Science geeks and nature buffs: joining forces to protect the Earth and ensure our future

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This Earth Day I met with a small but fierce group of women writers determined to use our words to defend and protect our Mother Earth.

The grief and love that poured from us was as palpable as the tears and laughter we inspired in each other.

I read some of the scenes from the Childhood section of my memoir, revealing how I was “a strange child,” who was much more comfortable out in the forests and fields than with other human beings. Together we wrote about the natural places or non-human friends who inspired us and kept us company in childhood.

One woman wrote about a beloved cat companion, who, she found out later in life, had been taken from her by her parents and dumped out of a car miles from home. The grief and love that came welling up out of her, decades after this loss and betrayal, had all of us in tears.

Others wrote about remarkable trees who stood sentinel over their childhood homes, and how, all these years later, they can still tap into the solid power and majesty of those childhood tree friends.

Later, led by my friend Jana Laiz, we wrote letters to Mother Earth. This was mine (unedited, just as it came flowing out of my pen into my workshop notebook):

“Mother, I am so sorry that we have been so destructive to you. I am so sorry that we are such a cruel, savage and thoughtless species. I often wonder how a species that can build soaring temples, write magnificent symphonies and fantastically sophisticated computer code—a species that can love with such devotion—can also be capable of such wanton, cruel torture and devastation of the natural world and our fellow species, the plants, animals, insects, birds and fish.

“We could be so much finer than we are. That old story of the Garden of Eden got it right. We were fallen and unworthy—but not because Eve desired a bite of apple, but because we did not know how to live peacefully there with the trees and the snakes and all.

“I wish the Judeo-Christian myth included better instructions on what to do once we were out on our own in the so-called wilderness. The Native Americans got good instructions. The Buddhists understood. But the Europeans, my tribe—we were told “be fruitful and multiply and subdue the Earth and her creatures.” That is what we have done, and as a result we are now 9 billion humans on this planet, close to wiping out the other species and undoing the ecological life support on which all of us depend.

“I know you wished us to prosper, Mother, as you do all your children. But I wouldn’t hold it against you now if you decided that you’d had enough of us humans. I think we’ve had our chance; we’ve blown it; and it’s time for some tough love.

“Time for us to own up to the consequences of our actions. Time for you to push the reset button, perhaps, and start the process of creation anew.”

Viewed soberly, it’s hard to deny that we may very well be living in the end times for the human civilizations that began some 5,000 years ago when Gilgamesh killed Humbaba, the guardian of the forest, and cut down the cedar forest to make his city.

It’s also hard to argue that the end of our destructive era is a bad thing.

On an Earth Day that also featured the biggest Marches for Science ever assembled on the planet, it behooves us to acknowledge that Science has been a mixed blessing for the Earth community.

17991179_10212501290152317_3238751945848981883_nOf course, in so many ways, science, technology and engineering have been amazing boons for humanity. Who wouldn’t be grateful for medical advances that enable us to live longer and better? Who wouldn’t admire the technological prowess that enables us to communicate instantaneously with people on the other side of the world, and to fly there and talk in person if we so desire? Of course, we all love the conveniences of modern engineering: water systems, cars and roads, houses that can be heated with a flick of switch in the winter, and cooled just as easily in the summer.

The benefits of science are too numerous to list. And yet, I have to ask: what price have we paid for all these modern conveniences? What price will our children and grandchildren still be paying, far into the future?

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Robin Wall Kimmerer

I was really grateful to see the wonderful statement by indigenous scientists, including the ever-inspiring Robin Wall Kimmerer, pushing us to remember that “Indigenous science provides a wealth of knowledge and a powerful alternative paradigm by which we understand the natural world and our relation to it. Embedded in cultural frameworks of respect, reciprocity, responsibility and reverence for the earth, Indigenous science lies within a worldview where knowledge is coupled to responsibility and human activity is aligned with ecological principles and natural law, rather than against them.

“We need both ways of knowing,” the statement proclaims—indigenous and western—“if we are to advance knowledge and sustainability.”

This is truly the challenge of our time. Can we wed the simple and uncomplicated love for the natural world that we experienced as children with the ecological sophistication of indigenous science and the technological brilliance of western science?

Can we ensure that new generations of children will get their heads of out of their screens long enough to experience the wonder and magic of face time with the natural world?

Will we all—old and young, indigenous and settler, science geeks and nature buffs—join forces in the common goal of protecting and nurturing our common home, our Mother Earth?

We can—we must—and we will!

ENOUGH: An Eco-Feminist Easter Proclamation

Today is Easter, celebrated in the Christian world as the day that a tortured Jesus ascended from the Cross and was welcomed, reborn, into the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s also the end of the week of Passover, when Jewish people celebrate the miracle that saved their sons from death at the hands of their oppressive Egyptian overlords. And of course, it’s also Spring, when the entire northern hemisphere of Gaia garbs herself in green again and every living being revels in the rebirth of the plants that sustain us.

Note how the Judeo-Christian traditions weave persecution and war into the fabric of their most cherished myths. Christ died to wash away our sins, we are told, and the battles over his legacy have continued ever since. The Jews were reprieved at the original Passover, but hanging over that holiday is the knowledge of how many times in history they did not make it through alive.

In these early days of the 21st century, the peace and compassion that Christ died proclaiming is hard to find. Once again the overlords are engaged brutal power grabs backed by military might, destroying the lives of innocents and battering entire societies, entire ecosystems.

