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Common Bonds

 1 in a 4 Part Series

We live in an era where the perils of climate change, environmental degradation, and overpopulation, are bandied about in such fashion we have become, as a society, relatively blasé concerning them. The average American’s worries about the economy, terrorism, the current presidential election, and whether we can get the laundry folded while supper is cooking, take precedence over issues which seem so distant, both in time and relativity, to our well being. A 2009 Pew Research poll revealed that while 84% of U.S. scientists believed human activities affected global warming, only 49% of the public did. This same poll found that the economy, the War in Iraq, and several other issues were more important to Americans than climate change and the environment; the issue of over population was not part of the poll.

Climate change, environmental degradation, and over-population, are inseparable due to the feedback loop generated by the common bonds they have. A change in the balance of one can, and usually does, escalate the others in a non-linear fashion. These three issues have become so politicized it is nearly impossible for the science exploring them, and their possible solutions, to speak for itself. Linking these three apocalyptic horsemen into a causality chain often banishes our apathy and stirs no small amount of controversy in the process. Overpopulation, in particular, is almost impossible to discuss; even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared the subject essentially off limits when in 2007 it issued the statement, “…. (the) scope and legitimacy of population control…..are still subject to ongoing debate”.

The politicizing of these three issues makes it easy for us to put dealing with them, and matters directly related to them, on the back burner. Debates surrounding them allow us to insulate ourselves further from these issues by creating a mental buffer which says “If the problems which climate change, environmental degradation and over-population cause, both directly and indirectly, were as vitally important as some say then all would be in agreement and the government would “do something” about them”. The arguments are myriad, with “Climategate”, the most “celebrated” entrant to the debate party, giving climate contrarians the world over their best argument yet: the science validating climate change and global warming was fudged. Sadly, after both internal and external investigation revealed the science was sound but conceded the scientists manners were lacking, “Climategate” ended with a whimper in the fifth section of the Sunday paper. Instead of climate science’s vindication being trumpeted on front pages and top of the hour broadcasts with the same media explosion it was crucified the investigation results were buried and the critics arguments go on ad nauseam. Perhaps at the very core of the contention is the fear that if we accept climate change, environmental degradation and over- population as real, who is accountable and where does the responsibility lie for “fixing” them and the attendant problems they bring?

One thing critics do have right is climate change is a natural process. Global climate change is not new to our planets environmental system, it’s a vital part of the processes constituting the earth’s life cycle. We now understand the earth has a series of naturally occurring cycles. Some cycles are decadal, others are hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of years in duration. Two examples of these cycles are the earth’s orbital tilt cycle which takes forty one thousand years to complete and the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit which has a cycle of roughly one hundred thousand years. Ice ages and interglacials come and go as the earth progresses through the cyclic events of her planetary life. As the earth shifts from one part of her cycle to the next some species decline in response to the change while others rise to take their place. Oblivious to the chaos she causes,  earth’s natural rhythm marches inexorably on. Simply put, climatic instability creates and closes niches for faunal and floral exploitation. Our species filled a niche that was opened by such changes and we have prospered greatly, perhaps to greatly. The plasticity and ingenuity of our species has not only allowed us to subjugate the earth to meet our needs but to populate marginal environments. In times of climatic and/or environmental stress these marginal areas can no longer support the population load we demand they carry. The reality of an unstable climate and finite resources compels us to admit there is a limit to how many people our planet can support. Millions now face the same forces which pushed and pulled our ancestors to migrate in search of adequate resources to sustain themselves, to find new niches to prosper in –unfortunately,  there are no new places to go.

Stonespeak

     Image      A serendipitous meeting can ignite a lifelong romance, my love affair with the distant past was sparked by the farm we moved to when I was six; my heart was gone the first time I saw our house.  The day we went to our new home my dad paused for a few moments, on the cattle guard at the top of the long drive, and we looked at the foundation of our new life.   It was an early summer morning, the sun had on his best lovers face, the one that  murmurs sweet nothings to the  newly sprouted plants, coaxing them to rise up to meet him.  We had stopped at just the right moment for the sun to catch the little limestone house glowing in his amorous glory.

