Beltane                                                      Moon of the Summer Solstice

Linneaous   Flower Clock

Linneaous Flower Clock

I last posted here after a trip to Tucson, Arizona in 2014. In retrospect it’s not odd that it’s been so long since I came back to this blog. It was in April of that year, in a spirit of reflection occasioned by the long drive and the inner work of the Ira Progoff Intensive Journal retreat I’d attended, that Kate and I decided to move to Colorado. The move took over our life together and the move itself didn’t really terminate until well into 2015  when we had both adjusted to the oxygen scarcity at 8,800 feet.

A bout of prostate cancer, an increasingly painful arthritic left knee, Jon and Jen’s divorce, total knee replacement and Kate’s rough time since then has distracted me. But now I’ve returned. My passion remains creating a sustainable human presence on the earth, following Thomas Berry’s conviction that this task is the Great Work of our generation.

Chambered_Nautilus_ShellI’ve imagined that my primary contribution to this work would be political, a strategy I’ve embraced for many years. Now though I’m focused on something less political, a reimagining of faith that can constantly remind us of the reverence we owe to the earth, the sun, the mystery of life. Reimagining faith will occupy me until I’ve written a short book proposing a way to reenchant our daily life, a way to find wonder in the everyday, to locate the holy not far away or in some ritualized observance, but in the here and now.

Baba Dioum

Baba Dioum

Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry scientist, wrote in a 1968 paper, ”In the end we will conserve only what we love…wiki  And so the question is how do we love the earth, the sun, the universe? They have conspired to bring us all to this moment when the survival of the human species may be in the balance. This is, after all, the critical reality: it is not the earth that is in danger, not the sun, not the vastness of our cosmos, but humanity. Our actions, unwitting until recently, have brought us to a moment of kairos: a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action, the opportune and decisive moment, as Merriam-Webster defines it.

Seasonal-roundKairos in its Greek origin is a counterpoint to chronos, our familiar and assumed understanding of time as sequential and linear: where past present and future separate cleanly and finally, moment by moment. Kairos is a sort of time when matters crystallize, when events are ripe for change, important change. It takes no special genius to see that our time is such a moment, a moment filled with kairotic potential.

Even with the spiral understanding of time that I embrace, seasons turning, pushing forward, but always returning to the same phase of life’s regularity, moments of kairos can occur. This one, when our most powerful elected official turns his back on global solidarity, when the CO2 in the atmosphere has passed 400 parts per million, when hottest years and biggest storms get surpassed often, when scientists suggest we have only a few decades to slow climate change (not eliminate it, but slow it), we have reached a moment of kairos. And it is our moment.



Water, Water Everywhere

Spring                                                   Hare Moon

Been on the lookout for water related stories in the newspapers during this trip. I’ve found a few, one this morning in the Arizona Star, the Tucson paper.  It covers an upcoming (very soon) release of water from Lake Meade that will pass through the dam at Yuma into the Colorado River delta in Mexico.  The water that will pulse through in this release amounts to one third of Nevada’s annual water consumption.  But it belongs to Mexico rather than the U.S.

Mexico agreed to store water in Lake Meade and has chosen to use some of it to attempt a restoration of the Colorado River Delta where it used to empty into the Gulf of California.

This is an example of the complicated web of relationships legal, customary, national, state-to-state that have grown up around water use.  There was an example of these in Texas, too, where municipalities and farmers were struggling with a Monsanto plant that had priority rights to water.  If Monsanto used it, either the residents of towns and cities or the farmers would not have enough for their needs.

As the drought out here (the southwest and west) grows worse, these conflicts will only increase, become more hostile and fraught with danger.


land abuse cannot brighten the human prospect

Imbolc                                                       Hare Moon

The moist air, the rising warmth gave the house a summertime feel last night.  Our seed zigguratsaver’s order for seeds came in the mail yesterday and I just got an e-mail from Luke Lemmer of Highbrix gardens about nitrogen for the 2014 garden.  I also found this Wendell Berry essay, It All Turns on Affection, a couple of days ago.  This is the Jefferson lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

(ziggurat of ur)

That’s background for my thoughts which turned toward the city, spurred by Berry:

“Though the corporations, by law, are counted as persons, they do not have personal minds, if they can be said to have minds. It is a great oddity that a corporation, which properly speaking has no self, is by definition selfish, responsible only to itself. This is an impersonal, abstract selfishness, limitlessly acquisitive, but unable to look so far imagesahead as to preserve its own sources and supplies. The selfishness of the fossil fuel industries by nature is self-annihilating; but so, always, has been the selfishness of the agribusiness corporations. Land, as Wes Jackson has said, has thus been made as exhaustible as oil or coal.” op.cit.

