The Little Farm of My Meditations

There is a small farm called Dream Acres. It is not of my dreams. It is real. Its curving meadows lie adjacent to the place where I live. My living room and bedroom windows look out on it whereby I view its seasonal changes and the daily coming and going of bird, cow, coyote, raven, buzzard, airplane, and farmer. I observe the delicate changes of light and wind, rain, and cloud on its surface.

When I first arrived here I was annoyed that I could hear the eternal drone of an interstate, and that another busy thoroughfare bordered the other end of the farm. I watched the cows to know if it bothered them like me, or, to discern if we all had just given-in to it. A perpetual state of mourning as it were.

Days and months passed and the cows came onto the meadow to graze and went to sleep in the barn at sunset. Years passed. New groups of cows and steers adjusted to the long, narrow meadow and the grassy sink hole with its gnarled, sturdy tree at the bottom — the only feature in an otherwise green grass and golden reed sea.

I also adjusted to living high above the meadow and its constant presence in my life on the third floor of the apartment complex. I suppose some bovine members might meditate on my comings and goings which are as regular as their own. What do they think of me? Alone above the earth looking down on moonlit nights when they have chosen to sleep under the stars on warm nights, or during the rainstorms or frosty mornings when I check on them to make sure they are alright?

Early on I began to photograph the meadow with my cell phone camera. I shared photos on Facebook and here on WordPress. Later I learned that old friends, John and Erin, had taken a painting class and asked permission to paint the little farm. I can’t wait to see what they see from the photos. I guess the little farm is now seen by dozens of people as the place where I live.

When I was growing up, my family visited another small farm in east Tennessee – Watauga. My grandparents’ farm. It was on these yearly visits that I formed a loving attachment to Earth. One cannot live without it, no? Like an umbilical cord it ties us to our origin and stabilizes us through the storms and droughts of daily life.

Remembering the beloved place I envied the cows at Dream Acres who lie warm upon its grasses under the stars, breathing the scents of soil, grass, pungent odors of manure, and the sweet air. Some long ago memory–blood memory–rises in my subconscious and I feel one with the Earth standing on my little porch under that same canopy of stars just as my relatives from Scotland, Ireland, and the Appalachians, all farmers. All coming and going with the meadows and mountains that formed the borders and vistas of their lives. I guess I come honestly to my nostalgia for small farms and their secret lives of which I am blessedly welcome at Dream Acres.

My grandparents’ farm house in Watauga, TN.

Honor, Duty, and Patriotism: What does it mean?

WWII Veteran, my father, Edward B. Feathers

As I listen to America’s celebration of Veterans Day in Arlington National Cemetery — flags flying, trumpets playing taps, Philip Sousa marches drawing deep feelings of pride and love in, and of, our country — I am once again set to wonder what does it mean?

I am the daughter of a Veteran, the granddaughter of a Veteran, great grand-daughter of Veterans, and the former wife of a Veteran — and I am a very concerned about whether their sacrifices mean something today. A “military brat”, I tend toward blind love of country. In fact, from age 16 to age 40, I spent considerable time and effort to evaluate that blind love and to discern what a democracy is made of. After Viet Nam, I had to consider the terrible violence we did to that country, and then others. We’ve been, and still do, consider ourselves a “good” country, doing battle with evil across the world. Yet it’s hard for many of us to face the fact that we’ve often been the evil doer.

My Grandfather Jones

Being honorable, dutiful, and patriotic requires we look without favor to see clearly how this democracy works, both in our country and in other countries, across the world. Today it means being disruptive when we see our leaders going the wrong way. It means being engaged in ways that we each can be to prevent and to undo the anti-democratic forces at work in our nation and in the world.

We have moved into a dark time and much is imperiled. We Americans must remember we are babies among nations that have existed for thousands of years. Will historians in the future tell the tale of us that we flamed and then flickered out when we became disinterested and distracted by comfort and disbelief?

