Good Gravy!

Samhain, flowers in my hair and why Halloween no longer creeps me out

Opinions & Voices
Column: Good Gravy! A look at permaculture by Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

In 1991, at 9-years-old the autumn and winter we spent in Arizona with an aunt, I found a beautiful gift ready for me one day.

The flowers were real, fresh and beautiful and arranged in a wreath with green ribbons down the back.

A tomboy usually, I thought I had never seen something so beautiful and something so pretty, my kind of pretty, just for me.

Then I realized it was something of a bribe for me to do what most other 9-year-old’s would gladly do–dress up and attend their school’s Halloween festival (complete with a haunted house), eat lots of candy and have fun.

I hated Halloween as a child and going out after dark on Halloween was something I fought against doing.

Maybe because I grew up in the 80s and 90s, when you heard about cats and other critters being hurt or tortured on Halloween (I love animals). We were taught to check over our candy in case someone tried to poison us. Supposedly, the dead, and certainly those still alive but with a bent towards evil, walked again on this night.

Who in their right mind would think this day was fun?!

For some reason my family, my older cousin especially, thought  that I was going to miss out on something if I didn’t attend this school event. I believe that this community in Camp Verde, Arizona, held this in lieu of kids trick or treating, though I’m not sure.

I had agreed to attend under one condition–that I got to dress like Mother Nature, a suggestion my mother had made. By God and all that was sacred, if I had to go out on this night of death, I was going to epitomize the force of LIFE!

So, donning a crown of flowers on my head that my cousin had so thoughtfully ordered from a flower shop, with my hair curled and flowing down my shoulders and letting my mother and aunt wrap me in a sheet toga-style to channel some version of Gaia and bringing with me my favorite, stuffed racoon friend, Sunset, I was off.
I don’t remember much more of the evening, just that I kept a wide berth around that haunted house. The wreath I hung to dry by my bed.

While autumn is always a welcome season to me, Halloween has been a blight.

I’m not sure when my feelings began to change regarding Halloween and the traditions that surround it, including All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day and Samhain, a pre-Christian  holiday my Irish and Welsh ancestors knew well as the day the veil between this world and the other was at the thinnest–the halfway mark between autumn equinox and winter solstice.

As a Christian, because Jesus is LIFE, I thought for a long time it was my duty to disdain and even fight against Halloween. As a charismatic evangelical, there were years where I refused to let my kids recognize Halloween and the school they attended recognized the fears of many other Christians with feelings such as mine and held Harvest Festivals rather than Halloween Parties.

However, at some point, doesn’t letting a day that remembers death freak you out that bad seem a bit hypocritical for people who claim they follow the only ONE who ever conquered death itself?

So, at some point, after becoming a newbie Episcopalian and learning about the Christian holidays remembering the dead, as well as the appropriate magic and mystery that endues Samhain, I had one more piece, one more to do with permaculture, that helped me deal with this uncomfortable time of year.

Learning to compost and build soil gave me new perspectives.

Without loss or death, we can’t build soil. Without the leaves falling from the trees and annual plants dying each year at this time, soil becomes barren.
Without the magic and mystery of what our ancestors knew about the spirit worlds, whether in Ireland or the United Kingdom, or right here in the lands we walk today, we can’t imagine ourselves a world that is better and shinier and more valiant than the one we know today.

Without life’s push against death, we don’t know how to be brave or couragous, loyal or trustworthy, but yet, death doesn’t need to isolate nor freeze us to inaction.
I was really sick as a child and regularly struggled against death, and I’m sure that was part of my aversion to Halloween. When your every breath is treasured and fought for, death is real, in fact we had moved to Arizona at the advice of my doctor hoping I might live if I was moved to a drier climate, hoping my asthma was in part what they used to call ‘climatic.’

The thing about death, though, is that while we fight against it, we also must find our place in it.

Death is part of life, yet, we know that death can be indiscriminate, harsh, unfair and cruel.
Cows and calves dying in fields once full of sunshine and then choked with suffocating snow and winds. The children we lose before they are born or at birth or later. The lands facing loss due to flamboyant disregard for safety concerns of pipelines.

There is senseless death all around us, yet the Creator allows death and it isn’t all that bad, either.
After Samhain and November, there is a new set of holidays that remember light. On December 1, 2013, the Christian season of Advent begins, when we not only begin to prepare ourselves to receive the birth of Christ, but also when we remember he will in fact return to Earth and set things in perfect order.
You see, what Samhain and the other death-remembering days hint at is that we are not alone.

Advent guarantees it.

