Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Mom on Mother Earth: smaller bites

Apple earth. Photo: JD Hancock

Apple earth. Photo: JD Hancock

My mother was born on April 22, 1903, 67 years before Earth Day was born on the same day. She was a “senior citizen” by the time Earth Day was established. Mom lived through two World Wars, the Great Depression, and because she had her children very late in life, she raised my brother and me during the tumultuous ’60s.

My mother was a fiscal conservative and social progressive. I do not think she ever used the word “environmentalist” to describe herself, but conserving was in her DNA, partially because of the world she grew up in, partially because she was not an acquisitive person. She liked ideas and books, opera and art (and Elvis Presley!); she walked all her life–right up until her death at the age of 92–and loved spending time in the country or at the ocean.

In general, her approach to life was Zen-like: live in the moment and enjoy it; do your best at and pay attention to the details of any job you take on; and, take care of the ones you love.

Some of her daily habits seem particularly timely as we face all kinds of environmental challenges, including climate change. I think this is true because my mother hated waste and, if you think about it, much of the negative impact we humans have had on the environment has to do with our wastefulness, our excesses.

Apples: no plastic packaging or artificial ingredients required. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Apples: no plastic packaging or artificial ingredients required. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Here are four ways my mother limited waste in her life–four ways all of us can reduce our own wastefulness and help Mother Earth:

1. Buy only what you need when you go shopping. My mother would say she was going to the store to buy a pair of socks and that’s what she’d come home with–a pair of socks and nothing but a pair of socks. I promise you she could spend an afternoon in Macy’s (the world’s largest department store during most of her adult life in NYC) and return with, yup, just that pair of socks.

2. Closely related to #1: Don’t worry about what “other people” have. As I recall, my mother owned the same television set for something like 20+ years. She could get PBS and the evening news on it and she didn’t care about all the other channels and shows her neighbors talked about and watched. She only acquired what she truly needed or wanted.

3. Closely related to #1 and #2: Reuse things for as long as possible, and avoid buying things that have limited usefulness. A simple example: use an old tee shirt as a cleaning rag (which can be washed and reused repeatedly) rather than using paper towels.

4. Whenever possible, walk. When walking isn’t possible, take public transportation. I can remember only a very few times that I ever rode in a taxi with my mother. We walked or took the subway or the bus. Granted, it’s easier to do this in NYC than virtually any other place on earth, but I think all of us in rural areas could do better with car-pooling or using buses and trains for long-distance travel.

None of this is rocket science, but imagine if everyone in the United States and Canada reduced their consumption of paper towels by even 50% or their solo time in a private car by a third? My mother, who was a tax consultant by profession, would always say, “it all adds up.”

Happy Earth Day.

Holidays of grief and gratitude

Lambs play a symbolic role in both Easter and Passover. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Lambs play a role in both Easter and Passover. Photo: Ellen Rocco

It is a truism of being human: loss and grief focus, illuminate and amplify joy and gratitude. Sides of the same coin. Our gratefulness can grow as our experience with grief expands–it’s built into the arc of a life. Who escapes this earth without pain? For the rare person who does, the trade off is to miss some part of understanding the power of gratitude.

This is one of those years when the lunar calendar brings together the holidays of Easter and Passover. (Easter is the only major Christian holiday based on the lunar calendar; while all Jewish holidays are calculated on the lunar year.) Both celebrate the seemingly contradictory experiences of grief and gratitude.

Mark Twain. Isn't sharing joy a demonstration of gratitude?

A quote from Mark Twain. My question: isn’t sharing joy a demonstration of gratitude?

As an observer of Christian holidays and traditions, it has always seemed to me that Easter is the most profound of those holidays. A beloved deity is experienced here on earth, then lost, and ultimately restored, albeit under new conditions, forever. Rather than knowing the deity as a fellow man, the deity is now revealed and experienced as the son of G_d. Those who believe in the Christian story of Easter feel the pain of the crucifixion, but above all else a life-changing sense of gratitude for having Jesus Christ to worship and know spiritually.

