Rain drops drip, drip, splash, plummet earthward soaking into a rotten hollow log covered with lichen and mushrooms. The huge log is quietly decaying on the forest floor. No one notices. The carpenter ants have long since lost interest. Its hollows are too moist, now, for cozy dens for gray foxes or chipmunks. On its north side, a plush covering of luxurious green moss. It’s impossible not to reach out and run the palm of my hand over it, my fingers tickling the softest, greenest gift that nature has to offer me on this dark, rainy equinox morning.
It’s nice that some folks will be able to be better connected to the Internet with Starlink around the globe. And what I am about to say is NOT meant to inspire guilt for using Starlink, but more to raise important existential questions. I am quite concerned about the number of satellites Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, and other companies, including Amazon, will eventually be launching into low Earth orbit (LEO). Currently, according to an article in Science, and another article from CNBC, SpaceX has about 2,000 satellites in orbit, with FCC approval already for another 12,000. SpaceX has plans for a great many more satellites than that. There are predictions that eventually we could have 100,000 satellites in LEO. Hello, space junk!
Already, monetizing LEO is affecting the field of astronomy in significant ways. Astronomy is a key discipline for humans to sort out the mysteries of the universe and our place in it. SpaceX has put visors on subsequent satellites after the first outcry from both night sky viewers and astronomers. The visors help some, to the naked eye, but not perfectly. But they do not solve the interference in astronomy work. Other companies may not care about whether their satellites can be seen or not. As I’ve read, there is no global blueprint for fielding this issue.
Already I am noticing, shortly after evening falls, more wobbly, zigzagging satellites crossing my view of the stars. Sadly, much of humanity lives in so much light pollution now, they can’t see the stars. But for those of us that can, stargazing is an age-old human pastime that is important, I believe, for well-being. Seeing the Milky Way, constellations, shooting stars, and sometimes even the aurora borealis reminds us of the vastness of the universe, and keeps alive wonder and appreciation of beauty. The night sky reminds us that we don’t have all the answers for understanding how things work. In fact, on a grand scale, as Einstein liked to remind us, we know very little. Lastly, what of migratory species that navigate by stars? Do we know what interference this may have?
All of this begs the question: Who owns space? Doesn’t it “belong” to all living creatures on Earth? Do we have a right not to have the night sky obliterated by LEO objects? Really, if you get right down to it, space belongs to no one. Yet, there are also plans, in this revived space race, to sell off parts of the moon to the highest bidders for mining and other plunder.
We have so many difficult issues down here on the planet Earth, and we are floundering at solving them. Meanwhile, as this larger space issue is manifesting in the background, I fear no one is paying attention. If we can’t solve complex issues here—gun violence, climate change, starvation, war—how will we ever come to agreement on these questions about space, and saving our night sky?
(Note: I acknowledge with gratitude that I can work from home and I have a nice place to “be” during this challenging time. I know that many, many people do not have that ability. I am also a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, which has had certain advantages.)
- I’m on a first-name basis with many of the animals, birds, amphibians, and insects around my house. Oh, and let’s not forget the plants. Who knew there was so much activity going on out there all day and night! It’s endlessly fascinating.
- I’m on a first-name basis with even the A. Cavaticus spiders (aka Charlotte’s Web-type spiders) on my porch and in my woodshed. Let’s see … there was Shelob, and Mrs. Orb, and Lulu … Seeing the tiny babies, smaller than a pinhead, emerge from their beautiful apricot-colored egg sacs is now a spring “event.” Most of the wee beasties balloon away on the wind. And whomever stays, well, my arachnophobia is much less now.
- I detest bras. Who the hell invented the confounded things?? With the straps that slide off your shoulders over and over and over all day long? And the “support” system that causes undue pressure on the mid-spine of my back and my diaphragm in front? Egads. The best place for a bra is in the wood stove.
