One day hiking up a California hill I had named the “Goetheberg” I happened on an entire wing from a red tail hawk. We’d had a storm — lots of wind and rain — and I thought maybe the wind had brought the bird down. There was nothing other than the wing and only enough flesh to hold the feathers together. I picked it up and brought it home. I kept it for years and often wondered how it had fallen. A serious attack from a above was also a plausible cause.
The first time I was aware of the storied side of that world was when I was with my mom in Tucson and I took an early morning walk in a sandy wash and found mallard feathers and shining green heads strewn all around.
I suspected coyotes but it had rained and there were no tracks. “There’s a story here,” I thought, “but I will never know what it is.” Over time I saw the bleached bones of carnivore skulls, prickly pear seeds in coyote scat (“How?” I wondered until I had to try the fruit myself), footprints of prey followed by footprints of predators. If I walk with my head down now, you can blame it on that. There are a lot of good stories on the ground and, also, feathers.
Wild prose drains into desert washes. The day I found the wing, I turned away from the hill and walked up the wash. I guess I hoped to read more of the story.
Yesterday I imagine most people saw the video of the woman in Central Park who refused to leash her dog even though it was clearly posted that, entering that area, an area called “The Ramble,” dogs must be leashed.
And why? A little research showed me why. It’s a refuge. In that immense and convoluted canyon of humanity there is a bird refuge. According to the guy who made the video, Christian Cooper, one of the most elegantly articulate people I’ve ever heard (he used the word “scofflaw”. Who uses that? The English teacher heart in me soared a little), 230 different bird species have been seen in that part of Central Park. When the event happened Cooper was birdwatching. It was 7:30ish in the morning.
Personally, I couldn’t spend more than 24 hours in New York City without feeling claustrophobic. I’ve tried. It’s the opposite of “my” landscape. It’s the “Big Filled.” So, my heart reached out in sympathy for the 230 bird species and the man who was there to see them. First point.
Second point. I believe in leashing dogs where there is signage. I walk my dogs in a bird refuge. I don’t want them going after the birds (and they would. They’re dogs). I don’t want them defecating there, either, so I carry poop bags. Dog poop is NOT the same to the natural environment as wild animal poop. There’s a reason the fox population has suffered from dog Parvo leading to an overpopulation of rabbits, etc… Nature knows how to work. We don’t.
When I go to my places and a person has an unleashed dog I’m furious. Bear is a power, a force of nature, and she doesn’t like other dogs. By keeping her leashed, I am protecting other dogs. She won’t hurt them, but I still don’t want her to chase them and throw them down. I also want to be responsible for my dog’s behavior where other animals live. Dogs are predators. I’ve had dogs who stayed with me on a trail, but neither Bear nor Teddy will. I’ve also let my dogs run where there is nothing at stake.
So, here’s this selfish woman letting her dog run in one of the only places in NYC where there are birds and birders and the whole nature thing that sustains life and the human soul. Grrrrrrrrr…..
Then the man, whom I couldn’t see but who was taking video, asked her to stay back from him. C-19 right? She kept approaching, yelling at him, spraying (through her mask) particles and rage. As she screamed, she held her little dog by the collar, choking him until he cried out in pain.
Still she did not leash him. Instead she called the police on 911 (the emergency number) and demanded (yes) they come and rescue her from an African American man who was attacking her.
That was it. I suddenly understood something I’ve never understood before. She actually BELIEVED that the cops would come and save her from the African American man. She said nothing about what was going on, only that an African American man was after her. She BELIEVED that was enough to summon the cops.
And that, I saw, clearly and sorrowfully, is White Privilege.
Why didn’t I see it before?
I never taught a class that was predominantly white. Most of my classes were Latino, white and African American — literally AFRICAN American very often. What I HAVE seen in my own life are African American students believing that when I asked them to do something difficult I was setting them up for failure because of White Privilege. That was never the case. Yesterday I understood the angry and paranoid assumptions many of these students brought with them to my classes, their inability to look at a white teacher as an individual person.
