Backhoe Blues

As I lay here in our neighbors’ sunny dome, I feel so thankful for such a nice place to nurse my baby down–both of us getting a much-needed midday rest from the land-clearing going on today at our homestead. I close my eyes and envision a funeral wreath made out of the shimmery green hemlock branches that I cut down today, as I shed a tear over the complexity and profundity of it all–how we humans inescapably kill in order to live and live to order to kill, every day of our lives.

Sacrificing the plants and animals around us, and watering the burial site with our sweat and tears: just another trip around the wheel. Today is no different, just the speed of the turning is turned up a few notches.

I’ve done clearings like this many times here in this land, but this is the first time I’ve done so as a nursing mother. And I can assuredly feel the difference: softer, more sensitive joints, and more sensitive heart. My chest and my jaw is literally sore from clenching, and I’ve had to cry alot, as I bear witness to the destruction, even as I hold the saw myself.

My son points in fascination and repeats the word “chain-saw,” in his sweet baby-babble way. The sight of my liitle-one witnessing such industrial scale destruction from the breakfast table of our cozy little hollow feels like a failure–I am unable to shield him from what are, in my view, some of the most distasteful parts of our culture.

I severely dislike the fascination our culture builds around big machines like tractors, backhoes, and steamrollers, around the excavator which is right now tearing down the very trees that Montana has grown up gazing upon, learning the shapes of leaves and the different sounds they make during a storm wind versus a summer breeze.

I was hoping to spare him the sight of this destruction, to preserve his sense of kinship with the trees, but it is not the possible with the homesteader life I lead, and I cringe at the coarseness and desensitization that I am setting up in his soft baby soul–and my own.

Ultimately, underneath it all lies a deep feeling of gratitude to the trees and critters who gave their lives today to provide raw materials and open space for the garden, the duck run, and the future barn and kitchen. Rest assured, we are taking care to save every branch and twig for composting and chipping, so as little as possible goes to waste, and builds the fertility in which we will be planting fruit trees. Our aim is to feed ourselves and our forest kin, with an eventual net gain in fertility, not a loss!

Please forgive us for the gorgeous forest soils and snakes and beetles and worms and creepy crawlies of all kinds that we do trample under our admittedly clumsy boots. We humans still have much to figure out in this world. I remain humbled, dwarfed, and supremely grateful for the immense generosity of this forest.


Wheelbarrow Paleo?

I guess some of you have figured out by now that I’m an absolutely unrepentant Nutrition Geek. If you can believe it, I actually read books like “The Vegetarian Myth” “Why We Get Fat” and “The Paleo Diet Solution” for fun and enjoyment!

Now, I must admit, I’m pretty on-board with Robb Wolf and his paleo strategy, though I think I’m in it for radically different reasons. For example, when I find myself adrift in the turbulent sea of the modern world, which offers little mooring in reality, I find myself with no recourse but to imagine, “what would a human 1,000 (or even 10,000) years ago do?” So, to move closer to eating the way a Paleolithic human would have eaten feels natural to me.

However, to do it so I can “rock my blood-work” or “look awesome in a bikini” seems to miss the paleo-point. What does his paleo-solution solve? Is it a solution to the “problem” of successful marketing of his “brand”? Or is it an actual desire to heal people?

At one point, Robb goes out on a limb to advise his readers to load up a wheelbarrow with sandbags and heft it back and forth on the lawn, even though it “smacks of yardwork.” As if there’s nothing so degrading as yardwork!?

If using a wheelbarrow is so good for us, Mr. Wolf, maybe our bodies are trying to tell us something? That our health so clearly responds to paleo diets and cross-fit workouts is perfect evidence that we ought to question the heinous departure of our modern life from interaction with earth, rock, sand, clay—all the things one puts in a wheelbarrow when actually doing real work. Like natural building, for example, or organic gardening? Has Mr. Wolf failed to notice that the world so desperately needs throngs of humans to step out of our air-conditioned vehicles and into our yards, to grab our wheelbarrows and get to work creating the dynamic, sustainable, zero-footprint villages of the future?

Maybe from aboard his favorite clients’ yachts, Robb Wolf hasn’t yet noticed that the aristocratic “I musn’t get dirt under my fingernails” sentiment is becoming more and more outta style by the minute. Hey Robb–hate to tell ya, but you’re missing the real boat–the one that’s sailing us towards a healthier, saner, more humane planet. Now that’s the paleo solution…

The Changing Food Landscape–Revisiting the Animal Foods Question

I am usually quite proud to belong to a counter-culture which works to expose and transform our American inheritance of racism, sexism, exploitation, militarism, mechanization, corporatism, “patriotic consumption,” pursuit of affluence at all costs. My friends and community regularly question the so-called “truths” spouting from the mouths of government and mainstream media. So I am left wondering, why do we allow dialogue about health and nutrition to be so truncated, so dead-ended by fundamentalism and privacy issues? Why, in such a rapidly changing food landscape are our conversations so stale?

