You Are Not A Bystander

I recently met a young woman and our conversation turned towards social injustice and environmental destruction. She told me she was at a loss for what to do and that she felt like a bystander. I had never heard it put that way: a bystander, someone who looks on but does nothing as events take place.

There seems to be a lot of bystanding these days. Some of us are completely paralyzed by the inhumanity and cannot conceive of what to do. Some are quietly ok with all that is happening to the environment and to the people who are trying desperately to protect it. Still others are jumping on the bandwagon of destruction convinced that the resources of the earth are here for the taking.

For a moment I was unsure what to tell this young woman. She was clearly of means and able to articulate the travesties, so she was paying attention. Inertia can be a tough nut to crack, but it can be cracked.

So to all of you bystanders out there, here is a tip: Do yourself a favor. On September 20th, there will be a Global Climate Strike. Participate. Take time to learn, tell others, send donations, and stand with the youth who are organizing the strike.

This year the earth has seen the hottest temperatures in recorded history. And indigenous environmental activists are being assassinated for defending our planet.

If you are breathing you are not a bystander, you are a participant in life on earth. Doing nothing allows you to be complicit in its destruction. While we are here the earth is our home and it is incumbent upon us to do more than watch as human ignorance destroys it.

No one is a bystander. There are those who are conscious and those who are asleep. Wake up.  The green path waits.


The melting snow that brought the most recent flooding added to the widening creeks and changed topography of the Driftless. As I surveyed the battered roads and considered where to place culverts, I realized we are embarking on a dynamically changing time. The new flood planes have already forced many from their homes with more likely to come. And discussions of relocating businesses have taken on a whole new meaning as rural towns face the inevitable decisions that lie ahead.

Politicians talk of dams. And I wonder if they are seriously considering this costly and limited solution that seems akin to putting a finger in the dyke.

It makes much more sense to me to hear old time farmers talk about growing varieties of grasses that root deep into the soil and help absorb runoff, rather than build costly fixes like dams.

Then came the news of the wipeout in Nebraska and surrounding Midwestern states. Water is showing us who is king. We have gone horribly astray as we tried to outmaneuver Mother Nature instead of living in sustainable harmony with her.

Unprecedented flooding has also crippled the Pine Ridge, Rosebud and Cheyenne River Reservations wiping out roads and corrupting water supplies. Help there is also desperately needed.

We are being forced to reckon with this new reality. We are being asked to think in new ways and to help one another.  We are coming to the realization of the preciousness and the destructive nature of water and the clock is ticking.

Here in the Driftless we are cleaning up our waterways. We are helping neighbors relocate; and we are talking about community in very real terms.

The differences among us are melting along with the snow and that is how it needs to be as we face this new day and discover our resiliency.


Check this site for more updated information on recovery / resiliency efforts in the Driftless.

You can listen to the hour WDRT program  “Conversations” with Jen Schmitz as we discuss resiliency and recovery happening in the Driftless.

You can listen to this WDRT broadcast of “Consider This” on Soundcloud

Cut a New Path

When winter takes full advantage of every day left to her to douse us with rain followed by snow and frigid temps, what do we do?

We stand up and carry on.

When the road to home is made impassable by snow and ice, what do we do?

We cut a new path.

There’s no time to bemoan the situation. There is no surplus energy to be wasted. There are chores to be done and needs to be met. And there’s just enough hope and strength to cut a new path and make a new way.

These frigid times challenge us to retain our dignity and sense of humor.

It is not only here in the Driftless that we are being pushed to the furthest reaches of our capabilities; the entire United States in is the throws of a harsh winter. Not simply from Nature, but in the depths of our soul. The systems that were built to provide for people are crumbling and the divisiveness leads to despair.

We are coming to an impassable situation.

For those who can stomach it, the news of the day grows ever more alarming. Our inability to address the humanitarian needs at our southern border, the ever-increasing risk to our water and air, and the insatiable lust for power and war, rivaled by an insatiable lust for trafficking women and children are but a few of the obstructions to our walk.

As I listened to the proceedings on the Cohen hearings, I heard an insistence that we stand up and carry on. There was hope in Representative Elijah Cummings words when he chided us to not stand on the sidelines and say nothing. “Come on”, he told us “we are better than this.”

Yes, sir, we are. And it is time to shake off the chill and cut a new path.


Thanks to WDRT for airing Consider This every Thursday, 5:30 pm CST.

Prefer to listen? Try Soundcloud.

