Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Time Will Tell: One Month Later

While the equinox has not yet occurred, summer is breathing its last, and fall’s energy is wrapping itself around everything like a wool scarf.

Fall means a return to academia in the US but this is unlike any other fall in modern times. We have fires raging on one coast, hurricanes threatening 2 others, unrest over police brutality in multiple cities, and a microscopic lifeform replicating itself in varying degrees of success inside humans on every land around the globe except Antarctica. And no leadership cohesion on any of these fronts as political factions multiply their hateful rhetoric and actions. 

I wrote in this blog a month ago about what projections were being made in regards to that virus, SARS-CoV-2, and the illness it causes, COVID-19. I decided to check in today a month later to document where we’re at.

On 8/14, I said we had 64 dead, a 14-day positive testing rate of 11%, and 148 facilities-based investigations. Today, we have 85 dead, a 14-day positive testing rate of 8%, and 123 facilities-based investigations. 

A quarter of our total losses of life have occurred in the last 30 days. Stunning. The other numbers sound like we’re getting things under control. It’s been claimed that teams have been assembled and trained to contact trace. The school district we’re in has a new dashboard reporting positive and quarantine counts by school, subdivided further into student and teacher numbers. Currently, a total of 10 people have positive cases and 198 are supposed to be in quarantine.

The qualifiers in the previous paragraph are because I have seen little emphasis on true tracing or quarantining in this county. Political rallies, local events, and comments by residents all indicate there is little to no interest in or understanding of these practices in a large portion of the citizenry. There is tracking of how well tracing or testing turn-around are going. There are no marketing campaigns to cultivate involvement in stopping this virus.

While positive rates are down, our testing rates are abysmal. Fewer data points mean less reliability to any analysis, to the point of being almost meaningless. It’s as if the county has given up. The superintendent remarking again this week in his youtube update that some believe it’s impossible to get below 5% (a benchmark to safely head towards a return to normal) supports that opinion.

The replication factor of Wisconsin is the second-highest in the country at 1.23, ranging from 0.97-1.46. A month ago we were at 1.13, ranging 1.04-1.21. To me, this appears to be a reason to believe the leadership on this disease is failing at a statewide level as well.

The US death rate on this disease is less than the worldwide rate of 3.17%. One could argue, I suppose, that it’s not worth society’s efforts to avoid a few deaths. That the disruptions would be too great. However, as I see some industries evolving to adapt to different norms, I question that fatalistic perspective. In addition, there is research showing possible links to long-term health problems in those who have gone through COVID-19 infections. Our societies may be on decades-long hooks in terms of direct costs and losses to inputs to society from these infections.

The county’s calculated burden rate is significantly down from a month ago: from 280 to 133. I don’t have the testing data for back then. If we were testing the same number of people, I’d be more confident in that reduction. We’d only need to go down another 33 points to enter the second-highest threat level.

IHME predicted 3,708 deaths will have occurred in Wisconsin as of 12/1. We’re currently at 1,210, up 185 since 8/14. The current growth rates do not indicate we’ll be at the IHME prediction. My extremely rough, straight-line chart points toward 1,650 (140 in Waukesha County) by mid-December. Still hard to contemplate that at least another 440 families, friends, neighbors, teachers, etc...have yet to suffer these losses, but in all likelihood will. If spread grows exponentially the IHME numbers could be possible and if the entire population is exposed before a vaccine is implemented, 5,200 could die in the county and 75,686 could succumb statewide in total based on the current 1.3% death rate.

The weather is gorgeous today. It’s a reminder that we’re here today and should enjoy it despite thoughts and worries of the past and the future. Flowers are still blooming. Insects are still crawling and flying. The sun shines and the winds blow whether we want them to or not. 

Breath still flows in and out of our own lungs.

Buddhism has always intrigued me. To me, it’s about developing a presence that just “is” and that observes what just “is”. I know part of me wants to be able to eventually say, “See!?!?”. Another part wants to reassure myself that things didn’t turn out as bad as they could have.

