Monday, December 26, 2011

The European and the Indian

About 400 years ago, several boatloads of rigidly righteous racist Puritans washed up on the shore, much to the detriment of the Indians of New England.  The two cultures could not have been more different.  Every schoolchild knows the sacred colonial myths, but what really happened is far more obscure, and far more interesting.  In search of a more accurate story, historian James Axtell plowed through mountains of old papers and summed up what he learned in his book The European and the Indian.
In 1600, Europe was near the peak of the Inquisition.  At that time, it was perfectly appropriate to torture and burn thousands and thousands of people who were accused of doing ridiculous and impossible things.  The Puritans were an offshoot of the new Protestant movement, which was obsessed with sin and evil, and terrified of sex and sensuality.  The natural world was the realm of Satan.  The Puritans were raised in a hell broth of mass hysteria.  They believed that the ideal life was one of back-breaking work.  They were rigorously trained to be obedient to their superiors, and their way of life was “almost slavery.”
The Indians blew their minds.  Native men spent their days hunting, fishing, and socializing, living like upper class English lords.  They wore their hair long, which was a shocking display of pride and independence (pride was the greatest sin of all).  They had contempt for all authority.  Their low-tech agriculture produced as much food as colonial farmers, using just primitive hand tools and far less labor — the women tended the fields!  They were impossible to predict and control, because they would suddenly pack up and move to an unknown location, as if they were noble aristocrats who could do whatever they wished.  The Indians were absolutely free people, and the Puritans were neurotic heavily-armed control freaks.
It was easy to control colonists who lived in established villages and towns, because the authorities could keep a careful eye on them, and promptly punish those who stepped out of line.  But some colonists drifted off into the wilderness, and lived far from church and law, where they were dangerously at risk of slipping into heathenish ignorance and barbarism.  These disgusting renegades were lazy and immoral people who lived in crude log cabins, dressed in animal skins, and lived by hunting.  There were small settlements in the Maine wilderness where Europeans lived in complete freedom, in a state of nature, as wild as the deer — a delicious idea to contemplate.  Imagine that. 
One thing in the old papers astounded Axtell.  Over and over the colonists wrote about the need to “reduce” the savage barbarians to civility, to “reduce” them to docility.  The word “reduce” was used many times, with just two exceptions (the exceptions were written in the eighteenth century, long after the settlement period).  “Reduce” is a word that has a clear, unambiguous meaning.  The colonial writers used it accurately, if you believe that freedom is good, as I do.
The number one stated purpose of settlement was to bring the gospel to the Indians and save them.  Because European society was so vastly superior, Indians would certainly fall over each other in the rush to be converted.  But this fantasy crashed head-on into reality.  Missionaries frequently alienated the Indians with their intolerant ethnocentricism.  And Christian settlers were too often greedy, brutal, dishonest hypocrites.  The foreign religion competed poorly with the traditional spirituality of the Indians, which worked perfectly well for them. 
The schools established for Indian children were miserable, and most students fled at the first opportunity.  The few Indians who managed to jump through all of the hoops, and successfully become educated Christians, discovered that they had no place in white society, because they were members of an inferior race.  Coerced conversion was a complete failure.  Later, the settlers discovered that the Indians could successfully be converted with “Powder & Ball.”  Dead Indians were easy to control, and offered no resistance to the seizure of their lands.
I was especially fascinated by Axtell’s discussion of the “white Indians” — colonists who voluntarily lived with the natives, and merged into native families and communities.  European diseases and bullets killed many Indians.  To replace them, the Indians adopted whites that they captured, mostly women and children.  Also, a number of whites deliberately ran away and were accepted into Indian tribes.  This happened so often that laws were passed to ban settlers from escaping to freedom — violators could be beaten, imprisoned, or hung for treason.
In 1782, Hector de Crèvecoeur was astounded to discover that “thousands” of Europeans had become Indians, but no Indians had become Europeans.  Other sources confirm that this was not a wild exaggeration.  Most white Indians preferred living with the natives, and made no effort to escape.  When relatives came to get them, and begged them to come home, they usually declined to return.  And those who did return often got disgusted and soon came back to their tribe. 
The Indians were moral and honest people, unlike the Puritans.  They were more Christian than the Christians, and they won the hearts of their former enemies with kindness and generosity.  They lovingly accepted the whites into their families as brothers and sisters.  They treated women with absolute dignity and respect.  Indian children enjoyed abundant love and attention, the complete opposite of the Puritan mode of severe discipline.  Some of the white Indians later became great chiefs.
A life of hunting and fishing was far more enjoyable than a life of plowing and reaping.  The Puritan colonists endured a life similar to slavery, fettered with cultural balls and chains.  White Indians discovered that freedom was divine — far more valuable than the cheap thrills of life in an oppressive society.  It’s no fun being reduced to docility and civility, and they gladly walked away to a better life.
James Axtell.  The European and the Indian.  Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Of Wolves and Men