I’m craving dialogues that go beyond the brown-n-serve eating strategies that dangerously misrepresent our place in–and responsibility towards–the food “chain,” as well as the broad spectrum of choices available today for eating ethically. In alternative food circles, we can no longer allow ourselves to believe that all our problems will be solved by eating a “plant based diet.” Sorry folks, but it ain’t that simple.

With the burgeoning of local food movements in the USA (and worldwide,) we now have many, many options for pastured, humanely raised meat, dairy, eggs, etc. that were not “on the table” when Moore-Lappe wrote, Diet for a Small Planet. Pastured meat is being found on more and more mainstream menus, (such as the Chipotle Grill and Hilton Hotels) which constitutes very good news for local economies and ecologies, including the ecologies inside our bodies.

I wonder if my vegan, vegetarian and raw-foodie comrades realize that in advocating for the same whole grain and vegetable basis of the “food pyramid”, they are actually doing the USDAs bidding? I guess the low-fat, anti-meat propaganda of the 70s and 80s was ubereffective, because many of my otherwise radical friends do not seem to understand that their food choices do nothing to challenge big agriculture, pharma, finance, oil, or the chemical industry giants and government policy.

On the contrary, the “eating low on the food chain” strategy so often trumpeted by those who claim to stand on the moral high ground actually helps to perpetuate dangerous societal habits such as the huge grain subsidies that are killing small farmers in every nation, including our own. And it completely misses the point that the monocultures of grain and vegetables that are the basis of a vegan diet are necessarily biocidal, as the native vegetation, animals and insects are cleared and drowned in fertilizer (all the better for Dow and Monsanto!) to create “crop land.” Agriculture is arguably the most destructive practice on our planet. How can vegans ignore this enormous elephant in the room?

Add to this major oversight the growing mountains of evidence that carbohydrate-laden diets are the basis of an epidemic of degenerative diseases—diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and a whole panoply of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders never seen before the advent of agriculture. And because both rely heavily on carbohydrates for the bulk of food consumed, a vegetarian diet is still disturbingly close to the Standard American Diet (SAD) of convenience food, despite the fact that it eschews meat.

Has anyone noticed the skyrocketing incidence of “gluten intolerance” and celiac disease? I would hope that it is obvious that humans are NOT ruminants. We have no extra stomach chamber designed to ferment and breakdown cellulose, which is indigestible to humans. No amount of wishful thinking will help us grown a rumen. Here’s an idea: How about we let the cows graze happily on their native prairie (saving ourselves all the nasty work of clearing land, spraying pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, going to war to get the petrochemicals, etc.) then harvest beef instead of grain? But dare I say that publicly? That wouldn’t be polite! It would be far better if I remained silent. We are adults after all, and everyone is entitled to make their own food choices.

But, I feel the pain of this silence everyday as I see people I love suffering from mood disorders, tooth decay, autism, obesity, chronic fatigue, eczema, and “inexplicable” allergy attacks. And these health problems occur just as much with vegans as those eating the SAD. Both groups are eating foods full of either toxins or allergens, usually both. And both somehow miss the connection of their dis-ease to what they are eating (and not eating!)

And I feel even worse when I see these health problems in children, who by virtue of their youth are often unable to understand, much less consent, to the food they are served. Culturally, it is not “kosher” for me to offer unwanted advice or opinions on what parents feed to their children, but I sometimes wonder about my complicity in their health problems? Where does my responsibility to these children begin and end? No easy answers here, either.

Rather than talk explicitly to parents about their children’s health and diet, I have at times broached the subject with friends-of-friends-of-friends of these kids, hoping to at least create a climate of casual conversation about it that might indirectly affect the situation, but even that has aroused the fury of veggie friends.

This discussion takes on a whole new holistic level once we consider that bringing grazing animals back to the dustbowls and deserts–which were caused by agriculture in the first place!– could well be the answer to global warming. Allan Savory has been successful at restoring millions of acres of the world’s prairies, savannas and grasslands with no technology other than livestock. Savory’s team has run the numbers and–get this: we could sequester ALL the carbon spewed into the air since the industrial revolution simply by allowing ruminants to do what they were born to do–EAT GRASS! I often wonder why Savory’s amazingly straightforward and hopeful work with Holistic Range Management is not more part of the regular fare of food justice and activist discussion? For those who are craving simple answers, look towards livestock, not veganism.

Holistic Range Management is very good news for North America with its vast prairie aching to be freed from agricultural bondage–and good news for our health (and tastebuds!) too, as it translates to a lot of grass-fed nutrition, with none of the attending problems of maintaining croplands. And, importantly, it amounts to a huge toppling of the vegetarian off the high ground of “ecological eating.” After all, monocropped soy, wheat, and corn ends up destroying natural prairie ecosystems. And feeding corn to captive feedlot steer amounts to torture. Set them free, and heal the prairie!

If eating low in the food chain is actually perpetuating an agriculture that pollutes aquifers and waterways, and destroys both soil ecology and gut ecology, it seems that we are desperately in need of meaningful civic discussion of the far reaching ramifications of our food choices. Yet we willingly cooperate with the gag order on real discussion, fighting amongst ourselves about non-issues and purity fantasies, while BigAg is all to happy to encourage diversion from the obvious: that agriculture’s poor nutritional profile and toxification of our environment lead to devastating health problems–for humans, for animals, for planetary ecosystems.

Any ideas about how to encourage honest and real dialogue about the issues mentioned in this post? Interested in searching for strategies to heal our beleaguered bodies, food systems and health? I’m all ears… Meanwhile I leave you with the conscious carnivore’s rallying cry—“Stop climate change–Bring back the buffalo!!”

Car seat woes

Carseat Woes

I love my rural life. I love the night sounds of creatures crawling in the leaf litter, I love the wild berries that line our country lane, I love the moon sparkling on the frosty cedar trees that ring our house.  And, I love the privacy afforded by the forest around me, too.  The freedom to experiment with building and gardening without the pointy noses of city authorities or neighbors constantly poking into my business.

Living off the grid has required that I go without many of the conveniences that I grew up with in my urban childhood–washer/dryer, electric light on demand, dishwasher, thermostatically-controlled heating.  As we’ve built our homestead, we’ve worked hard to set up patterns of sustainable and ecological living, which has required lots of unlearning of bad habits and addictions, a vigilant questioning of our needs for things that we previously took for granted (refrigeration! unlimited supply of water!)   I am so thankful for the stripped-down life that I now lead.   I thought that I would never give it up for anything.

And then came the carseat.  Ha!

Everytime I strap my son into that hideous contraption–which reminds me somewhat of a straitjacket for babies, or even a torture device–I seriously consider moving to a little town somewhere, with everything we need within walking distance.  I know this may be an extremely unpopular thing to admit to these days, but I really hate the carseat, or, as they are commonly (and all-too-accurately) described, “infant restraints.”

I am currently doing what I can to minimize car travel, but since I live in a rural area, I am still fairly dependent on my car, since there is no ready access to public transport, and we are still a-ways away from manifesting our dream of new village life where we produce all we need onsite.  For now, everytime I get into a vehicle, I am forced to choose between two undesirable options.  Do I want to forcibly “restrain” my child as he screams like he’s going insane, or do I want to risk our physical safety by playing on the loose in the backseat with my son, just like my parents did in the fifties?

If you are thinking that car seats are hands-down the safest way for children to survive a car crash, you’d probably be correct. But, I ask you to consider that this may be a narrow view, one defined by a society utterly dominated by automobiles. The real question ought not be, “How can a baby best survive a car crash?” but rather “Why do we consider cars an appropriate place for a baby at all?”

Since they cannot speak up for themselves, let me submit that little babes, who cannot yet consent or even understand why they are being strapped down, should not be expected to ride in an automobile.

But, alas, we do not live in a society that honors children, mothers, or any of us enough to even consider this view as humane and frankly, commonsensical. To me, it is frightening that, year after year, our society blindly accepts the staggering casualties resulting from our use of automobiles–the US census in 2009 reported over 2 million people are injured or killed in car accidents in the US alone–rather than demanding meaningful redesign of our towns and cities to encourage walkability and car-free culture.

If I had my choice, I would much rather accomplish all my errands on foot, if only to spare my child the indignity of strapping him into that thing.  Then combine all that fuss with careening down the highway at 50mph, and you’ve got the makings of a horror film! I’d much prefer simply to walk, thank you.

But how many American cities and neighborhoods are designed to facilitate a walking option? Not many these days, thanks to skewed development schemas that prioritize car access, strip mall construction and megaprofits above the needs of children and families. How about designing safe, green neighborhoods built with the flesh of the human foot in mind, instead of quick cash, steel and gasoline?

