Martin Luther King Day 2018

By Larch On March 2nd, 2018

Dear Friends in the Circle,

This letter offers a way to end domestic violence and the violence of war in one generation.  I’m not trying to entertain, but if you just want to cut to the kitten pictures, scroll down to the bottom.  They’re ready to meet you!

This letter is written in the evening of Martin Luther King Day. This morning when I opened my email, there was a message from Cyros.  He worked the harvest with me last spring, and he wants to come back.  That’s Cyros on the left:

Right now, he’s taking a gap year before going to college, and he’s teaching English as a second language to children in Nepal. He has encountered a teacher who beats children, and this is what he wrote: “The kids are genuine, friendly, and respectful. It’s comforting being around their innocence. Three years ago the country banned physical discipline. One young government teacher still strikes the kids. Often quite harshly. Across the face, head, back. It was perplexing to witness. I began to see the kids learning in fear of being hit. I find it unacceptable to teach children in such a manner. I gave him 2 days to move beyond his ‘first impression’, to quit showing his strength and power over children to a new Westerner. Day 3, I pulled him aside. Seems to be going better. I am playing a delicate balance as a delegate as well as teacher. I don’t want to create any tension, but I also will not stand idly beside kids fearing physical pain by a ‘superior’.

This brought up memories for me.  As a child, I was bullied.  In elementary school in Minnesota in the 1950’s, teachers hit me.  Later on, in the late 1960’s, I became a language arts teacher in Florida, and I encountered racism, segregation and violence.  Martin Luther King was identifying racism, militarism, violence and poverty as problems we all needed to solve.  I did my part then, and I continue now.  Allow me to give you some verbal snapshots of my life in those days:

To begin with, I taught school in a rural county on the Suwannee River, and there were two towns in the county.  I taught in the small town that was racist, violent and all-white, and the other town had a segregated school system.  The superintendent was elected, and I invited him to speak to a civics class I taught.  The students and I had already identified and discussed racism, and many of the students were getting ready to challenge the inequities… fact, they challenged the superintendent to change the system, make it equitable.  The result?  After two years of teaching in that small town, the superintendent said, “You can resign, or I’ll fire you.  Take your pick.”

During those two years of teaching in that small town, my lottery number for the draft to Viet Nam came up, and I was ordered to report to Jacksonville Air Force base for my army physical.  Back in college, one of my roommates was a man who had served in special forces in Viet Nam, and he and I agreed the war made no sense.  Half of my generation resisted, one way or another.  In my case, the day of my physical, I was totally repulsed by the sergeant who tried to get us to bond in common hatred of women by entertaining us with dirty jokes about women.  I didn’t fall for it.  Just before we put on our headphones for the hearing test in which we were supposed to push a button when we heard a tone, the sergeant said to us, “OK, boys, mash that tittie!”
Well, whaddya know?  I seem to be deaf to that kind of talk. I guess I just don’t know how to follow orders.  After taking the hearing test eight times, an army doctor looked at the results, and he asked me, point-blank, “Do you want to go in the army?”  I replied, very matter-of-fact, “No, I’m teaching school.  I’m an educator at heart.  I’ve got better things to do.”  He classified me 1-Y which translates to, “If Congress ever declares war legally, you may be used in some capacity.”  I thought, “Fair enough.  That would be a war on our soil, and I would want to be involved.”

Next I taught language arts in Sarasota FL and I was assigned to teach reading to 7th and 8th grade black boys who couldn’t read.  When I passed out the county textbooks, the boys said, “Don’t give us that Mary Carter talk.” Mary Carter was a brand of white paint used by rich white suburbanites.  I agreed with the boys that the textbooks were racist, and so I developed a different approach.  I built a photography darkroom at the school, and I gave the boys cameras.  “Go home and take photos of your life,” I said, and the boys learned basic photography.  After the photos were developed, I tape recorded them describing the photos, and I converted the tapes to print.  Now we had relevant text, and the boys were interested in learning to read.  The result?  The head of my department evaluated my efforts by writing this line: “He’s our most creative teacher, and that’s his biggest problem.”  Eventually, I teamed up with other teachers who had that same “problem” and we started an alternative school!