Of Wolves and Men, by Barry Lopez, explores many facets of the long and tempestuous relationship between humans and wolves.  Sadly, in an age of infinite information and growing eco-awareness, many people still remain crippled by an overwhelming, totally irrational hatred of wolves.  They want them all dead.  Now.
The people of hunting societies had immense respect for wolves, amazing animals that could survive long arctic winters without tools, clothing, or fires.  Both wolves and humans were highly intelligent and social species who spent their lives living in a similar way, on the same land, pursuing the same prey.  Wolves were natural predators. Their bodies were perfected for the hunting life by a million years of evolution.  Humans were odd creatures, incapable of effective hunting without the use of a collection of clever technology.  Eskimos periodically died of starvation, but wolves rarely did.
The Eskimos hunted sacred wild animals, and their meat was powerful medicine.  It made you strong and alive.  The opposite of sacred flesh was the meat of pathetic animals, like domesticated herbivores.  This was junk food that would not keep you well nourished.  The Naskapi believed that they were being spiritually destroyed as a people by being forced to eat the meat of mutant animals.
Hunting societies generally did not hunt wolves for food.  Eating wolf flesh was taboo in many cultures.  Similarly, wolves did not routinely kill humans for food.  But they enjoyed having humans for lunch.  There were many stories of wolves digging up corpses.  They feasted on the piles of humans killed by the Black Death, and they regularly appeared on battlefields to dine on unlucky soldiers and horses.  Wolves and ravens were frequently the companions of mighty war gods. 
When humans migrated into North America, they probably brought three or four types of dogs (domesticated gray wolves).  Dogs assisted in hunting, pulled or carried loads, and provided fur and meat.  They were not pets.  Nuisance dogs were promptly dispatched.  The Nunamiut believed that wolves had souls, but their sled dogs didn’t.  The Sioux referred to wolves as shunkmanitu tanka, “the animal that looks like a dog (but) is a powerful spirit.”  Dogs were not allowed in their ceremonial lodges.
Big trouble came when “problem humans” appeared, and began the bizarre and unnatural practice of domesticating livestock, poultry, and water fowl.  They were completely out of balance with the family of life.  Problem humans rapidly expanded in numbers, destroyed the ancient forests, and exterminated the animals that the wolves depended on.  Before long, the countryside was cluttered with passive dim-witted beasts.  Eventually, there was nothing for the wolves to eat except for junk food.  A farm family might wake up in the morning to find that wolves had killed all of their enslaved critters, and this did not amuse them.
Lopez once asked Eskimos a question: if you decided to start herding reindeer, would you exterminate the wolves?  “No.”  They would expect some predation.  It would be insane to kill off their sacred relatives in order to maximize meat production.
But problem humans resented anything that lived on their land for free, and long ago they began the War on Wolves.  An enthusiastic European wolfer in 1650 might kill 20 or 30 wolves in his life, but an American wolfer in the late nineteenth century, armed with kegs of strychnine, might kill 4,000 or 5,000 wolves in ten years.  By collecting bounties and selling pelts, a wolfer could make $1,000 to $3,000 in four months — big money at that time.  The game was: (1) shoot a few buffalo, (2) lace their meat with poison, (3) return the next morning and skin 20 or 30 dead wolves.
The strychnine hunters went crazy.  Cowboys never passed a carcass on the range without poisoning it.  They shot birds and painted them with poison.  Farm dogs died.  Children died.  Anything that ate meat died.  Prior to white settlement, the Great Plains was home to an incredible abundance of wildlife.  Lopez estimated that between 1850 and 1900, 500 million wild animals died.  Such insanity staggers the imagination. 
Today, the killing continues.  Problem humans are using dynamite to blow up predator dens, and shooting them from planes and helicopters.  They stake out dogs in heat, and then beat to death the wolves that mount them.  Why?  Why?  Why? 
Lopez takes us back to old Europe in search of answers.  In the medieval mind, anything evil was associated with wolves.  The wolf and the devil were one.  Werewolves and witches were tortured and brutally murdered in great numbers during the Inquisition, an enterprise controlled by the well-educated, Jesus-adoring, upper class.  Victims included anyone odd or unpopular: the insane, simpletons, epileptics, people with Down’s syndrome.  Our experiment with civilization was turning into a horror show, as they always do.
From another source, I’ve learned that problem humans were not just Christians.  The Japanese raised far less livestock, so wolves were not a major threat to them.  Wolves were seen as spirit messengers, and shrines were built to venerate them.  But the last Japanese wolf was killed in 1905.  Oddly, some still believe that the wolves continue to survive.
Lopez does not give us an exact diagnosis for our sickness, nor an antidote.  Our problems are rooted in a failure to understand our place in the universe.  They reflect self-loathing.  We kill wolves, werewolves, and witches in a futile effort to erase our animal nature.  We have been taught to believe that our strong and normal hunger for pleasure and life is shameful and wrong.  We have been taught that humans are the center of the universe, elevated above everything else in Creation.  Until we outgrow that idiocy, we will remain spectacularly crazy, and doomed to a short performance on our sweet and beautiful planet.

Lopez, Barry, Of Wolves and Men, Scribner Classics, New York, 2004. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Neither Wolf Nor Dog



One of the most tragic stories in human history describes the spread of civilization into the lands of the wild and free.  This story has countless variations, in every region of the world, and they rarely end happily, with the wild and free expelling the invaders.  Instead, what usually happened was that the civilized people proceeded to kill or enslave the natives, and then destroy the ecosystem, which eventually doomed the civilization.

In New England, the European invaders tried to transform the Indians into submissive, hard-working Christian farmers.  This plan enjoyed little success.  In the 19th century, the strategy changed.  Indians were herded into concentration camps called reservations, or gunned down if they resisted.  The Indians were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned.

The first wave of my Norwegian ancestors immigrated in 1879 and settled in the eastern regions of Iowa and North Dakota — recently the home of the Lakota and vast herds of bison.  This was three years after Custer was defeated at Little Big Horn, and eleven years before the last group of free Lakota was exterminated at Wounded Knee.  The world would be a happier place today if everyone had stayed at home, spent time with therapists working through their superiority and domination complexes, developed effective family planning systems, and learned how to live in harmony with their land.

Kent Nerburn’s book, Neither Wolf Nor Dog, presents the Lakota perspective on the European invasion, as seen through the eyes of “Dan,” a 78 year old elder (1913-2002).  It’s a perspective that white folks are rarely exposed to, unfortunately.  Dan had many important ideas that he wanted to pass along to the younger generations of all peoples, and Nerburn compiled them into a book.  The format of the oratory was very laid back — riding around Indian country in an old Buick with two elders, a big dog, and a cloud of cigarette smoke.

Dan was a traditional Lakota who had no affection for white government, white religion, or white people.  He had been angry all his life at what the whites had done to his land and his people.  The conquest provided no benefits for the Lakota, it was a complete disaster, a toxic explosion of greed, craziness, and injustice.  Yet white historians described the conquest in glowing terms — brave pioneers conquering and civilizing an untamed wilderness — progress!  God bless America!

The perspective in Lakota country could not be more different.  In their eyes, the conquest of America resembled something like the 2011 tsunami of east Japan that erased everything in its path.  The bison were exterminated, the forests were eliminated, the prairies were plowed, and contagious disease killed millions.  They shot the buffalo just to kill them!  They had no respect for the land or the beings that lived there.

When Indians killed “innocent” white settlers, the whites howled about barbaric savages and bloody massacre.  But the Indians had little choice.  The invaders intended to completely erase Indian society, even if this included exterminating every Indian.  The whites relentlessly advanced.  The soldiers were young men who had been hired to kill the “animals” that stood in the path of empire, and many of them took pleasure in killing.  There was no possibility of negotiation, because the invaders broke every agreement they made.  There was nowhere to flee to.  Surrender promised cultural obliteration. 