On a more mundane or mortal level, this narrative path is not unlike the emotions we experience with the loss of a deeply loved family member or friend. We begin with pleasure in knowing and living with the person, we feel pain if they die, and then, one hopes, we come to a place of gratitude: for having had them in our lives, for having the lessons and memories we take from our time with them.

I do not mean to sound gratuitous here. Pain is pain; joy is joy. But gratitude binds and amplifies both emotions.

Seder plate. Not one but two slots for bitter herbs. Remember that pain. Photo: Jodi Bart

Seder plate. Not one but two slots for bitter herbs. Remember that pain. Photo: Jodi Bart

Passover, too, recognizes grief and celebrates gratitude. This is a holiday I know more intimately than Easter. Aside from the autumn celebration of the New Year and the solemnity of Yom Kippur, Passover is the most important holiday in the Jewish tradition I grew up in. Passover tells the story of the pain of slavery and homelessness finally ending with a new home and freedom. But, the symbolic elements of the seder table and service make a point of keeping the pain–salt water to represent tears, bitter herbs the taste of slavery–in close proximity to the gratitude for freedom.

From the grief and gratitude comes the heart of both Easter and Passover: hope. For the Christian, hope for salvation and eternal life in the G_d found, lost and found again. For the Jew, hope inspired by the possibilities of freedom and rebirth in a new land. These holidays are set in the right time of year: the season of hope, of new life.

Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, spring brings us out of our homes and back into life to smell the dirt and hear the birds and see the first tender green push through earth. The pain of our lives is still there, but there’s promise in the air and for that I am grateful.


A week of lion and lamb

Lion and Lamb, mosaic. Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, MA

Lion and Lamb, mosaic. Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, MA

For some reason, most people like things to be pretty lively, as opposed to dull. A roller coaster is always a better draw than a teashop. And this week has been a roller coaster.  So much so that I’m more tired than happy, despite all the excitement.

Just take the weather. We have seen all within this week the first set of thunderstorms, a day of 75 and sunny, followed by fresh snow on the laundry, and the river knocking at the front door. In some places the water is still rising. A little more excitement than strictly necessary.

And during this week I have experienced a flood of generosity from all of you who have given to NCPR during the spring fundraiser, and I have shipped off most of my own portable wealth to Albany and Washington on Tax Day.

Even the liturgical calendar is in synch this year. This is Holy Week for most Christians, when a pageant of triumph, fellowship, betrayal and death lead up to the promise of new life at Easter. It is also Passover, where Jews remember being spared from the plagues wrought upon Egypt, and their own deliverance from a life of slavery.

A week of huge ups and downs–which has been, as I said above, kind of exhausting. I’m looking forward to a little lamb time, after all this lion.

Sitting on a sunny step watching the lawn green up sounds pretty good. Poking around the yard looking for snowdrops sounds good. Just putting away the boots and gloves and parka sounds pretty good.

I’ll take that cup of tea now, and read a merely mildly exciting book over in a quiet corner. Maybe take a little walk later if I feel like it. Maybe take a little nap.

The third time the peepers sing

Is anything more associated with spring than pussy willow? Photo: Ellen Rocco

Is anything more associated with spring than pussy willow? Photo: Ellen Rocco

Spring. For real. I’ve written before about my old neighbor Milan Conklin who told me you had to hear the peepers three times before the weather would truly settle. I heard them this weekend at my farm. I doubt we’ll be hearing them again until after tomorrow’s cold snap. Then–if you go by Milan’s rule–we’ll have one more run of cold before winter is firmly and unequivocally behind us.

Walking around my farm neighborhood this weekend, I snapped a few quick shots of the world shifting into spring. I love the north country landscape at this time of year–before the trees start leafing out, before real green starts coming through in the meadows, before the peepers sing their third song.

