Fundraising, Stability & Earth 1

Updated September 26.

Summary: I’ve moved to Belfast ME, and have launched a fundraising drive to help launch my new course Earth 1, both live here in mid-Maine and in ‘live’ online seminars using a webinar format called Mikogo.  I’m seeking your financial support – no amount is too small! – and your help spreading word of my efforts and work.
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Since last November, every time I post here, I claim that I’m going to post regularly, and every time, something happens to postpone that.  This is my first one since March.

I’ll spare you the details, but offer this overview.  I’m not whining – with a view like I’ve got right now, I’m not complaining –  just offering context for my request.  It’s been what it’s been, and I’ve learned from the experience.  All’s well that ends well. :)

In summary, my delay involved four moves in six weeks (visualize my head spinning :D ) for a total of 12 moves in three years (!) as I’ve explored communities that are interested in supporting my work.  That has retarded my progress, preventing me from being stable enough to offer courses because packing and moving without a motorized vehicle is time consuming and a drain on one’s psyche.

(Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine for a moment packing up everything you own, storing 90% of it, and going on tour for three years, always living in spare rooms or storage areas in other peoples’s homes.  It’s an adventure for three weeks, acceptable for three months, but challenging for three years.)

But I’m optimistic that’s about to change and I’m going to get to settle in for a while! I’ve transitioned from a beautiful rural area near Skowhegan to the more populated coast in Belfast ME, at the western end of ‘downeast’, the ‘southern’ coast line of Maine that runs east toward Nova Scotia.  Encouragingly, I’m finding interest here in my work.

I’m lucky to have found an affordable summer apartment in a house on the shore of Belfast Bay.  Summer rentals on Maine’s coast are expensive, but the house is for sale so the owner cut me a deal.    The view is great, but the apartment is furnished right now only with a $15 used desk, a chair, and a small table.  My bed is a camping air mattress on a rug.  Most of my belongings are in storage elsewhere, including Oregon.

I was able to pay June rent, but I’m asking for your help to:

  • pay rent for July and August while I get my courses going here and online because it takes time to attract clients and students in a new area;
  • buy a new laptop because my PC died last year and I’m using a loaner;
  • buy an inexpensive camcorder to record my lectures;
  • buy my first motorized vehicle in three years; it’s been challenging because mass transit here is limited, retarding my ability to offer courses.

I’m not asking for a hand out, but a hand up.  I’ll offer something in return: my course – Earth 1: Our Living Planet, integrating system sciences, life sciences, geophysiology (Earth system sciences) and abrupt climate change, plus an optional component called adaptability – either live or live on line in webinar format.  Contributions of $50 or more can be applied to course fees, tutoring or consulting for you, or as a gift to others.

My fundraising page is here.  The proposal is summarized in the first section, but I added four more sections for those seeking more info, including about Earth 1 with links back to this site for yet more details.

Please help me reach my goal!  You can help in two ways.  First, please consider a donation. Again, no donation is too small!  I will be thankful for all!  Second, please share this link with others via Facebook, Twitter and email.

I am happy to answer all questions!

I plan to begin offering online overviews of Earth 1 next week (via Mikogo), and am taking steps to offer live overviews in Belfast within weeks, with a course beginning this summer.

Below, I’m listing donors, updated daily, with a huge and sincere thank you to all of them.   The list is in order from first to last.  I’ll continue to update the list as it grows, and will eventually create a page on my site devoted to these kind donors.

(Note: There are numerous others who deserve my thanks for their help over the last few years (!), but here I’m listing only donors for my current effort.)

Update: As of Thursday, September 26, here are the 37 donors in temporal order.  $4545 and still going!   Thanks to you all!  Phase 3 of the drive will begin soon.

  1. Bruce Agte
  2. Bonnie Sammons
  3. Ryan Stones
  4. Terri Brown
  5. Alan
  6. Kris Amundson
  7. Joseph
  8. Leah and Marcia McCullough
  9. Peggy Gannon
  10. Randy Nishimura
  11. Kevin Mergel
  12. LN
  13. Bonnie Shulman
  14. Beth Henderson
  15. Janet Williams
  16. Ron Unger
  17. Jim Murphy
  18. Ed Hummel
  19. Gina Valentino
  20. Steve Degoosh
  21. George Girod
  22. Roget Lockard
  23. Glen Munroe
  24. Cynthia Beal
  25. Anonymous
  26. Susan Anderson
  27. Jim Murphy (second donation)
  28. Rain Phutureprimitive
  29. David Berg
  30. Harvey Ginsberg
  31. Dan Robinson
  32. Anonymous
  33. Anonymous
  34. Anonymous
  35. Connor Sexton
  36. Anonymous
  37. Kristina von Bulow
Posted in Education, Gaia, Personal, Science, Systems | Comments Off

Earth 1 & Teacher for Hire

Part 1: Introduction

Well, look at the time.  Once again, I’ve neglected my promises to post here more regularly.  I’m trying, but life just keeps throwing curves.

That’s not unexpected, of course, since we live in a non-linear universe … or at least said Ilya Prigogine, Robert May, Edward Lorenz,  Benoit Mandelbrot, and numerous other founders of non-linear dynamics (aka ‘chaos theory’), and so says Stephen Wolfram in NKS.  More on those assertions – and why they’re relevant to us now – at a later time.

So not unexpected, but it does have a way of throwing one off course — which sometimes, if we’re stuck, is a good thing.  So, the good news is, I feel ‘unstuck’.  I like unstuck.  It’s better than stuck.  (Think 4×4 truck in deep mud going nowhere.)

But for now, here is the first entry in a multiple entry post – as I am prone to do – that will unfold during the next … um, few weeks before a new one begins.

The topics are named in the title of this post.

First is Earth 1: my new ‘meta-course’, an integration of my intro courses in my five curriculum categories: system sciences, biosciences, geosciences (especially geophysiology), climatology and adaptability.  My curriculum now includes – as part of my adaptability series – courses in wilderness survival and bushcraft.  (Think Mors Kochanski and Ray Mears … more to come soon about all that.)  I’m excited about that; it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but now have a good reason for doing so.

