Restoring The Waters

Category Archives: Ecology and Art

Restoring the Waters ~ Community Puppet Theater

As you may or may not know, Jim and I live in rural New Hampshire in a small village called Wilmot. For a small community, Wilmot has a big heart: our library is a treasure, with a librarian unlike any librarian you’ve met or imagined. We have a Post Office; a gazebo for summer music; a farmer’s market; a veterinarian; a quintessential New England white clapboard church; a town hall complete with stage; a restaurant whose chef won’t show up unless you’ve made reservations; a vintage clothing store; and a building supply and showroom. Most of all we have abundant wildlife including (but not limited to) wonderful wonderful humans. Artists, poets, builders, furniture makers, farmers, writers, naturalists, bikers, and we all seem to muddle along with with one another.

It’s been a long time since I introduced the Restoring The Waters Puppet Theater on this blogging site. A year, in fact. But . . this MAY be the summer we offer our first community production, an adaptation of a children’s book which really isn’t a children’s book, Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, by Douglas Wood. I use the word may in conjunction with our first summer production, because its actuality depends on the response of the community. This is not and never will be the Jim and Caroline show. We have been looking for actors (characters from the book and beyond), and offering Wednesday evening mask making and costume design workshops.

The first Wednesday we met, Jim brought in a five gallon bucket filled with surprises: netting; a frisbee, PVC pipe scraps, chicken wire, a few tools, a hard hat, wire wraps and wire clippers, and that didn’t begin to exhaust the contents. The next day, one of the young people attending went down into her basement, retrieved a now-too-small basketball hoop with net and brought it up into the kitchen. Her mom reminded her that it was for the yard sale, and this young person said, “no, I may need it for my mask. Or somebody else might.”

A friend who runs the Wilmot Transfer Station collects things he thinks will be useful: paint buckets with an inch or two of paint; wire mesh; wooden dowels; big sheets of cardboard. The wire face of an old electric fan makes a most excellent shield. Yard sales are rich in treasure! The colorful enamel buckets which perch on the heads of the Bucketheads were 25 cents apiece at a barn sale up the street.

This is a multi-generational effort ~ young people, singles and couples, groups, parents, and grandparents. We are not so attached to the outcome (the production itself) that we can’t let it go if the community engagement isn’t there. Still, we are proceeding as though there will be a show, August 24th. If it flies, it will be beyond amazing.

There is more at stake, though, than a one or two night production. Those willing to adopt animal roles (or the roles of wind, tree, mountain, or water) have an assignment beyond the making of mask and costume and showing up at a couple dress rehearsals. We are asking people to come to know the character(s) they’ve chosen. Why did you choose, say, a porcupine? How does a porcupine move? What does s/he eat? What habitat does a porcupine require? Who are his enemies? How are humans participating in making life challenging for a porcupine. What is the gift that a porcupine offers the biotic community?

At one point in the adaptation of the story, the characters will adapt a Council of All Beings, to share with the audience who they are, what they bring, and what they need. Our hope, of course, is to explore more deeply the living web and eco-systems of New Hampshire. Wendell Berry, among others, reminds us that if you love a place, you can’t destroy it. Although we’re working with New England systems, we’re expecting an exotic or two ~ perhaps an elephant or a cheetah. And what is a production without our Tundra swan (our neighbor calls her the Big Duck) and The Mother of the Waters (otherwise known as Mad Kate).

Along with the characters, we are slowly building the infrastructure: a light and sound technician; a narrator; several set designers, musicians, and enough bodies to make this happen.

The venue is a small local beach on Tannery Pond, where we will make use of everything that already exists: swing set; slide; monkey bars; trees; a foot bridge; a house across the street; a spit of land; and a snack shack.

Those of you reading this who might be local, we’re asking for your participation. And those of you around the globe, who are not able to justify a plane or train ticket to NH, just hold us in your heart and think kind thoughts as we try something new.

We all know, I think, even though we live as though we don’t believe it, that changes are coming to all our communities, whether rural or urban. We are on the downside (or very close to it) of our capacity for oil production. Communities are going to have to move more quickly than we’re ready, I think, to rely increasingly on the gifts and abilities of one another, including, for example, local food production. As life becomes more local ~ I like to think of it, paradoxically, as more (not less) spacious, we’re going to need to know one another in new ways, to trust one another, and to rely on one another.

