life, Plants and Herbs

Grassassination II: Revengeance.

If you go on an allergy diet, you do it by eliminating common allergens, then re-introducing them one at a time over a period of weeks. This lets you figure out exactly what you’re reacting to, and how.

If you have sensitive skin, you probably also know not to add a lot of new products to your routine all at once. You add them one at a time, with space in between, so you can see how your skin responds.

If you have environmental allergies, it’s a bit trickier. When you move to a new place, you can’t really add in new allergens one at a time — your neighbors have flowers, and grass, and trees, and there are even new microorganisms to contend with.

So, when my partner was sniffling, sneezing, and miserable, it was hard to figure out what was causing it. He’d had an allergy test years ago, but no longer had the results. With so many new trees (and far more of them), there was no way to really tell what was making him feel so bad.

“Hey,” he called out to me, “What’s ‘Alternaria’?”

Alternaria. It sounded familiar.

“It rings a bell, but I’m not sure. Why, what’s up?”

“I found my old allergy test, and I was off the charts for that.”

Huh. It certainly seemed worth looking up, so I did. Fortunately, Microscope Master had some useful inf-

Wait.

Alternaria is a large genus that belongs to phylum Ascomycota (Sac fungi). A majority of Alternaria species are saprobic, which means that they are largely involved in the decomposition of various organic matter. As such, a good majority of these species can be found in environments with organic material and water (or moisture).
involved in the decomposition of various organic matter. As such, a good majority of these species can be found in environments with organic material and water (or moisture).
decomposition of various organic matter.
decomposition

FFFFFFFFFffffffffffffffffjkglhlrughjkfhvm,nmb

Okay.

So, the same measures we were taking to help tamp down the grass allergens and get rid of the invasive plants were also creating a gigantic allergenic cesspool. I mean, I knew that there would be fungi. At least 90% of the point of smothering the lawn with a tarp was so it’d die and break down, thereby enriching the soil, and you need fungi to do that. I did not exactly count on the fact that the grass would fight back by mounting an assassination attempt of its own.

Well played, lawn.

But that’s okay. I have another weapon up my sleeve. One they’ll never see coming.

Clear sheets.

I’m very much against using plastic where it isn’t absolutely necessary. Part of the reason we initially chose to use a tarp was because we could use it for other things afterward, so it wouldn’t be single use. Fortunately, we were able to find some heavy-duty clear plastic sheeting that, while absolutely not ideal, I will use elsewhere after pressing it into service for grassassination. Glass would be better, of course, but is in no way practical. We considered layering the whole yard in paper, cardboard, and compost, but that wasn’t practical either (and a lot of soil amendments contain ingredients that aren’t sustainably harvested, like peat). Renting a sod cutter, or calling out a service to peel off the grass for us, was too expensive. We’d also probably have to replace the topsoil that’d be stripped away by the grass’ roots, which would be expensive and require many single use plastic bags.

I mean, I already feel like I’m being The Worst Druid by killing this lawn in the first place. The end result with be worth it, but the whole series of events feels very, I don’t know… Machiavellian. Still, a grass lawn represents a lot of waste (and wasted potential). I console myself with pictures of lush violets, wild ginger, and partridgeberries.

Anyhow. Clear coverings inhibit the growth of fungi by allowing more light to pass through. They still inhibit photosynthesis, to a degree, and don’t trap quite as much heat as dark-colored ones do, but they work. They just take a little longer. And so, by the time you read this, I’ll be out wielding a mallet like Mjolnir, pounding giant staples into my lawn while cursing at the sludgy, dank mass of what used to be grass.

The lawn may have won the battle, but I shall win the war.

Environment, life, Plants and Herbs

Grassassination.

I’m not lawn people.

I mean, I can appreciate a carpet of grass from an aesthetic perspective, but only because I find its unnatural smoothness and homogeneity both pleasing and unsettling. If the Uncanny Valley has plants, they are all putting green grass.

When we purchased this place, we also become responsible for several thousand square feet of lawn. I should probably put lawn in scare quotes, because it’s less “lawn” than it is an amalgamation of grasses and weeds that look just enough like grass from a distance. The “Hello, fellow kids” of grass, if you will.