Yes, I am as dependent on my car as most Americans, living in a rural area with a sluggish economy. But this does not mean that I therefore desire to strap my child down in a moving vehicle, often with him kicking and screaming “No, Mama!!! No!!!!”

There is little question that if we were to be in a crash, that he would be safer in his car-seat. But, I ask you, is the risk of getting into a car accident automatically greater than the risk of emotional damage that results from forcibly strapping him down against his will? What harm do I cause him when I repeatedly ignore his very clear communication that he does not wish to be tied up, by himself, with no chance to wiggle and stretch (as babies do) and no warm lap to comfort him? Why should he be expected to sit still? He’s a baby for goodness sake! I do not blame him one bit when he protests.

Unfortunately, I have seen many times an over-reliance upon the practice of “infant restraint” for the parents convenience, rather than the child’s safety.  As they are moved from the car, then to the shopping cart at the big box store, then back into the car again, often spending hours without ever leaving the car seat, children quickly learn that their needs and requests will be ignored and overpowered, and cope by becoming completely passive.  It isn’t hard to understand that a baby needs to move as part of the developmental process. “Child restraint” is anathema to this development by definition.

Everything I’ve read and observed about continuum parenting, connection, and attachment theory underlines the importance of listening to children and accommodating their basic needs for physical connection with their parents, of being in-arms, and of sensing and going with–not against!–their cues wherever possible. The consequence of coercing and bending them away from their basic needs may at first create that docile little “angel,” watching the world go by from their padded car seat transport. But there is a heavy price to be paid later when the child learns he cannot trust his parents to hear and respect his needs.

A child who learns in infancy that ‘might makes right’ will soon start to learn and use his own methods of coercion. Monkey see, monkey do. It’s very simple, and very predictable. From temper tantrums at two years old to all-out mutiny and rebellion in the teens–all of these are legitimate adaptive responses to a culture of coercion.

Just because I was born into a regrettably car-obsessed culture doesn’t mean I agree with it’s basic assumptions—namely, that the risk of getting into a car accident must be avoided at all costs, even when it assures damage to his sense of emotional safety, which is arguably just as important to health as physical safety.

So when I refuse to ignore my son as he screams to be released from his little car straitjacket, I ask you not to judge me as a monstrous, incompetent parent. On the contrary, I am trying to protect him from the carnage of an emotional car wreck, carnage which is so common these days that many have ceased to notice it.

Jack O’ Lantern

Every year since I can remember, I have carved a pumpkin around Halloween. And every year, a friend remarks that they haven’t carved one since they were a kid. I am always scandalized by this notion. “Really?! You havent?!,” I stammer, unable to stop my eyes from popping a bit from my skull, just like Jack’s.

Carving a Jack O’Lantern is such a part of the fabric of my ritual life at this point that I can hardly imagine omitting it. And why would I!? There are pumpkins everywhere around harvest time, bushels and bushels of them, beckoning, pleading even, for us to sculpt their true jagged, bumpy faces out of the smooth orange skin. Especially when you consider that these pumpkins were grown just for this purpose–they are really no good for eating–it seems just so wasteful not to carve them!

First I scan the pumpkin pile for one that calls out to be chosen. Each one assumes a notably different posture, some slumpy and slouchy scoundrels, others upright and perky autumnal citizens, and there always seems to be one character in particular that asks loud-n-clear to go home with me. I pick ‘im up and off we go!

Later, in the crispy cool of my front porch, I study the shape of the pumpkin, and usually I can see a faint wraith of a face hovering sheerily over the surface. I trace out the features little by little with a pencil, gradually darkening the lines as a one-toothed grimace or scowly eyebrow reveals itself. I get out a small, thin steak knife, and pierce the flesh at the crown, circling the stem with little jabs until the top pops off, and I can get my hand in to scoop out the guts.

This year, while my Jack O’ lies there, disemboweled, my 8 month old son crawls over and has a blast squeezing all the goop through his tiny hands. Just another of the sensorial discoveries of his first Fall, along with piles of golden maple leaves to crunch, and baskets-full of shiny apples to roll about.

I set him next to a mound of straw that I’m using to line the apple box, and he plays there contentedly while I carve. Just as dusk falls I put on the finishing touches–a big curly moustache–and light a candle inside the punkinhead. A big smile creeps across my son’s face, almost as big as Jack O’s, and just as glowing.

I breathe a prayer of thanks for all the dead folk who I’ve been missin’, appreciating the abundance of the harvest, and my first Halloween as a mother. Wow! Its chilly out here! I grab a chunky wool sweater and wrap it a bit awkwardly around us–I am not yet accustomed to holding a baby in cold weather–cuddling him close as the steam of our breath mingles in the air, possibly for the first time.

