— how wonderful to be who I am, made out of earth and water, my own thoughts, my own fingerprints—all that glorious, temporary stuff.
∆ Mary Oliver, from "On Meditating, Sort Of," in Blue Horses
Our task is not to return to an idealized past, or to fetishize and appropriate the cultures of Indigenous peoples. Rather it is to determine which aspects of the current dominant society bring us into conflict with the rest of the natural world, to identify the historical junctures out of which these characteristics arose, and to imagine alternative paths society could take.
From the food we put into our bodies to the gasoline we pump into our cars, elements of nature are so far removed from their origins that we hardly recognize them as such.
It is in light of this temptation that I advocate repair, which is a mode of caring for what we have not made, but rather what we have inherited. We will not be saved by the making of artifacts — or from the repair of them, either; but the imperative of repair has these salutary effects: it reminds us of our debt to those who came before us and of the fragility of human constructs.
- I believe a hurricane represents a form of non-organic life. It lasts long enough for us to give it a name. It assembles itself. It’s not living in the sense that it doesn’t breathe. But to ask it to breathe would be to impose an organic constraint on it. The thing doesn’t have to breathe, it doesn’t have to have a pulse. Even then, certain winds do breathe, say the monsoon, the wind that is most prevalent on the southern coast of Asia. It is a perfectly rhythmic creature: it blows in one direction for six months of the year, blows in the other direction for another six months, and every sea-faring people in Asia that made a living from the sea had to live with the rhythm of the monsoon. The monsoon gave those cultures their rhythm. If you want to go that way, well, you have to go that way in the summer, then you get there and you have to wait for the winter to come back. You have to plan your life to that rhythm. So the monsoon is a self-organizing entity, there is no command component at all, it is non-organic life, and it is a pulsing non-organic life. It even has the beat that we tend to associate without hearts.
And yet, there is so much more that trees have to teach us about time itself. The first is that it’s circular. We grow not only taller, but wider—circles within circles, every iteration of ourselves contained within, written in the repetition of our rings. We grow both older and younger. The second is that there is a season for everything. Time passes both quickly and slowly, as does our growth. The third is that, like the years of a tree as reflected in its rings, time is defined by both the dark and the light. Without either, we would not be able to read its passage.
People can’t anticipate how much they’ll miss the natural world until they are deprived of it. I have read about submarine crewmen who haunt the sonar room, listening to whale songs and colonies of snapping shrimp. Submarine captains dispense “periscope liberty” - a chance to gaze at clouds and birds and coastlines - and remind themselves that the natural world still exists. I once met a man who told me that after landing in Christchurch, New Zealand, after a winter at the South Pole research station, he and his companions spent a couple of days just wandering around staring in awe at flowers and trees. At one point, one of them spotted a woman pushing a stroller. “A baby!” he shouted, and they all rushed across the street to see. The woman turned the stroller and ran. Nothing tops space as a barren, unnatural environment. Astronauts who had no prior interest in gardening spend hours tending experimental greenhouses. “They are our love,” said cosmonaut Vladislav Volkov of the tiny flax plants - with which they shared the confines of Salyut 1, the first Soviet space station. At least in orbit, you can look out the window and see the natural world below. On a Mars mission, once astronauts lose sight of Earth, they’ll be nothing to see outside the window. “You’ll be bathed in permanent sunlight, so you won’t eve see any stars,” astronaut Andy Thomas explained to me. “All you’ll see is black.””
— Mary Roach. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. (via hummeline)