An adventure, to be sure.

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I sadly didn’t get to spend much time by the pond bordering the camp property where I worked for 5 weeks. Image via https://www.pinterest.dk/pin/355643701793822791/

Hello Readers, it’s been a while since I engaged in the blogosphere. The past couple of months I’ve been working, both externally in the world and internally on myself, in deep and profound ways. This resulted in exhaustion on several levels, leaving me with no energy nor motivation to write blog posts. However, now that August has arrived, I’d like to share a story. If you are one of the readers who likes posts about the various climate crises and protests that I report on, you may want to skip this one. But for those who are interested in the personal narrative, I hope you will read on.

In mid-June, I left the College of Business at MSU Denver, bound for New Hampshire. I had gotten a gig as head cook for a family summer camp in the White Mountains, a place I’d never gone before and knew very little about. The interviews with the director had gone well, and so when offered the job, I accepted. Ready for an adventure, I boarded the plane in Denver with high hopes for a fun and busy summer working as the head of their kitchen.

With characteristic enthusiasm, I plunged right into the work. The camp was old, the buildings even older, and things seemed, let’s say, rustic and quaint from the start. The staff was an eclectic assortment of humans of various ages, genders, socio-economic backgrounds, spiritual beliefs and just about every other variant one could imagine. Most seemed kind, friendly and willing to help me learn the ropes. ­What I couldn’t have known then was that other, older and historical forces were also present, and would soon come into the comedy-drama that was about to unfold.

Let me set the scene. An old, large wooden lodge was the main building. Built on multiple levels, it contained a main floor with a wonderful wrap-around screened porch for guests to lounge, chat and relax. The office, kitchen and dining hall were on this level. Upstairs were guest rooms, named after historical people who’d been important to the camp in some way over the past nearly eighty years. Filled with dark, wood, antique furniture and old pictures, the rooms felt quaint, even charming and offered beautiful views of the nearby forest and mountain peak. There was an extra-long bathtub in one of the bathrooms, where a grown man would be able to lay in comfortably.

The ground level of the lodge housed the economy rate guest rooms, as well as several bathrooms, the laundry room, staff sink and fridge, and the cook’s room, a small room with a bed, dresser and writing table where I would sleep and hang out when not working upstairs. Once I swept up the cobwebs and mouse droppings in the corners, it seemed okay enough. The room was underneath the grain room, a corner of the kitchen area where bulk foods were kept and was the access to the walk-in refrigerator. Without getting deep into descriptions, remember that this place is decades old, and has not had any remodeling during at least the past few. This translates to old equipment, old surfaces, animals and insect populations residing in the walls and between floors, and the natural consequences of these. In other words, Trouble brewing.

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White Mountains forest a hundred years ago. Ghosts from the past are still hanging around. Image via https://www.shorpy.com/node/7618

Then there was the outside world to contend with. Coming from Colorado, I hadn’t given much thought to the perils inherent in a much more humid woodland area to live and work in for the summer. Big Mistake. The mosquitoes were thick from the moment I arrived, in a most unpleasant way. Alongside that, we were warned continually about the ticks which were everywhere there was grass or high weeds (which was all around the camp), and that there were both wood ticks and the more perilous deer ticks that carried Lyme disease. These ticks could be as small as a sesame seed, and once embedded within your flesh, chances are good of getting its debilitating disease without even knowing it and it can last for months or even years. Ugh. Not exactly the happiest welcoming committee for my first days on the job.

The directors had warned me that they were short-staffed, having had trouble finding enough young people to fill all their staff needs before the season opened. Because of this, our kitchen crew consisted of me, a 20 year old guy who had worked there the summer before, an older woman who was the stalwart volunteer for a few hours around dinner service each day, and then we’d see who else was willing and able to help out with prep for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. I quickly learned that the former cook (who had gone on to bigger and better kitchens) was some kind of bodhisattva-saint type character, loved by all and who offended none, kept her cool even under duress, stress and even gangsta rap couldn’t offend her. An impossible bar had been set, it seemed, and so trouble also began early on with the two who’d worked with her in previous years. Not only was I not a kitchen bodhisattva, but I tensed up under pressure (the closer to service time it got, the shorter my sentences became), couldn’t abide rap or other kinds of inappropriate musical genres, and my hygiene standards were considerably higher than those of previous chefs. The stage was set for interpersonal trouble from day one.

