Vol. 19, no. 2
March -- April, 2007
In this issue:
From the Editor
Rethinking ways we do things
Did you read about the wild, wet weather in the West this winter? Actually, the South also got its fair share of extreme weather recently, with snow and ice as far south as Texas. And, there were reports of unusual winter warmth on the East Coast, with daytime temperatures 20–25°F warmer than normal for weeks, with flowers blooming in December and January! Severe winter wind storms were also reported in European countries. One "climate expert" erroneously blamed El Niño for the storms.
The Sun-driven global weather systems keep the air and water circulating on our planet. We expect storms every now and then, both summer and winter. But Global Warming has the effect of increasing the strength of these storms.
I try to keep my connection to nature (even throughout the winter months) by bicycling to work, walking and hiking, visiting the garden, etc. But, no, I don't belong to the Polar Bear Club!
On one very frosty morning, I went for my walk around daybreak. As I saw a few birds scurrying around and chirping their morning songs, it dawned on me, "How inconsiderate of us to think that the earth was made only for us human beings." We often forget that nature has space for all species, and we take much more than our fair share of natural resources. As I realized that these tiny birds were managing well in 17°F weather (without the central heat we use in our homes), I felt a sense of respect and reverence for Mother Nature.
With our technological advances, we are able to extract resources in huge amounts, from miles-deep underground. And, as we burn oil, coal, natural gas, we add billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other gases that change the delicate balance of natural systems, making them more vulnerable to global changes. Natural systems are so well-balanced that even a minute change (in composition, temperature, etc.) has a huge impact on the rest of the system. In other words, if the average temperature on the planet increases by 2°F or 5°F, it will have a huge impact on ocean levels, weather patterns, storms, crops, species and global ecosystems.
An effective solution to this impending ecological crisis is complex and needs international cooperation at all levels—personal, corporate and governmental. We, the common citizens living in "rich, industrialized countries" as well as our well-to-do friends in the rest of the world, would need to work jointly.
What can we do? For our part, we need to drastically reduce our energy use—oil, coal, natural gas, wood, petroleum and electricity. In place of cars, let's use public transportation or bicycle/walk whenever possible. During 2006, we saw an increased use of public transport even in our small region of Eugene-Springfield, Oregon.
Heating, air-conditioning and our inefficient industries consume a lot of energy. The efficiency of our cars, appliances, homes, factories, power plants, schools, shopping centers, and public buildings needs to be increased.
Recycling isn't enough; reducing resource use is a must. A typical American family has much more stuff than truly needed. Low-cost, overseas-made goods sold in our shopping malls increase our craving for new things. Old stuff gets tossed out, or it simply gathers dust. If we buy well-made, energy-efficient, repairable products, it will also help save on landfill needs. Buying locally-grown foods is another way to reduce ecological impact.
Did you know that use of renewable energy resources such as solar energy and wind do not contribute to Global Warming? In place of cutting down forests, if we planted millions of acres of trees in every region of the world, we might be able to slow down the build-up of CO2. Fortunately, more people are becoming aware of the climate crisis.
We offer you this issue as food for thought!
-- Arun Narayan Toke'
A Nature Fable
An autumn westward wind blew through the forest and onto the grassland. The time for flowers was past, grass had begun to wither, and leaves slowly became gold. The sky was especially blue, and the wind blew flocks of white clouds across it.
In this autumn world, a doe lived at the bottom of North Mountain with her lovely three fawns. One day, the doe and her three fawns were trotting down a path. Suddenly one of three fawns said, "Mother, here are lots of dry leaves."
She said, "Wait. Don't eat anything yourself. I will smell them to be sure they are edible."
After the doe sniffed some leaves, she said, "OK! They are good, so let's eat, my dears!"
The hungry fawns gobbled up the leaves in a flash and continued walking through the forest.
Another fawn said, "Mother, here are some small red fruits."
The doe sniffed the fruit, and after they had passed her inspection, the fawns ate them. Deeper in the forest, the third fawn said, "Come! There is a lovely small meadow. Let's go play there."
Doe said, "Don't go yet. Let mother first see if the meadow is safe."
