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What if Humans Aren’t the Most Intelligent Creatures on the Planet?

What if Humans Aren’t the Most Intelligent Creatures on the Planet?

Paul Watson Asks us to Redefine Intelligence

Cetologists observe, document, and decipher evidence that points to a profound intelligence dwelling in the oceans. It is an intelligence that predates our own evolution as intelligent primates by millions of years. – Paul Watson

DolphinFeature-2z34jegewtls8gkox0mgaoI had a profound experience while kayaking in Hawaii this past winter with friends. We were visited by a whale and there is no doubt that this majestic being was coherent, aware of us, and enjoying our company as much as we were enjoying his. We put our snorkeling masks on and jumped in and could easily see the whale gently make eye contact with each of us. With one thrust of his tail he could have left in an instant but he stayed with us for over an hour.  A mammal with a brain bigger than ours and complex migration songs that change every year, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of thoughts could be going through his mind. The recent piece by  Dawn Agnos on UPLIFT about a conversation with a horse shows that emotional intelligence and empathy are a language that many animals understand. It was only recently that terms like emotional intelligence emerged and it is interesting to consider that there are many different kinds of intelligence.  Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd makes a good argument in a recent Facebook post that perhaps humans concept of intelligence is anthropocentric and lacking in breadth.


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Watson starts early in his essay with the bold assertion that, “Biological science is provoking us to shatter our image of human superiority.” Though indigenous wisdom has always considered humans a part of the circle of life rather than above it, that sentiment has almost been completely destroyed by generations of colonial indoctrination. The very roots of colonial indoctrination not only conclude that humans are superior to all other life forms, it also considers some humans as superior to others. Social Darwinism, a myth, was an effort to use science to validate the behavior of employing superior weaponry to oppress other humans. Though we owe much respect to western science we must also understand the cultural and religious backdrop from which this discipline emerged. We must also be willing to explore the assumptions within science if we are to evolve it.

Rupert Sheldrake attempted to do this during a TED Talk entitled, The Science Delusion and his presentations was banned. This is not to say that Sheldrake is right and all of science is wrong, that is too simplistic. It is merely an opportunity to open a dialogue about assumptions within science that the scientific community may or may not be willing to consider. I mention it in the context of considering the humble notion that humans may not posses the highest form of intelligence on the planet. If for no other reason than amusement, just open your mind and consider…

Mammals like us, who have been on the planet a whole lot longer than us, who also have larger brains than us, is interesting to reflect on. We humans pride ourselves on technology, on creating tools, gadgets and machines. Of course it is easy to consider that intelligence is based on technology. Then there is the idea of emotional intelligence which acknowledges a form of intelligence which is internal, can not be easily measured empirically but plays a major role in the success of an individual. Intuition, compassion, empathy are usually considered feelings, but these are skills, non-physical tools that we can use to ascend the social ladder. Meditation could also be considered a non-physical tool that changes our biology, reduces stress and opens the mind. We may be at the very beginning of understanding that tools do not need to be physical or easily measurable by traditional science in order to be valuable.

We willingly accept the idea of intelligence in a life-form only if the intelligence displayed is on the same evolutionary wavelength as our own. Technology automatically indicates intelligence. An absence of technology translates into an absence of intelligence.

Dolphins and whales do not display intelligence in a fashion recognizable to this conditioned perception of what intelligence is, and thus for the most part, we are blind to a broader definition of what intelligence can be.

Evolution molds our projection of intelligence. Humans evolved as tool-makers, obsessed with danger and group aggression. This makes it very difficult for us to comprehend intelligent non-manipulative beings whose evolutionary history featured ample food supplies and an absence of fear from external dangers.  – Paul Watson

Again it is important to recognize how this attitude has not only been applied to animals, but also to indigenous people historically. How we define intelligence is restricted to our definition of intelligence. Are we willing to broaden our definition of intelligence?

