Author Archives: Dave

About Dave

Writing about landscape theology, farming, and artful land care.

Earring Cattle: And the Sin of This Generation(s)?


November 15, 2015

The calves were weaned two three months ago. Standing on a fence rail, looking at calves, I know weaning is never an easy time—for anyone. The calf is on the teat and the next day not. That makes for an upset mama and calf, which can lead to steady bawling for a day or two. When you have fifty cows and fifty calves in the corrals and those corrals are located next to home, like our closest neighbor, no one sleeps well for those couple of days. No, weaning is not easy for anyone. Standing on the rail, I know another stressful event for these calves lies ahead.

Yellowing leaves of autumn trees is the signage of fall roundups and selling of spring calves. Leaves falling from trees mean it is time for me to buy spring calves. Calves will spend twelve to fourteen months on the farm, so I look for weaned calves weighing between 400 and 550 pounds. Weaned because calves gain little, maybe lose, weight during those first days after separation from mama. After weaning though, they come into their own teenage identity and become capable of dealing with the stress that comes with a change of place. (Isn’t moving hard on all of us? Little matter if it is for a great job or family, moving to a new place—even a few blocks away—always gives us apprehension and stress).

The perfect change of place for calves means I choose them from the rail, load them at the neighbor’s ranch, trailer them to JustLiving Farm, and unloading into the corral. Seldom is that the case. More often than not, the calves are trailered from the ranch to the auction barn where I bid and buy. They are then loaded and trailered to the farm. Because life is seldom perfect, we do what we can to minimize stress. Therefore, we make sure the feeder is full of hay and the trough full of water when they unload off the trailer. Once calves make their way around the corral once, and know where the food and water are, we walk away. Belinda and I figure, at that moment, they are not looking favorably upon the two-legged animals who have taken them away from the landscape of birth to who knows where—best to let them alone.

Over the next two weeks calves will eat, drink, chew cud, and sleep in the corral. I move in and out during that time filling the feeder with hay, filling the water trough, and having short conversations. My work during those weeks is to watch their movement, their noses and eyes, and anything else that might indicate a need for doctoring or special care. Mid-way during their corral stay, their right ear gets a numbered JLF ear tag—Some folk wonder about piercing the ear with a tag, but if ear piercings and earrings are good enough for all the women in my life and many of my male friends, they are good enough for cattle. Finally, after the stress of moving has resided and everyone is healthy, physically and emotionally, they are turned out with the other cattle wandering the farm.


I have morning coffee a day or two each week at the Cougar Den in White Swan. I arrive around 6am, settle into a corner booth to read and write. School begins at 8am, so about an hour later, students arrive, shoot the bull, and walk across the street around five till.

Not long after I sit, a young man often arrives. He takes the booth directly across from me, places his backpack against the wall, and goes to sleep until five till or a friend wakes him. Two and a half months have pass since school began and I have yet to know his story.

While there is a story to learn, the broad brushstroke is likely not unique. Like the ten year-old who sleeps with her head on table, and the twelve-year-old who mothers her three younger siblings waiting for the elementary school bus, he is one of many whose young life is unreasonably complicated and stressful. On any one morning, sitting comfortably in the corner booth of this rural town, it is clear too many have their head on a table, sleeping. Too many are hungry. Too many have a twelve-year-old sister as parent. I find many folk prefer to think this is simply rural reservation life. However, a friend who lives in Oakland, another in south-central Los Angeles, one in Louisville, and another still in Flint, Michigan, tell the same story.



I am nearly upside down as the dental hygienist talks to me. Over the years we have mutually learned our two brands of Christianity are different, but she asks questions just the same. “My daughter (she is 30-years-old) is living with her boyfriend. My husband and I are upset because they are living in sin. What do you think?” She has packed a lot into that question, so I figured to take on the obvious when her hand gets out of my mouth. Once out, we had three or four minutes before she was back in there working with some utensil handed down from the Middle Ages. (Dental appointment conversations, a little weird, one-sided, disjointed, and often last for years.) “We use that word sin too freely.” I said. “Sin matters, but two adults living with one another without the benefit of marriage is not sin, for me. Rather, putting our energy into how our and our neighbor’s adult children—who are happy—live their lives takes our attention away from true sin. And maybe that is sin itself? For me, we can reserve that word, sin, for acts that matter, that hurt and damage creation.” No solutions that day, but maybe the hand in mouth conversation continue during the visit.