As Jim and I consider what we might have to offer into our own community, this is it ~ an opportunity to build friendships through the arts, the experience of being at play with one another, an invitation to look at things in new ways.



Courage Earth Retreat

For those of you who might not yet be familiar with the work of The Center for Courage and Renewal, I am including a link to a richer explanation. Sally and I would love to host you at the Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center, with its extraordinary relationship to the Columcille Natural Park, a park rooted in Celtic spirituality and inspired by the Isle of Iona off the coast of Scotland. A description in depth for this particular retreat is on the Restoring the Waters website.


For All the “Bostons”

I was going to write today about the aging and broken grey poplar at the southwest corner of our house, and the discussion as to whether or not it needs to come down.

It will have to wait.

So many things I do not understand. The Boston Marathon is a moment of joy in a hardened world. It’s an icon of hope for global engagement and peace; it symbolizes a potential for healing in our broken lives,both individual and collective; it stands for beauty and resilience, for courage, for a profound commitment not only to live the lives we are given, but for the hope of transformation.

I honestly don’t know what we are supposed to do with the day’s bombings in Boston. With the deaths and the injuries, and the understanding that this particular woundedness is reflective of the violence and injury around the world, in every pocket, human and non-human ~ earth, sky, water, creature.

I don’t know how to hold this day, this beautiful and iconic and perfectly sun and blue sky day. How do we hold this against the violence we we want so badly to flee in our day to day, hour to hour world? How do we look at it, straight on? How do we come to know today in Boston as symptomatic of the deepest possible wound of disconnection?

Maybe the next question, is how do we choose to live?

This is what I know, and believe me, it is scant comfort in the face of tragedy that we in the privileged west can’t begin to know. Some know it. If I were to hazard a guess from an embarrassingly comfortable place, I would say that our servicewomen and men know, I would say that our embedded journalists might know, I would say that those to whom this country has given asylum know and know best.

This is what is on my heart tonight.

We cannot turn away.

We cannot fix it.

We cannot address all of it.

We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of numbness.

We are not allowed to think that what happens in Boston is any more or less significant than what is happening with the lost girls of Sudan, or the baby seals lost to the hunt, or the diminishing rainforest, or the casualties of the drone strikes, or the attempted dismissing and disempowerment of Occupy, or the West Virginia mountain top removal, or your next door neighbor’s clearcut of 400 acres, or female genital mutilation, or the open fire on the students and faculty in Newtown, and there is no end.

The violence is systemic and extreme, and we know that constant violence can actually change a person’s brain structure.

The question I am holding is this: how will we choose to live?

I do not know how to do this. Or at least I do not know how to do this well.

I only know this:

there is no “hierarchy” of violence. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about two deaths or two thousand, or two hundred thousand; it doesn’t matter whether these deaths are local or global, human, non-human, mountain, water, air, whether they happen in designated war zones or in Boston, in the lands of the First Nations peoples, or in the West Virginia Coal Country, in the Alberta Tar Sands, or in the Gulf of Mexico, the Persian Gulf, the coral reefs of the world’s oceans, in the illegitimate housing foreclosures, in genetically modified foods, in the rapid extinction of species. “I do not want to die here,” says a Gitmo prisoner . . . there is no hierarchy of violence.

I know this as well. Humans have disconnected ourselves from the natural order. We have forgotten that we are of and not above what Thomas Berry calls the earth community, what Aldo Leopold calls the biotic world. And from this disconnect has emerged a relentless sense of human entitlement, the markers of which – among countless others – are greed, wanton destruction, an alarming shortsightedness of vision, a dispassionate and self-serving government.

This very disconnect is the source and ground of all violence, this I know.

And I know one more thing: the human soul is longing to remember . . . longing to return to its homeland, the markers of which are compassion and kindness, generosity, resilience, courage, and the willingness to release all other markers.

So . . . how do we hold all this? I don’t know, and if I begin to name things, I will forget most things. But still . . . Some of us sit in the Zuccotti Parks of the world; some of us write; some of us rearrange the introvert inside us and take the message on the road; some of us raise children; some of us grow vegetables without fertilizer; some of us simply sit in beauty (my model is our dog Carson, the reincarnation of Ferdinand the Bull); we write poetry; we make art; we build up our communities; we serve the earth community; we love as best we can; we make kindness and generosity our mission; we find ways to engage in healing.

