Celebrating a Historic Moment

History was made in Santa Fe, tonight.

I’m fresh from City Hall, where our city council unanimously (and astonishingly) voted in favor of an ordinance guaranteeing water for the Santa Fe River. This makes Santa Fe the first city in New Mexico to make environmental flow in a river law.

To say that this is huge would be an understatement.

At a time when ecological devastation is the norm, this was an act of healing and hope.

It was made possible by a movement that began twenty years ago as a small trickle, and grew into a flash flood of love and support for a dry river that was in 2007 named most endangered river in America. Tonight, City Hall overflowed with citizens, activists, clergy, students, hydrologists, lawyers, ecologists, and yes, the politicians who proved that even against tremendous odds, miraculous things are possible.

Our river was first dammed in the 1880s, and again in the early 20th century. For decades its waters have been held in vast reservoirs and used to supply a growing city. Meanwhile, the river disappeared. It turned into an ugly gash, eroded and trash riddled. A living river was for decades considered folly, a waste of our drinking water. It has been a long road to bring the river back to life, first in our hearts and spirits, (which this little project of mine was dedicated to) and now, in reality.

The vision and activism of our community has worked miracles. It is in many ways a small step–just the beginning, really, of what is truly needed for the river to thrive. But in the face of drought and an uncertain climate future, this is a revolution. It is a step towards recognizing that the rivers future and our own are one and the same.

The Santa Fe River is the thread that stitches us back into the tapestry of the wild, pointing us gently away from destruction and towards conservation.  It is the place where nature, myth, history, and spirit enter our bodies and minds. It carries us now, as it always has. And now we will begin to carry it once again. To take our rightful place as stewards of its well being.

Thank you, Santa Fe. I can smell that wet willow bosque already.

¡Que Viva el Rio!

¡Que Viva Santa Fe!


You can read more of the story here.

Living on less: life is good

Jumping in with Adrie to talk about living more simply that the planet may simply live. Seems money is on both our minds this week. Her post is here.

A good friend and I often have lively debates about the role of money in living a more environmentally friendly life. Oh how we love to disagree on this! I’m grateful we can have these frank conversations without feeling threatened. And we do influence each other in positive ways. Productive, indeed.

I hold the position that by choosing to live on less money, one has the ability to live far more environmentally. Less money means less buying, especially of new, energy intensive goods (even so-called green products require use of resources). It means less traveling, which is undoubtedly better for the planet. To me, those are the two biggest things we can do to change our carbon footprint.

It also means, generally, more time. When I had a baby three years ago and we shifted to living on one income, I was amazed at how much time I had to live more responsibly. There were the small things, like hanging out the laundry, taking more walks, spending more time at the library. If I had been working, our plastic fast would have been much less successful impossible. I’ve had the time to develop my old time kitchen skills, and to break my dependency on processed, packaged fare. I make most of our body care items, have a bigger garden, preserve food. I’ve had time to learn to sew and to repurpose old clothes into new. Most recently, I’ve joined our community time bank, using time and these new skills to exchange knowledge and labor with others.

Fortunately, I love living simply. This is not a challenging life for me, it is a blessed one I give thanks for every day.

It’s actually painful to me to get new goods. Almost everything in our home is secondhand–given to us, thrifted, scored at a yard sale. We don’t feel deprived! We feel enlivened. The most comfortable chair in the house was picked up on the side of the road. I’ve learned that when I get to longing for something new and wonderful, by de-cluttering and re-ordering my space I actually feel much more fulfilled, satisfied in a soulful way. These days, I seldom even go thrifting.

To be sure, new purchases are occasionally necessary, like the new carseat we just ordered. Most of the time, it isn’t. I want a “new” sewing machine so badly! (Edited 9/14 to add: I had to do it. Brand new and beautiful–green points for local dealer and all metal? Sometimes, one needs the right tools to change the world…) But I know that with patience, something will come along that meets my needs. Or maybe I’ll just learn that I actually don’t need an item, after all. Sometimes, though, I have to make compromises. Just today I went to a really horrible, horrible place to buy Cora some socks. I would love to have a budget for lovely, organic socks, but I don’t. And that is where my friend’s argument begins.

