Author Archives: Brown Dirt Cowboy

Easter Homily

I find it interesting that Tennessee’s expulsion (and the resulting uproar) of two African-American representatives is happening near Easter weekend. A couple of thousand years ago the Romans crucified a man that delivered an unpopular message in an unconventional way, and yesterday, Tennessee’s legislative body cast out two young African-American men that also delivered an unpopular message in an unconventional way.

Unpopular in the Tennessee legislature, I should say. Most Americans are ready for something to be done about children being slaughtered in their schools.

Jesus took on the power structure with a message of love, compassion and forgiveness. He even got a little rough casting out the money changers in the Temple. Jesus wasn’t messing around. But within a week of carrying out his act of civil disobedience, he was dead.

A week after three Tennessee legislators took the floor to protest the killing of children, they were expelled.

As the story goes, Jesus rose from the dead three days after his death. As a lesson, it teaches that you can kill the man, but the message lives on. And the same will be true about the two brave men that took stood for children and took on the gun lobby in the Tennessee legislature. They may have been expelled, but their message will live on and become even stronger. Truth and light eventually carry the day.

If the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church, what these men (and one woman who survived the expulsion vote) have endured could well be the beginning of the end for the gun lobby. One can hope.

“Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.”-Edward Abbey


In the Christian world, today is the Feast of the Epiphany (celebrated in Catholic Churches this Sunday), which means that Christmas is officially over and in various places around the world, Carnival season has begun.

Most folks think of Carnival by its more familiar term, “Mardi Gras,” and as a single day, Fat Tuesday, but it’s actually a multi-week celebration ending on Fat Tuesday. Largely a French-Catholic celebration, it roots stretch to the 17th century. But those famous Mardi Gras colors (gold, purple and green) aren’t necessarily French. They may have a Russian origin and can be traced to 1872. To honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, the same group of New Orleans businessmen that founded Rex (King of Carnival) supposedly introduced the Romanoff’s family colors of purple, green and gold as Carnival’s official colors. Another explanation is that the timing of the Romanoff’s visit was coincidental and that the colors were chosen to stand for justice; gold for power; and green for faith.

It’s also time for King Cakes, and I highly recommend Haydel’s Bakery in New Orleans or Poupart Bakery in Lafayette. You can order and have them shipped!

The photo is from 1967 and is by Art Kleiner. He had a 29 year career as a photographer at the State-Times and Morning Advocate in New Orleans and is known for introducing color photography to the newspaper in the 1960’s.

May be an image of 1 person, child and indoor

6Ed Greenhaw, Lisa Buford Goldsmith and 4 others

1 comment





Christmas morning and the house is quiet. The silver utensils and china from last night’s dinner are stacked beside the sink, as are the wine glasses and pots and pans. Our youngest son was quiet kind and cleaned the hand washed items so my wife and I could collapse after days of preparation and cooking. It’s a big effort, but worth every ounce of work.

I can’t think of many things more satisfying that having your family gathered around a big table for a celebratory meal. Sharing food in a communal setting is unique to our species. Sometimes our dogs and cats may leap upon the table to eat, but they’re not interested in sharing. Once the side of beef is in the pup’s mouth, woe be the man that tries to take it.

We bless the food, give thanks and recall those that are no longer with us. My blessings these days are largely secular. I leave out any references to specific gods or goddesses and direct my prayer to a general recognition of the divine, something that’s difficult for me to define, but that does seem to be there. I feel it at the shoreline and in the mountains. Like a Taoist, I see it in the uninterrupted flow of rivers. The interconnectedness of all things. In the miracle of life and the phenomenal complexity of the universe.

I don’t sense it on interstates.

As we sat close together, we shared stories from Christmases past. Humorous stories where no one was spared the opportunity to laugh at themselves. We passed food to one another and justly complimented the cooks.

Humans also use meals to impress. My wife and I had a whirlwind romance, but one of the first things I did was take her to dinner. The first meal was a favorite burger joint, but once I knew she was “the one,” I closed the deal with a fancy dinner at a Memphis restaurant known as the Four Flames. Despite some roughness around the edges, I wanted her to know I did have some level of refinement. I had promise.

Christmas Eve dinner was a celebration of love. We love being together and are now blessed with grandchildren around the table. Little Beatrice preferred the fancy water glasses with gold trim over plastic models, and who could be surprised. She’s my grandchild after all. My grandmother instilled in me the belief that the silver, crystal and Haviland china were necessary parts of the big meal ritual. It’s a way of telling your guests they’re a big deal at the big meal, so I like to bring out the ancient passed down pieces to show the importance of the event.

