Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Ecological Food For Thought...

The Progress Of Destruction
The Heart Of The Matter
Click on image to enlarge - © 2008 jim otterstrom

A friend once sent me a link to a composite photo of the nighttime lights of North America as seen from space.
She found the photo to be very comforting in the fact that she could see the lights of all the places in America where she had friends.
But I found the photo to have a somewhat opposite effect on my emotions.
It caused a discomforting knot in my gut!
I saw the lights as countless gaping holes in the biotic communities of the continent I call home.
The more numerous, and brighter the lights, the bigger the holes in the living diversity of the natural world.
To most people, I suppose, these lights represent progress in the development of humankind.
But, to me, they dramatically illustrate the destructive imbalance between human organisms and our environments.
Where there are lights, there are buildings, shopping malls, sprawling suburbs, monstrous cities, millions of acres of roads slathered in asphalt & concrete, factories, plastic, landfills & waste management facilities, power generation plants, sewage treatment plants, schools, hospitals, prisons, machinery, automobiles, internal combustion engines, wrecking yards, toxic chemicals, pollution, oil fields, corporate headquarters & the seats of governments, police stations, courthouses, military bases and nuclear weapons facilities.
Every second of every day the exponential growth of our human creation lays waste to more of the biosphere as our species races forward in its relentless destruction of the planet.
What we're doing to planet Earth literally mirrors what insects did to the ravaged leaf above. We are eating away large bits of our habitat, but, we have no other leaf, or, in our case, planet, to migrate to when this one is stripped bare.
The results upon the victim are similar to those of a plague of locusts or a rampantly malignant cancerous growth. And, unfortunately, our victim is this magnificent place we call home, the sole source of our sustenance.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Our imaginations are simply boxed-in, blinded by the overwhelming monolithic hierarchical structure of the civilization we were born into.
But things may be changing as more and more people seem to be realizing that the way we live just doesn’t work, and doesn’t feel good either.
Life on Earth is a vast assemblage of complex organisms, but we're all evolved from one single-celled common ancestor.
We are one family,
The Family Of Earth.
And, our species lays claim to sentience, consciousness, and self-awareness.
So, as I daily witness the continuing degradation and destruction of the biosphere, the loss of diversity, of natural habitat, and the species who live here, I can’t help but sense that these holes in our biotic communities are also metaphors for holes in our hearts. For the longing in our souls and our spirit. A longing to be whole, to be complete, to be home.
And I believe that some of us are beginning to understand this, and that many more feel it subconsciously.
Yes, the future may still hold a place for humanity, for the surviving descendants of the Agricultural, Industrial, and Petroleum Ages.
The Ages of Empire and World Domination.
Once the heavy burden of this all-consuming civilization is lifted off our backs, perhaps the collective memories of our DNA, our native intuition, will help us remember that there are many ways to live.
And certainly, among those ways, there are some which are sustainable, which would allow our species to continue living, in much more realistic numbers, through ages to come.
Are the lessons we're beginning to learn about our dysfunctional relationship with our environment guiding us toward imagining and desiring a Biocentric Age?
If so, then an Age Of Biocentrism could one day become reality, a sort of natural succession, as impellingly adopted as have been the aforementioned Ages of human history which have paralleled our ever-evolving consciousness.
A definition from Wikipedia
Biocentrism (from Greek: βίος, bio, "life"; and κέντρον, kentron, "center") is a term that has several meanings but is commonly defined as the belief that all forms of life are equally valuable and humanity is not the center of existence. Biocentric positions generally advocate a focus on the well-being of all life in the consideration of ecological, political, and economic issues. Biocentrism in this sense has been contrasted to anthropocentrism, which is the belief that human beings and human society are, or should be, the central focus of existence.
Nighttime Lights of North America
Click on image to enlarge - courtesy of NOAA
This is not the photo my friend sent several years ago. That one had an all black background.
But you get the idea...
Post Script
The leaf in the image at top is from a Hollyhock that's growing near a faucet in the garden.
It caught my eye, and my imagination, for several days before I realized what it reminded me of.
I decided to scan it and was then moved to write this post.
Nature, speaking through me, I guess you might say.
I chose today for this post to participate with Sonia in her Ecological Day at her blog, Leaves Of Grass.

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Blogger richard jehn said...

