Tag Archives: environment

Blinding out the cold

Do your window covers block out the cold? It turns out that horizontal blinds work pretty well, especially if you tilt the rails downwards, so that they open towards the floor, a bit like the feathers on a bird.

I used to think that it would be best to have the opening upwards, as I thought it would reduce the coldness falling from the window into the room. But it turns out that the bigger issue is to prevent warm air from inside the room from falling onto the window in the first place. Angling the rails down stops cold air circulating – a bit like feathers on a bird.

I took some thermal images to test this theory. I chose a cold night of about minus four degrees Celsius outside, after our  heater had been on for several hours, so it was about 20 degrees inside.

The following pictures show a series of close-ups in the same mid-section of the blinds. The thermal scale is the same in each picture, so you can compare the impact of tilting the rails. In these photos, blue and green are cold, and white is warmer than red.

The rails are tilted down in the first picture, which is the right way to do it. Here are some close ups. When the rails are angled down, there is a lot of white, quite a bit of red, and no green or blue. Rails tilted down stops cold air from circulating out from the centre of the blind.

In the next pictures, the rails are tilted upwards. There is less white and more red here. The blinds are still stopping a lot of the warm air leaking out the house, but not as much as when the rails are pointed down.

And in case you are thinking that maybe the blinds don’t do much at all, have a look at them when they are open. The heat loss is huge, with glaring great blue-cold glass leaking the warmth out right away. I could really feel it too, when I opened the blinds and the room felt colder right away.

It’s also worth thinking about the whole blinds. The photo from further back shows that there is still some coldness down at the bottom. These blinds would work even better if I could seal off the base, but I haven’t worked out how to do that yet.

Any suggestions?

Home chicken butchering for part-timers, solos and softies

Chicken butchering is a conflicting experience for me. I am gratified that I can kill a chicken when needed. I’m satisfied when I turn it into food. I am also distressed that I can take another life. My belief in sustainable food production wins out, and I try hard to turn chickens I can no longer keep into food for the table.

Until recently, it was touch-and-go whether my dead chooks made it to the table, or were buried as compost. So here are my secrets for tipping the balance in favour of the table.

First – why do I kill chickens? I don’t just kill them after they stop laying eggs, but instead allow them to retire for as long as they stay healthy and happy. But eventually they get , and it is cruel to keep them alive. I bury my old, sick ones in the ground. But I also keep a rooster, and breed chicks each season. Somehow I always end up with more young roosters than new hens.

If you’ve ever tried to keep a whole lot of roosters together with hens you’ll know it doesn’t work. They’ll fight each other constantly, drawing blood and causing distress, and they fight over then hens and make the whole flock miserable. So keeping roosters, and raising chicks inevitably means killing young, healthy birds, which are brilliant part of sustainable food production.

It all adds up to killing about 2-5 roosters in a batch, once a year, and putting down another couple of birds at odd times. Today I butchered four young roosters, and was only mildly traumatised.

In summary, I use “the broomstick method” to kill, and then skin, rather than plucking. There’s virtually no blood, no feathers and no noise. These features make it possible for me to get the job done well by myself, without a lot of skill, experience, preparation or time.

Get prepared

First, recognise that you need to be quite determined and focused to kill a living animal, and turn it into food. Some of the tasks need strength, others need great care and some feel unnatural. Prepare yourself mentally before you begin.

Starving a bird for at least 14 hours makes gutting easy. If you can’t easily separate the target birds, remove the food from the whole flock the night before. In the morning, the others can wait for breakfast, and knowing your other chickens are hungry will help keep you on track too. The added bonus is the roosters may be cross enough to come up and peck at you, making them easy to catch.

Work out what you are going to do with the leftover feathers, guts and other leftover bits. I bury mine in the garden, so I dig a hole first.