With so much going on, it’s important to return to that breath and to today- to this very moment. To what we love and really value and to release both fear and want. Maybe if we all just sit for a bit and send those feelings of love and value to both ourselves and the rest of the world (all plants, animals, people, land, water, and air), we’ll all have a better tomorrow.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Time will Tell

When I look at the calendar, I know we’ve been in the second half of the year for a while. I “know” it, but it’s still hard to comprehend.


I see the milkweed pods ripening and goldenrods just starting to reach their full heights, yellow flower buds swelling. The bird cacophonies of spring have largely been replaced by the equally loud and diverse calls of millions of insects like grasshoppers, crickets, and cicadas. Overhead, tree leaves are starting to darken, dry, and some are already falling as the season’s wear shows. The shortening daylight is causing the trees to begin preparing for what’s to come. Life is living now, but it’s also readying. 


The human species is readying, too. We always have some feelings (positive and negative) for what fall and winter typically bring to our lives. This year, it’s a bit different. Actually, significantly different. We are in a space and time none of us have experienced before. And that newness is causing a ton of responses including anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration, fear, and apathy. 

Months ago, I claimed that if we had to go through all this to get to a place where we have forged constructive plans for and actual changes to our health care, education, social justice, clean water/air/land, climate policy, and criminal justice systems, it would be worth it. I still do. It’s just extra ugly right now as many people are clinging to their old ways. They are trying as hard as they can to hold onto their vision of summer while the seasons march on. They are using everything they have in them to push back against what’s around them because they are drowning in those heavy emotional responses I listed above- especially in their fear.

I’ve been trying to track my county’s covid situation on a weekly basis since May. I generally enjoy studying things and trying to figure out what they are, what they mean, and what they could be. I love logic and the beauty of patterns and connections that come out when you really look at something. With covid19, I want to try to understand what it really is, what we might know/not know, and how it’s developing based on both its abilities and how it responds to what we humans are doing.

I’m preparing myself by using as many resources as I can to know what is going on around me. In my mind, it’s no different than the trees, plants, birds, and other species responding to their surroundings and using their adaptations to survive and thrive.


As of 8/14, Waukesha County now has 64 dead, a jump of 6 more lives lost compared to a week ago. Our 14-day percent positive is now 11%, 4% higher than Milwaukee County, which has steadily reduced theirs from their early days of high losses and percentages. That 11% seems fairly steady, but only goes through 8/12. The 154 positives from 8/13 aren’t included. 8/14 numbers have not been posted at all.

The Waukesha County dashboard is supposed to be revamped this week. I’m really hoping because the data being examined is not very substantial. The color codes right now indicate 5 greens out of 6 possible. We haven’t had a better color pattern for 60 days. On June 14, we had all greens. Back then, the 14-day average was 3% and our death count was 35. Having a “steady” 11% infection rate is not the same as a steady 3%.

The one “red” parameter deals with healthcare worker infections. That’s both sad and scary. While our hospitals are not filled with covid patients, our healthcare workers are taking hits. I can only hope they are all OK and do not suffer long-term problems for risking their lives. Others in their workplaces are risking their health, as well. Currently, the county has 148 active cases in either long-term healthcare facilities or other workplaces. That’s 25 more than last week. Those are in places where spread can occur through multiple groups of people.

We have come to this level of infection and death because of what we all do. If a person who is changing their behaviors towards containment happens to cross paths with someone who isn’t, transmission could very well occur. When 2 or more meet where there are no thoughts for containment, spread is that much more likely. Milwaukee County has had much stricter containment protocols in place for a while and it shows in their results. Their trajectory is -13 whereas Waukesha County’s is flat. Their burden is 278 cases per 100,000 residents while WC’s is 280. Both counties are described as “high activity”. 

