Springing toward Spring – 1

Summary:  This post is part 1 of 2 in an attempt to weave several, seemingly unrelated topics into a coherent, relevant story about what I’m doing with my life so far this year, where I want to go from here for the remainder of the year (and beyond), and why.   Here is the list of topics, some of which would be warp, some weft: Ground Hog Day; frozen water pipes; food poisoning; a short story that I wrote in 7th grade; wilderness survival and bushcraft skills;  the importance of adaptability in the short and long term; civilization-disrupting climate change; curriculum maps and catalogs; why I haven’t posted to this blog since early December; more on the demise of one organization and the birth of a new one; Ermah; exams for college biology students and our species; and hints about my emerging, new company.

This will purposefully be a non-linear journey, kind of like life.  Like Rosanne Roseannadanna said, paraphrasing slightly, it’s just one thing after another.


It’s now four days after my favorite day of the year, Feb 2, named – depending upon one’s philosophical persuasions – Ground Hog Day, Brigid, or Imbolc, among others.

A friend tells a story about the fact that historically, in some places, the animal involved was not a ground hog but a badger, and jokes about guys in zoot suits down in Punxsutanwney, PA trying to hold a cuddly badger during the shadow test.

What ever you name it, it’s the half-way point between winter solstice and spring equinox.   By Feb 2, the nadir of winter has passed; warmth is returning, or at least fewer -20F nights; days are noticeably longer; and there’s a promise of spring in the air.    On Feb 3, I even saw a wooly bear out for a walk on snow-free ground under a northern white pine.  The snow here tends to melt off quickest under those; it’s that positive feedback caused by the absorption of sunlight by the dark trunk, which heats up and melts snow around it, which exposes dark ground, etc. 

Here’s what I wrote about that day on that day last year. I intended to post here on Feb 2 this year, also, but on its eve, I fell under the spell of a microbial demon named ‘food poisoning’, which forced a postponement of personal and professional deadlines, not the least of which was this post.

No, it was not an intestinal virus, what some would call ‘stomach flu’ .  Why?   First, there was no fever; that’s key since fevers are symptomatic of virus infections, but usually not bacterial (unless severe).  Second, it ended in less than 12 hours;  in fact, the worst was over in three.  Yeah, I’m lucky; thank the lucky stars or whatever.

So I’m pretty sure it was food poisoning, and I even understand how it happened.  At that time, for almost three weeks, we’d been without running water in the house of a friend and colleague where I’ve been living for five months, a consequence of frozen – thus, ruptured – water pipes and a frozen – thus, utterly destroyed – water pump which the ice literally exploded from within.  The freezing happened during a series of -20F nights and a basement not insulated as well as in the past due to a smaller than normal snowpack.  Repair was delayed by the challenge of finding and scheduling a plumber because the usual one was too busy; waiting for parts; and other factors.

That led to a challenging situation for personal hygiene and food safety, which led to food poison city.   You see, in situations where water is hard to come by, every cup counts.  I learned that by experience – at times, hard experience.

Dark Canyon, UT

The best lessons came from my backpacking in deserts and canyons of NM, AZ, UT, NV and OR, where water availability at the end of a day’s walk was uncertain.  The most important question was, “Is the next spring wet or dry?”.  If wet, you’re happy, because you get to spend the night without severe water restrictions in a beautiful place where relatively few humans have ever been.  If dry, you’d damn well better know how to conserve drops, because it’s a day’s walk back to a known water source.

Those skills could be useful for anyone in any location, though – desert or wetland – when readily available, potable water was suddenly a thing of the past due to, for example, a severe, prolonged drought or other major shift in climate — the kind that have brought down civilizations repeatedly in history.

Speaking of water conservation skills, as a new addition to my curriculum, I’ll be teaching those this year along with other wilderness survival skills  – based in four decades of backpacking and mountaineering – and bushcraft skills, a newer avocation, but gaining knowledge fast.   And I’m looking forward to learning new things from others who participate, including invited experts.

So, back to my story.   Those skills came in handy in our ‘no water’ situation for hygiene, cleaning up after meals, and washing socks.  The trouble arose because I was too stingy with water for cleaning the food prep areas in my studio, cutting boards and such.  Oops, ouch and OK:  lesson learned.   I’ll be more careful henceforth.  😮

The good news: Within 24 hours, I was healed – well, OK, 95% – and eating well.  And as of Feb 3, we have new water pipes, new pump, hot showers, and laundry.  Running water is good, and worth working to ensure we continue to have it.

