I want to write a poem
about the fox or the robin
the turkeys or the moon
or even the radiant colors
of last evening’s sunset
but all I can think about
are those empty store shelves
knowing at some point
I will get down to that last roll
in my boxes
a Sears catalog.
I want to write a poem about the pearly white pants of the Dutchman, flashing spring’s arrival across the crinkly-brown of winter, but last month . . .
It was reported there were 62% more facilities in the Great Lakes region in “significant noncompliance” with the Clean Water Act in fiscal 2019 when compared to the average number of facilities for years 2012-2017. In a report issued by the Environmental Law and Policy Center of Chicago, enforcement budgets for the Environmental Protection Agency are shrinking, staff levels are declining. and the drops in enforcement correspond with a rise in noncompliance by industrial polluters.
I want to write a poem about the serenading robin, perched on a branch dotted with the softness of early spring, but last week . . .
I learned in addition to fulfilling his campaign promise to scale back environmental regulations to make life easier for businesses and industry, President Trump instructed the EPA to forgo fines or other civil penalties for companies that fail to monitor, report or meet requirements for releasing hazardous pollutants during the coronavirus pandemic.
What good is legislation designed to protect us if it is not enforced?
I want to write about watching the red-tailed hawks “doing it” (no kidding!) on the branch outside our sunroom window, but last week . . .
I read that because of the climate-driven increases in precipitation that are overloading antiquated sewage systems and increasing nutrient runoff that fuels algal growth, “Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” warnings will become more frequent across the Great Lakes region. (Boiling water does not treat algal contamination.)
I want to write a poem about the sandy beach I used to walk for miles before these same frequent and intense storms ravaged the shoreline and miles of protective rock embankments designed to protect homes became like walls. I want to pretend I didn’t read last week that this “hard shore armoring” actually destroys the natural beach over the long term, driving offshore the very sand needed to replenish the coastline.
I want to write a poem about the fumbling descent of the turkeys from the branches of the hemlocks, the red fox pouncing on an inattentive mouse, the silent ascent of the full moon over the valley.
Above all, I want to find words that will contribute to much-needed dialogue about how we balance our needs with that of the earth’s.
What do you want?
The Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in southern France is closed during this pandemic. Considered a sacred site by the Catholic Church, it is the place where Mary, the Mother of God, is said to have appeared repeatedly to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. Beside the grotto in which the apparitions occurred, is a spring said to have the ability to heal.
When, in recent memory, have we needed healing more than now?
The pilgrimage site may be closed, but through the voice of Sr. Diane Zerfas of the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, we can experience the healing power of water from the springs of Lourdes to the seemingly infinite waters of Lake Michigan.
At the core of that power is prayer.
During this public health crisis when most of us are washing our hands longer and more frequently in water, why not use that time to pray? With so many voices raised in prayer so frequently throughout the day, perhaps we might emerge from this pandemic stronger, more willing to work together to care for each other and for our planet. Perhaps, through our prayers, God will work miracles.
hospital, rehab, or nursing home bed. In our absence, we will depend on physicians, nurses, and aides to provide bedside emotional support as well as physical care; especially the aides—the caregivers who bathe, dress, change, and respond to the call buttons of the sick, the elderly, the dying.
Irene passed early Easter morning. And while prayers flow easily from my heart these days, at the top of the list is a prayer for those who made it possible for Irene to know she was not alone.
“The water of Mother Earth, she carries life to us, and as women we carry life through our bodies,” wrote Josephine Mandamin in a journal she began on a rainy, cold day in April 2003. “We as women are life-givers, protectors of the water . . .”
That day marked the beginning of a 15,500-mile walk alongside all five Great Lakes. Led by Josephine Mandamin (1942-2019), a grandmother in her sixties and a member of the Anishinabek Nation, the walk began with a handful of women at her side. By the time she finished the walks five years later, thousands of women and men had accompanied her for some portion of the journey.
