Friday, June 29, 2012

Poetry by Michael Geddes

"They Say"

They say that they can feel me.
I want to touch them with my prose and embrace their souls,
sparing them from the devils that so haunted me.
They say that they can hear me.
I want my words to resound within their skulls,
breaking up the mired continence that is what they have come to know.
They say that they can taste my passion.
I want to go to sleep knowing that I inspired a few people to think
rather than blindly accepting the biased musings of the mainstream media.
They say that they can smell my dreams coming to fruition.
I want the fruits of my labor to hang low enough for even the smallest
of children to bear.
They say that they can see my vision.
A peaceful place for all inhabitants of the earth
Regardless of supposed stature or material worth.
They say that they can do a lot of things now that I recall.
But that only leaves us to wonder,
Is any action going to follow it all?

(Written at Clearwater Revival)


What do I really need?
Or do I really mean,
What do I believe I need?
Guess that depends on  what I believe.
What do I believe?
Wait, something's missing.
I just know it is.
I feel it.
You know when something is with you.
What do I need?
I need to believe.
I need to believe in someone.
Someone who exudes absolute confidence when there is no turning back.
Not someone who cowers when the opportunity presents itself.
I need to believe in someone.
I need to believe in someone who remains calm despite the doubtful outlook.
Not someone who abandons hope at the first sign of trouble.
Someone who can endure the hardships of a tumultuous existence.
Someone who won't crumble under the mounting pressures of adulthood.
I need to believe in someone who can ignore societal perception and
help a person in need.
Not someone's whose only interest is self preservation.
I need to believe in someone who ingests the medias force fed lies and
expels an intermediate truth.
Not someone who gorge's themselves on the preaching of the masses and
regurgitates their attempts at misinformation.
I need to believe in someone who can release themselves from the
cyclical monotony that we call a daily routine.
Someone who manages to follow their passion, with little to no regard
for social constraints.
I need to believe in someone who observes the world around them, and
seeks to adjust it to their liking.
Not someone who allows a self-created institution to dictate their
every action; imprisoning their mind, body, and soul.
I need to believe in someone who will bombard our greed driven,
capitalist empire with an arsenal of carefully arranged words;
Harnessing the power of raw, unfiltered emotion. Not someone who waits
for their passive aggressive pleas for reform to be heard.
I need to believe in someone who will not only encourage change but
inspire, implement, and facilitate it.
I need to believe in someone who strives to change the country for the
greater good.
Not just to gain seats in the House or prolong the existence of a
political party.
I need to believe in someone who conducts their business in order to
supply a need and make a living.
Not to exploit an environment for its resources, and enslave the
native population.
I need to believe in someone who puts the livelihood of mankind
tomorrow before the luxuries of today.
Someone who will leave this world in a better state than they found it.
We all need to believe in someone.
We all need to believe.

"That's What Trees Said"

I will not let you uproot me
from the place that has so given me nourishment
till this point that we have come to know as today.
I will not let you prevent me from becoming what I have dreamed
of becoming since my inception.
I have grown way too strong and far too resilient to
let you simply tear down my freedom
What I bring to this world is an element that no other can provide.
I Withstand all of your downpours upon my solace,
using them to the best of my ability to bring vital benefits to fruition.
Take your filthy hands off of me,
I wish to maintain my pristine nature and flourish despite the blatant
I want nothing to do with your
Chains and other efforts of
subjugation through attacks on my sensory.
I may not be the oldest, nor am I the youngest.
But in my time here,
I have learned that we are all just as important as the next
and none of us is worth sacrificing.
Yet the devilish glare in your eyes is hinting that youd rather set me
ablaze in a  a four alarm fire caused by ill restraint
Do you want to make an example of me?
Is that what you want?
Years ago, I wouldn't have given a second thought as to whether
or not I should question the reason for my existence.
I didn't know whether I would be able to overcome the disasters
that have come to plague out lives.
Now I know that I can whether any storm, and the simply fact that I
still exist is reason enough for me to be just as entitled to this
land as you.
Why should you decide my fate?
Do we not breathe the same air?
Why should you decide my fate?
Who says you even do?
I refuse to accept, even for a minute that you may control my destiny.
I'll still be something with or without your so called help.
Thats what trees said.
Or at least thats what I'd like to believe

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Clearwater's Great Hudson River Revival

The highlight of my Stony Brook Sustainability Studies Program environmental literature course this summer session was our weekend at Clearwater's Great Hudson Revival.  