Here’s what I love:

Spring field. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Spring field. Photo: Ellen Rocco

The smell. After months of snow and ice, the exposed earth begins to emit an aroma of life and death–the dirt smells alive but that includes the odor of decay, last year’s organic matter giving up its last bit of energy as it is transformed into this season’s nutrients.

The water. So much of it, all reflecting the light of an increasingly high sun. It positively glows. And the glow shimmers in the rapidly moving creeks and ditches. Plus the ducks, geese and herons that take up temporary occupancy.

The softness of the breeze. Even on colder days, that bitter bite of winter is gone. On mornings when it’s blowing and I open my front door, instinctively bracing myself for the sharpness of gusting wind, I am surprised and pleased that I don’t have to pull my neck warmer up over my nose.

The promise. In my garden, an inch of garlic top poking through in two parallel rows. It’s a miracle all over again. Those cloves tucked into the earth in October have survived and sprouted. Seems impossible after the winter we’ve had. Instills hope for sure.

It’s supposed to be pretty cold tonight and cooler for the rest of the week than it’s been the past couple of days. But the peepers will sing again by Friday or Saturday, and then once more. Right, Milan?


A pair of ducks on flooded creek. Photo: Ellen Rocco

A pair of ducks on flooded creek. Photo: Ellen Rocco


Geese browsing old corn field.

Geese browsing old corn field.

Fun with Easter eggs

A cheerful avenue to unlimited creation. Photo:Lucy Martin

Small, smooth and round. Eggs are an appealing blank slate for craft art. Photo: Lucy Martin

OK, talking about Easter eggs now is a just a little ahead of the game.

But there’s no time like the present if you want to make any by Easter Sunday. Matter of fact, if anyone is tempted to turn his or her apple tree into something like this one, they are way behind already!

For those so inclined, here are a bunch of tips and resources for that sort of crafting, or science in the home.

What should the egg look like? The basic bottles of food colors can be taken to more dramatic shades with careful mixing. Don’t want it out of a bottle? There are a whole bunch of natural dye options.

Here’s a detailed offering on “20 Eco-Friendly Easter Eggs” that even includes ideas for non-egg eggs.

With no claims to being green here’s a slide show with still more ideas for non-traditional decorating

Easter egg hunts can be as simple as the one in your backyard, and let’s hope most snow will be gone by then. Or take a high tech urban twist, as with this hunt featuring smartphones in NYC.

Faberge eggs are famous as ridiculously complicated works of jewelry that also symbolized the wealth and excess of Russia’s Imperial Family before revolution toppled all that. While researching this topic I came across a few articles about a scrap metal dealer who found a rare Faberge easter egg at a flea market. According to this report by CNN (with slides) the finder initially expected to melt the egg down for its gold. Eventually he realized it just might be a legendary, long-lost art treasure, which was confirmed by Faberge expert Kieran McCarthy.

McCarthy said he had no warning about the visit.

“A gentleman had walked in wearing jeans, a plaid shirt and trainers. His mouth was just dry with fear,” McCarthy said, to the extent that he could barely speak. “He handed me a portfolio of photographs, and there was the egg, the Holy Grail of art and antiques.”

Though he had not handled the egg itself, McCarthy said, he was “buzzing from top to toe.” He flew to the man’s home to see the object in person and confirmed that it was indeed the Third Imperial Egg.

I want to go back to the German couple, Volker and Christa Kraft, who built up a collection of more than 10,000 Easter eggs. Every year since 1965 they’ve adorned an apple tree with those eggs, or some of them anyway. Here’s a slide show exploring all that. (Good golly, what if the wind comes up or the ladder slips?) It’s an amazing hobby, or obsession, or whatever you want to call it.

Do you have favorite Easter eggs or displays? Maybe we should collect some local photos too and do an NCPR Easter Egg slide show.

They say it’s no coincidence that so many cultures have rituals that celebrate the return of spring. How welcome it all is after a winter as long and cold as this one.

