Here’s the Poop

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

I’ve always been amazed at how readily and how cleverly human beings acclimate to the demands of urban living.  And as I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that dog-walkers, those urban heroes who have dealt with the monumental problem of keeping our streets and sidewalks, our parks and greenbelts – even our dog parks – cleared of dog poop, are among the most dedicated stewards of the urban landscape.

These people have not only trained themselves to leash their dogs – I know, it’s the law – but have also trained themselves to gather up the poop with their plastic bags and to tote the bags to the nearest trash can.

I have cats, so my contact with animal poop is indirect. It comes through a plastic scooper and litter, where the poop is usually hardened by the time I am scooping it up into a plastic bag. When I imagine the dog-walker, day in and day out, rain or shine, twice a day, picking up the warm, soft, smelly, frequently unformed dog deposits, I am in awe at their commitment.

So you can imagine my dismay when, on a walk along a lovely greenbelt in a town where the people are known for their progressive ideas about recycling and protecting the environment, I came across the following sight: a water fountain adorned with a colorful array of poop-filled poop bags, and even a plastic glove (from one of the more fastidious dog-walkers, I guess):

How could that happen? What would prompt these conscientious, environmentally aware people to abandon the most essential part of the dog-poop cleanup – getting rid of the bags. What were they thinking when they tossed the bags on the one place that would be totally unsuitable, a water fountain? Did they consider that even their plastic bags might not be adequate protection against the E.coli and other harmful bacteria found in dog poop? Do they not read the messages printed on the very bags they use?

It boggles the mind. These are the same people who might squirt a dollop of sanitizer before pressing the button to take a drink from the fountain. These are same people who might cluck their tongues at the sight of a gum wrapper tarnishing their greenbelt. These are the same people who might volunteer their time on weekends to clean up rivers or trails.

But there it was, a trash heap as ugly and offensive as any I had ever seen, despite the pretty colored bags. I stood, astonished, and looked around.  Off to the side I noticed that the trashcan that usually stood in the area of the drinking fountain had somehow been tossed down the hill, away from the path. There was another trashcan in sight, but on a separate  pathway.

Why did these people not just walk to that other trashcan? I can’t believe it was because of the inconvenience. It wasn’t that far away.

It is difficult to know what motivates people to do what they do. Motivation involves many things; goals, expectations, effort, beliefs about our ability to achieve our goals.  And it also involves emotions, how we feel about what we are doing, and how we handle difficulties or roadblocks.

Maybe the dog-walkers became miffed at encountering the unexpected;  the missing trashcan. Perhaps they became impatient when they realized that they wouldn’t be able to toss the bag in the trashcan, but would have to go out of their way to achieve their goal of getting rid of the poop. Maybe they had carried the poop-bag as far as they were willing. This combination of anger and impatience can cause people to behave in ways they ordinarily would not.

Whatever the reasons, there is no doubt. A group of dog-walkers, my heroes, had decided it was okay to put aside their beliefs about cleanliness and health, to relinquish their standard of good behavior, and to go ahead and sully their beautiful greenbelt.  Very discouraging.

Several days later I was drawn back to that spot, and this is what I found:

All was well again with the world of the greenbelt.

I will never be able to pass that spot, however, without remembering, without wondering, without feeling that knot of disappointment in my gut.










What’s The Big Idea?

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

I read an article recently about two scientists, one from Harvard and one from Yale, who have come up with a scheme that uses a system of solar geoengineering to cool the surface of the Earth. Their plan is to spray chemicals into the Earth’s atmosphere – an approach called stratospheric aerosol injection, even has an acronym, SAI – capable of reflecting sunlight back into space, thereby dampening the amount of heat that arrives on Earth from the sun.

I could write more detail, be more explicit, admit that this is science beyond my understanding, find experts to help me understand what is being proposed. But as I was reading about this SAI plan, my thinking took off in an unscientific direction.

