Trans-species Pidgins

Why ask anthropology to look beyond the human? And why look to animals to do so? Looking at animals, who look back at us, and who look with us, and who are also, ultimately, part of us, even though their lives extend well beyond us, can tell us something. It can tell us about how that which lies “beyond” the human also sustains us and makes us the beings we are and those we might become.  – Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

One of the most frustrating things about Western civilization is its relentless anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism.  Most of us modern, Western, scientific humans think that we are the only truly conscious beings, the only beings that can think, feel, and communicate.  Itʻs a form of blindness or self-mutilation, in my opinion, as if we deliberately bound our feet or shut down one of our senses in order to belong to Team Civilization. Certainly such blindness makes ruthless exploitation of the natural world a lot easier on the conscience – if you consider all of it to be mindless matter then why not bring on the bulldozers?  Continue reading “Trans-species Pidgins”

The Game-Changer

There is a long struggle ahead of us and the outlines of that struggle just got a little more clear this week, when Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts, introduced the Accountable Capitalism Act, which is about nothing much less than  changing the game.   Her legislation calls for corporations that make over $1 billion a year to be formally responsible not just to their shareholders but also to their workers, customers, and communities – which last concept hopefully extends to the environment.  This is important because at present the board of directors and the management of corporations are legally bound to maximize economic return.  That is the only criteria – other than not breaking the law – with which they are allowed to make decisions.  This dictate is the backbone of capitalism as we know it, which is to say a most predatory, ruthless, and myopic kind of capitalism which sooner or later is going to get us all killed.

Of course the spokespersons for the titans of industry and finance say not only is Elizabeth Warren “batty” but also that  she is a Communist who must be shut up or all the businesses in America will move to Switzerland ( I kid you not.)   Because heaven knows American Capitalism  Will Not Survive being responsible for anything but making as much money as possible!  Such a fragile flower cannot be asked to clean up its own room or do the dishes.

As the incomparable Charles Pierce puts it:

This is one of the first complete frontal assaults on the economic theories that have ruled American politics in one form or another for the past four decades. It is one of the first substantial efforts to treat the ascendancy of conservative economic ideas as a thoroughgoing blight that must be reversed, and it does so by turning the achievements of which conservative economic ideologues are proudest back on them. Corporate personhood? OK, then we’re going to have corporate jail, too. A rising tide lifts all boats? We’re going to be sure everyone has a seat.

Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act is significant – perhaps even world-historically significant – but her legislation is just one point in a change in the air, in the mood, in a growing awareness.   She has brought up into the bright light of the national political debate  a simmering knowledge that what we do in pursuit of business success  has complex consequences and those consequences are not adequately weighed and measured in the quarterly accounting of profit and loss, of Return On Investment, and Asset Liquidity.  The long struggle will be to make this point over and over again – that we  all must be responsible to a greater conception of the good and profitable – until it becomes common knowledge and the way we do things.

I tell you what…I’m signing on to her team.

Wahinenohomauna

This beautiful and rare little fern that lives in the forest above the ranch has an equally beautiful name:  wahinenohomauna, which means woman (wahine) seated on or living on (noho) the mountain (mauna).   She is no bigger than the palm of your hand and  sits among the even smaller ferns and mosses that make up a kind of green fur on  the trunk of a giant tree fern. In Hawaiian culture the high forest is wao akua or the realm of the gods.  Here is one little god living in beauty – ferns upon ferns upon ferns.

On a Montana Farm Tour: Small Innovations that Could Mean a Lot

Central Montana, it turns out, is having the best year for farms in recent memory, with round bales of hay in dense profusion on the landscape,  luxuriant fields of barley undulating in the wind, thick stands of golden wheat ripening under the sun, and happy, fat cattle.  Our first stop on our farm tour was a young farmer – Curt Myllymaki – on a large cattle and field crop farm (over 1000 acres) who is experimenting at scale with innovative crop rotations, dual cropping, and cover crops to restore soil fertility.   We visited a field that was dual cropped with flax and chickpeas, as well as some stray sunflowers that “was left over in the seed hopper.” Continue reading “On a Montana Farm Tour: Small Innovations that Could Mean a Lot”

Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble

We don’t need more renewable energy to power how we live, but to change how we live so we don’t need that power.  –  Patrick Noble, https://convivialeconomy.com

There are some writers on the internet that get thousands of clicks and hundreds of comments every week.  Generally these writers work hard to build their online community of readers.   Their art is that of building a common language.