Earth 1 is equivalent to a ‘one-year’ freshman-college-level intro course in the sciences and mathematics (new stuff in both cases that is not offered elsewhere … yet … but I’m planning to help change that.  :-) )  It is the entry way into my advanced courses, providing a great foundation for advanced study, that I call AST: advanced student track.

Second topic in this post is the fact that I’m now a teacher for hire, and am seeking students – introductory and those seeking AST – and communities in which to teach them.  To be clear, as a reminder, I am NOT seeking a position at any school or college or any other established institution.  Been there, done that.  I’m not seeking a faculty position, I’m instead seeking to act as an educational consultant to teach the teachers at those established institutions, most of which are overdue for not just an update, but a phase transition in their curricular programs to meet the challenges of this century and beyond.

So, when I say that I’m ‘now for hire’, I’ll remind readers that I’ve been for hire as an independent educator for the 2.5 years I’ve lived in this wonderful state,  Maine – make no mistake, I love it here – but getting my feet on the ground professionally here (after leaving Oregon, where I was for the previous decade) has been an uphill climb, and there were a couple of pits along the way — <ahem!> but those are water under the bridge now — so I’m finally starting to get some traction with the help of a bunch of people – fortunately increasing in number now – that understand not only what I’m teaching, but its of relevance and value.

And Earth 1 is the lecture series and course sequence to initiate that.  I’m excited.  So are those who’ve seen the first part (of 2) of a pair of 2-hour free intro lectures.  Coming soon (over the next six months) to numerous Maine communities (mostly mid- and downeast).

I’m seeking funding to help finance this transition.  One proposal is in the works.  I’m simultaneously pursuing other sources.  More on that soon, as well.

As I make the leap into a new phase of my program, I’ll be seeking help in numerous communities coordinating logistics: location, scheduling, advertising, fee collections, etc, etc … soon that will be handled by staff in a company that I’m organizing, and a new organization – a network of sorts – called The MAP, both of which I describe in the Earth 1 introductory overview lecture.

But those are a couple of months off yet.  So for now, I’m seeking ‘volunteers’ to help with logistics, but the work has perks -exchange for course work — kind of a work/trade thing: payment in kind, it’s called.  I’ll be describing that more soon, and will be in touch with several individuals (who will read this) soon; I’ll be starting with known persons with whom I have experience.  However, if you are interested in helping, please contact me.  (See link on menu above.)

This Earth 1 tour will also be part of my effort to see which community (or two) I’ll settle in for at least next winter, and perhaps beyond.  I’m looking for one or two medium-sized communities with a bunch of cool, intelligent people who are hungry to study with me.  (My Earth 1 intro lectures will help them decide that.)  My goal for 2013 is thirty students on AST, and thirty more identified for 2014.   Progress on a book and videos is also on track.  The first video: the entire Earth 1 intro overview lecture series, plus some extras … TBA.

OK, that’ll do for starters.  Please tell your friends about this thread.  Let me hear from you, please.  Registered users can post comments.  (Sorry; moderated to eliminated spam.)  Anyone can send me a message via the contact button on the menu.

Next update to this post?  Let’s say within a week.  I’ll offer a more formal description of Earth 1 (like a college catalog description), along with my curriculum map (a graphic that integrates my entire curriculum), and some screen shots from the overview lectures.

Yes, you read correctly: I’m finally going to post my curriculum map.  I think I’ve said that maybe three times in six months.  For real, this time.  It’s ready for prime time.  It will continue to evolve during the year and beyond, but it’s reached a stable attractor for now.  I’m talking about it a LOT in my Earth 1 overview, because Earth 1 integrates ideas from the entire curriculum (focusing on those intro courses).

Ok, that’s all for now.  More to come.

Thanks for your interest!

This should be fun.  I mean, if it’s not fun, what good is it?  :D

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Part 2 : please stay tuned …

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AU’s & AUP’s : An Irreverent, Relevant Tangent

Summary: This essay is about people that I irreverently label with the acronyms AU’s & AUP’s about which I’ve learned – often the hard way – during three decades as an educator, why they are disruptive to learning, and why I will not engage them as students or colleagues.

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This post may seem like a tangential interruption to my series “Springing Toward Spring” about the company that I am attempting to create, about which I’m more excited than any project I’ve attempted in the last … well, ever.

But I am posting this now to be as clear as possible about the type of people that I do NOT want as students or colleagues in the company or a related organization, and to increase the probability that I will attract the right kinds of people to my program.  This issue has too often been … hmmm, what’s the metaphor?  - an annoyance, a PITA, and a thorn my my side.

Those kinds of people have repeatedly impeded my teaching, and thus, learning by my students.  And last year, several of them helped crash an organization that I had been working to create – as founder – setting my work back by almost a year.  I learned a hard lesson from that experience, and it motivates this post.

So, here goes.  AU is an acronym for ‘arrogant upstart‘, what I now call people – fortunately relatively rare – who after completing at most one or two courses with me, but in some cases after only hearing an introductory overview lecture (!) – proclaim that they understand as much as I do about the topics of said courses even though they have little or no previous training in or knowledge of those topics. In some cases – and this is where things get dicey – they even try to take over a class or a project by intellectual coup d’etat.

I’ve experienced such people for decades as a college-level teacher.  My first experiences were as a teaching assistant (TA) during my graduate programs.  But the first major challenges occurred after completing grad school while I was teaching at a community college in Albuquerque, NM: formerly Technical Vocational Institute (TVI), now Central NM Community College (CNMCC) which more accurately reflects that it is a hybrid of vo-tech training and liberal arts.

I taught intro level courses in biology and mathematics there, and loved it.  For the first time in my life – when I started there, I had only just finished my PhD at 40 – I was able to earn a decent living, complete with perks, by doing what I am most passionate about – teaching about living systems.

In some ways, I was an idiot to quit that job to become an independent educator with no institutional support.  But there were several compelling reasons that motivated my leaving.  And in the bigger sense, I don’t regret my decision.  If I had it to do over, I’d do it again, even if in a different way.   But that’s a different story for another time.

