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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Opening Our Resort

It is funny how occasionally, the things that we need the most are right before our eyes. It is even more interesting that the experiences leading us to that place and time do not allow us to see them. When I learned that dandelions are good for the liver, I had been living under a toxic cloud for nearly a decade. It did not change the healing properties of the plant that I was unaware, but it did change the way I lived amongst the environment forever. I have studied herbal healing and medicinal plants for decades, but I am still learning specific attributes that are important in members of the plant kingdom that I have either not paid close attention to, forgotten, just never needed, or did not know that I, or people I have helped could benefit from before. Research into most fields often reveal that the more we learn, the more there is to learn. Perhaps it should not be surprising then, that the answers we seek are often right before our eyes. One of the quirks of our perception is that we are blind to most of what surrounds us. In my Theories of Aesthetic Perception  class, one of the points that is important is that we are constantly sorting, sifting and winnowing the reality that we confront, as much for self-preservation as anything. There is no way to take in the totality of experience, so we dump 99.9% of what our senses provide to us in the dust bin of ignorance. We cling desperately to the things we deem important and the rest is just chaff, left wherever it has fallen.

We, my wife Nancy and I, purchased a rental property across the street from our home a decade ago. It is currently being transformed. We are remodeling and furnishing the two apartments, making space for an Air B&B. Our experiences have allowed us to envision the B&B concept with a few valuable twists. One place that we like to stay calls itself a B no B, a bit more like a motel for people who can make their own breakfast or find their own way in the world. Those who want to keep to themselves, or who have special dietary needs, find that this sort of place is perfect. As hosts, we can be across the street and out of guest's hair during their stay. However, if our desired, we can provide many extras as needed or by request. We offer those who stay with us ECO-Tours, equipment rentals and guide services. Even if all that is desired is a campfire to sit around in the evening, we can arrange for that as well. In the past, our perceptions were limited by prior experiences, but now we are looking more closely at what exists right across the street from where we live.

Perhaps the history of the place, or our own experiences limited what we could see as possible there, but that is not unusual. The constraints on what we can see are never visible, until they are shattered. We purchased the property with one thing in the forefront of our minds, it sounds funny now, but the people living there were terrible neighbors and we wanted them to be gone. We had the eviction notice drawn up ahead of time so that after closing on the property, we could deliver it immediately. It may be the first time in history that a person getting evicted was happy to have to leave. The woman who was renting there actually hugged me for kicking her out!

Of the three adults who had signed the lease, only one remained. This older lady told me that the other two were in prison. The families of those two, plus a friend of the older woman had decided to make that place the home base of their activities and a permanent place to crash or drop off their children whenever they needed a break from them or were in town. I guess that officially, it wasn't considered a child care center, because most of the children were related, but to the neighbors, seeing six to ten children running around at any one time made us wonder. This was not, however the problem. What was bad were the dozen police calls to the property every few moons. Waking up in the middle of the night to one hassle or another and having to hear the ugly details of lives out of balance was too much for Nancy and I to bear.

The details of owning a rental property were far from our minds when we bought the place. The thought of gaining peace of mind pushed out all other perceptions, so we bought it. Since then, there has only been one long-term tenant in the lower and perhaps half a dozen renters upstairs. One by one, each of the neighbors has gone out of the way to thank us for buying the property and for that we feel pretty happy, but our perceptions being limited had led us to only see the place in a certain way. Within the past couple years we started hearing about home share programs, couch surfing websites and air B&B. Some of our friends and family have traveled using these online resources and had a great time of it, many staying in other folks spare bedrooms or coming and going from entire homes left vacant by their owners. Then, we found out that one of our friends opens her home to guests nearby and we had a few long talks with her about what she was doing through Air B&B. She loves it and by reading her reviews on the website, her guests do too!

