Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Questionnaire by Wendell Berry

1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill. 

From his newest book Leavings, which I ever-so-prudently did not buy today in order to limit my distractions from Management Policies in Local Government Finance.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

ARL Wildlife Rescue Center

Some people think that everything non-human is expendable. Most of us are sickened by tales of gross abuse and neglect, but many creatures get hurt by simple negligence or accidents--I am heartened that there are those who won't just leave the "least" among us to die because they happened to be in someone's way. It is completely awesome that you can rebuild a turtle shell, and even more awesome that there is someone who does it.

This story made me tear up, but I'm a sucker for turtles. OK, I'm a sucker for just about everything that isn't an earwig, silverfish, or a mosquito, but still!

As someone who has stopped traffic on many occasions to rescue some small creature, been late for work to return a dog that kept running into the street during morning rush hour to his home, and trekked out to Verona with a furball (SQUIRREL!!) in the back of the car on two occasions, I <3 the Wildlife Center.

Spread the word, and donate if you can.

Focus, not on the rudenesses of others, not on what they've done or left undone, but on what you have & haven't done yourself. ~ Dhammapada, 4

ARL Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
InterNest Explorer 
 August 2009

Box Turtle Taped Shell

Look twice to save a life...

YOU can help give turtles a second chance!
Turtles are some of the most prehistoric looking animals we admit at the center. This summer, it seems as though we are admitting more turtles than ever. Although turtles have tough shells to protect them from most predators, when faced with a conflict such as an oncoming car or lawn mower, the turtle always comes out on the losing end.

Painted Turtle in cast

 Just last month, we admitted a painted turtle that was simply taking a morning stroll through a yard. Suddenly, a lawn mower ran over him, ripping off the top and side of his shell. He bled profusely as he ran toward the bushes to hide.
Luckily, someone saw the accident, picked up the turtle and shell pieces and rushed him to the Wildlife Center. When he arrived, the turtle laid in his box, head down and facing a corner. Staff treated him immediately. We stopped the bleeding, disinfected the wounds and rebuilt the shattered shell pieces just like a puzzle. As we worked and gave him fluids, he perked up, even mustering the energy to attempt to bite us!

Painted Turtle Cracked ShellSadly, many turtles are not so lucky. There are things you can do to keep turtles and other animals safe in the wild. While mowing, watch for wildlife in your path. Many animals are injured this way because they are too young or too slow to get out of the way in time. If you see a turtle in the middle of the road, help him finish crossing by safely pulling your car off the road and carrying him to the other side.

The painted turtle now faces a long stay with us while his shell heals. He will always have the scars from his run in with the lawn mower, but this turtle will eventually get a second chance at life.

If you would like to help this turtle and others receive the care they so desperately need, please consider donating to your local wildlife center today!

 Donate Now

You may also mail donations by check to:
ARL Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
c/o ARL 6620 Hamilton Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15206 
Martha and Baby



Jill Argall, Director
Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

6900 Verona Road
Verona, PA 15147 

Phone: 412-793-6900
Fax: 412-793-6283
Join Our Mailing List
Our Mission
To rehabilitate and release injured and orphaned wildlife and to provide educational programs to regional residents in order to help foster an appreciation for conservation and a harmonious existence between humans and wildlife.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Brewing a storm

The air is thick and cool, the buzz of cicadas interspersed with the chirps of crickets. The clouds thicken in the sky, backlit by silent lightning that looks like flashes of fireworks' afterglow.

No one likes humidity. I do not relish trying to sustain myself on air as thick as soup, nor the sensation of my clothes clinging to the sweat clinging to my skin. But I love the seasons. I love to feel each season--at first, merciful relief from whatever torment the previous season has wrought, then twisting from salve back into agony yet again.

I love the lushness of summer. I love the overfull sensation of the thick air and dense green in all directions. The skies blacken, flash and crack with booms that shake the house. Torrents of water beat down, rushing through the streets, filling gardens until they can take no more, followed by gentle rain that sounds like the rustle of crinoline, swishing you to sleep.

Soon summer's heat will give way to bright fall days with dry, crisp air beckoning soft cozy sweaters out of the drawer. Then the days will steadily shorten as the leaves change and fall. The welcome cooling autumn days turn frigid, driving us indoors and inside ourselves. Though our modern lives provide us little respite during these dark days of the year, our spirits still curl in to hibernate. Just when we think we can't take the winter's blistering cold anymore--our skin is chapped, the dry air has scoured our sinuses and throats--the first blush of spring green unfurls itself with the returning light and warming air. The snow melt is hastened by chilly rain, and soon enough, the bright green darkens, the leaves fill out, and we again find ourselves in the heady days of August, the wet air glistening as sweat on our skin, our lungs working overtime to pull oxygen out of the heavy atmosphere.

