Woman, Life, Freedom: DOIW Condemns the Killing of Mahsa Amini

Woman, Life, Freedom: DOIW Condemns the Killing of Mahsa Amini

Editor’s note: On September 16, a 22 year-old woman (Mahsa Amini) was brutally tortured and killed by the Iranian state for improper wearing of hijab. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, has made a public statement that the protests happening in the country are being backed by the Western countries, and that Mahsa Amini was not tortured in their prison. Given the history of US-backed regime changes across the world from Central and South Americas to the Middle East, including Iran itself, concerns among anti-imperialists about the recent protests are not an indication of paranoia.

Whether or not the protests are backed by imperialist tendencies of the West, the plight of the women of Iran should not be discarded either. For the past forty decades of theocratic rule in Iran, women’s human rights have been violated in more than one occasion. They have faced many injustices, the death of Mahsa Amini and of the hundreds of people (especially young women) who protested her death is just the latest of which. Regardless of the West’s imperialist tendencies, these injustices should be addressed first and foremost.

The following statement was released by Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women (DOIW) on September 23. Since then, many protestors have been killed, arrested and persecuted.


Victory to the united struggle of the brave women and men of Iran; For liberty, and freedom from theocratic tyranny and the repeal of all laws that undermine women’s human rights!

Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women(DOIW) emphatically condemns the killing of Mahsa (Gina) Amini, by the security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We convey our condolences to Mahsa’s grieving family and to all freedom-loving women and men of Iran. The regime’s Guidance Patrol arrested this young woman of 22 as she travelled on Tehran’s Metro with her brother under the pretext of having “bad hijab”. As a result of the brutality of the regime’s guidance patrol and beatings while in custody, Mahsa Amini died in hospital on 16th September. This new crime of the Islamic Republic has provoked the anger of the long-suffering people of Iran. The name and memory of Mahsa Amini has turned into a rallying cry for the people who have come out to the streets to rise up against oppression, dictatorship and social injustice. On Mahsa’s temporary gravestone, is written: “Darling Gina, you won’t die, your name will become a code”. Today, Mahsa Amini’s name has indeed become the rallying cry for the people rising for freedom.

In the past forty years, the reactionary Islamic regime of Iran has used systematic violence to secure its self-interest, and to trample shamelessly on the social and human rights of the people of Iran, particularly the women of Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran has presided over deepening poverty, economic and social insecurity, promoted the practice of embezzlement and hypocrisy in the state, has plundered the national wealth for the personal interest of the ruling elite and their associates, and has been directly responsible for violence and crimes against countless women and men. These have ranged from the forced hejab and medieval laws against women, to the torture, rape and execution of hundreds of girls and women supporters of left-wing organisations or mojaheds during the 1980s, or the mass killings of political prisoners in the summer of 1988, the execution of Fatemeh Modaresi, the consultant member of the Central Committee of the Tudeh Party of Iran in 1989, the brutal murder of other dissidents such as Parvaneh Forouhar in the 1990s, and Zahra Kazemi, Zahra Bani Yaqub, among others, in the torture chambers of the regime, and the murder of Neda Agha Soltan in street demonstrations. These atrocities continue to this day and the people have had enough.

The regime’s denial of responsibility over the death of Mahsa Amini has fuelled people’s anger. At first the regime claimed that Mahsa had died due to ill health, something that her family have denied vehemently. The regime’s contradictory position on this tragedy, mimics their denials and lies immediately after the Revolutionary Guards’ downing of the Ukrainian plane over Iran in December 2019.

The people of Iran have been living with the fallout of the regime’s neoliberal policies, with its resultant poverty, deepening class divide and prevalent corruption, with the poor, women and the young bearing the brunt, and they have little to lose in this unequal fight.

Street clashes continue to rage in more than 80 cities and towns in Iran, despite access to the internet having been curtailed to stop communications. The women and men of our country have shown indescribable courage to stand against the brutal security forces of the regime and despite the heavy cost in this unequal struggle – fists against bullets – they are holding fast. The echo of people’s slogans conveys their demands: “Death to Dictatorship”, “Down with Theocracy”, and latterly “Woman, Life, Freedom” – a slogan that has emerged in these protests to reflect women’s particular aspirations – is a reminder of Marx’s position that a society is only free when its women are free. Today, the women of Iran are fighting courageously for their freedom and for the freedom of the society from theocracy.

Mahsa

Woman, life, freedom” by TheGfarce is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Since Thursday 22nd September, different organisations, including Iran Human Rights have announced that at least 31 have been killed in the protests. Some reports put this figure at 50. There are reports of the arrest of a large number of protesters, including reporters, civic and political activists, women, students and former political prisoners. At present the prisons of Iran are full of workers’ rights activists, teachers, national minorities, religious minorities such as the Baha’is, dissenters, artists, and students.

At present, the Islamic Republican regime continues its brutal suppression, cutting off the internet and access to social networks. In 2019 during the people’s uprising, more than 600 innocent people were killed among them 23 children and youngsters under the age of 18. The regime cut off the internet then too (killing with the lights out), and shamelessly lowered the official number killed to 224 people instead. Then the regime accepted no responsibility for its atrocities, and in September 2022, the regime is repeating its brutal suppression of the people as before.

Today, too, the regime’s guns are aiming at the hearts of the women and youth of Iran. Ra’isi, the President of the regime, was one of the main perpetrators of the murder of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Just as he spoke of human rights at the UN General Assembly, on the 21st of September, the 15 year old Abdollah Mohammadpur, and the 16 year old Amin Ma’refat were shot dead by the regime’s armed police. The mass arrests continue all over Iran.

DOIW condemns the brutal suppression of the people and believes that victory in the fierce struggle that is ahead of us, for democratic rights and freedoms, social justice, and an end to discrimination, in other words, the realisation of the protesters’ demand “Woman, Life, Liberty”, can be secured only through the united struggle of all progressive social and political forces and the dismantling of the religious dictatorship that rules Iran. Our victory depends on the separation of religion from the state, and the establishment of a national and democratic republic in Iran.

Finally, the Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women, appeals to all progressive forces the world over, especially progressive women’s organisations, to condemn this latest atrocity perpetrated by the Islamicists in Iran- the arrest and killing of Mahsa (Gina) Amini under the pretext of carrying out “religious laws and decrees”- and condemning the killings in Iran especially of our young people, and to condemn the detention of freedom fighters in our country. With your solidarity you can extend the reach of these protests and let our brave people’s call for justice be heard worldwide.

Solidarity with Iranian Protests (52383249139)” by Matt Hrkac from Geelong / Melbourne, Australia is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Statement by the Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women

23rd September 2022

 

Banner Photo by Artin Bakhan on Unsplash

Collapse: Ecology, Climate and Civilization [Event Announcement]

Collapse: Ecology, Climate and Civilization [Event Announcement]

The Deep Green Resistance Fall Fundraiser Event

Our way of life — industrial civilization — is destroying the planet.

