What about food supply?

“Changing climate equals changing water” is the phrase that many water and climate experts in the southwest are using today. As the temperature increases, and less rain falls, soils are depleted of moisture in a cycle that turns healthy soil into barren landscapes.

The seeds that we use, the means of careful water use to grow them, and the quality of the fruit and legumes produced are now in a precarious time when climate is less certain. Seeds that are specifically adapted to a region with long genetic history may become more important due to their unique resiliency to heat and drought.

Our commercial, industrialized food system is highly dependent on predictable conditions not only in the agricultural fields but also in the transportation systems that now intersect with a global market system. If too hot, planes may not be able to fly; if sea level rise or large storms destroy ports, cargo ships are not able to pick up or drop off cargo. When food is not shipped in a timely manner, it can rot as it sits in place as with fresh fruit and vegetables.

In Threshold, Ed Flanagan, food bank operations director and climate change denier, has to confront his beliefs as his normal food supply sources are in turmoil.

The dependable food supply we are accustomed to in developed countries is at a threshold with current and predicted climate change realities.  Protecting our food supply personally, nationally, and internationally should be part of the work we all can do to build resilience to changes in our climate.


Book Sales and Readings in Tucson

Tomorrow I will be a Bookman’s on Wilmot and Speedway from Noon to 2 pm for their Authors’ Fair. Hope you can drop by and chat and take a look at Threshold.

If you have a church group or book club that might wish to read a story about Tucson, with familiar settings and characters, give me a call at: 520-400-4117 or email me at susanleefeathers@gmail.com

Threshold makes an enormous contribution to contemporary literature by teaching readers—in engaging and utterly consumable terms—about the physics of “the planet’s human induced fever.” Susan Feathers stages the need to know as part of the narrative dynamic. Key characters —academics, school teachers, museum biologists—understand only too well the processes by which the earth is growing hotter, while others don’t. The latter are in some cases too young or inexperienced to know; in other cases they’re complacent or too far in denial to face them. Those who know teach those who don’t. Through lively dialogues concerning, for example, how sunlight gets converted to electricity; or how oceans absorb solar energy; or how neighborhoods can set up electrical generating systems, we learn along with the characters. We’re invited to go through the same processes of recognition and assimilation that the various students in the story experience. READ A REVIEW     ~ Mary Lawlor, Muhlenberg College


Right of Passage in a Monsoon Storm

moth-daturacroppedWhen I fist moved to Tucson, Arizona, I was new to the high desert. Biologists refer to its flora and fauna as “lush”–a term that up until then I would not have chosen for a desert.

Through colleagues at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, I learned about a poetry reading at University of Arizona by Dr. Ofelia Zepeda, 

Dr. Zepeda is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, a lifelong desert dweller, a linguist, and cultural preservationist. In 1999 she was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship for her work creating a Tohono O’odham book of grammar. However, Dr. Zepeda’s poetry is what I wish to focus on and how the chance encounter with her performance in the first week of my residency in Tucson led to my deep feeling for a place and community as culturally rich as any I’ve known.

The poetry reading took place in the circular auditorium (kiva) in the American Indian Studies Department at U.A. In the large room with rows pitched down toward the lectern in its center, a soft voice rose and fell. Dr. Zepeda’s was reading from her book, Ocean Power She spoke in O’odham and English, alternating between each as she read.  I closed my eyes to listen to the language of desert communities at Tucson’s origin.

She explained the relationship of her family and community to rain in the desert, its precious nature, and how, after the long hot, dry foresummer, the first monsoon clouds gather, and people point and wait for the first cold dollops of rain.

After her lecture, I walked to my hot, dusty car to drive home. Not long after I was on the road, a massive monsoon cloud, as black as coal, threw lightening strikes like explosions on the ground, and rain burst from the sky, falling n buckets, cleansing the car and blinding my sight. I had to pull over. Flood waters gushed around drains, cars stalled as the water rose, but all the people smiled behind their windshields or stood outside their vehicles with open arms, letting the storm soak them to the bone. It was a celebration, first delivered through Dr. Zepeda’s poetry and, then, by the monsoon itself.  I believe to this day that hearing about rain on the desert in O’odham made the impact of the storm much deeper for me. It was a true rite of passage. Listen to a short video about Dr. Zepeda.