The doe stepped into the small meadow, but suddenly she fell into a hunter's trap. The fawns watched helplessly as a hunter with a rifle, standing behind a large tree, took aim. The mother doe ordered her fawns to flee. Then she said to the hunter, "Please don't harm my lovely fawns. You can do anything to me."
The fawns sobbed, "Mother! Mother!" But the sounds were carried away by the autumn wind.
The poor doe was very sad. Her tears wetted her crystal rosary's thread. At that time, the hunter felt a bit guilty and tossed his rifle onto the ground. He sadly remembered his dead mother and his earlier life.
-- Tshe-ring Skyabs (Oscar), 22,
Tibetan, P. R. China.
Becoming A Man:
There are lots of stories saying that in Africa, it is better to be born a boy than a girl. Is this true? Is it false? I don't really know. But I often recommend some caution to those who tend to draw conclusions too quickly.
One morning, I was proctoring a national exam when one of my best girl students arrived a good ten minutes late. She was admitted at the last minute, but when the exam ended, I questioned her in a reproachful tone. Where was her head to arrive late to such a serious occasion?
"C'est l'enfant, Monsieur," répondit-elle de sa douce voix.
"It's because of the baby, Sir," she replied in her soft voice.
"L'enfant? Comment ça l'enfant?"
"The baby? What do you mean—the baby?"
"Je devais porter l'enfant parce-que ma mère fendait le bois, Monsieur."
"I had to take care of the baby, because my mom was splitting the firewood, Sir."
"Mais morbleu, il n'y a personne chez-vous autre que ta mère et toi pour tenir l'enfant?"
"But my goodness, is there nobody else at your place other than your mother and you to take care of the baby?"
"Si, Monsieur, il y a mon père, mes frères, et mes cousins."
"Of course, Sir, my father is there, my brothers and my boy cousins are there also."
"Ils mangeaient, Monsieur."
"They were eating, Sir."
"Mangeaient? Mais c'est quoi cette histoire?"
"Eating? What kind of tale are you telling me?"
"C'est comme ça chez-nous Monsieur. Quand les hommes mangent, on ne les dérange pas."
"It's like that at our place, Sir. When the men eat, we don't disturb them."
Elle remarqua combien j'étais interloqué et poursuivit sa litanie. "Ah! Les hommes sont tellement bien, si seulement je pouvais naître garçon..."
She noticed how much I was taken aback and continued with a list of complaints: "Oh! Men are so lucky. If only I could have been born a boy…"
"Ah! bon! Si tu avais pu naître garçon? Si tu pouvais savoir combien il est parfois difficile d'être garçon, ma petite. Si tu pouvais savoir. Ecoute un peu mon histoire, tu me diras après... "
"Ah! Well! If you were born a boy? If you could only know how difficult it can be sometimes to be a boy, my dear. If you only knew. Just listen to a little of my story.Tell me what you think after."
I was fourteen, and I was the first boy in a family of nine children. Apart from going to fish with my father from time to time, I was leading the worry-free and exciting life of most boys of my age. Then my father fell ill suddenly and died a bit later. My elder sisters efficiently supported my mother in the house-keeping tasks.
The funeral ceremonies were properly organized with the help of our uncles despite the endless wailings throughout the period before burial. The people who were visiting us were amazed by the meticulous organization, and they were inundating me with tons of congratulations. Yet, I had only offered the strength of my small arms for some basic tasks. What did I understand about all these efforts, all this protocol? The grown-up men in charge, the real men, were stretching their minds and working their fingers to the bone to tackle all of this. Yet, they were always letting me know their conclusions, as if I had the power to change anything.
Ah! I was quivering. I needed to learn to become a man, a real man, a grown-up. But let's come back to my father for a moment. Before his death, when the members of our clan had a gathering on important matters, he had the main role. He was not the leader, but his title gave him the role of the disciplinarian, the bursar, chief of protocol and the negotiator. He was the one to organize almost everything, and he could solve almost any dispute. He was also the one to set up the amount of dowries for our daughters who were going to marry and, most terrible of all the tasks, he was the one to communicate the amount of the tribute that a widow had to give to her late husband's family, in compensation for all the care he provided for her.
