In my post a few days ago, (Oh! The Humanity!) I sent out a plea for examples of admirable human beings as an antidote to the kind of internet sensations who fail to inspire and instead make me nauseated. You know what I’m talking about, right? The rampant dumbing-down of our species, “urgent” stories of greed and fear and violence and stupidity and pettiness and the like are probably a dangerous toxin to our culture. Where are the role models who will help us do better and why aren’t we using our advanced media to promote them more often? For every “Who Wore It Better?”, we could be viewing 5 “Who Lived It Better?” stories. Why not?
I have enjoyed a morning at work in the kitchen and with the book business while listening to the music of my Mensch of the Day. This is an artist who has inspired me since my pre-adolescent days, and I’ve only just discovered this live recording from 2 years before his death. He is the recipient of the 1993 Albert Schweitzer Music Award and the only non-classical musician to be so distinguished. His humanitarian efforts supported the National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, The Cousteau Society, and the Windstar Foundation. The CD I have was a concert for The Wildlife Conservation Society’s 100th anniversary. Ladies and gentleman…….John Denver: a singer and songwriter whose lyrics ring with authenticity and passion, whose music spans genres from country to pop to blues to rock, and whose commitment to peace and preservation permeated his career. As a cultural ambassador for the U. S., he visited China, Viet Nam and the Soviet Union and recorded a duet with a Soviet artist, becoming the first American to do so. In my mind, he follows in the footsteps of another hero of mine, Pete Seeger, who, at 93, is still active in the same kind of musical ambassadorship that promotes cultural tolerance and environmental responsibility. I did have the privilege of hearing him give a concert for children when I was in my single digits.
Who will carry the torch when he passes away?
To read more about the Schweitzer Award, see http://www.anchor-international.org/07.html. For more about John Denver’s career, see http://learningtogive.org/papers/paper349.html. For a good listen, go to “You Say the Battle Is Over”.
Yesterday’s post was about the weekly photo challenge prompt: Resolved. I stated that land use research and getting outside were goals for this year. Yesterday afternoon, we ventured into moraine country and found a preserve managed by the Nature Conservancy. I’m excited about this discovery as a place to revisit in the different seasons and a starting point for understanding what preservation, restoration, and conservation mean to a particular area. Here are some photographs, then, of the Lulu Lake preserve outside of East Troy, Wisconsin:
Like Kermit says, it’s not easy being green. It’s not easy building green, either. My son has a degree in Construction Management and is interested in green design. He’s having a hard time finding an entry-level job in this field, but it seems like a very useful career in the long run. 7 billion human beings generate a lot of construction; we need to be wiser about how and what and where and when we build because it makes a huge impact on our environment. That’s common sense. What does it look like when that is taken into consideration? It takes time. It takes money. It takes intelligence and skill. So, “forget it” is the conclusion many construction companies take. Fast, cheap and easy…up goes another WalMart with a parking lot the size of an inland lake.
I’ve visited two LEED certified buildings here in Wisconsin. (click on the links to read about their energy-saving and environmentally responsible features) The Schlitz Audubon Nature Center was certified on the Gold level. It houses a pre-school, among other facilities. The Aldo Leopold Legacy Center was certified on the Platinum level. Built where Leopold died while fighting a brush fire, it houses office and meeting spaces, an interpretive hall, an archive, and a workshop organized around a central courtyard. I took some pictures for my son at the Aldo Leopold Center, and this prompt is the perfect opportunity to post them and share!
After a delicious Sunday breakfast buffet and a quick photo walk in downtown Parkersburg, Steve and I headed back into Ohio toward the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park. Steve has always been drawn to Native American archaeology and has experience working for the National Park Service at Wupatki National Monument. The information we gathered at the Hopewell site was truly fascinating. The native Americans in the Scioto River valley constructed enormous earth works, mounds and borders of giant proportions, geometrical shapes duplicated exactly many miles apart. The burial mounds contained artifacts made with materials from distant regions. The scope of this culture, the complexity of the ideas they represent, is amazing. Of course, our conjectures about the meaning of the clues they left behind will never be verified. Mystery will always surround this place. The sense of a sacred reverence hangs in the very air, though. It felt, to me, very similar to what I felt when I visited Chichen Itza in Mexico. Time, space, geometry, astronomy, mathematics, religion, life and death coming together in physical art. These were a people who understood the interconnectedness of all things and represented that in a conscientious way. To say that it’s “primitive” misses the mark completely. It certainly seems more primitive to plow over the entire area time and time again to plant corn or bulldoze the hill to quarry gravel…which is just what the white settlers did and still are doing.
