Purge is the word

I don’t know quite when it started, but sometime in the last few weeks, without talking about it, Haak and I moved into moving mode – we are getting shit done. Things on the to-do list for months or years are being nailed down [and oh, that only took AN HOUR?].

In five short weeks, we will be moving back to Australia after three years of living in Montana. I have this image of us flying into a Sydney dawn as we have so many times before, pointing out the water to the kids and trembling with the anticipation of hearing Australian accents all around, seeing the vegetation, smelling the air.

But the more times we do this, the more nervous I get. We’re 35 this year. We’re not travelling twentysomethings anymore. There are two kids to consider and shouldn’t we be working on our future security?

It feels now like I’m about to do a huge bell flop when I imagine looking down on Sydney. Here we coooMMMEEEeeee!

In between checking off our to-do list,  Haak and I  pace anxiously and snap at each other. We’re not leaving for over a month, so you could say this was premature. But the desire to beat the clock, to somehow be halfway moved now so we can enjoy some lake time before having to complete the move has overcome us.

It won’t work, of course, but after doing this a few times, I do believe in decision fatigue and getting some of those tiny decisions made before we hit that point makes sense.

There is always that one box when we’re unpacking that has all the things in it we just couldn’t make a decision about and you can tell: it’s stuffed carelessly with all the fucks we didn’t give, about to board the plane.

Moving countries is really the same as moving across one country but somehow produces a higher anxiety level. There is no driving back to get something you forgot and no overnight courier service to Australia.

When we get on the plane in five short weeks, we’ll each have a bag and that’s all. Some clothes, a book, some toiletries. The kids will stuff every available space in their bags with rocks and broken plastic toys and toilet rolls.

Just like we were going on a week-long trip.

In some ways, I love the purge – although I’m not a collector by nature [and Haakon is often firmly rescuing things I’ve put in the thrift store pile or recycling] our moving cycle ensures that all those weird things that add up over the years are eventually looked at, and reconsidered.

When I woke up this morning, it was with a clear idea of looking in our top most kitchen cabinets for items to purge. In the backup tea department, I found iced blueberry green tea powder.

I’m sure I didn’t buy it. It sounds disgusting. So how the heck is it there? Flotsam and jetsom tea that happened to be spinning past and get stuck in our orbit. Space junk.

As we move towards the final pack up, the concurrent using up and rationing become more intense: Can we live without cinnamon for a month? what about baking soda? a drizzle of maple syrup is all that is left. I’m certainly not going to buy a whole half gallon again, but can you buy the right amount of syrup for four possible pancake weekends?

And how can I use up the full jar of celery salt and half a kilo of coriander seeds I seem to have?

With these questions comes a curiously morbid desire to bequeath things to people I love. While Shawna loaded the cement mixer, I solemnly left her all the good tea I won’t drink in five weeks.

A bottle of oyster sauce will go to someone who raved about my greens with garlic and oyster sauce, our walnuts to Madeline for her delicious walnut bread. The end of a ten-pound bag of split peas to my mother-in-law, who makes excellent soup.

And then, in a flurry of decision fatigue, we’ll stuff all the odds and ends of food in a box and guiltily leave it on Shawna and Ben’s porch, or with Haak’s parents, so they can hold onto that full jar of celery salt, never using it, and give it back to us in three years.

Sometimes the continuity of space junk can be comforting.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

What do you use celery salt for????

Give us today

The first bread I remember well was a huge round white Italian loaf that came in a paper bag and was bought at the Ainslie shops in Canberra, the city where I was born.

On my fourteenth birthday, mum took me to Canberra for a shopping trip and we stayed in a little hotel and I spent all morning toasting slices of bread and eating them with sliced ham.

Yesterday, I needed to make some breadcrumbs for a chicken parmigiana I was making for a catering gig with a local fly fishing outfitter [Kootenai Canyon Anglers]

Good bread like that crusty Italian loaf has been hard to come by in Troy, Montana until recently, with several local bakers at the farmers market now selling excellent loaves.

But the market is only on Fridays, so I went to the store and stared for a while, trying not to breathe in the sweet chemically smell of the bread aisle.

A sea of soft white and brown bread looked back at me, bread I knew would turn to a gummy paste in the food processor.

