Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ecological Politics and Riprap

It's obviously human hubris to think we can destroy the planet, can destroy life. It's just another exaggeration of ourselves.

 A kind of bottom line is that all human activity is as trivial as anything else. We can humbly acknowledge that and excuse ourselves from exaggerating our importance, even as a threat, and also recognize the scale and the beauty of things. And then go to work. Don't imagine that we're doing ecological politics to save the world. We're doing ecological politics to save ourselves, to save our souls. It's a personal exercise in character and in manners. It's a matter of etiquette. It's a matter of living right. It's not that the planet requires us to be good to it. It's that we must do it because it's an aesthetic and ethical choice.

 Those issues are all real, but they're not total. And the power of the universe far surpasses any damage we can do to it.

Gary Snyder, Tricycle Magazine interview, adapted from Nobody Home: Writing, Buddhism and Living in Places, by Julia Martin and Gary Snyder 

If you're like me, you feel a rising panic about the state of the ecological world. You feel inadequate to the task and perhaps even complicit. You feel like your thoughts are free-floating and ineffectual. Your attempts to reduce your carbon footprint, to tread lightly, to support environmental causes seem paltry in the face of population explosions, oil-slicked animals along the coast, a contaminated food supply, and an over-medicated population whose urine and feces are laced with chemicals that are then flushed into the water and recycled, squirted from our breasts into babies' mouths and onward. That was a hellish sentence, no?

I read Gary Snyder's provocative words, excerpted above, and felt, if not comforted, then galvanized. I'd love to hear what you think of them -- even if you have no Buddhist leanings.

Here's a Gary Snyder poem -- one of my favorites:


Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
               placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
               in space and time:
Solidityof bark, leaf, or wall
               riprap of things.
Cobble of milky way.
               straying planets.
These poems, people,
               lost  ponies with
Dragging saddles -
               and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like and endless
Game of Go.
                ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
                 a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
                 with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
                 all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.

Gary Snyder


  1. I have been thinking about that quote al day long since I read it in your comment on Steve's post. It helps. Thank you.

  2. I think he says it all when he says, "the power of the universe far surpasses any damages any damage we can do to it." It feels like I am giving up in agreeing with him but unfortunately there is only so much we can do and it's not enough. I feel awful for saying this publicly.

  3. Human beings are like faint echoes remembered by the Universe as we--maybe--remember shreds of a dream we can't catch. We are less than that. We are beyond our own imaginations, and maybe it's out of a fear of the void that we make our voices loud and bang about--as if we few could actually DO something. I think human beings as a species are self-destructive, the only mammal that shits in its own bed. There's a reason the Greek tales of hubris are still read and enjoyed.

    This is my rant, Elizabeth--that we think we are so much more than we are. Like you, I do my bit to leave a small footprint and I feel sad for my grandkids as they enter this adult world just as I'm so much closer to leaving it. Over and over when I feel the weight of my own self-imposed sadness about this world that is no longer mine, I come back to the only thing I know that matters--loving each other. Sounds cheesy and trite any way I put it, but I really do believe it is the only thing that matters in our short and insignificant lives.

    Thanks for quoting Snyder. Thanks for the poem.
    Your friend, v

  4. Earlier today I read a long piece on the tar sands in Alberta, Canada and the dreadful pollution etc. and half way through I looked up and into our beautiful garden and asked my husband, why do I get myself so worked about this, I have never been anywhere near Canada? And he said, because this is our home as much as it is everybody's home. Or something like that. And he continued to water the strawberries which we never ever had to water in May before.

    I am scared and I find that some days nothing helps, not even Gary Snyder. I curse my mind for no longer being able to ignore the warnings. I think we, humanity, we are doomed. And yet, somedays I wonder, why do we give up on this one task? We are a planet full of people with resources and brains, we can fly to the moon but we pretend we cannot handle CO2 emissions? We are too stupid to introduce changes into our life style? WTF??

    This is the tar sand piece:

    And a really good read:



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