Assuming Good Intentions in a Divisive World

One of the guiding principles of my life is to assume that people have good intentions in what they do and say. That means that people are doing the best the can with what they know, and given their life experiences/culture. I’ve found that doing this allows me to easily straighten out misunderstandings, to listen with an open mind, and to learn from others. I find that almost every time I think someone is going something to be mean, unkind, or ignorant, they didn’t mean it the way it came across, or were missing some information that would straighten things out. It’s a good principle.

We’re all doing our best. Image by @BrittNashPix via Twenty20

Is this hard to do? Why, yes, it certainly is. It’s very easy to mess this up in more than one way.

I am the center of the universe. NOT.

First, you can slip into the mindset that everything revolves around you, so anything anyone does or says that upsets you must be on purpose. I had a graduate school friend who did this. Once I had to talk him down from leaving school just because a professor didn’t say hello to him when she passed him in the hallway. To him, it HAD to be because she disapproved of him, his dissertation topic, or something. To me, she could have been thinking about the class she was about to teach, an issue with her children, or many other things…she could have been just daydreaming. The discussion was painful.

Second, you can fall into the trap of making assumptions about motives. That’s the one that gets to me. I have been known to assume that people have some agenda that I don’t fit in, so they ignore me, or say things that appear to me to reject my input. That’s often not the case, as I find out when I snap out of it and have a reasonable discussion (or say something unhelpful, which also happens a lot, just ask my family).

Most religions say they are about peace, honest!

Third, you can put labels on people that over-generalize them and lump them together into some group you don’t have a high opinion of. That’s where we get racist, sexist, classist, and ethnic stereotypes that don’t give people a chance to be individuals with their own motives. I’ve lived around enough different groups of people that this one doesn’t trap me as much as the assumption one. However, it has taken me over 60 years to overcome some of the labels I put on members of certain religious groups. I’m very grateful to have met people who gently point out the fact that all religions have different factions and that I could probably find people very much like myself in all of them, if I’d just look. So, not all members of certain traditions don’t want to take my rights away or hate me because of my beliefs. I must remind myself of this!

What Makes It Harder

As you know (because you do not live under a rock) these are hard times to be reasonable people. All sorts of forces are conspiring to pit us against our neighbors in our towns, states, countries, and the world. We take our assigned label and cling hard to it, assuming that people we assign another label all have horrible intentions, are stupid, want to harm us, and are the reason everything’s so bad. Right? It’s not just here in the US. Check out the UK, for example, and yes, even Canada has its factions (read the news, you’ll see!).

I happen to know, live with, and interact frequently with people who are assigned different labels from me. I have to talk to them, work with them, and read their social media postings. Sometimes, since most of us don’t wear our labels on our lapels, the back of our trucks, or our speedboats, we get surprised to find out someone we like is one of “them.” Ooooh, noooo.

Well, they are still the same person you have something in common with, or you wouldn’t like them. Maybe they were brought up in a different community from you. Maybe they have had pivotal experiences that affect their thinking. And yeah, maybe they just follow along with their crowd, because it’s easier to do than pushing boundaries or sticking out. Hey, people on your side do it, too.

The challenge is to assume that they hold their beliefs, not because they personally hate you or your friends, but because the vast majority* of people you disagree with honestly think they are doing the right thing. They may be wrong, but for their internal value systems, it’s right for them. You (I) may be wrong, too. Confirmation bias and all that.

So, my plan is to work even harder on assuming good intentions for the next few months. This doesn’t mean I won’t work hard for causes I believe in, won’t vote as hard as I can for my preferred candidates, or won’t practice my own spiritual beliefs that work for me. It just means I’m going to try as hard as I can to remember the “other” side are people, too.

I will note that sometimes it will mean I can’t answer a question, because I can’t come up with a way to say things that won’t come across as insulting. And I’ll screw up. Some things really push my buttons. I bet you have buttons, too. And when I’m tired, overwhelmed with my work, or worried about things, I may be less than a sterling example of someone living their beliefs. But I’m going to TRY.

It’s a beautiful world, too.

