Saturday, December 31, 2011

Apple (part 3)

(This is part 3 of this story. Go here for part 1, and here for part 2)

The seed took root in the compost, and then the leaves stretched out.  Someone found it and transplanted it to the garden, and the years passed.  The first winter was hard on the tiny tree but it weathered it, and over the years slowly grew tall and fair.  One spring, the tree flowered for the first time, delicate white blossoms against the light green leaves.
Something foreign entered.  A few days later, something woke up.  I guess it was me, but I had no memory of anything; it was more like being born.  I went through the same motions as before, the questions, the endless nagging questions that demanded a search for answers.  Again I found the truth, again I ripened, again I was torn away, again I died, forgetting everything… and again I sprouted.  Things began to speed up, like a fast forward blur, generations of trees, from flower to apple to seedling to tree and back again repeated, the search for truth undertaken again and again, different each time, but always the same, over and over.  At some point I learned of other apples, each with their own seeds, and I found cuttings and grafts from other, unknown trees.  Together with these I traveled often, studying the tree and its growth history, learning how it worked.  From one another we learned many things.  Together we questioned the Mysteries.
One summer I, or some version of me, found myself lost in the maze of wood grain in an old knothole where a limb had been removed and a scar had formed.  I had realized, for the thirty-third time, that the tree exists to make me, but as far as I knew it was the first time.  Though happy as ever, something nagged at me; I wasn’t quite satisfied with the discovery this time, and was out exploring the particulars of my tree to pass the time.  Then, as I was just working my way out of the knothole, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a realization.  I don’t know where the thought came from, or what might have caused it to come to mind just then.  Like the rain when it starts falling, there didn’t seem to be a certain cause; it just happened, thanks to some mysterious combination in the clouds.  And often when you least expect it.
All this time exploring, noticing the vague familiarity of the tree, as if I’d been there, in this or that very spot before… the answer why finally opened itself up to me.  I had been wrong before; I’d had everything backwards.  The apple is not the sole purpose of the tree, but just the opposite— the tree is the purpose of the apple!  In some way the apple is the servant of the tree, perhaps containing the concentrated essences of it, but forever secondary to it. Apples, like the limb that had once grown from this spot, fell away, but the tree remained. 
            I considered further: no, that wasn’t quite it, not yet.  As I sat there dumbstruck by the ideas coming into my mind, I looked around at the wood around me, dead but healed, and felt the subtle pulse of the sap close by running through the living tree that wrapped around the lifeless center.  I knew high above leaves were making sugar, and far below roots were probing deeper, searching for water and nutrients.  I began to know things that I should by rights have had no way of knowing.
  This is where I’d come from.  What a fool I’d been, to think the tree was there simply to produce me.  How small to think I was there only to serve the tree.  I was the tree; I was an outgrowth of it.  The Source I’d searched so long for was everywhere around me, was me.
No longer was I enraptured by the selfish glory of being the sole purpose of the tree, a glory somewhat, but not completely, subdued by the fact that there were many other apples on the tree.  I realized that I was one with the tree, and that the apple is no more the purpose of it than the root hairs twenty feet underground were. But at the same time I could see I wasn’t just an afterthought, nor was I some sort of article of clothing, to be dropped whenever the tree was done with me.  The tree was its own purpose, and I was a part of that.  I began to sense that the tree had once been much smaller, and that as it had grown, I had grown with it; I had been there all along, reaching along it’s branches, stretching up with the trunk, digging with the roots, and moving between each and every cell with the flow of sap every spring and every fall.  This is where the sense of familiarity came from; I felt as if I’d been there before because I had been there, long ago, and because I was always there, as an integrated part of the greater organism.
When I fall in my apple, this tree will still be here, will go on making more apples in other seasons.  But, eventually I will sprout, and grow, and make apples of my own. 
Suddenly, with that thought, the confines of time and my understanding of it fell away, and in a way that was more like remembering than learning, I saw the generations that had preceded me.  I saw myself being born again and again, without ever really dying, only changing from seed to tree to seed.  The other trees were a part of me and I of them; through time in ancestry, through space in flowers, pollen, bees and grafts.  By seeding do we stretch apart like branches on a single tree, by pollen and graft we come together, like sap from disparate leaves meeting in the trunk in Autumn.
The Source is everywhere and nowhere, never and always.  I sat for a long time doing nothing, simply knowing these things.  After a time, I realized that I had to forsake my apple this year, and stay in the tree teaching the others this truth.  I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to claim another apple or if I’d be trapped forever in the tree and die at last, but the feeling was certain; others had to know.  Immediately I began making my way back to the outer branches. 

*     *     *
            “Well, that’s when I woke up.”  There was silence in the room for a long moment.  “What do you think it all means, doc?” Cory asked, fidgeting with the bottom edge of his shirt as he lay on the couch facing the bookshelf.  His throat was dry from his long monologue, and the air in the room felt somehow tense, full of the doctor’s thought.
            “I’ll be honest, it worries me,” he answered, after a time.  “There are threads of megalomania, a hint of a Jesus complex, and a strange fascination with death.  But most bothersome is the deep mistrust this hallucination speaks of; where your apple falls and is eaten over and over.  I wonder if your mother dropped you as an infant…” he mused, trailing off into a thoughtful silence.
“Well, no matter; there is certainly a deeper problem there, one we’ll have to discuss further, over many sessions.  In the meantime,” he said, reaching over to the table beside his chair, “I’m going to write you a prescription for some Toxiloft.  And perhaps for Poisonax too.  These will help you feel a lot better, and you’ll sleep better at night; deep and sound, and no more hallucinations.”
            “Are you sure that’s all it means?”
            “Of course, young man, of course.  I didn’t go to school for seven years and not learn a thing or two about dreams.  They are a specialty of mine, you know.”  The doctor glanced at his watch.  “Well, our time is over for today, I’ll see you next week.  Make sure your mother sends the session fee, that’s a good boy.  And get those prescriptions filled as soon as possible.”
            “Yes sir, thank you,” Cory said politely as he left.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Apple (part 2)

(This is part 2 of this story; for part 1, click here)

