I will explain to you how being cut off from the natural world can cause depression.
Isabel Behncke in Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—And the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari

I took a trip to East Africa for 18 days of wildlife photography in Kenya and Tanzania. The animals were excited, spirited, and expressive — they ran, jumped, hunted, and played. A pride of lazy lions slept and sunned themselves while mischievous cubs played and irritated their elders who cuffed them gently. Large groups of giraffes loped gracefully across the plains.

Two or three cheetahs quietly stalked gazelles. A silent leopard carried a young wildebeest into a tree to feast on for the next two or three days. Elephants lumbered in front of a gigantic and snow-covered Mount Kilimanjaro as filled with excitement, I fumbled with my camera. The daily drama for food played itself out in front of us. What an authentic and powerful place this is.

I observed how life in the Ngorongoro Crater, a collapsed volcano with steep walls, had evolved and cooperated so all of the elements fit together to create a balanced whole — an ecosystem upon itself.

I watched the chaos of the annual wildebeest migration as hundreds of thousands of animals chased the rain. I began to sense the underlying order, programmed genetically over thousands of years, of their seemingly insane behavior. Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest births occur over three weeks during the annual migration to water. This mass birth preserves the species, for predators cannot kill that many young before they can care for themselves.

Wildlife photographer Mitsuaki Iwago calls this underlying order “Okite — a law of natural life that’s neither glamorous nor indulgently savage.” Nature adapts and designs and all of life plays an authentic role, with an unimaginable intelligence. Order exists beneath chaos — observable, in part, to the mindful. I wondered if the rich diversity of Africa will survive humankind’s abuse, greed, ignorance, and arrogance. I hope so but am doubtful.

When I got home, I visited a zoo and the animals looked different to me: They looked depressed: lethargic, dispirited. Parrots may pull their feather out; horses may start swaying; elephants may grind their tusks down. Many animals lose their desire to have sex, hence the difficulty of breeding in captivity. Africa showed me the authentic life of animals free in their natural environment. I wish we didn’t have zoos that take the life of the animals.

Do humans become more anxious and depressed when they don’t spend time in nature? Many studies tell us we do. And, conversely, depressed people show dramatic improvement when they spend time in nature. We are animals too and need time in nature if we want to be healthy. We need to move. We need to feel alive!

Isabel Behncke said that we create our own mental and physical zoos that keep us captive. Being deprived of natural settings, we can become prisoners of our egos. Our problems seem bigger than they are; our thoughts consume us. Being out in nature, we experience awe: we feel the largeness of the cosmos. We feel our connections with everything around us. Our perspectives change. Our egos shrink. Nature helps us be healthy.

Anne Lindbergh told the story of Andre Gide who was traveling fast through the jungles of Africa. One morning the native guides sat in a circle and refused to leave the camp. When Gide urged them to get moving they looked at him and with firmness said, “Don’t hurry us-we are waiting for our souls to catch up with us.” We need to learn to be present at the moment and be part of and learn from nature. My brother hikes mountain trails and says he does mindful walks: One mile per hour. His photos show his detailed awareness of the natural world.

During the past year of captivity due to Covid-19, I walked in the house. It was good for me. But, I didn’t feel alive. I was doing a task. I couldn’t wait to finish each day. The last few weeks, I walked outside, and I could feel the positive contrast.
I felt alive.


Man was born to turn the world into paradise, but tragically he was born flawed. And so his paradise has always been spoiled by stupidity, greed, destructiveness, and shortsightedness.

Daniel Quinn in Ishmael


Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, Washington D.C., wrote, “A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations.”

Our most fundamental problem is that almost eight billion people (10 billion by 2050) are addicted to the consumption of our alive planet. We are consuming our biomass. We cannot sustain this growth.

Two immediate existential threats to life as we know it overshadows population growth.

Climate change has battered our denial for a long time. America’s president denies its existence. The loss of lives and the destruction of property from climate change continues and grows.

