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Ocean Matters

Laura Parker Roerden’s work explores and promotes the development of social, emotional, and ethical development in young people towards creating socially-responsible adults, i.e. those who participate in democracy, positively contribute to their communities, and are stewards for the natural world.

Research shows that nurturing healthy relationships with peers, adults in their life and with the natural world can provide young people with the deep connection and sense of belonging necessary for later responsible action in the world.

“It’s quite simple,” Roerden explains. “Young people need to first feel safe and a sense of deep connection and belonging to the communities that we wish them to take responsible action within.”

“We can promote that sense of a healthy community in our classrooms, communities and families by nurturing pro-social skills such as responsible decision making, win-win conflict resolution, effective expression and regulation of feelings, cooperation and teamwork, and grit through challenge.” But that might not be enough.

“For many children,” Roerden adds, “who might not have always had a safe experience of being in community, time in nature can give the deep sense of belonging and connection necessary to healthy ethical development. This is why I love giving children those opportunities to explore who they are out of doors.”

“Often, there is something quite special that happens. And clearly,  if we want children to be environmental stewards, we need them to have a relationship with nature–a felt sense of being part of nature, rather than apart from it.”

Her most recent work through the nonprofit she founded in 2001 Ocean Matters, centers on the application of social, emotional and ethical learning to environmental education through service learning.

The Fireflies

by Laura Parker Roerden

Last night
the stars
made our
hayfield
into a bed.

Twinkling
and turning
from light
to dark,

and back
again
to
light

in the dark
tangle
of knotted
weeds

and swords
of grass,

sometimes in
synchrony,

but often
as chaos.

The perfect
flat disk
of a full moon

spilled

shadow

everywhere,

but
still
was

not enough

light
for
this
moment,

this

time.

The stars
took
pity and
in their
infinite
wisdom

soaked
the land
with seeking
pulses,

lights

reaching
out to find
others
with which
to join

—as bee
finds flower;

light singing
as land
no doubt
remembering

once
upon a time
of freedom,

but bearing
scars
too long
unacknowledged.

Something
beckoned me
closer

to listen
as I’ve

now
and again

have
noticed

truth
reveals itself

most
deeply
in the
most

disquieting
of ways,

as when
up

becomes
down.

Each
pull of discomfort

is a sundial
pointed
true north

telling
us

the time,
to heal,

is now long
past midnight.

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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the board of Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.

 

A Good Friday

by Laura Parker Roerden

I wrote a poem:
it isn’t much.

It’s small
like a bird,

but it has hands
that reluctantly

open, palms up
to receive

shadow from
starlight

where monsters
writhe and

transform
into angels

through ancient
story and song.

I put the poem
in a simple box
and buried it;

marked it
with a large
stone.

Time can
change
such a thing.

In frost
it heaved,

but still
settled
by summer

when longer
light

kissed it
greedily,

consumed
it, like food

for hope
until
it
was
no
longer
there,

but had become
a generous bed
for a seed

dropped
from the heavens,

watered by regret,

a stalk of evening
primrose,

like a bolt of light,

strong enough
to hold an oriole
or finch seeking

nourishment.

Don’t miss another post: including #FridayPoems and From the Shaker: Best Investments in Sustainability.

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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the board of Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.

 

A Lonely Walk

by Laura Parker Roerden

Image by Cornelia Gatz from Pixabay.

On a fine
companioned afternoon,
one never
has to notice

the stars shining
side by side
or a single blade of grass
hunched over others,

now safe
as if
the wind

had thrown its weight,
a thumb on a scale
tipped for mercy.

But in a stretch
when lonely
walks away with
the kitchen knife

bent on things

one can

only imagine

it takes a certain
courage to see
the fingers
of the trees

entwined with
cloud and sky;

the sun slipping
assuredly away

quietly, a final breath
held with all the colors

you’ve ever held,

even briefly,

in your soul,

tiny pearls knotted
on a string, worthy of
a wedding or even

a funeral.