Here’s what kept going through my mind. How can two intelligent, informed, well-meaning scientists seriously consider this as a viable, stopgap approach to mitigating global warming? There might be financial considerations, the potential for a windfall that would come with the manufacture of new technologies. After all, SAI will require designing delivery systems capable of handling huge payloads of chemicals. Boeing engineers are probably already at their computers. Also, there might be a justifiable scientific explanation that has eluded me. But, spraying chemicals into Earth’s atmosphere? Really?

And there is something else. This idea is being taken seriously by the scientific community. As Andy Parker of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany told Earther this scheme “has moved from the scientific fringes into mainstream climate mitigation discourse….The genie’s out of the bottle, and I don’t believe not talking about it is gonna make the idea go away.”

And Parker and his colleague Peter Irvine are talking about it. The idea is untested, they wrote, and “could prove catastrophic.” In their article they describe the potential for a phenomenon called, ‘termination shock,’ a sudden and rapid spike in global temperatures, should the SAI be terminated. According to Parker, this idea of potential catastrophe is “getting pushback from the scientists,” who say that they would just have to be “smart enough to keep some back-up systems around.”

So I want to come back to my question. How could this happen? Why are these two men so invested in this project, so much so that their response to the potential catastrophic effects of their system is to keep some back-up systems around? Why are they not devising schemes to reduce greenhouse gases instead? Are they not missing the point?

I imagine that grant support, politics, financial considerations, etc. are involved. But, I propose that there is something else, something subjective that fuels this project.

This research plan flows from the basic belief of the scientists that human beings can control nature. That we have the intelligence and the ingenuity to rein in anything nature throws at us.

And in this particular case, I believe there is an additional factor. These two scientists exist in the rarified world of brilliance and creativity, where competition for novelty is as basic as brushing your teeth in the morning. I believe these men shine in the promise of a Nobel prize. Harvard, since the beginning of the Nobel award in 1901, has consistently ranked first, worldwide, in the number of all-around Nobel laureates.

Given their special circumstances, and in consideration of the dire projections that have come out recently related to the heating up of our planet, how can you ask these scientists to put on the brakes and take a closer, uncensored look at what they are doing, or are about to do? How can they not just charge ahead in their white lab coats in their pursuit of saving the world from the hot sun?

But, who is going to save the world from them?

Climate Change Helplessness

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

I’ve noticed lately that conversations with my friends often turn into musings about the state of our planet and the effects of climate change. This doesn’t surprise me. It’s a topic we are all concerned about. But in some of my most recent conversations, I’ve discovered something that did surprise me. Several of my intelligent, educated, socially active, non-climate-change-denier friends are feeling helpless in facing the future realities of a warming Earth.

Here are a couple of examples….

There’s no hope. I don’t see a way out of it. In a short time this planet Earth is going to be uninhabitable, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. (university scientist)

I’ve stopped reading the newspapers. I used to love my Sunday mornings reading the New York Times, but now, I open it up and read a little, and put it down. It’s too much. (author)

I’ve stopped thinking about it. It’s all too overwhelming. (retired scientist)

When I went online and checked out some of the blogs that are coming out on the subject of global warming, I found there is the tendency among some of those writers to express similar feelings.

For example……

For the first time in my life, I’m unsettled and scared for the future. I feel helpless in the face of this overwhelming issue. (blogger: The Bigger Picture Blog)

When I allow myself to think about climate change and its glaring realities, the emotional reaction created makes me feel like crawling into bed and curling into a ball (blogger: Existential Dread of Climate Change)

When people feel helpless, when they perceive that, no matter how hard they try nothing they can do will alter their bad situation, they tend to give up, accept their fate and fall into a state of inaction. Learned helplessness, as this process is called in Psychology, is a game stopper when it comes to solving problems. It can lead to depression and anxiety and a lowered sense of self.

The naming of this psychological process dates back to a series of seminal research projects in Psychology during the 1960s, when, sadly, shocking animals was considered all right in the name of science. From these investigations, the researchers concluded that an individual can learn to become helpless after unsuccessful attempts at confronting a specific negative situation. For example, a child who cannot learn to solve math problems no matter how many tutors and teachers try to help him, after failing over and over to gain control of the situation, will give up trying. Children like these are vulnerable to carrying their negative emotional reactions to their helplessness to many other aspects of their lives. Learned helplessness can become a personality trait.