Today, we are consumed and quarantined by the COVID 19 pandemic, which spread over the planet in about eight short weeks. Our president denied that too, while the virus spread freely. People got sick and died while the president dawdled.

But this time is different: Coronavirus is in real-time, and we watch it unfold in front of us. The president cannot hide behind lies, distractions, and scapegoating. As COVID 19 silently spreads into the nooks and crannies of the planet, our president undoes environmental regulations that help us fight climate change. What goes on in his mind?

A “Call” is a summons to higher consciousness. America has come to a stop: a significant pause. What we see on our nightly news is our new America. The future is unknown.

Rollo May wrote in Freedom and Destiny,  “In the pause we wonder, reflect, sense awe, and conceive eternity. The pause is when we open ourselves for the moment to the concepts of both freedom and destiny.” I hope we use this pause to think, reflect, and ask ourselves what matters in our lives. John Stuart Mill wrote that no significant improvements could take place in the lives of people until a dramatic change takes place in how they think.

We need to think of our planet as an alive, interconnected, intertwined, and interdependent whole. We need to gain the humility to see that we are but one species more powerful but no better than any other species. We need to live in harmony with nature, not be at war with her. We need to mature. We need to learn how to live.

If we change, we will defend against the virus that threatens us today and those on the horizon, reinvent our economy, value diversity, restore American global leadership, and help save the planet from climate change. We will feel alive. We may experience a new renaissance of ideas and an indefinite future. If we don’t change how we live on our planet, the momentum that carries us to possible extinction may become too great to overcome.

Without change, nature will continue to try to get our attention. Each call will be more destructive than the previous one. Within 200 years, after unimaginable suffering and destruction, we may perish as a species or a few islands of prosperity and privilege may survive surrounded by a sea of misery and violence.

Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” It is past time to fundamentally change our relationship with nature, not by changing her, but by changing ourselves.

We need to listen to the calls of nature. We need a spiritual awakening, a moment of metanoia, a shift of mind. Scientist Rupert Sheldrake said, “It is like waking up from a dream. It brings with it a spirit of repentance, seeing in a new way. This conversion is intensified by the sense that the end of an age is at hand.”

We are responsible for our collective fate. The significant threats of climate change, deadly pandemics, population growth, species extinction, resource depletion, inequality, and global poverty have called for change for a long time. Are we ready to listen and to change how we live together on this planet?

The change will be difficult, but ease or difficulty is not the issue. The question is: are we ready to change or not? If we are ready, we will create a new vision for how we live on our planet. Let’s not go forward led by crazy people, those stuck in the past, those who profit from America’s decline, or those invested in failed ideas. That would be disastrous.

Whatever we do, something dramatic is going to happen. We will experience an evolutionary bounce or an evolutionary crash. We can choose to act or to be acted upon, and our choices will determine our destiny.


In simple terms, chaos is order without predictability. That is, there are systems, physical and social, that are well understood and yet are fundamentally unpredictable. Thus, chaos is not anarchy or randomness. Chaos is order, but it is order that is invisible.  T.J. Cartwright


This piece, written in 1998, fits the times in which we live. Look for the dynamics all around us in the Coronavirus Pandemic that threatens us. I am heartened by the emerging leadership at all levels of our nation, the creativity of the people on the front lines, and the scientists we can trust and believe.

All living systems, including nature, families, organizations, institutions, and communities are chaotic. Chaos is creativity in process; the place between the breakdown of the old, and the formation of the new. Living systems interact internally and with their environment, connections are made, relationships are formed, information is created, and “choices” are made. This dynamic interaction is messy and constant.

Chaos is not the random, lawless, and meaningless behavior it appears to be. Instead, chaos is stable globally while unpredictable locally. The behavior we observe is bounded by invisible rules, and an overall pattern exists (a strange attractor). When we step back, observe over time, from different perspectives, and from multiple frames, the patterned order may be seen. Although specific behaviors cannot be predicted, if the rules were understood, the behavior would be understood.

