Incantations of Gratitude

December 17, 2015 § 7 Comments

He said that men believe the blood of the slain to be of no consequence but that the wolf knows better. He said that the wolf is a being of great order and that it knows what men do not: that there is no order in this world save that which death has put there.
Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

She gave me leather gloves and said, “They’ll scratch the shit out of you.” A size too small, I pulled her tight gloves onto my hands. By the tuft of the rabbit’s neck, I pulled him through the opening of the wire hutch. As I walked toward the post, I tried holding him by his back legs, upside down, so that the blood would rush to his head and he would drowse. The rabbit screamed.

“They don’t like to be upside down,” she said.

I righted him. “It works with chickens,” I offered. Then I raised the rabbit, almost like an offering to the gray morning sky, so I could gently lower him into the steel breaking bar. He kicked a bit, then calmed. “It’s your death. Meet it how you choose. I’d probably kick and scream too.” Through the trees the pond was visible down the slope before us. My wife stood with my daughter on the dock, looking at the turtles and the fish as they moved in the cold black water.

“It’s OK. It’s OK.” I was gently stroking the rabbit’s plush fur. “Look at the trees. See the sky. It’s a beautiful day.” My voice was hush. My intention was to keep the rabbit calm. But still I wondered if my human touch was repugnant to the rabbit. Is the sound of my voice wretched to his mind? Is there such a thing as a tender executioner? When I said, “travel well,” might it have been better to say nothing it all?

With a firm hold of the rabbit’s rear legs and then a thrust, I pulled down and back towards my knees. The process repeated, five in all, each neck broken as decisively as I could offer, each rabbit given a moment of calm, each life acknowledged before each death delivered.

“Thank you for being nice to them,” she said.
“Of course.” My God, of course.

Five rabbits for twenty dollars and a handful of butternut squash. Her freezer full of meat, she didn’t want to kill anything else this year. Killing isn’t easy. It leaves a stain, and I hope it always does. My family is still without a deer. Five rabbits do not add up to a lot of meat, but they will carry for now. With two hands I carefully lifted each dead rabbit and placed them in a cardboard box. My wife and daughter climbed the hill. We made pleasantries. The box was warm when I loaded it into the trunk.

December is not usually this warm. This fall has been the warmest in the lower fourty-eight United States since record keeping began. Deluges of rainfall have flooded Chennai in India, as well as Ireland and the UK. Seven-hundred-thousand people are evacuating in advance of a typhoon in the Philippines. Meanwhile, winter rains are failing to materialize in Africa, portending drought conditions next year. Representatives of the global elite have once again walked away from an international climate summit with nothing to show but a palisade of words constructed to deflect real conversation about turning off the killing machine of industrial capitalism. They boarded jet planes to return home, and I stood outside in a sleeveless shirt two weeks before the winter solstice as my daughter and I pulled green onions from our garden that we could lay over the rabbit as we cooked it over a pit fire.

In the circles of power, I am sure there are back pats and hand shakes to accompany the praise of a job well done in Paris. To be sure, I imagine there are plenty of western liberals who believe some form of progress was made at the COP 21. Conversely, those of us on the fringes probably expected just such a result. No hard lines, no painful cuts, no discussion of deindustrialization or plans to decrease the consumption rates of the first world or the financial largesse of the wealthy. The fact that an international conference on climate change has official corporate sponsors from automobile companies to airlines and banks should be a blood red flag to anyone with even the most beta of bullshit detectors. Growth was still the order of the day. This is a system that cannot see itself, let alone confront itself. This is a system that completely lacks the ability to stop itself from destroying the habitat of the Earth. Is there any word more applicable to such a system than psychopathic? Maybe omnicidal? Watching the neoliberal attempt to address climate change is like watching a serial killer at the end of their career; they are getting sloppy because they want to be caught, they want to be stopped, they know that they have zero control of their death urge. They won’t turn themselves in, but they will leave abundant clues as to their identity.

Advertisements for AirFrance plastered on a Parisian bus stop are the killer’s semen stain left on the victim’s bedsheets. Please catch me. I cannot help myself. Stop me before I kill again.