Captain Thomas E. Williams

Today’s Americans live in an era when words have been corrupted to mean their opposite. Can you discern that in the news, in the political ocean of conflict? Can you step back, ask, and discern how the actions of every leader truly show their words are true? To me, this is our duty, our honor, and our patriotism.

And to every Veteran, now and to come, I will do my best to make sure that your sacrifices mean something on this long, difficult road to achieve democracy.

A short video with Doris Kearns Goodwin, historian and writer, on CBS. She asks: Are we living in the worst of times?

See this Bill Moyers Interview with Wendell Berry to listen to an American of great stature who does discern the problems of the time:

Helene Hanff Letters: How to tell a story without trying.

Years ago I watched a lovely video about Helene Hanff, a New York script writer with a passion for antiquarian books. 84 Charing Cross Road is the title of it. Based on the book of her letters to Marks & Company, a colorful, poignant story emerges about a starving New York screenwriter and Londoners recovering from the devastation of the war who became her friends through their love of literature.

The shop employees became Helene’s friends over a 20-year period of correspondence. She had learned, from an English couple who lived in her building, that Londerers were under strict rationing of meat, eggs, and other commodities in post war England. She began to send packages filled with canned meats, dried eggs, and later, nylons to the women employees at the store. Each one began to write Helene notes stuffed into the envelope with those of the proprietor, Frank Dole. Most of the letters are hilarious, others sad, but all dripping with the little details of lives during this period of history in the U.S.A. and London: 1949 – 69.

However, the letters between Frank Dole, proprietor at Marks & Company, and Helene, function like an artwork where a few essential lines allow the viewer to fill in the full portrait. I love books like this that spark the imagination while providing an essential record of the times in which they lived. It is a love story of a kind which you will just have to investigate yourself to know what I mean. 

Helene Hanff’s humorous and unedited opinions on everything from “cardboarddy” American published books to baseball are timeless. We learn about a self-educating writer whose love of English literature filled her mind and soul with inspiration as she followed her heart’s delight through the diligence and exceptional taste of Marks & Company and whose employee — Frank Dole — roamed the castles and estates of Merry Ole England finding rare and second-hand antiquarian books of English Literature. Helene’s tastes were specific to the point of eccentricity but Frank “got” Helene. His letters include a satisfying refrain that makes this second-hand book lover feel deep satisfaction: “a good clean copy”. 

Helene writes that she loves a book that has been read before with notes or marks that link them as voyagers on the same journey. Do you relate? I am a reader who loves that. I like to find original purchase receipts from, say, the 1950’s or earlier. Maybe its been made on an old receipt pad, the ones with the black inked page in between the proprietor’s copy and the buyer’s receipt.

The copy of 84 Charing Cross Road that I purchased is a limited new edition published by  another antiquarian book company in London — Slightly Foxed. My edition came in a nice cloth binding and eggshell-colored paper with gilded edges, a very “clean copy”, and a note handwritten by one of the women proprietors. I regularly tune into the Slightly Foxed Podcast to learn about books, publishing, and authors “across the pond”.

It was not until after Frank Dole died, and Marks & Company closed, that Helene thought to publish the letters. She finally received a decent enough income from the popularity of the book that allowed her to visit the London “of English Literature” and the old building and shopfront at 84 Charing Cross Road which had become such an important part of her life.

Think about what letters you may possess that could tell a story which is actually never fully manifest on the page but which is evoked between the lines. I highly recommend that you read Hanff’s book before you embark on that journey! Also watch the video, in which Helene is played be Anne Bancroft and Frank by Anthony Hopkins.

Order your book from Slightly Foxed. Let’s help out those London girls with a passion for good literature.

 

 

A Celebration of Friendship and Community

Photo by Susan Feathers

Tomorrow I am flying to New York for the 39th Harry Chapin Run Against Hunger. This year’s race is very special because the community of Croton-on-Hudson is honoring the life and legacy of Carol Falter, daughter of my friends Betty and Bill. Carol lost her battle with pancreatic cancer at age 39, in the fullness of her life as a dynamic leader in education and youth development.

