Are We Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution?

Gibbous Earth rising over moon
Earthrise, Apollo 8, Dec 24th, 1963

We stand on the edge of the abyss. Humanity is the scourge of the planet, some say. The Earth will be better off without us say others. We are causing our own extinction.

I think we’re the child, throwing toys out of the cradle, not caring what breaks as we rage at our own actions. We’re magnificent in our anger, our sorrow and our guilt are expressions of our deep goodness, the power we have yet to grow into. Our actions really do matter, and we have all the tools we need to save ourselves and become the planetary guardians we long to be.

We have already jumped out of the cradle. We are the only animals on this planet who have managed to climb out of the gravity well. Can you hear the voice of Neil Armstrong in your head? I can. Can you see the face of Earth, shining blue-green in space? I can. Our footprints are on the Moon. Our technology is flying through space. Our human images are blazoned on a golden tablet, the sounds of our voices etched on a disk. Whether other intelligent beings ever see any of these things or not is immaterial. We have managed to create a record of our existence that might remain beyond the death of our solar system.

Isn’t that achievement inspiring enough to rouse us to live up to our own magnificence? Isn’t it worth doing the hard work of cleaning up the scattered mess of our childhood? If we can figure out how to explore our solar system, can’t we learn how to live together in peace, to share the riches we have, to recognize what true wealth really is?

Money is for suckers. It causes more problems than it solves. It can be useful, but like LSD, it’s a quick fix, a glimpse of enlightenment, not the real deal. It’s dessert, not the main course. True wealth is food on the table, clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads. It’s being able to drink clean, clear water from the river that runs through our town and being able to look up at the stars above our heads. It’s having neighbors we trust, whose names we know, people we can count on when we’re in trouble, people we break bread with. It’s getting to a place where we see race, and want our children to grow up in a place where they live with people of many creeds, colors, genders. It’s a place where we feel impoverished when we don’t have all those different points of view to call upon when we have a problem to solve or we’re planning a party. It’s a place where our children play in the street and can go to any house in the neighborhood when they need help.

It’s a place where we don’t see children starving in Yemen or neighborhoods bombed out of existence. I’m heartsick at seeing the faces of people gunned down at a bar, soldiers lost in war, burned out cars in a forest ravaged by fire. I’m scared to turn the news on at night. Aren’t you?

What we pay attention to grows. So many good things are happening in this world. We can start on so many more any time we choose to give our time and energy to them. It feels good to be part of the solution, to give ourselves to life. It’s all around us.

Here are two of these good things:

Trees For Life: Saving the Caledonian Forest

Yes Magazine

Every workday morning I walk across town to catch the train. I walk through my quiet neighborhood and give thanks that I have a secure job, a house to come home to, a beautiful, loving partner. Peace begins with me, and I share it, silently, as I walk. I spend that walk thinking of what the world would look like if everyone had this peace. Magical thinking? You bet. I’ve done it for 18 years now. It doesn’t matter what you believe, it has an effect. It makes me look for and nurture the good around me. It makes me feel better, and the extra energy I have available to do the right thing, to not fall apart at the awful things the world around me shows me every. single. day. is in itself worth the energy expended. Since I believe that humanity can be better than we are I act like a member of my magnificent, flawed species. I walk to work instead of drive. I get enough exercise in that commute to feel good and have the strength to carry groceries, pick up trash, stand in front of City Hall. My polling place is on my way to the train, so voting is easy. Since I’m lucky enough to be able to vote easily I do it every single time. It goes on from there.

I’ll bet you do the right thing every day too. I’ll bet many of you don’t notice all the ways you are part of the solution instead of the problem. I also think, that if you took a moment or two to think about what you do, and let yourself feel good about it you’d be able to think of a few things you could add to that list, new habits you can begin to create.

I’d love to hear about them, and I’ll bet that I’m not the only one who will find them inspiring. Please! Comment! Feel free to share this post, or make one of your own and share it here. Let’s see what this might lead to!

Centenary

I know you’re angry.
So am I.
How could we not be?
Children ripped from their parents,
Concentration camps in Texas.
“I can’t breathe”
“I remember their laughter”
A child-man throwing ugly decrees from his high chair.

But from a high shelf in Europe come watercolor images a century on.
French families fleeing destruction.
Children starving in Yemen.
Corpses of trees standing witness as men follow orders into death.
As we follow our leaders.

