Living in an Unfinished World

The world is unfinished. With this in mind, as a teacher, as a leader, as a learner, how do you want to be in the world? What is the story that you will enact? To be trite, the only constant is change. Change seems to come faster and faster no doubt, and especially when thinking about new knowledge and technology, including, but not limited to communication and social organization—social media. It seems this change happens faster than we can discern and then predict the impact of that change or innovation.

What are the core questions and concepts to be understood to be able to undertake that discernment? Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could communicate openly and freely with one another to build community based on shared experiences? This requires the ability to have empathy and understand when/what it feels like to be disconnected.

I read a piece by Ross Douthat in the New York Times yesterday. I was intrigued by this title: How Being Sick Changed My Health Care Views. Knowing from previous columns he’s a staunch conservative and also knowing that he had a long bout with an undiagnosed tick-borne disease, I was curious. His views shifted a little to the left as he expressed empathy for those without any or with limited health care after his experience of going from specialist to specialist to get a diagnosis and therapy. What struck me however is that it took a personal experience for him to have empathy for others who struggle with no or inadequate health coverage in a time of health crisis—and that during that time, the patient cannot be a dispassionate “consumer” of a service—but is struggling to survive, grasping at anything that will offer relief and doing so at the mercy of a cumbersome networking maze of rules and roadblocks.

What accounts for this lack of empathy? Must many of us have first-hand experience with an issue to empathize? Why can some more readily walk in another’s shoes than others? Is it due to a lack of connection?

Then, how might I foster such connections? Conversely, what might I be doing in personal relationships and professional responsibilities that might inadvertently or (shudder to think) purposefully break or block meaningful connection?

Maybe I should think of it as entering an ongoing conversation with others and the world around me. How do we do this with our peers, family, colleagues, students (as a teacher) so that we can collaboratively explore and write our story while also understanding and helping those around me write theirs? In so doing, might that foster connection and allow for the development of empathy toward one another?

We make our world as we try and make sense of it. We make the road by walking it. This week there’s been a lot of quoting of Martin Luther King. One quote often highlighted is “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” However, we must keep in mind that it doesn’t bend itself.

Here’s ridiculously hopeful song with a simple idea.

Best Practices for Green Business Operations

Today’s blog is a guest blog written by Hazel Bridges. Ms. Bridges is the creator of Aging Wellness, a website that aims to provide health and wellness resources for aging seniors. She’s a breast cancer survivor. She challenges herself to live life to the fullest and inspire others to do so as well.

When you’re gearing up to start a new business, you’re likely evaluating all of your operational functions and marketing needs as well as considering budgetary matters. If you’re also interested in building sustainable practices, it’s much easier to do it pre-launch than after you’re up and running. Here’s how to make better-informed choices when it comes to living and working in a more sustainable fashion.

Is an Eco-Business for You?

There are two different approaches to business and sustainability. There are companies that employ green processes, regardless of the type of product or service they provide. For example, a restaurant that buys local meat and produce, uses recyclable to-go containers, and generates energy by harnessing solar power is utilizing green operational principles. Then there are businesses whose objective is entirely green-focused. An example might be a company that recycles old computer parts or refurbishes discarded furniture using natural products rather than chemicals. In short, you can run any type of business in a sustainable way, or create a business that’s focused on sustainability practices, products, or services.

Basic Business Start-Up

Before launching your company, there are a number of things on your pre-business start-up checklist to attend to. You’ll want to begin by writing a business plan to detail all of the fundamentals of your business, from describing your products and services, your sourcing, your management team, and your strategy to your budgeting, operations, and logistics related to location, hiring, and training. This is the place to lay out all elements of how the business will function. You should also form an LLC or limited liability company. This will give you greater flexibility, reduce paperwork, and protect you against some types of liability. You can do the legwork yourself, hire an attorney, or better yet, use a formation service like ZenBusiness. States have different regulations around LLC formation, so learn yours in advance.

Consider Eco-Impact

There are a variety of different ways that businesses operate that could have an impact on our global ecological systems. For example, manufacturing and waste production, recycling capability, packaging, distribution and transport, travel, and energy conservation. As such, go through your business plan line-by-line and look at ways to make each practice or approach more sustainable. For example, can you do business locally with vendors close by rather than outsourcing across the country and incurring cross-country shipping? Is your packaging as eco-friendly as possible, or can it be reduced or eliminated and replaced with something recyclable? How about an energy audit? Being able to utilize energy-efficient machinery can help reduce energy consumption. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has a checklist for how to go about regular energy audits, and also provides a number of other useful tips.

