Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Running for Good: the Fiona Oakes Story



  When Fiona Oakes decided to run competitively, no coach wanted to take her on. She had no money to buy magazines about running, no time to spend on blogs. With over 400 animals under her care, she relied on her determination, strong work ethic and discipline to compete. She did not have a coach to support her goals, but she did have a purpose that compelled her to do her best.

 The lack of a knee cap never deterred her from running either.

  Fiona Oakes has competed and won in several places, including the North Pole, Antarctica and the Sahara Desert. “Running for Good” is a book I could not put down. I was spellbound by Fiona’s adventures of running marathons under extreme conditions; her humility and compassion are at the heart of every experience.

 “It hasn’t been easy. I’ve got no coach, nobody to tell me what to do or what not to do. I have to truly believe that whatever effort I’m putting in on any given day, there is going to be a reward for it on race day. I’m short of time; it’s horrible weather, and I’m tired, but I’ve got to believe that by going and doing that run, that training, it is going to make a difference on that race day, somewhere in the future. That belief has been one of my greatest strengths, and underlying that belief is the motivation that allows me to do it all. I am not doing it for myself. I don’t want anything for myself that badly that would drive me that hard and make me that determined.”

 Fiona Oakes saves lives in different settings: as a firefighter, as a caregiver in her animal sanctuary, and even as a runner, at the marathons, when she has the chance to support her competitors in need.

  Fiona Oakes is vegan, and she runs to stand up for her beliefs. She competes to bring attention to the brutality of factory farms, places where animals are exploited and tortured from the day they are born to the day they die. Everything is connected, so it makes sense to point out that the cruelty of factory farms has domino effects on human animals too, and this is a good time to highlight a relevant fact that the mainstream media ignore: Factory farms are breeding grounds for new pandemics. (Feel free to check the articles at the bottom of this post to learn more).

   The first time the BBC contacted Fiona Oakes for an interview, after she won a competition in the North Pole, they made a special request: they asked her to avoid mentioning that she was vegan. Why would they want to censor that about her? However, when she was asked what compelled her to run, she had the chance to state her purpose and she emphasized her veganism. The reporter ignored her comment.

  Overlooking the central aspect of her running is no longer feasible, because it has always been the driving force of her career.

  Fiona does not run to celebrate awards and medals. She does it for the sake of others.

  “I sometimes feel embarrassed when I say that what drives me on is the suffering of animals in the factory farming industries and the cruelty that’s going on in the world today. For example, take the Marathon des Sables: It is a tough race, it’s a brutal race. Indescribably hot. It never goes below 50 degrees. You’ve got sandstorms, you’ve got a marathon to do a day, one day you’ve got an 80 K, you’ve got jebels to climb, you’ve got sand to deal with. You’ve got all sorts of problems, but I say I feel embarrassed because the caveat to all this is that at any point I can put my hand up and say, ‘Actually, I’ve had enough and I want to go home now.’ You can. The animals can’t, so what I’m doing is just a drop in the ocean, and because I’m doing it for a purpose, failing is a disaster for me. It’s not something that I’ve got written in my agenda that I’m going to fail.”

 Unlike other runners, Fiona does not have much time to recover. She needs to look after the animals in the sanctuary that she founded: the Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary. The sanctuary is her priority. Running is secondary.

 “Every penny we’ve got has always gone into the sanctuary,” she says.

  I hope her own words will help to explain the authenticity of her love and humility, and to illuminate the darkest corners of this world:

                                                                            “People ask what sort of animals we take in. Let me tell you, people don’t ask you to take in young, healthy, fit, well-trained dogs. And people don’t come to you and say, ‘I’m really looking for something elderly, something on expensive medication, and preferably we’d like it to be incontinent.”


Her connection with the animals has always been deep. She has a special understanding of them.  I hope that she will write a book about her relationships and experiences with the animals at the sanctuary. I will be happy to read it and will write about it on this blog.

  Thank you so much for everything you do, Fiona. You are an inspiration to many people, and those who support you are also an inspiration. Keep up the ripples of love and hope.