I needed a dry, open-crumbed bread – the type of bread for which breaded foods were invented to use up, along with the classic old bread dishes like Panzanella, Fattoush, bread pudding and that Spanish soup with bread and almonds.

There’s a casual assumption that such bread can be found in the US – a food mag I subscribe to, Bon Appetit, often ends a recipe with “serve with crusty bread,” as though such a thing is easy to find.

But crusty bread is harder to find than other hard-to-find ingredients. Sumac, leaf gelatin, nigella seeds and Korean chilli can be ordered online, while fresh bread is a purely local delicacy.

Recent trips to Denver, Colorado and Seattle, Washington showed me that finding good bread is not a rural problem.

At the farmer’s market in Arvada, Denver, there were superb fresh peaches and melons whose stems were still dripping from where they had been pulled from the vine. But I knew at first glance that the bakery stall was baking quick yeasted bread – puffy oversized croissants with no visible layers and fat white “French” loaves prevailed.

Trips to two huge supermarkets and a natural grocer also yielded zero loaves of crusty bread, and we were content with an organic, seeded loaf which somehow still had the same texture as soft white bread.

[If you can, support your local bakery or farmers market baker instead of buying supermarket bread – you’ll avoid the chemicals which mean bread can have a best by date three weeks in the future]

Apparently, Christopher Columbus brought sourdough culture [a tangy, tasty wild yeast used exclusively before commercial yeasts overtook] with him on the boat in 1492 – but the American bread situation has gone steadily downhill since then, to arrive at this:

hot dog

What makes Americans so fond of pappy white bread? is it a history of dental problems that make chewing a crust too difficult? a love of commercialisation? or is it just that when Columbus’ sourdough was abandoned, people forgot what good bread tastes like and they’ve never remembered?

It’s ironic that there is at face value so much choice around bread in this country. Visit any diner and order a breakfast plate and the waitress will drill you with options for your accompanying toast:

“We have wheat, white, sourdough, English muffins, bagels, rye, marbled rye …”

But the bread all tastes the same [except when there is a caraway involved].

Rye bread often has a tiny percentage of actual rye flour, and is not even made brown with the traditional sweetener – molasses – but is coloured with caramel dye.

Of course, there is a time and a place for pappy white bread. Soft white bread is popular in Australia too – and sometimes it’s the best bread for the job, as it is in the case of fairy bread [an Australian tradition for birthday parties – heavily buttered white bread covered with sprinkles and cut into triangles].

At home in Australia, at our monthly market in Candelo,  the primary school still sells fat sausages on a stick and hamburgers with grilled onions, sliced tomato and shredded iceberg lettuce sandwiched between buttered white bread, which they’ve done since the early eighties.

No other bread would do for the price, and I still think about how my teeth made drag marks in the thin white bread.

When we first lived the USA, Haakon used to make bread for us – a quick, yeasted half white-half wheat [wholemeal, in Australia] everyday bread that filled the hole and was infinitely better than anything you could get at the store.

I sometimes rolled the loaves in sesame seeds before they baked to add a crunchy coating.

When we ran out, or I was alone for awhile, I bought sourdough English muffins to eat with my breakfast egg. They were white and slightly sour tasting, but not actually sourdough – just another soft, white bread.

I’d toast them to the point of burning, seeking a bit of crunch and chew.

Around that same time, I started playing with a no-knead bread recipe, which relies on an overnight ferment, wet dough and extremely hot bake in a dutch oven to achieve a thick brown crust and nice air pockets.

I found making the recipe for one loaf tiresome, but I took some of the methods of making no-knead bread and applied them to Haak’s yeast bread recipe. I would make the dough very wet, add just a half teaspoon of yeast, and let it sit as long as I wanted – a long, slow ferment made for complex flavour without having to tend to a culture in the fridge.

This method works well for pizza dough and other flatbreads too – just make the dough and let it sit, either at room temperature for a few days, or in the fridge for up to a week.

But without the steam from a lidded dutch oven, achieving a crust was impossible, even when I used a steam bath [a tray of hot water in the oven while the bread bakes, used when making crusty bread like bagettes].

In my quest for breadcrumbs yesterday, I found a plastic bag with something small and hard in it – the end of a good, crusty loaf from my friend Madeline’s Farmer’s Market stall – but it was powdery and blue.

