Category Archives: Quest for Etymoken (Kinship and Kindness)

Public Rug: Rite Choices

When does a boy become a man or a girl become a woman?

Indulge me the idealism for a moment to believe that the primary purpose of all education, formal and informal, is to facilitate the metamorphosis into adulthood. We can define adult by the way we make choices and the cultural expectations upon the way we make choices. The ways of the child are abandoned for the ways of the man or woman.

Education, then, is a process of helping young people learn how to make adult choices. Here rises the specter of our American education model, the curriculum metaphor. We picture education as a racecourse (as for chariots called curricles), a specific, defined, and rigid path over which students compete. The design of the racecourse is called pedagogy, named for the slaves who walked the students to school. We attempt to teach children how to make decisions by making their decisions for them.

Is it different at home? Yes, it usually is. Many parents work very hard to encourage children to make decisions within constraints. Very good. Others abdicate and allow children to make far too many decisions, learning only by trial and error.

Between the two, out “there” where adolescents learn way too much way too soon, our culture abandons them. Try watching TV again, or going to the mall, the movies, or (if you dare) a youth party.

There are many ways of making choices: Religious doctrine, ideological dogma, Divine inspiration, gang persuasion, methods of science, critical thinking, etc. One way or another, every boy decides what rules of manhood he will adopt, and every girl chooses her own rules of womanhood. Our cultural problem is we rarely give them a deadline for making that choice. Even worse, we seldom give them recognition for actually choosing. We ignore rites of passage.

I would like to step back to share a bit of personal theory. I believe we experience many phases of development rather than just the two. Childhood is not the first, and adulthood is not the last. Furthermore, there are several different forms of adulthood, several different life paths, each demanding specific ways of making choices. Teachers, soldiers, priests, and farmers do not (cannot, safely) use the same techniques for deciding actions. If we find ourselves on a path where our personal style of choosing fits the demands of our path, we are fortunate. If not, we probably made a bad choice of path—unless we learn something valuable.

This theory also includes the observation that as individuals approach a transition, they seem to move into a necessary, although annoying, egocentric phase. They seem to think mainly of themselves as they move through their own process of choosing or becoming the new person in the new stage of development. Terrible twos and puberty are two. Menopause and retirement are two more. I have also noticed the high school senior year and whatever year in college a major is actually chosen. Several occur in adulthood.

This is why rites of passage such as Confirmation and graduation are so important, not as celebrations of something completed, but as acknowledgment of a metamorphosis similar to a rebirth. The rites are for the observers so that we look at the individual in new ways fitting her/his new identity. We must change our expectations. I believe we need a whole lot more rites of passage.

There are times when major choices have to be made. 1968 was one of mine. I was in my last semester at UW, accepted into Graduate School, and already employed by a professor. I quit to join the Army—dropped out of school and raised my hand. I was liberal even then, rather anti-military, but totally
committed to democracy as a way of governing, and my government was calling me.

That was a very difficult choice, but not my toughest one.

After I was sworn in and all my tests completed, I gave up my guaranteed enlistment option as a Chemical Staff Specialist and chose a path to become an Infantry Officer even though I knew it meant a tour in Vietnam. I still wonder why I did that, but it was not my toughest choice.

When I completed Infantry Officer Candidate School and before I went on to Airborne School and Special Forces Officer Training, I had to make one more big choice. I could not raise my hand and swear in as an officer until I knew I could do what I would be telling others to do. The most difficult choice of my life was not made in Vietnam but at Fort Benning, Georgia, when I made the personal commitment to killing another human being.

Mind Wind: Courageous Choices

News in requiem for Steve Jobs this week included stories about some of his decisions and his approach to making choices. He was a man capable of making tough decisions, and many of them seemed to be good choices, at least economically. How did he do that?

Well, first of all, he did it. He chose. For some of us, choosing is often difficult and sometimes almost impossible. We get tangled up in fears of consequences. Will I lose money? Status? Face?

