2016-11-20

The Recent Unpleasantness

Now also at Urbanwildland.org

This fall the mythography of our country suffered a significant loss. A place went missing. A pastoral room has vanished. Lake Wobegon is no more. After forty years of more or less continuous weekly radio reports Garrison Keillor has hung up his microphone and the landscape and community he made has fallen silent. He created a place that represented the way we were, or at least imagine the way we might have been, in some rural outpost in Central Minnesota where the seasons were often the protagonist and where the human population was deeply embedded in some version of the natural world - their personal foibles or crises mere arabesques on the immutable presence that is the Prairie.

Across the continent, another voice fell silent that also represented a mythic place - a pastoral village green where simple games of stick and ball are played. Vin Scully retired from calling Dodger games. Never mind that the L.A. stadium represents the hyper-commercial aggrandizement of that simple game, nor that the development of the stadium in the early 1960's destroyed an established community in Chavez Ravine with little regard for its resident's welfare: this was the demise of another (white male) voice that enshrined a pastoral, conservative, and not entirely coincidentally, a Christian world view - but which ultimately celebrated the mythic power of a place to which it provided an aural anchor in times of profound transience.

I owe both men a debt of gratitude: they have voiced an important part of the sonic background to the three and a half decades of my acculturation to this remarkable feat of the imagination: the United States of America.

Now, a great transgressive act has occurred within this heady construct. Swept away in the yearlong Opéra bouffe culminating in the second Tuesday of November, were two dynasties containing three Presidents, a Secretary of State, a Governor and a CIA director along with their Washington courtiers, and retinues from Florida, Texas, Kennebunkport and Chappaqua via Little Rock, Arkansas: all having faithfully served mammon and Empire while outwardly maintaining the appearance of divisive partisanship. Both families successfully fulfilled their role in what amounts to electoral authoritarianism (the technique much favored by third-world countries whereby multi-party elections are held, but in circumstances so prescribed that they become instruments of authoritarianism rather than democracy) . The genius of the American system, as has often been noted, is that it consists of two major parties both dedicated to the needs of the deep state and both determined to effectively silence alternative, so-called third, parties. These two familial bastions of this exclusionary system have now been vanquished.

In this we can rejoice. Yet they exit the stage still trailing the clouds of havoc they wreaked upon the world. We wait to see how dark is the instrument of their comeuppance. One thing is certain: the old religion is dead, the new is upon us.

The World Value Survey (conducted by a consortium of social scientists from around the world) locates national values along two axes: vertically (y) from Traditional values to Secular-rational values and horizontally (x) from Survival values to Self-expression values. Sweden resides in splendid isolation at the top right hand corner of the chart and a cluster of Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Jordan and Morocco at the bottom left. The USA lurks in the bottom third of the ‘y’ axis, favoring traditional values, but is to the far right of the ‘x’ axis, favoring the values of self-expression. Despite the keening of liberals, we have just experienced a beautiful expression of this metadata. We have, indeed, demonstrated the vitality of our democracy, for the demos, or the villages, have spoken and their standard bearer is about to be installed in the White House. While many fear that we are about to suffer under an ochlocracy, or mob rule, (one of the three systems of government that classical Greek thinkers derided as evil, along with oligarchy and tyranny) the recent unpleasantness demonstrated that the system is, after all, not irretrievably rigged.

Despite the dastardly deeds of the Democratic National Committee in defeating what it perceived as an inappropriate choice as their candidate and an equally nefarious campaign waged to ensure the selection by the opposition of a candidate it believed was so flawed as to be unelectable, our democracy prevailed - and our imaginations are now newly challenged to remake our Union.

I accept that as a white male pontificating on such matters from on high, or at least reasonably high in the Topatopa foothills of Ojai, in Southern California, I inhabit a position of great privilege. I am unlikely to be amongst the first cohort to be shadowed by the darkness many perceive to have befallen our nation. What I can authentically do is to continue what I have been doing for the last seven years, but with a renewed energy; that is, to write of a particular place, the Urbanwildland, in the spirit of those writers (from Jefferson and Thoreau, to Edward Abbey, Ursula le Guin and Leslie Marmon Silko and beyond) who have, in the life of this nation, clearly seen that our relationship to the land is crucial to the way in which we arrange our society.

No creative writing practice is likely to exert direct influence on scientific or technological developments, even less on public policy and little or none on the political process. Yet if, as Lawrence Buell suggests in The Environmental Imagination, Harvard, 1995, “there is an emerging culture of environmental concern” some part of that culture is likely open to the persuasive power of literary production. Many of us who labor (however sporadically) in this vineyard seek an end to the ideologies of neoliberalism and more broadly of the rhetoric and mythos of ‘progress’ and seek to foster an embrace of green thinking which might value cooperation rather than competition, the community rather than the individual and diversity rather than conformity. Our political crisis (if such it is) is ultimately transcended by our environmental crisis: reimagining the natural world and our relationship to it is a necessary first step in the resolution of the secular affairs of state.

Early November, early morning, preternaturally warm; the sun barely over the Santa Paula ridge, my shadow long, flaring towards the ocean; skin riffled by the Santa Ana winds - fire winds. The pasture I am moving across is flushed with green after the first rains of the season; part of my attention is caught by the mounding turkey mullein along the track, but the particularities of place are swamped by that long promised transcendence which arises from an engagement with the natural world –for this moment, the minutiae of our social arrangements fall away, lost in the eternity of the empyrean.

2016-11-07

Pastoral Rooms

Now also at www.urbanwildland.org

Lawrence Buell (The Environmental Imagination, 1995), writes that Thoreau practices the embedment of pretty pastoral rooms within a radical critique of urbanism and chastises him for turning away from social confrontation "for the sake of immersion in a simplified Green world". The environmental movement is predicated on a similar tendency to valorize the wild and to pillory the urban for whatever faults it sees in our world now or in an imagined future. Here at Urban Wildland, I attempt a fluid analysis of our predicament which privileges neither urban nor wild and indeed, neither past nor present: our shared future is the river in which these temporal and physical tributaries come together. Our individual consciousness is influenced by similar complexities of time and material circumstance, and in the black and white textual rooms to which I fully admit to retreating, there continue to be useful revelations pertinent to an understanding of the process. Hence this week’s Book Report.

