About promiserani

writer, mindfulness and music instructor, artist, environmental activist

Transition Café – Conversation

Interrupting the usual format of these intros to say…the conversations over the past few sessions have been fantastic. Sometimes they are just mellow checkins, other times they are highly engaged with the subject, moving and flowing so quickly that I’m hard-pressed to keep with the notes. There are, of course, occasional frustrations, but by and large we have created a conversational culture which has endured for nearly seven years, now. Thanks for being part of it! With that in mind, we now return you to your regularly-scheduled Transition Café prompt…

Walking into a group of feeding Chickadees, Titmice and Bushtits is an experience. Their conversation is often interesting, and the first two can be pretty interactive with Humans, if they see that you are responding appropriately to them. That said, when they are feeding in a forest, they are often up high enough that they don’t get too disrupted when a Human walks through, so they stay more-or-less in Baseline behavior, allowing the Human observer/participant to soak up that mood. Much of their conversation and mood transmits through tone of voice and body language, same as Humans. As with Humans, the words spoken are much less important than voice tone and body language, which move into our nervous systems, allowing us to participate in their conversation. Imagine the feeling of dozens of little Birds excitedly talking about food, an excitement which cannot be contained by one, but has to be embodied by a flock, amplifying and spreading.

Do you get that on social media? Texting? Much has been made about the substitution of virtual non-community for in-person community and conversation. What do you think about this? Online activities, including social media, are certainly addictive, some think destructively so. This is, perhaps, useful for folks using them for surveillance of their users, gathering info on us to sell to high-bidding buyers. I’m sure your favorite social media site would never engage in such a thing, but what about the others? But do data-scooping surveillance websites make for good community or conversation?

A hidden agenda of the Transition Cafés at their outset, not so hidden now, was to get folks interacting with each other, face-to-face, without a digital intermediary. Since then, we have had a steady group of regulars, semi-regulars, visitors, kibitzers, which seems to suggest that this has been filling a need. We have covered a very wide range of topics, intentionally starting our conversations with topics which are conversation-enders, in polite company…

I made a comment, the other night, that when I’m at a party, I usually head to away from polite company, either to the kids’ table, or to the kitchen to do dishes. The first is easily explained, as conversations at the kids’ table tend to be bright, fun, and deeply insightful. They could also lead to a game of Chaos Tag, which is simply the greatest tag game ever conceived by a Human mind.

The kitchen/dishes option is perhaps a little harder, but could be summed up by saying that the conversation and camaraderie among the folks who choose to roll up their sleeves and do dishes so other folks don’t have to, or instead of engaging in the social posturing of the main party has a gravity pull all its own. This is especially true if you get to work with folks who have worked in a lot of kitchens, and a flow develops wherein everyone loses themselves in the work and the conversation becomes nonverbal (after an initial working out of who does what, and how).

One sees this among musicians who have played together for decades, as well, an effortless flow between Humans, instruments, music, audience…bringing us back to a flock of feeding Chickadees, Titmice, and Bushtits. Their enthusiasm overflows the boundaries of individuals, family, species, flock. Do even the Trees get in on the conversation? New/old knowledge suggests…yes.

Have you experienced truly memorable conversations? Verbal? Nonverbal? Confined to your species? Your genus? Family? Kingdom? When you and that Deer or Coyote make eye contact and something passes between you, what you are not sure, but something, certainly. Or when you “just know” that the Plant in the other room needs water?

Or, more mundane, walking with a friend, a Friend, lover, partner? How is that different with someone you’ve just met versus someone you’ve known for awhile? Decades? One of my oldest Human friends has been in my life for ~44 years, which seems like a long time, until I think of folks who have been married for 60, 70, 80 years. What must those conversations be like? Or between Trees and/or Fungi who have known each other for centuries? Millenia?

Join us for a conversation about

Conversation, this Friday, 21 June, at Red Rock. Sometimes we go to dinner afterwards, maybe we will this week, too.

The Guidelines are below. Read ’em, learn ’em, bring a copy if you think yer gonna forget ’em!

Venue Information is below the Guidelines, and check out the Random and Useful Other Stuff below the notes section. Feel free to forward this widely!

