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John Roosevelt Boettiger
Mill Valley, CA, Seattle, WA, Phoenix, AZ, Los Angeles, CA, Amherst, MA, Hyde Park, NY, New York City (Manhattan), Dedham, MA, Vikersund, Norway, Paris, France, Sebastopol, CA, Berkeley, CA
Author, writer, editor, psychologist, father, grandfather, great-grandfather
Interests: Writing, reading, conversation, hiking, walking, bicycling, asking and responding to intriguing questions, metta, silence, prayer, meditation, justice (social, economic, judicial, political, familial, personal), the wily craft of coyote politics, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, family trees, redwood trees and live oaks, marsh land, hillsides, mountains, geese in flight, birds of a feather
Recent Activity
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Yesterday I encountered the work of Emily Johnston, poet, powerful writer, climate activist, runner, builder. She contributes to the work of Resilience, "a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities." Her first book of poems and prose poems, Her Animals, was published in 2015 by Hummingbird Press. I want to share with readers of Reckonings the gist of her recent essay, "Loving a Vanishing World," recently published in Medium at https://medium.com/@enjohnston/loving-a-vanishing-world-ace33c11fe0. Johnston's essay strikes a deep personal chord for me, but I hope will intrigue you as well. I'll offer you enough of her essay (the whole is perhaps a 20-minute read) to give you a sense of its—and her—character. The waters to which Johnston is drawn, among British Columbia's Gulf Islands, were among those into which I was first immersed as a young child, in a kind of deep, unknowing baptism, waters my family explored from our home on Mercer Island in Lake Washington. At that age and in that time I had no access to Johnston's contemporary consciousness, but I can imagine that then some seeds were set and nourished that are... Continue reading
Martin Buber in the “He-Atid” bookstore in Jerusalem, 1946 (Martin Buber Archives). Dear John Boettiger, While reviewing early Schumacher Center newsletters, we found this April 1985 reminder of Martin Buber’s contribution to new economic/social thinking. Buber On The Social Future We came to trust Martin Buber for his careful record of the human spirit in its process of observing itself in relation to the universe. In his book I And Thou, Buber was able to sustain and explore the simultaneous experiences of observer and observed. Commenting on the languages of “primitive” peoples in which the separation of the “I” and the “thou” was not yet as sharpened, Buber writes: “The Feugian (language) surpasses our analytical wisdom with a sentence-word of seven syllables that literally means: ‘they look at each other, each waiting for the other to offer to do that which both desire but neither wishes to do.'”* We came to love Martin Buber for his wonderful retellings of old Hasidic tales, the world of sense perception and the world of imagination blending, separating and then coloring each other again. Only recently did we discover Buber’s social writings. His Paths in Utopia is a concise history of decentralist-cooperative thinking. He... Continue reading
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I think this is the first occasion on which I've given over an entry in Reckonings wholly to a particular organization or movement, but in this event it's about time. 350.org was founded by Bill McKibben and a group of Middlebury College students in 2007 as a movement "to stand up to the fossil fuel industry to stop all new coal, oil and gas projects and build clean energy for all." It now has members and groups throughout the world, and it's not easy to overstate its growth in those 12 years. The remainder of this piece is drawn from the 350.org website. To solve the climate crisis, we need to organize for a Fossil Free world. 350 is building a future that's just, prosperous, equitable and safe from the effects of climate change. We're an international movement of ordinary people working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all. 350's goals are essentially threefold: A Fast & Just Transition to 100% Renewable Energy for All Accelerate the transition to a new, just clean energy economy by supporting community-led energy solutions. No New Fossil Fuel Projects Anywhere. Stop and ban all... Continue reading
I read Neruda's "Keeping Quiet" to our meditation group this past Saturday morning. It is a beautiful reflection on the deeply engaging practice of stillness. I've been reflecting lately on a collection of related issues, including the differences and similarities of meditating alone and meditating with a group of friends; the contrasting experiences of speaking and listening to another person, in a dyad and in a group; between moving and stillness, walking and running, doing and being, indifference and engagement, coming and going, happiness* and sadness, happiness and joy**; the mysteries of living, dying and death. There is, of course, diversity in each of those variables (the last none of us know), even moment-by-moment changes in short time spans. To string such qualities of experience together as I have done here is bewildering. Counting to twelve helps, as in meditation we may count our breaths, usually one to ten—then we start over again. * See Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (2006) ** See David Brooks, "The Difference Between Happiness and Joy," The New York Times, May 7, 2019. Keeping Quiet Now we will count to twelve and we will all keep still for once... Continue reading
