Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category

wide open

January 19, 2019
One of the regular sites I go to has an editor that ends his weekly round-up of madcap news stories (all political because that’s where the crazies most regularly perform) with an excerpt from something he’s reading.  He posted this a week ago.

“To be a good human is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertainty, and on a willingness to be exposed. It’s based on being more like a plant than a jewel: something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility.”

from The Monarchy of Fear: a Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis by Martha C. Nussbaum

This week he had a quotation from Hunter S. Thompson.
“We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear—fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer.”
You can see the drift.  I think fear provides the terms of courage, but we can’t deny ourselves the chance to talk about the fear not only for healing trauma but more importantly in the off chance that there are people who need to see how life works from the inside-out.
Since the horrific holiday I endured many small kindnesses have been bestowed upon me  I don’t mean to diminish the significance of all of them by sharing a story of one in particular that ended up being … perhaps … a gift I wouldn’t have accepted if I’d understood the terms in advance.
Without dredging up the murky details, I needed another vehicle and a person in the middle of the week without almost no advance notice possible to get me out of the house I’d been renting.  If I hadn’t met a former NPS co-worker in a grocery store parking lot on Christmas Eve, I would have been out of luck.  Furloughed by the government shutdown, near by, and still harboring kind thoughts of me from our brief time working side-by-side in the late summer of 2017, Chris had assured me he’d be there when the time came.  And he was.  However, in circumstances he would never have allowed himself to get into, given his overall conservative, if not downright timorous nature, he couldn’t help but feel that his vehicle loan & mediocre stacking assistance also required a large portion of advice on how to live my life going forward.
This attitude had been seeping out in the short time I’d rushed around packing and shifting my few belongings into his truck and my car.  But it was when we finally got to my new apartment and I offered to buy him lunch as a thank you that he pronounced his final act of largesse.
“You can thank me by never talking about this to people,” he answered.  “If you meet a man, don’t start talking about court cases and suing your landlord and this and that.  He’ll label you as a ‘drama-mama’ and stay as far away from you as you can.  Just forget about what happened and put it all behind you.”
What I had endured in the almost three weeks since an alcoholic landlord had gone to the magistrate and secured an emergency protective order against me based on lies he wasn’t required to prove deserved more than this.  I hadn’t required my former co-worker to sympathize – I had friends who were there for that – just to help me move with a minimum amount of judgment.  He had fallen short, and I felt bad that I was unable to be 100% grateful for the little he’d been able to offer that I had indeed needed.
After he left, my thoughts were now not only oppressed by the recent reign of terror but also that this person was sincerely convinced that by counselling me to keep my mouth shut he was doing me a favor, one greater than providing a truck.  That this person had been witness to another instance of my being bullied out of a job the Autumn we worked together and that he was currently furloughed due to the government shutdown — another manifestation of the bullying now in full ascendance everywhere — made it more dispiriting.  His advice distinctly implied that I was drawing these unfortunate events to me by my behavior and that to stop them I must never speak of them to anyone.  Was there no possibility of making connections in this increasingly hostile world that were based on solidarity against the oppressors?  Did we all have to cower in fear, hoping the storm would pass over us and devastate someone else — hopefully someone we didn’t know so we could pretend we “deserved” our near-miss?
Well, the mind, if cultivated assiduously, is there to find or create some form of survival mechanism, whether it’s a tattered life raft or an elaborate long-range escape plan.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t required to buy into the fear he was shoveling.  Buying into it, in fact, was the one sure way to make it grow bigger, stronger, more dangerous.  Testifying about the fear, about the trauma, was one avenue to finding out who was willing to stand beside me and say “Me too.”  It was a way to remind others hiding in the dark places of their mind, in the most depressed moments of their — and our nation’s — lives, that it is because of fear that we are able to express faith and hope and courage.  To be, in essence, a human being, one still capable of openness and trust, the only species I’m a card-carrying member of and the only species capable of creating a way out of this mess.

new neighbors

May 30, 2017


When I walked the bosque this winter, I noticed how dogs and their owners shared physical resemblances.  The only pet I’ve felt I ever resembled was arguably my cat Clarabelle who was slightly large, noticeably indolent and bossy.

But I’m thinking the burros who browse the field next door and I might have something in common.  Specifically, we’re descendants of a long line of hard workers who at this juncture of time and place have little real work to do.  I like to think also that the three of us share an appreciation of the nature of time.

It’s probably an overstated truism that observing plants, animals, and other expressions of the natural world can be surprisingly healing.  But my experience has been that one must perform this observation, as much as possible, on their terms.  What good would it do to get pissed off at a donkey because it doesn’t act according to our dictates or at a peach tree whose blossoms were blighted by frost and whose branches hang empty in the midst of summer or at a river whose new channel is now half a mile away from our property?