How did that all work out back in the day? Well, invariably I stood my ground. I knew where those students wanted to go and I knew my job was to get them there, even if I had to fight with them. It always worked out but it was never easy. They stood in their own way most of the time. I think I was terrifying to them.
A few years after teaching one particularly challenging community college class with a student who would angrily disrupt a lecture or discussion every single class period, until the other students were fed up with HER, I was sitting outside my office at San Diego State in a plaza area with picnic tables. I saw that student at another table tutoring (Equal Opportunity Tutoring) another African American student. I was happy to see that she’d succeeded in transferring (in spite of herself) and that she was helping someone else.
Later, immersed in grading papers, I felt a tap on my shoulder, “Professor?” said a meek voice. I turned around and it was that girl. “Can I sit with you a minute?”
“Sure,” I said. “I saw you tutoring over there. Awesome.”
“I owe you a big apology. You weren’t trying to make me fail back there in that class. You knew what was ahead of me because you teach here, too. You knew what I’d be expected to do. That wasn’t no ‘Whiteman’s book’ either.”
She was speaking of Brave New World. “No, it’s everybody’s book.”
“I get that now. Anyway, I’m sorry and thank you for teaching me.” She gave me a hug and went away.
I saw that whole experience watching that video yesterday. The African American man in the video was pure class and intelligence. The woman was hysterical way beyond the scope of the situation. I don’t know what was going on in her head but it seems to have had little or nothing to do with reality. In many ways it reminded me of the tirades this particular student had leveled at me during class time. Accusations of racism, threats to report me to the department (that she carried out, resulting in my being observed a couple of times that semester and leading to my being asked not to teach Brave New World any longer as it was too difficult for the students [fucking college juniors for the love of God]), and attempts to create “sides” among the students. That didn’t work. That student assumed that the leadership of the college would agree with her. I don’t know if they did or not, but she was right in the bias; they expected a white teacher to be unable to relate to students of color. I was lectured about this. Students in the class were interviewed, too, resulting in the administration deciding that I was fine, the class was fine, it was that this student just had a problem with me. They offered to put her in another class, but she didn’t want to go.
SO…the woman in the video lost her job, had her dog taken from her and can no longer go to Central Park. The man in question said in an interview,
“It’s a little bit of a frenzy, and I am uncomfortable with that,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. “If our goal is to change the underlying factors, I am not sure that this young woman having her life completely torn apart serves that goal.”
I wrote something on Twitter yesterday in response to a comment made by a friend. I got this this morning.
I am not “woke.” I’m the same person I have always been. I was disgusted by more things in that encounter than the racism. The woman in the video demonstrated the lack of respect for nature I abhor. She mistreated her animal. She acted as if she was above the law. All those things disgust me. That she believed the cops would come to her aid “against” an African American man was just the cherry on the sundae.
I believe that as human beings we need to respect our world and all that is in it. What IF she’d leashed her dog? What IF she’d asked the man what he was doing there so early? What IF he’d introduced her to the idea of birding? What if she had been stunned to learn that there are 230 different species of birds frequenting that area? What if she had an inkling of life beyond herself, some curiosity, some optimism? She’s (to me) the same person demonstrating because the governor says the County of Alamosa has to wait 10 more days to open because it’s had a sudden up-tick in C-19 cases and it’s a good idea to wait and see. She’s the person that made me leave the classroom. “You can’t give me a B! I’ve never had a grade lower than an A!”
If you live out here in the Wild West water is a THING. In fact, it’s THE thing. I live in a desert. We get less than 7 inches of precipitation a year. Fortunately, a river runs through the valley, and, beneath my desert is an ancient lake. Aquifers as well which is why this is such a great place to grow things in spite of the short growing season.
Denver and other big cities on the “Front Range” are lusting after our water and some of the ranchers and farmers in my valley are lusting after money. If you’re interested, here’s an article that explains the struggle. The endless tug-o-war of life in the far west. I think most of the gun fights in the old days were probably not over gold or women but water.
The Rio Grande is parted out all the way down to El Paso, but some years there’s not enough snowfall to ensure water for everyone. This year will be OK. Though (as is common) the valley itself didn’t get as much snow as it gets some years, the mountains have a good snow pack.
This kind of fluctuation is just what nature does, but climate change is, of course, making the whole situation worse. Winters are shorter, drier and warmer — less water. But since I no more know the solution to climate change than I have a cure for COVID-19, I will leave this post and wish you all a happy Saturday. My friends and I are off to the Crane Festival today.
The featured photo is sandhill cranes grazing in a barley field under the loving arms of a giant sprinkler.
Because of all the mountains, the river and the immense sudden plain which is the San Luis Valley, the sky is always amazing. EVERYTHING can be happening at one time on any given day. I’ve witnessed “snow bows” from thunder snow over the San Juans while, behind me, the sun shone happily as if rough weather were relegated to some distant place, not this one. The wind can be blowing like a MF where I’m standing and I can look some twenty miles down the valley and see the calm fluff of drifting light cumulous clouds. One day, as rainbows dropped gently from hanging virga, I saw the face of Kris Kristofferson in a gathering mammatus cloud formation.
At that moment I understood how God became a bearded face in the sky, but seriously? Kris Kristofferson?
Lenticular clouds are a mountain phenomenon. That fancy word just means lens shaped. I had never heard of them until I went to the little town Mt. Shasta, CA for surgery on my right hip. Some online advertising for that mountain town had many pictures of lenticular clouds over that spectacular volcanic cone. Yeah, yeah, I know that lots of people go to the big city for joint surgery, but my doctor was there. From the window in my hospital, I had a view of Mt. Shasta. And, for major surgery, it was a great experience.
Lenticular cloud formations are common here because of all the mountains and the constantly moving air. From a distance, a chain of lenticular clouds appears smooth and languid, stretching out over the peaks.
One day I was walking out in the big empty as a lenticular cloud moved over me during its formation. The way the air moved beneath it was strange and powerful, with a distinct uplift. I didn’t realize what it was until I looked up and saw the underside of a disk-shaped cloud with fuzzy edges. I stood still and watched. It wasn’t going to pick me up or anything, and I just felt lucky to have the experience.
The featured photo shows a string of lenticular clouds over the Sangre de Cristo mountains. A modern potato cellar in the foreground.
My mom and dad were always telling my brother and me to lie on our backs in the yard and watch the clouds go by. Along with this I was encouraged to see animals in the clouds, but this often led to arguments with my brother about what was in the cloud. It’s kind of like dating or politics. It’s “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” thing.
Humans are pattern-seeking animals anyway. I see patterns everywhere. I have tile in my bathroom that, when I first moved here, looked to me like a poor guy carrying an immense boulder — or the world — on his back. He looks up at me with his tiny face as if he is asking for help. I can still find him if I look, but now I see other things or nothing at all but tile. I think I saw that guy because that’s how I felt when I retired and moved away from California.
When I was 41 I asked myself a dangerous question. I was riding my bike down a single track that I loved and knew well. I looked over at the hill to my right behind which the sun was setting. There was a strange green glow above the hill, an optical illusion caused by the red of the sun. I thought, “What’s real, anyway?” That question dragged me down the rabbit hole of a major depressive crisis.
Since then I’ve come to understand that’s the question we should ask all the time, the question that liberates us from illusion in all its manifestations. I’ve also learned we — or, any rate, I — can never live in a world without illusion. It’s a constant battle.
Yesterday I took Bear out to the Wildlife Refuge. I’d heard cranes when I stepped out my back door and decided that a long walk in that wide and empty place was just what we needed. Well, what we always need. The sky was amazing. In every direction are mountains of different altitudes, distances from me, geologies. Above the various ranges were different kinds of clouds. Over the La Garitas to the northwest were sinuous lenticular clouds, stretching out under the wind and the convection of warm air rising from the earth. I didn’t take a photo because all I had (or have most of the time) is my phone and the clouds would not be all that visible in a phone photo. I found myself thinking about their beauty and how they were formed and not whether or not they looked like sea lions. There is, for me, more wonderment in reality than in pareidolia.