Transition Café Guidelines
-Whoever shows up are the right people
-Whenever it starts is the right time
-Speak when you are moved to speak
-The conversation gets to go where it wants to go
-Pauses in conversation are good, they allow information to sink in, thoughts to happen, and quieter people to have a chance to speak
-Silent listening is fine, you do not need to speak if you do not wish to
-The “Law of Mobility”: if you feel like you are neither learning nor contributing, you may use your mobility to find a place in which you are doing so
-Bring friends! If we overpopulate the venue, we’ll figure something else out
-If you are able, please buy stuff from the venues. We’re trying to support local businesses!
Anyone can host a Café! All you need is an hour or two, an independent café you like, this list of guidelines, and a starting subject. Bring something to read while you wait for folks to show up (see the first guideline).

Please note venue changes:

This week, we will be meeting on Friday, 21 June, from ~6:15-7:45pm, at Red Rock Coffee, in Mountain View.

Thanks to everyone who has been supporting the venues by buying stuff while we’re there!

See you at the Café,



Notes: Travel

What can we do, in terms of giving feedback?

Intentionality around travel – more necessary?
Train from SF to Chicago with little change of trains, or buses?
Conscience-easing methods of travel?
Socio-economic class and electric vehicles?
What would it take to pass laws about climate change?
“I bought a Prius, so I’ve done my bit”
Travel methods
-Time vs. Cost
Train is slower, more conversation, getting to know co-travelers
Carbon Credits
Peace Pilgrim – circumambulating the Earth?
Energy use: plane vs. train vs. automobile vs. bus?
Does the number of seats filled matter?

What do you do when you encounter the Wall of Grief? The Wall of Guilt?
Ethical Action-what does that look like?
If petroleum-based travel were ending in one year, how would you use that year?
Doom Tourism: this ecosystem/species/region is doomed, but I want to see it, so I will do so, knowing that in doing so, I hasten its demise. Which ecosystem/species/region would you, personally, do this to?
-This is a thing, by the way…
Travel, Staying Home (Staycation), Local Travel, Inner Travel

Please join us on tpa_cafe, or tpa_chat, you can join at Transition Palo Alto

Random and Useful Other Stuff:
Toby Hemenway’s (author of Gaia’s Garden and The Permaculture City) website: Articles – Toby Hemenway
Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land, by Gary Paul Nabhan
Thinking in Systems, a primer, by Donella H. Meadows
Masterminds and Wingmen, Rosalind Wiseman
Queen Bees and Wannabees, Rosalind Wiseman

Why Writers Fight Style Guides Over Animal Pronouns
I’ll post other links and readings in this space, as they occur to me.


Palo Alto Ordinance

drink colorful color tube

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The City of Palo Alto passed Phase I of the Foodware Waste Reduction Ordinance – part of the Zero Waste plan for the city – on Monday, June 10th unanimously. The plan is only Phase I – and starting in January 2020, bans plastic straws, utensils, stirrers, drink plugs, produce bags, and other small accessories in favor of reusable or compostable alternatives, and receipts given only on request. Plastic retail bags have already been banned in Palo Alto.

Disposable Foodware Reduction Plan 4.22.19 (1)

Here are articles that describe the ban: https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2019/06/11/with-bans-on-straws-produce-bags-city-seeks-to-curb-plastic-waste


The full Zero Waste plan can be read here: https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/66620

Transition Palo Alto supported the adoption of this ban and switch to reusables. If you’d like to join efforts to do more, email rani pj20*cornell.edu (replace * with @).

Green New Deal Town Halls

We have now had two Green New Deal Town Halls – May 7 and June 13th at the Rinconada Library.

Details of the May 7 Town Hall

Details of the June 13 Town Hall

Green New Deal Resolution has been proposed in Congress by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey. The stated goal is to address climate change by creating millions of new green jobs that will decarbonize our economy. While the (old) New Deal allowed 40% of food to be grown in victory gardens, built public parks, standardized the school lunch program, created a nationwide electricity grid, and a 2nd bill of rights, the new one will be what we make it.

Photos from the first town hall: https://www.probonophoto.org/2019/May07SunriseGND/i-W3R5DnS/A by Jack Owicki, Pro Bono Photo.


Video from the event by Eric Simon: https://vimeo.com/335102103

Slides from the event here.

Co-sponsored by Transition Palo Alto

Share Faire photos

We had a sunny but cool Share Faire in Mitchell Park, with several demonstrators, plenty of great goods, and lots of help from our volunteers.