Her goal was to raise awareness that the health of our water, a sacred gift, was at risk.
Traditionally responsible for the health of children, families and communities, women have been carrying water and caring for water since the beginning of time.
It was Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998) who changed the perception of the Everglades from a worthless swamp to an essential ecosystem worth protecting. Rachel Carson (1907-1964) brought attention to the use of synthetic pesticides and is credited for launching the environmental movement with her book, Silent Spring. Erin Brockovich unearthed Pacific Gas and Electric’s contamination of groundwater that was affecting the health of Hinckley, CA. Her research was instrumental in a $333 million settlement in 1996 that held the company financially accountable. Forty years ago, in Love Canal, NY, it was Louis Gibbs who transformed herself “from homemaker to hellraiser” to convince then-President Jimmy Carter to remove over 800 families from a neighborhood developed on a toxic dump site. And in 2014, it was Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a woman pediatrician, professor and public health advocate, who exposed the high levels of lead in Flint’s water.
This month we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Despite the all-consuming coronavirus plaguing the planet, and perhaps because of the importance of water in combatting its deadly spread, I am officially launching the Listening to the Voices of Water YouTube Channel. Through the voices of women across religions and spiritual beliefs, across all walks of life and age groups, you will hear about the value of water from a spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental perspective.
Water, the essence of life, touches all.
In this 1 ½ minute trailer, I introduce you to some of the women who have inspired and informed me, and, hopefully, will you, too. Together we can engage in caring for this sacred gift of God. Despite the unruly tear you might notice trickling down my cheek, it is a video of hope as well as a call to action.
Why the above photograph of the Pink Everlasting? Visit a Skosh of Poetry.
I worried, as I am prone to do, about the thousands of families in Detroit without even a dribble flowing from faucets, their water shut off because of unpaid bills.
How do they wash their hands for twenty seconds when they enter their homes? How do they drink plenty of water at the first hint of COVID-19 symptoms? How do they stay healthy?
Still reeling from the decline in manufacturing and the resulting mass exodus of people, Detroit has fewer residents to pick up the tab for oversized and aging water infrastructure. Under pressure to meet EPA water quality requirements and with federal funding for water and sewer systems declining, the investment burden has fallen on the shoulders of local taxpayers. With roughly 35% of Detroit residents living below the poverty level, and bankruptcy driving a 2014 decision to use water shutoffs as an incentive for bill payment, at least 100,000 households have experienced a water shutoff over the last seven years.
Data suggests the problem was not willingness to pay, but ability to pay.
On March 7th, before the first case of coronavirus was reported in Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Detroit Mayor Mike Dugan, and Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown initiated a Coronavirus Water Restart Plan. For $25/month for the duration of the crisis, 2,640 Detroit households will be allowed to reconnect to city water. Thankfully, the state of Michigan is picking up the reconnecting costs. But while the monthly fee is more affordable, ultimately, the families will be charged for water used during this crisis, as well as those unpaid bills from the past.
If they were without sufficient funds before the looming recession, where will they find money after? Particularly if the rates remain the same?
In the documentary, Flint: The Poisoning of an American City, ground water expert Dr. Will Sarni says we need to think about water at a national level. “We have 19th century water policy, 20th century infrastructure, and 21st century challenges with respect to our water.”
We are seeing the result as COVID-19 sweeps across our country. A 2017 Michigan State University study estimates that if water costs continue to increase the same rate for the next five years, a third of US households may be unable to afford water. Meanwhile, ninety cities and states have suspended water shutoffs during the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, only twenty percent have agreed to reconnect those households to public water. According to a report in The Guardian, the rest have only committed to halting new shutoffs.
It makes me appreciate the leadership demonstrated by Michigan’s governor.
Water is a matter of life and health. Ask the families of the 1,035 people in Michigan who have contracted COVID-19 in the last twelve days. Weep with the families of the nine who have died. And pray for those in this country who still do not have access to water. Their health affects us all.