What plants and animals and river and rocks share is that their behavior is indivisible from their nature.  They know how to be what they’ve been born to be.

Human beings … not so much.

How we may have gotten cut off from our essential natures is open to much debate, very little of which concerns me.  However, I have, of late, been scorched by the out-of-control flames of those folks who can’t quite get themselves sorted out.  It has felt like a slap in the face to have worked hard not only in my professional but also in my personal spheres last year and to be rewarded by a former supervisor who lies about my performance to potential employers.  Here’s someone who actively wishes me ill well beyond the confines of Yellowstone National Park and whose efforts to bring my park service career to an end have almost completely succeeded.

For my livelihood and my home I have arrived at a few solutions, neither of them what I had set my sights on; those goals were sabotaged by my supervisor’s falsehoods.  But once I’d preserved my bodily self, I have found my soul locked in sadness and confusion, unable to decipher the message the Universe has sent.

Last night I dreamed of a river.  It had turned back upon itself, as rivers do, twisting into oxbows, creating sandy levees, carving out new beds and then leaving parched, rock-braided beds behind.  There was a kind of judgment on the river’s actions that my mind refuted when I awoke.  “A river can never be against its own nature,” I thought.

I considered whether we might not be able to make the same statements about people.  If someone deceives, instead of judging that this contravenes her integrity, instead shouldn’t we say that this person’s nature includes deception?  If their behavior can never come from outside their own nature, then their actions express how they’ve come to understand the world.  For instance, a woman who works hard to create financial security does so because she’s assessed how the world works and has decided that this is how she will meet its demands.  A man who lies to his lover about having other lovers does so because he believes this is the only way he can satisfy his need for love.  A supervisor who agrees to act as a reference for a former employee and then offers lies about her performance is a person who has decided that the only way a person can achieve professional security is to behave in this manner.

I’m not offering this as some kind of earth-shattering revelation.  At the least, it’s only earth-shattering to me who may have possessed the pieces to this puzzle but had never put them together in a way that made sense.  Now when I consider someone like my former supervisor, the image is one of pain and self-dividedness.  In these, her actions have perfectly expressed her nature.  And for that pain, I truly can summon compassion.

Since in the end our cogitations about the world lead us back to ourselves, as I drew out logical conclusions about how my acquaintances had organized their lives, I was forced to consider mine.  What did my behaviors say about how I’d assessed the world?  Well, there’s the “hide” and “dissemble” bit (along the lines of “don’t let the bastards know what you’re up to”) which speaks to the terror I experienced as a child.  There’s also the “work hard and carry your own shit” since I never felt I could trust others.

But there is something else; a mode I’ve been trying to place appropriately.  And that is “wait.”  This isn’t a dictate we often hear in our culture; it’s certainly not something even my close friends  understand about me.  But this “wait” isn’t simply about laziness or indecision (at least I hope not completely).  This “wait” comes with a demand that’s also an explanation: in waiting, I must be figuring out what I want to do because there are consequences to every action.  And I need to limit my own contribution to the world’s pain and suffering.

Now when I consider what to do next, the question I will ask is what I would like my actions to say about me.  I hope my behavior reflects a person who feels the rhythms of time deep in her bones and who understands that we are all busted and are simply trying to piece something road-worthy back together.  Because we are all working to our fullest capacities, looking for love, worthy work, and a place to call home in a world where what it means to “be human” is anyone’s guess.








February 4, 2015

I’m not sure where I get the frugal part of my nature.  I can’t figure whether it’s a vestige of my Scandinavian inheritance, an expression of my ecological outlook, the influence of my Venus in Virgo, or some combination of all three.  Anyway, I get some kind of kick from “making do” with whatever is at hand, and “doing without” takes on a value 180º opposed to the drive for possession that powers our consumer culture.

Partly due to this trait, the objects I own teeter on the edge of obsolescence, especially when it comes to technology, a fact apparent when I post since, without a smartphone or a sophisticated camera, I have no pictures of my own to upload.

But I actually do own a low-tech digital camera because my friend Uma gave me her old one.  She has gadgets because her movie star son sends them to her, but their demands flummox her easily since she’s 30 years older than I am.  Stymied by this particular camera, she passed it along to me, without, sadly, any of the cables for power and transferring images.  After sacrificing a handful of AA batteries, I learned this particular model chews them up, so now anytime I do use it, immediately I’m forced to turn the camera off and remove the batteries if I want them to still have a charge next time.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve found a virtue in the midst of all this inconvenience.  True, it lessens my ability to capture candid shots, but then it forces me to decide which pictures I should try harder to remember with my own imperfect, god-given faculties.  More importantly, however, it keeps me from taking bad pictures and shoving them under people’s noses as if they had any merit.  I know myself well enough to realize that a smoothly-working digital camera would only lead to endless photos of my cats, few images of which would express their ineffably adorable qualities, and a host of indistinguishable images of flaming skies as the sun rises and sets.

