Dung Hits The Fan in Nevada County

Protests, petitions, and strategy meetings are about to run amok in Nevada County, California. The people are furious. Letters are being written. Signs are being made. Pickets are planned. It is going to get ugly.

Nevada County is a rural county located in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. It boarders the Tahoe National Forest and has a steeped history with the California Gold Rush. There are beautiful views, blue rivers, state parks, and small farms. As of the last US Census, the county was above the national average for completed education with a population that earns about the national median income. It has one of the highest literacy rates in the state and has one of the highest national per capita rates of non-profit organizations. The local folks take pride in their small-town parades, their local firefighters, their organic produce and an annual soap-box derby held in tiny Nevada City, the County Seat. Nevada County has Mid-Western manners, California politics and mountain terrain all in one place.

So what are the people protesting? Logging? Water rights? The reopening of a gold mine? New regulations on medical marijuana? Well sure. All of those things. And all the time. But the issue that has really gotten people off their couches, united, and onto the picket line is an altogether new issue for Nevada County: elephants.


This year’s Nevada County Fair theme is “Under the Big Top.” The event will take place August 7th-11th of this year. It will include the usual things like carnival rides, jam judging and livestock shows. But, as of right now, there are also plans for elephant rides.

So, what is the problem with elephant rides? What could be a better way to entertain a population with as many book clubs as there are bars? Elephant rides, right? Wrong.

The Board of the Nevada County Fair has contracted with Have Trunk, Will Travel, a company that transports and provides elephants for entertainment purposes. Have Trunk, Will Travel is being watched by a number of state and national animal rights organizations including Animal Defenders International, Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).1

Have Trunk, Will Travel is no stranger to protests. The public protested the company’s treatment of “entertainment elephants” at the San Diego County Fair2. The Orange County Fair canceled their contract with Have Trunk, Will Travel for humanitarian reasons and for public safety.3

The Have Trunk, Will Travel web site4 claims they are “a family of people that truly cares about the well being of elephants.” See for yourself: the following clip contains nine minutes of video edited from 10 hours of surveillance footage taken by Animal Defenders International, documenting egregious abuse by Have Trunk, Will Travel:


Have Trunk Will Travel elephant abuse – YouTube


Have Trunk, Will Travel is supported by an organization called the Animal Welfare Council. If you do any remedial research on the organization, you will find that the Animal Welfare Council is the fancy name for a lobbying organization for rodeos and affiliated industries in animal commerce and agriculture. The Animal Welfare Council is an organization that has nothing to do with animal welfare and they are not a reputable source for the treatment of animals.

What is baffling to the people of Nevada County is that, even after these issues have surfaced, the Nevada County Fair Board remains unmoved. Following a protest and meeting on the controversy, the Fair Board stayed the course and made no change to their plans.

In an article written for The Nevada County Union, the county’s local newspaper, journalist Liz Kellar notes, “Nearly 40 people spoke at a hearing Thursday [June 20th] that stretched for almost two hours on whether the Nevada County Fair should allow elephant rides at the fairgrounds.But in the end, less than a minute of silence ended with none of the fair board members making a motion to cancel the contract with Have Trunk, Will Travel.” Many, many community members spoke intelligently and succinctly against having elephants at the fair but the concerns fell on deaf ears.

Since the town meeting, several Facebook groups have formed and interest on this issue has grown exponentially—both locally and internationally. Organizers of the protests have been contacted by heads of organizations pledging their presence and support.

Nevada County, a small place that should be on the map for its history, its theater, its music and its terrain is about to become yet another site of a County Fair providing institutionalized animal cruelty in the name of public entertainment, for a public that doesn’t want it.