But that’s not how climate change helplessness works. Instead, in helplessness over global warming, people like my friends know that personal conservation practices like recycling and cutting back on energy use are correct, but believe their efforts are ineffective simply because of the enormity of the problem. After all, in contrast to classic learned helplessness where inaction affects the individual, in climate change the impact of inaction can have far-reaching effects for millions and possibly billions of people. The person who is aware of this then becomes morally entangled in the problem of climate change. There’s the rest of the world to think of.

So, in this complicated situation of feeling ineffectual in the face of the enormous moral responsibility, people suffering from climate change helplessness might protect themselves from becoming depressed and lethargic.

Like my friends the author and the retired scientist, they avoid thinking about it. Like the university scientist who concludes that there’s nothing that can be done to stop the progress. Like the bloggers who recognize that they want to curl up in bed or who feel unsettled and scared and helpless. They all sense that climate change is out of their control. But that doesn’t mean they will stop trying.

When My Brain Says Right, I Go Left

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

I discovered something about myself recently that I never realized. Although I have a good sense of direction, there’s seems to be a little quirk in my internal compass. It appears that my left-right orientation has somehow become skewed by 180 degrees. That means, when my brain tells me to turn right, I should turn left if I want to get where I mean to go.

This may seem like a small thing, but, when I think about it, this tiny glitch actually has caused me many problems over the years. Like when I was in tenth grade in a new town.  I remember I left school for home and walked five miles in the wrong direction before I discovered my mistake. Like as an adult, when I was an event coordinator picking up the guest speaker at the airport and leading him in the opposite direction from the baggage claim. Very embarrassing.

We are born with an innate sense of direction that allows us to navigate through unfamiliar places without trepidation, that orients us and centers us and, like the birds and whales, and any number of migrating animals, homes us in on our place of safety and comfort. And this happens through a mechanism called magnetoreception, an ability of organisms – human and non-human – to pick up on the Earth’s magnetic field in order to sense direction, altitude and location.

In recent years, researchers have demonstrated that humans do have the power of magnetoreception. In one experiment the subjects’ brainwaves were measured on EEGs. The subjects were were tested inside a Faraday cage, a metal box that virtually eliminated the possibility of radio waves or other noise to interfere with the magnetic field that was applied, a field designed to imitate the magnetism of the Earth.

In addition to confirming the magnetoreceptive character of the human internal compass, researchers have also identified the area of the brain associated with the sense of direction. Through MRI scanning of the subjects in the experiment during a test of navigation, the part of the brain, the entorhinal region, was consistently activated during the test. The stronger the signal in that region, the better the subjects were able to navigate through the test.

As far as the problem with my personal internal compass, I don’t know how that all happened. I do find it quite interesting, though, and possibly somewhere way back, around age 6 or 7, when I was becoming comfortable with the idea of left and right, something happened that tricked my brain into interpreting left-right direction in this odd way. Who knows?

I guess navigation problems can happen to any creature. Think of whales and dolphins. Even they go astray from time to time, beaching themselves, leaving themselves stranded on shore. Does that happen because of some malfunction of their internal compass? Who knows?

Almost Everyone Has a Coyote Story

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

Note: The title of this post is a phrase used on page 13 of Dan Flores’ book, Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History.

Storytelling. Our way of learning who we are, of making sense of experience. These days, with coyotes sauntering in from the wild and taking up residence in our towns and cities, it is becoming more and more common to hear stories of chance meetings with them. And, these stories are not simple chit-chat. They are important to us. They reflect our feelings and paint pictures of our surroundings and life styles.

Two examples: Stories of encounters with coyotes; one in a rural setting and one in a city park:

A couple of coyotes got in and killed all my chickens at the ranch one year. I shot quite a few and they stayed away, but we could hear them most nights by the ditch howling to each other. Never saw another one up close again. But when my friend’s little Yorkie lap dog went outside the yard gate one day – only wandered a few feet – we never saw her again!   Weeks later I found her skeleton when I was tractoring the grove….plus, there were coyote tracks. I shoot them when I see them….but I haven’t seen any for quite a while. The coyotes are quite intelligent, so I’m not surprised!

My husband [we’ll call him Bill] jogs every day in the park. One morning a coyote appeared on the grass alongside the running path. Bill said that his first thought was, uh-oh, now I’m in trouble, and he started planning how he was going to run away or run into one of the apartment buildings across the boulevard from the park. Pretty soon, however, to his surprise and amazement, the coyote began to jog along on the grass, keeping pace with him. This kept up for about ten minutes, when the coyote veered off into a different direction and was gone. Bill looks for him most mornings now, but he hasn’t come back.

Telling stories involving coyotes is not a new phenomenon. The coyote was at the center of storytelling for thousands of years among the Indigenous people of our country. The Indians observed the coyote and recognized its intelligence, became familiar with its ‘personality traits’ and its behavior.

They saw the coyote as mischievous and cunning, a trickster who enjoyed causing trouble, but whose ridiculous plots and schemes often backfired, causing coyote great grief. On the other hand, coyote was also capable of wisdom and strength of character and tremendous adaptability in the face of ever-changing circumstances.

The Indigenous people in what would become America recognized these as human traits, things they saw in themselves, present in no other animal. In this unique connection to coyote, the Indians elevated the animal to sacred status, in some cases even attributing the creation of the world to him.

In the various tribes’ legends and myths, coyote is challenged by human-like dilemmas involving such things as food, power, money, sex, sharing and getting along with others. These tales presented opportunities for tribal members to observe the negative outcomes of selfish behaviors and to learn about the value of cooperation. Observing coyote’s perseverance in the face of great difficulty helped strengthen the resolve of the people to thrive and survive.

You might ask if there is a connection between what we now know about the Indigenous people’s knowledge of the natural history of the coyote and a modern-day rancher trying to protect her animals against the onslaught of coyotes and an urban runner who for a moment loped side by side with a coyote.

I believe Dan Flores stated it quite well when he wrote (p. 19),

Suffice it to say here that as we humans head off into an uncertain and probably dangerous future of our own making, it might be wise to keep an eye on [the coyotes]. I, for one, am going to be very interested in how coyotes cope with the twenty-first century and what insights we might draw about our own circumstances from a coyote history that so often seems to mirror ours.


SHE caught a mouse and began to play with it. HE, of course, noticed and approached.

Aware that HIS eyes were on HER mouse, she distanced herself fast.

Then she teased him and taunted him, provokingly, and continued to play with her mouse by tossing it and catching it, and dropping it sometimes: “ha ha, this is MINE and you can’t have it!!”  But he watched her carefully, and . . .

the minute that little mouse was tossed a little too far, HE grabbed it and ran with it. She watched him tear off with it. Now it was HIS.

He distanced himself far enough not to be reached, and then played with what was now HIS prize. He kept looking over at her thinking she might try to grab it back. But she was sly and pretended not to care –she pretended to be otherwise occupied.

Then, when she felt HE believed that it didn’t matter to HER, and when he was occupied with “his” mouse and no longer watching her, she snuck over and,

now it was payback time: when that little mouse was tossed too far, SHE grabbed it and took off.

This time there was no more tossing the mouse around. Why take the chance of its being grabbed again? She chewed it up and down the hatch it went. After all, it had been HER mouse before HE stole it from her! And then she grabbed HIS snout in hers to show who was boss: she who laughs last . . .

Teasing each other is something coyotes do a lot of. It’s a form of interaction, and most of it is done in good-will.

“Wolf” in My Garden

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

It’s ironic. After almost a hundred years and millions of dollars of government and private investment that attempted to shoot and poison the coyote out of existence, that pesky varmint has not only continued to flourish in his original range in the American Southwest, has not only taken up residence in every state of the union – save Hawaii – but now, the coyote has pushed into our cities, where he has become a regular urban dweller, enjoying life even in the most heavily populated cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

It seems that the government strategists who carried out their poorly planned program of elimination failed to take into consideration the natural history of the coyote. They possibly did not realize that, the more they persecuted the coyote, the farther he would range.  They might have not known of coyote’s ability to make up for decreases in his number by increasing the number of pups that are born.

They did not factor in the coyote’s immense capacity for adapting to his  environment, including negotiating the hectic, crowded existence of urban life.








So here we are, city folks faced with sharing our space with canis latrans, a reality for which we may not be prepared.

To begin with, people tend to react negatively in general towards coyotes, more so than towards other wildlife, like deer or bears.

Dan Flores, in an interview about his book, Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History, said that he believed that Mark Twain’s book Roughing It set the tone for people’s negative feelings about the coyote. “Mark Twain comes along,” said Flores, “and in a three-to-four-page comic rant about the animal, gives us a way to think of it as a cowardly, despicable little wretch that lives off carrion.

Here is part of what Twain wrote:

The cayote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton, with a gray wolf-skin stretched over it, a tolerably bushy tail that forever sags down with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all over. The cayote is a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry. He is always poor, out of luck and friendless. The meanest creatures despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede.

Mark Twain was wrong, way off the charts. Coyotes are intelligent survivalists.  They live in family units. The male and female, who mate for life, are both involved in raising the pups. Coyotes are social and playful, and exhibit great curiosity.



Some people are frightened of coyotes, simply because they are wild, and they don’t know how to relate to wildlife.

Some people are frightened of coyotes because of personal experience. A dog or cat attacked. Killed. A personal encounter with a coyote on a trail. City agencies tend to be aware of the problems and can provide information. Also, websites like provide information and suggestions for how to live comfortably with coyotes.

Some people are frightened by the coyote’s howls and barks and yips. These are an essential aspect in the survival of the pack. Becoming familiar with the different sounds and understanding the purpose for the communication can not only alleviate the fear, but can also contribute to one’s enjoyment.

In one instance, coyotes will call back and forth, sort of like checking on who’s out there.  This is not simply social.  If their calls are not answered by the pack, this can trigger what is called an autogenic response, meaning they will begin producing larger litters.

Here is an example of a back and forth call:

Another type of call is a family howl, a way of gathering everyone together.  Here is an example of a family howl and an ultimate coming together:

So, what is the payback for us to accept this reality and to adapt to the presence of coyotes in our midst?  Why does it matter?  As Jaymi Heimbuch, in his article Navigating Existence With Urban Coyotes said,

As this top-level predator pushes farther into urban settings, resisting our best efforts at eradication, we are required to pay attention to how we react to our fears about and disconnection with wild animals. If there is a single animal on this planet who will test our own mettle as a species, who pushes us to question our ability to understand instead of judge, to study instead of kill, to coexist instead of dominate, to become more thoughtful and less fearful, it is the coyote.











Talking the Talk

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

A friend sent me a video of a woman gathering her cows using the ancient Scandinavian herding vocalization, Kulning. Perhaps you’ve seen the video. (see the video at the end.) It’s quite touching to watch. You see the cows in the field, in the distance. The woman begins her call and, as the cows pick up on the haunting, high-pitched music, they begin to walk serenely towards the caller.

There are a number of YouTube videos of cows responding to the kulning song. The video I received, however, included a series of captions that described the history and culture surrounding kulning. And this post is my response to the final caption, which reads:

A stunning example of humans interacting with nature?

Humans don’t interact with nature. Humans are a part of nature. Humans are nature, in the same way that the birds, the animals, all living things are nature. The human in the video is interacting with cows – not with nature – in a rudimentary form of interspecies communication. The human calls in a way that speaks to the cows. The cows come, communicating calm and willingness.

Without realizing, we take this kind of interspecies communication for granted. Our pets, for example, engage us in conversation all the time. We train our dogs to follow verbal commands. We let them know when we are pleased or displeased with them. And they tell us when they want to eat or are happy or when they are sad. Even our cats have the ability to talk to us through their many different verbalizations. And, when they care to, cats will even respond to our words.

Parrots, because of their ability to mimic and laugh and act goofy, have become, for some, a source of entertainment, and might be considered not too smart. But these are intelligent birds that produce a variety of non-human sounds that communicate feelings such as happiness and contentment or anger. This, combined with their ability to produce human language, opens up all kinds of possibilities for human-parrot communication. I’ve never had a parrot for a pet, so I can only imagine the enjoyable conversations that must go on in a household where there is a parrot.

