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The Bean-Field

At the end of the last ice age, a global warming thawed the glaciers and enriched landmasses with freshwater—enabling agriculture to be the defining human mark upon the Holocene period. In claiming property to cultivate, humans took community land from each other and had food surpluses to guard, leading to early forms of governance. Large-scale food production led to division of labor—military for guarding stores and seizing more land, bureaucrats for disseminating food and property, and craftsmen to develop their trades while others farmed. (It is not much different than today.) As masses of people become supplicant to whomever claimed the land (and thereby owned the food) through military enforcement, religions sprouted into existence and civilization marched forward.

Thoreau might not have had access to prehistorical details made possible through archaeology, but like the woodsman he admired, he knew what was true to himself without trusting in others and understood the government of his time as emerging from the seed of agriculture. In cultivating a bean-field, he aspires to invest the land with his energy, sans government. He hoped to avoid falling into the totalitarian monoculture scheme that led to the rise of civilization (and subsequent soil nutrient depletion, herbicides, pesticides) by working a field that is a blend of ancient farming with modern technique: "The crop of English hay is carefully weighed, the moisture calculated, the silicates and the potash; but in all dells and pond holes in the woods and pastures and swamps grows a rich and various crop only unreaped by man. Mine was, as it were, the connecting link between wild and cultivated fields; as some states are civilized, and others half-civilized, and others savage or barbarous, so my field was, though not in a bad sense, a half-cultivated field. They were beans cheerfully returning to their wild and primitive state that I cultivated." He is opting for the middle ground between civilization and wilderness, a potential aspirant model he might advocate with authority to those whose society he encountered.

Although Darwin had yet to publish The Origin of Species, evolution was generally understood, if not yet widely advocated by the scientific community. The scientist Jean Baptiste de Lamarck pointed to salamanders as proof of evolution in the eighteenth century, and amphibious creatures provided evidence for terrestrial life emerging from the waters. It is appropriate that in his passage on farming—the catapult behind the evolution of complex society, he inserts a potent symbol: "My hoe turned up a sluggish portentous and outlandish spotted salamander, a trace of Egypt and the Nile, yet our contemporary." He is looking to ancient civilization while musing upon a salamander, alluding to the metastasis of agriculture.

He is repulsed by a gluttonous society so distanced from the land as to be dependent on faraway farms for food, like the minds of bees "bent on the honey with which [their hive] was smeared." Buried in this is the implication of a military critique—the bees have been celebrating the instrument of their conquest, war. Thoreau easily connects farming with imperialism, and couches it in metaphor be more easily consumed by those swarming in the hive.

He continues in this vein with a satirical commentary on patriots and soldiers, or mindless drones of a ruling government: "I felt proud to know that the liberties of Massachusetts and of our fatherland were in such safe keeping; and as I turned to my hoeing again I was filled with an inexpressible confidence, and pursued my labor cheerfully with a calm trust in the future." His confidence is inexpressible—literally, because he has no confidence in the liberties of Massachusetts and our fatherland. He claims to be so inspired by the patriotic celebration in the nearby village that he felt as if he "could spit a Mexican with a good relish—for why should we always stand for trifles?—and looked round for a woodchuck or a skunk to exercise my chivalry upon." We know from "Resistance to Civil Government" that he abhors civilization and government, and is being playful with a matter he considers to have tremendous gravity.

As a brief aside, I think of it like The Thoreau Code—on the surface he appears to be espousing a remark that will pass safely by those who it might offend, but might do good service upon whom it fits, like the coat described in the opening of "Economy." I have no doubt that, should I revisit this writing upon reaching the levels of social and ecological consciousness that he encourages us to pursue, I'll uncover more latent verbal irony.

Thoreau continues in an anti-civilization vein in critiquing the celebration: "These martial strains seemed as far away as Palestine, and reminded me of a march of crusaders on the horizon, with a slight tantivy and tremulous motion of the elm-tree tops which overhang the village. This was one of the great days; though the sky had from my clearing only the same everlasting great look that it wears daily, and I saw no difference in it." He mocks the great day, noting that it is simply a day to him, and the motion of the treetops is the pathetic fallacy of the spectators, for they always sway in the sky he sees.

He uses weeding as an allegory for genocide, and links it to the loss of our relation to the land through modern farming: "Ancient poetry and mythology suggest, at least, that husbandry was once a sacred art; but it is pursued with irreverent haste and heedlessness by us, our object being to have large farms and large crops merely." As a result, by "regarding the soil as property, or the means of acquiring property chiefly, the landscape is deformed, husbandry is degraded with us, and the farm leads the meanest of lives."

