A Root Cause of Discontent

October 16, 2014

Being a child of the 1950s and a product of our public school system, I grew up with a particular cultural mindset and acceptance of democratic ideals. I didn’t realize how much these were ideals and not realities until September 2011 when the Occupy Movement was born. I suppose that because I did come of age at the tail end of the 1960s and the Vietnam War it was easy for me to embrace an activist point of view. Because the Occupy Movement had my personal attention, I gave contemplation to the points of fact that they were informing anyone who would listen about. I came to realize that I have been asleep at the wheel and putting my faith and trust in a democratically elected government to represent my well-being. How naive I was !!

Occupy-photo-we-fell-asleep

The topic for Blog Action Day this year is Inequality. One of the harsh realities I was forced to recognize was how little equality exists even in the United States of America which I still do believe is a fortunate country to be born into but I am not often proud of all this country stands for or does out in the world as a whole.

All 535 members of Congress have a median estimated net worth of about $966,000 according to data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics. The most recent numbers available from the U.S. Census show that the median net worth of the typical American household is $66,740. One cannot help but question whether our legislators can actually understand the financial pain most of the people in the United States (and in truth everywhere on this planet) face and a question of whether the affluent can effectively represent the common citizen despite the fact that they themselves are so very well off should be asked of one’s self before they enter the voting booth to make a choice. If our legislators do not actually represent the interests of the common citizen, who do they actually represent ? If one is able to recognize the inequalities existing in our system of government honestly then the likely answer to that question is not hard to realize. Our legislators understand best and relate the best to those who are most like them and not surprisingly those interest groups that fund their re-election campaigns.

Rich taking from Poor

Rich taking from Poor

For almost a decade now I have been studying the very ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching along with Science of Mind and other spiritualized perspectives. Just yesterday, I was contemplating Verse 53 as expressed by Stephen Mitchell in his book “tao te ching – A New English Version” -

The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn -
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

The problem for me is that it becomes very hard to simply accept the continuous decline in my family’s standard of living under the vise of the enduring economic contractions and hardships when I know that there is a rather large contingent of wealthy persons making out like bandits and with way more financial resources than they can personally utilize or even effectively give for the well-being of all people. They may certainly give some but I would suspect it is but a tiny percentage of all they hold. How many cars, houses, even shoes and designer clothes, does one person or one family actually need ? Not that I begrudge any person for receiving a fair compensation in return for their efforts to share their gifts in life. And I certainly appreciate how it feels not to have to worry about how much money one has in the bank when some need requires spending it. I’ve been there and it is a good place to be. I would be happy to feel such ease and lack of concern again. I wonder if it is simply one of those “good ole days” memories never to be again . . .

Howard Beale in Network

Howard Beale in Network

So, it is safe to assume and I will confirm here in this blog that I am NOT content. And it is the insult and the wrongness of this huge and growing inequality along with the collapse of the middle class that we have personally experienced that troubles me into a discontent. Even that old American Dream that if one works hard and plays by the rules they will prosper seems lost in the current economic environment. To be entirely honest I could quite easily say what Howard Beale said in the 1976 movie “Network” – “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore !” Yet it remains to be seen if there truly is anything that I can personally do about the realities that currently are the state of existence for the majority of any countries citizens. What I do know is that having woken up to the reality, it isn’t possible to forget the truth and that sad realization in me, that I do not live in the country that I grew up believing that I lived within. This sadness and a sense of despair may never leave me. Yet I do hope that somehow our society could become more equally democratic again. Simply having the right to vote, which I do honor and exercise nevertheless, doesn’t cut it.

I am NOT content and the root cause of my discontent is this truth of EXTREME financial Inequality.

Rockpile Mountain Wilderness

May 31, 2014

14-05-28 With Sons

It is my tradition to hike somewhere unfamiliar for my birthday, which occurs around Memorial Day each year. This year being my 60th, we came up with something “special”, an idea to hike in Rockpile Mountain Wilderness, which is actually in Madison County, where we live. Even though I have been here 25 years and my husband 40 years, we had never gone there. In trying to find some information about the place, we found that there is very little, by way of written reviews or photographs to prepare for such an experience. We were fortunate to discover a book copyrighted in 1999, “Unspoiled Beauty – A Personal Guide to Missouri Wilderness” by Charles J Farmer. Therefore, we assume he must have visited the area sometime in the 1990s.

Mr Farmer’s book was VERY helpful to our experience; and at the same time, we did not entirely have the same responses to the area that he did. Therefore, I would like to add our experience of the place, for anyone who might be inclined to visit the area in the future. It is definitely worth however much time you might have to give your own explorations.

We found Mr Farmer’s directions helpful but not completely accurate. One encounters Madison County Road C just off of Highway 67, south of the gas station stop known as Cherokee Pass at A Highway (which leads to Marquand). Mr Farmer had stated it was 10 miles to County Road 406 but we encountered that road at approximately 3-4 miles. Thankfully, we have GPS and could determine that there was not another entry for County Road 406 further down Highway C. Next, I would like to point out that the marker for Forest Road 2124 is simply a brown wooden post, about the height of what one would use for a rural mailbox, with numbers applied like one would put at their home to identify it’s location. Fortunately, at least it is clearly marked.

There is a nice viewpoint on County Road 406, where my husband did remember an acquaintance taking him 40 years earlier, but being new in the area, he didn’t truly know where he actually was at the time but as we came upon it, he said “I’ve been here before !!”, though he had not been to the Rockpile Mountain Wilderness before. There is a large outcropping of glade-like rock at that point.

The forest road is a bit rough. We have a Volvo Cross-country Stationwagon. Any good utility vehicle would do fine but an urban intended low to the ground car would have great difficulty getting there.

The trailhead is well marked with a bulletin board complete with all kinds of warnings, a modest amount of information about the area and a registration or sign-in form, so something is known about who visits, their intentions and for how long they do expect to be there. The large granite marker remains at the trailhead with the carved words “ROCKPILE MTN WILDERNESS”, though the carving has faded somewhat over time.

The blog author at the granite marker

The blog author at
the granite marker

Our neighbor who is with the volunteer fire department warned us that people get lost and have to be rescued from there every year. He also expected that we would encounter a lot of blow-down from storms due to the Derecho of 2009 that did great damage clear across the width of our state of Missouri. Fortunately, I can state the damage was not so bad that it impacted our enjoyment of the wilderness there, but it was noticeable and in places does obscure the forward path of the trail but “walk-arounds” have been created by visitors at every point.

Rockpile Topo Map

My family was prepared with backpacks including a tent for our overnight visit. We expected to follow Cave Branch down to the St Francis River to camp, as Mr Farmer had raved about that part of his own experience. He shares – “In mistakenly heading west for a mile or more on my first visit, I became enamored with the miniature beauty of intermittent Cave Branch. When I checked the topo map and realized my mistake, I decided to follow the branch all the way to the St Francis River. The miscalculation turned out to be a blessing. I enjoyed the natural beauty along the river and then a tour of Turkey Pen Hollow and the hidden treasure of the virgin trees that I had read about. It was among them that the seed for a future overnight camp was planted. The ultimate camp in Rockpile is near the river, with its bluffs, caves, and springs, and the ravine of special trees. A southern loop trail passes through the ancient rock site then veers northwest to Cave Branch and east to the main north-south route back to the trailhead.”

For scale, at this large glade, I am standing on top of a large rock with our tent to the right.

For scale, at this large glade, I am standing on top of a large rock with our tent to the right.

Mr Farmer had planted the seeds in my family to do likewise. However, having now spent two days in the wilderness there, we disagree and say that the ultimate camp in Rockpile is the large glade at the top of Rockpile Mountain within site of the ancient stone circle. That place is magical with rock, moss, grass and a big open view of the night sky. There was no litter there, which Mr Farmer and earlier visitors had lamented about, before the area was designated wilderness and perhaps shortly thereafter; but there were two major firepits pre-existing in that place, which we saw during our time there. One fire ring was right in the center of the large glade, and one just off from there, on a smaller, more secluded, glade.

I am seated facing the firepit with the large cairn behind me.

I am seated facing the firepit with the large cairn behind me.

We started our hike about 1pm in late May 2014, just after the Memorial Day weekend. Each of us had walking sticks and I would say having them is NOT optional. It is VERY rugged terrain and the trail, while well-worn goes immediately down a very steep hillside. There were orange survey/flagging ribbons tied on trees along the trail, which made identifying the trail easier, especially at blow-down areas where walking around the debris was necessary. However, we did not know who or why the ribbons were there and had no certainty what they indicated or for how long in the direction we wanted to travel they would continue. The reader is to keep in mind the temporary nature of such markings, as these tend to degrade rather quickly over a few years time. Indeed, early on the trail, a couple of the ribbons that had been around large trees, had fallen to the ground. But if the ribbons are still there on the trees along the trail, they will most likely take you all the way to the ancient stone circle. Based on our experience, you may feel more assured than we did, of that much.

