flux Ecologie

The Deep Green Resistance News Service is an educational wing of the DGR movement. We cover a wide range of contemporary issues from a biocentric perspective, with a focus on ecology, feminism, indigenous issues, strategy, and civilization. We publish news, opinion, interviews, analysis, art, poetry, first-hand stories, and multimedia.

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03.10.2022 à 18:00

Ecosaboteur Ruby Montoya Sentenced to 6 Years in Federal Prison

DGR News Service
Texte intégral (5394 mots)

Editor’s note: After months of aboveground organizing against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) Ruby Montoya and Jessica Reznicek conducted a campaign of underground sabotage to stop the pipeline in 2017. When their action received no media attention, they decided to go public to promote the seriousness of the cause. In a public statement, they claimed responsibility for their actions and consequently became subject to lawsuits, including criminal liability and terrorism charges. Jessica was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2021 and Ruby was recently sentenced to six years in prison. We understand and respect the risks that Jessica and Ruby took to protect what they love.

We find it disturbing that Ruby Montoya collaborated with the law enforcement agencies to put the blame against her co-defendant and other people for a lighter sentence on her part. This type of behavior harms the entire movement. Therefore before engaging in any form of environmental action, aboveground or underground, it is necessary to study security culture. Understand the risks associated with one’s actions and make a conscious decision of whether to engage in the action or not.

In order to follow the rules of security culture, as an aboveground organization, DGR does not engage in or have knowledge of any form of underground action. This increases the security and effectiveness of our movement as a whole. Though we do believe in using any means necessary to stop the ongoing ecocide. We also believe in a coordination between aboveground organizing and underground action. The Deep Green Resistance News Service exists to publicize and normalize the use of militant and underground tactics in the fight for justice and sustainability of the natural world.

September 26, 2022 / Unicorn Riot

Des Moines, IA – Ruby Montoya, admitted Dakota Access Pipeline ecosaboteur, stepped out of a car Wednesday morning in front of the federal courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa, and walked quietly into the building. Her dark hair was pulled back into a low bun and her long, teal skirt blew in the wind. Her attorney, Maria Borbón, walked behind her.

The atmosphere outside the courthouse that morning was mundane, lacking the usual fanfare of a high-profile political sentencing. No family, friends, or supporters were present for the two-day hearing, which brought to close a legal battle spanning almost exactly three years to the day. Montoya was ordered to spend the next 72 months of her life in federal prison—a sentence imposed for her fierce participation in the protest movement against the pipeline project, which at its height attracted tens of thousands to the icy plains of rural North Dakota.

Montoya was also ordered to pay over $3 million in restitution to Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the multi-billion dollar fossil fuel transport corporation primarily responsible for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, known as DAPL. She was ordered to pay the restitution jointly with her co-defendant Jessica Reznicek.

From her elevated platform, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Ebinger looked down on Montoya as she read aloud her sentence Thursday, stating in part that a long prison sentence was necessary to deter others from taking similar action. When the hearing was over, the judge nodded to the U.S. Marshals waiting in the back of the courtroom; they then approached Montoya and handcuffed her before leading her away.

It was a lonely end to Montoya’s yearslong journey from Mississippi Stand, the Iowa anti-pipeline encampment where she and Reznicek first met, to the most elaborate and successful campaign of sabotage to arise out of the No DAPL movement.

U.S. Marshals parked outside of the federal courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa during Ruby Montoya’s sentencing. After sentencing, the Marshals led her away in handcuffs. Photo by Ryan Fatica.

Between November 2016 and May 2017, Montoya and Reznicek attacked DAPL infrastructure in at least 10 locations, setting fire to construction equipment and using oxy-acetylene torches to cut holes in the pipeline’s steel walls. Prosecutors also alleged in court filings that two earlier acts of sabotage, for which the pair were not charged, matched the profile of their later actions.

According to the pipeline company, the attacks resulted not only in the $3,198,512.70 in damages Montoya and Reznicek were ordered to jointly pay in restitution, but cost ETP an additional $20 million in added security expenses as well.

In a dramatic press conference in July 2017, the two admitted to their direct action campaign before turning around and prying the letters off the sign in front of the Iowa Utilities Board Office of Consumer Advocacy, expressing no remorse for their actions. “If we have any regrets, it is that we did not act enough,”they wrote in a public statement at the time.