They know who we need to hate.
In front of City Hall we are led in chants.
We know the story.
Our indignation gives us the right to hate.
We have worked so hard, but They stole our votes, our climate, our lives.
We will make them pay!
We will come here every night if necessary!
Bearing placards, twisted pictures of an uncrowned King.
A piñata we can beat to death
Until we get our hands on him.

Where is the line? When do We become Them?

Wind back time, another protest.
The First Peoples told us,
“Rise in peace, in prayer when you do this work”
I remember as I raise an electric candle.
I see a woman of amber gently closing the lion’s mouth
Pushing peacefully, inexorably,
In the direction where the muscles of hate have no choice but to obey.

Yes. I will witness.
Every night if necessary.
I will shine a light, but I will not hate.
I see the skeletal trees.
The skeletal children.
I see Armstrong’s footprints.
Earth rising above the lunar landscape.
The green children of Glen Affric.
Forests hiding trenches, life returning.

The bell is tolling, a century later.
Can we hear the words of Harry Patch?
Can we hear The Green Fields of France?
The ghosts gather round, asking “Have you ended war yet?”

Only a fool fights when the world is burning.
Peace begins with me.
The truth against the world.
Peace begins with all of us.

A woman in a white dress pushes a gaudy lion's mouth closed.
Strength, from the Morgan-Greer Tarot

The Story of Now

Gaia statue among the ferns
An Anthropomorphic View of Earth

The First Peoples of North America killed the Black Snake. They warned us all of the web of dark pipe, creeping across the Land, poisoning the Land, the Water, the Air. They had to speak, hoping that at last we would hear because death came once again for their lands, and because they knew that all lands are one. They knew it would never stop until all the Earth was destroyed. They reminded us that Water is Life, that we cannot eat money, we cannot drink oil, or breathe natural gas.

This story is the tale we told our children, the tale our descendants will tell, the story of how we, the blessed ancestors, made the right choices when the choices we made were crucial. They tell this story in this way because we must remember the things that we had to die to in order not to die of them. This story is a strong, beautiful container, fit to bring the knowledge down through the ages to come.

500 years ago, people who looked like me came to this continent. They named it America, after one of their gentleman adventurers. These men came to make their fortunes. With them came the dispossessed, the unwanted, the persecuted. The ones considered the dregs of Europe. They cloaked their pain at losing their homelands and being parted from their kin and the land their ancestors bones lay in with the story of a better future. They used it to forget the pain of their worthlessness. They created the story of the temporarily embarrassed billionaire that so many of us tell ourselves today.

They poured into a land depopulated by the disease that came before them and they mistook it for a wilderness. They brought with them the story of the Great Chain of Being, all the way from God in his heaven down to the lowest demons in Hell. They placed the First Peoples at the bottom as they took what they wanted. They forced the First Peoples onto lands they considered useless, worthless. They created a world in the image of the one they had been forced from and they prospered.

Now, those at the top have discovered something they want on those “worthless” lands. They came for them as well, and the First Peoples are once again fighting for their homes, their sacred places. They are warning us, reminding us that water is life. Telling us once again that you cannot eat money, drink oil, breathe natural gas. That true wealth is clean land, clean water, clean air.

We hear them, we of many creeds, many colors, many orientations. We know these truths down to our bones. We too are dispossessed. The sickness that brought the first Europeans here did not stop with the lands and lives of the First Peoples. Those who hold the wealth have begun to eat their own, all who are different, who do not worship the right gods, love the right people, hold the right truths in our hearts. We who know that there is no “them,” that there is only us, from the plankton in the seas to the birds soaring high above this land, from the homeless shivering in the streets to the richest in their houses of gold. We know that the first thing we look for when we discover the existence of other planets is the presence of Water, because Water is Life.

We know that we must die to the idea that there are worthless people, worthless beings of any kind. We know that all beings have a place and a right to exist in it. We know that the Land is not something one can own, nor is it something that owns us. Land and People and all Beings are in relationship with each other, and when we take from the Land, we must also give back in our turn. We know that all that we are is borrowed from the future, and received from the past.

We took the hands of the First Peoples and became friends. Together we did the hard work of throwing our shoulders to those feedback loops that were spinning towards death and started them spinning towards life. We stopped taking what the Earth could no longer give and stopped giving what the Earth could no longer take. We built a world where all beings are honored, where all people have food, shelter and clothing appropriate to our needs and our creeds. We all know that we are the Web of Life, and what we do to the web we do to ourselves.