As the keening cries of grieving survivors rise up like smoke over the battlefields everywhere on our planet—and I am not just talking about humans, but about the beleaguered survivors of every species on Earth, all of us under constant assault by the lords of greedy destruction—a loud, deep voice seems to speak through me, proclaiming

ENOUGH.

It’s time to move beyond Abraham and the warring trinity of religions he spawned. It’s time to reconnect with our even more ancient indigenous traditions, which are steeped in a reverence for place—an understanding of the sacredness of the natural world, and our human role as caretakers of life.

It’s time for women to stand up as the bearers of life, for us to recognize our sacred responsibility to temper the aggression that has been ascendant during these past millennia of patriarchy.

Although it’s not fashionable to talk in terms of “the gender binary” these days, this evasion strikes me as yet another patriarchal ruse: when the women start getting strong, undercut them by making it taboo to talk about women and men. We’re all just humans, right?

Right, except that some humans—defined by their genitalia—still have more social and political power than others. And those humans—men—are still the ones who are out there fighting wars, running chemical companies, drilling oil, fracking gas, hunting animals, logging forests. Wherever you look, it’s men calling the shots of human civilization, and their playbook spells destruction for all of us.

I believe gender is a spectrum and our gender identities are fluid. All of us humans—men and women—have the capacity to be nurturers and protectors of life, as well as fierce warriors. Right now, we need a huge upsurge of the feminine, compassionate, gentle energy represented by that famous man, Jesus Christ, and in our time there is no reason why women shouldn’t lead the way.

Women, and men who honor the feminine principle of life, let us dedicate ourselves this Spring to reimagining a new relationship with Gaia, our Mother Earth. We are in a fight for our very existence, and our resistance will, as we saw at Standing Rock, be met with violence.

We will each have to decide how much we are willing to risk; what crosses we are willing to ascend; how much we are willing to make our lives an offering for all Life, as Christ did.

Let us understand that the wars being fought today in Christ’s name do not represent his spirit. Let us understand the true spirit of Resurrection this Easter: the eternal return of Life nurtured by the divine Feminine, our Mother Gaia. Let us vow, as Spring returns once more, to live and die in her service.

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Time to show what a real mother-bomb can do

“MOAB: The mother of all bombs.”

What trigger-happy soldier came up with this moniker for an agent of death, I wonder?

Bombs are not mothers, and they don’t have mothers. They are the evil spawn and agents of death and destruction, the opposite of the nurturing, generative power of motherhood.

This week the president gave his generals carte blanche to go ahead and play with their toys. No need to ask Congress for permission. No need to consult the taxpayers who are footing the bill for these multi-million-dollar death drills.

Apparently it’s the first time this big mother of a bomb has been used, and I can just imagine the excitement of the soldier-boys who got to see the big kaboom in Afghanistan. All that firepower to kill 36—count’em, thirty-six—Taliban militants.

It’s as if you called in a tank to eradicate an anthill.

I am trying to understand what is going on here, and in Syria, and in Russia, China and the USA. It’s plain to see that there are big, diabolical plots and conspiracies afoot, but as in any good mystery, it’s pretty hard to predict what’s coming next.

Clearly, Trump wanted to distract attention from his political and business ties to Russia–the investigations must have been getting hot.

So he takes advantage of human rights outrage over the gruesome civilian deaths by sarin gas to lob a few missiles at Syria—carefully warning the Russians first, so they could get out of the way. It’s still not clear who unleashed the gas on those poor people. It could all have been orchestrated by the Russians, including the limp, clearly staged American response.

Next up, time to remind everyone that there are still militants in Afghanistan to fight, and let the generals play war with some of their really big toys, the ones they haven’t been able to use yet. After all, Donny just promised them $54 billion extra in next year’s budget, so why not blow some stuff up and buy some even newer, cooler gadgets?

Is this all about cranking up the military industrial complex to keep the economic indicators running high, and the stock market along with it? Is that why the Chinese president, who just happened to be visiting Trump at his Winter Palace this week, didn’t seem to mind all the sturm und drang?

Meanwhile, on the home front, is the White House trying distract us ordinary folks from the health care debacle, poor education, opioid and suicide crisis and lack of jobs on the home front by stoking the fires of patriotism and warmongering?

Wouldn’t be the first time.

What’s different now can be summed up in two words: social media.

Pity the poor politicians and business leaders. It’s getting harder and harder to get away with anything anymore.

United Airlines just found that out the hard way. Hell no, you can’t drag a passenger off an airline, breaking his nose and his teeth in the process, and get away with it. Not with a whole planeful of passengers whipping out their phones and immediately beaming the incident to the world!

So far Donny has managed to keep his taxes out of the public eye, but how long can he continue to stonewall before Wikileaks or some other hacker pulls off the curtain to bare the naked emperor, and the pictures go viral?

Sadly, Americans have gotten used to bombs and drones being used in our name in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. But don’t push us too hard, especially when you’re telling us there’s not enough money for enhancing life because the generals are too busy dealing out death.

I was glad to see a #RESIST group pull off an action in Trump Tower this week, unfurling a banner filled with leaflets from the balcony over the lobby, with signs proclaiming NO RAIDS, NO WALL, NO WAR, #RESIST glaring down over the phony glitziness of Trump’s Manhattan fortress.

The action was beamed immediately out through social media, the reverberations spreading just like the shock wave from a mother-bomb.

Real power is not dropping ordnance from 30,000 feet over a cave full of fanatics.