In this thought the farms lay on level ground and as one moved from country village to town to exurb to outer ring suburb and inner ring suburb to the city itself, the ground would rise, like steps cut into the earth.  This would leave the city figuratively on a flat plateau lifted high above the farms far out in the distance and reachable only by climbing the steps upward.  It was this image that struck me because as I considered it, the word ziggurat came to mind.

The tower of Babel was a ziggurat, an artificial mountain created to take humans closer to the gods.  It was a place where the priest could intercede with the gods from a spot between heaven and earth.

All those millennia and still we climb up the ziggurat, separate ourselves from the land 330px-Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_editedand pray to the gods of technology and economics to save us.  Babel has become a long-standing meme for hubris.  Why?  Well, in part because the tower lifts humans up, gives them a transcendent feeling high above the earth.  In that separation, that isolation, and, yes, I would say, alienation from mother earth the essential bond between creature and nurturer grows intolerably thin.

(Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Tower of Babel)

Again, Berry:

“Corporate industrialism has tended to be, and as its technological and financial power has grown it has tended increasingly to be, indifferent to its sources in what Aldo aldo leopoldLeopold called “the land-community”: the land, all its features and “resources,” and all its members, human and nonhuman, including of course the humans who do, for better or worse, the work of land use.3  Industrialists and industrial economists have assumed, with permission from the rest of us, that land and people can be divorced without harm.”  op. cit.

Here’s the clincher in Berry’s lecture:  ”There is in fact no distinction between the fate of the land and the fate of the people. When one is abused, the other suffers.” op. cit.

I love cities.  I love almost everything about them.  The jangle of people, the compressing of ideas one right after the other, the neon lights, the colleges and universities, the neighborhoods, the politics, the music.  All of it.

And yet.  Up on that plateau, on top the artificial mountain, the land seems so far away.I-and-the-Village-by-font-b-Marc-b-font-font-b-Chagall-b-font-abstract  It’s as if the food appears by magic, not grown, but made in the trucks themselves or in the boxcars, showing up when we need it.  It is not so.

Berry makes what I think is an unintentionally theological argument:  ”When we give affection to things that are destructive, we are wrong.”  This is the same argument that H. Richard Niebuhr makes in his essay, “Radical Monotheism and Western Culture.”  He critiques our devotion to centers of value:  money, job, ambition, nation, sports team, even family and self.   It is Niebhur’s contention that the only center of value to which we can turn with complete devotion and not distort our own lives is the God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

(I and the Village, Marc Chagall)

While I don’t agree with his identification of God as the solution, I do agree with Niebuhr’s diagnosis of the problem, which, like Berry’s, turns on our misplaced affections.  The question for both Berry and Niebuhr is:  ”To what can we offer ourselves that will not destroy us?”

There are, I think, two answers, wedded in the intimacy of their bond: each other and the Earth. We need each other and we need the Earth.  The other, both the thou of Buber and the less exalted you we know less well, must eat, as must I.  The link between our day-to-day survival (yes, we should underline survival for that is what it is at stake) and the others is what?  Yes, the Earth.

That this is not obvious to all, especially not obvious to policy makers who, like most of the powerful of the Earth, gather in cities, is a function I think not of malignity, or intentional disregard, but of the splendid isolation that comes from living high up on the ziggurat and under the mistake assumption that there they are closer to the gods.  No, what they are is further from the Earth.

On Further Thought

Imbolc                                                                  Hare Moon

OK.  Maybe I went overboard here a bit.  When I immerse myself in a subject, it 3090722405_c5a1750432becomes a temporary obsession, refracting all the light that comes toward me.  Now, I’m not saying that creating a sustainable place for humans on the home planet is a temporary obsession, or, for that matter, an obsession.  No, it’s an ongoing work to which I am committed.

