Thursday, September 30, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 19

From the late Thomas Berry:

Twelve Principles for Understanding the Universe and the Role of the Human in the Universe Process

1. The universe, the solar system, and the planet Earth, in themselves and in their evolutionary emergence, constitute for the human community the primary revelation of that ultimate mystery whence all things emerge into being.

2. The universe is a unity, an interacting and genetically-related community of beings bound together in an inseparable relationship in space and time. The unity of planet Earth is especially clear: each being of the planet is profoundly implicated in the existence and functioning of every other being.

3. The capacity for ordered self-development, for self-expression, and for intimate presence to other modes of being must be considered as a pervasive psychic dimension of the universe from the beginning.

4. The three basic laws of the universe at all levels of reality are differentiation, subjectivity, and communion. These laws identify the reality, the values, and the directions in which the universe is proceeding.

5. The universe has a violent as well as a harmonious aspect, but it is consistently creative in the larger arc of its development.

6. The Earth, within the solar system, is a self-emergent, self-propagating, self-nourishing, self-educating, self-governing, self-healing, self-fulfilling community. All particular life-systems must integrate their being and their functioning within this larger complex of mutually dependent Earth systems.

7. The human emerges within the life systems of Earth as that being in whom the universe reflects on and celebrates itself in a special mode of conscious self-awareness. The human is genetically coded toward further cultural coding, by which specifically human qualities find expression in a remarkable diversity in the various regions of the Earth.

8. Domestication: transition to village life and greater control over the forces of nature took place in the Neolithic period, 12,000 years ago; beginnings of agriculture, domestication of animals, weaving, pottery and new stone implements.

9. The classical civilizations: progressive alienation of the human from the natural world; the rise of cities, elaborate religious expression in ritual and architecture, development of specialized social functions, increase in centralized government, the invention of writing and related technologies.

10. The scientific-technological-industrial phase: the violent plundering of the Earth takes place, beginning in Europe and North America. The functioning of Earth is profoundly altered in its chemical balance, its biological systems, and its geological structures. The atmosphere and water are extensively polluted, the soil eroded, and toxic waste accumulates. The mystique of the Earth vanishes from human consciousness.

11. The ecological age: a new intimacy is sought with the integral functioning of the natural world; destructive anthropocentrism is replaced with eco-centrism; transition to the primacy of the integral Earth community.

12. The newly developing ecological community needs a mystique of exaltation and finds it in the renewal of the great cosmic liturgy, which celebrates the new story of the universe and its emergence through evolutionary processes.

Berry opens his book, The Great Work, with this:

History is governed by those overarching movements that give shape and meaning to life by relating the human venture to the larger destinies of the universe. Creating such a movement might be called the Great Work of a people....

After a discussion of the "great works" of the past, he considers the pivotal present:

The Great Work now, as we move into a new millennium,is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner. This historical change is something more than the transition from the classical Roman period to the medieval period, or from the medieval period to modern times. Such a transition has no historical parallel since the geobiological transition that took place 67 million years ago when the period of the dinosaurs was terminated and a new biological age begun.

Later in the book, he looks at how we might see our connection to the wild:

To understand the human role in the functioning of the Earth we need to appreciate the spontaneities found in every form of existence in the natural world, spontaneities that we associate with the wild — that which is uncontrolled by human dominance. We misconceive our role if we consider that our historical mission is to “civilize” or to “domesticate” the planet, as though wildness is something destructive rather than the ultimate creative modality of any form of earthly being. We are not here to control. We are here to become integral with the larger Earth community. The community itself and each of its members has ultimately a wild component, a creative spontaneity that is its deepest reality, its most profound mystery.

Sanguinaria canadensis

And this:

The landscape that encloses the Appalachian region, the rivers that flow down from the mountains to the sea, the trees that blossom in these surroundings, the birds that sing throughout this valley, all those were brought into being during the past 65 million years. If this has been a period of wildness beyond compare, it has also been the lyric period in the story of Earth. The human, perhaps, could only have appeared in such a period of grandeur; for the inner life of the human depends immediately on the outer world of nature.

Ledbetter Creek

Only if the human imagination is activated by the flight of the great soaring birds in the heavens, by the blossoming flowers of Earth, by the sight of the sea, by the lightning and thunder of the great storms that break through the heat of summer, only then will the deep inner experiences be evoked within the human soul.




Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 18

"In the history of civilization, contrary to the idealistic vision of the prophet Isaiah, the plowshare has been far more destructive than the sword”
-Daniel Hillel

Fall Plowing (1931), Grant Wood

I'm rushing to conclude this series by the end of the month, but can't neglect an article which helps bring things full circle. While the current batch of blog posts has been an impromptu anthology of perspectives on paradise, a valuable article by John Feeney addresses many of the same issues, and in a more coherent manner. From Agriculture - Ending the World As We Know It:

The problem of agriculture is in part a problem of human numbers. Before farming human population size had been regulated by the same process that works for black bears, dingos, bonobos, rainbow trout, and long-tailed parakeets. It works for all species, generally keeping their numbers within carrying capacity. It’s simple: Population follows food supply. Normal oscillations in available food exert multiple small, cumulative, typically painless influences on fertility and mortality. With agriculture we circumvented this process. Growing and storing food we could go on growing our food supply. The result has been predictable: more humans. ...

Chief among the destructive impacts of agriculture are today's alarmingly elevated extinction rates. Just as agriculture has crowded out hunter-gatherers, it has pushed out other species. Most biologists agree we are today in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event in Earth's history, the fifth having eliminated the dinosaurs. This time one species -- our own -- is the cause....

How much evidence do we need to see that civilization is not the ultimate expression of human existence after all? It has been a momentary detour, the fleeting, cameo appear­ance of a dysfunctional approach to life, the result of straying from living at one with the natural world. Whatever the path to civilization’s wind-down, if we can preserve enough biodiversity, those coming out the other end will have the chance to enjoy anew a dif­ferent, yet satisfying way of living, the only way proven sustainable for humans. Racing toward a precipice, can it be wrong to embrace once again a life which worked for over two million years when it has become obvious the current approach is an abject failure? We don’t have to go backwards; we need only nurture who we really are. Whatever our course, we have only to consider the agricultural origins of our ecological crisis to under­stand civilization is an unsustainable trap.

For the whole article, try

Through John Feeney, I also learned about Urban Scout, author of Rewild or Die.

His blog, The Adventures of Urban Scout, A Hunter-Gatherer Wannabe, puts some fun back in proFUNDdity, which is always a refreshing accomplishment.

Hypocrisy vs Rewilding begins:

Inevitably those-who-rewild will find themselves attacked as hypocrites by those who don’t understand rewilding: “If you hate civilization so much, why don’t you go live in the woods?” “You hate technology, but there you sit waiting for people to comment on your latest facebook status update.” “You want to live like a hunter-gatherer but you buy all your food at the grocery store!” “You talk shit on mainstream media, but you watch television!” And on, and on and on. ...

Urban's essay, On Killing Animals, Insects and Plants, concerns his recent experience of slaughtering rabbits for the first time:

The emotional intensity of killing feels impossible to describe. I didn’t cry. Instead my adrenaline rushed so fast I thought I might throw up or faint. I had to focus on breathing. The adrenaline really kicks in when you see the rabbit squirm a bit and think, “Oh right. The rabbit will struggle for its life.” Most urban people forget this. Most urban people have never seen it happen. Most urban people have never done it themselves. Vegans have a point in this regard: you can’t hear a plant scream, it can’t run or squirm. It makes killing plants very easy and it makes killing animals much more difficult, both emotionally and physically...

