I am the mother of two wonderful human beings, my daughter Heather and son Tommy. As a septuagenarian I am in those latter years, still relatively healthy, and full of enthusiasm for life in general. Sure, there are plenty (a plethora) of worrisome forces at work in the world, poverty and war among the worst. But on this 2022 Mothers’ Day, I am reflecting on what I can do to help my country and my worldwide sisters and brothers in every nation to achieve harmony.
Starting the day as I usually do with Heather Cox Richardson‘s Letters to Americans, she told the true story of Mothers’ Day. Here. Heather is an American historian at Boston College. Letters is independent of her work at the college. Find it on substack.com where you can subscribe to receive it each morning. She puts current day political and social issues in an historical perspective.
Today, in thinking of Julia Ward Howe’s work on behalf of women to influence leaders to avoid war as a solution to conflict, I am calling on all my fellow mothers and mothering women to join together to bring our powers to stop the dissolution of women’s rights to privacy, to sovereignty over her own body. We are and can bring about a national and international outcry for a woman’s right to choose whether she will give birth to a child. It is unfathomable to me that this nation could be on the way to eliminating a fundamental right for women. It can only be from a hatred of women, of feminine forces that some men fear. Control of reproductive rights is a darkness of ages past.
I never thought I’d see this day. Born into a military family with a deep love for America, I revere my parents and their generation for making the world a fairer place, eliminating the dark forces that ravaged Europe. Those forces have emerged again in Russia, Hungary, Venezuela and other autocratic states, and in the U.S.A. in the Republican Party. Right wing forces have all but destroyed that party. Conservative moderates have always had my respect as a balance to more progressive thinking in Democrats. That of course was the America that talked to each other and listened respectfully. Slowly the forces of polarized thinking have chipped away at that fragile but necessary conversation.
We stand at a precipice with numerous winds blowing at our backs. Women today can converge to bring sanity back to this nation. Women of all ilk — political, religious, racial, gender identity, and ages — can and must wage peace and reason upon society, and lift our voices in every kind of place for truth and reason. I regard this moment in American history as a pivot point.
Everything is at stake: environment, health and wellness, sovereignty…
We will need to put away everything now to manage to save this nation from its path toward anarchy. Join hands. Protest, conjure, march, and do so without rage and anger but with moral force behind you and the ghosts of millions of mothers, women and girls who saw clearly that a democracy exists when women are empowered. Mothers Unite!
Today a new audio version of Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny, originally published in 2017, is available on Audible . In this version of the book, Dr. Snyder speaks directly to the threat of Trump, his actions that spread misinformation and manipulate groups which are features of authoritarian leaders.
**At the end of reading the new version, Snyder continues to explain Ukrainian and Russian history to give readers in the U.S. a broader framework to understand why the Ukrainian fight for freedom is so important. He illustrates how the lessons in On Tyranny play out in the actions of Ukrainians. He goes further to gives vital lessons on Ukrainian and Russian history – his academic focus at Yale. Dr. Snyder is a distinguished historian at Yale University. Many of his public lectures on the roots of authoritarianism are on YouTube. This one is at Prose and Politics bookstore on the release of On Tyranny. Just search on YouTube and dozens of lectures will be available to you.
Get On Tyranny. It is a small (5″ by 5″), short exposition on 20 Lessons on Tyranny from the 20th century for all Americans to consider what we can do to strengthen democracy here in the U.S.A.
Together with a pocket constitution we will gain greater discernment of the complex political and social forces that swirl about us and act.
One of my regular podcasts is The Best of Belfast. I love the Irish viewpoint which I suppose evolved from the lived experience of living under colonial rule for centuries. Today’s interview with John Barry, Professor at Queen’s University and Director of the Centre for Sustainability, Equality, and Climate Action at Queen’s.
This is a wise analysis of the climate emergency in the light of economic systems asking the key question, “What is the Economy For?” From there he explains the climate emergency as a moral issue.
It’s a ranging discussion with humor, books, and an Irish cultural immersion.
A story from the Coconino National Forest in Arizona
When Dorothy set off to find the Wizard of Oz, she and her companions encountered a lion in the dark wood just as they had feared, but, the cowardly beast only drew their disdain, for what good is a spineless lion?
Therein lies the dichotomy between our visceral fear of carnivores and our psychological need for them to be wild, fierce and free—a varmint or an icon. One gets them killed, the other immortalized, but neither will help them survive.
Neither perception tells us why lions, tigers and bears are important. A wolf takes the weakest of the herd, controlling not only numbers but removing the least adaptive genes from the population’s gene pool. A dynamic balance results between wolves, deer, and vegetation and myriad lives each dependent on the other.
That we do not understand the importance of these relationships was memorably recorded by Aldo Leopold. He wrote about an experience shooting wolves one afternoon, a common practice among Forest Service rangers in 1949. Leopold watched a “fierce green fire” flicker out in a mother wolf’s eyes.
Dawning on his consciousness was the realization of a bigger death̶, a death of wild things and something greater still: the very foundation of a healthy ecosystem. The wild, beautiful landscapes that inspired Leopold were created over centuries among myriad species until a dynamic stage was reached with an elaborate set of checks and balances. The wolf Leopold killed was one of the checks in a living community.
Until that moment Leopold lacked the understanding that he later identified as something only a mountain possesses. Mountains have the long view, he wrote, whereas humans are newcomers. A mountain has no fear of wolves, only deer, because too many deer will devour vegetation and the rains will wash away soil causing all kinds of havoc on the mountain.
The rancher who compares the life of a wolf against the current market price of his cow misses the much greater value of leaving the wolf wild and free. That “home on the range” where cattle roam depends on a natural community to sustain it – a community that evolved over thousands of years.
