Controlling the Tap

Today, a reminder that things are not always what they seem and that the touch of humanity runs deeper than we like to believe. And that this holds true most especially in the wild. There, industrial effluent runs silently through streams, planes and satellites pass continuously overhead, pipelines are buried in mud and thickets, and, yes, someone controls the water over Niagra Falls. Consider for a moment the millions of people that annually visit the falls to witness a natural wonder or mark a life event never knowing that the flow is increased at peak visitor hours and dropped to a trickle at night when the waters are diverted for human uses. Consider the unnatural and perilous ecosystem created. Consider the hubris in treating an abiding natural phenomenon like a common faucet.

What does it say about us that we are blind to the irony in this situation?

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Simple Resistance

As climate change, political upheaval, addiction, mental and physical health concerns, and hate threaten to overwhelm us, resistance has become a necessary way of life. So this year, as in previous years, I offer you a list of simple but potent forms of resistance to add to your everyday life in the hopes of spurring you to positive change in your own body and life and for the sake of us all.

Go to the library

Visit your local parks

Purchase art directly from an artist

Make eye contact

Eat something you harvest yourself

Buy in bulk

Write a physical letter

Mend instead of replacing

Hug more people

Sit in silence, doing nothing

Solstice

Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, derives its name from the Latin sol, meaning sun, and stit, stand, or stationary. Most of our modern associations with this moment center on darkness and in this year, at this moment in history, it is especially easy to focus on those darker forces at work in the world.

It is easy, in the face of turmoil, uncertainty, and changing times to want to burrow, collapse inside ourselves, and hibernate. But in trying times inaction is a luxury we cannot afford.

Instead, choose to embrace these older derivations and take this day as an opportunity to stand in the light. Be the hope you wish to see in the world.

Birds of Least Concern

It is easy to scorn the most abundant and least beautiful among us. Easy to forget that even such a lowly bird as the common starling in North America, with its metallic sheen and vampire black cloak, might be the exotic myna bird on another continent. Their ubiquity is their undoing. Flocks of starlings are referred to as constellations at best, but more commonly as scourges, filths, or vulgarities. Their conservation status is ‘of least concern.’ I do not consider them a nuisance, even when they arrive in dozens, chattering in the trees outside my window. To me, they are a welcome cacophony, well deserving of their only noble flock name- a murmuration, which serves to remind of me the ecstatic chaos of the world and entices me to step into it. 

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Petrichor

After years of drought and record high temperatures, a delayed start to the rainy season has left Oregon desiccated. Stream beds are dry. Leaves crackle under foot. Clouds pass without giving up their cargo. Everything waits. I long for the sour-sweet smell of the world after the rain, the petrichor of fall.

The Windmills of Holland

Every so often I receive a piece of information that so entirely startles me, so perfectly rearranges my perception of a thing that I find myself questioning if I’ve ever understood anything about the world at all. The windmills of Holland are one such example, wherein I have found that the gap between what I assumed I knew about a thing and what I actually knew was more a chasm than a crack.

Holland. Windmills. They go together. Why? I never bothered to ask, even upon visiting this lovely country. Perhaps a fad? An early and robust form of sustainable energy? No. In matter of fact, an early, ambitious, and robust form of large-scale engineering. Holland, you see, is largely a wetland. The ubiquitous windmills a constant and necessary country-wide drainage system that allowed development. That they still exist today is not a relic of nostalgia but a necessity, especially in these times of riding sea levels. The water always returns.

Ironically, it will be neither technology nor climate change that forces Holland’s windmills into obsolescence, but the very development they paved the way for. Ever larger and more densely sited buildings now block out the wind, stilling the mills.  

Is it a crack or a chasm between what we assume know of the consequences of our actions and what we actually know?

 https://www.holland.com/global/tourism/discover-holland/traditional/functions-of-windmills-in-holland.htm

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Local Histories- The Children of the Tillamook Burn

Between 1933 and 1951 more than 550 square miles of forest west of Portland burned in what were, back then, unheard-of conflagrations. The fires were driven, much like the fires of today, by extreme temperatures and windy conditions and the inaccessibility of the terrain and lack of human power to fight the blazes conspired to render the state relatively helpless. For nearly two decades, the coast range burned. As each fire decimated once profitable timber stands, the logging companies, some responsible for the ignition of the blazes, stopped paying property taxes and the land reverted to public ownership. When the fires finally spent through the available fuel, Portland and its surrounding areas were left to face a scarred and blackened landscape that now belonged to them. In what at the time was more of a visceral, emotive response than a resource management plan, the decision was made to replant.
While several groups had a hand in the replanting effort in the decades over which it occurred, none was as unique as the Portland youth labor that rallied to the cause. Between 1950 and 1970 more than 20,000 Portland school children would participate in voter-funded and school-organized tree planting in what was to become the Tillamook Forest. It’s no wonder that the Portland population has long been known for its progressive views and opposition to the timber industry in what has traditionally been a whole-hearted logging state.
They watched it burn. They helped it grow. It’s hard to log a forest that you can rightly call your own.

