“From The Ground Up”

Like it or not, we live in a pluralistic society. Diverse beliefs, life style choices and ways of doing things weave their way around us daily. We can hold on tight to what we call “right”, but in doing so we just might miss out on some very innovative and helpful possibilities.

Community is a dynamic and living experience. Learning about and from one another is essential and fun. There are many ways to cultivate community and one of the greatest assets to us here in the Driftless is WDRT 91.9 FM, “Community Radio From the Ground Up”.IMG_0270

What began as a dream in 2003 has become a household treasure to many of us. While WDRT runs syndicated programming from around the nation, much of the content is locally produced. You can learn more about WDRT’s history and the history of community radio here.

And if you can’t get the station on your radio, you can listen in via the internet.

Unlike commercial radio, community radio is organized as a non-profit and incorporates volunteers into the operation. Their programming mission is to serve the community, and WDRT is a fine example of this.IMG_0276

WDRT’s “Songs to Memory” program is an innovative way to reach Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients through music, connecting them with family and improving their quality of life.

A new program called “Conversations” airs Thursdays at 9:00 AM; nine local hosts bring the voices of local people to listeners on a myriad of subjects. One of my first attempts at hosting was with Conscientious Objector, David Kopitzke.

I am looking forward to bringing a short segment called “Consider This” to WDRT to be aired on Thursday evenings at 5:30 PM, beginning this week. And my next “conversation” is with Karen Parker, editor of the award winning local paper, The County Line and author of Always the River, the History of Ontario, Wisconsin and Indomitable Pluck: One Railroad, Three Tunnels and America’s First Road-to Trail Bike Path.

The strength of a community is dependent on all of its members, not simply a few. To be able to hold onto your uniqueness and play an intrinsic role in the whole can be challenging, but it is possible. WDRT is paving a way.

And the challenge is on!IMG_0277




Echoes of the Past

There are kindnesses left to us from long ago. People thought of us well before our time and with great consideration and effort, they left behind monuments of love. These gifts from the past are today’s state and national parks. The idea to preserve and protect land for everyone to enjoy began in the 1800’s throughout the country. In 1878, Wisconsin designated huge tracks of northern forest for preservation, but within twenty years most was sold to lumber companies. Thankfully today, Wisconsin still boasts 66 state parks, covering more than 60,570 acres.

Whether a day trip or an extended stay, the wonder, adventure and the remembrance of our connectedness with nature is revitalized through this gift of “parks”. Our forbearers saw the need to protect and preserve historical and beautiful places for future generations, and today the protection and the preservation is handed to us to ensure the same.

On a recent tour of sand mining operations in Jackson County, We took the day to enjoy the gift of Black River Falls State Park. The forest and geology is very different from our home in the Driftless and it was awesome to stand next to the ancient rock formations. Black River Falls St

However, when we climbed the stairway to view from the highest peak, we found that we were still touring sand mining operations. The pictures below show the dust whirling around the operation within the pristine area. It was a sad reminder of the day before and one that seemed important to share. sand dust

Continue the kindness. Protect the earth for future generations. Keep it in the ground. Find other ways.

It is that simple. Let’s get at it. Someone you have never met is counting on it.

Sand Mining Sacrifice Zones

About fifty people traveled from eight counties in Wisconsin to tour an area hard hit by sand mining operations, in and around Hixton in Jackson County. We met and listened to many people caught in the ravages of mining. Here are a few of the points I found most compelling.

Communities are divided as high percentages of acreage within townships are being devoured. Much of the land that is sold for mining is by absentee landowners, who do not share the common love for the area, nor its history.

One particular brilliant statement challenged the idea, “I can sell my land to whomever I want”, with this, “Yes, you can sell your land to anyone, but it is not permissible or legal for whomever buys your land to cause a nuisance for the people living here.”

For some, the battle to save their land and way of life is only a few months old. For many we heard from today, it has been years in the making. Some spoke honestly of the toll that has been taken. Some held back tears.

People have told me to think of all the jobs that would be lost if we moved away from fossil fuels like the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania that is sucking up Wisconsin’s sandy hills…but perhaps it is time we consider the lives that are being disrupted with the destruction caused by extreme extraction.

Perhaps we should all take a turn living day after day, 24 hours a day, year after year (some mines are guaranteed to operate for 25 years) with explosions, sand dust, shaking homes, children afraid and made ill by the constant disturbance…and much more.

The mining industry has done an excellent job hiding these people from sight. It has done a great job in declaring “mom and pop” status, while in fact most are huge corporations with international ties.