The unpleasantness of each season has its own beauty. Each reminds us we are alive in its own unique way. So even though I may not particularly enjoy swimming through the air, I still relish the experience, and appreciate the relief of the next stage of the year when it arrives. While I also appreciate the miracle that is my air conditioner, you'll rarely find it on at home, in part because I'm cheap, but it also is a respite from the climate-controlled environment, a reminder that I am a creature of this world, alive in this time and place.

The rain has cooled the air now, the thunder has passed. I am going to go lay in my bed, the ceiling fan slowly stirring the dampness, and drift asleep to the music of the crickets and rain.

My Place in Pittsburgh

Our local NPR station, WDUQ has been running the following announcement on the air for some weeks now:
My Place in Pittsburgh
What's your favorite spot in the Pittsburgh region-- is there a bridge or a playground with special significance? Perhaps it's as grand as a beathtaking view or as simple as a specific park bench. Tell us where it is and why at You might become part of "My Place in Pittsburgh", a new on-air and website project debuting later this year.

I've been thinking about it since it first aired, and, though I determined my answer to the question some weeks ago, it was not until today that I responded.

Dear friends at DUQ:

My place in Pittsburgh is the restoration of the Nine Mile Run Watershed.

I am a native Pittsburgher, born at Magee Womens Hospital. The first place I went outside the walls of that hospital (so I have been told) was the playground at the corner of Forbes and S. Braddock. As a kid, I ran around in the valley, and collected fireflies in the field off of Kensington Street. Frick Park is as much home to me as the house in which I live. It is my place of solace and rejuvenation.

The restoration of the watershed ecosystem in lower Frick fills me with such profound love and joy, there are barely words for it. I am nearly embarrassed by my attempts to describe what this place means to me because it is too close to the bone--I fear my earnestness will be seen as trite sentimentality.

Like many from this region, I recognize that we've got a number of serious problems ranging from the economic to the environmental. With a dramatic loss of population in a mere generation, crumbling infrastructure, segregated neighborhoods, struggling schools, and a deflated economy--to envision yet another Pittsburgh renaissance seems to be a foolish flight of fancy. Yet still we rise--retooling what we have and encouraging new growth.

To walk in Lower Frick now and see the willows along the stream towering above your head, as you hear woodpeckers in the distance, watch hawks soaring above, and see butterflies dancing among the swaying Joe Pye Weed, you'd scarcely believe that the meadow you are admiring was once a sewage-covered playing field. As dragonflies buzz past, and frogs leap into the water, you may forget that, not long ago, this water was too polluted for anything to live in it. A small group of concerned citizens helped bring about a $7.7 million restoration project that turned a blighted, polluted space into a beautiful public space that supports both the wildlife that live there, and the spirits of the humans who visit. A small group of committed citizens continues to look after this crown jewel of the City park system, reaching out to the residents of neighboring communities to connect them to this beautiful space and teach them to become good citizens of the watershed. We needed big machines to move the boulders into place and create new banks for the streams, but now we need thousands of hands to pick up trash, recycle, install rain barrels; thousands of voices to talk to neighbors and friends and teach them how their small actions impact this big picture.

The restoration area is a metaphor for what is happening, and what can happen, for our City. Sure, we have problems. But if we roll up our sleeves, pool our efforts, and maybe call in some heavy equipment, the problems need not be insurmountable. We have problems, but Pittsburgh also has much inherent beauty and deep reserves of natural (including human) resources. If we so choose, through hard work and compassionate stewardship, we, like the watershed, can rise again. In the words of Wendell Berry--"this is no paradisal dream, its hardship is its possibility."


Park Place

For beautiful before and after pictures, go here under "Restoration Complete."

Do not take lightly small good deeds, believing that they can hardly help. For drops of water, one by one, in time can fill a giant pot. ~ Patrul Rinpoche

The restoration of Frick Park served many purposes, and was a very practical thing to do in many respects. On another level, however, it was a pure act of love.

Why does this little watershed matter? Why does it matter whether I kill the fly buzzing around my house and annoying me? Why does it matter if the Wildlife Center saves one small turtle, mangled by a careless person mowing the lawn?

There is a bigger answer to these questions, but the simple one is that we are all interconnected. As we wish to be safe and free from harm, let us give that to the world--it will indubitably come back to us. Maybe not in the form you expect or on your schedule, but it will come. Every kindness creates more kindness--in virtue of its being done, the world is more blessed. It is easy to be overcome by cynicism. It is easy to see all of the horrors of this world and be horrified, perhaps even to the point of turning your heart to stone.

