25 January 2017

Fate: In Our Woods

In Our Woods

The Pirate dog came with me this morning out into the woods, our woods behind the farmhouse, now open thanks to Ed Gulley and the Gulley Bridge. Maria was busy working, the dogs and I went out and over a rise and out into the fresh snow. Fate loves the wood, she tears around in circle, hops over streams and stalks me and Red, she thinks she is quite clover. I caught the mad gleam that comes into her eyes when she is looking for trouble. Which is always.

Maria and i are loving our woods, we are happy to be connected to them, and I am figuring out ways to get through the brush, we are making our own paths.

Posted in General

A Crisis Of Conscience: The Power Of Civil Disobedience. Time To Show Up.




Civil Disobedience is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government, or of an occupying power…Civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system of a whole.

(Please consider helping newly arriving refugees to America, they have lost everything, came with nothing, need everything. It is inexpensive and simple and meaningful.) And they are frightened.)

I am not an especially religious person, not in the conventional sense, or a political one. I became a Quaker when I was 14, I re-affirmed that faith in my 30's, when I had a child, and it remains the faith closest to my values and beliefs.  Quakerism has a long history of civil disobedience, – to war, to slavery, in particular.

Quakers have often withheld taxes, refused to kill, supported Native-Americans in violation of laws.

I have never seriously considered civil disobedience until this week, until today, really,  when our new President announced his plans today to hire thousands of officers to deport undocumented immigrants, greatly expand  deportation, hire thousands of  border police, build a vast wall across the Mexican border, restrict or ban immigrants from countries that are predominantly Muslim, halt immigration entirely for a period of time and then, drastically reduce it.

Shame on me, I never thought I would hear an American President utter those words, or see millions of Americans cheer them.

Honestly, I believed these were things he promised in order to win, but were not things he could or would actually do. It seemed unimaginable to me that any American government would do these things. They may, in fact – I can only pray – not be things he can actually do.

I will have to wait and see.

While so many Americans worry about their health care, or live in poverty, or  suffer from violence,  or seek meaningful work, or struggle to feed their families, it troubles my conscience to divert so many resources to sealing our country off from the world, from our neighbor,  terrorizing innocent  families, and denying refuge to so many people in dire need.

That is central to my idea of America, and as the President completely halts the immigration of Syrian refugees – he says he won't accept a single woman, elderly person, casualty from that devastated place, not one  child or loving father – all of whom are suffering so terribly in their endless civil war, then my conscience is calling out to me to act.

How can I act? Nonviolently.

I can protest and march, I can call members of Congress, block traffic, stop legislators from meeting, I can support refugee families that are here, lawsuits against these wrenching decisions, I could withhold a percentage of my taxes or refuse to pay them.

I don't claim the government has no right to do this.  Or that the President is not the President. And I understand that millions of people fully embrace these ideas and proposals.

The President was legitimately elected, and is doing what he said he would do, and what he was elected, in part, to do. He has enormous support from many members of Congress, who were also elected.

Like so many before me, I am feeling voiceless and disconnected from my own country, it's core values are no longer mine, or perhaps they really are mine. I'm not sure at the moment. My government is certainly not speaking to me or for me.

I intend to return to Quaker Meeting and seek some guidance – "clearance," they call it. And to think and read on it, I need to know more. I need to take a lot of walks in the woods. It is time to show up.

The idea that I would in any way enable the tearing of  blameless children from their mothers, and brothers from sisters,  and sons from fathers, is not, I think, something I can live with when I look in the mirror each morning. I can't abide snuffing out the lights in Liberty's Statue, a beacon and comfort to all of the world.

The brilliant moral philosopher Hannah Arendt writes that moral conduct is the intercourse of man with himself.

The moral man puts himself ahead of duties to others, and obeys his own conscience first.  It is not a matter of concern with the other but with the self, not of meekness but of human dignity and even human pride. The standard is neither the love of some neighbor nor self-love, but self-respect.

It is not about what people say on Twitter or Facebook, it is about what I say to myself in the sanctity of my own soul.

"Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe," wrote Immanuel Kant, "the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me." I have to live with myself before I can live with anyone, or be of use to anyone.

When I heard this news today, my heart sank. I hated to lose the feeling of exhilaration I had about the torrent of gifts pouring into the volunteer refugee center in Albany.