Intelligence can also be measured by the ability to live within the bounds of the laws of ecology — to live in harmony with one’s own ecology and to recognize the limitations placed on each species by the needs of an ecosystem. Is the species that dwells peacefully within its habitat with respect for the rights of other species the one that is inferior? Or is it the species that wages a holy war against its habitat, destroying all species that irritate it? What can be said of a species that reproduces beyond the ability of its habitat to support it? What do we make of a species that destroys the diversity that sustains the ecosystem that nourishes it? How is a species to be judged that fouls its water and poisons its own food? On the other hand, how is a species that has lived harmoniously within the boundaries of its ecology to be judged?  – Paul Watson

Watson gets very in-depth and cites the research which compares cranial capacity, and brain complexity between humans and sea mammals. At the very least this information is humbling. Paul Watson has given us a lot to think about, but probably the greatest gift in his essay can be summarized by this quote:

It’s not enough to understand the natural world, the point is to defend and preserve it. – Edward Abbey

Watson is not merely a philosopher, he puts his words and beliefs into action. For 35 years, Captain Paul Watson has been at the helm of the world’s most active marine non-profit organization – the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. I highly recommend reading the entire essay which is available here.

To even consider that we are not superior to other species is delightfully humbling. It can restore a child-like sense of awe for life which also inspires a desire to preserve our environment. Our tools are wonderful, our science is also wonderful, but it should be used to celebrate and elevate all of life.  We must consider that the unconscious, disrespectful use of our tools and science can create unimaginable destruction for ourselves and other species. A healthy future includes humans who are aware of this and who live within the bounds of their ecosystem. We have the ability to create worlds or destroy ourselves. How do you want to live your life?



The post What if Humans Aren’t the Most Intelligent Creatures on the Planet? appeared first on UPLIFT.
Source: Uplift Connect

Suspended Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) Linked to Brutal Taiji Dolphin Hunt

Suspended Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) Linked to Brutal Taiji Dolphin Hunt

Statement from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

news-150422-2-a-bottlenose-dolphin-gets-lifted-by-crane-into-the-tanks-at-dolphin-resort-675-280wA dolphin is lifted via crane into the tanks
at Taiji’s Dolphin Resort
Photo: Sea Shepherd
On this Earth Day 2015, there is major news to report from The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). The organization has today announced that it has suspended the membership of the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) because JAZA has refused to prohibit its member aquariums from taking dolphins captured in Taiji, Japan’s brutal drive hunt.

In a statement released today, April 22, 2015, WAZA writes, “The basis for the suspension is a determination that JAZA has violated the WAZA Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare. Moreover, WAZA Council re-affirmed its position that members of WAZA must confirm that they will not acquire dolphins from the Taiji fishery.”

Each year since 2010, Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians have been on the ground in Taiji daily throughout the six-month drive hunt season – which spans from September 1 until March – documenting and live streaming every capture and slaughter of dolphins and small whales as part of our Operation Infinite Patience campaign, ensuring the eyes of the world remain on Taiji’s infamous killing cove. Our Cove Guardian volunteers have documented time and time again the inextricable link between captivity and the slaughter. In Taiji, dolphin killers and trainers work side-by-side to hand-pick the “prettiest” dolphins (those without visible scars) to be sold for captivity. This occurs simultaneously to the slaughter process, and newly imprisoned captive dolphins must witness the murder of their family members before their very eyes. Those taken captive are transported to Taiji Harbor’s holding pens or are immediately taken to one of three captive facilities in Taiji. Some are ultimately sold to other aquariums in Japan or overseas to end up in China, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

The captive trade is the true reason for the drive hunt in Taiji, the economic fuel that drives the hunting boats each day. Just one captive dolphin can be sold for $100,000 USD or more.

news-150422-2-january-19-bottlenose-struggling-during-captive-selection-697-280wA bottlenose dolphin struggles during
the violent captive selection process
Photo: Sea Shepherd
Sea Shepherd supports WAZA’s decision to suspend the membership of JAZA for its role in Taiji’s horrific massacre of wild cetaceans. While we are elated to hear this long-overdue announcement, we also stand in firm opposition to the confinement of highly intelligent and socially complex whales and dolphins in captivity at WAZA aquariums, swim-with-dolphin programs and other captive facilities that continue to drive the demand for captive dolphins, and the wild captures still occurring around the world. These highly intelligent, sentient and socially complex marine mammals belong in the open ocean where they can engage in their natural behaviors and live in their natural family groups — not performing tricks for food in concrete bathtubs while being subjected to loud music and noisy crowds.

