A fierce love of my place

The last few weeks and the coming few have been and will be a clamber of sorts up some hills. They’ve been very public and civic for me and are about to become totally personal. All of them are grounded in the place where I live and I see as ways for me to realize my fierce love for my home.

As you may know, a broad coalition like our own local Green Tea Party, has come together to fight what I’ve called “The Boxes” (I refuse to call it The Cottages). It is an ill-conceived luxury student housing development to be built by Toll Brothers on a piece of land in Ferguson Township, Pennsylvania currently owned by Penn State. They are selling it to Toll. As far as I and any other reasonably well-informed person can tell, The Boxes will be the first of a set of dominoes that will knock down the growth boundary ever more. First, it’ll make services “inevitable” to a pointless set of ball fields that will end up being surrounded by more big-box McHousing close to two of our best wellheads for regional water. All of this is also adjacent to a conservation easement for green and open space.

There are numerous stories now in local media covering the controversy. It started with a fantastic story by Katherine Watt and Laura Dininni in Voices of Central Pennsylvania that has since been expanded on Steady State College, then a letter by Ernest Boyd of the Sierra Club Moshannon in the Centre Daily Times, and has since burst into a fury of civic and democratic activity by people of all ages, income levels, and political orientations to stop it (See here, here, and here). For me, this has meant making a run for political office.

My ex-wife and I used to write me in for things like prothonotary or register of wills. It was a joke. But it was a joke based on something real–that I have an abiding interest in community issues, in becoming more and more of a servant, as a person who has a vision and a mission in life built around sustainability, and as a person with an incredible amount of energy. And as I’ve gotten older and more integrated into the community, I’ve come to feel more responsible on one hand. On the other, I’ve had people ask me to run for this thing or that thing. Until now, I’ve refused. But this time, seeing that I have an opportunity to do some small part to shape policy and practice for our betterment, I have stepped in. But what is it based on?,p>

Over the years I have been engaged in the community and education in a lot of ways. In college I wrote for the paper and and worked at the Center for Women Students. In graduate school, I worked in local print, virtual, and radio media. The best of these was the modest call-in radio show Sustainability Now Radio on which I interviewed dozens and dozens of local, regional, and national leaders on issues ranging from energy markets to climate change to sustainable agriculture to urban design. I’ve also been an active civic participant and leader on issues ranging from fighting a timber grab from a community park to fighting for the Community and Environmental Bill of Rights in State College to pushing for an end to bottled water at Penn State to appropriate actions taken on behalf of African American and women students at Penn State. In work I’ve been a teacher and the Director of Sustainability at a boy’s boarding school. I was a fellow of the Capacity to Sustain Democracy Program and won Penn State’s Laurel Haven Award for Conservation Education and the first Sustainability Leadership Award. Today, I work at the Penn State Sustainability Institute on the Reinvention Fund, assessing the returns from an ~$875,000 investment in living labs across the commonwealth and two in Africa. I’ve led informally, directed and managed programs, and taught hundreds and hundreds of people in a way that meets them where they are and where we could go together.

In case you wonder, I don’t know what you ought to call me politically. Most of you will call me a left-wing progressive. Pro civil liberties? Check. Environmentally-minded? Yes. I do sit on the executive committee of the Sierra Club Moshannon. Basically, I believe in the dignity of all people and that the private and public sectors should be configured to maximize conviviality, “Individual freedom realized in personal interdependence.” To do that, we should form the pattern of our relationships for sustainability, defined by John Ehernfeld as “the possibility that humans and all life can flourish on Earth forever.” So to the extent that I can do that by being part of the Ferguson Township board of supervisors, I will. I will work with anyone of good will to realize this vision. In coming blogs, I’ll just be writing about that because it’s a vision that’s grounded in my fierce love of this place and the people who live here. But the next step of my living into that love will come over the next week racing my bike in central Pennsylvania.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be racing my single speed mountain bike for seven days on 230 miles of trails and roads in the Rothrock and Bald Eagle State Forests. This is the Transylvania Epic. These are my favorite places. Galbraith Gap. R.B. Winter State Park. Shingletown Gap. Wildcat Gap Trail. Cooper’s Gap trails like Beautiful Trail (pictured here). Sand and Thickhead Mountains. Ridges, streams, scree fields, and fall line trails. Turtles, deer, porcupines, and rattlesnakes amid swamp white oaks, hickories, hemlocks, and laurel alive with the sounds of late-spring songbirds. And don’t forget really fun people loving. Well…there is all the suffering of riding mountain bikes for seven days in a row on grueling trails. But that’s the icing on the cake.

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The challenge to the self, the journey, or what Albert Camus has called, “the struggle itself for the heights [which] is enough to fill a man’s heart.” It will be a week immersed in my body in the most beautiful and meaningful places I know besides the arms of people I love. I can’t wait. And it’s going to be a real challenge to my dedication. Both the race for township supervisor and the Transylvania Epic will be about dedication.

For me, these things are connected. They are about my love of my home and my experiences with it. Both immerse me in relationships to my home, to you, and to all who reside here, the human community and what David Abram calls the more-than-human community.

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