Evaluating Potential Impact

Businesses that shy away from green operations typically do so because they fear the costs of sustainable operations will be too exorbitant. While it’s true that there are some types of green operations that have the potential to be pricier than standard or traditional operations, there’s also an upside. According to Small Business Marketing Tools, when you implement these measures, you’ll be seen as a good corporate steward by being environmentally conscious and operating sustainably. These efforts will eventually pay dividends down the road in terms of things like reduced energy and manufacturing costs. You may also be able to capitalize on your contributions in your marketing and public outreach efforts. Many individuals and companies prefer doing business – and working for – environmentally conscious service providers, so by all means, promote the good work you’re doing.

Marketing Green Practices

The marketing and promotion materials you put in place for your green business should not only focus on your products, services, expertise, and pricing, it should also convey a little bit of information about your corporate philosophy and corporate culture. If you have a commitment to sustainable operations and employees are on board as well, it should be featured on your website, your social media posts, and on all printed and digital marketing materials. Your goal should be to let consumers know that you are committed to creating a healthier, more sustainable living environment for all. Not only can this attract even more customers, when you’re looking at funding needs for expansion or ramping up your green efforts, you may be eligible for sustainability grants or green lending opportunities.

Building on Your Green Platform

“Going green” is not something you just do once – it’s an ongoing evolution. Every day there are new breakthroughs in technology signaling greener solutions for how we live, learn, work, and do business. Stay abreast of changes and look for ways to grow and evolve in your sustainability efforts. Keep in mind, taking your green company to the next level will require professionals educated on best practices in the industry. Many institutes of higher education are also advancing sustainability issues and providing related degree programs. Consider collaborating with a university and supporting their efforts, hosting interns and externships, and drawing from the school to develop your workforce. This can be a powerful way to ensure you are continually front-and-center of where the action is in terms of the advancement of green technology and sustainable business models.  

While it may take a bit of time and effort to delve into the most sustainable practices in your industry and train your employees on the same, it’s certainly a worthwhile endeavor. If you’ve ever been concerned about starting up in the current environment, keep in mind that tides are continually changing, but a commitment to sustainability is on the rise. In other words, stop thinking about your business building and just do it.

Photo By Pixabay

The Secret of Miracles

2021 comes to a close. 2022 is about to begin, and I keep coming back to the word “grace.” Seems we need it now more than ever, grace toward one another, reflecting back on ourselves as we forge ahead and take care of one another. Here’s a song I wrote and recorded with Sarah and Linnea while they are home for the holidays. Hope you have a joyful holiday season and healthy 2022.

Heroification

Like many of you, I presume, I’ve been reading about, processing, and talking about the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. I’m not going to write about whether the jury got it right or not, or if the prosecutor did a good job, or if the judge was biased (well that last one is a bit hard to ignore) as I don’t have the expertise to about Wisconsin self-defense laws, know what was discussed in the jury room, nor know proper prosecutorial strategy.

I am confident in this: if Kyle Rittenhouse was Black I don’t believe that he would have survived that night having shot three people and then walked toward police with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. So, this has me thinking about what I wrote a couple days ago about systems maintaining the status quo and how this case fits into that pattern of negative feedback loops providing inertia to systemic change.

Let’s begin with this observation juxtaposing two trials. The press, and therefore most of us in conversation, have been talking about the “Kyle Rittenhouse” trial and the “Ahmaud Arbery” trial. My observation of this coverage is it seems when the victims are white, the press labels the trial by the name of the defendant and when the victim is Black, the press labels the trial with the name of the victim. Without googling it, I don’t even know the name of the defendants (three I think) in the trial of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. This is absolutely about a system that perpetuates racial inequity.

Now, back to Kyle Rittenhouse in the context of a system maintaining a status. What comes next? One individual faces physical and psychological recovery, two families are grieving, but I think what happens with Kyle Rittenhouse will be the most telling in terms of understanding where we are systemically.

The right has already begun heroification of Kyle Rittenhouse. They will use him to further their goal which to me appears to be all “good people” (I read that as white people) openly carrying guns and using them to maintain and enforce their authoritarianism. They don’t say that last part. But they do say the first part. Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina stated, “Kyle Rittenhouse is not guilty, my friends. You have a right to defend yourself,” and said in video posted, “Be armed, be dangerous, be moral.” I struggle to see how being dangerous and moral go together. Representative Matt Gaetz wants to hire Kyle Rittenhouse as an intern. Tucker Carlson will further this heroification on Fox News on Monday November 22.

