Tag Archives: Community

How to Create Your Wildlife Community

A Guest Blog from Aspasίa S. Bissas

Experiencing community is one of the more rewarding aspects of life, especially when you find it in unexpected places. In my last guest post on Druid Life I wrote about my wildlife community; in this post I thought I’d share some tips on how you can forge a relationship with your local wildlife and create your own, perhaps unexpected, community.

Learn About Wildlife: If you want to get along with wildlife, you need to know how. What do you do if you come across a nest of baby bunnies? Is it okay to feed birds bread? How should you react if you come face to face with a coyote? A great source of information are wildlife rescue organizations. Find the one(s) in your general area and check out their websites or follow them on social media. Here in Toronto we have a fantastic group, the Toronto Wildlife Centre. Wildlife conservation groups are another good option, but be careful—some of them are little more than advocates for hunters.

Provide Habitat: Once you learn what kind of wildlife live in your area and what sorts of needs they have, you can help them by providing habitat. If you have a yard, you’ve got habitat, and it can be as simple as not removing dead plants and leaves from your garden in autumn, or as elaborate as planting specifically for wildlife and adding a pond. You can even make your garden an official Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Provide Food: First, find out which animals can be fed and are likely to need the help (as well as which ones should never be fed). Once you’re informed and are committed to providing food—whether a pot of flowers for bees, or feeding stations for different species—it’s important to always be consistent with the frequency and amount of food offered. It can be disastrous for wildlife if the food supply they’ve come to depend on suddenly stops. Providing water year-round is also a big help.

Protect Them: One of the best ways to keep wildlife safe is to keep your cats indoors (or, if you must let them out, use an enclosed space like a catio). Not only is it better for wildlife, but your cats will also live longer, happier, healthier lives. Outdoor cats decimate wildlife, in some cases wiping out entire species of birds. It’s not their fault—all cats have a strong instinct to hunt, which is why it’s important to give indoor cats toys and playtime. Being outside puts cats at risk from disease, cars, other animals, and unkind humans. They can also get lost, and contrary to a common myth, pet cats don’t do well when they have to fend for themselves. To quote The Little Prince: “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

Other ways you can protect wildlife include never using glue traps (they’re inhumane and tend to catch everything, not just rodents), checking your lawn for small creatures before cutting the grass, and making sure water features are shallow enough for small birds and animals to get out easily if they’ve fallen in (you can put large stones in deeper water to give them something to climb onto).

Be Respectful: Show wildlife respect by keeping your distance, not allowing pets or children to chase or harass them, and not making a lot of noise or big movements. Prey animals like rabbits appreciate not being stared at. Sometimes when I’m out walking I’ll cross paths with wildlife. If they’re in the middle of crossing the road I’ll back off to let them finish so they’re not stuck waiting in the street, potentially putting themselves at risk. Sometimes they retreat until I’ve passed. I do always say hello, though; it’s only polite.

Help Wildlife: If you’re on social media, spread the word—share posts by wildlife rescue organizations, tell your followers what they can do, and talk about conservation issues. If you’ve got time or money, consider volunteering or donating. Some wildlife groups ask people to help with research, usually by recording what animals they spot in their local area—consider taking part. Keep an eye out for orphaned or injured animals, and if you find any get them to your local rescue (don’t try to take care of them yourself—animals need specialized care that the untrained simply can’t provide).

Get to Know Them: Chances are if you have habitat, food, and water, you’ll be seeing a lot of wildlife, and often the same animals will keep returning. If you pay attention, you should be able to start telling who’s who. If you can wear the same type or colour of clothing whenever you fill the feeder or work in your garden it’ll help them get to know you too. Once they feel they can trust you they’ll still be wary, but you may be rewarded with memorable encounters.

As long as we live in proximity to wildlife, we’re already part of a community. But if we want to be good members of that community we need to make an effort. Given the negative impact humans have made, and continue to make, on the world around us, taking the time to help your community can make all the difference.

