Friday, 30 October 2009

Quotes to amuse and inspire

"How long should you try? Until." Jim Rohn

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." John Muir

"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say." Anaïs Nin

"I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." James Michener

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." Mark Twain

"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose you consider a mighty one, the being like a force of nature, rather than a feverish, selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." George Bernard Shaw

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." Howard Thurman

"It is good to realize that if love and peace can prevail on earth, and if we can teach our children to honour nature's gifts, the joys and beauties of the outdoors will be here forever." Jimmy Carter

John Muir

"Keep not standing fix'd and rooted,
Briskly venture, briskly roam;
Head and hand, where'er thou foot it,
And stout heart are still at home.
In each land the sun does visit,
We are gay, whate'er betide:
To give room for wandering is it
That the world was made so wide."

"The tendency nowadays to wander in wilderness is delightful to see. Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life."

"To the sane and free it will hardly seem necessaryto cross the continent in search of wild beauty, however easy the way, for they find it in abundance wherever they chance to be. Like Thoreau they see forests in orchards and patches of huckleberry brush, and oceans in ponds and drops of dew."
John Muir, Our National Parks

Available for your reading pleasure on Google Books


Deserts and seemingly barren lands aren't meant to be appreciated at fast speeds, from great heights or with passing glances. These landscapes hold treasures that take more careful consideration, closer observation, and patience.

In a desert landscape I often feel huffy, impatient, and wonder where all the life went. I have to stop myself from giving in these knee-jerk, spoiled girl reactions that are a result of being confronted with something different. I have to put myself in my place, literally, and realize the beauty around me. It's similar to being in England and looking for a really good Mexican restaurant. You're not going to find one. Give it up. Go discover the exciting world of jacket potato accouterments instead. In a desert, sit and take in the new color scheme. Be awed imagining the whole flat expansive area as an inland sea. Admire the adaptive qualities of the native critters. Delight in little brightly colored flowers. Develop a new appreciation for water and the great distances and periods of time that creatures here must travel for water. Ponder the knowledge that one must possess to be able to survive in a landscape where there are only mirages. At the very least, respect this landscape's role as a part of the whole.

. . . And if you should find that when you leave you still prefer the lush and buzzing forest as a backdrop, then leave with a greater appreciation for it.


In the preface to Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez talks about bowing to nature. I love this image and I love that I'm not the only one who finds her/himself doing this.

I don't know that I've always been a bower, but I remember noticing that I was doing it in Australia. Wandering around the southwest portion of it, in and out of forests, between trees that were over 100 feet tall and that had stood in that very spot for centuries. I felt great respect, great honor to be standing in the presence of these ancient and unique beings. I stepped lightly around them and moved slowly. I spent time studying their bark, their roots, their height, their leaves, wondering how things have changed, wondering about the trees' experiences, standing in one spot for centuries. I think if they could share their experiences, it wouldn't be with words. It'd be through the senses and it'd require a tuning and a quieting of the mind.

In addition to bowing, I realized I was often standing with my hands clasped in front of me. It reminded me of the posture I would assume when I was young and in line to receive the Eucharist at mass. That physical memory made me smirk to myself and think, "you're doing it again," but really this prayer stance seemed fitting.

The forests in the southwest of Australia are old. They say a jarrah tree can live up to 1,000 years, a tingle to 500. Aborigines have been in the area for 40,000 years. Europeans for almost 100 years.

Logging is a big business there. I visited Pemberton and stayed at a hostel right across the road from the timber mill. I saw trucks come through piled with long, thick logs. I tried to identify the moment when a tree becomes a log. I think I decided it was as early as when a person first set eyes on it with the intention of cutting it down.

Seeing felled trees made me sad, and it made me appreciate the presence of forest management because it suggested that there was an interest in leaving enough forest to manage.

As I watched the logging trucks drive up tree lined roads to unload, I projected my feelings onto the standing trees. It was like a funeral march, these roadside giants looking down on their fallen. I bowed my head as the logs passed. I wanted to stand in mourning with the survivors. Every day, I thought, they are losing members of their community. They are being exterminated and these murderous men make a parade of it and all the trees can do is watch as their brethren, already beyond saving, are shipped off to be mutilated. I wanted to cry for the trees.

