this moment

this moment
a bright sliver of the moon hangs over
the dark shadowy mountains of the
valley of the moon

i stand stone still
watching the first glimmers of dawn
the quarter moon so bright it
almost looks full

the valley below so silent
like the beginning of time
no busy minds…no cars…
only the soft soft hooting of the owl

Ojai, March 23, 2007

Early Morning in Ojai

I head out in the dark
to catch the magic moment —
the crack of dawn

My dog runs ahead
her exuberance, her ecstasy
is contagious

I look West
and the full moon
is hanging high in the sky
by an etheric thread

I look East
and the dark sky begins to blaze
from the hidden sun

My big booted feet
take strong, giant steps
The crow of the roosters
Cheers me on

I turn and head for the wild
I lean against a huge boulder
and watch the bright full Moon
Slowly sink

The Earth feels like Eden
Like a playground
Where all we are asked to do
Is feel the forces of Life

The first light of day
A mixture of the sun and moon
Illuminates the world
Everything is aglow

Together we stand
Between the sun and the moon
In a field of joy


January 1, 2010, Dawn of the New Year, the river bottom, Ojai, California


Morning Meditation Under the Great Oak

It’s no use trying to save the world
When I myself am drowning
I sit now under the Great Oak
A tree so strong, so majestic
So silent, so serene
She is safe here far off the beaten path
Far away from the relentless greed of man

And I am safe here under her canopy
Here I can sit on a cool hard rock
And enter the sacred silence
Here I sit in the greatest cathedral of all
I look up at her awesome branches
Spreading in all directions
Upward and outward

I sit still so I can see Her
I sit still so I can feel Her
I sit still so I can hear Her
Her natural beauty is such a relief
That I cry tears of happiness

I study her trunk
So straight and strong
I see how the base of the trunk grows
Over a huge rock
I can hardly believe this was once a tiny acorn sprout
And now look at Her
See how Her graceful branches touch the ground
A perfect canopy

Now look — see how the huge trunk branches out into eight limbs
Like the eight limbs of Yoga
That we have all but forgotten
My soul cries out for Ahimsa
Non violence, mercy

The silence of the Oak can only go so deep
My mind won’t let me sleep
I cry out for the immense suffering and injustice
For the people and animals
At least people can speak

I cannot forget the pig in the steel crate
When I close my eyes I feel the holy stillness
But I still see the pig

Reign in your wandering mind
For this still moment
Leave the world behind
And focus on the Oak
Relax your clenched fist
Know you have a right to rage and be angry

For now
Feel the sweetness of the great Oak
Hear the coo of the quail
See how the light sparkles on the leaves
See how the sun rises each morning in spite of man’s insanity
See how the Great Oak grows silently

Like the Oak
I have no choice
But to express my true nature.
And revel in the miracle of being.

It’s Easy Being Bag-Free!

Years ago I went to a market in Saanen, Switzerland and, much to my chagrin, they did not provide a bag for me to carry my groceries back to the chalet. I purchased a string bag on the spot, and after that I never again forgot to take my own bag to the store in Europe.

More recently, while visiting my relatives in Holland, I noticed that my cousin, like many other Dutch shoppers, brought cardboard boxes each time she made a trip to the store. For larger items or quantities, boxes work even better than canvas bags.

My bicycle is equipped with two large saddle bags that hold two giant canvas bags of groceries or other items. For larger things like watermelons I hook-up my trusty bike cart or use my handy personal shopping cart which I purchased at Star Market for about $18.

I also keep a large sturdy attractive straw basket, an old back-pack and a variety of recycled bags and cloth bags permanently in the car. Storing the plastic and paper bags you already have on hand immediately in the car rather than stuffing them in a drawer and risk forgetting to bring them when you run to the market, is one of the easiest things you can do for the environment.

It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic bags Americans use each year. In addition, about 15 million trees are cut down to produce paper for paper bags. You can help reduce oil consumption and save trees simply by bringing your own bag on your next trip to the store.