In June 2021, Reznicek was sentenced to eight years in prison, a term that included a domestic terrorism enhancement. Reznicek later appealed the enhancement, but it was upheld on June 6, 2022 by judges Ralph R. Erickson, David R. Stras, and Jonathan Kobes, on the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (All three judges were appointed by former president Donald Trump.)

The course of Montoya’s three-year grind through the federal court system took many turns. She went through four attorneys and went from cooperating with her co-defendant to cooperating with law enforcement. During this legal process, she and Reznicek were labeled terrorists by the government, an highly political accusation that dramatically increased their possible prison sentences and created increased repression on environmental movements across the country.

A “Harmless” Terrorism Enhancement

In October 2017, less than three months after Montoya and Reznicek’s public confession, a group of 84 members of Congress wrote a letter to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking the Department of Justice to consider whether 18 U.S.C. 2331(5), the federal criminal code governing domestic terrorism charges, applied to acts of sabotage committed against the DAPL project.

The application of terrorism enhancements at sentencing can add a decade or more to a defendant’s sentence, and the decision to apply them is highly politically charged. According to the federal statute, crimes can be considered “domestic terrorism” if they “involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State” and are “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.”

Two security camera stills of one instance of sabotage to DAPL used as evidence in the prosecution against Montoya and Reznicek.

There is a longstanding precedent for terrorism enhancements being used against animal rights and environmental activists. According to a 2019 study by The Intercept, of the 70 federal prosecutions of animal and environmental activists they identified, the government sought terrorism enhancements in 20. Those cases include 12 of the defendants in Operation Backfire, the major FBI operation that targeted the Earth Liberation Front, also known as ELF.

However, it’s also notable when terrorism enhancements are not applied. As many have pointed out, participants in the January 6th Insurrection have not received terrorism enhancements, despite participating in a political attack on the heart of the U.S. government, an event which led to several deaths. Neither Dylan Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine African Americans in 2015, nor James Fields, the neo-Nazi who intentionally drove his car into a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 35 others, received terrorism enhancements.

In Montoya’s case, Judge Ebinger calculated that according to federal sentencing guidelines Montoya’s sentence would have been 46-57 months without a terrorism enhancement. The terrorism enhancement elevated her sentencing range to 292-365 months—a possible sentence of 24 to 30 years in prison.

In November 2021, Reznicek appealed her case, arguing that the lower court had erred in applying the terrorism enhancement for several reasons. Reznicek’s actions, her attorneys argued, did not constitute terrorism in part because they did not primarily target government conduct. The pair’s public statements “decried perceived failures of the government but did not make express or implied threats and did not articulate any hoped-for effect of the offense on government conduct,” Reznicek’s attorneys wrote in the appeal. “The only purpose articulated in the statement was to ‘[get] this pipeline stopped,’” they continued.

The court of appeals upheld Reznicek’s conviction and the application of the terrorism enhancement, claiming that it was “harmless” because Judge Ebinger would have sentenced Reznicek to 96 months in prison regardless of the enhancement.

During Montoya’s sentencing hearing, the prosecutor seemed to anticipate the same arguments raised in Rezniceck’s appeal, arguing that Montoya’s actions were clearly intended as retaliation for the government’s approval of the DAPL project and to influence its decisions about the project’s future.

Maria Borbón, Montoya’s attorney, seemed ill-suited to the task of countering these arguments as well as many other arguments made by the prosecution during the two-day hearing. Her courtroom conduct frequently appeared to frustrate the judge, who repeatedly lectured her on procedural norms of federal court. When asked to speak, her comments were often off topic and occasionally incoherent.

Federal judges have discretion to deviate from sentencing calculations, and in Montoya’s case, Judge Ebinger explained that she decided to depart downward from the possible 24 years allowable under the guideline calculation. Her consideration included Montoya’s mental health and extensive history of childhood trauma, her good behavior on pretrial release, and her efforts to assist the government through four “proffer” interviews in 2021 (the contents of which remain sealed).

Violent Extremism Research Center Director Claims Iowa Catholic Workers Further “Terrorist Ideology”

At sentencing, the defense called Dr. Anne Speckhard, Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE), who claimed that Montoya had been manipulated by what she called the “terrorist ideology” of the Des Moines Catholic Worker and the environmental direct action movements she’d been a part of.

