May 12th, 2008

ashes and snow - wings

Good Morning!!

I am a person, blessed.  My Mother's Day was as beautiful as a Mother's Day could be.  It is delightful to see one's children and their beautiful spouse choices and receive perfect, thoughtfully chosen gifts, and celebrate with delicious food, talk, and hugs.  

I spend last night at Chris and Frieda's embraced in their meditation room and felt myself as pure love.  

Jane's birthday party was exquisite.  Poems bloomed everywhere, Jane's poems.  She is a magnificent poet and, in addition, there was incredible food and wonderful friends.  I was filled with champagne from morning until night.  No wonder I'm a bit bubbly.

I drove home this morning early enough to avoid the traffic.

At Jane's party, I met Jacob, a young man of 15, who has no hair because of chemotherapy.  He is pretty shaky and I spoke with his father.  He is the only person ever to have survived the kind of cancer he had, but now the treatment has done so much damage, he may not make it.  There is so much love in Jacob and his family, so much love brought forth by so much pain.  Jacob is with me this morning and I request prayers that Jacob receive whatever is best for him.  He is a true treasure of a human being.

I give thanks for life and love and the blessings I receive.

Book Cover

The price of stamps -

The price of stamps goes up today to 42 cents.  I know my post office will have no 1 cent stamps, which means two stamps for awhile, which is probably why the post office doesn't take the advice of my mailman which is just to jump it up to 50 cents and leave it there for awhile.  The price of gas means increased mail delivery costs.  Most of us probably don't mail much anymore.  We pay our bills online, and write very few letters.  A 9 cent jump would probably not break any of us, and it would mean a break from remembering to account for the increasing 1 cent snail-like rise.

Enjoy the 12th of May!
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within -

"There's no inner landscape in the invisible world of our souls and hearts but is full of the most melodious and nourishing and wild freedom. And everyone should go there, to the wild place, where there are no cages, where there are no tight rooms without windows and without doors, everyone should go to the free clearance places in their own hearts."

  ~ John O'Donohue




ashes and snow - wings

Each of us, a piece -

In You Were Made For This, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, writes:

    "any small, calm thing one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.  Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.  As we each stand up and show our souls, soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.  Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.  If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do."

May it be so!!

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Ethics -

Leave it to the Wall Street Journal to do a study on whether ethics pay.  It seems they do, but you don't want to go too far with it.  No reason to go overboard after all.    The conclusion is this.  "The lessons are clear.  Companies should segment their market and make a particular effort to reach out to buyers with high ethical standards, because these are the consumers who can deliver the biggest potential profits on ethically produced goods.

Here are some statistics.

Reward and Punishment

What consumers were willing to pay for a pound of coffee based on what they were told about the company's production standards.

    Ethical Standards - $9.71
    Unethical Standards - $5.90
    Control (no information) - $8.31

The source is Remi Trudel and Julie Cotte

A Matter of Degree

How much consumers were willing to pay for all-cotton T-shirts based on what they were told about the proportion of ethical production.

100% organic cotton - $21.21
50% organic cotton - $20.44
25% organic cotton - $20.72
Unethical behavior - $17.33
Control - (no information) - $20.04

Attitude Adjustment

Consumers with high ethical expectations of companies doled out bigger rewards and punishments than consumers with low expectations.  What each group was willing to pay for a pound of coffee based on production standards.

Consumers with high expectations:
    Ethical standards - $11.59
    Unethical standards - $6.92

Consumers with low expectations:
    Ethical standards - $9.90
    Unethical standards - $8.44

The article also points out that "if 100% ethical becomes expected among consumers, anything less will be punished."   Hmmm!    Ethics cost more but perhaps we can get by with less.  We'll see what the market demands. 

gentle waterfall

Thomas Merton -

The way to find the real "world" is not merely to measure and observe what is outside us, but to discover our own inner ground. For that is where the world is, first of all: in my deepest self. But there I find the world to be quite different from the "obligatory answers." This "ground," this "world" where I am mysteriously present at once to my own self and to the freedoms of all other men, is not a visible, objective and determined structure with fixed laws and demands. It is a living and self-creating mystery of which I am myself a part, to which I am myself my own unique door. When I find the world in my own ground, it is impossible for me to be alienated by it. It is precisely the obligatory answers which insist on showing the world as totally other than me and my neighbors, which alienate me from myself and from my neighbors. Hence I see no reason for our compulsion to manufacture ever newer and shinier sets of obligatory answers.

Thomas Merton. Contemplation in A World of Action (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1973: 170

blue jellyfish

Jane Hirshfield

Articulation: An Assay

A good argument, etymology instructs,
is many-jointed.
By this measure,
the most expressive of beings must be the giraffe.

Yet the speaking tongue is supple,
untroubled by bone.

What would it be
to take up no position,
to lie on this earth at rest, relieved of proof or change?

Scent of thyme or grass
amid the scent of many herbs and grasses.

Grief unresisted as granite darkened by rain.

Continuous praises most glad, placed against nothing.

But thought is hinge and swerve, is winch,
is folding.

we call the mountain in the lake,
whose existence resides in neither stone nor water.

    - Jane Hirshfield

tennessee valley

where we live -

The photo is of Tennessee Valley, a beach near where I live.  

