Posted by: MC | October 7, 2013

My Uncle Abbott and World Peace


As I begin writing, the body that carried my beloved uncle’s vivid spirit is being placed in a grave.  I am, of course, not there, but thousands of miles away.  Uncle Abbott died October 3.  He was born August 17, 1926 – 87 years were his to know and walk through here on the surface of this beautiful planet and among all of the rest of us.  Those of us who had the chance to know him were touched.  And I know we touched him back.

There are lots of stories I could tell about my uncle, the devout Christian, the veteran of WWII and Korea, the insurance claims professional.  The theme would be gratitude – for the laughter, the quiet nods of affection, the swells of kindness that showed up in his body nearly skipping toward me in recent years when we would have the chance at a family reunion in some other chance family moment when each of us had traveled to be in Acworth or Decatur or Marietta, Georgia at the same time.  In those times, I know I was returning his smile and likely skipping myself, both of us so happy to see one another – me getting to say how handsome he was, how sexy his cologne, how dapper his outfit.

Right now, in Acworth, Georgia there is a grave and a coffin.  The soil revealed by the grave is redder than anyone who’s not from that part of the South can barely comprehend – earth that is the source of my uncle’s 87 years and, by extension, all of mine.  Family is gathered around – his four children, my cousins; his eight grandchildren who will serve as pall bearers. His great grandchildren may also be there.  My mother, Abbott’s little sister, and two of my own sisters are there.  So is my aunt, her husband and most likely their two kids (super grown, like all of us of this middle-age generation).  My oldest uncle, who just turned 90 last month, probably hasn’t made it clear from Jackson, Mississippi – it’s just too far for the body he lives in now.  He and I talked a few days ago.  He told me stories I’d never heard before.

And that’s what will happen soon, if it’s not already underway, on the red soil of Acworth.  Abbott’s life was jam-packed with stories, and the telling weaves all of us together – closer in the telling and hearing, but just in the fact of each precious narration, the person telling, the shining angle of light possible through the unique blend of story teller, circumstance shared and time passed since.  A rich vein of family stories runs in the land within footsteps of my Uncle Abbott’s gravesite.  His wife and her mother are buried there.  My grandmother and grandfather, so beloved of their descendants and their infant daughter – she would have been my oldest aunt – are nearby.  I have known this cemetery and heard its stories across my entire life.

You can imagine the call of these stories.  I find myself telling them in the days since Uncle Abbott’s death and I’m sure the telling will continue, inside my thoughts if not out loud.  They’re great stories.

But there is something else I want to tell you about here.  I want to tell you how the privilege of being my uncle’s niece teaches me and, I’d suggest, all of us about how to get to world peace – or at least closer. Read More…

Posted by: MC | September 29, 2013


yes - wilderness  9-2013  mmc

[Posting from the UK – this second guest blog from Gary Ferguson writing here about the change in “making things fresh.”  His are helpful words – a good, even vital reminder – here where we live on the outskirts of all the bluster and impulse in DC toward shutting down the government.  Read and enjoy — mmc]

A number of years ago, while teaching a nature writing class in Yellowstone, I had the great pleasure of having as a student Sister Helen Prejean. By then she’d gained much acclaim for her work helping the troubled and the down-and-out, including her correspondence with two convicted murderers, Elmo Sonnier and Robert Willie, which later became the book Dead Man Walking.

On our last day together, out walking along the Specimen Ridge Trail, Sister Helen brought up the subject of annunciation. I’d only known the word in religious terms, as a reference to the Christian celebration of the angel Gabriel telling Mary she was destined to become mother of the Son of God. But sister Prejean had a much broader take. She said annunciation was the act of making something fresh, of bringing an ideal more fully to life by making it real in our everyday world. It seemed a perfect notion for where we were right then, in that wild country high above the Yellowstone River, cradled in an ideal that a century before, and with lots of hard work, became the world’s first national park.