One more example, just for fun:  I had a class of upper middle class children, all white, and the course I taught was called “Freedom and Responsibility.”  It was an exploration of values, and it was designed by people who value teaching by the discovery method.  I set up a real estate office, and on the walls I posted photos of upper middle class waterfront homes, typical of Sarasota.  I paired the students into “married couples” and I gave them all enough play money to buy any home posted on the walls.  One couple was especially bright and popular, something like the typical homecoming king and queen, and without telling them, I discriminated against them when they approached my “office” to buy a home.  I treated them as though they were black, and I played the racist real estate salesman.  When they picked the best home, I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, that home just went under contract this morning, and sale is pending.  I’m sorry, I can’t offer you that home.  Why don’t you come over here and pick out a lovely home where you will be more comfortable……” and I took them into a side room with photos of small homes in the black ghetto of Sarasota.  This couple became angry with me.  All the other children managed to buy beautiful homes. When I finally told them what I had been doing to them, they still remained angry.  It took them several weeks to get over it.  My racism was so blatant, but they hadn’t been able to quickly identify it.  Why?  It was part of their culture, and they realized they were embedded in it, asleep. They hadn’t developed any empathy whatsoever for blacks.  The elephant was sitting in their living room.  They lacked a vocabulary of expression that would serve to identify the pattern of racism.  That was Sarasota in the early 1970’s.

When I came to Maine, I was mentored by Scott Nearing.  Scott was a socialist who addressed poverty and inequitable methods of distribution, and he taught economics at university level. His message wasn’t popular with the feds.  In fact, he was put on trial for “interfering with conscription” during World War 1. He faced serious prison time, but when he spoke to the jury made up of middle class businessmen, he remained a clear educator at heart, and his message went something like this:  “When you hire someone to work for you, you make a profit. Now you have a choice.  You can reinvest the money to improve your own community, or you can take advantage of cheap labor abroad.  When businessmen invest abroad, the next thing they want is an overseas military to protect their investment, and that is the beginning of war process and over-extension of the resources of our country.  Empires collapse in this way.” The jury let him go.  He wasn’t advocating violence, rather he was educating people to become more aware of how their actions affect one’s home community as well as the rest of the world.  We vote with our patterns of consumption and investment.

For a good read, see Adam Brock’s Change Here Now which combines patterns from permaculture with strategies for social activism.  In my own words, this is the question Adam Brock is addressing: “Earth is a spirit garden, a school for souls.  What patterns can we establish on the land and in society that will create a better life for all?”  I was heartened to read the Dalai Lama recently saying that we don’t need to teach religion.  Religions are divisive.  He said that what we need is a secular ethics that involves education of the heart that can be applied to us all.

Here is an example.  Hindus and Buddhists have symbolic hand gestures called hand mudras, and educators of the heart could create a universal hand mudra that signals, “Stop.”  Stop what?  David Deida describes a game for lovers, and he calls it Tussle.
The game has four steps, and I’ll give it to you in my own words as I remember it.  The eyes are the windows to the soul, and in the first step, the couple establishes open-to-the-heart connection through the eyes. In the second step, the couple caresses each other using the right hand.  If either partner feels the other getting distracted or self-absorbed and unable to stay present, the left hand is raised to signal, “Stop touching.  Go back to the first step and re-establish the gaze of love and presence.”

Before I describe the third step, I’m going to digress.  Each one of us comes from a family-of-origin that conditioned and patterned the children to accept some level of biological and emotional irritability as “normal”. When two people get together to form a new couple, there is a collision of these two patterns from the past.  Commonly used words can mean very different things to each partner.  The third step in Tussle is the use of “dirty words”.  If a word diminishes the experience of love for either partner, that person raises the left hand to signal, “Stop talking and stop caressing.  This talk is not affectionate. Let’s go back to the open-hearted gaze……not a staring contest to see who’s going to blink first……but a gaze that communicates love and deep heart connection and vulnerability combined with open spacious humor.”

