What will you leave behind

And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.
Jeremiah 23:3

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(the story of a piece of wood found in a cross cut knot / Julie Cook / 2015)

Recently I read a story on the BBC website about an ominous discovery. It was a story about finding, along with the subsequent necessity of diffusing, an undetonated bomb from WWII. The bomb precipitated the largest post war evacuation ever in the history of Cologne, Germany.

As is often the case, a construction company preparing a site for some new underground pipe made the frightening discovery. The unexploded 1 ton bomb was buried 16 feet below the surface.

20,000 city residents, including those from an elderly care facility along with the Zoo, several schools and surrounding businesses were all evacuated in Cologne yesterday as the Rhine River was closed to commerce as was the air space over the city as a bomb squad team was dispersed to safely unarm the bomb.

According to the German newspaper Die Spiegel it is estimated that hundreds of tons of bombs are discovered yearly littered throughout Europe, with the highest percentage being found in Germany–Thousands of undetonated bombs are either buried underground or lying on the bottom of ocean floors–from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Underneath the lives of 21st century modern-day Germans—under homes, major thoroughfares, schools, churches, synagogues, shopping centers, business. . .all unsuspecting that there is a dark reminder which lies hidden just below their now busy and peaceful lives.

Several times throughout any given year, global news is littered with stories of farmers, fishermen as well as construction crews who inadvertently make such grim and frighting discoveries. Be it the fishermen off the coast of Denmark dragging their nets to awaiting underwater remnants, to construction crews in Germany, Poland, England, Amsterdam and Russia who accidentally uncover an all too explosive past to the farmers in France and Belgium who simply labor to plant their fields which are rife with a deadly debris—all live bombs that were dropped 70 years ago which still pose a very real and dangerous threat today.

In 2014 a man operating a back hoe in the town of Euskirchen near Bonn was killed when he accidentally hit a buried bomb, triggering the deadly explosion. Eight others were injured

In 2011, 6000 citizens on the outskirts of Paris were evacuated from their neighborhood when a 1000 pound unexploded RAF bomb was discovered by a construction crew.

In 2012 thousands of citizens were evacuated in Munich when the discovery of an undetonated 550 pound bomb was found laying buried beneath a nightclub made famous in the 1970’s by the British Rock Group, the Rolling Stones.

Yet it is not only Germany or her sister countries of Europe or Russia which are sitting on top of potential catastrophes. . .
Millions of buried land-mines litter the Balkan region which spans 11 countries. In recent years, these countries have witnessed heavy and devastating flooding. . . flooding which has in turn unearthed thousands of undetonated deadly land-mines. Long buried reminders from the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.

Last year the British news agency The Telegraph ran an article about how scientists from both France and Croatia have been working together on enlisting “sniffer bees” to help “sniff” out explosives. Scientists discovered that the bees olfactory sense is on par with that of dogs and that the bees can be trained to keenly sniff out TNT. Bomb experts hope to release the bees in the fields while following their movement as they “hone” in on buried explosives.

Southeast Asia is also rife with deadly reminders of its tumultuous past as a fare share of its forgotten nightmares, those thousands of undetonated buried bombs and land-mines, all of which now litter the fields, streams and cities from Vietnam to Laos to Cambodia to Korea and even to Japan.

And then there is the Middle East. . .Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Iran. . .

The global list of the dark reminders of conflicts, police actions, as well as world wars, litter the world like a spilled bowl of popcorn.

The mainland of the United States has been left relatively unscathed when it comes to things such as land-mines and buried undetonated bombs. The US is fortunate in that the sorts of discovery of war paraphernalia is from wars fought long past. . . Revolutionary, Indian, Spanish and Civil Wars—all long before modern warfare’s use of live ammunition and bombs.
Only the wayward musket ball, arrowhead, spear, sword or cannon ball. . .

Yet there are those rare times that a country is privy to more shining historical moments such when a farmer, tending a lone field somewhere in the UK, or an errant treasure hunter detects, then digs up, a hoard of Roman coins or battle gear. There was even the recent story of the lost remains of a once dubious king, King Richard III, being unearthed from underneath a parking lot in Leicester.

These are the stories of what lurks beneath our feet. . .

Yet the question remains. . .
What of future generations?
What shall they be unearthing that once belonged to us. . .
What will our discarded, throwaway, perhaps deadly legacy be. . .
What of the dead zones such of Chernobyl or Fukushima?
What of our own Love Canal and Three Mile Island?
What of the mountains of discarded toxic trash littering Paraguay and Argentina?
Much of which has been shipped from the US to be dumped in impoverished countries.
That whole “not in my backyard” mentality.
It is the poisonous remains of our love affair with the never ending growth of technology and electronics. . .all full of lead, mercury,cadmium, dioxin. . .
Thrown out and shipped out. . .as in. . .out of sight, out of mind. . .

Hidden dark reminders of our fractious as well as industrial past, resting unsuspected and forgotten. . .until a child playing in a field finds a shiny piece of metal sticking up out of the ground and makes the fatal mistake of pulling it out. . .

The question remains, what will future generations unearth that once belonged to us and what will be the consensus?