The race, which is run to honor the legacy of Harry Chapin, who was also taken in the prime of his life, is a fitting place to celebrate family, friends, and the principle that any one life can remake the world through passion for a cause greater than themselves. Below is what I will share with the community on October 20 – Race Day:

Thirty-nine years ago, this race was born in the office of Pastor Sandra Myers at Asbury United Methodist Church. Sandra called me to her office one Fall day in 1980 to help her establish a fundraising event for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Later that day I met up with my running buddies, who are here today, to celebrate the life and legacy of Carol Falter and this amazing community in which she was nourished as she grew.

Molly Connors, Kate Glynn, Betty Falter, Dot Janis, and I were training for a Leggs’ Mini-Marathon in Central Park. Let me set the context for you. Women were just discovering they in fact could run long distances without their uterus dropping. Yes, that was a falsehood perpetuated during the women’s movement to keep her out of the long-distance running competition. Katherine Switzer broke that barrier in 1967 — with the aid of a man, I might add — who held off a race official who sought to kick her out of the Boston Marathon. It would not be until 1972 that women were allowed to run that race.

On our run that day, we discussed a 10K race for Pastor Myers’ idea as a community project. Croton had long been a running community. The first U.S. chapter of the Hash House Harriers took root here. The dream of a race over the iconic dam and backroads of this beautiful place hovered in our minds. Pastor Myers named it the “Run Against Hunger” or RAH.

In July of 1981, Harry Chapin’s life ended in a car crash on Long Island. Harry had helped establish President Carter’s Commission on Hunger and Poverty, donating a third of his band’s earnings to charity, and established World Hunger Year. In his last three years, he raised $3M to end poverty.

A Croton resident and producer of Harry’s music asked that we make the RAH a tribute to Harry’s life and work, donated t-shirts, and that is how this race came to be in October 1981. We marvel at this community’s commitment to continue the work.  Carol Falter loved this race.  She later became an ultra-marathon runner herself – maybe because she first ran in the Fun Run here with her parents and brothers. She herself left an abiding legacy of work on behalf of youth and education, answering Harry’s challenge when he wrote these lyrics:

Oh, if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And prove before he died
What one man’s life could be worth
I wonder what would happen
to this world*

                                Carol and generations of women have since changed                                                                     the pronouns to be more inclusive!

*Lyrics from the Chapin song: I wonder what would happen (Gold Medal Collection Album)

What I am reading

Dear Friends,

My book reading has become a smash-up of poetry, political nonfiction, historical fiction, and classics.

  • Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow by Jesse Stuart: Kentucky farmer turned nationally recognized poet, this book of sonnets from Stuart’s 55-acre farm in Eastern Kentucky is a treasure. See Jesse Stuart Foundation for more about the book and poet.
  • Voyager by Diana Gibaldon: Third in her Scotland-based fiction phenomenon (8 books in the Outlander series and over 35 million copies sold across the world), Gibaldon delivers her own brand of humor, nature-based description of unforgettable wildlands, ingenious plots, and ever more captivating love stories between its main characters — Jamie and Claire — I read at night for pure fun and joy.
  • Cold Warriors by Duncan White: I just started this book which I bought after listening to Duncan on C-Span Books TV. It tells the story of the Cold War through the lives of the writers who chronicled it in their fiction, poetry, and journalism. From Aldous Huxley to Boris Pasternak, the book is written deftly propelling me along like a novel of intrigue.
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Written on bits and scraps of paper in a tiny script, inspired by the great barrens that swept across the sky outside her hometown, modified after her death by her sister Charlotte, and copiously interpreted, the book remains a wonder of the English language that still carries power after nearly 180 years. Skip the interpretations and just read for the sheer beauty of it.

Other books lying around started, put down for now, or waiting:

 

 

Climate Strike and UN Climate Summit

Beginning today, climate actions around the world are spearheading the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations in New York. This summit is led by a special envoy from the UN to organize collective planning before the COP25 Summit in December of this year. This is our last best chance to get this right. The U.S. must be a part of this planning because we know how to do it.  We just lack the will. A fatal flaw perhaps. See links on this site to explore ways that we can act to join in the collective action.

