Sunday, April 24, 2011

the time for uncivilization has come

For many years I have believed that we humans, especially those in the advanced, capitalist nations like the United States, were living on the edge of something, a precipice perhaps, or a chaotic whirlpool. We have been brought to this edge by gross disregard of the human and ecological consequences of our civilization's economic, technological and political actions.

In recent months, I have come to believe that we are no long on the edge, but have already crossed over and we are already falling or swirling in uncharted, unfamiliar territory, where the old rules and principles no longer provide us with trustworthy answers (if they ever did).

I believe that a majority of Americans know this in their bones, although they cannot bring themselves to recognize it consciously. It is the source of the profound anxiety, anger, and fear of our age, that manifests itself in a vulnerability to demagoguery, obsession with self-protection ("got to that gun with me to get a cup of coffee"), and xenophobia.

I was pleased to discover yesterday, that there are also a growing number of people who are consciously aware of our crossing over, and the need to respond in transformative ways not driven by fear, but reaching out for community. One place for such people to connect is the Dark Mountain Project whose manifesto is reproduced below:
‘We must unhumanise our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.’

  1. We live in a time of social, economic and ecological unravelling. All around us are signs that our whole way of living is already passing into history. We will face this reality honestly and learn how to live with it.
  2. We reject the faith which holds that the converging crises of our times can be reduced to a set of‘problems’ in need of technological or political ‘solutions’.
  3. We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilisation: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.
  4. We will reassert the role of story-telling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.
  5. Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will begin with the attempt to step outside the human bubble. By careful attention, we will reengage with the non-human world.
  6. We will celebrate writing and art which is grounded in a sense of place and of time. Our literature has been dominated for too long by those who inhabit the cosmopolitan citadels.
  7. We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our fingernails.
  8. The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.
"Dark Mountain" photograph by sgreerpitt June 2008, is a mountain top strip mine in Letcher County Kentucky.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

bulletins from the land of dementia

In many ways my mother seems to have regressed cognitively to her youth. She has lost decades of knowledge and understanding and reverted to ways of thinking that she deliberately chose to leave behind.

Today she was speaking of neighbors down the street, of a "different religion, not like us." Forgetting that I, her daughter, am "not like" her. Yet it is my mother who made me the person I am. It was her expression of religious doubt, her questions posed in my child's ear, her failure to blind acceptance of the religion in which she was raised, that made me the seeker that converted to Judaism.

My choice caused her some mild consternation at the time, but we talked it through and she was always supportive. Each spring she would mail me a care package of kosher for passover treats and boxes of Matzoh unavailable in the wilds of eastern Kentucky.

I accepted easily that her decline in the last few years meant she would no longer be sending me care packages (indeed now I'm the one sending stuff her way). But it did not occur to me until tonight's phone call, that she neither remembers nor understands the choice I made to be a Jew, why I made it, or what it means ("you mean you don't believe in Jesus at all?" she asked in bewilderment tonight); and that for her the hurt of my desertion is totally new and a fresh source of consternation.

small and white, clean and bright

No we don't have any edelweiss, but we do have the flower to the left, which is milk vetch, I think - it took quite a while to figure it out, as the flower is listed in the blue/purple section of my wildflower guide, and it is only at the very end that it says that it comes in white as well as purple.

We also have the rue anemone (buttercup family) below, that loves the shaded forest floor.

But the plant that enchants me the most is the snow trillium. I had seen the occasional trillium in past years on walks in the deep woods. Usually one would see a small group together. But this year, for the first time, I am seeing hundreds of them in the woods along US 119 on my drive to work. So far I've been unable to spot a patch where there is a safe place to pull off and take a picture. Then yesterday returning from my weekly shopping excursion, on a narrow winding road, I saw a whole huge bank lit up
with the largest patch of snow trillium I've ever seen. Given the name of the flower, I wonder if their abundance this spring is due to our unusually snowy winter.

photos of milk vetch and rue anemone by sgreerpitt, April 23, 2011

writing life

it's been a lovely day...I've spent the whole day reading and writing in a new journal. Now I feel like writing where someone other than myself can read, but where to start? How much to say?

I like journals. Influenced by the Diary of Anne Frank, I began keeping a journal in the form of letters to an imaginary friend named Margie when I was 12 or 13 and kept writing Marie on sheets of binder paper until I was 21.

The summer I was twenty-one, and working for a wealthy family in Greenwich, Connecticut as an au pair, I bought a green, bound journal at a New York City stationer that seemed more fitting to the more "serious" thoughts I wished to inscribe. My second entry in that first bound journal was made while sitting in the garden at the Museum of Modern Art, where I marveled at Rodin's Balzac and Picasso's Goat and even more wonderful, the cut-leaf birch trees.