In my time there I walked through ancient and rare forests. I walked near trees that don't exist anywhere else in the world. I stared up into the canopies. I looked down into the roots. I stood before the living elders and appreciated their their steady climb, their persistence, the threats to their existence and I bowed my head and offered prayers for their safe keeping.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Exhaustion of the exhilirating kind

I had the best time today being guided around Orford Ness, having interesting conversations, getting to ask Robert Macfarlane about his book, sharing ideas, walking (maybe best of all the walking), being outside in the sun and in the wind, near water.

(For photos: http://

Orford Ness is a weird place. The built environment of the ness is so different from that of the town. I argued in last week's seminar that it might be possible for someone to experience the ness without being influenced by its military history but I think that's less likely now. Even if you don't know the specifics of it, the debris left around the island and the buildings might give it away. Until you could safely remove all of the signs saying there's danger of unexploded ordnance, please stay on the path, that'd always be a tip off.

We were told a story about a lighthouse keeper during one of the two world wars who went out for a walk and stepped on a landmine. That's a hell of a way to go. Who knows how many people have died on that piece of land.

The presence of a now decommissioned nuclear weapon in the learning center was surprising and unsettling to me. I didn't think of it this morning, but I did think of it standing in front of that bomb, that the t-shirt I was wearing had an artist's depiction of a tree in Japan--either Hiroshima or Nagasaki--that was damaged by the bomb but was able to regrow, albeit in a bit of a warped fashion. Duncan, the National Trust guide, said that there was a dial on this bomb that could be used to ramp up the degree of power and it could be ramped up to 100 times the destructive force of the bombs dropped on Japan. What insane games we play. All this research on nuclear weapons was being carried out after WWII, after we'd seen the destruction that these bombs could produce. Having visited Hiroshima and learned something of the power of a nuclear bomb it was unsettling to be in the same room with one, even if it was only the shell of one.

I thought a bit about ethics with the relation to the environment. What are the ethics of nuclear warfare? What are ethics of land management and conservation? Of environmental governance?

In the National Resources lecture last week about agriculture and conservation, the two major aims of conversation were listed to be (1) to safeguard a high level of richness of flora and fauna i.e. biodiversity and (2) to manage wildlife resources wisely for the benefit and rational use by man. For the benefit and rational use by man.

I'm not really a fan of when people talk about something for its own sake, but I think I am increasingly becoming a fan of the idea of Nature for Nature's sake. I think it's an ethical issue. Yes, we can take and we can utilize nature. But I don't think it's right, morally speaking, to deplete, to take without putting back or to see it only as it might be of use to us.

I came back to this idea today when learning about the ness. Duncan was talking about how they're trying not to mess with it, with natural processes, but prior to that he mentioned how they're taking shingle from one end of the spit to bring up to the neck which is thinning and weakening. So they're not messing with it, they're letting nature run its course except when and where the changes or lack of change are unattractive to people. They're not messing with it, but they're managing it. Selective interference. It's interesting.

And then I started thinking about erosion. It's an issue on the spit. It's formed by the moving of material and the material doesn't stop moving. The spit is being dragged south and also it's being eaten away at. They predict that the lighthouse will fall into the sea in about 5 years. And as we ate lunch on the pebble beach in front of the lighthouse and with move I made the pebbles shifted and depressions were formed and pebbles slid down the slops, I thought about how I was contributing to that erosion. I guess it's only a worry if you're trying to prevent it from occurring. The lighthouse is not an area that they're concerned with preserving or maybe the hope of preserving it didn't survive a cost-benefit analysis. What was it that Duncan said about managing the buildings -- they're treating them as ruins, just allowing them to decay.

Rob encouraged us to find hag stones or any stones and to take them with us. My training in nature says leave no trace, take out with you only what you bring in and leave nothing behind. There's a sense of downplaying our role in nature, I think. I'll take a stone and that's okay because it's just one stone and it won't change anything. But if everyone thinks that way, it can have a dramatic effect. I think littering is the same--oh, it's one piece of paper. And maybe it's not a big deal here because this land is in some ways like the pebbles on the beach, it's been turned over and worked for centuries. The impact of man on the landscape is obvious. Certainly there's a different attitude toward the land. Maybe it's less reverent. Maybe it's more accessible. But what are the ethics here?