We refuse the option of numb. We refuse to turn away.

It’s not much. But I do believe it’s required, and I do believe it’s enough. This is what is asked of us.

Mapping and Mindfulness

I did not know I had a passion for maps and map-making until 2007, when Ira Flatow interviewed Vincent Virga in celebration of the release of his book, Cartographia. Pre-2007, for me, maps served the useful function of getting me from one place to another. As I have always been directionally challenged, I did exhibit an element of gratitude, often kissing a map which had brought me successfully to where I wanted to be. Thank you. Thank you.

In 2007, I heard Vincent Virga tell the Science Friday listeners that maps tell stories. The serve as time machines. They speak of cultural expression. In order for a U.S. born citizen to understand, say, a Chinese map, one has to understand Chinese sensibilities. Maps have meaning far beyond the criss-crossing of highways and the contours of mountains or the depths of lakes. Maps are visual memoirs, the expressions of the map-makers. Rarely objective, sometimes humorous, sometimes ego-centric, maps speak to emotions and psyches, serving as the visual metaphor of their time.

Consider, for example, the Steinberg map of Manhattan which once graced the cover of The New Yorker magazine. The heart of this map is a straight shot due west, crossing 9th Avenue and then 10th, on to the Hudson River. On the other side of the river is a pencil thin stretch of New Jersey, then a swath of land the color of corn, dotted with Kansas City, then Nebraska. To the left, on this swath of land Steinberg plunks Texas, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles; again to the left, Mexico. To the right, on this landscape, Chicago and then Canada. Beyond Nebraska is the Pacific Ocean, and at the ocean’s horizon, in the palest of blues, and moving from left to right, China, Japan, and Russia. This map is telling a story, making a point.

I bought Virga’s book and reveled in my newly discovered passion for a few months, then allowed the compendium to gather dust on my bottom shelf where all the big books go. I didn’t revisit my passion until it was re-ignited a few months ago, by another Ira Flatow interview, this one even more creative and imaginative: he and his guests explored mapping by sight; mapping by hearing; mapping by smell; mapping by touch. A whole new world opened up on the short drive from Wilmot NH to Concord. One guest spoke of mapping neighborhood power lines, traffic signs, neighborhood pumpkins in October, graffiti. Then he began to speak of mapping the leaf light, light coming through leaves of trees in the summer.

Light coming through the leaves of trees in the summer . . . Once again I was hooked, because I understood for the first time that not only could maps be a source of gratitude, humor, and narrative, but also an invitation to mindfulness.

What would be required of me to map the trees in our beautiful woods? What would be required of me to map the bird songs along the 3 mile loop I walk with our dogs? Or to map the dogs themselves? Mindfulness, not my strongest attribute. What if I were to map the dandelions from one summer to the next? Or the flight patterns of the swallowtail butterflies who’ve arrived in droves in northern  New England. I am not a particularly good tracker by foot-print, but what if I could map the animal scat throughout the Esther Currier wildlife refuge in Elkins, NH?

Through mindfulness, I would come to know my neighborhood, my non-human neighbors. I would become familiar with particular habitat, wildlife corridors, migration patterns. Through mindfulness I would know what to plant and where to plant it to increase the diversity of my neighborhood. Mapping, gratitude, and mindfulness . . . I would come to belong.


Deepening Ecology ~ the Acknowledging of Grief Part 2

It is difficult for me to write about the Council of All Beings for several reasons. One, I cannot remember or imagine this ritual without tears. I guess that’s a good thing, given that the intent is to step into the pain of earth’s destruction, to mourn, and to acknowledge accountability. Two, I am simply not up to the task, and so embedded within this post are links to articles and books which ought to grace the book shelves of any compassionate human.

The ritual itself carries a far more profound depth of experience, if it’s preceded by the process of mourning and remembering.


In pretty much all my recent writing, I have challenged humans for our sense of privilege and entitlement – for our “set apartness”, our anthropocentrism. I can (and have) talked and written voluminously about human interconnectedness with all created forms, and yet I am convicted by the realization that until I am able to grieve the ruin, devastation, and extinction of an astonishing diversity of beings, I am serving as a kind of talking head. It’s a hard thing for me to admit. I guess I thought I could insinuate myself into the company of all those working from an eco-spiritual ground without having to feel Earth’s pain.