And then! another bag. Another partial loaf. And this one smells as it should: of wheat, salt and sour.

After my catering dinner is made and delivered, the kids are in bed and it’s finally dark, I salvage what’s left of Madeline’s bread and toast it to eat with a slice of leftover prosciutto.

Amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

*** You can find Madeline with Mads Breads and other artisan bakers at the Troy, Montana Farmer’s Market on Fridays between 3:30-6:30 ***

 

 

 

We too

I admit I avoided participating in the #metoo movement which swept social media late last year. Oh, I knew then that I’ve been sexually threatened, but the whole thing seemed too murky – I say #metoo and everyone wonders: was she raped? whistled at? grabbed?

I assumed people would wonder about me, but I never asked any of the hundreds of women who hashtagged in my social media feeds: what happened? which experience do you think of when you hashtag #metoo? and are you OK?

I’ve come to realize that #metoo needs another step. We’re so accustomed to thinking of ourselves and other women as victims that the hashtag confessions hit us like a wave, washing over us the feeling of something we already knew.

Although there was liberation in confessing that we had been hurt without repercussions, the details of what happened to the women who hashtagged [and those, like me, who could have but didn’t] in a way don’t matter anymore.

Many of them couldn’t press charges, which is one of the bummers of sexual assault – washable evidence.

But the useful thing that can come out of the movement is for all victims of sexual violence to feel so enraged at being violated that they are compelled to report the crime, right now, immediately … while the evidence is still fresh.

Not as a hashtag confession months or years later.

When I was researching for a local newspaper article I wrote about sexual assault early this spring, I spoke to many women who had been assaulted. Every single one spoke about the period after the attack as being traumatic in some way – whether recalling the attack, confessing, testifying or having evidence collected.

One of the women I interviewed has crossed my thoughts so many times since we met. I first met Tracy at the elementary school she works at and she was warm and friendly – one of those people you just like instantly.

We met in a diner on an icy February day and sat in the back room, cradling thick white coffee mugs, and Tracy told me that she had been raped twice while serving in the military.

Tracy let me understand the process of re-victimization through evidence collection that I had known only as a theory before –

“When I reported the first rape, they took evidence. It was horrific, the two nurses were so cold” Tracy told me “they pulled hairs from my butt hole and the whole time I kept thinking: why aren’t they pulling hairs from HIS butt hole?”

As she was talking, Tracy was half laughing and half crying, and I was weeping too. How could anyone hurt the strong, wonderful woman I saw before me?

It is slowly dawning on the western world the burden that women carry everywhere they go – how much effort goes into selecting clothes, choosing routes, checking shadows, looking back, charging cell phones, communicating our whereabouts and wondering who we can trust.

But we need more understanding and instruction so that when someone talks about sexual assault, whether that assault happened 40 years ago or ten minutes ago, we lean in and ask more – because it can compound the hurt and add shame if we don’t.

There have been two occasions I would say #metoo about – one was when I was 21 and traveling in Amsterdam and stayed with someone I had just met – a young man and his wife and baby.

This man, with no prior warning, tackled me while I was getting out of the shower in the morning and I ran out of the tiny apartment dripping wet, grabbing my huge backpack on the way to my train to Paris and leaving a soggy towel behind a bush in the front garden.

When I got to Paris, I told the woman I was staying with what had happened, and she berated me for trusting a stranger. She didn’t ask if I was OK. She just very squarely blamed me for staying with someone I didn’t know.

In contrast, my second experience, which happened in the same era of my life, had a happier ending.

I was hanging out and drinking with two guys I knew from high school, but neither very well. One started to pressure me for sex, and the other guy looked at him squarely and said “you’re being a dick. I think you should go outside and calm down.”

He did, and I went home and, being 20, never acknowledged either man’s actions again. I should probably write a thank you letter to my defender’s parents for raising a man who was full of matter-of-fact respect.

Years have passed since those incidents, and a few days ago, I realized how protected I am from daily dealings with strange men when I was approached while waiting in line at the King Scoopers in Arvada, Denver.

“You’re cute,” a 40 ish man with a ponytail told me “are you married?”

The words themselves – unthreatening. The whole interaction – scary as hell, especially given how unprepared I was, and how deep into reading about Harry and Meagan Markle’s home life.

