Scorpions, And.

During my years in Eastern Indonesia, I experienced a wide range of flora and fauna, from the microscopic (tropical parasites) to the macro (Komodo dragons). A few species were so memorable they merited a written tribute.

Bite Me” my most recent essay published in Lowestoft Chronicles (a free, humorous online lit zine), tells the story of my extremely up-close-and-personal encounters with the widely ranging members of the Order Scorpiones.


Book #2 Featuring a Traditional Pomo Story Produced by University Students

“This is an animal story of the old days. They lived there at Forest Depths. Many animals of different kinds lived there. They played games…”

When my Fall semester students – Courtney Bautista, Chelsea Carner, Danny Perdomo and Sarah Presno – in the Nature & World Cultures course I teach at San José State University presented their book during our final class, everyone’s jaw dropped to the floor.


The illustrations are gorgeous: as in crazy-amazing gorgeous. The story, told by Eric Wilder’s (Kashia Pomo) relative Herman James to ethnographer Robert Oswalt in 1958, languished quietly for almost fifty years in a mimeographed text and audio file, deep in the University of California at Berkeley library archives.

Three years ago, as part of class assignments to actively contribute to biocultural diversity conservation, my students began interviewing elders and excerpting stories from archival records to bring them back to life: as animated story-films and animated texts. The original Native (in this case, Kashia Pomo) text is juxtaposed next to the English translation, allowing for language learning.

The second in a series of open-access books published on Issuu, “The Skunk Brothers and the Elk Doctors” is a fascinating, laugh-out-loud story about the innate nature of beings and their appetites, of inter-relationships and co-dependence in native ecosystems.

Read it to yourself, read it to a child. Read it again and again, today, tonight and for many nights to come.

My Roadkill Habit

We all have secret habits. Mine was a habit with a purpose.


For several years I stopped my SmartCar by the roadside to gather recently perished beings into my arms, bring the beings home, and do whatever was necessary to pass their contributions on to others.

“My Roadkill Habit” is the title of a recent essay, a national finalist in the 2016 Creative Nonfiction Contest held by the journal Hunger Mountain and judged by Robert Michael Pyle.

They come to me in repose, limbs splayed. Bodies still warm. They come in the moments before crossing over; the anima in their eyes transmuting from luminescence to abstraction to absence. There is just enough time to pull over, find the tobacco, lift the creature and singsong a prayer.

Fox, deer, flicker. Woodpecker, squirrel, owl, snake. Gold-tipped fur, softly shimmering scales. Feathers of soul-piercing intensity, beauty beyond measure.

When my habit attracted the attentions of a Yoeme healer, he piled my arms with enough tobacco to sprinkle, and enough sage bundles to burn, for years of roadside finds.

“Don’t be so stingy,” he said in half-jest, intuiting my technique. “No more of those small pinches of tobacco: fill up your entire hand. Be generous with your gifts.” 

Stop the press! Gorgeous storybook on the Waterdog by SJSU students

What happens to Waterdog (a.k.a. the California Red-bellied Newt) when he tries to hook up with Little Frog? And then runs into Bullfrog and Water Snake?

This traditional story, told by Elizabeth “Belle” Lozinto Cordova Dollar [Dry Creek Pomo] to UC Berkeley linguist Robert Oswalt is depicted in a storybook produced for the Grace Hudson Museum (Ukiah, California) by three students from my Summer 2016 Nature and World Cultures class.

Waterdog story

In the space of a mere five weeks, Lauren Davidson, Yu (Emily) Hsuan Liu, and Jorge Morga pulled together an elegant digital text telling the story within a story: the story of Waterdog, yes, but also the story of Elizabeth Dollar. The entire book is available for free on this link: Waterdog and the Love Charm.

Read and share widely!

(With deep thanks to GHM Director Sherri Smith-Ferri for providing the story and biographical material.)

A new definition of homeland security

In the redwoods

There once was a Lass with a Tiny Home On Wheels (a converted shuttle bus) who needed a place to park her Home.

She lived happily amongst the redwoods…until the rain and the shade and the damp (and the very, very long drives to work) drove her inland, to drier climatic regimes and shorter commutes.

Upon reaching  Sonoma County, she found a spot in a tiny home community; one that defied all the usual stereotypes of places known as “mobile home parks.” Here be stunning hillside vistas! Full of native vegetation: oaks, madrones, manzanitas, buckeye! Wild critters! Spacious accommodations! A fishpond!  A pool!


