Step Out of Normal

When I bought this farm 20 years ago, I hadn’t heard of Landback or colonizer. I bought the farm with the idea that it should go on in perpetuity with no more buys and sells, no more profiteering from extraction. I learned from Dine’ friends that land was not mine to own and I respected that understanding.

I was counseled, “Buy the land and it will teach you”, and I have learned from it.

I have learned that the symbiotic relationship with the land is key to understanding my humanity; and that the dance with the seasons is in direct relationship to my understanding of myself as a finite being. The satisfaction and fulfillment I garner is testament to a Greater existence.  And the whole experience is one of beauty and peace, regardless of the difficulties that arise.

I believe the capitalist system has shortchanged our worldview and has cheated us of the most valuable of commodities, our humanity. I’m very grateful to have taken the plunge away from social norms and that very kind people took the time to help me heal. Because stepping out of normalcy is a healing.

It’s not easy to live in a world where bad deeds and actions are legitimized. It’s not easy to force innocents to close their eyes to the horrors of hunger, homelessness and violence. But that is what we do everyday. We teach our children to stuff the question, “Why?” And we carry on with the charade.

This country’s wealth is based on land theft and stripped resources. Trying to rectify poverty or heal generational traumas without acknowledging the assaults of our history will be fruitless.

We’re all damaged by cruelty. We must all take time to heal.

Step out of normal.

Stop Doing Harm

The Climate Summit is underway. The gathering is supposed to allow all countries equal footing to negotiate the perils of climate change. Once again the fossil fuel industry is driving the agenda to continue the abusive use of coal, gas and oil.  And once again governments, who are the greatest emitters of greenhouse gasses, are refusing to wind down.  Climate justice groups are given little space to talk about the need to stop harmful polluting, while fossil fuel industries set up elaborate booths to sell their products. It’s more than a conflict of interest; it’s death by greed.

The request for financial help to repair the damage caused by large polluters is being sidestepped. The request to “stop doing harm” is going unheard. 

The summit is called COP 27. That means for the past 27 years this spin has continued while our overuse of fossil fuels impacts the climate and adversely affects our health. 

So when I learned about our school district receiving grants and loans to do a makeover, I looked to see if there were plans to use renewable energy. There were none. The plans are for larger spaces that will require more energy. 

And energy costs are rising and will continue to. Taxpayers will foot the bill for the construction AND for the operational costs. That figure was left out the planning as well. 

The Inflation Reduction Act is ready and waiting for makeovers like this one. Switching to renewables in this moment makes total sense.

I can’t be at COP 27, but I can make my voice heard and I did. I will not be voting to approve the plans for the school makeover unless renewable energy is used. It’s time to stop doing harm. We can.

Photo from an article Misconceptions about solar energy

Thanks to Edward Kimmel via Wikipedia Commons for the image of the sign from the 2017 Climate March in Washington, DC. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Why do we keep allowing the fossil fuel industry to call the shots?

VANESSA NAKATE to Democracy Now: Well, apparently, we have more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists at this COP, and yet so many communities and activists from the frontlines of the climate crisis weren’t able to make it here. There is a quote that I read recently that said, “If you’re going to discuss about malaria, do not invite the mosquitoes.” So, for me, it’s a worry that we have over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists in this place. It’s a worry for our future. It’s a worry for our planet. It’s a worry for the people.

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