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When a Tree Falls

When a tree falls

Remembering local environmental advocate Mike Barr

Originally Published: February 16, 2012, Orlando Weekly

To say that Mike Barr was an environmentalist would be an understatement.

Barr, an enthusiastic advocate for protecting the natural places that make Florida so unique, spent much of his adult life devoted to preserving Florida’s water, wildlife and natural lands. While most environmental activists can boast the same, Barr’s brand of advocacy united community leaders across party lines for the sake of ecology with an effusive passion that ignited so many that he met.

Barr, 64, passed away last week at his home after suffering from a minor stroke in January.

Barr moved to Central Florida from the Florida Keys in the late 1990s, and in 2002 he joined the Seminole County Soil and Water Conservation Board, an independent state agency responsible for carrying out environmental stewardship programs. Before Barr joined, the board was considered by some a team of thumb-twiddlers, but under his leadership, it became a force for conservation. But change did not come without the usual political frustration, and Barr resigned in 2007.

Like many frustrated activists, Barr could have stepped away from environmental activism, but instead he focused his energy on forming Keep Seminole Beautiful, a nonprofit organization committed to enhancing Seminole County’s natural environment. Barr – a longtime Libertarian – used his neighborly disposition to recruit business owners, environmentalists and elected officials from all parties to the cause. At first glance, the motley crew of local leaders on the organization’s board looks like the opposing sides of an election ballot, but thanks to Barr, they are instead a group of individuals united in a common goal.

“Mike was the anomaly in the world of environmental activism,” says longtime colleague Michelle Thatcher, who directs the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce. “He was that rare bird that could bring all parties to the table. He connected the left with the right and wedged the importance of the natural world in the middle.”

Keep Seminole Beautiful created opportunities for the community to directly improve local habitats – river and road cleanups were offered most weekends – as well as chances to learn about the importance of these habitats through community events and lectures. Many Saturdays, Barr could just as easily be found donning a suit and speaking to a group of business leaders about wildlife habitat preservation or stuffing trash into a Hefty sack on the side of the Wekiva River.

“In the 10 years I’ve been working with Mike, he’s been an inspiration, a very hard worker and a close personal friend,” says Beth Hollenbeck, executive director of Eco-Action, another local environmental nonprofit that often worked with Keep Seminole Beautiful on river cleanups and Earth Day celebrations. “We were extremely proud to work with him. His loss to our community is tremendous.”

Flower Essences for Vibrational Healing

Flower Essences for Vibrational Healing
Originally published March/April 2011 Velocity Magazine

All plants – trees, vines, grasses, even veggies in your garden – contain a chemical cocktail that in many instances has nutritional or medicinal properties.  These plants also carry a unique vibrational energy.

Using plants for healing not only transforms us on a physical level, but on an energetic level as well.  When you ingest plants, your body takes in the rainbow of chemicals as well as a unique vibration that is passed along to you body.

From an energetic perspective, the part of the plant with the highest vibration is its flower.  This is the part of the plant tasked with reproduction and continuation of the species.  When a plant is blooming, the highest concentration of its life force is contained in that flower, in the hopes of being pollinated and continuing the cycle.

From these highly energetic plant parts comes Flower Essences.  Flower Essences are the vibrational signature of a plant.  Essences are carefully collected in pure water, preserved with brandy, and diluted homeopathically to ensure a powerful effect.

Flower Essences were first discovered and developed by Dr. Edward Bach in Wales in the 1930s.  After many years as a successful homeopathic doctor, he left a prominent position as a highly-regarded hospital to pursue research into a way to bring emotional healing to his patients.  He had observed that patients would heal at different rates, based on their emotional well-being.  He sought an answer – and found it among the flowers.

The Bach Flower Essence system contains 38 individual flower remedies that treat everything from anxiety and fear to a racing mind or a feeling of being overwhelmed.  They can act as a powerful catalyst towards greater healing in the physical body, and bring balance and harmony to our emotional and mental state.

They work by introducing the higher vibration of the flowers to the lower vibration of the human body, gently but effectively encouraging our body to rise up to the vibration of the flowers.

Many clients report better sleep, more focus, more joy in life, less stress, and greater fulfillment after using flower essences.  The most well-known essence, Rescue Remedy, is a blend of five individual essences and is used to treat shock, trauma, grief, and acute stress.  I use Rescue Remedy when driving, for instance, to keep my center in the midst of stressful traffic.  I have paramedic colleagues who carry the remedy on ambulances to treat shock at the scene of accidents.  Whether minor or major, all stresses can be alleviated and vibrations brought back to peace using Flower Essences.

After Dr. Bach’s passing, many herbalists around the world have studied their own bioregional flower essences, and the field continues to grow.  These simple but effective tools are safe in combination with both pharmaceutical and herbal drugs, making them a powerful and practical therapy — for anyone!

Co-creating the Revolution

Co-creating the Revolution
Originally published in March/April 2009 issue of Velocity Magazine


The health of our humanity is in danger. For nearly one hundred years, we’ve been lied to. We’ve been fed misinformation, empty food, and dangerous medications.


Somewhere along the way, we thought we knew better than Great Source when it came to our food. We thought we’d grow our food in a new and different way, adding chemicals to virtually every step of the process from planting to harvesting. We started growing single crops on vast plots of land, stripping the soil of valuable nutrients. When our soil is stripped of its nutrients, the food grown in that soil is vastly deficient in nutrients, too.


Next, we took the harvest of our crops and processed the food so that it could sit on shelves for year at a time. We thought we knew better, so we took away the color of our food, transforming the rich brown hues of our grains into stark white, stripping the foods of valuable nutrients. Then we pumped it full of synthetic chemicals that would allow us to pack it inside cardboard boxes, to remain for months on end.


