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I met the poet Marie Howe once. Sitting in LaGuardia Airport with Kate, she and her beautiful daughter streamed right on by when Kate grabbed her to say hello. You know how it is when the person you're traveling with meets an old acquaintance and starts catching up. You say hello and then politely stand off to the side or sit in the margins as they catch up and talk about old times.

Poet Marie HoweBut this experience was delightfully different. She was instantly familiar, intimate without being awkward. She engaged me. She was funny, her frankness refreshing in its honesty without being harsh or offensive. She was real.

So, hearing her talk about taking walks with her daughter in her NYC neighborhood to experience reality rather than watching television as an act of simplicity mirrored the woman I spoke with in the airport. But, when Kate asks her about who’s she reading or looking to for wisdom, I expected to hear the names of esoteric poets or sophisticated literary writers — not Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Long Winter. I took comfort in just hearing her talk about that.

An anecdote: I made an editorial decision to include Marie Howe’s closing statements about the value of public radio. I had a similar deliberation about Jessica Sundheim’s good words for our Repossessing Virtue series. Here’s why. We ask people who they are turning to for wisdom and comfort during these economic times; one of those sources is public radio and, hopefully, On Being. If they were gratuitous, I would have omitted them; if I would have deleted their statements, I would have cheated them of telling their story for the sake of being humble. I’ll let you decide, and please let me know if you think I made the right or wrong decision.

(photo: ©Brad Fowler)

Share Your Reflection



I agree, the crisis is a great opportunity to learn the true treasure in life through the simplicity.

Yes, 'The Little House' series are a wonderful look back in how people lived in a more self sufficient era.

We can see we have created a time bomb. Even the highest level brainiac economists can't fix what ails us. Our whole system is based on an unsustainable model that will eventually collapse no matter how much money that is printed up by the Fed. (...they don't even need to print money nowadays, all that needs to be done to create billions is to magnetize a silicon chip!)

Now maybe if our energy supply was stable and affordable and Peak Oil was not in our future and global warming was not an issue, things would be different and we could keep on consuming and expanding ad infinitum as our world overpopulates itself.

But...IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE TO DO A 180...Without compulsive spending and conspicuous consumption funded by unaffordable debt, we would fail as a country.

You ever hear the saying...'I got the tiger by the tail and can't let go?' That is how it has developed in the US of A.

Lets say everyone becomes voluntary simplicity and frugal squirrel devotees. We recycle, reuse, repair and just say no to buying more crap. If we stop buying all the stuff that America imports from China - who keeps the billion plus people in China from starving, so they do not go back to old ways of trying to take over the world?

And on a more local level, if the consumer stops consuming even US goods, the US companies go bust, everyone loses their jobs and his or her retirement funds will collapse.

What about growing a a garden...nothing wrong with that? Lets say everyone starts growing 'victory gardens' in the backyard as food has become unaffordable. So some of the few farmers left in the US go bust cause their food just rots on the shelves unsold. Now there is less food being produced and at even a higher cost to those that can afford it the least.

What about more taxes?

Tax the little guy so DC can pay for their compulsive spending disease. More taxes = less for us to compulsively spend 'trying' to buy happiness = lower earnings for the greedy corporations = raise hell with the DOW = less cap gains tax income for the gov to squander = everyone's retirement funds sink lower and lower = even less compulsive spending since everyone is poorer.

Back in the day, (prairie and turn of the century) homesteaders were more of a self sufficient nature. Some raised cows and produced milk. If they had excess milk they made butter and cheese out of it. They may have traded the excess with their neighbors that had a bumper crop of potatoes and carrots. And others specialized in poultry and eggs and traded or sold their output with the farmer's making honey or maple syrup...and some did it all.

Sure, few were people were 100% self sufficient. They always looked to the railroad to bring in seed or other things. But they possessed a certain ability to survive that is lost within the society nowadays....a society that is obsessed with downloading the perfect ring-tone or fondling their electronic communication device in the sweaty little palms as they dream about what to buy next in the hopes of satisfying inner fulfillment with outer possessions.