I loved my students at that school, especially eager ones that couldn’t get enough knowledge, that ate my challenging written exams – described in my previous post – like a nourishing meal for their minds.  That’s what teaching and learning is about!

But occasionally, I’d end up with one or two AU’s in a class.  They are usually – but not always – intelligent, sometimes highly so, and may have a science background, but rarely in the specific topics of that class.  At some point, they arrogantly proclaim that they fully understand the principles of the class, allegedly as well as I do, even though I may offer several advanced courses necessary for understanding at a deep and intuitive level.  Then, they begin to challenge either the ideas themselves or my manner of teaching them, but usually both.

Now this next part is important.  I do not object to challenges about an idea or concept or even my teaching methods and strategies. To the contrary, I encourage challenges, as long as they are offered respectfully and constructively, just as I offer challenges to them in a constructive way, often written exams.  Students that don’t challenge ideas – especially when they don’t understand them – are simply sponges that attempt to memorize concepts without truly logically and intuitively understanding, and knowledge cannot evolve among sponges.  Knowledge must be constantly challenged so that we learn anew; that’s the way that science works, constantly challenging established views as we try to get closer to some ‘truth’.

But there’s a difference between valid, respectful challenges by truly knowledgeable students and an arrogant assertion offered in a disrespectful, smug, even spiteful way.  One can sense from speech and body language when a student is trying to ‘put down’ the teacher as a matter of personal pride, yet do not fully, let alone deeply, grasp the concept that they are criticizing.

Thus, such individuals are ‘upstarts‘:  people who behave as if they are more important than they really are and who show a lack of respect towards those who are more experienced.   Their mannerisms are laced with arrogance and self-righteousness, and – in the worst cases – smugness, snideness, spite and irreverence.

I once referred to the most smug and snide AU’s as ‘young guns’, the intellectual equivalents of young gunfighters like Billy the Kid in the 19th-century American west that would challenge experienced guns like Wyatt Earp and Batt Masterson as a matter of pride.  But nowadays, I call them AUP’s – arrogant upstart punks – especially when smugness, smirking or or spite is evident.  Since that acronym – AUP – has a nicer phonetic ring to it, I’m going to use it for the remainder of this essay – and in general – even though not all AU’s are AUP’s.

After some experience, I learned to recognize AUP’s and their modus operandi.  It usually starts like this.  Generally, I’m a fairly cordial, even friendly guy, especially in class.  I think that’s important in education because overly-formal, arrogant, prima dona instructors, bad vibes and intimidation are enemies of learning in my experience.  Even as a mainstream college teacher, I invited my students to use my first name, and promoted a cordial atmosphere while paying attention to intellectual rigor.  I still do.

As a result, AUP’s often see me as easy prey, a pushover, a ‘nice guy’ who will roll over when attacked.  But they don’t know that I grew up street-smart in the small-town south.  I was forced to because I was a brainy red-headed geek, slightly pigeon-toed, and skinny with a weird given name  - Ollar, which is old English for Alder – when other boys had more common names like Bob, David, Mike and Peter.  That all set me up for ridicule, and I suffered a lot of abuse starting in first grade.

By high school, I had become a kindly punk, usually cordial, but could switch on the punk when necessary to defend myself, reflecting back what I was getting from an attacker in spades.  I once backed down a trained boxer with words and aggressive physical postures.  (For self-defense study, one of my main mentors is trainer Kelly McCann, who advises that if you are attacked, you no longer practice ‘self-defense’, but go on the offense, aggressively turning your attacker – the predator who began the fight – into the prey, ending the attack as quickly and decisively as possible.  I was doing that even in high school.)

For better or worse, I’ve always carried that attitude into my classroom … in an intellectual way, of course; I’ve fortunately never had occasion in class to physically defend myself, and hopefully never will.  So when an AUP got out of line, I’d pull out a can of anti-AUP faster than you can say ‘punk’ and – POW! – decisively end the confrontation with as much irreverence and disrespect as he (yes, usually he) was throwing at me, or at least transform it from arrogant and disrespectful to a discussion back to a more appropriate for a classroom with an appropriate level of respect.  That is, I try to be fair and democratic in my classroom to a point, but I’m still the teacher when in the classroom (outside is a different matter), and teachers deserve respect.  (We deserve at least that since we’re not getting rich doing this.)

Being a closet punk with street-smarts, I can out-punk the punks.  Yet even though my sharpest, non-AUP students appreciate that about me, and enjoy the spectacle of AUP’s learning a lesson in respect at some cost to their inflated egos, such events have an overall negative impact on the ambience of the class, the spirit of learning: they smell of competition, gamesmanship, or oneupmanship that can retard learning.  So it’s something I will do when necessary, but prefer not to.  (Hence, again, this post that I can share with prospective students to dissuade potential AUP’s from engaging my courses.)

Furthermore, I’ve learned that age doesn’t matter with regard to AUP’s.  At CNMCC my students were mostly young – 20 somethings, often fresh out of high school.   But as an independent educator, many of my students are older adults, sometimes older than me, in their 60′s and 70′s.  They can be AU’s and even AUP’s, too; ‘punk’ is ageless.  And the older ones are more challenging to identify early on; they are cagey and experienced, sometimes even deceptively so.

Thus, unfortunately, last year, a few AU’s – about 7, to be exact – found their way via my Climate 1 course into the now-defunct organization that I was trying to start.  Most were just AU’s, but at least two were AUP’s.  They were older and clever, and slipped past my AUP radar – I was working hard to create that organization during a difficult and challenging time for me (read immense, crushing financial stress) – and so I was overly trusting of their assurances that they ‘got it’ about things like abrupt climate change, non-linearity, self-organization, fractal geometry, autopoiesis and Gaia theory, and the importance of all those things for the future of our species.  Despite evidence to the contrary – the writing was on the wall, but hind sight is (often) 20/20 – I naively trusted them.