Still, WAZA’s suspension of JAZA’s membership is a major step toward ending Taiji’s inhumane hunt that so brutally claims the lives of thousands of wild, migrating dolphins and whales each year. Even as an entity that is all about the captivity industry, today WAZA has taken an important step to distance itself from the slaughter that turns the waters of Taiji red with blood – blood that WAZA does not want on its hands. The tide is turning. One day, the cove will be a permanent and peaceful blue and profiting from the suffering of these familial and intelligent beings will be a practice driven into the past.

Cove Guardians
Visit our
Cove Guardians
site for more information.

Source: Sea Shepherd

Conscious Business tackles Hunger with Fashion

Conscious Business tackles Hunger with Fashion

What if there was an organic clothing line that fed meals to the needy
while supporting the local economy?

Look no further! Fed By Threads flourished from a simple idea to start an apparel line for a dance studio into a blossoming social entrepreneurship project that is feeding 1000′s of meals to hungry Americans. Founded by Alok Appadurai and Jade Beall Fed by Threads is an exemplary model of conscious business with a focus on art and community. Locally-sourced organic cotton and production, a healthy message, body-positive appeal and 12 meals delivered with the purchase of each garment is enough to make anyone reconsider the predominant business model.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 4.13.31 PMAlok formerly ran clean energy companies focusing on waste-to-energy and has been keenly interested in social entrepreneurship projects like Tom’s Shoes which eventually became the inspiration for Fed By Threads. While hosting weekly African Drum and Dance Workshops with Jade, the two are well-rooted in the importance of community, celebration, and culture. It’s no surprise that this business would sprout up in Tucson, a city filled with diverse cultural influences in the mystical Sonoran Desert.

Jade is best known for her photography. Having appeared on Good Morning America for her Beautiful Body Project and book, The Bodies of Mothers, she understands the need for body-positive clothing as well as community-positive business. Her work focuses on supporting women to see their authentic beauty, without airbrushing or other tools to hide behind.


By supporting small producers of clothing from around the country, they are keeping jobs in the local economy and supporting sustainable agriculture. This “farm to garment” approach is mindful of the toxic effects of traditional textiles, and refuses to outsource labor to third world sweat-shops. By adding the socially responsible practice of donating a percentage of each sale to feed those in need, they are revisiting the power of commerce for social responsibility. When business owners think critically and creatively about the life-cycle of their products, they are able to assert radical changes in the market.

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Supporting businesses like this, and telling your friends about this kind of model can challenge larger retailers to up their game. What if Walmart, or Target adopted a similar model? Capitalism has been under fire for it’s contribution to environmental degradation, and economic disparity. Does it need to be this way? Fed by Threads says, “no, there is a better way!”

They are now offering a service to other organizations and businesses who may want to get in on the action. By offering custom printed t-shirts, anyone can support sustainable garment production and help to feed people in need. Being able to include this in the description of your product is a great selling point especially if you are trying to target people who are committed to making a positive difference in the world.

This is only one particular business model, there are many out there. If you know of others that you love, please share below. Let’s elevate this conversation about socially-conscious businesses that promote and support sustainable practices so that the larger companies take note. There are many creative solutions to our current problems, all it takes is a conscious decision to do things differently. It’s time to feed the body, mind, and spirit with a little inspiration and a lot of love.


