greed’s best friend

bare treesFirst, I heard it.

Old trees being felled on a wealthy man’s land.

The sound of Greed.


Then, everywhere I walked, its present was evident.

I saw it in the roiling mud of a flooded stream,

in the eroded hillside above.

I smelled it in the putrid rich stink of industrial chicken litter being spread on the fields.


Having had enough, I changed course,

departing into the uncut forest path.

Greed did not follow me there. There, it cannot survive.

Boom or bust, the Living World shares and shares alike.


My heart at rest, I returned home.

Rustling through the pantry before dinner, I heard it again

– Greed, muttering and whining in the corner.


I hauled it out into the open,

hoping it would settle into something new in full daylight.

No luck.


I invited Friendship, Love, and Compassion in,

to see what they could do with our stubborn house-guest.


Greed was confused and suspicious of Friendship.

It backed itself into a corner,

its eyes shifting wildly from face to face.


Love wrinkled its forehead. “This could be serious.” it says.

“Hey, I know you!”says Greed,

panting in stress and excitement.


Greed rustled through its pockets. Many pockets. All full.

“Look,” it says to Love, pulling out a snapshot.

“It’s you and me, back in the day. Remember that?”


“No dice.” says Love, after a glance.

“That’s my cousin, Power.

No surprise there. I don’t hang out in those places.

You’ve never met me before.”


Greed pawed the floor, then stuck out a sweaty palm.

“Well, the family resemblance is striking!

Wouldn’t you like some more? Just a little bit more,

of whatever you have?  I can be your buddy.”


Love looks disgusted and turning to the rest of us says,

“I’ve had enough of this. I’m calling out the dogs.”


“Oh, come now –

we don’t want to make a mess in the house do we?

Everyone makes mistakes.”

Compassion gives a stab at making amends.


I have to admit,

I thought about just throwing Greed back in the closet.

It would have been the simplest thing to do.

But I knew Love wouldn’t let me off so easy.


Love was fingering its dog whistle

when Compassion asked to use the phone.

“This is not any easy job,” it said

“but it’s really in everybody’s best interest.”


I got worried when Greed started to slink

back toward the closet.

It was trying to wheedle some kind of deal

with Friendship.  Then there was a knock on the door.


Generosity walked in,

with broad shoulders and a confident smile.

Greed was still as stone.


Generosity took Greed by the scruff of the neck,

and turned it upside down.

The contents of Greed’s pockets rolled across the floor.

Greed looked smaller.


Generosity folded Greed into a greasy packet,

about the side of a sandwich,

and ate it whole.


“Waste not, want not.”

said Generosity with a smile

and a small, polite belch.


Love’s dogs howled in the yard.


For more ways to talk about Greed, go watch Sweet Honey in the Rock – HERE.

letter to my brother

Dear little brother,

It’s happened. You’ve lived 16 years now. It’s a big time of life. I thought I’d offer some words on the subject, if you’d like to read them.cobys party1

I know it’s kind of strange, having such an older big sister, but there are pros and cons to everything. As for cons, I don’t have cute friends to bring around and flirt with you. I’m not up to date on your generation, necessarily. But the pro is that I have had twenty three years of experience past your present age to reflect on LIFE and tell you about it and I’m still your sister, the only one you’ve got. So here goes…

Things can get pretty weird in the teenage and early adult years. Just saying, if that’s the way it is for you, you’re not alone, at all. There’s stuff that goes on in those years that won’t make sense for a real long time, and might never make sense at all. Making sense of it will be up to you. Though some of the details might never be revealed to you, ultimately it will be your job to make peace with your memories. If you can learn to let some things be a mystery for the time being, you’ll sleep better and live more happily.

