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…

The Internet: A Force for Good

My Sunday “church: is OnBeing.org, moderated by Krista Tippet. The program examines the questions, What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live, by interviewing the greatest thinkers, religious leaders, and artists of our time.

This week’s guest is Tiffany Schlain creator of the Webby Awards and prolific film maker.  The programGrowing Up on the Internet, examines how the Internet is changing us. Schlain asserts:

The Internet connects us like neurons in the brain. It is in its infancy and we are its parents; how it “grows up” – its character – is up to us. (Paraphrased by me from the discussion. )

This interview and the film below left me more hopeful that humankind can beat the odds, and make the climate curve together if we shape the Internet intentionally creating a global brain that acts as a force for good.

*Purchase or rent the film here: Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death, and Technology Online.  Film home.

The Good Mind

The legacy of the Peacemaker [the man credited with bringing the Iroquois Nations together under a Pax Iroquois] is best illustrated in his concept of The Good Mind. The Peacemaker believed that a healthy mind naturally seeks peace and that a nation of individuals using reason and harboring good will in their hearts can not only establish peace in the worst circumstances but maintain it forever.

At the time the Peacemaker was born, the region was beset by wars among the five tribes (Onandaga, Mohawk, Huron, Seneca, and Cayuga). In some areas the hatred ran so deep that individual warriors practiced cannibalism on their enemies. These dark times were at least 1,000 years before the Europeans arrived in what is now New York State.

There are noteworthy circumstances surrounding the Peacemaker. First, his grandmother had a dream that a great man would be born who would save the tribes from utter destruction. He  was recognized as a youth for his exceptional qualities of mind as someone who would become a leader. But he had a problem—a speech impediment (stuttering)—which later required the assistance of the great Iroquois orator, Hiawatha, to help him accomplish his mission to bring the tribes of his nation together under the Great Tree of Peace—the democracy of constitutional laws and principles that exist to this day.

When I began studying with my teachers in Yuma, Arizona (see previous blog post, The First American Democracy) I was completely unaware of this body of law, the Iroquois legacy of which some passed into the U.S. Constitution, nor was I aware that the Iroquois Confederacy had maintained peaceful coexistence for 750 years before the founding of the fledgling American democracy.

The most important lesson of my four years of study was the reading of Basic Call to Consciousness, written as an address to Western civilization in the 1970’s when the Iroquois were still under threat and domination by the powers that be: the Canadian government and New York State legislature. Basic Call is still relevant in its astute analysis of the values that drive Western societies and how they lead to the destruction of the very basis of life.

In Basic Call to Consciousness Americans have a useful guidebook on how to strengthen our own democracy by broadening our bill of rights to include the natural world and all the life in it as sacred because,  everything emanates from our common Creator. Practically, the document gave the early constitutional authors further reason to formulate a bicameral congress and institute a process of checks and balances. For example, the Peacemaker charged the women of the tribe to act as arbiters of peace by choosing the male leaders and representatives and removing them should their thoughts and actions stray from the sacred purpose of the Great Law.

I remember being shocked to find this gem of a small book in whose pages lay all the wisdom needed to solve entrenched political, economic, and relational problems here and abroad.  But I realized the document was politically dangerous in the U.S. precisely because it would prevent greed and avarice from being the dominant drivers in our social and cultural enterprises. In fact, when my teachers suggested I read it, the book was out of print and hard to find. But I eventually did find a used copy at the Bohdi Tree bookstore in Los Angeles. It was considered an occult book and probably still is by a society that relegates any true challenge to its economic values as dangerous and suspect.

Today you can find Basic Call to Consciousness on Amazon.com. I consider that progress!


American Pubic Media “On Being”

I know that my discovery of “On Being” at 6 am on my local public radio station, WUWF.org, reveals just how out of it a person can be in a world with a cornucopia of media sources. Apparently the program has been broadcasting since 2008! However, humbly, I submit this link to this interview with Terry Tempest Williams.

The recorded podcasts on their main page are a treasure trove of some of our greatest spiritual voices and cultural innovators. This might be a very good way to “reset” your moral compass after a day or week out on Main Street.

Krista Tippett is the moderator. The link above to the unedited discussion with Terry includes many personal statements by both Terry and Krista that give additional insights into their focus and personalities.

I’ve been reading Terry’s books, blogs, and following her activities for the last 15 years. I am convinced that she is on the forward edge of an emerging sensibility that seeks to bring together divergent perspectives in American culture  for open dialogue and understanding. She gives numerous examples of how she personally is able to sit with people who hold opposite points of view and learn from them and stay in the dialogue….

If you read one book by Williams, read Refuge. You will understand then how Terry weaves the deeply personal, landscape, religion, spirituality, politics and the art of dialogue. This perspective might be similar to present and previous Earth – focused cultures  (e.g.  native cultures worldwide; ancient earth-based cultures.) However, what is evident in this interview and many others on the site, is an emergent blend of our best past and present thought. There is a heightened awareness of something much greater than ourselves, the issues at hand, and what we can perceive.

Listen and learn from a person who has learned to stay in the crucible of conflict and transform it into something of beauty….

Transparency in Reporting Science

The EPA is under scrutiny about its estimates of oil inundation from the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. At issue is direct access to scientists at the EPA without oversight from the EPA administration. Congressman Raul Grijalva has been critical of the EPA policy that scientists cannot respond directly to journalists or government officials questions. Read below from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

WILL EPA SIT OUT SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY RULE-MAKING? — Memo Implies EPA Will Not Clarify Scientists’ Right to Publish or Speak with Media

Washington, DC — Despite a White House directive that federal agencies strengthen their procedures for ensuring scientific integrity and transparency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is apparently planning no changes, according to an internal EPA e-mail released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, EPA scientists will continue to lack consistent rules for publishing studies, speaking at scientific conferences or answering questions from the media.

