Thursday, December 27, 2012

We didn't know what to think

A traditional Cape Cod hockey game -- a sport endangered?  Or is that just a caption to tie this cool photo with my post?

On my desk, for a while, has been sitting a front page of the Bangor Daily News with an article by Amateur Naturalist Dana Wilde. He says what I have been saying for a long time. Everyone wants to believe that climate change is a hoax. Everyone wants to believe that science is wrong, even if it manages to be right about absolutely everything else, specifically the electronic device I am using to type these words, the invisible electrons carrying them over wires, the satellite dish riveted to a spruce on my front lawn, the nether-regions of space, and whatever invisible blogger server distributes these words, these very same words, directly into your computer or tablet or phone or e-reading device. Yes, the scientists are right about computers. They're just wrong about carbon dioxide.

Several readers reassured me earlier this month with a few pats on the head that climate change, if it's even happening, is a natural occurrence that's nothing to do with us and moreover, to jog me out of naivete, that global warming is a hoax. Don't worry, be happy, we were sagely advised in the 80s.

Here are some points I've heard meant to reassure me there's no need to worry about climate change or global warming:

-It still gets cold in winter.
-Earth's climate has always changed and always will change.
-Global warming is just a theory.
-There is no proof that the exhaust from my car hurts anything.
-Scientists are often wrong.
-Scientists fake climate research findings.
-Global warming is not mentioned in the Bible.
-There was no Y2K disaster (or 2012 Mayan disaster, I could add).

The problem I have with these arguments is that I believe in the existence of computers, cellphones, penicillin, bone marrow transplants, and internal combustion engines. I also believe in photosynthesis, DNA, infrared light, blood types, and the theory of relativity, although I have never seen any of these actual items or processes with my eyes.

What I mean is that the same method of study—namely, “the scientific method”--has led to microchips, life-saving chemistry, and electronic communication.
At this point, maybe I'm preaching to the choir. But I encourage you to rethink your presuppositions when it comes to science, and particularly the scientific method. How have all of the scientific advances of the last 200 years come about? By the persistent and dedicated effort of scientists on an endless pursuit of absolute truth, of matter in motion, of data tracking. Data doesn't lie. It can't. We're the ones who are lying.

I was excited to hear an ad on Maine public radio for Union University, the first college in the US to divest its endowment from investments in fossil fuels. No, I haven't done it yet. I quail. But we'll do it, or we'll die.

Divest. Protest. Grow vegetables.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Joyeux Noel

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night, and God bless us everyone.  That's what we're supposed to say, isn't it?  After the turkey and dressing and gravy has been eaten?  And the presents are opened?

I don't know about you, but I like a straight-up Thanksgiving Christmas, none of this fancy stuff.  My idea this year was to do only dishes my Grandma would have made, which means mashed steamed butternut squash, more delicious than it is complicated, and green-bean casserole with canned beans and cream-of-mushroom soup.  One of these days it's going to be home-canned beans and mushroom soup.  One of these years.

It's so easy for me, along with everyone, to discount all of the things I do have at Christmas.  Isn't that what all these cheesy movies are about?  I have more solitude than festivity, but that's what I've chosen.  Evergreen boughs and cheap tinsel.  Every onion in today's feast came from the garden out front.  How easily I let these things drift into the past where I forget them.  There was a time when I thought that impossible.

Maybe it's just that I don't like endings, that I hold on to every bit of this last year.  The deadlines roll so quickly--Festivus, then Solistice, then Noel, then New Year's, then my big Capricorn birthday.  Thence all of 2013 stretches in front of us.  And the Mayans promised we'd get out of it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joy and peace

“A disaster that no one could foresee” is what Chris Christie said on Jon Stewart last night, about Hurricane Sandy. Really, Chris? Really, when environmental activists have been telling us that this is exactly the sort of disaster we could foresee if we continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere?

It's like Chicken Little running around saying the sky is falling, and then everyone acting surprised when the sky falls. Except Chicken Little in this case is the best science we have, the cutting edge of all scientific and technological progress over the last two thousand years. We just don't like what the scientists have to say. We cease liking science when it tells us that we have to use technology to adapt to ecological limits instead of using it to bypass them.

