An Activist?

Becoming an activist was never part of my retirement plan. As I’ve mentioned before, however, most of my retirement hasn’t gone exactly as expected.  Even so, as a rule follower and sometimes goody two-shoes, this activism thing is definitely outside of my comfort zone.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but most of my adult life I’ve avoided the news and lived sheltered from most of the bad things that happen in the world. Sure, I was moved by disasters and prayed for the victims, maybe even sent a small donation. Of course I volunteered to walk or donate to causes that I cared about. There were a couple of times when I even wrote to my senators or representatives in congress and of course I voted so I haven’t been a total slacker. Do you like how I’ve justified my apathy and total lack of action here?

Now that I have more time on my hands and am following various people and organizations on social media and blogs, I’m learning a lot about what’s going on locally and globally and much of it isn’t good.  There are people suffering from hunger, abuse, racism, and sexism. As a nation we spend more money on our military than any other category. The damage we have done to the planet is getting to the point where it may not be reversible. Things that once hovered on the periphery of my life are now taking center stage and I’m feeling compelled to do much more than just feel bad about it, send a donation, or lament to friends and family.

The first protest I attended was in Lansing, Michigan. It was a part of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The purpose was to unite people across the United States to take on issues like systematic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and our nation’s current morality. It was quite an eye opening experience to hear what people and the earth are experiencing and how little is being done about it. As a rookie, I had to borrow a sign from someone (who knew you had to bring one?) and also volunteered to carry a cross to plant in the lawn of the state capitol.

Thankfully other people brought signs for newbie activists like me

My fellow activist

The Capitol, Lansing, MI

Crosses to signify all the people who have died from gun violence

A couple of weeks ago I attended was an action by the Michigan Climate Action Network called Climate and the Commons. For two hours people stood outside the Ann Arbor Main Library telling their person experience about what changes they are seeing in the environment. Again, I was ill prepared and without a sign – I clearly have a lot of work to do to become a better activist.

Love this sign!  Ann Arbor, MI

Now it’s the eve of the next event – the Campaign Nonviolence National Convergence in Washington, DC. As stated on their website, here’s the plan, ”Together, our collective actions and voices are calling for an end to the culture of racism, poverty, war, and environmental destruction, and making the choice for nonviolence, peace and truth.”

Even though I lived near DC for quite a few years, that was a really long time ago and it’s kind of scary to hit the road, hop on the metro rail, and find my way around to the rally and march. Thankfully my usual partner in crime, Linda, is coming with me so if nothing else it will be an adventure.

The purpose of this post is not to shine the light on me and make it seem like I’m some kind of awesome person who’s out there doing stuff.  It’s more about another Naked On The Tundra moment when I’m pretty scared about it but am doing it anyway. At least this time I have a sign all made up! With any luck I will be able to tell all about it in a few days. If you watch the event on YouTube on September 22 at 9:00 am Eastern, you might catch a glimpse of me!

Hey, I’m an activist, not an artist. 


Growing up in the country, milkweed was plentiful and easy to recognize.  It was fun to break apart the dried pods and scatter the fluff and seeds about.  My Grandpa probably didn’t appreciate me and my siblings spreading the ‘weed’ in his fields, but I didn’t think about that kind of thing back then.

I still enjoy scattering the seeds . . .

At some point, milkweed became part of the elementary school curriculum – classrooms would observe the monarch chrysalis until the caterpillar emerged and then take it outdoors to eat the leaves from the milkweed they planted on school grounds.

Someone was very hungry!

Hello there, little caterpillar!

While on a road trip with my Mom one day, I remarked at how fragrant the milkweed blossoms are (when I was a kid, I never even knew they had blossoms!) and she said when she was a girl, they used to collect milkweed pods for the war.  What?  What in the world for?  For life preservers.  For what?  For which war?  World War II? It’s not that I didn’t believe my Mom, it’s just that, well, what?


