Thursday, September 25, 2014

my environmental history

Photo of my grandpa, Ralph Beebe, and me
a few years ago when we got to teach a class together
(Photo credit: Joel Bock)

For my Environmental History class this semester, I got to conduct an interview with a family member regarding my own environmental history. I enjoyed meeting with my grandpa, Ralph Beebe, and talking with him about his recollections of his own life and lives of his parents as they established homesteads in Idaho. It was fun talking with him about issues we'd never thought to talk about before, like how his family got food when he was a kid. I learned I have a lot in common with his mother, canning and growing a lot of our food, and I'm a composite of him, his mother, and my own parents: connected to the land, focused on faith and social justice, and interested in organic, healthy food options. These come down to me through different generations so that I do not share the same concerns and worldviews as do my ancestors, but I can see how each of these values came to me through my family history. And do, without further ado, my story.

I spent some time with my maternal grandparents recently. My grandpa, Ralph Beebe, has a PhD in history, and at age 82 he's currently working on a memoir of his life. This assignment gave me the excuse to talk with him about memories I hadn't discussed with him before. I greatly enjoyed meeting with him and learning more about his life and perspective. (My grandma, unfortunately, has Alzheimer's, and so I learned about her family through my grandpa, as well as through stories my great-grandma Hazel wrote down, but I don't have the space to discuss that part of my history here.)

He and I both live in a small town in western Oregon's Willamette Valley. To me, this feels like my family's home. This is where I grew up and where my dad grew up; it's where my parents went to college and met. But just a few generations back, my ancestors lived in the midwest and then in Idaho and eastern Oregon. I'll mainly focus here on my grandpa's recollections, due to the brevity of this paper. I'll add a few thoughts about my dad's side of the family toward the end.
My great-grandparents' grave stone

Ralph's father, Glen, was born on a farm in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1894, and his family moved to Rupert, Idaho around 1914 for now-unknown reasons. Similarly, Ralph's mother, Fanny, was born in 1900 and grew up on a farm in Missouri. She moved to Rupert, Idaho with her father and two brothers (out of a total of 10 siblings) in 1914. She conducted all the chores that go along with running the house as her father and brothers homesteaded their new land. This included cooking, growing vegetables, butchering and preparing meat, and going out with a rifle to shoot rabbits. There is no current family memory of where these families came from before the midwest, although we are presumably mainly of European descent.

Cattle ranch in Idaho,
similar to my great-grandparents' homestead
After World War I, Glen and Fanny married, and moved to another town in Idaho called Wilder. They rented farms, living on 21 farms in 20 years, and they had to give the landowner half their profit each year. Finally, along with the New Deal and the subsequent damming of the Owyhee River, new areas were opened up for homesteading along the Oregon-Idaho border. Glen and Fanny moved their family just across the Oregon border from Adrian, ID in 1939, homesteading a 240-acre farm, 160 acres of which was "under water." Ralph was almost 7 years old.

Ralph remembers their cash crops as dairy cows, alfalfa, wheat, sugar beets, and corn (though the alfalfa mainly fed the cows). He remembers his mother gardening and raising chickens and pigs, along with the farm's many dairy cows. He helped weed the garden and gather eggs. He also remembers harvesting beets. They lived mainly on the food his mother canned, as well as the eggs, milk, and meat from their animals. He remembers getting a refrigerator after World War II.

He had the opportunity to go to college, which he considers very lucky, because he says he's not smart enough to be a farmer. He's book smart, of course, but not as mechanically minded as one needs to be in order to fix tractors, fences, and everything else that can go wrong on a farm. He moved off the land, but his brother stayed, and his nephew now runs the same farm. I've been there a number of times, floating the irrigation ditches on inner tubes as a kid.

I asked my grandpa his thoughts on the changes that have occurred in his lifetime. He recognizes that some people are really connected to the land that they work, the land that raises food for them and their families, but he never had that sense of the land. He likes the farm, and he appreciates the people who work it, and the hard work they do, but for him, a connection to the land seems like more of a personality characteristic or personal interest someone might have, rather than something everyone will experience.

My dad's 12th birthday
He went to college in western Oregon and stayed in this area for his married life, quite happy with the life of an academic, loving his students and providing excellent classroom experiences for them, living into his own talents.

One final note regarding my dad's side of the family is that my dad moved to Oregon, from Iowa in 1963, and the house he grew up in is now part of the property of the university where I coordinate a community garden. There are fruit trees in the backyard of his old house and the neighboring houses--apples, pears, and plums--and I've been preserving the apples from those trees this week.

