Ring of Fire & Mars in the Night Sky

Hubble Mosaic of the Majestic Sombrero Galaxy

The Sombrero Galaxy, an Image Captured by the Hubble Telescope     

October 2, 2003

The Hubble Heritage Team of astronomers, who assemble many of the NASA Hubble Space Telescope's most stunning pictures, is celebrating its five-year anniversary with the release of the picturesque Sombrero galaxy. One of the largest Hubble mosaics ever assembled, this magnificent galaxy has a diameter that is nearly one-fifth the diameter of the full moon. The team used Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys to take six pictures of the galaxy and then stitched them together to create the final composite image. The photo reveals a myriad of stars in a pancake-shaped disk as well as a glowing central bulge of stars.

Since its inception in 1998, the Hubble Heritage Project has released more than 65 images of dazzling celestial objects, including planets, dying stars, regions of star formation, clusters of stars, individual galaxies, and even clusters of galaxies. This has been done on a monthly basis.

The Heritage team of Space Telescope Science Institute astronomers and image processing specialists selects images from the Hubble Space Telescope's public data archive. This database contains approximately 500,000 raw images taken over the past 13 years. Although astronomers use Hubble to photograph numerous celestial objects, those results are usually shared with only the astronomical community. The Heritage team periodically combs the archive looking for interesting, but unreleased, pictures to become Heritage image candidates.

"Some of the photogenic objects that have been scientific targets often lack sufficient exposure across a range of colors," explains Keith Noll, the Heritage lead scientist. "In other archival images the telescope's field of view only covers a small, unrecognizable portion of the object, so we have to fill in the rest."

The Hubble Heritage Project has been granted a small amount of observing time to essentially "fill in the gaps" in these images. The Heritage astronomers also seek visually interesting objects in the universe that have not yet been selected for Hubble scientific observations. For the Sombrero galaxy, the Heritage program devoted a number of orbits to complete a photo mosaic of the object.

Public visitors to the Heritage website ( have also been invited to help select attractive astronomical targets. One overwhelming choice of the voters was the famous Horsehead Nebula in the constellation Orion the hunter.

The Heritage program has been recognized for its contribution to inspiring the public with some of the most photogenic images ever produced in astronomy. Recent achievements for the team include the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 2003 Klumpke-Roberts award for "outstanding contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy." In 2002, two Heritage images were selected in the Rochester Institute of Technology's "Images From Science" traveling gallery exhibit. Several images have been selected by the US and UK postal systems. In 2000, a first-class US postage stamp showing the Ring Nebula was one of five Hubble images selected to be part of a commemorative series of stamps honoring astronomer Edwin P. Hubble.

Hubble's new Advanced Camera for Surveys, and eventually the planned Wide Field Camera 3, promise to give the Heritage team an opportunity to share with the public even more opulent views of our colorful universe.

Release Date: 12:00AM (EDT) October 2, 2003
Release Number: STScI-2003-28


Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD
(Phone: 410-338-4514; E-mail:


Mars in the Night Sky*
On the night of August 26 thru 27 Mars passed closer to us than it has in nearly 60,000 years.  (Click on photo left for "SKY & TELESCOPE" website.)
Because it is close to Earth in space, Mars looks like a dramatically bright "star" in the sky. Mars is well up in the southeast by about 9 or 10 p.m. during late August but earlier (soon after dusk) in September. It gets a little higher in the sky and shifts toward the south during the night. 
This proximity makes Mars look like a breathtakingly bright "star" in the late-evening sky. You can't miss it! For the remainder of August and all of September, Mars shines many times brighter than any other star in the summer sky. Anyone can see it, no matter how little you know about the stars or how badly light-polluted your sky may be. In late August, look for Mars glaring like a bright orange beacon low in the southeast at nightfall, and higher later in the night. In September it's high up as soon as twilight fades. By midnight Mars is at its highest, shining in the south. Most people will notice the planet's fiery yellow-orange hue, which is due to the rust-like iron compounds in Mars's surface.

The red planet will be precisely 34,646,418 miles (55,758,006 kilometers) from Earth, measured center to center, at 5:51 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on the 27th. If you missed it Wednesday night, no problem. for all practical purposes, Mars will appear just about as big and bright for several weeks.

*Note:  Seen through a backyard telescope, Mars displays a mottled bright and dark appearance. Also seen is its white south polar cap, consisting of frozen water and carbon dioxide ("dry ice"). This August 2nd image is a composite of about 500 frames of video shot with a Celestron 14-inch telescope and a PlanetCam from Adirondack Video Astronomy. Photo Courtesy Johnny Horne.
More photos to be uploaded from the Hubble website as soon as they are available!  For further info, click on the image above for the astronomy journal, Sky & Telescope website and below for the Hubble Telescope website:

Hubble Telescope. The latest and greatest up-close shots of Mars.


Two New Moons Circling Uranus Are Discovered by Hubble Telescope - September 25, 2003

These images, taken with the NASA Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), show several faint moons circling Uranus, including a newly detected moon and a rediscovered satellite. The planet's ring system can also be seen.

The arrow in the frame at right points to one of two newly discovered moons, among the smallest moons yet found around Uranus. The moon is temporarily designated as S/2003 U 1 until the International Astronomical Union (IAU) formally approves its discovery. S/2003 U 1 is orbiting 60,600 miles (97,700 km) away from the planet. If the satellite is as dark as Uranus's other moons, it is 10 miles (16 km) across, about the size of San Francisco. The Hubble telescope spotted this moon orbiting between the moons Puck, the largest satellite found by Voyager, and Miranda, the innermost of the five largest Uranian satellites. Astronomers previously thought this region was empty space. S/2003 U 1 whirls around the gas giant planet in 22 hours and 9 minutes.

The arrow in the frame at left points to a rediscovered moon orbiting 750 miles (1,200 km) away from the moon Belinda. The moon was detected in Voyager images, but the finding needed confirmation by an Earth-based telescope. Some astronomers think that S/1986 U 10 was once part of Belinda and broke off during a collision with a comet. Once certified by the IAU, these new discoveries will raise the number of Uranus moons to 24. Thirteen of them orbit even closer to Uranus than the five largest satellites, which are hundreds of miles wide. The location of one of those five satellites, Miranda, is shown in the image. The satellite itself cannot be seen because its bright light has been blocked out. hubble2.jpg

Astronomers stretched the limit of the ACS to find the S/2003 U 1 and S/1986 U 10. The moons are 40 million times fainter than Uranus. Even with the high resolution and sensitivity of the ACS, astronomers had to overexpose the images of Uranus to pinpoint the moons.The images were made from a series of exposures taken Aug. 25, 2003. In order to show the faint moons in these images, the light from the much brighter Uranus has been blocked out. A separate but much shorter exposure of Uranus has been inserted into the images for reference. All the moons appear streaked because they were moving in their orbits during the long exposures. The white specks in the background are image artifacts.

Credit: NASA, M. Showalter (Stanford University/NASA Ames Research Center), J. Lissauer (NASA Ames Research Center)


Skywatchers See 'Ring of Fire'

an Annular Eclipse of the Sun




Skywatchers in the North Atlantic region were treated on Saturday, May 31, 2002 to an annular eclipse of the Sun.


Just after dawn, people standing in a broad path from Scotland to Greenland saw the Moon slip inside the Sun's disc to produce a "ring of fire" around the lunar limb. But the low position on the horizon for the event meant many people had their view obstructed by mist and cloud. The BBC's science correspondent, Pallab Ghosh, standing on a beach at  Unst in the Shetland Islands, had his big moment ruined by the British weather. "When the Sun started rising, there was great hope because there was a break in the cloud and looking through eclipse viewers we saw the Moon take a huge chunk out of the Sun. It was spectacular, the light had a rosy glow and we were hoping to see the ring of fire - but just at the crucial moment, the Sun and Moon passed up into the biggest bank of cloud you could imagine."


Dark Shadow


Because the Moon is currently more than 400,000 kilometres from Earth in its orbit, its apparent size in the sky is insufficient to completely cover the Sun's disc - as happens in a total solar eclipse.

The sky does not go completely black; a ring or annulus of sunlight is still visible.

The effect is to throw an "antumbra" or "negative shadow" on the Earth's surface as the Moon moves across the face of the Sun. It is the track of this antumbra that is referred to as the path of annularity. On Saturday, May 31st, this path touched down first on the Grampian Mountains of the Scottish Highlands at about 0345 (0445 BST). It then mvoed in a northwewtern trajectory, which stretched across Loch Ness, the Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides), Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands.


Partial Show

he track of the shadow took it through "the Faeroe Island at 0351 GMT, and the the  southeastern coast  of Iceland at 0359 GMT from Iceland , the shadow then raced across the Denmark Strait and bisected Greenland, lifting off into space from the Davis Strait the at 0431 GMT.

From start to finish, the antumbra's sweep across the planet lasted just 47 minutes. Those viewing outside the favoured zone were treated to a partial eclipse, in which the Moon just took a bite out of the side of the Sun's disc.

This was visible across a very much broader region, taking in most of Europe (except Spain and Portugal), the Middle East, as well as central and northern Asia.

There is a total solar eclipse this year on 23 November but it will only be visible from Antarctica. A partial eclipse will be visible though from parts of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.




An annular eclipse is one where the Moon is too small to cover the Sun completely, and leaves a proportion of the Sun showing. Annular eclipses can pass unnoticed because the remaining part of the Sun is so bright the environment is not noticeably dimmed.




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old growth C
alifornia OakThe Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, "The Peace of Wild Things," Openings (1968)

This page is evolving into the "Ecology" or "Nature" Page . . .
to start with, the following are four articles -- the first an interview with Pullitzer prize-winning poet, Dharma bum and ecologist Gary Snyder, then excerpts from biologist Edward O. Wilson's most recent book "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge" and a conversation with him . . . and finally two articles by ecopsychologist Chellis Glendinning  . . . m-c


The Wild Mind of Gary Snyder
by Trevor Carolan
Shambala Sun
May, 1996
For the nineties, the celebrated Beat rebel advocates "wild mind," neighborhood values and watershed politics. "Wild mind," he says, "means elegantly self-disciplined, self-regulating. That's what wilderness is. Nobody has a management plan for it."
Asked if he grows tired of talking about ecological stewardship, digging in, and coalition-building, the poet Gary Snyder responds with candor: "Am I tired of talking about it? I'm tired of doing it!" he roars. "But hey, you've got to keep doing it. That's part of politics, and politics is more than winning and losing at the polls."
These days, there's an honest, conservative-sounding ring to the politics of the celebrated Beat rebel. Gary Snyder, though, has little in common with the right wingers who currently prevail throughout the western world.
"Conservatism has some very valid meanings," he says. "Of course, most of the people who call themselves conservative aren't that, because they're out to extract and use, to turn a profit. Curiously, eco and artist people and those who work with dharma practice are conservatives in the best sense of the word-we're trying to save a few things!
"Care for the environment is like noblesse oblige," he maintains. "You don't do it because it has to be done. You do it because it's beautiful. That's the bodhisattva spirit. The bodhisattva is not anxious to do good, or feels obligation or anything like that. In Jodo-shin Buddhism, which my wife was raised in, the bodhisattva just says, 'I picked up the tab for everybody. Goodnight folks...' "
Five years ago, in a prodigious collection of essays called The Practice of the Wild, Gary Snyder introduced a pair of distinctive ideas to our vocabulary of ecological inquiry. Grounded in a lifetime of nature and wilderness observation, Snyder offered the "etiquette of freedom" and "practice of the wild" as root prescriptions for the global crisis.
Informed by East-West poetics, land and wilderness issues, anthropology, benevolent Buddhism, and Snyder's long years of familiarity with the bush and high mountain places, these principles point to the essential and life-sustaining relationship between place and psyche.
Such ideas have been at the heart of Snyder's work for the past forty years. When Jack Kerouac wrote of a new breed of counterculture hero in The Dharma Bums, it was a thinly veiled account of his adventures with Snyder in the mid-l950's. Kerouac's effervescent reprise of a West Coast dharma-warrior's dedication to "soil conservation, the Tennessee Valley Authority, astronomy, geology, Hsuan Tsang's travels, Chinese painting theory, reforestation, Oceanic ecology and food chains" remains emblematic of the terrain Snyder has explored in the course of his life.
One of our most active and productive poets, Gary Snyder has also been one of our most visible. Returning to California in 1969 after a decade abroad, spent mostly as a lay Zen Buddhist monk in Japan, he homesteaded in the Sierras and worked the lecture trail for sixteen years while raising a young family. By his own reckoning he has seen "practically every university in the United States."
As poet-essayist, Snyder's work has been uncannily well-timed, contributing to his reputation as a farseeing and weatherwise interpreter of cultural change. With his current collection of essays, A Place In Space, Snyder brings welcome news of what he's been thinking about in recent years. Organized around the themes of "Ethics, Aesthetics and Watersheds," it opens with a discussion of Snyder's Beat Generation experience.
"It was simply a different time in the American economy," he explained when I spoke to him recently in Seattle. "It used to be that you came into a strange town, picked up work, found an apartment, stayed a while, then moved on. Effortless. All you had to have was a few basic skills and be willing to work. That's the kind of mobility you see celebrated by Kerouac in On The Road. For most Americans, it was taken for granted. It gave that insouciant quality to the young working men of North America who didn't have to go to college if they wanted to get a job.
"I know this because in 1952 I was able to hitch-hike into San Francisco, stay at a friend's, and get a job within three days through the employment agency. With an entry level job, on an entry level wage, I found an apartment on Telegraph Hill that I could afford and I lived in the city for a year. Imagine trying to live in San Francisco or New York-any major city-on an entry level wage now? You can't do it. Furthermore, the jobs aren't that easy to get."
The freedom and openness of the post-war economy made it possible for people such as Snyder, Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lew Welch and others to disaffiliate from mainstream American dreams of respectability. And as Snyder writes, these "proletarian bohemians" chose even further disaffiliation, refusing to write "the sort of thing that middle-class Communist intellectuals think proletarian literature ought to be."
"In making choices like that, we were able to choose and learn other tricks for not being totally engaged with consumer culture," he says. "We learned how to live simply and were very good at it in my generation. That was what probably helped shape our sense of community. We not only knew each other, we depended on each other. We shared with each other.
"And there is a new simple-living movement coming back now, I understand," he notes, "where people are getting together, comparing notes about how to live on less money, how to share, living simply."
When Gary Snyder points something out, it generally warrants attention: his thinking has consistently been ahead of the cultural learning curve. Nowhere is his prescience more obvious than in "A Virus Runs Through It," an unpublished review of William Burroughs' 1962 The Ticket That Exploded.
Snyder regarded Burroughs' portrait of a society obsessed with addiction and consumerism, "whipped up by advertising," as an omen. He concluded that Burroughs' "evocation of the politics of addiction, mass madness, and virus panic, is all too prophetic."
"We were very aware of heroin addiction at that time," Snyder explains. "Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Holmes and their circle in New York became fascinated with the metaphor of addiction in the light of heroin, smack. Marijuana was not an issue, but the intense addictive quality of heroin, and the good people who were getting drawn into it, and the romance some people had for it, was a useful framework for thinking about the nature of capitalist society and the addiction to fossil fuels in the industrial sector. It was obvious."
Many of Snyder's original arguments addressing pollution and our addiction to consumption have by now become mainstream: reduced fossil fuel dependence, recycling, responsible resource harvesting. Others remain works-in-progress: effective soil conservation, economics as a "small subbranch of ecology," learning to "break the habit of acquiring unnecessary possessions," division by natural and cultural boundaries rather than arbitrary political boundaries.
As an ecological philosopher, Snyder's role has been to point out first the problems, and then the hard medicine that must be swallowed. Snyder has become synonymous with integrity-a good beginning place if your wilderness poetics honor "clean-running rivers; the presence of pelican and osprey and gray whale in our lives; salmon and trout in our streams; unmuddied language and good dreams."
"My sense of the West Coast," he says, "is that it runs from somewhere about the Big Sur River-the southern-most river that salmon run in-from there north to the Straits of Georgia and beyond, to Glacier Bay in southern Alaska. It is one territory in my mind. People all relate to each other across it; we share a lot of the same concerns and text and a lot of the same trees and birds."
Raised in the Pacific Northwest, Snyder grew up close to the anthropomorphic richness of the local Native American mythology, the rainforest totems of eagle, bear, raven and killer whale that continue to appear in school and community insignias as important elements of regional consciousness. It is unsurprising that they-and roustabout cousins like Coyote-have long been found at the core of Snyder's expansive vision. Literal-minded rationalists have had difficulty with Snyder's Buddhist-oriented eco-philosophy and poetics. His embrace of Native Indian lore only further ruffled orthodox literary imagination, and in the past his poetry was criticized as being thin, loose or scattered.
As Snyder readers know, the corrective to such interpretations of his work is more fresh air and exercise. Regarding Buddhism, his take is offered simply and efficiently. "The marks of Buddhist teaching," he writes in A Place In Space, "are impermanence, no-self, the inevitability of suffering and connectedness, emptiness, the vastness of mind, and a way to realization."
"It seems evident," he writes, offering insight into the dynamics of his admittedly complex world view, "that there are throughout the world certain social and religious forces that have worked through history toward an ecologically and culturally enlightened state of affairs. Let these be encouraged: Gnostics, hip Marxists, Teilhard de Chardin Catholics, Druids, Taoists, Biologists, Witches, Yogins, Bhikkus, Quakers, Sufis, Tibetans, Zens, Shamans, Bushmen, American Indians, Polynesians, Anarchists, Alchemistsprimitive cultures, communal and ashram movements, cooperative ventures."
"Idealistic, these?" he says when asked about such alternative "Third Force" social movements. "In some cases the vision can be mystical; it can be Blake. It crops up historically with William Penn and the Quakers trying to make the Quaker communities in Pennsylvania a righteous place to live-treating the native peoples properly in the process. It crops up in the utopian and communal experience of Thoreau's friends in New England.
"As utopian and impractical as it might seem, it comes through history as a little dream of spiritual elegance and economic simplicity, and collaboration and cooperating communally-all of those things together. It may be that it was the early Christian vision. Certainly it was one part of the early Buddhist vision. It turns up as a reflection of the integrity of tribal culture; as a reflection of the kind of energy that would try to hold together the best lessons of tribal cultures even within the overwhelming power and dynamics of civilization."
Any paradigm for a truly healthy culture, Gary Snyder argues, must begin with surmounting narrow personal identity and finding a commitment to place. Characteristically, he finds a way of remaking the now tired concept of "sense of place" into something fresh and vital. The rural model of place, he emphasizes, is no longer the only model for the healing of our culture.
"Lately I've been noticing how many more people who tend toward counterculture thinking are turning up at readings and book signings in the cities and the suburbs," he says. "They're everywhere. What I emphasize more and more is that a bioregional consciousness is equally powerful in a city or in the suburbs. Just as a watershed flows through each of these places, it also includes them.
"One of the models I use now is how an ecosystem resembles a mandala," he explains. "A big Tibetan mandala has many small figures as well as central figures, and each of them has a key role in the picture: they're all essential. The whole thing is an educational tool for understanding-that's where the ecosystem analogy comes in. Every creature, even the little worms and insects, has value. Everything is valuable-that's the measure of the system."
To Snyder, value also translates as responsibility. Within his approach to digging in and committing to a place is the acceptance of responsible stewardship. Snyder maintains that it is through this engaged sense of effort and practice-participating in what he salutes as "the tiresome but tangible work of school boards, county supervisors, local foresters, local politics"-that we find our real community, our real culture.
"Ultimately, values go back to our real interactions with others," he says. "That's where we live, in our communities.
"You know, I want to say something else," he continues. "In the past months and years Carole my wife has been amazing. I do my teaching and my work with the Yuba Watershed Institute, but she's incredible; she puts out so much energy. One of the things that makes it possible for us and our neighbors to do all this is that the husbands and wives really are partners; they help out and trade off. They develop different areas of expertise and they help keep each other from burning out. It's a great part of being a family and having a marriage-becoming fellow warriors, side to side."
In 1968, Snyder stated flatly that, "The modern American family is the smallest and most barren family that has ever existed." Throughout the years his recommendations concerning new approaches to the idea of family and relationships have customarily had a pagan, tribal flavor. These days he calls it community.
"I'm learning, as we all do, what it takes to have an ongoing relationship with our children," he says. "I have two grown sons, two stepdaughters, a nephew who's twenty-seven, and all their friends whom I know. We're still helping each other out. There's a real cooperative spirit. There's a fatherly responsibility there, and a warm, cooperative sense of interaction, of family as extended family, one that moves imperceptibly toward community and a community-values sense.
"So I'm urging people not to get stuck with that current American catch-phrase 'family values,' and not to throw it away either, but to translate it into community values. Neighborhood values are ecosystem values, because they include all the beings.
"What I suspect may emerge in the political spectrum is a new kind of conservative, one which is socially liberal, in the specific sense that it will be free of racial or religious prejudice. The bugaboo, that one really bad flaw of the right wing, except for the Libertarians, is its racist and anti-Semitic and anti-personal-liberty tone.
"A political spectrum that has respect for traditions, and at the same time is non-racist and tolerant about different cultures, is an interesting development. I'd be willing to bet that it's in the process of emerging, similar in a way to the European Green Parties that say, 'We're neither on the left nor the right; we're in front.'
"One of the things I'm trying to do, and I believe it's the right way to work," he says, "is to be non-adversarial-to go about it as tai chi, as ju-jitsu. To go with the direction of a local community issue, say, and change it slightly. We don't have to run head-on. We can say to the other party, 'You've got a lot of nice energy; let's see if we can run this way' "
Yet as anyone involved in community activism learns, amicable resolutions are not always the result. "Sometimes you do have to go head to head on an issue," he agrees, "and that's kind of fun too. 'Showing up' is good practice."
Snyder remembers a fight some four years ago over open pit mining. "I was the lead person on this one, to get an initiative on the ballot that would ban open pit mining, or at least put a buffer zone around any open pit mine. The mining companies from out of town spent a lot of money and did some really intense, last minute, nasty style campaigning, so we lost at the polls.
"But not a single open pit mine has been tried in our county since then. We understand from our interactions with these people that we won their respect. They were smart enough to see that they may have won it at the polls, but we were ready to raise money and willing to fight. That's standing up."
With the growing importance of community coalition-building, Snyder says he is finding it increasingly useful to narrow down his ideas about bioregionalism, or his notion of a practice of the wild, to a shared neighborhood level.

