Tag Archive for Bill McKibben

The Beauty of Bare Winter Trees: Haiku & Bill McKibben

Admittedly, I am contrarian by nature. I’ve always bristled at the idea of “peak season” when it comes to fall foliage. This idea that there’s a perfect weekend when the deciduous trees of the Northeast look their best. Sure, the colors are spectacular, no doubt. But I like the trees all the time, any day of the week.

Especially in the winter.

That’s when I can most admire their scaffolding, the structure and shape and enduring strength of the creature itself. They drop their leaves and apply their resources to more pressing matters, hunkering down to survive another long, cold winter.

These days, I frequently find myself driving from Delmar to Saratoga, up and back, about three times a week. My daughter, Maggie, rows for the Saratoga Rowing Association — and the water’s up there. So in the car we go. It’s more travel time than I’ve ever had in my life. I’m one of those people who gets excited every single time I see a hawk — or maybe it’s an eagle, it’s hard to tell. On a travel day, I spend about 90 minutes cruising on 87, listening to music and admiring the trees. And in winter, I can really see the random hawks perched on the limbs, feathers puffed up against the cold, giving them the appearance of jolly, fat assassins.

On most days, I’ll compose a few lines of haiku as I drive, hoping to jot them down later. I realize it’s a form derided by some literati, but I enjoy writing most of my haiku in the traditional 5-7-5 form, even though it’s somewhat out of style nowadays. I like the wordplay and rigor of it. Often my focus is on those trees, the winter weather. Here’s a few, like a fistful of almonds:

 

In the winter trees

her bony grip, long fingers

twisted and wind-whipped.

 

The wolf’s moon hangs low

beckons through bare branches, come:

a headlight drives past.

 

Where a branch broke off

the grandfatherly red oak

a barred owl now nests.

 

The plump winter wren

moves through the understory,

trills and whirls, tail down.

 

The tall trees lie down

in shadow across sunlit

snow, ever patient.

 

Amidst the white field

a stand of resolute oaks,

but not forever.

 

The sparse silhouette

against a gray winter sky

declares: hickory.

 

The beech holds its leaves

shimmering like winter moons

papery and light.

 

Steel-gray buckets tapped

into maples; the crows watch

from snow-covered limbs.

 

Crows seem skeptical

of melting snow in cold rain,

perched on bare branches.

 

The bare winter elms

reveal the assassin’s shape:

hawk perched on a limb.

 

Anyway, whatever. I don’t worry too much about ideas of quality — whether they are “good” or not — more interested in the process of attending to things, getting out of myself, and seeing. Basho’s “the journey itself is home.”

It made me happy to read the following passage in Bill McKibben’s most recent novel, Radio Tree Vermont.  I’ve been a huge fan of his work since reading his landmark book, The End of Nature, when it came out nearly 30 years ago. In this scene, Vern Barclay muses on Vermont’s trees after the giddy explosion of autumn colors has passed:

And when it was over, it was even better. The leaves were down by mid-October, and you could see the shape of the land again, see the late sun silhouetting the trees along the ridgetops as it set. You could sense the architecture of the hills, every hollow and creekrun and knoll visible from the road. When people thought of trees, they thought of leaves — that’s how a child would draw them. But the natural inclination of trees at this latitude was bareness — seven months of the year, at least upslope, they stood there stoic. Leaves were the fever-dream exception to the barren rule, and Vern felt calmer once they were down. 

 

AN ASIDE: My first book of haiku, written for children, comes out in the Fall of 2019, illustrated by the great Mary GrandPre (of Harry Potter fame). It is titled All Welcome Here and celebrates the community of the classroom on the first day of school.

I’m Crowdsourcing My New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions.

 

In case you missed the headline, I’m crowdsourcing my New Year’s Resolutions for 2018. Because who knows better than you? No-bah-dee. I’m in such deep denial about my faults that I’m not going to be any help at all. I’m just staring at a blank paper here. 

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions

Besides, the old way of doing resolutions doesn’t work. We’ve all been there. The calendar year turns and it’s time to make our big New Year’s Resolution. Or Resolution(s) if we’re feeling particularly ambitious — or covering our bases in the event of, you know, not bothering. Often people pick one big thing, for instance, “Lose Ten Pounds,” or “Spend Less Time on Social Media.” 

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The whole concept never takes hold. By late January there’s broken resolutions scattered everywhere. Collectively, across the country, we’re unresolved.

Why?

Because there’s too much pressure on that one big resolution. The success of an entire year rises or falls on that single thing. Did you learn how to macrame? Did you read more “serious novels”? Did you give up wheat? (You never even tried, did you?) Twelve months later you look back and it’s an “epic fail” because of course you didn’t lose those last ten pounds, nobody dreamed you would, in fact you packed on six more. Oh well.

I’ve come to believe that it’s much better to spread our the burden of resolutions as if they came in a large tub of room-temperature margarine. I’m not talking about a tub of ten solutions. Or even twenty. I’m talking about a very, very large tub.