Each sturdy reusable shopping bag you use has the potential to eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of plastic and paper bags over its lifetime.

As other citizens of our beautiful valley have pointed out, the City of Ojai should adopt a Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance. The facts and figures regarding the true cost of plastic bags are well-documented on web sites like which features a counting clock of plastic bags consumed this year. One million bags a minute are consumed, becoming trash and choking marine mammals.

Becoming a plastic-bag-free City is one more important step towards Ojai becoming a model Sustainable City. Local stores can look to stores like the Swedish furniture company, IKEA for ways to encourage customers to remember to bring their own re-usable bags. IKEA is charging shoppers in their U.S. stores five cents for each plastic bag. The move to charging for a bag helps to remind more people to bring a reusable sack. Stores should also credit customers five cents for each recycled bag used in bagging their groceries.

Ojai stores should take the lead and adopt bag reduction measures such as the above as soon as possible. There are numerous other ways to motivate customers to bring their own bags, boxes and baskets. Another step used by some stores is to provide a bin where customers can use re-cycled paper and plastic bags brought in by other customers, for those times they forget to bring their own.

Ojai stores could have a display with the Top Facts on the true cost and environmental impact of plastic bags. For example:
Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.

According to the EPA, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. (Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion)
According to the industry publication Modern Plastics, Taiwan consumes 20 billion bags a year—900 per person.

Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.

Plastic bags do not biodegrade, they photodegrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest.

Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags. According to the BBC, one group harvests 30,000 per month.

According to David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags have gone “from being rare in the late 80s and early 90s to being almost everywhere from Spitsbergen 78° North [latitude] to Falklands 51° South [latitude].

Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation.

Remember: Each high quality reusable shopping bag you use has the potential to eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of plastic and paper bags over its lifetime.

(Editorial, 2007)

Car Free in Carmageddon

About seven years ago I gradually changed my trip to work from a two-hour car commute to a refreshing ten-minute bicycle ride.

After a decade of driving the freeway, my soul had grown weary of watching the sun rise and set from behind the steering wheel. Working closer to home meant a cut in my income, giving up my new Mazda mini van and downsizing to an older Toyota.

Around this same time I began reading a mountain of books on sustainable cities and saving the Earth; pleas for sanity like “If You Love this Planet,” by Helen Caldicott, MD, “How Much Is Enough” by Alan Durning, “The Geography of Nowhere”by James Howard Kunstler and “Asphalt Nation-How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back,” by Jane Holtz Kay.

Amazingly, these books all said the same thing: “The cumulative effect of 500 million cars worldwide is responsible for more social and environmental damage than any other artifact on our planet.”

I learned that half of all daily trips in the United States lie within a three-mile radius and a quarter of all trips are only a mile long or less; that people live in a realm much smaller then they think, using vehicles too big for the real scale of their daily travel. I began to note that cars often function as glorified shopping carts and saw that we use two tons of steel to haul a one pound loaf of bread.

Besides educating myself about the hidden cost of the private car, what really made me question the driving life was the observation that in spite of increased speed, people feel like they have less time then ever before. Greater mobility has had the paradoxical effect of lengthening how far people go rather than saving them time. Time-use studies find little difference in average commuting times in the car-centered US culture where we guzzle 40% of the world’s gasoline, and in countries that are virtually carless. People without cars walk, bicycle or take the bus to work a half-hour or hour each way; Americans drive the same amount of time.

Lest I be misunderstood, let me clarify that I see nothing wrong with the car per se-I like their comfort and convenience as much as the next person does. Used wisely, cars have their place in a balanced transportation system. It’s just that there’s too darned many of them and our small planet cannot possibly cough up enough resources to provide every human being with their own air-conditioned/CD/phone/fax/micro-wave equipped “carcoon.”

I’ve always been a part time cyclist but what I learned about cars and the environment inspired me to take bicycling to a whole new level.

