Farming a Dancing Landscape

Some Thoughts on Poverty – Spiritual Lessons from Nature Series

This article appears in this month’s issue of The BeZine.  To read the entire issue, click HERE.

Raising a child is not rocket science. It is more complex than that. Rocket science is merely complicated. What’s the difference? The Latin root for complicated means “folded,” like pleats. There are hidden surfaces, but you can unfold them and draw an iron straight across it. Rocket science requires a long series of problems to solve, but with enough time and effort, you can get through them all and even repeat the entire process with very similar and predictable results. (Any one with more than one kid knows this is not the case in parenting!) In the same way, you can determine which peak is the tallest one in the Appalachian Mountains. You probably can’t guess correctly just by looking out over the landscape from a single overview, but get enough people with GPS tools to climb the hundreds of peaks on the horizon and take measurements, and eventually, you can figure out which one is the tallest. Complicated, but do-able.

Guadalupe rangeComplex is a whole different story. The root of that word means “inter-woven,” like a spider’s web, where each fine thread is connected to another. And they’re all sticky except for the ones the spider uses to climb directly over to her stuck prey. But can you tell which is which? Can you tell that the one you just stepped into is sending a ripple right over to where the spider is sitting? She now knows exactly where you’re stuck, but she doesn’t know that you harbor a parasite that will kill her and make its way to yet another host when yonder sparrow snaps up her dead carcass. That’s complex.

spider web

Raising a child is complex. Trying to tell which peak in the Appalachian range is the tallest is complex, too, if the landscape is dancing: changing in an unpredictable pattern , moving to the rhythm of an imperceptible music. Which peak is tallest now? And NOW? And why are we even trying to find the answer to that question while watching this mysterious dance?

Poverty is complex. It is not something that is solved by simply devoting more time and effort to the problem. If it were, we would not be looking at thousands of years of history on the subject. We give in to the temptation to simplify poverty into a matter of dollars over time, reducing it to something measurable, predictable, and controlled, a mere graphic—the poverty line. But poverty is an inter-woven network of relationships and concepts—self worth, social justice, resources and their extraction, economic policies and global politics. It is as complex as our planet’s environment.

the shack

So how do you engage with a complex issue like poverty?

Aldo Leopold arrived at a Land Ethic after years of developing and recording a relationship to a particular place in Wisconsin. In the book A Sand County Almanac, he writes: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Making personal decisions about right and wrong based on your relationship to the community is the responsibility of every individual. Applying that ethic rigorously and non-dogmatically is the work of love. How do you love your neighbor? How do you preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community on this planet of inestimable and finite resources? How do you alleviate the suffering caused by poverty?  These are complex questions. 

“We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve, but to strive.”  —Aldo Leopold

Maybe a more accessible question is this: How shall we strive to end poverty?  To that question, I can imagine simple answers.  Start early in your learning. Teach children about sharing and portion, not dogmatically, but in relationship. Strive toward understanding basic needs and toward a sense of what is enough.  Build trust and hope and compassion.  Be flexible, changing with the land and its resources. Be present with the multiple factors involved; do not look away, diminish or dismiss what is real.  Be authentic and honest and diligent, and finally, believe that even on a dancing landscape, food is growing underfoot.

© 2015, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Elect Eco Leaders!

As you head to the polls, I want to encourage you to Look UP! 

Battleship Rock

Battleship Rock, Jemez Mountains, New Mexico

Look up from your life, past your own career, beyond your own neighborhood.  Look to the wider world when you vote.  What kind of leadership are you electing for the future?  What kind of vision are you supporting?  Are you helping to put in place legislatures that will protect natural resources or exploit them?  Are you voting for human development or for the environment that hosts all life?  These are challenging times, and much hangs in the balance. 

How will you stand on the Earth? 

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Harvesting Hope

I have just finished reading a very informative book by Jane Goodall on the subject of Food.  Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating has led me to reconsider the way I buy and cook and eat food.  Much of it is based on common sense and natural practices (What would a chimp choose to eat?  Have you ever seen an overweight chimp in the wild?), and much of it exposes the insanity that is our factory food production here in the “civilized” world. How civilized is it to cram thousands of chickens together in a cage, remove their beaks so that they can’t peck each other to death, pump them with antibiotics and force them to cannibalize their own kind by giving them non-vegetarian feed?  And then to slaughter them, ship their polluted flesh over thousands of miles burning fossil fuels, and eat it?  I was not thinking about that when I bought Super Saver packages of chicken breasts at my local super market.  I think about it now.