Fowler's Toad photo by Simeon Hart Yemm

Fowler’s Toad photo by Simeon Hart Yemm

We came upon a clearly man-made water catchment pond with some pond vegetation, small lily pads and tall spikes of vegetation which included the joy of seeing many frogs and toads leap into the water at our approach. We saw toads along the trail at 3 different times during our visit. We had pepper spray with us because we had been warned of the possibility of wild hogs and we also hoped that it might be helpful if we encountered poisonous snakes such as copperheads or timber rattlers but we didn’t even encounter squirrels. My older son did photograph a red broad-headed skink at the beginning of our trail. Later, we encountered a beautiful garter snake. This was the extent of wildlife that we encountered, though there was a lot of bird song always.

Red, broad-headed Skink photo by  Simeon Hart Yemm

Red, broad-headed Skink
photo by
Simeon Hart Yemm

Garter Snake photo by Simeon Hart Yemm

Garter Snake photo by
Simeon Hart Yemm

A GPS and good map are critical as well. Since we lacked certainty about the nature of the orange ribbon markers and as they did diminish to be less frequent the deeper in one traveled, at one place where the blow down confused the trail, we did begin to follow an old logging or local road that was disappearing back into the forest but which had a well worn foot path alongside or within it. Fortunately, we checked our bearings and quickly discovered we were no longer heading in the direction of the stone circle and backtracked to a point on the trail that we were certain of. So, the presence of a trail in this wilderness may only mean you are not the first to mistakenly go in that direction.

We began to see some rock cairns; and then glades and large boulders, and were walking along the obvious crest of the mountain. We paused for a break and discovered that we had actually arrived at the ancient site. It was already going on 6pm by that time. Including our mistaken journey along the wrong path, it had taken 5 hours of mostly continuous hiking to arrive there. Thankfully, we decided it was too late to head down to the river and camped right there.

Southern half of ancient stone circle

Southern half of ancient stone circle

The stone circle could be underwhelming but it is clearly ancient. The sheer volume of smallish rocks piled deliberately to create a circle or squarish enclosure is unmistakably the work of people without the modern technology to move heavier rocks further. Some of this enclosure seems to have collapsed or spread out over time. There are a couple of smallish cedar trees growing in the circle and the squarish center rock described in Mr Farmer’s book.

Northern half of ancient stone circle

Northern half of ancient stone circle

As mentioned by John Karel (former Missouri State Parks Director and currently director of Tower Grove Park in St Louis), writing before the area was designated wilderness in 1980 (during the 1970s, a grassroots citizens’ campaign identified and ultimately resulted in the protection and designation of eight tracts of federal land in Missouri under the National Wilderness Preservation System) about the ancient circle, “this structure is still easily discerned and continues to provoke questions for which hard answers are unknown. Most people wonder if the rocks mark a burial site or a sentinel post, or perhaps a ceremonial site where rituals were performed. When was it constructed, and by what group of people ? Has the environment around the rockpile changed since its construction ? Is it likely that in the past the open barrens were more extensive and that more commanding vistas marked this peak as a logical center of activity ? Other peaks in the region are higher, others can be found with broader, more commanding views. Why was this knob chosen over the others ?”

After our return from the area, my husband and I theorized about the area. Could it have been a seasonal hunting camp ? The big glade would have made a nice and less buggy work area but we have rejected that possibility because there really isn’t any water convenient to that location. We are left with the sense that it served some kind of spiritual purpose. Twice, I spent time sitting in the middle of the circle facing the squarish rock at the center. I felt a deep sense of well-being while sitting there. It was not a gee whiz, fireworks or visions, type of experience. It was a quiet, subtle feeling of simply wanting to remain seated there, of time not seeming to pass, of an aliveness to that place that provoked deep feelings of peace, calm and an emptiness of thought.

Spiderworth blooming in ancient stone circle

Spiderworth blooming in ancient stone circle

The night we arrived, there were within the ancient stone circle, numerous wildflowers standing on tall stalks with buds, that I did not immediately recognize as the Spiderwort, that these proved to be when I returned there the next day with my morning’s cold instant coffee, to “wake up” while sitting in the circle there. I was awed and kept exclaiming “oh, oh, oh” at the sight the flowers, for all of the plants in the circle and immediately adjacent to it had bloomed overnight. I had never seen Spiderwort so tall, as our own grows in forested places close to the ground.

Close-up Spiderwort

Close-up Spiderwort

Campsite between large glade and ancient stone circle.

Campsite between large glade and ancient stone circle.

We camped just off the big glade and I would highly recommend it to anyone planning an overnight there. Visitors in the twenty years, since Mr Farmer visited the place, had destroyed the patterns of stone that he found there. There remained a central and rather large cairn (probably the 3 ft high one he describes below) and a large rock-lined firepit in the center there. Here is how he described his own encounter with it – “The rocks were laid out on a bare granite slab with one red cedar tree protruding conspicuously. The rockpile had four directional spokes and a three-foot-high granite rockpile in the center. At first, I was excited that I had found the ancient rocks, but a few minutes later, I began to think that this strange circle of rocks was modern. The location of the pile pretty well fit the description I had read, but it was just too neat and well preserved. Still, the circle was interesting, and I wondered who would have taken the time to build it. Was the counterfeit a ploy to keep others from finding the real rocks, or was it modern man’s way of honoring the ancients whose traditions and ceremonies brought them to the mountain ?”

We noted that there was something about the place that just makes people want to pile up rocks. There were numerous little cairns along the trail and just off the trail at various places in the wooded area. Mr Farmer notes the “effect” that being there had on him. “. . . I had . . . a strong sense of power from the modern circle, I felt wonderfully at ease reclining on the smooth slab of granite just outside the circle of rocks. Afterward, I thought it strange that I did not immediately rush in all directions trying to find the authentic rocks.” In fact, he goes on to note that he actually – “. . . dozed there for about forty-five minutes and then quickly rose to my feet as though awakened by an alarm. . . . I ran smack into the real circle of ancient rocks just south of the trail . . .” (deb’s note – still true to the actual location) “I had actually walked within three feet of the spot on two occasions without knowing it.” It is right ON the trail, but to the south of it, so at this time, one following the trail would not fail to find it right there.

The next day, after breaking camp, we did determine to get down to the St Francis River via Cave Branch. We saw two “markers” – both diamond pieces of metal. One was on a forest service type post with the hand written words along with an arrow for direction “stone circle”. The other on a tree downhill to the west from there along an old logging or local road that remained visible. However, we did not have that luxury of road or trail for very long. Thanks to GPS we made our way towards Cave Branch and encountered it after about an hour of hiking.

Cave Branch

Cave Branch

I would strongly recommend Oct-April for hiking this wilderness. There was no avoiding the poison ivy everywhere we attempted to hike. There was a significant amount of greenbriar around but it is mostly easy to avoid. It is very rocky and rough and steep. The walking sticks were crucial not to tumble or stumble there. Cave Branch is worth visiting. It is magical and beautiful. It was dry when we were there until close to the river. We were grateful for it made hiking easier for the most part. I could imagine it running with Spring run-off and being very exciting to behold. There were some grandfather Sycamores growing there as well.

However, close to the river we encountered a “Private Property, Trespassers will be prosecuted” sign on the south side of Cave Branch, so we stayed to the north side. There we ran into stinging nettles along with poison ivy, greenbriar and dense vegetation. Arriving at the river was underwhelming for my family. The bluff that Mr Farmer had so prized was barely visible in the fully leafed trees and no caves could be seen. I don’t think we ever even tried to locate Turkey Pen Hollow, so I can’t really say if that is worthwhile or not. I suspect it is actually on private property.

The St Francis River was wide and dirty brown, not all that exciting when we arrived there after noon. We went upstream a short way to an elevated gravel bar with shade and had lunch. Following along a dry high water channel parallel to the river, we passed some ancient and beautiful Cottonwood trees. I’m not used to seeing them here in Missouri, I grew up with them along the currently “dry” Rio Grande River in my childhood (1960s-1970s).

Getting back uphill from the river was not the most fun part of our hike. It was difficult, bushwacking the vegetation at the beginning and very steep climbs up. We came rather soon upon a bit of barbed wire fence that we were able to cross with the aid of a tree branch that had collapsed the fence, at one spot. Just past that, we encountered a flat metal post that announced “wilderness” and forbade motorized vehicle traffic beyond it. That led us to believe that at some point along Cave Branch, we had actually left the park and entered private property unintentionally.

There were at least two land features, a large bald knob and a very large rock outcropping on the way uphill that would be worth revisiting when the vegetation is diminished in the colder seasons. I’m certain there might be some amazing views that time of year. I would never recommend to anyone that they chose the river to camp overnight at. We passed another man made catchment basin that seemed a bit less active with amphibians.

We eventually made our way to the remnants of an old logging or local road that still shows up on GPS mapping. We followed that back to a T junction of the ribboned trail, where one passes between two ribbons marking that junction. We were well worn out, so the climb back up to the trailhead was long, slow and difficult; but the experience of being in Rockpile Mountain Wilderness was definitely well-worth my time spent there.

Sharing the Pain

March 3, 2014

Crying Angel

There is a family, the Davis’, for whom I feel like this, this morning. It is for those left on earth, especially one, who the angels are so very sad for, this morning. One young man is wrapped in heavenly arms, against the sadness that would crush almost any living soul. Comfort in a time of deep sorrow and remorse to these humble, quiet people. I wish I could take all of their pain away. Sadly, I cannot.

