VA now in review/recess mode– recalling Recessional

Since the March 6th direct protest action (site occupation) by a group named Crown Hill Woods Protectors, the Veterans Administration has been studying several alternative sites for its planned memorial cemetery in Indianapolis. This is a very positive turn of events and the Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors and many other community groups are very hopeful that an accord can be reached which would save and permanently protect the forest ecosystem and also provide a suitable location for the planned columbarium.

I’ve always liked Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem Recessional and it seems appropriate for several reasons to recall it now– along with following commentary provided by Paul and Anne Ehrlich from their 2004 book One With Nineveh— Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future.   

Recessional by Rudyard Kipling, 1897

“God of our fathers, known of old—

Lord of our far-flung battle line—

Beneath whose awful hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget, lest we forget!


The tumult and the shouting dies—

The captains and the kings depart—

Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart,

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget, lest we forget!


Far call’d our navies melt away—

On dune and headland sinks the fire—

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget, lest we forget!”


“Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling’s famous 1897 poem that refers to Nineveh’s fall, is a cautionary tale about pride and arrogance, itself written during the high tide of the British Empire.  Early civilizations, not just in Mesopotamia and Egypt but also elsewhere in the Middle East, Mesoamerica, and East Asia, were notoriously hierarchal, ruled over by people with enormous presumption.  This is attested by the abundant remains of pyramids and palaces created by the labor of thousands for the use of a tiny elite….

“The Greek word hubris best describes the kind of overweening pride, arrogance, and presumption memorialized in those Assyrian royal annals and the extensive bas-reliefs of Nineveh.  Of course, displays of hubris are not confined to ancient times, or to the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates, or even to the glory days of the British Empire.  …

“Hubris-based misuse of power, in our view, is a major reason why increased overpopulation and runaway consumption—driving forces in environmental deterioration—are not being adequately assessed or addressed….

“We think that all these assumptions show a lack of contact with reality. Collective hubris reinforces the desires of many of the most powerful segments of civilization, and it helps create collective denial.  It prevents people from seeing what society’s environmental choices mean for our children and grandchildren….

“Dealing with population, consumption, and power will not be easy.  But each day that we do nothing forecloses options for creating a better future, for avoiding Nineveh-like ecological suicide in our time.”

Source:  One with Nineveh— Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future,  Ehrlich, Paul and Anne, 2004





Read! Read!


A recent Facebook post by the Protectors of Crown Hill Woods supplied a video of a classic 1970 episode of Mayberry RFD (titled The Mayberry Road) which was spot-on in so many ways both obvious and subtle.  It featured a battle between the Mayberry Garden Club and the County Commission road-builders who planned a destructive short-cut designed to save time in the drive to Mount Pilot.  It’s a must see:

In making her woods preservation case, Aunt Bea points out to the Garden Club “this latest step in the desecration of our woodland areas” and she later makes an appeal to Sam Jones, the president of the Town Council.

After he balked, she incredulously asks “Sam, don’t you read?  Don’t you know there’s a battle raging on behalf of conservation – saving our natural resources?”  Scholarly Howard, the Town Clerk/Postmaster, then pitches in with a reference to supportive information he had recently read.

Of course, having read nothing about conservation issues, Sam is clueless about the case for preserving natural heritage and instead argues that progress reasonably requires the loss of a few trees.  Eventually however Aunt Bea prevails, after some civil disobedient direst action, and the planned road is re-aligned by the County to avoid destroying the woods—the classic “win-win” for each side.

I thought Aunt Bea’s remark about the importance of reading the current literature on conservation issues, although a subtle remark, was one of the important messages of the story and one of the main reasons that there is so much ignorance by public officials and the general public about the importance of preserving our natural heritage.  We are so fortunate, especially during the past couple of decades, to have such a great wealth of brilliant literature of place by such a wide variety of great writers and experts.  But are their works widely read?  Unfortunately, not enough!

