Good Neighbors in the Time of Coronavirus

This morning in the New York Times Daily Briefing there was this short piece that caught my attention:

The limits of a globalized economy were becoming clearer even before the coronavirus, and the pandemic’s effects could cement those changes, our senior economics correspondent writes. “There will be a rethink of how much any country wants to be reliant on any other country,” said Elizabeth Economy, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

And from this paragraph from a longer article by Chris Rhodes written in April:

It might appear sage, therefore, to prepare the ground in advance of any collapse; to divert our resources and planning away from the proverbial global village, and toward a globe of villages. The currently enforced “working from home” may become part of the new normal. Thus, although Transition Towns thinking came about primarily through considerations about peak oil, all essential efforts toward re-localisation and community resilience may provide the strongest available single buffer against the many storms that are likely to prevail upon us.

So, there is a growing understanding of the danger of our globalized world and maybe this will be the moment when we truly change how we live on our beautiful planet. For almost 15 years I’ve been active with the Transition Town Movement both locally in my community of Charlotte, Vermont and nationally. The Transition Movement emphasis has always been on supporting healthy and happy communities and neighborhoods. I’ve been very influenced by the rightness of this effort. It includes creating a strong local economy, weaning ourselves from over-consumption and the globalized markets, caring about our effects on the environment, and searching for ways to reduce our carbon footprints.

So, it seems so natural and right to live in a neighborhood where we know each other well, are welcomed into each other’s homes, and where we care enough to help out when help is needed. I live in a small town in a section where there’s a small group of homes that have been built and inhabited over several decades. A couple of decades ago there was a concerted effort to create a well-connected neighborhood with summer celebrations, potlucks, and fun. The outcome of those efforts is a place where neighbors know one another, help each other, and check-in with each other on a regular basis. And this was way before the Coronavirus came into our lives.

Louis and I lived off-grid for a couple of decades and when a huge ice storm hit, eliminating power to homes for almost two weeks. We were the house that still had electricity and so neighbors came to take showers, watch a movie, or just hang out. Now, in the time of Coronavirus, we neighbors are shopping for one another, picking up orders for take-out meals to help support local restaurants, taking walks (with the required six-foot distance), talking on the phone, and having Zoom chats to help stay connected. For those who live alone, this can be a great life-line. We’re also a bit of an aging group, so we can make sure everyone is safe and healthy. I feel blessed to be surrounded by these loving neighbors.

I hope everyone can create such a place, not only for this moment, but for the rest of our lives. All it takes is a phone call to begin that journey.

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The Small Stuff

One recent morning, as I was reflecting on a book I had just finished, Carbon Civilisation and the Energy Descent Future: Life Beyond this Brief Anomaly, by Samuel Alexander and Joshua Floyd, and one that I was reading, Climate: A New Story by Charles Eisenstein, I had one of those ah ha moments—a new heart-opening and eye-opening to why what we do now is critically important for the future. Both books look at the crisis we face as humans and help us understand the immense tragedy in which we live. As compelling and, in the case of Eisenstein’s book so inspring, I think there’s something more for us to understand.

At about the same time a friend sent me a link to an article about how much more important the big stuff is and that we’re not going to change the direction of our increasingly dangerous climate crisis by just changing our personal lives. As I travel, encouraging people to make personal changes, I often hear the argument that the personal stuff is peanuts. Instead, the arguer insists that what is needed is policy change at the federal level and that we must put all our efforts into that change. It’s a compelling argument.

How can carrying reusable shopping bags and coffee cups, recycling, composting, and purchasing second hand goods possibly change the world? What difference can one person make in the giant planet? Those who argue for the personal change approach often quote Margaret Mead’s famous words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” And that is also a compelling argument.

We know that we have grown into a consumer culture. It’s a culture that doesn’t bring us more contentment, happiness, or joy. Instead most of us are living empty lives, searching for ways to fill that emptiness with consuming things. And with all that consumption comes plastics and other manufactured goods that are threatening life on our planet and also the ever-growing emissions of carbon dioxide. Although the plastics may be recyclable, it takes a lot of energy to create the single use items. It’s a huge conundrum for us all.

