Peace, joy and depression

A white Christmas was fun, but we were glad to travel South when all the forecasters were predicting freezing rain and -12 wind chill. We woke out of our holiday reverie and got a move on. Too bad we don’t have forecasters to tell us when our society is in trouble so we’ll wake up and get to work.


Societies used to have such people.  One of the most famous was Jeremiah.  He predicted the destruction of his nation.  “You were given a bountiful country and ate of its fruit and its goodness. Then you defiled the land and made it an abomination.” Sounds like any country you know?

Most of us would rather stay in the holiday reverie.  Our lives are fine.  Let’s enjoy life and not listen to the Jeremiahs.  Or maybe there is a way to have joy and peace and still work to resurrect our bountiful country.

Working in countries with seemingly intractable problems, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up. People often ask me how I keep motivated working in countries where nothing seems to change. The key is to not tie your peace and joy to outcomes.  You can invest a lot of time and effort and not see much effect.  If your focus is solely on the effects, then it is sensible to become depressed and quit.

Change your focus to the activity and the people. Share your joy and peace with the people you are working with. As I help people improve their farms and create new enterprises, I try to do everything with peace and joy.  Then, if government, or weather, or big companies thwart their efforts, they aren’t as likely to give up.  They not only have skills, but a little peace and joy to help them continue their battle to improve the world.

Sure it makes no logical sense to have peace and joy when the world seems to be conspiring against you. But it is exactly that inner peace and joy which enables you to continue your efforts and become victorious.

Laugh and relax.  You know what makes the world better.  And you’ll just stick with it no matter what the world throws up against you.

A baby’s cry

Everyone loves babies. At least all resilient species do. Every once in awhile a subspecies is generated which doesn’t like babies much and doesn’t have many, and dies out. The city loving double income no kids crowd typifies that in humans today.  People who don’t like babies typically aren’t too religious either.  The rest of us love the idea of celebrating a baby being born at Christmas.


The baby we celebrate at Christmas sure caused a big disturbance.  Way bigger than the Trump disturbance.  I don’t think there is much chance of whole nations becoming devoted to Trump.  And impeachment is not as bad as crucifixion. Too bad all the emotion generated by Trump can’t be channeled into something a little more like that Christmas baby.

In the language of ecological resilience, the baby we celebrate at Christmas was an emergent phenomenon.  Out of the traditional eye-for-eye, us versus them mentality arose a new focus. Since that baby, 2000 years ago, we know that we can be transformed to show the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

Native peoples, integrated with their local ecologies, didn’t show such qualities to their neighbors.  American Indian tribes usually thought of themselves as the only real humans, all others could be treated like animals or worse. That kept the population in line.

Today we don’t treat other tribes as nonhuman.  But the liberal tribe and the Trump tribe are headed in that direction.  Not a lot of love and joy and peace and kindness on either side.  I doubt the Christmas baby would have much to do with either side.  He might just retreat to the wilderness and pray.  Maybe we should too.

Poverty of the spirit

It’s easy to blame the poor in the third world for the destruction of their ecosystems.  And its true that the poor are chopping down forests and overgrazing the land.  But some of the poorest people on earth have done a wonderful job of caring for the earth. And some of the wealthiest got their wealth by destroying entire ecosystems.


The destruction of the earth by those greedy for wealth is easy to see. One egregious example I ran across recently was an entire river valley  turned to rubble when a Chinese company wanted Mozambique’s gold. The Chinese are finding willing governments all over Africa who can be bribed to permit the rapacious destruction of their countries. Just as Western countries once did.

Most of us know little about Africa.  Did you know that, when Christ was born, southern Africa was populated by a peaceful brown skinned people who eschewed agriculture?

Before the dark Bantu peoples migrated from their homeland near the Niger River, a lighter people lived all across Southern Africa.  If you define poverty as lack of income, then these people (called San, Khoi or Bushmen) were the poorest because they had no money.

They made a life without iron or agriculture.  These came only when the Bantus migrated in.  Then began the long destruction of African wildlife.  When the Bantus acquired the white man’s tools, the destruction really took off.  Today, the Chinese love of money is finalizing the destruction of Nature in Africa.

I’ll be taking my eighteenth  trip to Africa next month, hoping to see some of the last vestiges of wild Africa on the Serengeti.  But I also seek out the last vestiges of the original African inhabitants, the San. As Bantu populations grow with unchecked needs, the San are relegated to remote deserts which no one has figured out how to exploit.

There they live in peace with very little.  Aggressiveness and greed came to Southern Africa with agriculture.