For those of you who don't know,  The Clearwater Revival is the brainchild of Pete Seeger, the musical 'clean water hero', who has been working to clean up the Hudson river from PCB contamination for many years. He also contributed significantly to the creation of the Clean Water Act.  Pete's Clearwater organization has been doing great environmental work for 40 years.  The Clearwater Revival Festival  functions as a fundraising, educational, and community building event to support the organization's work, and boy does it succeed on all counts.

To recap about my summer course: we read literature with environmental themes--two novels, nonfiction essays, and poetry by celebrated nature poets. We study our current environmental crises at large as well.

But we do a lot more than that.

We connect with nature,  meet with various environmental experts, and gain direct learning experience in the physical world.  This is not a class of or for avatars.

You get the point: you can't study environmental literature without learning about and engaging with the environmental crises we face today.

So off we went to Clearwater Revival.

Clearwater Revival takes place each year during Father's Day Weekend at the Croton Point Park on the Hudson, in Croton, NY.  The pristine park offers a stunning view of the river and the dramatic green and hilly landscape on the other side of the river.  Hiking trails and quiet places to ramble or contemplate abound.

Music rings out all day and night from tents scattered throughout the park.  This is the music of social and political justice, equal rights and freedom for all genders, colors, ethnicities, and sexual persuasions.   From Holly Near, Tom Chapin & family, to Arlo Guthrie and songs by Woody Guthrie, it's a progressive musical lover's fantasy.  There is much dancing, too.

The Clearwater Sloop floats in the distance on the Hudson--watching over, giving its blessing.

My students and I came as volunteers, so we camped, ate, and worked together  in a 'zero waste' community.

There were over one thousand volunteers, and many more thousands of guests, but the festival never felt crowded, noisy or unpleasant in any way.

A feeling of calm and peace pervaded the air.

When we first arrived late Friday afternoon, we set up tents, sat in a circle, and shared our writings about the novel we are currently reading--All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki.  We had a great discussion about various characters, and the issue of race and hybridity in the novel  (the main character is white and of Japanese descent) and mono-cropping and destruction of agriculture through industrial farming.  That led us into what is happening to American agriculture, and food and animal rights and waste,  and what we would be eating and producing this weekend.  Who would eat meat or not and why?  What impact would that make?  And, by the way, did everyone bring their own eating and drinking utensils as Clearwater recommended?

Yes, we all brought our own eating and drinking utensils.

A zero waste class!

After our afternoon meeting, we hiked down to the center of things and met our energetic leaders at the Environmental Action tent for  The Green Cities Initiative.  

The Clearwater Green Cities Initiative educates and works on a variety of environmental issues, including PCB contamination,  hydro-fracking, desalination, nuclear power, renewable energy, global warming and climate justice, as well as environmental justice.

Things really got going early the next morning on opening day at the Environmental Action Tent. At 8:00 a.m., Manna Jo Greene, Victor-Pierre Melendez, Karla Raimundi, and Ryan Palmer each explained, in depth, all of the environmental issues that the Green Cities Initiative covers.  They gave some of the best lectures on environmentalism I've ever heard.  We huddled in our new volunteer
t-shirts, drank hot coffee and listened.

Manna Jo explained that the job of my students and the other volunteers would be for them to get signatures on petitions for the various environmental issues.  But the most important part of the petitioning, Manna stated, wasn't the acquiring of signatures, it was the 'conversation' that would happen between the student petitioners and the general public.  In other words, the students needed to engage with festival goers directly--to communicate with them about environmental issues.

Thank goodness the lectures by Manna, Victor, Karla, and Ryan were so superb.  The tent was filled with documentation on each topic as well.  Students quickly learned what they needed to know (we studied much of this in advance, but the tent lectures cemented their knowledge).

