The Happiest Place on Earth…

…and the place of most contentment, and creativity and healthfulness and healing.

While Disney Land flaunts itself as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” and Norway wins this year’s prize as the Happiest Country on Earth (US is a mere 14th.), intriguing research now pinged on 3 million Mappiness data points reveals another answer.  Mappiness is a multi-year project featuring volunteers to record their moods and activities twice a day at random times.  then it matches those responses to an exact GPS location from which it extracts the environmental characteristics.  The aim is simply:  What makes people happy?  Does place matter, or not?

Can you guess what the overwhelming results are showing?

The study showed, “participants are significantly and substantially happier outdoors in all green or natural habitat types than they are in urban environments.” Yet, perhaps not remarkably, Mappiness users were rarely found outdoors.  93% of the time, they were either indoors or in vehicles.  What Mappiness has sadly diagnosed: our epidemic dislocation from the natural world. We simply don’t experience natural environments enough to realize how restored they can make us feel, nor are we aware that time outside makes us healthier, more creative, more empathetic, and more apt to engage with the world and with each other.

While the poets and musicians have long shown us how vital time in nature is for our spirit, (Beethoven would hug a linden tree in his backyard and dedicate symphonies to landscapes), scientific research is now proclaiming a resounding, “Ditto.”

The happiest place on Earth is your own backyard, woods or meadow.







Limited Knowledge, Unlimited Wonder

Second grader on the path telling me, “I know where this trail leads!”

“You do?  Where,” I asked?



When I planned the field trips with a Corbett Elementary School teacher, I wondered how many students would be involved?  She smiled.  “Didn’t our principal tell you…we’re bringing the entire school! 

To celebrate spring, in the past three weeks, a herd of kindergarten through high school students have visited the Sandy River Delta.  They came to plant native trees and shrubs, and some spent time walking through the woods.

It has taken me a few decades to realize that when you have children outdoors for a limited amount of time (typically one opportunity), the most fulfilling way to spend those precious hours is to allow the students to explore, especially when the primary goal of the day is to instill a sense of wonder and place.

Third grader discoverer by the river turning to me,”The air smells different here.”  “What does it smell like?”   “Sand.”

I used to believe that outdoor time should support the in-school science curriculum by bringing the ecological concepts we taught to life. And I still do.  However, instead of focusing on reiterating science by sitting in one place, I’ve noticed that the children want to be on foot.  They are ready for exploration as soon as they get off the bus.  As pathfinders, we take turns giving students the walking stick, and as soon as one has it in hand,a new leader is born and off we go in the direction they choose!

“How should we act when we are exploring the forest?”

First grader: “We should be good.”

The combination of first planting native trees, then poking around the natural world complement each other nicely.  All of the kids planting will get plenty of soil on their pants and shirts, and they don’t seem to mind.  They are now in their “Exploring Clothes.”  There is pride and accomplishment in planting their own trees, and afterward, they are ready for movement.

From On the Loose: “Remember thy Creator int he days of thy youth.  rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures.  Let the noon find thee by other lakes and the night overtake thee everywhere at home.  There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here be played.” ~










Trees, in March

To be poor and be without trees, is to be the most starved human being in the world. To be poor and have trees, is to be completely rich in ways that money can never buy.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, The Faithful Gardener: A Wise Tale About That Which Can Never Die.

We know what sugar maples are doing in March when freezing nights and halcyon days prompt sweet sap to flow.

At the end of winter, here in the West, it depends on where you are regarding what trees are up to. Trees could still be hibernating, in bud, or in magnificent full bloom.

The first awakening is an inevitable sense to grow, taking place in the meristem cells located along the tree’s trunk and branches .A meristem is the plant tissue found where plant growth can take place. Meristematic cells give rise to various organs of the plant. These cells divide to form a new cambium layer pinched between the outer bark and outer sapwood, adding a new layer of living cells atop the previous heartwood.  Resulting, as we know, in new tree rings.

When temperatures rise about 40 degrees F.meristems produce auxins at the top of the conifers which become cones.  Some become male or pollen cones, and some transform into female or seed cones.

Soon, the small pollen cones magically open just in time to spread via wind their fertilizer to the seed cones.  Interestingly, the male cones are located on lower branches in order to spread pollen to adjacent trees not to the female cones above them in the same tree.