And kindness. She found kindness. Folks who shared fruit from their trees, and lent a helping hand when you needed one (or two). She [re]discovered neighborliness, peace and quiet. She found sanctuary, with the most blessed security of knowing her Tiny Home (and she, and her puppy dog) had a Place.

New spot


**** deep sigh of relief ****


After indulging in a Jubilant Jig (a.k.a.Happy Dance), she got down to business. She installed her hummingbird feeder, set up her REI shelter, invested in outdoor lounge-around furnishings, planted a kitchen garden, acquired pollinator plants, donned her swimsuit, and dove (with gratitude and enthusiasm) into her New Life.




Peacocks! Squirrels! The dangers of introducing non-native species.

Once upon a time there was this peacock who came to Buddhaland…becoming a tourist attraction but wrecking havoc on the local ecosystem.

After studying about food webs, ecological balance, and invasive species, my students made a film about what happens when peacocks are introduced to Northern California.

During our last week of the AP Environmental Science class at the Developing Virtue High School (City of Ten Thousand Buddhas), we dreamed up a two minute tale – original chalk drawings!! great sound effects!!– and brought it to life.

Invasive species are now among the top three threats to biological diversity (the other two are climate change and habitat destruction). Just because we think a fish, a bird, or a plant is pretty doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to bring it home with us – many introduced species become invasive when they compete with natives for food, water, and shelter.

Do your part by learning the difference between native species (living beings who evolved and adapted to a specific place) and non-native species (beings who were introduced to a new location, and did not evolve to live harmoniously with the existing residents). Be respectful of wild species and wild places, and help keep our planet in balance.




Student video revives ancient language

Animated videos posted on YouTube are helping to revive ancient languages, nowadays spoken mostly by tribal elders. Hupa, Pomo, Miwok, and Wukchumni are among hundreds of languages native to tribes and tribal communities throughout California. According to criteria set by the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), every tribal language in California is considered threatened or endangered.

One such video, “Animal Gamblers,” a story from the northern coastal tribe of Kashaya Pomo, involves over a dozen different mammal, bird, and insects playing a traditional hand game, one still played among tribes using bones or shells. The Native language spoken in the video and the native species featured in the story exemplify biocultural diversity: the combination of biological and cultural variation. California, with its hundreds of tribes, tribal communities, and ecosystems is a biocultural diversity hotspot.

Students Lisa Crane, Shifa Molla, and Anna Shein co-produced the video, based on a traditional Kashaya story told and sung by elder Herman James and recorded by ethnographer Robert Oswalt in 1958. Each animal featured in the film – grizzly bear, skunk, coyote, kingfisher, hawk, blowfly and others – is portrayed by a shadow puppet accurately representing a carefully researched native Californian species. “We figured our professor would know the difference, so we had to be on our game!” laughs Lisa.

The elegant design of the video allows viewers to experience the film in three different ways: watching the story performed through shadow puppetry, hearing the animal voices and the story line spoken in Kashaya Pomo, and reading the translation in English accompanying each scene.

The students came up with the idea of using an ancient storytelling technique – shadow puppetry – to honor the ancient roots of the Kashaya language and to inspire viewers. “We really wanted people to feel immersed in the language,” says Lisa, “the repetition in the story really helps people [become] familiar with the language, by feeling it and being a part of it.”

“One of the main audiences for our film is children, since they are the key to restoring lost languages in the future,” explains Shifa. According to UNESCO, the primary criterion determining whether a language will persist is intergenerational language transfer: from grandparents to parents to children. In California, many tribes and tribal communities are working year-round to provide language classes: by offering Native languages online, in evening classes, through apprenticeship programs, and in the case of the Yurok and Tolowa (Smith River Rancheria) tribes, in high school curricula.

The student filmmakers produced the video while enrolled in a general education course offered at San José State University entitled “Nature and World Cultures,” taught by ethnoecologist Dr. Jeanine Pfeiffer. The course educates students on the threats to biocultural diversity – such as cultural assimilation, climate change, and invasive species – and requires students to contribute to solutions to overcome those threats.

Hundreds of Dr. Pfeiffer’s students, working with tribal representatives, have produced micro-documentaries, Wikipedia articles, and bilingual animated videos that directly contribute to conserving biocultural diversity. “After watching our video, we hope people will be interested in learning more about the Kashaya. These are people who are part of our history too,” notes Anna.