The mission of H.O.P.E. is to turn the prow of our entropyship, the Earth, back upstream so that Earth's evolving consciousness may explore the headwaters of the Universe for billions of years to come. The work of H.O.P.E. is to make visible the larger relationships we live within - relationships that inspire visions of wonder and works of hope.
End of the Long Nights, 2005
Special Tenth Year Anniversary Edition
Ten years ago I was snowshoeing back from my first aborted attempt to snowshoe around Mt. Lassen. The snow was very deep and the blue sky and sparkly white trees lifted my spirits as I easily showshoed along a 10 mile gentle descent. That easy, sustained walking lubricated the idea of a quarterly newsletter whose deadline would provide the discipline to keep me recording and expressing my better thoughts - for I had learned that thoughts which are paid attention to feel nourished and grow into better thoughts. Thanks partly to ten years of deadlines, so much is going on in my life right now that I thought I would celebrate them in a tenth year anniversary edition. Normally I edit Cairns down to four printed pages but this time I want to describe the current state of the main directions in my life: teaching at Chrysalis, nature study and playing with water, my book, noticing the world around me, working with video, and administering Chrysalis.
Spirited Teaching - a celebration of teaching at Chrysalis
Near the end of last year’s literature class, in the excitement of drama, one boy really opened up and shone. One day he shone so brightly that I shared with the class a paraphrase of one of my favorite sayings of Jesus. Hide not your light under a bushel basket but set it on a stand that it might light the world. I commended the boy as a beautiful example of this. The class responded strongly to this discussion and the class had a strong shining countenance in its final months. That got me thinking about something I started calling “spirited teaching” which left me hungry to explore it more deliberately and deeply this school year.
I teach two classes to Chrysalis’s oldest students. All the eighth graders take “Constitution.” We meet twice a week for an hour each time and study the Constitution, early American history, and current events. My literature class meets once a week for an hour with a smaller group of eighth graders willing to take a second literature class. These two classes are providing deep personal and professional growth for me. This essay gives an overview of what’s happened so far. The essay then takes a break and lets the literature students describe their experience with the class. I then conclude with some characteristics of “spirited teaching.”
Chrysalis gives me incredible academic freedom and I am in an interesting place in my personal life so what follows is very “over the top.” I am not saying that spirited teaching should look like this but what follows will hopefully give you the flavor of what I am finding so exciting.
Literature started with a rush to prepare for attending King Lear at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Constitution started with the presidential campaign. Though I had strong political feelings, I felt it inappropriate to push them onto my students. However, one of the things that really bothered me about this campaign (and the direction of America) was the partisanship. Short-term political gain was willing to trample truth. I wanted my students to grow beyond the TV ad slogan mentality. We had started the year with the preamble. That inspired me to give the following six week assignment up to the election.
The Preamble to the Constitution gives an interesting perspective on big issues by listing six goals for the new government: Each week, the assignment is to write two opinion pieces (I hope with the strong participation of parents) about the candidates’ effect on one of these goals.
The essays will be due Tuesday. Rather than handwritten, I would like them emailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org I will compile them into one document that should be a fascinating collage of anonymous opinions. Students will receive this document on Thursday with the assignment to read and discuss it with a parent. I hope for two things from this assignment. First is to help nourish the spirit of vigorous, civil debate. If you have strong opinions about one of the candidates, this is your chance to sound off and try swaying how other voters might cast their ballot. Second, I would like to use this election as an opportunity for the students to start thinking about large issues that shape our country and world.
Due Tuesday, September 21
What would Kerry’s election mean to the country in terms of “establish justice?” What would Bush’s election mean to the country in terms of “establish justice?” ...
The first essays tended to be sloganeering and partisan. Over the weeks, however, a mutual respect and an awareness of ambiguity crept into the essays. I received many positive comments from parents. This assignment showed how a controversial area could be handled in a way that expanded my students’ awareness while also deepening their relationship with family.