Joan Grant was an extraordinary English writer who wrote the global best seller Wings of the Pharaoh, a historical romance, in 1937. She first visited the United States in 1914 aboard the Lusitania (yes, the very same ship that was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland in 1916 and became the proximate cause for America's entry into WWI) and returned in 1964 with her third husband Denys Kelsey (known to her as 'K', like Krishnamurti, in what is unlikely to have been an entirely unconscious conflation) on the Queen Elizabeth to visit the center for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach where she and Denys would lecture on Reincarnation. Now, her granddaughter Nicki Bennett (a recently widowed, treasured friend in Ojai), is returning to England on the Queen Mary II to take up residence in Edinburgh.

There is, between these several voyages, a fascinating tale which I will leave Nicki to weave. But before she left, I took a shrink wrapped copy of A Lot to Remember, 1962, Grant's travel memoir re-issued in 1980, beautifully cloth bound in a pale sage green, no dust jacket, but instead a purple imprint of the author's mesmeric eyes and bewitching eyebrows on the front cover, from a carton of same before placing the box in a storeroom of the Ojai house which Nicki has now left.

The book concerns the author's time in the Dordogne, and focuses on the architectural and scenic splendors of the towns and villages along the river Lot and on life amidst the Lotoise, particularly those involved in what we would now call the hospitality industry. It is, to be frank, a slight volume both in heft and literary pretension, but it is enlivened by Joan's psychic relations with what she calls 'spooks' which inhabit an alternate plane of reality to which she is acutely attuned. The region's history is drenched in bloody dynastic and religious rivalries and grotesqueries lurk in ruined manorial piles, chateaux, abbeys and fortifications scattered amidst the now placid countryside. Eternally damned torturers, murderers and fallen priests are sent on the way of reincarnation by Joan's sensitive analysis of their plight and her powers of love and forgiveness - expressed in Christic epigrams, presumably delivered in her fractured French.

At other times, she fully inhabits her role as a prototypical upper-middle class bohemian Englishwoman dispensing gobs of noblesse oblige over the French countryside. Accompanied by her second husband and later by her third, gallivanting, gourmandizing and practicing what she calls her Far Sight, she is at once entertaining and annoyingly precious. The couples’ choice of steed is carefully selected for their progress along farm tracks, minor ‘D’ roads, rustic Rue Principales and Routes Nationales, the system of ‘N’ roads which largely follow ancient Roman routes; for it is an Armstrong Siddeley, perhaps a Sapphire, which has as its hood ornament a sphinx, adopted as the company's logo in 1912 after a journalist described an early model as ‘as silent and inscrutable as the sphinx'. One of Joan's alter egos (or more accurately, previous incarnations) is Sekeeta, the daughter of a Pharoah and heroine of her first book. Joan enjoyed many lives in Egypt, recollecting them in another three Far Memory books, Eyes of Horus (1942), Lord of the Horizon (1943) and So Moses was Born (1952). Looking across the long-hooded car, the sphinx imperiously leading the way, the French countryside is deconstructed beneath her penetrating gaze.

Jonathon Bate's exhaustive biography, John Clare (2003), is my current sleepy-time, lights-out soporific. ‘The peasant poet’, was one of a cohort of British Romantic poets in the early nineteenth century, which included, most famously, Keats, Byron, Cowper and Tennyson. Clare, briefly famous in the 1820’s, saw his work begin to gain a new level of popularity in the 1980’s and his work continues to be discovered by readers charmed by his poetic descriptions of the English countryside and galvanized by his outrage at the injustices of the Enclosure movement which restricted the rights of landless peasants in a process by which highly profitable monocultures replaced small scale arable crops and common-land grazing. Much of the land of which he writes is simultaneously under the threat of creeping Industrialization. Reading him is to experience our world foretold, of nature scarred and compromised and society riven by ever increasing economic injustice.

Ironically, the impoverished Clare, who made almost nothing from his infrequent publications, was supported by members of the aristocracy and for a while became a literary mascot to several of the noble houses which surrounded his humble cottage on the edge of the fens in what is now Cambridgeshire. Briefly feted in London, he risked being integrated into high society but his manic behavior saw him, instead, institutionalized first in a private hospital in Essex and then in a public Lunatic asylum in Northampton where he wrote perhaps his most famous poem, ‘ I Am’, which ends with a fine, transcendentalist howl,

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil'd or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below--above the vaulted sky.

He longed to retreat, in other words, from padded cell to pastoral room. Turned solipsistic in his dotage, he abandons his social gaze and is transformed into an admitted “self-consumer of my woes”. Perhaps, a nineteenth century incarnation of Joan could have helped him, for Joan practiced psychotherapy with #2 Charles Beatty and #3 Denys Kelsey in Britain the U.S. and France. Employing a kind of regression therapy, she believed that diagnosing unresolved issues from past lives could assist in the treatment of the patient’s neuroses in their present incarnation. Clare’s hold on his identity was always tenuous – he identified with Byron to the point of re-writing that aristocrat’s poems and on occasion believed that he was Shakespeare. He explained, with admirable candor, “I‘m John Clare now. I was Byron and Shakespeare formerly”.

One of the appeals of Clare’s work is that it is the expression of a true rustic. He knew of what he wrote in a way that Wordsworth, for instance, did not. Clare was a participant in nature, Wordsworth an observer. The nature they both wrote about was part of a pastoral tradition: a land tamed over the ages for the benefit of its human inhabitants. Enclosure represented an extension of pastoralism not its beginnings. Thoreau’s ‘simplified green world’ was, in the case of Walden, an island of second growth forest in a largely deforested countryside. Joan traveled through a similarly compromised environment, but it was exactly the human imprint to which she was attracted, for in that lay the psychic reverberations which were her true subject. Her pastoral rooms existed as traps for superannuated spooks.

My pastoral rooms, to quote Thoreau, “are made out of Chaos and Old Night”. They are not pastoral at all – they are wild, “not mead, nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, not waste-land” - but primal chaparral. This week has been warm and the winds strong. The other evening I arrived home to find that a dead Deerweed plant (Lotus scoparius) had blown up against the front door. It was largely spherical - perhaps three feet in diameter - and it glowed a fiery orange in the sun’s last rays. It appeared as a burning bush, heralding the presence of the wild within the precinct of our home.

My green world is aflame: it is a threat, not a comfort - and there is, I realize, no turning away from the Urban Wildland.