Now, to finish my tale of illness, that temporary disruption to my homeostasis away from an attractor state called ‘health’ , and my struggle to regain it, some of which was purely autonomic reflex, and included the most intensely painful, balled-up-on-the-floor, abdominal cramps in memory, such that I wondered if an ER was in my future, and all the other effects you’d expect {description is neither necessary or desirable}.

But here’s the rub: because of our broken pipes and pump, I had no functional toilet. The only available water was a few gallons collected in a bucket from a spicket just ‘upstream’ on the pipe leading from the well to the broken pump  – in the far corner of a flooded and muddy basement.   We were using it for drinking (after filtering), washing dishes and sponge baths.

That’s right, extreme sportsters, no functional toilet during a bout of food poisoning.  Now, under normal conditions, I’d have done what I’d been doing for weeks: go outdoors, during day time, preferably.   My winter mountaineering experiences taught me how to, um … take care of business in the snow.  But right then, it was midnight, windy with temperatures in the mid-teens F and snow on the ground.  The image on the left is what the brook 200 m below my studio had looked like the previous day.   So I said, no thanks, and chose to stay inside.

My night was not a pretty picture, though; just no fun at all.  Suffice to say that I handled the situation with quick thinking, creativity and adaptability in a way that did not …. soil carpets, floors, clothing, etc and allowed later, proper disposal of … things requiring disposal.   I was actually proud, even though I was more proud that my trusty homeostasis worked once again and I survived!  🙂

In fact, I’m going to write about the solution as part of a series on adaptability – what humans most need to practice during chaotic extreme climate change events when ‘normal’ is a moving target … like what’s happening now. The first in the series will be about how to live in a very old farmhouse, destined for demolition, on a shoestring budget — which I’ve been on for far too long, but that’s about to change.

I think such a set of essays could be useful to people who someday must live in old houses in cold (or hot) climates with no running water (or perhaps electricity) resulting from natural disaster, peak oil, abrupt climate change, and/or the end of civilization as know it.  Not the end of civilization, mind you; just the end of it as we know it.  I’m curious about what the next ones will look like; they will have to be more sustainable than this one was.

But again, I digress; I’m such a non-linear thinker.  But that’s good, because in systems thinking, one must think non-linearly because linear thinking will get you no where but heartache and failed expectations.  (IMO, along with our failure to understand what I increasingly call Ermah – see below – linear thinking is one of the biggest factors contributing to the mess we’re in with abrupt climate change on Earth.   But that’s another essay entirely.)

So, back to the main points of this post.

First, my last post on this blog was Dec 12, 2012, even though I explicitly promised to post weekly beginning in December.  I feel bad about that, and apologetic to those who follow this blog and my work.  I know it’s a sign of untrustworthiness, of someone who doesn’t follow through with commitments.  But friends who’ve known me longest will tell you that I’m not always a flake.  :-p   I’m generally pretty good about following through with commitments, though far from perfect.

In fact, I don’t like not posting.  Pardon the double negative: I like posting.  Hey, I’m a writer.  I LOVE to write.  I’ve been an avid writer at least since my 7th grade writing teacher singled out my homework-mandated short story titled “The King is Dead; Long Live the King” as ‘exceptional’.  The title was dictated;  the exercise was to craft a story to fit.  I lost friends over that because I screwed up the grading curve.

My essays reflect my love of writing, as does this blog, and the long emails that my friends and colleagues must endure.  (My closest friends and colleagues are those whom have the ability to deal with and even appreciate them!).  I trust that the book that I plan to again work on this year after a two-year delay will reflect that.  It’s a primer of system sciences, biosciences, geosciences, climate and adaptability that is emerging from my notes and presentations for my courses.  It’ll be available in both printed form and DVD, and will be a major project of my new company.

Oh, that reminds me, I also promised back in December to post my new curriculum map – a graphic – and course catalog of my 30+ courses, ranging from introductory-college level to advanced.  For all the reasons described herein, I’ve put it off.  But I promise, it’s coming soon.  They’re almost ready for prime time, and – I think, or at least hope – they are worth the wait.

I’m especially excited about my new course series with a working title of “The 1’s”.  I think it’s the most interesting course sequence I’ve ever developed, a half year to year long (depending on participant preference) sequence that integrates the introductory courses in all five components of my curriculum: system sciences, biosciences, geosciences, climate science, and adaptability.  I guarantee that it will change one’s worldview about how everything ‘works’ – including one’s own homeostasis and life, but Earth’s also – in fundamental and profound ways.  I’m hapy to say that happens often for my students.  I’m eager to offer it.  😉

But that’s not the topic of this post either.   The real topics are why I haven’t posted for so long, followed by an exciting – at least to me (!!!) – hint about my new business, starting this month and developing (in an exponential manner if I do it right) during 2013 and beyond.  After that comes a new organization, also.

