Friday, June 10, 2016


After many years at Blogger I've decided to move to a new blog! I've contemplated this for awhile. I've not been all that happy with the process/interface for posting to Blogger. Posting text or embedded YouTube videos is fairly easy but adding images is a bit of a pain, particularly when posting from the iPad which is my primary method of posting. And I almost always want to post at least one image with any text I have. So, I'll be moving to my own domain at which will be hosted on WordPress. A much better experience.

I may continue cross posting here for awhile but anything I post will be without accompanying images. So, for the best experience please consider following me over to the new address. And while I've moved all of my posts over to the new domain I'll leave this blog just for purposes of having an archive for some of the more popular, older posts that are in the google machine. Hope to see you at the new diggs!!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Alone but not lonely

I’m going to tell you a story about being alone. Not necessarily lonely, but alone. There’s a difference which we’ll work out as we go. The story starts in a washroom beside a washer and a drier when an 11 year old boy came to the conclusion that he would never have someone to be with. As I recall I was in there helping my mom with the laundry (or possibly looking for a toy as one wall was a sort of storage catch-all). I do not remember how our conversation became centered on my future but I do recall crying. I cried a lot. Somehow my 11 year old brain had come to the certain fact that I would end up old and without a partner. I remember my mom trying to reassure me that whatever I might be going through, whatever doubts I had, that there was much life in front of me and that I would have plenty of time to find someone special. I suppose such fear and uncertainty is a part of growing up. We all have a bit of heartbreak and fear of the future.

After 47 orbits around our sun I find myself alone in my life. But not lonely. I remember at some point around 15 years ago coming across someone making a distinction between being alone and being lonely and it stuck with me. This person pointed out that it it’s quite possible to be surrounded by people and to feel lonely or isolated. It’s also possible to be alone, with plenty of space between one’s self and other humans and not feel lonely. The key is a sense of connection to life in a general sort of way. At the time it made sense and yet I had a sense of being in both places, of being both lonely and alone. I was in Memphis living at the deCleyre Co-op, a housing cooperative I’d help set-up a sort of communal activist house. During my five years there I lived with approximately 45 different people of varied backgrounds, ranging from 7 to 14 at any given moment. Many of them students but not all. The common theme was a desire to change the world, a desire to have a positive impact in our city. Another common theme was I was always the oldest person there. When we set up the house I was around 29 and I moved out when I was 34. Actually, there were two others a little older than me, co-founders that both moved out within the first six months.

Those were some interesting years. The co-op was like living in a beehive. There was a perpetual buzzzing of activity and the people I shared life with were in a constant state of growth and flux. I was too. We ran a pirate radio station and set-up community gardens. We hosted conferences and traveled to conferences. In the time I was there we hosted something like 250 travelers ranging from puppeteers to punk rock bands to pastors taking a caravan of food to Cuba and many others. We published a little community newspaper. We replaced a roof. We had a small house fire in our attic when a squirrel chewed threw old wiring (luckily not the portion of the roof we’d already replaced!). We had a fire on a porch when a cigarette butt ended up in between the cushions of a couch. It was a lively place.

By the time I moved into deCleyre I was in the middle of my third “serious” relationship. I’d had a one year relationship my last year of high school into my first year of college. Not all that serious but she was my first girlfriend so I’ll file it under serious. Then a four year relationship that involved a 2 year marriage. This third relationship lasted almost five years and was the best of the three. I’d had some practice by that point. She was younger than I and had not had much practice but we did pretty well together. For awhile. It was a strange ending in that it was very rational. We both knew it was time to end it and we both did pretty well with it. We remained friends though we’ve not spoken in some time. I look fondly on those years partly because of her, partly because of many things I was a part of.

But there was a divide, perhaps it was the age difference. I seemed to always be about 8 years older than the average age of my housemates. It showed in that I was the one who tended to have steady employment and was the one mostly likely to be handling administrative duties. I was the only one with a college degree. While I was still active, still growing, I was past the hyper-development and flux that people go through in their late teens and early twenties. I think this was a part of feeling set apart from my fellow housemates and activists. At one point a couple of them nicknamed me the “bearded dictator” which was pretty funny given we mostly considered ourselves anarchists. But from the perspective I was too serious, always pushing others to take things more seriously. Always asking for their share of the mortgage payment or most likely to be raising a ruckus about chores not being done.

Something else that happened during my life in Memphis was making a decision that I would not have children. I think I was 23 or so and to my young eyes humans were overpopulating and over using the world’s resources. I didn’t see a very happy future for humanity or the planet, why bring a child into that world. But it was another way in which I seemed to set myself apart from most of the folks I knew especially family. They were all following along with the steady stream of middle class, suburban America. It would also prove to be a factor in the ending of at least one relationship.

I left Memphis in 2004 and have been in Missouri ever since. I wasn’t planning on staying but we had some land left to us by my grandparents and when the economy seemed to be blowing up in 2008 it seemed like staying put was a good idea. With a bit of help from my brother-in-law I built a tiny house and settled into a quiet life of gardening and freelance web design. I was sure the economy was going to spiral into something akin to the Great Depression. I’d not had a romantic relationship of any seriousness in eight years when I moved into the cabin. To be honest, I wasn’t looking. That’s the thing about being alone but not lonely. I’d gotten to be pretty good at being by myself. I was content. I felt a deep connection to the life going on all around me. At some point along the way I think I’d decided that humans were more trouble than they were worth. A selfish species unable or unwilling to share the planet. I was happy to spend my days with chickens, a dog and cat, a goose and a deer. Oh, and frogs. Frogs are adorable.

I was 44 years old and not all that concerned with finding a partner. I’d created the kind of life that was pretty far outside the norm. So, it was a strange and unexpected thing to find myself in a new relationship with a woman in the spring of 2013. Not just a woman but a woman with seven kids. Seven. Kids. But it seemed to work. She was coming out of a lifetime of Christian fundamentalism and a dysfunctional marriage. Did I mention she had seven kids? See, though I’d made a decision not to have any children I actually thought I’d be a decent father. And I’d lived with 45 different housemates in Memphis. And 245 travelers. I could do this. And I did. For two years and six months. I think she would even agree that I was attentive and pretty good at parenting. And then it ended. I think if you were to ask friends or family they’d tell you the end was largely due to the English fellow she’d met via a book review on Amazon. It’s a bit simplistic but it probably started with that. The larger reason is a bit bigger and not the point of this post. Suffice it to say that someone stuck in fundamentalism from the age of 18 is also someone who will change a great deal when she is free of it.

At nearly 47 years I find myself alone again in my cabin having just spent two and a half years in a serious relationship with a woman and her seven kids. I’m stubborn and thought we should make a go of it. Relationships don’t come easy and ours was pretty good or so I thought. She disagreed and in November I moved out at her request. The onset of winter is a difficult time to move back into a quiet cabin. There would be no gardening or growing of things. No chickens. The woods were slumbering. I no longer had my dog who I’d put to sleep 8 months prior as she was 15 years old and blind and in daily pain. Luckily I had my cat. The winter of 2015–16 was the loneliest time of my life. I wasn’t just alone, I was lonely. At some point in the middle of it I remembered that day I cried with my mom in the washroom.

But as I write I look out my cabin window and see tiny silver droplets on the redbud leaves. The rain has been coming down for two days and the forest has returned to life. There are hummingbirds buzzing by me as I tend a new garden. I have a new puppy that never gets enough walks. Every day I am visited by geese with their goslings. I see them now, coming up the path in search of the bearded guy that will give them corn. It’s nice to have company.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Spring 2016 Garden Update

Been busy gardening and made a good bit of progress in March and April getting things  reestablished. Lots of natives put in for wildlife habitat as well as small food garden consisting of hugelculture beds. The kale and lettuce is looking great. Just got in a few peppers one tomatoes too. Oh, and two blueberries. Not as large as the gardens I had before but a good start at getting things going again. Depending on how my well holds up I'll consider adding a bit more each year.

The fruit trees I put in back in 2008 are doing pretty good especially given they had little to no attention over the past three summers. Should have a nice crop of peaches, plums and pears. My three female hardy kiwi's  didn't make it but the male did. Will need to get in some female plants if I want any fruit!

Friday, April 08, 2016

Sunset Time-lapse

Been having some very active weather lately. That may sound silly as the weather is often active.  Maybe more accurate to say that we've been having lots of windy days. Thankfully we had a slight let-up in the wind the other day at sunset and there were some very nice clouds rolling through which made for a very nice time-lapse.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

When People Die

I’ve got an aunt who will likely be dying in the next couple of days. My mom’s sister. Death is an interesting thing because it’s the one fact that we all share, one of only a few certainties and yet, it is something so many resist. We create religions, in part, to help ourselves deal with our mortality. We create all sorts of elaborate beliefs to that end. My approach to death might be best summed up by one of my favorite songs, “Fact of Life” by Poi Dog Pondering:
"Relentlessly climbing and conquering and swallowing fresh pain
Melting reemerging and rising up clean in the pouring rain
Rise up clean in the pouring rain, only to drop down
and decay again
Muscle and sweat and blood and bones
feel good, feel strong!
Don’t ask why, it’s a fact you die"
We die and our bodies decay. The matter of our body,  our molecules, are decomposed and released into the environment. Or, we may be cremated, the matter of our bodies released through a different process but still a process of transformation. Whatever the process, the atoms of our body are recycled. Frankly, I think it’s a fucking beautiful process and in fact, it’s happening during the course of life, every moment of every day. We shed our skin and other bodily cells all the time. We breathe in, absorbing the oxygen molecules released into the air by plants. We breathe out, releasing carbon dioxide which will be used by plants. A constant exchange, constant interaction We are of the Universe.

And it’s not just our bodies that we shed. In a very real way our minds, our identities are also in flux. The Denny that writes these words is not the same Denny of 10 years ago or the Denny of 20 years ago. Each day brings now opportunity to grow and to change if we’re open to it. Even if we’re not, it’s going to happen. There’s nothing static about the Universe. It’s all movement, all the time. From the subatomic scale where the elementary particles of atoms of are in constant motion and interaction,  to the atoms that make up molecules, to the tiny microbial life living on our skin to the planet and solar system. We can zoom out and out and out and still we find change, birth, decay.

Another Poi Dog song, Bury Me Deep:
“A lifetime of accomplishments of which the dirt knows none,
Only in death can one truly return
Return the carrots, the apples and potatoes,
The chickens, the cows, the fish and tomatoes.

In one glorious swoop, let the deed be done
And bury me deep so that I can be one…
And all around my muscle and all around my bone,
Don’t incinerate me or seal me from
The dirt which bore me, the bed that which from
The rain falls upon and the fruit comes from
For the dirt is a blanket, no fiery tomb,
No punishment, reward, or pearly white room
And you who say that in death we will pay,
The dead they can’t hear a word that you say
Your words are not kind, sober or giving,
They only put fear in the hearts of the living
So put away your tongues and roll up your sleeves,
And pick up your shovel and bury me deep.”
Again, fucking fantastic. Yes. Yes.

And so, I think about my aunt and the other family members that have died in recent years, my grandfather, my granny, my other grandfather - and I smile. They all had long lives. Interesting lives. I’ve not shed a tear for any of them. Why would I? I think about my aunt who’s body is shutting down as I write. She will take her last breath very soon. Her body will grow cool. She will be gone. The consciousness that was hers will fade. Her family will remember her until they too die and fade away. I didn’t know it at the time but when I last saw her a month or so ago, that conversation was the last I will have had with her.