From coral reefs to the great forests, the last strongholds of the wild are falling. The climate is destabilizing. And we are entering the 6th mass extinction of life on Earth. Ecological collapse is here.

This unprecedented crisis demands extraordinary solutions. And yet, governments and mainstream environmental groups are failing to chart a path towards a livable future. What is to be done?

This November 19th, join the philosopher poet of the deep ecology movement Derrick Jensen, radical eco-feminist author and strategist Lierre Kieth, and special guests Saba Malik, Robert Jensen and Dahr Jamail for a special 3-hour live streaming event, Collapse: Ecology, Climate, and Civilization starting at 3pm Pacific Time and hosted by Deep Green Resistance.

This event will explore issues of collapse (ecological, climatic, and civilizational) with a focus on organized, political resistance to slow and mitigate the worst aspects of collapse and accelerate the positive impacts. There will be opportunities to ask questions and participate in dialogue.

This event is also a fundraiser, because the mainstream environmental movement is funded mainly by foundations which don’t want foundational or revolutionary change. Radical organizations like Deep Green Resistance rely on individual donors to support our work.

We are raising $25,000 to fund a national speaking tour, a community-led hydropower dam resistance campaign in the Philippines, land-defense campaigns addressing mining and biodiversity, training programs for activists around the world, and other organizational work.

Whether or not you are in a financial position to donate, we hope you will join us this November 19th for this special event!

You can view the event live on Givebutter or on Facebook.


Warrior Woman by Will Falk
I was surrounded and about to surrender
when she broke the battle
and carried me from the frontlines.
When, at last, we were safe and alone,
she cradled me in her arms,
warmed me by the fire in her breast
and let the starlight falling
from her smile shine away
the horrors of the night.
She offered to bathe my wounds there
in that kind gaze pouring from her eyes.
They were the color of brown stones
dancing in the dappling sunshine
under the pure, precontact currents
of strong, clean Alaskan streams.
I must have flinched there
at the fierceness of her generosity
because she asked me if
I was still afraid.
It was too selfish to say
“I fear you’ll push me away
from your bright radiance
back into the black combat
you pulled me from.”
No matter what I really wanted,
I could not ask her to hold me there
forever. Or, even for the rest of my life.
I could not ask her to do this
because I remembered
when she introduced herself,
there were eagles
and killer whales in her name.
I hate talons in chains,
and the sight of bloated bodies
floating belly up
in concrete prison pools in parks
that don’t amuse anyone anymore.
So, I told the whole truth.
I was afraid I would linger there
overlong, while all the streams were strangled,
the songbirds silenced, and the salmon starved.
I was afraid that if I shed my armor
to press my bare skin to hers
I’d never rise to fight again.
Her laugh was as gentle
as the first snowfall on
a transboundary bay.
Her kiss was as soothing
as the first sunshine on
a post-blizzard day.
She said: eagles leap from their nests,
killer whales kill,
warriors know when to make war,
and we will fight side by side,
my scared, tired man.
All my dams crashed down, then.
The sword fell from my hand.
And I learned I could
make love and make war
with this true warrior woman
Will Falk is a writer, lawyer, and environmental activist. The natural world speaks and Will’s work is how he listens. He believes the ongoing destruction of the natural world is the most pressing issue confronting us today. For Will, writing is a tool to be used in resistance.
Events: FiLiA 2022 and Global Extraction Film Festival 2022

Events: FiLiA 2022 and Global Extraction Film Festival 2022

Editor’s note: Neither of the events are being organized by DGR. We stand in solidarity with both of these and encourage our readers to get involved in these if possible.


FiLiA 2022

FiLiA is a UK-based women-led volunteer women-only organization. It runs the largest annual grassroots conference in Europe, with the aims of a) building sisterhood and solidarity, b) amplifying the voices of women, particularly those less often heard or purposefully silenced, and c) defending women’s human rights. Every year since 2013, the FiLiA conference is organized in a different part of UK and brings women together in listening to and building relationship with other women. Women share their experiences with patriarchy and their efforts to tackle the challenges they have faced.

This year the event is being held in Cardiff, Wales from October 22 to October 24. Find more information for the speakers this year. Listen to the spokeswoman for FiLiA talk about the conference in an interview.

Note: You need to register for the event.

#FiLiA2022


film

Global Extraction Film Festival (GEFF) 2022

The Global Extraction Film Festival (GEFF) 2022 will be streamed worldwide for free from October 26-30, 2022. The third edition of this online festival will present 250+ documentaries and urgent shorts from 50+ countries highlighting the destructive impacts of extractive industries. Founded in 2020 by Jamaican environmental filmmaker and activist Esther Figueroa (]Vagabond Media) and postcolonial film scholar-practitioner Emiel Martens (University of Amsterdam, Caribbean Creativity), GEFF aims to bring attention to the destructive impacts of extractive industries and to highlight communities across the world who are bravely defending against annihilation while creating livable futures.

GEFF2022 features 6 programs with over 250 documentaries and urgent shorts from over 50 countries, with a wide range of compelling topics that people around the world need to think about. Where, how and by whom is the food we eat, water we drink, clothes we wear, materials in our technology, the energy that powers our lives produced and transported? What are we to do with the billions of tons of waste we create daily? What is our relationship to other species and all life on the planet? Extraction and extractivism have caused the anthropocene, the climate crisis is real and cannot be wished away or solved by magical technologies based on extraction.

#GlobalExtractionAction #GEFF2022

Featured Image by Alex Motoc on Unsplash


 

The truth is
It is not enough to know the truth.
It is not enough to accept the truth,
to embrace the truth, to be saved by the truth.
It is not even enough to cling to the truth
when no one else will.
The truth rails at being trapped
in the blood flooded chambers
of the human heart.
She detests being chained within
the hard, bony walls of thick human skulls.
The truth is a restless being.
Broken bodies, shattered souls,
and the willful ignorance
that break and shatter them
make her scream
and boil the fuel from her spleen
until she liquefies like natural gas
looking for just one match
to explode and burn all the lies down.
She will not be denied.
Banish her from your thoughts
and she will microwave your mind
until the molecules you use as excuses
vibrate with nuclear radiation
and all that’s left of your self-respect
is a billowing mushroom cloud.
It’s not that the truth doesn’t want to be used.
She does. She wants your heart
to burn like a furnace. She wants you
to shovel her like coal
into the engines driving your axles.
She doesn’t care if you object
to the industrial metaphors, if you cringe
at being compared to common appliances.
She doesn’t care because the truth is
your blood runs full of plastic,
mother’s milk is now carcinogenic,
and when you spend more time
with machines than trees, the stars,
or your own warm lover,
it’s hard to distinguish between machines
and those who serve them.
So the truth demands more.
She demands more than recognition,
more than acceptance,
more than the smugness that comes
with telling everyone what the truth is.
She demands more. She demands the truth.
And the truth is,
the truth is action

Will Falk is a writer, lawyer, and environmental activist. The natural world speaks and Will’s work is how he listens. He believes the ongoing destruction of the natural world is the most pressing issue confronting us today. For Will, writing is a tool to be used in resistance. https://www.facebook.com/willfalk35

Are Peace Parks an Answer in World Convulsed by Conflict?