Bear and I had a walk like we haven’t had in a while. There was so much to smell. The trail was a mess — snow, packed snow, ice, bare gravel, mud, whatever. We don’t care. I only wanted to go as far along the river and into the slough as I knew I wouldn’t be entering the great cattle litter box that is the Rio Grande Wildlife Area at the moment.
The views were amazing — I took pictures but…
It was truly the first magical hike since I hurt my foot in September. Bear felt it, too, which is the great thing about dogs and Bear in particular. She is capable of entering into my experience which is, I guess, an attribute of the livestock guardian dogs. They are bred to be “tuned in.”
The Rio Grande is still mostly frozen, but a channel in the middle is flowing and breaking up the ice. That was very cool to hear. The sound made me think of Into the Wild. I thought of Chris McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) and came up with the McCandless Rule of Survival: park your bus on the side of the river from which you came and where you remember there having been a store and a gas station.
A magic hike is my version of a religious experience. Lots of things can interfere with that — lately it’s been apprehension over the foot. Now I know the limitations of that foot and also that I can ignore most of the twinges.
THE moment came when I heard a few geese take flight over the river in a spot where the bank was too high for me to see them. I thought of climbing up the hill then thought, “No, this is perfect, this is ideal. They don’t need me to see them. And, for me, hearing them is enough.” So bear and I watched the bank where we couldn’t see the geese. We tracked their flight — there might have been anywhere from 2 to 4 geese — through their calls and it was lovely. Then the little prayer wafted into my heart directly through my eyes as it does. “I love you so much,” I said, softly to the world, to the light, to the trees, the uneven snow, the geese, the moment, the pure blue sky, the moment. Bear leaned against me, wrapping herself so I am standing in a shallow curve made by her body.
“Thank you for bringing me to this river,” I said softly to the sky. “Thank you for understanding my fucked up knees, and thank you for showing me this world which has been completely new to me.” Bear continued leaning and I pet her ears. “Thank you for bringing me this dog who doesn’t need to hurry and who is such amazing company.” I also thank whatever it is for all the huskies and all the trails we ran. I am again in the timeless embrace of “god.” It’s been a while.
I don’t know how to explain it, but in the gesture of loving me Bear shares my love for everything. I am 100% sure she — as much as a dog needs to pray — prays my prayer with me. We do love it so much.
All the human BS of the last few days retreated into the vast chasm in which it belongs. I have returned to the timeless transience of light, land, water, rock and beast. Thank whatever. ❤
Flowers don’t cry. One of the true and unromantic wonders of nature is that plants aren’t going around wearing emotions all over the place. When Faith, the Aussie pumpkin, was compelled to surrender to a killing frost, she did it with no fanfare. This is not to say the resultant limp leaves and black, lifeless stems weren’t sad to me. They were. I’d hoped for a late fall and the chance for at least one of Faith’s fruits to mature, but what Faith did accomplish I have here on my table.
Many people find nature “relaxing.” I think (for me anyway) it’s movement in nature that’s relaxing. I don’t think nature is doing its thing thinking, “I’m so beautiful! I will inspire everyone!” It’s just part of human nature to seek respite from the human grind, human nature to experience inspiration. Nature itself is constant struggle. There is a LOT of drama out there.
This time last year I was crossing the golf course and happened on the remains of a red tail hawk. I could read the story just from the strewn feathers. Fox. The moment of their intersection would have been pretty dramatic, and maybe the hawk had screeched. At that moment, he was after food, maybe digging worms out of the ground, maybe a mouse or bunny was scurrying along the grass, and the hawk dived just as the fox was preparing to spring.
As it happens, I later met a guy who was there to see it. I’d read the story right.
