Impressions. Subjective.

Spring                                            Hare Moon

Spread it out this way.  The fields of southern Minnesota and Iowa, the poverty of Missouri, the plains of Kansas, the shabbiness of Oklahoma, the bleakness of west Texas.  Then, Carlsbad Caverns.  An entry way this Orpheus took, singing his own tunes of loss, passing through the twilight zone to the darkness of eternal night, lit only by the U.S. government.  When I returned to the surface, my journey through many benighted places had been purged, my inner world compressed by the weight of the earth over me.  I had visited Persephone only to find her gone back to her mother, her husband the dismal Hades now distracted and grieving.  Charon was not in sight.

After that the trail hit the desert.  Stark southern New Mexico.  New Mexico, of all the states on this trip, has cast its spell on me, its enchantment.  That vast sea of sand and sparse grass so amenable to the spirit, especially a spirit only recently returned to the surface, that combination, had me set up for the Intensive Journal Workshop.

Arizona, I admit, I come to jaundiced.  Sun City was my first experience of it and what the New Mexico desert was to the spirit, Sun City was its obverse, a place where the soul came to die early.  Then there were those 107 degree September days and the concrete irrigation ditches.  Not to mention the sheriff of Maricopa County. And the loony conservatism so wrapped up in flag, guns, chauvinism, xenophobia and homophobia. This is a state that, in spite of its great beauty has a pinched and impoverished heart.  It practices the dark arts.

The Workshop itself I’ll treat elsewhere.  This is a subjective, impressionistic journey.  Arizona grew in appeal to me as I turned north into the mountains, the temperature falling and the conifers and firs beginning to dominate the landscape.  In Holbrook, after stopping briefly to view the sky, I ended up in the motel with no phone, no wifi and no heat.  I stayed anyway.

This stop was a time out from the luxury of the trip, a reminder that many lived nearby in conditions not at all different from this shabby room with its torn lampshade, grime coated shower door and frayed bedspreads.  There is a lot of poverty and it comes in many forms, but that found on American Indian reservations is often its cruelest.  Here the people live on the land they consider sacred, but have been removed from it anyway by television, English, pickup trucks and alcohol.  Life in Indian America is tough and often brutal.

Leaving it behind at 4 a.m and driving under the sign of the sickle moon and Venus has provided the lasting image for this trip full of rich images.  Northeastern Arizona and northern New Mexico have geological, geographic, cultural and historical depth no matter where you glance out the window.  This is our Angkor, the place where the ancient sage-kings held sway, peoples so faded from memory that only their past remains and that impossible to understand.

It is not caverns or catcus here, here it is people and their astonishing and beautiful adaptations to the land they found.  The Chaco Canyon architecture of small sandstone and the pueblo dwellings hung from high canyon walls.  The adobe of Santa Fe.  The hogans of the Navajo.  Their pottery and their blankets and their painting and their writing. There is something special here.

Now I’m out of all that, up here in Denver where the Rockies and skiing and Century Communications and the National Western Stock Show mediate the meeting of East and West, being neither fully, unable to commit.  And I’m more comfortable here.  I fit in better here.  But it doesn’t stimulate me in the same deep way.



Climate Change Frontlines: U.S.A.

Spring                                                          Hare Moon

The southern and western arc of this trip took me into the frontlines of America’s struggle with climate change.  Of course, one of the ironies here is that it is red states or the red state’s territory of a blue state (California) who contain the heartland of climate change denial.  That means Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah and Nevada will confront adaptation with one intellectual hand tied by behind their back and their fingers crossed on the other one.  Which is not to say that these states lack climate change sophistication, far from it.  The Climate Change Institute at the University of Arizona has done a lot of work on water, water conservation and water policy, for example.

But in each of these states, my sample one newspaper per state with the exception of Arizona, some environmental challenge or another appeared in the paper and usually on the front page.  Water and the drought, of course, make up much of the coverage, but forest fire dangers, dust storms (haboobs), and the generation of electricity showed up, too.  Because their systems are already at extremes-water availability, summer temperatures, drought, dry forests and plains combined with high winds-as climate change begins to impact them their margins of safety are thin.

This means that they have to consider changes in the climate, no matter what they believe the source to be, and act to ameliorate them.  One example is the presence of waterless urinals and, I’m told, waterless toilets.  Flushing toilets and urinals uses a lot of water so the savings are not trivial, especially in large buildings.