Then, we decided that we knew better when it came to our medicine. We abandoned the system of healing that we had used since we evolved into upright beings, and replaced it with concentrated, synthetic chemicals that hadn’t been used for very long at all. We chose medicines that isolated and attacked in opposition of our physiological function, over medicines that supported the body’s own remarkable ability to heal itself.


Through the introduction of all these new medicines, things started changing. Cancer grew from 3% of all deaths in 1900 to 20% today, and growing. Over 60% of all cancer is now thought to be dietary-related. Diabetes has grown from one-tenth of one percent in 1900 to over 20% today. We’ve grown from producing less than one million pounds of synthetic chemicals each year, to producing over 14 billion a year today. Over 60% of the processed foods in the grocery store contain a genetically modified ingredient. Fast food grew from a $6 billion industry in 1970 to a $115 billion industry today.


We’re now the most overfed and undernourished population in the world. The American form of malnutrition comes not from a lack of food, but from a lack of nutrients in that food. When we don’t feed our body the nutrients it needs to function, it can’t function. When we add chemicals to try to fix the dysfunction of our bodies, we either lay a temporary bandage over the problem, or – more likely – create a new one.


Our country is long overdue for a revolution, and it starts in each home, in each kitchen, in each medicine cabinet. We must nourish our bodies and our souls. Co-create this revolution with me. It’s not just green, but a deep rich brown of the soil and the trees, and a brilliant azure of the skies and the seas. It’s the ripe red strawberry and the golden tangerine.


To create the revolution, we must envision the revolution. What does it look like to you? To me, it looks like freedom. My vision of freedom empowers each of my brothers and sisters to know they have access to universal healthcare. Yes, I said it – universal healthcare. It’s universal, it’s accessible, it’s affordable, it’s sustainable — it starts in my backyard. I envision a revolution where each of us grows our own food and our own medicine, in harmony with the ecosystem and the nuances of our bioregion.


To create the revolution, we must give voice to the revolution. Talk to your friends. Share what you know about the earth, about the ways we pillage her resources every day, and about the solutions she so simply provides to us in our backyards. Speak about our food system, and how has failed us for over a century. Speak about our healthcare system, and the ways it is broken. Listen to what they know – we must learn from each other. Lift your voice to those that make the laws. Start with your city council – change your neighborhood, and then your city. Organize a community garden, or a city


Our voices carry across vast spaces when we sing as a choir. Head to the capital, and speak your truth to our state legislators. Write to your congressman. Demand that our country end a century of allowing harmful chemicals into our drinking water and our natural lands through agricultural and pharmaceutical run-off. Demand that we return to a biodynamic form of agriculture, so we can repair and replenish the pillaged soils of our nation. Demand that we uphold organic standards, so that the label “organic” truly means something. Demand that we start teaching our children that tomatoes come from a plant, not from a plastic container at the grocery store; that milk comes from a cow, not from a plastic jug. Demand that we uphold the freedom to choose a system of healthcare that honors our bodies and that honors the planet.


The revolution is here and the revolution is now. To create the revolution, we must live the revolution. It starts with me and it starts with you, with a simple step each day or each week, living towards sustainable health. Cut back on one processed food that isn’t serving you. Explore one new food that will bring you a colorful spectrum of minerals and nutrients. Drink a little more water. Take a walk around the block. Use a flower essence to reconnect and heal your spirit. Get a little more sleep. Grow a potted herb on your back porch. Drink a cup of herbal tea each night before bed.


Commit to yourself and your health. Embrace your own power to heal, to transform. When we start to heal ourselves, we heal the planet. That is revolutionary.


Revolutionary Resources:

Remembering our Relations

Remembering our Relations
Originally published in Velocity Magazine, December 2008

“The earth is calling us to remember.” – Stephen Buhner

Once upon a time, not so long ago, every human had an intimate awareness of their connection to the earth. Daily we toiled to cultivate or harvest our food and medicine, relying on plant life for shelter and clothing, directly interacting with the natural world on a very intimate level.


Our survival, and as such, our health and vitality – are dependent on our surroundings. We are vulnerable to changes in the Earth’s condition – drought, temperature, dramatic weather shifts. Each of us are mini-eco-cosms, or reflections of the greater ecosystem surrounding us. If our environment is strong and healthy, it reflects in our personal health.


For thousands of years, humans understood this in a very personal way. However, with the dawn of the industrial age, we moved away from our family farms and into cities. We stopped growing our own food and started purchasing it in markets. We became disconnected from the source of our survival – Mother Earth – creating the illusion of independence.

Why have we, as a human species, strayed so far from understanding our symbiotic relationship with the planet and its resources?

Every moment of our lives, we are intimately interacting with nature, a mere thread in a beautiful fabric. Even in our urban center, the food we eat, borne from the sun and the soil, the water and the seed, nourishes us and provides us energy to move, work, play, and love. The shelters that protect us, and the clothes that warm us, were all once a plant or a rock or a four-legged relation. We quench our thirst with the same fluids that for millennia have been recycling within and above the skin of the planet. Every breath we inhale is but a sip of the atmosphere that envelops the planet.

Our very beings are a cocktail of natural elements – air, sun, water, and nutrients, cradling the delicate entwinement of sperm and egg, combining within the womb of our mother to come forth as a new living being. This being – an Ego, an individual identity – is wholly from and truly dependent upon the natural world – the Eco.  The Ego/Eco relationship I first learned about from Jonathan Jenkins’ “Humanure Handbook.”

As Jenkins says, when we have balance of ego and eco, we as animals roaming this planet live harmoniously with the elements of nature that provides for us. This balance provides the basis for many ancient spiritual traditions, as it is our consciousness of this connection – our attunement to this balance – that allows us to embody a higher knowing of our actual self. When we lose sight of the Eco that sustains us as an individual, imbalance occurs.