When the couple gets good at these three steps, to the point where they can say just about anything to each other and not experience a diminishment in felt love, but instead maintain deep heart connection, they are ready for the fourth step, which is actual tussling: wrestling, tickling, poking or pinching……or perhaps some massage and bodywork strokes combined with dance forms from contact improv or partner yoga.  Whatever the couple decides, the left hand can be raised at any time to signal “Stop.  This is too much. This doesn’t feel affectionate or sensual.”  Whereupon the couple stops all actions of contact, stops all talk, and returns to step one.

Now imagine a world where the grownups are proficient at playing forms of this game, and they are educating children to understand the universal meaning of the raised left hand mudra: “Stop”.  Imagine that sexual harassment and abuse are confronted using the left hand mudra, and in the adult workplace there are handshakes, and perhaps groups that decide, when they eat together, to have optional holding-hands-around-the-table in shared silence before meals, a way of expressing gratitude toward life.  Imagine that when Cyros encounters a teacher using harsh physical discipline, he knows that his principal and the children will back him up when he says, “I’m raising my left hand to stop the violence, and I know that the children will, too. I’m also going to use a method from nonviolent communication, staying focused on making statements based on human needs we all have in common: every child has a right to be secure in the knowledge that s/he will not be subjected to shaming or physical punishments and violence.”

When I wrote back to Cyros today, I remembered the time when my superintendent did NOT back me up when I took a stand against racism.  I remembered the time when my department head criticized me for creating relevant text that sparked black boys’ interest in reading.  And I remembered a merciful army doctor who was on the edge of admitting that the process of war is obsolete.

Today I’m capable of going a bit further, offering the world a vocabulary of expression that can be helpful.  When embryologists look at embryos, they see that all embryos are feminine at the beginning of life.  Male is an overlay that develops later.  In other words, life is feminine at core, and sometimes there’s a biological overlay, masculine.  A man can be educated to give his gifts to the world, or he can be indoctrinated into patterns of industrialized warfare that inevitably destroy the feminine, destroy life, and destroy the heart core of that man.  It’s really up to all of us to redesign education.
I’m doing my part, writing, and if you’ve read this far, thank you for doing your part. Now we’re literally on the same page, and please share this image about the left hand mudra.

As for giving my gifts, I’m concerned that I don’t have enough ways to introduce kelp into the daily diet of people living in places like New York City and Miami where there could be incidents of radioactive contamination with no hope of evacuation.  (Both of these cities are close to nuclear reactors that are leaking and failing.) We all need adequate iodine in our daily diet so that when we are exposed to radioactive iodine, we don’t take it into our bodies.  If you are a member of a food co-op in any large city, please introduce the buyers to our Soup Mix.

Now for the fun part:  One of our male kittens has been adopted.  He has a new name befitting an aristocratic coon cat, and his owner plays the violin.  What a life he’s going to have!

We still have two polydactyl double-paw kittens up for adoption, and we hope these two brothers get to stay together.  You get to name them.  Here’s a couple of photos of the smaller one, but don’t be fooled.  He’s very quick and playful.  In human terms, he’s something like a bright boy in second grade.

Note his double paws, something like having an opposable thumb.  He’s great at playing catch!  “You toss it.  I’ll jump high and snag it in mid-air!”

And here’s his brother.  In human terms, this was taken when he was in first grade.

Now he’s in fifth grade, and he looks like this:

What an innocent! These kittens have been trained to be human companions, playful heart warmers.

Rest in the Light, abide in the Heart.

