I don’t know how many residents of Newtown, Connecticut, are Sun readers, but I have lived here for more than thirty years; my children grew up and attended school here. So I feel comfortable offering thanks to Brian Doyle for his essay “Dawn and Mary” [August 2013] from all of us who love this town and are working through our loss and grief in the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We received an unbelievable outpouring of love and support from all over the world, but Doyle’s ten paragraphs touched me to my core.
The new school year has begun, and we are approaching the first anniversary of the tragedy. This past August another damaged and troubled young man brought a gun into a school, this time in Georgia. A disaster there was averted by a woman on the clerical staff, who talked him out of doing what was once unthinkable. Doyle reminds us of these everyday heroes who put their lives on the line to protect our children. He also points out that the children of this world belong to all of us.
It was three o’clock in the morning when, unable to sleep, I turned to The Sun to keep me company. I felt as if “The Hour and the Day,” by C.J. Gall [August 2013], were written just for me.
I was visiting my adult son, who is about to be married. He is the last of my three boys to marry, and while I celebrate this event with all my heart, I also feel that part of my life is ending. All my sons have now moved fully into their own lives. My visit had some awkward moments as my son and I navigated this new terrain. I’m sure that’s why I was awake in the middle of the night.
Gall’s essay spoke to another aspect of my life as well. I am the primary caregiver for my elderly mother, who is ninety-seven and losing her short-term memory. Her quality of life is greatly diminished. In these few last months I have realized that I am ready to let go of her.
My feelings about my son and my mother aren’t easy to bear. Gall’s writing transported me and helped me to see that what I am experiencing is just the great wheel of life making another turn.
As a woman who spent the majority of last year trying desperately to love a man whose mother had recently died of early-onset Alzheimer’s, I’d like to thank Michael McColly for his bravery and eloquence [“Losing the Trail,” August 2013]. I was never able to break through to the man I knew, who so often seemed to hide his wounds, but McColly’s essay has helped me understand what it’s like to have a parent with dementia. May we all be brave enough to share our hurts the way he has.
As an undergraduate I majored in anthropology and learned how indigenous people have often been treated poorly and dismissed as ignorant in our culture. I have also supported conservation movements since before ecology was a buzzword. But I somehow missed the link between conservation efforts and indigenous people being driven off their land until I read Joel Whitney’s interview with Mark Dowie [“Keep Off the Grasslands,” August 2013].
Joel Whitney’s interview with Mark Dowie called to mind a different kind of “conservation refugee.” In her book The Tribe of Tiger, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas tells of African bushmen who claim that a lion never killed one of them until after the creation of the nature preserves that ostensibly protect the animals from humankind. Perhaps this unnatural segregation perverted a culture of respectful cohabitation into one of unfamiliarity and fear.
With his proposal that indigenous people be allowed to live on designated wilderness land, Mark Dowie is naively mistaking these people for saintly, childlike creatures who will tread lightly on the earth, farming and hunting as if it were two hundred years ago.
Indigenous people today are twenty-first-century humans. Like the rest of us, they crave convenience and cheap goods. They shop in big-box stores. They eat fast food. They drink out of plastic water bottles. They buy their kids plastic toys. And though Dowie is right that plastics are made out of fossil fuels, which are natural, I don’t think anyone wants to see “natural” McDonald’s packaging, Target bags, or Poland Spring water bottles lying around Yosemite or the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.
As world population and consumerism grow, let’s keep wildlife areas untouched so that we can travel into them, enjoy them, and then leave, taking our trash with us, as well as some inspiration for how to make our own communities better.
Mark Dowie responds:
Heather Propes is correct to observe that all indigenous people are not “saintly, childlike creatures who will tread lightly on the earth.” Some have even heartily joined the industrial gang rape of nature with as much enthusiasm as the miners, loggers, ranchers, and oil workers who’ve invaded their once pristine landscapes. And there are others who, after being evicted from their homelands in the interest of conservation, turn against the ecosystems that sustained them. They begin poaching wildlife and eventually lose respect for places they once regarded as sacred. But big conservation is rarely interested in protecting land that has been or is being raped, whether by corporations or native people. Its interest is in pristine, biologically rich areas that often are occupied by people who do tread lightly on the earth and whose traditional ways honor ecosystems and protect biological diversity.
I can’t be the only reader who was nonplussed by your choice of the excerpt by Jane Roberts for the August Dog-Eared Page [“Honoring Aggression”]. It has so many obvious distortions and misconceptions, supposedly channeled from a noncorporeal being, that there isn’t space in one letter to refute them all. The key flaw is the idea that aggression is good. I read the piece several times, looking in vain for the sort of insight I have always found on this page. I also checked several dictionaries for a positive definition of aggression. No luck. Attila the Hun was aggressive. So was Hitler. So was George W. Bush.
Thank you for the Jane Roberts excerpt on aggression. In the seventies there was a push for people — especially women — to be assertive rather than aggressive.
As I was reading the piece, my daughter came to me upset because she had tried to be clear and direct with another child, who’d mistaken her straightforward communication for meanness. In this culture clear and direct speech is typically seen as aggressive. The Roberts piece helped me discuss with my daughter the complexity of being direct with others, as well as the potential consequences, which are not as horrible as we might think.
I needed this excerpt, too. It relieved some of the fear of conflict that I’ve lived with all my life.
I had recently seen a presentation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, making dire predictions that the warming of our planet could cause all coral reefs to die off within a decade or two. The enormity of this possibility was weighing heavily on me, and I was searching for some alternative — something beyond the statistics and the usual approaches.
It was in this frame of mind that I read Leath Tonino’s interview with John Elder [“The Undiscovered Country,” June 2013]. “Even in places where the natural world seems overwhelmed by human habitation,” Elder says, “it’s still there, and it can come back.” He gives the example of native hardwood trees whose roots endure underground and then sprout again.
I found comfort in those words. I recalled Derrick Jensen’s interview with Paul Stamets in your February 2008 issue [“Going Underground”], which described the vast subterranean network of fungi that heals and regenerates the earth again and again, neutralizing the toxins we put into it. And I remembered the September 2009 interview with Janine Benyus on biomimicry [“The Sincerest Form of Flattery,” by David Kupfer]. We need to think more creatively about how we can restore the planet, looking beyond the simplistic approach of “stop doing bad things” and instead examining how the earth preserves itself. How can we imitate that? Can we harness the fungi to work for us? Can we use nature’s regenerative power to balance our toxic outputs and mitigate climate change?
If we put more energy into following nature’s example, maybe we will abandon our harmful actions.
I feel bereft. I have just finished reading the entire set of back issues of The Sun that I bought several years ago. They are like wise old friends.
The current monthly issue will have to suffice, but it will feel like a starvation diet after the feast I’ve had.