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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Below is a guest post from NWEI Board Member Eric Park – in honor of NWEI’s forthcoming 20th Anniversary and the launch of our new website and online platform next week. Enjoy!

This quote is often a source of inspiration for organizations like NWEI, committed to working towards creating positive change in the world. However, while this quote is inspiring, it doesn’t offer any insight into how to “spark” this change.

NWEI has spent the last twenty years, working to spark change. As we move forward into our twenty-first year, we will be launching a new online platform to extend the reach of the organization. But more importantly, we will move forward with a deeper understanding of the importance of mastering the art of the “aha” moment in order to accelerate the pace of change towards a more sustainable future.

We believe the key spark for behavior change is the “aha!” moment. We’ve all experienced “aha!” moments, from eyebrow raising to life-changing; moments when we discover something new about the world or ourselves that inspire us to make a change. NWEI has worked to understand the conditions necessary for individuals and small groups to have “aha!” moments, knowing that this is the spark for individual and collective change.

But sparking these “Aha” moments isn’t easy. When is the last time you actually changed your mind about something, or resolved yourself to make a small or significant change in the way you were doing things? Turns out for many, this doesn’t happen very often.

What we do know, is that most people who participate in an NWEI discussion courses or our annual Ecochallenge event do make a change. And we believe it’s because these activities engage people in a social process of learning, action, or story-telling that creates the conditions for them to have “Aha” moments.

As we launch our new on-line platform, we hope to encourage more people to participate in activities that trigger more personal “Aha” moments, because while we know change is hard, we also know that change is inevitable. And we’re committed to accelerating this change by becoming masters of art the “Aha” moment.

With our on-line platform, we hope it will be easier for you to share your “aha” moments and make it easier for you and others to create the conditions for your circle of family, friend, or co-workers to have theirs.

Advertisements we feature a guest post from Angela Hamilton, Education and Student Programs Coordinator at Portland State University’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions, NWEI volunteer and member of the planning committee for our 20th Anniversary Celebration.

By Angela Hamilton

Like many of you, I have my own personal story of change inspired by NWEI’s discussion courses and EcoChallenge. I was introduced to NWEI in 2008 during my first class in the Leadership for Sustainability Education master’s program at Portland State University. The professor integrated a discussion course as a group assignment and brought in a guest speaker from the Earth Institute to speak to our class. I dreamed of becoming part of a curriculum committee for one of the discussion courses, and ventured to volunteer with NWEI. Instead of planning life-changing programs with a committee of like-minded folks, I found myself instead doing data entry, a much less “sexy” volunteer job, for which I had the right skills. What, you might ask, kept me around for the five years since?

Spending time in the NWEI office, I noticed two things that keep me connected to NWEI and its meaningful work. First, I learned how far NWEI’s influence stretches. Before volunteering, I knew that NWEI was a cool Portland nonprofit that had put together some amazing materials that I couldn’t wait to utilize in my future educational opportunities. But I had NO idea how many people had used the discussion courses to create change in their communities — thousands upon thousands of people in neighborhoods, universities, churches, and organizations across the world are taking action and creating change because of the Earth Institute! I became excited to support such an important organization working to bring forth a thriving future. Second, I realized that the organization is supported by a community. I watched as people came into the office and were welcomed as old friends. Because of the heart and commitment of the staff and board, NWEI brings meaning and community into people’s lives–locally, nationally, and internationally.

Over the past five years, I have deepened my relationship with NWEI by convening a Voluntary Simplicity discussion course, tabling for NWEI at the Portland Earth Day festival, attending the 2011 North American Gathering in Port Townsend, serving as a liaison at Portland State University for integrating the discussion courses into curricular and co-curricular learning, and promoting the courses via the nonprofit that I co-founded, Earth Wisdom AllianceWhen Mike called me in January 2012 to ask if I would be interested in joining a committee to work on the Change for Good campaign leading up to the 20th Anniversary Celebration, I was honored to be invited to increase my commitment to NWEI.

During the Voluntary Simplicity course that I convened, one of the participants quit her second job as a result of reassessing what she wanted more of and needed less of in her life. Witnessing this and hearing the other stories of individuals, groups, and organizations that are using NWEI’s courses to do amazing things —to make sustainable magic— in this world where change is sometimes challenging, my inspiration is renewed. I can’t wait to see NWEI’s powerful new platform for cultivating communities of leaders, which will launch at the 20th Anniversary Celebration.

I hope you’ll join me on May 16th at the Celebration, I promise you a night of fun and inspiration!

