Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Creating Whole Communities

I recently spent a day at Knoll Farm, a retreat center and working farm in the hills high above the Mad River Valley. Wonderful place, good people doing really important work providing sustenance and training for land conservation activists and other practical dreamers (http://wholecommunities.org/workshops5.html).

I first heard of this place through a terrific essay by codirector Peter Forbes, in the Buddhist publication "Inquiring Mind" (http://wholecommunities.org/downloads/peter_essays/Land_is_Relationship.pdf).

Inspired by what these folks are doing, here are the words to a song I wrote after the recent Harvest & Courage celebration at the Center for Whole Communities.

Song for Knoll Farm

Here at the end of the season
Here at the edge of the world
Here where our hearts beat fiercely
The smile of a boy, the laugh of a girl

Here where the land holds us gently
Here we have taken our stand
There the geese fly so freely
Come now and give me your hand

For it is the time
This is the place
We are speaking for the whole human race
The Earth's an ark
Our courage is here
We fill our hearts
We make a start

Now when the days grow darker
Is the end coming soon?
Now our destiny calls us
From the hills, from the trees, from the moon

Now we must hold the planet
Like a child needing to heal
Here in this troubled moment
Our courage is revealed


Time to celebrate wholeness
Time to fill our cups
Now when the woods call us homeward
We open our hearts to love

Here at the end of the season
Here at the edge of the land
Still the geese fly so freely
So come now and give me your hand


Monday, October 10, 2005

SUVs Pollute More

This is a collection of stuff on the environmental (and other) dangers of SUVs.

ITEM: On a green campus whose students supposedly care about the environment, why is the Middlebury College student parking lot chockablock with SUVs? These dinosaurs cause far more air pollution and emit far more greenhouse gases than do standard cars.

Students who drive SUVs not only ought to be ashamed. They ought to have their heads examined. They're the ones who will inherit a planet in chaos from global warming, unless these beasts are retired. Transportation is the biggest source of gases that cause dangerously destabilizing climate change. And unless fuel conservation becomes a way of life, today's students will also inherit a country that will continue to have to go for oil, as it is now doing in Iraq.


ITEM: On a lighter note, here's satirist Andy Borowitz's solution on how to solve the SUV and Iraqi-insurgency crises with one solution:


'Operation Iron Junk' In Full Swing Across Iraq, Says Rumsfeld

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced today that the U.S. military was taking advantage of American car dealers' huge inventory of unsold sport utility vehicles by dropping the SUVs on insurgent positions across Iraq.

The defense secretary revealed details of the new offensive, called Operation Iron Junk, at a briefing today at the Pentagon. "Car dealers can't get rid of SUVs, and we can't seem to get rid of those pesky insurgents," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters. "Hopefully, by dropping SUVs on insurgents, we will get rid of both."

Operation Iron Junk began over the weekend when a C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane pounded insurgent positions in the town of Qaim near the Syrian border by opening its cargo hold and dumping fourteen fully loaded Lincoln Navigators on foreign fighters and suspected al Qaeda operatives.

"There is nothing scarier than seeing one of those mammoth gas guzzlers falling from the sky," chuckled Mr. Rumsfeld. "I wish I'd been there!"

Mr. Rumsfeld said that wile most of the SUV strikes have been successful, a few have missed their mark, including a sortie on Sunday in which a Ford Expedition landed on an unoccupied Toyota Prius, instantly crushing it. But on the whole, the defense secretary was prepared to call Operation Iron Junk a success: "This is by far the most mileage anyone has ever gotten out of an SUV."

Elsewhere, in a possible breach of the separation of church and state, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex) introduced a bill in Congress calling for God to smite a Texas grand jury with locusts.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Essay: Coping with Climate Change

There’s something in contemplating global warming that feels like thinking of one's own death.

For a moment the mind wants to, feels it should, take on the topic. And then it slides off to other, more comfortably irrelevant things. It's just too much to face head-on for very long.

Perhaps that's because in the worst of the scenarios in the scientific and popular media, global warming really does equate with death for millions of people. Ecosystems go out of whack, the winds roar and the rains pelt and the ice caps melt. In the inundation, the poor and the coastal dwellers vanish. There's no guarantee that any single one of us would survive.

Even less disastrous projections heat the brain to torpor. As winter moves farther north, so too will the bears and the brook trout and autumn's brilliantly fiery colors. Maple sugaring in the US will come to seem like the carrier pigeon or the American chestnut tree -- a once common feature of the natural world, now so dead as to seem it was never factual.

Can it be that we are really living through the last few decades of winter in New England? Some scientists have concluded that within perhaps 40 years, winter in our north woods will be something that occurs only on the highest peaks. The valleys in the winter months will experience a kind of perpetual November.

Middlebury College's September 2005 Clifford Symposium on Climate Change has everyone who was touched by it seeing the planet in a slightly different way.

Sometimes we see it, now that we have some fresher inkling of the sad facts, through the eyes of despair. Indeed, dealing with despair was one of the topics of a quite moving panel discussion at the symposium. How do we respond when, in the words of keynoter Bill McKibben, we know that whatever we do now to stop more global warming, our planetary fate may be "catastrophic or just miserable"?

This is where sitting on a meditation bench comes in handy. My wife and I have spent a lot of time over the past couple of decades trying to cultivate some sense of ultimate non-attachment to this ever-changing. impermanent world. Now we find ourselves challenged to stretch that tender sensibility -- to encompass what may be the pending demise not just of ourselves personally, but of Earth as we know it.

The techniques for stretching this sensibility aren't any different than contemplating, say, the prospect of nuclear destruction or a terrorist-dominated world. But it would be easier to let go of that kind of Earth. One could reasonably conclude, if it got bad enough, that such a place really wasn't worth saving. Any world that ends by blowing itself up perhaps deserved it.

Even with climate change, many of the forces driving it fall on the less desirable side of the human ledger. Greed. Laziness. Ignorance. Worse yet, willful ignorance (e.g., driving an SUV).

But I'm saddened by this: So much of what creates excess carbon emissions -- and the greenhouse effect that may be fatally warming our world -- comes from simple human desires. Keeping the wolves from the door. Staying warm. Feeding ourselves and our family. Getting from here to there.

Sadly, the way we have gone about these seemingly innocent activities has made us guilty of destabilizing the very natural systems that have ensured our species' survival.

We may have already done too much. There's a lot of excessive heat already in the ecosystem. Things may already be moving quickly toward chaos, so quickly that we can't pull back from the brink.

How to cope? At my house we are trying to look our fears in the face, dance with life's everyday joys, and drink in every piece of natural beauty we can swallow. We are also striving to use less energy -- the stuff that drives the carbon emissions that play havoc with hurricanes and climate. (Memo to Earth: Katrina = Global Warning.)

Through conscious appreciation and good-old-fashioned energy conservation, we are trying to take small satisfaction in knowing that -- if someone is around to write the tale later -- it won't be said that we didn't appreciate what we had. Or that we didn’t try to do what we could to save it.