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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Richard Reese's "What Is Sustainable": reviews and reactions

[Editor's Note: A few months ago Keweenaw Now posted an ad for What is Sustainable, a new book by Richard Reese, a former Keweenaw resident now living in Portland, Oregon. A few years ago Reese was a guest writer for our original Keweenaw Now Web site,, now archived. Recently several of our readers read Reese's book. Joanne Thomas of Allouez, reader and researcher for Keweenaw Now, contacted guest reviewers Patricia Lund, Kate Alvord and Vern Simula and compiled their comments, along with her own, for this article.]

By Joanne Thomas (and contributors)

Richard Reese read hundreds of books for me so that I wouldn't have to, in answering the question implied in his book title.

The "text-book" type material that is a large part of this book is so readable that the audience for this book should be very wide. (I would like to see collegiate environmental/ecology classes pick this one up.)

Richard steered a rather boring subject (to me) about the science/methodology of agriculture into a "story" that propelled me to keep reading. He did so by connecting its extensive "dots" to show its impact on civilization throughout the ages, while examining what civilization means.

Artfully weaving his personal story -- and that of his ancestors -- throughout the book, this author also kept my attention.

These "foundations" of sustainability -- what it has meant through the ages in success and failure, offer new needed insights.

"Worldview" is a big keyword in this book.

Not to be confused with his opinion of what "should be," Reese is reporting on what the cultural mores were (and are) -- mores that can be drastically different from the current "Western" view. This "reporting" re-adjusted the worldview I've had, and twisted and broadened it -- and seems to continue after I read the book!

I related almost totally (save the disuse of indoor plumbing) to how the author lived here in the Copper Country. It was a joy to read about lifestyle habits that I share, the new ideas I could implement, and the philosophy that blends with both.

He has, as well, unearthed much ancient knowledge that is "news" I can use.

If I have any criticism about the book, it is in its "physicality." I would like to hold a lighter book, with thinner paper, maybe with a grayer type, and mute the stark black and white glossy cover. The cover photo of the Indian encampment is the best example that Richard showcases -- on who got that "sustainability" right.*

Patricia Lund of Houghton County offers these remarks about What is Sustainable:

It is a powerful commentary on what has happened to our planet, Earth, and the dangers it is in. Reese has the delightful ability to take a lot of information and boil it down to understandable chapters surrounding the subject of sustainability.

I especially enjoyed the topic of agricultural evolution. Reese presents a convincing argument toward returning to a less invasive approach to the production of food.

While reading this book, one is compelled to say, "Oh, yeah," but then the complicated society we live in will undoubtedly reflect the human need to "develop" and move toward ever increasing "mining" of the Earth’s natural and not renewable resources.

I truly hope our decision makers are tuning in to the information presented in this book. How much of our "progress" is unsustainable?

From Kate Alvord: An overview of What Is Sustainable**

Richard Reese begins What Is Sustainable with a personal story of his own journey from urban southeast Michigan, where he worked as a technical writer, to an old ten-acre farm in the Keweenaw. As he made this move, he simplified his life and reduced his consumption. He also enjoyed deep contact with the land and with indigenous teachings, especially from Anishinaabe elder, the late Walter Bressette.***

Reese connects the story of this experience to an exploration of his own ancestry back to its indigenous European roots. The first chapters thus describe a personal voyage -- from living in an urban core of industrial civilization to living simply in communion with the land -- which in some sense serves as a microcosm for the rest of this book.

In his nine years in the Keweenaw, Reese read voraciously, studying the Earth Crisis and taking copious notes from more volumes even than are listed in his book's extensive bibliography. Drawing on these years of study, What Is Sustainable describes several "Forks in the Path" of human history that make our current way of life unsustainable: the domestication of animals; the sedentary living that allowed accumulation of stuff; the mining not only of metals but also of forests, furs, fish, and topsoils; and the "Mother of All Forks," our reliance on cheap but finite fossil energy. Throughout, Reese describes how these paths allowed human population to burgeon.

