Riding I-95 South. With Cuts.

I’m crossing the I-95 overpass, aiming to circle back and slide down the ramp into the pack – the morning rush is backed up for miles.

I wait at the stoplight.

Four girls, 7-8 years old, blue skirts, sweaters, hair pulled back, backpacks bouncing on their backs…hustle across the crosswalk, all four with iPhones cradled in both hands. Texting. Surfing. Instagram. Facebook. Snapchat.  Hands, eyes, fingers, all blind to the onset of autumn in the trees overhead, and the yellowing leaves which quiver from the gentle breeze easing in from the North. The light turns, I see them in the rear view mirror, heads down. And likely still down at this moment. The scene replays in a loop. Something Large, is irretrievably Lost.

I inch down 95.

Something Large, is irretrievable Lost.  A 1/2 mile stretch on my right, formerly lined with thick, lush trees, the same trees that separated the commuter train lines from the suburbs, the same trees offering a moment’s sanctuary from Work-to-Come or Work-Behind-Us, these same Giant trees, thick with foliage…are Gone.

A giant yellow earthmover hulks along the highway, resting from the mayhem it delivered overnight. Creating What? Room for a second lane exiting into Greenwich? Another rail line? Tree-free space to stand-up cinder block distribution warehouses for Amazon, that stretch for acres, offering convenient access to I-95?

I pass the clear cut, the traffic eases and it’s all behind me. Or so I think. [Read more…]

Progress

We keep turning one thing into another and calling it progress. We keep machining the beauty off of things as they are, creating more and more things to hide in, as if that will let us live longer. We keep burrowing into everything but ourselves: churning trees into lumber, animals into meat, wind into electricity, vegetables into remedies, and silence into noise; turning the earth, continent by continent, into one giant anthill. We keep eating our way through the arms of the Universe, desperate for something large and quiet to hold us.

~ Mark Nepo, “Short Wisdom on a Long Planet” in Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living


Photo: monochrome vibe (via to escape from the commonplaces of existence)

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…]

Sunday Morning


The snarl of saws and feller bunchers, somewhere in the distance. A great truth comes over him: Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible.

Some days, dawn breaks in Arthurian mists. There are mornings when the chill threatens to kill him, noons when the heat knocks him on his semi-numbed butt. Afternoons so profligate with blue he lies on his back and stares upward until his eyes water. There come mocking and merciless rains. Rain the weight and color of lead. Shy rain, auditioning with stage fright. Rain that leaves his feet sprouting moss and lichen. There were huge, spiked skeins of interwoven wood here once. They will come again.

Sometimes he works alongside other tree slingers, some of whom speak no language he recognizes. He meets hikers who want to know where the forests of their youth have gone. The seasonal pineros come and go, and the hard cores, like him, keep on. Mostly, it’s him and the brute, blank, stripped-down rhythm of the work. Wedge, squat, insert, stand, and boot-tip seal.

They look so pitiful, his tiny Douglas-firs. Like pipe cleaners. Like props for a train set. From a distance, spread across these man-made meadows, they’re a crew cut on a balding man. But each weedy stem he puts into the dirt is a magic trick eons in the making. He rolls them out by the thousands, and he loves and trusts them as he would dearly love to trust his fellow men.

Left alone—and there’s the catch—left alone to the air and light and rain, each one might put on tens of thousands of pounds. Any one of his starts could grow for the next six hundred years and dwarf the largest factory chimney. It could play host to generations of voles that never go to ground and several dozen species of insects whose only desire is to strip their host bare. Could rain down ten million needles a year on its own lower branches, building up mats of soil that grow their own gardens high in the air.

Any one of these gangly seedlings could push out millions of cones over the course of its life, the small yellow males with their pollen that floats across entire states, the drooping females with their mouse tails sticking out from the coil of scales, a look he finds dearer than his own life. And the forest they might remake he can almost smell—resinous, fresh, thick with yearning, sap of a fruit that is no fruit, the scent of Christmases endlessly older than Christ.

Douglas Pavlicek works a clear-cut as big as downtown Eugene, saying goodbye to his plants as he tucks each one in. Hang on. Only ten or twenty decades. Child’s play, for you guys. You just have to outlast us.

