Aside

“The Earth is a sacred artifact that resonates with life.  We may see the Earth as being ill, but the Earth is a vital and superior organism.  The sickness we see in the World is a reflection of the sickness we feel in ourselves.”

 

from the Porcupine Mountain archives

On the morning of our second day, we get up and take a rowboat out onto Mirror Lake. We row into a cove where we sit in silence and watch as the wind blows across the water and the ripples bend along the edges of water lilies. A Common Loon dives and resurfaces, sits for a moment or two, and dives once again. The forest reaches down to the shore, where there are reeds and grasses. There is deadfall interspersed, and tall conifers living out their final years towering above the canopy. There are no human voices. No sounds other than the wind and the water lapping against the side of our boat.

We spend the second day hiking through the extensive portions of old growth, which is like hiking through a fairy tale. This may seem overly romantic, or just silly, but it is true. There is a reason that the deep, dark woods is a recurring theme in the fables and tales we’ve passed down from generation to generation. There is mystery in the play of light and shadow.

There was a powerful windstorm some years ago, and the gnarled roots from the upturned trees at times seem poised to reach out and grab you, twist across your ankles and pull you down with the worms and the crawly things. In the night, I understand why the forest was also once a place of fear. In the night, without a moon or fire, the darkness is complete. You can hear the forest alive all around you, but there are no names for the beings dwelling there save those conjured by the imagination. And the wolves.

We spend our second evening in a cabin by Greenstone Falls. As the day falls, slowly, the light changes every two minutes, so you look up and the landscape has shifted all around you. But you haven’t gone anywhere, you haven’t moved from this spot where you’ve sat hunched and distracted by some new mushroom, some strange phenomenon of moss and fern, or the way the light plays against the trunk of a tree.

Walking up a hill behind the cabin to gather firewood, I am momentarily startled by what I imagine to be a black bear with his tan muzzle staring out at me from beside a tangle of fallen branches. We had seen one crossing the road on the way in, and the visitors’ log in our cabin indicated that the previous occupant had enjoyed the privilege of one looking through the windows and wandering around the camp the morning before.

My wife and I sit for an hour beside a shallow pool lined with smooth stones as the day slowly wanes. We are amazed by the dragonflies, who are astounding acrobats, and apparently ruthless carnivores (as one landed before us two days later clutching and devouring a butterfly half its size). They zip up and down, patrolling the length of the stream, investigating wood tangles and fallen logs. A few dive-bomb the pool, splashing down and sending out small ripples across our tiny pond. We are amazed by this behavior, and search for explanations. Are they drinking? Are they eating water bugs? Later, after a little research – Were they laying eggs? The mystery persists.

A cluster of hemlock branches extend over the water, and we notice a small green inchworm, what may have been a Hemlock Loooper, descending along a line of silk, only to stop in midair when it becomes apparent he is set to disembark in the middle of the stream. Left dangling, our Looper pauses. Life is ultimately about choices, it seems, and this fellow has made a bad one. However, success and determination go hand in hand, so over the next half-half hour we provide commentary, encouragement, and wait with baited breath as he slowly reels in his line and ascends back from where he came.

At one point, a dragonfly appears and hovers directly beside the helpless larva and seems to consider whether he’d be a worthwhile snack. Fortunately for the Looper, the dragonfly departs, and we sit until he finally hoists himself back onto the needled branches and disappears.

The light dims, and the mosquitoes are on us once again.

the Truth about Snowflakes

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The truth about snowflakes is not as they would have you believe. Yes, there is the ideal, perfect little snowflake fluttering down slowly from the sky; the baby in the arms; the child that must be protected from any harm; the emotionally fragile liberal that cries bully when someone is just being an asshole, or can’t understand how someone could vote for Donald Trump.

Well, I’m calling bullshit, because I know a thing or two about snowflakes.