The post Conscious Business tackles Hunger with Fashion appeared first on UPLIFT.
Source: Uplift Connect

Protect Costa Rica’s Hammerhead Sharks from Poachers

Protect Costa Rica’s Hammerhead Sharks from Poachers


By Shari Sant Plummer with contributions by Courtney Mattison (Originally published on National Geographic Ocean Views)

Three hundred forty two miles west of mainland Costa Rica lies an oceanic island so spectacular Jacques Cousteau called it the “most beautiful island in the world.” Cascading waterfalls cut through lush foliage, the symphony of a thousand seabirds echoes in your ears, and the surrounding deep waters host a diversity of wildlife found almost nowhere else on the planet. Isla del Coco’s extreme wild beauty appears Jurassic – and was in fact used in the movie of the same name. It seems as though you’ve gone back in time, to a time before humans.

Spinner dolphins leapt and twirled at the ship's bow. © Kip Evans / Mission Blue

Our ship, the Argo, was greeted by spinner dolphins who leapt and twirled at her bow as we entered the boundaries of Cocos Island Marine Park. After two days on the open ocean, the green towering mass of land before us was a most welcome sight, but the real anticipated pleasure was beneath the surface – the chance to dive with many species of sharks. Cocos is known for its shark populations; many species migrate throughout the Eastern Tropical Pacific from Galápagos to Colombia, Panama and finally to Costa Rica. Schooling hammerhead, Galápagos, and silky sharks are frequent visitors, as are tiger and whale sharks. There is also a large resident population of white tip reef sharks. Together, these top predators shape the food web and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

The expedition is led by Mission Blue founder Dr. Sylvia Earle and Nicolás Ibargüen, environmental correspondent for Fusion. Like me, many of the others onboard are experienced shark divers: shark conservationist Ocean RamseyI AM WATER Ocean Conservation Trust’s Hanli Prinsloo and Peter Marshall, Shark Angels founder Julie Andersen, Undersea Hunter co-founder Avi Klapfer and Mission Blue’s Director of Photography and Expeditions, Kip Evans. Also with us are a couple of new shark divers who are excited to have some encounters, including actor Adrian Grenier and editor-at-large for Bloomberg News Stephanie Ruhle.

After two days on the open ocean, the green towering mass of land before us was a most welcome sight. © Shari Sant Plummer

Originally, our intent was to visit Cocos to highlight the success of this World Heritage Site, which has been a sanctuary for wildlife and a bucket list dive destination. Unfortunately, a week before our trip we heard from PRETOMA – one of Mission Blue’s nonprofit conservation partners in Costa Rica – that the Costa Rican government’s Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) had allowed the export of endangered hammerhead shark fins despite international commitments not to made by the previous president, Laura Chinchilla. The two shipments were sent to Hong Kong to feed the seemingly insatiable market for shark fin soup in Mainland China. Sources estimate that the number of sharks killed for these shipments was representative of close to 2,000 hammerheads.

Fresh shark fins drying on a sidewalk in Hong Kong © Cloneofsnake

The two species of shark included in these shipments were the scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) and the smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena). The Eastern Pacific population of S. lewini is considered endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Both S. lewini and zygaena are listed on CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix II – a resolution to which Costa Rica signed on in 2013, making it a violation to import or export these species without first verifying that the animals are being fished sustainably with legitimate certificates of origin.

Shark fin soup © Francis Chung

Randall Arauz, President and founder of PRETOMA, reported that the new government of Costa Rica, which is nearing the end of its first year in office, allowed these recent shipments of shark fins without the necessary verification, violating its international obligations and further threatening an already endangered species. However, under pressure from Costa Rican citizens and the international community, the Ministry announced on March 2nd that it would abide by CITES and ban shark fin exports pending a review that will likely occur in the next six months. In the meantime, catching, landing and slaughtering hammerhead sharks continues unabated in Costa Rica, and Mr. Arauz expects that shark fishers are stashing fins for export anyway, stating, “The [fishers] are going to dry these [new] fins and stash them. What happens if the [CITES review] says they can’t do it anymore? They’re going to use the same argument that the sharks are already dead and there is no conservation benefit in not allowing the fins to be exported.” The Ministry will have the ability to stop this action, but many environmentalists are not optimistic that they will given that the declared customs value of one ton of hammerhead fins is worth more than $100,000. Arauz expects the new government to prioritize profit over conservation.