- I’ve started planning meals for the week, instead of gnoshing in a haphazard manner based on my mood or stress. Dinner is becoming no longer an afterthought. I investigate good recipes and cook good food! Because I eat better, I tend to go to bed earlier and get up earlier. Wow, the sun is really beautiful when it is just coming up …
- I’ve reconnected in a meaningful way with a few treasured friends with whom I had lost touch, made some new friends, and lost touch with some “acquaintances” with whom I had no real connection. And I know my neighbors on my rural dirt road better than ever!
- My stack(s) of good books to read keeps growing. When I die, my monument will read, “My only regret is that I didn’t finish all the books I hoped to read.”
- I could tell you anything you want to know about Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Northern Exposure.
- I no longer dress up, unless it’s for myself on a special holiday. But I do occasionally experiment with wild outfits that speak to my soul. For who will see me? And if they do, do I care? Plus, I no longer care that I am aging and that is a relief.
- I gas up my car about once every 3–4 weeks, rather than once a week. I spend many fewer hours hunched over the steering wheel going god-knows-where. Why was I going so many places?? The only downside is that I did forget how many gears my standard-shift car has—was it 5 or 6? I had to look down (with a rush of anxiety) when I got on the highway one day! Oh, right, 6 gears.
- Okay, I’ll confess, after watching Emma Thompson’s sweet, funny movie, Last Christmas, I’ve decided that George Michael was a genius songwriter and I’m just loving many of his tunes. I would not have been caught dead listening to him when younger—I was waayyy too cool! It’s such a relief not to be “cool” anymore.
- I haven’t had to endure a mindless conversation with someone I barely know at a party in, oh, say … two and a half years? And that is just ducky with me.
- My work has gone from my small editing business, and teaching at a college, and working at a bookstore, and substitute teaching, and gardening for hire, to … just my editing business. Whew. How the heck did I do all that before? That was insane!
- Speaking of gardens, I’ve been reconsidering the little patch of earth I call home and I’m growing more trees. Just because it’s a good thing to do.
- I’m also attempting to shrink the lawn by letting a lot of it grow into meadow (easier said than done, actually, I’m finding). And I’m transitioning a perennial bed that is an “upkeep nightmare” into a pleasant, simple herb garden. Here’s to a more biodiverse, less-labor-intensive relationship with the land. Oh, and hmmm … invasive plant species? Who knew there were so many?! Well, I’ve discovered that they are nearly impossible to eradicate, so I’ve decided to live with them. Let’s just call them “nonnative.”
- My cat and I have a lot of different games we play. One favorite is the yoga mat rolled into a tube and a ping pong ball rolled down the tube to where she sits waiting at the other end. Who needs expensive cat toys?
- Man, do I look forward to spring more than ever now, because it means I can socialize outdoors! Patios and decks of friends and walks and hikes are a lifeline.
- Six feet is just about right. Don’t come any closer, pal. (But I will spontaneously pay for your coffee if you happen to be in line behind me, because random acts of kindness are much-needed.)
- At least with the mask, I can have coffee breath when out in public and no one notices.
- I’ve discovered a lot of things in my house that I forgot that I had!
- I’ve discovered I want to get rid of a lot of things in my house.
- I have a recurring dream of downsizing to a tiny house.
- I dream a lot about going places and being in crowds where people are not wearing masks. Or, I’ve forgotten mine. I guess this is the new “naked in public” dream?
- I’ve increasingly eschewd the grim morning news most days in favor of kitchen dancing to my latest favorite song. I listen to news just often enough to reaffirm that, “Yup, we’re going to hell in a handbasket.”
- “Risk aversion” is now a “thing” that I think about. And wow, is everyone all over the map on their risk comfort levels! I suppose that has always been true, but it’s been illustrated in bold colors the past year or so. Now it’s not just do our interests and personalities line up, but do our “Covid comfort levels” align?
I once had a friend visiting and in the morning as I was grinding coffee, he asked to smell the fragrant, freshly ground beans. I passed him the grinder lid full of fine brown grit, like earth. After several deep inhalations, he grinned, handed the lid back to me, and pronounced the coffee amazing.
It struck me as such a simple thing to do—to inhale the aroma of the source of this favorite morning beverage. To appreciate. To be in the moment.
So ever since, almost every day after I grind my coffee, I pause Time.
