Dear Folks, What, still ice-bound? Yes, still ice-bound.
It was zero last night. It’s expected to go up to 20 today. There is no snow, and the ground is still hard as steel. The daffodil and tulip bulbs have dared to push up only the tiniest nubbins of sprouts above the ground. There’s not a chance yet of digging, or even pick-axing, our over-wintered parsnips. No maple sap is flowing. It has been too cold and stormy to do the pruning and dormant-oil spraying in the orchard, so, compared to last year, I’m weeks behind.
We’re much more cheerful than we were a month ago, though, as the good sunlight returns, and the seedlings grow in the bedroom windows, and new bird songs are heard, and the sheep round out. Lambing should start next weekend. The geese are laying. The trees are budding. We expect that when this current Canadian high breaks (it’s been sitting over us for a week, with clear skies and heartbreakingly low temperatures), spring will gush forth in a burst.
Sylvia went out riding on Beau yesterday for the first time this year. She has put together a one-woman show of her drawings and paintings, which is currently on display at the Windsor House arts & crafts center in Windsor VT. It looks great! Don is still unemployed from his regular job, but he’s keeping busy with inside house-painting for friends. In fact he has such a long list (I’m on it too) that we’re afraid he won’t get to the end of it before the outside painting season begins again.
John’s inspection business has sprung into great activity. He’s out most of the day poking around houses for prospective buyers, and he spends evenings writing up reports. Brenna is just back from 10 days in Italy with members of her high-school class. She saw great art all day, boogied in discos all night, and has been doing a lot of sleeping since she got home. America looks a little different to her now, after seeing another way of doing things. I wish every 15-year old could be whisked out of his or her home culture for awhile.
Melinda has gone back to Hungary. A couple of nice job possibilities came up at the very last minute, but I think at that point she had turned her mind to going home. The problems of extending her visa and getting a work permit were just too complex, she had a prepaid ticket home, and she figured it would make more sense to re-enter the U.S. with the proper permissions for her expanded intentions. She had planned to be with us just for three months to improve her English, and she certainly accomplished that. She finally decided to be satisfied with the goal she set out for, instead of escalating it and feeling unsatisfied — a good lesson for us all. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, though, to see her here again.
I’m grading final papers for the environmental journalism class. I’m tickled with them. It’s a beautiful experience to see a student’s true writing ability and true passions slowly creep out from under the accumulated detritus of years of stilted school writing. It seems a miracle to me every time I see it happen. I do nothing to make it happen, except give it permission.
I always feel at a loss conducting the class; there’s nothing to talk about, once I’ve gone through dangling participles and split infinitives and excessive adverbs. Class sessions seem unorganized and purposeless — and they are, because the real work is going on when the students are out following a story or sitting and wrestling with the English language. They have been filling up campus publications with environmental pieces all term. One student has already been published for pay, and the writing of the others is so good that I expect most of them to break into the commercial media within the next few months.
I am just finishing a wonderful experiment, inspired by my friend Joan in Switzerland, who goes on an extended fast every Christmas. She speaks so glowingly of the experience, and emerges so alert and alive, that I have always wanted to try it. I especially felt the need at the end of this crummy winter, after the frenzy of producing Beyond the Limits, and before the frenzy of taking the book out into the world. So last week my friend Priscilla and I, coached long-distance over e-mail by Joan, fasted. I had done day-long hunger-solidarity fasts before, but never more than that. Now I know I’ll do long fasts again.
For one day we geared our food down, for five days we fasted (one cup of vegetable broth at noon, one cup of fruit juice in the evening, herb tea all day), and for three days we geared very slowly back up again. The first morning after fasting we had a whole apple for breakfast — it seemed so much I could hardly finish it.
During the fasting days Priscilla came to stay here at the farm, and we did our best to be quiet, doing meditation and yoga, sitting by the woodstove, reading, grading papers, going for walks. Sometimes we felt a little dizzy or faint or tired. Other times I was so full of energy I was dancing around. We weren’t at all hungry. I think the hardest part for me was missing the caffeine from my normal 2-3 cups of tea a day. Everything seemed to slow down inside me, which was nice, since I usually zoom around much too fast.
I discovered that I don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to go off to a spa or meditation center somewhere; I already live in one. We made up wonderful organic juices and vegetable broths, we had the world’s best supply of herb teas, we had forests and fields to walk in, books to read, music on CD, opera on tape, and fuzzy animals to cuddle. Heather serves as the resident Zen master — dealing with a 4-year old requires all the living-in-the-moment awareness, honesty, purity of thought, spontaneity, and patience that any human being can be expected to master.
The only problem I encountered during the week was one I can improve on next time — too much of my normal life was still with me. I had to write two columns, grade a thesis, and go to Dartmouth occasionally for meetings and such. It was physically OK to do that, but everything took longer, especially the columns (my mind was noticeably fuzzier than usual). The experience would have been even more cleansing if there had been no “shoulds” at all. Next time I’ll make it a more thorough retreat.
Even the partial retreat was revealing, though. I learned how my body operates when it’s thrown on its own resources. It was a great experience in turning inward and discovering not only physical, but emotional and spiritual powers inside myself. It made me feel strong, centered, quiet, and indomitable.
I learned how amazingly, shockingly wonderful simple potato broth or pear juice can taste, sipped slowly and with complete concentration. I saw how unconsciously I normally throw food down my gullet, hardly tasting it at all. Especially in these days immediately after fasting, simple foods are all I want. They have come to be the great gift, the sacrament that they really are.
I re-experienced what I had first learned when I was treated for cancer two years ago, how precious everything is, from the delicate green seedlings in the window to the smile of a friend. Slowing down again, and paying attention again, drinking in all the sensual information I so often rush past, I discovered life again, and once again marveled at its reckless abundance. There is so much! There are so many beauties and pleasures near at hand, simple, ordinary, but much, much more than anyone needs! And yet, in our everyday frenzies, we feel so needy. All we have to do, to fill up those yawning caverns of inner emptiness, is slow down and take in what’s all around us. We don’t need to bulldoze forth, trashing the world in a fruitless search for something we already have.
Well, that realization was the perfect preparation for whatever is now about to happen with Beyond the Limits. I’m in the right space to talk about “easing down, scaling back, simplifying, healing” without a shred of regret or a hint of grim sacrifice. I know that such a path is not only an ecological and economic necessity, it’s a spiritual, communal, human blessing.
The book is out. Shipments to the stores began last week — $19.95 hardbound — please give it to the important people in your life and talk about it wherever and however you can. The official publication date is April 13. Reviews and media stuff should begin to happen about that time. We have already had three great reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly (important publishing trade journals) and from Michael Marien’s Future Survey. I have been on the phone this week to Business Week, Newsweek, and McNeil-Lehrer, though I don’t know what they will make of our conversations. Especially this week I have the sense that the nervous systems of people in the media operate at a different pace, about 10 times faster than mine, and that therefore we don’t quite communicate.
I already made one public appearance this month, in New York, at a gathering of population organizations that are lobbying the UNCED preparations at United Nations headquarters.
I assume you all know about UNCED, the UN Conference on Environment and Development, to be held in Rio in June. This month in New York are the final negotiating sessions for what could turn out to be important agreements on global warming, ocean resources, desertification, biodiversity, and so forth. Government delegations are doing the negotiating, and it’s the messy, divisive process you might expect, with the U.S. government being particularly stubborn and selfish, especially on global warming.
Across the street from the U.N. is a 12-story building, the Church Center for the United Nations, which is jammed with nonprofit organizations. I took the Amtrak overnight train and arrived at the Church Center long before my own meeting started. I popped into offices on various floors, picking up literature and talking to people. The place was buzzing. Up on the 12th floor I ran into three nice young folks whose job is to monitor all the negotiations and put out a daily newspaper, the “Earth Summit Bulletin,” that tells delegates and nonprofits what is happening. Other lobbyists — from the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, NRDC, the World Council of Churches, etc., and many equivalents from all nations — also attend the negotiating sessions and report back the news for the paper.
THINGS TO LOOK FOR TODAY AT PREPCOM
FINANCIAL RESOURCES: An informal-informal session on financial resources and mechanisms will meet in Conference Room 6 this morning. Vice-Chair John Bell has been holding private consultations with the chairs of the regional groups, attempting to determine the content and form of the text to be tabled today. If Bell is not successful in crafting and selling a compromise document, look for draft texts to emanate from various countries and a repeat of the procedural morass that mired the Earth Charter proceedings last week.
OCEANS: There is a possibility that New Zealand will make a new proposal concerning whales and small cetaceans. Other issues that must be resolved include high seas fisheries and Antarctica.
EARTH CHARTER: Watch for northern countries to raise their concerns about the “over-emphasis” of development issues. Watch for signs of the U.S. attempting to press for the Earth Charter to be treated as a preamble to Agenda 21 rather than as a separate instrument.
IN THE CORRIDORS: It is believe that the United States is planning to propose the elimination of the entire Consumption chapter at Thursday’s Plenary on the poverty cluster. Apparently this decision was discussed at the highest political levels in Washington.
Well, it was exciting to be there. I would have liked to stay all month and cover it as a journalist.
The NGOs dealing with population, including everything from Planned Parenthood to African midwives, are trying to get population recognized in the negotiations as a factor in both the environmental deterioration and poverty. You would think that should be obvious, but population is a very delicate topic in the United Nations. The population NGOs are making slow, slow progress. I listened to their fascinating discussions all morning, and then I spoke to them after lunch.
By that time I was so impressed with them, so in love with them and what they were doing, their courage and their passion, that, after summarizing Beyond the Limits, I found the courage to read the concluding part of the book, where we talk, too briefly and a bit shyly, about love. Love proved a magic word in that group. It was as if they had wanted to be talking about that all along. We moved each other, those people and I.
My next appointment that day was with Sharon Begley, the science editor of Newsweek, whom I had met at the Pew Scholars gathering last fall. Newsweek, it turns out, is right across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and I had about 15 minutes to spare, so I went in and meditated there for awhile — powerful place to meditate! Then Sharon and I had an interesting hour’s conversation. Who will WIN, who will LOSE, in this sustainable world you’re advocating? she says her editors ask. Everyone will win, I said, though some will have to make bigger changes than others. What are all your CRITICS going to say this time? We’ll see, I said. It’s a different world than it was 20 years ago, and I would hope we’ve all learned something. She’s going to try for a major article, though she may not get it past her editors.
Well, that day was fun. I decided that the presentations coming up (Aspen, Boston, Washington, St. Louis, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, about one a week, starting next weekend) are ALL going to be fun. I’m ready. I’m determined that our message will get out, and that it will get out straight. I know this whole venture has come from a Higher Power, not from me, and that all I have to do is quiet down enough to listen, to get my own ego out of the way, and to tell the truth as best I can.
Pray for me this month. Pray for us all. Pray that the good and decent people everywhere, the ones who are not afraid to love, to work, to care for the collective good, to see far into the future, will raise their voices and finally be heard.