What can we do? We can go on. We can remember and we can do our best to live. I suppose, perhaps the best we can do for our dead is to relish and celebrate life with them before they die. And after they die go on celebrating life with the people they knew or with people they didn’t know. We all co-create this life together, we weave a rich tapestry that becomes vibrant and then weathers and fades and eventually disappears. These are our individual stories and fates just as one day all of humanity will fade. Even the stars transition from one state to another. Nothing in the Universe lasts for ever. Not planets or stars, not galaxies and the Universe itself may have some sort of end. We are in good company.

I think what I will do is celebrate. I will recognize that this pattern of energy known as Denny will not exist forever. I will try to use each day, to live each day in a way that recognizes that lifespan. I’m not sure where I heard it but there’s a quote that goes something like: “Live each day as if it were your first and each night as if it were your last.” Yeah. That.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Cloudy Day Time-lapse

Just having a bit of fun with the iPhone time lapse feature and finding a bit of beauty in the process.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Vulnerability, change and growth

Yes, yes, I know. I’ve brought up the recent ending/change of my recent relationship with Kaleesha a lot recently. It figures in. Much of what I’m thinking about at the moment is where I went with that relationship and what it means for me. In the spring of 2013 I hadn't really been looking for a relationship. I mean, I was open to that sort of thing but I don’t recall it being a high priority at any point in the years since I left Memphis. I'd settled into something fairly comfortable for myself. And yet, here was a new friendship that seemed to be evolving into something more. As much as I was comfortable with my life I'm also someone that rolls with life. I kinda jumped in. I didn't know there it would lead but I thought it would be worth the risk. She is a wonderful and lovely person as are her seven wee people.

Vulnerability. You see, when we decided I would move in, that we would have a go at a partnership, well, at that point it was no longer just about connecting and growing with Kaleesha, but also about connecting and growing with her seven children. Many years ago I'd made a decision to never have children.. My decision to not have children was not based on a dislike of kids or an aversion to the idea of being a parent. In fact, I'd always thought I would make a good dad, a good parent. My decision was based on my belief that the planet already had too many humans, many of which are living without much thought for the future. It’s a natural part of being a human animal to want to procreate but for me it was a sacrifice worth making. Having children didn’t seem fair or responsible to them or to the other species on the planet. In any case, it was a decision I stuck with but I always wondered about how it would have gone for me in that role. In the short time I lived at Make-it-Do Farm my thoughts about my ability and desire to parent were, for the most part, confirmed. Well, it really was fairly early in the process when it ended but it was going pretty well.

But of course, I wasn’t really prepared for it. My skin was too thin. I had (have) much to learn about loving unconditionally. I suspect that parents, biological parents, have an opportunity to grow into that relationship, into that kind of giving. That’s probably obvious. But for someone who’s never had kids, well, there is no slow evolution. It’s all a bit more abrupt. One does not move in with a woman with seven kids without a certain willingness, a certain commitment to stretching and growing, to being a responsible adult. As well as a certain willingness to being hurt.

But for me, in the context of my move into Kaleesha and the kids’ lives, vulnerability was not just about the process of parenting, not just about the process of learning to love children not my own, but ultimately also about loosing them. I could not be certain that Kaleesha and I would last though I thought we would. I wouldn’t have moved in if I had thought otherwise. But I knew I was putting myself in a position in which I might end up hurting. But that’s life. It's a risky adventure sometimes.

There's an openness that comes with connecting with the life around us. It often means pain, real pain because, frankly, we live in a world full of pain. Suffering is everywhere. Injustice is everywhere. I find it overwhelming at times and yet I keep breathing. We may well be in the middle of the 6th great extinction and yet, there is only so much I can do. Only so much any one of us can do. So, sometimes I'll cry. Other times I'll laugh. Mostly I'll try to breath in and take it all one step at a time.

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So I took a risk, I had an adventure and now I transition back into my old life. But it’s not my old life, it’s something new in the space I lived in before because I’m no longer the Denny that left his cabin and his garden in the spring of 2013. Just as I’m not the Denny of 2008 that built the cabin. Or the Denny that left Memphis over a decade ago. Life experience changes us. That’s obvious but I think sometimes we forget to pay attention to the process.

I find myself feeling a bit more confused than usual about what I want, about who I want to be. In particular, I feel an inclination to retreat for a while. To take some time from human company. And yet, there is a part of me that is inclined to reach out and connect. A part of what makes it confusing for me is the possibility that I might be acting, or, more to the point, reacting, to being on my own again. It's a strange thing to not know your own mind, your own intentions. I suppose, for the moment, there's not much to be done for it.  I'm okay with not knowing. It's interesting to wonder how much of who we are is our intent. I speak of my mind as though it is something to be discovered, as though I do not control it, and often it seems that way. Which leads me to ask, is the mind beyond our control? Just something we partially control. Or is any control just an illusion. Ha. Time to visit Wikipedia. This is something that's been discussed and studied. And there are no clear answers. I suppose this falls within the "mind-body problem". Fun fun. Maybe time to add neuroscience to my list of studies?

So, there are no easy answers. Guess for now I'll keep getting up every day. I'll drink my coffee, walk the dog, read, work, listen to the frogs and see how things go.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Of legends and fuck-ups

The other day I had to write a difficult email. And then another. It was a part of a conversation that was, in large part, me processing the end of my recent relationship with Kaleesha. In the course of writing it occurred to me that there was much I had never shared with her. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to share it so much as I thought I’d have time. Why rush to share every detail of my life. I figured that in time I’d have occasion to share naturally as things came up. The truth is that she did much of the talking during our first year as she was processing her journey out of religion. And when she wasn’t talking she was crying. She even wrote a book about that journey. It as an intense and interesting time and I was happy to have been a part of the process. We talked a lot less in our second years as other people came into our lives. That’s another story for another time.