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imagesThis week we are happy to share a guest post from Mary Shaw who works at the Ashland, Oregon Food Co-op, where participants recently completed NWEI’s Voluntary Simplicity discussion course. Participants shared a variety of reflections upon completion of the course, with one participant noting “I am thinking more deeply and intentionally.  It’s helping me be accountable to get rid of things I’m no longer using.” Another course participant mentioned that “the Voluntary Simplicity group has prompted me to consider and eliminate internal and external clutter in my life…When making purchases I now ask myself is this a need or a want?” Thanks to the Ashland Food Co-op for sharing these reflections with us!

Simplicity can be viewed as a practice to create a more purposeful way of life in a complex, consumptive society.  To simplify is to reduce what you have to the essentials; to streamline and to clarify.  

Participants in the Co-op’s first offering of the Voluntary Simplicity discussion course are making life changes one step at a time. Weekly readings and discussions are followed by an action plan which helps participants commit to change. For example, one of the action plans with the theme “Intentional Living” prompted some participants to do the following: cook 5 good meals during the week; check email only three times a day instead of every 30 minutes; and take regular walks.  Part of each session is then spent sharing the successes, challenges, and inspiration experienced while implementing these commitments. Some of the participants will be starting a new group in April.  If you are interested in joining them, contact Mary Shaw at 541-482-2237 ex 261.

“Voluntary Simplicity has made me realize there are too many of us wanting too much from the planet and there are choices we can make to lessen these demands.”- Voluntary Simplicity course participant, Ashland Food Co-op


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Below is a guest blog post from former NWEI staffer, Daniella Dennenberg, who now is the Portland Program Director for HEART, whose mission is to foster compassion and respect for all living beings and the environment by educating youth and teachers in humane education. One way she takes action on behalf of the environment is through a personal practice of letter writing to legislators or individuals in decision-making roles, as well as sharing this practice with students. She urges the NWEI community to remember the power of continuing the conversations started in discussion courses via letter writing.

I’ve been writing to legislators and individuals in decision-making roles since high school (for over twenty years). I believe it is one of the most powerful and effective means of using my voice as an engaged citizen. Some of the very first letters I wrote back then were to large companies like Procter and Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive who (continue to) test household and personal care products on thousands of animals a year…

 As a humane educator with Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers (HEART), it is my responsibility to empower young people with tools to affect change on their communities. Students often feel disempowered or disheartened when they learn about animal cruelty, environmental destruction or human rights abuses. Over the years HEART students have written hundreds of letters to everyone from the president of the United States to the heads of large corporations. Whether asking for better laws to protect the environment, or for companies to stop using sweatshops, letters have always been a premiere form of advocacy that can be done for the cost of a piece of paper, pencil and a stamp. Or these days, even a simple email…

While (so far) President Obama hasn’t personally responded to any of the letters sent by our students, the higher-ups in major companies like Wal-Mart and Hershey’s have taken the time to write back thanking students for their input and applauding them for being engaged citizens. Through letter writing, students learn that they have a voice that can be used to make the world better for others...

My hope is that as environmental advocates, you incorporate letter writing into your repertoire of tools and use it as a means of creating sustainable change. Start conversations about the issues that matter most to you!

Letter writing is a great follow up action to any of NWEI’s 12 discussion courses.

*HEART recently did a piece about letter writing as well:


Today we are excited to share a guest blog post from a former Peace Corps volunteer and current NWEI discussion course organizer who now lives in Traverse City, Michigan. Cheryl, who wrote the post below, recently convened two of Northwest Earth Institute’s discussion courses in her community.

“Today, the leaders who influence our faith and action are those who convene (or moderate or enable) the conversations that change our life…”

from “Theology After Google” by Philip Clayton

As a very new Peace Corps volunteer, I attended a community planning meeting in the town of 5,000 that I was assigned to.  As people brainstormed community needs, one woman said, “What this town needs is more leaders.” Did she mean what I thought she meant? –That leaders were something to be imported, like books, computers or construction equipment?

Yes, she did.  I wasn’t really one to speak up at that point in my life, especially in a room full of people I didn’t know, in a language I could barely manage.  But I was so taken aback that I managed to splutter, “But YOU are the leaders!”

I feel the same way when I hear someone say, “I wish someone would lead a group on sustainability, or energy or voluntary simplicity.”  YOU are the leaders! It’s really easy to lead a discussion group based on the NWEI discussion guides.  Just gather a few people, order the books, do the readings and talk! If you need more guidance on how to publicize the meeting, or any other aspect of hosting a group, the NWEI staff will help you.  Real people actually read and answer your emails!

indexI just hosted two groups in Northern Michigan based on the Global Warming:  Changing Course discussion course book. One group filled with 11 people after only one email was sent out and the other group was over-subscribed with 17 people.  Of course, my primary audience was Unitarian Universalists as they are very inclined to be socially aware and active.  (If you’re convening a group in your community, be sure to let the UU churches know.  You’ll likely find interested participants there.)