Although he does not have confidence in safe harbor through military protection, he confesses his tremendous belief in the sanctity of the sun, and in its ability to look "on our cultivated fields and on the prairies and forests without distinction.... In his view the earth is all equally cultivated like a garden. Therefore we should receive the benefit of his light and heat with a corresponding trust and magnanimity." A modern scholar might go further to suggest that the closer we are to the sun's energy, the better. That is, do not consume ancient sunlight locked up in fossil fuels, but only that which we can collect fresh each day, ad infinitum.
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Having withdrawn from the rivers of society in his sojourn, Thoreau imagines "only the finest sediment" of individuals deposited around him. He contemplates them at length. He has a penchant for a French Canadian described like a wood nymph, an "animal man" who, in the spirit of indigenous peoples encountered by conquesting nations, moves "without anxiety or haste to get to his work." He has found a kindred spirit, a human mind unblemished by the molding pressures of civilization—the man travels freely and leisurely, performs only as much work as wants to, and abides by a code of conduct that is true to himself, and cooperative with other humans without being affected by their way of life.

He possesses childlike naiveté and a simple wisdom, understanding the precepts upon which complex society is built (like money) without becoming embroiled in the quiet desperation that affects civilized people. He shares his exuberance for the superabundance of nature: "How thick the pigeons are! If working every day were not my trade, I could get all the meat should want by hunting—pigeons, woodchucks, rabbits, partridges—by gosh! I could get all I should want for a week in one day."

He is of a brood less likely to escape enculturation in today's society, where passenger pigeons are no longer available for meat because they were hunted to extinction. At war with the land and the human natives who first inhabited it, the mushrooming population of the United States demanded more pigeons till they were gone.

But the woodsman, a veritable "prince in disguise," has no way of anticipating that the industrialization of the lumber trade would lead to the deforestation of the land of the free. He is not skeptical of government and civilization, and his benign simplicity leads Thoreau to dubious uncertainty: "I did not know whether he was as wise as Shakespeare or simply ignorant as a child, whether to suspect him of a fine poetic consciousness or stupidity."

Thoreau alludes to his philosophical bent against civilization when he quizzes the animal man about factories and economics, only to reinforce the discovery that "he was thinking for himself and expressing his own opinion, a phenomenon so rare that I would any day walk ten miles to observe it, and amounted to the re-origination of many of the institutions of society."

In this spirit of men like this, he believes that a new, better government might be established that coexists with the laws of nature. "So easy is it, though many housekeepers doubt it, to establish new and better customs in place of the old." Inherited customs are not sacred if they are in opposition to the natural world and cause people to lose their youthful vigor. In contrast to the woodsman, Thoreau describes "young men who had ceased to be young, and had concluded it was safest to follow the beaten track of the professions." The premature aging is symptomatic of civilization and just as true today—our society encourages the dedicated pursuit of a profession, for that beaten track reinforces the foundation that spawned it, which is not only at the expense of having a fulfilling, simple, and meaningful human life (as the happy lumberjack who rejoices in work on his own terms), but is also at great cost to the planet's ecosystem, for we might no longer feast upon pigeons because they no longer exist.

He summarizes the despair of young professionals with a sense of optimism: "To them life seemed full of danger—what danger is there if you don't think of any?" If we look for horrors, we will find them. We need only aspire to be wise as Shakespeare or innocent as a child—either one will do—to see the possibility of happiness on our own terms, and not the fabricated ones we inherit from a culture doomed to consume everything it encounters and, ultimately, itself.
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Floating through the ether of consciousness in a delirium of spiritual coalescence, Thoreau experiences a rapt unification with the energy of the world: "This is a delicious evening, when the body is one sense, and imbibes through every pore." The inhalation that binds us to the nitrogen that colors the sky is only the beginning of our connectivity to a global existence; he experiences the taste of wilderness by refusing to yield to the separateness of the senses, willing his body into a metabolic synesthesia with the night. He feels the harmony of a balanced ecosystem in which "The wildest animals do not repose, but seek their prey now; the fox, and skunk, and rabbit, now roam the fields and woods without fear." There is competition in the race for individual survival counterbalanced by cooperation—the laws of nature dictate that prey are only somewhat effective in fleeing predatory attacks, so they wander fearlessly into the night to confront chance.

