Thoreau: Craving Reality

The New York Review of Books posts in its entirety a spectacular essay from Robert Pogue Harrison, this time on Thoreau on his centennial birthday, and en or so books and exhibits about The True American.

Thoreau (to my blinkered view) is that exceedingly rare writer/philosopher capable of seeing afresh the most fundamental elements of our lives, such as the ground on which we walk and the air we breathe. For example:

Paradise exists all around us, in America’s “wildness,” the natural environment of the continent. In the contact between his own body and America’s forests, meadows, lakes, rivers, mountains, and animals, Thoreau discovered what he called “hard matter in its home.” That home was the “hard bottom” or “reality” that we crave. “I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound,” he wrote in his journal. “Daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it,—rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks!… Contact! Contact!”

That contact between body and wilderness speaks to me, having spent the last week and half on the PCTsleeping on the ground (and sleeping well). I’ll try to post a picture to give some idea. But let me conclude this post with another compelling — even alarming — quote from Mr. Thoreau,

If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter [scimitar], and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality.

If only this were true! But from the world I stand in awe of, with him, here’s a sunset at mile 1600 of the PCT.

Sunset at mile 1600

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Dear Sam Shepherd I miss you already

One of the most American of us all died yesterday. Sam Shepherd, I miss you today.

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In tribute, let me quote a short piece from his countless marvelous writings. This one happens to be about his father. It’s just another of his countless little miracles of writing, another “how did he do that?’ But it’s straight from the heart.

From a daybook of sketches and road thoughts called Motel Chronicles, published 1982 by City Lights.

My Dad keeps a record collection in cardboard boxes lined up along his bedroom wall collecting New Mexican dust. His prize is an original Al Jolson 78 with the jacket taped and even the tape is ripped. Last time I saw him he tried to bribe me into taking it back to L.A. and selling it for a bundle. He’s convinced it’s worth at least a grand. Maybe more, depending on the market. He says he’s lost touch with the market these days. 

My Dad has a picture of a Spanish senorita covered in whip cream pinned above the sink to his kitchen wall. My Dad actually does. He walked me over to it and we both stared at it for a while. “She’s supposed to be naked under there, but I’ll bet she’s wearing something,” he said.  

He gave me a tour of all his walls. All his walls are covered with pictures. Wall-to-wall magazine clippings. Each picture is a point of view. Like peering out through different windows into intricate landscapes. I stared at the pictures. A waterfall with real rocks glued onto the foreground. Rocks he’d found to fit the picture. A white dog with a green fish in its mouth. Saguaro Cactus in the setting sun ripped from a 1954 Arizona Highways. An orange Orangutang fiddling with its privates. A flight of B-52 Bombers in Wing Formation. A collage of faces splattered with bacon grease.  

My Dad has a collection of cigarette butts in a Yuban coffee can. I bought him a carton of Old Golds but he wouldn’t touch them. He kept twisting tobacco out of butts and rolling re-makes over a grocery bag so as not to lose the slightest bit. He sneered at my carton of cigarettes, all red and white and ready-rolled. 

He spent all the food money I’d gave him on Bourbon. Filled the ice box with bottles. Had his hair cut short like a World War II fighter pilot. He gleamed every time he ran his hand across the bristles. Said they used to cut it short like so their helmets would fit. Showed me how the shrapnel scars still showed on the nape of his neck.  

My Dad lives alone on the desert. He says he doesn’t fit with people.  

Love that “on the desert.” So precise. So laconic.

In the book, they have some rough black and white pictures of Sam and his father looking at each other. In some of them, his dad is wearing a cowboy hat, a white cowboy hat. In some of the

In one of the pictures, his dad is wearing a cowboy hat, a white cowboy hat. In another of the pictures Sam is wearing the hat.

From today’s New Yorker, a wondrously lyric remembrance of Shepherd by Patti Smith, his one-time lover and lifetime friend. Just a slice of life here, I promise, nothing of its miraculous whole given away.

He sent a message from the mountains of Bolivia, where Mateo Gil was shooting “Blackthorn.” The air was thin up there in the Andes, but he navigated it fine, outlasting, and surely outriding, the younger fellows, saddling up no fewer than five different horses. He said that he would bring me back a serape, a black one with rust-colored stripes. He sang in those mountains by a bonfire, old songs written by broken men in love with their own vanishing nature. Wrapped in blankets, he slept under the stars, adrift on Magellanic Clouds.