1 http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/have-trunk-will-travel-abuses-elephants.aspx

2 http://delmar-carmelvalley.patch.com/groups/opinion/p/san-diego-county-fair-approves-elephants-rides-throug244e50dfd1

3 http://www.ocregister.com/articles/fair-345893-elephant-board.html

4 http://www.havetrunkwilltravel.com/

How To Be A Good Pen Pal

The guidelines:

  1. Write often. Write at every given moment. Write every time that you can. Write about nothing. Write about everything. Write on paper. Write on a postcard. Write on a napkin. Rip out an advertisement from a magazine and write on the blank spaces—write on the forehead of a model or on the extraneous purple curtains that are often found in magazine advertisements. Write words. Write symbols. Write the letters of the Greek Alphabet. Create a special language for your nephew. Write in code. Write your feelings. Write them down. Write a haiku. Write a travel log. Write a series of expletives. Write about justice, passion, depression. Make sense. Make no sense. But write. Always write. Write sober. Write drunk. Write about the sky, write about your pets, write about your garden, write about your children, write about the children you don’t have, write about the garden you don’t have, write about the pets you wish you had. Write about the pony you always wanted. Write about unicorns. Write about Harry Potter. Write about a quote that you heard, write about some beautiful music, write about a movie. Just write. And keep writing. Just write.001 (800x531)

  2. Send it. Send it without regard for your clarity. Send if you wrote it on a model’s forehead. Send it if it makes no sense. Send it if your handwriting sucks. Send it if it’s unfinished. Send it if you are ashamed. Send it if your oldest friend might question your sanity. Send something. Send everything. Send it. Always send it.
  3. Above all else, always refer to rules number one and two.
  4. Write to your acquaintances the same way that you write to your best friends. Write to your family with honesty. Everyone deserves your humanity.
  5. Write in your own handwriting. But, if you cannot pen an actual letter, refer to rule number one and type something. Write only how you are able to write at that moment. Don’t get hung up on boxes. Don’t let yourself fall into something. Type a letter if you have to. Use Times New Roman. Use Traditional Arabic. Never use Lucida Console. Again, just write.
  6. Send your letter in an interesting envelope. Colors are preferable. It will help your reader to feel excited that there is something in the mailbox that isn’t a bill. When the envelope is interesting, your reader will know right away to be excited.
  7. Collect addresses. Get every home mailing address of every person you love. Get the addresses today. Think of it as though you are preparing for a disaster. Don’t wait.
  8. Always respond to personal correspondence. Acknowledge that you have been written to. Validate someone’s humanity by writing back. Never leave someone hanging. Adhere to this no matter how awkward.
  9. Send pictures. Pretend that the internet doesn’t exist. Pretend that facebook, twitter, and instagram were never invented. Pretend that your letter or postcard is the only insight to your life that someone might get. Write like you matter. Send embellishments.
  10. Buy original stamps from the post office. There are lots of styles. Muscle cars, Disney, Flowers, Presidents, Musicians. Don’t settle for the generic “Liberty Bell” or “Flag” from the grocery store. Send your letter or card with a real stamp.
  11. Surprise someone. Send something out of the blue. Write to your dear old aunt. Write to your ailing grandparent. Write to the President of the United States. Write to the commissioner of your county fair. Write a personal letter to someone who isn’t expecting you.
  12. Say something you’ve been meaning to say. Don’t hold back.
  13. Write a complaint letter. Don’t send it via email. Don’t call the 800 number. Don’t try to reconcile. Find a real address, take special stationary, and give them what-for. Find an incident that is worth complaining about and go for it. Tell the manager/boss/CEO everything you think of their bullshit. Leave your personal address and phone number so that they are sure to contact you. And adhere to every other rule above. (Do not complete rule 13 without also completing rule 14.)
  14. Write a thank you letter. Pull your pants up and thank someone. Find gratitude. Find someone, somewhere that made a difference and make an acknowledgment, no matter how small. A teacher? A friend? Say thank you. Now.
  15. Buy a nice card. There are so many stationary stores trying to make a buck. If you can’t say it on your own, support your local card seller. There are actually a lot of very nice cards these days. Buy one.
  16. Send birthday cards. Send every birthday card for which you can remember a birthday. Send every birthday card for every address that you have. Send birthday cards on the off-season. Send un-birthday cards. If you are reminded by facebook, put a card in the mail, especially if they aren’t expecting it. Send a birthday card to every person for which you have an address. Send something late if you have to but send something. It may be the last time you get to.
  17. Send a surprise package. Send something that won’t fit in the mailbox. Send something to someone who would never expect it. Send your mother some books. Send your nieces a few bracelets. Send your grandfather some peanut M&Ms. Send a bottle of wine. Pay for a magazine subscription. Send flowers for no reason. Especially to your spouse.
  18. Decide on a new pen pal. Someone new. Maybe you are at a business conference. Maybe you’ve met someone international. Take down an address. Write to someone you’ve only met once. Write to someone you don’t know very well. Write to someone from another state or another county. Write to someone with adjusted postage. Write to someone you have to go to the post office for. Find someone. Tell them everything. Write to them.
  19. Make your endeavors public. Take your stationary to a cafe and write in front of God and every one. Write to Aunt Wilma in a bar. Write to cousin Donald at dinner. Make a big scene about your fancy envelopes and original stamps. Pull out your address book while you order a whiskey. Answer every bizarre question from a stranger. Answer, “Yes I’m writing a letter.” Tell them, “Absolutely those are real stamps!” Don’t be shy. Hold your proclamation. Let the world know what you are up to. Maybe they will catch on.
  20. Above all else, always refer to rules number one and two.

