Hmmmmm….

Neither season after season of extreme weather events nor the risk of extinction for a million animal species around the world could push environmental destruction to the top of our country’s list of concerns. And how sad, he said, to see so many among the most creative and best-educated classes, those from whom we might have hoped for inventive solutions, instead embracing personal therapies and pseudo-religious practices that promoted detachment, a focus on the moment, acceptance of one’s surroundings as they were, equanimity in the face of worldly cares. (This world is but a shadow, it is a carcass, it is nothing, this world is not real, do not mistake this hallucination for the real world.) Self-care, relieving one’s own everyday anxieties, avoiding stress: these had become some of our society’s highest goals, he said—higher, apparently, than the salvation of society itself. The mindfulness rage was just another distraction, he said. Of course we should be stressed, he said. We should be utterly consumed with dread. Mindful meditation might help a person face drowning with equanimity, but it would do absolutely nothing to right the Titanic, he said. It wasn’t individual efforts to achieve inner peace, it wasn’t a compassionate attitude toward others that might have led to timely preventative action, but rather a collective, fanatical, over-the-top obsession with impending doom.

Sigrid Nunez, What Are You Going Through: A Novel (Riverhead Books, September 8, 2020)


Photo: Patty Maher, Light & Dark

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

It was over, he said. It was too late, we had dithered too long. Our society had already become too fragmented and dysfunctional for us to fix, in time, the calamitous mistakes we had made. And, in any case, people’s attention remained elusive. Neither season after season of extreme weather events nor the risk of extinction for a million animal species around the world could push environmental destruction to the top of our country’s list of concerns. And how sad, he said, to see so many among the most creative and best-educated classes, those from whom we might have hoped for inventive solutions, instead embracing personal therapies and pseudo-religious practices that promoted detachment, a focus on the moment, acceptance of one’s surroundings as they were, equanimity in the face of worldly cares. (This world is but a shadow, it is a carcass, it is nothing, this world is not real, do not mistake this hallucination for the real world.) Self-care, relieving one’s own everyday anxieties, avoiding stress: these had become some of our society’s highest goals, he said—higher, apparently, than the salvation of society itself. The mindfulness rage was just another distraction, he said. Of course we should be stressed, he said. We should be utterly consumed with dread. Mindful meditation might help a person face drowning with equanimity, but it would do absolutely nothing to right the Titanic, he said. It wasn’t individual efforts to achieve inner peace, it wasn’t a compassionate attitude toward others that might have led to timely preventative action, but rather a collective, fanatical, over-the-top obsession with impending doom. It was useless, the man said, to deny that suffering of immense magnitude lay ahead, or that there’d be any escaping it. How, then, should we live?

Sigrid Nunez, What Are You Going Through: A Novel (Riverhead Books, September 8, 2020)


Notes:

Dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us


Who can use the term “gone viral” now without shuddering a little? Who can look at anything any more — a door handle, a cardboard carton, a bag of vegetables — without imagining it swarming with those unseeable, undead, unliving blobs dotted with suction pads waiting to fasten themselves on to our lungs?

Who can think of kissing a stranger, jumping on to a bus or sending their child to school without feeling real fear? Who can think of ordinary pleasure and not assess its risk? Who among us is not a quack epidemiologist, virologist, statistician and prophet? Which scientist or doctor is not secretly praying for a miracle? Which priest is not — secretly, at least — submitting to science?

And even while the virus proliferates, who could not be thrilled by the swell of birdsong in cities, peacocks dancing at traffic crossings and the silence in the skies?

The number of cases worldwide this week crept over a million. More than 50,000 people have died already. Projections suggest that number will swell to hundreds of thousands, perhaps more. The virus has moved freely along the pathways of trade and international capital, and the terrible illness it has brought in its wake has locked humans down in their countries, their cities and their homes.

But unlike the flow of capital, this virus seeks proliferation, not profit, and has, therefore, inadvertently, to some extent, reversed the direction of the flow. It has mocked immigration controls, biometrics, digital surveillance and every other kind of data analytics, and struck hardest — thus far — in the richest, most powerful nations of the world, bringing the engine of capitalism to a juddering halt. Temporarily perhaps, but at least long enough for us to examine its parts, make an assessment and decide whether we want to help fix it, or look for a better engine.

The mandarins who are managing this pandemic are fond of speaking of war. They don’t even use war as a metaphor, they use it literally. But if it really were a war, then who would be better prepared than the US? If it were not masks and gloves that its frontline soldiers needed, but guns, smart bombs, bunker busters, submarines, fighter jets and nuclear bombs, would there be a shortage?

