Saturday, December 8, 2018

Flight To The Stars

A friend of mine is calling
Sometimes he is haunted
by toxic fears and sorrows

He visits the graveyard of regret
I should have done this
I should have done that

He digs up bones 
and old photographs
the fragments of a lost life
He finds no peace

I say don't go there
I'm all about creating for today
Not the graveyard of regret 
Let the dead bury the dead

The anxiety of
paralyzes you 
And decimates your will

If you want freedom,
Free your mind
focus on the living
the hyper truth 
the magnificence of this moment

Tired and in pain
the hiker still climbs higher
To achieve a greater view
Top of the mountain
The valley below

I would rather be
Hunting and gathering
For music that moves me
Poetry that lifts me
Art that inspires me

I'm about the Awakening
the rapture, 
the ecstasy 
the flight to the Stars

There is no limit
to our height
and depth
because I know we are
part of infinity

I am the transcendentalist
the idealist, the mystic
manner of delight
shadows of might,
light and sound

My spaceship is gathering speed
I'm going to a planet 11 million
light years away. 
In my mind,
the travel is but an instant

Transportation is transcendence
I'm the transcendentalist
My flight is to the stars.
Won't you come with me dear friend

There is no one living in the 
graveyard of regret.

-Michael Hooper
Dec. 8, 2018

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Loss of Trees Reduces Shade at Gage Park

By Michael Hooper

Perhaps the saddest fact that I heard yesterday at a public meeting was Gage Park recently lost 30 trees in the widening of 6th Street and 10th Street.

Now the Topeka Zoo is planning to cut another 30 trees as part of a stormwater drainage system through Gage Park and the Topeka Zoo. The loss of a total of 60 trees will remove 50 acres of cooling shade from the park. The reduction in shade will make the park hotter, especially in the summer months, resulting in our own microcosm of global warming.

I know new trees have been planted and I'm grateful to see those planted. But old growth trees are precious. They have a "cooling effect" to the park, offering zones where there is plenty of shade, making it sometimes 5 to 10 degrees cooler.

The zoo director says this is a water quality issue to have storm water drain through bio-filters and a retention pond, but there's no test of existing stormwater whether it's polluted before going into the Kansas River.

The City of Lawrence has complained loudly about Topeka sewage being dumped in the Kansas River over the years. But I've never heard any complaints about pollution coming from Gage Park. And the park has been around since 1899. Wiley said the park has never had a storm drainage plan. Why is one needed now?

Yesterday at the public meeting at the zoo I appreciated hearing from the people involved in the project. I'm grateful to zoo director Brendan Wiley for holding the project meeting in the public space. 

A proposed retention cell is going to replace a grouping of old growth trees, where visitors like to park their cars during hot days. That location is directly west and south of Helen Hocker Theatre. The contractors for the project recently marked the entire location for the retention pond. The trees near the proposed pond are marked for death.

Wiley told me last week that the natural location for a retention cell is where the Helen Hocker Theatre is located. On Monday, Wiley said moving the Helen Hocker Theatre was not really an option they want to consider. Walking around the theatre, I can tell it is the low point of the area, and can understand why it floods during a rainstorm. The natural hydrology of the park suggests that the location for the pond should be where the theater is located or where the zoo's parking lot is located. So in essence, the zoo is putting a retention pond where it doesn't belong. This makes me think the entire project is flawed. I think a better location for a retention pond is the zoo parking lot. The zoo parking lot used to be the location of the swimming pool, so it's a natural place for a retention pond. Then they wouldn't have to cut down so many trees.

I don't want to see any change to the Helen Hocker Theatre or the trees. Build your Kay's Garden but don't take away our trees for an unnecessary trench and retention pond that will generate mosquitoes and reduce shade in the park.

I favor a public review of all of the options before any tree is cut down. I would like to see this go through the city council.

I think the stormwater drainage system is a waste of $1.5 million taxpayer dollars. When I look at the pros and cons of this, I just don't see that a dugout trench is going to be more valuable than 30 trees. Many of these trees have 20, 30, 40 years left in them, some of them are at the end of their life cycle and I understand that, but I still believe all these trees have provided so much life every single day of their lives. They're making a contribution to our world every day. The trees are striving to live. They have a survival instinct just like we do.

A couple of the marked trees have suffered from lightning strikes, where bark has been burned through the tree but somehow these trees are still alive. Among the trees scheduled to die is an evergreen tree of sorts that has taken many hits over the years but still somehow survives. This tree is a metaphor for the human body and life in general. We each have taken hits but somehow we continue to press on.

If it is true we lost already 30 trees to roadways and we are going to lose another 30 trees, that is 60 trees gone. The environmental impact of this is an increase in global warming right here, locally. I predict that the park will be hotter. When you remove 60 trees, the temperature goes up on hot days, you remove the cooling effect of the trees' shade. Literally 20 or 30 acres of land is now un-shaded.

When you go through the park on a hot summer day you want to park by a tree. The shade provides a cooling effect for your car.  This helps you tolerate the heat. A vital tree-lined parking area near an old red oak is being removed by this project.

There will be less habitat for birds, squirrels and bats and owls and Sparrow Hawks. I know there will be new tree plantings, but I think we should preserve what we have. Trees that are 80 years old are rare. I can hear the owls at night. As I live near Gage Park I can hear the Lion's roar from the zoo. The owls are the guardian of the night and the hawk is the guardian of the day. And they live in the trees at Gage Park.

A sparrow hawk that lives in the park visits my yard and eats the rabbits and mice. All of these animals and trees are very much a part of the ecosystem around here.

I see the old red oak scheduled for cutting. I've walked by this tree a hundred times at least. She is lovely in the fall with her red splendor. I once met a man from California sitting under this tree. He told me about a journey riding his bicycle up and down Highway 1 and how hilly it was. We rode for a while and shared a good time. The shade under the tree made it a spectacularly special and intimate setting for this encounter.

There are people who want this stormwater project and most of them work for the zoo and engineering firms and contractors who are getting paid to do this. Your blood is on this. You and the City -- and this includes the city council -- are responsible for the deaths of these trees. Don't blame anybody but yourselves for the demise of these trees. You can't blame the EPA.

Today Paul Porter and I walked and talked among the trees. I hugged the old red oak and we said prayers for the trees.

Save the trees, save the trees, save the trees.

If we can't save our trees and our wildlife what are we?

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Mystic Realities, Achievable Dreams

By Michael Hooper

Mystics and scientists wrestle with life in different ways.

The scientist relies on evidence to support a theory or hypothesis.

A mystic is a person who is devoted to connecting with a deity. A self surrender of ego, an acknowledgement of a higher power, and a willingness to be loved by that higher power all play into the mystic's connection with God.

Scientists have discovered laws of the universe, from the structure of an atom, to the elements of things, to the complexity of chromosomes, genes, and human life.

A Chinese scientist recently said he edited the genes of twins. The scientist said he did the manipulation of the genes in order to prevent the children from getting the AIDS virus.

That is a laudable goal, to save a child from AIDS, but how far do we let gene editing dictate outcomes at birth?

Manipulation of the human body from conception forward is going on at all times, depending on how the mother is living and a host of environmental and nutritional and lifestyle factors. So then the question is if you could prevent a disease from happening would you do it? I probably would. We use vaccines all the time to stop the spread of disease.

The question is how valuable is human life and what can we do to improve it. I would say cut down on spending on weapons of mass destruction and spend more money on health care, let's find a way to beat the opioid crisis, our obesity epidemic, and gun violence. A leading cause of bankruptcy in America is medical debt. It seems to me we have the science and the technology and the know-how to beat these problems, but can we do it?

Collectively the human network can move mountains, we built the infrastructure of America from New York to San Francisco over the past 400 years.

These big problems like health care and gun violence need assistance from the government in order to make change.

But as my friend Chris Wright says, "the first person that needs to change is myself." I improve myself, I improve the world. If everyone said this and believed this we would change a lot of people and we would improve a lot of the world. 

Change is hard. People with habits of corrupting nature often feel powerless over their addictions. Whatever hurts them they keep doing it even though it causes pain, pain for themselves and pain for those around them. This is when the mystic inside that person might benefit from a connection to God. The divine in you wants to connect with the divine nature of God. A higher power. By surrendering our stubbornness and acknowledging our powerlessness over our addictions, it is possible for the human spirit to transcend suffering and connect to higher levels of living, above the violence and corruption, to something pure, creative and engaging with others, for the benefit of humankind and the world.

A mystic is sober, thoughtful, and alert. I met a Buddhist monk who said he remained sober, so he would be prepared for whatever trials and tribulations come his way. By being alert and strong he was able to handle the difficulties while still pursuing his mission.

