Bodies of Infection

Last Sunday afternoon I came across a yellow-white dog lying hidden in a patch of tall grass. Someone’s hunting dog that had gotten lost and never found in all likelihood. It was emaciated and clearly very sick.  Probably I should have just left him there to die.  It would have been the wise thing to do, in retrospect, but also something that I don’t know if I am capable of doing, wise or not.  So I brought him home, locked him in the bathroom in my carport, and tried to help him.  He was so weak he couldn’t walk or even hold his head up for very long. He had beautiful brown eyes. When I tried to open his mouth to get some electrolytes down his throat I saw that his gums were ivory-white.  Not good.  I made a boot-bath of chlorinated water outside the door so I would  not be tracking pathogens out of the room.   I gave the dog a shot of penicillin hoping that it might help him, although it was pretty clear he was a goner.  In the process of re-sheathing the needle, I grazed my finger.  A tiny graze, I wasn’t sure if I had even pierced my skin.  I was horrified at my carelessness.  I went into the house and scrubbed my hands with soap and scalding water.  Should I go to the emergency room?  It seemed like an over-reaction since I wasn’t sure I had even  infected myself. That night it rained like the devil, 4.5 inches.  The dog died in the night.  It was some consolation that at least he was somewhere warm and dry in his last hours, although perhaps he was too far gone for it to have mattered much.  The next day the pinprick on my finger was red and swollen.  I had infected myself with something.  Over the next day I felt it traveling up my arm, making my muscles ache.  It was a startling sensation to feel oneself being infected, and especially so given the general anxiety about infection in these recent days. I was lucky that I could get a prescription for a broad-spectrum antibiotic via telemedicine that stopped the infection. Continue reading “Bodies of Infection”

Listening to the Coronavirus

Humans have seemed unable to get a handle on climate change, with global emissions of greenhouse gases continuing to grow every year. But a microscopic pathogen, so structurally simple that it does not even have a single cell and is arguably not even alive, may be capable of accomplishing what our political leaders thus far cannot.

If I appear to minimize the suffering caused by the coronavirus, it is not my intent, and I also fear what the virus may wreak on those most vulnerable in my community and family.  But I do think we need to say it out loud:  this small being has opened possibilities for change that didn’t exist a month ago. I hope we can learn from it. Continue reading “Listening to the Coronavirus”

Barramunga

“Why do I want to come away alone like this, I wonder? And when I do, why this preference for old shepherd’s huts or abandoned camps or shell-shocked farm houses?…Is it somehow by  passing dark nights and wandering under vast skies alone, that one comes into the presence — the inner presence, the nurturing, beautiful, poetic presence — of reality?”  Freya Mathews, “Barramunga: Return to the Doorstep of Night” in Reinhabiting Reality: Towards a Recovery of Culture, 197. Continue reading “Barramunga”

Latour and Mathews again: some notes

To summarize (which is only a beginning): Latourʻs Inquiry will take you on an arduous climb over the mountains, from one way of knowing and being to another possibility, a country strange and new; Mathews is already there in that new/old country and her book will show you that a part of you has always lived there.  Also that a part of you longs to be a native of that place, which is really this place, where you have lived all along, seen with other eyes.  

Continue reading “Latour and Mathews again: some notes”

Reading Freya Mathews & Bruno Latour

I have been reading two extraordinary and very different writers lately who are both engaged with questioning Modernity -the capitalist, industrial civilizational model which we are all so familiar with here in the West – and which can now be found just about everywhere in the world as a “modernization front,” as Latour terms it.

To demonstrate one small place where these writers overlap and yet are very different in their approaches, here are two quotations:

“The present global environmental malaise has come about, at least in part, according to the argument in the previous chapters, because we moderns, the people of the industrialized nations, no longer revere our world or engage communicatively with it. Over the last three hundred years or so, we have been taught to see the ground of being in materialist terms, as in itself void of significance and presence – as mere externality without an animating principle of its own.”  Freya Mathews, Reconsidering Reality: Towards a Recovery of Culture, 49.

“It would not be wrong to define the Moderns as those who believe they are materialists and are driven to despair by this belief….When everything is submerged in matter there is no raw material, no accessible reality, no experience to guide us.” Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns, 105-106. Continue reading “Reading Freya Mathews & Bruno Latour”

Thanksgiving

Here in the crazy US it is Thanksgiving again, a holiday that, in its simplest form – taking some time to gather with family and friends to share a meal in the spirit of gratitude – is based on the most benign of impulses.

I am grateful today for the monarch butterflies that at least here on the ranch seem especially numerous this November. Continue reading “Thanksgiving”

A Letter to Mother

“Dear Mother,

It began with the article about the birds, the 2.9 billion missing North America birds, the 2.9 billion birds that disappeared and no one noticed. The sparrows, black birds, and swallows who didn’t make it, who weren’t ever born, who stopped flying or singing or making their most ingenious nests, who didn’t perch or peck their gentle beaks into moist black earth. It began with the birds. Hadn’t we even commented in June, James and I that they were hardly here? A kind of eerie quiet had descended. But later they came back. The swarms of barn swallows and the huge ravens landing on the gravel one by one. I know it was after hearing about the birds, that afternoon I crashed my bike. Suddenly falling, falling, unable to prevent the catastrophe ahead, unable to find the brakes or make them work, unable to stop the falling. I fell and spun and realized I had already been falling, that we have been falling, all of us, and crows and conifers and ice caps and expectations — falling and falling and I wanted to keep falling. I didn’t want to be here to witness everything falling, missing, bleaching, burning, drying, disappearing, choking, never blooming. I didn’t want to live without the birds or bees and sparkling flies that light the summer nights. I didn’t want to live with hunger that turned us feral or desperation that gave us claws. I wanted to fall and fall into the deepest, darkest ground and be finally still and buried there. Continue reading “A Letter to Mother”

The Speech

About six months ago my friend and mentor Donna called to ask if I would be willing to give one of the keynote speeches at this yearʻs agricultural conference.  Donna is one of those people with excellent people skills, which means that it is very difficult to say No to her: one because she will already have cultivated a relationship with you; and two, she will come armed with persuasions tailor-made to your psychology.  She will appeal to your higher instincts for public service and your lower instincts for ego-gratification.  Also of course it was an honor to be asked. So I agreed to give a  speech. Continue reading “The Speech”