For the whites, the land was not alive and sacred — it was a treasure to be seized and exploited as quickly as possible.  The Lakota saw the land as their sacred mother, and they treated her with great respect.  Dan could never understand why, despite their good treatment, mother had gotten angry and punished the Lakota with invasion, diseases, and harsh winters.  Dan wondered what she had in store for the whites, who have shown no respect whatsoever.  We’ll surely find out.

One day, Nerburn drove Dan through his village on the reservation, an impressive scene of rundown houses, junk cars, and trash.  White people typically drive through and perceive nothing but “a bunch of shit.”  Dan asked Nerburn what he thought Indians saw when they visited a white city.  “We say the same thing.”  “You see a dirt path with a pop can next to it and you think that is worse than a big paved highway that is kept clean.  You get madder at a forest with a trash bag in it than at a big shopping center…”

White people are fascinated with the idea of freedom, because they have so little freedom in their lives.  Dan saw that whites are confined in a world of cages — their fenced property, their permanent home, their rulers, their bosses, their laws, their religious beliefs.  Indians have always enjoyed great freedom, and they had no desire to become farmers and join the whites in their world of miserable cages. 

This is why the whites had Sitting Bull murdered.  He didn’t want to sign treaties, because that would turn his people into blanket Indians.  They would turn white.  Sitting Bull said “I do not wish to be shut up in a corral.  All agency Indians I have seen were worthless.  They are neither red warriors nor white farmers.  They are neither wolf nor dog.”

After Sitting Bull was gunned down, many of his people fled to Wounded Knee, with soldiers in pursuit.  The weather was frigid, but they didn’t dare make fires, fearing that they would be discovered.  They were cold, hungry, and weak when the soldiers caught them.  The Indians were disarmed, then all of them were mowed down with machine guns — men, women, children, and the elderly.

The climax of the story came when Dan and Nerburn spent a night at the Wounded Knee cemetery, in a realm of powerful spirits.  Throughout his life, Dan had remained in close contact with the spirits of his ancestors.  The invasion had filled his life with pain, rage, and sorrow.  The injustice was unbearable.  Why did the Creator allow this to happen?  His ancestors had died running. 

Dan prayed for healing.  He was sure that the passage of generations would eventually bury the anger.  Peace would eventually return.  This is a book I will never forget.
 

Kent Nerburn, Neither Wolf Nor Dog, New World Library, Novato, California, 1994.  Due to popular demand, Nerburn wrote a second book about Dan, The Wolf at Twilight (2009).

A 2017 Interview with Nerburn (HERE)

Neither Wolf Nor Dog movie trailer (HERE)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Health & the Rise of Civilization

The emergence of agriculture and civilization represented an astonishing advance for humankind.  Or did it?  A growing number of people are raising questions about this cherished belief.  Mark Nathan Cohen, an anthropology professor, wrote Health & the Rise of Civilization to shine a light on the history of human health.  His book is fascinating.
Hunter-gatherers did not enjoy perfect health, but they were vulnerable to far fewer maladies than people in agricultural societies.  In hunter society, dying from accidents was common.  Intestinal parasites were common, and hunters were vulnerable to zoonotic diseases, which could use humans and other animals as hosts, but couldn’t be transmitted from human to human.  Diseases that could be transmitted from human to human were rare.  Cancer, heart disease, and other degenerative diseases were very rare, as was starvation. 
There are scientists who study the health of dead folks via their bones or mummified remains.  Their research reveals that big game hunters were the best nourished group in human history.  Animal foods are the best source of complete proteins, and they are rich in other nutrients.  When big game declined, we shifted to intensified foraging, and hunted for small game.  The people of this new phase were shorter and experienced more infections. 
With the shift to farming, the quality of our health plunged.  Infection rates doubled at some Illinois sites.  Tuberculosis became common.  Intestinal parasites increased.  Reduced nutrition led to shorter people.  Life expectancy did not increase. 
Wild hunter-gatherers were nomadic.  They frequently packed up and moved, leaving their excrement behind.  Wild grazing animals were also nomadic.  When they needed more vegetation, they moved on, leaving their excrement behind.  The nomadic life had two advantages — animals were free to move in pursuit of better nutrition, and by moving they left behind the risks of acquiring the diseases of filth and confinement. 
Farmers, on the other hand, spent their lives in one place, in denser populations, and their excrement remained on location.  This delighted fecal-oral diseases.  Farmers often confined numerous domesticated animals, which converted plant material into excrement that also accumulated on the farm.  Thus, the farm was transformed into a treasure chest of pathogens, worms, and intestinal parasites.  Domesticated animals suffered from diseases that were rare or unknown in wild animals.
The farm was home to a mixture of species: cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, horses, dogs, waterfowl, and poultry.  By keeping multiple species in close proximity, we encouraged the transfer of diseases from one species to another.  Humans acquired livestock diseases like measles, smallpox, influenza, diphtheria, and the common cold.
Living in permanent homes with stored food led to frequent visits from hungry rodents and insects, who sometimes carried pathogens.  Living indoors made it easier for contagious illness to spread from person to person.
Malaria and yellow fever were originally treetop diseases of non-human primates, but they spread to humans as farmers cleared forests.  Malaria is rare among nomadic people, but common in farming societies.  It is especially serious where farmers grow rice in flooded paddies (mosquito incubators).  Some believe that malaria has killed more people than any other disease.
Growing civilizations typically created extensive trading networks.  Trade and travel spread many diseases to new regions where the inhabitants had no immunity.  These include bubonic plague, smallpox, and tuberculosis.  Speedy new steam ships and locomotives enabled cholera to spread explosively in the last 200 years, killing millions.
Hunters enjoyed a diverse and nutritious diet, and farmers didn’t.  The farm diet majored in cereals and tubers that were rich in calories but contained fewer nutrients.  This diet often lead to illnesses from mineral and vitamin deficiencies — pellagra, anemia, thyroid problems.  Tooth decay was almost unknown among hunters, but cavities are a common problem for people who consume gummy cereal foods and sugar.
The spread of disease closely followed the spread of civilization, and the growth of population centers.  Measles originated in cattle.  It couldn’t survive in human communities of less than 500,000 people, because there were not enough babies to provide an adequate supply of new hosts.  Thus, measles is a new disease for humans.  I was surprised to learn that there was little contagious disease prior to the shift to agriculture.
Modern people tend to be physically inactive, and consume generous portions of calorie-intense processed foods that are very low in fiber — an excellent recipe for obesity.  The twentieth century witnessed the emergence of degenerative diseases that had previously been rare — cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.  It seems that most of the amazing technology of modern medicine is used to counteract the unintended consequences of the rise of civilization.  With seven billion people, vast numbers of confined livestock and poultry, a high-speed global transportation system, and a growing number of drug-resistant pathogens, the conditions are perfect for the creation and spread of catastrophic pandemics.
The idea of “progress” first appeared around 1800, and it proudly celebrated recent improvements over the horrid life of the 14th to 18th centuries.  Cohen said that the people of this dark era “may have been among the nutritionally most impoverished, the most disease-ridden, and the shortest-lived populations in human history.”  Members of the progress faith incorrectly projected this horror farther back, to include healthy, well-nourished prehistoric hunters.   
Cohen concluded that our beliefs in the benefits of civilization are in need of revision, because civilization did not make life better for most people.