One of the great things of hiking in the morning on dusty trails or on snowy days is the stories written on the ground. It’s a constant reminder that things out there are not all sweetness and light. It’s truly kill or be killed, and yet, for us humans — and maybe other creatures — there is the quality of wonderment, like last December when I realized my walks were shadowed by a small herd of mule deer. Over the next few days, I saw that they were curious about me. The watcher was being watched. I wondered what questions were going through their minds.
I thought they were thinking, “Friend or foe?” There came a day when one of the does came within 20 yards of me and continued approaching. I held Bear and said to the doe, “I’m not your friend. I’m really not your friend. Go back.” As if she understood me (though I think it was just my voice that did it), she turned and went back to the herd. The truth is I WAS her friend. I loved this little herd of deer very much (I confess I told them, too, both with my voice and in sign) and went out to see them every day. Even Bear had learned to sit quietly when the deer were in sight.
Similar moments have happened between me and other wild animals. Curiosity seems to be a trait of sentient beings everywhere. Foxes, coyotes, hawks, and certainly ravens have all wanted to know what was going on with me and my dogs.
I haven’t been out there in nearly a month since I sprained my foot — a mid-foot sprain, nasty. Things were moving in the right direction until I reinjured my foot somehow in the night, so I’m in pain again. Sprains take a long time to heal and they are easily re-injured. I know that. A mid foot sprain is very vulnerable and maybe I was stupid not to get the big boot and all that. I don’t know. But it’s my right foot, and I need to be able to drive. Maybe my values are backward. Maybe I should have cancelled my life and done that. It’s nature, after all, my body is nature as much as is a tree or an Aussie pumpkin, a vulnerable red tail, or a curious doe. I don’t know about the existence of “will” in non-human beings, but I know mine is formidable and not always my best friend. It’s been three weeks since I last re-injured it. I suppose I have now to start all over again with the recovery and rehab. Well, with no events planned after this weekend, maybe it won’t be so difficult.
Until last year, when I was walking through the golf course into The Big Empty, I never put it together that deer can hide because their coats match the ground and their antlers look like branches. Such excellent camouflage. I hope “my” deer are there this year as they were last year, and I hope by their season (a month or more away) I’m there, too. (Come on foot, heal!!!)
Nature’s mimicry is so cool. One of my favorite bugs is the stick bug — a mantid-like-creature that looks like whatever kind of grass and sticks into which it was hatched. The first one I saw was in the chaparral. I had sat down on a rock to have a drink after a run and before starting an uphill. I stared aimlessly at the grass at my feet when one of the blades crawled slowly up on my leg.
This little guy — the Northern Pacific Tree Frog — can be green or tan depending on what’s happening with nature. You can’t see them unless they happen to be sitting on a red flower or something. They look exactly like the leaves of any oak tree in the Southern California mountains — green when the trees are green and tan when the leaves are falling. They were always coming into my CA house and once I found one in my blender (truth). No, I didn’t run the blender. One of them liked my (tan) telephone and would sit there most of the time.
Snakes have mastered the whole thing of mimicry and some of them even mimic each other. Gopher snakes, non-venomous friends to man, resemble and behave like rattlesnakes as a way to protect themselves. They will even coil and wave their tails about. If you happen to have the chance to get familiar with these guys, you soon learn there are many obvious differences between a gopher snake and a rattlesnake, but I can’t imagine anyone NOT taking several steps back seeing a gopher snake coil and rattle.
It got to be a thing with me all those hiking years to SEE what was there to see — owls against the bark of a tree, snakes in the lower stories of bushes along the trail, Spike, the little California horned lizard.
I love how a coyote can blend into the scenery. A person could hike through the midst of a pack without even knowing it. I only saw a mountain lion once, but I’m sure she saw me countless times. Hunter or hunted, nature seems to say, “Stay cool, blend in, and pay attention.” That is advice I should have heeded on the day I hurt my foot, but not all our foes are, uh, visible — or animate.
Throughout history there have been several social movements led by children. The two that come to my mind are the Children’s Crusade of the early 13th century, and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution0s of the mid 196, both of which were disasters for the very children involved.