We spent the afternoon slowly embracing the place and then drove home in the dark on speedy Interstate highways. We were back by 11pm. On Wednesday, we continued our research on Native American mounds and early Wisconsin history by going to Madison and visiting the Historical Museum on Capitol Square and the UW Madison Arboretum (which has an impressive bookstore!). We are still in the process of discerning how we will contribute to the conservation of this sacred planet on a local level, to what work we will devote our energy, and how we will live in awareness of the impact we make here. It’s a time to stay open to possibilities and opportunities and to be ready to move with a purpose when a specific vehicle of conveyance appears pointing toward our goal.
After camping for 2 nights at Mammoth Cave, we headed east toward the Daniel Boone National Forest. We stopped at a public library to use the internet to get directions to a campsite, and were pleased to see that there were free campsites in the area. This is one of the great ideas from the Forest Service. Someone had the foresight to save public land through the federal government, meaning that everyone owns it and everyone can use it. Of course, working out how it’s used and by whom is an art in balance. There are rules of use intended to foster respect between different parties. There are hunting seasons, there are trails for ATVs and trails for hikers only. And there are shared trails, shared lands, shared campgrounds. Hopefully, we can negotiate and live side by side. Sometimes, that breaks down. We got to S-Tree campground and found that it is maintained in part by an ATV club and has many trails where motor-powered All Terrain Vehicles are permitted. There was no fee to camp there, and aside from two trailers in the campsite on the other hill across the forest road, we had the place to ourselves. We set up our tent across from the pit toilets, gathered firewood, and went into town for some groceries. The only thing on my list I couldn’t purchase was beer. I found out later that Kentucky has 40 “dry” counties and 49 “moist” counties in their total of 120 counties, meaning that the sale of alcohol is not permitted or is restricted in those counties. In other words, they still practice prohibition. That doesn’t mean that you don’t find Jack Daniels bottles and cans of Bud Light in the woods. Still, the weather was warm, only a little damp, and the place was quiet. The wind, the birds, the rustle of leaves on the ground and in the trees, the starlight and the slim sliver of moon were perfect companions.
We decided to do an extended hike on Friday, hedging our bets against an onslaught of weekend ATVers. We did encounter one group of 4 vehicles while we were resting beside a concrete creek crossing. We were following the Sheltowee Trace (a trail named after Daniel Boone’s native American nickname, meaning Big Turtle) for about 4 miles west along the Racoon Creek, and then planned to take an “unimproved” trail south through the woods, pick up a forest road there and loop back to the east. The “unimproved trail” was so covered in leaves that it was indistinguishable from an erosion gulley that went straight up to the top of the ridge. We ended up on top with no trail in sight. So we did some basic orienteering and blazed south, thinking we’d hit the forest road eventually, which we did, but not before I went through every survival scenario I could imagine. I was a Girl Scout for 12 years and a leader for 3, so I have practical skills. Steve has no sense of direction at all, but he also has no anxieties. Together we actually make a reasonable and happy pair of adventurers. By the time we got back to camp and started a fire for supper, we were pretty pleased with ourselves and pleased with Kentucky. We planned to stay one more night and then make camp in a different area of the Forest to hike up the Rockcastle Narrows. While we sat at the picnic table, we saw an SUV hauling a trailer and a pickup truck following it up the campsite road. The road was narrow and gutted, so the guy in the trailer had his wife get out of the pickup and help him navigate. They managed to pull past our site and set up about 100 feet away in another slot. Then they left in the pickup. So, we had company, but on a Friday night, that was not unusual. They looked like an older couple and hadn’t any ATVs with them, so we figured they would be good neighbors. They returned at about 8pm while we were snuggled up in the tent talking. A little while later, we heard the noise of a generator coming from their site. It was impossible to ignore it. It droned on and on. Quiet hours in the National Forest are posted for 10pm – 6am. We figured they were running their generator for a few hours before turning in. But maybe not. At 9pm, Steve decided he would go over and ask them how long they intended to keep the machine running, as we were trying to sleep. The old man was in his pajamas; he said he planned to run the thing all night “for heat”. Steve tried to suggest that went against the rules for quiet hours, but the man said that he’d never had an issue before and that we could simply move. Steve is calm and gentle and polite, so he came back to the tent to discuss the situation with me. We both felt bullied by the man’s refusal to negotiate, and we decided to pack up and head out. We pulled out at 10pm and waved to the man as we left. He was standing outside his trailer in his nightclothes. (How cold was it, then?)
