Today the doorbell rang and the box the mailman handed to me was heavier than I expected. It was:

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I hope it will get my creative juices flowing again, for this blog, among other places. I certainly am fully convinced that any art I make or text I write needs to be made and written “as if the world mattered.” It doesn’t need to matter to the world, as in, it doesn’t need to change the world.  But it needs to be in the service of the world. As for the “as if,” I take that in the sense of: I make it so, I make it the story. I take that in the same vein as the subtitle of the blog: Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. It is not (only) about how things are (however that is) but about my strong intention of offering beauty and story.

I’d been struggling to reconcile two insights: One,  that whatever I do I would do not to change the world, but to change myself. And Two, that I would choose not what I want to do, but what the world needs doing. Those two seem to me very admirable plans, but it wasn’t until I added something to the first that they became compatible: Act not to change the world but to change yourself in the world. Ah, there’s the connection, the hand shake, the hug that gets the blood flowing!

Dear readers (all three of you),

I’ve been an admirer of Ken Rose and his radio program *What Now* for years now. It was through Ken’s first interview with Stephen Jenkinson that eventually I came to be in the Orphan Wisdom School. Stephen could not have talked in such a way as to touch my life so deeply without Ken being on the other end of the line and, of course, sharing the interview. You can hear that first interview here, and I encourage you to explore the other interviews with Stephen and with countless others.

Ken suffered a stroke in February, and he needs our help. I donated to his fund (you can do that through Paypal here) but there are other ways you can help, just by spreading the word about his program so that he knows people need him to return to it, by leaving a comment for him, etc.

Ken Rose needs us because we need him. It comes around, and around again.

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A lot of things are happening with “Inner Work” (after much debate and discussion in our wonderful facilitator’s group this term is now entirely up for grabs, but we’ve yet to find a better one), and with the related, but in-its-own-league “All Things Mortal,” a program to bring a conversation about death and dying to our community.

I hope to write about those soon. In the meantime, even more snow falls.

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Over the weekend we visited our dear friends in NYC. They and more friends joined us at 81 Street and Fifth Avenue West at the Climate March on Sunday. We walked out of the subway station to find what turned out to be 400,000 people! That is over four times what the organizers had expected.

This meant that everything happened a little behind schedule. We stood, waiting, for two hours before our section (the second last one) of the march started moving. (So first we stood for Climate Change Action, and then we marched for it.) Our three girls, ages 9 and 10, bravely stuck with it in the often jostling crowd and the Indian Summer hot, humid weather that at one point threatened with a couple of rain drops.

I think they were impressed and I hope they will remember this experience for their lives: the day they too stood up and marched for action on climate change, with people from all over the world, all ages, all colors. Lots of youth, lots of little kids.

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The moment of silence – 400,000 people, all quiet together – was very touching, and then when the cheering rolled down the Avenue, that gave me the chills.

People's Climate March, 21 September (2) 2014, Kaat Vander Straeten
People’s Climate March, 21 September (2) 2014, Kaat Vander Straeten

As we stood, danced and sat waiting, I listened to the conversations around me. Many were well-informed, others not at all, and there was a lot of talking. What fracking is all about. What is divestment. There was a man who told the story of the lobster boat like we were sitting around a campfire, hearing stories of heroism.

We felt safe throughout and there was fun for the kids too. Mostly we danced, as we attached ourselves to Berkshire 350MA Node drummers, who were just fantastic.

I kept looking for people I knew and had planned to hook up with, but in that crowd? No dice. We couldn’t even hear our cell phones ring.

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I took lots more pictures, which you can see here.

Today, I wore my Green Team cap and handed out kale chips in my local elementary school’s lunchroom. I had mixed the kale with lots of olive oil and salt and pepper and dehydrated the leaves at 110F overnight (10 hours). They were cri-ispy! A big bunch of kale shrank to just about enough to give every kid a taste.

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I like taking the kids out to the gardens, and even helping them with recycling at lunch, but serving them the food that grew in their school garden is the best. Interesting too. At the school they sit at round tables, about eight kids a table. I visited each, offered, and maybe one kid would raise their hand. You know that kale, no matter how crispy and oily, is *green*. The horror! And some don’t know what kale is. But the one kid would take it and eat it and say it’s good and want more, and – hop – all the hands would shoot up.

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Each table also got a ball jar with marigolds from the garden, and my fellow parent volunteer distributed the other veggies from the garden – rainbow carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, and herbs harvested by the first and second graders. Two hours and five grades later, all this was gone!

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Quickly.