We took the hands of the First Peoples and became friends. Our children took the hands of those of the First Peoples and grew up as siblings. Their children were born as one, peoples of many creeds, colors, orientations, an adornment of this Earth instead of a scourge, knowing a peace that we will never know.

But down through the ages they tell the story of us, the blessed ancestors who did what was needed when what we did was crucial. They remember that the First Peoples of a land once called North America killed the Black Snake, and saved us all.

/|\   /|\   /|\

This story is the heart of a workshop I will be giving at Pantheacon 2018. It is called The Story We Tell Now Is Vital: Modern Mythology And The Shaping Of The World To Come.
OBOD Hospitality Room, 253, Saturday at 5 PM.
Bring a notebook or a drawing pad and your imagination!

One Million Redwoods

I ran across the One Million Redwoods kickstarter  today. The thing that really brought me on board is that, besides the fact that this project is already underway, they are not just planting redwoods, but the whole forest community. They understand the difference between a tree farm and a forest, and they are doing the desperately needed work of reforestation that will save us all, if we do enough of it in time.

Trees are the cheapest, fastest carbon sinks we have to hand. They are proven technology, the planet’s own way of locking up the surfeit we’ve thrown into the atmosphere over the last few hundred years. More than that, trees and humans are interdependent. We breathe each others’ exhalations–literally. We need forest products for so many things, food and fuel and the houses we live in. Our bodies and our waste products can feed the forest, if we do it properly. We are happier and healthier living around trees–we are so dependent that even when we cut down the forest to build our cities we plant replacement trees. Our relationship is so obvious and natural to us that we don’t even see it any more, even when it’s all around us.

We are beginning to die because we have cut down so many trees. The planet is getting hotter and drier. Fire, drought, extreme weather events are increasing. The oceans are changing as they absorb the excess carbon and acidify. It’s time to give back, and this project is one way to do so. I don’t know how to replant a forest. I know it needs to be done, and for me this is very close to home. I am watching many of my home groves die. Sudden oak death is ravaging California right now. I don’t know what to do—no one does.  At the moment, the best we can do is not spread it. I have three oak seedlings in pots in my back yard that need to be destroyed because they have it. My potted laurel tree is a reservoir, so it too will have to go. So supporting the work of people like For The Wild is a way to support that learning process for us as a species, and to help build a seed bank and nursery for the future. This is one time when money will actually make a difference. These people have a week to raise the last 23% of their goal. Their rewards are pretty cool too. They include tree dedications, online classes, family legacy groves, and trips to the redwoods.

A goddess demanded that I plant trees. Sadly, my work does not lie along those lines. I’m a singer and a writer. I plant seeds of knowledge and awareness and that is why I’m posting this right now. At work, I talk about ships, one of which is the last of the Pacific Coast lumber schooners. She was built of Douglas fir, to mine out the forests of the West Coast. She helped to build the cities of the West Coast out of the cathedrals of living wood that we should have had the sense not to destroy. Her existence is an opportunity to explain that great mistake, and to ask the people who come to visit her to think about the forest she was once part of. She carried lumber once, now she carries memory, responsibility, and the seeds of the future.
We call trees natural resources. What kind of mindset does that imply? Forests are communities, not storehouses, and the way we treat these beings is already determining our own survival. We have forgotten that when we take, we need to give something in return. Please consider supporting this organization, a tree planted in your name is an investment in the future. I hope someday a tree will be my tombstone, of sorts, my body returned to the land that it was borrowed from.

I offer you a song, a few thoughts on what the city I live in now is, and what it could become:

Druidry and cutting down trees

Exactly! I give tours of a recently rebuilt schooner. Explaining the process gives me a chance to explain the importance of reforesting and caring for what we have. We couldn’t go back to the forests the boat was built from to get the wood, after all.

Druid Life

It may be as a Druid that your first instinct is to protect trees no matter what. It’s a good instinct, (I would think that, because I do feel it) but at the same time, it helps to understand the historical relationships between people, trees and the landscape.

First up, wood is an amazing material. It is sustainable to use so long as we take only what we need and plant three trees for every tree we cut down. It’s also sustainable to coppice and pollard. Wood is not actually one material, different trees have different properties – alder for example resists water. Venice was built on alder. Wood is durable, beautiful, and effective.

Secondly, if the land has a history of human wood work over thousands of years, then continuing isn’t a bad idea. There are woodland flowers that don’t show up unless patches of woodland are cleared. Small…

View original post 373 more words

Little Things Make A Difference

smashed Bombay Sapphire bottle in the street
Study in Blue

Sometimes it’s all you can do to get out of bed in the morning. We’ve all been there. Sometimes, like now, very little progress can be made on things. The next election is an eternity away, the bill is stalled in Congress, payday won’t come any faster. The trash is piling up in the streets—

Wait a minute.