Real power is joining forces with your neighbors—around the corner and around the world, on social media–to say not here, not now, no way! We will not be a party to the war crimes, hate crimes and ecocide you and your financiers and generals are so hell-bent on committing.

Of course, that’s easy to say, not as easy to follow through on. Another Tax Day will come and go next week, and like everyone I know, I’ve dutifully paid my taxes—unlike our Commander in Chief. We’re paying, but we’re not happy–there are major protests planned across the US this weekend under the hashtag #ShowUsYourTaxes.

Where and how will I draw the line for myself? When will I say ENOUGH, stop tolerating what’s going on and get myself moving?

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I don’t know, but these questions are churning constantly in my mind. Under it all I hear the sweet innocents of our planet keening, and Gaia herself rumbling ominously.

When babies cry, mothers instinctively respond. Now, with every child on this planet threatened, I feel my mother hackles rising like the fierce flash of Kali’s wild eyes and the withering rage of the Mother Durga, goddesses so strong no demons could withstand them. Mothers are nurturing, yes, but threaten our children and our warrior energy rises like a rip tide.

Things have gone far enough. It’s time for us mothers to take back our power from the generals and show them what just what a real MOAB can do.

Cassandra Weeps

When Scott Pruitt was approved as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, we knew that the Trump administration was seriously opposed to environmental protection.

We knew he was pro-oil long before he approved the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, or appointed Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State.

We knew that this is a man who gropes pussy and doesn’t apologize. Who doesn’t even love animals enough to have a dog at his side (yes, this is the same man who has just approved of shooting hibernating bears and wolf pups in their dens).

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It’s no surprise that this is a man who upholds and exalts the worst aspects of humanity: our greed, short-sightedness and cruelty; the abuse of the weak and manipulation of the gullible.

As soon as those tallies added up on November 8, we knew what we were dealing with, and we’ve had the intervening months to let it all sink in.

The executive order rolling back the US commitment to the Paris Climate Treaty is just the latest proof that yes, we are dealing with a fucking maniac.

Those of you who have been reading Transition Times for a while may note that this is the very first time that I have ever sunk to the level of a curse word.

Sometimes, there is just no substitute.

This man is a FUCKING LUNATIC MORON.

He is like Stalin or Hitler on steroids—not just out to annihilate a certain type of human, but bent on annihilating the entire Earth community, from the coral in the Great Barrier Reef to the bears in the Arctic to the humans in drought-prone areas and everything and everyone in-between.

Let us be honest with ourselves and admit that he and his henchmen may succeed.

There are a lot of indicators right now pointing to “game over” for the Anthropocene.

Sometimes I walk in the forest and feel in my gut that this moment couldn’t come too soon. Civilizational collapse for humanity, the sooner the better, would be the best possible outcome for every other living being on this planet.

Other times I am filled with compassion for my young sisters and brothers, for those who are yet to be born on this planet, and how sad it is that their chances of enjoying the marvelous benevolence of our Mother Earth will be cut short by the stupidity of current generations.

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No one likes a Cassandra, and I don’t relish the role. But I cannot sit by and say nothing as the future of humans and all our relations, the other dear species of flora and fauna that we’ve evolved with in this long Holocene period—the birds, bees and bats, the deer, bears and cats; the mangroves, maples and mahoganies; the whales, salmon and octopus—all the familiar companions that make our Earth a home—are faced with the prospect of being swept away into the dark night of extinction.

There is no way to put a happy face on this, other than to remember the dinosaurs and remind ourselves that all things must pass; that our Earth is endlessly creative and will continue to evolve past the spectacular failure of humans.

Finger-pointing will not help. Trump’s fault? The oil barons’ fault? Our own fault for letting them gain so much power over our world? All of the above, and much more.

But there is nothing to be gained from casting blame.

We have passed the point of stopping the juggernaut of climate change. Now it falls to us to adapt, adapt, try to survive.

What will that look like? Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels; increasing local sources of renewable energy and food; hardening our defenses against storms, floods and droughts; remembering how our ancestors managed to survive without freezers, air conditioners, cars or computers.

All of these taken-for-granted aspects of modern life may soon become luxuries in the brave new world being ushered in by our politicians and the oil men.

I told you, no one likes a Cassandra.

But this is what I see coming to pass. All the auguries and omens are there. We have entered the Anthropocene and it looks like hell.

You will have to forgive me. This is the first post in which I have ever indulged in a curse word. And it’s also the first post in which I cannot seem to bring you to a hopeful conclusion.

The day I truly lose hope, you will not hear my voice.

But today my hope is at a low ebb, guttering.

Sometimes, you just have to accept the reality that the most you can hope for is a more hopeful tomorrow.

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This International Women’s Day, I Stand for Life

The good news this International Women’s Day has to do with resistance.

This year’s unprecedented Women’s March on Washington brought women and our allies out into the American public square demanding our rights, in a way that hasn’t happened for a long time.

Of course, never in my memory has the top American official, our President, been a man who is a gloating and unapologetic sexual predator of women; a man who treats his wife like a porn star bimbo and believes that serious women who dare to aspire to power are “nasty.”

By acquiescing in a warped political process that propelled this man into power, Americans have become bystanders to his nasty, discriminatory behavior towards women. “Make America Great Again” seems to mean “put women back in their place again”—in the home, making babies and waiting to serve their all-powerful men.

Well, no. Just NO.

