Let me take you on a bit of a ramble:
We’ll start with plants. On my ride to work, there’s a stretch of road with no shoulder. Just a hair past the white line, the asphalt ends, and a steep bank climbs up for thirty or forty feet, eventually leveling out where Interstate 40 passes overhead. In hilly terrain, this isn’t unusual–roads here are carved out of ridges, blasted through mountains, trenched between wooded slopes. The “shoulder” is forever trying to reclaim the paved-over territory, reaching out with branch and vine and shoot. Fleets of blades are sent forth every day to mow, trim, clip, and saw all this lushness back from signposts and guardrails. The work must seem neverending, and I imagine it’s easy to adopt a win at all costs attitude toward all that relentless vegetation.
About two weeks ago, on this same stretch of road, I noticed something different about the wall of green off my right elbow. Seven or eight feet up, a distinct, horizontal line had appeared. Everything above it was still an insistent emerald facade, leaves overlapping like tight shingles, the bank behind invisible. Everything below–the lower half of small locust trees, mostly–was yellow going to brown, three months too soon.
I don’t know what they sprayed, or when they sprayed it. I don’t know if I breathed it in some damp morning, spread it a little farther down the road on my tires, or picked up a film of it on my arms, my legs, my clothes. I do know it ended up in the river, because everywhere is a watershed. I do know that I generally don’t believe them when they tell me something that kills so effectively, so indiscriminantly, is safe and not to worry my pretty little head about it.
Persistent Herbicides in Compost
“Environmentally-Friendly” Herbicide Isn’t
Higher than expected rates of herbicide volatilization
Monsanto creates yet another monster
How a “safe” herbicide still kills frogs and bees
I could go on.
But it only makes me feel both full of rage and completely helpless (much like when I watched Gasland a few weeks ago–a movie you should see, too, despite the yucky feelings it will engender), and that’s not a pleasant sensation.
Here’s what I’m having a hard time with: I take it as a given that shady doings are in progress every day–shady doings that endanger your health and mine, all for the sake of lining a few select pockets. Shady doings that the masses participate in and accept as normal (eg: using nasty chemicals to clean, deweed, and impart a “fresh” scent to their home and yard; using a car to travel less than two miles; eating factory-farmed, highly processed “food” because it’s cheaper on the front end; and so on) because that’s the end result of effective spin. Shady doings that are becoming more firmly entrenched and exempt from legal oversight.
I know this happens, and it probably happens even more than I suspect, even on my most paranoid, cynical, angry, depressed days. I know it, but I’m still surprised to see it. Maybe some part of my brain is still trying to hold on to the notion that people are inherently good, and that’s the part that registers surprise. Maybe, as an act of self-preservation, I’m practicing some sort of unconscious, selective amnesia, so that I forget the rampant bad stuff until it appears again.
Whatever the case, I’m not sure which is worse: my impotent rage in the face of injustice, or my naive wounding every time I’m reminded of something I already know. Either way, I feel like a cranky kid, wanting to scream and smash things until somebody makes it better.
I don’t want to be a cranky kid. I grew up for a reason, right?
But all this paranoia only breeds more paranoia. And paranoia, I’ve decided, has roughly the consistency of creamy peanut butter. A little bit is compelling. Too much, and it sticks to the roof of your mouth. More than that, you slowly lose the ability to chew at all. Your jaw is paralyzed; your airway blocked with nutty brown goo. Then you choke and die.
Here’s a sequence of events for you:
1. Notice liberal application of herbicide on roadway, presumably by city or other government entity. 2. Recall the raspberries along the greenway are just ripening, and that you planned to pick some this week. 3. Remember who owns the greenway. 4. And what sort of landscape maintenance methods they prefer. 5. Decide the raspberries have probably been poisoned. 6. But, raspberries! 7. Consider risking it. You can wash them, right? Maybe not. 8. Recall everything you’ve ever read about persistent environmental toxins. 9. Which reminds you that modern life is, by its very nature and despite your best efforts to avoid it, toxic. 10. Fill with rage; weep in despair. 11. Overthink it until the gears in your brainbox seize up and begin to smoke. 12. Choke, die. (And still no raspberries.)
I have to admit that this sequence of events–or something very like it, minus the death part–happens inside my head more often than is probably healthy.
Something happens when a thinking person confronts the world as it is. If the thinking person has been going to yoga class regularly, reading Pema Chodron, and can maintain at least arms’ distance during this confrontation, she can cling to some scrap of something that might pass for compassion or simple, neutral open-heartedness. But without all that (and let me tell you, my schedule hasn’t allowed for yoga class lately), she just thinks. And thinks some more. And I’ve not found that thinking gets one to anyplace warm or fuzzy. Thinking, analyzing, stripping and ordering facts, in fact, paints a fairly dismal picture of the way things are.
Maybe I’m genetically encoded for a tendency toward pessimism. Maybe it’s simple cognitive bias. Maybe I’m just right (boy, I hope not). But I can’t recall the last time my brain was overwhelmed with a snowballing, steamrolling, relentless mass of good observations about the world. They come, but they come in ones or twos–quite easy to get down without the too-much-peanut-butter effect.
But I suppose there’s this: even in smaller quantities, the good stuff is a pretty effective antidote to the seized, smoking brain-gears. You have to go looking for them, or at least make sure your eyes are open and ready to see them when they pass your way, but they’re there. Despite it all.
A short list from the last 24 hours:
Last night’s fireflies. (Every night’s fireflies.)
The farmer’s market bouquet on my desk.
Lemon cucumbers on a vine I grew from seed.
The good book I just finished, sitting on the coffee table.
Cold sparkling water after a few hot hours weeding.
A kiss from my fella.
Hearing from an old friend.
Stories about people in boats motoring toward gunfire, trying to help.
This photo of two women, married at last.
Mistrust–that general, world-as-a-shitty-place feeling–is a choice. Distrust–of Big Ag, of politicians, of the guy who used to live two doors down who never had his aggressive dog on a leash–is specific, and earned. A subtle difference, but important. It’s easy to conflate the two, and the byproduct of their unholy mating is paranoia-nut-butter. (Choke, die.) That gets us nowhere.
Keep the dis- alive–it is the fuel for action that change requires. What I’m working on is reining in the mis-, which feeds on the vague, stubborn negativity spilling into me from headlines, talk radio, internet forums, and watercooler bitching. I’m countering it with a little pure, prefix-free trust, gleaned from my short list.