I’m going to give the whole idea of transforming this website into a Minnesota focused climate mitigation and adaptation site a good going over while I’m on the road.

The climate change course ends this Tuesday. I need to integrate what I’ve learned, let it settle before striking off in a particular direction.  Besides, I’ve got that America Votes volunteer work that fits into the climate change slot.

Our changes to the climate system will poison the earth for human habitation if we don’t act decisively.  And though that’s true, I admit that from an existential perspective it doesn’t matter. Human habitation of earth will end, whether it be by fire or be by ice.

But, if we care about our neighbor (Mr. Rogers) and our self (Mr. Jung), then we will be good to each other.  And if you care about your mother, the one who brought you into this world and supported you all along, you’ll treat her well so she won’t have to put all the kids into a mini-van and drive it into a swollen ocean.

The Evolution of Great Wheel

Imbolc                                                     Hare Moon

If you’re reading this website, count yourself among a select few.  Over the course of March and April, perhaps May and most of June until June 21st, the summer solstice, Great Wheel will be undergoing a redevelopment.  It will still have the calendar/Great Wheel flavor to it, but its focus will be Minnesota.

Both the campaign to lower carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) and a parallel but very different campaign to adapt to the amount of climate change already baked into the climate system will have distinctive Minnesota components.

Mitigation lies largely in the realm of government policy and regulation, so it has a strong political element, though hopefully it will not be partisan as climate warming and other changes progress.  Adaptation is regional and local, so adaptive strategies for the Arrowhead will be different than those for Marshall and southwestern Minnesota. Local means just that, as far down the local scale as individual homes and vehicles, but probably focusing on municipalities and counties.

I want to test with several of my environmental community friends and co-workers how a news and information resource might look.  What kind of resources will facilitate regional assessments? What will aid the application of those regional assessments to local policy?

I will be recruiting bloggers.  Someone will follow climate science as it applies to Minnesota. This may be local climate scientists working in the state or national scientists whose work includes Minnesota.  Others will focus on such matters as clarifying and publicizing state green house gas emission goals and and goals for energy transition.  We will monitor state progress on all issues related to climate change.  The metro area and its counties will need special attention though we’ll look in broad stroke at all regions in the state.

Their will also be a focus on energy efficiency in the home and on the road and at work. Someone else will write about the transition to a green energy economy.

I’ll want a book reviewer, someone to find relevant scientific literature and in particular I want someone who will help me develop a dashboard of indicators for state and local efforts.  There will be live camera feeds on areas affected most by climate change and an attempt to encourage true cost accounting.


So, there’s a lot to do.  I’ll also need to recruit a small board of directors.  All stuff I can do.

Look forward to hearing your ideas.


Imbolc                                                                     Hare Moon

March began the Roman year.  No surprise then that it gets its name from the Roman god Marsof war, Mars. The Romans were relentless campaigners, always concerned that the border was insecure and pushing it out further just to be sure.  Many historians think this expansion caused Rome to fall, but it has always seemed to me that a death of natural causes is closer to the truth.  Rome had just run its course.

When you string together the Tigris and Euphrates civilization, the Egyptian civilization, the Greeks, then the Romans and after them Europe and after Europe, the U.S.A., you find a civilization with roots actually deeper than those of China.

The apparent difference of course is the longer continuity between the ancient Xia dynasty and the rule of the Communist Party in today’s Middle Kingdom.  I bought this argument for a long time, seeing China as a deeper and perhaps richer civilization than the one to which I am heir.

Now, though, I’ve begun to see the long continuities in the West, too, and the division of mdc_westciv_at_cour heritage into the large categories I used above as not a lot different from China’s dynastic history.  What I mean is that the “Chinese” civilization actually has it roots in several splintered entities roughly equivalent to Rome, Greece, et al.

The Shang were a rough and tumble group, practicing human sacrifice and, according to their successors, the long lived Zhou dynasty, “drunkards” who lost the mandate of heaven.  The Zhou broke down in its later years into many states, states different enough to have their own money, weights and measures, armies and governance.  It was these states who became the warring states, giving a historical era its name.