If you dare to,
you might just,

—on a day like that—

remember how
much you held hope

in the eyes of others,
your hands

unclenching,

to an
open palm

and your heart
perched for
flight

like

a bird.

Don’t miss another post: including #FridayPoems and From the Shaker: Best Investments in Sustainability.

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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the board of Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.

 

 

The Open Door

by Laura Parker Roerden

There’s something

available to us
that sits beside hope,

like an open door.

Children know
about it.

You sometimes
see them walk towards it.

Often they carry it

and place it on our laps,
looking up at us with

eyes flung
wide open.

“Here,”
they seem

to offer.

“Take this.”

I’ve once or twice
grabbed for it;
but that never

has worked.

It has no interest
in your worth
or intention even.

It simply arrives
quiet as sunrise,
yet never as fleeting.

Like a window-less
sky it changes and
moves on unseen currents

with force,
grace and
ample forgivness

teaching us

that rain is no worse
than sunshine; and

simple stones
as valuable as jewels.

Don’t miss another post: including Friday Poems and From the Shaker: Best Investments in Sustainability.

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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the board of Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.

 

 

 

 

 

Health, Wholeness and Belonging

by Laura Parker Roerden

Some thoughts on health and wholeness from Wendell Berry (posted below) resonate right now, in a world where our division has become both a goal and a means.

What if as we isolate in response to COVID-19, we also find our way to wholeness: as individuals, as families, as communities, as a world? That sounds kinda like a riddle, right? Isolate to become whole? But it just feels like what this time is asking of us, or perhaps offering.

I see people generously posting their offers to help others; I see people turning inward toward their families with quality time. I see something broken, like a child finding a bird that has fallen from a nest, and others wanting to fix it. I think there is hope in that.

—————

“If we were lucky enough as children to be surrounded by grown-ups who loved us, then our sense of wholeness is not just the sense of completeness in ourselves but also is the sense of belonging to others and to our place; it is an unconscious awareness of community, of having in common. It may be that this double sense of singular integrity and of communal belonging is our personal standard of health for as long as we live. Anyhow, we seem to know instinctively that health is not divided.

Of course, growing up and growing older as fallen creatures in a fallen world can only instruct us painfully in division and disintegration. This is the stuff of consciousness and experience. But if our culture works in us as it should, then we do not age merely into disintegration and division, but that very experience begins our education, leading us into knowledge of wholeness and of holiness. I am describing here the story of Job, of Lazarus, of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, of Milton’s Samson, of King Lear. If our culture works in us as it should, our experience is balanced by education; we are led out of our lonely suffering and are made whole.” —Wendell Berry

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She has served on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) of the New England Aquarium and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.

A Peacock’s Day Out

by Laura Parker Roerdenfarmheadshot

(May 27, 2016) The phrase “and mayhem ensued” turns out to have real application when you have animals. Recently, in a fit of cleanliness, I asked our handyman Keith to help spring clean the barn. He tidied up in general, but because he’s no slouch, he decided to surprise me by washing the historic windows that line the south facing wall. Those window had not been cleaned in twenty years.

The effect was startlingly beautiful, like looking at the freshest spring pool and being surprised to see an azure sky animated with clouds. But as I stood admiring them, I heard the “Flluh flluh flluh” of a large winged bird taking flight behind me. It was one of the juvenile peacocks heading straight for the windows. The scene slowed in a visual time lapse, the geometric effect of the bird against the pane of the windows like that of an origami bird folding in a flash of iridescence. The peacock rocketed straight through the glass and banked right towards a tree in the back of the barn. His flock mates looked as stunned as I was. Shards of glass were strewn all over the paddock where our Leicester Longwools were happily grazing. The peacock was now perched fifty feet up on the very top of an oak tree.