We are currently working feverishly to ready the upper apartment for our first guest, who will be arriving in the coming week. Onsite we already have dozens of edible landscape plants at least the same number of healing herbs and garden beds that are managed with an eye toward permaculture and sustainability. We are adjacent to over 160 acres that will never be developed and directly across the street from the property is the East River which is a great place to canoe. There is also a walking trail/parkway along the river bank for recreation. As many things in nature show, great things often grow from tiny beginnings. ECO-Tours has organically grown from a group of three into a network of folks who can plant hundreds of trees in a single day. There is no reason to believe that our modest beginnings with space for four guests could grow into a Summer Camp/Resort that can accommodate hundreds of ECO-Tourists. The greatest oaks start from a single acorn.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Autumnal Equinox 2014

Life seeks balance and what better time to speak of it than around the Equinox. This time, more than any other hangs in between High Sun and Low Sun. Many of us who live in temperate climates enjoy the Spring and Fall seasons best of all. Not too hot and not too cold as Goldilocks would say. This year, the balance is being perturbed in several ways. I prefer not to get too topical in this blog, focusing instead on the natural world and all it has to teach us, but the times have changed drastically enough that it seems imperative to focus on events that have been in the news, or possibly some that have not, because our future quality of life hangs in the balance as well. Unlike the changing of the seasons, which come around in a regular cycle, we are pushing the limits of rational behavior and disrupting the very fabric of our lives, often without even knowing it.

This Equinox was marked by over four hundred thousand individuals protesting ecological insanity in New York City. Climate change protesters, kudos to them, brought home the fact that changes in the way we do business, procure our energy and meet the needs of human populations around the world need to change. In fact, the next day, many of the same people walked down to Wall Street and continued to protest against the corporate elite who have stacked the deck against sanity.

 In Pennsylvania, where tens of thousands are being subjected to living in a police state, there is an ongoing manhunt for a cop killer survivalist. Massive resources are being brought to bear, all for one guy. This is the state that brought fracking into the news because of the flaming tap water and the intransigence of the corporados, who still refuse to release the list of toxic chemicals that they are pumping deep into the Earth. It seems that we are so inundated with distraction techniques that one can no longer tell if a cop killer is even a threat, while the police defend those who would poison our water. No expense is being spared, they say, but a simple fly over with an infra-red camera would find their quarry in short order. We had an armed gunman kill some people at the Upper Michigan - Wisconsin border a few years ago and the perpetrator was in custody within a few hours. hiding your body heat signature is not easy. The days are turning to weeks and schools remain closed, roadblocks are still in place and the local volunteer fire department has become both communications center and drop off point for snacks, sandwiches, drinks and cookies. Friends living in that area are convinced that the police are doing their best at finding the individual. I am not convinced.

In the high plains, the fracking nightmare has mushroomed beyond comprehension, even satellite imagery sees the transformation lighting up the night sky. Parts of Texas are the same way, riddled with roads, shoulder to shoulder drill pads and nothing to show for it but tax breaks, subsidized oil and natural gas and waste. conservation is so much cheaper! This nightmare continues north across the border in Canada, where oil shale "development" has and continues to defile one of the last great open spaces on the continent. Shit gets in the water, no one takes responsibility. Toxic waste ruins watershed after watershed and no one seems to be at fault. In the minds of the exploiters, we are the ones to blame...we keep pumping the gasoline into our vehicles.

The oceanic gyrae continue to be flooded with plastic that has slipped mindlessly beyond our ability to control. a friend was telling me the other day that, "Organisms now exist that can eat plastic." but he was dumbfounded when I explained that they are not eating it in any real sense. The food they consume is attached to plastic and therefore it is becoming integrated in the food chain. This cannot be mistaken for "eating" plastic, or using it for nutrition. I can swallow plastic as well, but it will not ever become part of a nutritious diet. In the final analysis, plastic is a non-food product. Children have swallowed marbles since they were invented, but it can't make them food. Just because plastic becomes trapped inside your body certainly can't make it food.

Across the sea, in Syria, we are blowing things to smithereens again, hesitating to call it war. If anyone tried doing the same thing to out oil wells or financial institutions I think it would be called war. Even the women and children that have perished in just the first two nights of bombing have been referred to as, "Children and spouses of insurgents." how this makes their human rights any less important than out own, I will never know. Examining the list of countries that support us in our bombing missions reads like a who's who of nations that summarily deny civil rights to their people. If these are the kinds of "friends" we count among the league of nations, then I don't want to be part of this any more. Not in my name! The Saudi's after all provided refuge to those who supposedly brought down the world Trade Center on 9-11. Israel just killed many thousands of their neighbors, guaranteeing the need for an even larger military in the future. What is often forgotten by the hawks who  design these actions is that every innocent killed becomes a martyr, with generations of hate that will be directed at you for your arbitrary attacks. No healing ever occurred, and nothing positive has ever been created by the firing of a single rocket or the dropping of a single bomb.