The Catholic Worker movement was founded in 1933 by anarchist journalist Dorothy Day and French-born Catholic social activist Peter Maurin. The movement, which is ongoing, focuses on redistributing wealth and resources through food pantries and shared housing, and uniting workers and intellectuals through educational discussions and joint activities.

While Speckhard testified in Montoya’s defense, claiming she had little to no responsibility for the actions she took while in a “dissociated state,” her testimony also insinuated that the actions taken by Montoya and Reznicek amounted to terrorism. She referred to the Des Moines Catholic Worker as “cult-like” and claimed that Montoya had been “recruited” and “elevated” by Reznicek who preyed upon her weakness.

Jessica Reznicek (L) and Ruby Montoya (R), as they participate in a vision quest led by Indigenous elders. Source: Ruby Montoya, Document 205, Supplement to Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea, Exhibit 17, Filed November 24, 2021.

According to its website, ICSVE was founded in 2015 and works closely with both domestic government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security as well as military organizations like NATO.

ICSVE is one of several organizations and governmental bodies that promote an approach to domestic terrorism called “Countering Violent Extremism”(CVE). According to the nonpartisan think tank Brennan Center for Justice, CVE are a “destructive counterterrorism program” that is “bad policy.” The think tank also explains that CVE are “based on junk science, have proven to be ineffective, discriminatory, and divisive.” 

After the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice named Boston as a CVE pilot program site in 2014, the ACLU of Massachusetts “raised serious concerns about the civil rights, civil liberties, and public safety implications of adopting this unproven and seemingly discriminatory approach to law enforcement.” Unicorn Riot spoke with an ex-FBI agent, Mike German, from the Brennan Center about CVE in 2017.

CVE originated in the United Kingdom as Preventing Violent Extremism or Prevent, which “led to repeated instances of innocent people ensnared, monitored, and stigmatized,” including a nine-year-old boy who was “referred to authorities for ‘deprogramming’ purposes,” according to the ACLU of Massachusetts. In 2016, Unicorn Riot covered a CVE panel in Minneapolis hosted by the Young Muslim Collective, a panel about resisting surveillance in 2017, and another in Boston in January 2018.

“She was not the one who struck the matches” 

Since August 2021, activists and legal professionals have raised concerns that Montoya may have begun cooperating with law enforcement in an attempt to reduce her prison sentence by putting other activists at risk of prison instead.

In her August 2021 motion to withdraw her previous guilty plea, Montoya publicly cast blame on a slew of people and claimed she lacked the mens rea—the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing—to understand what she was doing. Montoya argued that her abusive father, her “coercive” co-defendant Reznicek, the Des Moines Catholic Worker, and possible undercover “government operative[s]” were each in part responsible for her actions.

In the months that followed, Montoya’s new attorney Daphne Silverman filed a series of sealed documents with the court, the contents of which are still unknown to the public. Filing sealed documents is a practice usually avoided by participants in political movements as it can raise suspicion within activist communities that a defendant may be attempting to cast blame elsewhere by informing on other activists.

Montoya and her attorneys have also continued to pursue the argument that some sort of government or private security operatives “influenced me” and “appear to be unlawfully pressuring me to engage in illegal acts,” as Montoya put it in a November 2021 affidavit to the court. The affidavit goes on to discuss three unnamed people Montoya says influenced her to use fire to damage construction equipment and even taught her how to weld.

According to Montoya, she and Reznicek traveled to Denver where the unnamed people taught them to use an oxy-acetylene torch and encouraged them to do so. “Inside Person 2’s house,” in Denver, Montoya wrote, “there were army training manuals of how to destroy infrastructure, and little else. They slept on sheepskin.” 

In Montoya and Reznicek’s previous public statements, the pair claimed that they acted in secret without the knowledge or involvement of other activists. “It’s insulting on some level,” Reznicek said in a 2017 joint interview with Montoya, “but it needs to be cleared up. Ruby and I acted solely alone. Nobody else was involved in any of these actions. I think it’s hard for people to believe ― ‘How could these two women pull this off so easily?’”

Montoya’s testimony is the only evidence on record suggesting that the individuals she claims taught her to weld actually exist. If, indeed, they do exist, it is unclear whether they are actually government operatives or activists who believe in using direct action against the fossil fuel industry.

At sentencing, the federal prosecutor spoke of these assertions as though they were ridiculous, calling them “conspiracy theories” and even sought to increase Montoya’s prison sentence as a result of her implicating the government in her actions.

