Category Archives: Making Connections

Relative To Humanity

The natural world’s near-ineffable indifference to the human species is something which, while useful as a piece of practical information, remains as a markedly unsettling notion for the human mind to initially conceive of; much less work with. It’s this sentient apathy of the living essence of the planet which both Snyder as well as Carson have struck upon within each of their works and, in consequence, prompted me to begin mulling over as I digest the precise means by which they each go about articulating their perspectives regarding it. While Carson utilizes her own respective background as a scientist to magnify the natural world to the degree to which the sheer magnitude of quantitative evidence regarding the systems of life which both explicitly and implicitly effect each other on earth renders humanity vastly less extraordinary than previously thought; Snyder meditates upon the happenings of the natural world which preceded humanity in a sort of quiet acknowledgment of our species’s relative lack of consequence in nature, and these sentiments both lend themselves to improving upon as well as further widening my perspective in relation to the natural world’s near un-consideration for human beings.

Not far into her book, Rachel Carson writes, “The new environmental health problems are multiple—created by radiation in all its forms, born of the never ending chemicals in which pesticides are a part, chemicals now pervading the world in which we live, acting upon us directly and indirectly, separately and collectively.” While at the surface this might seem less than indicative of the natural world’s apathy towards humans, however if one chooses to focus upon the fragment towards the end of the quote, this almost innate notion of omnipresence with regards to both the earth as well as all life which it inhabits is clearly present. While Rachel Carson may be talking specifically about those chemicals and pesticides which humanity has made use of and, as a result, been working with so as to bastardize the creation of organic life within nature; these manufactured chemical products which act directly upon the natural world are an imperative example of how one singular step in the wrong direction could spell disaster for humanity’s continued existence on earth; and it’s this exact larger-scale perspective which should always be taken into account by humans with regards to our place on earth.

Gary Snyder’s poem ‘What Happened Here Before’ from his collection, titled Turtle Island serves to illustrates a similar awareness of the utter vastness of the varying amounts of natural processes which occur regardless of humanity among the natural world. Snyder utilizes vivid imagery as well as metaphor and a strong amount of alliteration so as to go about communicating this point of relative indifference by nature in respect to humanity as a whole. Upon opening, the first lines read,

“First a sea: soft sands, muds, & marls/—loading, compressing, heating, crumpling, crushing, crystallizing, infiltrating/ several times lifted and submerged./”

Again, it’s the ends of these lines which speak the loudest to this point; the specific imagery of the phrase ‘several times lifted and submerged’ works to make me think about the processes which occur underneath the earth’s surface; at the floor of the ocean or when a volcanic eruption of some sort occurs. It’s these consistent larger-than-life activities of the earth which serve to first remind us that we do not control everything, and almost more importantly, that those processes which we do control, while somewhat consequential for both us as well as the earth, aren’t always the end-all-be-all, magical keys-to-the-universe which we so arrogantly like to assume upon a new scientific discovery or breakthrough of our own. Along with the litany of other verbs beforehand, ‘…compressing, heating, crumpling, crushing, crystallizing, infiltrating/’ both of these images call to mind a certain hierarchy, an order among the world; of which we should take care to remember: we were never at the top.

Later in the poem, a slightly more subtle yet equally as effective device makes itself known; a temporally-based metaphor which both through its description as well as through its consequence, allows for a more wholly-realized idea of how this poem works to improve one’s understanding of humanity’s relative irrelevance in the grand scheme of the natural landscape on earth. The line reads,

“Warm quiet centuries of rain/ make dark red tropic soils/ wear down two miles of surface,/”

What I previously meant by ‘its description’ refers to the ‘warm quiet centuries of rain’ which undeniably details the elongated period of time with which this rain is occurring, automatically forcing the reader’s perspective to widen; and what was intended by my phrase ‘its consequence’ is in reference to the later lines ‘make dark red tropic soils/ wear down two miles of surface/’ that inarguably illustrate the process of erosion over such a large period of time, that the surface is actually degraded by two whole miles from where it’s previous elevation lay. These lines serve to illustrate the sheer magnitude of all that which occurs on earth, completely regardless of humanity’s involvement with it.

How Snyder and Carson have struck upon these notions of largeness in comparison to humanity’s relative smallness, while potentially somewhat unsettling depending upon one’s previous perspective, have nonetheless allowed for me as a thinker; a certain amount of ease of tension, a sort of peace of mind. Because, while it’s important for humanity to have certain goals and purposes while alive, it’s also important for us to bear in mind; any pressure which we feel to be this great, hulking, top-of-the-food-chain apex predator of a species that can never hope to shy away from its role of necessity among nature as the only species to possess consciousness, is a somewhat self-inflicted endeavor. Because, while we do have defining characteristics which separate us from other animals, there are still things about us which are inarguably animalistic, as well as things which we do not maintain any dominion over whatsoever. Important things. Things which have always reminded us that our own self-proclaimed largeness can always be rescaled. It’s these things which I believe to be nature’s balancing act; earth’s discrepancy in biodiversity for our hubris with usage of pesticides; a century of rain for our ego; two miles of surface worn down for our mind.