Then there were the ghosts. Like I said, this place was old, and there were lots of spirits hanging around, wreaking havoc big and small. They decided to have some fun with me, starting on day two. In the middle of the workday, I fell into a heap of black floor mats piled up in front of the ancient mop sink, which felt like falling into quicksand. It took all my strength to get back up, and I injured what I thought was my right arm at the time. However, the following morning, as I bent over to brush my teeth, my lower back went out as a girdle of pain stretched around my lumbar region. Yikes. That was the morning of day three. Then there were the fire alarms going off in the middle of the night, three nights in a row for no reason. Turns out, apparently the nearly million dollar, modern fire alarm system that was installed a few years back was so finely tuned that even an insect walking across the light beam (infrared?) would set it off (at least that’s the story we were told as to why it happened, repeatedly?). I am firmly of the belief that it was those mischievous ghosts messing with us. They probably thought it was hilarious fun to watch us all have to get up and go outside in the pouring rain at midnight for no reason.

There was also the strange phenomenon of time fluidity at the camp. One day could seem like several ordinary days anywhere else, all compressed into a continuum that seemed unending. Life for me there was ruled by the wall clocks (there were three, all showing different times) which told me when breakfast, staff lunch, guest lunch, staff dinner and guest dinner were supposed to be served. Often, I would begin work after the breakfast cook (fortunately most days we had one other than me) was finished serving, and stay in the kitchen until dinner cleanup was done. I averaged 12 hour workdays, and when I was on for breakfast shift, sometimes 14 hour days. Basically I showered, slept and hung out in my little room after the day was done, since going outside in the evening meant getting eaten alive by mosquitos, possibly bitten by ominous ticks, or engulfed in the rainstorms that occurred regularly.

Still, I was managing it all as best I could until the day the ovens stopped working two hours before dinner service. It was a Friday, which meant roasting forty pounds of cut chickens in six roasting pans, using all three of the old commercial gas ovens. After less than an hour in, two of the ovens decided to give up the ghost. I called the director to let him know what was happening. He later confided that he had smelled natural gas that morning, which clued him in to call the gas company to come fill the tank. But unfortunately it had slipped his mind as he got busy with other tasks. So on a Friday afternoon, when I was responsible for feeding over a hundred hungry guests and staff, we were down two ovens. I went into panic mode, and remembered there was a working oven in one of the guest houses up the hill. So I took the pans of chicken, wearing long oven mitts, and with my favorite helper we walked the pans over to the guest house oven and threw them in to roast off for another hour. Not to mention the tofu steaks for the vegan crowd. Then it poured down rain as I returned with the now-roasted chicken for service. We saved that dinner, but happy I was not. This was the end of week four, out of an eleven week contract (and I didn’t even mention the freezer going out the following day, which nobody mentioned to me until a couple days later as I noticed how soft the ice cream had become).

That night, laying exhausted in the bed, I had a good, long talk with myself. I realized that I was in the danger zone of exhaustion, while it wasn’t yet halfway through the summer. Up until that night, I’d put up with all the problems, the people, the ghosts, the obstacles, one after another. I’d been a good soldier. But that night, a voice inside me said, No. More. Of. This. I knew I’d reached my boundary of what was healthy and manageable. I went to sleep that night, asking my higher self for guidance. The next evening, after another long, hot and uncomfortable day in that kitchen, I wrote out a letter of resignation. I texted the staff coordinator, a lovely, positive woman whom I respected, and asked her to arrange a meeting with her, the director and me for the following afternoon. In that meeting, I handed him my letter. He read it carefully, and then without hesitation agreed and accepted my resignation. I truly felt sorry that I was unable to fulfil my contract and told him so. I suggested that perhaps he could find another cook to take my place by talking with all his contacts and board members. He looked at me kindly and stated, “I think you’re looking at him.” Then he went on to discuss that chicken disaster evening, and told me that I hadn’t handled it properly from a leadership perspective. “You should’ve called a meeting right there and then, with me and the other cook. We should’ve looked each other in the eyes, and agreed on a plan. Then you could have taken the chicken up to the other oven.” I breathed that in, agreeing that I’d failed on the leadership part. He is a kind man, however, and said all this without malice or anger. He told me not to give up on being a leader, because I do know what I’m doing in the kitchen. I just needed more practice with stressful situations. Uh, yeah. Just not there.

A week and couple days later, after two days of travel via bus to Boston, pouring rain, long waits in Logan and JFK airports and delayed flights, I finally landed at DIA outside of Denver. Even the airline not bringing my luggage to Denver couldn’t ruin my mood of elation and utter relief at being home once again. Even though it was still nearly 80 degrees at 10 pm, at least it was Colorado—dry, relatively insect-free, and beloved to me.

