Photograph by Michael Amsler
Attitude You can feel the lack or you can feel the joy.
Trathen Heckman on living marvelously
By Brodie Jenkins
The shades are drawn in Trathen Heckman's sparsely furnished parlor, and a warm sleepy light gives the room an otherworldly softness. Dressed in a baseball cap, baggy shorts and sneakers, Heckman is at once youthful and wise, composed and energized. In fact, he is the picture of a man who conquers uncertainty and insecurity with vision, creativity and direction.
This sacred balance enables Heckman, 37, to juggle a multitude of jobs and responsibilities, among them directing Daily Acts, an organization that pours forth the message, "You and everything you do matters." The goal of Daily Acts is to inspire and instill a reverence and active commitment to life, the earth and human relationships in a culture that Heckman says stresses lack and insufficiency. Every little action is crucial.
"It's literally the difference between a world that's being killed and that's dying and the world that's being born," Heckman says. "You could just walk down the street and see nothing but problems, or you could walk down the street and see the solutions—lavender with bees all over them, food, medicine, wonder!"
Transforming words into reality are the "sustainability tours," traveling workshops hosted by Daily Acts. These half-day tours take participants, via green transport, to what Heckman terms various "bright spots" in the North Bay where sustainable solutions are happening and working for regular people. Teaching everything from how to create your own natural, nontoxic wall finish to biodynamic composting, the Sustainability Series runs from March to October, with a brief break in the winter.
"You could read about it," Heckman explains, "but you need to go out there and have someone stick edible flowers in your mouth and say, 'Here, smell this rose geranium, you can make tea out of it.'"
The tragedies of Sept. 11 and the subsequent death of his mother drove the Chico State graduate and former professional snowboarder to take his first drastic actions in 2001. "The hurt of those two situations and some other aspects catalyzed me to step up in some way," he says. "And that's when I published the first issue of Ripples, did the first sustainability tour."
Ripples Journal, an independent print publication currently reaching some 6,000 people, carries a joyful yet beseeching tone. Published twice yearly, each issue addresses the positive aspects of daily life and implores readers to live brilliantly and conscientiously.
Though content with the nonfiscal rewards of his work, Heckman acknowledges that even revolutionaries have to support themselves. "We've done a lot on very small finances, because we've been so supported by the community," Heckman says."Two hundred–plus people volunteering close to 30,000 hours over the last five or six years. But you still gotta pay the bills."
His commitment is beginning to pay off. Last year, Heckman began taking a part-time paycheck from Daily Acts after volunteering about 50 hours a week. He also took on directing Green Sangha, the second nonprofit to come under his wing. Described by Heckman as "spiritually engaged environmental action," Green Sangha is a community that combines spiritual practice with environmental activism.
The Petaluma home Heckman shares with his wife, Mary, is a sustainability site in itself, from the earth plaster walls in his home to the graywater system and rain catchment tank in the backyard, all of which the Heckmans constructed with the help of community. A beehive produces a regular bounty of honey, and bottles of homemade brew are concocted with hops from Heckman's own Humulus bine. With his energy and knowledge, he is inspiring proof that one individual can embody his or her beliefs in both word and deed.
"It's a strategy," he says. "If we just keep inspiring and infecting each other back and forth, and knowing that the little bits are extremely vital."
Walking outside, Heckman plucks a leaf from a rose geranium plant and sticks it under my nose. Heavenly. I marvel at a baby banana plant, the peas climbing up the fence on recycled metal, the cherry and apple trees. He fills my hands with strawberries, raspberries, herbs and a scone his wife made with blueberries from the backyard.
When it's time to say goodbye, my senses are dizzy. Stepping out of Heckman's garden feels like walking into another dimension. A gas station sign sneers in the sunlight—$4.51 per gallon—and my heart sinks. I think about the lack, the insufficiency. Then I notice the sweet smell of rose geraniums on my fingertips, and I remember the beautiful new world that right now is being born.
For more information about Daily Acts, 'Ripples Journal' or the Sustainability Tours, visit [ http://www.daily-acts.org/ ]www.daily-acts.org.
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