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

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.

Here Comes the Sun

If you’re thinking of putting up a home solar array in 2022 you will qualify for the 26% federal solar tax credit. That credit will drop to 22% in 2023 and will conclude in 2024. 

For those tempted to take the solar plunge, learning about your energy use and your energy waste are perhaps the most important considerations. Reading your monthly statements, understanding your peak times of use, changing to LED bulbs and using energy efficient appliances will dramatically reduce your electric bill.

It’s an exercise in conscious living and it’s very satisfying to your pocketbook. 

Most rural people have forgotten the history of how electricity came to the countryside. It was the establishment of cooperatives that allowed the forgotten regions of this country to obtain electricity. 

Today most are cooperative members, but seldom understand our roles as co-owners. Happy for the lights to go on, we have entrusted the financial workings of the energy cooperatives to boards and stakeholders. As we move to renewable energy, this may be a moment to reconsider inaction and become involved. 

If you’re holding out hope that your energy provider will increase their use of solar and that it will decrease your costs, it’s time to think again. Out of state third party developers are taking advantage of this leap towards solar and are investing in local solar systems. What you aren’t being told is how much you will be paying for this “service” as our cooperatives sign on to contracts that in many cases will outlast our lifetimes. It’s estimated that Vernon County ratepayers export $76 million yearly in energy costs.

So on top of your conscientious reduction of energy waste, it’s time to let your coop board know that you would prefer to keep our dollars local. 

For a great presentation by Vernon County Energy District members Samantha Laskowski, Kaila Wilson and independent solar enthusiast, Rob Danilelson, click here.

Inherit the Wind

For those not paying attention: The earth is undergoing traumatic change. Debates can rage, but facts are undeniable. We’re having one of our driest years. A few years back the waters raged. These are the fluctuations predicted for us. Our terrain gives way to a downward flow but history has informed us trees and grasses play a significant role in slowing the floodwaters when they do arrive.

Wood is at a premium right now. And taking down mature forests make sense to the pocketbook, but little sense when we consider trees’ advantages.

Trees give us oxygen and improve the air we breathe. They sequester carbon, preserve soil, conserve water and support wildlife. Not to mention the joy of a swing and other childhood memories they provide. 

I’m not a gambler, but taking into account climate swings, odds are pretty good that we will have some heavy rains and flooding in the not too distant future. People living in valleys are particularly aware of the dangers of fast moving run-off.  

If you’ve driven around lately, you can see that short-term gain is winning and old growth trees are coming down. The mills are loaded and “useless” treetops are an ugly sight on our hillsides. While I understand the need to survive financially, I must wonder why we cannot find better ways.

I know I’ll hear, “I can do what I want with my land.” Unfortunately that is true. No one can make anyone care about consequences to wildlife or to the future of our grandchildren’s children and what they will inherit. But we can try.

Every January Vernon County’s Land and Water Conservation offers a sapling sale. Plant a few. It’s not a solution to the destruction but may lessen the loss of desperately needed trees. 

The concept of “Inherit the Wind” is from Proverbs chapter 11, verse 9 “He that troubles his own house shall inherit the wind…”

It is also a great 1960 movie, Inherit the Wind, depicting the 1920’s school teacher, Bertram Cates who is put on trial for teaching evolution instead of creationism. 

Decolonize

There’s a lot of talk these days about decolonizing. Decolonize our food, decolonize our wardrobe, decolonize our minds and on. We are learning what colonization meant and means to indigenous people the world over and it is a hideous legacy. 

And I keep coming back to this: We were all indigenous once. We all came from people who lived on the land, wherever that land might have been. Some of us are closer to it, but to many it’s no longer a living memory. I think there is a tremendous loss in this disconnect from the land, from the smells, the tastes, and the community. I would venture that the root of the violence we witness, the persistence of the patriarchy and the rise of greed all stem from the loss of our indigenous nature. 