The disturbance of chaos can be from near stable to incomprehensibly complex and energized. At the extremes of order and chaos, dynamics are counterproductive to the system. Too much order and change will not cross impermeable boundaries. Too much chaos and the system loses its organization. Along this continuum of chaotic behavior is a place called the “edge of chaos” a location of the maximized activity, balanced order and chaos, and enhanced creativity where new patterns, processes, and structures emerge from self-organization.

A chaotic system is sensitive to small changes. A slight difference at the beginning of a history can have a huge effect at the end of the history. This dynamic is called the “butterfly effect” the notion that a butterfly stirring the air today in Beijing can transform storm systems next month in New York ( formally called sensitive dependence on initial conditions). Butterfly effects, large and small, are prevalent throughout all scales of living systems and produce the rich diversity and creativity in natural systems.

On a human level chaos is present (metaphorically) as long as people are alive. Chaos is the space between endings and new beginnings. At first, this is a place of fear, anger, boredom, anxiety, loneliness, restlessness, a sense of inadequacy, and a loss of the familiar. Many of us try to avoid these feelings because we feel so uncomfortable. Avoidance is a mistake because this is the place and time of freedom where creativity can happen. This is an opportunity to grieve and wander, and a time to quest for a new vision for our lives.

The “edge of chaos” is entered into fully when new possibilities burst through the turmoil. Creativity is in full bloom, synchronicity abounds, and we feel fully alive. We forget ourselves and focus totally on what we are doing. We are in “flow,” and self-organize. The uncomfortable emotions are replaced by anticipation and excitement about new possibilities. Anxiety may be high “at the edge of chaos,” and we need to maintain our discipline and work through the fear. This is the emergence of new growth.

In organizations, chaos is the time when people feel crazy, confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed with data they don’t understand. Old ways of doing things don’t work anymore. The path forward is not clear. People try to return the organization to its comfort level. They clam up, seek experts, try to fix the turmoil, and do what is expected. They try to control others, events, and themselves and individual shadows become externalized. People hope for magic, lie to themselves, and look for quick-fixes.

This avoidance of chaos is a mistake. Organizations and people can get “stuck” in this ugly place and will die eventually. Transformation cannot occur without chaos; chaos is health. The task is to bring forth the emotion of the organization, to put people together with other people, and to provide and generate information. Creativity will emerge if people explore, receive constant feedback, sort out conflicting beliefs, and make choices.

For example, a self-managed team was in conflict and relationships and performance were suffering. I met with them. Afraid they would be criticized, they were apprehensive and distrustful. We talked for two hours we discussed feelings, shared information, confronted inauthentic behavior, and supported one another. Ideas came forth, and plans were made and responsibilities assigned. Pent-up energy was released. At the end of the meeting, everyone felt stimulated and enthusiastic; the team was ready to move forward. This intervention was not a quick-fix. The group worked through their differences and discovered new possibilities. Groups need help at times. This is a facilitation role for leaders to assume.

In organizations, we take advantage of the chaos by providing freedom, sharing information, having permeable boundaries, creating a deeply held and shared vision, and putting diverse and authentic people together in different settings. The many connections increase the possibility of “butterfly effects” in the direction of the shared vision. Experiments, trial and error, and mindfulness of opportunities result in disproportionate outcomes small actions lead to large changes. Leaders utilize judgment to amplify and dampen the “butterflies” that make a difference.

Absent freedom, information, shared vision, permeable boundaries, and participation, butterfly effects (and self-organization) will still happen, but the dynamic will be restricted, fragmented, and driven underground. Outcomes will probably be incongruent with the organization’s objectives. Under these conditions, the fears of letting go are realized.

