Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An end--and a beginning

I started this blog as an experiment in exploring our relationship with nature, the community of the land. It's been an enlightening exercise: I've learned from both the writing and from reading your comments and conversations. But it's time for me to move on. I want to consider a broader range of questions, beginning with what this trip through life is about, and how we can embody the best of our species. Tough times like these offer us an opportunity to reevaluate our lives, to simplify and go deeper, to re-purpose what no longer works, find new solutions, and re-think old ones. We're all on the same journey, walking between birth and death, and then cycling back around to take part in some new form of life. Our legacy is how we live in all the moments along the way. My intention is to live in a way that I leave this miraculous green and blue planet and its communities of the land in better shape than I found them.

Just how to do that is what I'll investigate in my new blog, Walking Nature Home. I'll try out ideas for what I call the good life, the way of living happily and healthfully on the planet Buckminster Fuller called "Spaceship Earth" in common with all the other lives riding with us. Join me to continue the journey, and the conversation!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blarn! (A blog post about darning)

Last night I spent most of the evening with my feet up on the couch, darning socks. Yup, darning socks, weaving the holes closed with the blunt-ended needle and darning thread in the photo.

If you've ever darned, you know that it's a pretty meditative process. You have to pay enough attention to securely anchor your threads, keep them straight and weave (or knit) the darn over the hole. But the process involves a lot of repetition, and that allows the mind to wander. (If you haven't darned, check out this video, or these instructions.)

I had let the holes in my socks get bigger than I should have before attending to them. In case you wondered about the origin of the homily "A stitch in time saves nine," I'm guessing it came from darning. The sooner you patch the hole, the less stitches and thread required. Much less, as I can now attest after spending a couple of hours darning holes in the heels of my favorite socks.

As I carefully stitched lines of anchoring threads around the holes, and then ran threads across the hole from top to bottom and wove threads through those from side to side, I thought about the act of darning.

It's been a long time since I did any darning--a couple of decades, in fact, since I was a starving biologist working for the federal government on a seasonal basis. Back then, I had to darn my wool socks: the heels wore out long before the socks did and I couldn't afford to replace them often. So when my socks got holes, I darned them.

I quit darning when I started making more money. I had good excuses: I was navigating a new marriage, raising a step-daughter, and starting a writing career, and I could afford to discard socks with holes in them. The real reason, I think though, was that darning just didn't fit my "important" lifestyle

Darning didn't cross my mind again until last week when the holes in my favorite Smartwool socks, the ones with the flowers, got so big that my heels got cold when I wore the socks. I would probably have thrown those socks away with great regret and bought a new pair, but for two things:

There is no "away." With more than 3 billion people in this country, there is no place to put trash without displacing someone, whether human or wild. Where I live, trash goes to the county dump, which I would nominate for the award of dump with the most beautiful dump if there was such an honor. It occupies a mesa lying between a wall of peaks rising to over 14,000 feet elevation on one side, and knobby granitic hills splotched with Technicolor aspen groves on the other. Sacrificing this site to house our refuse in near-perpetuity seems so wrong that Richard and I now recycle or reuse the bulk of our discards.

Then there's the personal reason: I can't just replace the socks, even if I did have a way to recycle them. They're last year's design; in a triumph of planned sock obsolescence, it's not produced anymore.

So I spent a couple of hours teaching myself how to darn again. It wasn't hard, and when I finished darning the hole in the first sock and slipped it on, my foot felt cozy and warm. (Not to mention quite stylish.) I learned an aphorism I've always thought charming but outdated is actually relevant to my life--I will save stitches and yarn by not letting the holes in my socks get so big before darning next time. I learned yet again that the amount of waste we create is not actually a necessary consequence of modern life. It is possible to give my favorite socks, and much of the other material we thoughtlessly discard longer lives.

Darning socks may seem like a small act when compared to the mountains of trash we humans generate. But it has had a big impact by changing my view of my favorite pair of socks. Despite the holes in the heels, they are not trash: after darning, they're still warming my feet. There's something very satisfying in finding a way to reuse what I am so fond of despite its obselescence.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year, New face

Happy New Year! I spent my week-plus away from blogging working on a complicated roll-out of my new "public face," including a totally new web site (same address, new and more profound content, more graphics, including slide shows of some of my work restoring urban wildlife habitat), a new blog, and a new weekly commentary and podcast (you can listen to and subscribe to the latter on the new site).

The point of this new public face is to honor my New Year's resolution: I'm going to write and speak with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand. (That's from a line in Mary Chapin Carpenter's song Goodnight America: "dreaming with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand.") I've had this intent for a while now, and this year, I'm working on stretching that heart/hand even farther.

So I spent the time between Winter Solstice and New Year's Day thinking about what I believe, how I live my life, and why I do the work I do. I'm determined to articulate my core values and my experiences more clearly and more compellingly in order to help others who seek a deeper connection benefit from what I've learned. Hence the credo on the home page of my new web site, which begins with these lines:
It seems to me that many of us feel lost, as if we've cut ourselves off from something we deeply need. I think that what we're missing is an everyday connection with nature, the home of our species. ... We may have forgotten nature, but the community of the land has not forgotten us.
What's important in our lives is not how much we earn or how big our houses are, or whether we have the latest electronic toys or reach the highest rung on whatever job ladder we're on, but how we live each moment of every day. I believe in living a green and generous life, "green" in the sense of making my life a positive contribution to a healthy Earth, and "generous" in the sense of spreading around the blessings I have, sharing them with family, friends, and the larger community, both human and wild. Just what constitutes a green and generous life is the topic I'll be exploring in the coming weeks, and I hope you'll join me in that conversation.

But first I have to work through a thicket of technical glitches that have come up as I've designed & integrated my new public face. The web site is up, but still has some formatting glitches that need fixing as soon as my site host works out their server permissions issues. The blog was all ready to go until the blog host lost its address; resurrecting the latter ruined the custom formatting I'd labored over so I'm back to the virtual drawing board there. (You'd think that Mercury, the planet which rules communications, was going into retrograde with all of these hang-ups--in fact, Mercury IS going retrograde starting the 11th of January and continuing through February 1. So I may be in for a long slog!)

Communications issues aside, I'm starting off the year with great news: My memoir, Walking Nature Home, will be published in March by University of Texas Press, and I've been invited to debut the book with a talk and signing at Denver Botanic Gardens on March 25th. So if you'll be in the area, join me and special guest, photographer Jim Steinberg, for "Bringing Wildness Home: Nature as Everyday Inspiration." If you can't get to Denver for that opening appearance, check my web site in the coming months for other events. Also, you can sample the book at the publisher's web site.

Starting next week, I'll be in writing heaven: I've been awarded a three-month fellowship that frees me from my accustomed deadlines. So until mid-April, I'll have the luxury of working on my next book without having to worry about generating an income. Wow! My profound thanks to Terra Foundation for supporting my work, and to Colorado Art Ranch for making the fellowship possible.

Here's my wish for all of you for 2009: May you find what you need to follow yourr heart. And in the doing, may you know much love and joy!