She says, with money, one can buy all local food, all organic clothes. Beautiful, handmade shoes from hippies in Oregon.  A spinning wheel. Eco-cashmere yarn. A hybrid car. All-glass canning jars! An eco-vacation in Costa Rica. One can afford solar panels, one can have a state of the art garden, chickens, a carbon neutral home. Yadda yadda.

I confess that I would love some of these things. Minus the vacation and the car. But I also love the challenge of making my own clothes, of having to grow as much food as I can, of making what I have be enough. Of just…going without sometimes. Yet I can sometimes slip into a deprivation mindset, and it’s good to remember that sometimes buying a really high quality, natural lipstick is…good for the earth!

In the end, it all comes down to consciousness. One can be wealthy in every way, but impoverished in an envronmental ethic that leads one to use money irresponsibly. I’m so grateful to those whose resources allow them to live that good green life! Yet, I’ve learned that one can also be “poor” and living in a very simple, very conscious way (rather than an all big-box all the time way, which is often the stereotype).

What’s your experience with the old “your money or your life” debate? How much IS enough? What have you learned to live without? to provide for your family? to scrimp and save till it’s yours? What is truly necessary?

The Subject Today is Love*

*apologies to Hafiz.

I’ve been thinking on love and the role it plays here in my heart, our home, amidst my family, and also that large world surrounding us, the communities and ecologies, the whole web of life that is so sticky and torn.

It seems to me that love has to be at the root of how we live, guiding the choices of what we buy, what we eat, what we throw away. When we were in the midst of our plastic fast, I’d often wonder at the Why of it. Obviously it was a symbolic act. Folks were quick to remind me that the ecological benefits of a glass bottle over a plastic one were debatable. We had no illusions of the profound impact our experiment had on anything but our own inner lives, our sense of Right Living and balance. In the end, we were transformed by the simple act of discipline and conscientiousness that were part of it.

What I came to consider the real heart, the true purpose of our fast, and yes, even our lives, was the work of the Ecosattva. In Buddhism, one who takes the vows of a Boddhisattva agrees to attain enlightenment only after all other beings have done so. It is, in essence, an impossible task, and one of supreme compassion. It is a heart opening path in which love for others takes precedence of love for one’s self.

For the Ecosattva, too, compassion is the source of a life dedicated to ending suffering of the planet and all her children. We “know” it is an impossible task, that our small acts are, as society loves to remind us, irrelevant. And yet we feel in our hearts a deep calling to do this work–call it simple living, environmental activism, deprivation, whatever. And then we do it. Imperfectly, perhaps. With limited means, often, and sometimes a dollop of doubt. But so long as our hearts are engaged, so long as love is the reason, rather than fear or guilt, then we are on the path.

What more can we do but walk it?


Hey, it’s New Years!

I don’t know of any vows for Ecosattvas, but if you were to make them in your house, what would they be? Be as grandiose (I vow to liberate the planet from capitalism) or as practical (I vow to always use a handkerchief) as you like.

For more thoughts on Buddhism and environmentalism, I recommend this article.

The Mother’s Prayer


Our Mother, whose body is the Earth,

sacred is thy being. Thy gardens grow.

Thy will be done in our cities,

as it is in nature.

Thanks be this day

for food and air and water.

Forgive us our sins against the Earth,

as we are learning to forgive one another.

And surrender us not unto extinction, but deliver us from our folly.

For thine is the beauty and the power,

and all life, from birth to death,

from beginning to end, forever.


So be it.

Blessed be.

~Henry Horton, 1989~

The fourth light of advent, (Rudolf Steiner said), ” is the light of humankind, the light of hope that we may learn to love and understand.”

Wishing us all that light burning bright within our hearts and homes.

May we all be re-born with the sun.

In Praise of Teachers…or, El’s Big Idea

Have I told the story of how it was we came to take a plastic free semester? Today seems like a fitting day to tell it, as it has a lot to do with a particular class of high school seniors I just had the pleasure of watching graduate.

They were my husband’s students. Last year he taught them American history, this year government/economics. At the end of each year the seniors do some kind of personal action project related to the issues they’ve been studying. It was with that in mind that E. announced last fall that he wouldn’t be buying any plastic for the entire spring semester.

