September, 2007 Archive

Yom Kippur 2007

Monday, September 24th, 2007

(see Yom Kippur 2006, 2005, 2003)

My commitment to fasting and spiritual retreat shrank this year. I slept in my bed instead of camping out, drank coffee and practised connubial rites in the morning, and planned to go to Ian’s soccer game and then kayaking with a friend in the afternoon.

At 8:30 a.m. the delayed impulse struck and I decided not to eat or drink any more till dinner and to go on a hike by myself. There was also a pragmatic motive–to check out the route for the excursion I’d planned to take the Manzanita School kids up Poly Mountain to see the effects of last June’s wildfire.

The walk began with fanfare: a long predicted rainstorm arrived as a few morning sprinkles and grand skyscapes. There was enough moisture to make the rock hard clay soil congeal on my boots and to revive the strong smell of burnt vegetation.

When I reached the top of the mountain, the sky was full of variety and motion.

A subtle rainbow precipitated across the face of Bishop’s Peak below me, one end on the playing field where the marching band was striking up, the other on the bare soil exposed by the fire right beside me.

A few drops sparkled on the leaflets that sprouted from the base of a burnt manzanita stem hungry for moisture to maintain its precarious new growth.

The previous night, after the Coastal Cleanup party at Ecoslo organized by Jan, I watched Bill Moyers’ Journal. It was about Rachel Carson, devoted mostly to the performance of a play written and acted by Kaiulani Lee. She created the sense of glory and tragedy that Carson felt during her last years, when Silent Spring was published, villified by the chemical industry and generating the first environmental legislation in America. Carson hated to leave the peaceful Maine cottage where she spent the summers with her adopted son exploring forests and beaches. Now she had to return to the fray in Washington. And yet there she was drawn, by the excitement and by her sense of destiny. The moment of departure was framed by tragic knowledge: that even if her crusade against indiscriminate use of poisons succeeded, Earth’s natural systems remained imperiled. And she was dying of cancer.

The dramatization caught my mood. After four weeks in B.C., it was wrenching to leave Knoll House and the Zunoquad Kayak trip to the Broughton Archipelago and come back to the struggles here. All that time with no phone or email, a respite from continual reminders of global climate change and human persistence in suicidal folly. But return has drawn me into the heat of battle. I gave a talk on Thursday to the Student Services Conference urging them to demand that Cal Poly sign the Presidents’ Climate Agreement and get serious about its commitment to Sustainabiity. I picketed the Fall Conference of faculty and administrators with homemade signs:

Vice President, Provost and Dean
It’s time to make this campus Green

Students, staff and faculty
Want more Sustainability

Without more changes at the top
Sustainability will flop

President Baker,
Take the lead,
Green Cal Poly
With word and deed

President Baker
You’re the one
Green Cal Poly
Get it done

To be out front
The time has passed
We wont be first
Let’s not be last

Your Presidential legacy?
Green Poly University.

I distributed this leaflet:

From the funder of a major grant for a sustainability program at Cal Poly recently not renewed:

“However, the university’s decision to provide no university funding for the continued development of the program causes us to question the commitment of the university to sustainability ¦ .

In considering requests for financial support, ¦. Foundation (as well as most of our foundation partners) requires evidence that the university is willing to re-program its financial resources and commit its intellectual resources to sustainability. Thus the foundation is most interested in, and responsive to, inspired leadership and expertise when it is combined with the political will to dedicate the university to the development of sustainable systems.

¦ We make this decision to decline the current application with great regret.”

Yom Kippur is for reflection and atonement. This year I didnt even perform my morning meditation. I’ve ceased saying “I’m sorry for not doing enough” since rejoining the good fight. I can feel some guilt for neglecting my deceased parents, an obligation revived by having to explain the cremation remains we found last week on the Felsman Loop trail to Ian, and by the sermon of the Chumash elder, Mr. Cantu, that preceded my talk to Student Services. He said care for the future must stem from reverence for the past.

The sky cleared and the sun warmed my back.

I felt gnawing in my stomach and fast-fatigue. I lay back on the bed of dirt, and chanted and dozed. An hour later, I descended the mountain in time for the soccer game: sharks vs. sharks.