Another, telling, water related action occurs this month as the Colorado sends a flood sized pulse of water into Mexico. (see below)  This is an attempt to heal the scar created from Yuma and the Gulf of California by diversion of the Colorado’s waters to Arizona, Nevada and California.  The former delta region that began in Yuma has become a long scab of crusted soil.

It is my sense that the Southwest will, despite itself, lead the way on climate change adaptation.  Not mitigation, they’ll resist it.  But adaptation will happen here because without it people and plants will suffer.  So I plan to keep an eye on the Southwest over the next few years, watching for what they learn.  We’ll all need it.

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.


Where Great Wheel Is Going.

Spring                                                        Hare Moon

I gave Great Wheel a lot of thought on the way down.  I want a broad approach to sustainability, to creating a livable human presence on the earth, an approach broader than either the Great Wheel emphasis I began with or the climate change focus I considered during the Climate Change course.

This approach will combine horticultural thinking, phenological observation, astronomical events, and literary resources like book reviews with the hard science behind climate change (I’m still noodling the idea of a dashboard of key indicators), the political realities of the struggle to change our culture and the Great Wheel, calendar lore.

Once I get a rhythm going with it, which may take anywhere from weeks to a few months, I plan to do some sort of publicity campaign.  Not sure what that will look like right now, but I want to give Great Wheel a chance to reach a number of people in different places.

Bring the Heat

Spring                                                         Hare Moon

Spring and I met up this year in Seminole, Texas, Gaines County: #1 in Cotton, #1 in oil and #1 in peanuts.  When we began our Intensive Journal workshop here in Tucson, the leader noted that it was the beginning of spring, a time of birth and rebirth.  Yes.

Today, for the first time since I left Minnesota, I’m not pressed by travel and can reflect on the new season.  This is the culmination of Imbolc, those lambs in the belly (imbolc) now gambol on the green.  Or on the snow covered fields in the case of Minnesota.

And that’s a good thing to note.  Spring comes astronomically when the sun’s center lines up with the earth’s equator.  It come meteorologically with a nuance determined by your latitude.  At Minnesota’s 45th latitude, half-way from that equator to the north pole, meteorological spring comes when the bloodroot blooms. (at least one naturalist I asked defined the coming of spring that way.)  That could be well into April some years.

On the other hand, here in Tucson 32 degrees of latitude from the equator spring announces the upcoming dry season, aggravated this year by a persistent drought that has many southwestern parts of the U.S. facing another season of extreme wildfire danger.

In Manta, Ecuador which Kate and I visited in October of 2011 the equinox means the sun stares straight at you.  It was hot when we were there, only a couple of weeks after the spring equinox (which comes in September in the southern hemisphere).

At Artemis Hives and Gardens it arrived with a couple of feet or so of snow on the ground.  That means the activities of working the soil, planting the early crops will not come until well into April.  But the shift in the earth’s relationship to the sun does mean that the solar gain per square meter of ground has taken strong purchase and will one day warm even the soil.

That’s the true promise of spring. It brings heat.  Where the temperatures are moderate, this is a boon for agriculture.  Where temperatures are already hot, spring can exacerbate them.

As the heat begins to change the weather, I look forward to seeing more and more of our land.


Healing Early Wounds

Imbolc                                                              Hare Moon

The gifts people carry astound me.  Tonight at the St. Patrick’s day ceremony of corned Crimapobeef, cabbage, mashed potatoes and Irish soda bread Frank brought in as a guest a friend of his Chholing Taha.  Chholing is a Cree woman who had a difficult road back to her native heritage.  At 3 she was taken from her people and adopted by a German couple who lived across the border in Niagra Falls, New York.  Why this happened was not explained to her.

She grew up full of rage and “culturally schizophrenic” walking in two worlds at once. Through a pull that seemed almost genetic she visited sweats, went to the sun dance, got an Indian name from a Blackfoot medicine man and finally did four fasts over a period of four years.  These were not easy nor were they obvious answers to her bifurcation, but they seem to have brought her to a peaceful place, a place where bitterness and anger do not dominate her.

She is an artist with terrific imagery, color and composition, part of a current generation of native artists that draw from deep within their heritage and themselves.  She dreams her works, whole, then records what she sees.