The natural world has always worked in this sort of uncanny symbiosis, this back-and-forth, this principle of equivalent exchange. As an inherent part of nature, we should take care to remember that while we’d like to imagine ourselves as the ones meant to solve this problem, this conundrum, this seemingly impossible equation of purpose; there seems to be a great deal which is attempting to tell us: we’re merely another factor within it. And that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

How We Say What We Mean

As we’ve read, we’ve met many very skilled and educated individuals. They’re all people who have knowledge of special kinds: whether because of courses they’ve taken, interests they’ve had, or lifestyles they’ve taken up. I really appreciate how Gary Snyder and Rachel Carson show this knowledge, but in a very differing ways. While both authors use descriptive and inciteful language, their forms differ drastically. Carson speaks mostly in long sentences, passages, and chapters, where Snyder speaks in short poems and sonnets. Form isn’t everything, but it helps me connect their similar ideas with different lessons I should take from them in how they differently emphasize their points.
Carson has a background in biology, and that can be seen in how she describes things: Similarly to how Snyder uses poetry as he’s an author and environmentalist. In a passage on mushrooms, Snyder speaks of his knowledge on consumption:
Don’t ever eat Boletus
If the tube-mouths they are red
Stay away from the Amantis
Or brother you are dead (46)

Whether it be from passed down knowledge, or personal observations, Snyder sets off into the woods, already noting the importance of nature safety. He continues, and of his main concern is searching for small new mushrooms:
We see out in the forest
To seek the wild mushroom
In shapes diverse and colorful
Shining through the woodland gloom

If you look under the oak trees
Or around an old pine stump
You’ll know a mushroom is coming
By the way the leaves are humped (46)

Mushrooms I found one time

Snyders form here and choice of language throughout this passage sets the tone of a good woodland friend in search of what he knows. In a bit of contrast, Carson speaks in praise of soil, in very defined detail of it’s scientific perspective:
Life not only formed the soil, but other living things of incredible abundance and diversity now exist within it; if this were not so the soil would be a dead and sterile thing. If their presence and by their activities the myriad organisms of the soil make it capable of supporting the earth’s green mantle. (53)
From her use of the phrases such as “incredible abundance” and “myriad organisms” we can see she’s serious about her science, yet passionate for her strong language. These two authors really dedicate their time to choosing the right words when they need to be said. The way they shape sentences with a poignant eye towards their passions, yet tie them into the fundamental importances of environmentalism is imperative.
The way the many interests of the world come together under environmentalism is astounding. There is no way a job or major interest/hobby one has doesn’t relate to environmentalism. Well, except anti-cause jobs and hobbies. But even artists on cross-country trips can write thorough environmentalist masterpieces. It’s all about the passion for the lifestyle. Snyder and Carson come from entirely different walks of life, yet both have an unstoppable want to share their knowledge and passions through the beauty of literature. This passion is shared by even us, as we reflect and write and start to change our habits to generationally reduce human harm to the planet.

Wilderness According To Carson, Berry, and Snyder

What is wilderness? What’s happening to wilderness? And what do we do about it? Rachel Carson, Gary Snyder, and Wendell Berry are three people who all directly or indirectly answer these questions in their writing. In Gary Snyder’s book, Turtle Island, he defines wildness and gives us a possible solution to pollution. Wendell Berry agrees with Gary Snyder’s definition of wildness, but he takes a different point on it. Berry voices his concerns and explains that we need a more direct experience with nature. Both Berry and Snyder mention the same things that Rachel Carson mentions about pollution. Unlike Berry, Carson believes that we can use nature, but in moderation.

In the Transformation section of Plain Talk, Gary Snyder defines wildness, quoting, “Wildness is the state of complete awareness. That’s why we need it,” (Snyder 99). By “complete awareness” Snyder means anything that’s around us. If a wolf is wild, it notices all the predators or prey around it. In our sense, we need to be aware of the nature around us. When we live in civilization with technology all around us, we lose awareness of nature. We can see this with people on their phones ignoring other people. If we can’t see other people, how can we see the world around us?

Wendell Berry agrees with Snyder. Berry explains how even simple technology like railroads and highways make us forget our origins. He says:

Because of railroads and improved highways, the wilderness was no longer an arduous passage for the traveler, but something to be looked at as grand or beautiful from the high vantages of the roadside. . . and because we no longer traveled in the wilderness as a matter of course, we forgot that wilderness still circumscribed civilization. – Berry 100

Berry says that since we no longer use nature to get where we need to go, we forget that it’s there. One of Berry’s biggest points is that wilderness is at a distance now more than ever. On page 100, Berry explains how we forget “the civilized and domestic” depend upon wilderness. Without our natural basis, there’s no way we could have any roads at all. Berry then gives his definition of wilderness. “Wilderness – that is, upon natural forces within the climate and within the soil that have never in any meaningful sense been controlled or conquered,” (Berry 100). It’s interesting that Berry mentions “any meaningful sense,” because this conversation grows into what Rachel Carson says about nature.