Sierra Commons: Uncommon Work Space

I’m coworking. I love my co-workers. I love “going into the office.” I love what I do. It’s a strange thing for me because I don’t have a “real job.” I got laid off from my “real job” two years ago. And, like many people, I haven’t been able to find a “real job” since. So, like many people, I have carved out my own niche and have taken the jobs that I could get. I’ve joined a coworking community called Sierra Commons. And, much to my own surprise, I have found work that I love. It is work that matters. It is work that pays well. And it is work that brings me joy.

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Coworking is an incredible model. It allows people who need an office to have one without any start up cost. Samantha Hinrichs, who grew up in rural Nevada County, on the outskirts called “the ridge” recently started her own business. She runs the nationally renowned “Mud and Pearls”, an organization that teaches skills, traditionally held by men, to women. She has offered classes on blacksmithing, chainsaws and has an incredible upcoming opportunity for cob-building. http://www.mudandpearls.com/ She notes, “Working in a co-working space hones my skills, sharpens my wit and allows me to bounce ideas off my co-workers; it makes my business lean, sharp and focused. It would be much messier [without Sierra Commons.]” Since becoming a member, her business has taken off.


Shortly after I got laid off, my partner and I moved to be closer to her work. She works in a rural county in the foothills of California. When we had first moved, we landed on a farm and lived in a 200 square-foot apartment in a garage on that farm. We did work-trade for our lodging. Though I was an avid gardener, I knew little about farming and got by through a lot of reading, a lot of studying and a lot of hope.


As someone with professional experience in case management for low-income families, and a Bachelors Degree in American Literature, the business of farming was very foreign to me. It was physical labor in the hot sun and freezing cold. It was 12-hour days that began with feeding chickens at dawn and ended with fixing pipes in the dark. It was the tediousness of picking peas, one by one, and planting seeds, inch by inch. It was the miracle and tragedy of life every single day. The fruit would ripen. A chicken would die. The bees would pollinate. A crop would be tilled in. It was an incredible experience, and I would do it over again, but when we moved off the farm a year later, I was still unemployed, by the standard definition, and still struggling.


I was struggling financially and I was struggling with my professional identity. I needed something that I could identify with. I wanted people I could relate to. I liked working in an office. I love meaningful work.


Growing up, I believed that I would finish high school, go to college and get a job in a cubicle somewhere. Truthfully, I barely finished high school. (In spite of my love for physical fitness, especially running and dance, I almost failed PE.) I got through college, but only after many set backs, a lot of financial hardship and several years in community college. I eventually got a job but I had to do a lot of work I hated through temp agencies before that happened.


I didn’t love my job but I was bummed when I lost it. Our agency lost funding and had to lay-off over half the work force. I was completely disheartened trying to find work. I was in a difficult situation. There was nothing out there that I wanted to do. But, also, I was hopeful. I am hopeful.


I am seeing a world that is changing. I am witnessing a way of working and a career path that is more suited to my values, more suited to the values of my generation.


In his book, Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein notes, “In the past we always had a choice of what to do with gains in efficiency: work less or consume more. Compelled by a growth-dependent money system, we consistently chose the latter. Instead of working less hard to meet existing needs more easily, we have constantly created new needs to meet or, more often, transferred needs from the gift into the money realm or sought to fulfill infinite needs with finite things. Such has driven our ascent, the development of our gifts of hand and mind. Though the cost to nature, culture, spirit, and humanity has been high, this development is not without its rightful purpose. Today, as the natural and cultural commonwealth is exhausted, the context of our choice — work less or consume more — is changing. The age of ascent is winding to a close, and we seek to apply the gifts we have developed toward their true purpose in a new relationship to Earth.” I am seeing Eisenstein’s vision emerge. So many of us have worked for too long, not having a purpose. Or, more precisely, we have worked with a purpose, without having a place.