In the end, we all have to share our world. It’s the one we have.


*Yes, some people are mean. Some people are full of hate. Some people really fit stereotypes; that’s how they become stereotypes. It’s just that I firmly believe that MOST people I disagree with are not this way.

Not All Doom and Gloom

Yesterday I was talking to my therapist (a thing I do, because I think it’s good for you). I started describing all the things that are making this a rather stressful time. I went on and on. I ended up with quite a hefty list of things that combine to make me, perhaps, not at my best right now. For example, these are so of the things running through my mind.

Suna’s Bulleted List of Concerns

  • My job changes
  • The new company
  • Family health issues
  • The pandemic
  • Presidential election
  • My kids’ issues
  • Wildfires
  • Hurricanes
  • Police killings of Black people
  • Isolation
  • Mean people
  • Etc.

Well, yeah, probably just a couple of those would be enough for one period of time. My neck tingling started up just by typing that. How shall I cope?

Just like the Pope Residence has endured many changes and challenges, so must we.

I don’t think it’s healthy to ignore the things that are challenging us or threatening people we care about; I have noticed that things you try to bury eventually emerge to bit you in the butt. I want to be able to acknowledge them, then set aside the things I can’t do anything about (viruses, fires, rain). Worrying won’t change these natural phenomena I can do little to affect.

That leaves me with the things I do need to deal with. I’ll just minimize contact with mean people, keep in better touch with the kid who talks to me, donate to elections, work hard to figure my job out without letting it consume me, be there for my family, and cheer on the new business without getting in the way.

See, I even have reminders to be full of gratitude for what doesn’t suck, right outside my office door.

As for police killings of Black people, I am continuing my own education about racism by reading Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson with a group. They are reading one chapter a day, so it will take a while, but they are serious and ask lots of questions. It would have been interesting to read How to Be an Antiracist that way. And as for concrete actions, I’ve volunteered to be on the diversity committee at work, though I have to say I also plan to work on supporting elders like myself and my LGBTQ friends.

Just by examining how I am dealing with the challenges the world is presenting I feel better and more like I am handling these hard times as well as any other imperfect human could.

The Rewarding Part

And, for my friends and followers who prefer to focus only on what is good in life and what they are grateful for, I will happily acknowledge that I DO stop and smile at the good things that surround me.

Simulation of what I saw. Image by @ashleytaylor1987 via Twenty20.

I wish I could have captured the moment visually, but this morning, as I stepped out of the house to go to my car, the sun had just risen, and was casting a golden glow (smoke particles, no doubt). The grass was heavy with dew, so heavy that the blades were all bending down from the weight of drops of water. Each water droplet looked like it was made of gold, thanks to the sun. I walked to the car in a glistening, gold and green carpet. Yeah, my feet got wet, but it was worth it!

What have you encountered on this day the Earth has brought us? Are you safe or in a storm? What comforts you as you deal with your own bulleted list of concerns?

Horticultural Haven

Apparently, it’s well known that I like to have plants in my immediate vicinity. A coworker started a Slack channel to share our plants, because they miss the plants I used to have at my desk (which are now moved to the part of the office farthest from any natural light). But, the coworker was right. I do better with some plants around me. It’s one reason I found working in nothing but basements so hard. Only plastic plants thrive there.

The Pope Residence office does have one window that lets in natural light (yes, the Plant Lady managed to pick the office with the fewest views of the outdoors). That’s where most of my little collection lives.

Motley plant collection in weird lighting.

I’m sure the peace lily is fine in its corner, as long as I water it to death.

Peace lily crawling with scarecrows.

And I do try to supplement the ridiculous amount of fake roses with some real flowers. This tiny vase is perfect for things I find on my walk.

Oxblood lilies, Mexican hats, salvia and come Carolina snailseed.

Today I added what I hope will be a nice addition to the plant collection. I got a kit (yet another buy off The Grommet website, which has way too many Suna-esque products) to grow herbs in wine bottles. The seeds and stuff even came in a box so pretty I can’t throw it away!

The idea is they will grow in the potting medium that appears to be topped with spaghum moss or something, then the roots go down into the water.

