America Untethered from Its History

As I’ve grown older, I have witnessed how the seeds of the future are planted in the present. Wise men, women, and visionaries make decisions by first looking back in history. What did we learn? Are there any similarities to the present challenges or opportunities. This is a time honored process of making careful decisions that will impact the future. Specifically, we looked for lessons learned.

Two examples are insightful. How we negotiated treaties at the end of WWI and at the end of WWII had very different outcomes. At the close of WWI, Germany was disabled by the imposition of brutal sanctions that disabled its ability to grow ties to the world nations through trade. That worked against securing a democratic course for Germany. President Woodrow Wilson tried to convince fellow world leaders to take the path of peace, to assist the perpetrators in creating democratic institutions and principles while building world peace in the process. He was ignored. The terrible hardships imposed on the German people became the forces that eventually led to the rise of Adolf Hitler.

Following WWII, the Marshall Plan reversed that tendency (to punish). Nations formed an alliance to provide a means of peaceful negotiation, and play a role as a watchdog for violations of human rights in member nations (the United Nations). Consequently, the world has not experienced a world conflagration since 1945, and Germany rose to take its place as a democratic nation in the world community. The leaders of the time had learned from history and corrected with purposeful actions.

The United States accepted a leadership role in the world as the seat of democracy. Granted we have not perfectly earned that great role, but we’ve done well over time in mediating among and working with fellow nations toward peaceful co-existence.

This has been accomplished by Republican and Democratic Presidents alike, building on each other’s accomplishment in foreign relations. It can sometimes be a reversal of a policy, but American policies always articulated with previous ideas and assumptions. Presidents have explained to the public why policies are changed or continued as should be done to gain public support through an understanding and  awareness of the nation’s place in the world. In this manner America has advanced among nations. Presidents shape our future at home and in the world.

We need to evaluate President Trump in this light. Has he knowledge about our history and that of the world? Does he explain his policies in light of that previous body of actions and principles? Can our allies depend on him, i.e. are his ideas in line with the long history of how our nation had acted in the world community?

It is a rarity to have a President ignore who we have been, and who we are, for his own personal idea of what we should be. That is not leadership. Checking off a list of the pet projects of voter groups who supported his election by destroying decades of bipartisan work and policies is not leadership but old-time cronyism.

It is a Lesser Version of a President that we have not seen in our history. Leading a nation like ours, made of a dynamic informed public, requires the Big Leader version of the Presidency–a presidency based in the knowledge of where we came from and who we are. While I often feel sorry for Trump because he is completely overwhelmed by the job, I am more terrified of what is happening to us: the dismantling of our institutions that keep and foster democratic life, and the aimless leadership he imposes in the world community. All across the world, our allies are pulling back from us. Our enemies are gaining new confidence. We are less safe.

Where is this going?

Something to think about:

 

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.

The Power of Stories to Foster Empathy

Research from Loris Vezzali, social psychologist, points to the power of storytelling, to fiction, in shaping attitudes. This NPR program features a recent study that Vezzali, et al, conducted to determine whether children who read Harry Potter novels change how they relate to stygmitized groups of people (disabled, immigrants, or “other”).

Recent research shows that extended contact via story reading is a powerful strategy to improve out-group attitudes. We conducted three studies to test whether extended contact through reading the popular best-selling books of Harry Potter improves attitudes toward stigmatized groups (immigrants, homosexuals, refu-gees). Results from one experimental intervention with elementary school children and from two cross-sectional studies with high school and university students (in Italy and United Kingdom) supported our main hypothesis. Identification with the main character (i.e., Harry Potter) and disidentification from the negativcharacter (i.e., Voldemort) moderated the effect. Perspective taking emerged as the process allowing attitude improvement. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed in the context of extended intergroup contact and social cognitive theory

Here’s the link to the NPR story below:

http://www.npr.org/2015/05/01/403474870/does-reading-harry-potter-have-an-effect-on-your-behavior

Loris Vezzali ResearchGate

National Parks: Citizen Library

Carlotta Walls LaNier

In the previous post I described my joy in visiting the Central High School National Historic Site which preserves and tells the story of desegregation in Little Rock, AK. There I bought two memoirs, one by Daisy Bates (The Long Shadow of Little Rock), the other by Carlotta Walls LaNier with Lisa Frazier Page (A Mighty Long Way). [*This link includes an interview with Mrs. LaNier and an excerpt from the first chapter, and links to purchase a copy of the memoir.]

