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Reflections from a Dry Creek Bed

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What Should We Stand For?

For weeks, I have been thinking about how I should respond to Trump and the very real threat he poses to our democracy. Now, with the inauguration looming, thousands of Austinites are planning to participate in a mass demonstration that is being organized by a coalition that titles itself, “One Resistance.” Should I march with them?

Actually, after the election, I had been thinking about organizing a march too. I envisioned standing with tens of thousands of my fellow citizens in utter silence – no chanting, no engaging with counter protestors, no emotional or hyperbolic speeches – just a stone-like, determined and peaceful silence. One message: “We stand united.”

But what would we – or should we, stand united for?

I expect the march in Austin to feature dozens of causes: women’s rights, anti-racism, pro-immigrant, environmental, LGBT, Back Lives Matter, anti-Wall Street, electoral reform, healthcare, anti-militarism… a long list. A litany of complaints and resentments will be recited along with hopes and fears. I am sure it will...

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From Aeon, here is a worthwhile reflection about home and rootedness / rootlessness in a world turned upside down.

This is a long and thoughtful piece. To be honest, I am anxious about posting this excerpt because of the references to Heidegger. However, I think the author of this article is right to focus on the disorientation of the modern world and how it can feed right wing xenophobia and nationalism.

Quote:

"Home is where the heart is, and there is no place like home, yet a sense of being at home can come from many sources. Home can be a place of residence, where you go back to after work. It can mean the place you come from: where you grew up, and to which you return in your memories and for important family rituals. Feeling at home can come from an activity in which you feel at ease, in flow, in a landscape that’s familiar and uplifting. Doing satisfying work can evoke a sense of home, as can being with friends or walking along a beach with someone you...

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Xrump talks about hitting his opponents so hard their heads will spin. He doesn’t know me from Adam, but my head has been spinning for months. The Party of Lincoln is nominating… that!?

There is so much that needs to be done. First, of course, Xrump must be defeated. Not just defeated but REJECTED. Soundly, overwhelmingly REJECTED.

Electing Hillary is not a sure bet, but even if it is accomplished by a huge margin it is not enough - by FAR. Even if the Democrats retake the Senate (which will mean retaking the Supreme Court) the Republican Party will likely still control the House thanks to the obscene gerrymandering of congressional districts. So, they will still have a haven from which they can lob the Molotov cocktails that are their substitute for governance. And, we all know that is exactly what they will do – they ran out of ideas and the desire to govern years ago – they have nothing left to offer except racist innuendo, subversion and tax cuts for billionaires. Cheered on by their hyper-agitated base and the angertainment industrial complex,...

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A Circle in the Woods: Division by Design

An Open Letter to My Fellow Citizens

“The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.” - Wendell Berry

Our nation has always been divided by cultural and political affiliations and loyalties. We have always had profound differences of opinion with the potential to flare up in both physical and emotional violence. However, there is a unique confluence of forces at work today conspiring to turn our divisions into chasms, our disagreements into irreconcilable hatreds. We suffer from division by design.

There is money to be made and power to be amassed from the carnage of our “culture wars,” money and power that we seem eager to cede to sneering angertainers and the narrow interests who bankroll them. These individuals may pose as defenders of the one true faith (whether Judeo-Christian / Capitalism or Progress) but, in reality, their loyalties are...

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Here is an article that reflects on that boundary between knowing and mystery. Science made beautiful by humility.

Quote:

"Many people have this distorted notion that physicists know everything; or, at least, that physicists have a belief that reason can conquer all. The point I try to make is that this is not how science works at all. Quite the contrary, science is inspired by ignorance, by what we don't know about the world. Every discovery brings with it the seeds of new questions that we couldn't have contemplated before. Hence my metaphor of the Island of Knowledge, surrounded by the ocean of the unknown. Science allows us to expand the island. But the ocean remains."