Dusty cancelled on the kayaking but Jan decided to come. We watched the sky together.

Dear President Baker

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

I’m writing to express appreciation for your responsive reactions to my somewhat confrontational challenge at yesterday’s Fall Conference.   Your willingness to acknowledge the need for Cal Poly to do more to promote Sustainability gives me hope that this year will mark a significant step forward in that direction.

My gesture grew out of frustration with the pace of institutional engagement.  Over the past few years, growing numbers of students, faculty and staff have been increasing their commitment to greening the University.  But the magnitude and gravity of the task we face–one you clearly articulated in your remarks yesterday–requires more leadership and resources from the top of the University hierarchy.

I believe this can be accomplished by creating an Office of Sustainability coordinating the efforts of all the divisions that report to you. Sustainability is, among other things, about unifying the University.  I believe that this Office should be headed by a young and yet experienced Sustainability Manager with both academic and organizational credentials.   I believe that Cal Poly has the capacity to attract such an extraordinary individual.  I believe that funding sources outside of our existing ones can be found by our Advancement officers to finance such an office. I believe that this position will become self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time, following the precedent of Harvard and the University of British Columbia among others.

Ralph Wolff’s keynote presentation about the “inconvenient truth” of student performance nationwide and locally and about pressures we face to measure and improve it had no explicit connection with Sustainability, but I believe there is one.  I don’t think being “competitive in world markets” or making lots of money will produce the motivation to work hard and succeed in school that the statistics say is lacking.  I think rather that students need to feel effective in taking on the real threats that face them and their future families.  Primary among them are depletion of natural resources and degradation of natural systems, the climate being most urgent at the present moment.

I come to this conclusion from my own experience as a student many years ago and from my experience as a teacher since then.  For some evidence of the way that being engaged with the issues of Sustainability in the class can measureably improve student skill development and performance, I’d like to refer you to two collections of essays written for the basic writing freshman GE classes I’ve taught over the last couple of years while on FERP. Before the classes started, these randomly selected students had no idea of the course theme.

Thank you for all that you have done for this wonderful institution in the past.  I look forward to continuing interaction.


Steven Marx

The Zunoquad: Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago (7)

Friday, September 7th, 2007

Day 7 (Again thanks to John for much of this material)

Late awakening with mixed feelings: reluctance to end this interlude of pure living in the present and eagerness to get back to a less simple existence. Slow breakfast of oatmeal and granola. Murray collected clams in the low-tide mud flats, enough for two each. Sunshine.

With assistants, Steve completed Zunoqua and mounted her on a log facing into the bay. Rob created an artful arrangement of grass, rock and roots.

Careful cleanup of the campsite and deliberate packing of kayaks, gear and personal effects to be ready for Dennis’ appointed arrival at 1:30, the moment of high tide.

He got to us at two p.m. along with Leonardo, his quiet stepson, when the tide was already falling. He knew just what to do, as he slid the boat in parallel to the shore and holding it at the bow with a snag protruding out over the water, and at the stern by having Leonardo push a pike pole into the shallow rocky bottom, keeping the boat in water deep enough to float and shallow enough to allow us to to load first our baggage and then ourselves in a race against time and tide.

Dennis two-stepped along the wobbly snag ashore and back, and then at his urging and our cheering, Leonardo followed. Up went the heavy kayaks, whose bows were lifted to him for levering into place on his racks. Dozens of parcels of gear were passed on board by a human chain””a chain means that nobody moves.” And we squeaked out with the help of pike poles pushing us off into the deeper water.

Perhaps in return for the offering of Zunoqua, Dennis went well out of his way on the trip back to Telegraph Cove to a bay in Johnston Strait where he found Dahl’s porpoises to race and cavort with the boat for our entertainment.

Then he proceeded to the middle of the Strait for a close encounter with an Orca which spouted and surfaced.

Back in the Cove, the unpacking went smoothly, we paid our last bills, and Rob the provider came up with beer for everyone. Dennis told us of an even more remote kayaking spot on the mainland near the mouth of Seymour Inlet and Burnet Beach we could go to next year.