When too much emphasis is placed on the Ego, we begin to see the Eco as an other, as an outer force. This lends to the development of human chauvinism – of other animal species, and especially of non-animal species. It leads to a system of education that idolizes the intellect, disregarding spiritual or ethical development. It creates a system of economics that leaves out ecology and creates a need – and in fact a greed – for material wealth. Most of all, it has led to a spiritual vacuum – what plant healer Morgan Brent calls the “Great Forgetting.”

Our society is rampant with depression, isolation, and fear. It is easy to see how, in our forgetting, we may fail to recognize those relations which surround us in the natural world, and thus fail to seek comfort in the depth of the woods or the waves of the ocean.

Scientist and plant researcher Albert Hofmann speaks to this disconnect of spirit:
I share the belief of many of my contemporaries that the spiritual crisis pervading all spheres of Western industrial society can be remedied only by a change in our world view. We shall have to shift from the materialistic, dualistic belief that people and their environment are separate, toward a new conciousness of an all-encompassing reality, which embraces the experiencing ego, a reality in which people feel their oneness with animate nature and all of creation.

The Earth is, indeed, calling us to remember. She has also given us many tools with which to shift our perspective and to reignite the ancient memory of our oneness. I find that the plants speak the loudest in their attempts to reach out and reconnect us. The plant spirits that surround us may guide us to great healing – healing of our bodies, healing of our spirits, and healing of our planet.

We must start first with ourselves – by going within to reconnect our Ego with our Eco. I find one of the most intimate places to reconnect my spirit is recognizing the role the earth plays in my personal health. I reconnect by caring for my health with medicinal plants – what herbalist Rosemary Gladstar calls “the umbilical cords of the planet.” Every sweet sip of an herbal infusion to nourish my physical body reminds me of the many gifts provided for me by this planet, and allows me an intimate moment to reconnect with our connectedness.

While it may sound simple, using herbs as medicine is a powerful ritual to tap into the great web of which we are each a part. When we bring harmony to our personal Ego/Eco balance, we can then walk forward into the world to lead our brothers and sisters toward a greater shift of remembering our relations.


Personal Health as an Environmental Practice


Originally published Velocity Magazine, January-February 2008

Personal Health as an Environmental Practice


Perhaps the most effective ways to help the planet are to evaluate our personal lifestyle and how we can bring it into alignment with the harmony of our planet. This requires us not just to think and evaluate, but to use those to inform our action!


This issue, let’s discuss some simple and yet highly effective personal actions each of us can take to lighten our footprint on the planet in three of the most intimate and important areas of our survival – health, water, and food.

My teachers and ancestors have always taught me that my health and healing is inextricably linked to the health of my environment. Thus, I also seek ways to heal myself and my family that are in harmony with nature.


Modern Western medicine, historically and globally speaking, is a very young minority. Having blossomed within the last century, it is only utilized by 15% of the world’s population. While many tools and techniques of the modern medical system offer us great gifts, many others are abused or used at times when natural methods can provide similar relief. When we take pharmaceutical drugs, we become involved in an ecological cycle that involves all of the pollution produced in the factories that prepare the drugs. In the process of healing ourselves, we contribute to the pollution of air and waterways, the destruction of habitats, and the death of animals in labs and in nature.

Plant and energy based healing offers us an alternative. You can sip a cup of herbal tea, or experience reiki, and never wonder if the life of a mouse has been sacrificed for your personal healing. You can rest confidently that your healthcare does not contribute to further environmental pollution or destruction. In fact – by using plants for healing, you are coming even closer to your environment, to all cycles of life.

This said, not all plant-based healing is equal. When a corporation enters indigenous lands and strips them of their native plants to package into little plastic bottles, we still feed into the cycle of environmental and cultural destruction. So, practice Herbalism with mindfulness, research, and active engagement. Don’t just buy the latest fad rainforest herb advertised on TV – learn what healing plant might grow in your own backyard, safe from threat of extinction.

I encourage you to explore the art and science of plant based healing, not only as a way to bring your body into wellness and balance, but to restore your connection to nature and to contribute to the restoration of the environment.


“Refill, not Landfill” – The Myth of Bottled Water


One of the school’s campaigns, “Refill, not Landfill” encourages us to ditch the bottled water fad and start using refillable containers for our drinking water.

The economic costs of bottled water are an important place to start our evaluation. Bottled water can cost hundreds or thousands of times more than tap water.  For most of us, tap water costs about 1/5 of a penny per gallon; using a filtration device or alkalizer, it may cost 10-25 cents per gallon.  Bottled water typically costs more than one dollar for eight or twelve ounces – a cost of over $10 per gallon.  Consider that most “purified” water simply has chlorine and minerals added – and most “spring” water comes from a tap that is fed by a spring – not from a spring source itself.

Environmentally speaking, in the United States along, plastic bottle production has reached 28.6 billion per year, and requires almost 18 million barrels of oil – enough to fuel more than one million cars.  Bottling of water across the globe uses almost 3 million tons of plastic each year.  Over 85% of empty plastic water bottles – almost 2 million tons – go to the landfill, instead of being recycled.  Most of these will be incinerated, releasing toxic gases and ash full of heavy metals.  Ditching the bottle and refilling instead keeps our plastic refuse from clogging up landfills and further polluting our airways.

But perhaps, most important of all, is the quality of the water you are paying those high prices for.  The FDA and EPA do not regulate bottled water the same as tap water.  Residential water systems must be tested 300 to 500 times per month – bottled water, just once a week.  In an independent study of over 100 bottled water brands, 25% contained bacterial or chemical contamination that violated state standards.  The same study found that 20% of these brands exceeded state microbial guidelines.  Imagine – our tap water is more closely regulated than the water we’ve relied on for decades for “purity.”


You Are What You Eat

A 2005 study suggests that corporate agriculture in the United States is in the top three polluting industries of our natural waterways. Between chemical pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers, we see the complete destruction of waterways

We see this in Central Florida at Lake Apopka. Alligators are roaming about with two sets of sex organs. Some animal species are born with no sex organs at all. Corporate agribusiness is also to blame for the current crisis of our topsoil, both in this country, and around the world. Without fertile soil, how can the next generation grow their food?


