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Donella Meadows tribute by Peter Warshall

I loved so many sparkles and reflective facets of Dana. With each one revealed, she became a more delightful and mysterious person. I first understood her specialness at a meeting of business professionals. Their constricted hearts and state of denial seemed outrageous, painful?if not counter-productive. Dana leaned over. "Just tell them," she said. I poured out my feelings, and she followed with her typical brilliance, scribbling a map of their business system and how their economic model would ultimately turn against their own dreams.

Her essay, "Places to Intervene in a System," erupted in a similar meeting. Already enshrined as a classic, it will remain like those of Orwell or Aldo Leopold. She wrote it as a gift to Whole Earth (Winter, 1997). It was true Dana?eminently helpful to those engaged in this world; acting as a friend with its exquisite clarity and mindfulness; filled with sweet intellect and spectacular articulation. All her work sheltered fledgling ethical imaginations?thousands of citizens, readers, students, friends, and colleagues. Her writing and generosity never slowed.

Dana was a faultless listener. At a World Wildlife meeting on sustainable forestry, we heard highly intelligent professional foresters describe supply, demand, and the global wood economy; and then a shaman from the Dream Change Coalition on how the industrial world could not understand trees until it changed its dreams. Donella got up and, on a whiteboard, charted the value chain from forest to consumer. On top, the tree as commodity. Below and parallel, the tree as "entity," a value in itself, a life worthy of respect. She turned and said simply: "These two must be made to work together."

She was the master. She presented "systems" to citizens and students unfamiliar with feedback and feedforward loops, "S" and "J" curves, and number crunching and geometry as they applied to organizations. When she heard about a grassroots issue, she wrote one of her syndicated columns featuring it, and helped those struggling by placing the issue in a systems context. I once tried to protect the Mt. Graham red squirrel's habitat from a clear-cut on Forest Service land. She quickly turned it into a news column on values and systems of decision making.

Her interest in pattern was a compassionate path?to remove blame from individuals and focus human energy on useful leverage points and correcting system perversities. Once these were made explicit, she strongly believed, humans would naturally want to bring to pass a bigger world of goodness. Revenge and put-downs were not in her toolkit. Creative destruction of harmful patterns was central.

We talked poetry outside of meetings. Emily Dickinson was one inexhaustible source of articulate wisdom. Although we never chatted about spiritual/religious texts or legacies, I know no other person who so openingly encountered whatever sufferings crossed her path, and did so well to reduce whatever pain she could. This, to her, was true progress. "Growth" was improving one's skills, insights, and teaching powers to bring others along. She was flabbergasted by business/consumer definitions: "How did we get so fixated on 'growth?' How can anyone be in favor of 'growth' without first asking: growth of what, for whom, at what cost, for how long?" She literally wrote the book that most powerfully questioned "economic-growth-as-the-solution-to-everything-global." Limits to Growth unnerved the world.

For years we e-mailed and phoned. We had a small unspoken ritual: to give each other a paragraph or two of what was most vivid about life now, vivid as a moment in seasonal change, vivid as a simple event among the creatures of the Earth. Inadequately, I honor her and my foundering grief by offering you a sampling:

Earth is thawed, lambs in the barn, chicks in the brooder, farm ducks laying eggs but not brooding yet, thrushes just returned (YAY! I root for them every year), woodcock "peenting" at low candlepower of evening, Venus and Jupiter in conjunction in the morning sky, spinach and peas and onions planted.

The good news is, though, that out of that work I have $400,000 worth of grants and 3 teams modeling the production and distribution systems for 3 commodities ? shrimp, corn, and forest products. The work is fascinating and very challenging. The systems are humongous and becoming more so all the time. (One-third of the corn grown in the US is now gene-spliced! On average 5 pounds of bycatch are destroyed for every pound of shrimp caught! Brazilian pulp is now being sent to Pennsylvania paper mills, putting all the local loggers out of business! Aaaaaaagh!!!!!)

Beautiful golden light of the southward-falling sun. First hard frost expected on Friday. Robins in great flocks heading south. Forests turning into miles and miles of glory. We have three new Jersey calves!

Colors are EXPLODING here!!!!!! Such a joyous last hurrah every year. Makes me believe that God loves us and also has a great sense of fun.

It's beginning to cool here in the Northeast?August always contains hints of fall. The hermit thrushes start singing again now for some reason. The first migratory birds are flocking with their grown-up babies. A coyote made so many murderous forays into my sheep that I sold the sheep rather than watch them turn into food for coyotes and turkey vultures. The gardens are in their glory and we eat about 12 different veggies at every meal, including now the new potatoes.

Did you MEAN that about visiting the farm? That would be so cool! (Literally, at this time of year. We are iced in. I slip and slide to get to the chicken house and, even worse, to get back from the chicken house with eggs in my pocket. Why am I so stupid as to carry the eggs in my pocket when I come back over the ice? You know, I ask myself that question every day.)

Here's a puzzler. In the middle of a raging snowstorm last week I saw two ROBINS in my crab apple tree, greedily downing shriveled, frozen crab apples. (They looked very colorful against the snow, and they looked healthy and fat.) I have NEVER before seen robins here between October and March. I hadn't seen these two before and I haven't seen them since. What's going on????

These calm winter days are so gentle, so silent. Except for the chickadees, who are always bustling and now starting their spring feeeebeeees.

America already junked much of its excess capital, especially in steel, machine tools, etc., over the past 20 years. In terms of real assets, we may be beginning to rise out of the trough (though paper assets are still overvalued). Asia is behind us, getting hit hard now. We're about to find out whether our economy is really globally linked to theirs or not. As for me, I put my faith in good topsoil and big trees and clean-running streams and mutually supportive human communities and honest work that provides what people really need.

To paraphrase what she herself said of other friends: Rest in peace, great soul. You leave a great unfillable hole behind.