• Tag Archives 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. Continue reading  Post ID 6759

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Newton, Darwin, Einstein–an Enlightenment Trinity.

    41  bar steady 30.16 1mph SSW dewpoint 26  Spring

                  Last Quarter Moon of Growing

    Charles Darwin was and is a remarkable man.  Newton, Darwin, Einstein–an enlightenment trinity.  An old paradigm physicist, a new paradigm physicist and the first student of complexity, a biological pioneer.  These three have direct influence on so much of our world: calculus, atomic energy, genetic sciences, conservation biology, space travel, orbital mechanics.  So much.  To know the work of just these three and still deny the reality and power of ideas.  Impossible.

    Darwin has influenced my own thinking.  A constant question I bring to the biological world is, “How is that adaptative?”  “What adaptative advantage does that confer?”  These two questions alone encourage speculation about fever, pollen, phototropism, the color of plant  leaves, the place where birds nest, bipedal locomotion and so on ad infinitum.

    I have multiple reading projects that will happen when I have time. One of them is to read through Darwin’s work, at least the important books.  Why?  To separate what Darwin was about from the muddled and often inaccurate picture offered by his acolytes.  Here’s an example.  An instructor at the arboretum’s symposium I attended on Saturday used the term survival of the fittest.  Not Darwin.  Herbert Spencer.  Spencer used Darwin’s ideas to speculate about the succession of civilizations.  He invented the now long ago discredited notion of social darwinism.  Oswald Spengler brought the idea into its zenith of disrepute during the Nazi era.

    Darwin’s idea is natural selection.  It is not only the fittest, that is the strongest and most competitive, that survive.  Those also survive who have a protected niche (think islands and deep valleys), a winning reproductive strategy (seeds versus spore mats) and great defense (lion fish, poison ivy).  The long sweep of evolutionary time favors those whose characteristics favor survival, whether the organism is the fittest in their niche or in their species or not.  Thus, the many endemic birds of Hawai’i may well not survive in some other environment.

    Here’s a brief paragraph from Wikipedia that says this better than I can: 

    “An interpretation of the phrase to mean “only the fittest organisms will prevail” (a view common in social Darwinism) is not consistent with the actual theory of evolution. Any organism which is capable of reproducing itself on an ongoing basis will survive as a species, not just the “fittest” ones. A more accurate characterization of evolution would be “survival of the fit enough”, although this is sometimes regarded as a tautology.[3][4]”    

    I have added a link to the Digitial Darwin Library on the right side here.  Allison Theil turned me on to the Darwin exhibition at the Brooklyn Botancial Garden.  They had the link to this library.   In 2009 we will celebrate the 150th year of the publication of Origin of the Species.  Much sturm und drang can be expected.  I stand with Darwin.

  • The Wollemi Pine–Live From the Carboniferous

    33  bar steep rise 30.06 5mph N dewpoint 22 Spring

                    Waning Gibbous Moon of Growing

    The workshop I attended today had two co-sponsors, The Institute for Advanced Studies (UofM) and the Arboretum(UofM).  This was the culminating workshop in a two-year long effort by the Institute for Advanced Studies to explore time from many perspectives.  Today we examined time in three different, but related, botanical areas:  phenology, paleobotany and time from the perspective of trees. 

    The phenological, by definition, is the chronological study of events in nature.  This strikes me as an odd definition since it seems to impose a human mental construct, linear sequencing, on what is cyclical.  The notion is a good one, though, since it involves paying close attention to changes in the natural world, day by day, and making a record of them.  Phenologists know when the ice goes out lakes, the first robin returns, the dates that various spring ephemerals like the bloodroot, snow trillium and scylla bloom. 

    Over several years I’ve tried my hand at phenology.  It is something an amateur can do.  So far, I’ve not had the discipline to continue my observations day after day, year after year.  Perhaps as I get older and slow down a bit this will come to me.  I hope so.  The woman who was our teacher for phenology was a lively Cantonese woman named Shirley Mah Kooyman.  A Smith graduate in Botany she has a direct and engaging teaching style.  Shirley took us outside and showed us the spring ephemeral garden they have planted.  It gave me ideas.  Our field was cut short by blowing winds, snow and cold.  On April 26th.

    Over  the long lunch break I wandered the bookstore and picked up books related to aspects of permaculture I want to pursue in more depth:  pond building, fruit and nut trees and landscape design.

    In the afternoon Tim started us out with segments of trees so we could tree rings.  This lead into a discussion of the time and stories that a tree knows, sometimes revealed in its growth rings.  He showed an amazing graphic created by an arborist who actually dug up tree roots and followed them, painting them white as he went so he could measure accurately.  He discovered that almost all trees have relatively shallow, but very broad root systems.  I learned, as did Tim, that tree roots stop at the dripline and that what’s below the tree roughly parallels what’s above in size.  Nope.  We measure a double centurion outside the learning center.  You measure at breast height, compute the diameter with everybody’s favorite mathematical constant; in this case it was 52 inches, then multiplied by a factor for white oaks, 5.  This gives a rough estimate of 260 years for the trees age.  Cutting back a bit for optimal growing conditions, experts feel this oak is 225 years old.  That means it was an acorn in 1780!  Whoa.