I fear that the impact of this for all of us is further emboldening individuals to enforce their interpretation of justice and then be lifted up by the continued shrinking power and wealth class of which individuals such as Gaetz, Cawthorn, and Carlson benefit from being a part of. This will lead to more laws protecting such action and more laws such as the Texas abortion prohibition law emboldening individuals to exercise the authority of the state and therefore without proper guardrails and safeguards. This will further concentrate power. This is one weapon used by a small authoritarian class maintaining order over the majority being ruled. We’re not there yet, but it appears that is the intent of the current GOP (and some Democrats I’m sure too) and those with concentrated wealth and power they represent.

The effect of this heroification of Kyle Rittenhouse on him might be instead of dealing with the traumatic even of which he was a part, he will get lifted up, emboldened, and ultimately dehumanized and be simply a living symbol. What impact will this have on his still developing 18-year-old brain and maturation as a man? I don’t think it can be good. And I don’t think the likes of Tucker Carlson or Matt Gaetz are going to take him under their wing and guide him through this trauma and maturation. Honestly, can they? I’m confident in stating they will use him to further their agenda, maintain their power and influence, and when he no longer serves that purpose they will discard him.

As a result of this, how many more individuals will die either at the hands of Kyle Rittenhouse or another now given license to seek out and “protect other people’s property.” And who’s property, wealth and power are they really protecting?

Despite the legalities of this entire episode if we don’t help the individuals involved, and then by extension ourselves, deal with and then heal from this trauma, it will only add more heft to the accumulating snowball picking up speed toward greater division, more violence, and greater inequity. You or I cannot stop this snowball. It requires collective action.    

Fits and Starts

Why is it so hard to change complex systems, such as political, economic, education, or natural systems such as ecosystems? Every aspect of our lives is governed by and exists as a network of interconnected systems—from atomic structure and behavior to cells to economics to ecosystems to the entire earth system.

Systems “prefer” to remain stable, meaning they have mechanisms to maintain the status quo, even when the status quo is a system snowballing wildly out of balance toward a crash. We see this with a natural system such as the earth’s climate but also in human-made systems such as economics, politics, education, etc.

The earth’s climate system naturally goes through periods of stability and instability. Like all systems it “prefers” stability and has negative feedback loops that maintain that stability until something whacks it out of balance and pushes it so far off center it cascades out of control for a bit until it stabilizes again and reestablishes a new balance. This is how systems evolve. In fits and starts. This happened 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs went extinct due to massive meteor impact. It’s happening now due to human activity pumping greenhouse cases into the atmosphere.

Ironically, it is political and economic systems that “prefer” their current state of inequality that provide the inertia preventing us from meaningful reform in actions to quell the snowballing effect of climate change. Those economic and political systems have some significant self-correcting feedback loops preventing change because those with the most influence and power benefit from exaggerated concentration of wealth and power. While of course there are malicious, greedy, even sociopathic individuals as a part of this decision-making ruling class, in aggregate it behaves as a system that you cannot assign nefarious motives to—except to maintain itself.  Social systems will resist change if those in power within those systems came to power because of those systems. There are always individual exceptions but taken as an aggregate this is the pattern.

The economic system of the United States for the last 40 years has redistributed and concentrated wealth to an ever-shrinking upper class and pushed more of the middle class into the poor working class as well as reinforcing racial stratification of power and wealth. Along with that wealth concentration came increased and concentrated political power. When there are attempts to disrupt that system, the system has responded with feedback loops to maintain the status quo of inequity. To maintain power, gerrymandering occurs, Citizen United ruling, laws making it harder to vote instead of easier, laws making it okay to endanger those protesting in the streets, red-line policies preventing bank lending to people of color, right to work laws impeding organizing labor, laws and education standards preventing teaching all of American history and even requiring indoctrination of American greatness. What’s next, requirement of allegiance to one leader? With that litany, it’s easy to ascribe nefarious intent. Certainly, there is some, but most of us participate in that system, perpetuating that system without such intent, or even any intent or awareness of our participation.