Learning to find the joy in living with less—living mindfully, connecting with family, friends, neighbors—helps us prepare for the energy descent which is inevitable. Remember that in the motto “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” reduce is the first command and reuse the second. We know that fossil fuels are finite and it seems we are working to use them all up as fast as possible. What happens to us when the cheap flow of oil stops? How will we cope in a dramatically different world?

If we can personally build an inner resilience that fills the void, we find we need less. We build that resilience by taking more quiet time for ourselves, getting outdoors to fully enjoy the gifts of nature, reading that which inspires, and finding joy in connection. We are then living the kind of lives that requires less energy and will help make the transition less frightening or tragic. And when we take out that reusable shopping bag at the store, we’ll be reminded of our connection to all of life and our responsibility to that life on our planet. And that responsibility includes working on policy issues at the local and federal level. They are not mutually exclusive. They are mutually connected.

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Listen from a place of not knowing

Louis and I are participating with several others in exploring the “new story.” That story is how we might understand our unfolding universe without relying on the “old stories” of the rights of some to subdue others. The new story combines the wondrous understandings of how our universe and our planet were born and continue to evolve with acknowledging that a great mystery abounds. It’s exciting and challenging to embrace this new story. We look to much of the work of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme.

The big challenge is that our ways of seeing the world have been shaped since we were born, with the old story as the basis for that understanding. How do we peel back, like the layers of an onion, those lenses through which we see the world? How do we open our hearts to a new way of knowing? While we were asking those questions one evening, one person asked, “can we listen from a place of not knowing?” Wow, can we shed sufficient layers so that we will be in a place of not knowing enough to allow new ideas and understandings in?

I’ve not written for awhile, partly being stunned by the happenings in our government, and by being overwhelmed by the numbers of people writing about them and giving advice about how to handle them. I didn’t want to be just one more adding to the barrage. I, as many are, am addicted to the news. I make promises to start the day with inspirational readings, but the computer calls to me to open it and see what new disaster has befallen our country.

So, what really helps me are the small groups of people that I gather with–to talk about our commitments to Earth, to share ideas, to explore ways to strengthen our communities. The New Story Group is one. A reading group Louis and I have been a part of for about 15 years is another. My work on creating the first ever national Transition US conference, to be held in the Twin Cities at the end of July, is another. And my faith community, Burlington Friends Meeting, sustains me, provides hope, and shares love.

My hope for you all is that you will also find the places that soothe your heart and help you continue to have hope.

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Owls and our future

This morning while Louis and I were eating breakfast a Barred Owl chose to visit our garden, landing on a fence post hoping to find some small creature stealing our food and becoming the owl’s breakfast. What an amazing experience to see the wild creatures that inhabit the land we care for. I am so grateful for the chance to live surrounded by so much beauty. And I’m sure the healthy owl, with lots of habitat to hunt and live, is also grateful.

My feelings of gratitude are juxtaposed with my despair and concern over the ever-continuing push by fossil fuel companies encroaching and bullying their way onto places where they don’t belong. Investing in fossil fuel infrastructure, instead of renewable energy infrastructure, will only make the climate crisis worse. And today at Standing Rock, North Dakota we see an extreme example of the bullying and dangers that these companies impose on the most innocent.

Yesterday Rev. Peter Sawtell in his Eco-Justice Notes so eloquently wrote:

The Standing Rock witness is emerging as an exceptionally bold, visible and prophetic witness for tribal rights and climate justice. The Lakota Sioux of Standing Rock, joined by representatives of 200 other tribes, are revealing the way in which our culture’s fixation with oil overwhelms all other concerns — clean water, tribal rights, and a livable climate. The escalating conflict between water protectors and the repressive power of the state echo some of the most momentous events of the US civil rights movement. This is a Kairos moment which must be acknowledged.

My conscience has just been stirred by a renewed awareness of the deep historical roots of the conflict about the Dakota Access pipeline. The Smithsonian Magazine that arrived at my home a few days ago has a deeply disturbing article, “Ulysses S. Grant Launched an Illegal War Against the Plains Indians, Then Lied About It”. The article documents the secret and illegal actions of the US government which led to the displacement of the Lakota from reservation lands. The passion of those at Standing Rock, and the justice of their claims, is rooted in this long history of land theft.

