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.
Cairns #75 – Beginning of the Long Nights
I feel the fall migration strongest when I’m floating down a river because many flocks follow them. A swarm of violet-green swallows overtakes us as we float south and for many minutes, we are surrounded by swallows swooping and skimming, feeding as in summer, but then the upstream end of the southward flock passes us and all is quiet again. Or, on a slow, autumn quiet, marsh river, a long line of terns pass in pairs every 10 – 20 seconds, “krawk”ing occasionally to one another, as they follow that river south. Or once, forty autums ago, tens of thousands of sandhill cranes circled long over a convergence with the Yukon River, discussing in their rattling ancient clamor which flow to follow.
Afraid of children walking in the redwoods
Alysia had told me of an article by Chris Hedges, a reporter we respect. He reported that the Occupy movement had so shaken authorities that the government was moving to stop such movements from ever happening again by requiring permits – which could then be denied. He wrote:
“The most important dilemma facing us is not ideological. It is logistical. The security and surveillance state has made its highest priority the breaking of any infrastructure that might spark widespread revolt. The state knows the tinder is there. It knows that the continued unraveling of the economy and the effects of climate change make popular unrest inevitable. It knows that as underemployment and unemployment doom at least a quarter of the U.S. population, perhaps more, to perpetual poverty, and as unemployment benefits are scaled back, as schools close, as the middle class withers away, as pension funds are looted by hedge fund thieves, and as the government continues to let the fossil fuel industry ravage the planet, the future will increasingly be one of open conflict. This battle against the corporate state, right now, is primarily about infrastructure. We need an infrastructure to build revolt. The corporate state is determined to deny us one.
“The corporate state, unnerved by the Occupy movement, has moved to close any public space to movements that might reignite encampments. For example, New York City police arrested members of Veterans for Peace on Oct. 7, 2012, when they stayed beyond the 10 p.m. official closing time at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The police, who in some cases apologized to the veterans as they handcuffed them, were open about the motive of authorities: Officers told those being taken to jail they should blame the Occupy movement for the arrests.”
I find it hard to let such articles in. My life is filled with Chrysalis and Alysia recovering and family: I am busy and I am hopeful so I judge such articles as beyond my sphere of influence and continue on with my daily life.
Each school year for more than 15 years, Chrysalis takes a late September all-school camping trip and another one in May. We have gone to Yosemite National Park twice, Lava Beds National Monument at least three times, the redwoods and coast many times, nearby Lassen Volcanic National Park many times and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area at least three times. Every time we write ahead asking for an educational fee waiver. Each time we get back a simple fee waiver request form. Name of group. Size of group. Time of visit. Where in the park is the class going? For what curricular purpose is the trip. That’s about it. The park sends us a fee waiver; we make copies of for each family so they can drive into the park for free to participate in our school activity that day.
This fall we were going over to the redwoods and ocean again. But this year, Redwoods National and State Parks said we needed to apply for a Special Use Permit. We were a bit confused but said OK so they sent us NPS Form 10-930 REV 06/20/2013 OMB Control No. 1024-0026, Expires 08/31/2016, the Redwood National and State Parks’
s Application for Special Use Permit.
Here are parts:
Please supply the information requested below….A nonrefundable processing fee of $___ (left blank for us) must accompany this application unless the requested use is an exercise of a First Amendment right. You must allow sufficient time for the park to process your request; check with the park for guidelines. You will be notified of the status of the application and the necessary steps to secure your final permit. Your permit may require the payment of cost recovery charges and proof of liability insurance naming the United States of America and the State of California as also insured.”
“List support personnel including addresses and telephones; attach additional pages if necessary”
Do you plan to advertise or issue a press release before the event?
Will you distribute printed material?
Is there any reason to believe there will be attempts to disrupt, protest or prevent your event? (If yes, please explain on a separate page.)
Note: This is an application only, and does not serve as permission to conduct any special activity in the park. The information provided will be used to determine whether a permit will be issued. Send the completed application along with the application fee in the form of a cashier’s check, money order or personal check, made payable the National Park Service, Attn: Permit Coordinator at the Park address found on the first page of this application.
Threatened and Endangered Species Addendum
Due to threatened and endangered species which inhabit our forests, beaches, rivers, and coastlines, we must solicit detailed information for all events or activities. …. If the proposed event/activity falls outside of the scope of the existing consultations for this program, further consultation with the regulatory agencies may be required. Complex compliance issues may result in an increased workload for our employees necessitating the park to charge higher fees to recover costs associated with this process.
