California Scenes, Fall, 2018, #2

We drove north from Jalama Beach to the San Francisco Bay Area, where two families of our children and grandchildren reside. My son Ethan and wife Flo live in Albany, and my step-daughter Laina and family (The Levys) live in Alameda.

Ethan and I took a walk on the Albany Bulb, which is a peninsula created out of concrete from dismantled highways.

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Ethan

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The San Francisco skyline from the Albany Bulb

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Wild sunflower (?) seedheads

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Bushtit in fennel

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Sculpture at the far end of the Albany Bulb

At the Berkeley Marina.

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Sport fishing boat returns to the Berkeley Marina. They were out for salmon. The San Francisco skyline is seen in the background.

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Sailboard launch area, with the Port of Oakland seen in the distance, to the south

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California towhee

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Green heron

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Snowy egret

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This and below video: Yappy Hour at Terrace Park, Albany. Ethan, Jenny and Vinny (brown dog)

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Peruvian trumpets, Albany

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Lotus, UC-Berkeley Botanical Garden

The Levy family lives close to a great birding walk along a section of shoreline of San Francisco Bay.

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Avocet

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Greater yellowlegs

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Greater yellowlegs

At the end of our week’s stay, we attended a Hula dance performance that included Laina and her daughter Kara. Here is a number  with Laina.

We then started home, going by way of Sonora Pass and then down Hwy 395, along the eastern slopes of the Sierras, which will be shown in Part #3. Links to Parts #1 and #2 are found at both the top and bottom of this post

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California Scenes, Fall, 2018, #1

Kathy and I left for California in late September, first to attend the Hammerlee Family Annual Reunion at Carpinteria State Beach. As before, we had secured the Raccoon group site for five nights.

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Kara

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Kathy and kids, finding sea life in a kelp holdfast

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Some sea life found in a kelp holdfast

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Laina

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Mark and Fletcher

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Sean (left) and Benet

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Brittle star

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Sea urchin

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L to R: Sean, Benet and Sheila

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L to R: Benet, Sheila and Sean

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Same three

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Same three

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Sheila and Sean

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Sheila

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The structure

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Benet

The beach has lots to see. The first four pix are of a Great egret in the freshwater lagoon.

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Extreme telephoto of an oil rig in the Santa Barbara Channel. The curvature of the earth hides the lowermost portion of the structure from view.

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Same, with more of the more distant rig hidden from view

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Palm and rainbow

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Pipe, in cross-section

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Channel Islands are seen across the channel

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Say’s phoebe

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The next four pix are of a Great egret and Snowy egret (smaller)

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Snowy egret

Carpinteria Beach is known for its tar seeps.

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Curlew

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Whimbrel

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Willets

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Sunset at Carpinteria State Beach

We next stopped for a night at Jalama Beach, on the way to the Bay Area. The next seven pix are of blackbirds bathing in the freshwater lagoon. One is a Redwing blackbird and the others are Brewer’s blackbirds.

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Redwing blackbird is seen on the left

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The freshwater lagoon at Jalama Beach

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Western pond turtle (?) in the lagoon

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Sanderling

The post continues with Part #2 – the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

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The Verdict Is In

The verdict is in. Homo sapiens has fucked up. We’ve screwed the pooch.

It’s been 50 years or so since folks started talking about humanity’s tenure on Earth. Worrisome talk, seen in books such as: “Silent Spring” (1962) and “The Population Bomb” (1968). These two books, in particular, were the ones that brought wide-spread attention to two linked issues that now, 50 years later, have us very worried – climate change and over-population/resource depletion. Back then, I was a graduate student in Anthropology, and I, too, was worried. In a 1969 term paper I stated that the human race would cause its own extinction. But, while disaster didn’t strike as soon as some predicted, we now know that we are participating in the beginning of the end.