      The little house sparkled in the sunlight and I knew that I had come to a magical place. I had no idea then that in the millennia before my time nature’s geological sleight of hand had transformed the land where the little house now stood with mountains of ice at least twice or that during  long interglacials vast seas flowed above it like the silks flowing from a magician’s sleeve. The millions of years and billions of tiny fossils that made the stone walls of our house were revealed when man had pulled the last wisp of nature’s veiling fabric from the stone and the stone had been waiting millenia to tell me its story.

The farm was two hundred and forty acres of the gently rolling loess soil farmer’s lust after because of its fertile richness.    Massive ice sheets during the Kansan and Illinoian glaciers had smoothed our farm but it was the Illinoian ice’s intricate dance with the climate that gave the farm’s fecund soil its promise.  Our farms microclimate was such that she had been part of the boundary line for the Illinoian glacier. Thousands of years of the ice thrusting forward in the cooler times and withdrawing during the warm ones pulverized, ground, and mixed the rocks and minerals which birthed her finely textured soil. Chambers hill, on the southern border of the farm, rose up from the pasture in defiance as if the limestone were saying to the ice, “I can take you”.

In the years that followed I think I looked at every square inch of the limestone facing with my dad’s magnifying glass; it was he who explained to me what a fossil was.  He never understood how the past could consume me as he was a man who had no time for the past.  His boyhood was spent in the heart of the depression, years that shaped him just as his father shaped the limestone at the quarry.  Those early years of hardship built a fire in him that kept him focused on the future until the day his heart stopped working.  I didn’t understand then what a delicate gift he was giving me when he stole time from his tractor and plow to spend a few minutes with me in the summer sun, looking at the mysteries the stone our home was built of held.

Intricate patterns were created by the shells and casts of the foraminifera, brachiopods¸ crinoids, gastropods, and occasional coral, as well as the bits of plants that made up the Salem limestone that covered our house and they came to own my heart completely that summer.  The tie I felt to those ancient lives began a lifelong romance that has survived a marriage which gave me two children and a relationship that lasted fifteen years. Comprised of small marine fossils, each layer of limestone literally writes in stone a “diary” of what was living in the sea where it was formed.  Learning to read the story of the stones has helped me to understand my own story.

Limestone has a language of its own, the words which describe its strengths, its virtues, its foibles, describe our relationships, our strengths, our failings.   Limestone, like relationships, can be fragmental, precipitated or organic– words that tell us how both were formed; and both can be one or all of the above. The bonds between the components which make up the stone and a relationship are the fabric that holds them together.  Fossils are the remains, the undeniable traces of things from the past that have been preserved in sediment and stone,  in heart and mind.    Sometimes, no trace of the animal or plant, the person or act  is there, just the impression they left  and it is  with these  ghosts from the past, these fragments of pre-existing material, that nature builds limestone and  we build a relationship with another.

Born of a union of the sea and its creatures limestone is a child of water, this ancient affinity is affirmed as water gently caresses a path through the limestone’s pores.  Each drop wends its way down, wearing away the creatures of the stone carrying them to my glass; in my teeth, in my bones they are transmogrified.  I am made of the very rock I stand on, nature has declared that I am bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh.  There is a rightness, a continuity which bridges past and present that I am made of the land; there is comfort in knowing that from the dust I was literally made and to the dust I shall return.

*****

I mark the time of my childhood not by years but by a method of  my own reckoning, events happened Before the new Farm or After the new Farm and my personal fault line of Before the Divorce or After the Divorce.  My parents divorced when I was ten, my mother took my sister and my father kept me.  With the bedrock of my life cleft the past became a refuge, a place where old things were precious because there was no change in them.  In most ways I brought myself up as my father was too busy, there was a mortgage to pay, a future to build and his own pain to work through.  It was my own divorce that helped me to understand his. The scar my parent’s divorce left in me was deep and in retrospect I see the relationship between my emotional scar and my favorite place on the farm for the next few years.