People were very engaged in the discussions and we shared fears about climate change, doubts about our own ability to make a difference, but also hope.  The groups are coalescing around action.

Be the person who convenes a conversation that will change lives!  The NWEI discussion guides are perfectly suited to help you make it happen.


EnoughIsEnough_Final_LoRes-200x300This week we are happy to share a guest blog post by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill, coauthors of Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources.

Growth.  That’s the front-runner among strategies for improving society.  Never-ending economic growth is the universal plan emanating from classrooms, boardrooms, and press rooms.  If you stop for a second and listen, you can hear a professor, a pundit, or a politician prescribing economic growth as the pill to cure any ill.  Climate change?  Don’t worry—all we need to do is grow the economy and we’ll have the money to capture carbon emissions or re-engineer the climate.  Poverty?  Sit tight—all we need to do is grow the economy, and a rising tide will lift all boats to a mansion in the hills.

The only trouble is that the “cure” has become more of a curse.  We’ve had decades of economic growth in nations around the world, but some of our most profound social and environmental problems continue to intensify.  During the age of growth we’ve witnessed the loss of climate stability, the loss of biological diversity, and the loss of social cohesion.  At the same time, surveys indicate that all the additional production and consumption is failing to make us any happier.

It’s time to try a new strategy—the strategy of enough.  Suppose that instead of chasing after more stuff, more jobs, more consumption, and more income, we aimed for enough stuff, enough jobs, enough consumption, and enough income.  What if enough took the place of more as the organizing principle for the economy?

The policy and behavioral changes needed to make such a shift will undoubtedly be difficult to implement, but in contrast to infinite economic growth, they’re possible.  Unlike more, enough doesn’t attempt to circumvent the laws of physics.

Imagine an economy that can meet people’s needs without undermining the life-support systems of the planet.  Imagine an economy founded on fairness instead of foolishness.  Imagine taking action to begin the transition.  One thing’s for certain: the changes will only materialize when we achieve widespread recognition that enough is enough.

For more information on this book, click here.

indexBen Rumbaugh is a Senior International Studies major at Xavier University, where he recently participated in one of NWEI’s Voluntary Simplicity discussion courses, hosted by Greg Carpinello, the Director of the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice. Below is an excerpt from Ben’s recent blog entry from the Dorothy Day Center Blog:

Affluenza: 1. A painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. 2. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 3. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the pursuit of the American Dream. 4. An unstable addiction to economic growth. (from

As the Advent season approaches, more people are suffering from affluenza than influenza from the cold weather. The act of giving during Christmas is often undermined by this illness. Many would suggest that this condition is caused by American consumerism and the expectation of numerous material gifts on Christmas day. How can we avoid this? What is the prescribed vaccine for affluenza? It’s simple.

Originally, I found this definition in a curriculum about Voluntary Simplicity that I experienced with a small group this summer. It was no surprise to me that a correlation was made between living simply and consumption. However, after my group finished the curriculum, I found that limiting my amount of consumption did not easily equate to a simple life. Instead, committing to living simply has created a lifestyle that requires concentration and effort – far from simple. Voluntary simplicity isn’t merely spending less; rather it is a concerted effort in exploring why we consume in the first place.

Approaching voluntary simplicity in this way has been a beautiful and challenging examination of my values. Especially during a time when I’m unsure of my values, reflecting upon the purchases I make throughout the day has started to unwrap the values that society holds and how I fit within that structure. However, having a conscience (or lack of one on some days) while at the store does not encompass the entirety of consumption. By starting with small purchases at a convenience store, I have slowly begun to view all of my actions as if they were transactions in a store. I ask myself, “What is this action costing others? What is it costing me? How does this action reflect the culture surrounding me?” Although attempting to quantify everything is not always a healthy practice, viewing my everyday tasks in this light has led me to further solidify my values…

For the full post, click here.

Today we have a guest post from our friends at EarthShare of Oregon. If you don’t already participate in EarthShare’s important initiatives, please consider doing so! It is easy to set up a giving program at your workplace. And thank you to those who chose to donate to NWEI through EarthShare’s programs! Read below to learn more:

Threats to our natural world are growing, as are demands on the lands, water, food, energy and other resources people and wildlife need to thrive. As green as Oregon is, it’s simply not enough. We need more people and businesses supporting the environmental movement. EarthShare is working to make that happen.