Rachel Carson takes on Berry’s “any meaningful sense” in her argument when she says:

Who has decided – who has the right to decide – for the countless legions of people who were not consulted that the supreme value is a world without insects, even though it be also a sterile world ungraded by the curving wing of a bird in flight.    -Carson 127.

Here, Carson is questioning who has given us the right to decide that the ideal world has no bugs – that we could extinguish a whole species of bugs because we don’t like them. She’s saying that humans are ruining wilderness without “meaningful sense.” Berry further analyzes that some people do think that controlling nature is meaningful. He explains the idea of a nurturer versus an exploiter. Exploiters are thinking of the most effective way to get things done, while nurturers try to savor it. An exploiter would be a businessman who doesn’t have time to worry about how much paper he’s using or how much smoke is coming out of his factory. But, Gary Snyder brings up the point that, “You cannot communicate the forces of nature in the laboratory,” (Snyder 107). Snyder understands that wilderness is important, and it can’t be recreated. We’ve seen what happens in Jurassic Park when we try to mess with nature. It fights back.

That’s exactly what Rachel Carson says in her chapter Nature Fights Back.  She says, “The truth, seldom mentioned but there for anyone to see, is that nature is not so easily molded and that the insects are finding ways to circumvent our chemical attacks on them,” (Carson 245). Carson explains that nature finds ways around our tactics, and they begin to adapt around it. She further says that, ‘The control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance,”(Carson 297). Trying to control nature will only backfire. We always want to control the wilderness. But why?

Snyder explains that humans fear the wild inside us. He compares the wild to a coyote, to which he says, “And the Coyote singing/is shut away/for they fear/the call/of the wild,” (Snyder 22). He phrases it as a coyote’s beautiful howl being shut away because people fear its wild. Snyder therefore says we fear the wild inside of us. Perhaps it’s because we don’t know how to tame it, or because we’re afraid of what it can do. Or maybe we’re afraid to know who we really are because that could mean waking up in the Matrix. Through all this confusion, Gary Snyder poses a simple solution. He says, “This is fear of one’s own deepest natural inner-self wilderness areas, and the answer is, relax. Relax around bugs, snakes, and your own hairy dreams” (Snyder 96). Relax around nature, relax yourself. Nature isn’t bad. What are we afraid of?

Carson’s solution is to let nature be on its own. She says to let nature do it. “The really effective control of insects is that applied by nature, not by man,” (Carson 247). Nature was here first, we should let it be. Berry agrees, saying “the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope,” (Berry 14). Berry says that our only legitimate hope is to cherish what remains of the wild and to remain direct with it because that’s the only way we’ll remember it’s there. He says:

The catch is that we cannot live in machines. We can only live in the world, in life. To live, our contact with the sources of life must remain direct: we must eat, drink, breathe, move, mate, etc. When we let machines . . . we inevitably damage the world ; we diminish life. -Berry 92

This is exactly what Gary Snyder said about not being able to understand the forces of nature in a factory. Berry says we need to be closer to nature and actually live in it to remember our wilderness. He explains on page 100, “with the rise of industry, we began to romanticize the wilderness – which is to say we began to institutionalize it within the concept of the ‘scenic’” (Berry 100). We can’t see the world as scenic. As Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, and Gary Snyder all agree, wilderness is within is and it is us. We can’t keep it at a distance. It’s where we come from, and if we don’t cherish it, we won’t have a home, we’ll have a factory. If we keep fighting our natural selves, the wild will fight back until everything is destroyed. One thing has proven true, and that is that wilderness always wins.

Thoughts on Dharma

“Avocado” By Gary Snyder

The Dharma is like an Avocado!

Some Parts of it so ripe you can’t believe it,

But it’s good.

And other places hard and green

Without much flavor,

Pleasing those who like their eggs well-cooked,

And the skin is thin,

The great big round seed

In the middle,

Is your own Original Nature-

Pure and smooth,

Almost nobody ever splits it open

Or ever tries to see

If it will grow.

Hard and slippery,

It looks like

You should plant it–but then.

It shoots out thru the

Fingers–

gets away.

