The Reimagining

Scott Russell Sanders, one of Indiana’s sagest voices for social and ecological justice, led a workshop Sunday called Writing While the World Burns.* His books, from Writing from the Center to A Conservationist Manifesto, have inspired me and countless other readers.

Before I even read the workshop description, I knew I needed to be there.

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I wasn’t disappointed. Scott has a generosity, thoughtfulness, and grace about him that may be a product of his years, or perhaps he’s just built that way. He brought together a disparate group of deeply passionate people and got us talking about where our work and lives fit into the bigger picture.

I know I’ve been on a bit of a Wendell Berry kick of late, but Scott’s the one who gave a Berry quote as context for that exercise:

“The significance—and ultimately the quality—of the work we do is determined by our understanding of the story in which we are taking part.”

Where do we fit? What is our important piece of the puzzle?

In my case, my larger story has to do with lighting the Lights—spreading the word about the tremendous work being done on so many fronts. And not only that, but being a Light, in my own small way.

Earth Hour moment at home - Córdoba Argentina

In fact, “story” is an apt word, because I see all of these efforts as a grand transition to the Story of Reunion (in Charles Eisenstein’s words)—leaving the defunct Story of Separation behind.

As writers, Scott told us, (and as teachers, artists, visionaries, and the like) we enlarge people’s vision of what’s possible. We write a new language that can supplant that tired old ethic of economic gain at any cost. We expand people’s understanding of humanity by sharing our knowledge of those they might consider “other.”

In short, we reimagine the world, and invite others to join us.

*Many thanks to the Indiana Writers Center for offering this tremendous workshop.

A Mycological Field Trip

Yesterday we drove down to southern Indiana to visit Magnificent Mushrooms, Eric Osborne’s hub for all things mycological. Located outside of Paoli, IN, this growing business offers products and information for the would-be home mushroom cultivator.

That turns out to be us: we came home with three kinds of spawn to put to work here on our wee homestead: “old faithful” shiitakes, Lion’s Mane, and King Stropharia (winecaps).

I will keep you posted on our efforts to expand our food production into the fungal kingdom! I’m a bit concerned about keeping Kitley (our outdoor cat) and his pals away from the logs and woodchips we’ll use as substrate. As I understand it, mushrooms are tolerant of many things…but they probably wouldn’t want to drink cat pee or get all clawed up, any more than I would.

Old Faithful is a strain of shiitake that is slightly furry. Here it is growing off a block of sterilized, inoculated grain.

Old Faithful is a strain of shiitake that fruits in a slightly furry mushroom. Here it is growing off a block of sterilized, inoculated grain.

I’m most excited about attempting to grow winecaps, also known as “the garden mushroom” for its friendly affinity for the vegetable garden.

Bags of King Stropharia spawn

Bags of King Stropharia (winecap) spawn

We plan to try starting it not only in our backyard beds, but also in a low-lying place in the front yard. A natural bowl beneath the sweetgum tree is often waterlogged, and Eric said this kind of spot is perfect for winecaps.

As for Lion’s Mane, I’ve never eaten it, but Eric says it tastes like “heaven on earth.” It’s a pale blobby mushroom that looks a bit like some oceanic organism. Or maybe a cartoon nose.

Eric and I petting a Lion's Mane mushroom.

Eric and I petting a Lion’s Mane mushroom.

Eric sells his harvest to area chefs, so if you’ve eaten a mushroom dish at a Bloomington restaurant, you may have sampled his wares.

He also offers cultivation workshops and consultations. In partnership with the Hoosier Mushroom Society and the state department of health, he’s developed a certification course for wild mushroom hunters, which would allow them to comply with regulations around selling their harvest.

Speaking of: Know any good morel hunting spots?

Seven Steeples Farm

Last month I got to meet Justin Berg and Mike Higbee, who are doing something I admire: turning unused urban land into an agricultural oasis. As with many such endeavors, they glean local materials to build soil—leaves from curbside refuse, manure from the police department’s Mounted Patrol stables.

What’s unique about this urban farm, though, is that it’s being built atop the pulverized remains of an old mental institution.

Seven Steeples Farm

Seven Steeples Farm

To anyone growing up in Indy, as I did, “Central State” was synonymous with the loonybin. We all knew that it was an insane asylum, back in the day, and as late as 1994 it was still operating as a psychiatric facility.

The enormous campus fell into disuse after Central State Hospital closed, but recently the site has been redeveloped into Central Greens urban village. Part of the project includes Seven Steeples Farm, so-called because the 5-acre parcel being farmed is on the footprint of a building called Seven Steeples, where women were institutionalized.

The building was demolished midcentury, and apparently is now buried under the vast lawn area where Justin and Mike have begun growing produce for the past year. Sheltering old trees that must have borne witness to all kinds of pain still stand, shading the chicken run and outdoor classroom area.

I have to say, this thing has lit my imagination in surprising ways. I’ve read The Yellow Wallpaper and other stories of “madwomen in the attic.” How easy it was to cart women away for any infraction back when this asylum was established (1850s.) I can think of several reasons why I myself, in an earlier era, could have gotten myself tossed in there.

And what sort of “treatment” did the women undergo, inside the walls of Seven Steeples?

It feels to me like a major healing of an old wound to have an urban farm there. Community volunteers (and patrons) enjoy a peaceful setting smack in the middle of a somewhat sketchy part of town. The food is accessibly priced so that people living in the middle of a food desert can have a decent choice of nourishment.

Justin Berg, farm manager, and Mike Higbee, project coordinator, with lady friend

Justin Berg, farm manager, and Mike Higbee, project coordinator, with lady friend

Visitors love to sit on the stumps next to the chicken run and just get on “chicken time.”

The farm has announced 2015 CSA (community supported agriculture) plans, and will also have a weekly farm stand to sell eggs and produce. (More info: info@sevensteeplesfarm.com or 317-713-9263.)

Justin says, “Call to set up a tour, and everyone’s more than welcome to come by the farm stand if they’re in the area. They can grab up some produce and come check out what a rural setting could look like in the city.”

See my Farm Indiana piece for more on this project.

Neighborliness in a Soup

An email came into my inbox a few weeks ago announcing an initiative called City Suppers. The goal of the program—co-sponsored by City Gallery, Harrison Center for the Arts, and Indiana Humanities—was simply to promote neighborliness by way of soup. On a particular night, everyone citywide was encouraged to sign up to host their neighbors for a simple dinner.

Of course, I loved this idea.

As it turned out, my spouse and I had been talking about having a casual neighborhood get-together for a while. City Suppers gave us the impetus to actually do it—not to mention a deadline to get the house clean.

In my neck of the woods, we define “neighbor” rather loosely as “anyone else who lives in Irvington or thereabouts.” So we invited an assortment of folks—some from just around the corner and some from further afield.

Around our table

A few of those who gathered around our table

Some had never met each other, and others had known each other a long time. Ages ranged from 1 year old to “I’ll never tell.”

We gathered around our table for a convivial evening. I made minestrone and bought some locally made focaccia and cheese. (Everyone seemed terrifically happy with the soup, which we call “peasant food” at our house—nothing all that fancy, but hearty, economical, and flavorful.) Guests brought wine, salad, and desserts. Truly mouthwatering desserts.

But the tasty, nourishing meal was really just an excuse for conversation and connection.

Life can be a full plate most of the time. So full that it seems hard to find the time for this kind of thing. In our neighborhood we have often socialized around shared projects. It was a novel change of pace to connect over a meal instead of at a meeting or work party.

We enjoyed it so much that we’re making more peasant food tonight and having different neighbors over. We’ll go to Russia instead of Italy, with borscht, rye bread, and beer. (Incidentally I traded with another neighbor—my chili peppers for her beets—for the starring veggie of the borscht. Our version of the “cup of sugar.”)

And bonus: the house is still pretty clean. Not that that matters—I figure if we waited till the perfect time to have people over, it would never happen. So why not just do it?

How about you—what’s your favorite way to connect with your neighbors? Is there something you’d like to initiate with the people living near you, but have been putting off? Why not get it going? It could be just the thing to warm a chilly winter night.

Many Hands

Lisa Boyles, who turned a vacant lot into a beautiful meditation space and labyrinth, is coordinating a new project in her neighborhood. Her energy and drive are truly inspiring. In fact, when I read that she spent part of her birthday volunteering, it moved me to spend part of my birthday helping with her latest project. Check out what she’s up to in today’s guest post.

Guest post by Lisa Boyles

Imagine people of all ages working together to improve their neighborhood. Think of a city unified through installations of art painted by community members. By designing a series of geometric projects, Andrew Severns has a vision for public art in the city of Indianapolis that can accomplish these things.

Artist Andrew Severns outlines the design for the mural at E 10th and N Sherman Dr.