Just as physical distance appears to meld adjacent objects into closer proximity, distance of interior perspective makes Walden Pond "as much Asia or Africa as it is New England." We don't have states separated by factitious borders or continents separated by oceans—from afar, "The whole earth we inhabit is but a point in space."

Thoreau is getting to the simple heart of relativity. He feels the equanimity of all beings connected through interchangeable atoms, and without focusing on those traits that differentiate us, he describes the energy flows that bind us. For instance, if the rain "should continue so long as to cause the seeds to rot in the ground and destroy the potatoes in the low lands, it would still be good for the grass in the uplands, and, being good for the grass, it would be good for me."

Awareness is stereoptical as he opens himself to a world of awakening, letting the evening nourish his soul. The modern man, he implies, tends to be insensate or dead to the possibility of understanding their position in accordance with the laws of nature, and has a skewed outlook that leads him to bait his "hooks with darkness." The same man might experience the kind of ecstatic, deliciously filling epiphany that he is undergoing through a shift in paradigm. "Any prospect of awakening to a dead man makes indifferent all times and places." It is not the result of awakening, but the conception or "prospect of awakening"—that is all it takes to reach the revelatory parallax, if only one considered the idea.

"Nearest to all things is that power which fashions their being. Next to us the grandest laws are continually being executed. Next to us is not the workman whom we have hired, but the workman whose work we are." Ontological transcendence is closer than we might imagine because it exists within our relation to the energy around us, whether bottled up in tangible elements or free form consciousness unencumbered by the factitious laws of civilization.

Solitude is relative to one's position—it has little to do with social isolation unless we only choose to conceive of it at that level. One is never alone because the planet is teeming with kindred spirits made of the same carbon chains that link all living things. "Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?" Thoreau muses.

He delves into the puzzle of consciousness: "With thinking we may be beside ourselves in a sane sense. By a conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from our actions and their consequences” like a god looking down from a sky at the object that he is, or the sensation of being moved by the ideas of a play more than a tangible experience. He is "sensible of a certain doubleness by which I can stand as remote from myself as from another… I am conscious of the presence and criticism of a part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it.... When the play, it may be the tragedy, of life is over, the spectator goes his way. It was a kind of fiction, a work of the imagination only, so far as he was concerned. This doubleness may easily make us poor neighbors and friends sometimes." He foreshadows Annie Dillard over a century later, who describes the same doubleness in The Present chapter of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek—once she verbalizes awareness of an encounter in her brain, she is separate from the encounter and incapable of experiencing it as she first did. She explains "It is ironic that the one thing that all religions recognize as separating us from our creator—our very self consciousness—is also the one thing that separates us from our fellow creatures."

She gets at the heart of what Thoreau laments: it is not his own solitude for which the chapter is titled, but the solitude of individual men and women who live next to one another in society and refuse to see their correlation with all of earth's creatures, including each other, by a trick of consciousness. He concludes that "The value of a man is not in his skin, that we should touch him." Consciousness is not just a mise en abyme, a mirror inside a mirror inside a mirror that separates us into smaller compartments of our own social inventions, but something capable of seeing the mirror for what it is and reflecting beyond itself.
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A curious thing about the point in the history of civilization in which Thoreau was writing is his fascination with and abhorrence of technology. He describes the "The rattle of railroad cars, now dying away and reviving like the wings of a partridge.... The whistle of the locomotive... like the scream of a hawk." At once we conceive of the train as a bird. Then he mixes the metaphor: "I hear the iron horse make the hills echo with his snort like thunder." Bird or horse? There's something ominous about the train, at first docile, then a bird of prey, then a brute horse of metal.

As much I like to imagine to early American life as having self-sufficient communities, Thoreau tells us it was not the case, thanks to the locomotive: "Here come your groceries, country; your rations, countrymen! Nor is there any man so independent on his farm that he can say them nay." He senses something awful in the train, despite attempts to transmogrify it into an animal of this world. The cloud that "hangs over the engine and floats over the farmer's fields" conceal the sun and cast the distant field into the shade, "a celestial train beside which the petty train of cars which hugs the earth is but the barb of the spear." In the shadow of pollution he is foreshadowing climate change, although he doesn't know it.

The sounds of the train bring him a sense of exhilaration, as he feels connected to distant reaches of the world through the variety of things it carries, but he simultaneously avoids its "smoke and steam and hissing" and is concerned that "We have constructed a fate, an Atropos, that never turns aside."

At once he is thrilled by the distant prospect of globalization, and horrified as he sees it manifest before him. There is comfort in distance. All sounds, it seems, are "melodious by distance." He blends the resonations of bells with the "notes sung by a wood nymph." Even minstrels and lowing cows are indistinguishable from afar: "one articulation of nature."

But his favorite sound of all is the wild cockerel imported from the far east, which he fantasizes as the "brave Chanticleer" that would awaken nations with its ritualistic aubade, a call to life for those slumbering in despair, and his alter ego as a spirited independent wishing to summon those around him to higher levels of consciousness.
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Thoreau is joking when he tells us that the classics of Homer or Aeschylus are the "noblest recorded thoughts of man," and also when he informs us that one must be born again into the culture in which earlier works were written to understand them truly. He is beseeching us only to try to be the best readers we can, peeking as far back through time as possible. We will internalize anything that comes to us from a great distance with a certain "maturer golden and autumnal tint," as though it has biodegraded as it tumbled through the ages into something that has a new meaning significant to us.

Of course the majority of readers will be unable to interpret the ancient classics in the language in which they were written, but he insinuates that "our civilization may be regarded as such a transcript"—that we might trace the world around us to its early agricultural origins, and be more critical of it as a result.

Recalling attention to his thoughts on wisdom as failure ("Wiser by experience, that is, by failure.") he is ironically praising the "recorded wisdom of mankind, the ancient classics and Bibles." He is telling us, in short, that the noble exercise of reading transcends language, and we must look to clues in our modern fabric to reach unencumbered intellectual flights. When he states "It is time that villages were universities" he means it literally. We are to take instruction from all the wise men New England can hire, that is to say, everyone around us.
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Where I Lived, and What I Lived For

When I first read an excerpt of Walden in high school, I considered Thoreau worthy of study for being a novelty, a bright man who tramped about in the woods, appreciated for his erudition and bizarre lifestyle. As an undergrad, I read the "Economy" passage and derived only a few notable turns of phrase. I read it, but I was not ready for it.

Now I get it. The heart of his philosophy is consciousness, or awakening. When the pond floods, Thoreau realizes that he is on dry land. His understanding of the world is flipped: he exists on a continent in the midst of vast oceans. He is insignificant compared to the world around him. It isn't merely elevated intellectual posturing—many smart individuals soar at low altitudes—but a broader cognizance of all the possibility he previously understood coinciding with the newfound perspective.

Thoreau believes wholeheartedly in awakening from the "chopping sea of civilized life" that dampens the wings of imaginative flight. He relates economy to living: "The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive."

Having tasted more of life, not through range but tilt of experience, he conceives of his rising consciousness as something that happens anew with each literal awakening, and a missed opportunity for those who have yet to view it as such: "The morning... is the awakening hour…. Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are… not awakened by our own newly-acquired force and aspirations from within... to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light. That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way."

I'm trying to reconcile Thoreau's belief that people can overcome their prejudices to escape the monotonous lurch of civilized life with this bleak view of a workforce stranded in a stupor of despair. Perhaps there is hope in pursuing a descending and darkening way—that the darkness might bear its fruit.

He describes the endless diversion one has in validating the civilized world, and diminishing the number of his own faults through the pursuit of news: "If we read of one man robbed, or murdered…, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter—we never need read of another. One is enough." Still resonant for news of today, a more stringent analogue appears in television. The majority of shows reinforce our notion that the world belongs to humanity for the taking. Professional sports provide similar insulation. Collectively we are distracted from considering an alternative to our way of life.

He puts it more eloquently: "By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit every where, which still is built on purely illusory foundations."

Following his example, we can strive to "reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep."
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I had heard Thoreau's quotation "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" but didn't grasp the extent of its meaning till I had begun to see the denominator in all faith-based religions: man is flawed, imperfect, fallen; salvation or redemption or reincarnation or a glorious afterlife await those who live in accordance with certain guidelines. The guidelines are always set forth by other people who claim to have communed with a higher power directly, or are familiar with another who had. Humans can teach one another the method for salvation, but are only capable of saving themselves by making choices aligned with the tenets of civilization.