 

National Security and Climate Change

Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter

~ Shakespeare, Henry V, Act I Scene 1.

Oh, that we would have one so great that he or she could untangle the Gordian knot of our current climate crisis. The Gordian knot refers to an intractable problem so complex it cannot be unraveled except by visionaries who identify the kingpin, which when pulled, would unravel the knot.
Increasing Risks to National Security
Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee questioned intelligence analysts from the National Security Council, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the State Department  about factors increasing risks to the national security. Some scenarios were examined, each already unfolding:
  1. Food supply in fragile countries is drastically reduced with drought and flooding; terrorist groups swoop in to exploit their vulnerability. Where an unstable government exists, climate impacts tip families into poverty and exposure to violence. We see this at our own border with immigration from Central America and in numerous countries in Africa.
  2. Traditional fishing grounds are impacted when fish stocks migrate northward with one country losing and another benefitting – a perfect recipe for conflict.
  3. Water wars pit countries against each other especially when there is long-term animosity: Pakistan and India over the Indus River. [Northern California versus Southern California, and states in the Colorado River Pact including Native Tribes with water rights on their reservations.]
  4. Melting Arctic ice exposes U.S. allies to potential Russian threats; melting permafrost release long-dormant disease vectors for which humanity may not have immunity;
  5. Lack of easy access to the best data for risk assessment and planning from governmental agencies (NOAA for example) that keep large databases. Access is ad hoc, often who one knows, to gain access. [This reflects the disruption of many U.S. agencies including reduced staffing and new policies that have broken down interagency cooperative research.]

How these forces combine to increase risks to national security is our Gordian Knot. Follow the link to the video.

https://www.c-span.org/video/?461413-1/house-intelligence-hearing-national-security-implications-climate-change

 

The New Abnormal: Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

As the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board
prepared for its first set of Doomsday Clock
discussions this fall, it began referring to the
current world security situation as a “new
abnormal.” This new abnormal is a pernicious
and dangerous departure from the time when
the United States sought a leadership role in
designing and supporting global agreements
that advanced a safer and healthier planet. The
new abnormal describes a moment in which
fact is becoming indistinguishable from fiction,
undermining our very abilities to develop and
apply solutions to the big problems of our time.
The new abnormal risks emboldening autocrats
and lulling citizens around the world into a
dangerous sense of anomie and political paralysis.

The Bulletin serves as an authoritative guide that confronts man-made threats to our existence by advancing actionable ideas for the planet and its people. Read the latest bulletin below.

2019-Clock-Statement-Press-Print-Version

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver

Online Home of Susan Feathers

With authors I value, like Barbara Kingsolver, the wait for a new work can often be lengthy. My wait was amply rewarded. In Unsheltered–2018 HarperCollins–she had created parallel narratives that articulate across two centuries in the American experience. Her device is a house and property shared by the characters in different centuries. The 21st Century Wilma and  19th Century Thatcher are adults navigating giant shifts in social paradigms. For Wilma and her family it is the economic collapse of the middle class and the dissolution of the ideals her generation pursued. Climate change knocks ominously at her door. For Thatcher it a pre-Darwin American culture in a panic to hold onto Christian perspectives by rejecting rational observation of how the world works (akin to today’s denial of science).

Wilma’s multigenerational family reflects at once a 1) disenfranchised, racist white America (grandfather); 2) boomer parents (Wilma and Iano); 3)…

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The Sonorous Clarinet

One of the greatest gifts of my father was that of a B flat clarinet when I was in third grade. Perhaps this is why I’ve remained partial to woodwinds in orchestral arrangements. When I was a young teen, I played this concerto in a competition in New York State while living in Plattsburg. This clarinetist, Sharon Kam, plays Mozart’s work for clarinet with tonal shades and a lively spirit that brings the work to life.

Learn the history of the clarinet here.