Bart sat with each person and discussed computer repair in detail, with examples to see and touch. Hamsa had little hands cutting and sewing bright fabric banners from Fabmo sample books. Jennifer’s handy handout on kombucha-making was accompanied by a taste of her strawberry-flavored brew. Dave pulled hydroponic plants out of buckets like a magician, the intricate root structure below visible clearly. Diane gave out easy instructions and tasting of her always-delicious quick pickles (spicy and sweet!). Victoria patiently gathered an Elder Circle to discuss the climate and all we hold in our hearts. William fostered conversation on what weeds really are – and aren’t. Peter demonstrated the making of nocino – and a quiz on the varieties and qualities of various crops.

Fabric galore, and lots of gadgets and trinkets, books, toys, and household goods were sifted and taken home. We were glad to welcome old and new faces.

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Transition Café – Travel

Some of the folks who cross the land here are regulars, like Chestnut-Backed Chickadees, Oak Titmice, Towhees, Juncos, various Reptiles, etc. Some are seasonals, like Golden-Crowned Sparrows, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, and others. Every year, I look forward to the Golden-Crowneds returning, with their long-whistled calls. Those on the land here will often forage right around my feet if I’m sitting out on the land. Not so in other areas I encounter them. They often ride in on the first Fall winds, and are around until mid-Spring, when they head to other lands to raise their families.

I also look forward to visits from Human relatives. Family in the North Bay come by from time to time, and we visit them. Corvallis is a home away from home, as has Mendocino been, and I regularly go tracking on the coast and in the hills around here.

It is likely that this will all change, within the next decade, if we take climate change and the impact of fossil fuels seriously. Can renewable energy help with this? For the moment, only if you can afford it, but then, the same could be said of non-renewables. Buying renewable energy from Arcadia has turned out to be much less expensive than non-renewable, but we also live pretty lightly in that regard, and go low-tech whenever feasible. Of course that word, “feasible”, means different things to different folks.

The promise of the Petroleum Age was that we were to be connected, to everywhere and everything, so we distributed accordingly, falling in love with people, peoples, and places all over the planet, scattering our families to the winds. Even somewhere that is a mere hour away by car is much further by bike, and a serious time commitment by foot. Electric vehicles, of course, are the proposed replacement technology, but how many of us can afford those? About as many as could afford Horses in the days before the Horseless Carriage, I’m guessing, but that’s okay, right? After all, the wealthy are the only ones who would really need to travel or have the time to, as everyone else will be too busy cooking for, cleaning up after, and making things for them, yes? Especially if their wages are kept low enough. Whew, solved that problem, and in only one paragraph! But seriously…

Will we go back to family and friends living close to each other? How close? Biking distance? Walking distance? Probably depends on how close we want to be, how often we want to see each other. What of those of who have friends or family who are incarcerated? Those who commute over huge distances, each weekend, to spend time with loved ones who cannot come to them? Can you imagine that life? How many of us who live that life can afford an electric vehicle? I’m guessing not so many.

Humans, of course, are not the only travelers. Our stuff travels all over the world, too, courtesy of Big Industry. What will we eat, when that option is affordable only to those who can afford it? Whatever is in easy biking or walking distance, I’m guessing. Would it make sense to start establishing food and medicine gardens now, before it’s an emergency? Not just the occasional backyard garden or community garden, but everyone growing stuff, and skilling themselves up on the relationships between our leafy or mycelial neighbors and ourselves.

Of course, we’ll probably have to revise that relationship, stop spraying poisons on those wild edibles and medicinals, stop paying folks to blow the life-giving leaf mulch off our moonscapes, and stop calling the Homeowners’ Association or the police on our neighbors who refuse to, or who want to have a vegetable garden with (gasp!) a compost pile instead of (gasp!!) a lawn. Who knows, that volunteer plant in your neighbor’s yard may be exactly the medicinal which could help you with that antibiotic-resistant superbug rampaging through your insides.

The question of Travel comes up a great deal in Transition Town circles, especially when we’re looking at national or international gatherings for those of who only know each other as voices on the phone or faces on a video call.

Travel may get much easier for the non-Humans, though, not having to worry about getting hit by vehicles transporting Humans somewhere or another, and rendering the air- and waterways unfit for traversing, much less living in. What if we had learned to be more respectful, sooner? What if we learned it right now?

I’m definitely not saying we should not be exploring “renewable” energy, I think that is an important step towards what comes next. But I believe it is a step, and that the next step should be on our minds, so we don’t find ourselves in this place again, in another century. I have read that folks were predicting the end of the Petroleum Age before it even really got going, and they were right, for the reasons they cited, can we learn from that and make reasonable plans for what comes next, and after that? There are some very very smart people on this, what would it be like to listen to them and work towards implementing their ideas?

These are just my opinions, my questions. Although the Transition Town movement has Energy Descent as one of its goals, many join us who are excited about renewables, electrics, high-tech solutions. That is fine, and I, personally, think resilience comes from having the most diverse toolbox and set of options we can have.

Meanwhile, lifestyle changes will be happening, whether we like it or not. What will change in your life, in the short term? In the long term? How does this bear on our lives in the Transition Era? Come on down to Red Rock, and let’s talk about

Notes: Fiction
Personal Narrative

Changing vs. keeping your personal narrative?
How does your narrative change, over time?
Does your narrative change, over time?
Is there a relationship between a changing narrative and a changing life?
Does blame figure in your narrative?

Death stories
Family stories/secrets
Finding your story
State-controlled narrative
Fake News vs. Fiction

What story do you tell yourself about the news, after reading it?
Are the ways we change our story a sign of healing?
Family narratives
Where do you get your news?


Transition Café – Fiction

I’ve been reading Richard Adams’ Watership Down out loud with a housemate. Each time I have read it in recent years, I have been reminded of how much impact this book has had on my life. It is the story of a group of English Rabbits who flee their home warren, following the visions of their Dreamer, Fiver. So many stories could be told about this book, I don’t know where to begin, but…

In the course of seeking Watership Down, they have many adventures throughout the English countryside, through meadow field, hedgerow, forest, creek, river, hills, and encounter different communities of Rabbits, whose cultures are extremely different from theirs, and from each other. When they go to form their own community, they borrow the bits they like from the other cultures, and seek to leave behind the parts they found dangerous or abhorrent.

There are also multiple stories-within-the-story, told mostly by their Storyteller, Dandelion, about their hero, El-ahrairah, the Prince of a Thousand Enemies. There are also amazing characters of a leader who acts more as a first-among-equals, a King’s Hand, an innovator, and others.

Part of the relevance of this story, to me, is that it is easily relatable to by Humans, so much so that it seems to be an allegory, although Adams said it’s just a bound edition of stories he made up to tell his daughters on long car rides. For myself, it has impacted my life in so many ways, from the study of English hedgerow ecosystems to a fascination with community and seeking to create it wherever I find myself, and the search for the ideal place and community.

Fiction can do this for us, I believe, in ways that even some of the best non-fiction may not be able to. Fiction, at its best, can allow us to imagine worlds we have not seen, speak to us in a language that may be easier for us to hear than our day-to-day, and inspire us to things we might not otherwise have thought of. At its worst…I may not even have seen its worst, yet, as our President spins out fiction after fiction, hour after hour.

And maybe that’s it, fiction to counter the ravages of Fake News.

Transition Towns have often a focus on re-storying, creating new stories to replace the old ones our culture has been telling itself. Perpetual growth culture re-storyed to regenerative growth culture, massive transnational empire-building re-storyed to small, local cultures who maintain active, healthy trade and exchange cultures with our neighbors.

What other roles could fiction have in the Transition Era? What roles has it played in your own life? Are there any books or stories which have particularly inspired your life?


Transition Café – Inspiration

It’s that time of year again, and the yard is full of teenagers. The house, too, it turns out, as youngsters keep finding their way in, and we keep gently ushering them out. Chestnut-Backed Chickadee, Bewick’s Wren, and Oak Titmouse so far. Flocks of hungry teens chasing their parents around the land, squalling for food. Otherwise dignified parent Birds looking harried and spent, trying to keep those mouths and bellies full enough that they can get a moment’s rest.

Young Chickadees, though, are now learning to open seeds on their own. They are anvil-pounders, so they hold a seed with a foot, a perch with another foot, then pound the seed open with their beak, using the perch as an anvil, extracting the nutmeat from inside. Right now, though, this involves a lot of surprised falling into the dish feeders and inexpertly-held seeds going shooting off into space. There is an art, too, to choosing a seed which is going to be easily gripped during flight and subsequent pounding. Some of them are getting it, though, while some are taking some time. Adults will sort through the feeder, looking for seeds which will travel and pound well.