That commonality of high activity is probably because none of us ever fully quarantined, tested, or invested in contact-traced aggressively. We have little means to truly know how far or how deeply this organism has spread. We could have herd immunity right now and not know it. Or we could have only 1.1% of our 5,822,000 residents having truly gone through it if the positive cases are counted as the only ones who have gotten it. We don’t know because we don’t have the data. Other places around the world have done this hard work and the virus is almost non-existent in their communities. In South Korea, which has been almost clear for about 5 months, just 170 positive tests in Seoul on Friday triggered a new set of restrictions in the city. They have installed body temperature triggers on train doors that won’t open if a fever is registered and air sterilizing equipment to clean public transport air of viruses.


Within all this, my kids’ school district voted in-person hybrid for 6-12th grade. If parents weren’t comfortable with that, they were told to sign up for the online school that has been in place. Of those 2 choices, we picked the latter. 4K-5th have the option of 5-day in-person, virtual with school building teachers, or the online school. In other countries and states, we would all be in lock-down. Here, folks are hopeful sports will all go and life will begin again. Perfect like summer. With a waiver that holds everyone harmless for even the classroom settings.

IHME predicts 3,708 deaths in Wisconsin by December 1. That works out to about 220-240 total deaths in Waukesha County. I really hope that’s not the case. Their prediction through Aug 4th was actually a couple of hundred short of actual. 

I hope we can all breathe a bit and give both ourselves and each other support. Change is tough and can feel threatening and frightening. But we should be able to use our abilities to not only get through this, but to make things better- healthier, more sustaining, more sustainable, and more just for even more people than before. We can have a beautiful spring after the winter if we work and prepare together. 

Time will tell.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Respecting Re-Specting Respect

BT21 Characters by RM & Suga
What do you think of when you hear the word "respect"?

What message do you really want to convey when you say “I respect you.”?

I absolutely love the history and evolution of language- and it’s important to realize that it’s moving all the time. 

When a musical artist uses a second language, it allows natives of that language to see their words in a different light. BTS songs allow that to be a two-way street: I can learn about Korean from my English perspective; they can examine English from a Korean one. We both benefit. I’ve included an English translation of the BTS song Respect (from Map of the Soul: 7) to explore this a bit more. I also looked at Lemoring’s youtube translation for help. First, respect to the fans who use sites like genius.com and YT to do these translations and the reflections they attach. It helps so many of us learn. It’s awesome to have so many brains available, noting references to other songs and discussing the Korean idioms used and their equivalents. Notions are voted up and down, creating more accurate reports. I hope you take a look at the page.

I have italicized the lines of the song that are performed in Korean. As you’ll see, RM and Suga rap in an awesome mix of both languages. They use whatever works best for both the situation and intent.

Moving on, in the paragraph above the last I used “respect” to mean “kudos” to or “appreciation” for fans. This use may have been the starting point for BTS in this song. “Respect” has become a slang or short used both in South Korea and elsewhere in everyday conversation to mean these things. “nowadays this word floats around me”. They are questioning this use- they are arguing that it might be pretty hollow or shallow.

So RM dives into the Latin basis for the word, which is really cool to me:

Re-spect: Look at. Again. And again. 

“Look again and again and you'll see faults

But you still want to keep looking, despite of that”

He’s remarking that we SHOULD look at something over and over again. Do we really respect the person or thing being examined? We should put the effort in to look closely. And keep looking. Powerful, powerful stuff!

Today, I see the connections of inspecting and re-specting all our systems: social justice, civil justice, criminal justice, political, medical, environmental, mental health care, educational- and doing the same regarding our leaders. The massive success of thousands of youth and young-at-hearts signing up to attend the June 20 Trump rally with no intention of attending was, to me, an example of re-specting. We can’t give up- we must forge ahead and work. We need a lot more of this to be able to truly respect our ideals, what we have, and who we are.