The day came that I began to resent paying insurance on a vehicle I only pulled out of the driveway two or three times a month.

Shortly thereafter I sold my Toyota. For the past five years I’ve been conducting an experiment to see if it’s still possible, in a culture that practically makes car ownership a mandatory condition of legitimate citizenship, to function AUTOFREE.

Cars define us and promise euphoria. Alas, cars are no longer our servants. They are our masters.

I made a vow that, except for emergencies, I would make all trips within a three-mile radius on foot or bicycle. I purchased a collapsible shopping cart and a bicycle trailer big enough to hold a fifty-pound bag of potbellied pigfood and four bags of groceries. I’ve learned to ride wearing almost any outfit -a business suit or even a long skirt, rain or shine. I have an electric bike to help me when my travels take me uphill. Occasionally I ride the bus and use the airport shuttle. And, in a culture where many families have two or three vehicles, it’s not hard to catch a ride or borrow or rent a car when a genuine need arises!

(Editorial, Ojai Valley News and other publications, 2000)

Spiritual Politics

Suza for Ojai (political activism for a sustainable Ojai)

Transforming politics – a new paradigm

Editorial by former Ojai Mayor Suza Francina
(written in 1999)

Politics is really the art of governance, a science that synthesizes opposing views into a higher level of understanding. Spiritual politics responds not just to competing interests and demands for rights, but, rather focuses on the next evolutionary step in growth for each individual and group.

—from the book, Spiritual Politics, Changing the World from the Inside Out by Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson

Elected officials, myself included, have been known to use the disclaimer, “I’m not a politician,” as if being a politician is a greedy, corrupt and dishonorable occupation. What many of us mean when we say “politics” is “partisan power struggle” or “pursuit of power,” and this has given politics a bum rap.

But politics is really the art of governance, a science that synthesizes opposing views into a higher level of understanding. Politics is usually the last frontier in the process of cultural transformation. The concepts of “spiritual politics,” “transformational politics,” and “green politics” are gradually making their way into the mainstream.

These emerging paradigms promotes a more wholistic approach to the art of governance, which then promote a symbiosis between personal and social change.The new paradigms recognize the sacred interconnection of all life. New paradigms in politics, like the new paradigms in medicine, recognize the link between body, mind and spirit. In fact, many of the new ways of thinking about personal health apply to the health of society and the planet, as well. Transformational politics recognizes that changing the world comes from the inside out, and that personal health and planetary health are intimately connected. The process of healing the self and healing the planet is profoundly linked.

This new political paradigm is being developed by a wide range of people, including well-known political figures such as the Dalai Lama, Tom Hayden, Jerry Brown, and writers Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson, authors of the book “Spiritual Politics – Changing the World from the Inside Out.” A key principle of the new spiritual, transformational paradigm is that “the personal is political and the political is personal.” This involves a philosophy of moral accountability, where private lives must be lived in accordance with publicly stated principles. It begins with the simple, but difficult, recognition that if we want to transform the world into a kinder, more harmonious place, we must transform ourselves.

This perspective holds that everything we think, say and do has political implications-from making green, cruelty-free, less polluting consumer choices to our occupational and lifestyle choices. California State Senator Tom Hayden summed it up nicely when he said, “I stand with Henry David Thoreau, who said that if you are going to vote, you should vote not with a mere strip of paper, but with your whole life – in my own experience, one’s soul is no safer from oppression or corruption than one’s lungs are safe from pollution and exploitation.” The old political paradigms were based on the concept of economic growth, in which societies were thought to be doing well if they were at peace and growing economically. But the new political paradigm is a post-materialistic one, based on the image of healthy human growth.

A successful society is one that places the physical, social and spiritual health of the people above all else. This is reflected in the ancient philosophy of the Chinese, whose word for “governing” was actually the same as for “healing.” A good politician is a healer of collective ills. Those creating the concept of spiritual, transformational politics are exploring the deeper causes behind problems with the hope of finding solutions that are long-term and sustainable, not just “quick fixes” that may have a high price tomorrow.