There are others who don’t have the knack or interest in building their readership.   I suspect they are the kind of artist that is fascinated by something on the horizon, something that is not readily visible, and even less readily conveyable.  Their art is that of illumination and discovery. Continue reading “Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble”

Biophilia: The Love of Life and the Living World

“Splendor awaits in minute proportions.”
― Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia

Here is Burlingame, CA,  which is the home of SFO and its attendant fleet of airport hotels, trucking companies, passenger shuttles, warehouses, security headquarters, and cargo forwarders.  Pairs of aircraft  roar over the water in five minute intervals as they approach the airport.  Cars roar by on the freeway that feeds into fabled San Francisco. Their reflections flash in the sleek black glass buildings that line the highway.

There is also, in Burlingame, an un-authorized footpath at the edge of the water – a wild space to wander  if one would escape the hotel grounds with their carefully arranged plantings.  The path follows the waterline above broken slags of concrete – remnants of a more manicured edging of the shore? – and between scraggly and indomitable tufts of wild fennel.   A man in a street sweeping vehicle is letting his pit-bull pup out to play at the edge of a parking lot and a field of orange California poppies and dry grasses.   Further on there is an abandoned development planted in rosemary and irises, concrete esplanades crumbling into the pale green water and an elaborate wrought-iron gateway to the empty space, a space in the process of being reclaimed by grasses and small trees.  Across the street is a construction site where machines are digging into the chalky soil for the foundation of another office building or hotel. 

Along the footpath there are  bunches of lavender wild-flowers.  Small wonders of the world, these throw-away riches of California!

 

 

 

Mo’olelo (stories) about the volcano

Pele, they say in the legends, was a traveler from the ancestral homelands of Kahiki who came to this island with her clan of brothers and sisters and settled in the area named Keauhou.  There was a war between the early settlers and Pele and her clan took refuge in a great cave.  The volcano erupted and the cave collapsed, sealing  the clan inside.  This is how she became identified with the volcano Kilauea.

In the old days those who came as visitors to the hostile, numinous lands of Pele had themselves tattoo-ed using a blue dye made from a kind of iris that grows only near the volcano.  Others brought the umbilical cords of their children, or of themselves, to place at the doorstep of the volcano.

Piko is the word for the belly button where the umbilical cord was attached.  It is also the word for a spiritual place of origin and power – a center of the universe. That earth is fire, that we are connected from birth to the molten core of our earth, and live always under peril but centered in the knowledge of that connection – this is what might be expressed in the tradition of presenting the umbilical cord to Pele.

It is treacherous to cross over the volcano these days, when Pele is awake and the road cracks and buckles.  It is not treacherous in the way it was for Chief Keoua’s army, that perished in a sudden rain of volcanic debris and molten glass two centuries ago, leaving their footprints behind in the hardened ash deposits. 

How many times have I passed over the volcano? As a child, bumping along on the narrow old road through the lava fields in the back seat of the family car, dreamily seeing fairy realms in the forested slopes above; as a teen venturing through with my cousins, telling ourselves ghost stories as the darkness closed around the beams of the headlights; as a young mother hurrying home through the lava desert with my baby, singing to keep her quiet.

The more likely danger even now is falling asleep at the wheel on the curving road over the volcano and running into the unforgiving basalt fields on either side. That is how people lose their lives now.  It is a long drive in the dark; do they begin to dream of ghostly shapes – of a white dog, of an old woman, of a young woman with fiery eyes?  These are the forms that Pele is said to take when she appears to travelers.

The Struggle

I shot Bunny the calf this morning. After feeding her bottles of milk twice daily for nearly four months.  Euthanized her – to be more precise and perhaps less honest about something that it took me days to steel myself to do.  She had broken a leg somehow and was wracked by arthritis in the other three.  She could no longer get up without my help. I found the spot on her forehead that would kill her instantly and pulled the trigger. (I never get used to the silence inside the gunshot when your ears ring and the body falls to the ground, and it seems that time stops.  It’s eerie and you want to cry and you are for a little while unclean in every way, a monster to all that look at you.)   Continue reading “The Struggle”

Metamorphic: for all the Wild Ones

For we cannot think like Indians; at most, we can think with them.  – Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics

As far back as I am able to think, to remember, which is a kind of thinking, there are memories of places, of plants and animals, of a kind of light and air, the smell of water on leaves, root and dirt, the strange sight of lava flows reaching the sea, the band of white coral touching blue ocean, of roads leading through orchards, of flowers against the sky, of moss-covered rocks and river pebbles.

I have these myths.  These are my myths.  Continue reading “Metamorphic: for all the Wild Ones”