Posts Tagged ‘Athabasca River’

Nationalism

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Watermelon Dreams On A Starry, Starry Night, Nolan WInkler

Watermelon Dreams On A Starry Starry Night by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2013)

“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” George Bernard Shaw

Let me get this straight. The United States government blithely oversees the killing and maiming of women and children and unarmed civilians with missiles fired from drones and helicopters and jets and battleships, invades other countries in the service of multinational corporations and uses artillery shells made with so-called depleted uranium spreading cancerous dust wherever they explode, and incarcerates and tortures people without charge for years and decades, but that same government says we have a moral obligation to bomb Syria and kill untold numbers of Syrians because the Syrian government has killed people using weaponry we don’t like them using, though we did nothing in response to the Syrian government killing tens of thousands of people over the last two years using weapons we do approve of?

John Kerry, who must have had some sort of lobotomy, moral or actual, said of our need to bomb Syria, “It is also profoundly about who we are. We are the United States of America. We are the country that has tried, not always successfully, but always tried to honor a set of universal values around which we have organized our lives and our aspirations.” Huh? Which universal values are those? Slaughtering people who cannot defend themselves against our overwhelming military might? Allowing the huge out-of-control banks to steal trillions of dollars and ruin our economy? Jailing the few people brave enough to blow the whistle on the egregious misuse of power by our government? I’m confused. Which set of values are we talking about here?

“History is all explained by geography.” Robert Penn Warren

Speaking of sets, while Kerry and Obama have been making their disingenuous and downright sickening nationalistic proclamations about our moral obligation to carry out immoral acts of mass destruction, the US Open tennis tournament played out in New York, with the American media anguishing over the lack of American men among those good enough to win the tournament. We did have for a few rounds the very tall white American hope John Isner who, before he was eliminated by someone with the highly suspicious last name of Kohlschreiber, played and won a match against Gael Monfils, a charismatic black man from France, and both Isner and the American media were outraged that here in America the crowd attending that match had the gall to root for the foreigner.

Heaven forbid! Shame on those people for rooting for someone from France, a socialist country with strong labor unions and excellent free healthcare. How dare they? This is America. We have a moral obligation to support all American athletes against all foreign athletes because, well, we’re better than anyone else. Aren’t we? Isn’t that one of our universal values we organize ourselves around? Hey, maybe the reason we don’t have any champion American male tennis players is that our men are being undermined and emasculated by unpatriotic traitors rooting for people from other countries, socialist countries, no less.

“The United States of America is a cross-breeding integration of humans from all nations of the planet earth.” Buckminster Fuller

Nationalism, as Buckminster Fuller points out in his grand opus Critical Path, is a ruse used by supranational corporations to trick people into fighting wars and doing stupid selfish things beneficial to those corporations and the amoral rich people who own and operate those corporations. Nations, as Bucky shows, are blood clots in what otherwise would be the wide open veins and arteries of a global community of egalitarian earthlings dedicated to the regeneration of the earth’s natural systems and the economic liberation of all people through democratic socialism. When I hear our political leaders and media pundits spouting pro-American nonsense, I think of clotting agents at work in our collective veins where we least need clotting.

“Society’s educational system’s conditioned reflexes are half a millennium out of gear with the discovered facts of cosmic operation.” Buckminster Fuller

Nationalism is a psychotic form of racism, and by psychotic I mean delusional. The delusion underpinning the psychosis of nationalism is that the people of one country are essentially different than the people of another country, though one of the discovered facts of cosmic operation is that every human being on earth is directly descended from the same mother of all mothers, a Bushman woman living in southwest Africa 172,000 years ago. We are essentially all brothers and sisters who have developed various skin and hair colors, myriad forms of dance and music and ways of preparing food, and thousands of different ways of speaking to each other. These differences should be sources of fun and fascination, not reasons to kill each other.

“Each one of us is in the midst of myriads of worlds. We are in the center of the world always, moment after moment.” Shunryu Suzuki

In my youth I worked for a woman who catered private parties, and one of those parties was a lunchtime gathering for about thirty Jewish matrons. At the height of the festivities, a gorgeous young woman named Lisa entered on the arm of a gorgeous young man named Alex who reminded me of the famous movie star heartthrob Omar Sharif, an Egyptian. Beautiful Lisa and handsome Alex made a whirlwind tour of the party, Lisa unable to keep her hands off her handsome beau and vice-versa. They watched each other with smiling eyes as they took turns speaking to their admiring listeners, Alex charming and erudite, his quips and comments eliciting gales of laughter. Then the two lovebirds made their exit and the post-visitation commentaries began.

