Truest Home

Home is very much on my mind these days, and turning up in my reading, conversations, and other inputs.

I understand the pull toward home—hearing of people who face decisions about evacuating or hunkering down, returning or staying away, in the wake of natural disasters. Even if your home is the only thing standing for miles around, in dubious shape, it would be hard to stay away from it.

My own home supports my life in a way that feels incredibly juicy, especially in the warmer months when “home” extends to include the back yard, front porch, garden. I feel gratitude every day for the comfort and fruitfulness of home. I love looking out from my writing desk and seeing hummingbirds flit among the plants I’ve tended.

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I had a headache till I went out yesterday in the rain to pick raspberries and mint. Home heals.

As someone who is all about hearth-and-home, I feel my heart twinge at the thought of the millions of displaced people all over the world. Whether the cause is climate change, earthquake, war, ethnic cleansing, or something else—I hate to imagine losing the protection of home.

And there but for the grace of God…

I know that all is temporary, that everything is bound to change. And sometimes change happens dramatically and suddenly. I know that this body is temporary and the building I live in is impermanent. So how do I make a home for myself that transcends fixed ideas of safety and security?

I can see my solid relationships as home. Though also impermanent, the people I love (and who love me) create a web of safety. Yes, and…

I can experience this temporary body as home. Sinking into the body brings me to the present moment, which is also my home, and always accessible. Yes, and…

I can see this earth as home, holding me in its vastness. Touching Earth as home feels both tender and precarious at times as fires and fissures continue to spread. Still it gives me a sense of belonging. Yes, and…

None of these can be my truest home. Clinging to relationships can bring pain. Expecting the body to always hold up (and the present moment to always feel delicious) is unrealistic. And watching the earth’s systems besieged distresses me.

Yes, yes, yes. And.

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“A cloud can never die. A cloud can become snow, or hail…or rain. But it is impossible for a cloud to pass from being into non-being.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

I can feel my energy as home. Here is where my frequency expresses itself in its unique but universal signature. Here is the eternal part of me that can never perish. It only changes shape.

Thich Nhat Hanh has said that it is unscientific to think that we disappear when we die, because of the scientific principle that nothing is ever created or destroyed.

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Do you see an oak tree in this acorn?

Energy cannot be destroyed, only re-formed.

My essence, my soul: That is my truest home.

Over and over, I touch this space when I return to my home frequency, as Penney Peirce calls it—that space of wholeness and rightness, that note in the orchestral symphony that brings harmony to the All.

And this, I tell myself, is the deepest security and comfort, a home not dependent on relationships, circumstances, or physical structures.

We Can’t Afford Coal

This week I attended a meeting to learn more about Indianapolis Power and Light’s Harding Street plant, the largest industrial polluter in the city. IPL has no plans to retire this 55-year-old coal plant, even though the EPA says it’s responsible for 88 percent of industrial toxic releases in Marion County. The plant’s smokestacks annually release 130 pounds of mercury into the air.

That has a devastating public health impact. One attendee spoke of being an asthma sufferer. “I know what it’s like to struggle to breathe and have to go to the ER…It breaks my heart to think that our power is the reason children have to go through that.”

Photo by Karl Anderson, via flickr Commons.

Photo by Karl Anderson, via flickr Commons.

As I found while researching an Indiana Living Green story about the Beyond Coal movement, poor children are disproportionately affected by coal because of where they live—resulting in learning disabilities, asthma, autism, and lowered IQs. They’re effectively trapped into a cycle of poverty, suffering lifelong difficulties linked to our state’s over-reliance on coal.

Two city maps made the plant’s impact visible. One showed asthma-related ER visits in Marion County, and the other depicted mercury levels in waterways and soil. In both cases it was clear how the neighborhoods northeast of the plant (including my own) are burdened as the prevailing winds blow the pollution our way.

I myself can trace some of my health struggles to these toxins. I moved to this neighborhood in 1996 from northern Indiana. I noticed that I got sick more often, and for longer periods, than I used to. By 2000 I was dealing with chronic illness. The origins were complex, but tests for heavy metal toxicity showed elevated levels of mercury in my body.

“If you love your lungs, get out of Indianapolis,” says a real estate blog, fingering my beloved city as the unhealthiest in the nation because of its poor air quality.

And then there’s the coal ash ponds. A nationwide 2011 EPA study identified 11 high-hazard coal ash ponds. Two of them are at the Harding Street plant. These unlined, aging pits are right next to the White River. I don’t even want to think about what would happen in the event of a major flood. Or if an ash dike ruptures, as happened in Kingston, TN, in 2008.

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A house sits in the coal ash spill near Kingston, TN in Dec. 2008. Photo by Knoxville News Sentinel.

Apparently IPL doesn’t want to think about it either, even after two coal ash spills at its Martinsville plants sent more than 30 million gallons of toxic coal ash into the White River in 2007 and 2008.

Does it have to be this way? No, it doesn’t. Whether you look at it from a public health perspective, a fossil fuel emission perspective, or even through a financial lens, coal is a bad bet. Rate hikes to retrofit the aging plant are a poor use of our money. For inspiration, we can look to neighboring states. Iowa gets 24 percent of its power from wind—with rates similar to ours and no reliability issues.

The Indiana Beyond Coal campaign is all about making our voice heard. If enough people speak with their city councilmen and -women, write letters to the editor, and engage with IPL’s 20-year energy plan, things can change.

As organizer Megan Anderson said, “It’s as simple as getting together and talking to friends and neighbors.”

Coal: It’s So Yesterday

I confess that when I was asked to write a story about Indiana’s Beyond Coal movement for Indiana Living Green, part of me was a bit ho-hum at the prospect.

Sure, the two ladies leading the fight (Megan Anderson and Jodi Perras, my two profilees) are amazing specimens of fierce feminine energy, each hailing from a different generation, an interesting duo. And of course, I am totally down with clean energy.

It’s just: I’d rather write about yummy stuff, like food, or farming, or foraging. I am drawn to tales of those remaking the world in intriguing, innovative ways. That new emerging story is what energizes me. And sometimes the hard work of calling a halt to the old story seems so…tired.

By Arnold Paul, via Wikimedia Commons

By Arnold Paul, via Wikimedia Commons

I mean, we all know that coal is bad for the environment and our health. What more is there to say?

So I thought. Then I talked to Megan and Jodi, and got a first-hand glimpse of what’s at stake. I saw that not only are they pushing to retire these decrepit coal plants, they are holding a vision of an Indiana where residents are choosing from an array of clean energy options, even generating their own energy. An Indiana where people have secure jobs that they feel good about, contributing to a cleaner state. An Indiana on the cutting edge.

By Mhassan abdollahi, via Wikimedia Commons

By Mhassan abdollahi, via Wikimedia Commons

Now that’s exciting.

I was moved to hear Jodi talk about the group meditation where she visualized her descendants asking what she did to fix the climate crisis. Isn’t this something we all think about, what kind of world might be next?

I got fired up hearing their passion for righting the injustices wrought by Big Coal. I learned that children who have the misfortune to be born poor are disproportionately impacted by the health effects of coal—resulting in learning disabilities, asthma, autism, and lowered IQs.

How fair is it that poor kids are effectively trapped into a cycle of poverty because of lifelong difficulties linked to our state’s over-reliance on coal?

Then I learned that coal is ever more costly. And it just seems like a no-brainer from there.

Read the piece for the full scoop. You can join the Beyond Coal Indiana movement at the Sierra Club’s website or contact Megan Anderson at megan.anderson@sierraclub.org.