Alternatively, we can allow each horrifying act we witness to tear our hearts open, making room to hold yet more of the world with compassion.

In the face of those who harm animals, in the face of the trauma of wars destroying countless lives, in the face of genocide, starvation, corruption, and abject poverty--we can close down, curl inward, etiolate, and die.

Or we can roll up our sleeves, and get to work moving the boulders and shoving the willow branches into the newly formed banks of the stream so that generations from now, children will never know that this place was not always paradise.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Early May rain

I'm waiting.

Waiting for the rain to stop. Waiting for the soil to dry enough to till. Waiting to collect my soil sample for analysis. Waiting to get seeds into the ground.

Gardening teaches us about right relationship, about respect, about patience. If there is anything over which I have no control, it would be the schedule of rain showers. Where one has no control, one may choose to fight (images of China shooting clouds to make rain come to mind), or one can learn to dance, moving with a rhythm you did not create, synchronizing your movement with another's. In some instances, we can use force to bend nature to our will. Rather than meander over forested hills, we blow holes through the middle, creating map-ready straight lines.

But, really, you can't till mud. It just don't work, no matter how fancy your technology.

I'm in love with my soil. I'm in love with my compost. I'm fascinated by the ecosystem that thrives in one ounce of well-amended soil. In his first book, Second Nature, Michael Pollan offers the garden as a model for how humans can interact with the world in a way that is both beneficial to us, and to "nature." I use the quotes because this distinction between us humans and the "natural world" is wholly contrived, and feeds the negative dichotomy that allows us to continue to justify our dominion over the land and its non-human creatures. The alternative to dominion is stewardship. We and the "natural world" can both thrive if our relationship to this planet and the other creatures on it is one of respect and restraint. Just because we can, doesn't mean we should.

I scoop compost out of my bucket with my hand, and in my palm I hold an ecosystem more amazing than anything we humans have made. This planet has been at this living stuff for a really long time, and has gotten really darn good at it. I can create the causes and conditions that allow that handful of compost to arise, but I cannot create the life within it. Even a life that I could carry inside me for nine months, I cannot truly create.

When I was nine, I went to the beach with my dad, stepmom, and some friends of theirs. The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are as different as the Appalachian and Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Pacific pounds the rocks of the slowly receding California coastline, like the western mountains jut, ragged and treeless into thinning air. The Atlantic is a more gentle ocean, softer, like the rolling, worn ridges of broadleaf deciduous forest that make up the Appalachian chain.

I was a strong swimmer as a kid, but I was, nonetheless, a nine year old up against the Pacific. Somehow I got myself caught in a hard undertow. I could dive under the waves, letting them pass over me and draw me toward the shore, but I couldn't set my feet or fight the rushing stream of water heading back out to the west. I was stuck. Bobbing up and down, trying to swim in. I could see my father and his friends on the beach, but I was too far away, and no one was looking for me. I was getting tired.

Finally, I got within range of some people standing in the surf, and as the wave started to rush backward, pulling all the sand from under my feet and tugging me away, I thrust out my hand toward this man. I don't remember that I could even manage to ask for help, though I imagine that my child's face conveyed that I was in distress.

I may owe my life to a smiling brown-skinned man who reached for the outstretched arm of a little huera child he did not know. I would not recognize him if I were to see him, but his smile and firm grip on my hand, freeing me from the ocean will remain forever in my memory. As I gasped for air, I found I could finally stand. I thanked him profusely. I doubt he had any idea that he saved my life.

I hope that he accumulated vast merit for his act of kindness, perhaps seemingly small to him, but on which the whole of my life likely hangs. The teachings tell us that karma multiplies--small actions can have huge results. May his be the seed for his enlightenment.

When people say that the world is hard and angry and closed, I feel sorry for them. My world is filled with strangers who would help an unknown child in distress, who get off the bus during the morning commute to assist a stranger collapsed in the street, people who rescue animals, people who rally behind the story of a little, lost squirrel, people who care to treat the ground under their feet with kindness, and who thank the earth for the abundance of blessings it bestows upons us, with neighbors who care for one another with a bowl of soup, a lent tool, or by lending a hand when you've clearly bitten off more than you can chew.