I chose not to take a stone. I quite like to leave things where they lay--hard to do on a beach whether it's pebble or sand as those are surfaces that shift quite a bit under one's weight. The thought of taking a rock home with me seemed so heavy. I don't want to carry that around. I'd wonder about whether I should have taken it. I have picture. I have a memory of it. Are they as good as having something that I can hold in my hand? I don't know, but I personally feel better about it.

Uncertainty about the ethics of rock picking aside, I had a fantastic time today. The weather was great. The sun came out for most of the day. Lunch on the beach. Talk about literature. The presence of Duncan and Rob. The bits and pieces of knowledge which make up the history of the place. The strangeness of the buildings, the art of decay, the magic of plants growing within rock, or the little specks of dirt allow for the growth of plants--the embodiment of possibility and will of something to grow. The adaptive qualities of plants to their surroundings. The power of the ocean. The incredible sound while standing in a pagoda, a concrete test lab that's coming apart, or birds. The acoustics were fantastic. The old centrifuge building in lab 6 and thinking about if it were a pool . . . well then it would have the grandest entrance of any pool I've ever seen -- a staircase descending into the water and then an arch that you must pass under to get to the pool. The lighthouse. Jokes about coincidence and Thomas Hardy being buried there, in multiple graves. The colors of the rocks: orange, blue, black, burnt orange, purple, pink, white. The sheep with their diabolic horns. And being outside and walking all day. It feels wonderful to be this tired, this thoroughly worked, expended, physically and mentally and want to do it all over again. That's a good day. I long to feel like this at the end of every day.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


"Lens", as the word is commonly used, has to do with vision. It has been adopted as a metaphor for interpretation of what we look at (ie. looking at something--a landscape, a piece of art, a text we're reading or an interaction with another person--through a certain lens).

Today my Wild East and Beyond class took a trip to Orford Ness, a shingle (rock) spit (formation, like a barrier island) off the eastern coast of England and a very, very short boat ride from a town called Orford.

The ness, or the island as it's known locally, is a national nature reserve managed by the National Trust. It has not always been a nature reserve, though. For several decades, through the first, second and cold wars, it was a Ministry of Defense research and test site. Investigations into the use of radar, planes as weapons, and bombs were conducted. In the visitor's information center, which has several rooms worth of information in the form of posters, is a decommissioned atomic bomb. ****

Tidbits: Orford has been described as a medieval new town, commissioned by Henry II. Ness means nose. The spit is the largest vegetated single spit in Europe, is important to migrating birds, and it has sheep (five varieties) and hares on it.

We were very lucky to have tour fantastic tour guides for this adventure, Duncan, of the National Trust, and Robert Macfarlane, author and lover of the outdoors. There were plenty of cautions given in getting there. Duncan warned us not to believe what we hear about it. Rob warned us about the challenges of interpreting what we would see as we walked around. No single lens, he said, works for all of Orford, meaning that it's a complicated, multipurposed and repurposed landscape that requires the application of a range of knowledge if one is to be able to understand what one sees there. The range of knowledge one might pull from includes (but is by no means limited to) geography; geology; ecology; zoology; history; military history, machinery, technology, and terminology; land/nature management; geomorphology, oceanography (including knowledge of currents, tides and waves); botony; architecture; chemistry; ornithology; and physics.

My first thought was thank goodness the brain can manage or apply multiple lenses at a time. The more "lenses" we have at our disposal, the more we can "see" into or take away from our experiences. Our lenses are created and sharpened by our knowledge. The more we know, the more we can recognize, the more we can talk about. For writers, I think these two abilities--to recognize something and then communicate it--are especially important.

My second thought was that no one lens is capable of fully explaining anything and how exciting it is that there are these lenses, potentially a limitless number of them and likewise limitless combinations of them, and that as a result there's a limitless number of ways we can experience something. That's why two people looking at the same thing can come away with different ideas, different feelings, having taken note of different things. That's why I can listen a song today that I heard five years ago and hear a different a story in it or finally understand what the singer was singing about.

There's a trend in academia (an understandable one) to dismantle vision or understanding or knowledge into separate lenses. In theory, this happened so that the lenses could be further developed and sharpened. A discipline establishes itself as separate from others by creating a distance, by saying, this is what we'll study and what we won't study and these are the tools we'll use to study them and this is how we're different from that. A result of this separating is that it has created silos of knowledge. These silos are then subdivided with specialties and sub-specialties. A danger, and a very real consequence, of this siloing-off of knowledge is that the silos, the lenses, stop working together and the flow of knowledge is stymied.

I think literature has been known to build bridges between silos. A historical novel, for example, borrows from the history silo. The science fiction genre incorporates in its title a mixing. Poetry can borrow from any number of things in an effort to achieve an exactitude or preciseness in its language. I think precision is a key issue. As a writer, ones medium is words. Words have weight, they carry definitions, connotations, histories. The more precise one's language, in theory, the more successful one can be at communicating. The more lenses a writer has at his disposal, the more he'll see, the larger his knowledge, the larger his vocabulary, the better he'll be at talking about it.

In Rob's book, The Wild Places, he frequently combines lenses, and builds bridges to these siloed areas of knowledge. Indeed, this breakdown of silos, a reestablishing of a connection or communication between disciplines, is one of the most exciting characteristics of his book and other books we're reading and I think it acknowledges that no one lens on its own is up to the task of providing a holistic view of nature (environment, landscape, the natural world, earth, etc.). He employs the knowledge or language from non-literary fields to explain, to convey, the share, the recreate his experience in literary form. He borrows from optometry when he describing how one's eyes adapt to darkness, from geology when he talks about rocks, from zoology and ornithology when he talks about animal species he encounters, and from history and anthropology when he talks about people and land use. It's a functional use of different disciplines. In a text which has the goal of locating and visiting remote and wild places and then sharing about those places in a way which people can be pulled into and relate to, in writing for a general audience, the more lenses he uses, the more he can say, the more he can see, the more he can share and provide avenues for people, diverse in their interests, to come into and relate to the text. I think there's also something to be said for site specific language. In describing a mountain, one can describe a specific mountain, talking about how it was formed, how old it is, what vegetation and wildlife if any exists on it. It makes it more concrete, more exact. One could argue that some of the types of knowledge he employs are more accessible to the common reader than others and so some lenses or lens combinations that he asks us to try on are more successful than others. But, without a question, this text invites the reader to stretch his knowledge, to try on these different lenses and see new possibilities in these landscapes, much in the same way that the experience of these adventures makes Rob see his own local space in a new way--discovering wilderness in a local sense.

In dealing with a literature that dips into a variety of silos, I find myself wanting to visit those silos and sharpen those lenses which I'm asked to try on so that I can actively take part in the words I'm reading. It's hard not to stop every few pages in The Wild Place and look something up. It makes it difficult to treat this book as a complete, self-contained text and makes me question how much explaining and educating, how much training of the eye/development of the lense an author must do to bring the audience up to speed with the precision of the language that he's using. I suppose the simple answer is as much as it takes.

One of the tasks we've been charged with in this module and the course is to develop a critical vocabulary/terminology for it and to try and label it. It's an interesting mental exercise. As thinking about it as lenses, how many can we successful apply? Each book differs. Some, like The Wild Places, are broad in terms of their scope and consider all aspects of nature, and some are much more specific, like The Peregrine which is about a bird and it looks at the rest of nature through that lens.

How do we define this literature: psychogeography, travel writing, new nature writing? How do we describe to our friends and family what we're reading and what we're writing? What other pieces of terminology can we use, create or borrow to speak generally and critically about it. I'm not sure yet, but we're working on it.The Great Light. The Orford Ness Lighthouses.