How can we trust “letting go”? The study of self-organization teaches that when systems undergo a transformation, and behavior appears random, ordered patterns emerge, and they emerge quickly. Every organism, at every level, moves toward constructive fulfillment of the system’s inherent potentials. A natural tendency toward growth and development exists. Outcomes may not be what is expected—they probably will be better. On the other hand, the organization might get “hit by a train.” Life offers no guarantees, but proceeding in harmony with natural dynamics increases the probability of sustainability.

The leadership principle of chaos: Leaders welcome (and sometimes create) disturbance because they understand that creativity and order will not be far behind. They understand that the suppression of chaos, and the accompanying emotions, as taught by Newtonian thinking, is exactly the wrong thing to do. Leaders develop the skills to guide the “chaotic” process (and the accompanying anxiety). Leaders learn how to maximize creativity at the edge of chaos, are mindful of butterfly effects, and use judgment to know which butterfly effects to dampen and which to amplify. Then, they let go

PS: Bad people in positions of power can also create disturbances that self-organize around deluded, destructive, and dishonest values, visions, and purposes. Those people must be confronted and their lies and underlying motives illuminated. Our “war-time president” must be quarantined and his Twitter account deactivated. He is harming the efforts to defeat the virus.




Climate Change Will Affect the Most Vulnerable First; Then It Will Come to All Of Us.

From the book: Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

By Bill McKibben


The very same beasts

That now decide

Who should live

and who should die…

We demand that the

world see beyond

SUVs, ACs, their pre-

packaged convenience

Their oil-slicked dreams,

beyond the belief

That tomorrow will

never happen

Let me bring my home to


Let’s watch as Miami,

New York,

Shanghai, Amsterdam,


Rio de Janeiro and Osaka

Try to breathe under-


None of us is immune.

Life in all forms demands

The same respect we all

give to money…

So each and every one of


Has to decide

If we



Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands & Aka Niviana from Greenland

Each poet faces the end of their way of life as the ice melts.

Post Stroke Fatigue

I remain a very loud advocate for the benefits of sleep, sleep, sleep, and more sleep interspersed with periods of learning and cognitive challenge. Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. in My Stroke of Insight.

After the good news that I did not have cancer, we felt deep relief. It was a good feeling after almost three months of fight/flight mode. During those months, I was too stressed to notice the fatigue. I had more important things to occupy my mind.

I soon became aware that I felt exhausted all of the time—mind, body and spirit– even after a good night’s sleep. Rest did not take the fatigue away. Meeting someone for lunch was exhausting to think about. Other than family, I put my social life on hold. I needed my energy focused on my stroke recovery, which can take a year.

Jill Bolte, Ph.D. wrote in My Stroke of Insight:

Occasionally friends came to visit, but GG [Bolte’s mother] recognized that social exchanges used up my energy reserve and left me totally drained….She made the executive decision that getting my mind back was more important than visitation, so she stood as the guard at my door and strictly limited my social time.

Forty to seventy percent of stroke survivors experience this fatigue, and it doesn’t matter if you had a minor or a major stroke. The fatigue can pass over time; for some, the fatigue never goes away.

Working a bit in the yard would leave me spent. I couldn’t read for long, and writing left me worn out. We went to the lake this summer for a week. I felt drained by Wednesday.

The medical world does not know the cause of post-stroke fatigue. Probably it’s a mixture of physical and emotional factors. No specific medications or treatments will eliminate post-stroke fatigue. A healthy lifestyle is most likely the most one can do.

With the help of medications I usually got a good night’s sleep. Still, I remained exhausted. I had to prioritize my days and set goals mindful of my limited energy.

Jill Bolte again:

My energy was limited so we had to pick and choose, very carefully every day, how I would spend my effort. I had to define my priorities for what I wanted to get back the most and not waste energy on other things.

I made long naps (1-2 hours) a normal part of most of my days. Gradually, I am getting better at organizing my time around my energy level and setting my priorities around my overall recovery.