But eventually, their AUP-ness manifest, especially during their interaction, which lead to a kind of AUP positive feedback.  They may be kind, well-meaning people in other regards, but when it came to the project that I had invited them to participate in, they were AUP’s.  They thought – and claimed – that they understood that project and the scientific principles at its foundation – better than I did, and pretended to understand their importance based on their limited exposure via one or two courses.  And in the end, they were arrogant about it, at time just straight-up punks.  Some of the things they said about me and the organization were simply astonishing, and deeply offensive.

So, there’s no way around it.  A spade is a spade, and an AUP is an AUP.  C’est la vie.

I’m moving on – but not sweeping things under the carpet – and so have they.  I wish them a good life.

So, why am I telling this story here now? Because as I move forward, my AUP detection meter is dialed up to ‘high’.  I will be screening for AUP’s in applications for my program, for positions in the company, and for colleagues in a new organization that will be linked to the company.  People with whom I associate – students and colleagues – will be repeatedly … um, ‘evaluated’ to see where they fall on the AUP scale, and if at any point they score too high, they will either be told to check their AUP-ness at the door, or take a hike.

Bottom line: AU’s and AUP’s need not apply to work with me.

All others are welcome.  :-)

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Next: Springing Toward Spring 2 : An Emerging Company

Posted in Education, Gaia, Personal, Socio-political | Comments Off

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.

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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.  :-o

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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12.22.13 : Happy New Year!!!

Yes, I know the date in the subject line is “wrong”.  As the time stamp of this post reads, the “correct” date is 12.22.12, or more formally, December 22, 2012.

Some folks would add other clarifications, such as “year of our lord”.   The evolutionary biologist part of me is more prone to think it as 4,000,002,012, signifying that Earth didn’t begin in year 0 – or even a few thousand years before that – but about 4 billion years ago.

I’m also aware that the ‘official’ new year is not for another nine days on January 1, 2013.   That is the day that a caesar named Julius declared some centuries ago that for the remainder of time, that day will be the official start of the new year.   Wow, those dudes had some power, didn’t they?  Centuries later, the partiers, computers and the world economy still recognize that date.

Other cultures – Jewish, Chinese, etc – celebrate other days as ‘the new year’, but I think that most are right around this time, also.

But as my friends understand, I don’t celebrate any of those.  I respect those who do, and wish them a fine, fun celebration, because ‘new years’ are important to ritually signify something like this: “Holy crap!  That was a rough year!  Whew!  Glad that f”ker is done!  Let’s hope the next one is better!  Here’s what I’m gonna do.”  {Insert one or more resolutions here, which may or may not manifest.}

Instead, I celebrate a different day as my new year: winter solstice.  I can’t say 12.21, because sometimes it happens on 12.20 (frequently) or 12.22 (infrequently).  But this year, it was yesterday: 12.21.

Of course, my computer calendar/clock still reads 2012, and if I wrote a check today, I’d date it 2012.   But in my mind, heart and spirit, today is the first day of 2013.  I may have to play by Julius’s dates for dates on the outside, but in my worldview – how I see and interact with the natural world, what some call Gaia and I increasingly call ErMAH* – this is the first day of the new year.  So, with apologies to Julius, the next nine days for me will be the first nine days of 2013.

(* Erth’s Metabolism and Homeostasis,
where Erth is a middle English spelling of Earth.)

My act of calling today 2013 also acknowledges the new astronomical year or solar year, when sun has reached it’s further point south in its annual journey to the south pole and is heading back north again.  (Hurry, sun.  I’m looking forward to spring.)  12.21 was the shortest day of the year, so now the days will get longer, the light returns, even though the next two months will probably be the coldest of the year.

And in this sense, today is also an ecological new year, because photosynthesis hit a nadir yesterday with the short light, and will again start cranking out more glucose per day, storing the energy of photons in its bond between C, H and O … well, at least as temperatures allow.  But the potential is there.

And as my last post – 12.12.12 – indicated, this is an extremely significant new year in my life, both personal and professional.   So this years celebration is special to me.

Now, unlike most, I don’t go out and ‘party’ with others to celebrate.  Instead, I tend to be more introspective, quietly spending most time to myself.  (I’m a closet introvert anyway, so it gives me another excuse to hang out by myself.  ;-) )

Last night, I stayed up most of the night, until around 3:30 am, celebrating it by painting my room – my bedroom and studio where I also do most of my cooking and eating – a new color.  Except of one part of the west wall that hosts a mural of a tree in fall foliage drawn by an artist that lived in this room before me, a light golden tan is replacing the hideous rosy pink that was left by a former tenant, the former owner of this 100 year old farmhouse before purchase by the current owner, my friend, colleague and host.   I’m about half finished painting.   Right after I post this, I’ll eat my first lunch of the new year and finish painting.   I can’t wait to see the last of that pink disappear.

My studio is on the west end of the house, upstairs over the kitchen, with 5 windows that offer views of every direction except east.  It gets wonderful light as sun makes its daily trip.  One window is in a door that opens onto an upstairs balcony looking due west through a wood and over a meadow bisected by an alder-lined brook flowing to a river only 200 m south, a tributary of the Kennebec that it meets just downstream a few miles.

When weather and snow conditions allows – I have to buy snowshoes soon if I’m to walk there before spring – I walk daily in those woods and meadows below my studio on trails that I have been building for more than a year.  I spend at least some time by my favorite rock on the property: a car-sized, lichen- and moss-covered granite glacial erratic near the trail head, immediately below and visible from my studio.  I’ve dubbed it ASLMEO: Alder Stone Lichen Moss Ecological Observatory.  I pronounce it “Ah-sal-meo”.  I’m building a fireplace beside the rock, and as it is illumined by the fire, I marvel at its travels down to here – probably from the Canadian Shield – in the belly of glaciers.

Yes, photographs are coming.  Quality takes time.  Thanks for your patience.

That spot – Aslmeo and the fireplace – will also be the site of at least two ‘wilderness survival shelters’, leanto’s probably, that will explore the options of orientation, construction and material.  Other primitive shelters, including a wikiup, hogan and yurts, are planned for other parts of the property.