In life, as in the garden, we reap what we sow. The difference is that, in the garden, if I drop a radish seed here, a radish will grow after a set period of time here. If I were to plant a square of radishes and then fret and complain that I DON'T HAVE ANY CORN!! you'd call me a madwoman. In life it is the same--the seeds we plant in it will ripen, but in life our actions are bitty drops in a huge interconnected and interdependent web, so, unlike in our garden, we don't always know when and where our seeds will germinate and grow. The seeds of hatred will come back to us in the form of angry people. The kindness we give will eventually find its way back to us.

Some people pray, down on their knees, hands pressed together, heads bowed before their Lord.

So too, do I kneel down on the earth, hands cupping my precious soil, filled with life that I cannot create--a brilliant miraculous system on which our very lives depend. Stewarding this tiny, yet vast and complicated ecosystem is one long, living prayer--an act of both faith and humility. A supplication for sustenance.


[orginally written May 2009]

Review of "Milk"

This is a slightly edited version of a review I posted elsewhere right after seeing the movie shortly after it came out.


Extremely well-done, and Sean Penn was excellent. I think even people who are tepid on him an actor will find that he's really remarkable in this role. I was blown away by how well he captures the marvelous joy and sensitivity of Harvey Milk.

Milk was murdered when I was just a little kid, and despite living in California for many years, including several in San Francisco, I never really got the whole story. It seems, sometimes, that it is our most recent history that is lost to us.

I owe much to Harvey Milk personally--were it not for him and those who stood up at Stonewall, I could never have stood on a San Francisco Chronicle box 15 years ago to look as far as I could see down Market Street and see 150,000 people in the streets for the Pride March. I could never have held a job as an openly queer woman. I could never have walked down the street with my arm around my girlfriend.

So last night I was reminded how much I owe my freedom to those who came before me. We would not now be fighting for equal recognition of our families under the law if those before us hadn't fought for our right to simply live without the constant threat of violence, police abuse, and loss of our jobs. There is still progress to be made on all of those fronts, to be sure. As I watched the old footage of the Bryant/Briggs campaign across America, stripping gay and lesbian people of their basic right to not be fired from their jobs for being gay or lesbian, it was like watching the news today as putatively 'Christian' crusaders make their rounds of the nation trying to "protect the American family" by repealing anti-discrimination laws that protect families from losing their income; by preventing children in need of loving homes from getting one because it might come with two mommies or two daddies; by making it so children who lose their biological parent are taken away from the only other parent they've known, so that widows and widowers are unable to keep the joint property together they accumulated over the years with their life partner when that person dies unless they pay punitive taxes that married couples do not have to pay....

Harvey Milk was a loving, generous, kind man. We all lost when he and Mayor Moscone were gunned down by Dan White, who clearly suffered from some sort of mental torment. As the credits rolled, I sat in the still dark theater wondering how the hell a man walks into the office of the mayor of a major American city and shoots him dead, walks down the hall, asks to speak to another elected official, walks into another office, and shoots a City Council member multiple times--and gets five years in prison for manslaughter?

Dan White murdered two elected officials, and gets 5 years because the jury bought some bullshit "twinkie defense?" The man clearly had issues, and the field of psychiatry was not what it is today, but however you want to slice and dice it, this was premeditated homicide. He snuck into City Hall with a gun, met with each man separately and killed them. This didn't happen by accident, by acting in a fit of rage or passion in which you do something rash which kills someone.

Murder 1 -- two counts. 25 - life at least, if not a death sentence for the added fact that they were elected officials, and we should take more pains to make murdering those elected to public office a greater crime, just as we do with cop-killers.

5 years, out on parole.

I called my dad (who has lived in California since 1981, less an 8 year stint in Texas) and asked him how the hell that happened, and he didn't know, and didn't think my stepmother (who is a native Californian) would have any better insight into it.

What the hell? Seriously?

But I owe even my right to be outraged at such a paltry penalty for his murderer to Harvey Milk and everyone else who suffered indignities and violence to try to make America more free, to make it so people need not be ashamed to have dark skin, practice a religion other than Christianity, or to love another person of the same gender.

I have been engaged in some dialogue with a friend of my dad and stepmom's regarding the success of Proposition 8 in last year's election, and I commented to my father about an e-mail exchange with said friend in which she asserted that I should not hold California to a higher standard. I was reminded of this conversation in the middle of the movie--when Harvey is talking about bringing Bryant and Briggs to California as they were fighting Prop 6--"All eyes will be on us, looking for hope." People in Minnesota, Kansas, Texas, Pennsylvania...all looking to California for hope. People leave their hometowns to go to the Castro to find safe haven, to escape the ungodly and unbearable pressure of a closeted life, or a life of harassment, shame, and violence, and those left behind look westward for hope.