Here are some of the key principles on which this new political paradigm is based:

· Respecting the interconnection of all life
· Creating a synthesis out of adversarial positions
· Transcending old definitions of “left” and “right”
· Matching rights with responsibilities
· Promoting government initiatives to develop self-reliance
· Searching for common ground for the good of the whole
· Thinking in whole systems
· Creating nonviolent, win/win solutions to problems
· Building cooperative relationships that respect the highest in each person
· Learning to truly listen to other points of view
· Examining the psychological roots of problems
· Enhancing self-esteem
· Using intuition and “attunement” in decision making
· Shifting from a mechanistic toward a spiritual, value-oriented perspective.

New paradigms require a profound change in consciousness, involving a shift of our deepest assumptions of what it means to be a human being. Spiritual, transformational politics requires a similar shift in our consciousness.

Former Ojai Mayor Suza Francina is a writer and national spokesperson on health and environmental issues. © 1999 The Ojai Valley News

Ahimsa and Animal Advocacy

August 16, 2009 – Ventura County Star Opinion:

4-H responsibility should include visit to slaughterhouse

September 02, 2009 – Fair No Fun for 4-H Pet Market Animals, but Happy Ending For One Lucky Pig

August 14, 2009 – Today is Auction Day for the 4-H Animals.

August 11, 2009 – 4-H Kids and Their Animals: the Ultimate Betrayal at the Fair

August 09, 2009 – Why 4-H Kids Should Not Send Their Animals to the Slaughterhouse

October 21, 2008 – Does Ojai Care About Animals?

July 18, 2008 – From Rosie and Tillie: Ojai SpokesPigs Alert

June 21, 2008 – Keeping Cool in Hot Ojai with Rosie, Tillie and Artoo-Detoo

May 06, 2008 – Announcement from Rosie and Tillie: Anti-Cruelty Measure Certified for California’s November Ballot

April 24, 2008 – “Supporting our Planet … One Bite at a Time!”

April 22, 2008 – A Yoga In the Ojai Valley Earth Day Review: Green Yoga

April 21, 2008 – Earth Day Editorial by Rosie and Tillie, Ojai Spokespigs

March 09, 2008 – EARTHLINGS

February 29, 2008 – Meet Rosie and Tillie, Ojai’s First Spokespigs
February 13, 2008 – A Visit to an Ojai Pig Sanctuary

December 07, 2007 – The Call to Mercy

December 02, 2007 – Say YES! for Humane Treatment of Animals

November 22, 2007 – George Bush: Pardon All The Turkeys

October 19, 2007 – The greening of Ojai–a chicken coop in every backyard?

August 08, 2007 Do 4-H Kids Really Know Where Their Animals Are Going?

Ten Reasons Why Bicycles Are Good!

Listing the benefits of bicycling makes it sound like one of those old patent medicines: “guaranteed to cure all your ills.” But the simple truth is that bicycling is good for the air, the water, the earth, the quality of life in our community, helps to conserve energy, increases property value, increases business, and makes our streets and highways more efficient and, at the same time is good for our health, makes us more fit, and its fun!

Here is a quick look at the ten top reasons why bicycles are good!

1. Bicycling is good for family-friendly communities. A recent survey of potential home buyers found that 93 percent said “quiet, low traffic areas were very or extremely important” in selecting the type of community they want to live in. More than 70 percent of the home buyers cited bicycling facilities as important to their decision. Parents recognize that children are more independent in bicycle friendly communities. Women between the age of 30 and 50 tend to make far more vehicle trips than men–largely due to the “chauffeur” role they play in delivering children to various after-school destinations. Safe bicycle routes liberate both parents and children.

