Floyd, Down to Earth

We’re a week from Earth Day 2013, this year offered from the Floyd EcoVillage center for the first time.

I’ll be leading a “nature walk” and maybe sitting on a panel discussion of Floyd County’s general ecology and environment.

Towards that end, I’ve sent a piece to the Floyd Press about the WHY of our event. Here’s an excerpt.

It seems the time has come for a NEW STORY because we no longer live in the world where the old one was written. That map will not send us to a future worth going to.

The good news is that reconciliation and healing are possible. The good news is that real people like you and me, in ordinary places like Floyd, Virginia, can begin to rethink the future, to write the NEW STORY that our children will inherit. And we have already started writing.

An important early chapter in the New Story is what I call “relocalizing” where we live.This asks us to revisit and rekindle local connectedness lost as our attention has moved indoors, where more and more of our hours are spent in digital shopping, chatting and mindless surfing.

The better reacquainted we become with the natural and human communities we belong to, the better we can restore the kind of fellowship, creatureship, and world-aware citizenship we will need to craft the New Story.

The New Story will send us back to find our strength in real places and real community, drawing from forces at least as powerful for change as those that science and technology will offer.

You can read the whole essay on Medium, a promising new communications center you might not have but certainly will hear more about.

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Ill Winds: A Necessary Evil

I’ve made my peace with the cold. By this time of year, I’ve remembered all the tactics for staying unfrozen when it’s single digits outside–tricks with scarves and woolen things, mostly.

But I’ve never done very well accepting January wind. Being the most animated aspect of weather, wind seems alive and its intentions ignoble. At the same time, I realize the planet would not survive without the mixing effects of wind to stir the too hot into the too cold so that at least some places for a short while are Goldilocks “just right.”

I was once winter-blown so relentlessly for so long that I wrote about my foul-weather relationship with the wind. It is recorded in Slow Road Home, and I remembered it last night when he barn roof ruffled like thunder. 

Wind in winter

Last night the wind screamed overhead like a great circling bird, back and forth from ridge to ridge. Every now and then it would swoop down to clutch at our porch roof and ruffle the metal, making a strange rumbling studio-thunder sound effect. Then it would lift again and circle a thousand feet above us, coursing the high places round and round, sounding like a great locomotive caught in a switching yard right over Goose Creek. 

Summer winds throw angry tantrums like this just briefly, and only when performing the accompaniment to a summer thunder storm. A million green living leaves modulate the pitch and timbre of the wind, so that even in the summer gale there is a softness, a lifting and cleansing quality that is altogether missing from wind in winter. Summer wind appears at the height of the storm, strutting and fretting about briefly; and then it exits stage left and its pitch falls off, Doppler-like, and only a cooling breeze is left behind. I have no complaints to register against summer winds. 

But winter wind arrives here irritable and there is no cheering it up. Dense and gray, heavier than air, it sinks into our valley like a glacier of broken glass, pushing down against hard and frozen earth, and it will not relent. When the wind howls at midnight, I dream of the Old Man Winter of children’s books, his cheeks bloated full, lips pursed and brow furrowed, exhaling a malevolent blast below at frail pink children in wet mittens. 

If you listen, you may think you hear a tone to the roar of January wind, a discrete pitch of a note that you could find on a piano keyboard. But this isn’t so. In the same way all rainbow colors blend to make white light, January wind is the sound of all tones that nature can create,at once together as the Old Man overhead blows through a mouthpiece formed of ridge and ravine, across reeds of oak and poplar trunks. 

Winter wind is the white noise of January that won’t go away.

CAPTION: Mare’s tail cirrus, like pulled cotton, blown and stretched by the west wind. Painted with ProCreate for iPad from one of my photographs.

Headlines: Christmas Stolen. The Grinch Exonerated!

christmas 2007
Image by paparutzi via Flickr

You can listen to this Christmas tale by clicking here, just know: you’ll hear my bobbles and gaffs against the sound of our woodstove ticking in the background, to let you know this is a very amateur production indeed.

Granted, his methods were nefarious the year he stole Christmas. But his tiny heart secretly was—and is—in the right place. He relented in the end, and returned the Roast Beast, the pandookas and tartookas. He let Cindy Lou Who have her Christmas in Whoville, after all.

It just might be that his intention was not to steal Christmas to do away with all the fliffer bloofs and wuzzle wuzz, but to make the misguided Whos understand it was not about things, after all.

And what you may not know is that His Despicable Greenness is only one in a vast army of seasonally-afflicted beings, pink and brown, great and small–a state of mind and heart that reaches back many generations, continuing right up to our day. The resisters’ Giftmas discomfort is strong and their numbers are growing.

Not because their hearts are two sizes too small do they refuse to become Santa’s little robotic shoppers. Composed of Christians and unchurched alike, this throng longs for a special time in December that is not as unnatural as an aluminum tree sprayed with toxic snow. They look for ways, short of another Winter Heist, to keep the good and real of it, and cast off the counterfeit and increasingly oppressive expectations of this particular Winter Tsunami of Stuff and Fluff.

Who are these rebellious Grinchlings and why do they grumble and rumble and fret instead of mindlessly beating their blumbloopas and whamming their whowonkas like good Whos should do?

Considerations of date and original intent aside (see http://goo.gl/CDOSF) it is the vast global seasonal-industrial complex built up around Santa—his legions of box-store and digital elves, and his enormous bag of toys and not-so-goodies—that most grieves these resistors.

It is the unfortunate fact that, for as long as there has been a nativity celebration, it has, to one degree or another, opened the floodgates to increasing caloric and material consumption, and thus to enormous profits that have morphed the manger into a lucrative global treasure chest.