I am not sure what was harder to take in, the visuals of the raw hillsides being raped of the sand as we stood on the handsomely manicured farm …or the deep sorrow in the voices of these good, hard working people as they once again told the story that has become their shared existence.IMG_0167

All I know is that I can not sit by and continue to allow the unchallenged story line that all is well in Jackson, Trempealeau and other counties here in Wisconsin, while my neighbors are being victimized, the earth raped and with the reality that companies are lining up to shred more of the pristine beauty of this land.IMG_0205

So here are a few of my photos of the day, and my promise to continue to report on the status of Wisconsin’s sand mining operations. And to be sure, I will continue to urge all of us to reconsider our energy usage, the high toll it requires on the earth and her people and to move to more peaceful and possible renewables. It is past time.


Pictures below: 1.Why sand particles can blow away. 2. While they are creating “covered” carriers – and eliminating trucking jobs – these covered tubes are not enclosed – allowing more silica to escape…3. And coming to a church near you…


From Sheila Danielson, an organizer of this sand mining operations tour: “We want to thank those who made this tour possible, Dwight and Ruth Swenson, who allowed us to be a part of their life living with sand mining;  Mike and Stacy Sylla, Bill and Angie Sylla, Tom Reininger, Cecelia Kraus, Jane Justesen, and Ronnie and Lori Casper for their stories; and to those who worked in the background:  Pat and Gaylord Oppegard and Ruth Swenson for setting up lunch and cleaning up the kitchen when we were done and Greg Krueger for arriving early and helping wherever needed.
The day would not have been possible without you and the grant funds ACT NOW received from the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and  Western Mining Action Network (WMAN) 2016-2017 Grassroots Communities Mining Mini-Grant Program.”


“That which is possible.”

I live in an orchard. When I first bought the land I didn’t know there was an orchard. Honestly. I was intent on making the old farm house livable and I didn’t get to explore the acres for some time. And truth be told, it was probably the sheep and goats who brought the orchard back to life and made me take notice. Nonetheless, over the years I  have come to measure the seasons by the fragrances and bounty or lack thereof.

Last spring began much as this one, the apple blossoms graced the trees and the air was prolific with their sweetness, but a late May frost came and decimated the flowers before they could transform into their sweet fruit. So I have waited to see what the orchard would give us this year and I am very happy to see the fruit ripening despite cooler temps and much rain.


Every morning, as I open my eyes, this is my first glance of the day through my window. And today, I thought about “potential”.

I thought about potential as I moved manure. I thought about potential as I tilled a field for indigenous corn. I thought about potential as I reckoned with this being the last day of my 61st year…and I realized how in so many ways I am just beginning.

Potential. The ability for the orchard to roar back after last year’s defeat. Potential. The seeds are making their way through the soil and hopefully their fruit will make their way to mine or another’s table…Potential. What can be. What lies within waiting to be tapped.  Waiting to be fostered. Waiting to be supported. Waiting to be loved.

We are all, my friends, little balls of potential. Take care. Plant wisely. Choose good soil. Nurture with the water of kindness. And don’t forget the manure. Sometimes it takes a loss to see the gift of what you have. I missed the apples last year, and this year looks like we will be working overtime to tend to them. Potential.

Life is full of sweet surprises, look for them and be amazed.


Talking Peace

Maybe it is in the hum of the bees as they dance in the orchard, maybe it is in the song of the many and varied birds that live here. Maybe it is the size of the moon, or the delicious advent of spring; the feeling of peace is palpable.

Was it hastened by talking to my friend, David Kopitzke on his choice to be a conscientious objector of the Vietnam War and realizing the courage it took to take such a stance? Or maybe it was the way he responded to my question at the end of our interview, “Do you have any regrets?” He brought tears to my eyes when he said, “Yes. I regret that I did not talk to more people about my decision… to help them understand.” And I realized in that moment that we all can live in regret for not talking about the possibility of peace and the ethical and moral ground we stand on… and yet, here he was still talking, still sharing, still operating out of kindness and bravery. And there I was intrigued, inspired and full of respect.

This gift of shared conversation continued as I spoke with the owner our favorite local grocery, Whitaker’s Farm Fresh Market. While I am quite sure we hold beliefs that are seemingly incompatible, we share a passion for peace. As time allows, we squeeze precious moments of kindred spirit between his customers and my list of “to do’s”. I learned today that his parents were married during the Vietnam War and took the position of CO (conscientious objector) as sanctioned by their Christian faith. His eyes were shining, as I am sure were mine as we touched upon the depth of our shared conviction – the need for peace.