Parrots are also one of the six groups of language learning animals. That means that, through experience, they must develop their ability to interact socially through their verbal language. The only other animals that are language learners are whales, dolphins, songbirds, bats, hummingbirds, humans and other primates. All other animals are born with the ability to produce the vocalizations of their species.

Vocalizing animals are endowed with a range of calls that serve in different circumstances. A call of alarm. A mating call. Calls to make contact. Calls to protect turf. These are but a few. In social animals, vocalizations additionally are an important element for expressing emotions and strengthening social interactions among group members.

Researchers have even found evidence that some animals learn to recognize differences in threats, and make calls appropriate to that threat. An example mentioned in the article, Vocal Matching in Animals is the vervet monkey, who will make one call when a snake approaches and a different call if it’s a hawk.

In a case of interspecies communication, researchers have found a lemur in Madagascar who can recognize the distress calls of other animals. Here’s how it was described:

It works like this: During the day, when the nocturnal lemurs are dozing in tree holes, part of their brain remains alert to the sounds neighboring birds are making. When the birds are warning each other that snakes or other potential killers are near, lemurs wake up and start scanning their surroundings for trouble. When the birds signal the all-clear, they go back to their snoozing.

With regard to interspecies communication between humans and non-human animals, there are several examples of situations where researchers have taught, or have attempted to teach, non-human animals to communicate in human language. There’s a TED Talk that describes seven cases. But the thinking about interspecies language learning is shifting among scientists to consider that real communication with non-human animals would involve humans learning to understand non-human language. If we can do it in dogs and cats. Why not other animals?

 Here is the kulning video:

Kulning Cow Singing

This woman summons cows with her voice! 😲🐮 Sound ON!! 🔊

Posted by Culture Trip on Sunday, September 2, 2018



Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

I want to talk about friluftsliv (Pronounce it like it’s spelled. Three syllables). It’s a Norwegian term that combines the words for ‘free’, ‘air’, and ‘life’, and refers to an ancient Nordic philosophy of outdoor living.

The first time the word appeared in print was 1859 in a poem by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. In this poem Ibsen tells the story of a young man who spends a year trekking through the mountains trying to find out what he was meant to do with his life. The term appears in the last line of the poem. Here is the translation of the last four lines:

In the deserted cottage

My abundant catch I gather

There is hearth, a stool, a table

Friluftsliv for my thoughts

In the one hundred fifty years since the word was first published, the philosophy of friluftsliv has become embedded in the Norwegian way of life, one that emphasizes a ‘free-air life’ of exploration and appreciation of nature. According to the friluftsliv philosophy, any piece of land, whether public or private, is open to anyone for walking, camping, fishing, riding bicycles, or for any other form of recreation that causes no harm to the environment.

By encouraging freedom to roam under the guidelines of good behavior, in its essence, friluftsliv becomes a pathway to spiritual connection and belonging. And with that comes the beginning of a sense of responsibility towards caring for one’s surroundings.

When I think about friluftsliv, however, I can’t help but think about our country and about the difference in our philosophy of outdoor management. Under our system of private enterprise, and in consideration of the strict separation we maintain between private and public lands, it would seem that the free-air lifestyle of friluftsliv is impossible.

Yet we have the same need to connect with and take care of nature. We have the same need to roam freely on the land. So how can we reconcile the rift created between our purely economic basis of land management and the need for human connection with nature?

In 1949 environmentalist Aldo Leopold proposed the establishment of an ethic related to the land. With economics as the only guideline for behavior, Leopold said, privilege comes, yet there are no obligations. With an ethic, however, behavior is constrained and grounded in principle and conviction.

Leopold considered the land ethic as the third step in the evolution of the human ethical experience as introduced in the Bible: the first was the Ten Commandments, which placed constraints on individuals in our struggle to relate morally to one another; the second, The Golden Rule, which set down a framework for the struggle for the moral relationship between the individual and society.