Our foremothers did not fight so long and so hard for women’s equality just to see the current generation swallow our bile and tears and accept the rolling back of our rights as free and equal human beings.

Everywhere you look you can see women standing strong against this new tide of injustice.

The powerful women of Standing Rock are now flooding into Washington DC, along with thousands of other Native people and allies, for this weekend’s Native Rights marches. The Native people of America, and indeed the world, are leading the way on insisting that humans stop destroying our Mother Earth, and become her loving stewards.

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Tipis on the National Mall, March 7, 2017. Photo by Kandi Mossett

Although there are so many important issues to focus on this International Women’s Day, for me all of them can be summed up fairly simply: either you love and support life, or you hate and destroy life.

I CHOOSE LIFE.

That means I choose to stand up for children, our precious new generations, who have the right to quality education, good nutritious food, a loving family and community, and a healthy environment.

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My first child.

I stand for the right of every human being to play a meaningful role in their community, and to be rewarded and respected for their contributions. Of course, this means that women should have control over their bodies in every situation, just as men do.

I stand for the rights of animals, who should not be made to suffer…who should not be driven to extinction…because of the thoughtless greed of human beings. I stand for the protection of our environment, for the rights of Mother Nature, without whom none of us could live for even a moment.

This International Women’s Day, I give thanks and honor to every woman who has stood up for Life, sometimes in the face of fierce persecution, sometimes even giving her own life for the cause—like the environmental activist Berta Caceres, who we lost in 2016 because she refused to back down when the loggers and drillers advanced towards her community.

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Berta Caceres

Yes, it can be dangerous to stand up and resist the forces of destruction, to say NO to those who would silence us and reinstate the supremacy of the patriarchy, now rearing up in its most potently savage form: racist, misogynist, elitist, imperialist, extractivist, militarist, corporatist, extremist…these are the times we are living in, and they demand an equally potent resistance movement.

Marching, calling, sending post cards, organizing in our communities, networking with kindred spirits across the globe…all this is necessary, and more.

All our activism must be rooted in a deep sense of purpose, a commitment that must run like sap up our core: the commitment to STAND FOR LIFE.

Every great successful movement of the past has been fueled by the moral imperative to do what is right, to live in alignment with our most deeply held values. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…” was a revolutionary statement in its time, which was shifted by the courageous work of 19th and 20th century activists to include women, people of color and non-landowners under the banner of equality.

We are living in another revolutionary moment. It is a transition time, when if we fail to recognize the intrinsic value of our most precious resources—clean Earth, Water, Air and the life they support—we will soon find our entire civilization swept away by the storms, floods and droughts of Earth recalibrating herself in a massive reset leading into a new epoch.

This International Women’s Day, I vow to stand, as a woman and a human being, for the health and wellbeing of Mother Earth and all her children, human and non-human alike.

Join me.

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Looking for a good place to start? Register for the Pachamama Alliance Game Changer Intensive course, starting a new series in March 2017. It’s free, and it’s a powerful way to connect with kindred spirits who also want to STAND FOR LIFE.

Standing for Love in the Forest of Sandisfield–A Microcosm of the World

Last week I went to a meeting of the Conservation Commission in the little hill town of Sandisfield, MA, which has many more trees than residents. Indeed, it has no “town” to speak of, just roads threading their way through forests, streams and lakes, making it ideal habitat for beaver, coyotes, deer, bear, and many other birds and animals, including the occasional moose.

But now, Kinder Morgan has come to Sandisfield.

For more than a year, the local Conservation Commission, composed of three residents who serve as civic volunteers, has been meeting with representatives of the giant multinational fossil fuel corporation, which has gas pipelines running for hundreds, maybe thousands of miles in my corner of the world: the states of Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, and on up to the big commercial tanker port of St. John, New Brunswick.

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Kinder Morgan wants to clear a site in the Otis State Forest in order to lay a pipeline loop that will—as I understand it—be a kind of holding tank for liquefied gas, giving surges of gas coming through the pipeline somewhere to go besides down to the depot.

The Otis State Forest project is not about providing gas to local communities; it’s not even about creating increased ability to move gas from one place to another. It’s just about creating a back-up pipe.

And for this glorious purpose, Kinder Morgan proposes to disrupt land directly abutting a section of old-growth forest at the heart of the Otis State Forest, removing a beaver dam and withdrawing about a million gallons of water from beautiful Spectacle Pond.

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The case has been discussed at the EPA, by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and in court for months now. Local heroes Jane Winn of The BEAT News and Rosemary Wessel of the NoFrackedGasInMass campaign, now a BEAT program, have led the legal charge to stop this unnecessary invasion of state forest, and the case is still in court: Kinder Morgan does not yet have the last permits necessary to proceed.

According to Jane Winn, “We still don’t know if any toxic chemicals will be released from the lining of the pipe and there will be no testing of that water.” Jane adds that we do know that Kinder Morgan wants “to tear up and reconstruct a third of the 73 Ceremonial Stone Landscape features in Sandisfield – destroying the spiritual link and desecrating our native history. (Would FERC allow them to dig up part of Arlington National Cemetery and replace it afterward?) This desecration of the CSL features should not be allowed – and the agreement among the tribe, Kinder Morgan, and FERC has not been settled – as much as Kinder Morgan’s representative tried to mislead about that as well.”

Jane, who filmed the entire Conservation Commission meeting, says that the “FINAL 401 water quality permit won’t be issued until March 27 – and could possibly be denied, appealed, or require an additional Alternatives Study.”