Flowers just coming into bloom

Their fragrance reminds me of lilacs

Mom was kind enough to send me a link to an article A Weed Goes To War, And Michigan Provides The Ammunition by Gerald Wykes. It was fascinating to learn that a shortage in ‘kapok,’ the material previously used for flotation devices, led Dr. Boris Berkman to propose to the US Navy that milkweed floss could keep a man afloat for more than a day and a half.

Once the proposal was approved, it fell to schoolchildren to start gathering the pods.  My Mom was one of them – she was seven or eight at the time.  After school she would gather the pods and take them to her teacher when she went to school the next day.  While the article stated that they were paid for gathering the pods, my Mom doesn’t recall any money changing hands.  Instead, she felt a sense of pride that her efforts were helping to win the war.

Can you imagine this fluff keeping you afloat?

There are other uses for milkweed – insulation, cordage, a hypoallergenic filler for pillows, and cleaning up oil spills.  Maybe I will save some of the silky fibers to make myself a little pillow since I don’t have a current need for insulation or oil spill clean up! 

This is just one example of what I don’t know about the plants around me.  It bothers me that I know so little about what was happening in the world less than a hundred years ago, it bothers me that so much of what people used to know is now lost and will not be passed down to future generations, it bothers me that I never really gave this a lot of thought until recently. It bothers me that the population of the monarch butterfly is heading for extinction if we don’t do something to protect their habitat.  

Though I can’t solve everything that’s bothering me, I will keep on spreading those milkweed seeds wherever I can.  How about you? Please leave a comment here, or on Facebook, or email back if you’re subscribed to receive new posts via email.

Bella Rose

She wasn’t even my dog, so I’m not sure why I feel so sad whenever I think about her.  She wasn’t even particularly likable – in fact, she liked less than a handful of people, though I’m oddly grateful and touched to be counted among them. She especially despised children and often looked like she was waiting for just the right moment to take a chunk out of their little ankles. She wasn’t too fond of dogs either.

Bella was a miniature Schnauzer, though she didn’t exactly conform to the breed’s standards.  Her fur was too fluffy, her coloring too light, and her legs a little too short. She was a good watch dog, ever vigilant in case we weren’t aware that there are killers lurking inside the garbage and recycle trucks, the mail truck, the UPS truck, the FedEx truck, and random cars, trucks, and tractors driving down our country road.  She was frightened by storms and spent many nights tucked under the toilet in the bathroom, waiting for it to pass.  She also enjoyed letting herself into the bathroom whenever you were there, just in case you needed some company or wanted to scratch her around the ears. She appreciated belly rubs and would claw you with her front paw if you stopped prematurely.

Yes, I’m sitting on your bed, so?

Bella did not appreciate my efforts to dress her up for the holidays.

Hannah was always optimistic that one day Bella would like her – she tried to play with her almost every day, but was nearly always rebuffed, especially if I or anyone else was watching.  Despite the size difference, Hannah was scared of her and I think it’s safe to say that Bella was the alpha dog. 

Hannah optimistically checking to see if Bella wants to play.  The answer – no.

I snapped this picture in the dark – actual proof that they were sleeping on the same bed.

Despite expensive medication and diligent hospice care, Bella lost her battle with heart disease. It still feels weird not to hear her little nails tapping across the floor, or the scratching sound she made when she was ruffling up all the rugs in the house. The living room seems strangely empty without her bed and it’s so quiet now without her barking.

It seems somewhat foolish to have pets, knowing that they are noisy, messy, hairy, smelly, sometimes downright annoying, and perhaps, worst of all, that we will likely outlive them and deeply grieve the loss.  On the other hand, they love us when we’re unlovable, do silly, ridiculous things to make us laugh, snuggle us when we’re sad, and give us a reason to get up each morning. Rest in peace, Bella – you are missed!

Please take a moment to tell about a special pet in your life – I’d love to hear your stories!