Awesome post. Thank you, Jim. I am reprinting it on TRB and hope it is okay.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Hi Richard,

I'm glad you like the post.

Every once in awhile I come up with a rant I feel good about.



6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. Thanks you!


6:35 PM  
Blogger sonia a. mascaro said...

Hi Jim,
I am so glad you join Ecological Day! You did an amazing post about Ecology. I am very impressed with your reflection about the lights that would means progress but for the other hand, can "illustrate the destructive imbalance between human organisms and our environments." Really a very intelligent contribution to the theme of sustentability and ecology.
Thank you so much!

7:18 PM  
Blogger Pietro Brosio said...

Very interesting post. Yes, I agree. And your comparison is really effective.
Happy Ecological Day!

9:24 PM  
Blogger sonia a. mascaro said...

Thank you Jim, really it is my pleasure to have your participation on Ecological Day! Your blog was one of the first blogs I found and visiting just when I begun to blogging. I remember well the photo of your library with your beautiful bookshelves.
Have a nice week ahead.

10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by four winds haiga.

Sad to say, I live in one of the bright spots on the map.

1:57 PM  
Blogger gfid said...

your light brights don't go as far north as i live, but i'm guessing we're a dim bunch here. nothing to be terribly proud of, though. we're sucking the black gold from the planet's guts here to keep the lights burning there.

7:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I can’t help but sense that these holes in our biotic communities are also metaphors for holes in our hearts. For the longing in our souls and our spirit. A longing to be whole, to be complete, to be home."

Amen, Jim! Wondering if I'll ever be home by now...

Thanks for your comment over at my blog this AM. Appreciate it.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Jim said...


Hi Paz-

Thank you for visiting Earth Home Garden on Sonia’s Ecological Day and leaving your nice comment.

I went wandering around your 'New York Minute' a bit and you see have created a lovely website.

Enjoy the nature of the big city Paz. I lived in NYC back in 1964, at 119 West 80th Street. Half a block from the gorgeous Central Park, very near the Museum Of Natural History.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Jim said...


It was my pleasure to participate in Ecological Day, as Peggy and I are striving toward making each day of our lives Ecological Days.

You came up with an idea that gave many of your readers food for thought.

And your blog has left a lasting impression with me too.

As you may have noticed, I'm still experimenting with scanning flowers and plants, something you first exposed me to at your blog in its early days.

Thank you for that, and for your beautiful Leaves Of Grass Blog, and for all the ideas & insight you have shared over the past few years.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Jim said...


Thank you, I'm glad you found the ravaged leaf comparison to be somewhat effective. I find it a struggle to convey such concepts thoughtfully, without alienating or frightening people.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Jim said...


Perhaps that is why your blog is so beautiful.

Southern California isn't exactly the Wilderness either, even here in the mountains.

I spend much of my time concentrating on the beauty around me as an antidote for so the overwhelming ugliness and destruction going on in the world.

Thanks for visitng EHG...

11:49 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Hi gfid

We're all in that same boat, afloat on a sea of ill-gotten and diminishing oil.

But life is its own reward and yours is rich in the sharing of your gifts.

I loved reading about your one-time student, Tegan.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Dear Wildside,

Because many of us surely struggle with this same dilemma, I'm taking the liberty of sharing your September 1st post from 'Creating Wildside As Home', as well as my comment (slightly edited for clarity).

So here are the words of my old friend, Wildside

"Hubby is not up yet, the neighborhood is sleeping in, traffic on the street is light as yet, no lawn crews, no planes, no trains, no sirens, no firing range. I am being entertained by jays and hummingbirds flitting about the garden with much interest in these sunflowers here... Couldn't quite capture the life with the camera, but these are the perfect moments, when home seems nearly home.

At many other times though, I know this one is not yet quite for me. I have been trying to create a "wildside" and an edible garden of Eden in a town that no longer truly values such much... Manicured landscapes, nice houses, and keeping up with the advances of that well-to-do Jones family has become the expected norm.

So an opportunity has presented itself and we have recently been tempted greatly to move to someplace where a little patch of verdant forest exists naturally out our back door and friendliness may not be considered off-putting. A spot to start over, a tiny little partially off-grid home that though larger than this has benefits of being in a setting both private and wild and still very near to amenities and employment of a town that also fits my city boy hubby to a "T".