Today, when I work, I work for something, not at something.


When the non-profit that I volunteer with needed help administering a grant to promote the use of food stamps at our farmer’s markets, I jumped at the chance to help.


For the first few months of my new “job”, I’d sit in my living room with my unruly cats, trying to organize a binder full of paperwork. I would haul it to coffee shops and try to find space to fire up my tiny notebook computer and get on the internet to fulfill my obligations to my new “job”. I would do this day after day, latte after latte. I started to hate the smell of coffee.


And, truthfully, I was really lonely. I missed having coworkers. I missed having a work-space. I missed taking walks with people and eating lunch with people. I figured that, because I was in a job doing my own thing, I was on my own. I learned recently that nothing could be further from the truth.


I found Sierra Commons two months ago.


Sierra Commons is a coworking facility in the historic gold rush town of Nevada City. We are a rural county. Nevada City, population 3,250, is the seat of that rural county. By some accounts, Sierra Commons is the only rural coworking facility in the United States. (I have no evidence to refute this. Though, I would love to hear about other efforts, if there are some.) Coworking allows those with a non-traditional job to have access to a traditional working facility. Ilana DeBare of the San Francisco Cronical characterized coworking in a 2007 article as a “social gathering of a group of people who are still working independently, but who share values.” For Sierra Commons in Nevada City, the description is wholly accurate.


At Sierra Commons, we share a fax machine, a copier and an address. But we share so much more than that.


Max Norton, the president of the board of Sierra Commons, which operates as a non-profit entity, shares this: “Coworking offers an opportunity for people from all walks of life to try entrepreneurship, and the evidence shows it increases their chances of success. If we care about making our economic recovery long-lasting and sustainable, then we need to do all we can to boost the chances of entrepreneurs—including and maybe especially those whose businesses contribute to resource sustainability.” Norton makes it clear that the coworking model offers the future now.


When I found Sierra Commons, I was over-joyed. Being a rural member of our society, I didn’t have regular access to high-speed internet and had spotty cell phone reception at best. (my friends would visit and ask for my wi-fi password. Uncomfortable laughter would follow.) Former executive director of Sierra Commons, Robert Trent, notes, “Most people would agree that a fast internet connection, telephone, and something to write with are all vital for conducting business. To me, coworking is another fundamental component of my consulting career.” Trent has since moved on as the director of a major economic development organization in our community.


For me, coworking has been the answer to a very real problem. I needed a place to do my work. (If you have cats at home, you know what I mean.) I needed a facility that could offer me the traditional amenities of an office. I needed a desk, a fax machine and high-speed internet. But more than that, more than any of that, I needed a community.

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Coworking has provided that community. It has provided me with so many opportunities. There is something to be said for working amongst others. In the past two months of working at Sierra Commons, I have gotten more work done than I had gotten done in the half-year prior. My ideas have blossomed and my hiccups are now no more than a virtual blip on my working career. Today, when I hit a wall, I have people to bounce ideas off of. I no longer have to be alone.


I am a part of a tribe. I am supported. I have help. I am a coworker.


Belle Curve

This is a true  story and it seems so stupid now. I’m an adult and I have found a way to stay perpetually jaded. There are so many matters of consequence. And I don’t even remember her name. But I will never forget her.

I will call her Belle. She was kind and soft and beautiful. And she was so much smarter than me.  She was so much smarter than the rest of us. She became our hero because she saved our asses. It was more than ten years ago.

I took a biology class in Junior College. I had slacked off for a few years and it was the equivalent of my third (maybe fourth?) sophomore year of college. I had finally gotten my shit together and had applied to transfer to a few “real” colleges. I had stopped sleeping with my teachers and had started getting good grades. I had been accepted to a few universities on contingency. If all went well, I would be a literature major at a university in the fall. But I had to keep my grades up.


