Monday, April 16, 2018

Flower Memories

Many of my memories of people are cemented in as association with flowers. In the olden days, we got Mother's Day corsages for our grandmas to wear to church on Mothers Day. Grandma Getty loved softer things and we got her pink and Grandma Theresa loved brighter bolder things and we got her deep red. It was often a white carnation with accents of the color in baby roses with a matching ribbon or the carnation was the color with white baby roses. Grandpa Getty grew tiger lilies in the corner of their house and I remember standing under them and looking up at the flowers. There were those tiny white clover flowers in their lawn and we would pick them and take them in and Grandma would put them in a tiny bottle, maybe an old perfume or medicine bottle. Grandma Theresa had tall yellow flowers, Golden Glow, in the corner of the house where her rain barrel was and she would flick the water beetles off the surface and get us a dipper of cool water to drink. I don't think mother knew about that. My sister and I went rogue and abandoned the florist's book of photos to draw up our own designs for Mother's funeral flowers, shamefully abundant in yellow roses and lilies that we knew she loved. The cashier cried when she found out whose funeral it was because she would save out deliveries of flowers to Mother for last so she could go up and visit with her. We didn't know that about our mother until then. I made my sister's gardenia bouquets for her wedding and almost passed out from the fragrance in the cooler when I bent down to put some things into the big box. My friend's bridesmaid bouquets were pink roses and daisies and we all tucked Kleenex into our bouquets so they would be there when we cried during the service, but they touched the floral foam in the holders and absorbed the water and became sodden useless masses which we each discovered one at a time during the service and tried not to laugh as we caught each others' eyes.I weeded for a woman who had cancer and wasn't supposed to work outdoors due to lowered immunity from chemo and I took my toddler along to play in the grass while I worked.  She came and got him and played with him on her patio, probably totally negating the whole "stay away from germs" thing, then took me on a tour of her garden when I went to collect him and showed me her double flowering white trillium.  Dwight has the awesome crabapple that we gather under.  Enid was fond of my various magnolias and asked their names.  I dug celandine poppy and wild ginger with Katie for her yard.  Sherri and I rescued green dragons in a dramatic last dash to the development site after it was technically closed to our group.  I cleaned and spaced geraniums in the greenhouse for Ivan on my first after school job.  My high school friends went together and bought me a cyclamen plant and the "War is not healthy for children and other living things" pendant for my birthday.  My mother in law put peonies in these glass water filled globes and later gave one to me.  My friend from landscape design school decided I was a better designer than he was. so he hired me to design things for his clients and he always made me include a Rose of Sharon.  I think of him when I am surprised by their bloom in the fall.  Pat Armstrong protects her prairie smoke plants with wet newspaper when she lets us help burn her prairie garden.  My sons and I would go on the ritual skunk cabbage hunt right after our spring break trip to Arizona every year, to reassure ourselves that coming back from the warmth of the desert was not a mistake.  What flowers memories do you link to people you love?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

If You Are Someones Boss, Don't Be A Prick

I remember it like it was the day before yesterday, though some aspects may be slightly augmented for effect, I will admit. I was in his office for some tiny project related slip, though the blame was probably shared by others who had refused to do their jobs such as requirements developers who left gaps or failed to communicate the details effectively. He asked why I had made such a giant horrible mistake and I began to explaining, "Well, I assumed that . . . " and before I could complete my thought, he was up out of his chair and at the white board. There, he dramatically and with great proud flourish, wrote in giant capital letters, ASSUME. He then said "Never assume, for when you assume, you make and ASS", where upon he enthusiastically drew a huge circle around the A and the two S's and continued, "out of YOU", whereupon he circled the capital U, "and ME", as, you guessed it, he put a circle about the M and the E. He confidently finished with a smug smile, then snapped the marker shut, dropped it onto the rail under the board, and dusted off his hands for final emphasis, a move I . . . assume . . . is a holdover from when he lorded over employees in the age of chalk boards instead of the dustless white boards of the day.

I felt crushed, demoralized, demeaned, dismissed, and instead of leaving after a conversation where I learned how to better interact with coworkers to get information I needed and he learned where the gaps in communication among his people were such that he could better manage then, I dropped to my knees to kiss his scuffed crappy brown cheap leather shoes, and crawled out into the hallway to slink back to my desk and try to figure it out on my own. Actually, I probably rounded up a couple sympathizers and took a two hour lunch, but that is neither here nor there.

Assume. We must assume. It is a critical asset to daily life. We assume we are supposed to return to work each day and complete the project as defined weeks earlier and that if the scope or direction changes, our manager will tell us. We assume that people in other areas are doing their jobs and that our manager is keeping up with that so that our piece will come together with other pieces at the right time and in the right way. We assume that certain processes and procedures have been followed by others. We assume that in the best interests of all, we have been given the correct and true information and will have access to certain resources to do our job. And that we assume makes the manager's job easier. Repeat:  That we assume a set of things makes our manager's job easier because he or she is relieved of constantly having to reiterate the obvious and reassure us of continuity.

