Monday, June 20, 2016

After All, This Is Us

After All, This Is Us
By Debi Smith 
Vigil on "The Bricks" in Ashland, Oregon on June 13, 2016 (Photo courtesy Krista Larson)

A man in shorts and faded rainbow socks handed out candles. Another man softly played the keyboard. A small dog with a brightly hued trailing scarf who didn’t appear to be attached to anyone pranced about. The late spring sun was setting; a gentle breeze was blowing. This was the scene as we each, I’d guess 300 or more, quietly gathered together last week at “The Bricks,” a small amphitheater outside the main stages at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival here in bucolic Ashland, Oregon. All very far removed in many ways from the horrific violence, bloodshed, death, and painful realities that unfolded thousands of miles away at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12th. But it was also so very close. This could have been us. This was us. And to go a step further, it is us in similar and much worse events, events that we rarely give our attention to, that happen daily all over the world.

Pondering all the above while waiting for the vigil to honor the Orlando victims to officially begin, I was reminded of something that had happened a couple days previous. I was at a downtown  bookstore and had been in the back looking through books for a while when my son walked in. We were meeting in town for lunch. I didn’t even get a chance to give him a hug before a woman hurried back and asked that we put our backpacks up front. I put down the book I was looking at and we left. When it was just me, a nicely dressed middle-aged white woman, I hadn’t been asked to doff my backpack at the front. It was quite clear that they were profiling my son. It made me hurt for him. I told him that I rarely feel profiled or discriminated against. He said it is his near-daily reality. 

This experience made me hurt for my son—and for all people who are profiled and discriminated against—and far worse—for absolutely no good reason.

Yet, it was remembering what had happened with my son that made me shamefully realize that I myself had given fear a temporary win, even if only subconsciously, when I chose where I would sit at this vigil—where my goal was to affirm the open and caring world I want to live in, and leave for my children and their children—based on comfort zones. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of anyone, but I realized that having arrived alone at the event and uncertain what to expect from it, that I had unconsciously chosen to sit by people who looked more like me. Now it was me being discriminatory for absolutely no good reason.

But this is where hope comes in.

At least I had a conscious, better late than never, recognition of my own fear-based behavior. Conscious recognition of unconsciously held fears and their attendant behaviors is the first step!

A man stepped onto the stage to speak, introducing himself as Luis Alfaro, the current Playwright in Residence at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He shared a story about seeing a straight couple on a train in Chicago openly showing their love and affection to each other that was juxtaposed against another couple across the aisle, two men who acted like they didn’t know each other, who were discretely holding hands under a briefcase. When he said this made him wonder how long it would be before everyone could openly show their love, my monkey mind went to reusable shopping bags, and how 25 years ago I felt like the weird one for taking my own bags to the store and that now I feel like the weird one when I forget them. 

Odd example perhaps, certainly not an issue of the same scale, but it is an example of how a paradigm shift in our collective thinking and habits occurred. And it gives me hope for the far more fundamental issues of our time that need to be addressed, and shifted.

Luis said that the events in Orlando made him feel hopeless. But then he went to a local store to pick up some supplies for the vigil and was in line. One of the items was a small rainbow ribbon, which he pinned to his chest. He could feel the woman next to him looking at him and he feared her judgment. 

Luis continued, “I was standing there wondering what she was thinking. She finally said something. Said she cared. She asked if she could touch the ribbon and I nodded yes. It was on my heart. She put her hand there on my heart, and then her other hand on her heart.”

It was the smallest of gestures, yet also the largest. My hand on your heart. No fear. I hear and feel your pain. We are in this together.

The vigil here in my small town was not only a memorial to the lives that were mercilessly revoked by a mad gunman the wee morning hours of June 12th. We were also gathering with millions of others around the globe to honor our commonly shared humanity and to affirm what it means to love—regardless of race, gender, age, sexual identification, religion, politics, education, employment, economic standing, body shape, hair color or length, music interests, style of dress, artistic expression, or any other label or description commonly or not commonly used to separate and divide.

We each have our own unique perspectives. This can be a beautiful thing. But how many of our perspectives, if we are honest with ourselves, are born out of fear? Fear that we were conditioned to accept without questioning?

We are at a turning point. We have a choice to make. It’s quite an easy choice really, it’s just one we make difficult when we listen to, and buy into (figuratively and literally), all the fear-mongering that forms the crux of most of our media and politics—media and politics owned by a very small but effective consortium who knows that fear and division are the easiest ways to control people. But we don’t have to listen to them. We can choose love and compassion, and learn to dialogue in new and more effective ways, especially about the very big issues that we face in this country and around the world. As the Dalai Lama wrote recently in an op-ed for the Washington Post regarding his hopefulness for humanity's future, “There are solutions to many of the problems we face; new mechanisms for dialogue need to be created, along with systems of education to inculcate moral values. These must be grounded in the perspective that we all belong to one human family and that together we can take action to address global challenges.”

Vigils are helpful. Moments of silence are appropriate. Giving something a “like” or “thumbs down” or “sad face” emoji on our social media devices might help us feel involved. Hashtag prayers and profile flag overlays are fine but only go so far and are clearly getting old. The practice of writing letters to the editor, and op-ed pieces, and calling our state representatives are even more participatory, effective, and important. But we need to do more. We need to find ways to gather together and dialogue. Compassionately. Without just stating our opinion (such as on social media, or a bumper sticker, or even in an essay like this) and then just moving on without sticking around to hear what anyone else thinks. We need to actually dialogue. With everyone, but especially with those who we think we disagree with.

We won’t always agree. The way forward won’t always be easy. We have difficult work to do within ourselves, and we have difficult work to do together. But let’s stop listening to the incredibly small cabal of fearmongers who are intent on controlling our thinking. Let us instead listen to each other. Truly listen. I know in my heart that we will find we have much more in common with each other than the fear and division we are told to believe in. And In the process we may listen to someone in such a way that helps them feel heard, acknowledged, and accepted as a human being, which just might help them feel more connected to life than taking it.

Let’s figure out how to do this thing. I know we can accomplish many great things together.

I welcome your thoughts, comments, and ideas on how we—as part of one human family—can come together, as the Dalai Lama encourages, to create new mechanisms of compassionate dialogue. You can email me at There’s no reason some of the ideas can’t be fun! Like hosting a neighborhood block party to get to know our neighbors better—which our family will be doing in the next couple of weeks. Or as simple as looking up from all our electronic devices and smiling and saying “hello” to people who cross our paths. After all, this is us.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Making Music While Cleaning Up

When asked what most people might not know about him, or would find surprising, Tim Church replies, "Most people who see me at the recycling center don't know I'm a musician, and most people who know I'm a musician don't know I work at the recycling center!"

Of course, following this interview, that's less likely to be the case.

DT: You wear a couple very different hats. When you were a kid, what did you envision doing when you grew up?

Tim: I was always interested in music, and knew I wanted to play the guitar but never dreamed I could make a living at it. After high school, I spent five plus years in college--changing my major nearly every semester. Later on, living in Santa Cruz, I found I could make a living with music after all.

DT: How long have you been in Ashland, and what brought you here?

Tim: I've been here since 1983. While living in Santa Cruz, I had a longtime romance with a woman living in Moscow, Idaho. She didn't like Santa Cruz, thought it too hedonistic! And Idaho was too cold for me. Wanting a bit more consistency in our togetherness we met in the middle. Lucinda and I have been married for twenty-one years now.

DT: How did you come to be working at the recycling center?

Tim: I'd helped Lucinda with a couple different recycling centers she'd managed in Idaho and Washington, and one day, while at Ashland Sanitary paying my bill, I overheard talk about the need to hire someone to work at the new Ashland recycling center. I said, "I'll do it." I've been here 17 years. It works well with my life as a musician.

DT: What are the most enjoyable aspects of your work at the center? And what are your thoughts about recycling?

Tim: I really enjoy the people, being by the creek, having my dog by my side, and working outside.

I enjoy the freebox dynamics. It's actually kind of famous. I often hear comments like, "We're on our way from L.A. to Seattle, and had to stop and check out this awesome freebox we've heard about!" All kinds of people utilize the freebox: mothers and kids, homeless people, grandparents, people who drive expensive cars ....

As far as recycling, it's a good thing to do. It's hard to change the world, but if you work on your little corner of it, doing what you can, it all adds up.

DT: Could you briefly clarify what the center is currently accepting?

Tim: Cardboard, tin, aluminum, glass, plastic — all #s but no clam shells or plastic bags, waste paper — including newspaper and cereal boxes. We also accept compact fluorescent lightbulbs and, unofficially, styrofoam peanuts and plastic bubble wrap — if clean, in good condition, and separated from all other recyclables.

DT: You've also found a way to tie your concern for animal welfare into your work at the recycling center.

Tim: My wife and I are volunteers at the animal shelter, and members of FOTAS (Friends of the Animal Shelter). We have fostered and found homes for around two hundred dogs, and a few cats, in the past 15 years. We've recently stopped fostering, but I still take an adoptable dog from the Jackson County Animal Shelter to the recycling center almost every week. Dogs are good people. But please folks, get your pets spayed and neutered. The statistics say that one unspayed female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 dogs in six years!

DT: In addition to the shelter dogs you bring in, you also bring in your own dog. Was Huggy Bear originally a shelter dog?

Tim: We've had Huggy Bear for about eight years. I brought him from the shelter in the hopes he would get adopted. He was adopted one day and brought back the next because he was such a pain in the ass. So my wife and I adopted him. He was still a pain in the ass, but has mellowed over the years. His name is Huggy Bear because when we adopted him he looked like a bear and would stand on his hind legs and hug us.

DT: Now, more about that other hat you wear. The one you're most passionate about. Musician.

Tim: I've been playing guitar for about forty years, quite a few different styles. I play solo, in several different jazz groups, and with the Rock/Klezmer band — Jerry Attrick & The Pacemakers. My first gigs when I came to Ashland were at Chateaulin and the Jacksonville Inn. I still play solo guitar at Chateaulin — on Thursdays, and also play at Amuse on Fridays, and at Standing Stone on Saturdays. I also play at several local wineries, and at weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, retirements, car dealerships ... I play everything from Bach and Broadway, to Brazil and beyond. I love all of it.

DT: Anything else you're up to, or would like to be doing?

Tim: I enjoy working in the garden with my wife, reading, and travel. If I won the lottery, I wouldn't buy a new car or anything, I'd just travel more. It's a big world out there.

DT: What is your biggest fear?

Tim: Doing interviews. Just kidding. I sometimes fear that humanity on this planet is comparable to the people on the Titanic. The poor countries are in steerage, and the industrialized countries are in first class. Martinis in hand, we're heading for disaster. Global warming, water shortages, overpopulation, wars over diminishing resources...the warnings are there, but mostly we're ignoring them.

DT: What would you recommend we do? If you could wave a wand and change three things in the world, what would they be?

Tim: All too often we go through life half asleep. I know I do. To wake us all up would be one wand wave. To make humanity a bit kinder would be another. The third would do away with cell phones!

DT's note: Those curious as to why Tim would do away with cell phones, he's available at the recycling center on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9-5, and on Fridays from 9-1. He can also be visited at one of his many musical gigs. And, if you're the woman who — while this interview was in process last week — accidentally threw your cellphone out with your recycling (something that happens not infrequently Tim reports), it was found, almost immediately after you departed, by a young woman surfing in the cardboard bin.

Originally published by the Ashland Daily Tidings on June 14, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ashland Peace Fence: photos, video, and audio

Click here to view a collection of photos of the Ashland Peace Fence.

Here's a link to a few more Peace Fence photos.

And here's a link to the video, also viewable below.

And, for a public radio audio presentation regarding the fence, captured and edited by Kay Stine, click here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Posting Peace

Under the cover of darkness Saturday night, and as a Mother's Day surprise for Ashland, a fence in the railroad district became the temporary home for an art installation entitled "The Peace Fence." The fence itself — which sits on a 20-acre parcel of land owned by the Union Pacific Railroad Company — was installed in 2006 after a decision to postpone clean-up of 58,000 tons of soil contaminated by a rail car repair and maintenance facility sited there for nearly 100 years.

While walking along the fence line recently, Ashland artist Jean Bakewell suddenly saw the fence in a new way — as a potential canvas. She proceeded to put out a call to friends, artists, authors, poets, and organizations, inviting them to submit cloth panels of art that reflected personal hopes and visions regarding peace and the planet. The response was enthusiastic. Within a few weeks, nearly 70 panels were contributed — most by local artists and organizations, and some even coming from California, Washington, and Canada.

DT: What inspired you to use the fence as a canvas for creative expression regarding peace?

Jean: Having been a child of war, I've been a peace activist my entire life, protesting in one way or another. And then I read Sharon Mehdi's book, "The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering," (Viking Penguin 2005). It was so wonderful, so simple. It showed me that just one person can make a difference.

Several weeks ago, walking along the fence line thinking about my brother and his wife who had recently died, I suddenly saw that the fence — which has been so controversial and considered such an eyesore — was actually a gift; I saw that we could use it as a place to creatively express our visions for peace and the well being of the planet. I called my partner Kay and told her about the idea and she said, "You know what, that's one of your better ideas!" Next I shared the idea with friends, and it was a ripple effect from there. I started getting calls and e-mails from people I didn't even know, people wanting to contribute. So many people have helped make it happen, and the panels are just absolutely incredible.

DT: You say that you're a "child of war." Could you explain?

Jean: I was born in May of 1939 in the seaside resort of New Brighton, England. The bombing started in September. New Brighton is located directly across the River Mersey from Liverpool — which was a primary target for the Germans. Our little town just happened to be in their path, and consequently received rather heavy bombing. The first word I said was bomb. "What do the Germans do, Luv?" my mom would ask. "Bomb," I'd answer before running with my doll to the makeshift bomb shelter in the cupboard under the stairs. I was two.

My growing up was neighbors dying, blood in the streets, our roof being blown off, playing on bombed out sites and in burnt out buildings, living with food shortages, collecting wood from wrecked ships to use as fuel, and yet ... to have experienced it all feels like a gift. To have done without, be hungry, cold, make do, share — brought us all together.

DT: You said that you've been a peace activist your entire life, could you elaborate?

Jean: In the late 1970's, after reading the book "Nuclear Madness" by Dr. Helen Caldicott, I got involved in protests at Diablo Canyon, Lawrence Livermore Labs, and the Concord Weapons Station. Then in April 1983 I went to the Peace Camp in Greenham Common, England, where 50,000 women came from all over the world to protest the siting of cruise missiles at the United States Air Force base located there. There was a 14-mile long fence around the base, and we formed a human chain, five people deep in spots, all the way around it. Due in part to our action and the almost 20-year presence of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, the missiles were eventually sent back to the US and the fence came down.

Actually, I also now recall a massive Mother's Day protest at the Mercury, Nevada nuclear test site in the 1980s. (May 12, 1987) The event was attended by Carl Sagan, Daniel Ellsberg, Jessie Jackson ... it was absolutely amazing.

DT: So, you've been involved with fences coming down in the past, and are now choosing to see them as opportunities. As a canvas. What do you envision happening next with the Peace Fence project?