But living happily isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, so let’s not get hung up on that one. Sometimes life just gets rough. No way around it. Sometimes there are things out of your control that conspire to make you miserable, and sometimes you dig your own holes to fall into. Either way, it happens. But the good part is, it doesn’t last. No matter how much you commit to wallowing in misery, you will also have wonderful opportunities for joy. AND, maybe even more importantly, your rough times will somehow come to serve you, or let you be a service to someone else, down the road. So, if you can, keep your eyes open, even when stuff really sucks, and be open to whatever learning is coming at you by way of your suffering. There’s no knowing what will become valuable to you as time goes on.

One more thing about happiness. It’s great to be happy. And – you’ve got to make room for happiness. It will not just take over. This world, especially the part of it connected to technological, electronic, wi-fi gizmos, goes fast and faster. Joy moves at a more natural pace, like the wind and water, and that deep, satisfying in-your-gut happy feeling really moves more like warm molasses. As I’ve observed the rapidly spreading world of social media, I’ve not observed any real gains in that deep-gut happiness from it. Not to say it isn’t great fun, and amusing. But really – the fun is in YOU, not the machine, game, or website. Fun will come and go. The thing worth pursuing and cultivating is that deep, soul engulfing joy. Try not to forget that.

This next one is hard to hear. I’m only starting to hear it myself. I’ll share it with you in the hope that sometime it will ring true to you, maybe before you’re my age.

There are a great many experiences in life that no one can prepare you for. Having a baby is one of them. The loss of a parent is another. Falling in and out of love are up there, too. No one can prepare you for the intensity of emotion and gut wrenching personal evolutionary work involved in these basic acts of living. At the same time, lots and lots of people will try to prepare you. And you should listen. What they say won’t make sense, and you might just want to shake them off. You might think that you won’t feel the way they felt, or act the way they acted (most of us think this). You might be right. But that doesn’t mean that what people (usually older people) have to share with you isn’t incredibly valuable. No one can BE you. That’s your job alone. No one can know your thoughts, feelings, or reactions to reality, but we can all still learn from each others’ experiences, because we’re all human. It’s a great thing to have in common, and it’s really one of the best tools we have for navigating the bumpy parts of existence.

OK, one more big one. My wish for you is that you will always continue to grow. You have no choice to but change, but positive inner growth is a different matter. Like happiness, you may have to give it some attention. Always growing doesn’t mean that you’ll never hold a steady job. It just means that you can come to see your life in different lights as time progresses. It means you can adjust the way you treat yourself and relate to others according to the situation at hand. I like to think of it as a resilience of the soul.

One thing about growing is that it will keep you humble. From where I am now, rapidly approaching forty years along, I can look back at myself in many times, places, and experiences and shake my head at my own antics. There was so much I didn’t know – so many mistakes I made. I know more now. But I’m not done, and there’s little doubt in my mind that I’m still making some dumb mistakes. Later, I can shake my head about them. Hopefully, I’ll know better by then than I do now, and I’ll still be learning. No matter how much we learn, there’s always more lessons on the way.

There’s a line to walk, here, between propelling yourself forward and beating yourself up. Though there are a few choice episodes that really make me wince to recall, mostly I am able to see my younger self with eyes of compassion. It’s important not to drag yourself down in the muck of an ignorant past. Live through it, push yourself to learn from it, and forgive yourself. It’s good to practice that. With practice, you’ll get better at it as time goes on.

Jesus talks a lot about love. Dad uses the word compassion more. Don’t worry about semantics, but please, do think about love and compassion. I’m not talking about hearts and flowers romance. Cultivating a basic warmth, a solid love, for yourself, will protect your heart and mind from many potential pitfalls and heartsickness. I know you have love, because you are loved. My hope for you is that you use the love given to you from the unconditional base of our family, no matter how unconventional we may be, to build yourself a good, strong life, all your own. I hope you will be compassionate towards yourself and others, steadfast when the storms of life rage, and confident in the goodness that will come from many years of a life well lived.