Nevertheless, the conversation between the Conservation Commission board and the Kinder Morgan reps last week was chummy, with the main discussion points being what kinds of plans the company has made to contain erosion when—not if, but when—tree felling and bulldozing start.

Sitting across the table from the Conservation Commission folks, in the shabby basement of an old school, the Kinder Morgan rep never looked directly at any of the 60 or so concerned citizens surrounding him. He looked like a nice enough young man—an environmental engineer who had no doubt gotten his degree some 10 years earlier, and gone right to work for industry.

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Conservation Commission meeting, March 2017

As he talked casually about cutting trees and bulldozing wetlands, I had a vivid image of the quiet forest out there in the blackness beyond the fluorescent lights of the meeting room. The owls swooping about in pursuit of mice; the coyotes ambling in their pack, looking for rabbits; the beavers paddling contentedly between the wooded bank and their den, adding some more mud and logs to create a snug home for the new litter of young ones.

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As though it were a steel blade ripping through my own gut, I felt the pain and terror that will come when Kinder Morgan bulldozes over the opposition and starts cutting the trees, gouging up the roots, ripping out the beaver dam. They are in a hurry to start because there are some guidelines (state? Federal? I am not sure) that enjoin them to cut the trees before nesting season.

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American bittern

One resident spoke up at the meeting on behalf of two rare endangered species that he said he often sees at the very pond they are talking about destroying: the American bittern and the sedge wren.

What will they do when they fly in from their migration to find their usual habit a muddy, gaping scar in the forest?

They’ll fly on to some other pond, state officials and industry reps would say philosophically.

The problem is, there are fewer and fewer places for wildlife to go. Why do you think we have coyotes living in cities, bears hanging out in suburbia, moose strolling along highways and train tracks? It’s not because they want to be there. It’s because they have nowhere else to go.

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Snow geese

I thought about this recently when I heard about the thousands of snow geese that died painful, torturous deaths because they landed on a toxic pond in Montana left wide open to the sky by industry. This is a common occurrence; it was only the scale of this particular mass murder that brought it into the news headlines.

I am as complicit as the next person in all of this. I will get up from my desk to heat some coffee on my gas stove. I will drive my car into town for groceries that are produced and procured using fossil fuels. I live with this knowledge every day: that I am part of the problem. Look at this picture long enough, and you see the very clear strands of complicity linking me and my lifestyle with the chainsaws buzzing in the forests, the pipelines snaking over the countryside, the water taps on fire and the rivers, lakes and ponds choking with contaminants and algae.

While it is good to acknowledge the lack of innocence, it does no good to beat myself up with guilt.

The question becomes, what CAN I do?

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Environmental activist Jane Winn accepts an award from the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions

If I have money, I can share it with environmental groups like The BEAT News, 350.org, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, which are working hard through information, organizing and legal battles to hold industry accountable to the public good.

I can work with the ACLU, the honorable news media and democratic political groups to bring down the Trump administration as soon as possible, before industry hacks like Scott Pruitt and Jeff Sessions have a chance to totally wreck the environmental standards in this country.

I can run for office myself, with the goal of putting my values and vision to work at the local, state or even national level.

Jane Winn suggests we all work on the local level to get New England off of fossil fuels.  “The latest study, she says, “points out that we have a legally mandated shrinking need for fracked natural gas. Massachusetts is adding off-shore wind and storage. Towns are starting to aim for 100% renewable. All of us can work toward zero net energy – buy fossil-fuel-free electricity through Mass Energy and add cold-climate heat pumps to stay warm. Use electric stoves. Buy an electric vehicle.”

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Julia Butterfly Hill at the top of Luna, the California redwood she singlehandedly saved from the lumber industry

All very good, productive advice. Nevertheless, what I most felt like doing, as I filed silently out of the school basement and out into the cool dark Sandisfield night, was putting my own body on the line–chaining myself to an old-growth hemlock, let’s say, before I let it be cut down.

I felt like pulling a Julia Butterfly Hill, becoming a treesitter who could save the forest.

I wish I had that kind of courage.

As it is, I sit with my grief and my rage as the Sandisfield scene is played out in small rural towns in every corner of our country and beyond.

Kinder Morgan, Energy Transfer Partners and the rest of the fossil fuel gang have been running roughshod over people and wildlife and the natural world for long enough.

img_1557Yes, we love our electricity, our cars and our warm homes. But now we know we can get all the power we need from the great Source of all of us, the Sun—with a little help from other elements: Wind and Water. We don’t need to rape the Earth any longer to satisfy our short-term human wants and desires.

The tragedy of Sandisfield is a tiny blip in the almost unimaginably huge devastation humanity has wrought on our planet. Still, it’s in my backyard and I care about that forest and the life it supports. If each of us cared and tended for the land around us, our world would be a different place.

The problem of the corporations is precisely that they are too big, too amorphous and unrooted. The managers, board members, financiers and shareholders live far, far from the places they are destroying. They don’t care.

So my heartfelt question is: how can we reach these human beings, who literally have the power of life or death in their tiny, grasping hands? How can we get to their hearts and make them care?

I think we need to get these guys out of their office towers and into the forest.

And I suspect that the strongest thing I can do, with the talents and gifts I have been given, is to try to communicate to them, and all their henchmen and enablers, why it is so, so important—indeed, critical to all life on Earth—that they reconnect with the natural world, open their hearts, and learn what love in action looks and feels like, and the true value of what it can produce.

