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

The Sound and the Fury of 2017

So now the holidays are over. The splurging is done and the credit card bills are coming in; the indulgences of food and drink are showing up on the bathroom scale; and it’s back to work, back to reality, back to the scariness and dreariness of our time and place.

It’s not been easy to listen to the news this week. Imagine living in a country where the ruling party’s very first act of the year is to try to torpedo their own internal ethics oversight committee. Act Two: throw millions of people off the health care rolls, leaving them to sink or swim on the private market.

We’re witnessing the great comeback of the villains of 2007; we’re back at the mercy of the loan sharks and shysters who created the disaster that nearly sank our whole economy.

And it’s not just the poor who got taken for a ride by all those unscrupulous profiteering leeches; let’s not forget how many middle-class people slid downhill during that debacle. Let’s remember how many of our children are still emerging into this cold Dickensian world as young adults dragging a ball and chain of student loan debt wherever they go.

In 2017, the veils are down and we can see the naked power grab of the billionaires for what it is: a victory of short-term profit-gouging over any longterm sustainable thinking.

The ascension of Exxon/Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to the U.S. State Department allows the worst enemy of environmental health and climate stability to run roughshod over international treaties, agreements and sanctions.

Not that Hillary Clinton was much different. But at least she made some gestures towards respecting international climate agreements. We’re going to look back at those days with nostalgia as we get a taste of what it’s like to live in a world totally in thrall to the fossil fuel companies and their affiliated chemical, weapons, plastics, and agricultural industries. Not to mention Big Pharma and the health insurers, those vultures who profit on the sick and weak.

Every social justice issue we hold dear is under siege now. The villains are in charge, and heaven help anyone who doesn’t meet their narrow ideas of political correctness: male, white, straight, rich, gun-toting, red-meat-eating, Christian, conservative.

So what are the rest of us to do?

Well, we’re not going to curl up in a corner and cry. We’re going to come together and be as loud and abrasive as we can possibly be. We’re going to make noise, get in their way, remind them that their agenda is not a majority agenda in this country, unless they’d like to retreat into their red-state havens and secede from the Union (a little wishful thinking there, I admit).

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We have to give each other pep talks and back rubs. We have to keep reminding each other that no, the majority of American voters did NOT vote for those villains. They may have their hands in the till and their heels on the throats of this country, but they rode into power on the strength of lies and manipulation, and sooner or later, probably sooner, they will be found out and discredited.

In the meantime, let’s be aware of the danger of getting too sucked into the constant 24/7 newsfeeds of the next debacle and disaster.

I try to detach myself from the chatter of social media for at least a few hours a day.

I go outside and try get back in touch with the elements—feel the wind and sun on my face, listen to the trickle of the stream, ground myself on the roots of a great tree.

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This is what matters. This is what is real. The stories we tell each other on the Internet are but shadows of our real lives upon this planet. In virtual reality we are all “poor players, who strut and fret their hour upon the stage and then are heard no more.” Our social media bazaars are full of “tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Most of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes met their deaths by listening too well to the tales of political intrigue of their day.

We have better things to do. We have children to nurture, dinner to cook, pets to play with, songs to sing.

Though the world may look very grim in these dark days of January 2017, we only have to look up, like Dante, and see the stars.

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Prayers for Standing Rock: Holding the Light

Sitting in my snug house, my thoughts turn constantly to the thousands of people camping at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock, now under its first coating of winter snow.

I am not sure how to think about the 2,000 veterans who are arriving there this weekend with the intention of shielding the civilian water protectors from the brutal attacks of police.

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Although they come unarmed, in peace, it still seems like their presence may up the ante and draw even more violence from so-called “law enforcement.”

Violence is part of the mechanics of justice. Has there ever been a peaceful revolution? Power is never conceded without a demand, and rarely conceded without a breakdown of communication, a descent into the ancient human inclination to settle scores with our fists.

With the camp under an eviction order set for midnight Sunday, and the people there defiantly vowing to stay and resist, to hold their ground to protect the land and the water, it’s hard to know what to expect. Anything could happen. There is a lot of pressure being placed on President Obama to intervene, and he still might. Hope springs eternal.

What I know is that the Standing Rock confrontation is the strongest volley yet in the ongoing struggles to resist the might of the fossil fuel lords.

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Minutes later, these unarmed people, praying in and for the water, would be hit with mace by the police.

 

In Pennsylvania, when the frackers came and began leasing up the forests over the Marcellus Shale, the people there took it as an unexpected bonanza, and began signing eagerly on the dotted line. They couldn’t imagine what would happen next: the logging, the industrial-scale pumping stations, the noise, the tanker trucks, the poisoning of the surface and ground water with toxic chemicals.

