Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hiking in Duluth

This morning was a reminder, like Outside magazine's recent second listing of Duluth as one of the best places to live, of the very special positive side of living here. I walked a block from my door and caught a city bus, hiked for 5 hours over varied terrain experiencing great views, wildlife encounters, solitude, peace, and good exercise then took a different bus route which dropped me off three blocks from home. Most people would have to drive for hours to have the same experience.

I was content enjoying the typical moments: the croak of a raven, red-winged blackbirds, a variety of fungi and lichen, the red berry cluster of jack in the pulpit, a black squirrel, a woodpecker drumming. Then things started getting more distinctive.

I had considered wearing running shoes because I knew I'd be doing quite a bit of road walking on the section of the Superior Hiking Trail I was exploring for the first time. Once I started doing my best mountain goat impersonation on the rocky trails of Hawk Ridge, I was glad I'd opted for the hiking boots. Along with the rocks come downed trees to scramble over, around, and sometimes through, and undergrowth which often prevents seeing exactly where you're putting your foot.

Before starting my red/orange/yellow/blue trails loop, I sat on one of the rocks at the main overlook and breathed in the view of Lake Superior and the urban wilderness of Duluth below me. I hadn't been up there in 2 or 3 years and had forgotten just how stunning and relaxing it is.

Then, more hiking. As I came out of the woods onto the powerline, two deer stood ten yards away staring at me. I stared back. We were in each other's way and no one was moving. Finally, I crossed the powerline into the woods on the other side. As soon as I did, the deer took a few steps forward but now I had moved behind some shrubs and couldn't see them. I didn't believe they were going to walk within a few feet of me, so I poked my head out to see what they were up to. At that point they gave a snort which translated as, "Enough of the stupid human," and bounded into the woods.

The deer were the largest wildlife I saw, but I was just as pleased to see the startling white body of a male common whitetail dragonfly as he flew around and, after landing, camouflaged himself very well considering his distinctive coloring. As I came out onto Summit Ledges, a large bird gave a startled sound I'd never heard before and flew away before I could attempt an ID. A smaller unseen bird traded his call with me many times, but I couldn't pinpoint the species when I listened to birdcalls on the stereo later. Though that was frustrating, it was fun watching my cat standing on his hind legs, poking his face into the speaker as he tried to find the birds.

After the rugged descent from the ledges came the walk through my favorite section, the wet and overgrown pine plantation, where following the trail seems impossible but can actually be done through a combination of instinct and many blazed trees. I paused for a few moments to remember my old cat Hijack who returned to the earth nearby after spending 19 years playing fetch and moving around the country with me.

Walking back along Skyline, I found the head of one of the sandpiper species, spotted I believe. I wondered if this was the work of the peregrine falcons I've spent many hours watching in downtown Duluth or of a different predator. After a final rest at the lookout, I took one of the steep downhill trails over the protests of my aging knees. Back to the land of houses and cars, lawns and roads, which most people call the real world. I'd been refreshed enough by my time in the real real world to get through this one for a while longer.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The End of Time

A few days ago, the watch I carry due to bus schedules stopped. Later that day 60 mph winds blew into town, knocking down many trees which took wires with them. My electricity was off for 7 hours; since the only clocks in my apartment are on electric machines and my watch was stopped, time had come to an end. At one point I decided to call to find out the time and discovered my telephone was out also. That stayed off 24 hours.

I read, played with the cat, napped, but I also was a little edgy. There were rented dvds I needed to watch and return, I wondered what was happening on the (dial-up) internet, and there was a lot of food in the freezer. Make no mistake, though I think civilization has ruined the human animal, I know I’m just as ruined as the next person. Although I used to enjoy reading Tom Brown’s books and know a few edible wild plants, I don’t live in a shelter I built myself and I don’t play hunter-gatherer on the weekends. I don’t have any delusion I’m going to survive the crash if it comes before I die, but I still think it needs to happen as soon as possible for the good of the human species as well as almost all the other ones.

One of my plans here is to include revised versions of some of the columns I wrote for a local newspaper. On the subject of the end times, here’s one written after the flooding of New Orleans:

From the beginning, New Orleans was a city built in an unsafe location. This was made worse by additional human settlement which caused the destruction of wetlands and barrier islands which had helped protect the city by reducing hurricane winds and storm surges. Levees built to protect these areas from flooding, canals constructed for industrial use, and attempts to manage and straighten the river all disrupted the hydrology of the Mississippi River delta area which prevented the natural creation of new coastline. This is documented on several websites which include maps showing the amount of wetland loss over the years. One good source is featuring transcripts from programs they did on this subject three years before their predictions came true.

Although Gulfport and Biloxi suffered more direct destruction from Hurricane Katrina, it was the news from New Orleans which captured most of our attention. There are few if any American cities which have a spot in more people’s hearts than New Orleans which is one reason it drew our interest. It has been over twenty years since I was there and I still vividly recall the food, the music, the conversations and atmosphere.