Happy New Year.

 To learn more about her Sanctuary and how you can help, visit the Sanctuary site.

You can learn more about Fiona Oakes from this interview:


Articles about how factory farms are breeding grounds for future pandemics:


This is an insightful conversation about this.

Friday, December 17, 2021

In Search of Van Gogh


“There is something infinite in painting—I cannot explain it to you so well […]. Tomorrow I hope to go and work in the open air again.” Vincent Van Gogh (The Hague, August 26, 1882. To Theo.)

  When you think you have read everything about Vincent Van Gogh, a book release proves you wrong. “In Search of Van Gogh” invites you to trace the artist's steps, and to visit the mental and physical spaces that he inhabited. Art historian Gloria Fossi put together Van Gogh’s musings and reflections on life experiences, relationships, art and books, along with relevant photographs, adding new revelations about the artist.


Historians used to believe that the remarkable vortex in his painting “The Starry Night” was the product of his hallucinations. However, a number of American astrophysicists now agree that it may be “a reference or a memory of one of the most fascinating nebulae ever discovered: the Whirlpool Galaxy in the Canes Venatici constellation”. It was discovered by Charles Messier in 1773. Vincent Van Gogh was an avid reader and had a special interest in the sky.

  Now we know that the stars in his paintings were not placed randomly. Researchers agree that Vincent carefully studied the sky, and his artworks reflected them with a certain precision, helping scientists to deduce, for example, that “The Starry Night over the Rhone” was painted in Arles at about 10:30 p.m. between September 20 and 30, 1888.

  During his time in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh wrote: “I absolutely want to paint a starry sky. It often seems to me that night is still more richly colored than the day, having hues of the most intense violets, blues and greens.” (Arles, between September 9 and 14, 1888).

   Vincent Van Gogh did not mind the rain or the wind as he worked in the study of nature.  He portrayed rural life in the memorable images of peasants working, sharing a meal or simply chilling out.  Guided by his intuitive wisdom, Vincent Van Gogh persevered through every obstacle, bolstering the fire of his indomitable creativity; his ardent curiosity; and his love for nature and people.

  There are various amazing facts about Van Gogh in “In Search of Van Gogh”.  Did you know that Vincent descended 700 meters underground to explore the suffering, discomfort and ordeals that miners faced every day? Gas explosions were frequent in those days, and Vincent  helped to treat the wounded in one of the Borinage mines.


  In 1990 photographers Danilo De Marco and Mario Dondero traveled to all the places where Van Gogh had lived and worked. Their artistic black-and- white photos were carefully arranged to be integrated deftly into this book, which was published last year for the first time. Unfortunately, Mario Dondero passed away in 2015, and “In Search of Van Gogh” is dedicated to him.

 “In Search of Van Gogh” offers the opportunity to get to know Vincent Van Gogh as a person and an artist, washing away prejudices and myths that cloud the understanding of his artworks.

  Van Gogh’s art continues to touch the hearts of millions of people across the world because his oeuvre transcends time and space. The freshness of his works infuses vitality in the viewers. His drawings and paintings showcase more than what any words can convey. His brushstrokes spark passion for life; the masterpieces he created are fearless depictions of his soul and those of his models. 

    The essence of Vincent Van Gogh’s empathic nature is captured with exquisite grace by Gloria Fossi’s book, and the photographs included complete a vibrant journey into his life and art.

    You can continue learning about Vincent Van Gogh by checking the full collection of letters to his family and friends. Reading those letters is a trip of poetry and inspiration. The literary value of his writing is finally gaining momentum and getting the recognition it deserves.

    Vincent Van Gogh’s full collection of letters, including critical annotations and illustrations, is the result of fifteen years of research by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in collaboration with the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands in The Hague. The collection is online here:

  Feel free to dive into the light of his wisdom and creativity in this breathtaking video. I wish you much peace in your life journey.