When will we consider the rights of the owls? The people? The waters? The soil? The air? When will we learn to care for all of life on our planet by living simply and urging our corporations and governments to act with conscience and care? There’s so much to do and so little time to make a difference. I pray that today, and every day for the rest of my life, that I will help bring about the future that we all hope for–one that cares for the people, cares for the earth, and that everyone has equal access to nourishing food, good housing, clean waters, clean air, and healthy soils.

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Love of the land

As I was watering and weeding the garden, my mind wandered back to two interviews I conducted recently for an article I wrote for my local newspaper, The Charlotte News. It had been decided that the issue soon to be published (it’s a bi-weekly newspaper) would be focused on agriculture. I wanted to offer an article on home gardening as another form of agriculture prevent across the country and particularly in Vermont. I also wanted to focus on being rooted in the land.

When I think of my own reasons for growing most of our vegetables and fruits, the desire to have a close relationship with the place where I live is first and foremost. It’s lots of work to start the seeds indoors in the late winter, prepare the beds, transplant and direct seed all that will grow. Then there’s constant monitoring for weeding and watering and keeping critters and insects at bay. Then there’s more work harvesting and putting up the food.

It would be much easier to shop at the farmers markets or grocery store. But then I’d lose that direct connection. I’d just be looking at what surrounds me. I wouldn’t be intimately a part of the land.

When I interviewed the two women in my community to round out the article, I found that they had similar reasons for the gardens they tended. One talked about being more aware of the changing seasons and the cycles of the moon. Another talked about how incredible and miraculous it was to plant a tiny seed and see the abundance offered by the resulting plant.

They both enjoyed the aesthetics of the garden–the textures and intermittent flowers. I commented that sometimes the beauty overwhelmed me and I was reluctant to pick the vegetables and destroy the aesthetics, until my rational mind took over and realized how much I would enjoy the harvest for dinner or in the winter to come.

Love of the land. Feeling connected and grounded. Loving the beauty. Being outdoors with hands in the soil. Lovingly picking some strawberries or beans or chard or beets…..

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Summer Solstice and busyness

We celebrated the solstice last night with neighbors and friends who don’t live nearby. It was delightful to watch the full moon rise and to share our connections with Earth.

Summer is the high point of busyness. And this year I’m promoting my new book as well as continuing all the volunteer work. Because we grow most of our own vegetables and fruits and have lovely perennial flower gardens, we must be outdoors weeding, watering, and otherwise tending the gardens. It’s wonderful to be drawn outside. It’s wonderful to be in the midst of the bees and cursing the insects and little animals that are trying to eat our food. It’s wonderful to feel the breeze and the sun and smell how green everything is.

The book is selling well and I’ve had a few interviews, one by Rob Hopkins, the inspiration of the Transition Movement, which is posted on And now the following review of the book (the first official review) is also posted there! I mention Timothy Gorringe in my book since he wrote a book, “Transition Movement for Churches.” The two books are complimentary.

Happy Solstice!

Book review:

Ruah Swennerfelt Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith (Albany: Quaker Institute for the Future 2016)