After King Lear, (and a Poe story for Halloween, got to have a Poe story around Halloween), I thought I would do a series of thought-provoking snippets from classic literature. Sort of a Western Culture 101. I started with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Kids loved it. Great discussion. I followed up with the selection from Walden about going to the woods to live deliberately and a writing exercise: describe a time when you were out of the cave. Next week most kids had written they weren’t sure they had ever been out of the cave. That inspired an “over the top” exercise. I had given for their next reading an excerpt from Emerson that begins with “Trust thyself. Every heart vibrates to that iron string. Never imitate.” I brought to class a personally deeply stirring, appropriately quiet section of music from the Finale of Swan Lake. I asked if they wanted to practice going out of the cave. They tentatively said yes. So as the music played, I stood in front of the class and read the Emerson quote with as much heart as I could bring to it. Then the class took turns standing in front of the class and reading it with the music and with feeling. Some of the kids did it a second time, trying to get it right. That somehow led me to getting up to do it a second time. I had been asking the kids to come out of the cave and if I wanted to promote that, then I had to be willing to go even further out. I realized that the heart of what I wanted was not the words but the transmission of the conviction. So on spontaneous impulse, I knelt down before each student and looked them in the eyes and when eye contact was deep, said quietly just to them from as deep within as I could reach, either “Trust Thyself” or “Never Imitate.” The class has never been the same since. The class had been great before but a new dimension for growth opened.
I found myself weaving in “eye shine” thereafter in several ensuing class discussion which led to another “over the top” experiment. Their assignment was to go home and over the course of the week, when they thought of the assignment, increase their eye shine and notice what happened as a result. They were then to write a summary of their experiment. As we shared our observations and experiences, the class relaxed into a mood where it was easy to gaze into one another’s eyes and some beautiful radiance began to shine - a radiance that had a transformative power for several of the kids. At the end of class, several students spontaneously hugged one another, and more surprising, other students not in the class. The kids are moving into the driver’s seat of the class. Our spirit is radiating out beyond the class.
Meanwhile, back in Constitution, something in an essay a student was sharing inspired me to have the kids do a quick write on “what is the purpose of life?” I can’t remember what I was going to do with the essays but as I quickly read them over (we didn’t read them aloud), I realized I could put them in two categories. I described the two categories to the class. “Those who believe that the purpose of life has already been established and our responsibility is to act accordingly and those who think the purpose of life is for you, the individual, to create. The latter point of view is classically modern. It wasn’t dominant a thousand years ago and much of the history preceding the Constitution which we’ll also be studying (Reformation, Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution) involves the development of this alternative point of view.”
That got me to thinking that many of the readings I had given in literature were representative of this “modern” point of view. So I thought I should bring in some literature from the religious traditions. Since Christmas was coming up, I selected some of Jesus’s teachings. I sent it home as a dual assignment. For Constitution, the students were to have a discussion with their parents whether such an assignment violated the First Amendment and whether they thought the assignment should be modified in some way. In literature we would discuss the passages, with whatever modifications parents had suggested. All the parents were fine with the assignment. No modifications needed. We had a good discussion. Kids asked for more readings from other traditions.
We ended for the Holiday Break with an eighth grade film festival after school. The Truman Show made an absolutely perfect sequel to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. (If any of you ever want to show it to a class of adolescents, I came up with a really good way. Schedule extra time for discussion and stop the movie at the end of each of Truman’s days and ask kids what they think, what things are they noticing in the movie. The discussion unfolded from day to day wonderfully. (Kids who have seen the movie already have to sit quietly and just enjoy the growing awareness of the other students.)
In January’s Literature we shared some Zen stories and some Nasruddin stories. Meanwhile, back in Constitution, the kids’ writing made me think we should pause for a little work on writing. So I went through their quick writes about the purpose of life and pulled out sentences that had “is” as the main verb. I handed back a list of these sentences and challenged them to look elsewhere in the sentence for the real action. What is really happening? and rewrite the sentence using a stronger verb. The final sentence (“The meaning of life is ...”) led to a long grammatical, spiritual discussion. I didn’t have a pat answer but I had this gut sense that “The meaning of life is...” was avoiding the real issue. How does “meaning of life” express itself? What verb gets weakened into “meaning of life.” One of the students came up with “fulfills.” Yeah.
We also went to observe the courts (“right to a speedy and public trial”) which led to a long discussion about the people involved in specific hearings and how you could sense some lives going in really sad ways and how the decisions we make really do shape our lives. (That discussion was followed by the one on the eye shine experiment in which we started talking about how it is also possible for us to help one another towards more fulfilling lives and that eye shine was one example of how our life energy could help lift one another onto higher paths.)
So that is some of the area we have covered. For the current literature assignment, I told the kids how I was putting together this special tenth year anniversary edition of Cairns and asked for those who wanted to to write about their experience in this class. I was tutoring one of my students as he was working on his essay. His first draft stayed on the surface with general summarizing pronouncements. But we kept working on it, going descriptively deeper, moving closer to the heart of his point. I was asking him questions, focusing him on just one experience. Bryce would answer. He kept circling around, avoiding the deeper point. As I kept probing, he started walking around, growing more animated. And then his words went right into the center, saying the experience made him feel “alive.” More important than the words were the voice with which they emerged. His words vibrated like a drum booming from its center. Yes!!
