It’s hard to believe that I moved back here in 1999, which now amounts to sixteen years. Things have changed considerably. I did get the book about Bob Scriver written and published, just barely before the whole publishing industry collapsed. But I have not been able to redeem Bob’s work from the profit stranglers who control Western art. The best thing about this Charley Russell trope was that it was land-based and authentic. That was left behind long ago.
The whole concept of “reservations” for a captured indigenous people has changed radically, which means that my thinking about them must also change. This empowers my thought about the environmental movement that has always been present in one form or another. What was specific and experienced has now become planetary and even cosmic. My grandfather's Rodale organic gardening and Bob's practice of keeping “wild” pets as babies have now become concerns about universal chemical pollution and the extinction of species. So many people are concerned and involved that the flow of information and concepts and the demand for response is almost overwhelming.
Another self-assigned task has been preserving and using my father’s photos, not because they were artistic or historic, but because they illustrate a little strand of life across time. In researching the genealogy that they record, I discovered many things, including distortions and tragedies. My family has not wanted to hear about these, because their idea of the virtue of relatives is fragile. We are separated now.
The connected steps I’m following are: cosmology leads to planetary morphology leads to geology leads to ecology leads to the historical formation of cultures leads to human individuation leads to creations. There is no reference to theology. Its place is taken by survival of elements at each step.
Parallel to all this has been trying to keep up with what a human being is and does, particularly in terms of neuro- research. There are five aspects to this:
- The specialization and collaboration of one-celled creatures into complex animals. This is crucial to brain function.
- The message system of the whole body -- not just the senses represented by organs like eye and ear, but the hundreds of small awarenesses, roughly sorted into internal vs. external at the skin barrier but including every tissue and extending down to the molecular level. Action responses are included from molecular secretions to whole-animal skilled exertions like athletic feats. Some estimate that there are 200 differently specialized brain cells assigned to subtle perceptions like whether one is right-side-up (head on top for humans).
- Empathic access to the thoughts and feeling-states of other people through identification, special “mirror” functions of cells in the pre-frontal cortex, experience, and communication systems like speaking, music, art, and words, both oral and written. Results might include bonding, families, patriotism.
- “Group think” which is a phenomenon that forms spontaneously, an aggregate of individual ideas and responses. Philosophies and governments. A weltanschaung.
- Interaction with the infinite, including planetary conditions, sun storms, and massive evolutions of creatures and phenomena. A consciousness that there is far far far more than we CAN know.
“Millennials” are so different from me that I not only don’t understand them, but I begin to resent them for their narcissistic domination of so much. On the other hand, I’m old enough to see how change ripples through everything, most of it useless to oppose. Peoples who have lived through the Great Depression or the World Wars were stretched to their limits and knew it.
The generation that has been in control of the US and probably much of the English-speaking world is just about gone. I relate to them better than to my own generation, partly because of the ten years with a man so much older and partly because of being in Browning, which is just leaving the 19th century. But my own generation is dying as well.
A K-12 Portland classmate died last week -- a woman who had a heart attack. (Actually, I see by her obit that she was only my classmate after 1947 -- moving from California.) This person was intelligent and conventional, charming and dependable, quite mild and gentle. She had two children but her husband, whom she met on vacation in San Francisco, somehow evaporated, probably about the time she went to PSU for an advanced degree. Her work was books and then computers. She was the kind of person I was expected to be, but risked and paid dearly NOT to be. I don’t know where that difference came from except that at some point it dawned on me that it was better to actually live adventures than to just imagine them.
It made a difference that our teachers at Vernon and Jefferson -- and then later in university -- were mostly born at the turn of the 19th century, just before WWI, about the age of Bob Scriver. It was a time about to turn violent and by WWII to murder children as well as destroying cities. Our teachers were educated just at the beginning of the Roaring Twenties when all was optimism and determination, but the war had decimated men of an age to marry them: anyway they were few and scarred. The Edwardian women threw their hearts into secondary education. They were not allowed to teach in universities, so they taught what is now considered graduate level to adolescents who barely grasped it. Here we were, pondering Kitto and Edith Hamilton.
That generation witnessed the desperate war against Nazism, an evil and oily snake impossible to kill. The Millennials so enjoy waving the ghosts and skulls around to upset their elders. They give it Goth Glam, quite unconscious of how easy it is to commit genocide. In fact, they have a hard time thinking of adults as human.
Now both the brokenness of war, often internal to what was thought of as a group joined by faith, and the continuousness and interwovenness of human-caused destruction (sometimes identified as Evil), are becoming clear but not effectively opposed. We keep trying to "solve" it. We begin to think that the roots are paleobiological tendrils reaching back so far they are invertebrate.
I have no way of knowing how many years I have left, but a felt obligation to do something with them. I no longer have the illusion that I can influence others -- that was snuffed by ministry. The drive to write remains strong for its own sake. I do have a passionate sense of what I love to write about. I want the basics, the foundational concepts that are transforming right now.
Why else would I live along the Rockies where the planetary plate tectonics have thrust up ramparts of stone and some day in that rain shadow grass and forbes might return to replace the human-distorted monoculture of grain because climate change from rising temps have prevented industrial irrigation. We are told that we’re about due for another immense upthrust, a massive earthquake. We are told that the two sub-continental plates press together so hard that the earth vibrates with stress, a kind of unheard resonance, all the way down the Old North Trail to the tip of South America. It is a mystical idea that some claim to feel physically.
My understanding is not of the Christian petulant insistence on their individual survival in Heaven, but rather a kind of Taoist acceptance of my participation in these interacting forces. I have no idea which action or thought or insight on my part will affect the future, but it is inescapable that my small actions, even washing the dishes, have impact. (I may be creating a new life form in my neglected dishpan.) Or maybe a word-scrap of my old-fashioned lyric realism will trigger something transformative in someone not born yet, just as reading has done for me.