Walkabout refers to a rite of passage where male Australian Aborigines undergo a journey during adolescence and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months. It’s a vision quest taken to extremes.

My introduction to it was through a fill called  Walkabout by Nicolas Roeg. I saw it the year I started college and it really intrigued me.

It follows the journey of a sister and brother who are abandoned in the Australian outback and their meeting with an Aborigine boy who is on his walkabout. Together they journey innocence into experience in the wild.

The film has a cult status these days, but back in the early 1970s very few people I knew had ever heard of it. Of course, I was not alone in having a crush on the unnamed girl in the film played by Jenny Agutter.

The film was unconventional and had almost none of the “plot” that we expect in a film. Years later, I saw a “director’s cut” but by then I had forgotten the details from my original viewing. (A benefit of the aging brain and memory is that you can re-experience things you loved as if they were new again.) The scenes of frontal nudity and realistic, survival hunting scenes seemed perfect in context, but unusual at the time.

So, that film led me to read the original book and several other non-fiction books about the walkabout experience. I even tried once to teach the book to middle school students, but they just didn’t get it.

I loved the idea that the seeker followed “songlines” that their ancestors took. These songlines (or dreaming tracks) of the Indigenous Australians are an ancient cultural concept and motif perpetuated through oral lore and singing and other storytelling dances and paintings.

The songlines are an intricate series of song cycles that identify landmarks and mechanisms for navigation. They remind me of the songs of whales. I can’t explain how they work any more than I can explain the whale songs or how migrating birds find their way. Though I have read about all of these things, I don’t think I really want to know (at a scientific level) how it works.

Each song has a particular direction or line to follow and walking the wrong way may even be sacrilegious. You don’t go up one side of a sacred hill when that is the side to come down. That would send you in the wrong direction both literally (on a map) and figuratively (in your life).

What is it about being alone in the wilderness that tunes (or, more likely, re-tunes) our awareness of the natural elements and our connection to them, and even to some creational source? Though I and my ancestors are a long way from that natural life, something remains inside us.

Like the vision quest, the walkabout is an initiation into the teachings and mysteries of the self and the universe. The seeker both finds truths and has truth revealed.

While the walkabout may have Aboriginal roots in Australia, and the vision quest is associated with Native American traditions, the journey is not unique to only those locations. That is why that film eventually led me to read about the archetypical “hero’s journey” and the search for the Holy Grail.

I wish I had a true vision quest or walkabout tale to tell you. I still hope that someday I will.

I have taken two much smaller journeys.  On one full moon weekend journey, with some guidance from someone who knew more about it than I did,  I sought my “guardian animal” in a vision or dream.

I wish I could say it was a wolf that I found because I have always felt an affinity to them, but it was a rabbit. (Of course, I was in New Jersey at the time, so a coyote would have been about as close as I was to come to a wolf – and we know the coyote is the trickster.)

I have also felt some kind of connection to rabbits since childhood.  The rabbit in my vision was quite real and I felt led me. I say that because I followed it and it never ran away but would stop, look back at me, wait, and then continue. I followed it for what seemed like a long time, and then, while I was looking at it, it disappeared.

That’s how I would describe it. Disappeared.

We were at the top of a rocky outcrop. There was a small stream ahead of us and down the rocks. I did not see a life direction or message in where I had been taken that day.  But I felt that I was at a place where I had a good, clear view. I did not know exactly where I was, but I was not lost. I could find my way back to where I had been, but I didn’t see where I needed to go next.

In the traditional Lakota culture, the Hanblecheyapi (vision quest) means “crying for a vision.”  I am still looking.

Guerilla Gardening

There’s an episode of To the Best of Our Knowledge (a program I recommend) on “Radical Gardening.” It’s hard to imagine any kind of gardening as being radical.

One of the segments was about Richard Reynolds and the “guerrilla gardening” movement which I wrote about here years ago.  He talks about his adventures as a guerrilla gardener – someone who tends and plants on someone else’s land. It’s illegal, and yet, I don’t think most people would object to it in the vast majority of cases. It’s the abandoned lot that gets cleaned up and filled with flowers. It’s the ugly roadside that gets covered with native wildflowers. Reynolds is the author of On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries.

May first is celebrated by guerilla gardeners as International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day dedicated to sowing sunflowers in your neighborhood.

I like all the suggestions and plans people have posted on their website about creating “seed bombs.” Those are good bombs made of seeds, soil, fertilizer, water and such which you can hurl over that chain link fence into that ugly abandoned lot.