Ceramic Bunnies from Japan guarding 60-year-old Easter eggs. Photo: Lucy Martin

Ceramic Bunnies from Japan guarding 60-year-old Easter eggs made by an aunt. Photo: Lucy Martin



Who’s grateful?

Mugsy is grateful.

Mugsy is grateful.

We live, breathe, eat and walk with gratitude. You can’t be in the public radio business without being grateful. At the end of each fundraiser, we shake our heads in amazement. Once again, listeners and online visitors have sent us enough money to keep the ship afloat.

But here’s the thing. You don’t just give us money, albeit money you could just as easily keep in your pocket (and still tune in or surf over to NCPR).

You give us love–and gratitude. You say incredibly nice things about the work we do–and you thank us at the same time you’re donating money.

It’s a miracle of our public radio community. Just like the trust, the gratitude works in both directions.

Thank you, from all at NCPR.


Thanks to listeners–spring thaw, spring success. Flooded Fields, photo: Ellen Rocco


The archaeology of community

The Tahawus mine site, from Tom Helms' plane. Photo: Ellen Rocco

The Tahawus mine site, from Tom Helms’ plane. By the way, check out Andy Flynn’s story on the history of Tahawus. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Driving to work early one morning this week, I was thinking about our fundraiser and what magical thing I could say to finally convince every non-contributing listener to kick in some money.

Well, instead of coming up with the abracadabra of fundraising, I started thinking about the relative resilience of communities vs. communes. Then I started to think about how communities emerge, work on common goals, respond to the ups and downs of whatever the natural and human-made environments deliver, and adapt to change and innovate or fade away.

Our theme this week is dig deeper. If we could bring in an archaeologist to do a virtual dig on the history of North Country Public Radio, it would look something like this (very very very abbreviated version):

> Sign on in 1968 as WSLU with one 3,500 watt transmitter reaching some of St. Lawrence County with a few hours of music and a short newscast every evening. A St. Lawrence University faculty member and staff member oversee a few student volunteers. SLU pays all of the cost of the running the station.

> In 1971, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides funding to stations capable of broadcasting for 19 hours a day and paying five full-time people. WSLU steps up to the challenge and also becomes a member of the brand new National Public Radio, debuting All Things Considered. Funding is now split between SLU and CPB.

> In 1978, WSLU holds its first on air fundraiser with no specific goal. About $2,000 is raised. There are now seven full-time employees and a lot of part-time student announcers.

> In 1979, Morning Edition debuts, the public radio satellite is launched, replacing phone line distribution of national programs. The fall fundraiser sets a goal of $4,000 and reaches it.

> 1980 sees a successful fall fundraiser with a $7,000 goal, which still represents a tiny percentage of the station’s $200,000 annual budget.

A view of some of our coverage area: lots of trees, not many people. You are needed. You make the difference. Photo: Ellen Rocco

A view of some of our coverage area: lots of trees, not many people. You are needed. You really do make the difference when it comes to telling NCPR’s story. Photo: Ellen Rocco

> DRUM ROLL…In 1983, on the occasion of the station’s 15th anniversary, we raise about $30,000 and install a new 40,300 watt transmitter. We have an official news department.

> 1984 marks the beginning of the build out to communities beyond St. Lawrence County. We sign on in Saranac Lake and start imagining a network of transmitters to reach the entire Adirondack North Country.

> In 1986, we raised $40,000 during our fall fundraiser and we get serious about shifting more of the financial responsibility from SLU and CPB to our listeners and regional businesses. This is the turning point the archaeologists will underscore: the decision to orient the station–now North Country Public Radio–toward the community.

> FAST FORWARD…through the building of our transmitter network (34 facilities today), the creation of an Adirondack News Bureau led by Brian Mann, being recognized with dozens and dozens of awards from state and national organizations for our news and production work, and investing in one of the most robust and important digital services in the public radio system.

Today, 85% of the station’s approximate $2 million annual funding comes from listeners, local businesses/organizations, and other local sources, including about 5% from SLU; CPB provides about 10% and the NYS Education Department about 2%.