These are rough times in the West. Over the past seven years a small, but powerful gaggle of angry men have once again been pushing to undo longstanding American ideals – from dismantling the Endangered Species Act, to gleefully eradicating the wolf. The wolf population on the northern range of Yellowstone, in fact, has now dropped to just forty animals – a condition due in part to a state hunting policy that’s allowed Yellowstone wolves to be  slaughtered along park borders. The conservation ideals brought to life by people like Adolph Murie and Aldo Leopold, not to mention so many others – ideals of ecology and preservation – will not survive without renewed care and feeding. We need a conservation annunciation. We need to make those ideals fresh, see them with new eyes. We need them to again fire the notion that kindness to life on earth is an essential act of humanity. 

Posted by: MC | September 23, 2013

On Break in Lisbon …

–Will return next week with the second guest blog from Gary Ferguson.

Until then ~~  mcThe streets of Lisboa, Portugal  9-2013  mmc

Posted by: MC | September 16, 2013

Unplugged — a guest blog

With thanks to: Teen Wilderness Adventures/facebook

Gary Ferguson is a writer.  His subject over the past 30 years has the natural world and the relationships we have with it as human beings.  His setting has most often been Yellowstone National Park, but here, in the first of two guest blogs, Gary tells of his three months with 14-17 year-olds in the desert wilderness of Utah.  People living these years are change-on-legs as far as my memory and observation go.  And these kids were dealing with even more change given the choices and circumstances of their young lives.  Thanks to Gary for this work and his words on change and listening.  Make sure to check out his work.   mmc


Many years ago I wrote a book called Shouting at the Sky: Troubled Teens and the Promise of the Wildwhich focused on a compassionate wilderness program for struggling 14 – 17 year-olds. Some of these young people were struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. Others were brittle with anger. Still others wore what seemed a nearly fatal sadness. Several weeks into the program, each teen went on “solo,” spending two days and nights alone (discreetly watched over by staff), keeping a journal about the experience. I lost track of how many came back looking astonished, bewildered. “That’s the first time I’ve ever known what I think,” they often told me.

These days, knowing what you think can be a difficult proposition. Not long ago a group of researchers set out to estimate the number of years today’s 14 year-old will, during her lifetime, be “plugged in” to some electronic device – computer, cell phone, television, etc. Their best guess was a staggering 28 years.

It’s not that technology is bad (never mind the claim by Swiss author Max Frisch, who once described technology as a way of organizing the universe so humans don’t have to experience it.). But in the face of this modern world we do need regular doses of the natural world. Not just for the sake of the beauty it offers. Not even for the quietude. But because, as Einstein liked to point out, for those who care to look, moments in the outdoors tend to reveal nature as overwhelmingly complex – utterly impossible to comprehend. And on the other side of that small confusion, that slight discomfort and disorientation,is a powerful sense of the imagination being set free. Of the world being no longer fully fixed, no longer fully framed. Suddenly there’s not just a slice of woodland or patch of meadow, but the potential of that woodland or meadow.  It’s in that state of connectivity that we come to know what we think. What we need. What we can do.


Posted by: MC | September 4, 2013

American Work from the Ground Up

6-hour paddle destination - Yellowstone Lake - 9/2013  mmc

Labor Day is the American holiday designated to honor workers.  Historically, the day arises from the American Labor Movement in the late 1800’s.  The tradition continues — you likely noticed it last weekend – as a way of honoring the contributions of American workers to the health and wellbeing of our country.

Also vital to the country’s emergence and continuing welfare is American Wilderness – a presence, a natural fact, that has defined this country from well before its earliest days in July of 1776.  For those who would eventually declare the United States a sovereign country and who knew little of the land on this continent, it appeared and was quite wild.  For those who had been here for generations relationship with the land was more as with family, with relatives.  For thousands of years, these indigenous people lived, with few exceptions, in balance with the land and water — their impact on the ecosystems minimal to none at all.

About the time Labor Day was established fully in 1892 the leaders of the country, representing the strong sentiment of the people already begun to set land apart for preservation.  In 1872, Congress designated and established Yellowstone National Park as the first area within the wide expanse of the young country to be held forever in its intact and wild state.

