Gulf Storms

Afternoon ReverieThe coastal lands along the Gulf of Mexico are refreshed by violent storms much like certain kinds of forests are renewed by fire. To human inhabitants neither storms nor fires are welcome. Our human habitation can be likened to Tinsel Town—fragile infrastructures in the wake of Earth’s movements and transformations of land, bodies of water, climate and living communities.

Natural storms are “bad enough” from our perspective, yet we fail to realize that we’ve created far greater storms in oil spills, ecological disturbances, and overheating the biosphere. Equally disruptive is the steady depletion of top soil through industrialization of our food supply. One spoonful of topsoil contains millions of creatures and constellations of minerals that in concert allow seeds to germinate. Comparatively gigantic invertebrates move silently through this groundwork under our feet, transforming it, aerating and loosening soil so that probing rootlets can plumb its treasure, drawing life.

Animate Earth…this is the seat of renewal. Under our feet, under roads, under massive buildings and bridges, miles and miles of houses, businesses, playgrounds, and landfills, the earthworks carry on their life-generating web. We build over them, they disappear and we forget the source of life. Small farmers know it; migrants who hand harvest know it; backyard gardeners rediscover it, and food banks appreciate it. Yet governments and chambers of commerce exclude earthworks from their ledgers and blueprints and planning. The ground under our feet – no longer felt between our toes – recedes from our awareness.

Until a storm.

Harbinger of awareness, storms literally tear us from our beds, exposing us to the very smell of earth, the touch of wind and rain – violently thrust upon us like a smack to the cheek: Wake up, Man!

Surely there are gentler ways to learn how to live. But, alas, we require evermore fury to capture our attention in the virtual realities of modernity.

Assignment: I dare you to take off your shoes, go outside and plant them in soil. Introduce or reintroduce your feet to the planet—whichever may be the case. I guarantee it will be amazing. Some of us still remember that day school got out for a long, summer’s vacation (about two and a half months of roaming, lounging, and Bazooka bubble-gum popping) when we ceremoniously removed our shoes to go barefoot for months at a time. That experience for kids in the U.S. A. disappeared about three decades ago. A new generation has never felt soil between their toes. Will they be thinking of mining other planets, interstellar travel, and other-worldly scenarios? Are we on the brink of floating off the planet itself in a cloud of twitter. Well, if we are going to have our “heads in a cloud” we’d better keep our feet on the ground!


DC Reflections

During a recent business conference that concerned the impending Sequestration and its impact on university funding, my hope for a decent future found purchase in the basic human quality of resilience or even rightly applied pugnaciousness.  The meeting – American Association for State Colleges and Universities Grant Resource Center Funding Forecast – draws university grants professionals and faculty to an annual heads together on how to win funding to educate the nation’s youth. This year in particular could be termed “Reading the Tea Leaves.” As the Legislative Branch stampedes toward the fiscal cliff chased by a frantic Executive Branch, the rest of us are left to wonder whether we’ll have a job, schools can operate, students continue on in higher education, or the transportation and financial infrastructure upon which our nation has thrived will remain in tact. Many threatening scenarios are spiraling around communication networks AD NAUSEUM, so much so I predict record viewing of the Academy Awards for sheer relief from the worry. At least the year’s films are somewhat predictable! Funding for education will surely take a hit right when we are trying to graduate more students from college in technical fields, put Veterans to work, make sure preschool kids get a decent start, keep us safe from cyber threats, and figure out how to mitigate climate change.

My hope stems from meeting or reconnecting with friends and colleagues from across our county who are devoted to their institutions and communities. There is no loss of hope among us; in fact we are made more savvy by contemplating the loss of funding and termination of funding sources we’ve depended upon. There are many ways to peel a banana. So if a bunch of grants professionals respond so, why not the rest of the country? We are by long tradition the kind of people who “dig in” when times are tough. Maybe we can do a lot with little on a local basis – with the exception of  the federal programs that work at scales that address widespread problems beyond the community’s abilities.

Its clear to me that communities and institutions will be required to collaborate and coordinate projects in order to win funding.  That is not a bad thing. The fact that there is less money will have impacts that we should work to prevent: early preschool funding; Pell grants; community grants that target very low income and high health disparity neighborhoods; innovation grants that support entrepreneurs, creators, scientists and students to try novel ideas for solving common problems. This is what agencies are trying to puzzle through right now, to use what funding they will have to make as big an impact in the right direction as possible.