Love is the simple solution. If we lived in love, and acted out of love, every single problem we face would melt away.

And what a beautiful world it would be.

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Resist. Persist. Risk. Repeat. A mantra for our time.

February again. The sap is starting to rise here in New England. The blue ribbons of tubing snake through the maple groves, bearing the sweet elixir of life down to the saphouses, where the boiling pans await. The first snowdrops and pussy willows gleam, foreshadowing the great greening to come.

It’s been unnaturally warm this past week—almost 70 degrees here in western Massachusetts. We look at each other, enjoying the unexpected warmth, but with dismay and fear lurking behind our smiles. This is not right.

So much is not right in these first days and weeks of 2017 DTE (Donald Trump Era). You know the problems, I don’t have to list them. Each week brings a new outrage, a new shock, a new nadir. Just when you thought America couldn’t sink any lower in the eyes of the rest of the world, there they go again: insulting our allies, assaulting our citizens, making plans to frack and drill the whole globe to kingdom come.

I’m not the only one who foresees a repeat of the 9/11 playbook hurtling our way. It worked before, and although our eyes are opened this time, it will probably work again.

Manufacture an external threat—that’s not hard to do, any number of terrorist organizations would be happy to oblige—throwing the homeland into chaos and requiring a “state of emergency” that suspends all the usual processes of law. With everyone hunkered down in fear, the police state can be implemented and the cowardly Congress will do the bidding of the executive branch. The Supreme Court will stay quiet.

Order will be restored, but it will be the New World Order of the DTE: imperialist white industrial capitalism on steroids, the taxpayers obediently bending over to have their asses kicked as they foot the bill for the military and police to subdue any resistance to the corporate takeover of the entire planet by billionaire business and finance executives slavering over ever-ascending short-term profit.

Don’t like it? They’ll pull out the rubber bullets and throw you in prison—and oh yeah, the taxpayers will pay for that too. Or maybe you’d rather have a taste of what they do to people labeled “terrorist” in their secret rendition sites. Or let’s just get it over with, here’s a real bullet for your trouble. Sweet dreams.

So much is not right here.

The American liberal elite needs to be reminded, perhaps, that the rude shocks of the DTE era are nothing new. Americans of color, undocumented immigrants, people of color all over the globe have been living this nightmare for hundreds of years, ever since the European colonial onslaught began.

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In my memoir, What I Forgot…And Why I Remembered, I faced my own privilege as someone born into the New York City white liberal elite. I opened my eyes to the fact that my generation of urban “yuppies” lived comfortably on the backs of exploited workers, enjoying cheap oil and gas while ignoring the giant devastation of the Alberta tar sands, the Amazon forest, the Nigerian delta or the Arctic. I recognized my own complicity in ignoring the despair of millions of impoverished Americans and my complacency in foolishly imagining that the drones and riot cops would never be turned against me and my children.

I came to understand that I had to use whatever privilege I had, as a well-educated white American woman, to fight the dark, oppressive forces that are seeking to sink our entire planet into a violence, fear and deprivation.

But I didn’t realize, as I was writing that book, that I was standing on the brink of the DTE, a time when the boomerang of climate change would be exacerbated by the takeover of American government, business and military by vile haters and savage oppressors, eager to take sadistic pleasure in the subduing of all dissent and disobedience.

When I finished What I Forgot in 2015, I imagined that the worst problem facing us would be the runaway juggernaut of climate change. That still may be the case: we are seeing the disruption of the climate already, in tornadoes, floods, droughts, disease, loss of glaciers and other sources of drinking water for millions…with vast migrations of climate refugees underway.

But now the DT gang in control of the American government seems maniacally intent on intensifying all of it. Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism” is blowing like a violent hurricane across our entire networked planet, and although the generals and ideologues in control of our government may think they can control it, as they did in the past (think Katrina or Baghdad) and make more billions (using taxpayer money) in the clean-up and reconstruction, I don’t believe they will be able to get the climate change genie back into the bottle now.

They may be able to subdue ordinary Americans with their violence and repression, but Mother Earth, once aroused, will sweep their guns and tanks before her like so many toys. She has her own agenda, our Mother, and she’ll do no one’s bidding.

So what is the task for those of us who are awake to the accelerating transition of our planet and the very real potential that we will be living through the decline and fall of Western Civilization?

Recognizing how terribly destructive and horrible Western Civilization has been for the natural world, indigenous peoples, and people of color all over the planet is a necessary first step. We have to recognize and come to terms with the key role America has played in the violence and havoc that has laid waste to so many communities across the globe, destroyed forests, grasslands and ocean reefs and pushed untold millions of beautiful flora and fauna into the dark night of extinction.

We did this. Or we stood silently by as it was done.

And we are living through the consequences now. They’ve taken everyone else, now they’re coming for us: starting with the most vulnerable here in America, and steadily racheting up the violence aimed at anyone who resists or dissents.

So much is not right here.

It’s our job to make things right. We were born in this time for a reason. It is a time of almost unbearable polarity and ever-accelerating change. We have to step boldly up to the challenges, look them in the eye, and link arms with others to take a stand for what’s right.

We might all rather go back to sleep—wake me when it’s over, honey!

But in the DTE, we don’t have that luxury.

Now is our time, and no one will save us if we don’t stand up for ourselves and what we love.

Resist. Persist. Risk. Repeat. A mantra for our time.

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Ghosts of Latin America: Will It Happen Here?