*"That's why I talk about watersheds," [photo, right--also, see article below on "The Watershed".] he explains. "Symbolically and literally they're the mandalas of our lives. They provide the very idea of the watershed's social enlargement, and quietly present an entry into the spiritual realm that nobody has to think of or recognize as being spiritual.
"The watershed is our only local Buddha mandala, one that gives us all, human and non-human, a territory to interact in. That is the beginning of dharma citizenship: not membership in a social or national sphere, but in a larger community citizenship. In other words, a sangha; a local dharma community. All of that is in there, like Dogen when he says, 'When you find your place, practice begins.' "
Thirteenth-century master Dogen Zenji is a classical Asian voice which Snyder has discussed frequently in recent years. "There are several levels of meaning in what Dogen says. There's the literal meaning, as in when you settle down somewhere. This means finding the right teaching, the right temple, the right village. Then you can get serious about your practice.
"Underneath, there's another level of implication: you have to understand that there are such things as places. That's where Americans have yet to get to. They don't understand that there are places. So I quote Dogen and people say, 'What do you mean, you have to find your place? Anywhere is okay for dharma practice because it's spiritual.' Well, yes, but not just any place. It has to be a place that you've found yourself. It's never abstract, always concrete."
If embracing the responsibility of the place and the moment is his prescription, a key principle in this creative stewardship is waking up to "wild mind." He clarifies that "wild" in this context does not mean chaotic, excessive or crazy.
"It means self-organizing," he says. "It means elegantly self-disciplined, self-regulating, self-maintained. That's what wilderness is. Nobody has to do the management plan for it. So I say to people, "let's trust in the self-disciplined elegance of wild mind". Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking, brings us close to the actually existing world and its wholeness."
This is Gary Snyder's wild medicine. From the beginning, it has been devotion to this quality that has served as his bedrock of practice, his way of carving out a place of freedom in the wall of American culture. In his omission of the personal in favor of the path, he exemplifies the basics of the Zen tradition in which he was trained.
The influx of trained Asian teachers of the Buddhadharma to the West in recent years has raised questions about whether the first homespun blossoming of Beat-flavored Buddhism in the fifties actually included the notion of practice. As one who was there and has paid his dues East and West, Snyder's response is heartening.
"In Buddhism and Hinduism, there are two streams: the more practice-oriented and the more devotional streams," he explains. "Technically speaking, the two tendencies are called bhakta and jnana. Bhakta means devotional; jnana means wisdom/practice. Contemporary Hinduism, for example, is almost entirely devotional-the bhakta tradition.
"Catholicism is a devotional religion, too, and Jack Kerouac's Buddhism had the flavor of a devotional Buddhism. In Buddhism the idea that anybody can do practice is strongly present. In Catholicism practice is almost entirely thought of as entering an order or as becoming a lay novitiate of an order. So that explains Jack's devotional flavor. There's nothing wrong with devotional Buddhism. It is its own creative religious approach, and it's very much there in Tibetan Buddhism too.
"Our western Buddhism has been strongly shaped by late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Asian intellectuals," he notes. "D. T. Suzuki was an intellectual strongly influenced by western thought. And the same is true of other early interpreters of Buddhism to the West.
"We came as westerners to Buddhism generally with an educated background," Snyder continues. "So we have tended to over-emphasize the intellectual and spiritual sides of it, with the model at hand of Zen, without realizing that a big part of the flavor of Buddhism, traditionally and historically, is devotional. This is not necessarily tied to doing a lot of practice, but is tied to having an altar in the house-putting flowers in front of it every day, burning incense in front of it every day, having the children bow and burn incense before it. The family may also observe certain Buddhist holy days such as the Buddha's birthday by visiting a temple together, and so forth.
"With that perspective in mind, it isn't so easy to say, 'Oh well, Jack Kerouac wasn't a real Buddhist.' He was a devotional Buddhist, and like many Asians do, he mixed up his Buddhism with several different religions. So it's okay; there's nothing wrong with that. You can be a perfectly good Buddhist without necessarily doing a lot of exercises and sitting and yoga; you can be equally a good Buddhist by keeping flowers on your altar, or in winter, dry grass or cedar twigs..
"There's a big tendency right now in western Buddhism to psychologize it-to try and take the superstition, the magic, the irrationality out of it and make it into a kind of therapy. You see that a lot," he says. "Let me say that I'm grateful for the fact that I lived in Asia for so long and hung out with Asian Buddhists. I appreciate that Buddhism is a whole practice and isn't just limited to the lecture side of it; that it has stories and superstition and ritual and goofiness like that. I love that aspect of it more and more."
Snyder says that at age sixty-five, he's "working like a demon." For the past ten years he has taught creative writing at the University of California, leading workshops and participating in the interdisciplinary "Nature and Culture" program. This year will also mark the arrival of his long-awaited sequence of forty-five poems called "Mountains and Rivers Without End," portions of which have appeared intermittently since Jack Kerouac first dropped word of it in The Dharma Bums.
"I realized I wasn't going to live forever and that I'd started a lot of parallel projects, with lots of interesting notes to each one, so it'd be a pity not to put all that information to good use. Once 'Mountains and Rivers' is done I won't have to write anything further. Anything after that is for fun. Maybe I won't be a writer anymore. Maybe I'll clean out my barn."
Aging and health are not at issue with Snyder. He works at keeping in good condition and several months ago spent three weeks hiking in the Himalayas with a group of family and friends.
"We trekked up to base camp at Everest, went over 18,000 feet three times, and were seven days above 16,000 feet," he says with obvious relish. "Everybody was in pretty good shape and I only lost four pounds in a month, so I'm not thinking a whole lot about aging."
Snyder's recent journey provided him with insights into the questions of karma and reincarnation, which eco-philosopher Joanna Macy believes may hold special relevance for North Americans. She argues that deeply ingrained American frontier values such as individualism, personal mobility, and independence may contribute to the idea that, "If this is our only one-time life, then we don't have to care about the planet."
"The concept of reincarnation in India can literally shape the way one lives in the world," Snyder notes, "and many Tibetans also believe in reincarnation quite literally. So in that frame of mind, the world becomes completely familiar. You sit down and realize that 'I've been men, women, animals; there are no forms that are alien to me.'
"That's why everyone in India looks like they're living in eternity. They walk along so relaxed, so confident, so unconcerned about their poverty or their illness, or whatever it is, even if they're beggars. It goes beyond just giving you a sense of concern for the planet; it goes so far as to say, 'Planets come and go' It's pretty powerful stuff. It's also there in classical Buddhism where people say, 'I've had enough of experience.' That's where a lot of Buddhism in India starts-'I want out of the meat wheel of existence,' as Jack Kerouac says."
An ecosystem too, Snyder concludes, can be seen as "Just a big metabolic wheel of energies being passed around and around. You can see it as a great dance, a great ceremony. You can feel either really at home with it, or step out of the circle."
"We are all indigenous," he reminds us. So it is appropriate that in relearning the lessons of fox and bluejay, or city crows and squirrels-"all members present at the assembly"-that we are promised neither too little, nor too much for our perseverance. This poet, who for so many now reads like an old friend, invites us to make only sense. After all, in recommiting to this continent place by place, he reckons, "We may not transform reality, but we may transform ourselves. And if we transform ourselves, we might just change the world a bit."


 The Watershed

A watershed is a section of land, which collects water from local springs, rain, hail and snow. It can be as small as a few acres or as large as one million square miles, such as the Mississippi River valley. A countryside of rolling hills in Kansas, a forest in northern Pennsylvania, a marshy land in southern Louisianna or a high desert, scrub oak hillside in northern New Mexico are all watersheds.

The water which collects is filtered through trees, bushes, plants, grasses and soil, thus cleansing it of pollutants. This vegetation also decreases the contact force of rain or hail on the soil so as to reduce soil erosion. The water continues it's downward movement into underground water supplies that feed the local vegetation and into lowland streams. It eventually empties into rivers, lakes and oceans.

Watersheds are seen as areas that need to be protected because, to their neighboring communities, they are the primary source of drinking water. They are rendered ineffective when too much vegetation is removed either through natural or mechanical forces. The soil looses a percentage of its porosity and water runs off the top rather than filtering down. This erodes the soil, decreasing the amount of purified water available as well as adversely effecting the biodiversity of the area.

The health of a watershed is vital because of several factors:

The leaves of trees, bushes and plants protect the soil from the harsh impact of rain or hail, thus decreasing erosion potential.

Their roots provide a means of stability to the soil also decreasing erosion potential.

Roots of trees, bushes, plants and grasses increase the porosity of the soil, allowing water to filter down into the soil. This enables the soil to be a storage tank, which allows for slower release into the ground water system and to the surrounding plants. In conjunction with biological processes, it is also a means of filtering out pollutants, thus providing drinking water for that particular area.

ErosionDestroying a watershed by deforestation, over grazing or other means will also destroy the biological function of the watershed. The resulting action will be erosion of soil, which eventually becomes unnatural sediment in creeks, streams or rivers. This in turn damages the existing ecosystem of plants and microorganisms of the freeflowing areas, which in turn adversely effects the birds, insects, animals and all living things natural to that ecosystem. A secondary effect is a decrease in the amount of drinking water available for that particular area.

© 1998 The Monastery of Christ in the Desert


by Edward O. Wilson
(Alfred A. Knopf)

The hidden preparation of mental activity gives the illusion of free will. We make decisions for reasons we often sense only vaguely, and seldom if ever understand fully. Ignorance of this kind is conceived by the conscious mind as uncertainty to be resolved; hence freedom of choice is ensured. An omniscient mind with total commitment to pure reason and fixed goals would lack free will. Even the gods, who grant that freedom to men and show anger when they choose foolishly, avoid assuming such nightmarish power.

Free will as a side product of illusion would seem to be free will enough to drive human progress and offer happiness. Shall we leave it at that? No, we cannot. The philosophers won't let us. They will say: Suppose that with the aid of science we knew all the hidden processes in detail. Would it then be correct to claim that the mind of a particular individual is predictable, and therefore truly, fundamentally determined and lacking in free will? We must concede that much in principle, but only in the following, very peculiar sense. If within the interval of a microsecond the active networks composing the thought were known down to every neuron, molecule, and ion, their exact state in the next microsecond might be predicted. But to pursue this line of reasoning into the ordinary realm of conscious thought is futile in pragmatic terms, for this reason: if the operations of a brain are to be seized and mastered, they must also be altered. In addition, the principles of mathematical chaos hold. The body and brain comprise noisy legions of cells, shifting microscopically in discordant patterns that unaided consciousness cannot even begin to imagine. The cells are bombarded every instant by outside stimuli unknowable by human intelligence in advance. Any one of the events can entrain a cascade of microscopic episodes leading to neural patterns. The computer needed to track the consequences would have to be of stupendous proportions, with operations conceivably far more complex than those of the thinking brain itself. Furthermore, scenarios of the mind are all but infinite in detail, their content evolving in accordance with the unique history and physiology of the individual. How are we to feed that into a computer?
So there can be no determinism of human thought, at least not in obedience to causation in the simple way physical laws describe the motion of bodies and the atomic assembly of molecules. Because the individual mind cannot be fully known and predicted, the self can go on passionately believing in its own free will. And that is a fortunate circumstance. Confidence in free will is biologically adaptive. Without it the mind, imprisoned by fatalism, would slow and deteriorate. Thus in organismic time and space, in every operational sense that applies to the knowable self, the mind does have free will.