2016-10-26

Boom and Thump


Now also at www.urbanwildland.org

The catalyst for the development of the human species is climate change. Nowhere is this more obvious than amongst the first peoples of California; their arrival by land and sea was predicated on a long retreat from the deep freeze of the north, from northeastern Asia to a potentially warmer continent that spanned the northern and southern hemispheres of the globe. They followed the mega-fauna across the tundra, or chased pinnipeds amidst the kelp on their long coastal voyage, but within a few thousand years they were forced to adapt to the dramatically warming climate of the Holocene when populations of mammoths and elephant seals were both in rapid decline and oaks were replacing the pine forests that had flourished in the Pleistocene.

Up into La Broche Canyon it was possible, this morning, to get above the ocean of fog that had rolled into the valleys overnight. To the west, only the dark, oak-clad ridge of Sulphur Mountain was visible, while to the south the telecommunications, satellite tracking and radar paraphernalia bristled above the fog on Point Mugu Ridge and the jagged peaks of the Boney Mountain State Wilderness appeared as islands in the milk sea. Eastward, into the rising sun, the chaparral clad flanks of Santa Paula Mountain and its foothills were obdurate in the brilliance of the morning.

I was following a trail that was established, perhaps, as an exploratory oil road; was an old trading route between the Chumash villages of ‘Awha’y and Mupu, or was a part of an ancient spirit path that eventually led to a mountain peak. In its current incarnation, it is a little used track (by me, evidence of a lone horse, faint markings of a quad-bike, and recent mountain lion spoor) that ends, inconclusively, just to the west of Santa Paula Canyon. This palimpsest, this overlaying of intentions over time reflected in markings on the land, is but a tiny and almost lost fragment of the human-environmental history of the area that spans 15,000 years - each morning of which fully sentient beings have awoken to subtle or not so subtle changes in the weather.

It must be said, that this morning and every other time I take this particular trail, my HOKA ONE ONE PRO2 Lite’s leave very little in the way of evidence beyond my confirming the pre-existent path through my footfalls limiting new plant life along the single track. Mine is a very faint imprint on the already mostly blank record of human impact in this particular part of the canyon.

The wider (but still local) record of ancient, pre-contact inhabitation is similarly sparse. Through every development of the Indian presence - characterized by the 1984 Chartkoff model as Paleo-Indian (15,000 – 11,000 years ago) with an economy based on mega-fauna; Archaic (11,000 – 4,000) marked by a diffuse economy and the colonization of new ecological niches; and Pacific (4,000 – contact) evidenced by an increasing range of foods - their intimate, immediate and essentially co-dependent relationship with their environment produced little in the way of permanent monuments or even non-degradable artifacts. Archaeologists consequently obsess on enduring items such as chipped stone tools, grinding implements (metates and manos) and pounding tools (mortars and pestles), shell fish-hooks and shell money. Local Indians were basket weavers not potters, their houses fully biodegradable woven rush structures, not adobe brick and their diets were only evidenced in middens by the remains of shellfish, fish and animal bone - not the great quantities of seeds, roots and berries that made up much of their sustenance.

The archaeological record of the ancient coast line has been entirely expunged by post glacial rising sea levels and what is left in the always less inhabited interior seriously devalued by bioturbation (the action of burrowing animals). We are thus confronted with nothing much more than minimally informed conjecture.

The record of climate change is a little more substantial. Every hundred thousand years or so, the planet retreats into the ice. The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) was 21,000 to 18,000 years ago. Sea level was almost 400 feet below current levels, and great sheets of ice covered much of the Sierra and Klamath ranges. At lower elevations vast lakes covered inland areas to the south and east while the present coast line at Ventura was as much as twenty miles further west. The northern Channel Islands were one connected whole. Temperatures were 12-14 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than today and thickly coated mega-fauna, such as sabre-toothed cats, wolves, bears, mastodons, mammoths, deer, elk, big-horned sheep and the ground sloth thrived. They continued to flourish for several thousand years as the Pleistocene gave way to the Holocene inter-glacial and their world slowly warmed.

Around 15,000 years ago, amidst the melting ice, the Paleo-Indian occupation of southern California began. Wielding hafted projectile points that were chipped along their edges to make serrated (or fluted) cutting surfaces, they hunted megafauna for their meat, fat, fur, teeth, tusks, antlers, horns and sinew. The general trend of a warming climate was briefly interrupted by the so-called Younger Dryas which signaled a return to a near glacial climate between 12,900 and 11, 400 years ago and this interregnum may have extended the viability of the large herd and pack animals of the Plesistocene which favored the open tundra.

When the warming trend resumed, however, the megafauna’s vulnerability to a changing ecosystem was quickly established as afforestation began to limit their rangelands. The replacement of patchy conifer forests with dense stands of oaks, the disappearance of pluvial lakes and overhunting by native populations all contributed to the local extinction (paralleled throughout North America) of some 35 genera of the continent’s large animals by 10,000 years ago.

Many local people, it seems, adapted to their new environment by hunting rabbits and deer and developing a millingstone culture where manos and metates rang with the sound of grinding seeds. Others moved into coastal areas where Paleo-Indians, who had arrived via the ’Kelp Road’ (the coastal route from north eastern Asia) some 13,000 years ago (Erlandson), had long established fishing and gathering shellfish as a part of their subsistence – skills now central to their own survival and adopted by this influx of climate refugees. Thus Paleo-environmental change inevitably forced accommodations to an altered resource base and, as Glasgow, Gamble, Perry and Russell point out in California Prehistory, Ed. Terry Jones and Katherine Klar, 2007, these adaptations greatly impacted the cultural evolution of local tribes. Such subsistence models represented a break with the past and allowed for ever larger coastal and near-coastal populations. We can imagine then, that the Ojai valley hosted Indian communities from at least 6,000 years ago subsisting on hunting and trapping and the local superabundance of edible seeds and berries which provided a surplus for the acquisition of fish, shellfish, and pinniped steaks traded from the coast and the Channel Islands.

By about 4,500 years ago, there is evidence of mortars and pestles in the archaeological record, indicating the human utilization of a greater variety of crushable plant foods. A higher frequency of projectile points is also discernable in this era, indicating an increased emphasis on hunting, and this is also suggestive of a gender-based bifurcation of food acquisition. By about 2,000 years ago there is evidence of a switch to pulpy foods such as acorns, islay (the red berries of holly-leafed cherry) and the edible portions of the chaparral yucca, all of which were processed in mortars by the action of a percussive pestle.

