Wellness

HAIKAST XI – On The Verge

One of my favorite words is verge. It is one of those fun words that can be either a noun or verb. I first gained a deeper appreciation for its meaning when reading a book about landscapes.  In that book, verge was described as a place that delineated the border of human made space and natural space. The leading example was of beachfront properties, describing how humans often desire to build sophisticated infrastructure as close to wild places as possible. So a coastline could be a verge – a transition space between the inevitable wild and the human built. 

Another use of the word verge is the green space between a street and sidewalk. In this case, it is a highly controlled natural zone in the streetscape. Other terms used for that zone are berm, curb strip, swale, grass strip, terrace, green belt, tree bank, street lawn, sidewalk plot, etc. When I visited Portland, a town that does an incredible job of landscaping with diverse plantings in that zone, they refer to them as “hell strips.” 

In this zone, the verge is technically, and very importantly, the right-of-way.  Say “right-of-way” 5 times fast and you’ll begin to wonder how it ever got that civic definition. Whose right? What way?  It would probably be more accurate to call it a no-mans-land. Often, the sidewalk verge is an example of what is essentially the public commons gone wrong – either bare minimum treatment of weeds OR an immaculate fertilized and herbicide-fed turf grass that noone ever uses except to spend a few minutes burning fossil fuels to mow. A chemical dump.  

How many verge acres are there when adding up thousands of small square foot patches in this country? 

In my personal experience with a sidewalk verge, I was a volunteer leader for the landscape at my church (a former warehouse packed into a dense downtown neighborhood) that was surrounded by asphalt. Before I took on the role, there was no one doing it. I daresay that no one even thought it was a needed role because it was a weed covered hell strip next to a building that we did not own. This verge was practically invisible.

I proposed a raised bed in the verge. With some TLC, it became a mini-rose garden at the side entrance of our nondescript rag tag church. A year later, Toni Costanzi, who helped us build the bed, passed away.  She was the first person from the relatively young church who had a funeral in the building, so we put a memorial sign at the corner of the bed. It was truly beautiful. A little bit of heaven on that strip.

In the following three years, with some serendipitous support from local Indiana University Professor Kevin Lair, 100 linear feet of native flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees were planted in front of the building. A section was designated as a neighborhood garden with a sign that encouraged walkers to take some food as they strolled down Sycamore St. The verge came to life. It was my introduction into native plants and forever changed my understanding of the value of ecological diversity. 

There are other verges – the verb variety. Instead of a gray line of delineation, a verge can be more about decision making, at the cusp of a transition in one’s life. It can be about connecting with a new opportunity. 

People say they are “on the verge,” like walking towards the precipice of a monumental life decision. To verge can be like walking from the known into the unknown – facing all the pressure that comes from making a leap towards a new life. 

Verges can be thwarted by outside forces – like being on the verge to victory, only to have the ball bounce the wrong way on the road to defeat. Or you can di-verge and decide to go a different way from where you had expected.

In 2023, I attempted to verge into City Council political life. I walked into the Election Day party ahead in the polls, only to see my lead dwindle and then slip away at the last moment. I was on the verge to a new path in life and then I lost. The verge line between the public life of an elected official and the wild life of the general public grew very thin in November. In my ongoing advocacy work, I will remain near that edge, that gray space where private citizens try to influence public officials. Hugging close to that line is what I think of as democracy, as we all play a part that can go well beyond our time in the voting booth.

The day after I lost the election, I drove to Chicago for work. The timing was very helpful as I decompressed from 4 months of feverish activity. The first morning in the city, I woke up early, grabbed a cup of coffee, and walked straight to the shores of Lake Michigan. There, at Promontory Point near Hyde Park, I walked out towards the large hewn stones that formed a bulwark against the crashing waves. I was mesmerized. The skyline unfolded north of me. That crisp morning, I climbed down the rock until I was dangerously close to the spray of the water mist. I started taking pictures. Why was I doing this? I was enthralled by the rock in foreground, the stop action of a crashing wave caught at its apex, and the skyline in the background. 

They weren’t great pictures. It’s impossible to catch the immanence of that place or the feeling that I had that morning – the proximity to unpredictable nature on the Chicago metropolis shore. 

I had found a verge. 

I danced on the stones as long as I could before I needed to leave to meet my colleagues.

Found verge at rock wall
Lake waves crash on hand hewn stone
Lawn then trail then road

Episode 62 – Tony’s Moving to New York!

On this special old school episode, Eric Riddle produced the show. The show begins reflections of friends and family members answering the question, “What Does Tony Mean to You?” The episode then transitions into Tony and Eric discussing his move to New York, details about his new book, “Hope for Troubles Minds: Tributes to Those with Brain Illnesses and Their Loved Ones,” their experience going to an Indiana Hoosiers basketball game, and the background to Eric’s Haikast episodes.
 
The Revealing Voice podcast will continue in 2024 with more interviews, more Haikasts, and more news about Delight in Disorder ministries. Thank you for another great year as we wrap up the 6th year of podcasting!

HAIKAST VIII – Gardening 201

It’s hard to accurately describe how big my parents’ garden was when I was a child.  I remember many summer days working with them to dig rows, plant seeds, weed and harvest.  It was home to many vegetables, most notably the corn that my dad loved to grow and the green beans that I wasn’t as fond of. But just as the corn towered over my single digit self, the garden also spread wide to be as big as any that I knew.  To my eye, perhaps only my dad’s parents’ garden in rural Green County, Indiana was larger.

Whatever the dimensions, it was large enough to plant in me a seed of understanding and a desire to want to have my own garden.   