Science is telling us we are destroying our world. And we're not listening.

Everyone should stop what they're doing right now and go read this interview, "If Your House Is on Fire," with the naturalist and philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Riverwalking. Some quotes:

“Toxins in the water, radioactive waste in leaking tanks, acid in the oceans, and climate chaos. And we’re too busy to protest because we have to buy the kids the right kind of shoes for the soccer tournament? What kind of love is that?”

“There’s a disconnect in our culture separating what people do from what they really care about. I love my children and my grandchildren more than anything else. I care about their future. I love this world with a passion. The thought that we might be losing songbirds, trading them for something I don’t care about at all, like running shoes, makes me angry. And still I drive to the store and buy running shoes.”

“The worst offenders are happy to implicate and entangle us in every possible way and make us blame ourselves for climate change. We have to do our best to shake loose of that entanglement and never turn our rage against ourselves or allow self-criticism to dissipate our anger toward the real culprits. Of course each of us should be using less oil. But when I hear people piously say, 'We have met the enemy, and he is us,' I say, bulls***. I didn’t cut corners and cause an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I didn’t do my best to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency and every other agency that might have limited fracking. I’m not lobbying Congress to open oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. I didn’t cut funding for alternative energy sources. Big Oil is pouring billions of dollars into shaping government policies and consumer preferences. And what do we say? 'Oh, I should be a more mindful consumer.'”

Interviewer: Does having a discourse in moral reasoning mean we need to listen to climate-change deniers?

Moore: No. Perhaps a scientific discourse would engage deniers in a debate about the facts, but a moral discourse isn’t about science. It’s about right and wrong.

Debates about the causes of climate change have become distractions. If your house is burning down, you don’t stand around arguing about whether the fire was caused by human or natural forces. You do what you can to put out the damn fire. You throw everything at it, and then you hold your breath, because there are people inside that house....

Moral arguments are trump cards, whereas economic arguments can always be overridden by matters of principle. Yes, you might profit from keeping slaves, but it’s wrong. Yes, you can profit from ruining children’s futures, but it’s wrong.

This final quote is the one that kills me:
“Many of us wake up in the morning and eat a breakfast of food we don’t believe in and then drive a car we don’t believe in to a job we don’t believe in. We do things that we know are wrong, day after day, just because that’s the way the system is set up, and we think we have no choice. It’s soul-devouring.”

So many people are asking questions about Connecticut, about these horrifying acts of terror coming from inside of ourselves. We want to believe that if we ban the gun he used, if we lock all of our elementary schools up tight, this kind of horror can't happen. Instead, I believe our society is a snake eating its tail, and things like that will continue to happen as long as our souls are being devoured from the inside. I used to live a life like that, the one above, and every day I had to stuff down the horror I felt at living, stuff it down with our cultural addiction of choice, an addiction to cheap consumer goods, cheap food, distraction.

The Appalachian Trail saved me from that life, led me to a life of story; story in all things. Being honest with each other, telling each other stories—these words here, included—is what will save us.

Moore absolves us of our guilt, as Christ did before. Can we all remember that at Christmas? Our guilt is washed clean. Clean as snow, as white as a white Christmas.

All we need is to take action, together. Believe. We can join together and make a difference. Inspired and unified human action brought down slavery, brought down colonialism, brought down segregation, brought down the Vietnam War, brought down apartheid, brought down the Berlin Wall, brought down, most recently, an Egyptian dictator supported by the United States.

We can unite, too.

I'm making a proposal. Our enemies are transnational petrochemical industries. The only way we can fight them is with money. Yes, I'm complicit, as are most of you. I'm culpable. I own petrochemical stock, through my mutual fund, my meager retirement savings. But there are ways to take a stand even there. We can bond together and ask our financial power-brokers to divest themselves of petrochemical stock. To invest in trains, local agriculture, education, science, and alternative energy. If we speak with one voice, eventually they'll listen.