After contact, some eighteen hundred years later, William Bryant Logan writes in Oak, the Frame of Civilization, 2005, that “early European travelers came to recognize how close they were to a village by the boom and thump of women driving pestles into mortars to grind acorns into meal”. That sound had hung in the Ojai valley for at least two millennia. For the Chumash (the name archaeologists have given to the dominant group of regional tribes at contact), acorn meal was an essential part of their diet and central to their culture. Its importance was demonstrated in their careful tending of the oak forests that thrived amidst the creeks that threaded through the bottom lands between the Santa Ynez and Sulphur Mountains – the site of present day Ojai and Meiners Oaks.

The East End of Ojai is still watered by a number of tributary streams that flow out of Senior and Horn Canyons and feed into San Antonio Creek whose confluence with the Ventura River, just to the east of Casitas Springs, is marked by a tangle of cottonwoods and sycamores. It was along these streams, in the shade of oaks, that the Chumash congregated in tribelets, essentially extended family groupings, and lived their lives in the valley of the moon. That they pounded acorns into flour is quite certain. Yet evidence of this activity is less than emphatic. Occasionally, there is an ancient oak limb bent unnaturally low to the ground forcibly manipulated to provide an opportunity for woman and children to easily pick the tree’s acorns. This we know was an aspect of Chumash arboriculture, but such trees are rare and slowly disappearing.

Bed rock mortars are sometimes associated with rock art sites in the Sespe Wilderness, but the agricultural clearing in the East End, beginning early in the last century, has obliterated all such evidence, but just recently a friend in the area unearthed a pestle – a smooth cylinder of stone rounded at each end – one of which was distinguished by a pronounced wear edge. This pestle had seen much service, had produced much acorn meal and had resounded, we can presume, with much ‘boom and thump’. As I held it, the realization slowly crept upon me, that for a moment, I had a physical connection to the primal subsistence of a lost people. They had inhabited their immediate environment in ways that fully reflected the productivity of the land and the limiting factors of the climate; they understood the ever evolving dance between the two and made that understanding the basis for an enduring culture.

We have broken this tradition: destroying, in the process, all knowledge of living mindfully on the fruits of the earth. We, in this ignorance, prepare (or not) for the mild vicissitudes of a cyclical drought and the looming horizon of ice-melt and a rising ocean carelessly initiated by one hundred and fifty years of anthropogenic global warming.

The pestle is a totem: an emblem of dietary fortitude in the face of environmental limitations. This particular stone implement has now been re-hidden beneath the roots of an olive tree – ironically, an example of the exogenous biota introduced by conquering Europeans. Holding it, I was offered a glimpse into a world where stone, wood, bone, animal skin, sinew, earth, and cellulose defined the material limits of the universe and where the natural world was composed of a web of intensely intimate relationships with food of which the local Indians were fully a part: it was a glimpse which loomed with both hope and despair.

2016-09-28

We Can Move

Now also at urbanwildland.org

Weeds are overspread on the cattle pasture at the top of the hill: tar-weed, vinegar-weed and milk-weed (although not so much of this last one); all are natives and all highly unpalatable - likewise turkey mullein - to the cows that are occasionally put here to graze. There was a brief flush of non-native grasses earlier in the year, and then mustard and Erodium, but the cattle were out often enough to reduce the field to a dusty, over-grazed paddock by spring. Yet somehow this pretty (and in the case of vinegar weed, pungently aromatic) trio of weeds survived the bovine onslaught and made it through much of the summer. Now, still blooming tar weed dominates the gentle north facing rise and turkey mullein studs the ground either side of the north-south track the cattle and I take as we make our way across the field. Along the way too, stunted vinegar weed still sports its delicate blue flowers.

Recently, approaching from the south (along the track that parallels the deep ravine that becomes the western boundary of the field) with the rise forming the near horizon, a flock of Dark-eyed juncos rose up like a small cloud from the un-seen meadow: the avian mass quickly dissipated then came together again in a similar sort of vaporous formation. They had been feeding, I realized, as I chased them north in the early morning light, on the tarweed. A few days later, the entire spectacle was reprised but this time, they flew off to the west - just far enough to alight on a chaparral bush too distant to identify but close enough that I could make out the coal-black feathered eye sockets of these little brown-grey birds.

Here, on the meadow, east of the great chasmic gorge, there is a clear view west out to the Santa Ynez range as it stands up before Ventura’s coast and forms a scenic flat over which the sun and moon disappear. This morning, the almost full moon appeared as a mottled apricot for the few minutes that it hung above the jagged edge of the mountains. To the east, and at more or less the same time, the sun – the two celestial bodies in cosmic lockstep – was beginning to rise over the Santa Paula ridge. It is at such moments that this spot feels like a rostrum from which one might, with some trepidation, direct the morning’s music: coaxing the full majesty of the sun from its terrestrial lair, urging it up into the empyrean from where it can let loose its cosmic rays, destroy the ambiguities of the night, banish the moon, and unsubtly establish the incontrovertible truths of the day.

There is, in this process, a clarity that is usually less than evident in our lives, although we too are in lockstep with biological processes that will ensure our eventual decay and death. A long night, we can be assured, will follow our brief day. Exactly how much light floods into that day is, it seems, a function of the circumstances of our birth and subsequent happenstance: first we are locational victims of geo-politics and then often hierarchical casualties of our natal socio-economic milieu. We are products of our particular environment quite as much as those native ‘weeds’ are of their horticultural setting; but we can move.

From the very beginning, humankind has done exactly that - we have left one place and sought advantage in another - and the history of California, in particular, is inextricably entwined with a long succession of arrivals from less favored homelands.

Locally, during the depths of the last ice age, from 21,000 to 18,000 years ago, sea level was 400 feet lower than at present and the beach about twenty five miles further west. The northern Channel Islands were one, known as Santarosae, and it only remained an island by virtue of the fact that it rose out of a deep channel beyond the continental shelf.

As Terry Jones and Katherine Klar point out in California Prehistory, Colonization, Culture, and Complexity, (2012), the extent of glacial ice during this period would almost certainly have precluded the initial settlement of the land from northeastern Asia. The melting of the glaciers in the warming that followed (known as the Holocene Interglacial, which continues as our current geological epoch) opened up the New World for migration from Asia, and despite subsequent dramatic oscillations in climate, made California, with its dense conifer forests, rich marine life and relict megafauna, a favorable destination for the prehistoric Asian diaspora. We can now, with a fair degree of certainty, date its first arrivals back to 15,000 BP.

