It seems an appropriate time and place to be recording my dream of roots, post Independence Day, writing on my father’s computer.
The dream was one of those that takes on the intricacies of a big-budget, science fiction thriller. We – you and I and this whole human endeavor – had seen our culture and individual abilities decay to a level of mere automation. We did not think beyond our immediate needs, those being synonymous with our assigned tasks. I saw no bluetooth technology marking our ears with class or technological status, still we had become drones just the same.
I am instructed by a voice I cannot trace the source of to stand upon a mass of tangled roots. Our species had long ago, I could intuit in that dreamly way, been instructed not to stand in such places. I step up on the mass and sense my body being flooded with lost emotional knowledge, that which our separation had robed us of.
I don’t know whether the roots in the dream were suggestive of family, as we so typically associate the word, thanks even more so to Alex Haley, or whether it was a less symbolic and more obvious nod to nature in general. It was unimportant when I found the towering cypress at the river the very next day. I did what seemed best. I stepped up and stood for several minutes, just being there on the curling huddle of twists and turns, the cypress knees protruding all around me.
The roots, the river, you and I, all struggle toward source and sustanence and, in turn, we are source and sustenance to each other.
Admittedly, we wind our ways down in sometimes bizarre ways. As our energies gather against impediments, like a slab of intrusive rock, or a hill, or our own self-limiting beliefs, we may stall, but we make the necessary adjustments and move down-gradient, drawing strength from all we pass.
As the media world fragments with new, (we hope) democratizing technologies, I can’t help but wonder what it bodes for our relationships one to another and, ultimately, to the natural world our kind has so succuessfully subdued. The reports of the tech revolution’s isolating effects have been long emphasized. But what of community-building? What of the restructuring of media?
As I study Julia Corbett’s environmental journalism text Communicating Nature, I find myself surprisingly surprised to finally grasp (or, more accurately, grasp on a new level) how mainstream media in both small and large markets work to smooth over the affronts and affronted in favor of the status quo again and again. It’s not a radical notion, media as social control. But it certainly doesn’t jibe with what I was brought up believing: media as watchdog.
The reality of it casts the onus back on us. It reminds me again not only of our degenerated state but of the need for agitators. Even the Earth’s own stuggling systems are but another disenfranchised party that are not being protected by the haw and hum of the news machine.
The nature of our subjugation of Earth’s ecological systems has returned to smack us time and again. We have been able to coach ourselves beyond our industrially-inspired cancers by injecting economic fear and uncertainty into the equation. In community after community, the economic drivers have argued a thousand different ways in favor of the status quo, claiming that cleaner industry would cost jobs; that lower profits, loss of tax abatements, industrial favoritism, would wreck this town and that city.
A more honest, inversely crafted statement would read: “If x number of (typically low-income residents) were not allowed to suffer and die the wealth or comfort of the way would be jeapordized.”
We’ve lived with that reasoning in varying shades for 100 years. But the grandmother of all ecological outputs will not be deemphasized.
Bumping up against capacity limits (is there enough affordable food, water, oil, for them? for us?), it is interesting how prevalent so-called “environmental” stories have become. Whether it is the corn market, thawing Artic, brain-wasting disease, energy prices, whatever, it all ties in.
I once made a bet with a fellow reporter that I could rewrite every single story in our local news section as an environmental story; I won the bet. After all, most every news story involves or has implications for air, water, energy, food, paper or wood, minerals or metals, land use, animals, and so on.
Despite all the attention in the U.S. and elsewhere, we have still been unable to retool our energy strategies, agricultural policies, land-use philosophy, into ones that could in any way be called “sustainable.” Is the problem the word: environmental?
A speaker recently told a small group of us (looking for the exact phrase here) that stopping growth will not wreck the economy but that “the economy might wreck us.” We have for centuries lived in fear of our capitalist expansion slowing. In this young land, the North American West, we have seen the European model, spiked with a bootstrap Native individualism, sweep vast territories and rebound upon itself only to reach the slow realization we are growing out of the room (habitat) we need to sustain the standard of living our more monied classes have long enjoyed. (I am not even speaking of our cohabitants, here, who are dying off at a rate not seen in hundreds of thousands of years.)
Do we need a new definition for or a new measure for growth? Is it too late to factor in all the real costs of our Fortune 500 companies in the toll they take on the world’s poor and our natural systems?
With “First World” wealth finally arriving in India and China, for the second time this decade we find we Americans are not the only ones on this planet. Is it any surprise that those on the other side of the globe would like the same rights and privileges as we grasp after. That the same luxury items we dangle in front of ourselves wouldn’t also trap those abroad in the adoration of wealth wrought at a terrible cost?
And so we sit here watching our resources – the hidden energy sitting beneath ancient hills we level with a few seismic blasts; the prairie expanses that used to house innumerable families (and exponentially more energy) across vast tunneled networks before livestock replaced wild; the flowing waters smothered, soaked up, and dammed before they reach their source – disappear or become corrupted before our eyes.
We wince and grouse about “environmentalists” and expect human ingenuity to unravel and rewrap our core crops with increasingly foreign genetic sequences, as if all we needed was more corn and wheat and cows.
Maybe we begin to feel, as fertile soils leach away and desertification grows, like our crumbling economy doesn’t need our few hundred dollars a month as much as the land and water need our attention and care.
At the Little Flower in West San Antonio, the director is telling me about the generational loss of knowledge, the lost understanding of healing herbs that elderly matriarchs are now passing on to the young people who now tend the community gardens. Of the often-indifferent parents. I realize how much can be lost inside only a couple generations.
I naively thought “energy independence” could become a rallying cry that the Left and Right could grasp ahold of, but already it is being split and raked clean for political advantage.
Our needs are so far greater than semantics allow.
Whatever you choose to call it – progress or regression – we are being drawn back to our roots, back to the land. We who are so used to recieving without creating, are called back to a knowledge of simple cause and effect, inputs and outputs. We must rediscover wealth in a thunderhead, in a row of blooms where asphalt has given way, in a sky darkened with wings in motion, that there is truly brightness in the joy of others. That we are connected.
Due to the state of the computer I am working on this Fourth of July weekend, I am unable to open and analyze two important reports that have come out in the last week. However, I would encourage everyone interested in the state of our natural systems and our survival to inspect the U.S. Dept. of Ag’s report on Climate Change’s impact on the American West and the Heinz Center’s report on the State of the Ecosystems.
Many thanks to my family and patiently beloved other in tolerating me through the years. I am discovering the real wealth in you all. I hope you find something similar in me.
[Illustration above is “Roots” from Diong’s 2005 sketchbook.]