I visited the
Lebanon Solid Waste
and Recycling Facility (also
known as The Landfill) last week,
this is what I saw: Fresh snow and a
sparkling blue sky. The air
smelled clean and the
earth seemed to
had just settled
on the freshly turned
compost piles and tracks from
the machines that accomplished
that task seemed like
snakes in the
a year, I've been
documenting the Landfill
and have not been surprised by
the tons of waste dumped onto the
ground, creating a mountain
where there had once
been a valley.
been in awe,
however, at the raw
beauty of this rugged piece
of earth in our midst and the artful
way the crew at the landfill
sculpts our garbage
contain the waste
from our lives, no matter
who we are or where we come
from. Beneath the skillful manipulation
of soil and wood chips mixed with our garbage,
lies all of us, mixed and mingled together.
The universality of this reality
humbles and invites
soup carton could be
mine. And how strange to
see one of the organic produce
bags from the Co-op stuck in the mud.
As a photographer, I love the yellow against the
dark earth and the way the sun makes the plastic shine.
As a naturalist, I am saddened. Will one of
the crows or other birds that
visits this open land
be poisoned by
when the sun went
behind a cloud, it was not
the play of light, but the play of
textures and tones that caught my eye,
and the way the color of the ground shifted
from raw black soil to brown shredded bark to a
layer of plastic and then on to the snow-covered hillside.
And here was this massive vehicle whose sole
job is to smash it all up, but which,
in the process, creates these
elegant circles in
our waste, the landfill
crew harnesses a complex mix
of engineering, biology, chemistry and art.
It's all about containment - How to safely entomb
our garbage so that it stays where we put it,
does not leach toxic runoff or become
a landslide, or explode from
The Landfill this
past week I thought about
our current struggles with the Covid-19
pandemic. Just as our waste is mixed and mingled
so too are we all in this complex crisis together. Our challenge
though, is that as a society, we don't have the tools
we need or the necessary systems in
place to manage a crisis of
it's not hard to
manage what I know or
to plan for things I understand. Like
in this discarded tax preparation worksheet
from 1992, I can do whatever calculations I must.
But when confronted with variables I do
not understand that are beyond
my control, I become
a bit befuddled.
at The Landfill
last week, though, the
manager indicated that they
were receiving 35% less waste than
just two weeks before. He suggested that it's
like everyone & everything is taking a deep breath and
a giant pause. Maybe, I thought, that is what the earth and each
one of us needs right now...as long as we care for
each other along the way...because
we are most definitely in
at the landfill
or at home, or wherever
we may be right
the making of amends for a wrong one has done,
by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.
It's been three years since the Paris Climate
Accord. Apparently one of the reasons the Unites States has
withdrawn is that we do not want to pay our fare share of climate expenses.
It really is a puzzle. There are all these messy pieces, but the parameters are clear.
We have to transition away from carbon-based fuels as quickly as possible.
And as the recent National Climate Assessment Report suggests,
we don't have much time. The warnings have been loud and
clear this year, with enormous fires and storms.
But our leaders ignore the signs...
I get it.
I'm now doing physical therapy for injuries
I received during the summer, but ignored. It was just too
inconvenient. But, if I had acknowledged the irregular pains, and if
I had actually rested it right away, my ankle might have healed a lot faster.
Does this sound familiar? Let's just ignore the problem.
It might go away...
I don't know about you,
but I display this kind of behavior all the time.
In my head, I know one thing. In my heart I know another thing.
And then I act as if none of those understandings or feelings existed!
On a trip to Mexico a few years ago, we had a beachside room that was not very romantic - - Each day, the tide came higher and higher and each night I woke to the sound of
waves crashing beneath me. It was frightening. I vowed to never travel
again. I did not want to be part of the problem...But guess who's
going to Mexico with her extended family this year?
It was just too good to pass up...
What about the climate?
Yes, but what about my extended family?
It's a choice many of us make all the time, especially around
holidays. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, like when I first see all those
puzzle pieces in a pile on the table, I took action by gathering data. I may be an artist,
but I value real information. The facts. So I investigated the climate impact of my traveling. Here's what I discovered: When combining all trips I have taken alone and with my
family, beginning with my first international trip to Ireland & England, in
1974, I have traveled 208,674 miles on 105 different trips. That's the
same distance as flying eight times around the equator.
Total Carbon impact: 141.26 tons.
What's a gal to do?
Cross her arms, plant her feet,
and say "so what?" Or, perhaps, get on with it and
take responsibility? I'm tired of ignoring warning signs and not taking
action, so I went online and learned that 'all' I need to do was pay $4,146 to offset
the carbon impact of my family's adventures. (www.myclimate.org).
A carbon offset:
a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases
made in order to compensate for or to offset an emission made elsewhere.
I had been petrified to learn what we might owe for our family's amazing adventures
and it was that fear that had kept me from exploring offsets sooner. But here I
am, still icing my ankle and feeling rather stupid. If we had paid offsets
as we went we would not have this debt for which we had not
budgeted. I wonder if our leaders feel stupid too...
Sometimes, as hard as it may be, we have to admit
our mistakes and pay our fare share for the privileges we have.
Given the National Climate Assessment's re-evaluation of our current climate
circumstances, it seems appropriate that we pay the carbon debt we owe
as quickly as possible. It's just the right thing to do.
Thank you, President George H.W. Bush.
Country (and planet) before self.
Next week, in part 2, I'll
talk about how.
"It's a process, steps along a path.
Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor.
Becoming is never giving up on the idea
that there's more growing
to be done."