I was a fortunate one. I can remember my grandmother’s garden. I can remember the sweetness of the fruit and the smell of baking bread.

Those memories continue to guide my choices. I want to decolonize. I want the freedom that comes from not fearing dirt. I want the vibrant health that comes from good clean food. I want to protect my water because I know that it is life giving. And most of all I want that for all of us.

I long for community that does not promote “the divide”. I want to be human first. The rest will take care of itself.  

To decolonize means to take back our humanity. Let’s relinquish our belief that power is dominant and a necessary evil. It doesn’t have to be.

Being human is the greatest power.

We can rekindle our relationship to the earth and one another. It’s not too late to call back the memories. Let this be our time.

Choose the Green Path

The United Nations Climate Summit begins November first and is already being pronounced a failure. World leaders are declining attendance, covid is ramping up and the costs to produce and attend the two-week conference are steadily climbing out of reach – as is the warming of the earth.

This moment of uncaring has been brought to you by decades of lies and by greed that has known no bounds. This precarious moment has been fueled by cynicism and steered by a dominant culture that cares not for the earth or for people, but prides itself on how much it can take and how quickly.

I once learned that the original people of this land referred to the colonizers as “fat takers”. I don’t know if it was so, but it seems applicable today. Fat takers: the ones who skimmed the cream off the top, who took the best at any cost. No vision of the future for themselves or for their progeny. No care for the earth or for replacing what they stole. This mindset has led generations and the bill of sales is now being laid on our table to be paid. And it is a bill we cannot pay if we continue on the path of the scorched earth.

Frightening people with statistics is not working. And we’ve grown numb hearing about increased fires, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions and other abnormalities – unless it’s happening to us.

Waiting for world leaders to act is a kicking of the can. It gives us someone to blame, but that’s all. No, this moment requires all of us. Humankind must stop allowing greed to govern. We must find our compassion and our empathy, and fall in love with the earth once more. The green path is waiting.

Rethinking Progress

Our township is quaint. Most people have lived here their whole lives. Many were dairy farmers before the time of “Get big or get out”. They’re first hand witnesses to the shortcomings of that adage. To some the small family farm die off of is “progress”. But progress shouldn’t have to come on the backs of people or in the destruction of the earth.

It was progress that drove most indigenous people away. Had they been encouraged to stay, or allowed to teach their ways of stewardship of the earth, things might be different for all of us.

But as it is, I hear the bulldozers cutting new paths for the loggers who are going to cash in on the land. There is no regard for animal life. No regard for the fellowship of the trees. Freshly cut-logging roads in these hills will add to heavy spring runoff and an increase in floods. There’s little regard for life when money is at stake.

In the beginning of autumn colors we will watch the trees come down. It ‘s dark now but I can still hear the bulldozing. There is no legal recourse to stop it and talk is futile when you’re a woman telling men there are better ways.

“This is how we’ve always done it”, ends the conversation. Maybe you have always done it this way, but there are people who understand their relationship to the land and to one another. 

The Menominee are internationally heralded for the way they harvest their forests.  Care is taken to ensure an ongoing healthy ecosystem. It is never too late to learn.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. I’m weary of living in a world driven by ignorance. Money will not heal unconsciousness.

“We Should All Be Water Protectors”*

Writing from a hotel after visiting the StopLine3.org Welcoming Center in Palisade, Minnesota.

In the wake of destruction, the pandemic opened a door for us to walk into a new day.  Our consumption of fossil fuels is at an all time low. The need for extreme extraction is over. Good by KXL. The pipeline that would have sliced through the Ogallala aquifer is history. And DAPL will be next. The courts are getting ready to end the permits that should have never been granted and for the arrogance of a company that has ignored court orders and kept on pumping. 

This is the last gap of oil. 

And yet Enbridge continues with Line 3 – leaving the older corroded pipeline for us to clean up.  Investors are jumping ship facing the reality that renewables are a far safer alternative. And many of us are coming to the realization that less is more as we leave an abusive relationship with over – consumption behind.  

