Monday, August 28, 2006

From the Island

A north wind blows west to church bells playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow

In order to finish Silent Spring by the time I need to be on the ferry back to the mainland, I need to read sixty pages a day. This will be easy because the book is just what it should be—simple and fascinating—and it is published in hardback with thick pages and generous margins. Plus, the lake is wide and the sun persistent, and there are four wood long chairs on the beach for me to chose where I might spend any number of fourteen or so hours of the day. And sitting on the beach reading Carson’s opus, I can look out into the lake and see the swans and the terns and gulls dipping in and out of the tropical blue water for littler things than they and recognize some truths. This is what vacation is for.

Here are some truths. Evolution does exist, whether you chose to call it Evolution or ‘evolution.’ We know it does because sea lampreys native to the ocean can not only exist but thrive and expand and acclimate to the Great Lakes to such an extent that they can succeed in decimating the titan and ecologically critical population of lake trout in Lake Michigan after being brought into the lake by the promises of world trade and capitalistic enterprise in the early years of industrialized shipping at the beginning of the twentieth century. Now the states stock lake salmon in the lakes to bring a top predatory force back into the ecosystem. Lake trout could be more widely stocked, of course, but they are too prone to sea lamprey, being smaller and less sturdy.

We also know that evolution exists because all sorts of presumed lawn and yard pests and lurk in the underbrush like communists or terrorists and threaten the vernal gardenhood of American suburbia are able to become immune to the chlorinated hydrocarbons of the industrial era and the ambitions of men to become wealthy barons of capitalistic innovation in an age of created and propagandanized threats conceded to the bored yes-men state officials of so many environmental bureaucracies. Despite the stealth of man’s chemical quest it is not enough to save spare everything else that surrounds the terrains of our created threats.

And William Sloane Coffin—the late William Sloane Coffin—is the source of truths on this island when I am otherwise rather insulated from the dysfunctions of our free market hegemony over the industrialized and deindustrialized world. Another perk of vacation is the absence of Bushisms and sound bytes, news of retrogressive public policy and the approval of new initiatives in environmental destruction from a federal executive administration drunk on the ecstasy of delusion and denial. And it is here, not in the daily world of news and commentary and people struggling in work and word to appeal to some collective sense of rightness and reason that I encounter a single, definitive, characterizing paragraph of Coffins words that would otherwise act as the epigraph of this current age: a democrat is anybody who knows that “to show compassion for an individual without showing concern for the structures of society that make him an object of compassion is to be sentimental rather than loving.”

It is his words too that frame my awareness that in three weeks I will be back at school when he reminds me that “The Lord forbids our using our education merely to buy our way into middle-class security.” What is there that is untrue about this wisdom? What are we in America, and why on earth are we? The right has Lewis Lapham reflects well on this question in his essay in the beginning of the July issue of Harper’s:

“His voice went out of fashion in what came to be known as the Me Decade; small was beautiful, and it was thought wise to hedge the bets of idealism with prudent balances of self-interest. The investment proved sufficient to finance the bull market in utter selfishness that was the glory of Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America and continues to sustain the imperial narcissism of the current Bush Administration. Audiences believing that money is the answer to all their prayers don’t like to be told that instead of loving things and using people, ‘people are to be loved and things are to be used’ or listen to Coffin say that ‘those who fear disorder more than injustice invariable produce more of both,’ that ‘nationalism, at the expense of another nation, is just as wicked as racism at the expense of another race,’…that ‘Hell is truth seen too late.’”

What, in spirit, is there to miss here? What is there with which to disagree? If those who profess Christianity as an implicit conviction of the ontological and teleological weight of that philosophy, how can the root causes of the world’s cultural and economic conditions be ignored by credos that are themselves framed—defensively framed—by these conditions? That is, the rightist response to injustice is two fold, but ultimately created by the very conditions that provoke this response at all: first, denial. There is no wealth gap, there is no genocide, there is no flaw in American enterprise, no greed, no exploitation, no sin, and no arrogance; there are no social divides—race, income, land, economy, commodity, community—and there are no compromise solutions, no critical counterarguments. In order to substantiate denial in light of quite obvious and tangible indications otherwise, blame must be disbursed: racial tension is the result of black apathy and anger. Poverty is the result of poor folks’ laziness. Rage in the Middle East is the result of violent religion. Abortion is the result of the godless, the evil. Divorce is the result of promiscuous sex and homosexual tolerance that degrades the practice of marriage. Drugs are the result of cities. Pollution is the result of over-sensitive special interest granola heads that don’t realize the world is large and its resources ours for the taking.

Sometimes, these two aspects merge and form a single response: suburbanization is good—a sign of growth and prosperity, and the promising health of free market capitalism. War is righteous because there is evil in the world, and as it happens to take the form of Muslims so we must root it out in a hostile land [serendipitously home to the world’s largest supply of fossil fuels, quite literally the fuel of free market capitalism and the thing that lets us get to Wal-Mart to save sixty-two cents on cheese sauce and saves us from being forced to buy local, sustainable, farm-produced, real cheeses for use in real cuisine and real collective culture].

How is it possible for this pattern to exist at all among those who do claim to profess Christianity as an implicit conviction of the ontological and teleological weight of that philosophy? It is simple: the Christian community has systematically put down the Gospel—drained it from collective expression, seized it from the work of their hands, blocked it from their intellect, and silenced it on their tongues—for the sake of a handful of time, economy, and culture-based sound byte totem rallying cry issues that abide in political arenas. It has now become a particularized American political affiliation, specific to limited widely-accepted groups of people: steel workers but not journalists, truckers but not those that bike to work, homemakers but not vocal mothers, accountants but not non-profit administrators, developers but not land-use advocates, contractors but not naturalists, venture capitalists but not affordable housing financiers.

