Accompanying text includes common & scientific names, ecological & ethnobotanical info, gee-whiz facts and personal stories. Sample pages and the introduction follow below.
Forty-five years ago this month, Miles Davis released his album, Live/Evil. The first time I listened to it, eight years ago, I was astounded, most especially by the song, “Sivad.” The next day, I biked around feeling that my life had changed unalterably; knowing that that music was in it the universe made the universe a different place, and joyfully so. My perception of what is possible had expanded. I also thought, a little crossly, about all the music-loving friends I’d known over my life who had never brought this song to my attention. It seemed like an inexcusable oversight. Regardless, I had heard it now, and could never go back.
Live/Evil is a sprawling work, clocking in at over two hours and ten minutes. Four of the songs (or ~3.9, maybe – more on that later) are live performances and four are studio recordings (and presumably the “evil” portion). Despite its length, it fascinates for its entire duration, if only for being so unconventional, if not outright outlandish.
This summer I caught up with an old friend from college by phone. We hadn’t been in touch since the 1990’s, so had a lot to talk about it. We got into politics, of course, and he mentioned that “our turn” – that is, Generation X’s – is coming up, as the Baby Boomers are reaching the end of their run.
That’s true. Gen Xers are increasingly in positions of leadership in business and government, and in art and culture we took the reins long ago. This is probably the last or second-to-last presidential election that will be contested exclusively among Boomers. Especially given this year’s candidates, I believe I can speak for much of Generation X when I say, “It’s about time!”
About time that the Boomers get out of the way, that is. But not necessarily for Gen X to step up. As I have reflected on my conversation with my college buddy over the last few months, I have come to believe that even though we have the right of way, so to speak, that we should yield and hand the torch directly to the Millennials instead.
But let me correct that choice of words. What I really smelled was the stench of DNC propaganda and I certainly don’t want to insult our innocent water-dwelling friends by associating them with something as rotten as the Democratic Party.
The DNC has it out for WikiLeaks, of course, after the party’s corruption was exposed in the emails that WikiLeaks released. With bold and breathless speed, the Democrats successfully changed the subject with their baseless charges linking WikiLeaks and Russian hackers. The move was transparently political, but the mainstream media followed it like a dog who runs after a stick when their owner has only pretended to throw it and is still holding it in their hand. To me, this was obvious from the beginning, and I was astonished at how almost everyone fell for it. Including the media.
The deserts of the American Southwest have come under a new assault in the last decade. The few, fragmented areas of these austere, rugged, yet delicate landscapes that had managed to survive relatively intact from mining, ranching, military use (including nuclear tests), urban encroachment and motorized recreation, are now being targeted for the development of large-scale “green” energy projects, many of them on public lands.
After Obama’s election in 2008, a raft of federal incentives including grants, loan guarantees and tax breaks were offered for renewable energy with the ostensible purpose of reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. This was greeted by cheers from many environmentalists, but as has been characteristic of Obama’s administration, the hope turned out to be hype. Big corporations have been the beneficiaries and the environment is still the big loser.
Basin & Range Watch is a non-profit that operates out of Beatty, Nevada, in the Mojave Desert. Their mission is to “conserve the deserts of Nevada and California and to educate the public about the diversity of life, culture, and history of the ecosystems and wild lands” there. Central to this mission is opposing the many large-scale solar and wind projects that have been proposed in the area, a number of which have been built, all with deleterious consequences. In these efforts, Basin & Range Watch has sometimes found themselves at odds not just with big corporations and big government but also with big environmental organizations, because some of the latter have gotten cozy with the corporations and the state.
I first heard of Basin & Range Watch a year ago while living in Joshua Tree, California, where I became aware of local opposition to large-scale renewable projects by people there who loved the desert ecosystems and didn’t want to see them destroyed. Through the Basin & Range Watch website I learned more about the issues, which include threats to wildlife habitat, endangered species, aquifers, recreation areas and scenic vistas, as well as to individual or community-level efforts to build small-scale renewable energy projects. So when I found myself in Mojave Desert again this year, I contacted them to see if we could meet up. They readily agreed.
“It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope.”
(Gandalf, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring”)
Income inequality has been rising in the United States for the last forty years and has become especially drastic since 2008. This state of affairs is no accident. Since the late 1970’s, regardless of which party holds the White House, public policy has favored redistribution of wealth upwards through a variety of means including tax cuts, deregulation and, starting in 2008, simply handing out cash, in the case of the bank bail-outs. Big money has always dominated US politics of course but its level of domination has grown to the point where government is now essentially a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporate power, specifically of the FIRE sector (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate). As David Rosen put it in Counterpunch: “Capitalism is evolving from an international system of nation states to a global system of financial plunder.” Economist Michael Hudson echoes this sentiment, saying, “The Wall Street economy has taken over the economy and is draining it.” (For those interested in the details, Hudson explains the process very well in this interview with Gordon Long.)
Popular awareness of income inequality led to the popularity of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the US presidential race (but not of the many “third parties” who have long included it in their platform). Taking advantage of ground broken by the Occupy movement, Sanders explicitly drew attention to Wall Street. Trump spoke openly about how politicians are bought by wealthy people, pointing to his own personal experience as proof. The media was forced to break its silence on topics it prefers to ignore. Now the reality of the richer getting richer and spending their lucre on political bribes can no longer be credibly denied.