Same thing in Oklahoma, where the people who sold their land rights could never have imagined that the fracking would start setting off earthquakes.

Ordinary people took the bait of short-term gains, accepting the fool’s gold of the frackers and drillers. In the Bakken oilfields of the Dakotas, as in the Alberta tar sands, it’s the same story.

But ordinary people are perhaps not quite as stupid as the fossil fuel magnates seem to think.

It may take time, but we do wake up. We are coming to appreciate the inestimable value of clean water, clean air, healthy ecosystems and a stable climate.

we-will-never-forgetBack in the 1990s–when Julia Butterfly Hill sat in Luna, the 1500-year-old redwood tree, to protect her from logging, and Rachel Corrie stood up to the bulldozers in Palestine and paid for her bravery with her life—news of their protests spread mostly through word of mouth. The mainstream media didn’t cover Rachel’s commitment to her cause until she was dead.

But now in the 21st century, we are all connected. I can bring the snowy camp at Standing Rock into bed with me on my smartphone. I can watch the police beating up elders and kids. I can see the exquisite dignity of the water protectors praying at the river bank. I can be with them, virtually, excruciatingly, in real time.

And that makes all the difference.

The days when corporate bosses and their hired goons could ride roughshod over protesters without anyone even knowing—those days are gone. We are all citizen journalists now, and each generation of digital natives is savvier than the last about how to use the communication tools available to us to spread the word and stiffen the spines of the larger circles of resisters and witnesses.

I fear another Wounded Knee could be in the making at Standing Rock. The police are trying to needle the water protectors into “riot” so that it will look justified when they call out the big guns to “keep the peace.” Will “law enforcement” actually take the risk of escalating from rubber bullets to real bullets?

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Water protectors being hit with water cannons in 28-degree (F) temperatures last month.

 

So far it’s been so inspiring to watch the Native leaders steadfastly resisting those incitements, standing firm in their commitment to a movement grounded in non-violent prayer.

This Sunday, December 4, 2016, we have all been called to pray with and for Standing Rock, and for the entire Earth—to pray that we human beings will come to our senses and stop destroying our home and each other.

img_0268Although I was not raised to pray in a formal way, I find myself increasingly drawn to a kind of prayer that borders on channeling: a deep meditation in which I ground my feet in the roots of a tree or a mountain, open up my heart to the high vibrations of the air, and let the streaming energy of the sun and the stars pour down through my head into the rich loam at my feet.

When I shared this practice with my Facebook tribe recently, others chimed in, saying they too had felt a similar call. I found it spelled out again by Sharon McErlane, who channels the “grandmothers of the light.”

We are being called to stand up for the light now, even as the darkness deepens around us, literally and figuratively.

We don’t need the Internet to connect our hearts and minds through the energy flowing down to us from the cosmos. We can do as the trees do, and turn that radiant energy to sweet nourishment.

Like every living thing on this planet, we were born to grow and to flourish. Human beings have been fulfilling that original mission all too well lately.

We need to learn to grow wisely now, in harmony with each other and with the vast pulse of life on the planet.

The protectors of Standing Rock are like the immune system of human civilization, come to fight off the aggressive cancer of short-term corporate profiteers. Let us join together to strengthen that immune system through our love and concern, our prayers and our actions.

I end with words from Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee that I return to over and over for guidance in these dark times:

….The ancient energies of the Earth are still alive and we do not begin to understand how they are responding both to the energy of change and our collective resistance. But rather than attempting any prophecy I would continue to be aware of what each moment is telling us, watching the signs in the inner and outer worlds just as a sailor would read the winds and tides.

And from within this darkening there arises a cry that we hold the light that is left, the light that is within our self and within the spiritual body of the world. So much as been lost, so much has been desecrated by our endless desires, but those of us who are aware of the sacred need to hold what is left, hold it in our hearts and real awareness. The light of the sacred needs our care and protection. Maybe at some time it will give birth to the child with stars in its eyes, to the future whose seeds are still all around us. Without our relationship to this light nothing can be born, and the darkness will devour any real hope. Those of us who are aware of what we were given, of the oneness that was awakening, are needed to hold true to life’s deeper purpose, the unfolding of the soul of the world. We need to stay attuned to the heart of the world and life’s essential message of love, however the drama in the outer world unfolds.

–from Darkening of the Light (Golden Sufi Center, 2013)

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Nova Scotia, Winter 2015

 

Finding Your Tree—Taking a Stand—on Thanksgiving 2016

When asked by young activists where they should direct their energies, Julia Butterfly Hill responds simply, “Everyone has to find their own tree.”