Mark Nathan Cohen, Health & the Rise of Civilization, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1989. 
For additional information on health in civilized societies, Man and Epidemics by Charles Edward Amory Winslow (1952) is excellent.  Laurie Garrett contemplated future health risks in The Coming Plague (1994).

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Omnivores Dilemma

America doesn’t enjoy a healthy, traditional, time-proven national cuisine.  We are bombarded by a phenomenal variety of food options, and this makes us dizzy and highly susceptible to food fads.  Our venerable nutrition experts point us in every imaginable direction, and some dietary factions have evolved into militant food jihads.  Michael Pollan was fascinated by this chaotic realm of greed, deceit, ignorance, confusion, fantasy, and flame-throwing righteousness.  He wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma in a heroic effort to provide us with something resembling an objective, unbiased investigative journalist’s overview of the American food system.
The first of Pollan’s three lessons discusses the world of industrial corn.  Cheap, subsidized, processed corn has become our number one source of nutrients.  Americans have become “corn chips with legs.”  Forty years ago, my Uncle Blaine’s dairy cows enjoyed a diet of delicious North Dakota grass.  I was saddened to realize that today’s milk, butter, and cheese are primarily made of corn, not grass.  A corn-fed cow consumes the equivalent of 35 gallons of fossil fuel.  Beef, pork, chicken, and eggs are also largely corn-based.  Pollan describes the mass production of corn-fed meat at Confined Animal Feeding Operations — profitable enterprises that are disgustingly cruel and filthy.
Pollan’s discussion of nitrogen fertilizer blew my mind — it’s a primary contributor to humankind’s population explosion.  Without synthetic fertilizer, it would not be possible for the human herd to exceed four billion.  Prior to 1945, we ate crops produced by solar-powered plants.  Now, a tsunami of synthetic fertilizers is using corn plants to convert fossil fuels into food.  To produce one calorie of industrial corn requires using more than one calorie of fossil fuel.
The second lesson examines the farm world beyond industrial corn.  We are introduced to the remarkably clever Joel Salatin, who excels at producing impressive quantities of grass-fed meat without cruelty, crowding, pollution, or land degradation.  His meat is superior to industrial organic meats.  Thanks to big money, organic standards have been seriously weakened.  It’s OK to raise organic beef on filthy feedlots.  Organic chickens can be raised in metal sheds where 20,000 birds are jam-packed together — and the “free range” label is essentially meaningless marketing gibberish.
Organic agriculture used to be the realm of groovy small-scale hippy enterprises, but they have been pushed aside by the rise of industrial-scale organic farming, which uses no less fossil energy than conventional farming.  Industrial organic produces large quantities of food at a lower cost than hippy farmers, and it is designed to smoothly integrate with the corporate food retailing industry.  Whole Foods isn’t interested in buying ten boxes of carrots from Henry the Hippy.
The third lesson discusses the hunter-gatherer way of eating.  Pollan foraged for greens, mushrooms, and fruit.  He learned how to use a gun, and he shot a wild pig.  He created a meal for which he had provided most of the ingredients himself.  He was fully conscious of where the food came from, and how it was prepared — a very different experience from the standard American mealtime.
This section included a thoughtful discussion of the ethics of meat-eating.  Pollan carefully explored the realm of animal rights philosophy.  I was surprised (and delighted) to learn that many animal rights thinkers have contempt for domesticated species, because they exist only to be used by their human owners.  I was also surprised (and stunned) to learn that some animal rights folks see wild predators, like lions and tigers, as being wrong or evil because they are hurtful to others.
The one notable shortcoming of the book is that it did not include a robust discussion of sustainability.  Sustainable agriculture is a rarity.  Never forget that it was low-impact, muscle-powered, 100% organic farming that destroyed the agricultural systems of countless extinct civilizations.  Any petroleum-based process is unsustainable.  But even if organic farming was done with just muscle power, most of it would still be unsustainable.  Much modern farming depends on irrigation, and irrigated agriculture commonly self-destructs.  Pollan mentions that Iowa has lost half of its topsoil in 150 years, but he fails to warn us that raising annual crops in tilled fields is almost always unsustainable, because it destroys the soil.  There are many ways to produce wholesome food without irrigation, tilling, petroleum, or animal enslavement — and they should be at the center of our attention today.
Pollan is a skilled writer and a sharp thinker, and he has written a stimulating, informative, and easy-to-read book.  I would strongly recommend it to animals who eat food.

Michael Pollan, The Omnivores Dilemma, Penguin Press, New York, 2006.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nature and Madness