I experience the fragrance of the grounds. Sometimes I walk away with coffee dust on my nose, and later chuckle as I see it in a mirror.
But I have added to this ritual, and it has become a ritual of gratitude and far-reaching connection.
First, I simply acknowledge that I am alive. I have risen for yet another day of this mysterious, befuddling, beautiful thing we call life. I did not pass in the night. Which, at 57, is something that is not out of the realm of possibility. Time in this body is fleeting, and my spirit’s leaving could be at any moment. Recognizing this is important. Each day. But as I inhale, my spirit’s leaving is not in this moment, and I am grateful.
Next, I think of the coffee’s growing. I thank the soil, the sun, the wind, and the rain. I thank them for their complex interactions that foster climates in which we can grow things, even as the climate shifts in profound ways. I thank the pollinators. I thank them for doing their daily work, even as we humans challenge them with neonicotinoids and habitat loss.
I thank the coffee planters and the growers. I picture them on a mountainside—a high altitude, subtropical region. I picture the coffee bushes with their shiny green leaves and red berries (who knew the beans were once red?). I picture the harvesters, and am grateful for their hard work and long hours, perhaps for not much pay though I hope they are paid fairly.
After that, I think of the traders—for my coffee brand, a trader who believes in equal exchange. I picture them in conversation with the coffee growers. I picture burlap sacks of beans, money exchanged. I picture the truckers, driving the coffee north. I think of the Vermont company that buys the beans and roasts them. I think of the employees doing the roasting, the sound the beans must make as they turn and slide in the roaster, filling the air with an acrid coffee scent. I think of the coop employees at the store that carries my coffee brand. The people in the coop who receive the shipments and stock the shelves. The person who sold the coffee to me in the checkout line. But … it doesn’t end there. No, the threads of connection travel far.
Trees were felled for the paper bag that holds the coffee, and the paper filter that I will pour the hot water through. I am grateful to those trees. There are mills that process the lumber into paper and many workers there. Then there is the petroleum raised from the ground to go to the plastics factory, and all the workers that make that happen. And of course there are machines that fashion the plastic bag that keeps my coffee fresh while it is in the store, and the little twist-tie that holds the bag closed. I think of the metal that was mined to make those machines that transform petroleum into the plastic bag. The engineers who designed the machines. But it doesn’t stop there.
There was an artist who created the logo on the coffee’s paper bag. And there was stone harvested and ground up to create the ceramic mug into which I will pour the coffee. There was a potter, turning the potter’s wheel. And more metal was mined and fashioned to make my kettle that whistles on the stove. Not to mention the coffee grinder and all its intricate parts. And then there is my well that draws the water to put into the kettle, and all the parts of the well and lines and water pump. Which of course needs electricity, which follows out onto a grid that connects a profound web of more raw materials, people, and equipment. The miners, the transporters, the factories, the machines, the boxes, the store that sells kettles and grinders. It goes on and on. And, well, there is just so much that goes into making a cook stove itself.
By this time, I am in awe. Only a few moments have passed while I have stood inhaling the fragrant grounds from the grinder lid.
Each tiny thing we do is woven into the fabric of all the other tiny things that other people are doing, all over the world. And without that fabric, that weave of interconnecting activities and passions and tasks, I would not have a cup of coffee to drink in the morning. Perhaps only water, sipped from my cupped hands at a streamside.
Was listening to a really interesting podcast—a conversation with Iain McGilchrist, author of the The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. In the program he quotes Yeats: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” (William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”).
To me, this reminds us of the importance of maintaining an open mind and a humbleness when it comes to our understanding of ourselves, each other, nature, the world, and the universe. This quote speaks to Socrates’ belief, one that Albert Einstein shared, that the wisest people admit and understand that they really know next to nothing.
Wise people can see and accept—without feeling inferior or stupid, but rather joyfully curious—that the world, any issue or problem, any person or group of people, and the vastness of nature hold great complexities, most of which lie far beyond our singular understanding.
