A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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“One Nation, Indivisible” features excerpts from The Sun’s archives that speak to the current political moment.
There’s a narrow strip of beach on the outer rim of the wilderness sand dunes in Oregon that is part of me and my family. The sound of the surf there reminds me of the winter when we caught crabs with our bare hands and discovered they were females and let them go. The smell of the air reminds me of my daughter sitting in the beach grass, leaning against her father’s back. When I go back to that beach, I remember this. I am this.
Now, what happens to those memories — to me — when that beach is clogged with bunker oil from the New Carissa? What happens to memories when the places where they put down roots are destroyed?
Environmental destruction is a kind of self-destruction. If we go around systematically destroying the places that hold meaning for us, that hold our memories, then we become fragmented and don’t have a sense of who we are.
“A Weakened World Cannot Forgive Us,” Kathleen Dean Moore, interviewed by Derrick Jensen, March 2001
When you blow apart a mountaintop to get coal, you destroy a fragile habitat, likely forever. When you clear-cut a patch of old-growth forest, the insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals that called it home are likely gone forever. How many forevers do we need to illustrate both our dominance and our level of stupidity?
“Call of the Wild,” Bernie Krause, interviewed by Leath Tonino, September 2014
About a month ago, while reading on the couch, I felt a tickling sensation on my left breast. I peeked inside my shirt to find the cause: a small ant. Though annoyed by the interruption, I decided that the responsible thing would be to find him a more appropriate hangout. So I put down my book, unbuttoned my shirt, and attempted to relocate him onto my palm. But he wanted none of it. For the better part of ten minutes, I tried to wrangle the errant rascal as he crawled up the side of my neck, down my shoulder, around my stomach, and back up my chest. Finally, the ant deigned to comply, and, cradling him in my cupped hand, I stepped out the front door and deposited him safely on a moist green leaf.
One week later, I walked into the kitchen for my morning cup of tea and was taken aback by the sight of a jar of honey on the counter being swarmed by ants — hundreds and hundreds of them. Without a second thought, I picked up a sponge, wet it, and, with a few sweeps, killed them all.
“Bugs” (Readers Write), Lynn Pounian, August 1995
I knew that we had to find a different way, a different model of research, one that doesn’t assume that five people in the university know it all, but recognizes that we can learn from a broad spectrum of individuals. Every time forests were logged and people protested, the experts worked for the logging companies. Every time the mountains were mined, the experts were the miners and geologists. Every time dams devastated the rivers, the experts were the engineers who were building those dams. Something was wrong.
“Biting the Hand that Feeds,” Vandana Shiva, interviewed by Arnie Cooper, February 2004
One of the basic ideas of our culture is that people are fundamentally no good, that people are greedy, cruel, and vicious to the core: That is our nature, so get used to it, folks. Get as much as you can, then get really good locks for your doors.
I want to change that basic attitude. Not only is the world a sacred place, but we belong in it. We’re not alien monsters here. We should stop perceiving ourselves in that way and begin to reevaluate our place in the greater community. The view of this culture is that we are vicious beings, but still infinitely better than every other creature on this planet. They are worthless beings we can kill off at will. I’m proposing that we all belong to a community of life. We are no better or worse than other creatures. We have to begin to think of ourselves as members of the world community, rather than as rulers of the planet.
“Down the Garden Path,” Daniel Quinn, interviewed by W. Bradford Swift, December 1997
Consumerism may seem mindless, but sellers take premeditated aim at spots in the ego or unconscious mind, making amoral, if often clever, symbolic equations: liquor and sex, tobacco and virility, automobiles and freedom, cosmetics and allure, soft drinks and happiness, pharmaceuticals and health, cellphones and family ties. . . . Alas, painted cakes do not satisfy hunger. We cannot buy our way out of this situation, and the market will not lead us. To arrest the final consumption of the earth, nothing short of epochal, devolutionary change of the political economy is called for.
“The One Who Steals the Fat,” Stephanie Mills, January 2001
I don’t see much advantage in castigating ourselves: “Bad animal, bad.” That doesn’t take us anywhere. Instead we need to seek out continuities and connections. The book I’m trying to finish up right now is a move away from a kind of moralizing environmentalism and toward what I call an “invitational model” of environmentalism.
The environmental movement needs to stop saying, “Step out of the SUV and keep your hands where I can see them,” and instead say, “Here, taste this tomato. Taste this cheese. Taste this microbrew. It’s delicious. What do you have that’s good?” It’s not just that we need to become a more diverse movement; it’s that we want diversity. We want to throw a better party.
“The Undiscovered Country,” John Elder, interviewed by Leath Tonino, June 2013
In one of the highest, driest, coldest inhabited places on earth, the Ladakhis [of northern India] have for a thousand years not only survived but prospered. Out of barren desert they have carved verdant oases — terraced fields of barley, wheat, apples, apricots, and vegetables, irrigated with glacial meltwater brought many miles through stone-lined channels. Using little more than Stone Age technologies and the scant resources at hand, the Ladakhis have established a remarkably rich culture, one that has met not only their material wants but their psychological and spiritual needs as well. . . .
I was shown around the remote village of Hemis Shukpachan by a young Ladakhi named Tsewang. It seemed to me that all the houses were especially large and beautiful. I asked Tsewang to show me where the poor people lived. He looked perplexed for a moment, then responded, “We don’t have any poor people here.”
Eight years later [after “development” had come to the village], I overheard Tsewang talking to some tourists. “If you could only help us Ladakhis,” he said. “We’re so poor.”
“To Raze a Village,” Helena Norberg-Hodge, February 1997
Our biological vulnerability . . . is something we used to think about more. In the Stone Age, when you’d leave the cave, you knew there might be a saber-toothed tiger out there. The early hunter-gatherers were at the mercy of their environment. Agriculture gave us some control over the food supply and made us more secure. Then of course came the petrochemical revolution, in which we learned to synthesize whatever we wanted, protecting ourselves even further. But conditions have changed. We are vulnerable in new ways. With climate change and environmental refugees and disappearing species and increasing flooding, perhaps we are starting to feel some of that vulnerability again.
“The Sincerest Form of Flattery,” Janine Benyus, interviewed by David Kupfer, September 2009
I talked to a woman in her eighties who cares for a half acre of virgin prairie in Iowa. Surrounded by industrial cornfields, she was out there with her walker tending to a plot that had never been plowed. Maybe in the bigger picture that’s a drop in the bucket, but after you’ve seen those cornfields, those monoculture crops everywhere, a small plot of native plants is everything.
I’m amazed by the good we can do. We’re not just a devouring species, eating everything in our path. We’re also a species that preserves ecosystems, that cleans up rivers, that puts seeds in the ground. We aren’t just destroyers. We are repairers, too. Destruction and creation — it’s always both at once.
“The Skeleton Gets Up and Walks,” Craig Childs, interviewed by Leath Tonino, June 2016
If all we feel is grief, then a time will come when we can no longer bear it, and we will simply stop feeling. There is a passage in Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” That’s the price of attentiveness: you see the woundedness in the landscape. You also see the hurt in people on the streets; you see the poverty, the brokenness. And if you open yourself to history and really attend to it — whether it’s the genocide against Native Americans, or the Holocaust, or the massacres going on in other countries right now — it can numb you and even paralyze you. It can cripple your spirit.
The challenge is to carry on and do the necessary work, and also to feel joy amidst catastrophic loss.
“In a Broken World,” Scott Russell Sanders, interviewed by Renee Lertzman, February 2000