Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Out walking this morning, I noticed the effort people put forth in cities to contain the growing environment. The streets that slice across and cover large swaths of the land. The sidewalks that mirror the roads. The alleyways that linger behind our homes and businesses, attempting to hold creeping weeds at bay. Trees circled by grates and other holding devices. Lawns of imported, uniform grass mowed flat and inconspicuous. And for whatever breaks through all of that - weed wackers, poisons, more asphalt, the occasional hands of mostly elderly folks living alone, perhaps forgotten, with too much time on their hands.
I think of lines from Shitou's Song of the Grass Roof Hermitage: "When it was completed, fresh weeds appear. Now it's been lived in covered by weeds."
Somehow, most of us have forgotten this. Maybe never knew it all at - consciously at least.
Over a hundred and fifty years ago, American artist Thomas Cole painted a series of paintings charting the rise and fall of Empire. I remember first discovering them during a traveling show of 19th century American landscapes several years ago, and being in awe of the grandness of the images.
Now, though, they feel like ghosts taunting us "modern Americans," living as we do in a crumbling empire.
Elementary school comes to mind. Discussions of what the world might look like after nuclear war. The horror that multiple generations of children have had to think about such things happening.
What would last? Rats. Cockroaches. Twisted up trees perhaps. It's hard to have a real sense of what nuclear bombs can do when you are nine years old, but you're mind is open to possibilities in a way adult minds' rarely are. So, things get strange, very strange. Like elephants with rat heads flying through fields of black smoke.
Perhaps today's children are more worried about terrorists destroying their homes, or some generalized form of environmental collapse. Nuclear war still lingers, but isn't the only major specter haunting us. I've heard people use various Buddhist terms to describe this day and age, but more and more, the Hungry Ghost Realm seems most appropriate.
More lines from Shitou spring forth: "Who would proudly arrange seats, trying to entice guests?" Isn't this the whole basis of the modern, settler colonialist world so many of us live in today? Aren't we all called upon to be proud arrangers and enticers, regardless of the consequences?
The pockmarked, synthetic, damaged, and obliterated landscapes we live in reflect exactly this. What it comes down to is that most of us really can't handle the weeds that always appear, no matter what we do to keep them away. I used to obsess about clarity. Wanting a mind that could basically see the future, including where those weeds might appear, how I should deal with them.
Just another form of intolerance and resistance to the wildness that is our true nature. When the empire was completed, fresh weeds appeared. Now it's been lived in, covered by weeds.
Let it go. Let it go.