The plan for both is under review by my closest advisors and collaborators in the new projects.  Over the next few months, I’ll be progressively peeling back layers in blog posts, new web sites, brochures, a booklet, and public presentations to help people – including you if you wish – understand it, and decide if you’re interested in participating.

But I’ll address those new projects more in part 2 of this essay that will appear here in a day or seven; I’ll add links to this post when it’s published.

What I want to finish this post with is, why I’ve been a posting slacker.

From my heart I can say that it was not wise for me to post for the last couple of months because conditions in my professional and personal life were … um, challenged, to say the least, and I was not feeling good about things.  { <— Appropriate understatement for public discussion.}

As I admitted in my December post, I was feeling substantial emotion around the premature demise of the non-profit organization that I had worked so hard to found in 2012 – Climate Adaptability Project, or CAP.  I put in so much time and energy trying to develop it that I neglected my own professional development.  My name was on business cards and brochures as founder.  My presentations and seminars were at its core, and I eagerly anticipated offering my entire curriculum through that organization.  Yet suddenly, last November, organizational efforts came to a screeching halt.  I was stunned – as were my closest advisors – and offended by some of the things that were said about me and the organization by others that had been involved, all sadly based in misunderstandings and misconceptualization about both me and the project; more on that below.

But I didn’t know the full story of what had happened then – I was one of the last to get the full story, and then only through back doors and basements – so the full impact of the loss didn’t really sink in until late January.  Ka-BOOM.

I’ve learned from hard experience that when I’m that deeply affected by such events, it’s best for me to not write about new, life-changing, and fun projects that I want to describe with enthusiasm until after I work through the heart stuff, because negative emotions will color the written piece despite best intentions.  It felt important that not happen in this case, because I’m very enthusiastic about my new projects – again, I think they’re my best yet – and I want my descriptions to reflect that.

There are still some significant loose ends from cap * to tie up, but I’ll not discuss them publicly.  (* I now write the acronym with lower case letters to denote its defunct status.)  The original group of volunteers that had self-organized around my courses – notably Climate 1 – and the proposal that I had written with the help of three others that became cap’s founding document — that original group split roughly in half, driven apart by: 1) disagreements about organizational structure that had been recommended to me by one of the leading non-profit attorneys in the US, and 2) – much more importantly – the inclusion of geophysiology and Gaia theory as the core component of the organization.

In November, the demise began when I expressed to other key members in the nascent organization that cap was ‘Gaia-centric’, and “in the long term – meaning deep geologic time – Gaia was more important than humans”.  By the latter, I was NOT asserting that humans are unimportant to me or cap; I was attempting to organize cap, after all, to help humans understand and make plans to survive our climate crisis.  I was, instead, reflecting the views of James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Stephen Harding and other students and teachers of geophysiology so well represented by this quote from British philosopher Mary Midgley about Earth’s climate crisis; emphasis mine.

“What, in this situation, needs to be done first?  This is a question about priorities.  And the key to it is perhaps clearest in the image that I used earlier of an ocean liner which is beginning to sink – only (as we explain) not at our end…. Of course it is understandable that we do not see the planetary danger.  Other, more immediate evils constantly demand our attention.  Conditions on the terrestrial ship are bad in a thousand ways and endless things need to be done about them.  But if the ship sinks, curing those evils will not be much help.  The message is not that we should value the health of the earth above human needs.  It is that these are not alternatives.  Without a healthy earth, humans cannot survive anyway.” –  Mary Midgley, Gaia: The Next Big Idea

I explicitly raised that discussion within cap because it had became clear to several of us that a significant fraction of those involved in its organizational development did not grasp that, let alone support it, even though it was explicitly and clearly described and explained in the founding document that ALL volunteer organizers were asked to read, ask questions and raise concerns about, etc when they joined the organizational effort.  (I plan to post relevant excerpts of that document for the record.)

Further, all but two had completed my Climate 1 seminar, so I assumed they ‘got it’.  Sadly, I was wrong.   Several took offense to my statement, and one was seemingly angered by it.  As a result of the disagreement, the split happened, and about half are now pursuing other projects.  I wish them well.   I’m sorry for my part in the misunderstandings and misconceptions happened.  Lesson learned.

