a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Archive for August, 2009

“Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC…more on art and culture:

“Our story begins in Philadelphia, a city of Brotherly Love, do-it-yourself initiatives, and collectives of inspired artmakers. Since 2006, Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction has existed as a vehicle through which modern thinkers marry reverence for enlightened ideals with the mandate to reach more minds in an ever-fickle urban scene. Our community of free thinkers and artistic innovators delivers inspiration and aspiration back to The People and believes in empowering artists producing high quality work marked by fine craft and intellectual rigor.”

I couldn’t say it any better than that. Art in the Age is a Philosophy, a Community, and a Spirit of being – and I can’t think of a better place for it to exist besides outside of Old Town neighborhood in Philly (116 North 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106), the home of their flagship store. called it, “one of the coolest stores in all of Center City”. I plan to visit asap, and here’s a description of what I have to look forward to:

“…our flagship store joins the ranks of the long-standing architectural bastions of the Cradle of Liberty. The vintage exterior signage remains intact, and all efforts have been made to sustain the original brick walls and interior infrastructure of our historical home. Our shelves are replete with scores of works that transcend the conventional definition of art and appeal to all of the senses. The Art In The Age Store is the hub of our collective.”

Artist, Billy Kirk, calls it part artist collective, part performance space, and part curiosity shop. It’s a place where performances and exhibitions, musicians, and authors are hosted – those who embody the ideals of the 20th Century German Cultural Theorist, Walter Benjamin. Read more here. 

Art in the Age is also comitted to partnerships with local farmers, craftsman bodycare, artisan cheeses, and local textiles.

Travel further North, and there’s a lot more in store on a 72-acre farm in Tamworth, NH, where art, farming, community, and brewing, co-exist not just peacefully, but purposefully. Their philosophy is based on the importance of human values, commitment to preservation and education. Their hope is to preserve and share the knowledge of the land and basic living skills, along with community-building.

Yes, I did say Brewing. Art In The Age has Introduced Root, micro-distilled spirits brewed from sassafras, sarsaparilla, wintergreen birch bark, and other roots and herbs.

Jerry and I scored a bottle and I’ll be sipping and mixing tonight. Check back tomorrow for a full report.

In the meantime, find your art. Our future depends on it.

Mystic man, he was the Banyan, by Tim Toben

Monday, August 24th, 2009

The world has lost a , a researcher, teacher and author of plant spirit and medicine. Only 47 years-old, he has championed the movement towards Transition Cultures and a no-carbon economy. From NC, Frank Cook (click here or here to learn more) traveled, taught and learned from people in many cultures throughout the world. I participated in one of his workshops in my area last fall at Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute, and I’ve never forgotten him or his words. Below is an excerpt from  a memorial essay written by Tim Toben, of Pickards Mountain.

Frank Cook 1962-2009

Pearson Garden, Asheville NC, August 19, 2009.  Just hours after his passing, Frank’s brother Ken spoke from the circle of nearly 200 friends holding hands around the garden. “I think he saw us all as plant beings and he certainly was one himself.”  Muffled laughter mixed with tears.  Frank Cook was the Banyan Tree.

If the name is not familiar, you’ll remember the man.  Frank stood 6’3” tall with piercing blue eyes and waist length dreadlocks.  He wore simple clothes and sandals and carried a satchel over his shoulder.  In Chapel Hill, his home was a loft bed at the residence of Beth Williams and Alan Dehmer.  He walked everywhere, once across the entire state of North Carolina, foraging for food along the way.  Most of us in these modern times would die attempting such a trek.  Frank feasted – both physically and spiritually.

Someone once said that we are born with two beings – one that dies and one that lives forever.  That is certainly true for Frank Cook.  Frank will always be known around the world for his plant knowledge and his journey to “meet” the 5000+ genera of plants.  At 47 years old, he was 70% of the way to his goal.  He’d chucked a promising career in computer science 20 years earlier to follow his heartsong, traveling to Namibia to meet  Omumborombonga, the ancestral tree of life, and to India to meet Buckuchurbu, used to treat stomach upset.

Those of us lucky enough to cross His path were reacquainted with the native plants we loved as children. Frank could hang with the best Linnean taxonomist, but he “understood” plants more deeply – their medicinal qualities, their nutritional values, and their unique role in the interdependent ecology of nature.  And he clearly loved them.

Frank would lean down and shade his small subjects with large hands and begin telling their story.  The breath from his deep baritone voice seemed to lift the plantain or pepsisiwa from its roots, as he brushed the leaves from around their base.  “Choose me, choose me,” you could imagine them saying.  In those moments, we were children again, finding a long lost love.  And he was an “indigenous” teacher.

The meals between walks were just as vibrant.  Reminding us that most Americans eat just 25 species of plants a year, he’d make fresh bread and soup with at least 25 species gathered during his walk.  The flavors and energy in his food were life giving.  He’d make teas by day and meads at night, always sharing a batch from last year in a pass- around bottle.  Frank’s blueberry and sumac meads were my favorite.  His gatherings built benevolent communities — families with native knowledge and skills.

