How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Owning Paradise – Snapshots from the Edge of Destruction

“Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit (Edward Abbey).”

Most spend lives caged in the artificial concrete and steel habitats of humanity. But instinctively, we crave a return to the source of our creation. Ecotourism venues bulge with urbanites fleeing en masse from the artificial spaces of anthropogenic construction.

As a small child, I remember lying outside on the lawn of my South Florida home, framing windows with my small hands of a world without any human-made contaminants. In Dade County suburbia, this was no small feat. Blocking out the power lines that then stretched the length of every street, the asphalt grid of the roads and the cement block houses that appeared at predictable quarter-acre intervals as far as the eye could see, usually restricted the finger-shaped snapshots to expanses of sky and cloud with a carefully-selected canopy top of a favorite tree.

In adulthood, I continue the tradition. Now armed with a digital SLR and a variety of lenses, I can manipulate a view the outside world to create an unspoiled paradise in my imagination with photographs. I love to capture beautiful things, flowers, birds, vistas devoid of the human stain, frozen in the perfection of time and place. I cherish the images, the memories they hold and the beings within them, but I also realize my collection of wonders is but an illusion and my love of the two-dimensional flawlessness, a form of denial.

Next to the myriad shoreline birds, stately pelicans and diving terns inhabiting the salt pond is a town dump deliberately obscured from the reach of the camera lens. I once tested the pond water, and it came up positive for Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Poor birds, poor fish, poor invertebrates living in toxic sediment at the bottom of the pond and infected with the residues of man’s negligence. Who knows what toxic stew contaminates the fragile tissues of these beloved beings? How many fly away only to die quietly off at sea from a toxic meal of chemical and plastic?

I encounter a yellow-crowned night heron, roaming in a tidal marshland, oblivious to the destruction that will soon besiege her home when it is dredged and scraped clean of life to make a marina for the million-plus dollar yacht toys of the obscenely rich. What happens to the bird when the dredging machines arrive? Does she hunker down on her nest hoping the nightmare will pass? As the scooping bucket of the giant machine inches its way closer and closer, does she must make the impossible choice to leave her progeny and save herself?

In the snapshot, she is frozen in time, perfect for my delusion to remember a ideal, happy time when once an unspoiled spot of the Earth existed.  Little bird fly free, away from harm. But there is nowhere else to go.

Here is a magnificent specimen of Conocarpus erectus or green buttonwood, growing on the edge of a natural channel. For hundreds of years, this venerable being has survived, growing on a substrate of solid limestone rock, buffeted by tides and storms, drought and flood. Like a salty old sailor with weathered and leathered skin, a story of tenacity is told in the twisted, stunted form, resilience against all odds, except one.

Shortly after the snapshot was taken, bulldozers came through and ripped clear, root from rock. Hundreds of years of determination, wiped out in a few hours. Now a condominium marks the spot where the ancient sentinel once stood. What did it feel? As primordial roots were pried loose from solid anchoring, did the tree resign itself to death? Or, as salt and sun hardened branches broke and crumpled under mechanical blades, did the tenacious tree cling, relentlessly to the last shreds of existence until the last connection to Earth was cut? Beauty shattered. To what purpose?

People see the water, the sky, a perfect expanse of verdant land, and they want to possess it, thinking possession will fuse them to the wonder of existence. But the act of possessing destroys the very object of desire.

The people who park their boats in the marina look out at a landscape they have no connection to other than complicity in the crime of its destruction. They will never know the heron or how she once stealthily made her way through tall grass, ambushing lizards and bugs.

The condominium owners will sit on their balconies, stare out at the view and be satisfied with their monetary achievement. But all their money cannot replace the carelessly discarded soul that once marked the boundary of “their” land. Paper money and paper deeds, secured by superior military acuity, trump thousands of years of evolution, of belonging.

The Western notion of ownership is a genocidal crime against nature. The white man stole North America from the Indians with guns and germs, then stole the land again from all its other rightful inhabitants, justifying the action with words on paper, ownership. Always, it comes back to words and dollar signs on paper, as worthless in nature as parched sand to a dying man in the desert. We contrive to steal whatever we want from countless, endless souls, who have no access to or interest in our meaningless paper justifications.

The Earth has been appropriated by virtue of an arbitrary system, created by humans. We earned it. We bought it. We own it, but what about the autonomous beings that do not consent to being owned? What does our ownership grant? Once we have driven the original inhabitants from the land, we end up with yet another human altered landscape, the very type from which we crave escape.

I keep my gems, my snapshots, remind myself of what is important and share them with others with a silent prayer the world will one day embrace the relevant too. I will continue to compose fragments of beauty and truth, living in denial and hope that one day external reality will match the images within the frames.


  1. Oh, killing Mother, you make me weep. You take my most intimate feelings and turn them into good words. I don't understand how you do that, but that is what you do.

    This passage that you write...

    I encounter a yellow-crowned night heron, roaming in a tidal marshland, oblivious to the destruction that will soon besiege her home when it is dredged and scraped clean of life to make a marina for the million-plus dollar yacht toys of the obscenely rich. What happens to the bird when the dredging machines arrive? Does she hunker down on her nest hoping the nightmare will pass? As the scooping bucket of the giant machine inches its way closer and closer, does she must make the impossible choice to leave her progeny and save herself?

    ...reminds me of some poems I once wrote after an epiphany I once had. This one, in particular, I'd like to share now. It doesn't really rhyme, but maybe Rhymer will like it too.


    Does a mole's depth of focus change,
    rearrange as readily as mine?
    Or does it know a focus from another
    What would its vision be
    down dark and tunneled?