But almost totally absent in discussions about how the economic pie has been divided is any acknowledgement of the nature of the pie itself. Where does it come from? The material and financial wealth of the United States is not produced without cost: it is extracted from the global environment in processes that require much suffering and destruction. Every dollar in the US economy represents exploited labor, degraded ecosystems and the viability of the future being sacrificed for profit in the present.
Multiple, intertwined crises face the human race in our times, among them resource depletion, economic dissolution, and ecological degradation, including global Climate Change. Though most people in the US respond to the news of these crises by putting their fingers in their ears and singing, “la la la,” a small number of others are (and always have been) offering solutions, or at least brainstorms for how we could collectively change our lifestyles to address them. Among the many, many ideas batted around are renewable energy, income redistribution, carbon-trading and sequestration, and alternative approaches to conventional farming including organics, “permaculture” and urban farming.
The viability of all of these concepts is a matter of debate, though in general the facts reveal that none are capable of either maintaining levels of production and consumption at anything close to their current levels, or, more importantly, of healing the hurts suffered by the world and its multitude of creatures. In short, the concept of “sustainability” is a false hope, at least in reference to perpetuating business-as-usual in a recognizable form. I have come to this conclusion not only by studying these ideas, but through my own personal experience, most notably with urban farming.
Over the weekend of March 12-13th, I visited Death Valley National Park in California for the spring bloom, which was considered to be especially impressive this year. I tagged along with a 2-day plant walk set up by the California Native Plant Society. The event was well-organized by a gentleman who knows the area well and scouted out prime locations ahead of time. I enjoyed the presence of botanists because I got positive IDs on everything we saw. They had their books and would key-out anything they couldn’t name off the top of their head, and they corrected each other on newer names.
One male-female couple on the trip had not been to Death Valley in three decades and the woman joked that they only visit every 30 years, and that she looked forward to coming again in another 30, when she’ll be 96. I was not part of the conversation so didn’t mention that its doubtful that all the flowers and plants we were seeing would still be there in 30 years, at the rate that the climate is changing. Even scientifically-minded people are not giving much thought to Climate Change.
In early February, I stopped in the men’s room at the Hole-in-the-Wall visitor center in Mojave National Preserve in southern California. Above the urinal was a framed history poster entitled, “Fort Mojave – Aha Mocave – And Then the White Man Came.” I was instantly offended by its placement. After all, figuratively, what a man would be doing under this poster is exactly what European colonialism has been doing on Indians for centuries.
The poster’s voluminous text, in three columns, along with eight captioned photographs, presented far more information than could be absorbed in even a long visit to the urinal (not that I’m suggesting it should have been hung in the toilet stall where people are likelier to spend more time). I was quite interested in its content so took some photos so I could study it more carefully later.
The Mojave National Preserve is run by the National Park Service, which, in contrast to previous times, has been including more Indian history in its displays and programs, and presumably this oddly-sited poster is part of that effort. Why wasn’t it inside the visitor center itself, where one might read it with better attention? And was it also displayed in the women’s room? I didn’t check. Among the books on sale in the visitor center, one full shelf was dedicated to the topic of Indians, and though the selection was decent, this particular poster — hung on the wall with other ones — would have given the topic visibility to more people.
Getting back into my truck, it occurred to me that someone with a mischievous sense of humour — with what some Indians might call “coyote spirit” — could have purposefully placed the poster above the urinal, so that the fact of Indian mistreatment by Europeans would be square in the face of every man who went in there, the majority of whom would be white. (According to research of visitors by the Park Service itself, “ethnic and racial minorities are virtually absent from the major parks in the system,” with Blacks and Latinos comprising only 3.5% each, well below their proportion of the general population.) The idea that the poster was there as a prank gave me a wry smile, but if I was going to make a bet, I’d put my dollar on insensitivity.
Indian history, specifically as it relates to the National Park Service (NPS), had already been on my mind.
I first began to consciously question the value of Civilization in 1997. I was visiting Northhampton, Massachusetts, with a new lover. We were enjoying that early stage shortly after meeting when the intensity of sensation is so strong that your world is blown apart, making space for the new to enter and blossom, including the mystical. We went a book store I had never been in, and I found myself following my feet as they led me quickly down one of the aisles to a particular shelf. There, my hand reached up and picked out a book without my eyes reading the spine. The book was “My Name Is Chellis and I am Recovery from Civilization” by Chellis Glendenning.
I devoured the book in the days that followed, sating a hunger I hadn’t been aware of. Glendenning’s lucid text explained so much of the depression I had been experiencing in my life. Among many other salient points, she demonstrated how Civilization disconnects us from the natural world and how Capitalism appropriates our instincts in order to peddle us its wares. Glendenning turned on a light in my head that never went off again and has illuminated much for me in the time since as it has grown in brightness.
Four years later, inspired by the protests in Seattle against the WTO in late 1999, I moved to the West Coast and dove head-long into political activism. (The lover had become a partner and then an ex; as is typical, the magic was traded first for the mundane and then for the wretched.) In my new circles, I met forest defenders, anarcho-primitivists and rewilders, all of whom shared Glendenning’s disdain for Civilization, and some of whom took it much further, in both attitude and in action. This is when I first heard the name “Babylon” applied to Civilization in general and to Cities in particular. I’ve never been too fond of the term — Bible stories don’t inspire me much — but I’ve often shared the anti-Civ sentiments of those who use it.
Babylon, after all, has wrought annihilation seemingly everywhere: