I Plan on Walking in Circles

I found a new favorite path in the neighborhood. It winds around between streets, criss-crossing a stream and at times folding in on itself like a pretzel. The foliage is favorable for snakes, and considering the sighting of a five-foot rat snake earlier in the week, I tread solicitously on the edge of the tall grass, using scurrying lizards as a kind of scout warning system. So far no snakes, but lots of other creatures: butterflies, moths, lizards (as I said), and, of course, grackles. The other day I walked the path and ended up way down the street, much farther than I thought I had walked. It’s funny how distances are so dependent on blocks in a normal city life that when one walks a diagonal or a zig-zag beside trees and grasses one’s sense of direction and space seem heavily warped. I walked at a very leisurely pace for about five minutes and ended up about ten blocks from my starting point. You see a city differently when you explore it a non-right angles.

I plan to travel this path every day for a while, noticing all the changes and all the lives that are played out even in such a small space. Will I see the same lizards, day after day? Will I recognize them?

There’s an activity I do with the groups of kids I work with, where I give them a rope and they lay it out in a circle in the grass, and then they get down on the ground with a magnifying glass and count how many forms of life they can count in their little circle of earth. They are typically amazed at how many beings they can list just in their tiny zone: grasses and insects and moss and flowers, sometimes even a worm or a mushroom make an appearance. The point of the exercise is to get kids to see each patch of earth not as a lifeless, inanimate clump, but as a rich habitat for countless interdependent creatures. My walks on this path will be similar; I’ll tread a much larger circle but the idea will still be to document the universe within it.


There Are Men Too Gentle To Live Among Wolves

A poem by James Kavanaugh:

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of candied apples and ferris wheels
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with eager appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant’s world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant’s world,
Unless they have a gentle one to love.

This is one of my favorite poems. A friend of mine named Pete Kurie (look him up on itunes) set these words to music a while back, and now it’s impossible for me to read the poem without singing the song in my head. I used to have this poem and others in a little James Kavanaugh collection, but I sent it to a friend in the mail along with some of my own writing. Kavanaugh wrote a dedication to the book of poems—a dedication that I thought was just as good as any of the content of the anthology—but now I’ve forgotten it since I mailed the book away. It had something to do with watching geese fly, or hearing the sound of honking geese above the noise of ongoing traffic or something. Anyway, look it up if you have time, I’m sure it’s good.

My favorite symbol of this poem is the wolves who prey upon you with “IBM eyes,” a great image of people’s meanness becoming robotic—becoming a machine. It’s also a good line about how evil deeds can be committed while sitting at a computer, and indeed how sitting at a computer, isolated from the material world, can compel one to commit acts that otherwise would be unthinkable. Like investment banking.

Less Free (And Loving It) In Austin: Thoughts on the Plastic Bag Ban

Here’s a little update on the City of Austin’s plastic bag ban. Some may think it tedious or draconian, but forcing businesses to cease the use of plastic bags has made a noticeable difference already, regardless of whether it achieved its stated goal, which is to change residents’ behavior. And in this case I mean literally noticeable; I haven’t seen as many plastic bags floating around, getting stuck in trees and in gutters, winding up in roadside strips of grass and green medians.

And really, what a small price to pay for a less trashy city. I don’t know about you (if you live here, that is), but I haven’t been inconvenienced one little bit. No business that I know of is suffering as a result, and if there have been complaints they’ve been so few and far between as to be rendered inaudible.

For anyone thinking such a rule restricts freedom, they’re right–it does. But the result is overwhelmingly positive for both humans and non-humans in Austin. There’s a good lesson in all of this.

We will have to restrict freedom if we’re going to do anything about the impending ecological collapse. That’s okay. Human freedom does not trump the life and longevity of the material world. In fact, that should go without saying, as no material world means no humans alive, let alone free. Human freedom should not be the paragon for success as a society. I know that such a notion is anathema here in the land of so many liberty myths, but the health and sustainability of ecosystems must be the primary goal. Note that more human freedom can still be judged as better than less, as long as the activities granted by such freedom don’t destroy our habitat (and almost all of them do).

Besides, absolute freedom–let alone some kind of American version– is an illusion. Even with no government, humans wouldn’t be totally free, as long as we’re beholden to non-humans and the rest of the material world (which we are). There shouldn’t be anything terribly upsetting about this fact. Just like every other living being, we have a responsibility to everyone else and to the ecosystem. This responsibility restricts our actions. Duh.

Back to the immediate issue: ask yourself, does your life feel less enriched–less worth living–because of the plastic bag ban? If you answer yes, then you’re either not answering honestly or you have Stockholm syndrome.


“A truly anthropocentric perspective, especially in the long term, is biocentic. It must be, since the anthro relies on the bio. No bio, no anthro. Any anthro who isn’t bio must be really stupid. Or made stupid by a stupid culture.”  – Derrick Jensen

Our Culture Celebrates Thomas Edison, Animal Torturer and Murderer

Following up on my weekend post about sea turtles, here is a postcard from a turtle hospital on Orion’s blog. It’s cool that they’re trying to help injured animals, and I’m sure the inviduals who recuperate because of the aquarium are thankful it exists. And yet, the aquarium exists to address a problem that humans have caused, so its humanitarian efforts (pun intended) must be seen in that context. Also, the author brags about teaching the turtles tricks while in captivity. What’s up with that? Why this fascination with making other animals perform? It’s not bad enough that they’re injured and in a cage, they have to (literally?) jump through hoops, too?

A while ago a friend of mine suggested I read Fear of the Animal Planet by Jason Hribal. The book is a pretty sound and very detailed indictment of zoos, and of the “animal entertainment” industry. Hribal collects numerous accounts of animals resisting their indentured servitude—rebellions that often end fatally. Here’s an excerpt from the review by Paul Craig Roberts (linked above):

Most people, were they to read Hribal’s book, would have a hard time with the intent that he ascribes to animals. Like the executives of circuses, zoos, and Sea World, most humans ascribe captive animal attacks to unpredictable wild instinct, to accident, or to the animal being spooked by noise or the behavior of some third party. Hribal confronts this view head on. Orcas purposely drown their trainers, and elephants purposely kill their keepers. Captive animals seek escape.

It’s a great (and short) book so I suggest you read it. You might think about zoos and circuses much differently after you’re done.

On a similar note, here’s video of Thomas Edison electrocuting an elephant, simply to slander his rival, Nikola Tesla, and spread propaganda about his own direct current electricty system, which he was developing for huge personal profit. But this wasn’t just any elephant; according to the link:

Edison’s aggressive campaign to discredit the new current took the macabre form of a series of animal electrocutions using AC (a killing process he referred to snidely as getting “Westinghoused”). Stray dogs and cats were the most easily obtained, but he also zapped a few cattle and horses.

Edison got his big chance, though, when the Luna Park Zoo at Coney Island decided that Topsy, a cranky female elephant who had squashed three handlers in three years (including one idiot who tried feeding her a lighted cigarette), had to go.

Park officials originally considered hanging Topsy but the SPCA objected on humanitarian grounds, so someone suggesting having the pachyderm “ride the lightning,” a practice that had been used in the American penal system since 1890 to dispatch the condemned. Edison was happy to oblige.

What a great summary of our culture.