Wangari Maathai grew up in her homeland in Kenya, living close to the earth and learning traditional Kikuyu values and practices. Her memoir, Unbound, describes her daily activities as a child, her mother’s teachings, and how her people regarded the streams and forests in a land where the balance of nature is delicate, not to be abused without serious consequences for its inhabitants.
In Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World, Maathai’s wisdom is distilled onto each page, every sentence the next drop in the flow. Wangari describes herself as working practically to solve problems she learned about in discussions with communities and among women’s groups. Their need for clean water, and for access to earn a living, were her daily concerns. Eventually, Wangari and the women she served established the Greenbelt Movement that planted over 30 million trees in Kenya.
In Replenishing, Wangari’s concerns about the destruction of the environment in Kenya are examined in light of the world’s sacred traditions. Always a practical perspective, her observations and reflections give readers much to consider often through humor. For example she writes that God in his wisdom created Adam on Friday. If he’d created him on Monday he’d have perished for lack of food!
Wangari Maathai’s clarity of thought is invaluable in this age where massive destruction of oceans, rivers, wildlands, and forests have imperiled life the world over. She and the women of Kenya remind us of the earth-shaking power of people to replenish the earth, if we choose to do so.
Update: In a discussion about the making of the film Lincoln, Doris Kearns Godwin, Tony Kushner, and Steven Spielberg identify their favorite scenes in the movie, Steven talks about the ability to accept a great idea from the “other side”: this illustrates the point of this post!
God rolls the dice, shuffles the deck for endless possibilities, knowing not how anyone of us creatures of Earth may respond – ignore, expire, excel. But, rolling and dealing endless possibilities is the key to God’s success.
Trees know this for through God each tree grows thousands of seeds in all shapes and configurations but in the end it releases them to the wind, to hitch a ride on the fur of a passing creature or fall into the fast moving stream nearby. Will a seed find rich soil? Will it be nourished to survive? Will it fall upon concrete? Or be gobbled up, later to be excreted with a wrapping of fertilizer?
With all the possibilities, each with its potential outcomes, some seedlings will grow. And, IF there is enough sunlight and just the right amount of moisture and warmth, it will grow into a mighty tree and someday throw its own possibilities into the winds of the future.
The Creator exerts patience and rationality: a kind of detachment that allows all possibilities to emerge.
That’s where we come in. Will we respond or ignore an opportunity, or more often, doubt ourselves? God observes. We might get another “hand” or not. I think the Creator must love the folks who take a chance knowing they might fail. Because that’s what the Gambler must do: keep rolling the dice, keep open all the possibilities for a winning hand! Indeed, all great things require it.
Therefore, let us consider all the possibilities rather than spend our time criticizing ideas, even despising the source of them; let us work broadly and earnestly to solve our common problems: climate change, war, peaceful relations. etc. by keeping many ideas and strategies in play.
What if together we just might play a winning hand?
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a botanist who explains her knowledge of an indigenous worldview about plants with that of the western worldview. In that process, Kimmerer embeds whole Earth teaching along with botanical science. Here in this beautiful essay, ” Corn tastes better on the honor system” published in Emergence Magazine, is one of the author’s best teaching contrasting indigenous ways of knowing with western perspectives about the Earth. At this time in American history, it feels like a return to sanity. Listen.
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She is the author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants and Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. She lives in Syracuse, New York, where she is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.
The following Letter was submitted to the Virginia Pilot on June 14. I recently moved to Virginia Beach and subscribe to the Pilot.
It is great to be back in a military town! Growing up in the Air Force, my sisters and I absorbed the pride and pomp of being an officer’s child. Dad flew bombers, the big guys (B48s and B52s). WWII took his crew over the Pacific during low-level bombing of Tokyo and Saipan. They survived—barely.
You might surmise that my dad was a gung-ho patriot, but you would be mistaken. He was a discerning man who thought for himself. War is never an answer but sometimes its all we get when not to go to war would imperil the nation.
If Dad were alive today, he would be alarmed that we are not paying attention to the forces of authoritarianism in our country and the world. This was how Hitler and Stalin got so far. People doubted that such men could rise to power. Some welcomed them thinking they were intelligent, bold men.
It’s a curious thing that people confuse strongmen with strong leadership. If I am not mistaken, these are two different creatures. The first acts as a centrifugal force, sucking minds to its ideology, the latter upholds the law and invokes the principles that we have agreed to live by.