Made 25 pints of blueberry jam from Farmers Market berries and another batch from 5 quarts of berries Amie and I picked at a very locally IPM place with friends one thunderstormy afternoon. We came out of the field drenched but happy and surprised we had been picking for three hours. Our tribe will be co-purchasing and canning peaches again.

Blanched and froze 4 lbs of green beans, half of these from our garden, half donated by a friend whose community garden plots are going wild. We’ve been sharing a lot of produce, one garden producing more of this than the other.

Put together two 3-gallon carboys of sweet mead with the winterkill honey, which I pasteurized. They’re bubbling away in the basement and should be done in few weeks – but that won’t stop me from going down there and thieving some for a taste.

We’ve been consistently harvesting onions, green beans, cherry tomatoes (the bigger ones are almost there), kale, chard, squash, zucchini, cucumber and tons of herbs from the garden. That plus our farm share is more than sufficient for our needs, and when I walk into the supermarket nowadays I skip the produce section altogether. I only (and rarely) mushrooms, but then I just spotted an enormous chicken-of-the-woods in the neighborhood, beckoning. Come to think of it, all I buy at the supermarket is the very occasional fish or meat and butter, and predominantly milk.

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With our town’s Green Team had a booth at the Farmers Market yesterday. We displayed all the harvests from the school gardens – all of which went to the Food Pantry this morning – photos of our school composting systems, and talked to people. We also sold some of my Spring honey as a fundraiser, as well as purslane harvested (weeded) from all our gardens. We ended up giving lots of it away and having lots left over too. No worries: I brought it home and made it into potato-purslane soup, most of it for freezing. Yum!

The chickens have been consistent layers and we’re looking forward to the pullets starting to lay (in September or thereabouts)m at which point our bartering power will increase significantly. The two flocks are “together” – well, in the same shared space, namely the chicken yard – during the day, but at night they still retire to their own coops.

Lastly, how lovely, really, to get books delivered that you had forgotten you’d ordered. A big batch for me today: Pioneer Women by Stratton, Pioneer Women by Peavy and Smith, The Klamath Knot by Wallace, The Way to Rainy Mountain and In the Bear’s House, both by Momaday.

My last blogpost worth that name is from March 14, and I haven’t figured our Riot since December last year. One of the reasons for my silence was overall business (explained below), but the main culprit was that all the sites I maintain were hacked (same server). We had to shut down the Green Team site completely, saved most of the Transition Wayland site, and the blog, well, as you can see, most of the sidebar features have disappeared and, as you can’t see, the editor is a right mess, but here’s an update anyway.

Here’s a roller coaster run-down of events.

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On April 21, my parents-in-law arrived from Chennai, India. On Tuesday, my friend and fellow blogger, Katharina, dropped off the 15 chicks that remained in her care – she was on her way to DC and the Reject and Protect Rally. On Wednesday, add to this menagerie my friend R’s 16-year-old, mostly deaf dog for dog-sitting. And me and R saying our goodbyes and leaving all this to them, not to mention the care of the garden and chickens, and the hundreds of seedlings in the basement.

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Where was I off to, that was so important that I could leave all of them, especially Amie (for the first time for so long)? It was Stephen Jenkinson’s Orphan Wisdom School, and I will have to write more about that later. R and I were there, all wrapped-up in the goodness and sorrow of words, till Sunday, when we drove back in one non-stop haul (11 hours). R extracted her dog from the sleeping house, and I crashed, exhausted. The house returned a little more to somewhat normal when Katharina took all but our four chicks back a couple of days later.

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That Sunday Earth Day happened (more on that later too), along with Amie’s orchestra concert at Jordan Hall, and her grandparents’ surprise 40th anniversary present(s) and surprises(s).

Amie named the chicks and started “training” them. Always a joy to watch.

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Our days warmed, with some summery days thrown in, especially Mother’s Day, which we spent out side working in the garden, planting, among other things, lots of strawberries and blueberries. I also finished the drip irrigation in 90% of the garden, all of it running smoothly off the top IBC tote, simply by gravity. The chicks too enjoyed their first outing into the big world.

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I picked up new bees too: two packages. What a joy it is to see them fly again. In other bee-related news, Katharina, who is also a fellow beekeeper, roped me into helping her out with helping the young artist Jarrett Mellenbruch set up and maintain his Haven project at the deCordova museum. More about that soon, too!

