Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Big Flakes, Fat Flakes

Big flakes,
Fat flakes.

With just two days left of autumn the skies have become filled with snow. There isn't any accumulation of this moment but that it will occur is certain. Winter is pulling the blanket up over the land and all but us few creatures of winter are busily getting ready for extended naps or are packing their bags for the trip south.

Just last night I was at Camp Ihduhapi for a sauna with Tom, Johnny and Phil. We commented on the way back that all of us were hungry, and had been more hungry as the days shortened and our bodies naturally desired to store fat for the winter.

With Halloween just two days away I am reminded that this is the traditional time of death. The cycle of life comes to a close on the night of Halloween and winter is upon us. This time of year is often a time of reflection and a time to grieve and mourn a death or perhaps celebrate a life that has has now ended. How fitting it is this time of year the Paul Wellstone died. If someone had asked me how his death would have affected me I don't think I would have had any clue. It has been a profound experience making me think about life, liberalism, justice, and making a difference in the world.

Everyone I know here in Minnesota, and even people I know elsewhere in the world, are really taking some time to think about life and what they are doing in the wake of Wellstone's death. There were about 20,000 people who showed up at Memorial service last night and almost every station simulcast the entire 3+ hour event. It only caught bits and pieces but it was incredibly moving.

While saunaing last night Johnny asked us what we were leaving behind, what we wanted to shed and let go of. It was a marvelous question. I was thinking about something that had popped into my head. Wellstone liked to quote Gandhi who said, "Become the change you want to see in the world." I'd heard this before but it somehow has more meaning to me at this particular time. It banged around in my head for a while and came back out in a different form. Today I'm thinking:

The only way to become the person you seek to be;
is to become the person you seek to be.

I will endeavor to do just that.

As soon as the snows of winter come, they soon go as well. Perhaps we will not be blanketed by snow. As I gaze out the windows I see it has stopped. Everything in nature is cyclical. I know it will return.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Autumn is hiking and pumpkins

I have sometime here since I finished up my lunch very early today. I haven’t written anything down for a while. The world outside is in constant change and I am forever enthralled by the play before my eyes. Autumn is trying to keep it’s feeble grip on Minnesota but Winter is beating it’s chest up North and making motions to invade.

I’m still working out at Warner Nature Center and last week we walked across the soon to be official St. Croix Greenway Corridor. Approximately 5 miles of land from the St. Croix river in the East to Warner Nature Center in the west has been protected as a Wildlife corridor. The land includes Warner, Wilder Forest, Boy Scouts Kiwanis Camp, William O’Brien family land and a few other minor pieces of property. As far as we know we were the first to walk the whole corridor in recent history. It was beautiful and really gave us an appreciation of how large it is. Warner is much larger than I had previously thought.

I saw changing leaves of oak and maple. I saw deer rubbings on buckthorn, ate lunch on a hillside next to miniature oaks. We walked through native prairie of little blue stem and ate a snack next to a large monocrop field of corn that will next year be restored back to prairie.

Outside now, the peak of color is over. The browns and dull yellows dominate and the frosts we’ve had are making even the still green buckthorn droop and wither. The sky is blue. I’ll have to remember that in the Winter when a gray wash colors the sky and hides even the location of the sun.

I leave in a few hours to teach the first of six weeks of after school nature classes to kids. I’ve already started two other schools this week. This one is the last. The topic for today is Pumpkins, fruit or vegetable? We take out the carving knives and discover that they are indeed fruits. There’s something special about finishing the circle around the stem and then trying to pry the top off. It doesn’t usually want to give in so easy. It finally pulls off to reveal the sometimes delicate, sometimes chaotic design inside. I love sticking my hands in to the goo. It is wet, slightly slimy, and almost always cold. I’ve been storing the pumpkins in the van outside so the insides are very cold.

