“Hello, Beauty!”

Some notes about our friend Richard Taylor

“Hello, Beauty!” was the way Richard often greeted me, which embarrassed me, but I knew he meant it as a general greeting to the world and all its wonders.  I am going to miss him saying that now, so I guess I will have to say it to the world myself.

Nearly fifty years ago now I went to the Buddhist funeral service for my cousinʻs Japanese grandmother in the little neighboring town of Pahala.  I remember the priest saying that life and death are just two sides of the same coin. Our dear friend Richard Taylor has passed from this world of the living, but he is still here, still part of the same coin, but on the dark side of it.  

Richard had health troubles for the last few years but he was tough as nails and pulled through many a dire episode.  The last time I saw him, just a few weeks ago,  he looked pale but also radiantly  happy as he took a new friend to see the green pastures and beautiful vistas of the upper road, where I live. We serendipitously happened upon each other and it was a joy and a privilege.

That is how Richard and I became friends, we happened upon each other at a community meeting about agriculture almost a decade ago.  He got up to speak  about being new in the area, but wanting to help, and his incisive, original intelligence and compassion were unmistakable.  I did not run into him again for months but our friendship was almost inevitable. We had a lot in common – in our love of animals and wide, open spaces, solitude and poetry, simple things and circuitous thoughts; in being misfits and obsessive questioners.  I  got to know him slowly over the years. We would visit with each other a handful of times a year..  And he would send me beautiful snippets of things by email.  I am grateful that he posted a few examples of his thoughts here on this blog. 

He often told me that he saw my writing as “someone sitting in the dark scratching wires together, looking to create a spark.”  Which of course is how I would also describe him.  We both loved the dark, and all the sparkling things (and the owls) that come out in the dark.   His certainly was a sparkling mind.

And that is what life itself is, a sparkling thing that we are born into – thrown into an obstacle course that we try to figure out as we go along, and by the time we think we have mastered the obstacles, we realize that the obstacles actually donʻt matter that much  – the most important parts, the eternal parts, are the little things actually.  Itʻs the friends and the shining moments, not the jobs and achievements. 

We also shared the complicated feeling of being horrified by the world even while being madly in love with it.  Emblematic of that was the day I managed to have some time to  visit him at his house, which like mine, is a bit of expedition to get to.  It happened to be February 14, 2018.  He was pleased that I had come to visit him on Valentineʻs Day.  He had the TV on in his living room but with the sound off, and as we talked I caught glimpses of the events at Marjorie Stonemason Douglas High School unfolding. Footage of SWAT teams and frightened kids.   It was difficult to talk to each other but it also didnʻt seem right to turn it off.  We often talked of the dark things happening in the world and how powerless we felt to  address them.  And yet we both felt a responsibility to try, in whatever way we could.

I believe that was also the first time he showed me his extraordinary photographs of the owls that lived around his house.  He told me about his many amazing encounters with them.  How he would put out rats and mice that he had caught for them, and how they had become comfortable with him, as comfortable as wild owls can be, anyway.  He learned about their habits and where they lived, as individuals and as families.  How they had a language together.  How they felt of each other, minded each other. He was their friend.  I know they will be missing him too. 

Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the world as it is
Before our eyes and in our nostrils;
To the world as it moves through us
As blood & bone, breath and sensation;
To the wind and sun as they touch our skin,
To the dirt beneath our feet and under our nails;

To the world before we took a-hold of it
With our ideas.


Fentanyl and the New World Order

It has been a while since Iʻve written anything here and in the meantime Iʻve been elected to serve on our County Council – the  local legislative and oversight body for our island of Hawaiʻi.

Yesterday the Council received a presentation by the narcotics unit of our police force on the presence of fentanyl in our communities.  It was a grim discussion of course.  The lethal dose of fentanyl is so minute that the police fear for their lives simply investigating crime scenes involving drugs of any kind. They asked for better protective gear to wear in such situations – basically hazmat suits.

