STUFF: Where does it come from and where does it go? April 11, 2012 3 Comments

Here you can see some of the 10,000 plastic bottles and a bit of the "cloud" of straws and plastic "to-go" lids being installed to the left

Big detail of "STUFF" featuring a bunch of the main crew from the Catherine J. Smith gallery

In the United States we buy stuff all of the time, and are very often not responsible for where it goes when we are finished with it.  I look in trash cans all of the time.  In a way, as an environmental artist, I consider it my job.  This is what I know, just by looking–I see lots of aluminum cans and plastic bottles, tossed rather than recycled–all of the time.

I spoke with a woman from Texas today.  She is a curator in a museum in Odessa Texas where she says prairie dogs are her neighbors.  She told me that they have a big problem with plastic bags polluting the environment.  Apparently they get stuck all over the tumbleweeds.  This must be very unsightly, not to mention bad for these airborne plants.

"Bamboo Forest" made out old chop sticks, and green PETE bottles. The floor is covered in to-go brown coffee lids, corks and caps.

Yesterday, while pumping gas, I chased but did not catch a yellow Walmart bag as the wind yanked it into the air and then threw it into the middle of a busy intersection.  With
lots of cars rushing past I gave up my mission and stood and watched it as it twisted and turned down the road, on a journey to the ocean, perhaps getting stuck for a while in a tree or maybe even a tumbleweed along the way.

Leaf made of green and clear plastic PETE bottles

For the past two weeks I have had the good fortune to have been an artist-in-residence at Appalachain State University, at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, installing my show STUFF: Where does it come from and where does it go?  I worked with Ben Wesemen and his intrepid cadre of students from the Catherine J. Smith Gallery and the staff at the Turchin Center as well.  By the time my residency was over we had worked with over 200 staff and students installing 10,000 PETE plastic bottles in the windows and making a comet full of bottle caps and beach plastic and a bamboo forest of chopsticks and Mountain Dew bottles.  It was an amazing and humbling experience.  Recycling coordinator, Jen Maxwell, “guesstimates” that around 10,000 plastic bottles are recycled each week at the University.  Helping to clean and then stack 10,000 bottles made me realize in a visceral way, how much plastic that is.

Here is my statement for the show:

I saw it on 60 minutes tonight so I know it must be true.  Our oceans are filling with bits and pieces of plastic.  The plastic comes from us, via our rivers, our streams, the wind and roadways.  It is going there all the time and the fish and birds are eating it. Plastic is polluting the waters of our oceans in big ways. The next time you see a plastic bag caught in a tree or a gutter full of plastic bottles, straws and lids, you might ask yourself, now where is this stuff going?

Captain Moore of Algalita Research Foundation, who has been traveling and documenting all of the plastic flowing into our oceans says source reduction is the only answer. 

I have been documenting the “stuff” of our lives for over 20 years.  The things we use once and throw-away.  What I say is this–what all of us do every day really matters.  Recycling counts.  So does remembering to bring your own bag to the store and saying no to single-use plastic when you do not need it.

My job as an artist is to transform the materials I find around me. “STUFF: Where does it come from and where does it go?” here at the Turchin Center has been my biggest opportunity yet.  Thank you all for helping in collecting, installing and most importantly, looking, seeing and asking your own questions.  The world belongs to all of us.

All the time.

Street view--Mandala--caps and lids, cans and bottles, beach plastic. Windows are full of plastic bottles


Meanwhile, a blackbird watches over us all.

Going up the mountain March 27, 2012 2 Comments

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”  Dr. Seuss

My truck is full of plastic lids, straws, and bottles

Tomorrow, I travel up to Boone, NC to Appalachian State University to begin my residency at The Turchin Center for the Arts.  With the help of staff and students I will make an installation entitled STUFF: Where Does It Come From and Where Does it Go? The Turchin Center was a church before it became an art center and it is a lovely building.  The exhibition space has high ceilings and large windows.  The staff have been collecting, or it sounds like corralling, lots of plastic water bottles to fill the windows.  I am bringing my  collection of ubiquitous plastic lids and straws which I see everywhere, and this year have been picking up.  I am fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work in such a beautiful space and I know it will be a privilege to work with the students as well.  What will the results of our endeavors be?  Stay tuned as we all find out.

coral reef complete with plastic fish and plastic seaweed

Last week, I helped the 3rd and 4th grade students of  Chocwinity Primary School in eastern NC make a coral reef out of plastic bottles.  We used lots and lots of PETE bottles, mostly water, but some soda, and made a very beautiful installation.  The students made schools of plastic fish and lots of plastic seaweed.  We had lots of fun transforming a breezeway in the school to an underwater grotto.

Where do all these bottles come from?  Do any of you remember the advent of curbside recycling?   I do and in my hometown of Durham, NC it was over 20 years ago.  I also remember that in the beginning, plastic was controversial.   Our  recycling trucks did not pick it up because there were no markets for it.  And the recycling of it was not full circle, mostly meaning that it would be down-cycled into another object but not recycled into itself over and over.   Many more things were in glass containers.  By now, plastic containers are such a part of our culture that most people assume that we could never live without them.  Here is the thing–plastic is recyclable, it is just not biodegradable.  It comes out of the earth and does not go back into it like leaves from a tree or rain to the ocean.  I am thinking that what may change our point of view on our over use of plastic might be the rising cost of the petroleum that it is made of.  Plastic and gasoline are mostly from the same source.  Petroleum is an extremely valuable and non-renewable resource.  Plastic, made to use once, to fit our single-use life style, is just not the value it seems.

Okay okay, I bet you have heard me say all of that before.  Yes, and it is still true.  Here is some interesting news sent to me by my friend Sarah B., one of the best collectors of stuff in my life.  A bunch of colleges in the northeast have begun to ban plastic bottles from their campuses.   Hummm….Now isn’t that interesting?

Meanwhile, grab your reusable water bottle and come on by the Turchin Center to see our show.  We welcome you.

KAIROS and the way of the warrior February 11, 2012 2 Comments

“Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world.” 
― Pema ChödrönThe Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Our ocean is a "bed" with much plastic hiding within it. Much more, everyday.


Recently, I have been feeling that my life is out of my control, or more specifically, whatever I do, no matter how closely I do or do not pay attention to the details of my life, I am just not in control.  Not Ever.  Stuff happens all of the time. A friend’s brother gets a cancer diagnosis, I lose my wallet, I forget the most important thing I needed at the grocery store.  Some stuff, I might have prevented by being more mindful–losing  and forgetting are certainly reminders to slow down.  Other things, like the serious illnesses of those we love, bring us deeply into the vulnerable places in our souls.  And in the middle of all this, we work and love  and get our bills paid as best we can.

A few days ago,within 15 minutes of each other, friends sent me 2 powerful images about all the plastic flowing into our oceans.

The first, pictured above and sent by  Mary Hark, is heartbreakingly beautiful.  The second, of sushi made from ocean plastics sent by Rachael Derello, would be funny, if it just wasn’t true.  But true it is.  True true true.

Because of the similar messages of what our overuse of plastics is doing to us, these images tell me that many people see the plight of our oceans — and the effects it is having on us — and are talking about it, working to educate us in the very best way they can.

Before Christmas while in a book store looking at the “staff picks” I found a wonderful book entitled CROW PLANET: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. I have been watching and making crows for over 4 years now, and this book jumped into my hands.  Crows and the way they are adapting to our rapidly changing world are harbingers of the environmental changes around us.  Many of us have crow stories.  In fact, keep your ears open the next time you are outdoors, wherever you are, if you listen closely, chances are you might hear their call.

Here is what Lynn says in her introductory chapter, Crows and Kairos.

“There are two Greek words for time.  One is chronos, which refers to the usual, quantifiable sequential version of time by which we monitor and measure our days.  The other word is kairos, which denotes an unusual period in human history when eternal time breaks in upon chronological time.  Kairosis “the appointed time,” an opportune moment, even a time of crisis, that creates an opportunity for, and in fact demands, a human response.  It is a time brimming with meaning, a time more potent than “normal” time.  We live in such a time now, when our collective actions over the next several years will decide whether earthly life will continue its descent into ecological ruin and death or flourish in beauty and diversity.”

Recycled crow made by a student in my "Crow" workshop last week at Appalachain State University. All of the crows will be a part of my upcoming show there entitled: "Stuff: Where Does It Come From and Where Does It Go."

I do not want the part of me that feels “out of control”  whether it is off my daily life or the environmental distress I see around me, I do not want this part of me to be the part that takes over my world.  Where I live the daffodils are blooming–maybe early, but abloom they are and they are gorgeous.  Their yellow heads are bobbing on the edges of parking lots where I see plastic trash in the form of to-go lids and straws and candy wrappers abandoned  and ignored.

To be a “warrior” as Pema Chodrun describes above, to love the beauty I see around me is a gift of living fully.  To balance this joy of  the ordinary beauty of every day life, with the environmental waste and denial I also see is a job I set my mind to daily.  I pick up what I can and make art out of it.  I continue to use as little “single-use” plastic as I possibly can.

Ultimately, This is what I know. It is not about what “I” do, but what “we” do as a culture and as the people of this earth.  And I know this as well.   Somedays I am a “warrior” and somedays I am overwhelmed by the monumental task of paying attention and  knowing that so much more needs to be done.


Wild geese January 2, 2012 1 Comment


Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

Me at the state fair on a plastic hunt

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours,

and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles

of the rain 
are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

By Mary Oliver from Dream Work


The geese are traveling, up above us this time of year.  I saw a perfect “V” of them Friday night when I was out in the yard with Adele Rose, the “soon-to-be-2 year-old ” in my life.  The sun had set, the sky had that just before dark near purple hue to it.  The birds flew in close to us, almost right above the house where you could see their great flapping wings and very long necks, and Adele Rose who loves owls, was mightily impressed.

Tonight, the weekend over and the work week soon upon me, on a whim, I picked up a book of Mary Oliver’s poems, reading a few of them until finally I settled on  “Wild Geese”, an old friend of mine.  It’s funny how you might think that you “know” a poem–that it is inside of you already and then reading it again after a long absence, it is a new thing, almost altogether.

I think what happens is life itself moving over our bodies and our souls day in and out like a river, swirling about us. In its current we swim, we breathe, we live, we laugh, we grieve, we worry, we grow and change.  Life, it does not stop for us, not one bit.

“Geese” I said and “geese” she answered back.


Happy New Year everyone!



BeStrawFree July 8, 2011 4 Comments

Tomato plants in my front yard--mid June

Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.
Dalai Lama

This morning I counted 21 tomatoes on my 4 tomato plants.  The peaches on my tree which sprouted from my compost pile will be ripe soon and it has been raining every night here in Durham, NC for the past 3 or 4 days.  These are all good things, yes indeed.  Summer is here and the cotton is high, or at least promises to get there if the rain keeps up.

Here are two new initiatives which have excited me:

1) A 9 year old boy named Milo Cress from Vermont has started a “Be Straw Free” campaign in his state.  His website tells us that each day we use 500 million straws–enough disposable straws to fill over 46,400 large school buses per year.  He is asking restaurants in his home town of Burlington Vermont to sign a pledge to give people a choice, straw wise.  People are listening, the governor of Vermont, for one.  You can go to his website and find out more about what  he is doing and sign your own pledge if you so choose.  This young man has research behind him and a plan in front of him.

2) A grocery store with no packaging is planning to open in Austin Texas.  The name of the store is In.gredients and  this is what it says of itself:  “in.gredients is a collaborative effort between business, community, and consumers with the goal of eliminating food-related waste while supporting local businesses and farmers.”  Go in.gredients!, is what I say–I wish you great success in your new enterprise.

Meanwhile, I continue to feel fortunate to be able to go to my local Durham Farmer’s Market twice a week if I want to where I can get fresh local produce and bring my own packaging very easily. Some new neighbors have offered me access to their front yard, which is full of ripe tomatoes and cucumbers as I write this, and the blueberries are ripe for the picking all around.

All of this is good news.  The hard stuff for me is still how much non-recyclable single-use plastic I find around me all of the time.  After a year and more working on being single-use plastics free, sometimes I feel overwhelmed with all I see.  More on this later, I am thinking…

Right now  I want to say thanks to all around me who are sending me information and changing their lives because they want too. Some of the things my friends have told me they have done since I have begun my quest to use much less plastic in my life are these: they have bought refillable coffee mugs, begun to compost, begun bringing their own bags to the grocery store and stopped using single-use plastic water bottles.  I feel grateful for the gracious attention these friends are paying, and also grateful to the many people I meet from day to day doing the same.