The historical record reveals that government operatives and informants, especially those employed by the FBI, pressuring activists into property destruction and even providing them the means to do so may be a conspiracy, but is much more than a theory. The fairly recent cases of Eric McDavid, in which a government informant concocted and lured him into a bomb plot and the Cleveland 4, in which a paid FBI informant sold fake C4 explosives to a group of young Occupy activists while also providing them drugs and resources, clearly document this reality. The history of FBI surveillance and entrapment of Muslim communities is even more extensive.

At sentencing, Montoya’s fourth attorney, Maria Borbón, argued that the courtroom should be closed during sentencing, referring to the “sensitive nature” of some of the topics discussed. The judge denied her request, saying that the public record in this case had already been “oversealed” in a manner that is “contrary to the public interest.”

On the morning of the first day of sentencing, federal prosecutors filed an unsealed document containing a list of more than 80 exhibits they intended to use at the hearing that day. Most of the items on the list are public statements made by Montoya about her actions as well as assessments and images of the damage her and Reznicek caused to fossil fuel infrastructure. At the end of the list, as seen below, are five exhibits titled Transcript of Proffer Interview and Grand Jury Testimony dated from November 2020 to July 2021.

A list of exhibits used by the prosecution at sentencing includes five documents attesting to Montoya’s cooperation with law enforcement. Source: United States v. Reznicek, Document 324, Filed 9/21/22.

Although transcripts of these interviews remain sealed, their contents were briefly mentioned by the attorneys throughout the proceedings, including a claim by Montoya that at one point she threw away $5,000 in cash in an effort to stop Reznicek from continuing the sabotage campaign. This claim was part of a relentless attempt by Montoya and her attorneys to deflect blame for her actions onto her co-defendant and the Des Moines Catholic Worker House, especially its founder and de facto leader, former priest Frank Cordero.

“At no time did Ms. Montoya lead,” said Borbón. She claimed instead that Montoya’s actions were “directed by the household,” referring to the Des Moines Catholic Worker House. “She remained in the vehicle,” Borbón explained when arguing Montoya’s alleged lack of participation.

“She was not the one who struck the matches, she was not the one who put together the funds to continue the vandalism.”

Maria Borbón, Montoya’s attorney

However, according to the federal prosecutor, Montoya said in her proffer interview that she was the one who lit the match during their election night attack on construction equipment in Buena Vista County, Iowa. The prosecutor also said that in those interviews, Montoya says that she, not Reznicek, was the author of the pair’s 2017 public statement claiming responsibility for the attacks.

The government’s exhibit list also contains a listing for a document titled Grand Jury Testimony of 1-21-21- Under seal. It was not previously known to the public that Montoya had testified before a federal grand jury, and the reason it was convened remains shrouded in mystery.

“Misguided, wrong and lawless” 

In her closing statements, Judge Ebinger identified “three versions” of the events of 2016 and 2017, each as told by Montoya at different points in time. The first is the story she told during her public confession and in the pair’s public talk at the Iowa City Public Library in August 2017. In this version, the judge said, Montoya appeared as “an educated woman who speaks articulately” and “passionately” about the value of property destruction in furthering the aims of the environmental movement.

“I have a choice,” said Judge Ebinger as she quoted Montoya’s description of why she joined the No DAPL protests, “I knew I had to go there. And so I hit the road.” 

The second version is the story told by Montoya in the proffer interviews with the government, in which she knew the facts of each attack and could recite them in great detail to the willing ears of law enforcement. In this version, Montoya said that she had limited contact with Des Moines Catholic Worker Frank Cordero, hearing his thoughts mostly from Reznicek.

The third version is the story told by Montoya to her mental health providers, which they relayed in court during the sentencing. In this version, Montoya is a deeply traumatized and mentally ill person who was “coached” and “manipulated” into taking action by Cordero and Reznicek. According to Montoya’s care providers, she suffers from such severe post-traumatic stress disorder that she committed her crimes “in a fog” and in a “dreamlike” and “childlike state” of dissociation that she hardly remembers them.

The Montoya represented in the third version of her story is deeply sorry for her actions and it was this Montoya who addressed the court during allocution, the defendant’s formal statement prior to sentencing.

U.S. Federal District Court, Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Ryan Fatica.

