Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thoreau Day

Yesterday, July 12, was Henry David Thoreau's birthday. I celebrated. I consider Thoreau a hero and a constant source of inspiration. His were practiced examples of how one might live in accordance with their values.

Some people have asked me, if I don't celebrate Thanksgiving, or American Independence Day (July 4th), or religious holidays, what do I celebrate? I think Thoreau's life and work are worthy of celebration.

So I invited twenty friends over, we grilled up some hamburgers, got wasted and lit off a mess of fireworks. I'm kidding of course. I took a walk at Treman State Park, not far from home, by myself. It was a hot, dry day but at five in the afternoon, and in the occasional shade of the woods, the weather was pleasant enough. From the lower park I walked along the Gorge Trail until it split and then I took the Rim Trail to the upper park. From there I took the South Trail back down to the lower park. It's a well marked loop, paved in some places, popular. Some mildly strenuous moments if you're not accustomed to walking uphill. Something like five miles total. It took me a bit under two hours.

The woods around were alive with chipmunks and squirrels busy chasing each other and fussing about in the trees. I did not catch sight of a single bird. I have walked this trail many times, in many seasons, and always see newts and salamanders but this time not one. Mosquitoes and flies were out, and I have been on walks where they drive me nearly to a panic, but they weren't so abundant now. I saw one frog, after an hour or so of walking, and it made me very happy. I see and hear very few of those, though I think they should be plentiful here and in this season.

I saw no fish in Enfield Creek, in the pools that punctuate the falls. On my last walk here I saw many, but they were all dead. I saw no sign of raccoons, or skunks, or foxes, coyotes, deer, yet the roadsides everywhere here are littered with their fresh or rotting corpses. No prints of bear paws in the dirt tracks.

There's so much here I cannot name: trees and plants, soil and erosion patterns, what flowers when. I didn't take the kind of walk that I imagine Thoreau would have taken: slow, deliberate, carefully observing details and relationships. I walk fast, each step a step away from roads and computers, governments and corporations, self-promotion and other peoples' news. Like HDT, I imagine, I spend time in nature to assuage the loneliness and isolation of the contemporary urban (and virtual) environment. Walking alone on a narrow track in the woods (no phone, of course, and no money jangling in my pocket) I feel the opposite of alone. I feel utterly connected, to myself, to my surroundings, to time.

The contemporary urban and virtual environment encroaches on this, and hideously so. I wonder what it would be like if HDT took this walk with me. He would surely point out numerous, wondrous things that I miss. This gorge, its waterfalls, its trees, the way the flora changes, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically as I walk from one glacially formed ridge to another, has much to marvel at. But I hear HDT asking -- or maybe it's the voice of myself as a child, 25 years ago -- "where did everything go?" Fellow mammals are busy dying under the wheels of fuel efficient automobiles, pines disappear as invasive insect species lay siege to them, the water, ever more toxic, chokes the fish, the sky above is littered with airplanes and satellites.

Thoreau spent his 44 years observing and reflecting on the world around him. He called bullshit on the way civilized people treat each other, the way money and property perverts them, the racism and warmongering of politicians. He has inspired generation after generation of environmentalists, civil rights activists, people clamoring for self-determination, people struggling against war. What a hero. What a thing to celebrate.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Independence from America Day

I propose an Independence from America Day. Can we celebrate that?

I declare independence from the pirate spirit of Christopher Colombus that defines the United States: find abundance that is not yours; subdue or kill anyone enjoying, defending or even willing to share it; transport it elsewhere for personal gain; leave behind you a wasteland, a graveyard, and look for more treasure. As with the Caribbean in the 1490s, so with Iraq today.

I declare independence from the English entrepreneurs who set up camp in Jamestown in 1607. After some rough seasons and plenty of help from the Powhatan people, they managed to establish a global trade in tobacco and force indigenous onto reservations or indoctrinate them in schools and churches.

I declare independence from the religious fanatics who began their invasion of Massachusetts in 1620. I declare independence from their intolerance, their patriarchy, their witch trials. How would they have treated someone like me in the mid 17th century?

I declare independence from slavish adherence to the U.S. Constitution, an old rag written long ago by a group of racist businessmen who didn't get it right -- unless "getting it right" is this, what we've got, after 224 years to perfect it. Raise your hand if you've had enough of these depraved white men in Washington arguing over what "the Founding Fathers" meant in the 1780s. Who gives a shit? They're dead and it's 2011!