Here’s my set-up:

Outside and out of sight of the hen-house, target birds 

  • Make up a processing area including a sharp knife with a pointed end, a cutting board and large, clean kitchen bowl big enough to hold finished chicken. An optional extra is a pair of bone-scissors.
  • Hang a hook above your head height, within easy reach of the cutting board, and with a large bucket underneath, and twine to tie the bird up by its feet. I use a piece from a hay bale.
  • A broom, rake or other long, wooden-handled implement somewhere nearby.
  • A hose with a strong jet nearby to clean the bird before taking it inside.

Inside, in the kitchen

  • Another chopping board and knife, near the sink.
  • Adjacent to that, glad wrap and a clean bag for each bird.

 Honour the bird

An important step for me personally is to honour the bird and its short life and sacrifice. I hold each bird for a while, talking with it about its life, and what I’ve loved about it. I tell it I’m sorry that I can’t keep it alive, explain why and tell it to look at the beautiful world around. This process gets me centred and ready, and maybe even helps the bird too, as it always relaxes in my arms. We are both very relaxed for the next bit, and I keep talking until I have worked up a clear, calm determination to carry through with the whole job.

Use the Broomstick Method

I learned the broomstick method from a Backyard Poultry fact sheet on How to kill a chicken for food. It’s mentioned in just one short paragraph copied here, with some extra tips of my own below:

Lay the chicken on the ground, holding the tail and legs together, and gently rest a broomstick across the neck behind the head. This doesn’t hurt the chicken until the last second, when you place your feet on the broomstick to either side of the head and pull the chicken’s body swiftly upward. Done properly, this remains a quick and clean method, as the blood drains into the gap between vertebrae and remains inside the skin until the head is cut off.”

My extra tips are:

  • The correct hold is high up on the feathered part of the legs so that you can also pull the tail down and hold it together with both legs in your dominant hand. This hold confuses the chicken, and it will stop thinking about you, and stretch its body out, while staying pretty still and making it easy to get into position.
  • Lie the bird’s chin on the ground, then put the broomstick across the back of its head, right up against its skull. Stand with both feet on the broomstick, one on either side of its head.
  • Minimise distress to the bird by working quickly with the right force, speed and angle.
    • Force and speed depend on the bird’s condition. Don’t be too quick or strong with an old, sick bird or you could accidentally pull its head right off. Go quite hard and fast for a strong, young rooster.
    • For the right angle, use both hands and start down between your legs so that the bird is stretched out, then flick forward as if you were ten-pin bowling or throwing a softball. At the end of the movement the bird’s body is across the top of its head at a hard angle, and you’ll hear a small noise, which is not as clean as a pop or a snap, but is still a definite bone-and-gristle noise.
  • You can tell you have succeeded because the bird will immediately flap as a reflex action. Usually it will flap about 10-20 times very hard, then hang still, and then flap again a few more times in shorter bursts. Its legs will move a bit at this time too, but its head will hang down loosely.

 There are three parts to a bird…..

Think of the bird as having in inside, an outside and the meat and bones in the middle.

The outside includes the feathers, head, tail, feet etc. You need to remove all of these outside bits before you can eat your chicken.

The inside is the guts and organs, all in a big, strong cavity inside the ribs and between the back and breastbone. There are two tubes at the top, and one coming out of the bottom, and they are all connected together. The goal of ‘gutting’ is to remove all of the inside bits in one big piece, without puncturing the digestive tract, which is a continuous tube from mouth-to-cloaca. The cloaca by the way, is the ‘pooh hole’, and also the ‘egg hole’ (or rooster equivalent), which is the only opening in the back end of a bird. If you’ve starved your bird overnight, there’ll be enough room on the inside for all of those parts, and your hand as well, which is what you’ll use to pull the insides out.

Once you have removed the outside and the inside bits, you are left with the foody part in the middle. The skin is in between the feathery outside, and the good bits in the middle and can be treated either as part of either. Pluck the chicken if you want to eat the skin, or skin it as an easier alternative.