The planetary boundaries which the Stockholm Resilience identified seven years ago as threatening humanity’s future on earth (they don’t threaten the microbes, of course) are the most ecumenical forces ever: they address everyone – rich or poor, male or female, and in every country. Accordingly they call for a response from everyone, everywhere. At the same time our cultural histories have siloed us into tiny ghettoes called ‘nations’ or ‘faiths’ or ‘races’. Vive la différence! Well yes, but only if we can celebrate and enjoy the difference, and not if it sets us against others in a murderous, defensive, competitive hatred. In the world, as hierarchically ordered as our chicken run, the cockerels (oligarchs, tycoons, political leaders) strut around, call attention to themselves, and trade on division. By contrast Paul Hawken draws attention to the thousands of social movements which are working in one way or another for the common good. They don’t all pull in the same direction, of course, but they do draw on the same reservoir of compassion and longing for a world made otherwise. Transition, as we know, is one of these movements, marked out by its lack of stridency, its emphasis on the positive, its attempt to get people to act together to address or redress the crossing of planetary boundaries. In this book Ruah Swennerfelt, a North American Quaker, offers us snapshots of Transition at work around the world, concentrating on the way in which it speaks to, and makes sense of, all the great faith traditions, including Islam. She understands, what not everyone who writes about Transition understands, its origins in permaculture and teases out the way in which those design principles are woven into a new social tapestry. Meeting a Palestinian permaculturist she rightly sees that, although he and his family could not be a Transition town (because Israel is systematically destroying those possibilities) he is acting out Transition in his own olive grove. In tune with Transition she acknowledges the darkness of our present situation (and we could say a great deal more about this, of course, especially in the UK right now) but she puts the emphasis on the positive. Faiths, as I have noted, are one of the ghettoes we create for ourselves, but on the cover of her book she has a beautiful picture of an inter faith climate march in Rome of all places with a banner saying: ‘Many faiths, one planet’. Her book gives us many illustrations of people from different faith traditions taking action together in a cheerful, celebratory way to transition to a different way of being together on the planet. ‘If we act together it might be just enough, just in time’. ‘Together’ means stepping out of our ghettoes, and only by doing that can we address the immense urgency of the challenge humanity faces. The book offers us a ‘word of encouragement’ , a reminder that the darkness is not all encompassing, and that all over the world, at grassroots level, Transition is already underway. Thank you, Ruah, for that reminder!

Tim Gorringe, Exeter

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Life and death in the natural world

For a number of years I’ve been hooked on the Cornell University bird cams. It’s fascinating watching bird life from mating, egg sitting, baby feeding, fledging, and care after fledging. It’s a close up view which can’t be beat. Of course it doesn’t replace going outdoors to observe the abundant life all around us at each time of year. But for learning the details of behavior, the cams are incredible.

This year I’ve been following four cams–red-tailed hawks at Cornell above the athletic fields, California condors, barn owls in Texas, and peregrine falcons in Montana.

I’ve learned that condors only have one egg or none each year and that the cute (well cute to other condors) little chick spends most of its time alone. At first I felt sorry for the little thing, having to entertain itself each day (unlike chicks who have siblings and who cuddle and poke at each other), until I learned that it was normal to be alone most of the time. I realized that I was projecting my own need and my own type of relationship. That knowing opened my mind and heart to nature and all its incredible diversity in new ways.

The peregrine female had, for many years, met up with the same male each spring to mate, brood, and raise their clutch. This year the male didn’t show up. Some folks were commenting their dismay at his absence and it did feel sad. But several males approached the female and she eventually settled on one of them. But he was very young and, other than enthusiastically mating with her multiple times, he didn’t know what to do about sitting on the eggs or bringing her sufficient food. We got to watch her train him. It was comical to watch him the first time he tried to sit on the eggs. Now he’s a good provider and takes turns with the eggs.

The red-tale’s have been a couple for at least seven years. The have had about five years of successfully raising three chicks at a time. And they’re doing it again. They are so skilled in their work and cooperative. It’s amazing to watch how fast the little ones grow and very dramatic to watch them fledge. A couple of years ago the last one to fledge stood rocking at the edge of the platform and began to take off, changing it’s mind by grabbing onto a bar and hung upside down by one talon for a few minutes. I’m sure everyone watching was holding their breath.

The barn owls are in a part of Texas that has been experiencing extreme flooding. This has made it difficult to provide sufficient food to the chicks. The two youngest died and were fed to their siblings. It was necessary food. People watching were horrified, but every day, every moment, out side there is death occurring. Cornell popped up a warning every time someone chose to see how the owlets were doing, giving them the option not to watch. Well, the weather has continued to be bad and we are now observing three owlets begging for food and the parents return periodically without food. The owlets are slowing starving and who knows what will happen to the parents?

Is it hard to watch? Yes, of course. But I go back hoping to see that food has been delivered. I go back to learn and to be reminded that life doesn’t exist on this planet without death. That evolution only happens because one life gives way for another. It’s a hard lesson.

This morning I was thinking about the extreme weather conditions in the Houston area of Texas with thoughts of my complicity in the continuing drama of climate change which gives no thought to who lives or dies. But I know that the most vulnerable, people and other life, is affected first. We’re seeing mass migrations of people due to droughts and other climate chaos.

So, although life and death is happening every second and has been happening since the beginning of life on the planet, the plight of the owls is also our doing. Another reason to feel sadness today.

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Justice as a foundation of our work and my book is published!

For John Alexander of the Climate Project, Transition would benefit from redefining itself as “a movement of communities coming together to reimagine and rebuild our world”. There has been talk about re-branding the Transition message away from what we react to, instead to what we do. It’s a good change. Our work is positive, not necessarily reactive, though it doesn’t mean we stick our head in the sand and forget the crisis we’re in.

I’ve returned from the White Privilege Conference a few weekends ago. I learned so much about ways to reach out to people who are different from ourselves. I learned so much about my own privilege in this country and how it has shaped my life. Awareness is definitely a first step. But it can’t stop there. What are we doing to engage ALL people in the transition? Do we avoid those who have different political affiliations, who come from different cultures, whose world view is different?

Last weekend Louis and I attended the “People’s Convention” here in Vermont. It brought together people working on labor issues, migrant issues, and climate issues. It was enlightening and inspiring. We need more of these connections made. I will continue to explore the intertwined issues of peace, justice and care for Earth in future blogs.

I am delighted to say that my book is now published. Although the following link goes to Amazon, I do encourage you to purchase it at your local bookstore. We need to support independent bookstores across the country! Here’s the link:

Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith (Text version) (QIF Focus Books Book 10)

I hope you’ll give it a chance.

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What do we care about?

For many years I’ve been promoting the idea that Earthcare means caring about all of life on the planet, not just the “natural world,” but also the humans who live in this natural world. We have to recognize that climate change affects everything and that it affects the most vulnerable first.

When we consider who, among the people on the planet are first affected by the byproducts of the profligate life styles of many, including the pollution of water, land, and air, we recognize that often it’s the poor and often people of color.

What are we doing in our Transition communities to address the inequalities that exist in so many of our cultures? How are we addressing the issues of race in our communities? I’m searching to understand how we talk about these issues. Tomorrow I will take the train to Philadelphia to attend the weekend White Privilege Conference. ( I’m hoping to return to my Transition community and my faith community with ideas for addressing these issues. I want to learn how to have the honest conversation that seems to be missing in much of my life.

We will not have healthy communities in the transition without working on care for Earth, care for people, and make sure that we share equitably the bounties of our work. Come along with me on this journey. Let’s learn from each other. Let’s challenge one another. Let’s be tender with each other. And let’s be grateful that we have the chance to make a difference.

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Digital Sabbath

Yesterday, Thursday, was “Digital Sabbath” in our home. Recognizing how much we were on our computers every day, we wanted to experiment with “unplugging” for a day a week. To avoid temptations, we just don’t turn on the modem in the morning. We’ve already had a morning routine of eating breakfast together and reading poetry aloud, hoping to start our day more grounded in the spirit. So, this was a next step on that journey.

Those first few Thursdays I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. There were so many times during the day that either Louis or I, being curious people, wanted to know the derivation of a word, or some geographic piece of knowledge, or something as mundane as who starred in a particular movie. It was strange not to have that information at our fingertips. And if we thought it was important, we knew we had to write down our question, because we’d sure as heck forget we asked the darn question.

Another phenomenon was that it seemed something important that I expected was emailed on a Thursday. This happened several times. But I did survive not receiving the information until Friday.

We both noticed that we had so much more time for reading, taking a walk, or just generally relaxing. Some Thursdays when the weather kept me indoors, I’ve read a whole book, if it was a novel! As the last three months have passed, I’ve looked forward to Thursdays. I set my “vacation responder” on my email so people don’t get all uptight because I don’t reply right away.

Our rules are: no email and no internet. We do speak on the phone and I do reply to texts with a text. Maybe our rules will change. But we’re taking this Thursday by Thursday. We recognize that we are on a spiritual search for a way to live more simply and more grounded. Maybe we’ll add another day each week. It’s an experiment in living. I encourage you to try it.

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