Negotiating the Peace: 5

Chapter 5

Sitting in Silence

I am convinced that there are places where it is possible to step out of time into another reality. That is what I believe happened for me when I crossed over Earth and Sky’s threshold in that humble setting of row upon row of trailers, and among people of varying circumstances in Yuma, Arizona in the year 1990. Not until 4 years later would I return to clock time as I had perceived its passing throughout my life and my cultural window.

~~~~~~

The interior felt surprisingly cool given the near 100˚ temperature outside. Colorful Mexican blankets covered the windows, and Indian rugs of varying sizes decorated the otherwise worn carpet. A beautiful stringed instrument with a large round belly sat as a centerpiece in the room. A white leather hide hung from its long stringed neck.

Sky filled an easy chair, arranging her aquamarine cotton skirt. She nodded toward the couch on the opposite side of the room. I sat bolt upright in anticipation or perhaps ready to flee, I am not sure which. As I recall the moment, my mind went blank.

Thus the long ritual began. A darkened trailer, a teacher and student, a Benson and Hedges lit and the long in breaths and exhalations. That first day she uttered no word though we sat with each other for two hours, at the end of which I was a nervous wreck and she simply stood, and said, “I have things to do now.”

~~~~~~

Curriculum of Study

I bought the trailer across the street, in defiance of my family’s disdain for anyone who lives in a trailer park. I learned it is its own little world: young, poor families working in service and trade jobs while raising their families; well-off seniors who migrate from their homes in cooler climes; residents like Sky whose ex-wives demand alimony; non-commissioned military on meager salaries, and odd birds like me on a specific mission.

Yuma, Arizona has its own tidal rhythm. Much like the Colorado River which once flooded its banks in spring and retreated in summer, the population of the town swelled with the arrival of overwintering snowbirds and shriveled with their retreat as summer arrived. The town’s economy ebbed and flowed accordingly.  Casinos and restaurants filled to capacity in the winter. When I arrived that summer in 1990, Yuma was a ghost town.

As it should be. That first summer saw a day that reached 126˚ F. When I opened the door on the trailer at 8 a.m. to get in my truck and run errands, it was nearly 100˚. The radio announcer has warned everyone to shelter indoors by noon at the latest.

Very hot dry air feels like sharp-sided glass when it reaches the cooler soft tissue of lungs. But, strangely, it was invigorating. My body recognized potential life-threatening conditions and became vigilant and present. No mistakes could be made. There must be plenty of water and gas in the car at all times. There must be no flats or car trouble and a direct path to each destination must be known. There was simply no margin for error.

It was in this crucible of heat and threat that I began my study with Native American teachers. All these elements continuously delivered a message to me: I surely was crazy.

The 3-year curriculum of my study confirmed it.

On that fateful day when I first met Sky and Earth they had suggested we move from Denny’s to a place called The Garden. It was another restaurant known only to locals. Set near a spring, it was a lush oasis in the city limits. Palms and bamboo grew profusely around it and there was an outdoor patio covered in deep shade. It was still very hot for a beach dweller like me, and I soon got a raging headache, a sure sign of dehydration. Nausea set in later, and I ended up spending the night in their trailer on the living room couch before I woke at dawn to return to San Diego, still my place of residence.

At The Garden two actions took place, the significance of which I would realize only decades later. First, following a natural tendency, I had purchased gifts for my new teachers. When I gave them these items (a brightly colored South American sash, and a large polished mother of pearl shell), they leaned their heads together examining the items, muttering exchanges I could not hear. They thanked me with great sincerity. Then, Sky handed me a lengthy document describing my curriculum of study.

How can I explain the impact of reading that document? It came from some other reality and I clearly was mystified. It was like reading an ancient document from civilizations that existed thousands of years ago. It spoke of places I would go, things I would learn, and the guides that were given to me by White Star, a spiritual being who guided my teachers. My problem, as I understand now, is that I thought it referred to my current reality. I read it literally. But, for some reason, I decided to trust the process and just see where it might lead. For someone like me, a logical thinker who makes lists of daily tasks to accomplish each day, it was amazing to think that I would suspend my doubts so easily.