Plastics are in our lives to stay.  We love our computers and our shoes and our drainpipes and our swimsuits.  Our tennis rackets and our cell phones and our plastic tubing.  Fountain pens, lawn chairs and flyswatters.  Many  many people are working on making all of this more sustainable all of the time.   More and more plastics are becoming recyclable, yet many still are not.  All of this paying attention can be hard work. It can also feel good.  I mean, my compost pile is an amazing and very active place.

Lately I have been struggling with my own righteous indignation over the glut of plastics in our lives.  Why aren’t more people bringing their own bags, or not using straws or whatever?  Why isn’t recycling easier?  Why is the plastics industry keeping those arrows around those numbers on disposable plastics which are NOT recyclable?  Why? Why? Why?  I do not have answers yet as to how to deal with all I have  been feeling.  I know I feel a responsibility to keep learning about our earth and how all this plastic is affecting us, and also, equally important, what initiatives people are taking–which is why I am so excited about the two examples above.

The last of a peach smoothie with a choice of re usable straws--metal or bamboo

bag lady May 18, 2011 3 Comments

Clara (aka Kitty) Couch in the news

Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. Lao Tzu

Setting Goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.  Albert Schweitzer

The picture above of the late and very intrepid Kitty Couch was sent to me last week by her long time friend and partner in many things creative, Pinky Bass.   As you can see, Clara (aka Kitty) Couch was way ahead of her time recycling wise.  While most of us were just getting used to having home recycling, Kitty was out there with the “reduce” idea, using her own bags long before this was a common activity.   It has taken me many years to act on this concept and I just love that Kitty was out there early on doing the remember to reuse thing!  Plus, as you can see from the newspaper photo she was clearly having a good time with it. And I mean a GOOD time!
In 1989  Kitty and I were part of a group of 9 women  selected to represent the state of North Carolina at the then new National Museum of Women in Washington DC. It was then that I began to love Clara Couch’s amazing ceramic works which seemed live, large, unglazed, almost abstract, always evocative, not to mention Kitty herself, who was direct and joyful, attuned to the world around her.
I have just returned from an event in the North Carolina Mountains full of lots of artists of all sorts from many parts of the world.  I had been thinking of Kitty a lot because  a while back at an earlier iteration of  this same event for some reason I went with her to visit her home in the NC Mountains.  One of the things I remember most about that day was Kitty telling me about her firewood.  It was stacked at the bottom of her road and every day as she took her morning walk or went out to check the mail she would bring back a log.  Bit by bit, piece by piece she was moving a stack of firewood up the hill to her home, to be burned in the cold of Winter. It was  a ritual.  She took what could have been a hard job and gave it joy–simple and everyday.  I can imagine her  looking at each piece of wood as she carried it up the hill.  She had made this task, easily done in one quick dump by a guy with a truck into a daily ritual.
Going back to Black Mountain where I had last visited with Kitty it was natural to remember her.  And meeting her friend Pinky helped as well.  What I became aware of is how the story that Kitty told me maybe 20 years ago about her firewood has become a part  of my life.  Each day as I move from room to room, I usually take something that belongs where I am going.  When I weed the garden, I do it in bits and pieces, on the way to the trash can or just out to the car.  Bit by bit I care for my world.  Step by step, I shift and shape, and always I have been thinking of Kitty moving her wood pile from down below to up above, piece by piece, each year only to begin again as winter’s warmth required it.
In a way, life is a string of small seemingly unimportant tasks.  Ritual. Continuity. Repetition. Continuity again.  We must have faith that our small actions count.  We must believe in them.  And if we are fortunate, we discover ways to find joy in these day-to-day tasks.  The small acts of our lives are as important to us as leaves are to a tree.  And all of them, whether we are carrying firewood, caring for loved ones or sorting our socks add up to the tree that is our life.  Bit by bit we become who we are.  Everything we do counts.  All of it. Remembering Kitty I am pretty sure this is true.

This is a ceramic sculpture by Clara Couch in collaboration with Pinky Bass whose photographic images are on its surface. It is owned by Davidson College

The Red Wheelbarrow April 26, 2011 5 Comments

My new wheelbarrow at work.