At the root of it all, minimum temperatures for root growth are thought to be between 32 and 42°F. and roots are independent, growing earlier than shoots, and opportunistically when they please despite what the tree is doing above ground.  Successful trees have their taproot plunging down in March.  Other roots are fanning out and concentrate into the top few centimeters of the soil.

Trees are awake and they are busy!   ~


An Unexpected Spring

It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

The familiar harbingers of spring are upon us:  the first robin, the first wild grass widow flower, increasing light, and snow melt.  For folks living in the Columbia River Gorge, we have experienced a most unexpected three-month-solid winter.  Now we might keep all of our senses wide open for what could be a most memorable spring season.

Already, stranger things are afoot.

As my daughter Denali visited us last week, a giant alligator lizard emerged in front of her from a long sleep cradled by the meadow soil.

A weasel-kin fisher, extinct from Washington State for a half century, has appeared in the wilds of the Mt. Adams Wilderness.

My elderly statesman Black Lab became instantly young again this morning discovering, then chasing a coyote amid the oaks.

We are going to really miss out if we don’t spend copious hours outdoors this spring.  Waterfall cascades will be bank-full.  Catherine Creek wildflowers could show us hues we never have beheld.

Yet, while we will expect color and water, it is also the little natural gifts we welcome, a cool breeze, warm sun finding our skin, the hum of new life.

Expect the unexpected.




A whisper and a foreign sensation combined to wake me suddenly this morning well before dawn. There was no grogginess. I flung open the front door with energy to experience the beautiful murmur of melting, the unmistakable trickle of  snow and ice melting.  I smiled at the roof line displaying a column of overhanging new snow that last week took me (and many friends around the Gorge I’ve learned) many hard hours of shoveling to ensure that our roofs would hold under the heaviness of ice.

Many northern climes do not experience the spring thaw until months later than January 21, and so we should be grateful, yet here in the Pacific Northwest lowlands, where a dash of winter has become the norm, all of us have six weeks of stories of treacherous driving, power outages, and so many cancellations!

Unlike the sudden snow melt in Portland resulting in flooding, we still have plenty of snow where I live (four feet), and it is the hopeful slow conversion of solid to liquid that benefits both nature and human, the percolation of water back to the ground water table, a dependable supply of our most precious natural resource for next summer’s fish, for wetlands, for irrigation.

I was hoping to find an English word to describe a slow melting, and the closest word was thaw, so I turned to the Japanese and found “tokasu,” which also means thaw and interestingly, “a combing out.”   However, it was the Inuit word (of course!) aniuk which translates into “snow for melting into water” that might be closest to the right description.   I also discovered the Inuit word for the season’s first snow, apingaut, but no word that might describe what many here are hoping for….the last snow of winter. ~

Embracing Ecotopia

But what matters most is the aspiration to live in balance with nature, “walk lightly on the land,” treat the earth as a mother. No surprise that to such a morality most industrial processes, work schedules, and products are suspect!”  From Ecotopia Chapter 3, Page 32

Since our country was formed, there have been numerous attempts by states, counties, and cities to secede and create their own mostly freedom and conservative-based Utopias.  From Pima County wanting to leave Arizona in 2011, Colorado Counties establishing a new state called Northern Colorado, and closer to home, western Idaho/eastern Washington Counties forming the perfect 51st state of Lincoln. No efforts to secede have succeeded, save perhaps one.

In the early 1970’s, a new country was born in the mind of author Ernest Callenbach. This land would encompass northern California and the western portions of Oregon and Washington and would be deemed Ecotopia.   Ecotopia describes a break-away state in the Pacific Northwest where the economy is sustainable, eating is local and recycling and public transportation are the norm. The New York Times described Ecotopia as the “Novel That Predicted Portland.”

Portland is a model Ecotopia city in many ways with its light-rail system, plethora of parks, and progressive city and county government. And while our nation “voted” to head in a vastly different direction, the West Coast States re-elected liberal governors and representatives.

However, the current and most likely forever true borders encompass the lands and people east of the Cascade Mountains including Hood River, Klickitat County, Washington, and Harney County, the home of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Those communities all went red in the national election.  With the power base, population and sway all residing in the state capitals west of the Cascade Mountains, it could be easy to ignore the rural communities of the arid Northwest.  If we seek to find ways to expand the Ecotopia culture, we need to visit, interact, communicate and listen with our neighbors from the east. We need to find ways of commonality, of unity and also the harder part of respecting our diversity of views.