One story claims to reveal how Apple came to be a household computer term. Steve and his partner were working on their project in a garage. They decided it was time to name their company but struggled with the choices available. Steve was eating an apple, so they decided that if they could not come up with a name by some time (maybe, 5?), they would just call it Apple. Done. Choice made.

Another story in video reveals Steve’s approach to making decisions after his diagnosis. He said that making choices became easier as he remembered that he was going to die, soon. I guess it sort of puts things into perspective. How important could this decision be compared to the grand scheme?

I marvel at the ability some people have to make decisions that affect lives and property. I watch our presidents face crises and stand up to make these decisions. Without prejudice of politics, they put me in awe. President Bush (W) faced the world after 911 and made decisions with faith, and America stood with him. I believe he put those huge decisions into perspective. President Obama faced decisions of economic and natural disasters; an oil spill, wars, secret missions, and citizen discontent. Any one of them would have made me physically ill. I’m glad some people volunteer to serve in such capacity. Decisiveness, as I recall from 1969, was one of the fourteen leadership traits of the U.S. Army Leadership Manual.

There have been some claims about how many decisions a teacher makes in one day. I don’t know the number, but I recall being required to make several before every class. “Can I go to my locker? Can I go to the bathroom? Can I go to the office? Can I sit back there, today? Can we have work day? What are we doing today? Can we have the test tomorrow?”  Then class starts, and while I am directing students’ attention to some important topic, I am making decisions
about how to deal with somebody talking, somebody else wandering around, one student poking somebody, and/or another sleeping. Maybe one of the students is crying or just very sad, today. Maybe one has fresh cut marks on her arm or bruises on his face.

Decisions are difficult for me. Sometimes they are overwhelming. I have chosen to put my writing into print for all the world (okay, a few people) to see. Will they approve? Will they like it? I know it’s a good story, and I also know that it is not crafted with the mastery of literary greats. A friend asked me this week, “Do you feel naked?” Yes, I do.

There have been many very big decisions in my life. Each has affected my whole life. Here are a few: Go to the University of Wisconsin. Get married. Major in Genetics. Join the Army. Go to Infantry OCS. Become a Green Beret. Serve with Special Forces in Vietnam. Go back to college. Stop with a Masters Degree. Take a job in Agronomy at UW. Get divorced. Go back to school for teacher certification. Take a job in Beaver Dam. Get married, again. Okay, that’s enough, and we only got to 1980.

I formed a couple of rules about choice early in life and have tried to follow them. First, don’t choose until necessary so I can gather adequate information. Second, try to make choices that open doors rather than closing them (but, it’s relative). Third, work the problem to make a rational choice. Fourth, ask advice (but make my own choice). Much later in life, I decided on another rule, and I was happy to hear something similar from Steve Jobs: Follow my heart. Yeah, that one is really difficult, sometimes. It takes discipline and practice—and, in my case, a special kind of prayer. I guess there is one more rule I use: Accept the gifts. Sometimes one choice seems to be placed right before me, rather like a sign.

I could not choose to not teach. I kept getting teaching opportunities—laboratory teaching aid as an undergrad, teaching assistant as a graduate student, and Academic Staff teaching in Agronomy. I could not deny that I enjoyed the learning I experienced as a teacher.

I don’t believe I could choose not to write. When feelings build, I have to do something, and I never learned any other art form. Writing is therapeutic as well as educational and fun. I have to do it. I don’t know if I have to share it, but that is my choice.

Usually, my angst over a choice is inflated beyond reason. At my age, I know I am going to die relatively soon, maybe ten or twenty years, and most of my choices won’t matter much. Besides, I am not nearly smart enough to anticipate all the consequences of any choice. But, some choices do matter very much. I always worried about the effect some stupid thing I might say or do (inside or outside a classroom) might have on others. That’s how I came up with my class rules, Care, Think, and Be. They were for me as much as for the students, reminding me to care, to think, and to be as nice as I knew how to be.

I guess there is one more rule for my choices. They are mine. I am responsible for making them, and I am responsible for the consequences. I own them, and that is real freedom, perhaps the only freedom.

God’s Art: Choice Freedom

For years, every test I gave to 9th grade science students had this question: True or False—The meaning of life is choice. Now, before you get excited, let me tell you two things about my tests. First, students were always invited to explain their answers on the test papers. Second, I gave them credit for any reasonable explanation. If a student chose false, I marked it wrong. If s/he gave a reason, such as, “I believe the meaning of life is Jesus Christ,” I changed the mark to correct. It was one of my ways of helping students from three different 8th grade schools to adjust to the realities of high school, the responsibility of
consequences of our choices.

In preparation for this post, I did a little “content” research on the topic of free will and quickly concluded I wanted no part of it. Western philosophy seems to dwell on hypothetical conjecture like postulating that if God is omniscient, then He knows what I will choose, and therefore, I really only imagine a choice. I choose to not pursue a Western philosophical content, today—at least it felt like a choice. Maybe it is a form of relativity.

Hartley Peavey believes he made a choice, or a series of choices. He chose to become a rock star with a guitar. When evidence convinced him that it would never happen, he made another choice, the one to stay involved in music by doing something he had already learned to do. He built amplifiers. Serendipity brought a salesman to his door who sold them. When retail sales were restricted by guitar manufacturers’ policies, he chose to build guitars as well. His choices resulted in the international multi-million dollar Peavey Electronics Corporation.

This “God’s Art” blog section is predicated on my choice to look for evidence of the nature of the universe, particularly the nature of the mystery, design, or principles, by looking at the physical evidence in Nature. Man is part of Nature. Man’s behavior, even as studied by psychology, is a part of Nature. In my mind, the ways we humans think, cognition, is a medium of God’s Art. We make choices. Therefore, God made us with the ability and propensity for choice.

True, not everything I am results from choice. I did not choose (as I recall) to be a WASP, but I was born into a poor, white Anglo-Saxon protestant farm family. I did not choose to be male or straight. I did not choose to be a reflective introvert, either. I don’t even believe I chose to be a liberal thinker. The combination of my personal nature and my experiences, many of them shaped by my early choices, causes me to evolve in a certain way, and here I am. Am I responsible for the way I am?

Yes. And, no. I can choose to accept me as I am, deny that I am this way, or work to grow into something different. I will never be a rock star. I will never be President of the United States. I will probably never be a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize winner. My beautiful yellow Labrador Retriever, Serenity, will never be a guard dog—she loves and trusts people too much.

Some people ponder and argue about whether or not humans have free will. Not me. I was once called a pragmatist, in a derogatory way, by a fellow graduate student in science. I guess I am. That’s why I look for God in Her art of Nature.

I look now at Serenity, curled comfortably on the carpet, and know that I have a choice to make because she is not at all comfortable. She is confused and in pain. Even if she recovers from this episode, her age, alone, is proof that a choice is imminent because our ethics do not permit us to watch our pets suffer the way I watched my mother suffer. The day will come, probably very soon, when Nancy and I will choose.

Not choosing is, itself, a choice. We have no choice about whether or not we choose.

I had wanted this blog to be fun and funny, especially after the last few downers, but life happens. I chose to share it with you. Choices about stuff in space and time define life.

Re Quest: Material Instructions

Many years ago, Charles Kuralt on a Sunday Morning show introduced a book called The Wisdom Keepers. It is a collection of interviews with Native American elders. I do not have a copy with me, but here is my recollection. When they approached one elder, he held up his hand to stop them. “Stop,” he said. “I know why you are here. When you came to this land, you forgot your instructions. We have never forgotten ours.”

Do we remember our instructions on how to take care of this land?

