On Thanksgiving Day I’ll be off for our 2013 family holiday gathering. It’s a day when I’m not wondering if the laundry basket is full, or the bed made, the carpet vacuumed, or the newspapers picked up from the front porch where they’ve stacked up for days.
On Thanksgiving I’m in charge of washing sweet potatoes to bake and serve with butter. While scrubbing the sweet potatoes, I’m remembering the story of the 100th monkey –about how a single monkey on an island discovers how to wash a sweet potato in a stream, eat it, and not struggle later with grit grinding down on his/her tongue or churning down in the gut.
Another monkey watches and washes his/her sweet potato until there’s a tipping point when the 100th monkey follows the same routine. Then, all the monkeys on one island instantly wash and eat their sweet potatoes in the same way which happens without any sweet potato washing lectures or workshops or demonstrations.
The insightful lesson on how to wash sweet potatoes travels on invisible jet streams of knowledge, or the collective monkey unconscious, until monkeys all over the world wash their sweet potatoes in the same way to clean off the grime and dirt before sitting down to dinner. This is what comes to mind when I’m troubled about so many critical situations facing us on Planet Earth and how change often occurs on levels far beyond our awareness and comprehension.
This morning I carried my empty glass bottles out to the driveway recycling bin and remembered back to the 1970s, when I was young, when Toshi and Pete Seeger practiced glass and newspaper recycling for everyone to see. Pete, America’s troubadour, didn’t pay someone to wash his sweet potatoes or sort his newspaper from glass. The Seegers modeled recycling for everyone from the little retreat that Pete built where the Seeger family lived and overlooked the Hudson River near Beacon, NY.
One day Pete Seeger drove up to the parking lot of Green Haven prison in the Mid-Hudson Valley in his old pickup filled to the brim with bottles and plastic and papers, on route to a recycling center. He grabbed his old banjo from the truck’s front seat and marched up to the prison’s front door, reported to the guard station, presented his driver’s license, and filled out forms and papers so he could enter the cement fortress and visit with those of us in the prison school. Pete opened his mouth as wide as he could and belted out one song after another.
The officers in the towers above the 30-foot walls stared down at Pete Seeger’s pickup filled with bottles and newspapers as they witnessed one of the first monkeys on the block wash away the grime and dirt and gravel from a highly-evolved institution with its electric chair, barbed wire fences, and gun towers with guards and machine guns. That’s how change happens, in increments, as words and deeds are passed around.
Image above by Marianna Sloan (1875-1954). The artwork for the Women’s Edition of The Press. From the Library of Congress. Color lithograph.
Marguerite’s Musings is a feature of Suffrage Wagon News Channel, the “go to” place since 2009, for news and views of the suffrage movement and how the movement inspires us today.