Last month, a 22-year-old comedian named Eurydice Dixon was raped and killed in a popular Melbourne park. When I lived in Melbourne when I was 22, I walked and rode through a lot of parks at night.

The response to Dixon’s death shows that the mainstream narrative around violence against women in Australia is stretching, and may even be on the cusp of shattering the ways women are blamed for being attacked by men.

National newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece by Clementine Ford which criticized the police response to Dixon’s violent death.

Melbourne police issued statements encouraging calls to 000 [Australia’s version of 911] by anyone who didn’t feel safe. Local Superintendent David Clayton warned, “This is an area of high community activity… so just make sure you have situational awareness.”

Speaking about rape and murder as being part of community activity normalizes the way Dixon died, and neatly leaves out a call to perpetrator’s: if you feel violent, or worry that you may rape someone, please call 000 for help.

Ford writes in response:

“The language used towards women when we exercise caution is contradictory at best and disdainful and mocking at worst. Exercise caution, but stop being so paranoid. Be prepared for danger, but don’t treat individual men like they might be a threat to you. Don’t put yourselves in harm’s way, but quit acting hysterical about every little shadow that crosses your path. Be wary of strange men, but don’t you dare be wary of me.”

Police officers are often first responders for sexual assault and have a great responsibility to respond well. As part of my sexual assault article, I spoke to the chief of police in nearby Libby, Montana – Scott Kessel.

Scott was concerned that in his year in Libby, there had been no reports of sexual assault.

“It’s either positive or ominous,” he said, “and I suspect the latter.”

Our county health nurse, Riley Black, is working with Scott and the police force to make reporting sexual assault easier. As it stands, victims in our rural community have to travel two hours to Kalispell to be examined for evidence, but Riley will soon be opening a clinic in Libby specifically for sexual assault examination.

“I want it to be as comfortable as possible,” Riley told me “so it doesn’t feel like a punishment to be examined.”

Riley, who is herself a victim of sexual assault, was one of the only women I interviewed for the article who didn’t appear to blame herself for the attack. She never once said “I was so naive”, as the majority of women did.

This, as well as Riley’s warm and direct presence, make her the ideal person talk to about a sexual assault, someone who would lift you out of doubt and never ask “what were you doing/wearing/saying?” but instead ask “how could he?”

In a Denver supermarket last week, the ponytailed man responded to my confusion and back-off vibes correctly: he came up to me, eyes lowered and said gruffly “you have a great evening.”

Whew.

As  I left the store, I peered around the entrance, checking around the pallets of flowers and fruit for the man. In the blazing sun in the car park, with bags full of organic blueberries and bread for my kids, I checked over my shoulder.

I longed a little for my 21-year-old pre-Amsterdam self, who would have assumed all was well and drifted on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you!

I feel as lucky as a kid in a candy store [or a woman at a birthday party who had just been handed a 4-week old puppy, as above!] when I think about this blog, and I want to thank all of you who have read it, encouraged me, commented on it, followed it, and shared it!

When I first started writing this blog, I very much assumed that no one would read it – a comforting thought, as I could write whatever I wanted!

But now I know people read it because I’ve had emails and letters begging me to correct my grammar [I’m’s so’s sorry’s about the s’s!], the stats show that sometimes 300 people visit this site each day [!!!] and a young woman who I admire commented on facebook that seeing me “find my voice” with writing has inspired her to follow her dreams, too.

This makes me SO happy.

But I’m not comfortable with the word blog – I just don’t like it. I might refer to the blog as the flog or the mog instead.

I really appreciate the feedback I’ve gotten about the flog. I started writing because I wanted to show the subtle [and not so subtle] cultural differences between Australia and the US, because I felt like I spent half my conversations with people I love trying to explain my other life and growing increasingly frustrated that they didn’t get it.

I’ve had so many “ah-ha!” moments already – as I learn to communicate better and realize which knowledge I’m assuming.

So I love to hear what you’re interested in learning more about – I’ve had a request to write more about parenting in rural areas, and lots of requests to write about living with large predators, so I have more bear themed articles coming up for you.

I’m also thinking about all the Australia/Bega Valley things I can write about. I will try to answer questions like: is Bega still on the go? what does the canned cheese produced at Bega cheese factory taste like? and does weeing on a jellyfish sting really help?