A Conversation with Edward O. Wilson
March 16, 1998
The Atlantic Monthly
Enough!" Edward O. Wilson cries out halfway through his new book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (from which The Atlantic's March cover story, "Back from Chaos," is drawn). "A century of misunderstanding, the drawn-out Verdun and Somme of Western intellectual history, has run its exhausting course, and the culture wars are an old game turned stale. It is time to call a truce and forge an alliance." That alliance, Wilson writes, must be made between the sciences and the humanities -- realms of study, he feels, that are presently not on speaking terms, despite the fact that all are asking the same questions: What are we? Where do we come from? How shall we decide where to go?

Wilson's goal in Consilience is to convince readers of the need to finish what the great thinkers of the Enlightenment began several centuries ago: the unification of all knowledge through the joining together of the great branches of learning. This is a tall order by any reckoning, but Wilson contends that not attempting to meet it -- in other words, conceding that the world in all of its various manifestations is too complex for us to know -- "is the white flag of the secular intellectual, the lazy modernist equivalent of The Will of God."
Consilience will undoubtedly be controversial, particularly in an era when the search for absolutes is so unfashionable. But as The Atlantic's March editors' column, 77 North Washington Street, reveals, Wilson himself is living proof that the sciences and the humanities can be merged, and he welcomes the controversy Consilience is likely to provoke. Controversy, after all, means debate, and debate in this case may get those working in the sciences and the humanities thinking about one another in new ways. The philosopher Richard Rorty has already made known his opposition to the premise of Consilience in an article titled "Against Unity" in the Winter, 1998, issue of The Wilson Quarterly. No doubt many others will also soon take the bait.

Wilson recently spoke with Atlantic Unbound's Toby Lester.

You study and write about, among other things, ants, the organization of animal societies, human nature, and the ecological stewardship of the planet. How did you end up with such a variety of interests?

E. O. Wilson I ended up that way because since boyhood I've been a naturalist. Early on I recognized that there were two kinds of biologists. The first group comprises those who select a problem to work on and then look around for the ideal organism to solve the problem. In many cases, that's a good way to win a Nobel Prize. The other way is to select a group of organisms and devote your life to it. A great deal of what I've done -- leading up from the study of ants to the study of social behavior in animals to the study of human social behavior and then on to diversity and conservation -- has been an outcome of that second approach. I was a senior in high school when I decided I wanted to work on ants as a career. I just fell in love with them, and have never regretted it.

What do you think about the philosopher Richard Rorty's response to Consilience in the current Wilson Quarterly? Do you buy his argument that in using our minds and deciding what to do with ourselves we no more need to know how our brains work than we need to know how our computer hardware works when we use a software program?

No, I don't buy the argument. The hardware-software distinction in considering the human condition and the relationship between science and the humanities is obsolete. It is a major oversimplification and misleading in view of what we now know about neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Now we know that there is no outside agent who designed the "hardware" -- our brain -- and uses it to program desired thoughts and activities; instead the hardware itself has evolved to absorb the kind of information and to create forms of social relations that give us the maximum likelihood of survival and reproduction. Because of evolution by natural selection, the brain seeks and prefers certain programs; whether these programs succeed in turn determines, over many generations, the nature of the brain, and thus influences the programs accepted.

Rorty says that knowing what we are doesn't help us determine what to do with ourselves. You feel that it does.

Yes, profoundly so. Literally in every atom of our being. Our bodies are exquisitely designed by more than a billion years of evolution to live in a particular physical environment -- atmosphere, water conditions, PH, and so on -- and similarly our brains are designed to live within a narrow range of social environments, to react to the physical environment in adaptive ways. The various "epigenetic rules" -- that is, the hereditary predispositions in our mental development -- are coming increasingly to light. I believe they'll be a major subject of future research in both science and the humanities.

Rorty remarks that although it may well be possible at some point to explain how everything in the natural world works, "there are many things we need to do other than represent the way things really are." Do you agree? Do musicians, say, need to know anything about cell biology or quantum physics?

No. Musicians and others in the creative arts don't need science to create and perform. I think Rorty missed my point. The creative arts are a very different enterprise from science, which seeks an empirical understanding of human material existence, including why and how we're creative. The creative arts -- and the activity of conveying aesthetic and emotional experience directly from one mind to the next, by all of the sensory modalities -- are the result of individual intuition and creativity. I believe we can understand this intuition and creativity by knowing more about the material explanation of the human condition. Why we respond certain ways to beauty and creativity is owing to underlying epigenetic rules, and knowing what they are will certainly help the interpretation of the creative arts. But it's not going to produce another Picasso or Beethoven. That comes from intuitive experience and creative genius, and represents a form of communication that does not require a cause-and-effect explanation. So, in that sense I'm in agreement with Rorty. I think.
Philosophers and social scientists aren't going to be too happy with your assessment of them in this book.


I expect a lot of opposition. If I don't get it then I've failed; I'm trying to shift the domain of discourse. What I'm suggesting to the social scientists is that the time is long overdue for them to start looking for a foundational discipline, in the manner that has fueled the spectacular success of the natural sciences. I ask, "What are you waiting for?" The obvious foundational disciplines at this point are being explored mostly by the biological sciences: neuroscience, evolutionary biology, behavioral genetics, and environmental science. It's there that the social scientists could gain both depth and perhaps the beginnings of much greater predictive power than they've enjoyed to date. They also have a great deal to contribute.

I don't disrespect individual philosophers; they include some of the most brilliant minds alive today. But I see philosophy itself as being in a twilight, with the philosophers themselves metamorphosing in their activities and joining disciplines other than what used to be called classical philosophy. When you look at the work of the most active philosophers today, you find that they divide roughly into three classes. Some philosophers -- Daniel Dennett and Patricia and Paul Churchland, for example -- are theoretical neuroscientists. I don't believe they would be offended by that title. That's what they have become. They're called neurophilosophers sometimes, but they're really theoretical neuroscientists. A second category comprises the intellectual historians. A great many of the people who call themselves philosophers are actually intellectual historians -- and they are very good at it. The third class comprises what you might call critics or public philosophers, which includes ethicists. They take what we know from science and case histories and attempt to arrive at wise judgments about public policy and social behavior.

Philosophy's principal occupation has always been to wonder about what we don't know and to frame the discourse of inquiry. It's true, of course, that there is a vast amount we don't know, but it's becoming increasingly apparent that the best way to learn about the unknown is by the methods of the natural sciences. So, not surprisingly, some of the more creative minds in philosophy are gravitating toward science itself as the principal mode of intellectual activity.

We may soon have gene maps and human clones. We're beginning to understand how to alter the earth's climate. We're learning how to manipulate memory, emotions, even the aging process. Surely all that will give philosophers plenty to do.

There's plenty of room, but to the extent that philosophers succeed in these various activities, I think people will be less inclined to call them philosophers. We will call them something else -- something just as honorable as what they have been called for many centuries.

You worry repeatedly in Consilience about scientific literacy in this country.

Yes, I do. In spite of the scientific revolution, and in spite of the fact that a good deal of the triumph of the industrialized countries is based on science and technological spin-offs of science, the public as a whole remains largely scientifically illiterate. This is widely recognized as a key problem in American education.

What is the best way to overcome it? It takes inspired teachers to start. A really good teacher can bring students into science by example, by providing experience -- out in the field, in a lab -- that gets students to like science. But another way of teaching science, which I adopted during forty years of teaching at Harvard, is to instruct from the top down, and make the subjects relevant.
By that I mean that you don't start with elements like calculus or analytic geometry. These have to be taught, but you don't say to students that they have to understand the elements before they can grasp science. You start from the top, particularly in the beginning courses, with the big topics that mean something immediate and important to people. For example: What is life? What's the meaning of life? What is the meaning of sex? Why do we have to die? What is the meaning of the aging process? And so on. When you've got the attention of the audience, then you break the big questions down into subsidiary questions that involve scientific subjects.

I found at Harvard that I could take mathophobes and students who had very little interest in science, and by examining a subject like the meaning of sex and breaking it down I could soon have the whole class deriving a basic equation from first principles in population genetics and pondering at considerable length the chemical basis of the genetic code. If I'd started the other way, from the bottom up, I think I would have lost half the class in the first couple of weeks. So that's one way to increase interest in science: make it immediate, personal, and interesting by proceeding from the top down with questions that students really care about and understand intuitively from the start.

At the end of Consilience you come up with a designation for what you hope we don't become -- Homo proteus, or "shapechanger man." Can you indulge your imagination for a bit and describe what you think we'll be like a few centuries from now? Will we have evolved into something different?

No, I don't think so. That's what I meant by "existential conservatism" at the close of the book. I think that for as far ahead as you and I are capable of imagining -- many generations, centuries -- humanity will settle down. I don't mean it will stagnate, but it will settle down. People will recognize that human nature is our essence, with "human nature" being the ensemble of inborn epigenetic rules that govern our behavior. I think we'll come to realize that we've got such an extraordinarily rich and precious inheritance that for a long, long time to come we will not want to change it. We will hold to the core of our humanity.

Probably, during the coming century -- which I like to call the "century of the environment" -- we'll realize that we have to put our house in order, that we have to bring the populations in balance with the resources of the world and the physical environment of the world. We will, I hope, reduce the number of scientific and technological prostheses that we depend on from one week to the next in order to keep civilization from collapsing. As human populations decline, moving down to more sustainable levels, there will be more room for open space, wilderness, and the continued existence of the natural flora and fauna of the world -- and this will allow us to preserve the diversity of life and even let it grow back. From that diversity we will be able to draw immense amounts of knowledge and pleasure in perpetuity. And it will keep humanity's options open. Our brains, I am convinced, did not evolve to be confined to urban life and virtual reality, however ingeniously contrived.

I think we'll be moving toward more and more scientific and technological sophistication, but I doubt if we'll seriously devote much time to something like space colonization, for example. The sophistication will probably go more toward the miniaturization of our technology and the increasingly efficient use of energy systems. That is an equally challenging goal, and the one necessary for human survival.

We can't predict what political systems we will end up with, whether continuing as nation-tribes or one world. No one can predict that. But certainly the future of science and the creative arts is without limit. And I emphasize that latter part, because one of the scenarios that people fear most is human stagnation. I don't think stagnation is in the books, even if we confine ourselves for a few more centuries to this planet.

Is it even possible that humans can evolve into anything other than humans?
I think that's a question that has no answer now -- except to say that for the foreseeable future we will decide to hold on tightly to what we have and what we are. You may recall that in the last chapter of Consilience I look to the future in human evolution, and the only directional evolutionary change I envisage is the elimination of genetic disease. I think that can be accomplished in the near future. And in addition there will be a homogenization of the gene pool, a blending of races. I don't see any way out of that. I think it's desirable, in fact. That's where we're headed: homogenization along with the elimination of deleterious genes. But I want to emphasize that we are just on the verge of the systematic, physical, cause-and-effect study of human nature. Where we go from here probably depends on what and how much we learn about our own fundamental nature.

What scientific fields of study would you counsel children today to pursue?

I would look to the major unexplored areas, at least for those with professional hopes. One of my favorites -- one where I would go if I could start all over again now -- is microbiology, particularly microbial ecology: the diversity of microorganisms, their ecology, and the study of the enormous impact they have on the planet. Then there is the unstoppable field of neuroscience -- a wonderful area to go into. It's picking up steam now, and -- like molecular biology in the 1950s -- even after a great deal has been accomplished the prospect for discoveries and expansion over the next several decades is still simply enormous. I would say that work in developmental biology, explaining how more-complex organisms and the organs within them are assembled and brought through to normal development, is a major area for young people to go into now. It includes, for example, cancer research. And I would also put the finger on community ecology: the study of how ecosystems are put together and of what maintains them at particular levels of diversity and productivity. The questions to be answered include: What is a natural ecosystem? What happens to it when it's modified artificially? How does a natural ecosystem like a rainforest in New Guinea or an oligotrophic lake in Canada come into existence? How did the species invade it, which ones were able to fit together, what combinations and processes had to be incorporated into the assembly of these ecosystems to make them self-sustaining? We have vague ideas about all of this, and we know a lot about the interactions of species in twos and threes and fours, but most community ecology is simply unknown. It's a great area for the future.

It's rare to find a scientist who's as eloquent a writer as you. Has writing always come to you naturally? Have any writers -- scientific, literary, or otherwise -- had a particular influence on you?

Writing has come easily to me since grade school -- far easier than mathematics! I was most influenced during my early years by certain writers who appealed to my adolescent soul with talk of rebellion and adventure: Sinclair Lewis, Jack London, and Philip Wylie. The importance of first-read authors, in my opinion, can't be overestimated.

Speaking of reading, you seem to do a lot of it. How do you keep up in so many different disciplines?

Well, I'm a workaholic and a compulsive reader. There you have it. I'm also in the process of doing a monograph on about twenty percent of the ant species of the Western Hemisphere, to keep my lifelong passion alive. I'm classifying, illustrating, and compiling everything known about approximately 650 species of ants. I've done more than 5,000 drawings. That all gives me a visceral pleasure. It's a profession that turned into an avocation. So, that is what I do -- I read and work most of the time.

And I've found that the more I think through what the relationships of the disciplines are, the more interesting are particular subjects that might otherwise have just been fragments to skim over in books and journals. When you can connect them up, they're just much more interesting. Within the past ten years, while I've been building toward this book, I've enjoyed reading articles in scholarly journals in subjects ranging from neuroscience to the history of music -- with a pleasure that I think would have escaped me before. In short, I recognize consilience as a mental habit.

If you had to be remembered for one thing in the scientific pantheon, what would it be?

That's like asking somebody to choose among their children! Another way of putting that question is, If you had to give up everything you've done except for one thing, what would you keep? I wouldn't give up any of it.



A Lesson in Earth Civics

By Chellis Glendinning.


Cultures, past and present, that maintain beliefs and practices based on a respectful relationship with the natural world share more than a set of common cosmological qualities; they share a set of common social practices. These practices are of special interest to us because they model the very social forms we long for, struggle to reproduce--yet rarely seem to attain. What occurs when human beings live in intimacy with the Earth? The kind of society we formulate is likely to be participatory, democratic, egalitarian, leisurely, ecological, and sustainable. Like the elliptical wholeness of the natural world, such social practices shape and are shaped by the psychic state of the people, springing from healthy psyches and simultaneously guarding against the emergence of psychological aberrations like addiction and abuse.

Making Glass on the Solomon Islands

Full participation in the life and survival of the group is one of these social practices. In nature-based cultures, nearly everyone is an expert, or at least competent, in nearly every activity the people engage in. By contrast, few of us are competent, much less expert, at more than a few minor activities that contribute to the functioning of our society. To make things worse, as our technologies become more complex and our society increasingly fragmented, we become less competent. An astoundingly small percentage of us knows how to record a television program on a VCR, repair an electronic device, or decipher a Publishers Clearinghouse prize notification. "This is the plan for a B-1 bomber," Candice Bergen states on the 1993 Sprint television ad. "This is the plan for DNA, and this is a long-distance calling plan. What do they have in common? You can't understand any one of them!" Meanwhile, the only activities we seem to share are shopping, driving, and watching television. Such a predicament is not how humans evolved.

According to anthropologist Stanley Diamond, the average man of the hunter-gatherer-pastoral African Nama people is "an expert hunter, a keen observer of nature, a craftsman who can make a kit bag of tools and weapons, a herder who knows the habits and needs of cattle, a direct participant in a variety of tribal rituals and ceremonies, and he is likely to be well-versed in the legends, tales, and proverbs of his people." Diamond goes on to say, "The average primitive . . . is more accomplished, in the literal sense of that term, than are most civilised individuals. He participates more fully and directly in the cultural possibilities open to him, not as a consumer and not vicariously but as an actively engaged, complete person."(1)

Frances Harwood learned about such participation during her field work in the Solomon Islands in the early 1960s.(2) One day, she relates, an assemblage of villagers paid a visit to her hut. They sat down on grass mats on the floor and said to her, "Ever since you came here, you have been asking us a lot of questions. Now we would like to ask you a question." Harwood perked up in attention. "Please . . ." pleaded one tribesman as he picked up the glass she had brought with her. "How do you make this?" "Oh yes, well . . ." she sputtered, trying to bring together the right native words to communicate the process. "It's quite simple. You take sand and you heat it up with fire, and then you mould the glass." "Ah-ha!" the islanders responded, enthusiastically nodding their heads and passing the glass around the circle. "Then we'll meet you down at the beach tomorrow at dawn--and you'll show us how to make a glass."

Harwood was stunned. Already struggling to communicate in a language she had barely mastered, she now flailed as she attempted to describe such labyrinthian phenomena as industrial process, factory manufacturing, and division of labour. Her guests grasped none of what she said. They did, however, grasp her refusal to meet them on the beach. Thereafter, they let it be known among the villagers that Harwood's real purpose in coming to the islands had been revealed: she had been sent because she was an incompetent, incapable of doing the simplest things in her own culture.

Turning through the Air

Democracy is a second practice shared by nature-based cultures. In a democratic system every single member of the group has the opportunity to participate in decision-making. You and I clearly value and long for this opportunity. The cries for democracy that rang across the world in 1989 from Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and China, and the psychic reverberations these cries caused among millions of others, have constituted one of the most passionate statements of the twentieth century. Yet truly satisfying participatory democracy seems always to evade our reach, even for those of us who inhabit one or another of the great "democracies" that emerged with the Enlightenment.