Sam liked being on the move. He’d throw a fishing rod or an old acoustic guitar in the back seat of his truck, maybe take a dog, but for sure a notebook, and a pen, and a pile of books. He liked packing up and leaving just like that, going west. He liked getting a role that would take him somewhere he really didn’t want to be, but where he would wind up taking in its strangeness; lonely fodder for future work.

Smith-My-Buddy

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The genius of a place: Vaclav Cilek

Mesmerized to have stumbled upon a Czech geologist/climatologist/essayist/philosopher of place, via the great Robert MacFarlane, quoted here.

Vaclav Cilek sees the spirit of landscapes, or rather, sees the possibility of seeing the spirit, the true nature, the inner workings of landscapes (an idea with which he’s comfortable, having spent years cataloguing caves in and around Prague). One can’t summarize in a line or two the depth of his thought, one can only quote a bit, to which one wishes to return, as we return to poetry.

The Rule of Slow Approaching
The thought that you can arrive by a car, stay for a while and understand is in most places merely an illusion. Some places are shy, other places behave like a director in chief – they accept you, but you will need to wait. I know of one place (I am sure there are many, but I didn’t have enough time for them), where it is necessary to approach for three days. We never arrive to unknown sacred spaces directly, it is much better to walk slowly, to hesitate, to circle the place first and only then to approach. An unknown place is not only one that we do not know, but also one which doesn’t know us. Some places demand a great respect, but sometimes respect is in the way, and we achieve more with a smile.

And perhaps most exciting of all, Cilek although well aware of the changes to come in climate, does not appear to be a catastrophist.

My message is simple: the gods of the earth are awakening, the time of change is here, I say to myself with joy and apprehension.

memoryscape3

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The Lions of Ventura County

Let me post (with some pride) my cover story this week in the Ventura County Reporter, on mountain lions, which benefitted enormously from pictures donated to the cause of the cougar by the National Park Service.

Here’s the cover:

P-19 cover

How could you not love P-19? And here’s the story.

THE TRUTH ABOUT BIG CATS | Saving the wild lions of Ventura County 

A small but important fact, gathered at the last possible moment, that sticks in the memory: “The California Department of Fish and Wildlife records show no mountain lion attacks on humans in the history of Ventura County, according to department spokesperson Kirsten MacIntyre.”

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In Ojai, global warming + summer = heat. But how much?

A week ago New York magazine published a blockbuster climate change story. Here’s the annotated/footnoted version. Highly recommended, because the writer — David Wallace-Wells — finds a way to bring home the urgency, using current science. It’s very simple, really. Instead of focusing on what will happen next year, or next decade, or by 2040, he looks at what will happen over the course of this century.

Here’s the cover, to bring the message home:

TheDoomedEarthcatalogue2

To put it simply, even if we as a species succeed in holding warming to 2 degrees Celsius this century, that still means a 4C warming by 2100, which means substantial portions of the planet will become uninhabitable.

From the story:

Since 1980, the planet has experienced a 50-fold increase in the number of places experiencing dangerous or extreme heat. The original paper is by James Hansen, though for this and much of my account of extreme heat events I relied on Joseph Romm’s Climate Change.; a bigger increase is to come. The five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002, This is from the World Bank’s very helpful 2012 report Turn Down the Heat, on life in a world four degrees warmer. and soon, the IPCC warns, simply being outdoors that time of year will be unhealthy for much of the globe.The warning appears on page 15 of the Fifth Assessment’s Synthesis Report. As some readers have pointed out, these effects will come about gradually, beginning with the rare unusually hot day; those unusually hot days will gradually become more frequent in number. As with all of the climate effects in this article, it’s important to remember that heat stress is not a binary matter: It’s not that there are two options, lethal heat waves and normal, comfortable temperatures, but that global warming will gradually bring about more and more heat stress. The same is true, of course, for effects on agriculture, economics, conflict, and other areas. As Richard Alley told me, “We’ve warmed the world one degree. The general impression is that each degree is more costly, more damaging, than the previous one. The first degree — most estimates are that the first degree was almost free. But we can see a dotted line into Syria. The second degree will cost more than the first degree. You might say it costs the square of the warming.” Even if we meet the Paris goals of two degrees warming, cities like Karachi and Kolkata will become close to uninhabitable, annually encountering deadly heat waves like those that crippled them in 2015.“Even if such aspirations are realized, large increases in the frequency of deadly heat should be expected, with more than 350 million more megacity inhabitants afflicted by midcentury,” this paper warns. At four degrees, the deadly European heat wave of 2003, which killed as many as 2,000 people a day, will be a normal summer.Also from Turn Down the Heat. At six, according to an assessment focused only on effects within the U.S. from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, summer labor of any kind would become impossible in the lower Mississippi Valley, and everybody in the country east of the Rockies would be under more heat stress than anyone, anywhere, in the world today.The report can be found here. As Joseph Romm has put it in his authoritative primer Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know,heat stress in New York City would exceed that of present-day Bahrain, one of the planet’s hottest spots, and the temperature in Bahrain “would induce hyperthermia in even sleeping humans.”This is from page 138, though it refers to the same NOAA study mentioned above. The high-end IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] estimate, remember, is two degrees warmer still.