On Friday, Feb 28th, as we were celebrating my oldest son’s 13th birthday; and thereby becoming a teenager, another family, intertwined with my own in quite amazingly ways, was being crushed under a burden so great, that my mind has had difficulty coming to terms with it. Two young men, ages 24 and 26, traveling down the road on a Friday evening. Who knows what was on their minds ?, what plans they had for the evening ? Who knows what actually went wrong ? It was still daylight, only 5pm.

But the car left the road and struck a tree. The 26 yr old, Daniel, was thrown from the car; and was pronounced dead, at the scene. The 24 yr old, his brother Eric who was driving, suffered only “minor” physical injuries and refused medical attention. But at the soul level, oh, at the soul level, what injuries – this is hard, very hard for that young man to bear. It is a cross that he is likely to carry his entire life. One wonders at the soul contracts that brought this to pass.

The 26 yr old, Daniel Wayne Davis, had only just celebrated that birthday, 5 days earlier. He had a young son. That boy who’s physical incarnation is now ended; and for whom, there are no more physical difficulties in this world, was 4 mos old and in his father’s arms – at my husband’s and my wedding, in June 1988. This man, Dale Davis, his wife Bobbi, his brother Danny and his best friend Tim Inman, along with this baby boy also named Daniel, were leaning on the large rock that is my altar, at that sacred place, the pool that we swim in during the summer time, that my in-laws camped at when they first arrived here. I see them now, in my mind’s eye. None of us could have known then, what has happened now.

My husband and I were the only non-family members at this man and his wife’s wedding, just as they were the only non-family members at ours. It is not that we have been “close”, all these years since. We were their employers. They worked for us – the 3 young men, back when I first came here; and my husband had a woodworking, furniture making shop, in a 100 yr old wooden plank and very primitive cabin. My husband had created a trail through the forest, for this young man’s father, Dale, to come to work via, on his all-terrain vehicle. I remember his father as a quiet, humble man. I remember the family as always struggling in poverty, and managing the best that they could. I remember that they have always worked, mostly doing the physical kinds of labor that keep our world manifesting Life, in the manner it does.

After he married, he brought his young wife, Bobbi, with him for a few days, to pick-up Walnuts from the trees around the shop, while he worked, in order to supplement their income. Our family tried to assist her in getting her GED; after she had a baby, pregnant even before marriage or graduating from high school. And then, had a second son Eric, and a daughter, April. Then, their marriage ended at some point after that. We were no longer seeing them regularly, by that time. The paths of our lives, that had us walking alongside – diverged and we went our separate ways. Until this last weekend, when their private tragedy, caused them to come flooding back into our memories.

But I remember visiting them one night, 25 long years ago, in a very old ramshackle farmhouse, owned by a wealthy farmer in our community, near the town of Marquand. They had convinced the farmer to let them live there, though it was hardly fit for habitation. The young men, who worked for us, had stupidly taken two baby raccoons, from their mother. I did not realize then, that the wildness of a raccoon makes it vicious; and reached out to touch it, because it was so very “cute”. Luckily, I was not bitten. We brought one of the two babies home with us, hoping to “save” it. For a long time, it lived on our backporch; and we brought it wild plums to teach it a bit about wild foods, and fed it cat food to supplement it’s diet. It had a collar and a long chain. It would climb up the porch supports to watch the sun go down, from the roof of our farmhouse, at the end of the day. We intended to release it, before winter came, once it had all it’s adult teeth. But one day, we came home and it had made it’s escape, with that collar still around its neck; and then, we worried about that, too.

Raccoons come to visit us every summer still. For many years, decades now. A mother brings 2 or 3 babies with her to eat the leftovers of our 3 backporch kitties; and at summer’s end, they quit coming and I often wonder if these are the descendants of that raccoon we once rescued.

I have wandered so readily off from the pain – seeking escape from the pain I feel, in the comfort of more pleasant memories. My daughter, Misha, was my maid of honor. She knew these young men as our employees. She even went horseback riding here in Missouri, with Tim Inman, the best friend of this young man’s father, who also worked for us. Today, she shared with me these thoughts – “Being compassionate is the result of trying to understand how another must feel and it is difficult to do this without sharing that pain.” So profound and true.

It is as though it crushes so heavily – that others must bear a portion of it; or it would simply be too much, it is too much – even with others taking a portion of the load. Last night, I stopped there where we were married, as I do each evening, to offer up my prayers for the day. Mostly, simply to be grateful for my day. Nothing to ask for, just grateful to have the safe security of this forest to wander about in.

I prayed for Divine Love Healing Energy to surround this Davis family. I prayed mostly for the son, Eric, who was driving the car. I prayed for angels to come and wrap him in comfort and soothe him, so that he can bear what is now his to bear throughout this lifetime. And then, this morning, my friend Amy, sent her Angel (the image above) to me, to release some of that pain, through me, for this family.

The Right to Educate

October 16, 2013

I credit this year’s Blog Action Day with getting me to read the Human Rights Declaration created by the UN. In general, I found it a good basis for global civilization’s expectations and practice – though the reality falls far short of realizing it, even more than 60 years later. This declaration was completed before I was born; yet I am definitely “mature”, fast approaching 60 years of age.

From The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 26.
• (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
• (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
• (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Related to Article 18.
• Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, … and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his … belief in teaching, practice, … and observance.

From reading this, I was led to sign a petition this year in support of the proposed Parental Rights Amendment to the US Constitution, due of the provisions in a UN Treaty identified as “CRC – Convention on the Rights of the Child” (Comment 1 on “The Aims of Education” – http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(symbol)/CRC.GC.2001.1.En?OpenDocument).

Though homeschooling has made huge strides of acceptance in the United States, it remains at times and in some places “under fire”. There was a recent news story about a family who was homeschooling their children, actually losing custody of their children in Germany – on the basis of a point in this proposed treaty, similar to what is found under Comment # 1 regarding Education intended to provide “an enhanced sense of identity and affiliation (29 (1) (c)), and his or her socialization and interaction with others”. The German youth welfare officials are seizing custody of children based upon the belief that children not in school, lose the opportunity for socialization and interaction with others, and live socially isolated lives.

Further comments there regarding the UN perspective on Education include the use of the word “home” in connection with education but do seem to indicate some compulsion regarding – “8. Second, the article attaches importance to the process by which the right to education is to be promoted. Thus, efforts to promote the enjoyment of other rights must not be undermined, and should be reinforced, by the values imparted in the educational process. This includes not only the content of the curriculum but also the educational processes, the pedagogical methods and the environment within which education takes place, whether it be the home, school, or elsewhere. … education must be provided in a way that … enables the child … to participate in school life.”

This comment does address in item # 8 one of our own objections based on stories from parents with children in the local school system regarding the use of corporal punishment without parental consent – “The Committee has repeatedly made clear in its concluding observations that the use of corporal punishment does not respect the inherent dignity of the child nor the strict limits on school discipline.” We do agree.

We feel the methods that we employ in educating our children at home include the perspective addressed in item #9 of that comment – “the curriculum must be of direct relevance to the child’s social, cultural, environmental and economic context and to his or her present and future needs and take full account of the child’s evolving capacities; teaching methods should be tailored to the different needs of different children. Education must also be aimed at ensuring that essential life skills are learnt by every child and that no child leaves school without being equipped to face the challenges that he or she can expect to be confronted with in life. Basic skills include not only literacy and numeracy but also life skills such as the ability to make well-balanced decisions; to resolve conflicts in a non-violent manner; and to develop a healthy lifestyle, good social relationships and responsibility, critical thinking, creative talents, and other abilities which give children the tools needed to pursue their options in life.”

We feel that the methods we employ in educating our children at home include the perspective addressed in item # 12 – “12. Fourth, article 29 (1) insists upon a holistic approach to education which ensures that the educational opportunities made available reflect an appropriate balance between promoting the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional aspects of education, the intellectual, social and practical dimensions, and the childhood and lifelong aspects. The overall objective of education is to maximize the child’s ability and opportunity to participate fully and responsibly in a free society. It should be emphasized that the type of teaching that is focused primarily on accumulation of knowledge, prompting competition and leading to an excessive burden of work on children, may seriously hamper the harmonious development of the child to the fullest potential of his or her abilities and talents. Education should be child-friendly, inspiring and motivating the individual child. Schools should foster a humane atmosphere and allow children to develop according to their evolving capacities.”

The proposed Parental Rights Amendment reads -

SECTION 1
The liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children is a fundamental right.

SECTION 2
The parental right to direct education includes the right to choose public, private, religious, or home schools, and the right to make reasonable choices within public schools for one’s child.

SECTION 3
Neither the United States nor any State shall infringe these rights without demonstrating that its governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest order and not otherwise served.

SECTION 4
This article shall not be construed to apply to a parental action or decision that would end life.

SECTION 5
No treaty may be adopted nor shall any source of international law be employed to supersede, modify, interpret, or apply to the rights guaranteed by this article.

The petition can be found and signed, at this link – https://www.thedatabank.com/dpg/385/personal2.asp?formid=signup

I am also staying informed regarding and have looked into the movement known as – Common Core State Standards (http://www.corestandards.org/).

