Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reconciliation and Harmony

Less than a month ago my wife was reelected by a landslide to the Sebastopol City Council.

What is most remarkable about her service to our town is her ability to talk usefully with people from across the spectrum of views in our community. She's a mediator by profession and in her avocational work in local politics she finds ways to bring people together, people who had previously found themselves in conflict.

Her list of endorsers included people who are not on speaking terms with each other.

Anyway, George over on Transit Notes (thanks George!!) featured a movie called Harmony today. It's about HRH The Prince of Wales and his dedication to restoring the natural world and supporting sustainable agriculture. I was particularly drawn to the parts of the movie near the end when it talked about the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia Canada. Efforts to bring people together who had once opposed one another have borne some fruit. I have come to learn that the portrayal of their reconciliation may be a bit rosier in the movie than it is on the ground, but still, efforts to bring people together to work on environmental restoration need to be highlighted and celebrated.

I found this short movie to be uplifting and inspiring—worth the 45 minutes or so it takes to watch it.

Here's the trailer:

Harmony Movie Trailer from Balcony Films on Vimeo.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Our Wholesome World

Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking brings us close to the actual existing world and its wholesomeness.   —Gary Snyder

To Snyder’s recipe I would recommend a few more ways to engage in our actual existing world: grow some of your own food, travel along your preferred path to discover what’s extraordinary about our “ordinary” world whether through a meditation, yoga, or prayer practice; be a member of a family; have friends; cultivate at least one outlet to express joy (whether through singing, dancing, painting, sculpting, photography, cooking, sewing, knitting, woodcraft, storytelling, poetry, etc.); and get acquainted with your dreams.

What do you find that brings you into wholesome connection with the actual existing world?

Thanksgiving dinner with Ted—home after two years in Togo, West Africa

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Feeling Grateful

Perhaps Thanksgiving is many people's favorite holiday—-it is my favorite holiday—because feeling grateful makes me happy. Today I intend to be mindful of my myriad blessings. Among them are you, my blog friends.

May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be well this Thanksgiving Day.

And if you are lucky enough to share this day with loved ones, may you enjoy their company fully. And if you feast, I hope you join me in trying to bear in mind that health is a blessing too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's a grace flavored by the spirit of gratitude:

With every morsel of food
The whole world sustains me.
With every breath of air
The whole world sustains me.
I now accept these gifts
With gratitude and attention.
May I use this sustenance
To benefit of all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Stopped

I just finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals. I was surprised to learn how damage we do to the earth when we eat animals.

My wife and I have tried to reduce our ecological footprint for decades, particularly our contribution to greenhouse gases, and I thought we were doing well enough. We seldom use the furnace in our small house because our furnace burns natural gas and uses a big electric fan. On cold nights we wear sweaters and leave the thermostat set to off. On really cold days, we sit by our faux gas-fired fireplace in the living room.

We don’t drive much—the connection between driving and CO2 has been clear for a long time.
Years ago my wife moved her office to town so she could walk to work and save about 160 commute kilometers per week.  For many years I commuted to work on a bicycle 28 kilometers round trip. I’ve grown a bit old for bicycle commuting, so I carpool to achieve a similar reduction in greenhouse gases. On vacation we don’t travel nearly as much as we would if our consciences could be untroubled by the damage jet travel does to the climate.

I’ve eaten comparatively little meat or animal products, but I’ve not been strictly vegetarian for the past year or so. Under the influence of books like the Omnivore’s Dilemma and the Vegetarian Myth I’ve relaxed my vegetarian vows and included some sustainably grown organic local meat and dairy in my diet. I have been least troubled when I know the personally the farmer who raised the animals.

But now that I’ve just finished reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I can see the dawning of a new vegetarian era in my life. Foer cites a statistic I didn’t know before: enterprises involved in raising animal-based foods are responsible for putting more—about 40% more—greenhouse gases into our atmosphere than all sectors of transportation combined. (I do wonder: do these statistics count the transportation of animal foods in both columns?)

If these numbers are accurate, then it is clear that by becoming vegetarian I will do more to reduce my personal impact on the climate than I would by eschewing all transportation!

Reducing my toll on the environment would be enough motivation for me. But there’s also my interest in doing something to reduce the suffering of our cousin creatures, the fish, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows who—there is no other word for it—are tortured on factory farms. Almost all of these animals are subjected to this new, and meticulously hidden regime.

Foer’s book takes a compassionate but unflinching look at how animals in factory farms are subjected to conditions that turn this eater’s stomach inside out. The author explores the moral implications of the cruel and indefensible treatment of animals in the factory farming system that has sprung up in America’s sadly under-regulated market economy. He takes his readers on several thought experiments, such as contemplating the practice of eating dogs. 