Watching Lake Michigan, still and grey, over Indian Point as a fog rolled in and cool waves of pungent earth enveloped the chair where I sat, it was too clear that the question is not about whether Evolution or ‘evolution’ exists or whether a fetus’ life begins at the splitting of the first cell or upon the third trimester. The answers are that nature is constantly changing and we are overwhelmingly persuasive players, and birth does not matter but rather life. These answers are not determinant or black and white, but they are concise and they are thorough. But our cognitive capacities, and our senses, give us more than ample critical means to interpret their meaning, and in turn give meaning to meaning.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Week Descending

Part Two

Booneward, the hill road clutters. An indistinguishable highway gathers its way into town, like a stream burgeoning to river in a narrowing canyon, dodging piecemeal shelters of vinyl and composite substances, and so many incs and cos and llcs and other commercial minutemen involved in furnishing the quaint and the remote, outfitting the posteriorly urban renegades, the nouveau riche of the eastern and southern circuslands, and big boxes and strips and paver medians, retaining walls stringing hill crest to hill ridge like bulwarks and first industrial revolution port defenses, and outlet bazaars, feux peddlers, gated compound lands for the nomadic escapists of wholesome self-made bootstring (trust fund) jackpot delusion. On top a meager hill runs windy street and here the trees are still and have not changed in this or that many decades, and as they age and shed they befall the rooftops of the way with crusted pods and shriveled leaves, former hideouts for the invisible army of crickets and katydids and cicadas and other nocturnal humming things that are not hiding among later generations of these refuses and the street is rattling in the semihumid evening air, quivering gently and with persistent, volitional rhythm. A breeze will happen to spill over onto Windy Street with periodic repore, and it is then that I am standing outside the bungalow looking into a well-lit window beneath a streetlight wondering whether I should sleep or read or leave or keep walking up the rim to see what really there is beneath the woody shadows. The screen door from the porch opened on my behalf as I approached it and inside I laid on a couch as the others contemplated the rings of social being, hardpressed for words that would rightly accompany the performances of the southern summer avenue outside. All these windows stood open like dampers or reflectors in a hall and beside them all stretched like dummies having landed from a great height looking at footprints haphazardly imprinted onto the ceiling which rolled like moraines under decades of sagging forces and plaster and caked layers of paint. There were of course the shadows too, which cannot be contained as there is always a lone streetlight or moon that will send them towards such rooms as this where all are lull in the night hill air. I have vowed to leave in the morning, though Zach and I will eat before I do. Maggie leaves and has been silent though her words are precise and if I wasn't here I wouldn't feel like a whale before her or an eager slimy admirer from a pre-conscious culture when attraction was an arranged business affair suitable for the exchange of craft objects sundry to most today or beasts just as suitable for disease and lightning strike and the land's harsh droughts as any of their brokers.

And what would you know that after breakfast the next morning as I made my way east for the freeway northeast the brilliancy of modern engineering would appear like a jack in the box at a suburban four-way with green arrows and turning lanes just as I braked for a yellow warning light that said to me "don't do it! you will never leave." The elderly douche in a cutlass behind me honked to nobody and nothing as I stood on the sidewalk with humid morning fumes exhaling at and by and around me looking for a tower which would not be available citywide for another hour anyhow. Some official was bored and told me to wait in the car, i'll take care of the wrecker he said, and I sat there thinking that I should wave cars around me when the arrow became green again (oh what anticipated jackpots!) but decided the better of it for fear that things will inevitably become worse as they tend do in when one lives a life of responsiblities beyond his resources. Two blocks away stood the expanses of a Blue Oval Dealer and here I was welcomed with optimism and giter-right-up-fer-ye and prolly-just-needs-her-a and we'll-just-have-a-look-here as I waited sipping water thinking I may be an hour or so behind from boone. Six hours later I was swearing in a windowless lobby as Zach stood leaning against a stack of tires holding his stomach with soundless squinting laughter. "Am I supposed to redeem this out of some metaphysical ether?" and "all this conceptual rigomarole leaves me nothing to critically access." You northern city folks don't realize that we hear everything you say, Zach says, and they won't let ye know it but they hear it. Don't hold it against me, I say with guilt, I'm a Yankee. Before long my ticket out must be stamped by a verified core charge and the mother of a fleeting third grade crush is giving her credit card number over the phone to get me out of town. The day now has slowed and all things linger with a subtle slumber and I get back to the bungalow, The Domesticle healed, and the photographer and his girl are on their way to the river to swim. Zach's coming too, they say, and I find Zach hanging laundry down the hill in the neighbor's yard. I am holding Nutella and we eat it on store slices before driving back through town along the now ungathering roadway to the river where rocks stand three stories and have been for some 20 million years. From pool to pool between these rolling tubs and ledges I progress downstream until Zach yells of a snake in the water and I said no surprises here and it's almost six and we need to be back.

I have climbed halfway up a ledge suspended over a cool deep green pool and hanging there there is tension everywhere, not only in my arms but in my head and my memory and my intellect, and I breathe deeply asking God for thanks and forgiveness, and it is here that I let go and plunge into that chillingly sweet waterworld, hanging suspended, as rays of the sun channel yellow chutes through this universe. I am immersed here, and have come home and become again, and now must surface, and again go onward.