This is the first year in a long time that I haven’t planned a big Halloween ecosomatic style performance to mark the occasion–I have more on my new-mommy’s to do list than I can possibly get done this season, and have had to let some balls drop. So, I am even more thankful to have this small, sticky ritual to acknowledge the pleasures of Autumn before the busyness of Mamahood calls me away again.

In a few weeks, when Jack O’s head begins to mildew, he will become ritual mulch for my garden. I will take another big breath and smush him into the soil, composting him down along with all those unfulfilled promises and little dreams rotting on the vine–all the projects I was so sure of when I seeded them, but which never quite ripened. These are the shriveled things which don’t seem so important anymore through Jack O’s now-dim eyes, reminding me how much better they will serve as fodder for spring growth.



Ecosomatic Mommyhood: Learning to Walk Like a Mother

Well, well, well! It’s been 8 months since my son Montana Rose was born, and this is the first opportunity I’ve taken to sit down and post to this blog. I apologize (mostly to myself) for the long absence! I have been an avid daily journaller since I was about 16 years-old, yet I have scarcely written more than five or six entries since becoming a mom. How in the world can I keep track of my life without my journal!? I am losing the battle to retain control of my previous navigational systems, having to accept the occasional email or Facebook Post—usually sent from my iPhone while Montana is asleep at the breast—as a meager substitute. The effect is one of total disorientation, like being blindfolded and set adrift in a lil’ rowboat, without the oars. Reminds me of a favorite quote:

“Mankind owns four things that are no good at sea:
Anchor, Rudder, Oars,
and the Fear of Going Down.”
–Antonio Machado

Giving up the fear of drowning, and learning to dive with abandon seems to be the most useful parenting skill I can muster. Fortunately, I do have the chance every single day to practice, practice, practice!

I’ve felt very sensitive about existing as much as possible outdoors (yet another reason why posting to this blog is difficult!), as Montana is infinitely calmer and happier to be around cedar, kale, wind, falling leaves, roses, pebbles and sand. Especially when he was a newborn, I had zero desire to leave our homestead (driving in a car felt like utter torture!), preferring to lull about in the garden and forest, letting Montana crawl barefoot in the soil and duff. One of my favorite fotos is of him triumphantly holding onto our young apple tree with a mouthful of dirt. It was truly amazing how long he was able to stay in self-directed play on that little patch of ground at only six months of age.


I feel sad when I think about so many moms and kids who don’t have the opportunity to play with simple, clean earth. My partner Keeth mentioned to a city-mouse friend how much Montana prefers sticks to any manufactured toys, and she replied, “yes, but you don’t know where that stick has been!” In an urban environment, this is sadly true, but on our rural homestead, we are among the rare few who know there has never been any industry or agriculture to pollute our land. Luckily, we DO INDEED know where that stick has been—it was grown and fed directly from the breast of Mama Earth.

I have also been very sensitive to electric light ever since he was born. Because we live in a tiny off-the-grid cabin and spend most of our time at home, the only lights Montana usually sees are very dim-LED style. He has always risen at daybreak, and fallen asleep at dusk. On those occasions when we are out-and-about after dark, the bright lights tend to keep him buzzing awake. Last night, in the glare of our uberlit local laundromat, he was crooning and screeching away as if it were noon! As soon as we climbed back into the darkness, he was asleep in five minutes. It’s so interesting to think about how our current society hardly considers exposing our babies to electric light to be a health issue because we’re so accustomed to it.

Mothering has certainly been one of the most physically challenging things I have ever attempted, from heartburn to backpain, and everything in between. My new normal has been naturally more grounded and ‘in my body’ than ever before, yet paradoxically, I’ve felt it necessary to be utterly vigilant about keeping my ecosomatic skills in the foreground. Just walking down the road with 20 extra pounds of bouncing-baby-boy (how literally true!) strapped to my body demands that I focus on the nuances of every single footfall, lest I keel over. How suddenly strange to have to THINK in order to do something which has been automatic for most of my life since toddlerhood.

It’s as if I am learning how to walk right along with my son. It really helps to be able feel the ground beneath my feet, so I’ve taken to wearing moccasins ever since becoming pregnant—the rocks on the beach and our country lane offer foot accupressure treatment anytime. I’ll often pause when I step on a particularly well placed stone: STOP, CLOSE EYES, TAKE A DEEP BREATH. Then move on.