Beware America. Don’t look to strong men but rather to strong leaders who remind us of our common pledge to uphold certain inalienable rights for every person. Each one of us voters signed up for it. We are a nation governed by laws and each of us is responsible for making sure this is a Republic for the people and by the people. Whoever we choose to represent us must abide by the laws that govern us.
Submitted on June 14, 2022 In Response to the January 6 Insurrection Commission
This film about Aldo Leopold’s life and the development of his thinking about our relationship with land is a true gem. I could not find when it was created, however, the people interviewed are his biographers and scientists who knew and worked with Leopold. It was shown on Wisconsin Public TV. A special treat is narration by Lorne Greene best remembered as “Pa” on Bonanza.
The film gives viewers an in depth history about Aldo Leopold’s life and how his ideas about The Land Ethic evolved over his lifetime.
WATCH EARLY THIS YEAR TO SET YOUR COMPASS TOWARD TRUE NORTH.
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.
8-5-21 Update: Just watched this YouTube interview of the author by the Post Carbon Institute program, What Could Possibly Go Right?
Kim Stanley Robinson’s new speculative fiction novel, The Ministry for the Future, is revelatory. The breadth of imagination, depth of scholarship on climate change science, and international movements to organize nations to respond to it–plus a complex plot and range of characters–I finish reading each chapter with renewed awe. That includes the one-page, sometimes one paragraph, chapters with a voice for the market, history, and even a carbon atom. With each of these unique stopping points, the author offers us an invitation to rethink our place in the whole huge planetary system, or how we make history, or the long, long arm of time in which we are but a flash.
The Ministry for the Future is an agency created at The United Nations Conference of the Parties in 2024 to operate independently to protect the futures of unborn generations and all the living plants and animals without a voice to advocate for the future. [For reference the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP) is scheduled for Glasgow in November. It is COP26. I am currently reading the book during COP48 (2043).]
The novel is contemporary and that makes it relevant. Robinson is charting the possible course of humanity over the next couple decades. That makes it a page-turner. The author delves into the monetary system, global movements in Africa, Europe, and smaller island nations. Shit happens as the saying goes. Each time there is breakdown of a system or a climate catastrophe, or millions of people who refuse to repay their student loans, possibilities open up or, there is at least a potentiation for something good. Sometimes several things, like a market crash coupled with political movements in Africa, and climate imperatives result in a shift in the global mind so that people opposed to certain ideas now consider them. It moves like a train without a conductor but its path seems sure. And we are all passengers (human and nonhuman) and collectively our presence, thoughts and actions are steering it.
The first line in the book. “It was getting hotter.”
It’s probably unwise to review a book while still reading it, but folks, I think it is so important that I needed to stop reading to alert you, and to beg you to read it. Then we should talk!
Scroll to the bottom of this page for the YouTube video review of The Ministry by the Bioneers. Or link here. Also I have posted a more recent interview with A Skeptics Path to the Enlightenment. Here.
I wonder what Elizabeth Warren is doing right now? My hope for the leader I have backed with my money and political support is that she is in her pajamas taking it easy. If I were there, I’d serve her a good strong coffee and cook her an omelette and potatoes. Then I’d order her a bodywork specialist, and arrange for a manicure and pedicure, and lavish all manner of care upon her travel weary person. For Elizabeth is fighting The Good Fight in the American Political Arena.
Why did I support her? Elizabeth Warren has seen the truth about capitalism from very early in her career of public service: it works for the top few percent and less so as you go down the economic/social agency scale. The reason: there is a concurrent scale of opportunity shrouded by American society’s propensity to worship rich people and turn away from the poor – or rather, people perceived as poor.
Warren worked tirelessly in government to rectify that inequity. This is the Great Work. What did she accomplish? If you have credit cards, loans, bank accounts then you are benefiting today from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which she fought for over the years of her public service. She worked to create and sustain a Middle Class while making it possible for families with lesser means to educate their children for economic mobility. Warren was ever on that path to ameliorate free market economics to make it fair to all Americans. She kept kids in mind. Maternity and family leave, sick leave and medical care, a good education — these are fundamental rights of all Americans she believes.
Well, Elizabeth I bet is resting, but her mind is spinning on how to keep the Good Fight going. She has always been and always will be an American leader. As a voter and citizen I will do my part to see that she has a place in the new Administration if she wants it, a Vice Presidency or key cabinet position.
One key thing: she is persistent. Women have that. Endurance. And, our networks are ever stronger and larger. One day a woman will lead this country and we’ll be better for it. So rest, Elizabeth. And thank you from my heart.