Restoring The Waters

Category Archives: Links of Green

Citizen of Earth

Francis Bellamy was a Christian socialist minister ousted from his own pulpit for espousing Jesus as a socialist, and preaching against the evils of capitalism. Maybe this is new news for some of us, but Bellamy’s original version of The Pledge of Allegiance was intended for citizens of any country.

I pledge allegiance to my flag

and the Republic for which it stands,

one nation, indivisible,

with liberty and justice for all.

No God entity was in the frame.

I’ve been trying to re-imagine what it might mean to be a citizen, a citizen of something or of somewhere. I do know this. I know that I am a citizen of the land I walk with our three rescue dogs. I know it especially today, in the eye of a blizzard; the woods are darkening in the late afternoon, and I know our path; I know to avoid the ice patches underneath the magnificent snow; I know every tree and boulder, many of them by name. I know I am a citizen of the pond – whichever trail we take – which marks the outgoing destination. And on a day like today, all four of us know the ultimate destination – HOME – where the fires in the wood stoves are as welcoming as the mac’n’cheese in the oven. A night for comfort food. I know myself as a citizen of the land, a citizen of the home fires, a citizen of my family, a citizen of my friends.

What does it mean to be a citizen? What does it mean now, in February 2017, with a man in the White House (at least from time to time in residence) who has little sense of his own heartbeat and far less sense of the pulsing heartbeat of the land, a man who revels in malfeasance and surrounds himself with very white and very male advisors of malfeasance? What are they whispering in his ear? That’s a rhetorical question, I guess, because we know what’s being whispered. Climate change? Nonsense. GMO’s? A non-issue. Immigrants? Why keep them. Refugees? Not on our watch. Non-Christians? Ours is a Christian country. Women? It’s time they return to their place (except the one who can’t seem to find her pencils). Health care? Voting rights? Black Lives Matter? Latinos/as? Asians? People who are poor? We know what’s being whispered. I should probably use the word tweet – we know what’s being tweeted.

To identify as a citizen of the land is a far different commitment than to identify as a citizen of this country, (the U.S.) which is barreling down a path of unmitigated ruin, taking down everything it can with it. I am writing of the earth, the forests, the waters, all creatures, including the humans – many on the brink of extinction – habitat, and the very air that all life forms breathe.

My sister posts on FaceBook: I am hearing about oil spills from the left and from the right, so I thought I’d post this. “This” was a photograph of her winter flowers. My sister is a citizen of beauty and art, and things that grow.

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer identifies herself as a citizen of the Maple Nation of the Northeast. She names the currency in the Maple Nation as carbon. “It is traded, exchanged, bartered among community members from atmosphere to tree to beetle to woodpecker to fungus to log to firewood to atmosphere and back to tree.”

What do we do now?

Like many of us, I imagine, I am overwhelmed to the point of paralysis by the petitions of resistance. I wonder if we don’t have to choose our particular citizenship and trust that others are choosing what we didn’t. Many of us are trying to re-negotiate our citizenship. Canada, we say. Or Ireland. Or Australia. Or Costa Rica. Or even California.

The question I hold, and it’s not easy to find the words, what citizenship do I claim, here in this place where I sleep, and walk, talk to trees and boulders honoring them by name even as I leave special gifts, where I eat, shovel snow, make soup for a friend with bronchitis, and haul wood from the outside racks to the living room? How do I become a citizen of the land, the waters, the denizens of the woods and oceans, and the forests? What is my currency? How do I keep it circulating?

Eco-spiritual Dimensions of Green Burial ~ Sense of Place Part V

In my growing up years, we didn’t talk about carbon footprints, diminishing rain forests, loss of wildlife habitat, and the destruction of boreal forests. We certainly didn’t talk about dying and death, nor our cultural propensity to send off loved ones in mahogany coffins placed snugly into plastic or concrete vaults. We didn’t talk about the behind-the-scenes violence done to bodies by physical manipulation and chemicals, all for the sake of making them look good.coffin

Cremation was rare, and there was no thought given to the toxicity of the chemicals released into the atmosphere. The more money we spent, the greater show of our love; our efforts were – and to a great extent in the West, still are – designed to hide the reality of both the dying process and the outcome. Hospice care didn’t exist in the U.S. until the mid-1970′s. The job of the medical profession was and continues to be to keep a patient alive no matter the cost.