Environmental Amnesia

While questioning what we buy, we've forgotten where we live

by Sandra Steingraber

Published in the May/June 2008 issue of Orion magazine

I WOULD LIKE TO REPORT THAT IT takes two hours to jog around the periphery of the Mall of America, the nation’s largest indoor shopping center in Bloomington, Minnesota. The two hours includes circumnavigating the mall’s 520 stores along with its 20,000 parking spaces, which are mostly contained within orbital rings of monumentally sized parking garages.

I began this run early in the morning and, during my circuit, saw one other human being: a man with a cigarette standing against the largest expanse of brick wall I had ever seen. Near him was a door with no doorknob. From the depths of the parking garages, a few car alarms pulsed, some near, some far, like foghorns. The wind that pours through the loading docks of the Mall of America is fearsome. It slowed my progress considerably.

When I returned to my room in the Ramada Inn—which required crossing fourteen lanes of traffic—it was almost time for my keynote address at the twenty-first annual North American Hazardous Materials Management Conference. I don’t believe its organizers intended to make an ironic statement with their choice of venue. They seemed a sincere, overworked lot. They probably figured that the continent’s hazardous-materials managers might appreciate the chance to get an early start on holiday shopping.

Ten years ago, I published a book called Living Downstream that was about, among other things, hazardous materials. Ever since, I’ve received invitations to speak about the topic. Wherever I go, I do two things. One, I look up the Toxics Release Inventory for my host-community’s zip code. I study the location of the dumps, the routine chemical emissions, the accident reports, the off-site transfers, the permitted releases. And then, once I get there, I run.

Both rituals are ways of paying attention. When I run, I can feel the slope of the land under my feet and figure out how water flows here. I notice the decrepit apple tree that means this subdivision was once an orchard. I notice the aluminum smelter’s proximity to the floodplain. Sometimes the names of streets—Creamery Road—provide clues. Sometimes a windbreak of trees does. Even when I’m completely confounded—I cannot tell you how groundwater flows beneath the Mall of America—I discover something amazing. Once, in Livonia, Michigan, while running beside glass office complexes with glabrous names like Techtron and VisTaTech, I veered off toward a small scrim of woods. Within it, three derelict buildings flanked a derelict tennis court, its green surface shattered by sprouting trees. One of the buildings was entirely filled with chairs. The other was entirely filled with bicycles. Birds flew in and out of slumping holes in the roofs.

DURING THESE TEN YEARS of running and speaking, I’ve noticed two opposing trends. The first is that people increasingly believe that their health is affected by hazardous materials in the environment. And they know a lot more about hazardous materials. Pesticides in strawberries. Lead in lipstick. Bisphenol A in water bottles. But there is decreasing knowledge about the actual environment itself. Public awareness is specific to chemicals in consumer products—which are produced elsewhere (increasingly China) and brought into our homes. The location of those homes on former orchards (where arsenical pesticides were used) or near old toxic-dump sites (where drums of solvents were buried)—these matters seem blurrier and blurrier to the folks in my audiences. In fact, I’ve had to start explaining the word “Superfund,” as it doesn’t seem to ring any real bells for a lot of people—including people in communities where Superfund sites are present. (Superfund sites are the nation’s worst toxic-waste sites. There are 1,305 of them, and they are named for the “super” fund of money put together by Congress in 1980 to clean them up, a trust that went bankrupt five years ago.)

I was recently invited to Rockford, Illinois, to speak about toxic chemicals. That seemed appropriate because Rockford is the site of a longstanding Superfund site. Solvents used by former businesses had drizzled into drinking water wells. Rockford is famous within toxicology circles because of the bladder-cancer cluster that was discovered here and because it was here where researchers figured out, in the 1980s, that the level of solvents in human blood is predicted not by the amount of water drunk from the tap but by the length of “shower run times.” In other words, inhalation is a bigger route of exposure to solvent-contaminated drinking water than drinking it, and showering provides the biggest dose. And yet only two people in my college audience knew about these studies—or even knew that Rockford had a Superfund site. Even the local emergency-room physician hadn’t heard the news.

WHAT’S INDUCING THIS EPIDEMIC of environmental amnesia? Maybe one contributor is the long silence of the federal government on environmental catastrophes of all kinds. In the breach, activist groups have tried to protect the public. In need of positive messages and deliverable results, they focus on individual solutions. Don’t microwave in plastic. Buy organic. There is no place in that discussion for the barrels of waste buried atop the aquifer. The very mention of them fills a room with paralyzing despair.

Or maybe we’re now spending so much more time with consumer objects than with our natural environments that we have forgotten how to think about them. Sport water bottles are real to us—polycarbonate? or stainless steel?—but creekbeds are fuzzy concepts.

Or maybe our unremembering is a wall against grief. My own elementary school—along with the field, playground, and wooded path to the crosswalk—was razed years ago to make way for discount shopping. I have steadfastly refused to frequent that part of town. But when my son needed a haircut for my father’s funeral, I found myself driving my old walking route to school, in search of a salon open on a Monday. It was supposed to be in here somewhere. While navigating the service roads, I tried hard to forget. But while my son was being pumped up in his pneumatic chair, I saw reflected in the mirror a retaining wall at the edge of the parking lot. I know that pattern of stones. I looked at them every day during math. I was standing in my fifth grade classroom. And the military recruiting center next door would have been the lunchroom. And that drive-through over there was the field where, every recess, my sister and Danelle and I ran, circling and whinnying like wild, wild horses.