His voice was vibrating within me for the rest of the day. I brought that vibration to that evening’s tuning of this issue. Writing is like tightening a drum. First drafts are often loose, producing only the weakest thud. But as the writing tightens, the sound takes on the power to vibrate something in the receiver. I’m finding that a major part of the editorial tightening is not so much finding better ways to express my thought but working my way towards a clearer understanding of what is the actual heart of what I wish to express.
The emotional intensity of his shift in voice sings of the difference between a life that circles and a life that explores the core. We circle our purpose, reluctant to draw nearer. A power vibrates there that scares us and yet, when we approach, a joyous excitement resonates within us.
So in the next class, I described (with Bryce’s permission) the process by which he wrote that piece. Talked about the voice. Then I read his writing. (In terms of lesson planning, I knew ahead of time I was going to do that. Now what follows came from the interplay between the class and me.) I asked “how many of you feel his piece describes your experience?” Most hands went up. To those who raised their hands, I offered the opportunity to read his piece aloud, giving their voice to Bryce’s voice. The first person who read it had tears in her eyes by the end. (I hugged her and she said she didn’t want this class to ever end.) This writing, I pointed out, has the power to bring tears to a person’s eyes. An eighth grader’s writing, your writing, has this power. The words weren’t particularly big. Where did the power come from? That led to a wonderful literature discussion which closed the class.
What follows now is the essays of those who wished to share their perspective with you unknown adults. Enjoy their spirits as I do.
The feeling that I got was so great and fantastic. It was a feeling that was just like animals feel the storm coming. It was the best feeling that could be felt. Because you just felt so alive and thriving. Throughout the group it was like a pulse pumping through the veins of life. I think that the others agree that it is a memory unreplaceable in our heart, souls, and minds.
Being in Paul’s literature class is an experience beyond my words and beyond description. The things I have seen and done in this class are indescribable. Paul is the best teacher I have ever met and you could say he is a bit of a student too. The spirit of the class is alive in one way or another. It has lifted my soul into the sky, into the depths of space that cannot be reached. Whether the class was meant to or not, it improved my writing skills and my soul more than the eye can see. So many things to say yet so little space.
The first thing I learned in this class is to be open and not to be afraid to express yourself. When learning this, it opened my eyes to so many different things that this modern world could never teach me. I learned respect, hope, courage, evil, comfort, joy, death, inspiration and friendship. And day in and day out I use these teaching in everyday life. The students in the class make it even better. They taught me things about themselves and myself that I never knew. They were so willing to show me their true spirit through their wonderful writing and their beautifully bright eyes. Each student in the class is unique and each of them taught me a lesson in their own special way, even the guys. Paul’s not the only teacher there.
And when I graduate there are four things I will always remember: there is always another answer, never be afraid to be open with the people you care about, and to live your life to the fullest, with advantages. (There are two on the last one.) I thank the students and Paul for having such a great affect on my life. I have been introduced to so many different styles of writing. Famous authors like Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare to my talented classmates. But to tell you the truth, this is not really a class, more like a family that is interested in literature of all sorts and spiritualness. I have so much more to say, but the experience describes it well enough.
When it comes to school assignments I've always wanted the assignment sheet to describe exactly what was to be done. Everything had to be black and white, inside the box, color only within the lines. If it wasn't in the instructions then it shouldn't be done. There were a lot of times that I didn't do a part of an assignment if I didn't feel that I fully understood what was to be done. I didn't or couldn't 'read between the lines' to fill in those gray areas.
Then I came to Paul's literature class. We read some books that I would not have picked out on my own and most of them I found out I liked. We started reading Shakespeare and then we went to Ashland to see some of the plays. Now Shakespeare is one of my favorites. Then there were the creative writing assignments. At first I didn't like those so much. There wasn't enough in black and white. It was hard for me. Then I figured out that it is okay get outside of the box and you don't even have to color within the lines, what? The gray areas are whatever you want them to be. Assignments like 'Out of the Cave' and 'Eyes Shine More Brightly' were still hard for me to get started on, but I did it.
It's still not easy for me. For some assignments it can take a few days of going over ideas in my head, discussing ideas with my Mom, starting and restarting. Sometimes it's not until the night before the due date that I am forced to sit down and just write something, anything. Some of those last minute assignments got the best reactions from the people who read them. Maybe I do have it in me to be creative and to share that with people, I don't know. I do know that I'm learning to try.
P.S. Paul, happy 10 year anniversary for your newsletter!