Life lived in squalor and the healing power of music

“American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash–all of them–surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and almost smothered in rubbish. Everything we use comes in boxes, cartons, bins, the so-called packaging we love so much. The mountain of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”
Unknown

” A person does not hear sound only through the ears; he hears sound through every pore of his body. It permeates the entire being, and according to its particular influence either slows or quickens the rhythm of the blood circulation; it either wakens or soothes the nervous system. It arouses a person to greater passions or it calms him by bringing him peace. According to the sound and its influence a certain effect is produced. Sound becomes visible in the form of radiance. This shows that the same energy which goes into the form of sound before being visible is absorbed by the physical body. In that way the physical body recuperates and becomes charged with new magnetism.”
Hazrat Inayat Khan, Mysticism of Sound

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(an image of a small portion of the trash mountains which forms the base of Paraguay’s small city of Cateura)

As a veteran high school art teacher, I was constantly familiar with the ebb and flow of budgets.
In the lean years of the Economy–be it local, state, National, or all of the above–Educational systems would attempt their hand at creativity when it came to maintaining and offering a quality curriculum.

With losses in revenue, be they local, state or federal, activities and courses which were considered “non essential” to the learning process were always up for discussion as the yearly conversations would drift toward funding and budgets. Those programs being the initial proverbial lambs led to the slaughter of the chopping blocks were most often the Arts, Foreign Language, as well as Health and Physical Education.

One thing I always told my kids was that it has been and always will be the Arts— be it music, performance or visual, which have always given man his humanness—hence these being considered “The Humanities of Academia.

It is the Arts which makes us, man, civilized.

I could go on all day espousing the benefits of keeping the Arts in our schools. I could jump on my orator’s soap box, speaking to man’s responsibility when it comes to the Arts, as in understanding that there are parameters to creativity which are to be explored as well as respected—but I will allow a recent story as seen on 60 Minutes to speak for me and of the innate and essential relationship man has to the need for creativity–in this case, the making of music.

Sunday evening, the televised news “magazine” broadcast a story that had originally aired earlier in the television year. A story that I had originally missed.
It was the story of unspeakable poverty.
The wastefulness of man.
The creativity of Man.
As well as a story of the healing power found in both the creative process as well as in the making of music.
Hope in a sea of hopelessness.

The Recyclers: From Trash Comes Triumph
(http://www.cbsnews.com/news/recyclers-from-trash-comes-triumph-2/)

Once again it was the correspondent Bob Simon who shared the story of Paraguay’s unimaginable poverty and of the hope which rises up from the massive trash heaps–hope for the children who call Cateura, Paraguay home.

The story opens with shots of the acres and miles of trash which this small South American town has unimaginably grown up around. A city which emerged literally from the trash. Cateura is not far from the capital city of Asuncion and is the dumping ground for much of Paraguay.

As the camera panned the landscape, there was nothing but trash for as far as the eye could see. The buzzing sound of a legion of flies, off set by the sound of hundreds of birds, all looking to capitalize on some morsel from this sea of waste, was nerve racking.

And then I, the viewer, notice them—there amongst the mountains of garbage were hundreds of people, young and old, who were rooting throughout the trash, as say a pig might root through garbage, in search of anything salvageable to resell—be it plastic, glass, rubber, metal—anything that could be resold.

I, the viewer, was spared the unbearable stench but I knew it existed as many of those “digging” wore rags across their nose and mouth.
Let’s not talk about the health risks to such an endeavor. Let’s not talk about the generations of families who have made this sort of work their means of survival. Let’s not talk about how the children literally walk along narrow canals filled with feted waters and littered with trash as they navigate their way to school or anywhere for that matter. Let’s not talk about the city’s only source of water being highly toxic and contaminated. . .

It is almost incomprehensible that people live in Cateura.

And then the camera takes the viewer to a school with the unmistakable sound of orchestral music, albeit a bit out of tune, rising up from the dirty open courtyard. Suddenly we realize that the musical instruments the children are playing are not typical of what one would find in a school’s collection of instrument. These instruments give new meaning to the concept of “homemade”.

Rubbish instruments

These unlikely instruments were born from the creative thought of an environmental technician, Favio Chavez, who having come to Cateura, was amazed observing that the children of Cateura not only lived amongst the sea of trash, but they played here as well, just as other children world wide would play.

Next, meet Don Colá Gomez. Señor Gomez is a carpenter as well as a “trash digger” –but Señor Gomez digs not only for items of resale value, but he digs for something much more valuable. He digs and scavenges for items he can transform into musical instruments.

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I was amazed watching Señor Gomez cutting and shaping scrapes of metal and plastics, fashioning them into violins, guitars, cellos, clarinets, flutes, drums, etc. The tuning pins could be a broken wooden rod, a dirty and discarded hair brush. The strings stripped from pieces of plastics. Drums from x-ray plates, clarinets from old rusted pipes. A factory made violin would cost more than the average home in Cateura. Ingenuity truly having to be the mother of invention in Señor Gomez’s workshop.

The children gather in the dirty school yard each Saturday to learn to play an instrument. The older children, those who have already been playing for a while, teach the younger children. Favio Chavez explains to the reporter that “music teaches the kids respect and responsibility, not common commodities in the gang-ridden streets of Cateura.”

I imagine that the music making of which Señor Chaves explains is something much greater than that of teaching children various attributes of character but rather that the music and the orchestra is a life line for these children—connecting them to the very core of human dignity.

Señor Chavez is actually taking the children of Caturea’s orchestra on tour. There is even a documentary being put together about this ragtag orchestra “Landfill Harmonic” complete with a rather viral trailer available on YouTube.

I will leave you with the words of Mirian Rios, one of the children’s grandmother. . . “I would say it’s a blessing from God. People used to humiliate us and call us “trash pickers.” Today they are more civilized, they call us the “recyclers.” So I feel that this is a reward from God. That our children who come from this place….can play beautiful music in this way

May we all learn to play such beautiful music

Members of the Orchestra of Recycled Instruments of Cateura pose for the audience during a concert in Asuncion