The crux of the matter is a little-appreciated factor: scale. Democracy is automatically abrogated when any gathering of people becomes too numerous for the continuous involvement of each member. As Austrian political philosopher Leopold Kohr puts it, "When something is wrong, something is too big."(3) In a more humorous comment about the unwieldy hierarchies and bureaucracies that accrue in even the most well-intentioned democratic nations, social critic Kirkpatrick Sale writes, "If a mouse were to be as big as an elephant, it would have to become an elephant--that is, it would have to develop those features, such as heavy stubby legs, that would allow it to support its extraordinary weight."(4)

Small, face-to-face groups are a universal characteristic of nature-based cultures; in fact, this quality is what defines them. According to anthropologist Joseph Birdsell, five hundred people is the model size of nature-based groups in aboriginal Australia, with fifteen to fifty inhabiting each local band within that larger grouping.(5) At the time of Columbus's arrival in North America, it is estimated that fifty-six people inhabited every fifty square miles along the California coast. In the Southwest the number of people for every fifty square miles was fourteen, while east of the Mississippi it was nine.(6) The average number of people per square mile among all documented hunter-gatherer groups is one.(7)

Democratic decision-making is likewise a common characteristic among nature-based peoples. Because of ongoing face-to-face contact, as well as councils for decision-making in some communities, every member has the opportunity to talk things out, make suggestions, have them heard, and participate in guiding the group. Among the BaMbuti (Pygmy) of the African Congo, interpersonal conflict and offensive acts are settled without any apparent formal mechanism at all. Anyone can discuss any issue that is of concern to the community, and anyone can join in creating solutions. Each dispute is settled as it arises, according to its particular nature, and responsibility for righting the balance is always considered communal.(8) In many nature- based groups, because each person over the age often or twelve is capable of surviving in the wilds alone or joining another band, she can leave if she dislikes a decision. A sense of freedom we can hardly fathom reigns: each person can follow his inner guidance or stand up for what he believes, and because of this sense of freedom and responsibility, there is little acting out, rebellion, or addiction to the power games that define politics in mass society.

The atrophy of such freedom appears to be a relatively recent event, a by-product of the emergence of civilisation with its propensity for the decidedly undemocratic "heavy stubby legs" of large-scale social organisation: expanding population, division of labour, social hierarchy, and centralised governance. In his acclaimed book, In the Absence of the Sacred, Jerry Mander reminds us that when European settlers landed on the shores of North America, they brought with them a deep longing for democracy. Having spent their lives within the oppressive monarchies of Europe, though, they had no experience in starting a democracy and no hands-on experience in running one. Fortunately for them, when the Europeans held negotiations with the Indians, they often did so "in the Indian manner": in democratically run, consensual councils.(9) In the end, the forefathers of the United States forged an American constitution, informed by principles of the Enlightenment and Quakerism, but based essentially on ways they had learned, heaven forbid, from hunter-gatherers.

The idea that democracy is practised at its best by nature-based people flies in the face of our perception of these "primitive" cultures. In particular, it flies in the face of our projections of the chieftains and medicine men we think run them; in nature-based communities chiefs are rarely the coercive, authoritarian rulers we assume them to be. Hierarchy is not particularly developed, crystallised, or needed. In fact, in some groups, like the BaMbuti, there are no chiefs and no formal councils at all, no juries and no courts. As nature writer Dolores LaChapelle puts it, "Just as in a flight of birds turning through the air, no one is the leader and none are the followers, yet all are together."(10)

In communities that do have designated leaders, they are chosen for the purpose of embodying clan, family, or tribal heritage. To honour them is not a sign of giving over power; it is an act of communal self-respect. Leadership may also be situational, with chiefs chosen for their skills as facilitators and teachers or for their knowledge of medicine, fishing, or ceremony. The Plains Indians of North America had literally dozens of chiefs, and depending on the season or the event, the degree of prominence accorded to each would shift. No chiefs were ever assured of their role for a lifetime either; they performed their duties for as long as they listened well, responded well, and retained full support. Western people wouldn't necessarily know this, of course, because historically we sought after and valued only the war chiefs.

The anthropologist Francis Huxley tells a marvellous story about the native relationship to leadership.(11) Because of a medical emergency, an American friend of Huxley's, also an anthropologist, transported an Indian man from the sweltering wilds of the Xingu Valley in Brazil to the bustling "wilds" of the city of Sao Paulo. The year was 1955, and what followed was an archetypal moment: Natural Man Meets Modernity. As the two men made their way through the streets among towering buildings, sooty traffic jams, and electric crowds, they passed by a massive bank. Standing erectly at the entrance were two stern security guards, each wearing an elaborate military uniform with black, Gestapo-like boots and carrying a loaded machine gun. The native man was puzzled by this spectacle, never having seen anything like it, and he asked what it might be. Taken aback by the challenge of describing a nation state's economic system to a hunter-gatherer, the American flailed about, stuttered, and scratched his head just as Harwood had. Finally he explained that this place was a "house" where "the chief" kept his "riches." The Indian became even more perplexed. He stuttered, scratched his head, and then declared, "Well then, if he needs this much guarding, he cannot be a very good chief."

Dine' Necklace

A third practice common to nature-based cultures is equality of the sexes. This is clearly a topic charged with emotion and controversy for us, and many of the addictions we are plagued with--co-dependence, sexaholism, romance addiction, violence against women--revolve around problematic relations between the sexes. For centuries, probably since the beginning of these painful aberrations of the human experience, women have been addressing their diminished standing in society, calling for greater valuing of their contributions, greater freedom to express themselves, and greater safety in which to lead their lives. It has taken men longer to awaken to the restrictions of the current definitions of manhood, probably because the outward status they are accorded has blinded their insight into the pain and limitations they have been accepting. In the 1970s, though, men have begun realising and attempting to address, with rage and grief their need for full humanity.

We might ask if there isn't a deep and universal propensity operating here. If a need for equal opportunity, participation, and rewards were not ingrained in our primal matrix, we might simply accept any definition placed upon us or role assigned to us, no matter how limiting or oppressive. But the raw eruption of discontent in our times tells us that at heart, women and men consist of more than what current social constructs dictate.

Evidence from nature-based cultures reinforces this conclusion. Just as Larry Emerson's turquoise necklace shares different but equal strands for male and female, so the sexes in most nature-based cultures focus on different tasks and modes of expression--while sharing equal opportunity for participation and comparable social status. One detail is worth our notice: perceived differences between women and men may not be as fixed as they have been for us, restrictions not as confining. Women are both nurturing and assertive. They are physically strong, travel the territory with freedom, and have contact with other peoples. Men are intimate with their inner psychic terrains just as they are with the land upon which they hunt, and they participate openly in caring for the children of the band. Probably because of women's biological involvement in childbirth and early child rearing, the main difference in roles is a well-defined division regarding the provision of food--with women gathering plant foods and men hunting animals.

An easy respect between the sexes seems to prevail. Huxley's story about his American anthropologist friend and the Xingu Valley Indian in Sao Paulo also touches on this issue.(12) To continue: as the two men walked down the street beyond the bank, they passed any number of women slinking by in high heels and tight skirts, carrying overstuffed handbags, their faces plastered with rouge, eye shadow; and lipstick; and the Indian man, again never having witnessed anything like this before, stopped abruptly on the sidewalk. "This is disgusting," he said. "Their faces! Their bodies! Their hips going wrong! Listen," he continued to his American companion, "why don't you just come back to the jungle with me and you can be with my sister, and we won't tell anybody about the disgusting things we saw!"

Apart from the grace that Earth-based people emanate through their sexual natures, there is also tremendous freedom in relationship between the sexes. Most relationships in nature-based cultures are entered into by choice and dissolved by choice, rather than rigidly held in place by contracts, conventions, and social pressures. "Commitments are personal, not formal, institutionalised, or rule governed," reports anthropologist Peter Wilson. "Relationships are activated and animated through proximity, and proximity is determined by affection and friendliness ."(13) Likewise, ties between spouses are not formal or absolute. To begin, the responsibility for child rearing does not fall heavily onto each isolated nuclear family but is more a communal task. And responsibility for each child does not last twenty years; rather, it lasts no more than six or seven. The upshot is that pressure for women and men to stay locked together in rigid contracts of matrimony does not exist. If they stay together, they do so because they choose to.

Indolent Savages

A fourth social practice common in nature-based cultures concerns leisure time. Put another way, there exists in nature-based community a decided absence of workaholism. It seems no coincidence that our modern bodies rebel against the harried work schedules we keep with heart attacks, back problems, cancers, and influenzas that appear so often they are considered "normal." According to a poll taken by Louis Harris and Associates, the average work week in the United States in the 1980s was forty-seven hours, up from forty hours a decade earlier. The U.S. Department of Labour reports that nearly 6 million working men and 1 million working women punch in more than sixty hours a week.(14) (Neither of these statistics includes the extra hours many women, and some men, put in to run their homes and raise their children.)

Journalist Kent MacDougall cuts to the heart of this predicament in a Los Angeles Times series entitled "The Harried Society." "Back in 1609 when the Algonquin Indians discovered Henry Hudson sailing up their river," he writes:

They were living off the fat of the land. They lived so well yet worked so little that the industrious Dutch considered them indolent savages and soon replaced their good life with feudalism. Today, along the Hudson River in New York, supposedly free citizens of the wealthiest society in the history of the world work longer and harder than any Algonquin Indian ever did, race around like rats in a maze, dodging cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, and each other, and dance to a frantic tempo destined to lead many to early deaths from stress and strain.(15)

According to a study conducted by researchers Frederick McCarthy and Margaret McArthur, the average workday for men in aboriginal communities in Western Arnhem Land, Australia, including all time spent on economic activities such as hunting and tool repair, adds up to three hours and forty-five minutes; for women, for their plant collecting and food preparation, the average workday is three hours and fifty minutes.(16) Anthropologist Richard Lee reports that in Africa, the average Dobe Bushman's workweek is fifteen hours, or two hours and nine minutes a day--with only 65 percent of the population working at all. "A woman gathers in one day enough food to feed her family for three days," explains Lee:

and spends the rest of her time resting in camp, doing embroidery, visiting other camps, or entertaining visitors from other camps. During each day at home, kitchen routines, such as coolung, nut cracking, collecting firewood, and fetching water, occupy one to three hours of her time. This rhythm of steady work and steady leisure is maintained throughout the year. The male hunters tend to work more frequently than the women, but their schedule is uneven. It is not unusual for a man to hunt avidly for a week and then do no hunting at all for two or three weeks. During these periods, visiting, entertaining, and especially dancing are the primary activities of men.(17)

So Many Mongongo Nuts

Another benefit of the nature-based way of life is good nutrition. Neurophysiological studies tell us that the chemical imbalances resulting from poor nutritional intake often lay the foundation for, or exacerbate, the psychological imbalances that manifest themselves as substance and behavioural addictions, while over-consumption of foods like sugar and caffeine only adds to this downward spiral. Yet in technological society, we tend to believe that we are magically blessed with endless pyramids of Princess grapefruit, cornucopias of fried chicken, and instant-coffee-under-glass--while Earth-based people exist in a constant state of malnutrition, if not starvation, and a tooth-and-claw struggle for food.

The truth of the matter is that we westerners have lost our ancestral knowledge of how to survive on the Earth. A subterranean fear of not having enough food lies at the base of our civilised psyches, expressed obliquely in personal and cultural messages whose deeper meanings we would rather overlook. Clean your plate! Think of the starving children in China! Cut down the cholesterol! Avoid Alar! Cook from the four food groups! Fast food! I scream for ice cream! In the 1950s, the grand prize of a national contest was three minutes to careen through a supermarket with an empty shopping cart and grab as much food as possible, and the image on our television screens of housewives frantically stuffing turkeys into their wire carts made us all feel exhilarated--and nervous. Anxiety about food is also expressed in epidemic eating disorders like anorexia, bulemia, overeating, and overdieting.

Since Columbus arrived in North America, a full 75 percent of the wildwood ecosystem has been wiped out. Originally, 95 percent of western and central Europe was covered with lush forest land, from the Black Forest to the Italian Alps; that amount is now 20 percent. Ten thousand years ago, China was 70 percent forest; today it is 5 percent.(18) The age-old sense that nature provides has rightfully been lost, and we are rightfully scared to death about our next meal. As Marshall Sahlins reports in his book Stone Age Economics, "One-third to one-half of humanity are said to go hungry every night. Some twenty million [are] in the U.S. alone. . . . This is the era of unprecedented hunger. Now, in the time of greatest technical power, is starvation an institution."(19) Indeed, in the wake of the technology-fueled Green Revolution of the 1970s, we have witnessed increasing famine, starvation, the dependence of hundreds of thousands of people on airlifts and feeding camps, a decline in the nutritional quality of all food, and an overall loss of momentum in world food production.

By contrast, true nature-based people rely on a diversity of food sources, and simultaneous failure of all resources is highly unlikely. Anxiety about food is rare, and when it appears, it is usually seasonal. In his book Health and the Rise of Civilisation, Mark Nathan Cohen reports that food supplies among nature-based people are usually abundant and reliable, while starvation may occur but is rare.(20) Surely there have been times of hardship and uncertainty, but nature-based people who have lived unhampered by the encroachment of civilisation tend to hold the attitude that since food is available in abundance, storing it is unnecessary; nature itself stores food for people, who merely need to know how to find it. Pau d'arco. Salmonberry. Wild turkey. Mugwort. Yucca flower. Jamaica ginger. Perhaps the famed statement by an African Dobe Bushman says it all: "Why should we plant when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?"(21)

Then there is the issue of quality. Anthropologist Peter Farm writes that truly nature-based peoples are "among the best fed people on Earth and also among the healthiest:'(22) It goes without saying that those who live in the wilds eat organic food, uncontaminated by chemical preservatives, pesticides, and other additives. Descriptions of the diets of nature-based peoples throughout the world reveal that they uniformly match the standards of the National Research Council of America for consumption of vitamins, minerals, and protein,(23) while erosion of the quality of the nature-based diet consistently occurs when outsiders invade, bring in technological agriculture, cattle, or mining, and set up trade networks and outposts of civilisation.

Also, because of their healthy diets, relaxed life-styles, and clean environs, nature-based people do not fall prey to such modern diseases as cancer, coronary heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. High cholesterol is unknown. Studies of isolated peoples in South America reveal that infectious diseases like influenza, mumps, polio, and smallpox occur but cannot be transmitted in epidemic proportion by small, self-contained groups. Blood pressure is commonly low; and such intestinal disorders as appendicitis, diverticulosis, and bowel cancers are rare--until such groups are introduced to civilised diets.(24) According to the nineteenth-century German physician Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathic medicine, the basic "miasms" or energetic patterns of weakness that underlie and prepare the way for modern diseases did not even exist in human history until the transition out of nature-based culture.(25)

Contraceptive on Your Hip

A sixth practice common to nature-based cultures is a relatively stable population. In today's world the human population is spinning out of control, and along with this explosion of humanity, the capacity of our biosphere to sustain life is being stressed to the breaking point. In 1992 the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society issued their first joint report, warning: "If current predictions of population growth prove accurate and patterns of human activity on the planet remain unchanged, science and technology may not be able to prevent either irreversible degradation of the environment or continued poverty for much of the world."(26)

As the current global population approaches 6 billion, people everywhere around the world are starving--in "undeveloped" areas like Bangladesh and Nicaragua, in "developing" nations like India and China, in industrial countries like the republics of the former Soviet Union, and on the streets of overdeveloped cities like New York and Los Angeles. Projections from the United Nations Fund for Population Activities estimate that the total human population will grow, before levelling off, to an unfathomable 16 billion.(27)

According to physicist Vandana Shiva of India, rapid population growth is typical not of secure, sustainable societies but of "displacement, dispossession, alienation of people from their survival base, and inequality of women."(28) As I will discuss in the next chapter, the transition from nomadic foraging to agricultural civilisations constitutes the original "displacement, dispossession, alienation of people from their survival base, and inequality of women." Some ten thousand years ago, when all human societies on the Earth were nature-based, global population was stabilised at 5 million people.(29) According to archaeologist Fekri Hassan, yearly population growth in those times ranged from .01 to .005 percent,(30) while today's world population is exploding with an additional 95 million each year.(31)

The ability to maintain numerical stability exists in human history only in nature-based cultures. Methods of family planning built into hunter-gatherer life worked successfully for a million years, allowing the human population to grow gradually but not to overrun its capacity to live sustainably. This success is attributable to fertility-control factors that evolved when people lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers--and that disintegrated when civilisation emerged or, for many people around the world, was introduced by force.

