There’s something about immersing myself in a heavy snowfall that stimulates clarity in thinking for me. I don’t mean skiing, or shoveling, or building snowmen in it. I mean immersion as in wading around in it, breathing it in, and alternately sweating and freezing in it. The kind of heavy, deep, and steady snowfall where noise is muffled and the bustle of nature is slowed to a crawl.
I recently spent an entire day outside in nature in the southerntier of Western New York State, in the middle of the Lake Erie snowbelt. The area had been hammered by lake effect snow – well over 50 inches of light powder in just a few days and increasing every day.
When the snow is this light, snow shoes barely help, and often hinder when they tangle in brush hidden under all that fluff. Under these conditions, I would have exhausted myself embarassingly quickly had I trudged steadily and briskly, and I was determined to make a day of it. Instead I took breaks. Alot of them. I may have breaked more often than I walked. I leaned against trees, I sat on logs (when I could find them under the deep snow), and I took pictures.
And I thought.
Slowed to a crawl with the rest of nature, the Puma Diaries blog kept popping into my head. I’m in the second year of writing the Puma Diaries. In the absence, at that moment there in the snow, of any issues that had any real importance, I for some reason felt it appropriate to do a quick glance in the mirror – kind of a self-assessment of how I’m doing with my blog.
Now I realize that self assessments are usually of little interest to anyone but “self”, so I am placing this entry within a photographic journal I’ve entitled “Deep Thoughts in Deep Snow” so that folks who took the time to follow a link to this page have a better chance of making it worth their while.
If I’m not mistaken, the following questions are straight from the STM (Standardized Testing Manual) for the NBLB (No Blogger Left Behind) legislation that was introduced in the early 2000’s. Results will be utilized to establish my AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) to determine if I get to renew my membership with WordPress.
1. Have I kept my focus as narrow as possible, so I can describe my blog in a soundbyte of 5 words or less? Nope. Not even going to try.
2. Have I written a blog entry about “how to increase traffic to your own blog?” In looking at other boggers who write about this, it seems like a sure title to get tons of traffic. I’ve tried so hard, but I just can’t seem to link my subject matter to this.
3. Have I flooded other blogs with comments, likes, and follows in an attempt to coerce other bloggers into visiting mine? Nope. There’s just not enough time in the day. I like walking in the snow too much.
4. Have I kept my entries short enough for the average American attention span of 60 seconds? Nope. I’m shooting for those who like to think of themselves as having “above average” staying power maybe?
5. Have I stuck to a regular schedule for entries, so I stay at the forefront of readers’ minds? Not even close.
6. Am I satisfied and want to keep going? Absolutely.
So where did all that self assessment lead me?
The original idea for Puma Diaries was to blog about “environmentally aware travel.” Tell a story, and weave into that story a few environmental and social issues about the place I’m writing about. Most of the early entries fall into this category.
At a superficial glance, instead of increased focus, there seems to be topic creep in Puma Diaries entries. As time has gone by, I’ve dabbled in environmental commentary. I’ve pulled in nature, which is probably my key inspiration. Culture has made an appearance or two, as has spirituality, conservation, and activism.
A piece of advice I came across regarding writing a blog that has stuck with me is to write for yourself. Write what makes you happy, and what energizes you enough to put the effort into putting the words onto the screen. The people who connect with what you write find you. All the arm twisting and begging in the world won’t convince those who don’t have the time, or who don’t connect with what you write, to read your blog. Oh, and don’t expect your kids to read your blog. It ain’t gonna happen.
In my happy place of ego, I like to think Puma Diaries is my personal contribution towards making the world a better place and making people happy. A single small fragment of cloth in the huge patchwork quilt that warms humanity and attempts to get us on a path of ecological and social awareness, and sustainable living.
I believe the world needs doers and thinkers on the level of Vandana Shiva, Chico Mendes, Bill McKibben, Nelson Mandela, Edward Snowden, Aldo Leopold, and Jane Goodall. It needs many more doers on much smaller stages, because it’s the additive energies and impacts of the multitudes that add up to real changes and real effects.
The joke around the world is that Americans are too immersed in American Idol, the Superbowl, and the life of the Kardashians to give a shit. Me being an optimist, I like to give Americans more credit; I think most people do care, but unfortunately the message is a bit too controlled and whitewashed.
Trying not to sound overly preachy, I believe the antidote to apathy is awareness. I believe that people can be motivated to action if they are aware of the issues or underlying facts and if they identify with them.
I like to believe that someone who enjoys an experience in nature, whether for hiking or 4-wheeling, would like to see the quality and accessibility of that experience continue. In 2013, our National Parks were shuttered. We were inconvenienced because of political brinksmanship. Climate drama is affecting everyone. People are waking up.
I believe that writing can be used both to entertain, and also inspire a reader to ask questions and see things they may not have been exposed to before.
There are many inspirations for Puma Diaries, not the least of which is the Lorax. Not the movie Lorax, but the original Dr. Seuss cartoon, or at least an updated version of it. If you assume that the workers in the Thneed factory work for minimum wage and require public assistance to meet basic living necessities, and that the Once-ler pays little in taxes but lobbies hard for government subsidies to be able to put competing Thneed producers in foreign lands out of business, and that all that pollution is doing more than darkening the skies of Once-lerville but also is causing huge storms in far off Who-ville, and that a huge and expensive military exists to lay the groundwork for the Once-ler to ravage Truffula trees in foreign countries to keep feeding the factory and secure energy to keep pumping out Thneeds….well, that would make the Lorax just a bit more realistic.
It’s amazing what insights come to you in a snowstorm.
But I digress.
So, whatever it is that the Puma Diaries does, I plan to keep on doing it, as often as I can, and about whichever subject related to nature, environmental or social justice, culture, spirituality, or conservation moves me. It doesn’t take a snowstorm to drill in the insight that somehow all of this is related.
I think it was Paul Harkin, in his book Blessed Unrest who talked about the benefits of broad focus as opposed to narrow focus, with regards to organizations and missions. A diverse ecological system, with many interdependent webs and spokes, is a healthy one. A system that has a single pathway is a weak one. Think of Puma Diaries as a diverse ecological system. If a topic on nature doesn’t come to mind, I’ll write about some Quechua cultural ceremony in the highlands of Ecuador, or the futility of rebuilding beaches in the face of rising sea levels.
That said, I would love to hear from you, in particular when you believe I miss the mark, or when I need some additional awareness of my own. In the meantime, it’s snowing again so I’m headed out to think.