NCPR is a success story. A community success story.

We succeed because members of the community have invested in the station. Year after year.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you this week. You’re the magic--the abracadabra– in our history and our future.

Thank you.

The exact opposite of a paid spokesperson

Mugsy digs deeper.

Mugsy digs deeper.

People are always saying highly enthusiastic and complimentary things about various organizations and companies and products in the media. And my immediate reaction is, “I wonder how much they were paid to say that.”

We live in a world of paid speech–top shelf lobbyists, compensated spokespersons, reputation managers, advertorial content writers, talking heads in the tank for a particular point of view. Sincerity has become a rare commodity, and all praise has become a little suspect.

That’s one reason it is so refreshing to be behind the scenes of a public radio fundraiser. People are remarkably generous in their comments–and far from being paid to say these things–they are writing them on comment forms accompanying their donations to the outfit they are praising. Sort of the exact opposite of a paid spokesperson.

Here are some excerpts from “love letters” NCPR has received in the course of our spring drive so far.

“The piece on homeless high school students was even better, in that the face portrayed was so multifaceted that she could never be considered JUST a victim, but a whole person to whom an unfortunate experience occurred and whose response was real, positive and inspirational without being Cinderalla-ish.”

“My kids used to change the radio station to their music and my daughter even wrote about me listening to NCPR in one of her college entrance essays….. then the other day our son who is 16 and drives our old (beat up, rusting) car to school came into the house telling me about something that he heard on NCPR that interested him.”

“We live in Northern Virginia and are obviously now out of your broadcast area (though I do still stream some of your original programming!), but you helped to keep me sane while I was a young Mom with a newborn and a 3-year-old at Fort Drum.”

“You get me up in the morning, give me all the national and global news I want and amazing insights into what’s going on in the North Country, and you keep my smart dog company all day. (Why is he so smart? He listens to NCPR all day!)”

“When I moved to the North Country this winter, I immediately looked for the local NPR station…. the local reporting has allowed me to begin to get to know the North Country in ways that would never happen via other media sources.”

“Just couldn’t go out on my last snowshoe of the season without donating to North Country [Public] Radio. The station is my lifeline all year.”

“Thanks for the reporting of the plight of homeless children in the North Country. It is a prime example of ‘digging deeper’”

“All our radios are tuned to NCPR, and we have a shortcut on our traveling laptop to link online to NCPR. Wherever we go (and sometimes that is very far!) you go with us.”

“A short time ago, I was sharing with my students something that I had heard on the radio. One of my students asked, ‘You are always telling us about stuff you hear on the radio.  What station do you listen to?’ I told him that everyone knows if you want to be smart, you listen to NCPR!”

“I really appreciate the way they [NCPR news] dignify all the people of the North Country by their respectful attitude to everyone and every subject.”

“Our home would not be the same without NCPR in the kitchen… especially Martha and Todd, whose voices have become part of the fabric of my morning. My grown children all now listen online from afar!”

“You would be surprised how frequently I use something I’ve heard on NCPR in class. My students probably think all I ever do is listen to the radio!”

“This is my first time donating to NCPR! I started a new job in December which requires me to be on the road for 6-8 hrs/day and the ONLY thing I listen to is NCPR.”

“I love the NCPR family – I feel I know you all.  Your programming is not pretentious but it is intelligent; fun, but not silly.  I appreciate that.”

Thanks to the generosity of spirit shown in these comments, and the generous contributions that they accompanied, we are well on the way to meeting our Saturday goal. But as of this writing, we still have more than $50,000 to go.

If you could have written any of these comments, if you feel this kind of connection to what North Country Public Radio does in your home, or car or community, now is the time to show your support. Thanks to everyone who has taken us this far. Now it’s up to others (you, perhaps) to finish the job.

Make a gift to North Country Public Radio right now.


