ECO-Tours only purchases trees and dirt to plant them in...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Old Home Week

These trees will be just what the doctor ordered for helping the next round of plantings to be successful.

The cool shade that these few acres produce is a welcome relief for hundreds of birds and mammals.
For Arbor Day I took a short trip, visited half a dozen places that I have helped plant trees in and took a few pictures to spur my memory if ever I get disillusioned. Granted, hundreds of trees look tiny when viewed in perspective to acres and acres of lifeless farmland, but in the areas that we have planted trees, there is an abundance of life, some so tiny that even kneeling down and touching the soil is not enough to see it. Several of these sites are now starting to be more like woodlots than open fields and the shade and wind protection that they are creating are making a significant difference in the areas around them.

The tiny sprout near the center will grow to ten feet or so in the next couple years, time for weeding and mulching

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


We are raised with a series of underlying assumptions. I cannot count the number of times that I have heard such nonsense as "nice guys finish last", "boys will be boys" and "children should be seen and not heard". Each of these, in their own way are an assault on humanity. Even so, experience and insight has taught me that being compassionate, helpful and kind has benefits beyond what most folks who are not "nice" will never be able to understand. The excuses we make for our young men only allow continued violence and subjugation of women. This, in turn, suppresses discussion about the way we want people to behave. Anyone who has ever put the time required to raise thoughtful and educated children knows that they are more likely to teach us important things about being human than most adults are able to. Selfless giving and true concern for the welfare of others seems to be socialized out of most of us before we graduate high school. Not that it matters, but each and every negative aspect of my own socialization came from interaction with damaged individuals and when I tried to help them to heal, I was more often than not penalized or held out for ridicule as my "reward" for the effort. somewhere deep in the dark ages of human "development" scars that were poorly healed continue to rear their heads in our "modern" world.

Many wonder why so many "cultures" have found so little of merit in altruistic behavior. I cannot claim to know, but I have my theories. The underlying assumptions that have been handed down to us from Calvinists and racists that certain groups are sub-human or that they are guilty of creating their own difficulties in life have led to shunning our responsibility as human beings to help one another and lift those with no boot straps out of difficult situations. Selfless giving is actually scientifically proven to be human nature. Science is shedding light on this truth, however, the coverage of this important point is sadly lacking. It is part of the ego defense system to put others down in an attempt to lift ourselves up, but as many are beginning to learn, the ego is only capable of lying to us about the nature of things that go on in our environment.

We seem to have bred a generation of "victims" who delight in decrying how bad they have it instead of sharing what they do have to make the lives of others better. Even the self-avowed Progressives that I know have a hard time with sharing resources. The value of sharing and caring for fellow human beings is known well by those who are true to their nature. When we act badly, it reflects that in our own development, there was one person who took more from us than they were willing to give back. These events, somewhere back in the distant past, results in no longer opening themselves up to "that kind of abuse" or neglect. I'm here to tell you that abuse and neglect are all around us If we do not see our way through to the other side of the pain that it creates in the world around us, we are useless, not only to our fellow human beings, but to ourselves as well. When we began to plant trees as a rag tag group of friends and co-workers back in the Eighties, there was no intention to reap a great harvest or get ahead by the actions that we undertook. There is no attempt to enrich ourselves by planting trees today. What we do is plant trees appropriate to the sites that we reforest to make the world better for everyone.

To plant enough trees to reduce the likelihood of flooding occurring at our house would take a legion of people the better part of a century, but do we use this as an excuse to stop planting trees? No. To plant enough trees to significantly reduce global warming might take millions of people thousands of years. Do we use this as an excuse to stop doing what we know to be the right thing to do? No! Even when others look at you as a fool for doing what you believe in, that is not a signal to change and submit to their short sighted version of what makes sense. This is the time to redouble your efforts to make positive change occur in the world around us, reach out and make the changes that you feel are necessary to create the kind of world that we wish that we all lived in. This is the essence of how the true heroes in this world operate. Instead of blaming others for our own shortcomings or looking for excuses for our own substandard behavior, it has become necessary that we all make certain sacrifices for the good of one another, the planet and future generations. Supporting one another in becoming all that we can be, following our dreams and keeping our responsibility to one another in mind seems to me to be a good place to start.