In listening to him, I understood what I have thought about for a long time. The voice for and of peace must be heard, at least as often as the voice that proclaims the need for war. There is no need to be shy or to feel regret for what has not been said. Perhaps it has not been the right time, but much has changed and the time to acknowledge and champion peace is upon us.

So go ahead, proclaim your need and your heart’s longing. Each of us uniquely aware, each of us uniquely qualified to speak to the longing of our hearts and to the understandings we hold as living breathing individuals. There is no shame upon the hearts and minds of those who cannot bear arms against their fellow humans. There is no Great Law that has been decreed that war is the only solution. If our warring selves can take the time to recruit and explain away the need to kill, then we should have equal right to stand up for peace and honor the moral ground of those among us not willing to kill.

The only thing stopping us is doubt. Find your peace my friends, and fight like hell. Fight with clarity, fight with kindness and we may find, in fact, this is the greatest action of all – to touch and to cultivate peace.

I am telling you what I hear in the songs of the birds and feel in the gentleness of the warming sun…we got this.


You can listen to my interview with David Kopitzke Thursday, May 18 at 9:00 am CST on WDRT, on the radio or on the web.

For more on becoming a conscientious objector, you can visit Center on Conscience and War. or call  TOLL FREE: 1-800-379-2679.

And here are the magnificent words of Julia Ward Howe in her proclamation of peace.


Clay Bowls and Choices

Note: I was invited to a gathering called The Power of Listening Through Food and Ceramics. The friend who invited me created the event and was inspired to make the bowls and to feed people while offering heartfelt communication through music, words, etc. Unable to attend, this is my offering to his kind thoughtfulness. Thank you, Jeremi.

 Today you have been given a gift, but it is only a gift if you recognize it as such. You have been given a bowl, nourishing food and an offer to feel what is in the depths of your being… And I would suggest to you that this is a gift that is given every day… And while this bowl is special and a gift and you might say it is the reason we are here, the question we must ask ourselves is this, “What will we put into our bowl?”

This is the question we ask and try to have answered every day, sometimes consciously, sometimes not so.

For a moment, let us accept that we are the bowl. The often-cited biblical quote, “Remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” is a fact and a reminder of part of our origin, but only part. We are this lump of clay molded into a receptacle. We are, if you will, the beggar’s bowl. And every day, every moment we are asking something to come into the bowl, to come into us. We want love, we want approval, we want compensation, we want recognition, we want happiness… We want what is available to us, and sometimes that which is not…

Choices. We have been given also the ability to choose. What will we put into this bowl that has been given? Choose consciously and remember you can empty what is in the bowl if you do not want it there…

And that is the distinction between needs and wants. Our bowl is meant to hold our needs. What are the things that are our needs? Food, water, air and I will ask you to consider one more thing that we all need and we all hope for – the need to feel peace.

This is where listening comes in. We have been told of and understand our humanity and our need to be humble. We are of the earth, we have needs and we are finite. But there is something else dancing within us that is not bound to the earth. Inside of us, if we listen, is peace.

Let’s turn for a moment to the making of the bowl on the potter’s wheel. This is an anecdote that I heard a long time ago and it continues to teach me. The potter’s wheel spins round and round and as the lump of clay sits in the middle, two very distinct actions take place. The potter’s one hand is inside the clay stabilizing and guiding it. While the other hand is applying pressure to the outside, bending it, shaping it, sometimes slapping it into shape.

It is wise to know the potter’s hands. It is good to know and to trust that hand that holds from within. And it is possible to do so. It begins with listening…

There are undeniable truths, which can be felt but not easily spoken. In the end, I want to feel peace. I want my bowl to be filled and overflowing, and if in that others can be fed, I am grateful.


I first heard the anecdote of the potter’s wheel from Prem Rawat. At a very young age I began to listen to my heart and my heart directed me to his words of peace and that has made the difference for me.

Thanks again to my friend for his invitation to consider the importance of listening in our lives.

The photo is one of the beautiful bowls Jeremi Zuba made for the event and it is his photo.

American Heroes

America is big on heroes. From what I can tell there is a resurgence of heroes among us, yet we are not being told their story.

Across this beautiful land of abundance, a war is being waged and very few of us are aware of it. It is a war that is pitting the extreme extraction of resources against the land, the water and the people.

You could say I have become enamored with this rise of humanity that seems to be erupting. I feel a need to tell their stories, to participate as I can and most importantly to encourage everyone who understands this need to step up in this defining moment and take a stand. What are you stepping into? A leaderless awakening of people who are accepting the mandates of being alive: We are on people with one earth and it is our right, duty and privilege to stand together for one another and all of the living yet to come. There is something happening that no amount of arrests, tear gas and rubber bullets will stop. We are finding one another and we are finding our way.