The point of this particular story is to begin a recounting of some of the memories that surfaced as I wrote her. Earlier today I was out walking my new canine companion Cosmo and I mulled over a particular paragraph in one of the above mentioned emails. In particular I was responding to something she’d written that hinted that I was settled down. That adventure and growth was no longer a priority for me but that it was for her. Well, it made me angry. Perhaps I’m sensitive  because while I’m a bit older than her, at 46 I’m far from joining the Fuddy Duddy club.   But the more I thought about it, not just who and where I am now but who I've been, my anger turned into a kind of amusement. I had a pretty good chuckle at myself. I’m a fucking legend. Well, my college advisor once told me that I was a legendary fuck-up. Does that count? Probably not.

I've decided it's time to write down a few things that I’ve probably not shared with family or friends. I know for a fact that much of what I might write will be news to my family and at the very least I’d like them to know these things. Not that I’m anything special, but as much as I want to know my fellow humans it’s also nice to be known. It’s nice to share and I think I’ve lived an interesting life, or, at least an unconventional life. I might make this a series of posts over the next few weeks. Of course, I often contemplate such themed posts but never get around to it.  But this is the first time in a long while that I’ve really felt the urge to write. Maybe it will stick. I think I’ll leave out the racy scenes for the moment. Not sure I should really get into that. Ha! Maybe I should. Any good story that purports to be about a legendary life should include a bit of the spicy stuff, no? I’ll contemplate that.

Perhaps this will serve as an overview and future posts might be an elaboration? Sure, that sounds doable. So, what kinds of activities and life choices might be examples of an unconventional life? Let me offer up this as a sampling:

I’ve been to jail for pirate radio broadcasting on a rooftop and I’ve had to kick beer guzzling pirate punk rockers out of my home. I’ve lived with beer guzzling pirate punk rockers.  I once woke up to a flaming couch outside my door and then proceeded to drag said couch until my fingers blistered and bled to keep my house from burning down. It wasn’t just smoldering, it was in full on flames. I’ve been in sweat lodges and fed hundreds of homeless people. During my time doing work for political prisoner Leonard Peltier I camped outside a federal building for a week and quite literally told the FBI to go fuck itself. I’ve drummed  and marched with thousands of people at multiple rallies in DC and helped kids in Memphis fix their flat tires.   I’ve helped make two documentary films and been on the crew of various others. I once took a midnight tour of the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Eeeeeerie. They were closed but we were outside showing some traveling activist friends where Martin Luther King was assassinated  and the guard came outside and invited us in. Maybe he did that all the time for anyone but we felt pretty special. I’ve literally faced down a screaming, hooded clansman and been teargassed by the police. I’ve interviewed rockstars on their tour bus (do Chumbawamba count as rockstars?) and helped teach illiterate adults how to read. I’ve helped put in at least 7 different community gardens. I’ve organized conferences and taken phone calls in the middle of the night from someone issuing threats through a voice altering device. I helped found a housing co-op that I lived in for 5 years during which time I lived with over 50 different housemates and hosted 240+ travelers and two different activist oriented conferences.  I’ve raised a baby deer and seen it return to the wild to have it’s own babies. I’ve raised my own poultry and on a couple of occasions butchered them for food. I helped organize two indy film festivals. I helped found and run a micro-radio (pirate radio) station for 2 years. Said station ran out of our home and hosted 50+ volunteer DJs during it’s time on the air. I once misjudged the duration of an acid trip and ended up working  my first night as a barista at a coffee shop at the peak. I pulled it off and went on to co-manage the shop a few months later.

Maybe I’m still hallucinating but I don’t think that’s a typical list of life activities. And it’s just a small sampling. I just wish I’d had an iPhone for that period of my life so I’d better remember more of it. And to emphasize, this isn’t so much as a self-congratulatory pat on the back or bragging about past deeds so much as my not wanting to forget them. And also as a way to be better known. Many might look at that list and see things to be ashamed of. It is what it is. For the most part I don’t regret my life choices. I’ve made more than my share of mistakes but a life without mistakes is probably not very well lived. I believe in the notion of admitting a bit of foolishness into our lives and, even more, celebrating it (hat tip to Steve Jobs).

To make sense of any accounting of deeds and misdeeds it often makes sense to order it as a chronology of sorts. It seems smart to start when things took a turn from the typical and that was, for me, college at Truman State University. Why don’t we start with  that cranky advisor that I mentioned above. He thought I was goofing off far too much. He thought I could and should take academics far more seriously. Maybe he was right. I was working on my BA in anthropology from 1987 to 1992 and for much of that time I was more concerned with my budding identity as an activist. My upbringing was basically very similar to an episode of the Simpsons in that we lived in suburbia and my parents were not very political or religious. I could pick any number of other examples of suburban family life portrayed in popular culture but the point is that it was a pretty average life that emphasized the usual for suburban middle America. Within the context of this typical life I, as an individual, was pretty laid back and not all that adventurous. And totally unaware politically. I had little idea about the workings of government or the historical evolution of culture and politics in the U.S. or anywhere. I thought Ronald Reagan was a swell guy.

