Stick by Stick

Chip Ward is a big-picture thinker attuned to the importance of the small, local, persistent acts of reclamation and restoration. In this article he writes of the “original geo-engineers” that helped create the vibrant watersheds of the western U.S., watersheds that are now running dry, due in no small part to the eradication of those geo-engineers — dam-building beavers — by fur trappers, ranchers and irrigationists. The perspective he offers, the wisdom in his words, extends well beyond the species in question.

I used to say that in the long run we’d be wiser to invest in restoring watersheds than putting a camera on every corner.  As it happens, given the tenacious drought now spreading across the West and Southwest, the long run seems to be here, sooner than expected.  Even the Pentagon now acknowledges that ecological catastrophe sows human turmoil and suffering that eventually blows back our way.  For the cost of just one of the 2,400 F-35 fighter jets we are committed to buying at historic prices, we could restore the stressed Aquarius watershed.

But the beavers don’t care what we do.  They just do their own thing.  They are like their human partners: persistent and oh so local.

Read the entire article here. 

Telling Stories

I’m sitting next to Frank at our weekly gourd band practice. Frank is a journalist. He writes a local history column for the paper in his Kentucky town. He has a love for old railroad songs, for quirky folk customs, for community music.

During a pause in our attempts to draw tunes out of our crazy assortment of gourds, Frank asks me about a local storytelling event that took place the week before. A couple members of the band, myself included, had skipped practice to go the event, to listen stories, to tell them.

“You would like it,” I say. “You’re a good storyteller.”

He shakes his head. “I’m not a storyteller.”

This from a man who tells stories for a living. But I understand: he was thinking of stories as things people make up, fictions, fairy tales. O’Henry short stories.

“Not fictional stories,” I say. “True stories, personal stories. About real things that really happened. To us.”


I don’t know if the explanation brought him closer to the idea or pushed him further away. It’s daunting, the prospect of sharing personal stories in a live setting, with an audience, most of whom you don’t know. It’s also powerful. Very, very powerful.

Our local storytelling event is new. We follow the basic Moth guidelines of brevity and first person, but we are not a Moth event, and we allow notes, even reading, if that’s what the storyteller needs to get up in front of the group. We want people to get up. We’re good listeners. We put away our devices, give the storyteller our attention. We bring adult beverages and share them. Some of us want those beverages before we speak. No judgment.

We put our names into a hat. Or a bowl. Whatever is handy. Then we draw names, and one by one, people get up and tell their stories.

Some of the stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Others have no real structure, they’re just loops of emotion and a search for understanding. No narrative thread, just connecting dots, one thing happens and then another. Life. Connection. It’s what we come for, though nobody has actually said as much, at least not to me, perhaps because to do so might break the spell, might make the whole thing seem forced, like a 12-step meeting. But I do believe it’s what we seek when we show up each month, ready to listen, ready to speak.

And we find it. Somehow, just by telling our stories. It’s astonishing.

And it makes us cry. Every time.

I don’t tell Frank about the crying. I’m not sure it’s a strong selling point. But it ought to be.

After a few more attempts to bring our gourds into tunefulness, we set them aside and sing a cappella. We’re not pros, but we know how to listen, which is what matters most when you’re making music with other people. We sing the same song again and again, working out harmonies on the fly, leaning in to hear the voice next to us, the voice across the circle, finding our note, or not finding it, going a little sharp or flat. Or a whole lot sharp or flat. Nobody is chastened for getting it wrong, and by the ninth or tenth time through, we have something, and then we just keep going, because it’s magical and we don’t want to stop.

Sometimes I feel bereft. The world is on fire, and I don’t know how to fix what’s broken. But I am suffused with these stories. These songs. These connections.

This life. This astonishing magic.

Rush Hour

The man in the SUV didn’t understand the concept of the merge.

He didn’t realize, or didn’t accept, that the onus was on him to integrate himself into the flow of traffic. He didn’t realize, or didn’t accept, that the flow was already flowing, and that, while it would certainly adjust to his arrival, it would grant him no privilege.

The execution of the successful merge required that he acknowledge the established position of others. That he allow for their right to be where they were. That he moderate his speed, be it faster or slower, in order that he might join with and participate in the community of commuters.

The successful merge would not be facilitated by his head-long hurtle down the on-ramp, close on the wheels of the car in front of him, in full expectation that the community of commuters would magically accommodate his sudden, hulking presence. That it would cede to him the space he so favored, that it would not ask him to wait his turn, that it would simply make way.