The real Ecotopia is a State of Mind, may it become a State of Heart too.







On this silent New Year’s eve morning, I may be one of the few who is sorry to leave 2016 behind.  The year, alas, went by way too fast and I wish I could have spent more time with family and friends, being outdoors with students, participating in additional habitat restoration projects, and remembering more of the joys of Peace Village.  And I sorely wish that the promising students of our country (an analogy for all of us) could have at least met our limitless potential for good, but instead we were too easily swayed to the dark side of disunity and discord. Reading numerous vitriolic outpourings from friends who normally agree on 99 out of 100 issues bash each others candidate was only one example from last year’s period of utter insanity.  Oh, if we could only have a “re-do”, a second chance to re-live 2016!

Immediately after earthquakes and hurricanes have wreaked their damage, seemingly everyone comes together to help one another, searching for survivals and offering any and all kinds of assistance.  Last year, we inexplicably invited similarly destructive political forces to overwhelm our forces of values and trust and caring, but unlike natural disasters, there is no equivalent to the Red Cross and National Guard to assist us now.  What will be the impacts of the political after shocks? Who is picking up the rubble from November?  Clearly the answer has to be all of us.

One noble response occurred locally only a few days after the election when in Hood River, Oregon’s, hundreds turned out, arm in arm and heart to heart to display unity and community resolve, and to celebrate what we have in common.  On a larger scale, perhaps Standing Rock is also a model on how we can re-invent togetherness by peacefully supporting a peaceful cause through deep outpourings of financial and material aid, and as important feeling a part of a noble cause.

In the end, what we do individually and collectively in the approaching uncertain year will help set the stage on what ultimately happens to people of color, immigrants, and natural lands and systems.  Whether focusing on either the 99 things we agree upon with those close to us, or with some folks who we may mostly vociferously oppose, starting with even the one bond out of a 100, is a resolution I hope can become unfaltering and resolute.

“We are here
We are here for all of us
We are here for all of us
That’s why we are here, why we are here”  Alicia Keys



Waiting for My Elders

On the day when President Obama’s administration acted to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline, I thought it appropriate to share the Native American situation here in the Columbia Gorge as well as personal stories about our Tribal youth and elders.

Meeting Neighbors:  My wife Rene has been visiting her neighbors for the past two months…all of them!  One of the greatest community-building projects I’ve ever heard of, she is going from house to house simply greeting them all.  Rene recently visited the River People living on Lyle Point, on land purchased by the Yakama Nation.  Lyle Point, the last undeveloped Columbia River peninsula, was going to be turned into a sub-division, but like the North Dakota stand, the Native People camped out at Lyle Point and would not leave.  The space was saved.  The hope of great salmon runs tie together the families.

Teaching the Native Language:  Of all the thousands of posters plastered on the local market windows, the most surprising was one recently placed by Warm Springs Multi Media Artist  and Tribal Enterprise Chairman Jefferson Greene, who is teaching local youth and their families  the native Ichishkiin language of the Columbia River.Yakima and related dialects are still spoken in the region today, in the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian ReservationThe language is critically endangered, and this course adds to language preservation efforts.

This Place Series: The Oregon Humanities organization has been sponsoring conversations about place, power, home, and belonging. Their ‘This Place’ is a series of ninety-minute community discussions that happened across Oregon this fall.  I attended one of the sessions held at the Discovery Center in The Dalles.  We older Progressives talked about the ecology of the Columbia and our relationship to it.  Then the facilitator handed out a sobering photograph of where the West’s greatest Native American trading post and salmon migration tic-point used to located, Celilo Falls.  Almost on cue, three  generations of Native American women entered the room.  Grandmother and Mother had plenty to say about Celilo, This Place, and loss.