The balance to all of these events and activities is that more and more people are learning to live on less. Greater and greater numbers each day are coming to realize the fallacy of business as usual. Each and every opportunity to share our sanity, our ideas and our commitment to change must be taken. Healing a world so full of sick ideas may seem daunting, but we have one another and the facts are on the side of right, not might. Love is the foil to all of this hate. I speak out at this time because of my own beliefs that our species is worth saving. There is no planet "B".


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Developing an Ecology of Mind

It has been said that worry is like paying rent for a place you may never live. Worry saps energy that is essential in transforming the world around us. There are many things that we cannot change. These things must be accepted. Wasting our energy worrying about them only takes us out of a position of power within the universe. There are many thought processes that drain away our life force and especially at this time we cannot afford to squander our energies on things we cannot change and that may never occur. The word power is often confused because of the ways our culture has distorted it, but power in and of itself is not bad, what corrupts power is the attempt to wield it over other beings. Fortunately there are also many things that we do have the power to change that need to be done differently, done better, or in some cases not done at all. Finding appropriate vehicles of our energies, tasks that will make the biggest positive change with the least effort, is necessary if we are to keep in touch with our own sacred body, mind and spirit. As we begin the process of growing into a more benign species that can co-exist with nature, we must learn to think and act like the beings that have live here without destabilizing the climate, poisoning the lakes and rivers, or contaminating the air which we all depend on for survival.

There are plenty of new age philosophies that tout the theory that we can think our way to a better life, but I am deeply suspicious of many of them. I think that I am a successful and wealthy person every day. I visualize myself as a person with nothing but leisure and a secure future, but at this point in my life, My retirement savings will be depleted within a few moons of whenever I stop working. I have not yet gotten to the point where I can afford to say no to opportunities to make money and I do have relatively good health, but my wealth is of friends, relationships and ideas, all things that are undervalued in the marketplace. I visualize myself having the freedom to move about the planet, develop new relationships and influence greater numbers of people by sharing what I have learned, but the fact remains that I am a wage slave that has very limited funds with which to pursue these avenues. What has been much more profitable for me has been to reduce the waste of energy that worry would sap from my life.

In the study of ecology, the most striking feature that one will never see is waste. Each and every thing in nature is providing food, home or breeding ground for some other trophic level. Humans have a knack for not understanding this. It can be difficult for some to step out of their limited perspective, but waste, as we know it, is non-existent in nature. Having the good sense and discipline necessary to reign in our minds and their rampant waste of energy is essential to a healthy ecology of mind. The big money capitalizes on our fears and worries, but that is another thing we do not see inherent in nature, money.

Here at ECO-Tours of Wisconsin, we put all of our income into trees, dirt to plant them in or materials necessary for their protection. With this focus, we have reduced our waste and increased our survival rate for the trees that we do plant. Like an organism, we have grown larger, but remained committed to increasing our efficiency as well. The organic growth that we have experienced has allowed us to keep up with the changes that a growing organization faces, without losing focus or momentum. In the earliest days, we were able to plant a few hundred trees each year and now that many of them are tall enough to dwarf the homes that they were planted near, they are also providing a source of seed for future generations of trees. The exponential growth of a single tree mirrors the exponential growth of our reforestation efforts. This year, we have had a bunch of trees donated by other folks who specialize in starting trees from seed, so their efforts have joined with ours to create synergy. another aspect of the natural world that is clear to those who study the environment. Symbiotic relationships, in which both parties benefit from a relationship, are common in nature and as we mimic natural systems, we can benefit from these relationships as well.

