The Local UP-Side of the Global DOWN-Turn

grew up on thirteen acres of rural hillside five miles from the
one-store, one-school town of Lookingglass, Oregon, where my parents
raised me and my four siblings to always try to see the flecks of good
in the bad, the stars between clouds in the night sky.

father pointed out that even maggots writhing inside the carcass of a
stillborn lamb were doing important work in the cycle of life, and he
said the bats living in a crevice near our chimney were benevolent
creatures that erupted in a fluttering cloud at dusk to keep the
mosquito population in check.

mother would sometimes pause in the midst of her non-stop maternal
motion of rearing five children to point out the fact that there is
always some small helping of good to be found in the bad. She once
pulled the family station wagon over on the way to Good Friday
confession to marvel out the windshield at the silvery edges on dark
storm clouds that were backlit by the sun, and how the silver was like
Easter morning and the dark like that day - Good Friday. I still recall
that roadside moment when I hear the term "silver lining." Another
time, our mother ushered us all outside into the pasture on an icy
March morning so we could witness the power (and faith) that yellow and
purple crocuses had to push up out of frost-crusted mud toward the weak
light. And when the creek that drained our property overflowed its
banks one winter and carried away dead animals, plastic toys, and two
brothers who lived upstream and had fallen in one trying to save the
other, our mother made sure we all saw the fertile silt the floodwaters
left behind in the low spots along the banks.

these memories help ground me as I watch financial markets
disintegrate, global warming accelerate, and workers from cubicle farms
to sawmills receive pink slips then queue up at unemployment offices.
It is thanks to my mother that I can't help but try to see the upside
of this downturn, as she would no doubt be doing if she were still

believe there will be many small, good things that come out of the
financial realignment and the environmental crises that, in the end--if
we as a human race have the courage to make some fundamental changes in
time--might well add up enough to usher in a new era: one based more on
community, conversation, and compassion than on consumerism,
capitalism, and high-flying careers.

the downturn will be downright difficult for many of us, perhaps we can
focus on the small goodnesses that will bloom out of these hard times,
some of which are already budding. Here are a few where I find hope:

  • Borrowing Eggs:
    As oil prices begin climbing back up, we are turning to our neighbors
    instead of our automobiles when we're short an egg or cup of flour for
    a recipe. There's nothing that builds community quite like the
    old-fashioned knocking on a neighbor's door to borrow a cup of sugar or
    a stick of butter, or a simple egg. And when the bread or pie is baked,
    we might return the favor in the form of a warm slice, perhaps
    delivered by a child.
  • Peddling Proudly:
    We are bicycling more, which pushes blood to our cheeks, slows the pace
    of our lives, and puts us more in touch with the elements of the
    natural world. Look no farther than China to see how the simple, but
    super-efficient bicycle moves masses for next-to-nil. And think of all
    the bicycle mechanics we'll employ!
  • Growing Good Food:
    Front yards, porches, school grounds, and vacant lots are becoming
    vegetable gardens where we're growing food in pots or on plots the way
    our grandparents did. At community gardens, we're sharing the weeding
    as well as the bounty, relieved our children are learning how to grow food before the whole concept is forgotten by a generation reared on buying
    it sealed beneath plastic wrap at air-conditioned supermarkets. To wash
    soil from a freshly-pulled carrot and see that brilliant orange, and
    then taste the sweet crunch, ranks right up there with miracles in my
    mind. Every child must experience this.
  • Clothesline Confidential:
    The simple clothesline is making a bold comeback, with backyards,
    balconies, and apartment-building rooftops erupting with the bright,
    billowing colors of clothes drying in the breeze--consuming only energy
    supplied by that fireball, the sun. Clothespin factories will soon
    employ laid-off millworkers.
  • Walking Widely: We are utilizing the twin lower appendages of our homo erectus
    nature to ambulate more often to more places, seeing and hearing and
    smelling things impossible to sense from the windshield-walled
    interiors of contraptions powered by the infernal combustion engine.
  • Keeping Coops:
    We're keeping chickens in backyards where these feathered friends lay
    eggs with yolks the color of the sun, fertilize their environs, keep
    pests in check, and eventually become soup for our souls. We are once
    more waking to the crowing of roosters and the cackling of hens, and
    our children are learning that meat doesn't grow on those Styrofoam
    trays, and eggs aren't laid inside cartons in two neat rows of twelve
    at a time.
  • Taking Transit:
    We have more time for reading and conversation as we ride trains,
    busses, and boats to our more far-flung destinations. We're mingling at
    train stations and bus depots, those ageless gathering places that have
    been overlooked for far too long. Who knows if airports will even be in
    the picture.
  • Community Canning:
    We're learning to put food by again, canning fruits and vegetables
    inside clear quart jars we line up in steamy kitchens where friends,
    family, and neighbors gather to participate in this ritual of community
    and survival. When we open those jelly jars of blackberry jam in the
    watery light of late-January, we'll ingest the warmth and sweetness and
    sunshine of summer, our lips a happy shade of purple. And what lovely
    gifts homemade preserves make for neighbors.
  • Live-in In Laws:
    As housing markets continue to tighten, we're opening our homes to
    extended family members, the way everyone once lived. Grandma Grace or
    an Aunt Emma are providing childcare, Uncle Joe, an unemployed sous
    chef, is taking care of the cooking and cleaning, Grandpa George is
    teaching life lessons by telling stories or taking the kids fishing
    when mom and dad need some time alone to reconnect and tend their love.
    In our fast-paced society of soccer moms, drop-off daycare centers, and
    family dinners that have become rare, the live-in extended family is
    long overdue for a comeback. This arrangement will also reduce
    healthcare costs, because living in community is powerful medicine that
    prevents dis-ease.
  • Making Music Live:
    We are gathering more often with our instruments and voices to make
    music together, in living rooms and parks, instead of only listening to
    electronic forms downloaded and pumped via earbuds directly into our
    brains. We're attending local concerts that cost just a few bucks,
    instead of traveling miles to mega-concerts that cost loads of cash
    (thanks in part to those pesky transaction fees). Until recently,
    homemade music had been a part of every civilization since forever--from
    caves, longhouses, and mud huts, to the pioneers moving westward. What
    have we lost along with our live, local music?
  • Shopping Mom-and-Pop:
    Corner groceries are making a comeback, along with the local hardware
    store and the neighborhood pub, all of them located within walking
    distance, while those sprawling malls and big box stores in the suburbs
    silently fade out of fashion, morphing instead into gymnasiums for
    pick-up basketball games, community colleges, local concert venues or
    indoor skate parks.
  • For-the-fun-of-it Labor:
    We're relearning the value of volunteering, because that's sometimes
    the only way to accomplish certain things as pink slips proliferate
    making regular paychecks rare. Working together - for no reward other
    than sweat, a sense of community, and the fruits of our communal labor
    - we will survive, and probably be happier.
  • Barefoot Baseball:
    Instead of driving our children all over the region to compete in
    high-end sports leagues, we're returning to playing ball in our local
    neighborhood lots and playgrounds, where young and old gather to cheer
    the local team members, some of whom might play barefooted, but
    grinning. Fans are bringing beer brewed in basements, veggies grown in
    backyards, and home-baked goodies (containing borrowed eggs) and to
    share on blankets in the shade.

The list could go on and on. And in the end it all adds up to become a way of life that we've lost touch with.

might call me a dreamer, a sentimental soul who's longing for the old
days when my mother pointed out those persistent yellow crocuses nosing
out of mud and my father used a dead lamb to teach his children about

But during tough times, like those we all
now face, I believe it is vital to dream, to see the bright flecks in
the darkness, to feel the potential contained in the tiniest of
seeds...and then to get to work. Hard work. Now.

it is during our darkest hours that the best of the human spirit
surfaces. I hold onto a tentative hope that our human community will
have the courage, vision, and compassion to radically change our
ways--soon: reduce our footprint on this Planet, turn back to community,
and do simple, good things for one another.

let's get started: Put up a clothesline. Knock on a neighbor's door and
ask for an egg. Ride your bicycle. Bake bread. Stick together. Play
catch, in the rain.

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