About Ruth Ann Smalley

Ruth Ann Smalley, Ph.D. is a holistic educator, who believes stories help us create, participate in, and heal our world. A homeschooler, literature professor, energy worker, and member of the Transition Towns movement, her stories feature children learning how to be “earth-wise.” Her award winning picture book, Sheila Says We’re Weird, celebrates “green living” practices for families. The spunky sister and brother team in her middle grades novel, Defender of Dirt, teach about the power of urban gardening and of finding your own voice. Ruth Ann is available for school programs and presentations on healthy, sustainable practices for children and adults. Certified in Eden Energy Medicine, Ruth Ann also has a private wellness practice (see vibrant-energies.com).


Acting on Our Convictions: Why Being a Citizen Means Being an Activist Today

Syncrude upgrader. Alberta Tar Sands. 2005.

Photographer Garth Lenz documents the oil empire

I hate to be a downer, but I just have to say it: the pace of corporate vandalism of the planet seems to be accelerating, and the scale of the damage is unprecedented.

The Keystone Pipeline may not be the issue that motivates you to act, and you may already be doing a great deal in your role as an earth steward. But I want to share a letter I just wrote as the public comment period on the Keystone permit winds down tonight. I  hope that it will encourage you to use your own voice in whatever climate-related issue resonates for you. Thanks for all you do.

To the U.S. Department of State:

Please deny a permit to the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline. Such a permit will unduly burden U.S. citizens, and especially landowners, with a potentially hazardous substance. It will also burden planetary systems: this project simply constitutes a further buildout of infrastructure to support our unsustainable dependence on biosphere-destroying fossil fuel.

The IPCC’s research has indicated that we are quickly approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be very difficult to avoid catastrophic feedback loops and other drastic global warming related changes, for which we are not prepared.


Idle No More Movement: First Nations Resistance to Tar Sands

We cannot afford to continue business as usual, and the Keystone Pipeline is nothing if not an intensification of business as usual. The whole process of extracting tar sands oil is incredibly destructive and energy intensive.

Even in the day-to-day process, tar sands extraction is exacting an unacceptable toll on First Nations people and destroying a vast ecosystem. There are serious human rights issues at stake that have, lamentably, gone largely  unreported and ignored.


Native American Resistance to Keystone XL


On that basis alone, Americans should feel more than justified in refusing to condone a product that has such a terrible, unjust story of origin. Twenty-first century citizens of the United States need to rightfully declare, “Not on my watch.”

On a larger timeline, the extraction, transportation, refining, and burning of tar sands oil is another nail in humanity’s coffin. The rate at which it is currently being produced and rushed to market clearly indicates the motivating factors: the corporate profit imperative is the driving force.

If we stand by and open our land to this imperative, we are essentially consenting to a value system that does not consider human well-being as a premium. The corporation will not restrain itself. It knows no limits. Self-regulation is not in the corporate DNA.tar-sands

Given the long-standing addiction to oil on the part of agriculture, commerce, and the general population, the industry now stands in the position of pusher and drug lord. Informed citizens and their governments must be the moderating factor.

Now is the time act to limit the damage, as well as to establish a new norm for how we will direct our energy development. We owe it not only to our species, but to the more- than-human community.

animal-migration-ternNow is the time to turn away from these extreme forms of energy, and dedicate our efforts and funds to clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar. According to Mark Shwartz, writing in the Feb. 26, 2014 issue of the Stanford Report, “Stanford University scientist Mark Jacobson has developed a 50-state roadmap for transforming the United States from dependence on fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. He unveiled the plan at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.” The work of Jacobson and his colleagues is impressive, and should merit immediate attention from governmental bodies. (See: http://thesolutionsproject.org/infographic/)

We have the technology and the knowledge to retool our energy infrastructure; we simply need the political will. The fact that more and more ordinary citizens are coming out in numbers to protest Keystone illustrates what a crux point it represents. Ample evidence shows that we’ve already overshot many of our natural systems’ ability to materially renew themselves, and that our contribution of greenhouse gases has already changed the planet. (For more on overshoot, see:http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/gfn/page/earth_overshoot_day/)

planet-earth-from-space-1764-hd-wallpapersThe refusal to permit Keystone is one of many pro-active steps that we are called upon to take if we make an honest assessment of our long term prognosis. I urge you to act in the interests of the people of the United States of America, the well-being of long-persecuted indigenous people, and the greater health of the planet. Please deny this permit, while doing everything in your power to actively support efforts toward our “renewable transformation.” Thank you for your time.


