Category: GEX 2015 Stories

NW Florida Emerald Coast 2015


Submitted by Mike Beck, Navarre, Florida: Seeing the Unbeautiful, Reclaiming the Beautiful

Five years ago I came to sit on the northern rim of the great bowl that holds the Gulf of Mexico because the Deepwater Horizon oil well blew up 50 mile south of New Orleans and was poisoning the waters and land where I live. It was a “wounding” and Radical Joy for Hard Times called out my lack of attention to “places we dare not look” as a unique but small way of participating in a solution to the ecological mess we, the human animal, are making of our precious home, Earth. At the time I was more unaware than I knew of the subtle psychic forces at play within me, only willing to own my all too human propensity to accept shame and guilt at our cultural behavior toward the environment. In a nutshell I was drawn to the ceremony of wounded places because “I could do this.” The flip side of this perspective was a realization about my ecological “inactivism.” For longer than I cared to admit to I had been afraid of being dragged down into the pit of helpless, hopeless despair— “I am so small and the problem is so big.” This year, my ceremony was kind of an emotional turning point.

I have known with each passing year my sense of place, the land below my heart where I call home, was changing. For too much of my life I lived amid the dichotomy of ugly wounded places and beautiful places. With the arrival of Radical Joy for Hard Times I came in time to a more satisfying labeling, for at least the wounded places— “unbeautiful” This titling led to a shift in perception about the practice of Earth Exchanges. For me they were opportunities to practice what Jack Konrfield called sacred attention. Slowly my world view, conditioned and reinforced by mass culture naming and blaming of ecological and environmental issues moved out of my head and down into my body. This in turn led me to search for practices that would ultimately embed me in the experiences of the places I was being drawn to each June. To name the most potent tool I have found and started practicing at Earth Exchanges would be the Buddhist Tonglen meditation. It is a kind of perceptual aikido infused with care for the “wounded” places. In this practice I become a perceptual translator, soaking in one reality and spinning it back using my breath with a strand of wellbeing that I choose to think becomes part of the fabric of location forever more. It is a tangible conjoining of my inner and outer realities infused with imaginative possibility and care.The take away for me has been an awakening compassion for self, others and place.

As you will see in the picture the Gulf of Mexico I am submitting this year, it is clearly a natural jewel healthy in appearance once more. Below the surface of the emerald waters is a big complicate bio-system that I can never hope to understand. I can, however, come back to it and “my beaches” the rest of years that I am able without the need for labels like “wounding”, “beautiful,” or even “unbeautiful” (when there is another huge oil spill.) Labels are no longer central to this annual ceremony for me. I come now to become more and more part of place.

Fire Island Bird


Submitted by Sansea Sparling, Fire Island, New York: storm-damaged beach

Hurricane Sandy tore through Fire Island, breaching the thin strip of land in two places. The bay rose, trashing all the marinas and town waterfronts; the ocean pounded some houses to smithereens, tore decks, roofs and sides off others. Some houses floated then mashed down neighbors.

Now many town features on the bay side are rebuilt, many ruined houses have been removed, many roofs, windows, decks have been renovated. The towns have rebuilt the  pedestrian stiles from town sidewalks over the remnants of the dunes.

But the dunes themselves, shorn of the protective dune grasses, minimized in girth by the vast quantities of sand the storm tore away, are too narrow now to protect this barrier island from another major storm, even with these installed TrapBags—already wind and weather eat away at the erstwhile protection of the dunes. Human effort to restore, enormously expensive in terms of money and labor, remains puny in comparison to what the storm carried off. Vulnerability is pitifully apparent along the whole stretch of the beach facing the Atlantic.

Standley Lake & Woman Creek Earth Exchange

StricklandSubmitted by Christi Strickland, Westminster, Colorado: Standley Lake & Woman Creek (nuclear runoff into waters)

Radioactive Runoff: Our 2015 Global Earth Exchange for Standley Lake and Woman Creek Reservoir was an experience of community, collaboration, support, and full of the love and appreciation for water. In our finding and making beauty for the lake whose land and water had been impacted by Rocky Flats, a production site for nuclear materials, we also held in our awareness Fukushima. We wondered how water, this part of our living earth that responds so strongly to energy and intention, is shaped and shapes radioactivity. On the same day, less than a mile a way, a group gathered to raise awareness to stop construction in the area that could release radioactive particles into the air. And then later that day several of us joined the Global Dances for Water, honoring water all over the planet. We sent our well wishes to Ravenwood, our sister site. We took a moment to remember the victims of the Charleston shooting, and all communities impacted by violence. The reminder: we each find our way, do our part, bring our stream into the river of change, let’s become an unstoppable force of healing. We pulled away from our site, our RadJoy bird awaiting the next visitors, in our rear view mirror we saw the cove and shore fill with geese.

Here are some words from our collective “Speaking Out Loud To The Water” act of beauty:

  • Water has given so much, and so we give back with words, movement, homeopathic blessings.
  • We are speaking out loud of comfort and flow.
  • What radioactivity rests in your sands?
  • Flags of caution, flags that remind us “care.”
  • Dear birds and plants, we are sorry, and thank you for holding and carrying the wounds of this atomic world.
  • Thank you, and we experience your wholeness and remember that our own wounds are part of our wholeness.
  • Fear comes up, we step forward and step back.
  • We are on the way!

Radical. Joy. Savory.

Honoring the Rewilding

Bergmann 1200

Submitted by Joe Bergmann, Surrey, BC, Canada: endangered wilderness

Now mostly scraped bare, the blackberries still fight tenaciously to keep the ground covered and green. Even though these few acres of bush could not be called beautiful, it is not necessary for this re-wilding to be beautiful, it is only necessary for wild nature to always have another chance.

Now there are piles of broken vines and branches, trunks piled in rows, waiting to be carted away, but there is no away. I sit beneath a large maple, tagged with yellow tape with the word “Caution”; a few of the larger cottonwoods are also marked.

I notice the wind blowing from the West, and it feels like a prairie wind. I feel my heart respond, lonely, and I wish to be blown somewhere wild. This Here is painful, yet in the distance the larks still sing of freedom. In the Southeast the early summer cumulus hide the North Cascades, thunderheads bringing memories of Colorado and the road to Ridgway.

Depression hangs over me and I feel my heart in my chest, my brow furrowed and lips tight, eyes squinting, and in my mind the words of the Griefwalker: “Surely it is a knowable, that the time to change our ways has passed.” Continuing with the recognition that we have failed, and that what remains to be revealed is the manner of our failure.

My thoughts do not serve me well; I know too much and have not a heart big enough to hold all of this. Then I remember the breath, and the life in it. One day I know l will breathe out and not breathe in again, so now I let my breath out, wait, and feel it come in, opening me to the new moment, the life that is here in this broken place. And I am at home.

Red Lily Pond Herring Run


Submitted by Steve Brown, Craigville, Massachusetts: herring run

It really was a magical day for our community. Craigville goes back to the 1870s as a Chautauqua community and it is very complex. Thirty very different people responded to our invitation to gather for the ceremony and Avis Strong Park spoke eloquently about Radical Joy for Hard Times and the need for us all to love the earth and everyone really resonated, despite their very different perspectives, and then she, as the eldest person present took a scissors with the youngest person present, my little grandson Mark Erasmus Elliott, and “cut the ribbon” to formally open and bless a little footbridge over the herring run that we have been working to build since the 1990’s.