2049891Julia, you may remember, is the woman who in 1997, at the age of 23, camped out at the top of a thousand-year-old, 180-foot-high California redwood named Luna, to save her and others in her grove from death by logging. She stayed up there for two solid years, through winter snowstorms, attacks by helicopter and constant harassment from the company goons holding siege below.

She eventually returned to the ground when her mission was accomplished—she had persuaded the logging company to leave Luna and her stand of old-growth trees alone. It was an important battle on the way to having the 7,500-acre Headwaters Forest protected as an ecological preserve.

This week we witnessed another brave young woman warrior, Sophia Wilansky, standing up to the attackers at Standing Rock and getting her lower arm blown off by a grenade.

Compared to the scale of the harm inflicted by the U.S. military in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, a young woman losing her arm seems relatively minor. The water protectors are being hit with water cannons and mace, not cluster bombs.

But by the standards of what is considered acceptable behavior for American law enforcement against unarmed citizens, what’s been going on at Standing Rock is totally outrageous.

Without in any way undercutting the incredible sacrifice that young Sophia Wilansky has made, I want us to notice that when one white woman gets hurt, suddenly the outrage of the onlookers jumps up several notches.

Native people have been getting injured with rubber bullets fired at close range; elders are being beaten up; water protectors have been thrown into dog kennel cages and kept there in inhumane conditions; they’ve been attacked by drenching water cannons in 20-degree temperatures, with no way to get warm.

And there has been outrage and solidarity from onlookers: marches and rallies in many cities and towns, an outpouring of donations of food, warm clothing, camping supplies and money for legal fees and other expenses. The indie media and social media have been out in force, covering the scene.

But still, here we are on Thanksgiving, 2016, and Native Americans are being forced to fight, David vs. Goliath style, to defend their land and water from the rapacious appetites of the colonizers.

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On this Thanksgiving Day, please take a moment to say a prayer for the water protectors of Standing Rock, who are standing up for the right of every American to clean water.

And please take a moment to think about Julia Butterfly Hill’s advice.

What is your tree? What is the cause that is calling to you with such passion that your heart leaps in response? Where will you stubbornly take up a stand, vowing not to give ground until the battle is won?

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Honoring the Water Protectors of Standing Rock on Thanksgiving

So here we are at the start of the holiday season once again. The food stores in my New England town are mobbed with people loading up their shopping carts with turkeys and all the trimmings for a grand Thanksgiving meal. Christmas trees are beginning to appear at the farm stands and garden centers. The lights are coming on to ward off the early afternoon gloom. We are going through the motions.

On the other side of the country, there are some other kinds of motions going on this Thanksgiving season.

How about water cannons drenching unarmed and unprotected people peacefully protesting the pipeline that threatens their land and water?

How about mace, rubber bullets and all-night floodlights?

How about constant intimidation and harassment?

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This is what the Thanksgiving season is bringing to the good people of Standing Rock, North Dakota, and the friends and allies who are standing firm at the camp, determined to protect the water and resist the bullying from law enforcement and private security guards.

Yes, here we are at Thanksgiving, the holiday supposedly celebrating the way the Native Americans generously fed the European settlers, helping them avoid starvation during that first New England winter.

The Pilgrims didn’t repay the Native people well then, and that was only the beginning of the holocaust visited on Native Americans all across this continent.

In the history books, they make it sound like that was all a long time ago; like those old prejudices and oppressions are safely in the past.

But Andrew Jackson the Indian-killer is still on the $20 bill, and what we’re seeing in Standing Rock this Thanksgiving week shows that there is still no respect when it comes to Native Americans.

mapBe it noted that the Dakota pipeline was originally routed right next to predominantly white town of Bismarck ND. When the people there protested, the route was promptly changed. It didn’t require thousands of men, women and children, camping out for months; there were no water cannons, tear gas or rubber bullets used.

But when it comes to re-routing the pipeline away from Lakota sacred lands, and away from the Missouri River, which supplies millions of people with drinking water—the gloves come off immediately.

One shudders to think of how this might have been handled in the days before social media. In 2016, the North Dakota authorities are brutal, but they know the world is watching: there are many people, including celebrities, standing with Standing Rock in its quest to protect the water and land.

Still, here we are at Thanksgiving, and the news from Standing Rock is getting worse, not better.

President Obama has not responded to the pleas for help. There have been protests across the country, but with the sudden, unexpected ascension of Trump and the Republicans, Americans who might have thrown their weight behind Standing Rock have been distracted, making plans for the Electoral College March, the Million Woman March, and standing vigil at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

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From Trump Tower to Standing Rock, what we’re seeing is all part of a continuum of violence: violence against women, against less powerful identity groups, against animals and trees, against the land and the water and the oceans; against life itself on this great planet.

In the old days, what is happening now would have been depicted mythologically as a struggle between life and death, good and evil, the weak and the powerful.