So, we learned some more about Kentucky. Finding a hotel room along the Interstate on a Friday night is not easy. In London, they were booked up due to a Civil War Reenactment event. In Richmond, they were booked up for a University football game. Finally, in Lexington, we found a “smoking Queen” available. It was 1 a.m. The next installment will tell you how we made up for our disappointment. Here are some photos:
The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970 and marks what some consider the birth of the Environmental Movement. Of course, cultures throughout history have celebrated and appreciated the earth according to their particular perspectives. Harvest festivals, rain rituals, volcano appeasement, fertility festivals, river ceremonies…I can think of many ways that humans have venerated the earth. Since 1990, when the Earth Day campaign went global, we’ve focused on the planet as a whole. We are the ones who have seen it (at least in pictures) as a whole from outer space, and I think we are realizing more and more how our relationship to the Earth is effecting that picture. Large scale weather patterns, extinction rates, pollution and population are just some of the issues that are “going big” in our consciousness. This is all very well, and at the same time, each of us has a particular and specific and local intimacy with Earth that should never be overlooked.
NaPoWriMo is acknowledging Earth Day with its prompt to write a poem about a plant. I have so many favorite Earth/Nature/Flower/Animal poems already dear to my heart that I’m having a hard time being original, so I think I’m just going to share a few favorites with you here instead. The first one is a lullaby that my mother used to sing to me. I have no idea of its origin. I just hear Mom sing:
White coral bells upon a slender stalk,
Lilies of the valley deck my garden walk.
Oh! Don’t you wish that you could hear them ring?
That will happen only when the faeries sing!
Here’s one I wrote back in March as I looked at my lilac bush:
When will the buds appear this year?
When will the lilac be full in bloom?
When will that perfume make fair the air?
When will that purple bedeck my room?
Soon, oh, soon; let it be soon!
I’ve been wearing lilac oil from a little vial that Jim bought me when we were on Mackinac Island years ago. A few drops on my neck assures me that the fragrance of my favorite flower will not fade too quickly from my consciousness.
I took a walk yesterday to photograph some of my local earth miracles. May I present:
And to represent the hippie protesters and the environmental movement, I have to share one of my favorite earth songs. Nanci Griffith, “From A Distance” (written by Julie Gold). Socks with sandals, passion and integrity. She moves me.
Love our planet, today and every day. Treat her and all life with respect. Please.
Transitions. Stuff. Accumulation and de-acquisition. Now that I am almost 50 years old, I have seen a lot of cycles of hoarding and purging. When I was a kid, my mother would periodically declare that it was time for “one great hour of swearing”, meaning it was time to clear out clutter and clean house. She is a highly organized and tidy person, rarely sentimental about material things. However, she is also an historian, an archiver. Things that were deemed valuable were carefully stored. Sterling silver was always wrapped in the proper cloth. Her off-season shoes were in a zippered case, so were blankets. Photo slides and correspondence were kept in carefully hand-constructed boxes of just the right size and shape. Sometime in the 70s, recycling became a household habit. She always had her glass bottles in separate containers, according to color, and everything perfectly sorted. She’d load up the station wagon and make the trip to the recycling center about once a month. I got to help her throw stuff on the appropriate piles or in the dumpsters. Breaking glass can be fun! She’s worked for the past few decades as a museum docent, cataloging the music collections. She has my wedding dress stored in an archival quality box. She keeps a full pantry (for earthquake preparedness), but she is not a hoarder. I think she regularly updates her pantry and donates stuff she’s not going to use before its expiration date. She’s a great example to me, and ahead of her generation’s learning curve.
Steve’s aunt is delightful and messy. She thrills for a bargain. She will go to great lengths to capitalize on a sale. She knows that this creates problems for her, though, and is somewhat like a struggling addict, trying to quit. She lives alone in the house in which she cared for her mother. She’s never been married. She solicits our help in taming the clutter she has accumulated in that house. Steve is a willing worker, completely kind and patient, but always clear about his own limits. He has some professional experience with estate sales from the book business, so he has worked with elderly strangers as well doing similar service. He can assess and clear out an entire house in a weekend, if he must. No one boxes more efficiently, in my opinion.