Driving makes me crazy. Drivers make me really crazy.

That’s all.

We Do What We Do

I have a friend who takes to the woods each morning with her camera. She photographs insects and snakeskin and dew on spiderwebs, orange daylilies opening themselves to the world, fiddleheads unfurling, bones of a long-dead creature disintegrating under a canopy of cottonwoods and bramble. Every day there are new things to see.

I have no skill with a camera.

I write poems.

I hear the birds in the elm across the yard, a conclave, starlings and mockingbirds and cardinals and finches. The rattling hum of cicadas and the baritone murmur of a barge on the river, passing by. Some days the birds have a lot to say. Some days they don’t. I try to get it down, either way.

In the space between my kitchen window and the outside screen a spider has amassed an impressive collection of dead bodies wrapped in silk, suspended by threads invisible except in a certain light, morning light. My coffee goes cold in my cup as I watch her move her parcels from one part of her web to another, grouping them like sculpture, to what purpose I can only guess.

I don’t drink much. But I love this song all the same. We do what we do. Fish swim, birds fly. My friend takes lovely photos. I write poems. And you?

It’s Very You

I sent a copy of Beautiful Terrible World to my mother. Today she called to tell me what she thought of it.

“It sounds like you. You always did care about the environment, and you never liked war. The one about the school shooter was sad. I laughed at the line about not liking ballroom dancing because you didn’t want some boy to push you around. It’s very you.”

Best. Review. Ever.


Perhaps it was the leaded gasoline that did it.
Gone too late in all our happy motoring,
the burnt aftermath lingering in our cells,
permeating our formative years, our young-country brains,
so much soft mineral marking our fantasies,
we believed we were super-powered, turbo-charged,
we thought we could fly like dragons through the sky,
but we were only falling,
and it was such a long way down,
all that lead now a weight we must carry,
a burden of ignorance, innocent or arrogant,
heavy and awkward, we are, and stupidly defiant,
we no longer know what it means to walk on the Earth,
fooled by the illogic of too many rockets,
too many silver bullets,
too many horses under our hoods,
the blowback from combustion unfathomable
to our enfeebled swiss-cheesed understanding,
our Augean stables now full to the rafters,
and where, pray tell, is our Hercules?
And where did we put all the shovels?

A Few Words on Saving Energy

The very-energetic Joe Konrath continues his point-by-point refutation of the idea that Amazon is the devil. Me, I’m still contemplating the seemingly-unrelated (but we know it’s all connected, somehow) U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the religosity of the corporate person. So I’m reading Joe and this little quote fell out of context and into my lap:

“The energy required to refute stupidity is exponentially larger than the stupidity itself.”

As a friend of mine commented on the Supremes, those who are upset about the decision and those who are pleased with it seem to be having two entirely different conversations. Each accuses the other of missing the point. Which is hardly surprising. Talking past one another has become the national pastime in these dis-united States.

It wears me out.

Another friend tells me that putting my head in the sand is no solution, that it only leaves me with sand in my ears and my ass in the air. But withdrawing from the daily noise feels like the only way to maintain my sanity. I am loathe to be like former first lady Barbara Bush, who in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina refused to fill her beautiful mind with thoughts about the sad plight of others. But Barbara’s ass wasn’t in the air. It was nicely enrobed in finery, cushioned on a quality damask-upholstered chaise. What is a normal person to do?

I like Amazon. I like that I can publish, and purchase, indie books and ebooks and fill my library and my own (somewhat beautiful) mind with thoughtful stories and interesting ideas without going broke in the process. Have you priced a bookstore hardcover lately? Have you had much luck finding indie works at your local Barnes & Noble? It isn’t Amazon that’s putting bookstores out of business. It’s readers who’ve made their choice. Welcome to the world.

I don’t much like the Hobby Lobby decision, any more than I liked Citizens United, or the decision that placed George W. Bush in the White House in 2000. The Supremes seem intent on reshaping the rule of law to conform to some corporate dystopia in which only those with millions to spend get a seat at the table. Again, welcome to the world.

Anyway, I like Joe’s quote. It reminds me of that other truism:

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.”
~ Proverbs 26:4 (KJV)

Meanwhile, I’m re-reading Gore Vidal’s Empire, historical fiction set 100 years ago, when the U.S. was getting ready to seize control of half of the world, birth control was illegal in the U.S, and money, property, and lineage were the yardsticks by which power was measured and bestowed. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.