I filled twenty-five bound journals over the next thirty five years. Then I discovered blogging and journal got lost while I explored this new medium and delighted in having an audience for my thoughts. Recently, however, I've begun to miss the physical feel of writing, of putting ink on a clean, smooth page. The last bound journal I purchased was awkward to use, being thick, with small pages. So yesterday, I once again 7 1/2 inch wide by 10 1/4 inch high, and 3/4 inch thick bound journal, with creamy smooth pages and light gray lines. I've already filled fifteen pages with dense black script, pouring out thoughts and ideas, not quite yet ready to make it to the computer screen to be shared with others.

The photo of Picasso's Goat in the MoMA sculpture garden was taken in December 1969 (photographers name not given) and can be found on the Bearne Gallery Website.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

dogwood lace

In the last week, the dogwood has come to full bloom, scattered across the forested hillsides. About six years ago, the pine bark beetle decimated the stands of pine in Letcher County; but in the forest openings they left, the dogwood, an understory tree, has found new expression.

Driving to work this morning, it occurred to me that our Kentucky spring-time hills are like a wide-hipped, earthy "granola" woman, with a long, flowing brown and green calico dress decorated with bits of slightly tattered, antique cream lace.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

a return to the 1930's

In Paducah, Kentucky there are more homeless families than there are shelter spaces, and some of the families (as well as individuals not in families) are being referred to "Tent City," an unimproved campground area in nearby woods.

It's time to make Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath required reading again.

Monday, April 11, 2011

more fairy carpet

Finally had the time, the light, and the camera at the same time, before my lawn of violets is sacrificed to the great American suburban god 'Lawn Mower.'

Thursday, April 7, 2011

a carpet of violets

This afternoon my husband got the lawnmower out for the first time and tamed the wild jungle inside our fenced yard where the dogs play (and do their business). It looks lovely, all trimmed and neat. But I'm secretly pleased that he did not have time (or energy) to turn the mower on the front yard yet. Two thirds of our huge front yard has been taken over by the velvety purple of tiny violets and their shiny green heart-shaped leaves. It looks like a faerie carpet, ready for spritely dances by gossamer winged creatures.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

spring sprung awry

I never really appreciated spring as a season growing up in California. I did like March, when the winter rains were still with us, and the neighbor's willow tree would begin to green. But the San Francisco Bay Area didn't really have four seasons, just two - raining and dry -- a typical Mediterranean type climate. When I decided to go "back east" to college, a big part of my decision was weather; I actually wanted a real winter, with snow and cold. That real winters resulted in real springs was a bonus that had not occurred to me.

My first year of four seasons in Oberlin, Ohio was full of incredible discoveries. I'd fantasized about what it would be like to walk in falling snow; I learned what it was like to live with two feet of snow on the ground for two weeks, and that walking on icy walks was a real art form. The biggest discovery of that first year was the spring sequence of blooms and color, although I didn't realize the first year that it was an annual occurrence. The sequence that began with the brilliant yellow of daffodils and forsythia, and ended three months later with wild roses. In between came tulips, the flowering fruit trees, red bud, dogwood, irises, blackberry blossoms and heavenly scented lilacs.

Over the next forty years I found that where ever I spent spring -- Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, or Maine -- that the sequence of spring was the same, only the timing differed. In Ohio, the daffodils and forsythia appeared at the end of April just in time to liven up the last weeks of the semester, in Kentucky, daffodils and forsythia made their yellow splash during spring break in March, in Pennsylvania the yellow blossoms always appeared just after graduation in late April.

Over the past decade, climate change has shifted the start of spring, and its daffodils and forsythia earlier, by nearly two weeks, but the sequence seemed to remain largely intact. This spring, however, the sequence seems a bit out of whack. For the first time in my memory, the daffodils and forsythia came early as they have for some time, in early March, but strangely they hung on longer than usual. Suddenly the flowering fruit trees blossomed white and pink and are already fading to green leaves while the bright yellow forsythia was still in full bloom - and it is past April 1st.

The most startling discontinuity of this spring has been the redbud, which began blooming one full week ago, in March, while the forsythia and daffodils were still bright yellow, and the flowering fruit trees still clung to their pink and white blossoms. This is an entire month ahead of what was normal blooming time for redbud ten years ago.

I can remember driving to Elizabethtown, Kentucky back in 2002 on April 25th and being blown away by the hundreds of miles of light purple redbud along the roadsides. Over the past decade the time for redbud blooming has slowly crept forward. Last year the redbud was in full bloom on April 16, when I drove to Harlan for a faculty meeting. But a leap ahead another two weeks to April 1st to be in full bloom is astounding, and disturbing.

It's as if what was once nearly three months of sequential blooming has been compressed and overlapped into a few weeks of March and April; with the life span of some flowers extending much longer, while others come and go more quickly. The scientists who study climate and and seasonal changes refer to this disruption of established patterns of plant flowering as "desynchronisation" (see: Dr Malcolm Clark and Prof Roy Thompson, and suggest that it could create problems for animal species that depend upon reliable plant food sources for seasonally timed reproduction.

It's one thing to read about the science. It's another thing to have it so clearly visible in one's own front yard.

Photo of redbud from April 16, 2010 by sgreerpitt