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

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Unnatural Winter, Unnatural Spring, Unnatural World

The world has gone crazy and my head is so full of the loud stimulus that I can’t put all the pieces together to form any of the usual speculations and hypotheses. After spring-like winter, the natural world here in the Southern Appalachians bursts out like never before. Accelerated and profuse, it is nature on steroids.

The starlings that nest each year in the eaves of our little guest house are back this year with a vengeance, but where is the elegant black snake that usually keeps their population in check? Did the constant freezing and thawing disturb his hibernation such that he perished over the non-existent winter? The starlings now brazenly command the space. The space between each rafter stuffed to capacity with demanding hatchlings. Bird shit decorates the walls and windows, an art nouveau that escapes my capacity for appreciation. I would sell my soul for a short visit from a hungry reptile.

The starlings are joined in their fecund ecstasy by ticks, fleas, fire ants and poison ivy. Without a significant deep freeze this year to kill them back. The furry members of the family scratch and stare helplessly with glazed expressions. Frontline, Advantage and the other poisons only kill the bugs once they have bitten, and for every one dead, another ten await outdoors for the newly opened niche.

The footpaths through the woods that provide the avenues for nightly walks are now carpeted in three-leaved green, my arms and legs with the itchy, oozing telltale signature of my floral nemesis.  The unnatural world now beacons me to abandon venues of trees and moss for the safer pavements of anthropocentric constructions. The unmaking feeds upon itself.

The black snake is not the only character missing from this unnatural landscape. I never thought I would miss them, but where are the dandelions? My grandfather used to curse their exotic nuisance as he carefully removed each offender from his well-tended lawn. I, on the other hand, have always adopted a laissez-faire attitude towards the mowed spaces surrounding my house. My lassitude welcomes all. Even the lowly dandelion provides a happy splash of color and fresh greens for soups, stews and salads. How unnatural must the world be when even the unnatural cannot flourish in it?

Meanwhile, political discourse is monopolized by talks of economic growth, the devising of new strategies that will allow the plutocrats to extract even more self-aggrandizement from a strangled earth. Promises of drops of prosperity for the rest of the living biosphere flow down the edifice like starling shit.

Is there any hope to be gleaned from the signals of the natural world? The Canada geese fly back and forth over our house to the ponds each day, perhaps our old friend Lulu, who we raised from an egg a few years ago, is among them. We hope. Deep in the poison ivy-laden woods, a brown thrasher flies up into the trees, calling my attention. Her strategy, I know, is to distract me from the small chick in a fragile nest in a tangle of brambles on the ground. I glance to see the well-camouflaged hatchling and then pass on, allowing the mother to conclude that her ruse was a success. Perhaps the poison ivy will protect the vulnerable baby bird on the forest floor. I hope.

I am reading Peter Matthiessen’s “Snow Leopard.” As my heart sings requiems for black snakes and dandelions, I am at least comforted by Matthiessen’s reminder of the basic Buddhist wisdom – Everything is Right Here Now. I hope.


  1. Beautiful. I always look forward to your latest update from your natural and unnatural world.
    Matthiessen is the best! I recommend "The Tree Where Man Was Born" and the sequel (return to Africa - can't remember name). Also "Cloud Forest" and of course "At Play in the Fields..." (movie excluded the best parts).
    Hope the black snake's relatives show up for you, timing everywhere is 'off'.
    After 2 years of fruit-killing late frosts, we will finally have a good season here in the Sangre mountains. Hopefully there will be enough for the bears and others who have been starving.
    much respects

    1. Thank you for the reading recommendations bholanath. I am just finishing up this semester's classes at Harvard, and I am really looking forward to a break this summer, so I can read for pleasure for a change. May your words be heard by the gods of bears and black snakes. They need all the help they can get these days.

  2. 'The Crystal World' by J. G. Ballard. It's a science fiction "catastrophe novel." Your message evokes the insectal sputter of rural silence.

  3. Killing Mother, your tone of despair and helplessness echoes my own. I fret constantly about the songbirds, who find so little to eat that they are fighting over the barn cat's bowl of food, while the omnivorous crows find plenty of forage in garbage. With all the stories of dying dolphins and whales, trees, and poaching of the last remaining wild animals, it is as though nature is gasping her last and hardly anyone realizes it...of those who do, they are stunned with grief.

    1. "stunned with grief" That about sums it up. Myth tells us that Emperor Nero demanded that his fiddlers continue to play during the great fire of Rome. As the infrastructure collapsed, he continued to indulge himself. Sadly, people don't appear to have evolved at all in the past 2000 years.

  4. 2000 years is not enough to evolve so essentially differently, away from the social instincts, constructs and total ways of being derived from billions of years. We become dead-ended by our rigid responses, if we cannot recognize that things are changed and that we must become... and there is the quandary - what are we to choose to be? We don't know what, or how, or why.

    And "stunned with grief" kind of fills my heart these days, which is not good for me.

    1. Two-thousand years is more than enough. Our dominant culture blinds us to more sentient ways of living that have been practiced by other cultures for thousands of years. The problem is not people. It's Western people and their culture of death and destruction.

  5. I suppose it depends on what you mean by "evolve". To me, evolving implies some genetic drift or shift, either dramatic or trivial.

    Societies that we really see, I would argue, east or west, left or right, are not particularly different in their impact upon the planet. Our dominant culture is multiply faceted, and is not a monotheistic bloc; I am not sure what our dominant culture really is..

    Is it the western military empire machine? Is it the rather large group of Chinese, Brazilian, Indian and Russian emerging economic empire blocs? Where is the spirituality in Japan or China, Vietnam or Cambodia, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh that would lead us away from the very physical and very global shifts in anthropomorphically modified biosphere energy flows? In Tibet? It is not in the aboriginal tribal units of the United States - I go to pick up aluminum cans along the road on our local reservation and profit mightily.

    The problem is not people? Are you really sure? I did not say that in my prior comment, but perhaps you are onto something there. Maybe it is. Maybe you really think so.

    My personal experience traveling the planet (a lot) and meeting those people is that we are more alike in motives and patterns of being than not. It seems to me that our ability to affect effects is greater than our ability to guide, mitigate or understand those processes.

    What I do NOT believe is that there is some 'special spiritually superior human culture' out there that would have prevented the fine fix we may be in, as a species and as a member of our biologic assemblage, AKA Earth.

    1. I do think the dominant Western culture (starting from its roots in the Roman Empire) is probably the worst thing humanity has ever dished upon the planet. I do agree that no culture represents a utopian environmental panacea, but some are definitely much worse than others. And the term Native Americans encompasses hundreds of disparate cultures, all of which share a common undoing by the dominant Western culture. All I can say on their behalf is that they had this land for at least 10s of thousands of years and left enough of it intact for the dominant Western culture to see plenty dollar signs.

      I would also argue that the emerging economies of China, Brazil, Russia, etc. are right on course with the Western model.

      Ultimately, I think you and I are in agreement. People are definitely people wherever you go, and each of us has within us the ability to perpetrate good or evil acts upon the earth. I think this is ultimately what all religions are talking about. Unfortunately, the modern world seems to favor the latter rather than the former.

  6. The Romans perfected a kind of waterproof concrete, enabling long lines of support - water and solids transportation. And it began.

    And the BRICs are simply the latest crusaders for empire.

    And I am certain we agree. So I grow hops.