Now that I’m back in Denver, my hometown, I am pondering what’s next on this life journey. The major takeaways from the five weeks in New Hampshire are:  I love to cook for other people, knowing I am nourishing their bodies and souls through healthy, good food; never again will I take a job or any position sight-unseen, trusting in another’s perspective of what is workable and manageable; New England is not a region I plan to revisit anytime soon (or ever) without a really good reason; my appreciation for hygiene, equipment that is in good working order, and love of people who can follow directions without giving me attitude has been heightened exponentially; and finally, Colorado is (as I have long known) one of the very best places to live on Earth.

Thanks for reading my narrative, if you managed to read to the end. Stay tuned for further updates and musings on our interrelated lives on this amazing, and sometimes extraordinarily difficult, planet we all call Home.

 

 

 

 

 

Like weeds after a hard rain

As some of you know, being a blogger is a mixed deal. Sometimes you’re super inspired and feel like what you have to say is important, fascinating even, and clearly people will want to read what you wrote. Other days, not so much. There are probably millions of blog posts devoted to this topic, with all sorts of cures for the blogger blues, ways to increase readership, drive people to your site, make them want to read YOUR post over the other fifty million out there in blogland. For whatever reasons, none of that really works for me. Maybe I just really don’t care that much about how much traffic I have, or how many readers are reading. It’s a paradox, alright.

During the past month, I became fascinated with the work of Jem Bendell, who wrote a paper titled Deep Adaptation, on how, after looking at a bunch of scholarly and scientifically sound research, he came to the conclusion that societal collapse is basically inevitable. What does this mean? To put it in a nutshell, he concludes that the kind of world we are all accustomed to living in, with all the benefits of modern society that we (mostly) take for granted every day of our lives, will become impossible to maintain and will collapse on itself. When will this breakdown occur? No one knows for sure. Some people think it could happen within decades, or even sooner. There is a Facebook page for people who are on board with Bendell’s analysis, that is a closed group you have to join. Naturally I joined it, so I could connect and see what others have to say about all of this. As you might expect, people are in various stages of agreement with the premise of societal collapse and the details.

This topic, and some of the comments people make on the Facebook group, seem a bit familiar to me. I am reminded of the period of time leading up to the year 2000, when many people were concerned about Y2K, another moment of societal doom. Back then, the theory went, the changeover from the 20th century (1900s) to the new millennium (2000) was simply too much for all the world’s computers to handle, and so they would stop functioning. This would lead to world-wide disaster on a massive scale, so people had better prepare for the worst. Some folks stockpiled emergency food and water, fuel for generators (since the electric grid would surely be undone by the glitch), and all manner of survival gear. Then the moment arrived: the clocks turned from 11:59 on December 31, 1999, to 12:00 am, January 1, 2000. Fireworks exploded around the world, but the world’s electric grid and computer systems did not fail en masse. Miraculously, we all survived and continued. Thank goodness, and we still got to party.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there is nothing to worry about, everything is fine, let’s continue to exploit, extract and plunder Earth like there is no tomorrow for our planet and ourselves. But, after reading some of the posts on Deep Adaptation, I have decided that I just cannot live life like an emergency is around every corner. I have also decided that my addiction to the daily news cycle is not only unhealthy, but in fact is poisonous.

Wise people throughout time have always known that there are really two main choices for how to live one’s life: through fear, or through love. Doomsaying and preparing for the end of life as we know it, at this stage, feels a lot like living through the fear lens. Living through the lens of love doesn’t mean one isn’t being smart, getting and giving support to others, finding creative ways to live with much less materiality, growing your own food if possible, stopping bad consumer habits, and protesting injustice. It means all those things, with the important addition of not focusing on the fear-induced What-if scenarios that seem to keep cropping up like weeds after a hard rain. We all know what a hard rain brings.

These are my rambling thoughts for tonight, dear Readers. This weekend was the celebration of Wesak, in which people around the world honor the Buddha’s birth, as well as all the venerated, ascended masters who have helped humanity over the eons of time. Humanity has been through so much in our long, extraordinary history. I may be an unrealistic idealist, but I am holding to the idea that we will make it through the coming decades, and society will change for the better. Change is inevitable, as is death. It is the nature of life on this planet. Let’s do what we can to stop fearing the future, and instead to imagine a more beautiful future world for our children, while doing the hard work of creating it.

