Tuning Up

Climate change is marked by its erratic behavior.  I can relate.  Nevertheless, one of my favorite things in the whole wide world is the slow transition of summer to winter.  Autumn includes that honeymoon time between air conditioning and furnace when you have perhaps a month of reasonable utility bills.  After that hot summer we had around here, this weekend showed why we call it “fall.”  I awoke yesterday morning only to feel the indoor temperature slipping into winter range.  (Seriously.  The furnace isn’t on yet.)  It was 41 degrees outside, a full five degrees lower than projected.  There’s a subtle insidiousness to morning chills.  I tend to wake around three or four, but that’s not the coldest part of the night.  No, that comes just before sunrise.  Morning connoisseurs know that.  It’s always coldest before the dawn.

Weather forecasting is a dicey business, not for the faint of heart.  When it’s getting uncomfortably chilly, a degree or two can make a difference.  You see, I get out of bed, throw on some lounging clothes, and go into another room where I won’t disturb anybody.  That means if I underestimate how cold the house will be, I’ll spend some time shivering until those who awake on normal schedules get up.  That, or I have to wear a jacket indoors.  I’m not above that, of course, but it’s only September.  Honeymoon time.  Global warming doesn’t mean it’s going to be hot all the time.  So all of this has me thinking about winter already.  It’s only September and I’m already wearing fingerless gloves.

I’m extremely sensitive to cold.  I attribute it to a case of mild frostbite I had as a teen.  The cold didn’t bother me so much before then.  My brother and I, dutifully awaiting the school bus, stood for the required half hour or so at the bus stop.  It was bitterly cold and there was no bus shelter.  When we were finally allowed to head home the pain was incredible.  My extremities are still chilled at the slightest suggestion.  On all but the hottest days my feet can count on being cold.  The  morning skies were a beautiful blue yesterday, suggesting that the predicted cloudiness of the previous night had not performed, allowing full radiational cooling.  Yes, global warming is real and all of us alive today will be dealing with it for the remainder of our time here on earth.  That doesn’t mean it’ll always be hot outside.  It does mean the honeymoon may be over. 


Is It That Time Already?

Maybe it’s just me, but August seems to be the new October.  If any of you are experiencing the heat wave that’s (oddly enough) like global warming, my apologies.  Around here—and local is what we all are—nights are cool enough to require blankets after our very hot July.  In fact, I need long sleeves and long pants in the mornings, it’s so chilly.  By mid-afternoon I’m starting to roast, but the grass is brown and that October feeling is in the air.  Or maybe it’s just that I’m awake at odd hours and the perspective from this time of day is somehow prescient.  Who knows?  As I try to sneak a jog in before work I see the walnuts have already gone yellow.  And I wonder.

We idealize the weather of our youth.  That sense of oughtness sets in early.  This is the way the weather should go.  We’ve been pouring greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, however, for all of my life and before.  The warning signs have been around for decades but somehow liars with false hair convince us that any progress ought to be reversed.  I wonder if he’s been outside lately.  The planet is constantly changing based on the larger picture.  It has been doing this for eons, well before our species evolved.  Thinking it was created for us distorts our thinking.  The real question is whether we’ll be able to adapt.  I can’t say the prognosis is rosy, given how we’re constantly trying to kill those who live just across that mountain range, or that wide river.  We can’t seem to coexist.

I like October.  Still, I can’t help but think of all the things we didn’t get done this summer because it was too hot to be working outside.  Or we couldn’t get contractors to return our calls.  Seasons change as the atmosphere tries to adjust to all the chemicals we cough out.  October and its monsters seem to arrive earlier each year.  I’ve been feeling it for weeks already.  Seasons are really negotiations.  Around here, in this temperate zone, we spend most of the year with the furnace on, taking the edge off cold mornings and trying to keep this drafty house habitable for about six months of the year.  Everything’s constantly in flux and we simply try to adjust.  Not even the sun will last forever.  But for now I see the signs of harvest season beginning, and I feel the change in the air.  And I can sense October just around the corner. So goes August.


Flower Power

Why do we find flowers so attractive?  Often what separates weeds from desired plants are the flowers.  (Not always, though, as the much maligned dandelion can attest.)  The bright colors clearly help.  Intended to entice pollinators, flowers offer many natural attractants—nectar, intricate patterns, stunning colors—that draw both insects and humans to them.  Summer is the time for weekend festivals, and thus we found ourselves at Yenser’s Tree Farm for their Sunflower Festival.  Located near Lehighton, it’s in some pretty territory.  At this time of year it’s dedicated to sunflowers.  Perhaps all the more poignant this particular year, given that the sunflower in a national symbol of Ukraine, lots of people were there a warm Saturday afternoon.