Summertime has been crazy, as usual in the land of the 10 p.m sun, and I have a long list of articles I am dying to research and write. But spending time with friends and family before we head back to Aus has taken priority.

Right now we are in Denver, Colorado for ten days, visiting all the Pingels and Karuzas’ we can manage in that time frame.

I’ve grown to love Denver, which somehow reminds me of Canberra – the dry, the heat, the scrubby messy gardens and red brick.

As that aforementioned puppy was placed in my arms, and my face melted into puppy sqqquuueee face, I heard someone say “and she’s not even a dog person.”

Dog person, blog person, I’m decidedly a grateful person!

Thanks again for your support,

with love,

Elka

 

 

 

 

 

 

The homebirth aisle

Way back in 2006, Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein made the documentary “The Business of Being Born,” which details how the US medical model of birth is designed to serve insurance companies, not women or babies.

The film offers the idea that birth in the USA could be different, with more psychological support and continuity of care – factors that have been proven to provide better birth outcomes and lower rates of intervention.

Considering how popular Lake and Epstein’s film was, I’m continually surprised that I keep hearing less-than-fabulous birth stories.

But for ten years, and still, I keep hearing versions of the same story the filmmakers’ outline: “my husband and I were content with the “failure to progress”-Pitocin-epidural-cesarean labor and birth we had. We handed ourselves over to the medical hospital model, saying “I don’t know anything about this, and you guys [hospital staff] do.”

In the end, the surgeon who pulled their healthy baby out was nice, and the woman’s recovery was speedy.

And the best they can say about their child’s birth was: “it all worked out OK.”

Meanwhile, at my local supermarket, cashiers have started asking everyone “did you find everything you needed?” at check out.

It’s a level of customer service I find grating at times [If I hadn’t found everything I needed, I would still be walking around your giant store muttering “salt, salt, wine.”]

But it makes me think about all the things women and their families are missing in our current birth system.

I’ve eagerly asked women I meet to tell me their birth stories for over ten years now, and while I begin with high hopes for each new mom, by the time they’ve told me how they were induced, the shift change, that one nurse who was a bitch and how it all ended: “the baby was in distress, we had to get him out. I couldn’t do it anymore,” the buzz of new life is all but gone.

There is no pride, no glow, not even an it-was-hard-but-good, just a kind of trailing off as they listen to their own stories in the retelling.

I think they, like me, don’t really know whether it was all necessary – or safe. These women suspect what the numbers show: that maternal death in the US has risen along with intervention rates.

In the USA, figures from the Center for Disease Control [CDC] website show that maternal death and average rates of cesarean section have both doubled since 1985.

Maternal mortality figures get thrown around to show how the US is failing as a western nation, but I never took in how fast numbers are rising until I sat down to research this week.

The CDC website reports that in 1985, 7.2 out of every 100,000 women died from complications of pregnancy and birth, and by 2015, [the latest year shown] that figure was 26.4 deaths.

Although changes in reporting may account for some of the increase in maternal deaths, the CDC also notes that: “the reasons for the overall increase in pregnancy-related mortality are unclear.”

This is pretty bad, America. More women are dying in pregnancy and childbirth, despite advances in technology, and we don’t know why.

Some clues can be found in the statistics – the leading cause of maternal death in the USA is disease – cardiovascular [15 per cent] and other diseases [15 per cent] and these figures are likely not linked to medical intervention.

11 per cent of deaths were from haemorrhage, which could be vaginally or during surgery.

But the next highest causes of maternal death is sepsis and infection at 12.7 per cent and thrombotic pulmonary embolism [blood clot], which accounts for 9.2 per cent of all deaths.

Surgery is a risk factor for both infection and blood clots, which means these women likely died after having a cesarean, and the two statistics together would mean that the majority of maternal deaths were post surgery.

Arguing that medical intervention continues to make birth safer for women past the World Health Organization’s recommended 10 per cent surgery rate starts to sound like my three-year-old daughter’s logic this morning:

“When you are sick, you should eat lots of chocolate bunnies. That will help.” [Good try, Callie!]