EarthShare Oregon engages people at their workplaces, bringing new support to the environmental movement, both across Oregon and around the world. Through a single gift to EarthShare, you can easily support more than 70 of the best environmental organizations — or you can choose your favorites.

Northwest Earth Institute is a proud member of EarthShare Oregon. What does this mean to you? If you work for the State of Oregon, the Federal Government, Kaiser Permanente, NW Natural, PGE, or one of more than 100 companies, you can choose to have a donation sent automatically to your favorite Oregon conservation groups, including Northwest Earth Institute. Its workplace and online giving options are easy ways for you to share responsibility for stewarding Oregon’s environmental legacy.

Please invest today through EarthShare to help us plant more trees, recycle more waste, move more quickly to clean energy, protect more threatened land, and safeguard more clean water. Not only are you protecting Oregon’s environmental legacy, but you’re inviting and inspiring others to share in that responsibility.

If your workplace is not currently involved in an EarthShare giving campaign, establishing one is easy. EarthShare will work with your employer to set up a program that meets your company’s needs.

With your contribution through EarthShare, you can share in the responsibility for protecting Oregon’s natural legacy. For more information, please contact Jan Wilson at EarthShare: (503) 223-9015 or; or visit

This week we are happy to highlight EcoChallenger Bradford McKeown’s guest blog post about his experience with NWEI’s EcoChallenge. For last year’s EcoChallenge Bradford did all of his trips by bike or foot (riding 225 miles in 2 weeks!). This year he is taking on sustainable food as his EcoChallenge. Thanks Bradford for sharing your thoughts with us!

It seems like I always have a running mental list of changes I want to make in my life. Some of the things on the list would be good for me (like getting to the gym a little more often) and some would be good for me and the planet (like cutting back on red meat). But with a full-time job and a busy social life, it’s hard to get around to crossing them off the list.

That’s why October 1-15 is my favorite time of year—that’s when the Northwest Earth Institute’s EcoChallenge gives me an annual opportunity to focus on kick-starting personal (and environmental) progress.

Here’s how the EcoChallenge works: participants choose one change that will reduce their environmental impact and stick with it for two weeks. Challengers pick from one of five categories—water, trash, energy, food or transportation—and set a goal that is fun, stretches their comfort zone and makes a difference for themselves and the planet. Each EcoChallenger shares their challenge with friends and family (via e-mail, social media and the EcoChallenge website), which provides an extra incentive to stick with the goal for two weeks.

For my first EcoChallenge, I committed to using human-powered transportation (my bike or my feet) for all local trips of less than 10 miles one-way.  

Prior to the EcoChallenge my bike hadn’t seen much use in a while. When I hauled it out for a tune-up and a few upgrades it was a dusty mess with two flat tires. The first time I saddled up I was a bit apprehensive. My commute was only four miles each way, but half of the route was on a rural road with a 45mph speed limit and a narrow, bumpy bike lane with a steep ditch to one side.

At first, a couple of trips into town and back in a single day left me pretty worn out.  However, I was surprised at how quickly my stamina and confidence increased. Finding better routes and giving myself a little extra time so I didn’t have to pedal quite so hard also made a big difference.

Perhaps my most pleasant discovery during the EcoChallenge was how much more engaged with my environment I was when biking.  I could hear the fellow playing the guitar on his porch as I passed by, smell the chicken pot pie someone was cooking and feel the difference between a chilly morning and a sunny afternoon. 

And after riding a few miles I was also more awake and alert than I ever was after a cup of coffee (not that I’ve given up my morning coffee). The extra calories burned certainly didn’t hurt my waistline, and I found I was even sleeping better.  An added bonus was spending less money at the grocery store when going shopping on my bike, as I had to consider how much I wanted to haul home (though I should note that I was impressed with how much I could carry with a couple of panniers and a few bungee cords). I received all kinds of encouragement from friends and family too—some were even inspired to try biking more themselves.

At the end of my first EcoChallenge I’d ridden approximately 225 miles that I would have otherwise driven, and I had also saved enough in gas money in two weeks that I’d already paid for half of the cost of the upgrades I made to my bike. Today, two years later, I’m still biking to work all the time.

For this year’s EcoChallenge, I’m committing to choosing sustainable food options. It should be an interesting adventure, since I‘m not much of a cook. But I know from past years that I’ll learn a lot along the way and my life (and diet) will end up better for it.

