Book Review: The Origin of Feces by David Waltner-Toews

Can we admit, freely and openly, that what we eat and how we handle our shit are essential acts of citizenship, as important as how we vote?


I picked this book up on recommendation of Backyard and Beyond, a blog about nature in Brooklyn, which said to read it because “farm to table is not nearly the complete cycle.”

This book is an introduction to systems thinking as well as a lot of interesting information about our how waste is reused or not in our global economy. The author has a light touch, enjoys the puns and potency of language about waste, but the subject is extremely important. I had never truly understood the implications of importing food and water from other countries or regions and the resulting waste impact.  Read it so we can talk about it!

Systems thinking about food is new for me so I am experimenting- I now buy my food as locally as possible and eat low on the food chain. Also choosing organic consistently, for the farm workers if not for my health.



MLK Day of Service, year 3, Idlewild Park Queens

Wetland w/ Phragmites

It was a different experience this year-  fewer people and lower energy, due to the subfreezing temperatures. We were also working on a different part of the park, that was almost exclusively dumped materials from the adjacent roadway including a lot of construction materials. If was hard to find stuff, and large items were frozen into the marshy ground. Last year the area we worked on had a lot of stuff blown in from Hurricane Sandy so it felt more like an emergency rescue mission and less like cleaning up after other people’s deliberate bad choices.

If you look closely at the tree, you’ll see a bag of dog shit some genius had gone to the trouble of picking up and then thrown over the edge of the park.

One of the Parks organizers mentioned that there are 4000 acres of wetland still within NYC. That doesn’t seem like too many for the population of our city to keep clean. Or at least not deliberately destroy. I was a less enthusiastic trash picker this year because I think the work we were doing needs a professional evaluation- is it safe? who knows what’s in there? Chemical and commercial waste seems more likely to be dangerous. Also I think they need an excavator. Ah well, it was the best possible way to spend my morning, got me out of my house and my funk and thinking about things other than myself. The most fun year was first because I convinced Nick to go with me- he’s had to work the last two years.

I checked out the area to the south where we worked last year- it looks much better.

Discovery: Marine Park

I walked to Parks Steward training walking up Fifth Avenue on a fairly warm evening. All the Xmas displays are still up for the month but the tourists are mostly gone. I experienced strange urges to buy purses and diamonds, enjoyed the spectacle, but was able to make good time from my office to the Arsenal in Central Park.

Things I learned:

  • The troubles of language and communication in bureaucracy are universal and intractable
  • I still want to be a Forest Ranger
  • I can do that through the Stewardship program
  • Did you know that Marine Park is the largest park in Brooklyn???

The wonderful trainer/philosopher/forester who led the group suggested that would be the best place for me to work on removing invasive species and helping restore forest and protect salt marsh. I had no idea that Marine Park was an actual Park, I thought it was neighborhood with an aspirational name. And a library branch.

So next steps are a 3 hour training on caring for my selected site, which I think will be mostly talking about trees and plant identification as well as how to eradicate oriental bittersweet. Probably combined with some marshland safety training. I am very excited.

Adopt a Landscape


I’ve signed up for advanced volunteer training with the NYC parks department this evening and I’m writing this to make sure I go and that I remember that this is something I want and that exists. For the past two years I’ve volunteered once a year in January (!) with parks, I flunked out of tree care school in May and I’ve been looking for a way to do more.

The program description said that volunteers will be matched with a site that meets their interests- this is a bit difficult for me because we are moving and I believe that I should pick a site near my home. There is also a volunteer event at Jamaica Bay on Saturday if this program doesn’t seem right for me.

I’ll report back.

Emotional Support Animal

Dog at Work over the Holidays

I’m in a peaceful moment before heading off to my work, Caper draped over my lap like an afghan. At home, we are in the middle of a multi month (half year?) moving process which mostly involves waiting. Soon we will move on to the apartment hunting part and then the process should go quickly, but for now 50% of our stuff is in boxes and we don’t have a couch. Since I can’t entertain at home right now, it’s natural that I’ve been thinking instead about all my travel plans. Once we are resettled in Brooklyn, I will turn my attention to projects closer to home.

Global Campaign for Kindness

Peach trees in the fog, Heath, MA

The long New Year’s weekend has created a block of time to reflect and plan for 2016, and I have been doing a lot of planning. Feel my joy in planning and quantifying the coming year and keeping everything UNDER CONTROL.

However, my underlying agenda for this year is to slow down in every way. Often, the first step in mindfulness meditation is to watch your breath. The planning process can be just that- observe with kindness the wild horse of your mind as it gallops and skids backward and forward in time. Then you can gently rein it in once it has worn itself out.

Slowing down is the least popular activity on the streets of New York. It is actively discouraged at (all?) work and is culturally unpopular in most groups and settings. We eat fast, we talk fast, we shop fast, we work fast (and hard, and long), we drink fast, we travel fast, and we wonder where the year went.

Zoe dog is either very fast or asleep

Tools for slowing down in 2016

Happy New Year, All! Follow Hearty’s advice and be kind to yourself and everyone else.

Home is where the Heart is


Can’t wait to get home to see Margery (maker of this beautiful card/ornament) and the rest of my family. I love this map and I love Christmas in the country. We’ll be driving up with Nick’s family and taking the train back. It will be the first meeting between Caper Dog and Zoe Dog. Zoe is a six month old Boston Terrier. I’ll take pictures.

Fifth Avenue is a festive spot to spend the weeks leading up to Xmas if you aren’t in a rush. The warm weather has kept tourists and locals in a good mood and the market in Bryant Park makes shopping fairly effortless.

If I could live in two places at once, I would. New York is growing on me (after 10+ years) as a great place to live a sustainable slow lifestyle. No driving, great farmer’s markets everyday of the week. Access all around the country by public transport. Important work to do with watershed and national park cleanup. Great friends.

And Massachusetts has woods, fields, beauty and wonderful people who I love.