Several scientists pushed back against the article’s conclusions (and, I suspect, against the graphics and headline, which transmitted a message of doom and extinction). I’ll mention a couple of worthy voices in this debate, but move on to the local issue, which is of greater importance to residents to Ojai.

Ojai is already a warm place in our long Mediterranean summers: what if it gets hotter? Could Ojai be one of those places that will within our children’s become inhabitable?

This graph from NOAA shows that June temps have been soaring as of late. Probably this is due to the drought: without the evaporation and transpiration of water from the ground, temperatures warm more quickly than would otherwise be the case. But still…

CAdivisionsixmaxtempsinJune

 

The question of how much Ojai could warm this century has not really been asked, to my knowedge. Can we stand to consider this possibility? Anyone interested in the answer to that question? What if it’s knowable?

This week NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) held its monthly climate call for media. Climatologist Jake Crouch mentioned in his presentation that “typically when we have really warm years in the lower 48 we see a drought pattern.”

So I (Kit Stolz) asked the natural follow-up: Is there some unusual factor, ocean warming or something not necessarily seen in the usual datasets, that could explain this unusual warming?

Crouch said, in effect, no. “As to the temperature outlook, we saw some natural ridging building across the southwest, bringing hotter temperatures and some human health impacts to the region. We think it’s more of a weather phenomenon than any other factor.”

So there you have it. Until some new research comes in, anyhow.

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Extreme hiking in Sierra and The Guardian

We’re seeing more and better coverage of hiking in the media, I think that’s fair to say. Here are today’s examples. From Sierra (magazine) a sponsored content story about two hikers, young women, working their way up the length of the Americas. 20,000 miles. Which will take years.

The hikers’ next challenge is to make it through the deserts of Chile. In these parts, precipitation is all but unheard of. The Atacama stretches a thousand kilometers south to north, with few services or natural water sources. The hikers scoured satellite maps for water sources, and reached out to social networks to find volunteers willing to make water drops.

Other solutions are decidedly low-tech. In the Atacama, they will follow roads, not trails, Hughes says. “We have made it through two of the longest dry stretches, ninety-plus kilometers [56mi], with a large ‘water’ sign on my backpack. Again and again, the generosity of strangers has carried us through the toughest stretches.”

Before encountering the Atacama, as the two women walked north from Uspallata, Argentina, they entered the southernmost outposts of the Qhapaq Ñan, the famed Inca road system connecting a diverse empire that now encompasses six countries. The stone walls, irrigation channels, and rounded huts of the tambos (former forts and storehouses) remain. The hikers set up camp among the ruins. For Hughes, it was a transcendental moment of arrival. But she also noted, “To them, this was the end of the road, the middle of nowhere. The only Incas who made it down this far were the well-walked, outcast odd-balls—like us.”

Speaking of outcasts, the next example, from The Guardian, focuses on a legendary hiker known as Nimblewill Nomad, who has left all conventional life and family behind as he became a man who walks everywhere ceaselessly.

In his 61st year on this earth, the man who calls himself Nimblewill Nomad left home and walked a very long way through the mountains – about 10 million steps, he estimates, or 4,400 miles. Then, he took another, even longer walk. And then another one. And then another. Soon, he had given away almost all of his money and taken to walking almost year-round, roaming the post-industrial wilderness of North America in what he called “a desperate search for peace”.

Excellent and personal story from the writer Robert Moor, who for three days walked with Nomad by the roads of west Texas. Nomad no longer bothers with trails, but still finds islands of wildness along the way.

The next night, we slept in a copse of gnarled oaks beside a graveyard, a shady grove carpeted with slender, rippling leaves. It was strangely lovely. Eberhart found them everywhere, these forgotten little shards of wilderness. The problem, he said, was that hikers tended to divide their lives into compartments: wilderness over here, civilization over there. “The walls that exist between each of these compartments are not there naturally,” he said. “We create them. The guy that has to stand there and look at Mount Olympus to find peace and quiet and solitude and meaning – life has escaped him totally!”’