 

Dharma is an elusive concept to grasp, and really, there is no simple way to define the term. Even I myself, a yogi who has heard the word many times while practicing, have never been certain if I fully understood what the word meant. In order to get a grasp on what exactly dharma is, I consulted the Yogapedia dictionary which had this to say, “Dharma is a Hindu, Buddhist and yogic concept which refers to the idea of a law or principle governing the universe. For an individual to live out their dharma is for them to act in accordance with this law. In Buddhism, it is said that acting in this way is the path to enlightenment. The implication of dharma is that there is a right way for each person to carry out their life. Dharma is closely related to the concepts of duty and service to others, or sev. It has no single-word Western translation, which sometimes makes it a difficult concept for Western practitioners to grasp. One close translation, however, is ‘right way of living.’” Another important aspect of dharma that is not mentioned here is its sole purpose, and that is to create order out of chaos. If we adopt this definition then it can be seen that dharma and the ideas of morals/ethics are closely linked; in fact, the word, dharma, comes from the Sanskrit root word dham, which means ‘to uphold’ or ‘to support’”. This essentially means that dharma is made up of laws or morals/ethics which tell a person that they should be as helpful and caring to others/the planet as they would be to themselves, or even more so. By upholding these “universal laws” one would then be able to reach enlightenment. Enlightenment is a whole other concept in itself, but it is still closely related to dharma because by following the principles of dharma, people would be able to escape from their worldly ignorance so that they will then be able to exist in the world by caring and looking out for the well-being of humans, animals, and the planet — and this end goal is what it means to be enlightened.

Snyder explores this concept of dharma in a very unusual way in his poem “Avocado”. In this poem, he is relating the parts of an avocado to the difficulty humans have when it comes to seeking out dharma for their own sake. He talks about how dharma exists within us all as our “Original Nature”, but when it comes time to take hold of that nature and put it to use, or “plant it” as he says in the poem, it slips out of our hands, and gets away. With that being said, Snyder clearly has a very set point of view on how humans operate within the dharmic principles, and that point is that although humans are meant to be allies with and therefore protect every living thing on this Earth, we simply choose not “split it open” or “see if it will grow”, rather, we take the easy way out and think only of ourselves. The teachings of dharma tell us then that “Our instinctive view is that we are more important than everyone else, whereas the view of all enlightened beings is that it is others who are more important. […] In life after life, since beginningless time, we have been slaves to our self-cherishing mind. We have trusted it implicitly and obeyed its every command, believing that the way to solve our problems and find happiness is to put ourself before everyone else. We have worked so hard and for so long for our own sake, but what do we have to show for it? Have we solved all our problems and found the lasting happiness we desire? No. It is clear that pursuing our own selfish interests has deceived us.”

This exact idea is brought up in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring when she makes this very astute assertion “It is ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray” (8). Here, Carson is getting at the fact that humans have begun to care so much about things like insect pesticides which will make humans lives easier but in creating these chemicals, we are thinking only of ourselves and not at all about how plants, animals, and inevitably we will be impacted. Whether Sarah Carson knew it or not when she was writing Silent Spring, she was acting within the universal law of dharma because she had taken it upon herself to stop thinking about the immediate conveniences that made her life easier, and instead decided to no longer put these things on a pedestal as being more important than the health and well-being of our planet and all that inhabit it. Throughout her book, Carson writes in great detail about the chaos that has invaded the natural world in the form of pesticides and chemical agents. She writes about how this chaos is killing off animals in extreme numbers, destroying habitats, plant life, and is even causing cancer within humans. In writing this book she is exercising the principles of dharma as she is trying to enlighten her readers to the horrors that they are living among, and therefore will hopefully make them conscious of how they themselves are making the problem grow like wildfire.

Wendell Berry talks about this crisis of character which dharma is trying to remedy within his book Unsettling of America as he writes, “People who thus set their lives against destruction have necessarily confronted in themselves the absurdity that they have recognized in their society. They have first observed the tendency of modern organizations to perform in opposition to their stated purposes. They have seen governments that exploit and oppress people they are sworn to serve and protect, medical procedures that produce ill health, schools that preserve ignorance, methods of transportation that, as Ivan Illich says, have ‘created more distances than they […] bridge” (Berry 18-19). In this quote Berry recognizes all of the institutions that operate only with the “I” in mind; that is to say, that corporations and certain parts of the government are not functioning within the universal laws of dharma kept in mind because they are only thinking of how they themselves can be benefited. Berry is then making the connection here that people who wish to uphold the ethics and principles of dharma and combat destruction in order to look out for the well-being of the planet are met with this very obvious contradiction that our entire society seems to be founded upon. By taking these ideas that dharma gives to us, we are given a way to change the world around us and thereby create order out the chaos that self-centered thinking has built within the natural world, but as we practice dharma, we are, at the same time, going against the very grain our society functions within.

Featured Image Courtesy of: Divine Light Angels

Nature is Poetry

 

The poet understands the intrinsic value in all that exists on the page, just as he understands how incredible and unique everything is in the world. All words and pieces of punctuation and lines in a good poem are related to each other and work together to make a whole. Just as a poem, everything in the natural world is relevant. To understand a poem, one must put some effort into coming to terms with each part. Once you break down every stanza, you begin to see the piece in its entirety.