Getting closer to extinction

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image from https://www.newstalk.com/news/extinction-rebellion-dublin-849302

Dear Readers, many of you know that today, May 6th, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a massive report on the state of our natural world. The news is even worse than many believed. According to the IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Wilson, the evidence presented in the report “presents an ominous picture…the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” (www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment)

The report’s authors found that approximately one million species are threatened with extinction in the not-too-distant (meaning within decades) future, if humanity doesn’t put the brakes on global climate destruction through industrialized civilization. Both the New York Times and the Guardian newspapers carried the story in today’s headlines, and I recommend reading them for further details (links below).

Even though this news is truly beyond words in its implications, I struggle to find some tonight in an effort to cope with what is mostly inevitable now—the extinction of much of our world’s natural ecosystems, which will certainly lead to societal collapse for humanity. I have been writing about this consistently for the past few months, as the evidence clearly shows that our common situation is becoming more and more of a crisis. I implore everyone reading to STAY AWAKE to what is now occurring, and DO NOT allow yourself to go numb in the face of what lies ahead. It is all too easy to do this, and in fact, global consumerism is doing everything within its considerable power to entice us to go numb, go shopping, buy a new car (because that will for sure help things along), watch endless sporting events, and any number of other distractions designed to do anything EXCEPT pay attention to what is actually happening now, before our very eyes, on Earth. WE MUST ALLOW OURSELVES TO FEEL THIS NEWS WITH OUR HEARTS.

Yes, it is difficult, nauseatingly so, to honestly face our deepest fears of annihilation. No one, really no one, on our planet wants to admit that we have ruined our precious home, Earth. Millions, even billions, of us are in utter denial, because taking responsibility for what we’ve done is simply far too painful. In the New York Times article today, there were well over a thousand comments on the story. They ran the gamut from utter sadness and despair, to blaming and shaming any number of groups for our predicament—the Baby Boomers, Big Oil and Gas, the government, the Republican Party of America, even people who haven’t made it to the Vegan club yet.

I am 24 years old. For as long as I remember, I have known about and understood climate change and the impacts it would have on us….I want to live the life I have prepared for and that future generations have had, working in my career field and eventually marrying and having children. I fear that my generation won’t be able to do these things or worse, will do them only to compound and perpetuate the problem. My heart is broken.Emily, a reader’s comment in NYTimes May 6th article

But honestly, at this point, what good does it do to point fingers and blame this or that group of humans for the mess we are in? Clearly, Big Oil and Gas corporations have shamelessly and lavishly promoted the use of fossil fuels for over half a century, even as they knew of the risks to our planet by burning them. Yes, those corporations’ CEOs and stockholders should be held accountable for their part in it. And, how many of us in the developed (and now developing) nations have been buying and using gas-fueled vehicles for years and years? The truth is, nearly all of us born before the turn of the 21st century are at fault.

It is time to urgently and collectively engage in the process of answering the question: Now what? How do we turn this ship around and stop destroying our world and all the life upon it? The IPBES Global Assessment Report, in its entirety, gives many suggestions and sound, scientifically proven advice for how to do exactly that. The report was compiled by 145 experts from 50 countries, who analyzed scientific papers and reports from approx.. 15,000 scientific and government sources during the past three years, with input form 310 contributing authors. The report ranks for the first time, the five biggest drivers of change in nature, which are listed (in descending order from most impact to lesser) here: 1) changes in land and sea use, 2) direct exploitation of organisms, 3) climate change, 4) pollution and 5) invasive species. (www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment).

Tonight, I feel like I imagine I would if a doctor had just given me or one of my family members a terminal diagnosis. The world’s leading scientists have given us all a terminal diagnosis about the state of our planet’s ecosystems, including the world’s plant, mammal, bird and sea populations. How will we cope with this diagnosis? Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation Facebook group and forum, along with Extinction Rebellion’s websites, are some places to start. There you will find people writing about these reports, ideas, feelings and actions to take as the early medicine to combat our disease. Please do not look away any longer. The sooner we collectively face our self-made tragedy, the sooner we can take actions towards healing and reconciling our part in the new world we’ve created.

Addendum:  In the space of twelve hours, the New York Times moved its article on the climate report down to “In Other News,” I guess to make room for an article titled, “See What the Stars Wore at the Met Gala,” as a perfect example of just EXACTLY what is causing our impending extinctions and current crisis. I am dumbfounded.

Links:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/06/human-society-under-urgent-threat-loss-earth-natural-life-un-report

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/06/climate/biodiversity-extinction-united-nations.html

www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment

https://deepadaptation.ning.com/

https://rebellion.earth/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/deepadaptation/