The purpose of this "blog" is to make my essays that have been
published online accessible in one place. Current essays are on
top and older pieces farther down, though they are not presented
in strict chronological order. The postings or "blog archive" list
serves as a kind of index. Since most of my essay links were posted
at once in May of 2009, click "2009" under the blog archive column
and a list of essays will appear. Each essay is briefly described and a
link provided.

My formative writing experiences were as a grassroots organizer
and activist in campaigns to make polluters accountable. I wrote
newsletters, pamphlets, press releases, op-ed pieces, and statements
to be read at hearings, debates, and panel discussions. I did hundreds
of interviews for outlets as diverse as NPR, CBS, BBC, and CNN.

During this time I was also a library manager and administrator.
Although one might not suspect so, the role of the librarian and
the role of the activist share much in common. Effective activists
provoke public dialog. Effective librarians invite such dialogue.
Although they employ different methods, the ends are the same.

Eventually, I wrote two books about my political adventures,
Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West (Verso,
1999) and Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the
American Land(Island/Shearwater, 2004).

We spent the last two centuries learning how Nature can create wealth.
We will spend the next century learning how Nature creates health.
Ultimately, as we learn to live in reciprocal and sustainable
relationship with the ecosystems that sustain us, we will replace
the cultural language of wealth that both expresses and guides our
behavior today with a new language of health.

I am not talking here about mere words. I mean the way we see the
world, the way we express our values, and the way we make choices
together. The difference between those two ways of seeing and being
in the world are profound.

Wealth says more; health says enough.
Wealth says accumulate;
health says flow. Wealth says compete and win; health says
reciprocate, integrate, reconcile. Wealth says manage and
measure; health says jam and dance. Wealth assigns value; health
assumes it. Wealth adds, subtracts, and divides; health makes whole.

To learn this new language, we begin by listening. When we translate
what we learn into behaviors, we are practicing what I call ecological
citizenship. Ultimately, the health of our natural/physical
environment is directly related to the vitality of our civic
environment. And if you dig deeper, environmental crises are
also about our disconnection from nature and from each other.
And so we confront not only entrenched powers and their
destructive interests, but a culture that enables us, even
encourages us, to think and feel and act as if we live apart from
nature. As I try to explain in the essays that follow, nature is
embedded in us as we are embedded in the ecosystems that sustain us.

Chip Ward

moonbolt3@hotmail.com

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mini-Riff: Bison Bones

Here’s a sad old story told new. An unexpected twist has been added.

We all know the tragic story of the American Bison. Buffalo hunters slaughtered them for their hides, left the precious meat to rot and the bones to scatter. The hide-scalper’s greed was encouraged by those who understood that an effective way to turn proud warriors into reservation derelicts was to pull the ecological rug out from under the Western tribes, though at the time they didn’t call it that. And then, of course, greed was joined by its’ favorite companion, reckless ignorance – passing travelers shot bison from railroad train windows for mere amusement. Very sad. Tragic, really. A shame.

But wait, there’s more. Settlers eventually moved across those empty and haunted killing grounds. They built farms and tilled the soil. The ploughs of the farmers in Kansas clogged with old bison bones. It was a problem first but then the farmers discovered they could collect the bones and sell them to fertilizer mills that would grind them up and sell them in bags and barrels, ship them here and there. In pre-chemical America, bone meal was a favorite plant food. The remains of the great bison herd were thus reduced to dust and the dust was churned into the soil of grain fields, fruit orchards, and home gardens across the nation.

For several years the essence of bison could sometimes be tasted in the succulent meat of a tomato, in the horn hardness of a cherry pit, or in the rich marrow of a summer melon. Bone became fragrant hedge and green blade. Bone became the flowers given by boys to blushing maidens. The real Ghost Dance was this fading of form, this morphing whisper as beings become bones and bones become food, seed, beauty, life.

Amazing, those noble bison. Even after death they surrendered one more generous and life-affirming gift to the very people who killed them.

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