“I am here to take responsibility for my actions,” Montoya told the court, “which were misguided, wrong and lawless.” Nonetheless, she said through tears, she was on a “journey of self-accountability” which included her attempts to “rectify” her actions through her “statements to the government and my grand jury testimony.”

Despite her pleas, it was primarily toward the Montoya represented in version number one that Judge Ebinger directed her sentence, saying that Montoya’s statements during “the conspiracy period” were entirely “inconsistent with someone who is in a fog or a dreamlike state.” The judge quoted repeatedly from Montoya’s public statements, arguing that she was cogent, articulate and proud of her actions.

Nonetheless, the judge said, “the court recognizes and credits the adverse childhood experiences” testified to by Montoya, her mental health providers, and several family members. “PTSD frequently rears its head in this courtroom,” Judge Ebinger said.

In recognition of these challenges, she recommended that the Bureau of Prisons designate Montoya to a facility in or close to Arizona and that she be allowed to participate in any available vocational trainings during her six years of life in a prison cell.

For more on DGR News Service coverage on the issue:

30.09.2022 à 10:00

Ecocide in Greece

DGR News Service
Texte intégral (1929 mots)

Editor’s Note: DGR does not support solar and wind “alternatives”. They are not alternatives to the energy and ecological crisis, but rather a part of it.. They do not “replace” natural gas and fossil fuels, not only because the so called renewable energy are not as potent an energy source as fossil fuel, but also because they rely on fossil fuel for basic operation. They contribute to the abuse, exploitation and plunder of nature. There are mountains of resources to support this. More dangerously, they lead us to false solutions, putting our much needed revolutionary energies into projects which only contribute to the problem. We are firmly opposed to these technologies.

The value of this article lies in exposing how these “green” technologies are being introduced in reality. Despite the bright green lies in this article, it is important to gain understanding on how these technologies are wrecking havoc across the globe. The beauty of nature is defended strongly in this article. The “violent mechanization of [the] daily view of the natural world” is acknowledged to be a deep concern, indeed it is “extremely disturbing”. In the spirit of solidarity and internationalism, we call for coalitions to ask important questions on these “green” and “alternative” technologies, and to continue the ecological resistance to protect the wild.


My Greek friends in the large island of Euboea and Boeotia (Central Greece) are telling me — and the world — that a “hurricane” of solar and wind technologies are wrecking their lives and the countryside.

I am all for solar and wind alternatives to the Earth-warming fossil fuels. The faster they replace dangerous petroleum, natural gas, and coal, the better. The world is in real danger from anthropogenic climate chaos. Climate nemesis is hanging over the planet like the sword of Damokles.

Nevertheless, Greece has been abusing solar and wind energy. Instead of placing solar panels on the roofs of houses and buildings, the local Greek municipal governments and the Ministry of the Environment are licensing private companies to install solar panel arrays on archaeological sites, wetlands, valleys, and mountains.

The situation with wind turbines, some of which are gigantic and 200 meters tall, is worse. Private companies flatten mountain tops, clear cut forests, dig up valleys and mountain sides for the construction of large cement foundations for their monster wind turbines. They act like the ruthless coal companies in Kentucky and West Virginia.


In Central Euboea, there’s an exquisite wetland named Kolobrextis. This wetland supports a number of threatened and endangered species. It is close to an archaeological site. And yet both the archaeological service and the Ministry of the Environment permitted the installation of numerous solar panels in the region of Kolobrextis. Local citizens appealed these illegal decisions, but without success.

They said:

“We consider the wetland our natural inheritance, which cannot be sacrificed on the altar of the interests and profits of a corrupt and unethical market.”

On July 17, 2022, Evi Sarantea, an artist and environmentalist from Euboea, sent the following letter to her friends:

“[Government authorities licensing windfarms] intend to destroy the last dense fir forest left in Central Evia [Euboea]… They already destroyed Southern Evia. They authorized the placement of more than 800 wind turbines in an extensive archaeological site. Some of those wind turbines were about 185 meters tall. And this happened after Northern Evia was incinerated last year. Don’t let this HUBRIS win. ALL the Municipalities and 150 agencies of the island [of Euboea] are 100 percent opposed to the installation of these monsters – with a life span of only 20 years. They will irreversibly and tragically destroy the ecosystem and the formation of the soil which is several tens of millions of years old.”