Jean: I would love to see fences everywhere covered with art and poetry. Would love the idea to spread, for people to be inspired to create something similar in their own communities — be it on a public fence or in their back yards. As for the art itself, among several of the ideas we are considering is creating a calendar based on photographs of the panels, and also having the installation travel to other communities.

I believe many forms of protest are needed, and can be effective, but this project is about encouraging people to put their creativity to work; it offers them an opportunity to give voice to their hopes and dreams for humanity.

I'm currently reading Malcom Gladwell's "Tipping Point," and the way I see the tipping point is that you do the work, keep doing it and doing it — in this case, the work is waging peace — and then suddenly there's a massive paradigm shift. And that's where I think we are right now in the global peace movement.

This article, part two of the article published last week, was published by the Ashland Daily Tidings on May 16, 2007.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Little Story, Big Message

Common Dreams published an expanded version of this article on Monday: Saving the World

What follows here, is the article I submitted, which is different, and more accurate, than the two The Tidings published today.

By Debi Smith
For the Tidings

The origin of Mother's Day, as it is celebrated in the United States, has far less to do with cards, chocolates, and flower arrangements than many people realize. There are conflicting accounts regarding who the original inspiration for Mother's Day was, however, three of the women most widely regarded as having influenced the holiday are Julia Ward Howe, Anna Reeves Jarvis, and her daughter--also named Anna.

Julia Ward Howe was an abolitionist, poet, and the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and in 1870--with memories of the Civil War fresh, and thoughts of the Franco-Prussian war heavy on her mind--she wrote in her journal: "As I was revolving these matters in my mind...I was visited by a sudden feeling of the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest. It seemed to me a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed. The question forced itself upon me, 'Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters...?' I had never thought of this before. The august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibilities now appeared to me in a new aspect, and I could think of no better way of expressing my sense of these than that of sending forth an appeal to womanhood throughout the world, which I then and there composed."

Her appeal, which would become known as The Mother's Day Proclamation, reads, in part: "...Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. ...But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard...."

Julia would spend the rest of her days working tirelessly for peace, including suggesting a national festival, "a day which should be called Mother's Day, and be devoted to the advocacy of peace doctrines."

At around the same time, Anna Reeves Jarvis, living in West Virginia, was organizing clubs to care for the poor, the sick, and the young--calling them "Mothers' Work Day Clubs." When the Civil War ensued she encouraged the clubs to nurse and care for the wounded of both sides, and following the war, organized "Mothers' Friendship Days." Following her death in 1905, her daughter Anna, inspired by her mother's efforts, worked tirelessly for the establishment of a national holiday honoring mothers and service. She succeeded with this mission in 1914 (though would later come to regret it when the holiday became commercialized) when President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May, Mother's Day.

Now we come to the Ashlander part--part one--of the Mother's Day story.

One morning, three years ago, local author Sharon Mehdi went to the coffeehouse above Bloomsbury Books to write. She was trying to write a serious non-fiction book about buried scrolls, but having a bad case of writer's block, picked up a newspaper instead. It was all war, violence, and economic woes. Thinking of her new granddaughter, she decided to pen her a little story--The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering; A story for anyone who thinks she can't save the world.

Sharon shared the story with a few friends, "Here's this little story I wrote for my granddaughter, what do you think?" They liked it. One of the friends took it to two United Nations conferences in New York and an International Peace and Reconciliation Conference in South Africa. Another friend took it to Bloomsbury Books asking them to consider offering it for sale. Jeff Golden happened upon the story and invited Sharon to be a guest on his morning radio program. One thing led to another and another, and the story was soon published by Viking Penguin in 2005.

Not long after, in the summer of 2006, a group of women in Ohio were contemplating the state of the world. One of the women, Deborah Ballam--a Professor at Ohio State University, and the Associate Provost for Women's Policy Initiatives--tells the story:

"Over the last year, we encountered women everywhere who were weary about where the world was moving. And more importantly, we found women who were ready to stand up and do something about it. Men as well. And then we came across the origins of Mother's Day--as it is celebrated in the US--in Jean Shinoda Bolen's book, Urgent Message from Mother: Gather the Women, Save the World. In it we read Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation, and realized we wanted to do something for this coming Mother's Day, May 13, 2007. What, however, we didn't know. In October 2006, Bolen spoke at Ohio State and we shared our thoughts with her. After listening, she pulled out a little book--the original version of The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering. After reading it, and talking to Jean, we knew what we had to do."

And so was born the Standing Women project. As of this writing, the website,, has registered 2009 events, in 65 nations, for this coming Mother's Day.

When pressed to talk about the effect her small story has had, Sharon says, "I never wrote a book, I wrote a story for my granddaughter. I wanted her to know that one person can make a difference." To emphasize the power of each person doing what they can do, Sharon shares one of her favorite quotes: "I am only one, but I am still one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do." Sharon says that if just one person had been missing from the scenario, hadn't done what they could do, the story wouldn't have gone anywhere.

The quote Sharon shares was written by Edward Everett Hale in, "Ten Times One is Ten." Originally published in 1870, it became the inspiration for the Lend-A-Hand clubs that rapidly grew to include 100,000 members. In a preface to the 1917 edition of the book, Hale writes: "I was simply trying, in an 'invented example,' to show to young people the extent and the rapidity by which the effort of one man extends itself in larger and larger circles...but some who read were more ready than I had supposed anyone would be to try the experiment."

Sharon and the women of Ohio--like Howe, Jarvis, and Hale before them--are surprised that some were more ready than either supposed anyone would be, to try the experiment.

One way to celebrate Mother's Day the way it was originally intended, is to join the Mother's Day Stand to Save the World. Locals will be gathering in Lithia Park, May 13, at 1:00 p.m.--joining thousands of others who will be standing around the world.

In part two of the story, we will learn more about local artist Jean Bakewell, and how she was inspired, in part after reading Sharon's story, to create--with the help of other artists, poets, writers, and organizations--"The Peace Fence," an art installation that will be installed this coming weekend as a Mother's Day surprise for Ashland

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

An Artist Dealing with Death

By Debi Smith
For the Ashland Daily Tidings
(Published 5/2/07)

It's fairly certain that it's going to happen to all of us — death. And Marian Spadone — an Ashland artist and owner of A Fine Farewell — is clear that her mission in life is getting us to talk about it, to plan for it better, to reconsider current funeral and burial practices, and to see that by embracing death we can actually excise some of the fear surrounding it — making our eventual transition from life be a much easier, healing, and joyful process to contemplate and do. Talking with Marian, as she enthusiastically explains the alternatives to current practices, makes one almost look forward to the final farewell! In a culture that goes to great lengths trying to distance itself from the one thing that's most certain in life, that's saying a lot.

DT: What inspired your interest in the idea of natural burials?

Marian: I was in England in 2002 and chanced upon a book, "The Natural Death Handbook." What I read resonated so deeply that I began to think about how I could incorporate aspects of what I was learning into my work. Being an artist, and already working with fabric and painting silk, I started designing burial shrouds. My learning about the care of the dead continued, and now, in addition to creating shrouds, my personal mission is to change the way western culture deals with death.

DT: Why do you recommend people reconsider the way our culture deals with death?

Marian: From a purely ecological standpoint, current practices have impacts that need to be considered. Cremation, for example — and I do respect that cremation feels like the right choice for many people — requires a substantial amount of fuel, and raises many air quality concerns. (According to, an estimated 2.5 tons of mercury — just one of the pollutants — was emitted from crematoria nationwide in 2003 — a statistic expected to double over the next two decades as more people, with mercury fillings, choose cremation.) With embalming, something that is not a legal mandate or necessity, bodies are drained of blood and filled with toxic fluids — known carcinogens — gallons of which are then buried in the earth. Then there's the casket itself, often containing non-biodegradable materials, rare hardwoods, plastics, metals, etc.

