Friday, December 28, 2001

It would be fair to say that winter has finally arrived. As I wrote this a fine mist of snow drifts down from the sky, almost undetected. I’ve just finished eating lunch at work. I looked out back where our bird feeders are and the birds are going absolutely nuts. They’re having a feast. And, so are the squirrels incidentally. We have gotten a good amount of snow in the past week. Another foot or so and I may actually be able to offer snowshoeing. Even at this midwinter time I have seen many animals running around. The most interesting have been an immature bald eagle and a group of about 30 turkeys.

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

I took the job

I took it. I took the job. I think it is going to be very nice. I met some of my co-workers and they seem like good people. The director was out the day I visited after accepting.

It is a nice place in part because it is small. One frustration with my other job was the incredible amount of red tape and run around. The organization was too spread out, spread thin, and miscommunication was the rule of the day. It was dysfunctional. I have always had a soft spot for working at camps. I cound never afford to do it now, (emotionally or financially.) The power of the residential camp setting is in many ways a phenomenological one.

At camp, both campers and staff can see the world working. In many cases, our communities have become so large as to be meaningless. Everyone is disconnected and it is hard to see how we are all connected. At a residential camp though, this is all different. A residential camp is a small community where everything is clear. You see the person who cooks your food. Heck, in my case we shared a dorm room. Everyone's roles are clear and the setting is managable. It is possible to get a grasp on what everyone does. As far as staff goes, it is relatively easy to get everyone together for a meeting without resorting to memos and schedules a month in advance. Every day phenomenon can be viewed as part of an understandable whole.

In contrast, in the communities where most of us live, our food comes pre-packaged by anonymous strangers. We often insulate ourselves in our homes only coming out to drive to our far-off job which seems totally unrelated to our neighbor's job. Phenomenon in this situation are viewed as unrelated unexplainable untraceable events. Our technology is a good allegory to our cultural situation. Let's look at transportation. If I take a simple one speed bike and slip the chain off of the axel gear it would not be difficult for most anyone to look at the bike and easily see why it will not move. It would also be pretty easy to fix. Flash forward to a volkswagon bus. This is a major step forward in transportation technology. It was also the last car made that could be fixed by a person with a screw driver, wrench and a book. In today's cars. If it won't run there could be a million reasons why. Odds are the average person could not look at the car to determine what is wrong. Even if they could determine the source of the problem the solution would most likey be difficult and expensive.

Our communities are the same way. How did this all start with my new job? My new job is much more like a bike than a modern car. With a small staff it should be a place where everyone works together and the sense of commmunity is on a human scale.

Scale is what it is all about. At some point people need to decide what scale of society they want to live in? Our current "communities" are not human scale, they are car and to some percent, airplane scale.

Friday, October 26, 2001

I didn't get a chance to write yesterday. It was the first time this year I had seen the snows fall. Little dots of white fell from the sky and some even stuck around. Places like the top of our porch table turned white with a light dusting of snow. I was happy to be back in Minnesota. On our honeymoon we were in Columbia where it is literally 80 degrees 365 days a year. I couldn't do it. I'd miss the seasons too much.

On a personal note, I am faced with a choice. I have been offered a job. It pays terrible and does not include any benefits. The hours are not guaranteed and it involves a long drive. It is a ticket to a new place, a place more in line with my career goals and a place I should be happier. I think we can manage financially. It may mean putting off recarpeting the basement. It may mean not going out as much. It tears me up that I will be causing sacrifices to be made. I feel selfish. What is the cost of happiness?

Monday, October 08, 2001

On my way to lunch I noticed canada geese stopped off on the soccer field eating grass. I estimated 400 of them by my fairly accurate rough count. I saw a least another 150 on the side of the road on my way back. Autumn is certainly here now.

I had a nice visit yesterday with my friend Cyndy. Chelsey and I had her over to our new house and we made individual sized Chicago style double layer deep dish pizzas. Cyndy has just returned to Minnesota having spent around seven months on the AT walking from Georgia to Maine. A friend from trail said something along the lines of, "Be prepared to be shocked by civilization." She is now here seeing as if seeing for the first time. Getting re-accustomed to civilization has become a vividly phenomenological experience. I'll have to ask her more about it some time. Call me crazy but we talked to her about her trip rather than grill her on how challenging it is to return.