I was a bit baffled at first. “But what are we going to eat?!” I shouted, waving my hands at the cupboards and fridge filled with…plastic packaging. “It’s not like quitting plastic will solve global warming or clean out the ocean!”

“No,” he answered calmly, as if what he had suggested was we eat more fiber. “But at least we won’t be contributing so wholeheartedly to them. Besides, you know as well as I do it’s the right thing to do.”


As you know, I came around. Quickly. I was intrigued by the challenge on a practical level and eager to learn the old-timey skills I’d have to learn if we wanted to, you know, eat. But more than that I wanted to experience what it felt like to live as if my actions actually made a difference. Just the idea of taking the fast changed my life almost immediately. Because for whatever reason, I was locked into my habits, my belief that buying organic and occasionally local was all I could do and therefore all I needed to do. Simple changes, small things like using cloth bulk bags and opting for glass bottles were fast in coming, and before long I felt like a revolution had taken place in my kitchen, my home, my life.

Thank goodness for good teachers, wherever you might encounter them.

I want to honor my husband’s conviction that the best way to teach is by example. For his belief in action as a cornerstone of a participatory democracy, and his dedication to encouraging young people to become creators and repairers rather than users. Somehow, I have a feeling that it is these lessons the kids will recall in ten years as opposed to his no doubt equally brilliant and inspired lectures on Supply and Demand or the Spanish American War.

Hopefully, they will remember these words from E’s commencement address at graduation tonight (as well as the virtues of a hot thermos of tea always at hand):

“…If you should despair about the hopelessness of the world, remember: the smallest steps you take may not solve the problem, but they will solve your hopelessness.”

I like that.

Congratulations Class of 2010. May your journey be one of discovery and constant revolutions of thought and action.

Deep Thoughts: Engaged Citizenship

Despite my brave, opinionated words on the importance of personal change and symbolic action (see On Symbolic Action on my sidebar) I am very well aware that nothing is quite as simple as saving the world by quitting plastic. While I feel strongly about the necessity of personal action–especially serious, life-changing action–that doesn’t mean I can always articulate to myself, let alone you, dear reader, exactly why this is so necessary and powerful, why it might change the world after all. But I’m always on the lookout for people who can. My quest for meaning hit the jackpot this week. I’m reading A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by William Coperthwaite. This guy has been reflecting on these questions, and living his answer to them, for decades longer than I’ve been around. Furthermore, he is a link to earlier generations of people who also asked these questions in their own time, and whose lives also became the answer.

This quote is from the introduction, which was written about Bill by somebody else. I love it because it gave me chills. Deep stuff, I tell you. And it brings in Wendell Berry, to boot. It’s long but really good.

In a false democracy, individuals become only spectators to their own experience and to the wider intellectual, civic and social life around them. “The work of creating a new society” can only be accomplished, according to Bill, through citizen action; not “by specialists, but the people themselves to fit their needs.”

Bill sees democratic action as that in which private behavior is recognized to have civic consequences. Here is a way of life that continuously asks the question, “How can I live according to what I believe?” Wendell Berry has described this kind of politics as “more complex and permanent, public in effect but private in its implementation.” According to Berry:

To make public protests against an evil, and yet live dependent on and in support of a way of life that is the source of the evil, is an obvious contradiction and a dangerous one. If one disagrees with the nomadism and violence of our society, then one is under an obligation to take up some permanent dwelling place and cultivate the possibility of peace and harmlessness in it. If one deplores the destructiveness and wastefulness of the economy, then one is under an obligation to live as far out on the margin of the economy as one is able: to be as economically independent of exploitative industries, to learn to need less, to give up meaningless luxuries, to understand and resist the language of salesmen and public relations experts, to see through attractive packages, to refuse to purchase fashion or glamour or prestige. If one feels endangered by meaningless, then one is under an obligation to refuse meaningless pleasures and to resist meaningless work, and to give up the moral comfort and the excuses of the mentality of specialization.

