Discarding Straitjackets

My wife and I binged watched Heartstopper, a British coming of age romantic comedy. I was touched by the openness of the teens regarding their gender questioning, but startled by the hatred and fear that remains towards those not status quo.

In the fifty years that have passed since my own teen-age questioning things have changed. Youth who refuse the straitjacket of heterosexuality can more easily find support. Gender fluidity and non-binary concepts have replaced the need to take on stereotypical labels. Organizations like PFLAG have helped lessen the sting of abuse. Yet abuse remains

The morality police have made it their business to beg local school boards to prohibit any displays of gender questioning. How absolutely foolish this is on so many levels. 

I understand learning that gender is not binary and that gender fluidity has always existed in the human race must be hard for some who’ve been raised with blinders on. But to insist that your ignorance be law is a bit much. We are crawling out of the hole dug by puritanical thinking, and I’m sorry for your discomfort. But march on we will.

Perhaps your discomfort will be lessened if you learned about different cultures and their acceptance of the reality that gender is a spectrum. It would be kind of you to drop your shock and fear long enough to understand the pain caused by bigotry. 

Bigotry: noun

  1. obstinate or unreasonable attachment to a belief, opinion, or faction; in particular, prejudice against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group.

I can assure you from my own personal experiences, that your momentary discomfort over things that are not your business are nothing compared to the struggle and pain of being gender fluid in this culture. And the statistics on suicide and suicide attempts by gender questioning youth confirm this.

And to youth daring to be: Don’t be robbed by ignorance. Dance on.

Harvest

Harvest is one of the most joyful times of the year. Yes, it’s taken a bit of work to get here but if the garden was well planned and Nature cooperated even a little there are delicacies to be had. Today’s walk through the squash was very exciting. The biggest Blue Hubbard’s I’ve ever seen and bright red curry are starting to reveal themselves through receding greenery.

Our heirloom orchard is having a grand year. From slugs and bees to deer and human, everyone is taking a bite of the sweetness of the season. With each day, as another tree’s apples are ready to be picked, another has all but lost its fruit. That is the sad tale of harvest. The trees are like friends. You get to know the order in which they will ripen, you know the years they will rest and you wait eagerly for their return.

One doesn’t need a large garden or an orchard to appreciate harvest. A single tomato plant will do. There is some undeniable kinship we have with the earth and the sustenance that comes from her. And there is an undeniable fulfillment in co-creating with the soil and dancing with the seasons.

Gratitude and celebration come easily at this time. Even when the onion crop is a bit on the weak side, there are friends and neighbors whose onions did well and we can share, barter or buy. We were made for this simplicity however challenging.

The exuberance is not only in the gathering. If all goes well we’ll delight in the abundance of harvest throughout the winter months and it will ready us for spring. Pickles, kraut, apple butter, cider and jellies galore will dress the table. And this, my friend, is the cycle of thankfulness.

Books Unite Us…

In recognition of Banned Books Week, September 18 through 24, I took a deep dive into the list of Classics that are banned or challenged. Unsurprisingly I found some of my favorite authors: Faulkner, Hemingway, Morrison, Steinbeck, Alice Walker, and James Baldwin. Seeing Richard Wright’s Native Son on the list took me back to a high school English class and the horror I felt at the shocking truth it taught me about race. 

I’m forever grateful to the teachers who encouraged us to step out of our parochial view of the world. Through books they opened the door of our mutual humanity, in all of its complexities, glory, and ugliness.

I learned I had nothing to fear in words or ideas. I learned that the free will to choose is a powerful tool and that the ability to discern right from wrong is an inherited strength. In reading about diverse people, empathy grew. In understanding history from those who lived through wars and the Depression, I recognized the wisdom of not allowing ignorance to rule. 

Those who fear books and the ideas expressed within them cling to a worldview as skewed as the ones they fear. Those who would ban books are afraid to open minds and hearts to a broader humanity. They curtail understanding and are a curse to upcoming generations.

Fear is not what we need to propagate. Censorship is not a game to be played. Self-reflection is a worthy art and when we understand we are a fraction of the human kaleidoscope, life becomes a wondrous journey.

No one should have the right to clip the wings of freedom. In truth no one can. Ideas are born within the breath of every unique individual.

And that cannot be banned.

You can Support the Right to Read by signing the petition from the American Booksellers Association.

From ALA.org

What Informs You?

The people of Pakistan are suffering monsoon rains never before witnessed, thousands displaced and over a thousand dead as the toll mounts. Afghanis are suffering malnutrition and starvation while the United States and the World Bank restricts the flow of money to them. Nineteen years after the invasion of Iraq the culture remains fractured, the infrastructure tattered, leaving many in dire need. And while the game of annihilation continues in Ukraine, most of the “civilized world” can only insist on money for more bombs, more destruction and more death. 

If that’s too far away we can zoom in on Jackson, Mississippi where people are currently and in the unforeseeable future without water due to flooding and damaged systems. That would be drinking water, bathing water; you name it, no water for 150,000 people elders, babies and everyone in between. 