Nothing With Lyrics

There are elements in which I feel at home. On solid land, for example, I feel very much at home. Words also make me feel at home. And there are elements in or with which I feel uncomfortable or out of place, for example, in the ocean and with music. So when it comes to music, finding more comfort (or familiarity and understanding) in the patterns of words than in the patterns of notes, I follow the lyrics and the voice more than I do the instruments. This tendency is making it impossible to listen to music and read or write at the same time. The part of my brain that handles language can't handle both tasks simultaneously. I quite like having music in the background while I read and write. So having tried several times to read while listening to music with lyrics only to find that my eyes have come to the end of the page but my brain jumped at about the third line from following the text to following the song as well as several tries at writing that have taken an embarrassingly long amount of time because I'm distracted at every catchy chorus from my train of thought, I've decided to take action on behalf of time management and concluded that while reading or writing, I may listen to nothing with lyrics. Have I as a result created an opportunity to learn and develop an appreciation and understanding for classical music? Let's hope so. Maybe I'll start to feel more at home with the notes. As for the ocean, I'll leave it to the gilled and flippered.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Bottled Water

If you don't like the tap water, do something about it.

The choices people make are interesting to me. Take bottled water. People buy bottled water for a good many reasons, but a common one of them is because they don't like the way their tap water tastes. (Just a brief digression to note how spoiled we are to have perfectly drinkable water ever abundantly available and not only complain about its taste but also use it unsparingly and flush it down our toilets.)

They'd rather spend hundreds or thousands of dollars purchasing what just might be filtered tap water, each portion contained in its own plastic capsule, than invest time in addressing the way their tap water tastes. Their tax money, the money they pay in bills, goes toward regulating and generating and benefiting from that water source. They have invested in it and continue to invest in it. (Doesn't seem to be smart business to put money towards something you don't like.)

Instead of confronting a perceived problem, people pay their way around it. I'd like to suggest that rather than buy into a questionable industry that makes a commodity of a precious and diminishing natural resource (bottled in the byproduct of another precious and diminishing natural resource), talk to the people who manage your tap water. The people who regulate it. Talk to the people who generate it. See what you can do.

And then there's the issue of the plastic bottles . . . .


I was thinking about choice earlier today. In a discussion in the Politics and Society module someone said, "Having a car is a necessity." I've heard this phrase often and I've even said it (with regards to living in LA), but really, air, water, food -- those are necessities. On a list of true necessities, I don't think car makes the top 100.

Even in LA where public transport is underdeveloped and having a car makes getting from point A to point B much easier, having a car is not a necessity. People say it all the time, but it downplays or ignores the choices that people and society make and other available options.

In LA, one might considered it necessary to have a car if one lives in a remote location that's not within walking or bike-able range of public transport and has a long commute to work. But there were choices made which caused this set of circumstances which one might argue necessitate a car--for example, to live remotely, to work far from home, for the city not to invest in public transport. One might say that having a car is the most attractive (financially, time-wise, comfort-wise) option given one's circumstances, but it's never true that it's necessary to one's being. In the case of someone who owns a car and has good access to public transport, living and working along a well-serviced route, but thinks the buses are overcrowded, smelly, too slow or what have you, maybe it's just easier to drive a car to work every day, paying for the car, its maintenance, licensing and registration fees, parking permits and insurance than it is to make an effort to tolerate other human beings or try to change the system.

100 years from now

I've just returned from a screening of Blind Spot , a film about the state of the planet with particular attention spent on the energy crisis or peak oil. It was filled with familiar names and faces -- James Hansen, Richard Heinberg, Bill McKibben, Kenneth Deffeyes, Lester Brown. Like many other movies on the subject, it paints a grim picture of the situation and doubt about our (humanity's) ability to respond appropriately to it. Walking home, in the dark, across the meadow, I got to thinking about the future of the world. I read somewhere "in 100 years, all new people", which, in some ways, is a magical thought. For me it also puts responsibility in the present. 100 years from now, what will those new people experience? In this film I was hearing that we should expect to have a whole new world in the near future. I got to thinking about how my generation might be the last to know the world as it is, as it has been for a lot of human history.

“The next few decades aren’t going to look like the last few - not at all." Bill McKibben, environmentalist and author

I thought Blind Spots would be a metaphor for the way climate change falls into the blind spot of a surprising amount of people. It's this huge issue that's really right in front of us (and all around us really), but many are unaware of it or not bothered by it. (Enjoyable blind spot test: But Elke Weber, a psychologist, defines a blind spot as "something to which we don't pay attention because its often times removed from us either in time or in space and therefore doesn't threaten us in any immediate way". This seems to downplay and possibly ignore the role of choice in the matter. Surely we have a say in where we focus our attentions.