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I. From The Guardian (UK): Nobody could have predicted that a Swedish teenager would shift the terms of the global climate debate in the way that Greta Thunberg has done. Since she began her school strike in Stockholm last August, Greta has addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, the European parliament, the UN climate talks in Poland, and met with the Pope in Rome. The school strike was Greta's idea. Green activists and scholars have spoken for years of the generational injustice of climate change. The school strikers belong to a 21st-century generation who have either taken this idea on, or arrived at it through a process of deduction of their own. Greta, who believes her outlook has been influenced by her autism, says she learned about climate change at school aged eight, and became depressed at 11. By 15, her angst had translated itself into a distinctive form of civil disobedience – the Friday school strikes which spread around the world. Green activists and scholars have spoken for years of the generational injustice of climate change. The school strikers belong to a 21st-century generation who have either taken this idea on, or arrived at it through a process... Continue reading
I sat down early this afternoon to read and listen to Krista Tippett's conversation with Pádraig Ó Tuama, leader of a peace and reconciliation community called Corrymeela in the far north of Northern Ireland, a community grown from the history of The Troubles. I was drawn to the title of their talk with each other, "Belonging Creates and Undoes Us." Tippett describes Corrymeela as "extending a quiet, generative, and joyful force far beyond [its] northern coast to people around the world." Ó Tuama is a poet, a theologian, and author of an extraordinary memoir, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World, perhaps suggested by a very old Irish proverb, "It is in the shelter of each other that the people live." The second moment at which I lingered was when I learned that Pádraig Ó Tuama's favorite poem is David Wagoner's "Lost," which I did not know. The poem, inspired by a wisdom tradition of Northwest Indians, expresses familiar thoughts in a distinctive and moving way: Lost Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to... Continue reading
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The On Being Project is one of the few programs available online to which I regularly attend. (Five others are Maria Popova's Brain Pickings, Poetry Magazine, Orion Magazine, Yes! Magazine, Betsey Crawford's The Soul of the Earth; as well, of course, as the major sources of news and commentary: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian's US edition, and The New Yorker. On Being's founder and skilled interviewer is Krista Tippett, author of an excellent book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Unlike standard descriptions of books on sites like Amazon, the paragraphs about Tippett's book are not only useful in themselves, but offer a useful introduction to the On Being program itself: “The discourse of our common life inclines towards despair. In my field of journalism, where we presume to write the first draft of history, we summon our deepest critical capacities for investigating what is inadequate, corrupt, catastrophic, and failing. The ‘news’ is defined as the extraordinary events of the day, but it is most often translated as the extraordinarily terrible events of the day. And in an immersive 24/7 news cycle, we internalize the deluge of bad news as the... Continue reading
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One of my most beloved poets, W. S. Merwin, died on March 15 of this year in his sleep at his lovely tree-filled home on the island of Maui. I have written of Merwin, and quoted often from his poems, over the years in Reckonings. I remember particularly "West Wall" and "Alba." He was always deeply moved by his natural surroundings. As his portrait in Wikipedia notes, "In 2010, with his wife Paula, he co-founded The Merwin Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving his hand-built, off-the-grid poet's home and 18-acre restored property in Haiku, which has been transformed from an 'agricultural wasteland' to a 'Noah's Ark' for rare palm trees, one of the largest and most biodiverse collections of palms in the world." One of his early and influential teachers, when he was a student at Princeton, was his fellow poet John Berryman. Maria Popova drew our attention today to Merwin's poem, "Berryman," so expressive of both Merwin's and Berryman's understanding of the heart of the artist's life. Popova writes: "Berryman had co-founded Princeton’s creative writing program and was teaching there when Merwin enrolled as a freshman in 1944. The thirty-year-old professor immediately recognized an uncommon genius in the... Continue reading
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I spoke briefly to a chock-full auditorium last evening as we celebrated St. Patrick's Day a few hours early. I co-lead a large seminar of Redwoods folks who have been and continue to explore the many dimensions of the Celtic spiritual tradition. I wanted to give those assembled some context about our seminar, which sponsored last evening's music, song and dance. Continue reading