We make a big fuss about Christmas, which we should, and Easter, as we should, but Advent is also a special time when we prepare ourselves for that sacred future.
The Lord, Firstborn of Creation, our Elder Brother, will return again after his death and resurrection so long ago, so that not only are we not alone in death, but that light and resurrection is there for all who believe.

The Gardener will put death in its final place, composting all of this world into building the next, just like we do each year in our own gardens.

Halloween is just compost.

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Glass half empty, alcohol, permaculture and prohibition

Good Gravy! A look at permaculture with T.B. Livermont

Permaculture is a design system for ecological human habitats that work as part of nature, not outside it or against it.

Recently, the Oglala Sioux Tribe voted to oust prohibition and its status as a dry rez.

As my father’s daughter and an enrolled member of the OST, I saw this as a huge leap forward, even if I don’t still live there and was unable to cast my vote.

For many who know me, it is no secret that my father, who died almost two years ago, was a notorious bootlegger in Wanblee, SD.

As a teenager, I remember visiting him and witnessing the handoff of folks coming to get their Mountain Dew bottles filled up with wine out of a huge glass jug. He joked then with that great big smile of his and wonderful laugh that he was doing a community service, keeping people off of glue.

I could tell he half believed it.

Later, he would mourn the death of one of his friends who ran for him, after he rolled a suped-up old jeep that my dad, also the local mechanic, had, presumably on one more run for booze.

I could tell dad took his death on himself, and I only tell this story to share an inside look at what drinking on Pine Ridge can look like, beyond the nightmare of White Clay.

This is a reality any of us with friends or family know about Pine Ridge, and it would be the reality should certain factions of tribal members here in Cheyenne River get their way and force prohibition onto the Cheyenne River Reservation.

Using permaculture design and what many of us know from personal experience or firsthand witnesessing, I can see a few major red flags:

- with prohibition, alcohol delivery is individualized so more fuel is required to run the booze and increases the danger of illegal activity on road ways

-alcohol is forced underground, putting an undo legal and financial burden on people of low income and only benefits the corporations hired by large prison systems

-alcohol is treated as a governmental sin, therefore moderation is not a possibility, because breaking the law is never a lightly taken action

-distribution of alcohol is localized to individuals or speakeasies. Cottage business can be a good thing, but this brings illegal activity into homes and neighborhoods near vulnerable people like children or the elderly

-how the booze is manufactured and the way the crops are grown to sustain it is far removed by those consuming the alcohol, allowing the cheapest and worst alcohol, including GMO grains and byproducts of the alcohol industry to be used

-alcohol is used for binge drinking or to stay intoxicated, therefore the price must be cheap and drives down the quality of the product being offered by bootleggers, both so it is easier to sell and to maximize profits

-prohibition undercuts cottage industries using excess fruit or grain in their locale to produce homemade ciders, beer or wine, denying regional identity and responsibility for alcohol creation

-the lack of cottage industries means that larger industries will also sell their high-alcohol content products and maximize their profits

-people won’t want to be caught with alcohol containers, thus for those bootleggers selling by the can, litter will become a huge problem

-more people will drive drunk as a way of hiding their alcohol consumption on back roads, causing deaths to themselves and innocent people

-the sale of alcohol via bootlegging or legal sales does put money back in the community by recirculating their profits

-prohibition takes away the ability to tax the exchange of alcohol from local and tribal governments

-prohibition doesn’t do away with the habits of alcohol consumption and is a greater deficit to the local environment.

Everything we do can be looked at through this lens of permaculture, and since permaculture recognizes and reinforces indigenous knowledges as well as scientific theory, while respecting various spiritual traditions, we can be comfortable looking at a variety of issues with it, including prohibition and alcohol consumption.

I will freely admit that I already oppose prohibition, so perhaps my use of permaculture is skewed here. I would welcome anyone to play devil’s advocate and use permaculture to prove the point of prohibition.

That said, it seems  obvious that when you reinforce a community’s dependence on an outside industry to provide products, use carbon fuel and road resources to get that product, and undercut cottage industries you realize quickly the major issue of prohibition and all alcohol dependence is reliance on outside industry.

When you provide for cottage or small businesses creating sustainably, locally-sourced wine, beer or ciders, you provide a means of natural regulation. A community only has so many fruit trees or grain fields, and the excess thereof, to put into creation of alcohol production.

So if you want to prohibit something, create a closed hoop of consumption and creation.

I’d be interested in hosting a beer-making workshop sometime and asking some friends and contacts in the state to come and share their expertise on home-made beer and cider. If you would be interested in that, email me at


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Horse slaughter, pet euthanizing brings up hotbed of emotions, little critical thinking

Good Gravy! A look at permaculture with Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

Gardening and seeking sustainable means of living has taught me more about death than I ever thought an exercise in nurturing life ever would.

In the debates on end-of-life issues for humans, the now proverbial “to pull the plug or not pull the plug” has reached into the realm of pet care and livestock management.

Now I’m not trying to say that my way of thinking is the only way permaculturists could look at this, but I find it helpful nonetheless.

Permies are tender-hearted yet practical people. We’re the ones who have chosen the practice of permaculture over fighting governments head on as lawyers or activists or some other means of affecting ecological change.

The issues of whether to legalize and create horse slaughter houses is a huge issue, because many people feel that horses are like dogs and should be given every chance to live and at the end of that life be buried with dignity. I know of horse people burying their beloved pets in horse graveyards.

Others will send the horse to a slaughter house to be processed to some useful end.
I find that I’m somewhere in the middle. Sending any animal to a house of death at the end of its life saddens and disgusts me.

I am the typical locavore in believing that my food should be happy up until the time I or my neighbor walk out into a yard and butcher it on the spot and then process, before much fear is put into the animal. I know that’s a romantic notion given the thousands of horses in our country, so then must I champion the humane horse slaughter houses?  I am afraid for the horses who get sold over and over until they finally drop, suffering from poor care and complications from old age.

I feel quite the same for pets, those dogs, cats and whatever else we share our domestic spaces with, ought to be basically cared for, but put out of their misery when the need arises. Too many pets are dumped on the streets, because people don’t have the stomach to put them out of their misery themselves or have a local farmer with a pistol do it for them.

Perhaps the answer to all of this is to license euthanizers who would be rather good-hearted, well-trained people who are calm and could dispatch the animal without causing it undue fear. A community could decide on the means of euthanasia and have a few options for humans making this decision and seeing to the final need for the animal in their care. From there the animals could be processed for other uses, composted or given back to the family for burial if they request it. Local shelters could help organize these euthanizers into a database and offer a subsidizing program for low-income pet owners.

This would be an excellent way to ensure the dignity of death to our animals, as well as to us as their caregivers.

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Crowded trees wither, die, saplings thrive and surprise


Good Gravy! Permaculture with Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

Much has been said and written about the lobster pot and reservation or rural communities.

There’s this idea that we are like a pot of lobsters, pulling back down the ones that dare try to climb out or escape.

As true as it might feel amidst the frustrations of reservation life, I think this is a pretty sad analogy and shackles us to a way of thinking that is deeply unhealthy.

The story of the lobster pot is powerful, because not only is it a metaphor that feels true, in retelling this story, we reinforce its reality.

Words have power.

Instead of going into the details of how the metaphor is true and isn’t, I want to leave the lobster pot story alone, and instead hold up a different metaphor.

Let me tell you a different story. Reservations are like a neglected yard full of trees planted too close together. The trees fight for the light, crowding some out and causing them to die, becoming mishapen in the process. The sapling do well in the protected area, but not for long. We must learn to prune for the sake of our relatives, our youth and ourselves.

Whether this story is a better story, I leave up to you. This story doesn’t negate the lobster pot story or strive to disprove it or even be a substitute.

The non-human relatives around us mirror our humanity back to us–the good and the bad.  I think the story of our crowded trees and prolific sapling planting every spring here in Cheyenne River shows us our duplicity of mind that pervades how we treat ourselves and our youth.

What does this have to do with lobsters, pots, crowded trees and saplings?

In our yard this year, we’ve had two trees die from being crowded out, many oddly shaped trees that did the crowding and just recently, despite forgetting to plant some saplings, we noticed they’ve leafed out and are still viable if we move quickly.

Perennial plants, especially trees or shrubs at the various canopy levels, are a crucial component to permaculture design.

It is important to realize how big trees will get, how close together to plant them, where to place them, for what uses and to be sure they have enough room to grow strong and straight.

Once they’re planted, one must begin to practice pruning.

I had never realized before I moved back West River how important tree care is.

After living for so long in Brookings, SD, the sight of people, whether city workers or citizens, pruning the young and old trees in the community is a familiar site.

I learned by observation that some trees wouldn’t look much like trees at all, except for their pruning as they grow, preventing them from developing a halo of branches around a trunk.

We need to be more aware of how we place or encourage the people in our community in the work they do. We shouldn’t all be struggling for the sunlight against one another, but have our space to grow. We shouldn’t shelter our young people from opportunities to challenge them into stronger saplings so that they are shocked once they are on their own, and neither should we just plant them and leave them alone to grow as they might, full of life and energy until they’re stunted by the rest of their community.

I can’t say how we should do this exactly, but I do think we need to think about a new story that recognizes the harms we do to each, the strengths we provide one another, and challenges us to dig in our roots, prune away what would sap our energy, and strive to not suck away the energy for our youth even as we stand together to keep them protected.

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Chickens don’t belong at humane societies


Can you imagine a farmer or rancher taking their chickens to an animal shelter?

Yet, according to a recent MSNBC story, that’s what is happening across the country as young hipsters attempting to be locavores, people who eat food that is grown from within their own region, are dumping off their egg hens and surprise roosters on animal shelters and rescues.


Often, because these chickens become pets and the thought of killing and butchering them is too much.

However, I also suspect it is because these people are not seriously considering the implications of urban farming and lack the skills necessary to care for basic urban livestock.

Now, before I moved to Eagle Butte, I considered myself a locavore. Sure, my kids still ate chicken nuggets and I still bought spices, coffee and other items not sourced from my local farmers or ranchers, but I would guess about 60% of my personal diet was sourced from the Brookings area, East River or the Sodak region.

Considering that the average plate of food on a South Dakota table travels over 2,500 miles to reach us, yet we live in the middle of farm and ranch country, I think we all need to localize our food choices. Sometimes this means changing what sorts of foods we eat, based on availability. It can mean sacrifices, too, or spending more on the local option, but the rewards are often a lot greater. You really do get what you pay for.

All that said, I would never advise getting chickens, whether you only mean them for laying eggs or not, if you are a vegetarian or not, if you don’t know how to humanely butcher chickens.

This is where understanding permaculture can help you make the best sustainable living choices for you personally.

Now, I will freely admit that we have taken a rooster to a community member in Eagle Butte who likes pet poultry. We made the mistake of naming our egg hens and when we had a surprise rooster of an egg breed (not exactly great for eating) it was a lot easier to rehome him than kill and eat him.

So, I probably sound like a hypocrite in saying this, but I do know that if push had come to shove, I had the skills to properly kill and butcher him instead.

Our hens ended up eaten by dogs here in Eagle Butte. With the new animal ordinances being passes, I have yet to double-check with the city if a backyard flock is permissible, so we haven’t tried getting chickens again.

Some people are acting like keeping a small home flock is some sort of green badge of honor.

There is no such thing.

There are sustainable things that would work for you and some that won’t. In fact, the ‘greenest’ practice is meaningless, unless you have carefully weighed the pros and cons and have an understanding of permaculture or at least carefully weight any practice against your personal reality.

So, if you want to keep a few chickens, ask yourself these questions:

Will they add a needed, local protein source?

What will I feed them? Cost?

Where will I keep them? Cost?

Do I have the stomach and/or skills to care for health problems myself?

In the advent of age or serious injury, do I know how to humanely kill a chicken if I need to put it out of its misery? If I am a vegetarian, do I have a pet dog or cat that can make use of the protein instead of wasting it?

Do I have local city or county ordinances to be concerned with?

Do I have a sustainable way to use the waste created by the chickens?

Is there a local person who raises chickens and can mentor me?

Do I want fancy chickens or am I willing to get a breed known for both meat and eggs or just meat, if I am raising them to be butchered?

Now, these are just a few really basic questions to ask yourself. If you want more chicken resources in our area and in South Dakota, please feel free to contact me at

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Good Gravy! Beginning a permaculture design plan


by Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

This column looks at permaculture in general, and how permaculture can be applied to us in South Dakota and specifically here on Cheyenne River and Western South Dakota.

The ever-wise they (whoever they are) say that if you can’t explain something then you don’t understand it.

In martial arts, as soon as you learned something worth teaching someone else newer to the art than you, you were expected to teach what you knew.

Our teachers said that you didn’t learn without teaching.

With this in mind, I have the humble hope of teaching and sharing a bit about permaculture as I learn the ethics, principles and ways of living that can then be shared with other people, whether in my own home, in passing conversation, with fellow gardeners of the Soiled Hands Society or via this column.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m taking a Permaculture Design Course, the common vehicle of permaculture learning since permaculture’s start in the 1970s. Part of that course is doing a full-blown permaculture design for a piece of land of one’s choosing.

When deciding on where to do my design, I decided to approach the leaders of the Episcopal Church here in Eagle Butte, to find out if I could possibly do a design plan for the property there.

They have graciously agreed to work with me on this, and I hope that a gift of a permaculture design plan will give the church overall a good place to begin, since some in the parish had already mentioned wanting to start church gardens.

A permaculture design plan takes so many factors into account that it is hard to go into detail, but I hope to share my journey with the church as a way of explaining more fully what I am learning and help all of you better understand permaculture.

I recently started doing a bit of my research for St. John’s. The other day after the service, I stopped to take some photos for my own reference. I noted where the sun was in the sky, where the fence lines were, the slope of the land, how much and what type of soil access was around the south side of the building (which could benefit from shade), the types of roofs and possibility of rain catchment systems and how to better create a peaceful sanctuary for the inhabitants and parish members alike.

I looked at what areas of the land are shaded by trees or buildings and how much room there is to plant perennial, fruit-bearing shrubs and trees. I began to infer what microclimates (areas of differing temperature, moisture, sun, etc. within a general climate area) the land there might have and that would allow more diversity of growing. I looked at where the best areas for various types of gardens would be, annual and perennial vegetables and herbs.

Knowing the large amount of foot traffic for a public space like a church, I looked at what could be done to create more of a sanctuary and restful feel to those coming to the church for funerals or prayer.

I have thought about the needs of the hungry people who come to the church seeking food and resources, and I have thought of all the volunteers who come and want to work on projects with us.

This is just a start.

I have quite a bit more research to go, including getting measurements of various parcels of land so that I can graph it out on paper. I need to visit with people familiar with the land there and ask what they know of the different seasons. I need to take soil samples in various places. I need to further listen to the possibilities of the land, soil and the hopes of the people of St. John’s and Cheyenne River Episcopal Mission.

I have even been giving quite a bit of thought to the issue of foot traffic and the problem of public defecation in our alleyways.

In my next column, I will break down some of the things I have found with the property according to permaculture ethics and principles, and how I will define the different zones of use there.

I can be assured this will not be in my textbook–designing for a church, but I am excited about the possibilities that opens up for us.

For more information on permaculture in our area, email Tasi at or call (605) 200-1408.


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Good Gravy! Do you wish your life was more earth-friendly?

permagraph by Glacial Lakes

Copyright © Glacial Lakes Permaculture, 2008 (graphic used with permission)

In recent years, Americans have spent a lot of time talking about how to live green, but a lot of these tips, tricks and sentiments don’t always meet us where we are at.

In fact, a lot of it became what is called greenwashing–fake green speak in order to sell more consumer products. Greenwashing makes many feel like you have to be rich to be green.

What if I told you that you could live more eco-friendly, create basic and comfortable real-life human habitats, right where you are at?

In fact, a way of life utilizing permaculture design is as simple as making gravy.

Good gravy.

Like permaculture, cooking good gravy (from scratch!) is a way of thinking, not just a recipe. I have my mom to thank for that. Thanks to her, I can make gravy out of almost anything.

Why do good prairie cooks make gravy?

  • Gravy makes the absolute most of what you have.
  • Leaves little to nothing to waste.
  • Is actually a lot easier than you think.
  • Is adaptable to any situation of ingredients.

Gravy isn’t just an extra.

A good prairie cook knows that gravy is an essential to a well-run kitchen and well-fed family, especially when made from wholesome ingredients like local beef and poured over home-grown veggies.

So, now that I’ve made you hungry, what about permaculture?

Permaculture stands for ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture.’ It is a design system to place human food growing and raising in an environment where you add to the land, instead of take away from it. Even touching on how you use your water, your home, and many other aspects of human habitation.

Instead of ‘trying to live green,’ I hope you will explore permaculture and associated methods and technologies with me in this regular West River Eagle-exclusive column, “Good Gravy.”

My friend and permaculture mentor, Karl J. Schmidt, of Glacial Lakes Permaculture in Estelline, SD, describes it like this: “Permaculture is a design system for ecological and sustainable living.”

Or, we can just say that permaculture is like gravy.

Good gravy.

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Most recent regular Eagle Butte City Council Meeting on April 9, 2014. Recording records entire meeting excluding a one-hour executive session. Top action taken: approved Tuesday's Ward II election results; rescinded February council action reducing Mayor salary, putting it back to what it was prior to action; appointed Verzella LaPlante Mayor; appointed Tyson LaPlante to fill Ward II seat. Most recent Dupree City Council meeting held on Monday, April 7, 2014. Most recent regular Dupree City Council Meeting held on March 3, 2014. Recording starts shortly after meeting was called to order and runs entire length of meeting. Main discussion points included city streets and the upcoming April election.


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