The quiet desperation rankles outward from the "factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life." We work as penance, living in accordance with abstract structures (think church, school, government, economy), while our genetic makeup whispers to us that there is an easier way to live, a simpler way to be. Building his cabin in the woods, Thoreau seeks an existence that doesn't assume that humans are imperfect creatures condemned to lives of servitude. He sets off to prove that one can choose to be a sojourner in civilized life, and embodies the alternative for two years and two months.

He readily sees the trappings of artifice in modern man: "The improvements of ages have had but little influence on the essential laws of man’s existence; as our skeletons, probably, are not to be distinguished from those of our ancestors." The quandary is, what is apparent to Thoreau is transparent to his community. In striving to be instructive, he stays connected to the nearby town, not going to such an extreme as to be dismissed as an eccentric.

If, like Thoreau, we believe our lives to be precious—not flawed—we view ourselves as the commodity being traded for a chance to participate in an economy. "The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it." A century and a half later, the modern person still must "spend the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it."

Alternatives from prehistory and indigenous tribes and cultures (soon vanquished by civilization) abound. "When we consider what ... are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left." Speaking through the narrowness of my own experience, for most of my life I didn't know there was a choice. But "it is never too late to give up our prejudices."

I often hear others describe how they must support themselves through numerous jobs. The effort required to sustain the growing bloat of economy bears heavy upon all those touched by civilization. Thoreau is not idealistic, but realistic when he asserts "To maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime." If we look to the anthropological record, before food production led to the governance of property, there's a significant precedent.

The pecuniary anguish we grope with, the social anxiety to keep up with fashion—it is all a fabrication unique to our way of life. "The best works of art are the expression of man’s struggle to free himself from this condition." Think about it. Most stories are built upon a generalized oppression that the hero must overcome, whether incarnate as external evils, hapless obstacles or, as in sitcoms, our own folly. We are entertained because we know the story, and we anticipate the resolve of success through determination, cleverness, or dumb luck.

When Thoreau rails against philanthropy, it is because the concept ought not to exist. It treats the symptoms and not the cause, masking the greater need. External generosity is unnecessary in a mode of fiscal governance modeled upon ecosystems, where stewardship and reusability are valued rather than growth and disposability.

In an individual pursued "his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor's," he would be free of the pressures to buy fashionable new clothes, free to refuse to pay taxes in support of a government's war, and free to build a cabin in the woods. Thoreau pursues his own way, and implores us consider that there is a choice to do the same for ourselves.
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Thoreau, Thoroughly

The beauty of the myth that the world exists for the advancement of human civilization is in its ability to be repudiated by any individual who ponders the role of culture in shaping our perceptions.

As early as I can remember, I was told explicitly or shown by the mundane implications of daily activity that humans were going somewhere. We were pushing boundaries, from oceanic depths to manned flight in space. We were expanding knowledge through science. We were feeding starving nations, making great cities greater, advancing medicine as readily as entertainment, spreading democracy, and inventing new conveniences for the benefit of all. One might view the problems of the world opportunistically, for civilized life marches onward.

Despite the constant reinforcement of the messaging, fringe details suggest something is amiss, even within the boundaries of the United States. Why, as a nation, do we have to keep telling ourselves we enjoy freedom? (Shouldn't it be a nonissue, like saying we enjoy gravity?) Why do we insist that schoolchildren recite a pledge of allegiance to the flag each morning? (Do they have an alternative?) Why do we look forward to vacations? (What are we escaping?)

There's little incentive to ask these questions. But Thoreau asked them, more or less, in 1849, in "Resistance to Civil Government" (famously reprinted as "Civil Disobedience"). To the imaginative individual, the line of thinking is acutely apparent. Why should he pay taxes to support the U.S. government's war against Mexico that he wants no part of? In the broadest sense, what is the purpose of any government but to regulate the management of property, to ensure our way of life?

Fascinated by gloomy projections of peak oil I began to study the seam of petroleum production. Unguided, I followed the thread as it outlined corporate and government conquest of fossil fuels and topsoil nutrients and aquaculture, the complicit winks along the way toward food safety and an invisible immigrant workforce. The seam threaded in various directions—as coal through mountaintops, and again as vaporous greenhouse gases fretted along the same windcurrents that transported fallout from distant atomic tests. It condensed into local communities in uplifting optimism: variegated whirls of conservation and energy production through wind and solar and biomass and microhydro.