I first became interested in environmental and place literature in the late 1980s after reading a book of essays (Where We Live—Essays about Indiana) published in 1989 by The Indiana Humanities Council (now Indiana Humanities).  Since then, the range of available titles about global environmental protection and good place-making have greatly expanded.  We can only hope that these books are being read by both conservation advocates and public officials who have the power and authority to act.

When my daughter was about 3 years old, she perched on my lap one evening as I read children’s stories to her.  After some time, I started to drift off to sleep whereupon she forcefully grabbed me with two fists by the shirt front at demanded that I “Read! Read!”.   It’s universal good advice—whether we’re reading bedtime stories or prescriptions on how to save our planet.







Ann Zwinger: Remembering Indiana and the White River

“When I think about growing up in Indiana, the image that comes most strongly to mind is that of the White River.  ……It took me a good many years to realize what the intimate presence of a river in your childhood means, and just what a rich heritage it is.  Or what the remembrance of a familiar countryside means…. The imprint of the Indiana landscape–the whole intermeshing of plant and landscape, of sky and earth, of people and place– is distinctively what I remember as the essence of Indiana…. perhaps that heritage doesn’t reveal itself until you’re older.  Until then you’re too busy growing up, and there is certainly the glee in leaving behind the familiar and undertaking the new.  But when you begin your own work, you have to dip back into the reservoir of your life and rediscover.  What was there, tucked away in memory, has become not mere nostalgia but a base upon which to proceed…. There seems to be something about looking into the natural world that brings satisfactions I don’t see very much elsewhere.  One reason for this must certainly be nature’s continual restoration and continual reaffirmation of a sense of logic.  Nature can indeed be capricious, but overall, nature is organized and has a place for everything  There is cause and effect, not always clear, but the more one studies, the more one becomes aware of a natural progression of events, a natural logic.   We need logic and structure in our lives; we need to be assured that this is after all a rational world.  It’s a thin reassurance if you base it upon the actions of the human species.   People don’t always perform rationally; nature does. The sun always rises in the east.

Ann Zwinger, Essay, Remembering Indiana, Audubon Magazine, Jan. 95

Coyote the Trickster

After Edward Abbey died in March, 1989, a fine memorial book was published.  In Resist Much, Obey Little editors James Hepworth and Gregory McNamee complied the contributions of 25 prominent writers and friends of Ed.  One was Terry Tempest Williams, who has presented in Indianapolis on several occasions (at the Spirit and Place Civic Festival and an Indiana Humanities program last year).  “Tempest” as Abbey called her, reflected on their long walks and talks in the desert.

She concludes her piece by describing the emergence of the Coyote Clan in Southern Utah, and perhaps wherever our natural lands come under assault.

“Members of the Clan are not easily identified, but there are clues.  You can see it in their eyes.  They are joyful and they are fierce.  They can cry louder and laugh harder than anyone on the planet.  And they have enormous range. 

The Coyote Clan is a raucous bunch: they have drunk from desert potholes and belched forth toads. They tell stories with such virtuosity that you’ll swear you have been in the presence of preachers….

Members of the Clan court risk and will dance on slickrock as flash floods erode the ground beneath their feet. It doesn’t matter.  They understand the earth re-creates itself day after day.

One last promise Ed: we shall go forth with a vengeance.”

Coyote, the trickster, is an iconic mythological figure and there’s much written describing his traits and how he reshapes the world.  Here are some descriptive excerpts from selected sources. In addition to the usual tools such as public education,  perhaps we can apply some of Coyote’s provocative qualities in our work to stop dams, the wanton destruction of forests, etc.


Coyote the Trickster in literature:   

“Coyote— a mythical, spiritual, or human being living on the geographic and social fringe of a community, whose role within that community is to use humor, shock, cunning, and surprise to assist individuals in “waking up” and to prevent the community from developing self-destructive modes of behavior.