Is it too much to think about? Some, I know, only want to hear good things. Happy things. Or maybe you’re one of those who believe it’s all preordained. The world is getting its just deserts delivered by an angry god. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be the lucky one.

The way I see it, we got ourselves into this mess and we need to be the ones to get ourselves out. As a member of humanity, I allow myself to grieve our losses and celebrate our victories – wherever they may be. And I will champion my hope that our better days are still ahead. 

I choose to recognize the drop of the divine we carry may ultimately triumph over the ignorance we exalt.

If we challenge the beliefs that keep us imprisoned, if our hearts would inform us instead of our fears, the hardships will come, but our outcomes could be so very, very different.

Keep the faith and fight.

Shinrin-yoku

Took a drive to Iowa to hike the state parks around the Mississippi. Most of the land is overly manicured with the exception of abundant trees still standing in the parks. Immense mowed lawns and fields of corn leave most of the area treeless. Not understood is the significance of bio diversity, or of how trees clean the air and help prevent flooding.  They clearly have forgotten the wisdom of shinrin-yoku – the Japanese word for forest bathing. 

Don’t get your knickers in a twist, it doesn’t literally mean bathing. It refers to the process the human senses enjoy when in the company of trees. We shouldn’t require science to tell us we need to spend time soaking up Nature or reveling in a forest – but here we are. 

To many of us, trees are a commodity or a nuisance. Even as the earth struggles to breathe, we continue with greed and ignorance to destroy her. It is time to rethink the importance of trees.

I have fond childhood memories of the pine, apple and mulberry trees in our yard before my mother deemed them a problem and had them removed. Or the shock of learning of Chairman Mao’s “First Cutting”, the removal of China’s trees to hasten their industrial age. It took a bit of travel in Guangzhou to get to an island of trees left untouched. I still remember the feeling of ease walking among them. 

They say, “You can’t keep a man from making a living”. This is the cry of people who would have us believe the almighty dollar is more important than well-being.  It stems from an inherited belief in the right to harm. It is the same shortsightedness of ancient Easter Islanders and the calamity (which included rats) that brought a civilization to its end. 

We can do better.

The lead photo is from Maquoketa Caves State Park in Iowa

Nearby you will find the lovely Hurtsville Interpretive Center

And this photo of the Mississippi from Bellevue State Park

Reunion

I enjoy listening to BBC World Service through the night. I stay in touch with friends all over the world this way. Listening to the voices of people trying to survive 127 degree temperatures and drought in Iraq brings the suffering home and reminds me of a dear friend. 

Sami Rasouli is an Iraqi – American. After the bombing of Iraq in March 2003, he returned to Iraq and founded the Muslim Peacemaker Teams. His hope was to build reconciliation between his two countries. With his supervision many United States citizens visited Iraq. Our nonprofit contributed to the Water for Peace Project bringing water purification systems to schools after U.S. bombs had corrupted the water supplies.

A thank you for our help in getting a water purification system to their school.

In 2017, he created an NGO, the American Institute for English, in his hometown of Najaf. It was to be another attempt to bridge peace.

But peace can be elusive. And while on a visit with his three children to his home in Minneapolis, this dream in Najaf was shattered by a bomb. Gratefully no one was injured in the blast, but on September 18, 2020, the institute was completely destroyed. Two Iraqi security agencies and the FBI contacted Sami, interrogated him and then warned him not to return to Iraq because he was a target. Granted an extended stay in the United States, Sami and his three children, all United States citizens, have been living in Minneapolis for the past two years while his wife, their mother has been living in Iraq.

Suad Jassim is their mother. Her paperwork qualifies her to come. All she is waiting for and has been waiting for, for two years now is an interview, that and to see and to hold her 8, 9 and 14 year old children once more.

The top photo was a visit with Sami August 8, 2016. The photos below are from Sami and Suad’s children during their recent visit to Echo Valley Farm.

Please sign this petition to reunite the family. Thank you in advance for caring.

Calling All Hearts

I like talking to people. They tell you in very few words what they believe and how they live. Believing is the easy part. Living with conviction is a bit more daunting. 

You can believe we’re one race, but continue to uphold systematic racism.

You can believe the environment is harmed by human behavior, but refuse to consider even the smallest steps to rectify it.

You can proclaim we’re all equal and never let the ERA pass.

You get my point.

What then helps a person jump from believing to knowing and from knowing to conviction of action? Believing is the weak link in the chain. Throw doubts at it and belief falters. Or feed it lies and it grows into a mechanism of societal destruction. Look no further than January 6, ‘21 to understand this point.

So the first leap, from belief to knowing is crucial. Facts change. They always have and always will. It’s the nature of the physical world to be in flux. Knowing fact is not the “Knowing” we need. 

There’s an internal knowing available to us if we take the time to seek it.