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I am grateful in manifold ways for C.G. Jung's wonderful enlargement of my chosen field of psychology. That gratitude had its fortuitous, unsought birth in the first of my many years as an analysand, a patient in psychotherapy. The first of my two Jungian therapists was Edward F. Edinger, whose office in those years was on Central Park West in New York City. I was young, in my 20s, newly married, a graduate student of political science at Columbia University. My understanding of psychology, particularly of the dynamics of human development in its social, historical, and cultural context, which would become the calling of a lifetime of practice, had hardly begun to emerge, so it appeared wholly accidental that, in my search for a therapist, a friend urged me to seek out Dr. Edinger. Continue reading
Over the years in Reckonings, more times than I can recall, I have drawn upon the wisdom of Wendell Berry, expressed with wonderful depth and variety in his many novels, essays, and perhaps most essentially, his poetry, in which his contemplative character emerges with dialogical richness. I say dialogical in part because all fine writing provokes and inspires diverse response from readers' experience, but more specifically because Berry is a true master of dialogue, of meaningful conversation. In his poems that mastery is especially suggestive. For example, in any of his Sabbath poems I find invitation and companionship. Yesterday, for example, I had good reason to remember and employ these lines as a kind of lifeboat. Deep thanks to a dear friend, Andrea, for reminding me of them. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings. --Wendell Berry Continue reading
I find myself returning to the poetry and poetic prose of Jane Kenyon as I contemplate a fresh piece of writing unlike much of what I have done earlier. Maria Popova reminded me in a current issue of her blog, Brain Pickings, of Kenyon’s wise advice to writers: “Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk.” Continue reading
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Maria Popova, editor and author of a wonderfully capacious and thoughtful online journal called Brain Pickings, has just published a remarkable book, Figuring. Of the book, she writes, "It only took twelve years of Brain Pickings and the most beautiful, difficult, disorienting experience of my personal life. Figuring explores the complexities, varieties, and contradictions of love, and the human search for truth, meaning, and transcendence, through the interwoven lives of several historical figures across four centuries." Here is Maria Popova's prelude to Figuring: "All of it — the rings of Saturn and my father’s wedding band, the underbelly of the clouds pinked by the rising sun, Einstein’s brain bathing in a jar of formaldehyde, every grain of sand that made the glass that made the jar and each idea Einstein ever had, the shepherdess singing in the Rila mountains of my native Bulgaria and each one of her sheep, every hair on Chance’s velveteen dog ears and Marianne Moore’s red braid and the whiskers of Montaigne’s cat, every translucent fingernail on my friend Amanda’s newborn son, every stone with which Virginia Woolf filled her coat pockets before wading into the River Ouse to drown, every copper atom composing the disc... Continue reading
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In thirty-three short points, Wendell Berry says a great deal about the meaning of wildness, wilderness and domestication, assuming that the reader pauses and considers after each point. See if you're up to that discipline. Thanks to Orion. Wild and Domestic by Wendell Berry I. Gary Snyder said that we know our minds are wild because of the difficulty of making ourselves think what we think we ought to think. II. That is the fundamental sense of “wild” or of “wilderness”: undomesticated, unrestrained, out of control, disorderly. III. There are two ways to value this, as exemplified by the sense of “wild party”: from the point of view of the participants and that of the neighbors. IV. To our people, as pioneers, “the wilderness” looked disorderly, undomestic, out of control. V. According to that judgment, it needed to be brought under control, put in order by domestication. VI. But our word “domestic” comes from the Latin domus, meaning “house” or “home.” To domesticate a place is to make a home of it. To be domesticated is to be at home. VII. It is a sort of betrayal, then, that our version of domestication has imposed ruination, not only upon “wilderness,”... Continue reading
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“The end of life has its own nature also worth our attention.” —Mary Oliver Mary Oliver rarely granted interviews. The richest exception was a 2015 interview with Krista Tippett, during which the topic of death arose. She recited a poem that I would like to reprint here. "About an hour into our interview with Mary Oliver, the poet discusses what she calls 'the cancer visit.' In 2012 she was diagnosed with lung cancer and said that death had 'left his calling card.' She was treated and was given 'a clean bill of health.'" "In her collection Blue Horses, 'The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac' is a four-part poem that recalls the shadowy underworld of loss and survival. And yet, grief is coupled with a hopefulness. The poem is petitionary, asking of us to make what we can of the time we have left." The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac by Mary Oliver 1. Why should I have been surprised? Hunters walk the forest without a sound. The hunter, strapped to his rifle, the fox on his feet of silk, the serpent on his empire of muscles— all move in a stillness, hungry, careful, intent. Just as the cancer entered the... Continue reading
