Waking up this morning to the election news, I feel like a mountain climber who has dragged herself to what she thought was the mountaintop, only to discover she had just reached a pile of rocks along the way. There is still a long trek before the true summit, but she’s all but run out of food, her thick boots are in shreds and her companions are weary. She badly needs to rest, but they dare not stop.
For some reason this brings out all my instincts for cleaning house, to straighten things up so I can see what I still have to do and how I have come to be where I am.
Here on the farm that makes literal sense, as we’re still dealing with the leftover debris from our big retrofit project. We’ve moved in, but the house is still surrounded by the last piles of bricks, torn-up concrete and the occasional old appliance; frankly, it looks like a junkyard. One day soon, we tell one another, we’ll do the final clean-up and turn this place into the stunning demonstration of green building it is meant to be.
This morning I realized we have unwittingly created a metaphor for the world right now: we’ve made a mess and now we have to try and clean it up. How do we even start?
My guess is we have to go way back in time, back to first causes thousands of years ago, after the long eras of Ice Ages and Floods when the survivors were finding their way back to dry land. When I look as far back as I can and try to imagine myself as one of those survivors, I notice that the most precious thing in my world is something hidden in plain sight – the Earth itself. Herself. The land is our home and mother and provider and Goddess. Upon Her our very life depends and we want to “own” her, stake a claim on some part of her that becomes our “property” that we will defend with our very lives.
I believe the issue may be that basic – and that ancient.
It is ridiculous, of course, to think that we can “own” the Earth, especially given that few of us live more than 10 decades at the most, but the idea is ingrained somewhere in our psyches that those who own land will survive; those who do not, will perish, although most indigenous societies remained small enough to coexist upon shared land, recognizing that their lives were inextricably connected with its health and balance.
‘Landlords’ are relatively new in the scheme of things. Lords of Land? I mean, really? Then when you link that up with money and a class system, you must really be confused! So then when you add racial slavery and fossil fuels and rape of the land and of women, you know you’ve gotten desperately off the track!
That’s sort of where we are now. So how do we find our way back? (Other than, of course, having a contest between two teams represented by an elephant and a donkey bashing each other to Hell and back!)
Dismantling a broken-down old ranchhouse, we discovered, meant a whole lot more than just tearing out old wiring and patching up broken window frames. Each layer of rot revealed the next layer of rot until we were down to the floor joists and the accumulation of rat poop and toxic dirt in the ancient crawl space. Almost everything had to go, much of it dug out by hand and our faces covered by masks long before everyone else was wearing them!
Yuck-a-muck! I wondered what in the world we had gotten ourselves into! Maybe we should have just closed the door and let it be, but in fact there was no going back. The process of transformation was underway, like it or not, and we had to see it through for better or for worse – though nobody ever said transformation was easy.
The natural world does it all the time, recycling and transforming one form into another. On the Galapagos, I remember coming upon a dead sealion on the shore of Isla Santiago, crawling with maggots and flapping seabirds coming down to feed. We came back the next day to find the body stripped down to bare bones, the dead sealion having been transformed overnight into food for a myriad of other living creatures.
Down to bare bones. We may need to do some version of that ourselves – strip down our assumptions, recall the basics of living systems of which we are a part, re-define how we shall live upon this Earth and with one another.
If not now, then when? If not us, then who?
I mean, what else is there for us to do during lockdown?