But back then, I had no concern about all of that because I was dreaming of adventure, girls, of showing-off. Of course, here and there I was hearing dissatisfied murmurings regarding the way my father had settled some disputes or about the homages that the chief used to pay to my father when everything was well. But why should these old-fashioned issues bother me, subjects which did not obviously concern the people of my age? My father was there, a solid strapping man of around fifty years, sharp, energetic and discerning.
But now, the ancestors had suddenly called him back to them, and I was the natural successor. I had to replace him. From the frail and cowardly teenager that I was then, I had to become robust and courageous. From natural gentleness and daydreams, I had to become alert, bold, harsh. And my stammering? I had to be eloquent and enthralling. I was unable to even to make decisions for myself, but now I had to make decisions for women and widows.
"You will start with your mom," said the Chief, bringing me back from my thoughts.
"I know, Chief, I know," I learnedly replied with a hint of conceit in my voice, fascinated by all these advantages which are the exclusive privileges of our clan's men.
At the wake ceremony before the burial day, all the dignitaries of our clan were there, taking their seats in a sort of circle around our courtyard. It was a struggle for me to put my insecurities aside and take a seat among all these old men decked out with their loincloths and out-of-style jackets.
Drum rolls were still tearing through the air when the Chief got up and took me by the hand. He said, "Let the brook become a river, let the hill become a mountain, let the sparrow take the scale of an eagle and the lion cub be covered with the mane of a lion."
As he was speaking, the hand he was using to hold me squeezed my wrist hard enough to break it, while his other hand waved a giant ceremonial fly-swatter about quite dramatically.
As the tradition requires, I had a loincloth around my waist, bare feet and chest, and around my neck hung a large collar necklace which symbolized the burden of my father. If one could see me, I looked more like a half-featherless rooster than an imposing and charismatic man who was supposed to impress these old fossils forming the council of the wise ones.
Finally when the Chief finished the speech, he gave me his large fly-swatter and demanded that the attendees give their attention to me.
My heart was beating wildly, but I breathed from my innards and I thrust forward with my trembling and uncertain voice: "The bird which flies away leaves a feather. The man who goes away leaves a print, and the offshoot must one day replace the banana tree. Our voices will resound across the world because the blood of the fathers runs in the veins of the sons as a guarantee of our clan's durability and faithfulness to our traditions."
Everyone responded with unanimous nods of approval, "Ah! He speaks like his father... This is his father himself, the spitting-image," they murmured in response.
I felt reassured for a time and I prepared myself to continue with a more calm tone when I heard: "Speak loudly. Your father used to speak loudly!"
So, I opened my throat while endeavoring at the same time to maintain the enormous ceremonial fly-swatter in the air, which was beginning to weigh a ton. However, their affirmations diminished little by little so I turned to the Chief, as though asking for his support. "Stand up straight!" he thundered in his steely voice.
The moment was serious, the seconds seemed to me eternities. Hey! Mr. Ancestors, don't you know any means to help me disappear from up here?
I mumbled some words again and decided to stop there. Was this then the end of the test? Nope! In taking my father's role in the clan, I still had to announce officially and publicly to my mother the value of the tribute that she had to pay and when she would be authorized to show herself in public places. So, they brought her forward. Her hair was in battle and she had an unspecified dress thrown on her shoulders like a coat.
"Woman," I started, "After all these years near your husband, our son, enjoying the fruit of his labor, we—the parents and brothers of the defunct who entrusted him with the force and the protection of the clan—settle the amount of your compensation as follows: You will present to me within nine days, three goats of good race, nine cocks, three bags of corn, five oil cans, ten bundles of wood and 200,000 francs cash. Even the smallest failure to meet this requirement will bring you the wrath and the curse of the clan."
It was surreal. Whereas usually, I could never hold the gaze of my dominating mom without running the risk of collecting a nice smack, today she was the one to cast her eyes down in front of me, a fourteen-year-old boy who could hardly give himself a bath. Here I was, on the side of the strongest, but do you think I was feeling strong? Never!