Lose your Balance and Shatter
Paul has always had very interesting classes. At the beginning of the year, I felt that we didn’t quite trust each other, and didn’t feel comfortable sharing our writing. Now most of us feel comfortable sharing our writing, or sharing how we interpreted a poem. It's wonderful to have a class where you aren't skeptical to share our writing.
I feel it is appropriate to use the analogy that every human is like a glass bottle that has a magical gas inside. The glass bottle is like our skin or the first layer to ourselves; we can see outside of our bottle but not always within it because we don’t want to take the time. Other people can see within us and look at the amazing magical gas bottled up inside, the gas being your imagination. This is sort of a tricky thing to realize, but I will give you an example of what I mean. Bryce is a one of the boys in our class and he was always sort of hesitant to share his writing and was even skeptical to join the circle in class. I knew he had potential, we could see that he was alive through that thick glass. The reason I say "thick glass" is because Bryce always had a harder time letting go of that magical gas. I suppose everyone's imagination is bottled up in a glass, just some glass is thicker. Although, to get that magical gas released, you have to release it, no matter how much someone else can see your potential. He himself was having a hard time sharing his imagination to the class. Then, we were in a circle outside, and Paul told us this story about Bryce. Bryce had released some of that magical gas to Paul, and expressed his feelings in writing. It was amazing to hear his feelings that he was keeping bottled up this whole time. So I congratulate Bryce, good job Bryce and keep up the good work!
Sometimes when someone pushes you, you might lose your balance and fall, but when you fall and shatter your glass, your imagination spreads to the rest of the world, touching the other glass bottles… I said that only you can release the magical gas, but people can try and shatter that glass, and Paul succeeded in shattering mine.
I think everyone of us were like the glass bottles. We all leaned against each other and tilted a little bit. Paul shook the table by sharing an amazing poem, or simply conducting a discussion in class, and then we all shattered. Don’t be afraid to shatter, it isn’t a bad thing. When the glass is broken, you are free.
So my personal experience in the class has been so rewarding to myself because the magical gas has been released. I hope this piece of writing has given you a better realization of what you possess…
Doldrums at school, just another humdrum day,
Captured in a shell by your choice,
Letting Time drag you, but only watching Life fall away.
A friend walks by, do you even notice? Do you hear her voice?
Do you really see? Are you actually alive?
In the Cave, not thinking, not being,
The dreariest grey, heavier than the blackest black,
Presses against you as a fog, permitting you no true seeing.
A single ray of sunshine pierces through, reaching your closed eyes,
The eyes open slowly, blinking your surprise.
Following the light to glorious dawn,
The grey shell shatters into minuscule pieces, forever gone.
Seeing for the first time, Life, the Universe, All,
We travel on together, always lead by that ray of light, Paul.
“What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. These are but trifles, to be sure,
but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.”
- Joseph Addison
Life is full of many things that in our daily lives we do not notice. We choose to ignore all of these little things because we think that we do not have enough time to smell the roses, enjoy the sun, hear the wind brushing against leaves, or even listen to chirping of birds in the morning. One thing I know to be right, we do not have enough time. Time will never stop for us to see the beauty in life. The answer shines true, we must make time to see life's beauty before our individual time runs out. If we do not stop to bask in life’s glory, I believe that we have committed the most heinous crime, we forget the little things in life that make it worth living.
One of these little things that make my life more enjoyable is Paul’s Literature Class. At the beginning of the school year and the first day of this class, I remember how our teacher, Paul, asked “what should we do this year with the class?” Suddenly the room was buzzing with chatter. People in the class were talking about how much they wanted to continue doing deep and spiritual things (which is where the class had left off of the previous year.) Others were making jokes and thinking about parts of last year’s class that were pure fun. Sometime during the middle of this class, Paul brought everyone’s attention back to him when he noticed a huge grin on my face that had been there at the beginning of class.
It really is amazing how one little thing can change the course of a big thing. For if Paul would not have noticed my grin, then perhaps the class would continue to chatter and forget about class. Out of the current school year, this is an event that reminds me to pay attention to the little things.
Many do not stop to really look at the little things in life, yet these little things in life end up sticking out the most.
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
-Henry B. Adams
A teacher does affect all of eternity, for our teacher teaches us to look at life from a spiritual perspective. In Paul’s class, we read many spiritual, uplifting, deep, and meaningful poems and short stories. He teaches us that there are many things in life that are important, from different views on cultures, how to read and understand a deeper meaning within a poem or story, even how to read a poem from the heart with a song from “Swan Lake” in the background! I know that throughout the years, I will look at life through a different perspective because Paul’s Literature Class opened my eyes to a brand new “meaning” of life.
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can
sincerely try to be kind to another, without helping himself.”
