Sometimes we all despair. But not every day.
Standing today in the fresh, yellow light of morning, breathing the December crisp, I was again mouth agape and gaze skyward. Just as moved, just as humbled by the behemoth under my fingers. Again the tears ran down cheeks still raw from last nights deluge. I see life. I feel earth. I smell fresh. I hear silence. And I taste absolutely nothing. Just fresh, naked air.
Half of my tears came because all this stands in such marked contrast to what I saw in North Dakota. This is untouched life, standing as testament to the power of the natural earth. Proof, alongside the pounding Pacific and the folded mountains, that the strongest things don’t come from humans. The biggest things are not made by us. And those things that are indeed made by us will whither and melt back into the earth before this tree does. Unless one of us humans comes along with a chainsaw or some fire and brings abut a flaming arboreal demise.
What I saw in North Dakota was a raping of the earth. A flaming, in itself, depiction of our dependance on that which destroys everything around us. A symbol of our infestation of this planet as a race. The constant flow of exhaust from the smokestacks, the disappearance of natural gas up into the air, the constant churning of dirt into dust, the detritus of human occupation imprinting itself forever before my very eyes, on a virgin high plain thus far pristine and free. Now, the bonds of oil, the handcuffs of energy will forever grip that place. What, my god, what if that had happened here?
What if Theodore Roosevelt hadn’t had the foresight to know that we, unchecked, would scrape this continent until every last acre was but burnt embers and scrap. What if someone had cut down this tree? And all the others around it? What happens when we cut them all down? When we fill the ocean with so much shit and radioactivity?
What do we do with all the plastic? It’s everywhere, plastic. It’s as ubiquitous as the aforementioned shit that literally covers every surface of the manmade earth in a fecal veneer. The only way to fix what we’ve done is to end us, now. The only hope is our own extinction. So that the earth can take over again and erase every memory of us save for the plastic and the nuclear waste and the mutant viruses we’ve created. But that won’t happen. Because we’ve placed an artificial value on an artificial life.
So many of us within these bodies live a life of waste and gluttony and protection and complacency and ease. We don’t have to work very hard to eat, so we get fat. We don’t have to work very hard to do the work, so we fill our lives with distractions and manufactured games and anything to keep us from hearing the things in our own heads and our own hearts. And so we get lazier and we get dumber and for some reason we get angrier. We get no satisfaction from this inanity that is our daily routine and so we rape and we pillage and we burn and we injure, just to feel alive. If we were shivering and hungry and afraid a little more, we wouldn’t be so quick to mischief. We’d be quick to survival and only that.
And we would never have created the outlet mall and the interestate and fake banana flavoring and the goddamn Chipmunks singing a Christmas song that makes me want to scratch the ears from my head. We’d have no need of the strip of paper on the hotel room toilet to give us a false sense of cleanliness. Or the fence along the border that gives us a false sense of security. Or the diamond ring that gives us a false sense of accomplishment.
So what have I done? I’ve spent all this time saving lives. I still, every day, spend my precious, precious, limited time breathing the off-gassing aroma of men who smoke and drink and get fat and can’t understand why they’ve had a heart attack, even though the information is everywhere. Ubiquitous as shit. And then they have their second heart attack and I spend this labored breath talking to deaf ears. And for what? To help another parasite that only sucks the oil from this earth like all those North Dakota pumpjacks. Who spews hot, useless air like all those flares polluting the night sky.
Nothing. That’s what I’ve saved. That’s what I’ve done. Nothing. Nothing but advance our destruction of this place, in which we are such short time guests. Even here, stereotypically and literally hugging this tree, I see our detritus, in the form of diapers and cigarette butts and beer cans. Here, under my tree. The cars and trucks, just like mine, rumble by, giving me not so much as two minutes alone with my California tree. And I hate them.
I hate people. I despair the species. Not my species. This tree. Those fish. The birds and the elk and the blue, blue sky. I’m sorry tree. I’m sorry we’re here. I’m sorry we’re going to be the death of you. I’ll try to find a way to atone. But I know I’m pushing sand against this raging, roaring surf. I’m sorry tree.
Robin Behl, La Cuentista