I was the son of my mother, sharing her sorrow and quite aware that she could not satisfy this request. And when I saw her burst into sobs when I went down the string of requirements, I could not repress the desire to not be a man. My last words were intersected by large tear drops rolling down my cheeks.
"Les hommes ne pleurent pas!!!" hurla le chef.
"Men don't cry!!!" the chief howled.
But I was not hearing him anymore. I was a small, sniveling man among real men—a funny boy who wanted to act like a man but ended up resembling a woman. Was I too sensitive to be a man? Was the weight of the traditions too heavy for me? Everyone will certainly have his or her own, personal opinion. But I still wonder why can't we change these traditions. Perhaps if we were to change the traditions so that they reflect our conscience, we would end up changing the whole world for the better.
At the end of my story, I asked my pupil if she still wanted to become a boy. "I don't know any more, Sir," she answered.
And you, then, how would you answer?
-- Samuel Etouké Elimby,
Tree Bark Has Layers
Almost immediately, a surprisingly wide array of benefits flows our way when we begin eating healthy food. Our skin becomes clearer, sleep improves, our digestion functions well, our ability to concentrate improves, our weight stays stable, we are less inclined to get sick, our mood brightens, and we have more energy. Most importantly, we feel better about ourselves, through and through. Really though, the only way to determine whether these claims for healthier eating hold true for you, is to give it a go.
For all its advantages, however, healthy eating is easier said than done. That's because the vast majority of food made readily available to us as we move through the modern world isn't fundamentally healthy. Most packaged and fast foods haven't been designed to deepen our health. They are deliberately designed to be cheap, quick to prepare and eat and loaded with addictive fats and sugars—to "hook" us so that we (and our wallets) keep coming back for more.
Navigating our way past this jungle of fast, processed foods and the accompanying tidal wave of sophisticated and seductive advertising deliberately targeting younger tastebuds, presents a very great challenge. Eating well requires educating ourselves, resisting temptation, and much willingness and determination to do the right thing.
How then do we make sense of what is healthy and what is to be avoided? A key observation holds true: locally raised food will reliably be the healthiest food you can eat. So, try to eat food raised as close to your home as possible. Where you are able, eat vegetables and fruit that are in season. Where I live, for example, I eat fresh, local strawberries throughout the summer and fresh, local leeks throughout the winter. I extend my seasonal food availability by having a big, winter-hardy veggie garden, and by drying or canning much of my summer harvest of plums, apples, peaches, pears, berries, tomatoes, beans and cucumbers to eat through the rest of the year. As those who eat at my table agree, even "canned" local food tastes and feels better than out-of-season produce that will have traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to your supermarket. There is simply more goodness in it.
Where possible, begin taking greater responsibility for finding out how the food you eat is actually grown. Very often the best way to find local food is to go to your local farmer's market where local farmers sell their produce directly to you.
For most kids and young adults, starting a vegetable garden or raising chickens at home is unrealistic, unless space is available and parents are also committed to the challenge. Fortunately, however, many programs are now emerging to help kids and young adults explore this responsibility within their communities. We are seeing a nationwide explosion in the number of vegetable gardens in schools. In one of my local high schools, the impetus for such a garden was not teachers and parents, but students themselves.
We are also seeing strong growth in farm-to-cafeteria initiatives—efforts to bring fresh, local food into school kitchens. Ask your school what it is doing to bring such food to you and your fellow students. Find out who in your school district is working on this; they will be delighted to hear from an ally and may encourage and support you to play a role in stewarding this burgeoning trend.
-- Nick Routledge manages the nursery for the School
Garden Project of Lane County in Springfield, Oregon.
What's On Your Mind?
Early this morning, as I lay in bed after spending all night working on the computer, my father phoned me. I was surprised, because it was so early. Nervously he asked, "Your sister tells me that you spent the night in the Internet bar. Is that right?"
I responded sleepily, "Well, yes! But I was not there for fun. I had homework to type and e-mail. It's not busy at night and it's cheaper then."
He replied in a more normal tone, "Well, don't go there at night. If you need it, I'll give you extra money to buy books or whatever, but the Internet bar is dangerous at night. Understand?"