For a while, I just drifted aimlessly.  I eventually found myself in the heartwood, which I had not seen before.  So far during my journey, I had stayed just under the bark in the living tissue where the sap flows.  Now I went laterally, deeper, into the deadwood below.  I wandered through the empty cells, the old dead from many seasons passed, now only shells, mere scaffolding and support for the living tree.  There was a great deal of it, but little to see or find, and very dark.  A long time passed, until I realized I was moving steadily upward. 
I kept going, all the way to the top of the tree, returned to the living cambium, and then slipped into a leaf.  Never had I seen such light; the whole place was infused with it, saturated, far beyond the dimness I had known before in the apple-stem, and unfathomably brighter than the deadwood of the trunk where I’d been so long lost.  Here was an ocean of light, and I watched the chloroplasts in every cell swimming in it, making rapid circles, up and down, round and round.  I learned of air, coming up from little holes in the leaf's lower surface. It made the place very spacious-feeling, more than anywhere else I’d been, and the openness was very relaxing. 
Again came the uneasy sense of familiarity, a tip-of-the-tongue sort of feeling.  There was a diluted sweetness here, which I’d been tasting all along, and I realized that it was here in the leaf, in all the leaves, that it was being produced.  Yet it had been strongest in the apple where I had come from.  Then I was struck by an epiphany, my mind rocked by the realization.  This whole tree, every part, was there to make me!  The leaves to make the sugars from light and air, the roots to gather the water and minerals, the trunk and branches to convey both and hold the whole thing up; it was all there so it could make my apple!
I cannot remember ever having felt such happiness.  The relief of finally having my answer, the satisfaction of knowledge… it was indescribable.  I shot back to my long-abandoned apple, giggling with sheer delight.  I never stopped smiling, not for all the weeks it took for me to come fully into ripeness.  I was a beauty to behold, glorious and red with joyful life.  The masterpiece of the tree was I; me, the tree’s ultimate realization and purpose.
But then something terrible happened, incalculable in the horror it held for me.  A wind picked up, a violent storm, and my whole tree whipped and thrashed.  If I could have, I would have clung for dear life to my twig— but I fell.  The apple-stem broke and I dropped to the ground beside the road.  This was, I knew deep down, the beginning of the end.  A series of events completely beyond my accounting had been set into motion.
I found myself being lifted, and rubbed clean of the dust and mud I’d gathered on the ground.  The horror that followed I can hardly speak of.  I was being eaten.  If this was what the ripening had been all about, I wanted no part in it, and my despair was beyond telling.  I retreated back to the core and closed myself up inside a seed, shaking with fear.
The end did not come; my deepest fears were not realized.  I felt myself being thrown, sailing through the air, bouncing and tumbling and finally coming to a stop on a compost pile.  I came out of the seed and beheld the devastation: nearly the entire apple, my highest pride and joy, was demolished, gone.  So avid the man’s teeth had been in gnawing my beloved apple that several of the other seeds were missing, either fallen out or eaten.  I wept and retreated again into the seed.
It was to be my sad fate to watch the mold come; the same mold with which I had felt a warm, if somewhat distant, sense of connection to that time down in the root.  But now it was devouring the ruined remains of the apple, my apple, turning it into brown mush.  In two weeks nothing but my seed remained.  The seasons passed, grew colder, snows came and went. And then I died.  I felt a cracking sensation, as if my whole body was tearing apart. There was a splash of light, and then nothing.  I knew nothing more. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Apple (part 1)

And now, for something completely different.

Certain to be my longest post ever, this is a story I wrote a while back. Since I'm not much in the writing mode of late, just to keep the blog active while I come back to myself, I thought I'd post it.

** ** ** ** **
Cory walked into the therapist’s office right on time, at exactly four o’clock. Saying hello to the doctor, already sitting in his armchair, he walked across to the new leather couch under the window and sat down. The leather was smooth and felt very cool at first, but soon warmed under his body.
He had been coming to therapy for a couple of months now. His mother felt her sixteen year old son odd, talking about unusual things and always full of strange ideas, and spending a lot of time alone, reading or just staring off into space. He had few friends and seemed to show no interest in normal boy stuff: cars, football. She worried about this, and so had signed him up for therapy, hoping that having him talk to a professional might straighten him out.
“How are you today, Cory,” asked the doctor, beginning the session.
“Not bad, I guess, thanks. How’re you?”
“Fine, fine.” He settled back in his high backed leather chair. “What would you like to talk about today?”
After a brief pause, he answered, “Well, last night I had a really weird dream. But it’s not like most dreams, where you forget them real quick. This one stuck, as clear now as when I was dreaming it last night.”
Lay back and tell me about it. Every detail you can remember,” the doctor said, encouragingly. He was a Neo-Freudian, an expert at psychoanalysis and particularly interested in dreams. He picked up his pen and pad and waited.

* * *

I don’t know how long I’d been asleep when I suddenly woke up, except, I wasn’t me. I don’t know what I was, besides some kind of disembodied awareness or consciousness; a Mind. I was in a small dark place, a fleshy place, and I realized it was plant flesh. I somehow knew one thing, and one thing only. I was inside a tiny apple, barely formed, fresh from the flower.
Immediately, I was full of questions. “Who am I? Where did I come from? How did I get here?” I asked aloud to no one in particular. There was no one to answer, so I sat there, thinking. There was nothing else to do but wonder, nothing to think about besides what I was, where I came from, what I was here for. Alone in the dark asking questions to myself, they slowly coalesced to form one supreme Mystery, the answer to which would answer all lesser questions: “what is my Source?” I worried and puzzled over it for what seemed a long time. I began to intuit that the answers were not to be found where I was presently. I decided to leave on a foray, if I could, to try to learn some things, answers I hoped. I knew that if I stayed put, I would know no rest or peace.
I went out slowly through the end of the tiny apple, and found myself suddenly in a much smaller space, like a very narrow tunnel. It was far more constricting than the little bulge of the apple that I’d been used to, and I was seized by fear and uncertainty. I fled back and didn’t move for a long time, considering the tunnel of the stem from the far side of the tiny fruit.
But my questions gnawed at me, and I decided I had to give the stem another try. I moved across the apple, pausing briefly at the core in a sort of goodbye, then took up again my position at the beginning of the stem, steeling myself for leaving. Then slowly, I began to notice a strange sensation; the sensation of light bleeding through the stem. It was dim, and though it grew somewhat for a while, the stem remained rather dark. Still, in some way it gave me courage, and I steeled myself, and continued.
It was not nearly so terrible as I’d thought it would be; the stem was not very long, and soon met in a larger space with several other stems that led off in other directions. I considered them, but my interest ran towards the twig into… well, into something, I didn’t know what.
As I began moving along it, I noticed that something about this twig felt familiar, as if I’d been there before. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and tried to put it out of my mind, though I was not able to forget it completely. I followed down through the twig for a while, then retraced my steps and went home to my apple for the night. The next day, as soon as the stem became light, I went out again, intending to go farther than before. I covered the now familiar twig much faster than yesterday, and began pushing forward into more unknown areas, following the gentle curves and bends. Again I reached a point where I felt satisfied for the day, and returned to the apple.
This went on for several days, until I had explored down almost to the trunk. At last I entered it, though not without noticing that I did not notice exactly when. It had been like this for days; I could never say just when a twig became a branch, or when a branch became a larger branch. It was like how one day you suddenly realize it’s Autumn; you can’t say just when it happened, but you know you’re in it. The air is cooler, the sky isn’t full of summer haze, and the leaves are beginning to look ready to fall; you don’t know how it happened, only that you’ve passed some sort of turning point which you didn’t know was there until you’d passed it. It was all very gradual, but the noticing was always sudden.
At around this time I stopped going back to the apple at night. Not only was night hard to sense under the thick bark, and not only was the distance getting farther every day, but the caution and fear I had felt were mostly gone. I felt safe, almost at home, in the branches and trunk, such that I could stay out and let the apple wait for later; there was no reason to keep going back.
Down the trunk I went, nearing and then passing the place where trunk becomes root. I paused, and went back, feeling I may be near the Source. But again there was no definite point where the division occurred, just a smooth, blurred transition from one to the other. This was not what I was looking for; my journey was not over.
So I continued down into the roots, still searching. Things began to narrow again, from taproot to branch root to rootlet. Again I found in every phase and every place some vague sense of familiarity, like déjà vu. I kept going, all the way down into the tiniest roots, pale and moist, then into a root hair, the smallest, narrowest place I’d ever been. There I felt hardly any boundary existed at all between the tree and what was outside of it, only the slightest film of a skin. I could sense water outside the root, water and clay and humus. I sensed also all manner of life, thousands of beings in the soil just outside, bacteria and fungi, insects and worms, all the soil dwellers.
I was fascinated but unsatisfied; these things were not my answer; though I felt a sense of connectedness to all of it— the creatures, the water, the grains of sand— they were not exactly the source I was looking for. I had gone from one extremity to another, and the answer remained unanswered. I began to work my way back upwards, at a loss, feeling I had failed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Running and Walking

Well, it seems this health kick is not tapering off, much to my satisfaction. I've continued running, slowly building up the distance, now around 2.25 miles. Still keeping my distance low as I'm working on strengthening my legs and feet, mainly my ankles, which is where the little twinges of pain show up. Not injury pain, just unused tendon and muscle pain. As a long distance hiker, I'm familiar with working up to greater distance, and know well enough about ornery, lazy muscles.