The Helianthus genus is actually part of the daisy family.  What we call the “flower” is what botanists call a “false flower” because the head of a sunflower consists of many tiny flowers surrounded by a fringe that has petals like other flowers.  In other words, a sunflower is a cooperative venture.  The name “sunflower” either derives from the disc head looking like the sun, or by their trait of heliotropism.  The buds, before blooming, track the sun across the sky.  Most remarkably, at night, typically between three and six a.m., they turn back east anticipating the sunrise.  This speaks of an intelligence in nature.  There is a scientific explanation, of course, having to do with changing growth rates in the stems that allow a kind of swiveling effect.  To me it seems to indicate plants are smarter than we give them credit for being.  Not having a brain doesn’t mean you can’t be amazing.

The tiny flowers in the head are arranged in a spiral that follows a Fibonacci sequence.  I can’t even follow a Fibonacci sequence, so I’m glad to cede intelligence to our plant friends.  How can they anticipate where the sun will rise?  It’s the anticipation that’s heavy with significance.  Sure, using the word “anticipate” is to ignore the garden sprinkler analogy of snapping back once you’ve reached the end of your trajectory, but even so, when a seed bursts from its pod it has to figure out which way is up.  Plants move, to give themselves the advantage of sunshine.  We plant flowers because we want to be near them, admire them.  Plants provide food and oxygen, and we offer nutrients, at least in theory, when we decompose.  We’re all part of an intricate system, and we benefit when we turn to face the sun.


Bushkill

Waterfalls are fairly plentiful in this part of the country.  Although they’re not the Rockies, the Appalachians are mountains, and mountains lead to waterfalls.  Niagara is an outlier, of course, where one great lake drains into another.  In the area around Ithaca and Watkins Glen, in New York, there are great falls where the water, through the eons, has eroded the softer rock to flow down to sea level.  While most of the waterfalls in Ithaca are free, you have to pay to get into Watkins Glen.  The waterfalls cascade down into Pennsylvania as well, where the geology is similar, where the bedding planes of ancient seas left layer after layer of rock washed away by yet more water millions of years later.

Bushkill Falls, like Watkins Glen, is privately owned.  Deep in the Poconos, it offers a shaded walk around what has been called “the Niagara of Pennsylvania.”  When we went, it had been mostly a dry summer.  Still, there’s a draw to all that water.  Like Watkins Glen, there are stairways to ease the access among tourists; there are those who might be inclined to sue should they lose their footing.  There were lots of others there the day we went.  Many speaking languages other than English, deep in Trumpian, xenophobic territory.  In nature we’re all just human.  Water washes and water erodes.  Water smooths out rough edges.  There are many parables in water.  It makes life as we know it possible.  It flows to the lowest point, creating incredible beauty as it tumbles over many different types of rock that make up the crust of the earth.  There’s a wisdom in water.

The red trail, around the outline of the several waterfalls, has 1276 steps to descend and climb.  Going down the stairs at the start of your journey assures that you will need to climb at the end.  The air is full of negative ions around breaking water.  Positive feelings are created.  Perhaps people should live near waterfalls.  It’s difficult to imagine hatred thriving in such a place.  I recall a family walk, back in some troubled times, when my older brother led us all to a waterfall hidden deep in the western Pennsylvania woods.  The tension and strife melted away.  We probably all knew that it wouldn’t last, but at the time the present was all that mattered.  Water is so basic, but so unbelievably wise.  Paying attention to such things is worth the price of admission.


The Birds and the Bees

Our house came with a wood-plank fence surrounding the yard.  This is a dog neighborhood and just about everyone has a fenced in yard to keep their dogs in check.  It’s more the birds and bees that have me worried, though.  The fence, which is in need of some attention, is bare pine stained redwood.  As the stain fades carpenter bees find it irresistible.  These insects are great pollinators and we don’t like to gas any creatures just doing their evolutionary job.  Painting that fence will be a summer-long project and one that requires far more sunny weather than we tend to get around these parts.  So we have a fence with several carpenter bee homes.  (These are ubiquitous insects in this area, with lots of people complaining about them.  We have, however, the only wooden fence in the neighborhood.)