Are Peace Parks an Answer in World Convulsed by Conflict?

Editor’s note: Borders are created by nation-states. If the relationship between the surrounding countries are amiable, borders serve the purpose to stop individuals from crossing over to the other side without authority. Conversely, if the relationship is hostile, borders either are an active warzone (eg. Gaza strip between Israel and Palestine), or are at the risk of becoming one (eg. Kashmir between India and Pakistan). Either of these pose a threat to the wild nature. Many species rely on periodic migration through a specific route that goes beyond the boundaries of nation-states. At its best, borders serve to stop that migration, risking the survival of the species. At its worst, borders turned into active warzones and the militarized activities are constantly destroying an entire landscape. Civilisation inherently infringes on the freedom of all living beings through these borders.

This article provides useful information from across the globe on how warzones are impacting wildlife. It also shows the threats of new projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative, purported to be based on “win-win cooperation” between countries, is still a warzone of competition with biodiversity. The peace parks proposed in this article can be used not only to rewild nature but also to deescalate conflict between neighboring nation states DGR supports and engages in rewilding the Earth. Meanwhile peace parks also pose some new questions: What happens if one, or both, states begin extracting resources beyond the regenerative capacity of the area? If one infringes the territory of the peace park, risking another conflict? What mechanisms can be put in place to deter such actions?


By Saul Elbein/Mongabay

  • Conflicts over disputed borders, increasingly exacerbated by climate change, are putting some of the world’s key biodiversity hotspots at risk.
  • Even in countries that have avoided border wars, a global campaign of fence building — aimed at keeping out human migrants whose numbers are rising in an era of climate change and sociopolitical unrest — is causing widespread damage to vulnerable natural landscapes and migratory animal species.
  • In potential conflict zones like the Himalayas, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the South China Sea, this surging human march across national frontiers has already led to violence, and in some cases to open warfare.
  • Border-straddling conservation zones known as peace parks offer a more sustainable way of managing border disputes than militarization and fence building. Peace parks on the U.S.-Canada border and in the Himalayas offer successful examples.

The Himalayan high peaks serve as a jagged wall dividing nuclear-armed neighbors — a physical barrier rising in places to more than 8,800 meters (29,000 feet) separating apocalyptically equipped nations divided by religion, politics, and many decades of bad blood.

But in ecological terms, the Himalayan plateau, the “rooftop of the world,” is a place of connection, especially for the wayward snow leopard (Panthera uncia), the alpine region’s apex predator and “tiger of the high mountains,” so dubbed by Aishwarya Maheshwari, an Indian wildlife biologist who has studied the elusive species for decades.

To Maheshwari, remote Himalayan ridges and culls don’t define a political divide, but serve as a thruway linking vast, unbroken habitat. Here, threatened wildlife — including the red panda (Ailurus fulgens), golden langur (Trachypithecus geei) and Himalayan brown bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus) — roam free, crisscrossing national frontiers. That’s an example, Maheshwari believes, that ought to be emulated by the peoples claiming the Himalayas.

In 2020, Maheshwari floated an outlandish but seductive proposition in the journal Science: Declare the snow leopard’s home territory a “peace park” — a gigantic, shared administrative border zone governed by the nations whose boundaries traverse the Himalayas, including India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal.

peace

Photo by Frida Lannerström on Unsplash

An all-inclusive transboundary approach to conservation

For many aspects of wildlife protection, particularly tackling the trafficking of species, a transboundary approach proves highly practical. “Any kind of poaching that happens around the border areas can easily be escaped by border jumping,” explains Elaine Hsiao, who studies peace parks in Southern Africa and teaches at Ohio’s Kent State University in the U.S.

A transboundary approach, by contrast, allows for intergovernmental cooperation and the nabbing of transgressors on either side of national borders, denying criminals sanctuary.

To many experts, the peace park concept also offers an alternative to rising tensions — a shared, conflict-free administrative zone where states voluntarily surrender claims to contested territory to create an area of shared jurisdictional and ecological management.

“If peace parks were established [by following] the way of the snow leopard, we [could] achieve that peace we always talk about,” Maheshwari told Mongabay.

Several peace parks within the snow leopard’s range are already in place, including Khunjerab National Park in the Karakoram range (India and Pakistan), and the transboundary Sacred Himalayan Landscape (with multiple interconnected parks established by Nepal, India, Bhutan and China in cooperation with WWF).

peace

Distribution of the snow leopard as of 2017. Could this vast territory — or at least significant parts of it — become the world’s highest-altitude peace park? Image by McCarthy et al. (2017) (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Peace parks have also been proposed in disputed and transborder Himalayan areas including the Everest region (known as Qomolangma in China and Sagarmatha in Nepal); Pamir Wakhan (between Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan), and the Altai Mountains (between Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan).

Transboundary peace parks have been shown to work: The undefended 6,416-kilometer (3,987-mile) border between Canada and the continental U.S. (excluding Alaska) was fought over in bloody intermittent conflicts for more than half a century, from 1754 to 1815. Today, four international peace parks sit astride that border: Peace Arch Park (Washington/British Columbia); Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (Montana/Alberta); International Peace Garden (North Dakota/Manitoba); and Roosevelt Campobello International Park (Maine/New Brunswick).

Another example, far less peaceable in intent, is the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. While still deadly to intruding troops, the nearly 70-year-old no-man’s land “has created a de facto 4-km-wide nature reserve spanning the Korean peninsula,” according to Maheshwari’s Science paper. It’s a safe haven for the endangered black-faced spoonbill (Platalea minor), Asia’s beloved wading bird.

A transnational jurisdictional agreement encompassing snow leopard habitat could serve as a means for “harmony between and amongst the countries in Central and South Asia,” guaranteeing both an ecological and economic bounty, Maheshwari told Mongabay. “We have not [fully] enjoyed being Asian — not like the neighboring continents of Europe or [North] America,” which possess a stronger sense of unity. The snow leopard offers that opportunity, he says.

But today, a snow leopard transnational park remains mostly a utopian goal. And the chances of achieving that vision seem to be diminishing, not growing.

Maheshwari laid out his plan in 2019 (it was published in 2020) against an increasingly turbulent geopolitical backdrop, as border tensions soared between nations rushing to exploit Earth’s last ungoverned border wildlands in search of scarce natural resources — in locales where wildlife unique to the world’s rooftop hold on in alpine refugia protected only by isolation and vertical terrain.