Dr. Sylvia Earle diving in the Cocos Island Marine Park. © Kip Evans / Mission Blue

Given this ominous news, our expedition to Cocos Island became about shining a light on this abuse of the legal framework for shark protection, and protesting the trade of shark fins – ironically by the very government that the world has come to applaud for protecting them. We sought to create media that would help engender support for shark protection, and spark outrage that these shark fin exports could happen in a country that prides itself on its environmental stewardship.

We did several dives each day, many times below 95 feet looking for hammerhead sharks. Though we saw many white tip reef sharks, we saw very few hammerhead sharks. Just a few years ago I saw hammerheads on every dive here, but now they were scarce. We did catch glimpses of them, and on the last dive at Alcyone we saw a school of about 25 swimming deep below us, but nothing like what we had hoped for.

We found fishing lines in the Marine Park and saw hooks in the mouths of Galápagos and silky sharks that were feeding on bait balls. We can’t prove that the fins that were exported came from sharks in the Park, but we can say that there is poaching there; the park rangers told us so and we saw evidence of the longlines. Randall Arauz later informed us that The Ministry of the Environment “has a list of all the illegal boats they see fishing in Cocos Island. And it turns out that one of those boats was seen at Cocos Island fishing and a week later that boat landed its products in Puntarenas and those hammerhead shark fins got exported.”

Hanli Prinsloo freediving in a school of jack fish. © Peter Marshall Photo

For our expedition team, it was still thrilling to dive in Cocos. Some were expert freedivers and could get really close to dolphins, schooling jacks, groupers, eels, and all kinds of reef fish. We also had spectacular Galápagos and silky shark encounters during a bait ball event, and I even spotted a whale shark on one deep dive! But if the government of Costa Rica doesn’t step up to protect hammerhead sharks, I’m afraid they won’t be here at all the next time I visit Cocos. Will these magnificent animals only be seen as floating fragments in Chinese soup? The only way to ensure their survival in the wild is to impose absolute bans on hammerhead shark fishing, landing, commerce and the export of shark fins from Costa Rica to prevent poachers from being able to trade. Enforcement reforms in protected areas are also badly needed; many poachers even when caught are not prosecuted. And the Costa Rican fisheries management agency, INCOPESCA, needs scientists advising on the catch limits of allowed species, not just the fishermen that run it today.

As our voyage came to an end and we returned to the mainland, the beauty and fragility of Cocos’ diversity of life played on in my mind. I resolved to do what I can to help protect this special place, and you can help too!

Join Mission Blue in urging the Costa Rican government to enforce hammerhead fishing and fin export bans. Sign the petition and donate to support Mission Blue and PRETOMA in this fight. Together we can save sharks, save the ocean, and thereby save ourselves.

CocosPetitionBanner1 copyCocosDonationBanner1 copy




Source: Mission Blue

The Bees Need Our Help on Earth Day

The Bees Need Our Help on Earth Day

honey_bee-t3From the Editor, Elizabeth:  On Earth Day, the bees visited me three times, imploring me to publish reminders about their call for our help. It’s time to stop the reckless use of pesticides.  Roundup and other harmful pesticides have already been banned across the globe.  North Americans, Children of Mother Earth, please remember the bees in your Earth Day ceremonies and end this scourge on our farms.
Below is the Jacob Devaney’s article in for Earth Day reminding us that Monsanto is waking us all up:
FIVE REASONS TO BE GRATEFUL FOR MONSANTO| ‪#‎OceanNation‬ ‪#‎BeeLove‬ ‪#‎BeeSustain‬
We live in a world of contrasting elements and sometimes
a direct experience of opposites can help us grow and evolve.

For example, loss can teach us about connection, grief can give us an appreciation for joy, a long cold winter will make us celebrate the coming spring. Last fall I was working on an article about GMO, and I really enjoyed researching the topic. I learned some important things about issues that seemed unrelated on the surface but are actually quite interconnected and essential for all of us to recognize. Monsanto, so often despised on social networks and demonized – yet it may be providing an opportunity for a much needed dialogue, in effect enlightening us through demonstrating the contrast of opposites.

