Wednesday, June 1, 2011

a long break

So... I'd just about decided to give up on this enterprise. It's one of those 'what's the point' situations. It does sometimes make me feel better to rant, but the world for the past month has been so crazy I had no idea which way to go.

I just don't get my fellow men and women. Nobody seems able to connect the very important dots. The horrific climate events... the floods, droughts, tornadoes... why don't people see their own behavior in those events? Isn't there a minimal ethical level that we all share... a level that indicates that some compassion for our fellow sentient beings is required?

What baffles me most, I guess, is the failure to adjust our personal entitlements. We know we're killing our planet. We know we're dooming our children to a hell we can't even imagine. Climate change is upon us. And what got me back to this site is the fact that I simply can't believe that people won't change for the sake of their children and grandchildren.

So... we know flying in airplanes is possibly the worst thing we can do, in terms of adding big quantities of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Yet we fly as much (or more), flying for vacations, flying for pleasures that are NOT ENTITLEMENTS. And driving... we think nothing of driving, of dumping those horrendous poisons into our atmosphere. Susan just told me about a hiking group that will drive to the coast (at least a 140-mile drive, round trip) to take a nice walk on the beach. What are we thinking?

I guess the truth is that we won't change, and that we'll just have to adjust to the new climate. But that, I think, is easier said than done. I think it's going to get real hard to grow food anywhere,

Just ran out of steam. No more rants. No energy for rants... Once again, I think this effort has ended. We'll see. Namaste. Kirk

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Frankie Lappe

We went to the Frances Moore Lappe lecture at OSU last evening. Came home and got out our copy of Diet for a Small Planet. Yikes! Inscribed on the inside of the cover is 'January 10, 1973. For Kirk and Susan. Frankie Lappe'. We think sister Leslie must have gotten the book for us when she and husband Val hosted Ms. Lappe at Colorado College. Anyway, the book is fascinating... reading it post-lecture (and hungry) brought back all those delicious hippie-standard casseroles... all the brown rice and fresh veggies and cheeses, baked for half an hour, making the house smell delicious every time. I won't forget those feasts, those Lappe-inspired treats baked in the woodstove oven (remember that Star Bride?), with a group of friends/kids on cold winter nights, the fireplace blazing? Good times. And good food. The Lappe book, combined with some of the stuff from Moosewood, inspired most of our diet in those days. And the act of getting the food... collecting and aging the manure, feeding the Earth, planting and harvesting and preserving... those were acts of love that so few can experience these days. And much more too... getting the food for the chickens so we could have those wonderful big brown eggs, hauling the truckloads of leaves from suburban yards in November (always a race to beat the trash trucks which seemed determined to put every leaf in the landfill)... the whole complex system fed us and nurtured us. Good times.

We were happy to see that many in the audience arrived by bike. Lots and lots of bikes. And, of course, too many cars. We managed to use the bus, combined with a nice walk across a beautiful campus both coming and going. Caught the last bus home... happy to see 24 other passengers who joined us for the journey in the dark.

Back to Ms. Lappe. She wasn't nearly the professional we expected. Seemed a bit nervous, more than a bit scattered (mixing up her notes, skipping slides), always on the move on stage. Her message has evolved from the Food Issues to a less-focused forum based on personal empowerment: You have the resources to solve these problems... all you have to do is find the correct course of action. It's actually a very Buddhist approach to the situation. She claims responsibility for all the problems, and claims she can muster the power to solve them. All she needs is for us to acknowlege our own responsibility, and for us to take charge of finding the solutions. It's 'Be the change you want to see in the world' (Ghandhi) writ large. She has a new book coming out in September (her 18th): EcoMind: Seven Thought-Leaps for the Planet. She touched, tho didn't dwell, on Climate Chaos (her take on Climate Change, and fed recently by the severe weather that includes droughts, floods and tornadoes) and on Living Democracy (as vs. Normal Democracy, where one goes to vote every four years and that is it). Her 'Living Democracy' is my thing too... stay informed and perform a political act every day. Write a letter, call a politician, go to City Hall for answers, question Authority every day... be a pain in the ass. She didn't hint as to the Seven Thought-Leaps, but I'll bet they'll be fun to read.