RM seems to mirror this idea that respect is a vital part of human life that and we always need to be working on ourselves:

“You'll need that perfect belief towards someone (Ayy, ayy)

So I can't get myself to easily say

The weight and thickness of it is vague

I hope someday I can confidently say it

And mean it when I do, to you and to me, huh”

RM is admitting he is reluctant to either use the term toward someone else or have it applied to himself. I love the phrase “the weight and thickness of it is vague”. That’s delicious thinking to me. Words have weight and thickness. 

Verse 2 is performed by Suga, who is the oldest group member of BTS. He’s addressed as “hyung” and “hyungnim” by RM because of that elder status. To my understanding, in Korean culture, someone older than you is to be addressed with more respect and is to be the leader to follow. A younger man refers to a slightly older one with the term “hyung” this way. The bigger the gap, the more respect needs to be shown to the elder. This includes using different titles, words, and behaviors. It’s another reason why I find this song so interesting. There’s this cultural structure they grew up in, but they want to keep examining themselves and others to decide if they should really “respect” them or themselves. Suga raps:

“To be honest, there's no need for admiration

When there's not even respect

Everyone except you knows people talk shit behind your back

I honestly respect you

You have no intention to respect me so just skip it

Respect, I respect you

Applause to that pal who speak ill while smiling”

Suga is not assuming the dominance his culture appears to automatically give him in regards to RM. He’s calling out a general tendency to adore someone to their faces but then pour hate on them when no one’s looking. The translation help on Genius on “talk shit behind your back” was really interesting to me. The Korean phrasing used relates to an old story where a wife secretly ate pumpkin seeds and tried to hide it from her husband. She didn’t get away with it because he either found the empty shells she hid or saw them after she pooped them out. Shells don’t get digested. Truth comes out.

The fact that Suga is saying he respects RM is big. It’s real because culturally, I don’t think it’s expected. And while he says he respects RM, and I believe he truly does, he still refers to RM as “kid” and “rascal” in this song. 

The Outro of the song is an adorable, seemingly unscripted conversation all in Korean- as if they are exhausted. They are still confused about the word, but laughing and having fun with each other before deciding that “admiration” is a great synonym. Suga, who is known for having an old-sage type personality, ends up muttering how hard English is in general. To me, it’s also a wry admission that life’s tough and never perfect.

[Intro: RM & sampling]


Should I go or should I?

Should I, should I go or should I stay?

[Verse 1: RM]

Put your hands in the air

Put your hands in the air

Just like you don't care

Just like you don't care

Ayo SUGA (why?) nowadays this word floats around me

"Respect" but these days I'm confused of its meaning

They say it's said when someone keeps doing something (Why?)

I'm not really sure either, brotha, do ya know?

It's obviously superior than love

Probably a concept that exists at the most superior rank

Out of all the superiors

Isn't that called respect, huh? (what I'm sayin')

"Re-spect" means as it sounds, to literally look again and again

Look again and again and you'll see faults

But you still want to keep looking, despite of that

You'll need that perfect belief towards someone (Ayy, ayy)

So I can't get myself to easily say

The weight and thickness of it is vague

I hope someday I can confidently say it

And mean it when I do, to you and to me, huh

[Refrain 1: Suga, RM]

Please don't say respect easily, yeah

Because even I am not sure, yeah

Sometimes I'm scared of myself

What if the weak me is found out

[Chorus, Suga, RM]

(Respect) Everybody says it so easily

(Respect) Though you don't know what it is

(Respect) Please take a look again

(Respect) One time

(Respect) Two times

(Respect) I won't say it easily

(Respect) Even if I don't know well now

(Respect) One day I'll say it

(Respect) One time

(Respect) Oh yeah

[Verse 2: Suga]

"Respect"- what is it? (What, hyung?)

I don't know, that's why I'm asking, you rascal (Oh, I see)

"Respect"- what even is it?

Why is everyone saying respect

Honestly I can't understand

Admiring someone

Was it something really that easy?