It is fair enough to say that Monsanto opposes the beliefs of those who care about their right to know what is in their food, by pushing back against GMO labeling laws. This giant corporation also stands in contrast to the belief systems of those who believe in heirloom seeds, organic and bio-dynamic agriculture. The increase in pesticides used on GMO crops end up pouring into our waterways, which places Monsanto at odds with environmental groups and those concerned with water quality. Others find themselves in contradiction with this multinational bio-chemical corporation because the bees that pollinate flowers and vegetables are threatened by these pesticides. If opposites attract, Monsanto has done wonders to attract and unite many people who share a deep love for life on the planet.

Sustainability is defined, in ecology as ”…how biological systems remain diverse and productive. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes.”


The definition of greenwashing is “A form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly. Evidence that an organization is greenwashing often comes from pointing out the spending differences: when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being ‘green’ (that is, operating with consideration for the environment), than is actually spent on environmentally sound practices.

Greenwashing efforts can range from changing the name or label of a product to evoke the natural environment on a product that contains harmful chemicals to multimillion dollar advertising campaigns portraying highly polluting energy companies as eco-friendly.”


Using the logic of opposites, we can be grateful that Monsanto has illuminated issues that we should all be concerned about. Here are 5 worth considering:

1. Recognizing the damage of pesticides in our water:

The growth of GMO crops eventually produce pesticide-resistant insects which increases the amount of pesticides needed to obtain the same results year after year. The increased use of these pesticides runs off into creeks, streams, watersheds, and our drinking water.

The Pesticide Induced Diseases Database provides access to a wide array of scientific studies on the dangerous health effects of pesticides. Glyphosate and Roundup, the herbicides which GE crops depend upon, are implicated in numerous adverse health impacts in human beings. Roundup formulations are of particular concern because the ‘inactive/inert’ ingredients in the product have been shown to enhance the toxicity of glyphosate. One particular ‘inactive’ ingredient, polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, a surfactant used to adhere and allow glyphosate to penetrate into plant leaves, was shown to be capable of killing human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells, according to a study published in Chemical Research and Toxicology.
– Beyond Pesticides

2. Teaching us about the history of chemical warfare:

Agent Orange was one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. It was manufactured for the U.S. Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical. The British were the first to employ herbicides and defoliants to destroy the crops, bushes, and trees of communist insurgents in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency.

We now have a revolving door between high-level Monsanto lobbyists and politicians, who legislate food safety and production with business interests placed above the environment and public health.

3. Understanding the interconnected web of life including honey bees


Who woulda’ thought that the ecosystem was so interconnected and interdependent that all these vegetables would be dependent on honey bees?

• Apples • Onions • Avocados • Carrots • Mangos • Lemons • Limes • Honeydew • Cantaloupe • Zucchini • Summer squash • Eggplant • Cucumbers • Celery • Green onions • Cauliflower • Leeks • Bok choy • Kale • Broccoli • Broccoli rabe • Mustard greens

More information here.

By targeting the insects that ruin crops, pesticides have inadvertently  hurt our bees to the extent that we could have wide spread bee colony collapse if we don’t do something about it.

4. Questioning commercial agriculture and considering where our food comes from

Our population has grown exponentially, and what may have been a solution 50 years ago may be a problem today. Consider all the fossil fuels used to ship food across the planet. What if more food was grown locally, if local laws encouraged community gardens and food forests? It is important to question the direction in which things are going. Some of the problems we currently face are forcing us to reconsider what large-scale agriculture should look like. Asking the tough questions always leads to solutions, and there are always safer, more effective ways to move forward.