Certainly, there was, 50 years ago, an understanding on the part of some scientists of the causal relationships between burning fossil fuels, the build up of greenhouse gases and the warming of the atmosphere. The first warnings came in the 1800s. And then, beginning in the 1950s, car ownership in the US took off, and that was that. So, the increasing pollution of the atmosphere crept up on us. By 2011, our carbon dioxide emissions were 266 times greater than in 1850, and ” … In 2013, CO2 levels surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history. This recent relentless rise in CO2 shows a remarkably constant relationship with fossil-fuel burning, and can be well accounted for based on the simple premise that about 60 percent of fossil-fuel emissions stay in the air.” (climate.nasa.gov)

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During this period of time, those scientists and others cognizant of the damage we were doing to the atmosphere may have felt that they had to give technology the benefit of the doubt. I heard it asserted more than once that we would find technological fixes to the problems that technology had created. And maybe we have. Solar and wind power sound good. But, will they, along with other renewable energy sources, be developed in sufficient scale, and in time, to head off serious climate change? What determines that? Politics will ultimately determine what happens next … and today’s domestic politics isn’t offering much reason to be optimistic about the likelihood of a successful switch to non-polluting energy sources.

As to over-population – only China took measures to reduce its population. The rest of the world? Not so much. And, believe it or not, one thinker (back in the day) suggested that over-population was not a problem, because the absolutely greater number of people on Earth would ensure an absolutely greater number of geniuses, one or more of whom would solve the problem of controlling fecundity and the problems engendered by population growth! More important than the number of people crowding onto the earth, however, is the matter of how much that number of persons will consume. In 2017, per capita yearly consumption was $41,602 in Switzerland, $1097 in India and $64 in Malawi (The World Bank). The developing world has a long ways to go, to even things up. They want the same things that the Swiss have now, and why shouldn’t they? They want cars, for sure. So, the question is: How many people living at the level of the Swiss in 2017 can the world support?

Can we save ourselves from climate disaster and a standing-room-only Earth? The climate disaster has already begun, and continued unchecked growth in population and per capita consumption of goods and energy only accelerates the pace and increases the ultimate severity of the disaster. Many scientists are saying that we have now passed (or will soon pass) the point of no return. Is this really it, then? Really? But, but … what if all the world’s countries drastically reduced emissions and mandated fertility control tomorrow? Could this reverse the course of the unfolding apocalypse? Maybe … maybe not. But who supposes that the worlds’ governments, one and all, can and will do that? No one with their head screwed on right has any reason to believe that.

So … I conclude, 50 years after first crying wolf, that the verdict is in. The metaphor is correct – we are passengers on an out-of-control train that is heading for a cliff.  Business-as-usual has delivered us to the brink of a world-wide climate apocalypse, and we will hurtle off that brink. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to pour into the atmosphere at an ever-increasing rate, and will do so into the foreseeable future, hastening the disruption of the world’s climate in ways we are already experiencing: higher average temperatures, heat waves, droughts, forest fires, rainfall events and cyclonic storms on a scale never seen before and the raising of sea levels due to accelerating glacial and polar ice melting.  The loss of albedo (reflectance of the sun’s rays) due to less snow cover around the world and at the poles is a positive feedback loop adding to the accelerating pace of climate change. We are at the start of Earth being rendered less habitable for ourselves. And, as the stresses mount, at what point will our much-vaunted civilization collapse, as it will inevitable do? How, then, does one survive the failure of our thoroughly mechanized and interconnected infrastructure – a delicately poised house of cards? How will one find food, water and fuel? What happens when winter comes? Hell will be loosed on Earth, as marauding bands fight each other for dwindling resources. Perhaps the only groups that will have a chance of surviving are those that retain the knowledge of how to live off the land (and whose lands can still supply their traditional food sources) e.g. the Inuit (Eskimos), the Kalahari Bushmen, the Australian Aborigines etc. And, of course, if they can insulate themselves sufficiently from the starving hordes. If they cannot, then we will likely have brought about our own extinction. Take this as the Introduction to our own true-life dystopian story.