Aspasía S. Bissas is a seeker of everyday magic, and is the author of the dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding. She can be reached via her website, or her Facebook page.

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Gifts of friendship

I’m on a mission at the moment to spend more time talking about positive aspects of relationship and community to balance up the darker stuff I also explore. I’ve been thinking a lot lately of what it is that makes me feel good about a friendship. What do I want from other people?

First and foremost, I want people I can share stuff with. That might be online sharing things we’re enthusiastic about. It might be reading each other’s work, or working together, or spending time in the same space doing things. For me, doing stuff together is what underpins a friendship. The more stuff we do, and the more fun we have doing it, the better.

I’ll also be there to do the tough things as well. There are balances to strike between how much we ask of people and how much we give, but if a person can trust me with their tough times and heartaches I will do my best to honour that. I don’t want to just be the person who comes in to do the mopping up, but so long as I also have other roles, I often feel touched and honoured when people choose to share their troubles with me.

One of the things I really want from other people, is inspiration. I don’t need anyone to go out of their way on that score, just be interesting. I seek out people who are creative, imaginative, deeply thinking, open to ideas, living in interesting ways. I am very comfortable in the company of interesting people whose lives are not like mine. I like having friends of all ages. I want to get a sense of how other people see things and how they think. I value people who share their stories and insights with me, and people who know how to tell a good tale.

I appreciate having people in my life who are, in turn, interested in what I do. People who will show up if I’m doing something in public. People who read my blog, and books and give me feedback, or ask for things. I love it when people ask me to write on specific topics here, it’s always a good challenge. If I don’t go into enough detail on something and you want more, tell me! That’s always good news, from my perspective, even if at first I don’t know how to answer.

There are a lot of things I only do if someone else wants or needs them from me – writing and ritual both fall into that category, as does music. If what I do has a value to a person and they want more of it from me, then that really inspires me to do my best. I feel more enthused about my work when there’s scope to interact with someone through it. The company of people who are enthused about what I do is a massive blessing.

I do value affection, but I’m not very good at it. I’ve always felt more comfortable in more cerebral relationships, but I’m trying to learn how to show up with a body in spaces that have people in them. I greatly appreciate the people who give me time and space in this regard, the folk whose gentle affection has made it easier for me to do that sort of thing too.


My Wildlife Community

A guest blog from Aspasía S. Bissas

 

I’ve been pondering the idea of community lately. It’s nearly impossible for anyone not to be part of at least one community of humans. Most would also agree that pets are family and an integral part of one’s closest community (those who don’t agree hopefully don’t have pets). But it didn’t occur to me until recently that the local wildlife was my community too.

I live in Toronto: Canada’s first bee city, home of Canada’s first National Urban Park, host to an impressive tree canopy (with plans to expand it even more), and habitat of hundreds of species of wildlife.

Although I’ve yet to see many of the animals who share this city with me, including owls, deer, or the river otter my partner once saw slinking down our street, looking somewhat confused, I have had many memorable encounters with our wildlife. I’ve seen foxes trotting along the streets; been dive-bombed in my yard by a red-tailed hawk, before watching a flock of grackles chase it away; and was treated to the adorable sight of a nest of baby chipmunks.

At our last place we had a family of rabbits living in our yard. We would give them the courtesy of moving slowly and not looking directly at them (as prey animals permanently on edge, we didn’t want to stress them further by acting like predators). They never really relaxed around us, but they also never helped themselves to my garden, not even the tender rose canes in winter.

Also at our last place, we kept a bird feeder. The hedges surrounding the yard would erupt into excited chirping whenever we went out to refill the food. There was something very fairytale about being greeted by a chorus of birdsong. We don’t have a feeder where we are now but we do leave seeds outside on the deck railings. Here we’re on the third or fourth generation of cardinals that have learned to chirp at us while we’re inside to get us to come out and feed them. If we can’t get to them right away one of the males will fly back and forth in front of the windows until we get the hint.