When we think we know how a thing IS, or how a thing SHOULD be, we stop learning. We are then only espousing our own limited knowledge. Our understanding thus falls far short. We don’t listen. We don’t make good choices.
And, as we are seeing in a very painful way right now in the U.S. and other places around the globe—communication and problem-solving fall apart completely, rendering us inept and powerless. Undesired and negative ramifications usually unfold exponentially as a result of certainty and righteousness.
From an intriguing book I just picked up: Behaving As If the God in All Life Mattered, by Machaelle Small Wright, 1983 (1997):
Overlighting Deva: “By survival, we mean the act of maintaining the fusion and balance between spirit and matter on the physical planet Earth…. The very physical existence of [humans] on Earth has depended upon all kingdoms of nature…. [The dynamic] must shift from being one of distant benevolence, as it has been in the best of past times, to being one of conscious co-creativity…. Humans do not, on the whole, understand the dynamic relationships between spirit and matter. Nature does. It is a dynamic that is inherent within the life force of nature….
But in order for the dynamic to be fully useful to all the other levels of reality within this universe, [this dynamic] must be unlocked from its custodianship within nature and linked with the human tool of intelligence. Only then can it be applied in principle within all realms of life.
If humans continue in their reluctance to join [nature] … then surely out of human ignorance and arrogance, we will all continue to experience difficult challenges to our survival and, eventually, we will be faced with the full separation of spirit from matter on this planet” (xvi–xvii).
Wright says, “ The nature intelligence I speak of contains within it the truth—a truth that has been present and available to us since the beginning of time. It is not available exclusively to the gifted. It is a vast universal truth that is present around us everywhere. Our doorway to this truth is through nature itself” (xiv).
“Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave…” I ask, over what, exactly, is that banner waving?
July 5, 2020. The full thunder moon. Fitting. We sit within a tempest, even as it is dry as a bone here in the American Northeast: a tempestuous energy that blows through the psyche, through our communities and cities, across the land from coast to coast, and border to border.
I was struck yesterday by how fraught the Fourth of July felt to me this year—with the wildly surging pandemic and the administrative gas-lighting (rather than problem-solving) that plagues the pandemic’s resolution, or at least its reduction. With the occupant in the White House conducting audacious displays of divisiveness at Mount Rushmore and the Washington Mall, inciting people to gather in large numbers, close together (in zip-tied chairs no less) and a “wink wink” no masks or social distancing needed here. “We are invincible! No virus can get us. And if it does, well that is god’s will.” It’s just a little flu, right? One that has killed over 125,000 people just in the U.S. in less than six months—that pesky little virus. It’s of no matter, so the Occupant, in his Rushmore speech, focused instead on protecting racist statues and decrying the progressive left as fascists.
Really??! I looked up the word “fascist” just now to double check. Did I have the meaning wrong? No, I don’t think so … Dictionary.com says, “a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism … emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.” Now I know the meaning of fascist has many more nuances, too many to go into here, but this sounds, well enough, like our current status with this president.
Last I knew, the progressive left are fervently focused on saving the earth’s ecosystems before it’s too late and creating social systems that support ALL people, not just those glittering with ill-gotten wealth. Seems reasonable to be passionate about these goals.
Countries with competent leadership and intelligent citizenry abroad are watching us, aghast, and utterly flummoxed. They won’t let Americans fly into their countries without quarantine, if at all. Who could blame them? Countries led by despots just like ours are applauding our idiocy. The weaker America gets, the better for them.
This past week, I’ve noticed that the houses in the rural New England towns near where I live are the “flagged” and the “unflagged.” Or in some cases, the flagged and the “Black Lives Matter” houses. Yesterday, for the Fourth, one house had decorated its yard with quite an impressive number of medium-sized, seemingly brand new flags and a quaint little colonial-style sign that says “God Bless America” hung on a tree. I thought, as I walked past, “Man, we need blessing badly.” Now I like this family, a lot, so as I walked, I tried to understand how, maybe, they viewed the divisive issues we are grappling with as a country. Judging from their flags and crosses, obviously their views are quite different from mine.