Throughout this year I have noticed that people opened up to each others as they listened to each other’s words and thoughts. I guess this happens because when a person hears an idea someone else has, that person begins to understand the speaker. Each time I came into class and each time I left, I felt as if I knew my classmates at a deeper level whenever I heard them speak.
Whenever we read our writings or share our ideas, there often becomes an air where people feel comfortable explaining how they felt about what they were reading. Then after a person gives another a positive thought, they not only brighten a person’s day, they brighten themselves by knowing that person is happier thanks to them.
Life and death,
a twisted vine sharing a single root.
A water bright green
stretching to top a twisted yellow
only to wither itself
as another green unfolds overhead.
One leaf atop another
yet under the next;
a vibrant tapestry of arcs and falls
all in the act of becoming.
Death is the passing of life,
is the stringing together of so many little passings.
-Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro
And now Paul continues. “Spirited teaching” fundamentally assumes that we each have a unique potential within us and that our life’s calling/purpose is to discover, develop and express that potential. If we believe this deeply, then it follows that a fundamental purpose of schooling (especially if it is compulsory and extends throughout one’s entire growing up) has to include helping/strengthening students in their calling.
Let me pause to tell of the first public school Christmas program we went to when Zephyr was in kindergarten. She had been practicing the words and hand motions to “Up on the Rooftop.” The performance of the song was adorable. Then another class came up and sang another Santa Claus song. Then another class with another Santa Claus song. And yet another song about getting lots of gifts. And another song about toys and so it went for more than an hour; a program of children singing songs about getting lots and lots of presents. And I walked away thinking this was not right.
I understand the First Amendment reasons for not presenting Christian carols and hymns in public school. But we must be honest that to replace them with songs about presents creates a teaching of another set of spiritual values that probably most religious traditions would say are wrongly-directed: “give me” greed and self-centeredness.
What are students supposed to learn while in school? The official public education answer to that question is “to prepare you for the workplace of the 21st century.” Though there is some truth to this, I feel that such an answer is like singing Santa Claus songs. In avoiding the spiritual, we teach a spiritual lesson that life is about a job, salary, buying things. We also teach a silent lesson that the culture does not support or care if people achieve their unique potential or, even more nihilistic, that one’s culture does not acknowledge a unique potential within us, thus creating in each student a psychological space of isolation filled with yearning.
So I find myself steering between a Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla is the downward whirlpool of spiritual exploration sliding into religious indoctrination. Is it possible for a public school to be spiritual in a nonsectarian way? Instead of teaching a negative spiritual lesson by avoiding the area, can we boldly embrace the spiritual in a way that enhances education and which parents would welcome? Charybdis is the rocks of being so touchy-feely and platitudinous that the students never master skills they need. How do you meld the spiritual dimension with the standard curriculum? So far I have found very exultant sailing between these two hazards.
“Spirited teaching” has a second fundamental assumption: that the curriculum must be responsive to student input. Students must experience that their response to what they are learning influences the teaching/learning process. The teacher does not know at the beginning of each class session where the class will end up and the next class will bear the imprint of the previous class. The class is interactive in the deepest video game sense of the word.
This is in strong contrast to many classes where a syllabus is given at the beginning or where a principal asks for a weekly lesson plan (often generated by textbooks and workbooks). Such classes announce that whatever response a student has to the class will not alter what happens in the class. It announces that the class will focus on covering the material rather than on developing the students. If a class is set up so that a student’s response has no effect on what is happening, I believe the student will stop responding.
The third essential characteristic is that “spirited teaching” must include the “visual aid” of the teacher developing and expressing his/her own potential through and within the medium of the class. This adds real juice to the class. It makes the class very real. Students can see this learning making a difference in someone’s life. Spirited teaching often calls me to extend myself in new ways – and my extension creates an invitation for my students to extend into new realms. If we want our students to exhibit curiosity or courage or conviction, we must exhibit these virtues first.
As I write this, a fourth characteristic of spirited teaching comes to mind. The class takes on a very conversational, caring spirit. However, I don’t think this characteristic is a founding premise. Instead it is a confirming consequence. The class becomes conversational because the class grows very interactive. The relationships grow very collegial (at first I had the word equal but that isn’t correct. The kids definitely view me still as the teacher but in a delighted sense of the word. Or an image some of them came up with is they are an orchestra playing a symphony and I am the conductor.) because we are working together to nourish upwardness in the spirals that connect us together. This exploration of what “upwardness” feels like and how it can grow in unpredictably amazing ways and nourish our spirits – yes, there is something within us that responds and empowers us; I call it spirit – gives heart to these classes.