Read at

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 17

Once upon a time, the words "Apple" and "Blackberry" held different meanings. They weren't always applied to high-tech gadgets...

Some of the most pleasant and lasting childhood memories originated from the times we drew closest to our hunter/gatherer roots.

That was the case for Irish poet Seamus Heaney. It seems he treasured summer blackberries just as much as I did:

- by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.


The poet reads his work:

Blackberry Picking : Poetry Everywhere : Video : The Poetry Foundation

Monday, September 27, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 16

Time to interrupt this programming for a commercial message:

Should the human race run another century, will daily life more closely resemble the world of the Jetsons or the world of the Flintstones? Which one fulfills your own vision of earthly paradise?

Maybe technology will be our salvation. In the minds of many, genetic engineering and virtual reality are symbols of a better future. On the other hand, humans have long demonstrated the inability to resist technologies, even the ones lethal to the planet.

Taking massive amounts of carbon from beneath the surface of the earth and transferring it to the atmosphere is a form of suicide. What else could you call it? Life as we know it, the modern civilization that has arisen in the past 500 years, would not exist without this process. We don't seem inclined to abandon it, even after seeing the impact on the planet.

Perhaps we should take comfort in the words of Bertolt Brecht, who said:

Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.

And in that vein, the ways people look at the world will not stay the way they are.

Functional communities (or earthly paradise, for that matter) are rooted in place, from my particular view on things. But that might be considered an anachronistic perspective on the world, here in the amorphous years after Postmodernism. "Communities" are replaced by "social networks" facilitated by technologies telling us that place - solid earth - can be disregarded. Welcome to the 21st century, dude!

Caveman or Spaceman, which will you be?

The creators of the Jetsons depicted one possible future - cities with no discernable connections to the earth. Kind of like now. Cellphones, alone, have taken us pretty far in that direction, I'd say. Of course, the disembodied yawpers would view me with an equal degree of bewilderment, and an equivalent tinge of disgust.

It is as though we inhabit two separate universes. I'm no Luddite, but recognize history's lessons about the use and abuse of technology, and its role in shaping the entire culture, even how we perceive reality. Traditional means of subsistence, lower down the technological ladder (so to speak), required humans to be present in nature (observant of and obedient to nature's laws) in ways "modern" people seldom bother to comprehend.

Regarding the carrying capacity of the planet, some scholars contend a human population about one-tenth its current size would be optimal, or sustainable in the long term. If we could taper down toward that number, by deliberate choice, then maybe we would be on our way to paradise. I'd wager on apocalypse (deadly epidemic, biological warfare or some other environmental catastrophe) to thin the herd (along with the usual rate of casualties attributable to greed and stupidity).

Yes, I think a Flintstones future is more likely than a Jetsons future.

Just keep this in mind:

Fred and Barney were smoking those Winstons in the little town of Bedrock.

Given our current behavior toward the good, green earth, there might not be much besides bedrock left for "the modern stone-age family" a hundred years from now.


“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

- Rachel Carson

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Free Tallulah

Tallulah Falls, Georgia

This is the photo of the week, as far as I'm concerned. A couple of years ago, I posted a story on the unusual geologic history of the Tallulah River and Gorge, a classic case of stream piracy:

At that time, out of curiosity, I tried to locate a photo of the Tallulah prior to the 1912 completion of the dam at the head of the gorge. I never could find one then, and just now stumbled upon the shot above from ca. 1902.

For anyone who has never been, I'd rank Tallulah Gorge as one of most spectacular places in this neck of the woods, and maybe the most spectacular.

Some of the equipment used for Karl Wallenda's high wire walk across the Gorge, July 18, 1970, is still in place. And that is enough to give one pause. That's some mighty thin air as you look across the deep gorge to the other side and imagine Wallenda on the wire.

Wallenda Crosses Tallulah

An OnlineAthens article( ) referred to the Tallulah crossing as the greatest feat of the 65-year-old's career:

He walked 1,100 feet (the length of three football fields) across the Tallulah Gorge - some 1,000 feet above the Tallulah River (the highest a daredevil has ever performed a feat).

Gov. Lester Maddox was on hand. The Fort Gordon Army band entertained the throng.

It took Wallenda 20 minutes to walk the slender steel cable. On the advice of his family (always in attendance) he chose the lighter of two balance poles, which weighed 45 pounds. After pausing to "talk to God," he began the walk. Halfway across, he lowered his pole to the wire and executed the first of two handstands to the deafening roar of the crowd. A few minutes later he did another handstand this time "for the boys in Vietnam."

His wife Helen met him as he descended from the cable and handed him a drink (a glass of vodka).

I did find one other pre-dam photograph of Tallulah Falls, from 1894:

What a great place!


After Wallenda's death in 1978, Raymond Carver wrote this poem about the "daredevil" and the day he died:

That morning, 74 years old and 10 stories up,
midway between hotel and hotel, a promotional stunt
on the first day of spring, that wind
which has been everywhere with you
comes in from the Caribbean to throw itself
once and for all into your arms, like a young lover!
Your hair stands on end.
You try to crouch, to reach for the wire.
Later, men come to clean up
and take down the wire. They take down the wire
where you spent your life. Imagine that: wire.
(Poem for Karl Wallenda: Aerialist Supreme)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Happy National Public Lands Day

Theodore Roosevelt, patron saint of the public lands we now enjoy.

This is National Public Lands Day, and a day for thoughtful celebration.

From the website :

NPLD is the nation's largest hands-on volunteer effort to improve and enhance the public lands Americans enjoy. In 2009, 150,000 volunteers built trails and bridges, removed trash and invasive plants, planted trees and restored our water resources.

In that spirit, I’ve tried to get in the habit of packing a garbage bag with my other hiking stuff. A couple of minutes picking up the trash that’s likely to be scattered around the trailhead does make a difference, any day of the year.

As I was thinking about what to post, I went back through several historic documents, and none of them should be left out of the Southern Appalachian public lands story. I’ll excerpt a few of those next week. Somewhere up that thread, though, (exploring the context for public lands policy as it took shape during the Theodore Roosevelt administration) I came across the Second Annual Message (December 2, 1902) of President Roosevelt to Congress. In the many issues he addressed, you find almost a reverse mirror image of the present.

TR opened:

We still continue in a period of unbounded prosperity. This prosperity is not the creature of law, but undoubtedly the laws under which we work have been instrumental in creating the conditions which made it possible, and by unwise legislation it would be easy enough to destroy it. There will undoubtedly be periods of depression. The wave will recede; but the tide will advance. This Nation is seated on a continent flanked by two great oceans. It is composed of men the descendants of pioneers, or, in a sense, pioneers themselves; of men winnowed out from among the nations of the Old World by the energy, boldness, and love of adventure found in their own eager hearts. Such a Nation, so placed, will surely wrest success from fortune.