Christianity gets played out in a number of ways and we all need to find a little more slack for those who do it different than ourselves. Yet, I tire of preachers who promote theology that has made little sense for a number of generations and strives to damage the lives of healthy consenting adults. Such sin theology, which is more about them than I, is easy on the congregants and safe for the preacher. Good sin theology is not easy and calls everyone to know, own, and act against the hurt and damage inflected in our generation(s), and learn sin is not theirs but mine.

Sin, for me, is when cattle on the Farm have better housing, food, water, and rest than reservation and inner-city children and youth. Sin is when I worry more about middle-class adults living together outside of marriage, who folk have sex with, and if someone fits the legal framework of US residency, than I do about the anxiety that is the norm for poor and abused children. Sin is when I do not provide all of the resources needed for better parenting, better housing, and better health. Sin is when my neighbor’s child goes to sleep without a kiss and a full belly. Sin is when I, personally, do not know one child who lives a worrisome life and have made their life my own.

The One-Drop Rule, Racial Classification, and Identity


November 8, 2015

Remember the one-drop rule? No? Well, either did I until the use of it became common in my life. If yours is a US education, you probably heard the one-drop rule mentioned during your high school US History class. However, how much did any of retain two weeks after finishing high school history?

Many US states used the one-drop rule to racially categorize people by codifying the idea that if a person has one drop or more Black heritage/blood their classification is Black. For instance, with the ending of the Civil War in 1865 Florida people quickly amended the State constitution (Chapter 1, 468 Sec.1-3) to say,

Section 1 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Florida in General Assembly convened, That if any white female resident hereafter within this State shall hereafter attempt to intermarry or shall live in a state of adultery or fornication with any negro, mulatto, or other person of color, she shall be deemed to be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined in a sum not exceeding one thousand dollars or be confined in the public jail not exceeding three months, or both, at the discretion of the jury, and shall moreover be disqualified to testify as a witness against any white person.

Section two goes on to deal with negro[s], mulatto[s], or other person[s] of color as above, except instead of jail time they are to “be made to stand in the pillory for one hour and to be whipped not exceeding thirty nine stripes, or both, at the of the jury.” It goes on to say in Section 3,

Be it further enacted, That every person who shall have one-eighth or more of negro blood and shall be deemed and held to be a person of color.

Blood quantum was not new in 1865. Rather, it was normative prior to the war. For instance, blood quantum is what allowed the enslavement of children from the rape of enslaved Black women by White men. Such classification led to the increase of a slaveholder’s holdings or assets. Though the end of the war was to lead to change, the old order found it important to begin codifying pre-war norms that might allow for some semblance of pre-war norms to return.

As an aside, the amendment speaks to the normative hierarchal understanding of humanity by White male Floridians 1865. Blood quantum clearly is not an imposition to White men. However, the same is not true for White women. Though society considered White women better than folk of color in 1865, it was only by a notch or two. Therefore, unlike White men, the moment a White woman entered a sexual relationship with a person of color they also entered a purgatory of sorts. The clause that a White woman who had sex with a Black man would no longer have standing and rights of an witness in a court of law, meant she was no longer White or of color. Her status becomes located somewhere below that of White women and people of color.

The systemic structure of the US Senate also found the one-drop rule valuable. In 1887 Congress passed the Dawes Act, also known as the General Allotment Act. Though not written into the Act, the one-drop rule became the means to shatter the land base of existing Tribal nations into small apportionments. Indian agents were to use formal tribal rolls as a guide to break reservations up into small allotments, and then assign those allotments to individual reservation Indians. While we can assume Indian agents had a list of one type of another that listed the folk living on a specific reservation, the Dawes act required a formalization of those rolls. Having no specific written guidance, but plenty of verbal guidance, Indian agents used the one-drop rule to develop those rolls.

