On this last day of the year, my 39th on this planet, I want to take several moments to reflect on where I’ve been this year and maybe years past. Maybe at the end of this little jaunt, I’ll think about where I’m headed and many more us seem to be headed.
The short version: This year has taught me about being “nice,” being kind, and bringing me to think and act from a place of fierce love for my place and its people, for a vision of this world that is a world worth loving and that calls to be loved, and a world where creativity and meaning matter most to me. Thank you to my loved ones especially Meg, Sacha, my mom, and sisters Julie and Catharine, my friends, the beautiful fields, meadows, streams, and forests, co-workers, the citizens of Ferguson, the activists, and all the people who have joined me through Heartwood. To 2016.
The (really) long version:
At the start of 2015, I was definitely reintegrating myself into the Centre Region community. I’d lived away for two years in Saltsburg, PA where I was the Director of Sustainability at Kiski, a boy’s boarding school. I’d moved back to State College in summer 2014, worked as a farm assistant at Tait Farm with my partner Meg. My son and ex-wife live in the area and I was much happier being close to them. Being close to my son is hugely important, and so being able to be a more integral part of Sacha’s life was huge even if it meant that I was making little money. My mother still lives here too, and she was very supportive.
Being with my family and the community I love is so fulfilling. I’m so of this place. It’s my home. Being here, playing baseball with my son and spending the day with Meg keeps me rooted even if I seem a bit like a crazy man with too much to do. Going with them into the woods, camping, taking little walks, playing wall ball, throwing sticks to Chewy the farm dog, and reading Sacha Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and watching his imagination come to life in drawings he makes of superheroes he’s deriving from The Avengers or X-Men…these are the little triumphs of family life. And having divorced, I now drink those moments up because divorce is hard and makes things harder. So I try to keep in mind the good fortune of being with creative and healthy loved ones. Thank you.
Additionally, I had my dissertation to wrap up and I did. November of 2014, I turned it over to my committee and defended that baby. There’s now a dissertation out there called The Unsuspected Teachers: Environmental Identity and Sustainability Education in the Anthropocene. I then edited it, turned it in, filled out the twiddly bits for the university, and graduated with a Ph.D. in May 2015.
I became Dr. Peter Buckland. Sometimes I sneer at labels. DR. Meh. But it was a long journey and much of what I learned and did as a student I continue to do in my life, the life I am writing about now. My commitment to sustainability, social science, climate science, climate policy, educational policy, social policy, politics, and activism was awakened during that time. I should thank several people here for doing that with and for me: Alex D’Urso, Jared Blumer, Zach Bullock, Garret Eisenhour, Rob Andrejewski, Kelley Cressman, Mike Shamalla, Braden Crooks, Gary Thornbloom, Barb Jarmoska, Mindy Kornhaber, Chris Uhl, Dana Stuchul, Don Brown, Andy Lau, Jackie Edmondson, Kyle Peck, and of course my adviser Madhu Prakash.
After the farm dig ended in 2014 I was just writing, I was alerted to a job at Penn State’s Sustainability Institute by Sue Barsom with whom I’d worked on projects for the former Center for Sustainability. I applied, was awarded the job, and promptly started working on a very big program evaluation on the Reinvention Fund. That continued through the first half of 2015. Doing a project of that scale more or less on my own but definitely supported, presented a real challenge to me in too many ways to list here. But I had to be imaginative, persistent, stubborn sometimes, and often quite uncomfortable with my own choices and others’ choices too. Interviewing something like 70 people, observing people, and combing through 100s of documents, articles, media clips, photographs, maps, and more to understand what kinds of capital come out of an $875,000 investment in 32 living labs for sustainability. It was a lot. I’ll be learning from that for years because it was so huge and some of it so meaningful.
Today, I still work at the Sustainability Institute. As readers of this blog might know, I’ve had some issues with working there, not because of the Institute itself but because of some issues with the status of my position as a wage payroll position. Since writing about it a few months ago in a way to make clear some points Bernie Sanders has made about our busted and rigged economic system, some things have gotten better. I’m working on projects I love—namely The Field Guide to Teaching Sustainability—and designing other educational programs, plans, projects, and platforms. Lots of “p’s” I guess. I do some small bits of research on sustainability education as I write for The Field Guide Blog. That leads to more writing and more projects. Fun!
