Nevada City, California
Some random captures of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, January 13-15, 2012.
Nevada City, California
Some random captures of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, January 13-15, 2012.
Nevada City, California
On the closing afternoon of Wild and Scenic, well over a hundred people sat in the Foundry’s Stone Hall to watch My Father Who Are in Nature. Many of us knew the man who inspired the film, the filmmaker’s father, John Olmsted, the genius behind Jughandle State Reserve, Independence Trail, and the South Yuba State Parks. For a couple decades John lived among us, inspiring us, aggravating us with his singular vision, showing what simple, sheer, extreme will can accomplish in this world.
My Father Who Art in Nature stars John Olmsted, but ultimately it is not about him, but about Alden and their relationship. This seems to frustrate some viewers, who are expecting a straight-forward biography of our 20th century John Muir. Perhaps Alden or someone else will make that film some day. My Father Who Art in Nature is about other things: forgiveness and reconnection, healing, patience, and courage.
Alden spent little time with his father while growing up. The trails, parks, the basement museum, and ultimately the Necklace consumed John, and without that intensity we may not now enjoy and protect his legacy. Father and son connected as adults though, slowly at first. Finally, last year, when John was given six months to live, Alden left his Hollywood filmaker’s life to care for his father. The film focuses on those six months and their experience as father and son. As someone who knew John and helped further his work, I felt incredibly honored to share those last intimate moments of his life through film. I am grateful that in his last days he experienced a profound understanding of himself and the consequences of his choices.
When I first met Alden I confessed, “I didn’t know John had a son.” He said then that he’d heard that before, but I dont’ think he’ll hear it much more. Since John’s passing Alden has chosen to continue his father’s work, founding the Olmsted Park Fund. Alden figured that if each Californian gave a buck to save the parks, we’d be there. Hundreds of plastic buckets have since been distributed to businesses around California. Between the buckets and the internet outreach, young Olmsted has raised $27,000 to fund the parks. Several parks–including Henry W. Coe, Santa Cruz Mission, and Antelope Valley Indian Museum–have already been spared from closure for another year. After the film, Olmsted announced that he’s currently working with Malakoff Diggins State Park to pay its power bills–the single biggest expense in that remote outpost.
The story told in My Father Who Art In Nature reminds us of the powers of honesty, compassion, and forgiveness. The story Alden is beginning to live shows us that when we give ourselves over to such things, our life takes powerful, rich, and often unpredictable turns.
In the 1970s, Flint, Michigan was the richest city per capita in the United States. Now, it is the poorest. The population has declined 40% while violent crime has increased inversely. Buildings are boarded up. People are in despair.
In the heyday of General Motors, one of the thousands of factory workers was Jacky King. Unhappy on the assembly line, Jacky and his wife Dora decided to open their own karate studio, King Karate, and to begin working with the youth in their community. They soon realized that if they wanted to teach self-defense, there was something even more important than karate: farming.
“I may never need to kick and punch somebody, but I’m always going to need to eat,” Dora says. The Kings founded the Youth Karate Club and Harvesting Earth Farm, and now mentor young people with the gardening, harvesting, and selling of fresh vegetables and fruit in Flint.
Before land can be farmed, it must be reclaimed, a process that–after up to forty years of dumping–may take years in itself. Having already reclaimed the land they own, the Kings now look for abandoned land to begin reclaiming and farming. In the half-deserted city of Flint, trashed houses and lots are easy to come by. “You going to tell me that I can’t have chickens, but I can have a drug house? A house of ill-repute? I’ll see you in court,” Jacky says. He predicts that Flint will be the #1 hub for urban farming within the next ten years.
The days of getting forty acres and a mule may be gone, Jacky says. He tells his students to “take four tenths of an acre–and a bike.”
Flint has long felt abandoned by the automobile industry, but lately Ford returned to deliver to Harvesting Earth Farm a check for $50,000. With that money the Kings will install geothermal power into the hoophouse, increasing their growing season by two months. The farm has also relied on support from the Ruth Mott Foundation. The Kings hope that by 2014 they won’t need to accept grant support. “You can make a living selling vegetables,” he says. “And it’s legal!”
“Poverty sucks the life out of people,” Dora King explains. “The sense of hope is the one inoculation we have against poverty.”
The Kings of Flint screens Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon at Wild and Scenic in Nevada City, California.
“In every culture in decline, the watchful ones among the slaves know that all that is genuine will be scorned or conned or cast away.” Joni Mitchell
Recently, this blurb has been circulating Facebook: “As a child I saw Tarzan almost naked, Cinderella arrived home after midnight, Pinocchio told lies, Aladdin was a thief, Batman drove over 200 miles an hour, Snow White lived in a house with 7 men, Popeye smoked a pipe and had tattoos, Pac Man ran around to digital music while eating pills that enhanced his performance, and Shaggy and Scooby were mystery solving hippies that always had the munchies. The fault is not mine! If you had this childhood and loved it, repost.”
I got a good chuckle out of this. In the days that followed my reading it, one line kept echoing in my head. Pinocchio told lies. Pinocchio told lies. Like most people I know, I was raised with the ninth commandment in mind. Yet I’ve grown so used to people—or more likely institutions–lying to me that I take it for granted. Maybe God should have used simpler language with that commandment.
Take for instance my sons’ schools. Two different middle schools, both with good reputations. One is more alternative; one is more traditional. Like most schools I’ve visited over thirty years of parenting, volunteering, and teaching, most of the faculty and staff care deeply about their students. Yet both schools lie to the parents. In the midst of a domestic war on education, I can’t help but wonder if more parents would rise to defend the institutions if the institutions respected parent and child by practicing the virtue of honesty. (For more on the war on education, see my earlier polemic “Mourning the War on Education” at https://lightcapfarm.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/mourning-the-war-on-education/.)
The schools lie about different things. One lies about volunteering, changing the very essence of the word to include the connotation mandatory. Volunteering for school fundraisers is mandatory. Meetings in the evening are mandatory. Some parents I know put the word in quotes when they use it. A public school can’t force parents to help, and it can’t single handedly change the definition of a time honored word that means people choose to come help, either for a given project or on an ongoing basis. If I’m choosing to do it, it can’t be mandatory. This language is somewhat simpler than the ninth commandment, but parents are already confused about the true meaning of volunteer. Recently the school even told parents what they could and could not wear when they volunteered, and that rankled some of them. Personally, I prefer to volunteer for people and institutions that do not lie to me. (That’s why I don’t volunteer at the community radio station any more.)
The other school is one of many that lies about vaccines, telling parents they are mandatory. (There’s that word again.) Vaccinations are mandatory in some states, but in Cali parents still have some rights in regards to their children, and one of those is called a personal exemption in the case of vaccines. No matter where you stand on the vaccine issue, the law is in place that gives parents this right. With the recent alarm about the rise in whooping cough cases, California health departments and most public schools are lying to parents, saying their children are required to get the vaccine and not mentioning the waiver.
Currently AB 499 sits on Jerry Brown’s desk. If he signs it, my 12 year old and thousands of others in Cali will be able to get injections of Gardasil without parental consent. The senators and congressfolk who passed the bill didn’t seem to mind that this means that children would be lying to their parents. After all, the parents might not be good parents; they probably lie, too, or else they might just be clueless. So the state steps in and manages the lying for the students and the parents. (If you want more information about Gardasil, one source is the page “Seriously Concerned about Gardasil” on Facebook. )
Many evenings at the farm Mr. Lightcap and I indulge in passionate political discussion. We can’t seem to help it. A recent focus of our Green-Libertarian frettings and musings could be summed up with one rhetorical question: When should the state step in and manage its people? We watched Warren Jeffs pick up his child bride to French kiss her. We thought, hmmmm. Is that a good time for the state to step in? Wasn’t Jeffs lying to her and the whole community by saying that pedophilia was a normal part of worshipping their god? Who if not the state should step in? Where does being unconventional intersect with being deviant, and who defines these things for a culture?
Perhaps in this era of cultural decline and economic malaise the meaning of the word volunteer is actually changing to include the meaning of the word mandatory. Personally I’ll dig my heels in on that one, because I like the old meaning of the word. And perhaps the state needs to step in and force sometimes lethal injections on children because the parents are so incredibly misguided. In that case, they need to change the law and follow due process. Perhaps AB 499 is a back door to making those changes.
Last night I went to see the San Francisco Mime Troupe for the 7th year in a row. Every year their theme and show is different, but every year it somehow involves how the government and corporations are lying to us. Last night, with their play “2012 The Musical,” they delved into the greasy world of the green-washed nonprofit, wisely warning their viewers that any institution—any institution—with “Inc.” in the back of its name should be watched with hawk-like eyes. Having been lied to and manipulated by both profit and non profit corporations alike, I can’t help but start tapping my foot to the old Smokey Robinson tune: “I second that emotion.”
When I was a kid I had a recording of someone reading The Emperor’s New Clothes. It came with a book, and I’d sit there for hours rereading and relistening. I couldn’t believe it got so bad that the king was actually walking down the street naked. Why didn’t anyone speak up before the little kid did? These days, voices like the kid’s and the Mime Troupe’s are few and far between, voices that dare call the emperor naked and ask for systemic change, voices that dare ask our elected employees to be honest with us, voices that dare ask for truth and not lies in advertising. What will it take, how bad will it get before we all dig our heels in and tell our schools, our government, and our corporations: Enough! I don’t know to what extent I’ll find the courage. But I think I can manage the tiny clear voice I remember on the phonograph: “Mama, he doesn’t have any clothes on. Mama, why isn’t anyone saying anything? “
Misusing words and circumventing laws are two things that hurt my heart. But the dishonesty the system has us swimming in makes my soul ache. “Maybe that’s what souls are for,” John Trudell writes, “to take the hurt the heart can’t take.” I hope the next time I have the courage to speak truth in a clear, tiny voice that one of you will speak up with me. If we all speak together, our voice will not be tiny, and our message will be crystal clear. I’ll hold out some hope for that for a while yet.