I’ve been thinking about these things because … well, it’s just been Labor Day – and because over the long weekend set aside to honor American workers, I was with a few Yellowstone Park Foundation, Park Service, artist and writer friends on an island in the south arm of Yellowstone Lake.  We paddled canoes 6.5 hours to make our way, we camped Read More…

Posted by: MC | August 26, 2013

“He knows everyone in business.”

Feet on the street - Portland - 8-22-13  mmc

Every word was about kindness, about humility, or generosity of the most precious kind:  of time and attention, of friendship and guidance, of wisdom.  Last Thursday night, a man well into his 80’s retired … again.  This time from a talent and career management firm called Right Management.

I still don’t know enough about this man, Jack Stowell.  My friend, Terry OConnor said, “Come as my guest.  Jack wants to meet you.”  He said, “Jack knows and has the respect of everyone who is successful in business in Portland.  He’s one of the kindest men you’ll ever meet.”

This is what I know now.

In almost jarring contrast to icons like Donald Trump and the Koch brothers, this man Jack Stowell has given his life to the wellbeing of human community.  He’s done it through building his own businesses and supporting the visionary business practice of other people.  This may come as no surprise to those of you who spend lots of your life in these realms – or maybe it will.  For me it was yet another powerful course correction when it comes to the stereotypes my mind can engage as defaults when I hear sentences like “Jack knows everyone who is successful in business in Portland.”

Integrity doesn’t spring to mind when I hear those words – and that, like any bias structure – is a limitation that can keep me from listening, learning, and recognizing how very many people across all circumstances are truly ready, willing and already quite engaged in making changes in support of those things we prize most in this country – things like life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness – things like freedom, dignity, fairness, voice in democracy, and work that makes the life (listed first) possible.  Read those last five again.  They were particularly highlighted this week with the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech and each was a high priority for Jack Stowell across his career.  Read More…

Posted by: MC | August 19, 2013

Change. As Ever.

E&P Wedding 8-17-2013 mmc

It’s late summer.  For school children, for parents, even for businesses and government there can still be a sense of moving slower, taking time.  Even John Oliver, who has spent the past three months substituting for Jon Stewart on the Daily Show indicated recently that summer is usually a slow time in the news cycle (presenting a particular challenge to cynics, comics, pundits and the like).  Oliver went on to say, however, that this particular summer has stood as quite an exception what with the SCOTUS decisions severely impairing the voting rights act and supporting gay marriage, Paula Deen’s racism on review, a new British Kinglet, and, for Oliver, the unspeakable thrill of having Regis Philbin essentially knighting him with an end-of-interview kiss on the top of the head.

Off Oliver’s script were things like the end for now of the Trayvon Martin murder case, the NSA scandals and countless other crucial change moments in the country and the world.  But earlier Oliver had quite seriously expressed concern, thoughts, prayers for the people of Egypt as that country moves through the intensity, confusion and hideous violence collectively known by the media as “unrest.”

This is the it.  Change happens.  It takes all forms.  Because of it’s volatile nature, because change can feel bad and fearful and because it can involve great loss, the whole idea of change can be pushed away.  It can even be fought.  But nothing stops it.

This weekend, I was in most southeastern Canada for a change — the wedding of two precious and astonishing friends.  Change was everywhere.  In the overcast shifting to sun, in the roadwork nearby, in the moods that passed through the people gathered for the large change of a marriage sanctioned and celebrated.

And this is really all I have to say for this week.  It’s summer.  The world and its change can feel slower.  But any look at headlines, at gardens and flowers showing bounty and their gradual withdrawal, at the shifts and surprises of our everyday lives shows us that there’s no stopping this change thing.

Perhaps change is actually the location of the peace saints and sages have so long described.  The eye of the storm, the center of the spinning top, the unbroken silence of deep ocean no matter what goes on above, the vast sigh of the universe composed as it is primarily of empty space.  August.

Change is no small challenge for human experience.  We know that.  There’s no way around it, and we know that, too.  Here in the end of summer, the period that holds the reputation of moving more slowly there’s the chance to check into the possibility that nonstop change also presents the perfect opportunity to stop, to check and see which is the constant — noise and  activity or stillness and peace.