The US government supported the blood quantum/one-drop rule construct for one simple reason: One Nation. When the Civil War ended in 1865, folk immediately started questioning what caused the war. The top two causes were those of slavery and States’ Rights. (These are also the top two reasons most US folk will give today for the war.) However, the Indian Peace Policy of the Grant administration clearly speaks to slavery and States’ Rights being background causes. The reason for war was secession. Secession meant two nations would be present where one currently existed. This military administration, clear on the reason for war, grasped that while the war consolidated the North and South, a much larger problem (from a US systemic perspective) loomed ahead. Grant’s administration recognized every treaty signed by the US or its predecessor European empire(s) with an American Indian Tribe indicated and gave that Tribe Nation status. The 1870 administration quickly grasped the problem lying before the US government westward expansionist efforts was not one of two nations, but of hundreds. The question before the Grant administration and it successors was how to eliminate those nations.

Having Indian agents use blood quantum as the means to construct formal Tribal rolls allowed the Grover Cleveland administration to begin a process of eliminating Tribal nations. Unlike its use with Black folk during slavery, the government used the one-drop rule in reverse to decrease the number of Tribal members. The jest of the rule was that if an Indian had one drop of White blood they were on their way to becoming White. Thus, the more White blood an Indian has, the Whiter, the more rational, and the more capable they are.

This blood quantum construct allowed the government to construct Dawes Act Tribal rolls based on the White blood percentages. Which in turn led to who would receive an allotment of reservation land and who would not. The “full-blood” Indian would receive land, but because of no White blood, they were considered inept and unable to maintain their own affairs, thus the government placed restrictions on the land and held the land “In Trust” until such time they could prove their competency. “Mixed-blood”—White and Indian blood—folk were held competent and received their land in simple fee patents (Deeded land). Section 6 of the Dawes act allows that,

…every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States who has voluntarily taken up, within said limits, his residence separate and apart from any tribe of Indians therein, and has adopted the habits of civilized life, is hereby declared to be a citizen of the United States.

Therefore, an Indian agent had the ability to determine a level of White blood by which an individual is no longer Indian, but civilized and “White” enough (capable of rational thought) to be considered fully human, thus losing their Indian classification. This loss of Indian identity through marriage with White folk meant fewer and fewer Indians and more and more White folk (US citizens) would live on reservations. Thus slowly (generationally), American Indians would disappear and with their disappearance Indian Nations would fade out.

Identity matters to most of us. Where we come from, where we have been, what my ancient culture is, what is my recent culture, who is my family, what makes up my ethnicity-my heritage-my race, are questions that matter. Blood quantum is an ancient marker of identity, but hardly adequate, and surely not worth a damn in the hands of government. While folk may have once thought of identity as simple and straight forward, there is little support for such thinking today.

A new and complex conversation on identity has begun. Straight lines and constructs of This thus That are no longer meaningful or possible in this conversation. Rather, the freedom of complexity allows lines and thought to swirl and fold over themselves, which listened to and considered, might lead to relationships that establish richer, grounded identities. Such a conversation is worth the having.


Zucchini’s Cunning Effort to Populate Creation


November 1, 2015

Early in the spring we put out three zucchini plants and two crookneck. More plants than we normally plant, but we figured we would get through them just fine. However, a freeze came along. Figuring the plants had died, we put in five more. The days were busy in the spring and we didn’t get around to pulling the dead ones for a week. When we did, they all had the beginning of new leaves, so, we let them grow.

Anyone who has grown a zucchini plant knows what happened next. Nothing is as proliferate as a zucchini plant. Once it gets procreation of seed on its plant mind, it cannot shake it loose. Now, I like zucchini as much as the next guy, but after having zucchini every night for three weeks, options are tenuous. I told a recently retired friend about our hardship. He was in the process of cleaning up his library, and when he arrived at the coffee shop the next week he handed me a zucchini cookbook, with a smile. Knowing him for the gardener he is, I wondered if there was bountiful laughing behind the smile. I still do. We got by two more weeks on that cookbook though.

Keeping up with the zucchini was hard during the early weeks. Impossible in the later weeks. Wheelbarrows full of squash, two or three or four feet long, headed back to the goats each week. After dumping them, took a square head shovel, and chopped them into three and four inch pieces. That worked well, the chickens and goats ate and ate, for a couple of weeks. I guess zucchini has its limits for everyone—except the soil.

