rd, instead of scheduling the second post for the 4th. That’s when I told you about Second Chance, and BADRAP. If I can’t post on the blog for some reason, I’ll try to post a quick link on Twitter!)
(Update: embarrassing misspelling – “queue” instead of “cue” – corrected.)
I have cheered for BADRAP before. They are one of my favorite-ever rescue/advocacy groups – rehabilitating, rehoming, and advocating for pit bulls. This summer, I came thisclose to getting a volunteer gig with them, but I suddenly went from underemployed to over-employed, and there was no time left to commit to a regular volunteer shift at The Barn in Oakland. I’m still hoping to work that out, but in the meantime, I can advocate for them!
So for today’s “Advent Calendar” giving suggestion, I steer you to BADRAP. Seriously, these people do amazing work. I hope they are writing a book about their mission and methods (do you hear me, good people of BADRAP?), because they are miracle workers. Send money, send bullysticks (preferably all-natural and domestically sourced), send rugged toys and furnishings… I’m betting they would welcome it all. Check out their wish list on Amazon. And speaking of calendars, you can order one of theirs, “Happy Endings.”
There is some irony in the fact that Advent – the season of watchful waiting and being prepared – always catches me off guard. As a kid, the advent-of-Advent was marked by the big wreath-making party in the church fellowship hall, and the hanging of the Advent calendar (the doors of which I always wanted to open ahead of schedule) at home. I anticipated Advent almost as much as Christmas. I loved the rituals of the season: the aforementioned calendar-opening; the nightly candle-lighting/Gospel-reading my family conducted (with the little devotional Advent book from the press then known as Fortress); the lighting of Advent candles at the beginning of the church service, edging closer and closer to that big, fancy Christ candle in the center; the song-cycle building toward The Big Day…
Now the first Sunday candle-lighting ceremony in church startles me: “What?! It’s December, already?!” I get anxious about what didn’t get done in the previous months, I spend most of the month fretting about the budget, and resenting the crowds and hassles on the few occasions I venture into stores; I try in vain to summon “the Christmas spirit,” but end up looking forward to Christmas Day mostly as a quiet day off.
Maybe that will change this year: I’m preaching on December 23rd, so I must necessarily immerse myself in the texts in these coming weeks (I take a very long time to write a sermon; I’d be lucky to manage one a month if I tried to do this any more often than I do). Maybe some of those admonitions and pronouncements will get under my skin.
Last year I fantasized about creating an Advent calendar for the blog this year. It didn’t happen. But here’s a nice one from the Society of St. John the Evangelist.
Here’s one that will certainly help raise Christmas – ahem – spirits.
And in lieu of my own Advent calendar offering, I’m going to aim for a daily giving suggestion. Each day – either here on the blog or via Twitter – I’m going to link to a small non-profit group that could use your support. Here’s my suggestion for today: Second Chance in Fort Bragg, CA. Second Chance was co-founded by my “outside reader” on my dissertation committee, Steve Sapontzis. The group works to help low-income families keep their pets, by providing pet food, supplies, flea treatments, and assistance with veterinary bills. It’s a small, low-budget, amazingly effective group. Learn more about them here.
Update: my former classmate Sam Laurent has a wonderful Advent sermon posted here. (Link corrected; apologies to those of you who get an email every time this blog changes! But that was an interesting link error: instead of the sermon, I inadvertently directed you to a great little jam session between Jake Shimabukuro and Char.)