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Posts tagged Great Work

We are who we are because of where we are

Beltane                               Waxing Strawberry Moon

Among the many heart-rending stories related to the Gulf oil spill is one I heard on the radio yesterday.

“We are who we are because of where we are.   We are Grand Bayou people, and you can’t be a Grand Bayou person if you’re living in Ohio. Grand Bayou for us is our place in the universe. This is where since time began the Creator saw fit to set our feet here. And we’re going to do whatever we have to do to remain,” Phillipe says.

There is, for me, a very important clue here about the Great Work.  I haven’t mentioned the Great Work in awhile, so here’s a thumbnail.  The notion comes from a book by Thomas Berry, The Great Work.  He posits that each culture and era has a Great Work.  Ours, he says, is managing the transition from a malign to a benign human presence on the earth.

Back to the Grand Bayou.  We are who we are because of where we are.  To a nation built on mobility, picking up stakes and moving the family in search of the American Dream, a heritage, in part at least, of our boat people  past, Rosina Phillipe’s description of the Atakapa-Ishak people, her small tribe that lives on the Grand Bayou, has little meaning.  We are who we are because of our work, the things we do, perhaps our family, but definitely not because of where we are.  Because we could be somewhere else tomorrow.

This has fed a growing disconnect between Americans and the land, between Americans and feral nature (as opposed to the domestic nature composed of our built environment and our managed landscapes and farms) an urban and technology reinforced disconnect that makes us not so much insensitive as inured to  feral nature so that all the waters and minerals and trees and mountains become a source of raw materials, an obstacle to progress or a distant theme park filled with exotic animals and plants.

This separation, alienation really, from feral nature makes it difficult for us to imagine an identity tied up with place, especially a place defined by feral nature and not our concrete, glass and lighted enclosures.  In that alienation lies the true barrier to the Great Work, we have much less actual awareness of the earth than we imagine.  With little awareness of feral nature we have trouble grasping our current malign relationship to the earth and with little insight into it we will be forever unable to foresee a benign relationship.

What we cannot see and what we cannot imagine cannot come to be.

What to do?  The Grand Bayou folks have a way.  Some of us can become who we are because of where we are.  We can let the rhythms of our local feral nature guide us to an understanding of the fate of mother earth.  We can subject ourselves to the demands of the soil while we grow food.*  We can orient ourselves to the lives of feral animals, even hunting puts us closer to mother earth than potted plants on our balcony overlooking downtown.  We can dig into the natural history of our home, learning about the three biomes, say, of Minnesota:  The Big Woods, the Great Plains and the Boreal Woods.  We can spend time in them, listening to them, learning their language.

We can reexamine the American Dream. We can ask if our perceived rootlessness (I say perceived because recent demographic studies suggest we may be slowing down, in part because of the recession) is necessary.  What if, instead, we saw ourselves as citizens of watersheds?  Of local ecological systems?  What if we began to eat food grown or raised close to our own home?  At least some of us might begin to follow the Atakapa-Ishak way and become who we because of where we are.

Then, the Great Work will follow naturally.

*This may seem like a contradiction to my inclusion of farming and managed landscapes in domestic nature, but it is not.  While we grow according to the demands of our soil, not necessarily organic, but with an eye to integrated pest management, regular amendment of the soil with organic matter and growing vegetables, fruits and flowers native to your area and gardening zone, we have to listen to the land as it speaks to us.  What makes it richer, more fertile?  What do I need to do to live with and in touch with the place where I garden?  This is very different from industrial agriculture with round-up ready crops, annually tilled fields and heavy does of chemical fertilizers.

Change and Changes

68  bar falls 30.06  0mph NNE  dew-point 38  sunrise 6:45  set 7:34  Lughnasa

First Quarter of the Harvest Moon   rise 4:49  set 12:17


Corn, Bleeding Heart, Impatiens, Beets and Beans at 3pm

This morning I got up, ate breakfast and went straight outside.  Posting in the morning has begun to interfere with other projects.  Even so, I like to do it.  The posting gives a start to the day.  Just too long a start sometimes.

Till noon I cleaned up old wire fencing so we can recycle it on Saturday.  At noon I began the sun/shade survey for our ecological gardens project.  Instead of shading in a map I decided to use the digital camera and print contact sheets of prints shot at 9AM, noon, 3pm, 6pm.  I stand in the same location for each shot.  It takes about 20 images to cover the whole yard.

After the nap I went out into the wide world to collect meds and some ink for my Canon color printer.  This is the first time I have purchased ink for this printer, in fact it’s the first time I’ve purchased ink for any printer other than my HP L4 since 1991.  The cost of color ink impressed me.  High.  Ouch.

About a year ago right now Kate and I attended a conference in Iowa City, Iowa.  Focused on climate change and the issues involved, I came away convinced I needed to get involved in some direct way.  I made a list of things to do at the conference, but as the year has gone by I realize I have gotten a much better handle on personal action. READ MORE »

The Life I Need to Live

74  bar steady 29.59 1mph ENE dew-point 68   Summer, heading toward stick

First Quarter of the Thunder Moon
“To think is to say no.” – Emile Chartier  Translated into Pediatrician:  To think is to be 2.

The flavor and tang of life has increased for me in the months of summer, an unusual occurrence.  Usually summer is, at best, a place holder until the serious seasons of fall and winter come.

The garden occupies some serious space, but as I’ve grown more skilled, it requires less of me.  This year the increase in the number of vegetables and the hydroponics has my attention and the wheels have begun to churn on certain questions.  How can we get more out of the space we have?  Where can we add space?  How many should be raised beds, how many mounded beds?  What have we done well, what have we learned?

The male rites of passage with Joseph and Gabe have ushered me into, all unsuspecting, the role of older generation.  The reemergence of the novel as a core part of who I am has challenged me and kept me excited.

The opportunity to serve on the Sierra Club political committee is the end result of a year-long self-examination that began at a conference I attended with Kate in Iowa City.  It was on environmental issues.  I decided then that my commitment to the Great Work had to have a political edge.  After floundering around for a while, I decided work with an existing organization best fit my current life.  Now I’m around the table and in the thick of it.  Feels good.

We’ve done a serious overhaul on our financial life over the last 7 years and the positive results have begun to pick up steam this summer.  That also feels good.

In one sense this is the retired life for me.   It is, as life could always be, the life I need to live at the moment.

Say a Little Prayer for the Miracle of Mother Earth

70  bar steep fall 29.80  6mph NW  Dew-point 62   Summer, a thunder storm watch until 6PM.  One’s already rolled through our area.

First Quarter of the Thunder Moon

The Thunder Moon has seen its first storm even before it became gibbous.   When I went downstairs today to shut off and unplug the computer, as I always do before a storm, it made me think.

In cities it is possible to live a life pretty isolated from the natural world.  Yes, you get wet when it rains if you can’t drive from covered parking to covered parking, but it’s usually a short term experience.  Out of the car.  Dash across the parking lot or sidewalk into the shelter of a building.  Yes, up here in the northland you can’t avoid the snow and the cold, but there again, unless you go outside with snowshoes or hiking boots, your exposure does not interrupt your day very much.

Out here in the exurbs, where the cities reach has become tenuous, houses have 2 acres, 5 acres, 10 acres between them.  When the thunderstorm looms, it looms over you.  A lightning strike on or near the house would send a surge throughout our circuitry blowing out sensitive devices.  The computer holds so much of my life and work that I protect it.  But, from what?

Yes.  Mother nature.  She’s whimsical and unpredictable.  No matter what we do somewhere the river rises.  Electricity coming in a storm carries a voltage of 100 million to 1 billion volts.  It can reach 50,000 degrees fahrenheit.   Four times as hot as the sun’s surface.  A hurricane generates unbelievable power and as they intensify they endanger increasing amounts of our wealth and health as a country.

Just think back over the last couple of months.  The cyclone in Burma.  The earthquakes in China.  The worst natural disaster in our history, Katrina, was not long ago.  These events kill and or disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.  The earthquake in Pakistan or the Kobe earthquake in Japan.  Huge, nation altering events.  The tsunami in the Indian Ocean.  We remember these not only for their human suffering and property loss, but because they remind us that we are not in control of the planet.

Our own little apocalypse, death, comes from the evolution of life.  Life comes with a sell-by date.  We are not in control even of our own lives.  This is either frightening or invigorating.

I choose invigoration, so when I head downstairs to shut off the computer I say a little prayer of thanks for the miracle of mother earth and my chance for a brief stay here.

Like a Lunker Muskie

68  bar rises 29.92 0mph WNW dew-point 57   Summer, pleasant start

First Quarter of the Thunder Moon

No thunder yet.  Some rain on Monday but no storms.

First Sierra Club political committee meeting tonight.  I’m a little nervous.  Why?  Well, for one, I’ve been away from serious political work for several years.  I know the amount of time and dedication it takes and I hope I’m not setting myself up for frustration.

It is also a different time now than when I was most active politically.   I got the gist of it in a NYT article on the retirement of the baby boom generation of professors.  A retiring sociology prof at U. Madison, who had been on the frontlines at Columbia, then later at Harvard during the strike, “These new professors didn’t have those kind of experiences when they were young.  Anti-authoritanism doesn’t come naturally to them.”  Oooff.

Joseph is in the military, at least in part, because he trusts authority.  He trusts me, so he can trust a command structure.  At the Woollies Monday night I suggested that there is a whole generation of kids of who now trust authority because their anti-authoritarian parents were very careful to create loving, trusting relationships, something either denied or refused by them.

The kind of balls against the wall politics that drove the movement politics of my youth are no longer appropriate.  Then can, in fact, be counter productive.  At the State Fair last year or the year before I volunteered for Amy Klobuchar at the State DFL booth.  A conservative guy came up and started baiting us.  Like a lunker muskie, I came up fighting.  A twenty something kid beside me took over, calmly explained a solid liberal position, listened respectfully.  The guy said he appreciate the kid.

The kid was right.  In retail and even most wholesale political actions these days the politics of resistance and revolution are out of fashion.  They will return, but not soon I think, for now they do not carry the day.  This means that my political instincts must be tempered and suited to an organization (the Sierra Club) and the zeitgeist.  I know this, but doing it, or whether I can do it, is an open question.

Optimal Sustainablity in Suburbs and Exurbs

A new posting in Permaculture.

Introducing Permaculture to our property, to the Woollies and to whomever else may find it interesting.

6/29/08  Coda to this project

The last few months have given me a different perspective on this project.  Optimal sustainability rather than permaculture per se is my goal.  What is that?

Optimal sustainability occupies a position between permaculture on the one hand and the normative American lifestyle on the other.  In particular I will focus on the kind of environment I inhabit, the suburban and exurban ring.  How can persons living in suburbs and exurbs across America, indeed, across the world, think of their residential choice in terms of global sustainability?  That is, how can we recognize that the vast bulk of persons so situated will not become back-to-the-landers with the requisite chicken coop, bee-hives, orchard and bountiful garden?

How can we find a mix of things to do, choices to make that can reduce energy expenditures and increase the amount of food produced at home or in nearby (neighborhood or cul-de-sac) locations?  How, in other words, can we create a menu of achievable actions that will change the normative American suburban/exurban lifestyle as much as possible without creating resistance?  What values need examination and careful, positive critique?  How can we make optimal sustainability sexy, fun, normative?

This is the project I want to engage.  It will require that I learn the permaculture work, that I learn more about the suburban/exurban situation in which I live.  It will require that I recruit allies from across the political spectrum.  Sounds like fun to me.

Oh Geez

69  bar rises 29.86  4mph N dew-point 54  Summer, mild and sunny

Waning Crescent of the Flower Moon

Whoa.  The Sierra Club has a lot of paper.  The political committee has several documents online that relate directly to its work, all from a national perspective.  They cover everything from room rental to the details of a political campaign.  The thoroughness is both reassuring and daunting, a lot to absorb.

It reminds me of the old days in the Presbyterian Church where many actions and parameters for action had rules in the Book of Order or in legislation passed by either the General Assembly (national) or the Presbytery (local).  Any organization with national purview requires such instruments, otherwise the message and power of the organization will dissolve in the liquid of too many variatons.  The trick is to give latitude to actors at the local level who know best about the scene where they work without allowing them to contravene policy created at the broadest level of the organization.  Think nationally, act locally.

Jon and Jen, Ruth and Gabe are in Denver.  Their primary work right now is family formation with a new addition to the mix.

Joseph is in Florida, in his new Panama City apartment, only ten minutes from work at Tyndall AFB.  His primary work right now is occupational socialization as a new 2d Lt in the USAF.  He has a secondary purpose, a creating and understanding a life within the mobile, somewhat unpredictable career of a military officer.

Mary has just finished the first last draft of her dissertation, the last draft approved by both her and her supervisor.  Mark has adjusted to a new working condition in the suburbs of Bangkok.

Kate enters the next to last year of her medical career on her birthday.  Her primary work right now is practicing as an older doc in a new system, one that disturbs her and makes her uncomfortable.  An unfortunate reality for her last years as physician.

I can see what I believe to be the primary and secondary purpose in the lives of those close to me.  It’s more difficult to see my own.  In this growing season my primary purpose is to make incremental changes in our garden and woodlands that move us toward optimal sustainability.  Superior Wolf also occupies a key, perhaps secondary place.   Or, maybe my primary purpose is to provide support and nurture to the family and the garden/domestic work is my secondary work.  Oh geez, Ole.  Why can’t you make up your mind? Then there is my contribution to the Great Work: Sierra Club, Great Wheel essays, the notion of optimal sustainability.  Continuuing and deepening my education about the world’s artistic heritage is in there, too.  Then, too, there is the life of faith, my primary purpose for so many years and still critically important.  Well, we’ll let that percolate.  If any of you out there see my primary and secondary purposes more clearly than I do, let me know.

The Great Work: Practical Steps

73  bar steady 29.84 0mph NNW dew-point   61  Summer, cooler

                  Last Quarter of the Flower Moon

This e-mail went out today to the Woolly Mammoths and the folks at GrovelandI wanted to add it here and alert you that I will post further mailings here, too.  Political passion still burns in this heart, but it has been diffused over the last several yearsIt is now coming, again, to a point In politics focus, clarity and persistence are 98% of the struggle. 

To:  Woolly Mammoths, Groveland UU members 


As you may or may not know, I will be on the Sierra Club’s political committee for this election cycleAs part of that work, I hope to keep you informed.

This mailing is a first step in that directionIf, for any reason, you do not wish receive these updates (about one a week, probably less until August or September), just shoot me an e-mail and I’ll take you off the list.  Alternatively, if you know someone you think would be interested in these regular updates, you can send me their e-mail or suggest they send it to me themselves. In their 1991 bookGenerations, authors William Strauss and Neil Howe predicted that the baby boom generation would meet one more major ethical challenge before they passed from the sceneThey didn’t define that challenge I have waited, watched, to see what might emerge as our final generational call to actionI found my answer in Thomas Berry’s book, The Great WorkBerry says that the current American generation has this Great WorkTo lead the world to a human presence on the planet compatible with the health and welfare of all living things.   

Work with the Sierra Club furthers the Great Work for meThis kind of work requires partners, many, many partnersPerhaps you will be or already are such a partner.     

Anyhow, I’ll leave you with this thought:  Love your Mother.  From: Margaret Levin, Sierra Club North Star Chapter [mailto:north.star.chapter@sierraclub.org]
Sent: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 12:11 PM
To: rugosa@comcast.net
Subject: Put Minnesotans Back To Work

Sierra Club -- North Star Chapter 
Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet
 Dear Charles, Take Action to Support Green Jobs for Minnesota$4 a gallon gas. Global warming. The worst Minnesota job numbers in 17 years. Washington continues to give billions of dollars in tax breaks to big oil companies. We deserve better! That is why the Sierra Club is partnering with United Steelworkers union in the Blue Green Alliance. We are working to create thousands of green jobs for Minnesotans. A green job is work that helps us build the clean, renewable energy economy. But we won’t get them unless Governor Pawlenty makes a Green Jobs Plan a priority. Tell Governor Pawlenty to go to bat for Minnesotans and implement a Green Jobs Plan for Minnesota now!So what is our vision for the green economy?

  • Over 18,000 jobs in renewable energy manufacturing.
  • Jobs producing the steel plate for the blades and towers in the growing wind energy industry.
  • Jobs for electricians, steam fitters, plumbers, sheet metal workers and other skilled tradesmen retrofitting America‘s buildings to make them more energy efficient, save money, and reduce global warming pollution.
  • Jobs manufacturing the stainless steel needed to build biomass refineries and the American-made clean energy vehicles needed to cut global warming pollution.
  • Thousands more jobs constructing a new smart electric grid to bring clean electricity into our homes, offices, and factories.
  • Jobs installing solar panels on homes and buildings and erecting the wind turbines we need to bring us clean electricity.

Over the next few months, the Blue Green Alliance will be reaching out to Minnesotans to get them involved in making the plan a reality. You can make a difference by telling Governor Pawlenty that Minnesotans want thousands of renewable energy jobs. Sincerely, Margaret Levin
Interim Director, North Star Chapter
PS. Have you already sent a letter or postcard to Governor Pawlenty urging him to implement a Green Jobs Plan for Minnesota? Help us spread the word by fowarding this email to 5 of your friends.

Trees and Thermonuclear Weapons

65  bar steep rise 29.43  0mph SSE  dew-point 54   Beltane, cloudy and cool

                 Waxing Crescent of the Flower Moon

On the way out to Denver

The Leid Conference Center at the Arbor Day Foundation farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

The first night I spent at this conference center.  Here is the main entry hall:


All round this beautiful entrance area were quotes written on the borders.   Here a few of them: 

Holy Mother Earth, the trees and all nature are witness to our thoughts and deeds.  Winnebago Nation

The clearest way into the universe is through the forest and wilderness.  John Muir

Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the heavens.  Rabin

Arbor Day began in Nebraska and the man who started it, J. Sterling Morton, donated his farm as a park and research facility.  The conference center is set on it.

This place gave me a sense of peace, a feeling of having come home.  I get that same sense in Hawai’i and here in Andover.  A place dedicated to trees is an Ent temple, as this lovely entrance might actually be.  A nice place to unwind.  Good food, too.


I also visited, the next day, the SAC museum outside of Omaha.


This is a Titan rocket parked outside the entrance to this museum related to the old Strategic Air Command.  It has a collection of planes and NASA related rockets and vehicles that will  entrance you if you’re into this kind of thing.  Which I am.  I visited this time to find a present for Joseph for his graduation from OTS on June 18th.  I found an Air Force insignia photo frame with place for two shots and a history of the AWACS plane.  If he gets an air assignment as an air battle manager, this is the plane he will use as a flying command center.

Here’s an interior shot.  The really big plane in the background is a B-36, the largest bomber ever made by the US.  It never dropped a bomb.


In case you thought the anti-war guy got submerged in all this military display, here is a shot that sobered me up.


This is a Mark-36 Thermonuclear (Hydrogen) bomb.  It chilled me to the bone just to be near it.  It is empty, by the way.

Making My Soul Hum

Superior Wolf is underway again.  The other day I hit on the point that had me stuck, a character I’d carried over from another novel.  He didn’t belong in this one, but it took me 25,000 words or so to figure that out.  Now a new plotline, more salient and tight, has emerged with a strong character, a protagonist who will drive the book.

It feels good to be back at fiction, a long caesura, and I hope the next one is brief.  Fiction speaks from my soul, the rest tends to be, as we said in the sixties, a head trip.  Over the years since then, I’ve learned to respect head trips.  I earned a living with them for many years and they’ve kept me engaged with the world.  They do not make my soul hum, though my  Self speaks through them as well.

Kate made a trip to the Green Barn, a nursery she really likes on Highway 65 near Isanti.  She picked up composted manure, sphagnum moss and several plants.  We have some new ferns, cucumbers, morning glories (the ones I grew in the hydroponics died outside, though the tomatoes have done fine.) squash and several grasses. 

Tomorrow morning I’m going in for a breakfast meeting at the Sierra Club, a meeting with the political director of the national Sierra Club. Politics makes my soul hum, too.  Though I can’t say exactly why, water issues matter a lot to me, so I’m angling (ha, ha) to get on the committees that deal with Lake Superior, rivers, lakes and streams.  Watersheds seem very important to me, so I hope to work on projects related to watersheds, too.  One thing I know about politics is that showing up matters, so I’m gonna show up.

June 2017
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