I am the one who answered the poll "Do you love your home?" at upper right with a no, but working towards... After eight years, am still wondering if that will ever be enough and whether once we're done if we'd ever really be accepted here. This location is a dream, but a dream that has changed so that it would fit another better.

When is it time to throw in the towel on all what you've done (and have yet to do to keep the house still standing)? In one respect, quitting -- but with the definite knowledge you are then able to let go and move towards something that will prove difficult for the short term but probably be better, even healthier, in the long run?

Will we stay or will we go? That question is at the forefront. Again.

We'll see... And know soon."

And here are my comments on Wildside's situation...

"Hi Wildside-

I love our mountan cabin and all the plants and animals that share this little space with us. But traffic noise from the nearby highway, the constant roar of planes at the local airport, sirens blaring all day, the firing range less than a mile from here, and the neighborhood noise of infernal combustion devices such as leaf blowers, pressure washers and chain saws prevent me from feeling 100% at home here.

Peggy and I also sometimes long for the peace and quiet of someplace more remote.

It's always been a dilemma for us.

Do we move further into what's left of the wild, or do we make a stand here and try to put into practice more sustainable ways of living in communities?

Living farther out would surely require us to have some sort of vehicle, probably a small pick-up truck, which puts us back in the position of owning and utilizing what we consider to be mans most destructive technology.

A lot of our decision making revolves around whether or not our personal choices will require the use of internal combustion engines.

But one overriding aspect of all this is that we could be regulated out of town.

City & county regulations here are becoming stricter by the year as fear-mongering authorities prioritize perceived human safety, property values, and conformity, above a land ethic that might promote ecological balance, sustainability or self-sufficiency.

Some cities actually ban outdoor clotheslines because they say they lower property values!

Ours hasn't stooped that low yet, but the new defensible-space fire regulations probably make my native-plant garden illegal and raising chickens here is a gray area that becomes a legal issue if the county gets a complaint from a neighbor. We have water use regulations which are preferential to vacationers and tourists, oftentimes banning outdoor watering during busy holiday week-ends. So, on occasion, I violate the law by watering our vegetable garden on a very hot summer week-end. We also removed our asphalt driveway about 10 years ago, replacing it with trees and garden, but it is a legal requirement in San Bernardino County that every residential dwelling has a driveway, whether or not you own a vehicle.

So, basically, our lifestyle here is against the law, and I suppose we could, one day, be forced to leave.

Yes, there are limitations to living in close community with people, which make it difficult for us to be 100% comfortable. But love doesn't require perfection, my children aren't perfect, and I certainly love them. My wife and I are nowhere near perfect, but we still love each other. And our neighborhood and community are also far from perfect but we still love this place. I guess it will come down to whether or not our community continues to love us.

If the kind of lifestyle our consciences require us to live can no longer meet code-compliance, then we will be gone.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, if an opportunity arose where a larger piece of affordable property near here (backing the National Forest) were available to us. An acre or more, where livestock is legal, where we could have our own well, where we were still close enough to town to live without a vehicle, we would most surely jump on it. Fat Chance!

If your new opportunity meets your needs I hope it works out for you.

Good Luck Wildside in whatever you choose to do. You have already done wonderful things over these past few years."

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog and your comment about the bees. I'm keeping it in mind for when I'm around them next time. I think it's pretty cool that you lived in NYC and actually remember your address. Very cool. Next time I'm in that neighborhood, I think I'll look up the building. That'll be fun. ;-)

Have a great week.


9:13 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


Yeah, that area was sort of a low rent district at the time, but, because of it's proximity to the park, I'm sure it's high dollar now.

And, I know what you mean about remembering the address! It's weird, like remembering my phone number when I was 7, Dickens 2,4774.

At this point I'm lucky I can remember my name...

10:18 PM  
Blogger Fida said...

You express my feelings...and you are a brillant photographer. Glad I came across your blog. Thank you.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Lené Gary said...

Hi Jim,
I have missed reading your reflective thoughts about our relationship with the natural world. The way you describe the photograph of lights (holes) is dramatic and deeply disturbing. Your words have done it again--brought me out of my comfort zone to consider the larger picture.

From one friend to another, thank you.

With warmth,

8:37 PM  
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