Paul Shepard wrote Nature and Madness to explore a perplexing question: “Why do men persist in destroying their habitat?”  Shepard came to the conclusion that modern European-American culture was the damaged offspring of a long process of psychological deterioration.
Obviously, modern consumers live and think in a manner that is radically different from our wild ancestors who lived relatively sustainably.  This change wasn’t the result of freaky genetic mutations or the normal process of evolution.  We still have Pleistocene genes.  Newborns are still wild animals who are ready and anxious to enjoy a good life among a clan of buffalo hunters. 
It wasn’t genes that changed us, it was culture.  Culture is a tribe’s software, and cultural evolution can happen a million times faster than genetic evolution — and that’s exactly what happened.  Few, if any, newborns are now born into wild, free, salmon eating cultures.  Alas, most are condemned to spend their days in the most destructive culture yet devised.  Poor babies! 
The process that leads to the development of healthy, happy, well-adjusted wild humans is a spiral stairway, based on a calendar.  There are time windows in which certain steps in the process can be completed.  If you’ve ever read the story of Amala and Kamala, the wolf-girls of India, you know that they missed developmental windows for learning how to speak, and walking upright.  Missed windows lead to incomplete development. 
Shepard thought that modern consumers were the offspring of an incomplete developmental process.  We were immature, infantile, psychologically crippled.  By Paleolithic standards, we were childish adults, suffering from arrested development.  He discussed our downward spiral by presenting us with four snapshots.
First, the domestication of plants and animals blindsided the human journey.  We no longer lived in a wild land.  We lived in farm country, an artificial human-controlled ecosystem.  Regular contact with wild animals had been an essential part of our psychological development process.  But farmers erased our wild teachers and replaced them with what Shepard referred to as a horde of goofies — passive, submissive, dim-witted domesticated animals.  We ceased venerating the sacred totemic spirits of the land, and replaced them with a human-like Earth Mother, who sometimes fed us generously, and sometimes didn’t.  We abandoned the leisurely lifestyle of nomadic foraging, and replaced it with miserable backbreaking toil that destroyed the health of both the farmer and the land.
Next came the desert fathers, patriarchal nomadic herders who pushed Earth Mother out of the temple, and replaced her with a powerful, aggressive, authoritarian Sky Father.  He sired three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Monotheism was a fountain of world-rejecting asceticism which “tore up the human psyche by its most ancient roots,” according to Shepard.  “The ‘cradle of civilization’ is also the cradle of fanatic ideology — witness the interminable desert wars…”
Next came the Reformation.  The Protestant fathers were fascinated, obsessed, and disgusted by sex, filth, corruption, sensuality, the natural world — life itself.  The puritan path led to estrangement from the body and the world.  It increased the attention paid to sin and evil.
Finally, he discussed the mechanists of industrial society.  They mostly spent their lives indoors in vast manmade urban environments that were densely populated by huge numbers of strangers.  Cities were breeding grounds for myriads of psychological problems.  The city was “the wilderness in disarray, a kind of pandemonium,” a realm of “menacing disintegration.”
Many of us are coming to comprehend that it is remarkably unclever to continue destroying our habitat.  Shepard spent years constructing his controversial explanation.  Whether or not you buy every argument, the primary thrust of the book is the rather obvious notion that our civilization has lost its marbles.  This realization is a mandatory step for any pilgrimage in search of healing, happiness, and sustainability.  We must abandon the belief that we are enjoying the zenith of the amazing human journey, because it locks us into a cage — there is no problem to fix, everything is always getting better.
Human beings thrived as salmon eaters and buffalo hunters.  We were healthy, whole, and happy when we lived in wild tribes in wild ecosystems.  Prince Charles wrote a line I will never forget: “In so many ways we are what we are surrounded by, in the same way as we are what we eat.”  It’s heartbreaking to watch insane zoo lions endlessly pacing back and forth in their concrete prison.  Long ago I read an article about condors.  It said that a wild and free condor soaring above the mountains was sacred, majestic, perfect.  But a condor held captive in a zoo was less — far less.  The essay concluded that condor-ness consisted of 10% condor and 90% place. 
After a thorough examination of the process of our decline, Shepard served us a solution that barely covers more than a page.  In terms of our human-ness, we still have the 10% human component — our genes.  What we’re missing is the 90% place.  Therefore, Shepard says, the solution is to raise our children in a manner similar to Neolithic society, in a wild ecosystem, so that they can fully experience a complete, normal, and healthy development process.  I was shocked when I first read this ridiculous and naïve idea.  But later, I realized that he was exactly correct.  It’s a perfect and brilliant solution, but it requires huge change.  Shepard pointed to the destination.  It’s up to us to find the route.
 
Shepard, Paul, Nature and Madness, University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia, 1998.  Nature and Madness was originally published in 1982 by Sierra Club Books, but they dropped it because it was controversial.
Warning!  This book is written for gray-haired professors, not a general audience.  Nature and Madness is the opposite of easy to read.  Two beautiful and easy-to-read books that explore psychological development are The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff, and The Human Cycle by Colin Turnbull.

Monday, November 14, 2011

All of the Above

I heard the news today, oh boy.  The stream of stories was like a dopey sophomoric science fiction novel from the 25 cent box at St. Vinnie’s — The Planet of the Consumers, or something.  The Republican candidates are an unbelievable freak show.  The President is a slick-talking hand puppet owned by the investment banking crime syndicate.  Lecherous football coaches are fondling slippery naked boys in the shower room.  Everyone is praying for economic recovery and full employment, so we can fire up our credit cards, return to engorging on trendy imported merchandise, and successfully complete our extermination of life on Earth.
Gosh!  Isn’t there another channel?  Day in, day out, month after month, year after year, the fire hose torrent of mindless nonsense never ends.  Many are washed away forever, never to regain a toehold in reality.  Living at the amazing zenith of technological civilization is like being an inmate at the loony bin — total madness, all the time.
Now, imagine this: a really cool science fiction novel suddenly materializes and beams you up into a universe that is rational, coherent, and intelligent.  You soar into a beautiful, breathtaking, mind-blowing, life-changing paradise of sanity — a place where the heroes care about the Earth, about life, about the future.  It’s like an LSD trip, or something.  Wow!  The novel is called All of the Above, written by Timothy Scott Bennett, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.
Oh, I’ll toss you a teaser.  Obama was followed by James Russell, who was followed by Linda Travis, the maverick governor of Michigan.  President Travis understood that industrial civilization was obliterating the planet, and it was long past time to seriously deal with huge problems.  Collapse was well underway.  
Obie, a homeless genius from Duluth, gave this advice to Travis: “We don’t need more of the same.  We need something so different that we can barely begin to imagine it.”
The President realized that her administration needed to pursue a radically different strategy.  Striving to keep planet-killing economic growth on life support would be insane.  “My job is to help lead the human race through the collapse of civilization.”  What a president!
Only the poets can save us now.  We’re marching toward the cliff of self destruction because we lack imagination, clear thinking, and reverence for all life.  We’re not going to choose a higher path until we discover that higher paths exist, and that they would be far healthier than our daffy shop-till-you-drop quagmire.  Creative people can summon the power to open our minds and blast us out of our ruts.  We are in desperate need of healthy songs, stories, and visions.  Creative magicians need to find them, bring them back, and share them with the world.   All of the Above is potent medicine, a refreshing and invigorating experience.  There are, in fact, sane people out there.  Oh boy!