This third ethic Leopold envisioned as an ecologic one based on the premise that all members of nature, including humans, are interconnected and interdependent. As such, it would lay out the parameters for the moral relationship of man to all the land, including the soils, waters, plants, and animals.

A more current philosophy of a land ethic is ecospirituality, a global, sacred, nondenominational movement aimed at strengthening our spiritual connection to nature, at changing our very view of what nature is. Ecospirituality affirms the holiness and inherent value of all of nature. By pairing spirituality and religion with science, ecospirituality seeks to transform the human relationship to the land into a healing force for our degraded Earth.

And that brings me back to friluftsliv.

True. Friluftsliv is an ancient philosophy. But within the simple notion of freedom to roam lies the potential for connection and spiritual oneness, a cutting edge idea. Perhaps friluftsliv can be a model for an ecospiritual strategy for healing the earth and for bringing the environment back into balance.

Is it possible, then, that it is time for us, in this country, to rethink our priorities when it comes to managing the land? Trust us. Give us the space, and we shall take care of the land.


What Makes a Piano a Piano?

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

A couple of months ago I purchased a digital piano. I brought it home and began to play around with it, exploring the different features and the different sounds available to me. It was fun, and I discovered I could create some very nice effects with it.

But when I pulled out some of my classical pieces, say, for example, the Chopin Prelude in E Minor (opus 28, #4), and played straight piano with no effects, it became clear to me that something was not right.

That particular prelude has a lovely melody in the right hand which is supported by a continuous movement of chords in the left hand that change subtly throughout the piece. The ever shifting harmonies complement the melody in a beautiful and haunting manner.

What I noticed as I played through the piece was that, even though the notes of the chords were clear and had a nice sound, they lacked warmth and felt empty. My usual emotional response to the piece was missing, and I was disappointed.

It then occurred to me that there must be something inherently different between the sound created by an acoustic piano and that of a digital piano, something that could account for the difference in the effect of the sound each produces. Actually, I started to wonder if they are even the same instrument.

A DISCLAIMER: The science and engineering associated with sound production and perception is very complicated. The following touches on only one basic characteristic of acoustic and digital sound that contributes to the way it is perceived and experienced: harmonics.

Acoustic instruments, like a piano or guitar, a saxophone or trumpet, are fashioned out of natural products such as wood or metal. The sound produced by an acoustic instrument occurs within its casing, with a range of natural harmonics available. The “warmth” or “richness” of a sound created on an acoustic instrument results from its having been produced in a particular natural setting – different for each instrument – where the harmonics develop freely.

Digital sound is synthetic and unnatural. It does not include harmonics and is unaffected by the space or the atmosphere in which is it produced. Although technicians have devised ways to add harmonics, it is not possible to replicate the harmonics created in an acoustic environment.  Thus, the perception of “cold” or “empty” sound; particularly in a piece of music that is meant to be played on an acoustic instrument.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that, even though the digital keyboard sounds like a piano, looks like a piano and feels like a piano, it does not act as a piano. A digital keyboard offers performers and composers endless possibilities for creating and combining sounds. The music created on a digital keyboard can be exciting and interesting. But it’s not real sound. It’s not a piano.

As for an acoustic piano, it is limited in its range of possibilities of sound variation. Yet, the acoustic sound, based in natural law, has the power to touch us at the deepest part of the human psyche.

Following are article referenced in this post.




Our Pal Technology

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

When did we start talking about our relationship with technology? (Really. Just search it on Google and you’ll be surprised.)

I believe the notion of a relationship began way back, when we first got the inkling that computers were not simply sophisticated typewriters. That they seemed to have a mind of their own. I believe it was when we started arguing with them and becoming impatient with them. I believe it was when we acclimated to the digitized customer service voice. Calling it ‘she’.

We have come a long way since those early, naïve, days of communication technologies, which, today, seem to be influencing us and affecting our behavior in ways we cannot imagine, distancing us more and more from the natural world, the source of our health and well-being.

As an example, I’ve included here excerpts from a blog, Abu Yehuda, about the extreme influence Facebook is having on our lives:

Facebook’s essential extremism

Posted on August 24, 2018 by Vic Rosenthal

There are 7.6 billion humans on this earth. 2.23 billion of them logged on to Facebook (the number counts “monthly active users”) during the second quarter of 2018.

