Yom Kippur 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.

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