By calming our minds, we unleash immense power that has been wasted trying to fit in, trying to play nice, trying to act appropriately. In nature none of these concepts exist. In the natural world, every organism just is. It seems that every being on the planet is content with being themselves. Learning to be true to our nature is perhaps the hardest thing we humans have to learn to do. In many cases, humans have been lying to themselves for so long about who they are, that the calm of being true to our own spirit, calming our own minds and healing our bodies seems an impossible task. Here at ECO-Tours we teach by example what massive change can occur if we just do a little digging, learn about our place in the natural systems that surround us and act in ways that efficiently express our unity with the planet.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Summer Camp For Adults

My dream is to create a living school. One that uses sustainability as not only our lessons, but as a way of life, integrating our guests and students in the living fabric of life. To this end, we will have classes on natural herbs, healing and cultivation of biomes that support a range of biota. As much as the retreat center will continue to be about learning, it will also be designed to be fun. Just as most summer camps, we will have group meals, then break up into sessions focusing on a variety of arts and crafts, woodworking, gardening, the science of ecology and several other areas. My plan is to enlist other teachers as needed to assist in providing a wide variety of lessons that coincide with the aims of reaching all of our guests with an ethos of conservation, efficiency and trust.

Nature, unlike the brutally harsh force that we have been told it is, is here to sustain and support us, just like all of the other creatures. Where problems begin is when we start to take without giving back. Imagine coming for a week-long intensive and being able to learn how become a successful gardener. Perhaps learn how to keep bees, or to run a home aquaponics system. we will have introduction to home power classes, advanced solar thermal classes and window quilt making studios. If you have troubles with urban composting, we can teach tricks on how to close the loop on organic wastes, etc. All of our classes as well as our fun and games will be focused on conservation of natural resources and sustainably enjoying the world around us.

Some of our past students are still creating ecologically sustainable systems around the country. Like dandelion seeds carried on the winds, they have spread the work far and wide. In the learning environment that we create, the skills and insights of all of our participants can be brought to bear on what seems to be an insurmountable problem. Keeping motivated in the face of very difficult challenges will be a large part of what we do, but the daily practices of thrift and conscientious use of what can be found in the immediate environment will be the "meat and potatoes" of our programs. Leadership training will also be an important and integral part of our program as well, since most of us live amongst others, knowing how to encourage them to adopt sustainable practices is important to our sucess in transforming the world around us.

Since adults usually come with extra entanglements, we offer a range of programs that can accommodate families, even extended ones. We finally have available guest rooms for up to four guests with relative privacy. They can be seen at this link. If you just want to come and stay with us, that is fine, but if you would like specialized tours, let us know and we can develop a special ECO-Tour that meets your specific needs. We have canoes, bikes, cross country skis and snowshoes in addition to all of our tree planting equipment.

In any living system, there are chores that must be done, but each chore that we have is part of the larger experience. You may have to take out the compost for example, but you will be treated to garden fresh veggies that come from the earth right beside the compost bin. You may need to take a turn watering the plants in the greenhouse, but you might see them again when you eat your sandwich at lunch. One of the greatest benefits of living sustainably is that the myth of increased leisure begins to unravel. The lines between work and play begin to dissolve and more life seems to take place even during the times that we are actively making our living. This is hard to describe adequately, but becomes evident to ECO-Tourists as they have their experiences unfold.

It came to me yesterday as I taught some neighborhood children about herbs that were growing right in their front yard. We do not need a faraway retreat center and the massive cost of large acreage. where we are right now is perfect for right now. We can grow into the full flower of a larger acreage when we get bigger. Right now, we must do what we can with what we have and grow into the bigger facility when we have more guests. Using what surrounds us and appears to us in abundance is the logical and natural way. The urban center that we live in may seem impossible to re-green, but the years of tree planting that we have done has already transformed the immediate area. The hundreds of thousands of tree seeds that we have picked off the sidewalks and yards have been brought to the headwaters and are beginning their lives as either food for rodents and deer or (if they are really lucky) as sentinels of hope.