Antioch College students visited the deCleyre co-op two years in a row for
their environmental racism and justice summer course. 2001
In my time at university I took a big step away from the person I’d been growing up and not just in the usual ways that college kids do. I did the usual and then I kept going. By the third year of college I’d concluded that I didn’t care much about a good job or accumulating wealth. I’d wager this was a bit of a shock to my family as I think their initial and primary motivation in encouraging me to attend college was that I might have better “career” opportunities. For them it was about my earning potential and better employment. I’d guess that this is the norm for the parents of college kids and for most college kids. The focus is getting the degree so that a better paying career  might be had. For me college was the beginning of life long learning, activism and poverty. Well, financial poverty but that was by choice.

It was chance, perhaps, that got me off on the left foot  because I was randomly assigned a biography of Gandhi for freshman orientation for which I was suppose to give some sort of report at a session of said orientation. This was the story of an unconventional life and it stuck to me right off. That’s right, Gandhi was like a big wad of HubbaBubba bubblegum  stuck to my shoe. Not that I tried to pry him off. I was content to have him stuck in. His story proved to be just the first seed in a series that would take root in my mind and begin to open my perspective up to a different kind of life. I was corrupted by an adorable little Indian guy that also happened to kick ass (in a very nonviolent sort of way of course).

Within that first year I’d begun attending meetings of the “World Peace Group” and Amnesty International.  By the third year I’d discovered the Greens and the Green Party. I’d attended the only environmental club on campus that was focused on recycling and decided they were far too limited, too narrow in scope. I wanted something that addressed not just the “environment” but something more encompassing that went at the social root of ecological problems.  I opted to start my own organization based on the larger green movement and simply called it the Northeast Missouri Greens. It was my first step into a process that would lead to a fundamental and radical shift on my understanding of what it meant to be a human being as well as what it meant to be a citizen. I’d never organized anything or spoken in front of a group of people. The room was overflowing at our first meeting and it probably goes without saying that I was a nervous wreck as I spoke to 40+ people, many of whom I’d never met. That was the beginning of my identity as a radical “organizer” and a personal evolution that continued for for over a decade and which continues in some ways today. I’m no longer involved with radical community organizing but as recently as 2010 was active in a local “mainstreet” revitalization organization in our local town. My hope then was to guide the group towards the “Transition Town” model of organization. Sadly the group disbanded after disagreements regarding how to address problems with the local police force. One of our last projects was the creation of a local space for art and culture which hosted poetry readings and art openings as well as discussion groups and even a dance party. Good times.

Since 2012 our little community (within the larger community) has evolved. Our activities, open to all, range from monthly community potlucks to star parties. For awhile I did a series of astronomy presentations at the local library but that’s been on a hiatus for over a year. The point though is that while my personal life is no longer one of a green-anarchist activist in a college town or city, it is still one of engagement. While I’m not opposed to participating in a protest or activities of a more radical nature my role of late has been to try to nurture the practice of creating community, specifically a community of people that tend towards skepticism, atheism and science. It seems like a good counter to the anti-rational and often anti-science culture of religious rural Missouri.

In a way that is a summary of it all with a bit of the beginning and a bit of the end or, more accurately, the present. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the details of the adventures that happened in the middle. The stuff of legend? I may have exaggerated but I will say that at the very least it has been an adventure.

Oh, and for the record,  I’ve known people well into their “golden” years who have persisted in living full lives in every way they possibly are able. I intend to be one of those. Life is meant for living and if I’m going to take up space on this planet I’ll not waste it. So, as I do age, I'll not be one that pretends otherwise. Aging is a part of the process. But I'll also not be one that stops adventuring. Not unless I have to and as long as I have some mental clarity, well, I won't have to.

Back at the Lake or Life is like a box of chocolates...

A new video about rebuilding my garden now that I've returned to the lake as my residence. It's been a long while since I felt the need or desire to really write. I think that drought may be over at least for awhile. Really feeling the need to explore and remember a bit about who I am and where I've been. No doubt related to what led to my move back to the lake and what my future might look like. More coming soon.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Gravitational Waves Discovered

In case you missed it: LIGO announced the detection of Gravitational Waves
For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented window onto the cosmos.

Gravitational waves were detected by the two LIGO detectors in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana, United States, at 5:51 am EDT (0951 UTC). The waves were generated during the final moments of the merger of 2 black holes resulting in a single, massive, rotating black hole. Even though such a merger was predicted to happen, it was never observed before.

The merger of the two black holes happened more than 1 billion light-years away. (definition of a light-year, use this calculator to convert light-years to miles.)

Why is this discovery so important? Gravitational waves tell us a lot about their cataclysmic origins. They offer a unique way to look deep into the past and observe cosmic events that happened a very long time ago. Gravitational waves provide information about the nature of gravity that we wouldn’t be able to get any other way. With this observation, LIGO opens a new window through which we can study the cosmos.
A lot more at LIGO’s Detection Portal.

Getting lost in NASA - The Curiosity Rover has a Chemcam Blog

The NASA website is an amazingly deep rabbit hole. It is it's own internet. Really, between Wikipedia and NASA, I can and often do go days without seeing the rest of the interwebs. Here's just one tiny corner of just one of many sections of the site: The Curiosity Rover Chemcam Blog 

Never heard of the Chemcam? Basically it is a camera/laser combo that takes high resolution images and vaporizes rocks with a laser and analyzes the resulting light to determine the chemical make-up of the rock. More via the Wikipedia page for Chemcam:
Chemistry and Camera complex (ChemCam) is a suite of remote sensing instruments on Mars for the Curiosity rover. As the name implies, ChemCam is actually two different instruments combined as one: a laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and a Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope. The purpose of the LIBS instrument is to provide elemental compositions of rock and soil, while the RMI will give ChemCam scientists high-resolution images of the sampling areas of the rocks and soil that LIBS targets. The LIBS instrument can target a rock or soil sample from up to 7 m (23 ft) away, vaporizing a small amount of it with about 50 to 75 5-nanosecond pulses from a 1067 nm infrared laser and then observing the spectrum of the light emitted by the vaporized rock.
The Chemcam is just one of many instruments carried by the Curiosity Rover.