But this time around a victory for the powerful is going to take us all a step closer to the Armageddon of climate change.

How can we open the eyes of the fossil fuel lords and the militarized police that are doing their bidding?

There are movements afoot to divest from the fossil fuel industry and from banks funding the Dakota pipeline. Money seems to be the only language these folks understand, so that may be an effective form of protest.

There are phone numbers to call, and plenty of opportunities to help out with much-needed supplies at the Standing Rock protest camps, as winter sets in.

This Thanksgiving, every American should give thanks for the Native Americans who, despite everything, are still standing firm as protectors and stewards of their lands.

People don’t like to think about this, but it’s true: there may come a time when we European settlers will once again call desperately on Native peoples’ deep knowledge of this land. Once again, Native generosity may be the only thing standing between us and starvation.

All over the world, as climate change sets in and modern industrial agriculture, trade routes and energy sources are disrupted, those who still remember how to nestle into the bosom of Mother Earth and live simply off what she provides—these will be the people who will survive the shocks that await human civilization in the Anthropocene.

Maybe the good people of North Dakota should think twice, this Thanksgiving week, before sending out the dogs and the water cannons, the tanks and the tear gas again.

May we all give thanks for the blessings Mother Earth gives us constantly, without reserve, seeking nothing in return. May we learn to be grateful, and as generous in our turn. May we humans—all of us—rise to become the Earth stewards we were always meant to be. May we give thanks and honor to the Native peoples for showing us the way.

Standing Rock: Frontline of the New Occupy Fossil Fuels Resistance Movement

The standoff at Standing Rock—where thousands of Native American men, women and children, along with many non-Native allies, are camping out to block the laying of a 1,170-mile pipeline to carry fossil fuels from North Dakota to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico—is more than just an isolated battle, the Sioux deciding they won’t allow their lands to be taken by force by the oil lords, and putting their bodies on the line to protect their land and water.

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Standing Rock is one of those moments, like the Occupy Wall Street protests, that we will look back on as a tipping point in consciousness; a moment when the lines of battle in the war to keep our planet habitable for our children became visceral and unmistakable.

Just as in Occupy Wall Street, we are seeing militarized police and guards attacking ordinary people who have taken to the public sphere to protect their right to a livable future. The same tactics are being used: escalating the pressure with an overwhelming force of armored vehicles, sound grenades, tear gas, pepper spray, police batons, tasers and rubber bullets until the violence starts and the rounding up of peacefully protesting civilians can appear “justified.”

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Law enforcement claims to be protecting public safety, but in fact they are acting as hired goons for the fossil fuel companies.

In a New Republic article this fall, Bill McKibben used the metaphor of World War III to describe the kind of all-out industrial effort that is needed now to shift our economy from running on fossil fuels to running on renewable energy sources like wind, solar, tidal, geothermal.

We need a Marshall Plan to ramp up and get the job done, McKibben declared.

2564906-H.jpgInstead of hiring a few guys to lay pipelines and fight off anyone who dares to protest, we need to mobilize an army of people who are dedicated to developing, producing and distributing alternative energy systems, along with converting buildings, transportation networks, farms and factories to run clean.

Tar sands, fracked gas and deep-sea oil rigs, along with the pipelines, tankers and refineries that service them, are part of the dead-end 20th century vision that we must abandon if we are to find our way out of the frightening labyrinth of the present moment.

It’s no accident that the nascent Occupy Fossil Fuel movement is being led by Native people, not only because their land rights are once again being flagrantly violated, but also because they have never fully bought into the fossil-fuel-based plunder economy, the economy of short-term gain, maximizing profits, and to hell with the consequences.

The leaders at Standing Rock have created a movement based on prayer and reverence for the sacredness of Earth, and people of all backgrounds from all across the country have responded with a resounding YES!

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While the mainstream media is showing once again its collusion with the Wall Street/fossil fuel barons that also control our government, by simply ignoring Standing Rock, social media has leapt into the breach, with citizen livestreams taking us right into the heart of the struggle.

14572425_10154635715284600_8219779230791003850_nYou can’t support a movement you aren’t aware of, which must be what the mainstream media is up to in willfully blinding themselves and their readers to the significance of Standing Rock.

Like Occupy Wall Street, like Ferguson, Standing Rock is not going to go away. The more the police try to repress the protests, the more they will spread.

Because the simple truth is this: a majority of us want to leave a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren.

We want future-oriented solutions—re-localizing energy sources via solar and wind, not thousand-mile pipelines strangling our country and putting our waterways at risk.

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We don’t want our hard-earned tax dollars to go for paying police to brutalize peaceful protestors at home, nor to support an endless military buildup to safeguard a corporate globalization that follows the same playbook worldwide of trashing local economies and environments.

Americans are not afraid of hard work. We relish challenge and delight in innovation. We have what it takes to head off climate change disaster.

In addition to supporting the Standing Rock protestors who are right now bravely occupying the front lines of the struggle for our shared future, we need to create our own Standing Rocks, our own front lines of resistance where we are.

The Marshall Plan of the climate change wars won’t be led by the Federal government. It will happen on the local level in towns and cities, as well as in global networks of like-minded people, like 350.org and the new Treesisters movement.

It will happen when enough of us have the courage to come together, as the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies have done, to say YES! to a livable future.

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For the Trees

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For North American tree lovers, October is a special month: the time of year when the trees get dressed up in their fanciest finery and show off just how wildly beautiful they are.

I pay attention to trees in all seasons, and have ever since I was a girl who loved to climb them, as high as I could go, and drape myself over a branch to feel the wind swaying us both gently.

My very first short story, written in pencil in a nondescript notebook when I was about 8, was about a tree nymph named Estrella, who gathered the animals around her in an urgent council, and set off on a quest to try to save her forest from destruction by humans. I never finished that story, mostly because I could not imagine a solution—how could a tree nymph and some forest animals stop the men with their bulldozers and chain saws?

Estrella haunts me now, prodding me to return to her story and persevere to the ending. Since those long ago days of my childhood, the pace of forest destruction has only increased.

According to National Geographic, if the current pace of deforestation continues, the planet’s rainforests could “completely vanish in a hundred years” (italics mine).

The fate of the northern boreal forests is no less dire. The Canadian boreal forest, an area more than 14 times the size of California, is being scraped away relentlessly for tar sands oil production, as well as being steadily logged.

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In the first 13 years of the 21st century, according to a report from the World Resources Institute and Global Forest Watch, “Canada lost more than 26 million hectares of forest, mainly in its boreal region. More than 20 percent of the boreal forest region (more than 150 million hectares) is now covered by industrial concessions for timber operations, hydrocarbon development, hydroelectric power reservoirs, and mineral extraction.”

A hectare is equal to about 2.5 acres. The scale of this deforestation boggles the mind. In fact, I think one of the reasons this vast destruction is continuing is because it’s so hard to wrap our minds around it. Outside of photos, very few of us tree lovers ever see a fresh clear-cut or a mine. We don’t see what passes for “reforestation,” the planting of millions of trees in straight lines, with herbicide sprayed below them to prevent “weeds” from growing, and not an animal or bird or butterfly in sight.

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Yet so many of us love birds and butterflies and animals. We put out our bird feeders in the winter and ooh and ahh over a sighting of a deer or a bobcat.

How can we be so loving on the one hand, and so callous on the other? How can we allow the relentless logging and scraping and dozing and burning to go on???

We seem to live with constant cognitive dissonance, whereby we know what’s going on, but resolutely shut out the knowledge. At least, that’s what I do. I know that every time I get in my car I’m being part of the problem. But I continue driving, nevertheless. We all do.

Human beings are profoundly social animals. The more I think about our behavior, the more I see our resemblance to ants, bees and termites. Especially ants, who are also wizards at reshaping the environment to suit their own needs. But no other species on Earth destroys its own habitat—and knowingly, at that!

A long, long time ago, the Earth was an anaerobic environment; there was no oxygen in the atmosphere. Then the plants came along and started turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, paving the way for all of us oxygen breathers who followed them.

Without the plants—without the algae, grasses, trees and all the other carbon-dioxide breathers—the Earth would become uninhabitable for us, just as it became uninhabitable for the anaerobic creatures millions of years ago.

So when we’re thinking about the trees, we owe them some gratitude. Some reverence and respect.

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I love trees because they seem majestic and wise to me. They live a long time, far longer than humans, and they exist both above and below ground in ways I can hardly begin to fathom. They are also patient and resilient. When you cut down a tree, its roots still feed the soil, and if left alone (ie, no herbicides), it will soon regenerate, calmly sending up hundreds of new saplings to take the place of the one who fell. It has time. There is no rush.

It’s human beings who are in a rush, all the time. In a rush to “harvest biomass,” policy code for cutting down forests. In a rush to figure out how to “manage ecosystem services,” ie, learning how to cut down, replant and cut down again at the fastest possible rate.

All this rush is sending us pell-mell off the cliff of climate change. We know this, but try not to think about it. It’s so much easier to go along with the flow of our dominant, fossil-fuel-based, wood-hungry culture than to try to resist. Especially when it seems like that’s what everyone else is doing too.

Charles Eisenstein says that “enlightenment is a group activity,” meaning that it’s almost impossible for us humans, social creatures that we are, to change our mind-sets alone.