Bennett, Timothy Scott, All of the Above, Blue Hag Books, Eastport, Maine, 2011. 
Tim and his wife Sally Erickson created the documentary What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book of the Eskimos

Peter Freuchen (1886-1957) was a Dane who set up a trading post in Greenland in 1910.  He spent 50 years among the Inuit, and knew them when they still lived in their traditional Stone Age manner.  He married an Inuit woman and had two children.  Freuchen’s Book of the Eskimos describes how these people lived, and provides us with a window into a world far different from our own. (Today, the word “Eskimo” is rude.)
The Arctic was the last region to be settled by humans.  It’s an extremely cold region, with just two frost-free months, and the sun doesn’t shine for four months of the year.  What’s for breakfast?  Meat.  What’s for lunch?  Meat.  Dinner?  Guess what!  They lived almost entirely on animal foods from birds, fish, and mammals of the sea and tundra.  These foods were processed and preserved in a variety of different ways, many of which would gag outsiders.  Blubber was their fuel for heat, cooking, and light.
Survival in this harsh land demanded cooperation and sharing.  Meat was community property, and no one was denied access to it (although regular freeloaders were not warmly regarded).  Spoken discourse was typically indirect, non-confrontational, and comically self-effacing.  Functional communities had no use for those who suffered from grandiose egos or other anti-social perversions.
Despite their harsh life, the Inuit had a tremendous zeal for living.  Sexually, they enjoyed great freedom.  Wife swapping was common and perfectly acceptable.  Young people (even children) were free to fully explore the mysteries of tender pleasures.  Orgies, singing, and storytelling sweetened the monotony of long winter nights.  Freuchen writes that “they always enjoy life with an enviable intensity, and they believe themselves to be the happiest people on earth living in the most beautiful country there is.”
Anthropologists have shown us that nomadic foraging cultures had a number of advantages, compared to agricultural societies.  Foraging societies in warmer regions typically had a number of aspects in common.  Inuit society did not neatly fit into the same pattern of characteristics.
The common pattern is that nomadic foragers did not domesticate animals — they lived in a reality where all animals were wild, sacred relatives, teachers, and equals.  But the Inuit sled dogs were owned, controlled, and exploited (it was perfectly acceptable to copulate with a dog when she was in heat, as long as it was done outdoors, in the open).  These sled dogs were maybe 80% wild.  They would ravage the settlement and eat everything if allowed to run loose, so they were kept tied.  Their teeth were filed down to keep them from biting apart their tethers.  Sled dogs did not in any way resemble the neurotic, infantilized canines of modern suburbia.  They only responded to instructions from the dog whip.
The common pattern believes that women enjoyed their highest levels of respect and equality in nomadic foraging societies.  Abuse was one of agriculture’s many hideous offspring.  But in numerous passages, Freuchen describes husbands fiercely beating their troublesome wives bloody (“He beat her like a dog.”).  He wrote that “a woman is after all born to be the victim of men.”  But in another section, he mentioned that Inuit women had “perpetual smiles,” and noted that “they seem to have more natural grace, more zest for life than their white sisters.”
The common pattern celebrates the notion that nomadic foragers enjoyed an easy life with abundant leisure time.  They only “worked” one or two days a week.  In warmer regions, there was an abundance of food, and starvation was rare.  In Inuit country, life was far more challenging, and starvation was a major threat.  Sewing needles were vital survival tools.  If they broke or wore out, clothing could not be mended, and ripped britches could be a death sentence.  There are many reasons why the Arctic was the last region to be settled.
On the other hand, the Inuit did fit into the common pattern with regard to active population management, which was essential to their survival.  Infanticide was common and normal, and daughters were not as desirable as sons (future meat producers).  When hunting was bad, children were killed to spare the group from the misery of starvation.  One woman survived a spell of bad hunting by eating her husband and three children.  Folks who could no longer keep up with the hunting party were abandoned.  Those who were too old to contribute to the wellbeing of the community committed suicide, or asked their children to hang them or stab them — and these requests were honored without hysteria or drama, often during a party when everyone was in high spirits.
A number of aspects of Inuit life are shocking to many in consumer society.  But the reverse is also true.  The Inuit were dumbfounded by the astonishing foolishness of the Danes: “Alas, you are a child in this country, and a child in your thoughts.”  When greed-crazed Norwegians moved in and made a quick fortune by massacring the fur seals, Inuit communities starved.  Every way of life has plusses and minuses.  Unlike consumer society, the Inuit hunters lived sustainably for several thousand years — until they met the white folks.  Is there anything more precious than a sustainable way of life?
Freuchen had great respect for the Inuit, while at the same time believing that Danish society was more advanced.  At his trading post he provided guns, bullets, knives, traps, pots, matches, and other things that the Inuit had happily lived without for thousands of years.  It made him feel good that he was helping them modernize.
When hunters used bows and arrows to hunt for reindeer in flat wide open tundra with no place to hide, they sometimes had to lay motionless in the snow for two days, waiting for the prey to move within range, which didn’t always happen.  Guns allowed them to kill from far away, which led to more meat, which led to more Inuit.  Freuchen eventually came to realize that modernization was not a free lunch: “these favorable living conditions brought about an increase in the population that began to overtax the resources of the country.”  Whoops!
Modernization is what had driven Freuchen to Greenland in the first place.  When he had been attending med school in Copenhagen, a seriously injured man arrived, and none of the doctors thought he’d survive.  After six months of careful treatment, the man fully healed — an absolute miracle!  The staff proudly watched as the man walked out of the hospital, stepped off the curb, and immediately got killed by a car.  There were almost no cars in Copenhagen in 1905.  Freuchen’s mind snapped. 
Today, the modernized Inuit have guns, televisions, phones, nice wooden houses, and motor boats.  Snowmobiles have temporarily replaced the sled dogs.  What they’ve lost is a sustainable way of life, and a healthy traditional future for their grandchildren.  When the cheap energy is gone, it will be rough sledding.

