Well, I had meant to share with you my long, slow train journey down through the heart of California to visit a dear friend in Santa Barbara--photographs of burnished gold hills and lone oaks, thick riparian corridors full of cottonwoods, strawberry fields green contrasting dust dry ridges, oil rigs off the coast, oil being pumped on the coast, old train shacks and herons in drainage canals amid the subdivisions, accompanied by my train scribbled musings from my notebook, my rambling thoughts about the stories of an older California to be glimpsed between drought-gold grasses and leaning oaks, sloughs and fog banks and ranch houses out in the open without cover for miles. About the soothing pace of trains, as compared to planes or cars. But alas, I've just lost everything off my computer since last December, due to a mysterious software failure and my own carelessness at having not looked into why my external hard-drive wasn't backing things up properly... So my photographs out train windows of blue sea and kelp beds, graffiti at the train stops and the sudden hills of San Luis Obispo--well, they are all gone, poof! Which is all a very good reminder of the strange unreality of all the things that exist here, on the internet, inside our computers, and how we relate to them. How we can get sucked very deeply into this odd dream-machine, which does the dreaming for us; how things lost here don't feel like things lost in physical reality--a photo album, say, or a collection of vinyls. It reminds me of the general attitude of disposability we have in our world, which informs how we relate to so many things.
|The blue kelp filled sea, the drought-dead cliffs of Santa Barbara (photograph courtesy of Elsinore Smidth Carabetta)|
Luckily, of course, all of my stories and the three novels I've written to date were safely stored in emails. Those lost would have been devastating; but it reminds me that much of what I do on this computer is somewhat disposable, and shouldn't that be a lesson? I know I can take dozens of photographs, hundreds, and so each individual image becomes less precious. When we can read snippets of ten wonderfully written articles or stories at once, and a hundred more just beyond the click of a mouse, their value shifts. I don't know what to do about all of this; I'm only noticing, and pondering, and sulkily wishing I could share that photo of the train snaking around a long curve through the mountains with you, or the hellish beauty of an oil field north of San Luis Obispo as the sun set, illuminating the pumpjacks ceaselessly hauling oil from their wells like terrible chained creatures desperately doing their duty, and desperately hating it. What it is that oil means in our culture and world (speaking of disposability) and how that one field knew the whole story.
I've been listening voraciously to a series of podcasts called Unlearn and Rewild, and in one interview, the eloquent Zen Master Dr. Susan Murphy Roshi says something to the effect of—"we are addicted to the absolutely extraordinary energy of oil, all the many, many things that oil can produce for us." This struck me very deeply; how powerful, how seductive, oil is, this ancient, deep-buried, condensed energy straight from sun in the dead bodies of primordial plants and animals--how much its power thrills us, even as it destroys us, like staring too long at that great sun. How can we treat such a thing as disposable? My god, it's the blood of time, and yet look how we treat it! Perhaps this is because, like many of the things stored on our computers or found on the internet, we don't interact with any of it directly, with our bodily senses; all of it is somehow abstracted. Even when I pump gas into my car, and a little spills, that toxic smell; still I can't feel in my body what oil really is—dug up refined primordial sunshine. It's too far gone for me to know it, and my lungs reject the scent.
Well. Instead of these things, what I am left with is a handful of photographs my dear old friend Elsinore took. How we scrambled down a dry creekbed and found a patch of wild mint, growing with more vigor and health than the mint in my garden has ever managed. How we gathered pocket-loads of black sage, which smells of sun and peace.
How in that creekbed we found the most beautiful, robust wild gooseberries I've ever seen, striped like hard candies from another time. How we popped one, just one, out of its spiny skin and sucked the flesh and seeds like the squirrels. How tart-sweet, how utterly delightful.
|Ribes amarum (bitter gooseberry)|
Perhaps all of this is to say that it is the small, sweet and slow things that keep us sane. Feet in the tide, hands full of sage and mint, tongue tart with gooseberries from the creekbed. How we value and love the things we can take in directly with our bodies and hearts. These, we will not toss aside. In the end, it is the things we make roots for that we will stand to save. We cannot save the world, but we can each strive to save home, and after all, together a hundred hundred million homes (of human, of seal, of fox, of spider) make a world.