Otherwise, work hard in school, play hard all the rest of the time, be patient with your folks, have fun with your friends,and always drive carefully. And even if I seem like an old fuddy duddy dinosaur of a sister, know that you ARE my brother, and nothing will change that. I’m here for you. It’s been wonderful fun for me to watch you grow up, and I’m sure that the ride will only get more interesting.Chief Coby and Coree Dec 2003

With love,


decisions decisions

It started simply enough. We were thinking of alternatives for our seed packing procedure. Right now, my Fellow Man uses recycled office paper, folded into a simple envelope, to hold our seeds. Folding the paper is time consuming, and the envelopes can only hold so many large seeds. Perhaps an upgrade would be in order. So we browsed the large Uline catalog that we get in the mail every so often. We found, among the staggering assortment of boxes, envelopes, bags and other useful equipment, at least three distinct possibilities. They were reasonably priced,

I flipped through the remainder of the catalog and went looking for the ordering information.

On one of the back five-hundred-and-something pages, I found a letter from the Uline president. Aside from a nice paragraph about the new family dog, she expressed her sadness and anger about the Boston marathon terrorist attacks, and then went on to link the attacks to the importance of developing energy independence in North America. Her concern for the issue led her to visit the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota and the tar sands of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. She closed with an enthusiastic statement of support for the Keystone pipeline.

I was stunned. I couldn’t place the order. I’ll help Paul fold envelopes instead. Thinking through my reaction has been a lengthy process.

There is absolutely nothing about tar sands oil that I can support. OK, maybe jobs, though I would be sad to pack myself up for work in Fort McMurray every day. Tar sand oil is dirty expensive oil. The science of how they pull oil from the sands is beyond me, but I don’t have to look far beyond the boon of extra oil production to see that there are problems inherent in the process.

The same goes for high volume slick water hydraulic fracturing (“fracking” for short). There are shale oil wells being drilled 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface. At that depth, the drill is somehow turned sideways, and carries on, horizontally, for miles. Something like five million gallons of water are forced, at very high pressure, into the well. Some of that water gets left down there. At least a million gallons comes back up, loaded with carcinogens and sometimes radiation. There are methods for disposing of that water, but you know what? It’s still water. That’s what we drink and use to clean and cook. Without clean water we cannot live. It falls from the sky and most eight year old children can tell you that the water cycle is closed system. The natural filtration system of the earth cleans the water as well as it can, over and over and over, but evaporation is only good for so much. Tens of thousands of these wells are made each year. How much water is going down these holes and coming back up in an undesirable form? The number is large but, let’s just leave it at A LOT.levon eating

Again, the science is amazing, but the overall cost is tremendous. If our economy allowed for any kind of reckoning for ecological costs associated with energy production, tar sands and fracking would be off the table.

It comes down to choices. We all make them every day, lots of them. I choose clean water and air over natural gas and crude oil, this time. But not all choices are so clear, and it’s much easier not to think about them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m far from perfect. I’m still driving a car, and we use a tractor, a weed-eater, and a lawnmower. There is plastic in our house, and even though our homestead is off the grid, we still rely on a freezer plugged in at my gracious mother’s house in town. My three year old plays with legos and is obsessed with all that has wheels. And even though we do so much of our own work – growing and preparing food, building and repairing our own machines as often as possible, self-reliance is a limited concept. Cooperative inter-dependence is more realistic. We must rely on each other, as neighbors, and more recently, as a global community.

Because of this, I don’t want the choices I make to become divisive or overly emotional. Just because I don’t agree with the Uline company’s stated philosophy about energy independence doesn’t mean I bear them a personal grudge. It’s not US and THEM. We all share the water, the air, this planet, and therefore we all share the consequences of our actions, collective and individual in conglomerate. And each of us is deciding, all the time, how we use our share.peak1

Often, these days, our everyday decisions are made, not with concrete materials of a trade, or the making of daily bread, but with money. It can be difficult to make choices with money. Financial scarcity, real and perceived, is rampant. The perception that money IS wealth is a giant shimmering mirage that so easily sways our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It seems like the Bhutanese are proving the point with their “Gross National Happiness” measurements. We don’t have an official measurement of our happiness, but we are a wealthy nation on a lot of anti-depressants. No one ever feels like they have enough, and mostly we all want a “good deal”, “more bang for the buck” and the like. But, like so many things in life, it’s not how much we have, but what we make of it that counts. How we spend our financial resources, especially when on a budget, can be the most potent statement of our values, whether we know it or not.

