Wednesday, June 26, 2013

May's Siren Song....Resistance is Futile!

[This is reaching the list well after I began writing it in early May. Life got a bit busy and Earth Pilgrim was relegated to the back seat for a while :-) So here is my annual Spring tribute published a few days after Summer Solstice! The two photos may be viewed in larger size by clicking on them. Please enjoy...]

Early May, 2013 in New York's Southern Tier:

She's at it again...Gaia, aka Mother Earth. Sweet seductress, she's been busy here these past two weeks or so luring us out-of-doors with her fabulous Spring regalia and blue-skied balmy days. This year our patience felt all the more stretched with Winter's chill and even snow flurries lingering into early April. But then at last, a mild night, and the Spring peepers burst into their annual welcoming chorus, their sweet soprano-jingling drifting up from the River's marshy edges to me leaning out my bedroom window peering into the velvet dusk. My willing re-enchantment beginning once more...

Every Spring I am smitten by the delicate Beauty of the wooded hills coming alive again and never tire of beholding this magical, ethereal transformation. My winter-dulled senses feast on the richness of color, sound, and scent spilling onto the landscape. This year is no different...possibly even more so. The maples put on the gauzy red veils of their exquisite, tiny blossoms. The other hardwoods offer a fabulous array of pastel greens and shimmering golds. Robert Frost's line always comes to mind, "Nature's first green is gold." This photo taken a few days ago of a hillside near Masonville will give some idea of what this is. Overnight as it often seems, the willows are suddenly flaunting their neon yellow-green streamers, soon to be rivaled in brilliance by the forsythia's eye-popping yellow-gold.  
Then for us this Spring of 2013, a sumptuous bonus of two weekends in a row with bright sun and cloudless skies, temps rising into the 60s and low 70s. Sandals, shorts, and sleeveless shirts were hastily dug out of storage. Wherever I went people smiled giddily at each other, all of us blissed-out by the sun's returned warmth on our bare skin and the fabulous pleasure of color returning everywhere about us in Spring flowers and gem-green lawns. It may or may not be so, but the daffodils and tulips have seemed particularly radiant this year. 

Out for a walk today I am close to mesmerized by trees spangled with their miniature new leaves winking and glistening in the bright Sun. And I am no less in awe this Spring by the countless shades of green lavished across the landscape, at times close to dizzy with such extravagance.

Yesterday's rain conjured a heady perfume from the warming earth, its life-force stirring from deep down. The woods behind Dragonfly Cottage grows busier and pleasantly noisier each day with welcome arrivals of the returning "regulars", the robins, song sparrows, grackles, and hopefully soon, my favorites, the saucy cat birds and the shy wood thrushes. It is the haunting notes of the thrush that will complete the spell to which I so happily submit myself. And the first dandelions are already offering their fuzz-ball seedheads, poised to release their countless wishes to the next breeze. 

The Earth falls slowly towards the full and golden light of Solstice some six weeks away. Nothing more to do but surrender to May's siren song yet again. Ah-h-h, Yes! 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Earth Healers & Heroes: Jill Robinson and Animals Asia

Andrew, first rescued bear
Twenty years ago, Jill Robinson, a young British woman working for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, made an unplanned visit to a bear bile farm in southern China. Without permission she ventured down into the basement where the bears were being kept captive. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, a horror scene emerged...cage after cage crammed with pitiful bears unable to stand or turn around. Some were swaying their heads, some were vocalizing – pop, pop, pop – indicating severe stress. When one of the bears reached out through the cage bars, Jill instinctively reached out too, taking the huge paw in her hands. At that moment she knew she had a choice, and she chose to act. Jill vowed to do all she could to end the horrific bear bile industry.

Bear bile has long been used in traditional Chinese and Asian medicine. It is extracted from captive bears using various painful, invasive techniques, all of which cause massive infection in the bears. The majority of these animals are the beautiful Asiatic black bear affectionately called Moon Bears because of the pale lemon-yellow crescent on their chests. Most farmed bears are kept in tiny cages. Sometimes the cages are so small that the bears are unable to turn around or stand on all fours. Some bears are put into cages as cubs and never released. And they may be kept caged like this for up to 30 years. Most farmed bears are starved, dehydrated and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumors that ultimately kill them.   

From that April day in 1993 Jill embarked on the mission of ending this cruel industry. What she has accomplished in twenty years is nothing short of spectacular. In 1995, through her work with the IFAW, China's first bear rescue center was opened and received the first nine bears from a bear farm in Huizhou, southern China. The farm was subsequently closed down. IFAW continues to operate this center.

It was with Jill's founding of Animals Asia in 1998 that her herculean efforts slowly began to make inroads into the system. Within a year they'd persuaded Chinese authorities to investigate 11 bear farms in Sichuan Province. In 2000 a landmark agreement was signed with the Chinese government to build a bear sanctuary and construction began on the China Bear Rescue Center in Chengdu. Before year's end, the first 60 bears arrived to begin their new lives including the handsome Moon Bear, Andrew, whose picture graces this post. By 2007 a second center opened in Northern Vietnam at Tam Dao. In April of this year the 400th bear came into Animals Asia's care, compassionately surrendered by the farmer who'd held her for eight years. While she was no longer milked for her bile and was loved as their pet, the family wanted her to have a better more natural life.

Tam Dao's director, Tuan Bendixsen, said of this, “The rescue of this bear is a reflection of changing attitudes not just to the farming of bears for their bile but of animal welfare in general. The farmer has put the welfare of the animal above personal gain - the bear had gone from being a source of income to a pet and part of the family."

Animal Asia's work goes beyond rescuing and rehabilitating the bears. A major goal is to reduce the demand for bear bile through inspired campaigns of public education and raising awareness about the bears' plight. This extends far beyond Asia and is gaining more and more international recognition. It touched my life in 2009 when I became involved with the Moon Bears Project, and came to know one small female bear named Clara, rescued with eighteen other Moon Bears outside of Saigon. She will be the subject of a follow-up post.

There is also unceasing work to change government policies in China and Vietnam to positively affect the regulation of captive bear farming and to bring about its eventual end. It has been made illegal in more and more provinces in China and in 2002 was outlawed in all of Vietnam. But with profits still to be made, loopholes have been found by those who seek to exploit the bears. And limited governmental resources to enforce regulations mean too many bears are still suffering in those terrible cages.

So much has been much remains to be done.
The Animals Asia website is a trove of information which is both painful to view but is also incredibly joyful and up-lifting. Jill writes a wonderful blog that I particularly recommend. A lively Facebook page is also serving to spread the word about this wonderful organization and the continuing efforts of a passionate and dedicated Earth Healer, Jill Robinson. be continued....