As a student of Latin America, I feel a strange sense of déjà vu lately when I follow the news.

A corrupt, shadily “elected” president putting his cronies in charge—check. An ineffective, corrupt congress with their fingers to the wind, more interested in their own political fortunes than in representing their constituents—check. Wealthy, corrupt businessmen put in charge of all the key government agencies—check. Environmental regulation be damned—check. The press muzzled and threatened for any whiff of dissent—check. And the people, oh yeah, them—they should shut their mouths, tighten their belts and work harder.

There have been many comparisons of the Drumpf era to the German Nazi era. What is less well known is how many of the Nazis fled to Latin America when the Third Reich came to an end. There they took advantage of the prevailing racism and whatever wealth and education they possessed to quickly rise into positions of power in industry and government. They lurked there, nursing their totalitarian fantasies and grooming their puppet politicos, until they were strong enough to start the process of taking over the levers of power and crushing dissent.

Latin America was also a field for the proxy wars between the Soviet Union and the United States, with lines being drawn being pro-business capitalists and pro-worker communists. Often the local people, native and mestizo, were caught in the crossfire between these mighty opposing ideologies, which laid waste to entire economies and communities.

If you want to look for the origins of the big migrations of Latinos northward, this is a good place to start.

As with the current situation in Syria and North Africa, people don’t leave their homes unless they absolutely have to. What would it take to get you to abandon your home and set off on the road with your little children and whatever you could carry? My ancestors did it in the late 19th century, fleeing the pogroms and conscriptions of the Jewish ghettos in Poland and Russia. During the 1930s the Dust Bowl refugees packed up their troubles and left the parched Midwest, heading for California.

We don’t know yet how far the Drumpf people and their Republican henchmen in Congress will go in pushing the American populace towards that level of desperation.

When they take away our health care and make the pharmaceuticals unaffordable, release the loan sharks on us and start taking our homes again; when they turn our public schools into boot camps for dumbed down docility and drug the kids who won’t obey; when they frack our neighborhoods and run oil pipelines through our waterways; when they turn our national parks into mines and hunting grounds—are we going to simply bow our heads and take it?

When they take away funding for the arts and public media, turn the scientists into their private industrial brain trust, alienate our closest international allies and ramp up the drilling, fracking, mining, logging, burning and chemical poisoning that is destroying our planet at an unprecedented pace—are we going to shrug and turn away?

When they bribe and coerce the judges, intimidate the press, militarize the police and start killing our sons and daughters if they dare to take to the streets in protest, are we going to stay quiet?

In Latin America, the repression of those who dared to speak out and organize against the dictators and capitalist bosses was brutal: I’m talking disappearances, torture, decapitations, burnings, destruction of homes…the old Spanish colonial playbook laced with a good dose of Nazi righteousness and American capitalist arrogance.

Will it come to that here? Will the plague of the Drumpf era bring us into another civil war?

Right now the Dow Jones is flying high and things are functioning smoothly enough at the local level. The majority of Americans—who, let us remember, did not support Drumpf–are anxious and unnerved but going about our day-to-day business while stepping up efforts to stay informed and figure out how best to resist.

We know we’re in one of those moments that will be discussed in detail by historians, assuming our civilization comes safely through to the other side of this crisis.

So many questions cannot yet be answered. Will Bannon, Drumpf and the Republicans start a new war, repeating the 9/11 playbook that worked so well to keep the population quiet while providing rich new markets for the military industrial complex?

Will the Supreme Court rubber stamp the new regime’s savage efforts to roll back civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, voters’ rights, environmental protection, consumer protection, financial regulation etc. etc.?

Will freedom of the press, freedom of religion and the right to peaceful assembly and protest be trampled on and curtailed?

Will Americans sit by passively and let this happen?

And what about climate change? We’re already seeing the effects more dramatically every month. The acceleration is almost unbelievable. Will Mother Nature intervene, throwing some icy water on the fossil fuel industry’s wet dreams of limitless riches?

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to rise.

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Stop Letting the Days Go By!

One of the soundtracks that has been running through my mind these last few days is “Once in a Lifetime,” by David Byrne and the Talking Heads.

The song was a 1980s anthem to the midlife crisis of a suburban man who has just gone with the flow and followed the usual cultural path, only to wake up “behind the wheel of a large automobile…in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife” asking with angst, “How did I get here?”

The answer, sung almost gaily, is: “Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down, Letting the days go by, water flowing underground….Same as it ever was, same as it ever was….”

Right now our whole culture seems to be asking with alarm, “How did we get here?” The answer is, as Byrne intuited, about going with the flow.

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In my elemental framework for purposeful memoir, WATER is related to the teenage and young adult years, when we are swept into the cultural stream that surround us, and most of us just let the days go by, letting our culture carry us along.

Every so often we hit some kind of snag that causes us to lift our heads, sputtering, look around as if waking from a dream, and ask how in the world we got here.

img_0014We’re in such a moment now, as individuals and more broadly as a society. In my elemental lexicon, we’re in a FIRE moment now, a time of challenge and trials, but also a time when we can tap most deeply into our passions and beliefs.

The question “How did I/we get here?” is a fundamental one to be asking ourselves at this juncture.

That’s why I’m so passionate about encouraging people to undertake the elemental journey of purposeful memoir.