Imagine if I were to stop by his office every day and ask if I still was to come in to work the next day and continue work on the project. Imagine if every bit of information I got, I came to him for verification. Imagine if I stopped by several times a day and asked if anything had changed about the project. Imagine if I spent great parts of my day checking and double checking and second guessing and reaffirming. What a nuisance I would become.

No, dammit, John, we assume a great many things a great many times a day, in work and in every aspect of the real world, and I hate you for your lapse of management that day.

You seemed clever and powerful, but you were a toad. I hope you have warts. Actually, I hope you have somehow learned your lesson and found ways to manage that are not so demeaning to those whom you entrusted to manage.

If YOU are a manager, do NOT use the cheap trick of mocking your employee for assuming or for using the word.  Instead, do the managerial work of helping ferret out where the errors in assumption were and fix what you can as a manager and teach your employee to communicate more effectively in the future.  

Service Without Gods

Where do ethics come from?  Where does responsibility to other people originate?  With religion? With your god? From a following of a religious teacher? In obedience to a set of rules?
Too many times we read the mission of a service organization that is full of reference to gospel and following Jesus or it being faith based.  But if you strip the Jesus and God and gospel and faith out of it, what is left?  Are you doing 'good' to curry favor with your god to ensure your salvation or your good standing?  If so, is it really service to others, or merely service to yourself? 
Why do you want to help, to be a 'do gooder'?  Is there something you are trying to 'pay back' bcause someone did good for you?  Is there something you are trying to 'make up for' because you did harm?  Does it just feel good?  Or is it just who you are?
And why do we have to explain?  "What motivates you?" Why do we have to have answers for that?  Shouldn't it just be how we are?  Shouldn't it just be 'regular' and not stand out as especially unique?
A mother feeds a child, a father takes a hand, a grandmother gives a hug, you sit down next to a person.  It's what we do.  Offering help is just that. 
If you think a person doing good wants some recognition, go ahead and ask them.  But if they seem reluctant to explain, let them be.  Don't ask for reasons or explanations.  Just say thanks, if you must, but even that might not be necessary if doing good and right are just who we are an what we do. 
Maybe instead of asking why or even thanking, we should just take the example and do something good ourselves. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016


I give these prairie tours every fall at a farm museum and I just never know what is going to stick.  Does anyone really learn anything or is is just cheap entertainment for a day? I do this thing where I strip the seeds off a stem of yellow coneflower and let the kids pass them around to smell their minty spicy aroma.  It's a crowd control gimmick because it makes them quiet down to carefully pass the handful of seeds from palm to palm and sniff and compare assessments of what the fragrance reminds them of.
But this fall, something a little different happened.  One boy stopped me as I was about to move on the the next topic and said, "Wait, you said they were seeds.  Does that mean I could grow flowers from them?" Cautious of the pronoun and any offer of forbidden samples I might be agreeing to, I said, "Yes, these are the seeds of a plant called yellow coneflower and if whoever still has them wants to drop them on the other side of the path, maybe they will grow there."  Catching my attempt to thwart his attempts to appropriate prairie, he says "Can we take some HOME and grow them?"  Okay, HOW can I resist. I explain that we have a rule against letting kids pick things because we are going to have hundreds of schoolkids thru the tours that Friday and hundreds of members of the public thru on Sunday and we'd have nothing to show if everyone took something, and then I say that whoever wants some can line up and I'll give them a few seeds, just this once, and they can't tell.  Every single student in the group got into line, palms upturned, to take a seed head and carefully put it in their pocket.  I told them to be sure to remember to not leave the seeds in their pockets for the laundry, and to plant them in a place that was sunny when they got home or any time before spring. The young man suggests that the teacher write that in her notebook so that they will remember about the sunny location part.
We moved on to the beebalm, where I showed them how the leaves are fragrant when crushed and how there is a tiny black seed at the bottom of each tiny tube in the cluster of tubes that make up each flower.  Again, a question from the same boy, "Could we grow these too?" Internally mentally rolling my eyes at what I have unleashed in my rule breaking escapade, I cautiously answer "Well, yes, I suppose you could."  They line up again, palms open.  "Wait," says the ringleader, "How will we keep the seeds separate in our pocket?"  I ask the teacher how much paper she has and she shows me a full notebook.  I ask if each kid can have a sheet and she agrees, and I ask for one myself, tear it in half, and show them how to fold it into a tiny envelope.  Soon, I have nine kids on their knees in the grassy path, folding tiny envelopes and fishing the seeds from their pockets to put in one.  I pick a beebalm head for each for their second envelope, and we move on to talk about the birds that are eating the seeds of the tall stalks of prairie dock. 
I love those kids and I really hope at least one of them remembered to plant their seeds.  I also secretly hope the seeds of that plant spread into a nearby fencerow bed and the seeds of those plants jump the fence into a neighbor's perennial garden and the neighbor on the far side admires it and is given seeds for their own garden.  Do YOU want some prairie seeds?  I have yellow conefower and dock this year.  And I can tell you where to buy others for next spring. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Eagle Cams in Late March 2014

When I was a kid, in the era of bad chemicals, on a plain that used to be prairie, there were birds that were rare and others that were only seen in books and on television nature shows.  The bald eagle was one such bird.  We had a few hawks, not many, but  no eagles at all.  It was many years later that my dad would tell of them migrating through, eatting the dead fish after flood waters returned to the banks of the river, and still later, of a few that stayed around to fish and hunt across the county.  And most recently, a brother-in-law there in the former prairie land had a nest in a tall cottonwood tree maybe a mile from his farm home.  I guess they were common on the prairie, preferring to fish the lakes and rivers but also taking an occasional small mammal or even a bird from the air, and certainly, helping clean up some of the carrion left by natural death, the predation of others, and probably, that left by native people.  Yet, an impoverished childhood, bird of prey-wise, means I never fail to get excited and joyously happy by a sighting of an eagle or an eagle family out there over the Wisconsin hills.  And I dearly love to visit these live webcams of nesting eagles.  I put their links here as a way to find them when I need a little bit of eagle love.  And I share them with you!

Some cams are closer to the nest, some are farther away, some are better maintained, some have annoying ads, some have young already, some have eggs, some are still awaiting eggs, some have dead fish and other parts of dead prey animals, some have car traffic in the background, some sway noticeably in the wind and actually make me a little motion sick!  Enjoy!

Decorah, Iowa Eagle cam

Central Minnesota Eagle cam

Tennessee Eagle Cam

Davenport, Iowa Eagle cam

Florida Eagle cam

Twin Cities Eagle Cam

Maryland Eagle cam

Wisconsin Eagle cam

Duke Farms New Jersey Eagle Cam

Pennsylvania Eagle cam

Georgia Eagle cam

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"To be human is to yearn . . . "

"To be human is to yearn . . . " The Crane Wife, Patrick Ness.
There are more theories out there than I can remember, of what made us human, what small change lead us down the evolutionary path toward being so very different from other animals. No, we are not entitely different, but in so many ways, we are different by degrees, huge degrees.  Animals seem to use tools, but only one or two at a time, not whole arsenals and kits and versions and variations like we do, from trivia like dental floss to massive machines that we set loose underground to dig a tunnel for us and process and eject the debris.  
Animals play but their play seems more like practicing for life, such as pretend stalking and pretend fighting, and seems not to have the imaginative pretending that includes building fantasy worlds to the extent that we humans play.  Animals seem to mourn but never so long as we and never to the extend of creating and visiting memorial sites.  Animals seem to not look much to the future, beyond storing food for an immediate next season.  They certainly do not seem to plan ahead to stock pile building materials for future use or build and store tools they won't need until later.  Animals communicate about territory and mating and immediate needs, but certainly don't seem to possess any story telling capacity.  A few animals seem to ornament their environment, but these are en extension of mating attraction or nest building, and never come close to the human making of art as story telling and expression of concepts.  The human brain is more complex and therefore permits and accomplishes far more complex behaviors than any other creature on our planet.
There was a theory long dismissed that we evolved to stand up in water, and once our hands were free, we could make tools.  But other primates have hands free and have not embraced the tool making to the point we have.  There was one about us evolving in grassland and standing to see above the grass.  There was one about how once we began to cook food, we could get more nutrition from it and did not need to eat and hunt and gather as much.  Other theories say that it was language, moving from simple grunts and gestures to more complex sounds that become increasingly complex symbols for objects and actions and emotions.  Did language and food cooking and tool use and standing upright cause us to become human, or were they merely products of some other change that made us human first then lead to us evolving those traits?  
Maybe it was as simple as wanting more.  Maybe instead of being content with enough food, enough shelter, we began to yearn.  To want to try different foods.  To want to see what was just beyond that hill, that forest, that plain.  To make a tool and make another, and then more after that, every improving.  To not be content with basic words but to want to add detail and intricacy.  To want the shelter to be stronger, higher, more portable, more lasting. To see just one day or one season or one cycle of the sun beyond and want that one to be better and more than this one. To see colors and shapes in nature and want to decorate our things with them to have the colors and shapes with us even out of the season of the flowers and the birds and the insects. To not be content with now, but to wonder about before and wonder about after.  To  not be content to let happen but to plan and cause to happen.  To not just be but to cause and make.  
What if it was as simple as just not being happy with what was and wanting more?
Is that what sets us apart? We feed the dog and he lies down for a nap, content.  We ponder how the meal could be a little better next time, what to have for dinner.  We give the dog a nice cushion and he scrunches it up a bit and turns and lies down, content to be comfortable.  We get a new home and paint and fix and tile and sit down to rest and ponder if maybe different window blinds are needed or maybe a bookshelf over there, never done, never happy to let things be.  The dog is content with the same walk every evening, while we tinker with it, one more block, east instead of north, a loop down past the park, what about over there?  We have myriad forms of transportation to take us farther and faster.  
We get a job and we complain it isn't challenging enough, it isn't interesting enough.  We get a car and we add new floor mats and special wiper blades.  We tinker and tweak and adjust and change and add and grow and accumulate
and still, we aren't happy.  We travel on vacation and are pondering while there what we should do next time, instead of being in the moment now, we are far out ahead making plans, setting goals, leaning forward, yearning.  We analyze the past and constantly ponder the future.  It is our curse to do these things to the exclusion of experiencing the details and nuances of the present moment, We yearn.  Is that what got us here?  And where will it take us?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Remembering Linda