 

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Fall Birds, 2018

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Red-tail hawk

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Wilson’s warbler in a small locust tree

The Wilson’s warblers have stuck around for quite a while. And, atop a bush on the other side of the house, we saw what we believe to be a Dickcissel, which would put it at the extreme western edge of its range. But no photo!

A flock of 30 or more Pine siskins are now congregating on and around our new nyjer seed socks, while only occasionally going to the plastic feeder. The socks have also brought three or so Lesser goldfinches around more often.

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Pine siskins

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A few White-breasted nuthatches are around all the time

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This juvenile male Evening Grosbeak is the only one of a large flock that has stuck around. His adult colors are coming in, especially the bright yellow brows

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same

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Green-tailed towhee, left and Spotted towhee, right

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Green-tailed towhee

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Green-tailed towhee

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Spotted towhee

Canyon towhees are around all year, but in lesser numbers nowadays than before. Stay tuned, as I will update this post as more birds show up, and I get pix of them

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La Vista Verde Trail

La Vista Verde trailhead is located a short distance uphill from Taos Junction Bridge, on State Rd. 567, in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument (see map at end). The mainly level trail travels the length of a bench set in the western slope of the Rio Grande Gorge, for a distance of a little over a mile one-way. The bench is a substantial chunk of the former gorge rim that has slid downward but remained intact as it did so, and is called a landslide block. At the end of the trail is an overlook that gives one a view of a number of rapids that are contained in the Rio Grande’s Taos Box run. A herd of bighorn sheep make this area their year-round home, and are very tolerant of the close approach of hikers.

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Bighorn sheep graze just off to the side of State Rd. 567. Below them is the bench that La Vista Verde Trail follows, and beyond is the Rio Grande (top).

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Bighorn ewe and lamb

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same

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Bighorn ewe

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Bighorn group

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From the first overlook, a highly sculpted boulder, very low water (150 cfs)

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Grass

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same

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same

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Apache plume and basalt boulder

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This pond was a dry flat before a flash flood created a new channel that directed run-off to it

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A wet year on the above-mentioned  flat

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Russian thistle

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Sagebrush and chamisa

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Virginia creeper

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Blazing star

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Blazing star and the Rio Grande (low water)

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Two varieties of Claret cup cactus

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Indian paintbrush

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Sego lily

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Wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata)

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Apache plume, sagebrush and yucca

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Seen from the overlook. Contained within tilted landslide material is a channel fill. This is sediment that accumulated in a stream channel, later to be covered over by a lava flow. The heat of the molten lava baked the sediment to this reddish color.

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same

Following photos are from the overlook.

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Upstream view of the Taos Box run on the Rio Grande. In lower center is a toreva block, which is an intact piece of the gorge rim that detached and slid downwards, and became rotated back as it did so (clock-wise in this view). Three lava flows can be distinguished, one from the other, in this block. A bench is seen to continue upstream, which is again the result of landslides that moved considerable material downhill, while keeping that material more or less intact.

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Same as above. Toreva blocks on the the slope across the river (left) are mirror images of this block (being rotated counter clock-wise).

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A very congested section of the Boulderfield set of rapids is seen at very low water, downstream view

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Upstream view, very low water

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View further upstream than the above, of Boat Reamer Rapid, very low water

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Upstream wide-angle view – Boat Reamer Rapid to the upper part of the Boulderfield, high water

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Downstream view of the upper and middle sections of the Boulderfield rapids, high water

LaVistaVerde

 

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Saving the World

I was born in 1940. About fifteen years later, my eyes opened to the world, and I didn’t like what I saw. The Cold War was upon us, and we were drilled at school to get under our desks in the event of an attack. The world came close to an exchange of nuclear weapons.