I am excited that this year I only spent $10 on my entire vegetable garden thanks to a combination of saving seed packets from last year, harvesting my own seeds, trading plants with friends, getting seeds from the public library seed share program, and allowing volunteer plants to find their way. A package of brussel sprout plant plugs and a seed pack of green beans was my only expense for a massive harvest this year. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more involved with plants I have become, the less I have had to spend on their cultivation. 

For people who did not grow up around the cycle of planting and harvesting, I can imagine that gardening may seem like a risky gamble into struggling with unkempt weeds and frustrating neighbors.  Depending on your property, a garden can be a public hobby and, if you aren’t sure of your motivations or confident in what you are doing, may invite embarrassment at the site of perceived failure when the harvest doesn’t seem worth the effort.

What I can tell you is this – the more that I have gardened, the more I realize that I don’t do the gardening for my diet, property value, public relations with my neighbors, or to fill my time.

I garden for the plants and for the non-human life that benefits from the presence of diversity on my property. 

Yes, all of the former that I mentioned are definitely benefits for me as well.. I will be the first to raise my hand to say that a late spring harvest of salad greens or a  long awaited late summer watermelon are among the most savory and sweet moments of my year.   

In the garden, beyond the abundance of harvest, there is also death.  The use of herbicides, forgetting to water during dry spells, the mildew that may get hold of my squash before maturity, and all kinds of other unforeseen events may create less than ideal conditions of growth. The natural lifecycle of plants and insects, and, of course, rabbits’ appetites, will inevitably dash one’s ideal harvest dreams.  I have more than once accidentally pulled a maturing desirable plant in my hasteful weeding endeavor on a hot summer evening. It doesn’t take too long to cope with death in the garden – both intentional and unintentional.

This seasonal lifecycle welcomes my presence in this entire drama, especially with native plants.  The ultimate goal of a balanced, thriving environment around my home is my care and attention.  That is why I do my best to restrain myself from pulling plants that migrate to parts of my yard where they were not originally planted. Rather than dumping fertilizer at a fixed location, I let them show me where they want to grow. I figure that they know better than I do what conditions work best for them – small changes in sunlight, moisture, soil type and neighboring plants play a big role in what will thrive and what will falter. Knowing this, I do my best to work with the plants to let them exert their preferences, rather than me enforcing mine. 

I have a perhaps too cautious concern for the use of fertilizers and anything that ends with the suffix “-ide”, so I rely on my time to be the best determiner of what grows and what dies.  So I watch, learn, and plan for the introduction of new plants and successional plantings to keep the bees busy. I want to attract other flying friends – whether it be birds or other insects, butterflies – by the diversity of plants in my yard, so they remain curious to come back year after year to see what I am up to on my little corner of the planet. 

My relationship with those creatures is what inspires me much more than trying to impress my neighbors. I do keep a reasonable order about my designs, but the primary rationale of my gardening and the outcomes that I care most deeply about are focused on if the birds and bees feel invited. My pro tip to those who want to get a little more adventurous with gardening is to keep the mowed areas edged very well so people can tell that you take great care of the lawn portions of the yard.  

People often ask me how I spend so much time outside and not worry about getting stung. The funny thing is, the only sting I have received over the past decade was from a wasp that wasn’t happy with me entering my back door. 

Best fertilizer
Shadow of the gardener
Care of dirty hands

Episode 43 – Healing Highlights from Seasons 2 & 3

The animating question of Revealing Voices is “What does healing mean to you?”

Tony and Eric have explored a wide diversity of responses to this question from our guests over the last 3 years. You will hear the voices of 15 different people in this episode, ranging from a Mental health Peer Counselor to Pastor to Landscape Architect.

As Tony and i introduce each of the highlights, we will reference the episode where you can find the full interview.

If you are interested in hearing highlights from Season 1, listen to Episode 29.

BONUS: Mental Health Month Dialogue

Should we promote mental health or combat mental illness?

Can we do both?

In this bonus episode, Eric and Tony engage in critical dialogue about the purpose and priorities of mental health advocacy. Eric leans more in the direction of such groups as Mental Health America promoting mental health by combating stigma, as represented in this quote:

This year marks Mental Health America‘s 70th year celebrating Mental Health Month! In 2019 we are expanding upon last year’s theme of #4Mind4Body and taking it to the next level, as we explore the topics of animal companionship (including pets and support animals), spirituality, humor, work-life balance, and recreation and social connections as ways to boost mental health and general wellness. 

(from the Mental Health America, May newsletter)

Tony, on the other hand, sides squarely with groups and individuals who believe the best, and perhaps only way to promote well-being is to combat serious mental illness through improved treatment and rigorous research.

May is being celebrated as Mental Health Awareness Week or Month (MHAW or MHAM). In celebration, well-intentioned advocates are hosting events they think reduce the “stigma” of mental illness. But they are inadvertently perpetuating it….

.. MHAW public service announcements never feature the homeless psychotic, eating out of garbage cans, sleeping in cardboard homes, and living with festering wounds under layer after layer of filthy clothes, or those locked behind bars or in institutions. Why? The stigma advocates fear that showing the most seriously ill will create stigma. But trying to gain sympathy for mental illness by only displaying the highest functioning, is like trying to gain support for ending hunger by only showing the well-fed.   

(from “Why I Don’t Celebrate Mental Health Month” by DJ Jaffe) Jaffe is Executive Director of Mental Illness Policy Org., and author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill.

Which side are you on? Is it possible to be on both? How can we learn from each other? Listen and see.