By mid-summer we found zucchini plants in the pastures. Obviously, these plants were from the last year’s natural chicken sowing efforts of the few zucchini we dumped. Which gives wonder and fear to what the soil will do next summer with the extraordinary number of seeds the chickens must be spreading this year.

With zucchini stacked on the back porch, the laundry room half-full, and the hardly able to open the pumphouse door without them tumbling out, I wondered how to tell this story. Then Gene Logsdon wrote The Good, the Bad, and…the Zucchini last week. Sooner or later, every writer who grows zucchini has a zucchini story. Logsdon nails the zucchini story this year. So, instead of wondering how to tell our story, I invite you to hear a story of intrigue, humor, scheming, and zucchini’s cunning plot to invade every nook and cranny of the world. And I will go have a slice of zucchini bread.

***** Continue reading

Sipping Tea on a Fall Afternoon


October 22, 2015

The last sun tea is on the porch. If there was any doubt last week, there is not this week, it is autumn. Cool morning temperatures and the leaves are changing color. Two trees are already bare—looking naked next to those full of leaf—and irrigation ditches are dry.

Fall speaks to the sun tea’s seasonableness. There is something fitting about how slow seeping tea over ice suits a summer afternoon. Much like how boiling water over a tea bag fits a winter evening. There is a sadness though, as I walk by the mason jar on a fall day and notice there is hardly enough sunlight-heat to change water’s color. A reminder the heavy warmth of sun that buries self into soil and ripens summer tomatoes is again a wait until spring reality.

There is a comfort in knowing the change the landscape is experiencing. Insight gifts a time of preparation before freezing makes the soil impossible to dig. However, there is also something about the naiveté that comes with having not yet lived a winter. Sage, a five-month-old, red, something or other dog, is now a farm companion. Neighbors who live next to a busy hop season road found a throw away litter of pups five months ago. A too busy road led to Sage coming to the farm to live out her life.

Fall is a furiousness time. Different from the constant movement of summer, fall has this is the last chance to get chores done before the first hard freeze or snow that covers that one item your looking for.

As I rebuilt the temporary winter fence that allows cattle and goats to graze the stockpiled hay field, Sage ran from one end to the other and back, repeatedly. While I spliced two ends of fencing wire, she ran back flopping down into the alfalfa. Not breathing heavy, like any self-respecting fifty-something would after a full out eighth mile run (well, okay, this guy ain’t running nothing full out…), she sat in the green of full afternoon fall sun acting as if this is the best day ever. Clearly, she has no concept of cold of winter lying just round the corner!

15.10.25b Continue reading

White Culture and the Hard Conversation of Racism


October 18, 2015

US racism—the oppression of American Indians and People of Color—is one of the hardest conversations a US person will ever have. For while most folk born in the US learn (from people) and develop a mindset that resists racist values, they also live in a systemic culture that invites them to maintain and practice these same values.

I use the term White culture for this systemic culture that has all folk, White, People of Color (POC), and American Indians, taking problematic stances that support systemic racism (while hating it). Some may use the term American culture, but this does not work for me for two reasons. One, the systemic culture I speak of benefits White people, not American people, and White culture speaks to this privilege, up front. Second, this systemic culture is not American but US. This distinction matters for it calls people to soil based honesty.

For example, when Columbus Day rolls around each year it has become acceptable to say Christopher Columbus did not land in America. What folk really mean is he did not land in the landscape now known as the United States. However, he did land on South and Central American soil. It takes a mindset of US exceptionalism to think an arbitrary boundary between the US and Mexico is continental separation. Taking exceptionalism off the table recognizes the soil of the Americas intimately ties all American landscapes together, so, sure enough Columbus landed in America(s). Therefore, I argue that rather than using language like “American culture” to describe a US system of White privilege, we are better off using the term “White culture.”

Thinking in this way is helpful for it not only recognizes there is an arbitrary culture in the US that benefits White folk, but that the supporters of this culture are both White and non-White folk. To acknowledge such is very hard, for acknowledgement admits all US people (White and non-White) live out at least two cultures: the culture of heritage and White culture.

An article that came my way after last weeks End Government Days of False Honor and Reclaim Soil’s Family entry gives an example or two of White Culture normalization in the mindset(s) of US folk.

On the 13th, ran Jennifer Karami’s article Local indigenous peoples gather to reconcile history on Columbus Day. Continue reading

End Government Days of False Honor and Reclaim Soil’s Family


October 11, 2015

Funny (in a non-funny way) how many people and State governments have learned a flag (Confederate) has the ability to destroy justice and people and that there is integrity of removing it from the public life, but continue to hold on to and honor a day ruin—Columbus Day. Some are going to talk about this day of history that honors humanities quest of exploration and adventure. I would not be surprised to see the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria compared to Friendship 11, Apollo 11, and Space Shuttle Columbia. Others will speak of the day as a day of conquest, subjugation, and genocide. While others will move for a governmental name switch to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, like the City of Seattle did in 2014.

Columbus Day, Indigenous People’s Day, I am not a fan of either. I find governmental days of recognition little more than fluff when it comes to justice. Few folk give them serious thought. After all, there is already Native American Day—just a few weeks ago (September 25). What special events or education opportunities were in your community on that day? What did you attend? (Really, feel free to post!) Alongside, Native American Heritage Month is all next month! What might your congregation, non-profit, or business have planned? What event do you plan to attend? (I’ll give two suggestions found in the Northwest: JustLiving Farm is screening of who are my people a film Emmy Award winning filmmaker Robert Lundahl on November 05. And Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon is offering the Collins Lecture in Portland on the Doctrine of Discovery with Robert J. Miller, George “Tink” Tinker and Kim Recalma-Clutesi on November 19.)

Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Day is but a symbolic move. Does it matter? Well of course it does, but it benefits the government much more than people. Does anyone believe the City of Seattle is going to make substantial change that would have governance structure become accountable to American Indians? Or fund better education for American Indian children? Or fund better American Indian health, mental care, spiritual care, or care for family structure? What I am getting at is while Indigenous People’s Day sounds good, it is a day of governmental structure, which allows governments like Seattle sound and look good while maintaining oppressive policies against American Indians. Meaningful insight is not going to come from the government, but from the people. I’ll take Idle No More or #BlackLivesMatter any day over one more government holiday (that does not honor a person of resistance). Continue reading

Elk Parts


October 4, 2015

Elk parts. They come once a year. Archery season opened a few weeks ago and rifle season follows it up. My bow hunting friends are saying this is a season unlike any other. The elk are not traveling normal trails or hanging in their normal high country valleys. Maybe there will be few elk parts this year.

I never imagined elk parts growing up in the rural canyons of southern California. Our deer are small in stature and when it comes to meat, they are little more than a big rabbit compared to an elk. Though small is size, being of a landscape of canyon sage, the flavor of their meat rivaled any Cascade elk. The black-tailed deer of sage country may not be the biggest of deer, but they are right up there with the smartest of deer—and a hair coat the blends beautifully with the sage landscape. The cageyness of these deer meant many hunters spent their time enjoying the landscape and returning home to eat beef. That might be why I never saw another hunter in the ridges and canyons around home, and why “I’m going up north to hunt, these deer are to small and not worth the time,” was often heard leading up to hunting season.

I knew I was not in the landscape of my youth when hunting season rolled around my first fall in White Swan. Growing up rural, forty minutes from town is one thing, living in a rural town is something different. The proximity of folk to one another in town (even a town of 500) leads to a different way of thinking than the open country. The old adage that everyone knows everyone in a small town carries a bit of truth. One of those truths is folk have a very good idea of which neighbor struggles economically and who does not—including their dogs.

When the first elk came out of the hills, that first fall, and after they were quartered and cut into steaks, roasts, and jerky, many hunters went about town giving their meat to the elderly and families who struggled. The knowledge being, the hunter is capable of hunting again and many others are not.

Two events made me notice how this new place was different from back home. One, two hunters showed up at the parsonage and offered us meat for no other reason than placing value on the community’s spiritual leaders. Place matters. When two elk roasts were lifted out of the back of the pickup, there was more meat than any one deer I hunted as a youth. My place was no longer the landscape of canyons and sage. Continue reading

Why Anti in Anti-Racism and The All in #BlackLives Matter

Artist Renda Writer. Photo: Huffington Post

September 27, 2015

September and October are months of anti-racism workshops. That is not the case every year, but this year they have been months of engaging, wondering, and thoughtful conversation. I find facilitating these workshops has changed over the last fifteen years. Years ago, folk showed up to engage in this wok because this is something I am supposed to do (and in some cases, they were required to by their organization). Today more folks show up because this work really matters to me and the wellbeing of my neighbors of color and my children.

Some of that change is due to the visceral gut—somethings got to change—that has permeated much of US society since Ferguson and the shooting of Michael Brown. Events over the course of this last year have led many folks to conclude the civil rights movement simply ended in the late seventies with the work of racial justice far from completed. The rise of young people in groups like #BlackLivesMatter and Idle No More, are calling for US society to renew themselves to the work of racial justice, and son-of-a-gun, folk are noticing that People Of Color (POC) and American Indians continue to struggle and die because of unjust perceptions, laws, and regulations. More so, the reason this work really matters to folk seems to come from understanding the repeated injustices they have seen this year (from phone videos to police cameras) are modern equivalents of Selma hoses and dogs. (In other words, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Antonio Zambrano-Montes are our Emmett Till’s and the evil this generation has to own.) What is coming into focus in 2015 is our government, systems, and institutions continue to maintain rules and laws that promote a normalcy not only where POC and American Indians are treated differently than White people, but where that normalcy is right, correct, and moral.

All of which has me thinking of two questions, one old and one new, that come up in anti-racism workshops. Old one first.

“I wish we would come up with a more positive word than ‘Anti’ when talking about racism.” is a comment I have heard from White folk since I first began facilitating anti-racism workshops. One would think linking the word anti to racism would be thought of in the positive. That is not the case. I first experienced the perceived negativity of anti in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). When first renewing a commitment to anti-racism work in 1998, the Office of Reconciliation called this work Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation. Continue reading

Resurrected Hen Gives Limping Coyote Life


September 20, 2015

Wide shadows fell off the windrows in the early morning. The morning after the season’s last cutting of hay, I walked the field. A heavier dew than I like gathered across my boots and the pant leg that gathered at the laces. As I wondered how long it would take the cutting to dry, a coyote limped down a windrow along the eastern edge. With the right hind leg in the air, the coyote hunted one windrow after another hoping to rouse an unobservant vole or a slow gopher pushing up dirt. I wondered how the leg got hurt. The coyote looked young, so maybe he had made one of those teenage moves that twist an ankle. Then again, he may have wondered into the wrong field at the wrong time and ended up on the wrong end of a shotgun shell. Whatever the case, I went on about my business.

Two days later, one of the chickens thought little of my decision. In fifteen years we have lost only one chicken and one lamb to predation, that is, until that day. Losing another on the backend of seeing a limping coyote is normal enough. If we are going to manage the farm with an eye toward maintaining balance between wild and domestic animals, it is inevitable something is going to lean the scale to one side or another eventually (Like a hurt leg.). I don’t imagine the missing chicken nor the non-missing chickens agree with such an analytical assessment. When another hen went missing a week later, I also questioned my management practices.

A few days after losing the second hen, I was driving across the field in the balewagon and picking up hay bales. As I round the southwest corner, the coyote came out of the brush. No longer limping, he watched as I drove by. I wondered if I should pick up the rifle when I got to the end of the field nearest the house. Call it laziness or cutting the coyote slack one more time, I left the gun in the house and continued clearing the field of bales. A week later, the 22 rifle leaned against the wall near the back door. A third chicken was missing.

The decision to kill an animal is always difficult, more so when the kill is not for food. You might say killing the coyote is a food kill when the third hen is lost. After all the hens provide daily eggs (food), and when they stop laying eggs they provide for a wonderful winter chicken stew (food). Nevertheless, the killing of the coyote, itself, is not going to provide an evening meal. Since I also have no desire to skin the coyote, tan the hide, and use it for something or another, the killing of the coyote is only to try to reestablish balance and end the loss of chickens. Continue reading