I don’t know about you, but I found this astounding, considering that Facebook did not exist prior to 2004, and was not open to the general public until 2006. This single “platform” has arguably had a greater influence on human social and political behavior than anything since the invention of radio and television. It may turn out to be as disruptive of the social order as the widespread introduction of movable type in the 15thcentury.

The sheer speed at which Facebook has spread through world cultures along with its constantly changing, hidden, proprietary algorithms mean that its effects are difficult to study. Unlike the decentralized publishing industry that grew out of the advances in printing technology, Facebook is tightly controlled by a single private company….

One of the well-known characteristics of Facebook is its encouragement of ideological bubbles. This is by design. The designers understand that the amount of time one spends on Facebook – and therefore the number of ads one sees – depends on the psychic gratification one receives from the content. It’s well-known that such gratification increases when the content includes ideas with which one agrees, while exposure to ideas that challenge one’s beliefs produces discomfort. So the algorithm that decides which posts a user will see chooses those which – according to an elaborate profile created by the user’s own posts and “likes” – it estimates that the user will find congenial….

The platform itself is structured to encourage its users to behave in ways which support its objective of providing a gratifying experience. For example, a user who posts a “status,” photo, or link, has control of the comments that other users can make about it. If another user posts a comment that the “owner” of the initial post disagrees with, the owner can delete it. As a result, Facebook etiquette has developed in which it is considered inappropriate to post a disagreement. “This is my page, and I won’t allow racism (or fascism, transphobia, etc.) on it,” a user will write, and delete the offending comment.

There is also the way Facebook users get “friends.” Friend suggestions are generated in various ways, such as number of common friends, but also by the platform’s evaluation of common interests, which also means ideological agreement. My personal experience illustrates this. I have been a member of Facebook since 2010, and by now have collected several hundred “friends.” After an initial period in which I befriended relatives and real-life friends, I almost never initiated a friend request. But on a regular basis I receive such requests. Some of them are people with whom I share non-political interests or who were my real-life friends in the past. A few are people that I have interacted with in the comments section. But the majority are people with whom I am not acquainted, but who appear (to Facebook) to have a similar ideological profile…..

So why is this bad? Of course it means that I won’t be exposed to ideas that I disagree with. That’s bad enough. But there is an even worse problem. It is that in an ideologically homogeneous group, a participant gets respect by reinforcing the ideology of the group. I can become a hero to my group of hawkish conservatives by being even more hawkish. Because there are no doves in my group, thanks to Facebook’s algorithm and natural selection, there is nothing to stop me from moving farther to the right. And the next person that wants to make his mark in the group will attack me from the right, moving the discourse as a whole along with him….

As a result, ideological groups develop which then move more and more away from the center. They emphasize different facts and even develop their own facts. They create their own dialects, with each side using words that the other side never uses…. Members of opposing groups would think each other’s ideas are crazy, but they will rarely see them….

Facebook often announces programs to try to distinguish real and fake news, and to remove posts that “violate its community standards,” whatever they are. It certainly does not want to provide a platform for incitement to murder, genocide, sexual violence, racism, or many other undesirable things. But it will never do anything that will significantly impact its primary objective, which is to get people to spend more time scrolling through it and encountering ads.

In short, the platform itself, which is designed to increase ad revenues for Facebook’s shareholders, has the undesired side effect of nurturing and amplifying extremism. Rather than bringing people together, it drives them apart and polarizes them. Unfortunately, this is built into the structure of the platform, and is essential to the attainment of its business objectives. It can’t be fixed with anything other than a wholesale change that would make it unrecognizable, and possibly destroy its ability to make a profit…

So you can see, our ‘relationship’ with technology has taken on a different feel from the days when we argued with our computers. As quoted in an IndieBound review, David Auerbach, author of Bitwise: A Life in Code, wrote:

We engineer ever more intricate technology to translate our experiences and narrow the gap that divides us from the ma­chine. We willingly erase our nuances and our idiosyncrasies—precisely the things that make us human.