(More on this class is in Cairns #41)
Using a trowel
We had our first significant winter rainstorm last month. I couldn’t find my “Gaia shovel” - a shovel I’ve had for twenty five years and which has gone with me on almost every rain walk. So I ended up taking one of Alysia’s garden trowels. Much lighter. But more interestingly, a trowel brings me to my knees, down to a smaller scale of action which pulls my eyes and mind down to a more precise scale. I feel more of the texture of the ground when my arm pushes the trowel than when my legs thrust the shovel. I see and feel the difference in micro-environments shaped by the depositional patterns of slowing runoff or by how much water soaks in. I feel more in touch as I place pieces of sod with my hands and pat them into place - something I didn’t do when I was standing with my shovel. There’s a precision that is fun. My work feels more like gardening than engineering. I have since found my shovel but the trowel is becoming my first choice.
Letter to students in two classes
Two professors are using Seeing Nature this spring semester as a required text in upper level college classes dealing with resource management. As I played in the storms with the runoff this last month, I wished these students could be with me in this work. So I am expressing some of my streamside rain thoughts as a letter to them. Feel free, John and Dick, to pass this letter on to your students.
Dear next generation of earth stewards,
There are so many times in the midst of my water work that I grin and say “This is so much fun” or I stop and just soak in the sound I stand within of rain – the different sounds of rain striking leaves, puddles, streams, the ground. From that sound place, I greet you.
(1) Go walking in the storms. Because water’s erosive power is related massively exponentially to the volume of water, most of the geological shaping that water does happens in the few hours or days of a flood. In the storms you will see why the land has its current shape and you will understand how it is changing. Streams do a flip-flop at high water. The quiet slow pools of low water are the places of maximum fast, erosive, power during a flood. They are places scoured so deeply that they appear as deep, quiet pools at low water. The noisy, accelerating riffles of low water are the places during a flood where the torrent decelerates, dropping out such piles of bed load that their downstream slopes will function as riffles at low water. If you aren’t out in the storms to observe this flip-flop between what places have fast water and what places have slow water, the geologically quiescent, low water might lead you into managerial misunderstandings.
(2) Each storm produces a unique runoff event. How much of the rain runs off and how fast it converges are the two main parameters in understanding this uniqueness. Paying attention to how much of the rain runs off leads us to notice how hard the rain falls, how long it falls, how absorbent the soil is and how saturated it is already. Long gentle rains produce no runoff. The water soaks in faster than it falls. Female rains, some call them. Hard rains generate runoff. But if the storm is short, the runoff won’t flow far enough to converge into raging streams. The runoff will peter out as the channels slowly absorb the flowing water.
How fast the runoff converges depends on the general slope of the terrain, the specific shape of the channels (gullies converge faster than broad, shallow channels), and the ground cover. In California, the potential for flashy winter floods diminishes as the spring grass grows taller and thicker. The grass acts like a sponge, slowing an inch-deep layer of water almost to a standstill so runoff takes a long time to flow down to the main channels.
It takes certain volumes of runoff to move certain amounts of material. The longer that volume flows, the longer the material flows. If the headwaters of a drainage grow more absorbent, then less often will runoff reach large enough proportions to move materials.
(3) I keep slipping into the error of thinking of erosion and deposition as opposites. I need the floods to keep reminding me that deposition is just the waiting stage within erosion. Erosion is the moving of regolith and soil. Very rarely does it get moved all the way to the sea in one great surge. It gets carried a few feet or miles and then gets set down as the flood surge subsides, there to wait until the next flood surge. That waiting period begins as deposition. Deposition is the still, quiet part of erosion.
Standing by the rising water got me thinking about the deposition of bed load and suspended load. Bed load is the larger, heavier materials that get bounced and pulled along the bottom (bed) of the stream. The suspended load is smaller particles that get swept up into the current and carried along in the water. Suspended load gives the floodwater its muddy color.
Bed load drops out fast. The moment water slows down, bed load starts falling out. The water doesn’t have to come to a stop; it can still be moving fast. The water just has to slow down and lose some of its energy. Because bed load is made up of big stuff, many inches or feet of material can drop out in appropriate places. Bed load deposits are prominent and give streambeds much of their shape. This dramatic influence makes bed load inviting to experimentally play with. By changing the flow of floodwater, I think I can change the bed load deposition which shapes the streambed which can change how the next flood flows.
