Loud Machines and Climate Silence

The other day I read an article in the Guardian, The Great Climate Silence by Clive Hamilton.  I found it easy to agree–no one is really talking about or dealing with the coming catastrophe of climate change.  Having had these issues on my mind for a while, I moved on to other things that day.  But sometimes it is the little things that break through to our hearts.

This morning, I was planning to walk over to Evergreen Cemetery for the Warbler Walk sponsored by Maine Audubon, but though I searched everywhere, I couldn’t find my pair of binoculars. So I left the house feeling that sense of frustration I am sure we all feel when we can’t find something.  As I walked, I opted to forego the warblers, and go by Capisic Brook near the Hall School.  I wrote previously about the cutting of trees that is going on for construction of the new school.

Hall School Tree Cutting 1The big loud machines are still there, but today I was startled to see that they have also cut trees between the school and the brook, a whole section that I thought should be safe. The wide swath of trees that made for a little wilderness in the city, is being narrowed so that the sanctuary is no longer as much a sanctuary.

I am not in on any of the planning or decision-making, so I feel very helpless and sad and angry about all of this, wishing there were someone I could yell at, like, Really, you have to cut those trees too?  Isn’t it bad enough that you destroyed the trail on the other side of the school?  Meanwhile the big machines kept digging up the earth near the pathway, now widened to a road, that goes over the brook.  As I walked back over that pathway, I heard the plaintive chirps of a woodpecker that I have often seen in this little ecosystem.

On my way home, I thought about the article about climate silence.  But this time, my frustration and grief and anger were open, and I felt for the earth as a whole what I had been feeling for my little brook and its trees and birds and newly blooming trout lilies.  Why are we doing this?  Isn’t it bad enough that we’ve already caused extinctions, and destroyed so many ecosystems?  Why do we just keep on destroying more and more?  We’ve got to get out of our denial, face our grief, and break our silence.

And for some reason I also thought about the proposal to borrow money to re-build four of the other elementary schools in Portland.  Most progressives I know are in favor of that proposal, but when I think about climate change, I have misgivings.  It is not about particular trees or construction damage, or not wanting the best schools for our kids.  But just as Clive Hamilton suggests, no one takes into account the coming catastrophes as they go about making plans for the future.  The new Hall School is slated to be a “green building.” So yes, that is good.  But there are other issues, too.

The one that came to my heart today is debt.  I think about cities in Michigan that are under “emergency management” because they went bankrupt from debts they could not repay.  Those managers, with no democratic accountability, can close school districts, sell off common resources like parks and museums, and change public water systems, such that the children in Flint were poisoned by lead.  If we take into account the coming climate catastrophes, wouldn’t it be wise to get our cities and ourselves out of debt?  So that we can preserve local control when things get worse?  Do we really want the banks to be in charge when everything gets more chaotic and difficult?

Everything shifts when we include climate change and the earth ecosystem in our conversations about the future.  What questions might you start asking, that you haven’t been asking up until now?

Loud machine

[Forest City Trail sign, with big machine digging up the earth]


Tree Cutting at the Hall School

I know that the Hall School really needs a new building–the old one is falling apart.  So it was all approved by the city and the voters, and they are going to build it this summer.  That is a good thing for our neighborhood.  But the sad thing is that they are cutting three acres of trees to make room for the new building and a new road into the complex.  This is right next to the walk I usually take each day–I go a few blocks over to the trail by the Capisic Brook, and then go round to the other side of Hall School to continue walking through another little woods.  The brook trail hasn’t been disturbed, but the rest of it is practically gone.

It makes me sad that new development destroys these city forests, which offer so much habitat for critters, and beauty for city dwellers like me.

Tree-Cutting at the Hall School


Maple on BirchwoodIn our search for greener housing, we’ve come upon a paradoxical sad choice. There is a large tree next to our new house, whose branches stretch dangerously over the roof.  If the branches get covered in too much snow, they might break and fall on the roof.  Also, they will block morning sun to our future solar array which is so important for our ability to stop using fossil fuels.

It turns out that this tree–we believe it is a maple–is on Portland Water District land.   At first we thought we could just prune the branches that were over the roof, but this would be quite a severe pruning.  I did some research online and learned that mature trees do not handle severe pruning well: pruning it as needed would likely cause the tree to deteriorate and eventually die. I never knew that before. The PWD doesn’t like the idea of pruning because it would cost as much as cutting it down, and then they’d have to come back later and deal with it at some point in the future.  I had a chat with the PWD right-of-way person today, and we’ve decided reluctantly to let them cut the tree down.

I am someone who listens to trees, and earlier, when I asked the tree about what to do, the tree expressed a willingness to sacrifice itself for the purpose of our moving into greater harmony with the earth.  It seemed so easy and gentle about it all.  But I feel so sad about it all. I love old trees. I love that this tree has multiple trunks and I can squeeze in the middle of them–though I also learned that multiple trunks are not as healthy for a tree.

