Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wild 9

Merida, Mexico

The day the Joanna Macy week ended I boarded an all-night flight to Merida, Mexico, to join Vance Martin (the president of the Wild Foundation) as a volunteer on his core team of personnel in putting on WILD9 – the 9th annual World Wilderness Congress. I was joined there with Shay – another of the BB team – and the two of us commenced 2 weeks of intense service, work, opportunity, learning and insight.

For years the Wild Foundation has been a leading force in the effort to protect the world’s wild places. Needless to say, when I heard about Vance, the work of the Wild Foundation, and the chance to help with the Congress (which only happens once every 4 years), I jumped at the opportunity. I have to credit Gigi for this, and thank her for her incredible insight, networking, and willingness to put me in touch with Vance.

A little background from Wild's website:

The World Wilderness Congress (WWC)

The WWC is the longest-running, public international environmental forum. It is a conservation project that creates coalitions, establishes time-lines, sets objectives and achieves practical outcomes. Established in 1977, it has convened on eight occasions in 30 years to review progress, debate issues, announce results and celebrate the importance and vitality of wild nature.

WWC map

The WWC is an ongoing conservation project, focused on practical outcomes in policy, new wilderness areas, new funding mechanisms, trainings for communities and professionals, and more. Read the outcomes of the most recent WWC, WILD9, which convened from 6-13 November 2009 in Merida, Mexico with 1800 delegates from 50 nations.

Merida is an incredible old city in the heart of the Yucatan. However, the majority of my two weeks there were not spent in the city center, but running between a giant convention center where the congress took place, and the giant hotel where I met with the team and pretended to sleep from time to time. Vance immediately gave me a great deal of responsibility – which was a huge show of faith given that he knew very little about me before my arrival. I was assigned, essentially, to the Congress’ version of the “green room,” where I met all of the presenters for all of the plenary talks, and worked hand-in-hand with David, a local tech guy (and an angel of epic proportions) to check over and run all of the audio/visual/technical aspects of all the presentations. Once the presentations were free of glitches, we downloaded them and ran them to the other tech team inside the main hall with cues and a running sheet so they’d know what to play when. It was a serious non-stop, over-time, halogen-lit, multi-media, high-tech, high-pressure effort (the kind of thing that needs lots of hyphens to describe). I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so far away from anything wild, and during the first few days especially I had to ask myself at times what the heck I was doing there.

And of course, as is so often the case, my reasons for being there became abundantly clear as I stuck with my unlikely job in the tech room. WILD9 was no small affair. Thousands of people from scores of countries around the globe came to the event and even more joined in via the internet. The president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, delivered the opening speeches, and a new term for “wilderness” was coined for Central and South America, “tierras silvestres.” This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. The concept of wilderness as we tend to understand it in the west (which is a debatable thing in and of itself to be sure) doesn’t exist at all in many parts of the world, for better or for worse. In many places, cultures are still living in a way that is enough connected with their environment that a word like “wilderness,” which has connotations of separating humans from the natural world, doesn’t make any sense. They still live the truth of non-separation. However, in many parts of the world, especially more developed places, we are not living in the truth of our connection to the wild earth, and as a result, are destroying it at a devastating rate. For such places, a word like wilderness, or tierras silvestres, is useful in describing and naming something that we hope to salvage, to save, to care for, love, identify with, and use as a model for rehabilitating other pieces of the earth. There is power in naming, and if any concept out there needs some extra power right now, it’s the concept of wilderness and all that it means for our lives.

Shay and I in the main hall at WILD9 (not a great picture... but the only one from the event I've got... do I look as out of place as I felt?)

Bedraggled, tired, completely inspired and grateful, and utterly moved by the dedication of the people who I met at WILD9, I wove my way through the congress. I worked hard and played hard as well. As a part of Vance’s team I was invited to some incredible events and parties. But most exciting were the people I met and the success of the endeavor. WILD9's successes were many and varied, here is a partial list from website of the congress:

  • 44 targeted resolutions adopted, and available online for discussion and reporting on outcomes;
  • The Message from Merida (El Mensaje de Merida): An international call to action with specific policy guidelines to integrate wilderness and biodiversity conservation into global climate change strategy. Delivered to Copenhagen with 75 organizational co-signers and still growing.
  • The first international agreement on wilderness conservation, initiated by WILD and signed by the governments of Mexico, Canada and the US;
  • The first-ever Corporate Commitment to Wilderness, a results-oriented initiative for wilderness, signed initially by 15 corporations, with others to follow;
  • New protected areas in Mexico and elsewhere, including: a new private sector commitment of 50,000 hectares in the Carpathian mountains (Romania); the intention to create the first marine wilderness areas in the US and territories; a new coastal, Mangrove protected area in Mexico;
  • Creation of six new Intergovernmental Working Groups involving US, Canadian, Mexican, and other government agencies to stimulate ongoing collaboration on conservation matters;
  • Extensive Government agency collaboration NGO and indigenous partners to strengthen peer-to-peer networks and produce numerous targeted trainings;
  • The formal launch of the Marine Wilderness Collaborative (MWC)
  • Launch of WILD’s “At Least Half WILD”™ campaign – working with world-wide partners to protect at least half of the planet, land and sea, in an inter-connected way.