Having forgotten the details of the Children’s Crusade, I had to look it up. Wikipedia has the most succinct explanation; The variants of the long-standing story of the Children’s Crusade have similar themes. A boy begins to preach in either France or Germany, claims that he had been visited by Jesus, who instructed him to lead a Crusade in order to peacefully convert Muslims to Christianity. Through a series of portents and miracles he gains a following of up to 30,000 children. He leads his followers south towards the Mediterranean Sea, in the belief that the sea would part on their arrival, which would allow him and his followers to walk to Jerusalem. This does not happen. The children are sold to two merchants (Hugh the Iron and William of Posqueres), who give free passage on boats to as many of the children as are willing. The pilgrims are then either taken to Tunisia, where they are sold into slavery by the merchants or else die in a shipwreck on San Pietro Island off Sardinia during a gale.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of educated Chinese (no one knows the exact number). Essentially, it was a movement led by Chairman Mao (ostensibly started by Chinese youth). It’s main goal was the overthrowing of the “four olds” — Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas.
Being led by children hasn’t worked out that well in history, though I understand the frustration that has led to children marching against climate change. I feel it too, all the time, every day. I’ve seen the effects in real life, the change in the climate in Southern California while I lived there, most pronounced during the time I lived in the Cuyamaca Mountains. When I moved there, September, 2003, the fields across from me were waist high green grass in which cows could hide. The field was filled with healthy oaks. That very year the second largest fire (the largest happened last year) came sweeping through those mountains. The field in subsequent years (though not destroyed by the fire) became incrementally dryer and dryer until the grass was green for only one or two months in a rainy winter. All the trees died. It was an observable shift in normal.
The temperatures rose, too, over that period. When I moved into my house, the hottest temperature during the hottest season of the year was 90 F/32 C. By the time I moved away in September of 2014, it was often 110 F/43 C by 10 am during the summer. That year there were new fires every day, most small and remote, but they were happening. All the rakes in the world won’t stop fires in those conditions.
So why does the marching of children yelling at us that “we” destroyed “their” world have such an impact? I really don’t know. No one listened to me when I yelled about this. Well, that’s not true. I was kind of a curiosity; a girl succeeding in a competitive speech event in which boys usually won. I got to give my speech to lots of civic groups in Colorado Springs.
I was 17 when I wrote this speech. That was 1969. The big issues in the world were the Viet Nam War and The Bomb. Those were not, to me, the biggest issues, but they were the most gruesome, the most scary (in the short term) the most accessible to most people, the most easily sensationalized by the news. Of course, I mistrusted the adults, too. After all, hadn’t they “allowed” all this to happen?
I was doing competitive speaking in an effort to overcome my terror of speaking in front of people (never completely succeeded in that but I never stopped trying). This speech (and my delivery of it) took second place in the state of Colorado. I lost to a speech about the Viet Nam war.
The speech begins with a little dialogue between a teacher and a student. A student has found an aster growing in a crack in the pavement and brought it to class. The teacher has an allergic reaction and doesn’t know what the flower is. (Youth is truth). Then…filled with youthful cynicism (faux sophistication):
Then, having gotten my audience’ attention, I got real (for 17)…
“The human race, that’s you, for one, and Americans in particular, are racing toward total annihilation with, at last, no exceptions made as to race, creed, gender or nationality. Man abuses the air he needs to breathe, the water he needs for sustaining his life, and he is brilliantly (as usual) devising technological advanced ways to destroy the delicate food cycle of which he is the ultimate beneficiary.
Adlai Stevenson compared Earth, our plant, to the several satellites that have, at certain intervals, circled our world. In these words he explains the necessity for preserving Earth the Beautiful (I got over love of country early):
We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil, all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only but the care, the work, and the love we give our fragile craft. (Stevenson was born in 1900)
At that time, the population of the earth was beginning to be a concern. Paul Erlich was writing articles on this topic and they would soon appear in a book, The Population Bomb. I was very affected by his argument and it entered my speech, too. It’s still a problem, but…
“As any American will agree, empty space is wasted space. With the population of the world doubling every 5 years it is illogical that even the most radical conservationist would want to you a river for anything except a source of power or would want a hunk of forest to just sit there making trees. The words of the Scottish essayist, Thomas Carlyle, bring this idea close to home:
“You won’t have any trouble in your country as long as you have few people and much land, but when you have many people and little land your trials will begin. Thomas Carlyle (Carlyle was born in 1795)
So how did I end this bit of juvenile satire on the subject that has been closest to my heart since I was eight? With a call to action that was based on individual personal responsibility.
Back in 1969 many, many of our current problems had not come into existence. Soda was sold in bottles (cans were only starting to show up) that came in cardboard cartons. Until the early 80s, food came home in paper bags. Detergent came in a cardboard box. There was no recycling partly because there wasn’t a lot to recycle. In the 1950s (and before) we had backyard incinerators. Burning in the backyard was banned and that ended (though now we have fire pits???) leading to more trash going to landfills…
Throughout my lifetime technological development has moved faster than our understanding of the consequences. The Dead Kennedy’s masterful album, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death (1987) is well titled and descriptive of our lives.
So, should we be led by these children? Why not? We haven’t listened to anyone else so far.
Possibly because I taught late adolescents and post-adolescents for 30+ years, almost since I WAS one, or possibly because I remember so well how I was at that moment in life, I have a hard time when one of them pops off a lot of half-baked opinions from their well of passion and ignorance. I know about that. I did it all the time. I remember doing it very often, very loudly, and usually at the dinner table.
When I was trying to get over my fear of public speaking, I joined the speech club at my school. My senior year I competed in Original Oratory and took second place in the state of Colorado. My speech was about caring for what we so glibly now call “the environment.” At the very least it should be “our” environment. My speech was ten minutes long. It was well reasoned and researched. It was about what I felt then — have always felt and still feel — is the only important issue in our world today.
What my mother tried to explain to me back then and what I learned watching China attempt to develop (for the welfare of its people) is that it really is not so simple. I didn’t believe then — and I don’t believe now — that the intrinsic complexity means we should stop trying. Far from it. Every day in some news source I follow on Facebook or via my email (I like printed magazines, but…) I learn of progress being made in myriad areas.
It’s slow, but it’s progress.
In 1970, the year of the first Earth Day and the year my speech won a trophy, there was only leaded gasoline and cars got about 9 miles to the gallon. Anything else was considered impossible. By the 70s there was unleaded gas (you could choose it) and the catalytic converter — which reduced emissions — was becoming standard equipment in new cars. People resisted, but it happened. In 1970, Lake Michigan was essentially dead and you could not see the sun most days in LA. The EPA was formed and went to work.
It’s been a constant tug-o-war between assholes and conservationists (a term I like a little better than “environmentalists” though I’m doubtless splitting hairs). The expense of reversing the 1950s philosophy of progress (which I also get) was astronomical both economically and politically. We’re still fighting that (“clean coal is beautiful, they wash it before they use it”).
Technology to make changes had to be developed and the public needed to be educated (nudged, forced) to accept it. I live in a place — an impoverished rural area which is a microcosm of the efforts to transform our tools for production and agriculture — which is working hard in every area to make and use new technology. On example is that we have and use an enormous solar farm, another is the constant fighting (usually successful) against drilling for oil in all the areas surrounding my valley. Last year all of us were offered the option of choosing different percentages of our electricity from renewable energy sources. I opted for 100% and I don’t really care if that ends up costing me more.
NONE OF THIS EXISTED in 1970 when I made my speech. In the grand scheme the 50 years it’s taken to get to this point isn’t such a long time, but I also feel (wish?) it should be faster. I also wonder if faster is even possible.
Factors I didn’t understand at 18 were the cost of developing technology, the resistance of the general public to change, the difference between the options of a developed country and an under-developed country. I could not begin to understand the complexity.