I am not asking for advice here–just expressing the contradictory feelings that come up for me as we try to navigate our way forward into greener living. We plan to plant many trees on this land–most likely fruit trees and nut trees.  So we will give back when the season arrives.  We may be able to keep the mulch that is created by the process, to use in future gardens. But today, I just want to honor this grandmother tree, and her kindness and serenity and openness to the sincere and contradictory journeys of human travelers.


Some hard realities are emerging in our pursuit of the house with the beautiful back yard. It has been a whirlwind of activity for acting on due diligence for the purchase and sale. We’ve had a home inspection, and a solar evaluation. We’ve discovered a few moderate-sized challenges–we’ll have to replace the roof before we can install solar panels.  We’ll have to prune a large tree whose branches hang over the roof.

But perhaps the worst came yesterday, when our realtor called to say that in looking closer at the deed and the page on which it was registered, it appeared that not all the land that seemed to belong to this property actually belongs to it.  There is a Portland Water District parcel that runs next to the land, and it takes up part of the space that was being occupied by the current owners.

We feel angry and betrayed that the sellers never disclosed this information.  In the listing photos and in the placement of some children’s playground equipment, we were led to believe that this property went up to the neighbor’s fence.  But in reality the larger part of the side yard belongs to the PWD.  I remembered that there had been the remnants of a little fence from the front corner of the house over to the neighbor’s fence that had been removed except for the posts.  We are guessing that the realtor suggested they take down the fence because it wasn’t legal, but who knows?

We went to the property today to do some of our own measurements, to see where the boundaries really are, and to try to decide if, with this new information, we still want to choose this property.  We really don’t like the underhanded aspects of real estate–the attempts get the best deal you can, even if you play dirty.  Our own values say, be honest, let it be fair to all involved. We are so glad our realtor shares those values, and also that he is so conscientious and went the extra mile to discover these discrepancies.

Red boundary flag, photo by Margy Dowzer

Our red boundary flag

When we did the rough measurements we discovered that the actual front boundary of the property stops about even with the side of the house, and then slants back to the left, away from the house, directly through the play equipment. The big tree, and the neighbors fence too, by the way, are all on PWD land.  We spent a long time in the yard, trying to sort out our feelings about it all.  We still need some more information from the water district. It seems that all the neighborhood properties are currently encroaching on their land.  There is a 20-inch, 101-year-old water main that runs on their land, fortunately toward the other side of it. But will they be tearing it all up to replace or repair in the next twenty or thirty years?

What we’ve learned in this process is that the privacy of this back yard is vulnerable. Along with this water district land, there is a paper road that is undeveloped at the back of the land, that may never be developed, or will it?  On the plus side, all of it expands the sense of space that one feels there.  But on the other hand, will there be future changes over which we have no control? We’ll try to get more information on Monday. We have until Tuesday to withdraw.  But for now, we are still feeling a connection to the land, even tender toward its neglected needs.  In the undeveloped areas off the back edges, there are invasive vines and bittersweet.  One of the values of permaculture is to bring healing to the land. We feel good about that. Please send us prayers for clarity, and the revealing of important truths.

All this is PWD owned land.

All this is PWD owned land.  Photos by Margy Dowzer.

We Are Already Connected

We have much farther to travel on this journey to renew our connection with the earth, with each other, and with the Mystery at the heart of life. There will be troubles to endure and beauty to behold. What we are becoming together is still to be revealed. This is a journey of our time, of our planet, of all the people and beings who live here together. Most importantly, we must remember that we are not facing these challenges alone. That is what I learn from the mushrooms. We are not alone. We are already connected to the earth, to Mystery, to each other. 

Because we are all connected, any small action that we take has the capacity to affect the wider network. When we begin to honor and celebrate our connection with even one other being on this planet, something reverberates through the whole web. When we express our gratitude for the water we drink, and do our part to preserve its cleanliness, we are nurturing the web of life. When we share our resources with those who have less, we are nurturing the web of life. When we listen, really listen to each other’s differences, we are nurturing the web of life. When we listen, really listen to the water, the wood, and the stone, we are nurturing the web of life.

We are trying to wake up to what already exists. We are learning to know the deep truth that we are already at home.

So I returned to the river, I returned to
the mountains. I asked for their hand in marriage again,
I begged—I begged to wed every object
and creature,
and when they accepted,
God was ever present in my arms.
                                           Meister Eckhart

Branches MJ DSC03740

Meister Eckhart quote is from “When I Was the Forest,” Love Poems From God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West.