Today I would like to introduce you to Lee Webster, the director of the non-profit New Hampshire Funeral Resources, Education & Advocacy. Lee is a hospice volunteer and a passionate advocate for home funerals and green burials. From the time I was first introduced – I can only describe it as a lightening bolt of clarity – I knew that what she offers is the obvious next step for all of us who are committed to walking a pathway of intention to minimize our ecological footprint and at the same time, create and enrich habitat.cremation

Hers is a rich and comprehensive compendium, drawing together the threads of ecology, family and community, human dignity, ritual, practicality, history, and common sense. Lee has – unwittingly or not – sent me spinning into the eco-spiritual dimensions of home funerals and green burial. My thoughts are mostly taking the form of “I wonder”.

Ecological healing calls to me. As I think on being “buried green”, I wonder, if we humans were to acknowledge our appropriate place within the earth community, as part of, participating in, and integral to it – and therefore of no more and no less ecological value than any other form – would we behave cooperatively and collaboratively with creation? Might we grow a vision of healing that is antithetical to our current sense of human primacy and entitlement? What if we were to share our green plans with our children and grandchildren, letting them know that “buried green” is becoming the new normal? Might we put new thoughts and behavioral patterns into more than a few hearts and vocations?

Ritual, community, friends and family call to me. More than simply wondering how we have arrived at the predominate funeral home/church directives, telling us how things must be done, I wonder about the honoring of our dead in ways that are more organic to the lives they have led. We are not obliged to hand over the bodies of our loved ones to funeral homes; the families are in charge! It’s not a common understanding.

Lee shared with me what has become a powerful metaphor. We were in a restaurant and had just ordered from the menu. She shared with me a comment from her mentor Joe Sehee, founder of the Green Burial Council. “If you were to go to a restaurant, you’d be given a menu, from which you would order your preference. It wouldn’t occur to you to order something that’s not on the menu. It’s the same thing when you arrive at a Funeral Home. You are given a menu, from which you make decisions. It doesn’t occur to you to order something else, because you don’t know what’s not on the menu.” I wonder what we would choose if we knew there existed something other. I wonder what we would choose if we understood that the family of the deceased is the ultimate authority.

I wonder how a commitment to dying at home and buried “green” might serve as the ultimate embrace of one’s sense of place. My husband Jim and I have often had this conversation: “I would like you to dig a big hole (not easy in the Granite State), drop me in it, and plant a tree over me.”green-250x88

We’re both a little short on the details, but we know the commitment is right. If I knew that I would be buried (according to the legal criteria) on the property I have shared with all kinds of life forms, would I treat this earth portion (and by extension, every part of the planet) differently? Would I love it and honor it? Would I be thrilled beyond measure to imagine the deer, raccoons, moose, mice, daddy long legs, bear, and squirrels walking over me? To imagine the earthworms and billions of microbes within me? I know I would.

And, as I age, I wonder if I would welcome my homecoming? I can only say I hope I would. I hope that as age continues to come my way, as the possibility of illness lurks, that my deepening sense of place within the earth community will offset not only my fear of dying, but also the fears of my family, my community, and my medical support.

We will all die. My hope is that I do so according to what I say I believe. Ritual is important, and I will want that. But I want its sacramental significance to correspond to the particulars of who I was in my lifetime. And I know another thing. If I had to choose between some ethereal heavenly sense of homecoming and a literal earthly homecoming, I would choose to come home to the latter.

 

Edible Villages

“There’s so many people that don’t really recognize a vegetable unless it’s in a bit of plastic with an instruction packet on the top.” These are the words of Pam Warhurst, the co-founder of Incredible Edible in Todmorden, England. Pam herself is not new news, but her TED talk is provocative and ought to inspire countless ideas. Immediately I am thinking of my friend, a local Primary Care Physician, who complains righteously and correctly about the waste of money and resources in the plantings around the hospital where she works. Imagine if those of us with doctors appointments, or those of us visiting patients could pick an eggplant or a Big Boy  tomato and lettuce enough for the evening’s salad!