Foer took me on a journey I’m glad to have taken.

In regard to eating animals today, Foer states:

“We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?

I have my answer.

I stopped.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Story of Stuff

Last Saturday I had the pleasure to hear Annie Leonard give the keynote address at the Leadership Institute’s 2010 awards ceremony.

Annie is the person behind the web video called “The Story of Stuff.” It has been viewed more than 12 million times since it came out in 2007. 

I had thought Annie might deliver a depressing talk. Her talk, like her movie, made four points. As expected, I did find first three points depressing. Luckily, Annie’s talk emphasized her final point, an encouraging and energizing one.

I’ve been aware of the first three points she makes for some time:

1. We are trashing the planet
2. We are trashing each other.
3. We’re not even having fun.

Annie’s final point brings her message home.

4. Solutions abound.

Taking action in myriad efforts to stop trashing the planet and stop trashing each other is what is required of us.  Luckily, it’s fun to act positively.

She's not suggesting we all go out and buy Priuses. Prius envy is part of the problem. We cannot consume our way out of our mess.

Conservation and restoration are closer to the mark. Taking action individually and with others. Maybe you or someone you know will run for Mayor of your town. Maybe you’ll start a backyard garden. Maybe you’ll organize a community walks program or a dine-out program. Maybe you’ll carpool to work. Maybe you'll become a vegetarian. Maybe you'll shop locally, and buy your organic veggies in your farmer's market. Maybe you'll join a CSA. Maybe you’ll make homemade music with friends and neighbors. I can report from personal experience that all of the above are spirit lifters. Or you might do any of a thousand other things to connect with friends and lighten our load on the ecosphere.  

It sure beats being a consumer.

If you haven't already seen The Story of Stuff, and you think getting our consumer economy back on track is our most important national agenda, I commend this movie to you. It''ll take less time to watch than a quarter of football.

For more information about Annie Leonard and to see her other videos, visit THE STORY OF STUFF.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Science of Happiness Video

My alma mater produced this video about the science of happiness. In my kindergarten, I value happiness quite prominently. It's in my top three "rules" of operation.

Anyway, here's the video:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why I Listen to Trees

Poplar Trees
It just stands to reason that higher forms of life are more complex than “lower” forms of life.

One way to guess the intelligence and complexity of an organism is to look at how many genes it has in its genome. It just stands to reason that simple forms of life don’t need as many genes and more complex forms.

For example, the virus that causes mononucleosis has a measly 80 genes (sorry for the pun, but measles are viruses, too).

A fruit fly has 13,379 genes, fewer than a round worm which has approximately 21,000 genes.

A mouse has about 23,000 genes.

We humans have approximately 25,000 genes. I think that puts us pretty near the top of the animal kingdom. I don’t know about whales and dolphins. Maybe we better not find out.

What about plants?

Rice has about 28,000 genes.

A cottonwood tree? 45,000 genes.

That’s why I listen to trees.

They might have something worthwhile to say to us....

More about the mononucleosis virus: Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)

More about the fruit fly: Drosophila melanogaster
More about human genes: Here

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Printing Ink

The Printing Ink Company made this short video about how printing ink is made. The ink is so beautiful that I started salivating. I'm not kidding!

It's less than 9 minutes long and reminds me of a Mr. Roger's field trip in his neighborhood. Only better.

The soundtrack is luscious, too. It's Alfred Brendel's Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major Op.73 - "Emperor" - 2. Adagio un poco mosso

If you need a pleasant break today, I suggest that you put on your headphones (or plug in some good speakers to your computer) set the video to full screen, and enjoy the show.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bay Tree

On our tree walk Saturday we saw again a most remarkable tree, a bay laurel tree that is the second largest in all of bay laurels growing now in California. This one grows in the backyard of a most unassuming house on a most unassuming street in Sebastopol.

A story is associated with this particular tree.  I'll tell in this sonnet, below.

bay tree lived wild almost her whole life—
making shade, music, and medicine
for elk, coyote, raccoon, and Pomo,
years pass, city street, house, backyard fence
family moves in, dissolves, sells house with tree,

childcare provider buys house opens
daycare home—each noon young children wander
outdoors to have lunch, in her shade
deep now she’s the biggest bay for miles
children don’t notice a leaf flutters to earth

one friday—at noon—she drops a heavy
limb just exactly where children eat their lunch
she’s never dropped one before. the children
are away—did bay tree know this?


Learn the alchemy true human beings know.
The moment you accept what troubles
you've been given, the door will open.

Welcome difficulty, as a familiar comrade.
Joke with torment brought by the Friend.

Sorrows are the rags of old clothes
and jackets that serve to cover
and then are taken off.

That undressing,
and the naked body underneath,
is the sweetness that comes after grief.