This essay is from the archives; I wrote it in 1998 about my oldest son, Forrest, now an honor student at Portland State, studying Russian and history. We home schooled from 2nd through 7th grades. I hope he learned half as much as I did.
In early August the memories start floating back into my mind, memories as crisp and colorful as mid-summer itself. It was in early August that I started looking forward to going back to school. Actually, what I really started doing was living just to go back to school. I was sure that this year would be perfect! In two months nostalgia had swept in and allowed only sweet memories of the small parochial school in historic downtown Grass Valley. I saw the shiny hardwood hallways and the clean rows of desks and well–I just couldn’t wait to go back. If I were lucky I needed a new uniform skirt in addition to a new year’s worth of white JC Penney blouses. Of course I needed knee socks and underwear. I stared at the catalog for hours. At my Catholic school there was always a month’s grace period before uniforms were required; if I were truly blessed my mother might throw a new church and school dress into the mix.
My father would take me shopping for new shoes and school supplies. I’d choose my binder and paper–always college ruled–and of course a new ziploc pouch for pens, compass, six inch ruler. I’d practice in the mirror–which way did I want to wear my long red hair? Pony tail braids? Just down? Simple barrette off to the side?
Looking back, it’s strange that I liked school at all. I had hardly any friends, and those few I had were, like me, regularly and mercilessly pummeled by the school’s elite and powerful. My daydreamer’s personality saw to it that I earned B’s instead of A’s, which in turn earned me intense anxiety at report card and conference time, and then, moments later, the consternation of my father, who’d already raised three A students. Looking back, it seems I should have hated the whole deal. But I didn’t. The kids, the grades, the nuns that were pretty mean–none of them mattered. It was school that I loved. The entity. The concept.
When my son was finishing first grade he told me he’d like me to home school him. I’d been asking him if I could since kindergarten, but this was his first glimmer of interest. It was an agonizing decision for him, because he liked public school. He had lots of friends and did well academically. But he said he’d like more time with me. I understood that; I felt like I’d hardly laid eyes on him since our wonderful lazy mornings before afternoon kindergarten. I had a baby that summer, and his second grade year was filled with 9 A.M. pancake breakfasts, long read alouds and walks, and most of all a new infant that, by year’s end, was almost a toddler. I saw him fuse with his baby brother in a way he never would have if I had chauffeured him to school each day. He wants to home school again this year, and half way through the year we’ll have another baby to share our winter home school days. Family life has become part of his education.
I know one of these years he’ll want to go back to school. When he does I know he’ll do just fine. He’s academically on track and–yes–in spite of the common criticism of home schooling–he’s well socialized. What is interesting to me is that when he does return it will be with the same frame of mind I found myself in each August. He’ll be excited. He’ll want to be in that place called school. But he’ll even feel something more than I felt, and this is where he’s really lucky. He’ll be a volunteer. He’ll be choosing to go to school just as he will someday choose a college. His binder will be organized and under his arm. The little ones and I will wave to him from the car, watching him carry years of being with us into the building with him.
Photographs from Abbey Country
“It pleases me, loving rivers.” Raymond Carver
The San Pedro River flows north from Mexico into southeastern Arizona. It is one of the last free flowing rivers in the Southwest. At the San Pedro River Riparian National Conservation Area in Cochise County, the river winds through a grove of cottonwood and willow trees at the juncture of four distinct geologic zones. I visited the San Pedro about a month before locals expected summer rains, and at times it was reduced to a healthy trickle. (My friend in Bisbee said he’s recorded 17/100ths of an inch of rain since October, 2010.) Below are some images I captured along the San Pedro in mid May, 2011.
The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is visited by birders the world over. The Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) bands hummingbirds here in the spring. Next time I visit I’ll try to bring a birder friend and get some photos for you.
Each year for fourteen years now, Dale and Diane Jacobson have hosted the Medieval Games at their dude ranch just outside Nevada City. Last May 13, over two hundred sixth graders from Waldorf or Waldorf-inspired schools attend the games, from as far away as Chico, Georgetown, and Sacramento. The Medieval Games culminates a year of study about Medieval times and culture. Yuba River Charter School in Nevada City coordinates the Games. Each year the parents of the sixth-grade class produce the event, a year-long project which culminates in a day of outdoor adventure and camaraderie. The Games begin at 8 a.m. and end about 4 p.m. Students are divided into six Shires. With their Shire, they face and conquer challenges on the grounds: javelin throw, archery, wall climb, catapult, long jump, pontoon walk, and tug of war. Below are photographs from the 2011 Medieval Games.