A gully cut a deep scar across the length of our front pasture, winding through the fescue, orchard grass and bluestem until it ran into the neighbor’s pond about half a mile southeast of our fence line.   The old gully was a foot or two deeper than I was tall and it became my fort, my castle,  my “Hole in the Wall”, and favorite hiding spot; it was my refuge.  I carved niches out in the gully’s worn walls with pieces of  chert I  found in the gully’s bottom. My dad told me that the Indians had used chert (flint) to start their fires. I tried in vain many times to start a fire by striking two pieces of chert together just right so they create a spark, I never did get the job done even after watching my dad do it.  The niches held books, candles, tools,  and food,  all the accoutrements  of a kid who at various times was a fur trapper, cowboy, pioneer and astronaut.  The gully’s layered sides also held the seeds that would make me a member of our FFA chapter’s nationally ranked soil judging team and begin my interest in water issues.  The gully was more than my playground and refuge, it was my hands on school,  a natural Montessori school at its most instinctive level.  The gully and the ancient stones of our house challenged me; silently asking questions that I wanted to know the answers to.

Sometime in the years A.F. but B.D., when I was between the ages of six and ten, we experienced an earthquake that rattled the dishes, made the lamps swing to and fro, and my favorite old sow run in stiff legged circles. My dad explained earthquakes and told me that an ancient fault lay just over the county line, near Stinesville, close to the ridge where he was born.  I searched the literature for years before I found a reference saying that fault does indeed exist.  My father was dead before I found the study that mentioned an ancient fault underlying Stinesville. Though I had never said so to  him, I always suspected that he had the Mount Carmel fault, further to the east, in Monroe County in mind;  my father as most fathers are, was a very smart man and the older I become I find the smarter he gets.

The earthquake woke me to the fact that  just as my parents marriage would soon show itself  to be, just because something looks solid doesn’t mean it is.  Limestone looks solid when it is really a clastic, organic, composite that is precipitated from the things of the past  –just  as we are and like us it is held together with a matrixical fabric. Created from shells the stone in essence becomes our shell when we build with it. The shells and the paths of the sea creatures that wore them have long out live d them just as the structures humans build with limestone in some cases have long outlived the civilization that built them. In a way the structures made of fossils become fossils themselves when they are the only traces left of the builders and in the end the stone is left– still telling a story of the life which created it.

While it’s a play on words, the truth is, it’s often RRUF out there for non-profits to find the funding their organization needs in today’s tight economy. A recent announcement of funding post on Linkedin from MojaLink’s Non Profit Network revealed the need for an insider’s view of Not For Profit funding. Every successful funds seeker follows the RRUF Principle of Read,Reread, Understand, & Follow; read the request, reread the request to be certain you understand the grantor or fund raisers purpose, needs, and objectives, then follow their directions implicitly. In their recent announcement, Jazz For Peace (www.jazzforpeace.org) offered a fund raising opportunity for qualifying organizations. Like so many other offers of funding and requests for proposal posts I have seen on various forums, nearly ever respondent to the post asked for the organization posting to send them information on how to obtain the funding they were offering. These respondents ignored the instructions which specifically requested interested groups please go to the Jazz For Peace website and review their information.

Understanding how the funding process works will make you more successful as a funds seeker for your organization, whether it be fund raising opportunities such as the original Jazz For Peace announcement or foundation and governmental grant funding; as well as making you  more savvy in building the ever important relationships your organization must have with it’s funders. Every funds seeker and grant writer on the planet would give their eye teeth to have a magic “Staples” button which instantly brings us the information we need when we hit it, but our reality is we must do the research if we want to be successful in obtaining the funding our Not For Profit requires. As enlightened, cutting edge fund seekers we need to make the most of the time and effort we invest in our search for funds.

Using the Jazz For Peace post as an example, fund seekers receive the best return on their time and effort investment by reading and rereading a fund raising offer or a Request For Proposal thoroughly; then doing EXACTLY what the Grantor/Fund Raiser asks. I cannot stress the importance of this step in your search enough. In this instance respondents needed to go to the Jazz For Peace website (www.jazzforpeace.org) and give the website their due diligence. As a funds seeker it is YOUR responsibility to find out if your organization and the funder are a good fit. Once you have established the missions and objectives of both parties mesh you can then tailor your request for information specifically so the funder/fund raiser can offer you the help and information you need to make an informed decision.