Most of us have lost that skill of self sufficiency and we have shifted gears to be dependent on gov and a few other such as farmers or oil producers or China to take care of the whole pop of the US. The problem is, it is very hard to go back without causing a lot of pain. (Actually a lot of deaths)

Hell, the impotent people of modern day and age can't even make pancakes or peanut butter sandwiches and have to buy them ready made in the store...it's really scary.

My daughter and I started reading the Little House books in the last few months. Much of what Maria Howe spoke of resonated with me. When the financial crisis became the dominant narrative, back in September, we in Houston had just come through Hurricane Ike. We were forced to live simply, rely on ourselves and our neighbors, and get outside of our houses during the day and go to sleep when it became too dark. We were also confronted with the reality of how much is done for us, like maintaining traffic lights and clear roads and electricity and water, and how much it costs. It was a difficult two weeks, but part of me misses that time. It forced us to slow down and think about how much we have. I feel as if it prepared us for what may be down the road. I came away with the understanding that I have a responsibility, to my family and my community, to be prepared to take care of myself and others, to make myself known to the people in my community, and to stop depending on some powerful entity to come and fix things right away for me.

My daughter, who is five, is intrigued by Laura Ingalls Wilder's stories of hard journeys, dark nights, and spending every moment of every day engaged in survival. She's connected her time after the hurricane to Laura's stories-they are both so different from the life she has known. I turned to these book because I want my daughter to have a sense of how much our modern existence gives to us, and how much it robs from us, at this time when this existence seems imperiled. I want us to look forward with a sense of gratitude and opportunity.

I love Repossessing Virtue. Please keep these conversations coming.

Thank you for contributing your story about Laura Ingalls Wilder and relating it to your hurricane experience. Being a North Dakotan, I'm hearing from a lot of friends about how the community is banding together while fighting the floods in Fargo and Bismarck. Even though they're worried, I can sense the energy that's being generated as people help one another.

As for the RV series, we've got a new string of interviews with listeners coming down the pike. And, in the hopper, Kate has interviewed Phyllis Tickle and will be speaking with Serene Jones, head of Union Theological Seminary in NYC, today. Thank you for your kind words about the series; it's edifying to hear.

Let me add that I'm fine with the decision to keep Howe's plug for public radio in the interview. I've had the same thoughts. I became a sustaining member of my local station this year-we relied on them in the aftermath of Ike, and I'd like them to survive the current crisis. As for SoF, well, I've been a listener and fan and supporter since 2005, and in the past months, I have drawn heavily on the wisdom and hopefulness of so many voices that I first encountered on this show. In addition to the ones you've come back to in Repossessing Virtue, I've thought alot about what people like Nathan Duggan, Barbara Kingsolver, Kate Braestrup, and of course, Reinhold Niebuhr, had to say about how we arrived here and what we should do now.

why did my comments get lost?

Neither lost nor forgotten, but simply unattended while we've been producing the program and Web site for this week's program on Alzheimer'. I apologize for my tardiness, but I just surfaced to breathe now. I moderate all the comments posted on SOF Observed and have to approve them before they are posted for public viewing.

Ms. Howe might like to read "Little Camper on the Prairie" in the August 2009 issue of GUIDEPOSTS MAGAZINE.

Marie Howe is a fine poet. If you have the time, listen to her comments on Speaking of Faith about living a simpler life. I found this really interesting.

Living small, caring for others, possessing a full heart, seeing through the noise, reading old books and writing poetry, is good.

Oh Marie,
I've listened to your conversation with Krista 2 times and now this.
I wish I could have you fly out, with your daughter to this Andalusian hilltop and plant with me all the baby Vegetables into earth this evening...Potatoes are already in..Your poems and words reach my heartbeat as mine own! We'll harvest almonds and olives and not hunger in the richness of this earth,sunsets, silence and the ocean!