An inability to confront ourselves seems to be a defining characteristic of our age. Examples abound on the macro and micro level. The social media obsession highlights the trend nicely, as millions upon millions of people spend hours a day meticulously crafting an image of themselves that they want to convince the world is genuine. From Facebook to Instagram, the obsession du jour is taking photos of oneself and then sitting back and waiting for other humans, also likely obsessed with taking photos of themselves, to tell you how fantastic they look or how interesting they to appear to be. After harvesting “likes,” the high of such fickle and ephemeral attention fades, and it’s back to the bathroom mirror.

On a grander stage, we in the United States are now forced to endure the asinine behavior of a man-child braggart whose particular appeal as a potential presidential candidate appears to be the fact that he is perfectly comfortable being cruel to others, and that he has made a personal commitment to being as inconsiderate in his speech and action as possible. Of course, his defenders describe this behavior as a positive salvo against those who force us to all be “politically correct.” It requires very little effort to dismantle such an argument. What is really happening is that in recent years, challenges to society’s entrenched and predominantly unspoken white and male supremacy have been vocalized more frequently and with more support. These challenges make the beneficiaries of systemic racism and misogyny uncomfortable primarily because they were never cognizant of the leg up they have always received by being the “default” person, and they thusly feel that they are personally under attack for crimes they never committed.

Then along comes a powerful white man who tells his supporters he won’t cow to social justice warriors. Naturally, a lot of white men line up to carry his banner. The grand irony, is that this man is very wealthy. The declining standard of living amongst the middle class is a direct result of neoliberal economic policies enacted by the rich. Rich white men want poor white men to think it is foreigners who have undermined their economic viability, when in all reality, it was Wal-Mart. It was NAFTA. It was cheap labor abroad and cheap oil to ship goods around the globe. How the rich are able to convince the middle class that the poor are their greatest threat is a feat so counter intuitive that you almost want to applaud their ability to craft an illusion. How a billionaire has been able to convince millions of Americans that he can protect them from the machinations of politicians who have been bought by wealthy donors is downright stupifying.

Bravo, America. You have the political savvy of a goldfish.

But this is what happens. Vonnegut might just say, “and so it goes.” Nothing should surprise us now. We are in an age of consequences. An inability to look at ourselves and take stock of who we truly are and what our context actually is will lead to a world of a myriad conflicting narratives. We cannot build a cogent society if even agreeing upon the nature of the basic building blocks of that society has become impossible. We stand along the road to greater social fracture. Indeed, we have been walking this path for a long time. Without the ability to synthesize healthy communities autonomously, we have been cordoned in by artificial borders. The rich have become startlingly rich, and as they have done so they have created various high pressure systems that are directly adjacent to low pressure systems, and the joinery of this impending disaster has consistently been state force, police violence, and a non-stop torrent of propaganda and myth to convince the masses that it is all for their benefit, for their protection, and further, that this state of affairs is exceptional, so exceptional in fact that the heathen hordes about the globe are frothing mad in their desire to take it from them.

It is said that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I would suggest that such fury is outmatched by the violent potential of a man entirely convinced of his righteousness. Keeping apace with the decline of civilization often has us looking at economic indicators, energy returns, political turmoil, and the quickening rate at which the climate is destabilized and species are driven into extinction. All fair sign posts, to be sure. But on the day to day, one of my greater concerns is the absence of humility, grace, and self reflection which as a trend seems to inversely correlate with a spike in the abundance of self righteous vitriol. The outsizing and emphasizing of ego is a decline in spiritual quality, for lack of a better term, and it is the hand maiden of our global crises; affected by and then re-effecting.

John Michael Greer on his blog, The Well of Galabes, defined magic as “the traditional craft of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will.” Whether or not you believe in magic of any kind, it is clear that the human consciousness and will are the fore-horses of human action, and when hundreds of millions, if not billions, of humans are at a time collectively convinced to perpetuate the premises and trends of civilization, be it the infallible nature of capitalism, the primacy of the western “way of life,” white supremacy or that Allah would want you to throw a person off of a building because that person is homosexual, the power we possess is manipulated into feeding the furnaces of a death cult.

