November 12, 2018

I was born a conservationist without knowing why.  Among other groups, I joined Sierra Club and Zero Population Growth because I worried that we humans would destroy nature.    At some point in my life, and for reasons more instinctive than knowledge based, I shifted to understanding that nature would somehow manage to survive, and that we humans could not become smart enough to save our species.  So be it.

I loved the word “Earthroots” from the first time I heard it at a Kelp Festival in Laguna Beach.  It just sounded so right.  I slurped the delicious soup that people from Earthroots had brought to the Festival, and I learned about the variety of programs and places that Earthroots teaches.

Envisioned and founded by Jodi Levine-Wright, Earthroots Field School offers “classes, workshops and lectures year round for toddlers, homeschoolers, teens, adults, private and public schools, scout groups and summer camps. Outdoor classrooms include local organic farms, gardens, wilderness parks, green kitchens, beaches, and creeks. These programs are an exploration of our natural world and extends into our connection with all things.”

The actual home of Earthroots is picturesquely nestled in 39 acres of Big Oak Canyon.  It is not only surrounded by Cleveland National Forest, but has a natural creek whose pure water runs through it the whole year.  I was able to see this incredible piece of nature for myself when I joined a group of volunteers for an afternoon.   I have seen other parts of the Field School’s land through various videos on their website at earthrootsfieldschool.org.

I felt such a strong connection to Earthroots Field School and the type of knowledge it is passing on to younger generations that I decided to support Earthroots through including it in my trust.  While there are many worthwhile conservation organizations, Earthroots appealed to me because it is local, relatively small, and teaches a connection to nature that is far wider and deeper than others.  Optimistically, it has a 200 year plan.

I had fallen in love with Bali from the first time I visited it in 1989.  There was something about both the nature and the culture of the island that made me love it.  When I returned to Bali the last time in 2010, I arranged to visit a new school called the Green School, then only one year old.  I knew I was seeing something I would have loved to attend as a student.

The Green School is an international school with buildings made of bamboo that let in more light and air than you would believe possible.   The students, gathered internationally, learn in a totally different way than any other school I ever saw.  Best of all, they learn to respect nature.  That was such a welcome departure to me from the age-old reliance on conquering nature, bending it to the needs of humans who feel somehow superior to nature.  In these days of climate change caused by the overpopulation and wastefulness of humans, there is either denial, or a vague belief that humans will find technologies to neutralize the damage to our earth.

Raised by parents who only went outdoors when indoors was not continuous,  I found my own love of nature, and connection to it perhaps through Girl Scout camps, and undoubtedly to what  was to a child a huge amount of land in back of where I grew up and played.  It was actually a buffer zone between our houses and an airport, but to me, it was a vast untouched wilderness where I could wander and wonder to my heart’s content.  And it did indeed forever capture my heart.

At the age when I think of what legacy I am leaving behind, I first of all think of the high hill in Santa Barbara where I walked and talked to the hills and promised them I would fight as best I could to keep them from being destroyed in a planned housing development.  The Planning Commission listened to me and turned down the development in about 1980.  My name appears nowhere after all these years, but now, 38 years later, that hill still stands unmolested and even remarkably unchanged as Elings Park after other conservationists were able to finish what I had begun.

 

 

October 9, 2012

I sent a birthday card to my granddaughter.  The envelope said that extra postage was required in the U.S.  Since it was not an odd shape or large, I couldn’t understand why extra postage would be needed.  I put on one first class stamp.  It came back to me saying more postage was needed.  So, I asked the postman why.  He didn’t know why, but thought that the fact that the envelope had told me from the beginning that extra postage was needed was explanation enough.  I re-sent it in another envelope that was larger, but not too large.  However, the “why” of it kept bothering me.  What I finally decided was that the envelope required more money because it was neither too large, nor too odd-shaped, but was smaller than standard.

Life, in general, emphasizes that what is standard rules.  Go outside of standard at your own risk.  And yet that is what I have done many times in my own life.  What is not standard became more or less my standard.  At a time when it was odd, I got married in my senior year of college instead of after graduation.  I was moved by the logic of Zero Population Growth and my experience as a social worker with foster children to choose adoption over creating a baby.  In the short-lived experiment in the 1970s of allowing white parents to adopt black foster children, we became a mixed-racial family.  A decade later, Meryl Streep as Mrs. Cramer in the groundbreaking movie, “Cramer vs. Cramer,” and I were among the very small minority of  American women who divorced and left their children with their fathers.