Another guest on that episode is James William Gibson who wrote A Reenchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship with Nature which examines the ways that people are looking to reconnect with the natural world. That includes the desire to protect rather than exploit it.

If you associate guerrilla and bombs with war and terrorism, then guerrilla gardening and seed bombs are excellent alternatives. If you associate enchantment with wizards and magic, then a re-enchantment with the natural world is also a friendly approach.


I listened to a radio program back in 2007 that introduced to me the term “locavore.” It was the 2007 “Word of the Year” for the Oxford American Dictionary. A locavore is someone who eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius. (I have seen 50, 100, and 150 miles mentioned).

Unlike being a vegan, vegetarian, or some other limited food consumer for health or ethical reasons, the locavore movement’s main aim is to support local food producers. It encourages consumers to buy from local farmers’ markets or even to produce their own food. Most locavores would say that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Also, locally grown food is an environmentally-friendly means of obtaining food, as compared to supermarkets that import their food and use more fossil fuels and non-renewable resources to obtain it.

It does mean that I won’t have strawberries and tomatoes in Paradelle in December unless they are grown in a greenhouse. And citrus fruits won’t be locally grown here ever. So, there are sacrifices, especially since most of us have become used to a global supermarket experience.

“Locavore” is a fairly new word coined by Jessica Prentice on the occasion of World Environment Day 2005 to describe and promote the practice and is in the pattern of carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore.

10 Steps to Becoming a Locavore

Goats and cheesemaking workshop, Maker Faire 2011.jpg
Cheesemaking workshop, Maker Faire 2011 – Note the “Eat Your Zipcode” sign
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The Sound of the Silent Spring

I first read marine biologist Rachel Carson ten years after she had published the book Silent Spring (1962). I had heard about the book because the first Earth Day and environmental concerns and protests were all around me in high school and college. Someone told me that I had to read the book — first serialized in The New Yorker in the summer of 1962 — that made her a name that was widely known.

She was born in Springdale, Pennsylvania in 1907. I was surprised to learn that she was an English major at the Pennsylvania College for Women. In her junior year, she took a biology course and it so fascinated her that she changed her major to zoology.

Silent Spring was not her first book. She was working for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and wrote something for a department publication. her boss thought it read it read as more “literary” and suggested that she send it to Atlantic Monthly instead of using it in a government publication. She did and it was published in the magazine in 1937. It also became the starting place for her first book, Under the Sea-Wind (1941).

Carson continued to work in government jobs until 1952. Eventually, she became editor-in-chief for all the publications of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She resigned in 1952 after publishing two books in order to devote herself fully to her own writing.

She won the National Book Award in nonfiction for her second book, the best-seller The Sea Around Us (1951). In her acceptance speech, she said:

“The aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth. And that, I take it, is the aim of literature, whether biography or history or fiction. It seems to me, then, that there can be no separate literature of science. […] The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.”

Silent Spring (1962) was the book that really gave her fame and allowed her messages about the environment to gain wider exposure. She opened the book with a little fable. The fable is about a time and place where a spring morning begins silently. No birds singing. No chirping insects. It is an ecosystem destroyed by the widespread misuse of harmful pesticides like DDT.

That opening may have hurt the book in its initial publication because some saw the book as “fiction” based on that fable. But the book was the result of six years of rigorous scientific research. She was also attacked by the chemical industry which had allies within and outside the government. Though today we know her message was accurate and one that needed to be heard and heeded, you can find many critics who attacked her at the time of its publication.  There were industry people who claimed that banning pesticides like DDT resulted in “millions of malaria deaths” while not considering the lives and damage that were saved by eliminating these pesticides from the ecosystem and slowly eliminating them from our water, soil, air, wildlife and humans via all those vectors and from our food sources.  She wrote. “I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm.”

When President Kennedy read Silent Spring during the summer of 1962, it influenced him. He formed a presidential commission to re-examine the government’s pesticide policy and the commission endorsed Carson’s findings. Rachel’s writing and advocacy boosted public awareness of environmental matters. It helped start a new conservation movement and some say it eventually was part of the reason that the Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970. Sadly, Rachel Carson never saw that happen. She died of cancer in 1964, just two years after Silent Spring was published.

The sound of the silent spring is still echoing in our world.