One of these factors is long-term breast-feeding.(32) As I have mentioned, foraging women carry their children on gathering treks, into rivers, through forests, sitting around the fire, and they feed them on demand for the first three or four years of their young lives. This practice offers yet another facet of the elliptical whole of the natural world: it not only provides the nurturance necessary for the child's physical and psychological development, but can trigger the secretion of a pituitary hormone that suppresses the mother's menstrual cycle. As Lee puts it, the child's frequent stimulation of the breast is "rather like carrying your contraceptive on your hip."(33)

Other contributing factors to low birthrates among nature-based women include a noticeably late onset of menstruation, as well as extended periods when the blood cycle simply disappears.(34) Contemporary researchers attribute these physiological conditions, in part, to the high-protein diets and lean bodies of hunter-gatherer women and, in part, to the strenuous demands of walking long distances while carrying equipment, mounds of plant food, and children--physical conditions that are reproduced among today's female athletes who also report fewer periods and irregular cycles. The upshot of all these factors is that family size is small, the pressures we typically associate with child rearing are more relaxed, and population remains low--because for every woman of reproductive age, a new child arrives but every five, six, or seven years.

Most of the Trees

A last social quality typical of nature-based life is ecological sustainability. This is a quality we want desperately to attain and yet, for all our Earth Days, eco-conferences, recycling programs, and environmental regulations, it remains elusive. As we know all too well, the situation is dire. The kinds of technologies that are needed to maintain our ever-expanding mass civilisation, from nuclear and chemical to mining and electromagnetic, virtually encase the planet. Addiction to consumerism, military buildup, and industrial expansion is so rampant as to be considered normal by many people and certainly by those who identify with these developments. Yet, at the same time, scientists studying global disasters such as climate change, ozone depletion, and toxic contamination estimate that we have until the year 2000, or maybe 2010, to turn around the unecological practices that are causing global destruction.

During the 1980s when I was working to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, I had a disturbing conversation with a corporate CEO. While we were dining one summer evening in a Hakka restaurant in San Francisco's Chinatown, he told me that from a business standpoint, nuclear war would not occur until multinational corporations had succeeded in commercialising China. After that accomplishment, he said, there would be no more room on Earth to expand the market economy (which must always, of course, be in a state of expansion), and so there would be no more viable reason for humans beings to stay alive. His opinion reflects the going ethos of both an expansionist technological system and an addicted psyche: use up what resources are here now; when you run out, do whatever you must to get more--with no regard for the consequences.

By contrast, nature-based people neither force the Earth to produce at maximum levels nor impose wholesale realignments of nature's rhythms and physical layout. A commitment to ecological sustainability was the ground upon which our humanity came into existence, and the sustainable life is inseparably intertwined with full participation in social life, democratic decision-making, self-esteem for both women and men, a relaxed approach to daily life, good food, and a stable population. The key seems to be that we humans can successfully survive on this planet only so long as our presence contributes to and meshes with the life of the Earth. According to Marshall Sahlins, within nature-based cultures this objective is accomplished by a gestalt of factors that are its hallmarks: "labour power is underused, technological means are not fully engaged, natural resources are left untapped . . . production is low relative to existing possibilities. The work day is short. The number of days off exceeds the number of work days. Dancing, fishing, games, sleep, and ritual seem to occupy the greater portion of one's time."(35)

Plus, nature-based people move on when existing sources reach their limit, and this limit is never the outer maximum limit of the terrain as we have come to define it. Rather than clear-cut the entire forest, kill every deer, pocket every chestnut, pull up every wild yam, and catch every salmon, nature-based people understand that to let most of the trees stand, most of the animals run free, most of the fruit drop to the ground, most of the vegetables complete their cycle, and most of the fish swim away is to honour nature's sacred wholeness. As with a Keres word that "doesn't break down into anything," to live this way is to participate in the great round of the natural world; it is to enhance the Earth's abundance and, at the same time, to ensure the sustainability, survivability, and sanity of the human community.


  1. Stanley Diamond, In Search of the Primitive (New Brunswick, NJ.: Transaction Books, 1974), 143.
  2. Frances Harwood, conversation, Roosevelt, Tex., 18 May 1992.
  3. Quoted in Robert Dahi and Edward Tuffe, Size and Democracy (Stan- ford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1973), 111.
  4. Kirkpatrick Sale, foreword to Leopold Kolir, The Breakdown of Nations (New York: E. P Dutton, 1978), ix-x.
  5. Joseph Birdsell, "Some Predictions for the Pleistocene Based in Equi- librium Systems among Recent Hunter-Gatherers," in Richard Lee and Irven DeVore, eds., Man the Hunter (Chicago: Aldine Atherton, 1968), 11.
  6. Peter Nabokov, Native American Testimony (New York: Viking, 1991), 4; M. A. Baumlioff, "Ecological Determinants of Aboriginal Califor- nia Populations," University of California Publications in American Archae- ology and Ethnology, 49, 2 (1963)155-236; and J. H. Stewart, Theory of Culture Change (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1955).
  7. Birdsell, "Some Predictions for the Pleistocene;' 11.
  8. Colin Tumbull, The Forest People (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1962), chap. 6.
  9. Jerry Mander, In the Absence of the Sacred (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991), 230-35. See also Robert Venables, "American Indian Influences on the American Founding Fathers," in Oren Lyons and John Mohawk, eds., Exiled in the Land of the Free (Santa Fe, N. Mex.: Clear Light Publishers, 1992), 73-124.
  10. Dolores LaChapelle, Earth Wisdom (Los Angeles: L.A. Guild of Tudor Press, 1978), 81.
  11. Frances Huxley, conversation, Santa Fe, N. Mex., 4 March 1992.
  12. Huxley, conversation.
  13. Peter Wilson, The Domestication of the Human Species (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988), 33.
  14. Cited in Mander, Absence of the Sacred, 254.
  15. A. Kent MacDougall, "Americans: Life in the Fast Lane/The Harried Society;" Los Angeles Times, 17-19 April 1983.
  16. Frederick McCarthy and Margaret McArthur, "The Food Quest and the Time Factor in Aboriginal Economic Life," in C. P Mountford, ed., Records of the Australian-American Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1960), vol.2, Anthro- pology and Nutrition, 145-94.
  17. Richard Lee, "What Hunters Do for a Living or How to Make Out on Scarce Resources," in Lee and DeVore, Man the Hunter, 37.
  18. Clive Ponting, "Historical Perspectives on Sustainable Development," Environment 32, no.9 (November 1990): 4-5.
  19. Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics (New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1972), 36.
  20. Mark Nathan Cohen, Health and the Rise of Civilization (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989), 75-98.
  21. Lee, "What Hunters Do;' 33.
  22. Cited in MacDougall, "Americans."
  23. McCarthy and McArthur, "The Food Quest," 145-94; Lee, "What Hunters Do," 30-48; Richard Lee, "!Kung Bushman Subsistence: An Input-Output Analysis," in A. P Vayda, ed., Ecological Studies in Cul- tural Anthropology (New York: Natural History Press, 1969), 47-79; and J. Metz et al., "Iron, Folate, and Vitamin B12 Nutrition in a Hunter-Gatherer People: A Study of !Kung Bushmen," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 24 (1971): 229-42.
  24. Cohen, Health, 98-102; Francis Black, "Infectious Diseases in Primi- tive Societies," Science 187 (1975): 515-18; Ivan Polunin, "The Medical Natural History of Malayan Aborigines," Medical Journal of Malaysia 8 (1972): 55-174; Roberto Baruzzi and L. Franco, "Amerindians of Brazil," in H. C. Trowell and D. P Burkitt, eds., Western Diseases, Their Emergence and Prevention (London: Edward Arnold, 1981), 138-53; and H. H. Draper, "Nutrition Studies: The Aboriginal Eskimo Diet" in P L. Jamison, ed., Eskimos of Northwestern Alaska (Stroudsberg, Pa.: USIBP 1978), 139-61.
  25. Samuel Hahnemann, The Chronic Diseases (New Delhi: Jain, 1975).
  26. Cited in Mark Hertsgaard, "Still Ticking," Mother Jones, March/April 1993, 20-23.
  27. United Nations, Secretariat, "World Population Prospects Beyond Year 2000," New York, 16 May 1973.
  28. Cited in Craig Comstock, "Envisioning a Sustainable World Popula- tion," Elmwood Quarterly 7, no.3 (Fall Equinox 1991): 5.
  29. Ponting, "Historical Perspectives on Sustainable Development," 6.
  30. Fekri Hassan, Demographic Archaeology (New York: Academic Press, 1981), 208.
  31. Ponting, "Historical Perspectives on Sustainable Development," 6.
  32. M. Konner and C. Worthman, "Nursing Frequencies, Gonadal Func- tion, and Birth-Spacing among !Kung Hunter-Gatherers," Science 207 (1988): 788-91; Richard Lee, The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 328-30; W H. Billewicz, "The Timing of Post Partum Menstruation and Breast-Feeding,"Journal of Biosocial Science 11(1979): 141-51; and W H. Mosley, "The Effects of Nutrition on Natural Fertility" (Paper presented at Seminar on Natural Fertility, Institut National d'Etudes Demographiques, Paris, 1977).
  33. Lee, The !Kung San, 329.
  34. Lee, The !Kung San, 312; R. E. Frisch, "Critical Weight at Menarche: Initiation of the Adolescent Growth Spurt and Control of Puberty," in M. M. Brumbach et al., eds., Control of Onset of Puberty (New York: Wiley, 1974), 403-23; G. R. Bentley, "Hunter-Gatherer Energetics and Fertility: A Reassessment of the !Kung San," Human Ecology 13, no.1(1985): 79-104;J. B. McArthur et al., "Hypothalamic Amenor- rhea in Runners of Normal Body Composition," Endocrine Research Communications 7, no. 1 (1980): 13-25; M. Shangold et al., "The Relationship between Long Distance Running and Plasma Pro- gesterone, and Luteal Phase Length," Fertility and Sterility 31, no.2 (1979): 130-33; and R. Frisch and J. MacArthur, "Menstrual Cycles: Fatness as a Determinant of Minimum Weight or Height Necessary for Their Maintenance or Onset," Science 185 (1974): 949-51.
  35. Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, 41.

(from "My Name is Chellis & I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization, By Chellis Glendinning. Shambhala 1994)


A Map: From the Old Connecticut Path to the Rio Grande Valley and All the Meaning Inbetween

by Chellis Glendinning

Nineteenth Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures

October 1999, Salisbury, Connecticut

Edited by Hildegarde Hannum

©Copyright 2000 by the E. F. Schumacher Society and Chellis Glendinning

May be purchased in pamphlet form from the E. F. Schumacher Society, 140 Jug End Road, Great Barrington, MA 01230, (413) 528-1737,

Introduction by Kirkpatrick Sale, Member of the Board, E. F. Schumacher Society

I was reminded, hearing Bill Schambra talk about the bureaucracies in foundations and government and Jerry Mander talk about global bureaucracy, of a story Fritz Schumacher used to tell about three men arguing over which of them had the oldest profession. The doctor argued that doctors and midwives were the oldest profession because they had to see to life coming into being on the earth. The architect said No, before life there had to be a structure to the earth and the universe, and it was the architects who, with God, created that on the earth, creating it out of chaos. And the bureaucrat said, Ah, chaos. And who do you think created that?

I was also reminded as I listened to this mornings presentations that there is a marvelous meeting of the right and the left when you get down to the bottom. Whereas Bill Schambra is for self-governance and Jerry Mander is for local empowerment, Chellis Glendinning, as she may presently tell us, is actually for the secession and independence of the county where she lives in New Mexico, Rio Arriba County. So you see that you can come to this business of decentralization from all kinds of political perspectives, and, regardless of which one, it still is the bedrock truth.

I have been preoccupied with technology, which Jerry pointed out this morning threads through almost all the other ideas and themes that are before us in the world today, and this is why Im writing a book about Robert Fulton and the technology of the American dream. But of course the point that Jerry made, and others need to make, is that technology per se is not what its really all about. The French philosopher Jacques Ellul called it the technological milieu as opposed to the social and the natural milieus. The technological milieu has now become transcendent over the other two. Schumacher also talked about this, about what he called industrial society.

In his book Good Work Schumacher asked:

Why should industrial society fail? Why should the spiritual evils it produces lead to worldly failure? From a severely practical point of view, I should say this:

1. It has disrupted, and continues to disrupt, certain organic relationships in such a manner that world population is growing, apparently irresistibly, beyond the means of subsistence.
2. It is disrupting certain other organic relationships in such a manner as to threaten those means of subsistence themselves, spreading poison, adulterating food, etc.
3. It is rapidly depleting the earths nonrenewable stocks of scarce mineral resourcesmainly fuels and metals.
4. It is degrading the moral and intellectual qualities of man while further developing a highly complicated way of life the smooth continuance of which requires ever-increasing moral and intellectual qualities.
5. It breeds violencea violence against nature which at any moment can turn into violence against ones fellow men . . . .

Schumacher is talking about technology, yes, but hes talking about a technological society and what will happen to it, and thats the concept we have to keep in front of us, looking for the pattern behind the ideas that are being presented to us today.

So it is the milieu, the technological milieu, and the culture as a whole from which it stems, that is the danger for us all, and no one understands this better, I think, than our next speaker, a brave and dedicated warrior for many years in the contest against this deadly force. Shes a psychologist and an activist and the author of several books, including one with the wonderful title, My Name is Chellis and Im in Recovery from Western Civilization (shes very fortunate because most of us are not yet in recovery). She is a real person doing real work on the ground with Chicanos and Indians where she lives in New Mexico, and she has just been appointed to the Land Authority of Rio Arriba County. She works there daily, bringing her insights to that life and taking the insights of that life into her, which is in effect what her newest book is about. Shes consented to bring to us today her deep wisdom, commitment, and inspiration along with her sparkle and laughter: Chellis Glendinning.


* * * *

[Music is playing through the sound system, a corrido or story-song by Tobias Rene of Albuquerque. It is about the legendary Mexican revolutionary Valentín de la Sierra.]

I come to you from a place where the earth is pink. Where the sky rises like a cathedral of blue. I come to you from a place where the river weaves through the villages like a string of sheeps wool. Where mens jeans are made threadbare by seasons of mending fences. Where women know the plants. I come to you from a place where people speak a language that is called Spanish but to the student of language is in fact indecipherable because its peppered with the history of Aztec and Tewa and Navahoall blended together like green chili stew.

I live in Chimayó, New Mexico. In the Tewa language the place was originally called Tsi Mayoh. Its disputed whether that means flaked obsidian or the place where two rivers meet. The Santa Cruz River snakes down from the Sangre de Cristo mountains and flows through the village. Everywhere smaller waterways weave. They are called las acequias or irrigation ditches, canals dug with shovels to divert the water to the houses and the fields and then back to the river again. From an ecological perspective, these canals extend the riparian areas with their birds and small animals into the dry terrain.

The land is desert uplands, about 6200 feet above sea level. Surrounding us are the badlands, los cerros y las barrancas, and in the midst of this desert is Tsi Mayoh, an oasis of cottonwoods, of pion and olive, of chili, corn, tomatoes, and apples. We have a system of barter that is centuries old. Each village has a specialty: Velarde, apples; El Valle, sheep; Chimayó, chili; San Luis, up in Colorado, potatoes.

The people in the village are a beautiful mix. Some of the blood comes from Europe: Spanish, Moorish, Jewish; some comes from Mexico: Aztec, Mayan, Toltec; and some from those who have inhabited the land for ages: Tewa, Navajo, Apache. In the slang of the Pachuco, which is the urban Chicano renegade culture of the 1940s and 1950s, the village is called Chima. And Chima is where I live.

It has become indistinguishable from who I am. I had a visitor from California recently (Califas in Pachuco), and all she wanted to do was talk about whats inside the skinfeelings, perceptions, analyseswhich I found to be a familiar mode, having moved to the area from Califas, but a mode that had grown foreign and old and small. When I first came to New Mexico, I had an inkling this would happen. Once, when talking with the Tewa scholar and author of Tewa World, Alfonso Ortiz, I asked, When Native people get together, do they talk about themselves? Do they say: I feel this, I had this experience, in my childhood this happened? He didnt give me an answer; instead, he laughed uproariously. So sure enough, in time, with the help of the pink earth and the barrancas, the vaqueros and the curanderas, who I am has expanded beyond this skin to become the land and the village and the history and the purpose and the soul of the place. As my friend the poet and social activist Jaime Chavez writes in a poem called Ventanas:

Camino encapotado en hierbas
bebiendo de las aguas
dando a la tierra;
cada estación llena
las huellas de este jornada
reclamando vida
entre las cosas simples
hambriento con la esperanza
y promesa
escondido en la tierra

I walk cloaked in herbs
drinking from the waters
giving unto the earth;
each season fills
the tracks of this journey
claiming life
among simple things
starved in the hope
and promise
hidden in the land
</UL< ul>

We all have stories about relationship to place. In 1991 I went to the World Uranium Hearing in Salzburg, Austria, a gathering of indigenous peoples: Mongolians, South Pacific Islanders, people from Chile, from Africa, Alaska, and the American Southwest. All these indigenous people from all over the world came together to talk about the effects of nuclear technology on their lands, cultures, and health. I made a pilgrimage to this gathering as a member of the Board of Listeners, and my job was to sit in the audience for five days and listen. So I took my cowboy boots, and while I was there, I spent time with the Native peoples from the Southwest, from my own bioregionNavajo, Apache, and Pueblo Indians. I was especially struck by one man named Rex Tilousi, who was startingly calm and humble. He was the governor of the Havasupai, the caretakers of the Grand Canyon. But I saw him only when he was on stage. I asked a Keres man from Acoma Pueblo why that was, and he said, Hes homesick; he feels so out of himself, so disconnected from the Grand Canyon that he is grieving in his hotel room.