Dragonfly, White Swan, and Kateri Tekakwitha would be my guides. Since my education, Blessed Kateri has become Saint Kateri – the first Native American sainted by the Catholic Church. Here is a link to the Katerie Tekakwitha Shrine in upstate New York.

READ NEGOTIATING THE PEACE FROM THE BEGINNING.

 

Negotiating the Peace: 3

Chapter 3

Crossing Over

Along Interstate 8 water flowed swiftly across the Imperial Valley in the All American Canal delivering precious Colorado River water to thousands of square miles of agricultural fields. A fine curtain of water spewed from enormous sprinklers moving in circles like alien beings on metal legs.

My beach car began to heat up in the direct sunlight. I delivered my own spray of water to cool my face and neck. My son’s beach car had no air conditioner. San Diego was a place of mild weather and the blue Pacific Ocean. I had entered an inferno.

I stopped in El Centro where I slumped over the counter of a local Wendy’s, dehydrated and near faint. A waitress took me to a table and delivered a couple big cups of iced water. I stayed there for hours until I recovered enough to go on to Yuma, my destination.

Clearly, I was unprepared for the desert. This would not be the last of its hard lessons, surprises and mysteries. I was a true initiate in every sense of the word.

As I neared Yuma what can only be described as an Arabian desert appeared out of nowhere with high, white sand dunes stretching for miles along the highway and southwest toward Mexico, not far away. As suddenly as they had appeared, the dunes ended and I was back in flat scrubland.

Signs for Yuma, The Crossing, appeared along the roadside. At Yuma, I crossed over the Colorado River from California into Arizona centuries after the westward Gold Rush which put Yuma on the map. Of course, I was going against the flow.

At the time of the Gold Rush, the Colorado River flowed freely in a broad expanse toward the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. Dense forests of mesquite and sycamore trees that lined its shores were cut down to fuel the big steamboats carrying gold seekers to their fates. By the time I crossed over the Colorado, the forests were gone, the river narrow, and it no longer ran down to the sea.

Thus I began to learn about the ghosts of a time, a people, and a natural history that existed almost entirely in people’s memories but still there in the subtle contours of the landscape.

 

IPBES Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystems

Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
Summary PDF for Policy-Makers (and the public)

Biodiversity is a key driver of ecosystem health and resilience. The more variety of genes and groups of genes in a particular habitat (# and kinds of living plants and animals, invertebrates, etc) the greater is its resiliency to impacts such as climate change, and human development and habitation.

A good example can be seen in our coastal ecosystems where an abundance of grasses, landforms, certain trees, sea grasses and coral reefs, promote resiliency to storms, development, etc. Dense human habitation along coastal areas has polluted waters that kill sea grasses, result in erosion of beaches which once provided a barrier to incoming storms and sea level rise.

Read the report and chat with your local city council and with your representations. Send them this short summary report. summary_for_policymakers_ipbes_global_assessment

Corn Tastes Better on the Honor System – Robin Wall Kimmerer

Robin Wall KimmererRobin 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 ragged time in American history, 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.

Dream Acres

DREAM ACRES FARM

Holding-Out and Holding-On in America’s Heartland

Dream Acres Farm in Bowling Green 2018

Golden meadow grasses wave in the afternoon breeze along a far bank of dark green pine and hardwoods aflame in fall colors. The trees form the meadow’s northern border. Lover’s Lane, Old Towne Apartments, and Interstate 65 serve as other borders to Dream Acres Farm—a sliver of Kentucky farmland and noble hold-out against development.