The west coast of North America remained an outlier to history until the seventeenth century when the voyages of Cabrillo (1542), and Drake (1579), brought it into the realm of European politics. By virtue of Cabrillo’s explorations, Spain claimed California and considered its native peoples as subjects of the Crown, but they did not take possession of the territory until 1769, when goaded by an awareness of Russian fur trader’s interest in the area, Junipero Serra and Gaspar De Portola took hold of the country by establishing missions and presidios – military garrisons in support of the Franciscan project of Christianizing the native population while installing them as un-paid laborers, or serfs, within what they planned to be initially self-sufficient, then surplus producing communities.

The Spanish were the first of California’s modern conquerors; then Mexico, in 1821, took control as a more or less unintended consequence of their overthrow of Spanish rule (exactly three centuries after Cortes’ conquest of the Aztecs); finally, Alta California was invaded by Anglo-Americans in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was a moment of triumph for the mostly poor-white frontiersmen, many of whom were Bear Flag veterans, who rallied behind West Point educated Fremont and his successor Stockton, but their occupation predictably resulted in the devastation of the Californio, campesino and Native American populations.

A measure of the disruptive impact of the arrival of Americans can be judged by the fact that for a decade or so around the conquest, Los Angeles was the most violent place on the continent and quite possibly on the planet. John Mack Faragher, in Eternity Street, Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles, 2016, suggests that the murder rate was “comparable to that of Mexican border towns in the first decade of the twenty-first century, at the height of the violence between warring drug cartels”. He goes on to quote William Butts, editor of the Southern Californian, who in 1854, bemoaned the fact that the cultural contribution of the Americans to local culture was the introduction of “ever more formidable weapons of death and destruction”. This homicidal frenzy extended throughout the nascent state - San Francisco, still caught up in the Gold Rush, and far more populous than Los Angeles, almost equaled its murder rate.

After the onset of the Civil War, the formation of the California Brigade, to fight on the Union side, absorbed much of this psychopathic energy and when the four year paroxysm of industrial scale violence had run its course, California began a more peaceful integration into an expanding United States. In 1865, the Central Pacific Railroad hired many thousands of Chinese immigrants as the labor force for the last sections of the transcontinental line. They joined the thousands of their countrymen already in California from the Gold Rush era; despite anti-Chinese xenophobia, many stayed and more arrived until mounting pressure from poor white Americans and recent Irish immigrants (who, ironically, arrived on the newly completed railroad) led the Federal government to ban Chinese immigration in 1882.

In the decades that followed, agricultural migrant farm workers arrived in California from Japan, the Indian sub-continent, the Philippines, and increasingly, as time went on, Mexico. The great Dust Bowl diaspora saw as many as half a million poor white farmers flee the plains States in the 1930’s and settle in California. Black Americans began to arrive in significant numbers during World War II to work in the war industries.

Exclusionary immigration rules were finally overturned in 1965 when LBJ signed a number of bills that again opened up the U.S. to migration from Asian countries (several of which the American Empire were concurrently attempting to annihilate) and set generous quotas for nationalities around the world. Two years later, I was a part of the global Hippie migration that for a moment, found its locus in San Francisco’s Summer of Love.

Jonathon Gold reflects on the impact of the last sixty years of immigration into southern California through the medium of his weekly restaurant reviews first for the L.A. Weekly and now in The Los Angeles Times . His life and work are documented in the film, City of Gold, 2015, written and directed by Laura Gabbert. Gold celebrates the evolution of ethnic food sold from carts, trucks, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants to white-table-cloth establishments as a way of demonstrating the power of gateway capitalism - through which immigrants can establish their ethnic identities in new places by selling their distinctive cuisines to the local community and the wider population. Their service workers, many of whom have shared a similar journey to their employers, remain mired in the low wage world that such entrepreneurial ventures demand and thus find less reward in having moved.

In both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and throughout the towns and cities of California, a complex mix of cultures contributes to what in the botanical world would be called a climax community – where an intricate mix of environmental adaptations contributes to system stability. The preservation of difference, in values, customs and lifestyles is fundamental to the spirit of southern California and is greatly threatened by the neo-liberal globalism that seeks the homogenization of values congruent to its goal of asymmetrical capital accumulation. The tragedy of Gold’s food cart entrepreneurs is that their gateway capitalism tends to feed into this neo-liberalism which seeks to erode the unique qualities of community (the very foundation of disparate cuisines) in its relentless mission to blend and commodify the cultural experiences of the planet.

The cow pasture is encrusted with a dried mulch of Erodium botrys through which the native weeds still manage to emerge. From this ferruginous mat the corkscrew seeds of the invasive annual herb await the first rain to swell and drill blindly into the newly softened soil. Next spring will see the renewal of the species’ inexorable progress in entirely colonizing the field.

2016-09-05

Between the Mountains and the Sea

Now also at www.urbanwildland.org

It is not in the books, by which I mean Milt McCauley’s painstaking catalog called Flowers of the Santa Monica Mountains and Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains, by Robert L. Allen and Fred M. Roberts; yet it flourishes in the canyons of the southern California cismontane, in the lands between the mountains and the sea; locally, it grows in the upper reaches of Bear Canyon, along the La Broche Canyon trail and alongside the now dry, spill-over washes of Sisar Creek that run down towards State Highway 150; it has even grown in our neighbor’s yard in a patch of south sloping oak meadowland; but it is a flower, now in pink-purple bloom, for which I know no name. It is, in Hawaiian pidgin, da kine (I’m reading William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days, A Surfing Life, 2015), a whatchamacallit or as a botanist might gamble, probably a part of the Asteraceae family (just because this is the largest flower family on the planet).

Its foliage is spikey like an artichoke plant and colored a silvery spearmint green. From a base of incised leaves it sends out sprays of stems to which the one inch diameter flowers are closely attached on short stems bracted along their length. Each of the leaves from which the flowers subtend is a single miniature version of the mess of mostly withered foliage closer to the ground. In spring and winter this foliage alone is remarkable, its silvery color unusual amidst the chaparral drab of sandstone, and the mix of golden and chocolaty soils strewn with dead leaves and twigs beneath the leathery, deep rooted chamise, ceonothus, mountain mahogany, scrub oak and red berry; it favors rocky escarpments and dry stream beds but somehow I had never previously seen it in bloom. At this moment in late summer, its pinkish, purplish ray (or ligulate) flowers dotted along its gracefully arching wands are truly startling.