California remains the standard bearer. When Prop 8 passed, it was a crushing blow for all of us. I know that California isn't a utopia of equal rights and happy shiny people holding hands. But the eyes of the nation are upon it again now, as they were then--if not there, then where? If you can't do it, how can Kansas?

Unfair? Indeed.

Just outside the safe confines of my city limits (I can see the next borough from this chair), I can be fired for loving another woman, though we're working on making a county-wide protection:

* (my friend and schoolteacher, Kris Rust, is quoted in that article. His partner, Hugh McGough, will be running for judge again in the next elections.)

I still owe California an apology for some misplaced anger and frustration when Prop 8 passed, but whether anyone likes it or not, California is still expected to be the leader when it comes to gay rights. Perhaps discovering that California is only human, and subject to the same fractious fear-mongering as the rest of the nation will be the motivation we need to regroup and rededicate ourselves to the fight for dignity and equality for all.

Post Script
Well, if not in California, then Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire (well, they're working on it), Connecticut, Vermont, and Massachusetts. Maybe New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Some people are upset at the California Supreme Court, but I am not among them. I think that Prop 8 should be repealed the way it was passed. The battle will be stronger if the decisions come from the legislatures and not from judges who will be simply labeled "activist" and accused of finding "new rights" in the state constitutions.

Perhaps California's failure to stop bigotry from being written into their constitution was a gift to the rest of us. Perhaps seeing the fragility of what so many see as the 'motherland' has made us stop waiting and start working.


Thank you, Harvey. May your precious gentle soul feel my gratitude and love wherever you are.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week -- Summary Advice

Sometimes people complain that the advice given by figures like His Holiness is trite because it is so "simple." To all who think this, I invite you to try to live any of his "simple" suggestions.

Summary Advice
1. Realize the value of the human body with which you have been endowed, for it is the result of many past good causes. Appreciate the fact that teachings are available and ready to be implemented.
2. Since this precious human life can be used in powerfully beneficial or destructive ways, and is itself most fragile, make good use of it now.
3. Physical happiness is just an occasional balance of elements in the body, not a deep harmony. Understand the temporary for what it is.
4. A tamed mind makes you peaceful, relaxed, and happy; whereas, if your mind is not peaceful and tamed, no matter how wonderful your external circumstances, you will be beset by frights and worries. Realize that the root of your own happiness and welfare rests with a peaceful and tamed mind. It is also a great benefit to those around you.
--from Mind of Clear Light: Advice on Living Well and Dying Consciously by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, Ph.D.

Monday, May 4, 2009

April showers bring May...rain?

It's raining--perfectly lovely spring rain; the kind that drizzles slowly from the sky, occasionally picking up the pace, but never reaching enough fortitude to pound the earth and turn the streets into concrete walled rivers. (Edit: In the time since I started this, I hear word that the situation has indeed changed...)

Rain like this is good for the garden...unless you are waaay behind schedule and missed your few brief windows of opportunity to get the tiller in and mix up all that nice new soil and compost, so snug in their beds.

M and I went out to the Urban Gardener on Saturday to check out their offerings and pick up some Seeds of Change seeds (and soil test kits!). We also dropped in at KMart because they carry Burpee and Martha Stewart seeds. Neither is a first choice, but I do give them props for expanding their organic and heirloom offerings. I'm not a purist when it comes to organic seeds; really, the weirdness factor is always the winner--I like to grow things I cannot buy in any farmer's market, let alone supermarket. That's the beauty of the home garden--you don't need to grow tomatoes that have been bred to have thick, icky skins so that they don't break as they are mechanically harvested and dumped onto trucks that will let them ripen in a fresh flow of ethylene gas on their thousands of miles long road trip to your supermarket. You can grow all the veggies that don't fit nicely into packaging and that don't store well on long road trips.

In this case, I was hoping to get some seeds that I should have ordered months ago, and stuck in the ground a few weeks ago. For now, I wait for a break between the raindrops so I can turn the soil.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Religious Truth

Sakka asked the Buddha: "Do different religious teachers head for the same goal or practice the same disciplines or aspire to the same thing?"

"No, Sakka, they do not. And why? This world is made up of myriad different states of being, and people adhere to one or another of these states and become tenaciously possessive of them, saying, 'This alone is true, everything else is false.' It is like a territory that they believe is theirs. So all religious teachers do not teach the same goal or the same discipline, nor do they aspire to the same thing.

"But if you find truth in any religion or philosophy, then accept that truth without prejudice."

-Digha Nikaya

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rough Times at Rough Branch. (Request for help!)

This is an e-mail I recently sent out to some friends about a garden project with which I need assistance--there's still plenty of room for helpers! If you have time and inclination, all assistance will be gratefully accepted!