Night after night, from halfway across the world, some of us watch the New York governor’s press briefings with a fascination that is hard to explain. We follow the statistics, and hear the stories of overwhelmed hospitals in the US, of underpaid, overworked nurses having to make masks out of garbage bin liners and old raincoats, risking everything to bring succour to the sick. About states being forced to bid against each other for ventilators, about doctors’ dilemmas over which patient should get one and which left to die. And we think to ourselves, “My God! This is America!” …

People will fall sick and die at home.  We may never know their stories. They may not even become statistics. We can only hope that the studies that say the virus likes cold weather are correct (though other researchers have cast doubt on this). Never have a people longed so irrationally and so much for a burning, punishing Indian summer.

What is this thing that has happened to us? It’s a virus, yes. In and of itself it holds no moral brief. But it is definitely more than a virus. Some believe it’s God’s way of bringing us to our senses…Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

~ Arundhati Roy, from “Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’” in Financial Times (April 3, 2020)


Notes: Photo: Arundhati Roy via bbc.co.uk. Quote Source: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels

 

She always bats 1.000

As Rob Watson, one of my favorite environmental teachers, likes to remind people: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is.”

You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot manipulate her. And you certainly cannot tell her, “Mother Nature, stop ruining my beautiful stock market.”

No, no, no. Mother Nature will always and only do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate, and “Mother Nature always bats last,” says Watson, “and she always bats 1.000.”

Do not mess with Mother Nature.

Thomas L. FriedmanWith the Coronavirus, It’s Again Trump vs. Mother Nature  (NY Times, March 31, 2020)


Photo: Economic Times

Undermining the Ground Beneath Our Feet


Notes:

House on Fire


Photo: Wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk carries a koala out of a burning forest to safety on Kangaroo Island, southwest of Adelaide, Australia, on January 7, 2020. Photograph by David Mariuz.

The Atlantic: Animals Rescued From Australia’s Bushfires. January 9, 2020:

“The horrific wildfires that have been burning across Australia for months now have taken a severe toll on the animals that called the scorched lands home. Estimates of the number of animals killed by the fires range from hundreds of millions to more than 1 billion. Volunteers and crews from Australia’s National Parks and Wildlife Service have been doing what they can to help some of the kangaroos, koalas, lizards, and birds that can be rescued and treated. Ranchers and pet owners have been working to keep the animals in their care secure when possible, but many farm animals have been killed as well. As much as one-third of Australia’s Kangaroo Island has burned so far, with wildlife experts fearing that more than half of the island’s 50,000 koalas have been killed.”

At the trial of God, we will ask: why did you allow all this?

North American songbirds have been shrinking steadily in size over the past 40 years, according to scientists who measured tens of thousands of the feathered creatures from dozens of different species and attributed the changes to rising temperatures.

As the birds’ bodies got smaller, their wings gradually got longer, the scientists said in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Ecology Letters. The longer wings, the researchers said, may help offset the loss of body mass so the birds can fly efficiently on their long migrations. The changes were too small to be apparent to the naked eye, the scientists said, amounting to a gram or so in weight per bird and a few millimeters change in individual wing length…

Migrating birds in the modern world face many hazards affecting their growth and survival, from vanishing nesting grounds, dwindling food sources and pesticide use, to domestic cats, which kill up to 3 billion birds annually. Collisions with high-rise buildings kill another 600 million or so migrating birds every year.

~ Robert Lee Hotz, from “Songbirds Are Shrinking in Size, Study Finds. Scientists pin drop-off in size of North American songbirds on rising temperatures” (wsj.com, Dec 5, 2019)


Notes:

Post inspired by: “At the trial of God, we will ask: why did you allow all this? / And the answer will be an echo: why did you allow all this?”  by Ilya Kaminsky, from “A City Like a Guillotine Shivers on Its Way to the Neck,” Deaf Republic

And further inspired by: “But there’s something undoing about the dying light of mid-afternoon. In that empty old house on Marlborough Road all that had stitched me into this life came undone and I couldn’t escape the feeling that folded against my back were wings that had failed to open. ~ Niall Williams, “This Is Happiness” (Bloomsbury Publishing; December 3, 2019)

It’s better than sex.