Both memoirs brought me renewed appreciation for the personal struggles of individual Americans striving for their civil rights, and the importance of parents being involved in their children’s education. Reading both books rendered a deeper understanding of historical events through the lived experiences of my fellow Americans. The NPS Interpreter was also a powerful communicator who brought history to life–another important function of our National Parks.

On my current sojourn in Kentucky, I drove to Mammoth Park –another National Park site–preserving and interpreting one of the world’s great natural wonders. In 2016 it celebrated its 200th anniversary!

Stephen Bishop Portrait

In their gift store, I headed for the books section. There I found a historical novel by Roger Brucker, about Stephen Bishop, a famous and early explorer/guide at Mammoth Park (Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar). Stephen was a slave at the time his owners assigned him the duty to serve as a guide at the privately owned wonder.  It was already a favorite travel destination for wealthy and local people. The associated hotel inn for guests owned slaves who cooked and cleaned for guests. Charlotte Brown was a slave working at the inn. It was there that she fell in love with Stephen Bishop. They would eventually marry.

The novel’s story is told through the voice of Charlotte Bishop. The narration is based in part on Charlotte’s real story. Historical documents and testimonies from people who met and knew Stephen and Charlotte guided the author in writing this delightful book. (I am about half way through.)

My point is this: if we do not know history, how can we navigate the future? Each of these National Parks sites, and the books I found there, provide citizens with living history. Our National Parks are repositories for learning and recalling great moments and individuals in history.

Thank God for Daisy Bates

Daisy Gatson Bates

Thursday morning I was blessed to join a tour group from Baltimore’s Civil Rights Movement at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. They are teachers, leaders, and powerful women traveling the civil right trail — next stop Memphis at the National Civil Right Museum at the Lorraine Hotel.

Great women have made significant contributions to democratic societies. Daisy Bates is one of these women. As our talented NPS Interpreter stated today, “If it hadn’t been for Daisy, there would not have been a Little Rock Nine or desegregation as it unfolded in Little Rock.”

Central High School, Little Rock, AR

Daisy Bates was the President of the Arkansas NAACP at the time of the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs the Board of Education which desegregated public schools in the U.S. Nine children were identified by the Little Rock School Board to integrate Central High School. At the time, Governor Orval Faubus was not supporting the federal mandate and called in the National Guard to keep out the black students. Daisy realized that the nine teenagers would need protection and help and she organized meetings and support to help them on the first and subsequent days of their trials and tribulations. This story, and the life of Daisy Bates, is chronicled in her memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, which I am currently reading. The individual stories of the nine students are each dramatic and many are told in their memoirs. What white students did inside the school to the nine black students, following integration, and the teachers who turned their backs, is horrendous and rarely told. I highly recommend that you visit this national historic site to reset your compass on American history and the long struggle of all American people for fulfillment of basic rights. As we see today, that struggle if still in progress. But, looking back to such pillars of courage and decency as Daisy Bates gives me renewed hope for a future all of us can make happen together.

Following the Trail of Water

Mark Hainds, Border Walker

A friend of mine, Mark Hainds, is a forester and author, who has challenged himself to walk the entirety of the U.S. – Mexico Border. In doing so, he is noting the conditions of the landscape, meeting the people who live there, the people who are passing over the border in hopes of a better future, and experiencing the deep peace from long hours of silent walking. Be sure to visit his site above.

On Friday morning I dropped him off at mile marker 40 on highway 82 near Sonoita, Arizona. This is grasslands – basin and range territory – home of historic ranches, antelopes, and hardy people who love the land.

Grasslands of SE Arizona

To a visitor is can seem very still but to locals who know its subtle changes, it is an exciting place to call home.

Patagonia Lake State Park

Luckily, the Nature Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management had foresight to preserve large tracks of riparian habitats (those areas where water flows near the surface of the ground, and in wet seasons, runs in streams and rivers). When you gaze out across expansive grasslands and see a line of bright green trees, you have found water.