What We Can Do

This week brought us two game changers: Hurricane Michael and the United Nations’ report on climate change. Michael is being touted as the fourth largest hurricane to hit the United States and the United Nations’ report issued a dire warning. We have twelve years to reduce our emissions or face catastrophic challenges worldwide. Lessor known was the explosion of a gas pipeline. Pipeline ruptures continue to disrupt peoples’ lives and destroy the environment.  Yet our fracked gas and tar sands oil are heralded as “progress” and an economic boon, as we supply the world with fossil fuels.

Indonesia lost over 2000 people to the tsunami. If national or international news is too much to bear, we have the flooding of the Kickapoo to understand this perilous moment in time. The devastation wreaked on our communities followed by unprecedented rain is forcing us to realize Nature can no longer be ignored.

What we know is this: the amount of fossil fuel energy we burn is no longer sustainable. The destruction to the environment is not justifiable. We must face the simple truth: Our dependent relationship with fossil fuels must end. The brighter note is this: the conversion to renewable living will help enliven our communities.

Creating local renewable energy, buying locally produced foods and goods will dramatically reduce our carbon footprint.

There is nothing to be confused about; there is nothing to fear. The report’s reckoning is that it has finally come down to each of us. Consume less. Period. We have educated ourselves into becoming a consumer nation and we can educate ourselves into becoming a sustainable one. There are critical choices ahead. Choices we each must make regardless of our corporate government. We are not victims. We hold the key. Choose.


*I found the poster pictured here at a recent event in La Crosse and discovered the amazing work of Christi Belcourt

**You can listen to this offering for “Consider This” on my Soundcloud page.

You can listen to “Consider This” live every Thursday evening at 5:28 pm CST on WDRT


While politicians and the press keep us entertained and distracted, Mother Nature seems right on course to help us remember who is boss and what’s important.

The flood of the Coulee Region left a lot of people scrambling. Hurricane Florence is about to do the same.

I also learned of a pipeline explosion in my native home, Beaver County Pennsylvania. This from a pipeline that went active only one week prior and from the same company many of us faced at Standing Rock – Energy Transfer Partners. The cause? Too much rain too quickly shifted the earth.

I know a lot of family and friends believe the security of our nation is dependent on those pipelines. They rally for big business and are happy to see the current administration upend legislation that has protected the environment. They want to see less government, but neglect to see the cause and effects of climate change hastened by this laissez-faire attitude.

Me? I scratch my head and wonder why we are so quick to sell out the gift of Nature. Why we bull headedly hold onto ideas that not only undermine us but future generations as well.

There is a disease I am beginning to recognize. It is called hypocrisy.

There is a cure for this disease. And it is a simple one. Accept and recognize that we are all in this together. All of us. Governments come, governments go. Businesses come and go. Some have held our best interests some have not.

We will never conquer Nature. And it is best we do not try. Instead let us learn from her and work with her for the mutual benefit of all. It is possible. Disasters continually show us this. Now let us learn without Nature’s prompting.


This piece aired Sept 12. You can listen to it here.

The photo is of Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

  1. the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform

Turn Around

I once heard someone say, “If you find yourself at the end of your road with no where else to go – turn around.”*

Due to the recent deluge and flooding the stories are mounting of those forced from their homes, of businesses lost, of communities shattered. Many of us are reckoning with choices we never dreamed would come. “Lost everything” is becoming a common phrase as we survey gutted buildings and possessions washed away.

“If you find yourself at the end of your road – turn around”. And that is what we are doing. Turn around and find a friend, turn around and find an outstretched hand with a plate of food or clothes for the children. Turn around and see the results of neighbor helping neighbor. Yes there are tears for what is lost but there is also recognition that this can be a new beginning. Out of the muck, out of the mud we rise.

There are things we could have done differently. There are things we should have done differently. But we are able to begin again and that is a rare gift. In Japan there is an art of fixing broken pottery. It is done with love and with great care and the repaired broken vessels are cherished.

Let us proceed with great care with one another and with this precious land we call home. The cracks in our spirits and in our homes are real. Some can be mended, some must be left, but the very, very good news is this: we are here.

“If you find yourself at the end of your road – turn around.” Turn around to remember who we are. Turn around to remember who you are. We can do this.


This piece aired on WDRT’s Consider This September 6. You can listen to it here.

Coulee region flooding clean-up 2018 is a good resource to know how and where to plug in to help.

*Quote by Prem Rawat

Photo compliments of Kelly Yates.

Our Changing Nature

There are many who travel from air-conditioned car to air conditioned office and home again. Fabulous grocery stores provide all that is needed and while news of environmental disasters may come, most still escape being rocked by Nature’s upheaval. The glass of water (at least) looks crystal clear and the air, well, it’s good enough, right?

From where I sit this is the breeding ground for climate change denial. Politicians and scientists tell us that Nature is simply doing what Nature does and our lifestyles have no implication in the rising tide of environmental disasters looming before us. By and large, if we are not affected it’s not happening.