And all of this is part of my new – or upgraded – program that I’ll unveil after Christmas on this web site and in public presentations around the state.  It is best understood and navigated using my new curriculum map and associated curriculum catalog that describe my 30 courses about systems, life, geophysiology, climate and adaptability, integrated into a delicious whole that will require participants years to complete.

But their efforts will be worth every hour spent, every dollar invested, because well before the end of their intellectual journey, they will undergo what one friend, advanced student and colleague calls an ‘Aha! moment’, when suddenly, the dark, pink fog covering our cultural maps – an insidious hold-over of 300 years of mechanistic reductionism – is whisked away, and one suddenly sees the world anew.  Metaphorically, a golden light shines on all of reality.

“You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness
that created it.  You must learn to see the world anew.”  – Albert Einstein

People are transformed in a fundamental way by that experience.  I certainly was.  Why do you think I gave up a $45k per year teaching ‘job’ at a community college to become an independent educator, and have stuck with it despite inconceivable levels of adversity for over half a decade, the last of which slapped me last year.  (See previous post.)

And finally, my new program will be the core of my new company that I’m founding with the help of several that “get” my program, two of whom have had their ‘aha moments’, but all of whom understand its value, especially now at a time of planetary emergency, when Earth’s metabolism and homeostasis are running a fever, symptom of a planetary illness.

So, my new year’s resolution?  To get the new company operational as soon as possible to help guide as many people as possible in Maine (and elsewhere) to aha moments, while I earn a respectable living so that I can afford to buy some of the numerous items that I’ve been without for the last 2.5 years, including the tools that I need to explore this beautiful state, and to frequently visit and even live in the wild, directly experiencing Ermah with my mind, intuition and senses.

Happy new year, everyone.   More to come …

Alder

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12.12.12

This is the first draft of my post for December 12, 2012 or 12.12.12.

I’m getting about the task late in the day – midnight approaches: it’s 11:55 pm, which also happens to be my birth time – so I’ll need to make this quick for now, but I’ll add more paragraphs to this post, in a top down fashion, leaving what’s already been written and adding onto the bottom, each entry separated by double lines.

Iterate (actually a recursion of sorts) for … at least a few days, until the next post is ready.  (And that one’s going to be what some would call “a doosie”.)

My next installment in this one will come after sleep … crikey, I’m not finished with work for the day for at leasat another hour.  In the next few, I’ll update readers on some astounding developments in my professional life.  There’s bad news and there’s good news.  But fortunately, the good news is at least an order of magnitude better than the bad news.

How’s that for a teaser?

OK, that’s all for now.
More on 12.13.12.
That’s a nice number, also.

Alder
12.12.12

PS to the first post: Dang it!  The original time stamp was 12.12.12, but a quick edit put me over the time line and it re-dated as 12.13.12.  But I swear, I made it on 12.12.12, so I’m not going to change the title.  Works kind of well with the topics that will be overviewed herein, to be expanded in future posts …

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12.14.12 – The next installment

Well, I didn’t post yesterday because I got caught up in a vortex – a chaotic but productive major rearrangement of the studio where I’ve been living for three months.  It’s much nicer now, both more functional and aesthetic.  Painting and some minor building projects – shelves and work space – will follow next week.

I do this kind of thing – major spatial rearrangements – when big changes are going on in my life.  I find that the spatial rearrangement ritually signifies the end of one phase and the beginning of the next.

And this is a big change for me.  Again, in the end, it’ll be more positive than negative, but the transition shook me to my core at a time when I was just recovering from being shaken to core during my first year in Maine (another story that I’ll probably never discuss in public).

But I can see light at the end of the tunnel now – hoping it’s not another train coming – and the room arrangement is helping a LOT.  So, since I’ve still got hours of work to do on the studio today, I’m only going to briefly describe what the major elements of the transition are, then expand on them in later installments … or mostly in full blog posts for each.

OK, here’s the list of three items, all to be further described in future posts.

First, the project that I have been working on for all of 2012, that many of you have heard about – the Climate Adaptability Project, or CAP – has ended before it really got off the ground.  I was the main founder – the ‘visionary’ who conceptualized it with the help of three others in Spring, 2011.  It was to be a non-profit (501.c.3) organization.  We began organizational work in March, 2012, incorporated as a non-profit in the state of Maine in July, found fiscal sponsorship, and were ready for the election of the board of directors when …

… well, it just frikkin’ blew up.  It figuratively exploded, sending factions flying in at least three directions, powered by mis-communications, mis-interpretations, mis-understandings, and mis-conceptions.  Whole lotta’ mis’ing going on, and even some dissing of me sprinkled in – insult to injury, it was - including numerous absolutely astonishing allegations about me and CAP.  (Were we on the same planet, or was there just a bad connection?)   I’m still trying to learn exactly what all those allegations are, since some are ostensibly saying some things without consulting me about them (though the majority of allegations have come to me via email.   All will be addressed; some in another blog post, and some in my iFAQ (construction zone; update in progress …).

In any case, the damage was so severe that, instead of trying to salvage what was left and continuing, the other four oversight members* and I  decided to resign our roles and withdraw from the organizational process.   (* A term to be explained in a later post.)  We are in the process of formally dissolving the organization.

To say this was a blow is an understatement.  In retrospect, I should have seen it coming; the writing was on the wall beginning as early as last spring.  But hindsight is always 20/20.   Story to come …

Second, several former members of CAP – along with some new folks – have joined together to birth a new organization that will have almost identical mission, values, goals and programs as CAP.  It will have a different core membership – with some overlap, but not all – and a radically different structure: not a non-profit, at least initially, but a network of individuals, organizations and businesses based on the principles of system sciences that I teach, as described the book Surfing on the Edge of Chaos.  Story to come …

Third, I’ve decided to found a company around the ideas that I teach, that one can read about in this blog and on the web site of which it is a part.  I’ll not be the sole founder; I’m just the “visionary” (the creator that came up with the idea) and ‘content specialist’.  Others will perform the roles of business, marketing, advertising and such.   And of course, it’ll be organized using the ideas discussed in the book linked above.