Waiting for My Elders:  During a recent environmental education field trip for Lyle 5th. graders,  one of the young students and I had been walking ahead of the others, and suddenly she stopped, turned to me, and said.  “In my custom I’ve been taught to wait for my elders.”  So, in silence with the sun warming the moment, and the Columbia Gorge wind playing with our hair, we gratefully waited. ~



We all have been given names.  We feature name tags at conferences and it is still our primary way of introduction.  Names of influential people in our lives always carry a special resonance: John Muir, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, the Dali Lama… The Vietnam Memorial is simply a list of names.  When we vote, we are required to sign our names.  In our phone book (for we elders) or in your Ipad Contact list, we carry names with us…and I carry the following (partial) list of names with me always.  You are family, friends, work colleagues, part of the community where I live.  I lean on you, talk with you, cry, laugh, and share my life’s journey with you.  I want to deeply thank you all of you for your friendship, inspiration, simply the positive ways you contribute to the well being of the Columbia Gorge or other places where you live.

My hope is to be able to add to this list, to include new names of people I do not yet know, people different than me, maybe people who didn’t vote in the last election, maybe folks who have little in common with me except that we are here in the Gorge together…and that should be enough.

If you’d like, please add to this list, perhaps with 5 people that come directly to mind who help you along your way.

Dorothy Weiss, Allen Weiss,  Rene Weiler, Violet Knight, Mary Knight, Lawson Knight, Lisa Tomeo, Jim Tomeo, Hawk Tomeo, Teddy Tomeo, Micaline Pierce, Stephanie Knight, Denali Miedema, Luke Miedema, Lucia Pisapia, Antonio Cotnugno, Hayden Weiler, Elena Cotugno, Irene Cotugno, John Harkin, Janet Harkin, Chelan Harkin, Noah Harkin, Kathy Weiler, Orlando Herrera, Isabel Herrera, John Herrera, Terry Weiler, Cynthia Weiler, Elizabeth Weiler, Kevin Weiler, Esther Weiler, Enzo and Bella, Maura Muhl, Lee Muhl, Connor Muhl, Antonio Cotugno, Bonnie Ziegler Weber, Randy Weber, Jimmy Weber, Kurt Weiler, Karr Weiler, Ellen Poriles, Marc Harvey, Brook Mauer, Prescott Harvey, Meghan Harvey, Winston Harvey, Reed Harvey, Devon Fredrickson, Bob Hart, Jeanne Hart, Peter Maule, Jane Maule, Soroush Kermani, Ursula Kermani, Nika Kermani, Joleh Kermani, David Berger, Julie Larson, John Richter, Jani Richter, judy Shuman, David Cohen, Terri Cohen, Ginger Wallis, Ken Bevis, Teri Pieper, Joanne Jacobs, Eileen Rock, Carol Thayer, Rob Kavanaugh, Courtney Yilk, Camilla Blossom, Heather Kowalski, Laurie Van Cott, Molly Kissnger, Jeffrey Post-Holmberg, Sara Post-Holmberg, Jenni Post, Walter Ward, Candace Ward, John Boonstra, Dee Campos, Karen Murphy, Mike Gundlach, John Boonstra, Vicky Stifter, Charlie Boonstra, Pamela Larsen, and Sofie Larsen Tesky Scott McDonald, Bonnie New, Michael Friend, John Hardam, Grace Sisson, Krista Thie-Hoyt, Darryl Hoyt, Avery Hoyt, Gail Gensler, Karen Murray, Steve Murray, Betsy Miller, Drew Eastman, Clay Pierce, Ross Pierce, Trevor Yasbek, Kris Joy, Alex Yasbek, Ollie Yasbek, Josh Yasbek, Katherine Corey, Dan Richardson, Matt Rankin, Amira Malek, Paul Blackburn, Julia McGraw, Kate McBride, Peter Cornelison, Meghan Jossey &Doug, Kate Lindberg, Nicole Carlock, Melissa Rowe-Soll, John Soll, Jim Wells, Sally Wells, Julie Wieters, Cyndi Cashman, Katherine Von Mosch, Jim Von Mosch, Ginny Staubach Jess Waggoner, Gerald Waggoner, Conrad Waggoner, Jana Arthur, Stephanie Delgado, Doug Miller, Patty Miller, Chuck Dorsey, Martha Dorsey, Peter Dorsey, Marian Udelhofen, John Luthe, Annette Luthe, Rosemary Hop, Mary Lively, John Navidad, John Eudave, Pat Jacobsen, Erling Jacobsen, Jana Hannigan, Mike Hannigan, Sam Hannigan, Maggie Hannigan, Elisabeth Curry, Dyann Andresen, Lucy Andresen, Steve Ellis, Sue Ellis, Bobbi Puffin, Beth Puffin, Scott Stephenson, Valerie Stephenson, Lori Hull, Glenda Lovejoy, Jen FitzSimmons, Margaret Newcomb, Sally Newell, Pam Essley, Steve Essley, Pat Arnold, Georgia Opheim, Bill Seymour, Lucia Gonzalez, David Hunt, Prema Hunt, Ian Hunt, Avila Hunt, Ronnie Smith, Kevin Summa, Rebecca Wellman, Michael Wellman, Jeanie Wellman, Nancy Skakel, John Wehrman and Debbie Wehrman, Erica Toussaint, Susie Griffin, Tara Peyralans, Bob Wheeble, Ted Rose, Kalama Reuter, Ann Stephenson, Jill Nishball, Larry Gohl, Joh Gohl, Susan Gabay, Van Hicks, Glenda, Ruth Krause, Jesse Hickman, Kyle Hadley, Theresa Jensen, Jody Behr, Blue Ackerman, Eric Strid, Cyndi Strid, Katie Layne, Alan Lewis, Jeff Kiely, Dana Ustroke, Shoni Schlotzhauer, Bob Hanson, Gregory Hankins, Desiree Amyx-mackintosh, Sullivan Mackcintosh, Kim Robichaud, Kathleen Morrow, Lisa Roth, Erik Lundy, Tom Burns, Penny Burns, Kirby Neumann-Rea, Gary Young, Barbara Young, Ray Abanto, Desirae Bellairs, Olivia Pettit, Maza Brady, Charlie Buss, Emile Pennington-Davis, Deb Davis, Gale Arnold, Heather Whidden, Bill Whidden, Courtney Whidden, Caitlyn Cray, Sarah Cook, Wes Lapp, Margaret Nesbit, Heather Clemons, Jennifer Hull, Brent Foster, Mark Kahler, Mark Fitsimmons, Jake Camp, Ann Bourinskie, Julie Raefield, Rick George, Judy Walrod Maule, Martha Stevenson, Joe Garoutte, Lynda Dallman, Peter Dallman, Michael Ballinger, Ken McCarty.