Every time we eat food from a corporate agribusiness, we contribute to the cycle of pollution and environmental destruction. Fortunately, Central Florida is blossoming with new farmers and cooperatives – so it’s easy to take a small personal step towards making a big difference. Take advantage of the abundance that Florida’s long growing season has to offer – and note that you aren’t just supporting good environmental practices, but also keeping more money in the local economy, to help insulate our community from global economic volatility. Or, consider growing your own food. Now’s a great time to plant Spring veggies in your own backyard garden. Soon you’ll be harvesting environmental benefits, and some pretty tasty rewards!

Renew and Restore with Herbs

Renew and Restore with Herbs
Originally published in The Messenger, June 2007


Our body is intrinsically complex and delicate. When we fall out of step with our walk of balance – due to external stress or illness – we must quickly seek to restore the harmony of our bodies in order for us to once again experience the fullness and richness of our radiant wellbeing.


To become fully familiar with how our body restores itself, we must look to our nervous system. With our brain serving as command central and our spine the main highway of information, our nervous system spans forth into all parts of our body, serving to integrate our body with our outside environment and experience, as well as our mind with our body.


Our nervous system allows us to experience the world in all its richness and depth. It is the system through which we experience the colors we see, the aromas we smell, the rich tastes on our tongue, and the warmth or coolness, pleasantry or pain in each touch. It receives signals, interprets them, and responds to them in every second of every day – even (and especially!) in our dreamtime!

Our nervous system helps us experience bliss, but also helps us avoid danger. Imagine you place your hand accidentally on a hot stove – and quickly, and involuntarily, our hands reflexes away from the burner. That is our nervous system in action!

Our nervous system is bombarded by stimulus each and every day, no matter how balanced and harmonious of a life we seek to live. With every cell phone ring or argument with a coworker, your nervous system ramps into high gear. Thus, from a holistic viewpoint, we must seek to integrate aspects into our daily life to balance the stimulus our society – such as intentional quiet time, meditation, or warm baths.


Our nervous system relies on nutritional and chemical balance to maintain harmony. Often, when our nervous system is out of balance, other systems – such as digestive or musculoskeletal – will quickly fall out of harmony as well. Thus, when looking to restore any part of our physical body, we must always pay special attention to our nervous system.
Nutritionally speaking, particular foods – such as caffeine, sugar, acidic foods, processed foods and flours – will agitate our nervous system, demanding our greater attention towards restoration. By avoiding these foods and instead looking to warming, alkalizing foods – such as dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains – we will help our body nutritionally renew itself following the stresses of daily life.


Our nervous system falls most quickly out of balance when it has too little of three key nutrients: oxygen, vitamin B complex, and calcium. Synthetic supplements of these nutrients are difficult for our body to process and digest, must less absorb and use to our benefit. Thus, seek to supplement these nutrients through foods rich in them. Green foods and herbs, such as Spirulina and Chlorella, use their high chlorophyll content to help oxygenate our body. Spirulina is also rich in B vitamins, as is nutritional yeast, a nutty, buttery food found in flakes or powder that is easy to incorporate into savory meals. Calcium from animal sources is also difficult for our body to process, as the enzymes and proteins inhibit our body’s ability to assimilate the calcium while they concurrently deplete other minerals needed by our body to use the calcium. Look instead to herbs such as Nettle and Oatstraw, which contain large amounts of bioavailable calcium. Futher, look to seaweeds, such as Kelp, Hiziki, and Wakame, to complement soups and salads and provide ample amounts of digestible calcium.


In addition, many herbs are well suited to gently sustain our nervous system so we may feel whole and restore. “Nervines” such as Chamomile, Catnip and Lemon Balm are gentle, safe, and effective at restoring our nervous system – even for children and elderly! For those who have difficulty sleeping, herbs such as Hops and Valerian can be helpful herbs – but are stronger, and should be used with the care of an herbalist or appropriate health practitioner. Anxiety can often lead to continued states of imbalance and a great need for renewal and restoration – herbs such as Skullcap and Passionflower may be called upon in these cases, but again, under the guidance of an informed practitioner.


Above all, we find our greatest source of renewal and restoration from our interaction and communion with the green world – time spent breathing in the oxygen rich fresh air created for us by the plant friends that surround us. Stepping away from our busy lives and into the green world of our backyards, local parks, or natural preserves is the most restorative medicine of all.

A College Divided

Orlando Weekly Education Feature

Originally Published March 16, 2006


Ah, the spring semester of college. After a long break of family gatherings, sleeping in late and binge drinking, most students return to campus to find it in a relatively uneventful state, perhaps even a little dusty from the lack of inhabitants over the long winter’s fortnight.

Not so the beginning of spring semester 2006 at the University of Central Florida, where students in the College of Arts and Sciences came back to find their department divided into two smaller colleges, the result of a quick decision that excluded input from students and faculty and left many questions unanswered.

The decision by UCF provost Terry Hickey to divide the college illuminates larger issues, like the administration’s perceived lack of respect for the arts, for faculty and for open dialogue, and it has prompted charges of irresponsible budget management.

The UCF administration, currently consumed by prospects of a football stadium and a medical school, announced in October 2005 that the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) was looking at a projected $5 million budget deficit; that is, for the academic year, they had more commitments to salary and expenses than funding. Hickey and UCF president John Hitt publicly attributed the deficit to poor budget management on the part of CAS dean Kathryn Seidel. They called the deficit “a self-inflicted wound” in an Oct. 16 Orlando Sentinel article.