Larch Hanson

Settled Work

By Larch On January 15th, 2015

Sometimes I will say to a young apprentice, “My longest long-term relationship is with a chimney and a woodstove……over 40 years in the same place.” That tends to scare a young person and brings up a reaction of “Oh, if it gets too difficult, I have options……” Living in one place is something like a long marriage. When the Occupy movement was in full swing, I wanted to say to one of those protesters, “Well, why don’t you just occupy a garden, for a lifetime, and see how that works out? Why not try doing something CONCRETE every day?” I once talked to a man who was in an arranged marriage. “What’s it like?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “at first I didn’t like her. Then in the second decade I not only grew to like her, I loved her. And now, in the fourth decade, I deeply love her, but I have to say that more and more, she is a total mystery to me. I truly don’t understand anything about her.” My first decade in this place was like a love/hate relationship. I would go down to the cove after new-fallen snow and watch the sunset: “She’s so beautiful!” and a minute later the thought would be, “…..and she’s so friggin’ COLD!” What’s REALLY scary for an apprentice is when they get a sense that their longest long-term relationship is with an eternal spark that could be characterized as “conscience” or “consciousness” or “intent, beyond personality”. I’m building a storage building for seaweeds at the moment, because I know the world will continue to need a clear source of dietary iodine to protect against the radioactive iodine being released by so many nuclear reactors, not just the mess at Fukushima, and the words I feel like inscribing on the walls of this particular building are “quietude and stillness, emptiness and clarity, presence and compassion, radiance and light”. That’s the predominant mood of the moment, and I like living with people who are waking up to the fact that they’ve been living life after life in endless moods of enlightenment, in sacred contracts, in endless dream. Happy New Year!


Tangerine Larch

Hay Season on the Water

By Larch On October 2nd, 2010

Seaweeds have their seasons of peak vitality just like plants in the garden. In mid-May, kelp plants (laminaria longicruris and laminaria saccharina) are in their prime. On the land, dry air blows in with high pressure from Canada, and in the afternoon, a southwest sea breeze helps dry the kelp that is hung up on lines at the high water line. Mornings are flat calm, sometimes there is fog, and we journey to the kelp beds by reading the signs on the water. For instance, sometimes there is a cross-hatch pattern on the water. I call this a “mixing pattern”. It is created when the incoming tide splits and flows around the islands at the mouth of my bay. When I hear an apprentice exclaim, “Oh! Look! The mixing pattern! I KNOW where we ARE!”—then I know that s/he is beginning to pay attention to reading the signs on the water.

Cross-hatch pattern on water

Cross-hatch pattern on water

In the springtime, early morning new moon tides are the lowest. Early morning full moon tides are also lower than average. We pull on our wetsuits around 4 a.m., and we’re on the water by 4:30 a.m. Apprentices get their breakfasts around 3:30 a.m. if they’re going to have one. (When I was a young man growing up in Minnesota, I worked summers on my aunt and uncle’s 1000 acres farm. During hay season, we fed a hundred head of cattle and 50 pigs right after breakfast at first light. A good day on the farm during hay season, working with a family crew of 5 or 6 people, was a thousand bales of hay into the barn by the end of the day, around 9 or 10 p.m. This is where I learned the work ethic, “If I do not work, these worlds will perish.”)

The journey to the kelp beds takes about an hour. There’s a two hour window of opportunity to pull kelp into the boats. The goal is to pull 2000 pounds into the boats within two hours.

Larch pulls kelp into punt boat

Larch pulls kelp into a punt boat

Coming home takes an hour. We all take a mid-morning break, getting out of our wetsuits, taking showers and warming up. Then we have a substantial breakfast. This is the meal that’s going to be with us as we hang up the kelp. The rest of the day is spent in the open air and sunshine, and if you just want a mantra to keep your hands busy while your soul ripens, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to handle approximately 2000 pieces of kelp, pinning each individual piece of kelp to clotheslines set up on the high water mark in the cove.

Kacie hangs up kelp

Kacie Hangs Up Kelp

By the end of the day, we have all done an honest day’s work, and here’s the proof:

Kelp hanging on lines in the cove

Kelp hanging on lines in the cove

The Work Accomplished, We are Relaxed into Perfection.