Boeotia is a prosperous region with rich mythology and history. Its poleis (city-states) Orchomenos and Thebes date from the Bronze Age. Thebes gave Greece god Dionysos and the superhero Herakles and the great lyric poet Pindar.

In July 2022, however, citizens in Central Greece spoke about widespread vandalism and ecological and cultural destruction of mountains sacred in Bronze Age Greece and classical times: Parnassos, Helicon, Cithaeron, and Parnetha.

Hesiod, born in Ascra, a village of Boeotia and second poet only to Homer, was inspired to write his epics on the birth of the gods and rural life by the Muses, goddesses of learning. The inspiration took place on Mt. Helicon.

Sowing wind turbines

And now, in 2022, more than three thousand years after Hesiod, the Greek government serving its debt masters in the European Union and the United States, especially Germany, is blowing up sacred nature in order to dig the giant wind towers from Germany very deeply into fertile land and mountains.

This fast-paced degrading of archaeological sites, and destruction of the natural world in Greece (mountains, forests, wetlands, and land) is socking the Greek people. They don’t know or suspect the reasons behind the vandalism. The government is promising cheap energy prices for their cooperation. But the prices of energy keep increasing.

The citizens are accusing their government of corruption. It allows profiteers and an immoral and unchecked market to undermine and destroy the natural world. This new ugly mechanical and shining solar icons will be throwing people in doubt about climate change and the means of fighting it. They will remember petroleum and coal with nostalgia and pleasure. In essence, this unchecked and nature-deforming energy development will be giving a bad name to solar and wind energy.

The citizens of Boeotia mentioned “the permitting of 38 large wind and solar parks consisting of hundreds of wind turbines and thousands of solar panels.”

Spoiling beauty – and much more

This prospect of the violent mechanization of their daily view of the natural world is extremely disturbing. The citizens of Boeotia complain that,

“Probably all the mountains and forests of Boeotia are slated for attacks from the energy industry. This would transform the natural world beyond recognition. Beekeeping would be abandoned; cattle raising outside of animal farms would also come to an end; cultivating the land for food, tourism, and relaxation in the countryside will be undermined, and eventually abandoned. Trees, bushes, wild animals, and birds are in immediate danger. Wind turbines on the top of mountains will decimate eagles, falcons, and other birds of prey, already under stress of extinction.”

This unnecessary tragedy adds considerably to the unhappiness and debt misery of the Greeks. They are bound to see the finger of Germany behind this onslaught on their few surviving pleasures: walking to the woods in the mountains and forests and valleys; seeing the rare birds of wetlands; and paying their respects to the quiet and beauty spread above the ruins in archaeological sites.

Stop this madness

My advice to the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis would be to break with the humiliations of the debt. Stop paying the illegal  and odious debt. Return to the drachma. And reindustrialize your country. Stop using the German wind behemoths. Build your own wind-electricity generating machines to fit the country’s ecological and climate needs. Indeed, design and build all technologies at home.

Greece used to worship the Sun god Helios and Aiolos, the god of the winds. Yes, Greece needs to stop using fossil fuels, but it also needs to use solar panels only on the rooftops of houses and buildings. And should there be a need for windfarms, always plan and act in the context of ecology, biodiversity, and culture. If the windfarms cannot be used without harm, forget about them. Don’t use them in Greece.


Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.


Ship of Stars
they abducted the stars
got masses of people
to believe in separate Gods
this went on and on
for millennia
till masses of people
forgot that the star-beings
are pulsating with lights
how the stars literally
guide us, birds at night,
us in our dreams, astral travel
forgetting the star-beings,
masses of people
became mis-guided
embroiled in dis-asters
dis- and ster-
“away from the stars”
if i could find a statistic
that shows dis-asters have increased
in modern times as the masses became less
aware of, conscious of, less guided by the stars
i would footnote that
so instead
you’ll have to step outside or
look out a window or
find the lights within
and then you’ll remember
who star-beings are
what star-beings do
Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is a verbiage experiencer, in other words, he’s into etymology, writes about his experiences and to encourage people to learn from direct experiences, not just head knowledge; you know, actions and feelings speak louder than words. He’s also a publisher and enjoys gardening, talking, listening, looking… His recent book is Moving Through The Empty Gate Forest: inside looking out. Find out more at his website: www.allbook-books.com
27.09.2022 à 04:53

The Kingfisher, the Horse, and being on Country

DGR News Service
Texte intégral (5490 mots)

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.

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