The crisis we're facing is about choices -- ones made in the past, ones we can make in the present and doubtless ones we'll make in the future. Yes, this issue is removed from me in time and space and it's abstract and as such it makes it challenging to understand, to conceptualize, in its entirety. I'm struggling to imagine what a different world means, looks like, grows, sounds like--not just locally, but the whole round thing. I am saddened by the thought of a different world and apprehensive, yet hopeful, of the decisions that will be made. What if it's decided it's not worth saving? What if all of our best efforts aren't enough? I have such affection for this world, for its forms and its life. There's so much of it I want to see and go back to and be able to enjoy and pass on. And then I thought about a whole new population in 100 years. I'll be dead then. So maybe the most important thing I can do now is to everything that I can to fix the problem we've created, to raise awareness, to eliminate that blind spot, and preserve the earth for the future.

“The world is saying look you have a choice, you can either fix it or I can fix it, and if I fix it you are not going to like it because I’m going to throw everything away. And everything means most of us." Derrick Jensen, author

Monday, 26 October 2009

The Importance of Mountains & Long-Range Vision

"It's space. It's being able to look across and see a great, a high wet desert, as it were, held in a bowl of mountains. We don't get to see space unless we're out at sea. Most of us live most of our lives in short-range vision. And suddenly to have your sight-line opened up like that is breathtaking."
Robert Macfarlane on why he's excited by the landscape with Rannoch Moor

My eyes are tired. Too many hours spent staring at books and a computer screen, switching between two pairs of glasses (one for distance, one for the computer) and bare eyes. There's little relief here for eyes in search of a long distance landmark upon which one might gaze for a prolonged period of time, allowing the eyes to take a deep breath and no worry so much about the foreground. This problem is largely due to a lack of relief here. Geographically, or topographically speaking, of course. There are hills, slight incline in the earth. They seem to come more in ridges than in isolated little mounds of earth. One source describes it as "gently rolling lowland". Gentle, indeed.

I remember my first trip to England. I had also come as a student, but studying abroad for a year at the University of East Anglia outside of Norwich. I distinctly remember having the same thought. Or rather the same feeling. My eyes searched the horizon for something beyond what I could see. For me, the lowness of the land and the natural and built features upon it made the sky feel much, much closer. Made closer yet by regular cloud cover. This perception of my surroundings was accompanied by a feeling of oppressiveness and, irrationally, an impulse to duck. This is when I realized the importance of mountains.

I grew up in a valley, surrounded by mountains. At the age of six, we moved from a house on the valley floor to a house on a hill, in a little nook of the valley that was like it's own little smaller valley. This hill I lived on sloped gently upward from the valley floor and then steadily rose to join the Santa Monica Mountains. The hills across the way were also an extension of these mountains but at a lower altitude. From the second floor of the house, from the big window in my bedroom, I could see the small area of low lying land that lead to the hills and behind the hills stood the mountains. I spent hours staring out the window. I know the shape of the ridge. I know the outline of the trees on the nearby hill. I know the path down, across the valley and up toward the mountains. I do not know how far that dark, distant ridge is, but I know it's a good distance and I know there's something beyond it.

True that an ocean opens up the sight line (horizontally, like an elevated vantage point), but while I've sat on several shores feeling humbled and looking out across to where the water meets the sky, it doesn't fill me with the same sense of what else, what's beyond, what's more and the comfort that mountains do. The ocean draws my eyes and my imagination down. Mountains lift them up.

Today, I sat on the 5th, and top, floor of the library and looked out across the landscape to the horizon -- which here doesn't feel and likely isn't more than a couple of miles. I enjoy sitting on the top floor and look out into the distance. It provides some of the relief my eyes crave. It provides the space and range needed to properly exercise my eyes. Too much time is spent focusing on the very near and the near. They don't get enough time focusing on the distance.