Jill Bolte:

For my recovery, it was critical that we honor the healing power of sleep. I know various methodologies are practiced at rehabilitation facilities around the country, yet I remain a very loud advocate for the benefits of sleep, sleep, sleep, and more sleep….

I’ve mostly made my peace with fatigue. I feel frustrated with it at times but we can adapt to our circumstances. I consider myself fortunate for being retired. I have time, flexibility, and can focus on things beneficial to my recovery. Melanie is a wonderful wife who loves me and supports me. I cannot emphasize how important a supportive spouse is in life and in recovery.

This and the previous three posts told my stroke story. I will work hard to prevent another stroke. I am grateful for no major loss of functions. I had my traumas after my stroke and they humbled me. I choose to see the strokes as a calling to greater development as a person approaching old age.

More to come.

A Hurricane in Texas Reminds Us of a Flood in Minnesota

We are Norwegian, German, stubborn and fighters. This is our place, and we’ll stay here.

Steve Carbno, disaster coordinator for the Salvation Army, Fargo, ND

Hurricane Harvey, that still ravages Texas, brought back many memories from our experiences with a record flood in 2009. I am sorry for the people affected by this hurricane: their lives with be changed forever and the road ahead will be difficult and exhausting.

Our story:

The fall of 2008 brought record rainfall to Fargo, ND/Moorhead, MN–across the Red River from one another. December had more snow than any month in history. Worried about spring floods, I added more flood insurance. Throughout the winter, I watched the weather daily: Would it snow, might it melt some, what were the flood predictions? I went on a 3-week photo trip out West at the end of January, 2009. I checked the weather back home every day.

As March began, the National Weather Service predicted a flood crest in the mid to high 30-foot range. Dennis Walacker — who was the mayor of Fargo, North Dakota, and had been public works director in 1997, and who was credited with saving Fargo from the flood that year — thought the crest would be lower. Our home would be safe to almost 39 feet.

The flood came early, fast, and big.

We began to sandbag on March 20, 2009. Melanie was born and raised in this region, and her mother and eight of her brothers and sisters lived in the area. They had children and some of their children had children. They turned out in force to help. Many came back day after day. Melanie’s mom, sisters, friends, and co-workers took over the kitchen. Workers were well fed.

Melanie was a good friend to many, and those friends turned out en masse. Her professional colleagues were tremendous in their help and concern. We had members of the girls’ volleyball team from North Dakota State University and a high school wrestling team help out. Helpers included bankers, coaches, teachers, builders, farmers, attorneys, scientists, garbage men, federal agents, retired folks, and the students. Without the students — from grade school through college — Fargo/Moorhead would have been lost to the flood.

Three days later, we had filled approximately 20,000 bags with 35 pounds of sand each. As many as 150 people worked at once. It was an amazing example of self-organization — the chaos of people coming together for a common purpose came to order and did so quickly. People did what they could, leaders emerged and leadership shifted naturally, creativity took over, and rules took a back seat. Skid steers tore around our yard carrying filled sand bags. It broke Melanie’s heart to see her yard and landscaping torn up, but survival becomes the sole priority in a crisis. We worked in rain, snow, and mud. People cared, and fought to protect their property and that of their friends and neighbors. Laughter filled the air, and we felt a powerful sense of purpose and community. I’ve never been part of such an expenditure of energy before; people working together was a magnificent sight to see.

Each day the predicted crest got larger. Over a few weeks, it went from 34 feet to 42-43 feet. During the days we sandbagged, the crest prediction rose a foot or more each day. Every time we thought we were finished, we had to dig a little deeper within ourselves and pile the bags higher. We were exhausted, but our core group of men and women would not stop. We thought we were done when our dike protected our home to 40 feet. Overnight it snowed 7 inches. The flood and snow scenes were surreal. Climbing over the plastic-covered dike was a slippery venture.