But instead of getting rid of Seidel, UCF administrators decided to divide the CAS into the College of Arts and Humanities and the College of Sciences. Seidel originally planned to complete the remaining two and a half years of her contract by serving as dean of the new College of Arts and Humanities division. An interim dean, Peter Panousis, was appointed to the College of Sciences until a nationwide search could deliver a permanent dean.

Many faculty members think the split was a good idea. “We’re hoping it can be positive,” says Tom Krise, chair of the English Department. “There was a feeling that the college was a little too big. The division will let each new college be more of an advocate for the specific disciplines within the college.”

But some are criticizing administrators for moving forward without a clear picture of costs, which will be higher than if the college were kept whole. Not only will new administrative office space, staff and supplies be needed, but also there is a nationwide search for a new dean and an additional 100 new faculty members.

“This decision was predicated by a deficit, but when you add another layer of expense, it seems that you’ve added to the problem instead of solved it,” says Frank Stansberry, an instructor in advertising and public relations. “I’m not sure the solution matches the need.”

As the largest unit of the seventh-largest university in the nation, the CAS enrolled 14,000 students and generated half of the university’s student credit hours. The CAS also was responsible for the bulk of the school’s general education requirements, the prerequisite courses that all students must take.

Funding for the colleges within the university is based on a model that evaluates student credit-hour production – or the number of students taught in relation to the number of faculty. The provost determines funding based on this model and then allocates a lump sum to each college. College deans disperse the money among the various disciplines. It’s an unwieldy system, especially in light of the ballooning number of students at UCF.

Though the administration claimed that Seidel created a deficit for her college by not properly allocating the lump sum she received, even administrators point to the difficult position Seidel faced when dealing with enrollment growth and funding needs.

“She was forced to make decisions before the money was actually there,” says UCF spokesman Tom Evelyn. “Sometimes you have to hire faculty a full year prior to their start date.” (Neither Hickey nor Hitt responded to repeated requests to be interviewed for this story.)

In addition to extended hiring cycles, college deans deal with unclear growth funding. When UCF projects its enrollment for an academic year, it presents an estimate to the Florida Legislature based on a forecast number of new students. Sometimes UCF admits the students before knowing the amount of growth funding the Legislature will grant.

“The real problem lies in the Legislature – the great unknown,” says Stansberry. “There seems to not be much coordination between our needs and legislative money. In reality, it’s a guessing game how much the Legislature will grant.”

Most years it works out. Others it does not. In 2003-2004, the university budgeted for $14 million in growth funding that it did not receive, leaving the school with more students than it could adequately handle. The result was larger classes, fewer supplies and in some cases, suspended course offerings.

“If a student can’t get a class, then they have to add a year or two to their graduation,” says Rob Reedy, professor of ceramics. Thus the popular colloquial moniker for UCF: U Can’t Finish.

This year, the budget predicament of the CAS went beyond legislative funding uncertainties. For the CAS, enrollment growth was projected at 4.9 percent, and its general education class demands would be increased 6.7 percent. Last year, CAS enrollment increased by 6 percent, and it received a lump sum sufficient to pay for the increase. This year, it received a smaller percentage of the needed funding to cover the growth.

“As a management team, if you give the college less money than your commitments, you doom it to fail,” says Stansberry.

The administration’s stingy allotment of growth funding would be less curious if it weren’t for a surplus in the provost’s account from the previous academic year – almost $17 million available but not spent as of June 30, 2005. Some $12 million of the surplus was reallocated, but how much, if any, went the CAS remains unknown.

An additional $4 million was sent to a reserve account, used at university discretion for unforeseen emergencies such as hurricane repairs. That left nearly $1 million, labeled only as money to be used for “reconciliation.”

This is not the first time the CAS has operated at a deficit; in the two years preceding, it ran $2 million in the red. It’s also not the only college at UCF that is underfunded.

Six of UCF’s colleges, including the CAS, are underfunded, according to the university’s model, averaging 83 percent funding of operational expenses. Only two colleges are almost fully funded: Engineering and Computer Sciences, at 99 percent of the model, and Business Administration, at 112 percent.

(The overfunding in Business Administration may be attributed, in part, to inflated salaries. The average salary for starting faculty with a bachelor’s degree is $112,000, and many salaries in the college reach the 99th percentile among national salaries. “Part of the budget gap has to do with the fact that we are paying faculty like we’re a top-50 business school,” says Jim Gilkeson, associate professor of finance. “What are we buying for our students?”)

While some academic departments are weathering funding shortages, administrators got average raises of 9 percent last year. Hitt, the president, received a one-time $50,000 bonus on top of his $361,000 salary. Those sorts of numbers rankle some faculty.

“How can administrators afford themselves raises, while faculty have to teach more students than can fit into the classroom because of a budget crisis?” asks an assistant professor in humanities, who asked to remain anonymous because he has not yet received tenure.

Enrollment is also ballooning and has increased by more than 10,000 students in the past five years; some UCF officials project it to rise by another 10,000 in the next five.

Diminishing resources and increasing enrollment are problems facing universities nationwide, especially public ones. Federal and state monies continue to decline, and most private funding makes its way to high-profile projects first – things like football stadiums and technological research. But the problems are exacerbated at UCF, where the rate of enrollment and physical growth in the last 10 years is among the highest in the nation.

“Has enrollment growth been good for UCF?” says Gilkeson. “If you believe in large lectures, then it’s been great.”

Administrators see swelling enrollment as an issue of access. “Who wants to be the president that has to turn away students?” says Evelyn. “The president is committed to access to education.”

Not surprisingly, some faculty see another side of the issue.

“I am telling you from the trenches, the growth policy is out of control,” says a professor in the arts who did not want to be named. “I think it’s irresponsible and unethical that we’re letting students in without the money or faculty to provide them an education.”

The October Sentinel article contained sharp criticisms of the administration by Gilkeson. Shortly after it was printed, UCF president Hitt sent an e-mail message to the entire campus community and alumni – a practice typically used for major public announcements and emergencies –responding to and refuting some of Gilkeson’s comments.