Cottonwood Gallery Forest

Today I followed the traces of water across the landscape by looking for those trees. While I walked the fields and paths, small herds of tawny pronghorns on far hills bounded in the high grass, white rumps flashing in the sunlight.

At the historic Empire Ranch, I listened for the voices of families, ranch hands, and cowboys lingering in the old structures of the house, cottages, corral, and barn.

Old Barn
Empire Ranch Grounds circa early 20th century

Wandering the paths into a cottonwood gallery, I felt spirits walking next to me. A time gone but with lingering energies, whispering to us modern day visitors.

What are they telling us?

Would it be a cautionary tale? The ranch was passed through many hands, each family working it for 35-50 years, then to developers, and finally into the protection of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The ranch and 42,000 acres of riparian corridor and grasslands is now Las Cienegas National Conservation Area which we all can visit.

Yet these images show a time gone by, when the big cattle ranches reigned, and then died as water receded, and the demand of beef declined.

Perhaps we live in a more enlightened time. But, that remains to be seen. Will we remember the lessons of the past, or are we doomed to repeat mistakes with forgotten memories?

The ghosts of the land whisper to us. What are they telling us?

One whose spirit speaks to me is Aldo Leopold: “Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

When the cows and the buffalo roamed…

And just like that, a second novel

Mountains to the Sea

Well, that second novel has been “cooking” in my mind for many years, and builds on years of experiences that reach back to 1990. That year I moved to Yuma, Arizona to teach middle school students at Crane Junior High School. Yuma first introduced me to the Sonoran Desert, and naturally, I experienced the hottest part of it first. Yuma temps that first summer hit 122 degrees Fahrenheit. My friends and neighbors taught me how to stay safe while traveling, and how to get out early in the morning before the heat made it impossible.

All around the school and neighborhoods where I lived, agricultural fields stretched out in long even rows with canals as borders, while row upon row of blue water soaked into the ground, evaporating in the intense heat. Surrounded by a sea of broccoli, my school was embedded in the large-scale industrial farming operations in which many of my students’ parents labored. On these intensely hot days, I wondered at the ability of human beings to endure hard labor in those fields.

AZ Agriculture Photo

Then, the fact that the water came from the high Wyoming plateaus and Rocky Mountains was only vaguely in my awareness. Precious river water poured down through deep canyons into the dams that controlled the North American Nile, and by a complex system came to Yuma and the Imperial Valley to grow 90% of America’s leafy produce between November through March. Then, I was focused on my students’ daily struggle to learn and grow up under harsh conditions of poverty and discrimination. But, all around us was a BIG STORY about a river, its people, and how it came to be the most controlled and overused body of water in North America. Indeed, the Colorado River is so over-allocated that it no longer winds its way to the Gulf of California as it did for thousands of years.  The  magnificent delta region, one of the world’s largest and most productive wetlands, literally dried up and died.

This is the subject of my second novel, The American Nile: Voices of a River and Its People. I am working with a talented editor and should have a solid draft completed before I return home from Tucson in late April.

Supporting Youth in Climate Change

My novel, Threshold, was written over a ten-year period due to a period of care-giving for my father. I decided to revise the original story from one in the distant future to a more immediate story. Climate science improved over that period, and I realized that what we do now was the focus I needed.

In the new draft, two teenagers emerged that were not in the earlier draft. I believe my concerns for young people and years of teaching middle school and high school students in the Southwest resulted in three characters I love: Daniel  – Junior Docent at the Desert Museum; Luna – emerging youth leader of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and Enrique – a troubled youth with a brave heart.

The story lines follow my conviction that we all play a part in the development of young people in our lives. We may even play a key role by just doing simple things like showing up with a platter of burritos (Mrs Carillo, Enrique’s neighbor), or offering a  kind word at a particularly potent time (Harold Liebowitz with Daniel). Often, it is helping your child by letting them struggle (Luna’s mother). Youth need encouragement in ways that fit them.

They also need adults to clear the path by breaking down social and economic barriers that keep real talents from blooming or dying on the vine from poverty and hopelessness (Congressman Ramirez with his community). And some youths who have lost a parent or suffered an equally dramatic blow, just need us to be around dependably until they can get back on their feet (Ed and Carla for Daniel).