Grass is also a major drain on the local environment here. While its vital to areas like the African savannah, keeping it lawn-perfect requires too much water, fertilizer, pesticide, and either gas or electricity to mow. I say “too much,” because grass gives virtually nothing back when it’s confined to a postage-stamp of lawn. You can’t eat it, it’s too short to weave into anything useful, and mown grass is too tiny and insubstantial to make decent fuel. Lawns aren’t even good at feeding wildlife. If grass were allowed to go to seed, it could feed birds, but maintaining a lawn means cutting it short long it before it gets to that point. All lawns do is take, take, take. In a place where droughts are likely to become both more severe and commonplace, and habitat loss drives away native species, lawns can suck it.

A cocker spaniel puppy, sprawled on a lawn, looks up at the camera.
Shown: The only useful purpose for a lawn.

Besides, all grass lawns are are socio-economic symbols. The ability to use a property for aesthetics and leisure alone signifies a certain level of economic security, which, back in History Times, was pretty much a form of rich people gloating. Turning the land around your fancy estate into an immaculate green carpet meant that everyone could see and marvel at your fancy estate. Having a grass lawn around your house, as a concept, is pretty new.

“But j,” you might be saying, “Flowers are grown for aesthetics, too!” This is true, but not entirely. Flowers are pretty, but they also feed pollinators. Grass is wind-pollinated, so it barely even feeds bugs. Flowers are also often the precursor to edible fruit. Even roses fruit, and they’re good for you!

I have a patch of soil at my disposal, so it feels more responsible to use it for the production of either food (if not for humans, than for wildlife) or native habitat. I don’t have a homeowner’s association, so nobody can tell me what to do with the dirt and I am free to create the habitat my wretched little goblin heart desires.

I also have very specific feelings regarding the stewardship of a yard. It’s land that was taken, carved into a suburb, had all of the native flora scrubbed off of it, and made to grow a boring, repetitive lawn. It just feels more respectful to the people, plants, and animals who once called it home to turn it back into something… I don’t know. More nourishing. Less sterile. More diverse. Abundant. Comfier. Sustainable, and sustaining in turn. Even if I live here until I die, this place will outlast me. I gotta do right by it.

I’m fortunate that not everything here is grass, though. On the margins of the property, you can see where the people who lived here before made a mark. There’s a rose bush, rue, a potted sedum, crape myrtle, and azaleas. Tucked away, there are some blueberries, an apple tree, a young persimmon, and a red maple. Like islands in squares of lawn, there are two tiny, tiny Japanese maples.

All of this is to explain why most of my front yard is currently a black tarp. Even if we’d needed to have a grass lawn for some reason, the front yard is about 50% actual grass, and 50% other kinds of plants (mostly invasives) that just kind of moved in when the intense light and heat killed off patches of the grass. Doing anything useful with the grassy areas pretty much involves going scorched earth — literally.

A large black tarp, held down with rocks and a metal rake, covers a rectangular patch of grass.
This is the gardening equivalent of having a rusted-out truck up on blocks in your driveway.

I spent a lot of time researching different ways to get rid of — and subsequently replace — an entire lawn, and this is the solution that seemed to be the best for our situation. A black tarp, when placed over closely cropped grass, captures a lot of heat. This, coupled with the deprivation of moisture and sunlight, kills the plants under it. They break down over a period of weeks, and you get a nice, nutritious patch of soil for growing better plants on. Right now, the plan is to replace everything with a mixture of sun-loving local groundcovers and plants that can pull double-duty as ornamentals and sources of food — Passiflora incarnata, for example, which produces these amazingly alien-looking blooms followed by tasty fruit. I’d also like to adopt the custom of growing edible plants near front gates and fences for passers-by. Even if people don’t want them, the birds will.

The tarp thing is just one method of grass assassination (or grassassination, if you would). We’re also using the “lasagna method” in other areas, which entails mowing the grass short, covering it in layers of paper and cardboard, and smothering that in compost, mulch, and soil. The grass dies, it and the paper break down, and you’ve got the foundation for a very fancy raised bed. (So far, this method is working very well for some bee balm and elderberry plants I put down in one corner of the yard, but more on that another time.)

So, if you’ve been reading here and wondering why I haven’t been posting, it is not because I’ve been kept busy with paid writing or have abandoned society and gone on a bender in a forest. I have been battling one of my greatest foes: LAWNS.

