It’s impossible to say how many cultures there are on Earth. Lines of division blur, the sheer number of people groups make accuracy impossible and the dynamic nature of societies presents a moving target. What can be said, however, is that distinct social systems are disappearing as trends in globalization indicate shifts toward homogenization.
Which is progress, right? A simpler world is easier to handle. It’s especially helpful if cultures have much to offer—political and religious freedom, career opportunities for economic security, civil infrastructure to protect the safety and rights of humans, so on and so forth. These are conceptions often thought to be inherent in Western societies.
The prolific and enigmatic 20th century environmentalist, David Brower, compressed four and a half billion years of Earth’s history and that of its inhabitants into Genesis’ six-day creation. When that time frame is considered, it isn’t until 4:00 p.m. on the last day that dinosaurs walk the Earth. By 9:00 p.m., these dinosaurs are extinct. At 11:57 p.m., humans appear on the scene. Jesus is born forty-five seconds later. The Industrial Revolution occurs 1/40th of a second before midnight. Since this moment of innovation, more resources have been extracted and consumed than by the rest of the people who’ve ever lived combined.
Brower states, “There are people who think what we’ve been doing for the last fraction of a second can continue indefinitely. They are considered reasonable people, but they are stark raving mad!”
Humans have existed for an awful long time, yet it wasn’t until recently they began to alter the planet and its ecological balances as significantly and seriously as they do now. It’s no coincidence that 95 percent of the areas identified by the World Wildlife Fund Global 200 as harboring exceptional biodiversity are home to indigenous peoples. This isn’t to paint pre-industrial societies as utopian. Survival entails struggle, and bouts of starvation and disease aren’t to be considered lightly. Today, we think we have answers for these. We think we have answers for everything. We’ve essentially circumvented natural selection. But despite—or perhaps due to—this feat, creation groans.
Lack of clean water, food, medicine and decent sanitation threaten many today. This is well understood. The solution cannot, however, be to bring all into the same conditions that we as Westerners live in today. This “flourishing” is literally impossible, as it would require four Earths to support the world’s population living as Americans, as according to the Global Footprint Network. Developing technology is often brought up as an answer, but gambling on things that do not, and may not exist, may not be the wisest or most responsible choice,especially as it is in our collective power now to make changes with positive repercussions among humanity and creation.
We must lower our conception of ourselves to the point where we can consider that necessary changes, developments and the shaping of lives very well might ask the transformation of ourselves as much as it does others. How do we use technology responsibly? How do we love, interact with and learn from those who live differently than us? And, most importantly, and possibly all encompassing, how do we humble ourselves before God, and find ourselves back in the correct order of creation? We have been given much. We are responsible for much. And for the many cultures, perspectives and ideologies, we are thankful. We have a lot to learn.
Indigenous and Traditional Peoples of the World and Ecoregion Conservation (p. 28,Publication). (2000). Gland, Switzerland: WWF International- Terralingua.
Note: I wrote this quick little article for Spring Arbor’s student paper. Between the day that I submitted it, and the day that it was posted, this took place:
The Prominent Environmental Activist Berta Cáceres Has Been Assassinated in Honduras
Some days ago, I wrote that the first roast log would be arriving soon. It took longer than expected. There were a few false starts. I’d get something down, and a morning later it wouldn’t sit well with me. Finally, pen swiped paper in the right way, and I liked it. I had written something I liked.
On biblical interpretation.
Oh well. It was on my mind, so fair enough- it was going on here. I folded it up, stuck it in an envelope, gave it to a young woman named Hadley for safekeeping, and took off for Switzerland. Details are fuzzy, and involve a train station and a briefcase, but I never saw it again.
Or something like that. The important thing is that it’s gone, so in the interest of getting something, anything, down, here are some cut-up thoughts. For you.
I’m fascinated by collectives, and the arts, and culture, and spirituality. I’m fascinated by their intersection. I don’t have much interest in coffee in a sterile, industrial context, but when I consider roasting in terms of the aforementioned, I get excited. I get excited to learn, to study and craft and excited in knowing that I can, and will, do that this very day. I imagine my heart rate goes up, and I smile much more easily.
I used to give myself pause in writing certain things for thought of not having enough to offer. I thought you had to have a complete picture and understanding, and your work would carefully expound that understanding, and feed it to whoever was reading. That style though… That belongs to technical manuals- the least imaginable works around. They may be practical, but they’re better known for putting men to sleep than waking readers up.
Now, I work through things as I write, aware but not threatened by my lack of grasp or understanding. And I tell you, regardless of whether or not it wakes any readers up- it’s good for my soul.