It’s true that nature is not “out there” as Gary Snyder likes to say, but “home.” Unfortunately, it’s also true that those in search of life at home in nature are considered “odd balls” and perhaps always have been, if Bethany Hughes and Lauren Reed’s accounting of Incan walkers can be trusted. Maybe that’s okay?

SIERRA Thru-Hiking the Americas 4 WB (1)

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Garrison Keiller on the piousness of climate activists

Humorists and contrarians so often seem to drink from the same well, as Garrison Keiller did this week in mocking Trump, Trump supporters, climate activists, Europeans, the Chinese, smokers, and himself in a column this week.

No sensuous pleasure can compare to the thrill of righteousness, and when the poor schlump [Trump] stood in the Rose Garden and read his speech about America victimized by the crafty Europeans and the treacherous Chinese who designed the Paris accords, he could not have imagined the uproar he would cause. Moments later, everybody to the left of Jabba the Hutt was shaking their fists as if he had stuck his hand up under the Statue of Liberty’s gown. Birds shrieked from the trees, small dogs growled, even heinous criminals looked upon him with loathing.

Love that hyperbole! A picture from outside the White House gates:

outsidethewhitehouse

But as is typically the case with the great Keillor, he’s got surprises — a little poke for one and all:

People love the chance to get all apocalyptic: The right wing has enjoyed this for years and now it was everyone else’s turn. The polar icecap melting, the incidence of depression among chickadees rising, tooth decay in chickens, acorns falling, the planet turning to toast. Prophets of doom wherever you looked.

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Even though the scientists are right about climate change, the sanctimony is awfully heavy. It’s like the people who told me the mortality statistics for heavy smokers back when I was doing four packs a day. They took satisfaction from my imminent demise and to demonstrate my immortality I upped my intake and switched to unfiltered Camels. The Paris accords were a bunch of drunks agreeing to go on the wagon, and what the guy at the podium did was to invest in a chain of distilleries. So what?

The man is only trying to please the folks who voted for him. They want him to walk into church and moon the clergy. They’ve always wanted to do it themselves but didn’t dare offend their devout neighbors. So they went along, saying the appropriate things about Community and Cooperation and Tolerance and the Value of Education, which made them miserable because they didn’t believe in any of it. They believed in Family Loyalty and outsiders can go to hell. Be a winner. Race to the buffet and pick all the beef out of the stew and let the others have the celery and onions.

It’s a selfish world view but so what? Sew buttons on your underwear. They never had a champion until this guy came along and spoke for them loud and clear, and they eked out a narrow win in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and now they’re making the most of it. That’s how it works. And every week or so, their guy walks up to the altar and drops his trousers.

The guy is trying to save the coal industry. We each have our causes. I am fighting for the typewriter industry and for the revival of rotary telephones. That doesn’t make me a bad person. I think the 1951 Studebaker was the most beautiful car of the 20th century. With a few billion dollars in federal subsidies and a ban on foreign imports, we can bring the Studebaker back. This will be a great boon to South Bend, Indiana.

The truth is, the man has a lousy job. He is penned up in the White House with a bunch of gossipy underlings and he is expected to make big decisions about matters he doesn’t know or care about and he is expected to make nice with world leaders who disdain him, like the Frenchman who gave him a bone-crushing handshake.

And he did the speech and was reamed by the media and academicians and loser Democrats, that whole high-fiber crowd, and you know what? He does not care. He is 70 and no scientist in the world says the sky is going to fall in the next 20 or 25 years so what exactly is the problem? Like his followers, he has no beliefs, only urges. Look at the expression of chill hauteur on the man’s face as he shoves his way through the NATO heads of state to stand in front. It’s all there. That’s him. The Duke of Earl. When you know nothing, nothing can stop you.

But as many have noted, the bizarre twist is that the President pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement is not only unpopular in polling by about a 2-to-1 margin, but it’s also sent interest in the agreement through the roof.

Will this President ever get control of the narrative?

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Trump cites MIT climate study: MIT objects

Yesterday President Trump announced he is exiting the United States from the climate deal that the Obama administration pulled together against all odds with 190 nations from around the world. Trump justified the abrogation of the deal for several reasons, and cited an MIT study:

Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree — think of that; this much — Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.  Tiny, tiny amount.