What do we do with stuff?
Reduce, reuse, recycle, freecycle. Keep it out of the landfill, off the streets, out of the woods and wetlands. Don’t buy it if you don’t need it; if you do anyway, give it away. My mother has always had a habit of sending me “care packages” of stuff she acquired, often by mail order, that wasn’t quite what she wanted. She was always on the lookout for a good home for something she didn’t want. I would often end up taking some of that stuff to donate to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but it didn’t get thrown away. We’re working on finding good homes for Steve’s aunt’s stuff. I’m fixing to give care packages to each of my children from what we brought home yesterday. Beauty and cleaning products from her bathroom, mostly. The unopened items will go to a local shelter. A bottle of shampoo that was used once and turned out not to be to her liking can make some useful suds. Would you just pour that down the drain? Somehow, I can’t.
How long do you figure it would take to use up the stuff that’s already been made before we make more? Depends on the stuff, of course. But there must be categories of products that we could use up…and then, maybe, discontinue forever. How many varieties of shampoo do we need? How many varieties of cleaning products? You could use Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-in-One Soap (made from hemp and essential oils) in peppermint to clean your entire body (including teeth), your clothes, your dishes, your surfaces, your car, etc., and we’d never need to make anything else. Sounds like de-cluttering to me. Of course, there are a million ways to disagree with me and get on your own soap box. We like choices. Depending on how old you are, you may be just beginning to explore all your options, and you’d hate to have anyone restrict you. Wait 50 years. Then you may be cleaning out your house and wondering, “Why do I have all this crap?!” You’ll give it to your kids, who want to have stuff but have no money to buy it. Some day there’ll be a story out there of a family who free-cycled the same object for 5 generations. Why not? I’m still using my grandmother’s electric mixer/food grinder. But nowadays, things are built cheaply according to the economic principle of Planned Obsolescence and the landfills overflow. It’s a sickening trend.
One great hour of swearing is not gonna cure the planet of its clutter these days. (sigh) We’re way out of scale. Something’s gotta give. I wonder what…and how… and when.
It’s ALIIIIVE!!! It’s in the kitchen, and it’s growing! I’m waiting for it to double in size, then I’ll screw up all my courage and give it a good punch! I’m gonna break it in half, then I’ll let it alone for about an hour while the two halves grow again. It sounds kind of like an amoeba, but actually it’s whole wheat dough. Yup, I’m making bread. By the time I get it baking, I’ll be making split pea soup as well, but I have to take a walk to the grocery store to get some dried mushrooms for that.
We have about 4 cubic feet of cookbooks in the dining room. I often just look up a recipe online, but that makes Steve cringe. He thanked me this morning for asking him to direct me to one of his books. So I am celebrating my participation in lower-tech food preparation. I will not get into my car and drive to Panera for bread and soup. I will make it myself. And I don’t want to pat myself on the back for this. This is not a revolutionary step. This is what almost every woman was able to do 100 years ago.
I’m not exactly sure what the comparative benefits are to this approach. I haven’t researched the whole economic picture of Panera restaurant vs. homemade. I just know that I’m not making an income (aside from being paid for giving one private voice lesson a week), and so I don’t want to spend much. Is it possible in this day and age to live without spending? Well, just yesterday, I ran across this news article about a grandmother in Germany who hasn’t used money for 16 years. http://wakeup-world.com/2011/07/18/happy-69-year-old-lady-has-not-used-money-for-15-years/ I really like that idea. Capitalism isn’t my best friend. WalMart makes me shudder. I read about theft in my town paper every week. What would happen if more of us were able to get off that treadmill somehow and live without using money or coveting goods? Would we be able to scale back on damage to the environment? Would we be able to scale back our population? I know all these issues are intertwined, and I’m still wondering how they effect each other in the big picture and in my personal life.
Steve & I have been thinking about going to a conference on Population that will be held in Telluride, Colorado over Memorial Day weekend. It’s called Moving Mountains Symposium: Population. It’s a film festival as well, and features Dave Foreman (of The Rewilding Institute) as one of its keynote speakers.
So all this is just rising in my consciousness as the bread is rising downstairs. I’m not quite ready to present it all sliced and buttered for this blog, but I like to think that IT’S ALIIIIVE in me in some way. Stay tuned!