If we can agree that birth in the US is not where it needs to be, I hope we can agree as well that the fault is systemic, and doesn’t often rest with individuals – I  know medical staff are good people trying to get through another life-and-death shift on half a chocolate doughnut and a string cheese, and that protecting the hospital and themselves from litigation is a priority.

But the reason so many women have unsatisfactory births, and why maternal mortality is so high compared to other western nations runs deeper than just litigation.

Birthing women still don’t understand that because giving birth is something that happens uniquely to women, it’s also a unique pocket of sexism which is often unrecognized because it is ubiquitous and disguised as medical assistance.

The sexism that results in many women having an overarching feeling that they failed at giving birth is the same sexism that means women are victims of male violence and lower pay scales.

It is possible to take charge of our births, and yet most people I know do more research leading up to ankle surgery than they do before giving birth, choosing instead to “leave it in the hands of the experts.”

But a woman who is totally in charge of her birth is a woman who comes out the other side knowing how strong she is: a force to be reckoned with, ready to face the trials of parenthood.

A few days ago, I was standing around a hot fire talking with a lively woman who has had four home births. This woman is both tiny and powerful and she told me that in every one of her births, she thought she would die.

“Having that story – the story of feeling like you are close to death and then being so much stronger than you thought and coming out the other side, is the story of birth and it’s what bonds you to your baby. You already feel like you’ve died for your child, so you are prepared to do it again,” she told me.

The women who are rescued from the pain and work of labour unnecessarily – those 16 per cent who are excess to the WHO’s recommended section rate – miss out on knowing their own power.

I had two homebirths, my son in 2011 and my daughter in 2015 [and yes, I also thought I would die, at least at my daughter’s birth!] Both were born in Australia and both births were attended by the same qualified midwife, and each time we were hospital ready in case of an emergency transfer.

I will never forget noticing our midwife tucking her emergency equipment into a corner when she arrived for my son’s birth and covering it with a pretty piece of fabric, a move clearly designed with my physiological well being in mind. She knew she had to give every indication that I could do it, that everything would go well.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my births did go well.

I hope I live to see the day that the US gets its maternal mortality numbers in line with other western nation’s, and indeed, that all women have a birth story they can’t wait to tell.

A story that echoes all the great human stories of triumph in the face of adversity.

And a time paying customers in the business of birth receive customer service at least as good as they do in the supermarket.

So that when your provider asks you after the birth: did you find everything you needed? you can check it off:

Alive/healthy baby/power/dignity.

If your last birth didn’t make the cut, check in the homebirth aisle next time.

**** you can stream “The Business of Being Born” on Netflix ****

 

A little light propaganda

I stayed in a hotel over the weekend and did what I always do in hotels in the US – flip between Fox News [Republican] and MSNBC [Democratic].

Both channels were discussing recent changes in immigration policy, and this is roughly what they were saying:

Fox news anchor: I just don’t understand – democrats wanted Trump to take back his policy of separating children from their parents at the border, and now he has, they’re STILL mad.

Fox then moved on to a brief headline: Economy is growing under Trump administration.

MSNBC anchor: Trump will never admit that he caved after hearing the ProPublica audio of screaming kids and reversed the policy. But Republicans will not return the 2000 kids they have already taken under this policy.

MSNBC then showed clips of screaming kids with arms outstretched and blurred faces.

Same day, same news.

Except that it’s not news, America. None of this bullshit is news.

And yet many, many Americans watch cable news shows for hours a day – if 15 minutes of each makes me mad, imagine how riled up most Americans are every day.

I like to think of myself as a lone wolf, processing information with a clear and logical mind, the master of my own opinions, and I bet most of you do too.

But I see changes in myself when I’m living in the left-leaning Bega Valley in Australia, or here in conservative, economically challenged Montana.

My environment affects how I see the world, at least a little. I’m grateful to have had the experience of living amongst the Americans who voted for Trump, and having some inkling of why. The rest of the world still seems confused.

Here, I can see it’s hard for people to care about refugees – our lives are so uncertain, they seem to say, we don’t have time for this shit. Generations of poverty and hard physical labour have not added up yet for my fellow rural Montanans, and there is so much perceived shame in accepting disability payments, government healthcare or food stamps, which many families rely on.

These are the white, working-class people who voted for Trump – the folks who want their dignity back, a shot at the American dream of  1950 that so many are now competing for.