To move toward true sustainability, he writes, we must change in four main areas: population, food sourcing, worldview, and the way we connect with ancestors as well as "non-human relatives -- the living world." He writes that "it's too late for a smooth, intelligent, carefully planned, and painless transition to a sustainable future. But ... it's never too late to behave more intelligently."

If we were to combine reason with rapid population reduction, he notes, we could start now to pursue less destructive modes of farming.

In the book's latter sections, Reese pursues deeper explorations of food and population issues before taking on the "civilized" worldview, "the mother of our problems," and describing alternatives that can heal our connections with the life and land around us. Whatever paths we choose, he concludes, "Collapse [of industrial consumer civilization] is already in its early stages, and nothing can stop it." But, he writes, this is actually a happy ending, the herald of a great healing.

Comparing this to a Keweenaw thunderstorm, he writes, "There is now a collapse-driven storm that has filled the sky, large and powerful .... This storm will hit, and hit hard.... But when it has passed, the Earth can begin healing."

Former Keweenaw resident Vern Simula, a friend of Reese's, who is mentioned in the book, offers these comments:

Richard is so conversational -- and thus unconventional -- in his writing style. In fact, I would guess that his style might even be an uncomfortable embarrassment to those readers (scientists and academicians particularly) who expected a more formal expository style as they approached this profound topic of ecosystem sustainability.

To their surprise, or discomfort, they all of a sudden find themselves listening to stories: Richard's very intimate and personal story and the story of his ancestors and the story of "place" and the broader stories of the living Planet. All this -- this "process" -- contextualizes Richard's arguments. Not only that, but the genius of Richard's unconventional story-telling approach is that this is precisely how humans for eons have developed and perpetuated their cosmologies -- their worldviews by which they attempted to comprehend their human existence in the context of often times poorly understood powerful natural forces and happenings.

The irony here is that humankind is still struggling, perhaps now more desperately than ever, to understand their existential place in the broader scheme of things -- and how to survive. We have now come to realize that science, after all, hasn't really helped us solve our fundamental problems. Thus, to find the wisdom that we need, Richard is nudging us to start listening to the stories of the ancients, and the stories of all that is wild. And then it is for us to start telling our own stories, in order to perpetuate our legacies.

Thank you, Richard, for making some readers uncomfortable. By doing so, we were able to listen more deeply!


* Note from Joanne Thomas: Richard has created a blog-site that accompanies this book and offers his current thinking on his many ideas and themes:

He recommends many books that he highly values -- books that have educated and influenced him in his pursuit in understanding who we are, how we got where we are, and how we can best move forward. His cumulative research and the deep wisdom in his writing make this book potentially one of those prized resources as well.

** Kate Alvord is a Keweenaw Now guest author. She has published many articles on environmental issues and the book Divorce Your Car: Ending the love affair with the automobile.

*** Walter Bressette was an Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) tribal leader, activist and author who championed treaty rights and environmental issues. He also taught for a time at Michigan Tech.

Click here to order What Is Sustainable from

Ed Gray Gallery to exhibit art in silent auction to benefit Calumet Art Center

These art works in the Ed Gray Gallery have been donated by the artists to benefit the Calumet Art Center. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

CALUMET -- Several artists have donated pieces which will be sold at a silent auction at the Ed Gray Gallery in Calumet during April. The public is invited to come in to bid on items from a variety of media.

Artist Susan Robinson has donated these lovely painted rocks for the auction.

The proceeds will benefit the Calumet Art Center. Please help make this year's auction as successful as last year's was.

Artist Bob Dawson donated this painting for the auction.

An opening reception for the auction/show will be held from 6:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. on First Friday, April 6. Refreshments will be served.