Okay, I can’t clean up the neighborhood. But I can keep that wiggly plastic bag from hitting the water and becoming an enticing jellyfish to a marine mammal. I’m walking that way anyway and there’s a trash can at the end of the block. It’s hardly any effort to bend down and swipe it off the ground as I pass.

I can’t ban plastic bags all by my lonesome, but I can keep a few reusable bags in my pack or in my car and use them whenever I buy something.

I can’t stop Starbuck’s from using paper cups and plastic lids, but I can carry my own cup and stop using them myself.

I can build small actions into my life in such a way that they take next to no energy. I can create a new routine for myself so that these things are just the way I handle these everyday tasks, and as they disappear from my bandwidth I can look for more things to add. I can spend my energy on the big things, like town hall meetings, letters to the editor, protests—you get the idea.  The most important benefit is the new mindset I’ve created for myself. I’ve become part of the solution instead of the problem. A person who picks up trash doesn’t create it. A person who actively looks for ways to be of use will find them. And it feels good. It fills part of the hole in my heart that living in a neighborhood full of trash and tags can create. The new way of life that will get us to a future we can all live in starts with me.

What does that future look like to you? What do you see around you that has to stop? What do you see around you that we need to see more of? Most importantly, how can each one of us facilitate it in ways that don’t alienate others? For instance, I was recently at a large event. The organizer bought bottled water for an outdoor lunch. Given the situation and the community level of awareness, it was the best choice, and she’d committed herself to recycling the bottles. Yet people still complained. I was part of the work crew for this event and someone took it upon themselves to snipe about the choice to me. I took a deep breath and chose my words carefully. I had a pewter tankard of water in my hand, and I said as nicely as I could that it was our choice to take a water bottle or not. If they preferred, there were glasses in the dining hall and tap water. I don’t believe I changed a mind, but at least the subject was dropped. And my choice was clear, in my hand.

I find it very freeing to eschew guilt whenever possible. We are, after all, not necessarily the ones who caused the problem, but we are responsible, both for our choices, and for cleaning up the messes we have inherited. There’s no one else, after all, and we are responsible for the world we leave to the next generation. Will they curse our name, or revere us as the ancestors who made the right choices when it was crucial?

Our small actions add up. What we pay attention to grows. How many plastic bags have been avoided by the fact that reusable bags have become a fashion statement? How many pounds of garbage have I pulled out of the woods, a pocketful at a time? How many pounds of garbage can we avoid generating in the first place by choosing to buy quality items, avoiding over packaging, and using things until they wear out? What other changes will occur to us as a result of these small actions? Slowly, the feedback loops that spin towards extinction move more slowly—then stop—then slowly begin to spin the other way…

“such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere” —JRR Tolkien

Earth balloon, lying deflated in the street
Larder, or Living Organism?

We Choose Life

Gibbous Earth rising over moon
Earthrise from Apollo 8. Dec 24th, 1968

Every morning I leave my house before the sun is up. As I walk to work I see the trees leafing out and the good green Earth opening to the rain, the sun, the fog. Our current situation, the spectre of global warming, our separation from each other, the roar of traffic, I see them all as quaint relics of the past. I spend a few minutes in mythic time and see past, present, future. I see this moment in time when we stood at the center of the hourglass, the choices we have made narrowing behind us until we reached this point between past and future. I see the moment when we chose life.

We are living through the beginning of planetary awareness. We are also at the beginning of an extinction event. We exist in wonderful, terrible, pivotal times. The decisions we make now are changing the very face of Gaia.  We are the descendants of those who took the terrible road to dependence on fossil fuels, the stored sunlight of the ages. We are the ancestors of those who will live in the world that we leave them. Will they curse our names, if they have breath to do so? Will they revere us as the ones who changed the course of history and left them this good green Earth to live and grow on? Will the spiral of life and growth continue ever upward as the hourglass fills once again?

As I walk through my neighborhood, I name my blessings. On nearly every city street there are trees. Grass grows in the cracks in the pavement. Gaia clothes herself in green no matter what we put between the soil and the sky and she will not be denied. As I walk through downtown San Francisco and along the base of Telegraph Hill, I do the same. Small trees grow even in the heart of the Financial District, but the steep sides of Telegraph Hill are wild, barely tamed by retaining walls and nets of cabled steel that hold back the falling rock, once mined to ballast the deep holds of ships. Trees cling to the earth, their roots spread like fingers dug deep into soil and rock. Birds sing here and in this wet spring, water sings a song of plenty in the concrete we have set to direct it to the Bay.