And here is the surprising gift of hope: my children have been thinking about this for years.  I didn’t lead the way. 

Here is another arena of hope: reclaiming, salvaging and recycling living space.  My daughter and her fiance purchased a home that had been severely water damaged and mold and mildew infested.  The inhabitants had moved out to hospice care and died; the house was abandoned, but the water wasn’t shut off.  In the winter freeze and thaw, the pipes broke and flooded the place.  What a mess!  But Joe comes from a family line of carpenters and construction wizards.  He has completely re-worked the house: plumbing, electric, heating, floor plan and surfaces.  He’s gotten neighbors, friends and family involved in the labor and in donating fixtures. The final step will be relocating the back yard garden.  You see, this house is just a few doors down the street from the one they’ve rented for the past 3 years.  So, by their wedding date one year from this month, they will have their own home and garden.  They are marvelous role models for sustainable living, and I am so proud of them! Yesterday I went down to visit and take pictures.  They sent me home with a bunch of produce from their garden.  I am so grateful and awed by how life unfolds.  The next generation is certainly capable of taking responsibility and working hard in a sustainable direction.  Let’s just hope many of them choose to!

Advent Day #2 – Air

Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s a bird…it’s a comet….it’s ATMOSPHERE!

The second gift in my December calendar of counting blessings is air.  The blog entry I posted two years ago is about an encounter with duck hunters.  Ironically, I met a duck hunter yesterday.  He came into my daughter’s home with a mallard drake dangling from his fist, took it out to the back yard, and began to pull back skin and feathers to reveal a dark red breast.  If you’ve never eaten duck, this may conjure a shocked response.  If you have (and enjoy it as much as Steve does), you may shrug your shoulders and think, “Okay, that’s how we get duck meat.  Yum!”  My daughter came into the house minutes later with a collection of feathers in a plastic bag and announced, “Everyone’s getting feather earrings for Christmas!”  My daughter makes and sells jewelry.  Her designs are beautiful, I think. 

So, natural resources…we use them, we share them with everything on the planet.  We breathe something like 19 cubic feet of oxygen each day.  Our air quality affects every breath we take, every bird and animal and plant as well.  There’s an air quality exhibit at Discovery World where I work, so I am reminded of this several times a week.  We will use the resources; we will affect the web.  The question we must continue to ask is “How?”  Are we mindful?  Respectful?  Wasteful?  Grateful?  Entitled?  Do consider before acting.

Now, the reblog…

Make Way for Duck Hunters

I’m new around here.  To Wisconsin, that is.  People here shoot animals at state nature areas.  And the DNR is okay with this.  They post helpful signs that indicate which recreational activities are allowed and that includes the hiker dude whom I recognize, and a hunter dude whom I don’t.  Well, I recognize him now.  I’ve been seeing more of him lately.  He’s up there next to the binoculars.  I can’t figure out how all these things coexist, though.  If you’re in a wildlife refuge area to view wildlife and hike around, and other people are there to shoot at the wildlife, what’s the etiquette for getting along?

Steve and I walked in the Vernon State Wildlife Area on Wednesday.  This was our fourth visit.  We’ve seen so many different kinds of animals there: birds and frogs and turtles and fish and muskrats.  I wanted to see how the place was changing with the season.  We walked down the gravel trail alongside the railroad tracks and heard 3 shots.  When we got to the other parking lot, we saw 4 pickup trucks with gun racks.  One of them had a sticker that said, “P.E.T.A. – People Eating Tasty Animals”.  Gun deer season was just over, I thought.  We walked out on the dike and saw decoy ducks on the water in several different places.  As we got nearer, people in camouflage gear appeared in the cattails.  I had my binoculars and my camera.  They had guns and a dog.  Steve and I were talking in low voices, wondering to each other, actually, what the protocol was for this seeming conflict of interests.  Were the hunters harboring ill will for us, thinking that we were maybe scaring away the ducks and geese?  Were we harboring ill will for them, thinking that they are killing the wildlife we’ve come to enjoy?  Were the water birds harboring ill will for all of us, wishing we’d just let them be?  We nodded greetings.  At one point, some birds flew over in formation while the hunters tooted away on their duck call devices, but apparently, they were too high up to shoot.  If they were any lower, would they have shot anyway, while we were standing there on the path??  I just don’t know how this is suppose to work.  Are we supposed to stay away during hunting season?  It’s not posted that hikers can only be there on certain dates.   We heard shots as we walked back to our car.