In recognition of the cash cow Christmas shopping had become, Congress in 1941, officially moved Thanksgiving back a week to allow another seven days of spending. Our heaping shopping carts of mostly-unnecessary stuff now bring in as much income in the US between Black Friday and Dec. 25 as the gross national product of Ireland.

Among other concerns, today’s anti-Festivus underground is increasingly disturbed by the pervasive holiday music—a two-month brain-worm multi-media cluster bomb that mashes  up the sacred and secular, stirring the cloying and smarmy and glorious into an acoustic mantra, guiding us to that widget we can perch atop our heaping cart with only one more reflexive swiping of the magic plastic wand.

Do you hear what I hear? It is the epiphany of the New Advent! “Let’s give thanks to the Lord above, ‘cause Santa Claus is coming tonight!” Parumpapumpum and a partridge in a pear tree. The wrappings of Christmas have become the reason for the season. That can change, the Grenchlings say, and each of us can play a part.

“Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,

Was singing without any presents at all!

He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!

Somehow or other, it came just the same!”

Here are the Grinch’s beliefs on how we might yet reboot Christmas:

* Find peace and joy in stepping back all year long from slavery to stuff and consumer debt. On December 25, celebrate your blessings with family and friends, thankful for the marvels of this planet and each other, a thanksgiving wider and deeper than what we forget so quickly from a frenzy of tissue and cardboard under an aluminum conifer.

* What if you asked your gifters this year to bypass you, who have enough of enough, and give, from local goods and creations, to those in your community truly in need?

* Spread your generosity and love, especially but not only this time of year, far beyond the bounds of kin and friends and those like you, to find room in the inn for a hurting world of strangers. Grow your hearts by two sizes or more, for good!

And if the Grinch could find this true, perhaps there’s hope for Whoville, too!

And one final tidbit: Did you know that Thurl Ravenscroft, who sang “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch” was also the voice of Tony the Tiger.

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Time and Space, and How to See a Tree

For local readers  in Floyd County, you might have read this essay in this week’s paper. Except for the very important “bit.ly bundle” at the end. This was omitted when printed. What can I say? It is sort of important, so I encourage you to follow the link, especially for the time lapse imagery which is quite stunning and fully relevant to the rest of the essay. Good grief.

Vultures in Space
Image by fred1st via Flickr

Browsing the web one recent morning, I discover a “space exploration” site that displays two images side by side on my monitor. On the left is a region of space viewed with the visible spectrum of light that the human eye can see unaltered but for magnification—what you would see through avery powerful backyard telescope. The image includes a hundred fine points of light—stars and galaxies of various distances and ages–and a dozen more prominent, flaring silver dots set against a pure black vacuum of space.

Then, in striking contrast on the right, the same region is shown as a composite of visible, x-ray, gamma and radio wave days-long exposures.

There, around the very same shining stars and galaxies of the first image appear vast swirling columns and clouds of ruby-red dust, jets of exploded star-stuff and streams of massive energy, heating gaseous elements to an incandescent glow. The effect of this image seen through the instrument’s computer-enhanced eye is mind-boggling.

But after my initial thrill at the magnificence of such cosmic grandeur came the thought that this second image was somehow not real, a kind of counterfeit, a bit of high-tech special effects. Through the portholes of a future starship in deep space, travelers would see blackness and white and faintly blue and red cosmic objects—and nothing else. So the seeming something else of the enhanced picture did not ‘really’ exist. And yet, there it was in front of me.

This common human bias—that our perceptions show us the whole of “reality”—makes our universe much simpler and far less rich and complex than it, in fact, is. Our blindness comes from a tacit assumption that only that which our senses detect is real and the measure of “what is.” Seeing is believing, the old axiom holds.

You have only to go on a walk with your dog to be disabused of this false notion of reality. “What is” to his nose is quite undetectable by yours, and therefore, it does not exist for you. So why is he pulling you along so frantically? He would tell you “smelling is believing.”

The animal kingdom is rich with abilities of perception, ways of knowing, that reveal true realities in our shared worlds. There are a multitude of fact-detecting abilities among birds, insects and fish that go some distance beyond our own wonderful but limited human-scale senses. Reality with a capital R is wider and deeper than we know. We see through a glass, darkly. But maybe there is hope.

Let’s stand in the midst of a forest where you may at first only see a mash-up of nameless standing timber—so many board feet of inanimate wood–lovely perhaps, but mere shapes. How much richer a walk there will be if we can see a tree as a creature no less alive than ourselves. Let’s momentarily immerse ourselves in the reality of a single oak.

Our perception stops at bark and leaf, even though, beyond our senses but not our knowing, cellular nano-scale chemical factories are at work down inside the living tissue in chloroplasts, cambium, root tips and shoots, ceaselessly manufacturing the substances necessary for life. Our most powerful nanotechnology can not come close to duplicating a plant cell’s abilities.

Now consider our tree in time. It has lived here for 75 years. This tree’s distant kin have dominated your slope for countless human generations. Until the past century of logging, this tree’s ancestors lived as a virgin expanse of massive trees almost impossible to match in today’s fragmentary forests.

Go back far enough in time, the mountain chain under our feet—and the oak’s—was barren rock pushed tens of thousands of feet high, as colliding continents lifted up the early Appalachians. There was a time when “oak” was a future potential not yet present on the earth scene, a tree yet to have a family tree.

But we live with this other human impediment, another limitation that keeps us from comprehending the grandeur of the apparent ordinary. We seldom appreciate the time-lens view of present moments and places because we are burdened with the conceptual blind spot of the perpetual “now.” This peep at the whole of reality through a tiny keyhole of the present moment makes the reality of time’s flow as invisible to us as those cosmic castles of glowing star stuff. But again, maybe there’s another way to see.

For those who are adequately curious to follow this reality thread a step farther, finish this mental exercise at your computer. And you may never see a tree or a moment or a star in the same way again.


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