“Professor Gilkeson (has) every right to oppose the proposed stadium and medical college,” wrote Hitt. He continued to assert that these budgets are separate from the academic budget, concluding that “the budget problems of (CAS) resulted from decisions made by its administration, not because of the proposed stadium.”

But Gilkeson didn’t back down.

“You have spent time and energy pursuing the football team/coach/stadium, traveling the country viewing stadiums, meeting with stadium donors,” he wrote in an Oct. 27 response to Hitt’s letter. “Have you spent the same amount of time working to correct the CAS budget? It does not seem so.”

Even if the decision to divide the colleges is financially prudent in the long run, the question remains as to why the provost executed the decision without public evaluation, in the middle of the academic year.

“The administration is making damaging, seats-of-their-pants decisions,” says Gilkeson.

Faculty say the administration is ignoring the concept of shared governance. A faculty senate resolution, approved by Hickey in March 2005, requests “that the university administration consult with the faculty senate when a determination is being considered to alter the university educational environment through the creation and administration of colleges.”

Further, when Seidel announced her resignation, Hickey did not initiate an open search-and-review process for her replacement, standard practice for any position at that level. Instead he appointed Jose Fernandez, associate dean of the CAS, to the position, without any faculty input.

“That is unheard of,” says Gilkeson.

But necessary, says UCF. “The provost has to act as expeditiously as possible in order to improve the situation,” says Evelyn. “He will provide general guidance, but a dean is needed to pull the solution into focus. It would not be fair to students to delay this decision any longer.”

Regardless of the confusion of the midyear division, both faculty and administration are hoping to resolve some of the issues. For instance, the administration has formed an enrollment-planning group to create a strategic plan for enrollment and funding. They are also working on long-term growth plans, including how to support that growth.

For faculty and students in the former CAS, the planning did not come soon enough. “There is a bit of disarray,” says David Brown, a music composition major and student senator. “No one is really sure what is going on, or what will happen next.”

Into the Woods

The sweaty tale of one woman who chucks it all to go Thoreau in the woods of Central Florida

Orlando Weekly Cover Story

Originally Published August 4, 2005

I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely … .

— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

It’s another typical day in Orlando. The thermometer is inching toward 100 degrees, but the heat index is easily closer to 110. I am sticky with a mix of sweat and the muggy air of a post-thunderstorm afternoon. Though most would be racing toward an air-conditioned building on days like these, this summer I have chosen to forgo such luxuries and instead center myself squarely inside humid hours such as this – spending my summer camping out in Central Florida.

Rewind to May 2005. We’re wrapping up the longest spring we’ve had in Central Florida in a while, but no one’s complaining, except when looking toward the summer and the ominous hurricane season. Bush is entering the fifth month of his second term, and I’m still coming to grips with how the hell my country could have let it happen. Gasoline prices are at an all-time high and climbing.

Meanwhile, my little corner of the world is changing rapidly. I’m approaching graduation from the University of Central Florida; four years and a lot of raised hell later, John Hitt and company can breathe easy knowing I’ve set foot inside their military-industrial-academic complex for the last time. The whole ordeal – graduation – seems fairly anticlimactic, so much so that I see no reason to waste a few hundred bucks on the cap and gown and pomp and circumstance, and decide to skip the ceremony. Besides – now I’m free from the chains of the academy and the concrete jungle that is Orlando. Time to see the world!

I set my sights south – South America, that is – and prepare for a summer of exotic sights and strange encounters. I plot a seemingly foolproof scheme to get my broke ass down there, thanks to a few grants, with the hopes that I can live peacefully, traveling and studying far from the excesses of corporate conservatism, consumer culture and Mickey Mouse.

Except, in the end, my scheme wasn’t so foolproof. One of the grants fell through, my plan sprung a leak and my trip sank, leaving me back at square one, just in time to receive my student loan notice. The reminder was the icing on the cake of my already looming (yet statistically average) credit card debt, and, surrounded by a sluggish employment market and an economy spiraling downward, I experienced my first dose of foreboding financial fright.

Welcome to the real world, indeed.

With the revision of my summer plans came the re-evaluation of everything around me – my work, my studies, my hobbies, my place of residence. It seemed I was destined to stay in Orlando after all, despite how much I despise the city’s expanse of urban sprawl. I had secured some work for the summer months. New opportunities for independent studies, down paths more enriching than what I could have been spoon-fed at UCF, were opening. And I had an abundance of enjoyable activities with which to fill my free time – when I could find it, that is, between hustling jobs to try to pay the rent. If I wasn’t entirely unhappy with my future prospects, at least I was feeling lukewarm about them.

And then it hit me: The longer I stared at the four walls around me – and at the stack of bills they seemed to create each month – the less I felt as though my hours of work were being exchanged for something I really value.

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. … Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born?

Thoreau, Walden

Just a few firing synapses later I had a brand-new scheme plotted: I didn’t need the house, much less the expenses it engendered. I’d been there less than a year, and it was just a simple student rental. And if I was going to stay in Orlando, I would need a heavy dose of escape from the concrete, construction and congested highways that suffocate me as I traverse this city. It just didn’t make sense to slave all day at a dead-end service job, only to feed the profits of a lease-management company, all the while feeling robbed of my leisure, scrambling to spend free moments finding solace in some faraway natural sanctuary.

To this quandary there seemed only one solution, as spiritually as it was financially motivated: to pack up and head to the woods. As in, literally, move my person and possessions off the grid as soon as possible.

For a moment, it all seemed just one step over the top, yet the more I developed my plan, the more smoothly it fell into place. Some very gracious friends happened to own undeveloped acreage on a local body of water (I can’t be more specific than that, see below for the reason why) in a fairly remote area; another friend gave me a spacious camping tent. It was a match made in heaven, or rather, the outskirts of the city, where I was introduced to the little parcel of land that would become my new home.