I guess I'm a little overcome by life lately. There is so much going on in the world. I'm not talking about war and all that. I'm talking about tree's leaves changing color. The air taking a crisp turn. There is so much sensory input and it is driving me crazy to be stuck in what amounts to a psudocubicle in little room 136. I crave sensory input. Me ears ring with an incessant hum of white noise from fluorescent lights, the copy machine, my computer monitor, the hum of the fan on the computer and the click of the keys on my keyboard. If I push past the white noise I can hear my co worker, Susan, sniffling from her cold and chewing on carrots. This too though is part of the drone that fills the office. If I push deeper. I can hear kids in childcare playing in the hallway. I can hear them knocking something sounding hollow and plastic together. I can faintly hear their supervisor saying, "Now girls...." The sound grows louder and faster. The kids are having a blast. It becomes annoying though, just high pitched screams echoing through cinderblock caves. I want to get up from this desk, walk outside in warm autumn clothes and sit myself down. I want to watch the complex fall greys slowly streak their way through the sky. I want to take the air into my lungs and smell the richness of life going to slumber. Here, when I try, I can smell....nothing. I smell a little soap on my hands if I really try. I want to smell leaves, smell the snow on its way. I want to drink spiced cider from my thermos. I want to smell it and taste the cinnamon, the allspice, the crisp apple. I want to live. I think that's what it is all about. This isn't living. I went outside just now to get something from the car. It was drizzling. I re-thought my desire to sit on the grass. More to the point though. I didn't even know that it was raining. Sensory depravation applied in extremes is torture. The environmental and general sensory depravation of the modern workplace, while not necessarily torture, is one hell of a depressing experience.

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

One thing I haven't written about here so far are the events on September 11th. I probably should, they are ripe with phenomenological implication of how we experience lived reality. My driving has gotten worse because I'm constantly looking at airplanes in the sky. I'm going through a mental checklist. Is it too low? Have I see one flying that flight path before? Why is that plane turning toward the city? Nothing about these planes has changed. They are flying the same flight path. I am driving the same road. My lived experience of these planes is very different though.

What is often overlooked in educational work, especially when it has become tiresome and routine for the educator, is appreciating the phenomenological lived experience of the learner. School teachers have become acutely aware of this lately. The lesson plan they had set up for the day after the attack suddenly seemed totally wrong as they began to think about what their students were going through. Working with kids I have seen their day to day lived lives but not as profoundly as adults might expect. In reality, most of them have not grasped the magnitude of the world situation. In their daily lives there are many events coloring their world. For a child who's parents are going through a divorce, the day to day experience of the divorce may be more influential than something that happened to some strangers in a city thousands of miles away. Look at it this way. There is an earthquake in Turkey. 15,000 people die by being crushed by falling debris. At the same time, one of your parents is hit by a car and in critical condition in the hospital. On a global scale, your parent's injuries are inconsequential compared to the disaster. However, on the personal phenomenological scale of lived experience, the tens of thousands injured and dead on the other side of the planet mean little or nothing when you are focused on your family.

Every day when we work with youth they come wearing stained glass eye wear. Their view of the world is colored by the different glass. Parts of it are even obscured by the lead between the pieces of glass. Phenomenon are constantly changing out pieces of the glass in their eye wear. Sometimes, a large shocking event can change every piece.

What I struggle with is always remembering that each person I work with is wearing a pair of glasses. The lived experience of their life may be very different from what I think it is. The way they view the world has an effect on the outcome of a program, the way they process an activity etc. If I come into a program assuming everyone is going to view it the same way I'm either fooling myself or being naive.

Youth who have never been outside of the city before have a very different experience of a wooded lot than I would. A stray dog running through the woods at a suburban nature center may as well be a wolf to them. Friends have told me about youth who were hesitant to go into a lightly wooded area no more than an acre in size who timidly asked, "what do we do if a bear attacks us." It is easy to look at a kid like this and think of him as ignorant. A teacher becomes truly effective upon realization that the fear of bears, while irrational from the teacher's perspective, is part of the lived experience of that youth. The wooded acre might as well be grizzly territory in Alaska.

Lived experience is important. I have to return again to the Abram quote I posted earlier. He says that we won't be successful until, "we draw folks back to our senses, because our sensing bodies are our direct contact with the rest of the natural world. It is not by being abstract intellects that we are going to fall in love again with the rest of nature." Yet, this is what many programs try to do. They focus heavily, though not necessarily exclusively, on the abstract intellectual concepts of "nature." By opening ourselves up to the phenomenological lived reality of the students coming to us we can better facilitate the experiential sensory contact of the natural world. This is just the first step and it is critically important. We cannot hope to help youth sense the natural world if we immediately assume they will sense it the same way we do.

Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Here is an excerpt from the email I mentioned yesterday. It gets at what i think my work is about.


I will be challenged with the question of "How do I work toward ecological literacy in a meaningful way that leads to a healing of the false human / nature split with ecologically illiterate youth who are transient and only in my presence for perhaps and hour."

The real challenge in that hour is not for me to teach them the myriad lessons out there, for I am a student also, not the teacher. The real challenge is to introduce them to the teacher; moreover, get them to believe the teacher actually exists. Once their eyes have been opened, once their ears have been opened and once their minds have been opened, they will see the teacher all around them."