“Can you find a unifying language that cuts across age and income and culture? … ” Pam Warhurst knows through experience the answer to this rhetorical question. “Yes, and the language would appear to be food.”

This is a TED talk worth every second of the eighteen or so minutes that will be required of you.

I can picture a town, say the size of Burlington, Vermont, or an area of a city such as Brooklyn, in the way that Pam Warhurst describes Todmorden. I belong to the Central New Hampshire Permaculture organization, and its rapid growth is indicative of the passion and commitment to grow and eat locally.

Coincidentally I am reading Charles’ Eisenstein’s new book, Sacred Economies, (look soon for a review) and am finding my own sense of radical hope, not in one idea only, but in the ways that different thinkers across professions, across cultures, across generations, continue to add their brave voices to the work of articulating what must become our new and prevailing narrative if we as a biotic community are to survive and thrive.

Sacred Economies and Incredible Edible and countless others have as their starting points: kindness, gratitude, generosity, and the building of communities inclusive of human and non-human members, communities which understand clearly that every resident of this living web carries value equal to every other.

Urban Insistence

It’s often the case that a poem or a piece of art or a book review finds its way into my inbox; not nearly so often that I repost it. This is a powerful, imaginative piece of writing, and by way of confession, I wish I had written it. (Still, the introvert in me most likely wouldn’t have been able to perform it.) I am grateful to Laura Lamb Brown-Lavoi for writing it, and at least as grateful to my Courage and Renewal colleague Larry, for making sure I saw it.

This is the time of gardens – in this part of the world anyway – and because Jim and I have more than doubled our garden capacity this spring and summer, I’ve got gardens on my mind (and on my aching back). As this is our first permaculture experience (permaculture philosophy and practice has exploded throughout New Hampshire) I am as interested in what the insistent impulse to grow does without benefit (or harm) of human intervention as I am in a garden with intention.

In my most recent book, I included a description of an urban community garden, my first experience of such an adventure. It was years ago, yet the experience is as fresh as though it were yesterday. Rather than put it among the other excerpts from the book, I am including it here.

Years ago, the people of two neighborhood churches partnered with elected district officials and neighborhood activists to organize what became a successful community garden in a rough Seattle neighborhood. Unlike some, this garden had no personal ownership, and its rules of protocol—suggested by its organizers—were simple. First, each household that ate from the produce over the course of the growing season was required to work in the garden; that included children as well as elders who were able. The garden was situated on the grounds of a three-tiered assisted living home owned and operated by one of the churches, and a number of the residents contributed regularly to its tending. Second, we were asked to harvest only what we needed for the day. “We want you to keep coming back,” was the explanation given. This was as much about the community gathered as it was about food; people had to come back every day and talk to one another, work with one another, get to know one another. I was a Metro Transit bus driver at the time, and the garden was located along my daily route. I loved signing out of the bus yard, climbing into my bright red Volvo 122-S, and stopping by on my way home to harvest my home-grown dinner.

Finally, we were asked that we not take all or even the last of any particular delightful thing that had weathered the grey days, the exhaust from the cars and buses. The last of the harvest would be shared among all of us.

We honored these commitments for the most part, with no policing of any kind, without censure of anyone. On the day we harvested the last of the vegetables of the season and prepared the soil for its winter rest and spring planting, we wanted to celebrate. “We get to eat the rest of this now, right?” asked one of the residents of the home whom we had dubbed “the hoe-man.” It was a great idea, and we, the motley crew, set up tables, chairs, and blankets on the front lawn under the shade trees whose leaves were just starting to turn.

There was an abundance of food! But this was not the most important part of the celebration. In response to an inarticulate and certainly not uniformly conscious understanding about the gift of harvest and the life-sustaining qualities of the fruits of the earth, sun, and rain, we were moved instinctively to celebrate in a sacramental way. No one told us how to do it, but we figured it out; it was second nature.