Here at ECO-Tours, we will continue to plant trees, not so that we become wealthy, not even to eventually relax in our retirement, but instead to continue an unbroken tradition of doing what is best for the most people, for the planet and for the generations that come after us. We plant trees so that they (who we will most likely never meet, may enjoy the blessing of trees for shade, for flood control for the integrity of the climate as well as our their supply of oxygen. We encourage those who think about these issues to send money that we will convert into trees, humbly plant, and ask for nothing in return but the honor to serve others in our quest for a better planet. If we are able to share a little environmental wisdom, or craft some beautiful artifacts with our guests, if we share a bit of fun around the campfire in the evening or begin a process that grows within our visitors, that is always a welcome result. We put our efforts into the mix solely for the trees and all that comes about because of it is a beautiful bonus. Please come join us for a potting up party, a canoe ride to a plant-in, a bike tour to an eco-friendly home or garden or just come for a walkabout. We do ask our guests and visitors to give us advance warning of your availability and tell us what your interests and intentions are. We often learn as much from you as we can teach and as we learn to heal others we also heal ourselves. As a beautiful friend used to delight in saying, give until it hurts, but prepare to be rewarded more than you can imagine!

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

We often get side tracked or misdirected in our efforts to create a better world. Sometimes it is by listening to others instead of trusting our inherent wisdom. Occasionally we find out too late that certain actions were at odds with desired outcomes. Whatever the reason, what is needed is grace. Accepting our successes as well as our failures is, in part, a good way to keep one's inertia. This grace not only helps us to overcome obstacles, learning from them and creating positive outcomes in the face of potential loss, but also to reap more of the benefits when they come as well. In life, the way forward is often beset with slippery slopes and distractions that leave us spinning our wheels, careening out of control or creating nothing but smoke and acrid fumes. Some of the most minor occurrences can reduce our ability to gain traction, slide off course and/or lose either inertia or stability.
The tenacity it takes to get a grip in the face of these forces or conditions is akin to the amazing powers of insects to climb walls, or that of barnacles to attach themselves to ship hulls. The unique thing about our stick-to-itiveness is that we must keep changing up, sticking to one thing after another, creating direction and purpose for our lives. We also have to release our grip from time to time, if not to establish a new footfall, to step back enough to gain perspective. The same firm grip we have that amounts to traction also obscures what lies both in the past and in the future. Dreams and learning become impossible if we cling too securely to one thing. Like the rock climber, clinging desperately to a handhold, no progress can be made if we hold too tightly, each point which we grasp must be abandoned if progress is to be made.
To function fully, we need to develop skill in both grasping and releasing, otherwise we fall prey to our own limited perspective and slowly ossify or else we drift without direction or purpose. Grasp, release, grasp, release, grasp release. Like Laurie Anderson's Walking and falling, we ideally cycle along our paths in a state of change from one phase to another. Complicating the matter is the issue of timing. As we move along our unique paths, certain times are better for others for each and every grasp and for each and every release, knowing when can often be as important as knowing what needs doing. When I was young and certainly more impulsive, it bothered me to no end when land owners would say things like, "That's not a creek, that's a ditch." or "That field has been in hay for twenty years, it is some of the healthiest soil on my farm." I had a hard time letting go. I had grasped the fact that we all live under the highest point in the local watershed, our roof and that wherever water collects and drains is as important as any other. I also knew that their treating their part of the watershed like a ditch was behind the tragic costs and consequences that degrade the water that flows past my house. Additionally, I understood the need for cycling both nutrients and carbon through a living soil. Soil health cannot be assured just because we think that hay produced, and removed for an entire generation magically grows out of thin air.
We cycle through thoughts and ideas much like a tire spins, picking up bits of debris, leaving them somewhere else. In life, we have the ability to renew our vitality and composition as tires do not, but whether or not we make forward progress is often determined by what we pick up and what we leave behind. Once we make good decisions, we must also learn how to move them forward into actions that have the power to outlive us, inspire others and move our culture in positive directions.                                  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Funding the Revolution

