Touch Nature [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” ― John Muir

Since we’ve exhausted every mountain climbing documentary ever made, we now end our days walking an epic trail. We’ve done some serious time on the Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, The Continental Divide Trail and, lately, our imaginary feet have, through the magic of hiker movies, walked every inch of the John Muir Trail.

In addition to our actual walks everyday, our end of evening film walks serve as our escape. It’s how we cope. Because my pals routinely tell me that they, like us, are exhausted or anxious or chronically unfocused, I’ve started the practice of asking them how they mentally get away amid the age of pandemic, social unrest, natural disaster, and pathological lie. My question is always met with a look (or sound) of surprise. Some read. Some play music. Some exercise. Some unplug from news and technology. All seek some time out-of-doors.

Mental get-a-way.

Hands in the dirt, feet on the path. The changing sky, getting caught in the rain or facing the sun, the smell of falling leaves or pine, those damn mosquitoes, cicada chorus, a hawk visitation…perspective givers, all.

Much of the madness chasing us through our days is nothing more than the horror story we unleash in our minds. Human beings are wildly creative and for proof look no further than the fear tales daily yammering through your thought. Amidst the presence of an actual pandemic, the imagination can let loose a full gallery of monsters.

We have legitimate monsters running rampant in our world. We also have imaginary monsters running roughshod in our brains. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. Fortunately, there is a test that helps differentiate between them: the legitimate monsters, as a people (as human beings) we will always turn toward and face. The pandemic. Climate change. Injustice. The imaginary monsters we either run from or work hard to magnify. Ignore or amplify. Why is it that human beings argue so ardently for their fears?

The folks that deny the legitimate monsters have confused the legitimate monsters with the illusory. They believe the yuck that runs around in their minds is real. In order to validate the inner yuck requires an all out suppression of the actual threats like viruses, a warming globe, systemic racism. Conversely, dealing with the real challenges leaves no space for fantasy monsters like deep states and wild-hairy-democrats-drinking blood in under ground tunnels. That’s my theory.

A walk in the woods famously clears the mind of made-up-monsters. All of our devices and politics and power games seem silly when standing among the redwoods or on a beach with infinity breaking like waves and rushing the sand to meet your toes. There’s nothing like The Milky Way to make all those inner monsters seem trivial.

There’s nothing like cresting a mountain to affirm that we are – if nothing else – united in our smallness and passing lifetimes. It is only in our minds that we are possibly bigger than the mountain or more important than the seas.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE TRAIL

See The Whole [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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The joke from my master’s program was that you couldn’t graduate until you could explain in a sentence what the degree meant. Whole Systems Design with an emphasis on Cultural Mythology and Transformational Art. I designed an individual track so I named the emphasis myself. Just don’t ask me what it means. I’ll kill the party going on and on and on. You’ll never get to the snack table. Really. Don’t ask.

Whole systems is the study of how everything – everything – is interrelated. It is only a trick of our brains and the limitations of language that anything can be compartmentalized and understood as separate. Everything interacts as a single system. Roger used to say, “When people hurt their toe they say that it is only their toe that is injured. NO! It’s their whole body that is injured.” Walking funny with a broken toe always gets you in the back and then becomes a pain in the neck. And then you become a whiny pain in the neck and create headaches for everyone in the family. The family complains to their friends and the broken toe spreads discord throughout the land.

Roger’s statement is a whole system’s statement. It highlights the illusion language places on our interrelated world. Language necessarily reduces. It provides the funny fantasy that we are separate, individuals, having little or no impact on the world with our individual actions. If you want an example of the fantasy in full force you need look no further than doubters of humanity’s impact on climate.  All you need do is breathe and you are interacting with the environment. 7.6 billion people driving 1.4 billion cars, not to mention the over 100,000 planes in the air each day, the deforestation of the Amazon…and it is gob-smacking that we require science to state what should be obvious with every breath we take.