This is for that summer you made me spend on prednisone, you little green S.O.Bs.

Link round up

Good News Round Up: 6.10.2022

Hello! I am writing this in between drying fruit and trying to explain to one of my cats that there is a very good reason why he isn’t allowed to eat the cacti, and that reason is not that I don’t want him to have any fun. This is a round up of stories and articles that I found interesting or inspiring, or just made me feel a little bit better about the state of things. I hope they can do the same for you:

A new battery design could last for an entire 100 years. Power storage has long been the bugbear of renewables. Coal and oil, unfortunately, have been mainstays for this reason — if you need more power, burn more. If you don’t, save it. While batteries and renewables have made enormous strides, these new designs could produce a battery that’s much more energy-dense than anything currently on the market.

The Chemistry of the Sun: Resolving a Decade-Long Controversy About the Composition of Our Star. Speaking of power sources — scientists have recently updated their ideas about the composition of the Sun. For a long time, ideas about the Sun’s internal structure and ideas about what the internal structure should be (based on how stars happen) have been somewhat in conflict. After all, the Sun is very hot, very far, and it’s not like we can just go grab a scoop of it to see what it’s made of. New calculations have resolved this conflict, and it turns out the Sun has a lot more oxygen, neon, and silicon than everyone figured.

Eat These Vegetables To Reduce Air Pollution Toxins in Your Body. Okay, I’m honestly very skeptical every time an article says you need some superfood in order to combat some vague notions about undefined “toxins.” These vegetables, however, have science behind them. As it turns out, apiaceous vegetables (think carrots and parsley) may provide a protective benefit against a specific toxin called acrolein, which is abundant in car exhaust, cigarette smoke, and other forms of air pollution. They can help reduce acrolein-based oxidative stress and signs of toxicity via the liver, since their phytonutrients help the body convert acrolein to a water-soluble, easily-excreted substance. Best of all, you don’t need much — based on researchers’ calculations, a cup or so a day may be enough.

Every Planet Will Be Viewable In The Night Sky At Once This Month. Well, maybe not every planet, but a whole bunch of ’em. In late June (for most of us, around the 27th), you’ll be able to see seven planets in a row with the naked eye. Nice!

“Superworms” Can Happily Eat Polystrene, Offering Help To Plastic Problem. This news isn’t super new — we’ve known for a bit that the larvae of darkling beetles can eat and process Styrofoam just fine. They have a special enzyme, courtesy of their intestinal flora, that allows them to break the stuff down and actually use it. Researchers have identified the genes that code for this enzyme, and have theorized that you could produce the enzyme itself and allow it to work on polystyrene directly, no worms needed.

(The only downside to using superworms for this is that they produce a lot of CO2 in the process. I’ve actually been refining a design that’d allow me to keep superworms in a tub under one of my plant cabinets, and use a small duct and fan to direct the CO2 into the cabinet itself to help with growth. It’s a bit of a slow process, and I’m still trying to figure out how to best dispose of the superworm waste. As far as I know, nobody’s really chemically analyzed superworm poots. If they don’t contain plastic residue, they could be composted. If they do, then disposing of the waste outdoors could introduce microplastics into the water and soil. Dilemma!)

Goodbye gasoline cars? E.U. lawmakers vote to ban new sales from 2035. Just like it says on the tin. This brings the EU a little bit its goal of cutting emissions from new passenger/light commercial vehicles by 100 percent by 2035.

Tribes Halt Major Copper Mine on Ancestral Lands in Arizona. The Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe, among others, managed to take a mining company to court and win. New technology (like the batteries mentioned above) requires minerals, but there are no reasons why those need to come from sacred ancestral ground.

This landmark decision further validates that Rosemont’s foreign owners have neither the legal right nor the valid mining claims for their proposed plan to destroy sacred sites beneath a mountain of poisonous mine waste[.] The ruling thoroughly dismantles the error-riddled process and reinforces the importance of protecting these sites and the entire region’s water supply. As decisive as this decision is, Rosemont’s foreign investors will likely continue to try and profit through environmental and cultural destruction. We must not allow this to happen.

Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr.

(Also, please recycle your electronics.)