Skinning

Learning to skin a bird was the turning point for me between reliably turning chickens into food, or usually burying them. Plucking takes more time, makes more mess, and involves some complicated heating and timing. You have to ‘scald’ the bird for a few minutes in hot-but-not-boiling water, so you need a large, clean bucket and new water for each kill (unless you are doing it production style with many on the go at once). Wing feathers and some others are really hard, and I always managed to tear some of it. Do this when you are processing lots of chooks with a bunch of friends, but consider skinning if you are working solo on a small scale.

There are lots of skinning methods explained on-line, but the one I explain here works well, because it minimizes the number of times you move the bird around, and gets the whole process going quickly. Know that the skin is stuck on pretty well, so you need to be firm and determined to pull it off.

While the bird is still flapping, tie its feet tightly together with twine, then hang it upside-down on the hook. It will stay like this until the final steps.

As soon as the bird is hanging still, take hold of its tail, and locate the cloaca. Slice upwards into the tail, without cutting all the way through, then cut towards one side slicing around the cloaca. Keep cutting until you can see open space between the skin and the very end of the digestive tract – inside the bird. What you have to do is to cut all around the outside of the cloaca, without puncturing that tract. The tail and the cloaca will stay together as the end of the ‘inside’ part. Keeping them together makes it easy to keep track of the cloaca so that you don’t puncture it.

While working around the cloaca, start preparing to skin the bird. Think of the skin as a tight-fitting outfit on toddler who wants to keep it on. You’ll be pulling firmly, while keeping in mind the basic shapes (arms and legs) that you are working around, and how each one of them bends. Make a few definite cuts through the skin.

  • forwards from the cloaca, between the legs and towards the breastbone,
  • All the way down the front of the bird from breastbone towards the shoulders,
  • Up the back of the legs towards the feet, pulling the skin off from the muscle as you go. Also cut around each knee, just below where the feathers meet the scales.

Start skinning from top of the leg-feathers, one leg at a time. You may need to do some more careful cutting between the legs once you have stripped them. Skin comes off the belly easily, and is harder on the back, but a firm pull, while loosening with fingers or knife will do it.

For the wings, I recommend cutting them off at the first joint, which means they’ll be shorter than a shop-bought bird. You can try to skin the whole wing, but the feathers are stuck on very tight there. To remove the wing-tips, cut the wing membrane in towards the first-joint elbow, then firmly bend the wing backwards, dislocating the joint. Then you can easily cut through between the ball joints, and then pull the skin off around this bit of wing.

After you’ve skinned the wings, you’ll quickly have the whole skin hanging down over the head. Now you can see that while you’ve been working, nearly all of the blood has settled around the skull, so the meat is nice and white. Don’t worry about getting the skin off the head, but instead cut the neck off up close to the shoulders (this is where the bone-scissors are useful).

Gutting

Take the bird off the hook now, and remove the twine. Also cut off the feet by bending the knee-joint backwards at the end of the ‘drumstick’, and then easily cutting through the tendon.

The trick to gutting is to loosen everything, make as much space as you can, and not puncture the digestive tract. Start by cutting carefully around the windpipe and digestive tract at the neck. Then use your fingers to reach in and loosen the inside from the outside, by running your fingers along between the organs and the ribcage, all around the inside of the shoulders.

Then ensure you have a good hole around the back of the bird up towards the breast. This needs to be large enough to get your whole hand right inside. The insides will already be detached from the breast, but all of the organs will be sticking to the back. As with the neck, just run your hand between the inside and the outside, breaking the connective tissue. While you are doing this, hold the bird above the bucket, gradually easing out the whole inside part. The wing-tips, skin, feathers, head and insides are all in the bucket now, a chicken that looks nearly like a bought one in your hand, and there’s barely a drop of blood spilled anywhere.

Cleaning and storing

Use the hose to clean off any feathers, and the inside of the carcass. Put it in the bowl, and take inside for a final clean-up, and packaging in a plastic bag. Pull the legs and wings in tight, so that it is compact in the fridge. The best option is a vacuum sealer, but I don’t have one, so I tightly glad-wrap all around then put it in a clean plastic bag.