This vantage also provides me with a chance to have a look around me, which is rather hard from the ground. But even up on the 5th floor, my want for a good long look into the distance is unsatisfied. I still want more space and features for my eyes to investigate. I want to know what's over there, what's next, and to see something that would suggest there is something to find. Here the tallest objects are transformers, which stand skeletal and alien in this low-lying, green landscape, and a church steeple. At ground level, I can see as far as the tallest thing. From the top of the library, I can see to the southern horizon, to the top of a ridge. Then the land seems to fold under and, in these gently rolling hills, I feel like I am in a bowl or in a land that has a much smaller circumference than the world at large. Irrationally, I think that if I were to go to the edge of that horizon and go beyond it, I would have to step down.

This sense of convexity and the additional element of clouds today made me feel like I was encapsulated. The dark ground stretched out from below me in a curve to meet the horizon. Curving above, a cap of gray clouds, packed together tightly, forming a cover as solid as the ground. Between the ground and clouds was a narrow band of sky, more white than blue. My eye was drawn to it. A buffer, a frontier, a void. Like a river separating two countries, unpopulated but with developments stretched up to its banks, owned by by neither by visited by both. Like a demilitarized zone, where both clouds and trees could venture briefly without conflict or confusion but would not settle.

As I focused on the void, I imagined the ground and clouds working together to form a second, external set of eyelids, squinting, trying to see into the distance, focusing intensely on it. Still, I could make out nothing more than the bright, blanched light suggestive of moisture and the acute angle of the sun. I stared into it for a while. I knew that soon the sun would dip into this space and warm it to a rich orange. That gap, the band, that bright dividing space between dark and solid features, was a brief reminder that the sun shines and lights an expansive sky, much like the mountains remind me that there is a whole world beyond them.

It's important to me to remember that there is more than just what's in front of me, more than what I can see. This is comforting when the here and now aren't ideal. It's humbling. It's a reminder there's always a bigger pond, there's always a different perspective, and there's probably a better way of doing things. It's a reminder that nature is bigger than me and bigger than what man and society and science define it as. It's inspiration and motivation to act in ways that are respectful of the near and the far, to the then the now and the next. And it fuels a curiosity in me, a desire for exploration and understanding.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Big 5 London - a 350 International Day of Climate Action event

Yesterday, I traveled to London to partake in the Big 5 event, one of more than 5200 events slated to take place in 181 countries as part of the International Day of Climate Action. I set out with minimal expectations and a curiosity about what I was going to find: would the event be well run? how many people would be there? would we be making one of those square-edged, digital looking fives or a nice round one? Turns out it was quite well run, there was a nice big group of people in attendance and the five was lovely and rounded. Roz Savage, one of my eco adventurer ocean kayaking heroes, spoke. I introduced myself to her afterwards. The next leg of her journey across the Pacific takes her from Hawaii to Tarawa, one of the Kiribati islands. I will be paying some attention to her website (podcasts and blogs) from her journies to help enlighten my wonderings about what it's like to be alone in the middle of the ocean.

Total time spent in Jubilee Gardens where the 5 was formed was about 75 minutes. The rest of the time in London was spent showing my Kazakh flatmate some of the sites: Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's, various bridges along the Thames. I didn't go into St Paul's but rather waited outside while she explored. I didn't want to be inside. Despite having a gloomy, drizzly morning, the afternoon was turning out to be quite nice. The cloud cover broke up and the sun started to shine through. I sat outside and enjoyed the air. Then we met up with my friend Laura, a former flatmate, for dinner. After dinner, a trip to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus and an HMV for the House Season 1 DVDs.

It was great to visit London, to be a part of the global day of action that I'd be hearing about for almost two years and to see Laura. I didn't realize it at the time, but I felt a bit of relief to be in a real city, a major city, where stores are open past 5:30 and public transport is everywhere. While all those things are true, my more conscious thought was that while London is nice for all of the above reasons, I really missed the trees, the meadow, the open space here in Colchester. The craving for nature may have been strengthened by my time spent in a concrete square in front of St Paul's. Or maybe it was walking by the river that is all walled in. Or brought about by a sense of sympathy and respect for the small trees that were planted in the sidewalk around the cathedral. What I miss most is trees. Trees are the feature that my eye seeks out most these days. They are what my being craves at the moment. DC, Takoma, was great for trees. LA, not so much. Colchester, better than London. Better, but still, I want a forest.