Thursday, December 22, 2016

But, I Have Not Abandoned My Hope for People

A Facebook friend of a Facebook friend, Kathi Irwin, recently wrote “Abandon hope and start living.” These five words really caught my eye and resonated deep down. The words were followed by a quote by Paul Chefurka, a writer and thinker, which said that he has been living for years without hope of the world’s problems being solved, and has found richness by doing things that give him meaning.

Though I read “Abandon hope and start living” a couple of weeks ago, the words have stuck with me. They have helped me to frame a decade or so of my desire to participate in fixing an ecosystem-destroying society. The society I am referring to is the industrial society that I inhabit, which is helplessly reliant on fossil fuels and industrially-produced materials. Years ago, when I realized the terrible damage that most of the human race was doing to all the ecosystems of Earth, I was overwhelmed. I would lose sleep. I wanted to be an activist and tell everyone that what was going on was all wrong. I read all I could on the subject, but still felt powerless.

Over the past few years, I have acted. The experiences of working in government, founding a chapter of a small non-profit, learning primitive skills, and thinking/reading/talking about the changes needed to right the ship of society have led me to realize that the forces of inertia (called 'progress') and complexity that drive and support society are likely impossible to counter. I saw the product of ‘progress’ this past weekend, when driving through Loudoun County, Virginia. After witnessing the nightmare of over-sized, cookie cutter homes among earth bulldozed in the name of widening highways and building more developments, Joseph said, “This is progress.” He and I looked at each other and just shook our heads. People will live in that place; some will actually like it. Neat, trimmed, homogeneous grass will be planted over the bare soil, but it will not make up for the diverse ecosystem that has been ravaged wastefully and thoughtlessly. These bulldozed places have lost all of their uniqueness and diversity, and will be replaced with a homogeneous, destructive, consumer culture. Society continues to create living spaces where people are dependent on strip malls and the grocery store. This is considered normal, good, the best we can do. I disagree. So, over the past couple of years, I have struggled to abandon hope for a society that has no future and is leaving destruction in its wake.
Though I've abandoned my hope for the industrial society in which I was born and raised, I have not abandoned my hope for people. I now know several people that recognize that a different, less destructive way is possible and preferable. They know that humans are not the center of the universe, that we do not need much of what industrial society provides, and that we especially do not need those things in the way they are currently provided. I write to continue to find and connect with like-minded people. They help to keep me going, because the feelings of isolation that sometimes come with this transition are difficult to bear.

While loneliness can often creep in, I am finding that my sense of fulfillment grows by the day. To be sure, life is not a cakewalk now. I have had to experience pain and make tough decisions, and to change my life in significant ways. The process continues. I feel as if I am bushwhacking through the woods, creating paths where no one I am close to has gone, which is both liberating and scary. My heart and soul tell me I am going the right way. I am finding myself able to experience joy without questioning if I should be experiencing it or if I deserve to experience it. Such feelings of guilt and inadequacy plagued me months and years ago, but they are receding.

Small inspirational sign given to me by my Mom

Industrial society will topple. It is using and wasting too much, killing off too many members of too many species, continuing to build in complexity to support unsustainable systems, and relying almost exclusively on non-renewable resources. Perhaps most significantly, it is creating people with no sense of place or meaningful direction. Unfortunately, industrial society is likely to fall violently because many among us two-leggeds believe, or at least pretend, that industrial society can continue indefinitely. We continue to trash the ecosystems that support us, all while saying that we're just on the brink of coming up with sustainable this and sustainable that. So, environmental and social degradation will continue until some event(s) happens and puts a stop to the destruction. There will be some remaining scraps for the life that is left on this earth to survive on. Hopefully, there will be enough left for life to someday thrive. 

For my part, I must go back to the ecosystem and live much in the way my (and our) ancestors did, even though the mechanics of actually doing so are still a bit fuzzy. I have a long way to go. I will continue to strive to put down literal and figurative roots in an ecosystem and seek others who want to do the same. I know you are out there! I hope that you too will feel free to give up hope on things that you know have no future. It is, and will be, OK if you do. “Abandon hope, and start living.” There is no better way to say it, and there is much to be done!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Just Another Participant in the Ecosystem

I feel a strong connection to the place that I hunt in Seneca Creek State Park in Maryland, USA. I’ve experienced this place through nearly all four seasons: the flowers and fresh growth of the Spring, the heat, mosquitoes, and refreshing coolness of Great Seneca Creek in Summer, the crisp, cool air and comfortable temperatures in the Fall. How this place changes through the seasons! Where there were once lush grasses, there are now fallen leaves, the occasional garlic mustard, and the still-strong canes of wineberry that once produced juicy fruit (and will again). Soon I will be standing on snowy ground, seeing a whole new perspective.
Great Seneca Creek

Since May, I have been going to these woods weekly. I started by orienting myself, learning to walk through the woods unnoticed, finding deer trails, and identifying plants. In the Summer, as I started to learn where the deer were and stalk them, I waded in the waters of Great Seneca Creek. The creek has a unique, pleasant smell that I’ve still not been able to place. I’ve asked around, even brought my closest friend there, and haven’t been able to tell whether I’m smelling a beautiful creek, effluent from the upstream wastewater treatment plant, or runoff from the surrounding suburban sprawl. Because I haven’t spent a significant amount of time near large creeks, only more experience in other places will tell, I guess. Any thoughts?

As the leaves fall, I can now see further in the woods. Whereas I used to follow the well-worn hiking and mountain biking trail, I now have an understanding of the paths the deer take. I rarely lose track of where I am, using features and contours of the land. Back in Summer, I remember telling my friend that I was developing a connection to this place that made it feel like home. Yes, it is sandwiched in between farm and suburban development. Yes, the ecosystem there is severely degraded. Mountain bikers, runners, and dogs are there generating all kinds of ungodly noise and smells. But, it is a place that I know well, a place that I feel a part of.

I’m still a guest there, coming in before sunrise and leaving after sunset, but I can visualize the landscape in my mind. I’ve seen the same Mom and Child deer numerous times. I enter the woods before the squirrels come down from the trees, before the birds begin to flutter and chirp. I’ve sat perfectly still and listened to acorns drop. I’ve seen a coyote chase a fawn. I am planning to use this place for my sustenance, and so I feel inextricably connected. I’ve never felt this way before, and have become so much more comfortable out of doors than I have ever been.


I daydream about this little section of an inconsequential state park. I think about the next time I’ll be out there, what areas I’ll go to, what the deer are doing as I sit here and write. Those woods are a place for me to slow down: walk slower, move slower, leave my rational self and reason behind to rely on instinct. I need not carry anything but my bow, arrows, and knife.

Hunting continues to be a transformative experience for me. I’ve had the opportunity to take a life a few times, though I’ve so far not done so. Killing for food is an experience that many people in modern industrial society have never had and never will have. The desire to establish the connection of taking a life to sustain my own was a huge reason I abandoned half a decade of being vegan. I am, after all, an animal; an animal that was given the anatomy and ability to hunt. I am beginning to internalize how to let go of my ego and see myself as just another participant in the ecosystem. I’m working hard at abandoning my past conditioning, which, at its base, emphasizes that humans are supreme beings and separate from ‘the environment.’ The lens of human supremacy does not allow me to see the path to healing and connection, for myself or Earth’s ecosystems. So, I’m taking the lens off. I continue to learn and awaken. While I often question pursuits in my life, I have no doubt that I should be spending my time and energy out there, participating in the ecosystem just like the deer.