If you’re interested in joining me, find out more and choose your own challenge at

*It isn’t too late to sign up and join in the fun through the 15th!

We are in our final stretch before EcoChallenge 2012 starts next Monday, October 1st! We have hundreds of participants signed up plus over 100 teams representing a diverse group of organizations including non-profits, colleges and universities, businesses and faith communities. Today we learned that Risa, a mother and writer from Gilbert, Arizona, has joined the EcoChallenge and created a team representing mothers from around the US and followers of her blog, Modern Methods and Timeless Tidbits, also known as The Mommy Dialogues. 

Read below for an excerpt from Risa’s blog inviting others to join the Challenge. Thanks Risa!

This year, we have decided to participate in NWEI’s annual EcoChallenge. The idea behind EcoChallenge is that, for two weeks, all you have to do is to change one habit for Earth. You choose your challenge (water, energy, food, transportation, or trash), and stay connected with other EcoChallengers to help support each other. I thought this would be such an awesome thing to get involved in for a few reasons.

A. I love the Earth! I try on a daily basis to be better with all things sustainable. After researching and watching some of the amazing videos of other Challengers, I just felt like this is a way to get better, to push myself to make a habit out of being conscious of the decisions I am making.

B. I love friends! Making subtle life changes for the betterment of all mankind will be so much more fun as a team. This is a chance for us all to work together towards one goal. The way we each reach that goal is just as individual as each one of us.

C. I believe in this cause. I believe whole-heartedly that if each person can make one simple change (i.e., turning the water off when you brush your teeth) everyone will benefit. Things are changing drastically on our planet and, as a mother, its important to consider our impact if we want to ensure a future for our children. NWEI doesn’t ask you to shell out any money (BUT if you would like to donate to this very worthy cause, click HERE), just your energy. Your partnership. Your belief that you can make a difference…

For the complete blog post, click here. And if you’d like to join the EcoChallenge but haven’t yet registered, click here for more info!

Thanks to NWEI volunteer Erin Butler for the following Guest Blog post as well as for sharing this information on sustainable wineries in Oregon and Washington. 

One of the many pleasures of living in the Pacific Northwest concerns our wine culture and proximity to vineyards. Is there any way to make this experience even more pleasurable? How about knowing all the strides Oregon winemakers are taking to make their product more environmentally friendly? The majority of Oregon winemakers see themselves as stewards of the land; after all, they derive their livelihood from the fruits of the earth.

While LEED is a fairly familiar word in sustainability, other buzzwords abound in the wine industry. These include LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology), Salmon Safe, OCSW (Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine), and Oregon Wine Industry’s Carbon Neutral Program. Chris Serra, the Executive Director of LIVE, shed some light on some of these different sustainable acronyms and organizations in the wine industry.

According to Serra, “LIVE is a certification of vineyards and wineries in the northwest, and therefore has a very specific type of membership, namely vineyard and winery owners and managers.” It’s similar to the LEED certification process but just for the wine industry, where they can “really drill down into the details of winemaking and vineyard management.” LIVE actually partners with Salmon Safe, which is an organization that focuses on certifying ecologically sound watershed management to help native salmon spawn and thrive. So, because vineyards are land, they affect watersheds. If a vineyard is LIVE it is also Salmon Safe.

The Carbon Neutral Challenge was a pilot program managed by the Oregon Environmental Council, and LIVE helped set up the certification process…In an attempt to unify all this wonderful, sustainable energy in the wine industry, the Oregon Wine Board attempted to combine certifications under one name: Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine (OCSW). These certifications include LIVE, Organic, Biodynamic, Salmon-Safe, and Food Alliance.  Chris Serra explains, “The idea is that a winery could source grapes from say, a LIVE vineyard and an Organic vineyard and blend them together in a LIVE winery, then put the OCSW label on it. This label would be backed by consumer marketing dollars.”

While there are a number of wineries in the Willamette Valley striving for goals in sustainability, Torii Mor, Stoller and Left Coast Cellars are a few operations of note. Check them out the next time you’re in wine country.

Torii Mor: Located in Dundee, Torii Mor is only two of LEED Gold certified wineries in the Willamette Valley. It garnered its 42 points through sustainable site development, water and energy efficiency, material selection and Indoor Air Quality.

In addition, Torii Mor is both a LIVE Certified Vineyard and Winery. Part of its certification is from its Gravity flow winemaking process. The winery is built to avoid using pumps that interfere or damage the fermentation process and also avoid using energy to move the wine from tank to tank. An example of the process can be found at Willakenzie’s website, which happens to be the first LIVE certified winery.