“Warrior—a protector of the people, a high distinction earned through fidelity to truth, common sense, physical and mental prowess, and personal integrity.

Source:  Coyote Warrior – One Man, Three Tribes, and the Trial that Forged a Nation, Paul Van Develder, 2004

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“To decolonize our minds, we need to embrace a kind of trickster consciousness to break out of the binary thinking imposed on us by Eurocentric thinking… Trickster consciousness is a term coined by Anishinabe scholar, Gerald Vizenor, who writes about the importance of different ways of thinking and how to free the mind of the limits of the Western intellectual paradigm. Trickster consciousness helps facilitate a paradigm shift in our thinking. As Vizenor articulates, “Trickster consciousness is a comic liberator that craves chance, surprise, difference. The trickster is a healer in a fragmented world. The trickster denies singularity, monocultures, and completion. The trickster is communal, sensuous, erotic. The trickster is going to help us get to our next place.”

“We see in the dominant Western world that decisions are often based on “either/or” thinking… This binary thinking has so thoroughly pervaded our minds that it has become an unconscious reflex in thought.

“The trickster, the coyote, as an archetype, as a person, as a cultural hero in our oral traditions and stories, is a teacher and reminder of plurality, diversity, paradox, humor, surprise and humility. Trickster forces us to retain an understanding of all sides of a story by revealing them to the coexisting parts of one greater whole— interconnected and indistinguishable. …One of the ways we can invite this trickster consciousness or coyote way into our lives and decolonize our minds is through traditional cultural arts:  music, dance, weaving, carving, beading, regalia-making, sculpting, painting and other mediums…

Source:  Mending the Split-Head Society with the Trickster Consciousness, Melissa K. Nelson, 2008

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“The oldest teachers of human beings are the animals, and none of these are more clever or venerable instructors than the tricksters… Throughout world culture, tricksters such as hare and raven are honored for playing important roles in the creation of the earth. Their bluffs and schemes taught skills without which we human beings would be poor helpless animals indeed. The earliest storytellers had nothing but admiration for the trickster animals who showed people how to live with zest and cunning…”

Source:  Trick of the Tale, John and Caitlin Matthews

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“Coyote the Trickster – Long before we had television and books, before anybody wrote our language down, everything was learned by listening and doing. The spoken word was very important, and listening to stories was like going to school, to the movies, and to church, all at the same time. Then, as now, stories would talk about things like how the world was created and what our role in the world is. Indian ideas of what is considered proper behavior are reinforced by stories that poke fun at foolish misbehavior. Indian people use many kinds of stories to tell their histories and in many ways their stories are America’s only truly native literature.

A trickster hero’s exploits figure in the tales told by many tribal nations in North America. The American Indian trickster-hero may be responsible for creating parts of the world, but at the same time he often misbehaves. Different people give him different identities. He is Spider to the Sioux, he is Raven on the Northwest Coast. The people of the Great Lakes call him Hare, and to many people in the West he is Coyote.”

Source:  Coyote in Love with a Star, Marty Kreipe de Montanio

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“The tribal trickster liberates the mind in a comic discourse that reveals new signs, identities, and uncertain humor.” Robert Pelton said that “the trickster, ravenous and loutish, draws order from ordure”. He wrote that all “tricksters are foolers and fools, but their foolishness varies; sometimes it is destructive, sometimes creative, sometimes scatological, sometimes satiric, sometimes playful. In other words, the pattern is a shifting one, with now some, now others of the features presented.”

Source:  The Trickster as Liberator, Gerald Vizenor

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“An unpredictable and irrepressible figure found in stories all around the world. A liar, a thief, a clown, a troublesome meddler, and a sacred world creator, Trickster is a paradoxical creature who is wily and clever, yet also very foolish; he is both a cultural hero and a destructive influence, usually at one and the same time. Mythic tales about trickster are often funny, but don’t mistake him for a harmless buffoon. Trickster can be dark and deadly to encounter. At the very least he’ll deceive or rob you blind… Trickster is a boundary crosser, a violator of rules, an agent of change and transformation.”