I recently came across this quote, on an old “tweet” – Peace is the respect for the rights of others. (El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz) – Benito Juarez

I am not against public or private educational systems per se. I see they serve a purpose in society and that some professions definitely require more advanced and specialized educational opportunities. I am inspired and encouraged by the story of the Harding family of Montgomery, Alabama who have 10 children, all home-schooled. Their perspectives match my own – their mother says “We find out what their passions are, what they really like to study, and we accelerate them gradually.” This has resulted in 6 of their children entering college at age 12. Their children are gifting society by becoming a doctor, an architect, a spacecraft designer and one is a college freshman who realized at age seven, that he wanted to be a military archaeologist.

College may sound like too much pressure for the pre-teens to handle, but the Harding parents insist their kids are thriving, not suffering. “All our children would have to tells us is, ‘You know, this isn’t fun any more’,” says their mother, Mona Lisa. “And we’d do something about that.” Kip agrees with his wife: “The expectation is that you’re going to have a fun day,” he said as he watched his children play in the backyard. “Not that you’re going to come home with A’s.” Indeed, the couple insists that despite their accelerated education, the children have led normal lives. “We didn’t limit their experience,” said Mona Lisa. “They’re taking college classes, but socially, they are just teenagers.”

This has been our own perspective as well. Inspired by a book by an unschooling friend of mine, Rain Perry Fordyce – “I Am Learning All The Time”, her title became my mantra. We go out of our way and have experiences we might not choose otherwise, except for wanting to give our children breadth, depth, and a stimulation of their creative imaginations. In response to concerns about “socialization”, we have only to look back upon our own public school experiences to know clearly that putting our children with only their own age group, predominantly, would not serve our intentions that they be independent thinkers and unconcerned about social pressures to have premature sexual experiences or to participate in the usage of recreational drugs of unknown purity and origin. Our children are NOT being socialized to such experiences but they are socialized to the whole range of humanity – from infants to the elderly – and we believe that is a superior kind of socialization for them. Mature adults are primary role models for our children, not their peers who are still undergoing early development.

Certainly, the public education system frees parents to work outside of their home and have lives not focused solely on their children’s growth and development. It is quite freeing, and in most cases necessary, for parents to put their trust in strangers, and let the government make choices regarding what their children will learn and experience in school. However, I don’t believe that those of us who have the luxury (my husband and I work from home, so we are here anyway, and we are older parents, so we do selfishly desire as much time with our children as is possible to us) and the inclination to be the primary educators of their children, should be hindered from doing so. That is the “universal right” closest to our hearts – the right of educate our children in the ways that we as their parents feel is for their highest good as productive citizens contributing fully to tomorrow’s realities.

* * * *

Church Suppers

September 22, 2013

I’ve been thinking about, for sometime, getting more active with this blog. My original thought was to use it to record an uncommon way of life and that is still my predominant intention. I have not pursued that intention really, with any consistent activity, and have mostly used this blog to participate in the annual Blog Action Day event, coming up in mid-October. I intend to post a blog again this year.

There won’t be any photos, though I think they would have been a great addition to this blog. I have been thinking about that also. Photos give the eyes some visual candy to help the wordy stuff go down better. It was on our drive to an annual “church supper” fundraiser yesterday that my mind was caught up in the realization that the event would be great in pictures. I did have my iPhone 5 with me and considered that but for now I stayed my inclination, it felt “intrusive” somehow but maybe I will grow into it.

Our closest neighbors belong to a humble, little rural country church, a Methodist associated religion, called Rhodes Chapel. For most of the 25 years that I have lived here, we have gone most years to participate in their fund raiser, though we have missed a few. So, first we went with my in-laws, then we added children to our family, then my in-laws left us and so, now it is my husband, my self and our boys.

They serve fried chicken (they have a little enclosure out back to cook in) and dumplings, green beans, mashed potatoes and corn and a few other sides along with ice tea and lemonade. The dinner cost us $8 for adults (of which my oldest son now belongs to that category) and $5 for children. There are homemade desserts – pies and cakes – as well. I ate too much, even though I took small servings.

After supper, they have a quilt auction. We usually look at the quilts before leaving. I always looked for the traditional quilts, pieced together in traditional patterns, from scraps of fabric. My favorites are generally the tiny floral and patterned kinds of scraps. Some of the quilts are modern printed material, batted and embroideried and well “quilt” stitched. There was one like that with a Buck Deer and Doe embroidered over the print.

We have stayed for some of the auction, in the years that my in-laws were alive. It is a “true” auction with a fast talking auctioneer and pointing at people who fidget in the least. It always amazed me, the prices the quilts would fetch. $100, $200 and more sometimes. This is not a wealthy church nor people with a lot of disposable income. It is quite humble in size and décor and it is a “family-run” church to a great degree. The family that our closest neighbors are part of and why we go to be supportive of their fund-raiser.

We are always at the end of supper serving time each year and so, we go the fastest route, over the one-lane, cement bridge that the Castor River (tiny yesterday – raging when it floods and closes the road) flows over. We always take the “long-way” home, past the natural artesian well that still flows and was once crucial to early farmers and pioneers in the area. The water is sweet with minerals and very cold.

We pass Denman stables on the way to Marquand. They always seem to be ending a day-long trail ride as we pass the place after a Rhodes Chapel supper on a Saturday evening in mid-Autumn.

These are some of the things I love about living in rural isolated wilderness, long-haul community, simple pleasures and basic living . . . maybe next year, I’ll take some pictures of all this.

Deer Season

November 10, 2012

I have been writing a daily essay for a few weeks now, each day in that day’s Daily Guides, a group that exists within the Living Metaphysics community (a location on the Ning platform)  It is a community that originated within Zaadz  (begun by Brian Johnson, a philosopher), which continued in the community when he sold it to the Gaiam Corporation, only separating off when Gaiam closed our doors, with very little time to remove content.

I am definitely enjoying the challenge.  I have committed myself to do a year’s worth of these.  It is my first genuine attempt at a disciplined and focused kind of writing, that might be of publishable quality.  I write these in the format of a Science of Mind magazine Daily Guide – in homage to, in hope of someday maybe, and just because I have for so many years appreciated them.  Mine are quite long by their standards; but I figure they could always be shortened, by editing if necessary, and perhaps these will be a book someday; or at the least, a legacy of my personal philosophies on life, that I can leave to my children and grandchildren.

Since today’s topic is quite universal, I thought to share it, as a blog here at my WordPress blog, because in Missouri – Deer Season is a bigger holiday than Christmas.  Your comments and perspectives are quite welcome.

 

A Year of Daily Reflections by Deborah Hart Yemm
November 10th

 

Deer Season

 

“Hunting for sport is an improvement over hunting for food,

in that there has been added to the test of skill

an ethical code, which the hunter formulates for himself,

and must live up to without the moral support of bystanders.”

~ Aldo Leopold

 

“God is life.  Life cannot produce death.

Death is but the shifting of a scene,

the moving from one place to another,

an impatient gesture of the soul as it seeks freedom.”

~ Ernest Holmes

 

It is opening day of this year’s Deer Season.  Living in a somewhat remote, rural, forested wilderness means that this conservation wildlife practice has a real impact on our lives.  Just up the road, our neighbor has an active “deer camp”, right there on his property complete with the recreational trailers of distant relatives who have arrived to be closer to the less inhabited areas, adjoining our neighbor’s home.  It is actually remarkably “quiet” of gunfire within hearing this morning but we will curtail our daily jogs and hikes, and replace them for 10 days, with family hikes after dark which even include our 3 cats.  Though all of us actually enjoy this alternative to cabin fever, we only hike in the darkness of our forest (of course, with headlamps) during the “forced” daytime exile of deer season.

I thought about an article on oneness perspectives I read this morning in the Science of Mind magazine.  Could I somehow apply that perspective about finding common ground with others and see them as “just like me” ?  Can I lean upon the spiritual perspectives that I have spent a lifetime in learning, to transcend separation; and so align my awareness with the spiritual realm, that I can feel connected, through a Taoist kind of balance with both the hunter and the hunted ?  Can I see a wholeness in what is happening all around me for the next 10 days ?

In truth, hunting goes to the core of human beings as a species of life.  We are composed of 2 million years of evolution which began with our survival supported by being hunters and few could argue that human beings have evolved to be the most effective, most adaptable and most successful predators on the planet.  One Vermont hunter, named Robert F Smith describes that his reason for participating in the practice is that “Hunting is an ancient dance as old as life itself, written into the very core of what we are as humans”.  The old Disney movie “Old Yeller” portrays our early pioneer life with a realistic inclusion of hunting as a necessity of existence, in which young boys are initiated into manhood by bringing home meat for the family.

Hunter Smith goes even further to idealize a long ago time in human evolution, describing it this way – “Hunting a deer or antelope or harvesting wild berries or nuts is only a few hours of intensive work for several days’ worth of food, while raising, feeding, watering, and protecting a herd of sheep or goats, or planting, cultivating, and harvesting a field of grain, is unending labor. While the tribal system of hunter/gatherers led to equality and leisure time, agriculture brought in slavery, religion, caste and class systems, and the plight of poor peasants and field workers that continues today around the world.”  It is a perspective worth considering.