Peter Freuchen, Book of the Eskimos, World Publishing Company, Cleveland, 1961.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tending the Wild

“Nature really misses us,” laments M. Kat Anderson.  “We no longer have a relationship with plants and animals, and that’s the reason why they’re going away.”  Anderson is the author of Tending the Wild, in which she describes the relationships that California Indians have with the plants and animals, the rocks and streams, the sacred land which is their ancient home.  It’s an essential book for pilgrims who strive to envision the long and rugged path back home to wildness, freedom, and sustainability.
In medieval Europe, hungry dirty peasant farmers succeeded in painstakingly perfecting a miserable, laborious, backbreaking form of agriculture that depleted the soil, and produced minimal yields with erratic inconsistency.  They were malnourished, unhealthy, and most of them died young — whilst the lords and ladies, who claimed to own the land, wallowed in a rich sludge of glitter and gluttony.
When European explorers arrived in California, they discovered half-naked heathen barbarians who were exceedingly healthy, and enjoyed an abundance of nourishing wild foods that they acquired without sweat or toil.  Clearly, these savages were people who suffered from a lack of civilization’s elevated refinements: agriculture, smallpox, uncomfortable ugly clothing, brutal enslavement, and religious enlightenment from priests who preached the virtues of love, but practiced exploitive racist cruelty.
In 1868, Titus Fey Cronise wrote that when whites arrived, the land of California was “filled with elk, deer, hares, rabbits, quail, and other animals fit for food; the rivers and lakes swarming with salmon, trout, and other fish, their beds and banks covered with mussels, clams, and other edible mollusca; the rocks on its sea shores crowded with seal and otter; and its forests full of trees and plants, bearing acorns, nuts, seeds, and berries.” 
The greed-crazed Europeans went absolutely berserk, rapidly destroying whatever could be converted into money:  forests, waterfowl, whales, deer, elk, salmon, gold nuggets.  Grizzly bear meat was offered at most restaurants.  There were fortunes to be made, the supply of valuable resources was “inexhaustible,” and the foolish Indians were so lazy that they let all of this wealth go to waste. 
There were 500 to 600 different tribes in California, speaking many different languages.  In North America, the population density of California Indians was second only to the Aztec capitol of Mexico City.  They lived quite successfully by hunting, fishing, and foraging — without domesticated plants or animals, without plowing or herding, without fortified cities, authoritarian rulers, perpetual warfare, horrid sanitation, or epidemics of contagious disease.  The Indians found the Europeans to be incredibly peculiar.  The Pit River people called them enellaaduwi — wanderers — homeless people with no attachment to the land or its creatures.   
The bulk of Tending the Wild describes how the California Indians tended the land.  They did not merely wander across the countryside in hopes of randomly discovering plant and animal foods.  They had an intimate, sacred relationship with the land, and they tended it in order to encourage the health of their closest relatives — the plant and animal communities upon which they depended. 
Fires were periodically set to clear away brush, promote the growth of grasses and herbs, and increase the numbers of larger game animals.  Burning significantly altered the ecosystem on a massive scale, but it didn’t lead to the creation of barren wastelands over time, like agriculture continues to do, at an ever-accelerating rate.  California has a long dry season, and wildfires sparked by lightening are a normal occurrence in this ecosystem.
Nuts, grains, and seeds are a very useful source of food.  They’re rich in oils, calories, and protein.  They can be stored for long periods, enabling survival through lean seasons and lean years.  The quantity of acorns foraged each year was not regular and dependable, but many were gathered in years of abundance.  A diverse variety of wildflowers and grasses can provide a dependable supply of seeds and grains. 
The Indians tended the growth of important plants in a number of ways — pruning, weeding, burning, watering, replanting bulbs, sowing seeds.  Communities of cherished plants were deliberately expanded.  The Indians were blessed with a complete lack of advanced Old World technology.  They luckily had no draft animals or plows, so their soil-disturbing activities were mostly limited to digging bulbs, corms, and tubers, and planting small tobacco gardens. 
Today, countless ecosystems are being ravaged by agriculture.  A few visionaries, like Wes Jackson at the Land Institute, are working to develop a far less destructive mode of farming, based on mechanically harvesting the grain from perennial plants.  This research is a slow process, and success is not expected any time soon. 
California Indians developed a brilliant, time-proven, sustainable system for producing seeds and grain without degrading the ecosystem.  So did the wild rice gatherers of the Great Lakes region.  They built no cities, and they did not suffer from the misery and monotony of civilization.  They had no powerful leaders, ruling classes, or legions of exploited slaves.  They were not warlike societies.  Their ecosystems were clean and healthy.  They lived like real human beings — wild, free, and happy.
Tending the Wild is an important book.  It presents us with stories of a way of life that worked, and worked remarkably well.  This is precious knowledge for us to contemplate, as our own society is rapidly circling the drain, and our need for remembering healthy old ideas has never been greater.
M. Kat Anderson, Tending the Wild — Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2005.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Long Emergency

James Howard Kunstler wrote The Long Emergency, which describes the fossil fuel tsunami, and how it is likely to shape our way of life in the coming decades.  Kunstler’s perspective is based on serious amounts of research.  He describes the future that he expects to happen, not the kinder, gentler, more enlightened future that he wishes would happen.  He lays the cards on the table, and predicts a tomorrow that is going to be more than a little challenging and unpleasant.
I’ve been reading promo material for Amory Lovins’ new book, Reinventing Fire, in which brilliant scientists and engineers design an amazing high tech future, and transform America into a super-green paradise on Earth.  The turbo-charged magical thinking envisions that the Industrial Revolution and endless growth will never end — hopes, wishes, dreams, and fantasies scampering and yapping giddily around the yard, released from reality’s leash.
But the daily news is dancing to Kunstler’s beat.  He has provided us with a stage upon which the unfolding dramas and tragedies of the 21st century can be performed.  The book was published before the 2008 crash, but it very clearly indicated that a crash was coming — maybe even before the book hit the shelves at Borders (R.I.P.).  It was interesting to read the book in 2011, when the world economic system is teetering on the brink of the abyss, the Middle East is going sideways, and resource shortages are stirring up conflicts in many regions — and we’re just days away from the herd reaching seven billion.  The Long Emergency is much less theoretical today.
In Kunstler’s story, our problems largely started with the steam engine and Colonel Drake’s oil well.  He doesn’t zoom farther out, to a 10,000 year view range.  ‘Twas a dirty sweaty ancient farmer who kicked loose the stones that set off the avalanche that’s about to sweep away the world as we know it.  We were already beyond the point of no return when the steam engines began hissing.  But the whole process shifted explosively into high gear 200 years ago.
Kunstler would be satisfied if we could just turn back the clock to 1800, and live in a happy Currier & Ives world of horse powered farms and villages, with laughing children playing in the dirt roads.  That would be an important first step for the healing process.  It would prepare us for the more challenging transitions that follow — abandoning the mining of soils, water, fish, forests, and so on.
I was excited to read his analysis of Malthus, whom he concluded was completely correct!  I’ve always worried that my understanding of Malthus was missing some vital pieces, because nearly everyone in the world says, over and over and over, that he was absolutely and totally wrong.  I have tried so hard to find serious defects in his ideas, and I have repeatedly failed.  I worried that my mental faculties were fading.  It’s not easy thinking at odds with the herd.  A basic misunderstanding has gone viral, put down strong roots, and nothing can kill it.
Kunstler serves us a level-headed reality-based image of tomorrow, and it is sobering.  Despite its gloominess, the book has managed to sell quite well.  The book’s subtitle is: “Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century.”  But the contents don’t focus on revealing effective survival strategies.  The core of the book describes that huge change is on the way, and explains why.  Wake up, take off the blinders, throw your conventional thinking overboard, and prepare for interesting times. 