As I plied the room with a platter of miniature romaine lettuce leaves wrapped around purple basil leaves wrapped around bamboo shoots and shrimp, I heard many of the matrons exclaiming about what a great catch Lisa had made. Then one of the matrons addressed Lisa’s mother. “Alex is so handsome. Is he Israeli? He had just the slightest accent. Very sexy.”

“Actually,” said Lisa’s mother, taking a deep breath, “he’s Mexican.”

“But the future is the future, the past is the past; now we should work on something new.” Shunryu Suzuki

So now President Obama, who I am convinced is dealing with his personal demons on a global scale through the use of violence against people he doesn’t understand even a little bit, has asked Congress to approve his bombing of Syria, though he is quick to say he doesn’t need their approval. And so the debate is raging, with poll after poll showing the majority of Americans opposed to any sort of military intervention in Syria. But such opposition may not make much of a difference to Obama. You may recall that poll after poll showed a vast majority of Americans wanted Single Payer Healthcare, and Obama gave us Big Pharma Mucho Insurance Healthcare instead.

My biggest fear, that which gives me nightmares and wakes me in the middle of the night, is that if the United States attacks Syria, Syria will fight back, at which point anything might happen, including Israel using one or more of its nuclear weapons.

“They made us many promises, more than I can remember—they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.” Red Cloud

When I was a little boy I played Cowboys & Indians with my brother and friends, imitating the movie scenarios of white men armed with guns doing battle with brown men armed with bows and arrows. Then when I was eight, simultaneous with getting my first real bow and arrows, I was given a little book entitled American Indians, a wide-ranging and sympathetic view of the societies existent in North America prior to and during the European invasion of the so-called New World. I read that wondrous tome dozens of times, studying every detail of every picture, and was inspired to drop the Cowboy part of my game and just play Indian, which entailed spending many a summer’s day and many an afternoon after school roaming barefoot in the woods, tracking imaginary game and communing with nature.

In my early twenties, living as a vagabond, I spent a month in a transient camp on the banks of the Athabasaca River in the Canadian Rockies just outside the town of Jasper. One evening, as I sat with my comrades around the campfire, a very drunk man with long black hair stumbled into our camp, joined our circle and said, “You know where my people come from? Come from those white men long time ago came up here looking for beaver and mink you know and they fuck those Inuit people up here you know. Trappers, you know, come up here and fuck those Inuit girls, you know, and make my people.” He looked around the fire. “Anybody got some hooch?”

Somebody passed him a bottle, he took a swig, and then he handed the bottle to the man sitting next to him. “What you all doing out here?” he asked, the firelight dancing on his beautiful face. “Why you don’t get a fucking motel room? Ground hard here, you know.”

“We love sleeping by the river,” said a young woman. “Love sleeping out under the stars.”

Bird In Hand

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2012)

“For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive.” D.H. Lawrence

Three days ago I was settling down on the living room sofa for a much-anticipated afternoon nap, when a bird smacked into one of the seven big windows that make our living room feel so light and airy. Alas, this sickening thud usually presages a dead bird or one so stunned that our cat, if he can get outside in time, makes short work of. And so it was with some trepidation that I got up to look out the various windows to see what I could see.

To my surprise and chagrin, the bird in question had not smacked the outside of a window, but had flown through our open sliding glass door and struck the inside of a pane; and there she was, a little gray sparrow with pretty white markings, standing stock still on a window sill.

“Hello beautiful,” I said to the bird, hoping to catch and release her without hurting her and without causing so much commotion that our cat would come running to capture this high protein snack.

But how could I catch the bird without scaring her into frantic flight? I picked up the big straw basket I use for shopping and thought I’d somehow put the basket over the bird and then…then what? Wouldn’t the bird just fly out from under the basket and zoom around the room and smack into another window and break her neck or bring our cat running or…

Yet even as I was entertaining such unpleasant scenarios, I got closer and closer to the bird until I was right beside her and she remained standing absolutely still. So I slowly reached out and gently encircled her body with my fingers, carefully gripped her just tightly enough so she couldn’t escape, and carried her to the doorway where I opened my hand and she sprang into the air and winged her way across the meadow to the forest.

And two seconds after I released that little bird, our big gray bird-killing cat came sauntering into the living room and gave me a most disparaging look, or so it seemed.

Then this morning on my way to get the newspaper that magically appears at the mouth of our driveway every Sunday morning, a bird who was the spitting image of the bird I saved, accompanied me along the drive, flitting from branch to branch and staying close to me for the entire hundred yards, fluttering her wings and chirping away as if trying to communicate something to me, or so it seemed.

Was she the same bird I rescued? Was she thanking me? Or was she perhaps trying to repay me with information she thought I might find useful—truths about the universe we humans have overlooked or forgotten.