Our little family business is so small. We don’t register as a speck to the Department of Labor or Agriculture. But we’re here, offering our services, using resources, and making choices. Uline will never miss the tiny bit of money we might have spent there. And my choice to not buy from them isn’t a personal attack on them. It’s just choosing to move our financial energy in a direction that builds a world we want to live in. By buying seed envelopes from a business that values and practices environmental responsibility, even if the cost is greater, we are choosing to invest in a different path into the future. It’s our tiny little drop in the ocean, and it still counts. I can’t claim that all of our economic choices are made so consciously. But sometimes a flag gets waved in your face, and you just have to think something through. I can thank Uline for that.

As they say in Economics 101, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. Extracting oil at high costs and building huge pipelines to move it around, serves to distract us from getting smart about using LESS, not making MORE. When our economy doesn’t account for ecological costs we are essentially deferring that payment for a later date. It is a payment that will one day come due. Most likely the children and grandchildren of the current generations will be the ones paying then. I would much rather pay more now than impoverish them later. I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment.sunflower peek

And I don’t think that the payments we make now need to be so difficult. One of my problems with the whole race-to-the-bottom going on in the wide world of resource extraction and energy production is that it represents a gigantic failure of imagination. With all of our amazing innovations in science and engineering, why can’t we see outside the paradigm of fossil fuels? (I suspect the answer lies in that fickle money mirage.) Likewise, can we not find or create meaningful work for our people that doesn’t involve destroying our life-support system? I am not a scientist or an engineer. I don’t claim to have answers, but I believe that better answers are possible. I like to think creatively, and I believe that we humans are capable of wonderful adaptation and creation.

Surely we can rise above this fray. It’s not people for jobs vs. people for the environment. It’s not Democrats vs. Republicans, Old vs. Young, or Rich vs. Poor. It’s people, all of us, trying to live our lives in a rich and meaningful way. People, making choices. We all want good lives, and beautiful futures for our families. Our true enemies are ignorance and fear.  Not Canadian tar sands, shale oil, pipelines, or money.  The sooner we realize that, the better.getaway

I have purposefully avoided making many statements about the science and numbers around resource extraction. I’d hate to mis-quote and mislead anyone. Huge amounts of information are available about the oilsands and Fracking, if you want to learn more. These are some of the stories I’ve referrenced:

Letter from Liz, Uline’s president –

“The Whole Fracking Enchilada” by Sandra Steingraber in Orion Magazine – plus the interesting discussion, 186 comments long, with only one (that I found) defending the fracking industry. –

“Oilsands Tailings Seeping into Groundwater, Athabasca River: Federal Study” by the Canadian Press, with more links on the Huffington Post:

“The New Oil Landscape” by Edwin Dobb, published in National Geographic Magazine, March 2013 –

The Union of Concerned Scientists also has some good articles. Here’s one:

I honestly believe that the future is going to be millions of little things saving us. I imagine a big seesaw, and at one end of this seesaw is on the ground with a basket half-full of big rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air. It’s got a basket one-quarter full of sand. And some of us got teaspoons, and we’re trying to fill up sand. A lot of people are laughing at us, and they say, “Ah, people like you have been trying to do that for thousands of years, and it’s leaking out as fast as you’re putting it in.” But we’re saying, “We’re getting more people with teaspoons all the time.” And we think, “One of these years, you’ll see that whole seesaw go zooop in the other direction.” And people will say, “Gee, how did it happen so suddenly?” Us and all our little teaspoons…” – Pete Seeger