From my extended stay and recent visits to the still existing camps of North Dakota standing for clean water in spite of horrific circumstance and to my most recent (albeit short) visit to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to witness the three year vigil of community members preparing for nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of sprawling pipelines moving fracked gas, I have come to appreciate, admire and learn from these unsung heroes.

It would be wise to ask why mainstream media is willing to accept the story line of corporate oil, fracked gas and cracker plants, but we should not wait until the media catches up with the truth in order to act. We can be honoring these people and their actions and supporting them with dollars, phone calls to legislators and most importantly, following their lead on creating community, reducing consumption and learning to live in ways that do not require extreme extraction and destruction.

You see, I grew up across the street from an industrial park, allowed to spill toxins into the air and corrupting the water supplies. And I have seen first hand the cost in health to the people in that area. I have also experienced the corruption of elected officials, who are willing to allow pollution in order to hold the carrot of “jobs” and “progress” over people. My recent visit back to the place of my birth tells me, nothing has changed and more “progress” is on the way, now in the form of a “cracker plant”. Studies are concluding that the air quality will be severely diminished, and that the reality is that Americans are using less energy (due to improved technologies and quite simply a need to reduce costs), but still the polluters charge on. Add to this the recent improvements of solar and wind renewables – and one has to ask, “Why are we still willing to piss on the ground and water we live on?” More importantly, “Why are we not trying to leave this world a better place to those who will come after us?”

I am perplexed by the priorities we often choose – or the lack thereof. I realize too many of us are heaped in debt that keeps us too busy to contribute to meaningful dialogue regarding the environment – but I am not certain this is a worthy argument. We do seem to make time for entertainment and other luxuries. This is a bit reminiscent of the orchestra playing while the Titanic sunk…”Nearer My God to Thee”.

And the complete irony of my present moment is that I now live in a pristine area of Southwestern Wisconsin, and within the 150-mile radius of sand mining, which has proven to be the distance silica (read carcinogenic) sand particles can find their way into the lungs of innocent and reluctant victims of this “progress”. Couple that with the fact that the sand being dug is destroying beautiful farming landscapes and being shipped to where? The fracking sites in Pennsylvania and other states. You can see that I am witnessing this brutal assault on land, water and people from both ends of the spectrum. And I do not like what I see.

So imbedded in this blog, besides my imploring people to take an active stance to save the environment, are links to help you navigate the storylines too often omitted or buried. Please take time to read and understand. It is my hope that more people will rise up to protect the land, water and air upon which they depend. That we will come to realize this path of destruction and eradicating the lifestyles of indigenous people world over, and here in North America deserves our attention and our clarity.

And perhaps it is time for a bigger awareness. There is no “us and them”. What has been done to “them” is continuing and is also being done to “us” – just ask the Appalachian people who have witnessed mountain top removal. Just ask the folks from Midland Pa and other Beaver County residents who have been burdened by Shippingport nuclear and will now be faced with the calamity of a cracker plant. Just ask the over 800 people arrested on trumped up charges in North Dakota because they dared to say, “No”.

We all must say “No”. Take a moment to read about the three year stand of the people of Conestoga, Pennsylvania – and how Amish and Mennonites, Native Americans and good ole Whites are coming together in community to stop the Marcellus shale-turned-gas pipelines. Or the Nebraska farmers refusing to sell their land for the Keystone XL pipeline – which will be transporting Canadian tar sands oil through America’s heartland and aquifers to be sold to foreign countries without benefit to our people, but benefitting only international corporations (while being defended by the United States government and militarized police).

It is in our hands. People all over this country are demonstrating this with victories large and small. As Martin Luther King understood, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Choose your path wisely. Your children’s children will thank you. The Earth will hold you dearly in its memory, but most importantly, you will be able to sleep at night knowing you were among the Ones who said, “Not on my watch.”

Find an environmental issue near you – trust me they are not too hard to find – discover community, find your joie de vivre and give it the best you can. Even one phone call a day to a friend or legislator to share what you are learning is valuable and helpful. Speaking from experience, you will not be disappointed. There are American heroes standing up every day. Be one of them.


This short video by my friend Kahstosera’a Paulette Moore captures the meeting of two world-views on a singular day, Oct 10, 2016 in unceded Sioux territory, Morton County ND, and the continued repercussions of that day. Centuries of extreme extraction and an unwillingness to view the earth as sacred meet up with indigenous people recognizing, “It is our moment”, and reclaiming the sacred. The juxtaposition of this human collision of values demands our attention. While the question, “What are they afraid of?” is one that we all must answer.


Cover photo: from Lancaster Against Pipelines