They’re remnants of my great-grandfather’s time. He was a prominent cotton broker that rose from humble beginnings in the 19th century South to a brief period of prominence in the early 20th century. It nearly all fell apart when the Bolsheviks seized his cotton in port and during the Depression, but he was always wise with money and fared better than most.

I’ve kept those pieces, as well as his mahogany Boston cane furniture, as a connection to my family’s past. I love old things, and fully recognize they came from a period when craftsmanship mattered. We properly built things to last.

Now another year is nearly over and what have I done? I give thanks to John Lennon’s lyric for always making me reflect on my personal balance sheet of good deeds vs. bad during the year. I conclude I didn’t do nearly enough, although I did take major steps toward living more simply. I was generous but will endeavor to give more and much more precisely in 2023.

And then, before you know it, we’ll hopefully be preparing for another year end celebration. Once again, I’ll decorate our little cottage for the grandchildren and look forward to welcoming everyone for the next feast.

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” —Mother Teresa


I took a quiet walk in the old growth at Overton Park yesterday. It’s the park of my youth, where I spent many days at the playground, the zoo and searching for secret places. Much has changed, but the most important things remain unchanged, thanks to a handful of conservationists and good thinkers.

The leaves are just starting to turn in the Upper Delta, and our colors should be good this year thanks to good rainfall and cool nights. As I walked along the moistened path, my mind raced back fifty years and to the simple joys I had here. I felt grateful to still be here, winding through the oaks, elms, box elder and pawpaw trees, enjoying the fall display and unmistakable quiet. After a couple of near death experiences in recent years, every moment on this side of the dirt means a lot.

Overton is an old park acquired by the city of Memphis in 1901. In those days, it would have been on the eastern edge of the city. Memphis was born at the foot of the Mississippi River and grew eastward from downtown. We almost lost the park in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when “planners” (terrorists) decided to extend a dreadful interstate through the heart of the park. But some clever and energetic nature lovers, including a few with very deep pockets, blocked it and saved the park with a case that eventually reached the Supreme Court. That effort eventually became The Overton Park Conservancy, and they’re still active today fighting the nitwits at the zoo who want to claim additional acreage for parking.

Today, Overton is an urban park deep in the city surrounded by a mix of upscale, historic homes but only a stone’s throw from poverty, hopelessness and high crime. In that sense, it’s not unlike many other urban parks, except this is my native park. This is my community. My home and one that I share with hundreds of non-human species.

Memphis is 65% African American, but the trails, both here and at Shelby Farms slightly east of here, are mostly used by white people. Thanks to institutionalized racism, we’re generally better educated and affluent and therefore have more leisure time. Too many in our African American community, thanks to the failures of Reconstruction and one hundred years of Jim Crow, are struggling just to keep the lights turned on. They often work multiple jobs. Who has time for nature walks when MLGW is getting ready to cut off your lights? Life isn’t equal behind The Magnolia Curtain.

It’s a sad situation as nature, especially wilderness (assuming there’s any real wilderness remaining), has such healing power. In order to really know how the world works, you need time in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. To escape the tedium of driving through traffic to work for taskmasters that hold equity you’ll never get your hands on. It seems the great American outdoors is the private playground for those with wealth, great educations and leisure time. It’s the domain of the Patagonia crowd with their Subarus adorned with bike racks and prep school decals. And that’s a shame, because the natural world belongs to all of us. How can a child function successfully in the world if it doesn’t understand how the world actually works?

But Overton is waits, quiet and still, as it has been for the millennia. It waits for all. All it needs is more lovers.


There’s an article in the Financial Times suggesting we should be prepared for chip wars. This is in addition to all of our other wars. Actual wars, either where we’re directly involved or via proxy. The war on climate change, one where we’re losing badly. The war on poverty. Also losing badly. Been to San Francisco lately?

But we are doing well in other wars. The war on women and brown skinned people is going well for Republicans thanks to two big weapons. Stacking the judiciary and gerrymandering are the atom bombs of modern political science.

As a nature lover first and a technologist second, I’m not naive about technology. There’s a vast amount of evidence that clearly proves it’s not benign. In fact it’s often harmful. Exhibit A is atomic weaponry. Exhibit B is the combustion engine. Exhibit C is the wrongheaded belief that technology will solve our climate issues. I suppose that one is still not completely known, but Vegas has planetary destruction at -30 points. For non-betting types, that means our failure is assured.

And now we have a chip war. I will admit that technology is what makes it possible for me to create a blog post critical of technology. This screed was typed on a lovely Apple Mac, sending bytes of information into the cloud and therefore into a big datacenter somewhere that uses prodigious amounts of energy. What this new war is really all about is profit. U.S. companies wanting larger margins and more control. That’s what companies do. But I still find having the word “war” interdigitated with “profit” a troubling thing. It usually means we’re willing to do things that will harm other people or nations in order to make more money. That’s what “Christian” nations do and the more wars the merrier.

We’re #1!

“Greed, the profit motive, is the ugliest thing in America, the closest we’ve got to pure evil; even the nuke bomb, SDI, the arms race, are based essentially on greed-greed for money, greed for power.”-Edward Abbey

Ninety-seven: My Journey In Environmentalism and It’s Failure

In the late 80’s, I was a young aspiring business guy trying to establish myself professionally. I was clueless about environmental matters, although I’d always been drawn to nature. I was a full participant in the Reagan world of profits and wealth building.

Then one day while buying a bicycle, I noticed a copy of Outside Magazine near the counter of the bike shop. The cover was adorned with a pretty girl sitting outside a tent, camping in some fantastic looking locale. It struck me as the perfect scene, and I’d always thought camping would be fun. I bought the magazine. Pretty girls on covers work.

When I got home, I took the mag out to the patio with a cold Lowenbrau (they were in back then) and started flipping through the pages. One article caught my eye. It was about Edward Abbey, this curmudgeonly defender of wilderness. The article talked about environmental degradation and Abbey’s belief that capitalism was a key culprit. Overdevelopment, misuse of resources, etc. Our house sat adjacent to a golf course, and as I peered out over the fairway, I started to question things. I thought, “Am I one of the bad guys? What am I doing?”

It wasn’t hard to push me to new ideas, because I’d always been curious and was starting to see the flaws in the story I was told about the American dream. I was fertile ground for life changing ideas.

There was no Amazon in those days, so I had to go to the local library (what a wonderful idea…a library!) in order to find some books by this Abbey fellow, and I did. One was a collection of essays, The Journey Home, and the second was his well known novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang. I read both in days during a practically non-stop reading binge that changed the trajectory of my life.

I read all of Abbey’s books, and in doing so, was introduced to other important writers and a new group of friends on a list-serve devoted to Abbey. I discovered Gary Snyder and Arne Naess. Robinson Jeffers. Richard White, Joel Kovel. And by reading their works, I discovered a bunch of new-and some really ancient- ideas. Bioregionalism, green economics and the return to the commons. I learned that the core problem with our environmental crisis was growth capitalism, a system where economic growth trumped all, a system that existed outside of any concept of biological or geophysical limits.

I dove headfirst into green economics, trying to find a way to make capitalism more sustainable. I was eager and thirsty for more knowledge. I fell in love with Northern California and its bioregion. It’s flora, fauna and culture, especially its poets. In a very short amount of time, I went from a typical Brooks Brothers corporate toadie to a desert loving anarchist.

My wife wasn’t so thrilled. She was mostly concerned with income for our family, and understandably so.

But it was an exciting time for me. In the early 90’s, there was accelerated interest in organic foods. More people were getting outside. There was a boom in cycling, hiking and backpacking, and I felt like more and more people were discovering the wonder of the natural world. We’d moved close to the Smoky Mountains, and I was hiking and backpacking on a regular basis. I became a bike commuter, diligently placing my belongings in my panniers and heading off to work each day. My entire outlook on life had changed, and the possibilities seemed promising.

One particular friend on the west coast taught me how to really think. He taught me how to question and look behind what I call the “hype.” For example, you say electric cars are a solution. But how are the batteries made? What materials must be mined in order them to work? Where are they mined? How? He taught me that there’s no “free lunch” when it comes to how our economic system operates within the natural world.

But all that thinking can lead you to some dark places. Thirty years later, my optimism has waned. I still believe those things, but I’ve lost hope for our planet and in the left’s ability to accomplish things. Our planet is basically a simmering crock pot and there are no acceptable solutions. Corporate America has of course seized the day and turned planetary gloom into an opportunity for profit. California’s governor and the President have bought into the false notion that everyone needs an electric car. That’s what will save us. There’s never any talk about better mass transit. Reduced use and consumption. Constructing local economies that exist within biological limits. But there’s plenty of talk about technology taking us to other planets we can fuck up. It’s an Orwellian nightmare where technology and the profit motive, not good thinking, will save us.

In order for the planet to thrive, its human inhabitants must change behaviors, but there’s no will to do so. Not on a large enough scale. Those in poverty or close to it are mostly concerned with keeping the lights turned on and being able to afford food and healthcare. Reading books on science and topics like bioregionalism are the last things on their mind. I get it. I know these things, because I’ve had a high income and enough leisure time to educate myself. A single, exhausted mother likely does not.

Unfortunately, an poorly educated population is easily duped, and are ripe ground for people peddling false promises, including technology.

Abbey wrote about the dangers of the misuse of science in his essay, “Science With a Human Face,” where he states

“…science in our time is the whore of industry and war and that scientific technology has become the instrument of a potential planetary slavery, the most powerful weapon ever placed in the hands of despots…it may even be the case that the situation has so far deteriorated that the only appropriate question now is whether or not technology will succeed in totally enslaving mankind before it succeeds in its corollary aim of destroying life.”

The reason we can’t solve the problem of climate change and general environmental degradation is there’s no will. The free market rules all and anything that threatens profits and growth is an anathema. A non-starter with our bought and paid for whores in Congress.

What’s left doing? They’re marching right along with the electric car idea, despite the fact most of them can’t come close to affording one. Today, the left is consumed with their causes du jour like pronouns and have lost their traditional power block of blue collar workers. That’s how in FDR’s time, Democrats won elections by wide margins. Today, when they do win, the margins are razor thin, and the reason is messaging.

Major environmental organizations (The Nature Conservancy is a notable exception) have failed. At some point, they became feckless marketing organizations more interested in driving membership sales than in fighting for legislation with teeth. They’re all on the electric car bandwagon because Bill McKibben said so. Then again, maybe McKibben is right. Perhaps he realizes that Americans are not going to change lifestyles and will only accept a solution that perpetuates the economic status quo. After all, we’re not a nation of thinkers. We’re a nation of buyers and travelers and zipping around in an Amazon world.

Meanwhile, our planet, the only one we’ll ever have, is dying. I’ll die before the final ugly dystopian scenario plays out, but my children and grandchildren will likely be here. A lot of folks will turn to god, whatever that is, and say it’s the end times. Perhaps it will be the end times, and on that point, I’ll leave you with the poet Jim Harrison’s final poem. He dropped dead while writing it.

A good death.

In unease the earth turned itself inside
out when its gravity fled. All of us
fell off the earth. I was in Africa
at the time and fell near an elephant.
I made my way to her and stretched
out on her stomach for protection
from the polar cold of the high atmosphere.
I caught a couple of passing
tomatoes to eat and a bottle of whiskey.
The earth used to be God’s body
but he took too many wounds and abandoned it.
He left us with the husk we made
of his body like a wasp’s nest.
Man shits his pants and trashed God’s body


I go out less these days. The traffic, noise and crass behavior of humans is too much. Instead, I spend more time in my garden, watching the birds, talking to my dog and cat. They’re great listeners.

I often contemplate the folly of humans. Our profound ignorance. But I also consider the simple genius of the Sioux, moving as environmental and seasonal conditions changed. Moving south in the winters, north in the summers. A better lifeway.

And what do we do? We build enormous cities and golf courses in deserts and destroy the delicate balance of ecosystems systems. It’s because we have a ravenous appetite for development and profits. Money lust.

Black Elk aptly described our money lust when he first encountered white men, Wasichu, on the Madison Fork during the gold rush. He described gold as “yellow metal that they worship and that makes them crazy.”

Truer words were never spoken.


Life offers us simple pleasures like clean, cotton sheets. They’re so wonderful when you climb into your bed after a long day. Even better is when you were a kid and your mother fluffed the sheets over you like a tent canopy before your bedtime story.


If I had to choose between saving the life of a rattlesnake or the governor of Florida, I’d choose the snake. Both are merciless, but the rattler at least serves a purpose central to life. The snake doesn’t go out of its way to commit random acts of violence or to hurt people. It eats its share, procreates and attempts to avoid confrontation. It gives reasonable warning. The governor, on the other hand, goes out of his way to hurt people. He’s boastful. Proud of his acts. I’d prefer the snake as a neighbor.


I hear the hummingbird before I see it. The slight buzzing sound of its wings alerts me.

Looking upward, I see it at the feeder taking a sip.

But its time is brief as a second bird zooms in to chase it away.

The birds continue their tussle for supremacy, apparently unaware there are enough spaces for both to share.

Oblivious to cooperation, I realize they’re like humans, fighting needlessly for territory and resources when there’s obviously enough for all.

It makes me sad to reconsider Hobbes.