My hope for work in the coming year? Two things: The first is that I will get to teach a class that’s new to me—Foundations of Sustainability and Leadership. It’s been almost two years since I taught so I’m really looking forward to it and having a rich experience. It’ll be a very different class from what I’ve done before so I’m excited to be tested. The second is for the position I’m basically working full time within six weeks with the full benefits I ought to receive instead of being treated like a second-class worker despite my productivity. It’s actually quite infuriating and insulting. But I have a very good life, one rich in ways that few people in this world receive. So I take this in stride and try to use my position to do good for this world.
In January, I became part of the Sierra Club Moshannon executive committee, something that led me onto run for office. When I was a graduate student here I worked with Sierra Club Moshannon and a number of other groups to push for sensible policy on climate change, to protect Pennsylvania’s forests, and to fight fracking. While I worked at Kiski, I could do those things much less, but managed to a little bit. Since coming back, I was asked to run for the executive committee, agreed to, ran, and now serve. We are a fairly quiet group, mostly achieving things through the Banff Film Festival, and the occasional call on membership to take action on fracking, forests, climate change, and some local issues. My hunch is that we are going to ramp things up in the coming year. More on that next year. It’s the other local issues to which we turn now
Around March of 2015, I became aware of a land sale and development proposal that had already upset a number of people. Penn State had sold land to the Toll Brothers in Ferguson Township. I will not belabor the long and very in-depth story. In short, my opposition to the project, calls from community members, my own desire to push for a better and more coherent sustainability agenda in local land, water, energy, development, and business policy made me jump in to run for Ferguson Township supervisor. I rant a quick write-in campaign and won the Democratic primary and then went on to win an unopposed seat election in November. While unopposed, it was not easy.
Being an activist is intellectually and emotionally taxing. Being an activist as your figuring out how to be a legislator? Also hard. At the local level, when your role is shifting and the other activists’ roles are shifting, it is also hard. I’d say that I trampled on some people’s feelings this past year and sometimes for the worse. To them, I apologize. To those who deserved it…well. I’ve never regretted being kind. But that doesn’t mean I’m always nice. As a friend recently said about me, “He’s a hothead this one” as she pointed to me. It’s true. My passion is one of my great strengths, but it is also a weakness. Knowing when that heat is being used to forge a beautiful blade and when it’s blowing out like a volcano isn’t always easy to discern. I’m always learning about my passion.
But it came out in three ways this year that I love. First, I rode my bike to new ends this year. I rode from State College to D.C. in two days, including a solo day that was about 160 miles. The ride was with Interfaith Power and Light to raise awareness on climate change because we are morally responsible as educated, affluent, and people of conscience. I also raced in the Transylvania Epic, a seven-day 200+mile mountain bike race that kicked my ass four years ago. But I did it. I rode every mile, every day, and got fourth on single speed. Second, I fought for climate justice again with my fellow IPL rider Jon Brockopp and more than 40 other Penn State faculty, hundreds of Pennsylvanians, and thousands of people from around the world to call on Penn State’s administration to make a plan to get to zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Finally, my book of poetry Heartwood was published by Eifrig Publishing. That was a three-year labor of love that started January 1, 2012. The last poem I wrote for it was finished in June 2015. It’s called “Fugue.” I wrote it for my sister for her ordination as a Unitarian Universalist minister this past summer 2015. In those pages, my son, Meg, my sister and her wife Julie, my father, and many of the rich experiences of my life took shape in a way that fills me with joy. On those pages and the cover resides artwork by my friend Harlan Ritchey. What a talent! I’m so lucky that he’s my friend. Anyway, writing and sharing poetry makes you vulnerable. It’s scary. I don’t care how “good” my poetry is at some level, because just putting it out there is a lot. And now I’ve gotten into the craft. And what a craft it is.
Oh yeah. I’ve started a novel. It’s called Rise. There are snippets on this blog. Heh.
This year has taught me about being “nice,” being kind, and bringing me to think and act from a place of fierce love for my place and its people, for a vision of this world that is a world worth loving and that calls to be loved, and a world where creativity and meaning matter most to me. Thank you to my loved ones, my friends, the beautiful fields, meadows, and forests, co-workers, the citizens of Ferguson, the activists, and all the people who have been here and join me through Heartwood. To 2016.