I have picked a name for the company that I’m super happy with – as is a colleague – but I won’t announce it for a while.  I am drafting a full description of it that I’ll share first with prospective collaborators, who will help it emerge and evolve.  Then, eventually, there will be a web site with full description. This site will be subsumed into it.   Story to come …

Even though work has begun on items 2 and 3, the time lines for both are measured in months.   One mistake I made with CAP – and it proved fatal for the organization – was moving too quickly, trusting that those involved fully understood – and trusted – my vision of that organization.   That turned out to be an egregious mistake.  Lessons learned.

OK, that’s the nutshell.  I’ll probably post more installments in this thread before beginning to post new threads about the topics listed above (and others), so please stay tuned.

________

________

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Without a healthy Earth …

“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’ll help readers understand that quote, beginning in January with my new course series.

Description of that series is coming.

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Shelters, trails, maps & a new seminar series

About 2.5 months ago, in my last blog post, linked just above,
I wrote this; emphasis just added:

This is an overview – an announcement, of sorts –
of topics to be addressed in coming weeks.

Once again, the old adage about ‘best laid plans of mice and men’ applies.  I should have written ‘in coming months’.   Jees, Louise, talk about getting caught in a vortex!  Sometimes you get caught in one and can’t get out for a long time.  :-o

For me, the vortex – which I’m happy to say I survived – involved wandering around the state trying to find a place to live and work.  As I mentioned in my last post, for most of summer, I was ‘homeless’.  Not ‘on the street’ – I had a variety of rooms here and there – but with no real base camp, what I call those places that most call ‘home’, which I seem to occupy for somewhere between 3 months and 3 years, on average, before moving on.  Life as a quasi-nomad has its challenges and rewards.

But I digress; all that is a story for another day.  What I really want to describe in this post is my new seminar series about which I’m super excited and eager to offer.

I’ll lead up to that description related news even though I won’t make it clear in this post just how related it is to the seminar; that’ll become more clear in later posts.  For now, I’ll just say that I’ve landed in a fine studio, north of Skowtown: a comfortable, warm, second floor room (with access to a kitchen) in the back of an older farm house on 25 acres (with connections to much more) owned by a friend and professional colleague.  It has LOTS of light – five, count’em, five windows – and plenty of storage space.

But best of all is the outside balcony that overlooks woodlands and meadows with a river flowing through it.  I sit on that balcony and watch those areas like some might watch TV.   Wild living things are abundant here, from crows, geese and ducks to beaver, weasel, squirrels and deer to spruce, fir, pine, maple, birch, and alder to ferns, moss and lichens.  There are lots of glacial erratics – boulders moved down here by the glaciers – and lots of New England stone walls.  It’s easily the best base camp I’ve had since moving to Maine in summer, 2010.

The balcony overlooks one of the most interesting and fun outdoor projects I’ve started in some time:  a set of trails that weave around the property and down to the river, and a set of … um, primitive shelters – from lean tos to wiki-ups to yurts.  (None of the latter are constructed yet).

The trails are well under way, and quite extensive already.  I’ve been working on the first of several outdoor stone fireplaces associated with those shelters, also.  It is 70% complete and functional; and I’m delighted to report, very efficient.  It’s just down the hill from my balcony – I can see it from here – and is by the largest glacial erratic on the property, a car-sized boulder coated with lichens and mosses that I call ASLMEO.  I’ll save what that means for a future blog post  … sooner than later … with pics!

I’m designing the first lean to ‘complex’ now right beside the fire place.   It’s going to be quite the multiple-room, multiple material (mostly natural) structure, an experiment of sorts, and a teaching tool for upcoming workshops on adaptability training and wilderness survival.  Other primitive shelters will follow; a 20′ yurt is in the plans, likely from this company, though the verdict is still out.

All of this is a new component of my updated curriculum – to be posted in this blog and as a page on this web site beginning in mere days as a course catalog and a graphical overview of my courses that I call my ‘curriculum map‘.   All will be unveiled during December, both here and in public lectures and seminars that will extend through 2013.

(Lectures are being planned in Skowhegan, Waterville, Dover/Dexter and Bangor.  I’ll update the calendar about those as dates, times and locations are known.  I’ll also add a link to this post when the course catalog and curriculum map are available, and will also add a new blog post about them.)

At the heart of my curriculum – and the best portal into it – is a new seminar series with a working title of ‘The 1′s‘, meaning a series of the first courses in each of my five course categories – Systems 1, Life 1, Geophys 1, Climate 1, and Adaptability 1.  This set of integrated lectures and reading seminars is firmly rooted in the system sciences, designed to help any adult with any background – from no courses in science or math to PhD’s in the sciences – gain a radically different perspective on life and even reality itself.   The series will offer introductory principles in each of the five categories, and from it, participants can spin off into my more advanced courses at any point.

And yes, ‘The 1′s‘ will get its own blog post with a full description (that will evolve into a page on the web site).

Two of the main sets of questions that will be addressed in ‘The 1′s
- or what ever it is eventually named – are:

  1. What is life, how does it work, and why does it exist?
  2. What is Earth’s metabolism and homeostasis – I call it EarMAH for short; pronounced like ‘Erma’ – how does it work, how does it relate to abrupt climate change, and why is it THE most important scientific and metaphorical concept that humans need to understand during this century, and sooner than later?

Helping people answer these two questions are my main motivation for developing and teaching ‘The 1′s‘.

My other motivation is purely selfish: I love teaching these ideas, which are the most awesome I’ve ever studied and taught, which have changed me in ways that few can understand until they understand the ideas for themselves that I call “getting it”.  When people “get it”, it’s like a light was switched on; they see the world and life differently from before, as if a fog has blown away from the landscape of reality and they can now see it in a new light.   They are – simply put – life-changing ideas, and will change one’s understanding of how everything in nature works in a profound way.  And it’s not just me that says that; many of my students will tell you the same.  So will the scientists and authors who study and describe them.

