The election winners in the City of Boone last night were . . . wait for it . . . CHICKENS! Of all the surprising and encouraging election results in Iowa yesterday, what happened in Boone tops the list. To be clear, no chicken’s actual name appeared on the ballot. But the right to responsibly own backyard hens was a pivotal factor behind voters’ decision to elect three new council members.
Yup. Chickens have yet to win the right to vote, yet they sure made a difference in Boone this week . . . chickens and the fact that voters are tired of ineffective government, poor management of tax dollars, and politicians ignoring the life-and-death issues affecting more and more of us.
April Burch is one of 40-50 Boone residents who keep backyard chickens. I’ve seen April’s coop. It’s immaculate, spacious, and if I ever end up homeless again, I want to live there.
“Our flock has been an absolute blessing for our children,” says April. “Our kids have been through a lot in their young lives and what they call ‘chicken therapy’ has really helped them flourish and feel grounded here.”
For chicken advocates, the pivotal moment happened when a Boone police officer circulated a meme based on Gorillas in the Mist. It showed a rooster in place of the gorilla, and April in place of Dian Fossey, who was killed standing up against corrupt government officials complicit in poaching gorillas.
“The meme was shocking and carried a very sinister and implicit threat,” says April. “It felt like the officer was trying to silence us, maybe to keep us from appearing in front of the city council that night.”
On October 16, the group was scheduled to attend the Boone City Council meeting in response to 650 Boone residents who had signed a petition in favor of allowing chickens. The pro-chicken group’s request was quickly rejected by council members.
The dismissive way the pro-chicken people were treated combined with the threatening meme led April to one conclusion: “The way the councilmembers and mayor treated us wasn’t reflective of our town’s spirit. They looked down their noses at us and wouldn’t even consider a compromise. They were brash and mean, and the officer was even threatening. I’d had enough, so I recruited a friend, Dean Erickson, to run against the mayor on a write-in campaign.
Though his name wasn’t even on the ballot and the write-in campaign was announced less than three weeks before the election, Erickson received 25% of the vote. On a write-in campaign! That energy helped translate into victory for three other reform candidates.
Election results across Iowa were similarly positive. In Des Moines, renewable energy wizard Josh Mandelbaum won against a well-financed former city councilman. “Voters want someone to stand up for them in the ongoing water-quality debate. They want someone who’s going to create a more walkable, bikable city, too,” says Josh.
In Pleasant Hill, Ross Grooters squeaked out a victory for a council seat. I first met Ross during the Occupy Wall Street movement. Since then, he’s continued his unabashed efforts as a proponent of many progressive causes.
In Dubuque, Kate Larson ran to replace the only woman on the city council, Joyce Connors, who was retiring after 16 years. “This is a working class ward with a lot of diversity in race and incomes,” Kate told me. “I won because I’ve been standing up for issues people care about, especially during my four years on the Parks and Recreation Commission. We worked really hard to run a positive, people-powered campaign, and that’s why people turned out and were excited about it. Turnout was 18%, compared with 8% two years ago.”
I’m still trying to process all that happened last night. I’ve heard of upbeat election results in Ames, Iowa City and Muscatine. If you’ve got details on what transpired in your community, let me know.
Going forward, here’s a big question: What, if anything, do these results say about the 2018 General Election? Kate says, “Last night’s results reflect an awakening. Progressive candidates winning shows momentum that will definitely keep going through the midterms.”
Let’s not merely hope that happens, let’s make it happen. As April Burch showed in Boone, one person — ok, one person and a handsome flock of chickens — can make a huge difference.
Kirsten Anderson is my guest on Monday’s Fallon Forum at 11:30 a.m. Kirsten’s the former Iowa Senate Republican caucus staffer who received a $1.75 million settlement in the high-profile lawsuit that exposed the “boys’ club” environment beneath the golden dome, where rampant sexual harassment was ignored by Republican supervisors and lawmakers alike.
And on November 7, wherever you live, please vote! Local elections don’t get nearly the amount of coverage as, say, an unhinged twitter fiend running for, say, president. But local elections are important, and city officials have a profound influence on our daily lives.