I picture a young couple with a large and growing family. The parents provide for all the children’s needs with shelter (including clothes), water, fire, and food. They hunt and gather materials. They even grow and harvest their own. As the children grow, the parents teach them how to spin and weave clothing, tan hides, make tools, and create art in pottery and baskets. The children learn to hunt, gather, grow, and harvest. They learn to make their own tools and weapons: knives, clubs, axes, atlatls, darts, bows, and arrows.

Some children turn the weapons on their brothers and sisters, claiming power and dominion over them.

Do I exaggerate? One day in 1941, bombs killed 1500 men in Pearl Harbor. Four years later, one bomb killed perhaps a hundred thousand men, women, and children in Hiroshima. Years later, a decade of war killed some 3 million people in Southeast Asia. We now have the capacity to kill that many with the push of one button.

We learned to make hotter fires from coal and oil—fires hot enough to turn rocks into steel. We learned to turn crude oil into kerosene and gasoline, creating byproducts of chlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons not usually found in nature. We learned these new hydrocarbons are especially good at killing pesty things, and we had herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, carcinogens, and teratogens such as PCBs, Dioxins, and Furans. We created the most poisonous chemical known to man: 2,3,7,8, tetrachlorodibenzodioxin.

We learned to make explosive white putty. One little piece the size of a wad of bubble gum would heat my canteen cup of water in half a minute instead of half an hour with the alcohol fuel in C-rations. We learned to make plastic hips and plastic lips and plastic works of art.

We learned to steal energy not only from the electrons of atoms, but from the nuclei, also, in the fission process. Still, we want more, and we yearn for man-controlled nuclear fusion—more energy, more power, greater dominion.

We have taken a bite of the apple.

God-like power requires God-like wisdom.

Over two thousand years, many trillions of dollars, and political wills of nations—and against winds of heresy, persecution, prosecution, and excommunication—we have discerned many laws of the material universe. How do we like us, now?

How dare we employ the tools and weapons of material research without the tools and weapons of moral research? Where are our discussions of ethics? Have we not only forgotten our instructions, but abandoned all interest in them in the pursuit of greater glory and dominion?

A view of freedom as the absence of rules is the folly of adolescent bullys.

Where and when will we discuss our rules for caring for this land and each other?

Public Rug: Matters Most

What is the most important matter for public education? We can look at this in two ways. One, what is the primary stated purpose of education? And, two, what is the most important purpose of education in actual practice? Basically, when it comes to teaching our young people, what matters most?

This is a material world. The most important function of public education is earning money to buy stuff. If you wish to challenge this, and I hope you do, please provide evidence because I do not want to believe it, myself. I would love to change my opinion to, say, teaching young Americans to be good citizens, or making America safe for Democracy, or helping young people to become their best selves.

One of the most important stated functions of American education is preparing students to become employees. We teach them to compete in a global workforce, market, and economy. Skills required for American employers are emphasized over those seen as immaterial, music and art, for example.

Prepare for college to complete a major and get a job. Graduate high school to get a job. Complete a trade school to get a job. Obviously, we have done well because we have many more employees than available jobs.

The most important actual function of public schools is also job related. It is to provide cheap and safe day care while parents are working at their jobs. At this, America is superb. Sure, it costs some tax money, but making it easier for both parents to work provides cheaper labor which really helps business compete in the global market. Again, if you disagree, please provide evidence.

Outside of the school building, our education is even more material. What is the number one issue in our politics? Show me the money. Not only do we dwell upon material things, we stress money as the way to get stuff, as opposed to, say, growing and building what we desire. In fact, in most elections, very little matters except money.

We could generate some data to support such claims. How much TV air time is directly related to selling stuff or talking about getting money to buy stuff? You could do a little survey in your own home.

Speaking of your home, how much of your family conversations focus on material things including money? Do any of us spend as much time on other topics such as medical ethics, accepted social behavior, manners, morality of war, penal institution issues, or social justice for minorities? No, schools don’t either, especially now that national standards are being imposed by high stakes testing constraints on curriculum decisions.

Sorry to be a downer this week, but it gets worse. What could be worse than our miseducative emphasis of materialism? Our lies about energy. Here is a fact I challenge you to challenge: Energy use pollutes. That’s not the worst of it, either. Energy causes change, and change causes more change, and we have little clue what the consequences might be.

Does anybody anywhere teach that energy use is an option rather than a need? The line tends to go sort of like this: “We have to have more energy to compete in the global economy.”

At any time, do we engage in a discussion of the ethics of energy use? Do we even discuss the ethics of our material technology? Do we really discuss anything that matters?

I prescribed absolutely nothing for you to do in terms of matter and energy education except discuss. If you think that makes me a liberal, long live your rights of free speech. What I am really trying to do is preserve our planet for the grandchildren of my grandchildren’s grandchildren. In terms of matter and energy, that makes me ultraconservative.

Mind Wind: My Stuff

Because of this blog, I’ve been doing a little inventory of my stuff. Yes, I have both kinds of stuff, matter and energy. Granted, energy may be a little harder to hold onto, but I work at it—pun intended.

Here in my beautiful North Woods, I have literally tons of stuff. I have sand and soil, including rocks of various types. Some rocks are high in quartz and suitable for knapping, making them into sharp tools such as knives, spear points, and arrowheads. Others are coarse and useful for sharpening wood and bone into tools. Many would make excellent construction material. Some are simply lovely, and a few have found there way into Nancy’s little rock garden. One is chocking my trailer tire right now.

I have what seems like a million trees. Aspen, of course, are good for making paper. Balsam firs provide color and aroma. Basswood is an excellent carving medium and the inner bark produces very strong string/rope cordage. Pine and spruce make excellent lumber. The black ash is particularly tough for poles, spears, and clubs. I expect it would be very strong for primitive shelters. The birches offer bark for shingling shelters or making baskets and other forms of functional art. They are also high in combustible oil that helps to start fires in wet conditions even when rotten (a fungus grows upon it and stores the oils). The wood makes fine, quick fires—speaking of which, the cedars are awesome for this. Not only is their wood full of heat, but it does not absorb a lot of moisture, and dry twigs are abundant under spreading branches of live trees.

There are many other plants useful for tools, construction, medicine, and food—even clothing. No, I don’t have any figs, but cedar’s inner bark, grasses, and other plants can be braided and woven into garments. Berrybushes provide berries and their leaves are wonderful green or dried for nutritious teas. Speaking of food, I have many growing sugar maple trees, which also make fine, hot coals for cooking when a limb falls. I don’t cut live maples (or, many other trees if I can avoid it). The point is that I do have a lot of wonderful stuff here provided by Nature. One would think I spent most of my time shopping my free forest for good stuff and making it into better stuff. Nope.

I spend way too much of my time, especially in the fall—it is fall here—as I prepare to move back to AZ, getting rid of other stuff that once seemed really important but, now, not so much. I bought some more important stuff, yesterday, a shed to keep my good stuff—or my other stuff I can’t seem to let go just yet. I blame it on growing up poor. I just never know when I might need another box, a worn out mower and chain saw, a wild game cart, old tackle boxes….

So, this morning I woke up early and went out to start my little generator, the true sine wave Honda that safely powers my computer. It burns gasoline, a kind of matter that stores a lot of energy. That energy made my coffee, stored in a plastic container sent to me from some faraway place using some more gasoline and probably a lot of Diesel fuel. I could have made a fire to brew some pine needle tea, but I have become accustomed to coffee. Note to self: roasted dandelion and chicory roots make an excellent coffee alternative. Okay, duly noted.

But, I NEED my computer, so the generator runs. If I had thought ahead (and spent the big bucks), I could be using a true sine wave inverter and my energy stored in my batteries from the sun. But, alas, my inverter will not safely run my computer, so I burn gasoline. Of course, I have limited storage in those batteries and the days are getting shorter. It’s almost 8 a.m. and I am generating only 0.5 amps with two large panels. It’s one of the drawbacks of having so many tall trees.

Soon, I will take my shower with water pumped from my well by the same generator and heated by LP gas, more stuff full of energy. Then I will get in my little SUV and drive 20 miles (about 1 gallon of gasoline) toMichigan to buy some more stuff I think I need. Of course, it will be another gallon of gas to get back home. I wonder, “How much matter and energy was required to mine the coal and iron to make my car?”

How did this happen? How did I become so dependent upon material things, matter and energy? I wasn’t born with it, and I don’t need to die with it. Why do I think I need so much of it to live? I know I didn’t have a binky, but I wonder if I ever had a blankie. Somehow, I came to believe that I needed a whole lot of stuff to stay alive.

I know I don’t. Maybe there can be a blessing to poverty. I hope so, because it is approaching, but that is a subject for a future blog.

God’s Art: Intelligent Design

An imagined prehistoric fireside conversation on the kindness of stuff…

“Hey, Org, there’s a lot of stuff around here.”

Org looks around at the fire, rocks, and pieces of wood. “What do you mean?”

Nog picks up a small piece of wood and tosses it at Org. “Feel that? Stuff takes up space.”

Org rubs the bump on his head and picks up a rock. “Stuff can be heavy, too.”

Nog pulls a long, burning stick from the fire. “Some stuff is hot, too, Org.”

Org drops the rock, staring at the fire. “What about fire, Nog? It’s not heavy.” He passes a stick through the fire. “Doesn’t take up space, either.”

“Hmm,” Nog says, “different kind of stuff.” The two look at each other.

“Nog?” Org says, picking up a rock and a stick, “this stuff is….”

“Is Stuff,” Nog says, gazing at the fire. “Fire isn’t,” he adds, throwing a stick into the fire.

“Fire isn’t,” Org says, “but it does.”

“Does Stuff,” Nog says.

“Is Stuff,” Org says, holding a rock and a stick.

“Does stuff,” Nog adds, stirring the fire.

 

E = mc2

Elegant Parsimony. Our universe is governed by immutable laws that can be discerned through disciplined human inquiry. All laws are relationships. This one quantifies a relationship between two kinds of stuff observed by Org and Nog.

Have you heard that systems spontaneously move toward chaos, from order toward disorder? This is half-true at most, and the next law explains why.

∆G = ∆H – T∆S     where represents quantified change.

You might find information by searching The Second Law of Thermodynamics, Free Energy, or Gibbs-Helmholtz Equation. Basically, it says that disorder (entropy, S) is but one component of spontaneous change, the other being energy released in stability of chemical bonds (enthalpy, H). T is temperature in Kelvins.

The secret is in the atoms. Most of them are unhappy, thermodynamically unstable, and react with other atoms. Sometimes these reactions spontaneously increase structure or order in creating more stable stuff such as water, one of God’s delightful miracles.

Life on Earth is unimaginable without all of the physical and chemical properties of water. Here are a few:

1)      Water is a heat sponge allowing livable temperatures over most of our planet;

2)      Water exists in three physical states at Earth temperatures, contributing to # 1;

3)      Water is transparent, conducting light to feed aquatic and marine plants;

4)      Water reflects light in diamond sparkles, sky-blue oceans, and mirror pools;

5)      Water refracts light, giving us rainbows;

6)      Ice floats–else fish would not survive most Wisconsin winters;

7)      Water is most dense at 4oC rather than at freezing, so ice forms on top of the water rather than the bottom, which is really nice since ice floats.

There are more, but you get the idea. Water is really cool stuff. So are carbon dioxide, native copper, and DNA.

Yes, I studied Genetics and have a special fondness for DNA, another miracle that could not exist without the special polar nature of the water molecule. The coolest thing about DNA is that it replicates with almost perfect fidelity. The miracle is in the slight infidelity in replication which produces mutations. Here I see the genius of design.

Intelligent Design is not in the creation of kindness in flowers and bees, but in the physical and chemical laws that make evolution not only possible, but inevitable. All of Creation is the result of laws governing atoms and stars, space and time, and you and me. The artist that creates the universe is a lover of math and science.

Reflection: Celebrating Life

Today I pause for reflection on the intersection of time and space we call life before proceeding next week to physical stuff. I pause while my mother passes.

Life as existence is the occupation of space for some time. The space we claim and share affects many other entities for the duration of our mutual existence and beyond. Our tracks endure.

My life consists of nearly 24,000 days and counting. My ego asks, “What will I leave behind?” Then, I see the blessings of my life: my wife and daughters, grandchildren, students, family, and friends whose lives have touched mine. I leave tracks, some that endure briefly, and some quickly obscured by the sands and snows of busy lives. Regrettably, some tracks are scars of my mistakes. I hope we learn from them.

Each of our lives is shaped by others as well as one’s self. Self—an interesting concept. I consider myself a product of three natural forces: Genetics and Environment of course, but also Spirit. The Nature/nurture argument is silly without regard for the piece of God that became my Soul. Perhaps I digress. Perhaps, not.

Because my father lived and loved, six children were born, eighteen grandchildren, thirty four great grandchildren, and twenty three great-great grandchildren. We occupy space on this continent because brave ancestral souls crossed the Atlantic, at least one on the Mayflower, and because at least one Native American joined the family.

My father passed inYuma, AZ, in 1988 in the same hospital where Nancy now works. I grieved two years, complicated by the loss of a sister in the same year. My grief ended in the desert near Florence, AZ, on Fathers’ Day of 1990. That was a good, spiritual day with verbal prayers of gratitude.

There is a lonely finality to death. No more can I ask advice, listen to a story, or watch interactions between the deceased elders and our children. Oh, but I can, because I am blessed with memory. So, today, I watch my mother slip away and I clutch the gratitude of memory, but my little boy inside does not want to say his goodbye.

I will grieve, but I am not sad. I am blessed. She lived 96 years, 9 months, and 3 days, passing on Sunday, August 28th, 2011. Mom leaves many tracks that endure and most of them compel us to smile. Please, smile with me.

Re Quest: Space Entitlement

Toward the end of my teaching tenure, I proclaimed to students in our environmental problems class, Solar Starship, that land use would be the issue of our lifetime. Actually, that was not prophecy so much as observation: Land use has been and may always be a primary issue in human relationships. Yet, I was wrong, and my lesson came, as it often did, from a student. But, first, a brief view of land use as space entitlement.

I “own” Lonesome Pines, our 27 acres in the North Woods of Wisconsing where I write today. I am entitled to call this space mine because Nancy and I exchanged thousands of dollars with the people who then held title, and that entitlement can be traced back some years to the mining company that owned the county. Before that, it was presumed owned by some Native Americans and “ceded” to our government in exchange for certain perpetual rights including spearing walleyes in the lake I fished yesterday.

My point here is that we claim entitlement to land space because of some business deals and treaty agreements. We also claim some special entitlement as superior human beings–Manifest Destiny being one example. I believe the people who lived and died on this land still hold some claim because of the bones and spirits that remain. The question looms as to who they might be.

They might be Sioux people who seemed to have been pushed out as Anishinaabe people arrived from the east, fleeing a prophecy. Perhaps title belongs to people here long before any Sioux. Land Entitlement is often murky. My sense is Pottawatomi history lives here along with Ojibwe, but that is just a feeling.

Actually, my legal entitlement does not include mineral rights, and, morally, I do not claim artifacts that might be found. Ojibwe, Pottawatomi, and others may have anything I uncover.