In looking back over our life experiences, and understanding them more deeply in the context of the political and planetary tapestry into which our personal lives are woven, we not only come to understand “how we got here,” but also to start envisioning where we would like to go next.

wif-cover-ebookIn my memoir, What I Forgot…and Why I Remembered, the journey was circular, as I ended up back on the childhood ground of my being (symbolized by the element EARTH) understanding that I had to get back to my original passion for the natural world, which had been worn away by the ceaseless current of the heedless American culture into which I was born.

Here comes the AIR of reflection:

We come into our lives with a purpose that we don’t always understand or fulfill. One thing for sure is that it is never too late to begin, or begin again, to become aware of what it is we are here to do, and move ourselves further along the path towards our destination.

Purposeful memoir is a tool that can help you on that journey of self-awareness, particularly when you investigate your personal life in its full political and planetary dimensions.

elemental-journey-cover-new-smI am excited and honored to be offering my new Writer’s Companion guide for purposeful memoirists, along with in-person classes that will provide the space for shared reflection and insights about the elemental journey.

Neither my book nor my classes are prescriptive. My aim is to open up possible avenues of inquiry, and to get the creative juices flowing, helping you put together the jigsaw pieces of your own life to find your own unique sense of purpose.

Here in the Berkshires I’ll be offering a monthly class, following the book, aimed at cultivating creativity and building community while sharing highlights from our life journeys. You can find out more about those Saturday afternoon classes, offered under the banner of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, here.

Soon I’ll be announcing an online writers’ circle for purposeful memoirists, for those who can’t get to the Berkshires for an in-person class.

I also have various readings and other kinds of workshops coming up, which you can find out about on my website.

And though I’m certainly no Meryl Streep, here is a little video my son and I made, where I talk about what purposeful memoir means to me, and why it matters.

Truly, now is the time, and we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Are you ready? Let’s go!

Marching with Words into the Light of a New Era: Time to Rise!

My friend Barbara Newman described the staged reading she and I will be participating in on January 21 as a “march with words,” and this resonates with what I see so many of us doing these days as we rally together in our homes and community centers, our town halls and places of worship, and of course in the great 21st century town square, social media.

MEXICO - ZAPATISTAS ANNIVERSARYI am reminded of Subcomandante Marcos, who said “words are our weapons,” while fighting what appeared to be a hopelessly lopsided fight in the southern jungles of Mexico–Indians with rusty rifles and bandanas standing up to soldiers with helicopters and bombs. Marcos was one of the very first resistance fighters to use the power of the Internet as a way to sway the hearts and minds of ordinary onlookers, the world over, against local oppressors.

On the other side of the political spectrum, we see the man about to become the 45th president of the United States deploying the same tactics, his every tweet as powerful as any bombshell.

This is a dark time, and yet it’s also a time shot through with the light of the new age that is cracking open before us. Let us be candid and admit that while it would have been a symbolic victory for women to have Hillary Clinton sworn in as President today, her political bent was conservative, in the sense of maintaining the status quo.

What is familiar is comforting, we’re all children that way. Some of us are more adventurous than others. Some of us have nothing left to lose, and so we’re willing to place our bets on a total dark horse like Mr. Drumpf. If Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic candidate, he would probably have won for the same reason (barring major interference from Moscow).

But no use looking backward now. Let’s squint and look directly into the light of the future. Has there ever been a human revolution that has happened without struggle? Have people ever been willing to embrace radical change without having their backs pushed to whatever the wall of the moment might be?

Today in Washington DC a charlatan will take the oath of office as President of the United States. No, it’s not a reality TV show, it’s reality.

But it’s also reality that millions of Americans are energized and activated as never before, as a direct result of the crazy events of 2016. We are “tuned in, turned on, tapped in,” to use the favorite saying of a certain psychic I know.

That same psychic often reminds us that sometimes it takes a strong dose of WHAT WE DON’T WANT to jar us into an appreciation and understanding of WHAT WE DO WANT.

You can see that happening in the outpouring of love for the departing Obamas, in our entreaties to them to stay engaged in public life.

DEM 2016 ConventionBoth Barack and Michelle Obama are powerful orators. So is Bernie Sanders. We will need the power of their words more than ever in the bleak months ahead. We will need words to keep our spirits high, to remind us of the stakes and why we must fight for what we value, even putting our bodies on the line if need be.

It is surely no accident that in the very week that saw a parade of military-industrial complex billionaires coming to Washington hoping to ride Trump’s wave into political power, we got word from the scientists that 2016 was officially the hottest year on Earth since record-keeping began in the 19th century. It topped 2014 and 2015, which were also the hottest years ever in their time.

When I align the personal, political, and planetary in this moment, I see an amazing crystallization taking place. The Earth herself rumbles and roars her discontent and imbalance; political systems that have held for centuries crack and fall apart; and in so many human psyches a deep sense of uneasiness registers, an intuitive sense that something is not right.

Change is not just coming…it’s here. We are living, day by day, through extraordinary times.

I call on all of us to rise and meet the light of change with a strong spine and a resolute spirit.

We cannot go back, we can only go forward. There is a huge opportunity now to go forward into a more perfect union—not just among Americans, but among all peoples on Earth, and to reimagine our role as humans to become the caretakers of our planet, rather than its pirate plunderer-destroyers.

As we cry out against what we don’t want, let’s also use our words to envision and describe the contours of what we stand for.

Peace. Harmony. Generosity. Love.

How would each of these ideals look to you, brought down to the level of your community, your family, your life?

Look boldly into the light of this new era we’re entering, and use your words and your actions to make it so.

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Nova Scotia sunset, 2016

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