2. Bicycling increases property values. Studies have shown that property values climb in neighborhoods near newly built bicycle-pedestrian trails. “Community designs that deliver low traffic and quiet streets. ” “Lots of natural, open space” and “Walking and biking paths” were the top three priorities among 39 features identified by home buyers as crucial factors in their home-purchasing decision.

3. Bicycling contributes to community safety. Streets full of cyclists have a calming effect on motorists. Communities with high rates of cycling tend to have reduced rates of traffic deaths and injuries among bicyclists and pedestrians. It is estimated that for every dollar invested in bicycle and pedestrian improvements, we save double this amount in medical costs from averted traffic accidents. Many successful community policing programs around the nation is the bicycle -mounted police squad. Placing cops on bikes (as we do here in Ojai) has proved effective in fostering goodwill among residents of crime-plagued neighborhoods, while the crime-fighting virtues of the bicycle — stealth, speed, all-terrain mobility — are well-established.

4. Bicycling improves air quality and the health of the community. Place any living creature in a closed system and turn on even a brand new combustion engine and death is the result. Our Earthly atmosphere is a closed system about 10 miles high. The burning of fossil fuels, primarily from cars, busses and trucks is contaminating the single most important ingredient for human health–clean air. An average four-mile round-trip bike trip prevents nearly 15 pounds of air pollutants from contaminating the air.

5. Bicycling conserves energy and resources. Bicycle trips are most likely to displace short car trips, which are less fuel efficient than longer trips. Bicycle transportation saves an estimated 700 million gallons of fuel annually. By making our communities safe and practical for bicycling, bicyclists could save the U.S. as much as three billion gallons of fuel each year.

6. Bicycling helps relieve traffic congestion. Bicycle improvements can encourage motorists to shift some of their short automotive trips to bicycling. Approximately 40% of all car trips are less than two miles in length.

7. Bicycling is economical. Bicycling is the most-cost effective mode of transportation. The cost of operating a car has climbed 300 percent in the last 20 years. Growing numbers of families find that the replacement of a commuter car with a commuter bike can restore thousands of dollars annually to the household budget. Critics point out that we make a grave error by measuring time gained by speed as miles per hour while sitting in our car. We forget the time spent in earning money to pay for the vehicle, insure it, and maintain it, which in an overall view of our lives is the real measure of our time. From a broader perspective (calculating the hidden costs of driving), it is estimated that cars actually deliver us at speeds of about five miles per hour. One quarter of our waking lives are spent in performing the involuntary activities associated with the automobile-transportation system.

8. Bicycling is good for the economy. Besides increasing property values, we cannot afford to overlook that Ojai has a tourist based economy. Tourists love to visit places where they can conveniently park once and forget the stress of driving. “Car-Free Vacations”, “Carless Vacations”, destinations known as a “Bicycle-Pedestrian Paradise” or “Walkable Cities”, are recognized as both desirable for visitors and local residents who find noise and congestion from traffic to be the single most annoying side effect from tourists. Retailers are recognizing that healthy revenues do not depend on heavy car traffic and lots of parking. Cars don’t shop–people do! Studies show that bicycle-pedestrian friendly street designs creates a shopper friendly atmosphere which increases retail business. Plus bicycles free up valuable car parking spaces for those people who must drive.

9. Bicycling promotes health and fitness for people of all ages, including our older population. Bicycling is a lifelong, low impact aerobic activity available to almost anyone. Modern gearing allows every user to find his or her own level of effort. Three wheelers with large baskets can be used by older adults riding for the first time. The role of the bicycle in keeping older people healthy and independent is just beginning to be explored. One study suggests that if one quarter of the nations sedentary adults — 20 million people-would exercise moderately on a regular basis, savings to the healthcare system would exceed $5 billion.

10. Bicycling is fun! Actually, bicycling is more than fun. It is a spiritually uplifting, consciousness raising, mind expanding experience. Riding your bike connects you to the earth and everything you see all around you.

