Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Most Perplexing Problem

A Most Perplexing Problem


Susan Abulhawa

Mornings in Jenin: A Novel

I think you should read this book. It rocked my world, shook me up, made me wonder, made me feel, made me worry. It shocked me to think I could have been so naive, so uninquisitive, so accepting. And it made me think of so many other things I may have failed to notice in my merry, shallow life. It made me grow. It made me ache.

This is a novel, not a historical account. It is mostly one-sided, as it should be. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be so powerful.

Drop what you're doing. Read this book.

Peace, Love, and Stop It,

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Earth Day: It’s Not Just for Hippies Any More

Earth Day: It's Not Just for Hippies Any More
Students, parents, teachers, and local community leaders joined forces on April 18 to remove illegally dumped trash from the San Benito River channel near the old Hospital Road crossing. What was the occasion? Earth Day, of course, a good excuse for a thorough Spring cleaning.
To be exact, Earth Day is April 22, celebrated around the world since 1970 as a way of calling attention to the growing impact of human activity upon the planet which feeds, clothes, and houses them. The first Earth Day was an outgrowth of the modern U. S. environmental movement which, most folks from that era will tell you, had its origins in two unrelated incidents that occurred in 1969.
The first incident was the Santa Barbara oil spill in late January of that year. An offshore oil rig blowout in the Santa Barbara Channel created an expanded oil slick that blackened the beaches of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, piled up a thick oily mess against the Santa Barbara Harbor seawalls, and killed an estimated 3,500 sea birds and mammals. Final estimates put the spill at about 100,000 barrels. The people of Santa Barbara and across the nation were appalled, if not furious, and began to clamor for action.
In June of that year, across the country on the shores of Lake Erie, another catastrophe occurred that also tipped the scales of public opinion against lax regulation of industry. The Cuyahoga River, which empties into Lake Erie at Cleveland, Ohio, had become so polluted that it caught on fire! Sadly, this was not the first time that happened. But, thanks to coverage by major news media, it caught the attention of the nation and their politicians. In 1970, President Richard Nixon was pressured into signing the Clean Water Act and creating the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Slowly over the years, public awareness of Earth Day began to change. Earth Day cleanup celebrations at parks and beaches and waterways evolved. From ragtag gatherings of random shaggy hippies in 1970 to organized events by the mainstream concerned citizenry of the present, more and more people have grown to see their connection to and responsibilities toward their land, air, and water and to the creatures (including people!) that inhabit Earth. After forty-five years, we are not all the way to a place of understanding, but we are getting closer.
Here in San Benito County, a growing coalition of citizens is seeing the value of working together to educate ourselves and to protect the region’s natural resources. Our riverbed is the heart of the county. It connects the residents and bio-communities of the south county farms and ranches, stretching past Paicines, Tres Pinos, Hollister, and San Juan Bautista, all the way to the Pajaro River and the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary. As the low spot between the Diablo Range and the Gavilan Range, in dry season and in wet, the riverbed collects groundwater like a heart collects blood. The river channel carries water (and whatever else we put into it} slowly downstream to our neighbors and ultimately to the sea. Our cultural, environmental, and industrial connections to each point along the way, like beads on a string, are exciting and interesting and full of potential. San Benito County ranches, farms, wineries, Amah Mutsun traditions, Hispanic and European American influences, our rich geologic history, our National Park, and our favorable climate for recreation combine to make the San Benito River an attractive centerpiece.

The prospect of building a recreation trail along the river has united many different parts of our citizenry and offers a chance for everyone to contribute and benefit. This long-dreamed-for trail, called the San Benito River Parkway, will eventually extend from Tres Pinos to San Juan Bautista. Construction on the first segment of the trail, from Hospital Road to Union Road, will get underway upon completion of the new bridge across the river channel at the old Hospital Road crossing. This area has a history of sand and gravel mining by Graniterock, the local aggregate industry giant. The extraction stage, which ended in the late 1990s, will be followed by a major reclamation project as soon as the new Hospital Road Bridge has been built.

In anticipation of the River Parkway, dedicated volunteers, mostly high school students, have been ridding the river channel of mounds of trash that accumulated over many decades of community neglect. Since 2006 alone, more than 23 tons of tires, household trash, car parts, and random junk have been carted off to the John Smith Landfill on the backs of teenagers with the help of San Benito County workers and San Benito High School teachers. In the past few years, their ranks have grown.
On Saturday, April 18, sixty-seven students, parents, teachers, and local leaders pitched in to remove another half-ton of trash from the riverbed near Hospital Road. This group included swarms of students and parent volunteers from Hollister’s Accelerated Achievement Academy led by teacher Susan Bessette. The always reliable Outdoor Club from San Benito High School also participated, led by teachers Chip and Emily Gauvreau, Dr. Jessica Gautney, and retired teacher Jim Ostdick.
Alexandra (Alex) Simons, Environmental Specialist from Graniterock, escorted the group around the property and coordinated the moving of piles of garbage to designated County collection points. 
Simons described the importance of the project for the younger generation:  “The students really were able to make the connection on how the trash in the San Benito River affects the rest of the watershed and Monterey Bay. This connection is essential to maintaining a trash free environment in the future. Seeing the students so involved in making a difference in their local environment shows that they will be stewards for the environment in years to come.”