By Larch On June 30th, 2010

In April when I launch the boats into the cove to start the seaweed harvest season, I always ask the universe directly for an omen. Then I listen and watch. (I’ve been doing this for forty years.) One year an eagle hovered over me. That felt like blessing and protection. One year I was standing in a newly launched boat, checking for leaks, and a fish swam up to me. It was a smelt, right on the surface. I picked it up, we gazed at each other for a moment, and then I put it back in the water, and we went on our separate journeys. One year seven herons flew in formation through the cove. Herons are usually solitary stalkers. That was a beautiful omen. One year I was very impatient, demanding an omen. I spotted something washed up in the rockweed on the high tide line of the cove. It was a rubber bath toy, like a squeaky rubber duck, only this one was a cross-eyed crab with “Made in China” printed on its bottom, as if to say, “I don’t know what’s going on. Do you? All I can say is that it’s been a whirly-swirly journey.” That year the season was like that. There was no great Plan. We just let the winds and the tides carry us through, and somehow the work got done.

Toy Rubber Crab

All the Way from China!

This year, digging in the garden, the apprentices found a salamander. I took that as a good omen, portending a lot of primordial energy in the garden, and the garden was, in fact, very lush and abundant. (The soil in my garden, by the way, is totally fertilized with seaweed, resulting in a dark rich loam.)


But there was no omen for the seaweed harvest. I decided to simply be patient and wait. I had four young men as apprentices. They would get distracted. One day Nina said to me, “There’s a Yiddish expression that describes your situation with these boys.” “Tell me,” I said. Nina smiled, “When you hire a boy, you got a boy. When you hire two boys, you got half a boy. When you hire three boys, you got no boy at all.” I laughed, “Nina, I’ve got four boys. I could be in deep trouble, except that the fourth boy is Jay (my son), and he counts for two.” We did, in fact, accomplish all the harvesting, drying, and packaging that I had set out to do, and on the final day of the alaria season (June 30th), we were finishing up a harvest on Bonny Chess Ledge, a place as beautiful as it sounds.

Seals on Bonny Chess Ledge

The tide was starting to come back in, and the boys had stripped off their wet suit jackets and were jumping into the surf to cool off. I lay down on a sloping ledge, six feet from the water’s edge. I thought, “Be grateful. You’ve accomplished what you set out to do. Now just relax. Let all your tensions go. In yoga, the Dead Man’s Pose is the hardest pose to do…..relaxing the body AND the mind.” As I relaxed, I turned my head to look toward the water, and there was a healthy baby seal, scootching toward me. I know the language of baby seals, so I spoke to it in its language. Every time I spoke, the seal scootched closer. Finally we were two feet apart, lying parallel to each other, rolled on our backs and looking up at the sky, utterly content. Then we turned and gazed into each other’s eyes. I said to the seal, this time in my own language, “You are so beautiful.” The seal responded with an affectionate puppy growl. I was a little surprised, and then I realized that this good-natured sound was the omen. One of the apprentices noticed what was happening and started to walk toward us. “Max,” I said, “get down low and roll over here. Don’t raise your arms.” Max rolled slowly, and finally we sandwiched the seal between us. We didn’t touch it. We talked and gazed. The seal remained totally relaxed. Finally I got up and resumed my work, loading bushel baskets of alaria into the punt in order to shuttle the alaria out to the container boat. Before I rowed away, I rowed up to the seal. The seal remained, a relaxed member of the group. Seal pups have very open playful hearts. Sometimes I will come upon a newborn seal that still has teeth marks on the umbilical cord stump where the mother chewed it off. There may be a fresh placenta nearby. In that case, I might talk to the seal just a little bit, and then leave quietly so that the mother will return. I’ve been around seals for 40 years, and they swim around me while I’m doing my work. This year, a baby seal brought the season’s omen-blessing, and I’m awash with gratitude as I remember that day.

Baby Seal on Granite Ledge

Baby Seal, Sun-Blissed