A few mornings ago I had my best roasting experience to date. The mountain valleys dark green, and ranges beyond grayer as distance increased. Selective mists coupled with the morning light made the scene surreal. Every “walk to daylight” while checking roast progression was beautiful.
And what I heard… Normally, here at Sandra Farms, roasting is accompanied by the sounds of beans tumbling in the drum and the faint whirring of mechanization. This is what many roasters prefer. When asked what music they listen to while roasting, about three quarters of the competitors profiled in 2013’s World Roasting Championship revealed that they never listened to music while roasting. Auditory cues can be very important, such as in detecting first crack, and music can be awfully distracting.
And worth it. If you’ve driven in a car with me, you probably know how stubborn I can be in my insistence upon listening to music. This morning was no different.
1.) Phosphorescent- Song for Zula
2.) Red Tail Ring- Katy Came Breezing
3.) Isaac Joel- Take Care Of
4.) Propaganda- Forgive Me For Asking
Six batches were roasted that morning, many milestones were reached on target, the smell of slight caramelization unparalleled. All of this to say- it was quite nice.
Is I. Is complicity shedding
First felt as anxiousness. Recoil.
But now welcome absence.
Absence welcome. Beheld in common with few.
Compañero? Drink of this cup? De café.
Cultivated in difficult/ path/ building.
In rest broken (awake?) as unknown
Sniffs, examines and scrapes
Intruder/ or venturer/ who takes nights away.
Though unnecessary by some measure
Still nights/ unstill nights, a/way are chosen.
All too aware, I found myself anxious. I didn’t want to do much of anything, but felt the need to do something, something to redeem myself.
“But why? Hadn’t I done enough? What am I even supposed to do now?” My mind was tired of the grappling.
I lay down. Time continued to flow, but I was imperceptibly removed. The passing of cars through puddles outside lulled me away. That’s all there was.
Cars coming and going and faint music from another room.
I woke to a clear mind and a healthy sense of being. I hadn’t done much, but I certainly had received.
What’s more refreshing than accepting that which is freely given? What’s more refreshing than grace?
“To be human is to learn to live with faith. We must die, but also learn to be okay.” (“Attachment”, Jeff Pianki)
Yesterday I visited an old spot in a wooded area. I had been there one year before.
Frustrated with different events, I barreled from the Spring Arbor dining commons with reckless abandon, not caring that I was flying on a road bike on wet grass or that there were pedestrians milling about ahead of me. I knew I was done. I didn’t know where I was going, but I sure was going to get there fast.
I ended up in some woods. I sat, I listened, I wrote and I made up my mind. I wasn’t going to force anything anymore. And I was at peace with that.
I took a twig to remind myself of the promise, which to this day sits on the dashboard of my car.
While the twig lasted, my resolve on the decision did not.
Regardless, it was good to get back to that spot. It was good to be reminded of why I keep that stick on the dash and think about what it means now.
“All circles presuppose they’ll end where they begin. But only in their leaving can they ever come back around.”
(mewithoutYou. Or Hegel)
“Today I found out that I had been declined the Ahwahnee position because I wouldn’t be staying until November. At first I was bummed, because, well- that job would have paid very well, and that would have taken some stress out of returning to SAU. I’m now… thankful. Not thankful that I didn’t get the job. But thankful that my perspective was changed rather quickly. I’ve been thinking a lot about integrity, and doing the things that I believe are right despite having to turn down convenience. When it comes to that, there’s so much that I don’t understand. You know that. I talk about it often. I really liked the lines at the end of Never Cry Wolf- “In the end there were no simple answers. No heroes or villains; only silence.” Anyway- I had heard that this job would be high-stress, simply because of the clientele and the tip-based pay- but the more willing you are to play up to those with money and prestige, the more comfortable you’ll be. A microcosm of this world. Just yesterday I was telling someone here that I didn’t feel good about it, but I was obviously justifying it somehow. Well- I’m no longer in that position. I didn’t have the integrity to decline it myself, but now it’s been done for me. I don’t have the luxury of the “it’s only temporary and the ends will justify the means” perspective. I’m now free to be present and it wasn’t by my own power. And that’s one of the most powerful realizations that I think one can have. I can live now- love now-be here now, and it isn’t because of me. And that’s why I’m thankful. I have other options as far as jobs, and there are a few that involve doing something good. They pay less, but, “better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” I think this is a small step in the right direction, even though I wasn’t willing to take it myself in the first place.”
In late February of 2011, I made the trip that I’ll be making today. I arrived at the San Francisco International Airport, spend the night there, woke before dawn and took the BART to the Embarcadero, bought Amtrak tickets to Yosemite, enjoyed a bit of San Francisco and then rambled on into the park via a series of buses and trains. I’m thankful for the chance to do that very thing again. I’m looking forward to slow coffee in the airport (which I’m sure I’ll never be able to view in the same way again), people-watching and getting people-looked-at, briefly touching upon San Francisco (w/ aims of picking up some decent to good tea) and arriving in Yosemite, being hit with the fresh scent of what some would call “home”, and seeking out familiar faces.
Unfortunately, today I also leave Sandra Farms. I leave with fondness of heart as this mountain coffee plantation and roastery is wonderful, as are the owners- Israel and Sandra Gonzalez. They’ve been very good to me, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to become part of their livelihood and lives for this all too brief period of time. They’ve certainly lived quite the lives, and enjoy telling the stories of their experiences, whether they be of serving in the Peace Corps in Bolivia, escaping the Cuban revolution, the beginnings of becoming a specialty coffee producer, starting a family while living in the Bronx and attending Columbia Graduate School on $10 a week, and much, much more. Here are a few pictures from my stay. I still have a book to finish and a bit of packing left to do before I take off, so I’ll be leaving this one brief, and unfortunately, doing my stay a great injustice. Fantastic people, fantastic place, and I look forward to visiting again, and hope for others to be able to come along as well.
If you’d like more information on Sandra Farms Coffee, check out http://www.sandrafarms.com.
One of my Favorite Lookout Points
Coffee. Yet to ripen, yet to be picked. The aroma of the bloom is wonderful.
The Washing and Hulling Equipment. An Ecological Engineering Feat from Colombia. Fueled by last year’s coffee hulls, uses minute amounts of water, produces byproducts of a sugar that can be converted into ethanol and coffee mulch fertilizer.
Green beans in bulk. Heading to the co-op.
“Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
I’ve been in Puerto Rico for just over two weeks now. It’s really been quite the experience. I’ve been living with family at Camp Caribe, and helping out where I’m able. This simply means doing dishes, giving drum lessons, raking, retrieving/ opening coconuts, painting and other things of the sort. I’ve had good conversations, good food and good times. I think my favorite experience here would be that of evening walks and stillness… strolling along the beach, watching the sunset, and then heading to the top of a tall wooden structure to reflect, look out over this part of the island, watch the stars and listen to the waves- it’s wonderful.
I do think times of solitude and silence are my favorite times no matter where I am… They aren’t ends in and of themselves, however. The value that they offer comes through the peace, insight, clarity and atonement that are oftentimes found through them.
Today, my aunt and I were able to take a trip to Plenitud Eco-Initiatives. It’s a three acre farm and “non-profit organization that supports efforts in sustainable development by individuals and communities” (http://www.plenitudpr.org/sobre-plenitud.html). I sought to visit them back in September of 2010, but nothing came of it. It was great to finally get out there today. While visiting this area in central Puerto Rico’s mountain tropics, people are able to study different things such as permaculture, alternative building, and sustainability in a direct, personal, hands-on manner. While we both were able to check out other aspects of the farm, DeAnna ended up focusing on mulching a memorial garden in progress, while I helped with setting the foundation of an earthbag structure that will eventually serve as housing and a hurricane shelter. I found it to be very refreshing to be there and look forward to possibly spending more time with them.
I’m looking to spend the rest of March here at the camp. I’ve received an invitation to help out at a specialty coffee plantation in the mountains for the month of April. From what I know of Sandra Farms (http://www.sandrafarms.com/about.html), it seems to be a great opportunity to help some people work towards something that we both believe in- sustainable, fair-trade coffee production. Several times throughout my weeks here I’ve heard a statistic regarding what is imported to this island. I don’t remember exactly, but I believe that something like 86% of their food is brought in from outside. When you consider the resources available on this island and year-round growing conditions, that number is a clear indicator that something is awry. I hope to help support a more appropriate local model by getting involved with this Adjuntas mountain coffee company. I may spend the month there and try and get away to Plenitud for a weekend or week at some point.
And that’s as far as I go. I’m immensely thankful for what I have now. I hope that you are able to be grateful for what you have now as well, whatever season of life you may find yourself in.
I’ve come back to this video every few months or so since it came out. Every time that I watch it, it strikes something new in me. It’s an incredible witness of purpose and love being found through brokenness, confusion and pain and is full of parallels regarding our own redemption. I hope that you’re able to find something in it as well, even if you’ve seen it before.
Ed’s Story- My Garden