Later that day, the National Weather Service — a constant source of frustration — raised the crest prediction by another foot. We went to work yet again. The heartiest among us pulled a boat through the strong current and freezing slush to the dike on the road that led to our home. They then walked through snowdrifts to their pick-up trucks a couple of blocks away. They went in search of filled sandbags, loaded their trucks, and returned. They loaded the sandbags onto sleds, pulled them through the snow and over the dike, and loaded them into the boat, which they pulled through the slush and fleeing voles to the house where they stacked them onto the dike. This work went on from late afternoon until 1:30 a.m. We again thought we were OK.

Our home surrounded by water.

The next afternoon, they raised the crest prediction again — this time, to 42-43 feet. We were surrounded by water. We went to work again in the late afternoon and followed the same process as the day before. We worked deep into the evening. Suddenly we had sewer backup in our basement. The public works department had shut down the lift station without telling us. Melanie slammed the state-of-the art sewer shut-off down and the backup stopped, but the damage was done. From now on, the toilet would be a bucket outside.

Then the authorities ordered an evacuation of all residents in a huge part of the city. A 43-foot flood would devastate the community. We didn’t know then that they had no authority to “order” an evacuation. They meant well, but they scared us, and we decided to evacuate.

At about 9:00 p.m., it was time to go. Melanie locked the door and climbed over the sandbags. She was the last person out of the house and into the boat. As we left our neighborhood, a plow closed the road behind us.

The next morning, two family members boated to the house. Our dike had held. No water had gotten under the dike, over it, around it, or through it. When they took the dike down many weeks later, the Army Corps of Engineers supervisor said it was one of the best-built dikes he had ever seen.

But a back-up sump pump had failed, and we had 9 to 12 inches of water in our finished basement, along with the sewer backup. We had moved many things of value to the second floor, but there was still a massive amount of accumulated stuff floating around the basement.

The harm was done. A costly finished basement was ruined, and many possessions were contaminated. Our furnace, water heater, and freezer were destroyed. The house smelled of sewage. Carpets on the main floor and top floor were caked with mud from the frantic efforts of a dozen or more volunteers to move our possessions to the top floor. Our yard and landscaping were ruined by the dike-building process. Our road was torn up by sand trucks. Two neighbors lost their homes. Others had water damage worse than us.

Family members spent several nights in the house and watched the dike and pumps. Melanie and I stayed with Melanie’s mother for a week. Our dogs were farmed out to relatives. We adapted by the minute.

A few days after evacuating, we returned home. We parked a few blocks away. We used the sled and walked through snow, water, and mud in waders and got to the dike. We climbed over it and got some necessities and put them into garbage bags. We carried them over the slippery dike and onto the sled and pulled it to our car. After two trips, we were exhausted.

Four days after we left, we got another 10 inches of snow — 17 inches in less than a week — along with heavy rains while we sandbagged, a record flood, and blizzard winds. There was a second, maybe even higher, crest on the way. The city looked like an exhausted war zone.

Finally, they rescinded the mandatory evacuation and opened the dike on the road so we could drive to our home. The water had receded across the road. The city inspectors and insurance adjusters began to show up. The birds and wild turkeys returned.

The city declared our home uninhabitable.

Two homes in our neighborhood of 11 houses were destroyed. Three others had water in the basement. The peninsula was a mess from the clay dikes, home dikes, and roads damaged by heavy equipment. The second crest was lower than predicted. The clean-up began.

Fighting the record flood was the easy part.

Our home had 20% damage, according to FEMA. Fighting the flood was an exhilarating, high-energy experience — the best experience of creative chaos I’ve had. Cleaning the mess up afterwards and going to our wounded home and neighborhood were sad, painful, and depressing encounters with death and destruction. We rented a townhome in Fargo while we cleaned up. We would never again live in our home.