That knowing supports the recognition of humanity and leaves no doubt about the massacre of innocent people or the ignorance of war. It simply should not be. That knowing understands the interconnectedness of all life. And that knowing honors the Earth as our home. 

With this Knowing a person can be readied for a life lived in conviction. A life lived in fulfillment of purpose, in recognition that we’re not here by accident or chance and that we all have a part to play.

And what is that part you play? 

The discovery and enjoyment of the part you play is left to you and to your heart.

More Thinking, Less Bureaucracy

With the influx of city dwellers fleeing the urban jungle, and farm acreage being cut into bite sized pieces to accommodate, sewage and wastewater are in the spotlight. Whether a holding tank or a septic field, there’s often a lot more going down then simply number one or number two. Household cleaners, toxic chemicals and now PFAS – known as “forever chemicals” are turning up in our sludge. 

OK you say, but the truck sucks it up and takes it away. Ah, but there’s the rub. Where is it taken?  The EPA will tell you more than half of all sewage sludge is spread on farmlands. And studies are showing farmers and farm workers are paying the price, not to mention the animals and humans who are eating from those fields or drinking from contaminated wells.

Organic standards do not allow the use of sewage sludge to be used as fertilizer. That’s one remedy. We have become very good at mitigating problems at there end point, but we have a long way to go to stop the very egregious actions that are creating the mess in the first place. 

The state is becoming hyper vigilant in demanding every household be responsible to contain waste, while big polluters are given a pass. Simple composting and greywater systems which could offset waste are not permitted or are enforced in such a way that they still end up in the toxic stew scattered over farmlands. We’re not thinking this through.

Stop the production of PFAS, reduce the amount of chemicals being created and used, and allow common sense to return. We’re still living as though we have not heard that the earth is warming at an alarming rate, or that we could play a part in protecting it. 

Biosolid Map: The spreading of wastewater sludge (biosolids) on agricultural land, a common practice dating to the 1980s, is concentrated in the eastern U.S. where groundwater depth is relatively shallow, raising concerns about widespread PFAS contamination affecting drinking water. Source: EPA webinar, “PFAS in Biosolids,” Sept. 23, 2020.

Rescind the Doctrine

Hubris comes to mind as I read about the Pope’s apology tour of Canada. But this isn’t about the Pope who is gagged by power and the ignorance of ages.  It’s about the dominant culture that continues to ignore the gross and inhumane facts on how indigenous people were and are treated. It’s about the Doctrine of Discovery, how so very few of us know what it is or don’t care about how it still influences our thinking and behavior.

When the Si Pih Ko stood before the Pope and sang the “Our Village” song, dominant media raced to explain that she was singing the Canadian National anthem in Cree. You can see her sing, tears rolling down her cheeks, defiance and dignity emanating from her. And the media whitewashed it as “the Canadian anthem in Cree”. 

I call hubris: excessive pride that leads to downfall. 

The Doctrine of Discovery originated as edicts by the Catholic Church in the 15th century. They empowered Portugal and Spain to colonize West Africa and the Americas by all means necessary. It’s estimated that twelve million indigenous human beings died since 1492. Unmarked graves of children at residential schools tell the story of brutalization and erasure of native people by all means necessary.

At the stand at Standing Rock when Christian clergy approached the sacred fire and asked to burn the Doctrine of Discovery, they were told “No. Because it’s not over.” In that moment I witnessed the depth of pain and the ignorance of dominance collide.

No, it’s not over. It’s alive in the trauma of remembrance and in current Supreme Court decisions. It’s not over, until we purge the hubris, or succumb to the downfall. We must rescind the Doctrine of Discovery from our beings.

Where Everyone is Welcome

Gentrification is colonizing. Colonize: to appropriate (a place or domain) for one’s own use.

It’s likely before land was owned it was held in common among people living in a given place. It also seems likely that those people worked to ensure their common interests in a way that was most beneficial to everyone – including the environment. Most likely they were agrarians who lived off the land and cared for animals who supported their way of life.

Skills were shared and bartered. And peacekeeping was left to the peaceful who held a deep appreciation for equity and dignity. 

There are many places on earth that still maintain the understanding of shared commons. There are people who still understand how important each individual is to the whole. 

For the most part capitalism, as we know it, has destroyed this sense of community. Ownership trumps the notion of shared commons. And the hierarchy that ownership creates breeds distrust. The deference that is expected from worker to employer has unleveled the playing field. We’ve lost our ability to be content and the scramble to get ahead leaves most far behind.

Individual “freedoms” now supersede any concern of the common good – that applies to all people on the spectrum of left and right. 

The word gentrification describes inner city take over by wealth as it displaces people of lesser means. But what do we call it when wealth and privilege come knocking on our rural doors?

The gentrification of the Driftless is making it hard for people to choose simple living. Suburbia is finding us. Laws on how we should live come with a price. 

Support cooperative ventures that champion the rights of Nature and human dignity. This isn’t about a hand out. It’s about paying attention to what is happening. It’s about restoring the commons.

Where everyone is welcome.