If you live outside Des Moines, I’d be interested in an update on candidates and ballot initiatives in your area. If you live in Des Moines, please support Skip Moore for the at-large council seat and Josh Mandelbaum for Ward 3.
Interestingly, The Des Moines Register’s endorsement of Josh and non-endorsement of Skip present the reasons you need to support both of them.
Regarding Josh, The Register praises “his knowledge of environmental issues and, in particular, clean water, one of the biggest issues facing Des Moines. As an environmental lawyer and lobbyist for the Environmental Policy Center, Mandelbaum entered the race criticizing [outgoing Council member Christine] Hensley’s support of the controversial Statehouse bill to dismantle the Des Moines Water Works.”
I’ve known Josh since he was a student at Roosevelt High School in the mid 1990s and passionate about important causes. His life since has continued to show a deep commitment to working for a better world, particularly in the area of environmental protection and renewable energy. We could sure use more of that on the city council.
The Register’s non-endorsement of Skip says, “He’s been a strong voice for the neighborhoods… He can get in the weeds on such subjects as potholes, sewers and viaducts, but he can also speak forcefully for the interests of immigrants, minorities and others who don’t have a voice.”
Well, that’s enough reason to support Skip right there. He’s one of three council members I can count on to consistently return phone calls and follow through on commitments. Booting Skip off the council would be a huge step backward for Des Moines, especially since Josh will need Skip’s help addressing Des Moines’ water problem.
Thanks! – Ed
I’m writing with an urgent appeal. Since March of 2016, Bold Iowa has been a key leader on climate change and eminent domain. In fact, our work is recognized not just in Iowa but across the country.
We’ve built a powerful rural-urban network of environmentalists, farmers, Indigenous communities, landowners, and property-rights advocates. But our funding is perilously tight, and we truly need your support NOW! If even 10% of those receiving this message contribute $25, that would cover 20% of our annual budget. So, please TAKE A COUPLE MINUTES TO DONATE!
Our mission to build a broad coalition to fight climate change, protect land and water, and stand up for property rights against the abuse of eminent domain keeps our awesome team busy. Beyond the importance of your financial support, if you’re feeling really bold and would like to discuss joining our team, contact me at email@example.com.
Much of our work has focused on stopping the Dakota Access pipeline. We’re deeply saddened that oil is now running under Iowa’s precious soil and water. But this fight is far from over. The lawsuit filed by nine Iowa landowners and the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club is before the Iowa Supreme Court. This is a landmark case that could potentially put the brakes on the erosion of private property rights! (Read my recent blog here, and stay tuned for updates.)
Here are a few of Bold Iowa’s 2017 accomplishments:
January: We followed-up on the December, 2016 rally and march in support of the Landowner/Sierra Club lawsuit, continuing to build awareness of that lawsuit and the other pipeline fighter cases going to trial. Also, Ed and five landowners were interviewed by Eric Byler with The Young Turks in extensive national coverage of Iowa landowners’ resistance to the pipeline.
February: We coordinated a statewide day of action to push back against Dakota Access, with meetings and non-violent direct action at 12 locations across Iowa, receiving extensive press coverage and resulting in four arrests during a sit-in at the Governor’s office.
March: We helped Little Creek Camp with promotion and fundraising. Also, part of Bold Iowa’s effectiveness includes plenty of “earned” media, including an appearance on WHO TV 13’s The Insiders.
April: We organized and led the eight-day, 85-mile Climate Justice Unity March to build bridges between urban and rural constituencies on climate, water and eminent domain. A national documentary crew is producing a video about the March.
May: We organized the press conference for pipeline-fighter Heather Pearson’s trial in Rockwell City, which was covered by three media outlets.
June: Bold Iowa and several of our leaders are mentioned extensively in the TigerSwan memos released in detailed investigative reports published by The Intercept. The memos confirm the effectiveness of Bold Iowa’s “Bold Action Teams,” a strategy that slowed down pipeline construction considerably.
July: Working with Indigenous Iowa, we organized a rally and concert to demand pipeline accountability from Iowa’s elected leaders. The event featured renowned Native classical guitarist Gabriel Ayala.
August: Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace, Bold Iowa and other organizations claiming damages of $1 billion. Our multi-layered strategy — education, protest, marches, civil disobedience, divestment, and political action — has had a clear and profound impact. Bold Iowa is honored to be tagged in this lawsuit, the second time in the past year ETP has come after us in the courts.
September: We discovered and publicized language in the Iowa Code showing that Gov. Branstad’s latest appointment to the Iowa Utilities Board, Richard Lozier, is unfit to serve because of “gross partiality” due to his work as an attorney representing the Dakota Access pipeline.
October: We began the process of contacting candidates for Governor and US Congress, with plans to endorse candidates who are strong on climate action, committed to fighting to protect our environment, and advocate for reining in the abuse of eminent domain. We also continue to stand in court with pipeline fighters Emma Schmit, Mahmud Fitil, and Kriss Wells who, along with Heather Pearson, were arrested last year and brought their cases to trial.
Finally, we’re planning a “Picnic on the Pipeline” for October 29 — stay tuned for more detail on that — and we’re launching a series of house parties on solar energy.
Wow, right?! We’ve done a heckuva lot for a small, grassroots organization! Help build on this success by stepping forward:
- Contribute a one-time or monthly donation.
- Keep up with our work on Facebook.
- Sign up for our email list.
Thanks! Together, let’s be bold and fight for an Iowa that puts our traditional values of community, hard work, and respect for the land and water ahead of the narrow, self-serving interests of bought-and-paid-for politicians and corporate bigwigs who are trying to run roughshod over our rights and our lives.
[Please come to the trial for Emma Schmit and Mahmud Fitil, pipeline fighters arrested last fall for blocking construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline during Bold Iowa‘s Farmers Defense Camp. For more detail, check out this excellent video by Rodger Routh. We’ve been asked not to wear pipeline shirts in the courtroom.]
I’ve never understood why Christopher Columbus was given a holiday. [Listen to Donnielle Wanatee on this week’s Forum.] I get why we celebrate the impressive lives of men (yeah, they’re all men, but let’s change that) like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. These men actually accomplished great things.
But a holiday for a guy who “discovered” America? I mean, really, you sail west from Spain and how could you miss it?
Columbus didn’t “discover” America. He pillaged it and opened the door to one of the most despicable genocides in human history. Such an “accomplishment” doesn’t warrant a national holiday. It warrants a national apology to the descendants of the Indigenous people Columbus and other European invaders slaughtered.
So I’m all kinds of excited about the movement to declare the first Monday of October “Indigenous Peoples Day,” which already has been approved in 55 cities.
Let’s keep that going. My prediction is by the middle of the next decade, Columbus Day will no longer be a national holiday and we’ll celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in its place. But in the interest of reconciliation, I suggest we give Columbus Day an honorable, merciful death by sending a flaming replica of Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, down the Potomac River and out to sea. Leif Erikson would be proud.
And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of Groundhog Day. America’s most overrated rodent is wrong half the time anyhow.
As the battle against the Dakota Access pipeline moves from countryside to courtroom, from protest to litigation, pipeline opponents in Iowa have yet another reason to be optimistic.
Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against Rock Island Clean Line (RICL) — the Texas company proposing a 500-mile wind transmission line across Iowa and Illinois. The Court ruled unanimously that RICL is not a public utility and does not have the right to use eminent domain. Click here to read the entire ruling.
Regardless of your opinion on wind transmission lines, the Illionis decsion’s ramifications for Iowa are huge.
To quote directly from the ruling, RICL must “own, control, operate or manage, within this State, directly or indirectly, a plant, equipment, or property used or to be used for or in connection with the production, transmission, sale, etc. of one of the specified commodities or services. Second, it must own, control, operate, or manage the plant, equipment, property, franchise, etc. ‘for public use.’ Rock Island fails to meet the first of these requirements.”
Keith Puntenney — an attorney and Webster County landowner whose property was taken by Dakota Access — points out that: “When it comes to eminent domain, Iowa law is very similar to Illinois law. In the case of the Dakota Access pipeline, no services are provided to the Iowa public. In fact, Dakota Access’ ‘product’ will not come back to Iowans at a lower cost than already exists. The only economic advantage from the pipeline inures to private parties, NOT the Iowa public at large. The Illinois case further strengthens our argument that oil and gas pipelines are not public utilities and should never have the authority to use eminent domain.”
And here’s what Iowa State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) had to say about the ruling: “The Illinois court got it right when it sided with landowners. The court made it clear that corporations that aren’t public utilities shouldn’t be given the power of eminent domain, whether the merchant line in question is carrying wind or oil.”
In short, last week’s ruling in Illinois is a big deal! Iowa’s pipeline fight isn’t over! We’ve moved from education to lobbying to protest, and now to the courts. The appeal filed by Iowa landowners and the Sierra Club continues to move forward. Briefs and rebuttals are currently being submitted, and we expect the Iowa Supreme Court to hear the case early next year.
If, over the past three years, you’ve taken action to oppose the Dakota Access pipeline — whether you testified before the Iowa Utilities Board, wrote a letter to the editor, attended a hearing, donated money, marched or engaged in direct action — your voice and your presence are needed now more than ever.
So please: STAY INVOLVED! The Illinois ruling’s relevance to Iowa is significant. Let’s continue to raise our voices against the abuse of eminent domain, against the threat this pipeline poses to our water and land, against the damage this oil is doing to Earth’s climate.
Each week, I’ll ask you to take a specific action. Today, I ask you send a letter to the editor of your local paper, referencing some of the points presented in this blog. If you need additional information or have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And send me a copy of the letter you write. Thanks!
Sometimes I just wanna scream. (OK, sometimes I do, though never loud enough to wake the neighbors or chickens.)
HOW MUCH MORE EVIDENCE DO WE NEED!!? (Caps, bold, italics and underline intended)
Consistent with what climate scientists have forecast:
* Storms are getting stronger — never before have two Category 4 hurricanes hit the U.S. in the same year.
* Unprecedented wildfires continue to rage in ten Western states, with 21,000 firefighters working to contain them.
* Heck, there was even a large wildfire in Greenland this summer. Freaking Greenland!
* Last year surpassed 2015 as the hottest on record, and 14 of the 15 warmest years have occurred since 2000.
* Average global sea level reached a record high in 2016.
* And the cherry on the melting ice cream cake . . . “No surprise, global atmospheric CO2 concentration reached another record high in the official database, surpassing 402 ppm.” (AccuWeather’s Brett Anderson)
One could cite many more statistics. They add up to the undeniable reality that “climate change is rolling toward us like a freight train, mucking up our weather and our lives.” (Ed Fallon, “Get Your Lazy Ass Out of Bed.” Yeah, I just quoted myself. Awesome, hey?)
So one would think that if someone, say me, listened to hours and hours of radio news reports while driving 1,200 miles to help evacuate his daughter-in-law, grandson and son’s dog (who is more qualified to serve as the USDA’s Chief Scientist than Sam Clovis, just saying) from South Florida to safe haven in the North . . . you’d think I’d hear just one mention of the link between climate change and Hurricane Irma. But no. Not on CNN. Not on CBS. Not even on NPR.
Well, ok, one mainstream media outlet did mention climate change: Fox. Yup. A Fox News anchor interviewed a meteorologist about Hurricane Irma and asked if it was “just cyclical.” The meteorologist paused and said as politely as he could that, well, actually, there’s a lot more warm water in the Atlantic Ocean than there used be.
I hear it now: “Fallon, stop politicizing this terrible disaster. Just focus on saving lives and protecting property. You can have your climate rant after the waters recede and power is restored.”
Sorry, but that argument is B.S. The time to talk about the Irma-climate link is NOW — not after the media have moved on to the next hot item in the news cycle.
Discussing climate change isn’t politicizing the news (like that never happens). We’re talking science, not politics. Politics is when, for example, an elected official takes money from Energy Transfer Partners and then supports the Dakota Access pipeline, as a bipartisan cadre of Iowa political sell-outs did last year.
Ignoring the primary cause of this record-breaking hurricane is unreasonable, irresponsible and lets another teachable moment slip through our fingers as we free fall toward catastrophe.
CLIMATE CHANGE MUST BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION WITH EVERY UNPRECEDENTED METEOROLOGICAL MOMENT.
Help make that happen. One thing you can do is support Bold Iowa. Our funding comes from people like you who care deeply about the climate crisis and renewable energy, eminent domain abuse, money in politics and the embarrassing ineffectiveness of our political leadership. So, yeah, we’ve got our hands full. If you can convince just one of your hands to take a few minutes to make a donation of $25, $50 or $100, we’d be most grateful.
Also, here’s a link to last week’s action to encourage Gov. Reynolds to remove Richard Lozier from the Iowa Utilities Board, and . . .
. . . a link to my interview with Lee Camp regarding the Energy Transfer Partners lawsuit naming Bold Iowa and citing these very blogs. Thanks!
I’m so excited about my new flock of chickens! Over the past two months, they’ve made solid progress toward becoming fully enrolled members of the Des Moines Society of Colorful Egg Layers. Like an overly protective parent, I worry about them when I leave town. But fortunately, I have two wonderful friends, Emily and Johanna, who mind them in my absence. (Emily, Johanna, in terms of chicken sitters, you’re the best!)
On the other end of the chicken-sitter spectrum is Mr. Fox. If my only option were to put Mr. Fox in charge of the coop, I’d come home to an empty nest.
Yeah, yeah, the fox-watching-the-henhouse metaphor has been squeezed to death — but it’s really the best way to describe former Gov. Branstad’s appointment of Richard Lozier to the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB).
Lozier’s connection to Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) as the attorney for the MAIN Coalition tags him as Branstad’s fox sent to guard Iowa’s land, water and property rights. Lozier’s bias is so transparent that Branstad never should have appointed him.
Gov. Reynolds needs to do the right thing and remove Lozier from the IUB. The Iowa Code speaks strongly to this type of conflict, citing “gross partiality” in Chapter 66.26(3) as grounds for deposing someone like Lozier.
Earlier this summer, Indigenous Iowa and Bold Iowa began circulating a petition calling on Gov. Reynolds and the Executive Council of Iowa to remove Lozier from the IUB. Please take a minute to sign the petition and circulate it to your contacts.
Next Friday, September 8 at 11:00 a.m, Bold Iowa and its partners will deliver the petition to Gov. Reynolds, as part of the National Day of Action to Stop Energy Transfer Partners. We’ll meet on the west steps of the State Capitol for a brief rally, then head inside. I’ve got a call in to Gov. Reynolds’ scheduler, and will keep you posted about that and other developments on our Facebook invite and Bold Iowa website.
Sign the petition here: http://fallonforum.com/
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
5:00 p.m. CT, August 22, 2017
Contact: Ed Fallon at (515) 238-6404 or email@example.com
BOLD IOWA CITED IN OIL COMPANY’S SWEEPING LAWSUIT
Allegations of “racketeering” absurd, claims Bold Iowa’s leader
Des Moines, IA — In response to the 187-page lawsuit by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) against Greenpeace and numerous other NGOs, Bold Iowa’s director, Ed Fallon, labeled it “a corporate witch hunt” and “a desperate, insidious effort to silence public opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) and other fossil-fuel expansion projects.”
“Clearly, our movement has had quite an impact on ETPs bottom line,” said Fallon, whose organization, Bold Iowa, is mentioned frequently throughout ETP’s lawsuit. ETP claims that the campaign to stop DAPL has cost it perhaps $300 million (Item 364). Item 24 of the suit says, “The damage to Plaintiffs’ relationships with the capital markets has been substantial, impairing access to financing and increasing their cost of capital and ability to fund future projects at economical rates.”
Three of Fallon’s blogs from his visit to Standing Rock in November and December of 2016 are referenced (page 154), and Bold Iowa’s Bold Action Teams are discussed in Item 316 of the lawsuit: “To stop construction, Bold Iowa organized and trained ‘Bold Action Teams’ (‘BAT’) which consisted of teams of five people who mobilize repeatedly to prevent construction until the point that the BATs were threatened with arrests. Bold Iowa members trespassed on live construction zones and physically prevented construction by lying in front of bulldozers or other construction equipment. Bold Iowa combined the BAT method with regular press releases openly touting the effectiveness of the BAT method of shutting down construction. BAT disruptions ultimately resulted in dozens of arrests.”
“It’s encouraging to know that our efforts had an impact,” continued Fallon. “At the same time, any American who values freedom of speech and the right to assemble should find it chilling that a huge corporation with seemingly bottomless pockets can use its clout to try to silence dissent through the courts.”
“For me, a lawsuit from ETP seems to have become an annual event,” concluded Fallon. Last August, ETP sued Bold Iowa and Iowa CCI, and Fallon and CCI’s Adam Mason specifically, to try to stop the two organizations from organizing peaceful protests and nonviolent civil disobedience. The lawsuit was dismissed by a district court judge in Polk County, Iowa.
Bold Iowa was formerly part of the national Bold Alliance and is now an independent non-profit organization that addresses the climate crisis, opposes the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure projects, promotes renewable energy and works to build a broad, urban/rural coalition of Iowans concerned about climate, land, water, property rights and greater accountability and integrity in politics. The organization’s new website is under construction and will be available in the near future.
Ed Fallon served in the Iowa Legislature for 14 years before running unsuccessfully for governor in 2006 and US Congress in 2008. Since 2009, he has hosted a talk show, The Fallon Forum, which airs on five radio stations and is available online.
# # #
A few weeks ago, Lars Pearson and I were discussing the state of our country. Lars bemoaned the prospect of 3 1/2 more years of Donald Trump as president while I prognosticated that, within a year, the Tweeter in Chief will no longer occupy the White House. Our conversation ended with a friendly wager, one that Lars hopes I win.
Given the President’s response to the horrific events in Charlottesville, I’m inclined to move up the date of his premature departure. Most business and political leaders, even those in his own party, condemned the President’s remarks. Exceptions included Iowa congressmen Rod Blum and Steve King, who offered nuanced statements that belie their sympathy with the alt-right crazies. (See Kathie Obradovich’s column for details.)
So much quality commentary has been shared about Charlottesville, it’s hard to know which to recommend. If you’ve got just a couple minutes, I’d suggest this brief but powerful statement by my cousin, Jimmy Fallon. (Yeah, all Fallons are related, having crawled out of the same bog in southern Roscommon County, Ireland.)
A man or woman can’t serve effectively as president if he or she loses the trust of the American people. America’s confidence in Donald Trump was shaky to begin with. With each new offensive statement, tweet and proposal, that confidence erodes even further.
Yes, the end of the Trump presidency is near. For that, a growing majority of us are increasingly grateful.
But wait! Another end is near, relevant to climate change. This end is so delicately poised it could go one of two ways:
(1) Our rapidly-warming Earth arrives at that tipping point long predicted by scientists, where cataclysmic disruptions severely alter life on our planet. Many people will die, especially front-line communities least responsible for causing the problem. Those who survive will have no choice but to adapt. The pain will be prolonged, but humanity will be dragged kicking and screaming into a challenging but sustainable future.
(2) A different historic tipping point is achieved. Americans wake-up to the reality that we face an existential crisis like no other. The nations of the world launch the all-hands-on-deck, full-scale mobilization advocated by The Climate Mobilization. We mitigate the damage and destruction through preparedness, innovation and cooperation, arriving at that sustainable future with a lot less pain and suffering.
I’m opting for the second tipping point, and my life for the past decade has been committed to helping birth that reality. (Here’s my recent appearance on The Insiders with David Price.) Honestly, I’m surprised we aren’t there yet, given the growing number of climate indicators:
* Nearly every year sets a new record for warmest ever.
Yes, this end is near too. Just as we’ll survive Trump’s presidency, abbreviated or otherwise, we’ll survive climate change. But the longer we wait to mobilize, the uglier it’s going to get. That’s a reality none of us want to see.
So let’s kick it into high gear! Mobilize! Make those personal changes that allow you to live lighter on the Earth — and allow you to live more sustainably.
Especially, let’s convince our leaders to act NOW. School board and municipal elections are coming up. Next year’s midterm primary election is just over nine months away. Act now. Act boldly — in the streets, in the fields and in the voting booth.
I’ve had lots of invigorating conversations lately about the spiritual and moral impetus for civil disobedience. Much of that conversation was inspired by the resistance of Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, who recently confessed to damaging Dakota Access pipeline equipment. Check out our talk on this week’s Fallon Forum, and dialogue with Ruby and Jess face-to-face tonight at 7:00 p.m. at 1041 8th Street in Des Moines.
Leaving time for introspection has always been tough for me. How tough? Here’s a reflection I wrote about . . . well, about reflection . . . during the 2014 Great March for Climate Action. As always, feedback welcome. Thanks. – Ed
“With Steve gone, my marching day becomes increasingly contemplative. I often avoid the route Sarah and Anna have laid out and tack on extra miles to walk quiet roads or detour through small towns in search of a cafe with Internet service and large servings of bad food.
“Western Nebraska is sparsely inhabited but under-appreciated, exuding a wealth of sights, sounds and smells too abundant to catalogue. The lack of traffic liberates me from the fear that the next car or truck barreling past could kill or maim me. My focus shifts from survival to the alluring world around me — and to the even more alluring world within.
“Marching becomes meditation, my footsteps the mantra. I see the fields, ditches, trees, irrigation pivots, fence lines, homes and out-buildings. I hear the dog bark, the cow bellow for her calf, the cardinal sing to his mate, the warm breeze rustle the chest-high corn. I smell the white clover, the fresh-cut hay, the comfortable scent of horses, the acrid pungency of too many hogs. All this and so much more drifts through my senses in slow motion — visual, audial and olfactory b-roll, the canvas for the actual performance of life itself.
“My mind focuses on the repetitive, rhythmic crunch of shoes on gravel. It clears my head and brings a sense of peace. I recall the meditation course I took at age sixteen, the ten-minute introductory session inducing an unexpected inner calm that remained with me the rest of the day. Nothing bothered me — not the blackberry thorns that tore at my skin as I harvested the plant’s fruit; not my Mother’s nagging; not my brother calling me names for sport.
“Years later, after a long day hitchhiking through the French Alps, I settled for a bit high up in the mountains at a Buddhist monastery. Sitting for hours with the monks as they chanted “om,” the sound playing off ancient stone walls that once housed Catholic monks, I noticed how the mantra would roll through six or more unique tones in one recitation.
“Decades later on a work day during my campaign for governor, I thought about that experience as I made tiramisu at Cafe Dodici, an Italian restaurant in Washington, Iowa. The restaurant’s young, artistic chef showed me how to blend the egg yolks. “Watch how many different shades of yellow they go through, like 15 or 20,” he explained excitedly. “It’s awesome, as if you’re watching the universe unfold in a mixing bowl. But you’ll need some tunes to really bring it home,” he said as he flipped a switch sending rap music blaring through the kitchen.
“Om. Egg yolks. Footsteps. There are endless aids to center oneself on the path to enlightenment. But a mantra isn’t stagnant white noise. It’s alive, rich with motion and texture. My right heel’s first contact with gravel produces a deep tone. There’s a sudden decrescendo as the foot begins to roll forward. The pitch and volume rise as my weight shifts to the ball of the foot as the left heel moves into place and repeats the pattern. Every four steps, my walking stick punctuates the rhythm with a sharp sforzando as it grinds into the loose gravel. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Seven million times . . .
“Like waves breaking on a beach, my footsteps roll through gravel, through Nebraska, toward infinity, toward eternity. At times like this, my mind seems to get it. The technique and purpose of meditation — directing the hungry soul toward the peace that comes with knowing one’s higher self — is so simple, so transparently important. Yet more often than not, my mind remains restless, distracted by both beauty and ugliness, unable to focus on the deeper truth that transports one beyond pleasure and pain.
“Forty years ago, my first meditation was a uniquely powerful experience. But life’s pressing demands lured me away from the pursuit of inner peace. Perhaps had I continued to meditate, continued to cultivate the balance that such practice brings, I’d be able to manage the March’s turmoil with more dignity. Perhaps meditating during my solo walks on backroads might yet help me deal with the challenges ahead.
“A dog barks. I re-enter the world of the senses. What kind of dog is that? Is it on a leash? Does it bite?
“A bird sings . . . wren or finch?
“Will the cafe in the next town serve real butter?
“I hope I don’t run out of wet wipes today.
“I suck at meditation, even under the tutelage of a guru as patient as western Nebraska’s gravel roads.”