The neighborhood looked like a war zone after the flood waters receded: fences down, roads torn up, landscaping destroyed, sandbags stuck in the trees and buried in the ground, homes surrounded by sandbags and then dirt rings after the Army Corps of Engineers took the dikes down. Mud was tracked everywhere for weeks afterward. We cleaned water and sewage from our basement, ripped out wallboard, and threw away truck-loads of possessions accumulated over 15 years.

We entered a neutral zone of uncertainty and not knowing about our lives. About half of our neighbors wanted to stay, and began to explore ways to make their homes safer by elevating them, or building a clay dike or a concrete wall. The rest wanted to leave. For us, four floods in 12 years were enough. For others, this record flood was the first time they were threatened and once was enough. As one neighbor said about our once safe neighborhood, “Maybe nature doesn’t want us here anymore.” Melanie and I vowed to turn this disaster into an opportunity for transformation.

I knew that a neutral zone (the place between endings and beginnings) wasn’t just a place of confusion and uncertainty. The neutral zone can also be a condition for creativity if we can live with the discomfort and anxiety for a time.

Often people go into submission after a disaster and let others decide their destiny. We would not go quietly into compliance and submission to the bureaucracies and to those who re-victimize victims. We would assert ourselves, ask questions, and push back on bureaucratic pronouncements. We would attend every meeting held, and we would tell our story and express our opinions to anyone who would listen. We wanted to influence the chaos around us and shape our own future.

Part of me enjoyed the challenges of the flood’s aftermath. Another part of me felt scared of entering into new and bureaucratic domains. We fought for what we believed was right with insurance companies. I sent letters to the politicians and did what I could. I attended every City Council meeting for months after the flood and asked questions and told our story to the mayor, city manager, council members, and city engineer every chance we got. We found them to be good and caring people, willing to listen.

We expressed our fears of future floods with our elected state and federal officials. I visited the disaster center three times to try to get answer to my questions from FEMA and SBA officials. The front-line people were awesome: caring and compassionate. The bureaucracy — excessive process and slow to act — exhausted us, numbed our minds, and extended our patience to the breaking point. The rules, language, processes, procedures, and regulations were complicated and hard to understand. It would take about 1½ years to work through all the issues and bring the flood follow-up to a conclusion.

Our home was put in a project for buyouts. I asked the city engineer what motivated putting our home in this proposed FEMA project. He replied, “Because it makes sense.” That’s what responses to disasters need more of: what makes sense.

From time in the neutral zone, new visions form if we will live with uncertainty for a time.

Just before the flood, a job opened up in Minneapolis (225 miles southeast of us) that Melanie was interested in. The flood was traumatic for both of us but more so for Melanie, who had built the home and raised her three children there. She lost many possessions in the flood that held meaning for her. For her the beautiful home died the day the water came in. She did not want to return. She decided to go forward with her job application. Like everything at this time of our lives, the job process moved slowly.

We imagined and thought through different scenarios for what might happen with the job and our home. In our hearts, we most wanted to go to Minneapolis. My two daughters and five grandchildren lived there. I also looked forward to renewing old friendships from decades of earlier life in the Twin Cities. Two of Melanie’s three children would be living in Minneapolis that fall. The job would be a professional advancement and a challenge Melanie would enjoy. She would get to use talents and skills honed over a 30-year career.

We envisioned new adventures in our upcoming lives as empty-nesters and grew more and more excited. We decided that if Melanie got the job, we would go regardless of the fate of our home.

Suddenly things began to happen: Melanie was offered the job and compensation was negotiated and agreed upon quickly. Within 72 hours we had rented a beautiful home 15 minutes from her new workplace. Melanie gave her notice in Fargo and began work in Minneapolis 10 days later. We moved our possessions a month after that. The city purchased our home for a fair price a few months later. A year later, we purchased a new home. Melanie thrived in her new job.

The natural disaster created the conditions for us to renew our lives. We refused to be victims. Despite the difficulties, we felt alive as we grieved our losses. We grew as people. And, in the midst of a contentious time in America, we experienced the deep goodness and decency of the people around us. We will be forever grateful to them for the help they gave us.

