— 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.