Stoller: Stoller winery is located in Dayton, and it is the first LEED Gold certified winery in the United States. Like Torii Mor, it integrates gravity flow winemaking techniques in addition to a passive solar design to reduce carbon emissions. The winery is built into the hillside, and in conjunction with air vents, the naturally cool evenings keep this building at an optimal temperature throughout the entire day. In addition, solar panels and wastewater reclamation increase this winery’s sustainability quotient.

Stoller is an Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine, Salmon Safe, LIVE and a participant in the Carbon Reduction Challenge.

Left Coast Cellars: Located in Rickreall, Left Coast takes land stewardship very seriously. They participated in the Carbon Neutral Challenge (now dubbed Carbon Reduction Challenge) along with 14 other wineries. Aided by solar panels and gravity fed irrigation, this winery was up to the challenge. In addition, they consider biodiversity and indigenous flora on their 306 acres, 100 of which are dedicated to grapes. Most of the vines are planted on west facing slopes, leaving 200 for fields of wildflowers, cultivated gardens, old growth white oak trees, fruit orchards and waterways. You can read more about their push for sustainability here.  The attention to detail in the landscaping is evident moments after driving through their beautiful gates. With wildflowers and grasses, xeriscaping has never been so beautiful. 

To celebrate Earth Day, LCC introduced its “Bee Sustainable” Earth Month Pinot Noir. A 1.5 liter magnum bottle can be filled for $45 and refilled for $30. Think of all the wine bottles being saved, not to mention money.

These are just a few of the many wineries in the Willamette Valley that are making concerted efforts to be good stewards of the land. Another topic for further study in sustainable wines: urban wineries. You can bike to these! Oregon Wine Press wrote a great article on these ventures.

This week we are excited to share a guest blog post from NWEI course participant and community organizer Jim Freese, who has been an instrumental part in a Bothell, WA based initiative to save the North Creek Forest. Read on to hear more about one group’s inspiring efforts at protecting one’s place…

How can we live so close to something and not see it?

In February 2007 our neighborhood gathered to watch Al Gore’s video An Inconvenient Truth. I watched with hedging concern. Yes, we were taking steps to live with less impact. But how in the world could we make a real difference? A friend and neighbor who brought us the film, Dave Frazer, suggested we try a course designed for communities and neighborhoods. It looked like a great excuse for potlucks! We got hooked. Over the next 3-1/2 years we journeyed together through the discoveries found in the NWEI courses.  New faces came and went but 8 or so people stayed through the whole series (of NWEI discussion courses). We changed shampoos and lifestyles. We started with the course, Discovering a Sense of Place, and everything that came after that continued to bring our dialog back to our homes, families, neighborhood and community.

 This is not to say our ideas always aligned. I admit to fantasizing about relocating everyone in our living room to a community of our own. Fortunately those with greater sensibilities reminded me the real changes can, and should, be made right here… right where we were.  And right where we were turned out to be in close proximity to a magnificent 64-acre urban forest.

One neighborhood group fought off development of the forest for 10 years and successfully agitated for a purchase grant, but didn’t have the required matching funds to use it. Many of us had helped out in small ways but it became a delaying effort and would have been ultimately fruitless had the housing market not crashed. But it did, and we saw an opportunity.

We founded a new organization called Friends of North Creek Forest. FNCF agreed that any conservation solution must be a victory for our whole community including landowners, the city and our obvious but overlooked allies: educators and tribal interests. By taking the time to reach out to each potential partner we began to see their concerns and address them.

 The city, like most, is on a very tight budget. Our success would mean increasing the city’s park and open space lands by 60% when there was not enough money to “care and feed” the current inventory. We saw a solution must include an organization capable of ongoing forest stewardship. Landowners were feeling “beat up” after their initial hopes were dashed, first by the original delays, then by the market crash. Landowners needed to be understood, respected and compensated. Some elected officials openly stated early efforts looked a lot like NIMBY actions (Not in my Back Yard) and were reluctant to embrace conservation that would only affect a neighborhood. Mindful now of a sense of place we focused on ways conservation might benefit the whole community. We already knew salmon depended in part upon this mile long water filter. We already knew how much carbon was being sequestered. Those arguments could fit almost any piece of land in the watershed varying only by degree of impact. They alone had not been very persuasive in the past. We needed a fresh look… and then it hit us.

There are 9000 students, from Kindergarten through PhD, within walking distance of North Creek Forest. We saw an opportunity, now become mantra, that the forest might become a 64-acre outdoor laboratory to encourage science, art and literature. How myopic we had been without a sense of place and the needs of our community. What happened over the next 14 months strikes wonder among a lot of people, especially us.