Right now one of my things is bewilderment over the fact that now my supermarket offers us paper bags into which we put all the plastic shit our food is packed in. That makes NO sense to me. I’m performing an experiment with my trash hauler. I put all the frost-killed plants from my garden in a paper bag and closed the top. Then I put it in a bin that says, “All trash packed in plastic bags. No loose trash.” The landfill where the trash goes also offers recycling… Putting dog shit in a plastic back seems REALLY dumb, but…
This is just to illustrate the efforts and attempts on the scale of one little lady in Monte Vista, Colorado. Do I think I’m going to change the world this way? NO. I get it now, at 67, that the best I can do is not make things worse. When I was teaching, however, I taught critical thinking through nature writing. It was my little effort to awaken at least my students to a world bigger than their car, family, house and dreams of material prosperity. I guess it might have worked with some students. No teacher reaches everyone. I also worked in the establishment of an urban wilderness park on 5800 acres of chaparral in San Diego that was slated for development. It mattered to me, mostly for the sake of the beautiful land itself, but also for the future — so kids in 20 years (which is now) could know the indigenous landscape of their world.
I was appalled when OFFAL (Our Fearless Leader) pulled out of the Paris Accord. Yeah, the Paris Accord is little more than a gesture in the right direction, but like me choosing to get my electricity from renewable sources, it’s not NOTHING.
On the other hand, all around me is a living paradox. Until 1960, potatoes (the main crop of the San Luis Valley) were stored in very beautiful and functional adobe potato cellars which, all by themselves, without any air conditioning or other electrical climate control, kept the potatoes at EXACTLY the right temperature and humidity BECAUSE, though above ground, those potato cellars were essential big piles of dirt. Sometime in the early 60s farmers changed from these lovely, though laboriously built, structures to buildings of concrete or steel. The new buildings will need to be destroyed someday and then what? Where does all that steel and concrete go? The adobe? All by itself will return from whence it came.
The same with water. Water here in the San Luis Valley is — well, there’s nothing more important. We sit above a gigantic ancient lake, an immense aquifer, much of which is still there, but very far down. Our climate is a legitimate desert. Now the “Front Range” — an alien world comprising Denver, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Pueblo, cities, in other words — wants to “buy” our water. It’s impossible to overstate how fucked up that is.
Some aquifers are depleted. Potatoes, grain and alfalfa are heavy water users and they are the predominate crops. So what? Some farmers are switching to hemp, both industrial hemp and help for CBD oil. Hemp is a great crop because it uses comparatively little water and doesn’t deplete the soil of nutrients BUT the anti-marijuana posse are against it, unwilling to recognize the chemical difference between some intoxicating herbage and a fiber that can be made into clothing.
And, again, back in the old days the farmers had a method for ensuring water and that was the acequia. The use of acequias meant little reliance on dug wells. The moral of THIS part of the story is, “Those old-timers understood shit we’ve forgotten.”
So, today on the egregious platform of Twitter I heard the vapid angry shrieking of a child. I was appalled at the reception she was getting. Where are her parents? If I could talk to that child, I would tell her, “You have not earned that podium. Go home and go back to school in your country which, be grateful, has an excellent education system. Put your skinny Asperger’s shoulder to the wheel and learn history, learn science, become aware of the challenges that face a world that’s far more complex that you can possibly know yet. Allow your frontal lobe to mature. Travel, with some humility, and see what’s going on, first hand. Learn what has been tried, what has been not, what has proven unfeasible (now but maybe not for someday), learn what is slated (hoped) for the future. Learn about progress that has been made and learn about the historic challenges to that progress. Experience the struggles of the under-developed world in achieving even the smallest benefits of technology and why people there might resist the kind of progress the world needs. Anyone can scream. Not everyone can dedicate a life to change, can accept that there are no guarantees, that your efforts might be futile or bear limited fruit, they might not be in the shape you imagine, and work anyway. It’s not MY job to preserve the world for YOU. What the fuck do you think I (and others) have been doing for the last fucking 50 years? The world is as much yours as mine. Pick up that baton, accept the challenge and keep going.”
The last time angry youth took over anywhere we had the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Good times, good times.