Thanks, Arundhati

I heard the incomparable activist and writer Arundhati Roy speak last week, and I’m still on fire. The night’s immersion into such heady territory–empire, democracy, globalization, commerce, and naturally, the environment, left me reflecting on the nature of information. There have been times in my life where I just have to turn off the noise. I turn away from the news, and even from the intelligent criticism of it. I’m afraid of getting overwhelmed, of despair, of hopelessness. And yes, I can report back that there is a stillness that can be found in turning off the noise. But if it is not a powerful, life changing stillness, one able to counter and upend our culture’s unyielding and destructive growth, then it is finding a false refuge.

We are among the privileged few in the world able to choose the safety of hopelessness. We can say, there’s nothing I can do, so I’ll just not worry about it. It is from that place of dis-empowerment that we can opt out, convinced of our inability to make a difference. From there we comfortably continue on in our lives, content to do the best we can.

Across the planet, in places wrecked by climate change and war (often the two are hand in hand), people have been forced past the point of reasonableness to the precipice of hope. It is a hope born of necessity, and made real with action. These are our kin, our counterparts who can no longer afford hopelessness.

I’m generally always looking for an answer to my questions about how to live. What kind of action is the right kind? What is enough? Where does living well for myself and living well for the planet intersect? I don’t always know what to do, and when I have a fleeting certainty, it is quickly countered by the endless contradictions of our reality. But by staying engaged and educated, I find that I am better able to fertilize my own inner capacity for action, involvement, and change. Which are all fingers on the hand of hope.

Without reminders of the shocking injustices taking place in my name–or in the name of capitalism and growth, a system based on inequality and from which I undoubtedly benefit at the expense of others–I could easilt slip back into my old, I’m Doing the Best I Can ways.

We need the kind of gloablization that keeps us in check. That breaks down barriers of ignorance and apathy. We need to be reminded of our place in the Great Turning, so that even when we are truly doing the best we can, we want to do still more. And do it.


If you’re at all curious about what hope, action, and battling for system change looks like in India, please check out Arundhati’s recent article in the recent edition of Outlook India magazine.

System Cleanse

I once heard a prominent holistic MD give a talk on the importance of making dietary changes in order to facilitate healing. He said he asked all his patients to make some kind of change. Often, it was to simply return to whole foods. Sometimes it would be more prescriptive, a cleanse say, or a certain regimen such as for heart disease or cancer. But even if an individual ailment had little to do with food, he’d still ask them to alter their diet in some way, even if it was only a symbolic way. The reason was because while broccoli and green tea are good for our health, deeper healing is partially facilitated by intention. Our bodies need that symbolic act, that change in diet, as a show of our commitment to transforming a pattern that is not serving the system.

I’ve reflected a lot on that idea lately. You might even say that the larger intent of this otherwise eccentric and unusually rigid (for me) experiment is something along those lines. The idea of cleansing our system while making a commitment to further growth and personal transformation has fueled this project from its humble origins back in the days when it felt impossible.

I’m looking forward to the healthy reintegration of plastic into our lives. It will be nice to be able to buy tortillas every now and then, and to have sour cream with our beans. Despite my occasional griping, though, I am feeling very grateful for this commitment. This is not the kind of thing I’ve done much of, and it has been a powerful act. It has taken me on that long dreamed of journey to the olden days, and given me an education in made-from-scratch like you would not believe. It has wakened me from the cultural sleep, and opened doors to a world in which there are countless ways to praise this good life while living as simply as possible.

So onward we go, into the last month of this simple fast. It will carry on, surely, as we have so much left to discover the alternatives to. I’m not thinking of that so much right now, though. It’s just the external details of what is really about inner change. The kind of change that can’t always be spoken, but is there, singing loudly, nevertheless.

Change of Heart

(photo by E.)

Again and again this is my fear: not so much of our being judged in the future as having been the last generation to possess the potential and the possibility–even if hugely diminished by the trajectory, momentum, and infrastructure of all the generations that preceded ours–to effect change of the most profound kind: not a change in knowledge, but in entire systems of logic, or even further, changes within the heart.

–Rick Bass

A change of heart or of values without a practice is only another pointless luxury of a passively consumptive way of life.

–Wendell Berry

When people ask me why we are taking this plastic fast, the easiest answers to articulate are the surface things. There’s our concern about the pollution associated with plastic manufacturing, the ocean’s plastic soup, the ramifications of a disposable consumer society, and the risks posed by plastics to human and environmental health.