Our Mission became: To protect and improve the ecological function of North Creek Forest through stewardship, education and conservation in perpetuity. We put together a web site, case statement, fact sheet and printed cards. We built a portable display for public gatherings and bought a banner. We got endorsements from the Tulalip Indian Tribes, the University of Washington Bothell, the local school district, scientists, educators, artists, authors, elected leaders, students, neighbors… hundreds of them… anyone with an imagination for a perfect addition to our community and our value for the local ecology. We recruited a to-die-for Board of Directors. We built each relationship face-to-face whenever possible.

FNCF sought permission to apply for grants in the city’s name. This is a far cry from demanding they do it for us. And it landed two grants only six days apart which enabled the first 35-acre purchase. We won a third grant that will enable an additional 6-acre acquisition this summer. We now have willing sellers for the remainder of the forest and are working with the city to get the final grants for this purchase.

We contracted with the UW Restoration Ecology Network Capstone Project. College seniors have designed and implemented a forest recovery plan, removing invasive species and planting layers of native vegetation. Community volunteers assist them. We are also directing 3 interns from the local Community College to do a botanical survey, a UW graduate student intern in Landscape Architecture and a Work-Study student. Our model for stewardship and education is taking shape.

FNCF holds house meetings (guess where we got that idea) to engage the community, listen to their ideas, present a one hour show and line up the deeper level of community commitment we need to make long term stewardship successful. We have made front page coverage across Puget Sound newspapers and even across a couple of mountain ranges, been written about in conservation publications and even had our 3 minutes of television coverage. A gigantic law firm put together our non-profit application for free. Now a big foundation called us and we have a 2-hour meeting scheduled this month.

So that’s where we are at the end of 14 months. All of our work was built upon a foundation established when we spent 3-1/2 years together with NWEI courses. For me, it took that long to let go of the things beyond my reach and focus on my own community. We all had that experience, many more quickly than I. Those little suggestions at the end of each course chapter paid off. We did talk to our grocer to see where our produce came from. We did interview a local cabinetmaker who grew up in this city, and whose parents never shopped for food except flour, sugar and salt until 1960. We learned about a deep and rich opportunity to offer ourselves in service within walking distance of home. We found our place.

Check to see it. When you do look at the Endorsement Page. Notice the first entry. It is the Northwest Earth Institute. For obvious reasons it will always remain at the top of the list. If you want to endorse our conservation goal you can. This is a little town but it’s in a big world and you are part of it.

Go forth (not far) and make a difference!

Thanks to the NWEI group that got this initiative started, and to the Friends of North Creek Forest for sharing this inspiring example of community transformation and protection of one’s place. May we all learn from your example!



This Spring, a group in Concord, New Hampshire has been exploring the challenging and sometimes frustrating world of resource depletion and the many impacts of food production on climate change and the environment through participation in NWEI’s discussion course Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability. This is the fifth post from the Nourishing Words Blog, where author and course participant Eleanor Baron muses on conserving water, sustainable cheese production and the call towards a plant-based diet.


The people drawn to participate in our Hungry for Change group (perhaps predictably) are environmentally conscious by nature and are concerned about tending this planet for future generations. We come to the discussion knowing at least the basics and with a personal commitment to live our lives in alignment with the our values. Many of us do our best to stay up to date on emerging topics like climate change, soil depletion and the exploitation of the earth’s greatest aquifers.

Is that enough?

Once again, as we talked, the answer emerged. It’s important to keep learning and take action.

As an example, we talked about how we use water in our lives. We each monitor our usage, whether motivated by a city water bill, the level of water in our well or a general sense that water is a precious gift that should be honored as such. We don’t buy bottled water, we mulch our gardens well and take short showers. We’d each argue that we use less water than our neighbors.

But as we talked, we discovered more that we could do to conserve water. By the end of our discussion, we were considering setting up rain barrels other finding ways of catching water before it heads either down the drain or down the driveway. We talked about catching wasted water in the shower (before the water gets hot, that is) and reusing it to flush the toilet. We talked about using gray water to water plants or for some other purpose. One participant articulated her practice as “never letting water go down the drain until it’s done a job.” Our eyes were opened to a world of tiny practices that together would surely save a meaningful amount of water…

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Today’s guest blogger is Sharon Shier (Huxford), who currently lives with her husband Alexander on a 1986 Bestway Trawler anchored at a secluded marina in Goodland, Florida, nestled among beautiful mangrove islands. She has 4 children, and 4 grandchildren with a 5th on the way.  Sharon has published one book, titled Initiation, about her life experiences living in a monastery under the tutelage of a Buddhist teacher. She is currently working on two books, one titled Mangrove Mysteries, the other titled Transitions, Life after the Monastery. Thanks Sharon for your reflections here.


