Shopping cart is empty.

Birchbark Blog

Windows of Clarity

Louise Erdrich - Sunday, September 04, 2011

Addicts of all types who eventually enter recovery know the phrase "window of clarity". Through the haze of drugs or booze, people have a poignant stroke of thought. People realize their addiction is deadly; it is collapsing their personal world. So, too, a cheap energy addict (like me) knows these moments. Every so often, I look at some object in my hand and see the unrecoverable petroleum that actually produced it. I drive 1-94 to see my parents and remember only 130 years ago this journey was harrowing, it took a month by ox cart or more in some seasons. Before that, people walked and working dogs dragged along their portable houses. In that window of clarity my car, all of our cars, which we take for granted, are magic carpets.    

One such moment of clarity occurred this summer in Belcourt, North Dakota, on my home reservation where I went with my mother. I bought an apple in the grocery store. It was labeled Holland. The apple wasn't really from Holland, but it might as well have been. This apple appeared near the central Canadian Border in June -- it came from somewhere very, very far away. There are few places so remote that they do not get shipments of pesticide (petroleum) laced produce, fertilized (petroleum), harvested (petroleum) and shipped (petroleum) from a place equally mysterious and remote. The apple in my hand might as well have been tossed to the Turtle Mountains by a genie -- one created of a fabulously powerful substance accompanied by a deadly curse.

At our last bookstore meeting we talked as a group about what would make our work at Birchbark Books more meaningful. One of us said it would be great to enlarge our mission to include transitional thinking about how to strengthen local economies. The word "transitional" clicked with me. My windows of clarity, interspersed with bouts of magical thinking, included dread. Nobody likes to linger too long in a moment of clarity about climate change because it always ends in dread. Year by year I've tried to recycle, reduce, reuse. Still, the dread. And the word Collapse is enough to stop most thought. But the word Transition somehow pulled me out. Transition is not about dread, survivalist fear, a life of paranoia, hoarding guns and money and vacuum packed plastic barrels of grain. It is about producing our own energy and food, but in a joyous and meaningful way.

My mother's family gardened and canned and hunted all the food they ate only a generation ago, right there in the Turtle Mountains. My mother and father could still survive from their garden and orchard if they had too, even though they give most of what they grow away.

The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience by Rob Hopkins, is a great place to start reading. I recommend it as a positive beginning -- I have worked my way backward into Lester R. Brown's World On The Edge, and John Michael Greer's The Wealth of Nature, and Original Instructions, edited by Melissa K. Nelson, all excellent. As soon as I read The Transition Handbook, however, I realized that in Minneapolis we have the makings of a great transition city. Here are signs:

One year ago our bookstore faced a sheet of asphalt. Kenwood School was paved to the foundation. Last year that asphalt (petroleum) was torn out and replaced with a garden as miraculous as that apple in the Turtle Mountains. It was planted by (genies) the parents of schoolchildren, tended by the children (naturally produced) as well as more (eternal motion machines) parents, teachers, and now is being harvested. At the start of school barbeque, parents took home produce, marveling at the freshness, exchanging recipes. One boy looked at the top of a carrot showing in the dirt and asked, shyly, "can I pull it out?"  He did, and walked away brushing his face dreamily with the soft carrot leaves.  "I never knew they had tops" he murmured.

A moment of clarity for that boy, maybe, and for me a reason to enlarge our bookstore's offerings to include a section on Green Thinking, Urban Homesteading, Climate Change, The Commons, Indigenous Gardening -- all of the topics that I'd love to deny but can't.  If we look over the sides of our magic carpets, we'll realize we're floating on thin air.  If it's all the same, I'd rather coast down or "power down" than drop.  But that requires living in that clarity, more reading, and taking action. 

Thanks to all of our supporters who keep Birchbark Books going here on 21st Street. Watch for Diane Wilson reading from Beloved Child. She not only writes beautifully, but she is the director of Dream of Wild Health, an Indigenous gardening project and an original partner of Birchbark Books.


Canoe Family

Recent PostsRSS


favorite dog Love Population E.L. Doctorow More Remarkable Trees Tar Sands World on the Edge The Game of Silence Dartmouth Botany This Green World solstice, Thomas King euphoria Michael Jackson Peak Oil bill mckibben Kate DiCamillo Beth Dooley devoted customers Gary Clement Gail Caldwell health care reform Minneapolis post holiday reads ependent Chitra Divakaruni Patrick O'Brian china Native Arts Emily Johnson Philip Roth how good looking you are Brown Dog leaves and snow Book Review Crushing Books green Anton Treuer Czech Writer fresh water Islam joy cafe Canada Empire of the Summer Moon coyote aquifer buffalo Wastepaper President Obama Unnatural Disasters Alan Weisman Stephen Salisbury The Transition Handbook Wolf Hall support ireland language revitalization The Resilient Gardener pilgrims Wendy Makoons Geniusz Chickadee local economy graphix plants Catalyst Ojibwe show your love peculiar touches of green and gold The Ojibwe mississippi boarding school Education Kabul Nero Bohumil Hrabal Green Team Light in August Mankato Powwow Poetry The Porcupine Year Fireworks post holiday Zombies NACDI:All My Relations anniversary Roberto Bolano William Trevor The Farmer's Daughter japan Milkweed Press tree books Small Bookstores as Commons incarnation Peak Water france The Birchbark House Keystone XL Too Loud A Solitude Victory Gardens Ha Jin Our Knowledge Is Not Primitive S.C. Gwynne gratitude National Book Award favorite tree book and dinner club photography Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge ptsd city of books Ojibwemowin favorite book Bleak House Bill Moyers Journal thank you friends Native People Vic Glover Dogs thanks Keepers of the Trees Easter Island Aza Minnesota Alice Munro Louise customers 2666 Hillary Clinton Tree Houses The Blue Sky Pembina sweden knowledge twins birchbark house series Nemesis School Gardens Ice italy Let's Take the Long Way Home Greenland the most romantic city in the world Remarkable Trees H2Oil Magers and Quinn Birchbark Books Makoons north dakota trees State Troopers Rare Books Up Late Again gardens The Royal Prussian Library The Wealth of Nature Climate Change Kenwood Gardens Video Mohamed's Ghosts Interview neighborhood germany Too Much Happiness adventure Anishinabemowin Gryphon Press Anishinabe Aubrey/Maturin British Navy Jim Harrison spring cafe closing Afghanistan monkey in a dryer Collective Denial friends Women and Trees Hilary Mantel