Last year I learned that there were card readers that transferred digital images from a camera’s memory card to one’s computer, but despite some good intentions, I could never get around to purchasing one.  Then yesterday I brought home a refurbished iMac with a card reader pre-installed.  I’m not sure what this means for my blog.  Will bad images proliferate?  I hope not.  But arguably this blog serves no other purpose than a scrap book for who I am:  a woman moving slowly into the 21st century with her cats, her sunsets, her strange quirks, and her dreams.

Below is an image of my pool.  Seeing it again in all its glory after so many months, even digitally, makes my heart glad.

my dream of summer

my dream of summer

May day thought

May 1, 2014

One of my jobs involves downloading orders for prints that celebrate special occasions, like birthdays, anniversaries, and baptisms.  Full-blown misanthrope that I am, a lot of eye rolling occurs on a daily basis as I read messages sappy enough to make one’s cavities ache.

Yesterday a message for a birth or baptism print came through as follows: “The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.”

Something about it hit me as wrong, but I had too many things to get done that morning to give it more thought.

Later that rainy afternoon, while watching the Berry College bald eagle nest camera, I finally did a full session of qi gong after a long winter of doing nothing.  I think the 9 week old eaglet inspired me.  She’s leaping off branches and stretching her terrific wings as she bounces across the nest.  There was a joyful playfulness to her movements that reminded me of children, but I also realized how important all this activity is for her.  This little eaglet is getting ready for controlling the power of her wings as she takes off and lands, for grabbing her wriggling prey, for sensing the pull of the wind.  Then it hit me: it takes a lot of work to fly.  Only some numbskull who uses the natural world to justify their blindness and HUMAN faith could come up with this statement that erases all of the hard work a bird (or any species) does to stay alive.

Nature has a lot to offer us, including the mystery of otherness.  But until we drop our assumption that the planet and all the other species that live here revolve around us, we’ll be stuck with these outlandish rationalizations that serve to justify our destructive behaviors.

Here’s the link for the the eaglet’s nest cam.  I am a certified eagleholic:

wish list

May 28, 2012

At the beginning of each month I write out a list of what I’d like to buy with my disposable cash. I’ve been doing this for years now.  I’ve been so broke at times that the smallest things — moisturizer, hangers, running shoes, a swim pass — are great luxuries.  Now I find that when I start whining that all I do with my income is pay bills, I can take out this list, see what I’ve wished for and checked off, and shut up.

It’s certain that I don’t get to everything on my list the first month I write it down.  May has almost spooled out her days and “batteries” remains, for instance.  Batteries for the camera my friend gave me so I could take pictures of Bandit (he’s so cute I’m afraid someone will grab him and I’ll be making “Lost kitten” signs); batteries so I could take pictures for this blog.  I know next month’s list will identify “haircut” and maybe “save for vacation,” but I’m hoping “batteries” will eventually be crossed off.  It’s long past time for something visual.

The beauties of spring have rushed by:  azaleas and lilacs, peonies and irises, locust and catalpa blossoms.  Even the honeysuckle has gone, leaving the fireflies alone to decorate the twilight.  As I think about what lies ahead, I can write down the things I wish to purchase, perhaps because such wishes are small — they are merely material goods, in the end, those things easily foregone.  But I can’t bring myself to name any dearer wish for this summer like love or art, joy or peace.  Being a clever girl, I could rationalize my resistance, but deep down I’m simply a coward.  To name one’s desire is to provide the terms of one’s failure.  

A friend copied down this Sophocles fragment on Aphrodite which I will lean on to complete this unfinished thought:

She is called by many names
She is Hades, she is immortal life, she is raving madness, she is
untempered desire, she is lamentation.
In her is all activity, all tranquility, all that leads to violence,
for she sinks into the vitals of all that have life.
Which among the gods does she not wrestle and throw 3 times?
She rules over the heart of Zeus without spear, without iron.
All the plans of mortals and of gods are cut short by the Cyrian.

Name or unnamed, the truth is that desire lies deep within us, moving our lives forward.  This summer I will try to work harder wrestling with the important battles and leave the shopping lists for another season.

All About This Shit

April 18, 2011

(I can’t figure out how to change the font on this piece, although I have tried several times.  For those of you who can see it and decide to read it, thank you.)

I’ve been hunting morels (successfully!) for a little more than 10 days now.  At first I managed to maintain some emotional detachment.  With three years of hunting behind me, I know a few things about morels.  One is to strike the right note of humility since you can never be sure if you’ll find them or how long the season will last.  By now I’ve found my fever is under weigh, having slipped its last practical moorings.  The only thing that seems real to me is being out in the woods as sunlight dances across the forest’s floor while I search endlessly for mushrooms.