I give thanks for my job, my home, my partner. I am thankful for the deep peace of knowing that in all likelihood we will both come home safe tonight. I take that deep peace that pervades my life and spread it over the whole world, thick and green. I take a moment to see what the world might be like if everyone had that peace, if everyone had food, shelter and clothing appropriate to their needs and their creeds. What would it be like if we all realized our connection and that what we do to this world we all share we do to ourselves? What would it be like to live in a world where everyone was doing exactly what they were meant to, giving their unique gift to the whole?

I see a world where we all woke up and realized that we are determining the shape of this planet and what creatures live and which ones die. This knowledge shocked us, saddened us, shamed us. It also can bring out the best in us. We brought the world to this place, where the Great Barrier Reef is dying and the jet stream itself is changing its course. We did this, and we can undo it if we remember and act on our connection. I see a world where we chose life.

We chose life.
We chose to assume responsibility equal to our power.

We chose life.
We chose to count the cost of our actions on all beings before we took them, and to apply that same calculus to the actions we had already taken.

We chose life.
We chose to become the awareness shining out of Gaia’s eyes that we were evolved to be.

We are a sense organ of this planet. We don’t own this world, we give Gaia a way to perceive it in its entirety. We showed Gaia her face for the first time, beamed it across television screens and printed it on paper, then stored it on the internet where you can look at it right now. You are Gaia looking at herself. We are Gaia, aware of past, present, and possible futures. Extinction is bearing down on us and for the first time, Gaia can see it coming. We can work to stop it, or we can let our peculiar line of evolution and awareness be swallowed by it without even trying.

I don’t think we’re going to do that. I think that the ape falling over the cliff is endowed with superhuman powers at that moment and will manage to snag a root or a rock before going over the edge. I think enough of us realize what is happening and are willing to do the work that needs to be done. I can see it happening in this early morning, as I travel across town as my hominin ancestors did, millions of years ago, on two feet, looking with intelligence, memory and awareness at the world around me. Step by step I travel, part of the city of my birth, knowing the path I follow and seeing it change every day.

I see how it could change going forward. What if we chose to walk to our destinations? What if telecommuting replaced the river of metal, each car carrying one passenger, automation being turned to the service of all to free us from the “daily grind” instead of enriching the fortunate few? What if we all walked in our neighborhoods and so reconnected with each other and the place we inhabit? What f we could get the things we need in our neighborhoods, from people we trusted because we see each other every day? Walkable cities are possible, and property values are going up in places with neighborhood restaurants, coffeehouses, grocery stores, parks. The more time we spend outside the healthier and happier we are. As I walk I know that it makes a real difference in my life. I have time to think and I know where the olive trees grow. My body may not fit the ideal, but it is strong and healthy, and the aches and pains of age are manageable, so far.
If we worked fewer hours because we all shared in the gains in productivity, we could do more things for ourselves, things we outsource now. More than that, we could do what we were meant to do. Vocation has been defined as that thing each of us can’t not do. Might the reason that we spend so much time chasing happiness be that we haven’t the time to pursue it? Since most of us must take the job that is offered rather than do the work we love, is it any wonder that so many of us exist in varying degrees of misery?

What if we all knew each other? What if neighborhoods were not empty by day and full of strangers by night? What if we shared meals, and those huge expanses of concrete where we store so many cars were instead our gardens? What if apartments came with garden plots instead of parking spots?

What if we realized that true wealth has nothing to do with money? Clean air, clean water and the living, vital earth are far more important. We cannot live without these things. The wealthiest among us cannot escape the consequences of pollution. We all breathe the same air, after all. When was the last time you looked up at the stars? Even in the city it is possible to see at least some of them. What if we turned down the lights a bit and began to see the phases of the moon and the constellations as they change with the seasons? Our world would be a very different place, one where we would make different choices and where we might find our way past that great narrowing that is the story of Now.
The fresh air of morning, the darkness before dawn is the time for visions. We have so many of them between the covers of books and on screens of all sizes. Our awareness of past, present and future allows us to create and choose which to work toward. I hope enough of us choose life.

Moss-covered standing stone silhouetted against clouds and blue sky
Penrhos Feilw Standing Stone, Anglesey