What's interesting to me is how I'm beginning to need to run. I look forward to it, and especially after a frustrating day at work, it's the perfect way of clearing my head and settling down. I'm pretty slow, but cardiovascularly speaking, I could go for much longer than I have been, now that I've been at it a couple weeks; mostly I'm past the point of having to really think about breathing right, and can relax and let my mind drift freely. I've broken through the first wall, which is pretty cool. I'm quite sure I'll hit my goal of 4 miles within the month, easy.

I also found a cool nature area where I can run some trails. Cym's new blog encouraged me to go take my own walk in the woods, something I myself have also been lacking. The forests here are flooded for half the year or more, so it sorta puts an end to that. There are a few places that have raised trails (grades, they call them), but I like to wander at will and so am not particularly thrilled by that. Anyways, the place, the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center's Alligator Creek Preserve, is pretty nice. They work concertedly to keep out the paper bark tea tree, an aggressive Australian import, so it's basically, more or less, what coastal Florida looked like for ages: mostly cabbage palmetto, with some live oak and slash pine mixed in, and red and black mangroves along the shores, and lots of varied undergrowth.

I wasn't running, just walking, having stopped by on a lark to begin with. No camera, of course. I was pretty amazed with all the wildlife I saw. That's one thing I do like about Florida, especially the bird watching. I started off with seeing an adult bald eagle perched up in an old pine snag. I've seen plenty of them in my time, and they're relatively common around here, and nest nearby, but regardless, it's always a thrill to see one. The sharpness of their gaze, when they turn it on you, lets you really feel you're being seen. A bit later on I spotted a raccoon picking its way along the mangroves by the brackish riverside, despite the noon hour.  Then I saw separately two large alligators sunning themselves on their respective pond banks; in the 7-9 foot range, and beefy. On my way to the Three Lakes Trail (which irritatingly only has one lake) I saw two feral pigs browsing not far off into the trees from where I stood, a bit scary, as wild pigs can be unpredictable and vicious, though I suspect probably only if cornered.

Lastly, the highlight of my day, at the one lake, I sat down on a bench, and within minutes noted the osprey circling above. There were two; one shortly flew off somewhere else, but the other one went into a dive, crashing down upon the water's surface and coming up with a large fish, which he flew heavily away with. I've always wanted to see something like that, and though I've seen plenty of hawks and eagles in my life, only one other time have I seen one catch a living thing-- a low flying northern harrier which came up with a mouse or other small rodent. The osprey surpassed that for sure, in being much closer at hand, more visible and more dramatic with long, vertical dive and the the splash of water.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Passenger Pigeon

Driving past one of the local wildlife management areas yesterday I saw a huge flock of birds, must have been a thousand of them, like those awesome flocks you'll see in documentaries about the Sarenghetti, a broad shimmer against the blue sky, and the dry marsh boiling with them. I immediately thought of the passenger pigeon for some reason, and of cloning. How unfortunate that we've been denied the spectacle of those flocks that would "darken the sky" for days on end (to say nothing of the birds' own right to enjoy life). For a moment I considered how nice it would be if they could be cloned and recreated. Then I caught myself indulging in scientific superstition.

What hubris it is to imagine that we can remake a species from some old DNA salvaged from stuffed museum pieces. How ridiculous to presume that life can be boiled down to a strand of nucleotides. Life is never anything less than a living cell; even in our most basic, refined essence, that being sex cells, or more accurately, the fertilized zygote, we are never just pure DNA floating around our mother's womb. We may be single celled, but we are never that.

And imagine if we did clone the passenger pigeon, what would we end up with? A perfect reproduction of this species that was wantonly blasted from the skies 100 years ago? Doubtful. As Alan Watts so often and clearly demonstraded, a living thing is part and parcel with its environment:  

What we really are is, first of all, the whole of our body. And although our bodies are bounded with skin, and we can differentiate between outside and inside, they cannot exist except in a certain kind of natural environment. A body requires a mild and nutritive planet with just enough oxygen in the atmosphere spinning regularly around in a harmonious and rhythmical way near a certain kind of warm star.

That arrangement is just as essential to the existence of my body as my heart, my lungs, and my brain. So to describe myself in a scientific way, I must also describe my surroundings, which is a clumsy way getting around to the realization that you are the entire universe.
You can speculate about a universe that didn't include you or any life, but the only universe we know of is the one that does. Or, look at this in another way: what is the most important organ system in the body? The nervous system, many might say. But what would a nervous system be without the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems to bring oxygen and nutrients? And where would the nutrients come from without the digestive system? But we'd be soon overwhelmed by toxins without the urinary system... One could say the only unnecessary system is the reproductive, but one would be wrong-- where did that sexless individual come from at all but through working reproductive systems? So it becomes clear even on this single scale that all systems arise together, organically, as one.

Likewise with species. Take our new pigeon-- it may by some miracle be viable, yet even if you made ten thousand for the flock effect, it will not be the same thing. I suppose it's possible that lower, simpler forms would be more or less the same; fish and reptiles, for instance, live on instinct and need not be taught how to live, unlike a puppy which must be taught socialization, and a child needs to be taught a culture. Yet the environment has changed since 1900 when the last passenger pigeon was seen. The elms and American Chestnut are (nearly) gone, and the forests themselves are smaller and more scattered. Food sources have changed, the climate has shifted, as have land use patterns, industrialization and urban sprawl have occurred, new species have arrived on the continent from afar, native ones have gone extinct or nearly so.

There are also no adult passener pigeons to rear these new test-tube chicks. Who knows how they'll behave. Like gang-bangers in the ghetto, who often have no man in the house to show them how to be men, they depend on their peers for their example and end up with insecure adolescent behaviors. Or mockingbirds, which will imprint on what sounds they hear while in the nest. Originally it was birdsong, but now, it can be telephones, doorbells, even air conditioners and car horns. We would only be making a only a fascimile of the passenger pigeon if we attempted to do so.

But there really is talk of cloning wooly mammoths, saber toothed cats, and even dinosaurs. All because we can't see the forest for the trees, can't see beyond our skin and see that Watts was right: an organism "goeswith" its environment. You cannot draw a line between them, because the line joins them as well as it divides them. Everything is polar, and even though you seem to have isolated one pole, it always implies the other by its very existence.

I know the science of individual things works on some levels-- you can get a new heart if you need one, and you can make Dolly the sheep-- but it's such a clumsy way to look at the world in general, and a rather crude way of getting healthy hearts and sheep. It's astonishing, but it's very limited in scope. Heart's bad? We'll cut it out and install a new one. Depressed? Take this pill. Need livestock? Let us tinker around with microscopes and cells, we'll throw some shit together for ya. Species extinct? Here, we'll grow it anew in this test tube.

But the underlying problems aren't resolved. So the depressed guy takes his pill, hasn't solved his problems but gets his energy back, and is now alive enough to actually go through with those suicidal thoughts! We go on destroying the ecosphere, thinking we can piece it together later. We don't exercise, we don't quit smoking, because we can have a new heart or lung installed when we need it.

Well, I'm exaggerating again, but only a little. I just prefer the natural way, it's so elegant. The body knows how to keep itself healty, and sheep, through the long, amazing process of evolution, know how to make more sheep. And although it's sad there are no more passenger pigeons, or any of the other species we drove to extinction, I think it's just a point instance of the ridiculous lenghts we as a society will go in order not to live in harmony with nature. Just as we think we can laze about, eat crappy food, and smoke, because we can get a new heart, we think we can re-produce the creatures we've driven to extinction, rather than take a look in the mirror and take note of our deeply flawed way of life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Sucka say what!?

I was watching Pillars of the Earth last night, a mini-series being shown on REELS channel, based on the Ken Follet novel of the same name. Besides noticing that the truth of "the book was better than the movie" yet holds true, I couldn't help but notice something else as well.

Isn't it weird the way we censor things? Here you have violent scenes, including main, likable characters being violently murdered, battle scenes with blood splashing everywhere, and so forth... but the brief glimpse of a woman's nipple during a love scene is fuzzed out. That's television; movies are different, yet, the same rule holds true in principle. In whatever medium, the showing of sex and/or the body always lags behind what they show of violence and death.

Look at Braveheart-- you have two people get their throats cut open in full view with blood flowing and everything, you have people getting limbs cut off, or a pick-axe slammed into his head, or an dagger stuck in his eye, or his face crushed with a mace... this graphic violence gets an R rating. Graphic sex, though, gets an X rating; they didn't actually show William Wallace screwing Murron. I mean, you'll never see a penis in an R rated movie, at least no more than a very quick flash in a non-sexual scene. In fact, the only time I can remember such a thing occurring was in Eastern Promises, in the very bloody fight scene in the Russian sauna. Viggo Mortensen's character was naked, attacked, and there was the moment's flash of his groin as he was thrown across the room. As for the nether regions of a woman in an R movie? Forget about it; I bet it's never been done.

Doesn't it seem odd that it's far more acceptable to show ugly acts of violence, but not beautiful acts of love-making? Personally I'd rather children saw the latter, instead of the former; yet the taboo goes the other way, for what would the action movie be without a ten minute gunfight, the severed limbs, the splashes of blood? Even just the sight of a nipple requires a pixellated blur, or an uproar on the Super Bowl. But is this really more harmful for a child to see than the thousands of enacted murders a kid sees by the time he's ten?

We as a civilization are really freaky weird about our bodies. Here's another example, I can only think of two instances of people sitting on the toilet on TV or the movies: one of the Lethal Weapons movies, where Danny Glover is on the shitter when he realizes there's a bomb attached, and once on Two and a Half Men. I feel like there may have been a couple more, but the point stands: something we all do several times a day is almost never shown on the screen. It's okay to ruin the body, but not to celebrate it in the act of love or as a beautiful thing in itself, or even to use it in it's normal functions.

It's not that I really want to watch people taking a shit on TV, but I'm just saying it's weird the taboo we have about our bodies. I know where it comes from, sort of; in general a Christian thing. The Romans had communal toilets in their public baths-- a row of shitters without stalls or walls, and instead of toilet paper, had a sponge on a stick, one for each latrine, used by all comers, washed in water trough after each time. Imagine that, eh? Lord knows they were violent, with their gladiator games and such, and they also had their orgies, their feasts (where they'd often intentionally vomit so they could go and eat even more). I guess the Christians reacted to this vulgar sensuality and hedonism, and took it too far the other way.

I also find it irritating how they censor cuss words. If someone says "God dammit," they bleep the God and leave the dammit! That's pretty weird. I recognize the hierarchy of badness for words, from ass and hell being weak, to shit and fuck, on up to cunt and nigger (dependant on context). But I'm beginning to notice they're sometimes not bleeping shit anymore, which is promising. I'm pretty much against censorship as a rule, especially when the issue is "protecting the children" from stuff they already know and words they already say.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

To Tao From Zen

I love the little book of wisdom that is the Tao Te Ching, but sometimes it strikes me as extremely useless. All this stuff about how the sage does this, the sage does that... well, that's fine and good for the sage, but what about the rest of us? If we try to emulate what the book says denotes a master, all we end up with is hypocrisy. We're aping the saints, not a saint ourselves. You need only look as far as the religious right to see what I'm talking about. They're rigid legalists, not Jesus-like Christ figures. They're faking it. A real sage doesn't read in a book how to act, it comes from his or her inner nature, from their oneness with Tao. If a sage lives as an ascetic, it isn't out of self-denial from guilt, or to set an example, or to not pollute the world with reckless consumption; it's because he realized he didn't need all that stuff to begin with. If he is generous and full of kindness to all, it isn't because he should, but because he deep down must.

The Tao Te Ching often just seems not like a how-to book, but more of a snapshot of the sage. Full of lofty sayings and statements that tantalize but don't quite deliver. Interesting, in a way, but not always entirely helpful. What we all want is to know how to actually embody such sagacity. How do I find the Tao? I know it's a ridiculous question to even ask, knowing intellectually that it is all around us (so sayeth the texts and wise ones), it is all that is, as well as all that isn't, we couldn't get away from it if we wanted to.

How do you do without doing? It's a bootstrap problem: wei wu wei, doing non-doing, is impossible to achieve. Attempt it, and you are acting with expectation, forcing things, and forcing is wei, not wu wei. Like in Buddhism, when you accept that desire causes all suffering (dukkha), and go on to desire to end desiring. This is the hypocrisy, and actually dangerous, because you may be deluding yourself, and get the spiritual pride going. You're doing all this religion/philosophy stuff to achieve enlightenment, which is something you (think you) don't have, but want to attain in the future, and thus you're always a seeker, never a finder. You are getting in your own way.

So how does one get out of one's own way so as to flow with the Tao? There is nothing simpler, nor harder; it's always the most obvious thing that gets missed. But as always, I circle around to acceptance in the broadest sense. The only way to act without expectation is to not be in the future, by being in the present. You get there through surrender, surrender to your experience, whatever it currently is, without comment or opinion. In the present, you can't act with expectation, because it's all there, and you're just grooving with it. This is the point of insight meditation

Or perhaps this bootstrap problem is the point, to throw you against your ego's incapability, and knock you sideways into the Void-- a sort of Taoist version of a Zen koan-- Taoism being the mother of Zen (who's father was Mahayana Buddhism). You read the TTC, see how impossible it is to do this, get wrapped up in the dilemma, until the whole thing dissolves in a sort of ego-death or satori, if only for a moment. Sometimes I think this is the main point of sacred writings, from the Law in Judaism, Jesus' teachings, the Tao Te Ching, the Buddhist sutras, and so forth. Not to show you the way, but to prove that the way is impossible for the "i" to attain, thus pushing you into the realization of "I".

This post is also posted on The Rambling Taoists as a guest post.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Health Kick

Look out world, I'm on another health kick.

These don't tend to last, but I have been chipping away at a healthier lifestyle for years. My diet has steadily improved, including a new found love of salads. I used to hate salads, until a few months ago when I realized that what I really hated was iceberg lettuce. What a sorry excuse for food that is. So I use lots of spinach, kale, and romaine or other better lettuces, plenty of tomatoes, cucumbers, and sometimes beans and broccoli... not very imaginative, but I like 'em. For dressing I stick to apple cider vinegar, or nothing.

