Saturday, June 29, 2013


My Netflix queue has two sides, one for mailed discs and the other for streaming.  The streaming ones seem to have a separate distribution algorithm but I’m not exactly sure what it is.  There might be several.  I have my own algorithm and one is following actors I admire, so I streamed “The Hunter” because of Willem Dafoe   Also, I admire Sam Neill.  I only knew Frances O’Connor as an actress with a face like a Valentine.  Add that it’s an Aussie movie and that it won a prize at the Toronto Film Festival, which I value more than others.  But I wasn’t looking for an enviro film.

I was only marginally aware of Tasmanian tigers and even less so Tasmanian devils -- in fact, I confused the two.  Both are evolutionary side tracks in which marsupials became the equivalent of mammals on other continents, more like hyenas and wolverines than tigers or bears because those were the niches they claimed and those were the characteristics that let them survive there. 

Tasmanian Tigers  AKA Thylacines  1908

Tasmanian Devil  present

They are only part of what makes movies “down under” seem so mysterious and yet familiar -- people say “mystic.”   Almost sci-fi. Philosophical enviro films love landscape, especially the gentler films, which also love sex.  It’s unusual for them to be about hard-man hunters or to combine that with brilliant clear-eyed children like Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock).  From now on I’ll follow Julia Leigh, the writer of the originating novel.  Check out the reviews on, esp. the ones from Aussies.

This remarkable film fits with my enviro preoccupation here in my own mystic landscape full of guarded people, which I survive in part by watching TED talks.  I even subscribe.  The next day after I streamed “The Hunter,” the Ted Talk subscription sent michael_archer_how_we_ll_resurrect_the_gastric_brooding_frog_the_tasmanian_tiger.html   There I found the source material for the image of the thylacine, brought back to life in the movie by CGI.  Some swipes at YouTube yielded many clips about the Tasmanian devils and even the prototype for the Sam Neill character, a man who remembered living thylacines (Tasmanian tigers’ proper name).

Stewart Brand added his pitch at:  He has founded a study group called “Revive & Restore” which is part of his umbrella institution: “The Long Now.”   The thylacine is a remnant that some believe may still be there somehow.  Aurochs are an early kind of cattle (pictured in cave art) close enough to its descendant that it can be recovered by backbreeding (inbreeding).  Condors were brought back by capture and hand-raising.  Woolly mammoths are found frozen -- lots of DNA.  And then there are the dinosaurs. . . 

There are many ways of bringing back the animals of the past, even the people of the past (Neanderthals), but in the background is always the question of bringing back the environment.  (There are businesses that restore streams, even if they’ve been running for a century underground in culverts, “daylighting” them.)  Is an animal itself unless it is interacting with the environment that gave rise to it?   Isn’t it behavior as much as anatomy?   And now we realize that the whole planet has changed, will change, in part because of ourselves.  Is a human a human being if it’s not on the planet Earth?  Could a Neanderthal ride the subway or conduct an orchestra?  (Yes.  But not well.)

So everything is code and we can both read it and create it.  (But not well.)  When I say EVERYTHING is code, I shark-jump God.  God IS the code.  You can dress it up by talking about a goddess’ net or “process theology.”  It’s still just energy code, masquerading as solid objects -- change that somehow seems stable, full of moments because our brains code it that way.  Humans don’t have soul -- they have awareness.  (But not well.)

When I first started reading enviro stuff it was about the land.  One biologist talked about people imprinting with whatever landscape they knew the best, so then that became their idea of what any movement should restore.  She was frustrated because some people had come from back East and knew the Flathead Valley only as it was with the current infestation of spotted knapweed, which covered everything with a purple haze and killed everything that competed.  The newcomers saw that as beautiful and didn’t want to exterminate it.  MANY range weeds are recent invaders.  

In 1990 I picked a “bouquet” at Heart Butte (a remote place in the foothills of the east slope of the Rockies) in order to get the kids to write about them.  After looking each plant up in my handbook, it became clear that we were living in a degraded place.  They’ll scream at the word but de- just means “subtracted” so the word just means it’s below -- less than -- grade A compared to the original foothills grazing.  Until then, I had not been critical of lupine and other bright elegant plants that came from elsewhere.

Brand does not neglect the moral and practical issues of bringing back lost species.  How does one judge “code,” why isn’t it just a matter of imposing our own preferences on the world, and what do we do when some want it the way it is now while others will fight to restore us to 1800 or 1491 or before the retreat of the glaciers ten thousand years ago.  If we’re going to mess around in such matters -- oh, we already are -- the consequences may be quite unlike anything we intend.  Haven't been in the past.

So now we’re on religious ground and the shift is so very deep that most people will not be able to grasp it.  The core of this “religion” is still about survival, both survival of the group and the survival of the individual, but it does not mean access to a perfect place with so much bliss that it may amount to non-feeling, no friction.  It means survival through participation, through consciousness of the fractal swirl that surges on all sides, including the inside.  Not so different from what some people mean when they say “God is in you/you are in God.”  In our times too many people feel that they cannot survive except by NOT participating.  They make themselves like hardened spores that drift through space, hitchhiking on asteroids.

What do I mean by participation?  First of all, it is openness to the senses.  Second, it means an awareness of pattern.  Third, it means being open-handed, open-hearted, letting the process go on with as little ego-interference as possible.  The courage necessary to do this is enormous, not least because to do so can mean going against the entire Western cultural juggernaut, except for the educated sub-culture that has been looking at the evidence.  There are corollaries:  be where you are; smell the roses; take your neighbor’s hand; respect your lover’s body; doubt everything, doubt nothing.

What surprised me about “The Hunter,” the movie, was it’s tenderness.  It’s very much aligned with this sacred approach to life: participation, being where you are, taking your neighbor’s hand and so on.  Dafoe’s character, used to luxury hotels, accepts the hippie/dippie context he has fallen into, repairs the generator, scrubs out the disgusting tub, washes the drugged mother with the help of her children, relates to those children with respect and intelligence, restores music to the trees, and walks the land as part of it.  None of this is preachy.  But he survives.  Alone.  But wait -- maybe not.

Giant worms that smell like lilies aren't quite Tasmanian Tigers, but the principle was the same.)

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