Let’s look at a system that I think unwittingly participates in perpetuating this inequality, though I’d say it would be hard to find any nefarious intent—in fact, it’s a system that has hardly changed at all despite attempts from all political sides to change it—the education system. Why does this system, which everyone seems to agree needs changing resist change so resolutely? It’s a self-sustaining system, like the rest of our social systems because it is sustained by those that have benefited from it. I speak from experience. I was decent at K-12 school because it wasn’t that hard, or at least I didn’t make it that hard to really excel at it. I was average at best as an undergraduate, and then successful as a graduate student when I experienced teaching aligned to student-centered pedagogy rooted in constructivist learning theory.

What I see when I visit schools now is that teachers primarily teach the way they were taught. That makes sense because it “worked” for them. If you talk to most of these teachers (as I do) you find that it didn’t really work for them, but they truly learned the science, math, history, etc., that they teach by teaching it—meaning by working actively with that content and doing something with it—teaching it, studying it in grad school, etc., not so much by passively listening to someone tell them about it. It was intriguing but it wasn’t really learned until actively worked with. Yet, this passive, teacher-centered method is still the primary means of teaching, despite all the research and training to do otherwise. And the more legislators pass standards, require tests, and so one, the more it reinforces that kind of teaching.

Therefore, we teach most subjects in a manner that they are only engaging and relevant to a small percentage of the class who are otherwise drawn to that subject—so a lecture about it is interesting, something they will continue to think about, process, and make sense of and truly learn later on. The rest endure and then forget after the test. Then that small percentage become teachers of that subject and repeat the pattern. And those who successfully navigate that system to get good grades (even if they don’t really learn much—be honest about it) are gain access to the concentrated power and wealth systems.

It’s self-selecting and therefore self-perpetuating. It’s not until you experience learning in a different way that you can imaging learning and teaching in a different way. So, changing the system is very difficult, not because a select group wants it to remain that way, but simply because those in charge of the system (not just teachers, but administrators and even legislators) benefitted from that system, and therefore perpetuate the system. This is what systems do.

This can help us understand why changing an inequitable system is so difficult and in fact what we mean when we say there is systemic inequity in politics, economics, and education, systemic racism, sexism, elitism, ageism, and so on. It doesn’t mean that the individuals benefiting from such systems are bad and those harmed are good. It means it has evolved in the system which is “trying” to maintain that homeostatic state of stability—even if that state will eventually burn itself out. However, if individuals (or a society) recognizes that this is occurring in the system and then they either willfully ignore it or worse yet actively perpetuate it, then yes that is nefarious, malicious, even sociopathic. 

This horrific pandemic has been a massive perturbation that knocked the current systems out of balance. I had hoped that out of this horror would be a period of positive feedback pushing to a new balance point. I’m not sure this will occur. We are seeing the systems respond with intense negative feedback to maintain (or return to) the status quo of continued concentration of wealth, power, and sustained inequities. And why not? Those still in power benefit from that system. At some point however, a system can only operate so long, so far out of balance, before it crashes.

We as individuals can make changes in whatever systems we live and work in, but systemic change can not happen individually. While an individual teacher can do things differently to better educate all in the class, one politician can write legislation so that all will do better when all do better, thereby improving the lives of individuals they personally contact and effect, they can no more change the system they are in than a person installing solar panels on their home, stopping eating meat, and driving less can solve climate change. Systemic reform of systems stuck in a norm of inequity (benefiting those profiting from that inequity) requires systemic action.

An individual cannot do this. But maybe they can spark a movement by changing one other, and then another, and then another, until enough change to overcome the incredible inertia resisting that change. Until enough individuals who don’t benefit most from the status quo gain enough voice and power to participate in decision making, the system will not change. Fits and starts.

Maybe Life Isn’t a Zero-Sum Game

When did life become a zero-sum game in that for someone to win, another must lose? Maybe there are roots of this thinking in misapplied understanding of natural selection evolutionary theory in the form of social Darwinism. Deeper in the intricacies of natural selection are actually many elements of collaboration and collective action. Life is not always dog-eat-dog. In fact, it usually isn’t–though it might be dog-eat squirrel. But then of course it is also bacteria-eat-dead dog. The whole circle of life thing.

We hear much now about tribalism, meaning a form of hyper-tribalism that pits one group against another; but tribalism doesn’t have to be a zero-sum competition between groups. We do all want to belong and tribal cultures have a history of collective action and collaboration. And I would suspect that many histories of tribal cultures contains more examples of tribes trading and living alongside one another than warring with one another–though of course that did occur as well.