From: kxm
Sent: Thursday, March 19, 2009 11:05:19 AM
Subject: Rough Times at Rough Branch. (Request for help!)

2008 was the "Year that Wasn't" out at Rough Branch,* but I'm hoping to call on some good-natured good will to see if I might turn the situation around.

Back in the olden days, when folks needed a barn raised or to complete some other big project, they called on their community for help, and folks would come together to get what needed done, done.

The Amish still do it, and so do the rest of us, albeit rarely to raise a barn. I find myself in need of some serious help, and I'm hopeful that some of you may think that the following proposition sounds like a fun time, because, you know, it could be!

Rough Branch Wall-Building Work Day!

I need to terrace my garden into three flat sections, and build a retaining wall along the north side of the garden to control water flow, as well as create a usable bed on the side of the garden which I intend to fill with native plants that attract beneficial insects. David Geisler, owner of Gorgeous Gardens and a kind friend, will be directing the project, since my math skills are abysmal, and my engineering skills are questionable at best.

If you and your kith and kin are willing to come help me, even for an hour or two, during the day of Saturday, April 18, I'll provide some food and beverage at the end of the day (you can come back for it if you need/want to). It will involve digging, lugging rocks, lugging retaining wall block, cutting retaining wall block, tamping down rock, driving metal stakes into the ground, and moving dirt, so it won't be easy work, and it's gonna take a full day.

But many hands make light the labor! (And the job more fun!)

In return for your labor, I'll provide some lunch (though this may be a bit utilitarian), and then we'll have a nice feast at the end of the day, and, yes, I will provide beer. I have to discuss details with David (like start & end times), and will provide them as soon as I know. Please let me know if you're willing and able to help out (and what time, if you know) because if I can't assemble a work crew, the project can't go forward. David is giving me a nice price, but it assumes that I'll be providing peoples and comestibles. :-)

With love and gratitude,


Generosity begins with our recognition of our debt to others. -Master Hsing Yun

* Flagrantly stolen from one of Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems, "Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, the Mad Farmer Secedes From the Union," Rough Branch is the name of my "farm" (you can call it a garden, I call it a farm).

Howdy y'all!

I talked to David, and we're on for Saturday the 18th. I've tried to delete those of you who said that you are not available next Saturday, but apologize if I left you on the list and you already said you can't help. I saved e-mail responses, but I forgets sometimes when people tell me things.

So -- David says I should have folks start to show up around 9 AM, and he anticipates that we'll work until something like 3 PM or so, depending on how much help we have, how efficient we are, and any snafus. Please reply and let me know if you can help, and WHEN. I have one person down for 12-2 (that's you, Steve), and a few general yesses and maybes. Ideally, it would be good to spread folks out throughout the day, but hey, I'll take the help when I can get it!

As I say, there will be foods and drinks after we're done (mom's helping with that), and we'll have something to nosh on for lunch.

Many thanks!


Focus, not on the rudenesses of others, not on what they've done or left undone, but on what you have & haven't done yourself. ~ Dhammapada, 4

Friday, April 3, 2009

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week -- On the meaning of "blessing"

Let me begin by explaining what we mean by blessing when we talk about a lama's blessing or the blessing of the Dharma in the Buddhist context. Blessing must arise from within your own mind. It is not something that comes from outside, even though we talk about a lama's blessing or the blessing of the Three Objects of Refuge. When the positive qualities of your mind increase and negativities decrease, that is what blessing means. The Tibetan word for blessing can be broken into two parts--byin means "magnificent potential," and rlab means "to transform." So byin rlab means transforming into magnificent potential. Therefore, blessing refers to the development of virtuous qualities that you did not previously have and the improvement of those good qualities that you have already developed. It also means decreasing the defilements of the mind that obstruct the generation of wholesome qualities. So actual blessing is received when the mind's virtuous attributes gain strength and its defective characteristics weaken or deteriorate.
--from Stages of Meditation by the Dalai Lama, root text by Kamalashila, translated by Geshe Lobsang Jordhen, Losang Choephel Ganchenpa, and Jeremy Russell, published by Snow Lion Publications

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

works in progress...

I wake up every morning
looking for a reason to stay here.
I go to bed every night

My living isn’t worth my breathing;
I don’t have days that make
the rest worthwhile.

I’m tired of lying to the doctors,
what makes their anesthesia
better than mine?
I’m tired of waiting to slip under,
won’t you please just give me a push…

Fill my soul with whisky
in the hope that I might drown.
Yes, I think if I keep pushing,
I can get further down.

