A story of love and loss from Indonesia

Photocopy image

“A filthy drinking glass, used toothbrush, and crumpled tube of toothpaste lay on top of a simple cement capstone, their ordinariness heartrendingly poignant. I lit candles I had tucked into my pack earlier that morning, said a prayer, and remained by the graveside for several minutes longer, swatting mosquitos, racking my brain, trying to understand her choices.

How does a mother allow her child to disintegrate before her eyes?”

This excerpt, from my recently published essay “Photocopy” in the Spring 2018 issue of Sky Island Journal embodies one of the hardest stories I have ever tried to tell.

The true-to-life story comes from the years I lived, on-and-off, with my adopted tribe, the Tado. Like most extended families, ours is a complicated relationship, with a tremendous range of emotions that flame and flex and flame again.

When I first began workshopping this story in 2008 at the Grub Street Writing Center in Boston, it proved one of the more difficult pieces for me to write, and equally difficult for others to read. Ten years later, I’ve finally found the words, and a home, for an experience that continues to haunt me, with no easy answers. Writing and re-writing this story has deepened my empathy, and my conviction that if we remain silent about unpalatable truths, how can we ever grow, both as individuals and as a people?

Sky Island Journal is one of those amazing literary journals that choses to make all of its content FREE and open access: you can click through each of their issues to date, and download poetry, flash fiction, and creative non-fiction works in bite-size pieces (<1000 words) from throughout the United States and the world.

Sky Island Journal_Issue 4_CoverIssue #4 contains a tremendous diversity of poetry and prose to explore. My favorite poems include “Flying Fox” by Alison Thompson (Australia) and  “Joan of Arc Goes to the Gym” by Jarred Thompson (South Africa).

I encourage folks to spend some time reading and digesting the material, and sharing the pieces that most intrigued or moved you with someone else: let’s keep the power of the written word alive, and the conversation going.

Beauty & Love Publishing debut!

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A celebration of traditional culture.

Each book features a different aspect of biocultural diversity: Waterdog & the Love Charm, a delightfully mischievous tale told by Dry Creek Pomo Elizabeth “Belle” Lozinto Cordova Dollar (and edited by her great-niece Sherri Smith-Ferri) illustrates the close ties between nature and culture – and the perils of interspecies relationships (!!).

In Pomo Cradle Baskets: An Introduction, Redwood Valley Pomo master weaver Corine Pearce describes the history, wild-crafting, distinct styles and contemporary use of traditional cradle baskets. This book stems from her lifelong commitment to revive full-circle basketry through tending native plants in situ and providing cultural continuity.

The Beadwork of Stewart Wilburn commemorates fifty years of stunning artistry by a renowned Wailaki/Tolowa/Pomo/Wintu self-taught beader whose designs often come to him in dreams, and whose work honors and represents the people and wildlife of Northern California.

Buy the books on the Beauty & Love Publishing website.

Author events can be scheduled by contacting the publisher, Dr. Jeanine Pfeiffer at www.beautyandlove.org

300 more trees planted…

…this month by my extended family in Tado, eastern Indonesia, to help achieve my annual goal of carbon-neutral living while conserving biocultural diversity.

Why 300 trees? What types of trees? And why Tado?


Three hundred trees represent the number of actively growing woody plants I need to plant to offset the tonnage of carbon dioxide (a major greenhouse gas) emitted by my lifestyle every six months. The trees planted are culturally significant, locally native species – mango and jackfruit – used for traditional foods and medicines.

Tado is the name of the indigenous clan who claim me as family, ever since I showed up on their doorstep as an aspiring PhD student in 1997. We began living and working together in 1999, collaboratively researching, documenting, and conserving Tado ancestral lifeways. We  built a community research center and developed a community-based ecotourism program, both of which are going strong almost twenty years later (!!).


My younger brother Yeremias Uril (Jeremy), pictured above) chose species that could be hand-grown from locally collected seeds and stakes, would thrive even under low rainfall conditions, and could re-vegetate a denuded hillside. Yeremias envisions these trees helping to restore local watersheds and provide ethnobotanical teaching moments for tourists hiking in the area.

Yeremias has even proffered a special “Trekking + Tree Planting” ecotourism package for visitors who want to leave an environmentally-friendly legacy while visiting Tado.

Big Sister (a.k.a. Dr. Pfeiffer) is SO proud!



We need to stop killing bison

This Winter, like all the winters going back for decades, our US Forest Service and our National Parks Service are coordinating the slaughter of American Bison on public lands.