So here we are at a seemingly important inflection point in history; a moment of crisis. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and the loss of unity of purpose of our nation. The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and political fabric of America.

We’ve always believed in something called progress. We’ve always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own. We always believed that we were a part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom; and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose.

However, human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of this country a majority of our people believe that the future will be worse than the past. And what we see now is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests.

We must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation.

A significant, and often over-looked aspect of that faith in each other is truth telling about our past. It has largely been a zero-sum game and a significant segment of the population, have been marginalized, pushed aside, even eliminated by genocide and then erased by attempted elimination of their story, history, language–their culture as if it no longer exists or even ever existed.

I confess that much of the above five paragraphs actually comes from Jimmy Carter’s “Energy and the National Goals – A Crisis of Confidence” speech, otherwise known as those critical of the former president as the “malaise speech.” I purposefully didn’t cite those sections so you’d read them with an open mind. Google it and read it the whole speech. We were warned and we’ve done this to ourselves. This means we can also correct this direction we are heading.

I live in a town, work at a university, and attend a church that have all written land acknowledgment statements. This is crucial truth-telling and necessary reflection on our history and past. This is an essential component of renewing our relationships with each other. It requires the hard work of honest story telling of our past and the harder work of honest listening to one another. Hopefully these statements won’t become like mission statements–wordsmithed to get just right and then set on a shelf and repeated as rote-learned empty words, but nothing more. If they don’t lead to difficult conversations involving truth telling and truth listening, then they maybe haven’t served their purpose.

There’s many other examples of where we need to renew our relationships with one another so that we can collaborate moving forward for not only betterment of all, but frankly for survival that allows one another to thrive. The alternative is a dystopian future that is a return to some form of feudal society. We can do better.

Key to this is also renewing our relationship to the places where we live and the ecosystems in which we live. This connects to the concept of land acknowledgement statements as cultures that evolved over thousands of years in an ecosystem possess great amounts of ecological knowledge that evolved with their culture that still exists today (where it hasn’t been already eliminated and erased). Be careful here though. I’m not advocating that the dominant imported culture use and appropriate indigenous cultures like a resource to perpetuate our own survival. These cultures still exist and will and should continue to exist. Honestly, I’m still wrestling with how this works with honor and humility.

Maybe a addressing our crisis of confidence, and our retreat into dangerous forms of tribalism requires rediscovery of humility. And this might be found in better understanding of and renewing our relationship with where we live and the ecosystems within which we evolved among the other species with which we depend upon and interact. A commodification of the natural world and an ecological identity built on rules of a zero-sum game have been disastrous and we are seeing the result of that relationship. Yes, we can do better, because we must.

Rights, Obligations, and Responsibility

What is the relationship between individual rights and obligations/responsibilities? Let’s begin with obligations and responsibilities and then come back to individual rights. An obligation might be more applicable for when a person owes a debt and has to repay it. A responsibility is more often describing a scenario when someone is in charge of, or has authority over, something else.

Let’s consider where a person lives and “owns” their home for this example. I am responsible for the home I own. In a very pragmatic way, if I have a mortgage, I’m responsible caring for the home if for no other reason to protect the collateral for the bank note. It’s in my best interest so I don’t lose my investment in the end and can get my return (and more hopefully) in the end when I sell it. By virtue of the mortgage contract I’m obligated to pay the money back either over the term f the mortgage, when I sell it, or by forfeiting the collateral.

There is more to the obligation if we dig a little deeper. The land and the resources to build the house have much longer lifespans–infinite for all practical purposes. I and the bank can legally, but not practically in a bigger picture, own the land or the raw materials and energy used to build the house itself because they outlast all of us. Therefore, I have responsibility to care for the land and resources as I am merely borrowing them for the life of the house and human habitation on that geographical location. I am obligated to do this to “pay” for my use of it. I’m obliged to those I’ve displaced, and those that will come after me–human and nonhuman life. Our laws and society have given me the right to take on this responsibility and obligation.

Now, let’s expand this thinking out past our homes to all other resources we use and decisions we make. They all come from the commons ultimately; they all are pulled from the same land, air, water, etc., all the biotic and abiotic components from the biosphere in which we live.

The carbon burned to heat/cool our homes, drive our cars, encase the beverages we drink, etc., was the rocks, other life, the air at some point and will thus return. Same with the water and everything, literally everything, else. Dust to dust and ashes to ashes and all of that. Our rights can come and go with the whim of society but our responsibility, our obligations cannot. We’ve been gifted life and the resources to live it and by accepting them we have entered into a reciprocal relationship with the earth.