Lost- Joyce Carol Vincent

In 2006 Joyce Carol Vincent was found dead in her London flat. The cause of death was not determined due to the advanced state of decomposition of her body. Joyce was 38 years old when she died. Her body had lain undisturbed in her flat for nearly three years. The story of Joyce, what there is to know and tell has been documented in the film Dreams of a Life.

Joyce was not a shut-in, had no history of mental illness of drug abuse, and had three living sisters. She was widely described as beautiful , vibrant, and successful. By all accounts from those that knew her, it is as though the Joyce they knew simply slipped away; they seemed unable to reconcile the woman in the flat with the person they had known. Contrary to the image of a recluse she was found surrounded by freshly wrapped Christmas presents; there must have been people in her life.

While there is something morbidly compelling about the unresolved cause of her death and the grim tableau of how she was found, the more disturbing element of this story is the three year wait before her discovery. Where were family, friends, and coworkers? Where were the neighbors or the mailman? Where, even, were the bill collectors? In the end, it took even the landlords three years to come and clear her out for unpaid rent.

I think that the we learn more about ourselves in Joyce’s story than we learn about her. When she died in 2003 we were pre-Facebook and post nuclear-family. 2003 was right in the transition point between the constant connections of the social media age and the isolation and lack of community of the end of the 20th Century. Three years? How can this be? It is not hard for me to imagine friends of mine disappearing and not being noticed for three or four months. The free spirits, wanderers, or troubled souls, but three years? There is no one I know or have ever known that was in any way functional that could disappear from all things for three years and not have someone ring the bell.

What are we to think of this? Is Joyce some kind of social canary warning us of the dangers of our modernity? Is it an isolated case; one sad woman’s quiet decline? Is it possible that we have reached a place where people can live out their lives with no real connections? How acceptable is distance between family members? How important is the building of community? How long do you want to wait before someone finds you? (original post circa 2009)

Chasing Grace

I spend a lot of time chasing grace. I find the physical manifestation of grace, grace of the body, comes far more easily to me than its less tangible partner, grace of the soul. To have a graceful soul requires the exercise of love, kindness, mercy, and forgiveness to the benefit of others. It requires an uncommon generosity that often lies just outside my grasp. I am becoming increasingly convinced that our current modern way of life discourages, if not renders completely hopeless, the exercise of grace in our day to day lives. Until, that is, I’m proven wrong, most often in the small and simple gestures of good and common people. This week I am acutely aware of the grace in those around me, and the largeness of their souls. And I am thankful. (Original Post October 9, 2015)
Listen:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3f-mzWy-lT0

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Who Killed Judi Bari?

In the spring of 1990 the car transporting Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, vocal and influential activists for the preservation of the California Redwoods, exploded. Bari was an organizer for Earth First! a well-known environmental group formed in 1979 that specializes in non-violent direction action. Bari was a major organizer for their Redwood Summer, a series of anti-logging protests aimed at protection of the Redwood forests and the changing of logging practices.

Bari had received a series of death threats in the months leading up to the bombing. The FBI arrived at the scene in minutes. Injured, both Bari and Cherney were taken into custody in Oakland after the bombing and charged with transportation of an incendiary device; they were being held for bombing themselves. Bari never recovered, remaining severely disabled for the rest of her life. Though the charges were dropped amid clear evidence of a third party being responsible for the crime, the most compelling of which being the placement of the device directly beneath the drivers seat, the FBI and national press painted Bari and Cherney as environmental terrorists and used the incident to marginalize the entire environmental movement of the early 90’s.

No other suspects have ever been taken into custody.

The image of environmental activists as crazy, dirty hippies with no jobs and nothing better to do than drugs and violent petty crimes stems from incidences such as these. Far from the successes of other non-violent movements, civil right, and labor for instance, the environmental movement of the late 20th century was unable to garner mainstream support or respect, instead becoming increasingly caricatured and ignored. This allowed policy makers to largely ignore the environmental movement in its totality.

Perhaps the government and big business had learned a few things before the environmental movement was realized, perhaps the social climate was not ready for another cultural revolution, maybe it was a movement ahead of it’s time, lacking the rigorous research and obvious signs of climate change and species loss we now see daily on the news. Whatever the cause, Judi Bari, what she fought for, and almost the entirety of the movement have faded from public consciousness. Climate change, and the fact of dwindling resources have not.

Most distressing about this is the early, pre-911 association of non-violent activism, especially environmental activism, with terrorism. There is good reason to know about Judi Bari, and not just for the protection of the Redwoods, but for the protection of our civil rights and the freedom of speech. The fight to save the Redwoods continues. (original post February 26, 2015)

References/Resources:

John Muir in 1920 on saving the Redwoods:
http://www.yosemite.ca.us/john_muir_writings/save_the_redwoods.html

The Who Bombed Judi Bari Movie Official website:
http://www.whobombedjudibari.com/