You know how once you get pregnant, all you see around you is pregnant women? I want to trigger that phenomenon in this post and bring awareness to something I feel is pretty common in our fast-paced American life. I want to see how often people come up with the “I’m sorry; we can’t do that” line when what they really mean is something else. Something like, “I’m sorry; I haven’t been trained to do that” or “I’m sorry; my computer can’t do that, and I don’t know how to do anything without the computer” or “I’m sorry; we aren’t willing to do that. Your request is not as important as other things.” The real answer is absolutely valid and a fine place to begin negotiations. The problem is, we don’t often get the real answer.
I worked in customer service for a few years, and I remember the nervousness that accompanied requests to depart from policy. I didn’t know if I had the authority to make exceptions. I often didn’t want to be in the position of the middle man going back and forth from the customer to my superior. It made me feel caught in a conflict that wasn’t mine, especially if it dragged on and on. Eventually, I got to the point where I rather enjoyed listening to people and trying to come up with creative compromises. But then I was told that I was spending too much time on these discussions and I should simply state the policy and get off the phone.
Dealing with people is tricky. They require your time, and time is money. To be an efficient society, we must streamline our systems. Any person who does not comply with procedure is throwing a monkey wrench into the works. So what do we value more, the “works”, the people, or some other ideal? Once you become aware that you’re getting an “I’m sorry; we can’t do that” response, what do you do?
Here are a few examples of this kind of exchange in real life. The first one is “How do you want your coffee?” Steve does not like the prevalent custom of serving coffee in disposable containers. He likes to drink his latte from a mug. He rarely orders anything “to go”. He values conservation of resources and energy and is not too concerned with “convenience”. We have breakfast often at a local cafe that has recently been hiring new staff. Young staff. I am patient and cheerful and as helpful as I can be when I’m placing our order. I got to ordering Steve’s latte and said, “With that breakfast, I want a latte in a mug with 2% milk.” “Um, okay. What size?” “In a mug.” “I’m sorry; we can’t do that.” We happened to have had breakfast there just the day before. “Well, yesterday you could.” A more veteran server came up behind him and whispered, “Yes we can. It’s served in a soup mug.”
I’m not saying this young person did anything wrong. It was probably about his third day on the job. The point is that we often get streamlined into making concessions in our decision-making and forget that there are other options. We don’t have to take the disposable option. We don’t have to take the profitable option if profit is not our highest goal. We don’t have to have a lawn or rake our leaves or live in the city or send our kids to public schools or give birth in a hospital. We don’t have to go “up and to the right” and continue to support a growth economy. But we’ll probably be told when we suggest an alternative, “I’m sorry; we can’t do that.”
Here’s another example. I am following a discussion on a blog about an architectural idea coming out of Italy. The title of the article is “Milan’s Vertical Forest”. http://pensci.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/milans-vertical-forest The premise of the idea is to create a “less crowded, less polluted, less inhumane” city by erecting high-rise buildings with open balcony space on all four sides to accommodate trees and greenery that would help clean the air and provide a natural aesthetic. It sounds great, but it makes me wonder whether it’s assuming “we can’t” do something else instead. If what Milan wants is forest, why not tear down the high-rises and convert the land into open green space? If what Milan wants is urban housing, why are they calling it a forest when in reality, it’s just apartments with more balcony space? Are potted trees really going to thrive there? And will people actually use all that space for vegetation instead of storing their bicycles and grills and laundry there? If we really want the city to be less crowded and polluted, why not encourage people to move out and work the small farms in France that are being abandoned, for example? No, “we can’t do that”, we have to think of solutions that keep people in the city and promote more construction and more growth. Well, we don’t have to. Let’s just be honest about what our goals are and discuss from there.
So what happens when you “throw a monkey wrench” into the system and ask for a different option? Do you get an honest negotiation? I would like to gum up the works of the political machine and ask for a candidate who would admit that s/he is not perfect in character, is not superior in knowledge about every facet of American life and doesn’t necessarily have to be the prime ideologue, but who would be a skilled administrator willing to represent the people and carry out their ideas.
I don’t want a cardboard cup with the shiny logo and a snappy lid. I just need a teacup to hold some tea long enough to get it to my mouth. Any Buddhist will tell you, it’s not about the teacup, it’s about the tea.