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Kykuit, in Sleepy Hollow, New York, was the home of J. D. Rockefeller, founder of the Rockefeller dynasty. Touring the gardens has been on my "list" since the 1980's when I read an article about the spectacular setting with its beautiful views of the Hudson, the variety of gardens, and the impressive art collection of J.D's grandson, former U.S. Vice President and long-time New York Governor, Nelson Rockefeller. and his wife, Happy.

I finally made it, and my visit to Kykuit was one of the highlights of my recent Hudson Valley tour - it did not disappoint. I wish I could have spent twice the time touring the grounds and the art collection. I will make it back at some point. Really incredible!

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Anne Spiegel's garden in Wappinger Falls, New York, is perched on a massive rock outcropping. Anne has spent years weaving new terraces and plantings into the dramatic setting in such an artful way that it can be hard to tell what is natural and what has been created. Her garden is legendary among rock garden aficionados and has been awarded by the National Rock Garden Society. When I toured the garden, Anne was happily sharing her knowledge of the plants and her gardening techniques with note taking visitors. An amazing place!

This was the last garden I toured as a part of the recent Dutchess County Garden Conservancy Open Days Tour. However, more gardens of the Hudson Valley will follow soon!

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Copperheads is an impressive property sitting on a slope with views of the Berkshire Mountain foothills. Built in the early nineteenth century, the Greek Revival home has been carefully restored by the current owner. I loved the sinuous handrails on the front porch that evoke the property's namesake.

The house is bordered by a series of garden rooms that are influenced by English garden design. An enclosed perennial garden frames views to the hills beyond and a boxwood parterre serves as the geometric setting for a kitchen garden. Behind the home, paths lead through a gorgeous woodlands garden and beyond. Naturalistic gardens like Copperheads' woodlands are difficult to orchestrate, but strolling the paths here was a great pleasure - everything seemed balanced, in-place and yet soothingly natural. A wonderful surprise was a floating woodlands bouquet that one of the gardeners had created using a sealed pot at the top of the woodlands path. Simply gorgeous!

I visited Copperheads when it was open to the public courtesy of...

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Mead Farm House is another stunning private garden in Amenia, New York. I was checking in at the entrance during the recent Garden Conservancy Open Days Tour, when I heard a familiar voice say, "Tom Spencer!" As it turns out, an old friend and colleague from KLRU-TV, Jodi MacDougal, is the niece of the garden's creator and she was on hand to help with the tour. Talk about coincidences - I was 1500 miles from home in a tiny hamlet in New York - and a genuine friend is on hand to greet me! I received a private tour of the historic home and happily roamed the 250+ year old grounds.

The Mead Farmhouse garden features sweeping naturalistic plantings that lead your eye across the property. Highlights include a beautiful bog garden and a series of quiet places to sit and contemplate the landscape including a terrace that makes use of an old silo foundation. A gorgeous place. Thanks for the surprise and hospitality, Jodi!

Learn more about the Garden Conservancy here and...

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Located in the tiny - yet garden rich - hamlet of Amenia, New York, Broccoli Hall is the creation of Homeowner, Maxine Petro and Horticulturist Tim Steinhoff. A whimsical take on a classic English cottage garden, Broccoli Hall's strong garden "bones" are off-set by exuberant plantings and charming personal touches. A geometric courtyard and leafy parterre lead visitors to paths terminating in a woodlands garden inhabited by friendly (sculpted) bears. The harmonious blend between the garden and the rustic setting makes for a playful and inviting experience. Keep Amenia Weird (and wonderful!) Thanks, Maxine!

I visited Broccoli Hall when it was open to the public courtesy of The Garden Conservancy's Open Days program, "the best garden-visiting program in America." Learn more about Open Days here.

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I visited seven or eight spectacular gardens when I was in New York recently - most of them located in Dutchess County, where I grew up. As luck would have it, the Garden Conservancy was having one of its "Open Days" tours when I was there and I spent an entire day making the rounds.

Over the course of the coming days, I will post about each of the gardens I visited in the order that I experienced them. This is the first, Wethersfield, in Amenia, NY. Wethersfield has 10 acres of formal garden spaces that serve as a romantic and classical counterpoint to the lush natural surroundings. Situated on one of the highest points in the area, the garden is designed to provide beautiful views of the rolling countryside, The garden is open to the public for visitation during the warmer months - try to visit if you can!