Missouri has a serious conservation ethic regarding all aspects of our natural world.  In Missouri, the deer and turkey were almost eradicated by indiscriminate hunting – and the population was much smaller then.  With modern food distribution, the population is no longer dependent upon hunting for basic survival; but the season that brings many hunters into our community, from the more populated areas of our state and even beyond, is a significant source of revenue for many of the local businesses.  I have also contemplated this practice as a need in some human beings for a particular kind of experience, even though it is not one that I personally yearn for myself.  An overpopulation of deer does actually pose a danger, when driving on the state highway at night, a danger that I am ever alert to, when the necessity to do so puts me in that position.

In Missouri, the influx of settlers in the last half of the 19th century coincided with the rapid decline of the deer population.  By 1925, the number of deer left in the entire state was estimated to be only around 400.  With concerted regulation by law and efforts to restore the population by bringing new deer into the state, by 1944, the deer population was estimated at 15,000.  Now approx 500,000 hunters participate each year in the harvest of approx 300.000 deer statewide.  I think in the best of circumstances, the hunter is reverent, the hunter connects with the animal, even blesses it as some traditions do, for being willing to give its life in the food chain that is our world and even, yes, face mortality, face the reality of what death is and does.   There is something truly somber about connecting with the eyes of an unarmed animal who you know will die in the next moment by your own hand.  Personally, I forego such experiences but I try to understand, that hunters are just like me and so are the deer – the latter is easier for me personally; but the predator must be understood as well.

~ perspective

 

I understand a circle of Life that has ever been part

of the wholeness of this planet.

I sense the yin and yang,

the Taoist perspective of wholeness,

in the expression of the hunter and the hunted.

I seek to understand the deep roots that connect

whole families to the history of their intimate tribe

and to the fact that family’s survival

was dependent upon hunting.

I am grateful for modern wildlife management practices

that consider environmental conditions, population changes,

fairness and historical, as well as economic values,

all inherent in the practice of a deer hunting season.

I am at peace, with the realities of life and death, 

in all of the many expressions, upon this planet Earth -

I am of it, it is all just like me,

for it is all one Life force diversely expressing.

 

I wish I could find a scene from Old Yeller that shows the older boy hunting for the family’s food but these “theme song” with movie scenes will have to suffice.  If you’ve ever seen the movie, perhaps you can appreciate my using it for illustrative reasons.  If you haven’t and are looking for a light-weight, feel-good entertainment, perhaps you should rent it some Saturday night.

I believe that we idolize the pioneer days because life made a kind of basic sense – living by day/night cycles, growing crops, tending livestock, hunting game and all the attendant dangers of living remotely.  It was a “hard” life physically; and easily endangered in so very many ways, that the movie does a great job of graphically portraying.  There were not the modern conveniences that we so take for granted but there was not the complications of our modern way of life, with its own serious stressors either.

Yes, WE can do it !!

September 20, 2012

In the late 1990s, my husband, my self and my in-laws attended one of our monthly Historical Madison County Society meetings, during which we were given a viewing of an old film shot around the county courthouse in the 1930s.  What has remained stuck in my memory was this astonishing fact – there were nothing but lean and thin people present.  Of course, there have been throughout history, some people who were “gravitationally challenged” – King Henry the VIII or “Chubby” of the Little Rascals.

However, something happened after the 1930s; that was already becoming clearly evident, in the 1990s.  I think I have found at least a couple of the “major” suspects – High Fructose Corn Syrup; and the trade group “Center for Consumer Freedom“.  High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) was not introduced into the American food supply until the 1970s.  Coincidentally, about the same time that partially hydrogenated oils were also “added”.  These rapid changes to the overall content of processed foods have led to the epidemic levels of obesity, and the highest rates of disease along with the lowest life expectancy of any industrialized nation.  This is NOT a coincidence.

Becoming a well-informed consumer is certainly the “first step” in personal responsibility, as publicly promoted by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), founded in 1996 – those “friends” of every disease vulnerable American consumer (Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg and Kraft are some of the known entities)  Their website says many of the companies – food companies and restaurant chains – supporting the lobbying and media campaigns of the CCF prefer to maintain their anonymity – Why ? – their website states that they are apprehensive that vegetarians and health activists might threaten their privacy and safety.  I would suspect that they are MORE apprehensive that their profits might be at stake.

 

Sadly, the Center for Consumer Freedom

 isn’t even able to see the irony in their own hype.

I have inherited genes that are particularly vulnerable to excess sugar in my blood stream.  So, although I’ve had an interest in nutrition since the 1970s, I am in a “getting serious” mode now, thanks to threats of pharmaceutical interventions for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  What I see with my own eyes, so many overweight people out there, is both scary and sad.  Last fall, my activist heart (born in the late 1960s but dormant for many years since) was re-awakened by the Occupy Movement.  Thanks to Occupy, and other collective efforts to educate the populace – I have now learned, and I can’t go back to not knowing.  What has been happening, while we, the people, gave the elected government politicians a free reign, is not pretty.  Large multi-national corporations are in control, not only of the law itself and the economy overall; but even in such places as the Dept of Agriculture and their funding resources, as well as both national and state food policies.

“YES, WE CAN DO IT” –  we can change the nature of the human diet to be nutritious and wholesome again; and this is something that every man, woman and child can easily and inexpensively chose to make contributions toward and participate in.

There is HOPE.  We, the people, are collectively sharing information, through more “alternative” channels than ever before and over which, we have individual discernment.  We are “finding” one another – our real friends who care about our genuine quality of Life – and we are supporting and encouraging one another to just say “No !”, to some of the most biologically addictive substances yet devised, which coincidentally ? boost the profit margins simultaneously for Big Agriculture, Big Food and Big Pharma.  Now, I’m not trying to suggest that there is an intentional conspiracy among these 3 globally-influential entities; but the actions of each of these are supporting the revenues of the others.

Not only is there a growing and impregnable collective, of nutritionally-conscious individuals that can’t be infiltrated by any external entity; but we have “heroes & heroines” willing to put themselves “out there” on the front lines; and they are not going to be silenced, until we succeed in taking back the health of the people of this country, and encourage similar activities in all other countries that have been similarly damaged by a profit-driven, market oriented approach by multi-national corporations, to the global food supply.  We, the people of the planet, will not fail; because our very lives, and even more especially a “good quality” of Life, utterly depends upon our success.  One who is sick cannot enjoy living, in the fullest sense of that concept; and is unable to contribute fully, to the evolving  of a “next – better” human society – for disease captures fully the human attention; and does not let us go, until we die.

Here are a few names and links, just some of my own personal “heroes & heroines” -

Dr Mark Hyman – pioneering nutritional approaches to wellness and spearheading a Take Back Our Health movement – in our schools, for our communities, in our workplaces and our places of worship, for our democracy, through our media and from a “sickness-oriented” medical perspective.

Michael F Jacobson, PhD of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and sponsors of “Eat Real, America !” on Food Day, this 2012 year on Oct 24th; as well as the long-time editor of Nutrition Action Healthletter and a dedicated activist, at the political level.

 

Whole Living Magazine for encouraging healthier lifestyles and for their yearly Action Plan.

 

Marianne Williamson for her perspectives in A Course in Weight Loss.

 

Geneen Roth for her retreats and workshops to heal eating disorders; and her books- including “Women Food and God” and “When Food Is Love”.

 

John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America, and Ocean Robbins, founder of YES (Youth for Environmental Sanity) and author of Choices for Our Future - and their co-founded organization – The Food Revolution Network.

 

May WE all be well,

May WE all be happy,

May WE all be free of suffering,

May WE all be at peace.

 

Yes, WE can do it !!

Why What I Eat Matters

October 16, 2011

“What I eat matters.”  I almost feel I’ve known this forever; but why what I eat matters, has changed over time.  When I was in high school, my mother made clear to me in words or actions, that diet would be important to me, my entire life.  In this case, diet meant not gaining weight, not getting fat, rather than about good nutrition.  At the same time, I was raised with having to eat everything on my plate, whether I liked it or not; and unfortunately, I still do that for the most part; so my hope for controlling consumption is left to not taking too much to begin with.  This is helped, by a long habit of splitting entrees with my husband, when we eat at any restaurant. 

I have tried more diets than I care to remember; and have reached a point where I truly hate dieting and think it is generally detrimental; but find I must resort to that technique on occasion, to reign in weight gains in excess of my body’s need for long-term well-being.  I constantly seek to not need to go “on a diet”.  Yet, I am not obsessive about my diet either.  My dad left instilled in me the thought that – “you have to eat a little dirt” – to be healthy; and so, I eat a varied diet, at least.

When my husband and I conceived our oldest son, we made a commitment to obtaining as much food that was natural and/or organic, as possible.  We live in a rural wilderness area; so, such foods are generally not easily available, at the local grocers.  We do eat some foods off the land – mostly fruits as we have an abundance in season of black raspberries, wild blueberries, blackberries, wild cherries, pawpaws, autumn olives and persimmons.  There are not any organic farms close by, locally; although some regionally, they are not really in convenient locations, to where we live.  So, we must travel 2 hours one way, as often as our lives allow it – to visit Whole Foods Market and other upscale urban grocers in St Louis (Dierbergs), where I can purchase the best foods I can manage, for my family. 