A world at war with humanity and nature

Conflict and violence are escalating in the 21st century, from the disputed battleground bordering Ukraine and Russia, to the cold war in the South China Sea; to the literal walls rising in the Sonoran Desert between the U.S. and Mexico, or similar barriers going up in Eastern Europe (between Poland and Belarus), or on the high-altitude battlefields of the Caucasus, and the India-China nuclear standoff region in the Himalayans. Such places are not only seeing intensified human suffering, but also the disruption of transboundary wildlands.

That’s especially true as weapons systems and military hardware allow combat in once inhospitable zones.

There is no more graphic example of this devastation than the current Russian invasion of Ukraine — a country holding more than a third of Europe’s biodiversity. Russian missile, air and artillery strikes targeted by high-tech drones have disproportionately wrecked Ukraine’s heavy industry, causing unbridled pollution, while ongoing hostilities have allowed for little assessment of harm to wild creatures.

Easy to overlook amid the present fighting is the ecological damage of an earlier Ukraine-Russia border conflict: In 2014, artillery duels and brutal trench warfare exploded in the Ukrainian region of Donbas, as Russian-backed separatists and the Kyiv government fought each other. This steppe-and-forest border region, with its high plant diversity, was pushed to the brink of ecological collapse by the war, according to the U.N. Environment Programme.

peace

Part of the U.S border wall that bisects the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts along the boundary with Mexico. The barrier is part of a global push by wealthy Northern countries to assert control over sparsely populated borderlands and prevent a rush of sociopolitical and climate change refugees. Image by Steve Hillebrand/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons (Public domain).

Today’s fighting in Donbas is “not only creating new [ecological] problems, but also digging up old problems and making them more and more serious,” explains Olya Melen-Zabramna of Environment, People and Law, a Ukrainian NGO.

As today’s battlefront shifts across the Donetsk and Luhansk border regions — the latter of which is now fully under Moscow’s control — both sides of the firing line are pockmarked by cratered conservation areas. The war is undoing a decade of effort by the Kyiv government to remediate landscapes contaminated by the toxic residues of unregulated Soviet-era coal and iron ore mines.

“The shelling causes accidental fires in the forest, and those fires are usually uncontrolled because our rescue agencies are not able to stop them because of the risk to their life,” Melen-Zabramna said. Forests are also now being contaminated with explosive anti-personnel mines, one of which blew up a forestry crew in April. Russian forces have also blown up air and water monitoring stations, she said.

Melen-Zabramna’s organization hopes Ukraine can find its way to environmental remediation after the war, following a path blazed by the nations of the former Yugoslavia on their battlefields. But with shells still falling, the prospect of an internationally negotiated Ukraine-Russia peace park seems far-fetched, though it would certainly help heal hearts and landscapes.

peace

Russian missile, air, and artillery strikes targeted by high-tech drones have disproportionately wrecked Ukraine’s heavy industry, causing unbridled pollution, while ongoing hostilities have allowed for little assessment of harm to wild creatures. Image by Yevhen Timofeev via Pexels.

 

Border fences do not make good neighbors

The 21st-century firestorm now raging in Ukraine marks a grim continuation of the conflagrations dotting the 20th — which, like all wars, were ecologically destructive, but allowed a previously unseen level of devastation to be unleashed across entire landscapes.

Eighty percent of conflicts between 1950 and 2000 took place in biodiversity hotspots, Mongabay previously reported. The reason is simple: Biodiversity hotspots tend to be where humans have limited presence — often inhospitable places that mark geographically challenging boundaries between nation-states.

These border wars could soon get more numerous: A 2019 study in the journal Nature said that climate change contributed to 20% of conflicts over the last century and could lead to a fivefold increase in conflict over this century. Likewise, armed conflict is the single most important predictor of declines in animal population, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

With tensions rising along national borders, the U.N. has repeatedly warned there is little reason to assume that this century will experience less war — particularly if social unrest, exacerbated by climate chaos, drives an estimated 1.2 billion people from their homes by 2050.

Along rich-country perimeters, including the southern deserts of the U.S. or in the conifer forests of the eastern EU, the perceived threat of waves of human migrants has already led to new attempts to fence (and assert control over) wild areas once left in benign neglect.

Peace

From right: President Xi Jinping of China, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and President Joko Widodo of Indonesia at the May 2017 Belt and Road International Forum. Image by the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0).

New border fences in the U.S. Rio Grande Valley and Sonoran Desert pose physical boundaries — blockages that mammal species will need to cross as global warming renders old habitats uninhabitable, according to a 2021 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). That research found that increases in border fencing extent already correlate with decreasing numbers of pumas (Puma concolor) and coatis (Nasua narica) — and bisect the ranges of 180 more mammals.

In Europe, too, razor-wire fences closing the border between Croatia and Slovenia are killing herons and red deer, according to a 2017 study in the European Journal of Wildlife Research.

These barriers are just part of a rising tide of fences and border controls raised across Europe to keep out war, economic and climate change refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Syria and the African Sahel, according to a 2016 study in the journal PLOS Biology.

This increase in border fences has coincided with growing scientific recognition of the crucial role transboundary conservation plays in species migration. So even as nations aggressively try to block the flow of people over their borders, researchers are pleading the case for unobstructed wildland corridors allowing species movement to new, safer climes, according to the 2021 PNAS study.

The trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative promises to put China at the heart of a globally unprecedented transportation network and energy grid. Roads and railways have long provided the quickest routes by which troops move during national invasions. Image by PughPugh via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

The trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative promises to put China at the heart of a globally unprecedented transportation network and energy grid. Roads and railways, while promoting commerce, have also long provided the quickest routes by which troops move during national invasions. Image by PughPugh via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

 

Trouble brewing in the South China Sea

Harmful as migrant-blocking border security measures can be environmentally, they pale in comparison to the risks posed by borders that are being disputed in the name of national defense — or nationalist expansion.

In the South China Sea, for example, China has dredged up more than 100 square miles of healthy coral reef to create artificial islands, constructing airstrips and defense positions on what it considers its rightful maritime border. China is using these new artificial island outposts to assert sovereignty and flex its muscles toward its regional neighbors like the Philippines, while also helping lock down the Western Pacific for its long-distance fishing fleets that need to feed the nation’s 1.4 billion people.

As dangerous as this situation currently is, the cold war there regularly threatens to turn hot, with the U.S. and its ally the Philippines, along with Taiwan and Vietnam, unwilling to concede to Chinese claims of exclusive control over much of this part of the Pacific.

U.S. attempts to guarantee freedom of the seas “increase the risk of a [military] miscalculation or inadvertent action that could cause an accident or lead to an incident that in turn could escalate into a crisis or conflict,” according to a January 2022 report by the Congressional Research Service.