How Building a Bee Hotel Can Help Protect Your Local Pollinators. A lot of buzz (ha) has been about protecting honeybees, but honeybees aren’t indigenous to the US. While a lot of our food supply has come to depend on trucked-in bees for pollination, that’s a whole other conversation about the problems inherent in monoculture. Unfortunately, native bees have been getting the short end of the stick for a long time. Many of them don’t live in hives and produce a ton of honey, so they’re largely ignored. Loss of habitat, pesticides, and the use of non-native plants in agriculture and landscaping have negatively impacted them. Building a bee hotel to provide a living and breeding space for these species can help.

Have a good weekend! (This is mandatory.)
j.

Link round up

Good News Round Up: 6.3.2022

Hello! I was going to make a post yesterday, but was forced to take a brief hiatus. Apparently racoons and possums can just show up and dig through people’s trash, but when I do it, it’s “trespassing” and I “need to put some pants on.” Ridiculous.

Anyhow, here is a small round up of news and articles I found interesting or inspiring, or just made me feel good:

“Great Day” For Bumblebees As Californian Court Rules That They Are Fish. Due to the oddities of legal language, California’s laws regarding the protection of threatened and endangered species don’t include insects. However, the definition of “fish” is worded in a way that could allow bumblebees to qualify, granting them legal protection.

Painting the Porch ‘Haint Blue’ Is a Great Way to Deter Wasps. Want to deter other sting-y bugs without harming bees? The answer may lie in a color called “Haint Blue.” Originally, the Gullah people used this color to deter ghosts and malevolent spirits from trying to enter the home, hence the name “haint” (“haunt”). As it turns out, it can confuse wasps too.

Scientists Discovered The World’s Largest Known Plant, And It’s Over 100 Miles Long. Seagrasses are one of those plants that can reproduce via rhizomes — by sending out specialized stems through their substrate that allow new leaves to emerge. These are all effectively clones of the parent plant. Recently, scientists discovered an absolute unit of a seagrass. While DNA testing individuals in a large deep-sea meadow, they made a surprising discovery: It was all the same plant!

Paper Constructions Confine Skeletons to Uncanny Spaces in Jason Limon’s Paintings. “The uncanny structures trap his recurring skeletal characters in cramped boxes and funhouse-esque constructions, where they attempt to disentangle themselves from their surroundings. Rendered in muted pigments, or what the artist calls “repressed tones,” the paintings utilize the anonymity and ubiquity of the bony figures to invoke emotional narratives.”

How to Paint a Dresser So You Don’t End Up With a Sticky, Streaky Finish. If you’re living a low-waste, “buy it once” lifestyle, it helps to know how to refurbish things. This guide can help you repaint furniture so it lasts.

Geologists plan to crack open ancient crystal that may contain life. This is fascinating, but I’m also pretty sure I’ve seen this horror movie.

2,100-year-old farmstead in Israel found ‘frozen in time’ after owners disappeared. Whoever lived there left in a hurry — researchers found still-intact storage jars, a weaving loom, and more!

Research Does Not Support the Adage “Boys Will Be Boys.” As it turns out, children who exhibit stereotypically gendered behavior in one category are not more likely to do so in other categories.

3 Tips To Release Stuck Emotions, From A Therapist & Trauma Specialist. I have trouble with stuck feelings converting to physical symptoms — like tightness in my upper back. If you’re like me, these tips can help release those emotions.

Rebelious Princess – Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda, Princess of Éboli. While I was searching for medieval and Renaissance portraits to see what might have inspired the Isabellas, I came across the story of Princess Ana. She lost an eye, perhaps to a fencing accident, was widowed at a young age, had an affair with a king, entered a convent, decided it sucked, left the convent, was caught up in political intrigue, and eventually placed under house arrest — where she apologized for nothing, and, let’s be real, probably died with both middle fingers upraised. I love her.

329 years later, last Salem ‘witch’ is pardoned. A curious group of middle schoolers had taken up the cause of Elizabeth Johnson Jr., who had no descendants to clear her name. While Johnson wasn’t executed, neither was she pardoned — until now.

DC Spring Animal Sightings, Ranked From Worst to Wildest. DC might be a city, but some of the wildlife here is… well, wild. Here are the spring animal sightings, including a rabid fox with an appetite for congressmen, savage turkeys, an Assateague pony who was just being a bit of a dick, and a hungry bear in Silver Spring.

Have a good weekend!
This is an order.