Groundhogs frequent our yard via a tunnel under the shed. Usually we see just the one, but sometimes there are two at a time. They’re mostly content to eat weeds in the yard, although last year they weren’t shy about coming onto the deck and helping themselves to the peppers and tomatoes I was trying to grow. This year I didn’t grow much, so they’ve only ventured onto the deck a few times to sun themselves.

Our deck seems to attract everyone at some point. Back in April we had an opossum visiting at the same time as a skunk. I don’t know if they were companions or whether it was purely coincidental that they were both here at the same time, but that was the first and last time we had either one on the deck (we occasionally spot—or smell—skunks and opossums in the yard).

Our most interesting and regular visitors are Toronto’s ubiquitous raccoons (the unofficial mascots of the city). This year we had a mother and her four babies move in. We know we shouldn’t but the mom looked so scrawny when she first arrived that we couldn’t not feed her. We spent the summer watching her fill out and her babies grow up. We don’t feed them anymore, although it turns out they love bird seed and will show up at all times of the day to get it (the birds and squirrels have learned to move fast if they want to eat). Sometimes a “trash panda” will come up to the window for a peek inside, probably wondering why the “raccoons” (our cats) staring back at them get to live in the house.

(As I was writing this I was interrupted by knocking at the back door. When I went to look I saw several cardinals and sparrows on the deck while a woodpecker “knocked” one last time before hopping away. I dutifully refreshed the seed supply.)

Do these experiences count as community? We share space and resources with the wildlife, even when we don’t encounter them often, or at all. They affect the environment we all share, sometimes, as when opossums decimate the tick population, to everyone’s benefit. Occasionally, like members of any community, they can be loud or rude (anyone who’s had their garbage strewn across the sidewalk by raccoons can attest to this). They also make me happy just knowing they’re around. Nearly every encounter feels magical. They might not understand me when I say hello, but I hope they get the sense that this human is an ally; this human is part of my world. Just as they are part of mine.

 

Sources/Further Information:

Toronto is the first bee city in Canada! http://toronto.beecitycanada.org/

Canada’s First National Urban Park https://trca.ca/parks/rouge-park/

Every Tree Counts: Toronto’s Tree Planting Strategy http://www.projectyu.ca/everytreecountstorontostreeplantingstrategy/

 

Aspasía S. Bissas is a seeker of everyday magic, and is the author of the dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding. She can be reached via her website https://aspasiasbissas.com, or her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AspasiaSBissas.


Signposts, not gatekeepers

I wrote recently about gatekeeping and why I don’t much like it. There are of course better ways to do things. For the person who wants to improve standards in any context, it is better to be a signpost than a gatekeeper.

Rather than trying to keep the ‘wrong sort’ out, a signpost makes it their job to flag up what’s good. Signposts put themselves out there, because otherwise what use are we? We make it our business to know useful things and to share that information with those who come along. We don’t turn that process into a demand to have things done our way. All of my favourite bloggers operate this way and I am happy to say I can think of enough active signpost people that it doesn’t make sense to try and name everyone.

Putting up blog posts can be a way of playing signpost, but it works in person, too. Here’s an example I’ve seen repeatedly in folk circles: Someone comes along, new to folk. They may know a few chords on a guitar and a few songs, but the songs aren’t folk songs – most likely Streets of London and a couple of things by The Beatles. At this point a gatekeeper would tell them off for not doing proper folk, make them feel small, inadequate and unwanted. By this means, gatekeepers prevent communities from growing.

A signpost will make encouraging noises because they want this person to come back. They may ask the newbie if they know a song – any song the signpost thinks would suit them – or if they’ve heard a performer the signpost thinks is in a similar style. With encouragement and suggestions, the signpost helps the newbie find their way into folk and expand their repertoire. If they don’t engage, they may move on because there’s not a great deal of point coming to a folk club regularly if you have no interest in folk music, and that’s fine – that’s what open mics are for.