The seeds slip between your fingers and elude your grasp. The strands that hold them in place collapse into slimy strands and simply slide away as you grasp in vain. Out comes the spoon. Cutting and scraping, the slimy insides fall into a lump in the center and are scooped easily out. The transformation is fascinating. One minute the inside is spider-web-like and slimy. The next moment it is cool, smooth and clean. It is like a shave job on a demon. It suddenly looks respectable. It suddenly looks ready to receive a gift placed inside.

Soon a face or design is carved.

Soon a candle is placed inside.

Soon it is Halloween.

Soon the growing world goes to slumber.

Monday, September 16, 2002

Seasons turn

Seasons turn. It has been months since my fingers clicked the keys on this keyboard to transform the lived experience of Kirk Mona into a blog for the ages.

Today the director of the nature center, Tom Anderson stopped into my cube and said, "Kirk, I've got a great new word for you. I heard it in a play yesterday. Phenomenology."

I smiled a wide grin. Little did he know the word is not new but rather dates to the 1800's. I returned here to my phenomenological visions blog and re-read some passages with the hindsight of a season passed.

Last year as I wrote I was trying to create my new youth work. I had started again down the path I began in college. The summer classes I would teach should have provided a perfect platform for testing my techniques.

I feel that I have failed in this respect. I fell into classic patterns of teaching. Well, that’s not exactly true. Nothing I do follows much of any tradition. I bring a unique style to every program even id it is one done thousands of times for years before my arrival.

I wanted to do something really new though. The big test was a class called "Stories in the forest." It was my phenomenology based class. We were going to go out and experience the world and then write stories about it. We were going to write the stories revealed to us by nature. Only one or two kids signed up. The class didn't run and all of the classes I did end up teaching were ones that have filled for years.

I’m already thinking to next year and I need to make it more exciting. I need to find good topics and explore the lived experience of the natural world within the framework of a fantastically irresistible class.

My current thought is a class on cryptozoology. The study of animals that may or may not exist. We'd head out into the forest of Warner learning how to track animals as though we were looking for a Yeti or some such creature. Through this process we would become more aware of our surroundings.

On a final note: we were painfully aware of our surroundings this summer as the mosquitoes literally prevented us for entering the woods on several occasions.

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

I Hate Turbotax

Who was it who said, "Nothing is certain in life except death and taxes"? Right about now death sounds a whole lot easier. The marvels of electronic filing have failed me. I have submitted my taxes at least 3 times now and been rejected each and every time due to a reoccurring technical error on the part of Intuit’s turbo tax software. Bastards.

I’m trying not to think about that. I’m trying to enjoy a nice cheese sandwich on wheat bread. It is a wonderful aged cheddar. Outside the world is beginning to bloom. I saw my first flower yesterday and this morning the ferns in the garden had shot up and opened. I was outside walking the dog.

We have added a new member to the family. Odin the dog. He is half black lab and half golden retriever. He also happens to be a fanatically wonderful guy. He is very laid back and doesn’t jump and pounce on people like some dogs we know. (names withheld to protect the guilty.)

I’m having trouble focusing here. I want to relax during my lunch break but there is so much noise in here! Ugh.

Today is May Day. Happy today! Summer starts today but you wouldn’t know it. We’ve had a freakishly cold April. After a warm winter without hardly any snow it goes and turns into the 3rd snowiest April on record. We had 20 inches and the average is four. Slowly but surely it is getting warmer. This weekend is the big May Day Parade and festival. We’re having a breakfast party on Sunday before the parade. I hope a lot of people show up. I’m going to be cooking waffles like mad! I’m excited to see how Odin reacts to a crowd of people. It will be good for him to meet people at the house first. There will likely be thousands of people at the parade.

Interestingly, last year the parade’s theme was "The flowering of compassion." This year it is "Pray for the flowering of compassion." In other words, we’re not there yet. I have a feeling that with the crackdown on civil liberties in light of the terrorist attacks we’re going to see a fair degree of criticism of the Bush administration. It’s about time.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

The Arrival of Odin

A cold wind is blowing across the land as trees push and push, trying to pop their leaves out to bring on the spring. We’ve been fooled a few times this spring. We went from snow to 92 degrees in less than a week and then back to snow. While the snow has melted now there are threats of more. When will winter finally let go of its icy grip? When I went out this morning to let our new dog outside it was only 65 degrees. Not bad really. However, that was the warmest it will be all day.