While I can’t speak for Jazz For Peace, as an experienced professional in the field I can say with confidence, that nearly every organization who issues an announcement of funding, especially on a site like Linkedin, which has specific instructions, such as a request fund seekers go to the website, does not reply to requests for information. The volume of responses not only makes it impossible for the organization to respond to you individually, it tells them you are not committed heart, mind, and soul to your groups mission because you did not take the time to read, reread, understand, and follow the information they gave you. Reading, understanding, and following an organizations initial directives is the first step in creating a positive interaction with that entity. In the Not For Profit world, whether an organization follows instructions to the Tee or not is the number one way potential applicants are thinned out. Following the RRUF Principle: read, reread, understand, and follow the directions  will put you miles ahead of your competition. The best to all of you in your fund seeking endeavors.

Image

One of my favorite ways to occupy what little free time I have is to indulge my passion for fiber arts.  It is a thread uniting the women in my family, connecting us with each other as well as generations past. One of my prize possessions was a Lone Star quilt my great grandmother pieced and quilted when she was in her late seventies. Every piece was a good spot she could salvage from clothing to worn to mend, in her world nothing was wasted including words. Her quilting is done in tiny, even stitches; the kind of stitches every quilter would cheerfully give their eye teeth to achieve. When I run my finger down a length of her exquisite stitching I am touching her, sharing with her a moment in time.  In the late twenties, the Indianapolis Star did a feature article on her and her quilt art; the fragile and yellowed pages contain the only picture we have of her in her later years.  In my own right, I am an award winning seamstress and fiber artist as was my mother and grandmother.  My sister in law and niece have brought home their own trophies while my daughters are content to enjoy the fruits of our labors; regardless of which end of the spindle we are on, the love of visible fibers binds us to the invisible ones which have woven the story of our lives.  While I finish my Masters and PhD my spinning wheel, loom, and sewing machine wait patiently for me; the memories they hold and the ones they will help me to create biding their time.

As a child I wore very few store bought clothes, my mother, grandmother, and aunts made nearly every garment we wore.  Livestock feed still came in patterned, cotton, fifty  and one hundred pound sacks in the late fifties and early sixties.  My aunt would send a snippet of fabric, tucked carefully into my uncles worn leather wallet, with him on his weekly Saturday morning trips to the feed store at Amo. His job was to sort through the stacks of feed sacks until he found four bags of feed matching the pattern of the patch he held in his callused hand.  Four feed sacks were enough for my aunt to make herself, my sister, and I matching dresses. Every farmer who came to the mill was charged with the same task so these rawboned, men with sunburned necks and work roughened hands, talked about corn prices,  fat hogs, and tractor breakdowns, as they helped each other find each of their wives treasured patterns.  They took a quiet pride in their wives frugalness and industriousness. They would nod their heads and remark  they remembered helping so and so find that particular design when they saw his wife or daughters wearing a new dress to church.  My aunt upholstered my childhood rocker in a quilt she had made for me from the scraps of our feed store wardrobe. Long after I had outgrown my rocking chair I would sit next to it touching each square, remembering the garment made and and often the occasion I wore it.  That chair was a book without words yet so rich in stories –my stories, it makes my heart ache  my chair burned in the fire.

My stepmother has my great grandmother’s lone star quilt, it was one of my dad’s treasures, one of the few things he had from his family. I’m grateful Betty kept the quilt as it was spared from the flames but  I am going to ask her if I may have it  now.  I yearn for the physical connection to my past, to my family’s stories, the old quilt holds. More than anything else I want to feel great grandma Medsker’s stitches and run my hands over the quilt smoothing it out as she, my grandmother, and my dad did for so many years. Fire is a refiner, it burns away the dross,  allowing you the freedom to understand what’s truly important to you. What you mourn losing tells far more about you than your unscathed possessions ever did.   My chair and it’s stories, keepsake clothing made by four generations of my family’s women, the kitschy crafts my little bears and grandbears made, these are the things it grieves me to have lost because each was made by hands I love; hands which have made me who I am and in touching what they made  I  touch them,  connecting  with them in a way only the heart understands.  Grandma Medsker’s quilt is my mentor  as I create stories without words for my bears and grandbears to remember us by.

Photograph from designsbyloftcreations.com