At home in Australia, people have the time and headspace to fight other people’s battles – to care about refugees and non-violent communication and quality of life. At home, people’s basic needs are always met, and basic needs overflow into a strong pleasure culture.

Just as who we’re surrounded by changes our worldview, what we’re absorbing by way of news is creating our worldview, whether we like it or not.

If you don’t feel like you know where to go for facts anymore, you’re not alone. It could take hours to fact check one person’s daily media consumption.

And it seems the US’ model for news is spreading – when I searched BBC news and two Australian news channels, ABC and SBS, I couldn’t find any news about US immigration like I remember from my childhood: good old put-you-to-sleep factual news.

International news covering the issue tended to be critical of Trump, and emotive, with soft music and lingering images of children crying.

I’m decidedly affected by images of children being taken from their parents – like any parent, my mind immediately jumps to my kids, in a strange country with a strange language, separated from us.

I think we should argue and analyze and debate and protest and take action to stop asylum seeking or immigrant kids being separated from their parents ever again, and then go further in guaranteeing human rights for immigrants.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

But I don’t think we should rely on our news programs to do this arguing and analysing for us – because they are so, so biased, especially in the US, where news channels are actually blatantly affiliated with political parties.

Do the arguing and analyzing yourself, preferably around a table with a mixed group of people and a good attitude.

Because it’s not news if it comes with a political message.

It’s propaganda.

We all like having our beliefs validated – so if you want to watch MSNBC or Fox News, acknowledge what it is you’re doing and tell your friends “I’m off to indulge in a little light propaganda.”

 

What are your favourite news sources? I’d love to hear. Thanks for reading!

 

*** the image I used above is of Lee Lin Chin, a fabulous Australian news anchor ***

 

Bear dogs – a boon to a recovering grizzly population?

Living in northwest Montana, there are times I feel nervous hiking or berry picking in bear country.

So often I’ve thought: there’s got to be a better solution to my nerves than clutching bear spray as I round every corner and singing Madonna songs at full volume to try to prevent surprising a bear.

The risks of being attacked by a bear are low, but the stakes are high.

Early this spring, a woman working as a field assistant for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in a grizzly bear research program was mauled in the woods near our neighbouring town, Libby. The organization issued a news release yesterday about the attack, which confirms that the bear was an adult grizzly bear.

According to Fish, Wildlife and Parks, an estimated 50,000 to 1000,000 grizzlies lived in the lower 48 alongside native Americans. But with the arrival of white folks with firearms, the population plummeted to less than 1000 by 1975, when the species was declared threatened.

Grizzlies are still threatened but in recovery in our area, and locals are still practising doing something we’ve never done before – live with these large predators without killing them when our lives overlap too much.

But how?

I went to our family friend Sierra Owen’s place property in the lower Yaak yesterday to find out more about how she spends hundreds of hours working and playing in the woods free from worry about predators.

Sierra’s predator solution was staring me in the face as soon as I pulled up in her driveway. Four large, incredibly fluffy dogs calmly surrounded the car, not barking or moving.

Their mane-rimmed blunt faces and solemn eyes reminded me of lions.

“The dogs are Ovcharka breed,” Sierra told me as she finished her morning chores, which included a changing of the dogs, kenneling some and letting others out [there are  seven total] “they are an ancient breed – the Persians used them as war dogs – but they were originally bred by shepherds who were dealing with lots of predators, especially wolves.”

Ovcharkas are not herding dogs, Sierra explained, but the dogs will run the perimeter of their territory, catching the wind and driving predators away with their “obnoxious” behaviour.

They also gravitate towards hills and high places, where they can watch and wait.

“When you see them with a bear, it’s amazing how fast they are for a large dog,” Sierra said, “they will circle the bear, nipping it on the butt until it is fed up and eventually moving it along.”

Looking into the dense, dark woods directly uphill from Sierra and her husband Odie’s property, and the area where they keep chickens, dog food and previously, pigs, [all bear attractants] I can see why they wanted to find a predator solution.

“Those woods are a corridor between the second largest and the largest roadless areas in the Yaak,” Sierra said “before we had the dogs, I had no idea how many predators moved through there, but now we have the dogs and we can hear when they have something, we know it’s a highway.”