Of course, it is easy to highlight this trend when it manifests amongst the most visibly powerful or violent groups. Truly, it is prevalent too amongst people who claim to fight for the oppressed, the poor, and the vulnerable. Even those who claim no desire to conquer or to control become so convinced of their position, so damn sure that they are right, that furious anger and venom is let fly horizontally even at the bottom of the barrel. Warriors for the working class so entrenched in their analysis about race, or sexuality, or gender, that it seems impossible to think they have ever spent time with the people they wish to help liberate. Fall in line with my thinking, or line up against a wall.

It is a long wall indeed, with room for all of us, and so many willing executioners.

Our power as humans is vast, possibly boundless. On the whole, our wisdom is not commensurate with this power. Knowing when not to apply power is central to using it intelligently. Can you hold a gun and not point it someone? Can you be given a chainsaw and not clear cut a forest for profit? Can you unlock the petroleum from its deeps but choose to leave it in place? Can you have a voice, but not speak until you are sure that doing so is appropriate; is necessary? Every day we apply our intention to the world, and the vast majority of this application is as thoughtless as flicking a cigarette butt out the car window. Then we wonder why the world burns.

The unforgiving pace of capitalism exponentially exacerbates this problem. Nothing can be slow. Not movement, not communication. How can an instantaneous world be a thoughtful world? How can a twenty four hour civilization with light speed demands for your attention and response court the deliberate hand, the calm voice, or the well crafted response? Eight billion humans all living in a lightning round, shouting, responding, and firing their intentions into a storm of chaos and collision. Then consequence, response, repeat, and the storm grows.

Here we are on the precipice of global ecological calamity, frail worlds dancing on a razor blown back and forth by the whims of mad men, and I fear that the wisdom the situation requires is not only not present, it is not welcome.

Salt falls to the Earth as I drag the dull knife across the hide. Bits of remaining meat and fat collect on the edge of the blade, and I pick off the pink wads that gather there and flick them to the ground. Fleshing a hide is time consuming and skill intensive. My back aches a bit as I lean over the plywood the hides are nailed down to. The world is made of blood and bone and I am so grateful to be a part of it.

Cold wind blows. I massage egg yolk into the skin. If these rabbit hides tan well, my wife wants to use them to create a cloak for our daughter. I just want to get better at the process.

Viscera has been given to the chickens. In the compost pile I buried the rabbit’s heads. Before pulling the decaying plant matter over them, I placed lettuce leaves and turnip greens in the hole. An offering. Gratitude. There are surely people who think it is superstitious or perhaps merely self serving to do so. I don’t give a good God damn. It feels right.

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In Centuries and Seconds

December 3, 2015 § 10 Comments

She was a yearling.  Not very large, maybe one hundred pounds I would guess, as I was able to easily hoist her body into the back of my Jeep.  Gauging by the blood leaking from her ears and mouth and lack of any other visible wounds, I assumed the car that killed her struck her in the head, possibly breaking her neck.  What I could not gauge was how long she had been lying dead on the side of the highway.  Her eyes were open and not yet eaten by birds, and her anus was also free of any infestation.  I chuckle to myself when I imagine the reaction more domesticated individuals might have if they knew that there are people like myself who assess the edibility of roadkill by the presence of uncorrupted eyes and assholes.  To be fair, I also took stock of the stiffness of her body and the lack of any immediately offensive odors emanating from it.  She was worth taking home for a greater look, anyway.

From a cross beam of the carport I anchored a carabiner, and I fastened another to the yearling’s hind legs so I could create a “z-rig” pulley system, effectively halving her weight so that I could hoist her body into the air and tie of the cordage without help from a second person.  My partner was going to come outside and watch the dressing so she could have a greater understanding of the process, and she bundled up our daughter too, who showed no fear or anxiety concerning the large animal hanging dead before her.  Gently, I explained that the deer had died, and I was going to harvest its meat for us to eat.  Not yet two, she stood looking at the yearling and said, “Deer, off.”