I think Americans are lazy, spoiled and undisciplined, they are loud and obnoxious and greedy. It seems somebody is always grabbing something that doesn't belong to him or her -- money, sex, drugs. It's kind of like America has all these pirates and con men who do whatever they can to grab as much as they want. Many people are consumed with jealousy and envy of those who have more. This feeds into their desire for instant satisfaction, greed and entitlement. They think they deserve to become rich for doing nothing. They play the lottery. They believe they're going to win $500 million. For $2 they play the fantasy and dream about how they're going to win the prize, and how they will spend it on their friends and family. Yippee I'm rich.

That is just a fantasy. The cruel side of this gambling addiction is the loss of money, the loss of time, the loss of opportunity. I know someone who put $100,000 into lottery tickets over a 10-year period and had nothing to show for. The odds of winning the lottery never got any better with each game. The odds were always the same: Miserable. hopeless, broke.

This is where the scientist is needed to explain the mathematics of odds. If your odds are 1 in 10 million, get out. No chance of winning. At the roulette table, a decision for either black or red is a 50% odds. Still not very good odds.

If you were to take the same money that you put into lottery tickets and gambling devices and put the money into the S&P 500 you might be amazed at how much money you would have in a few years. The return of the S&P 500 historically is 10% annual return. That means your investment doubles every 7.2 years. The Rule of 72 is 72 divided by the interest rate equals the number of years to double your money. Play games where the odds are in your favor. 

Be a bad-ass. Take charge of every second of your life, be ruthless against anyone or anything trying to stop you from achieving your goal. Laser like Focus finds Fame and Fortune.

Science may save me from my failings, sometimes there is a pill for my pain, but most of the time the only person who can save me is myself. Me. 

All it takes is one good decision. A good decision will lead to another good decision. Good begets good. Love begets love. Prosperity in health, life and love is possible. We have to be willing to accept these possibilities and embrace the behaviors that lead to fulfillment of our dreams. The mystic in us will help us get there.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Topeka Zoo Cuts Trees For Kay's Garden

A century old Japanese Pagoda tree was cut down by the Topeka Zoo as part of an expansion project.

City of Topeka employees cut down a hackberry tree at Topeka Zoo.

Rick Knight, horticulturalist at the Topeka Zoo, talks about trees being cut down at Gage Park.

By Michael Hooper

The Topeka Zoo is cutting down over 30 trees at Gage Park as part of an expansion project. Some of the trees are over 75 years old.
Brendan Wiley, director of the Topeka Zoo, says the zoo must build a "29-foot wide storm water conveyance channel 4 feet deep," or the zoo cannot move forward with Kay's Garden.
On Monday a City of Topeka truck was being used to cut down a hackberry tree that is over 50 years old.
Zoo officials cut down a Japanese Pagoda that was close to 100 years old.
More than 30 trees along the proposed storm water channel have red markings for cutting. Several pin oaks that are about 75 years old are scheduled for demolition.
Trees along the green path in the proposed plan are being removed.