So why did those misunderstandings arise?  It’s now clear to several of us – including three of the original authors of the founding document – that some of those former members either did not read the proposal carefully, or chose to ignore the parts they didn’t like or could not understand because they lacked sufficient background.  They were all new students with me, the equivalent of freshmen in my curriculum (where as one of the other document authors is one of my most advanced students).  There’s no other explanation that I can imagine for their lack of understanding of the necessity to include geophysiology and a focus on Gaia (which I now more often call Ermah*Erth’s metabolism and homeostasis) as the foundation of cap that would influence everything else that it did.  [* Erth is an old German spelling of Earth; I’ll explain that name more fully in part 2.]

I take ultimate responsibility for those misunderstandings.  In retrospect, I should have listened to my intuition from the start, developed as a college-level biology teacher who was known for my challenging take-home essay exams; my name was written on bathroom walls, if you know what I mean.  I gave challenging written exams because I knew that students – and lets face it, people in general – often don’t read carefully enough for deep meaning, but too often in a shallow way sufficient for a superficial grasp and multiple choice exams, but not a deeper rational and intuitive understanding required for essays.   Students would say to me years later, “We hated you for your exams.  But thanks, because learning how to think and write like that got us through {insert professional training} and we are better professionals for it.”

So what’s the take home message here?  In retrospect, I should have insisted on short written essays and oral interviews for people involved in cap’s organizational efforts – especially those who wanted to be on the board of directors – to make sure that they fully understood the centrality of the concept of Ermah or Gaia and why it was crucial. My intuition told me that, but I didn’t listen.  My bad.  It won’t happen again.

So, to my final point for now.  Because what I’ve really wanted to write about for the last two months – my new company and a new organization, both of which will take the foundational ideas of cap to the next level in a different form with a new group of people – is so interesting, exciting, and even fun, I chose not to allow my negative feelings to darkly color my description, but to wait until I’d worked through most of my feelings.  Complicating that through January were new layers of understanding – based on new information – that has made the story even more …. interesting.  { <— Appropriate understatement for public discussion.}  I’ll just end by saying, it’s been and still is a wild ride, but I’m ready to move on.

And for me, for at least two decades, the single best day of the year for me to ‘move on’ to what’s next has consistently been – yep, you guessed it – Feb 2, for which I prefer one of the names used by my Scots Irish ancestors, Imbolc or Brigid.


OK, so, what’s next?   In part 2, I’ll write far less about what’s been in the past (moving on) and more on what’s next.  In particular, I’ll offer a first description of my emerging new company and – in addition { “Wait!  There’s more!” } – not just a new organization, but a new kind of organization – similar in some ways to Stephen Wolfram’s new kind of science – that will do an even better job than cap would have done to help prepare our species to survive the abrupt climate change event that has begun on Earth, and will probably transform our home planet – the only one we’ve got – into a different planet that we may not recognize by mid to late century.

My company and the new organization will help people understand that, and develop community-level strategies to increase their adaptability and survivability, and contribute to replacing “outmoded and dangerous” cultural maps based in equilibrium, linear, mechanistic thinking that got us into this frikkin’ mess {says Dianne Dumanoski in The End of the Long Summer} with new ones grounded in non-equilibrium, nonlinear, systems thinking and geophysiology.

Without that transition in our cultural maps, the worldviews that guide us, I will argue strongly and explicitly, the probability of survival for our species, let alone existence in any kind of sustainable way, will be significantly diminished.  (PS: We also need to discuss that word “sustainable”.  Very squirrelly word, it is; it appears to me that no clear consensus exists on what people and organizations mean when they use it.)

Both my company and the new organization are already named and web domains acquired.  (TBA.)  Each will have its own web site, and this one will morph into more of a personal blog with links to the other projects.

And to be clear, so that there’s no misunderstanding this time – both company and organization will be geo-centric, with Ermah explicitly, unabashedly and proudly at their core.  Any people wishing to be part of either (or both) need to both understand and support that.

And yes there will be an entrance exam this time for principles.  😉  It’s not so important that they believe it, but they must understand it.  Like I used to tell my college biology students, you don’t have to believe in evolution, but the state mandates that I teach it as part of this class, so you do have to understand it well enough to explain it to me clearly and completely in writing.

I’d say the same to my planet mates now about Ermah and geophysiology.  There appears to be a  1-in-50 million year exam coming for species on Earth.  We had better study hard for it, because we may not get a second shot.  In that sense, it could be a final exam … so to speak.

More to come in part 2 …

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