Life in the Balance

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“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
―    Albert Einstein

2013-01-16 14.58.35 (800x533)Our van driver and park guide Max took us on a hike through part of Villarrica National Park, and we spent a couple of hours swimming in a glacier fed lake.  Our discussions this week have been about the ecology, politics, and scarcity.  We had the opportunity to see a film the other night at Ecole through the generosity of a guest who is bringing a film festival to Pucon.  In the film, a kayaker follows the Colorado River from its source to its mouth, discovering all the water that is drained for human needs in neighboring states as far away as California.  His kayaking ends long before the mouth of the river, because in 1998, after 6 million years of continuous flow, the Colorado River no longer reached the Sea of Cortez.  We observe the nature that surrounds us with a new awareness now–an awareness that unless governments across the globe make the connections between human needs and the capacity of nature to recycle our wastes, our earth is in imminent danger of the greatest mass extinction of life in its history.


The Essential Learning for this Crucial Time

Picture 174 (800x533)“Were we to confront our creaturehood squarely, how would we propose to educate? The answer, I think is implied in the root of the word education, educe, which means “to draw out.” What needs to be drawn out is our affinity for life. That affinity needs opportunities to grow and flourish, it needs to be validated, it needs to be instructed and disciplined, and it needs to be harnessed to the goal of building humane and sustainable societies.  Education that builds on our affinity for life would lead to a kind of awakening of possibilities and potentials that lie dormant and unused in the industrial-utilitarian mind. Therefore the task of education, as Dave Forman stated, is to help us ‘open our souls to love this glorious, luxuriant, animated, planet.’ The go2013-01-08 12.38.37 (533x800)od news is that our own nature will help us in the process if we let it.”

David Orr

Today we continue the process of communicating in writing what the education we are receiving from this experience has taught us about ourselves and the communities in which we live.

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Into the Mountains

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“I gave my heart to the mountains the minute I stood beside this river with its spray in my face and watched it thunder into foam, smooth to green glass over sunken rocks, shatter to foam again.  I was fascinated by how it sped by and yet was always there; its roar shook both the earth and me.”

Wallace Stegner, American novelist, historian, and environmentalist

The roar was the river that we slept beside and the waterfall we climbed up to and down into during our two nights and three days at Corral del Agua.  Our host Rodrigo Sugg taught us about the origins of  peoples in America’s southern hemisphere, and we walked to a very small Mapuche town center to witness the progress that can be achieved when a community bands together to organize for sustainable development.

The thundering pulse at the base of this falls can only be described as breathtaking multiplied by a million!  It was at the intimidating and totally exhilarating at the same time.  The experience not only reinforced our prior lessons about the power of nature and the need to connect with that power, but helped us reflect upon the force that can build when individuals unite and push for change even in the face of seemingly overwhelming resistance.

Helping Build A School with Sustainable Construction

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Photos by Rhea Weinstein

“The environment is where we all meet, where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.  It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become.”   Lady Bird Johnson

After a day of rest and mind work, we were off to a construction site to engage in the physical labor of building a Waldorf School.  The project is a community inspired, parent initiative—a grassroots environmental project. The building design embodies all the best practices of sutstainable construction including hay bale walls and an earthen roof.  Our parent leader Jerry Laker gave us an overview of these building methods and quickly involved us in the down and dirty heavy lifting.  The project gave us a sense of our own capabilities and demonstrated how possible the impossible can be when a small community desires to make change happen—-the only way to move forward when government and society as a whole won’t.  These grassroots efforts may be our best hope for positive environmental impact.

A Day of Reflection and Writing

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“There is hope if people will begin to awaken the spiritual part of themselves, that heartfelt knowledge that we are the caretakers of this planet.”  Brooke Medicine Eagle

We are staying at Ecole, a cooperatively owned hostel founded by a group of environmentally minded individuals to provide a place to stay and eat in the heart of Pucon, Chile.  It is managed with sustainability in mind and often populated by people who are dedicated to environmental preservation.  It is the perfect place for our students to spend the day resting, reflecting, and writing on the experiences we have had so far in this adventure.

A Day in a Cani Sanctuary Forest

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This is the land where stars live

in this sky.  You can hear water

singing its dreams.

From beyond the clouds that surge

out of these waters and this soil

our ancestors are dreaming us.

Their spirit, it is said, is the full moon,

And the silence, their beating heart.

Elicura Chihuaiaf, Mapuche poet

Today we spent a beautiful  Chilean summer day hiking  in the Cani Sanctuary Forest with Rod Walker, the father of Chilean ecotourism and a wise and spiritual man. The forest is the home of the Araucaria tree as well as many incredible species of plants and animals.  The Araucaria are one of only a few species of plants that have survived on Earth for over 200 million years, predating the period of the dinosaurs. It holds onto its survival by a thread in only a tiny geographic area, surviving only through the efforts of private non-governmental organizations.  We talked about technology, philosophy, religion, science, and especially the ecological plight of mankind.  Rod has hope for human’s continual existence as a species and feels that we are only at the very beginning of our awareness of the universe.  Greater and greater cosmic understanding awaits us in our evolution if we can avoid destroying our environment.  His fear is that our awareness of our potential for understanding may only come when we reach the precipice our excesses.

Sustainability Work

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Clare and Alexi introduced us to the concept of a perma culture, designing food production to imitate how nature functions—using less energy in production than is contained in the products produced and eliminating use of substances that are not renewable.  At the heart of perma culture is sustainability. Forest gardening is an example of a new way of producing products.  It is a vertical rather than a horizonal productions method. Instead of clearing all trees to create production, the trees become one of the vertical layers of growth, creating shade for other crops at lower levels including root and surface crops.  Wood or fruit from the trees becomes part of the harvest.  An ecology of multiple plants and wildlife can be sustained in this diverse ecosystem.

Today we also worked in a terraced garden of multiple crops, continued installing a solar hot water unit, mixed and used paints made from natural product, finished and painted adobe walls, and lanscaped for natural drainage—practical endeavors of sustainability.

A Visit to the Mapuche Community

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“The Sun shines not on us but in us.  The Rivers flow not past, but through us.” John Muir, Author and Conservationist

Today we were privileged to have Hector Cuiqueo Melivilu introduce us to the philosphy, life and traditions of the Mapuche people. Hector walked us through forests and taught us about medicinal plants. We heard Mapuche intruments and music, visited a Mapuche hospital with him, and he shared  Mapuche food in a ruka house.  Most of all, Hector opened us up to a different way of thinking about ourselves in relation to the natural world and the forces flowing into us and out of us– a philosphy that sees no separation between nature and human beings.  In conversation with him, we explored how this perspective can be useful in uniting communities to work in consort with natural forces for healing purposes and a more enlightened way of dealing with destructive forces.

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“Today’s problems cannot be solved if we still think the way we thought when we created them.”  Albert Einstein

We spent today with Claire, Alexi, Jerry, and Nacho, amazing people who have dedicated their lives to thinking and acting in ways that move us to see ourselves of part of the web of life on earth instead of separate and dominate.  We participated in work involving the building of a sustainable life— installing a solar hot water system, building with adobe we mixed from local materials,  gardening organically, landscaping harmony with earth’s natural forces.  In the evening wrap up session, all agreed with Laurence when he said that while striving to achieve a sustainable life was hard, the process created a deep satisfaction within that he had never felt before.

A Day of Experiential Learning at KodKod

Sustainable Building at KodKod


The Age of the Earth

Adapted from Greenpeace, 1984

Students exploring

Planet Earth is 4,600 million years old. To convert this inconceivable length of time into a concept easier for our minds to handle, let’s imagine the earth to be a person 46 years of age. (Each year of this person’s life would represent 100 million years.)

We know nothing at all of the first 7 years of this lifetime, and have only very scanty information until the age of 42, when green plants began to spread across the earth. Dinosaurs and the great reptiles appeared only two years ago, when earth was 44.

We mammals arrived in the scene only eight months ago. It was middle of last week when simians resembling humans evolved into humans resembling simians. The last ‘Ice Age’ to envelop the earth took place – last weekend!

We, so called ‘modern’ human beings, have been around a mere four hours. During the last hour of those four hours, we discovered agriculture. Our famous Industrial Revolution began just one minute ago!

In these last 60 seconds of biological time, we have converted paradise into a garbage dump. We have caused the extinction of hundreds of species of animals and plants, pillaging the planet in our search for fuels, and now stand proudly admiring our rapid and spectacular ascent into ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’ … when in reality we are teetering on the brink of the last great mass extinction, and the destruction of this oasis of life in the solar system.

We begin our study of human ecology by assessing our individual personal relationships with ecosystems, both the positive and negative aspects of those connections. We are meeting in a place called KodKod, a private enterprise that strives to connect its business to ecological education and sustainability. We will work on sustainable construction projects and learn from designers of projects that draw awareness of the ecological footprints of human development.