Yes, our new dog. His name is Odin. He’s fabulous. He’s half black lab and half golden retriever. He’s very mild mannered.

I really want to write a post here about animism. Not today though. Not today.

Monday, April 08, 2002

Here I am. I’m sitting in front of my computer of course but that’s just geography. There’s a question I’ve been avoiding. I had gotten so good at avoiding it that I have forgotten that it had not, in fact, been dealt with, but rather just purposefully avoided.

Who am I?

That’s the question. It was dredged up again while talking to a new friend this past week. He’s embroiled in the involutions of life. He recently graduated from college. He recently broke up with his girlfriend of three years and so it goes without saying that he is trying to discover where he fits into the world. After we talked for some time I remembered that I too have these same questions. In college I spent four years learning who I was and where I was going. Of course, now that I am a few years away from that time and that place I am not who I was and I’m not sure where I am is where I need to be.

This isn’t just about a job. I like my job, or to be more accurate, jobs. What I am feeling a little unsure about is more vocational. No, more personal. Who I am, how I react to the world, how I am perceived and how I treat others. I need time to reflect on these.

I think part of this comes down to the "F" word. When I look back on my life I think about the times when I was most happy, most smiles, most me, I have to say it has been when I was surrounded by friends. I can really shine when I am around friends. I like who I am.

I like who I am when I am around friends.

Today is Monday. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday I was at Camp Ihduhapi. I met wonderful new people, I became friends with people who I had met but who’s names had never stuck in my short term memory for more than a breath. These people’s names are now burned into my brain. In fact, I can’t stop running through them. These people made and impression on me in a way that no one else has in years. They gave me reason to laugh, smile and feel at home in myself.

I received a complement from a woman who I barely spoke with. Almost as an after though I thanked her for coming to the training. She looked at me as though she was thinking about whether or not to say what was on her mind. She finally did. She had wanted me to know how much she appreciated the dedication I showed to the work I do. She appreciated my willingness to put myself out there and be silly, to be daring.

She was referring to my exploits in the game, "The Chicken and the Stone." It is basically a tag game in which the person who is it picks up a rubber chicken off a carpet square "stone." They pick it up and tag someone standing in a circle around the stone. The "It" has to run back and put the chicken back on the stone. Once they drop the chicken the person who was tagged has to pick it up and tag the person who was "It" before the "It" can take a place in the large circle. While all of this is going on, a person can prove their bravery by running up to the stone and placing their head on it. They then shout "I have no fear for the chicken is not here!" This is a way to keep everyone involved in the game. I ran out many times to test my bravery. I didn’t always get all the way to the stone before turning back. I sometimes ran across the circle I once did a summersault over the stone instead of saying the phrase. It was really fun.

The point is that I was fully engaged. I dared to place my head on the stone and say the words. The more I think about it the more I realize what a wonderful metaphor the mage is for life.

I need to be less afraid and more motivated to run to the center of life and not be afraid.

This is just one example of a time I was able to put myself out there and have fun. I was able to make friends and, to borrow a phrase from Thoreau, "Suck the marrow from life."

As I look to the past three days and try to process what was so special I see many things. There are many aspects of those days that made it what it was. I think one thing stands out and I need to make this thing a priority in my life. I need to make friends a priority.

I cannot hope to continue my journey into "me" if I cannot surround myself with those who make the best me possible. I must strive to keep these people in my life for in doing so I can ensure that I have one.

Monday, March 25, 2002

I wrote this a few months ago in the dead of winter. I figured I'd post it here.

Lonely leaf
laying on the forest floor
foul fiend
unfastened you from the festival of fire in the canopy
while fireflies flashed and fairies flew
felled you so you floated as you fell
only to find fragrant flowers marking your fateful spot
you’re a feast for fungi
fertilizer for flowers
food for trees

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Today is the vernal equinox.