“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”— Douglas Adams

“You know, I think if people stay somewhere long enough – even white people – the spirits will begin to speak to them. It’s the power of the spirits coming from the land. The spirits and the old powers aren’t lost, they just need people to be around long enough and the spirits will begin to influence them.” — Crow elder

This is the “before the bugs” time of spring here in Durham, NC.  The leaves are full and green on all of the trees, and lawns have mostly been mowed for the first time.  The rains have kept the pollen count down.  My neighbors and I were lucky with the recent storms, just one tree down, falling into the street. Now with one less large oak tree in the neighborhood and much more sun reaching the ground, I am thinking of planting tomatoes for the first time in years.

Meanwhile, I have been working in schools throughout my region and even spent last week at the coast, watching the moon rise most nights, an orange ball, coming up on the eastern rim of the Atlantic Ocean.  It has been good, this morning, to spend some time working in my yard with my new red wheelbarrow.

marine food web--Fuquay Varina High School 2011

My work monitoring single-use plastic continues.  Several weeks ago I had the great pleasure of working with the Marine Ecology Class at Fuquay-Varina High School making the ocean food web out of discarded single-use plastic.  First, we cleaned the creek next to the school of all of the plastic detritus that had  blown over the fence next to the parking lot. The students also brought in all of the throw-away plastic they had used in their homes for a week.  Students selected animals from the ocean food web, covering the list from whales at the top to plankton at the bottom and made them out of this collected plastic.  We hung this food web made entirely of cast off plastic up for science night.  The students entitled it “Killer Plastic.”  Among many wonderful creatures you can see the ethereal jelly fish made out of plastic bags floating top left.

Plastic collected on the beach in 5 afternoons--mainly just walking back and forth

Last week I got to stay in a small motel right across the road from the Atlantic Ocean while I did a residency  with the students of Grandy Primary School in Camden, North Carolina.  The weather was warm and every day after work I took my green folding chair down to the beach. Each afternoon I walked over the small dune which separated the ocean from the road and read my book, watched the birds and surfers, dug my feet in the sand, and in general felt very lucky.  This was a short walk, and each day it was the same walk, yet the plastic I found along the beach and on the path through the dunes was plentiful and continually arriving. Here is the thing about this plastic.  It was not hard to find.  I only picked it up as I walked back and forth.  The beach is big.  It looks empty of this stuff.  But it is not.  I constantly found plastic bottles and plastic bags, both the kind from grocery stores and the clear looking things around snacks, straws, whatever.  And then there are the caps and old faded balloons and bits and pieces of things.  More of the stuff that our marine wild life might swallow.  A lot of it gets thrown in the trash can beside the pathway over the dunes.  Anything that doesn’t make it there gets swallowed by the ocean pretty quickly.

What happens to the stuff that gets swallowed by the ocean?  Again–the ocean is very big, but still, this picture of a turtle to the right is always in my mind and one of the reasons why I pick up any loose plastic when I see it floating around or half buried in the sand.  I am not the only one who does this; if you are reading this, you probably do it too.

Meanwhile, I live my life.  Some days are easier than others.  Always, my favorite times are  simple ones.  Today it has been how green my yard is, how damp and ready to grow things the soil has become.  On a whim, I bought the red wheelbarrow pictured above a few weeks ago at a small hardware store out in the country.  Did I buy it to care for my garden or for the nurturance of my soul?  I would say it is a toss up.  With this simple machine, a wheel attached to an inclined plane, I move compost to my garden, leaves to the compost, dirt here and there.  Working in my yard nurtures me.  Turning my compost, or digging in the actual garden where I turn the soil and find earthworms galore, I am happy.  In my yard, I shift dirt about, weed and plant, plant and weed, listen to the birds sing, and wait for the hydrangeas to bloom.  The world is big and we are all busy in it.  Worms and a wheelbarrow bring me home.  There are no chickens in my yard, but I do see an occasional white-tailed rabbit happy in the grass.

The Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams

so much depends
upon a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Letter to Michael March 23, 2011 3 Comments

compost on my garden–getting ready for spring planting

We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.

R. Buckminster Fuller

“We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” Anonymous


For the past month I have been traveling, mostly in North Carolina doing residencies in schools.  Though I love this work, it means that I am missing home and often trying to figure out where to eat in strange lands.  If I am very lucky I stay with friends, but more often, I am on my own.  While at a terrific residency  at Rosewood Elementary School in Wayne County, K&W Cafeteria became my home away from home–a place of vegetables, and no plastic utensils.