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"A lovely and evocative space. See more here.

Quote:

"In 1977, sculptor David Nash cleared an area of land near his home in Wales where he trained a circle of 22 ash trees to grow in a vortex-like shape for an artwork titled Ash Dome. Almost 40 years later, the trees still grow today."

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Here is a thoughtful essay about a disappearing concept: the commons.

Quote:

We live on and in the commons, even if we don’t recognise it as such. Every time we take a breath, we’re drawing from the commons. Every time we walk down a road we’re using the commons. Every time we sit in the sunshine or shelter from the rain, listen to birdsong or shut our windows against the stench from a nearby oil refinery, we are engaging with the commons. But we have forgotten the critical role that the commons play in our existence. The commons make life possible. Beyond that, they make private property possible. When the commons become degraded or destroyed, enjoyment and use of private property become untenable. A Montana rancher could own ten thousand acres and still be dependent on the health of the commons. Neither a gated community nor high-rise penthouse apartments can close a human being from the wider world that we all rely on.

We have been able to ignore and damage the...

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Excellent article about our infatuation with innovation.

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There is an urgent need to reckon more squarely and honestly with our machines and ourselves. Ultimately, emphasizing maintenance involves moving from buzzwords to values, and from means to ends. In formal economic terms, ‘innovation’ involves the diffusion of new things and practices. The term is completely agnostic about whether these things and practices are good. Crack cocaine, for example, was a highly innovative product in the 1980s, which involved a great deal of entrepreneurship (called ‘dealing’) and generated lots of revenue. Innovation! Entrepreneurship! Perhaps this point is cynical, but it draws our attention to a perverse reality: contemporary discourse treats innovation as a positive value in itself, when it is not.

Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility....

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The following essay is part of a series of reflections I wrote about childhood encounters with nature titled "Where Wonder Was Born." The following is a true story.

Where Wonder Was Born: Danger - Real and Imagined

Faraway places with exotic names tug at our imaginations and our sense of discovery and adventure. Yet, adventures are often accompanied by risk and childhood adventures are no exception.

Among the pack of kids who lived in my neighborhood when I was growing up, there were two destinations spoken of only in hushed, secretive tones: “Cat’s Cave” and “Devil’s Island.” Both places lay just beyond the usual bounds of our territory, too far to venture if you were six, but within striking distance if you were a determined ten year old. Their evocative names sounded as if they were lifted straight from the Hardy Boy books that so many of us grew up with and elevated these places to the status of forbidden territory. Of course, this made them completely irresistible to my over active imagination.

I was a very low ranking member of the gang and my...

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Here is a photo album capturing some of the late fall foliage display here in Austin. All but one of these images come from my garden - the exception is a tree I planted in a park 26 years ago.

Many people are surprised to learn that you can have fall color in Texas, but we have aa number of native plants that can be very showy at this time of year. The peak of our "fall" comes in early December. Plants include: Bigtooth Maple, Prairie Flame Leaf Sumac, Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum, Mexican Buckeye, Bur Oak, and Crape Myrtle.

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Here are a few images of one of my favorite places in Texas - Westcave Preserve. (Taken in October)

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Here is a powerful and beautifully written essay by Marilynne Robinson about the state of Western Culture and why we must maintain a relationship with and reverence for mystery- even in the face of the great accomplishments of "materialist" and reductive science. .

Quote:

 I am a theist, so my habits of mind have a particular character. Such predispositions, long typical in Western civilization, have been carefully winnowed out of scientific thought over the last two centuries in favor of materialism, by which I mean a discipline of exclusive attention to the reality that can be tested by scientists. This project was necessary and very fruitful. The greatest proof of its legitimacy is that it has found its way to its own limits. Now scientific inference has moved past the old assumptions about materiality and beyond the testable. Presumably it would prefer not to have gone beyond its classic definitions of hypothesis, evidence, demonstration. And no doubt it...

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