Green Booksellers


Consider how many children’s stories involve this scenario: a character somehow opens the door into a surprising new place they never knew existed. The door has been hidden, and required the right magic to reveal it. Or, perhaps the door was simply overlooked earlier because of its modest appearance. Either way, the character steps inside to discover a fully formed world, ready to be explored. Often what they find is a combination of the real and the make-believe: interesting people, unusual occurrences, fantastic creatures.

These stories appeal to our desire for stimulation and novelty. But they also speak to the way the world surprises us. Those surprises help us discover who we are in relationship to the possibilities life offers.

We’re drawn to such stories because scenarios like these aren’t simply fantasies. They are metaphors for experiences that unfold throughout our lives when we encounter the new. For young children it might be the first visit to a friend’s house, a new activity, or a vacation trip. As we grow, it may happen as we enter a new school, workplace, or interest group.

Or, it could be as simple as walking into an unfamiliar shop, which is how it happened to me recently. I’d received an email from “Good Buy Books,” an independent seller of new and gently used books across the river. One of their customers had requested copies of Defender of Dirt, my self-published eco-adventure novel for children. I had no idea this store was even there, so of course I just had to go check it out.

It was getting dark when I arrived at a little red . . . log cabin. Yep. Looked like a Maple Syrup Hut or something. I didn’t know what to expect, but found myself bracing a bit. I’ve been in a few too many ramshackle, musty, and claustrophobic used bookstores.

The interior, however, is cozy and inviting. This is a true Mom and Pop store, owned by Lynne and Vinny Catelotti, who have run the place for eight years. It offers a large selection without feeling crowded, and Vinny was happy to give me a tour.

Exuding friendliness, the shop is a true locus for readers: they host a book club, hold author events, stock the summer reading for local schools, and are involved in the community in all sorts of ways.

One of those ways is as a reuse and recycle hot spot. Vinny and I got into a conversation about the “ecology” of the store when I noticed a “Think Green” sign about avoiding plastic bags, posted near the checkout. I joked that by buying used books, we are re-cycling them, but he also told me that any damaged or unmarketable books get picked up by Green Fiber. This company actually recycles them into insulation.

The money from that transaction then cycles back to kids, as Lynne and Vinny donate it to the local Kiwanis club. They donate excess copies of books to the public library, or ship them to overseas military.

Vinny and Lynne also keep a box behind the counter for customers to drop off their Christmas cards. These go to a recycling program that benefits St. Jude’s. Near the Christmas card box is a large canister of pull tabs from beverage cans. Customers bring these in for the Ronald McDonald House, which raises money through recycling them. In this age of convenience, book buyers bearing cardstock and aluminum sound like fantastical creatures to me, but, clearly, they frequent Good Buy Books.

A kind of “everyday magic” is being performed in this bookshop: a reduction of waste and a multiplication of relational exchanges between the owners, the patrons, and the community. What a contrast with big box stores and online purchasing! It reminded me of the statistics on how many more conversations people have at farmer’s markets than at grocery stores.

I left feeling charmed and buoyed by the visit. Plus, I had 4 books in my cloth bag that together cost about the same as 1 new hardback.

So, the dark-of-winter, post-holiday doldrums are coming. Why not open the door to a fully formed world that holds a lovely combination of the real and the make-believe? I’d recommend a trip to the little red log cabin at 330 Columbia Turnpike in Rensselaer, NY.


Green Poems for the White Mountains: New Hampshire in July

berries eye to eye

Blueberry Mindfulness Practice


How many thoughts the mind can generate

That make no difference at all

To a hillside of wild blueberries

Ripening in the noon of late July.



Complex History

I’m sinking


In a pillow of duff and a

Puff of moss.


Through years of life, growth, and death

My foot landing only gradually

On the ground

of all generations.

white coral closeup



Let me dine

On fresh eggs

Scottish oats

Wild blueberries

And the view of the woods

Behind the screened porch.

A forest of staghorn clubmoss off the back porch

A forest of staghorn clubmoss off the back porch

Reflections on Fresh Fruit


A cantaloupe offered me an epiphany this morning.  I confess, this is not my first melon-induced, micro-mystical moment.  Years ago, I was browsing the produce in a small farm store–the usual line up of summer squash, sweet corn, zucchinis.  Suddenly, … Continue reading

Tiny, Happy Gardens


The front yards in my neighborhood are smaller than a lot of people’s master bedrooms. And it looks as though folks like it that way. By this time of year, with as much rain as we’ve had, things are pretty … Continue reading