Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A THOUSAND CUTS by Joe Scheidler

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to welcome Joe Scheidler to the Window. He read this essay aloud at a Writers' gathering at Black Dog Coffee House the other night and I begged (with dignity, of course) him to visit us here. 

Joe is a native Hoosier with an advanced degree in ecology. He worked for IDNR as a wildlife biologist and owned and operated Springcreek Landscaping for 25 years. The solar advocate practices sustainable living with Lee, his wife of 40+ years. They live near Logansport, Indiana. 

Oct 8, 2018

This morning broke foggy, dripping wet and unseasonably mild. I let the dog out and stood barefoot in the yard, the October soil warm on my feet. Fall flocking blackbirds hung in the cattails at the marsh edge, filling the morning with a raucous symphony. The colors of autumn brightened leaves in the dim light of dawn, and a delightful dank fragrance of an ebbing season’s growth hung in the air.

In that moment, there seemed such hope and promise, a temptation to think things weren't as bad as scientists say. How could we have crashing bird and insect populations, rampant deforestation, melting glaciers, impending ecological disaster?  It's too easy to deny. And therein, perhaps, is the root of the problem.

We, as people, are in a tight spot. Surrounded by the technology and information to save ourselves, we are drifting passively towards certain doom. With a wartime effort we might avoid the worst case scenario, but the probability of acting soon enough appears hugely unlikely.

This old sphere is like a billion year old freight train, chugging along, carried by momentum, optimizing the perfect conditions for life and harboring a resistance to change. But our activities are leading to death by a thousand cuts.  The cutting continues while we experience the pristine, take long drives through endless forests, tally dozens of bird species in a day of watching, find solitude in wild places and breathe air sweetened by all things raw and untainted. The cutting continues as we go about our busy days, engulfed by our efforts to make ends meet, to maintain or improve our level of comfort, to earn and enjoy our leisure, to embrace the status quo.

Recently I learned our current administration quietly acknowledged a projected 7 degree F (3.88C) rise in global temperature before the end of the century.  It wasn't an admission of man-caused climate change, but rather that the planet’s fate is sealed.  It was a justification to freeze fuel efficiency standards because increasing gas mileage in vehicles would play no significant role in reducing global temperatures.  It was a nod to stay the course.

Then today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a warning that we have only a dozen years to limit total warming by 1.5 degrees C. Another half degree more (i.e. 2 degrees) and dramatic, perhaps irreversible changes to life on earth are assured. According to the report, “It's a line in the sand and what it says to our species is this is the moment we must act”.  The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is the difference in having hundreds of millions of people exposed to water stress and food scarcity. It means more forest fires, fouled air and heat related deaths. It means massive migrations of people from the world’s shorelines.

But the biggest change, according to the report, would be to nature itself. Pollinating insects would be twice as likely to lose habitat. Ninety-nine percent of coral reefs would die and marine fisheries would decline at twice the rate. Ice free Arctic summers would occur every 10 years at 2C vs every 100 years at 1.5C.

The report goes on to offer specific reductions in carbon pollution and indicates how goals could be met using current technologies.  Former NASA scientist James Hansen, responding to the IPCC, said even 1.5C is well above the Holocene era temperatures in which human civilization developed, but that number gives young people a fighting chance of getting back to the Holocene or close to it.

Meanwhile, we're on a solid course for a multi-degree rise, leaving 2C in our dust.

Tonight I heard coyotes singing. Instead of the typical yipping chaos, they engaged in long mournful howls. Maybe they know something, but more likely they, as so many species wild, are being led innocently to a senseless and needlessly cruel future, if not total extinction.

Coyotes didn't occupy our fair state when I was a lad. I can say the same for white-tailed deer, bald eagles, river otters,  peregrine falcons and wild turkeys. All are the result of applied wildlife science, a hugely successful reintroduction program, and a witness to wild habitats still capable of supporting species long absent. At this moment, just outside my doorstep, the night air is sweet, an ancient bird migration is underway, the songs of insects are reaching a crescendo, and the garden’s newly sprouted cover crop is lush and green.

And while the old sphere spins, a few billion years of refined perfection is being cut to shreds.

The old sphere spins
While time moves on,
We suck our resources dry
And think we do nothing wrong. 

The sun still rises,
The flowers still bloom,
And we're content and nourished
As babes in the womb. 

Our mother is ill
But we acknowledge it not;
We forge headlong in a race
To lose all that we sought.  

Monday, November 12, 2018

Days Eleven and Twelve

On Day 11 of 30 Days of gratitude, still thankful for these guys and for all who serve. Happy Veterans Day. (This was a memory day)

 Day 12 of 30 days of gratitude. I'm grateful for fuzzy socks, coffee, and quiet places.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The poppies still grow

From last year, and pieces and parts from years before. I'm not sure when I wrote this, but I've added and subtracted several times over the years since. It would be easy to make this a political post, but this is neither the time nor--right now, today--the place. I've changed my mind on many things over the years, and my own patriotism has taken a hard hit, but the things here--they're the same. Thank you again, veterans.