Snowflakes, which are endlessly diverse, though remarkably similar, are formed through adversity. High in the atmosphere, water coalesces and freezes upon a mote of dust, a grain of pollen, volcanic ash, silt blown from the Sahara and carried across the sea.

A microclimate forms around the snowflake. Minute variations in temperature, wind speed, humidity, and countless other details affect the forming of the snow crystal as it’s buffeted and blown about in this harsh environment.

The truth about snowflakes is that they change, they meld and coalesce, they reinvent themselves to suit the time, the temperature, and the pressure that they’re under.

Shortly after snow hits the ground, almost immediately, it begins to go through the first of many metamorphoses. The crystalline branches, if that’s the type of snow that was falling, begin to fold, pressed inward as more of their kin pile upon one another. And as more snow falls, as the snowflakes’ original forms shift, the spaces between them diminish. The snowflakes are pressed closer. The fluffy, airy spaces between them contract, points of contact solidify and harden. This process continues throughout the winter through freeze and thaw and as more snow falls. Over time, the snowflakes come together to form a continuous, insulating blanket.

Below the snowpack there is a space that forms called the subnivean zone. This is an area of warmer air between the breathing ground, which radiates heat, and the harsh environment above. The subnivean zone is an area where the smaller critters, more vulnerable to cold and predation, can seek refuge. There are trails that form, entire highways below the snow that are well worn and traveled. There is food, and warmth, and safe passage for those that need it.

When there are fewer snowflakes and no unified snowpack, it is the vulnerable that suffer.

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And snowflakes are not passive. They can move with tremendous speed and incredible force. Once loosened, an avalanche can reach speeds of 80mph within 5 seconds.

And as this fuming cascade of snowflakes, unified in their singular purpose, goes rushing downhill, they become a single irrefutable event burying and smothering all opposition until it asphyxiates.

So, make no mistake — this is the truth about snowflakes.

Questioning Conservatism

Is Conservatism inherently racist? My hunch is that the conservative movement prioritizes and perpetuates racism and racist institutions. The conservative stance on liberty, family values, and ideological consistency are rooted in normative systems of institutional power.  In the United States, at least, this power is synonymous with whiteness. Cultural, social, and religious norms are largely white hegemonies.

That’s too limited – power in the United States is predominantly white, male, and heterosexual.

So there’s that.

Another question is whether there can be reconciliation between conservative and progressive values? Can the adherents of these two world views and approaches towards life and governance reconcile themselves so that we can regain some semblance of something other than complete disfunction?

It’s a matter of both reconciliation and rehabilitation.  The ideological adherents need to find some way to reconcile their differences, whereas the system itself is in need of rehabilitation.

I believe that one of the ways this happens is by engaging with individuals, groups, and organizations within our communities.  The challenge, though, is finding the time to make the time and then sustaining some level of engagement long term.

One thing is for certain –

We cannot allow ourselves to retreat from public life.  Democracy is an aspiration, not a given.

 

 

An Open Letter

Please Defend the Affordable Care Act

This is a letter that I have shared far and wide, and now it’s found a home here.

Dear Friends,

I am writing to ask for your help.

When my wife was 8 years old, she developed Type 1 Diabetes, an unpreventable autoimmune disease that currently has no cure.  When a person has Type 1 Diabetes, their pancreas does not produce insulin, a hormone necessary for the absorption of sugar into the cells. A Type 1 Diabetic must then regulate their own blood sugar through monitoring and injections of insulin to stay alive.

Several years ago, my wife lost her insurance. Due to her pre-existing condition, she was not able to regain coverage.  Her test strips, insulin, and syringes, which are all extremely expensive, had to be purchased out of pocket. Visits to the doctor were rare. A trip to the emergency room due to complications would have been financially devastating.

Without insurance, my wife’s management of her disease suffered.  Seizures due to low blood sugar, or insulin shock, became more common.  They typically occurred in the middle of the night, and I would have to feed her honey or glucose until she recovered.  Her body’s reaction to the seizure would then lead to days of excessive highs and lows which, if left unchecked, would have eventually lead to more serious problems, or an early death.