Environment, life, Neodruidry

Silvering the Well

One practice that’s part of my tradition involves “silvering the well.” This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — making an offering of silver to the well.

The well, in this case, is a vessel of water (taken from three different natural sources). Outside of a ritual, it’s just a bowl. During a ritual, it becomes something more. It’s a representation of the primordial waters. It’s the healing cauldron, the sacred spring, and the sea of Manannán mac Lir. It’s representative of Water as an element, and the past from which we all spring.

The thing is, silvering the well is more complex than it seems. To people who’re used to ceremonial magic, it probably looks pretty simple. You have a vessel to serve as your well, and you make an offering to it. Silver goes in, boom.

There are also multiple different approaches to making this offering. One involves purchasing (or upcycling) small silver or silver-plated beads, which are then offered to the Earth once the ritual is concluded. Another uses a dedicated silver object which is designated as the offering anew each time, then taken out, dried off, and saved for the next ritual.

I spent a lot of time teasing out what this part of the process means for me. I’ve always understood the word “offering” to be a kind of euphemism for “sacrifice.” When you offer something, you no longer have it. Even if you don’t necessarily get rid of it (like dedicating an altar sculpture to a deity), it isn’t for you to use anymore. In this context, it makes sense to use small offerings of pieces of silver, requiring you to sacrifice the time, money, and energy it takes for you to get more when you run out.

On the other hand, international supply chains make the ethics of buying literally anything incredibly dubious. (I mean, a hobby store got caught trafficking antiquities, for crying out loud.) Even if it wasn’t, making an offering of small pieces of new silver involves mining silver (and possibly other base metals, for silver-plated objects) and then offering them to a place they didn’t come from. In less confusing words, you’re taking valuable material from one part of the Earth, and putting it somewhere else. Sure, silver isn’t exactly blood diamonds, but it’s still something that stuck in my mind like a fishhook. How do I know that the material for these “disposable” pieces of silver didn’t come from child labor, or a mine that dumps poison into the waters of the very people who have to work there? Could I justify offering something to the primordial waters, knowing that it might be poisoning the water?

(The environmental chemistry nerd in me isn’t even going to get into rainwater, leachates, and their effect on the soil, or I will be here all night.)

Eventually, I managed a compromise. I found a coin collector who had a stash of silver Mercury dimes. They weren’t suitable for collecting, since they’d been heavily circulated and were worn nearly smooth by time. I bought one, and this is my offering. I give it to the well, and the letter of the ritual has been fulfilled. The well is silvered.

Fulfilling the spirit of offering comes afterward. The coin itself is almost collateral — it’s a token of a promise, the symbol of an offering rather than the offering itself. Once the coin has been removed from the well and dried off, I make the sacrifice. Each ritual costs a monetary donation to a water charity — from the Water Protector Legal Collective, to Ocean Conservancy, to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, to one of the many other organizations working to protect people’s access to clean drinking water, remediate water pollution, or preserve vital wetlands. Failing that, it costs an afternoon of cleaning a beach or the banks of one of the smaller local waterways.

What does this mean for other people? Probably nothing. It’s just something that sat in my mind for a while, and a practice that I put in place years ago. Maybe it’ll have value for others, maybe not. Either way, I thought it might be worth writing down.

Environment, life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

A Daily Earth-Healing Meditation

Since today is Earth Day, I figured it’d be a good time to post about a small, simple daily meditation that I use to start my day.

It’s a combination of a grounding exercise and a planet-healing. You don’t need anything to do it, other than a comfortable, quiet place to sit (or even lie down) and five or ten minutes to spare. It’s based around the incredibly important role that fungi play in every ecosystem.

eyelash-fungi-4593804_640
Tiny eyelash fungi on mossy wood.

The Fungi

Though we often picture mushrooms when we imagine fungi, fungal fruiting bodies make up a tiny portion of the whole organism. Beneath them, spread out in a web, is a vast network of mycelium. The hyphae spread out like thin threads, transporting nutrients, secreting enzymes to break down organic matter, and supplying nutrients to the plants that depend on them. Everything in the world relies on fungi for survival, in one form or another. They secrete carbon dioxide as part of the carbon cycle, and can break down almost anything that isn’t actively toxic to them — even plastic, petroleum, or pesticides. Some fungi turn carbon into melanin, a very stable carbon-containing compound, while others help soil retain moisture. Certain fungi increase soil aggregation, potentially increasing soil carbon storage.

