Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Deep Desire to Live Somewhen Else


Many people are not happy with the place where they live. Maybe the neighborhood is bad. Maybe the climate does not agree with them. Maybe they are just restless. I have concluded that I would rather live in a different time. I have no desire to return to my childhood. This is not about a re-do on a personal level. We make the best of the cards we are dealt. This is about something bigger. This is about a longing for what was never allowed me because it was gone before I was born.

There is increasing evidence, if only anecdotal, of an "insect armageddon," which suggests the abundance and diversity of insects and related organisms are plummeting. We have already lost many once-populous species to the greed and ignorance of previous human generations. A planet devoid of even insects raises a specter that I am unwilling to contemplate, and a life I would not be able to endure, psychologically if not physically.

That is the thing about history. You will eventually learn about what you will never have the opportunity to experience.

You better believe I am angered that I have been deprived by my forefathers of the vast flocks of Passenger Pigeon, the antics of Carolina Parakeets, and the jaw-dropping icon that was the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I can only see Bison on preserves and ranches, and on the ranches one suspects it is actually the hybrid "beefalo" that one is seeing. Meanwhile, I have a hard time looking at a salmon or trout without seeing a fish hatchery. There are still California Condors, but so few that each bird is fitted with huge, numbered tags, radio telemetry devices, and who knows what else. The bird's "recovery" is not a success story. Maybe it will be once they are no longer wearing the accessories of science, and are truly free to fly.

We have not just tamed the wild, we have diluted it beyond recognition in the name of risk assessment and public safety and public grazing, to name but a few agents of wilderness simplification. The national forests are national tree farms, and it should come as no surprise that the U.S. Forest Service is in the Department of Agriculture rather than the Department of the Interior where it ought to be.

Back to the past, the long ago that I long for. It would be wonderful to know the truth of the landscape that surrounds me today, to see what a riparian corridor looks like without Russian Olive everywhere. What is a foothills meadow without mullein? What is your eastern deciduous forest without an understory of Japanese Honeysuckle? Do I wish we could resurrect mastodons and mammoths? No. I draw the line at being a potential meal for a saber-toothed cat or a Dire Wolf. Furthermore, those were the days when our ancient ancestors were just surviving, without understanding of the ramifications of their actions.

Naturally, I would still want to bring my binoculars, digital camera, first aid kit, and waterproof jacket on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Perhaps I am guilty of romanticizing the age of the old growth hardwood bottomland forests with their gargantuan oaks and hickories before we started logging and draining the good kind of swamp. Old photographs and artwork paint pictures that are hard not to idealize when you are passionate about the natural heritage of this country. That is the thing about history. You will eventually learn about what you will never have the opportunity to experience.

Ah, but what would I give up in exchange for that bygone era? I do believe I would sacrifice the internet, television, maybe even electricity, especially because I would never know those innovations were on the horizon. Naturally, I would still want to bring my binoculars, digital camera, first aid kit, and waterproof jacket on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Sure, I would likely have a shorter lifespan, but at least I would enjoy that life more fully. Today, instead of California Condors gracing the skies, I am subjected almost daily to extremely loud military aircraft overhead. I would gladly trade noise and neon and traffic and the illusion of choice in the marketplace for something a lot simpler, with fewer losses of species.


We can reverse some of this, turn back the clock if you will. The grand experiment of reintroducing the Gray Wolf to Yellowstone National Park proves decisively that Mother Nature has a memory, and that when you bring back a piece of the puzzle, the whole thing fits together tighter and smoother. We need a historical spectrum of nature, from the initial stages of succession to the "finished" product, because we know there is no such thing as a permanent climax ecosystem. Even natural communities are ephemeral, but until now there have been multiple, continuous habitats that feed each other. They are now so isolated that there is no transfer of species and so invasives take command. We need to link the wild spaces with corridors to facilitate healing of the landscape.

It remains to be seen if I can continue to be as resilient as that landscape, how many times I can come back healthy, vibrant, committed to making the world a better place, acting on my vision of wholeness in every sense of the word. For now I am misplaced, a pioneer naturalist and writer in a domain that I had no conscious hand in architecting.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

No Help For You!


Among the many stories related to the recent (ongoing?) wildfires here in Colorado was a tragedy of neglect and misplaced priorities that graphically illustrates the failure of private enterprise to respond properly to a public crisis. This will continue happening as long as we allow corporations dictate public policy at all levels of government.

Colorado Springs, where I live, is full of military bases with airports. One of those bases is home to an enormous plane known as the "Global SuperTanker." It is a Boeing 747-400 jet modified to carry and drop nearly 20,000 pounds of fire retardant at a time. It can fly as fast as 600 miles per hour, so it can reach any given destination quickly....but only if you have a contract with Global SuperTanker Services, LLC.

There is the rub. The plane remained grounded during our worst conflagrations in part because the landowners affected by the blazes did not have a contract with the SuperTanker company. This attitude is akin to a childish actor whining "where's my motivation?" How about decency and humanity? How about that for motivation? What are you, the firefighting version of the "Soup Nazi?"

Wildfires do not respect geopolitical boundaries, but neither do publicly-employed (government) firefighting crews. Why should the Global SuperTanker be any different? It is different because it is a private corporation that has the freedom, if you can call it that, to do as it pleases and make decisions on where to respond based on who can pay, if not "who can pay more." What do you think will happen the next time, when there is more than one fire, in different states? The plane will be deployed to whoever can provide the greatest financial return. That is the gravitational pull of money in the private sector. It is a big "FU" to any jurisdiction that is too poor to pony up.