The collective threads have started to coat me in the same kind of aspiration toward heightened awareness and inquisitiveness that Thoreau brandishes—and attempts to exemplify—in Walden, and through synergistic deliberation across time, I accept such portions as apply to me.
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The Art of Seeing Things

"Do they see anything they did not come out to see?" John Burroughs wonders about those who discourse pleasantly about birds and flowers. He posits that an increased awareness and willingness to see the natural world—curiosity inspired by love—leads one to perceive subtleties missed by inferior expectations. He attests that anyone might develop extraordinary sensibilities by blending "contemplation and absorption" with "investigation and classification." The book of nature is a palimpsest so blotted with marginalia that it takes childlike dreaming or open-hearted determination to search for revelations suppressed by its mottled complexity.

Striving toward heightened perception reveals a world of pensive rewards and experiences enriched by enchantment and clarity. But there's something troublesome in the line of thinking as Burroughs conceived it in 1908 and as it manifests today: humans are divorced from nature—we are exempt from purpose in an ecosystem, and must venture out to the untamed wilderness to enjoy it. The key thing is it, nature, no matter how much we love it and are able to decipher the hieroglyphics in its book, it is still an impersonal it. Let me explain.

We are encouraged by Burroughs and his contemplative successors to immerse oneself in unsought delights, harvest minutia for reflective appreciation, but do so by leaving the civilized world of normalcy to confront details and psychically conquer an unfamiliar realm where we might enter/intrude/exploit at our leisure, with no concern of consequence. We compartmentalize our understanding into me/us and it/them.

The reason: our culture's conviction in entitlement for resources. We cannot take something from ourselves—we must take it from others, far enough removed that we don't sense a relationship to feel the sting of loss. We take forests from squirrels, no matter how attuned we are to the way in which their paws are positioned as they climb trees. We take streams from salamanders by introducing effluents, and so on. Beyond citing a demonstrative litany of non-human things claimed for or by our consumption, we take the lives and well-being of humans across the globe who manufacture our products or who are participants or bystanders in imperialistic wars. (When we take the lives of our own, we engrave their names on monuments and salute their sacrifices for our way of life on Memorial Day. Or we blame heart disease or cancer and chalk our losses up to bad luck, not poor nutrition resulting from corporate food production or carcinogens snowballing up the food chain or volatile organic compounds abrading and offgassing from our disposable commodities.)

In making the distinction between me/us and it/them, we perceive distance based on a lack of relationship. The art of seeing things begins with absorption, and it starts in our rectilinear dwellings and workplaces; the stretching skin of painted drywall and the cement foundations on which their skeletons of lumber rest; the glass windows with wooden, steel, and vinyl sashes; the aluminum gutters and flashing and asphalt shingles; the plastic insulation on our copper and aluminum electrical wiring; the roads we travel with accompanying power lines skipping along every street and the ecosystems displaced by our paved communities—details so commonplace we accept them without reservation, bold errata in the book of nature that fortifies our thinking that we are separate from book itself, and might, with some practice, realize hitherto unperceived truths about a world we imagine so distant that it no longer feels like home.
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Along that wilderness of glass

I've always been interested in stories. From novels to films to plays to textbooks, my vita contemplativa has careered through literary devices, design, drama, and mythology. The tools of narrative, now applied in a larger human context, are mindbending.

The conflicted howls in all formats of fiction and history echo against the walls of a cage we cannot see. We mistake as validation the reverberation of our voices, and voices of those who preceded us in recorded history.

I have a pet lizard who has not explored beyond her walls; she has no cause to imagine that her food supply might be compromised. She is free to roam the world to the extent that it exists, and able to dine on crickets without concern that they might, one day, be unavailable. She has known nothing else.

Our cage is our economy of infinite growth. We contribute to a division of labor to afford to live—and we feel free to do whatever we want within that complex system because it is the only world we know. But like the crickets (think passenger pigeons or oil), infinite growth is only infinite in theory, and we are still in a cage.

I’ve stopped writing in successive breaths of shock and discovery. The most encouraging thing about unlearning assumptions about our dominant culture, for which recorded history (and the ordinary events of our lives) provide stalwart underpinnings, is that there is no leader, no organized movement, no obligation to action, no reason to believe anything that cannot be easily checked—only personal initiative to pursue the obvious.

The undenoted entries dotting the last 359 days are islands sinking as consciousness rises with a deepening objectivity toward the story of civilization. As the shifting sea shimmers with inverted reflections of those things it continues to absorb, I'll do my best to note the play of colors on its surface.