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If too many critics were not kind to Mary Oliver, she was probably the best read and most admired poet in America. On the day after she has left us, perhaps this is the poem to offer. May her death have been as she wished in this poem. I can testify confidently that she did not "end up simply having visited this world." When Death Comes When death comes like the hungry bear in autumn; when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me, and snaps the purse shut; when death comes like the measle-pox when death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades, I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness? And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, and I look upon time as no more than an idea, and I consider eternity as another possibility, and I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular, and each name a comfortable music in the mouth, tending, as all music does, toward silence, and each body... Continue reading
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“Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone.” — David Whyte In no small measure because of their shared devotion to the Irish philosopher and writer John O’Donohue (a devotion that captures me as well), I am drawn toward these excerpts from a conversation between Krista Tippett and the poet and philosopher David Whyte, on Tippett’s truly marvelous program called “On Being.” This episode was recorded in 2016 and replayed in December 2018 (https://onbeing.org/programs/david-whyte-the-conversational-nature-of-reality-dec2018/). In that conversation, David Whyte said of the poem below, “This poem is written almost like a conversation in the mirror, trying to remind myself what’s first order. We have so many allies in this world, including just the color blue in the sky, which we’re not paying attention to, or the breeze or the ground beneath our feet. This is an invitation to come out of abstraction and back into the world again. Everything is Waiting for You by David Whyte Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone. As if life were a progressive and cunning crime with no witness to the tiny hidden transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny the intimacy of... Continue reading
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This is a somewhat longer talk I first gave as the keynote address for a conference at The University of California at Berkeley on the subject of Women and The New Deal, and then, in a somewhat revised form, at The Redwoods in Mill Valley, California. Readers will see a little repetition of phrases and anecdotes included in the already posted talk on Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That was shortform, if you will. This is longform. The Spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt John Roosevelt Boettiger Thursday, January 3, 2019 I’m inclined to identify my grandmother as among those William James called the “twice-born,” those who have experienced a renewal—a personal transformation, after enduring trauma and loss that could have buried the gift of a loving life but decidedly did not. In fact, the rebirthing that followed her trauma and loss drew her into an adulthood that nourished us all and led her to be one of the most well-known women of the 20th century. She was a great gift to me, and to so many others. Like her other grandchildren, I knew my grandmother as Grandmère. (Thanks to her early caretakers, she was bilingual since childhood.)... Continue reading
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I gave this talk to the United Nations Association of San Francisco on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2018. Remembering Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights John Roosevelt Boettiger San Francisco, December 10, 2018 Good afternoon. Thank you for the privilege of talking with you about a subject that is simultaneously very dear to my heart and also a little daunting. That’s always been so, as long as I can remember, not only on special occasions like today’s celebration. Junior high and high school, college and graduate school years; whenever. Anticipating a visit from my grandmother subtly changed the normal emotional tones of my family. We were excited but—what? — a bit less relaxed? a tad anxious? She was “Mummy” to my mother, “Mother” or “LL” to my father (the initials stood for “Lovely Lady,” dreamed up by a small group of admiring newspaper reporters, including my father, well before my parents had met), and she was “Grandmère” to us kids, my sister, my brother and me. But we all knew that she was also Eleanor Roosevelt. Thus the frisson, the small undercurrent of anxiety, perhaps that she would hold us as she held herself, to a... Continue reading
Sara, I have replied via email to you. Please reply if you have any questions. And may good fortune smile on your festival.