I certainly didn’t match the average world traveler that wandered the planet for almost two decades.  I was solidly middle-aged and rather poor with a pack on my back when I made my own challenges and learned how to face them within a variety of cultures, especially in Asia.  I wasn’t an explorer who discovered places for the first time (although I was the first foreigner that some Chinese villagers had ever seen), but neither was I  following well-trodden paths.  I learned that I could avoid crowds by not following the crowd.  In my own style, I thrived even in cultures where following the standard way was considered the only, the most important, the best way to live.

Now I live in a retirement community.  I buck the tide by not making medical care my major concern.  I don’t take the standard medications and standard tests that the majority of seniors take.  And I get my 8 hours of sleep at a very non-standard time.

Yes, there are risks.  And there are losses that accompany not adhering to the standard.  I don’t have enough money to be considered eccentric.  And I’m not quite strange enough to be considered crazy.  I am, well, odd.

I feel a certain kinship to people like Izhar Gafni of Israel who has invented a 95% cardboard and 100% recyclable bicycle.  People told him it couldn’t be done.  It is cheap.  It is light.  It is practical.  It is odd.  But it works well.

Comments?? E-mail Suellen at ZimaTravels.com

May 26, 2010

How do I make sense of the world? Probably from a mixture of my upbringing, the time I was growing up, and my own personality, I stayed very naive far too long.
I believed that all policemen wanted to help people and were my friend. Except for one very nasty teacher in the second grade, most of my teachers were nice people who lived up to my third grade teacher’s name, Miss Darling. And officials and politicians wanted to make the world better.
The 1960s was a heady, idealistic time. I heeded the words of the organization Zero Population Growth, and the warnings of the book, “The Population Bomb,” and adopted an unwanted child instead of creating yet another American consumer of valuable and limited resources. I did volunteer work or worked for very little money, incorporating into my personal finances the non-profit mentality of the places and causes I worked for. I wrote passionate letters to prevent a pipeline being built in Alaska, the killing of whales, and against hunting. In fact, I worried a lot about the environment.
When I saw fly-encrusted unrefrigerated meat being sold on the streets of China in the early 1990s, I just knew that that couldn’t happen in America where the government protected us from unhealthy meat. When I saw pharmacies in China where remedies for every malady were concocted with secret recipes no one else knew, I knew that that couldn’t happen in America because we were protected by government agencies that tested every drug for years. When I saw rampant corruption in the Third World for myself, I was confident that American politicians behaved better.
I knew that bad things happened. Hadn’t I been born at the time when World War II was raging, my father was a soldier, and Jews were being annihilated? As a young child, I heard about bomb shelters, Cold War, and nuclear bombs that could destroy the world. In fact, when the lights went out all across the East Coast one evening when I was coming home from my first job after college, I was sure we were being attacked by either aliens or Russians.
Nature made more sense to me than human beings. So, when I first heard the words uttered casually by a Stanford University professor during conversation at a faculty dinner, his simple sentence caught my attention. In fact, his sentence is the one that has replayed in my mind more often than any other sentence. I can’t say I really understood it when I first heard it, but I intuitively felt it was correct.
When I eventually learned that the American governmental agencies I so trusted had been poisoning me with chemicals, preservatives, bad food, unhealthy food, dangerous food, as well as being cruel to the animals awaiting slaughter, the professor’s wise pronouncement explained why. When the ridiculously expensive medications that had been so well tested turned out to be lethal, I thought of the professor’s words. When I nervously watched my little cache of retirement money disappear in 2008 as though with a magician’s wand, I could understand why the banks betrayed us and our politicians printed more money to give to them.
And these days, watching the struggling sea creatures in the Gulf slogging through oily guk, stately pelicans enveloped in black death, and babbling BP executives in fancy suits, I think once again of the professor’s wisdom that explains such man-made catastrophes.
The words of Robert B. Betts in his very readable book, “Along the Ramparts of the Tetons,” made excellent sense to me. He suggests writing a list of the achievements of humans. He then points out, “You will also probably find that just the list of achievements you have jotted down is so seemingly impressive it reinforces the natural inclination of our species to regard itself as something special indeed, central and vital to the order of things. But as busy as we have been and as much as we may think we have left a mark, this globe has spun around very nicely without us for five billion years — a disquieting reminder that humans are not one of creation’s irreplaceable components.”
He might well agree with the professor, whose name and face I can’t remember, but whose logic has given me comfort for more than half my lifetime. What did he so easily utter? Simply put, “The big brain experiment is a bust.”

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