The other day I heard a knocking while I was working.  I looked out the window to see a downy woodpecker, well, pecking at the site of one of the carpenter bee homes.  This industrious little fellow had three holes in the post by the time I got downstairs to startle him or her away.  Now, you have to understand that this is a large fence.  We didn’t put it up but we have to keep it up.  Then I thought, “I was worried about the carpenter bees.  Why should I be worried about the woodpeckers?”  Holes can be patched, and fences can be painted.  I hope the neighbors don’t mind a white fence.  In any case, I left the woodpecker alone after that.  Besides, I can’t be outside all day long—I have a day job.

Over the next several days the pecker became a regular visitor.  I’d be working and then I’d hear a now familiar knocking.  I decided to watch once.  I keep a pair of binoculars in my office because I see lots of birds that I want to identify—there’s a park across the street.  At the risk of the neighbors thinking I was spying, I trained them on Downy.  It was amazing how effective its bill is on a four-by-four.  It quickly cleared a hole, stuck its beak in, and pulled out a fat carpenter bee grub.  Down it went.  A centimeter to the right it repeated the procedure.  Carpenter bees, which are so territorial when building their nests, seem to have forgotten their young.  Perhaps it’s for the best.  This bird was one well-fed flier.  And I’d finally learned what they mean about the birds and the bees.


Tree Owners

I hated to do it.  I always feel guilty afterwards.  I’d never have made it as a lumberjack.  We had a problematic green ash tree that someone might’ve planted long ago, or which may’ve been a volunteer that nobody really paid much attention to.  Prolific, although cultivating the seeds is difficult, in nature they spread rampantly.  This particular tree was in a sheltered corner of the house, in an outdoor nook created by a neighbor’s fence adjoining the one that goes around our yard.  (Fences are a big thing in this neighborhood.)  The branches were overgrowing our neighbor’s fence, getting under the eaves spouts on our house, and providing squirrels with access to the roof, which had previously been denied them.  The roots were getting into the foundations of the house and there are at least seven smaller green ashes that require constant cutting back, in that same corner.

Cutting trees down goes against my principles.  I’ve had to do it a few times and I’ve never felt good about it.  It was yard-waste haul-away, which rarely comes, and the sun was shining like it rarely does.  It was time.  All told, it took a few hours.  The sky looks naked in that corner now.  The green ash is a beautiful, but unruly tree.  We decided to plant a scarlet oak instead.  Edge of the Woods nursery in Allentown sells only native plants.  They recommend oaks for their benefits to the ecosystem.  There’s an optimism about planting a tree that will, hopefully, long outlive you.  It can’t replace that troublesome green ash, but future owners of this house will hopefully appreciate its shade. 

Digging up the yard to transplant this tree made we want to do the same thing again.  And again.  There’s a reason the story of Eden is set in a garden.  It feels natural to be around plants, particularly those that don’t make us itch, or sneeze, and that don’t prickle us with thorns.  A place of trees and cultivated shrubs and flowers.  Yard work dominates my free time for at least half the year, so making it something worth the labor seems a reasonable thing to do.  Trees own the planet in a more righteous sense than humans do.  Many live longer than we do and give back so much to the environment.  I’ll worry about our little tree.  The woman at the nursery said that trees thrive by pushing back against the wind.  It was more than a tree we planted; it was a parable.


Lost Civilizations

At the rate rain forests are being decimated for our lust for beef, it seems amazing that there are any unexplored regions left at all.  That’s what makes Douglas Preston’s account of visiting the fabled Ciudad Blanco, a lost Honduran city, so compelling.  Like most intelligent people, Preston is ambivalent about the discovery he chronicled.  The pristine jungle he encountered had to be cleared, at least in part, to allow for exploration of a lost civilization.  But what an adventure it was!  The danger of drug lords, a volatile government, large poisonous snakes, and ruins discovered by lidar combine in a true tale of danger and fascination.  As with Rudolf Otto’s description of the holy, this is something that fascinates and terrifies simultaneously.  And it’s controversial.