Teaching a half dozen children about food growing in their yard turned my eyes to see different things in what surrounds me! Learning how others see the world around them can often be the bridge that allows knowledge to pass between us. Learning to live this way is a two way street. The best teachers realize that our work is not top down, but rather the insights of our students often provide the richest rewards. Students eyes have seen the world in unique ways and their truth and understandings can often lead teachers to understand the world around us better as well.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Aim A Little Higher

In many areas of our lives, things are on the decline, much of what I put down in words has been known a long time, but only recently has it been admitted to by the popular press. home prices are down, interest rates are down, hiring is down and jobs are down, but when we shoot down slope, we have to raise our sights and aim high. We can have Montessori quality education for everyone for far cheaper than what we spend on gizmos and doo-dads that have not been proven over any length of time. I have been recently studying the time continuum as it relates to "human" history. After the Ice Age, was a mere ten thousand years ago, five hundred generations. Since Homo sapiens first appeared, about 8 thousand generations ago, only a few technologies are still in use today. Many are as simple as bowls and pots, but those have been proven over millennea. Nuclear energy and weaponry, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imagery) radio-frequency exposure, sub-sonic exposures to noise, etc. are all very well understood, but the money to be made on each is so great that logic and science lose out to economic expediency.

This is the slow decrepit end that humanity seems to be headed, so aim high. Eat your sea vegetables, everyday and particularly from parts of the world that are less contaminated with nuclear materials. The massive releases that are now being admitted by the Tepco officials are staggering. What we have known all along is unfolding like a new fractal of 1% class war abuses. Again, collectively, we need to make sure that the money extracted from us for energy is going into the greenest mix possible. Biogas has the valuable by-product of charcoal which can be used for water filtration, providing safe water for millions and is also useful as an agricultural soil amendment of unsurpassed quality. Biochar containing soil is more able to hold moisture, and resist leaching of nutrients better than soils amended with any other material.

The reason that you have never heard of biochar, is because the information, technology (proven over again millennea) is open source, relatively easy to build and corporate welfare frauds can't make money on them. In fact, what they call, syn-gen facilities (for their Synergistic production of energy and a valuable resource) could bankrupt the energy giants in short order if the public demanded and invested in education about this single topic.

ECO-Tours will be hosting another biochar making event in the next week or so. If you would like to attend and can be in Green Bay, Wisconsin 9-9-2014. covered will be topics that include, but are not limited to production of char, history, technique, current trends, innoculation of char, grinding and application. Energy, moisture and carbon sequestration are just three of the massive benefits of using biochar. Understanding why the biochar revolution is so critical at this time is not difficult I urge everyone to add a few pounds to your favorite garden bad and watch in amazement at increased yields and added vigor of your plants. Event participants will be gifted one pound of char as inspiration for holding future events.

Our retort and presentation on all of the topics listed above are available for your event or personal curiosity. Presentation lasts a full five hours so some sort of food and wash up facilities need to exist where the presentation is to be held. In addition to travel expenses, a donation of  $365, which is the number of trees that it takes to reforest an acre. In ECO-Tours dollars, it costs us about ten dollars per tree to procure, plant and protect each of our seedlings, so for your donation you will also be reforesting 1/10th of an acre.

When we aim a little higher, two things happen. Gravity pulls the trajectory of our shot and the aim is true. The gravity of our current situation is strong, so aim particularly high for best results. When I bought my car ten years ago, I did not fully understand what a boost it would be for my lifestyle to reduce my fuel consumption be over one thousand dollars each year. Try getting your boss to agree to a raise like that and see how it goes.
This beautiful scene will be re-created in just a few short moons and even a few shorter weeks! Sunset, Winter solstice 2012.
 Sorry for this aside into my personal life, but Woo hoo! I just got a two day carpool that will save four gallons of fuel times two trips! I am elated!
When we embark on our first ECO-tour, whether it be to explore voluntary simplicity, or to investigate how much plastic you can keep out of your life, if it is a trip out to plant a native tree somewhere in the watershed above where you live, or to visit a local grower who provides your food, each step is a new beginning, like a hoop cast to the wind, carving out a bubble of understanding. Each new experience, whether you do your ECO-Tours once a year or every month have the same carving out ritual associated with them, we carve into a vast ocean of experience, like surfers on a swell, but those bubbles sometimes collide and overlap allowing us to see inside ourselves an integral piece of nature. Learning about the intricate and intimate features of our environment let us see in ourselves the same traits and habits of nature, our water cycles, our energy cycles and there are even ECO-Tours that we can take together that explore your inner ecology.