Still, fungi respond to a very careful natural balance. While the soil is a carbon sink, soil fungi also return carbon dioxide to the air — especially in situations where elevated levels of carbon dioxide encourage plant growth, increasing nitrogen demand and upsetting the delicate balance of carbon and nitrogen. Fungi can be vital environmental allies, but the balance needs to be preserved.

white-mushrooms-2582319_640
A pair of boletes.

Soil fungi don’t just comprise one or two species, either. Every patch of soil could be a host to a thousand distinct species. Just like the natural microflora of the body shift and change in response to illness, stress, diet, and medication, different stressors affect how these fungi grow, compete with each other, and evolve.

It’s never been more clear that protecting the planet means preserving all of the microscopic activity below the soil, not just the plants and animals above.

The Meditation

To begin, position yourself comfortably. Let your shoulders drop. Relax your jaw and the muscles around your eyes. Unclench your hands, and let them rest softly in your lap.

Inhale deeply, using your diaphragm and pushing out your belly to take in as much air as you can. Breathe in for a count of four, gently hold your breath for a count of three, and exhale for a count of seven. Repeat this three to five times.

Visualize your energy reaching from the base of your spine, through your seat, the floor, and into the soil. You don’t have to go far below the grass here — once your energy reaches the ground, let it spread out like the roots of a tree. Picture the filaments of your energy reaching through the soil, touching the filaments of mycelium that connect everything. Let your roots engage with the hyphae, gently befriending. When you have spread your energy as far as you can, begin sending a stream of loving light down through your roots.

Don’t worry if you don’t know all of the ins and outs of your local soil’s chemistry. Visualize your energy stimulating where it is needed, calming where it is needed, and balancing where it is needed. Visualize the soil fungi doing their microscopic jobs to break down what is no longer needed, and return it to the earth in a usable, nourishing form. Let your contact with the living soil recalibrate your energy, grounding you.

Continue this visualization for as long as is comfortable for you. When you are ready, gently withdraw your energetic roots from the soil. Open your eyes, stretch your limbs, and go about your day with a renewed awareness of how our actions affect everyone — and everything — around us.

 

Environment

Deepening Resilience: Preparation.

Learn more about Deepening Resilience here, or read my previous post in this series here

Preparedness looks different from community to community. In some places, it’s ensuring that there will be enough clean food and water. In others, it’s getting ready to battle things like worsening allergy seasons and severe weather phenomena.

In mine, it means pulling up stakes.

To look at my neighborhood, you wouldn’t really think of it as something that’d be that threatened by climate change — the hardest part might be getting supplies in and out of the city, right? When you look at projections of swelling rivers and reshaped coastlines a few years to a few decades from now, though, it’s not that easy. One estimate places the new waterfront at ten feet from my front door. In addition to rather complicated traffic patterns, there are many reasons why this would be really, really bad. Even with time to prepare, how can an entire, already-existing city keep sewage, garbage, vermin, and other vectors of illness out of the rising water? Keeping our potable water from contamination is important, but also not something a small community using city infrastructure can really manage on its own. Even if we set up our own, smaller-scale  means of keeping our drinking and bathing water clean, the mold, rats, and insects will still be there.

Sometimes, preparedness looks a lot like leaving.

Unfortunately, that means it may not be possible to take care of everyone. There are a lot of people here who can’t move on their own, whether due to physical or monetary limitations. Even if we take it for granted that my community would be willing and able to pitch in to uproot every member and move us all to somewhere safer, it still isn’t possible. Some are too old, others are too ill. Even with able-bodied people to help, even if money isn’t an issue, you can’t move everyone.

That doesn’t even take into account the strong ties people feel to their homes. There are still people living in Centralia and outside of Pripyat, and not all of them are there because circumstances force them to be. The ties to home are strong. For some, a life in a strange place — no matter how safe — would be no life at all.

So, how do we prepare our community for climate change here? Is it right for the able-bodied to put themselves and their families at risk for those who either can’t or won’t move to safer ground? Could my community even still function, as our houses flood and crumble and our streets vanish under the water? I don’t have an answer. I wish I did.

Sometimes, preparing means packing up and doing the best you can.

 

crystals, Environment

Unethically Mined Crystals: What can you do?