~ Richard Powers, from “Douglas Pavlicek” in The Overstory: A Novel (April 3, 2018)


Photo: Biology.unm.edu

Sunday Morning

I remember the Koyukon people’s keen awareness of changes in the terrain around them, based on what they had seen during their lifetimes and what the old-timers had seen before them. In the village of Huslia, people could remember when their cabins stood where the middle of the Koyukuk River runs today. All along its course, they had seen the river bite into its banks, cut through meander loops, build islands and move them gradually downstream, make new channels and abandon old ones. They had watched lakes become ponds, ponds become bogs, bogs become forests. The land came alive through their gift of memory and their long experience with this one part of the earth. Koyukon elders expressed this sense of change in the metaphor of a riddle:

Wait, I see something: The river is tearing away things around me.

Answer: An island, becoming smaller and smaller until it is gone.

I wish someday I might know a place as they do, might have their same visceral understanding that the land I move on is also moving. That nothing, not even this pyramid of mountain, is the same today as it was yesterday. That nothing, not even this island, exists for a moment without change.The great storm rages at this brittle edge, tore earth and rock from the shore, and washed them away beneath the surf. But what it took from the island above the sea, it laid down on the island’s underwater slopes. Recognizing this, it’s hard to say that anything was lost, or that the island was made less rich, less complete, less beautiful. An island grows old so gracefully.

Sometime in the distant future, the last remnant of Kluksa Mountain might stand amid the swells, a black spine of rock where cormorants roost and gulls rest in the wind. And after another millennium of storms, every trace of the island might disappear beneath the sea. Even the smallest grain of sand under my feet will likely be here when I’ve made my last track. A rock in the soil above this beach will probably outlast me a thousand times over. A nameless knoll above Peregrine Point may stand long after humanity has vanished from the earth. The thought makes me feel insignificant, ephemeral, and frail. But the island and I face the same inevitability of change, death, and transformation, and in this sense we belong to the same larger, less bounded world that encompasses us. We share a common life. We are a place and a person; but each of us is a process, a moment, and a passing through.

~ Richard Nelson, The Island Within (Vintage Books, April 1991)


Notes:

Nightmare

NatGeo: 18 billion pounds of plastic ends up in the ocean each year. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.


There’s something you need to hear…

When I needed to escape the digital-utopian future, I’d head up into the hills. I was not, then, particularly attuned to the magic of trees. But it doesn’t take great sensitivity to be stunned into silence by redwoods — the sight, sound, and smell of those forests, which feel to so many people like holy places.

One day, up near Skyline Road, I came across a tree the width of a house and the length of a football field. I would learn later that this single living thing was almost as old as Christianity. It dwarfed every other trunk on that ridge. As I looked at it, I began to realize that all the trees I’d been walking through were in fact no more than a hundred years old. This one tree had escaped the clearcutting that had built and rebuilt San Francisco. And the forest that it came from must have been, compared to the one I was standing in, as the OED is to a pocket dictionary. When I went back down to Silicon Valley that evening, I had the seed for a story…

When a person says, “I live in the real world,” they generally mean that they live in the artificially created social world, the human-made world that is hurtling toward a brick wall of its own making. This is what I’d ask the critics of the literature of extra-human awe: Which is more childish, naïve, romantic, or mystical: the belief that we can get away with making Earth revolve around our personal appetites and fantasies, or the belief that a vast, multi-million-pronged project four and a half billion years old deserves a little reverent humility? …

Tree-consciousness is a religion of life, a kind of bio-pantheism. My characters are willing to entertain a telos in living things that scientific empiricism shies away from. Life wants something from us. The trees say to each of these people: There’s something you need to hear…

A friend came to visit me here in my home in the Smokies. Despite the winter turbulence that whipped the jet stream around like a jump rope, making for 80-degree days in February and polar-vortex March nights 20 degrees colder than average, spring was creeping back in. The first ephemerals were rising everywhere through last year’s leaf litter: hepatica, trailing arbutus, star chickweed, spring beauties. I stopped on the trail where we were walking and pointed out the crown of a maple infused in red, like a blurry watercolor.

My friend, who’d grown up surrounded by these trees, was astonished. “Maples have flowers?”

Yes. They’ve been flowering every spring, for the last hundred million years. They flowered in every year you’ve been alive. And with luck, they’ll flower for a few years yet to come.

