Wednesday, September 27, 2006

From the Minnesota Bluff Country

I'm leading a lovely bike tour this week in southern Minnesota, what's called the Bluff Country around these parts. You see, the ice age glaciers didn't scrape these valleys flat. Here in southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin, the plants and animals of the hollows and forests are indeed actually rebounding, as in New England, more trees and wildish land now than a hundred years ago.

These are out of the way places the march of the industrial revolution has let regress back to a more agrarian and at least semi-natural ideal.

The time is right for a bike tour in these latitudes, a stroll, walking the dog, diving into piles of leaves, picking out pumpkins. The fringes of summerish weather are delicate and precious. Warmth's days are numbered 'til the chill takes over for good. The world may be warming in ominous ways, and that trend's effects are seen here as well, but some delicacy and charm are left to the back and forth changing of the seasons, some hours Indian summer, others swept with gun metal-colored rain and then kite quilts of swirling orange and red and rust-colored leaves.

There is a lot going on here that meets the eye.

We are out of the news, hearing almost nothing, making nothing much ourselves but miles and time. In the here and now, between prairie fields and river, we are making time, not for anyplace else or for memories or for envious others or for next time but for NOW.

And here, along the paved and placid bike trails of the Root River in far southern Minnesota, just west of the grand and epic old big river, Miss'SIP, away in the nooks and crannies of limestone and maple and birch and fishing raptors and river trout and turtles, the rest of the restless world seems rather far away, sad if not sinister, but again, here, mostly remote. We don't hear those noises here on the trail, keeping to ourselves rolling, gliding along. We are at peace with the world or at least this world, this out of the way place of peace.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11/06: Business as usual

9/11 @ 5... What have we learned?

That our American name-branded media and slight-of-handed politics can weave a symbolic yet shallow charade, a sappy sidelight to the more motivating forces at work in the world -- that greed for wealth and power and emotions (namely the aggressive ferocity of FEAR) and tribal superiority are still primarily what make the world what it is.

That there is something deepset in the human psyche about that primitive sort of tribalism, that "Us Vs. Them" still has a much stronger hold on people than "Why can't we all just get along?"

That America had a great chance to "go positive" with the wave of sympathy it received after 9/11/01 and that it's government, it's elected officials, the sad products of it's infirmed and spoiled democracy, proceeded to blow that chance.

That we had sympathy on our side, and now we (mostly) have shame on our side.

That we could have sent beans and bread and bicycles and books instead of bombs.

That the drums of war are better financed and have friends in so-called "higher" places, places that, as with our Vice-President, attract not lofty idealists but, as in Iraq and Iran and Nazi Germany and so many other countries we profess to abhor, the lowliest of the low.

That Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson would be as outraged as Robert Bird at the current state of our democracy and our sorry state of international affairs.

That we could have taken the high road and instead, after a slew of on high and almighty speeches, went below the belt.

And that today, as for the last several weeks, the build up to this anniversary has been one of sentiments both soft and edgy, echoes of the Them and the Us. So many Americans seem to be waxing sentimental when still the harder lesson is that we should feel ashamed.

That assessing and accepting such feelings of shame, complicity and responsibility, both in the past, the present and the future are difficult things to do.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Path to 9/11 + 5

My gosh, the big box media are gushing all over themselves and their viewers working the five year anniversary into a froth of slobbering sentiment. There may indeed be some political value in all this attention and commemorating and memorializing (and even, horrors! Already! dramatizing, fictionalizing, nay... ) The fear-mongering war lords are eating this stuff up. They say they disdain bloodshed and lap it up.

And there may, for the broader culture, be some emotional and psychological "value" in paying so much attention to this "milestone," just as there is for cancer patients who can consider themselves "cancer free" after five years. We feel relief thinking we're not now in the throes of those dark days. Perhaps we have overcome something after all, survived the jihadist curse. But cancer free doesn't necessarily mean free from cancer itself, returning in the same or some other form. It doesn't mean the cancer survivor is finished with cancer. Everything is tentative and fragile. What goes around may indeed come around.

But this rehashing is about ratings, not preparedness. It's about sucking in millions of viewers, not calls to action or insights into real security. And still so little light is shed on the dark sides of the forces involved, whether they be "friend" or "foe," the talking heads in the Land of the Free or, elsewhere, down dusty alleyways with jerky camera angles and grainy footage, the "evildoers."

So the media and the Security R Us politicians have a lot to gain, perhaps. But let's get this straight. There is no "news" value in these anniversaries and all their saccharine schmaltz. If we were being taught some new and better, more accurate history lessons, maybe. But that sort of wisdom and revelation doesn't seem to be in the works.

It is the fear and the mystery that are selling, not, even five years later, much better understanding.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Economist finds U.S. bankrupt

The only reason the U.S. has not had to declare bankruptcy as a nation is because the loans have not been called, say some economists. Meanwhile, we mock other countries indebtedness and virtually ignore the terrible implications of our own.

As Howard Dean said and I am sure still says, "You can't trust the Republicans with your money." Well, I am not sure the Saudis and the Chinese can trust the Republicans (and the rest of us over-extended and under-secured Americans) with their money either. Folks, those ginorous loans could come due, and the U.S. would be declaring bankruptcy to some foreign courts that might not have much sympathy left for us -- after they don't need us as much as they seem to now. It's a Catch 22 of international codependency, and I do mean CO-depency as in an addicted and precariously addictive partnership, beyond it's prime, perhaps beyond it's time.

Why isn't the spectre of national bankruptcy a national issue or at least a campaign issue? For the same reason they didn't want to get us all in a tizzy about terrorists before 9/11 -- so we'd keep on "going about our normal lives," flying and shopping and spending as if these were acts of patriotism and civic duty?

If the country goes bankrupt and falls into tatters on its own swords of greed and military madness, might that be the real way the terrorists win?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Leaving Yellowstone

So, I left Yellowstone today, after having stayed in the park for almost three weeks.

Nature and natural law are my religion.

Wild lands, wilderness areas and national parks such as Yellowstone are my churches.

My churches.

My church.

Above and beyond country, nation or any other affiliation.

Yellowstone, my church.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Wandering About Yellowstone

Here in Yellowstone, I've been doing some walking, even as Thoreau might call it, some "sauntering." I am in most ways the opposite of tourists. I've watched, patiently, Old Fauithful errupt dozens of times, and not just dozens of times but hundreds of times. And I've waited hours for other more surprising geysers to erupt, sometimes late at night, in near total darkness or bathed in the eerie gray light of a full moon, splashes and steam rising like ghosts from underground.

And though I feel rather at home here, in big mythic ways, I do feel I am roaming, adrift, doing an annual summer pilgrimage to both disconnect and reconnect with America. Unfortunately, for those of us who disparage and despair for the present, I tend to disconnect with the drums and churning development of the here and now - and stand haunted, somewhat forlornly feeling out some tenuous threads of what was and what might remain after our gift shops and steel beasts and parking lots have crumbled. I want to reconnect with the good in people and in the grandness of the land.

Here are, in this spirit, two apropos quotations for today:

From Jean-Jacques Rosseau's "Discourse on Inequality"...

"Never did I think so much, exist so vividly, and experience so much. Never have I been so much myself -- if I may use that expression -- as in the journeys I have taken alone and on foot. There is something about walking that stimulates and enlivens my thoughts."

And this gem from Rebecca Solnit's book "Wanderlust"...

"It may be that loyalty to something as immaterial as ideas sets thinkers apart from those whose loyalty is tied to people and locale, for the loyalty that ties down the latter will often drive the former from place to place. It is an attachment that requires detachment."

My thoughts are enlivened. I feel both attached and detached.