Signposts support their communities by helping new people come in and find their way about. They support and encourage excellence by gently pointing people towards things that would help. They encourage and build up, where gatekeepers discourage and knock down. A signpost wants more good stuff, where a gatekeeper wants the power to exclude and the importance of being able to say who crosses the threshold.

You don’t have to know much to start being a signpost. All you need to know is where to point people. In its own way, being a signpost is also a position of power because you’ll decide what to recommend and what to not mention, or discourage. Your opinions and preferences will inform where you suggest people go. A signpost can also be unfair and unreasonable, can exclude for reasons of power, or can mostly signpost towards themselves and the things they sell. The act of signposting is not itself proof of quality. But on the whole I’d still prefer a bad signpost to any sort of gatekeeper.


Self policing and policing others

In any community, there are always people who want to police things. People who want to be gatekeepers and set standards and say who is allowed in and who is not good enough. It is of course a position of power to be able to force others out, or define the boundaries. To be the person whose version of ‘the right way’ becomes definitive is a powerful place to be. Are you doing folk music right? Is your take on Steampunk really Steampunk enough? Are you a proper Druid? Are you a real geek? Do you know enough to be entitled to call yourself a fan of X, Y or Z?

It’s bloody miserable stuff. Mostly what it creates is discomfort, drama, power struggles, resentment and an undermining of creativity and new thinking. I can’t think of a single example of someone trying to play gatekeeper in a community in this way where things have been better and happier as a direct consequence.

If you think there’s a right and proper way to do things, it is better to lead by example. Live your truth. Demonstrate why your way is good, or best, or the only possible way. People may or may not agree with you. We have the right to make our own rules for ourselves, that’s fine. We have the right to adopt the ways of doing things that we see and are inspired by. There’s nothing wrong with following, and everything wrong with being told that you have to follow.

If you really are right about things then it will be self evident and people will come onboard. If your ideas are brilliant and persuasive, exposure will be enough to persuade people. Anyone who has to bully and harass people into agreeing with them is not really demonstrating a belief in the intrinsic excellence of what they’re advocating.


Community and conflict

Most of us in English speaking countries do not live in tight knit communities where people depend on each other to survive. As a consequence, unlike most of our ancestors we can afford not to be too invested in the idea of community. When things go wrong, we can just move on to another space. What this overlooks of course is the deep feeling of unrootedness and un-belonging that comes from changing your social context to deal with conflict. We might not need our communities to survive the winter, but we do need them for emotional wellbeing.

It’s easy to see conflict in personal terms, and understand it purely as being about those directly involved. Two people appear to fall out, and so we take the moral high ground by not getting involved, not taking sides, not asking what happened. If one of the people involved pulls away and leaves, we shrug, and say it’s a shame, and carry on with life. We all bear the losses quietly, because this is normal. We all bear the impact of the original problem, directly or indirectly.

One of the things this does is to tacitly support bullying and abuse. If one person mistreats another and we all nobly sit on the fence and refuse to pass judgement, we enable misbehaviour. It is the victim who will be pushed out. The person who was acting out will do it again, and probably get away with it again. This is not in anyone’s interests and does not make for a good community.

If we recognise that all relationships are held in a wider community context, we can look at them differently. It does not seem so acceptable for a community as a whole to react to a conflict by shrugging its shoulders. It becomes necessary for the community to find out what’s going on, make judgements and take action. These may be small measures to smooth over troubles and build bridges. There may be larger moves called for to challenge unacceptable behaviour. It may be necessary to identify what is intolerable.

If someone bullies, exploits, abuses, controls or otherwise mistreats a person, it is not because of something inherent in the victim. It is because the abusive person is an abusive person. They can and will do that again. If a person lacks the experience, empathy or insight to navigate relationships well, they will keep having the same problems – either because they don’t hold the boundaries they need, or because they don’t deal well with others. Either way, it helps when the people around them respond to this and take on some responsibility for fixing it.