Get close to the ground at this time of year (when removing tumbleweed perhaps) and another startling vision appears: tiny red and black diamond patterned beetles scuttling around in the dry soil. They too, despite a little desultory web research, remain for the moment, nameless. Barely a quarter of an inch long they demand close-up inspection, and such hands and knees investigations reveal black diamonds on red, crisp, deck-of-cards-like graphics genetically painted onto the hardened–for-battle, heraldic wings of the little creatures.

At another scale, but with the same intense graphic quality, our big rock (ours, because we claim it as a profoundly dense moon anchored in frozen orbit, forever mocking the precarious enfoldment of space that is our house) sitting a hundred feet west of the front door, is this evening a black silhouette against a livid blood-orange sky. The composition is completed by a piercing point of light in the pale grey just above the color wash at the horizon: Venus appears, as the sky darkens, laggardly following the sun into the southern hemisphere, somewhere over the raggedy mountains.

These Santa Ynez Mountains are a famously transverse range on a continent characterized by great north-south cordillera – the axial north-south mountain ranges such as the Rockies, the Andes, the Sierras, the Cascades, and the local coastal ranges such as the Santa Monica and San Bernadino Mountains: running parallel to the Pacific shoreline, these ranges shelter vast, biotically productive plains, watered from their slopes. The Ojai Valley, idiosyncratically, is formed between the tail end of the transverse Santa Ynez range and the parallel Sulphur Mountain ridge.

The lower valley is not squarely between the mountains and the sea, as in archetypal cistmontane, but is instead the terminus of a gently sloping flood plain spread beside the Ventura River and its major local tributary, the San Antonio Creek; it is a valley that points towards the ocean. The upper valley is similarly situated although dramatically bifurcated at the Summit where the focus of its rain shed is split between the Ventura and the Santa Clara rivers. On Koenigstein, our oceanic connection is through Santa Paula which stands at the head of the vast Oxnard Plain, and is a city shaped geomorphically by the transverse South Mountain, the Santa Paula Ridge (last gasp of the Santa Ynez Mountains) and the terminus of Sulphur Mountain.

Surface run-off has but this one route to the ocean from our property – down the hill to Sisar Creek thence to Santa Paula Creek where the co-mingled molecules make their way to the Santa Clara Estuary just north of Point Mugu and into the Pacific. We can replicate this route – more or less – by car and be at Point Mugu Beach in about an hour. Alternatively, we can head west on the 150 and follow (again, more or less) Lion Creek, to San Antonio Creek to the Ventura River and thence to its estuary hard by the County Fairgrounds, where, just a little to the north is Emma Wood State Beach bordered by the South Pacific Coast Railroad and the old Pacific Coast Highway (now usurped by the 101); to the south is C street, Ventura’s in-town surf beach where the eleven year old William Finnegan learnt to surf.

A third beach-bound option is to continue west on the 150, and cross over the Ventura River at Baldwin Road rather than parallel it along the 33, and wind through the hills past Lake Casitas and on towards the 101 just shy of Carpinteria where Rincon’s famous point break awaits a few hundred yards to the south. Santa Barbara is another dozen miles to the north and here, at East Beach, just last weekend, I experienced one of those epiphanies that abound in the natural world and which constituted the third in this late summer group of talismanic black-on-red vignettes.

Standing on the sand, late in the afternoon, bemused by the assortment of shorebirds busy on the beach (curlews, sand pipers, plovers and gulls) I was transfixed by a group of perhaps half a dozen ungainly Black Skimmers (Rynchops Niger) lurking on the periphery. Every so often one of their number would wheel into the sky and swoop over the waves bordering the beach and dredge, with the lower half of its beak, through the water - hoping, presumably, to catch small fish. Back on the beach after each brief foray, the bird lost its aerial grace and assumed its earthbound awkwardness. Most remarkable about this strange group was their oversized and mismatched bills, the lower mandibles being noticeably longer than the upper maxillas and the color of their beaks: brilliant red, tipped with black as though they had been dipped in squid ink, or perhaps in the oil that bubbles up in seeps along this coast.

From January 1970 to early in the 2000’s I too lived ‘A Surfing Life’, rarely living far from the beach and almost always aware of the local surf conditions – a pale reflection of William Finnegan’s whole-hearted commitment and performed athletically at far below his level of skill, which was at an almost professional standard. Having started surfing a few days after my twenty second birthday on Manly Beach in Sydney, I suffered through many years of humiliations before achieving a bare proficiency; then, in my fifties, I lost just enough ability for it to become untenable for me to continue this life into the new century. As Finnegan points out, no one who begins surfing much after their fourteenth birthday is ever going to be any good. He continues to surf well into his sixties but must maintain his fitness level by daily swimming a mile in a basement pool in Manhattan, where he now lives.

Much of the allure of surfing is in the close connection to the ocean it affords its participants. Standing on East Beach in Santa Barbara, I felt disconnected from the rhythm of the sea: I had become a bird-watching by-stander. My Chaparral Life, which began with regular early morning runs in Will Rogers State Historical Park on the north western edge of Los Angeles, at just about the time that I abandoned surfing, usurped the primacy of the ocean as the focus of my existence. This life continues in Ojai, where I remain consumed with trying to achieve a plausible connection to the unknowable complexities and visual richness of an alien environment; it is a life spent in pursuit of tapping in to the strange energies that eddy through the chaparral.

It is, of course, not so very different from the life I began, so many years ago, on Manly Beach.

2016-08-17

Dog Star Rising

Now also at urbanwildland.org

Oceans of marine layer fog lap at the mountain shore lines of the lower valley and the Oxnard Plain. The cities of Santa Paula and Ojai have disappeared beneath roiling water vapor. Up above the fog line in La Broche Canyon the morning sun has just risen above Santa Paula Ridge illuminating the east facing sandstone escarpment along which I run. To my left, the twisted limbs of Manzanita, tenaciously anchoring themselves in rock fissures, flush red; along the track and at moraine's edge, gnaphalia, dried yucca and the clouds of Acourtia seed atop tobacco brown stalks are sepulchral: a patchwork of the chaparral's ghostly summer shroud.

There is, or at least I imagine there is, a profound stoicism in the chaparral plant community: in the many thousand years old succession of plants, soils and weathering rock, the rains have always come and the plants have endured. The wildlands hereabouts are littered with the woody remnants of shrubs and perennials, of dead sage, artemisia, laurel sumac, and chamise : their armatures dried grey in the sun and waiting, quiet as the grave, for wildfire to return their nutrients to the soil. Fallen oak limbs and split trunks dot the dry land, elephant bones in the chaparral ossuary.