The long car trip back down Vancouver Island was relieved by dinner at the Cable Cookhouse Café in Sayward, a unique landmark constructed out of 26 tons of steel logging cable. The complex accounting of payment and reimbursement was completed over hamburgers and more beer and homemade blackberry pie. Peter Behr waited 1.5 hours for his dinner to come and it was the wrong one after all that. The blackberry pie and ice cream was divine. We cleaned them out.

For a full set (67) of my Zunoquad pictures click here.

For a pool (184) of pictures by several people on this trip, click here.

For a wiki including these journal entries and writings by other participants, click here

The Zunoquad: Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago (6)

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Day 6 (thanks to John for much of this entry)

The overnight high tide (14.8′) turned just short of reaching the tent of Steve and John, and was quite low in the morning. We had a breakfast of porridge and coffee, hiked the food up into the trees and left our camp (the south corner of Owl Island) about 9:30AM heading out with a rising tide that would sweep us up Knight Islet in the direction of Village Island.

A 20 min buzzbombing sweep of some kelp beds produced nothing, another harbinger that the ecosystem is under duress. This area once supported a large population of mammals and humans that lived on clams, mussells and salmon, and you can’t even pull up a decent sized rock cod today.

Despite its broad expanse, the tidal flow through Knight Inlet was strong enough to allow us to play in the current, getting pulled upstream in the rippled patches and then finding the smooth surface of the back eddy to slide back down.

We pulled into the beach and flats of Maud Island, which once supported 14 longhouses. We found another great hot rock to set out lunch: Fistfuls of gorp, heavy unleavened pumpernickel bread and cheese, and sips of boiled water.

Carrying a newly carved staff that completed his picture as biblical prophet, Murray again swam solo in the freezing water.

He found a beautiful zebra patterned butterfly trapped by the surface tension of the still water in the bay, gently lifted and shook it off, and set it free. The creature circled around him and then flew over to the cheering onshore audience, approaching within six inches of several faces, settled on the rock to have its picture taken and then fluttered off into the sunshine.

After this break, we swung to the south around the islands in front of Mamalilacula. From a distance we saw a long glittering white clamshell beach below a bank overgrown with greenery which turned out to be blackberries. Poking out from the bush were the gaunt remains of a few euro style structures in various states of dereliction and a post and beam structure which was clearly native built.

We found our way up onto the embankment where the settlement was built. Welcomed by a huge pile of bearshit, we walked around the village site along trails hollowed out through the blackberries which now claim the site. Down one trail, near a forlorn looking fallen totem pole, Peter stepped into human excrement. A house still standing was littered with beer bottles and other trash. Apparently one of the buildings was a hospital. Back in the woods overlooking the village was a domineering sinister-looking residential school.

We picked up water from the creek. We thought beer colored water was bad. This water was coffee colored!

Down on the beach near our kayaks a group of people who had apparently arrived by motorboat and docked on the other side of the island was sitting and talking: a young couple, their one year old child, and one younger and one older man. Murray overheard some of the conversation. The old man was telling stories of his growing up here to his son and daughter, her husband and grandson. We exchanged greetings, but missed the opportunity to hear what he had to say.

At 4Pm we started the the paddle back to Owl. By that time the afternoon breeze was up and we stayed south, trying our best to remain in the lee of the winds. The tide was now falling to our benefit. We avoided the headwind, passing through a narrow passage between a small island and Creese near Rocky Point. Then it was into the teeth of the breeze diagonally over to the cover of the Jumble Islands and then across to Owl. We were back to camp by 6PM to see what we had left in the food bags for dinner.

It turned out to be Knorr/Lipton glorified macaroni and cheese, and grilled Hormel reconstituted ham steaks. We boiled our Mama water and made hot chocolate, laced it with brandies and quaffed it to no ill effect. “Real men drink black water.” Nutella stores held up so no one went hungry!

We contacted Dennis and he agreed to pick us up at Owl about 1:30 the next day. We were relieved that we didn’t have to move camp again. Steve and Lionel improvised a No play at the campfire, music supplied by spoon and tin cup.

For a full set (67) of my Zunoquad pictures click here.

For a pool (184) of pictures by several people on this trip, click here.

For a wiki including these journal entries and writings by other participants, click here