Hmm, fascinating.

After planting the seeds, I put the little stickers they provided on the mouth of the bottle, to create a moist environment for germination. We’ll see what happens.

The germination sticker in extreme close-up.

I may not have enough light in this window, since it’s pretty shady in the mornings to mid afternoon. But, it should be a fun project to watch. I’m just happy to have any plants at all.

I have stuff for a third bottle, but I brought a clear one, then saw the instructions called for a dark bottle. I have a whole bunch at home, so that won’t be an issue.

Maybe when there is glass in my internal window rather than the rustic wood covering, I can put something low light on the hypothetical shelves that will be there.

The lamp, fake candles and real candle still don’t make it very bright over there.

Do you have plants in your environment, or would you prefer them outside? I’d like something outside my work window, too, but there’s not much space. At least I see a nice cedar tree!

Arts and Crafts Update

Quick update. My friend Pamela dropped off my finished soap dishes yesterday. I was happy to see how shiny they were, but not overly thrilled with my glaze, as usual. Still, Pamela’s designs are pretty, and they will liven up my bathrooms.

The gold one

The gold one is very bright. The dark parts are what I wanted, but the second gold color looks weird.

Here it is with soap, doing its job.

I’d put my lemon soap in there, but I like the lavender.

I also got a surprise! Pamela makes these little dishes as gifts to our Master Naturalist speakers. I’m glad to have one for all the talking I do at meetings.

I love the swirls on this one.

This one came out more pink than red, because the red was pinkish. Again, I don’t like my accent color. It’s a bit purply. But, I think it will look great in my work bathroom. Too bad I left the dish at home. I remembered the soap, sigh.

And this stuff smells GOOD.

More craft excitement is coming up. I’m gonna do something fun with these three bottles.

Maybe I’ll just clutter up my office more.

Time Is on My Side, ‘Cause I Have Clocks

I really like to know what time it is. I was monitoring myself in the background today and realized how often I check the time. In fact, I almost panicked when the time wasn’t on my arm during a meeting, when I couldn’t see the time on the computer screen. My watch was charging. The horror.

At all times, I know the date, the time, how close I am to making my exercise goals, and can start an exercise event. Complications.

I have many, many ways to tell time when I’m here at the office. Each computer screen tells me the time, though it’s tiny and is always betting blocked by my phone, a beverage, or another object..

My phone tells me the time in two places at once when my hot spot is running, so I’ll have a digital and an analog option. (By the way, I didn’t realize the clock icon on my phone actually told the correct time for an embarrassingly long number of months after I got an iPhone.)

It was 3:36 pm, not 15:36. To me.

I prefer analog clocks. I highly dislike military time, and I get annoyed when Lee sets appliances to tell me it’s 15:41. I do know that time that is, but I always have to pause to calculate. I want my time awareness to be instant.

Time is relative, after all. I read that somewhere.

Why do I care? I really don’t, unless I’m at work (paid or volunteer) and have to Zoom, or have to meet to feed the horses. I eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired, and go and return from work when it seems like a good time. Besides, time seems to be one of those things we humans, with our puny brains, really don’t understand completely. It could be FAKE NEWS for all I know.

Thus, it should come as no surprise to you that my new office’s lack of a clock bothered me. I did NOT like the Coca-Cola clock in the old office, since it didn’t have birds or flowers on it (as we know, I like to have a theme). I was pretty darned thrilled to find this item in the Grommet website. It had birds! It was made of recycled material! It came in the right color!

And now, I can look up from my screen and see the time. This also makes me focus on something more distant and may help with my eye strain.

It’s made out of layers of corrugated box material. Isn’t that cool? That made it easy to hang on this ancient brick. I decided not to get the pink one, since there is so much pink in this room that it almost feels too girly to be MY room.

I’m happy with my clock. Are you a clock person? A watch person? A phone-time person? None of the above? I wonder how other folks prefer to have their time told to them.