Resources: Website for the publisher of Auto Free Times and Alliance for a Paving Moratorium

Ojai is still a place that uplifts the spirit

January, 2000

On New Year’s Day I sat high up on a rock in the East End, overlooking the whole valley. Here I could immerse myself in the spectacular view of the majestic mountains, orange and avocado groves, and relax in the profound peace and stillness that still pervades this part of the valley.

In a more enlightened era, a place as beautiful as Ojai would have the same level of protection as a National Park. Its mountains, creeks, fields and groves would be regarded as a treasure that should be preserved and protected for future generations. Our valley would be regarded as holy, as a healing place.

Thankfully, the Ojai Valley is still a place that uplifts the human spirit and nourishes the soul. At least for us, Ojai is still Shangri-la.

We owe a great debt to all the concerned citizens and elected officials who made the critical decisions that allowed Ojai to remain a small town.

The Ojai Valley News’ (OVN) archives tell a riveting tale of one battle after another to save Ojai from the demons that destroyed small towns across the nation: freeways, chain store sprawl, mining, oil drilling, dumps and dozens of battles pertaining to condominiums, apartments and trailer parks.

As we enter the year 2000, in many ways the problems Ojai faces remain the same, but the pressures that contribute to these problems have increased. Essentially, it is the eternal problem of preserving our town, preserving our orchards and open space, while providing jobs and housing for all economic levels, revitalizing our downtown core and managing the traffic generated by both those of us who live here and thousands of visitors.

The Land Use Element of our General Plan, updated in 1997, sets forth the city’s fundamental land use philosophy-future growth will consist primarily of in-fill development.

The Circulation Element of our General Plan addresses the need to create a balanced transportation system. In 1999, the city adopted a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan that recognizes that part of the solution to our traffic problems lies in encouraging our local residents and visitors to make more short trips by foot or bicycle.

Again, the archives of the OVN reveal countless editorials that state: “The biggest problem that the city of Ojai has to face, now and in the future, is solving the downtown traffic congestion ” (Ojai City Manager Jack Blalock, Dec. 24, 1967 OVN). Every imaginable strategy for diverting traffic from Ojai Avenue has been discussed over the years. Perhaps the only way left to create a car-free pedestrian zone town square between Libbey Park and the arcade is to build an ingenious underground tunnel between Signal and Montgomery.

One of the greatest challenges we face in the years ahead is reducing traffic in spite of a growing population. There are many traffic reduction strategies we can implement in our valley where most destinations are less than three miles. We can reduce our traffic count only if we have the will and desire to do so. A parking lot moratorium is a step in the right direction. And those who organize weekend events that attract large numbers of tourists must have a plan to allow these thousands of visitors to enter our valley without a car.

A necessary element for the economic survival of communities like Ojai is their ability to support businesses that rely heavily on telecommunications and the Internet to market themselves in Ojai. Another challenge for the year 2000 is working to create economic health in a manner that stays in harmony with the small town nature of Ojai.

Intimately linked to the critical issue of attracting more adequate-paying local jobs is the double-edged sword of tourism. We need to ask ourselves if we are catering too much to high-end tourism. Will Ojai follow the fate of Maui, Aspen, Sedona, Coeur d’Alene and other places that traded their hometown feeling and beauty for dollars?

We need to think about the type of tourists we want to attract. The natural beauty could be offered to outdoor enthusiasts, to people who make conscious efforts to enjoy the gifts nature has to offer while protecting them.

Away from the noise of traffic in downtown Ojai, it is easy to imagine Ojai like a protected island, a jewel relatively unspoiled by the environmental degradation of the rest of the planet. The year 2000 will bring growing awareness of global warming, species loss and the contamination of all that sustains life.

Ecologists agree that cities must be the central focus of strategies for a sustainable future. The years ahead will force us to confront the reality that Ojai cannot accommodate a growing population unless we change over to more sustainable planning. The fate of our valley is the fate of the Earth.

Suza Francina is the mayor of Ojai.
Ojai Valley News, Guest Commentary, January 7, 2000