However, because of the Affordable Care Act, my wife was able to get insurance that covered her medical needs. She now has an insulin pump, which has made a tremendous impact on her ability to manage the disease and her long-term health. Her test strips are covered, so she can test her blood sugar more often and maintain better control. She can now regularly visit an endocrinologist to help with overall management, and she can get yearly eye exams to monitor and treat any onset of diabetic retinopathy.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, she has what she needs to stay healthy longer.  There are still highs and lows, but there have been no more seizures or trips to the emergency room.

I know the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect.  It needs a lot of work.  I have no illusions about this.  However, this law that so many people love to despise has helped my family.  It has improved the quality and long-term health of my wife and best friend.  And now, it is under threat of repeal.

I am asking you to take the time today and call your representatives and senators and tell them to Fix the Affordable Care Act, Not Dismantle It.  Tell them to make it better so that everyone can receive the care they require, especially those who are vulnerable and in need.  Tell them to fix the ACA so that it can work for every American without hurting those who need it most.

Thank you.

Find your Senators here by clicking on your state.

Find your Representative here by entering your zip code or address.

Tell your representatives to:

Fix the ACA – Don’t Repeal

You can follow up with:

Protect Pre-Existing Conditions

(Lack of coverage for individuals with a pre-existing condition is potentially devastating, literally resulting in lower life-expectancy i.e. death)

Keep Portability

(So that Americans can change jobs without losing coverage)

No High-Risk Pools

(So that the sick and vulnerable are not relegated to prohibitively expensive plans with limited coverage)

You can also follow up with:

No continuous coverage requirement

(So that any lapse in health care does not undermine access to future coverage)

No vouchers or block grants

(Replacing Medicare with vouchers may not be adequate and are an uncertain and potentially dangerous gamble that would most likely impact the elderly and poor)

 

Happy Thanksgiving…now get to work!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.
 
On this day, I am grateful to live in a country where I can speak my mind, where I can advocate for what I believe is right, where I can listen to other opinions and viewpoints, and where I can engage with a process, voice my support, and even resist and dissent.
 
On this day, I am encouraging all of you to find some way to participate in our democracy. Regardless of your politics, this is a privilege that we must honor and protect.
 
For me, I am taking small steps towards a goal of sustained civic engagement:
 
1) I have entered the phone numbers of my reps, senators, etc into my phone so that they are always there for quick and easy access. I found an app called “Groups” that allows me to create calling groups to further streamline the calling process. I have made the calls, and by calling district offices, I have spoken with humans who have respectfully noted my comments every time. This is simple, easy, and sustainable. I encourage you all to take this step for yourselves. It took me about 30 minutes to set up my phone, and about 10-15 to make my calls.
 
 
2) I am focusing on immigration rights for families and children. I am reaching out to former colleagues, lawyers, and advocacy organizations in an effort to organize support and determine my work. I am in the process of learning the laws, immigrant rights, and about what’s potentially on the horizon.
 
My opinion is that each of us has to make a choice about what is important to us personally, and then we have to act, in some small way on that choice. There is so much out there that needs work, which is why we need to find what really moves us emotionally, spiritually, and politically and to focus our energy there. Otherwise, we become overwhelmed and our strength and efforts are diluted.
 
3) I am trying to write and to create. All writers, musicians, and artists must play a role in inspiring, sharing, and building bridges. And they must also dissent, and they must agitate. There is music and there is light, we can take refuge there, and it will sustain us and nurture our spirits.
 
We all have so much to be grateful for. But there is tremendous work to be done. Make no mistake, democracy takes work. If we do not work to preserve our rights, to take care of one another, and to protect the vulnerable, our rights will be eroded, we will continue to be turned against one another, and the vulnerable among us will suffer.
 
Please, take some small steps towards a goal of sustained civic engagement for all Americans. And share your work!