Peacocks are able flyers, so trying to catch one is futile. It’s all awkward flirtation like a scene that plays out in a bar. I stood beneath the tree trying to make “Caw, caw, caw” sounds, while I tapped the side of the metal food scoop filled with his favorite food. He ignored me. I opened the door where his flock mates were, standing guard so the cows on the other side didn’t enter the peacock barn and no other peafowls became flight risks. I put down a line of food from the tree to the door. I went back to singing “Caw, caw, caw.” The peacock wouldn’t give me the dignity of looking down.

I  went back to the farmhouse, leaving a door to the barn open with a stash of grain and water inside. Dusk was approaching. I was fairly confident the bird would come back to roost once night fell. But I was wrong again. As darkness descended, I saw the bird had taken perch in the highest point on the property, the peak of the barn, as if he were some weathervane.

peacockonroof02

Again, I grabbed the metal scoop and hit it, singing “Caw, caw, caw.” Some people never learn.

As I was looking up at the barn roof, a police cruiser came by and stopped.

police-159894_1280“What are you looking at?” the officer asked from the car. ‘

“A peacock,” I answered, rolling my eyes. “Please don’t make me explain this,” I thought to myself.

“Is it supposed to be there?” he asked.

“Yes. It’s ours,” I explained. “He got out. He’s not supposed to be up there, though.”

“Do you want any help?” the policeman asked.

“What did you have in mind?” I said, taking the bait.

“Well, I’m a good shot,” he sneered. Clearly, he was joking, but I was not laughing.

“Thanks, anyway, officer.” It wasn’t exactly a Make Way for Ducklings encounter, but I had to admit I felt some satisfaction imagining my friend Laura Laverdiere later having the incident report brighten her night shift as dispatcher.

It was now dark and barely 40 degrees. The peacock had hunkered down for the night, fluffing its feathers against the wind. I went inside.

moon-973099_1280

All night long, I checked from the second floor bathroom window. Though it was a full moon and an eclipse, the cloud cover made it impossible to see but the faint outline of a shadow perched on the barn roof.  The peacock was still there.

At dawn, my husband texted me, “Still on the roof,” as he left for work. By 7:00 a.m. the peacock was gone, nowhere to be found. I walked the property, but didn’t see him. I left the door to the barn open again with some grain. But in fact, it looked like none of what I had left before had been disturbed. I was batting exactly zero.

“Well, maybe he’ll be like some interesting mascot that people all over the Valley will come to see: the peacock that perches on the gable ridge of the barn on the hill, it’s massive majestic tail cascading down the roof. It would be like the scene at the end of ‘Field of Dreams,’ with lines of cars snaking down the street,” I thought to myself as I officially gave up. Farming is all improvisation, no matter how much you plan. There’s always some ghost popping out of a cornfield wanting to play baseball.

Later in the day, I casually glanced out the window and saw the peacock roaming beside a chicken on our lawn. This was my chance. He was on the ground. But my only hope was to lure him inside and corner him. So I grabbed some wild bird seed from our mudroom and put a little on the porch in a line leading inside, leaving our front door wide open. “This will never work,” I thought.

peacock-1007734_1280

A couple of hours later, I checked our mudroom. The peacock and the hen had both come inside to eat the birdseed. I had him! I ran around the other side of the house to close the front door. He was caught in our mudroom (with the hen). Now things got serious. I needed a kid to help me.

Even at 9 months old, peacocks are large and have talons that could injure. Our mudroom is small and if he was scared and flying wildly, it could be dangerous. So I asked 11-year old Zach to help me. We gathered our tools: a blanket, two pairs of sunglasses, and two pairs of gloves. Zach would be backup.

We both put on the sunglasses and gloves. We looked like we were about to commit a crime. Zach trailed behind me with the blanket, like an overgrown Linus. The blanket was in case the peacock panicked. We would then catch him with the blanket, putting a layer of protection between us and him, and giving him the gift of blindness.