  Enjoy more of his works here:


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Entangled Life


“Fungi are everywhere, but they are easy to miss. They are inside you and around you. They sustain you and all that you depend on. As you read these words, fungi are changing the way that life happens, as they have done for more than one billion years. They are eating rock, making soil, digesting pollutants, nourishing and killing plants, surviving in space, inducing visions, producing food, making medicines, manipulating animal behavior and influencing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere. Fungi provide a key to understanding the plants on which we live and the ways we think, feel and behave. Yet they live their lives hidden from view, and more than ninety percent of their species remain undocumented.” Merlin Sheldrake

  If these words catch your attention, you are not alone. It is the first paragraph of the book “Entangled Life”, a fascinating exploration of the life of fungi. Did you know that you have more microorganisms in your body than human cells? Some of those microorganisms are fungi. Fungi are everywhere; they are not only present in our bodies. They are in the clouds, influencing the weather. They are on the sea floor, on the surface of deserts, in the frozen valleys of Antarctica, in the soil under our feet. They have the capacity to adapt to different habitats. The ecosystems of microorganisms in our bodies help us to digest food, to nourish us, to support our immune system, and may even influence our behaviors (check references 1 and 2 at the bottom of this post). These interactions are not unique to humans. Even bacteria have viruses within them, and viruses can contain smaller viruses.

  Fungi are neither plants nor animals. Plants make up 80% of the mass of life on earth and they are the base of the food chain. However, 600 million years ago, there were no plants on land. Back then, life was an aquatic event and there was no soil as we know it now; only rocks, where minerals were locked. Merlin Sheldrake explains that “plants made it out of the water around 500 million years ago because of their collaboration with fungi, which served as their root systems for tens of millions of years until plants could evolve their own.”

  Here is a surprising fact that is often overlooked: ninety percent of plants depend on fungi to survive and thrive. The intimate partnerships between plant roots and mycorrhizal fungi allow the plant to take in water and minerals from the soil. Fungi also provide 80 percent of a plant’s nitrogen and a hundred percent of its phosphorus. Likewise, the fungi benefit from the plants by gaining access to food produced by the plant. Mycorrhizal fungi are connected to plants and trees through shared networks. “Mykes” in Greek means fungus; “rhiza” means roots.

 Unsustainable agricultural practices ignore these vital relationships between plants and fungi. Did you know that a teaspoon of healthy soil contains more bugs than human beings in the planet? Fungi represent at least one third of the living mass in the soil. The role of fungi in soil ecosystems is an active field of research. Fungi networks in the soil prevent the loss of nutrients in it, and help to regulate the water, so they support the soil under extreme weather conditions that lead to droughts or floods.

 The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, climate changes and pollution influence the interactions between plant roots and mycorrhizae, and the effects have an impact on ecosystems. A study published in 2018 found that the deterioration of the health of trees across Europe was the consequence of a disruption of their mycorrhizal relationships, which was triggered by nitrogen pollution.

 The term “mycorrhiza” was coined by biologist Albert Frank in 1885; his study of lichens, symbiotic partnerships of fungi and algae, led to the use of the word “symbiosis”. Frank’s passion for the study of mycorrhiza spurred him to focus on the research of mycorrhizal relationships for more than a decade; back then, other scientists opposed his ideas on symbiosis as some kind of “sentimental illusion” that could not materialize in nature.

 Reading “Entangled Life” is akin to climbing a tree. The higher you ascend, the more views and perspectives you gain. As you clamber up a branch, more questions arise, and the adventure of knowledge guides you to embrace how everything is deeply interconnected to function within the delicate web of life.  

  Merlin Sheldrake shares his wonder for fungi in “Entangled Life” the way Sara Dykman explores the life of Monarch butterflies in “Bicycling with Butterflies. They both captivate us with creativity, facts and artistry.

 Merlin Sheldrake is a biologist and a writer. He received a Ph.D. in Tropical ecology from Cambridge University for his work on underground fungal networks in tropical forests in Panama, where he was a predoctoral research fellow of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. He is also a musician. You can visit his website here:



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