So you have a body unnecessarily invaded and filled with pollutants, put into a box of questionable materials, and then ... here's the kicker ... put into a concrete or fiberglass burial vault in the ground! What are we trying to preserve? And why? We're certainly not talking good composting here! What I want people to know is that there are much less invasive and toxic alternatives.

From a spiritual standpoint, I think there is a mystery occurring between what we call death and when the body is buried or cremated. Current practices oftentimes invade that space unnecessarily, requiring us to give up our access to the mystery in the process. It's so helpful for families to see and touch, to deeply know that the person is not in there. Being more involved gives us the chance to honor the departing spirit and the vehicle that's housed it, and the opportunity for our own healing and growth.

DT: In your research and observation, in what ways does western culture differ from other cultures around the world in the way death is handled?

Marian: First, we have a hard time talking about it, looking at pictures of it, and admitting that death is a part of the cycle of life that we all participate in. We've made it an enemy — something to try and somehow avoid. But even whilst admitting our fear of it, I've found that we do want to talk about death. We just need permission.

Secondly, we have removed death from the home. Most people die in hospitals or other care facilities. It doesn't occur to us to bring a body home for care and funeral services. Many people don't even know that it's legal in most states for a family to do so. Yet, all over the world, it is done as a matter of course, and was done in this country up until two or three generations ago.

In many non-western cultures, death is much more easily accepted, seen, planned for, engaged with, and even celebrated.

DT: What are some of the alternatives to current practices?

Marion: Natural burials usually involve home care of the body — which can include ritual bathing, dressing, anointing with aromatic oils, etc. Using dry ice, families can choose to keep the body at home for several days. A variety of containers are available for burying the body in; cardboard cremation containers, pine boxes, woven willow, and shrouds are just some examples, and can be purchased or hand made and/or decorated. Families find this to be an especially healing part of the process.

Natural burials are done with biodegradability in mind. Currently in Britain, where traditional cemetery space has become limited and the movement has gained a lot of momentum, land is being set aside as nature preserves and bodies are buried there in natural settings. Instead of a chemically preserved body and highly manufactured container polluting the soil for decades, when left to decompose naturally the body actually feeds the soil and surrounding flora. Here in the US, where the movement is just beginning to grow, work is being done to establish standards for natural burials. Green Burial Parks are opening, focusing on offering alternatives to traditional burials and with an eye toward better land stewardship.

DT: How do you envision people becoming more comfortable and involved with natural burial practices?

Marian: When I started doing this work I invited people to join me in thinking about how we could create something like the Jewish Burial Society for the rest of the non-Jewish community. In that vein, a small group of us formed our own burial society and have been meeting for just over a year, doing lots of emotional work and research together. We're each creating our own "exit plan" and are committed to assisting one another's families at the time of our deaths. We are currently developing a way to share this with the community at large, wanting to act as a resource to local groups and congregations.

DT: Where do you hope to go next with your business, and your desire to make this information more accessible?

Marian: I'd like to assist people in discussing and planning natural burials, and be available as a consultant for home funerals. I would also like to create an entire line of custom designed Alternative Burial Containers and Shrouds and open a small, friendly 'Funeral Shop' for making them accessible to the general public. Can you just imagine someone saying, "I went to Ashland to see the plays, but look what I found while I was there!"

Marian will be giving a Natural Burials talk at the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library — located at 258 A Street — on Tuesday, May 15, from 7-9pm. For questions, or if you'd like to check out her collection of burial shrouds and wrappings, Marian can be reached at To learn more about Natural Burials, a good place to get started is at

Friday, April 27, 2007

Shoshana Alexander--Standing Tall: Conscientious Objectors, Exiles, Resisters, & Other War Heroes

This is the video on Shoshana Alexander that accompanies my article published today at The Ashland Daily Tidings.