Best wishes Texas.





Is This Who We Want to Be?

I simply am a mother who fights for her children, who fights to give them the best. Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos


NY Times, February 8, 2017:

Ms. [Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos] Rayos was 14 when she left Acambaro, a city in an impoverished corner of the Mexican state of Guanajuato, and sneaked across the border into Nogales, Ariz., a three-hour drive from Phoenix. She married — her husband is also undocumented, and thus did not want his name published —and gave birth to a boy and a girl, who are now in their teens [American citizens].

Ms. Rayos was working at Golfland Sunsplash in Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix, when Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies swooped in on Dec. 16, 2008, arresting her and several other employees on charges of suspicion of identity theft and using forged documents to obtain employment.

She spent three months in a county jail, followed by three months in immigration detention, she told a reporter. In 2013, an immigration court ordered that she be sent back to Mexico, but her case had been on hold since the federal authorities — under the Obama administration — decided not to act on the deportation order.

Her son, Angel, still remembers the evening of her arrest — the knock on the door, the flashlight on the darkened living room, the sight of handcuffs on his mother’s wrists.

“I was in second grade,” he said. “I never forgot that night, and I’ve lived in fear of losing my mother every night since then.”

Ms. Rayos had a routine annual check-in with immigration officers in Phoenix scheduled for last Wednesday (2/8/17). She feared going. She knew what might happen under President Trump’s recent executive order—said to target criminals. She could skip the meeting or go into hiding. But she didn’t. She was arrested after more than 20 years in America, after she spent six months in jail, after she lived in uncertainty for five years before she was ordered deported and then four more years until she was deported to Mexico. I imagine she lived a fear and anxiety filled life.

To some Americans, Ms. Rayos threatens the safety of America—she is a criminal—maybe a terrorist. Really? A teenager when she came to America, she made her way. She faked a Social Security number so she could work. She married and had two children. She is not a criminal or terrorist.

I believe a system that leaves a humble woman–who sought only freedom and a better life–living in uncertainty as long as it left Ms. Rayos is fundamentally cruel and unfair—even violent criminals have a statue-of-limitations.

We should be better than this.

Jewish theologian Martin Buber wrote of I-It and I-Thou relationships. I-It relationships relate to Ms. Rayos as an object, whose only value is extrinsic—she serves our food, cleans our homes, landscapes our yards or raises our children. In an I-It relationship we value Ms. Rayos only insofar as she serves our purposes. To many Americans, immigrants are not human beings but “things” they use and, since Trump, fear.

In I-Thou relationships, we see our shared humanity in others and are conscious of our often wrong assumptions about others. We realize that “crossers” are human beings just like us and “but for the grace of God, there goes I.” Almost all immigrants who come to America from Mexico and South America come from extreme poverty and helplessness and are in search of a better life for themselves and their children. Often their lives are in danger in their home countries. I am in awe of their courage.

Our local, state and national leaders have failed to formulate an immigration policy and system: A tough-love, compassion based approach to immigration that protects our borders, delivers swift justice, uses modern technology to keep track of people who come into and go out of the United States with rules and procedures that are true to America’s heritage as an immigrant nation. A system where accountability is balanced with compassion and fundamental human respect and decency.

I used to write that we live in a dark time. Now I say that we live in a time of madness. We must not become desensitized to those who use political power to harm the spirits of others. We must resist fiercely.

As we do, we must not become what appalls us and lose our humanity: In the face of this we pray. In the face of this we love. In the face of this we forgive. Because the vast majority of water protectors know this is the greatest battle of all: to keep our hearts intact.

 (Lyla June Johnston, young Native leader to Timothy Egan (NY Times, Dec. 2, 2016) at the North Dakota prairie camp where the Standing Rock Sioux are making a stand to keep an oil pipeline away from water that is a source of life for them.}