I leave at first light: into a world of monochrome and mystery. I attend the re-birth, the becoming. The moment when the story of our planet, over the last ten thousand, one million, two hundred million; no, four point five four billion years, is re-substantiated, each morning (thus far) as the sun first washes the sky with its incandescence.
I am loathe to leave the mire, the murk, the half-light: but inexorably the earth catches fire and slowly assumes its morning colors. The chaparral is as reluctant as I am to embrace the morning light: its drab green lingering still in the darkling. The blonde thickets of dead mustard stalks and tumbleweed along the roadway are the first to reflect the early glow – skeletal non-natives seemingly crowing to the world of their colonial triumph, accompanied by the trumpets of dawn.
As the sky brightens, the pencil line of a jet contrail is drawn across the northern sky. To the east, flecks of apricot appear to float in a milky soup. The still dark Oxnard plain is wreathed in grey-blue mists and the distant Santa Monica Mountains recede in ever-lightening ranks until they become one with the heavens. But the sinews of the industrial state have begun to emerge from beneath the cloak of night. The road’s fog line, yellow double center line, the airline, the fence line and the oil pipeline reassert their Cartesian grip on the amorphous shadowings of the dark. Only the natural gas flare in the oil patch at the top of Koenigstein reverses the process of dawn’s revelations– its bright flame slowly drowned in the sun’s emerging candlepower. Meanwhile, the antic silhouette of the pump becomes ever more emphatically etched against the sky.
Yes, it’s that time of year again when Hanuka, Solstice, Christmas, New Year’s and my birthday conflate into one almighty hammer blow to my consciousness. A moment of reckoning amidst ancient symbols of light: the menorah, the lighted tree and my candle strewn birthday cake all conspiring to coax the low, southerly arc of the sun back towards the meridian (and for me, another turn of the bell-wheel towards the chimes at midnight). Running through the dawn – in re-creation of the beginnings of time, of evolution, of the triumph of civilization, of the last gasp of the culture of fossil-fueled capitalism – adds a perspective to my existence as a tiny foot-soldier of Empire. With little left to lose, but with diminishing time to act, I am slowly beginning to strain at the bonds of servitude.
I have been reading Edward Abbey. The Edward Abbey Reader, Desert Solitaire, Fire on the Mountain and now Beyond the Wall. I have also been reading some of the eighty essays included in Moral Ground, Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, edited by K.D Moore and M.P. Nelson (2010). As one might expect from both the title and subtitle, it is a high-minded tome. It also often misses the point. Writer Kate Rawles, for instance, calls for A Copernican Revolution in Ethics – a great leveling in which the human species no longer privileges its own needs over the rest of the natural world - all very laudable: yet she suggests that this might be achieved while,
“…we keep the best of the industrialized world’s education, communication, medical advances, time-saving appliances, music literature, painting, low-impact technology, and even transportation systems.”
Good luck with that. In other words, she is advocating a selective overturning of humankind’s prevailing ethos of progress, success and development based on infinite growth on this planet of finite resources. E.O Wilson, on the other hand offers his usual sage analysis,
“…We strayed from Nature with the beginning of civilization roughly ten thousand years ago. That quantum leap beguiled us with the illusion of freedom from the world that gave us birth.......(supposedly) smart people choose to remain innocent of the historical principal that civilizations collapse when their environments are ruined.”
The reliably hard-headed Derrick Jensen asks, “Do you believe that this culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living?” Referencing the behavior of Nazi doctors, many of whom attempted to ameliorate death camp conditions but never challenged their underlying premise, he suggests that we are in an analogous predicament,
“We do not question the existence of an economic and social system that is working the world to death, that is starving it to death, that is imprisoning it, that is torturing it. We never question a culture that leads to these atrocities.”
Abbey was equally tough-minded. He never doubted that environmental sanity would be hard won and most likely would entail a considerable die-off of humanity. He personally contributed to this notion by shuffling off the mortal coil at the comparatively young age of 62. He left behind twenty books in which live the flames of radical environmental action, kindled in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Such radicalism has now been suppressed by those who preach the possibility of sustainability within the structure of industrial civilization; his (and other Earth Firster’s) anarchic impulses now neutered by those comfortable with the idea of endless ‘sustainable’ growth, blind to the fact that this represents, as Abbey noted, “cancerous madness”. We have left our affairs “too long in the hands of kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners”. By Abbey’s reckoning, “Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization” of this fact and confirmed over five thousand years of human experience.
Jensen writes, when most people ask, “How can we stop global warming?” what they are really asking is “How can we stop global warming without significantly changing this lifestyle that is causing global warming in the first place?” Ending industrial capitalism is, as they say, off the table, yet it is the simplest and most complete solution to our environmental malaise: it will not be achieved by tweaking the status quo.
As I emerge from mid-winter’s orgy of celebration, gifting, and over-consumption it is time to consider how my actions might align with my rhetoric; how my reflections might inform my future behavior. How I might walk the talk. These considerations will continue to be a part of my reporting from the urban wildland.
Another day, another dawn: western sky flushed with pink, scrawled across it is an oblique ‘X’ - the contrails from two early rising military jets from Vandenberg Air Force base: our Imperial warriors in their bliss. The full moon is balanced on a distant peak of the Santa Ynez mountains, it slips out of view just as the sun begins to carpet the upper crags of the Nordhoff ridge in a pointillist tapestry of red brown and gold.
The universe, it seems, remains in full working order despite the earnest environmental hand-wringing on one of its lesser planets subtended from an insignificant sun.