fauna homestead QoTD thinking big wild inklings

“Busy as a Beaver”

Beaver sketch, painted with acorns, wild grape, avocado pits and oak galls. Based on a b&w photograph by Hope Ryden.
For 2024, I’ve resolved to be busy as a beaver.

But not busy as the beavers in my cartoon-simple conception of them, but busy as wild beavers are. And it seems I need to practice a very different way of being busy, if I would like busy beavers to recognize me as kin.

Thanks to these beautiful observations by Hope Ryden (from her book “Lily Pond: Four Years with a Family of Beavers”), I have some idea where to start:

“…Despite the descriptive epithet often applied to the species, beavers are not ‘busy’ animals. On the contrary, they normally proceed at a leisurely pace, unburdened by outside pressures. One stick at a time they drag up on their house, one load of mud at a time they push onto their dam. After doing a certain amount of work, they take a break to feed or groom or play or just float about in the water.

Few species, in fact, appear so oblivious to stress as does Castor canadensis. House wrens, for example, build their nests in a kind of frenzy, as if tyrannized by their seasonal timetable. Not beavers. … One handful of mud at a time, they scooped from the bottom of the pond. And, pressing this against their chests, they paddled slowly to the dam, and shoved it up into the crest. As unhassled as they appeared, however, they were in fact accomplishing two tasks at once–deepening a channel and raising the height of a dam.

Beavers work like that. Interrupting one operation to transport its byproduct to a site where that debris is wanted…

All waste products are recycled: dredged mud becomes house insulation or dam sealant; debarked food sticks become house or dam lumber; wood chips (fallout from a tree-felling operation) are brought to the lodge and spread on the floor for bedding. In this admirably relaxed manner, the efficient beaver accomplishes an enormous amount of work. Watching [beavers] is like attending a morality play, and I often thought I ought to take a lesson from it.”

~Hope Ryden, “Lily Pond”

QoTD: “That makes it beautiful”

It wasn’t so much teaching them how to carve masks, I thought I’m going to teach them how to unlock the creative side of themselves.

So what I did was I went to the art store and I got I think 7 or 8 easels and all these canvases, with the canvas already on the frame, like these pictures, blank canvases, tonnes of paint, and laid everything out, and I told the kids I don’t care what you guys put on this canvas as long as you feel strongly about it.

There’s no such thing as an ugly painting if it’s something that you feel inside of you, that means it’s beautiful. And if you can put that on canvas that means it’s the truth, so that makes it beautiful. So there’s nothing that you can put on this canvas that will be ugly.

So don’t feel weird because you don’t have the right technique. If you feel like painting flowers and you feel sunny inside, that’s good, that’s the truth. But if you feel ugly inside and you want to paint something dark and scary that’s good too, that’s because it’s the truth, so that’s still beautiful.

Eric Schweig, from his interview with Friends United
homestead QoTD thinking big

There is no substitute for fire

“Television often gives focus to a room, but it is nothing but a feeble substitute for something which is alive and flickering… The need for fire is almost as fundamental as the need for water. Fire is an emotional touchstone, comparable to trees, other people, a house, the sky. But the traditional fireplace is nearly obsolete, and new ones are often added to homes as ‘luxury items’. Perhaps this explains why these showpiece fireplaces are always so badly located…

Less monotonous and less abstract than flowing water, even more quick to grow and to change than the young bird… fire suggests the desire to change… it magnifies human destiny; it links the small to the great, the hearth to the volcano, the life of a log to the life of a world.”

“A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander

🧣🧦: I like layers with my layers. So most systems at our place have backups or partners. We have an electric heat pump that keeps our home at “I hope you brought a couple of sweaters” warm. But to get truly toasty in the fall and winter and spring, we turn to our woodstove, Calcifer.

🍞🥓☕🧼👖🚿🐔: Besides heating our home, our woodstove has baked our bread, made our coffee, served up nice crispy bacon, and offered sweet blueberry cakes. The spent wood has become lye, and then soap to wash our dishes. The ash is added the chickens’ dust baths, used to fight parasites. I’ve made drawing charcoal from wild grapevine in its embers. It bakes potatoes, toasts marshmallows, and warms stew. Sopping wet clothes hang lazily around it, and with no effort on their part, are soon bone dry. Snow set out in buckets has melted down to emergency water. Because when the power goes out, the fire still works.

🤔: I don’t think woodstoves are necessarily The Answer To Energy Needs For All. Firewood is renewable, but complicated. But in the woodstove, the fire’s energy is visible and precious. It pushes me to use less, and think about it more. And that’s just not something I get from staring deeply into my thermostat.

Wherever you are folks, I hope you’re snug and warm.✨



QoTD: Art holds it

Things are going to happen all the time. The unendurable happens. Y’know, people we love, and we can’t live without are going to die. We’re going to die. One day. We’re going to have to leave our children and die. Y’know leave the plants and the bunnies and the sunlight and the rain and all that… I mean it’s unendurable. Art knows that. Art holds that knowledge. All art holds the knowledge that we’re both living and dying at the same time. It can hold it. And thank god it can. Because nothing out in the capitalistic corporate world is going to shine that back to us. But art holds it.

~Marie Howe, from In the Room + Marie Howe and Krista Tippett

QoTD: Is the spring coming

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”

Frances Hodgson Burnett

QoTD: The Best Thing for Being Sad

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

T. H. White, “The Once and Future King”
QoTD thinking big

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.

It is easy for me to write many words quickly, but writing a few good ones takes me longer.

Making anything of value — out of pixels or wood or words — includes time spent on editing and revision. The quick burst of creation roughs out the shape, but sandpaper, polish, and time are needed to find the lustre.

If you, like me, find rambling easier than revising, I would recommend this piece a friend recently sent me. It investigates the origins of the quote “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter”. It seems to be one of those persistent human observations that crosses boundaries of time and space. With versions of the quote traced to Twain, Cicero, Thoreau…

According to an anecdote published in 1918 Woodrow Wilson was asked about the amount of time he spent preparing speeches, and his response was illuminating:

“That depends on the length of the speech,” answered the President. “If it is a ten-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Pass me the red pen fellas.


Related maker projects: Homemade turkey feather quill and acorn ink.

QoTD thinking big

QoTD: Imagining Peace

“Both war and peace require imagination. But peace requires more. It is firmly earthed in the here and now, but not stuck there.”
birbs fauna QoTD

Biomimicry for everyday use

© “Mike” Michael L. Baird / CC BY 2.0

…the Long-billed Curlew protects its territory with a variety of moves, one of which is “Concealment,” in which it runs towards its opponent, then “suddenly flops down in grass, disappearing from view.” The opponent looks around, perplexed, until the defender springs up and advances aggressively, then drops and hides again. I am going to try this on my next zoom meeting.

~Rosemary Mosco. From her excellent newsletter, “Flight Club

QoTD tracks & scat

QoTD: Wonder

“… It’s here that I’ve begun to feel wonder again.
Like when I was a kid.
And this makes me deeply happy.
I wish I could say ‘Thank You’, just so, straight into the universe.”

~Never Cry Wolf, 1983 film version.