In the scope of human history, my family does not have a long history on this land. But in the scope of present-day American experience, I'm incredibly connected to this town, this little corner of the Willamette Valley called Chehalem Valley. I'm putting down my own roots here, benefiting from the forethought of my grandparents and their friends when they planted the fruit trees that will sustain my family this winter.

As an aside, I've attached a photo I took of my grandma's ration card booklet from World War II!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

whole terrain

In case you all are interested, I'm now serving as the editor for Whole Terrain, Antioch University of New England's environmental studies journal. I'll be looking for submissions to the journal, this year on the theme of trust and nature or the environment. I'm blogging for them each week, and/or soliciting blog posts from guest writers. I posted one yesterday called On Trust & Electric Cars, if you want to check it out. We're calling for submissions on the theme of trust and the environment, so if you have something you'd like to write, let me know! Submissions for the journal are due February 15, or if you want to write for the blog, that will be an ongoing theme throughout at least part of next year.

You can also join Whole Terrain on Facebook or Twitter to see when there are new posts, and to learn about other opportunities and events.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

people's climate march

Are you going? I'm getting so excited! The news and photos are rolling in from marches around the world, and tomorrow I'll be going to the one in Portland. The main march will be in New York City tomorrow. You can get all the info here. The main reason for having these climate marches now is that the UN is convening a climate summit in New York City, starting this coming Tuesday, and we want them to go into the meeting with a clear signal that the world is watching and that there is strong support for them to make laws that will benefit the environment and, therefore, all of us.

I always wanted to be part of the "Million Man March" for civil rights, but I wasn't alive yet so that kind of put a damper on that opportunity! But I believe climate change is the most pressing social justice issue of our time, and I'm excited to go to this march and show my solidarity with people around the world and in my own home state who care about the continued health of our planet and the people on it.

My son and I watched's video about the march, Disruption, together, and he wanted to make a video to tell world leaders, especially our president, that he wants them to make stronger laws to limit pollution and make the world a better place.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

life update

Back in June, I shared the exciting news that I'm starting a PhD in Environmental Studies at Antioch University of New England, and that I'd be moving with my family to New Hampshire.

Electric Vehicle charging station
at Antioch University of New England
Well, the first part of that sentence is still correct, but we decided to stay in Oregon. I'm commuting back and forth for school, which is a low-residency program, so I only have to be there one weekend a month for the first year, then a couple times a semester next year, and once a semester or so for the years after that. I love the program and I'm so happy with my choice! Commuting back and forth has the difficulty of causing lots of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, which is problematic, especially for a degree in environmental studies. Some airlines are now providing the option to buy carbon offsets in programs they're working with, so basically what this amounts to is a voluntary carbon tax. I wish it were incorporated into the airline fees, but this is better than nothing! Here is United's carbon offset program.

We decided to stay in Oregon for a number of reasons, including our family and community here, our desire to be in the Northwest after I'm done with school, and a sense of stability for our kids. We also found it really difficult to find a place to live that was affordable, walk/bike friendly, and where we could plug in our electric car. There are now two electric vehicle charging stations in Keene, NH, one at the Nissan dealership and one at Antioch University of New England. It's great that there are two, but they're both trickle charge stations, meaning it would take upwards of 12 hours for a full charge. If we didn't live close enough to leave it there all the time, we would have a hard time using our car! Here in the Northwest, we have what's been dubbed the "West Coast Green Highway," with charging stations all along the I-5 corridor, and even reaching to central Oregon and the Oregon coast.

Another reason for staying in Oregon was housing. First, our house was having a hard time selling, and we really like our house (mainly the yard). Also, affordable housing in Keene is run by the Keene Housing Authority, which in theory is a great idea: they help people find housing, and they are able to subsidize the costs for those who can't afford the full price. But many places in the Keene area would ONLY work with the Keene Housing Authority, and I called them and there's a 1-2 year waiting list for finding a place to live, even if you can pay the full price. Therefore, we couldn't live in most of the apartment buildings in Keene for the next year or two (the length of time we need to live there, ironically). This seemed like a very strange arrangement.

Finally, the very best reason to stay in Oregon (besides the lack of ticks carrying Lyme disease) is being rooted in our bioregion and our community. If I'm going to school to learn about how to more deeply care for the environment and how to create connected communities, why would I go anywhere other than the Pacific Northwest to practice this kind of environmental, justice-oriented, community-based, holistic care for the Earth? Unfortunately, there aren't any PhD programs of a similar thrust here in the Northwest, so I have to go to New England for the actual program, but at least I can stay rooted in my community, and put what I'm learning into practice in the place where my heart resides.