“Probably not,” says my logical mind, but “Maybe so,” says the part of me that believes Nature is far more fantastic than we can possibly imagine, so that a bird wanting to thank a person is every bit as likely as the evolution of a gigantic tortoise or elephant or human from a single-celled predecessor scrabbling around in the primordial soup. After all, if whales saved by people from entangling fishing nets frequently hang around after being rescued to express their gratitude, might not that little bird have been doing the same?

Indeed, I think animals and trees and insects must be hollering themselves hoarse trying to get through to us humans, hoping to set us straight about how to live on the earth without wrecking everything. The indigenous people of North America certainly believed animals and insects and birds and clouds and rivers and trees and stones were talking to them, teaching them the laws of nature, and that if a person listened and observed carefully enough, the animals and insects and fish and birds and clouds and rivers and trees and stones would reveal everything Great Spirit wanted us to know, Great Spirit being their name for God or Nature or Universe.

The funny thing to me about the idea of our existing within the body of a vastly intelligent universe, and by funny I mean both amusing and perplexing, is that so many people find the idea idiotic and even dangerous. Yet assuming we do actually exist, we do so within the body of the universe. Right? So the perceived idiocy of the idea must be about whether or not the universe is intelligent; and before we can answer that question we would have to agree on a definition of intelligence, and since we will never be able to agree about that, the discussion ends here.

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said. A.A. Milne

I was once saved by a bird, and for all I know I was saved again by that little sparrow I saved a few days ago, my saving of her being my salvation though I didn’t know it was my salvation at the time and don’t fully know it now, though I have an inkling. The bird I know that saved me was a ptarmigan, a large pigeon-like bird I encountered in the Canadian Rockies.

I was in my early twenties and living as a vagabond, running away from my parents and the material trappings of American society, living out of a backpack, working as a laborer and dishwasher and playing the guitar and singing on street corners. I was also running from a deep dark depression born of feeling like a worthless piece of shit for not bending to the will of my parents and succeeding on their terms rather than my own. However, I wasn’t keenly aware of harboring such depressive tendencies because I was always on the move, always trying to make enough money to get food, always searching for safe places to spend the night.

I had heard from others of my kind that the Canadian government (this was in the 1970’s) had set up a network of free hostels for transients all across their vast country, and so I spent the better part of a summer staying in those hostels and hitching west from eastern Canada to the charming hamlet of Jasper, Alberta on the banks of the mighty Athabasca River. I camped by the Athabasca, drank good cheap beer in the Athabasca Hotel, played volleyball in the little park in the center of town, saw an excellent performance of The Fantasticks, and spent my days fly fishing and climbing mountains alone and without rope or climbing equipment, bagging several peaks that rose from the valley in which Jasper lay.

I was foolish to hike alone, the wilderness there vast and unforgiving, but climbing mountains alone was truly idiotic, even suicidal, and I think I knew that on some level of my consciousness, for I was often afraid on my climbs, yet went on climbing nonetheless.

So at last there came a moment when I found myself balanced precariously on a tiny ledge on a cliff with nothing below me but air for thousands of feet down, with thirty feet of sheer cliff above me and no apparent way to go up. I was hot and tired and terribly thirsty, and I remember looking back the way I’d come and seeing no possible way to return. Then I looked the other way and saw that the ledge I was standing on came to abrupt end at a large nose of granite protruding into space.

I truly thought I was going to die. There was no way back, no way forward, now way down, no way up. And on the heels of the thought that I was going to die came another thought: Good riddance, you failure, you loser, you useless piece of shit. And as that deep dark depression I’d been running from finally caught up to me and grabbed hold of my spirit, I honestly think I was about to step off into space and end my life.

At which moment, on the aforementioned nose of granite at the dead end of the little ledge I was standing on, there appeared a large pigeon-like bird I would later identify as a ptarmigan. Now this bird did not fly out of the sky and land on the granite nose. No, she hopped up there from some place out of my view, and then she hopped down onto my ledge and waddled right up to me and pecked the toe of my boot. Then she looked up at me and said, “Oodle oodle. Oodle oodle,” which not only means “Hey, Buddy, you’re blocking my path,” but also turns out to be an incantation for dispelling suicidal tendencies in depressed people stuck on tiny ledges on cliffs.

I know this to be true because by the time she uttered her third oodle oodle I was laughing and climbing that last thirty feet to the top, finding handholds and footholds I’d never imagined could be there.

At the top of that cliff I crawled away from the edge into a gently sloping alpine meadow filled with wildflowers and transected by a burbling brook of the sweetest water I have ever tasted.

So maybe life is a random meaningless crapshoot, but I have my reasons for thinking otherwise.