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Ways of seeing: Whales above me?

Last week Craig Zondag, a wonderful naturalist, took a group of us on a contemplative tour of our farm. It was eye opening to see this familiar valley through new (and very experienced) eyes. At one point, someone asked about the contours of Snake Mountain and why the hills around here have that iconic shape? Craig reminded us that the whole Champlain Valley had been underwater, with the exception of the tops of Snake Mountain and Mount Philo, which were islands.
Then he asked if we could imagine standing under water right here with whales swimming above us. It was a startling thought and cracked open a whole new way of seeing the landscape and our place in history.
There have been many venues recently where we have been challenged to create a positive vision for our world as a beacon to lead us forward. When George Lakey, author of “Viking Economics,” came to Middlebury to share what he had learned from studying the economic and social systems in Scandinavia, he placed a heavy emphasis on the shared vision of everyday people in moving society to be inclusive and equitable. At first I was slightly offended, thinking: well we have a vision too, but the situation here is so different that it just isn’t possible to achieve it.
I started thinking back to twenty years ago when People for Addison County Together practiced group visioning. Four or five people to a table, we worked together to draw pictures of our dreams for the county. Almost every group made the same drawing — a beautiful town green, populated by people of all ages, races, and abilities; surrounded by a vibrant downtown area, services such as schools and hospitals, beautiful and affordable housing, and further out beautiful working farms and lovely forested lands.
This kind of dreaming was going on in most other counties at the same time. The depicted visions were remarkably similar all over the state, even in Chittenden and Rutland. So why then are we still struggling to have vibrant and inclusive communities?
At a more recent discussion with colleagues, all of whom are committed to assuring the wellbeing of Vermont children, we had a similar discussion last week. How does a community that helps all children and families to thrive look? This attempt to create a common vision seems to have gone on for decades now, yet many children in our communities are still hungry, frightened or neglected and too many young families are struggling to make ends meet.
I am wondering what we can learn from imagining ourselves way back when the whales were swimming through this valley? I’m thinking about how the seasons of our lives unfold, each generation trying to make changes that will be good for their children and grandchildren. Can we set our intentions to implement a shared vision for all of us, instead of just drawing a pretty picture and putting it on the shelf?
I have a tendency toward magical thinking but was reminded by Craig’s question of the hard reality of change, of the glaciers melting and slowly moving forward, scraping away the landscape in their path. The whales moved out to sea as the salt waters receded. The hills were covered with vegetation, then animals, and now people. I’m wondering what I can do in the years left to me to keep the slow pace of change going forward? 
I’m hoping that our group visions of a better life for all children will become more concrete realities in the years ahead. I’m hoping to work a little bit harder toward that end.
Cheryl Mitchell is president of Treleven, a retreat and learning program located on her family’s sheep farm in Addison County. She does freelance consulting on issues related to children, families, social policy and farm to community work.

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