Wednesday, August 27, 2014

#135 Mastering Creation

Dear all,
    I'm still basking in the glow of my 65th birthday party last week.  I loved sharing myself as fully as I knew how with people from all different parts of my life (including feeding them from my garden!), and it was wonderful to receive such a beautiful big bouquet of verbal gifts in return.  I recommend it! 
    In addition to the usual in this month's offering, I've included links to a couple of sites that have published other writing of mine.  It's been a bountiful summer.

Mastering creation

Human struggle for dominion over creation has reached epic proportions.  While we have demonstrated a staggering capacity for mastery, the damage to the world around us has been staggering as well—and it’s becoming increasingly clear that we won’t have the last word.

Time at a co-op cabin in the woods of northern Pennsylvania has provided lots of opportunities to consider who’s in charge on a more intimate level.  Sometimes we witness forces that are totally beyond our control.  During the multi-year gypsy moth infestation, we watched helplessly as those little caterpillars ate up our woods.  Great maple trees died and then fell, opening up sunlit spaces for briars and new young saplings to move in.  Other trees survived, but took years to regain any semblance of health.  Less dramatically, a rocky area of poor soil that had once been grazing land for sheep was still open and sunny when we arrived, with dozens of wild blueberry bushes.  Gradually, with nothing eating off the vegetation, it has converted to scrubby woodland, and the blueberries have died away.

At times we have been able to nudge nature a little in the direction of our wishes.  One year, when briars seemed to be steadily encroaching on the open area around the cabin, I found a dozen or so tiny little hemlock volunteers and transplanted them to form a barrier.  At eight or twelve inches tall, they could initially be only a symbolic statement of how far we would protect our domain of human civilization, but each year they grew taller, and now tall trees form a barrier that is real.

The most vexing area of contention over mastery has been the pond.  We human beings want it to stay as clear, clean and deep as possible, while natural forces are moving it steadily in the opposite direction.  Created by others before we got there, with a small stream feeding it at one end, and a modest outlet at the other, it has little flow.  Silt collects, pond weed gets more and more of a hold, cattails flourish at the edges and expand steadily inward.  Everything that dies ends up on the bottom, and every year there is more organic material to grow and die.

We have tried many things:  Spread chemicals on the water to kill the pond weed—but nobody really wanted chemicals in the pond.  Import specially bred fish to feed on the bottom.  This sounded like a winner—but in a year or two there was no evidence that they had made an impact or were even still there.  Just keep unclogging the outlet, harvesting the pond weed and piling it up in great heaps in the canoe; wading in at the edges and pulling out armload after armload of cattails.  This has probably had the most impact, but it’s pretty clear that the forces of nature are stronger than us, and we haven’t figured out any way to get the muck off the bottom without a massive dredging project.

Do we have a right to the pond of our dreams?  This question took on more poignancy for me after reading a loving description by a Native American botanist of the richness of a cattail marsh, while all I could see was an obstacle in my path.

Then I think of our community garden, where we bring in soil, plant seeds in bare ground, define some plants as weeds and pull them out, offer extra food, water and supports to others that wouldn’t manage on their own, wage eternal battles against bugs.  We are totally bent on mastery; yet without some effort in this direction we wouldn’t eat.

How to reconcile this conflict?  Maybe we can learn from the farmers who know and love their land.  They know the different soils, patterns of water absorption and run-off, sun and shade, woodland, marsh and field habitats, sources of soil replenishment, what part each plays in the health of the rest.  With such intimate knowledge, with a sense of connection and belonging, with deep respect and thanks for the gifts of the land, I think we can see ourselves as partners and beneficiaries rather than masters.

Our pond struggle, I imagine, will continue.  But perhaps I can approach it with more love, and if I pull out a cattail, I can thank it for the role it plays in this universe.

More love

The evils of the world crowd round
War and climate change
a system breeding inequality
mass incarceration
misery across the globe. 

I used to ward them all off
feel nothing as I tried
to do my share
avert my eyes
protect my heart.

I'm after more these days
more open now to heartbreak
willing to respond.
And yet, and yet
how much more then must I do
to hold on to integrity?

Must I respond to everything
with all my heart
submit to bleak and never-ending work?

Then from this murk
the answer rises, clear and true:
You must love more--
love more widely
love more deeply
love more  openly.

Any new atrocity
new threat
new injustice
requires a response:
more love.

Imagine--A new economy is possible!

Work Sharing

The logic of work sharing is simple.  Instead of the government providing workers who lose their job with an unemployment benefit, the government effectively pays firms to keep workers employed but working shorter hours. In Germany, for example, the standard framework is that if the work week is cut by 20 percent, then the government picks up 12 percent of the workers’ pay and it requires the company to pick up four percent. The result has been far less unemployment in countries with such incentives.

Three of the most promising ways that countries have found to reduce work hours are to: trade productivity gains for more free time instead of higher pay: pass laws giving the right to workers to request shorter workweeks without worrying about retribution from employers as has been done in Belgium and the Netherlands; and introduce shorter hours at both ends of the age scale, so that young, new workers would start with shorter workweeks and workers above a certain age could reduce their hours as well.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

The 10,000 people in Tel Aviv who participated in a rally earlier this month under the slogan, “Changing direction, toward peace, away from war”, and all the other peace building people and groups in Israel and Gaza.

An alternatives to violence program that was initiated in the US to offer resources to people in prisons, exported to Rwanda and Burundi to help address conflict there, revised by local leaders in Africa to focus more on trauma healing, then exported back to the US as trauma healing for African immigrant communities.

The creation this spring of a partnership of indigenous farmers from Peru, Bhutan and China, to exchange indigenous potato varieties and farming methods as a way to help protect agricultural biodiversity in the face of climate change.

A precedent-setting case by the New York Court of Appeals in late June, ruling that the towns of Dryden and Middlefield can use local zoning laws to ban heavy industry--including oil and gas production--within municipal borders, a boon to the more than 170 municipalities in New York that have already passed bans or moratoriums, and a hopeful sign to towns throughout the country fighting for their right to local self determination.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:–-deep-outreach-diverse-initiating-groups-–-pace-building-trust

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

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