Kunstler, James Howard, The Long Emergency — Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2005. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tree Crops

Joseph Russell Smith (1874-1966) was a geography professor who grew up in the chestnut forests of Virginia.  His book Tree Crops was originally published in 1929.  Smith wrote it because he was horrified by the soil destruction caused by regularly tilling cropland — and hillside tilling drove him completely out of his mind, because it permanently destroyed good land at a much faster rate.  Everyone knew this, but they kept doing it anyway, because they were cursed with a short-term mindset.

Tilling was a common practice in those days (and it’s still popular today).  Farmers tilled because their daddies tilled, and their grandpas tilled, and their great-grandpas tilled in the old country.  It was a powerful dirty habit that was nearly impossible to quit, until the land died — and it provided no long-term benefits!  With great exasperation, Smith exclaimed: “Corn, the killer of continents, is one of the worst enemies of the human future!”

Old World crops like wheat, barley, rye, and oats provided a dense ground cover that slowed the rate of soil erosion a bit.  New World crops like corn, potatoes, cotton, and tobacco were row crops that left the tilled soil exposed, and more vulnerable to erosion.  In America, thunderstorms were common, producing downpours that were rare in Europe.  Heavy rains filled the streams with lost topsoil.  In the Cotton Belt, Smith saw erosion gullies that were 150 feet deep.  Oklahoma was ruined with stunning speed.  We were destroying land that could have fed millions.  An Old World saying sums it up: “After the man the desert.”  In the legends of our ancient wild ancestors, the First Commandment is: “Thou shalt not till.”

Joseph was a brilliant visionary, and one day he received an illuminating revelation.  If you wanted to stop the destruction of soils caused by tilling, quit tilling!  Live in a different way!  Create a cuisine that majors in nutritious soil-friendly foods.  Smith envisioned two-story farms: tree crops on the sloped land, and pastures for livestock below, both perennial.  Farmers could abandon tilling forever, and pass the land on to future generations in a healthier condition.  Imagine that.

Farmers scratched their heads when they heard this idea, and were more than a little perplexed and befuddled.  Agroforestry wasn’t a mainstream tradition in European American agriculture.  The required knowledgebase didn’t exist, so Smith researched it and wrote it down.  His book is mostly a scrapbook of correspondence.  Smith sent letters to hundreds of experts on tree crops, and then assembled their responses into a book.  He created an amazing collection of information, including recommendations for agroforestry in other climates and continents.

Hogs won’t touch corn if there are acorns to eat, and oaks can produce more calories per acre than grain, when done right.  A top quality pecan tree can drop nearly a ton of nuts per year.  Hickory nuts can be smashed and boiled to produce hickory oil.  Pistachios fetch a high price and have a long shelf life.  Many types of pines produce nuts.  The honey locust is a drought hearty US native that will grow where corn or cotton grows, and animals love the beans.  The sugar maple produces sugar.  Persimmons are enjoyed by man and beast.  Pigs and chickens love mulberries.  And don’t forget walnuts, beechnuts, almonds, cherry pits, soapnuts, holly, ginko, pawpaw, horse chestnut, osage orange, privet, wattle, wild plums, and choke cherries.  The list goes on and on.

Trees can produce high quality foods, and they can be grown on slopes too steep to plow.  Once the trees are established, little labor is needed until harvest time.  Tree crops can be much more productive than mere pastures or forests.  They typically suffer less from dry spells than field crops.  Over time, they can actually build new topsoil.  Like any crop, trees are vulnerable to pests, diseases, fire, and extreme weather.  Like any crop, tree crops are not 100 percent dependable, year after year, so monocultures are not a wise choice.  The Second Commandment is: “Thou shalt encourage diversity.”

Smith witnessed the blight epidemic that wiped out virtually all of the American chestnuts, rapidly killing millions of trees.  He personally lost 25 acres of chestnuts.  The blight fungus came to America on chestnut trees imported from Asia.  Knowing this, it’s shocking that Smith advocated travelling the world in search of better varieties of trees, to bring home and experiment with.  Hey, Japanese walnuts!  And the USDA helped him!  The Third Commandment is: “Thou shalt leave Japanese organisms in Japan.”

Smith was a tree-loving zealot who was on a mission from God, and he promoted his great ideas with great enthusiasm.  But the world did not leap to attention, change its ways, and promptly end soil erosion as we know it.  Farmers are almost as conservative as popes, and they are not fans of radical change — especially ideas that tie up land for decades before producing the first penny.  Joseph was heartbroken: “The longer I live, the more amazed I become at the lack of constructive imagination, the lack of sheer curiosity, the desire to know.”  It’s not easy being a brilliant visionary.

Smith's grand vision was reasonable, rational, and ecologically far superior to growing organic crops on tilled fields.  Tree crops remain an important subject for the dreams of those who do not robotically march in lockstep with the status quo hordes.  Planting America’s hills with tree crops would be an immense task, creating many jobs, and providing benefits for generations.  Why don’t we do it?  The Fourth Commandment is “Thou shalt live in a manner that is beneficial to the generations yet-to-be-born.”

Smith, Joseph Russell, Tree Crops — A Permanent Agriculture, Island Press, Covelo, California, 1987.  Originally published in 1929.  The contents of the original edition are here: http://soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010175.tree%20crops.pdf