All the tell-tale signs are here,
but no one’s looking…

I’m tired of lying to the doctors,
what makes their anesthesia
better than mine?
I’m tired of waiting to slip under,
won’t you please
give me a push…


chapter 2.

The dawn cracks
a new day open.
The first sound,
the peace
of your sleeping breath.

This is not the way
things are supposed to work.
This is the stuff
of fairy tales and make believe,
not textbooks.

Chapter 2 opens,
a page, unexpected,

Suspend disbelief.
And dip pen into ink.
There is nothing
that cannot be written
on these pages
so new,
they’ve not yet dried.

I take you in,
like that breath of air
so desperately needed
as the mouth
breaks the surface
of the water.

Grief transformed into joy.


I danced with the Devil
—fast and furious—
to the mighty whip of the fiddle.

My footwork was fine,
there was a glisten in his eye:
“Fairy tales are for fairies,” he snarled,
“And you my girl, are just that.”

The music stopped.
The room went black.
And I discovered that
the dance I thought the contest
was all illusion
to occupy me,
whilst he killed you
between the reels.


works in progress...

Now is.

This is the afterword
for a book that has been burned.
This is the stone
moved on the third day.
This is time stolen
while the Reaper wasn’t looking.

Sometimes the fairy tale
slides off the page.

Tell me the laws of physics
were written for someone else…
and I’ll believe you.

Play this song in a tuning
that doesn’t exist.
Write me a new tune
for a new life.

Rewrite your heart,
rewire your brain,
take a walk on the water,
make me your wife.


Catch me.

I fell free into
your arms,
needing you
to catch me
against gravity's law,
pulling me down.

You tossed me back
into the sky,
so that I might see
with the vision
I needed.

I descend again
toward earth
needing you


works in progress...


Just the thought of kissing her
makes my breath stop_____short

I take communion with a whiskey glass
and learn what it means to love from afar

each step I take with a breath of patience
each breath I take I taste the thirst for her thighs

I carve a place out of my soul
to make room
to think of her

I push her as far as I can from my thought,
but she always reappears - flooding my senses,

sucking the air out of the room


I find it annoying that I do not know how to make extra spaces between words.

The Mad Farmer Manifesto

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
wendell berry
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

wendell berry

…it is not too soon to provide by every
possible means that as few as possible shall be
without a little portion of oland. The small
landholders are the most precious part of a state.
Thomas Jefferson, to Reverend James Madison, October 28, 1785
That is the glimmering vein
of our sanity, dividing from us
from the start: land under us
to steady us when we stood,
free men in the great communion
of the free. The vision keeps
lighting in my mind, a window
on the horizon in the dark.
To be sane in a mad time
is bad for the brain, worse
for the heart. The world
is a holy vision, had we clarity
to see it—a clarity men
depend on men to make.
It is ignorant money I declare
myself free from, money fat
and dreaming in its sums, driving
us into the streets of absence,
stranding the pasture trees
in the deserted language of banks.
And I declare myself free
from ignorant love. You easy lovers
and forgivers of mankind, stand back!
I will love you at a distance,
and not because you deserve it.
My love must be discriminate
or fail to bear its weight.

works in progress...


The blossoms of summer
are many varied:
blondes, brunettes,
red-headed curls;
straight, short, tall
and curvy
(yes, everywhere).


fluid expanses of skin
glowing in the sun.
Prim, low-cut,
and low-rider;
limbs liberated from
winter's covering oppression
swaying in the wind.


slow burn.

I am the slow burn—
the unassuming ember
in the back of your mind
I'm not a flashy firework
nor a 5 alarm fire
or whiz-bang.

I am the heat of the coals
that lingers long into the night.


defying gravity.

switch switched,
mind unhitched,
careens on the
glorious joyride

when the rocks

are lifted,
when the shivs
are pulled,
the body seeks flight

taste of air, airborne

time weightless in ascent;
prayers to the gods
of inertia
never to succumb to gravity.



Indeed, violence starts at home—in the soul, where we cut ourselves most deeply. This is where we must begin if we are to find peace.

I am the most violent with myself, the most unforgiving. I dislike criticism, not because I cannot accept that I have done something poorly, but rather because I already KNOW that I did, and, frankly, I’ve probably excoriated myself much more thoroughly than anyone else can.

the principle of non-violence.
It begins with the self.

It begins with accepting where you really are, not who or what or where you want to be, but where you really, truly are.

It begins with being gentle with yourself and forgiving yourself for being where you are. You didn’t begin by jumping into a race, but rather with a few tentative steps as you learned to keep your balance and walk.