5. Inspiring us to grow our own heirloom seeds and source our food locally

Because of the industry push-back against local and state ballot-initiatives to have GMO food accurately labeled, one of the best ways to know what you are getting is to grow your own or support local farmers. Supporting local farmers and growing your own also decreases the amount of fossil fuels that are used in transport and provides you with the freshest, most nutritious food possible. Heirloom seeds are available at places like Organic-farmingNative Seed Search and with them comes a long lineage of cultural heritage and stories from the people who have preserved them. This helps us to have a deeper understanding of our place within the larger web of life around us, and our role in history to make this place better for future generations. This Culture Collective article has a list of great resources about the importance of heirloom seeds.

When we were children we all learned to walk by falling down… lots! We learned the importance of honesty when we told a fib and lost the trust of a friend. We learned how precious love is when we lost a lover. We are wired to embrace opposites in this world of contrast, sometimes there are painful lessons but the quicker we adapt and learn, the quicker we grow and heal. Biotech gave us many solutions as our population swelled, but it is riddled with problems that we must now openly address. Just as training wheels may have once helped us ride a bike, we would find them limiting if we were to keep them on after we knew how to ride. Permaculture has many organic solutions that help to regenerate the land while using organic, and we need to consider transiting commercial agriculture into safer ways of producing healthy food. Perhaps we may one day thank Monsanto for causing us to wake up, to organize, and push for safer alternatives!


How an Apple Tree Transformed my Life

How an Apple Tree Transformed my Life

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”                   – Herman Hesse

Several years ago we spent an autumn season in the orchard region just outside of Melbourne. I was in between creative projects and feeling the need to do something more dynamic with my energy than sitting at the computer sending and receiving emails, so I followed an impulse to a local biodynamic farm and got a job picking apples during the last six weeks of harvest.

The notion was quite romantic initially… I’d spend my days wandering the orchard rows connecting with my Muse, and my evenings writing to my heart’s content.  The first few days were pretty exciting – driving tractors, climbing trees, embracing the daily challenge of filling 3 big apple crates with 2,000 apples each before sunset. But by day four… I’m pretty sure I hated it. With bruised grooves in each shoulder from my apple pouch and carpel tunnel in my wrists from twist-pulling Fuji’s all day, I hadn’t had the energy to open my laptop once, much less to write anything of value. I was starting to wonder if I was wasting my time – ‘valuable time’ I was telling myself, that I could be channeling into any number of potentially exciting projects. Here I was, slaving away for a fraction of my normal fee, getting pounded by the days and by the foreman, who had a way of applying subtle pressure to the pace of my picking that made me feel, well, inept. I’d be out there working my way up the rows, soaking wet with morning dew, and he’d stop by on his motorcycle, look into the bins and just kind of shake his head. He wouldn’t say much, but what his eyes were speaking was, “Really? This is all you got?!”


By week two I was getting faster, but my restlessness was growing. I was still finding myself too exhausted to be creatively useful in the evenings (shower-food-sleep was the pattern, waking just in time to throw on my overalls and get back out there the next morning) and on top of that, I had missed several key business calls and meeting invitations while being stuck up the ladder with a pouch full of Red Delicious. In two short weeks, this 40-acre property of fertile soil and thriving harvest had gone from poetically beautiful to overbearing, overwhelming and almost oppressive. So many apples… so many fricken apples. How would we ever get through them all?

By the end of week three I was starting to seriously consider pulling the escape hatch… That’s when George arrived.

George was a tall, thin Chinese man. I don’t know how old he was but I would guess mid-fifties. He had run a successful importing business for many years but recently let it go to be with and look after his parents for a while. Somehow he found the orchard and had decided to drive 90-minutes each way across city traffic to be there picking each day. I was having a hard time dragging myself out of bed to make the ten-minute drive, so I wondered how long George would last. He was a quiet man and we didn’t talk much for the first few days, but one thing I noticed straight away – which admittedly gave me some comfort at the time – was that he was a much slower picker than me. I was about half as fast as the foreman, and George… well George was about half as fast as me. Within a few days, the silent glares I’d been receiving from the foreman, started manifesting into snide remarks in George’s direction.