Suspended load deposits are more subtle. The small grains sink slowly and settle out only in quiet water. Because of their small grain size, the resulting deposits are usually only a tiny fraction of an inch. However, I notice that where the suspended load settles out is where the green sprouts arise in the following weeks. Though the bed load deposits give a streambed its geological shape, the suspended load deposits give the streambed its biological shape. This is because the bed load deposits are large materials with large air spaces in between. Roots wither in such gaps. The suspended load with its fine grains fill in the air spaces between the large rocks, stabilizing them and allowing life to colonize which binds the deposits together even more. Succession can proceed further.
(4) Plants cut into this dance between water and soil, often sending downward spirals spinning upward. Plants growing on the slopes increase the absorbency of the soil and slow the flow of runoff so less runoff converges in the channels. Plants growing in the channels slow the flow of water and trap materials so they don’t flow as far. Bed load erosion happens less. More areas of the streambed experience the deposition of the suspended load. The conveyor belt backs up. As more rain is absorbed instead of running off, more life can grow, strengthening the upward spiral. One of our goals as resource managers is to increase the amount of rain that soaks in where it falls on the slopes.
(5) The dance of erosion and deposition can gash the land with gullies which drain possibilities from the land or the dance can raise alluvial fans that brim with increasing possibilities. After a flood, the grasses beside the stream that slowed the flows are buried in silt but within days the grass has grown up thick above the new deposit and who would ever know that the land there just rose a half inch? I look within a gully and see, in the flatter sections, tiny alluvial fans existing within the gully. This terrain is a complex fractal surface of rising and falling. The terrain is so complex I can see signs of rising on surfaces that are falling and signs of falling happening on surfaces that are rising. I walk and live within a landscape of fractal spirals of rising and falling. Where opposite spirals meet, a shifting point dances.
These magical shifting points dance everywhere. We are this incredibly mindful part of the world that can everywhere dance with and shift these points, upwards or downwards. That is what you are learning as resource managers. An exultant mystery lies at the heart of this calling. As we practice this art and watch downward spirals shift into upward spirals and watch amazing possibilities begin to emerge where once they subsided, we are transformed. We grow mindful that we are miracles that can dance with the world in a way that brings beauty, wonder, possibilities, hope, and courage into greater existence. We seek out more of these dancing shifting points and we begin feeling their presence dancing not only between us and the land but between us and other people. So we start dancing with those interpersonal places and beautiful things happen there also. We grow deeper in the understanding that we and the land are interconnected in deeper ways than textbooks might mention.
Couple of interesting phenomenological observations from a Christmas spent with our oldest daughter in Florida. Right away I noticed that Florida roads were different but it took awhile to articulate the difference. For one thing, there is no cut and fill in Central Florida road construction. Cut and fill is a steady occurrence in the foothills of California. One frequently passes through road cuts which allow one to see a cross section of the underlying ground. Not in Florida. It is so flat, there is no need for a road cut. Also, on the barrier islands, the ground is such porous sand that there is no need for a road base. There is no need for gutters or curbs. So the roads are asphalt laid directly on the ground with the grass growing right up to the edge of the road. Made me feel I was driving around a golf course in a high speed golf cart.
Had an interesting experience flying back. We were angling west northwest from Ft. Worth/Dallas. The land was farmed as huge north-south oriented squares (a legacy of the Homestead Act) so I always knew what direction I was flying. Some squares were early green, most still fallow brown. Our route carried us towards an area where less of the land was arable. Some of the squares were gray - untouched native vegetation. The frequency of these squares increased. There came this fascinating time when there were enough of these squares that I could glimpse, through the checkerboard, the shape of the terrain beneath me. Enough of the patterns within each untouched square connected with others so that I could “see” the pattern of subtle watersheds.
It was as if the land was a vast stained-glass checkerboard window and each uncultivated square was a broken pane in the window. If only a few panes are broken, the mind sees the pattern of the stained-glass window. But as more of the windows are “broken out,” more of the window is filled with the image of what lies beyond the window. When enough of the windows are broken out, there comes a point where the world beyond the window is easier to see than the pattern in the window itself.
Then we moved over an area where land cultivation increased and I watched fascinated as my eye/brain gradually lost touch with the primordial pattern and saw only the checkerboard of cultivation. Then the plane moved out into the arid west and again the cultivated squares diminished, the carvings of latitude and longitude lines dwindled, and the ancient shapes asserted their primacy until finally, over eastern New Mexico, one saw just the bedrock shape of the land and so it continued until one reached the Central Valley of California.
The Upward Spiral
I am adapting Shifting/Seeing Nature into a video called The Upward Spiral. The project is dear to me because the essence of my book is seeing - which is far better communicated with images and voice than with written words. This project pushes me into new areas of growth. One area in particular overlaps spirited teaching. My classes inspire the courage to give voice to deeper feelings. I want my deep feelings of love for the miracle of this living earth to be heard in this movie. My students help open me for this other work.