I have been eating far too much meat, though. Turkey sandwich every day for lunch, and often meat for dinner. This is unusual for me; I used to go months without it, not out of any vegetarian creed, but the simple lack of desire for it. Too much butter, too, and dairy in general. Now I find myself greatly missing my good ol' beans 'n' rice diet, so I mean to get back into that. I could eat a burrito every day, I think; I usually cook up a huge pot of brown rice, beans, mushrooms, corn, onions, peppers, etc, enough to last a week. Slap it on a whole wheat tortilla, top it off with some Louisiana hot sauce, and I'm in business.

I'm also running again. This is inspired partly by the book Born To Run, likely the most entertaining and interesting book I've read all year, but also just because I feel I need it. I'm a notoriously weak runner, not much endurance due to a heart valve issue I was born with, but I've let myself go even by my standards and abilities. When I started a week and a half ago, I couldn't run a quarter mile without stopping, my lungs feeling like they were going to explode. I'm already seeing marked improvement, even just a handful of runs later, and I ran my first full mile today. I'm sure I could have kept going, breathing was fine, but I want to ease into it since my muscles and tendons need strengthening. I'm doing barefoot running (actually using huaraches for now, since the roads are really rough around here, and my feet aren't tough enough yet), so strength is vital; and I could feel a twinge in my right ankle.

Barefoot running, being the natural way for a human to run, is a great way to avoid injury, and it cured my shin splints, which I used to get terribly back when I ran in shoes; it's why I never stuck with it. Running shoes encourage a heel strike, which is very bad for your knees, hips, back... the problem is, you come crashing down on a hard bone with every step; and don't think that a little inch of foam is enough to cushion at least twice your body weight coming down on it. No, try running down the road on your heels, without shoes, and you'll quickly switch to a forefoot landing, with which you can use your flexing joints and springy tendons to cushion you-- you'll have to, or you'll be in too much pain. Pain is a teacher, means you're doing something wrong.

There's a lot more to the barefoot form than just forefoot landing, but that's the first part of it. Other aspects are a straight back, shorter, faster steps (keeping your feet under you, not ahead of you), and so on. This site is probably your best place to start to learn about any of this if you're interested.

Another great benefit to this running thing is, I already feel more energetic and younger. Okay, okay, I know I'm only 28, but I have to admit that since I started with this construction work, I've started feeling old; body doesn't move as easily and lightly as it did, I feel stiff, heavy, lethargic. But I already feel more energy since this new regimen, and expect that to only continue and increase. It's like I felt when I was thru-hiking. Strong. I could go all day, and feel great most of the time (sometimes I overdid it). The farthest I've ever run was 4 miles, and whoa what an endorphin high; yet that was a spur of the moment thing about a decade ago, not the result of any health kick. So I know I have it in me, and for now 4 miles is my goal. I wish I'd moved right into a running program when I got off the trail, when it was easy and I was fit, but I'll just have to start from the bottom again.

Anyways, this physical fitness thing is something I've been lacking in my life. It will be a good balance for the meditation and reading and thinking I'm doing. Plus, remodelling work is physical, but what we're doing doesn't really qualify as fitness; it's more like short bouts of lifting and carrying, amid the less strenuous standing around (while masking, painting, sanding, caulking, installing cabinets, lights, fans, etc). Mostly it's anti-fitness, with all the bending, hands-and-knees work, and weird positions you end up in while doing things. So I need to develop this side of my life a bit more to keep things even. So far so good.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Moneyless Society

Here's one for you guys. I was discussing with my uncle today, and he brought up the idea of a moneyless society. I kinda dig that, and thought I'd share it here. Basically, it's simple-- there's no more money. You need something, you go to the store, get it, and walk out. Everything's free. Of course, I argued that without money as an incentive, there's a lot of jobs that would never get done. No one's gonna want to clean toilets or work in mines, for example. Not entirely sure how to resolve that, but my uncle had a great way to ensure that at least there wouldn't be any do-nothing slackers: either you do something, anything, productive for society, or you get stoned to death. I figure that with this system, we'd end up with a lot of artists, poets, musicians, and so forth, and mediocre ones at that, and still not have any janitors, miners, and so on. Maybe there could be a rotation, where the clean-up jobs get passed around, so no one's stuck doing it forever; you do so many days a year at janitorial stuff. The dangerous stuff, like mining, logging, and so forth, well, I don't know. You hate to incentivize it, or those incentives will become the new money. And anyways, I'm sure people will find a way to corrupt this, and end up with the same old ugly power/wealth hierarchies.

So I don't know, give me your ideas. I'd really like a discussion on this, hear your thoughts.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Canyon country under Mesa Arch

Funny thing, how I now have all my stuff back, and how little most of it means to me. Sure, I have a ton more clothes, but most of them just sit in the dresser. Sure, I'm reading some books I had bought and not read yet, or simply missed. Actually, that is one mistake I've made-- I dug out my Everett Ruess books (A Vagabond for Beauty, and The Wilderness Journals), and now I gots the itchy feet again.

I thought that by reading this stuff, I'd satiate the urge vicariously, but it's having the opposite effect. I mean, I've been feeling dissatisfaction about Florida since I got here, but now it's taking shape into a real urge to wander again. I know one thing, that for a man who loves mountains, I'm in the wrong state, boy. And what I really miss is the desert and canyons, the Colorado Plateau of Utah and Arizona where Ruess did much of his journeying. Red rock country. I also came across this quote, which reminded me how much I hate the unspeakably boring flatness of Florida:

From there we pushed on faster because the passage over the blackened plain was easy. By eleven o'clock the highest of the hills rose above the blue of distance, and between us and them lay a bush of shimmering peacock leaves. After so many weeks in flat land and level swamp, the sudden lift of the remote hills produced an immediate emotion and one experienced forthwith that urge to devotion that once made hills and mountains sacred to men, who then believed that wherever the earth soared upward to meet the sky, one was in the presence of an act of spirit as much as a feature of geology... -The Lost World of the Kalahari, p194

And all this talk about simplicity isn't helping. There's nothing simpler and more true to my heart than living out, hiking around in beautiful natural areas, with thoughts only of where I'll sleep tonight, where's water, and how much food is left. All else is taken care of, or dispensed with. There's no daily grind of work. Remodelling homes isn't bad, as jobs go, but so much of it seems futile. Sometimes, for example, I'm amazed at just how much time goes into dicking around with outlet and switch-plate covers. Details that people require in their home that I just can't fathom. Why does the screw slot in the outlet cover have to be perfectly vertical? It's so meaningless, and is a waste of time for all involved. I mean, we do a lot of more important stuff too, but that one always irritates me. The fucks should just be glad they have electricity and leave me the hell alone. No, I'm not bitter.

Zion Canyon
In all seriousness, though, I just can't see why I need to waste my life at work if it doesn't make me happy doing it and don't have a family to support. No joy, no obligation... I figure it'd be better to walk away from it. I've always felt that as long as I can keep myself fed and clothed, there's no worries; and its remarkable how easy it is to achieve that. Earning the necessities of life isn't terribly difficult, at least when you're living like a vagabond. And homeless poverty isn't a huge deterrent to me, per se, so long as I can do it away from the cities, which make one feel poor rather than free and easy. I can earn my meals, or live a bit off the land, even, and stick to the backcountry, much like Everett did for his short life. I always wanted to know more about wild edibles, and I already know how to fish. I can learn trapping and hunting, and dipping into the money economy when I need to is alright by me. I just don't want to be a slave to it.