Part of me wants to sit down with them and have a good ole lengthy civil discussion about philosophy, religion, politics, and the meaning of life. Or several discussions. But I can’t. For one, civility seems to be in short supply these days. It would be a risk. And, of course, we need to physically distance. And they would probably think I was a weirdo, with my belief that even plants have intelligence; and that all is interconnected and equal, even rocks and minerals; and that consciousness is primary and physical matter is a manifestation of consciousness. (The latter is not that crazy—some quantum physicists are starting to think in these terms. Space-time is starting to appear doomed as a theory. Ancient religions have been saying this for thousands of years.) But I digress.
To me, the Fourth of July felt this year a surreal pageant, playing out like a Stephen King or Robert R. McCammon novel. Indeed the whole year has felt this way. The past four years… The “rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem” in Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” appears to have awoken. We are all painfully aware of its presence. How we view the beast is a matter of perception, and how much love we still connect with in our hearts.
On a long walk down my country road yesterday, on the Fourth of July, I was thinking about the town I grew up in. It was a small New Hampshire town with one general store, a town hall, a town garage, and a library. That’s it. It is still that way to this day, due to vigilant zoning and a coop running the general store. It was mostly white, this town. But we had diversity of economics for sure with some families being very poor. I like to think we all looked out for them, for each other. I know my dad used to stop in regularly to check on an old hermit who lived in a one-room house with his German shepherd. This old hermit knew the town history like no one else and often helped my dad solve his surveying questions (my dad had a part-time gig as a land surveyor).
So as I walked, I was thinking about July 4, 1976 in my hometown: the two-hundredth anniversary of the year that the Declaration of Independence was signed (August 2, 1776). Okay, I didn’t know this but independence was declared on July 2nd; Congress approved the text on July 4th; and it was signed on August 2nd. A little history thanks to Constitutional Facts online.
What a celebration that was in 1976!! I was thirteen. I believe I wore red, white, and blue elephant-bellbottom pants—remember those? Just about everyone in town joined in for picnics, a softball game, log rolling, and fireworks. We even had frog races. One of my favorite memories of time spent with my dad was he and I trying to catch those dang frogs with nets and white buckets at the pond up the road that morning. Easier said than done! Still, my dad and I realized our error as we watched the poor things prodded on hot pavement by clumsy children. We’d just engaged in an act of cruelty. A small dampening of an otherwise happy day. I never caught frogs again. Neither did my dad.
Being young teens, my friends and I were thrilled to find a half-eaten vodka-spiked watermelon on a picnic table that evening. We ate a generous quantity and I was drunk for the first time in my life. We ran through the cemetery, “oohed and awed” at the fireworks, and, on the town hall steps, I kissed a boy for whom I’d been harboring a huge crush.
Never in my wildest dreams, did I ever think that the Fourth of July would be a sad day, as it felt this year, in 2020.
Even as I got older, the Fourth was always a cause for celebration. Fireworks synced to WHEB Portsmouth playing Pink Floyd, “Dark Side of the Moon.” Sitting on my friend’s roof on State Street with a big party of folks watching the display, my friend’s brother smiling and saying to me as the colorful sparks burst and fluttered earthward, “Each one looks like it’s coming right to us.”
It was my father-in-law driving his old Corvette in the town parade and the barbecue afterwards at their big, old New England home. My husband and his dad squabbling over how to grill properly. My mother-in-law proudly presenting her cucumber molded salad that none of us liked but ate out of duty and our love for her.
Of course, history is never ideal. We had our problems for sure. Humans have always been prone to treat each other and the planet poorly. Wars, genocides, nuclear arms proliferation, Cancer Alleys created by toxic manufacturing of chemicals. Elephants slaughtered for ivory. Crooked politicians: Watergate, Iran-Contra. Religious differences. Serial killers. Crazy cult leaders like Charles Manson. Persistent racism and sexism. The tenacious patriarchy. Cultural revolution in the ‘60s followed by an insipid, growing apathy. And the ever-present human ills: selfishness, greed, egoism, and the like.
But it’s never felt like this.