“From somewhere behind the smoke and heat came the hypnotic sounds of frogs, rhythmic as a heartbeat from the swampiness of beginnings.”- Solar Storms, Linda Hogan

Nature is always changing and evolving just as language is. Gary Snyder and Linda Hogan use beautiful language and abstract visuals to create an intense image in the readers mind. These writers want their work to make an impact on their readers. Everyone reads poetry differently, just as everyone sees nature from different perspectives. The amazing part about describing nature through poetry is that nature is free-formative, thought provoking and deeply fascinating. If we wrote about nature in a very commonplace way like “the tree hangs over the river.” it wouldn’t give the reader much space to visualize and understand the tree. What type of tree is it? Are there animals living in the tree? How is the tree connected to life on the river and the river itself? If we write about nature like “the ancient oak hangs its knotted branches over the swift river, thick, black roots protruding from mud along the bank.” Which piece of writing is going to make the reader experience nature in a way that makes them feel a certain way. Nature is incredibly diverse, so there is always something interesting and unique to write about. Writing about the natural world in a dull or uninspired way goes against the concept that nature is a place of creation and thought.

If you sit at the edge of a winding river and listen to the churning whitewater, you feel the infinite power of the river. If you walk along its bank, you will see its age and its wisdom. How can one put this on to paper? How can one best capture the essence of nature? A photographer would say take a picture! A picture freezes a moment and time and allows us to look back on it in many different ways. But what about a writer? A writer must capture all that emotion and detail in his mind and then project it through pen and onto paper. A picture of this winding river might show an old oak hanging drearily over the rushing waters, or a beaver eagerly gnawing at a branch in order to make a home for her offspring. Using poetic language is the best way to show nature because people see nature in a very abstract way. The intricacies of nature are best exemplified by the intricacies of language. Each word has immense meaning and potential, just as each tree and animal has so much relevancy to us.

Playing With Fire

Both Carson and Berry were concerned with mankind’s increasing dependency on industrialized agricultural techniques.  While Berry wrote about monoculture, and Carson wrote about the excessive use of pesticides and chemicals, both focused on the problematic nature of not only the farming industry, but the way in which we treat the earth.  Although these systems of agriculture have ‘revolutionized’ the way in which human beings eat, both these writers argue that this ‘progress’ has come at a great cost.  Carson writes about the physical harm that every person in the U.S. (and in other industrialized countries) is subjected to because of the amount of chemicals used to produce everything that we eat.  She explains the ways in which this happens, as well as gives real life examples.  Similarly, Berry writes about single crop farming and its negative affects on not only the planet, but on our culture and our very being.  The connection that I found when reading these two narratives is the message that we are damaging ourselves while we honestly believe we are bettering our lives.  For centuries people have been striving to simplify tasks and by doing so, destroying the natural process of life.

Carson’s message about our use of chemicals on the planet is very clear: while we use poison for simple, fixes we have no idea the damage that we are doing to ourselves and to the planet.  When I read Silent Spring it makes me think about my high school Sophomore history class in which we learned about Mao Zedong’s “Great Sparrow Campaign”; during which he set in motion a campaign to kill all the sparrows in China, thinking it would stop them from eating crops.  Not only did this not help at all, after the killing of hundreds of thousands of birds, the ecosystem was incredibly damaged.  Carson compares the immediate effects of chemicals on human beings vs. the effects on the planet, “We are rightly appalled by the genetic effects of radiation; how then, can we be indifferent to the same effect in chemicals that we disseminate wildly in our environment?”(Carson 36).  From Carson’s writing I began to see human kind as having evolved technologically enough to destroy, but not mentally enough to know that we are destroying.  We are like children trying to kill a bug with fire and accidentally burning the whole house down.

Berry writes more directly about the effects of monoculture farming on our personal well-being.  He contends that the more industrialized our farming becomes, the farther we remove ourselves from being a part of the natural world.  Berry believed that the essence of our culture stems from the structure of our agriculture.  Today, we live in a highly industrialized world where we go into one building and find every kind of food we could want.  Our fruits and veggies are all grown on single crop industrialized farms, dowsed in pesticides, shipped to our market, wrapped in plastic, and purchased with our money.  We are drawn in by the ease of it all.  Living in a busy, capitalistic society, we do not have time to grow our own food.  We rely on someone doing it for us and sending it to a store that is on the route home from work.  In today’s society there are very few people who would rather put in the time and effort of cultivating their own food, when it is so easily accessible.  We no longer physically work to feed ourselves, we work to make money to have someone else feed us.  Berry contends that because of this, we are removing ourselves from the simple joys of being alive.  He writes, “But nowhere is the destructive influence of the modern home so great as in its remoteness from work.  When people do not live where they work, they do not feel the effects of what they do”(Berry 52).  Berry basically states that because we exists as cogs on an industrialized, capitalistic machine, and most of us do not even see the outcome of our work.  This obviously takes away our incentive, therefore leaving us with this hatred of work and the feeling that we are above it.  However, we also exist in a society in which manual labor is considered even farther beneath us than bureaucratic work, so unless one discards this idea, there really is no way to get back to nature.