My parents-in-law went back to Chennai, and the house is emptier. I like a crowd of animals, so I am glad for the bird song in the house: the chicks, though they now look more dinosaur-like, still squeak quite sweetly. And there is one more bird…

We finally got a friend for Amie’s parakeet, Kiwi, who lost his mate a few months ago. Kiwi had spent some time at Katharina’s (we’ve a veritable animal exchange going here) where he received a mirror, and he had fallen deeply in love with the bird in that mirror. That is why Amie decided to get a green parakeet, female though (hopefully), who looks like that mirror bird. Introducing a new bird is always tricky, so we had them in separate cages at first – having bought a huge new cage. But after some hours Kiwi was trying to push his heard through the bars, and they were singing to each other, so the next day we let Kiwi into the new cage and all was well.

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That’s my quick run-down of events. Lots to flesh out. I will do so, soon, promise! Now let me click the “publish” button and see how this looks!

It’s Winter on the homestead and aside from plodding through two feet of snow to feed the chickens there’s not much to do on that level. There are many other levels to work on, however. I’ve written about  some personal inner work in the previous blog posts. Our tribe of friends meets often for cooking and eating together, and walking. Transition Wayland has started up an Inner Work group – after our first meeting we agreed: “What took us so long!”  But most of my efforts have gone wider. Last year I helped 350MA start up a Metrowest regional node, and I’ve become very involved in the work, mostly on statewide divestment and the Governor’s climate legacy. I do a lot of outreach and media work for them and am finding my stride. We also pitched in on the national fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline with a local vigil.  Then a friend also put me on to organizing a local action in the Friends of the Earth campaign to ask Home Depot and Lowe’s to stop selling neonicotinoids and neonicotinoid-laced plants, which are killing the bees.

A lot of this work goes on indoors, but I wanted to show you some images of the outdoor events: there is lots of snow in all of them! Like good New Englanders, we don’t let that deter us.

Showing Bees Some Love with Friends of the Earth on February 15:

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Protesting the Salem Gas Plant on February 8:

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Almost 400 came to this rally:

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Vigil against the Keystone Pipeline on February 4:

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Climate Change Act Now (s)

That vigil elicited two letters to the editor in our local newspaper. In the print edition the first one, a pro-letter by my friend on the left  in the picture, was immediately followed by the counter-letter. The contrast between the two can’t be starker! I will add links here as the paper releases them online. They’re definitely worth your reading.

Coming round full circle, in all of this I do not forget:

Our planet is not fragile at its own time scale, and we,

pitiful latecomers in the last microsecond of our planetary year,

are stewards of nothing in the long run.
— Stephen Jay Gould

If you would like some music with this post,  I recommend Isakov’s 3 a.m., from which comes the following lyrics:

give me darkness when i’m dreaming, give me moonlight when i’m leaving
give me mustang horse and muscle, cuz i wont be goin gentle
give me slant-eye looks when i’m lying, give me fingers when i’m crying
and i aint out there to cheat you, see i killed that damn coyote in me…

.

One of the first papers I wrote for the professor of Kantian philosophy for whom I would eventually try to write a doctoral dissertation involved an attempt to give “the given” a place in Kant’s idealism. He discouraged me from pursuing this. For Kant the given is always already “the raw sensible manifold of intuitions,” always already in the framework of human perception. Ontology can only be epistemology. That’s all there is to it.

I wish I had found Paul Shepard‘s books then. Maybe I would have gone on to question Kant on this matter or to drop him as a subject of study altogether, instead of plodding on for years of growing discouragement and self-doubt eventually to let it chase me out of academics. But I doubt it. This road along which I found Shepard has been long and hard-won. And even if I had had the maturity to recognize what he was talking about back then, I doubt I would have accepted the consequence, that I would have had to ditch the entire paradigm in which I was studying and staying in this country. I would have had to take a stand, instead of studying others’ stands like a good student of the history of philosophy.

But, though I am increasingly of a mind that Always-Already is really Too-Late, in this case it was not too late to come to Shepard’s iconoclasm, to get a second chance at turning the tables and having a turn at dancing on the board.

***

The given is for Shepard the antidote to the cult of relativism – “the incipient abandonment of positions” – that has thrown a pall over science, education, history, and art alike and landed us in this mess. We view ourselves as a special case: biological evolution has ended for/with us and “cultural evolution” is now calling the shots. Therefore, man is free to make a world according to his desires. He need not be troubled by the long past, his animal self, or any rules that seem given rather than made. Man makes himself, and nothing is given that cannot be remade to his liking. 