Talking to hundreds of festival goers gave my students a tremendous sense of confidence and empowerment.  They came back from their adventures beaming and amazed at the discussions they had, things they learned.  The got hundreds of signatures each on the petitions.

The take away statements from my class:

"Clearwater was a life-changing experience."

 "I've never experienced learned so much in any class, or experienced anything like this before."

"I felt like I made such a difference.  I want to back to Clearwater Festival every year!"

Saturday night volunteer musical gatherings and dancing took place until the wee hours in the campgrounds.

Looking back at the weekend, it is clear that we became a family under the environmental tent.

Students learned first hand what it means to teach others about why taking care of our planet matters.  They met hundreds of people from all walks of life who are committed to taking care of the earth and other people.

For some students, it was their first experience of camping.  For all, it was their first experience of Pete Seeger and his vision.  For many, folk dancing, folk music, Klezmer, and Woody Guthrie (among many other things) are completely new.

For others, it was their first encounter with professional environmentalism and activism--they came to understand how it all works.

Many students took advantage of the opportunity to explore furture career options with our Environmental Action mentors:  Karla, an environmental justice lawyer and Victor, who runs the Green Cities Initiative and holds a Masters in Sustainability, and Manna Jo, who works at the forefront of Clearwater's environmental actions, as well as Ryan, the Green Cities Project Coordinator.

It was a magical weekend.

This is how education, activism, community and love come into being.

For me, as a child of the sixties, and a daughter of  civil rights, peace and anti-nuclear activists who brought me to rallies and Pete Seeger concerts regularly as a kid----this was/is my circle game.

Before Revival, as I said, none of my students heard of Pete Seeger, Clearwater, or his historical connections to the Clean Water Act and the preservation/restoration of the Hudson.

Now they want to go back to Clearwater every year.

It took a bit of work to make this weekend happen--lots of phone calls, emails, and pestering on my part.    

It really wasn't so hard to pull off.

Once I heard Victor's dynamic voice on the phone, I knew magic would happen.

Thank you Pete, and thank you Clearwater.  Thank you Victor, Karla, Manna, and Ryan.  Thank you Linda Richards, our passionate head of all the volunteers!  Your raucous warm greeting started the weekend off on the right foot, and your support (all those 1,050 volunteers!)  made it all possible.

This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.

See you next year, at Revival! 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Environmental Literature: An Experiential Summer Course

Summer 2012: I began this semester in a new way. 

Who are the students in this class?  Some of my students in this current course know a fair amount about environmentalism, some know very little. Some plan to spend their lives committed to "saving the planet," while others take the course of out curiosity--to learn something new and to get out of the classroom in good weather, as our plan is to meet for each session in the out of doors.

On Thursday of last week, in the fourth class meeting, a dam broke.  Several students revealed important things about themselves and their lives that have everything to do with the course topic and opened up  our thoughts to profound issues related to environmental justice, poverty and 'place' (in every sense of the word).  I will come back to all of these conversations in more detail in subsequent posts.

At the moment, I'm reeling from these provocative conversations.

This summer course is different than anything I've ever taught before:

For one thing, we only meet in 'natural' surroundings (not inside buildings).  It's been a long winter and we all need to be outside in beautiful and green places.  I know I do.  Talking about nature while sitting/walking/swimming outside enhances the experience of what we're learning.  Closing our eyes, listening to bird sounds, soothes and opens up creative channels.

Additionally, we confront our concepts of what we 'think' nature 'is'.  Reading about human intrusions into nature in the work of Bill McKibben, for example, while directly experiencing the invasive and unpleasant sounds of airplanes, leaf blowers, cars, and so forth, provokes deeper conversations about what it means to "be" in nature in this day and age.  We examine our nostalgic longings, our disappointment, our love of the natural world and what it 'represents' for each of us.  This fits in with our 'eco-critical' readings drawn from the work of Timothy Morton and others.

We started, fittingly, in a park called Avalon.  Avalon--a lost reality.

