A recent article got me thinking about our contact with the natural world. How do we form connections with the natural world and what does it mean to be environmentally aware? For those fortunate few who grew up (or still live) with abundant exposure to the natural world it may be as easy as stepping outside your front door, taking a walk in the woods, or working in your garden. For others with less access it may be more difficult to find such opportunities. If we didn’t grow up with access to nature communicating may seem like asking us to speak a foreign language we’ve never learned.
Last week was tough in a way that I hadn’t expected.
I had two events to go to: the first, a climate change conference put on by our state’s climate change commission, and the second, an agricultural bank board meeting. It was unexpectedly tough to think about the world in such disparate ways within a few days of each other. Tough to reconcile their differences, or not to reconcile but bear those differences when they were not reconcilable. That was the hardest part and it took a toll on me.
There were two different visions of the world that undergirded these two different meetings, two different ideological positions that were the common, unspoken background of most of the attendees at each meeting, and two different set of blindspots. Continue reading “Whiplash & the Breath of the Sea”
I was there. I saw it one day, the shimmer – “the brilliant shimmer of the biosphere.” I saw it in leaves after the rain – later, in a fishes’ scales and an animal’s fur, in the iridescent skin of my own infant daughter. I saw it and drank it in, in wonder and desire and gratitude. Mostly wonder.
Shimmer is what I care about. I didn’t have a word for it until I read Deborah Rose Bird’s essay: “Shimmer: When Everything You Love is Being Trashed” in Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet
Trees and stars are masters of shimmer, that is why trees are beyond value.
You can’t know when it will come upon you, it’s like grace that way but more wild. Wild as any newborn, wild as any animal. You know it is shimmer because it’s all that you can see (or hear or smell or touch or otherwise sense.) It’s more than you can sense – a revelation or a vision – but it’s just there in the fleeting moment and the ordinary thing that you passed a hundred times but now it is revealed to you as if it were the burning bush or the shining void. Or the melody that the world is making that you hear and yet don’t hear. That is playing through you. Or the smell of a memory that echoes through the rooms of time.
Shimmer is the world being itself and for once you happen to be there with it. For once, you see it.
Yes, shimmer is love. The appearance of love to a mortal being through some kind of miracle.
And shimmer is what we stand to lose.
Thank you to the indigenous people of Australia for their gift of shimmer, and to Deborah Bird Rose for carrying it into English.
How (capitalist) money and nature intertwine and bring multiple life-worlds into being is one of the themes of Anna Tsingʻs book on the matsutake mushroom, highly valued in Japanese culture and cuisine as a signal of autumn and a nostalgic reminder of the rural bounty of pre-industrial Japan. Tsing, who teaches anthropology at UC Santa Cruz and at Aarhus University in Denmark, is part of a network of thinkers who are forging new ways to write about human interactions with nature. Like the South American anthropologists associated with Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, the Santa Cruz cohort centered around Donna Hathaway have built a framework that allows the conversation between humans and non-humans in making landscapes and worlds to be taken seriously in academia. This is one step to making such thinking possible in the wider culture, rather than marginalized as the ravings of women and mystics or backwardness of indigenous people and cultures. Tsingʻs book, which has won numerous awards, is a lively and personal account of the people who interact with the matsutake mushroom, whether immigrant Lao or Mien mushroom foragers in the regrowth forests of Oregon, Yunnanese middlemen who use traditional ethnic ties to construct a supply chain, or the Japanese customers who relish the mushroom resonance with rural ways of life. Tsingʻs project is a study of the Anthropocene and “The Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet” (the title of her more recent edited volume) and the kind of “arts of noticing” and thinking that she champions as so urgently necessary to change the way we think about and relate to our world.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to address climate change in terms of policy at the local level, at the smallest organized unit of government for my area, which is the County of Hawaii, encompassing the island of Hawaii. I am not an expert on climate change or climate change policy in any way, shape, or form, but this may well be the mother of all situations where we will need to learn by doing, rather than waiting on expertise that does not yet exist. Continue reading “Climate Change: Do Politics or Do Nothing?”
The drama that unfolded during the last few weeks over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court took many of us on a journey that no one could have predicted, and that became a drama about something much bigger than the Supreme Court. Bigger than party politics, or even right versus left. It became about being heard.
It became, for some of us, about memory, history, and the way we understood our own lives. Continue reading “Not Being Heard”
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”
Despite our traits of pride and often enormous hubris sometimes the creator let’s the humans get away with most of our foolishness intact. This last hurricane – LANE – is a case in point. With all of our modern tools we tracked it all the way from the Baja, night and day with the infrared channels of the latest satellite technologies, with photographs from the International Space Station showing the giant 500 mile span of the storm, with brave men flying into the eye to measure the windspeed, and with the ominous hour by hour progress reports on all of the emergency channels, the TV, radio, and celphone alerts. It was the equivalent of a Central Pacific Region wide All Points Bulletin. Continue reading “Let’s put this in perspective”
We were at a campsite in Brittany this summer, in a green valley thick with oak woods. On our second night there was an announcement on the chalkboard outside the reception hut:
22h BATS + HOT CHOC
BRING TORCH AND MUG
Who could resist? Continue reading “22h BATS + HOT CHOC”
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.