Her first action on stage was to ask her audience (a full house, mostly grey-haired, a few students): Are you scared? Virtually everyone said yes. Are you scared? I am.



Wednesday, May 4, 2011

a lecture and a tree

Our plan is to attend a lecture this evening on the OSU campus. The talk... "Clarity, Creativity and Courage for the World We Really Want"... is by Frances Moore Lappe, author of 17 books including Diet for a Small Planet (3 million copies in print). She has helped start 3 Earth-centered organizations, including 'Food First: The Institute for Food and Development Policy, and the Small Planet Institute, plus the recent Small Planet Fund. Quite the human! We're excited about hearing her.

So how to spend the day leading up to this event? I decided to be an observer... and chose our dwarf apple tree in the back yard as my subject. The tree predates us on this bit of Earth... as a dwarf, it's hard to tell how old it might be, but a guess would be 10 years. I've severely pruned it to conform to a modest trellis, so it's only 7' tall with a branch-spread of 8' and a thickness (the east-west dimension) of 24". I've left 3 main branches on each side (the north-south dimension), with one major center shoot. All seven branches are bushy, and the result today is an amazing display of blossoms... fist-sized bunches of between 4 and 7 perfect white blooms, each with 5 petals streaked with several tiny reddish veins. There are about 80 blossom clusters altogether.

The most remarkable feature of the tree today, if you approach softly, is the hum... the entire tree seems to vibrate, to hum, with life. And it is life... the fruits which we will enjoy in October are being pollinated today by a variety of varmints from ants to bees. There are about 15 honeybees... our most common pollinator... helped by 3 varieties of what look like bumblebees, though none are any bigger than the honeybees, and each has a distinctive outer jacket over the abdomen (varied stripes of yellow on black). Then there are two kinds of wasps, two kinds of ants (one big and slow, another tiny and hurried), and one tiny bee that doesn't resist when I ask it to sit on my finger. All are determined to visit every blossom before sunset and evening cool.

So this beautiful little tree is a very active community today. The combination of pollinators and sunshine and warmth and all those dreary rainy days of winter and spring will bring us, with luck, several buckets of glossy reddish apples. Picked ripe, they make a sauce that needs no sweetener, and a pie that is ... well, American!

It's fun to spend a few minutes looking at the anatomy of an apple blossom... all those long-forgotten terms from 10th-grade biology (petals, corolla, stigmas, pistils, pollen, anthers, stamens and more) come back and, unlike when you were 15, they actually are interesting. Ruby and I spent a few minutes appreciating the blossoms this morning... at eleven months, her attention span is pretty short... she liked the fact that just the slightest touch makes a delicate snow of white petals.

We're all wrestling with the concept of how to achieve the ' World we really want' these days. We're addicted to so many comforts and habits that are devastating the Earth, not so much because of us as because there are so many of us (early July will bring the seven-billionth human!). We're struggling with redefining our needs and our wants, and differentiating between our benign entitlements and those that are crippling this Small Planet. So complex, and different for each of us. My tree today was another lesson... we've been warned that that hum of our local pollinators will not survive 'climate change' intact. It's my greatest fear, I think: That my grandchildren might one day stand where I did today, admiring the blossoms on that perfect little tree, and not hear the hum. And not get the apples. And not have all that I have had. They deserve the same Earth-blessings I have had, and we must change to assure that that happens.

We'll take the bus to the lecture, and probably walk home. Three-plus miles, dark, stars. I love the hum of an apple tree on May 4th! And I love my grandchildren!



Tuesday, May 3, 2011

mourning losses...

For those of you who believe Osama Bin Laden is dead, I offer the following statement from Dr. Martin Luther King: "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that".



Monday, May 2, 2011

news on the wrong day...

