Tag Archives: travel

Softening Hearts, Hardening Infrastructure, Widening Perspectives

Softening Hearts, Hardening Infrastructure, Widening Perspectives

                                            —by Jinny Batterson

It’s been a rough couple of months here in North Carolina: two hurricanes (Florence, then Michael), a polarized government, widespread agricultural losses, increasing poverty, damaged schools and infrastructure. 

Yet there’s been heartening news as well. Many established charities such as the American Red Cross have sent disaster recovery teams to the worst impacted areas. Local citizens in areas less damaged by the storms have created both short-term and long-term relief efforts. A neighbor who specializes in local fundraising set up a Sunday-afternoon event at a nearby shopping center and raised over $10,000 in cash plus thousands of dollars worth of non-perishable food and household goods for hurricane relief. Because of the extent of the damage, both in the Carolinas and elsewhere, it will take continued efforts by private donors, non-profits, government agencies, and financial institutions to help promote recovery.  The natural environment will never be the same; repairs, rebuilding, and/or relocation of homes and businesses will take months if not years. 

After hurricane Florence decimated the coastal Carolinas, major roads and interstates were flooded and impassable for over a week, making cities such as Wilmington, North Carolina effectively islands.  Residents who’d evacuated were asked not even to try to return home as soon as the first few roads were reopened—what limited road travel was possible needed to be reserved for emergency and supply crews.  Now that the immediate crises are over, people are starting to grapple with longer-term problems: should rebuilding be limited in areas that seem more and more prone to drastic weather?  Should building codes be changed? How do we adapt our infrastructure to be more resilient? Do we need to pursue alternatives to a predominately road-based transportation network?

Simple solutions seem elusive and likely counterproductive. Perhaps we need to rethink some of the implicit assumptions we’ve made about how the world works.  Rather than considering ourselves outside nature, it may be time to widen our perspectives and acknowledge that we humans are just one piece in a complex, evolving whole.  Among the groups that have challenged some of my existing perceptions are:

Transition networks (https://transitionnetwork.org/), a set of local-global initiatives to work toward more resilient local economies in the face of escalating global challenges

Bioneers (https://bioneers.org/), harnessing scientific knowledge toward solving human problems

Biomimicry 3.8 (https://biomimicry.net/), which looks at other life forms (some with over 3.8 billion years of experience on earth) for innovative ways to re-engineer human-made systems

What partial solutions have you discovered?  What “small/local” actions are you taking to make our future more livable?  Please share some of your thoughts. 

Sugar Mama

Sugar Mama
by Jinny Batterson

(This short poem was inspired by my first visit to the Hawaiian islands, whose natural beauty astounded me, and whose human conflicts and controversies, while not directly my vacation concern, seemed vaguely familiar.)


She rises majestic in the midst of the Pacific,
Her sides splitting with lava and laughter,
Greatly amused at humans’ sometimes frenetic
Attempts to own, control, or improve her.

They cannonade her coasts, move rocks around,
Bring new plants, animals, chemicals,
Hack at her interior with saws and bulldozers and machetes.

Mostly she ignores their efforts,
Growing back at her own pace
Once they leave, which they seem to do,
Sooner or later.

After aeons, she stops spewing forth new ground.
More aeons, and her skirts subside into the sea,
Eventually recovered by the waves.

Somewhere else, far from the hulking hunks of continents,
A new daughter raises her head skyward.

Christmas by the Desert

Christmas by the Desert     –by Jinny Batterson

(Originally written in December, 2006, as we completed a first term as foreign English teachers at a smallish desert reclamation university in far western China.)

On bad days, the weakening sun blinks slowly over a bare landscape.
The students who bother to show up at all
drowse or exchange text messages on their cell phones.
Life seems brittle; our small attempts to make a difference, to enjoy ourselves
While doing it are dry as the dust that, folks tell us, will fill the air in April.

Uyghur, Han, Mongolian, American–
each of us wanders with little sense of direction
In this polyglot excuse for a university,
where misfits and refugees from “inland”
mingle but do not very much mix.
It is cold, and sometimes, even in December,
The wind blows.

Good days predominate.
An older student respectfully inquires
about differences among Western religions.
A few stalwart undergraduates continue to attend classes even
After their prescribed seven listening sessions are up.
An abundance of kitschy but sincere
holiday decorations festoon the shops,
Spreading a message of peace and goodwill that needs no language.
Wintering birds twitter.
Faraway friends send emails.

A little clean snow lingers in the shadows and on hedges from the dusting
That fell nearly a month ago.
Adults and children who do not know us say an English “hello,”
The children accompanying their greeting by giggles and running away.
Crews gather leaves and prune the dormant trees
to prepare for the next warm season.
The desert nearby covers us all with a sort of stillness,
Scouring away the unneeded cares of more “settled” life.

Our family and a not-quite-grandchild send pictures and greetings.
Life is resilient.