The rate of change that we have been able to achieve with our tree planting efforts has been limited in many ways. The most frustrating limitations have come through having limited funds for purchasing trees. It has taken nearly twenty years to plant thirty thousand trees, but as we grow and learn how to conserve our resources, we are also find ways to exponentially increase our effectiveness. The past two years, our not-for-profit group has been planting over one million tree seeds each fall. This season we will have the potential to double even that amount. Because we have no paid staff or overhead other than purchasing tree seedlings to plant, and occasionally dirt to use for our potting up parties, there could be more growth if we had money to hire a full-time staff person. further, if we had the cash flow to justify owning a bit of acreage, we could exponentially increase the number of trees we plant by having a much larger tree nursery.

A range possibilities present themselves when we are fully funded that cannot even be imagined without cold hard cash. When we fought nuclear energy, mining or ever taller smokestacks, we bought sheets from the resale shops to make our banners. When we stood up for our children whose educations were being underfunded so that our political leaders could give more corporate welfare to their cronies, or when we stood united against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the front lines were not filled with slick and glossy images, but the hand-painted signs of people who cared. The truth of our struggle has always been that we are singing for our lives! The depth of intellectual capital that we bring to the revolution is not in question. The creativity that we use to keep our issues in front of the complacent borders on the super-human. The spirit that we share is indomitable and our financial wherewithal is finite. Unlike the rich man's club that opposes us at every turn, we are self funded and when the chips fall, we need to pass the hat for funding. In essence, all of my blogs, from Paganspace, where I write as Saladman to The Otherfish Wrap and from this blog to my wordpress blog called, Permaculture, ECO-Ethics, Trees. I must continue to bang the drum for donations. Like our tree planting effort, we continue to do what we believe to be right, whether or not it pays the bills. Sometimes, and I believe that we are doing it now, doing the right thing is far more important than making a buck at it.

We take heart in the fact that twenty years ago, our efforts were questioned and our motivations were confusing to many of the landowners that we came in contact with. When we were first contacting folks about wanting to plant trees, we got responses like,"That's not a creek, that's a ditch." or "Why would you want to do that?" Our message has remained the same throughout, but the awareness and culture has begun to bend in our direction. Like a tree, seeking light, the humans that I am meeting are growing in the right direction, leaning ever so slightly into awareness of sustainability. The term sustainability is at once scary, for those that resist change, offensive to those who think that they will have to give something up to achieve it and bewildering to those who think that we were put on Earth to subdue nature, but the tide is starting to turn in favor of the environment. When we share the idea of change, what needs to take center stage is the fact that we will be working less, traveling less, having more time for ourselves and living higher standards of living if we do make the shift to ecomunicipalities, adopt proven practices of transition towns and get on with the process of living more lightly on the planet. The duality that is often trotted out to justify no change needs to wither under the harsh light of truth and when we are told the lies of duality and estrangement between humans and their Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit we need to understand where the arguments are coming from and keep holding the liar's feet to the fire. clearing the way for change requires that we get straight on why and how lies are developed and understand the mechanisms that have been used to foist them upon us. Only then can we continue to speak truth to power and lead in ways that make sense to greater numbers of people. As I have personally pared back my own carbon footprint, it has led to a richness of life that was unimaginable prior to my investigating just what the heck I was doing. 

Each and every dollar that we spend is a vote for, and against specific things. When I buy plastic anything, it supports a complex and diversified industry of extraction that is based on, primarily, oil. fossil fuel use is part of nearly every single thing we touch. Even the air that we breathe is the same air that allows petrol to be burned in our car engines. Adding even a tiny bit of poison to this ocean of air can lead to problems in other places, for other creatures and in essence it degrades us as well as the planet. Just taking time to understand the complete life cycle of the products that we use, the items that we buy and the processes that are required to bring them to the market will change our lives profoundly. Since money is just a place holder for time, the most revolutionary thing we can do is to spend our time educating ourselves. Even the data that we study comes with certain caveats. don't forget to ask yourself, "Who compiled these numbers?" and perhaps more importantly, "Why?". I accept the full truth of the statement, "Each one of us brings our own prejudices to our study, attitudes and even our perspective on truth." However, ignorance can just as profoundly skew our perspective, but in a way that is engineered by people we may never see and who certainly don't care one whit about us. This is where my fundraising effort comes to a head, so pay attention.