But the only one who panicked was the hen, who flew awkwardly around the mudroom, breaking a mason jar, while the peacock allowed me to calmly pick him up and clutch him to my chest. There were shards of broken glass to clean up. But that could wait. The peacock was back with his flock mates in time for dinner, with his own wild story of a boy, a blanket, a view of the valley, and a crazy lady with sunglasses banging a metal scoop and singing.

 

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A New Vision for Farms, Oceans and Youth

by Laura Parker Roerden

(October 3, 2019) Last week I had the privilege to present at the Wright Locke Farm Speaker Series in Winchester, MA as part of Climate Week.

After an emotional week of watching youth all over the world rise up to simply ask for a livable future, it was heartening to see so many adults filling seats to hear more about climate solutions. The setting could not have been more appropriate in a barn of the same vintage as ours at Jo-Erl Farm overlooking a pasture where Rhode Island Red chickens roamed, much like they had during the time my grandfather kept a poultry on our land about sixty miles south of this one. It was hard to not wonder if these two farm families had ever met.

I’ve long held one foot each in two camps: farms and oceans. I usually quip that “farms chose me, but I chose oceans.” Yet it has become increasingly clear that climate change is asking us to look more inter-sectionally at solutions. Might thinking holistically about necessary changes to farming and ocean conservation be a climate solution that is greater than the sum of its parts?


Farming and Its impact on the Ocean

Oceans have for decades been negatively impacted by conventional farming, where a heavy reliance on inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides find their way to the sea carried downstream by rivers, rain, and flooding and cause increases in algal blooms, dead zones, and red tides. This method of farming strips soil of its living matter, which creates a vicious cycle of needing to increase nutrient loading to simply continue production. As the soil becomes more denuded, this leaves much of our farmland less able to hold water, and more subject to flooding and desertification, which further contribute to sedimentation and runoff entering our oceans.

Additionally, the carbon footprint of conventional farming has many of us wondering how we can continue to feed a growing world and attack climate change at the same time? In addition to contributing up to a 1/3 of the current greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, part of the equation includes the 50-60% of the carbon that conventional farming activities like tillage (plowing) releases into the environment from soil.

The solution appears to be right under our feet: soil! Soil is a natural carbon sink, which means it takes carbon out of the atmosphere. Yet we have degraded soil’s ability to do so by a hundred years of farm practices that takes carbon out of the soil instead.

What if I told you there is a method of farming that requires little to no inputs and helps soil maintain its health, vitality, nutrients, ability to hold water, and capacity to take carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it into the soil? You might think I was dreaming. But fortunately, it’s true! Known as regenerative farming, this method of farming rebuilds our soils by little to no tillage, the planting of cover crops that fix nutrients into the soil, a reliance on poly-culture and diversity in the community, and the careful management of animal grazing through a method that mimics the bison on the prairie with high density herd management and constant movement and rotation in temporary paddocks.

Project Drawdown rates regenerative farming as number 11 on their list of top climate change solutions.

Furthermore, there is a business case to be made for regenerative agriculture: farmers can expect a pay off in increased yields and less labor. Project Drawdown estimates a pay off of $1.93 trillion by 2050 after an investment $57.22 billion. That’s a pretty enticing investment, without even considering about the impacts related to the ocean and its conservation.

To put this context of the other Project Drawdown climate solutions, regenerative agriculture holds more promise than nuclear or offshore wind turbines.

How Does This Relate to the Ocean?

If we look back at all of the impacts of conventional farming on the ocean: from increased sedimentation to fertilizer runoff to non-point pollution from decreased water retention, regenerative agriculture is positioned through its lack of chemical inputs and water retention to reduce every one of those negative impacts. I have yet to see anyone who has done the science to reconcile the full cross-benefits of regenerative agriculture on ocean conservation, but it stands to reason that these methods could help mitigate many of these chronic and acute impacts to ocean health currently caused by conventional farming.