If nothing of consequence is given, or prior, then there is no absolute. Without such a foundation, all ways of life, all views, all manner of using nature are legitimate in a democratic society. Hence, writes Shepard, the incapacity of the modern mind to find permanent environmental attachments, the alienation, the destruction.

It is clear what we have to do. We have to accept that

the wild, taken to mean the whole community of species, is the prior question. In fact, it is not a question at all. For there is no alternative to living with wild things… In some part of our skulls there is a wilderness. We call it the unconscious because we cannot cultivate it the way we do a field of grain or a field of thought. In it forces as enduring as climate and bedrock maintain our uniqueness in spite of the works of progress. (Encounters with Nature, 168)

What is given – our ontogeny, to put it simply – is absolute, deterministic. No relativism or Kantian idealism can touch it, not in the sense that it is elsewhere, on some other side of us (and therefore we can still be free of it), but, on the contrary, in the sense that it bears down on us, body and soul/mind, with millions of years of evolution, and weaves us into the shaggy web of all life.

Some say to be

Is to be perceived

I hope that means

that

Nothing is alone.

(poem 1 in 350 Poems)

But that’s like being flies in a nasty spider web, so we thrash about. For centuries we succeeded in rending the fabric that holds us. Our machinery, our efficiencies, our psychologies and ideologies have reduced it all to resources. Bumping up against limits, we idolize the ever faster change for its own sake (novelties, fashion, restructuring, “New features are coming!” ), progress for progress’ sake.  It can’t last long. Shepard, writing for the most part in the seventies, was innocent of the realization of climate change, but when he writes that “there is no alternative to living with wild things,” his words ring with an untimely echo.

We are at that time, an end-time either way you look at it.

***

Shepard knows full well what we’re up against: “This philosophical antinaturalism now conditions most of modern life–so diffused into the tissues of society as to become a mode of perception.”  Shepard’s most outspoken essay, “Ugly is Better” (1977, you can read the short essay here) is well worth a full and close reading.

The disease has burrowed so deeply that it affects our language and, even worse, our actions. Environmentalism, conservation, recycling, “Keep America Clean,” John Muir and the Audubon Society – all for naught. Worse yet, they have made things worse, “a worse disaster for the American environment than an oil spill.”

Anti-little campaigns and freeway plantings are Airwick and deodorant soap–sensory crutches protecting our own perceptions from unwelcome data… It looks at first like counterculture, and it may have been for some. Mostly it was the system taking over the old landscape aesthetic, one with which it could live, and making illusory options–like the modern soap company that in reality owns its own competition… recycling is the ecological slave in the front office. We seem determined to engage in the most frenetic charades and games to avoid reducing consumption and human numbers. (“Ugly is Better” Encounters with Nature, 177-9)

He wrote that in 1977. Look around you. I think it is fair to say he was right.

***

Then what can we do or think or say?

We cannot formulate a new relationship [with nature] out of air… We cannot achieve a fundamentally different worldview by an act of will alone–some individuals can, perhaps, but not societies.

For the present it is just as well. We have only begun to recognize [the problem].

This is not a cop-out. It is not the curiosity of the inventor and capability of the engineer that have been at fault–but rather the zeal to employ every technological innovation for change and newness as ends in themselves. Changing culture is open to the same mistake.

True, but we are almost forty years later now. That is nothing, from the viewpoint of ontogeny, but it may be everything from the viewpoint of our ontogeny. That is why people like Derrick Jensen and now also the mild David Holmgren are calling for an active overthrow of our culture. Those who are not ready to consider Holmgren’s “Crash on Demand” should read Shepard anno 1977.

***

Of late I have seen a lot of quarreling and downright nasty behavior toward one another among activists/environmentalists. People switch “camps,” carve out new camps, defend and attack (Dave Pollards “New Political Map” is a pretty good approximation) all the time, and that is all fine, but the  personal attacking makes me wonder.

So I was  happy to read Dave’s latest blog post, which directed me to Eric Lindberg’s essay “Agency on Demand”. Dave holds with Eric that

our agency is limited, and that our propensity for beating each other up for our different ideas and proposals for coping with emerging system crises and collapses, stems from an exaggerated sense of our own agency.

Eric urges in his conclusion “Let us be patient and tolerant with ourselves and each other.” That’s hard to do as we grow more and more alarmed about out future and our apparent inability not only to control it, but even to agree on what tactics and strategies are most appropriate to cope with what is coming.

So we thrash and with each kick and shove we are reminded that the dominant culture, the “cultural evolution” that is supposed to make us free, may be a tighter straitjacket than our ontogeny ever was.