Many now are focused solely on our individual rights. We read the literal words of the U.S. Constitution and focus on this aspect of it, forgetting the obligations the grand bargain we’ve struck by virtue of living, breathing, eating, pooping, and dying. What if first we thought about obligations, and then from that paradigm claimed and granted one another individual rights. This might help shift us to a reciprocal relationship towards the earth and each other and away from a commodification of the earth’s resources. Then maybe life wouldn’t seem like a game where for our “success” the earth and those around us have to somehow lose something. Maybe life and our relationships with others wouldn’t have to be a zero-sum game.

Love Hate Hope & Fear

The pastors at the church my wife and I attend (Northfield United Methodist Church) have been preaching about the book of Ruth and idea of hesed. Hesed is a Hebrew word meaning steadfast love. But it’s more than just an emotion or feeling, but it is love in action on behalf of someone who is in need. This seems timely now doesn’t it? From acting on behalf of our literal neighbors to our fellow humans on the other side of the world, I’ve been thinking about this concept of hesed.

During this same week the song prompt for a songwriting group I’m in was “four-letter words.” Well you can imagine the first ideas that came to me. Meanwhile, with this concept of hesed still rattling around in my head, I was reading about the fall of Kabul and refugees desperately clinging to planes trying to take off. A recent veteran wrote in a comment to that NYT about his sadness and his recurring nightmares after having served and now seeing it all fall apart, questioning his sacrifice and sacrifice of “brother” lost to a roadside IED. Upon reading these accounts, and reflecting on these images, all that came to me was “maybe love and hate aren’t the only choices.” And so the “four-letter word” song began. So here it is.

And so you know it isn’t all doom and gloom, the previous song from the prompt “circumference” was the “Rotundary, Circumferency, Can’t See My Shoes Blues.”

Ta

Special Childhood Places

My ball cap shields my eyes a bit from the morning sun and frames my view from the kayak. The morning sun lifts the cool air left from the night. The still water reflects the shoreline made of white pine, balsam fir, sugar maple, basswood, and oak. This lake, where I’ve experienced the beginning of summer since I was a boy, is a special place though at times becomes rote and forgotten–until mornings such as these.

The sun climbs higher and I remove a layer of clothing. Summer is here. I stop paddling and drift across the surface. Bullfrog tadpoles twist and dive to safer depths leaving behind little swirls all around my invading kayak. It’s going to be a banner year for frogs I think. Later this summer, the rising and falling chorus of “rummmm” will fill the night. A larger swirl catches my eye. Probably a descending painted turtle, but maybe a northern pike or muskie reduced the bullfrog population by one.

Ahead, thick water lilies require more effort to push through. No gliding and coasting here. I stop to listen and look. A woodpecker continues to work away on a distant tree. The rapid pounding carries across the water. Across the bay, a beaver lodge with fresh cuttings with green leaves protrudes from the surface. Behind it on the shore, is a tall white pine upon which an old, but active eagle nest sits. I don’t see signs of either inhabitants this morning, but I know they are around and I like that.

This morning paddle is routine and nothing special, which only highlights my good fortune. There are so many in this world for whom this peaceful paddle, glide, sit, and listen, would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That saddens me. I’m sad for them and the lack of opportunity to connect to the natural world. And sad for all of us that so many do not get to connect to the natural world, and the ramification of that nature deficit on all of us and our collective connection to and therefore relationship with the natural world.

Then again, connection doesn’t have to come only from such grand spaces. It can happen in a suburban back yard observing squirrels and songbirds in a tree, a spiderweb in a tomato plant, or the coordinated efforts of ants carrying bounty across a sidewalk in a bustling city.

Then, I hear a distant lawnmower start and I start paddling again. Even in this space around the cabin, filled with wildlife and “natural” lands, human activity continues. An interruption or a part? I don’t’ know. I’ve probably thought more about this than I need to. Back on shore I see fresh deer tracks where a doe and fawn (or two) came to the lake during the night. The mower stops and I head to the cabin for some more coffee. This is how summer begins in my special childhood place. What is your special childhood place and how does it impact your emotional, intellectual, spiritual connection to the natural world?

P.S. My wife came in a few minutes after me from kayaking and asked “Did you see the sandhill cranes?” Oh well, it was still a good paddle.

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