Monday, September 17, 2001

I sent a letter to a friend today and it got at part of where I am trying to go with my ecological work. The work is who I am so perhaps its where I am trying to go with my life as well. I think I hit on something pretty good. I'll have to post it. It was abou thow I need to not worry about being the teacher because I too am a student. I need to show the others that the teacher exists.

Hmm. This sums it up nicely.

"I don't think there is a way for those who work in service to the earth -- for environmentalists, ecologists -- to really woo our culture back into a reciprocal or sustainable relation with the land until we draw folks back to our senses, because our sensing bodies are our direct contact with the rest of the natural world. It is not by being abstract intellects that we are going to fall in love again with the rest of nature. It's by beginning to honor and value our direct sensory experience: the tastes and smells in the air, the feel of the wind as it caresses the skin, the feel of the ground under our feet as we walk upon it. And how much easier it is to feel that ground if you allow yourself to sense that the ground itself is feeling your steps as you walk upon it." --David Abram

Lately I've been looking for a new job. Is that fair to say? Lately? I've been searching for this job for years. I'm applying a for a new job today. It won't be "the one" but it will be closer. Here's the situation. I don't like my current job. Do I apply for this other job that will require a drive of over an hour to get to, will pay me $600 less per month and require me to work some weekends and evenings? What is the price of sanity?

On a totally separate note, I've again become interested in phenomenology and there have been some serendipitous events in the past few days. On Saturday, I was feeling very introspective. I had just gone out to eat with a group of people and, being a introvert, I found it a draining experience. And, my food wasn't very good. That never helps. I returned home and retreated to my bookshelf. Having not yet built my little book nook I hope to erect in one of the bedroom dormers I sat down on the floor to read. The first book I pulled off the shelf was "The mysterious flame." It is a book that delves into the question of consciousness. I had read just part of the first chapter a few years ago after graduating from college. The book was given to me by my high school youth worker. She encouraged me along my path into youth work and she had thought I might enjoy the book. In reality, it put me to sleep right away and it remained on the bookshelf for perhaps two years now.

In general, I don't like having unread books on my shelf. They are constantly nagging me. Perhaps it is my thirst for knowledge or perhaps I just like to say to people, "Well of course I've read all of those." I cracked open the hardcover book and began to read. It was mildly interesting. Some of it reminded me of my freshman psychology class where the teacher tried to refute dualism. That lecture never sat right with me. The book helped clarify my feelings. What bothered me and bothered this author was that science has gone too far. It is so sure that the mind is the brain that the mind becomes unimportant. Everything important can be quantified.

Phenomenology came about as a reaction against this sort of thing. I won't go into detail here. I was not in the mood for this type of book. It was interesting though to read about the subject as I had a professor in college who was very into discussing "lived experience." and often mentioned phenomenology. I decided I should instead pick up "The Spell of the Sensuous." This is one of my favorite books and I have long been ashamed that I never read the first few chapters. It was originally assigned as a reading for a grad level class in environmental rhetoric I took at the University of Minnesota. Given the work load we were told we only needed to read the last half of the book. I picked up the book and began reading a little way in. I apparently had begun the book a while back and left off somewhere in the first chapter. The book was a perfect fit for my mood.

The author David Abram was talking about truly sensing the world around us. He had returned to the United States and was shocked at the lack of smells. We are such a sterile place that the everyday smells that remind us that we are alive and ground us in a sense of place are missing. This is, of course, a gross over simplification.

Both books began to talk about Phenomenology. It was quite strange. The synchronicity continued in the pop culture realm as Chelsey and I settled into bed to watch a little TV. Part one of the two part final episode of xena Warrior Princess was on. We had finished watching X-Files and over the years we've come to watch a lot of Xena since she's always on after the X-files. A good portion of the episode focused on opening up to the sounds around you and sensing the world on a deeper level. Hmm, how very strange.

I guess this is like when you get dumped by a significant other and suddenly you realize that every song on the radio is a love song. I have been so focused on my wedding and so trapped here in my office that I feel cut off from the sustaining forces of life. I'd argue along with Abrams (as I know he does later in his book) that our whole culture is cut off in this way. In fact, it seems to be a founding principal of our great society.

We are all ecologically illiterate children who cannot hear the breeze over the tinnitus in our ears.

Main Entry: phe·nom·e·no·log·i·cal
Pronunciation: fi-"nä-m&-n&l-'ä-ji-k&l
Function: adjective
Date: circa 1858

1 : of or relating to phenomenology--a philosophical movement that describes the formal structure of the objects of awareness and of awareness itself in abstraction from any claims concerning existence.