“Yes honey, the deer is off.”
“Deer, on?”
“She can’t be turned back on.  Once something dies, it cannot come back to life.  But her spirit and her flesh return to the Earth.”
“Deer, off.”
“Yes baby.”

The year is closing as we approach the winter solstice.  From the corners we inhabit, we watch the fallout from terrorist attacks in Paris and the downing of a Russian war plan by the Turkish military.  Those who tally the climate statistics are telling us that 2015 is set to be the warmest year on record, globally.  South Africa grapples with drought, the rainforests of the Amazon are burning, and world leaders sent to negotiate climate deals are converging on a Paris conveniently locked down by security forces preventing mass demonstrations under emergency restrictions imposed due to the aforementioned terrorist attacks.  Not that it matters.  Floats and puppets are fun to look at, but only a complete restructuring of society could address the challenge of climate change, and that restructuring begins with erasing existing borders and property lines, canceling existing debts, dismantling industrial infrastructure, and of course, toppling the standing systems of power.  The puppets and street theater capable of such feats, I would love to see.  As I have previously stated (and my blog name continually hints at) I do not believe humans capable of achieving such goals, at least, not without a little help from our friends calamity and chaos.  The gatekeepers are just too well equipped to stave off conscious revolution.  If you want to get into the citadel, you will just have to wait until a tornado throws a bulldozer through the wall, or a plague kills most of the guards.

Until then we watch, we wait, and we endure.  We keep repeating the conventional wisdom of collapse; that which cannot be sustained, will not sustain.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it didn’t collapse in a day, either.  The collapse of a civilization is not one event, but the consummation of many events that eventually birth a catastrophe that overwhelms the ability of that civilization’s people to rebuild what has been destroyed, whether material or social.

Fast collapse and slow collapse are really the same thing, looked at from different vantage points.  What is built over centuries can end in seconds.

November 16, 1532.  Francisco Pizarro has one hundred and sixty eight men laying an ambush in the Inca city of Cajamarca.  Atahualpa, the emperor of the Inca empire, arrives for a meeting with the Spanish backed by an unarmed cadre of six thousand.  A friar and barely competent translator tell Atahualpa they are there, in essence, to bring the Inca into the fold of the Catholic church and the Spanish empire, and they offer him a bible as a seal of their truth.  As was to be expected, and likely, the intention of the Spanish, Atahualpa rejects what he is being offered. This rejection of the bible and the truth of the Catholic church gave the Spaniards what they considered to be legal grounds to attack the Inca who had amassed there. A century of empire with its conquest, expansion, and grandeur, could be said, to have ended in the following seconds.

Those seconds, however, were the ripe culmination of years of internal strife concerning who the rightful heir to the imperial throne was, a waning ability of the empire to effectively control far flung principalities, and a plague of smallpox brought to Mesoamerica by Europeans that advanced faster than conquistadors on horseback.  Political turmoil and disease were eating away at the Inca empire, and the Spanish arrived just in time to add the critical pressure necessary to break it. And they had guns.

History, of course, is complex, and the fall of the Inca empire extended beyond the massacre at Cajamarca, as Pizarro played disaffected Inca regions against the center, installed puppet emperors, and fought rebellions.  As the colonization of the Inca proceeded, European diseases continued to decimate the indigenous population as well. The Inca actually learned how to effectively defeat the advantage of firearms, but the viruses ravaging their insides were too much.

Depending on where we stand, we can focus on the centuries or the seconds.

If tomorrow the Dow Jones Industrial plummeted by seventy percentage points or NATO declared war on Russia, we would likely see those seconds as the critical break between the past and the future, the old world and the new.  But of course, years of maneuvering by humans and the consequences of those movements all came together to generate just the specific combination of factors required to outflank the established firewalls civilization has established to protect itself, and to outpace the efforts at rebuilding that are guaranteed in the aftermath of catastrophe.  Resource scarcity primarily in the sphere of fossil fuel energy, the manipulation of capital to the point of diminishing returns by the global ultra-wealthy, the decimation of ecosystems around the world; all have played their part in dressing the set for those critical seconds that seem to hang over us like a sword.