I found that the real challenge of defining whole systems design to people at dinner parties was not the reality of inter-relatedness. The notion evokes the inner Mother Teresa in everyone at the table. We all matter and can have an impact. No, the real challenge was that the concept places us – humans – within the system and not sitting atop the creation pyramid. It makes us participants and not landlords. It makes us responsible to the system.  We matter. We have impact.

There is no greater teacher of interrelation than this pandemic. There can be no denying that our actions matter, we are intimately connected, that the smallest choice impacts the whole. Stay at home. Wear a mask. All you need do is breathe and you are interacting with the rest of the world. Literally. Everyday is a master class in interconnection. The polluted air is clearing, the animals are reveling in our quarantine.

And, we’re experiencing the magic language-compartmentalization-game in full force: words like “economy” are being placed against words like “health” as if we need to choose between one and the other. Who lives. Who dies. We’re hearing a ridiculous (and dangerous) framing of reality: the cure can’t be worse than the disease. There is no separation. The system is whole, dynamic and supports the actions and choices of all members in the system.

The toe is pandemic-broken. The whole body is hurting.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TO BEE

 

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knowing and waiting, mixed media, 48 x 48IN

Check Your Reality [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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We parked the truck in the Kemper Center lot, far enough from the shore not to be hit by the flying debris, the chunks of seawall and pavement being hurtled from the impact of the waves. Kerri has lived here for over 30 years, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she repeated as a towering wave engulfed the gazebo, took down a piece of the wall of the art center, a hunk of coastline disappeared.

Later, after the storm, we went back. Trees were down, encased in ice. Huge sections of the walking path were shattered and tossed into the flooded mess of the parking lot behind the center. Walking was treacherous. Like the trees, the ground, the rocks, the destruction was coated in a thick layer of ice. It was beautiful and inconceivable.

Words mask all manner of reality. We have a word, nature, that can’t even begin to touch the magnitude, the power of where it points. Mother Nature. I have been thrown out of bed in an earthquake that brought down freeways like they were so much satin ribbon. Go to Pompeii or Herculeneum, visit Mt. Saint Helens, watch with disbelief any of the news  footage of any one of the tsunamis that have wiped communities off the map. Wrap your mind around it, if you can.

We are cavalier in our conversations about global warming. We impact, we do not command. We reduce it to questions of business, of protecting the beef industry. Which economy will suffer most? We make up these strangely insignificant divisions. We imagine that we are the center, holding all the controls. We imagine that it is all about us. So small, a chihuahua yipping at a forest fire.

Sitting in the truck, feeling the boom of the waves in my chest as they tore off chunks of the shore, I felt tiny. I remembered a snippet of film I saw about a man who wore a superhero suit and stood in the face of an oncoming storm. He flexed and stomped and raged for the camera. And then the storm hit. The best he could do was run for his life.

 

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read Kerri’s blog post about THE STORM

 

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ice ©️ 2020 kerri sherwood

for prints of “ice” go here

 

Sit In The Megaphone [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Rounding the bend on the green trail at Bristol woods, we sometimes stop and climb into the megaphone. The first time we saw the nature megaphone, we had no idea what it was. It looked like a giant wooden dunce cap. It was big enough to crawl into so we did. Sitting in the dunce cap, we speculated about what it could be (other than a shaming-hat for a giant). Later, the naturalist confirmed our speculation: a large funnel-shaped device for amplifying and directing nature’s voice.

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Amplifying nature’s voice. Last week, on my birthday, we walked the snowy trail and climbed into the megaphone for a rest and some snacks. We laughed a lot and made a few very silly Snapchat messages. We also sat quietly and listened.

We live in a time, it seems to me, that nature is talking loud and clear. This morning we read in the news that an Australian mammal, the Bramble Cay Melomys, is the first species to be declared extinct due to climate change. “Ocean inundation from rising sea levels…which led to dramatic habitat loss.”

