Shakespeare in a Shack

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The Bard Rocks!

Toward the end of a sweltering summer day, a small crowd of theater-goers gathered inside an old mining shack to watch two actors perform short scenes from some of the most famous plays on earth. The stuffy air and the tin walls made the moment feel anachronistic, but it wasn’t – Shakespeare was a huge hit in the rough-and-tumble frontier towns of the Old West, often sporting rival troupes and playhouses. Apparently, a lot of Macbeth made the rounds. What’s fair is foul and foul is fair…

2016 marked the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death and to mark the occasion his plays were celebrated and performed all over the world, including a tiny mine shack in Madrid, New Mexico. I wonder how many plays, or bits of plays, are staged every year normally – thousands, I suspect. It’s not only a testament to Shakespeare’s genius but to our love of watching people act out in front of us. All you need is a stage and a few good lines!

I grabbed a seat up close and settled in for the show. The actors live in New York City, trained in London, are young and full of fire. They took us on an energetic tour of human emotions, including lots of laughs. Our two children have performed in six Shakespeare plays in the last year or so, part of a troupe of twelve to seventeen year-olds. They do the plays uncut – every last word – and the kids are not intimidated in the least. Shakespeare speaks to teenagers.

How cool is that!

 

4 – A Lion in Kenya

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Welcome to the Maasai Mara!

On a trip to Nairobi, I had the deep privilege of visiting a world-famous wildlife park in southern Kenya. I had never been to Africa before, so you can imagine my reaction when I stepped off the little plane to be greeted by a herd of zebras! They grazed unconcernedly right up to the edge of the camp. What was that weird sound? Hippos in the Mara River! Warthogs on their knees! Gazelle! Giraffes! Wildebeest!

It was almost too much.

The next morning, my guide and I set out to find as many of the Big Five wildlife as possible during my brief stay. We quickly spotted a herd of buffalo in marshy country north of camp, followed quickly by another sighting – lions! Four females lay peacefully under a cluster of acacia trees. Later, we followed a solitary black rhino as he strode purposefully across the grasslands as if he were late for an important meeting. Three down!

Elephants weren’t hard to find. Incredibly, during lunch a family of elephants cracked tree branches across the river from where I sat. For a moment, I thought the camp had hired them to entertain the guests. But what truly astonished me was seeing elephants work the grasslands. Back home, I’m used to seeing cattle on grass – not elephants!

The massive herd of wildebeest I saw everywhere was also amazing.

On the second day, we came across the last and most elusive of the Big Five – a leopard. She sat on the edge of a ravine nonchalantly grooming herself like a house cat. I couldn’t take enough photographs! The guide said I was lucky.

Indeed.

The world is a big beautiful place. We’re lucky to have it!

Photo © Courtney White / http://www.jcourtneywhite.com

 

3 – Fracking Madness

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Welcome to oil-and-gas country!

This is a map of oil-and-gas sites near Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, New Mexico. Chaco is a special place – quiet, remote, beautiful, magical. And packed with magnificent ruins.

In 1000 AD, perhaps as many as six thousand ancestral Puebloans lived in this high, cold desert canyon, which was a large population for the era. The Chacoans built beautiful “great houses” and a remarkable network of roads. By 1300 AD, however, everything came undone and today the graceful stone ruins are empty except for a steady stream of visitors.

The lesson for us: don’t overstretch finite natural resources. They will snap and break. And you will move away.

We didn’t learn. There are 23,000 oil-and-gas wells in the San Juan Basin, many of them nasty fracking operations. They are advancing on Chaco like a conquering army. Outrageously, permits for new wells are being considered by the federal government within a few miles of the park. How much oil-and-gas do we really need? Gen and I went on a tour sponsored by the Sierra Club and hosted by a Navajo activist to see for ourselves.

Two months later – good news! The Obama Administration suspended an auction of oil-and-gas permits near Chaco indefinitely. They had not considered the feelings of Native tribes, they said.

What about the rest of us? We care too. Democracy requires perpetual vigilance. So do magical places.

Visit Chaco if you can. It’s worth the drive.

Photo © Courtney White / http://www.jcourtneywhite.com

 

 

2 – Healing Creeks

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Howdy from Gunnison, Colorado!