Another reason is that New Orleans became the car wreck we couldn’t look away from, providing us a miniature preview of the collapse of our civilization, not in one swift blow but in a foreseeable and inexorable manner. The water’s pouring in and won’t be stopped no matter how hard we pretend that everything will always remain just as it is. Although the right wing religious preached their “god punishing the sinners” routine, the fact is that the potential danger to New Orleans was well known but wasn’t given a high priority, and so the city was ill-prepared for the inevitable. This reflects the prevalence of short term thinking and its dominance over long term planning which plagues our society.

When the artificial and superficial safety net of our civilization was ripped aside, we saw that the rich, young, healthy, and white got out of town leaving the poor, old, sick, and black to die on their own. In that case of localized catastrophe, some help eventually came from other areas. When the entire system is collapsing nationwide, everyone will be busy trying to save themselves.

In New Orleans, looters out of touch with the new reality stole electronics and people complained that they were not being helped in part because they believed they were not capable of helping themselves. This is not their fault; it’s what society has trained them to be: passive consumers, dependent on an infrastructure collapsing with age and the demands of too large a population, and dependent on the government and economic system whose purpose is to keep them oppressed to maintain the status quo. They got angry because despite the evidence seen every day in their lives, they hadn’t really accepted that the lives of the have-nots don’t matter to those who have.

In a society where food and water come from packages in a store (and require oil, electricity, plumbing, and transportation systems), instead of from a local field and river, where those fields are paved over with parking lots and the river is polluted with industry byproducts, where people are trained to be specialists and cogs in the machine rather than individuals capable of controlling their own lives, it should come as no surprise that a large number of those people are going to die from learned helplessness.

One positive result of Katrina was the rising price of gasoline which should have been taxed highly enough to have been at current prices all along. Maybe some of that tax money might have found its way to the levee instead of Iraq. These higher prices will cause transportation problems for people who have built their lives around consumption instead of conservation, but the poorest people were already using public transportation and living without cars in central cities or remote areas rather than in the suburbs with a Hummer. Heating season and increased costs for many products will be very difficult for many individuals, but for the nation facing the tough truth is better than accepting an easy lie.

If we chose to be a culture of responsible adults rather than self-indulgent brats, we would end pointless consumption and pollution such as auto racing and all recreational use of SUVs, ATVs, snowmobiles, jet skis and other such toys. Instead disruptions in oil supply, whether from natural or manmade disasters will be used as an excuse to drill and spill in any area which might contain oil. This is an inevitable result of our culture’s current values and all environmentalists can do is try to slow it down. The only thing which will ultimately prevent that drilling is if the collapse comes first. Americans have made it clear they’d rather feel good about themselves for making a pound of donations afterward than make an ounce of sacrifice in advance.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Encyclopedia of Life or Death?

I've just watched Bill Moyers Journal featuring an interview with Edward O. Wilson. I have several books by or about Wilson which I haven't read yet. From what I know, I share some of his opinions and disagree with others. He recognizes the destructive path we are on, but has what I consider a naive faith in human common sense even though he admits not understanding why we're doing comparatively nothing to get off that path.

One of the subjects he discussed was the upcoming website for the Encyclopedia of Life, which is intended to eventually have a page of information for every known species. If our species continues with its current trends of population and consumption (and no one I know believes we'll voluntarily change those trends) half of all species on the planet will be extinct in this century and a quarter of all mammals will be extinct in the next 30 years. Sounds like it could easily wind up being called an Encyclopedia of Death to me.

While this will be a great research tool for trivia and term papers, this kind of detached knowledge really teaches nothing about life. Spending an hour outside observing nature will teach you something more important than spending an hour watching Nature on TV or reading a blog about nature.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

What's a greentangle?

The greentangle includes animal ethics issues, the values of deep ecology, natural history from the shore of the Greatest Lake (and the greatest Pond), nature writing reviews, ecopsychology, vegetarianism, and fantasies about the end of industrial civilization and what (if anything, from a human point of view) comes next.

Some posts will reflect the sense of peace and slowness of quiet time in the natural world; others will bubble with rage and disgust and despair...those will be the ones about the human society I live in. There's often a droughtlike sense of humor involved, but it may understandably not be noted by the objects of my scorn, or by those who scorn me. Oddly enough, those two groups often have the same members.

Greentangle will avoid environmentalism, recycling, ethanol, hybrid cars, all techno-utopian attempts to maintain a way of life which never should have begun, and sustainability. I agree with Derrick Jensen's first premise in his book
Endgame: "Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization." I especially agree with the second sentence of the first premise.

There will also be no legalese about animal rights and no philosophical discussion of utilitarianism. Despite a high IQ, a low EQ, and even worse, a year of grad school, I'm more interested in gut reactions and emotional connections than abstractions and intellectualism. I value respect and humility more than management and delusions of superiority in interspecies relationships.

162 years ago today, Henry David Thoreau moved to Walden Pond to suck some marrow and do a little writing. Use your independence wisely; we're all a lot more dependent than we like to acknowledge.