I also want the images to capture the beauty of the upward spirals of life. In fact, these visions are so beautiful that it might take me years to even come close. If I wait until my video is perfect, I’ll never complete it. So I’ve decided to do what Walt Whitman did with Leaves of Grass - and software developers do now. I’ll produce a version 1.0 with that which I have. But I’ll keep adding to it, keep working on it. I’m not producing a film for a theater. I am working on a self-distributed DVD/video. Each time I capture a better image or think of a way to express a thought better or tie in a new thought, I’ll edit in the changes and release the new version. So I am setting myself a deadline of announcing the release of The Upward Spiral (v 1.0) in this August Cairns.
The biggest limitation for Chrysalis has been facilities. We exist within cramped, inadequate spaces. A few hundred square feet of playground. Teachers rearranging tiny spaces or having people walk through the middle of discussions or schlepping equipment from one site to another or having to search through crowded garden sheds for equipment consumes our time and constrains our potential. If we had an adequate facility, the teachers would be freed to achieve so much more. The school, currently split between two sites, could grow more cohesive.
Unfortunately, the museum that cosponsors and houses us has had its hands so full of its own internal changes that it could not make the commitment we needed in order to pursue better facilities. Finally, however, the new CEO of the museum has expressed his strong support for Chrysalis as being part of the museum and has challenged us to let the museum know what we need. If the museum can find a place for our school on their campus and if we can get the museum’s use permits modified to accommodate the school, then we can build our school. We will have to raise our own money and handle all the planning and construction on our own. But for the first time in years, Chrysalis scents the opportunity to acquire both stability and momentum. And here I am, the administrator during this opportunity. I don’t know how to raise one to two million dollars. I’ve never done it before. But nature has given me this deep streak of optimism that voiced itself in my book as “Begin the work even though you can not see the path by which this work can lead to your goal. Do not block your power with your current understanding. Evolution is the process by which the impossible becomes possible through small, accumulating shifts.” So here we go.
One advantage: we have already in place a nonprofit organization, an official 501c3. In addition to making possible tax-deductible donations and going for grants, I’m hoping that the nonprofit can be an avenue for cutting some of the expensive red-tape that can clutter school construction.
So, we are off on an adventure. If you would like to help, I can think of at least five ways. One, of course, is donations. We cheerfully accept donations up to two million dollars. Checks can be made out to the Chrysalis Charter School Auxiliary Fund and sent to Chrysalis at 1155 Mistletoe Lane, Redding, CA 96002. We will send you both a thank-you for donating to our official nonprofit organization and all sorts of “the impossible becoming possible” happy, excited thoughts.
A second way is that if you have a special skill or experience or advice that you think could be useful that you could offer, let me know. After all, there are two ways to shift a relative balance: raise the money or lower the costs. Parents are volunteering their skills to help fulfill the dream: do the environmental assessment, install the telephone system, concrete work,... We want to build an architecturally green, sustainable model of a school. I hope we build this school in a way that draws the community closer together and strengthens our beliefs in what is possible. Via Cairns, you are part of the school’s extended family and I hope you too will feel strengthened by what we are undertaking.
A third way is to let us know of, or introduce us to, sources of funding that you think would support what Chrysalis is.
A fourth way is simply to put the word out. Even if you live on the other side of the world, just let people know, when appropriate, that there is this museum-based charter school in Northern California called Chrysalis that is undertaking a great work. Strange things can happen through networks.
A final way is to pray for us, think good thoughts for us, wish us well.
Ah, the internet
The internet contains some interesting information. Two years ago we bought a used car that included a CD player/radio/clock. The clock was way off. Each of us, in our own way, tried to figure out how to set the correct time on that clock - to no avail. Finally, I had a brilliant idea. “I bet the company has its owner manual on the internet. I’ll google the model number and find the manual.” So I did. There was no manual. Instead there were hundreds of variations on “Anybody know how you set the time on this %/#$ thing?”
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If you share excerpts of this newsletter with others, please include the addresses below so others can access this ongoing exploration of ideas. Thank you.
My book, Seeing Nature: Deliberate Encounters with the Visible World, may be ordered from me. Prices are $16 for one book, $28 for two books, $65 for 5 books, or $120 for 10 copies. Three Talks, a video or DVD, is $10 (3 for $25). All prices are postpaid and include any sales tax. Mail orders to Paul Krafel, P.O. Box 609, Cottonwood, CA 96022-0609
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Paul Krafel, 18080 Brincat Manor, Cottonwood, CA
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