We live in a canyon through which we can reasonably expect fire in our lifetime. Hence the elaborate precautions in the two built structures on our wildland spread made to increase their chances of survival in a bush fire. We expect the fires to return (evidenced in our yard by fire-blackened oak trunks), and we expect, too, the balm of heavy rains. Like most southern Californians, we maintain a level of pragmatic preparedness in the face of natural disasters.

While providing an anthropomorphized example of stoicism, the plant community also serves as example of Aristotelian telos. The philosopher maintained that every living thing, whether plant, animal or human, acted according to its nature and for all these beings that inevitably included living in community with their fellows. Cycles of birth and death, dormancy during drought and revival after rains and fire-scorched earth and subsequent regeneration from within ash enriched soils, are intrinsic to the chaparral plant community and it is these processes which formed the environmental setting for the human groups that lived within it.

For fifteen thousand years, the Chumash and their forbears, such as the people of the Oak Grove Horizon and before them the first Paleo Indians settlers who voyaged down the coastal kelp-road or trudged across the Beringian land bridge valued community as their guarantee of survival in these lands of uncertain rains and randomized fire events. Seeds stored in woven baskets were insurance against a lack of game or a dearth of fresh plants. Equitably shared resources promoted the welfare of all. Like most indigenous peoples, the Chumash sourced all their food, clothing shelter and tools directly from their local environment, and the weather played an integral part in either sustaining or pauperizing their communities. To voluntarily attempt to live outside of the community or to be banished from it was to court death. Survival was a cooperative endeavor. Individuality was of little value, for to consistently express it was life threatening.

Tribal and peasant cultures have always relied on high levels of cooperation, community and shared values (albeit ones sometimes forged in the brutal furnaces of oppression). Elite groups, in turn, shared values based partly on the exploitation of the under-classes. In either case, anomie, Durkheim’s term for societal alienation, was mostly unknown in pre-modern times. The overbearing extremism of the European aristocracy eventually shook loose the elaborate social structures that had arisen out of Feudalism (which exhibited some levels of shared welfare and responsibilities within its hierarchies) and prompted the political revolutions of the late eighteenth century (including ours) as well as the more generalized European liberalizations of 1848.

It was at this historical moment that increased levels of population, food production and industrial infrastructures (all based on new energy inputs derived from fossil fuels) provided a social and financial environment in which individualism began to have value. Voltaire, Locke, Hobbes and John Stuart Mill, amongst others, provided the philosophical underpinnings of this new liberalism. Yet Locke’s notion that humankind should live in a “a State of perfect Freedom to order their Actions…as they think fit…without asking leave, or depending on the Will of any other Man” runs entirely counter to the lived experience of our species for the roughly two hundred thousand years of its existence prior to this pronouncement.

Liberalism’s intimate connection to new forms of energy production, dependent on exploitation of the planets crust, should come as no surprise. These new values better served those who were beginning to benefit from the shift in the sources of energy wealth. As Ian Morris points out in his recent book, Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve, 2014, tribal cultures (such as the Chumash), who made a living foraging or hunting and gathering adopted social structures that were substantially egalitarian: they included strong norms of sharing and exhibited very limited inequalities. The brief interregnum of farming societies (in the long scheme of things), enabled the rise of Aristocracy, because their hierarchies were based on the ownership of land which tends to aggregate into the hands of the few (who then justified their ascendance by linking it with Divine Will). This complex system of values, norms, expectations and cultural patterns that supported the Divine Right of Kings was then systematically undermined by liberal philosophies that privileged the individual and emphasized humankind’s supposed freedoms.

Fossil fuel societies have proved to be highly tolerant of wealth inequalities. Their implicitly technocratic foundations correlate highly with liberal ideologies which foster values such as competition, quantifiability, majoritarian rule and efficiency. As Morris points out, liberal, individualist values have come to define Western ideology (what he elsewhere calls “a pack of lies from which someone benefits”).

Rousseau offered a warning at the birth of modern liberal society, in the late eighteenth century, when he observed that competition would create a society riven with “Jealousy, suspicion, fear, coldness, reserve and fraud”. A hundred years later, Thoreau, a great reader of Jean-Jacques, observed that it was a wise thing to “cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage…” while noting that “the civilized man is a more experienced and wiser savage”, eschewing, by inference, wealth, vanity and culture for the profound pleasures of a primal relationship with the natural world. Now, neoliberalism is a kind of metastasized, cancerous liberalism that feeds on the sugars secreted by the polluting organ of capitalism. Wealth inequality is symptomatic of this condition and leaves (to continue flogging the oncological metaphor) a vast societal sore that is the disaffected middle classes.

Sometimes, there’s really nothing to be done but to take a walk in the chaparral. Even here, your experience may vary. A couple of weeks ago an oil storage tank set deep in sage scrub, exploded about half a mile from our house. A plume of black smoke rose into the still air. Prompt response by the local fire brigades prevented the fire spreading beyond the immediate confines of the pad. The last significant wildfire that began in the area, less than a hundred yards from the entry to what is now our property, occurred in December 1999, raged for five days, involved over 1500 fire fighters, scorched nearly 5,000 acres and threatened multiple structures and two private schools. It was caused by fire crackers stuffed in a mail box. The explosive impact of the oil storage tank was far greater but was thankfully vitiated by the almost total lack of wind. It is ironic that the chaparral landscapes that produce so little that is of material value to modern society conceal, in places, vast reserves of fossil fuel.

At other times, the ‘tonic of wildness’ is more reliable. One recent early morning, looking over the steep, rocky bank of a seasonal stream (dry now for three years) I watched the single panoptic eye of a rabbit crouched in a crevice a few yards away. Shyest of creatures, I have only seen rabbits freeze when a bobcat is stalking them. This animal remained comfortably immobile as my attention was drawn to a fluttering brown bird spiraling up slope from the dry stream bottom. It circled towards me (I remained as still as the rabbit) and alighted on my arm. Feeling a little like my notion of Saint Francis, I looked down on it and took note of its whitish cream breast, orangey brown (rufous) plumage and darker, herringbone patterned tail. Over breakfast, I learnt from Sibley’s Field Guide that my visitor was a Canyon wren (Catherpes mexicanus).