Rigor mortis is the condition where a recently-dead animal becomes stiff for about 48 hours, starting about 20 minutes after death for a chicken. If you cook or freeze a bird in this state it will be very tough. You need to leave it in the fridge for 48 hours so that it becomes tender again, and then either freeze or cook.

Want to see pictures?

I can’t easily work out the ethics of showing this process in pictures. Post a comment if you want photos added to see how it is done.

Towards a carbon neutral home

In Paris, 2015, the Council of Parties reached international agreement that urgent action is needed to prevent climate change. Then February 2016 broke all the records for breaking global warming records. More needs to be done and I can do some of it myself, starting at home.

New Commitment for 2016: Make my home carbon-neutral.

I’ll aim for my home-life to be healthy, comfortable and affordable, but not to contribute to global warming. I’ll also record the details in this blog, and encourage other households to join in.

The plan is to systematically:

  • measure my carbon footprint,
  • look for ways to reduce emissions,
  • off-set whatever remains,
  • continue assessing and reporting so I can continue the journey, and maybe even become carbon negative.

The Australian National Carbon Offset Standard shows these steps together like this.

So what does it mean to be carbon neutral?

We humans are emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere faster than they can be absorbed back into the earth. As a result, more heat is trapped within the atmosphere than previously, and global temperatures are rising. This is happening even though some people don’t understand, or disagree with the science.

(If you are one of those climate change denialists, there’s no point me arguing with you, and you won’t be interested in this blog, so kindly head off and put your head in the sand somewhere else).

People who measure and reduce the greenhouse effect have worked out an accounting system to keep track of emissions. The basic idea is to get all of the emissions in the same units. Lots of different gases contribute to global warming. Each gas has a different impact, or global warming potential. A tonne of methane (CH4) for instance, causes about 25 times as much global warming as a tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2). And a tonne of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) has about 23,900 times as great an impact. Because CO2 is both the most common greenhouse gas, and also has the smallest impact per unit, we simplify things, by using CO2 as the reference point. All we have to do is to convert all emissions to their carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), and we can sum the totals together.

Carbon Neutral Standard diagram

Being carbon neutral means minimising your emissions, then balancing any that remain with an equal amount sequestered or off-set. Basically, you absorb as much as you emit.

In the next few blogs, I’m going to measure the emissions my household has from:

  • waste,
  • electricity,
  • other energy sources,
  • transport,
  • other sources.

Wish me luck and come along for the ride.

Writing plain English science into legislation; or Compost Eats Methane

By Su Wild-River

This post was first published at: http://nofunnybusiness.net/2013/12/writing-plain-english-science-into-legislation-or-compost-eats-methane/

Both legislators and scientists can struggle to communicate our work effectively in plain English. How much harder is it when we try to encapsulate science in a law? I’m facing this challenge at the moment, drafting a Carbon Farming Initiative methodology which if accepted, will form a regulation under the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act 2011.

The Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) was introduced by Australia’s previous Labor Government, and is one element of Australia’s climate change mitigation framework that issupported by the current Coalition government. The program allows farmers and land managers to earn carbon credits for reducing or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. CFI methodologies establish the rules for calculating credits confirming that they are genuine, permanent and additional to business as usual. To achieve this, the methodologies must beclear, unambiguous, complete and precise.

The methodology I’m working on is called Passive Landfill Gas Drainage and Biofiltration. In plain English, this means putting compost on landfills, because compost eats methane.

This methodology is in part a eulogy to much-loved environmental professional Mark Ricketts who died suddenly in 2011. Shortly before his death, Mark was advising me and my students on a project to estimate the carbon emissions and reductions from landfills when he told me to consider compost, and then earned giggles with stories of the insatiable hunger of compost greeblies and the yumminess of smelly gas.

I had previously worked alongside Mark while he was drafting the Queensland Environmental Protection Act 1994. I watched his optimistic daily trips to the parliamentary draftsman and his exasperated return to our office as he tirelessly negotiated for each sentence to be as simple and readable as possible. The result of his work is a plain English law that encapsulates the precautionary principle, ecologically sustainable development and other complex concepts based in science.

Drawing inspiration from Mark, my team’s CFI proposal was to design a simple, practical method which used robust science, while being easily understood by the hundreds of operators of small local landfills across Australia. Many of these good folk lack the time and capacity to read complicated laws, engineering equations or to establish scientific procedures for their monitoring and evaluation. But they can pick a winner and follow procedures.

Our methodology needs to be consistent with all related national and international methods, so I have read and reviewed hundreds of scientific papers on compost and landfills and the calculation of carbon emission reductions. Most emission reduction methodologies explain themselves through symbols and equations with the most relevant one having five solid pages of such equations, interspersed by just a few sentences for those of us without maths as a first language (pp2-6). Here’s an example:

Excerpt from CDMIIIAX

In contrast, our equations look like this:

 Net greenhouse gas abatement = quantity of methane that is oxidised by the biofilter – baseline emissions – project emissions.

Other strategies for keeping it simple include minimising the number of measurements and using simple, cheap and readily available equipment.

So far progress is good, and our focus on practicality and clarity is well received by the government and stakeholders alike. It was hugely satisfying when the non-technical member of our Technical Working Group smiled saying he found our draft methodology very readable.

Assuming the methodology gets approved, the next step will be to find project proponents. Unfortunately, this step is less likely to succeed. Australia’s initial carbon credit value of $23 per tonne meant that projects could have pay-backs in under seven years, and reap annual profits thereafter. A direct action approach delivering a carbon price of – say $8 would take over 50 years to pay back. The most likely outlook is an elegant methodology that will fail to feed any compost.

Am I the only one disappointed?

Fighting the Waspocalypse

dead wasps

Wasp nest plugged with petrol-soaked rag, displaying dead wasps on the doorstep. Intervention plus 1 night. Photo by Su Wild-River

By Su Wild-River

A version of this story was first published at http://www.braidwoodtimes.com.au/story/3009887/fighting-the-waspocalypse/

My home town is under attack. Yellow-and-black striped European Wasps are zooming around our district, hanging around food and chasing us indoors. Thankfully I haven’t been on their pointy end, although my son has twice. Individual wasps can sting several times, each time worse than a bee. They can also swarm and deliver many stings at once.

The wasps are attracted to sweet food and meat, so cleaning up and sealing rubbish will discourage them. The wasps will fly straight from their food to a nest, making the nests fairly easy to find.

Nests are usually small holes in the ground, about 4-8cm wide. Nests can house up to 100,000 individuals which stream in and out all day.  Stay well back because if a nest is threatened, the wasps release a chemical which triggers the colony to attack the threat.

Maybe it was the moist summer, and perhaps the great apple season which has left fruit rotting around the trees. Whatever the reason, there are more of these wasps now than in the past.  The local pest controller says he previously only had 1-2 call-outs for nest removals in a year, but he’s getting 3-4 a week at the moment. One of our local rural supply shops got 5 cans of wasp spray in last Friday and sold out in a single day.

The pest controller says we need to keep on the lookout for nests. If we find one, the best and safest option is to find the local pest controller in the Community Directory and arrange for him to destroy the nest. Autumn is a critical time since now the queens and laying eggs for the next generation of queens. Every nest we kill now could reduce the problem significantly for next year.

The Museum of Victoria publishes tips for “Do it yourself European wasp extermination”, and like me, takes no responsibility for injuries incurred using the information. But I’ve destroyed some nests, and talked to many others around town who have done it too, so here’s what I’ve learned.

* Don’t risk it if you are allergic to wasp stings,

* Make sure someone knows where you are and what you are doing.

 * Treat the nest at night when activity is low,

* Wear loose clothes and fully cover your body, head, eyes etc,

* Put red cellophane over a torch, because they can’t see red light, and don’t alert them by shining it right at the hole,

Locals are having success with several different treatments. The pest controllers are licensed to use a high strength powder which will knock out a nest in one go. Other premethrin, propoxur or carbaryl dusts are available, although not in Braidwood. Both local rural suppliers carry propellant cans of wasp killer. Petrol is another option, and though the experts advice is that it doesn’t work well, it did the trick on my nests. Either pour 1.5L down a nest on two consecutive nights, or soak a rag in petrol and plug the hole with it. The fumes kill the wasps, so don’t light the petrol. Check treated nests in the following days, and be prepared to retreat to finish the job.

The Department of Primary Industries in my home state of New South Wales also has a fact sheet with useful information.

How I became Su Wild-River

To say that people often ask me about my name is an understatement. It is extremely rare that I meet anyone who doesn’t ask me about my name. So here are a bunch of true stories about my name, just in case you are curious. Go on, you know you are.

The most common question is also the most tedious. “Is that your real name?” The short answer is “Yes” and so that’s what you get if this is your only question. But even that is not strictly true. In fact, my legal name is Su Wild River (without the hyphen), which is the name I took on at 16,when computers were mythological beasts and the internet not even a dream.

My favourite part about the question of my “real” name is its resemblance to the Monty Python skit where a man uses his cat licence to justify getting a fish licence. When he produces the licence, it’s criticised because it’s “a dog licence, with the word ‘dog’ crossed out and ‘cat’ written in in crayon”. That’s what my birth certificate looks like. There’s a stamp in the margin saying “for Section 1a, read “Su Wild River”. It seems like a beautiful way to wreck a perfectly good form and I love it.

A slightly better question is “Did you change that by Deed Poll?” which shows some prior knowledge of name changing shenanigans. No, I didn’t change it by Deed Poll, but by Instrument. Deed Poll is the expensive option, where a lawyer stands up in court and announces the name change, since a name change must be publicly declared. Deed Poll is expensive because you have to pay the lawyer and the court. You bypass both of these expenses by making the announcement using the Instrument of a classified ad in the local newspaper. Then you just need to pay the relatively small cost of the ad, which you take in and show to the good folk at Births Deaths and Marriages.

You need some patience in dealing with BDM, because none of the desk staff know about changing names. So they keep insisting that it’s not allowed, and you have to ask to see their boss, and then their boss, and then their boss, until finally, someone very senior comes in an says “of course. Just use this form under the counter here”. When I did it, my very senior person loved my name and signature so much, that when a once-in-a-decade brand new 1,000 page, leather bound register of births, deaths and marriages started up a week after I came to get the magical form, he decided that I was to be the first entry in the sparkly new book. Not knowing this, I took my time getting the paperwork together and it was four weeks later that I came back in with my Instrument. The junior desk clerk immediately called this boss of bosses, who arrived white-faced and grateful. There were already about 50 names below mine in the book, and he had been terrified that it was all a lark, and I would leave him with an incomplete, and quite crazy first entry to explain to even more senior bosses.

I added the hyphen so that my name would match my first URL, (www.wild-river.com.au), having learned that spaces confuse computers. By then, all the databases were having trouble deciding if I was really called “Su River Wild” or “River Su Wild” or “Su WildRiver” or even “Su Wildriver” which is the worst of the lot, because that surname phonetically reads “Wild Driver” and people don’t get in cars with me. Once in Western Queensland I hired the only rental car for a 500km radius, and laughed when I saw they had me down as Wildriver. “It’s OK”, I said, “I’m really a river, not a danger behind the wheel”, and they laughed back nervously, then gave me a detailed lesson in finding the brakes in an automatic car.

I received an original, great question during a recent trip to the white water mecca of Tasmania. The manager of a climbing gym asked “do you even own a kayak?” Thankfully, the answer was “yes, I own five kayaks”, as otherwise he would have been outraged by my false pretences.

In fact, my name was partly responsible for my very many wonderful and terrifying white water trips. On Open Day at my first week studying Environmental Science at Griffith University, I joined the Griffith Uni Bushwalking Society (GRUBS), which owned and used a bunch of kayaks. The president took one look at my name and said “we have to get you kayaking”, and so it started. I loved my first trip so much that when everyone else was waiting their turn to use the good boats on a particular “play wave”, I found a beaten up, leaking and unwanted vessel so that nothing would stop me from repeatedly going in, and then washing out for yet another swim. I was hooked.

Before learning to kayak, I’d struggled with my name. My first problem became apparent in my first days with my new name, when I realised that a mild speech impediment meant I couldn’t pronounce it properly. I have trouble with “R” sometimes, and when I said my new name aloud it sounded something like “WurlWoower” – especially on the phone. It took about a decade for me to learn to say my name so that people could understand it. Then there was the trouble of being quite an undeveloped person with a very iconic identifier. This was most apparent in university classes, mostly because of the perfect match between my name and environmental degree. I was always a high achiever, and I struggled to be invisible in crowds so I wouldn’t stand out any more than I had to. Imagine my horror then, when a new lecturer walked into my class of 200 people and said “Hello, this is Agricultural Ecosystems and where is Su Wild-River?”

When people can’t work out what to ask about my name, I tell them that the best question is “how did you become Su Wild-River”, which is also a kayaking story. Once, after several years of paddling every flooded creek, stormwater drain and giant wave I could get my paddle into, I had the opportunity to tackle the Gwydir River in North Western New South Wales. The Gwydir is one of the toughest in Australia, featuring two grade six rapids (certain death…. We portaged those), many grade fives (I walked around those too), heaps of grade fours (which I paddled some of) and a bunch of grade threes and below (all of which I shot, and several of which I swam). I had approached this trip with much fear, and a very real feeling that I may not survive. One of my clearest ever memories is of pulling up on a steep rocky beach after 12 hours of joy and terror thinking “I’m alive. And I AM Su Wild-River. And I’ll ALWAYS BE Su Wild-River”. My name and I were finally a match.

It’s been an interesting journey to have a name that matches my profession. Although in the first decade of my professional life I worked mostly on ‘brown’ environmental issues of pollution prevention and risk management. I would joke that I should really have been called “Su Stormwater-Drain” or “Su Sludge-Puddle” or even “Su Sewerage-Treatment-Plant”. I never really gelled with the brown issues until a particular brown consultant (strangely actually called “Brown”) said that I could never work with industry with a name like that. The challenge was on, and in fact, industrial workers loved it. I’d write to them saying I was coming around to do a site inspection, and when I arrived, they were fully primed, expecting me to “ride up bareback on a bronco with feathers in my hair”. Having expected something interesting, they were willing to take me as I really was – an earnest young woman respectfully asking good questions.

I once told a colleague from this era of my life that I felt my name had given me an advantage as an environmental scientist. He disagreed and made a touching argument that anyone could have a great name, but it was me that had made the name great. Thanks DougY.

Why I changed my name is another question with a bit of value. The thing is, as a woman, your name means very little, and from birth there’s the possibility of it changing to the name of a different family if you happen to get married and take on your husband’s. I changed my name so that it would really be my own. I’m about to get married, and I offered my name to my spouse, who has seriously considered it (it’s pretty cool after all). But no, we’ll keep our own. Even my children don’t have my name. They are simply “Wild”, since I was worried that I might pass on my speech impediment, and give them a name they couldn’t say. No need for this caution as it turns out, as Wild-River rolls of their tongues easily. I tell them they can decide what sort of Wild Thing they want to be when they “come of age” (whatever that means), but for now, they just love when tickets usually list them as “Wild Child”.

The only time that my name really confused me was during anthropology classes, where we learned all sorts of difficult rules and associations of naming conventions. My constant question was “why didn’t they just change their names?” to which the answer was “you can’t change your name”, and then a double-take by the lecturer when he saw who had asked. Can’t you? I followed in my mother’s footsteps since she changed hers when I was 15. And have been an inspiration many others’ name changes. So obviously you can change your name if you want to. I don’t understand why some people live their lives with terrible, embarrassing or insulting names. If you have one, have you considered ditching it and starting again?

What would you change your name to and why? How you grow into your new name, and how would the change change you?