Helping turn the prow of our entropyship, the Earth, back upstream so that Earth’s evolving consciousness may explore the vast headwaters of the Universe for billions of years to come.
End of the Long Nights, 2012
My 8th grade history class joined Karen’s 6th/7th grade history class for a spontaneous short activity. The kids didn’t know what was going on. As I walked towards the front of the room, one of the 7th graders noticed me and asked “Why are you here, Paul?” And another 7th graders chimed in, “Yes, Paul, why are you here?” There was a quality to the echoed question that inspired me to a brilliant, improvised answer that the kids loved. “Why am I here? Because many years ago my mom gave birth to me and I’ve really come to love this place. This opportunity to be here – it’s so great. I love it here. That’s why I am here, why I want to stick around here for a long time.”
Two eyes stories
Last month, googling around led me to the high school reunion page for the kids that I had gone to grade school with, my childhood friends that I had not seen since I had moved away more than 45 years ago. There was a list of the kids with contact emails. And suddenly I had the opportunity to bring full circle something that has hung on me for many years. So I sent the following email (and received from her a gracious reply).
Greetings from Mr. Bond’s 6th grade class a half century ago.
I came upon this WaHi class reunion webpage this morning and realized I could send an acknowledgement across the years.
One day in 6th grade, you and I were working together on some assignment and I happened to look up at your face and into your eyes and within your eyes I saw the most beautifully radiant light I had ever seen. In describing this moment to others, I always use the word “smote” for it accurately describes what the beauty of your light did to me. I quickly looked away but in that split second, the beauty of your light smote deep into my soul. It was a special moment I have carried ever after – along with a regret that something within me made me turn away so quickly from something so beautiful.
Many years later, my wife, Alysia, and I created Chrysalis Charter School. Nine years into its history, I had a class of eighth graders in whose eyes I saw the same beautiful light. I wanted them to learn to appreciate this gift. So eyeshine became something we began talking about, sharing with one another. Magic happened with that class. One thing that happened is we teachers realized how fundamentally important this magic was and we changed the school’s mission statement to “encouraging the light within each student to shine brighter.” That change made a profound difference within the school. Every parent knows when their child is shining and when something is dimming their light. And a teacher can see that too – if the school encourages/permits them to use that light as the feedback to guide all interactions. Encouraging the light within (as opposed to focusing on standardized test scores) has led to a very special school, one we are still exploring the possibilities of. So many of the parents of children who transfer in from other schools say, a few months into the school year, “Thank you. I have my child back again.”
So across the years, I send you a thank-you for the gift of beautiful light you gave me – and a meditation on the mystery of life – how a “glance” can help change the lives of hundreds of kids two generations later.
May your light grace all those around you.
Each Wednesday morning we have a Tree Assembly where the whole school (135 students) come together at the beginning of the day to share time together. Before we sang this time, I told the following story. (Our theme for January is “I can make a difference.”)
“I want to tell you a story from my childhood. Back in fourth grade, we had a music teacher who would come in once a week to teach us music. One day, she had us singing a song. I was singing away because I enjoyed singing and I looked over at Dick Ashmore who was sitting there (I pointed in the direction because I remember where he was) and he looked at me with eyes that said, ”How pathetic that you are singing. Don’t you know boys don’t sing.” In an instant, my throat muscles tightened like an iron band and my singing shut down. I remained that way for 25 years until I met Alysia and she helped gradually loosen that tightness in my throat.
“That tightness for 25 years was really sad because singing is a great joy. The Buddhists say something like we are given three great mysteries: our body, our mind, and our voice. And to shut one of those down is really sad. Dick Ashmore made a difference in my life. It wasn’t a good difference and he wasn’t aware of what a big difference he made but he did make a difference. You, too, can make a similar difference but in the other direction. As we sing, you can shine your enjoyment of singing. And maybe there are a few here who, like me, have been cut off from their joy of singing. If so, you can let them know with your eyes that it is safe here for them to undo the tightness and begin to sing again.”
When I pointed to where Dick Ashmore had sat, my “felt sense” stirred so somewhere in the middle of this talk I improvised something like. “It was only a second and nobody else knew and I didn’t know how to tell anyone else – and this makes me realize that all of us are probably walking around with these life-changing moments within us that other people never know about and we don’t even know how to talk about.”
Which is the main idea I want to communicate here within Cairns – this mystery of our individual selves, unknown to others, and how, within our lives, much of it flows on but every now and then, something happens, eyes look into eyes of another, that goes far deeper and possibly within a second, we have been altered. Or, from another perspective, that life seems to flow along at a certain volume but at any unpredictable time, it can suddenly deepen and change can happen at a rate far beyond that which we assume, based on other times.
P.S. My sharing this experience opened the school to greater singing. Two of our teachers said it invited them to sing more fully after a lifetime of holding back and the kids singing is definitely more spirited now.
Ink’s Creek Play
After several dry months, we finally had some rain and I got to go on a rain walk. I have to kayak down to a remote area to reach the play currently closest to my heart. I arrived several hours after a heavy, all-night rain. Though the bare head of the gully did have a small flow of runoff sliding down its channel, no water was visibly flowing on the slopes above that.
Neither was water visible within two long diversions that I had created above to spread runoff out onto the flanking slopes. I knelt down where a diversion began at the center of this beautifully rounded drainage. I began scraping along the diversion, clearing away the grass that had grown in and lowering the diversion by a ¼ of an inch. Water oozed into the diversion and began flowing along it. As I cleared the way “downstream” along the diversion onto the slope, water no longer oozed into the diversion. A little further, the water flowing along the diversion across the flanking slope began soaking in. After ten yards, all the water had been absorbed into the ground. This got me thinking about what effect this had on the flow of water within this drainage.