How does an organism die?  If you magnify the death of any given being, presumably you can find one second, one still frame in time that separates living from dying.  When we die of old age in the most quintessential of circumstances – our heads atop a fluffed down pillow as we lie repose in a king-sized bed replete with Egyptian cotton sheets and a mahogany headboard, family and adorers walling in our bedside and wishing us fair travels as we draw a final breath, smile, and say something childishly simple yet agonizingly profound – a critical second passes when our heart ceases to beat, electrical impulses in our brain fade, and we’re gone.  The room exhales. 

But we were dying for so long.  How many years had it been since our body’s ability to repair cellular breakdown was outpaced by the aging process?  We had peaked decades before.  From that point forward, despite every adventure, every new idea, every material acquisition, we were hurtling ever forward toward our imminent demise.  Our vision blurred, so a doctor prescribed us glasses.  Our heart stuttered, so we began taking pills.  Our mobility waned so we got a Hov-R-Round from the Scooter Store thanks to the endless advertisements targeted towards we septuagenarians aired on day time TV. We pressed on.

Our bodies contain countless living beings and units; cells, tissues, and bacteria that all comprise the whole of what we perceive as our self.  A veritable civilization that is born and advances through stages of growth and maturation until the energy necessary to maintain integrity is outpaced by diminishing returns.  We insert techno-fixes of every imaginable stripe to stem the twin tides of time and entropy, buying what time we can until the inevitable enters stage left to take us by the hand and demurley return us to the soil.

Civilizations are no different.  Shaped in centuries, defined in seconds, feeding the fertile soils of time.  Billions of human hands and minds carving, digging, screaming, warring, building, repairing, maintaining until it just isn’t enough and the center can no longer hold.  Hydraulic fracturing, negative interest rates, solar arrays and soyburgers all applied to patch the holes and to bail the bilge water.  Industrial civilization passed its peak decades ago, sometime around the time when women in skirts freely attended University in Kabul and the United States didn’t need to stand guard over Wahhabist Monarchs in the House of Saud in order to keep the game of growth afloat.  Selfie sticks and social media stock options are your glasses and nitroglycerin.  The internet is your Hov-R-Round.  Do not kid yourself into thinking this is a civilization still in the wild throws of maturation and bloom.  The billions of organisms that make this civilization possible are under threat, from phytoplankton to pollinating insects and carbon sequestering trees, all of whom feed the the billions of humans who swing hammers and pour concrete and fit pipes and string lines and who somehow, by some curse of the lottery of birth, drag themselves to the factories and cubicle farms day in and day out, all to keep this storm born Galleon afloat.  Shaped in so many of our precious seconds, defined in the roil of faceless centuries, feeding the fertile soils of time.

The car struck her head, I had guessed.  Her life probably ended quickly in a split second of sound and light.  Without any abrasions on the body, I assumed the meat would be well preserved by the cold evening air.  With only a beam of light to guide my hands under the dark of night, I gently separated her hide from her flesh, using light strokes of my knife to cut away at the membrane that held her skin to her flesh.  Something was wrong.  Her skin had a green tone in places around her ribs.  I cut away more, examining the muscle as I worked.   The green hue, almost an electric blue really, blotted here and there on her leg muscles, like watercolor oceans on an aging map.  Hoping the backstrap was untainted I continued to skin the deer, but it was hopeless.  On her left hind leg a subcutaneous tear in the protective membrane had likely allowed the passage of bacteria.  She must have been spun or thrown by the vehicle in some fashion that impacted her rear leg with a substantial force.

The meat was inedible.  I sighed in the night.  Fog from my mouth drifted upwards as I set my knife down, and lowered her body.  Walking beneath the stars I carried the yearling downhill, briars grabbing at my boots, twigs snapping underfoot.  I thanked her and apologized while burying her under a light blanket of leaves.  Coyotes, buzzards, someone would eat her.  Someone with an enviable array of gut flora.  I plodded and crunched my way home to wash the blood from my hands and wrists. The smell would last for days.

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