Technology destroyed the verdant natural systems of the San. Iron workers from the Niger valley enabled invaders to cut down trees and plow soil and the Bantu began the destruction of all the lands of southern Africa.

Technology does not go away easily. So we have to counter fire with fire and technology is the only way to control technology.

To do so, we must understand the qualities of resilient systems.  Everyone loves children. The poor people of Africa want more children.  The rich people of the US and Europe see those children starving and ship them food. Can we let them starve? Pictures of starving children and the greed of Western farmers unite in helping Africans have more and more children.  And natural ecosystems recede all across the continent.

We need the wilderness. It rejuvenates us.  It puts us in touch with the basic processes of all life.  Processes which are hidden from most of us by our cultures.

Our cultures which glorify greed and income. Amassing more and more is all we think of. The San and many other cultures have alternative values. These peoples accumulate a little and then stop to enjoy it.  Accumulation is just one part of resilience. Having children, part of what ecologists call redundancy, is also a quality of resilience. Technology, or innovation, is also key to resilience.  But all these must be tempered if a culture or race or species is to survive.

Innovation must be conservative. It must maintain tried and true traditions. Redundacy must be held in check by diversity. Diversity must be complementary, not rampant. Accumulation of infrastructure and reserves must be tempered by cycling these reserves to support complementary diversity.

The San and many other cultures, have incorporated those dualities in everything they do, just as do all resilient natural systems.

We can learn from those resilient natural systems or we can perish.



Hooray for the shortest day!

Just like our ancestors, we’ve been watching the sun get weaker and lower in the sky. Today, just like our ancestors, we hope to see the sun rise a little farther north and the days start to get a little longer.  It’s been almost in the 60s so we aren’t looking forward to a stronger, hotter sun.  But our ancestors lived in a colder, more northern climate had lots of reason to celebrate this time of year.

xmas72 001

The Blue Hole, our favorite swimming hold at Meadowcreek, is still cold since our narrow valley doesn’t get much sun in winter. It doesn’t even get over the tops of the trees at 3 pm.  Then it slides behind Angora Mountain at 4.  It’s still light till 5:30 or so, so work continues in our greenhouses.

But now we have hit the winter solstice and days are geting longer!

The solstice is an astronomic event on December 21, but it takes a few days to really notice the days get longer.  About December 25 is when it really sinks in.  Great coincidence that that is Christmas.

I guess it makes sense to celebrate the stolstice if you are a real Naturfreunde, but I think Christmas will do.  After all, most of the traditions of Christmas were taken from pagan celebrations of the solstice.

It’s undeniable that the date of Christmas was chosen to offset pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Natalis Invicti. Some believe that celebrating the birth of the “true light of the world” was set in synchronization with the December solstice because from that point onwards, the days began to have more daylight in the Northern Hemisphere.

Christmas is also referred to as Yule, which is derived from the Norse word jól, referring to the pre-Christian winter solstice festival.The Feast of Juul was a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia at the time of the December solstice. Fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. A Yule or Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor.
We love to have fires this time of year. The wood is often wet from the rains this time of year, but we get the fire roaring, grilled steaks and warm everyone up. Guess these fires will have to be the Juul fires to celebrate the Solstice. 
The pagans knew the value of charcoal/biochar and Christians continued the tradition but in a watered down version.  In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm and or as medicine.
In Ancient Rome the Winter Solstice festival Saturnalia began on December 17 and lasted for seven days.

Saturnalian banquets were held from as far back as around 217 BCE. The festival was held to honor Saturn, the father of the gods and was characterized by the suspension of discipline and reversal of the usual order. Grudges and quarrels were forgotten while businesses, courts and schools were closed. Wars were interrupted or postponed and slaves were served by their masters. Masquerades often occurred during this time.

It was traditional to offer gifts of imitation fruit (a symbol of fertility), dolls (symbolic of the custom of human sacrifice), and candles (reminiscent of the bonfires traditionally associated with pagan solstice celebrations). A mock king was chosen, usually from a group of slaves or criminals, and although he was permitted to behave in an unrestrained manner for seven days of the festival, he was usually killed at the end.

I don’t think we’ll reinstitute that tradition at Meadowcreek.  The Saturnalia eventually degenerated into a week-long spree of debauchery and crime – giving rise to the modern use of the tern saturnalia, meaning a period of unrestrained license and revelry.  Not exactly what we want at Meadowcreek.

In Poland the ancient December solstice observance prior to Christianity involved people showing forgiveness and sharing food. It was a tradition that can still be seen in what is known as Gody.

In the northwestern corner of Pakistan, a festival called Chaomos, takes place among the Kalasha or Kalash Kafir people. It lasts for at least seven days, including the day of the December solstice. It involves ritual baths as part of a purification process, as well as singing and chanting, a torchlight procession, dancing, bonfires and festive eating.

Many Christians celebrate St Thomas’ Day in honor of St Thomas the Apostle on December 21. In Guatemala on this day, Mayan Indians honor the sun god they worshipped long before they became Christians with a dangerous ritual known as the polo voladore, or “flying pole dance”. Three men climb on top of a 50-foot pole. As one of them beats a drum and plays a flute, the other two men wind a rope attached to the pole around one foot and jump. If they land on their feet, it is believed that the sun god will be pleased and that the days will start getting longer.

The ancient Incas celebrated a special festival to honor the sun god at the time of the December solstice. In the 16th century ceremonies were banned by the Roman Catholics in their bid to convert the Inca people to Christianity. A local group of Quechua in Cusco, Peru, revived the festival in the 1950s. It is now a major festival that begins in Cusco and proceeds to an ancient amphitheater a few miles away.

Yule is also known as Alban Arthan and was one of the “Lesser Sabbats” of the Wiccan year in a time when ancient believers celebrated the rebirth of the Sun God and days with more light. This took place annually around the time of the December solstice and lasted for 12 days. The Lesser Sabbats fall on the solstices and equinoxes.

The idea of Santa Claus may have come from the story of the first shamans who were said to climb high into the upper worlds and return with gifts of wisdom and prophecies.

No matter where the traditions came from, we will have fun celebrating Christ’s birthday, seeing long lost relatives, and burning some logs in the fire place.


Santa lovers might read about Tony Van Renterghem’s research in When Santa Was a Shaman.  You might also like Phyllis Siefker’s Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years

Helping people: health and well-being versus income

Hearing stories of homeless families will break your heart. At our house, its happened so many times that we get bombarded by letters this time of year.  Every charity in the country seems to have our address and is intent on filling up our mailbox. Even though the best research says most charities do not help move people out of poverty.  They just make poverty more comfortable.

poverty appalachia

The problem is how we look at poverty.  Emotion and politics have defined poverty in useless ways. Poverty is defined by most people as lack of income.  You are above or below the poverty line depending on how much income you have.  From this perspective, the goal must be to get more income into the hands of poor people. This has generated a huge federal and state bureaucracy which lobbies to keep their jobs.  More income may help in the short term, but supplying people with income does not get at the root causes of poverty.

Maybe some day those who run charities will actually read a little of the research on the causes of poverty.  Amartya Sen won a Nobel Prize for pointing out that personal well being is not determined by income.  Lots of sick and unhappy people have plenty of money.  Instead Sen proposed that well being is determined by the capabilities a person or family or community has.  Instead of defining poverty as the lack of something, Sen says we need to look at the capabilities which enable people to have happy, healthy, productive lives.  At best, income is one of many results of having these capabilities.

Sen anticipated more recent resilience work. Many of the qualities of resilient systems are the same as the capabilities of Sen.  Resilient systems accumulate reserves and infrastructure. People escaping from poverty accumulate savings and property.  Resilient systems maintain themselves.  Non-impoverished people maintain their houses and families.   Resilient systems are networked but independent. People with rising income have  strong networks, but maintain their independence.

Resilient systems are self-organized.  People rising from poverty organize themselves for productive activities.  They don’t wait for government or charities to intervene.  Resilient systems have a capacity for transformation.  People with rising incomes adapt to changing conditions and even totally transform their careers when needed.

Resilience research offers much needed insight into poverty.  We cannot continue to define poverty by what is not.  We must understand the attitudes and personal qualities which help people have healthy, happy lives.  All the while realizing that increased income is at best only one result of people having these qualities.

Most of those who run charities are very intent on raising money and giving things to the poor.  It makes us feel good because we think we are helping people.  Nothing wrong with that.

However, if we can help people to become resilient, they will be less likely to suffer when troubles arise.  They’ll be able to adapt and, if necessary, transform their lives.  They’ll know how to cope themselves.  And the charities won’t be needed any more.

And we’ll have less mail to go through at Christmas time.

The Earth becomes Hell?

Resilient people usually object when pessimists say things such as: the Earth is going to hell.   When I encounter people talking about how the world is bad and becoming worse, I try to show them how they are mistaken. Even if they are right about the trends, we don’t reverse those trends by accepting it as fact.  But Stephen Hawking recently made a very logical argument with the conclusion that Earth will soon become a living Hell.


During a video clip aired at a recent Peking conference, Hawking said that humanity would have to deal with massive population growth in the centuries ahead. He noted that the world’s population has been doubling every 40 years.

“This exponential growth cannot continue into the next millennium,” Hawking opined. “By the year 2600, the world’s population would be standing shoulder to shoulder, and the electricity consumption would make the Earth glow red-hot.

His logic is pretty impeccable.  If population doubles every 40 years, every inch of the planet will be covered by people in 583 years.

There’s lots of evidence we are going in that direction.  Witness the massive cities and pollution of Asia and the destruction of African landscapes in the past 30 years

However, Hawking’s logic is built on the assumption that people won’t work to control population growth.  And that war won’t destroy the population.  Nuclear bombs or biological weapons could do the job.

Hawking’s new prediction is also contradicted by his 2014 prediction.  “I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” Hawking said in a 2014 BBC interview.  “Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it will take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate,” “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”

So war could decrease human population and AI systems, having superseded man, could implement procedures to insure human populations decline.

And Hawking’s 40-year doubling rule won’t necessarily hold true for the next five centuries. Middle-of-the-road projections suggest that population growth will level off sometime after 2100, well before we’re standing shoulder to shoulder.

Even if he’s wrong, Hawking’s video of the earth becoming a living hell could wake some people up.  Maybe a modern day Jeremiah is just what the world needs.

Though we dislike doomsayers, the facts are that human population is growing too fast, destroying natural systems right and left and using way too much energy.  If  you are sticking your head in the sand and denying these facts, you are part of the problem.

Laughing Buddha, Grinning Jesus

At the Resilience outposts, we like to laugh.  We laugh together , we laugh at silliness; we laugh at ourselves. Laughter cures disease, some believe.  Certainly laughter is good for the soul.  We all need a good laugh every day.  People who laugh are more likely to be resilient, to overcome challenges. Most religious texts are short on laughter, though.


The shortest verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept.” I sometimes wish there were a verse like Jesus grinned.  Jesus certainly had a sense of humor.  It’s hard to think of a camel squeezing through the eyes of a needle without thinking someone is pulling your leg.  The bible never says Jesus laughed or Jesus grinned, but it does say that joy is one of the fruits of the spirit.  According to Galatians 5, you can spot a Christian because they are joyful (also peaceful, loving, patient, kind, gentle, faithful, good and have self-control

I don’t cotton to the idea that Christians should be serious and dour. One fruit of having the Spirit in you is joy.  So cultivate joyfulness.  Enjoy life.  When you goof up, laugh about it and do it right next time.  Be silly now and then.  Help others see the joy in life.

While we’re on the topic of joy, the Buddhists tell us the roly-poly laughing statue you see in some Chinese restaurants is not really a buddha.  Instead the statue is of a traveling monk in China who loved to laugh.  Chinese restaurants have adopted him because he is good for business.  People think they get luck by rubbing his belly.

Maybe that traveling monk was really a Galatian Christian.  That could explain why he loved to laugh.  He had the joy, joy, joy deep in his heart, as the old hymn goes.  Instead of rubbing the statue’s belly, a more lasting fix would be to get the Spirit.  Then you’ll know the joy and peace we all love to know this time of year.

Go to the wilderness

Those of us who live next to wild areas are living as everyone did when the world’s major religions were established.  Wilderness was right outside the door for most people in those days.  Jesus, for instance, needed and loved the wilderness.

He frequently withdrew to the wilderness to pray, according to the physician Luke. Matthew also tells us: After He had sent them away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone.  Other accounts tell us: Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and He spent the night in prayer to God. He took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray.

jesus being tested in wilderness

Jesus was lucky, he had wilderness right outside his door.  By the time of Jesus, people had already spread over the entire Earth, but wilderness was still accessible to nearly everyone.

And Jesus needed it.  Often the crowds of people became too much and he sought the wild places.  Or he just needed to climb a mountain and pray.

Some of us are lucky like Jesus, but most of us aren’t. I can go a few feet outside my door and be in wilderness.     Bear and coyotes, skunks and armadillos, deer and raccoons are regular visitors to our land.  There are no close mountains to climb for prayer, but plenty of wild places nearby.

There was no need to preserve wilderness in Jesus’ time.  There weren’t enough people to overwhelm the wild places.

Today, with the Earth’s population doubling every 40 years, wilderness is being destroyed, or is already gone, in many countries.  Thanks to our ancestors, our country has preserved at least some wilderness.  Appreciate it.  Get out in it.  Go see it.  If you get the chance, live next to it.

Be like Jesus.  Go into the wilderness and pray.