The Lost City of the Monkey God crosses several boundaries.  It discusses not only “Indiana Jones”-style archaeology, it involves one of the last unexplored places on earth.  It doesn’t sugar-coat the genocide initiated by Europeans—in fact, Preston describes some of the diseases in graphic detail—and he doesn’t excuse the guilt.  The book also addresses global warming and the possibilities of a global pandemic (the book was published in 2017).  Preston contracted Leishmaniasis while in the jungle and notes that as the globe warms up, it is making its way north.  The descriptions aren’t for the faint of heart, nor are his descriptions of the politics of treatment.  The first part of the book, describing the people and the set up of the base-camp show Preston’s chops as a thriller writer.  His encounter with a fer-de-lance had me checking the floor in the dark when I got up in the morning.

The civilization of the city, now known by the more respectable title City of the Jaguar, was unknown.  It was not Mayan.  The city was likely abandoned because of disease brought to the Americas by Europeans.  Even so, his description of the society in which the ruling classes keep their power by displaying their own sanctity that the average person doesn’t question rang true.  Societies from the beginning have used that playbook.  Convince people that the gods (or God) has revealed certain things that they (the ruling class) understand, and everyone else falls in line.  We see it even now as the messianic Trump following falls for it yet again.  This is a quick read, written much alike a thriller.  A few years ago I read Preston’s engaging Dinosaurs in the Attic.  I’m thinking now that some of his thrillers should also be on my list.


Closed System?

Photo credit: NASA, public domain

Nothing is wasted.  Not in nature.  Maybe that’s the true economy of life.  We humans come in and make our habitat in our own image and then start throwing things away.  I’m no great fan of yard work.   I would just as soon let nature take its course, but if it did I’d soon have no place to live.  Trees find their way into the cracks in the foundation and those flaccid white roots we see dangling from the ends of weeds can insinuate themselves into tiny places and slowly expand.  Buildings left without maintenance soon begin to crumble.  I’m reminded of this every time I visit Bethlehem Steel.  Weather, plants, even the occasional raven, slowly tear down what human hubris has built.  And it doesn’t stop there.

We set up a composting area for all those weeds, yes.  A place where we could make our own soil.  After three years it was pretty full and when I went to cut back the ever-growing trees and vines, I learned the bees had claimed our pile for their own.  Not happy to see me poking around their home—not happy at all—they began to hover aggressively.  I got the message.  Nothing is wasted, not even compost.  

Our species is in love with petroleum products.  We can’t live without plastic.  Looking at all the plastic litter around is evidence enough of this one-sided affair.  Our plastics cause so many problems.  They do break down, but never go away.  They get eaten.  Undigestible, they can slowly poison animals.  Whatever isn’t recycled becomes part of us.  Nothing is wasted.

Yard work monopolizes my weekends from May through October.  This year it started in April.  I had to mow the lawn in November.  Really only four months to make it through without the endless cycle of birth, growth, death.  Those who are worried that nature won’t recover from our foolish species haven’t paid close attention.  Even as we live here the seeds find every crevice and life, life is irrepressible!  Scientists try to tell us life is unique to this planet, but looking at its tenacity, how can that possibly be the case?  The tardigrade can survive extreme dehydration, very high pressure, very low pressure, radiation, air deprivation, and starvation.  It seems like the perfect space traveller.  We try to make the world in our own image.  We like to think our version of the world is the one to endure.  Nothing is wasted.  Nothing short of human hubris.


Heat Wave

Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future wasn’t my favorite book read the first half of this year, but reading the headlines about India’s heatwave took me back to it.  That’s precisely the way the book starts out—with an intense, deadly heat wave in India.  As a nation lacking infrastructure in relation to the size of its population, and lying near the equator, India is particularly vulnerable to global warming.  We all are.  As the planet heats up and weather becomes more erratic and extreme, food shortages will appear.  At the moment we’re concerned because Covid and Putin-War have driven inflation to incredible highs.  A trip to the grocery store or gas station is like a horror film.  Meanwhile the planet’s heating up and Republicans are pushing for four more years of Trump environmental degradation.  Can we please open a window here?

Global warming has been challenged by many because of their religious conviction that the world ought to end.  Apocalypse is probably the Bible’s most dangerous teaching.  Speaking only for myself, I didn’t know there was an Indian heatwave until headlines took a break from Putin-War and America’s mass shooting crisis.  And oh, India’s sweltering under temperatures over 110 degrees.  People are dying.  Birds are falling from the sky in mid-flight.  We had a couple days in the 90s around here before the end of May.  Those were some uncomfortable times.  Meanwhile in India it was twenty degrees hotter.

