HOW WE CAN “LIVE LIKE THAT”

19 11 2013

written by Martin

I’m feeling pretty happy right now.  Today I put the finishing touches on a support beam in the basement of what’s left of our old house.  The beam frames the doorway from the “old” basement (which used to be the “new” basement) into what will be the new basement, which used to be the “old” basement.  I had to do this because when we built the new bearing walls in what used to be “the great room,” we didn’t realize that one of them was sitting on a floor joist that hung in the middle of that door frame, and thus was essentially unsupported at one end.

That leads into the tangle of all the shoddy work done by the contractor who built “the great room” back in the mid-eighties, but I don’t want to enter that quagmire.  I’m happy with myself for finishing what, for me, was a large and intense carpentry project–sistering the beams under the bearing walls (adding another beam directly beside the existing one, for you non-carpenters), building the support structure I mentioned, and, for good measure, shrouding the south wall of the basement in plastic, to keep it (and our water supply) warmer.  There was the further satisfaction of actually finishing a project–there is so much to do here that, all too often, we find ourselves having to leave something unfinished because something else has become more important.  That gets frustrating!

I had to recall and renew my long-dormant carpentry skills so I could figure out how to slip sixteen-foot 2X8’s into an existing floor system all by myself, and do a good enough job to satisfy Cindy, who, in addition to being an ecstatic mystic, has an engineer’s training and eye for detail and quality.  This stretched not just my sixty-five year old muscles, but my problem-solving ability, my patience, and, at times, our relationship, but I appreciated all that, because, singly and as a couple, we’re not just out for a good time, we’re living our lives, and involved with each other, to find the places where we need to grow, and help each other shed outworn or inappropriate habits.  Whatever happens, it’s all grist for the mill. Read the rest of this entry »





CUMBERLAND-GREEN RIVER BIOREGIONAL COUNCIL WINTER GATHERING!

13 01 2013

And so, in the end, it still comes back to thinking globally, and acting locally.  And locally, there’s an opportunity coming up for those  of us who think along these lines and live in the Nashville neck of what’s left of the local woods to get together and consider our options.  The winter gathering of the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council is coming up next weekend, the 18th through the 20th of  January.  This year’s theme is “Climate Calamity:  Cool It Or Lose It.”  You can read the details on the group’s “Meetup” site.  Just in case you’re not familiar with the term “bioregional,” here’s my shot at a definition:

Bioregionalism” is a word that came into use in the late 1970’s as a signifier of “the new paradigm,” i.e., a holistic way of understanding the human situation and life on Earth in general.  The bioregional view is to see the world as a network of interlocking, interacting biological regions, each defined by a loose combination of common  plant communities and watershed boundaries.

Thus, the “Cumberland-Green River” bioregion encompasses the drainage basins of the Cumberland and Green Rivers, as well as the Highland Rim areas south and west of the Nashville basin, areas drained by the Duck, Buffalo, and Elk Rivers, among others, which flow into the Tennessee River from the north or east as it flows west through northern Alabama and then turns north through central Tennessee.

The gathering will kick off on Friday night with a mixer, a great opportunity to talk, reconnect with old friends, and make new ones–well, that’s the idea for the whole weekend, really.  Read the rest of this entry »





SEEING THE LIGHT IN DARK TIMES

8 01 2011

Sometimes, when you have an inspiration or a vision or a premonition, there are parts of it that don’t quite make sense at first.  It’s only later, as you start to realize (as in, bring into reality) your vision, or as your premonition takes shape in your daily life, that you understand its full import.

That’s what happened with “bioregionalism,”  which  emerged as a vision and a movement in the late sixties and early seventies, when many of us abandoned mainstream culture to go “back to the land” and found ourselves in intimate relationship with trees and forests, hills and mountain ranges, waterways and watersheds, and all the animal life (including the humans) who co-existed in our local ecosystem.  Some of us began to relate with our environment in much the same way as the native people our predecessors had displaced, and to sense the logic of a political organization that recognized communities based on organic boundaries, rather than lines drawn on a map.

This emerging vision was nourished by the first shocks of the possibility of resource depletion in the late 70’s, when OPEC first exhibited its control over the world’s oil supply.  But then, but then….North Sea oil and North Slope oil, among other factors, fed a borrowing and spending binge that all but erased the idea that there might be “limits to growth,” as the Club of Rome famously warned.  The idea that one’s watershed might be the de facto limits of one’s world seemed like a quaint hippie anachronism.

Now, nearly forty years after “Limits to Growth” and the first stirrings of bioregionalism, the full import of that early vision is starting to come into focus.  New oil discoveries are not keeping pace with increasing demand for petroleum products.  An increasing number of the commodities our culture depends on, from coal to uranium to rare earths, are  showing signs of depletion.

–C’mon, you say, there’s new oil discoveries being made all the time–they just found twenty freakin’ billion barrels under the Caspian Sea!  Peak oil, shmeak oil!

–Twenty billion sounds impressive, but current world consumption is thirty-one billion barrels a year, and demand is increasing–so that’s an eight-month supply.  Whoop-de-do.  New oil finds are increasingly small, difficult to access, as in a mile under the Gulf of Mexico, or difficult to process, like Canada’s tar sands.  What new oil we are finding is expensive to pump and/or expensive to process, and the environmental risks involved are costly, as well.  The price of oil is going nowhere but up, even as our ability to pay for it (at least in this country) is going down.

And I haven’t even mentioned the CO2/global warming factor…

Moreover,the “global marketplace” is coming unglued.  In order to lower labor costs, the US government and big business colluded to demolish our country’s industrial infrastructure, promising the average American that this would mean lower prices.  Most people didn’t buy this, but the government (can you say “Bill Clinton,” boys and girls?) went ahead and did it anyway, and sure enough those lower prices didn’t matter much because most people’s’ wages were lowered, too, if they were even lucky enough to keep their jobs…I’m getting ahead of myself.  More on that in the next segment!

Back to the topic–bioregionalism.  So, after the idea of bioregionalism was first floated in the late seventies and early eighties, and then buried under a heap of transnational trading trinkets, it’s coming back up out of the ground like grass in the cracks of the sidewalk, like the return of deer and woodland in Detroit, which I predict will soon be occurring in many more formerly urban locations around the country.

I think “bioregionalism 2.0” is a change for the better. While earlier bioregionalists tended to wrestle with big philosophical issues, the reborn bioregional movement has a more practical, from-the-ground-up focus–quite literally.  It tends to crop up most often in the form of local food activism, as people comprehend the insecurity of eating a diet that depends on “the kindness of strangers” in far-away places, and decide that they would rather grow their own, or at least know the person who grows for them.   This familiarity allows feedback, and thus control.  From this “seedling” of concern, as it were, it’s easy to see how other sprouts could soon begin to arise:  can we relocalize, and thus reclaim control over,  the production of our clothing and other household goods? What about the energy that heats and lights those households?

It is increasingly the case in this country that, despite the rhetoric, national and even most state politicians don’t serve the people, but the highest bidder, and it’s truly a shame that the corporate-funded Tea Party has, at least for the time being, stampeded many into supporting a movement that will only make that situation worse.  With the government increasingly divorced from and unresponsive to the needs of real people, the local food movement is, I believe, the kernel of a from-the-bottom-up regrowth of genuine democracy in this country.

Speaking of genuine democracy, it’s hard to talk about the history of bioregionalism without a shoutout to the Green Party of the United States, which was born out of a desire by some in the North American Bioregional Congress to bring the bioregional agenda into the political arena.  While perhaps most famous for nominating Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney as Presidential candidates, the  party has met with the most success at the local level, electing Mayors, City Council members, and other local officials whose ability to translate the party’s ideals of sustainability and participatory democracy into practical solutions to everyday problems has won them the hearts of the citizens they serve.

OK, enough self-congratulation for now.

The national situation, in which the North American Bioregional Council begat the Green Party, replicated itself here in Tennessee, where we have a small but active Green Party that is, to a certain extent, a subset of a larger Bioregional Council, and this is where I get down to, as they say, “brass tacks.”

“The Cumberland-Green (River) Bioregional Council” has been convening regularly here in middle Tennessee for nearly thirty years, and our winter gathering is coming up at the end of this month, from the 28th through the 30th of January.  And yeah, I know what happened last month with the local food potluck (which, alas, still hasn’t been rescheduled)–the Bioregional Council’s “snow date” is the following weekend.

Reflecting the continuing economic downturn and the wave of reactionary (not “conservative” at all!) politics that is sweeping the country, the gathering is entitled “Seeing the Light in Dark Times.”  Crisis and opportunity…you know.

Friday night, there will be a party, and all day Saturday, at Brookmeade Congregational Church on Davidson Road on the West side of Nashville, there will be events, starting with an introductory circle that’s a kind of open mike for attendees to introduce themselves or catch their old friends up on their year’s activities–summing up the highlights of your year in 2-3 minutes is a very interesting exercise!

In the afternoon, there will be workshops on a variety of subjects, from solar hot water to conflict resolution.  I’d tell you more, but the details are still being figured out.

Saturday night, another party–the Green Party ain’t the only party that came out of the bioregional council!  The whole thing is very informal–it’s at least as much about personal connections as it is about any kind of formal subject matter or agenda.

Sunday starts with a morning meditation, followed by a business meeting.  Does that sound like an odd combination?  I think most business meetings should be preceded by a meditation session.  I believe it would change the tone of this country.  The business meeting is followed by a potluck brunch and….another party–kind of a wrap-up.

There is no charge for this event–expenses are covered by a fund-raising auction that takes place around the Saturday potluck lunch.  Some people attend all of it, some only come for whatever part of it fits their schedule or their fancy.  You’re invited–go to the Cumberland-Green Bioregional Council’s meetup.com site for details, and get involved.

music:  The Indigo Girls, “The Wood Song”





GATHERING OF THE TRIBES

13 01 2008

In the heady days of the 1960’s and 70’s, when it seemed like our time was coming any day, we began to re-imagine the world. It was, and is, easy enough to point out how crazy things are–but what would “better,” radically better, look like?

By “we,” I mean those of us who were hippies not for the sex, drugs, and rock n’roll, (although, to be sure, we appreciated them!) but because we were (and in many cases still are) visionaries who could not sit down, shut up, and work like normal ants–I mean, people. We saw the artificiality of political boundaries, and the reality of natural ones, like watersheds and biological communities. We saw the futility of trying to make ignorant people change their ways through legislation, and found the satisfaction that comes from walking our talk and teaching by example. We founded magazines and movements like Co-evolution Quarterly, The New Alchemy Institute, Esalen Institute, and the Farm, and, for a while, seemed poised to turn the entire state of Vermont into a countercultural domain.

Two visionaries in particular found their tongues and began to frame a movement with a name. The name was “Bioregionalism,” and the visionaries were Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann; and true to the bioregional ideal, they were very different, but very complimentary.

Dasmann was the older of the two by a generation, and perhaps not ever technically a “hippie,” but certainly a visionary. He did study at UC Berkley as an undergraduate, but that was before World War II, which turned him into a soldier and sent him to New Guinea. By 1970, he was travelling the world for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and thus became one of the first scientists to get a global view of the ecological situation. His globetrotting brought him to the first UN environmental conference, in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972, which is where he met Peter Berg, who, while also a Californian, had been treading a very different path.

Peter Berg had been a member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe in the mid-sixties. The Mime Troupe, which still exists, specializes in radical street theater. Berg, in 1966, had the inspiration to take it one step further. That further step has come down to us as “The Diggers,” a group that tried to radically alter human relationships by making everything a free work of art–food, clothing, shelter, medical care. They were in effect the backbone of the seminal Haight-Ashbury counterculture community, and when it was ultimately overwhelmed, Berg found his way to a small commune way, way up in the Sierras. It was from there, as a self-appointed representative of the North American counterculture, that he went to the UN conference in Stockholm.

Berg’s meeting with Dasmann resulted in the creation of Planet Drum Foundation, an organization which to this day promotes a wholistic view of this world we live in. Berg used Planet Drum as a platform from which to convoke a “North American Bioregional Congress,” which he saw as parallel to the convocation of the first Continental Congress. His hopes that it would result in a radical reorganization of North American politics have not yet been realized, but the first North American Bioregional Congress is the point at which this story starts to become locally relevant.

Milo Guthrie, an herbalist and activist from the Nashville area, wanted to go to the bioregional congress–but only delegates from bioregional councils were entitled to attend. So he formed one–the Cumberland and Green River Basin Bioregional Council, named for the two major river systems (besides the vast Tennessee River basin itself) that define our area. The group’s name has conventionally been shortened to “The Cumberland Greens” and confused with the Green Party, which is inaccurate, although there is a relationship–the “Comittees of Correspondence” (another borrowing from the first American Revolution) that were formed out of the NABC did in fact form the nucleus of the Green Party of the United States.

“The Cumberland Greens” are not a political party, but a bioregional council—a group of people from around the bioregion who do our best to fully inhabit the places we live, to eat locally and dream globally. We meet to share our strengths and visions and take what action we can, and yes we know we are carrying a banner that was passed down to us from the hippies of San Francisco. We will be meeting January 19th at Brookmeade Congregational Church here in Nashville, and you and your visions are welcome to come. Contact Eric at islandspring@cafes.net for further details.

music: Incredible String Band, “Douglas Traherne Harding”

 








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