The news business is weird. Like today... the store where I shop for most of our groceries gets a wide variety of papers, from the Times to WSJ to about 10 Oregon papers. It was a trip to stand in front of the rack this morning... virtually every headline (the Times the exception, because it was printed too early): BIN LADEN DEAD. Then, just slightly smaller, "Justice has been done", quoting Obama. Justice... doesn't that mean like a trial, like capture and charges and juries and judges? Seems to me if you decide a guy is guilty, and then go and kill him, it's a stretch to call it 'justice'. Anyway, the guy is dead (if you believe the US Government). Now we should be braced for some real action against Americans. Burning Korans was a bad idea. Killing Bin Laden may be a far worse idea. Stay tuned...

Two very good articles on page 1 of the NYTimes today. The first is "Another Side of Tilapia, the Ideal Farm Fish", by my favorite, Elizabeth Rosenthal. She writes from Agua Azul, Honduras. I'll do a few random quotes:

You're aware, I think, that fish is often promoted as 'healthy' food. "The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week". But "... farmed tilapia contains a less-healthful mix of fatty acids (the reason fish is recommended) because the fish are fed corn and soy instead of lake plants and algae, the diet of wild tilapia".

And "... environmentalists argue that intensive and unregulated tilapia farming is damaging ecosystems in poor countries with practices generally prohibited in the United States". I quote Dr. Jeffrey McCrary, an American fish biologist who works in Nicaragua: "We wouldn't allow tilapia to be farmed in the United States the way they are farmed here, so why are we willing to eat them? We are exporting the environmental damage caused by our appetites".

Think about that. It's exactly the same as all those imports from China... we don't make that stuff here because the costs, if we follow all the required environmental rules, would be prohibitive. So how are fish different?

And from another viewpoint... the global dispersal of tilapia "was maybe not the best idea because the fish is one of the most invasive species known and very hard to get rid of once they are established." Wild tilapia have squeezed out native species in lakes throughout the world with its agressive breeding and feeding. Many biologists worry that the big business of tilapia farming will outweigh caution, leaving dead lakes and extinct species.

And "For United States shoppers picking up tilapia from China or Honduras or Nicaragua or Ecuador, there is little official guidance. It's such a complicated job for consumers to decide what to eat, with aquaculture production expanding so rapidly", according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's popular Seafood Watch, an independent consumer guide to buying sustainable fish.

I happened to read this article this morning while sitting in the cafe of Market of Choice, a new upscale grocery here in Corvallis. So I walked back to the fish section. Sure enough, the label read "Fresh Honduras Tilapia". The guy behind the counter knew about some of the issues, and was willing to admit the Honduras fish is not their first choice, but that domestic supplies are essentially nonexistent. They refuse to buy fish from China... too polluted.

The issue is important. Our consumer choices affect the environments of those poor countries... the Central Americans and others who have been seduced by the American appetites. The dead lake in Nicaragua (Lake Apoyo, which is without fish or plants since a tilapia farm which existed from l995 to 2000, polluted the lake and killed everything, including the farm) is a harbinger of more troubles. An important article, and principle.

Also on page one today, "Gulf Spill is Casting a Shadow Over Shell's Plans in Alaska", from Savoonga, Alaska. About Shell's efforts to get permission to drill in a 'forbidding region' of extreme weather and deep waters. "Shell's application will pose a test for Obama, who promised to put safety first after the BP spill in the Gulf". And this issue would be a no-brainer, I think, (drilling up there is just too fraught with potential for disaster), except for one fact: "Alaska once accounted for a third of this nation's production, but its fields are now in steep decline. The decrease in production threatens the continued safe use of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, also know as TAPS, which requires a steady flow of oil to avert corrosion and spills".

So... the pressures of our addiction (and our behaviour in the oil business is entirely addiction-driven) and post-peak oil (all the easy stuff has been found and burned) will probably force Obama to approve this very dangerous drilling activity. Susan and I are working 24/7 to end our addiction. We drove our car less than 50 miles in April, and we're hoping for even less in May. Then maybe we can finally get rid of our car. It takes some life-style adjustment, so priority changes, but we think it's doable. We'll never be entirely free of the oil-based economy (just look at the bananas and oranges in the fruit bowl), but it's certainly worth some effort to gain more freedom. The tornadoes last week were partly our fault, for which we apologize.