We exist in a world where human beings truly believe that we somehow are living separately from the rest of the planet.  We seem to have no qualms about the exploitation our home in order to make our own lives just that much easier.  As products of our society, we must live in a world which devalues physical labor and praises the conformity which upholds our industrialized way of life.  We have evolved to search for the ease and immediacy in everything.  This removes us from the rest of the world which exists in a slowly moving balance of life.  Berry and Carson make excellent points that we are killing our planet and ourselves for a little simplicity in our day-to-day lives.  The worst part about it is that most of us really believe that we are above the rest of the world.  We believe that our evolution is adding to our betterment, rather than our destruction.

Self Destructive Intelligence

Environmental writers Rachel Carson and Wendell Berry’s world famous writings were written decades ago, but the truth they spoke still remains today. The writings found within this blog about Rachel Carson and Wendell Berry; relate closely to one another, and aim towards the future.  Silent Spring and The Unsettling of America, both focus on agricultural issues, and cultural issues within the modern world. Although both of these books were written a few decades in the past (Silent Spring, 1962- Unsettling of America, 1977) the issues and facts still remain true today.

Carson’s Silent Spring and Berry’s Unsettling of America both focus on issues within agriculture. Agriculture is the foundation of any culture. Without food how can any population survive? With the rapid growth of our species population, and the demand for more food and advanced technology, us humans must alter our environment and collect more resources. The ways in which we have farmed for our food have changed dramatically within the last century. Within The Unsettling of America Berry states during his upbringing farms were “generally small”, family owned farms, “They were farmed by families who lived not only upon them, but within and from them”(39). As the human population has grown in size people have moved from the small town farm lands to living within cities and suburban neighborhoods. Less people are focused on where their food comes from, and more worried about materialistic objects. Now that less people are involved in the production of their own food, the farmers and producers of food were forced to produce at an impossible rate. This is where modern science comes into play; with the creation of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. These chemical creations undoubtedly do their job at helping farmers produce massive amounts of food; but have consequential effects on the environment and ourselves.

Carson’s Silent Spring does well in educating the reader about the use of pesticides, and also tells of the delicate balances in nature that we humans have effected greatly. Carson explains that these chemicals we have inputted into our environment do not stay at the farm. When it rains these chemicals runoff into our fresh water supply, and more importantly enter the nonhuman environment. These chemicals kill organisms and also cause dangerous mutations that can spread over generations. Since the time of the release of this book many of the dangerous chemicals written about in Silent Spring have since been forbidden to use, because of their known negative effects. Although we have partially moved away from the use of toxic chemicals we still face many agricultural problems.

Carson also discusses in Silent Spring the delicate balances in nature. The geologic processes and cycles of elements around our planet have taken millions of years to form. Our planet has never seen a species adapt and become so intelligent as us. We can alter our world and its resources and turn it into a place where our standard of living is incredible. As we change the form of our planet we have eliminated many species by taking their homes and changing them. Scientist predict that today’s modern world will send our planet into the sixth mass extinction period.

“Given time – time not in years but in millennia – life adjusts, and a balance has been reached. For time is the essential ingredient; but in the modern world there is no time. The rapidity of change and the speed with which new situations are created follow the impetuous and heedless pace of man rather than the deliberate pace of nature.”

-Rachel Carson-

Image result for rachel carson

Wendell Berry also expresses his concerns and knowledge about agriculture, and its effects on culture and the natural world. As stated above the standard of living for our species has improved greatly. We no longer are living in caves gathering and hunting food. We are working class Americans who go to work and buy our food. Us humans do not test our mortality as predators fighting for a meal. In fact our culture has changed so much we even dread going to work and try to escape it.

“The Growth of the exploiters’ revolution on this continent has been accompanied by the growth of the idea that work is beneath human dignity, particularly any form of hand work. We have made it our overriding ambition to escape work, and as a consequence have debased work until it is only fit to escape from” (12)

-Wendell Berry-

I completely agree with this idea. Let’s face it, work sucks, who doesn’t want to sit back with their feet up instead of labor? I too am privileged to live on this continent and live the way we do. Although our standard of living and means of living could be described as “immature”. We take so much and give nothing back to our planet. Now lets switch gears and look at the standard of living of the people on the opposite side of the spectrum. Many people on our planet live without materialistic objects and get only what they need to survive. Whether this is their choice or not, it can be viewed in a worldly sense as “mature”. These people travel miles by foot for water and their food sources are very scarce. They don’t contribute to green house gas emissions, and they certainly do not spread chemicals into the environment. If the nonhuman organisms of our planet had a sentient mind capable of understanding this; I think they would appreciate the mature humans on our planet that only take what they need. The people of our continent live in a world of pleasure and amusement and it is great I cannot deny. But for the sake of our future and the future of generations to come, we must become more mature. This crisis is a crisis of culture and boils down to every individual within it.

As we send our planet further out of balance it will be even more difficult to straighten it out and return Earth to its delicate balance. I feel lucky to live during this time, to witness the greatest change and mark in human history on our planet.

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Brazil, Deforestation, and Enviornmental Responsibility

“Thirty thousand kinds of unknown plants.

The living actual people of the jungle

Sold and tortured-

And a robot in a suit who peddles a delusion called “Brazil” can speak for them?”

This is a Gary Snyder quote I revisited in order to establish the basis for a reality that is all too deplorable, yet real. Nobody should have the right to destroy what he or she did not create! People in governments are exploiting the land, people, and all its inhabitants in the name of economic process plus big bills in the pockets of the elite. I have a good friend from Brazil named Vitor and he told me that Brazil’s government is one of the absolute most corrupt in the world and just recently he told me a Brazilian president was impeached for laundering tax money. While much of the population lives in slums in or around the big cities, there are still many tribes that live in the vast rainforests. Gary Snyder had an incredible way of vivaciously poeticizing political and environmental issues. His device is very intriguing in the way that when one reads it, it will stick with them and is hard to ignore. The points he made in this poem along with others in “Turtle Island” are a very conscientious view of the actual destruction of living things in the name of progress and money.

The government allows money to be made off the destruction of these natural habitats and homes. Guha elaborates on this topic more by saying how in Brazil during the 70’s, scientists, lawyers, journalists, etc. all started to push an environmentally green movement. Forest loss, soil erosion, and water depletion plagued much of India’s already struggling peasants whom informed the more educated class. Brazils plan was ultimately proactive while India’s was mainly reactive. In Brazil, the destruction they call “progress” has involved even foreign aid and business as well as some help from the World Bank…are you kidding me? The lack of morality in people who are leading us into the future is distrusting. For example, in Guha’s “Enviornmentalism A Global History”, it was noted that “In the Amazon. A massive expansion of the road network-with some 8000 miles built between 1960 and 1984- opened way for settlers from the south in search of quick fortunes. Roads brought in colonists and took away the timber of mahogany, rosewood, and other valuable trees. In Thirty years almost 10 perent of territory, a staggering 60 million hectares of forest, or an area larger than France, had been logged or burnt over. An estimated 85 percent of this has been converted into pastures for livestock; a most inappropriate form of land use on poor soils of rain.” (Guha 117).

Even though these people were poor and wanted a better life, this is a prime example of how humans need to be responsible and smart about how we treat the Earth. Most of the land was essentially destroyed for no reason for it was converted to farming grounds yet the soil was inadequate, if it were more sustainable, it would be at least a little more reasonable. This is where the government needs to step in and help these people instead of letting forests get destroyed in order for a better cash flow. Jose Lutzemberger put in bluntly in 1978, saying: “ The citizen is realizing he needs to participate in politics because if not the bureaucrats will steamroll right over him. He needs to participate to know what is happening and he needs to shout.” Sadly, in the world of politics today, there is an apparent problem of a lack of social justice and an abundance of economic interest.

As it was and most likely will always be, politicians and government officials want to make the most money for the country that they can. It is up to the citizens of free country’s to make sure lawmakers are kept in check, for if not, exploitation of people, land, animals, and resources could get out of hand. The leaders of this world seem to have a lot of confidence but not enough competence. Some act as if natural resources are unlimited. Along with that, the disregard for basic life and exploiting land that is not rightfully theirs to tarnish causes agony to the environment and the life inhabiting it. On the other hand, it is also the responsibility of citizens to partake in social justice and be smart about how we treat Mother Earth, especially at the rate she is being harmed.

Recurring Themes in the Environmental World

The texts we’ve read in class have offered a descriptive ad intellectual insight to the established and growing field of environmentalism. From Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, we have read and understood the argument of the author. We have processed their data, their proposed evidence, we have discussed it, for it’s ethical as well logical significance. Time after time again, we sit back and think to ourselves, “Damn they are completely right”. Part of what makes them right is that they acknowledge that there is not a sole answer for the growing problems, but they must be solved working together, addressing all fields and covering all bases.

