The garden keeps calling me! I know I need to work on the last blog before I leave the States a week from now, but there’s so much work to be done in the Spring garden–weeding, adding compost, mulching, and, very important–planting the early, frost- tolerant plants. I’ll be gone for much of the growing season and want to give Louis as much of a boost as possible. I usually do the bulk of the gardening, while he busies himself with other summer projects. So… the rain clouds began to move in and, I was a bit pooped, and I made the excuse that I had to get inside and get writing.
The garden and surrounding woods help me stay grounded through an intimate connection to Earth–my mother, sustainer, and bringer of great peace and groundedness. Each morning I have been reading chapters of Thomas Berry’s book of essays, Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community, and am so moved by his wisdom. A passage that is particularly meaningful to me is:
“As we recover our awareness of the universe as a communion of subjects, a new interior experience awakens within the human. The barriers disappear. An enlargement of soul takes place. The excitement evoked by natural phenomena is renewed…” And, oh do I feel that renewal from hands in the soil, or a quiet walk, listening to bird songs or the scampering of little animals. And he continues later, “It is no wonder that humans have devastated the planet so extensively. It was only a collection of objects to be used.”
The organization from which I recently retired, Quaker Earthcare Witness, emphasizes that real change won’t occur unless we understand and know our deep connection to Earth, or as they say it–to be in “unity with nature.” So, they see the important task is to help people recover that sense of belonging. The Transition movement places a large importance to the “heart and soul” of our relationship to the planet. That emphasis is part of what draws me to the movement. Without it we’d lose the joy that is so apparent in all those people involved in the movement. An example of this caring and understanding is so evident in the Transition folks I’ve met thus far on this journey and I am going to guess that I’ll meet many more connected souls.
When I met with Steve and Katy (last blog entry) I also had the privilege of meeting with Paul LeVasseur and Simon Renault of Transition Putney, Vermont. Paul has been working in Putney for 20 years doing community organizing work. He had been working with the Northwest Earth Institute discussions which led into Putney community suppers and other initiatives, but things always got to a certain point and the efforts weren’t sustained. Someone then came to Paul and gave him the Transition Handbook and once he read it he knew this was the missing, necessary structure. So Paul, Simon and others started Transition Putney.
Simon was drawn to the movement because it’s very positive and in Putney the goals were about being positive and action oriented. One of the first things they did was to get together with activists in town to read the Transition Handbook and it was so clear that people wanted to DO something. Simon has a vision of people talking with one another, knowing each other, supporting each other, and feeling connected. He talked about needing butter and daring to knock on a neighbor’s door. He pointed out that we don’t do that much any more in our culture. But in a town that felt the connections, it would be a common occurrence. In fact, in the place where I live we know our neighbors very well, through regular get togethers and sharing care of the land. No one would think twice about asking to borrow butter. For Simon the global vision would be the same, but in each community. He hopes the Transition brings a sense of empowerment for everyone. We can’t expect our governments to do that.
In one year Transition Putney held 150 events! Paul and Simon explained that being flexible and open to suggestions for programs was key. Once they got started people kept approaching them with suggestions for events, and Transition Putney’s consistent response was YES!
Paul’s vision for Putney is that people are engaged in a perpetual conversation, that is a visionary conversation, that goes on year after year, where people are continually exploring how they want the picture to evolve. And that the community is one where the people feel deeply connected to one another, that they are respectful of one another, and respected by one another, and that out of these strong relationships there is a sense of resilience and hope, and that we can act on the dream and make it come true.
Paul feels it’s really important to stay local. People are always wanting Transition Putney to collaborate with other towns. Paul believes that the collaboration has to be that they take the good ideas and bring them to Putney. They only work in Putney and this has worked well and has helped keep the momentum. On the other hand, he feels they are creating a model for others to use. But always remembering that the model won’t work in it’s entirety everywhere else, but parts of it will.
In strong contrast to Paul’s understanding of keeping it local, Transition Montpelier, Vermont core committee members don’t even live in Montpelier. They live in surrounding towns. They chose to create Transition Montpelier because Montpelier is a hub city, one, being the capital of Vermont, and two, a city that draws people from the nearby towns to the cultural and many events happening there. They described it as a market town. One member did emphasize that neighborhood development was important and that they were giving some focus to that. They don’t see their Transition work as a formal role, but as a reaching out to activists in the area.
Present at the committee meeting I attended were Annie McClearey of Woodbury, Josh Schlosberg of East Montpelier, Geoge Lisi of Woodbury, Gail England of Calais, Carl Etnier of East Montpelier, and Jim Buckly of Calais. This Transition Initiative also provides an important service and networking for all Vermont Transition Towns through a website (www.transitionvt.ning.com) and a newsletter.
They’re developing their Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) and are struggling with the geographic region it will cover. Although they haven’t had a formal “great unleashing” they had 225 people attend a first party where someone commented that they hadn’t ever been with so many “awake” people. They excitedly described the vibrant energy present at that party. After the party they then had an open space meeting where various interest groups were formed.
Since there were so many good groups doing great things in Montpelier and the surrounding area, it made sense to partner with these groups and provide an umbrella to help them network with each other. I think this is an important approach for all Transition Initiatives. There usually are good efforts going on locally and why not join forces for a common vision?
It appears that their regional vision is an ongoing, alive, and organic process, but not yet defined. The EDAP group is addressing the issues, like transportation, that are not being addressed through an interest group.
When I asked what’s going to happen globally, their first reaction was one of hilarity, stating that they had it covered in their neighborhood plans. Their sense of fun and joy was palpable. They brought up the “cheerful disclaimer” from the Transition Network website at http://www.transitionnetwork.org, which states:
Just in case you were under the impression that Transition is a process defined by people who have all the answers, you need to be aware of a key fact.
We truly don’t know if this will work. Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale.
What we are convinced of is this:
if we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
if we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.
One struggle I witnessed was the fact that being in a state capital, they were very aware of political issues, bills, and topics that needed addressing. They have been the only ones who talked about state-wide political issues that I’ve interviewed. One person during the discussion did keep reminding folks that Transition Initiatives are not political and do not endorse political parties or platforms or specific bills. It’s important to be welcoming to all who come to be part of the initiative, regardless of political affiliation, or cultural or economic differences. And that excites me!
Well, so far I’ve met some incredible people and I’m excited about my travels this summer. I will bring you all along on the journey, just buckle up and enjoy the ride.