Alright, I'm being a bit extreme, for effect. Maybe I don't want to do this forever, since I do want to have a little farm someday, but I think it's going to be a while before I get this restlessness out of me for good. I've certainly seemed to decide against a career, thus far, though the thought of returning to school still bounces around in my head from time to time. Right now, I'm starting to consider a move to Santa Fe, Durango... or maybe Moab, which I always liked. Not gonna make any decision now, but I mean to return to canyon country sooner or later.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Cym over at Effortless Flow recently put up a few posts about living simply and some issues she sees going along with it. I think she's pretty much right in her assessment, and just wanted to share my own thoughts on it, because after I mentioned a book Possum Living in a reply, I started musing it over some more.

Firstly, I don't see the simple life as being one of poverty. Poverty to me implies suffering and deprivation. I don't think I've made over $10,000 a year since 2007, and often quite a bit less than that, with my wandering ways keeping me unemployed for about half the year, usually. Part of the ease of me living cheaply is that I'm often either camping out on a long hike, or, in two cases, living free in government housing as part of a job (Forest Service cabins in Utah, a Fish and Wildlife bunkhouse in New Jersey). Otherwise I live in a cheap rented room, or with family, as I do currently. But I'm also able to go without a lot of stuff that others consider essential, which is key.

A big one is TV, which I've lived without for most of the last 4 years, quite happily I might add, as well as not having in-home internet most of the time. Internet is nice, but, as a bit of an aside, ever notice how you'll Google whatever random question comes into your mind? On the Appalachian Trail, we'd sometimes keep a "Google list" of stuff we'd discussed and wanted to know more about, or to settle a debate on something. Then we'd get to town and realize how irrelevant those things were, and how little we cared. Most of the time, no list, and forgetting what transient curiosities we'd wanted to look up proved their irrelevance. The internet is often a great time waster.

Anyways, the point is, I don't mind not having these things. And that's the point: simplicity has nothing to do with suffering. If you have denied yourself something, like, say, your television, and then constantly worry about missing all your shows, you haven't simplified your life at all: you still hang on to the thing, even in its absence. I think this is where the Christians got confused, with their renunciation ethic, of suffering with the poor. The point isn't to add more suffering to the world out of some sense of righteous guilt. It isn't a duty, to be taken up with regret or as a discipline. Renunciation and living simply are about realizing you don't really want or need a thing, it's about letting the extraneous stuff fall away easily like autumn leaves. It's like Diogenes, who owned only a cup until he saw someone drinking with his cupped hands, causing him to realize the cup was unnecessary, so he threw it away. This requires examination into your life, your desires, your fears, and so forth.

Diogenes with his friends
I go along with Lao Tzu: he who knows he has enough is rich. I'd add to that: he who thinks he needs more than he has is still poor; even those we call the wealthy. I also like the Bob Dylan line, What's money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do. This is the essence of possum living. This possum thing I keep referring to is from the book, Possum Living, written by Dolly Freed back in the 1970s, about the life she and her father lived in their home outside of Philadelphia. Possum living is quite a lot like what Thoreau did on Walden Pond. It's leaving the world of work (save for the occasional odd job), raising your own food (gardening, chickens, rabbits) or gathering, fishing, hunting for it. It's buying clothes, when needed, at thrift stores. It's not owning a car or most of the other stuff of modern life. It's being your own boss, doing your own thing, and realizing life does not equal work, and that unemployment does not equal starvation. It's freedom.

There are a few requirements. When they started living this way, Dolly's father already owned his home and land, free and clear, just as Thoreau built his cabin on a friend's land with permission and at no cost. Living in a society that believes firmly in land ownership means that, unless you want to pay rent, the best way is to own your land. Then all you have are property taxes, not negligible but probably less, depending on where you live. You can get land cheap, even in or near cities, through police and bank auctions, and foreclosures, you just have to put in the time to find it. For myself, I'd want a decent sized chunk of land (5-10 acres) in a more rural area, but not too far out of a town (at most a small city). Then I'd build a small, simple cabin on it to fit my needs and desires, rather than buy land with a house already on it, which would surely be too big for me (thus too much work to maintain, and too expensive to buy, heat and cool).

Owning is really the main issue. It'd be hard or impossible to live this way from an apartment, though you can certainly live cheaply; but growing your food, having chickens and such sounds like a real stretch, unless your landlord is really, really cool and lets you put in a garden and chicken coop in the courtyard or something. Yeah right. It'd also be easier in a more rural area, where more wild foodstuff will be available to supplement what you grow and raise yourself; though there's always something to be found anywhere.

That's the other thing: work is still involved. Not wage work, really, but there is an element of labor. Dolly makes this point in this YouTube documentary, a point I've made in the past myself. It's work, you have to do things, but the question is whether those tasks are work or leisure. Fishing is fun, but can feed you, so is it work or play? I love gardening and even composting, which both feed my body, directly and indirectly, and my soul, because it's enjoyable, it's leisure and work at the same time. And above that is the fact that I'm my own boss, and much more free in general.

Of course, one doesn't have to go to the extreme of homesteading, though I advocate it and hope to do it someday. Even city folk can simplify their life, drastically cut their expenses, and still live well. Eating a simpler diet doesn't mean sacrificing good food; it means you buy in bulk, beans, rice, flour, and so on, and learn to prepare tasty meals for yourself. Farmers markets often cost less, and are fresher and support local economies to boot. They allow you to taste the seasons as well, since you'll only have squash in the fall, asparagus in spring. Clothes are to be had cheap at thrift stores, though this is admittedly dependant on the overconsumption of others.

As for entertainment, there's always libraries, which often also have movies and music, if you have the electronics to play them. With my laptop alone, I'm set on that. If you're athletic, there's sports that you can do for cheap or free, like pickup basketball games, cycling and running clubs, neighborhood soccer, etc. Or you can take a walk somewhere. Call your friends up and have a poker night, or, in my case, preferably euchre. Lord I love me some euchre. Nature provides much diversion: birdwatching, wildflower or butterfly hunting, learning the natural history of your area, or adding to it with amateur studies, etc. People act like the only way to have fun is to go to the bar and spend a hundred dollars on alcohol, or going out to nice restaurants. Fine if this is really what you love, but there are a million other options, often more creative and enriching options, and cheaper too.

The upshot? The less money you need, the less you have to work. Now, I'm not allergic to work, and when I do have a job, I always work hard; but I don't mean to devote my life to the accumulation of things, and I have other things to do with my time than slave away after wages. I work because I need to, and the less I need, the less I must work, and the more I can devote myself to the things I enjoy doing but haven't yet really figured out how to get paid to do. As a bonus you get to not be a hypocrite, or far less of one, when you bitch and gripe about the banks, the wealthy, the 1%, the corruption of government run by big business. You've stopped voting for those pricks by not using their dollars, and found your happiness away from their rat-race economic prison.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Book of Job

Well, fml

I never understood why the Biblical story of Job is supposed to be some great source of solace in times of trouble. I saw this recently on a church pamphlet my parents had, something about finding hope in these hard economic times. I read it, and kept waiting for the reassurance, but it never came. Oh sure, they tack Jesus on to it, but, in itself, the book of Job details the ugliest of injustices! Taking the story on its own premises, Job is a totally righteous man, with no fault before God, yet God decides to throw catastrophe at him in some sort of "whose dick is longer" contest with Satan. And don't go blaming Satan for this, because the authority for what Satan did rests in God. Satan is just a sort of employee here, a lackey. God ordered it done, and just like that, there goes Job's wealth, his children, even his health.