Such a conflict would raise the prospect of modern naval warfare and bombardment in a region that accounts for one-seventh of the global fish catch. A transnational marine peace park could provide an answer: a co-administered zone protecting commerce and nature.

peace

A CIA map showing vast contested Asian areas. China and India claim patches of each other’s territory on opposite sides of the highest border in the world, in the Himalayas, raising the constant threat of a cold war turned hot. Image by CIA via Wikimedia Commons (Public domain).

 

China’s Belt and Road: The biggest infrastructure project ever

China’s land-based interests hold equal perils. In the Himalayas, it is engaged with India and Pakistan in a complex high-elevation land rush — complete with political maneuvering, a massive road-building effort and occasional open violence — amid a labyrinth of disputed alpine borders.

India’s Border Roads Organization, for example, is slated to build more than 3,400 km (2,100 mi) of highway along that country’s frontiers to counter Pakistan’s China-backed 3,000-km (1,800-mi) China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, a road, rail, and fossil fuel pipeline network.

This infrastructure explosion will be extremely damaging to the alpine environment, Indian ecologist Maharaj Pandit wrote in Science in 2020. In the high Himalayas, road workers are already burning scarce, extremely slow-growing native plants, to melt the asphalt needed for highway surfacing — burning that is also clearing the way for invasive shrubs.

But road building is just the beginning. The broader danger is that whenever people come into closer contact on a tense border, there is, as the Congressional Research Service warns, ever more risk that something will go wrong.

Conflict already flares there: In 2020, Chinese and Indian road-building crews got into a deadly brawl along an unmarked section of the border, combating each other with fists, stones and “nail-studded clubs,” leaving 24 dead, according to the BBC. The region, along with biodiversity and the cause of world peace, could clearly benefit from cooperative rather than competing infrastructure projects and transnational conservation projects in the Himalayas.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative map

China’s Belt and Road Initiative showing China in Red, the members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in orange, and the six proposed corridors of the Silk Road Economic Belt, a land transportation route running from China to Southern Europe via Central Asia and the Middle East, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, a sea route connecting the port of Shanghai to Venice, Italy, via India and Africa. Image by Lommes via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

 

The 21st-century battlefield comes to the world’s wilds

A saving grace of past border wars was the remoteness of their battlefields: Intense conflict there required more troops, military hardware and transport than it was sometimes worth providing. This often bought time for cooler heads to prevail, as happened when leaders in New Delhi and Beijing agreed to pull back their forces from the Himalayan border in 2021.

But the range and availability of new weapons, like Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drone, make such destructive escalation more likely. This was demonstrated in 2020, when the small Eastern European countries of Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over the disputed mountain valleys between them.

For almost a generation, the nations’ contested border, a Soviet-era provincial boundary, had been a largely quiet point of contact along an old cease-fire line from a previous war. But in September 2020, a skirmish broke out, and Azerbaijan, newly armed with flotillas of Turkish Bayraktar and Israeli kamikaze drones, launched a full-scale invasion into the disputed lands of Nagorno-Karabakh.Azerbaijani drones broke the Armenian army apart from the air, and burned hundreds of square kilometers of the high forests with white phosphorous bombs as they hunted disintegrating army units among the trees.

Both sides decried the resulting ecological damage. And in a bit of dark irony, the mascot trotted out in this propaganda battle was a boundary-crossing cousin of the charismatic snow leopard that biologist Maheshwari proposed as a symbol of a peaceful Himalaya.

Armenian war propaganda images featured the Caucasian leopard (Panthera pardus tulliana), Europe’s last big cat and a reclusive resident of the borderlands between the two countries that it shares with Eurasian lynxes (Lynx lynx), Caspian Sea wolves (Canis lupus campestris) and Eurasian brown bears (Ursus arctos arctos).

Rather than providing a reason to stop fighting, reports of ecological damage helped fuel it. The Conflict and Environment Observatory found that competing claims of “ecocide” became grist for the propaganda war, as online partisans on both sides blamed each other for the highlands destruction, and urged their soldiers on.

One of the most hotly disputed aspects of the Armenian-Azerbaijani PR war was the question of who gets custody over the highland lake of Sarsang, currently split between the two countries.

In the case of this Armenia-Azerbaijan water conflict, “the candid goal of both authorities is not to reach a resolution to address some urgent problems of the local communities, but rather use this issue as a means to win on political terms by labeling the other as an aggressor or as non-cooperative,” according to a study published in the Journal of Conflict Transformation.

The lake in question, a shared border resource demanding co-jurisdiction management, would make an ideal candidate for a transnational peace park, experts say. But bilateral bad blood and bad faith also suggest the extent to which peace, or shared administration, requires far more than the absence of conflict.

Cheap but deadly armed drones like the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 have helped bring newly destructive air warfare to disputed alpine and remote regions where it would have once been costly and impossible.

Cheap but deadly armed drones like the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 have helped bring newly destructive air warfare to disputed alpine and remote regions where it would have once been costly and nearly impossible. Image by Bayhaluk via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

 

Peace must be the point

In truth, proposed peace parks often fail as ecological solutions when the peace aspect is treated as an afterthought, Hsiao of Kent State told Mongabay. “You end up with these places that are kind of compromised on all the objectives.”

In Southern Africa, for example, or across South America, many countries have far better relationships with their neighbors than with many of their own citizens.

“You have high level [nation-state] buy-in and then it’s just got so many issues because things at the local level are not resolved,” Hsiao said. The result can be “paper parks,” which are colored solid green on maps but are divided by acrimony on the ground.

What works better than a top-down approach, she wrote in 2019, is a bottom-up approach: one that begins with getting local communities to agree on cross-border conservation goals. “Transboundary conservation cannot be imposed from above in violent landscapes, or it may not survive tensions,” Hsiao wrote.

Local communities also have far more skin in the game than saber-rattling national administrations: For example, tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians fled the Nagorno-Karabakh region as the 2020 war spread devastation among their homes.

The Artsakh Mountains

The Artsakh Mountains: This disputed, forested range lies between Armenia and Azerbaijan; it is controlled by the former but claimed by the latter. It was the setting for a destructive 2020 war that foreshadowed the current war in Ukraine. Image by sedrakGr via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).

In Latin America’s Andes Mountains, another possible model of accord can be found in another high-altitude, hydrologically significant park, in a once-violent border region: the Cordilleras del Condor located between Ecuador and Peru.

Leaning on close cross-border relationships between the Indigenous Shuar, Awajun and Wampis peoples, a benefit of the region’s arbitrary boundaries, the NGO Conservation International brokered a lasting border peace that has grown over the subsequent two decades into a healthy framework of shared regional management between the two countries.

Borders can offer fertile ground for the seeds of conflict. But handled diplomatically, they can also seed peace in its most constructive, proactive form — through an ethic of cooperation between local communities and national capitals alike, say peace park advocates. Moreover, peace parks could provide a hedge against the catastrophic conflicts that may loom with destabilizing climate change.

