Saturday, March 11, 2006

Let the dead bury their own dead

Contrary Goddess:
In Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume heaven and hell are one ship carrying the partying departed -- on one side the ship’s name is “heaven” and on the other it is “hell”. Same ship.
CG goes on to reminisce about a moment in heaven, galloping through a sunny, flowery meadow. She says, "I got over dichotomous (heaven/hell, god/devil, good/evil) religions a long time ago, but still just the other day I found myself smack in the middle of hell." And she paints a picture of "McMansions" lined up behind their paved driveways and fat garages, all along an unpaved road through a former cow pasture. She concludes:
I don’t live in heaven or hell. I live in a place between the worlds. More and more I’m feeling like I’m not even the same species as these other Earthlings. I could holler, “What is wrong with you?” but I am but a silent shadow to them. Fellow shadows only know me. And as a shadow, I will live.

And I will not mourn the passing away of either heaven or hell.
I was with her until that last line. I asked her about it: "not mourning the passing of either? I don't get that. Is it sort of a battlefield mentality - no time for mourning or even burial, just soldier on?"

CG replied:
. . . no, it is not a battlefield mentality on my part. Since I'm unconcerned with saving the world (no dichotomies, remember?), I'm not part of the "battle". You and Dan(*) can have that. I don't see a damn thing TO mourn.
(*Dan's blog is here. He is known for challenging people to keep on working for political and social change. This post is a good example.)

I pared the above section of CG's reply out of some further comments about people choosing to live stupid lives and being welcome to die that way, and smoothed down my feathers ("Did she mean me? Maybe she noticed my mention of my own paved driveway the other day . . . well, so what if she did?"). Still something didn't sit right. Something about the battle, and the mourning.

Truth be told, these days I'm generally walking away from the battle, at least as it's conventionally fought. I find environmental workshops and conferences increasingly tiresome. I just can't see past all the parked cars around the hotel, the fashionable decor of the corridor, and the stacks of paper on the registration table. If there's a battle for me, "the enemy . . . is us," and "I'm starting with the (wo)man in the mirror."

But I live in an agricultural landscape, chopped into neat half-mile-by-half-mile squares, "improved" with straight ditches and tree rows. Tiny remnants of much more diverse and lively ecology cling where the land is rough or the water flows. I can appreciate a field of waving grain, but . . . somehow my mind lifts up memory-dreams of unbroken prairies with their slower wave of blooms of wildflowers through the seasons, the light and dark of different grasses and shrubs instead of the shading of the wind-tossed grain. I mourn.

And at the same time, I have a hunch that you, CG, are right: the dichotomy is false and leads me astray from the "good life." To be able to walk in a vast untouched prairie is a luxury made possible only by crowding the people in one place and leaving nature somewhere else. And hope lies in the beauty of paradox - that if I claim a small piece of these plains and make the best life of enough-ness I can upon it, part of it will be a pasture, and the best pasture one can have in these parts is native prairie.


p.s. I did some Googling to check on my vague recollection of the quote, "We have seen the enemy and he is us." It has been much quoted, and I don't know where I saw it first, but it seems it originated with cartoonist Walt Kelly and a 1970 Earth Day poster. Amidst the Googling, though, I came across an intriguing Schellenberger/Nordhaus article which takes up this very theme of "no dichotomies," and even uses related imagery: "Death Warmed Over." This is a follow-up to an earlier, controversial essay: "The Death of Environmentalism."


CG said...

That enemy quote is, I believe, Pogo -- is that his name? I'll look it up in a minute.

Meanwhile, no, I don't mean YOU. I don't mean any particular "you" in fact. I love a whole lot of people who live in anthills. And the enemy is not all paved driveways -- the driveways were just a juxtaposition in that landscape. And in fact, even in my "hell" landscape, the house at which I made the exchange was not a plastic monstrosity and did have food growing (gardens and trees and fruit bearers of all sorts).

If one is attempting to feed oneself, one cannot leave the landscape to itself. One Straw Revolution notwithstanding (and if you haven't read that, I think you'll want to). But one needn't think it is better or worse (false dichotomy) either in its "natural" state or in its "husbanded" state. Choose A, get A's results, choose B, get B's results.

So, if we need to feed ourselves, we can choose to do it in any number of ways, but not impacting the environment at all is not one of the possibilities. We are, after all, part of the environment ourselves. On our 20 acres, we try to leave some as is, but the grazed field is not "natural". The mowed ones in front that provide mulch for the garden, likewise, not "natural". The garden is not "natural". We try to work WITH nature, not against her -- we try to increase fertility instead of decrease it, take a long view, but we impact this place by living here.

But far less than grocery store shoppers, and way less than Taco Bell eaters. And yes, way less than organophiles too.

To not impact this place (earth), we have to die. I happen to believe that, well, a large die off is inevitable. It will be a hard time, no doubt, but it is not a tragedy any more than, well, than anything is a tragedy I guess. It is what it is.

I think you are very interesting. I think you might be interesting to know.

arcolaura said...

Pogo it is.

And I think you are very interesting, too.

Thanks for the reminder to read the One Straw Revolution.

Dougald Hine said...

CG: "To not impact this place (earth), we have to die. I happen to believe that, well, a large die off is inevitable. It will be a hard time, no doubt, but it is not a tragedy any more than, well, than anything is a tragedy I guess. It is what it is."

Or, to turn this around, we will be reminded that life is tragic and that tragedy is something to be lived with, rather than a hellish abomination or an anachronism that we can Progress our way out of... 'Tragedy' is not the enemy of hope, only of hubris. The recovery of a proper (appropriate) sense of the tragic is one of the strands out of which we might hope for a less destructive future...

Then, even 'future' is a problematic word - tied up with an unhelpful approach to time. If we look forward to anything, rather make it those 'rivers north of the future...', which Illich borrowed from Paul Celan:

Into the rivers north of the future
I cast out the net, that you
hesitantly burden with stone-engraved shadows.

arcolaura said...

Wow, Dougald, thank you. That was quite a comment to find in my email all of a sudden. You have given me some more strands to follow.