The whole time, Job is demanding to hear why, why has this been done? He has to sit there with his boils and his pot shard while his long winded finger wagging friends tell him over and over what a sinner he must surely be. God at long last shows up, and, instead of answering his still-righteous servant, He goes on to upbraid Job, asking him sarcastically, "what, were you there when the world was made? Do you control the rains and winds, did you spread the constellations through the sky?" Job has gone through all this shit, never following his wife's apparently good advice to "curse God and die"-- and all he gets is a haughty lecture, a big know your role, bitch! from the Lord Almighty. Doesn't he at least deserve an honest answer?

And what are we readers supposed to come away with from this story? Where is the justice of God? Don't tell me that God's justice is too far beyond understanding, because he's even going against the basic stuff we do understand: you don't torture people, nor, you know, murder innocent bystanders ::cough::Job's kids::cough::. If God's justice is so much greater, it must be greater in depth; otherwise, if His justice is so incomprehensible, if it differs in substance, then all the moral striving the Bible demands is for nothing-- what's the point of even trying to be just if we can't see or comprehend the standard? To hell with all this religion stuff, we'll never get it anyways, so why bother about that?

And then there's the idea of the testing of one's faith, which to me sounds malicious and wrong. This monster of a god talks of love, but meanwhile throws famine, strife, disaster and dead babies at us. What an asshole. At best we get the notion that the universe is merely capricious, there is no intention good or bad, but that we suffer randomly. This differs not at all from the notion of a godless, purely material world-- there is no reason for our troubles, at least, no good reason-- and the best we can get is to know we're not alone as we suffer together under the finger of a god not worthy of trust, faith, respect, or love.

On that note, Happy Thanksgiving! :)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Scarcity, Abundance, and Food

Well, I just finished reading the Grapes of Wrath. That book always hits me so hard, no matter how many time I read it, infuriating me, tearing at my heart. The Joads may be characters in a book, but they stand for a reality, archetypes, so to speak.

Got me thinking, as you'd expect, about the Depression, the banks, debt, and our economic system. Seems the depression's travails were largely brought about by overproduction, as well as the environmental catastrophe of the Dust Bowl, and rampant speculation. It really boggles the mind to consider that in a time of overproduction, people were starving. And it's because we have an economy based on scarcity. We had so much food back then, so much fruit in the vinyards and orchards, too many cattle and pigs, that prices fell so much that they couldn't sell it. It cost more to pick the fruit then you could get for it, cost more to raise the beef than you could sell it for. So they let the fruit rot on the vine, or piled it in heaps and poured gasoline on it so it would be inedible; they slaughtered 6 million pigs and wasted them.

This, to stabilize prices. We are so insane in our abstraction that we forget reality. Money is a symbol for wealth. Who the fuck cares about dollars? The point is the food you can get with it. And we are so insane as to let the big owners to let people starve rather than forego their symbolic wealth. A moral people would have distributed the food, to save those starving masses. Only, then the system of scarcity (that is, scarcity for the masses, not the owners) would fall: the masses would get used to having enough to eat, they might get cocky, and surely won't go back to buying it, will they?

Starvation in a time of plenty. It is literally a mark of craziness on our society. And it goes back thousands of years, since the first guy had a silo and kept everyone's grain in it. He sure had 'em by the short and curlies then. Like when there was a famine and all the Hebrews went to Egypt to buy food, often indenturing themselves for it. It took a Moses and ten plagues to liberate them. Ever stop to think what plagues might be coming our way? Climate change is a giant monkey wrench coming down the line, and the roiling and growing poverty is going to work great changes on our society. Given that the Depression was a man created thing, and moreso a bank-and-owner created thing, I have to wonder who's orchestrating our Great Recession now, and what tricks they're using. I'm not educated or informed enough to know, but I do know the boom and bust cycle is part of our planned economy, to a much greater extent than it is a natural thing.

How few  and consolidated ownership is getting. Monsanto and Conagra control vast swaths of the food production. Five corporations own almost all of the major media sources, so even truth in news and information, food for the mind, is scarce (thank God for the internet! For now, at least). What happened to abundance? I once read this comic book series called Testament. It's a weird story mixing a fascistic near-future with biblical narrative and pagan gods of long ago, the storylines mixing and eventually merging. Anyways, at the end the human protagonists figure out a way to screw the meddling gods that live beyond the panels; the people exit the worldview of scarcity in favor of one of abundance. This is what we need to be doing.

I recently read a book called the Voice of the Planet, a compelling if strange book, where an environmentalist professor is contacted via computer by the planet itself, and is taught many lessons about the wrong path we're going down as a species, and some things that need correcting. Has some pretty amazing sequences in it, though it's a bit tedious getting to the point. Anyways, it makes the point, when talking about famine in Bangladesh, that most people there work land owned by absentee owners, who deal in money, not crops. Ownership is concentrated in relatively few hands, and thus are grown fewer and less nutritional or non-food crops (like cotton) for export to the global market. Sound familiar? This is as true for Bangladesh as it was for America in the 30s and today, for food production as well as everything else.

Beyond the giant ownership problem, which cannot be overstated, is the way we think about food. Firstly that we call it a commodity, rather than the foundation of life. That says a lot about us, and relates to the aforementioned poverty and famine. Second, we eat very little of what the Earth has to offer. Who would think to eat an insect? Ants are supposed to be delicious roasted, and most insects are edible and nutritious. In the Grapes of Wrath, the family is half-starved, but when they run over a snake, no one stops to pick it up, even though that's good meat. You can go out and eat cattail roots, very high in starch, as are day-lily tubers, right there in your own garden. Pine sap can be chewed like gum and has some sugars, acorns can be eaten if blanched of the tannins, dandelions are extremely high in vitamins and minerals and medicinal to boot-- there's food everywhere!

Yet we limit ourselves to a few key crops (wheat, corn, soy, rice, the few popular vegetables and fruits) and a few animals (cow, pig, chicken, a few fish); and being limited, these are all the more at the mercy of market fluctuations. Native cultures don't do this, not the hunter gatherers. Even though today the few remaining hunter gatherers often live in more barren areas, like the Bushmen in the Kalahari, since the good land was long ago stolen by agriculturalists, they still have a hugely more diverse diet than us, even with our supermarkets and global exchange. If one food gets scarce, they have many others. Native Americans, even the agricultural tribes, even those that developed civilization, the Moundbuilders, especially the Mississippian culture at Cahokia, even they maintained, if only as a back-up should the crops fail, a diet founded in the diversity of the natural world. They could always melt back into the forests and prairies, and often did. Diversity was their way, they didn't put all their eggs in one basket.

Homes for people, but what about
the rest of the biosphere?
How does this apply to us? Well, I forget the statistic, but something like between 70% and 90% of our processed food contains corn in some form, it was something staggeringly high like that. Meanwhile, the dwindling numbers of homeowners grow wasteful gardens of ornamentals, rather than food, thereby ceding power they might realistically and easily keep. The sprawling development here in Florida is displacing the crackers, the traditional cattlemen this state once was filled with. All across the Midwest, in California's and Pennsylvania's valleys, and in the Southeast, like around Atlanta, we put the new suburbs and strip malls on excellent farmland, erasing productive land from use, and then grow lawns or asphalt on it. We're losing our topsoil because we care about profits, not fertility; because we live in a mindset of scarcity (not enough dollars!) rather than one of abundance. We need more CVS stores, more Walmarts, more 2000 or 3000 sqft single-family dwellings! Even though a 12x16 cabin used to do for a family of 8.