It's been a while, but it still hurts.  I still need her sometimes.  I met her pretty late in life, when we were both well past 40.  I had plenty of wonderful friends and I really wasn't looking for any more.  But we had this thing.  We were both screwed up in sort of the same way.  It's an ADD thing, to be overwhelmed with ideas and not ever have enough time, to feel guilty for not getting enough done, all those unfinished projects, never really successful at anything big, feeling like we are supposed to be tho.  I didn't even know I was ADD when I met her, and maybe she hadn't labeled herself yet either.  I can't remember.  I just know we sort of clicked and vowed to have lunch more often, but that became one of the things we didn't get done and felt bad about.  Somehow, though, we decided to set aside an afternoon a week to do pottery and so we got together and did that.  Once.  I still have the stuff unfired on a shelf.  Seriously.  I do.  But she called with this fabulous idea.  There was this little place right on a main through street for rent.   We could start an art gallery.  The one our town had for many years had recently closed when the lovely folks that ran it retired and surely they would help us figure it out.  She had this co-op idea in mind, where we'd find other artists and each of us would work a day and pay a fifth of the expenses and bring in other artists and wouldn't it be cool?  By this time in our friendship, I knew that the only way to get her off a 'brilliant' idea was to go down the path a little with her and convince her of what was wrong with the idea, otherwise she wouldn't let go of it.  So I went with her to look.  It didn't seem THAT crazy.  I made some calls, sent some emails.  I found 3 other artists, all doing very different things.  One needed to work weekends, the other said she'd be in as long as she didn't have to work weekends.  So it fell into place and that lead to other things that fell into place and pretty soon, she was leaving to start new things, things that are still going on long after she really left us for good. And even when she was sick, we never really believed she could really leave us. But she did. I miss her.  I am proud of the things she did and who she was.  I am proud she called me a friend.  I'm still screwed up in a million ways, but I beat myself up less for them.  I don't get as angry about things and I don't give up as often.  Well, I do, but I get my own self back at them later.  I pause more and take in the little things and I forgive people more for not being perfect and I forgive myself more for wanting them to be.  I miss her.  I am better for having shared some part of this journey of life with her.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Myth of The Screwed Up Artist and How It Hurts Us All

There is so much hype about artists and the artist personality.  Artists are allowed to be, maybe even expected to be, screw ups. There is an idea out there that somehow one needs to be a little screwed up in order to be creative.  But this is simply not true.  Artists are people who have chosen to produce a product for others, sometimes a useful product in the case of pottery or furniture or clothing, sometimes utterly use-less product, in the case of wall art or jewelry or sculpture or other purely decorative items.  We do what we do to enhance the aesthetics of our surroundings and sometimes, to provoke thinking about an issue or to teach something to our audience.  That requires sanity and thoughtfulness and organization skills and disciplined habits and a healthy lifestyle.
A successful artist is a person who is normal and conventional in most respects.  An artist lives in a home and responsibly pays the rent or mortgage about at the same rate as other people. An artist eats meals to stay healthy and sleeps to renew.  An artist doesn't drink excessively or take drugs because one cannot produce product while drunk or high, at least not quality product.  Those that flirt with the myth that drugs or alcohol enhance creativity soon find that it hampers rather than helps and they don't bother with such wasting of their time. 
Most artists, like most other people, pay their bills on time, keep their appointments, meet their deadlines, keep their promises, treat others kindly, do not lie, cheat or steal from others, say please and thank you, struggle with insecurities but keep on going, keep on the right side of the law, maintain good interpersonal relationships with family and friends, practice good personal grooming, eat healthy food, drive responsibly, follow the news and keep informed of current events, vote, maybe keep a dog or a cat, and don't call their mothers often enough. 
Successful artists are NOT screwed up and certainly do not need to be to make good art.  Artists find ideas and inspiration in beautiful nature and healthy relationships and current events and in the other arts such as literature or music.  There are ample sources of ideas and inspiration and artists do not need angst or personal tragedy to find them.  Artists are regular responsible sane kind people, just like most of the rest of the population. 
Some artists are immature and use the myth of the irresponsible screwed up artist to continue to be irresponsible and screwed up.  Just like some young people use the excuse of youth to do irresponsible immature things.  But it need not be so, they can mature up and live a normal regular responsible life.   Such irresponsibility does not enhance their art and probably is an obstacle to their success as an artist, like it would be in any job or career. 
Some artists struggle with mental illness, just like some truck drivers and some retail managers and some farmers and some dentists, but it hampers their success, just like in all other jobs or careers.  It does not help them be more creative, nor more productive.  It is an obstacle they must overcome to be an artist, just like it would be to keeping any job or maintaining any successful relationship.   It doesn’t make their art any better and sometimes just makes it creepy. 
Let's stop glorifying the screwed up artists of history.  In many of those cases, the magnitude of their problems is exaggerated, for they may have had periods of mental illness or instability but also periods of normalcy.  At any rate, the number of artists who have been making a living or part of a living as artists while leading regular normal lives is vastly greater than the number of the few who were mentally ill or unstable. The few artists that were screwed up were the exception, certainly not the rule. They represent a tiny part of the entire larger pool art healthy well balanced artists.  Another aspect to consider is that in their day, they did not have access to psychiatry. They had no choice but to suffer and struggle with their mental illness.  The same is NOT true today:  Medical help is available.  An artist or nurse or plumber today who has issues with depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia has access to meds and medical care that were not available then, and so has a responsibility to others in his or her life to utilize those benefits to minimize their personal trauma.  To fail to do so is irresponsible.  To use art to justify the neglect of a mental illness is just part of the mental illness and no more essential to being an artist than it is to being a landscaper or bricklayer.  Medical help is there for artists and everyone else and all have a responsibility to manage their mental illness. 
Artists are just people, no more messed up than the rest, and they certainly don't NEED any messed-up-ness to BE good artists.  And anyone who claims otherwise is looking for excuses for bad behavior, immaturity, or irresponsibility.  Artists are responsible, hard working, regular people who choose to make things of aesthetic quality, and they deserve respect for managing regular lives while making beautiful things, rather than the disrespect of a stereotype.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Strange Beliefs and The Necessary Propensity to Hold Them

Look at it out there, dusk-like at nearly noon, the trees bare dead looking sticks, even the evergreens a black shade of dark, the grass a sickly yellow brown, once pretty fallen leaves crushed and tattered, mud streaked everywhere, no sign of life to be seen, not even a fly found so annoying last summer, sky a putrid pale color of nondescript pale. Yet, we believe spring will come? Imagine being a child just becoming aware of the world and of cause and effect and asking whence your morning cereal came and being told it grew on a plant last summer? Grew? On something out there? We are expected on this day to believe that green growing things will rise up from the drab dank ground, that those barren branches will grow plates of life like the pages of junk mail we toss in the recycling only green and soft, that birds will fly thousand of miles to sing in the quiet dead air again, that animals and frogs will come up out of the ground, that there will be FLOWERS! Yes! We believe that on a day like this. We must! Yet that propensity, that willingness, that EAGERNESS to believe opens us to believe all sorts and kinds of other unlikely and improbable, even impossible, things like conspiracies and demons and guardian angels and spirits and gods and visiting aliens and force fields. No wonder we have difficulty discerning real from not real, true from utter bullshit, because if we did not possess that ability to believe in things unseen and only hoped for, we'd just succomb to the fear that this was all there is and throw in the towel on a day as gloomy and dark as this. Spring: I believe! The other stuff? Not so much.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What Does Pretty Mean?

Does your girl ask if she is pretty?  How do you answer?  You answer "Yes, of course you are," because she is.
She's pretty and talented and smart and funny and kind and caring and creative and curious and interesting and fun and courageous and loving and honest and strong and determined.  She is pretty and being pretty is just one facet of a complex person. Just one part of a whole person.  Of course she is pretty and it is no more important or less important than any of her other attributes.
She is pretty because she is unique and individual and different from every other person. She is pretty because of her individuality and uniqueness, not because she meets some set of standards.  She is pretty for her own unique individual combination of special traits.
She is pretty because she has features in common with her ancestors and her other family members, becasue her version of prettiness tells a story about past people and present people.  She is pretty because she is unique because of those people, not because she is part of some average or meets some percentage or expectation.  She is pretty because of who she came from, because of her connections to those people past and present. 
She is pretty because she smiles and makes people smile by sharing her joy and taking theirs in.  She is pretty because she expresses her joy and her happiness with laughter and grins that cover her whole face.  She is pretty because she is also not afraid to express sadness or worry or doubt or compassion with her whole face and body.  She is pretty because she makes eye contact when she listens and raises her eyebrows when she is curious.  She is pretty when she is sweaty because it proves she works and when she is dirty cuz it proves she gardens or builds or runs or climbs or plays.  She is pretty for who she is and what she does and how she expresses that every single day.
Her scars make her prettier because they are reminders of stories of courage or taking a risk or proof of surviving adversity. Her imperfections are part of what makes her even more unique and interesting.  Her story is part of what makes her pretty.
She is pretty now and always has been and always will be, no matter how her body or face changes over time. 
She is pretty because she is who she is. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