- Michelle Obama from Becoming
I've always admired Michelle Obama. It's hard not to. She's honest, intelligent and radiant. She promoted organic gardening and healthy food at the White House and inspired us to get our hands dirty, literally, in the garden (check out American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America). She's my kind of woman.
Naturally, I bought her latest book, Becoming, the day it came out and, because I had a bad cold, was able to sit on the couch, drink tea and read it from cover to cover. I love that the keys on my piano are chipped, like the one she learned to play on, and that I would probably feel comfortable inviting her to my house for conversation by the fire. She's that real.
Earlier today, while I was working on my annual 'between-holiday' puzzle, I wondered if Michelle ever does puzzles. And if she does, what is her approach? Does she do the edges first, like me? Does she sort by shape or color? Is she methodical or random? It doesn't really matter, but Becoming was an invitation to consider our commonalities. As she writes at the end of the Epilogue, "Let's invite one another in. Maybe we can begin to fear less, to make fewer assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same."
It was this spirit that inspired my exploration of compost. To me, it was so much more than necessary nutrients for the garden. It became a metaphor for what it means to be an American. Without diversity of the green and brown stuff (nitrogen and carbon), patience and periodic attention, my compost pile would be an unproductive mess. Since diversity is our strength, why, then, do people fear it?
A few days ago, I tore up some recent newspapers (The Valley News, our local paper) to offset all the vegetable scraps from Umpleby's Cafe and looked closely at what I saw in the compost pile. The stories covered everything from immigration conflicts along our border with Texas and deadly runaway fires in California to the dangers of E-Cigarettes and a recent shooting. Among these dramatic issues, each of which deserves our attention, there was an invitation to buy skis and yet another Snoopy carton. There are big problems in the world, but we can't solve them ourselves. We have to move beyond fear and ski if we love to and laugh at Snoopy, because it just feels good. These are ways we get out of ourselves.
"We all play a role in this democracy.
We need to remember the power of every vote.
I continue, too, to keep myself connected to a force
that's larger and more potent than any one election, or
leader, or news story - and that's optimism.
For me, this is a form of faith,
an antidote to fear."
- Michelle Obama from Becoming
Thank you, Michelle, for your invitation, your inspiration, and your optimism. You give me confidence to build this blog, By Degrees, and to share practical ways we can become the people are meant to be in a society that celebrates all of us.
Our one true connection is Harvard. You went to law school and I earned my undergraduate degree in Fine Arts there. I wonder what you would think of my degree collage. For each of us, that experience in Cambridge, MA contributed to our capacity to share our stories with others and to have the confidence to put ourselves out there. I'm sorry that I won't be able to hear you speak in person, but I love your Instagram posts. With gratitude, Lyn
"It's not about being perfect.
It's not about where you get yourself in the end.
There's power in allowing yourself to be known and heard,
in owning your unique story, in using your authentic
voice. And there's grace in being willing to
know and hear others. This, for me,
is how we become."
- Michelle Obama from Becoming
Why is this blog called By Degrees? Because...
Change happens in increments...until it doesn't;
We need to look at the world from many angles;
More people experience damage to their tissue because of the sun's increased power;
There are many educated people with lots of diplomas,
yet we still can't get along or figure out how to solve our current climate crisis;
There is a difference between 2 and 1.5 degrees celsius.
Maybe it's time to literally 'reframe' the narrative.
Why not have a proverbial 'do-over' and see what emerges?
We have degrees.
We are separated by just a few degrees.
We can have a 10 degree perspective or a 360 degree perspective.
We feel the heat.
It's time to look within and recompose our shared story.
Because change happens in logical steps and stages...
until it doesn't.
Rip Road Neighbors Gather on Earth Day
It felt really great to invite neighbors to our house, to have people actually show up, and to have thoughtful conversations about issues in our neighborhood and town. April Salas, a member of Hanover's Planning Board and a member of Sustainable Hanover, joined us with her daughter. My father, an octogenarian and lifelong student, was thrilled to get a chance to talk with her. It was a wonderfully multi-generational gathering!
Our neighbor Len Cadwallader, a lifelong activist and former head of Vital Communities, invited us to help him maintain trails on Balch Hill, a local landmark and treasure. I was so caught up in the energy, I forgot to take pictures of neighborhood kids playing in the treehouse!
Although we have had many neighborhood parties over the past decade, this one felt different. In addition to being part of our new Hanover Neighborhood Action Group, this gathering was also part of my own 'coming out' as a community leader. It's been five years since I've risked being in the public eye - - After trying various avenues for involvement (schools, non-profits, etc.), I've found where I'm meant to be - - Not just at home doing my photography, but with my neighbors, truly trying to figure out what it takes to walk this walk we are on.
Five years ago, a contemporary at my 25th Harvard Reunion suggested that what rich people in New Hampshire do doesn't matter. What really matters is what's happening in China. At that same reunion, I spoke with my classmate Melissa Lane, a philosophy professor at Princeton, who had recently published a book called EcoRepublic: What Can the Ancients Teach us about Ethics, Virtue and Sustainable Living in which she states:
Lane's ultimate argument is that republics necessitate participation. Thus, if we believe in the idea of our democracy, then we have to have confidence in the power of our individual actions.
Just as every emission matters, so too does every choice we make. For me, that choice is about building community in my neighborhood to see what living in a democratic society feels like at the most local level. I mean, if we can't do it, who can? So I transcended my fears of conflict and rejection and had a party. Last Sunday's gathering was a great place to begin and I look forward to more. Thank you to all those neighbors and friends who celebrated Earth Day with me.
Evelyn R. Swett celebrates
how creativity and climate action converge to inspire transformation and joy.
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