Note, also, that those two sets of questions listed above will be addressed in order, because #2 cannot be answered adequately without first addressing #1.  You can start here, but the new seminar series will offer a MUCH more thorough understanding; that’s just a summary.

My curriculum and ‘The 1′s‘, in turn, are part of an even larger project involving individuals, organizations and businesses in Maine with knowledge, skills and tools to improve adaptability to abrupt climate change (and related challenges to civilization, like ‘peak oil’, global economic turmoil, etc).   We call it “The Map”.  A web site is under development … I’ll post a link and blog post about it when it’s ready.

So, yes, details to come about all of this.  But I’ll not promise when  …  I never know when I’ll get caught in a vortex again.  :-o

But this much I do promise: from now into 2013, I will be posting at least one blog post per week, sometimes more.  Indeed, this blog will become my main mode of communication with students and associates – after trying to do most of that via email lists and several online forums during 2012, with varying levels of success.

OK, that’s it for now.  More soon.  For now, it’s time for lunch, then I’m going out to work on the trails.  The sun is out, and it’s abnormally warm for late November in mid-Maine.   How unusual.  I wonder what’s up with all this warm weather this fall?  (Yes, I’m being tongue-in-cheek.)

And, it’s Friday, so I think I’ll also build a fire in the ASLMEO fireplace tonight and watch the half moon move across the sky.

Life is good, yes?

This is an overview – an announcement, of sorts – of topics to be addressed in coming weeks.
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There’s something happening here.

What it is ain’t exactly clear.

So begins one of my favorite songs of all times,
“For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield.

But this post is not about music.  It’s about things happening in my life, mostly professional  - including updates about fall classes in Maine and a new non-profit organization – but some personal as well.  In reality, the two blur into one.  I hardly make a distinction any longer.

This is an overview – an announcement, of sorts – of topics to be addressed in coming weeks.  This blog has been inactive since May  - long story about why; it’s been an ”interesting” few months – but it’s time to fire it up again.  And for good reason:  there’s a LOT of something happening here, even if the full story ain’t exactly clear … yet.

Here’s the list.  Most of these will be addressed in near-future posts,
though not necessarily the order in which they will appear.

1 – My seminars, courses and workshops for academic year 2012 – 2013, will begin in October.   In that post, I’ll introduce my new curriculum map (finished) and course catalog (under development).  The map represents all of my courses, seminars and workshops – including some new ones - in five categories : systems, life (i.e. biology), geophysiology (Earth system sciences), climate and adaptability – as a graph with links suggesting which should be completed before others (i.e., prerequisites), and most popular courses and paths to them.  Here’s a thumbnail for now to offer you the idea; the full-sized version will be included in a later post.

No surprise, my curriculum is a network of linked components (i.e., seminars, etc).  The course catalog will offer updated, complete but concise descriptions of each.

2 – A new seminar on abrupt climate change and its probable effect on Maine weather for the next few decades is under co-development and will be co-taught by me and meteorologist Ed Hummel of Dexter, ME.  We wish to help people understand the relevance of the more globally-oriented information presented in my Climate 1 lecture and seminar to weather here in Maine.  In it, we’ll be making specific references to …

3  … big – no, wait, GARGANTUAN changes in the Arctic – especially loss of Arctic Sea Ice (ASI) – at breathtaking speed.  A new record minimum is expected this year. Loss of ASI will change Earth’s climate in ways that most cannot yet conceive.  Those changes have begun – the jet stream has been ‘rearranging’ and is having very big effects on  weather patterns – but much bigger ones will come.  This is a game changer.

4 – A process is underway in Portland, ME to introduce my work there, beginning with public lectures and seminars.  We’ll start with Climate 1 (Abrupt Climate Change), but others will be offered later.  The schedule is not yet finalized, but the first lecture could be as early as the first of 2013.

5 – A new component of my curriculum : seminars and workshops about ‘survival’ skills and tools to optimize adaptability.  To be clear, this is not about ‘survivalism’ in the sense of ‘bugging out’ to a fortified camp with an AK-47 during a zombie apocalypse.   Instead it’s about backpacking and bushcraft skills and tools that I have acquired over 5 decades as an outdoorsman that are even useful every day at home and in daily travels – including a concept called the ‘every day kit’ (EDK) – and that will be of great value in emergencies like natural disasters and the inevitable disruptions to civilization’s infrastructure caused by abrupt climate change punctuated by petro-collapse (aka ‘peak oil’) and global economic disruptions.

Wetland north of Dexter ME

The post describing these ideas will include descriptions 0f my recent excursions into relatively wild areas of mid-Maine – including the 100-mile wilderness and mountain bike rides on an ATV/snowmobile trail near Dexter – my ‘every day kit’ (EDK), and more extensive survival kits that I carry on those excursions (layers, tarps, sitting/sleeping pads, etc).

For example, here is a pic of my mountain bike with my EDK (small pack) and extra gear carried in a crate affixed to the rear rack.  With that, in an emergency – such as an injury or a mechanical failure miles from a road and out of cell range –  I can survive overnight if necessary, even if not comfortably.  Why all the orange?  1) I am more easily seen by drivers; 2) it’s easier to find items on a forest floor, especially near dusk, and 3) it adds safety during hunting seasons.

6 – My arguments about why the East-West Corridor - an insidious development project through the heart of mid-Maine –  must be stopped. I can explain that most easily from within the context of my curriculum.

Life is an adventure.  I hope to experience some of it with you this year and beyond.

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The End of the Long Vacation

The idea for this post – which may be the first of a series – popped into mind recently as I walked to a morning meeting at a nearby tea/coffee shop, Selah’s Tea.  In my day pack was Dianne Dumanoski’s book The End of the Long Summer : Why We Must Remake Civilization to Live on a Volatile Earth, my top recommendation for the best book on abrupt climate change and what to do about it.  It contains a synthesis of most of the core ideas that motivate and inform my current main focus, the Climate Adaptability Project.