“We as humans identify and recognize borders, but obviously wildlife don’t,” Indian ecologist Maheshwari concluded, making his case yet again for a Himalayan reserve.

“Nowhere in the conservation book does it advocate that species should be confined to one area,” he said. “Otherwise, there’s no meaning or sense to the word wildlife — animals are not wild if they’re confined to one piece of land.”

Perhaps, he argues, the time has finally arrived for the world to embrace peace parks.

Featured image: via Pexels

The Kingfisher, the Horse, and being on Country

The Kingfisher, the Horse, and being on Country

Editor’s note: Today we bring you a beautiful essay from Australia.


By Sue Coulstock

For David Gulpilil, Sunsmart and the Earth, with love and thanks.

Written December 6 – 16, 2021

This is still being revised because it’s so difficult to find the words and tie everything together, but I thought I’d put this out in the open now.

A week ago a longtime friend died on the same day as a beloved representative of Australian Indigenous culture, and all week I have tried in vain to bring myself to write about it, in my desire to honour both of them. Each time before today, when I sat down at the keyboard, my mind became as blank as the virtual page.

Each day I got through my morning outdoors chores, had lunch, and then fell into a paralytic kind of sleep, as my mind autonomously decreed, “And now you will let go and rest, and heal.” Two to three hours later my consciousness would surface into a vast sense of calm and of open space. I thought very little emerging from sleep. I mostly just was, immersed in the rustle of the wind in the trees, the patter of occasional rain showers on the roof, the chattering of birds in the garden, the cries of black cockatoos in the forest behind the house. I was aware of my heart beating and the breath going in and out of me, and I felt and understood deeply both that I am part of the ecosystem out here, and that I am loved. No small things.

The place we live and steward, in summer 2020 after three years of drought. Footage courtesy of a guest.

I am loved most obviously and comprehensively by my husband, and too by some of my friends. But I also feel profoundly embraced by what Australian Indigenous people call country, and have felt that way since I arrived here as a blow-in from Europe at age 11. The Australian bush got under my skin, it welcomed me, it was simultaneously like a friend and a cathedral filled with wonder. Remnant pieces of ancient Gondwana, resplendent and humming with life, echoing with vast time and timelessness, to those whose senses and minds and hearts are open. Places that teach you about nature, and about who you really are. “Development” opportunities and cash cows to many of the non-Indigenous who came after, who are destroying country, culture and biodiversity at alarming speeds.

Clearing of koala habitat, Queensland, Australia. From http://greens.org.au

In my young adulthood, wishing to protect country from the harm being inflicted on it, I worked as an environmental scientist and soon found out for myself that the people in charge who make the policy decisions about the Australian environment largely ignore the advice of the professionals that are employed to offer it. I remembered then that as a 12-year-old beginning middle school back in 1983, we had been shown an episode of Behind the News in which environmental scientists were warning that the Murray River would turn into an ecological disaster unless we changed the way we did things. In 1995, the Murray was worse instead of better; and in 2021, it is a dying place, like the Great Barrier Reef, like so many places in Australia once glorious with life.

Dead trees and degraded land, Murray River. Photo from Replace Cotton Farms with Hemp in the Murray-Darling

So I became an educator, teaching people about life and its intricacies, science, literature, language and respect for nature and community. In midlife we got the opportunity to tree change, and in doing so, to steward 62 hectares of country, 50 hectares of which had escaped the white man’s bulldozer and, thanks to the prior landholder’s use of Indigenous-style fire management, also on his adjacent blocks, is a rare example of fabulously biodiverse Australian remnant vegetation on agricultural land.

Flying Duck Orchid – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Flying Duck Orchid, Red Moon Sanctuary. For a photopage of many more amazing species found in the conservation reserve we steward, click here.

My husband grew up in the Perth Hills doing fire management with the rather enlightened volunteer bushfire brigade there, and between us we had the skills and passion to look after the place and defend it from harm, such as being bulldozed by a tree corporation for their blue gum monocultures, or being made into a picnic area for sheep and goats, which would have sounded its death knell; or indeed, being left without active fire management as much of the remnant bushland in the district is, inviting – especially in this era of anthropogenic climate change – future Black Saturdays, and doom for wildlife and people alike.

Controlled Autumn Burning – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond Western Australia
Brett overseeing an autumn patchwork burn modelled on Indigenous fire management, at Red Moon Sanctuary. Detailed explanations and photos of fire management at Red Moon Sanctuary here – if you want to walk a mile in our shoes on a burning day, I’ve written an immersion narrative of that for you.

But even in the absence of catastrophic bushfires, lack of traditional fire management of the sclerophyll results in ecological impoverishment, in plant species being choked out by a few opportunists and by dead, dry material that, in this dry-summer ecosystem, isn’t adequately decomposed by the fungi and other microbes which break down dead materials and recycle nutrients in most ecosystems. The Australian sclerophyll has come to depend on fire to do this – not catastrophic bushfires, but the kind of small, controlled, small-area, comparatively cool patchwork burns conducted at the right time of year to avoid animal nesting and to quickly recycle the nutrient-rich ash into growing things at the start of the rainy season, in autumn.

Burnt and Unburnt Bushland 2018 – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Adjacent burnt and unburnt areas after small-scale mosaic pattern hazard reduction burning at Red Moon Sanctuary, undertaken in autumn, just before the rainy season. Most animals escape from this kind of managed fire, and quickly recolonise the burnt areas as they green up with new lush growth regenerating over the winter.

Indigenous Australians had managed the land in this way for many thousands of years before the European invasion, and the absence of traditional fire management from these ecosystems is one of the major drivers of biodiversity loss in Australia, behind wholesale destruction of Australian flora and fauna in land clearing for housing and agriculture, which has wiped out in excess of 80% of Australian ecosystems in many agricultural and suburban areas.

Satellite image of South-Western Australia. Remnant forest and woodland area show up as dark green. Actively growing pasture and cropland show up as light green areas around the coast. Pale areas are dry agricultural land after the finish of the inland growing season. Reddish areas to the right of this are uncleared inland areas. You can see for yourself that European settlement wiped out most of the native ecosystems in the arable parts of South-Western Australia – in less than 250 years. Image from https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov

As a professional person in the environmental sciences, I was unable to effect the conservation of a single hectare of Australian ecosystem; as private citizens, my husband and I are actively conserving 50 hectares, as a service to nature and the community, and with no government help or tax concessions. Landcare was gutted long since, and most of the financial breaks for environmental work are designed to go to the big boys these days, even though they’re mostly just greenwashing, rather than being real environmental stewards.

My husband and I were so conscious, from the beginning, of the paradox that we were using white regulations about land title to follow in the footsteps of the Indigenous Australians who had stewarded the area for over 30,000 years before either of us ever breathed, or any European had set foot in this country.