Of course, Orange County officially frowns on the idea, and has zoning rules against erecting tents as semipermanent structures, and against not connecting to water and sewer lines. Imagine: You buy a piece of property and The Man won’t let you do with it as you please. Big shock.

One can apply for an exception, if, say, you want to generate your own power or collect and dispose of your own water using alternative but sanitary methods. But I tried to reach the county to figure out how to accomplish this and played the standard game of voicemail tag before surrendering. I’d have to live both off the grid and outside the law.

There were a lot of things to consider: the summer heat, without air conditioning; the rainy season, with all the mosquitoes in tow; how to cook without a real kitchen; how to keep clean without a real bathroom. But these were minor details that contributed to the major adventure I was about to embark upon.

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.

Thoreau, Walden

All the matters of moving into the woods seemed manageable, until I began to survey the home I was about to leave and all the belongings stored inside. When you think in terms of moving into a tent, you start to understand how many things are truly unnecessary. Rooms and rooms of stuff; junk, really. Where will I find space for my multifunction food processor? Or all those tapes that were supposed to teach me French? I began to think like a camper, and the clutter began to smother me.

Thus, I began “the purge” – stripping down my belongings to only those things which I really need, whittling away at all that I have acquired in my quarter-century. A huge yard sale, several giveaways, pages of listings on Freecycle and a big trip to Goodwill later and I had finally condensed my assets to the essentials.

So the baggage was shed, trails were cleared, the tent was erected. I was home at last.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Thoreau, Walden

The first few days were quite an adjustment period. At first the sun was a dagger in my eye through the windows of my tent at an awfully early – and unpleasant – hour. But now it provides me a gentle rousing from slumber, much kinder than any alarm, and the waking birds even give me a reliable 20-minute snooze. Moreover, something about rising and resting with the sun has reinvigorated my mind and body, setting me in tune with the cycles that surround me.

The woods are filled with things that go bump in the night, and at first it set me on edge. But it only took a few nights to know the difference between the sound of a frog hopping up a tree and a squirrel scurrying down it. Now I go to sleep to a symphony of insects and the sound of trees as their leaves sway in the wind.

To be certain, I live the “modified” version of life in the woods. I still benefit from the technologies of modern man. For instance, while I sometimes take advantage of heavy afternoon rains for bathing, most frequently I make use of my $6 solar shower, a five-gallon neoprene bag with a rubber hose attached to the bottom. It’s far from a wonder in water pressure, but if you rinse off and scrub up really quick, and maneuver it just right, you can step back into the real world wearing at least a facade of fresh and clean.

My water is either bottled in gallons for drinking, or collected in a rain barrel to feed my plants or fill the shower. Despite my urge to find an old-fashioned washboard and make do, I still travel to the coin-operated laundry to take care of my dirty clothes. And while I’ve researched “humanure,” and have used a tree a time or two in the past to support my daily squats, I now dispose of my more personal waste in the handiest bit of camping technology I’ve found yet – the Luggable Loo.

With my new schedule, I spend less time worrying about my finances, checking e-mails and catching up on current events, and much more time doing the things I love. Besides, the humid heat in the heart of the afternoon doesn’t encourage the brain and body to work too hard. Thus, at my new home I have painted more, read more, played more guitar and in general enjoyed my time as leisure in a capacity far greater than when I had all the luxuries of modern life within arm’s reach; and this from a once-professional workaholic who would bookend days preparing a to-do list and clearing voicemail.

We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!

Thoreau, Walden

All of which is not to say I haven’t been working. Besides my summer job, I’ve put in time toiling at the camp. It’s quite a task preparing land to be lived on – cutting and chain-sawing and clearing in a way that conserves the natural landscape. But all the sweat has been a spiritual gift in itself; not to mention a far better physical workout than I could get at any gym. And I have felt my work more as play than as labor.

Most people ask how I can live without air-conditioning. The answer is I have developed a new appreciation for shade. We are, after all, human, and our bodies quickly adapt to our surroundings if we agree to let them stretch beyond what we perceive as our comfort zones. It only took a few days for me to prefer a cool breeze on a still afternoon to the frigid piercing of a thermostat set too low.

You only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns.

Thoreau, Walden

Others ask why I’m not lonely. In reality, I’ve never felt more connected with my friends in the wild. The bugs and the frogs share their calls in a rhythmic pattern throughout the day, and I soon learned which birds send which songs on the wind. A wise old owl often croons me to sleep in the tree just above my tent. The thunder has never echoed more grandly, and the lightning never put on such a majestic display. If I’m quiet on my morning walks, I’m often greeted by a family of otters or a pair of deer. All these creatures I first met in petting zoos are now frequent guests in my own backyard. Not to mention the beautiful backdrop to my every moment: the lush, rich scenery of green, untouched earth.

Even my food tastes better these days. There is an ease to having all the modern appliances at hand to prepare a meal, but nothing tastes finer than some seasoned beans and rice simmering long on the camping stove, or grilled veggies by the fire. When you are growing and harvesting even the smallest amount of your own food and hunting wood for your fire, the extra time spent in preparing your meal is rewarded deliciously.

In this process, I have come to appreciate the quantity of waste we so hastily produce; in the woods, your trash doesn’t disappear in the back of a big truck. When it piles up just beside your bedroom, you learn the importance of “waste not, want not.”

Of course camping in the Florida summer isn’t without its difficulties, many of which I didn’t anticipate. I am still a part of this computer-driven society, so when I do find myself needing to use one (say, when trying to write an article about living in the woods), it’s an adventure to make it happen. Sometimes, when the weather is especially inclement, I find myself relying on my circle of good friends – which I am truly lucky to have – a situation that has taught me a hard lesson in humility. While my cooler will keep food cold for a few days, the soggy mess it leaves is a pain in the ass to clean up. The one appliance I do sorely miss is a refrigerator.