Her chapter 4 offers an explanation of abrupt, large-scale, chaotic, extreme climate change that is very similar to – though less complete than – my introductory seminar, Climate 101 (recently renamed from Gaia 101 … I’ll explain that another day).  Clearly she understands what we face.

The title – “the end of the long summer” – is a metaphor for the abnormally long, stable interglacial period of the last 11,500 years during which civilization has emerged, that we have come to believe is Earth’s normal climate.  But as she correctly explains, it is not, and our wake up call has begun.

I’m rereading it because I will soon teach a reading seminar about it in Waterville beginning May 23.  I’ve taught it before, but this is the first time in Maine (but it will not be the last; more are on the horizon).   Participants must have at least seen my intro lecture about Climate 101; most – but not all – will be grads of the full seminar.

Earlier in the morning, I had read her final chapter, 9, “Honest Hope”.   Here are a few choice quotes from that chapter, just to give you a taste of her thesis.  Bold emphasis is mine.

In times of danger, bitter truths serve us better than sweet lies.

“The decades ahead promise unimaginable losses.  Much of the world as we know  it … will likely vanish in the lifetime of a child born today.  These are not the dark prophesies of environmental apocalypse invoked to scare us into changing our ways, but simply inescapable consequences of the change already set in motion.  Shutting off all greenhouse gases today will not stop the warming any more than shutting off the engine can stop a runaway train hurtling down a mountain (though it might switch us onto a less precipitous and calamitous track).  The century ahead promises to be a wild trip.  Of all the hurdles that lie ahead, the most formidable may simply be to recognize that the world has changed fundamentally and that we must prepare to meet a future that may bear little resemblance to what we have come to expect.”

The only certain thing about this coming century is its immense uncertainty. The great temptation of our time will be the impulse to flee from this uncertainty.  Given the black-and-white propensity of Western minds, it will take conscious effort to resist taking refuge either in despair – in the conviction that ‘it’s too late’ – or in the alternative, to bask in groundless, sunny optimism that ‘we’ll figure out something, because science always does.’  I have heard a great deal said about the importance of hope as the human prospect has grown darker, but hope will sustain us only if it is clear-eyed.  In reflecting about cultural traps that have made past societies incapable of meeting the challenge of changing  circumstances, the anthropologist Paul Bohannan asks, ‘Have they at least figured out some of the things they should not do? Or are they running on blind hope?  That kind of hope kills.’  I don’t think we have figured it out.   I fear blind hope as much as despair.

Those should give you a sense that she’s not messing around; this is a serious topic.

In the last few paragraphs of that chapter, she raises the issue of survival, mentioning her own survival through life threatening illnesses and a story about a friend who survived the siege of Sarajevo.  In the margins of the last two pages, I wrote the words “Deep Survival”, referring to Lawrence Gonzales’s fine book of that title, from which I quote abundantly in my essay that weaves together the ideas of both authors.

But on the way to my meeting, I was thinking more  about Mr. Gonzales’s second book, which I like even better than his first - Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things.   Whereas Deep Survival explores how people get out of life-threatening situations, Everyday Survival explores how they got into them in the first place, and thus tries to teach us about how to avoid them.

Now, in reality, Everyday Survival is also about how our entire species has gotten itself into a dangerous “life-threatening” – or  extinction-threatening – situation, explained from a system sciences perspective mixed with relevant ideas from cognitive sciences.   The second half is a fine, interesting – almost camouflaged - lay-reader introduction to a branch of system sciences called NET, or non-equilibrium thermodynamics.  (Trust me: it’s far easier to understand than pronounce, mostly intuitive since it’s the way we know the world works from our own experiences, and far cooler than the information about thermodynamics that you find in most college physics and chemistry curricula.  I include the basic principles of NET in my intro seminars, but also teach an advanced course about it.)

In the first few pages of Everyday Survival, Gonzales asserts that most people in western civilized cultures exist in “a vacation state of mind”, the one that we fall into when we’re on vacation at a resort, or in a protected family campground, or in the backyard with friends around the BBQ: this is vacation; relax; everything is good; don’t worry, be happy; nothing bad will happen.

Of course, that’s the state of mind in which life-threatening shit usually happens because people are not paying attention and suddenly find themselves in grave danger.  As a long time backpacker/mountaineer, some of my favorite examples are stories I’ve read of people who carry food into the tent at the campground.  Their reasoning: they do it at home for a midnight snack, why not here on vacation?  Because bears also like midnight snacks, and said campers may wind up being part of the snack.

Gonzales claims correctly that our entire species – well, at least those of us living “the good life” in western developed nations – is in a vacation state of mind and not paying sufficient attention to a gathering global storm called abrupt climate change, the scale of which hasn’t happened in about 50 million years, and thus we are in danger.  (Even though he doesn’t address climate change in any detail, he acknowledges its existence and danger; in fact, it’s his stated context for the book.)

Here is a quote that follows a story about tourists getting “lost” in a small sand dune area of coastal North Carolina, close enough to a highway to hear traffic, but having to be rescued by a ranger.

“In part, our predicament is that we evolved to be well adapted to an environment that doesn’t exist anymore, at least in technical cultures.  We seem to live permanently in what Ranger Cox calls ‘a vacation state of mind,’ where all the old rules are suspended.  In fact, most of us never knew those rules to begin with.  We gradually evolved a culture that allowed us, as people, to drop our guard.  With the illusion that we have dominion over the earth [see Dumanoski's chapter 8], we conclude that we have nothing to fear.”

So, as I walked to the coffee shop where I sat among others sipping beverages in a vacation state of mind, a synthesis emerged that linked Gonzales’s ideas on survival with Dumanoski’s concept of ‘the end of the long summer’: as a species, we are at the end of a long vacation.  And the journey back from vacation land will be neither smooth nor easy.

More to come….   But first, I’m going to Selah’s for coffee, and to buy a french press.  Hey, surfing this adventure demands caffeine, and I may as well do it right.
_______

{PS: I purchased a single-cup Bodum Chambord press and some locally-roasted coffee from a company in Portland (ME) in a course grind recommended for french presses.  I think I’m going to like it.}

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