Grasshoppers at the Hermits’ Rest

Last week’s Master Naturalist chapter meeting was fascinating. I’d asked Eric Neubauer, the new class member I’ve been working with on improving my iNaturalist observations, to do an advanced training on grasshoppers, since he’s been getting some great insights into them over on his property (PLEASE visit the link to his presentation if you have any interest at all in grasshoppers; it’s completely fascinating). He lives in a different part of the county than I do, and I realized he sees lots of different kinds of grasshoppers than I do.

This is Schistocerca americana, the American Bird Grasshopper. I wondered if we had any of these. Look at the striped eyes! Photo by E. Neubauer.

I did a blog post on grasshoppers at the ranch a couple of months ago, but now that I have learned more, I got some better photos and noticed some things about our grasshoppers. I was also wondering if there were any grasshoppers other than Boopedon gracile, the Prairie Boopie, which we’ve had in plague-worthy numbers all summer (hey, it’s 2020; everything’s a plague).

A female, we think, with some interesting coloration, according to Eric.

Yes, there are Prairie Boopies all over the ranch. The easiest place to find them is on the hay bales. They hold still there.

Another boopie view. Look at all the stripes and spots.

But, there are others. I kept seeing lots and lots of tiny grasshoppers (an inch long or less) hopping away as I walked along the fields. I wondered what they were. Could they be pygmy grasshoppers?

This one is very, very small. Less than half the size of the one above. But it’s an adult, judging by the fact that its wings are the same size as the one above. I know males are smaller, but this is really small.

I finally managed to get a couple of non-blurry photos. Well, what do you know? They are small adult Prairie Boopies (confirmed by Eric). Maybe they get smaller at the end of the season? The ones over by the hay are over three inches long, for sure. I also have noticed that the coloration is different now, after a month of drought. They are much lighter in color.

Who’s this fellow? Not a boopie. Look at the legs and the longer wings.

Moving along, I was delighted to find at least a little variety in the neighborhood. We also have a good number of Differential Grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis), which are the ones with the very distinct herringbone pattern on their legs. I was glad to get some good photos of those, too.

Differentials doing it on the hay.

I didn’t get a photo of this, but I did see a mating pair fly off yesterday evening. That was new to me. I guess those males are pretty strong, since the females are larger and do not fly!

Then, when staring at the hay bales, I saw something more green. Hooray! Not one of the more common two! I was admiring an Admirable Grasshopper! As Eric pointed out, I would know this one by its tear-shaped eye.

You really can’t miss that eye!

And finally, when I’d given up on finding anything more interesting, a very different shape appeared in the grave.

Yay! The bird grasshopper!

My photo isn’t as good as Eric’s, but I can see the stripe going through its eye, and knew I had a Schistocerca americana. The very long wings also tell you it’s a strong flyer, as the bird grasshoppers are.

I have one more of the smaller ones, but I don’t have its ID confirmed yet.

That’s the only good photo I got, but I know it was bright green on the sides.

I’m guessing it’s a small Admirable Grasshopper. We’ll see.

I know a lot of people are grossed out by grasshoppers, but once you start looking at them, they are really beautiful and interesting. Well, they are interesting IF you can see them. Check out this Nebulatettix subgracilis – if you can! I can’t believe Eric managed to find it!

That’s one fine camouflage

Fancy Ranch with Water

It’s been fun to see how our new water lines are going in. Chris sure can drive heavy machinery.

Don’t fill in our dirt!

I’m happy to see a new water spigot for the chickens’ water. The water trough got moved and cleaned, too. Where it is now, the chickens in both pens can drink from it, so I won’t have to maintain separate bowls when I’ve got young or sick ones, like now.

Yep, a faucet. Now it is attached to the water trough, and I’ll get a picture tomorrow.

There’s a faucet for horse washing and other such deeds, then there’s an outlet where a big water trough will be.

Where the trough will be.

Eventually there will be another outlet for separate horse watering. There will be happy animals out here!

The other faucet.

Chris has been out all night trying to finish the job. He’s gonna be tired tomorrow! I sure appreciate the huge improvements!

I’m keeping an eye on him, says the big porch toad.