Describe all activities planned in Redwood National and State Parks. Detailed answers to all questions of relevance to your event/activity will greatly expedite the application process. Take extra space if necessary.
A) Is singing planned? If so, what type, how many voices, microphone use, etc.
B) Will musical instruments be played? If so what kind, how many of each type, how long to be played? Explain approximate music volume, amplification, duration and frequency….”
The permit fee was waived for us and, upon sending a certificate showing we were covered with $1,000,000/$3,000,000 minimum liability insurance, our special use permit became official, permitting us to perform “Hiking and educational activities with groups of up to 15.”
Is this what we’ve come to – a special use permit with proof of $1,000,000/$3,000,000 liability insurance to take school kids walking in our national parks? Bringing our children to a national park is like pilgrimages for Americans, one of the highest things we can do for them while they are in our care.
I’m sure that the Park Service would say that of course they welcome school kids walking in the redwoods. Their concern is with other groups doing large events where hundreds of people might gather and compact the ground, leave trash, and make loud sounds that stress endangered species. But we were going to be just small groups walking in the redwoods, looking up the tallest trees in the entire world and the park service, knowing that, still required the permit and the insurance certificate. That is not welcoming.
Judging by the shaky voice of the ranger when I called asking why we needed this permit, she did not want to be doing this. The only explanation she could give is that a letter would accompany the permit warning us to stay back from wild elk because it is the rutting season. But that cover letter could have gone out with an Educational Fee Waiver form just as well.
We need to change course for her sake and for the sake of the National Park Service. I love the National Park Service. I served in the National Park Service as a seasonal naturalist for 7 wonderfully idealistic, long-term seasons. Our National Parks are often described as the best idea our national government ever had. Visitors came up to me and said “this is one thing I don’t mind paying my taxes for”; I always felt that I was doing noble work in service to a noble cause. The National Park Service was filled with idealists, serving in one of the best examples of what a government “for the people” can look like. But when they are required to impose Special Use Permits on school classes, it violates the fundamental creed of an idealistic organization, and the energy of both the organization and its employees start to rot in a decaying feedback spiral.
Surely, this special use permit is not originating from the National Park Service. Surely it’s coming from elsewhere, from people who are so insecure in their power that they are afraid of children walking in the redwoods. Suddenly, the downward erosive force of their fear is a lot closer than I wanted to acknowledge. This time I can’t say it’s beyond my sphere of influence. These are my Chrysalis students and my National Park Service. I have to do something. So I write this article (and you have my approval to forward it on to whoever you wish). I’ll send a variation of it to people in the park service hierarchy of government, hoping to stop this particular encroachment of the surveillance state.
This is the poster child face of the surveillance state. Many people respond to stories of the surveillance state with “I’m not guilty so I have nothing to hide”. That misses the point. The surveillance state isn’t about targeting individuals. It’s about creating a world that is predictable and controllable. This is done by draining away as much of the potential for surprise as possible. It’s a deadening of the world, a suffocation of spontaneity for everybody. We might never be targeted but we are, right now, living in a country where teachers needed a special use permit with proof of insurance to take their students walking in the redwoods.
In response to these concerns, I begin fretting that my strategies (“Go high in the drainage. Offer a new path before opposing the old. The work grows on itself. As relative balances shift, allies will emerge, creating new possibilities.”) could just coast into feel-good platitudes. If I’m going to run off high into the drainage, what am I really going to do up there to counter this growing darkness? I’ve been pushing my mind ever since the redwoods, wondering what insight, if any, does my experience out in the rains have to do with these nationally erosive forces.
So far I’ve come up with one play. It seems pretty small but I think it could accumulate significance if it spread. It’s an example of “Offer a new path before opposing the current path”. I want to diverge some of the cultural energy that flows flows through the phrase of “the upper 1%” onto a new thought path of “the downstream 1%.” The rest of us are the Upstream 99%.
This divergence feels right for many reasons. It’s an easily understood image. Water does not converge upward, it diverges upward into trillions of raindrops. Convergence happens as water flows down, towards greater entropy and less possibilities. This is a powerful metaphor for money but if it is also a thermodynamically accurate image (as I hypothesize/believe)—that money converges as it flows towards lower energy states—then that undermines the originating concept of money as a symbolic medium of exchange, of equal value in all directions. Just as a kilogram of muddy water flowing into the Mississippi Delta no longer has the thermodynamic potential of a kilogram of rain drops falling upon prairie grassland, so has a dollar that has been highly leveraged as part of a trillion dollar derivative bet on whether a country will sacrifice its citizenry before defaulting on its loans no longer have the upward economic potential of 4 quarters earned by 4 kids who worked together to earn the money to buy lemons and sugar to open a lemonade stand on a hot day.