At the end of the evening she smudged us with sage that had been used in a sun dance Creeand gave us each a seeing.  She believes everything is visible, that the world is transparent and if you look, you can see.  She said Tom was comfortable with life, she saw him clad in flannel shirts and wandering the north country.  To Frank she said, brushing him as she did all of us with her eagle feather fan, “They continue to say not to worry.”

Charlie Haislet reminded her of the light in the meadow; Scott sees things at their elemental level.  To me she said I had a precise mind, able to see something small and learn much.  And that I would do amazing things.  It surprised me, brought me tears to my eyes.  It felt as if she had called my name, a name I didn’t know I had.

Her stories and her presence were, as Frank said, remarkable.

Spring Journeys

Imbolc                                                               Hare Moon

We’re getting the slow melt so far.  I can see plants in the vegetable garden, among McMillanNorthernSpring90-130them raspberry canes that still need trimming and the remnants of a few herbs.  The beds themselves have become more clearly outlined as the mounds of snow shrink.  By the time I return from Tucson on March 31st we may have lost most of our snow.  The forecast is warmer, mostly above freezing for highs and in the last week of March above freezing for highs and lows.

This is the time when Kate and I took our honeymoon in Europe, 1990.  We began in spanish-steps-romeRome and traveled north as far as Inverness, Scotland by train.  Without intending it we accomplished a wonderful feat, following spring north.  That meant flowers and fresh weather welcomed us in Florence, Venice, Vienna, Salzburg, Paris, London, Bath, Glastonbury, Edinburgh and Inverness where the heather had just come into bloom.

(our hotel in Rome was the top of the Spanish Steps)

Looking back on it now, 24 years ago, I can see the perfect symmetry with the Great Wheel.  As our new life together began, we visited countryside and city after countryside and city where new life had just begun to emerge from the fallow time.

These visits had fewer cathedrals than you might imagine but more, much more art.  We visited the Vatican museum in Rome, Pompeii, Florence and the Uffizi, took in the Titian altars in Venice, the Kunsthistorische in Vienna, the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay and the Rodin museum in Paris.

In London we went to the Reject China Shop and bought our Portmerion table settings
basil street hoteland stayed in the quirky Basil Street Hotel which had a women’s club, rather than the usual men’s club.

I’ll be traveling south on Tuesday, driving toward spring, into it, and if I read the weather in Tucson right, back out of it again.  There will be many opportunities for reflection on the purpose of this blog.


Nature Writing

Imbolc                                                              Hare Moon

On the way to the library this morning, picking up audio books for the road south, Great Wendell-Berry-Quotes-1Wheel came to mind.  This time after I had finished the essay by Wendell Berry mentioned in the post below.

His manner of thinking in that essay reminded me of a great pleasure, reading land and conservation books by authors like Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, John McPhee, Rick Bass, Annie Dillard and Thoreau.  These books are in abundant supply and many of them are American classics.  They focus on land and the natural world in the United States, often at an intimate level, always with the kind of affection that Berry presses forward.

This is another way into the whole question of mitigation and adaptation.  It is the way of affection, of following the land conservation path, of increasing the feeling for the land. Wonderful as they are from both a literary and natural perspective, it has to be admitted that they’ve not changed much with the exception of Rachel Carson.

Why these books and these authors stay with me is the degree to which they have WendellBerryQuote_2013shaped our work here at Artemis Hives and Gardens. (I know, but I like the name.)  The guiding principle for all we do here is to leave this land better than when we got it.  This is in fact one of the chief reasons I don’t want to leave it and would like to leave it to someone, someone who might continue a purpose of land conservation.

All this suggested a different direction, or an additional direction for Great Wheel.  This website may also have a focus on these diverse literary works, quoting from them, reviewing them, linking to the work of the authors.  Perhaps even starting a dialogue with them.

And, to the extent that I can, I plan to add to this literature, right here on the Great Wheel.  All still a muddle, a muddy pond waiting for settling.  Then, clarity.




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.



Imbolc                                                              Hare Moon

The climate change course is finished, at least for me.  I took the final today, with a 100% on the second try.  I’m ok with that because I mandated to myself no studying for these exams.  I spent plenty of time reading and watching videos.  We’ll see what my final grade is, but no matter. I now have a understanding of the science behind climate change, a good grasp of the history of its reception, the political hurdles in the way of concerted action and the effect at micro-local levels of such efforts as clean burning cookstoves.

It will take a while for me to integrate the material with my own work, but I will.  I’ll let all of you know when I get there.