This was my first experience with what I now call the intersection of church and not-church; as I had been not-church for many years, it was also my first experience with people of churches. The celebration evolved in an organic kind of way. The Presbyterian Home provided us with a home-baked loaf of bread and a very large stein of wine. We also had juice. And, heaped on the table we had dragged out from the wraparound porch were cucumbers, tomatoes, foot-long zucchinis, radishes, bell peppers, pole beans, and a few scrawny remnants of broccoli. Without using the language or theology of any faith or denomination, we thanked the earth, sun, and water for their fruits. We told the story of our gardening efforts as a part of—even a small part of—an effort to feed and therefore to better a broken world. We told family stories about love and support, about the importance of this particular gardening community and a growing sense of safety within our neighborhood and our city.

One woman, too young to have a fourteen-year-old son—but she did—said, “It’s the first time Jason has wanted to hang out with me in a long time.”

Some of her friends who knew Jason nodded their heads.

One loaf of bread served about thirty of us that day. As it was passed from person to person, table to table, each of us named the blessing held within the loaf as best we understood it and could speak it. Two of the children sitting next to each other on one side of me took hold of the loaf, glanced at each other, and, as though on cue, shouted the words peanut butter.

A few of the older adults were reticent and awkward, mumbling words quickly through their hands as the bread passed by. They knew the church rules for right behavior; only the priests were allowed to touch the bread. But there was no such rule that day, and there was no question but that peanut butter was a sacrament. The blessings of the children in particular, most of them undertaken with reverent solemnity, broke open our adult hearts with an intensity that we had not expected. By the time the bread came to me, I could hardly speak. We knew what this was about—the bread of life, about the celebration of community, about acts of kindness, generosity, and joy. It was about thanksgiving. It was about the celebration of earth and water and sunlight.

As with so many of our life experiences, this one continued to reveal itself long after the fact. I think back now on what had been a glorious summer, one in which everyone belonged; I try to remember who was in charge and quickly realize that no one was in charge. Or, better said, we were all in charge. We were in charge of the “rules”; we were in charge of the tending of the garden; we were in charge of the celebration. People rose to whatever the occasion demanded. Against the tapestry of my current professional life, it seemed irresistibly easy. No one was ever angry. No one was ever dismissed or diminished. No one person mattered any more or less than anyone else. Leaders arose for the times and occasions they were needed. Today I call it “circular leadership.” At the time, I wouldn’t have had the words, or even the thought; then, it was seamless.

And while I am on the subject of city streets let me recommend a short read called Seedfolks, one of the best, most heartwarming and hopeful descriptions of the collaborative birth of an urban community garden.

Eco-Spirituality ~Web of Life Activities

I write often about what the biological sciences have named the web of life; I suspect that people reading these posts have a pretty good idea of what that concept embraces, yet it’s a metaphor that might be difficult to teach in an experiential way. It’s one thing to read the science; it’s another to deepen the understanding through our hearts. So I offer these with the caveat that experiential learning rarely translates on the printed page. The value of this activity, however we design it and for whom it is offered, I can say by my own first hand experience that this ecological exercise is invaluable on many levels. It can be adapted for particular habitats, with particular age groups or across generations. I trust that the principles will translate well, and the specifics will evolve according to your needs. I offer this with gratitude to one of my mentors, Candis Whitney.

Web of Life Activity

This activity will help one have a better understanding of how everything is dependent on everything else. It is important to remember that animals and plants have an important part on our planet.

Materials Needed:

1 spool of yarn

Label a set of cards with parts of the food chain. Examples: sun, plants, insects, bear, tiger, rabbit, spider, songbird, hawk, water, snails, fish, turtle, alligator, frog, antelope, etc. Make sure there are more plants and small critters than large ones. Add a “people” card to show the impact humans have on the environment.

Procedure:

Use some of yarn to make a necklace with each card.

1. Pass out these necklace cards to all the volunteers.

2. Everyone stand in a circle. Think about which card represents what all life needs to grow (the sun). Hand the end of the yarn to the “sun” card.

3. What would be next in the chain? It would be plants, so everyone with “plant” cards would take a section of the yarn. The sun person still needs to hold tight to the end of the yarn.

4. Continue through the list in the same manner until all the labeled cards have been used.

5. When all the cards have been used discuss what would happen if one of the items were removed from the environment. Start removing things from their environment. If something will not survive with another thing, another critter must be taken out of the web. As the chain collapses, discuss the importance of each living thing in every habitat.

As we were leaving the classroom to walk to the grassy hilltop where I had decided to weave our Web of Life activity, I asked each of the 22 students to pick up one piece of garbage as his or her ‘Entry Ticket’ to our game. Upon arrival, I collected these in a pile (a visual statement in itself!) and let it be for later use in our web activity.

Before beginning, we all sat in a circle with our eyes closed and listened to the surround sound. After a few minutes, I slowly and softly narrated the following:

Everything in nature is connected. Everything in nature is interdependent. When left alone, nature is in balance. Nature is made up of cycles, constantly turning, giving and receiving. Nothing is taken without something being given in return: water, carbon/oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous. All of these nutrients that give us and all living things life are constantly being recycled, nothing is thrown out and wasted and therefore they never run out. Let us create that web of life today and watch as we weave the web together.

I then asked for the two ‘helper’ students, (‘Web supporters), to distribute the cards, asking that students: (a) made sure that only he or she saw what was written on it (b) to close their eyes again and ‘become’ what was written by visualizing how they looked, where they lived, what they ate, and how they moved, etc. After a few minutes, I asked for a volunteer to enter our circle and ‘act out’ what they were so we could all guess it and then went in the sun’s direction around the circle with each student taking a turn. I felt this would add more to the game, and most of the students seemed to enjoy acting out their role. A few students needed some ideas or encouragement from their neighbours and peers, and it took some time to have the students realize this was not a game of charades where they were trying to guess as quickly as possible what the person was and to let the person in the circle act out their role, but it did help the students later, I feel, to identify with their role.

I asked the students where we should begin, and although a number had a case for soil, water and air, most agreed that all life began with the sun and thus this was whom we should start with. I had decided to ask the two web supporters to be the ‘weavers’ and to take the string from student to student after they had stated their connection rather than throw it, which, though fun, I felt might distract from the game.

In general, the game proceeded very smoothly, and the students came up with some wonderfully original connections to do with warmth, housing, shade, play, as well of course with the connections related to food/water/nutrition and protection. There was a tendency to get stuck in the ‘I eat’ mode, but a little encouragement by the teacher to come up with some other link helped to guide it towards other areas of connection as well.

After we were all connected in the web I had thought to ask students to call out some of the connections they saw all around them again, but time had gone by as usual, so although I would encourage this with a longer session I decided to move on. I asked one of the helpers to pretend he was a flood and to come rushing down onto the web and to lie on it, pointing out how it sagged but bounced back after the flood had passed. The

other helper then became an earthquake and danced about the web knocking students gently as she went with a similar result. This of course could also be done with a gale or monsoon rain, quite effectively and visually!

To let them see what would happen if some of the element were destroyed, I decided to ask the helpers to collect the pile of garbage and walk around the circle scattering it as they went. I then asked who would be directly or indirectly effected by this and asked soil, water, fish and eagle (the first four to come up with a statement) to let go as they stated they would be polluted or would die from eating it. Next I asked the two students to move around spraying the circle with pesticides, and asked air, insect and apple to let go as they said they would be polluted or poisoned by this spraying. Finally, I asked the students to chop down the tree, and asked the tree, kingfisher and monkey to let go.

Looking at the sorry state of the web I asked who had caused this and let them connect it with human (our) activities to satisfy our needs and wants, that though similar to the species in the web were somehow destroying it. I then asked what we could do to restore the web, if anything. The first comment was pick up the garbage, so I let the two students do this and without me even asking the soil, water fish and eagle took up the string again. Next was a suggestion to throw some compost on the circle and then to plant some seeds and with each action the web came back strong and firm again!

As a final comment I asked if we should invite the two ‘humans’ back into our circle and after an (almost!) unanimous ‘YES!’ they came and sat down amongst us.

I decided that there was no need to say anything after this so we just sat for a few minutes and shared what we had just been through in a big noisy circle as the two humans collected the string!

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This is an experiential learning exercise adaptable to virtually any circumstance. Personally, I am committed to intergenerational learning, but I am including a link here for a similar activity developed for young children, and another developed around a specific ecosystem.