But the truth is, I’m not doing this because of my concern about hormone disruptors leaching from the linings of tin cans (though I still think this is a good reason to avoid plastics, hormone disruptors are, sadly, so prevalent as to be unavoidable). It’s not because I think forgoing tortillas in plastic bags will save the lives of a marine turtle (my concern about the gyres is very real, but my contribution to it from New Mexico, where our rivers hardly make it out of town, let alone all the way to the sea, is negligible.) I am concerned about our plastic filled landfills contaminating ground water, but when we have plutonium waste up and down the other side of the watershed, it seems a bit nitpicky. So why plastic? Why bother?

Until I read the lines quoted above, it wasn’t easy for me to articulate the real reason behind our plastic fast. But it’s simple: We had a change of heart. Which changed our lives.

Yes, certainly — of course — we are undertaking this action as a symbolic protest and act of solidarity with the earth. But, as one of my pragmatic friends pointed out, plastic is not really the problem.

We are.

The reason we are doing this is because it was time to do something. Something more than we ever had before. Something we didn’t think was possible. Something that reflected our desire to live with less convenience and more intention. As in, intention that our grandkids will know we started waking up, and started changing our ways. Even in symbolic ways. Or especially in symbolic ways.

I know it is enormously overwhelming when we start thinking of all the things we think we should be doing, that we want to do. Where to begin? Where to end? (Is there an end point?) For us, plastic was the starting place. It could have been anything, really. But it was this. A small, simple action that nevertheless felt like a powerful way to change our lives. And it has, friends. It has.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, Rumi said. Same goes for living more lightly. All we need to do is touch our hearts, and begin.

a moment of silence at the playground

I was at the park with my girl Cora talking with another parent. It was a brilliant day, cripsy with snow but warm in that way that New Mexico at midday in January can be. We were in good spirits, our talk bubbling with passion and humor while the kids played. We covered politics and parenting, restoration efforts on our local river, and, you know, Everything Else.

And then I blithely mentioned the gyres, the “patches” of floating plastic that are like loosely formed continents in all the world’s seas. My friend hadn’t heard about them before. He grew quiet. So did I. A moment of silence at the playground for the world’s oceans.

I remembered how I felt when I first learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and others like it: Horrified. Overwhelmed. Helpless. Sick. It is a tremendous realization, that one, on par with understanding that we are in the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction, that climate change will not be reversed (sorry, the supreme court has me down), that we have caused irreparable damage on a scale we still don’t fully understand.

“Makes you realize that there’s so little we can do,” my friend said at last. I nodded. I’m no stranger to that feeling. For years I didn’t really do much at all because of how vast the problems seemed and how small I felt. So in addition to doing nothing beyond the small things I felt were enough–the convenient, affordable, and not requiring any compromise things like recycling, changing light bulbs, and hanging clothes on the line–I did one rather unsurprising thing.

I turned away from the suffering of the world. I turned away from my fear. I accepted that my smallness was valid, and let it hamper not only my thoughts but my actions. I blamed the government for its lack of will. I blamed the corporations for their insane greed. I blamed my fellow citizens for being what our culture has made us. So long as I maintained the story that I was helpless and passive, I felt safe from the blame.

I mean, I’ve known about the gyres for years. Years! When did I decide to do something about it? Three months ago. Will what I’m doing make a difference? Probably not. All along I’ve called our choice to learn to live with less plastic a symbolic action. An act of solidarity with the ocean. With the fish and turtles and birds. With the world’s poor who simply don’t have the choice to over-consume. With my grandchildren. It’s all of those things, but most of all it’s the best way we could think of to break out of our cycle of inaction, our belief that because there’s so little we could do, we didn’t really need to do anything.

It doesn’t matter, ultimately, if this small step can heal the oceans. What matters is our attempt to live in a way that is conducive rather than obstructive to that healing.

So I nodded understandingly to my friend. “There aren’t any easy solutions,” I said. “Just lot’s of good places to start.”


To learn more about the gyres, and find out what you can do, visit 5 Gyres or Rise Above Plastics, read an article or two, or check out the documentary Addicted to Plastic.