I still can't understand it

To be honest, there's no need for admiration

When there's not even respect

Everyone except you knows people talk shit behind your back

I honestly respect you

You have no intention to respect me so just skip it

Respect, I respect you

Applause to that pal who speak ill while smiling

[Refrain 2: Suga, RM]

(Respect respect)

Hope all the glory and prosperity seep into your life

(Respect respect)

Hope the road in front of you is eternally blessed

(Respect respect)

Money, honor, forward, forward

(Respect respect)

Yes, I respect you, yeah

[Chorus: Suga, RM]

(Respect) Everybody says it so easily

(Respect) Though you don't know what it is

(Respect) Please take a look again

(Respect) One time

(Respect) Two times

(Respect) I won't say it easily

(Respect) Even if I don't know well now

(Respect) One say I'll say it

(Respect) One time

(Respect) Oh yeah


(S) "Aye, do ya know what respect is?"

(RM) "I don't know, hyungnim,"

(S )"I don't know either,"

(Both) "Why is respect this hard?"

(RM)"'Respect', well, is to look again, I don't know,"

(S) "'Respect', what?"

(Both) "'Respect'!"


(S) "Kid, I think this is what respect is. Why is English so hard?”

(RM) "I know right?"

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Racism Then to Now

“Item 2nd: It is my will and desire that all my estate consisting of land, town property, Negroes and all other property owned by me, both real and personal or mixed be sold by my executors either for cash or on time as in their judgement it would seem best.” 
Last Will and Testament of Gideon Barnes [1791-1871] 

Pike County, Barnesville Georgia 

Late 1863 or early 1864 

Sworn to in Open Court 
June 1, 1871 

It’s true that all white people in the US today have benefited from white privilege and systemic racism. Tolerance.org’s article What is White Privilege, Really? offers an excellent overview. But with these above lines penned in a musty county records book, I discovered that I, and all those related to me past, present, and future through my father, benefited directly from the labor of enslaved people. Gideon Barnes was my great great great grandfather.

From what I’ve gathered, Gideon was a big fish in a small pond. He founded Barnesville, Georgia, which was initially just a crossroads between Augusta, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama, in 1826. With a hotel, mercantile, and eventually receiving the post of its first postmaster, Gideon helped grow the spot to a village by 1852. It’s still only a small town today, at about 6500 people. You won’t see it in the city literature, but clearly, if the town founder had “Negroes” in 1863 to sell along with “other property”, the enslavement of peoples of African descent was a truth and foundation of the growth and development of this community. And that truth led to Gideon Barnes, when he died in 1871, having inheritances to hand out to the five children he named in his will.

Gideon did not run a plantation. Pictures of him and his daughter, my great-great grandmother Sarah Virginia, show them as worn and wiry. She eventually moved to Michigan after her husband, my great-great grandfather William Keifer, died in 1877 in a sanatorium. Records show Wiliam drank excessively, accrued debt, and beat Sarah Virginia at least once. Rough life stories. But the free labor of other human beings- enslaved people- made what they did have possible.

By 1860, there were approximately 44,100 enslaved people-owning white men in Georgia and they “owned” 462,198 enslaved individuals-  44% of the state's total population (Slavery in Antebellum Georgia). About ⅔ of white Georgian males didn’t "own" enslaved people, but they supported the system as many wished to join the ranks for the privileges that “ownership” gave.

So, the average Georgia enslaved people-holder “owned” 10-11 enslaved human beings before the Civil War. I have no idea how many Gideon Barnes “owned”. My guess is he was average. But “owning” humans helped him and the others acquire wealth and property. That was all passed down to their descendants. White skins and systems like redlining and racial covenants in housing deeds enabled future generations to get factory jobs, buy suburban houses, have savings accounts at big banks, get loans at lower rates, and access a host of other goods and services. Just because of their...our... DNA. And generation upon generation, each bequeathed their leftovers to the next generation to benefit from and build upon. Objects, property, money, beliefs. Some did fairly well. Others lost big. Being of European-descent does not protect against wars, accidents, disease, or economic downturns. But this American reality has given advantages to some people, including me. These advantages were not available to Black Americans and because of that, their descendants are at different places than the white ones. I don’t know of any super-wealthy relatives, and many have been “blue-collar”, but I’m left asking: How do we address these centuries of two realities? How do I address these centuries of two realities?