Different areas have different absorbencies. The soil beneath an oak tree is very absorbent with a foot thick layer of moldering leaves and acorns worked over by worms and burrowing creatures, stirred by foraging birds. Channel bottoms, on the other hand, become quickly saturated because runoff converges upon these areas so they must try absorbing both the rain and the runoff. This convergence, both of runoff and percolating groundwater, continues after the rain stops. By the time I arrived at my plays, the soil had absorbed whatever rain it was going to absorb. Now that absorbed water was percolating down, moving from the slopes and converging upon the channels which were now saturated so the water was oozing up to the surface. My diversion was leading this oozing “excess” away from the saturated channels (that would have been able to absorb no more) back onto the flanking slopes that could absorb more, now that the rain had stopped. So my diversions were doing more than spreading out runoff; they were also spreading out percolating groundwater.
I like the intimacy of animal trails. They are wide enough for my feet but no wider. They heighten my awareness of myself as a solitary animal walking upon the land. When I leave human trails to roam cross-country, I often find myself converging with animal trails because local minds think alike. Animal trails are local. Most human trails lead us efficiently to some place 3, 6, 10 miles away. They lead us through side-drainages as quickly as possible. But each side-drainage is a fractal drainage unto itself. What we pass through in five minutes on a human trail can open into hours of roaming on animal trails. Animal trails lead us to all the places within drainages. Therefore, trails are continually converging and forking. This trail is splitting to lead up into this side drainage. This converging one is coming up from a stream crossing somewhere down there. Like roads, the trails that are more “important”, followed by many, are beaten larger into the ground.
These trails reveal the solution to how to move over the terrain ahead with least energy expended. The land is an ever-rising and falling corrugation of interlaced ridgelines and drainages. To move over this complex 3D world with the least energy is important to a wild animal. Walking consumes energy. If energy is abundant (such as in the spring), one can afford being frisky. But in the winter when sunlight is low and and of short duration, animals must conserve. How does one move over the land to do what needs to be done using the least energy?
Euclid says the shortest distance is a straight line but if there is a ridge (or drainage) in between, the shortest path is not the least energy path. How one handles that ridge depends on the shape of that ridge: its length and height along its spine. One extreme solution is to go around the ridge staying on the same contour line, never gaining nor losing elevation. This works when the ridge is extremely steep and high, saving on the considerable energy of going up and down. The other extreme is to go straight up and over the ridge. This works if the ridge is low and gentle. However, the most efficient way is almost always somewhere between these two extremes. They angle up towards passes, down towards drainage crossings. The steeper the land, the more a trail will tend towards the contouring solution. The gentler the land, the more likely the trails will straighten into gentle curves. So the main animal trails I come upon are the least-energy solutions by which to pass from one place to another.
This is not to say that an animal figured and mapped this all out. Imagine a first trail that is not the most energy-efficient. There will be some places along that trail where another animal, following the trail, will see a place where the trail climbs higher or drops lower than it needs to – and this animal will “shortcut” this section, tightening the trail. Over time, a succession of animals helps etch the solution upon the land – and the trails, in turn, help create and bind a now-more energetic community.
Animal trails, like our highway systems, link place to place. Mice trails go from “city” to “city” but the larger trails go to the low point over a ridge (the pass) or to an easy stream crossing. Every drainage has several low points along its bordering ridge and every stream has special crossings so I am surrounded by a constellation of these places. Animal trails help me walk with greater awareness.
Thank you, Ben Sibelman, for sending me the following link. It’s shows the result of the watershed work I do but on a larger, village-organized scale.
Internet cattail seeds
Every few months, I find myself doing a Google search on my name. Three fourths of the links are to used book sellers. But the rest link to webpages where someone is somehow including my work within theirs. My ego enjoys this but the main reason I do this is because it expands my faith-deepening experiences with the idea of “allies emerging.” It’s wonderful to experience how people take in ideas, combine them with their own experience, and then express some new creative form. It’s like sexual reproduction – the combining of two different individuals from which emerges a new generation. An image I often have is of each of us as cattails. On sunny, warm days, our seeds drift up into the blue sky to land who knows where, possibly on some wet mud thousands of miles away. The following example from the other side of our continent touched me deeply, leaving me wondering what is possible (and who are these people?).
“We practice and support everyone to reduce aggression, reduce speed and fall in love with being the elegant, evolving Earthlings that we are. Fall in love with being present in a garden. We are The People inspired by Paul Krafel’s work and we go out in the slopes and valleys of our homelands, slowing, spreading and sinking water.”
Customized Bumper sticker
I went on-line and created/ordered an “Occupy the Higher Ground” bumper sticker for myself. I like it because “higher ground” contains three meanings to me. The first is that of military strategy –higher ground gives you a tactical advantage – which implies that we are serious about this. Our intention is to succeed in this endeavor. The second is that of ethics – that this struggle is not one of confrontation pulling one another down in the mud but of a lifting all our aspirations upwards so that our energies achieve a resonance that creates new possibilities. That our goal is not defeat of the “other” but of finding a higher, common ground. And the third is my own personal fascination with “Go high in the drainage. Up there we will find a place where we have the power to shift relative balances so that allies emerge.” I ordered a couple extra in case you want one.