Don’t Forget Florida’s Forgotten Coastline

20140217_100305The Forgotten Coast of Florida near Port St. Joe, on the St. Joseph’s Bay, is one of the remaining intact ecosystems in the state and well worth a visit. This photo is near an Indian midden where you can view layer upon layer of broken shells left behind by Indian communities that shelled and fished on the productive bay.

Near the Old Salt Works Cabins on highway 30E, the bay is accessible down long weathered boardwalks. Visitors walk out into the muddy recesses or shallow waters where they can see urchins, tunicates, fiddler crabs, and juvenile fish that use the area as a nursery. 20140216_095052_4_bestshotPeppered through the sea grass beds we found the casts of horseshoe crabs from molting seasons before. My friend, Barbara, is an ecologist who spent the four days of our trip collecting casts and abandoned urchin shells. She described the sea grass beds along the bay as a treasure of Florida’s natural environments because they function as a nursery for numerous species of crustaceans and fish that are important economic species for the Gulf region and primary filters of pollutants that keep the water quality high.

We met a young family from the Atlanta area who were putting together a small catamaran to sail around an enclosed area of the bay on the St. Joe’s Peninsula that arcs like a curved arm protecting the shoreline from storms. Their young sons were busy seining for fish and other sea life. My friend joined them to teach a little ecology in the best environment in the world where children can see the ecosystem at work.

IMG_7142Earlier we had visited the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory and Education Center founded by Jack and Anne Rudloe, two of Florida’s important writers and educators about Florida’s marine wildlife. Priceless Florida, The Living Dock, In Search of the Great Turtle Mother, and Shrimp are just several of their many books. The lab and education center are filled with touch tanks and aquarium where families can learn about many species not easily seen from shore such as loggerhead turtles, and octopuses.

20140217_115901Later we visited the St. Andrews Marina which is a working marina where you can observe a variety of fishing vessels. The one pictured here has turtle-excluder devices (TEDs) that allow fast escape of turtles when they are caught up in the netting. Before this apparatus was invented, sea turtle deaths were much more numerous.

St. Joseph’s Peninsula State Park is a wonderful place to snorkel, kayak, fish, camp, and bike. Carl, Barbara’s partner in life and biking enthusiast, enjoyed the 27-mile round trip on a newly completed bike path from the Old Salt Works Cabins to the entrance of the wildlife refuge. The refuge on the last seven miles of the peninsula is a terrific walk where you can observe thirty foot dunes – how much of Florida’s coastline once looked before massive storms and human activities have diminished their size and capacity to shelter the coastline.

Oil Globs on Santa Rosa Island: It’s Here

Late this afternoon I drove to Santa Rosa Island, to the entrance of a seven-mile stretch of undeveloped barrier island, protected by the Gulf Islands National Sea Shore, one of our priceless U.S. National Parks. While there was a long stretch of beautiful beach, as I walked west toward the end of the island, I began to see oil – firsts dime-sized, then bottle-cap, then hand-sized: thick crude oil, pooled and hardened among shells and sea grasses on the high tide line. Adjacent to this pollution, black skimmers sailed by with their long lower jaw skimming in the shallow edge of the surf and Least Terns dive-bombed for small fish not far off shore. Surely they must be tasting and smelling this invasion of foreign substances. We can only guess what is happening to fish, corals, jellies, dolphins, plankton…I am so profoundly sad about this awful time when we are facing our ourselves –  our ways and wants. It is NOT a pretty picture.

Only a few days ago this was the image of this treasured coast at sunrise:

And to think we are risking this and our families health for a culture addicted to speed and consumption and which cannot function without an enormous and uninterrupted supply of oil. Will it be worth it when all this plays out? And, it will continue to playout over months and years and there will be other catastrophes like it where we have taken enormous risks as the People of the Forward Stampede.

They will all be impacted by the oil catastrophe and eventually it will reach to our children and us through our air, food, and spirit.