I’ve been in communities that shrug shoulders over conflict. I’ve watched people leave those spaces in all kinds of states of distress and discomfort. I’ve been the person who leaves. I’ve also been in spaces with people who take responsibility for the wellbeing of the community as a whole, and who wade in when things get difficult. I’ve seen problems solved, and people challenged in good ways, to do better. I’ve seen vulnerable people supported, and socially awkward people helped. I’ve seen confidence built, and boundaries fostered. I’ve seen wellbeing improved, and the communities in question grow stronger for making the choice to act in these ways.


Community and woodland

A healthy community and a healthy woodland have a great deal in common. Neither does well for existing in total isolation; threads of connection with other communities or woods are really important. A good wood has some diversity in it – different kinds of trees, a variety of underwood and undergrowth. It has birds and creatures. Equally, a good human community has diversity inherent in it too, but all too often what we do is connect up with people who are much like us – same age and gender, same class and education background, same sort of earnings level. We could learn a lot from trees.

One of the problems with tree planting is that you often end up with a wood where all the trees are the same age, and will all start to die off at the same time. It is necessary to thin out planted woods and allow young trees to come up after the original planting. A wood that will endure, has young trees growing in it.

Communities are the same. From school age onwards we’re encouraged to associate with people the same age as us. It means we grow up without access to the knowledge and experience of older folk and once we get older we may have little sympathy for the struggles of younger folk. If we live in an age-segregated culture, we may even have a sense that there’s inter-generational conflict. Perhaps at the moment there is, there’s so much abuse heaped on millennials.

Age-based human communities don’t endure. The spaces I like most are all-age spaces. You can show up with a kid in a pushchair, you can show up as a teenager and young adult, you can be there when you’re middle aged, and when you’re old. I like the atmosphere of spaces that have a broad mix of people in them. It’s a significant part of the attraction of steampunk, for me.

I go to too many events where those present are retired and very middle class. Often my son is the only teenager in the room, having grown up being the only child in the room at many events. Some of it, no doubt, is about disposable income and spare time, but we should be making spaces more accessible for people who work, have children and/or have limited funds. If a space looks old and middle class, it can be immediately unattractive to people who don’t fit. It can be hard being the one visible oddity in a room.

I don’t know how trees feel about other trees. People seem to find comfort and solace by being around similar, likeminded people. As we huddle into spaces populated by people who seem a lot like us, what we fail to notice, is that a great many other people who don’t superficially match, are also a lot like us.


Contemplating Resilience

It looks increasingly like ‘resilience’ is going to be a key word for me in all sorts of ways. I think it’s an essential part of making change, and I think it’s something best handled at a community level, not a personal level.

How do I approach things that are fragile and help them become more robust and survivable? It’s something to consider with regards to the people around me. It’s a question for social groupings, for businesses I am involved with, for volunteer outfits I’m working with, and for the place I live. It’s a wider question for us as a species and I expect that exploring resilience on the small scale will lead me to a lot of thoughts about the larger scale, too.

It’s not the first time in my life I’ve moved towards a concept that will define how I go forward. It may be the most conscious I’ve been in doing that. Without resilience, everything else becomes harder and less likely. If I can help develop coping mechanisms, support systems, more dependable and enduring structures, I can keep good things keep going. I can help good people keep going.

How do we fairly share resources? How do we support each other, practically and emotionally? What are we willing and able to pay for? What can we do if financial support isn’t an option? How can we think and act more collectively for the common good rather than feeling isolated and powerless? These are questions that open the way to more resilient ways of being. Asking what we can do for each other that makes things better is the heart of how we achieve greater resilience.

