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Kingston, NY, Friday, Oct. 19, 2007

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We Are Stardust
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

William Pen and Ling Ling: Writer's Cats
Redwood Elf in the Coxing Clove, sculpture by JD; photo by Danielle Voirin.
WALK LIGHTLY on the Earth -- you've heard that before, proposed by the spiritual, the environmentalists, the activists. It's one of those notions that we come to after we've broken through the mesmerizing coma that our daily and habitual patterns produce, most often after a jolt of change or challenge. It's one of those suggestions we consider after we begin to ponder who we are, what we want and why we came to the planet.

I'm traveling for the next several weeks and when I left the Pea Patch, there was a carpet of crisp, brown fallen leaves but, oddly, very few hanging in the trees. In fact, looking out over the Midwestern landscape, you wouldn't know that fall had come or that the trees would be stripped bare in a matter of a few short weeks. Everything was still uniformly green, much as it had been late in the spring. I'll miss the lush pageantry of the foliage turning this year, if it does turn -- and come back to the shades of black and gray that mark the winter season. Here in California, the changes are more evident, the trees bursting with tones of red and gold, leaves fluttering in the air like giant butterflies. What's happening on my planet? I had to travel 1500 miles west in order to find my Midwestern fall.

Now that Al Gore has won a trifecta of major awards -- an Oscar, an Emmy, and the Nobel Peace Prize -- for his work in alerting the world to global warming, there is little doubt that we are all turning our attention to this challenge to our continuance. The firestorm of argument that met his proposition has finally strangled itself on the evidence. Yet even as greenhouse gases explode into a critical issue on the planet, there are still people screaming "hoax" and decrying all the empirical data, some insisting that the warming of the planet has nothing to do with what mankind contributes -- but clearly this is not one of those cerebral ponderings, like how many angels dance on the head of a pin; if we don't get this right, we may go the way of the dodo.

For all the years of the Bush administration, we've been waved off the climate change issue and encouraged to ignore it as, at most, a future problem and more likely, a falsehood. Month after month, we have nervously watched the headlines that indicate that melting arctic ice will flood the coasts, that new islands are being uncovered for nations to wrangle over, that polar bears and penguins are endangered, that birds and bees are threatened and disappearing. We've messed with Mother Nature. Not nice -- not smart either. And no matter how disturbed we have been by all the alerts and warnings, the president and his administration have turned their back on our concerns, pointing us instead to terrorism and wars to keep us distracted and locked in fear. Of all the things they've failed at, these many years, this seems to me the most dangerous.

Walking lightly environmentally is using simple common sense, in terms of "food miles" (eating food produced locally) or carbon footprint -- it certainly includes an awareness of, and responsibility for, fuel consumption and encouragement for the development of alternatives. Mr. Bush bit the bullet and has lately pushed ahead for ethanol, liquid coal and nuclear energy; none of these three "walk lightly," of course, and they seem to prove that the Republican model is still crony-invested, profit-motivated and shortsighted.

I've never quite understood the reasoning of these people -- aren't their children required to breathe the same air as everyone else, drink the same water, suffer the same consequences that environmental neglect will cause? "When faced with peril, seek profit" appears to drive those in power -- and as long as we tolerate them, peril persists, and, day by day, worsens.

The good news is that corporations, even the energy giants, are beginning to look at green alternatives, and we must give the devil his due in terms of their motivation -- they aren't being altruistic, they're coming around because they smell profit. For instance, a new technology that converts pond scum into fuel is getting some attention now -- think of that! Something that is free, easy to duplicate, and problematic to choked waterways has the potential to change our entire energy system. It's not the only solution to our many environmental challenges, but it's certainly one that captures the imagination. And imagination -- what George Marshall calls "intelligent living" -- is what we need now in order to deal with what has been ignored to our detriment for so long. Intelligence -- wow, could we use some of that!

There is a concept that seems to me the oot of problem, one that has created much of what we suffer and that appears to be the opium we think we must have in order to live our complicated lives. That concept is "convenience." Al Gore's book, An Inconvenient Truth, was aptly named. Convenience has robbed us of nutrition, relaxation, connection -- it's driven our markets and redefined our purpose. We've given away our quality of life in order to make everything available quicker, cheaper and easier.

We've produced an artificial environment, embraced it as "normal," pared intelligence down to sound bites and created a streamlined hamster wheel that produces more time...time to throw into more mindless work, more empty play, more more more.

We have become so out of balance that time itself is wobbling, psyches are straining to keep up, systems are folding and Gaia herself is protesting. We have become complacent about taking from her, and giving back little or nothing. We wound her thoughtlessly, selfishly and without remorse. She has the ability to heal herself -- but in so doing, she may have to eliminate the problem...and the problem is us. The Christmas tsunami and Katrina have proven that she can shake us off like fleas whenever she chooses; we ignore her warnings at our own peril. We must slow down to rethink what life is about, what our relationship is to our planet and our fellows, or be turned off the planet as unwelcome parasites.

Alan Weisman wrote a fascinating book entitled The World Without Us; it has been well received. He told Jon Stewart in a recent interview that books about environment don't sell well because people are afraid to read them, but that having done away with humankind early in his scenario, the worst was already over and the book was selling like hotcakes. When Jon asked Mr. Weisman what the world would miss if humans became extinct, he thought a moment and mentioned head lice and a bevy of bacteria. Jon laughed and so did I -- but that was a rueful laugh, on my part. I think we can do better than that, don't you?

There are any number of books and articles to read on this topic, but I highly recommend Teachings on Love, by Tich Nhat Hanh.

Our connectedness to one another, and to this lovely planet that gives herself to us, is illuminated through the concepts of "mindful consumerism." How we use our resources, and where we put our money and our interest will drive the vital, and imminent, discussions on global challenges. We are in co-creation with all that happens here; we are the ones who make the decisions. We need to make them in collaboration with Gaia, with nature, with the other species on the planet and with our own well-being in mind. It's time for us to connect the dots, and walk lightly, back to the garden.
I came upon a child of God
walking down the road
I asked him, where are you going?
And this he told me

He said I'm going down to Yasgur's Farm,
Just join in a rock and roll band.
Get back to the land and set my soul free.

(He said) we are stardust, we are golden,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

So can I walk beside you?
I've come here to lose the smog,
I feel like I'm a cog in something turning round and round.

Maybe it's just the time of year,
Maybe it's the time of man.
I don't know who I am,
But life is for learning.

(And then)we are stardust, we are golden,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

We are stardust, we are golden,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

By the time we got to Woodstock,
We were half a million strong
Everywhere you look there was a song and hope and a celebration.

And I dreamed I saw the bomber death planes
Riding shotgun in the sky,
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation.

We are stardust, we are golden,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

We are stardust, we are a billion year old carbon,
We are golden
We just got caught up in some devil's bargain
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

To some semblance of a garden.
                                                                                   --Joni Mitchell, Woodstock

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