Gathering blackberries requires a whole new skill level of skill when you have a babe-in-arms! I have to avoid scratching the heck out of my boy’s flesh, offer his eager mouth some, but not too many (yes, I learned this the hard way–he gets a rash), and keep him from dumping the whole basket on the ground, all the while trying to avoid ending up in the briars! Its now quite a feat to actually arrive home unscathed and with a bucket o’ berries.

All in all, I feel very committed to raising my child in nature as much as possible in this digital world. Check back here for more posts on this subject.

Whew!!! That’s all the time I have right now! I’m amazed I got this far. Got to click ‘publish’ lickety-split—no time for editing—before Montana wakes up from his nap! Got to get back out to my garden while the sun is still up! Not sure when I’ll be able to post again…..Ciao for now!

AVATAR discussion: Technology and Ecominstrelcy


ON JAN 4, 2010, 9:48 AM wrote:

Rarely if ever has there been an exceptional opportunity to capitalize
on a cultural event of immense
magnitude as now exists. The film AVATAR is sucessfully awakening
millions of people worldwide
to the absolute importance of reconnecting with nature and the value
of indigenous wisdom.
It speaks to everyday parents about their longing to be part of
genuine community/society, and
it is awakening young people to their need for rites of passage.
Brilliantly, it contrasts what western
civilization has become with what it gave up and needs to recover. It
is about cultural mentoring,
honoring the creatures, nature and the divine.
I encourage you to seize a unique opportunity for promoting nature
connection and sustainability on the coat-tails of AVATAR.  Perhaps
ultimate message is a recommendation to recognize that what you have
to offer the world is now ready to accept. Move your thought and your
words to the mainstream.
AVATAR invites you out of provinciality onto the stage of a world
hungry for your vision.
P.S. The film also honors the sacred hunt and hunting as rite of passage.


ON JANUARY 4th, 1:10pm

I’m fascinated enough with this e-mail to respond to it critically —
and since it was mailed to me with all the CC’s intact,  I’ll gather
my gall and send this out to everyone,  hoping this doesn’t land
us all on some government no-fly list,  or whatever.   (And I
see enough addresses from my local community to assume
some tolerance for this level of mailing.)

I saw AVATAR Saturday,  small screen, no goggles and accept
that there are moments of great beauty in the film,  as well as it
being a work of art that I will not soon forget,  as I do most movies.

That it speaks to the ravages of high-tech industrial life,  the
rapaciousness of the military,  the beauty of wilderness,  and
the wisdom of indigenous people integrated with that wilderness
—  none of this would I deny.   (It speaks also to the Boomer’s
desire to be tall and slim,  to the feminist’s desire for equality
in agency (equal warriors,  in this case),  to the courage required
to domesticate wild creatures, to what I believe is an innate longing
for community,  and for rites-of-passage into a community — and
who wouldn’t want a tail that could plug into the circuitry of plants
and animals —  I mean,  more direct circuitry than we already have
—  none of this would I deny.

But both assumptions of the letter writer give me pause:  (1) that
this movie softens up the world for environmental messages;  and
(2) that such “softening”  —  if indeed it does occur —  should be
exploited by those of us “in the know”.

The movie carries an image of the most beautiful tree I have ever
seen depicted in art —  a magical monster of a tree,  transcending
anything that could be experienced,  except perhaps the giant
sequoia,  on acid,  in California.   A tree,  romanticized beyond
the natural world —  like a statue of jesus in a cathedral.  As a
once-botanist,  I could only enjoy the depictions of plants,  floating
and otherwise,  spirit-invested and otherwise,  but again,  realize
I was enjoying fantasy.

The question is,  is it romantic fantasy that will bring our species
to its senses?   I think not — no more likely than to terrifying
people into giving up their addictions —  yours and mine —  that
maintain our complicity in the ongoing destruction of the planet.

The movie,  on the surface,  extols the supple indigenous folk
who fly around on large birds and sail off cliffs.   But it is a movie
extoling —  archetypally —  warfare between good and evil —
with the indigenous being good,  and the representatives of
civilization being evil.    It extols the native vs. the civilized —
though it is the civilized person,  the “wounded-warrior” marine,
who,  through the use of fantastically complex technology is
morphed into a form that can more or less integrate with the
natives,  learn their language,  eventually save them —  and,
voila!  become their Avatar.   The white man (a la Dances With
Wolves) crosses over and,  rather than bring the civilizations
into some kind of harmony,  helps the natives beat back the
bad guys,  using high-tech stuff (radios?  explosives?)  to do
so.   This seems more a battle between the beautiful and the
ugly,  couched in terms of romanticized natives over wildly
over-stated evils of a technologized military.

I can get into all that —  and so does my grandson,  who found
the movie very reminiscent of his violent videogames.