For additional inspiration, a list, from McSweeney's 40. Egyptian students studied the Serbian youth movement called Otpor! that overthrew Milosevic and From Dictatorship to Democracy, a handbook for activism written by a UMass Dartmouth professor. The handbook lists 198 possible nonviolent actions, and McSweeney's published their favorites:

        1. Public speeches

        6. Group or mass petitions

        7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols

        8. Banners, posters, and displayed communications

        9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and bookshelves

        12. Skywriting and earthwriting

        17. Mock elections

        19. Wearing of symbols

        20. Prayer and worship

        24. Symbolic lights

        25. Displays of portraits

        26. Paint as protest

        28. Symbolic sounds

        30. Rude gestures

        33. Fraternization

        34. Vigils

        38. Marches

        46. Homage at burial places

        51. Walkouts

        52. Silence

        54. Turning one's back

        62. Student strike

        69. Collective disappearance

        71. Consumers' boycott

        117. General strike

        119. Economic shutdown

        141. Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws

        148. Mutiny

        153. Withholding of diplomatic recognition

        158. Self-exposure to the elements

        162. Sit-in

        163. Stand-in

        164. Ride-in

        165. Wade-in

        166. Mill-in

        167. Pray-in

        179. Alternative social institutions

See? We have power, too.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bridgewater, Maine

That's how we roll in Bridgewater, monsters.
I'm trying to convince friends and neighbors to go out with me and cut down ye ole Christmas tree. I live among a bunch of heathens, people that didn't grow up in the church. For me, Christmas is about the gift Christ gave the world. To them it's about cheap plastic crap and forced commercial saccharine travesty. I play Sufjan Stevens's Christmas album, wear my red scarf with the gold stars.

But no one will go cut down balsam with me, even though there's plenty of it out there to be cut. It's like a weed. I find myself relating to the heathen from my past, the Druid ancestors who invented advent traditions, of cutting down greenery to hold down the smell of their chickens in the house. Or goats. Whatever. My research into northeastern Europe's medieval livestock is fuzzy at best.

Why must all of you who didn't grow up in the church be such Christmas-poopsters? Such Scrooges? It's a good holiday. It's good ayurvedic practice to fill your nostrils with pine for one month a year.

Anyway. I'm going to find a way to sneak some pine into the house, if I have to buy it at Lowe's. It's a major local employer. At least I'll be contributing to the economy. Investing in evergreen farming.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Aroostook County, Maine

Sky tonight

I'm back to my trailer in the woods, after almost two months spent traveling. How many states did I hit? New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and back again. I took my first walk back in the woods this afternoon at dark, back with my Shadow, crunching through the ice in the first snowfall of the year that's stuck.

I'm realizing how far I've fallen out of the habit of recording my experience in words, here, in a digital medium. Back on the boat, on the trail—every day I was looking for a series of words on which to hang my experience. Mostly that hook was the tedium of travel, the tedium of adventure. Most adventure is more about outright pain than it is about anything else.

Webb Chiles (download his ebook, the masterful Storm Passage, for free here), the first American to circumnavigate solo, says: “I am itching and scratching my way around the world. Perhaps the ability to endure such mundane discomforts for months is the hidden heart of all adventure. Ulysses probably scratched his way around the Mediterranean for ten years, although Homer neglects to tell us so.” It's true, that.

Now I have little discomfort in my life, little pain. Except for the cold in my still broken shoulder, the cold in my breast, the cold when I face the challenge to go outdoors in the winter. Winter is growing on me, as Aroostook County does. I find myself longing for the eight inches of snow that will support my snowshoes.

I wrote these words today, in an essay, of my journeying: “All that time, I wrote. I wrote travel essays, food essays, small pieces on spirit and alcohol and pain and weather, nature meditations on walking and sailing. I posted these essays in an online journal I call a commonplace book.” That's this, although commonplace book, of course, I am stealing from Alan Jacobs, my college professor whose every digital word I still hang on. But it's an apt description of what I do here, on these pages—and I miss it when I don't.