What’s truly exciting about our time is that now, we are more networked and communicative than ever before, just like our cousins the ants and the bees. Our Internet has made group enlightenment (otherwise known as social change) possible at a speed and a scale never before possible for humans.

It’s no longer possible for us to simply not know when millions of acres of forest are being clear-cut. That kind of innocence is gone, and with knowledge comes the responsibility to act, to live up to our values. Happily, there are some potent actions going on right now on behalf of the forests and the waters—the lifeblood of our planet.

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Not surprisingly, it’s indigenous peoples, the ones who have stayed closest to the land throughout the whole horrendous onslaught of “Western civilization,” who are leading the way.

If you haven’t been following the protests at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where a massive pipeline project is underway, please inform yourself. The powers that be are trying to muzzle the media there, but that always backfires in the age of social media, doesn’t it.

Amy Goodman’s video report of dogs attacking peaceful protesters (they prefer to call  themselves as “water protectors”) has gone viral with more than 14 million views in just a couple of weeks. The more the oil moguls try to stamp out resistance, the brighter the glare of public awareness and outrage shines.

I’m also heartened by the response to the Million Trees Campaign started by Treesisters, an organization inspired by the Pachamama Alliance, which was itself sparked by visits with the Amazonian Shuar people who were reaching out to northern allies to try to save their forests.

Treesisters is funding local reforestation projects, focusing on the tropical rainforests that are so essential to the stability of the climate worldwide. Currently they are half-way to their goal of funding the planting of 1 million trees in the coming year—you can join in here.

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Estrella the tree nymph is never far from my mind these days, her great love for the trees and forests fueling her implacable determination to change the hearts and minds of the human beings that would destroy them.

One day I will finish her story. And I hope I can find my way to a happy ending.

 

 

 

 

Snowden and the Politics of Doing Good

Go see Oliver Stone’s new movie “Snowden,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the eponymous hero, if you need reminding about how important a single human being’s act of courageous resistance can be.

Granted, Edward Snowden had his finger on the pulse of information far beyond the ken of most of us ordinary folks. But we can all relate to the ethical questions he faced, which the movie details so well.

To whit: At what point is it more important to listen to your own internal moral compass, even when it means going against “public opinion,” company policy or—in Snowden’s case—the entire power elite of the U.S. military industrial complex?

We live in a time when this is a question will come up with increasing urgency for more and more of us. Our age is one of unprecedented access to information, as “Snowden” shows in horrifyingly graphic detail. And once we know something—say, how a pipeline leak can foul and destroy an entire river ecosystem, or how a radiation leak can play havoc with ocean systems for years, or how deforestation leads to mud slides, or how climate change is already changing coast lines and destroying planetary weather balance—once we know all this, and so much more, what do we do with our newfound knowledge?

what-i-forgot-cover-draft-new-smThis question became increasingly central for me as I worked on my memoir, What I Forgot…And Why I Remembered, over the past several years. It was waking up to climate change that sparked my journey of looking back at my half-century on the planet, trying to understand how I had allowed myself to forget the connection to the natural world that had been so central to me as a child.

What I discovered was that as a young adult, I made some choices that led me to go with the predominant flow of American culture. Like Snowden, I was seduced by the possibility of attaining the American dream—my version of it being the husband, children, home, career. I put myself in the traces and began to focus on pulling that cart, and I found it took everything I had.

Not until the dream disintegrated along with my marriage did I pick my head up and look around me, instinctively seeking solace in the natural world but finding that things had changed a great deal since I was a dreamy child following the chickadees through the hemlock forest, or lying full-length on a high maple branch to feel the wind swaying through the tree.

While I had been focused on raising my family, trying to hold my marriage together and striving for success in my career, things had been going very badly for the chickadees, the hemlocks and the maples. Government policies and corporate greed, unleashed by the shortsightedness of millions of compliant citizens like me, had led us to the brink of a global catastrophe of biblical proportions.

There we sit now, on that brink. Did you notice the news, buried beneath all the election cycle noise, that the climate has now passed 400 ppm of carbon in the atmosphere, far beyond the 350 ppm that gave the scrappiest of the climate change warrior-organizations its name?

This means we are on track to melt, folks. The polar ice caps and the permafrost on land will thaw, releasing ancient methane; the oceans will warm, throwing off the food chains and the weather; insects and bacteria will do very well, but many if not most of the larger species will rather quickly go the way of the wooly mammoth and the saber-toothed tiger.

Including, dare I say it, homo sapiens. Future historians, if there are any, should rename our species homo ignoramus—the stupid ones who knew how they could save themselves and the ecosystem that sustained them, but let it all go to hell.

We have come to a time, as the Deep Green Resistance eco-warriors recognized several years ago, when it will be necessary to think for ourselves and stand up for what we believe in, just like Ed Snowden did.