A view of Shiprock in New Mexico, photo by Dan Russell

Another story comes to me from my friend Larry Emerson, a Navajo from Shiprock, New Mexico. Hes an educator, and hes training in the medicine ways of his tribe. Larry tells me that when he travels from his peoples land to another peoples landin this case the Utehe stops in the boundary lands and says prayers. He says good-by to his homeland and his people, and he prays and honors the sacredness of the other peoples place. I think these two stories say a lot about what lies beyond our skin in terms of what it means to be a real human being and to be connected to place, what it means to be made of ones place.

For myself, it is strange that fate landed me in a desert village in the Rio Grande valley. My people are Celt and German, hailing from the northern forests of Europe and eventually from many of the nation-states of northern Europe: from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and England, from Holland, Belgium, France, and Germany. The first of my people to come to this continent was the Reverend Thomas Hooker with his family his wife, Susanna Garbrand, and their children Joanna, Mary, Sarah, John, and Samuel. They came first to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There a political-philosophical argument ensued, with Thomas Hooker on the liberal side. After all, he had been banished from England for his radicalism and nonconformity. As its told in my family, Hooker wanted the right to vote to be granted to all the men in the church, not just the land-owning men. The argument went so badly that Hooker left the Colony on May 31, 1636, with the members of his family and a hundred followers and, quoting from a journal, 160 cattle and fed of their milk by the way. They headed south through the thick forest along the Old Connecticut Path and found the place called Suckiaug, which in Pequot means black earth and which later became Hartford, with its meadows between the Connecticut River and the Little River. There they joined settlers who had already made that journey from Newtown (now Newton, Massachusetts).

My ancestors focus was the spiritual uplifting of the parish. His goal was to make New England a positive model against the spiritual corruptness of Old England. However, it says in Hookers biography, He preached on Sundays and fought Indians the rest of the week. Lo and behold! He was involved in spearheading what the history books call the first major Indianbut what I call Europeanwar. A thousand Pequot were killed, some of their heads and hands sent back to Boston, and five hundred were taken as slaves. Thus was founded the Colony of Connecticut.

What Im doing here is presenting a map of the forging of empire on this continent and pointing out the immense ironies involved. We are all inheritors of this map. As the Arab-American social critic Edward Said has put it, Hardly any North American, African, European, Latin American, Indian, Caribbean, or Australian individualthe list is very longwho is alive today has not been touched by the empires of the past. Not Pequot or English, not Mapuche or Spanish, not Tibetan or Chinese. If were talking about empire, were talking about a system that we all depend on for survival, that weve all been harmed by, that we have learned to critique and in many cases have come to abhor. Whether we call it too big, too cruel, or too much in denial, whether we refer to it as mass technological civilization, patriarchy, the dominant society, or the global economy, the empire Im presenting to youthis map of expansion and domination has affected every single person in this room.

My own people went on to extend their appetite for land beyond Connecticuts watershed. They formed the Connecticut Land Company in 1797 and traveled directly west to colonize what they called the Western Reserve of Ohio, just south of Lake Erie. A hundred and fifty years earlier Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop had said, Westward the course of empire takes it way. And indeed, my people headed out with wooden carts and again battled Natives, in this case the Shawnee and the Delaware. I have photographs of my great-grandfather on horseback on the land that was acquired in Defiance, Ohio. But that wasnt enough, Flowing with the economic tide, they then embarked on another journey. They moved north to Cleveland to amass not fortunes but at least bank accounts alongside and in the wake of industrialists Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefellerwhose steel production, shipping, and railroads made Cleveland what I grew up being told was the stepping stone to the civilized East. It was not the much feared savage-ridden West.

Oddly and perhaps inevitably I, their descendent, ended up crossing the continent to that much feared and savage-ridden West. I too traveled there along the highways of empire, in my case on a United Airlines flight in 1967, but with a different kind of defiance. And here I am, a Connecticut girl from Ohio, now living with Native peoples, dedicating my caring and my talents to the survival of their place-based, bioregional, community-oriented, ecological ways. And perhaps most importantly, learning for all of us how we may survive.

And now the map turns to sustenance: A maiz y chile y alazány calabazitas y el agua, siempre el agua y también a la musica y la comunidad y el espíritu (to corn and chili and elk and squash and to water, always water and also to music and community and spirit).

In order to re-map the dominant society, we must turn to this kind of awareness, to this kind of place-based sustainability. to this kind of place-based sustainability, But because the wholeness and ways of our lives have been so fragmented by what is required to conduct the bigness of empire, welike Rex Tilousi in a cold hotel room in Salzburgare left with disparate parts disconnected from one another. What I can tell you, from a place where the earth is pink and people grow chili and hunt elk, is that we were right, and we are right. Living in land-based community, making the future with our bodies, knowing the seasons and the land is a better way. It feels better; it looks better; it politics better; it lives better. For myself, I am in a constant state of amazement that I have the opportunity to live my life, not according to a birds-eye-view map of nonsustainability limited to visual cues but rather according to the cartography of a living, breathing, dreaming experience of sustainability.

Every day in Chima is a day of low-level glee for me, and so Id like to tell you a little bit about the village. Traditionally the villages of northern New Mexico have survived by hunting, fishing, growing, and gathering. Womens place is the village: taking responsibility for the garden, the house, and the animals (although they ride horses and hunt if they want to). There is a power to this place of theirs. It is unlike living in the dominant society, where the power has been sapped out of womens role. Theres a big power and a big independence for women in the village. Mens place is the forest, la sierra, the hunting grounds, and it is their responsibility to provide for the village.

When I was growing up in Cleveland, I lived in a four-bedroom brick house. We had colonial silver and furniture from Connecticut; we had electricity; we had showers, radio, and TV. In 1948 my father bought a Packard. My neighbors in Chima who are my age grew up in one-room mud huts; they had wood stoves and candles; the water came from the river, and in 1948 the chosen method of transportation was burro. I will tell you that living in this place Ive learned to dig irrigation ditches, Ive learned to hunt, Ive learned to fish, Perhaps oddlyand I think this may be a result of the womens movementIm attracted to activities that are traditionally male. But Ive also learned to grow corn and gather herbs, and Ive learned to dance to the music of rancheros y corridos.

I had a lover in the village, a man named Snowflake Martinez, who became a character in my new book Off the Map. Snowflake Martinez isnt his real name. Courting begins by somebody coming around in a truck and claiming that their horses have gotten away and they need to give you their phone number in case you see the renegade animals. Id like to make a little aside to the women here and give a big hint to the men: Snowflake would ride over to my house on his mustang at midnight under the full moon wearing a Mexican serape. Snowflake is a man who has always lived in the village. He makes less than $3000 a year; everything else comes directly from the land.

During the time when I was seeing Snowflake, my kitchen was filled with food from the land. There were eggs with little feathers still stuck on them; there was elk meat that his son had hunted a few days before; there was chili. He didnt grow the chili himself, but a friend of ours did, and Snowflake would repair the friends hunting Bronco and in exchange he would get enough chili for the whole winter. There was apple juice from his grandmothers orchards. Two days before Thanksgiving he would kill the turkey. On my birthday we had a matanza, which means that we killed Isabel the pig, stripped her down, and put her in a hole in the earth with burning coals. What I learned from all this is that a sense of community with the earth, of satisfaction, of fulfillment is not something you learn in a workshop. Its an everyday experience when your food comes from the earth,

Once I went trout fishing with my friend Antonio DeVargas. We went from stream to stream, through the afternoon and into the night, but the water was too wintry and the fish were still asleep under the rocks. I was thinking, Why dont we just stop when this obviously isnt working? But he kept wanting to try another part of the river. Finally, when it got dark, we went back to the village. Some of his friends were waiting in his trailer. There wasnt anything to eat, and so we just sat around and talked. Around ten oclock I decided to leave, and as I was driving away I realized that I had money in my pocket and if I wanted something to eat, I could stop along the way. I realized that for them, no fish meant no dinner.

Allow me to make an aside here: When I was first invited to speak at the Schumacher Lectures, I looked at the collection of previous lectures in People, Land, and Community to see what kind of lectures have been given. I noticed immediately that the speakers tend to quote other people, so I thought, Well, Ill have to do that too. Here is my chosen quote: as Eeyore so brilliantly said in The House at Pooh Corner, We have been joined by something. And indeed, in the 1930s roads were built for cars to reach an area that until then had truly been isolated from the outside world. In the 1940s Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, which later became Los Alamos National Laboratory, was built, bringing with it the cash economy and changing life in northern New Mexico forever. Telephones came in the 1970s. I would say about half the people in the village now have a telephone. Running water didnt come to my village until 1979, which made me realize that the purpose of the ditches was not just to irrigate but to bring water to the houses so you didnt have to walk so far with your pail.

A Wal-Mart Superstore has opened in the nearby town of Española. Now, sadly, in the past year the freeways have suddenly been widened, bringing to us we-dont-yet-know-quite-whatbut certainly paving the way for more people. And believe it or not we now have cell-phone towers, so cruelly and undemocratically radiating microwaves at our bodies. Last fall, after the industry was deregulated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the number of cell-phone towers in Española went from zero to eight, in Chimayó from zero to two. What are these towers for if not to provide for a growing population? Before I left New Mexico to come here, when people asked me where I was going, I told them I was coming to Connecticut to talk about life in our village. One person said, Well, dont let them come here!

The constant theme, then, is the chronic and unwelcome interface of that which we have been joined by with sustainable ways. And these interfaces are striking indeed. Let me tell you a story that comes from Laguna Pueblo, about forty miles west of Albuquerque. The people of the pueblo decided they needed a new tribal truck. Someone called up the car lot in Albuquerque where they had previously gotten trucks and asked what was available. The salesperson said, Ill have a fax for you. So the Laguna man got into one of the pueblo vehicles and drove all the way to Albuquerque. He walked into the office and announced, Im here for my fax.

Another story comes from Snowflake Martinez. In the late 1980s friends asked him to fly to Cincinnati to help drive a car back to New Mexico, and they mailed him a plane ticket. He had never traveled that far before, and he had never flown on an airplane. Then, right before he left, Snowflake got a call saying that the car had broken down. He got ready to go, and what did he take with him? What would you take if you were going on an airplane trip? Would you take money? He didnt take money. He wasnt used to using money. Did he take the phone number of the people he was going to meet? He wasnt used to using the phone, so he didnt take the phone number. There was only one thing he felt was important and relevant to take: he took his tool box to fix the car.

What we have here are stories illustrating clashes of consciousness. These clashes dont merely exist in a vacuum: they inevitably lead to politics. In our area they lead to the formation of groups like La Raza, to La Huelga, to Si Se Puede, to Tierra o Muerte. Once when I was riding in the badlands with Snowflake, I asked him for his impression of the state of the world. He thought for a long time. The saddles creaked. Tumbleweeds bounced by. Now remember, English is not his first language. Snowflake said, The down-to-earth people are finishing. Another time, an old friend asked me what my politics had grown to be, and before I could launch into my 45-minute rap about the global economy and Bretton Woods and the World Trade Organization, Snowflakewho really didnt want to hear it all againcut right in and said, She is against the chain stores.

Hey! Why write a book?

In the 1980s an unsuspecting multinational banking institution decided to set up an ATM machine in Chimayó. The thing was installed where the apple shed with the portal had been. The horses used to escape from nearby pastures to go and stand in the shade under the portal. In a belligerent mood about this invasion by the cash economy, the men of the village got together, took their hunting rifles, went to the portal, and shot the ATM machine to pieces.

You can see why I like living there.

In 1997 a Canadian mining corporation called Summo wanted to set up a copper mine in an area that was officially Bureau of Land Management land, but everybody in the area knew it was really the land of the Picurs Pueblo tribe. According to the laws of the World Trade Organization and the 1872 Mining Act of New Mexico,the Summo Corporation had every right to set up this endeavor. The obligatory hearing was held, and the Picurís governor and a group of warriors went to it, Their approach was to take the process seriouslyeven though the Summo people were obviously there only as a matter of form. The Picurís governor stood up and said, If you put in this copper mine, we will go to war with you. The Summo Corporation fled.

What I appreciate about living in this placehaving the honor to live in this place, to be a guest in this placeis that it took me thirty-five years of being an activist and seven social-change movements, from the civil rights and womens movements to the environmental and indigenous rights movements, to arrive at a comprehensive critique of mass dominant society. In my village the people already have a comprehensive critique in their bones. Theyre born with it. And they express it with so few words.

The stories Ive told you have to do with land and livelihood. What it all comes down to is that access to land makes sustainability possible. The empires primary mode of usurpation is to steal land. And indeed, los norte americanos stole the land of my compadres en Nuevo México.

The old land system was based on land grants, the central unit of sustainability and cultural vitality. Each land grant is an area that extended beyond the village, usually into the mountains. It is big enough to provide enough food from hunting and fishing, big enough to sustain the village and no bigger. It includes the area where you go to find medicines, to get dirt to make roofs, twigs to make brooms. Just big enough. Chimayó joined the villages of Truchas and Córdova to form a single land grant. It is called La Merced Nuestra Señora del Rosario San Fernando y Santiago, otherwise known as the Truchas Land Grant. After the Mexican-American War in 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo mandated that the U.S, Government was to honor the land grants in the territories won from Mexico. Within the next hundred years, however, the land grants were systematically stolen by the U. S. Court of Public Land Claims, which, in line with Eeyores insight, came in and made bogus surveys. The Truchas Land Grant, for instance, originally had 49,000 acres. By the time the surveyors were through, there were only 7000.

Some of the land grants were stolen by lawyers and land speculators. The bigwigs from Santa Fe came and said: Oh youre having trouble with the Court of Public Land Claims? Im a lawyer and I can help you. The lawyers would do whatever they did, successfully or not, and then theyd say, Now you have to pay me. Of course the people didnt have money, and so the lawyers said, Oh well, you can give us land instead. Some of the land was even stolen directly by the government, which put up signs and barbed wire and redefined the land as public lands. A good deal of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land was originally Native and Chicano land grants. As my friend Lorenzo Valdez, now the Rio Arriba County Manager, told me, The real La Merced went away. They left us with only enough land to raise rattlesnakes.

In places where land and community are intertwined, history is not forgotten. In places where land and community are inseparable, the injustices of imperialism are not relegated to the past. The land-grant struggle is still alive today. In the 1960s Congressman Joseph Montoya, the first Chicano Congressman from New Mexico, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to right the injustices. In 1967, a time of great tumult around the country, the Ro Arriba County courthouse was taken over by land-grant activists who, with guns, were inventing their own authority to take the land back. In 1997 we were amazed to receive a message from Subcommandante Insurgente Marcos, leader of the Chiapan insurgents, supporting us in our struggle for the return of the land grants and for the right to continue our way of life. In 1998, miracle of all miracles, a Congressman from New Mexico introduced a bill to study the land-grant situation. The bill actually passed in the House, but it never got to a vote in the Senate because the Monica Lewinsky debacle took center stage. In 1999, this year, our Senators Bingaman and Domenici are trying to put through a similar bill that would deal with the injustice.

The map Im trying to draw exists against the backdrop of the global economic empire with all its power and bigness, its ugliness and injustices. And yet, I think its crucial for us to remember that what Im talking about is really a map of love. In todays world loving the earth is a political act. Loving your community is a political act, and the effort to attain sustainability is the basis for politics. Id like to give another quote, this one from Che Guevara: Déjeme decirle, a riesgo de parecer ridículo, que el revolucionario verdadero esta guido por grandes sentimientos de amor. (Let me tell you, at risk of seeming ridiculous, the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love).

The real story of our times, I think, is not one of conflict, fear, and hate between one massive unsustainable system called capitalism and another massive unsustainable system called communism. I think the story that sets the stage for our lives is a story of love. Its the story of the love on the part of the decolonization movements and the liberation movements from the 1940s to the 1960s, movements having to do with land and community and sustainability, movements resulting in miracles of human dedication and heroism, accomplishment and creativity. Its unbelievable that after three hundred years India broke from England in 1947! Vietnam broke from France in 1954, Morocco from France in 1956, Cuba from U.S. influence in 1959, Nigeria and Uganda from England in 1960, Algeria from France in 1962.