Check it out.  Let me know what you find.

Posted by: MC | August 12, 2013

Mayo Summit – Listen to These People


Galena, Alaska was at 39 below zero four days before Christmas in 1997.  At 40 below, the airport closes. Air travel is the most reasonable way to get into Galena in winter.  The other ways are by snow machine or dog sled.  A hand full of tribal leaders from the Yukon River basin were gathering on that day because they had become acutely concerned for the health of the river.  Toxic dump sites, mining waste and the impact of sewage dumping were now persistent and dangerous threats to the fish, plants, wildlife and people of the Yukon River Basin.  It was up to the people to act – to assert their rights and responsibilities as stewards of the water and land.

Sixteen years ago in Galena it was cold.  Return travel possibilities were unpredictable.  None of that mattered.  This meeting now stands as the origin of an alliance among Alaska Tribes and Canada First Nations.  The alliance is devoted to protecting the water quality, quantity and flow of the Yukon River and its tributaries.  It took on the name Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council (YRITWC) and in the intervening 16 years, 72 Alaska Native Tribes and Canada First Nations have come into collaboration through this organization.

Ten days ago the YRITWC leadership came together in Mayo, Yukon for their Biennial Summit.  By contrast to that December day in Galena, the temperatures in Mayo crested 90F.  One resident reported a porch thermometer reading 102.

In the heat, even the mosquitoes were reluctant, but the leaders, community members and allies in attendance showed no sign of anything except clear, precise and determined attention to the tasks at hand.  The focus of the Mayo Summit was deliberation among the leadership of the Tribes and First Nations of the Yukon River Basin toward reaching consensus on clarification of their shared water rights.  Read More…


Harold Gattensby lives at the headwaters of southern lakes in Yukon Territory, Canada.  He is one of the tribal leaders attending the summit here in Mayo, Yukon.

The leaders are from the 72 member tribes composing an alliance that was established a few days before Christmas 1997 in Galena, Alaska — at 40 below freezing.  The alliance brings into collaboration Alaska Tribes and Canada First Nations in the Yukon River Basin for the purpose of identifying indigenous water rights and establishing minimum water quality standards.  Back 16 years ago in Galena the leaders brought the profound concerns of their communities with the face that fish were dying.  Many communities had also found pockets of toxins from mining and military activity and had come to see the implications of sewage dumping.  The gathered leadership decided to initiate the Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council (YRITWC) to support their collaboration in complete dedication to returning and maintaining original quality, quantity and rate of flow to the Yukon River.

“In 50 years, we’ll drink from the Yukon.”  That has been the YRITWC leaders’ pledge to each other.  Today the gathering of these heads of Nations agreed to endorse a shared Water Quality Plan based in the assertion of their aboriginal rights to be stewards of the land, the water, the fish, wildlife, roots and berries.  These go hand-in-hand with their rights to pass clean water on to their children and grandchildren who in turn will act in the interests of the seven generations following them.

Yesterday, on a remarkably hot day in Mayo (estimates in the low 90s with a report from one home thermometer of 102), Harold Gattensby offered a water ceremony.  In comforting and grounding counterbalance to all the talk of policy and science, Harold spoke directly.  His instruction – “Recognize your shared identity, your kinship with one another and with the water.”  Here are some of the things he said. Read More…

Posted by: MC | July 29, 2013

Wolves, Humans and the Errors of Fast Thinking

Wolves in Yellowstone, Doug Smith


So, a few years ago a Nobel Prize winning economic scientist named Daniel Kahneman took a pretty astonishing look at cognitive, biological and psychological habits of minds faced with the need to make judgments or decisions.  His observations show up in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow

Needless to say, there’s a lot in this book.  One powerful trend Kahneman found in human decision making indicates that when we make quick judgments on about anything we, more often than not, make errors.  For example, when English speakers were asked whether the letter ‘K’ is more likely to be the first or third letter in a word (think about this for a minute…), all sorts of people said first – even though the letter shows up lots more frequently in the third position.