It's hard to avoid going there at night—during the day I have a lot of other things to do—but I promised not to go again at night.
It occurred to me that it had been almost four years since I began to really understand my father.
Soon after I was born, I lived with my grandmother, not my parents. I rarely saw them. At that time, Father was working in the town as a middle school teacher and my mother had gone to help him with housework. I was left with Grandmother when I was just two or three months old. Because I couldn't see them very often, I didn't miss them at all.
The first time I remember meeting Father, when I was six, he came to take me to the town where he worked so that I could attend school. I have a picture in my mind of a tall, overweight man walking down the road, followed by a little girl, thin and humble, their figures gradually vanishing into the morning fog.
I was extremely afraid of my father. Over the years he was like a stranger, showing little kindness to my sister and me. He was always a man beyond our reach.
My sister is four years older than me. When I came to live with them, it seemed she hadn't known I existed. She ordered me around, punched me and locked me in a dark room. However, after she went to college, a wonderful thing happened. Suddenly, I was important to her. She bought candy and chocolate for me, and we walked around together. Now, we are together, studying in Xining. Although she had spent more time with Father than I, Father shared his coldness equally between us.
Father is not a man who hugs or kisses his children. Rather, he scolds and shouts. In nineteen years, only once did he help me put on my clothes and only once did he help me carry my bag. Both times I held my breath and my heart pounded fast. Normally, our conversation was nothing but his endless scolding or chasing me around with a stick.
The question often came to me, "Is he my stepfather or my real father?" I decided that he must be my stepfather. Otherwise he wouldn't be so hard on me, but that answer didn't make me feel better.
Father would vanish for days and come back reeking of liquor. After a few days of rest, he was off again, leaving us with nowhere to find him. Mother bore it all without complaint. She was always busy with housework or working at the local printing factory. She cut grass and collected spoiled vegetables from the local market to feed the pig and two sheep Grandmother had given us. At night, she washed basin after basin of our clothes. Her small salary from the factory supported our life. I began to hate my father for his heartlessness and carelessness.
When I was in middle school, I was surprised to find Father staying at home more and more, hardly going out at all. Mother told me Father had been diagnosed with diabetes. I was not as upset as I thought I should be and wondered, "Am I really so emotionless?"
The only way I could help was to not make him angry. "That's easy," I thought, since we rarely spoke to each other anyway. We talked only when necessary, but from that time on, Father began to change. He was at home, and started to care about our schoolwork, our family and the housework, but his temper got worse. He would insult Mother in every conceivable way, and my hatred toward him was unchanging.
One day I asked Mother, "Why don't you divorce Father? I'll live with you. It does not matter whether I go to university. Sister can finish college and then live with Father. I don't want you to suffer like this."
Mother said, "My daughter, not only do I suffer, but also your father is suffering. In fact, he is a good man, but this is our fate. My hope is that your sister and you will graduate from a good school and have a better life, no matter how much I suffer during these years."
I was very upset to hear Mother say this. I couldn't bear Father's cruelty to Mother's self-dignity.
Things reached a climax one day when Grandmother told me that Mother and Father were maternal cousins. Father's parents had died when he was very young, leaving his three younger brothers and him alone in this world. Consequently, Grandma took the responsibility to rear them herself. When my mother was nineteen-years-old, Grandmother married her to Father, so that Mother could help care for their family. Certainly, there was no love between them when they married. Even today Mother sometimes comments, "How can you love your cousin since you are relatives and grew up together?"
Now I knew why Mother said, "This is our fate."
I have forgiven Father for the past. I understand him more, and he is now kind to us all. I believe he thinks he hasn't much time left and I know the only things that support his will to live longer are my sister and me. He knows that if he passes away, our family situation will be much worse, and it will be impossible for both of us to finish university. He wants to live longer, take care of his illness and cherish his life, for our sake. He strictly follows the doctor's advice. Every morning he goes jogging and exercises in the local gym, and he follows a strict diet. In four years, he has become thin and old, but he still tries and never gives up.
-- Mtsho mo Skyid (Faith), 20,
Tibetan, P. R. China.
Skipping Stones Magazine