There were several of us in the same situation and we all had to keep our grades up. We were young and this was what mattered then. For me, it was all that mattered then. It was my way out. I would go to college. It was what my parents wanted for me. It was my way of growing up. It was my ticket.

The biology class was a mandatory prerequisite requirement. I had to pass. It was the second science class of my adult life and the only class that I ever took that was graded on a curve. The teacher set the curve, not by the standard bell structure, but at the highest level achieved for the class. If a test was out of 100 and the highest grade was a 98, then the test was out of 98 and the grades followed accordingly.

The curve would have been a fair and flawless structure if it weren’t for Belle. She always got the top grade and it was always at least ten points more than second place. We knew because the grades were posted on a list outside the classroom, by top grade and last name. Belle got an A every time. The rest of us got Bs or worse.

We studied as a group for more than a week before the final test. It was worth 20 percent of our grade and we were taking it very seriously. Belle showed up after the third or fourth session to a collective sigh. It was an open study group. She meant well and she really wanted to help.

After a few sessions with Belle, we all knew we were fucked. Most of the rest of us were planning to go on with our lives studying art, theater or literature. She was going into forensics. We just didn’t get it. We didn’t speak the language. She spoke the language.

It was the night before the test and it was past midnight. I don’t remember who spoke first. We had all had too much coffee. Some of us had had too much to drink. Someone finally said what we had all been thinking. “Look Belle, if you just got five or six questions wrong, all of us would get better grades.” A discussion followed. Belle looked like she had been shot. We called it a night and went home.

A week later I got an email that I had gotten an A on the test. I immediately felt sick; I knew that I had gotten several questions wrong. It was my last test of the semester but I went back to the campus because I had to know.

The list was on the door. Belle got a 90 out of 100. She was the top score. I got an 88 and so did most of the study group. As I stared at the numbers, as a took in the list, I knew that Belle threw it. There was not a question on the test that she would have struggled with. She tried to help us with every possible question. She knew the material. She knew all of it.

As I stood gaping at the numbers, staring into absolute abyss, the class assistant came up behind me. He said, “She left the last ten questions blank. She didn’t even answer them.”

Belle didn’t do it to make friends. We were all going to different colleges in the fall. She knew we wouldn’t see each other again.

It was the spring of 2002, the first spring after the towers fell, and, as far as we knew, the world was on its knees. The spring sun, and the smell of flowers, had barely started to permeate after a cold, dark winter. We were young people in a world that had gone off the rails. Young men from my fall’s philosophy class, only the semester before, had already been sent to basic. We just didn’t have the stomach for failed systems any longer. We were growing up.

I was reminded of Belle as I was reading about the protests in Istanbul. There is an uprising in the country of Turkey. Parents and their children showed up at Gezi Park, a city park in Istanbul, like Julia Butterfly Hill’s apostles, they ate  sandwiches and held their ground as developers tried to destroy the trees in favor of a strip mall. They stayed there. They stayed and waited until the police came.


And the police came.

I read a blog written by a Turkish yoga teacher who was in the park when the Turkish police got there. As some of the police were launching tear gas and brutalizing mothers, fathers and small children, a few of the uniformed men quit their jobs on the spot, handed in their badges, and joined the protesters.

As I read the article, I was reminded of Occupy Oakland; I was reminded of UC Davis, my alma mater, the university that I eventually graduated from. I was reminded of heroes.  I was reminded of Belle.

Belle could have finished her test. She could have answered every question and she would have gotten every answer right. She was better than us. She had the upper hand. She had the power. And she owed us nothing.

But sometimes, even though we aren’t obligated, or won’t benefit, or don’t have any responsibility to make a sacrifice, sometimes, even then, we decide that the “we” is bigger than the “me”.

Belle sacrificed her upper-hand because she knew that it was the right thing to do. She knew that the system was rigged. She knew that her forfeiture would mean nothing to her, she knew that there would be no consequence for her, but, she knew that it would mean a lot to those around her.  Belle gave us the gift of mercy.

That’s what it was: mercy.

A decade ago, throwing a test was valor. For me, at the time, it was heroism. Today is different. What people are facing today was not what my parents prepared me for. They didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect this.

We all expected mercy.

I’m struggling with the words to end this blog. We live in a different world. Sometimes there are no words.  Sometimes there is no mercy.

But sometimes there is.