The primary interest Kahneman has in this line of inquiry isn’t as superficial as expectations for letter placement, but rather the way culture affects cognition.  Fundamental to his investigations were questions like:  Why are racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and other significant biased judgment systems so persistent?  How do these oppressive systems take hold when they just don’t fit the behavior or character of their targets?  Why are they so central to the way Americans interact no matter their politics or group affiliation?  Significantly, Kahneman’s research “traced these errors to the design of the machinery of cognition rather than the corruption of thought by emotion.”

Turns out, it’s the way we think that’s the problem.  When we think too fast, we head straight for fear and embattled opposition.  When we think slower, life together and alone goes much, much better.

In keeping with the oddity of someone so recognized for economic brilliance writing about “the machinery of cognition,” I learned about Kahneman’s book from a naturalist and conservation writer.  Gary Ferguson  was speaking in Big Sky, Montana last week on the history of Americans’ relationship with wilderness.  One of the things Ferguson is known for is his writing about the return of  the wolf to the Yellowstone National Park, the largest generally intact ecosystem in the temperate climates of the world.  Read More…

Posted by: MC | July 22, 2013

On Defending the Dream until it is Made Real

Young Dreamers in Florida this week -- July 22, 2013

I am writing this week to remind myself and anyone who might read here that the passage of time does not make the circumstances of last week’s blog any less immediate – any less critical than they were.  Racism and all other forms of social oppression are not gone.  The violence – physical, emotional, intellectual, physical – continues daily.  Please listen to this.  Linten in yourself.  Listen in the experiences and profound insights of other people.  People like screen actor Romany Malco who broke his silence with an article today entitled A Message to Trayvon Sympathizers.  Malco opens with these words.

I haven’t touched on the Trayvon Martin issue because race matters in this country are the paralysis of the American people. To constructively discuss Trayvon would require empathy, introspection and an understanding of America’s social and economic history. This is why the open forums we have seen thus far seem to fuel more ignorance and bias than reasonable debate.

To be brutally honest, the only reason people are even aware of Trayvon Martin is because it became a topic within mainstream news and pop culture. Meaning: News directors saw it as a profitable, sensational story. Hundreds of blacks die annually in South Side Chicago without even a blurb.

Yesterday, my sister who lives in Gainesville, Florida told me of the march that happened there on Saturday.  At noon on Saturday all over the country, marches were happening to raise and sustain attention, to call again for social justice for ALL.

On Saturday morning, as people gathered on Florida sidewalks, my sister was acting as police liaison.  She talked with the officers there to tend the rally and march and they told her the rules they’d be enforcing – mostly about safety.  My sister let them know that the crowd was interested in peaceful protest but mentioned that if the numbers really grew, they might have trouble remaining on the sidewalk only, spilling over onto the street. Read More…

Posted by: MC | July 14, 2013

This Must Stop.

Professor Aldo Billingslea

This is a photo of a Black Man.  The photo was taken and posted in response to yesterday’s decision in the Trayvon Martin murder case – the jury-based decision finding the man who killed the unarmed teen not-guilty.

Look at this man.

Depending on your life experience – your own ethnicity and gender, your experience with people who are similar to and different from you, the extent to which you are willing to notice and consider when you are attaching some story to a person without knowing anything about them – you will see this photograph and this man in some particular way.

Stop for a moment.  Check your story of this photograph.  No one is looking.  Just pay attention for a minute to what you’re saying to yourself.

You will likely notice you are attributing some emotion.  You will probably see you are constructing a narrative explaining the image, explaining the man.  Knowing when the image was made, will modify what you tell yourself, at least somewhat.

Was part of your narrative that this man is deeply sad, deeply offended and perhaps even residually fearful for himself and others who look like him – for his community, his country, his world?  Was part of your narrative that this man is a father, a husband and a profoundly accomplished academic?

Just asking.

Because, it matters what you think.  It matters what the jurors in the trial thought.  Every day it matters what journalists and political figures, police officers, teachers and religious leaders think.

Here are a few thoughts I’ve found on the internet this morning.  Please think about all of this.  Please listen carefully. Read More…

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