Artist Andrew Severns outlines the design for the mural at E 10th and N Sherman Dr.

He says that the geometric uniformity among murals and other pieces of art will ensure its strength and timelessness while giving a well-defined look to the city at large. And through the outlines of shapes that Severns provides, those who help paint have a guide for creating a beautiful piece of art.

The project at the corner of East 10th  Street and North Sherman Drive is part of a larger series along the railroad underpasses in the Rivoli Park Neighborhood. The areas where these projects are planned need care and attention. By creating art that is participatory, people in the community can feel a sense of ownership of these previously neglected corridors.

# 3 Many hands came together to beautify this street corner, all coordinated by Lisa Boyles (foreground).

Many hands came together to beautify this street corner, all coordinated by Lisa Boyles (foreground).

The geometric style that Andrew uses reminds me of the colored pieces in a kaleidoscope. These shapes interconnect to make a pattern representative of the many different people in our neighborhood living together. It has been terrific to see so many people coming together to paint the mural at this busy intersection—and to hear the honks of approval and positive comments of people driving by.

The community's handprints are all over this site!

The community’s handprints are all over this site!

Students, teachers and parents from the Paramount School of Excellence participated in this mural project. The students seem especially excited to be a part of something positive that will have a lasting impact in their neighborhood.

Students from Paramount School of Excellence helped paint this mural.

Students from Paramount School of Excellence helped paint this mural.

Everyone who has donated or volunteered will have his or her name (or a dedication) alongside the edge of a section of the mural. When people think of their dedication, they are encouraged to also think of a meditation or intention to be a part of creating a better community. We will all share our thoughts about the project at a celebration party at the culmination of the first phase of the project on November 22nd.

#2 Community members of all ages have come together to paint the shapes in the mural.

Community members of all ages have come together to paint the shapes in the mural.

The online fundraiser for the Rivoli Park Mural Project continues through Friday, November 7th.  An investment in this project is an investment in community.  Check out the incentives and details here.

Before It’s Too Late

Guest Post by Rosemary Spalding, Earth Charter Indiana board president. (Part 2 of 2 of a firsthand report on the Sept. 21 People’s Climate March).

My husband Mark and I stayed  in Newark, NJ the night before the People’s Climate March. Early Sunday morning we began to make our way to 66th and Central Park West to meet a new contact from Earth Charter International. As we rode the train from Newark to NYC and then the subway to Central Park, our excitement built as we joined with dozens of others making their way to the march. Smiling people in T-shirts with names of organizations from all over the country packed subway cars that were standing room only.

Photo by Rosemary Spalding

Photo by Rosemary Spalding

When Mark and I emerged from the subway station at 66th Street, several volunteers welcomed us, directing us to our spot in the march. About 30 minutes before the march was to begin, people flowed into the wide street that borders Central Park on the west, filling it from curb to curb. While we stood in the street waiting, I just looked around, taking it all in. People were lined up behind us all the way to 86th St. and in front of us all the way to Columbus Circle.

Photo of Columbus Circle by Rosemary Spalding

Photo of Columbus Circle by Rosemary Spalding

It was crowded, and we learned later that many marchers couldn’t even fit in the street until the march had progressed several blocks. Many people carried homemade signs and some wore costumes. But most were simply there—joining in solidarity with others to demonstrate before our government and other world leaders gathering for the United Nations summit, that we demand action to address this urgent global crisis.

Communities displaced by climate change marched  in the demonstration. Photo by Christine Irvine.

Communities displaced by climate change marched in the demonstration. Photo by Christine Irvine.

And then the most exciting thing happened! I saw someone making his way through the crowd, like a salmon swimming upstream, coming towards me. As he drew closer I realized I recognized him. Like a teenaged groupie at a rock concert, I yelled, “LOOK, IT’S BILL McKIBBEN!”

I immediately felt foolish, but he looked over at me and smiled as he passed, never missing a step. I think I said “thank you” as he walked by. By the time I could get my iPhone out, he had been swallowed up by the upstream crowd that parted to let him pass.

Photo by Emma Cassidy

Photo by Emma Cassidy

As we walked the two miles past famous landmarks and through Times Square, hundreds of supporters on the sidewalks waved us by. We never saw a single person who challenged our message. Every so often throughout the march, a thunderous “sound wave” would come from in front of or behind us, and we would raise our voices and play musical instruments as the wave passed through on its way to the beginning or end of the march. Goosebumps!