I  walked in the woods with the dogs and my heart kept telling me, "no, you cannot support this, you have to try to stop it." I cannot turn away from this and keep my self-respect.

I did not go to Standing Rock, but I empathize with the people who did. I think they are the model, they are my future in some ways.

There is a rich history of civil disobedience in democracies. Martin Luther King said that one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. Aristotle said it is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen. Thoreau said if a law requires you to support or be an agent of an unjust law, then break the law. An unjust law, said Gandhi, is itself a species of violence.

An individual who breaks the law if his conscience tells him it is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment or fine in order to arouse the conscience of the community over an injustice, is, in my belief, expressing the utmost respect for the law.

And if I decide to pursue an act of nonviolent conscience that defies an unjust law, then I will, of course, accept the appropriate punishment. I am not asking anyone to join me, or telling anyone else what their own consciences should accept.

I have to think about this, and long and hard. I am not, as always, interested in arguing or defending my beliefs. I will not be discussing this on Facebook. It does not involve Maria.

When you consider civil disobedience, wrote Thoreau, "take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary."

Done and done.

Thoreau has always inspired me, and I think people who dismiss me and others like me, or who fail to take them into account,  are foolish.

"I was not born to be forced," Thoreau said, "I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest."

Our President is a quixotic person, at best. He says things one day, and forgets or retracts or denies them or disowns them the next.  It is my strong hope that these things he wishes to do will not come to pass, I love my life and have worked hard to have it and have no wish to disrupt it. Joseph Campbell says when you get older, it is a peaceful time to ponder and reflect. Not yet, I think.

As I move through this decision, I will be happy to share it. And hope every day that it never comes to pass.


Posted in General

Grandfather Chronicles: Coming To Terms With Face Time

Face Time

My granddaughter is about four months old, and I appreciate the photos Emma sends me of her. So, apparently do many other people. Babies, like puppies are popular. I am transfixed by Robin's thoughtful demeanor and her stare. People tell me she looks like me, but I think she looks like Winston Churchill.

Honestly, I hope she ends up looking like neither one of us. I saw her on Face Time last night on the Iphone, and I have to say, this is not a medium I like much. I find myself shouting at Robin to get her attention while she stares at me intensely but puzzled.

The above photo is not from Face Time, I took it with my monochrome camera. I liked seeing Robin on my phone, and Fate went nearly berserk with excitement, trying to climb through the phone to give her a kiss. Fate is like that.

There is not really a good substitute for seeing someone face to face, and Face Time only makes me want to go down to New York City. Maybe in a couple of weeks. Emma likes Face Time, it keeps Robin in touch with friends and relatives and grandparents.

I think I'll use it sparingly. I just feel foolish gurgling and chattering to get her attention, and she quite obviously has no idea who I am or why she should pay attention to me. She does seem like a thinker to me, if that is possible at four months.

Posted in General

Clearing Time. Every Morning I Am Grateful For My Life


We've had a cold and messy winter these  past few days, lots of snow and sleet. I was glad to see Red out there on duty this morning as the skies finally cleared. The sky in the morning always reminds me of why  I am so grateful to be here. I could not live any longer without nature all around me.

This Saturday, I've cancelled my writing class. It's Maria's birthday, and I'm whisking her off for a night away in a place we love not too far away. I've never made too big a deal out of birthday's, but her life is something I always want to celebrate. In three weeks, she will be off to India (sniff!) to help the victims of sex trafficking, we are committed to doing good in every way we can.

I am so excited about this trip, it has already changed her life. But I'm not going to lie either, she will leave a big hole behind her. The challenge for me is to make good come out of it. Maybe write some great chapters, as my heart will be wide open.

Today, I'm looking for time to work on my next-next book, "Lessons Of Bedlam Farm," chapter Four.

For those asking  me, you can pre-order my next book "Talking To Animals: How You Can Understand Animals And They Can Understand You," out in May, from Battenkill Books. If you order from them, I will personalize and sign the books in any way you wish within reason.

Connie Brooks already has more than 300 pre-orders. I hope to get up to 2,000 by May. You can pre-order the book here, it is about my life with animals, and it calls – through anecdotes – for a new and wiser understanding of animals. If we don't understand them, we can't make good decisions for them.

And by and large, we are not.

Posted in General

See What You Did For The Refugees: Putting Good Out There

Refugee Committee Warehouse Overflow

I think, when all is said and done, that I have a choice to make, every day of my life, especially now.