A hundred new nations have risen uppeoples who before colonization had been sustainable within and among themselves, peoples who by dint of their heroic and loving effort threw off the yoke of imperialism. These are not stories we are told. I was born in 1947, and I was never told that was the year India freed itself from England. It was never mentioned. Of course, the tragedy is that these new nations entered into a world whose economic and political exigencies made them pawns in a struggle between global Cold-War systems that, by military and economic power, extinguished their chances for self-defined sustainability. And the tragedy at this late stage of globalization is the same, for the economic and political exigencies of a corporate-controlled world are everywhere limiting the chances for sustainability. Yet the effort to attain sustainability is the most important task on the planet. It includes opposing imperialism and protesting globalization. It includes being in place, being in community, being in love with the earth, and making sure that the down-to-earth people do not finish.

This is the map I want to pass on to you whether you reside in Chima fighting for a still-alive land-based culture or in Connecticut creating land trustswhat we in New Mexico might call modern land grants. Or in Havana, Cuba, where every single apartment has a garden and organic agriculture is a national policy, Or in the inner cities of the United States where people are growing food in bureau drawers they pick up at used-furniture stores. Or in Chiapas, Mexico, where people are struggling to save Native land-based cultures and livelihoods. We all face the same challenge: to choose sustainability, to choose the small and human scale, to choose, quite frankly, life itself. Because at this very moment, all life stands luminous and fragile against the destructive forces of mass dominant civilization. Life meaning this breath, life meaning what you give your talents and care to, life meaning that you are willing to die in pursuit of your goals. Subcommandante Marcos is speaking from a place where issues of sustainability versus unsustainability are played out to gargantuan proportion when he says, Here we are, the forever dead, dying once again, but now in order to live. And as his hero Emilio Zapata once said: Es mejor morir de pie, que continuar viviendo de rodillas (It is better to die on your feet than to continue living on your knees). And so our map too: to give our lives to the death of the old for the life of what Helena Norberg-Hodge calls ancient futures.

Id like to close with the words passed on to me by my friend Lucy Lippard, the art critic and author, whose most recent book is The Lure of the Local. She, like me, lives in a small village in northern New Mexico, Galisteo, where one of her neighbors said to her, When you get old, Lucy, you will go back to your country.

So here I am, growing old, and here I am, having traveled from the Old Connecticut Path to the Río Grande Valley and back again.

[Music: Valentín de la Sierra]

Excerpts from Question and Answer period

Id like to ask about the effect of casino life in that part of the world. I think there are twelve casinos in the environs of Santa Fe and one right near you in Española.

Its a thorny issue. At first I thought, Oh no, this means gambling addiction, perhaps prostitution, poor and working class people losing their homes from gambling, increased alcohol and drug use, all these dreadful consequences. But I quickly came to the realization that the underlying issue here is sovereignty for the Native people. Its a conflict of values to say, on the one hand, this isnt a healthy activity and, on the other, I believe in sovereignty, Restoring the sovereignty the empire took away is what, at this moment, I favor.

On a Native American call-in program that comes out of Albuquerque someone asked the question, Is it going against the sovereignty of Mexico for Native people from North America to send a contingent from the United States to Chiapas? I think this is a question that only the Native mind would concoct. People from the dominant society would take it for granted that they could go. The answer that emerged on the program was that the Mexican government itself does not have proper sovereignty because it is linked so tightly with multinational control and oppression. Its policies are not land based, not water-shed based and not community based. Therefore, it is all right for Native people from the United States to go to Chiapas to witness and help their brothers and sisters of the tribes there.


Given all the forces moving us in the other direction, do you really think the world is ready for sustainability?

I cant answer for the world, but one thing I know is that the dominant population of the earth is not people who live in the United States and have jobs and are able to support themselves within this systemin other words, pay the rent and have food on the tablebut rather people living in poverty in the rest of the world, like the several hundred thousand demonstrators in Bangalore, India, where the people are wearing threadbare saris and walk barefoot. Speaking personally, I feel that when its a matter of the survival of life on the planet, regardless of whether its popular in a particular milieu or isnt, I am not deterred from doing all I can to fight for life.

It behooves every single one of us to find ways in which we as individuals can become sustainable, whether we live in a land-based community in New Mexico or in the city of Hartford. It behooves us as well to create institutions of sustainability, and it behooves us to challenge the forces that are destroying life and sanity.


[question inaudible]

In northern New Mexico theres a Native American preparatory school that graduated its first class this year, and all the graduates are going to college, including one who is the first reservation-bred Native American to attend Yale.

I have a number of Chicano friends who work in higher education, and they want to help young people get scholarships to go to school. One friend works for an education and economic opportunity center, and he is ambivalent about what hes doing. He has a Ph.D., but this means hes disconnected from the land. He tries to fish and do things like that, but he just squeezes these activities in on the side, He really wants others to have the opportunity hes had, but on the other hand he asks himself, Opportunity for what? To participate in the global economy?

Concluding remarks

Ive talked a lot today, so I thought Id conclude by reading a passage from the last part of my book Off the Map. It starts off with an illustrious quote from the character Rabbit in The House at Pooh Corner. It is a written note:

I AM SCERCHING FOR A NEW HOUSE FOR OWL SO HAD YOU RABBIT. The creatures of 100 AKER WOOD are on a similar quest. It is a quest that captures the imaginations of millions of adults and children throughout the American and British empires. I am holding my mothers tattered copy of Winnie-the-Pooh, the one inscribed to her from Aunt Ellen on Christmas Day, 1926. The publishers page shows that the first edition comes out in October. By November, the thirty-ninth edition has already left the printer and arrived in Cleveland. And here too is my mothers musty copy of The House at Pooh Corner. It has her name scrawled HOOKR [with the R backwards] in orange Crayola on the front-inside cover. The first printing is September 1928; the thirty-fourth, September 1928. Why does it sell so wildly? Rum-tum-tum-tiddle-um. The stories are fanciful, the language inventive, the decorations by Ernest Shepard priceless. I am particularly enamored of the use of CAPITALS, which appear throughout like good-natured parodies of Chaucer and Milton and Shakespeare. But as Eeyore announces in a hoarse whisper, We have been joined by something. One current of literary criticism identifies deeper themes in childrens storiescritiques of the British monarchy hidden within Alice in Wonderland, for instance. I wouldnt have seen it without Snowflake Martinezs sharp eye. The bears and donkeys and tigers and heffalumps of 100 AKER WOOD are not just from England. Like us, they hail from divergent habitats throughout the empire. Each is unique, some not even suited to the English countryside. And yet here they are, living in a land-based community (bioregional, you might venture to suggest) hunting woozles, celebrating birthdays, surviving weather, writing songs about their lives, rebuilding homes, helping each other, being irritated with each otherdoing all the things our ancestors did together, in a simple way, before imperialism and the industrial revolution and the global economy disrupted our ways of life. Doing all the things the readers of England and the United States would be missing round about 1926 and 1928, one hundred years after the great garden party of empire and industrialism melded land-based communities into mass technological society.

At the end, Christopher Robin is going away. Pooh and Piglet and Rabbit cannot imagine whereoff the map, for all they knowand yet we the readers know he is being sent away to school. School where he will study People called Kings and Queens and something called Factors, and a place called Europe, and an island in the middle of the sea where no ship came, and how to make a Suction Pump (if you want to), and when Knights were Knighted, and what comes from Brazil. Not how to seek out breakfast in the forest, identify animal tracks in the snow, live through rainstorms and floods, give medicine to a child, sing songs of praise and honor. No. Christopher Robbin will study the knowledge of pink and mustard-yellow globalism.

Pooh is worried. He senses he will not be smart enough to understand what Christopher Robbin will know when he returns. (And this from the bear who has written all the Poetry of the Forest.) Christopher Robbin is also upset. Pooh, he pleads, promise you wont forget about me, ever. Not even when Im a hundred.

The journey home severs us from empires constructions of kings and suction pumps, of linear perspective and kilobits per second microwave. We make our own mapsmaps not of parchment or cyberspace, but of twigs and corn husks, of shells and buckskin, of our bodies lying against the reverberations of history. Maps not of destinations, but of directions and currents, of visions and relationships. We place small stones on these maps to remind us of the strengths and awarenesses we must bring to the trek. Look at them carefully, study them, memorize. Take a full breath. Now: leave all the maps behind. We do not know precisely where we are going or how we will get there,. But thank Creation, we are not alone any more.


CHELLIS GLENDINNING is a psychologist and author whose works include the acclaimed My Name is Chellis and I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated When Technology Wounds, and the forthcoming Off the Map (An Expedition Deep into Imperialism, the Global Economy, and Other Earthly Whereabouts). Her writings address both the ecological and human costs of technological progress and the psycho-spiritual promises offered by a renewed relationship to the natural world.Ê She was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the University of California at Berkeley and then went on to receive a doctorate in psychology from Columbia Pacific University.Ê Glendinning lives in the village of Chimayó, New Mexico, where she works with Chicano and native people for environmental justice and cultural preservation.



Selected Engravings from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam

In January through July of this year, 2003, an extraordinary exhibit of paintings by Maria Sibylla Merian, artist and scientist (1641- 1712) was on display at the National Gallery of Women Artists, Washington.

Who is Maria Sibylla Merian?

 Besides creating visual images of great beauty, Maria Sibylla Merian made observations that revolutionized both botany and zoology. This extraordinary artist-scientist was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Her father, Matthäus Merian the Elder, was a Swiss printmaker and publisher who died when she was three. One year later her mother married Jacob Marell, a Flemish flower painter and one of Merian's first teachers.

From early childhood, Merian was interested in drawing the animals and plants she saw around her. In 1670, five years after her marriage to the painter Johann Andreas Graff, the family moved to Nuremberg, where Merian published her first illustrated books. In preparation for a catalogue of European moths, butterflies, and other insects, Merian collected, raised, and observed the living insects, rather than working from preserved specimens, as was the norm.

In 1685 Merian left Nuremberg and her husband to live with her two daughters and her mother in the Dutch province of West Friesland. After her mother's death, Merian moved to Amsterdam. Eight years later, at the age of 52, Merian took the astonishing step of embarking-with her younger daughter-on a dangerous, three-month trip to the Dutch colony of Surinam. Having seen some of the dried specimens of animals and plants that were popular with European collectors, Merian wanted to study them in their natural habitat. She spent the next two years studying and drawing the indigenous flora and fauna. Forced home by malaria, Merian published her most significant book in 1705 - Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam, which established her international reputation.


To learn more about Maria Sibylla Merian . . .
To learn more about Maria Sibylla Merian, click on the image at left to go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison 's Memorial Library Secial Collections website to view the plates to her monumental book, The Miraculous Transformation and Unusual Flower-Food of Cater-pillars.
Maria Sibylla Merian. Der Raupen Wunderbare Verwandelung und Sonderbare Blumen-Nahrung. [The Miraculous Transformation and Unusual Flower-Food of Caterpillars] Nuremberg: Johann Andreas Graffen. Frankfurt and Leipzig: David Funken and Andreas Knortzen, 1679-1683.
Title page of part 1 from Merian book
Title Page. [Part 1. 1679.]
Title page of part 2 from Merian book
Title Page. [Part 2. 1683.]

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More about Gary Snyder 

Gary Snyder teaches literature and wilderness thought at the University of California at Davis and lives with his family on San Juan Ridge in the Sierra foothills. He was born on May 8, 1930 in San Francisco, Calif., to Harold Alton and Lois (Willkie) Snyder and raised in Washington and Oregon on small farms. When he was 15 he climbed Mount St. Helens. He joined the Mazamas Climbing Club and the Wilderness Society, and climbed many of the northwest's major snow peaks.

Snyder received a degree in literature and anthropology from Reed College in 1951. After briefly studying linguistics at Indiana University, he completed three years of graduate work in Asian languages at the University of California at Berkeley. He also worked on the docks in San Francisco, read Buddhist philosophy and wrote poetry.

During the 1950's Snyder became involved with the San Francisco Beat movement. After Snyder and Jack Kerouac climbed Matterhorn Peak in the northern Sierra Nevada, Kerouac used Snyder as the model for Japhy Ryder, the itinerant mountain-climbing poet of Dharma Bums (1958), a man who took his Zen practice beyond the confines of formal study.

In 1956 Snyder moved to Japan. For 12 years he studied Rinzai Zen Buddhism, worked as a researcher and translator of Zen texts, and traveled throughout Asia, including a 6 month sojourn in India where he met the Dalai Lama in 1962. He also worked for 9 months in the engine room of a tanker visiting various ports in the Pacific and the Persian Gulf.

In 1969 Snyder returned to the United States and settled on the mountain farmstead in the northern Sierra foothills where he lives today.

More Books by Gary Snyder

Snyder has published 16 books of poetry and prose. Turtle Island received a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1975. His volumes of essays include:

His collections of poetry include:
  • Mountains and Rivers without End
  • Turtle Island
  • Axe Handles
  • Left out in the Rain

Related Web Sites

More Books byEdward O. Wilson
The Ants

Bert Hölldobler, Edward O. Wilson

1995 Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science

The Ants jacket

This landmark work, the distillation of a lifetime of research by the world's leading myrmecologists, is a thoroughgoing survey of one of the largest and most diverse groups of animals on the planet. Hölldobler and Wilson review in exhaustive detail virtually all topics in the anatomy, physiology, social organization, ecology, and natural history of the ants. In large format, with almost a thousand line drawings, photographs, and painting, it is one of the most visually rich and all-encompassing view of any group of organisms on earth. It will be welcomed both as an introduction to the subject and as an encyclopedia reference for researchers in entomology, ecology, and sociobiology.

A Tree-mendous Fight

By Judy Mook [Signal Staff Writer]
The Santa Clarita Signal weekly newspaper

Call it crazy or call it dedication, but a man is perched atop of a 400-year-old oak tree at the west end of Pico Canyon Road in Stevenson Ranch.
    The California Oak is surrounded by an orange fence at the corner of Pico Canyon Road and Whispering Oaks Road and is in the middle of a proposed 4-lane highway and has been slated for removal since 1999. The matter will be discussed at Tuesdays City Council meeting.
    Educator and special event producer John Quigley of Pacific Palisades climbed the 70-foot oak tree at 4:30 a.m. Friday to support the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment in their effort to save it from destruction.
    Quigley said his length of tenancy in the tree is unclear and a rotation plan is being considered to have a presence in the tree indefinitely. A ground support group is available to tend to Quigleys needs along with supporters holding signs asking passers by to honk in support of the protest.
    Im setting up house with books to read and paper and pens to write, he said. No one else in this area has the skills. Its time to take a stand to make a difference.
    An e-mail from a friend who knew of Quigleys background in forestry described SCOPEs dispute with John Laing Homes to remove the tree. He was immediately reminded of driving through the Interstate 5 corridor in the past when open space was more abundant.
    I love this kind of landscape, so I dropped everything to get into this, he said.
    The tree is on the one-time stagecoach route that now leads to the ghost town of Mentryville now owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
    Bill Rattazzi, president of John Laing Homes, said he is confused by the 12th hour SCOPE protest. The problem lies within a map condition of phase three of the Stevenson Ranch development. Los Angeles County is preserving the right of way for their general highway plan to extend the road to state Route 126 someday, he said.
    Ive lived in the valley for 20 years and I dont take down trees, he said. I support the City Council. We are in favor of anything that can be done to save the tree. If we can go with two lanes, we wont have to take down the tree.
    Conal McNamara, land use deputy for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said the removal of the tree was the subject of an agreement made between SCOPE and John Laing Homes on Nov. 1, 1999 that expired midnight Friday.
    The removal has been slated for years, he said. The road project was delayed so that SCOPE could work with the issue to save the tree.
    Cynthia Neal-Harris of the Santa Clarita Oak Conservancy said she wants the county public works engineers to take another look at the thoroughfare for an alternate solution.
    We think the engineers can solve the problem, she said. We want it downgraded from four lanes to two lanes or build the road over the cemented creek.
    Harris said this oak trees health is declining because it is in stress from excess trimming and dirt removal. 


Ancient Oak, Once Marked for the Ax, Is Spared -- Again
Simi fire bypasses the Santa Clarita Valley tree whose imminent demise to make room for a road project became a cause celebre a year ago.










By Richard Fausset, Times Staff Writer

The ancient Santa Clarita Valley oak tree known as Old Glory survived a plan last year to turn it into lumber.

On Tuesday, it narrowly survived the flames of the Simi fire eliciting sighs of relief from the developer of a nearby housing tract and seasoned tree-sitter John Quigley, who spent months sparring over its fate in the media spotlight.

"It would have really been a shame at this point to have the tree succumb to a fire, given the amount of energy and effort put into [saving] it," said Bill Rattazzi, regional president of John Laing Homes, which is spending more than $1 million to relocate Old Glory as a compromise with its supporters.

Los Angeles County firefighters were doubtful early Tuesday afternoon that the tree would be saved as the fire worked its way into the western Santa Clarita Valley. But over the course of the evening, the blaze retreated from the ridges of narrow Pico Canyon
near the Southern Oaks subdivision while firefighters in a county fire engine kept a watchful eye on the oak.

By Wednesday morning, Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Joe Lindaman deemed the tree officially safe.

"It's a historic landmark around here, so we wanted to make sure nothing happened to it," he said.