An erratic blogger

Jeesh. What a mess this blog is. Fits and starts. Been a long time since I achieved any kind of consistency. I don't see myself going back to Facebook anytime soon and I don't seem to have the hang of Twitter. I mean, I understand the basics of it but it just does not seem to be something I connect with.  I suspect that if I'm going to have much interactivity with this interwebs thing it will be here. I'm not sure why I have difficulty with updates. Something about the workflow? Perhaps a lack of desire to communicate via this particular medium? A lack of interaction? I'm thinking it's that last bit. This isn't a warm and cozy place. There's no sense of community or connection. Some blogs achieve that this one hasn't. I'm not sure I'm someone that writes just to write. I think my impulse is to share but that implies a two way connection - a back and forth.

Pondering. Like much of my life these days, a question and not much clarity.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Discovery 12.5 Dobsonian: Initial Thoughts

Discovery 12.5" at its new home - many new
deep sky explorations await!
When I poked my head out this morning I almost didn't get up because it looked a bit foggy and there was a halo around the moon indicating a good bit of humidity in the sky... And even a few wisps of clouds. But I had not yet had a chance to look at Jupiter with the new scope so curiosity got the best of me. I was up late last night working on a list of double stars so when I went to bed I did so in all my cozy layers. All I had to do was slip on my boots, a hat and my coat. I grabbed two eyepieces and stepped out the door.

The scope and everything around it was with coated with a thick layer of frost. 19 degrees this morning but, thankfully, no wind. There were birds though, lots of chirpy birds. And a very pretty sunrise. And Jupiter which you don't see in this picture because the gas giant was out of the range of the photo, just a pinpoint of light high in the western sky. To the untrained eye the largest planet in our solar system would have looked like a star about to fade from view in the brightening sky.

I'm glad I got up when I did because had I waited another 15 minutes I might not have found it. As it was I had just enough time to tilt the scope over and place the Tetrad's red center point on the fading pinpoint. I was treated to the best view of Jupiter I've ever had. Even with the coming daylight I saw three bands of reddish clouds stretching across the white sphere of the planet. The two main bands even hinted at a bit of detail along the edges which exhibited irregularities. Even more,  the white base color of the planet turned into a gradient of a fainter red over the north and south poles. Four moons were easily visible as pinpoints of light.

For a little treat after Jupiter I swung over to the moon (top right corner of the photo) and in its current crescent stage it's possible to see many more craters along the edge and it was a fantastic view.

This marks the 5th viewing session with the new scope. Well, new to me. It's actually about 14 years old. Handmade by the folks at Discovery Telescopes, it was a chance find on Craig's List. With a mirror of 12.5" it's only slightly larger than the Zummel's 12" mirror. I am not at all unhappy with the Zummel and have enjoyed it a great deal over the past three years but this was a chance at a better scope and thus a better visual experience at a good price so I went for it. Not only are the optics better but it came with an equatorial platform for tracking objects in the eyepiece. So, what are some of the differences and how does it perform?

Most importantly, the Discovery scopes are built with hand-made mirrors that are a step up from mass produced mirrors used in scopes by Zummel, Orion and others. Or so it is said. In terms of the visual experience I have to also mention that the Discovery is built using cardboard Sonotubes. Yes, cardboard. Very well painted and the Sonotube is very, very sturdy so this is not something that will bend or break easily as long as it is taken care of. But most importantly, the interior of the tube is pitch black. Unlike an unflocked metal scope that's been painted black but appears gray this is completely black. Set this next to the Zummel on a dark night and you'd be amazed at the grayish blue glow that you see when looking down the tube of the Zummel. Look down the tube of the Discovery and it is pitch black. The only light to be seen is that being reflected back up by the primary mirror at the base of the tube.

The result of the improved mirror and the blackened tube in the eyepiece is not just noticeable but dramatic. I can't say for certain how much of the improvement is the mirror and how much is the darker tube but I can say that in the five sessions I've had I am thrilled. As mentioned above, the view of Jupiter this morning was the best I've ever had. Did I think my views before were lacking? At the time, no. I was always very happy with them. But it is greatly improved with this scope. I'm looking forward to more viewings with darker skies and greater contrast.  I suspect that for the most part the views will only be better.

Another object I've viewed during four of the sessions that needs special attention is the Orion Nebula. WOW. The view with this scope is nothing short of spectacular. When viewing astronomical objects, especially nebulosity, the key is contrast which translates into increased detail. With such low light the observer is always looking for the subtle details to be found in gradients of gray and usually blueish light. So, in an object such as the Orion Nebula which is easy to see even in binoculars the details emerge as you improve your practice viewing and as you observe with better equipment. I’ve had a good bit of practice and am seeing more all the time just because I’ve been looking at it now for 3+ years with several different scopes. In some ways it's like other visual activities that one learns in practice.

For example, as a bird watcher I'm still learning new things about birds and learning how not just identify them but to really see the details. With birds it's everything from the shape of the beak to the colorful feather markings, the shape of it's body, to the way the bird flies and more.

In visual astronomy practice helps one to see more details in any instrument but it also helps one notice the refined details in better instruments. If I were to look at the Orion Nebula with my 8" scope now I would see more than I did 3 years ago when I first looked using that scope because I know how too look. I know about averted vision and about spending enough time on an object. I know more of the details and about looking at dark areas as much as the light areas. So, regardless of instrument the view is always getting better with practice and familiarity. But with the Discovery I can safely say that I am seeing an amazing amount of new detail. The increased contrast means the subtle details that would have been lacking before now stand out. Differences in color and brightness mean differences in gradient which, in the case of this particular object, means a new sense of visual depth, of dimension. Honestly, this wasn't something I was expecting. Yes, I was hoping for a better view, better detail, but I didn't quite understand what that would be. Now I know.