There’s a dozen other archetypes of the Collective Unconscious
floating around the movie —  as well as attempts to best all the
movies Cameron’s ego wants to best (not the least of which are
the Star Wars Movies).   And there are moments of great beauty,
and the music,  for once,  doesn’t destroy the movie.   But were
my emotions engaged?  Is there enough realism in this movie
to make any pollitical point?   I don’t think so.


It is technology that allows White Man (and dear Signorey) to
get to Pandora. it is technology that allows a few of them to
morph into the form of the natives and thus, more or less,
enter into their culture. And it is technology that
ultimately allows them to fend-off the Sky Invaders.

This leads me to think — as an article in the latest Orion
suggests — that technology (starting with bows and arrows,
dipped in poison) is no more, or no less sacred than the
giant tree. It’s how it meshes, or doesn’t, with our value
system. To romantisize “nature” and denigrate all human
artifacts is simply to perpetuate the dualism that leads
us to think we humans (or “minds” or “culture”) are some-
how separate from the natural world.  Evolution has
spawned us,  our technologies are extensions of that, no
more,  no less.

And no society mucking along at a low level of moral
development will be able to mass together the energies
to recover from the already immense human-caused
destruction of the planet,  and to turn away to the degree
necessary in avoiding further destruction.  We’re far
into the soup.

I don’t think a movie,  based on romantic views of nature
and indigenous people,  and depicting regressive attitudes
towards the human capacity for  invention,  will bring to
the fore the moral evolution so critically needed.

it is a personal transformation needed,  not making a few
points on a momentarily softened-up populace about a
romanticized vew of “us” and “them”.

Next time you fly in one of those metal tubes that shoot
through the air at 400+mph,  spewing massive amounts
of carbon in its wake,  ask yourself why you’re not riding
on the back of a large bird.

Robert Greenway
Corona Farm
Port Townsend,

ON JANUARY 5th, 11:50pm
JOHN WOOD wrote:


I received all those cc’s, too.

Robert Greenway is right to criticize the self-righteous “in the know” assumptions of the earlier letter and its “us v. them” approach which too easily lets “us” off the hook.  He’s right that the fundamental need is a personal transformation to counter our low level of moral development.  I agree with 90% or what Robert wrote.

However, the remaining 10%, and an aspect Robert omitted, makes his letter misleading and inaccurate.  While on one level the warfare may be between “good and evil” (both of which human judgments, often based on “us v. them”) it is also a conflict between those who are conscious of the soul in all things, everything as animated, and those who see no life in anything beyond themselves.

The character “Jake Sully” is physically wounded–and he fails, in the beginning, to see the soul in all things.  Like all the invaders, he has no reverence for other life.  Throughout the movie, he comes to see life or spirit everywhere–whenever he steps on a rock, or moss, or touches a plant or tree.  In the end, his spirit is strong and allows him to transform into a Na’vi.

He does not, as Greenway says, “become their Avatar”.  He becomes a Na’vi using the Avatar body.  He also had to help beat back the Sky People because they were invading–and to suggest, as Greenway does, that he should “bring the civilizations into some kind of harmony” would not be the advice of Winston Churchill when faced with the Nazi threat–but it does echo the choice of the scorned French Vichy government during World War II.

The invaders were murdering Na’Vi–and both Freud and Jung (the latter whom Robert cites) supported the death penalty for murderers.  That’s a moral position.  You can find Jung’s words about this in the “Zarathrustra Seminars.”  Freud, when asked about the death penalty for murderers, approvingly quoted what happened in the French Assembly when it was considering its abolition.  During the debate, a voice shouted from the gallery:  “Let the murderers make the first move.”  Here, let the invaders make the first move–by not invading.

No one should accept invasion–and Greenway’s suggestion that Jake Sully ought to bring harmony between the invaders and the invaded is repulsive.  I can’t imagine Jung or Freud or any of the world’s invaded peoples supporting such a position.

Greenway also says: “This leads me to think … technology (starting with  bows and arrows) is no more or less sacred than the giant tree. To romanticize “nature” and denigrate all human artifacts is simply to perpetuate the dualism that leads us to think we humans (or minds or culture”) are somehow separate from the natural world.  Evolution has spawned us, our technologies are extensions of that, no more, no less.”

Greenway’s argument makes no sense, at least as far as the movie goes.  The Na’vi do not at all denigrate “all human artifacts”–and to suggest they do is not accurate.  They have technology and use it.

Greenway’s statement that technologies are extensions of evolution “no more no less” is a matter of serious debate and ought to be considered at the heart of his argument that we need moral development.