The tree's star turn began last Nov. 1, when Quigley climbed into its branches to protest its planned destruction so a nearby road could be widened. The novelty of a suburban tree-sitter and the passions stirred by development issues soon attracted throngs of supporters and hangers-on who lent the normally quiet neighborhood a carnival air until January, when officials acting on a court order removed Quigley from the tree.

Quigley said he formed an intense bond with the tree while living in its boughs. The activist, also an avowed Laker fan, said he spent Tuesday night nervously flipping his television between the season opener against the Dallas Mavericks and the news reports from Stevenson Ranch.

"I was kind of debating all night to go up there," he said. "I figured the best I could do was hold tight being another car on the road" didn't seem like a good idea.

"I'm glad people up there are safe," he added. "I hope the tree is safe."

Quigley and his supporters had planned an anniversary celebration for Saturday, but they decided to push the event back to Nov. 15 to give the neighborhood some time to get back to normal.
1 p.m.
celebration, to take place near the tree, will be broadened to pay tribute to the firefighters who protected Stevenson Ranch from the fire, Quigley said.

The developer plans to move the tree less than a mile away, perhaps as early as mid-January. Quigley and others have argued that moving the centuries-old tree would likely kill it.

On Wednesday, neighbor Bob Good, who never took a side in the Old Glory debate, said he would have hated to see its fate decided by fire.

"After all the time and money that Laing put into it and all the time that Quigley put into it, gosh I'd hate to see it go."


    It has been mistreated and no longer has its creekbed, she said. But it can come back.  Harris said this tree is symbolic of what is happening in the Santa Clarita Valley. More than 1,990 oak trees will be encroached and 1,661 will be removed from the Valley due to development, she said.  Its time to say stop, she said.

Deadly "Ring of Fire"
Wildlife's Trial by Fire Is Just BeginningBy Kenneth R. Weiss and Steve Hymon,
Los Angeles Times Staff
For Jim Bauer, it was a search for life in the valley of death.

Charred remains of scrub jays and woodpeckers and rabbits littered the ground. The towering pines were gone, so were the oaks. Yet as the wildlife biologist moved through the eerie stillness of the smoldering state park in the mountains east of San Diego, he picked up a faint, telltale signal of hope.

Native Woodpecker, Bush Rabbit and Scrub Jay (above)
And then another and another. All told, seven of 11 deer outfitted with radio collars were alive in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Just outside the park, two of six mountain lions equipped with transmitters were on the prowl.

Mountain Lion, California (above)

"Looking at that fire, I wouldn't have guessed that any survived," said Bauer, a wildlife biologist who is participating in a UC Davis study of lions, deer and bighorn sheep in the area. "Mountain lions need a huge chunk of country, and when you have this fragmented and altered habitat to begin with, a big fire like this will have some impacts."

Although wildfires are part of the natural cycle in Southern California, scientists are worried about the cumulative impact of so much scorched earth on top of other stresses: the steady advance of urban development, pollution, invasive fire-prone plants, persistent drought and climate change.

With all of these strains on the environment, what will grow back now that wildfires have wiped the landscape clean? Will pine forests be replaced by chaparral or oak trees, as some experts suspect? What will be the impact on Southern California's ecological health and how will it affect humans?

A change in the forest canopy can rob animals of shelter and nourishment. Without pine trees, for instance, ground temperatures can rise and the moist forest floor can dry up, making it inhospitable for some creatures.

One team of scientists is studying how the plume of smoke sent toxic heavy metals and pesticides sifting down with the flurries of ash throughout Southern California.

They expect, as past studies have suggested, that tons of copper, lead and zinc particles will get washed into streams, rivers and the ocean, poisoning aquatic life and edging their way up the food chain.

"Aside from the obvious effect on everyone's breathing, these toxic compounds fall out of the sky, wash down and affect aquatic life," said Keith D. Stolzenbach, a UCLA professor of civil and environmental engineering. He noted that copper is so toxic to fish that it's used to clean out ponds and painted on boat hulls to keep barnacles from growing. Lead, which tends to sink to the ocean floor, can work its way up to humans who eat fish.

Another area of concern scientists plan to investigate is what it means to burn so many holes in the region's umbrella of foliage. Across the burned landscape, the holes add up to a gap bigger than Rhode Island.

The California Oak Woodlands (above)

"Trees are like sponges, filtering pollutants out of the air, intercepting rainfall" and helping replenish groundwater supplies, said Greg McPherson, director of the U.S. Forest Service's Center for Urban Forest Research at UC Davis. "Burning up those trees is like losing one of your lungs. The air quality isn't going to be the same. The runoff isn't going to clear. The system is going to be perturbed."

It is wildlife that may have taken the greatest hit.

"Think of it as a major refugee problem for many of these species," said Mark Borchert, the chief U.S. Forest Service ecologist for Southern California. "Some of these burns cover thousands of acres, and there is no place for some species to flee."

As fire swept across Summit Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains last week, rabbits and other animals were on the run, some dodging headlights, in their panic to escape the curtains of flame.

Kangaroo Rat (above)

In Lake Arrowhead, kangaroo rats congregated on the only ground not on fire the roadway only to be run over by firetrucks and TV news vans. In San Diego County, firefighters found a deer burned to death near a barbed-wire fence it may have sought to hurdle to flee the flames. Most animals tend to persevere. They evolved with this fire-prone landscape and have strategies to make it to safety or burrow deep enough underground to escape the scorching heat.

Some profit from fires. Throughout the week, red-tailed hawks and ravens could be seen over burned brush, diving for prey exposed by lack of cover.

Yet, the fate of animals deeper in the backcountry remains largely a mystery.

Researchers who had spent years tracking habits of mountain lions, bighorn sheep and deer began fretting sometimes unnecessarily that years of study had gone up in smoke.

As wildfires raced through the San Bernardino Mountains, Chanelle Davis paced nervously in her Chino Hills office. A biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, Davis' job is to restore the remnant population of Nelson's bighorn sheep in the local mountains. The herd was once the largest in the Southwestern United States. But even before the fires, fewer than 100 of the animals remained. "I'm anxious to get up there and see if my guys are still alive," Davis said. "The sheep are in pretty remote areas but the fire has covered most of the canyons where they are located," she said. "Instinctively, these animals will run away from fire. Sometimes they can get cut off or disoriented."

More than 100 miles to the west, the California condor saw much of its prime habitat in the mountains of Ventura County burn.

As U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials ventured into the blackened Sespe Condor Sanctuary, they picked up signals of all but four of the two dozen condors that live in the area, said Bruce Palmer, head of the California Condor Recovery Program. One bird is believed to have perished, but Palmer said the death did not appear to be fire-related.

"All of the smoke and disruption is not good for the birds, just as it's not good for people," Palmer said. "They may have lost a lot of traditional roosts in pine trees on Hopper Mountain."

Yet he said that fire can also benefit the condors, clearing away brush so they can more easily spot dead animals, carrion, to feed upon.

In a natural world, fire can be helpful to many wild animals, reinvigorating plants that provide the nutrition that works its way up the food chain. Some animals are lost, but eventually their populations may rebound and even grow larger than before.

That's not always the case when their numbers are greatly diminished. California has more rare and endangered species than any state other than Hawaii, and some of them saw their prime habitat burned last week. The southern rubber boa, for example, resides only in the mountains around Lake Arrowhead.

The least Bell's vireo and the arroyo southwestern toad also appear to have lost habitat. Large wildfires that take out entire stands of pines are considered a threat to the California spotted owl and its prey, the San Bernardino flying squirrel.

For years, development including roads and fences has been squeezing many animals into what National Park Service fire ecologist Robin Wills calls "islands of habitat amid urbanization."

Ecologists note that such islands are notorious as places where wildlife is highly susceptible to inbreeding, disease and extinction. Such chronic problems become acute when wildfires burn through the entire island, as happened this last week in San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Most ecologists see the unstoppable advance of development as the most serious problem for Southern California's remaining wildlife. San Diego County has had more than 100,000 acres converted to subdivisions and other forms of development since 1990, according to regional planners. Other counties have seen similar growth.

In an effort to preserve what's left, federal, state and local officials have been working with conservationists and developers to set aside the most biologically valuable wilderness that remains. The idea is to preserve essential habitats, the corridors that link them and the refuges that wildlife needs after fires. "We spent a decade carefully setting the most important remaining critical habitat," said Scott Morrison, an ecologist with the Nature Conservancy, a group that buys and protects habitat. "And in just a few hours it [largely] burned. I don't know a biologist who wasn't humbled by this."

What will grow back now that wildfires have wiped the landscape clean? What will happen to the pine forests of the San Bernardino Mountains, already stressed from drought, air pollution and burrowing beetles? Will native chaparral, sages and other shrubs lose out to nonnative grasses brought in from the Mediterranean?

Chaparral and coastal sage scrub, oak woodlands, even pine forests usually bounce back and even thrive after fires. Some plants have evolved to cope with wildfire by using the heat to open seeds that sit in the soil waiting sometimes years for a blaze. One biologist predicts that 50 to 100 species of wildflowers that are normally dormant will bloom next spring.

Yet, wildfire also creates opportunities for exotic plants to take hold.

Jon Keeley, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, has studied how wildfire has allowed invading grasses such as wild oats and mustard to replace native plants. Those nonnative annual grasses are brown most of the year, he said, providing less food and shelter to animals. They reflect more heat from the sun, elevating temperatures and making the landscape susceptible to more frequent wildfires.

"I estimate that 25% of the coastal range has been displaced with alien grasses, and these wildfires are going to exacerbate the problem," Keeley said. "By the sheer size of what's burned, we are going to see greater displacement of native plants. That makes the animals very vulnerable and has the potential of increasing fire frequency."

In the remote King Creek drainage in Cuyamaca State Park and the Cleveland National Forest, the world's only stands of the naturally rare Cuyamaca cypress tree are believed to have burned this last week.

All of the 1,000 or so trees are presumed to have died.

Yet, biologists also believe that the wildfire will open pine cones from the trees that have been sitting in the soil, awaiting a fire. The cones will then release seeds into the blackened earth.

Given the right mix of oxygen, water, sunlight and nutrients and perhaps a little luck biologists are hopeful that the Cuyamaca cypress will rise again.

Cuyamaca Peak, Cuyamaca State Park (above)

November 1 / 2, 2003

Liar, Liar Forests on Fire

Why Logging Exacerbates Loss of Lives and Property


Scores of people are dead, hundreds of thousands of acres are burned, 2,600 homes destroyed, with tens of thousand more threatened in California fires, and the toll is rising by the minute. It's very scary and represents profound loss for the victims. So, under the guise of fire funding or firefighting, congressional negotiators quickly allocated $3 billion (the most ever allocated to a one-time firefighting budget) in the coming year to fight and prevent fire. Hundreds of millions of dollars are allocated specifically for suppression, thinning, threat reduction, and management--all fear-mongering, code words for cutting down our national forests.

California's Fontana Pass and Grand Prix Fires have been blamed on arson. Still George W. Bush and those in the U.S. Congress who benefit from the timber industry's chainsaw windfall, capitalize on people's fear of fire and proclaim a need for suppression, thinning, threat reduction and management. They then grant enormous logging contracts to cut down trees in national forests where logging is otherwise illegal. The logging is not done in areas where lives and property would be spared, thinning small trees around homes, but rather in backcountry, valuable, old-growth forests.

According to Dr Richard A Minnich, Professor of Earth Science at the University of California at Riverside, an expert on the fire ecology of Mediterranean ecosystems in Southern California, "The Bush Administration's Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HR 1904) for forest thinning in the western United States is scheduled for a vote at a time when southern California is undergoing a massive fire disaster. Yet this bill will give little benefit for fire and fuel hazard management in the southern California region . . .The bill is earmarked for federal lands exclusively."

As forest fires rage, so does the debate about how best to suppress fire, reduce its threat and manage our forests. And the answer is -- DON'T! Don't "manage" our public forests -- and forest fires will be M-I-N-I-M-I-Z-E-D. Since George W. Bush and the timber hungry in the U.S. Congress seem incapable of spelling, allow us to spell it out: Stop timbering our forests and the fires therein will play the role that Mother Nature and God intended them to play -- a vital role of targeted renewal and replacement -- not one of total devastation as we are seeing in the fires raging in southern California today. There is no forest management plan that does the job as efficiently or effectively as the great forces of nature.

Fire, just like insects and disease, are a natural and beneficial part of forest ecosystems and watersheds. Without these natural processes the forest ecosystems quickly degrade. Excessive logging removes and reduces cooling shade adding to the hotter, drier forests along with logging debris creating a more flammable forest. Current "forest management" practices, road building and development cause forest fires to rage for hundreds of miles.

The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project said in a report to the U.S. Congress that timber harvests have increased fire severity more than any other recent human activity. Logging, especially clear cutting, can change the fire climate so that fires start more easily, spread faster, further, and burn hotter causing much more devastation than a fire ignited and burned under natural conditions. If we stop the logging and stop building fire prone developments, we minimize the loss of lives and property suffered by people in fires.

As long as the people of America let politicians, timber executives, and the Forest Service get away with it - it will not stop. Those corporations that profit will continue to lie, cheat and steal to continue to make more money from our losses. Just like big tobacco.

There has never been an honest and fully-costed accounting for public land management involving the extraction, sale, or lease of publicly owned natural resources: land, air, soil and water, not even for the trees. The Forest Service fails to give one penny of value in its inventory accounting to the trees themselves. A $1.00 seedling can grow into a 500-year-old tree. If you put $1.00 in the bank at 6% interest for 500 years, that $1.00 would grow with compounding and interest to 4.5 trillion dollars. A 500-year-old tree is simply not replaceable by five or six seedlings, the way 4.5 trillion dollars are not replaceable by five or six $1.00 bills.

The Forest Service gives away our trees to multinational corporations to liquidate for free, simultaneously asking taxpayers to subsidize those corporations by paying for the roads and infrastructure necessary to cut down our trees. This government give-away to a few, greedy corporations costs taxpayers billions of dollars annually and destroys the soil, air and water that only intact forests can provide. In addition, this may cost citizens and taxpayers trillions of dollars in lost and damaged publicly owned land and property assets. The Forest Service does not begin to assess the very real human health cost of dirty air, soil, and water. It's a shameless shakedown of the American taxpayer.

Tim Hermach, co-author of this article, was recently trapped in a forest fire that jeopardized his life and the lives of his wife, parents, and two young sons. He knows the gut-wrenching fear that fire can evoke. A raging forest fire came within 50 yards of his family's campsite at Davis Lake, Oregon. For the past forty years Tim has been making the same camping trip, an earlier time when this forest did not have hundreds of miles of roads channeling winds through an ever hotter and drier forest. Years of clear cutting, logging, and fire suppression have opened vast acreages to the hot sun and cut out the big, thick, fire-resistant Ponderosa pine, leaving the ecosystem in chaos.

Tim strongly opposes forest "thinning," because both the logging industry and the Forest Service have a long, dishonest, track record. His opposition is strong even after a fire spoiled his family's summer vacation and put their lives at risk. The Davis Lake fire burned in a national forest that had already been heavily logged. Rampant cutting and decades of fire suppression have turned this area, and much of the Deschutes National Forest, into a tinderbox of smaller trees and coarse woody debris. Go to our Web site (<> ) and see aerial photographs of the Deschutes and other national forests today. They are a patchwork of clear cuts and usually look like a war zone.

Those who claim to protect national forests like this by "managing" them, have turned paradise into Pandora's box -- make that Pandora's tinderbox. Put simply: Logging does not stop fire, as a group of scientists recently confirmed in a study that looked at the impact of "thinning" on 250 forest fires. Logging increases the risk and occurrence of forest fires. Yet more logging is exactly what timber corporations, President Bush and the Forest Service claim will stop forest fires.

Logging called for in the Bush administration's laughably named Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HR 1904) is the same dishonest logging that created the conditions that made the Davis Lake fire and others across the nation so frightening. They call it thinning, fire-risk reduction, meadow restoration, or good management, but it all adds up to the same old theft and destruction of America's most precious natural treasures and life-support system: our national forests and watersheds. Thanks to the Bush administration's Healthy Forests Restoration Act, American taxpayers will continue to subsidize the destruction of what little is left of our nation's forests, even those that are publicly owned.

It is the same old dirty formula that has made corporate robber barons and their political lackeys rich for more than a hundred years. The only difference is that, today, they hide behind their clever rhetoric and exploit the myth of Smokey Bear and our fear of fire. If the intent is to seek the most environmentally sound and cost effective means to reduce the fuel hazard and fire risk they created, then the Forest Service should be instructed, fully funded, and closely monitored. They should implement prescribed burning and manual, intensive labor in underbrush removal, without commercial logging. They should be enabled, funded, and watched while assisting homeowners in the removal of small trees in residential areas. The long-term goal for forests should be full restoration of ecological processes, including fire -- Mother Nature style.

Timothy G. Hermach is the President of the Native Forest Council in Eugene, Oregon. Karyn Strickler is a writer and political activist.

They can be reached at:

Copyright Timothy G. Hermach and Karyn Strickler.