I live in a broken body; a body that limits both my physical and mental movement, so it is probably of little surprise that my spiritual practice also begins in my body.

I have been doing yoga for several years now, and I have learned how to stand, to walk, to let go and find strength. I’ve learned to find grace, balance, beauty, and relief. I have learned to begin—in my bones, in my muscles, in my exhaustion…and accept my body where it is, even if only for an hour at a time.

I have learned to forgive it for being there—for being in insufferable knots, for being stiff and heavy, for the exhaustion that feels like it goes into the marrow of my bones.

...and then to find compassion for myself.

The world is often a hostile place—so many things hurt or make the hurt worse. And my suffering is invisible.

So young! So healthy! What do you know about pain!?

…I know that I’d like to take the next person who says that to me and put his/her head through a wall--

The principle of non-violence begins at home—in the soul…with acceptance of the truth of reality, with letting go of the harbored anger, and with compassionate movement toward something better.

My teeth still grind between my clenched jaw with anger that my life is work and trying to survive work.

Hatred and depression arise when I am filled with certainty that no one will want to spend her life with someone as broken and lame as I.

Hatred that I have no discipline.

Hatred of the slowness.


“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be only afraid of standing still.” (Chinese proverb)

Easier said than done.

Two hours of yoga and stretching only to be able to stiffly shuffle about, and I still feel like there is a golden eagle riding on my shoulders. It’s hard to not get depressed and resentful. It’s hard to come home and have to do it all alone (except for the kitty, who certainly helps my cause a-plenty).


The gentle returning of oneself home to oneself.


works in progress...

Hook between

the 10th and 11th rib--
the part of you
that is a part of me

My soul finds yours
across the great Atman--
that part of god
that is part of you,
a part of me--


Freedom and fear,
so inextricably linked.
The uncaged bird flies free--
liberated wings
beating the air beneath,

and so he rises;
free to meet death
on his own terms.


I knew a boy
whose dream it was
to be an echo,
and now his dream
I can no longer speak.


works in progress...

continental divide.

I can't get this continent
out of my way
dividing me from you.

There was a time when,
I couldn't get myself
out of my way,

and now

I swirl in swooning vertigo
staring down the abyss
of the darkened past.


fault lines.

The continental plates

making the wound
between them

fresh again.


works in progress...

orthopaedic surgery.
when bones
shattered & broken
heal themselves
they must be
cracked again
to be set right.

07/10/2008 -- I have just been informed that this poem has been accepted for publication in the forthcoming inaugural issue of Weave, a new literary journal based in Pittsburgh. The fledgling editors, Laura and Margaret, are aiming to get the first issue out in October 2008.

works in progress...

My soul tears

bearing the weight
of your secrets.

Pulling blanket
of darkness up
over my head;
morning music
my salvation
without solace.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

WAGE PEACE by Judyth Hill.

Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble, breathe out whole buildings and flocks of redwing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries, imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.

Don't wait another minute.

~ written Sept. 2001, New Mexico for Poets Against War web site.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Welcome to Rough Branch.


—Wendell Berry

From the union of power money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and science,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
He goes shadowy into the local woods,
and brightly into the local meadows and croplands.
He goes to the care of neighbors,
he goes into the care of neighbors.
He goes to the potluck supper, a dish
from each house for the hunger of every house.
He goes into the quiet of early mornings
of days when he is not going anywhere.

Calling his neighbors together into the sanctity
of their lives separate and together
in the one life of their commonwealth and home,
in their own nation small enough for a story
or song to travel across in an hour, he cries:

Come all ye conservatives and liberals
who want to conserve the good things and be free,
come away from the merchants of big answers,
whose hands are metalled with power;
from the union of anywhere and everywhere
by the purchase of everything from everybody at the lowest price
and sale of anything to anybody at the highest price;
from the union of work and debt, work and despair;
from the wage-slavery of helplessly well-employed.
From the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation,
secede into care for one another
and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth.

Come into the life of the body, the one body
granted to you in all the history of time.
Come into the body’s economy, its daily work,
and its replenishment at meal times and at night.
Come into the body’s thanksgiving, when it knows
and acknowledges itself a living soul.
Come into the dance of the community, joined
in a circle, hand in hand, the dance of the eternal
love of women and men for one another
and neighbors and friends for one another.

Always disappearing, always returning,
calling his neighbors to return, to think again
of the care of flocks and herds, of gardens
and fields, of woodlots and forests and the uncut groves,
calling them separately and together, calling and calling,
he goes forever toward the long restful evening
and the croak of the night heron over the river and dark.

Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.