It’s crazy how it’s taken up occupation in my mind, flooding into my dreams, my conscious thoughts, my schemes.  The other night I set my haul in a stainless steel bowl.  No more than 2 or 3 inches high and most of them much smaller, they were a jumble of polished river stones or ocean shells, their surfaces still damp from the earth.  With a palette of ochres, greys, and ivories, their lighter colored gills carved out intricate veined patterns, casting off the light from the bowl.   Their tracings of shadow and light reminded me of another dappled creation of nature that gives me immense pleasure to look at – my cat Clarabelle.  Because I can’t haul out my mushrooms every so often and appreciate them without the unfortunate side effect of mauling them, I’ve taken to cooing “my little mushroom” to Clarabelle.  To me it’s axiomatic – anything I think is beautiful reminds me of my cat.

My excitement caught fire when my friend Rachel took me a new spot 30 miles from where I’ve been hunting.  I hadn’t thought we’d find anything, mostly because I thought it might be a little early, and then once we got there, the floor didn’t seem right.  But there’s always something new to learn about morels, one more reason to love them, and Rachel found the first one, a small white.  After an hour or so, we left with a ½ pound and the indelible memory of the spring forest’s wonders. 

The first ¼ pound I found April 6th went into a frittata; the second ½ pound gathered a few days later was shared with Andy, Rachel and Isaac – local beef stew and garden asparagus and morels tossed with egg noodles.  Yum!  The first full pound I picked I decided to sell to a local restaurant.

I don’t worry about selling my morels, but I do spend time deliberating whom I’ll contact.  Last year I sold ½ pound to my landlady, not having to leave the property to complete the transaction.  My foodie friends would pay or barter as would the 2 upscale markets and my one or two extremely rich acquaintances.  Once I decide to sell to a restaurant, deciding which restaurant is a matter of happenstance.  This month Rachel sold some of her lamb to one, so I decided to call that number first.  I’ve recommended this spot to out-of-towners because I’ve been there enough to sense there’s always something on the menu worth ordering.  The cooks there don’t fail as often as some others. 

From my vague knowledge of the local restaurant scene, this new guy seems to be publicly grooming himself as one of the area’s several Local Food heroes.  I recall a picture that accompanied a food mag’s article where his arms are crossed, a study in a chef’s cockiness.  Still, he was laughing which made him a little less irritating than those who move through Charlottesville in their chef whites.  Seriously!  Chef whites are intended to be worn only in the kitchen to ensure hygiene, not to stroll around town in.  I saw one chef sporting them in the Monticello garden.

This guy answered the phone when I called (I no longer leave messages when I’m selling morels; I just go down the list until someone tells me “yes”) and immediately expressed interest.  Good sign.  I explained how I was pricing, that these were the first morels; that if the season went well, I could drop the price, but that $25 a pound was what I was asking.

“Let me check that price point on the internet,” he said.

 I was a little bewildered.  I didn’t know of a site where local foragers posted on the internet.

“I’m checking the prices in the Pacific Northwest,” he told me.  “Hold on just a second.”

Wasn’t this about using local produce?

I don’t know if he got a response to his price query, or maybe realized he was going at this bargaining the wrong way, but he didn’t take long to agree to the sale.  “You say the season’s just beginning?” he asked before we ended the call. 

I told him it was bound to get better with temperatures moderating and rain in the forecast. 

“Do me a favor and keep me in the loop, okay?  ‘Cuz I’m all about this shit.”

Something about this got under my skin.  Here was a guy who wouldn’t have even known morels were popping if I hadn’t told him, and he’s “all about it.”  “No,” I wanted to reply.  “Until your hamstrings are aching from trudging up slopes and you fall to sleep with images of morels in your mind’s eye, you’re not all about this.”

Later I told Rachel that this guy took himself a little seriously.  She agreed, adding, “I have a soft spot for people who take themselves seriously, having been one of them myself.”

It’s true:  there are much worse things to take seriously, and it’s easy to mock the newly passionate converts.  But what to me is the essence of something like morels isn’t to be worn like the newest fashions.  Morels have nothing to do with Facebook and Twitter.  You can’t “like” them with a simple keystroke.  Finding morels requires a total engagement with the natural world that is the point of eating, whether it’s local or otherwise – an engagement that humbles in what it reveals about how little we know of the world and blesses us with beauty and nourishment in spite of our shortcomings. 

Because I’m older and wiser, I’ll do my best to give this guy, and all those other local food acolytes, some time and space to learn.  Morels might be created perfectly, but the rest of us need much longer growing seasons.