I’m still puzzled about this.  I have heard a few more stories from folks I’ve met about deer hunting.  People have great family memories about hunting traditions.  I imagine my favorite postal employee out there in the field, waiting 8 hours to spot a deer, and I suppose it’s kind of like fishing.  You get to sit quietly in nature and forget about business at the post office.  No one bugs you for hours at a time.  And if you see a deer, you aim and shoot.  If you hit it, you get to be all physical and field dress it and carry it away.  Sounds like a complete departure from stamping packages all day long.  I appreciate that.

As if Andy Goldsworthy had been here

There’s a particular stark beauty in the late fall landscape.  Trees are skeletal.  Light is low and angled.  Ice forms in geometric patterns.  It’s rather post-modern feeling.  It makes me moody.  So does the hunting scene.  In a way, it fits, though.  I guess I’m coming to a kind of ambiguous acceptance of it.  Survival, mortality, an uneasy coexistence with everything.  In the summer, this same drama is played out, except it’s covered in fecundity and green light.

Still, the universe is a complicated tapestry, as Steve said last night – a magic carpet stretching in all directions forever.  I look for a perch from which to see as much of it as I can.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime

This week’s challenge is about a universal favorite: FOOD!  I grew up in a family that was highly educated about and highly appreciative of food.  My family was started in Massachusetts, moved to Chicago and then to California.  Regional ethnic influences were explored and absorbed with gusto.  Last night, as Steve & I enjoyed dinner at our local sushi bar, we got to talking about our personal culinary histories.  Steve adamantly refused to eat anything but hot dogs, potatoes and asparagus until he was 16.  Then, on a trip to New England, he actually tried fresh fish and realized that he was missing a world of wonderful taste.  You can get lost in a food wasteland, if you’re not adventurous, in the Midwest.  But there are plenty of opportunities to branch out. 

Last year, on St. Patrick’s Day, we ventured into the city to see what kind of shenanigans we could witness.  We had lunch at one of Steve’s favorite places: Beans & Barley.  I love it immediately for its California vibe.  Here’s a picture of my portabello and gorgonzola and roasted red pepper sandwich with curried potato salad:

Lunchtime

And the beer?  New Glarus Spotted Cow.  The best in Wisconsin micro brews, IMHO.  And you can’t buy it in Illinois.  Oh, but that’s not all!  DESSERT!

dessert

The cafe has a deli and market attached, were you can find a variety of locally made sauces, mustards, natural soaps, and ART!

Art

Yes, indeed, ladies & gentlemen!  Step right up to the Art-o-Matic vending machine, insert your token, make your selection, pull the knob, and PRESTO!  A cigarette-pack-sized piece of genuine, handmade ART will plop into the tray!  Decoupage, graphic, random, actual ART.  Really, isn’t this a cool idea?  Get your local cafe to install one TODAY!  All your neighborhood artists will want to supply stock for it.  I think it’s brilliant.  

This year, on St. Patty’s Day, we’re invited to the Finnegan’s house (Steve’s sister’s) for garam masala corned beef & aloo gobi, naan, chutney and Chai spiced rice pudding.  See, living in Wisconsin need not be bland!

Making Good the Resolution

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:

They might be giants

They might be giants

Steve pointed out this small formation for me to photograph

Steve pointed out this small formation for me to photograph

Invitation to walk on water

Invitation to walk on water

 

 

Cyber Monday

Scholar & Poet Books is the online book business that Steve & I run from our home.  We shelter books that we have rescued from Good Will, library sales, church sales and rummage sales.  We clean them up and put them up for adoption on Amazon, Alibris, ABE Books and eBay.  We find new homes for old standards, eclectic oddities, and arcane tutorials.  Pulp fiction with vintage cover art, lots of spiritual topics, Christmas and cookbooks and CDs and children’s books…you name it, we probably have it or something related to it.  So, if you’re in the mood for some cyber shopping today that supports the U.S. Post Office, a small business, and the non-electronic world of all natural BOOKS, you can browse our collection through this link.  We have a 5-star rating, but neither of us has a Facebook account.  If you like what you see and want to share the link with your friends, though, we would be very pleased!  Happy hunting, bookworms!