Weekends seem to have been time for laundry with fleeting glimpses of friends, a basketball game or two, plus hunting down the Trout Lilies which are blooming along the Eno River.

one of this spring’s last Trout Lilies along the Eno River

For the past weeks, I have been listening to the stories of the tsunami in Japan, feeling horrified by the destruction, sorrow for the many deaths incurred, and a frustrated feeling of wanting to do something.  Here is the thing–a 9-point earthquake which has shifted our earth’s axis and the tusunami which came after it are out of our control–yours, mine, all of us.  We feel powerless in the wake of such devastation.  The tectonic plates of our very own earth shifted and this has happened.  Where I live here in North Carolina, a 3 hours drive to the Atlantic Ocean with the sun shining and green buds on trees everywhere, I have been feeling both distanced from this disaster and overwhelmed.   What can I do here?  Nothing?  About the tsunami, probably not.  But I am reminded again and again that it is the things that I CAN do, however small, that are important.  For me, in the whirl of travel and residencies, it has been putting compost on my garden and watching the tree limbs change in color from stark grey to muted shades of brown and green and orange and red, as their leaves begin to unfurl.  It has been to dodge single-use plastic, and see every-day that I can do this.  In stores, there is usually a glass or fresh option, and these days with all of the new food trucks around, I can even find take-out food in brown paper bags!  For you it might be riding your bike somewhere instead of driving, or stopping to show a new young child in your life the flowers of spring as they unfold.  Walking forward, and as one of my meditation teachers has said, softening ourselves into the things we must do, keeping active, moving along, in delight and joy when it is easy, and with courage and kindness when it is not.

Below I am posting R. Buckminster Fuller’s letter to Michael, a 10 year old boy who wrote to him in 1970.  It is in his book “The Critical Path” but I have also seen it in newsletters and introductions, and when I am teaching, I often read it at the end of a class.  From my early 20’s as a young artist, I have kept this letter inside me.  As a heartbeat.  For me and for you.

Dear Michael,

Thank you very much for your recent letter concerning “thinkers and doers.”
The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see
need to be done, and no one else seems to see need to be done. Then
you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be done — that no one else has told you to do 
or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has
acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by
others on the individual.
Try making experiments of anything you conceive and are intensely interested in. Don’t be disappointed if 
something doesn’t work. That is what you want to know — the truth about everything —
and then the truth about combinations of things. Some combinations
have such logic and integrity that they can work coherently despite
non-working elements embraced by their system.

Whenever you come to a word with which you are not familiar,find it in the dictionary and write a 
sentence which uses that new word. Words are tools — and once you have learned how to use a tool
you will never forget it. Just looking for the meaning of the word is
not enough. If your vocabulary is comprehensive, you can
comprehend both fine and large patterns of experience.

You have what is most important in life — initiative. Because of it, you wrote to me. I am answering to the 
best of my capability. You will find the world responding to your earnest initiative.
Sincerely yours,
Buckminster Fuller

After re-reading this letter, I kind of want to end with a big vocabulary word for me to learn and you to look up—-Humm, here is one I just learned….Olefin….Look it up, or not, I certainly had too, and am now ready to do what Mr. Fuller said, or so I hope.

Meanwhile, here’s to mud between your toes and spring beauty in bloom.

There are lots of blooms on the small peach tree beside my driveway. which originally sprouted from compost.

Breathing February 11, 2011 4 Comments

Winter sunlight and shadow

“I look for what needs to be done. After all, that’s how the universe designs itself.”

R. Buckminster  Fuller

Never underestimate the power of compassionately recognizing what’s going on. –Pema Chödrön

Last night at a meditation group that I go to, the teacher suggested that when we wake up in the morning we pay attention to our first breath.  Was it an inhale or an exhale?–just that.  From there she went on to how we allow our day to unfold, being mindful as we go along and as we remember.  Breathing.  Breathing all of the time.  So, just in case you are curious, I woke on the exhale this morning.  The day is cool and sunny.  On the way back from swimming at the Y, I remembered to think about my breath again in the car. And I think to myself, ” All this is interesting, but what does breath have to do with my daily life?” And then an inner voice answers me quietly and very definitely –“Everything Bryant, just everything.”  Okay, so here we go.