Meanwhile, Graniterock’s Jim West and Bill Damm cooked up a hot dog feast for the hungry and thirsty participants to enjoy after the cleanup. Valerie Egland, from San Benito County Parks Commission and the R.E.A.C.H. (Recreation, Exercise, and Community Health) San Benito Foundation, provided healthy Earthbound Farms snacks to go with the hot dogs and Damm Good Water and educated participants on the Parkway construction efforts. 

Bessette, perhaps the area’s most ardent proponent of using community service experiences in her curriculum, summed it up like this:  “I would like to thank Graniterock for continually allowing our school access to their river property in Hollister. This has allowed the Accelerated Achievement Academy to reach beyond the classroom to teach our environmental preservation and awareness project. We have been able to participate annually with the California Coastal Commission's Coastal Cleanup Day right here in town. The students have taken field trips to the water treatment facilities to learn the importance of water conservation and have planted a xeriscape garden. Guest speakers have given presentations on watershed management and water wise strategies. Graniterock has provided the opportunity for our students to participate in volunteering efforts that directly impact the environment positively and apply what they have learned.”
Cooperation between groups like this (business, government, industry, educators, and non-profits) is inspiring and efficient. Progress toward a dream can be made when ordinary people meet together and place the common good and their connection to their community/environment in a position of importance. On Earth Day 2015, being a furry Whole Earth hippie is not necessary to effect a positive change in your environment. Anyone can do it. Does being called an “environmentalist” violate your road dog code of ethics? That’s okay; you can call yourself a “pragmatic conservationist” instead. Just roll your sleeves up and get busy.

Please join us in keeping our highways and waterways clean and do what you can to support the development of the San Benito River Parkway. It will take some time and a lot of hard work. But San Benito County can be a showcase for the rest of California for clean, intelligent, healthy, conservation-minded growth while providing our families and visitors with diverse, vigorous opportunities to communicate, learn, exercise, and play.
Peace, Love, and Re-Creation,


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Wester

Happy Wester


Here on the Left Coast, petitions are being circulated for an initiative to be placed on the 2016 ballot that would change the name of the annual Spring holiday from Easter to Wester. Let me break it down for you.

In theory, everything on the Christian side would stay the same. Resurrection fans would still build a hollow balsa wood fake cross with wheels on the back and pick a local longhaired carpenter to haul it around the church parking lot. Overweight insurance agents (Philistines) would still pretend to flog him (Him) as he (He) agonized his (His) way through the Stations of the Cross. All that glory/pain stuff is good theater and scares the children straight, so it stays.

The only major churchfolk adjustment is that the use of Holy Water has to be reduced by 25% because of the drought. Oh, and the Wester Sunday church dress code has been relaxed. No more K-Mart blue suits and yellow dresses for the kids. Looney Tunes t-shirts, baggie shorts, and flip flops are fine. This IS California after all.

The Pagan side is where the big changes kick in, but they are kind of cool so nobody should mind. All Wester eggs must be laid by free range hens, dyed with natural organic berry juice, and collected by heretofore unemployed medical marijuana patients. Wester egg baskets will be hand woven by barefoot children using native drought-resistant plant material under the guidance of Chumash and Ohlone grandmothers. Baskets will be lined with native grasses and blessed by employees of Santa Cruz Spirit Guides, Inc.

Brace yourselves. There will be no more chocolate bunnies or peeps. Except for the above-referenced eggs, only plant-based, gluten free treats and candies will be allowed in the baskets. Buck up, kids, you will thank us later when your nervous disorders, allergies, and learning disabilities magically disappear. You might even get into Stanford.

On Wester Monday, all baskets, grasses, and leftover cornstalk Equinox dolls will be composted in the community garden to be used as mulch.

Last, but certainly not least, is the retirement of the Easter Bunny as the official symbol and deliverer of Springtime overnight treats. The Bunny is gone, mistreated and abused for far too long. Taking the Bunny's place are a cadre of Wester rescue puppies who have undergone rigorous training in the Sierra Nevada foothills and will compete for the noble title of West Coast Wester Dog in 2020. Stay tuned.

This is progress, Cali style.

Peace, Love, and Happy Wester,