These ECO-Tours regard nutrition and healing. It is our birthright to know what native plants can heal us. This technology has rested on over seven centuries of practice, but again, no one can get rich teaching people how to learn to live with nature. It seems that we have so thoroughly estranged ourselves from Mother Earth that to treat her with loving respect seems "too simple" or perhaps "just words", as if something more is necessary or desirable. We know that the best things in life are free, yet we expect to pay big money to be cured of our ills. What we need most for our healing is growing right under our feet! Don't look whilst aiming however, just know that the earth is here to catch you if you should fall back upon her after the shot rings out.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Building A Forest

One of the most rewarding things that I have found is to look back after twenty or thirty years and see a maturing tree where there had been no soil to speak of a few decades ago. One of the most difficult tasks is to reestablish harmony and balance in an ecosystem that had been systematically tortured for decades, but it can be done. The trees are capable of giving the outward appearance of normalcy, but only if they have the essential ingredients that help them to thrive. Sick trees don't cut it. If they are in the proper type of habitat that would normally allow them to flourish, but they are still unhealthy or dying, it just means that the land was too played out to support them. I have seen many hundreds of trees die for no other reason than that they were the only thing available to be eaten. The great void that we have created where nature used to exist has created, in some areas, a drastic lack of viable habitat for both plants and animals. Sometimes the best first act is to build life in the soils, protect it from the sun and then add the trees.

Our organization has put thousands of trees in the soil in a day, only to have the weather take half and wildlife to eat the other half. We have seen dry spells so hot that even weekly watering could not save our seedlings. We have even protected trees for several years only to have the landowner mow them down with impunity. In spite of all these set backs, we continue to plant. Hundreds of thousands of seedlings have made it to heights that make it difficult for critters to stunt them. Thousands of them have reached heights that dwarf humans and thousands more dwarf houses. We honor and respect the fact that it is not possible to build a forest, forests require the participation of the wildlife that they attract, forests need all the players within them to be healthy and only naturally functioning cycles of energy, water and nutrients are required to truly make a forest. We continue to build the soil and plant more trees, but in reality, all of our work is like building and dressing a set in the theater and dressing the talent. Only the living players can bring the story of a forest to life. 

One of my favorite experiences is when forest life comes out to visit the planting site. Birds are usually the happiest to see the new trees and often, before we pack up our shovels, there are birds resting their wings and perching on their newest neighbors. The real soil building begins when they prepare for flight and leave behind their nutrient dense extra weight. I have returned to planting sites and roused a variety of creatures that were just enjoying the shade, or hunting amongst the seedlings. The rewards are not just for me, the whole cast of characters that normally enjoy the woods are an active part of the restoration process. I have often let my mind wander into the future, imagining how rewarding it will be when the successful trees fall, after a life well-lived, age or a particularly wicked storm will finally catch up with them. In a sense, my job will be complete, because the primary decomposers will have a place to begin the life cycle again, taking up residence in the fallen logs that began with a prayer, my two hands and a sip of cool clear water.

It is hard to fit the depth and quality of love that I feel into mere words, but trees, especially the native species are my life. I know the life cycle of the birch as if it were my own. I know the medicines that come from the sap, catkins and leaves. I know and have utilized most of the dozen or so uses of elderberry, of oak, cedar and pine. I have tried to hone my senses to feel each unique site, understand the moisture content of the soil, feel the slope and understand where the sun will come up in each of the four seasons, to help make good decisions on placement, so the tiny sprigs and smaller potted plantings that we make have the best chance possible. It seems that the Fall rains have come early this year, so this fall planting season looks like it will be longer than normal.

We are always looking for help in purchasing trees. If you can afford to spend a bit on recovering the denuded parts of the planet, helping us to purchase more trees, we have volunteers and the will to get them in the ground. Acorn harvest is coming into full swing and walnuts, as usual, are spreading their seed. The elderberries are also putting out their fruits and are giving us their seed as usual. We are on track to plant another million or so elderberry seeds again this year, pioneer species that help set the stage for future growth. To put our efforts (and their cost) into perspective, it costs about ten dollars per tree to get them from the nursery to the field, protect them and occasionally weed around them. All of our labor and administrative activities are provided by volunteers. The only things that we pay for that are not trees are tools for planting and enhancing the soils, soil for potting up trees that we hold in our nursery and protection for the newly planted trees.