Ocean conservation matters—but not just for the protein from the ocean that 2 billion people in the world rely on, but as a climate mitigator. The ocean absorbs much of the heat from greenhouse gases, as well as takes 20-30% of the excess carbon out of the atmosphere. However, it is the living biomass in the ocean that makes the ocean impactful as a carbon sink. If we lose this biomass because of overfishing, die-offs and dead zones, we have decreased our ocean’s capacity to perform this critical function.

Whales, for example, can take 190,000 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere a year: the equivalence of 80,000 cars a year being taken off the roads. Their conservation is not just a matter of their charisma, romance or tourism value, but rather that they perform an important service in mitigating climate.

As Aldo Leopold once said, “the first law of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts.” Ocean conservation, regenerative farming, flood mitigation, fresh water conservation and our other efforts to create climate resiliency should be part of an integrated strategy, one where all the parts are on the table together.

How to Get Others to Join

Yet, as the millions of marchers across the globe during climate week were asking us to notice, to date we have lacked the political will to act at the necessary scale. What will it take to get others to join with us?


Research shows the single best motivator and predictor of activism is not information, but the degree of connectedness one experiences in community. Furthermore, additional motivators include a sense of place, a sense of meaning, and sense of self within the larger context.

Which begs the question: what sort of experiences give us that sense of place and sense of meaning within the larger context?

Over the 25 years I have been working with youth in environmental education—on both farms and in the ocean—young people have been teaching me the answer.

Sometimes, it looks like this:

Ocean Matters teens removing invasive mangroves in Hawai’i.

Othertimes, it look like this:

Sometimes, it sounds like this:

But it always assuredly feels like this:

A spontaneous moment with Ocean Matters teens from Florida after finishing a coral restoration project.

We might not all come to the table, ready to eat; but just being invited can become the greatest healer of all. And once we are included, we can begin to experience the gifts of belonging, resiliency, and the expansion of our sense of tribe.

It’s the hands-on experiences within our community addressing real need that will make the difference to turn keying others to help with the urgency of climate change. We simply must engage everyone—no matter their political leaning— in understanding how our health and lives are tied to the living biosphere in ways each can appreciate and understand.

We do not need to start with climate change. In fact, perhaps it’s better if we don’t. Simply start with what there is to love about where you live and connect to how the intricately-laced systems sustain us.

Programs growing food on farms like the ones at Wright Locke and engagements with ocean conservation and our watershed like Ocean Matters are critical to this sense of connection. As my dear friend Liz Cunningham, author of Ocean Country, so aptly says, “hope is a verb.”

Climate change might just be asking us to understand our place, not just the place of whales and farms, in that larger whole. So as we reach out to ask others to join with us—our neighbors, our youth, our institutions— let’s remember to break down silos that keep us isolated and to create structures for new connections, including places for each of us to make meaning from the fact that we truly belong.

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Laura Parker Roerden

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She has served on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) of the New England Aquarium and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.

 

 

Lessons of the Wild

by Laura Parker Roerden

Click the image to view this previously published article, “Lessons of the Wild” in Schools with Spirit by Beacon Press.

Click the image to view this previously published article, “Lessons of the Wild” in Schools with Spirit by Beacon Press.

lessons_of_the_wild

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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

 

A Barred Owl

by Laura Parker Roerden

Several nights this week I have lain in bed
listening to the call and response of three barred owls
outlining each cardinal direction—save for the south—

which is oddly missing in the chorus, as if the baritones
had boarded a bus for Times Square for some dancing
and Christmas lights, while a deadly serious conversation

was happening between the sopranos, altos and tenors.
I do not know why they are calling with such urgency,
but something about it feels like a warning or lit with longing;

there is a sense that something of great value is slipping
away. Yet each evening, as the thick coat of darkness is applied
to the wide open sky, erasing shades of apricot and purple,

I too often rise in dream or prayer,

trying to unwind

the tangled mess

that is living
and seeking

safer shores.

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the board of Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.