A few years back, the fifth graders at my grandson’s school performed their annual Veterans Day salute. They sang and shook hands with veterans in the audience. There was a long slide show of pictures of mothers and fathers and grandfathers and other relatives who had served in the armed forces. I thought my eyes would never get dry. After watching the program, I tried to put into words how I feel, how proud and grateful I am that so many have served so long and so well.

Except I didn’t have any new words, though my eyes are leaking again as I write this introduction to a tribute I still feel.

John Thomas and Amos Ash were residents of Miami County, Indiana. They fought with the 20th Regiment of Indiana. They died at Gettysburg in 1863.

Uncle Mart was ten years older than Aunt Ethel. They were married forever, but they never had any children. That always seemed odd to me, but it really wasn’t. They adored each other and never needed anyone else; they were a complete family unit unto themselves. He was bald and funny and liked to fish. He served in the first World War. The Big One, some people said.

I don’t remember what his name was, but he and his parents were visiting my family when something happened and they had to return to their South Bend home at once because he had to catch the next train back to his duty station. The day was December 7, 1941, long before I was born, but I still remember the empty look on Mom’s face when she told the story.

Thadd was a baker in the navy during that war, the second of the World Wars. The one
more people called The Big One. A couple of years after he came home, Thadd and Mary got married and they had five kids.

His name was Wayne. I was at his going-away party before he left for Vietnam. He was young and smart and eager to serve his country. There was a girl at the party who looked at him with soft eyes. We laughed a lot, had a good time, and wished him luck when we left. We were used to it, I suppose, to saying goodbye and hoping for the chance to say hello when they came back home, so we didn’t give it that much thought.

Wayne, though, and Mike Waymire and John Miller, to name but a few, came home in flag-draped coffins. We watched the news, read the papers, wept. We remembered smooth-faced, laughing boys and mourned with the wives and girlfriends and mothers who would never feel the same again, with fathers silent and stoic in their grief. We acknowledged empty places and heard remembered laughter and voices echo through them.

I married the second of Thadd and Mary’s kids after he came home from Vietnam. Like the Korean Conflict, no one ever called it The Big War, but to the ones who served there, and the ones who waited at home, they were big enough. Long enough. Sad enough.

When Desert Storm happened our son Chris was stateside, wearing the army uniform his father had.

We watched and waited and feared and prayed. It was the same with Iraq. With Afghanistan. With all the other wars and conflicts and skirmishes where Americans have served.

My grandson Skyler is 18, a senior in high school. He spent the summer in basic training. He's our handsome, sweet boy and even though he wears a uniform well, it makes my heart clutch seeing him in it. He has walked and talked and breathed military since he was eight years old so I shouldn't have been surprised when he was ready to enlist, but I wasn't ready for it. He wants to serve and I want to make him cookies--I suppose it is the same with all young military men and their grandmothers.

In October of 2010, the city of Logansport, Indiana welcomed Sgt. Kenneth K. McAnich home. The hearse drove slow and solemn through streets lined with flags and people, the Patriot Guard riding protective escort against those who might not be respectful. It’s symbolic, this ceremonial farewell we offer our fallen warriors. I’m sure it does little to fill the echoing empty places created by their deaths. But it’s all we can do.

My husband remembers how people looked at him in airports when he came home from Vietnam. How they sneered and then looked away. I saw the same thing in Indianapolis, when among the celebratory crowds coming home at Christmastime walked a lone soldier, carrying his duffel bag and staring straight ahead. Over forty years later, those who served in Vietnam know it wasn’t them people hated; it was the war. But they still remember.

We all hate war. All of us. Thank goodness we’ve learned how to welcome home those who fight in them. We’ve learned to applaud them in airports and on planes, to buy their lunch once in a while if they’re behind us at the cashier’s station, to say thank you and mean it. 

That’s why November 11 is Veterans Day. It is not a day of celebration, although rejoicing in freedom is probably never wrong. It is instead a day of remembrance and honor to the men and women who have for nearly 240 years and who continue to serve in the preservation of that freedom. Thank you to all of you. God bless you. God bless America.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Days Nine and Ten

Day 9 of 30 Days of Gratitude. I am grateful for civil discourse. It's harder to find these days--to pretend we're not a country divided would be disingenuous--but I still have hope if we can be civil to each other, if we can not call names or tell lies or purposefully hurt each other, we can come out on the other side.

Day 10 of 30 Days of Gratitude. As is kind of annoyingly obvious, I'm a quotes junkie. In the top three of my favorites is this one from A. A. Milne.
“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
I think I've used this before on gratitude days, although I'm not sure. Whether I have or not, I'm grateful for today. For another chance to get it right, to be kind to someone, and to laugh really hard.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Days Seven and Eight

Day 7 in 30 Days of Gratitude. I'm grateful to those who try to Do the Right Thing and when it doesn't work out for them, they try again.

Day Eight of 30. Today I'm grateful for editors. For ones who edit my books and my column, for ones who are also friends who clarify my blog posts--hey, Nan Reinhardt--and for other friends who have to make sense of my talk-to-texting, which makes my conversation even more inane than it might be otherwise. Any goodness I may have achieved as a writer is because of the goodness they've pulled from between the lines.