Last Friday, I posted about some of the ethical concerns surrounding the use of crystals. If that has you feeling a way about your own collection, you aren’t alone. The stones are already dug up, so there’s no putting that horse back in the barn — so what can you do to help remedy the situation?

It’s important to look at this from a few angles. On one side, there’s the human cost of bringing crystals to market. On the other, there’s the environmental impact. On the other other, there’s the energetic impact on the stones themselves.

The Human Side

Mining is difficult, hazardous work. Sometimes, it’s even done by children whose families have limited options for survival — you don’t put your kids to work like that unless the danger of starving is bigger than the danger of a mine collapse. Contributing to humanitarian causes to help lift families out of poverty is one way to reduce child labor, by eliminating the need for kids to have jobs in the first place.

Supporting ethical crystal suppliers is another key. As I touched on in last Friday’s post, altering market pressures to disincentivize unethical gemstones is one thing we can all begin to do on an individual level. If people don’t buy crystals from questionable suppliers, it won’t be worth it for them to stay in business. It takes a long time to do, but it’s currently the best weapon we have against the unethical gemstone trade. (There are other, very complex issues tied up in supporting exploitative businesses, but those are outside of the scope of this post.)

The first step to correcting any problem is being willing to surrender the benefits that came with it. In this case, that’s an abundance of inexpensive and readily-available crystals. From an energetic standpoint, look at things like donation as a sacrifice — you give up your time or money (a tangible representation of the energy it took to earn) to try to bring balance back to the world.

The Environmental Side

Healing the environmental scars left behind by crystal mining is similar to working on the human side — removing the incentive for environmentally-destructive practices. Businesses are run by humans, and humans respond pretty predictably to the removal of extrinsic motivation. So, by refusing to buy from high-impact mining operations, it’s possible to (eventually) disincentivize environmental destruction.

Sun rising over mountains.

In some cases, doing this may limit the kind of crystals you have available to you, but that’s not really a bad thing. There are even mines that allow you to visit and gather your own crystals, which is a brilliant means of fostering a connection to them in a low-impact, ethical way.

There are also environmental initiatives and conservation efforts that work to combat some of the destruction caused by mining. Though these are less direct at addressing the problem itself, they are no less integral to helping mining-affected areas recover.

The Crystal Side

Lastly, you have the stones themselves. Sure, you can cleanse them, but is some incense smoke or running water enough to heal the wounds of their origins?

Sometimes, stones take more than a one-off cleansing to prepare them. It can take months of regular cleansing and handling to bring them back to equilibrium. I don’t necessarily recommend going through this before you ever work with a crystal, though. If your work and intentions are pure and focused, just using the stone is a form of recalibration in itself. Magic has a residual effect on the things it touches. Just like other tools are affected by regular work, stones are the same.

heart-3243179_1280

I have known witches and lightworkers who obtained crystals from people who got in over their heads, magically speaking — jumping into baneful things and spiritwork they weren’t prepared for, and leaving all kinds of energetic dross behind in the process. The crystals’ new owners ended up doing things from rolling them in wet leaves, to stashing them in the forks of trees, to singing or playing music to them every day. Feel out the energy of your stones, and do whatever calls to you. This is a pretty heavy energetic burden to bear, so work on lightening it, even if it feels a little (or very) silly. A lot of magic involves being playful, uninhibited, and occasionally ridiculous. Get weird, if that’s what resonates. Be the airbrushed t-shirt unicorn you want to see in the world. 

In a perfect world, all of this would never be an issue. There would be no incentive for child labor, unsafe working conditions, or environmental harm, and we’d all know exactly where everything we buy comes from. Unfortunately, that isn’t the world we live in right now, but there are ways we can try to offset the impact of crystal mining and begin to heal some of the scars it leaves behind.

Environment

Deepening Resilience: Ecological grief.

Learn more about Deepening Resilience here, or read my previous post in this series here

How do you respond to the news that another oil spill happened? That yet another oil company has been given permission to drill in yet another “protected area?” That plants in your neighborhood have decided to burn recyclables instead of recycling them domestically? How do you keep going after blow after blow?

Ecological grief is a profoundly helpless feeling. You can rage, but you’re only one person pitted against an entity with the (questionable) backing of lawyers and law enforcement. You can point out how bad an idea this all is, but it won’t matter to those who refuse to listen.