The human ability to ignore life-threatening problems we create for ourselves in service of our theology is remarkable.  Even as experts declare religion is no longer important, it’s slowing killing us.  We focus our resources on making money, as if money will do us any good when we’re the lobsters in the pot.  As a species we’re amazingly capable.  Billionaires can afford their own private spaceships—something most nations in the world can’t spare cash to buy—and we have proven ourselves endlessly inventive.  When it comes to the basics—the need to believe, for instance—we turn a blind eye and pretend it’ll just go away.  Religion scorned is a very dangerous thing.  I once heard a talk by a scientist presenting a rosy technological future.  I raised my hand and asked about religious objections and he mused, “I hadn’t even thought about religion.”  His future was progressive and optimistic.  Robinson’s is quite a bit less so, although it ends by suggesting we might manage to pull through, with only millions of deaths.  As Donovan says, “It’s time to ask yourself what you believe.”


Heat Pump

We’re preparing our home to welcome a new resident.  It’s not human.  Those of you who are home owners know how you move from crisis to crisis, paying to repair this just in time to start paying for that.  Our current issue is a dead dryer.  We knew it wasn’t long for this world when we moved in.  The previous owners, as most working class folk do, let things go until a machine forces  the issue by dying.  Being concerned for the environment, we like to replace appliances with more environmentally friendly ones, if we can.  They are, of course, much more expensive.  With the dryer it was also a space issue.  Snuggled together like young lovers in bed, the washer and dryer leave less than an inch clearance total from either wall.  The first issue we faced—modern dryers are bigger.

Small and energy efficient is what we wanted.  I learned about heat-pump dryers.  They don’t require a vent and they’ve been used for decades in Europe because of both space issues and environmental friendliness.  Here they cost more and you’ll have to wait because they’re in demand.  We decided to side with the environment.  Then there’s the problem of the old vent.  I gingerly walked out the old dryer and was amazed at the detritus I found.  Now, I’m an archaeologist at heart, so instead of sweeping it all in the trash, I sorted through it.  I found a dollar bill.  And 32 cents—this helps defray the cost of the new dryer.  Three guitar picks and a heap of cosmetics.  A box of rubber bands for braces.  There was ancient history in this pile!  The lighting’s bad in that corner so I put on a headlamp like a phylactery.  Let there be light.

I had to use most of my tools to tug the old vent out.  You have to stuff the hole with insulation and put some furring strips in place to hold the new drywall.  Cut out the patch to fit the hole and mud the whole thing up.  Why bother painting where nobody will see?  By the end of the weekend we were ready for our new resident.  It still wouldn’t be here for at least a couple of weeks.  The clothesline is strung in the backyard where the even better method of using nature’s dryer is free.  For those days without sun and on which we have time to do a load, we’ll be glad for our heat-pump dryer.  Particularly when the weather starts growing cold again and global warming enacts its chaos.  Hopefully we’ll have a stop-gap solution by then.


Boone to Some

Folk heroes sometimes put us in compromising positions.  We appreciate their importance for where we are and yet we recognize that where we are came at a tremendous cost for those who lived here first.  Still, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Daniel Boone was born right here in Pennsylvania.  Like most people my age, I learned of Boone primarily through the television series that aired in the 1960s.  In other words, I learned the commercial Boone.  In reality he was a fascinating individual who preferred outdoors living to the comforts of home.  His prominence meant that he would meet and know such figures as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  He was largely responsible for US westward expansion, leading the first Europeans into the territory of Kentucky.  His association with the south is so pronounced that I was surprised to learn he was born in a homestead, that is today, less than an hour north of Philadelphia.

Of course, the land settled by the Boone family was stolen from American Indians.  The story might be somewhat easier to appreciate if we treated Indians better today, but our culture still insists on repressing them.  Racism runs deep, it seems.  Boone himself seems mainly to have gotten along with the Indians he knew.  The fact is his story is exciting to hear.  He was an able negotiator and both Indians and other settlers respected his position.  When tales of his adventures were written down he became famous, if not wealthy.  What seems to have really struck those who heard his story is that he continued his outdoor existence into his eighties.  At an age when many have become frail, he continued to spend months of the year living outdoors in the wilderness.