“The key to spotting a mythic trickster (as opposed to a lesser con man or fool) is to remember the double aspect of his nature—he is both good and bad, wise and witless, both sacred and profane…

“Clowns, comedians, con men, and the masked actors of the commedia del’arte are all descendants of Trickster to a greater or lesser degree, using their wits to confound and astound, playing fast and loose with societies rules. Whole holidays are dedicated to Trickster’s spirit of anarchy, mirth, and misrules… Tricksters are contradictory creatures:  they are liars, knaves, rascals, fools, clowns, con men lechers, and thieves—but they are also cultural heroes whose tricks can do great good as well as great harm, and whose stories uphold the very traditions mocked by their antics.

“It is a trickster’s role to shake things up, to ignore established conventions, and to transgress traditional boundaries, thereby initiating acts of change and transformation, for good and for ill.

“Trickster can be an agent of creation or destruction, a cunning hero or a predatory villain, most often he is an ambivalent figure, shifting back and forth from one mode to the other.

“It was hard for the belagana (white man) to understand how funny stories could also be sacred stories. Coyote shows what will happen if you fail to live in harmony and to take care of your relatives. Coyote is always hungry, he’s always lazy, he’s always chasing after someone else’s wife. He doesn’t think about anybody but himself. He does everything wrong, he messes everything up. It’s funny, but it’s a warning too.”

(Navaho storyteller).

Source:  The Coyote Road—Trickster Tails edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, 2007

the stream of life and a needed “delegation for the four-footed”

For we free-flowing-rivers fans, I thought I’d pass along a poetic “stream of life” passage (contained in the following inspiring video For the Beauty of the Earth) and the related reading from the same UUI service last November.

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.”

Here’s the video link– hope you’ll watch

Here’s the reading:…….

From “The Sacred Depths of Nature”

By Ursula Goodenough

The outpouring of [the Earth’s] biological diversity calls us to marvel at its fecundity. All of us humans are but a tiny part of an enormous context. We are one of perhaps 30 million species on the planet today, and countless millions that have gone before.  We occupy, temporarily, the very last moment of the animal radiation; our species appeared only some 130,000 years ago and the cave painters 35,000 years ago. And while we animals were radiating, so too were all the other lineages of the biosphere, generating a veritable sunburst of the biosphere.

We are called to acknowledge our dependency on the web of life both for our subsistence and for countless aesthetic experiences:  spring birdsong, swelling tree buds, the dizzy smell of honeysuckle.  We are called to acknowledge that which we are not: we cannot survive in a deep-sea vent, or fix nitrogen, or create a forest canopy, or soar 300 feet in the air and then catch a mouse in a spectacular nosedive.

[In this spirit] Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation, spoke these words to an assembly at the United Nations:

“I do not see a delegation for the four-footed.  I see no seat for the eagles.  We forget and we consider ourselves superior, but we are after all a mere part of the Creation.  We must continue to understand where we are.  And we stand between the mountain and the ant, somewhere and there only, as part and parcel of the Creation.  It is our responsibility, since we have been given the minds to take care of these things.”

Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons is one of my contemporary heroes. His call for a “delegation for the four-footed” resonates.  He was an All-American lacrosse goalie circa 1950. As Bobby Kennedy, Jr. (Waterkeeper Alliance) has noted: “A strong defense begins with a strong offense“. 

More landscape subjugation (in Indianapolis) courtesy of the Veterans Administration

Crown Hill cemetery is located near White River in Indianapolis.  It has sold 15 acres of pre-settlement forest to the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Just as the people of the Heart of the River coalition have devoted and expended a lot of heart into the defense of the river from the planned dam in Anderson, the folks of the Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors have lent heart to their fight to preserve the forest.  More info at and

I was recently reading Scott Russell Sanders’ 2016 novel Divine Animal.  He poignantly describes our “subjugated landscape” in Indiana as follows.