We have all noticed the pristine skies and the fresher air. And now it is time for the reckoning of corroded pipelines that pierce the land and waterways.  Now is time for everyone to be a water protector as Winona LaDuke reminds us.

So as a water protector what can you do? You can reduce consumption and divest from fossil fuels. You can write letters to Governor Walz, to congress and the new administration. You can support the needs of those on the front lines, as they stand in nonviolent resistance, to end something that should have never gone this far. 

And if you are able as we were to bear witness you can make the trip to 5 or 6 camps that dot the 300-mile pathway of destruction and bring your love, support and the supplies they need to carry on.

Let’s make this just transition for everyone.

*”We should all be water protectors.” – Winona LaDuke

Stop Line 3

This week the last of the permits required for Enbridge’s Line 3 were granted. Construction can officially begin, although it’s been going on illegally for some time.

The granting of the permits was of no surprise. The governing agencies grew out of the diminishing era of fossil fuels and are reluctant to rock the boat. Even though we know fossil fuels are being replaced by clean energy, even knowing the threat to water from ruptured pipes.

Enbridge was granted the right to totally abandon the original corroded line and build a larger, higher volume corridor.  It will transport the dirtiest of tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin even with our knowledge of diminished need.

Disregarding tribal sovereignty and indigenous ways of life, Line 3 will traverse Minnesota passing through tribal lands, wetlands, lakes and wild rice beds. 

Minnesota’s Department of Health now show that covid infection rates are higher along this new corridor than any other parts of the state and Native Americans are among the highest at risk for covid hospitalizations. Increasing the number of construction workers at this time, when we are asked to stay in place, is unreasonable and dangerous. 

Since 2013, many have opposed this pipeline, but more of us are needed to stand up for indigenous sovereignty and to protect the land and water. Now more than ever, as covid is ravaging our people and overwhelming our health care workers, we need this irresponsible act to stop.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, the White Earth Band of Ojibwa, Honor the Earth, Youth Climate Interveners, the Sierra Club and Minnesota’s own Department of Commerce have filed a court appeal for a stay on the construction.

For more on efforts to stop line 3, visit the website: stopline3.org.

Or call or write.

Office of Governor Tim Walz & Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan 
130 State Capitol 
75 Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. 
St. Paul, MN 55155

Staffed office hours are: Monday – Friday, 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM

Telephone Numbers 
Telephone:  651-201-3400 
Toll Free:  800-657-3717 
Minnesota Relay:  800-627-3529 

Play To Your Strengths

Summertime social distancing is pretty easy when the venues are the open spaces. Living near Wildcat Mountain State Park and the Kickapoo Valley Reserveoffers immense beauty, incredible night skies, and lots of people seeking to escape their cities during the pandemic.

Nothing new, except for this: the gratitude that people are expressing for the land, the quiet and the simplicity. The appreciation is palpable. It’s as if, the world has had to come to a stop to help us remember how intoxicating living on the earth really is…

We’ve had a young man visiting who enjoys fishing. Nearly everyday he explores another of the wondering creeks that feed into the Kickapoo. When he returns, he recounts the trials of fishing but he also delights at the beauty he witnessed and I get to enjoy his enjoyment as I listen. Sharing this little piece of heaven is easy when appreciation gushes so readily.

People stop by, eager for conversation. Hoping to hear some good news and relieved when no hardships are discussed. Rural people are accustomed to solitude. We are accustomed to challenge. For the most part we love the land and try our best to do no harm.

And now in these summer months as people seek solitude and the immense beauty that is here, we can welcome them and invite them to be here conscientiously. Maintaining social distance and wearing a mask while entering our businesses is a sign of respect, not of weakness.

Autumn will soon be here and winter will be on its heels. If we’ve not yet learned the importance of protecting our selves and our loved ones, the cold months may bring a harsh visitor to our doors.

We have great strengths. Now it’s up to each of us to use them.