What causes the youngsters to finally make that leap from begging, to experimenting, to proficiency, to fluency? A Human parent asked me, recently, about how to get children excited about engaging with nature. I think that at least one answer is common to both: be interested in it, yourself. The young Birds will, eventually, be curious about this thing their parents are doing, processing food in whatever way their people do so. Young Humans often gravitate, consciously or not, towards things their parents are interested in, or passionate about. Not in an “I’m passionate about this, so you must be, too” sense, but more obliquely, or in parallel, “This is something I love doing. If you’re interested, too, you can also do it.”

More specifically to Humans, perhaps, meet your kids halfway, at least. They have things they are interested in and passionate about, too, and they’d love to teach you about them. Let them. Ask them questions in a way that is genuinely inquisitive, not critical. Let them teach you about their worlds, on their terms. Of course, there are times when you have to be the “adult”, and exercise veto power, within reason, but this is not one of them. Your kids, too, should have arenas in which they have veto power, within reason.

Of course, so much depends on your beliefs about children, of how adults are to relate to children, how you were treated as a child, what kind of world you’d like to live in, etc… How many relationships is this true in? How do you get inspired to learn new things? New skills? To form new relationships? How did you get inspired to connect with Nature, or have you had that inspiration? If not, what would inspire you to do so? Do we even need Nature anymore, now that we can watch recordings of it on our devices? How do we get kids excited about being in the world, off their devices, when we have a hard time extricating ourselves from said devices, ourselves?

How is this relevant to Transition Towns, and life in the Transition Era?

Notes: Hands
Great conversation, last time. We bounced around, a lot, talking about romantic relationships, herbal medicine, Green Flying, as well as Hands in Transition Towns.

Mugwort, other herbal medicines
Romances-how do you decide whether to respect your friends’ opinions?

Green flying-carbon offsets?
-Repair Café-How to clean a hard drive
-Fermenting dairy
-General fermentation
-Starting seedlings
-General Horticulture
-Bike repair




Transition Café – Hands

We did a big house project, a few weeks ago, painting the big bathroom. The ladies collaborated on the painting project, while I kept them fed, watered, tea-ed, music-ed…a general gopher. The bluegrass playing during the whole evening gave this air of a commune, which was lovely. The next day, another coat was painted by another housemate, with the final one put on that afternoon, by one of the painters from the night before. Cleanup was a shared job.

Transition Towns loosely divide our projects into Head, Heart and Hands emphases, with an overarching theme of building community and the strong foundation of Permaculture ethics and principles, the ethics being Care of the Earth, Care of the People, and Generate and Distribute a Surplus. We’ll probably talk about all of these, at some point, but I’m interested in Hands, in this writing.

Shared work has been a form of bonding and community building since forever, among Humans, but also in the Greater-Than-Human world. Our Transition Initiative has gone in and out of emphasizing Hands projects, versus Head and Heart. Most projects are a mix of emphases, like a bread-making skillshare, where we are using our hands to make bread, our heads and hands to learn the technique, and our hearts and heads in the conversation and bonding with each other, or a Transition Café, which has both head and heart aspects.

What sorts of Hands projects do you find bring folks together? Gardening? Cooking? Helping others? Building? Permablitzes? Protests? Marches? Blockadia? Other projects? Is there a duration that is ideal? Daylong? A couple of hours?

Who do you like to do these projects with? Friends? Family? Folks you’ve just met? Folks you may not see again?

Years ago, a group of Transitioners and other friends got together to help me move to this place. We have had our ups and downs, inside the house and outside of it. This current generation of housemates benefits from the work of generations of housemates before them, nearly four years worth. There have been times when I have had wondered if we would ever be in the place of doing a house project together, as a community, but here we are. Where will our Transition Town be, a few years hence? What will we do, to get it there?

Notes: What We’re Reading

Being Salmon, Being Human, Martin Lee Mueller

Nourishment, Fred Provenza

The World We Used to Live In, Vine deLoria
Lean Logic, David Fleming

The Great Pivot, Justine Burt
Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
Watership Down, Richard Adams


Fourth Friday/Films of Vision and Hope: Paris to Pittsburgh

Friday May 24, 7:30-9:30pm 
Fireside Room, Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, 505 E. Charleston, Palo Alto

An inspiring film about how cities around the country are moving forward with bold climate action despite the announced pull-out from the Paris Climate Accord. See the trailer…

See the trailer…

FREE, Donations appreciated. RSVP here.

Co-sponsored by Transition Palo Alto and Mothers Out Front: Mobilizing for a Livable Planet.