Wiley said the need for the storm water channel came about after an audit by the Environmental Protection Agency in fall 2017. He said that the EPA came into Topeka and conducted an audit of the construction of the Camp Cowabunga. He said the EPA reviewed the project and determined the park lacked a storm water drainage system. The storm water is presumably to be cleaned through "a biofilter system and retention pond."
When asked, Wiley could not produce any correspondence from the EPA addressing this issue, but instead referred to the engineer who has worked on the project, Bob Koopman of Professional Engineering Consultants of Topeka. A phone call to Koopman has not been returned.
Wiley said Kay's Garden has been set back a year due to the challenges associating with accommodating the drainage system.
He said the storm drain system will cost $1.5 million. A total of $2.1 million is being spent to do the storm draining system, new parking and group entry.
The zoo is spending another $6.4 million on the construction of Kay's Garden. About 62% of the funding for the 7,000 square foot garden is coming from Kay McFarland and the balance from private donations, "in theory we are hoping it will all come from private donations," Wiley said.
The contractors KBS Contractors and Professional Engineering Consultants of Topeka are handling the construction projects.
Wiley said water drains into the bear facility in the southeast corner of the zoo, but the water has not been a threat to the animals. During high periods of rain, he said, the bear holding area may get 2 inches of water in it.
Wiley insisted this is a water quality project. The dogs in the dog park leave poop behind, he said. Cars leave oil behind, he said. The bio-filtration system, with wet land, will clean the water, he said.
I believe Hill's Dog Park Patrons clean up after their dogs and put baggies of poop in the trash cans. Very little poop is left on the ground.
When asked if there was any study proving there is a water quality problem, Wiley said he was unaware of any water tests.
Calls to the EPA's Kansas City office have not been returned.
Wiley said Bob Koopman of PEC is the engineer involved in the design of the storm water drainage system. Wiley said Koopman is leaning on standards established by the Mid America Regional Council on Stormwater Best Management Practices.
Wiley said he held a public meeting about the zoo expansion at 6 p.m. Sept. 20 at the zoo, but only media showed up, no one from the neighborhood was there. He said he would be willing to hold another meeting Monday, Dec. 3, at noon in the education room at the zoo.
Rick Knight, horticulturalist with the zoo, said the pin oak trees being cut down are near the end of their lives. He said pin oaks live to be about 75 years old. A lot of pin oaks were planted in the park during its early years.
Bill Riphahn, park planner with Shawnee County Parks and Recreation, said the issues affecting Gage Park are complicated.
"There's some big oak trees I hate to see go," Riphahn said. "Nothing makes a park better than big shade trees."
I agree. Shade trees make the hot summer temperatures more bearable, providing cover for both humans and wildlife. Try having a picnic on a hot day without shade.
Wiley said the old growth trees are not really original to the park. He said tall grass prairie was its original landscape. He said the new drainage system will be above ground, not below ground. To make it below ground would have cost too much money, he said.
Why can't the drainage system go in and around the trees? I didn't really get an answer for this question.
The drainage plan calls for a retention pond to be located just east of Reinisch Rose Garden. Several trees are marked for cutting in that area, some are old trees.
Knight said it is true "we are taking out some trees but those trees will be replaced with new trees. In 20 years, he said you will see new species of trees, maybe sooner than that."
He said he plans to recycle the wood from the downed trees.
He said the three Champion Trees in Gage Park are not affected by the project.
Those Champion Trees are a White Ash and a Rubber Tree in the zoo, and a Willow Oak and a Sugerberry near Reinisch Rose Garden.
Riphahn said the trees are likely to be cut down before April 1, which is the deadline by which trees must be cut down to protect long-eared bats that inhabit the trees.
He said the eastern half of Gage Park is owned by the city of Topeka by a very restrictive deed. 
Attempts to find out what is going on from the EPA have not been successful. A call to the Kansas City EPA office has not been returned.
In 1899 Guilford Gage donated to the city 80 acres on the eastern half of Gage Park. His heirs donated the other 80 acres for a total of 160 acres. 
When the City and County Parks and Recreation departments merged the city tried to give the Gage Park deeds to the county but was unsuccessful in moving the eastern half of the park to the county because of restrictions on the deed. So the city actually still owns the the eastern half of the park, Riphahn said.
I plan on attending a meeting at noon Monday, Dec. 3, at the zoo. I want to find out more about this plan. I believe these trees deserve our respect and honor as they have served this community for a long time. There is an abundance of wildlife in the Gage Park ecosystem, which includes the nearby cemetery, and surrounding neighborhoods, like McFarland Farm subdivision south of the park, which was virgin pasture and forest before Kay McFarland sold it in 1999. The new owners leveled the trees, reshaped the drainage system and sold lots for new homes. Some of the McFarland estate is being used for Kay's Garden.
I asked if there was an environmental impact study on this project, and the zoo director said no. I asked for an accounting of all the trees impacted by the project, their species, their age, health, etc., but there was no study.
Until we know all these answers, I think it is inappropriate to move forward with killing these trees.
Our world is polluted. The oxygen in the air is damaged by car pollution. One way to fight pollution is to plant more trees. We should be planting more trees, not cutting them down.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Earth Soul

I lay down on the ground
To feel the soil beneath my feet
To connect with the Earth,
The stones and pebbles

To feel the land, 
I crunch its dirt in my hand

I admire the sunflowers reaching
for the Western Sun
The ephemeral golden glow

I pick up a few acorns
From the pin oak 
A reminder of nature's fruit

There is music in the wind
A cheer in the silence
The sparrow hawk pierces the sky
Probably hungry for game

I wander over to the magnolia tree
She gives off life, the birds love her
When in bloom, the bees love her too

I light a candle
And meditate
And think of people who are hurting

The measure of my love 
Is in the memory of the people around me
Their memory of their encounter with me is all that's left of me after I'm gone.