That’s the basis of reparations. There are so many things we could do or should do. I know they won’t make everyone happy. But we must try.

The BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) civil and social justice experts are out there prepared with what needs doing and in what order. What I say next is all based on a “we” where they are in charge and the white voice follows:

What if we all truly participate in and help evolve our democracy? What if we rewrite our legal systems based on modern realities and our combined futures? What if we implement universal healthcare? What if we embrace clean air, water, and land standards for all? What if we invest in healthy homes and schools for all? What if we find a way to invest in something that does give back directly to all the peoples we have wronged through the centuries? What if we drop old things like Columbus Day and get the modern citizenry to define what we celebrate and what we mourn. I’m only scratching the surface of ideas. Whatever is chosen, it’s going to take a long time. But what if we try?

If we’d do all that, then the “we” would end up being close enough to universal that all peoples would truly be together. That is my end goal: seeing how far we can take the term 'we're stronger together'. I used to not see the middle transition ground and wonder why Black Americans scoffed at me on my “we”. I didn’t understand. In their experience, they never were a “we” with people that look like me in any genuine way.

I didn’t understand partially because the idea of owning a person was and is so anathema to me, I had to use the word in quotation marks in my writing here. But I know it was real. I have to own this. No quotations.

Some argue this was all settled in 1865. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of many pieces of evidence that prove otherwise. I was recently introduced to a 1966 McGraw-Hill Films documentary called A Time for Burning, produced by William C. Jersey and executive produced by Robert E.A. Lee that captures the push-back of a culture that doesn’t want to change. This film examined how a Lutheran pastor (Rev. Luther (Bill) Youngdahl) tried to integrate his white congregation with a black church in Omaha, Nebraska. While he ultimately failed, I learned that a congregant (Raymond J. Christensen) was so moved by the process that his entire life path was positively altered as a result. Ernie Chambers and his powerful analysis were the stars the entire film pivoted upon, but the Black youth were also incredible to hear, as those voices were not captured much in those times. Watching this film was tough because the responses of some of the white congregants were so similar to things I heard from my mother and the family stories she told me as I was growing up. It was extremely uncomfortable to see and hear people like that again. “I think it’s forced. I don’t think they [the congregants] can accept this.” “I’ve never talked with a Negro.” “We’ve had problems with these Mexicans.” “What happens if a colored family moves in?”  As I watched, the smells of my mother’s mother’s house and the photos on her walls came to my mind. That grandmother died in 1986. The fingers of white privilege are long and insidious.

Speaking of long fingers...did you notice the date of Gideon Barnes’s death? Six years after the end of the Civil War, and they still recorded his wishes as to include selling his Negros. Disgusting. As is the washing of their history that they share with the world.

Old systems die slowly and only with effort and disruption of the norm. I experienced my racist mother and it’s taken my lifetime to understand it and make changes in myself to correct her and our society's influences. Clearly, even if he was nicknamed “The Reverend” by a friend during his military service, at least some of my father’s ancestors were racists, too. And I know that he knew he could do things others could not. He was also the one who noted his ancestors’ real truths in his genealogy work. Every human is a mix of helpful and harmful.

I couldn’t find a smoking gun on my mother’s side like Gideon’s will, but if I found the correct family tree, there’s evidence that some of her ancestors arrived very early to North America from England, settling in what became Maryland. I found a Revolutionary War officer among them. But if those positive connections are true, they probably owned enslaved people, as well. At the very least, Maryland was a slave state, so I’m perhaps doubly guilty as a descendant and inheritor of this mess. Triple if we include the Indigenous peoples all my European ancestors helped kill directly or indirectly.

Now, we find ourselves in 2020, with Black Americans being killed by police officers, many regions deeply segregated, with uneven funding and infrastructure in our public education systems because of the residential segregation, and many Black Americans feeling they are looked at as a threat by white ones. As the BBC wrote on in George Floyd: How are African Americans Treated Under the Law, Black Americans are about 13.4% of the US population but constitute 23.4% of police fatalities, are arrested substantially more often for drug crimes despite similar drug use statistics compared to white Americans, and constitute a much greater percentage of prison populations than they do overall US populations.

The time to act was hundreds of years ago. The time we have is right now. We need to take it. We need to try.

EDIT NOTES June 15, 2020: I replaced the term "slave(s)" with "enslaved person/people" for the most part as suggested by @al0nte on Twitter. It definitely feels better and to me supports why I struggle with the word "owned". 
I retained "Black Americans" because I want to remind that we are all just as "American"- good or bad. The Indigenous cultures white settlers/colonizers killed are the only originals to this land in the bigger sense. I use and capitalize Black because I have heard many voices requesting it. I capitalize Indigenous along similar logic lines. I don't capitalize white because I don't believe it should be- it was a term chosen for control. I think "European-descending" would be more logical.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Everyone Under the Sun

 For a number of years, I’ve been convinced that we’re all stronger together- regardless of topic. 

When we work together, we capitalize on each others’ strengths and can support each others’ weaknesses. We can pool resources. We can build things we can’t by ourselves.

I live in the City of Waukesha, which is the county seat. Waukesha County sits between Madison, Wisconsin further to the west, and is immediately adjacent to Milwaukee County to the east.

I’ve been reading many things recently about people and their connections to, or lack thereof, their natural environments. For those who are impassioned, they ask "How can we get kids and adults to care about plants, animals, soils, clean water, and clean air?" What could make it all “matter” to them? How can we all move forward to become “less expensive” in terms of natural resource costs and have sustainable lifestyles?

I’ve also read some sobering histories of how people have come to have the lifestyles we do. Books like Matthew Desmond’s Evicted and Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law. There are also all those books about the industrialization of food and the negative effects associated with that. Even movies like Morgan Spurlock’s SuperSize Me can show parts of these issues that affect us all in terms of what we do and how we do it.

Reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass gave me another frame of reference to examine all these issues. As a professor, she learned that her students didn’t think that humans could ever have a positive relationship with their natural environments. They believed all human activity is inherently detrimental to or exploitative of what’s around people. That discovery turned her approach to teaching. Through a review of her Native American cultural history, she suggests that this “fact” can be fiction. She uses science to prove it via a few specific examples that open the door to further exploration from modern perspectives and sensibilities. We can both give and take. The environments we find ourselves in do likewise: give and take. There are few deadends in an ecosytem and people are part of all ecosystems.

Then, a friend shared an article by Cassidy Randall in the Huffington Post, The Incredibly Simple Way To Get People To Care About The Environment. Bingo. A modern approach to connect people and their outdoors is to accept additional science discoveries that doing so improves our health and our daily actions that can help our environments.  It’s a healthcare issue- worthy of prescriptions. It’s a societal issue- worthy of a variety of small options everywhere to appeal to a broad range of people.

Alas, there’s always a “but”.

Mabari Byrd, Sierra Club’s Delaware Watershed community coordinator, says in this piece:
“When we talk about the environment, we also have to talk about the personal environment,” explained Byrd, describing his own upbringing in North Philadelphia in a community dealing with food security issues, the war on drugs, unemployment and mass incarceration. “There’s a hierarchy of needs before you can even think about saving the Arctic,” he said.”

Some people spend all their energy just trying to survive- if you have more time and energy, you can look beyond that. That’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So, it’s important to ask oneself as one complains about a lack of interest or connection to our natural world: are the non-engaged that way because of disinterest, ignorance, opportunity, or hardship? I was fairly sure I knew part of the answer from my own experiences in recent years, but I wanted to take another dive into the reality around me to make sure.

Data from Data USA 2018.

Waukesha County
City of Waukesha
Milwaukee County
Total Population
Median* Age
Median* Household Income
Poverty Rate
Median” Property Value
Percent of population US Citizens
Percent of population Born Outside US
White Alone
Hispanic Alone
Asian Alone
2+ Ethnicities
Black/African Alone
Native American Alone
*Note: “Median” means there are just as many above as below the number given.

*Note: “Median” means there are just as many above as below the number given.

These data do not express all that the area's populations represent. It says nothing of religious beliefs, personal interests, sexual orientations, languages spoken, or (directly of) political beliefs.

What they do speak of is opportunities. For the overall county of Waukesha, there are proportionally more older people.

The following detailed population age demographics were gleaned from the US Census Bureau QuickFacts website:

Persons under 5 years
Waukesha County: 5.2%
City of Waukesha: 5.9%
Milwaukee County: 6.9%

Persons under 18 years
Waukesha County: 21.5%
City of Waukesha: 21.3%
Milwaukee County: 24.0%

Persons 65 years and over
Waukesha County: 18.7%
City of Waukesha: 13.4%
Milwaukee County: 13.6%

That aging trend is increasing in most locales- Waukesha County is just further into the trend and its future opportunities are leaning more in that direction. They have significantly more income than the city of Waukesha or Milwaukee County residents (remember, half of the household incomes for each group is above the number listed- so half of the households in Waukesha County are making 1.75 times or more than half the households in Milwaukee County). Their properties have significantly more value (although there are properties in both counties that have million-dollar-plus values). With fewer children and higher values, tax revenues and general funding are extremely different between the counties.

It’s heartening to see from these figures that if you’re born outside the US, you tend to become a citizen while in the US, wherever you live. It’s saddening to realize descendants of the original peoples of this area represent less than a percent of our current populations. It’s also a point to recognize that we continue to be very divided by race, with the city of Waukesha representing a midpoint of sorts between the counties.

The poverty rates of the 3 locations cover a significant range although they all could be troubling: 1 out of every 20 people, 1 out of every 10 people, and 1 out of every 5 people. It’s eye-opening to picture those ratios in a classroom to put into perspective. According to DataUSA, the most common racial or ethnic group living in poverty in Waukesha County is White, followed by Hispanic and then Black, which may relate to the overall low numbers of other ethnicities. In comparison, in Milwaukee County, the data show the most common group is Black, followed by White and then Hispanic.

Poverty can fall on anyone. However, if you have more to begin with, the depths one falls will not be as great as those who started off with less to begin with.

Wealth can also drag someone from knowing their environments. In the quest to maintain status via obtaining the latest phones, designer kitchens, or other symbols of trendiness, the affluent can become trapped by excesses. Granted, if we had to choose which prison we would find ourselves, I think I know which we’d prefer: those with means can turn their mindsets and futures with greater ease than those without.

When I hear talk of people having no connection to the natural world, the data give some reasons why and Randall’s article gives us examples of what anyone can do to help provide these links in any situation: from rural to urban. Milwaukee County actually has a history of public works, including setting aside land for public parks. That practice can be applied to any town. Newer ideas like urban housing designs that integrate green and growing spaces also exist and can be encouraged.  Programs can be created that bring people together outside to learn and enjoy both the green spaces and from each other. The reciprocal give and take relationships Kimmerer speaks of can be formed anywhere. But it all takes personal and group desire, long-term concerted efforts, and solid financial backing.

A healthier planet under the sun? An overall healthier and more content people living on it and under that sun, too? Those all sound like great reasons to me for us to try.