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I'm glad that my son Joshua and his family are in Europe for the next months, starting with several weeks in Portugal. Vanessa, having been born and raised in Brazil, speaks fluent Portuguese, and has been teaching the language to their seven-year old daughter Paloma. They're going to settle down in a quiet locale for the next few weeks, but are still staying in the southern Portugal coastal town of Lagos, which has beautiful beaches and cliffs. Ponta da Piedade, Lagos, Portugal Continue reading
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My sister sent me yesterday an article in her hometown newspaper, The Washington Post, about Mary and The Magnificat, taking its text from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verses 46-55, in which Mary—who will become the mother of Jesus—speaks the words that have come to be known as The Magnificat. I hope you find them as important as I did, and that you will take the further step to become familiar with the author of the essay, D.L. Mayfield. Here it is: Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ in the Bible is revolutionary. Some evangelicals silence her. The artist Ben Wildflower's depiction of Mary, based on the Magnificat. by D. L. Mayfield [www.dlmayfield.com] December 20, 2018 When I was 15, I was cajoled into playing the role of Mary in our church’s Christmas nativity scene. I was embarrassed, stuffing a pillow under a robe to signify pregnancy, but I felt I had no choice: I was the pastor’s daughter, and there was no one else who could play the role. My cheeks burning in shame, I remember feeling little connection to Mary, the mother of God. I was silent in the play. Mary, in our tradition, was a vehicle for Jesus:... Continue reading
Alan, many thanks for your leading me to Tolkein's poem, and indeed to the word "errantry," which refers to the very Bilbo-like practice of wandering in search of chivalrous adventure. In turn it leads me to the lovely Hobbit poem by Bilbo: I SIT BESIDE THE FIRE AND THINK I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been; Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were, with morning mist and silver sun and wind upon my hair. I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see. For still there are so many things that I have never seen: in every wood in every spring there is a different green. I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago and people who will see a world that I shall never know. But all the while I sit and think of times there were before, I listen for returning feet and voices at the door. _________________ And thence to Bilbo's last song: Day is ended, dim my eyes, but journey long before me lies. Farewell, friends! I hear the call. The ship's beside the stony wall. Foam is white and waves are grey; beyond the sunset leads my way. Foam is salt, the wind is free; I hear the rising of the Sea. Farewell, friends! The sails are set, the wind is east, the moorings fret. Shadows long before me lie, beneath the ever-bending sky, but islands lie behind the Sun that I shall raise ere all is done; lands there are to west of West, where night is quiet and sleep is rest. Guided by the Lonely Star, beyond the utmost harbour-bar, I'll find the heavens fair and free, and beaches of the Starlit Sea. Ship, my ship! I seek the West, and fields and mountains ever blest. Farewell to Middle-earth at last. I see the Star above my mast!
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Amos Oz, one of my favorite Israeli authors (alongside David Grossman, the poet Yehuda Amachi, A. B. Yehoshua), peace activist, memoirist, novelist extrordinaire, died yesterday in his sleep, of cancer, at his home in Tel Aviv. He was 79, just a month younger than me. I admired his writing and his activism: his tenacious devotion to a two-state solution for Jews and Palestinians in Israel. I think the last of his books I read was his novel Judas (2016), a complex and moving story, and before that his memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness (2004), more beautifully told and different in many respects, but which I've always thought, not only in its title, a companion to my own A Love in Shadow (1978). Emily Barton concludes her nuanced review of Oz's Judas, "The novel grapples with the humanity of Jesus; the basis of anti-Semitism in particular and prejudice in general; the hope for eventual peace in the state of Israel; love. Oz pitches the book’s heartbreak and humanism perfectly from first page to last, as befits a writer who understands how vital a political role a novelist can play." The interview that follows—that appeared in The New York Times... Continue reading
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Thanks to Heartbeat: A Sacred Journey Towards Earth's Wellbeing. (double-click to enlarge) Continue reading