As a people we have played a large part in the world, and we are bent upon making our future even larger than the past. In particular, the events of the last four years have definitely decided that, for woe or for weal, our place must be great among the nations. We may either fall greatly or succeed greatly; but we can not avoid the endeavor from which either great failure or great success must come. Even if we would, we can not play a small part. If we should try, all that would follow would be that we should play a large part ignobly and shamefully.

But our people, the sons of the men of the Civil War, the sons of the men who had iron in their blood, rejoice in the present and face the future high of heart and resolute of will. Ours is not the creed of the weakling and the coward; ours is the gospel of hope and of triumphant endeavor. We do not shrink from the struggle before us. There are many problems for us to face at the outset of the twentieth century--grave problems abroad and still graver at home; but we know that we can solve them and solve them well, provided only that we bring to the solution the qualities of head and heart which were shown by the men who, in the days of Washington, rounded this Government, and, in the days of Lincoln, preserved it.

No country has ever occupied a higher plane of material well-being than ours at the present moment. This well-being is due to no sudden or accidental causes, but to the play of the economic forces in this country for over a century; to our laws, our sustained and continuous policies; above all, to the high individual average of our citizenship. Great fortunes have been won by those who have taken the lead in this phenomenal industrial development, and most of these fortunes have been won not by doing evil, but as an incident to action which has benefited the community as a whole. Never before has material well-being been so widely diffused among our people. Great fortunes have been accumulated, and yet in the aggregate these fortunes are small Indeed when compared to the wealth of the people as a whole. The plain people are better off than they have ever been before. The insurance companies, which are practically mutual benefit societies--especially helpful to men of moderate means--represent accumulations of capital which are among the largest in this country. There are more deposits in the savings banks, more owners of farms, more well-paid wage-workers in this country now than ever before in our history. Of course, when the conditions have favored the growth of so much that was good, they have also favored somewhat the growth of what was evil. It is eminently necessary that we should endeavor to cut out this evil, but let us keep a due sense of proportion; let us not in fixing our gaze upon the lesser evil forget the greater good. The evils are real and some of them are menacing, but they are the outgrowth, not of misery or decadence, but of prosperity--of the progress of our gigantic industrial development. This industrial development must not be checked, but side by side with it should go such progressive regulation as will diminish the evils. We should fail in our duty if we did not try to remedy the evils, but we shall succeed only if we proceed patiently, with practical common sense as well as resolution, separating the good from the bad and holding on to the former while endeavoring to get rid of the latter.

In my Message to the present Congress at its first session I discussed at length the question of the regulation of those big corporations commonly doing an interstate business, often with some tendency to monopoly, which are popularly known as trusts. The experience of the past year has emphasized, in my opinion, the desirability of the steps I then proposed. A fundamental requisite of social efficiency is a high standard of individual energy and excellence; but this is in no wise inconsistent with power to act in combination for aims which can not so well be achieved by the individual acting alone. A fundamental base of civilization is the inviolability of property; but this is in no wise inconsistent with the right of society to regulate the exercise of the artificial powers which it confers upon the owners of property, under the name of corporate franchises, in such a way as to prevent the misuse of these powers. Corporations, and especially combinations of corporations, should be managed under public regulation. Experience has shown that under our system of government the necessary supervision can not be obtained by State action. It must therefore be achieved by national action. Our aim is not to do away with corporations; on the contrary, these big aggregations are an inevitable development of modern industrialism, and the effort to destroy them would be futile unless accomplished in ways that would work the utmost mischief to the entire body politic. We can do nothing of good in the way of regulating and supervising these corporations until we fix clearly in our minds that we are not attacking the corporations, but endeavoring to do away with any evil in them. We are not hostile to them; we are merely determined that they shall be so handled as to subserve the public good. We draw the line against misconduct, not against wealth. The capitalist who, alone or in conjunction with his fellows, performs some great industrial feat by which he wins money is a welldoer, not a wrongdoer, provided only he works in proper and legitimate lines. We wish to favor such a man when he does well. We wish to supervise and control his actions only to prevent him from doing ill. Publicity can do no harm to the honest corporation; and we need not be over tender about sparing the dishonest corporation.

It would be both unwise and unnecessary at this time to attempt to reconstruct our financial system, which has been the growth of a century; but some additional legislation is, I think, desirable. The mere outline of any plan sufficiently comprehensive to meet these requirements would transgress the appropriate limits of this communication. It is suggested, however, that all future legislation on the subject should be with the view of encouraging the use of such instrumentalities as will automatically supply every legitimate demand of productive industries and of commerce, not only in the amount, but in the character of circulation; and of making all kinds of money interchangeable, and, at the will of the holder, convertible into the established gold standard.

I again call your attention to the need of passing a proper immigration law, covering the points outlined in my Message to you at the first session of the present Congress; substantially such a bill has already passed the House.

How to secure fair treatment alike for labor and for capital, how to hold in check the unscrupulous man, whether employer or employee, without weakening individual initiative, without hampering and cramping the industrial development of the country, is a problem fraught with great difficulties and one which it is of the highest importance to solve on lines of sanity and far-sighted common sense as well as of devotion to the right. This is an era of federation and combination. Exactly as business men find they must often work through corporations, and as it is a constant tendency of these corporations to grow larger, so it is often necessary for laboring men to work in federations, and these have become important factors of modern industrial life. Both kinds of federation, capitalistic and labor, can do much good, and as a necessary corollary they can both do evil. Opposition to each kind of organization should take the form of opposition to whatever is bad in the conduct of any given corporation or union--not of attacks upon corporations as such nor upon unions as such; for some of the most far-reaching beneficent work for our people has been accomplished through both corporations and unions. Each must refrain from arbitrary or tyrannous interference with the rights of others.

As civilization grows warfare becomes less and less the normal condition of foreign relations. The last century has seen a marked diminution of wars between civilized powers; wars with uncivilized powers are largely mere matters of international police duty, essential for, the welfare of the world. Wherever possible, arbitration or some similar method should be employed in lieu of war to settle difficulties between civilized nations, although as yet the world has not progressed sufficiently to render it possible, or necessarily desirable, to invoke arbitration in every case. The formation of the international tribunal which sits at The Hague is an event of good omen from which great consequences for the welfare of all mankind may flow. It is far better, where possible, to invoke such a permanent tribunal than to create special arbitrators for a given purpose.

It is a matter of sincere congratulation to our country that the United States and Mexico should have been the first to use the good offices of The Hague Court. This was done last summer with most satisfactory results in the case of a claim at issue between us and our sister Republic. It is earnestly to be hoped that this first case will serve as a precedent for others, in which not only the United States but foreign nations may take advantage of the machinery already in existence at The Hague.

There is not a cloud on the horizon at present. There seems not the slightest chance of trouble with a foreign power. We most earnestly hope that this state of things may continue; and the way to insure its continuance is to provide for a thoroughly efficient navy. The refusal to maintain such a navy would invite trouble, and if trouble came would insure disaster. Fatuous self-complacency or vanity, or short-sightedness in refusing to prepare for danger, is both foolish and wicked in such a nation as ours; and past experience has shown that such fatuity in refusing to recognize or prepare for any crisis in advance is usually succeeded by a mad panic of hysterical fear once the crisis has actually arrived.

The striking increase in the revenues of the Post-Office Department shows clearly the prosperity of our people and the increasing activity of the business of the country.

Legislation should be provided for the protection of the game, and the wild creatures generally, on the forest reserves. The senseless slaughter of game, which can by judicious protection be permanently preserved on our national reserves for the people as a whole, should be stopped at once. It is, for instance, a serious count against our national good sense to permit the present practice of butchering off such a stately and beautiful creature as the elk for its antlers or tusks.

Entire text at:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 15

One more variation on the current theme of paradise is the utopia promised by technology, specifically, the technology wielded by the captains of agribusiness. Recently, I stumbled upon a very cool website, Paleo-Future, which looks back on forecasts for the future. One Paleo-Future entry included this 1961 illustration and text that originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune, a feature called "Closer Than We Think":

Caption: Agriculture in the world of tomorrow will be so mechanized that farms will actually resemble factories. Crops and livestock will be raised on regular schedules under uniform and carefully controlled conditions.

"Sensors," those automatic control devices for today's wonder machines, will be adapted to the requirements of precision agriculture. They will take the place of human judgement in deciding and reacting to soil conditions, crop maturity, moisture levels, weather forecasting, feeding needs, etc. Bendix researcher W. E. Kock has reported that instruments to do this already exist or will soon be developed.

Paleo-Future reported a similar scenario laid out in a California magazine, Southland, which devoted its November 4, 1956 issue to "You and the Year 2000." An article by George Serviss, "Anyone for a Garchidrose?" depicts the beneficial effect of an H-bomb on farm crops:

Farmer Jones stepped to a small black instrument panel at the rear of the air-conditioned plastic "bubble" in which we sat, my wife seated beside me - I had brought her along to write the woman's angle of this interview with a Year 2000 farm family for "Atomic Life." We had just come up a ray-powered elevator from the family's spacious bomb-and-fungus-proofed, solar-conditioned subsurface quarters. We were surveying his fields.

Farmer Jones pressed a button marked "Activator." There was a slight hum and a cylinder rose in the field a few feet beyond the clear plastic wall. A door opened in the cylinder and a robot, closely resembling a 1956 man, stepped jerkily out into the field.

"I must apologize for my hired hand," Farmer Jones said lightly, "Since full parity prices have been removed from our crops, I haven't been able to afford a newer model. But, he has served me well. A couple of new tubes and a paint job will tide him over for another year or two."

Farmer Jones was now operating a small lever that projected from a squarish box that stood up from the floor. The lever seemed to swing around a 360-degree circle and, as I watched, I could see that this was the control for the robot. I turned back to the field to watch development. I'd already asked about the quality of his crops.

The robot moved swiftly now, under Farmer Jones' guidance. "Carrot, perhaps?" queried Farmer Jones. "Or a turnip; perhaps a tomato?" he asked, turning the robot this way and that in the rows that could be seen beyond the plastic. There was very little foliage to mark the rows, produce being grown these days for the edible roots and fruits with a minimum of green waste. Chlorophyll derivative sprays replaced greenery, as I had already observed in my extensive farm and garden writings.

Perhaps we should have a leaf or two of spinach, too," Farmer Jones commented, steering the robot on another course to a green section of the field into which the machine almost totally disappeared, so tall was the vegetation.

"I'll bring the man in now," Farmer Jones said, and guided the robot to a belt conveyor box which projected beyond the bubble. "Haven't been out in the fields since we were H-bombed in the last war," he said. He laughed ruefully, "Don't think it would be healthy," he said, "still 'hot'; but you'd be surprised what that bombing did for the soil. Things grow like crazy; and the robot doesn't mind a bit sowing the seeds and keeping the place up."

The impromptu harvest came tumbling into the bubble - through a radiation trap. Farmer Jones explained. "They're safe to handle now," he said, and pressed a "Deactivator" button that left the robot hired-hand standing at attention. The humming stopped.

The vegetable were all that Farmer Jones had previously boasted that they would be. Carrots three feet long. I took a sample nibble of one; cleaned and completely sanitized by passing through the radiation trap. It was delicious. So was the turnip, four feet in diameter and as tender as butter. I carved a chunk with my electronic pocket incisor and passed it to my wife who has always had a penchant for raw vegetables. She exclaimed with delight at its flavor....

Japan develops robotic suit to give farmer super-human strength

Visions of a robotic paradise on the farm are still with us, as evidenced by a Don Davis article published in Agweek, just this past summer:

RIVER FALLS, Wis. – Agriculture of the future will be “Star Trek” meets “Green Acres.”

Experts predict that within 25 years, little robots will roam fields zapping weeds, testing soil and turning plant genes on and off to fit the conditions, a bit like mechanical helpers on the starship Enterprise.

At the same time, some Americans will continue to feel a need to work the land and smell the soil while bouncing up and down on a tractor seat, as Oliver Wendell Douglas did on the farm comedy.

Farmers in recent years have embraced global positioning systems to better grow crops. They use computers and satellites better than many of the country’s biggest corporations. Dairy farmers are beginning to use robotic milking machines.

There is little argument about the future: Technology will continue to drive changes. What is to come excites Matt Hanson of the Dodge County, Wis., extension office, an expert in handling manure, a product farmers like to call “nutrients.”

“I get excited reading some of the research that is going on that is kind of unrelated to agriculture; it is related to robotics,” he said.

Hanson predicted that science soon will develop little robots that scan fields looking for weeds, for instance, “and spot-spray on individual weeds, kind of like those robot vacuums in homes or mowing yards.”

Those robots also will be able to analyze soils, Hanson added, “sending a message back to the producer via e-mail or cell phones or whatever technology we have in the future.”

Farm implement giant John Deere is working on the concept. “It is closer than we think,” Hanson said.

As for livestock, Hanson predicted that each lot of meat will be traceable back to an individual animal, so that an E. coli outbreak, for instance, need only lead to a small recall of bad product.

While there appears to be general agreement that technology will dominate agriculture, there is a difference of opinion.

“I think farms in general are going to get larger,” said Dick Wolkowski, senior soil scientist for the University of Wisconsin Extension Service. “I don’t think there is any question that to keep up economically, the 30-cow herd and running cash crops on a few acres just doesn’t cut it anymore. Farms are going to have to get larger. I am not saying factory farms, or anything like that. It will be family farms.”

Hanson disagreed with Wolkowski about the size of future farms. He predicted farms will not need to grow in size, just grow more per acre with “this technology that really helps us fine-tune our production techniques.”

Technology is automating work and turning farmers into computer operators, Hanson said, but many still like to smell the soil: “I enjoy getting on a tractor and doing some mindless field work.”
Climbing off a shiny new New Holland tractor at Farm Technology Days near River Falls, Gary Thoma of Neilsville, Wis., had doubts about the little guy.

“I don’t think it will survive,” he said of the 440-acre farm he and his brother work. “You can’t compete.”

Wolkowski said that combining technology with reduced-till farming can help produce more crops.

“The chisel plow will be out,” he said, replaced in a large part by equipment that allows farmers to make a single pass to plant crops, giving up plowing, disking, harrowing and other ground work.

For farmers not ready to go all the way to no-till, strip-tillage tools will mean farmers can work up soil in an 8-inch-wide band, then plant in that area, guided by satellites to keep seeds within about an inch of where they were intended. That would leave crop residue to protect the soil from erosion.

Regardless of the specifics, Jim Harsdorf said he sees one factor overshadowing all others: technology.

“Part of the United States’ success in any area is we are willing to look at new technology to solve old problems,” said the former Wisconsin state senator and state agriculture secretary. “The day we quit doing that is the day I don’t think we will keep our No. 1 status economically."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Autumn Equinox/Harvest Moon

Sept. 22, 2010: For the first time in almost 20 years, northern autumn is beginning on the night of a full Moon. The coincidence sets the stage for a "Super Harvest Moon" and a must-see sky show to mark the change of seasons.

The action begins at sunset on Sept 22nd, the last day of northern summer. As the sun sinks in the west, bringing the season to a close, the full Harvest Moon will rise in the east, heralding the start of fall. The two sources of light will mix together to create a kind of 360-degree, summer-autumn twilight glow that is only seen on rare occasions.

Keep an eye on the Moon as it creeps above the eastern skyline. The golden orb may appear strangely inflated. This is the Moon illusion at work. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, a low-hanging Moon appears much wider than it really is. A Harvest Moon inflated by the moon illusion is simply gorgeous.

The view improves as the night wears on.

Northern summer changes to fall on Sept. 22nd at 11:09 pm EDT. At that precise moment, called the autumnal equinox, the Harvest Moon can be found soaring high overhead with the planet Jupiter right beside it. The two brightest objects in the night sky will be in spectacular conjunction to mark the change in seasons.

The Harvest Moon gets its name from agriculture. In the days before electric lights, farmers depended on bright moonlight to extend the workday beyond sunset. It was the only way they could gather their ripening crops in time for market. The full Moon closest to the autumnal equinox became "the Harvest Moon," and it was always a welcome sight.

This one would be extra welcome because it is extra "Harvesty."

Usually, the Harvest Moon arrives a few days to weeks before or after the beginning of fall. It's close, but not a perfect match. The Harvest Moon of 2010, however, reaches maximum illumination a mere six hours after the equinox. This has led some astronomers to call it the "Harvestest Moon" or a "Super Harvest Moon." There hasn't been a comparable coincidence since Sept 23, 1991, when the difference was about 10 hours, and it won't happen again until the year 2029.

A Super Harvest Moon, a rare twilight glow, a midnight conjunction—rarely does autumn begin with such celestial fanfare.

Enjoy the show!

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

-John Keats, 1819

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jellyfish in Fontana

I'm reposting this entry from August 30, 2007, because I just received a comment indicating that freshwater jellyfish were sighted in Fontana Lake today. First, that comment - "We saw these on Fontana Lake today 9-21-2010!!! It was wild! Never knew there were fresh water jellyfish."

And, here's the reposting

There's a chance that the forms pictured here can be seen in the mountains this weekend, if you look carefully... The mysterious creatures are NOT to be found in the Southern Appalachian skies, but might be seen in nearby lakes.

They’re not extraterrestrials, but are freshwater jellyfish (Craspedacusta sowerbyi).

The most likely time for observing the jellyfish is when waters are at their warmest in late August and early September. They prefer the calmer waters of lakes or ponds rather than rivers, and have been seen in Fontana Lake and several other TVA lakes west of Fontana.

After hatching from polyps on the lake bottom, the translucent creatures tend to gather on the surface of the water seeking zooplankton and other food. The adults are about the size of a quarter.

Freshwater jellyfish do possess stinging cells but are unable to penetrate human skin and cannot produce the painful sting caused by most marine jellyfish. Freshwater jellyfish are considered an indicator species, with presence signifying a relatively healthy ecosystem.

Yet, they are unpredictable, appearing in large numbers one year and sometimes not at all the next year.

Mark Doty
was inspired by the sight of jellyfish - here's a passage from his poem, Difference:

…All they seem
is shape, and shifting,
and though a whole troop
of undulant cousins
go about their business
within a single wave’s span,
every one does something unlike:
this one a balloon
open on both ends
but swollen to its full expanse,
this one a breathing heart,
this a pulsing flower….

Photos from :
IUP website
Micscape website

Monday, September 20, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 14

By the time anthropologist James Mooney came here in the 1880s, Christian missionaries had already been working among the Cherokees for a century. During that interim, did biblical themes make their way into traditional Cherokee stories?

Xilonen - Mexican Corn Goddess

Of course, many parallel motifs have appeared independently in stories told around the world. However it happened, this Cherokee story shares a few similarities with the account of Adam and Eve's expulsion from the garden of Eden. From Mooney's Myths of the Cherokee:

Another story is told of how sin came into the world. A man and a woman reared a large family of children in comfort and plenty, with very little trouble about providing food for them. Every morning the father went forth and very soon returned bringing with him a deer, or a turkey, or some other animal or fowl. At the same time the mother went out and soon returned with a large basket filled with ears of corn which she shelled and pounded in a mortar, thus making meal for bread.

When the children grew up, seeing with what apparent ease food was provided for them, they talked to each other about it, wondering that they never saw such things as their parents brought in. At last one proposed to watch when their parents went out and to follow them.

Accordingly next morning the plan was carried out. Those who followed the father saw him stop at a short distance from the cabin and turn over a large stone that appeared to be carelessly leaned against another. On looking closely they saw an entrance to a large cave, and in it were many different kinds of animals and birds, such as their father had sometimes brought in for food. The man standing at the entrance called a deer, which was lying at some distance and back of some other animals. It rose immediately as it heard the call and came close up to him. He picked it up, closed the mouth of the cave, and returned, not once seeming to suspect what his sons had done.

Chicomecoatl - Aztec Corn Goddess

When the old man was fairly out of sight, his sons, rejoicing how they had outwitted him, left their hiding place and went to the cave, saying they would show the old folks that they, too, could bring in something. They moved the stone away, though it was very heavy and they were obliged to use all their united strength. When the cave was opened, the animals, instead of waiting to be picked up, all made a rush for the entrance, and leaping past the frightened and bewildered boys, scattered in all directions and disappeared in the wilderness, while the guilty offenders could do nothing but gaze in stupified amazement as they saw them escape. There were animals of all kinds, large and small--buffalo, deer, elk, antelope, raccoons, and squirrels; even catamounts and panthers, wolves and foxes, and many others, all fleeing together. At the same time birds of every kind were seen emerging from the opening, all in the same wild confusion as the quadrupeds--turkeys, geese, swans, ducks, quails, eagles, hawks, and owls.

Yum Kaaz - Mayan Corn Goddess

Those who followed the mother saw her enter a small cabin, which they had never seen before, and close the door. The culprits found a small crack through which they could peer. They saw the woman place a basket on the ground and standing over it shake herself vigorously, jumping up and down, when lo and behold! large ears of corn began to fall into the basket. When it was well filled she took it up and, placing it on her head, came out, fastened the door, and prepared their breakfast as usual. When the meal had been finished in silence the man spoke to his children, telling them that he was aware of what they had done; that now he must die and they would be obliged to provide for themselves. He made bows and arrows for them, then sent them to hunt for the animals which they had turned loose.

Then the mother told them that as they had found out her secret she could do nothing more for them; that she would die, and they must drag her body around over the ground; that wherever her body was dragged corn would come up. Of this they were to make their bread. She told them that they must always save some for seed and plant every year.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 13

For the past thirty years I’ve lived within ten miles of this graceful 120-foot-tall waterfall, but I never saw it until yesterday. I’d never even heard of it until a couple of years ago, when I learned that access to the falls via land is practically impossible. Reaching the falls means a boat trip of about two-and-a-half miles, one way.

I do own a non-motorized watercraft, and count myself lucky if I get it in the water three or four times a year. However, I’ve never gone very far. When I began planning this I had no idea if five miles (or more likely, six) of flat-water paddling was within the realm of feasible for me. I was without any helpful frame of reference for how far I could go or how long it would take.

I had canoed the lake once, about twenty-five years ago, but hadn’t gone half as far as this outing would require. So, I tried for an early start, figuring the lake would be quieter, and also I would have the whole day to cover the distance if necessary.

When I started out, the weather was ideal. After a few minutes gliding along the smooth water, I was pleasantly surprised by my progress.

In about an hour, I reached the landmark that pointed to the destination. I had not been on this part of the lake before, and right away began to imagine what the undamned river must have looked like when it flowed freely here seventy-five years ago.

Closing in on the waterfall

I paddled as far as I could up a narrow, shady cove and could see one small waterfall just upstream from the lake. After I pulled my boat onto the shore,a narrow flat rock ledge, I saw two sinuous and sinewy figures emerge from the shadows of the waterfall rocks. In a flash, they slithered down the rocks and into the water at the base of the falls, as slippery in their movements as beads of mercury. The two swimmers, going around and around in circles and frolicking in the water were weasels (or maybe mink?), as playful as any otters I’ve seen at the nature center.

The terrain along this stream was about as rough and rocky as it comes. I followed it until I heard the roar of a larger cataract, and finally reached an open view and the gorgeous sight. It reminded me a little of Toccoa Falls in Georgia. The last time I visited that waterfall, I carried a copy of a poem composed by Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch (1809-1870) in the 1830s. I read it aloud over the roar of Toccoa, because it seemed like the right thing to do. If I’d had a copy with me this weekend, I would have read it again to honor this waterfall, so tall and slender like Toccoa:


Hail, loveliest, purest scene!
How brightly mingling with the clear, blue sky,
Thy glancing wave arrests the upward eye,
Through thy grove's leafy screen.

Through thy transparent veil,
And wide around thee, Nature's grandest forms,
Rocks, built for ages to abide the storms,
Frown on the subject dale.

Fed by thy rapid stream,
In every crevice of that savage pile,
The living herbs in quiet beauty smile,
Lit by the sunny gleam.

And over all, that gush
Of rain-drops, sparkling to the noonday sun!
While ages round thee on their course have run,
Ceaseless thy waters rush.

I would not that the bow
With gorgeous hues should light thy virgin stream;
Better thy white and sun-lit foam should gleam
Thus, like unsullied snow.

Yes! thou hast seen the woods
Around, for centuries rise, decay, and die,
While thou hast poured thy endless current by,
To join the eternal floods.

The ages pass away,
Successive nations rise, and are forgot,
But on thy brilliant course thou pausest not,
'Mid thine unchanging spray.

When I have sunk to rest—
Thus wilt thou pass in calm sublimity,
Then be thy power to others, as to me,
On the deep soul impressed.

Here does a spirit dwell
Of gratitude, and contemplation high;
Holding deep union with eternity-
O loveliest scene, farewell!

On my way back to the lake, I reached one of the biggest poplar trees I’ve ever seen in Jackson County and a couple of doomed hemlocks almost as large. Paddling back to the landing only took about an hour. What really amazed me was meeting just three boats the entire morning.

"Weasel Pool"

The other day, a question arose over why I titled this binge of cut-and-paste “Inhabiting Paradise.” I began thinking about “paradise” after the tour of Joe Hollis’ “paradise gardens.” Many of the implications and connotations of paradise refer to something distant in time or place. But paradise comes with perplexing choices, as real and basic in our lives as what we do to feed ourselves. Adding “inhabiting” to “paradise” is a suggestion that paradise can be relevant and immediate - present in our lives - or perhaps more precisely, we can choose to be present in paradise. Could that be a fundamental choice in any person's life?

Under the entry for “paradise” in my dictionary, definition number four is “a state of delight.” And in that sense, paradise need not be far away.

Certainly, this late summer morning was one spent in paradise.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 12

The Lakota knew that man's heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too.
-Luther Standing Bear

Chickasaw poet, novelist, and essayist Linda Hogan writes:

Emptiness and estrangement are deep wounds, strongly felt in the present time, as if we are living in an incomplete creation. We have been split from what we could nurture, what could fill us. And we have been wounded by a dominating culture that has feared and hated the natural world, has not listened to the voice of the land, has not believed in the inner worlds of human dreaming and intuition, all things that have guided indigenous people since time stood up in the east and walked this world into existence. It is a world of maintained connection between self and land.

The best hunters of the far north still find the location of their prey by dreaming. In Maps and Dreams by anthropologist Hugh Brody, one informant says, "Maybe you don't think this power is possible. Few people understand. The old-timers who were strong dreamers knew many things that are not easy to understand....The fact that dream-hunting works has been proved many times." Maps of the land are revealed in dreams, and the direction of deer.

...many of us in this time have lost the inner substance of our lives and have forgotten to give praise and remember the sacredness of all life. But in spite of this forgetting, there is still a part of everyone that is deep and intimate with the world. We remember it by feel. We experience it as a murmur in the night, a longing and restlessness we can't name, a yearning that tugs at us. For it is only recently, in earth time, that the severing of the connections between people and land have taken place. Something in our human blood is still searching for it, still listening, still remembering. Nicaraguan poet-priest Ernesto Cardenal wrote, "We have always wanted something beyond what we wanted." I have loved those words, how they speak to the longing place inside us that seeks to be whole and connected with the earth....

In the traditional belief systems of native people, the terrestrial call is the voice of God, or of gods, the creative power that lives on earth,inside earth, in turtle, stone, and tree. Knowledge comes from, and is shaped by, observations and knowledge of the natural worlds and natural cycles....

From the European perspective, land and nature have been changed to fit human concepts, ideas, and abstractions.

The Western belief that God lives apart from earth is one that has takenus toward collective destruction. It is a belief narrow enough to forget the value of matter, the very thing that soul inhabits. It has created a people who are future-sighted only in a limited way, not in terms of taking care of the land for the future generations.

Reflecting on the destruction of the Americas, I can only think that the European invaders were threatened by the vast store of tribal knowledge,and by the land itself, so beautiful and unknown to them in its richness. Though they described it as "heaven" and "paradise," they set about destroying it. For the people described as gentle and generous,the genocide that began in the fifteenth century has been an ongoing process....

If endings are foreshadowed by their beginnings, or are in some way the same thing, it is important that we circle around and come back to look at our human myths and stories, not only the creation accounts but stories of the end. Unlike the cyclic nature of time for the Maya, the Western tradition of beliefs within a straight line of history leads to an apocalyptic end. And stories of the end, like those of the beginning, tell something about the people who created them. These are prophecies believed to be God-inspired.

In her article, "Extinction," Lynda Sexson writes:

We are so accustomed to myths (sacred stories) of extinction, that we are not as practical at imagining the greater gap - continuation....

Would the earth or our existence on it be in such peril if we did not harbor a profound desire for extinction? "They lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick," resonates Isaiah.

The crisis of Western culture is ecological. The source of that crisis is in Western culture's own version of reality; the myth of the urge to eradicate: earth and images of earth, body and song.

Without deep reflection, we have taken on the story of endings, assumed the story of extinction, and have believed that it is the certain outcome of our presence here. This belief has brought us to a point of no return, to the near realization of that belief. And from this position, fear, bereavement, and denial keep us in the state of estrangement from our natural connection with the land.

Maybe we need new stories, new terms and conditions that are relevant to the love of the land, a new narrative that would imagine another way, to learn the infinite mystery and movement at work in the world. And it would mean we become the corn people who are givers of praise and nurturers of creation, lovers of life. There must be nothing that gives us permission to let some lives pass from sight and disappear forever,no acceptance of an end, and we must remember that all places are places of creation.

-excerpts from "Creations" by Linda Hogan

Friday, September 17, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 11

Compared with those quoted in previous posts, Henry David Thoreau had a much different take on hunting and fishing. From Walden:

There is a period in the history of the individual, as of the race, when the hunters are the "best men," as the Algonquins called them. We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun; he is no more humane, while his education has been sadly neglected. This was my answer with respect to those youths who were bent on this pursuit, trusting that they would soon outgrow it. No humane being, past the thoughtless age of boyhood, will wantonly murder any creature which holds its life by the same tenure that he does. The hare in its extremity cries like a child. I warn you, mothers, that my sympathies do not always make the usual philanthropic distinctions.

Such is oftenest the young man's introduction to the forest, and the most original part of himself. He goes thither at first as a hunter and fisher, until at last, if he has the seeds of a better life in him, he distinguishes his proper objects, as a poet or naturalist it may be, and leaves the gun and fish-pole behind. The mass of men are still and always young in this respect. In some countries a hunting parson is no uncommon sight. Such a one might make a good shepherd's dog, but is far from being the Good Shepherd.


I have found repeatedly, of late years, that I cannot fish without falling a little in self-respect. I have tried it again and again. I have skill at it, and, like many of my fellows, a certain instinct for it, which revives from time to time, but always when I have done I feel that it would have been better if I had not fished. I think that I do not mistake. It is a faint intimation, yet so are the first streaks of morning. There is unquestionably this instinct in me which belongs to the lower orders of creation; yet with every year I am less a fisherman, though without more humanity or even wisdom; at present I am no fisherman at all. But I see that if I were to live in a wilderness I should again be tempted to become a fisher and hunter in earnest.


Having been my own butcher and scullion and cook, as well as the gentleman for whom the dishes were served up, I can speak from an unusually complete experience. The practical objection to animal food in my case was its uncleanness; and besides, when I had caught and cleaned and cooked and eaten my fish, they seemed not to have fed me essentially. It was insignificant and unnecessary, and cost more than it came to. A little bread or a few potatoes would have done as well, with less trouble and filth.

Like many of my contemporaries, I had rarely for many years used animal food, or tea, or coffee, etc.; not so much because of any ill effects which I had traced to them, as because they were not agreeable to my imagination. The repugnance to animal food is not the effect of experience, but is an instinct. It appeared more beautiful to live low and fare hard in many respects; and though I never did so, I went far enough to please my imagination.

I believe that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from animal food, and from much food of any kind. It is a significant fact, stated by entomologists — I find it in Kirby and Spence - that "some insects in their perfect state, though furnished with organs of feeding, make no use of them"; and they lay it down as "a general rule, that almost all insects in this state eat much less than in that of larvae. The voracious caterpillar when transformed into a butterfly ... and the gluttonous maggot when become a fly" content themselves with a drop or two of honey or some other sweet liquid. The abdomen under the wings of the butterfly still represents the larva. This is the tidbit which tempts his insectivorous fate. The gross feeder is a man in the larva state; and there are whole nations in that condition, nations without fancy or imagination, whose vast abdomens betray them.


It is hard to provide and cook so simple and clean a diet as will not offend the imagination; but this, I think, is to be fed when we feed the body; they should both sit down at the same table. Yet perhaps this may be done. The fruits eaten temperately need not make us ashamed of our appetites, nor interrupt the worthiest pursuits. But put an extra condiment into your dish, and it will poison you. It is not worth the while to live by rich cookery. Most men would feel shame if caught preparing with their own hands precisely such a dinner, whether of animal or vegetable food, as is every day prepared for them by others.

Yet till this is otherwise we are not civilized, and, if gentlemen and ladies, are not true men and women. This certainly suggests what change is to be made. It may be vain to ask why the imagination will not be reconciled to flesh and fat. I am satisfied that it is not. Is it not a reproach that man is a carnivorous animal? True, he can and does live, in a great measure, by preying on other animals; but this is a miserable way — as any one who will go to snaring rabbits, or slaughtering lambs, may learn — and he will be regarded as a benefactor of his race who shall teach man to confine himself to a more innocent and wholesome diet. Whatever my own practice may be, I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized.

-from "Higher Laws"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 10

From "Growing Up Game":

Growing up those first years on Plumas National Forest station high in the Sierra Nevada near Oregon was somewhat like belonging to a white tribe. The men hiked off every day into their forest and women stayed behind in the circle of official cabins, breeding. So far away from a store, we ate venison and squirrel, rattlesnake and duck.

My first rattle, in fact, was from a diamondback rattler my father killed as we watched, by snatching it up with a stick and winding it, whiplike, around a redwood sapling. Rattlesnake tastes just like chicken, but has many fragile bones to slither one's way through. We also ate rainbow trout, rabbit, and geese galore. The game was accompanied by such daily garden dainties as fried okra, mustard greens, corn fritters, wilder lettuce (our favorite because of that raw, blackened bacon), new potatoes and peas, stewed tomatoes, barbecue butter beans.

I was four before I ever had a beef hamburger, and I remember being disappointed by its fatty, nothing taste and they way it fell apart at the seams whenever my teeth sank into it. Smoked pork shoulder came much later, in the South; and I was twenty-one, living in New York City, before I ever tasted leg of lamb. I approached that glazed rack of meat with a certain guilty self-consciousness, as if I unfairly stalked those sweet-tempered white creatures myself. But how would I explain my squeamishness to those urban sophisticates? How explain that I was shy with mutton when I had been bred on wild things?

Part of it, I suspect, had to do with the belief I'd also been bred on: we become the spirit and body of animals we eat. As a child eating venison, I liked to think of myself as lean and lovely just like the deer. I would never be caught dead just grazing while some man who wasn't' even skillful hunter crept up and conked me over the head. If someone wanted to hunt me, he must be wily and outwitting. He must earn me.

My father had also taught us as children that animals were our brothers and sisters under their skin. They died that we might live. And of this sacrifice we must be mindful. "God make us grateful for what we are about to receive," took on new meaning when we imagined the animal's surrender to our own appetites. We also used all the animal, so that an elk became elk steaks, stew, salami, and sausage. His head and horns went on the wall to watch us more earnestly than any baby-sitter, and every Christmas Eve we had a ceremony of making our own moccasins for the new year our of whatever Father had tanned.

"Nothing wasted," my father would always say, or, as we munched on sausage cookies made from moosemeat or venison, "think about who you're eating," We thought of ourselves as intricately linked to the food chain. We knew, for example, that a forest fire meant, at the end of the line, we'd suffer too. We'd have buck stew instead of venison steak, and the meat would be stringy, withered-tasting, because in the animal kingdom,as it seemed with humans, only the meanest and leanest and orneriest survived losing their forests.

Once when I was in my early teens, I went along on a hunting trip as the "main cook and bottle-washer,"thought I don't remember any bottles; none of these hunters drank alcohol. There was something else coursing through their veins as they rose long before dawn and disappeared, returning to my little camp most often dragging a doe or pheasant or rabbit. We are innumerable cornmeal-fried fish, had rabbit stew seasoned only with blood and black pepper.

This hunting trip was the first time I remember eating game as a conscious act. My father and Buddy Earl shot a big doe and she lay with me in he back of the tarp-draped station wagon all the way home. It was not the smell I minded, it was the glazed great, dark eyes and the way that head flopped around crazily on what I knew was once a graceful neck. I found myself petting this doe, murmuring all those graces we;d been taught long ago as children. Thank you for the sacrifice, thank you for letting us be like you so that we can grow up strong as game. But there was an uneasiness in me that night as I bounced along in the back of the car with the deer.

What was uneasy is still uneasy - perhaps it always will be. It's not easy when one really starts thinking about all this: the eating game, the food chain, the sacrifice of one for the other. It's never easy when one begins to thing about one's most basic action, like eating. Like becoming what one eats: lean and lovely and mortal.

Why should it be that the purchase of meat at a butchers shop is somehow more righteous than eating something wild? Perhaps it as to do with our collective unconscious that sees the animal bred for slaughter as doomed. But that old doe or moose might make it without the hunter.

Perhaps on this primitive level of archetype and unconscious knowing we even believe that what's wild lives forever.

My father once told this story around a hunting campfire. His own father, who raised cattle during the Great Depression on a dirt farm in the Ozarks, once fell on such hard times that he had to butcher the pet lamb for supper. My father, bred on game or their own hogs all his life, took one look at the family pet meat platter and pushed his plate away. His siblings followed suit. To hear my grandfather tell it, it was the funniest he'd ever seen. "They just couldn't eat Bo-Peep," Grandfather said. And to hear my father tell it years later around that campfire, it was funny, but I saw for the first time his sadness. And I realized that eating had become a conscious act for him that day at the dinner table when Bo-Peep offered herself up.

Now when someone offers me game, I will eat it with all the qualms and memories and reverance with which I grew up eating it. And I think I will always have this feeling of horror and awe and kinship. And something else - full knowledge of what I do, what I become.

-from "Growing Up Game," by Brenda Peterson

The author or editor of fifteen books—some fiction, some non-fiction—Seattle writer Brenda Peterson has in some of her work touched on her unusual family upbringing. Her childhood included time spent in the deep forest as the daughter of a forest ranger. Her childhood also included time with Southern Baptist relatives whose enthusiasm for what they believe to be the coming rapture gave them very little cause for attention to the beauties of the world around them. The complexities and contradictions are chronicles and contemplated more fully in her newest book, I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth . "A mesmerizing treat, at turns inspiring and hilarious ... Keen-eyed descriptions of the natural world, and a delicious sense of fun, combine beautifully with [Peterson's] tales of protecting seals, whales, hope, and other wild things." – Diane Ackerman. "A loving, luminous portrait ... the story is told with such truth but such tenderness that you can't help loving the whole family." – Sy Montgomery.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 9

Barry Lopez contemplates predator, prey, and the need for wild meat:

The most beguiling moment in the hunt is the first moment of the encounter. Wolves and prey may remain absolutely still while staring at each other.

Immediately afterward, a moose may simply turn and walk away; or the wolves may turn and run; or the wolves may charge and kill the animal in less than a minute. An intense stare is frequently used by wolves to communicate with each other, and wolves also tend to engage strangers--wolf and human--in stares. I think what transpires in those moments of staring is an exchange of information between predator and prey that either triggers a chase or defuses the hunt right there. . . .

That moment of eye contact between wolf and prey seems to be visibly decisive. Here are hunting wolves doing many inexplicable things (to the human eye). They start to chase an animal and then turn and walk away. They glance at a set of moose tracks only a minute old, sniff, and go on, ignoring them. They walk on the perimeter of caribou herds seemingly giving warning of their intent to kill. And the prey signals back. The moose trots toward them and the wolves leave. The pronghorn throws up his white rump as a sign to follow. A wounded cow stands up to be seen. And the prey behave strangely. Caribou rarely use their antlers against the wolf. An ailing moose, who, as far as we know, could send wolves on their way simply by standing his ground, does what is most likely to draw an attack, what he is least capable of carrying off: he runs.

I called this exchange in which the animals appear to lock eyes and make a decision the conversation of death. It is a ceremonial exchange, the flesh of the hunted in exchange for respect for its spirit. In this way both animals, not the predator alone, choose for the encounter to end in death. There is, at least, a sacred order in this. There is nobility. And it is something that happens only between the wolf and his major prey species. It produces, for the wolf, sacred meat.

Imagine a cow in the place of the moose or white-tailed deer. The conversation of death falters noticeably with domestic stock. They have had the conversation of death bred out of them; they do not know how to encounter wolves. A horse, for example--a large animal as capable as a moose of cracking a wolf's ribs or splitting its head open with a kick--will usually panic and run.


Native American cultures in general stressed that there was nothing wrong with dying, one should only strive to die well, that is, consciously choose to die even if it is inevitable. The greatest glory accrued to a warrior who acted with this kind of self-control in the very teeth of death. The ability to see death as less than tragic was rooted in a different perception of ego: a person was simultaneously indispensable and dispensable (in an appropriate way) in the world. In the conversation of death is the striving for a death that is appropriate. i have lived a full life, says the prey. I am ready to die. I am willing to die because clearly I will be dying so that the others in this small herd will go on living. I am ready to die because my leg is broken or my lungs are impacted and my time is finished.

The death is mutually agreeable. The meat it produces has power, as though consecrated. (That is a good word. It strikes us as strange only because it is out of its normal context.)

I have been struck, considering these things, by the difference between captive and wild wolves, and I think that much of the difference-- a difference of bearing, a dynamic tension immediately apparent in a wild wolf and lacking almost entirely in captive animals--lies in their food. The wolf in the wild subsists on his earned meat. The captive is fed on the wastes of commercial slaughterhouses and food made in factories by machines. Wolves in zoos waste away. The Naskapi, to this day, believe that the destruction of their people, the rending of their spirit, has had mainly to do with their being forced to eat the meat of domestic animals.

The difference between wild meat and tame meat to a hunting culture is a matter of monumental significance. It was a fundamental principle of life that, in the case of the Indian, the white man simply never noticed and the Indians did not know how to explain. I remember the first time I gave a penned wolf a piece of chicken. And I remember the feeling in a Minnesota clearing the first time I came on a wolf kill, picked up the moose skull, and turned it in my hands.

Whether wolf and prey act according to some mutual understanding, or whether they only unconsciously participate in a fundamental drama, is something we shall probably never know. All we do know, staring up at the paintings of game animals on the cave walls at Lascaux, is that the belief that there was more to hunting than killing, and that dying was as sacred as living, was not something that one day just fell out of the sky.
-excerpts from “Of Wolves and Men,” by Barry Lopez