I love this picture of Bill Zeedyk standing in front of a Zuni Bowl that he designed looking like a secular priest at the altar of a vast shrine with blue sky for a roof!

We acolytes visited the shrine while touring sage grouse habitat restoration projects as part of a conference on water in the West. When I was young, I had no idea so much of my beloved homeland was in dire ecological condition, mostly a result of erosion caused by poor livestock management over the decades. The great American conservationist Aldo Leopold once wrote “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.”

Fortunately, I met Bill early in my studies. He’s a visionary on par with Leopold, in my opinion. He knows how to repair wounds and restore hope. Here, he’s stopped a headcut from migrating upstream where it would eventually destroy a wet meadow, a critical source of water and food for wildlife. And the Zuni Bowl is pretty to look at too! I think Bill’s work is a perfect blend of form + function.

Call it restorative land art.

The Gunnison restoration project involves many hands, from local volunteers, to ranchers, agency people, scientists, and others. It’s an inspiring example of the long western tradition of cooperation on the land. The goal of the project is to restore degraded ‘sweet spots’ in riparian areas so endangered sage grouse populations can weather the vicissitudes of climate change. Cooperation is key – a lesson for us all.

The altar and the temple are lovely. Visit if you get a chance!

Hope all is well.

Photo © Courtney White / http://www.jcourtneywhite.com

1 – Family Farm

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Greetings from southern Vermont!

I visited a farm as part of a conference on food cooperatives called Disrupting the Future which is pretty funny – why would an eighth generation, organic dairy and maple syrup farm be an agent of disruption?!

Well, you know why.

I didn’t want to think about the big picture, however. The day was too gorgeous. Actually, the farm is on its ninth generation – 26-year old John Franklin, the soft-spoken son of soft-spoken David and Mary Ellen, led the tour. The farm converted to organic in 2004 and it’s made all the difference to the Franklins. The farm is profitable, sustainable, regenerative and a great place to raise kids. There was laughter and smiles all around. Sounds like they’re disrupting the system to me!

After visiting the pigs and the solar panels, we headed into a grassy field, which is where I heard the heavy breathing.  

As we stood in a pasture strewn with buttercups listening to Mary Ellen explain the family’s progressive grazing strategy, a group of Holstein girls snuck up behind us. I stood in the back, as I usually do, and soon I heard their breathing. Turning, I saw the girls standing in a row watching us as if saying “Howdy strangers, what brings you here?” I reached out a hand and a friendly one stretched her neck way out to meet it. I scratched her head. Satisfied, we both relaxed in the breeze, under the blue sky. We contemplated each other as if we stood in a sacred, green temple. Which we were.

It was one of those little timeless moments in life when everything stops and is never the same again.

I hope all is well where you are.

Photo © Courtney White / http://www.jcourtneywhite.com

 

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I found myself standing in Emily Dickinson’s bedroom.

I was in Amherst to attend a conference of food cooperatives and as it ended I made a dash to the Dickinson home, now a museum. All I knew about the poet was her reputation as a famous recluse. Standing in her room, however, I felt an unexpected communion. Maybe it was the knowledge that she had written nearly all of her 1800 poems in that very space, sitting at a little table by the tall window; maybe it was the strong sense of refuge the room conveyed. Here’s a poem of hers tacked to the wall outside the door:

 Sweet hours have perished here;
This is a mighty room;
Within its precincts hopes have played,
Now shadows in the tomb.

Noble, somber words. Dickinson was born in the house and died there in 1886, aged fifty-five. My age. Essentially unpublished during her lifetime, she clearly felt a powerful calling. Her subjects were the big ones: love, nature, art, grief, death. Her imagination ranged widely while her body rarely left home. In the room, you could sense her quiet urgency. We have such little time on earth and so much to say, even if our words only serve shadows in the end. What do I want to say about this moment in time?

We’re going to miss it, perhaps.

I walked to Amherst’s small square and made two touristy circumnavigations before settling on a wooden bench. The day was perfect, warm and green. Parents with kids were out. Students drifted by. During conference breaks, a strong desire to go back to school repeatedly struck me – maybe study to be a poet! That’s what I want to say: we need to stay on our toes.

Here’s a selfie. I hope you are well.

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