Speedskating on natural ice is a beloved Dutch national pastime. The tradition is alive and well — just not necessarily in the Netherlands, where climate change now yields winters too warm for the waterways to freeze over with any consistency. The consequences of this have been felt most profoundly in a historical event called the Elfstedentocht, a one-day, long-distance speedskating tour through 11 cities of the Friesland province. It maintains a sacred place in Dutch sports culture. This week, the original Elfstedentocht is passing a worrisome milestone: Friday will be the 8,070th day since the previous edition, the longest period without a race since its inception. But the Dutch refuse to let its spirit die. So every winter, close to 6,000 people from the Netherlands make a pilgrimage to Weissensee (Austria)…

A thousand Dutch skaters congregated before dawn on the frozen surface of the Weissensee, the long, slender lake that gives this small Austrian mountain town its name. The sky was dark, and the headlamps of the shivering skaters cast a spiritual glow onto the charcoal ice. They had been warned not to remove their goggles, lest their eyeballs frost over in the wind. The conditions, by any reasonable standard, were brutal. But the skaters were in heaven. “The most beautiful thing in life is skating on a floor of black ice, in the cold, hearing the sounds of ice skating in nature,” said Wim Wiltenburg, 53, a banker visiting from Tilburg. “It’s better than sex.”

~ Andrew Keh, from Racing the Clock, and Climate Change (NY Times, Feb 7, 2019)

Walking Backward. From The Road.

Think back to when you were a child, it’s Christmas Eve, and your eyes scan the packages under the tree. “Not before 7 am!”  The hands on the clock are stuck in some alien, viscous slurry.

Now, place yourself at the gates of Epcot, the opening day of the International Food & Wine Festival. It’s 7:45 a.m., the gates open at 8 a.m. Throngs of tourists mingle anxiously. Selfies. Smartphones. Strollers. And, Scooters, so many scooters, for the less mobile. (And I’m being kind here.)

There was the new ride  Soarin‘.  Warnings: Motion sickness? Fear of Heights? I look left and right and find no one but me griping the armrests. When did you get so fearful? So timid? Then there was The Seas and the Bomouth Guitarfish, a scary looking cross between Shark and Manta Ray. Then Frozen. Then Nemo. Then Living with the Land, a ride through horticulture and aquaculture. This was followed by a one-hour guided tour called Behind the Seeds. Hydroponics, a subset of hydroculture, a method of growing plants without soil using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. And Aeroponics, the process of growing plants in air or mist without the use of soil.

It is here that the tour seems to hit bone. We are walking through four greenhouses. Plants spinning on mechanical pulleys. And, plants growing in white sand, being fed nutrient drips. And fish, in tanks – sturgeon, bass, catfish, tilapia. Circling round and round, being fed on the clock.

This World, sterile, Man-Manufactured. No insects. No birds. No dark, rich soil. [Read more…]

Riding Metro North. With My Schwinn

image

5:40 am train to Grand Central.
50º F. Top coat-free morning.
Warm.

Morning papers.

Photo of the Day: Jogger in Beijing. Eyes visible. Face covered with a mask. Street flooded with smog. Mile 1 of apocalypse?

Climate change.
Trump
Fear.
Guns.
Grim.

Hoo-Ah!
Lt. Col. Frank Slade (aka Al Pacino) in Scent of a Woman: “there isn’t nothin’ like the sight of an amputated spirit.

Bend it. Bend it back.

Mid-summer. 1970’s. Billy’s out front. Brother Rich and cousin Jim tail far behind.  The fishing pole is in my right hand and bending in the wind. I’m griping the handle bars and pumpin’ my legs.  Up down. Up down.  We reach the final leg, a steep decline.  Heads are tucked down and in over the handle bars. The Schwinn accelerates.  We lean into the slow turn right. And then into the slow turn left. The white birches lining the road are a blur.

Metro North makes its first stop and rolls on.  I turn my gaze to the window.  Lights from lamp posts, street lights and apartments illuminate the darkness and whiz by.

I turn my right shoulder ever so slightly to cock the rod.  Out of my right eye are lush forests.  I cast. The floater and lead are suspended in the air. The worm is tucked in tightly on the hook. Towering above, the Cascade Mountains watch over. And the cloudless blue skies watch over all of us.  The Kootenay River, clear, clean and lined with moss covered stones, meanders down stream.

The train pulls into Grand Central. We spill out.

The floater, red and striped, is suspended.  Hanging, frozen in time.

Hold it.

Stop right there.

Don’t let me go.


Notes:

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