By supporting the Calumet Art Center, you can help the Center to help others. See below:

Calumet Art Center, BHK Great Explorations to host Empty Bowls Project

Calumet Art Center in collaboration with BHK Great Explorations will host the Empty Bowls Project -- an international effort to fight hunger. It’s a community-based fundraiser designed to create awareness of food insecurity and to generate income for local food pantries. The Calumet Art Center in collaboration with BHK Great Explorations is laying the ground work to host this project.

Local groups, including youth, will be decorating bowls like these for the Calumet Art Center's Empty Bowls Project -- an international effort to fight hunger. (Photo courtesy Calumet Art Center)

Local craftspeople, potters and educators will handcraft bowls, which are then used for a meal of soup and bread for a $10 cash donation. Several groups, including local youth, will be involved in the decoration and glazing of the bowls. Guests of this meal are then encouraged to keep the bowls as a reminder of those who are struggling to put food on the table for their families.

Members of both the Calumet Art Center and BHK host committee will determine the distribution of funds raised. ALL proceeds go to local organizations that alleviate hunger.

This project has made a dramatic impact in fighting hunger across the nation as well as in at least twelve other countries -- one community at a time. For more information about this project please contact the Calumet Art Center at (906) 934-2228, or email

Michigan LCV: The changing climate of climate change

From Michigan League of Conservation Voters
Posted on their Political Week in Review April 2, 2012

The legislature is on a two-week Spring Break, but while they're soaking up the sun, we're talking about climate change. Frankly, a break from some of the legislation that has been coming out of Lansing recently is pretty welcome on our side of things, too!

Americans are increasingly aware and concerned about climate change and, according to a prominent retired U.S. Navy admiral who testified in Lansing last week, it is with good reason. Fortunately, there are solutions. The EPA issued a historic set of carbon emission rules this week. Meanwhile cities like Grand Rapids are improving transportation options for their citizens while simultaneously cutting down on carbon emissions. Read more on Michigan LCV's Political Week in Review ...

Visiting writer, editor to give library presentation on award-winning book at Michigan Tech

Keith Taylor, co-editor of this new book, Ghost Writers: us haunting them, contemporary Michigan literature, will give an invited presentation April 10 at the J.R. Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library on the Michigan Tech campus. Click on image for larger version. (Image courtesy Michigan Technological University)

HOUGHTON -- Keith Taylor, poet, author, editor and faculty member, will give an invited presentation at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10, in the East Reading Room of the J.R. Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library on the Michigan Tech campus.

The book talk will include storytelling, a look at his recent award winning book and conversation about what constitutes great writing.

Keith Taylor -- poet, author, and co-editor with Laura Kasischke of Ghost Writers: us haunting them, contemporary Michigan literature -- is on the faculty of the University of Michigan. He will give a presentation on this award-winning book, including storytelling, at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10, in the East Reading Room of Michigan Tech's J.R. Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library. (Photo courtesy Michigan Technological University)

Taylor and co-editor Laura Kasischke received a 2012 Michigan Notable Book award from the Library of Michigan for their book Ghost Writers: us haunting them, contemporary Michigan literature. A collection of stories by some of Michigan’s best authors, these tales range from true stories written by non-believers to purely fictional stories that provoke the imagination. The stories are set in a wide range of Michigan locations that bring a sense of history and place to the tales.

Keith Taylor has published ten books of poetry, short fiction, translations, and edited volumes, including If the World Becomes So Bright (Wayne State University Press, 2009) and a chapbook of poems, Marginalia for a Natural History. Over the years his poems, stories, essays and book reviews have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Southern Review, the Detroit Free Press, and Michigan Quarterly Review, among many others. He has received grants or fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs. He teaches English at the University of Michigan and directs the Bear River Writers' Conference.

The book talk is open to the public and is sponsored by the Van Pelt and Opie Library. Join library staff and guests afterwards for free refreshments. For further information contact the Library at (906) 487-2500, or visit their Web site at

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Terry Sharik appointed Michigan Tech Dean of Forest Resources and Environmental Science

By Jennifer Donovan, Michigan Tech Director of Public Relations

HOUGHTON -- Terry Sharik has been appointed dean of Michigan Tech’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences (SFRES). He will take the reins on July 1, 2012, after Peg Gale, SFRES dean since March 2004, retires.