I want you to put your hard earned dollars where they will do the most good. Buy locally produced products as much as possible. Reduce the amount of money that you spend on toxic compounds, products that have lots of packaging, or that result in disposal hassles down the road. consult data bases like Environmental Working Group's  Safety Guide for Cosmetics and Skin Care. Take time to research your town or city through the TRI Toxic Release Inventory. Find ways to grow more of your own food, even if it is just a few potted tomato plants. Walk or ride your bike more and use your car less. If you are thinking about moving, try living in a compact transition town or ecomunicipality where you can walk everywhere you need to go. Just taking one car off the road can save your family thousands of dollars each year. Then, with the money you save, please send a portion of it to organizations that help make the changes you would like to see in the world. The native tree planting programs that we provide here at ECO-Tours of Wisconsin have reclaimed several hundred acres from stark, denuded, wasteland to shady areas with food and shelter instead. the power that lies in a single acorn is truly miraculous. Imagine that power and multiply it by the number of dollars that you can afford to send us. the change we make today has the power to outlive us, so choose your actions carefully and spend your dollars (votes) conscientiously.

Donations accepted through Paypal at or if you prefer to use snail mail, send checks to ECO-Tours of Wisconsin Inc. at 1445 Porlier street Green Bay, Wisconsin 54301

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Long Arc- The North Shore of Lake Superior

As I watched my progress, like a snail, across the maps I had in my pack the landscapes of the North Shore unwound stories that had been played our over thousands of years. Time immemorial was alive and aware of my presence, harboring me, permeating me and lifting my spirits in the face of the lonesome isolation of these remote vistas and infinitely varied desolation. I was far outnumbered by organisms and I needed but to slow my pace or stop along the way and the life would become overwhelming. I sensed that I was but a tiny sliver of life amongst a great profusion of individuals and communities of living things, calling out to me to express their urge to be heard. The awesome responsibility of speaking for the trees is enough, but the mosses, the winged things, the finned ones and those who are earth bound all showed themselves to me in ways that made me aware of the importance of my walkabout.
We are each the center of a sacred hoop, unfolding our lives like a billion Mobius bands extending out into our environment. Bringing in and expending energy simultaneously. My own path was more clear, even though I only had lines on a map to guide me, than many of the most simple and regimented mazes. In essence, my life's purpose has not changed for over forty years. The difference now is that I can break the boundary of time and space, communicating with an infinite number of souls not just through intimate contact with the earth, but with the internet as well. Perhaps what we are looking for, whatever our quest, is union. that perfect mercabic state of oneness, of transcending time, space and this realm which we most often measure, record, believe in and partake of.
Everywhere were indications of the heavy hand of humankind upon the land, but in between the scars and mayhem there is a relatively natural cover that reminds us that we are just a tiny portion of the life that surrounds these lakes like a heavily trafficked carpet.Where we have played our hand, the threads seem to often be the most bare. Luckily, there are more and more people changing their ways and working with rather than against Mother Nature. Understanding the great gifts of this region allowed me to follow the graceful curve of Lake Superior as a revered guest, finding food a plenty, appropriate shelter and always enough relatively clean water.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Twenty-five Years Ago Today

Twenty-five years ago today, I turned an important corner, not only in my life, but into a geographic realm beyond my imagination. My physical body crossed from Wisconsin, where I had spent many years of my life, into Minnesota along the shore of Lake Superior. It was a moment that stands apart from time. This change of course, from heading pretty much due West, swinging North, by Northeast along the North Shore of The Greatest Lake, made me aware of my anonymity as well as my infinite spirit. Leading off into the distant future was a path that was both undeniably my own and intimately entwined with each and every other organism that lives, has lived and will ever live around these inland seas. I was barely a week into my Great Lakes Bicycle Tour, but my young body had already turned from a tentative young man into a stoic and experienced traveler. I was shedding pounds and lightening my panniers with each meal. As I entered the North, the scars of extraction were all around me. Heavily silted waterways, deforested areas that stretched for miles, heaps of acid mine waste and open pits that might never again support life were all around me. The mining and milling industries that built the great fortunes of city dwellers far far away had left scars so deep that after one hundred years, the ugliness of them remained, spread out across the landscape. Plainly visible for anyone to see, but understood by few, if any, of those who were speeding by on the highways at breakneck speed.

