Monday, June 25, 2007

To lie down beneath this bowl of stars

I begin clearing the dust from the barrel and start tracking-down where all of the eye-pieces and filters have landed since I moved. It’s the wrong time of year to be getting to it, what with the thick, damp air and the long days crowding the dark of night, but now is when I have time to work.

It seems so civilized, seen with the aid of those carefully aligned parabolic mirrors and various lenses. So much of what we know about it began not so long ago, when a few curious and intuitive souls began to use new mathematics to overturn centuries of Church rhetoric and eons of pagan tradition. What all of this number-crunching succeeded in doing, though, was to reveal that we had been right all along- we exist in the midst of a vast wilderness, a desert of absurd extremes that we now refer to as space.
When I watch for a few minutes the sky turning about Polaris, I am reminded of the fire drill I used a few weeks ago. I muse for a moment that perhaps the enterprising soul who first made the leap from fire plough to the more sophisticated and economical fire drill might have been inspired by that little light at the center of the spinning night sky. In this scenario, as in so many others involved with the lights overhead, understanding and a technology that is almost synonymous with civilization comes directly from a wild place.
What’s curious is that we increasingly build walls between the wild and the civil. We regard evidence of wildness in our surroundings and in ourselves as vulgar. Some of us have begun to notice the places where these walls are ragged and thin, and some of us are so appalled by what this means for the delusion of immaculate civilization, that we pretend not to see them.
The interfaces between the two are constantly moving and evolving, and though they are obscure and elusive, they are real: The civilized world runs on agriculture, a practice that exploits the wild light of our nearest star. Meanwhile, we industrious agrarians pick up certain plants and animals and diffuse them throughout most of the places people live, pushing out the uncivilized plants and animals.
To move ahead in the long-term, to achieve sustainability, we must understand and accept the relationship between the civil and the wild. As long as both exist, they impact, influence, and drive one another. I encourage the reader to create or find an opportunity to experience the wild, or to watch the interface of wild things and the civilized world: Leave the trail. Go fishing. Bake your own bread. Or, enjoy the plain and savage beauty of the stars.

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