I must enlarge that memory.
Make it more enriching
loving, fulfilling and divine

That is my Infinity,
My immortality

My enthusiasm is for the living,
with the soul of humankind
and the soul of the earth.

--Michael Hooper
Nov 27, 2018

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Quiet Melancholy

Sometimes I can't help but hear
The giant conversation
Of matters near and far.
Of laughter, despair and sadness.

Fires rage across California, rich and poor alike are lost in the fire, their houses burned away. What took generations to build -- the American Dream -- is gone in flames. And our Earth is scorched.

Gun violence kills 15,000 people a year in America, in our homes, churches and schools. Manufacturing and selling more guns does not bring peace. Do we really need to put guns in the hands of teachers?

I hear the voices of rage, despair and heartbreak. It's a dialog of 10,000 volumes of pain, fear and greed, the rise and fall of civilization.

What does this all mean? Who is right? Who is wrong? What does it matter?

Law enforcement cannot handle all the insanity in the world. 

We must renew ourselves to live in harmony with nature and humankind. Do no harm. Give peace a chance. Leave the world a better place. Aim to touch each person with loving kindness.

I embrace nature. My animal self. My spiritual self. I dance. Run. Hug someone. Create love. Because love comes back to me. Love begets love, hate begets hate. I don't want to be a hater, angry at the world all the time hating, hating, hating.

I would rather cultivate beautiful moments with people I admire. Start a universal conversation about love, art and music, of poets and philosophers, craftsmen and engineers, let's build something together, let's make it meaningful, useful and good.

In these luminous moments we transcend our madness and step into a loss of ego, carried away by the artist self, the sublime transcendent soul.

-Michael Hooper, Nov. 17, 2018

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Night Rides

Michael Hooper and Emil Spaeth, The Brass Rail.

I should be tired but I cannot rest.

I decide I'm going for a bicycle ride. I check the bike lights, I check the tires, grab helmet, I'm good to go. This Surly Ogre never lets me down, this bike is tougher than me.

It's times like these that I break the pattern of regularity and go somewhere I've never been before, to meet people I've never met. Maybe I will go to a pub in the arts district.

I gather speed on 8th Street, loving this quick scream downhill stretch, propelling me ahead, in the streetlight darkness.

I pedal pass the old sanatorium grounds. Most of the State Hospital is gone except for the anonymous dead buried in the cemetery  -- silent reminders of our kept madness.

I wander through Potwin and look at the great mansions. I remember Halloween nights with a thousand children collecting pounds of candy at these stately homes. But tonight the neighborhood is quiet.

My bicycle rolls on, it seems to take off going downhill again, I just have to be super alert to avoid a crash. I concentrate intently on my way East on 1st Street all the way to Kansas Avenue

I turn north and head to NOTO Arts District
A few musicians are hanging around. I stop into J&J for a beer. Native American pride lives here.

I decided to ride to the Brass Rail. I took the Sardou Bridge. I look below by the river at little Russia.

I wander my way over to the Rail, lock up my bike and go inside where I see a couple friends in the light by the old wood bar.

There's Daryl Hendrix, Kerrice Mapes, Sally Glassman, Emil Spaeth, Charles Baylor. They make me smile just thinking about them.

Charles and I talk about the books we are reading, and look up at the Royals game.

A second beer hits me just right, I'm feeling the warm glow of the evening ambiance.

I go outside and sit next to a stranger, we have a connection, a conversation, a bond.

This is enough, this is beautiful man, how lucky are we to share in this moment.

We could hear the sound of a cheer as the Royals scored another run.

I check my sanity level, my dexterity, I feel okay, I think I can do this, I get back on the bike and start wandering my way home.

It's mostly uphill all the way, I peddle slowly yet the bike takes me fast along the street.

I see the darkened sky and the stars above. I roll gently. I am floating with the sky above the ground, the rolling wheels carrying me.

I rest at the Dutch Goose, for a final pint of the night. Many memories happened in this place. I fondly recall the bagpipes playing on Saint Patrick's Day.

I drink a PBR for a few minutes, then decide it's over. Time to ride the last mile uphill, it's the hardest part of the midnight journey.

I parked the bike in the garage, go inside the  house, it's quiet. The children are in their rooms asleep, I crawl into bed, my wife has been up reading but now is ready to close out the night. We kiss, Good night.

The colors of the night linger in my head as I drift off to sleep.

-Michael Hooper, Nov. 16, 2018