This is especially true in regard to quantum mechanics (invented by Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli) which was the necessary foundation for the development of nuclear weapons.  It’s been strongly argued that Heisenberg refused to participate in the development of German nuclear weaponry (which is why the Nazis never developed the atomic bomb).  Pauli, who taught in Zürich and worked with Jung beginning in 1932, and played an important part in Jung’s creative development, came to the US in 1940, taught at Princeton and was the only nuclear physicist in the US who refused to work on the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear warheads.  Pauli felt that it was not the business of science to engineer mass destruction.  After the two bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945, Pauli fell into a deep depression and said he felt he was “living in a criminal atmosphere”.  He left the US and returned to Switzerland “realizing that the quantum mechanics he helped create was responsible at least partly for mass murder.”  For the next 15 years, he “inquired how his unconscious would react to the beginning of the nuclear age when the demonic power drive unleashed by science had become espoused to ethnic and national hatreds.”  (all quotes are from “At the Heart of the Matter:  Synchronicity and Jung’s Spiritual Testament” by Gary Sparks)

What Pauli did, over 15 years, with the help of both Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz, was to look “at all those places where spirit and matter, subject and object, guidance and world were considered one; these can be the origins of a new outlook on life.”

Pauli did what we should all do–he sought that personal transformation and asked the moral questions about science, technology and the enthronement of the Goddess of Reason.

Greenway wants us to seek the “moral evolution so critically needed” but he wants to exempt technology and presumably those who invent it.  He was a botanist–and botany is in the realm of technology.  He, too, is talking “us versus them”–but he’s not quite aware of it.

In Avatar, the character Jake Sully does ask questions, he does seek answers, and he certainly goes go through a transformation.  When his Na’vi eyes popped open at the end, I felt a thrill.  I commend director James Cameron for at least trying to do something bold. Many people applauded at the end of the movie.  It’s already the 4th largest gross of all time with over a billion dollars worth of tickets worldwide.  He’s touched a lot of people–and for the good.

John Wood
Port Townsend

Body As Place: Thoughts on A Mediatized Society

“The pitcher cries for water to carry,
and a person for work that is real.”

–Marge Piercy

Beware that dance as…performance art in the theater,
is a minute fragment of dance in the true sense of the word.”

–Min Tanaka



All across the modern world, the human being is malnourished.  In Western nations, the bodies of the obese, the rich, and the over-privileged betray obvious signs of starvation, both physical and spiritual.  We certainly have no lack of stuff to fill ourselves with, yet spiralling consumption of things devoid of nutritive value only whets our hunger.  Wasn’t  ‘consumption’ the 14th Century name for a disease of wasting away?  Today we are not so different: consumption is consuming us.

The bland fare of modern pop culture is as empty of soulful nutrition as bag of Cheetos, and about as addictive.  In the frenzy to sate our cravings, we often forget that this hunger for performance is an ancient one, a deep human need for ritual and ceremony, for meaning-making, for cultural transformation–the original purpose of the arts.

Cut to our contemporary scene:  legions of the culturally anemic, voraciously consuming lonely performances on iPods and laptops, Youtube and Twitter, capturing minutae on our cell phone cameras, gasping for for the nutritive value of the arts .  Yet, because we can never be “virtually” satisfied, the cycle of addiction rambles on. Performance scholar Baz Kershaw wonders:

Is drama now an unconscious addiction, a programme so deeply ingrained that we do not even recognize it as a need?  And is performance becoming an addictive matrix of consciousness, a new kind of paradigm crucially inherent to human ecology?…It arrives in a very personal guise through anxieties about our own performance–in career, lifestyle, love…Or we become fascinated by the peformance of people we will never meet–in the media, sports, politics.  Or we are drawn to more abstract domains of performance—the FTSE, the GNP, the RAE, the hundred best of everything, the ten worst…? The perfusion of performance through public and private arterial networks then generates various pathologies of perception of social process.

Baz Kershaw, Theater Ecology (2007)

Perhaps the massive proliferation of performance in our is trying to tell us something about what we truly need?  I believe that we can remedy the addictive mediatization of society by returning per-form-ance to its roots—giving tangible and actual form to the sustainable and healthy culture we so desperately need. My own work as a embodied artist seeks to renew a performance tradition which truly nourishes, truly transforms our people and our culture.

The above words are an excerpt of a multimedia “paper” which details the Bcollective’s site-specific performances.  In these performances we are invited outdoors to physical connection with people and place.   We recover the art of meaningful work in the landscape,  the art of honoring the body, the of art of actively building and sculpting a vision for the healthy, modern village.

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