Also, the “upper 1%” summons an emotional image of an organizational hierarchy that has us at the bottom of the chain of command, carrying out the orders coming down from above. But seeing oneself as “upstream” of the “downstream 1%” helps wake one from that trance without awakening divisive envy and swirls of greed. All of us are part of the same watershed.
Upward Spirals – TEDx Redding Talk
This September, I had the opportunity to deliver a talk at TEDx Redding. This created an opportunity to try presenting my core ideas about upward spirals within a 17 minute talk that would be videod and miked by professionals and put on-line. Preparing was an interesting experience as I tried deciding what the most important ideas were and what supporting information was essential for an audience hearing these ideas for the first time. I was still changing around the ending when the day came so the ending might have been stronger. My throat dried up so my voice was close to cracking most of the way through—but the talk went well and I am thankful to the local TEDx people for making this opportunity possible.
In the talk, I speak about the water cycle and how one of the lessons it has taught me is that it’s wise to keep as much of the water as high on the slopes as possible. I then explain how lessons of water feel allegorical to me (such as a wise culture keeps as much of its money high on the slopes as possible) so that I, as a teacher, started imagining what a school would be like where the creative power of the teacher was not drained away downstream by mandates from administrators, bureaucrats, and politicians but remained upstream, high on the slope in the moment-to-moment responsive interactions between teacher and these specific students at this unique place and time. What could happen in such a setting? Here is one story.
A story from “What is Possible?”
As part of my “What is Possible?” class (supposedly eighth grade American History), we spend more than a month studying the time between the Magna Carta and the ratification of the United States Constitution, learning about some of the changes that made possible the way of seeing the world underlying the Constitution.
We had talked about Copernicus and then did a day-long immersion in Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion, especially how the speed of orbiting bodies changes, accelerating towards perihelion, slowing on the way out to aphelion. Student A related it to being like the ups and downs of a roller coaster.
The next day we were learning about Galileo and his experimental approach and how he needed a way to measure time. We experimented with an eight-foot pendulum hanging from the middle of the classroom’s ceiling. Through a lovely feedback spiral involving teacher/pendulum/students, the students led themselves into the unexpected experience that how far back you pull the pendulum for its initial release makes no difference to its period, the time it takes to swing back and forth. This was especially dramatic with the 8 foot pendulum. Ten swings took 33 seconds, whether it swung through a one inch arc or a 6 foot arc. After class, Student B was actively trying to make sense of this. (Student A hung around.) She told how she used to play a game of trying to run around her bed in the same amount of time, no matter how far away from it she was. Right next to the bed she could walk but she would have to run further out. She was trying to use those experiences of short/slow coming out the same as long/fast to help her relate to the pendulum.
I pointed out that her running around her bed gave her a unique perspective on the pendulum and how each of us has accumulated unique experiences that give us special insights into different aspects of the world. I included Student A by mentioning how he, an athletic kid, related the orbit of the planets to the roller coaster. That he, for example, might have spent many hours learning how to toss a hatchet so that it stuck into a tree. He confirmed that he had. Those hours of playing with heft would lay down pathways that give him a unique perspective on rotating objects. Each one of us brings unique experiences that allow unique insights, valuable to us all.
The next day, some of the kids asked what would happen if we changed the length of the string. I replied, “What would Galileo say?” One student tried predicting the conclusion that Galileo would have drawn about gravity. But I said, “No, what would Galileo say if you asked him that question about changing the length of the string?” They didn’t understand. “He would say, ‘Let’s try it and find out’”. So we started shortening the string, timing ten oscillations of a gradually shortening pendulum, the time growing shorter and shorter to the fascination of the kids. (Later, one of the students asked what would happen if the mass of the pendulum changed. I said, “What would Galileo say?” and they all shouted “Let’s try it,” and they set off on another investigation.)
But back to the shortening of the pendulum and the speeding up of its swing. We kept shortening and timing it. We reached the length where ten swings took ten seconds—like a ticking clock. And we kept going. I had to get up on a chair to shorten it again and I hear Student B excitedly asking “Is this like the orbits of the planets?” (We had made a graph of planetary distance vs. period while studying Kepler.) “That like…like the long pendulum is like Neptune and the short pendulum is like Mercury and it’s like the planets are on strings and the short string planets have shorter periods?”
