INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ DAY

14 10 2018
     Last Monday was “indigenous Peoples’ Day,” still celebrated in some quarters as “Columbus Day.” In my quarter, I sat quietly on my porch that morning and did my best to reach out to the spirits of the beings, human and non-human, whom us Europeans destroyed by disease, murdered, hunted to extinction, and dispossessed in order to seize this continent. I opened my mind to the whole ecosystem they danced in, and the cultural forms in which they danced, in harmony, for tens of thousands of years before we, far cleverer and far less wise, showed up. I sincerely hope the few hundred years of our rude interruption turns out to be a small blip in a long era of peace and harmony, although the extent of our violation is so great that, when this ecosystem returns to a normal level of stasis, it is likely to be a very different stasis than the one that has prevailed here since the end of the last glacial epoch.
     After a while, my quiet time  was punctuated with multiple volleys of distant, but distinct, gunfire. We live about a mile from Nashville’s municipal shooting range, so I am used to this, and always feel grateful that, whatever the fantasies in the heads of the shooters may be, I do not need to be concerned that the shots indicate any immediate danger to anyone, including me. A great many of the world’s inhabitants do not have the luxury of staying relaxed when they hear gunfire. This particular morning, it occurred to me that the shooters, who do not normally turn out on Monday mornings–weekends are more common–were there because it was a national holiday, and that it was quite likely that to most of them, this was not “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” but “Columbus Day.” To me, it seemed that discharging firearms was an appropriate way to celebrate the life of the man who initiated the genocide of all the ancient, but firearm-free, cultures of North and South America.
     I let those thoughts go, and just kept sitting, contentedly wrapped in the trees, the birds, and the unusually warm October morning. After a while, there had were more shots. “A metaphor, perhaps?” I wondered.
      Then  the roar of a low-flying jet swelled into prominence. It occurred to me that airplanes are the modern equivalent of the sailing ships of Columbus’s various invasion fleets. Like the galleons of old, wherever airplanes go, they bring destructive, bland, corporate culture with them. Those who impose air travel bulldoze vast swathes of the natural world to create airports. Their construction, and the fuel they burn, are inseparable from corporate culture. Airplane culture is part of the problem, not part of the solution, and this reinforced my recurring thought that I can not, in good conscience, travel by air again.
     Full disclosure: the last time I flew, it was to visit family temporarily in Costa Rica, nearly 20 years ago, and that was  only after confirming that I could not book passage on a freighter from the Gulf Coast to Limon, Costa  Rica’s gulf port, which ships a great many of America’s bananas. Freighters, in any case, burn bunker oil, one of the most polluting fossil fuels.
      I kept sitting, the noise of the plane rapidly faded into the distance, and I was once again alone with my four-legged and winged neighbors and the spirits that, against all scientific evidence, I keep sensing in the world around me.
     Maybe what happened to me this morning was a message from the embodied spirits who once inhabited this valley, and the non-embodied spirits that persist here. Maybe they were telling me to hold steady, do what I can, and not be distracted by gunfire or airplanes or those who produce them. This is a time for combining clear vision, strong intention, courage, fearlessness, and, most important of all, it seems, patience. The foolish fog that has enveloped us will pass, and pass faster the less we lose our focus and contribute to the confusion.
     Mother Earth will return to a steady state. If we help Her, that steady state will likely include us. If we do not work in harmony with Her, She will cast us off in favor of whoever will, even if She has to go back to jellyfish and cockroaches and start over again from there. The choice is ours.
 

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