I had rested up for an extra day in Superior, Wisconsin enjoying some down time after pushing though the pain of hundred mile days. In that first week, I had experienced snow, sleet, rain and one crisp night that froze my tires to the ground so thoroughly that leaves, dirt and pine needles stuck to them and created a funny sound as they swished past the frame on each revolution. I was happy and sad, tired and energized, but the overarching goal of making my way around all five Great Lakes just got that much closer. I was as far away from home as I had ever been, yet I felt as one with the earth as ever as well. I could feel the Living Earth, cheering me on, the wind, finally, at my back and the freshening breeze bringing the warmth of spring to the region. As I passed the Viking ship in Duluth, I felt the presence of my ancestors, buoying my energy reserves and keeping me aware of the deeper meanings behind any pilgrimage. Losing one relationship between who we thought we were and who we may find ourselves to be is part and parcel of any voyage. Rather than crossing the great water as my viking ancestors had, I was circumnavigating them, finding my way with a series of maps that were more or less handed down to me from wizened old travelers and mapmakers of high repute. rather than seeing images of maps and having to infer what must be there, i was seeing what was actually out there and condensing that knowledge into the lines and color fields that I had in my pocket.

The ultimate shift in my course was to switch from thinking that I had power to change the course of history to wanting to change myself. the only thing I have absolute responsibility for and dominion over is, in fact, my own self. how that shakes out amongst my fellow humans is for them to determine and amongst their own lives they must take responsibility for their own part in making the world better as they see fit. My own ego had been trying to stay in charge, but as I was finding, powers beyond my comprehension were at work in my days, my nights and even those beautiful moments in-between the two. I began to feel a deep connection to the waters, the rock and the thin soils of the area, working my own special magic wherever I stopped to honor and respect what I would find there, what I took away from them and what I left behind. At this point, making my way up the shore toward the border with Canada, any demons that had led me to question my ability were vanquished, any doubts about my convictions evaporated and the truth of my own message, which I shared with others each and every time I stopped , stopped being just words, but a reflection of the voices of the trees, the water and the very wind which I was becoming one with. I seriously questioned whether I would be able to be clear about my mission, adept at bringing salient information to communities that I had not lived amongst for very long and if it would be possible to capture the imagination of those I would meet along the way. What I was beginning to find is that more often than not, my message was not only received, but shared and welcomed by both individuals and the news outlets that I provided with interviews. As I skirted the shoulder of the Canadian Shield, riding near the border between land and the lake, every turn revealed a more beautiful sight. Except for the areas that had been poisoned by mining, each cascade was more wonderful than the previous one, each tiny hamlet and locality was more picturesque. Each settlement was more focused on the values and approaches that we would one day call sustainable.

What I was seeing reflected in both the people and their passions was an undying commitment to one another that is exemplified in nature. Just as the tree falling in the woods feeds the soils that will provide a footing for another generation of trees, the falling of the great extractive economies of the past has given rise to a new way of life that respects the Earth, cares about water, and has learned some of the lessons of taking without giving back, grabbing the money and running and the responsibility we all have to one another. I was turning onto a new road, into a new culture and finding my true self, free of the limitations that I had placed upon myself.

Monday, April 2, 2012

April Fool's Day Twenty-five Years Ago

I was away from the keyboard on the first of April. My unfolding life had taken me into the heart of Superior Country. Twenty-five years earlier I had embarked on my bicycle ride around all five Great Lakes, it just felt right to be back along the shore of the greatest of lakes to celebrate the occasion. Even though I have helped to keep the ideas of conservation alive, the changes we have seen over the past quarter century have been quite a bit less than I had hoped for when I started out on my voyage intended to educate and increase awareness of issues that threaten the health of this ecosystem. Back in 1987, I was nearly two years into a course of study focused on The Great Lakes Ecosystem. My preparation for the trip began with physical geography, cultural geography and combined my own extensive knowledge of local pollution issues as well as those documented throughout the region by both the USEPA and Canadian Ministry of the Environment. Armed with insight into sustainability, conservation and the possibility of restoring balance to this troubled region, I felt confident that sharing my insight would ignite the passion of local residents around the lakes to usher in changes that are only now starting to be seen.
When I spoke to the issues associated with transportation twenty-five years ago, I would encourage folks to walk or ride bikes, use mass transit and demand more train availability. Oddly enough, the doubling of fuel costs since then has done more to reduce our driving than my encouragement seems to have done. The insights that I had about reducing energy use by retrofitting old housing stock and designing homes from the ground up to be more energy efficient is still just beginning to take hold. Another generation of vacuous multi-thousand square foot residences has been built, much of it sitting empty because of the housing crash, but forever in need of massive energy inputs if they ever do get used. The agricultural issues that confronted the region back in the late eighties have mushroomed and are in even more urgent need, although tiny steps in the right direction are taking place in pockets across two nations. Even the alternatives to household hazardous waste that I urged folks to adopt have languished, out-advertized by multi-national corporate interests.
On the bright side, the recent crash of the world economy has slowed the pace of destruction in some areas and a growing number of people world wide are beginning to re think the bigger is always better mantra that has led us down the halcyon path of technocracy. It is funny to see the yawning chasms of un-built homes, empty foundations dotting the suburban landscape, the "neighborhoods", some completer with unattended gate houses, ghost towns before their time. People are finally beginning to realize that to have their little house in the country, on five acres, would require several hundred dollars per month for commuting in addition to several thousand more in depreciation and insurance, tax, title and license on another car. Cities are regaining a bit of their former luster, if only for being affordable. You may have to throw in with "those people" but when you can eliminate a car or two from your budget, making ends meet gets infinitely easier.
The recent decline in carbon emissions from some of the more developed countries seems to be more a result of economic depression rather than any ecological awareness. My hope, and I am still extremely hopeful for the future is that as we learn to reevaluate the extreme costs of agricultural, industrial and real estate policy decisions, we will begin to make the changes that I had encouraged two and a half decades ago. It is never too late to change. The Learning Curve may seem steep at times, but the understanding of what has gone wrong is spreading like wildfire. Sure there are people who want things to return to pre-recession conditions, but larger and larger numbers of people are starting to understand that there is really no going back. Our future depends on rewarding smart decisions rather than stupid ones, true conservatism, not unbridled exploitation of resources. Corporate welfare and environmental callousness have come to an ungainly end. Sadly, too many of the rich and powerful just want one more fix of big money before they try to wean their desire for everything. The most heinous traits that the media projects onto addicts can be found in the wealthiest among us. Oddly, in them, we are led to want to make those traits our own. The ever-more popular legalized gambling houses are proof enough that we all want to dream of cash induced "happiness".
On my trip to the water's edge, I was able to carpool up and most of the way back. Technology now allows carpools to form faster than ever, reducing fuel use and wear and tear on our fleet of vehicles. spending time with others who share our commitment to saving Mother Earth any more disfigurement and trauma is leading to better decision-making, lower carbon footprints and increasing the possibility of charting a course to a more sustainable way of life. The local food movement has begun to make headway across the region with untold benefits from soil conservation to more efficient resource use. These decisions are not only helping the environment to heal, but is influencing our health positively as well. It has been a long time coming, but the principles and ethics that my trip sought to popularize are finally coming to pass. Sadly, the pain that has led us to tighten our belts, and the melt down of Fukushima are terrible results of the old way of doing business. Those who made beneficial changes twenty-five years ago are old hands at doing these things, but now, the majority are taking a second look at what tree huggers were doing to make ends meet a generation ago. The same things can work today, but we have to be willing to question the conventional wisdom that has been handed to us by those who would profit from our belief in them.