Sierra and her family – which includes son Diamond and daughter Bella – got their first Ovcharka seven years ago when wolves started coming into her yard to hunt their piglets, and her two Australian Shepards would “hide under the porch,” Sierra laughed.

[What can I say? we Aussies are just not accustomed to living with predators!]

“We were looking for a match for wolves initially,” Sierra said “and our first Ovcharka, Atta, did a great job keeping them at bay. But watching her chase them out over and over, we realized – it’s a big job for one dog.”

As their Ovcharka family grew, and they moved into breeding the dogs [check out their website] Sierra and Odie have had several close encounters with predators which have confirmed their faith in the dogs.

walk

“A few years ago, we had an older grizzly bear take one of our piglets,” Sierra said “our electric fencing was not high enough, and he just stepped over it before the dogs could even smell him. It was Ares’ only failure [not to smell the bear before it entered the pig pen].”

When the dogs did get wind of the bear, eating his pork in the nearby woods, they pursued him. Meanwhile, Odie and Diamond grabbed shotguns and ran outside, as they had a black bear tag [which means you are allowed to hunt one bear in a particular season].

Odie and Diamond were already too close before realizing they were not dealing with a milder mannered black bear, but a huge, old grizzly bear, who was defending his kill.

“The bear charged Odie, and Ares got between them” Sierra recalled, “Odie told Diamond to get the hell out of there and tried to retreat himself.”

Ares managed to distract the bear and run it into the woods, and the family sought assistance from Fish, Wildlife and Parks, who came to trap the bear.

After the bear was released in a nearby drainage, Sierra half expected it to return.

“But it never did,” she said, “I think this is the best thing about Ovcharkas – they’re not only a deterrent, but it’s enough of a negative experience that even problem predators often don’t return.”

Ares may have saved Odie’s life, but he also saved another life – that of the bear.

Once bears have a taste for livestock, garbage or other food sources, it can be impossible to keep them out, and the bear may end up being euthanized.

Sierra has worked for local non-profit Yaak Valley Forest Council since 2004 as a seasonal field technician, and she told me she and her colleagues never go out alone.

But having her dog Ares along when she’s at work results in the whole crew feeling safer, she said, and the benefits of a bear dog on the crew have been demonstrated several times.

“I’m still alert, but I ultimately feel that it’s not my job to identify when there is a predator in the vicinity,” Sierra explained, “I know that Ares will find it before I do and that he knows what to do.”

Although Sierra trains her dogs in basic commands, the behaviour that Ares displays when he comes up against a predator is not the result of training but is an innate quality, the result of years of breeding.

bella

Last week, Sierra and her two colleagues were collecting data in the woods when “I heard Ares on the creek bottom doing this crazy barking – different to when he has a bear – and when he came back up the hill, hot on his heels was a full-grown grey wolf,” Sierra told me.

On reflection, Sierra thinks it may have been the wolf barking, not Ares.

“He [Ares] had obviously been scrapping – he wasn’t hurt, but his fur was ruffled and he was covered in slobber,” Sierra continued.

The wolf retreated, and the cool-headed crew continued their work, but soon found they were surrounded by the pack, who were barking “just like my dogs when something comes in the yard,” Sierra said.

The crew decided to move to the next drainage, and the wolves “basically escorted us out” Sierra said, noting that her dog kept close, ready for action but not provoking the wolves.

When the crew consulted a wolf biologist about the incident, she said there was almost certainly a den of puppies the wolves were protecting.

Sierra, along with many who work in the woods they love, is a conservationist at heart and said she believes it is her responsibility to manage her livestock and other bear attractants. “It’s not that the predators are bad for wanting to eat,” she laughed, “if we wanted to never deal with predators we would live in Kansas!”

But when humans and predators are sharing space, having a tool like an Ovcharka could be the key to minimizing human-bear conflicts and preventing situations like the mauling of a Fish, Wildlife and Parks employee on the job.

The reason U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service allowed researchers to hike alone in known bear habitat was likely budget, but if they are not in a position to pay another employee $15 an hour, then maybe a dog at a one-off cost of $2000 plus food and board could be a good comprise.

It’s best for us to avoid surprise encounters. And it’s best for the bears.

Plus, these dogs are mighty cute! check out Sierra and Odie’s website for info about their next planned breeding.

cuddle

Thanks for reading!