Leopold was writing about this phenomenon in 1949. Six decades later we are still acquiring that wisdom. We witnessed an ecological rebirth in Yellowstone National Park following the return of the wolf. Riparian willows and cottonwoods returned because elk spent less time eating them and more time hiding lest it become wolf scat. Other species like beavers returned in the rebounding willows and cottonwoods and their activities created habitat for insects and birds, and so on.
Further Reflections: The Elk Problem
One summer I attended a public meeting in Arizona in the Coconino National Forest convened to address the “elk problem.” Present were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Commission, White Mountain Apache biologists and tribal officials, ranchers, tourist industry reps, a hunters’ association, local residents, and curious campers like me.
It soon became apparent that a showdown was imminent.
The problem stemmed from an exponential increase in the elk population. A rancher testified that elk herds of 600 to 1,000-head could be found every morning on her land, leaving a swath of denuded range in their path . She was passionate and demanded that Game and Fish raise the limits for hunters to help bring the population of elk under control.
A rancher – tanned from a life in the sun and a silver mane pulled back in a thick pony – made her plea. She gestured toward the Apache contingent, and complained that the White Mountain Apache reservation, which bordered the national park, was serving as a nightly refuge for the elk who had discovered safety within its boundaries (1.67 million acres) of forest.
I imagined a tide of elk ebbing into the ranchland to graze by day then flowing back at night into the forested reservation. The rancher wanted the Apache Nation to help kill elk and bring the herds under control.
They would not, a tribal spokesman asserted in reply. The Apache would not do so based on ethical principles and the belief that restoring the natural ecosystem would be the only true answer to controlling the population.
I think I caught a twinkle in one tribal elder’s eye as this statement was made. “We take elk when we need meat for our people,” he said and sat down.
Tourist agencies pleaded their case for the presence of elk. Seen from the roads and campsites, thousands of families enjoyed watching wildlife. Tourism brings $16 million in revenues to Arizona each year, they reminded the crowd.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) deferred to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission which is charged with maintaining populations of wildlife. The FWS rep made a statement about the traditional range of the Mexican gray wolf—a keystone species of the disrupted ecosystem.
Sheer mention of the gray wolf acted like a match on tinder. The packed meeting room erupted in arguments from ranchers and tourism folks alike who didn’t welcome wolves in the woods.
Then a rancher with the look of one who had spent his life in the sun gained the floor. “We are victims of our own schemes – me included. First, we saw the wolf as our enemy and we systematically exterminated it. We saw it killing too many elk, too many cattle. We feared for our own lives. Once it was gone, we saw elk and deer populations explode. Well, maybe it’s time we examine our own nature to see if maybe we can control that!”
As I walked back to my cabin at Deer Springs Inn, I considered that I’d just witnessed a complete reenactment of the opening and closing of the West with all the historical parties represented as on a stage.
The sun was setting behind the dense Ponderosa pine forest. At Deer Springs Inn, families gathered around a campfire. I happily joined my family, spearing marshmallows. Wine flowed. Stars clustered overhead. A breeze fanned the flames setting our faces aglow. An owl hooted. The fire popped and sizzled as we settled down for stories and laughter.
Back at the end of the Yellow Brick Road Dorothy got her wish to go home, the tin man a heart, and the lion, his courage. Maybe the wolf will be restored at a time when our wizardry returns us to the natural order of things.
Most of us do not pay much attention to the geography or politics of food production, trade, and distribution. In western countries in general, we go to shop and the food is simply there on the shelves.
Today, steady and abundant food supplies are not a given for anyone. We’ve already experienced a sharp rise in food prices in the U.S. caused by the rising price of gas and other inflationary conditions such as interruptions in global and national supply chains.
Famine is present in war-torn countries (Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia) and it may become more generally present in countries where dependence on imports of grain can be disrupted by conflicts.
Read a New York Times Article by Michael J. Puma and Megan Konar where this is discussed as well as actions that governments must make to stabilize prices and availability of food. Not least of these is ending the war in Ukraine, which produces a lion’s share of the grain many nations depend upon.
Of the approximate 200 countries in the world, about 150 countries have peace processes to end conflict or disagreements. However, Dr. Christine Bell points out that on average, it takes about 36 further agreements to reach the place where the parties in conflict have learned to live peacefully while still carrying their differences. [See a previous post about Dr. Bell’s research.}
The language that Dr. Bell engages to discuss peace and reconciliation, as well as human rights, is also important. She describes the peace making process as agreeing to carry disagreements in a peaceful manner, i.e. the idea of a final peace is misleading. It is an ongoing process and there is an art to it. Language is central.
Dr. Bell speaks about carrying our disagreements together but peacefully and making small agreements along the way of the process. This requires commitment from both sides to just agree to disagree and keep talking. We see this going on now writ large between Ukraine and Russia, and between Russia and NATO nations.
Dr. Christine Bell has much to offer all of us who are following the many conflicts that our own countries are involved in or those of us interested in harmony among nations in general. I am including several ways to follow Dr. Bell’s research and leadership in peace negotiations and human rights.
One of my favorite podcasts, moderated by Krista Tippett, is OnBeing.org. In its guiding questions – what does it mean to be human and how do we want to live? – OnBeing.org invites soulful people whose contributions to answering those questions have inspired me and millions of listeners.
This week’s interview is illustrative: Kate DiCamillo, the great children’s author and award-winning storyteller, asks us to recapture how we were as an 8-year-old. The themes Kate explores with Krista are relevant to all that is simmering among us right now. How can we be honest with children about a world in which so much threatens our lives and lives of all sentient beings on Earth? I am especially thinking of Ukrainian children and their parents, but more so for all of us, and thinking, too, about youth who face an uncertain future as the planet herself is failing from destructive human activities. Kate DiCamillo reminds us of what is true and lasting.