Meanwhile, corporate media did a magnificent job of portraying government red tape as the real villain in this scenario. If only there were fewer regulations, the story seems to go, then the plane would be airborne already. Don't you believe it.

Not every fire can be fought with the huge aircraft, and the U.S. Forest Service may be behind in its approval process for new tools in its firefighting arsenal, but to suggest that bureaucracy is the sole problem here is to refuse to address the broader issue of profit-above-safety and resource protection.The solution? We citizens should own the SuperTanker. It should be government property, not a private tool with profit ahead of public safety.

Government's biggest problem may be that it has terrible marketing. It fails to explain how many public benefits we enjoy, from schools to parks, to public roads to...emergency response. The other problem is that government as morphed into a quasi-business itself whereby our public officials are now looking out only for private big-business interests. Lawmakers are actively replacing government with corporate rule.

Some elected officials have done an amazing job of convincing us that government programs are a waste of taxpayer dollars; that we as citizens have no choices in anything but the "free market." The free market is of course rigged itself and government is poised to fail because our tax dollars are subsidizing private industries instead of the public good. The only people who benefit from this kind of corruption are the lawmakers (I use that term loosely) themselves, corporate executive officers, and shareholders, all of whom are already wealthy. They are not earning their money, they are siphoning from the gas tank of you and me. Taxpayers are viewed as the "supertankers" from which money needs to be sucked up and deposited into the coffers of the elite. Call it class warfare if you wish, but it is an unmitigated tragedy that will continue until consumers and the labor force decide they will no longer participate in the system.

Vote your sensible neighbor into public office. Run for office yourself. Shop local every day. Go off the grid as much as you can. Reward excellence and scaled-down business enterprises in your consumer choices. Your dollar-spending votes in the marketplace speak even louder than the ballot box.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Is The Melting Pot "Full" Now?

© Valley News,

The United States of America recently celebrated the 242nd anniversary of its Declaration of Independence from British colonialism. Since that time, our greatest assets have been the individuals and families from less fortunate nations that we continue to welcome, and a collective sense of empathy and compassion. The "rude" French even sent us a statue commemorating our ability to embrace everyone regardless of economic circumstance, religious belief, race, or gender. What happened to that?

We are suddenly a nation of intolerance, willing to literally wall ourselves off from the rest of the world, believing that what used to be our greatest strength is now our most pressing problem, our greatest weakness. We have already built walls around our hearts, hardened ourselves to misery greater than we will ever experience. We look around us and no longer see people who look like us. We no longer understand the words in conversations carried out around us. We feel eerily isolated in neighborhoods that have become unrecognizable. The houses look the same, but the occupants are different. It does not compute. Our accustomed level of comfort is becoming highly unstable, even if none of "them" are terrorists.

The extremely wealthy and powerful have taken note of our unease and amplified it into irrational fears as a way to manufacture an unnecessary political divide. This wedge being driven between us allows the continued redistribution of wealth to the very top of our economic food chain. We are told there is not enough to go around, and the problem is "those people" streaming across our border and "stealing your jobs."

No, the problem is in your corporate boardroom where you draw up plans to lay off your workforce if not take away their benefits, raid their pensions, and otherwise make the lives of labor intolerable such that your shareholders and executive officers reap obscene profits.

Those of us whole toil away at unpaid overtime, without union representation, doing the jobs of three other people whose positions were not renewed, are now left to our own devices. We are told we should get a second job, sell some of our belongings, continue to sacrifice for the good of the company. That is, after all, the kind of loyalty that built our most esteemed companies.

No, it is not. Henry Ford is widely acclaimed for having paid his employees enough that they could own the vehicles they were building. Loyalty is a two-way street. There is a reason there is an annual best-companies-to-work-for list.

So, given our personal economic woes, it is no wonder we are falling into a Kick the Dog Syndrome. Men, especially, want to express the pain and angst they feel, and do so inappropriately by inflicting pain on someone else. Maybe it is their spouse. Maybe it is their kids. Maybe it is the Mexican neighbors or those "uppity" Blacks down the street. We want to make tangible the intangible emotional pain that we carry hidden. How is anyone else to know our inner turmoil, our guilt at being unable to provide for our families, our utter failure to advance to the American Dream?

The answer, of course, is that the American Dream created unrealistic, if not outright false, expectations. The melting pot is only full if you believe that you are entitled to the spacious house, the white picket fence, the two-car garage, and all the other material amenities we were promised in the 1950s. We now have a segment of our population that believes they are entitled to mansions (several, in fact), private jets, private banking, and luxury at every turn. They "earned" that, naturally, from your labor, your blood, sweat, and tears. They hardened their hearts to you long before you hardened yours to today's brand of immigrants. Remember that. Stop participating, as much as possible, in the system that is disempowering you. Look for employers who are interested in seeing all of their employees prosper, not just the ones at the top. Become your own employer. Drop your bank for a credit union. Stop aspiring to excessive affluence and invest in organizations that help the less fortunate, protect consumers, the environment, and all of those things we hold valuable above money.

We need all the allies we can get to improve our collective society and culture, and those fellow soldiers are the new immigrants you want to blame for everything. Recognize your misplaced resentment and hostility. Channel it into something better for yourself and the other downtrodden.