We Don't Need Wilderness (I'm Not Saying What You Think I'm Saying But)

We glorify the idea of the wilderness experience, long to experience it, honor and envy those who seek it when we lack the drive or the means or the ability to do it ourselves.  But the value of the wilderness is overrated as the only or even the best way to experience nature.  There are so few things that are fabulous about a wilderness experience that we cannot get close to home or right at home.  Holding the wildnerness in such high esteem and assigning it mythical status as the only best way to experience nature is to deprive ourselves of frequent meaningful enjoyable encounters with nature on an extremeely frequent basis.  It can be an excuse to deny ourselves nature.  But it need not be.

Make a list of the things that you think you will or that you have experienced in the wilderness.
For me, it is the early morning mists, the process of the sunrise, the birds taking over the predawn from the silence of deep night, the changes in light patterns as the sun moves up into the sky, the changes in colors as the sun angle changes, the insects that move about, the sound of leaves and grasses moving, the heat rising up and drying off the dew and mist, the various bird species that come into activity, the insects that begin moving about as the air warms, the way the sun catches flowers and leaves at different angles, preparing and eating a meal outdoors, the pleasure of stretching out on a rock in the sun for an early afternoon nap, relaxing with closed eyes to listen, to feel the air on my skin, the rousing back to awareness of breeze and bird sound and leave rustle and insect buzz, the pleasure or working my body to hike or paddle, the warmth of the light as the sun angles low in the afternoon, the way that low light lights up the leaves of trees, the changes in bird and insect life as the days cools, the colors of the sunset in the sky, the cooling of the air, the way the wind rises and falls throughout a day, being there as a storm cloud moves in, as first small raindrops fall, as heavier rain builds, being out in thunder and lightning, the softening of the rain as it lets up, the building to a loud roar as the rain gets heavier, the tapering off as the clouds move on, wind rising then falling and rising again, these patterns within wind and rain and being out there to observe and feel them. 
Now, what on that list can I not partake of in my nearby park or forest preserve or botanical garden or even in my own back yard? 
It is not so much that we need to GO TO the wilderness to experience nature as that we need to be present in nature wherever we are, to make ourselves present for these changes and patterns, to observe these details.  We can get up and go sit on the back deck before it is dark and experience the changes in light and air and the waking of the birds and insects.  We can stay outside as a storm approaches.  We can take out meals outside to the lawn or over to the park and sit there and eat them.  We can go outdoors at the end of the day and stay there long enough for the changes to happen.  We can sit quietly or with a book or magazine and be present for the changes.  We can stay up past dark and sit out there to enjoy the ending of the day rather than turn on the lights and rush into the house.  We can go to a place and close our eyes and listen and feel.  And we can stay out there long enough to let changes happen, to be present for the patterns, to experience the moving and shifting of the natural world right in or own back yards and neighborhoods.  We can stay outside of we are caught in a rainstorm or actually GO outside to experience one and stay there as the patterns of the rain and wind and clouds change. 
We can experience this local nature with all our senses.  We can make oursleves do this on purpose at first until it becomes normal for us, by closing our eyes and paying purposeful attention to what we can hear or to what we can feel on our skin or to what we can smell, giving each sense its own deliberate turn. 
We DO need wilderness.  We need wide open spaces for nature to practice her cycles and routines and extremes and for the whole continuum of plants and animals and microorganisms to fully flourish and prosper so that we have that resource to replenish other parts of the world as we diminish them, we need to occasionally experience the one thing about the wilderness that IS unique and that is the getting away part, the distancing, the bigness.  So wilderness has inherent value and does need to be preserved and protected. 
But to say that wilderness is the only or best way to experience nature is to cheat yourself.  Get out there.  Early, late, for extended periods, during adverse weather, in all varieties of habitats, stay, linger, listen, feel, and do it every day nearby, and you can enrich your life far more than that one rare trip to the wilderness ever will.  We need the wilderness, but not for the reasons we think we do.  To have amazing experiences with nature, we do not need to go that far or wait for that special occasion:  We can have those experiences every single day in whatever part of the nature world we are present.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

NO Excuses!