Being there where he was born felt like a revelation.  Of course the docent was a gifted storyteller, and she told his story with humor and an obvious pride in the man who’s responsible for her living.  I reflected how television once again had shaped my childhood.  Fess Parker’s portrayal of Boone was among the most popular prime-time shows of the mid-sixties to 1970.  I had no idea that I was consuming pop culture in such quantities as I watched it, along with other staples such as Dark Shadows, Gilligan’s Island, Scooby-Doo, and the Brady Bunch.  Some people worry that the rising generation “learns” its narratives from the internet, but my generation learned them from television.  Daniel Boone would have, and indeed did, learned from the outdoors.


Wasting Waste

So I’m thinking about toilet paper.  Just two years ago it was a scarce commodity.  If you could find a four-pack you were blessed.  Supply-chains aren’t the boon that economists tell us they are.  Well, now it seems the shelves are well-stocked.  We’re ready for the next major crisis.  So why are my thoughts in the gutter again?  It started with Earth Day.  I was on a website that was advertising for environmentally friendly products.  We try to live as lightly as we can—we compost, we have ordered a heat-pump dryer, we don’t eat meat—but toilet paper is a big waste.  Besides, the name “Who Gives a Crap?” is eye-catching.  Recycled toilet paper, a little less expensive than bamboo, makes sense.

You see, we’ve used Scott for years.  This started back when we lived at Nashotah House and didn’t have to pay rent or utilities.  We used to buy it recycled back in Wisconsin.  Somehow that’d translated in my head to believing that all Scott is recycled, even though they no longer advertise it.  No, I was wrong.  And it’s not just Scott.  Every day 27,000 trees are cut down to make toilet paper.  That’s a lot of trees.  To break a chain it’s best to concentrate on one link.  Recycled toilet paper seems a no-brainer.  I thought we were already doing that.  Hopefully there’s no supply chain breakdowns when another crisis rolls around.  One of the problems with living in a culture disposed to dispose of things is that we end up in a mess like we’ve got now.

The thing about saving the planet is taking small steps.  Our capitalist system works against environmentalism because the former is based on consumption.  And consumption is handled on a matter of scale—the more you can sell the cheaper the unit cost.  Environmentally friendly lifestyles cost a bit more than other lifestyles.  I’ve always looked at this as a moral issue.  We’re not really high-earning people but we can afford a bit extra to try to save the world’s resources.  We can’t quite afford bamboo toilet paper just yet, but we can work our way in that direction.  Saving the planet is the long game.  Up until the 1960s we blithely lived as if we could go on forever wasting and throwing away.  Now we know there are islands made of plastic in the Pacific and our ice caps are melting.  If you decide you’d like to take the plunge—toilet paper gets thrown away, by definition—here’s a link for a discount on your first order.  Let’s let the trees grow.


Smaller Wolves

It was in Maine.  In 1987.  I can’t remember how Paul and I found this place to camp.  I don’t remember making reservations, but we drove along in his 1968 VW Beetle, unpacked a tent along a  rutted logging road, and set up camp for the night.  We were there to try to find moose.  In the middle of the night we were awakened by howling in the woods.  We were many miles from any other humans and nobody knew where we were.  Were there wolves in these woods?  Paul turned to me.  “Wolves don’t attack people, do they?” he asked.  I said no.  He pulled out a very large knife.  “I was in the civil air patrol,” he explained.  “You know what to do with this, right?  If a wolf bites your arm, cut your arm off and run away.” Not the best advice.  As we drifted off to sleep we were awoken again by furious sniffing outside the tent.  The next morning we saw no moose but found tracks all around our temporary home.  We convinced ourselves they were wolf tracks.  They were actually tracks of coyotes.

Most people in America have a coyote story to tell.  I can’t recall how I learned about Dan Flores’ Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History.  I’ve always been drawn to nature writing, but it was probably the “supernatural” that caught my attention.  This is a fascinating book with a rollercoaster ride through emotional responses.  Flores makes the case that Coyote was the first god of America.  Indian mythology is full of this character and his antics.  But the heart of the book focuses on the many decades of efforts—still ongoing—of the government to eradicate coyotes.  Millions of them have been killed for spurious reasons, largely because the government pays attention to ranchers who pay a lot of money to be minded.  Coyotes naturally find their balance in nature, which we insist on disrupting.  One of their survival strategies has been to move east.  Even moving into cities.