Sometime after, I came to the conclusion that I could save the world. I was smart enough to figure out what was needed, after all. My efforts to properly inform myself began with two years of undergraduate study at the University of Chicago, which didn’t go well. I was 17 when I started. Next came the University of California-Berkeley, but I lasted only a half-semester, leaving with a girlfriend to ski-bum in Colorado. Ski-bumming in the winter and mountaineering in the summer consumed the next few years, and included two years of world travel. I was then (as now) a socialist in my thinking, and spent a few months on a kibbutz in Israel, to see how a functioning socialist society worked. It worked well, in my opinion, and I could have stayed indefinitely, but my next objective was to check out eastern mysticism in India. Before searching out an ashram, however, I did some mountaineering in the Indian Himalaya, and it was there that I came down with hepatitis. This was the result of having been inoculated for yellow fever, six weeks before, with an unsterilized needle, while preparing to leave Tehran (where I had worked for the summer) for India. So … no mysticism. I recovered in the US, ski-bummed that winter, got married to Karen and re-enrolled at Berkeley. I was then 26. At Berkeley, I invented an individual major which I named Human Ecology. I wanted to know what made humans tick, and what was our obligate relationship to the environment. This major led to Anthropology in grad school, first at Berkeley and then at Harvard. As a PhD candidate in a branch of anthropology best described as human evolutionary biology, I attended the highest level seminar in evolutionary biology, taught by a German emigre who was, at the time, considered the world’s leading authority on the subject. The thesis topic he assigned me was to document his belief that black Americans were out-reproducing white Americans. He thought this was a bad thing, since he was of the opinion that blacks were less intelligent than whites, and, if whites were being out-bred, this would lead to a lowering of the average IQ of the American populace. I subsequently came across these thoughts of his, in the final chapter of his tome: Animal Species and Evolution. For humans, intelligence was everything, as far as he was concerned. But, at the same time, I was becoming convinced that it was the product of our intelligence – technology – that would soon do us in.

Did I write on the subject he had assigned me? Of course not. So what did I write about? I wrote about “over-specialization”. I argued that, since it was clear that humanity would cause its own extinction, this made our great specialization – intelligence – an over-specialization. A species is judged to have been over-specialized when its specialization leads to its extinction, usually because the specialized species cannot adapt to a changed environment. Humans were doubly damned in this regard, since it was we who would cause the environmental change that we could not adapt to, that change being in the form of nuclear radiation and/or pollution and/or over-population and resource depletion and so on (climate change wasn’t even on the radar yet). The Professor and his acolytes did not take kindly to my thesis, and I barely escaped his classroom with my life. This event marked the beginning of the end of my graduate studies. They definitively ended when I accepted a job in my alternate profession of designing Outward Bound-type outdoor programs. And, later, Harvard awarded me a Masters Degree.

Soon to leave Massachusetts for the wilds of southern New Mexico, I wrote and distributed the following poem:

Parting Shot

My friends
I would like to have stayed
and played
for Truth, the Knowledge
that shall set you free
the game of reasoned discourse
but, you see
soon will be the shit storm

Now, far be it from me
to tell you
what to do
but, by the same token
don’t tell me
I need the Ph.D
to know enough
to say “stuff it”

If it’s games you’d play
take a tip from poker
and drop out
when the odds are against you

I know how that goes
against your grain
to think in probabilistic terms
in terms of loss and gain
I’m sure the world could
be saved, but will it?

Yes, will it
Will it with all your might
but that won’t do the job
as long as you’re a job-holder
something bolder is called for

Can you go away?
Not as a strategy to save the world
but as a strategy to save
your own ass,
there’s no mass solutions
because there’s too much mass

When they all start running
I don’t want to be over-run
and there’s still a chance
to have some fun

You say you want to stay in the city?
You don’t like the woods?
Pity

But, I was still committed to saving the world! I did not stop thinking about, or lecturing my friends and acquaintances on the central issue of humanity’s collective folly. What is that folly?  It is humanity’s attempt to control Nature. I delivered my “hunter-gatherer” speech time and again. It goes like this: For as long as we’ve been Homo sapiens, up to the time that we invented agriculture and animal husbandry (i.e. “civilization”), about 10,000 years ago, humans lived in small groups, which were generally at peace with each other. These small societies were politically and economically egalitarian. We lived long and disease-free lives and were sufficiently well-fed. But the adoption of agriculture, in particular, changed everything. Humans became settled into towns and populations soared, as we began to accumulate stored food stuffs. Stored food became the first wealth, which became sequestered by the few, to the disadvantage of the many. This was the beginning of class society, which consisted of an elite that ruled over impoverished masses, conscription and wars of conquest and large-scale slavery. Empires flourished and then collapsed as their soils became exhausted or other resources ran out. Absolute control of nature was never possible. This state of affairs has continued right up to the present day (with the exception, perhaps, of the middle class that existed, here and elsewhere, for a short while).

The usual response to my story was: “Okay. So what, then, what are we supposed to do?”. My answer to that question was often considered to be of no help at all. I said then, and say now, that we must disassemble, and return to small and politically-autonomous self-sufficient communities, along with (somehow) reducing the population of the world. Only in small-scale democratic communities can we regain equality with one another, while farming in ways that limit damage to the environment. The kibbutz in Israel (Kibbutz Lahav) is the best model I’ve yet encountered for that. “Well, that’s impossible. We can’t go back.” was the refrain I would usually receive in return. But not so usual nowadays. In the decades since I came to these realizations, others have too, and it is now more common to see these ideas in print. Perhaps it’s because we see an unpleasant future looming. Many authors are now stating that disastrous climate disruption and the ensuing collapse of modern society is inevitable.

But that doesn’t stop individuals from coming together, looking to create “intentional communities” outside of the cities. Though I have, indeed, failed to save the world (I guess I didn’t try hard enough!), some of you may be able to save your own asses. To those who say that we can’t go back, I answer that we can no longer go forward with a technocratic order that lays waste to the world. For those who love the world, and wish to live out their lives in Nature, there is increasingly little choice in the matter.

And here, published on the same day that I wrote this post, is another example of a small intentional community:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Do You Deal with Chicken Lice?

It was a long time ago – back in the 70s. Kathy and I had been invited to take a look at a commune of sorts, located at a hot springs in southern New Mexico. We had a number of Santa Fe hippy-ish friends who had joined. The main building, having been converted from chicken coops, served as a dining hall. As we sat down to dinner, we were warned that ravenous chicken lice would soon appear, to dine on us. They were very fast, it seemed, making it very hard to avoid getting bitten.

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Chicken louse

The residents were resistant to the idea of fumigating the place. Some were fasting, to avoid use of the building. I got the impression that some believed that “thinking good thoughts” was the best means by which to protect themselves. Kathy and I soon left. My opinion was that the best way to deal with chicken lice is to kill them.

Nowadays, we in the US are dealing with the human equivalent of chicken lice, starting with the President of the United States and going on down from there – through the likes of Stephen Miller, Jared Kushner, Mike Pence, Paul Manafort and all the other lesser criminals that use this administration as a means to enrich themselves and their corporate sponsors.

But what responses are we seeing to these outright provocations?  A friend counsels that we should think good thoughts, as did the membership of the commune at the hot springs. An esteemed author says that we should “practice small acts of anonymous mercy” and quotes another as saying that: ” … 80,000 people all believing only in love will be enough to change the planetary reality”. Yeah, tell that to the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, or the multitudes of despised people around the world, who are, right now, getting their asses kicked. I don’t need to provide examples, do I?

We Americans have had it easy – so easy that we suppose that magical thinking will get us out of this one. It won’t. We are now reluctant witnesses to the beginning of both serious climate disruption and the unraveling of western civilization. Worsening climate mayhem will only cause modern society to fall apart that much faster.

What to do? What will it take to defeat the human chicken lice of the world? Well … here’s one thing for sure – thinking good thoughts will not suffice.

 

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