Funny-new-years-resolutions-cake

I’m announcing my intention of having 1,000 resolutions in place and fully documented by midnight, December 31st. In fact, while typing this I thought of my first resolution:

1) Never again say or type “epic fail.” In fact:

2) Never say or type “epic” anything. That word sucks now.

See? I need only 998 more resolutions.

Oh, wait:

3) Read at least one poem a day.

4) Don’t get my hopes up. Across the board. Just. Don’t.

Now here’s where you come in. I need only 996 more resolutions.

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Oh, wait, again:

5) Don’t believe any swimmer when he or she tells me the water is “refreshing.” That person with blue lips is a liar. Don’t get fooled again!

6) Say “namaste” at least once this year and actually believe it instead of, you know, faking it. I think it has something to do with a light.

7) Enough already with the IPAs.

8) Help more with housework.

8A) Ask Lisa where she keeps the broom. 

8B) Do we own a broom?

8C) Buy Lisa a broom for her birthday.

9) Boo somebody, anybody, but not an athlete. Ideas: baristas, politicians, family members, random strangers, the plumber, etc. Really let ’em have it.

10) Write Bill McKibbon a fan letter.

11) If it doesn’t look delicious, don’t eat it. Tasting things that look horrible is not open-minded, it’s overrated. Trust my eyes.

12) Tell Paul what I really, really think about him. Truth to power!

13) Get other people to finish my lists.

Okay, I need 987 more.

Got any suggestions?

Happy-New-Year-Copy

In Praise of Farmers’ Markets

It’s that time of year when our local, weekly farmers’ market moves indoors and, obviously, the product changes. These markets really are a summertime thing. I’ll be sad to see the empty parking lot on Saturdays outside the middle school where the market used to be.

My wife, Lisa, who is often a few years ahead of me in all things Cool & Progressive, was an early adopter. She valued local foods, loved our farmers’ market, and loathed to miss it. And I was like, “Okay, sure, I’ll tag along.” All cynical and whatever. But I learned over time that I enjoyed being there, running into folks, seeing my neighbors, goofing around, buying things . . . or not.

In a passage from his devastating, essential, must-read book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, Bill McKibben helped clarify for me what it was that I was experiencing at these markets, and maybe why I liked going so much:

Often a farmers’ market is the catalyst — not just because people find that they like local produce, but because they actually meet each other again. This is not sentiment talking; this is data. A team of sociologists recently followed shoppers around supermarkets and then farmers’ markets. You know the drill at the Stop’n’Shop: you come in the automatic door, fall into a light fluorescent trance, visit the stations of the cross around the perimeter of the store, exit after a discussion of credit or debit, paper or plastic. But that’s not what happens at farmers’ markets. On average, the sociologists found, people were having ten times as many conversations per visit. They were starting to rebuild the withered network that we call a community. So it shouldn’t surprise us that farmers’ markets are the fastest-growing part of our food economy; they are simply the way that humans have always shopped, acquiring gossip and good cheer along with calories.

Of course, McKibben has bigger things on his mind, and rightfully so. He recognizes this local, strengthening network as a catalyst, a foundation for political expression & action, for coordinated effort, and, yes, justice. In short, when people get together, it’s a good thing. So I want to thank all those folks who have worked so hard to bring the market to my little ‘burb in Delmar, NY, and the thousands like them around the country. You done good.

Earthrise: “Oh my God. Here’s the earth coming up.”

This photograph, known as “Earthrise,” was taken by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission while in orbit around the moon.

I’ve been reading Bill McKibben’s book, Eaarth — that’s not a typo, by the way — and he has a nice passage about the taking of that photograph, and it’s “heart-catching” perspective on our fragile planet.

I’ll type it out for you:

In December 1968 we got the first real view of that stable, secure place. Apollo 8 was orbiting the moon, the astronauts busy photographing possible landing zones for the missions that would follow. On the fourth orbit, Commander Frank Borman decided to roll the craft away from the moon and tilt its windows toward the horizon — he needed a navigational fix. What he got, instead, was a sudden view of the earth, rising. “Oh my God,” he said. “Here’s the earth coming up.” Crew member Bill Anders grabbed a camera and took the photograph that become the iconic image perhaps of all time. “Earthrise,” as it was eventually known, that picture of a blue-and-white marble floating amid the vast backdrop of space, set against the barren edge of the lifeless moon. Borman said later that it was “the most beautiful, heart-catching sight of my life, one that sent a torrent of nostalgia, of sheer homesickness, surging through me. It was the only thing in space that had any color to it. Everything else was simple black or white. But not the earth.” The third member of the crew, Jim Lovell, put it more simply: the earth, he said, suddenly appeared as “a grand oasis.”

But we no longer live on that planet. In the four decades since, that earth has changed in profound ways, ways that have already taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived. We’re every day less the oasis and more the desert. The world hasn’t ended, but the world as we know it has — even if we don’t quite know it yet.

Here’s a link to a fascinating review by Dave Gardner of McKibben’s book.

If you’ve got an hour to give, you might be inspired by watching this Bill McKibben lecture (he begins 14 minutes into the clip, after introductions).

But if you’ll only give seven minutes, here’s a good introduction to Mr. McKibben:

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