On my first break from the teaching, I drove to San Diego to stay with friends from my work days at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation.  At that time, the clinic gave health and wellness classes at Rancho la Puerto, a spa and retreat center near Tecaté, Baja California.  My friends arranged for three days of rest and contemplation. I was exhausted, and confused about whether to continue my education in Yuma.

The resort was on the grounds of a previous Essene community established in the 1920s. The library still shelved many of the community’s books. I wandered in there one evening, not knowing the background of the ranch, and found a history of how the community was founded by Edmond Bordeau Szekely, an internationally known translator and student of world religions. The American Essene Community flourished for over fifty years, and gradually evolved into the present-day spa as more and more people wanted to experience the Essene quietude, exercise, vegetarian food, and spiritual practice.

Szekely is the scholar who translated the Essene Gospel of Peace from the original Aramaic, the native language of Jesus. He was given permission to translate the texts that were kept under lock and key in the Vatican. Szekely later discovered he followed on the path of St. Benedict and the monks of the Monte Cassino Monastery who protected these documents through the ages.

The texts had been originally translated by St. Jerome in the fourth century. He found fragments of the original texts in many small communities in the desert.  Many of the residents who harbored the document fragments were descendents of the original Essenes.

These ancient documents precede the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran, and represent ancient teachings as old as eight thousand years B.C.E. (all the way back to Zarathrustra). They describe The Law. It is the same Law to which Moses referred. When St. Jerome was made the Secretary to Pope Damascus, who established a Papal Library, he was allowed to translate the ancient writings of the Essenes.

However, the translations caused a storm of criticism.  The basic principles of the teaching emanated from natural law, not the laws of man. This body of knowledge made it impossible to follow while promoting the ownership of land and the suppression of women and children to the rule of men (i.e. patriarchal government). The Essene Gospel was the original ecological literature of the west, binding human beings to the Earth and her natural rhythms in a cosmology connecting Mother Earth and Father Sky, the feminine and masculine principles.

When Pope Damascus died, his successor St. Augustine made sure these documents were suppressed. Jerome fled for his life to the desert. There he continued to search for more fragments of the ancient knowledge. After his death, Jerome’s manuscripts were scattered, but eventually many found their way into the Secret Archives of the Vatican, where they remained under lock and key.

The Essenes were a peace-loving sect that believed in the sacredness of all life, practiced vegetarianism, and held that there are spiritual manifestations for all physical phenomena. In this, they were the first quantum physicists: all matter exists in two forms, particle and wave – flesh and spirit.

They understood all of life in the universe as the Ocean of Life, and all thought in the universe as constituting the Ocean of Consciousness. It was their experience that angels connected these two realities. The Essenes believed that Moses understood this through the vision of his ancestor, Jacob, who saw angels ascending and descending a ladder connecting Heaven and Earth.

Essenes practiced self-improvement, which they deemed a life-long process. Achievement of harmony required a balance between earthly and cosmic forces. The heavenly father (cosmic) and the earthly mother (earth) are balanced: eternal life with earth; creative work with life; peace with joy; power with sun; love with water; wisdom with air. These correlations remind us that whenever we contact earthly forces, we are in contact with heavenly forces.

I eagerly read these teachings, and I was encouraged to learn that the principles and cosmology taught to me in Yuma were the same described in the Essene teachings. Here was an Earth-based spirituality making the connection between the material world and the world of thought at a universal consciousness level.

The Teacher of Righteousness in the Essene texts is believed by some to be Jesus, when he was between eighteen and thirty years of age. During this time, his whereabouts are not mentioned in the Biblical texts we have today.  Jesus and his family were Essenes, the ancient Jewish sect, existing from 250 B.C. to 60 A.D in Palestine. The community lived and taught a way of life consistent with Native American spirituality in which all things are imbued with the spirit of the Creator – rocks, water, air, plants, animals, and people. The philosophy of non-violence extended to animals, invoking a deep reverence for the living creatures of our planet. The last and most famous Essene-in-spirit was St. Francis. He lived and believed exactly as the Essenes, and his own writings are nearly identical to Essene texts.

So, I took this discovery of Szekely’s community, at the time I was questioning whether to stay with my Indian teachers, as an affirmation of the integrity of the work.  I returned to Yuma.