After my last post which was also my first post of this new year, friend and fellow blogger Rebecca Currie asked me a big question–“So Bryant,” She said. “How did you do it?”  By this she is asking me how I pulled off a year without single-use plastic, which if you look around, you know is everywhere.

So Rebecca, here are the answers as best as I can figure:

1–I “did” it because I really wanted to.  I saw it as my job.  So I was vigilant.  I said NO to the plastic lids on cups and plastic straws as well.  NO to all plastic bottles in stores.  Have you noticed that many bottles look like glass, but when you really feel them, they are plastic?  NO to all styrofoam take out stuff.  NO to plastic bags in stores which are so easily given to us.  Lots and lots of “no-thank-yous” everywhere.

2–I went to my local farmers market almost every Saturday.  There I found produce unbagged that I could slip into my own bags.  Also, bread  and baked goods always packaged in paper, eggs–the list is endless here.

3–I brought my own bottles and tins to Whole Foods and they weighed them for me.  Then I could get many things from the bulk bins there.  Where I live we also have Weaver Street Market,  a co-op with bulk bins as well.  I would not have been as successful as I have been without these alternatives.

4–Cousin Monty’s Granola.  Making this up every 3 or so weeks, full of almonds and flax seed and many good things, meant whenever I was hungry and needed a boost it was there and it was good.  Really good.

5–I made my own yogurt.  This proved to be much easier than I had ever imagined and very good as well.

6–I carried my own steel water bottle.  To make this work I kept 3 in circulation in case I forgot, which was often.

The above are the basics as to how I did it.  And mostly how I am still doing it.  I am in a groove .  No stopping now!

As an experiment and to give myself a break–this month I bought a few things packaged in plastic.  These were a box of Cherrios, 2 snickers bars, and 2 boxes of crackers.  I enjoyed all of them–especially the

My January 2011 plastic detritus--missing the Snickers wrappers

Snickers bars–certainly all that high fructose sweet sticky stuff is a powerful drug.  I wanted to see what I was missing, plus, well, I am not perfect here.  What I really want to continue buying is, believe it or not, crackers, though even this may change as my young friend Lydia has begun to send a group of us passionate emails about her new found love of making flat breads, chapattis, Korean pancakes, the list is amazing.  (A note on packaged crackers here–the stuff inside the cardboard box is not waxed paper–It is made to look like it but it is NOT.  Try putting it in your compost and you will see that it does not decompose–yep– it’s plastic.)

Recently several people have forwarded this video to me of Van Jones speaking of plastic pollution in our world and its connection to economic injustice.  He makes a powerful case for our paying closer attention to how we use and dis-use plastics in this world.

He speaks of our addiction to disposability.  How we feel good about putting our plastic bottle in our little blue bin but do not consider the consequences of recycling this bottle, which is burning it, thus releasing very  toxic fumes into the environment.  Mostly this is happening in Asia where environmental air standards are much lower.  Because of all of this burning of plastics in Asia, the clean air gains of Los Angeles have been wiped out and are back to their pre 1970’s standards.  He challenges us to think of the very idea of disposability–of species, of raw materials, of people themselves–because it is the very people who work making and “recycling” plastic products that suffer the most.

The very air we breathe is suffering from our addiction to our use-it-once-and-then-toss-it mentality.  And all of us are breathing all of the time–every diatom, every cell, every species.  Inhale. Exhale. Repeat and repeat again.  To live, to be alive, we breathe.  Everyday, all of the time. Spiders, earthworms, palm trees, porcupines, whales and goldfish, monkeys, dogs and people– All species of everything alive on earth..all of us.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

Don’t go back to sleep.

People are moving back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.


To do what is right, not what you should. January 19, 2011 8 Comments

Park Avenue, New York City on the Eve of a blizzard, late Dec, 2010 photo: Lydia Pecker

“No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it.”–Albert Einstein

“We are writing our history on the skin of fish with the blood of bears.”–Margaret Atwood

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Floundering.  Swimming up stream?  Just plain wondering what I am doing?  This past year, striving in every possible way to use NO disposable plastic, I find that my eyes and heart are so accustomed to dodging this stuff that I cannot stop.  Or, put another way, I guess I do not want to.

A friend just sent me the Blue Hill Maine co-op newsletter.  The community had just watched the documentary “Bag It.”  Here is a startling fact learned from the newsletter, re the movie.  “We have created and used more single-use plastic in the last ten years than we did in the entire 20th century.”  Bag it, bottle it, seal it, cap it, cover it–keep it separate, keep it clean, drink it up, toss it away.  It seems we have just begun our consumption of single-use plastic here.

“To do what is right, not what you should.”  This is the message a friend of mine received in her very first fortune cookie of 2011.  As I sort through the memories of the past year, and all the plastic stuff I did not use, but needed to–stuff like glue and tape–stuff I did not use but really wanted to–stuff like crackers, I am wondering which of these things I am going to allow back into my life.  Most stuff, like any take-out plastic, plastic bags, straws, styrofoam of any sort, I am happy to continue not to use.

plastic inside the boxes of food eaten by me in captivity during the NYC blizzard of December 2010

I have been listening to a collection of tapes called the “Monticello Dialogues” by William McDonough.  These tapes were lent to me by a young man behind the cheese counter at my local Whole Foods who has been wrapping my cheese in paper this past year.  Like Thomas Jefferson and Buckminster Fuller, McDonough is a visionary.  He believes we can figure this out and make a better world.

McDonough reminds us of our “timeful mindlessness.”  We are all in a hurry….don’t have time to think about our choices–he suggests “mindful timelessness” instead.  In short, I think he is saying, give yourself the space and time in your life to do the things you can to care for the earth–recycle, bring your own bags, whatever this is for you…And because it is McDonough, he encourages you to see this earth as a place of vast abuundance, where a better and more balanced world is possible if we put our minds and hearts into it.

And by the way, did you hear the the COUNTRY of Italy has banned the single-use plastic bag.  Yes, I said THE COUNTRY OF ITALY!

These past few weeks as I work in my backyard studio and see the birds, Carolina wrens, cardinals, nuthatches and more, stuffing themselves with the seeds I am putting out, as I see the daylight lasting

one goldfinch, a nuthatch and a wren or two on my studio table

longer each afternoon, as the tips of the daffodils show themselves under the damp humus and melting snow, I know that spring is indeed on the way.  The earth has shifted and spring with its awakening is indeed coming again.  So, late in this January of 2011, I wish you all a Happy New Year.  I have changed the name of this blog to THE LAST STRAW: A Continued Quest for a Life Without Single-use Plastic.  I am still curious, and determined, and certainly I am not perfect in this.  I think the question of how we use the resources found in the earth for this new century is a big one.  How to provide for all of us all over the world.  Recently, I have been attending some neighborhood meetings sponsored by Clean Energy Durham, where we are learning to make our homes more energy efficient in simple direct pass-along ways.  This organization encourages us to learn and then share our knowledge with our neighbors.  It is a good model for community and for environmental awareness and empowerment.  I was telling my young hosts Chris and Irene about my commitment to use as little disposable plastic as possible.  Chris said, “You know, I have discovered that if I actually drive the speed limit then I save 4 miles per gallon.”  Wow.  It is these individual acts of paying attention that inspire me, keep me curious.  What will the new year bring?  For myself, I am hoping to figure out what is right for me, not acting righteously–(I SHOULD do this and SHOULD do that)–but acting from my core, doing the best I can to keep figuring out what I want to do, and doing it.

Meanwhile–while I was in New York this late December–I got to See Jomama Jones in her show “Radiate.” Jomama is a fabulous diva created by the playwright and actor Daniel Alexander Jones.  Jomama’s show was full of wonderful music from herself and her back-ups the Sweet Peaches.  She left us with these wishes for the New Year, which I am passing on to you:


by Sharon Bridgforth (for Jomama Jones in “Radiate”—Dec. 2010)

I wish you health and wholeness.  That all the Abundance that seeks you, finds you sweetly and without delay.

I wish you friends that make you laugh to tears.  Friends that treat you dear.

I wish you companionship that is adventurous, kind, compassionate, hott and sexy.

I wish old wounds heal.  That you offer your best self each moment of each day.

That generosity leads your actions and thoughts.

That you be gentle with yourself when you fall short.

I wish you Harmony and Alignment

Creativity and Inspiration.

I wish you quests of spirit that delight your Soul.

That gratitude and joy guide you.

That you Fully be yourself/always.

That Grace define you.

That you Shine.

That you be free.

I wish that you know we need you.

That your presence matters.

I wish you love.