Food and Water Watch. “America’s Secret Water Crisis: National Shutoff Survey Reveals Water Affordability Emergency Affecting Millions.” October 2018
Anna Recchie, Joseph Recchie, John Powell, Lauren Lyons, Ponsella Hardaway, Wendy Ake. Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, MOSES, and Praxia Partners.
“Water Equity and Security in Detroit’s Water and Sewer District.” January 2019
City of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. “Program Update: Coronavirus Water Restart Plan.” March 20, 2020.
Flint: The Poisoning of an American City. Available on Amazon Prime.
Nina Lakhani. “90 US cities and states suspend water shutoffs to tackle coronavirus.” The Guardian. 3/16/20
Daily Coronavirus Updates in Michigan
When we were young, my mother threated to wash our mouths out with soap if we said anything disrespectful or harmful to another person. Of her six children, I am the one who tasted the bar of soap, a memory that still causes my mouth to recoil some six decades later.
The punishment taught me at a very young age that words matter.
At a time when we are divided as a country, what we say and how we say it will shape the dialogue needed to solve matters of grave importance—like COVID-19 and climate change. In an interview with Lana Pollack, former President of the Michigan Environmental Council, state senator for Michigan, U.S. Chair of the International Joint Commission, and wife, mother, and grandmother, she shares concerns about four words commonly used by us all. And often misused.
Where is that bar of soap? Needed now more than ever. On multiple levels.
How many times have I struggled to find self, particularly during times of transition? Gone to Lake Michigan to gain clarity? How many times have I made mistakes on that journey? Fallen? Gotten back up with the help of others?
It is why The Lake Michigan Mermaid: A Tale in Poems is prominently placed on my sacred book shelf. In many ways, the young girl’s story mirrors my own. Interviewing poets Linda Nemec Foster, Anne-Marie Oomen, and illustrator Meridith Ridl, creators of this Michigan Notable Book Award winner, was inspiring. And fun! They made me laugh as they described the challenges of braiding their three voices as well as that of the publisher.
It was a reminder. Harmony provides the richness and color needed to create a masterpiece. Needed to create community.
When you listen to the poets read “Contrapuntal: Two Voices of the Lake,” listen carefully. Contrapuntal is a musical term that means two or more melodic lines. When the voices of the mermaid and the young girl are intertwined, I believe one can hear the voice of the lake.
It is a voice that needs to be heard from the shores of Lake Michigan to the hills of Pennsylvania. And beyond.
Over the last three months, women across faiths and traditions extended hands to help me shape a weekend retreat designed to inspire, inform and engage other women in caring for this sacred gift of water.
I am humbled by the wisdom of their words, inspired by their relationship with God or Allāh, their commitment to enlightenment, their willingness to honor the traditions of their Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Anishinabek heritage. Many use water as a symbol of purification, protection, healing, prayer, gratitude, or inclusion in their spiritual community.
Women of the Anishinabek Nation travelled several hours to take part in the Water for Life retreat with the women of the First Presbyterian Church of Holland. They spoke of the gratitude, respect and love they have for water, the role of women in caring for it. They conducted a traditional water ceremony before leading the group to Lake Michigan to give thanks.
Other women, without hesitation, offered to share their personal and spiritual stories on video so that they, too, might participate in the retreat. All were willing to be part of a weekend designed to make our water cleaner, safer, more accessible and available for ourselves and future generations.
It is a reminder. Water connects us all. It has the potential to unite.
It was an honor to facilitate the retreat and spend the weekend with the women of the First Presbyterian Church. With energy and exuberance that rivaled that of the often-told-story of the Quincy fourth graders, the women of the church voted to tackle the 22 million pounds of plastic flowing into the Great Lakes every year, the majority into Lake Michigan.
Presbyterians Oppose Plastics (POP) is the slogan.
Please consider joining the campaign.
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