At the end of the march people gathered for entertainment at several stages. I watched the Raging Grannies as they sang their versions of “On Top of Old Smokey,” “Roll Back the Barrels,” and “The Climate—It is A-Changin’.” Music and humor—welcome relief for such a serious subject.

Over 400,000 people marched in New York City that Sunday. Add to that the thousands attending local climate marches all over the country and the world, and you know that we cannot be dismissed as radical tree-huggers.

To the contrary—the People’s Climate March was mainstream. We witnessed an incredibly diverse collection of people of all ages and from all walks of life; people from every state and many nations; people of every color and culture; labor unions and healthcare workers; youth groups, college students and professors, parents and grandparents. All marching, singing and chanting for a common purpose—to say that we, the citizens of the world, recognize the direness of our situation and unite to convince our leaders to change course before it’s too late.

Photo by Amy Dewan

Photo by Amy Dewan

As Mark and I traveled back to Newark, exhausted but exhilarated from the day’s experience, I wondered—did we make a difference? I said a silent prayer: This time let those in power take notice; let meaningful change finally occur.

Rosemary Spalding is board president of Earth Charter Indiana and a founding member of the Irvington Green Initiative. She is an attorney with Spalding & Hilmes, PC, which is located in Irvington and concentrates its practice in environmental law.

Why I Marched in the People’s Climate March

Guest Post by Rosemary Spalding, Earth Charter Indiana board president. (Part 1 of 2).

Like most folks, I am concerned about a number of serious issues, but when it comes to climate change, my passion has turned into a kind of internal panic. My panic builds when I read reports that it is happening much faster than scientists were predicting less than 10 years ago.

Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have increased so much that we’re no longer talking about avoiding tipping points or reversing global warming. We’re now talking about slowing the process as much as possible and adapting to the inevitable.

I think about the beautiful, bright children of my nieces and nephews and about the grandchildren I hope to have someday, and I am terrified for them. To what kind of existence are we condemning them and their children?

Photo of young NYC activists by Rosemary Spalding.

Photo of young NYC activists by Rosemary Spalding

Most of my votes, letters, and phone calls to government leaders at all levels have been completely ineffective. Earth Charter Indiana recently petitioned the Indiana Environmental Rules Board (ERB) to adopt a rule to develop a climate action plan for Indiana.

Despite the fact that over a thousand Hoosiers have signed the petition, the board dismissed it at their last meeting. Board members thought a climate action plan was someone else’s job—certainly not their job.

The ERB would not even grant a public hearing on the petition (which Earth Charter Indiana believes it is required to do under Indiana’s law permitting citizen rulemaking petitions).

Photo By Shadia Fayne Wood

Photo By Shadia Fayne Wood

That citizen petition (with extensive supporting documents) took months to prepare. The articulate and passionate young people of Youth Power Indiana respectfully submitted the petition to the ERB. But board members were unmoved.

I must confess that the ERB’s casual dismissal has shaken my fundamental belief in the integrity of our democracy. We are disheartened—but we are not done advocating for change. See the note at the end of this post to lend your support.

In the meantime, I had hoped to go to New York City to participate in the People’s Climate March—but the ERB’s cavalier rejection of a citizen petition cemented my resolve. I wanted to join with others to tell our government and world leaders gathering for the United Nations summit that we demand action—NOW.

Photo By: Emma Cassidy

Photo By Emma Cassidy

I have participated in lots of climate change rallies in Indianapolis as well as the march in Washington, DC last February, when 40,000 people turned out in the frigid cold to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. But those experiences did not prepare me for what we experienced at the People’s Climate March last Sunday…

(To be continued in Part 2).

Note: If you are an Indiana resident dismayed by the Environmental Rules Board’s lack of attention to a citizen petition, please consider attending the next ERB meeting in support of a climate action plan.

When: Wednesday, November 12, 1:30-4:00 p.m.
Where: Indiana Government Center South – Conference Room A (check for meeting or room changes here.)
RSVP: julielrhodesconsulting@gmail.com or 317.371.2788

Want to do more? Contact Indiana Environmental Rules Board Members today to urge them to hold a hearing on the Petition for a Climate Action Plan for Indiana! Find contact information for board members here.

Rosemary Spalding is board president of Earth Charter Indiana and a founding member of the Irvington Green Initiative. She is an attorney with Spalding & Hilmes, PC, which is located in Irvington and concentrates its practice in environmental law.