“… he looked over the fields on either side of the highway…  The terrain was flat here, leveled by glaciers as far as he could see it was planted in corn and soybeans… It was a subjugated landscape. He knew that almost every acre within sight had been covered with hardwood forest when the first white settlers arrived, yet now the only scraps of forest remaining were spindly woodlots here and there.  Across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, there were millions of such acres once covered with great trees, nearly all of them cleared in a few decades with hand tools and muscle power.  And cleared not only of trees.  Passenger pigeons, Carolina parakeets, wolves, bison, bears panthers, and lynx were all driven from this part of the country or driven to extinction, along with the Shawnee, Miami, Piankeshaw, and other native tribes. Once we had exploited the continent from sea to sea, we began sending our soldiers anywhere on Earth that possessed something we wanted.  This bullying was an old habit, ingrained in us over three centuries, since the Pilgrims arrived in the New World with their muskets and their writ of ownership from God and king.

How could he explain this view of his nation, which he had arrived at slowly, reluctantly, through reading and reflection, and which ran so contrary to what he’s been taught in school, where the subduing of land, Indians, and beasts had been portrayed as the triumph of civilization over wilderness, where every U.S. venture had been justified as a crusade by the powers of light against the powers of darkness.

Scott Russell Sanders, Divine Animal, 2016



Reservoir maintenance, especially dredging, is costly


Citizens Water of Indianapolis recently applied to IDEM for authorization (a Section 401 Water Quality Certification) to dredge a large area of Morse reservoir over the next 20 years in order to regain a portion of the original reservoir capacity.   Morse turned 60 years old in 2016 and sedimentation from its tributary stream inlets and adjacent/upstream land disturbances (mostly urban development and agricultural operations) have significantly diminished water-storing capacity.  Citizens proposes to dredge 93 acres plus 4 acres of emergent wetlands.   Over the 20-year project period, it will remove upwards of 360,000 cubic yards of sediment.  Morse has a total surface area of approximately 1500 acres.

I asked Citizens about the cost of the dredging.   It reported:  For Morse, it budgeted $62,000 in 2016, $400,000 for 2017, and $650,000 for 2018.   No estimates available yet for subsequent years’ budgeted costs.   

For Geist reservoir, Citizens spent $504,000 in 2016 and has budgeted $400,000 for 2017.

Citizens Water should be commended for reversing this deferred maintenance and addressing the cumulative problem of capacity loss.  Citizens Water’s predecessor Veolia Water (a private operator), which operated the system under nominal city supervision by a Waterworks Board and staff for about 8 years during the Peterson administration, conducted no capacity dredging at all.   It does not appear that the Indianapolis Water Company/IWC Resources, Inc. which operated the utility throughout much of the 1900s, dredged much if at all.   Update:  Here is Citizens Water’s response to my inquiry– “IWC did dredge 121 acres of the reservoir in the mid-1990s to restore 788,505 gallons of capacity to Geist Reservoir. We do not believe Morse was ever dredged by IWC or Veolia.

Maintenance dredging to preserve capacity should be done periodically/selectively.  The summer drought and heat of 2012 caused precipitous and unsustainable drawdowns of the reservoirs (ridiculously, mostly for suburban lawn irrigation).  In addition, despite the fact that the reservoirs were built as water supply reservoirs, Citizens is bedeviled by the complaints of wealthy and vocal reservoir property and boat owners when water levels fall to the point of impeding boating.   Of course, these recreational reservoir users pay nothing to support the dredging.

In the future, public policy review of any proposed new reservoirs should include close consideration of the full costs of long-term maintenance.  Reservoirs once constructed, immediately begin filling with sediment.  This is exacerbated in agricultural areas where tilling hastens the rate of sedimentation.

As Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. said: “One of the fundamental flaws of human nature is that everybody wants to build, but nobody wants to do maintenance.”