I declare independence from slavery. A century and a half after the Civil War was fought (not over slavery, mind you, but state rights) slavery is still rampant. As for African captives in South Carolina in the 1850s, so with the girl who sewed your shirt in a Mexican maquiladora, or assembled my computer in a Chinese "free industrial zone", or scrubbed the toilets at a Saudi oil rig.

I declare independence from the westward "pioneering" that laid waste to culture after culture in the pursuit of what another pathological national movement once called lebensraum. I declare independence from the continued denial of justice to the survivors of the genocide perpetrated on American indigenous people.

I declare independence from the United States flag, because it is the same flag that waves over 1,000 military bases around the world. It is the same flag that NASA astronauts stuck on the Moon, which the US bombed several decades later.

I declare independence from "The Star Spangled Banner". A national anthem about war is a dead giveaway for what the nation is about. And it grates on my ears. And it embarrasses me when musicians perform it. And why don't they sing songs about sports at sports events?

I declare independence from the idea of American citizenship. What besides this connects me to the other 300 million Americans? What besides this connects us to each other and not to those who live and work and study and love in the US without citizenship? What connects me to a technologist in San Francisco, or a plastic surgeon in Los Angeles, or an energy consultant in Houston, more than to a poet in Shanghai or a violinist in Damascus?

I declare independence from the oft-repeated hogwash that "nothing is manufactured in the US anymore." Incorrect! From tear gas canisters to bullets, from guns to missiles, from tanks to helicopters, from warships to jet fighters, from satellites to drone aircraft, from nuclear power stations to nuclear bombs, plenty is manufactured in the United States! Business is booming. Automobiles. Prisons. Pharmaceuticals. Oil and gas wells. Logging roads. Genetically-modified seeds. Financial meltdowns and bailouts. Shitty movies.

I declare independence from Capitalism, from the theft of land and resources, the poisoning of rivers, forced labor, consumerism, planned obsolescence, market fetishism, and the rest that turns people's souls into mountains of invisible money. I have in me the genetic and intellectual memory that humans are social creatures. We depend on each other. My family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues are not enriched by the immiseration of others.

I declare independence from sham democracy, from uninformed consent, from indoctrinated idiots droning on about shit they don't understand, from "the democratic process" when we are voting on how to kill the oceans, how to talk about torturing people, how to bomb them, how to eradicate plant and animal species, how to sell out the education of young people, how to cook the planet.

I declare independence from celebrity fetishism, from an industry that rewards political and sexual -- to say nothing of artistic -- criminals with air time, that teaches young girls to become hypersexualized dimwits. I declare independence from the culture of self-obsession and selfishness.

I declare independence from space exploration. It's a bait and switch. Hey, explorer, you want to explore something? Explore how to get all the goddamn plastic out of the oceans and out of everybody's endocrine systems.

I declare independence from nationalism, perpetual war, institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. I declare independence from propping up Israeli apartheid, Saudi tyranny, Afghan warlords. I declare independence from forcing a failed way of life on the poor of world, at gunpoint, every time there's a natural disaster, and making them pay for it, and calling it humanitarian aid.

I declare independence from dropping bombs, setting landmines, firing rockets, issuing weapons, stationing troops, "winning hearts and minds", abandoning veterans, erecting walls and barbed-wire fences, slaughtering innocents, covering it up, doing it again, calling it collateral damage, doing it again, saying "war is hell", doing it again, insisting that the killing is humanitarian in nature, doing it again and getting promoted.

I declare independence from perpetual ecocide, from clearcutting forests, from chemical spills, nuclear tests, monocrop agriculture. We are not stewards of the Earth. Nature doesn't need our "help". Shut down the nuclear power plants, the coal mines, the gas fields, the oil wells. Turn off the lights and sit in the dark for a day and think about how to turn the lights back on. I guarantee you that the sun will rise in a few hours.

I declare independence from state terror, from being afraid to speak out because they'll drag me through mud and leave me in a prison cell, from being forced to insist on "non-violence" while they pummel me with rubber bullets, tear gas, riot gear, or just their shitbrained nationalist ideology.

No flags, no myths, no factory farm animal carcasses charred on gas grills, washed down with fizzy corn syrup, while watching gunpowder explode in the sky.

Fuck all that noise. I declare independence from it, and it feels great, and I'm celebrating when and how I want to.