When we’re not living aboard our boat, my husband and I live in a small town on a small lake in northern Michigan that those of us who live there call our secret paradise. Were it not for the cold winters, our population would rise dramatically; but we do have cold winters. The people who do choose to live in our area are a hearty, independent, often off-the-grid folk, and I love being a part of that community. To my surprise and delight as a newer arrival to the area, they are also warmly embracing of newcomers…

Early last spring, my husband Alex and I were invited to a friends’ maple tree farm to ‘tap’ the maple trees for the sap that would soon be flowing. He is a small producer of maple syrup, a ‘hobbyist’ he told us, and since we love maple syrup as well and this would be a totally new experience for us, we eagerly accepted the invitation. The way it worked was that a group of us gathered at the farm, got our instructions and then were led by our friend as he drove his tractor around marking the trees that would be tapped. All the equipment for tapping was on the sled behind the tractor.

Our jobs were to work in teams drilling holes into the trees, then putting metal wedges into the holes so the sap can drain into the buckets that we attached to the wedges.

Everyone was in high spirits; the day was bright and sunny and the land we were on was gorgeous.

As we set about to tap the trees, I did have some concern that it might be painful for the trees to have their trunks drilled into, and their juices drained, so I asked our friend Bob about it. He said as long as we didn’t drill in too far the trees would heal over by next year, but if we drilled in past a certain point it could damage the tree seriously. He was convinced there was no pain involved. As we moved through the day I kept seeing the image of a human with IV lines running out their arms and legs, giving their blood. Overall it was a wonderful day and we learned about the entire process of producing maple syrup. His equipment was state of the art.

Later in the evening though, after we left the farm and were driving home, I began to have strange feelings coming at me, into me, from me…I wasn’t sure which, but at some point it finally penetrated my consciousness and I began to pay attention. There was this loud wailing…not exactly a sound but more of a vibration…again, I didn’t know what was happening but it kept on and on and on. So I stopped DOing and went to sit in my meditation room and quiet my mind. As my body became still and the thought fragments from the day faded into the background, an image flashed so clearly in my mind’s eye; I saw all 300 trees we had tapped. They were crying, and crying and crying. It was awful feeling their sadness, and I was stunned. I cried and they cried and finally I began apologizing and telling them how sorry I was for having hurt them. After awhile the crying stopped and I had the sense that they accepted my apology and my promise to never hurt them again.

For days afterward I felt the imprint of this experience as a weight, but also as an incompletion…something wasn’t quite understood by me. Once again I stopped and sat quietly for a bit, posing the question, ‘what am I missing’…and what came to me was ‘you didn’t ask; you just took from us’. “Oh my,” I thought. “That’s what I wasn’t seeing clearly.” And I realized then what I had been missing: The trees are living beings. I wouldn’t take blood from a human without asking nor should I take from the trees, just because they don’t have an obvious voice to speak with. So I asked then. “Would you have given me permission?” And what I heard was, ‘you have to ask each tree as you approach it’. Even though in some sense they have a collective consciousness, there is also an individuality that must be respected.

I wanted to share this experience because it penetrated me so deeply and was such a profound wake-up call. All life is sacred and here I had spent an entire day taking from these beautiful trees, without giving anything in return.

I do understand that this is an unusual twist to a simple article about tapping maple trees. Even though I consider myself a spiritual being, frankly ‘talking’ trees were not anything I’ve experienced before, which is probably why it took me so long to ‘hear’ them. I am truly grateful that the trees cared enough to reach out to me so persistently until I was finally able to hear them…they gave me a second chance.

Since that day I’ve done a lot of research on the internet to see if anyone else has had similar experiences with trees, plants and such, and come to find out, this is not an uncommon experience. There is a large group in Northern Italy at a place called Damanhur who work with and record singing plants and trees. I’m headed out there in September of this year for a tour of their place and to satisfy that part of my brain that says ‘talking plants’? I don’t think so. If you’re interested, why not do some experimenting for yourself?


In celebration of the first day of Spring, we are delighted to feature the photography of Kallia Milillo, a 21 year old student photographer who is a seasonal guest blogger for NWEI.  To learn more about Kallia’s work, visit her website here. Thank you Kallia for sharing this Spring image with NWEI!

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs… We must be hatched or go bad.” -C. S. Lewis


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