It turns out he wanted to get the trench covered back up before the rain we expect tomorrow. Smart thinking, but exhausting.

Book Report: The Overstory

If you know me or have read this blog a few times, you won’t be surprised to learn this, but I’ve always been a tree hugger, and I mean always. My poor mother (happy birthday wherever your spirit is) used to find me as a toddler wandering around the yard talking to the huge oak trees on our property. When I moved away, I mourned the loss of my tree friends around the town, and even now, when I go back I make sure to check in and see who’s still around and who’s gone.

That may explain why I have been reading so many books about trees, forests, and how they work for the past few years. It may explain why I became a Master Naturalist. It certainly explains why I have a hard time with cutting down trees for human convenience, though I am trying my best to be cooperative with other folks’ agendas in that respect. It explains why I bought the parts of the Hermits’ Rest ranch that I did – there were lots of trees, not a monoculture of non-native grass. I was born an annoying hippie tree hugger!

Of course you use your Sierra Club bookmark on the tree book.

So, then, why did I wait so long to read The Overstory, by Richard Powers? It won a Pulitzer Prize last year and everything! And it’s about trees! Anita and I both ordered it this time last year and planned to read it, so I had good intentions.

But, the first chapter was so sad it made me cry. And the second chapter had nothing to do with the first chapter, so I got confused, put the book down, and read all those other things I keep writing about (of interest to no one but me).

I ran out of books I hadn’t read last week (at least ones I could easily locate). I gritted my teeth and picked up The Overstory again. This time I looked at the table of contents, which was quite helpful. There, I saw that the first chapters were all about different people. I figured I’d just need to hold my horses through those first chapters and it would all come together in the gigantic middle section. Spoiler: it does.

Table of contents that makes reading the book easier!

By the way, they aren’t kidding when they say this is the greatest novels ever written about trees and perhaps one of the greatest about anything. There’s nothing I like better than a complicated plot that weaves new knowledge and a much-needed perspective on how to change the world. No, make that a much-needed perspective ON the world, one I share.

That Richard Powers. When I was in grad school, he was already a legend, the topic of many a conversation in the English department. He left just a semester before I got there (I was in another department, but many of my friends were in the English department with my brilliant boyfriend). Probably because I got sick of hearing about him, I didn’t read his first book. I got bogged down in The Gold Bug Variations (about music and genetics) but should probably go back and find that one to read.

Because Powers is such a polymath and so incredibly gifted, he crams a lot into a book. It’s not one of those quick summer novel kind of things. It’s more of a book to read when you are all alone, overwhelmed by real life, trapped by a pandemic, surrounded by people who don’t want to talk most of the time. Hey, that’s ME! I was in the right situation to immerse myself into the interwoven plots, make it through the deep despair the novel can raise in a tree hugger, and come out of it with my personal beliefs validated.

I sort of needed “Do Not Disturb” signs when I was trying to finish The Overstory, because it came right when Lee was in one of his talkative moods. My sometimes elusive goal is to stop what I am doing when he starts talking, so I had to re-read a lot.

Maybe that was a good thing; maybe it drove the message home. I’m finding it very helpful and very comforting to take that message to heart. We are not in charge of the earth. There are other minds and other forces at work, ones our perception of time makes it hard to notice. I take comfort that no matter what crazy Armageddon humanity is hell-bent on driving itself toward, Gaia, the trees, and the deeper consciousness will heal and persevere. It gives me the grain of hope I need to keep a-going.

Anyway, yup, good book. Read it.

Now It’s Chicken Heaven

Today Chris and his dad did a lot of work on a new water line for the chicken coop and new barn area. That required digging a trench.

Chickens like freshly dug dirt, a lot. Not only is it fun to explore, it has new and exciting bugs in it.

Carlton wanted to help. the blue stuff is the future water line.

Every time I checked on them today, they were all excitedly climbing around.

One good thing about the water being cut off is that I had to fill the chicken water in the garage. That gave me a chance to scrub the water dishes. I think they liked it.

Like the chickens, Rip and the new heifers also explored their new territory a lot. The other bull calves ate and ate. Eventually the new gals figured out where the cubes are and came up to the pen, but it was too dark for a photo. But I got portraits.