Geo-location without GPS

Working on the Main Street mosaic in North Creek. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Working on the Main Street mosaic in North Creek. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Take a trip with me for a moment.

You’re driving along a road in Somewhere, U.S.A. You know you’re approaching the next town because there’s a Walmart on the left, a Lowe’s on the right, and a string of fast food joints on both sides of the road along with quick stop gas stations and strip malls.

Where are you? Somewhere, anywhere.

Turn on your radio.

If you’re within earshot of NCPR, you’ll know within minutes where you are and how to find out more about the region. We tell the story of the North Country, and we bring that story to the nation. Of course, we also bring the best and most important of the news and stories from around the country and the world, through NPR and our colleagues in public media.

Ice fishing on Black Lake. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Ice fishing on Black Lake. Photo: Ellen Rocco

If you live in the Tug Hill, you’ve heard us cover the outdoors culture based on the stupendous amount of snow that falls each winter.

If you live on Lake Champlain, you’ve heard our story about ice sailing.

If you live in the Thousand Islands, you know we’ve covered the debate around wind power development.

If you live in the Adirondacks, I know you’ve heard our on-going coverage of the debate around the use of the railroad right of way.

If you live in North Creek, you’ve seen stories about the Main Street mosaic mural.

If you live in Canton, you may be participating in the discussion around public school consolidation. We cover that.

If you present cultural events in Lake Placid or Indian Lake, Heuvelton or Old Forge, Plattsburgh or Glens Falls, we let listeners across the region know about what you’ve offering.

We do not serve North America. We serve the Adirondack North Country and our neighbors in northern Vermont and southeastern Ontario. That’s our beat. That’s our turf. You find us on your radio or at

No GPS required. All we need is your support to keep it going, to keep the story of our distinct geography and culture on the air and online.

Please contribute now. It’s a lot cheaper than buying a GPS.

Thank you.


In three words


Martha Foley says, "Please. Thank you...and here's how."

Martha Foley says, “Please. Thank you…and here’s how.”

Please. Thank you.

That could be the beginning and end, plus everything in between, as we start our 6-day fundraiser.

Please (give money now). Thank you (for doing your part).

But it’s never that easy. Some of you have already donated generously to the spring fundraising effort. You’ve responded to mail and email and to on air reminders. Thank you.

Many of you plan to contribute during the on air fundraising week. Thank you, in advance.

Now, I’m wondering about those of you who listen to NCPR or use our various digital services but have not been moved to give us some money.

Please. Thank you.

We are fueled by two things: money and trust. Obviously, money gives us the capacity to pay our staff–the people who produce the programs and content you care about; money gives us the wherewithal to buy programs, equipment, and everything else we need to keep the shop afloat.

Trust is the glue.

You trust us to do our best to bring you award-winning radio and digital content, plus a load of other services. You trust the work you hear or see from NCPR. You come back to us on a regular basis.

We trust you to contribute something to keep NCPR doing its job.

Radio Bob says, "Why not? What's better than kicking in a few bucks...Please. Thank you."

Radio Bob says, “Why not? What’s better than kicking in a few bucks…Please. Thank you.”

That trust is real. I’m not just saying something that sounds cool. Here’s how our trust is real: we do not place monetary barriers on the access road. You don’t have to pay us any money for a “subscription” for our broadcasts or our digital content. It’s all there for you to use and enjoy. As much as you want. You won’t get a notice saying, “You have had your 10 free articles for the month. Now you have to pay.”

Why do we trust you? Because you have proven you’re trustworthy. For 46 years, NCPR listeners and online visitors have voluntarily supported our work.

But here’s the dark underbelly of that fabulous success story: only a small percentage of our regular listeners and digital users contribute and through their contributions support everyone else who is taking advantage of all NCPR has to offer.

Don’t be a part of the dark underbelly! Come out into the sunlight!

Kick in a few bucks or a lot of bucks. Help your friends, neighbors and others across the region who give us money and who share NCPR with you.

Please. Thank you.