    Would a bluebird weep to find her nest gone?
    Not simply empty---but gone?
    If, during an instant away, her tree were felled, would she be blamed?
    Fresh egglets, sky-pasteled,
    nestled pyramid-shaped---a family?
    Would she be anxious, angry, happy?
    Would she shed unearthly tears
    and find a quiet place to die?
    (Would she love?)

    Or would she be indifferent,
    jaunting off to secure the next season?

    This poem-writing was only for myself at the time, but your post brings back my memory of it.

    I really appreciate you.

  2. Well put. I very much liked how you described the fate of the Conocarpus erectus, tough as it was to read. Too much of this is going on all the time. The question is what we can do to save the dwindling natural habitat of our species?

  3. tsisageya, thank you for sharing your touching poem. I can only imagine that all sentient beings experience the same sense of loss we do.

  4. Your pictures and words are so nice,
    painting beauty, but there is a price, the coming construction
    ...there is always destruction,
    where money makes contracts precise.

    Pun intended. Remember the Republicans' "Contract With America", more accurately described as a "Contract On America"?

    Thanks for adding your blog list.

  5. Pete, thank you for your comment. I wish I had an answer to your question. Nothing short of a complete cultural shift is likely to change the status quo, unfortunately.

  6. Rhymer, I love your intended pun. I do remember the "Contract on America." The systematic destruction unfortunately continues. The blog list is a work in progress, and I am always open to suggestions.

  7. This is an incredibly moving piece. I too thank you for putting into words the feelings I have. I was thinking this morning how my biggest regret is that it took me so long in my life to find that feeling of connection to nature and to other species. (Before that I feel like I was blind and incomplete.) I don't know what did it for me, what made me start paying attention. Unfortunately I also agree with your comment that "Nothing short of a complete cultural shift is likely to change the status quo...." So paying attention brings both joy and pain.

  8. Eam, being aware brings both joy and pain, but in spite of all the pain, it is certainly preferable to the alternative of walking through life in an oblivious trance. Thanks for reading and for your generous comments.

  9. A beautiful piece -- and all too true.

    But your "collection of wonders is but an illusion" is false. There is great truth in your "collection of wonders." We can see what was in your "collection of wonders." Your "collection of wonders" can be a milepost for me and others who are lucky enough to have shared them. And your "collection of wonders" is a vision for a possible future. Nothing I see in your "collection of wonders" is illusion nor falsity but simply an expression of what was and should be.

    The true illusion about us is the bulldozer and the boat and development and the shopping center. All the physical things we create are illusions and will vanish in the blink of Mother's eye. A million years hence our Mother will still be here with all her new children.

    Your "love of the two-dimensional flawlessness" shows us, with great beauty and truth, what reality is beyond our own self-delusions. The "two-dimensional flawlessness" is a window whose frame is composed of the flaws we ourselves have created. If only we would learn.

    Thank you for sharing. Through your words and pictures you show yourself to be"the images within the frames"

  10. Thank you, killing Mother, for your thoughtful essay.

    As a social ecologist, nature photographer, and empath, I have experienced similar revelations--and have put some to pen--but not so eloquently as you in this essay. (You might want to check out a poem on the main page of my blog, however: My Own Death: She-Wolf Rising--it is a painful commentary on the theft of the wild, for sport--so there are some similar themes here).

    It is painful to see the widening gap between rich and poor, especially since the poor once had rights to living nature; now it appears that access to nature (and its resources) is becoming a privilege for the very wealthy. I think about the Mexican farmers who are now gradually being forced to purchase water from increasingly privatized supplies controlled by the likes of Nestle.

    I once read that the names of housing developments are often derived from the animal or habitat they displace, such as "Fox Run," "The Owl's Nest," "Crystal Grove," etc. It is all very sickening.

    Watching the world through a lens (especially as a nature photographer) and then presenting the image to the world is vaguely understood as a dishonest process (at least by ommission,) and lately, I have been waking up in the middle of the night thinking of my studies in college, and books like Camera Lucida. I think about how the digital encrouchment into photography helped soup up photographs so that roses became "punched up pink," and ordinary-looking photographs could look somewhat extra-ordinary with software modifications.

    Also coming to mind from reading the Owning Paradise essay is a story that Murray Bookchin shared with us at the Social Ecology intensive quite a number of years ago: That fish--just as we are--are sentient beings, and Murray shared an example of how one fish tried to keep another propped up in the water as it was dying...

    These strange stories stay with me in the wee hours. Your story, killing Mother, will keep me up too.

  11. Rich, beautiful sentiments. Thank you. I try to hold the image in my mind of Mother Earth cloaked again in a perfect, unspoiled mantle, as you describe. It keeps me going.

  12. Nancy, Thank you very much for your kind sentiments and for sharing my story on your blog. I love the fish story. Humans are such arrogant organisms. One only has to observe other beings to realize we are not alone in the sentient world. Your photos are spectacular! Keep up the good work.

  13. I'd say Mad Kane's Political Madness
    has brought me considerable gladness,
    ...through limericks that bite
    ...the extreme, nutty right,
    lampooning its outrageous badness.

    Thank you for linking Mad Kane's websites, especially if you did so for my benefit. I would have been happy to write any of her political limericks. I was not aware of her before.

    I was happy to see that Liberality is written by a librarian. I am sure she has met people like the man in her cartoon from 5-29-11, "Stupidity On Display".

  14. Rhymer, I thought you were Mad Kane! Is it possible there are two rhyming political geniuses in the world? What a brilliant abundance in the universe:)