Do I have any agency left to get out of that straitjacket? Can I change my culture, find a new language, find my way back into the landscape? Can I take a stand?

DSCF5854Last Sunday a group of us carpooled into JP to hear Charles Eisenstein speak at the Jamaica Plain Forum. I spotted him standing to the side at the front of the church, waiting for everyone to settle down and the event to begin, and an uneasy feeling grew in me. He looked out of place in that big, cold, stone church. It was packed, but he looked alone, and bone-tired. When the talk began, he explained he had just recovered from the flu and that his voice was last to recover. It was painful listening to his voice.

Yet there he was, giving it his best.

I loved Charles’ talk, his words, his confidence, his humbleness, his answers to questions and criticism, and how he held everyone’s silence for over a minute all the way at the end. After the talk I took my copy of The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible for him to sign and thanked him for saying that “sometimes we think we have forgotten how to be human, but we have brought reminders along.” I said he gives me hope that we can come fully alive when it is needed and we need to live up to that more beautiful world. All he did was nod “yes,” and that was enough.

After the talk I read his essay, “2013: A year that pierced me,” in which he writes that the did over a hundred and fifty speeches and longer events in 2013, despite  doubts that he was doing any good. He writes,

I cannot keep doing this work – the exhausting travel, the missing my family, the rejection by social institutions that confer money and status – unless I believe that it is worth it, that I am truly and effectively contributing to a more beautiful world, and that such a world is indeed possible… the case for despair is by far the stronger. No matter. It isn’t evidence or logic that sustains me, nor can it sustain anyone else in a life of service.

A life of service.

Later on I spoke with a friend who was also at the talk. She said she hated it. She hated being cold (it was freezing in the church), and the speaker wasn’t giving it his best, it was like he was just rehashing things from other talks, and she felt that being there was a waste of her time. I expressed surprise, said  I had loved it, then told her that there is this thing I do before walking into events like this, where speakers carry in messages near to my heart: I examine my expectations, then let them go (insofar as I am capable, but I think I’m pretty capable by now). Now this friend is an amazing person and she understood. She asked:

“What do you think I missed because I couldn’t let go of my expectations?”

What an amazing question! I answered all the above (paragraph 3). But this is what I should have said:

“You missed the meal.”

In hindsight, what I see is a man who was offering himself up and being eaten. He was already half-eaten, and yet he had come and was serving himself again, living his life of service. Tired and sick, he came anyway, because people asked him to come, because people needed to be fed.

While shoveling snow after hours of tedious and unappreciated activist work and before cooking dinner, the thought of Charles Eisenstein being eaten by those who love him and those who hate him alike made me angry, then guilty. I had eaten. What had I given him in return? Even when I gave him my thanks, was I taking yet another piece? Then I felt scared for him. There must be a way, I thought, for people of service not to be consumed. A balance of some sort? A protecting ceremony? A cadre of helpers? A way of giving thanks?

Of course that was about me – a little run-down, at that moment, a little resentful for not even being asked to do the work, and the work being anonymous, unnoticed, and the results nothing much to write home about. But after a while when I let go of that, I looked at Charles again. Though I still very much grieve that this is how it seems to have to be, and wish that he will not be fully consumed by our demands on him for a new story, for hope, I come to accept the meal he gave so readily.

As he writes in his essay,

Why am I still doing my work? Much as I would like to say otherwise, it is by no means because of any personal fortitude. It is because of the timely help I receive from people like Joshua, people close to me and strangers from around the world who reflect back at me what I know in my heart and cannot believe without help…  This support answers those who say it is foolish to trust in the generosity of others. It is living proof that we yearn to contribute to something beyond ourselves that is beautiful to us.

It is but one piece of giving true thanks to the one who serves us: not to decline it, to accept and thus value it fully, and make the giving of it everything. There is another piece: to then pass it on.

I am enrolling  in Stephen Jenkinson’s Orphan Wisdom School, which begins in April.

The Orphan Wisdom School is crafted specifically for all those people who will fail to live forever, who have come to the idea – or been driven there – that their yearning for a deep life must be tethered to the plough of labour and learning to harrow the hardened field of sorrows and solitary, grey news that has become our corner of this beautiful world, so that children can one day soon be born into to a real, detailed, laboured over Better Day that we ourselves might not live to see.

There I hope to learn how to serve the meal as well as eat it, all of it, with deep gratitude for the giving.

{UPdate} I just discovered this on Stephen’s blog. In this five-minute video he actually talks about eating:


OLD HANDS Stephen Jenkinson from Tim Wilson on Vimeo.