The white picket fencing, farmer’s house, and rolling green lawn that face Lover’s Lane were built when this land near Bowling Green was “the country”. I imagine teenagers romanced in a car along a moonlit dirt shoulder, and that dense forests still grew to the horizon. The farm’s 15 acres are worth millions now that the town has grown up around it. Everyday another few acres of Lover’s Land churn under the blade in becoming hotel, medical center, nursing home…

Cutting the Meadow

Every day I thank the farmer for holding fast to his farm amidst the pressure of land sales. He tends a dozen fine steer and occasional cow and calf to graze and grow in his meadow. Because the windows of my small apartment face the meadow, I am a constant observer of the herd’s movement, their presence or their absence. When the first hard frost arrives, they are gone to groceries and restaurants, and suddenly the meadow feels abandoned. Slowly, I’ve learned much about bovines: how they form attachments with the farmer, running and frolicking around him whenever he drives his rusty tractor out to inspect fences. I never knew cattle could move so fast. I’ve sketched their charcoal-black postures in the emerald grass of springtime and photographed them hip deep in a field thick with golden grasses in the fall.

This spring a community of swallows took up residence at my apartment complex, nesting on windows and gables facing the meadow and from which they emerged and returned with lightening-speed, providing me with more entertainment. After some time, I realized why they had come. As the cattle moved in the high grass, grasshoppers and gnats rose in swarms. The swifts careened in and around the thick calves and heavy hooves like fighter pilots after targets. When the insects’ life-cycles ran their course, the swifts disappeared into thin air.

Daily observation helped me discover the diversity of life in the meadow beyond the obvious farmer-bovine-grass relationship. Black silhouettes circled in the late afternoon sky portending prey moving in the grass sea: rodents, rabbits, snakes, perhaps frogs. I am sure there is an owl perched in the far border of trees whose throaty hooting I cannot hear over the constant roar of I-65. The life in the meadow also includes a neighbor’s acre of goats attended by sheepdogs that escort them in and out of a sagging, grey barn. Dream Acres Farm has its own barn from which the cattle emerge and return, but most days they sleep out under the stars.

When the farmer dies, will his heirs sell the farm and make millions? Probably—in the way of progress. When they do, I will disappear as the swifts to find another teacup of wild. And then, when no teacups remain, shall we all disappear like the swifts, into thin air?

I pray for the old farmer to live another day—my knight, my muse.

Replenishing the Earth – Wangari Maathai

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2004

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.

Listen to an interview with Wangari Maathai on OnBeing.org.

 

 

A Gathering of Birds

From John J. Audubon’s Birds of America

Dad loved to birdwatch. He was an armchair ornithologist observing from his cozy chair near a picture window in his condo in Florida.

He kept binoculars and a bird guide on a stack of crossword dictionaries near his post as well as tobacco for his pipe.

Regular as a clock, I could keep time by the sound of that first pipe being lit, the front door opened if warm, and bright warbles and shrills from a cardinal pair on his feeders, or the chitter chatter of chickadees.

Because Dad kept the feeders and his vigil for more than two decades in the same location, his observation post would have been very useful had he taken the time to record his observations. But alas, he did not.

Scientists and conservationists missed an important record of changes over time from a citizen scientist. Well, Dad simply watched for the esthetics not the science. But my generation and those coming behind me are critical participants in helping ornithologists track bird movements all over the world – for the first time.

Today is the Big Day 2018  See video below. Then go to the link and establish an account. Download the mobile app on Google Play or Apple Store. Start recording!

LITERATURE CONNECTION

Read from John J. Audubon’s Birds of America printed in 1834 and presented online: you can explore and read by species and you can download a high quality print image of many of Audubon’s matchless paintings.

GLOBAL BIG DAY VIDEO

Nature Writers for Earth Day

My writing practice began with love for nature writers. Rachel Carson in particular seized my imagination with her ability to combine science and lyrical language. No one in my view achieved what she was able to do–immerse readers in nature. Most of us know Silent Spring as her “manifesto” on the interconnections among humans, wildlife, and the earth. But, how many of you have read Under the Sea Wind? In this small book, her first, Carson writes life stories of three particular individuals: a Black Skimmer, a Mackerel, and a Sandpiper during one season bringing each alive as characters in a novel. The Black Skimmer (Rynchops), Sanderling (Blackfoot), and a Mackerel (Scomber) live, breed, avoid predators, and follow the urgings of seasonal changes, migrating, nesting, and feeding–all within exciting adventure writing. Readers dive deep into unseen lives nevertheless connected to them by large forces in seas, winds, and landforms. Under the Sea Wind is an immersion experience much like a 3-D visual experience today. Note: Under the Sea Wind was published about the time the U.S. was drawn into WWII. It was not until a dozen years later that it seized the popular imagination. For a superb biography of Carson’s life, read Linda Lear’s Witness for Nature, and for an excellent glimpse into Rachel Carson’s writing life, read Paul Brooks’ The Writer at Work.