Not an easy time to be a Buddhist. Again, I'll recommend "A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency", published by Wisdom Publications in Boston, edited by three well-known Buddhist scholars (Heidi has worked with one of these guys, and our copy of the book was a gift from her). Well worth the time it takes to read this enlightened series of essays by articulate men and women. Not an easy time to be a Buddhist.

From Ato Rinpoche: "I think everybody including political and religious leaders should discuss global warming. Everybody has to take responsibility. Everybody needs to work together and then something positive can result."

And from Hozan Alan Senauke: "Act mindfully and correctly, irrespective of results. Do things because they are the proper things to do. Our national moral authority flows from a willingness to make personal sacrifices. The world is what you make it...".



Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day

May Day. Impossibly perfect here in Corvallis, with the clear sky, near-70 temperature, soft breeze. Quickly chases the months of drear and dread. Here's a part of my wondrous world today:

Our little apple trees, bursting with clusters of white-pink blossoms.
The barrels of tulips and pansies, crowds of flowers on the deck. Tulips all around, including the north terraces... reds, yellows, combinations.
A happy gathering of solomon's-seal stems, blossoms promised, looking as if they'd been bunched and washed and combed.
The over-wintered greens, the bluish kales, the rainbow chards.
The first of the rhodo blooms, impossible pinkish creations from tight buds, and the pair of jays assigned to protect this part of the garden. And the shock of thumb-sized asparagus stalks, promised as tomorrow's supper. And the last of the daffodils, remnants of a weeks-old civilization past its prime. And the grape vines, more promises, fat buds to become summer afternoon snacks.
And the delicate first strawberry blossoms, the ones I told Ruby about... how she'll have to get there before her brother. Ditto the blueberries.
And the reds and pinks of the new-growth roses. And the carpets of sky-blue lithadora encroaching on every path.
And the pots of mints, fair game for breakfast tea. And the hyperactive pair of towhees, tiny red-black chickens searching for the elusive treasures in our raised beds.
And the view... the bluish layers of hills-to-mountains, each promising a secret passage to the Pacific.
In that near view, our oaks, moss-laden and solid, again promising shade on our rare hot afternoons.
We do live in a paradise of sorts, a daily feast of beauty. My paradise includes the time to partake of that feast. And that is my May Day.

"Somehow, in the process of trying to deny that things are always changing, we lose our sense of the sacredness of life. We tend to forget that we are a part of the natural scheme of things." Pema Chodron



Saturday, April 30, 2011

connecting some dots

The media is filled with horror stories from the states blasted by a record number of huge hyperenergized storms this past week. The statistics are sobering... not just the numbers of tornadoes, but the fact that so many had winds over 200 mph. One story I recommend is 'What the Wind Carried Away' (James Braziel, NYTimes Op-Ed, 4-30). Braziel describes finding papers in his yard carried over 100 miles by a storm that barely missed his suburb of Birmingham, AL.
There's another aspect of the reporting that is being challenged by an increasing number of ethicists: It is immoral and unethical to report these remarkable weather events without mentioning, at the very least, the fact that humans... that's you and me... are without any doubt at least partially to blame for the rapid increase in such events around the globe. In ethical terms, it's called 'connect the dots'. Scientists refer to the physics of the situation: Warm air holds more moisture, enabling the violence that more and more frequently plagues human settlements.
You may have read my several references to Heidi Cullen's latest book on climate change. These storms in our mid-South follow exactly her predictions of increasingly violent and bizarre weather events. The fact that Texas is now on fire is entirely predictable... and the drought in our Southwest is predictable as well. So it is without exaggeration that Dr. Braziel ends his op-ed piece: "And if you were not in Pratt City, if you did not see where all the debris had come from, you would be left with only those tiniest of pieces, wondering what happened and how fast and how far, if next time it would be something of yours".
Connect the dots. Everything is interconnected. Every action affects every other action. It's time for each of us to look at our entitlements a little more closely, keeping in mind the 300+ dead in our South. "If the next time it would be something of yours".

We're going to have dinner with friends this evening. We'll walk.