Sedona AZ (August 25, 2011)
by James Bishop, Jr.
The world owes you nothing. It was here first
In the days of ancient Greece, Apollo gave the King’s daughter, Cassandra, a gift: She could see the future. But when she refused to share his bed, not only did he cancel the gift, he ordered her prophesies to be ignored.
When the first European explorers saw North America for the first time, their letters home described a natural world so extraordinary, so bountiful that it can no longer be imagined today. From the start, however, the European colonists who followed believed that God had created all that immense natural wealth solely for their benefit and ignored the values of the native tribes. Indeed, those tribes believed themselves to be part of nature, not separate from it, as did the invading colonists.
Imagine the native’s horror when great wildlife slaughters unfolded all around them, leaving them ankle deep in blood. Who were these people, they wondered, who talk of God?
From the start, not just Indians but some colonists were appalled at the slaughter—cod, salmon, seabirds, curlew, bison, passenger pigeons, sea turtles. In those early days, waterfowl migrated to Chesapeake Bay in such numbers that the sky darkened. By any measure, the mystique of inexhausability-still alive today– dominated the ambitions and desires of the invading Europeans.
To be sure, warnings were heard in the 19th century that sustentation of man might also require sustentation of animals otherwise; the New World Eden so blessed beyond the telling, with clean air, clean water and wildlife, would be endangered. Nonetheless, needless waste continued. Denials, less rare, were nonetheless dismissed as anti-American, anti-growth, pro-Wobbly.
Enter the “cranks,” citizens who challenged the very notion of a human-centered universe. Stunned when he heard that great auks and passenger pigeons had disappeared altogether, Henry Thoreau transformed nature writing in an anti-modern campaign, in the 1850s. “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” And, “thank God men cannot fly as yet and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” Were he to be around today, he’d be honored to be called a tree-loving wacko.
John Muir was another dissenter. So are Aldo Leopold, Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Edward Abbey and Robinson Jeffers. For their writings they were accused of being un-American, enemies of the people, left-wingers, Cassandras. Topping the list of deniers was a certain leader who’d been a film star. “America is back, “he announced. “It’s morning in America.” To celebrate, he had the solar panels removed from the White House roof.
Consider America today. True, activists such as inspired crank, Adele Seronde, are thrilled that more people are discovering they are part of nature. Indeed, she believes that we can translate the meaning of gardens into our daily lives as places of inner radiance in our minds and hearts. As she writes in Our Sacred Garden, “we can nurture gardens of our soul and create places in which to build communities around planting, planning and maintaining physical gardens.”
Meantime, polls reveal that more and more citizens don’t believe ecologists or economists. Just as many do not believe famous scientists who cite evidence of climate change; neither do they listen to biologists who teach evolution. What’s more, more and more politicians promise to rip up environmental laws, once signed by President Nixon, and turn enforcement to the states-the away it was in the 1950s and early 1960s. Hear the words from the Competitive Institute in D.C:
“Expose the corporate cowards, media know-nothings, and Green RINOs. the radicals hide behind. We will call them out by name and judge them by the company they keep.
“Uncover and sever the big greens’ funding from foundations, radicals, and foreign sources.
“Finally we will fight in the trenches and no longer allow them to own the voice of the people in public hearings and the permitting process.
“We are prepared to take the fight to them – for you all it takes is for you to join with us as we build this army.
“Together we will dismantle the green agenda and restore American prosperity.”
This while environmental damage has reached even into the Verde Valley in the form of fewer migratory birds due to pesticides, loss of wetlands and climate change. Yes, signs of climate change. The waters of Oak Creek are warming forcing trout to the North bring otter that devour smaller fish.
Off in the distance far from cable channels overflowing with bizarros, clouds billowing, good news is wafting our way. To begin with, the fundamental question remains: Why are we in the richest country acting in such a way as to undermine the condition on which our own lives, the lives of other species, and the lives of future generation depend? Simply put we have confused financial wealth with real wealth. Real wealth, yes, the natural world the first explorers discovered-forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, oceans have become commodities for sale and unless we recognize our true wealth, rather than hedge fund trickeries, we could sink into barbarism.
How to do that? Today, there is no price for most of the ecosystems we care about-clean air, clean water. States S. Polasky, an economics professor at the University of Minnesota, “economic calculations ignore nature so that the results can lead to the destruction of the very ecosystems upon which the economy is based.” What he is saying is that our current system values land to build on and to take things from. Today, in this truly crackpot world, a forest is worth money only by cutting it down. Ignored is an economic force which measures the value of leaving a forest or other ecosystem in tact.
Changes are coming, regardless of the Visigoths at the gates, insists Seronde. “Millions of people are discovering the Earth’s miraculous beauty, allowing it to be absorbed into their innermost beings, becoming aware and transformed that it is up to them to join the movement, which is driven by the conviction, and the belief, that the garden is a metaphor for healing both self and community.”
We live in “the native land of hope,” wrote Wally Stegner. All we need now are people thinking about the legacy we are leaving to our grandchildren. Harken to Teddy Roosevelt: “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.”
Wake up, all you men!
By James Bishop, Jr.