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This is dangerous business, as Snowden knew. He is lucky to be living freely in Moscow rather than locked up as a traitor like fellow information resistance fighter Chelsea Manning. The fossil fuel lords and their military henchmen take mutiny very seriously, as the brave water protectors at Standing Rock know well.

But there comes a time when you have to listen to your gut, even if it goes against your upbringing and socialization. You have to do what you think is right.

Of course, in a black and white view of morality, what’s right for you may be totally wrong for me. How do we reconcile the disparate moral compasses of a jihadist suicide bomber or an American bomber pilot or a tar sands bulldozer operator or a pipeline resistance activist?

Each of us has to make up our own minds, fully cognizant of the implications of our actions, the bigger backdrops against which each of our little lives play out. That is why I continue to believe that there is no more important role these days than that of an awake, aware, independently minded educator.

We need teachers at every level of education who are dedicated to developing the capacity of young people to understand and analyze complex information, to weigh and debate different points of view, to use empathy as a pathway to decision-making, and to be open to shifting their views as their understanding increases.

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Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning were both thoroughly indoctrinated by the military, but were still able to think for themselves and sacrifice their snug insider positions in service to the greater good. If they can do it, any of us can.

No need for spectacular defections or heroics. All that’s needed is a steady ongoing commitment to sifting through the barrage of information coming at us all the time, and pointing our internal compass at DO NO HARM or even better DO GOOD.

If you want to call me a pie-in-the-sky do-gooder, so be it. I can live with that.

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World War III Has Begun: Which Side Are You On?

Although you wouldn’t know it from scanning the front pages of the mainstream media, a major battle in what Bill McKibben has called World War Three, the war to save the planet from human destruction, has been going down in Indian Country for the past six months.

Thousands of Native Americans, members of a whole host of tribes, have gathered at Standing Rock, North Dakota, to protest the North Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL), which was sited by the Army Corps of Engineers to run dangerously close to the Missouri River and the Standing Rock Reservation.

But as the protesters say, they are not just defending Indian country, they are defending everyone who relies on the Missouri for water—and not just humans but all life.

If there is anyone to look back at this turbulent period in human history on Earth—now coming to be known as the Anthropocene—they will surely wonder at the suicidal tendency of human civilization in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Why, they will ask, would such an intelligent species willingly—even enthusiastically—engage in the poisoning of its waterways and underground water resources; the destruction of its forests; the chemical contamination of its soils and oceans; the overheating of its precious atmosphere by relentless burning of fossil fuels? Why would humans put so much of their intelligence and technological prowess into developing ever more lethal weapons of mass destruction, used to bludgeon each other? Why would they preside blithely over the extinction of millions of other species, the vicious ripping of the great ecological web of life on Earth?

Why indeed?

I know it’s hard for any of us to escape the clutter of our everyday lives, with the constant pressures and worries that beset us on the personal level. But this is precisely what is being asked of us now.

The courageous defenders out at Standing Rock dropped their ordinary lives to be part of the historic encampment protesting the stranglehold of the oil companies on our waterways and our lands. They are fighting in the courts, through the media, and most importantly with their physical presence, standing up to the bulldozers, the attack dogs and the pepper spray.

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Image source: Democracy Now!

This is what McKibben’s World War Three looks like—it’s already begun. It will be fought locally, as communities and individuals wake up to the implications of the destruction and decide that hell no, they won’t take it any more.

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Oil and gas pipelines in the U.S. Image source: https://projects.propublica.org/pipelines/

In my own corner of the world, we are under assault from General Electric, wanting to create toxic waste dumps right in the middle of our small rural towns. We have a gas pipeline being constructed, despite vehement protests, through a pristine old-growth state forest. We have oil tanker trains running constantly right through our communities. Despite a thriving organic and biodynamic farm renaissance, we still have far too many pesticides, herbicides and fungicides being used locally, and too many trees being cut down.

I have been thinking and writing for some time now about how important it is to align the personal, political and planetary in our own lives and in the way we relate to the world around us. On all three of these levels, 21st century American life is way out of balance.

It is time to focus, each one of us, on using our brief lifetimes to create balance and harmony on Earth. Sometimes the way to harmony leads through protest and discord, as is happening now in Standing Rock. Sometimes it can be as simple as choosing to support local, low-impact agriculture rather than industrial agriculture. Leaning on our political representatives to move faster on policy that will shift our society to renewable energy is key.

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Wind farm in Ireland. Source: http://www.iwea.com/_wind_information

There are so many ways to get involved in this War for the Planet, many of them quite peaceful. The important thing is to get off the sidelines. Get involved. Feel the potential of this moment—it’s literally a make or break period for the future of humanity on Earth, and many other living beings too.