At 1:16 to be exact, there will be equal amounts of day and night. It is a time of balance on the verge of a time for change. I had hoped spring after school classes that I teach would pick up enrollment for the spring. They haven’t. Currently there is only one class slated to go. I think I can salvage two others by combining ages. Sometimes I question this job. I really hate living on such short notice.

So much of what makes my job feasible is the revenue from these classes. If they don’t run I’m going to have a really hard time making this job real. Some days I just want to find another job. I love it here but I’d like some stability. Not knowing how much money you will make ahead of time is difficult. I find out sometimes just a week in advance that classes are cancelled. I’m not full time either so my schedule is never full. I fill it in with other jobs but the pay in those positions is even worse. I need a permanent full time naturalist position. I also need to put in at least two years here so it doesn’t look like I’m an unreliable employee once I seek work elsewhere.

Really my best option is to get my foot into the door at other locations. I need to work programs wherever and where ever they occur. It’s a hard life. It would be easier if I wasn’t married. Not that I would ever wish that. I’m just saying it makes it even harder as I hate to work every weekend and I miss having regular time together with my wife.

The sunny day has turned gray outside. Happy spring.

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Snow. Big fat flakes are falling out my window. By reading these posts you'd get the impresion there has been a lot of snow this winter. There has been almost none.

I’m stuck behind my desk taking a little break from writing curricula. I’ve been thinking lately about the role of environmental education. A few weeks back we had a focus group at the nature center. We’re having focus groups with kids, community organizations, businesses, volunteers and parents. We’re hoping to get some ideas for our new five year strategic plan. The outcome will hopefully be a better idea for some new directions we can take. I can in one morning and the flip chart sheets were still stuck to the wall as our director typed them into his lap top computer.

One note in particular caught my eye. Question number one was "What do is the role of a nature center in the community?" Written down as an answer was something to the effect of "create activists?" I pointed it out to the director and ask about it. At that moment another naturalist walked by. The director said that he wrote it down but it seemed to be a question in the minds of the participants. He asked the other naturalist what she thought. "Absolutely not." she replied, "We teach science and it is up to the kids to make their own conclusions and decisions." The director agreed.

I didn’t push the issue at the time but it has been bothering me. We enjoy a reputation in the community as an unbiased science based organization that can provide information to the public. That’s fantastic. The problem is that when you understand the science behind the environmental issues facing us today it is impossible to not be biased. Mercury is poison. DDT destroys the raptor population. Overpopulation causes environmental degradation. This is what science teaches us. So, we are faced with issues important to the survival of the planet. We have the backgrounds in science and we understand the connections. I am not going to stand in front of an audience and say, here’s the facts, oh, but it is up to you to decide if this is bad or not.

With what I know it is unconscionable to teach this material as though it is fact with a non-value laden response. Part of environmental education needs to be value based education. We teach the value of a healthy functioning ecosystem.

Is that a bias? Sure, is there anything wrong with that? I submit not. This isn’t the main issue here however. Is it our job to create activists. If it is not our job, then environmental education is a complete waste of time. We teach with the hope that those we teach will take action on what they learn. Taking action upon knowledge is activism. This is where some may disagree.

They think of activism as some radical path. They see activism as a vocation where all you do in the world is be an activist. There are very few people like this out there. In reality the people most often thought of as activists actually make their living as community organizers, authors, etc.

We in the field of environmental education need a profound redefinition of activism. I submit that if our students fail to take action. All too often we do not teach action. We teach facts, figures, relationships, shapes, patterns, trends, in short, everything but action. Do we really live in fear of action?

We teach kids how to turn of faucets while brushing their teeth. We have just taught activism. We teach kids how to write their legislator asking for clean drinking water this is activism too yet we have somehow crossed a line. Heaven forbid we teach kids how to act upon the science we teach to actively make the world a better place. We wouldn’t want to teach our kids how to ask for clean water now would we?