The police officer in charge of the narcotics unit described how most fentanyl is manufactured in China, then shipped to Mexico to smuggled over the border  into the US, and then brought into Hawaiʻi.   A lethal doze of fentanyl is 2 milligrams and the amount of fentanyl apprehended by the  police in the last year was enough to kill every resident of the island.   And that is just what was apprehended.

It is a sad and horrifying situation, but it is also a strange kind of supply chain to contemplate – this axis of China and Mexico in supplying a drug of such potency to illicit drug consumers in the US.  (Not all of whom sign on for fentanyl, as it is increasingly used to lace every other “recreational” drug, even relatively innocuous drugs such as marijuana.)

Chemical analysis of seized fentanyl can be linked back to a particular province in China, we were told.  This degree of specificity – this tracking back into the Chinese province – makes me think of the Opium War in of the mid 19th century in which England used military force to maintain its market for opium in China, bombing Chinaʻs port cities with warships, seizing Hong Kong, and even attacking the capital city of Beijing , including the desecration and occupation of its imperial palaces. The Chinese government of the time was weak and corrupt.  Civil wars in which tens of millions of people perished attempting to overthrow, or defend, the imperial order were happening contemporarily.  It was a bad situation, made worse by the English and French military forcing the Chinese to legalize the opium trade.

This is not to justify the manufacture and export of illegal fentanyl in China, but the echoes of history are hard to ignore.  It is not impossible, given the deterioration of relations between China and the Us, that the over-production of fentanyl is tacitly condoned.  That there is even a bit of fentanyl war being waged.   It is a strange world we live in, truly.

Standing at the edge of change

The world’s population of humans stands at the edge of rapid change and the future appears unimaginable. The greatest challenge (and danger) we face is climate change. We are faced with the undeniable fact that if we don’t stop adding green house gas emissions to the atmosphere our planet is going to overheat and the consequences are already catastrophic. In order to stop emitting green house gases we need to stop burning fossil fuels, hopefully replacing our energy needs with renewable sources. Continue reading “Standing at the edge of change”

On Kandiaronk (The Rat): A Review of The Dawn of Everything

It is revolutionary, intellectually-speaking, to point out that the European Enlightenment –  especially the suite of political ideals (liberty, equality, democracy)) that are still aspirational for most societies – was inspired by early European encounters with indigenous/native American thinkers.  This is the argument that David Wengrow and the late David Graeber make in the first chapters of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity; tracing Enlightenment ideas about liberty to  the interactions of French colonial military commanders with the great Wendat (Huron) leader and thinker Kandiaronk. It is the earth-shaking first chess move in the argument that Graeber and Wengrow build throughout the rest of the book, an argument that aims to show that the conventional Western theories of the “general course of human history”: 

1. Simply arenʻt true;

2. Have dire political implications;

3. Make the past needlessly dull. Continue reading “On Kandiaronk (The Rat): A Review of The Dawn of Everything”

The Era of Cheap Living is Over

Thanksgiving food prices will be higher this year due to supply chain issues, limited trucking, limited labor, and higher costs to food producers.  Thanksgiving could be seen as a symbol of the American life style, our tendency to over-consume an abundance of cheap goods.  We’ve lived this way for decades, but if we are going to address climate change it’s time for us to recognize that the era of plentiful, cheap goods is over.   We will pay more for everything. Continue reading “The Era of Cheap Living is Over”

What the IPCC report should have told us

The problem with the recent IPCC report is that it is still talking about ‘average’ changes over the earth, discussing what might happen decades from now as a result of increased rate of change. Even if the message is labeled “code red” or urgent, it is still understating what is already happening. We continue to flog a dead horse; the ‘dead horse’ being the fact that scientists are still trying to convince people that climate change is happening and our situation is getting worse.  People should already accept that this is true.  It isn’t the average changes that will happen over the rest of this century that are threatening us.  The earth’s climate has already destabilized to the point where abrupt, extreme weather events are already happening. It isn’t my poor diet that will kill me, it’s the heart attack. Continue reading “What the IPCC report should have told us”