After graduation, after a divorce, after an election
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The year I moved to Montana, a man shot another man for picking huckleberries in “his” huckleberry patch. He claimed he thought the picker was a grizzly bear. I didn’t know which to fear more: grizzlies or men with guns. A city girl, I was used to people getting shot — just not over huckleberries.
My job was to write computer training programs. But sometimes my mind wandered, and I turned to look out the window at the people in the parking lot, the cars on the street, and, especially from my sixth-floor cubicle, the birds that soared in the gulf of air between me and the ground.
The bear takes seven steps, her claws clicking on concrete. She dips her head, turns, and walks toward the front of the cage. Another dip, another turn, another three steps. When she gets back to where she started, she begins all over. This is what’s left of her life.
As we pass under the Roosevelt Arch into the park, beneath the words “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People,” I say under my breath, “I am safe now. I am at home base. No one can find me here.” A friend has a saying that once seemed outrageous and cowardly, but is now my motto: “There is no problem so big you can’t run away from it.”
When the earth is whole, it is resilient. But when it is damaged too severely, its power to heal itself seeps away. If we continue to turn against the land, pour chemical fertilizers onto worn-out fields, sanitize wastewater with poisons, dam rivers, burn oil, and bear more children, then there may be no chance of healing. A weakened world cannot forgive us.
Ladakh is a high-altitude desert on the Tibetan Plateau in northernmost India. To all outward appearances, it is a wild and inhospitable place. In summer the land is parched and dry; in winter it is frozen solid by fierce, unrelenting cold.
Our mission, in both our business and our nonprofit, is to increase respect for the natural world. Creating more-sustainable products and processes is just an extension of that. To learn from nature, you have to become involved with what Wes Jackson calls the “deep conversation.” To learn how to take carbohydrates and water and turn them into a fiber as strong as steel, as a spider does, you go to a spider and respectfully ask, “How are you doing that?” Then you go and try to do it yourself. And when you fail — it’s very hard to do! — you go back to the organism and ask again.
When I feel so much grief over the woundedness and brokenness of the world that I lose the power or the desire to go on, I turn to members of my family for consolation. Another thing that moves me out of a state of grief is beauty, in all its forms: in nature, in the face of someone you love, in music, in language, in scientific formulas, and in images of remote constellations beamed down from the Hubble space telescope. Beauty reminds me that all the grief, all the loss, all the sadness that is terribly meaningful to me, personally, is just a dust mote in the grand scheme of things. It’s tiny, ephemeral.
Nothing shocks us anymore. The line between social truth and social fiction has been erased (from the Warren Commission to Watergate we have been asked to disbelieve our eyes and ears) and we are in the curious no-man’s-land of the artist, the madman and the saint. There is no consensus reality; there never was.
I don’t want to alarm people. Right-wing populist movements seldom become fascist, and fascist movements seldom take power. But when you build a major social movement around scapegoating and resentment, things can move quickly in a bad direction.