But for those who live close to the land, the ones filling your fabulous grocery stores, the realities of climate change do not require scientific validation or corporate slight of hand. It is a daily reality.

The rains come. Fires come. Droughts come. They have and always will. We must not fear Nature. We must live with Nature and we must help one another. It is time that we acknowledge our part in climate change. It is time that we alter our course for our children and those yet to come. We have been distracted by the lure of creature comforts and the unwillingness to change, but change is part of Nature as are we, and she is rocking our collective boat.

I do not know how the people of our precious region will resolve living with unprecedented flooding. But you know what people are made of when you witness how they face hardship. The human spirit, when given the chance is resilient. And at its best it is humble. We are being humbled, now let us be resilient, and let us be wise.


This piece aired on WDRT‘s Consider This, Thursday, August 30th following the furious rains and severe flooding of the Kickapoo Valley and other parts of Wisconsin. You can listen to it here.

View drone footage of the flooding of Ontario. Taken by Aldis Strazdins of Wilton.

Neighbors helping neighbors and seen through the eyes of the award winning The County Line.

Farming Today

On March 15th,  the Coalition of Immocalee Farm Workers concluded their Freedom Fast. However, their demands to stop sexual violence against women in the fields will not end. This boycott is against Wendy’s – the last of the large food chains to resist joining the Fair Food Program. The Fair Food Program is a partnership among farmers, farmworkers, and retailers that ensures humane wages and working conditions.

Wendy’s has decided not to sign on and instead is going to Mexico for their tomatoes, where laws remain lax and conditions for the farm workers are often deplorable.

Such is the battle for economic and humane equity in farming.

Reading news from Family Farm Defenders, I was saddened by the statistic that the numbers of farmers committing suicide is on the rise. Couple that with the fact that in 2017, western Wisconsin had the highest numbers of farm bankruptcies in the nation and the stark realities of what farm life has become is apparent.

While massive amounts of money are poured into military budgets, political campaigns, and entertainment, our food security is being destroyed. Pipelines, fracking, transmission lines and oil spills are cutting through the heart of rural farms adding salt to wounds. Organic farmers now face increased rates for licensing, with little to no increase in revenue.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.” He recognized farming as national security. Apparently today’s government doesn’t agree, rather it seems hell bent on bringing back servitude.

Our farming communities are facing enormous challenges in every way. Even the famously promised broadband access still eludes 61% of our people. I know. I’m one.

While popular TV shows herald more of the same old rugged individualism, pitting man against nature…it seems to me today’s heroes are the farmers and the rural communities trying desperately to maintain a good life. The way out is not in conquering nature, but in working with it and with one another.

This is a moment for cooperation to re-emerge.

So while Alaska calls itself the last frontier and people knock themselves out to prove they are survivors…we need look no further than the small sustainable farms here in the Driftless to see devotion to land and community, resilience to climate change, and the finest of the human spirit.


This aired on WDRT‘s “Consider This” on March 15. You can hear it here.

And please watch this video of the struggle to save clean water in Kewaunee County WI.


Environmental Heroes

Perhaps it is time we take a look at our concept of hero. Most of our heroes are long gone or have something we want – like great athletic ability or the skill of amassing wealth. However, we often emulate people at a cost of ignoring the heroes in our everyday lives.

And most significantly, we forget that we are each our own hero.

Not only do we admire the powerful, it seems we have now become adept at ignoring common sense as we cheer on the heroes we have come to adore.

This phenomenon is not new. It has been a curse of human kind for all of recorded history. But I am not one to follow a trend simply because it is commonplace and I am especially weary of one that has become so destructive to the human spirit and to the Earth.

So what I want to tell you today is about a gathering of environmental heroes right here among us. A group of people who come from diverse backgrounds, beliefs and lifestyles but share one common understanding: The land we are living on is precious and must be protected from those who have forgotten these simple truths: we are of the earth, we are totally reliant upon her and to allow her destruction is folly.

And here is the good news. These environmental heroes are standing up, and saying, “No more” – and they are inviting you to be a hero, too. Your own hero, as it should be.

On Saturday, January 20th from 1pm to 5:30 pm in Boscobel, Wisconsin, there will be a gathering to discuss our precious environment, what is occurring that could cause great harm to the Driftless and what solutions we can take to avert that harm. There are numerous organizations and individuals who are co-sponsoring this free event. It may be live-streamed and recorded.

Let this be the year we all step up to protect the earth, to learn more about her care and our unique role in protecting her. Everyone is needed. It is time to become our own hero.


photo: Driftless Area Slope Map by Joshua Wachuta

listen to it here