The Qin dynasty, short, only an Emperor (Qin Shi Huang Di) and his dissolute son long,download was the first instance of a unified China, but even the Qin dynasty failed to include much of what is now considered China.

The Roman Republic was at least its equal in physical size.  And remember that the glory of Greek civilization, Egypt and Mesopotamia had come and declined by then.

The Han dynasty, roughly contemporary with the Roman Empire’s early centuries, had a bit more ofHan China, especially extending west along the great Silk Road, but as you can see it still only covers a portion of contemporary China. I emphasize this point to draw a parallel between Western civilizations consolidation under the Romans and the shifting fortunes of China’s ruling dynasties and their geographical extent.  Later the Han will fall and the period of the Three Kingdoms will occur, again China splintered into warring states, not unified.

This pattern of consolidation and disruption continues and becomes even more pronounced when the Mongols under Kublai Khan and later the Manchurians capture China and rule it for centuries.

Yes, there is a central continuity in the Chinese written language, a storehouse of history and art.  Yes, there is a continuity of sorts in the imperial form of government, but its thread is broken many, many times.

My only argument here may be with myself, disabusing myself of the monolithic cultural rise of Chinese civilization, but I’m not sure this aspect of Chinese history gets much attention in Western learning.

I am also saying that Western civilization, though markedly different, brings its own riches to the table of the 21st century.  Hopefully these two great rivers of human ingenuity can come to embrace each other and create a global civilization neither Western nor Eastern, but Earthian.

Earth Works

Imbolc                                                                         Valentine Moon

John Ackerman died recently. He was my last spiritual director. As I described to him earth workduring one session my growing passion for matters earthly and Celtic, he said, “Well, maybe you should be a Druid.”  John had a bit of a cynic’s edge to him and I was well outside the fold of our mutual Presbyterianism, but his offhand, perhaps sarcastic thought stuck with me.  That was 1986, 1987.

When Kate and I married and I left the ministry, I focused on Celtic thinking and history, especially finding the idea of the great wheel a powerful tool for organizing my life. As gardening/horticulture came to occupy more and more of my time, the merging of the Celtic work with the earth work called John’s quip to mind.

No, I didn’t want to be a Druid, but I did begin to understand my faith journey, my religious journey as more informed by the soil, by the plants than by the Bible or any other sacred text. The evolution of that realization has now had over 25 years to grow deeper and more clear.

See the newly added About material here for information about how Great Wheel will continue and, I hope, expand that work.

Earth Works





The Long Game

Imbolc                                                                Valentine Moon

In case you read Great Wheel and wonder where the postings are, here’s a short one. I march hare  levon hackensawplan a post on March, that is the month name and its history.  In between I’m digesting the considerable material from the Climate Change course, pushing out here what seems immediately relevant, but also what might be the shape of a blog (either this one or a third) focused on Minnesota and climate change.

(March Hare, Levon Hackensaw)

I’ve also begun a new period of my relationship with the Sierra Club as I’ve mentioned, representing the Northstar Chapter at the America Votes table.  This will skew my thinking about climate change toward the political, the policy development process, so there may be more writing on those matters, too.

There is a long game here.  As climate change begins to press upon us with greater and greater obviousness to the average citizen, demand for policy development and action humorwill grow along with it.  So our continued presence in those places where progressive voices debate retail politics will only grow in importance.  Our presence there and our thoughts on all this now will dramatically inform that inevitable future moment.

Great Wheel (or a third blog) will try to insert itself right into that moment though it may be 5-10 years off.

Coda: Freedom for What?

Imbolc                                                                        Valentine Moon

Most important of all, freedom and liberty should give us the range of action, the agency to challenge those things that would re-enslave us.  If you think England or the plantation owner or Hitler was cruel, imagine a world where the weather becomes hot enough to be a prison, where the storms rage with more destructive power than any despot and where the sea rises to engulf millions.  Does that sound like freedom to you?

Examples of the often strange distortions of freedom and liberty in our culture:

the right to bear armsChristian_protestor_at_Tea_march_2009

the need to define marriage as between a man and a woman

making decisions about women’s bodies

willingness to impose religious beliefs while demanding less government intervention

refusal to accept the commonweal

reifying of the holy individual (which I admit is complicated, so let me add a bit here. Existentialism reveals our aloneness, our separateness, our irreducible otherness.  But.  It does not go on to conclude that we make the individual a shrine or an altar on which we sacrifice our neighbor.  No, it emphasizes the plight each of has as isolated beings and makes even more sensible reaching beyond our Self toward the self of others.  So existentialism recognizes individuals, but for the sake of empathy not rejection.)

using apparent threats to personal freedom as an excuse to not consider certain matters, especially the implications of science like climate science or stem cell research.

All of these are caricatures of freedom and liberty.  Freedom and liberty do not point us away from the other, rather they point us toward them.  In our freedom we can choose to act for the common good, not only in our own self interest.  When no longer under the master’s whip or the tyrant’s boot, we can recognize our common cause with those also now free, a common cause masqued by their interests until our freedom.  I suppose you can use freedom and liberty in the narrow sense of only doing what you want, I suppose you can.  But why would you want to?  Being freed from bondage ought to bring a sense of the intolerable when confronted by the bondage of others.  Being free ought to mean wanting others to enjoy the same liberty.




Freedom For What?

Imbolc                                                                Valentine Moon

Been considering, as I often have, the role of politics in those things that matter.  If you don't treadread my longer post below, it considers the roots of climate change doubt mongering in free-market fundamentalism (George Soros) or neo-liberalism.

These ideas give a further twist to liberty and freedom which already have a strange role in our culture.

They are incendiary words in the American psyche, e.g. The tree of liberty is watered by the blood of patriots. (to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson)

When I did some dictionary work in the OED with free, freedom and liberty, I was struck by their origins. Free essentially means dear, as in those dear to you.  It originally meant those who were directly related to the head of a house, that is, who were not servants in the house.  They were, in the Christian_protestor_at_Tea_march_2009contemporary sense, free.  When I looked at freedom, the first definition was: “exemption or release from slavery or imprisonment.”  Likewise, definition number one under liberty:  ”exemption or release from captivity, bondage or slavery.”

Of course, we know at some intuitive level that freedom and liberty mean, first and foremost, out of slavery or prison or captivity, but we rarely consider it.  We consider them independent noble truths, self-evident virtues for which our revolution was fought and which stand enshrined in our founding documents.  They are these things, yes, but their original meanings made me think.

They define a negative condition:  no longer captive, no longer enslaved, no longer imprisoned, not a servant.  Liberty and freedom, in their first meanings, have the flavor of immediacy, of something recently achieved.  That expansive and wonderful feeling experienced by embracing those words now relates to a vague cloud of past euphoria, rather than a powerful experience in the present.

That is, the deeply held allegiance to these feelings has a borrowed nature, a historical echo you might say, rather than lived content. It defines these core American values as the contrasting state to being held against your will.  Their felt meaning is one of release, of gained control, of unfettered will.  In fact, the third definition of liberty catches just this nuance: “the condition of being able to act in any desired way without hindrance or restraint; faculty or power to do as one likes.”

No wonder these heady words show up on Tea party signs and conservative bumper stickers. These are fightin’ words.  Except they really say only what freedom and liberty feel like, important, yes, powerful, yes, but this grand feeling is insufficient for understanding them in their civic meaning.

Why?  When these powerful ideas are understood largely in their negative, free-at-spiritlast senses, not in the more difficult and challenging sense of what they mean in community, they lose their necessary relationship with responsibility. Yes, freedom from is a good thing no doubt, but what is freedom for?

What can we do with our freedom? Now that the prison door has swung shut behind us, what kind of life shall we live?  The tyrant’s foot is off our neck, what kind of society will we build?  It is these questions that need to be in the public square.

Do we choose to use our freedom and our liberty to force on our children and grandchildren a climatologically unstable and overheated future?  Does that make sense? I don’t think anyone really thinks it does.  An important question then becomes, how can we both ensure carbon emissions decline and maintain a powerful sense of freedom and liberty?