Fortunately, WalMart makes some effort; and though they are certainly not my favorite for many reasons; still, they are the best quality there is available to me locally.  Sadly, our “hometown” grocer focuses on poor quality, cheap versions of basic provisions.  Since my elderly in-laws passed from physical existence, taking with them my reasons for the long journey to St Louis (for their numerous doctor’s appointments, at the end of their lives); WalMart is my weekly provider.  And I still happily commit to the longer trip but keep that to once or twice a month only, stocking up as best I can.  When it comes to produce, that’s a significant issue, for it spoils so quickly; and I know that focusing on fruits and vegetables is an important aspect of a basic, healthy diet for my family.  I can only do the best that I can do; and be grateful that I am able to do, what I do.

Cancer took both of my in-laws, but they had each led long lives (both died mid-80s) and had long health-spans, only suffering illness during the last few years of their lives.  Still, as I see cancer take the lives of more of my acquaintances, at much younger ages than my in-laws, I am suspicious that the changes in our modern human diet, have been adversely impacted by chemicals and all the artificial ingredients now put into convenience foods; which are the ones that much of the population consumes.  It does not help matters that, these are also the least expensive but the least nutritious choices available, to many people. 

I seek to provide my family with simple, home-cooked meals of very basic foods, prepared minimally (and not pre-processed and packaged) to avoid the excess sodium and chemicals, I would prefer to keep out of our diet.  I am an avid label reader; and make many food selections on that basis.  So choosing organic and natural foods is one way to avoid chemicals.

Choosing to support organic food producers helps to preserve water and air quality – both important elements in health and global well-being.  Organic producers help to prevent soil erosion, while enhancing soil quality; and these practices are also respectful of the health of those who work at farms.

One of the challenges we face in our time is a decline in biodiversity due to environmental impacts, the loss of habitats, organisms, standardization of genes in food crops and species extinction.  As humans, we are single-handedly one of the greatest threats to a healthy biodiversity; and therefore, our own significant risk factor, which could eventually lead to our own extinction. 

With healthy biodiversity, wasps and birds can prey on pests that might otherwise destroy our food crops, without depending on toxic chemicals to do that for us.  Insects, birds, bats and some other animals pollinate our crops, making the fruits they produce for us possible.  There are even living organisms in our soil, that decompose matter back to nutrient rich soil; and with broader genetic diversity, our plant and animal food sources are definitely better able to weather disease and pests. 

Where humans over history have relied on 7,000 different species of plants for food crops, we now rely mostly on only 15 plant and 8 animal species for 90% of ALL human food.  The infamous Irish Potato Famine was caused by a fungus that was able to destroy their entire crop of single variety potato. 

Thousand of non-commercial animal breeds and crop varieties have disappeared due to industrialized agricultural practices.  Even though none of the major species of domesticated food animals is in danger of extinction, we still lose 2 breeds to extinction every week.  Half of all the breeds that existed in Europe in 1900 are now extinct (300 of the 6,000 breeds worldwide have been lost in only the last 15 years).  The loss in genetic diversity for livestock creates a system dependent upon a carefully-regulated environment, that requires climate controls, antibiotics and high-protein feed and produces massive amounts of concentrated waste products.

Biodiversity is lost as untreated animal waste, chemicals and soil erosion damage the natural environment.  Enormous amounts of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, used by industrial agriculture, continue to leach into the ground and water.  All of these pollutants kill the living organisms that should naturally thrive in the soil and that depend upon the soil for sustenance. 

I happened to be driving through cotton fields, ready for harvest in SE Missouri yesterday.  I was struck by the “dead appearing” quality of the soil – only cotton growing in bleached white earth.  And I was also staggered by the significant amounts of cotton waste left behind, by the enormous machinery used to create giant round bales of cotton.

There is one more thing that matters a lot to me personally – it is the spiritual aspect of all of this thinking – I should remember to appreciate and hold precious every bit of the food that I do have, in recognition that there are always some who do not have enough, some who’s food is not at all healthy and many who’s food is lacking in some way, even lacking in an acknowledgement by the people eating it, of all the aspects of Life that the food has touched, on its way to nourishing the body. 

I do not need to feel guilty that I have enough to eat; but I should not over-consume the food that I have, even if it is of good quality and highly nutritious.  It is important to be mindful; and in balance, for the health of the self, and for the health of our world.

I seek to have a balanced, personal expression, relative to the food I eat – I want to be mindful of adequate but not excessive consumption, aware of all the energy and labor that went into my food’s production, supportive of efforts to reduce any negative impact that my need for nourishment may make, and grateful to have provision and waste it not.  In seeking an end to the suffering of any person, sentient being, or living aspect of my planetary home, the Earth, I intend to be a beneficial presence, in the living of this lifetime.  Food is a very important aspect of that impact. 

Water, Water Everywhere

May 15, 2011

 This is the 150th year, the Sesquicentennial, since the beginning of The Civil War, there will be many battle reenactments in key states . . .

In May 2011, we took a little trip, down the Mississip. 

We saw a lot of water; and in Memphis, we had a little fun . . .

This year (2011), the earthquake in Japan and the tornadoes in Alabama and Mississippi devastated human life more significantly; but closer to my own backyard, the Mighty Mississippi is drawing lots of attention, more than it has needed since the Flood of 1993.  While there are similarities, there are differences. 

The Mississippi is the 3rd longest river in No American and it’s watershed is the 4th largest in the world.  These are the worst floods to hit the central US in 70 years.  Below Missouri, the 1993 Flood was not big news; but then, during that flood, over 1,000 of the 1,300 earthen levees failed, flooding farmland and small towns and sparing the lower river of much flooding.  Major cities like Hannibal, St Louis and Cape Girardeau in Missouri along the Mississippi River, have massive concrete flood walls with heavy metal gates.  These protected the old city centers but areas above or below these structures did not have the same protection.  

Similarly, the combination of record winter snowfalls, and the snowmelts of spring, along with heavy rains over the Midwest – have done their best, quite successfully, to cause much damage.  Here is a pretty good overview of the June to mid-August Mississippi River flood of 1993.

The USGS has some good photos of that same flood here – http://mo.water.usgs.gov/Reports/1993-Flood/photos.htm .  They note that on Aug 1, 1993 the largest peak discharge since 1844 was measured at St Louis on the Mississippi River.  Before 1927, there were no flood control measures in place on the river.  Most of the damage in 1993 occurred in the area from Minnesota to Missouri.  In the Fall of 1992, soil moisture levels were already high in the Central US.  Winter rain and snow contributed to the saturated soil conditions and so when spring rain and snowmelt came, it could only run off into streams and rivers.

In June 1993, the rivers were already running high and a persistent upper level atmospheric pattern developed.  Moist air flowed up from the Gulf of Mexico into the Midwest.  Other upper level disturbances were crossing the country from west to east and collided with the moisture coming up from the south.  There was wave after wave of these storms.  Between June and  August, some locations had received over 30” of rain (almost 200% above normal).

The river crested at St Louis in 1993 at 49.6 feet (over 19’ above flood stage and 6’ above the record set in 1973).  The river remained over flood stage for 2 months.  Record flooding was also occurring in Iowa along the Des Moines River (which is a tributary of the Mississippi).

Because the Mississippi River Flood of 2011 is also a significant historical event, our family decided to take a little trip this last Thursday and Friday down to Memphis, TN (where the river crested 2 days earlier – Tuesday, May 10th – at 48′). Memphis received 11” of rain between  April 25th and May 6th and a downtown airport in Memphis was submerged on May 5th when a temporary levee broke.  The Mud Island reproduction of the Mississippi River watershed is submerged, though the walkway is high and dry.  We enjoyed strolling the riverfront, where the river looks more like an ocean and took in a supernatural carriage ride (perhaps I’ll add more about that in a comment to this blog) and a trolley ride.  We stopped at King’s Palace Cafe on Beale St to eat Crawfish Etoufee and were entertained by some old black men playing authentic classic blues live.  My friend, Lucienne (in the Netherlands), found this video (without knowing anything more, than that I had listened to Blues in Memphis on Beale St).  It so perfectly captured that last part of our Memphis experience, that I had to share it with you in this blog.  There was a man in a red bowler hat, that strolled through the diners, playing his trumpet at the beginning of the band’s set.  I’m certain the guy in the video, is the guy I listened to that night.

Here’s a little video of the flood, made at Memphis, about the same time we were there.

We started our contact with the Mississippi at Cape Girardeau on Thursday morning.  This year’s flood of the Mississippi is caused by a combination of April deluges (in our area, in one 8 day period, we received 22-1/2” of rain).  The flow was made heavier by near-record winter snows in the northern states beginning to melt.  The crest in Memphis was approx 48’ – the 2nd highest on record (that record being in from 1937, when it reached 48.7’).

Before we got to Memphis though, we traveled towards New Madrid and the Bird’s Point levee.  The National Guard had checkpoints in the area and the roads were still flooded, causing the first of our backtracks to detour around impassible roads but we were able to reach the river on more than one occasion, where we saw livestock having to make due with levee hills and river water, instead of their usual pasture and ponds in the floodplain.  The plan to breech the levee was highly controversial in Missouri.  The State of Missouri asked the US Supreme Court to intervene with the US Army Corp of Engineers’ plan to intentionally blow up the levee.  The lower court and the US Circuit Court of Appeals had both already ruled against Missouri, giving the Corps the right to breech the levee based upon a 1928 law.

Here’s a YouTube about that breeching of the Bird’s Point levee – (the video didn’t seem to embed on my preview and so, just in case, here is a url http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmF3m4R3FfY)

Besides the flooding of the Mississippi itself, there has been record flooding on the Ohio River (which merges with the Mississippi at Cairo).  Harrah’s casino at Metropolis IL on the Ohio River is an island in the flood now.  They have donated $100,000 to local chapters of the Red Cross.  The Ohio River has been so high that barges are passing over dams on the river.  The Ohio River crested at Cairo IL at 60.5’ on May 1st.  That exceed the 100-yr flood stage and is the highest flood in history.  The previous record was 59.5’ in 1937.  So this was the highest flood height ever recorded at Cairo (records go back 100 years) on the Mississippi, due to the effect of the Ohio River converging.  The new mayor of Cairo (only just sworn in on May 2nd) had evacuated the entire town of Cairo, before the US Army Corps acted.  Previous records at New Madrid, MO (which crested at approx 44’) have been – 48’ in 1937, 44.6’ in 1913, 43.6’ in 1975, 43.5’ in 1950 and 42.9’ in 1997.

The blasting of the Bird’s Point levee did seem to help with water at Cairo, IL dropping almost 2’, down from a record of 61.72’.  The water was still lapping at I-55 in that area, when we drove through.  It was still sandbagged, as well.  We drove through water, that was still over the road (though not deep) there.  I would assume it got a bit higher there on the Interstate, when they first blew the levee.  Also establishing crest records were Caruthersville, MO and Poncahontas AR (along the Black River, where a levee failed near Poplar Bluff, MO).  Down in the boothill of Missouri, one riverfront business in small rural town had a sign in the window of his sandbagged store front “Play Nice Old Man River” (video is Paul Robeson in Hammerstein’s Showboat song) – (the video didn’t seem to embed on my preview and so, just in case, here is a url http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh9WayN7R-s)

It is still the poorest of the poorest that are most devastated by Old Man River and his ways.  Yes, Old Man River keeps rolling along.  He’s not in any hurry to reach the sea.  The story is still unfolding, and far from complete – at Vicksburg MS, the crest is expected at 57.5’ on May 19th (topping the 56.2’ historic record set in 1927).  The Arkansas and Yazoo rivers have contributed additional water flow.

The Army Corp of Engineers is faced with yet another unpopular decision.  If it doesn’t act, the predicted crest at New Orleans around May 22nd would be anywhere from 19.5’ to 25’ (these predictions are constantly changing, of concern there in New Orleans is that the top of the levees are approx 20’).  We heard a lot of news locally in Memphis, about the plan to open a spillway to relieve the river in Louisiana.  There are even concerns about the river choosing a new channel to the sea.  Baton Rouge and New Orleans would likely flood, if something isn’t done.  The flooding of farmland and rural towns would prompt further evacuations and flash flood warnings in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway yesterday, channeling Mississippi floodwaters into the Atchafalaya River basin.  This is “built-in” to their system about 45 miles northwest of Baton Rouge.  The last time that they had to do this was in 1973

Around 2,500 people live directly on the flood path of the diverted water, which could also impact another 22,500 people and 11,000 buildings, as well as 2,264 oil wells which produce almost 20,000 barrels of crude a day.  But it does take the pressure off the cities and numerous oil refineries further south in Louisiana.   The number of huge oil and chemical processing plants in that region is staggering; and so, the opening of the spillway is realistically as much about big corporations with huge financial clout, as it is about any of “the people” living in New Orleans and Baton Rouge (but making it about the people is better received by the masses ;p and doubtless, it IS about them as well).

The engineers estimated that had they not opened the spillway, New Orleans would have been swamped in as much as 20′ of water.  If you are interested in learning more – about the Army Corps Mississippi system – there is a good deal of information in this New Yorker article – The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya.

I have a friend, Denise, who lives north of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain; and I checked in with her yesterday.  She wrote back -

“Oy, that river is something, huh?  I’ve gained a whole new respect for the Mighty Mississippi!! They finally opened up the Morganza Spillway upriver from Baton Rouge today around 4, I believe.  That has diverted all of that massive amount of rushing water to split so that we won’t get the full force of it all down in the cities along the river.  It’s a sad thing that all of that farmland and smaller communities will be flooded ‘on purpose’ to save the big cities, but I do understand that they are saving the greatest population areas.  Doesn’t make one feel any better about it though.  On the news this afternoon around 6, they were reporting that the river had already crested in New Orleans, and is expected to crest in Baton Rouge on the 16th, so apparently it’s working, but the rivers are SO HIGH it is eery.  Now, as long as the levees hold! Luckily we’re not expecting *any* rain, which is a very good thing right now!”

I’m not sure about the “river had already crested” part.  My understanding was that it was not due to do that, for a few days yet.  I saw a graphic in Memphis on their commercial TV showing the river was moving rather slowly.  I think the crest in Vicksburg was not expected before Thurs, the 19th; but perhaps it is the opening of this spillway, that allows that determination regarding New Orleans.

Below is a picture of the current level of flooding at the Old Train Depot in downtown Vicksburg MS, just yesterday (Sat, May 14th).

I found this NASA photo taken from the Space Station of the flooded fields in Missouri from the Bird’s Point levee breech by the Army Corps of Engineers.  This is actually from the day (Thurs, May 12th) that my family passed through the area of Caruthersville, MO (this photo shows just north of there – note that north on this photo is the lower right corner of the image).

Below is an image from Vicksburg – the “Flood Mark” on the river flood wall is the 1927 historic flood level that caused the creation of the Army Corps flood control system of locks, dams and spillways.

Now here’s an interesting aside, which I personally attribute to Nature’s innate wisdom – at  NOLA.com (note, this is the abbreviation for New Orleans, Louisiana) I found an article titled “Audubon Park Bird Island abandoned”

Is it related to the weather and flooding ?  I would hazard a “yes” on this one.  Of course, it could also be somehow due to adverse conditions for food continuing in the gulf, from the BP Deep Horizon incident of a year ago.

The Audubon Park Bird Island in New Orleans, LA houses one of the most prominent rookeries in the region for great egrets, snowy egrets, cattle egrets, herons and double-crested cormorants.  On our own journey, we did see such birds scattered about the receding floodwaters in Missouri, Kentucky and Northern Tennessee.  Anyway, the article says that “some birds indeed arrived at the island early this year, began mating, buidling nests and laying eggs but in early April, they all mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind nests and eggs.”  You can read more at the NOLA.com link above.

Taum Sauk

October 15, 2010

Our human body is 55% to 78% water, depending on body size.  We cannot live more than about a week without drinking appropriate water (fresh, clean and not salty).  Freshwater ecosystems provide food and livelihood for many of the Earth’s people.  Approx 70% of our planet Earth’s surface is covered in water, most is salty water in our oceans.  All of the life forms found on earth are believed to have originated in some way connected to water.  

People use water in many ways – for agriculture, for generating energy, for recreation and for sanitation – to name a few of the ways we use water.  As an environmentalist, I am aware of how man’s actions impact the quality of water.  Of how our insatiable need for fuel leads to polluting our oceans and waterways with oil – not just, as in the recent Gulf of Mexico disaster; but for a very long time now in Africa and South America.  These negligent activities impact real people in real ways – their food sources, their clean drinking water, their livelihoods and their general health and well-being.  Often these are what is called indigenous people, native humans who have inhabited those areas for a very long time.  Sadly, too often, corporations play shell games with ownership changes, to avoid facing the costs of cleaning up after they have finished taking the resources they desire. 

There is no way that a corporation, the responsible, non-human, legal entity (yes, I know there are humans controlling it)  can care in the same way a rooted people cares.  How can they care in the same way, that the people living there must care ?  It isn’t a reasonable expectation.

As a child of the Southwestern United States desert, I have always been highly aware of the role of water in my life and of the need to use it wisely.  Water and the impoundment of it, remains a serious issue in the geographical area where I was born and grew up. 

While the general focus for this year’s Blog Action Day is clean drinking water, and I have already acknowledged the importance of that and some of the adverse conditions impacting the availability of that, I am going to use my own blog space today, to talk about this issue of impoundment.  In Missouri, I experience an abundance of water – in perennial streams and rivers, and in having a multitude of springs of all sizes – we are very blessed by an abundance of this resource, which grows more critical in its quality and availability globally.  The United Nations expects demand to outstrip supply by more than 30% around 2040, with global water consumption is doubling every 20 years.

In the state where I reside (Missouri), water is used to produce electricity.  This is considered a positive effort, decreasing our dependence on oil and coal, for that necessity of modern life.  The most unique generating facility is not far from where I live, on a mountain top called Taum Sauk about 90 miles from St Louis.  This facility is notable for being a pure pump-back operation with no natural primary flow for generation.  This blog is the story about how that impoundment failed, what the damage from that was and of the surprising recovery and benefits of that event.  It is a story of how Life improves itself; and in sharing this story with you, I hope to inspire optimism that recovery even from the worst aspects of man’s use of water, is always possible.

This is a satellite image taken of the Taum Sauk Reservoir and Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park before the breech happened.  The dammed reservoir is in the upper center right.  (Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Natural Resources)

A satellite image taken just 8 days later on Dec. 22, 2005. Notice how the water literally stripped the land of everything it had and deposited it in the river, shut-ins and the lower reservoir. (Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Natural Resources)

I was sound asleep when our weather radio came on warning of flash flooding on the Black River.  This seemed strange to me, as it had not been raining.  Only later, did I learn that the Taum Sauk dam had failed at 5:12 am that morning (Dec. 14, 2005), and unleashed a huge environmental impact, as over 1.3 billion gallons of water cresting on a 20 foot high wave headed down the steep mountainside, towards the East Fork of the Black River.  The reservoir was emptied  in just 12 minutes.  The rush of water began destroying everything in its path, all the way through Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park.  The 5,000 acre/foot lake was built by AmerenUE between 1960-1963.  The upper reservoir is drained through a pipeline in the middle of the mountain and runs through electric generating turbines and the “spent” water is deposited in a lower reservoir.

I had visited the original dam more than once, as well as the nature center on the way up that mountain.  At the time, there was no restriction to just driving up on a whim.  There was no security at the site.  On Aug 7, 2010 I joined many others in touring the new $490 million dam at Taum Sauk.  The facility is now highly secure (which put the nature center out of access – its assets are being moved to other locations).  Even though a lot of damage occurred to take the old dam unintentionally out-of-service, what has resulted from the event, appears to be only positive – in terms of how much safer the dam structure is now (it was completely rebuilt from the ground up, there is a new routing for water with a spillway, if the dam were ever to over-top again and multiple fail-safe redundant sensors).  AmerenUE’s officials claim that the new dam may actually last thousands of years because it has been strongly rebuilt (and is the largest roller-compacted concrete dam in North America, using almost as much concrete as was used in the building of Hoover Dam near Las Vegas, NV).  The new dam was recognized by the US Society on Dams with an Award of Excellence in the Constructed Project.

On Aug 7, 2010, we also visited Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, so that we had a more “complete” understanding of the whole event and what has happened since.  I learned that over 8 feet of sand and clay plus 15 feet of downed trees ended up deposited in the state park after the water was no longer pouring through.  The force of the volume of water pouring through the breech, unbelievably, moved boulders, even some as big as cars, all the way into the park.  The debris created a dam causing a temporary 6 acre lake to exist, where one had not been before.  The unique rock formations that are the swimming hole, where crystal clear waters have mostly delighted hot summer visitors, were murky and full of soil that had been carved from the mountain. 

Above is how the park looked before the breech.  The rushing water filled the campground not only with natural materials but with the concrete and rebar that had been the dam.  The Park Superintendent’s home was washed away down to its foundation.  The family (including wife and 3 children) were deposited in fields downstream (remember it was December when this happened – good that there weren’t the masses of tourists, bad that it was very cold).  In the photo below, you can see what was left of this home’s foundation (area that is orange).  The only structure that “sort of” survived was a vault toilet, which still lost its rear wall but the fixtures, rolls of toilet paper and even a flypaper strip remained.

To the park service employees, one of their saddest losses was a 9 acre Fen.  This is a combination of seep forest and calcareous fens found in the flood plain of the East Fork of the Black River.  Seasonal floods pond rain water and calcareous ground water seepage.  Seep forests are rare in Missouri, hence the special attention this area received.

Union Electric (now AmerenUE) built Taum Sauk between 1960-1963, claiming it did not require any Federal permits to do so.  That contention was challenged but in the meantime, the facility was opened without federal inspection of its construction.  In 1965, the case had reached the US Supreme Court and the decision was that it was under federal jurisdiction, though its faulty design was allowed to remain.  It was faulty because the earthen dam was not of bedrock but “dirty fill”, a high concentration of sand, which was substandard, even by 1960s standards.  Other dams of such design had previously failed in a similar way.

While this was not the main cause of the breech (which was the failure of the computer system sensors to indicate the reservoir was full and therefore, the pumps kept bringing up more water), when it finally over-topped, the faulty construction facilitated severe erosion that led to a 656 ft gap in the dam. 

Contributing to the failure was minor leakage through the dam wall that had caused the breech area to slump lower than remaining walls (this was a known problem that had been addressed by lining the reservoir with a membrane in 2004).  Only months before the failure and collapse, company memos indicated observation of an overflow in the breech area, caused by wave action related to winds from Hurricane Rita in late Sept; and in Oct, it was noted that the gauges were malfunctioning.  There is evidence that a person on duty “raised” the gauges and that the gauges had been moved when the investigators arrived.

The Independent Panel of Consultants who investigated the breech also noted the omission of any kind of spillway from the design.   The Missouri Coalition for the Environment and the Missouri Parks Assn were parties to lawsuits (including attempts to deny a rebuilding of the dam).  Eventually, AmerenUE agreed in 2006 to pay $15 million after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission determined that negligence (operating errors) had led to the overflow and collapse of the structure.  In 2007, Ameren UE agreed to pay approx $180 million to settle a suit brought by Missouri’s then Attorney General (now governor) Jay Nixon.  Certainly, some of those proceeds went into the rebuilding and recovery of the Johnson Shut-Ins State Park’s new and well furnished amenities.

In spite of AmerenUEs reckless behavior, their request to rebuild was approved and construction began in 2007.  Insurance covered most of the cost of rebuilding.  The utility was prohibited from billing their customers for any part of the expenses the failure and collapse caused the company.

The Johnson Shut-Ins State Park was quite primitive before the breech.  The park totals 8,549 acres and was donated to the state of Missouri by Joseph Desloge (a well-known lead mining name, who was also a St Louis civic leader and conservationist).  Since the breech, its recovery has turned it into a modern, state of the art, recreational and educational destination.   Its educational value was greatly enhanced by the disaster itself. 

Before the event, the park was known primarily for its water filled, shoots and slides of rock, to frolick upon on hot, summer days. 

There is now a beautiful new visitor/interpretive center and a new and re-located to safer ground, campground, just in case.  I will admit that it is a bit disconcerting to see the signs posted along the trails indicating a person should immediately head 1,500 ft uphill (not sure of that distance but it is significant considering the rough and steep terrain there), if they hear a warning siren sound.  There are plans to connect the park with the larger Ozark Trail and to create a backpack camp.

During the recovery effort, mangled trees were mulched and truckloads of sand and sediment were removed.  Native grasses and saplings were planted.  New topsoil was brought in.  Wetland ecologists and soil biologists were brought in to determine how to restore the fen, which was under several feet of sand and sediment.  An industrial vacuum was used to remove this material in some places, in the more sensitive areas only shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows could be used as an attempt was made to salvage the unique vegetation buried there.  Time was of the essence, for these plants had to be salvaged in only a few months, by spring.  Recovering the fen was the park’s first major recovery success.

The primary educational benefit comes from 900 million years of earth history, in the form of geology that includes rocks from at least 3 geologic periods.  These are now visible in the scour channel that remains from the breech.  This is an opportunity for geologists that happens rarely.  The scour channel is now the newest and one of the more fascinating features of the park.  It is the reminder of how the water came down so very fast, from that steep slope at the top of this channel; and then, spread out when it hit the flatter valley floor.  As the flood slowed, the water started dropping all the solid material it had carved away from the mountain.  Walking among the angular, basketball-sized rocks, of rhyolite, dolomite, granite, sandstone and chert, is still difficult while hiking in the scour channel.

Volcanoes created the St Francis Mountains (I learned at the center that there is a chain of 3 Calderas in our region, south of St Louis) erupting 1.4 to 1.5 billion years ago, which formed the Rhyolite rock that became the mountains (which were higher than the Rockies at one time).  Not long after, holes left underground by these explosions began to collapse, a pattern than continued for centuries. 

The volcanic mountains were later covered by a sea (long before the glaciers melted, fish swam there or dinosaurs roamed) and some part of that 530 million yr old beach was near the top of the reservoir mountain, before the breech occurred.   This period, when the Midwest was underwater, was just before the supercontinents began to pull apart.  The igneous rock was then covered by thousands of feet of sedimentary rock such as limestone, sandstone, shale and dolomite.

In the low places, the swift Black River has created a feature known in Missouri as a Shut-in.  This is a place where hard rock, in this case igneous, shuts in the flow of the river.  At Johnson Shut-Ins, the water’s action of swirling and churning has created potholes, water slides and miniature canyon like gorges.  My family hiked the Scour Trail from Route N to an overlook about midway up the channel, before we told the children about the swimming hole.  We had not come dressed for swimming but my boys all swam in their shorts and pants without their shirts.  The shoots and slides are wonderfully clear and clean once more.  We would have liked to have gone up the scour channel a bit further, towards the reservoir mountain but it was brutally hot, giving us an excuse to return for another hike in milder weather.


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