But the days were getting shorter and they needed the help, so as a couple of slow, misfit pickers, we were partnered up to work the same section of the orchard each day, sharing the harvest. Knowing that I would now have to pick even faster in order to make up for George if we were going to make our daily quota (a concept that George didn’t seem to understand) I found myself getting stressed and almost a bit resentful of my new partner. But a few days into our partnership, during our first lunch together, all of this changed.

After searching for a spot of high ground to check my phone messages, I joined George on the edge of an apple crate where he was eating a big chunk of homemade bread. We were well behind schedule, so I was eating fast and starting to do the math in my head of how many chest pouches would be needed to fill the next crate, when I heard George bite into a crispy Pink Lady and take a deep sighing breath. “This is the best job ever,” he said, with the sincerity of a child. “Fresh air, fresh apples, green grass, blue sky… Best job ever.”

I couldn’t see his eyes (in fact I’m not sure if I ever saw his eyes on the other side of his gold framed, Top Gun style shades), but I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was a tear hovering there. I looked at him for a long moment, taking in what he said and I realized that while we were both there doing the exact same work together, George was having a totally different experience to me. I was stressing out, picking as fast as I could, going home exhausted and frustrated, feeling like I should be doing something else… and he was driving three hours a day, picking half the amount of apples and experiencing moments of enlightened rapture. I was definitely missing something.


After lunch I watched George picking for a while… gently handling each apple, looking at it for a moment or two before he placed it in his pouch and reaching for the next. He might have been pissing the foreman off, but he was doing something right. We finished the day at sunset and I remember glancing back at George just leaning back, smelling the air as I drove the tractor back up the hill.

 “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”          – William Blake

The next morning was wet and raining so most of the team took the day off. George had made the trip across town unknowingly and I didn’t have the heart to abandon him, so I stuck around to help. I decided to leave my phone – and as many thoughts as possible – in the car for the day, and for once really give myself a chance to BE at the orchard. Almost instantly, the day began to feel a bit different. The apples seemed to come off a little easier and my steps through the long, wet grass just seemed to be lighter. Despite the rain, it felt good to be there, surrounded by all this life and growth and energy in full fruition. I began to feel inspired by each tree’s ability to give forth so many ripe creations (hundreds of apples and thousands of seeds!), and how every single apple had the capacity to give birth to a whole new family of apple-giving trees. What a model for sustainable living! I wasn’t rushing, I wasn’t forcing anything, I wasn’t counting… but somehow the pouches and buckets were filling.

Midway through the morning, it started bucketing down with rain. Really hard. I ducked under a mature Granny Smith, whose branches were so laden with wet fruit that the canopy hung around me like a giant umbrella. I continued picking, lightening the load of her limbs, moving in to the very center. As I stretched out around her trunk to reach a stray apple on the other side, suddenly a strange feeling came over my body. The air seemed to get a bit thicker and I felt this sort of calm wash through me that I hadn’t felt for a very long time. I took a deep breath of apple-tree-air and looked up to realize that the limbs of this tree were all wrapped around me like a giant, tree arm hug. And with my chest against the trunk, I swear I could feel her pulse. I glanced around sheepishly to make sure the foreman wasn’t coming… and then I slid my arms fully around and hugged her right back. Several seconds (maybe minutes) passed. Not a single raindrop hit me. My face was wet with tears.

Only then did I truly arrive in the orchard, and from that day forward, I cherished my time with these trees.

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe. To match your nature with Nature.” – Joseph Campbell

Some days George and I made our daily quota, some days we didn’t. He never really understood what it meant, and I no longer really cared. Strangely as I relaxed, so did the foreman. He stopped counting apples in the bin and I stopped counting my phone messages. As luck would have it, we finished the picking season just before the first frost… right on time. And just a few days after our final day of picking, my next writing project began. Right on time.

Last time I saw George he was talking about getting a job on an oil rig for a few months so he could be out in the ocean. He had heard it was good pay but difficult work with tough crews. I can just imagine him out there amongst a group of sea-weathered oil riggers, tearing off a piece of his homemade bread, taking a deep breath of clear ocean air. “Ah. Best job ever.”


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Source: Uplift Connect