Dramatic habitat loss. An antiseptic phrase. Many species, from polar bears, to frogs, to coral reefs (yes, a brilliant life form) are stepping toward the same abyss and will be eulogized, by us, using the same scrupulously clean phrase. Scruple is another good word: a twinge of conscience. ‘Dramatic habitat loss’ is a phrase remarkably clean of scruple.

I can’t help it. I listen to words and usage. I ponder intention, the story beneath the story. Words like ‘tame’ and ‘wild’ are human-made distinctions. So are concepts like ‘property lines’ and ‘natural resources’ and ‘land management.’ Language meant to make it seem that we are somehow removed from or in control of the forces of nature. ‘Hubris’ – another surgical word – masks a nasty bit of delusion: the notion that we are somehow above it all.

After reading the news this morning Kerri said, “They won’t really notice the enormity of the loss until it is people.” With her fingers, she put the word “they” in quotation marks. They. Us. We. And, I wondered silently, will we, even then? Or, will we, as we are now doing, turn it against each other?

Swimming in data AND experience (extinction and climate change are, after all, experiences), we are still vehement in our denial and roaring debate. Sitting  in nature’s megaphone I am almost certain that we story-telling-animals are more-than-capable of arguing ourselves into extinction over the degree of ‘human causation’ in the ‘dramatic loss of habitation.’ ‘Human impact on the environment’ – another very sterile phrase, is, after all, not a new phenomena.  The current iteration does, however, speak volumes about how capable we are of hearing and incapable we are of listening.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE NATURE MEGAPHONE

 

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Ask A Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“The world is as full of opinions as it is of people. And you know what an opinion is. You say this, and somebody else says that. Each one has an opinion, but opinion is not truth; therefore do not listen to mere opinion, it does not matter whose it is, but to find out for yourself what is true. Opinion can be changed overnight, but the truth cannot be changed.” ~ Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

She said with easy confidence and utter conviction, “The earth is warming because it’s spinning on its axle.” I was so stunned that I had to close my eyes and count to ten.  This thought-tree has no roots. It contains no thought. It’s lost in a mix-master of metaphor. It is a common marker of our times, a wildly confused opinion mistaking itself for a fact.

Propaganda (noun): information, especially biased or misleading in nature, used to promote a particular political cause or point of view.

I am wary of using the word ‘ignorant’ because I believe it applies to all of us. Ignorant (adjective): lacking knowledge or awareness in general. I’m not wary of using the word ‘lazy.’ Lazy (adjective): unwilling to work or use energy. Belief without investigation is lazy. And, it is dangerous.

“Political ideology can corrupt the mind, and science.” E.O. Wilson

Denial, as Roger once taught me, is one of the most potent forces at play in the human drama. David Neiwert tells the story of German villagers, at the end of the second world war, stunned to learn that the facility next to their village spewing ash was an extermination camp. Even though, every day, they watched trainloads of people enter the camp, and every day, saw empty train cars leaving the camp. They did not question. Every morning the villagers swept thick ash from their sills and walkways; they claimed that they had no idea. They were told it was a work camp. They believed what they wanted to believe – what they needed to believe. They did not question what they were told.

We are not the first human cohort to exhaust our resources or poison our environment. We are the first to attempt it on a global scale. We did not invent propaganda machines nor are we the originators of intellectual laziness. We simply have bigger, louder machines and more potent tools to toss around our unquestioned opinions. In the meantime, the earth, I’m sure, will continue to spin on its “axle”…er…axis. With or without us and our dedicated opinions.

 

[for grins and a good place to begin asking your questions, visit the NOAA Global Monitoring Division. Take the time to watch the CO2 movie – all of it. Write a few questions for yourself. Then, for grins, Google human population growth and sustainability. Draw no conclusions. Spout no opinions for a spell. Simply ask questions, check sources. Read some more. Learn to discern between fact and opinion…and your opinions about facts].

 

read Kerri’s blog post on NO SIDES IN CLIMATE

 

 

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