Do I put good out there, or do I put argument argument the other garbage spewing all over the ether every day, from social media to the White House to the news? That is my choice, every today.

We are polluting the earth with many things, hatred and judgment and fear and lies and self-righteousness.

We can, if we choose, put good out there, and so far, in 2017, the Army Of Good is off to a good start.

We helped purchase welcome bags for refugee children. We have brightened the lives of the Mansion Assisted Care Facility Residents with messages and gifts. We are helping to send Maria to Kolkata, India to help the victims of sex trafficking there. She leaves on  February 16.

We are currenty donating desperately needed household items to arriving refugees. They are scrambling to get in under the wire.

The Army of Good has flooded the refugee committee warehouse with gifts from their special inexpensive and easy-to use Amazon page, they are rushing your donations to the refugees today, before rumored government crackdowns and before the families actually arrive in their waiting apartments.

You can do a lot of good for very few dollars. This is an important new way to give, we know precisely where our money is going and what for.

I was delighted to get this message this morning from Anne, who is helping co-ordinate aid for the refugees as they begin their new lives. Many are frightened about America right now. These donations will send a truer message about us.

"This photo," she said, "is from the warehouse volunteers. They have had to stack boxes up in the hallways! This should give you a great big smile. Everything went right out the door to refugee apartments. Considering that refugees are given $900 to purchase everything they need to outfit an apartment, including personal items (and they have to pay that back), these boxes are truly a gift."

The boxes are just Tuesday's Amazon delivery.

That did bring a smile to my face.  Today is already a good day, and it's still morning. I do not live by what politicians do or don't do, I live by what I do or don't do.I think of the families who will have tablecloths and bowls and blankets and towels and soap waiting for them in their new apartments because of you.

I am eager to show them what the hearts of Americans are really like.

And I'm sorry (not really) to tell the volunteers that they haven't yet seen the half of it.

I am looking forward to meeting some of the refugee families as a mentor and volunteer, and to write about them. They are really like us, I am told, they are like Americans. They are not here illegally, they have not come to harm us, they have been carefully screened and investigated and waited years to come here. They have lost everything, left everything behind to get to America. They need everything.

The best thing about this photo is that it was taken two days ago, and there are many more Amazon boxes on the way, The U.S. Committee on Refugees and Immigrants set up their Amazon Page this week to list the inexpensive and desperately needed items for these families.

Several hundred are coming to my area and are beginning to arrive. The government is reportedly planning to shut down immigration from a number countries today, I am glad these families made it.

We all have our own issues, and are entitled to our own opinions and I am not looking to argue politics here.

But this issue strikes home deeply for me as it does for many, if not all Americans.

Except for Native-Americans, we are all descended from immigrants and refugees, welcoming them and offering refuge is embedded deeply in the American soul.  I gave my daily donation (an $8 item)  this morning in memory of my grandmother Minnie Cohen who fled Russia and sacrificed greatly so that her children could live and come to America.

I would almost surely not be alive if not for her courage and  faith.

She talked often of seeing the shores of America for the first time, and of weeping for joy. She said it was the first time in years she allowed herself to breathe freely. Safe at last, a place where her children could escape tyranny and poverty and pursue opportunity and freedom. Only in America, she said, only in America. She was never again to fear her government.

I hope I can pay something back for her bravery. In some ways, we seem as a people to  have become selfish and hardened by disappointment and fear. That is a painful thing to see.

I also hope this spirit of generosity and asylum returns in every way. From these gifts, I know it is still very much alive, and I thank you. I want to keep the torch in the lady's hand lit.

The donations are inexpensive, as little as $6 or $7 and no higher than $35.

The families, many experiencing winter for the first time, need the simple things of life: soap, towels, blankets, silverware, pots and pans, teapots and coffee makers. You can see the list here.

I am deeply sorry that some in America are turning their backs on the idea of our country as a welcoming place for the weary and the oppressed. By donating these household items to the refugee families, you are beginning the perhaps long and arduous road of bringing the good stuff back.

If you can, please mark the gifts Attn: Jake. If you can't, no worries. When you choose your donation, a box should appear listing the warehouse address on top and your own address beneath it. All you have to do is check the box that lists the USCRI warehouse in Albany. If there are any problems or confusion, please contact Amazon Customer Service. They are easy to reach and notoriously helpful.

The system seems to be working perfectly.


Posted in General