Watch American Experience for the latest film about Carson’s life. It chronicles her writing and features the commentary of her biographers.

http://www.pbs.org/video/american-experience-rachel-carson/

For a regional writer of nature, I can think of no one better than Jack Rudloe who writes about the Gulf near his home and Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory and Education Center. Jack was inspired by Ed Rickett’s whose work and life were enshrined in the popular imagination by John Steinbeck. Jack Rudloe, the 19-year old would-be scientist and nature writer, corresponded with Steinbeck in the latter year of Steinbeck’s life. Read any of Jack’s books for a another immersion adventure in: The Living Dock, The Sea Brings Forth, and the Search for the Great Turtle Mother. Anne Rudloe, his wife and marine scientist, wrote books with Jack that are reminiscent of Carson in their deep love for and accurate science about the landscapes they love and defend. Anne Rudloe passed away in 2010, and Jack and his sons carry on as Titans for Nature–like Carson in Silent Spring.

Enjoy Jack’s video about his book, The Wilderness Coast.

If you have time to sit down to read the record of Ed Rickett’s and John Steinbeck’s travels in the Sea of Cortez–The Log of the Sea of Cortez–you will be treated to a glimpse into evolving ideas about ecology as an ethical basis for living. Then, treat yourself to the film Cannery Row with Nick Nolte, Debra Winger, and John Huston. John Steinbeck’s novel, Cannery Row, is based on Rickett’s marine supply business in Monterey, California when the coastline abound with sea life.

 

Songs of Ourselves – Great Read

In 2015, Blue Heron Book Works published a collections of blog posts, journal entries, and other writing forms from writers across the nation. Bathseba Monk, the intrepid and visionary editor of Blue Heron Book Works, and her editor Mary Lawlor, put together a book of American voices as varied as the landscape between our coastlines.

Songs of Ourselves is a real trip into and across Americana. If you haven’t read it, I compare it to about two dozen Blue Highways wrapped into one volume.

Listen to Tomas Benitez: Quietude in the Gully. No moaning animals or ruckus. It’s as if the Pomona Freeway Ocean knows and slows to a steady heartbeat rhythm. The waves rumble with a distant peace. La Luna is framed by the dark outline of the palm fronds on the left, the Yucca tree on the right seems to be reaching up like a hand holding her aloft. She is so beautiful tonight; it is all about her I suspect. Maybe the animals are huddled in their shadowed hollows also watching her. Not even Jinx is dancing in her moonlight. We’re in church. ~ pages 15-16.

Well worth the read. A treasure of American voices across our land. Buy it here.

 

Healers of the Land

One of the best activities of my mature life has been an association with the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Land Ethic Leaders. In 2012 I traveled to Baraboo, Wisconsin to attend a training to become a Land Ethic Leader in my community.

Leopold’s now famous essay on The Land Ethic is excellent guidance for our time.

The Land Ethic_A Sand County Almanac

I’ve continued to learn from leaders and staff at the Foundation but mostly from my fellow Land Ethic Leaders. John Matel is one who is blogging about the restoration of the Long Leaf Pine Ecosystem on his land. He is doing the careful, long term work of bringing fire back to the land to awaken long dormant seeds for the sedges and grasses on the land, grooming the understory and the pines themselves.

Read his latest blog and explore others to appreciate that there is a man, and many others like him, who are working on the long term solutions to our environmental crises. For example, read about the Panhandle Watershed Alliance and the Bream Fisherman’s Association led by an intrepid water ecologist and friend, Barbara Albrecht in Pensacola, Florida.

So, take heart that there are these menders and planters, stewards of land and the human spirit OUT THERE working against the tide of destruction.