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Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - October 2015


Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - October 2015

We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good. – Pope Francis

I am racing, wheels screeching, under the deadline (and actually slightly over it!) to write this to you from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I am enjoying a week’s visit at the home of a dear friend and former neighbor who lives in the apartment complex where I lived for eight years.

We’ve just listened to the Pope’s talk before Congress.

We had spent the morning walking at Bandelier Monument, a park west of Los Alamos where members of the Anasazi tribe lived in cliff dwellings burrowed until drought drove them to seek another location. It’s a place of astonishing beauty under a shocking blue sky, pervaded by a deep, resonating silence that gives the soul room to stretch and breathe. It is like entering that space we seek in meditation, in which the mind quiets, the feelings expand and open, and we are invited to experience whatever comes up and allow it to unfold in awareness.

The mesas are touched with vibrant shades of green after a year of unexpectedly regular rains and snowfall; spring wildflowers especially purple asters are scattered everywhere, the Rio Grande is a thick stream that looks like chocolate milk, and even the ubiquitous brown earth seems to have acquired shades of gold and bronze. It gives one hope. 

In that wide space, we sat down to listen to the gentle tones of Pope Francis’ historic and unprecedented address to our representatives. In it, he interwove four major themes embodied by four American heroes: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

I hope you all heard the speech. If not, find it on the Internet. The feeling with which it was delivered, and the respect it expressed for the traditions on which this country is based, were what struck me most, with an acknowledgment of the ways to enter into connection with God, by whatever name you call him. 

I was disappointed that the Pope did not speak more forcefully on climate change, after writing a 200-page encyclical that did. After speaking so tenderly about the American Dream, he paved the way to deliver some serious hits. I’m sorry he did not take that opportunity. 

We have so little time to deal with this life-threatening illness that so aptly reflects the heedlessness and greed that lie at its source. Addressing it needs to be our first priority. So many of our other concerns could be aided in the process. Certainly many jobs could be created for people to do the work of making the transition to a way of life more compatible with the limits set by the planet. Solving climate change calls on us to rise to our highest nature, to live by the values the Pope embraced in his talk: compassion; cooperation; a commitment to govern for the good of all. It could trigger a whole new phase of evolution for humanity, which has been aspiring to take the high road to a more deeply human consciousness. It not now, when?

We can do it! And it might inspire us to know that we have already found the technologies to address and even reverse the consequences of a warming planet. On the one hand, we can make the shift from burning fossil fuels. That’s the hard part, but it can be done.

Even more encouraging is the news that we can also draw down carbon from the atmosphere by the way we farm. Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the Organic Consumers’ Association, spoke at the Heirloom Seed Festival on a hundred degree afternoon at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds last month about shifting from degenerative agriculture to regenerative. Research has shown that widespread adoption of regenerative farming methods could actually reduce greenhouse gases. He quotes Tom Newmark: “Scientists say that we can get back to 350 ppm in 10 years. All we have to do is increase soil organic matter in all grasslands on the planet by one percent.”

We could be doing regenerative ranching on the coastal hills instead of putting in new vineyards, as the new Local Coastal Plan appears to encourage! Please see my article on this topic in the November Sonoma Sun

In December, the UN is convening a critical meeting in Paris. The inertia of our government and its lack of political will remains a formidable adversary. But we can’t settle for human extinction by 2100. It’s not the ending our children deserve.