The questions for your consideration are these: What space are you entitled to own? By what right do you claim entitlement? How is this entitlement affected by your choice of land use?

Aldo Leopold, founder of UW Wildlife Ecology in Madison, wrote on the concept of Land Ethic. He hoped our human evolution would arrive at an application of ethics to land use including the space and everything within it, living and nonliving. This was published after his death in a collection called A SAND COUNTY ALMANAC. He was an optimist. Still, land use is one of the most important issues and ethical concerns. What could be more important?

I’ll tell you. On what I believe was my last field trip as a teacher, I asked the students, high school Juniors and Seniors, to view Devil’s Lake with a concern for land use. While one class went with a former student, I asked the second class to ponder the land use question while sitting quietly near the effigy mounds on the north shore.

Nancy and I watched as I called them back and asked what they had learned. The answer I got caused us to just look at each other. I said, “Well, I guess we can go home, now,” because the answer felt like the very reason those mounds had been built.

One student said that she didn’t know if she had learned anything, but she had decided something. “I decided land appreciation is more important than land use.”

Public Rug: Sacred Space

Do you have a special and personal space? Do your children?

One thousand eight hundred and ninety miles of space traveled and another two hundred and fifty to go before I will be at my special space in the North Woods, the one I call Lonesome Pines. Apparently, and according t0 neighbors, at least one black bear also thinks it is special. Lesson One of Special Space etiquette starts tomorrow. Where did you learn your space etiquette?

What are we teaching children about personal and community space and place ownership? Is school a place?

I was actually taught to manage uncooperative students by invading their personal space. I didn’t like doing that because, well, is nothing really personal?

What space in a school belongs to an individual student? A peg on a wall? A desk? A locker? Hmmm.

How much space is one person entitled to claim as personal? I have 27 acres in the woods. If I had had more money, I wouldn’t have it anymore because I would have more land, at least another 40 acres on which I had an option. Touchy subject, though, owning space. There are rules.

I cannot grow certain crops on my land. If I do, I could be confined to a very small space with no personal entitlement. I cannot dump hazardous waste–not that I would. The point I’m making is that no space is really personal because what is done there can affect other people even in their own personal space.

It is all about the relationships. Again.

Yes, we teach our children that space is limited and scarce, that they don’t really have personal space to do anything they want, and that the community interest affects their personal space. But, my title is Sacred Space.

Is it appropriate for a teacher to touch a student? Is a pat on the back appropriate? Does a person have a right to declare any space so personal that touching of any kind is inappropriate? Yes, it depends upon the nature of the relationship. In particular, it depends on the mutual nature of the relationship and, if not mutual, upon the responsibility of the dominant person to maintain the personal space of the other.

Do not walk on my land without permission. My neighbors have permission–except during hunting. Then they have permission to follow a wounded animal if, and only if, they try to make contact with anyone hunting on my land.

Do not cut a tree on my land, do not put your hand on me without my permission, and stay out of my face. Do we grant such space to our children, students, friends, or strangers?

There is a smaller area in my woods, right along the logging road and overlooking my driveway, that is sacred to me. And that had better make it sacred to you if you want to be invited to sit there. What makes space sacred? That is your business, or in this case, mine. It is sacred because it feels sacred to me. Nancy calls it Healing Rock and, yes, there is a story there, but it is personal. With her permission, I may share it later.

Different opinions on what space is personal and what is community is the root of wars–many wars. I’m thinking we should teach our children, especially by our example, the importance of rules of relationship regarding sacred space. Why?

Because an animal without personal space, especially sacred space, is a dangerous animal, and that is true for lions, tigers, and bears, oh, my, and people, too. I need wild space to commune. Without it, I get dangerous. That’s why my wife keeps sending me back to Lonesome Pines.

The bear needs it, too, but I draw the line where I mow the grass. Stay our of my camp or it will get personal.