So far we've been to two large parks, a nature preserve, and a horse rescue farm. We'll be going to a wolf preserve, volunteering and camping out at the large environmental music festival Clearwater Revival, and visiting with and learning about the work of an organic farmer and eco-literacy specialist, Heather Forest, of Foxhollow Farms.  Heather created a community garden for a Section 8 Housing residents on Long Island.  We will visit this community garden.

I've never taught such an non-traditional course before.  So far, every class meeting has been remarkably inspirational.  I grew up going to alternative schools and hiking/camping and doing many unusual things with my teachers and classes, so it is familiar to me.

As a student I loved experiential learning.

I love it now as a professor as well.

It sure beats the heck out of standing at the podium in large lecture halls.

So what are we reading as far as the literature goes?

Because it is a short semester (only five weeks), I have to limit the reading list.

Still, we cover some significant ground:

T.C. Boyle's A Friend of the Earth
Ruth Ozeki's  All Over Creation

Recommended Films: 
Erin Brockavich
Earth 2100
Food Inc
No Impact Man

Essays and excerpts from:

Alice Walker: "Am I Blue", "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens."
Wendell Berry The Making of A Marginal Farm
Bill Mckibben The End of Nature 
Thoreau Walden Pond and Journals
Arne Ness Deep Ecology
Robert Bullard Dumping on Dixie
Linda Hogan Dwellings

Orion Magazine May issue

Loads of poetry from:
Mary Oliver
Wendell Berry
Luci Topahonso
Joy Harjo
Robert Frost
Alice Walker
and others...

Tools needed: a large empty and unlined journal, pens, colored pencils, water colors.  A water bottle, snack, and a towel to sit on.

We begin each class with hiking to our "spot".  We walk in silence and observe.  We sit and practice more silence and listening and then we write.  Some students draw or paint.   I ask them to reflect in their journals on where we are, what they hear and sense.   After a time, I read a poem out loud.

We then share their written work, and talk about the assigned reading for the day.

They also share journal writing they have done on the assigned reading from the novels and essays.

For the course: students are required to read my summary of Key Environmental Issues Today. This particular summary was originally created by students of mine from previous environmental literature classes (now updated). The list of topics is not complete, but it offers helpful explications of Fracking, Nuclear Power/waste, Toxics, Climate Change, Water rights, and the Tar Sands/Keystone Pipeline.

My next posts will describe some of our conversations and experiences in more detail.  Hang on to your seatbelts.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ecofeminism Now A Film by Greta Gaard

Saturday, June 2, 2012

First Week

To hell with the classroom
(False walls and fluorescent lights)
To hell with the rules that cut us off 

I took them to Avalon
we closed our eyes
starting with a breath
the wind
the sound of woodpeckers
the sound of our invasion

I took them to Caumsett
Jess held up her totem painting
the turtle
bikinis and red rock
Tom spoke of his journey to
the rainforest in Brazil and

we sat in a circle on rocks
spoke of ocean acidification
the dying coral reef
the abundance of red jellyfish

we spoke of earthfirst!
putting nature on equal
footing with humans

we spoke of the rape of the land
we spoke of the rape of women
we spoke of capitalism and profit

we listened to Mary Oliver
the despair of Wendell Berry
the blue horses of Luci Topahonso
the birth of the baby of Dine
and chamisa

we spoke of losses
of what nature is and is not
we held paints and pens and
colored pencils
empty books

I noticed each student drew trees

It was a hot hot day
Maurice helped me put on my
shoe I was so tired
the kind of love you
can feel when a lotus flower

All of us gasped at the wonder
of the beautiful world of this classroom
of grass and stone
the opportunity of coming together
strangers for the first time
to speak the truth
to learn about climate change
to learn about nuclear radiation
to talk about the language of satire
hybrids and hyenas
monsanto and monocropping
to hold hands as we felt
explosions of shale
explosions of mountaintop
explosions of souls and skin
smashing atoms, as Maurice calls it

Shavon said: it's a wonder
already we feel like family

In these teaching moments
I feel hope
hope for the earth
hope for the children of tomorrow