Viewing the nebula now means seeing new detail everywhere which leads to this added sense of dimension. It's no longer a flat view. Now, I expect not all objects will benefit in the same way. In fact, I know they will not. My view of the Crab nebula is improved but not by much. It is a much dimmer object to begin with and as I understand it details only emerge with scopes larger than 16". I can't say that's true but I can say that my view is largely the same with all three of the scopes I have at my disposal: 8", 12" and the 12.5". In all three it is an irregular, somewhat spherical gray nebulosity that offers little to no detail. But M82, one of the two Bode's galaxies?  I've not had nearly as much time with M82 with the new scope but in the brief time I've had I'd say it is improved a good bit. It might not prove to be as dramatic as the view of the Orion Nebula but it's definitely better. The same for the Andromeda Galaxy and the Triangulum Galaxy. My expectation is that objects such as galaxies that can offer a view of spiral arm structure will benefit a good bit which is great because they are some of my favorite objects to view. Some nebulae will be improved, others won't. I doubt larger open clusters of stars will be improved but I suspect the resolution of some of the fainter stars in some open clusters will be as will some globular clusters.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Kaleesha's Book Free Day Today!

Kaleesha’s book, Free to Be, is a freebie today on Amazon! If you've already read it but have not yet left a review please consider doing so as it is a huge help! If you've not gotten your copy why are you still here?? You might also want to consider checking out her blog. Good stuff.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Not the prettiest of plants but that's okay, the
nutritional content and taste make up for it!
This little grouping is growing very happily
in one of our swales right between our rhubarb
and blueberry.
My new favorite cooked green is a “weed”! As much as I love spinach I don’t grow it that often and when I do I don’t get great crops. I’ve mostly replaced it with kale which I’ve had good experiences growing. But I’ve found a new favorite and as it happens it is a what many would call a weed: pigweed. Of course pigweed is also known as amaranth and there are many varieties. I’m not sure of the exact variety we have growing around Make-it-Do but I can tell you it tastes fantastic when sauteed in a bit of oil or butter with some salt and garlic. Not only does it taste fantastic but it is very nutritious as the greens alone are “are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate; they are also a complementing source of other vitamins such as thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin, plus some dietary minerals including calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese.”

We have it growing in several locations around here and it’s no wonder. It self seeds readily and tolerates a wide range of soil. Well, we’ve got pretty nice soil and are happy to let it set seed. In fact, I’ll be doing my best to help it along by scattering seed in various places. The more of this the better!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Video: Swale Update

We started putting in the swales in the middle of April so they've had a bit of time to mature with clover as well as a variety of edibles ranging from perennial berries to rhubarb to annuals such as kale and cow peas. As luck would have it our muscovy ducklings hatched  just days after the swales filled for the first time. They wasted no time and began swimming in the swales on their first day.

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Sunday, June 07, 2015

Friday, June 05, 2015

Ducks, the universe and turning 46

I’m 46 today. I’ve never paid too much heed to birthdays. Just another day. That said, I’d like to think that I greatly value my life on earth so everyday is, generally speaking, a good day. I try to live my life in a thoughtful, deliberate manner. I don’t want to just go through the motions, don’t want to take things for granted, don’t want to function in some sort of auto-pilot mode. When someone asks me how I am or what I’ve been up to I don’t want to ever say: “Oh, the usual.”

As I sit here I have four year old Justin sitting next to me. He’s playing with an AT&T sim card. He’s curious. A minute ago he was playing with the two little plastic containers that each contain one of Kaleesha’s teeth that were removed a month ago in preparation for her getting her grill (her braces). I mention all this because 36 months ago I would have never guessed I’d be sitting on this bed living this life. I had not yet met Kaleesha or Justin or the other six fantastic humans I now live with. My life would soon take a very sharp turn for the better. It was already a pretty fantastic life. I had no idea it could be so much better.

A few minutes ago I was reading through my RSS feeds and came across a post by Matt Gemmell who, as it happens, shares my birthday. He’s 36:
I was born on this day, thirty-six years ago – which means that, traditionally, I’ve already had about half of my life.
Wow. Half-life at 36. I’m 10 years past that. I know that many people sort of freak out at 40. I didn’t. Should I freak out at 46 and the idea that I’m probably past half-way through my life on earth? I don’t think so. You see, I’ve got an adorable four year old sitting next to me making funny faces. Life on earth is unpredictable. For me it has been a fantastic journey. I enjoy great privilege. I know that I’m really fucking lucky. I was born a white male in the U.S. in a middle class family. I’m not going to dwell on that but I do want to acknowledge it because it seems wrong not too. I know that there are billions on this planet, who, at this moment, struggle to live the most basic of lives. I plan to spend some time soon writing about the idea of human ethics in regards to how we care for one another and how we care for our planet. Now is not that time. Back on point Henke.

Whether I live another 5, 15 or 30 years I can say I’ve had a pretty fantastic go of it. I hope to last a good long while because at 46 I’ve got a new partner in life and 7 kids that I want to spend a lot of time with. This is a whole new chapter, maybe a new book and not one I saw coming. And with it I feel the need to search harder for a reason to hope that life on earth might be improved.

In my 20s I wanted to leave the world a better place. I thought we could all play a part. I was passionate, angry and idealistic. Then, at some point in my early 30s I thought that at the very least I’d try to do no harm even if I couldn’t create a positive change. It’s easy to fall into that kind of thinking given the apparent trajectory of things on our planet. I’d had a moment while floating in the ocean in which I had the thought that I was just one cell in the sea, just a tiny tiny human in the briefest of moments in a long expanse of time. Humans are just a brief moment, I was just one tiny life form in the grand scheme of things. A began to understand the greater context. Astronomy and the contemplation of the cosmos only increases the sense of being tiny and yet finding a comfort in that. I find the greatest sense of peace in being just an infinitesimal life existing for just a flash of time. I belong to this Universe. I’m home.