His “business model” baffled most.  He worked for donations.  You paid what you could, and that was enough to fund Frank’s travels to meet plants across the globe.  He’d recently completed a Masters Degree at the Schumacher Institute in the UK and written a book titled “Emerging Planetary Medicines.”  His subject matter had expanded to include “transition cultures” – those preparing for not a low-, but a no-carbon economy.

Frank had just returned from teaching engagements in the Southwest US, and before that in South America.  What he thought was travel weariness was apparently a spreading parasitic infection, which spread rapidly this week and this morning claimed his sinewy body.  Thousands around the world, and several hundred in Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Asheville weep quietly at the loss of their friend and teacher.  We are ever so grateful for his many gifts, for the many seeds he planted.

If he’d ever stayed in one place for more than a few months, I’m convinced that Frank’s cascading dreadlocks would have taken root, like the Banyan Tree, and grown other Frank Cooks. And if so, what a better world this would be.  Then again, as I looked around Pearsons Garden this damp August night and reflected on past gatherings at LEAF and Pickards Mountain, I thought…that’s precisely what has happened.

(For the full essay, go here.)

Free HUGS, Bee HUGS, World Hugs

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

by Tao, Carrboro, NC

I’ve been having a lot of those days lately – you know, where you just need a hug, a smile, a pat on the back, some way of knowing that you’re not alone and that’s there’s a lot of love out there amidst the craziness.

When it comes to hugs, the more the better. So, I’ve been asking for hugs. (though cats aren’t always in the mood.) Then I realized that I was also giving hugs, which felt even BETTER. And watching people hug feels bigger than that, for I found myself weeping happily over this video. It’s the true story of Juan Mann, an Austrailian who in the time of his own need, embarked upon a “Free Hugs Campaign”.

Oh, Yeah, the fear demon reared its head and they tried to stop him – actually ban the hugging – but the human spirit prevailed. Find out how and watch some of the most enthusiastic and sincere hugs you’ve seen in a long time. The music is great, too.

When you’ve finished that, watch Umbra from give away “BEE HUGS” in Seattle to not only spread some love for humans but for the bees (and their plight) as well.

And now that you’re craving a hug more than chocolate, start your own Free Hugs Campaign in your neighborhood. For inspiration, check out the photos of hugging happening all over the planet.

Hip, Urban, Farmer, Activist, Artist? – all of the above

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

by Tao, Carrboro, NC

I recently took on some farm “work”. Sort of by accident, I was “hired” to help care for some rescued farm animals who live at a beautiful farm near my house. I was on a morning walk with my dogs and we just started talking…they needed a replacement morning caretaker, so well, I put on the muckruckers and dug in a few mornings last week.

It didn’t take long to understand the allure of all of it – the morning air, the smell of hay and sawdust and, of course, the animals. With my Border Collie by my side, I muck a few stalls, wash some feed buckets, fill water, pat some rumps and generally get and give a lot of love, nature-style. At only about 90 minutes of work, it’s just a glimpse of what really happens in terms of the tough stuff, but I really “got it”. There’s some animal/nature medicine at work when you’re willing to get your hands dirty. I have a feeling I’m gaining a lot more than extra muscle and a little cash.

As I was musing over this new experience, I came across an inspiring article which profiles “40 Farmers Under 40” in the United States. I especially learned a lot from this blog by Zoe Bradbury, “Diary of a Young Farmer”, who lives and farms in Portland.

A whole new breed of farmers are arriving on the sustainable, local scene and no stereotypes apply. According to this article at, they are young, diverse, urban and adventurous – many holding advanced degrees in areas such as ecological anthropology and who “sometimes [also] work as educators, eco-entrepreneurs, yogis, journalists, filmmakers, activists.” To call them Idealists would be an understatement unless it includes motivated, determined, passionate and from the sounds of the profiles I read here, earnestly happy.

They appear to live big full lives filled with purpose and meaning…it makes you wonder just what the rest of us are chasing, doesn’t it?

Art Lives

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Every day I marvel at the magic of nature – it’s wholeness, it’s purpose, it’s beauty, it’s creative force that can’t be stopped. What I rarely think of is the fact that humans possess the same innate qualities. That’s why Art has always been an important part of the human process. It connects us to what is both inside and outside ourselves and connects us to each other and nature.

If you’ve ever doubted this, take a look:

Made from driftwood.

Heather Jansch is the artist.

What’s Art Got To Do With It?

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

In a Grist essay in 2005, Bill McKibben posed the climate change-related question, Where’s the art? “Art, like religion, is one of the ways we digest what is happening to us, make the sense out of it that proceeds to action.”

Call it coincidence if you’d like (I prefer the idea of manifestation), but the last 4 years have indeed produced a surplus of music, books, photographs, movies, videos, festivals, performances, and many other artistic attempts to inform, teach and inspire us not just about the state of our world, but how to understand it, integrate it and act on it. On a grand scale, there was (and is), LiveEarth, which made it obvious that more of us are feeling pulled to speak out, to create, to re-define ourselves, our lives, our world. Art has the ability to shape a culture and have a political effect because it pulls at us from a deeper, core place.