Helpers for Finding Our Way Home


Margy Dowzer Photo

There are beings all around us who want to be called upon, who want to help us in this work of returning to wholeness, this work of finding our way home. I have shared stories of a few of the beings who have helped me. The bright red cardinal singing its beautiful song. The four directions beech tree. The waters of lakes and streams. The ground, the very ground we walk upon, that holds me when all around me everything is falling apart.

Now that I know about the mycelial network, the ground feels more alive to me. But it was always true that something happened when I sat down upon the ground. If I sleep on the ground for a longer period of days, there is a glow that surrounds my body. I remember this from my time at the Women’s Peace Camp, where I was living in a tent for four months. I felt alive in some new way that I began to miss when I went back inside an apartment in Chicago. I forget it easily, but I feel more alive when I am outside.

Jesus has been such a helping presence too. First in my childhood and youth, when he was the one who loved me and who called me to the path of love. But even later, when I was leaving Christianity to follow the path of the Goddess, Jesus was a guide and a friend. If we can experience the divine within every being around us, the theological questions about Jesus seem less of a quandary. People have been asking, over the centuries, Was Jesus a man or a God? I would answer, Aren’t all of us both human and divine?

When Winifred Gallagher wrote about her quest for a spiritual home, she described the essential spiritual practice of the Christian tradition as the practice of love for everyone. She commented that it seemed a lot easier to meditate for an hour every day, than to have to practice love for everyone—it was not an easy alternative. It has been a deep tragedy that Christianity has been used to foster hate and oppression. Jesus stays in my life as the teacher of love, the human example of what divine love looks like.

I want you to know that we are not alone. In this time of great challenges and transitions, there are a host of beings who love life and want to help us find another way to live. As we reach out to them, they are reaching out to us. I understand that every person will have their own ways of connecting to earth, to each other, to Mystery. The mycelial network might not be the thing that helps you to experience the connection between all beings. You might not resonate with Jesus or with trees. But I encourage you to find out what it is that does help you. In these times we need critical thinking and activism and also mysticism.

Just as we can now sit in front of a plastic and metal panel and communicate with people across the world, so there are technologies to communicate across species and across dimensions. The threads of life weave us together in ways we have barely begun to imagine. But I know this: we belong here together and we need each other now more than ever. Poet Barbara Deming wrote:

Our own pulse beats in every stranger’s throat,
and also there within the flowered ground beneath our feet.
Teach us to listen:
We can hear it in water, in wood, and even in stone.
We are earth of this earth, and we are bone of its bone.
This is the prayer I sing.

Green Back Yard DSC05265

Fractals In the Forest

A fractal is a pattern that repeats itself, from an infinitely small scale to an infinitely large scale. We see in the patterns and shapes of nature that there is self-similarity at all levels.

This has both practical and mystical applications. I learned about one practical application from a documentary called Hunting the Hidden Dimension. A group of scientists concerned about global warming was trying to determine how much carbon dioxide was absorbed by trees in the rain forest. They could measure the carbon capture of a single leaf, but how could they count the number of leaves in the forest?

They had an idea. They started by measuring the circumference of all of the branches on a single tree. Because of the fractal nature of the tree, the branches form a regular pattern, dividing at certain intervals into smaller and smaller branches. By measuring every branch, they could determine the ratio between branch sizes. Then they took it one step further. They measured the trunks of all of the trees within a given area.

Imagine it with me if you will. If we walk through a forest we see trees of all sizes—small saplings, huge old giants—there is an endless variety of sizes all around us, seemingly in a random pattern.

Trees MJ DSC03686But it turns out it is not so random. The ratio of tree sizes in an area of forest is approximately the same as the ratio of branch sizes on a single tree. There is a pattern to it. And by learning the patterns, the scientists could compute how many leaves were in the forest, and how much carbon dioxide they would absorb.

Now when I walk through the forest near my home, I remember this experiment, and look with wonder at the trees around me. What seemed chaotic and random before, is now bursting with new meaning, full of patterns that start to reveal themselves to me, as I gaze with deeper insight. My experience of the trees’ beauty expands, and I feel a growing sense of awe.

I find myself looking for fractal patterns everywhere. This new understanding has changed the way I see the world. And it is not only visual. I can feel the patterns in bark with my fingertips, and I start to listen for patterns in the sounds I hear as well. Next time you look at a spider’s web, or gaze into the clouds in the sky, watch for the fractal patterns.

Our ability to measure fractal patterns in the natural world has also given us the ability to create digital worlds that remind us of our own. Fractal formulas are used to generate computer graphics that look realistically like mountain ranges, and rivers, and forests, and clouds. That wasn’t possible just a few decades ago.

Fractals have been used to design antennas in greatly reduced sizes, which enabled the creation of the next generation of cell phones and other electronic communicators. Fractal geometry is enlarging our ability to create new devices that work better, because they follow patterns that resonate with the natural patterns around us.