Which brings me to the duck. I call her baby girl mama duck. You see, we got three ducks last spring to keep a visiting Canada goose company. The goose left in early fall but the ducks remained. Two males and a female. We called her Louie and when she had babies in the fall we also started calling her mamma duck. We still have one of her ducklings, a girl who we call baby girl. Well, this spring both mama duck and baby girl started sitting on nests and both hatched out lots of ducklings. So, mama duck is still mama duck and baby girl is now baby girl mama duck. See? Well, as it happens baby girl mama duck was not the best mama and started losing her babies. When someone answered our ducklings for sale ad we were happy that they wanted LOTS of ducklings and yesteday sold the remaining 6 ducklings that baby girl mama duck had not yet lost. But that was a mistake.

Are you wondering where I’m going with this? Bear with me, we’re almost there. You see since selling those 6 ducklings yesterday baby girl mama duck has been very upset. From our perspective, she was a new mama duck that was loosing track of her ducklings and the sooner they were sold the safer they would be. But she was the mama duck and now she’s very distraught. She just wandered by the window and I could hear her quiet quacking. She’s making the rounds and seems to be in a contstant search. ALL of her ducklings are gone she doesn’t understand why. It is a futile search.

It might well be that my human mind is creating a story. Perhaps I’m projecting. I don’t really know what baby girl mama duck is thinking. But I know what I’m feeling about her and my perception of her loss. A very deep sadness for her. And yet just just moments ago I was going on about finding peace and taking comfort in my awareness of the context of my own tiny, brief existence. The Universe is a big place and we are, essentially, irrelevant. Life on earth will gradually fade as the Sun slowly grows in size and luminosity. In a billion years all of Earth’s water will have evaporated into space and in five billion years our sun (currently a main sequence star) will begin to run out of its primary fuel, hydrogen, and will begin a transition to helium fusion. It will expand slowly into a subgiant and then into a red giant before contracting into a white dwarf.

Futility. That’s not quite the right word. Or is it? We are limited. As individuals and as a collective. Just as baby girl mama duck is limited in her perception or understanding of where her ducklings were, we too are limited. And yet, just as she refused to give up her search, so too do we push on.

Today I’m 46. I don’t know how much more time I have left on our beautiful planet or how I’ll spend that time. As I sit listening to the sweet sounds of kids on a swing blending with the many layers of nearby and distant birdsong I do know that I intend to make the most of it. I’ll enjoy each day and will do my best to create meaningful relationships with the people and natural communities in which I live.

The wonder and beauty of this life is to be found in the intertwined processes of exploration, observation and co-creation. It is in our own efforts that we will find and create meaning, ephemeral though they may be. That’s just the way of it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The U.S. Political System is BROKEN

Worried about climate change? Don't be! The US Senate voted 50-49 to reject "the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change. So. Problem solved!
The Senate rejected the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change, days after NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared 2014 the hottest year ever recorded on Earth.

Fools. No. Criminals.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Permaculture Progress

Three of four planned water harvesting swales are in and partially planted.
We've been making great progress in our effort to implement a permaculture design at Make-it-Do. Until recently the process has been one of observation. Kaleesha put in a very nice veggie garden when she moved to this property in 2006 and has expanded it ever since. In addition to the gardening she and the kids began learning about the plants growing around the property. They also started keeping chickens, goats and even a dairy cow at one point. She put in her first fruit trees, two apples, four years ago. We added another growing area last year which began the expansion beyond the fenced area and up onto the south sloping hill that the house sits on. That was a bed of rhubarb, comfrey, herbs, raspberries and flowers. Further up on the hill we added four blueberries. But it wasn't until this spring that we began to really think of implementing a design based on the principles of permaculture.

The beginning of our design-a work in progress.
The process really got started a few weeks back when Kaleesha decided that she would give up any future of keeping goats on the property in exchange for a large fruit orchard. This quickly led to a discussion of what it would mean to create a food forest rather than an orchard and from there what it would mean to begin adding other elements of a permaculture design.

The next important step was deciding to build water harvesting swales on contour on the south facing slope to the east of the house. Up until now the side yard was mostly a heavily used play area for the kids so switching it over to planted swales was an important decision.  We were able to do this, in part, due to the decision to not keep goats in the future which allowed us to begin taking down the fencing which exists all over the property. Taking down the fencing means much easier access to different grassed areas for the kids to play in. The side yard is no longer a primary play area so much as a path to get to other areas further out.
Working out the details of our plan

We have a family of 9 living on this 5 acre property and we share it with chickens, ducks, cats, dogs and wildlife. The property itself is fairly complex with soft, fertile soil below the house, rocky soil above the house and 4 acres of woodland which includes a stream and rocky shut-ins consisting of mostly igneous rock running along the western and southern border. The land is mostly sloping with much of the slope facing south or west. In short, there's a great deal of activity and intended purpose happening here and so the permaculture dictate that observation be step one is something we've taken very seriously. We observe and discuss a great deal before taking any action and developing a plan to guide us and to serve as documentation of what has been done is important.

The plan is not done but our work is in progress. We'll proceed slowly as we co-evolve the design plan and the property at the same time. Eventually the written document will catch-up and become more of a plan for future action than a journal of what we've already done. In some aspects this has already happened as the plan has listings and placements for trees and bushes which will not arrive until next week (Pecans, Chestnuts, Goji Berries, and Lingonberries).