    The last session focused on the evolution of plants.  In some ways this was weakest session, yet in another it astonished me.  Randy Gage, the guy in charge of school groups for the arboretum, took a trip to Australia to investigate the Wollime Pine.  Here are some fast facts from the Wollemi Pine website:

    Fast Facts

    Claim to fame One of the world’s oldest and rarest trees

    This is a tree that, prior to its discovery in 1994 was known only in the fossil record.  It was a coelacanth or stromatolite like find.  Remarkable.  But I missed it.  Maybe you didn’t.

    The time related stuff here was somewhat cliched with the 24 hour clock and an arm span as metaphors.  The Wollemi Pine story is the stuff of science fiction.

    Taking this symposium at the same time I learned about a book, Reinventing the Sacred, which attempts to reinvent spirituality from within a scientific perspective, but one that discards scientistic thinking (reductionism, empiricism) has really set the wheels turning.  So many things clicking.  We’ll see where it all goes.

  • The Tragic Sense of Life

    51  bar falls 29.82 4mph SSE dewpoint 28 Spring

                   Waxing Gibbous Moon of  Growing

    “To fall into a habit is to begin to cease to be.” – Miguel de Unamuno

    Unamuno has slipped from awareness, it seems, but this Spanish existentialist, poet and author speaks truth even when it is uneasy and unpleasant.  Here’s some brief information about him:

    Spanish philosopher. In Del sentimento trágico de la vida en los hombres y en los pueblos {at Amazon.com} (The Tragic Sense of Life) (1913) {at Amazon.com}, Unamuno described human existence as torn between the irrational hope for immortality and the rational expectation of death. Since faith can never outweigh reason, Unamuno supposed, the best we can achieve is a life of authentic struggle with the human predicament.

    Recommended Reading: Miguel De Unamuno, Three Exemplary Novels, tr. by Angel Flores (Grove, 1987) {at Amazon.com}; Victor Ouimette, Reason Aflame: Unamuno and the Heroic Will (Yale, 1986) {at Amazon.com}; and Gemma Roberts, Unamuno: afinidades y coincidencias kierkegaardianas (Colorado, 1986) {at Amazon.com}.

    The house party for the Power 2 Change campaign had three attendees:  Frank Broderick, Bill Sutherland, and Ann, a former school teacher.  Jessica, a Sierra Club worker, attended to explain the campaign.  She fell into a trap the young activist often does, asking too little of her audience.  She kept referring to the things that were easy:  talk to a friend, sign the petition, read the literature, volunteer at the Sierra Club for a phone bank.  George Bush made the same disastrous mistake after 9/11.  He reassured us and asked to go shopping.  That’ll show’em.

    People want to sacrifice, to do the difficult thing.  Why?  Because when we sacrifice, or do something that stretches us, we become engaged.  We know in our gut; this is important.  If it’s not important or significant, don’t bother me with it.  If it is important, figure out a way I can take action.  Help me find others, then assist us in getting our handles on the levers of power.  That’s the way change happens. 

    As often happens to me, as I write this, especially with Unamuno dangling just above these words, the pointed finger takes on an impossible curve and aims straight at my chest.  I know in my gut that climate change and the energy issues are important, perhaps the important issues of my generation and certainly ones in which we are culpable and therefore responsible.  So, in addition to the work I need to do on other writing projects and at the MIA, I need to pick up this challenge, too, as I agreed to do last September in Iowa.  I’ve done too little and I can do more. 

    Kate’s snacks and party layout, on the other hand, were delicious and beautiful.

  • Megafarm Hydroponics

    54 bar steep fall 30.20 0mph SSE  dewpoint 18  Spring

                   First Quarter Moon of Growing

    A 28 degree spread between 8:00 AM and right now.  We still have patches of snow, but they lie now mostly in the shade or north facing slopes.  The tulips, daffodils and iris should continue their growth.  The magnolia buds look pregnant.  Some of the garlic has broken the surface, about 7 bulbs.  It’s starting.

    The generator now sits on its little pad on the west wall of our garage.  The electrician has been here all day.  He cut into the garage wall with a reciprocating saw to splice the transfer switch into our electrical panel.  This transfer switch plus a sensing device discovers a power outage, waits a beat or two to be sure the electricity is really off, then turns the generator on and transfers itself as the power source for the house.  When the power comes back on, it senses that, too, then transfers the generator off-line and runs it a bit longer to cool it down and allow it to shut down smoothly. 

    It’s not ready to go, yet, however.  The next step is to run the gas line from the new gas meter (not installed yet) up through the garage ceiling and down to the generator’s fuel intake.  The next step after that is–pay for it.

    The Megafarm hydroponics (the second and larger plastic tub) has begun to function, too.  I filled the reservoir with seven gallons of nutrient solution, smoothed out a kink in the tubing connecting the pump.  It needs to get set on a two hour cycle soon, but right now, I’m filling the growing bed and shutting the pump off by hand.  It has a few lettuce plants and three tomato plants.  This is all still experimental, but it feels like we’re headed in the right direction with it.

    Kate has prepared snacks and drinks for the meeting tonight.  All I have to do is meet and greet.  Should be fun.