All of us can make a call, write, blog, show up or support advocacy groups for education, health and welfare, and new policies and technologies for a sustaining environment.  The colleagues I had the privilege of sharing ideas among inspire me. From every region of our country there are caring, intelligent individuals working to make the best out of the mud pie this Congress continues to deliver.


Winter Trees_Heather Williams Hufton Artist

Artist, Heather Williams Hufton, “Winter Trees”

I have not been in a winter environment in over 25 years. Vail, Colorado ski trip at Christmas with my family. Tom 14, Heather 13. It was crowded on the lifts, long lines; the latest equipment complex, the clothing expensive and elegant, the crowd rich. Slope fees were about $50 per day per person. I wonder what they are today.

The mountains were overtaken with human activity by then.

Twenty-five years prior I whizzed down the nearly vacant slopes of White Face Mountain, Adirondack chain near the Canadian border. A 13-year old girl myself, dressed in jeans, heavy sweater, and corduroy coat that flapped in the wind…on Monarch skis—polished oak with spring bindings similar to what we use for cross-country skiing today…

At the lift only a handful of skiers stood in line. Riding the gondola the white mountains soared in panoramic splendor, the air freshened by millions of conifers resplendent in winter garb. Up there, suspended, no planes cutting the sky and few buildings in site below (the Olympics had yet to be held there and change the village into a metropolis) I shared the mountain’s life. And, standing at the crest of a slope, listening to the wind playing on the needles of each tree, I breathed with that mountain and felt one with it. Silent except an occasional swish of a lone skier plunging by or a joyful shout of one exalting in the force of the mountain on his body…hugged, enveloped by the mountain spirit.

The days when a storm brought steady snowfall that muffled even those few sounds, I felt alone in a universe of wonder and power of such indescribable grandeur I thought I would burst wide open. And at the storm’s end the sun sparkled on icicles and frosted panes and everyone’s cheeks grew rosy and eyes clear as gemstones, and every warm-blooded mammal blew clouds of smoke from its nostrils like a herd of wild horses in winter…

                        High on the Canadian ridge that sweeps along the Champlain Valley, I stand alone at the top of a long, snow-covered slope.  The tall blue pines lining this skier’s trail are whispering long tales.  Into my nostrils floats a heavy wet scent – harbinger of a storm.  The trees are still. I hear the drawing in and letting out of paper breath, the squeak of wax on snow as I shift my weight, peering over the forest fringe to cloud encircled peaks.   If I were not thirteen I would linger here.  But alas, I jump into the whipping wind as it reaches my temple of silence, plunge headlong into the mountain’s challenge – a marauding horde of snowflakes in pursuit. – from Canned Peaches and White Flour©, A Memoir by Susan Lee Feathers

The Green Fire We Must Ignite

Aldo Leopold has long been a guide to me. He is one of the great conservationists of our time. Below is a new film about him and about the Land Ethic he developed over his career as a forester in the U.S. Forest Service. Leopold beautiful essays and scientific papers are nearly 60-80 years old yet many of them still resonate with present day citizens and scientists. He captured in words the wisdom that we need today to respond to climate change—to create a new vision and set of principles to guide our decisions as individuals, communities and nations. Here is the trailer:

Mind and Life Research

IMG_0967About 25 years ago His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, began a collaboration with neurocognitive and social scientists to study the relationships between modern science and religion or spiritual philosophies. As these conversations have been exploring the depths of mind through Buddhists training and principles, with quantum mechanics and neuroscience, the once perceived bodies of knowing and experience begin to merge.  The latest series of sessions taped this time at a monastic order  in Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka, India are revealing hidden capacities of the mind to heal and the remarkable plasticity of the adult brain to rewire itself through meditation and the practice of compassion.

Why should you watch this? Top Western scientists give what constitutes a primer on the latest understanding of how the brain works, the history of how science came to be influenced by Decarte’s view which separated matter from spirit or mind.  These conversations illustrate how these two ways of knowing are coming together with new understanding of how the brain processes information and forms thought, quantum theory, and the experiences of monastics through years of meditation.

I will listen to these sessions continuing to mine new meaning and understanding. To watch one session you need to devote a couple of hours and be willing to patiently listen. As they stop often to clarify concepts for the Dalai Lama, your own questions are answered or concepts refined and confirmed. For example, I now have a beginner’s understanding of what quantum physics means in terms of interconnectedness. And this is just rudimentary because the laws of nature at subatomic levels are not the same as we experience in our daily lives, or perhaps better said, with our Newtonian understanding of how things work.