Everything is back in working order at the chicken coop. I even got the distressed fake rooster upright and out of the way.

Fake Rooster is guardian of the Wellsummer girls.

I wish everyone had a pet, wild animal, or other natural phenomenon to watch and enjoy. It sure makes these uneasy times easier to bear.

The beautiful Sapphire.

Great Day to Be a Calf – Not So Great to Be a Pullet

Yep, I got back to the ranch yesterday, just in time for some fun and news. Upon my arrival, I saw this:

There is a new fence in the front pasture, formerly known as a field. Apparently Chris came back to town and spent all Thursday night erecting this. The flags are very helpful, since it’s otherwise invisible. Why the rush to erect the fence?

Just cows

Kathleen brought back two of her cows from the farm in Yorktown to hang out here and join the three little bull calves. One of them is pregnant; I believe the brown one. They are daughters of her lovely bull, Johnny. They don’t have names, because they are just cows, and not pets (got it). The brown one is not real friendly, which is fine with me; I’ve never made it a habit of petting adult cattle unless someone says it’s okay (in other words, the only ones I have ever petted were Kathleen’s former bottle calves).

Now, what’s this?

To top off the excitement, Kathleen let the little guys out of their small pen. Their reactions were true to their personalities. Rip went crazy with glee. He ran and ran, jumped in the air, and made circles around the rock pile.

Rip flies around the rocks.

He’s still got a cough, poor guy, but that only held him up a little. He then proceeded to climb up the rock pile and try every kind of grass there was.

This is SO MUCH FUN.

Meanwhile, the other two discovered taller grass than was in their pen, and started munching away. I think they will be delicious and Rip will be a scrawny little dude forever. In any case, it was the best day of their lives. Everyone enjoyed scratching their heads on the trailer, too.

MMM, this is great, long as that dog stays on his side of the trailer.
One happy calf.

After they all settled down, the new heifers came to investigate the calves, lick on them, and start to “herd up,” as they say. Chris is working on getting the ladies more tame, by enticing them with cattle cubes (also beloved of dogs). I know the little ones feel better with some older bovines to hang out with.

I look forward to watching all of Kathleen’s herd grow. I know she and Chris are both a lot happier with some cattle to work with up here.

As for the Chickens

Today was freedom day for the two Blue Star pullets. They are a month older than the Welsummers and HUGE. They were starting to bully the smaller pullets, especially Buttercup, who hurt her foot, so we decided to let them out. Of course, that didn’t go as planned, and instead of them leaving when I opened the door, most of the other chickens came into their pen. Oops.

I quickly got rid of the roosters, so no one else would get smooshed to death, but it took Chris’s help to get Star and Sapphire out, while keeping the other two in.

We are officially hiding.

The first thing Star and Sapphire did was go check out the feed in the other coop. That meant they were prime rooster targets, which did not thrill Sapphire one bit.

Why did you put us in here with THIS brute? (Hate to tell them, but the OTHER one is the brute.)

They went outside and tried their darnedest to get back into their other pen, but I am sure once they realize how many bugs there are out in the grass, they will be fine. They are already bigger than Hedley, so they can hold their own.

Speaking of the other hens, I think, but cannot confirm it, that all five of the adult hens are finally laying. I found three eggs this morning, and they were all solid brown. The absence of a white or ombre egg means Hedley and Fancy Pants had not laid yet. Well, that took a while. And big ole Springsteen, the Jersey Giant, is now making very large eggs. What a gal!

OMG! That giant rooster is DEAD! It’s the apocalypse! Run!

Being with the animals helps me a lot. I’m so happy to have them all. I’m still a bit shaky around people and having trouble communicating, but maybe by tomorrow I will be relaxed!

Remember, beloved readers, it’s okay to acknowledge your rough times and trouble dealing with things. It helps remind everyone we aren’t alone in having challenges these days. I can be having anxiety struggles and worry about world events (fires, floods, fighting) and still enjoy what’s good in my life and be thankful for kind friends and patient family.