Haiti in the Long Run

Most of us have been glued to the news about the immediate assistance to Haitians following the 7.2 magnitude earthquake and its continuing aftershocks. We all most likely contributed initially to the Red Cross and other humanitarian aid organizations. Aid is finally arriving but much is still in the emergency phase.

What remains is the larger logistical questions about how to rebuild a devastated infrastructure and how to rebuild entirely differently to provide people with the safety and resilient systems many developed countries are not only used to but expect. What does this massive restoration and innovation mean for the world community?

While there have been many preceding natural catastrophe’s to the collapse of Haiti’s infrastructure, this event has to become a kind of flag and marker for humankind about the much greater work we may share as climate change, entwined with nature’s natural furies, makes Haiti one of dozens of catastrophic events. We cannot let that happen.

While humankind cannot control the natural cycles of the Earth’s systems, we can control how we as a species add to the impact of them. As a Gulf coast resident in Florida, I am eying the predictions for an average of 11 Atlantic storms in the 2010 hurricane season. Haiti is right in their path as well. How will the people there, how will all the countries who are going to be there helping to rebuild Haiti, deal with major storms?

An article in Science Daily recently described how climate change could impact poverty, deepening it by virtue of collapsing food systems due to climate change.

I watch my countrymen and women and representatives in Washington and realize how easily distracted we are by seemingly more pressing problems like health care and jobs. But up the road we need to be charting our next moves to prepare for many more natural disasters. Resilience to them can be seen in a country like ours which has such a high standard of living, so much social and economic infrastructure, that we find it hard to imagine a place where there are no options and everything that could go wrong does.

What hurt the Haitian people so much is poverty. How can we get to work to make sure poverty does not deepen but is turned on its head and becomes a solution? All the people without jobs…all the things that need doing…is there a bridge between these two realities that might create a third: better living standards by investing our time, talent, money, and sweat into GOOD WORK, and in quitting our bickering, deal playing and investment in wars.

For now, I plan to set up an affordable monthly withdrawal from my bank for Haiti relief, however small, and keep it there for the time it takes to get the job done.  What we are investing in is not so much clean-up as raising a standard of living so that whatever may come their way, Haitians will have the resources to protect themselves and to build structures with the latest safety standards and materials that we Americans have come to expect.

Every Haitian child is one of ours, our future in an increasingly connected world community.

Brilliant Solutions to Implacable Problems

Frances Moore Lappe’s new book, Liberation Ecology, identifies six dis-empowering ideas and re-frames them with insightful solutions. This book was recently published in a limited first edition with an invitation from the author to write her back with comments, edits, and additional ideas.

1.  To save the planet, our economies have to stop growing.

2.  We’ve hit the limits of a finite Earth.

3. We must overcome selfish human nature to save the planet.

4. To make progress, we have to override people’s innate resistance to the rules.

5.  People are now so far removed from the natural world that they will never feel the connection to nature necesarry for an environmental turn-around.

6.  Given the magnitude and scope of today’s problems, there’s no time for democracy.

Go to the website to read more and to take a short survey of your perceptions before reading the book and how Lappe addresses each of these ideas that are holding us back from a world in sync with nature and on a road to sustainability.

Green Job Dollars Flow Away from Pensacola

I’ve been frustrated that our community is not able to apply for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 grant dollars ($2-5M) in green jobs areas maybe because we have not spent the time identifying all the job areas that could be considered “green.” In a short research effort this moring I found a green jobs listing for Canada, under the title “Good Work.” There is a broad range of what it means to be green and I think could lead us in the right direction.

Also, Escambia County has a Green UP program but when I went to the url it was no longer a hot link. I could find no reference to it anywhere on the MyEscambia site. I called their number today and got the Engineering Department for Escambia. The receptionist did not know anything about the Green Up program and transferred me to another person whose voice mail clicked in. I left a message and hopefully will know more by the end of the day.

Is anyone else finding it difficult to come up with a list like this for their communities. Conversely, do any of you readers live where it has been done and have a link or a contact that I can research or speak to?

This is money flowing right past our community. The grant initiative is here.