It’s a homecoming for Sharik, who taught in the School of Forestry and Wood Products from 1986 to 1993. While at Michigan Tech, he was president of the University Senate and associate director of the Lake Superior Ecosystem Research Center. Since 1993, he has been a professor of forest ecology at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. At Utah State, Sharik served as head of the Departments of Forest Resources and Environment and Society.

Sharik is co-founder of the Biennial Conferences on University Education in Natural Resources and the North American Forest Ecology Workshops. He remains deeply involved in educational reform in natural resources at the national and global levels through National Association of University Forest Resources programs. He is a fellow of the Society of American Foresters.

In 2005, Sharik helped establish the Gombe School of Environment and Society (GOSESO) in Tanzania, East Africa. He has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Forestry. He serves as chair of the GOSESO-USA board and the Sustainable Forests Partnership.

"Terry’s wide range of experience was evident throughout the interview process," said Professor Blair Orr, who chaired the search committee for the new Forestry dean. "He has an understanding of coursework and accreditation, not only of how it works today, but also insight into where it will be tomorrow. He has worked on large collaborative, interdisciplinary research projects and has a vision of how the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science can partner with others on campus to build stronger and more effective research programs."

Click here to read the rest of the story on the Michigan Tech News.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

FLOWERS IN SPRING oriental watercolor exhibit opens at Community Arts Center

HANCOCK -- The Copper Country Community Arts Center presents FLOWERS IN SPRING: Traditional oriental watercolors by Sun-Young Park. A public reception and gallery talk will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 5.

"Flowers in Spring" oriental watercolor painting by Sun-Young Park. (Photo courtesy Community Arts Center)

Korean-born artist Sun-Young Park studied oriental fine art at Dong-A University in South Korea earning her Bachelors degree in Fine Arts in 1996 and a Masters of Arts in 1999. She has worked as a high school teacher and university lecturer and has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Korea.

The artist states, "My subject matter comes primarily from nature; flowers, butterflies, wind, and mountains. I use oriental inks and Korean papers but also use non-traditional materials such as gesso, coffee, soil, cloth, and acrylic as a means to elaborate on colors and feelings in a modern sense."

FLOWERS IN SPRING will be on display in the Copper Country Community Arts Center’s Kerredge Gallery April 3 through 28. The Community Arts Center is located at 126 Quincy Street in Hancock. For more information call (906) 482-2333.

This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

"Lessons from the Hive," art by Melissa Hronkin, is at Reflection Gallery

HANCOCK -- The Finlandia University Reflection Gallery, Hancock, is hosting an encaustics and sculpture exhibit, "Lessons from the Hive" by artist Melissa Hronkin, through April 21, 2012.

Encaustic paint/mixed media artwork by Melissa Hronkin. (Photo courtesy Finlandia University)

An opening reception for the artist will take place at gallery from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, April 5. The reception is free and open to the public; refreshments will be served.

In this collection of work, Hronkin continues her exploration of the textures and physical properties of beeswax and mixed media.

Encaustic paint/mixed media artwork by Melissa Hronkin. (Photo courtesy Finlandia University)

"A fascination with bees led me to experiment and explore the art of encaustic painting," she says. "I have always been fascinated with alchemy and thinking of the artist as an alchemist. Honeybees also do this; they spin gold."

Hronkin and her husband, John, operate Algomah Acres Honey Farm and Honey House -- a honey processing facility, art studio, and community art space in Greenland, Mich.

The Reflection Gallery is located on the second level of Finlandia’s Jutila Center campus, 200 Michigan St., Hancock.

For information, call 906-487-7375.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Copper Country Associated Artists to hold basket-making workshop Apr. 6

CALUMET -- Copper Country Associated Artists (CCAA) will celebrate the Easter season by holding a basket-making workshop on First Friday, April 6, in the CCAA Gallery. The workshop will run from about 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m., and there will be only one session.

Copper Country Associated Artists will hold a basket-making workshop Friday, April 6. Learn how to make attractive baskets like these -- from cloth and rope -- perfect for Easter eggs! (Photo courtesy Copper Country Associated Artists)

Millie Little and friends will be assisting participants in the creation of a small basket made of cloth and rope. This forms a very decorative basket which can be used to hold various items such as Easter eggs. The basket will be about four inches in diameter, and stand about three inches tall.

Once the technique is mastered, however, since materials used are widely available, this technique could be applied to larger projects that could be done at home with fabrics that match your home décor. A variety of fabric strips will be available to choose from at the gallery, but attendees are welcome to bring pieces from home. Each basket will take a generous square yard of fabric, cut carefully into 3/4-inch strips. Participants should be able to do simple stitching.

Please come early to be assured a place. The workshop is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served and donations will be accepted.

The CCAA Gallery is at 205 Fifth Street in Calumet -- halfway between the Ed Gray Gallery and the Vertin.

Solve Main Street Calumet's Market Riddle and win a prize!

CALUMET -- Can you solve the Main Street Calumet Market Riddle for April? The first 3 children 12 or under, accompanied by a parent or guardian, who give the correct answer to the Main Street Calumet Market manager on Saturday, April 7, 2012, will win a prize (parents can help).

The Main Street Calumet Market is held every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the first Friday of each month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The market -- which features local products, crafts and seasonal produce -- is located at 200 Fifth St. (corner 5th and Portland Streets) in downtown Calumet. For additional information about the market please call 906-337-6246 or email

Here's the riddle:

In marble walls as white as milk,
Lined with a skin as soft as silk;
Within a fountain crystal clear,
A golden apple doth appear.
No doors there are to this stronghold.
Yet things break in and steal the gold.

Editor's Note: This is a tough challenge so we're posting it right away to give you a few days to figure it out! Remember to keep your answer secret until you go to the market on Saturday!

From League of Women Voters: Support County Master Plan

HOUGHTON -- League of Women Voters of the Copper Country, in accordance with its local Land Use position, calls on members and citizens to, please, take the time to become familiar with the following issue: Presently a small, but vocal, group, the Concerned Citizens of the U.P. (CCUP), is stridently demanding that the Master Plan be rejected by the Houghton County Commissioners.

Mary Sears, director of Concerned Citizens of the Upper Peninsula (CCUP), a Tea Party group, speaks at the March 12 public meeting on the Houghton County Master Plan in the Portage Lake District Library. She presents CCUP's view that the Master Plan will lead to county zoning. Planning commissioners at the meeting replied that the Plan is merely a guide and the Houghton County Board of Commissioners has gone on record saying the County has no intention to adopt county zoning. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

CCUP's opposition to the plan is because they consider it to be a first step in a conspiracy to impose County-Wide Zoning on Houghton County and to take away property rights from landowners. This contention is repeated at every public comment opportunity, despite the board of commissioners being on record as opposed to county wide zoning, preferring that each local entity make those choices for itself. Further, CCUP seems to believe that the Master Plan is an attempt to seize greater government control of private property in accordance with what they call a United Nations conspiracy, Agenda 21, whose purpose, they assert, is to create a single world government, at the expense of the sovereignty of the United States. ...

Click here to read the rest of this County Master Plan Adoption Support Information Sheet, from the Copper Country League of Women Voters, including reasons for supporting the Master Plan and contact information for the Houghton County Board of Commissioners. The public comment period extends through June 19, 2012.

Click here to read the Houghton County Master Plan draft, dated March 20, 2012.

See our updated March 18, 2012, article, "Tea Party views dominate meeting on County Master Plan."