Even without submitting to eating beetles, we could do better. As Aldo Leopold wrote, "Nothing could be more salutory at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material things." The simple life, to be brief. That is, to step back from the relentless rat race (it takes a rat to win a rat race) and reevaluate. I'm not talking about simplicity as scarcity. I mean it as clarity. If people had done that in the 30's, those cattle wouldn't have been wasted, the fruits wouldn't have had to rot while thousands starved. Possession is nine-tenths of ownership-- squatter's rights. We might have took charge of that model of scarcity that exploits the many for the comfortable few, and realized that this world is seething with food and the stuff of life, if only we could see it, and if only we could share.

And that is the hope Steinbeck gives us in Grapes of Wrath. Yes, we're left hanging, wondering about the fate of the Joads; yes, it's a sad and bleak ending, but not entirely. The people have found each other and forged a community of the road; the migrants share what they have, poor as they all are. Community over ownership. If you have a little and he has none, you get together and you both have a little. This is the power of the people, this is resilience. No one has a right to starve another, but we're right back where we were in the Depression, lesson not learned. But when the 99% finally get together to realize that they are the majority and strong when they stand together, we're unstoppable. I don't know if I'm advocating localism or socialism or communism or what; can't label it like that, and don't know what the change is going to look like. But change is in the air, and the elites are getting scared.

And they should be.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Talkin' Old Truck Blues

It's a strange thing. Here I just wrote about the burden of possessions, and then I go and dump over $1500 into my truck's front end. Ouch. At the same time, I'm reading Grapes of Wrath, about the Great Depression, the masses of people suffering through hard times, with Steinbeck's musings on what might be when those distressed and angry people all get together... and as I'm sitting in the mechanic's lobby, thinking not only of my times on the trails with only what was on my back, but also about the times this country and world is facing now, the Occupy protests being shut down, unemployment up and no end in sight... I'm a bit conflicted, and stirred up inside.

On the one hand, I know the pain of being stuck, the difficulty in staying ahead of bills and costs, and though I resent it at times, I know I'm not getting rid of my truck any time soon. But ah, how nice it would be to not need it, if public transit existed or could exist in these diffuse, scattered cities of single-family housing, cities with no real centers, just sprawls of development on the cheap and cheapened land. I'm as stuck as anyone else in a system that I requires I dump money into the suck-hole that is a vehicle, which I need for getting to work, where I have to work all the harder for it, and for less of a wage than I should be making. Wages always fall behind inflation; even when we get raises, we're still getting pay cuts every year.

On the other hand, I've lived the truth of simple living, I've walked that path and found it good. How we value things, and how little those things mean in the end! Yes, you need some gear to get by, be it hiking gear on a trail or the accouterments of daily life. We make so much of nothing: the owners on the one hand obsessed with owning, those without always trying to become owners themselves, and always failing and being miserable about it. Everybody always looking up, and trying to climb there, never happy where they are. I say, the less you need, the less you need to work-- and then look how much more free time you have! Time for what matters, and less stuff to worry about, and less stress about "getting ahead."

We should have let the banks fail, should have let this system crash, and from the ashes built something more sensible. So, I have an idea that it would be better to opt out. Of all of it. Let's get local currencies going, let's barter among ourselves, get black markets going, and cut the banks out of it. Why should they, or for that matter the government, profit because you and I make a private transaction of goods and services? We use the banks' money, Federal Reserve Notes, and we are taxed by the government to do it. Then the banks fuck around with interest rates and push inflation on us, constantly devaluing the money we have to use, so it gets harder and harder to live. Why do we go in for these shenanigans?

It just seems we are all working so hard to stay in the same place, though more often falling behind, and all because we can't see outside the box, can't see that this system is not set up for our benefit, can't see that there are other options, other perspectives. I'm not saying that all of our woes fall on us, the lower classes. In fact, it is my adamant belief that this system was built not by us, and that is why it fucks us every time; it is of, by, and for the rich and powerful. But I am saying that we have a responsibility and a right to do something else that is in our own interest. But first one has to see other possibilities, other ways of looking at it.

That's why this Occupy movement seems so cool to me. I like that people are talking about this stuff, in living rooms, in diners, in mechanics' lobbies, in bars. I'm disheartened a bit that the green movement seems dead, since all anyone cares about now is jobs (growth), but maybe if this system really gets the shaking up it needs, that will be part of the new order. And I know it's hard to live against the grain, to find a new way to order your life; so much easier to just go along.

But one thing is for sure, something has got to change. We're so inflexible, so unable to act responsibly in everyone's interest, that we're heading for environmental disaster. I know I've been talking economics mainly, but these two things are deeply connected. The insane lust for profits (growth) is killing our planet, but we can't stop the killing without somehow fundamentally altering our economy. I'll leave you with this: I heard the other day that there's a 1 in 10 chance now that by the end of the century, global temperatures will go up 7 degrees Celcius, effectively ending life on Earth as we know it. You like those odds?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Back from Texas

So I just got back from Texas today, drove for 20 hours straight (or, if you don't count the hour and a half break at a friend's, it was really more like 24). It turns out, sleep deprivation can be kinda fun. Though, that last hour this morning was a little dicey. It was 8 A.M., but the last sleep I'd had was over 26 hours ago at that point, and it was only 4 hours' worth at that, so... I was definitely zoning. At one point I remember noticing the mileage number, then looked again in what felt like about two minutes... but I was fifteen miles down the road.

Turns out also that I have way too much stuff. Not that most people would agree, since it all fits in my little extended cab Ranger, and there's no furniture at all. Still, I thought I'd winnowed my possessions down before putting it all into storage, but apparently this was not the case. Perhaps it's just because I've been living without all this stuff for so many months, that it just seems so much more superfluous than ever-- I obviously don't need it. In a way, it felt like a weight on me just to go and get it all. Like, I'd missed some of it, namely my CD collection, but clearly it's not necessary to my life or even my enjoyment. Maybe someday I'll be like Diogenes, eh?

But the truth is, I have a lot of crap I don't need. Probably about a third of my stuff is books, another third is backpacking/camping gear, and the rest clothes, CDs, my bike, and a lot of miscellany. Doesn't really add up to much, but I had what we'd call on the trail a "pack explosion" when I unloaded it all here at home. A room explosion, I guess. It was immediately stressful to me, even back there in Texas as I tried to get it all in my truck's extended cab. In fact, I couldn't do it, if partly due to haste. Fortunately the forecast was good, so I just put the overflow in the bed.

Shoes I'll probably never again wear, too many shirts, some of which don't even fit me or are getting rather worn, random scavenged cookware... I also have several backpacking stoves I probably won't use again, having switched to alcohol stoves and woodburners, but I can't throw them out, they're perfectly good stoves, and kinda pricey. Too much gear altogether, but one tends to collect such things when one hikes and camps as a partial lifestyle.

I got it all organized though, and filled a garbage bag with junk, as well as collecting a pile of clothes for donation. There's still more I could get rid of, much more, though not much in terms of space-saving... but I just can't do it. Those shoes, for example. I'm not a shoe collector, at all. But since I have them, and they're still perfectly good shoes, I hate to toss them; shoes aren't exactly cheap. Of course, I wear my homemade sandals most of the time, or otherwise my work shoes, so I'm not sure what the issue is. Guess it's just hard to let go sometimes, even for me, the anti-packrat.

On a related note, I've decided I'm going to start meditating more. Which is to say, I'm going to start meditating. Kinda fell off in the practice there, but I've been meaning to get back into it. I suppose I write this just to help encourage myself, since I'm sure no one cares. I just find that I've been getting sucked into too much TV in the evenings, which could be time better spent, including sitting for a while every day.

This post it a little scattered, sorry. I still haven't slept...