And no matter how much scrubbing I attempt, at this point I doubt I will ever really get my toes clean again.

While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them.

Thoreau, Walden

Still, the rewards have been countless – perhaps none more than the new gratitude I have for each day and the new eyes through which I view it. See, the longer I live out here, the more I come to understand how imprisoned we are by a lifestyle that values efficiency and convenience. We are trapped by the daily grind, to work and to bed, laboring over and over in this way so we can acquire something bigger and better, something that is supposed to make our lives easier, all the while separating ourselves from each other and from our source. The deeper we connect with technology, the more disconnected we become from the earth that sustains us, the people who surround us and, most regrettably, ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Henry David Thoreau. I have yet to build my own dwelling, although I’m inspired by the idea. I drink bottled water, use a plastic toilet and still truck my clothes into town to do my laundry. Nonetheless I’ve chosen sweat over stucco walls; the buzz of bugs over the hum of appliances; a Coleman camping tent over wall-to-wall carpeting. In short, I have elected to give up many of the conveniences of modern society to search for a life more simple – and in my surrender have found myself all the richer.

Pedal Pushers

Orlando Weekly, Originally Published March 2005


It’s an ordinary Friday afternoon in the City Beautiful, and you are weaving in and out of the herd of flag-adorned SUVs along Robinson Street, racing home to start your weekend. Suddenly a few dozen bicycles, their riders clad in slick raingear, pedal across an intersection, leaving you perhaps momentarily stalled, and certainly flabbergasted.

The temporary takeover of traffic that is Critical Mass – a rapidly growing cultural phenomenon happening all over the country – has reached Orlando. It took a decade to get here, as all good cultural phenomena do, but better late than never. In cities across America, cyclists gather to celebrate their chosen vehicle, shun the auto for an afternoon, exercise their right to be on the road alongside oblivious and dangerous drivers, and, well, ride their bikes.

The Orlando ride, scheduled for the last Friday of every month at 5:30 p.m. from the Lake Eola Ampitheatre, began in January thanks to the efforts of Joel Mann. Mann participated in Critical Mass rides in Chapel Hill, N.C., while attending graduate school, and rode in a 300-rider Mass in Chicago on New Year’s Eve. When he returned to Florida, he was motivated enough to put up flyers in an effort to bring together O-Town cyclists for a little collective pedaling.

“One reason I took interest in creating a ride in Orlando was because I wanted to participate myself,” says Mann, 26, a city planner who moved to Orlando a year ago. “My primary interest is bringing together people who like to bike.”

Critical Mass was born in San Francisco in 1992 as a gathering of bicycle enthusiasts who wanted to assert their right to share the road with motor vehicles and encourage people to think about alternative transportation. The first ride drew 48 cyclists. Today, there are Critical Mass rides in more than 250 cities, from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine, from Anchorage, Alaska, to Havana, Cuba. Florida boasts seven cities currently hosting rides, including Sarasota and Miami.

Mann isn’t the “organizer” of the Orlando rides. There isn’t an organizer in the traditional sense of the word. As the group’s website ( states, “Critical Mass is not an organization, it’s an unorganized coincidence. It’s a movement … of bicycles, in the streets.”

Without a structured leadership, the rides can ebb and flow in their participation and effectiveness as people drift in and out of town, or in and out of dedication. For instance, Orlando once briefly hosted Critical Mass rides before, for a few months, back in 2002.

Still, Mann is confident about the potential for Critical Mass to be around awhile in Central Florida this time. The first two rides have been a mix of young professionals, students and older bike enthusiasts, numbering around two dozen despite the cold and drizzly Friday afternoons that have rained on the parade.

“People ask, ‘What kind of bike should I bring?’ or ‘What kind of shape should I be in?'” says Mann. “It doesn’t matter. There is no level of endurance, or biking skill, necessary. We move very slowly and are very social.”

The attraction – and success – of Critical Mass lies in its simple, approachable nature. Mann calls Critical Mass “an open, free-formed social activity that celebrates the end of the week and the end of the month.”

Critical Mass was first known by the alliterative but less friendly moniker “Commute Clot.” The current name derives from the 30-minute documentary Return of the Scorcher, an ode to bicycling in a car-crazy world. In the film, bicyclists in Beijing, China – a city without traffic lights – would gather at intersections until the group was large enough to stop vehicular traffic and cross together, “a kind of … critical mass thing,” according to the Ted White film.

Critical Mass rides tend to become more tense as they become political; for example, when cyclists attach signs to their bikes or conflicts arise between cyclists and their four-wheeled counterparts. Websites from rides around the country provide tips on how to handle the cops, should they try to drag you by the handlebars down to the station.

While some riders are more confrontational, and some cities less welcoming, Critical Mass is generally a peaceful event.

“It is possible to protest peacefully, and we strive for that,” says Mann.

The group also strives to have some fun and get some exercise. Many of the more established rides around the country feature water-pistol matches, unicycle “gangs” or teams of tandem riders. Some routes, such as those in San Francisco, are appealing because of the extreme physical workout of rolling hills and spectacular cityscapes.

Orlando, of course, is not so blessed. “The fun about route planning is to find a way to show off good parts about the city,” says Mann. “The problem here is that it is not dense enough, and there are fewer attractions.”

In cities like San Francisco, with a route that runs from the Financial District to the Mission, there are plenty of sights and stops along the way. In downtown Orlando, where empty storefronts and construction projects are the biggest attractions, the route could easily become stale. Still, the first two rides have been enjoyable and manageable treks, measuring roughly four miles each and stretching to Lake Ivanhoe and College Park from the Rosalind Avenue and Washington Street starting point. All rides start at the Lake Eola Ampitheatre, but from there they take different routes.

“We just want to establish a bike community in Orlando,” says Mann. If the success of the first two rides are any indication, it appears that they already have.