I get down on my knees in front of her and touch my forehead to the floor three times. ”You have just done what the genius of Newton did. You saw a connection between the behavior of the swinging pendulum and the behavior of the orbiting planets and are now wondering if a deep pattern underlies them both.”
More vs. More Than
One idea that was in my TEDx talk for awhile but then was dropped was the difference between “more power” and “more power than.” This grew from a reflection on my power at Chrysalis.
A principal of a traditional school has the power to ask for lesson plans, evaluate teachers, set schedules, allocate budgets. They have more power than their teachers and they have more power than I do as the administrator of a teacher-led school.
But when I consider what I would want to accomplish with administrative power, I would want to use it to create a kind of school where the teachers are exuberant and creative and the students are learning, happy, and ethical and parents are happy and supportive. And that’s what is being created, to a degree more than many of the schools (apparently, based on what parents and students say) where the principal has more power than I do. That’s because the Chrysalis teachers have more power and they have used it to create in unanticipated ways manifestations of what I work towards with my limited power. Similarly, the students are given more power and with it they create many kid-scaled wonderfulnesses. So do I have more power than the traditional principal? Trying to have more power than others leads you in a different direction than using your power to nourish the power of others working towards the same dreams as yours. “More than” is relative, which can involve one in an escalating feedback spiral with others that can lead to pulling power towards oneself at the expense of others.
I am planning on retiring from Chrysalis administration at the end of the next school year. We teachers are discussing how we will do this transition. One unexplored possibility is searching nationally for a visionary someone who would find great personal satisfaction in helping the teachers develop the Chrysalis model further. (“Encouraging the light within each student to shine brighter,” teacher-led, focus on understanding, immersion in nature.) Salary would be modest (probably around 60K) but creative freedom is large. No credential of any kind is required to be a California charter school administrator but there would be a learning curve if one did not have school administration experience. If you know of such a person, ask them to contact me.
Reflections on the man lying in the street
I was driving on my way to kayaking when I saw what sort-of looked like a man lying in the left turn lane of the highway. Whatever it was had the right mass of a person but not the right proportions so I couldn’t quite figure it out as I drew nearer and nearer. I pulled off the road and walked out into the road. Even then I was not quite sure if the pile of clothes contained a person but when I touched it, he was a person, curled up with a hood pulled over his head which was pillowed on a small bag, as if sleeping in the middle of the road.
There was no sign of injury. I tried to get him to stand up and come out of the road but he would just grunt and roll back into a fetal position. He was probably in his mid-twenties. No smell of alcohol. As I tried to convince him to get up, another car stopped and called 911. Another car stopped and two ladies came over, one saying she was a doctor and asking if he needed help. In a couple of minutes, the police arrived. One of them asked questions that the man would not answer. The policemen had the authority to help the man up and out of the road. On the side of the road, the other, non-doctor woman tried signing to the man and he signed back. So he was deaf. That changed the way the policeman related to him. An ambulance arrived and I drove on.
Three reflections from that experience have stayed with me. When I first interacted with him, I saw in his eyes a broken spirit. Every year two or three children transfer to Chrysalis because they were being bullied at their former schools. When I meet them for the first time, they have a similar dull, pained look in their eyes. One of the joys of Chrysalis is watching the light come back into those eyes over the first couple of weeks of school as they realize that the other kids will be nice to them and that they are safe. But if there was not a Chrysalis and you had to endure an entire schooling of such bullying—and if you were deaf—and if you were from a background where you ended up on your own, homeless, deaf, broken, would you reach a point where you would just lie down in the street, curl up and cover your head until a car ran over you and ended the suffering?
The second reflection is about him lying there. I was at a distance when I first noticed something lying in the road. I did not see him walk out or lie down. He was already lying there. He might have been lying there for many minutes in an area of steady traffic. He was in one lane of a double left turn lane to turn up to a Walmart superstore and attendant mall. So people wanting to turn left could have gone around him in the other turn lane. But that would still require them to drive around a man lying in the street. How many minutes had he lain there? How many cars had driven by a man lying in the street without stopping?
The third reflection is a sense of wonder about what happened when I did stop for him. Within a minute of that, people were stopping, including a doctor and a woman who could sign with him. How strange is that, that the help he needed aligned in a few minutes? All I could do was stop for him but the act of stopping, I think, led others to stop who could help him. The world can act heartless or kind but in some mysterious way, we help decide in which direction it shall flow.