2016-08-04

Atonement

Now also at urbanwildland.org

It is late July and a welcome stasis has descended on the landscape surrounding our house. The bunch grasses move in the merest breath of wind, animating the meadows with waves of bleached straw. Stiff, broom-like stands of Deerweed, mostly a dark reddish orange, punctuate the land, while the dried blossoms of California everlasting appear (to the fancifully inclined) as foam caps on the moving ocean of grasses: through August and September little will change. The weeding work of winter, spring and early summer is rewarded in these months of landscape hibernation.

It is in this pale scene, occasionally interrupted by patches of bare, ochre to reddish soil that young cream and sepia rattlesnakes sidle along, hunting western fence and western whiptail lizards; in other years (but entirely absent at the moment, reflecting the dearth of their prey - tail thumping wood rats) Red Tail hawks shadow the ground from on high, tails flashing their earthen color. More subtly, the homely Towhee reveals, on close observation, a cinnamon colored belly, echoing the tones of the dirt and leaf litter in which it digs for seeds, insects and grubs.

And so, with a few changes in the details but none in sentiment, we can, perhaps, celebrate with Browning that,

“The hill-side’s dew-pearl’d

The Lark’s on the wing;

The snail’s on the thorn;

God’s in his heaven –

All’s right with the world!”

But this summer, as the grasses bleach out, I am particularly aware that there is a darkness abroad; that the chaparral is missing its California Grizzlies and the trail making, tending and fire managing of Native Americans; that all’s not right in the world; and that this country continues to pay the price for the trauma it has wreaked on the land.

As much as we pretend that we are a Nation founded in religious freedom at Plymouth Rock, in liberty won from our erstwhile colonial overlords and in justice enshrined in the words of our Constitution and its amendments, the reality remains that this is a country forged in the hell-fire of violence. We are a people who created a home based not so much on political, philosophical and religious ideals as on the brutal displacement of an indigenous population and the venal consumption of their land’s natural resources. The continuing denial of our genesis calls into question everything we think we know about ourselves.

The frontier that rolled west in the nineteenth century was the final resolution of a genocidal pogrom that had begun long before the signing of the Declaration of Independence (which proposed a minor rearrangement in the circumstances of European hegemony over the Native peoples of much of North America). In the great sweep of history it is the bloody fact of our killing of the original, in-place, intact, highly diverse, fully sustainable, intellectually adept, and spiritually attuned peoples of this country that is a central theme of the American nightmare.

Welcome to our world.

This is not a world customarily evoked in popular culture, in political rhetoric, in our churches or in our classrooms and yet it is a world reflected every day in the rage, in the violence and in the hate that surrounds us.

Some would call it karma.

Gun control, believing that Black Lives Matter, increased policing, borders walls, extreme vetting of potential migrants, fewer prisons, more prisons, an end to poverty, more jobs, better housing, improved trade policies, peace in the Middle East; none of these things is going to change the multi-generation transmission of America’s original sin. The Nation’s violent conquest is daily played out on our streets, in our government, our homes, our schools, in public places and in foreign lands as a recurring psycho-drama: it explains our metastasizing military; the militarization of our police force, our obscene nuclear arsenal, the 9mm. Glock in your neighbor’s glove-box and the Heckler & Koch HK416 assault rifle at the back of her closet. It explains the true American Exceptionalism - why this is one of the most violent places on the planet. It may even explain why a man soaked in the blood of foreign wars is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

It is commonplace to ascribe to survivors of an historic genocide a traumatic inheritance, passed along through generations, that results in violence, substance abuse, chronic health issues such as diabetes, and mental health disturbances. While these impacts are routinely observed in American Indian communities, it is less acknowledged that these traumas impact the perpetrators of such genocides and are transmitted along similarly multi-generational lines.

The business of America is business and, in an unbroken line, (with the exception, perhaps, of FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson) our Presidents have consistently privileged the powerful over the common people. Campaign promises may swing from the progressive to the conservative but once in power our leaders are gripped by the disastrous lure of Empire. It is in the conflation of Empire and Capitalism, of Territory and Treasure, that many of this country’s greatest sins have been committed. Both enterprises are built on the backs of the common man and woman and on the despoliation of the places they call home.

The history of the parts of North America which now form the United States is braided with the narrative threads of greed, conquest and subjugation. It is these stories and the trauma created in their unfolding, that are far greater determinants of our national character and disposition than American democracy - originating as a modest conflation of enlightenment philosophy, the governmental structure of the Roman Republic, and a belief in the political and social primacy of the white, land owning male.

The pernicious triangular trade in slaves, raw materials (cotton, tobacco, sugar cane, indigo and rice) and manufactures that linked the continents of Africa, America and Europe for centuries, was the foundation for this country’s wealth long before the great infrastructure projects, mineral extraction and heavy industries of the nineteenth century added to the wealth of the very few. The railways were built on land taken from Native Americans, the mines of Appalachia on lands earlier purloined from its rightful inhabitants, and polluting industries established in the richest biological confluences of land and water. These projects inevitably relied on the exploitation of racially diverse, mostly impoverished, native born, migrant European, Asian, Mexican, and Central American labor.

Having subjugated its native peoples over a period of almost four centuries, and in some areas having committed a thorough-going genocide, in the late nineteenth century this country turned its attention beyond its continental borders (and their few remaining indigenous peoples) and purchased Alaska from the Russians in 1867. In 1893, an American led coup resulted in the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands. A few years later, the Spanish American War of 1898 expanded the Nation’s Imperium to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. In 1903, the Panama Canal Zone was annexed to the United States. These were the glory days of Empire.

American military adventurism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has continued to project the country's vast resources of troops and military technology in pursuit of American cultural, economic and political hegemony. The toll in foreign death and destruction and the wasting of American lives and treasure is beyond counting. The so-called ‘Good War’ (WWII) was, in reality, an internecine battle with the U.K. to establish global financial dominance (achieved at Bretton Woods in 1944); the D-Day bid to salvage a portion of Europe not saved by the Russian army from Nazi Germany; an attempt to establish the dominance of the U.S.A. across the Pacific and most importantly, inspired by a desire to limit the power of the Soviet Union.

Domestically, the blowback from this American Adventurism, underpinned by dreams of Empire and a Capitalist endgame whereby all the world’s resources are concentrated in the hands of the few, are psychic, psychological, and sociological. We see the resultant pathologies played out in our neighborhoods, on Twitter and Facebook. Externally, blowback is reflected in the increasing levels of terrorist violence directed against the U.S.A. and its neoliberal allies.

This summer, I have dedicated my chaparral experiences to a process of lamentation and regret. Come Thanksgiving, I may be ready for a re-naming ceremony whereby it becomes our Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement.