Friday, October 21, 2016

Robin Wall Kimmerer is Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and writes passionately and well about the science and beauty of the natural world, and about the human-made threats to its - to our - health and well being. In her most recent book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (2013), she talks about human interactions with nature as seen through the lens of the students she teaches:
One otherwise unremarkable morning I gave the students in my General Ecology class a survey. Among other things, they were asked to rate their understanding of the negative interactions between humans and the environment. Nearly every one of the two hundred students said confidently that humans and nature are a bad mix. These were third-year students who had selected a career in environmental protection, so the response was, in a way, not very surprising. They were well schooled in the mechanics of climate change, toxins in the land and water, and the crisis of habitat loss. Later in the survey, they were asked to rate their knowledge of positive interactions between people and land. The median response was “none.” I was stunned. How is it possible that in twenty years of education they cannot think of any beneficial relationships between people and the environment? Perhaps the negative examples they see every day— brownfields, factory farms, suburban sprawl—truncated their ability to see some good between humans and the earth. As the land becomes impoverished, so too does the scope of their vision. When we talked about this after class, I realized that they could not even imagine what beneficial relations between their species and others might look like. How can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like?
 I thought about this quote last evening as I read the latest issue of Trout Unlimited magazine. The current issue is all about the effects of climate change on the watersheds that support cold-water species like trout and salmon. All across the country the weather is playing havoc with the health of the streams and rivers that support fish and their food sources. Rivers and the life they support have always had to adapt to drought, fire, hurricanes, and monsoon-like rain events, but climate change is accelerating the rate at which these events occur, making it difficult for aquatic life to recover and adapt.

Whitewater River in Whitewater State Park

I have seen this in Minnesota on the streams that I love to fish. The Whitewater River and its tributaries have seen a series of major flooding events over the last decade. The MN DNR says that "mega-rains" are hitting MN with an increasing frequency all across the state: "These trends are consistent with the expectation that Minnesota and the Upper Midwest will receive more precipitation, and more precipitation from large events, in response to increasing global temperatures and increased available moisture for passing storm systems."

If we don't know know that humans are effecting the climate in negative ways... well, how could we not know? And it is only going to get worse. But the question that interests me at the moment is do we know what a beneficial relationship between us and other species looks like? That's where an organization like Trout Unlimited comes in. All across the country, and all across the state of Minnesota they organize volunteers to improve that habitat that supports trout and salmon. I have participated in volunteer projects on the Vermillion River in Farmington. A mostly dead stream has slowly been transformed into a healthy trout stream. Why does this matter? Because it means that farming practices along the river have to be addressed, wastewater treatment systems have to be improved, and citizens and politicians need to be educated and brought on board to support taking care of the environment. If we are going to do something about climate change this is the way it is going to happen. People have to be connected with the land and the water so they learn to love it and care for it. This is what TU does. This is what a beneficial relationship with the earth looks like.

So put down that bag of potato chips and your cell phone and get out there...

For Calling The Spirit Back From Wandering The Earth In Its Human Feet, by Joy Harjo
Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, Poems, Joy Harjo

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the Earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this Earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the Earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds, and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand, or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgement, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return. Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

I walked at Murphy-Hanrehan Park today. I saw a pair of warblers that I couldn't identify, Lincoln's, Song, and White-throated Sparrows, a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets, three Hermit Thrushes, Juncos and Chickadees, and several hawks flying at a distance. We are mostly past peek fall colors here, but there is still some to be seen.

Even the prairie grasses look great.

I came home and mowed grass and leaves. Then I walked out back. It;s October 20 and we still have roses blooming.

The Cimicifuga racemosa is finally blooming. Often we get a freeze before it comes into bloom, but not this year.

We also have hydrangea coming into bloom. I'm sure this endless summer has nothing to do with climate change!

Here's some wisdom from a late bloomer:

“I was a late bloomer. But anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky. ” ― Sharon Olds

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sunday Night Mass

Yesterday evening I took my mother-in-law Mary, mother of my wife Mary Ann, to Mary Mother Catholic Church in Burnsville. There is something about Mary in Catholicism.

This was my second visit there with my mother-in-law this summer. She has been out for both weddings and has been a great help so I am happy to take her to mass. Mary Mother Catholic Church is the more theologically progressive of the two Catholic parishes in Burnsville. It is reflected in their active social justice ministry and their (carefully worded) prayers of inclusion. The music is very good. Yesterday the worship leadership - altar girl, worship leader, scripture reader - were all female. The priest, of course, was not. In the two times I have heard him deliver a homily it is obvious that he puts a lot of time into the message, which is not always the case in Catholic, or Protestant, services.

The gospel reading yesterday was from Matthew 15:
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
This is one of those "hard" sayings of Jesus. He appears to callously dismiss the gentile women's plea for help. It is only her persistence and smart comeback that gains her a genuine hearing. This is not a very welcoming Jesus.

I thought it was interesting how the priest handled this passage. It was a very Catholic message on the rewards of persistence in faith. Jesus' initial brush-off was just a test, giving the Canaanite woman an opportunity to work for her reward. He likened it to his 91 year old mother doing a jigsaw puzzle. He said she loves to work on big, difficult puzzles, plugging away at it for days and even weeks, looking for the satisfaction of the completed puzzle at the end. So it is with faith. If we keep plugging away at good works we can be sure we will get our reward at the end.

He talked about prayer in the same way. We need to keep praying with the confidence that God will reward our efforts with an answer. Although, he said two different times, we should not expect miracles but healing. Healing, he said, is what we should pray for. He didn't define those terms but I thought it was interesting that he made the distinction and assume that at other times he has spelled out what would be a fairly progressive theological distinction.

Still, it was a very Catholic message on faith and works. Traditional Protestantism would trumpet God's grace over works, but then remind us that although God's grace is sure we can never be sure that we have it. But our works are a visible sign that we probably do. In the hands of an unscrupulous Protestant minister it is a back-handed way to keep the flock coming back for more.

There is something to be said for a more straight-forward and fair earn your way into heaven plan of action. If you can get past the creed, the all-male priesthood, the theology of the mass itself, etc. I can't, but the couple hundred who were present for both services I attended obviously can. I am happy for them and for my mother-in-law that they find it meaningful.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bob Herbert Signs Off Saying We Have Lost Our Way

Bob Herbert writes his last column for the NYTimes today and gives voice to my thoughts about our plunge into another war while millions in the US are unemployed:
So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.

Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.

Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.
There is no political will - even from Democrats - to spend money at home to bring down the unemployment rate and tackle the countless number of problems we have here. "We are broke" is the constant refrain. And yet there is barely a murmur of dissent as we commit ourselves to spending billions on another war of choice. It is hard not to agree with Bob Herbert: we have lost our way.

Friday, March 25, 2011

It's Time to Stop Playing the Killing Game

Donald McCartin is a retired Superior Court Judge in California. He was named to bench by Governor Jerry Brown in 1978. During his tenure on the bench he became, by his own admission, known as a "hanging judge" for the number of people he sentenced to death row. As he watches another go-around with Jerry Brown as governor, he thinks the time has come, for moral and economic reasons, for the Governor to end the death penalty in California:
I watch today as Gov. Brown wrestles with the massive debt that is suffocating our state and hear him say he doesn't want to "play games." But I cringe when I learn that not playing games amounts to cuts to kindergarten, cuts to universities, cuts to people with special needs — and I hear no mention of the simple cut that would save hundreds of millions of dollars, countless man-hours, unimaginable court time and years of emotional torture for victim's family members waiting for that magical sense of "closure" they've been falsely promised with death sentences that will never be carried out.

There is actually, I've come to realize, no such thing as "closure" when a loved one is taken. What family members must find is reconciliation with the reality of their loss, and that can begin the minute the perpetrator is sent to a prison he will never leave. But to ask them to endure the years of being dragged through the courts in pursuit of the ultimate punishment is a cruel lie.

It's time to stop playing the killing game. Let's use the hundreds of millions of dollars we'll save to protect some of those essential services now threatened with death. Let's stop asking people like me to lie to those victim's family members.

The Followers of Gandhi and Jesus

Geoffrey Ward begins his review of a new book on Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India By Joseph Lelyveld, with this telling observation:

Some years ago, the British writer Patrick French visited the Sabarmati ashram on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in the Indian state of Gujarat, the site from which Mahatma Gandhi led his salt march to the sea in 1930. French was so appalled by the noisome state of the latrines that he asked the ashram secretary whose job it was to clean them.

A sweeper woman stopped by for an hour a day, the functionary explained, but afterward things inevitably became filthy again.

But wasn’t it a central tenet of the Mahatma’s teachings that his followers clean up after themselves?

“We all clean the toilets together, on Gandhiji’s birthday,” the secretary answered, “as a symbol to show that we understand his message.”

Reminds me a lot of the followers of Jesus.

The Anabaptist Catholic Witness

Over the National Catholic Reporter Michael Sean Winters was musing about recent polling data that shows Catholics - even those who attend Mass at least weekly and who tend to be more conservative on social issues - warming to the idea of recognition for civil marriage for gays. What should be the response of the Church:
The Catholic Church should not bury its head in the sand as Donohue (Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Civil Rights) seems to want it to do. Our approach to this issue, like our approach to many issues in this increasingly secular culture, must be to foster what Pope Benedict has called “creative minorities” in which we live what we believe and hope the beauty our lives evidence will attract others. Allowing ourselves to be lumped with anti-gay bigots is not the answer. We must ask ourselves: Why do others not see the beauty of a lifelong marital commitment? Why do others not see Christ as a part of their marriage? And, why should we be in the business of trying to prevent gays and lesbians from achieving some level of legal stability and protection for their unions? These are not easy questions, even though the loudest voices on both sides of the issue treat them, if they treat them at all, as easily answered.
Benedict's "creative minorities" sounds very anabaptist. It is a recognition that our most telling witness is the witness of our lives. If our lives radiate the beauty of love, sacrifice and commitment then we may find that we will have something that is attractive to offer to the world. The power we have in this way of living is not the power of being able to legislate our way but the power of authenticity which is the only power that ultimately changes hearts and minds. This is, in my opinion, the very best of the anabaptist witness. So it is interesting to hear it being espoused by the Pope.

Change We Can't Believe In

Unfortunately I find myself pretty much in agreement with this comparison by Stephen Walt -- now of Harvard and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -- of the difference between the liberal interventionists leading us into war with Libya and the neocons who led us into war in Iraq:
The only important intellectual difference between neoconservatives and liberal interventionists is that the former have disdain for international institutions (which they see as constraints on U.S. power), and the latter see them as a useful way to legitimate American dominance. Both groups extol the virtues of democracy, both groups believe that U.S. power -- and especially its military power -- can be a highly effective tool of statecraft. Both groups are deeply alarmed at the prospect that WMD might be in the hands of anybody but the United States and its closest allies, and both groups think it is America's right and responsibility to fix lots of problems all over the world. Both groups consistently over-estimate how easy it will be to do this, however, which is why each has a propensity to get us involved in conflicts where our vital interests are not engaged and that end up costing a lot more than they initially expect.

So if you're baffled by how Mr. "Change You Can Believe In" morphed into Mr. "More of the Same," you shouldn't really be surprised. George Bush left in disgrace and Barack Obama took his place, but he brought with him a group of foreign policy advisors whose basic world views were not that different from the people they were replacing. I'm not saying their attitudes were identical, but the similarities are probably more important than the areas of disagreement. Most of the U.S. foreign policy establishment has become addicted to empire, it seems, and it doesn't really matter which party happens to be occupying Pennsylvania Avenue.

So where does this leave us? For starters, Barack Obama now owns not one but two wars. He inherited a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and he chose to escalate instead of withdrawing. Instead of being George Bush's mismanaged blunder, Afghanistan became "Obama's War." And now he's taken on a second, potentially open-ended military commitment, after no public debate, scant consultation with Congress, without a clear articulation of national interest, and in the face of great public skepticism. Talk about going with a gut instinct.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Should I Buy a New Car or Go on an Expensive Vacation

Well, the answer for me is neither. Both my kids are getting married this summer. But if you have a choice and want to know which will ultimately make you happier, Professor Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling On Happiness answers the question in an Atlantic article and says you should pick the vacation:
We favor objects because we think that experiences can be fun but leave us with nothing to show for them. But that turns out to be a good thing. Experiences have the nice property of going away. Cars need repairs, they rust in our driveway, and they ultimately disappoint us enough that we sell them and get new ones. Experiences are like good relatives that stay for a while and then leave. Objects are like relatives who move in and stay past their welcome.

Another reason why experiences beat objects is that experiences are usually social. If you go to Europe you will almost surely go with someone, whereas if you buy the car, you will probably drive it by yourself. We are social animals, and the best predictor of happiness is the goodness and extent of our social relationships. Experiences are more likely to be shared than objects are.
A couple other Q&A's from the article:
You write, "unfettered access to peak experiences may actually be counterproductive." Explain that.

Imagine making love to the person of your dreams. That will be a good day. But the day after will not. The good thing about peak experiences is that they make us happy while we are having them, but the bad thing is that they then serve as a standard of comparison for all the experiences that follow. When researchers looked at lottery winners, they weren't happier than a control group, but they did take less pleasure in everyday events. The big happiness rush you get when you receive the big check is gone pretty soon, and then when good things happen you find yourself saying, "That was nice but it wasn't like the day I won the lottery."

That doesn't mean you should refuse peak experiences. It just means you should ask yourself, "If I have this peak experience, will it make the rest of my life dull and unsatisfying?"

What's the most controversial suggestion in the paper?

If one thing surprises most folks, it might be the suggestion to buy many small things rather than fewer big things. If you asked people if they'd prefer an ice cream cone every Monday for the next few weeks or a great meal at a French restaurant, most would probably take the great meal gift certificate. But it turns out that the frequency of positive events is a better predictor of happiness than intensity of those positive events.
I prefer beer to ice cream but it makes sense to me. And I rarely come away from an expensive restaurant satisfied that the meal or experience was worth the price.

How Great Entrepreneurs Think

Saras Sarasvathy, a professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, has been studying entrepreneurs and how they think. Her conclusion:
Sarasvathy concluded that master entrepreneurs rely on what she calls effectual reasoning. Brilliant improvisers, the entrepreneurs don't start out with concrete goals. Instead, they constantly assess how to use their personal strengths and whatever resources they have at hand to develop goals on the fly, while creatively reacting to contingencies. By contrast, corporate executives—those in the study group were also enormously successful in their chosen field—use causal reasoning. They set a goal and diligently seek the best ways to achieve it...
Would you describe Jesus as a master entrepreneur or a corporate executive? Was he developing goals on the fly or did he have it all planned out from the beginning? At what point did he see a cross in his future? Was this always the short-term goal on the way to resurrection and a church? Or did he start out with other goals - say forming a renewal movement - and eventually come to see his own martyrdom as necessary in order to jump-start something bigger? Was the cross a calculated risk or a painful but necessary step on the way to a global organization?

I'd say he was closer to entrepreneur.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's Snowing Again

These goldfinches are as happy about it as I am.