Plains Tribes have been asking to receive the “excess” Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Park bison for many years, and they are rarely – if ever – successful.

My friend Mike Mease of the Buffalo Field Campaign has devoted his life to saving these buffalo, and has inspired and led hundreds of other volunteers to join him.

We can stop the killings. We have better options. Read more…

Pfeiffer 18Jan2018 HCN



New Series of Heroic His/Her-stories

In increasingly uncertain times, we need heroes (and heroines) more than ever. My definition of a hero is someone who enriches our world with grace and extraordinary skill, overcoming adversities to pursue their vision.

This January I’m launching a new initiative to produce a series of bio-pics of heroes/heroines within my circle of beloveds. The people to be featured include master craftspeople keeping Native traditions alive, environmental scientists monitoring lake waters for toxins, and basketry instructors weaving together environmental protection with cultural revitalization. The bio-pics will be published as digital and print books and short YouTube videos on my Dr. Pfeiffer channel.


A bio-pic produced as a Shutterfly and eBook years ago on master beadworker Stewart Wilburn will be updated; YouTube videos on work to address vanishing species and toxic algal blooms in Clear Lake will be expanded and deepened.

Initial funding comes from faculty development grants at San José State University to support student collaborations with Northern California tribes.

Stay tuned! If this takes off, it might be time to launch one of those GoFundMe sites…

Tiny House Festival 2018 to feature the Champion bus!

Three-hundred-and-thirty-three thousand YouTube views later (and a forthcoming chapter in a book on the Modern Housebus by Kimberley Mok), the Champion bus will be available for onsite tours at the 2018 Tiny House Living Festival this February 2-4 at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, California.

Champion at Tiny Home Living Fest

As the festival organizers describe it, “join hundreds of other tiny house enthusiasts at this three day celebration of the tiny house movement! Explore the possibilities for small space living; tour tiny houses, park models, yurts, school bus conversions, live aboard boats and more!

Come visit! The festival will have a slew of tiny homes to tour, speakers, sustainable living products, the works. Of course the most important part of the festival is connecting with folks who are passionate about downsizing and alternative living, and who can give you an insider’s view about How To Do It. One-day tickets are $14/$12; three-day tickets are $30.

University students support tribal youth promoting traditional foods

One of the most abundant, nutritious, and freely available foods in California falls on the ground every autumn, and while the squirrels, woodpeckers, and several hundred other species take notice, very few humans still do.


Acorns were the original all-purpose mush, providing protein, carbohydrates, fats, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and niacin. Stripped of their outer shell and inner skin, pounded and ground, soaked in water to release the bitter tannins, dried, and carefully stored, acorn flour could last months until the next acorn processing.

Nowadays few people go to the effort of making acorn flour into mush, yet when they do, and bring the dish to a tribal gathering, it is fully appreciated, especially by tribal elders.

In Santa Rosa, the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center is working with tribal youth to develop an ACORN* energy bar ” to make it possible for California Indians and everyone to be able to eat acorns daily while advancing the acorn ways of our tribal communities.”

*ACORN stands for Advancing Cultural Opportunities to Reclaim NutritionACORN ENERGY BARS are “made with acorn meal and other organic, gluten-free ingredients representing the bounty of California.”

SJSU student fundraiser acorn bars

As their GoFundMe campaign website explains, “Healthy eating is a critical issue in our communities. You may not know that 1 in 9 Native people in California have diabetes, mainly Type II. [D]iabetes in our communities is associated with dietary/nutritional choices and physical inactivity. Healthy eating and exercise can help prevent diabetes and control it. Incorporating traditional foods in our diets is extremely important but not always possible for us in contemporary life. This is where ACORN comes in by contributing and facilitating consumption of a nutritive meal made with traditional foods.”

This Fall semester at San José State University, a student group in our Nature and World Cultures class – Jaime Allen, Johanna Lundsford, and Van Nguyen, held a fundraiser on campus to earn money for this project. Prior to the fundraiser, the group attended cultural events at the Museum and the California Indian Heritage Center in Sacramento while researching traditional acorn processing. The fundraiser fulfilled the group’s goal of actively contributing to biocultural diversity conservation – in this case, supporting tribal youth in reviving an ancient food packaged within a modern-day product.

The GoFundMe campaign continues, and welcomes donations. For more information, see CIMCC or visit the Museum at 5250 Aero Drive, Santa Rosa, California, (707) 579-3004, M – F 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.