And, through the revival of both technology and community, this same art is more available than it’s ever been. Large cities and small towns are bringing these works into their own communities in many ways. Collaborative projects, social events and creative education is wide-spread and constantly growing. Farmer’s markets, local stores, co-ops – even these integrate art with economics – and we are undeniably, drawn in.

Although just one example of art making a cultural impact, documentary films stand out in my mind because they inform on a direct level. These films are being shown in parking lots, on rooftops, in backyards. Consider in Brooklyn, NY, a non-profit that has been showing, producing films and teaching filmmaking since 1997. My much smaller town of Carrboro has also established a film series focusing on movies that relate to the forces pressuring towards “localizing and the solution of making the various sectors of the economy human scale.” Churches and Town Centers are also showing films, often followed by speakers and open discussion.

We are in a time like no other in history and sadly, many of us are simply unaware of it. Perhaps it’s because we’re busy trying to survive, but more likely, it’s because we no longer have enough of a relationship with nature to notice. And, if we do notice and don’t act, McKibben reminds us that, “the only role left to us — noble, but also enraging in its impotence — is simply to pay witness.”

There’s a lot of feelings that are difficult right now, but none more than that kind of feeling of helplessness. Empowering ourselves into action on both a personal and community level is a way to change that. It’s a matter of people learning to think collectively and to live more authentically. It’s a matter of not simply “paying witness” but driving ourselves and others to live in a more sustainable ways – part of an evolutionary process that will decide history. (And, contrary to popular belief, communities of all sizes can act independently – like this town in VT – of the larger political process, but they have to feel pulled from a place beneath the surface.)

It’s time to notice. It’s time to act. Bill McKibben goes on to say that “when art clusters around an issue, it means that civilization has identified it finally as a threat.” Look around and you’ll see it. Then you’ll feel it. Then you’ll get inspired and then, like so many people in so many unexpected places and ways, you’ll get involved.

We’re all actors on this stage. It’s curtain time.

Green Your Friends – it’s ok, really!

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Should we, could we, is it really ok to ask your friends/family to be more Green? As we discover new ways of conservation and create new habits in our daily lives, it is a natural desire to want to share this information and inspiration with the people close to us. It’s not about judging, it’s about creating hope for the future and shedding light on some things that are not only simple, but feel so good in the long run. Well, if I’ve ever hesitated to speak out before, I won’t again – here’s why:

Hi, Tracey (and Jerry),
Thanks for a wonderful evening. It was so great to see you and get caught up on your recent adventures.

Tracey, I had a small epiphany this morning that I want to share. This is probably more information than you’d want to know about me, but here goes…

Anne, my ex-wife, is an obsessive recycler…much to her credit. I’ve been recycling for many years, ever since West Hurley (the little Hudson Valley town where I lived for almost forty years) instituted a serious recycling program. But I never progressed as far as using non-disposable shopping bags. Anne did; she had a veritable armada of cloth bags, and I was unenlightened enough to be bugged when a checkout person had to reset a scanner to allow for the weight of the bag…plus the aggravation of schlepping the cloth bags everywhere when we went out. I just never got with the program of cloth bags.

So I’ve been a chronic offender, consuming and disposing of countless plastic bags for no good reason. Pretty pitiful, right?

That has all changed now. My sweet Tracey and my dear Jerry gave me a cloth bag, and now I will
use it every chance I get…because it’s the right thing to do…and partly because even though I’m a slow study sometimes, I am educable…and mainly because I’m honoring two people whom I love!
Thanks, you two…for being such a wonderful and joyous part of my life.

Much love,

Assume, Resume – better late than never

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s been pointed out that I’ve been focusing mostly on the little things involved in moving towards a sustainable and more just life for ourselves. It’s true, the first bumper sticker I put on my car 18 years ago was, “Think Globally, Act Locally” and later, the motto for my yoga studio in Raleigh was, “Think Globally, Stretch Locally”. I still believe that we have to “stretch” our ability to change ourselves inside and out in our own “small” lives in our own “small” communities before we can change the world.

So, I’m guilty as charged. I write and think a lot about alternatives to consumptive lifestyles and buying habits. I talk about not using napkins, straws, paper or plastic. I like to think we can buy local food, products and services, drive less, spend time in nature, have less children, live in smaller houses and that it will make us more aware, more healthy and more capable of changing the big things.

The problem is, I didn’t think that part would take this long. I assumed that once we realized what we were doing and where it was leading (overpopulation, pollution, resource depletion, dis-ease, etc.), that most of us – at least those of us with means – would take a stand over our own lives and then the trickle down would guide leaders of the political and the economic worlds to step up to the challenges of change and then we could make things better for all of us. I really thought that was just around the corner…

So, I realize there are next steps and that they are bigger, more difficult and much more important. But I also believe that we have the tools, the technology and the spirit to pull it off. The question will be whether we waiting too long, not whether we can do it.

Work inside and outside yourself. Talk to others. Talk to local and national government. Join networks where you can “push the iceberg” towards the change we need, both small and large.

Look, Listen, Love and Live your potential.

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