Given the alternatives, we felt it was the right thing to do. Soon after we bought the place, we had a visit from one of the old residents born in the local farming community who had been involved in the fire management of our block and the surrounding areas since he was a young adult, who took Indigenous fire management methods seriously. “You have a patch of rare brown boronias – they need a fire this year so the tea-trees don’t choke them,” he said to us. We were newcomers, and so happy to talk to a person who knew the local bush intimately. He showed us the patch in question. We burnt it that autumn, and two years later we could smell the abundant flowers at our house on easterly winds.

Blue-Tongue – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Fauna at Red Moon Sanctuary: Many species of birds, including emus and endangered cockatoos; marsupials such as kangaroos, possums, antechinuses and bandicoots; lots of frogs in our wetland areas, and reptiles including tiger snakes, dugites and this amazing creature – a Blue-Tongue Lizard.

We walk the tracks of our 50 hectare conservation area several times a week, which over ten years has added up to thousands of walks and a close familiarity with the landscape and its flora and fauna. After a couple of years of living here, we found it surprisingly intuitive to steward the place – if you look and listen, the land tells you what it needs. You understand which areas need a fire and which ones need to be left alone right now. You see the footprints of the foraging animals, you see where the tea-trees and dead wood are choking the place, you see the flush of healthy seedlings of species that were being crowded out and the sea of wildflowers two years after you burn a patch, and the native animals feeding abundantly in the lush regenerating areas, and the bandicoot tunnels in the adjacent dense old-growth areas where small marsupials find shelter – their “bedrooms” across the track from the “restaurant”. It is a joy and a privilege to be stewarding a piece of Gondwana, and to think of the people who did it before you for tens of thousands of years.

Bottlebrush – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Bottlebrush flower unfolding, Red Moon Sanctuary – one of several hundred species of flora in our conservation reserve. The South Coast is a biodiversity hotspot.

I went to middle school with exactly one Indigenous person, who sat next to me in what was called Social Studies class when it was read from the textbook that “Captain Cook discovered Australia” and we looked sideways at each other with wry smiles – the person whose ancestors had apparently lived in Australia for tens of thousands of years without discovering it, and the new arrival who was constantly told to “go back where you came from” by white people who didn’t get it when I said to them, “That’s funny, you don’t look very black to me!”

My deskmate, of course, understood my point, while the go-back-where-you-came-from brigade didn’t seem to understand their own hypocrisy – or how disgusting their behaviour was. They enjoyed disparaging others. On a daily basis, we heard “jokes” about boongsand poofters and spastics and dole bludgers, and heard various migrant groups referred to as wogs and teatowels and Nazis (…that last one, such an illustrative example of psychological projection). These “jokes” were especially favoured by immature, chestbeating males who would say, “Why don’t you laugh, don’t you have a sense of humour?”

The groups these bullies enjoyed kicking the most were Indigenous people, new migrants (or anyone with a different accent or appearance or tradition), refugees, people with disabilities, the unemployed and anyone LGBTIQ. And the bullies ruled the roost in that little dairy, beef and ALCOA town in the mid-80s, just as they still do in our parliament and public institutions in 2021, where significant proportions of employees are harassed, bullied and discriminated against in the workplace.

Australian society is still a difficult, unfair and hurtful thing, masquerading under this national myth of mateship and the fair go, but as I said at the start of this piece, one place I always felt unequivocally welcome from the beginning in this country was the Australian bush which the settlers have been so busy destroying and neglecting. I’ve since heard Indigenous people saying that country loves you if you love country. I did and it did. The Australian bush was my safe, welcoming and nurturing place from the beginning, where I could get away from the pain of a dysfunctional family of origin and from the pain of a dysfunctional society, and be embraced in its wonder and beauty, in a very physical way. I’ve never felt out of place out in the bush, or afraid. It’s chiefly dysfunctional people who make you feel out of place and afraid.

Wildflower Season - Redmond Western Australia
Flowering bush grass, Red Moon Sanctuary. A friend described it wonderfully as “like being in an above-ground coral reef.” ♥

It bamboozles me that some people just see unattractive scrub when they traverse bushland, something best turned into a European-style park, car park, suburban subdivision or shopping centre. It bamboozles me that people are seriously afraid of snakes and spiders and “creepy-crawlies” when they won’t harm you if you leave them alone and when people are a thousand times more likely to come to harm as a result of driving on a road, eating modern non-food, or falling over. Ecosystems support life and diversity, are our biological cradle, are the place that will recycle us for the benefit of other beings after death if we don’t go out of our way (as our culture does) to lock our chemically embalmed corpses away six feet underground in solid boxes in what I think of as the final act of greed from a species that sits at the top of the food chain eating, eating, eating everything and then unwilling to give itself back at the end.

My husband and I love the bush, spent much time in it from childhood, recreationally walk bushland trails in National Parks and other conservation areas, and attempt to conserve the dwindling wild ecosystems both directly, by our own stewardship of a conservation area, and indirectly by reducing our environmental footprint – i.e. by reducing the amount of energy and resources we consume, by not reproducing above replacement rate, by reducing waste and growing increasing amounts of our own food, by being actively involved in revegetation efforts, by accepting and sharing information and experience, by collaborating instead of competing. To be a conservationist runs in the opposite direction to being a consumer, and that’s not an easy thing when you’ve grown up in a consumer society.

The most important things in life have nothing to do with being a consumer or part of an economy. Photo of Brett and me at Cosy Corner, courtesy of Eileen Liu.

These days I mostly walk bush trails with my own two feet – and we document some of this with photos and stories on South Coast Wilderness Walks. But it wasn’t always that way. A lot of my early exploration of the Australian bush was done solo on horseback, because I lived on a farm as a teenager. Horses were available, and were willing hiking partners long before I found other humans who were interested in spending time in the bush. It’s also much safer to be in the bush on a horse than by yourself, especially as a teenage girl – not because of nature per se, but because of the existence of dysfunctional people.

On a good horse you can stay away and get away very effectively from people who mean to harm you, even if those people are in 4WDs or on trail bikes. Horses will always be superior to people and their machines out in the wild, and if you have enough skill and partnership with the horse and you know where to go, the horse, who has an unerring instinct for danger and for effective flight, will actively keep you safe. No mechanised mode of transport will catch you on narrow, winding, obstacle-strewn trails. I was chased on a couple of occasions, presumably by idiots who enjoy making trouble for others rather than axe murderers (but it’s not that big a leap), and they never even got close before they lost us altogether.

This Arabian mare, whom I bought half-price in a drought when she was a skinny yearling and I was 11, and proceeded to ground and saddle train on my own, carried me through the bush for over a thousand miles when I was a teenager, and was still going on adventures with me 20 years later. In this picture, she is 27 and I am 37.

There were other benefits to being on horseback when in the bush. For example, the wildlife always hung around more when I was on a horse, whereas when I was on foot it took off. I think it thought I was less scary on the back of a huge herbivore. So horses had a role in shaping my love of the bush, especially in being able to get close to wildlife. And this brings me to the death of a long-time friend I was telling you about at the start of this piece.

A week ago, I lost a horse I’d had for a long, long time to a horrible disease. We had to put him down because he was becoming so debilitated despite everything we did to try to help him. This horse loved the bush and spent 12 years with me riding on access tracks through bushland where we live. I’d known him since his birth nearly 25 years before and had a chance to adopt him in 2009.

Losing a horse like that is like losing a dog you’ve loved – a big dog, who’s carried you around and taken you on adventures. My horse seemed to think I had some kind of disability because I was so slow compared to him, and seemed to think of himself as my special-needs wheelchair. If I was off him between gates, as soon as we got through the last one back into bushland, he’d stop and look at me and encourage me to climb back on so we could get back to moving along at a more respectable speed and not just walk. Here he is from those days:

A link to a documented ride in the bush from three summers ago, complete with many photographs and ecological commentary, that will give you a better idea of what it’s like to ride a horse in nature: Aussie Trail Outing With Camera

And you might think 25 is old for a horse, but the others who have died here were 28, 32 and 34. The youngest of those had the same illness and the middle one had cancer. She had still been getting prizes in ridden show classes we’d entered her in on a whim at the age of 27 just because she was looking in such great shape. Here she is at age 28.

Valē Sweet Girl

The oldest was totally out of molars in his lower jaw and the supplementary feeding that had extended his life for five extra years since he began losing teeth could no longer keep him in good condition, so we put him down before he experienced unacceptable loss of quality of life. Romeo spent much of these last five years hanging out with us around the house, with a gold access pass to the garden, in which he mowed the lawns.

Nice Camping Spot – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia

The death of a friend is always tough, whether they have two legs or four. It’s even tougher when you have to arrange their death, make that decision on behalf of them, which is something you generally don’t have to do with other humans, but something you often have to do with companion animals. So I had to arrange the ways and means and setting, and gave it careful thought.

Sunsmart, who was named for his habit of finding shade to rest in from the time he was born, died in the bush he loved, and he was happy and relaxed that morning, on an outing with us and eating oats we’d brought along, and he didn’t know a thing about it because the person who put him down is great with animals and a fantastic marksman. His body is now going back to the ecosystem – we do natural open burials here – and the local songbirds will soon be powered by the insects that are recycling his body. I will like that he will return to me in birdsong, sad as I am that his time here is over.

Showing Sunsmart Albany Harbour, 2009 – the first year after adopting him post-race training

The morning after my four-legged friend was put down, I heard that David Gulpilil had died the same day as him. That was again so very sad – and he too dying too young because of a horrible illness. And yet for some reason it was comforting to me that the horse I loved and David Gulpilil had gone on the same day. They were both from the bush and all sorts of fabulous. My horse had died on country, and if Gulpilil now needed a horse for whatever reason (I know, it’s irrational, but anyway), this one was certainly going to look after him. (Anna, a Maori woman who was staying with us last week, said to me, “Not irrational, it’s nice, and anyway, watch your cattle for disturbance because he’ll still be running around in spirit!”)

It was comforting to think of them riding into the sunset together. Brett says, “We make narratives with which to comfort ourselves, and that can be a good thing.” And indeed, starting from the time when euthanasia became a serious prospect several weeks earlier – when we were very consciously assessing the horse’s quality of life day by day – my husband started lending me another fantastic narrative to help with times like this and with life in general, in the shape of his Sandman collection.

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is very cerebral and funny and sad and thought-provoking. It’s a constructed mythology about the seven Endless: Dream (main character), Death, Destiny, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium – seven siblings who are anthropomorphic personifications who have to do their jobs in the universe. Death is the best of them I think – it’s a she, a very cool person, who’s nothing like the Grim Reaper, she’s more like a social worker and ultra compassionate and kind; and Dream is an interesting character. Delirium (who used to be Delight before she grew up) is kind of endearing. Destruction rebels against his role by withdrawing to the country to paint and write poetry, both of which are criticised by his talking dog. Brett’s one-sentence-summary: It’s the Prince of Stories in a story about stories. It also has a lot of beautiful visual art.

Often it is the art which confronts the difficult things about life while also celebrating the beautiful that is helpful when we’re faced with painful realities – whether visual art or film or written words or music. Sandman is one example, and Gulpilil’s work another. Gulpilil, in his art – he was a dancer, a painter, an actor, a storyteller – confronted terrible things, and celebrated beautiful things, and I thank him for it.

I heard about Gulpilil’s death on the radio, early in the morning the day after he and our Sunsmart died. My husband dropped the dog and me at our northeast gate on his way to work so I could avoid the ryegrass-laden pasture and associated allergic reactions, and take a walk around the outside boundaries of our conservation area – the forested ridge in the west, the valley floor transect in the south, and the forested ridge in the east, on the way back to the house. It was the first time I had been in the bush since the horse’s death the morning before. I was sad.

Yet as I walked along in the still-gentle light in the cool of the early morning, breathing in the scents of eucalyptus and earth and wildflowers, listening to the rustling of the leaves and branches in the breeze and the morning song of over a dozen species of bird – honeyeaters, whistlers, wrens, robins, ravens, magpies, kookaburras, various parrots and cockatoos, their shapes flitting in and out of light and shadow in the canopy – I felt a lightening of my body and heart. I walked, I breathed, and I felt the place embrace me, and teach me about life and death, and sustain me, and I felt my own part in the sustaining of the place and the millions of unsung lives which depend on this place, lives that are real and valuable and sacred, as my own life is real and valuable and sacred. I felt the cycle of life, how we come from earth and return to it and how our building blocks are stardust and go around and around through different forms of life, and have done so since before the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.

Australian Ravens - Spring Approaching in Bushland, Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Australian Ravens, Red Moon Sanctuary, 2021

And because it felt right, out there in the bush, I began to talk to Gulpilil in my heart. Yolngu Kingfisher, I said – for Gulpilil means Kingfisher – we are sorry to lose you, and thankful for the life you had. I talk to you from country. Not Yolngu country, from Noongar country – but from country nevertheless. Yesterday a horse I loved died on country, the day you died. You would have liked him – he was kind to me and loved the bush and moved like poetry, like lightning. If you see him, and you want to look after him, he will look after you, I can guarantee you that. And say hello to my grandmother for me, if you see her. Other side of the world, long time ago, but I loved her, and she loved me. I will remember all of you with love.

That evening I watched Storm Boy for the first time.

It’s a beautiful film. I cried buckets, including when Gulpili’s character Fingerbones says at the end, after he has shown Storm Boy the grave of his beloved pelican, and a just-hatched nestling:

“Maybe Mr Percival starting over again. Bird like him never die.”


Aboriginal Art Work – Ayers Rock (Uluru)” by rileyroxx is licensed under CC BY 2.0.