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“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor it.”
—E.B. White

Why I do what I do

It’s late; I’m tired from a long day of invoices, where’s your time card? The proposal’s long overdue, or what do you mean 50,000 cubic yards (7,000 truck loads) of soil were deposited to the site without approval? I started doing this work—restoring the land—because I love it more than anything I know. It’s late and I’m tired. The refrain from Randy Newman’s song “Burn On” (the Cayuga River so polluted it caught fire):

... and the Cayuga River runs smoking through my dreams

When I look up at the big picture, the news is not good. We may not burn big rivers (at least in this country) anymore, but things are being burned in less dramatic ways. We are saying so many goodbyes to precious things that will never be again. It’s late and I’m tired and it’s easy to wonder, why bother? Why even try?

When I get tired and cynical, it’s time to reconnect—to engage in the only thing that really exists—the particular a specific place, person, creature. For me, generalities lead to craziness and the possibility of thoughtless action devoid of kindness. Generalization makes words like collateral damage possible. Collateral damage to people and the world itself becomes acceptable. Whatever you call it, you are killing that person or paving this field.

Kindness is possible when I look at this place, this person, this river, that deer. Truly the only place where action is possible is in the specific. There are several poets that always lead me back to why I do what I do and help me to remember it’s that field green and thriving, or this pond finally squawking again, or that hawk with a place to hunt.

I need to remember that there is no other place; there are no Elysian Fields coming, I am surrounded by the Elysian Fields that are. The stanza from What We Need Is Here by Wendell Berry is one of the best reminders I know:

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

When I wake up tomorrow, I think I’ll sit on my porch and watch the wild turkeys fly out of the tree over my house into the rising light and remember these lines from Wild Geese by Mary Oliver.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing
your place
in the family of things.


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Oakland, CA 94601
phone: (510) 261-5667








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