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 http://www.transitionnetwork.org. 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. (http://www.whiteprivilegeconference.com) 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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Easter morning

As I sit reading and listening to Chopin this morning, I’m so aware of the changes in the earth cycle. The sun now rises farther south than it had at winter solstice. We have a clear view of the Green Mountains to our east and so can follow the track of the sun throughout the year. That sun is shining on my face, the temperature outside being only 37 degrees fahrenheit yet my face is warm from the sun and the coziness in my home.

The onions, planted as seeds only weeks ago, are straining for that sun, their stalks bending to the southern windows in the sunroom. I turn them around each day to help them grow tall and strong. I cut their tops as though they were grass, which strengthens them even more. Soon we’ll have the grow lights all set and will begin to plant the remaining seeds.

It’s such a time of growth and rebirth! I revel in the beauty of the earth and its rhythms. Yet a part of me holds the sadness of the suffering that abounds. The fear and sadness from the destruction in Syria and Belgium in this last week are very much on my mind. The planned fracked-gas pipeline planted in the ground not far from where I live is a constant reminder that we continue to make decisions with a short-term view. It’s what has gotten us in trouble all along. And Bill McKibben’s recent article in The Nation (http://www.thenation.com/article/global-warming-terrifying-new-chemistry/) confirms that fracking is bringing about even more destruction than earlier thought possible.

Yet our very human nature allows us to find joy in what is immediately around us, our grandchildren, our loving partners, our friends and neighbors, and Earth’s great green beauty. And I continue to have hope that we can turn the tide. The Transition Movement provides proof that there are so many people around the world who really care and are willing to give their time and love to make a difference.

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