With the uncertainty of climate change, what can each of us do to empower and support the kids in our lives? What skills do they need, what can we change or strengthen while we are here that will enable them as they meet their future?

If it means changing a way of life, using different forms of transportation, giving up some of our sacred cows, will we be willing to do so for them, and all the children who follow? Read Threshold to learn what the adults in Daniel, Luna, and Enrique’s lives do to help them make a bright future.

Youth who are empowered and making change:

Changemakers High School

Our Children’s Trust

 

 

America’s Wildlife Refuges: the Last Stand

Crane fledgling_illustration_nwf
Crane fledgling_illustration_nwf

On my journey to Tucson I decided to visit some of the nation’s wildlife refuges, beginning with the Mississippi Sandhill Crane refuge, near Moss Point, MS. The refuge is comprised of private holdings, public lands, and joint agency wildlife management areas. It is beautiful. The cranes are a native species. There are 139 cranes in the whole refuge which spans thousands of acres. When I asked why so few, the docent asserted the current population was a huge success: the population had declined to a few dozen at the time the refuge was established.

Many specific efforts have been ongoing from restoring the habitat to its natural condition  to hand-rearing crane infants to adulthood, and releasing them into the refuge.  The Mississippi Sandhill Crane is considered an “umbrella species” by scientists; it is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The latter protects habitats through the keystone or umbrella species that are specifically shown to be threatened or endangered. This results in thousands of other species being protected under the umbrella.  Restoration of the watershed, forests, and marshlands benefits humans with beauty, hunting and fishing opportunities, research, clean watersheds, and flood control.

I spotted three Sandhill cranes under that shade of a large oak in a privately owned home adjacent to the refuge–along with a rooster and hen. Looked like a leisurely commiseration among species.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES

I also visited the Atchafalaya NWR and the Lacassine NWR. They are both located in Louisiana and are wild places. I saw hunters and fishermen, boating, and wonderful old hunting camps and clubs at Atchafalaya, and flocks of egrets, cranes, geese, and ducks at Lacassine. The latter has a 16,000 acre fresh water pool that is mostly filled by rainwater. The marshes are wild places alive with birdsong and the croaks and bleeps of habitat teeming with life. This refuge is at the juncture of the Central and Eastern flyways and provide overwintering and stopovers for thousands of migrating birds. Louisiana is this kind of contrast: all around the refuges are oil refinery plants, and gas pipelines thread through the land and water resources along the I-10 corridor. So while the state may support a highly polluting energy source (one we all use without a thought), the state also highly values wildlife. It is a cognitive dissonance that lingers on my mind as I head out into the Texas plains. I plan to stop at the Prairie Chicken NWR today.

Why My Characters’ Zip Code Matters

Teenager_Boy_clip_art_mediumEnrique, a youth living in Tucson’s poorest neighborhood, begins his life with “the cards” stacked against realization of his dreams. Caught in a web of drug traffickers who recruit disadvantaged youth in his barrio, he navigates each day as one in a war zone with the goal to survive between sun up and sun down. Yet like each of us, he has innate potential that, under supporting circumstances, can change his life.

On the back stoop in the alleyway, he lit a cigarette, drawing deeply, breathing out a cloud, letting the afternoon sun warm his chest and arms. His thoughts turned to friends who had joined Bloods Southwest. He decided to talk to Pepe tomorrow at school. Then he went back inside to do his math homework. At least he could work numbers with no problem. He liked that math was governed by rules that never changed, and when he sought answers, he could always work them out.                                                ~ Threshold (2016), Fireship Press, Tucson, AZ

Research shows that a person’s zip code predicts how healthy they will be, how long they may live, what degree they may earn in school, and the size of their pay check. Your zip code can predict your chance of being obese, asthmatic, a drug addict or alcoholic, whether your baby is likely to be born prematurely or with a disability — and even how likely it is that you will live past age 5.

Where you live is a powerful determinant of your life outcomes. What’s more, your zip code may determine how resilient you can be as climate change advances.

How can we end this terrible injustice? Read Threshold to learn how characters find solutions.