There's this thing I always carped on to my kids: There are no excuses, only problem statements, and a problem statement is the first step in the problem solving process.
Let's take an example. I forgot my book at school so I can't do my homework. Is that the end of the issue? Do you want me to write you a note begging leniancy from your teacher? Do you want to have this thing to whine and complain about all evening? Do you want to use it as an excuse to play and not do homework? Well, not in my house. You don't have the textbook. Which of your friends might have brought theirs home such that you can go borrow it or look something up in it? Does the library have a copy? Is there an online copy? Can we drive to the school and get it? Even if the school is closed, it is worth a try. Once we went and the doors were all closed except a back door that was letting kids in and out for some track practice. So the kid went in that door, found his way to his locker, got the book, went home and did his homework. What excuses are YOU using and how can YOU turn them into problem statements and therefore, the first step of the problem solving process?
1) State the problem. Define and refine as needed.
2) List some solutions.
3) Evaluate and choose one.
4) Implement the solution.
5) Evaluate if the problem is solved.
6) If not, restate the problem and repeat.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fear and Fear of Fear

Some things you should know about fears if you have some that you are trying to manage or have friends or family members who have fears:
1) It's a chemical thing.  Fear is a chemical response that happens in the brain and affects other parts of the body.  Chemicals are released from the brain that speed up heart rate, increase blood pressure, cause or increase sweating, and enhance sensitivity of the senses. 
2) Because it is a chemical thing, if not constantly fueled, it dissipates as the chemicals travel around the body and are diluted.  So not fleeing the thing feared can be helpful in management.  The chemicals disipate if you flee, but they also disipate if you merely stand your ground wih forced calm.  However, if constantly fueled, they do not get the opportunity to disipate.  The fear can be managed in small chunks, not in a constant onslaught.
3) These are some of the same chemicals as those caused by stress. Therefore, arguing, worrying about other things, being pressured to do the thing one is afraid of, being teased or belittled for the fear, being made to feel defective or weak for having the fear, all lead to an underlying chemical stew of stress hormones that make the fear feel even greater.  Calm is the enemy of fear.  Laughter is the enemy of fear. Comfort is the enemy of fear.  Help the person feel calm and you will be establishing a basis for better fear management.  If the person is resonsive, humor may help, but if they are annoyed by joking, the opposite can occur.  Make sure the person is hydrated, dressed warmly enough, protected from hot sun, as physically comfortable as possible.
4) These are some of the same chemicals caused by work or physical activity.  So working hard prior to encountering a fearful stimuli can set up a situation for increased fear.  So climbing stairs and being out of breath with racing heart can cause the roof edge or even balcony railing to be frightening, but pausing at the top of the stairs to catch ones breath and calm down can render the edge or the railing much more manageable.  Recovering from phsyical work with a rest period before encountering the potential fear trigger can help keep stress chemicals and therefore fear chemicals under better control.
5) After the fearful thing is encountered, a rest period to allow the stess chemicals to thoroughly disipate and the body funcitons to thoroughly moderate back to normal can be key in not retriggering the fear.  Forging ahead to the next encounter before chemicals have dispated and body functions have normalized increases the chances the fear will be retriggered. 
6) There is a fast automatic response to fear in one part of the brain that occurs simultaneously with a slower more thougtful more rational response in another part of the brain.  If the fear is approached slowly and calmly the slow smart response can override the fast hysterical response.  If time is taken after the encounter to thougtfully reflect on the success of the previous fear response, the liklihood of retriggereing the fear ican be diminished.  This is another reason that calm approach and post-fear rest are important.  They allow the slow thougthful response to do its job in managing future encounters with the fear stimuli.
7) Control is essential in many aspects of brain chemistry.  Pleasure is enhanced if a person feels thay had some control in bringing it on and pain is diminished if the person feels they are able do things themselves to diminish it.  Likewise, fears are diminished when the person feels in control of the exposure.  If the person can control when and how much exposure will occur, in what manner it is approached, and if they can control how the exposure to the fear is ended, the physical responses to the fear trigger will be diminished.  Therefore, 'helping' the person out of the situation may not be all that helpful.  Even offering help before administering it adds a measure of control for the subject of the fear: Having the opportunity or even the illusion of being able to reject help puts the person in control, even if they ultimately require and accept help. Additionally, asking 'how can I help you?' puts the subject in control of the means of assistance, not just whether to accept help.  Asking how to help the person also engages more fully the thoughtful processes already going on in their brain, bringing that process into more effective management of the situation over the faster less-thougtful process.
8) Fears are not rational.  Post-fear analysis that tries to paint the fear as silly or baseless do not help because they attempt to reationalize future exposures.  Post-fear analysis that examines what helped during the fear situation are more successful.  Asking what made the fear worse and what made it better are things that emphasize the control aspect and also are a sort ot training for use during the slower thoughful brain fear response in future exposures.  Similarly, examining what might help next time also helps validate the fear as real and labels it as a manageable situation, as well as preloading the thoughtful response process with data.