But of course the study doesn’t stay that.

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President Trump unveils new climate policy

Trumptoworld

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Blaming the media turns vicious: May 2017

If there’s one fact in a tempestuous and confusing political scene that the vast majority of Americans agree about, it’s this:

You can’t trust the media.

According to Gallup, about 3/4ths of Americans disrespect the media. Among Republicans only 14 percent trust the media. Folks, it’s not daring and rebellious to blame the media for being irritating. It’s a daily occurrence.

Hell, it’s boring. It’s near idiotic.

Over the top? Not so much. Especially since the blaming has escalated. Reporters have gone from being verbally attacked as “among the most dishonest people on earth” to being attacked legally and physically. Funny how that happens.

A little over a week ago, a reporter in West Virginia was arrested for trying to talk to an agency director in a hallway. His crime? Asking a question. Pulitzer Prize-winner Deborah Blum reports in Undark:

On that morning in early May, Heyman, a 54-year-old journalist with the Public News Service, was running down a hallway in the West Virginia State Capitol building, waving his cell-phone recorder at Thomas E. Price, the newly installed Secretary of Health and Human Services. He was trying to get an answer on whether changes to health care law proposed by Congressional Republicans would allow health insurance companies to consider domestic violence a pre-existing condition. Such a designation could allow insurers to deny coverage to victims of abuse — principally women — or to charge them higher premiums.

Audio of Heyman’s encounter with Price went viral. “I heard that domestic violence is going to be a potential pre-existing condition,” Heyman called out upon encountering the secretary in a public corridor. “Do you think that’s right or not?” The recording is notable for many things: for the rapid thud of footsteps, for Price’s stony silence, and for Heyman’s increasingly out-of-breath and ultimately unfulfilled requests for an answer. It is also notable for concluding with the reporter’s arrest on a charge of “willful disruption of state government processes.”

But that was West Virginia, right? Couldn’t happen here.

Five days ago, in Washington, D.C. a reporter from Roll Call was pinned against the wall by two Federal Communications Commission employees and then throw out of the building. His crime?

He tried to ask a question.

From the NYTimes:

Fire days ago, a reporter said he was pinned against a wall by two security officials in a public hallway at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington on Thursday after he tried to ask a question of a commissioner.

The reporter, John M. Donnelly of CQ Roll Call, said the officials’ behavior did not end there. They then waited for him outside a restroom, one of them followed him to the lobby and, under the implied threat of force, ejected him from the building, Mr. Donnelly said on Friday.

And today, a Republican candidate running for Congress in Montana’s sole district, physically attacks and “body slams” a reporter to the ground for, what? Yes, asking a question:

The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat has been charged with misdemeanor assault after he is alleged to have slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting, “Get the hell out of here.”

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter.

The attack was witnessed by a FOX News television team, which added this jaw-dropping detail.

At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave.

Jacobs went to the hospital for x-rays. After a couple of hours, the police charged the candidate with assault.

When do we start calling attacks on the press attacks on our democracy?

Maybe it starts with the Billings Gazette. Tonight they pulled their endorsement of Gianforte and added:

Although we’re greatly troubled by this action against a member of the media who was just doing his job, to make this an issue of media intrusion or even a passionate defense of the role of a free press during an election would be to miss the point.

If what was heard on tape and described by eye-witnesses is accurate, the incident in Bozeman is nothing short of assault. We wouldn’t condone it if it happened on the street. We wouldn’t condone it if it happened in a home or even a late-night bar fight. And we couldn’t accept it from a man who is running to become Montana’s lone Congressional representative.

We will not stand by that kind of violence, period.

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We’d point out that all the other questionable interactions Gianforte had with reporters, including one case where he joked about ganging up on a reporter, must now be seen through a much more sinister lens. What he passed off as a joke at the time now becomes much more serious.

Last month, it turns out, Gianforte made an appearance at a high school. A man in the crowd made an allusion to strangling a reporter in the crowd. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported what happened:

According to the Ravalli Republic, at a campaign event in Hamilton in April, a man in the audience asked Gianforte “how can we rein in the news media?” The man then looked at the Republic reporter and “raised his hands as if he would like to wring his neck,” the newspaper reported. In response, Gianforte said: “It seems like there is more of us than there is of him. I don’t have a simple solution for you. I will say that doing town hall meetings and getting out and visiting with people is very important.”

Yes, in other words, it was “a joke.” About killing a reporter. Ha ha ha.

Blame the media: what a hoot!

 

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