What can I do? In some of the specific situations I’m looking at, there are practical things that need to change to achieve greater resilience. Too much knowledge and responsibility shouldered by too few people. In some of the situations, the key is cash flow, and getting money moving in better ways will increase the amount of resources available and put a number of people I care about on a better footing. I need to work differently so that others will be better paid, and I’m fine with that. Selfishness is very much at odds with resilience, it isolates us and encourages us to compete rather than co-operating, which in turn makes us all more vulnerable.

What can I do to help the people around me be more emotionally resilient? This is a tricky one. It brings up questions of how much care and energy is invested in whom, and who I am willing to feel responsible for. Factoring my own resilience into the mix, I just can’t afford to invest too much of my energy in people who take a lot and put very little back in. When I look at how best to deploy myself as a resource, the most immediate answer is that I can’t really afford the people who see me only as a resource to deploy, because that undermines my own resilience. Depression and anxiety make me less effective. Exhaustion increases my risks of depression and anxiety. I need to learn how to attach my own oxygen mask first.


When inclusion excludes

In theory, inclusion should be the default setting, but in practice often when you choose to include one person you can find you are excluding another. Here are some examples.

If you include someone who has acted abusively, you exclude their victim, who may feel they have no choice but to quietly leave.

If you include someone who takes up a lot of time, energy or other resources, you may exclude people who needed a share of that, but who are less overtly demanding.

If you include people who are always massively late, you may frustrate, demoralise and ultimately lose the people who turned up in good time and good faith.

If you include someone who is vocally intolerant and bigoted, you may well exclude people who find that behaviour unbearable.

If you include people who are exploitative and there for what they can get you exclude people who cannot afford to be treated as a resource in that way. This includes issues of emotional labour.

What happens all too often is that people who make the most fuss, who are most demanding and most able to assert themselves get what they want out of situations. It is the people who are willing to be emotionally manipulative who will demand a place for themselves even when they manifestly do not deserve one. It is easy to end up excluding quieter and less demanding people who vote with their feet when faced with things they can’t bear. Those exclusions may be invisible – it seems like they’ve just given up or gone away, not that they have been driven away.

What we include, what we tolerate, and who we allow informs who we don’t get to keep. It can be easy to lose sight of that. A community is the sum of its members, and when we prioritise the ones who are most demanding, the cost may not be immediately apparent.


Freedom, responsibility and community

I ran into existential philosophy in my teens, and with it the idea that you can only have freedom in so far as you are willing to take responsibility. It’s a notion I’ve carried with me into everything I do. What it gets you, is a very different sense of what freedom even means.

All too often, people take freedom to mean selfishness and the scope to do what one will, act on whims, run off alone and generally be antisocial. Now, I’m very much with the wiccans on this one – an it harm none, do what you will. Freedom without being alert to harm is not any kind of good at all. Freedom that doesn’t care about harm easily turns into abuse and exploitation. We can think about how big companies treat the planet and living things. We can consider the freedoms the rich have and who pays for those.

There’s a lot of noise in politics at the moment about the way in which those who have should not be called upon to support the have-nots. Freedom from social responsibility for the rich is not something I understand. When it manifests, it is framed as a good thing for those being relieved of their responsibility, but what does that do? What does it mean to feel no responsibility for anyone else? No duty of care? No ownership of the suffering of others?

When we undertake to be responsible for each other’s wellbeing, we create community. When we are willing to care enough to lift up those who are less well off than us, we increase the amount of good in the world. When we see ourselves as involved with and invested with the lives around us – human and non-human alike, we are rewarded by our own sense of connection. The person who engages and takes responsibility is never alone. The person who can only care about themselves can only seek comfort in wealth and material goods, and these things do not provide comfort.

Rather than talking about freedom from responsibilities, we need to explore the very different kind of freedom you get by taking responsibility for other lives. It is an honour and a blessing to hold that kind of responsibility. It is a place of power and openness, and it lifts the person who gives as much as the person who receives.