Like a tinderbox ready to burst into flame. Like a tempest about to unleash. Like a very, very sick society that just needs to go to the infirmary to heal. I’m not the first to wonder if the coronavirus is an outward manifestation of our inner illness, of our cultural ills, of our sick planet.
Yesterday, it felt that the Fourth of July was a symbol of that illness with worries about people gathering in large numbers and giving another boost to the accelerating pandemic in the U.S. The fireworks—I didn’t even have the heart to watch my neighbor’s fireworks out my front windows—they felt as if erupting like the tinderbox I sense that we are. (And I actually worried about a wildfire, it being so dry.) And then there is my knowledge, contrary to my elementary and high school education in the ’70s, that the real narrative is that our independence was won by colonizing and enacting genocide on the indigenous people whose land this was when Europeans arrived. I can’t unsee that and I don’t wish to. It’s the reality we need to face and accept. And fix.
We are encouraged by this holiday to celebrate “freedom.” Yet those with little means, without the justice and respect they deserve, with health issues from toxic pollution from now unregulated or less-regulated factories, can’t take advantage of that freedom in equal ways. The indigenous tribal members who protested at the entrance to Mount Rushmore are still, centuries later, calling for the respect and apology they deserve. They are still fighting to protect their sacred lands, currently dug up and destroyed for oil and gas endeavors and other infrastructure projects we really don’t need and should not build.
The giant Formosa plastics plant they are attempting to build in St. James Parish in Louisiana would further pollute the already polluted communities nearby. The plant will create mountains of trash we can’t dispose of safely. Trash that will float to the shores of other countries. Trash that mother birds will feed to their babies, thinking its food. By 2050 it’s predicted that we will have more plastics in our oceans than fish. We already have enough fossil fuels out of the ground to warm the planet the precarious 2 degrees Celsius that will see 90% of coral reefs die off and flood out major cities (The Story of Plastics; Center for Biological Diversity). We don’t need more oil and gas extracted and piped under the Appalachian Trail or sacred indigenous lakes. We just don’t.
Our country not only has a dangerous, delusional ruler who gleefully supports the fossil fuel industry and rolls out the red carpet for projects like Formosa’s, our country has been, for decades, hijacked by corporate interests that think nothing of melting our polar ice caps or destroying every single species on this earth. More resources to grab and profit from.
Speaking of freedom, what of the brown people we have locked up in detention centers? How is it, that in the land of the free, the “give me your tired, your poor” America, that we deny asylum, lock up people in this way, and simply go about our business?
None of this is cause for celebration.
These are signals that the light of love has burnt out in our hearts, leaving us in darkness. Perhaps this is a necessary part of the process for us to learn, by coming to our knees, that love is the only truth. Maybe this is the only way forward? I don’t know. But it’s painful. And heart-wrenchingly sad. Grief is my constant companion these days. Even as I see the light everywhere: in the nest of blue-headed vireos that flourished in my lilac bush this past month. In the full thunder moon that will rise tonight.
How will we carry America forward? How will we steward the earth? With the light of love reignited in our hearts? Co-created in the spirit of thoughtfulness, communication, and cooperation? Or in pieces and tatters, barricaded behind walls and waving flags, while sacrificing the vulnerable, the “others,” and all the beauty of this planet on the altar of short-term gratification, selfishness, independence, and greed?
We get to choose. We choose every single day. Each day there are consequences of our choices—individually and collectively. Each day we create consequences that could turn us from this darkness to light. Or, we create consequences that could take hundreds of years to rectify. And we create consequences that can never be undone—such as melting permafrost, or a grandmother who dies in the ICU because her grandchild went to a party and, not meaning to, passed the coronavirus on to her.
Let’s pause … live slowly and deliberately. Let’s rethink and revise our words, our actions, and our beliefs. Let’s realize that individually we really don’t know everything and that together, with open ears and minds, we might figure out something. Let’s create good ripples. Let’s celebrate independence in conjunction with cooperation and collective wellness—for we can’t separate them. They have never been separate. In the illusion of separateness, we won’t survive. But with the inclusion of interconnected hearts, we will.