“….All the life of the planet is interrelated ….each species has its own ties to others, and….all are related to the Earth. This is the theme of ‘The Sea Around Us,’ and the other sea books, and it is also the message of ‘Silent Spring’.” Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine

Across the Pacific Ocean

Expedition Kon-Tiki 1947. Across the Pacific. (8765728430)

I read this past week that on August 7, 1947, Thor Heyerdahl’s raft Kon-Tiki crashed into a reef in French Polynesia and his sea journey ended. I read his account of that journey,  Kon-Tiki, when I was in sixth grade for a book report and it really took hold of my imagination. Sailing across an ocean became one of the many book-inspired fantasy adventures I had as a kid. I later discovered that I didn’t feel at all comfortable being on a small boat or even swimming out more than a surfboard riding distance from the shore.

Kon-Tiki is the story of a raft used by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl in his expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. Heyerdahl named his raft after a legendary Incan sun god who was believed to have walked across the Pacific.

This wasn’t an adventure trip. Heyerdahl, a Norwegian ethnologist, had set out from Peru in April hoping to prove that early South Americans could have traveled across the Pacific and settled in the Polynesian Islands.

He had a five-man crew. They did carry some modern technology – a radio, navigational equipment, and watches – which seemed like a bit of cheating, but they didn’t use them to change course but only to monitor their position and in case of emergency.  The raft itself was historically accurate as they could make it. It was made entirely of pre-Columbian materials. The body was made of balsa logs lashed together with hemp ropes, and had gaps between the logs for the water to drain out. The cabin was built of bamboo and had a thatched roof of banana leaves. The mast was made of planks of mangrove, and it held a square sail. It was a replica of the rafts that native Peruvians were using at the time of the first European contact in the early 1500s.

The journey took three and a half months. They traveled 4,300 nautical miles. There were two big storms that they made it through. Their success proved that Peruvian Incans could have made the voyage themselves.

Heyerdahl’s book, The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas was also made into a documentary film of the same name. I think I saw the film too, but I don’t recall any of it. Now, in my armchair exploring years, I probably should watch it. (It is available online.)

In checking some facts for this post, I found an article about a more recent explorer, David de Rothschild, who crossed the Pacific in a boat made from recycled plastic bottles. He is not an ethnologist but someone who wanted to call attention to the waste plastic that ends up in our oceans.

This journey appeals to the environmentalist in me. His 60-foot catamaran was built almost entirely with waste material. I like that he named his boat Plastiki (for plastic Kon Tiki). There were 12,500 reclaimed soda bottles that are built into the hulls. Parts of the boat are held together with a new glue made out of cashew nuts and sugar. An old aluminum water pipe became the mast, and more recycled plastic was used to weave the sailcloth.

They weren’t trying to replicate any earlier explorers, so the boat had solar panels, a wind turbine and bicycle generators to provide electricity for the six crew members. There was a miniature greenhouse for some food, and a compost toilet.

Plastiki hull
The hulls of the Plastiki

Environmentalist David de Rothschild was the designer and sailor and he wanted the boat to be as environmentally green as possible. A team of engineers and marine architects helped build it and they tried to use the same materials that form most of the global marine pollution – the plastic of food and drink packaging. Plastiki puts a focus on the pollution but also that some trash can be a valuable resource for reuse instead of being dumped and becoming a pollutant.

On its journey, Plastiki sailed through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that I wrote about here earlier. That patch has an estimated 100 million tons of plastic in an area twice the size of France.

It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to degrade, but even then, like other plastics, it will remain in the environment in small pieces. One of the concerns about ocean pollution is that those final tiny particles of plastic float around the surface where they are ingested by fish and marine life. Plastic makes up to 80 percent of all marine pollution and at least a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals are killed every year by eating plastic or getting caught up in it.


If you want to armchair either voyage:
Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft
Plastiki Across the Pacific on Plastic: An Adventure to Save Our Oceans

Plastiki’s Pacific-Voyage – Illustration by Andrew Rae – via theplastiki.com

Earth Day 50 On This Different Planet Earth

Tomorrow is Earth Day #50. I recall the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. I was a high school student and one of the 20 million Americans (10% of the U.S. population at the time) who took to the streets, met on school campuses and held events in hundreds of cities to demand a new way forward for our planet. That first Earth Day is credited with launching the modern environmental movement and is now recognized as the planet’s largest civic event.

Much of that will not happen this year. That is partly because of the global pandemic we are experiencing, but part of it because too many people just don’t care.

The theme for Earth Day 2020 is taking on an enormous challenge — climate action. Action on climate change is seen as the most pressing topic for the 50th anniversary and the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.

There are some efforts to make Earth Day into a time for digital activities and education and that is good in his time of students learning digitally and at home. But for real change, we need to get out and make changes locally and think and act as best we can globally.