I’ve heard coyotes in Wisconsin, and I saw at least one while out jogging in the early mornings there.  Since moving east I’ve not spotted any, but they are, I know, here.  I’m largely on the side of nature, but the first ever documented adult human wolf fatality took place in another place I’ve camped, Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, in 2009.  Reading this made my human pride rear up—we don’t face predators well.  The book goes on to touch on how I, and many others my age, learned of coyotes—through Wile E. in animated form.  This book is difficult to read in many parts, but it is an absolutely mesmerizing journey through many lenses of what it means to be American.  Whether you’re canine, or human.


Normal Paranormal

One of my favorite televisions shows of all time is The X-Files.  I didn’t watch it when it originally aired, but eventually got a hankering to see it on DVD.  There are many reasons to like it, including its originality and the dynamics between Mulder and Scully and the sense that governments really do hide things.  As I rewatch episodes I see how much religion plays into it as well.  This post is actually not about the X-Files proper, but about a place in Bethlehem I recently discovered.  I’m not a preachy vegan, but I do like to support the establishments who make such lifestyles as mine much easier.  It was thus that I discovered Paranormal Pizza in Bethlehem.  I wondered about the name, figuring that it was paranormal that you could have non-dairy, non-meat pizza at all.

To celebrate Earth Day we decided to check it out.  The menu has a set of fixed items, each named after an X-Files character.  I was glad to see that I’m not alone in my appreciation of the show.  The pizza’s very good, and I’m sure the college-age crowd that was there would agree with me.  I did wonder how many of them knew the X-Files.  Is it still a thing?  Maybe recent government disclosures have brought it back into the public eye.  Hey, I’m a Bible editor, about as far from the public eye as you can possibly get.  Vegan pizza on Earth Day, however, just felt right.

Foodiness seems to be trending.  A great many options are available in the land of plenty.  Still, I know that vegetarians and vegans in developing countries exist, and many of them for similar reasons to me.  They know animals think and feel.  We promote the myth that they don’t so that we don’t have to feel guilty about exploiting them.  It seems to me that many of our world-wide problems would start to vanish if we realized we can evolve out of being predators.  Cashews and almonds can become cheese.  Soy beans and wheat can become meat.  And peanuts are about the best food ever, in any form.  Then there’s the natural fruits and veg.  Industrial animal farming is perhaps the largest polluter of our planet.  Yesterday was Earth Day.  I was eating a pizza made from wheat, tomatoes, and cashews.  These ingredients might seem a bit unusual.  Paranormal, even.  But that’s precisely the point.  I won’t be waiting until the next Earth Day to go back for more.


Love Your Mother

It’s not exactly a birthday, for we don’t know when exactly she was born.  We choose April 22 to think of our mother—the mother of us all.  For many of us concerned about the environment, not only is today Earth Day, but April has become Earth Month.  To me one of the saddest aspects of our environmental crisis is that certain sects of Christianity are largely responsible for it.  Religion working against the betterment of humankind.  So it was in the beginning, is now, and hopefully we won’t have to finish the triad.  Granted, religions help us to keep our mind on spiritual matters.  The problem is when such things become dogma and the real needs of real people are ignored so that a fervently desired fantasy can be lived out by destroying our planet.

In response there are what have been called “deep green” religions.  It’s difficult to gain a critical mass, however, when many of those who think deeply about the environment have left religion out of the equation.  It seems to me that we’ve got to make peace with our evolved tendencies toward religion in order to have any meaningful discussion about this.  Meanwhile global warming continues.  It does so with the blessing of a kind of Christianity that sees this world as expendable and exploitable based on an idiosyncratic reading of Genesis.  Even though all the evidence points in the opposite direction, we have networks (here’s looking at you, Fox), owned by billionaires who know you can sway Christianity simply by kissing your hand to the moon.

It’s my hope that this Earth Day we might start to think about how to integrate some deep green theology into the kind that sees no room for green in the red, white, and blue.  The self-convinced have no desire for conversation about this and those already certain that religion is nothing but superstition tend to agree.  Since antiquity, however, the wise have realized that progress comes from the middle ground.  Politicians, in their own self-interest, have stoked the fires of division and hatred, knowing that they get reelected that way.  Mother Earth, I suspect, is rolling her eyes.  She will survive even if we succumb to our own mythologies.  We need to learn to talk to one another.  We need to accept that we evolved to be religious.  We need to look for middle ground while there’s still dry ground on which to stand.  It’s not exactly a birthday, but it is a holiday that should be taken seriously. It’s only right to love your mother.

From NASA’s photo library