So why do some fight back against the progress? I don’t believe there is one answer to that question. We discussed in class the dangers of “specialized thinking” or what too much weight on one end of the spectrum might do. The exclusion of certain subjects is always a result. The key is a balance, an equal understanding or at least an acknowledgment of all parts of the working machine. Wendell Berry discusses the role of “traditional agriculture” and its struggle to survive in a growing commercially economic world. “The attitudes and values of traditional agriculture still survive in our time and are supported by the experience of our time. Their survival is marginal and is mostly ignored both by the colleges of agriculture and by the agricultural press, which, if they acknowledge it at all, do so in order to treat it with contempt. But survivors do exist. They are connected by a sort of network that one travels by hearsay and friendship. By now I have encountered a good many of them, and have been impressed as often by the excellence of their characters as by the excellence of their farms. They are people of principle, both stubborn and adventurous, independent enough to trust their own experience and strong enough to hold in considerable isolation to truths not officially or popularly favored” (Berry 294). I bolded some of the points I believe reinforce the dangers of specialized thinking. The survival through time stands out as an example of how a progressive world can push out old ways of thinking. The “experience”, allows the participant to make the active choice, as they possess the knowledge to make that choice. Some people make their decisions because they know nothing else or have no other realistic option. The terms “hearsay and friendship” just bring a happy thought to mind. If humans, want to make progress in the field of environmentalism, we must work together. Togetherness and unity are one of the recurring themes of environmentalism. We must seek similarities over differences, as true progress cannot be made when invisible differences get in the way.

Rachel Carson focuses one chapter specifically on the direct consequences of mankind’s meddling with dangerous poisons and toxins, she titles in “The Human Price”. I believe this was another effort to erase the lines in the sand that humanity has drawn for itself to fight over. This title was to reach out and say “Hey, this is a problem that applies to you me and everyone in-between. No one is immune to these chemicals or the effects they have on our genes. Carson outlines the message at hand, “Now our major concern is no longer the disease organisms that were once omnipresent; sanitation, better living conditions, and new drugs have given us a high degree of control over infectious disease. Today we are concerned over a different kind of hazard that lurks in our environment–a hazard we ourselves have introduced into our world as our modern way of life has evolved” (Carson 187).  We must expand the lens in which we view our world. The bias of one field of study can easily suppress or distract mankind from important information elsewhere. As a people, we must come together and re-think our way of educating. Environmentalism must be on the ground floor of education, as it is the future of healthy living for all the organisms of Earth.

 

 

A Willow tree on the 11th fairway, a rare siting in Berkshire County.

Although we may not be able to keep the past. If we can preserve and conserve it accordingly to our own actions and decisions, we stand a chance at keeping it as pretty as the pictures. Guha addresses the idea that politics plays a bigger role than we can understand. In chapter 7, he outlines that contributors come from all backgrounds, “This book has highlighted thinkers and movements from the First and Third Worlds, but has thus far left unmentioned the people and territories in between” (Guha 125). Guha includes the notion that politics play far more into this field than we can see with the naked eye. He addresses some countries inability to act for themselves, some governments disregarding the rights of their citizens for purely capital reasons. The differences that have come about in Earth and mankind’s short history are by no means comparable to the time it took for Earth to become inhabitable at all. The least we can do is adjust the sails for the sake of taking care of our universal body in space. The questions and ideas that come to mind when discussing such things can be challenging. That is what makes this problem one of great importance, as it applies to every single one of us.

The Need for Education in Guha and Carson

In both of their books, both Ramachandra Guha and Rachel Carson emphasize the need for education about environmental issues. The tone of each work is to educate the reader on why environmental awareness is necessary for society.

In the section entitled “Needless Havoc” of Silent Spring, Carson writes that “The citizen who wishes to make a fair judgment of the question of wildlife loss is today confronted with a dilemma. On the one hand conservationists and many wildlife biologists assert that the losses have been severe and in some cases even catastrophic. On the other hand the control agencies tend to deny flatly and categorically that such losses have occurred, or that they are of any importance if they have. Which view are we to accept?” (Carson, 86). This “dilemma” that Carson writes of depicts her belief that the general public must have an educational basis on which to base their views on environmental issues. Throughout the text, Carson assumes an educational tone with her sections on pesticides and their impact on the environment. She also includes elements of historical context for the reader to learn to value the environment that has taken “hundreds of millions of years to produce the life that now inhabits the earth-eons of time in which that developing and evolving and diversifying life reached a state of adjustment and balance with its surroundings” (Carson, 6). Prior to reading Carson’s book, most individuals probably did not consider the time investment of the development of the natural environment.

Carson’s support for environmental education has manifested itself in numerous ways that are evident in contemporary society. The goals of the EPA, World Health Organization, and Practical Action, to name a few organizations, are to educate the general public regarding the needs of the environment and how the state of the environment affects daily life.

In addition to Carson’s work, Guha’s book also strives to educate the reader on the need for environmental awareness. Since many readers may initially question the need for the environmentalism movement, Guha clearly outlines why the global initiative is needed. Adopting the writing style of Carson, Guha also provides a historical section that discusses how the Industrial Revolution in nineteenth century England has had an impact on the environment today. Both Carson and Guha rely on historical examples and data to prove their case for environmental awareness.

Both authors emphasize the need for education to spark the beginning of the environmental movement. While these writings are also still relevant to contemporary society, environmental education classes are not always fit into school syllabuses while subjects such as biology and physics seem to be obvious components to a general education.