The brave defenders at Standing Rock are reminding us that we are all “natives” of this Earth, and we all have a stake in protecting her. Which side are you on?

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From Orlando to Dallas and beyond: dreaming of a homeland to be proud of

The weather here in Nova Scotia has been stormy, but that’s nothing compared with the storms sweeping across my homeland, the USA. I write the word “homeland” with an inner cringe…can I really call this violent place home? Home is supposed to be a place of refuge; a sanctuary. I feel that about my island home here in Canada, but when I contemplate going back across the border, I can’t avoid an instinctive sense of fear and foreboding.

According to the astrologers, Mars is in Scorpio now—pretty potent times, when the god of war meets the sign known for intensity around death and sexuality. That might have “explained” the tragedy in Orlando. But the steady beat of innocent Black folks being gunned down by law enforcement officers for misdemeanors—or no crime at all—cannot be explained by anything except a racist society full of trigger-happy cops.

And this latest episode in Dallas defies any explanation. I am not satisfied with the official story, that a single sniper was able to kill five cops and injure several more people before being cornered in a parking garage. I have not seen any convincing evidence proving that the young man they killed in the garage with a “robot bomb” was in fact the sniper they were looking for. Eventually I assume they will show the forensic evidence linking the bullets found in the bodies to Micah Johnson’s gun, but even that kind of evidence could be trumped up.

I fear that this young veteran, handily dead, could be taking the fall for a sinister conspiracy aimed at further destabilizing the country and giving the police permission to “get tougher.” Which seems to mean, use more of their military surplus equipment against their own homeland citizens.

I read an article by an ex-cop who said 15% of cops are good people who would never commit a racist act; 15% are racists just waiting for an opportunity to strike; and 70% are just ordinary folks, susceptible to the prevailing culture in their community and police force.

Those percentages are probably about right when applied to the U.S. population at large, too. Clearly what needs to be worked on is the prevailing culture—the structural racism, the structural elitism, the deck stacked against the poor, no matter the color of their skin, and the way it’s becoming almost impossible to climb out of poverty if you’ve been born into it.

This bigger picture is what can be so hard to get from the media, which converts everything into sound-bites, “status updates,” or even, lord help us, tweets. Everything moves so fast, we are kept busy just trying to stay abreast of what’s going on, with little time or energy for contemplation.

Meanwhile, out there beyond the personal and political, the planet herself is getting ever more out of balance. The floods, the wildfires, the toxic algae blooms, fungi killing off amphibians and bats, the sudden death of entire populations of birds, reindeer and seals…it’s all part of the bigger picture of a planet gone deeply awry.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the violence and political mayhem we are seeing in the world is connected to the inner turmoil in human beings. We are the consciousness of the planet. We alone among all species are able to understand history and predict the future. We know the consequences of our actions and we live and die according to moral codes.

All of us who are sick at heart in these days of horrendous violence at home must understand that what we are seeing in the U.S. is just a pale echo of the massive violence Americans have inflicted on people in other countries (from Vietnam to Iraq, from El Salvador to Afghanistan and on and on), as well as—on an even bigger scale—on other living beings on the planet, from iconic creatures like elephants and lions on down to coral, fish and butterflies, not to mention all the beautiful members of the plant kingdom.

Since we have allowed the arming of our civilian population with military-style weapons, our country is turning into the same kind of war zone  experienced by people in other countries, and animals everywhere.

And more of us are becoming infected with that conflictive kind of consciousness, dominated by fear and its twin, aggression. The inner landscape mirrors the outer landscape, with devastating consequences for those caught in the crossfire.

Neither fear nor aggression will get us where we need to go, as individuals, as a society, or on the global scale. Nor does moral exhortation seem to have much effect. The only real solution has to be the deep, structural one: redirecting our resources away from weapons and war, towards education, well-being and an economy that gives every human being the opportunity to live a peaceful, satisfying life.

You may say this is utopian. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” There are many economists who understand that we have a choice whether or not to base our global livelihoods on the death-and-aggression-focused military-industrial complex, or on “right livelihood,” the kind of activities and industries that make people happy, well and fulfilled, and at the same time protect and care for our planet and the myriad other creatures who live here too.

While honoring all those—and there are so many—who have fallen prey to our violent culture, we must keep in mind the bigger picture, and the magnitude of what is at stake. The violence perpetrated against Black people at home is the same violence being perpetrated against so many others, in all the places in the world where we sell and deploy our vaunted American military weapons and expertise.

Let’s dare to imagine a future in which Americans are famous and respected not for the size of our military budget, but for our leadership in stabilizing our planet and making it a safe, prosperous home for everyone. We can do it. And we must.

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