The first of the movement toward a ritual Council of All Beings, then, requires mourning. Joanna Macy uses the term to refer to the moral pain for what humans are inflicting on the natural world, and it includes not only grief, but fear, anger, despair, and a numbing paralysis. Macy writes, I have come to see deep ecology as an explanatory principle both for the pain we experience on behalf of the natural world, and for the sense of belonging that arises when we stop repressing that pain.


Think of this as an evolutionary remembering. Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks of the atoms of our bodies – of all bodies – “stardust”. We are of stardust. He describes the process whereby the chemical elements that we recognize today were forged in the centers of high mass stars which, having become unstable, exploded, scattering such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen throughout the universe, elements which formed gas clouds, then stars with planets, and ultimately, life. Stardust.

Remembering in the sense we need to remember isn’t about yesterday’s walk in the woods, or the silly songs my mom used to sing with her ukelele. The better word may be anamnesis, a remembering from the very beginning, a remembering of our star nature before we were humans.

 The Council of All Beings

For those who are participating in the Council, the first step is to allow ourselves to be chosen by another form – animal, plant, or natural feature like swamp or desert. A certain spaciousness is required of us, time, and deep listening. The question is “who is asking me to speak on its behalf?” The next step is to fashion a mask and/or costume, something that visually represents the form that has chosen us. Wolf, mountain, glacier, bird, tree. It’s a good idea to spend time with a totem, learning more about its place and role in the world, becoming conversant as to how we humans have disrupted its life, habitat, purpose, how we have compromised its future.

As the people gather, the one who is facilitating the ritual welcomes everyone, and, speaking as her adopted life-form, introduces herself and asks the others in the assembly to do likewise. Macy describes it as a kind of roll call, I am Canadian Goose; I speak for all migratory birds. I am Mountain, I speak for all mountains.

In the first stage of the ritual, the beings speak with one another, sharing their stories of hardship at the hands of humans, sharing the effects of pesticides, for example, mountain top removal, destruction of habitat for the sake of what humans call progress.

In the second stage, a few beings at a time are invited to remove their masks and move into the center of the circle, so that the other beings are able to address them directly, the humans who have caused and continue to cause such damage. I can tell you, it is hard to hear this, particularly for those of us who have kept ourselves separated from the direct causality of the destruction. You want to shout out, “no, it’s not me. I’m not the one.” Yet we are all participating in a colluding kind of way. Macy refers to it as the releasing of moral immunity.

Ritually, the humans are set apart, isolated. It’s what humans have been doing for millennia, by our own sense of entitlement, but now we have to hear and acknowledge how such set-apartness has cost all creation including ourselves.

In the third stage of the Council, the other life-forms offer gifts to the humans. What might be the particular gift that a river stone, for example, might offer the humans. As was the case in stage two, the movement from outer circle of beings offering gifts to the humans in the center is fluid. As a being in the outer circle offers its gift to the humans in the center, that being leaves its mask at the outer rim to enter the inner group of humans, open to receiving the gifts that other beings have to offer.

 On a Personal Note

The gift I bring into my retirement from ordained ministry is the understanding of the transformative power of ritual. This is not new news, and I have been transformed, not, however, in ways appreciated by the institutional church. Just as the anthropocentric ritual of mainline churches forms and shapes humans to understand themselves as chosen and set apart, ritual such as The Council of All Beings forms and shapes us to understand ourselves as not only members of the earth community, but destructive members at that.

As I have said earlier, I am one who has had to walk away from the images of the Deepwater Horizon disaster; I take a circuitous route to bypass the clear-cut along my habitual way into town. I rail at a congress which has so little understanding or respect for our planetary eco-systems; sign petitions against de-listing endangered species; protest against fracking, mountain top removal, the presence of Shell in the Arctic.

Yet I am not yet able to turn and face into the devastation of what we have done and continue to do to our home and all beings who share it with us. I believe and have preached that pain and grief are the complimentary sides of love and compassion. And yet I flee from the pain. I am posting this and the one previous because I have always been “a preacher who preaches what I need most to hear.” I think that it’s probably time to turn into this new direction.