Hope Beneath Our Feet

Just a note for local folks in the Pensacola area, two stores are carrying Hope Beneath Our Feet: Barnes and Noble and  Ever’mans Natural Foods

Hope Beneath Our Feet, Restoring Our Place in the Natural World is a new anthology of essays by well-known and lesser known authors who responded to this question: In the midst of environmental crisis, how can we live NOW?

I am unabashedly promoting the book because I am one of the lesser known authors. To be published along with the writers and thinkers to whom I have turned for inspiration over the last twenty years, is a huge honor for me. Some of these mentors are: Frances Moore Lappé, Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez and Howard Zinn.

The book’s genesis is the work of Martin Keogh, its Editor.  In the forward, Martin describes how his children expressed a sense of hopelessness about the future as they considered climate change or nuclear war—challenges that dwarf our sense of being able to make a difference. He wondered how human beings can keep hope and live well in very uncertain times. In 2006 Martin issued a call to writers to submit an essay answering the question above.

The book is published by North Atlantic Press and is now in its third printing – barely a month after its release.

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.

Oil Plumes Measured at 1140M Depth

This morning I checked into Skytruth.org to learn the extent of the oil plumes. A blog contributor took me to the Gulf Oil Blog of the U.S. Marine Sciences. There you can find results of sampling in suspected deepwater plumes of oil. The measure is called a CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter). Scientists measured above and below the plume then sampled from the middle of the plume. Above and below they found no organic matter but within the plume they got a strong reading and could see an oily residue left over on the filters. Skytruth is tracking the movement of oil plumes from the Maconda well and it appears to be moving in the loop current and toward the Florida straits.

Skytruth cautions that there are natural processes that can also create oil sheen on the surface. But when you go to the U.S. Marine Sciences site you learn to “trust your senses”. This spill, if as White House energy and environment adviser Carol Browner warned, goes on through August when relief wells will be in place to receive the oil, we could see lasting and extensive impact on marine ecosystems along the whole of the Gulf, Florida and perhaps even the Atlantic shorelines where the loop current turns north and runs up the eastern coast.

Take action to prevent this happening again.

A jewel of nature: in the path of the Oil Spill?

Pensacola, Florida. Santa Rosa Island. Gulf Shores National Seashore. Observed wildlife: dozens of spotted eagle rays skimming along the shoreline; dolphins pursuing schools of silver mullet offshore; two small loggerhead turtles bobbing along (looking for a place to come ashore tonight under the moonlight – to lay her eggs?). Least terns dive-bombing over white sands under translucent green seas, a small fish for breakfast; 14 brown pelicans, gulls, and two black skimmers with long jaws dropped to scoop up the least terns meal; and one handsome man from Scotland who showed me how to find small, whole sand dollars.

I cannot tolerate the idea that a black tide is on the way here. I pray that it does not so that our shores can provide accommodation for wildlife on the move from the tragedy happening in Louisiana. But I am probably too optimistic. For today I thank God for the Gulf – a nursery and a home to creatures big and small and innocent to our machinations. See links on this site for updates on the spill in our region: Oil Spill Academic Task Force, Skytruth.org.

For now this jewel of nature’s creation persists….

Failure Is Not An Option

 

The Apollo Moon Program took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon’s surface in 1969. During the third mission to land men on the moon (1970) an explosion left the Apollo crew in grave danger.

The story of Apollo 13 offers an important message for humankind as we face up to climate change: “Failure is not an option.”

These words were uttered by Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director, when he addressed the engineers and scientists responsible for returning the three crewmen to Earth under what appeared to be impossible circumstances and limitations.

As we learn more about the daunting task of reducing carbon emissions well below 1990 levels even while the world’s population grows exponentially, the challenge feels every bit as awesome as that faced by Krantz on that fateful mission.

Kranz advised his team to not be emotional but to “work the problem.” It seems to me that is good advice. We have to cut through the arguments and individual beliefs that each of us holds to create a sustainable human enterprise on Earth.

And like Apollo 13, the clock is ticking for us, too. Beyond a certain point we will not be able to reverse the physical adjustments of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans and of living communities most vulnerable to them.

So just how did these scientists and engineers “work the problem?” Well, to begin with they erased the previous flight plans and went back to the drawing board. Then, they looked at what was on hand that could be used in new ways to meet the needs of the moment: “We’ve got to take this square battery pack and make it fit into this round receptacle,” the engineer explained to his team.

And what were they attempting to solve? Chillingly for us, the crew was experiencing a lethal build-up of carbon dioxide on board their small craft, and the engineers were attempting to build a carbon scrubber with the stuff on board the spacecraft.

Cutting through all preconceptions, the team put their heads together and managed to build a new scrubber with a square end that fit into a round hole.

Without being simplistic, much of what we have to do to come together as communities, nations, and international bodies seems just like that: a square peg in a round hole. So far nothing fits very tight.

But here is a simple example of how a great accomplishment was achieved:

  • Work the problem, skip the rhetoric;
  • Gather what is on hand and if necessary use it in new ways that can get us the solutions we seek;
  • Failure is not an option – we do not have the luxury to try this another time, therefore our leaders, social institutions, and citizens must all come to the table with sobriety and willingness to think anew.

Apollo is the Greek god of reason, morality, and maintenance of society. Perhaps in our cultures these have not always been united. Just as the Apollo crew was buoyed by the worldwide prayers and hopes of people and nations, we could look at the human community, and all the living communities that keep us alive and happy, as a crew on an endangered spacecraft that we have got to bring home safely.

Let’s work that problem.