The Message from Merida brought to Copenhagen is of particular interest and concern, and is connected integrally with the "At Least Half WILD" campaign. The idea of perserving 50% of the planet is not coming just from starry-eyed nature enthusiasts; it’s the bottom-line percentage that climate change science recommends as necessary to help stop the massive threat of global warming. As it turns out, protecting and maintaining the integrity of wild places is one of the very biggest and best things we can do to slow climate change.

As a wilderness guide and deep lover of all that is wild, indeed, as a person who’s based most of his adult life working in and with the wilderness, I have to extend my deep gratitude to these men and women who are working so doggedly from within buildings and behind computer screens to save some of the world’s last remaining wild places -- and by doing so, present all of us with a chance to save something wild within ourselves, so that perhaps one day we can celebrate a time when words like wilderness are no longer needed.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Ojai Foundation

snow on the Topas, Ojai, CA.

After my sojourn on the East Coast, I found myself quite suddenly back where I’d started. I took the airporter from LAX to Ventura and was met there by Laura, who was a sight for soar eyes to say the least. The story of loving, missing, reuniting, and trusting that goes along with BB for me is a journey unto itself… but that story is for anther time, perhaps over a nice whisky or a glass of wine.

In any case, Oct. 24th marked the day I returned to California to begin being a pilgrim in my own land. I returned to the Ojai Foundation and made its' beautiful oak woodland my California home-base: Entering the community as a volunteer in service, as a witness, as a participant, as a guest... wearing many hats, as has been done so often on this journey. I moved in and out of volunteer residency at TOF during most of my time in the states, deepening my connection and exploration with the place, its' way, and its' people.

Though I came and went from Ojai, my time there spanned a dynamic juncture, through which the Foundation and the community on the land went through some big and important changes. in addition to deepening my learning with what is there, I was also given the unlikely chance to watch a community deal with change and negotiate an unknown future ripe with transformational possibilities. Intense change is rarely easy, but is often rich, and witnessing it (however peripherally) is one of the many gifts that came from choosing to go back and reconnect with the place. In a study of community and new models of human living systems, there is so much to be learned from all angles: what works really well, what does not, what traditions and 'ways' to hold on to, which to let go of, how to birth something new, and how to let something die in a good way.

During my month-plus at Ojai I came in and out of the community often (heading from there to other sights along my independent pilgrimage path), and was greatly gifted by the chance to do that. My gratitude and appreciation to all of those holding the work and vision of The Ojai Foundation, past, present, and future. May it thrive.


A word on Joanna Macy at Ojai:

During my first days back at Ojai I was lucky enough to participate in a week-long intensive with Joanna Macy. With no need to recount the full scope of the teachings from that week here, I will simply say that it was profound and enlightening to the fullest. Of all the great inquiries happening for me on Beyond Boundaries, Joanna’s teachings touch on some of the questions that I personally hold closest to my heart:

-- How do we respond in the face of a dying world?

-- What happens if we dare to allow ourselves to feel the grief and anger at what’s happening on the planet every day? How do we hold that?

-- Where do we find the resolve to continue showing up in the face of such monumental forces of apathy, shortsightedness, injustice and destruction?

-- What tools can we employ – both personally and collectively – to aid us in these times?

-- In a world that is seemingly so separated and isolated, how do we reconnect?

-- How do we align our personal “small” stories with the larger contextual story of our times in a way that empowers us both as individual beings and as global citizens?

… The list goes on and on, and Joanna spoke to all of this with the eloquence, grace, and fierce tenacity of one who has truly committed her life to the cause. She holds a series of traits that I have encountered too infrequently in my life; traits which for me mark the presence of a real elder. My deep gratitude to all those whom I have met and have yet to meet that have taken up this call.

Joanna Macy group at TOF, Oct. 2009

I strongly encourage any and all to look into Joanna and her work. It is deeply in line with the vision and intentions behind Beyond Boundaries, and hers is a true voice for our particular moment in history.

Also, for a quick 5 minute interview done with Joanna while at Ojai, check out this link:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

'Independent Pilgrimage' Drawing to a Close...

Austria was the beginning of my independent time on Beyond Boundaries. Since then I've been to many places and had some incredible experiences. What follows will be a few blog posts coming in the next few days/week offering installments from this past time. I've been writing as I go, but haven't had time to post the writings... so, here they come, beginning with a brief visit to the East Coast following my time in Austria:

East Coast USA, Maine and Boston ~

I left Austria tired and inspired, and flew to London. I hopped a bus to Oxford and arrived there in time to meet my dear old friend Zeya who I hadn’t seen for some time. We spent the majority of my 16 hour lay-over talking and catching-up, and I got back to London to catch my plane to Boston the next morning even MORE tired. Back on US soil for the first time in months, my mother (who happened to be visiting relatives in the east) picked me up and drove me north to Maine, to the home of my grandparents, and one of my favorite places on earth.

Finally, I slept. I was very pleased to slow my pace for a few days, and deeply enjoyed the chance to touch-in with a side of my family who I see much less frequently than I'd like. As luck and well-made plans would have it, my mom's sister Lucy was also there in Maine at that time. The ancestral tracking part of my independent study came back to the forefront during this time in a different way, and I soaked up the chance to hear stories from some of these eldest of my living family.

After a few days my mother and I drove to Boston to see two of her other sisters, Suzie and Eve, and their families. This was a chance to be with the "newer" generations of my mom's side of the family, and I enjoyed a much more rowdy stay with the kids (my cousins) including great adventure time outside, great time with the family, more chances to dip into ancestral stories, and an all important (for me) opportunity to begin weaving some of my story back into my life.