~ Richard Powers, excerpts from Here’s to Unsuicide: An Interview with Richard Powers by Everett Hammer (Los Angeles Review of Books, April 8, 2018)

Powers new book: The Overstory: A Novel was published this month.


Photo: imgfave (via goodmemory)

Sit down. Shut up. Pay attention. Repeat, hundreds of times over.

I found that trees are full of sound. Wind reveals the architecture of branches and leaves, and every tree has its own wind sound, emerging from the particularities of its physiology. For example, the Ponderosa pine trees in Colorado sound different from the same species in California. Each has needles adapted to the local environment, so each sounds different when the wind blows. Broad-leaves trees are likewise diverse in their voices. City trees have rumbles of buses and trains running through them, changing the form of their wood. Birds sing from branches and insects gnaw on inner wood. Then there are tree sounds that are too high for our ears, but by listening with sensitive microphones I heard water pulsing through branches and ultrasonic clicks of distress in drought-stricken twigs. These sounds combined with the voices of market vendors working in the trees’ shade, birds singing amid traffic noise, and surf sucking at palm roots on an eroding beach. Sound is a great way into tree lives: it passes around and through solid barriers, revealing what our eyes cannot see.

~ David George Haskell, in an interview by Caspar Henderson titled: David George Haskell recommends the best books on Trees (fivebooks.com, July 13, 2017)


Notes:

  • Other notable statements in this interview by David George Haskell: “Smelling the soil, talking to other people, holding an acorn in your hand, coming to know the sounds of birds and trees: these have great power once we wake to them, partly because they are such multi-sensory activities, engaging mind and emotion… (Yet) Our modern dependence on trees is mostly hidden from our senses. We don’t hear the rain passing through forest canopies on its way to the reservoir. We don’t smell the wood pellets and coal chunks that power our computers and homes. The wood that frames our houses, holds up our furniture, and gives us paper arrives with signs of its ecological history purged. So we imagine that we’ve transcended our ancestors’ close relationship with trees. But this is illusion. There is no good future for Homo sapiens without forests. Yet forests are in crisis. We live in an age of great diminishment. In just the first dozen years of this millennium, 2.3 million square kilometres of forest were lost – cut, burned, drowned, desertified – yet only 0.8 million regrew or were replanted.
  • Photo: François Vigneron with Four in a Square (via Newthom)

 

Drip. Drip. Drip.

airconditioning

“There you are, turning the ignition of your car,” he writes. “And it creeps up on you.” Every time you fire up your engine you don’t mean to harm the Earth, “let alone cause the Sixth Mass Extinction Event in the four-and-a-half billion-year history of life on this planet”. But “harm to Earth is precisely what is happening”. Part of what’s so uncomfortable about this is that our individual acts may be statistically and morally insignificant, but when you multiply them millions and billions of times – as they are performed by an entire species – they are a collective act of ecological destruction. Coral bleaching isn’t just occurring over yonder, on the Great Barrier Reef; it’s happening wherever you switch on the air conditioning. In short, Morton says, “everything is interconnected”.

~ Alex Blasdel, ’A reckoning for our species’: (Timothy Morton) the philosopher prophet of the Anthropocene (The Guardian, June 17, 2017)


Photograph: Residential house in Shinagawa, Tokyo by Jan Vranovský, 2016 @ Parallel World. Jan Vranovský (*1986, Prague) is a Czech born architect, graphic designer and photographer, currently living in Tokyo.

We’re on “The Road”.

manilla-storm-garbage-pollution

A man collects recyclable materials from floating garbage washed into Manila after Tropical Storm Nida dumped 12 inches of rain on the Philippines.


Notes:

  • Title Credit Reference to “The Road“: “Cormac McCarthy’s tenth novel, The Road, is his most harrowing yet deeply personal work. Some unnamed catastrophe has scourged the world to a burnt-out cinder, inhabited by the last remnants of mankind and a very few surviving dogs and fungi. The sky is perpetually shrouded by dust and toxic particulates; the seasons are merely varied intensities of cold and dampness. Bands of cannibals roam the roads and inhabit what few dwellings remain intact in the woods.” (Quote Source: CormacMcCarthy.com. Find Book: Amazon.com. Find Movie Trailer: The Road)
  • Photo – wsj.com photo of the day by Ted Aljibe / Agency France – Presse / Getty images.

 

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