Saturday, May 17, 2014


 A UU minister friend sends me an email:  “I'm about done with the human race -- the entire lot.  They're going to destroy the Earth, the bees, and every superior and lovely species.  I cannot bear it.  The La/Na/Dakota people have blocked the KXL and oil trucks from their land -- "Moccasins on the Ground."  It breaks my heart.  They're going to lose it again. . .   I take refuge in the people who are awake to the danger and still fight the good fight, but I do wonder if Life took a deviant and destructive turn some time back, and we began to select genes for fear and greed instead of courage and kindness.  We had such promise; what happened?”

Since everything is connected, the actual destruction of the earth has become reflected in the mood of those who care, affecting their ability to deal with daily life.  Among the environmental groups whose listservs I monitor are several in both the US and Canada.  Many of the members operate websites that are informative, analytical, and beautiful beyond the scope of the usual crowd who have their cameras permanently set on "enhance" in order to evade reality.

At least one person, Harold Rhenisch, explores blogs as a force for change.  For eight years now, Harold has been posting a complex of blogs as a home for writing, a place to transform writing into new forms, and as a writing tool in itself.  (We used to do this in books.)  The transformation has been profound and has led Harold into writing as a form of performance space, dramatic canvas, and walking practice.    My favorite is “Okanagan Okanogan,”  “over 500 posts documenting and exploring the Okanagan Valley and the Columbia Plateau. The goal of the project is to create a new paradigm for writing about nature and aiding in the creation of intellectual and practical tools for water conservation, energy production, sustainable agriculture and a union of beauty, science and literature in a new kind of literary practice. The project supported the creation of two texts, “Back to the Interior” and “Atomic Okanagan”, funded by the B.C. Arts Council and the Canada Council, respectively.”   He doesn't just make pretty picture -- he explains what you're looking at and why it matters. 

When you despair, explore a bit.  You won’t just be consoled, you’ll be changed.  You won’t be lectured, asked to sign a petition, encouraged to march, pulled into a NGO with institutional budgets.  It’s just Harold and his camera, going for a walk.  When I first started reading “Okanagan, Okanagan,” I thought he was just an incredibly perceptive college kid because it was so fresh and yet informed.  Pretty soon I found out he was an international figure.  Well, I won’t hold it against him.  He’s also part of a network of communities.  Ah.

There was a similar blogger on the east coast whom I used to follow.  He was near NYC and simply sat by a beaver dam, day after day, until he could distinguish individuals, see the patterns of their lives, and empathize with their view of the world.  He posted videos.  I can’t remember his name -- lost in a couple of computer crashes.  (If you know, tell me.)  I tried to google to find him and discovered that half the entries on the google list were from companies promising to get rid of animals from rats to coyotes.  A reflection of our ambivalence.  We are divided between love and hate.

Lately there have been books meant to address the distress of realizing that our animal world is collapsing.  One is “Facing the Change: Personal Encounters with Global Warming” edited by Steven Pavlos Holmes.  It’s in three major sections:  Observations, Generations, and Revolutions.  The sequence is from the despairing evidence to testimonies of determination and success -- small, of course, but every little bit counts.  The list of contributors’ bios is almost as interesting as the actual poems and essays!  A cloud of witnesses, they are people from everywhere who closely observe nature and record their reflections.  I think people don’t know about them.  The media doesn’t pick up on them.

SEARCH by Margarita Engle

Eggs of the sea turtle
are male in cool years,
female in warm --

no sex chromosomes
to keep a balance

as heated oceans fill
with wandering spinsters

searching for mates.   Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American winner of the first Newberry Honor ever awarded to a Latino.  She writes Young Adult books and her husband raises rescue dogs.

The final essay in the book is by Audrey Schulman,, a free lance writer who also runs an energy-efficiency non-profit called HEET near Boston.  The piece is a simple report of how people get paralyzed in an emergency if there is a crowd of observers, not entirely sure what to do.  She was on a commuter train when a six-year-old stood up on his seat and cried out for help because his epileptic mother was seizing.  No one knew what to do.  All these smart competent people equipped with cell phones were doing nothing.  Audrey didn’t know what to do either, but she thought of “bystander effect” -- paralysis -- and began to issue orders.  “Call 911!  Call the conductor!  Stop the train!”  They all began to react while she herself cradled the woman’s head.  Shortly it was all under control, the train stopped, EMT’s arrived, and the “bystanders” had been transformed into an action group, “high” with the excitement of saving the woman and boy.

Steven Pavlos Holmes

Holmes, who is an “independent scholar in the environmental humanities” did something similar with this book.  He issued a call for contributions on the environmental listservs, then edited, organized and fronted for the publishing through Torrey House Press.  (“Love of the land” is their motto).  This is hunting and gathering, a behavior that evades the crushing corporate world.


What are you reading now?
To be honest, these days I read a lot of old British murder mysteries – Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Sherlock Holmes. Avoiding thinking about climate change? You bet. Or rather, to be more forgiving toward myself – as a friend says, I think a lot of us would be better off if we stopped “shoulding” on ourselves all the time – I think that even escapist reading can serve a positive function as a sort of tactical retreat, a “time out” for calmness, stability, re-invigoration. Humans aren’t made to live in crisis all the time, and I would never expect anyone to force themselves constantly to address climate change or the feelings it evokes – that way lies burnout and despair; rather, the goal is to work out a pattern that works for you, take it in small doses or compartmentalize your life if you have to, take it in at your own time and pace – but don’t completely turn away, and don’t give up.”

What originally interested you in climate change and this project?
“. . . my study of religion, spirituality, and psychology had led me to a set of ideas and practices perhaps best exemplified (as far back as the 1970s) by Joanna Macy and The Work That Reconnects – the basic idea being that the inability of people and society to face up to monumental challenges such as threat of nuclear annihilation stems not from sheer disagreement about the facts and figures, but rather from the emotional chaos that (quite naturally) arises when you realize that the world you love is under extreme threat.

The first, step, then, can’t be more scientific facts and argument, but rather a space in which to feel those emotions, and to somehow move through them; to put it another way, what people need is not to be convinced of something out there, but empowered within themselves.”

View from the Torrey House Press office

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