There’s No Place Like (Chernobyl) Home

“They would rather risk exposure to radiation than the soul-crushing prospect of being separated from their homes.”

Holly Morris, The Telegraph

Thinking  about home today…this home and land where we’ve been since 1988, our roots running deep and wide, encompassing a familiarity and comfort that would be impossible to repeat if we decided (or were forced) to leave.

Would we rebuild after our home burned to the ground or was taken out by flood…or in an absolutely remarkable story of the “Busbuskas of Chernobyl,”  if our home and neighbor’s home and 18 miles of country became toxic and “uninhabitable.”

The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion, the deadliest nuclear accident in history, spewed 400 times more radiation than the Hiroshima bomb.

Hundreds of thousands of Chernobyl residents were re-settled in city apartments and the contaminated land should have remained lifeless for centuries.

Not so.

It may seem strange that Chernobyl could become a refuge for all kinds of animals—from moose, deer, beaver, and owls to more exotic species like brown bear, lynx, and wolves—but that is exactly has happened. Without people hunting them or ruining their habitat, the thinking goes, wildlife is thriving despite high radiation levels.

Why have former residents have returned to the “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone” as well, defying their government and the risk of being exposed to still high levels of radiation? One universal refrain is ‘Those who left are worse off now. They are all dying of sadness.’ What sounds like faith may actually be fact. According to reports by the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Children’s Fund, many of those who were relocated after the accident now suffer from anxiety, depression and disrupted social networks, the traumas of displaced people everywhere.

And the most mystical part of all…the ones who have returned are miraculously staying healthy and alive!  Is the deeply spiritual tug of being happy at home effectively warding off disease and death? No health studies have been done, but anecdotal evidence suggests that most of the babushkas die of strokes rather than any obvious radiation-related illnesses, and they have dealt better with the psychological trauma. Toxic levels of strontium and cesium in the soil are real, but is the invisible pull of the ancestral home and the health benefits of determining one’s own destiny.

Seventy-one year old Galina smiles, ‘I only think of the good things in life,’ rolling on to the balls of her feet. ‘Come back tomorrow,’ she says, holding up a chunk of thick pig fat. ‘We’re going to party.’ ~