Water Man Spouts

Sunday, July 22, 2007


This is an essay I posted on the forum Democratic Underground:

{1} "The increasing complexity of both technological tasks and the built environment is a source of many negative stress response patterns. In buildings, institutions, and communities, the nurturing properties of vegetation can ameliorate stress and provide maintenance for a healthy society." – Landscape Views and Stress Response in the Prison Environment; Marcia June West; M.A. thesis; University of Washington; 1986.

In the past three weeks on the Democratic Underground’s General Discussion forum, there have been a number of threads that have discussed issues involving how we all relate to the environment. Do we drink bottled water? How do we view our relationship with animals? Are we in Iraq solely for oil? Are children "bad" for the earth?

In the same period of time, I’ve noted a mild increase in the number of threads, and perhaps individual responses on threads, that reflect an "edge." Some people anticipate the current administration may create a national emergency to maintain power. Others express frustration with elected officials in congress. There are even a couple of threads with more than a hint of tensions between the sexes. Great googamooga, there are times when reading DU:GD is a lot like singing the Temptation’s "Ball of Confusion."

I’ve been wondering what people here do to "re-charge their batteries?" And what connections might there be between our personal space, our home environments, and how we deal with not only the stress in our own individual lives, but more: in a society where we have become a fear and anxiety producing machine?

{2} "We should consider how ‘our aesthetic reactions to landscapes may have derived, in part, from an evolved psychology that functioned to help hunter-gathers make better decisions about when to move, where to settle, and what activities to follow in various localities ….stimuli such as flowers, sunsets, clouds, thunder, snakes and lions activate response systems of ancient origin’." – Evolved Responses to Landscapes, from The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and Generation of Culture; Gordon Orians & Judy Heerwagen; Oxford Press; 1992.

Sometimes on my posts on DU:GD, I have quoted from a wonderful poem about an Onondaga Elder, who explains to a "young" man that he never takes a drink of water, without giving thanks. That Elder’s name was Harold Elm, and he was from a generation that never would have associated water with something in a plastic bottle, purchased at a store.

His wife never planted corn, watered her gardens, or took part in a harvest without recognizing these activities as part of a ceremony. There isn’t really an end to that ceremony, because part of that corn becomes seed for the next year’s cycle. But there is a time she prepared the corn for her family’s meals.

There is a different consciousness found in Mr. Elm’s relationship to water, than to that of the person who produces bottled water. Mrs. Elm had a different relationship to the produce of her gardens, than Barbara Bush has to the produce her servants prepare for their "Thanksgiving" feast.

There is a real world, and there is an un-real world. One produces cool spring water and healthy food. The other creates fear and anxiety. No one can go "back in time," and few can inhabit a world that is fully detached from the tensions of modern society. How we find a balance between the wonderful advantages of modern technology, and the hustle and bustle of our high-tech society.

{3} "Sometimes, having had a surfeit of human society and gossip, and worn out from all my village friends, I rambled still farther westward than I habitually dwell, into yet more unfrequented parts of the town, ‘to fresh woods and pastures new,’ or, while the sun was setting , made my supper of huckleberries and blueberries on Fair Haven Hill, and laid up a store for several days. The fruits do not yield their true flavor to the purchaser of them, nor to him who raises them for the market. There is but one way to obtain it, yet few take that way. If you would know the flavor of huckleberries, ask the cow-boy or the partridge. It is a vulgar error to suppose that you have tasted huckleberries who have never plucked them. A huckleberry never reaches Boston; they have not been known there since they grew on her three hills. The ambrrosial and essential part of the fruit is lost with the bloom which is rubbed off in the market cart, and they become mere provender. As long as Eternal Justice reigns, not one innocent huckleberry can be transported thither from the country’s hills." – Walden; Henry David Thoreau; Chapter 9: The Ponds.

This weekend, I was able to eat huckleberries and blueberries growing on my land. I am lucky to live in a rural area, on an old farm. For generations, the people who lived here had a relationship with the fruit trees and berry bushes that I enjoy today. My daughters and their friends spent a few hours picking raspberries, which made their morning meal seem like dessert

My cousin has been here much of the past three days. He knew that I have wanted to put a pond on a swampy area on my property. I rented the machine, and he did the work. Like on any project, some things went "wrong." It would be easy to react by being upset, but it is easier – more natural – to not become upset when you are surrounded by open fields and children picking berries.

My cousin has a grasp of machines which I do not; I am able to identify certain plants that indicate a source of water 8 to 10 feet below the surface. Then, on another section, he found the water supply, located the 3 feet down, just below the frost-line in the coldest of winters. Years ago, one of my father’s elderly friends told me that his father, as a youth, helped lay the leather "pipe" that carried the water to an old, long-gone barn. Though that leather is also long-gone, the wood shaft was still there. My pond has water coming in.

My cousin asked, "Can you imagine how long it took to put that in 100 years ago?" Yes, but life moved at a different pace 100 and 200 years ago, when other people lived in this old house. And I am closer to that reality than to the anxious-nervous-frightened non-reality of republicans. I find that I can deal with the toxic parts of our fast-moving modern society by stepping back into the peace of "not doing" that Thoreau advocated.

Elaine Penwardin noted that "while pursuing the humblest occupation – such as planting or cutting flowers, I perceived, as a chink of light through a door opened quickly, a greater plan of things than our programme for the year, a larger world than that surrounding us, and one universal pattern of things, in which all existence has its place …. I have felt peace descend on me while I have handled plants, so that a rhythm and harmony of being has been brought about. That harmony is the beginning of health ….. There is a universal pattern, a pattern that flows like a stream, like the moving pattern of a dance. It is possible even through such contact with the earth as I have had, to be drawn into that pattern and move with it." (It’s the Plants That Matter; 1967)

We can’t fight fear by being afraid. We can’t cure the anxiety and depression that damages Americans’ daily lives by accepting the corporate definition of reality, which capitalizes on people’s anxieties and depression. We need a change in consciousness in this land. That’s as politically necessary as the 2008 elections, and as socially progressive as making education and health care available to everyone in the country.


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