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Do The Right Thing"

We are asked constantly to do the right thing. But is there ever any truly exactly right thing? Instead of "Do the right thing," it seems like it is more like "Do the best thing in a timely manner based on your limited ability to gather data on the situation."

There is a constant barrage of opposing forces acting on us, with some of the most basic being the need to balance feeding ourselves and our families and keeping ourselves and our families sheltered while not doing any harm to the environment or to others. So we can't steal or take advantage of or abuse the environment to meet those needs. But where is the line that guides the choices we make? We don't really know how close we are to not meeting our needs at any given moment and we really do not know our impact on others or the environment.

And example of this is clothing choices. We try to keep a basic set of standard things we use daily and a few special things for a special occasion. But we don't know when the jeans zipper is going to crap out on us or when the seam on the armpit of the shirt is going to split open, so we try to keep a buffer in our drawers and closets. But we are blissfully unaware of how our choice of where to buy those jeans or that shirt affects the environment or people out there. Is there really a significant difference in that organic unbleached naturally dyed cotton shirt and the one from the chain store made in China, or is it just marketing to justify a bigger price that will cause the budget to be jeopardized?  If we suddenly removed all our manufacturing from certain countries, harm would probably be done.  Should be do all our shopping at resale?  What about the economy and jobs then?

Or take the demands on your time. A friend is lonesome and want you to come over and do a project but your spouse expect you to have dinner. Can you really know if the friend is truly lonesome or just bored and maybe your spouse is just expecting dinner because that is normal but woudl truly welcome an evening to spend iwth his or her own friends. Do we take the time to gather the data, time that we could spend on other things like vacuuming or making the gorcery list, or do we assume motive and needs and do our best to guess what is best for everyone? If you spent all evening trying assess their wants and needs and desires and weighing them, the evening is gone before anyone gets satisfied. What if you yourself has just had a really tiring stressful day and your need to just relax and read a book trumps the need of your firend for company or the need of your spouse for a dinner out?

The right thing. For the situation. Based on limited date. In a timely manner.

It's a wonder we get anything done or make an choices under those constraints, but on the other hand, we can't belabor the deciding. In the end, the timely part of the equation might be the one that is the most significant. Better to just chose and move on and not fret or question. Better to do a sorta kinda part right thing than to do nthing at all while trying to choose the best right thing, right?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A List of Things I Am Thankful For In 2011

I was recently challenged to list one thing I am thankful for for each of the 21 days in November leading up to Thanksgiving Day. I tried to do them one by one, but I just can't keep up that sort of thing, so here goes a list all at once and in no particular order:

My spouse who supports me in my crazy plans and even helps implement them with me. 
My sons who are not children anymore but competent adults with opinions and ideas and goals all their own, who are smart and kind and generous and creative and inventive and compassionate and who remember to call their mother on the phone now and again, and their father who helped nurture all those things in them.
Their girlfriends who value their originality and compassion and individuality and do things to take care of them when I can't anymore because we live so far apart.
Friends who support me even when I'm a jerk.
My artwork that has brought me self-confidence and satisfaction and fulfillment and has brought me the company of other artists and has lead me to Mineral Point, Wisconsin.
Nature, especially prairie, and my gardens at my homes and the people who have shared time with me in them.
Music and musicians and especially local singer songwriters that you can see live and up close and musical instruments, and CDs and electronics that allow you to take it home and on the road with you.
Wild Ones Natural Landscapers organization that promotes end educates about native landscaping and the friends there.
Amazing parents
An amazing sister
The seasons and the changes in nature that it brings. The cycle of a day that brings morning light and warm glowing later afternoon light and night that brings starry skies and cicadas and morning that brings fog and dew and frost and songbirds' song.
Health and quality health care and healthcare professionals and researchers.
Flowers and florists and garden shops and nurseries and growers that supply them.
Facebook and reacquainting with old friends and meeting new friends .
Books and used book stores and small book stores.
Cats - also lemurs, horses, otters, tigers, dogs, and other animals - the companionship offered by some and the gracefulness, playfulness, and beauty of them all.
Hiking and backpacking and paddling and trips to the wilderness.
GPS's that help me with my total lack of a sense of direction and geocaching with my kids.
Schools and teachers and opportunities for individualized education.
Boy Scouts and leaders and parents and how it shaped my sons.

Lakes and rivers and paddling in them and overcoming fears so that I can enjoy the company of other paddlers and the solitude of a solo trip on the water.

Wood and making things with it like houses and furniture and such.
Good food and fine restaurants and chocolate and olives and raspberries and pomegranates and asparagus.
My senses, the ability to see color and light and the ability to hear a voice and music, the sense of touch to feel warm breeze and cool rain, the smell of a damp woods, dry corn fields, skunk, rosemary, flowers, and the essence of a loved one, the tastes of good food and salt in seaspray.