Individuals don’t have the police force’s arsenal, or the legal budget of Nestlé. We’re discouraged from organizing at every turn, as protesters are shot with water cannons and workers are forced to sit through propaganda to keep us from marshaling our numbers and the power of our labor. It keeps us willing to accept less and less — less money, less security, poorer health, dirtier air and water, fewer rights, less workplace safety — while we’re also bombarded with encouragement to seek relief through coping mechanisms like retail therapy. In other words, the things that grind us down also keep us supporting the entities behind the grinding.

As communities, our options for responding to environmental trauma expand beyond what we’re able to do as individuals. A single-person boycott, or protest, or letter writing campaign, or even a single thrown fist doesn’t amount to much. Together, we’re stronger, and strong communities can persist in the face of environmental trauma. Identifying the strengths of each member, organizing ways to distribute resources outside of the systems that profit off of environmental destruction, and creating strategies for protecting the local environment may not seem like much in the face of a global problem, but they are. Every community is different, every local environment is different, and it’s on a neighborhood scale that we’ll be able to look out for each other.

I am, perhaps, fortunate to live in a place that’s a nexus for policy and corporate lobbying. My community has options that others often don’t. On a daily basis, our neighborhoods and local businesses see the people who make the decisions that lead to environmental trauma. We know their names. We recognize them. And we can make them know they are unwelcome.

The faces behind the decisions that harm people and the environment are not gods, and they all have names and pictures.

crystals, Environment

Choosing Crystals Consciously

So, I’ve made no secret of the fact that stones occupy a place of honor in my practice. When I first started learning, I was drawn to the magic of gemstones above anything else. I think I got it from my dad — he made jewelry, beautiful things of silver, bone, and stone. From a young age, I was surrounded by bright lapis lazuli, soothing rose quartz, and shimmering tiger’s eye.

I like gemstones because they resonate with me. I’ve learned how to choose stones that make me feel uplifted and energetic, pieces that are as functional as they are beautiful.

quartz

But not everything crystal-related is all sweetness and light.

Diamonds are notorious for their controversy — pulled out of the earth in places stricken by war, sold to finance warlords and dictators. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only stones that are sometimes paid for in blood.

Most witches and other magic practitioners know that, when you get a new tool — or bring anything into your home, really — it’s a good idea to cleanse it to remove the energy of everyone and everything it’s come in contact with before you. What cleansing is good enough to ease the pain of a nine year old child laborer?
(And all of that’s before you even consider the environmental impact of gemstones.)

The picture isn’t entirely bleak, though. For those who aren’t willing or able to give up gemstones entirely, there’s one easy way to fight back: Know where your crystals come from, and choose wisely.

When I collect a stone or make a wand, I make an effort to find out as much as I can about where the components came from and how they were gathered. I’m not at all against hunting (it beats factory farming), but I use naturally-shed antlers. I know the areas the crystals came from, and try to source as much as I can from mines within the U.S., since it makes transparency a little easier.

There’s only one problem — this really isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most metaphysical shops and gemstone suppliers don’t provide information on their stones’ origins, if they were ever even given it in the first place. The places that do may also charge a premium, because cheap stones come at the expense of things like environmental protections and worker safety. So, if you can find ethical sources of gemstones, support them! Money talks, and the best way individuals have to end the trade in unethical crystals is to create an economic disincentive. It’s a slow, imperfect process, but it’s what we’ve got right now.

heart-3243179_1280

Estate sales are another option for those who don’t want to directly contribute to the trade in unethical stones. While they may have been mined under poor conditions, there’s really no undoing that. Keeping estate sale stones in circulation is a way to help reduce our dependence on mining.

Using local stones is another option. Crystals are pretty, and their properties are helpful, but quartz is incredibly abundant. Some of my favorite stones to work with are simple river rocks I picked up on a vacation with my boyfriend, or holey stones found in a creek.

Mining is dangerous and labor-intensive for workers at the best of times, and stones are sensitive things. While crystals may be longer-lived and more durable than animals or plants, they are no less affected by their environment, and these effects are passed on. Take the time to know where your stones come from, appreciate the tremendous amount of energy, effort, and danger involved in mining them, and contribute to reducing the burden on the people and places that bring them to you.