Daily Archives: August 3, 2015

Good-bye to the Dodo, to the Bokikokiko

Soon, the rising oceans will swallow island nations like the Maldives, Kiribati, and Micronesia. Miami will go, of course, and will be two feet underwater, and everyone is talking about the American cities that will be underwater, but we forget that there are whole kingdoms of men and women that will dissipate into the ocean completely, becoming little more than a refuge for jellyfish. The people on these islands are already preparing for the total and inevitable transformation of their way of life. Parts of India are being bought up. Neighboring islands with higher ground are reaching out to their neighbors. The people will find refuge. Curious at how we so often forget are neighbors of the fur, feather, exoskeleton, and leaf, I poked around to find what native species will be lost forever when the islands go. It seems it’s already too late for them.

You see, the Age of Encounters on these islands, when all ships from all over started traveling all over, with people and chickens and goats and rats, new plants, new vegetables, new poisons, new population floods, all together crowded out whatever native species were prominent enough to merit the name. Dead as a dodo could be said about a great many species beyond the dodo. The endangered species of the island kingdoms are all in the sea: the coral reefs will be lost with the acidification of the ocean. Will there even be coral reefs someday?

I feel great sadness for the people whose homes are going to be underwater for a thousand years, and for the societies and communities that are going to be flipped upside down forever. I feel for them. But, I see in the loss of the trees, the replanting of new trees, new plants, the invasion of the creatures that exploited the niches we created a greater sadness. People will be fine. We don’t even know what we’ve lost. There will be whole genetic lines that disappear forever. Whole communities rose and fell on those islands, independent of man, for centuries where the coconut seeds landed on the sandy shore, and debris carried tough black-winged petrels from one island to another, hunting fish.
There is one bird, native only to Kiribati that will probably be gone, soon, when the waters rise, because even if it is protected in a zoo or refuge, it will have no wild grasslands to call its home, free of competition it had no ability to outfly. The Bokikokiko is a bird that is as unknown as the name of the youngest son of the president of Kiribati. It is endangered now, and it will have no home soon. When the waters rise, it may continue on as a museum display for a time, in some sad replication of a native habitat in an enclosed zoo somewhere, but it has no future at land or sea with the loss of Kiribati. I am willing to believe that most people did not even know this bird existed at all until a few minutes ago, with its ridiculously beautiful name.

We don’t even know what we are losing, most of the time. We don’t even notice the absence of the birdsong, this year, or the reduction of song. I stood in my front yard, yesterday, where our desert willow and agave and native flowering plants and shrubs stand out in a community of property-value-raising oak trees. I looked up int he branches, and watched the hummingbirds flit from one flower to another, stopping to rest in the branches of my trees. All around me, I saw nothing else for them to eat as far as my eyes could make out among the hunched houses and huge, endless oaks. I plant things that make tiny berries for birds. I leave one of the blackberries uncovered in fruiting season, for the birds. I do not argue over figs with birds. I plant things that flower and seed that birds like to eat, and butterflies like to eat. I don’t know what else to do. I feel powerless to stop the tide, the death of beauty in this world, the end of birdsongs and the end of butterfly wings.

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The Future Is Uncertain, Grow Food

Ron Finley’s TED Talk about growing food in the public median in Los Angeles, and all the ruckus and legal ails that resulted from growing vegetables and fruits in a giant food desert in impoverished neighborhoods of Los Angeles talked a lot about a separation that has occurred among the people in this country and the ground beneath their feet. Always, in America, there is a mudsill, and a community of people upon that mudsill. The hardest work (and the agricultural work is some of the work) is done by the people who are on that mudsill. The people who are one step above the people on the mudsill would do anything to avoid any signifiers or placement alongside the humans whom society has placed upon the level of the mudsill. Right now, our poor communities in urban areas do not grow enough food. Our rich communities don’t, either. We have all this land as lawns, as concrete pavement and weedy lawns, as lawns and ornamental scapes and lawns. I don’t eat grass. I bet you don’t, either.

Anyway, this is a documentary that expands upon Ron Finley’s TED Talk, prominently featuring him and others who share his values from all walks of life in their gardens. It’s called URBAN FRUIT and it touches tangentially upon a lot of the issues around growing food, including selling excess produce, and balancing economic needs with human needs, which are not the same. Cities are a reflection of ideologies. The big, sprawling city is a reflection of a way of life that is far removed from human reality, and it will either change us to better reflect a sprawling city life, or (what is more likely) the sprawling city will collapse into compartmentalized neigborhoods that become whole worlds, collapsing again into smaller neighborhoods and again until the seas rise up, the buildings crumble, and the wild things return to dance like sparrows on the crumbling gravel.

The further the civilization develops, though, the less it questions the validity of the basic ideas themselves, and the urban environment is a critical factor in making this happen. By limiting, as far as possible, the experiences available to influential members of society to those that fit the established architecture of thought, urban living makes it much easier to confuse mental models with the universe those models claim to describe, and that confusion is essential if enough effort, enthusiasm, and passion are to be directed toward the process of elaborating those models to their furthest possible extent. –¬†http://www.resilience.org/stories/2015-07-30/the-cimmerian-hypothesis-part-three-the-end-of-the-dream

Urban Fruit looks to be both a necessary transition into sustainable living, and a snapshot of what growers in one of the most developed cities in the world (Los Angeles) are doing and how they are doing it. It is an accumulation of ideas and theories about public and private space, eloquently presented by charismatic gardeners. It also looks like the beginning of the end of these huge, sprawling cities, where the ideas of the city’s foundation are being pushed out by people taking necessary steps to reclaim lost agricultural land and heritage in a city that has mostly abandoned the citrus fields and cow pastures of yore. Climate change is coming, and already huge amounts of people simply don’t know where food comes from, if not the store, and simply don’t know the first thing about what makes it good or bad, and why. Look upon the buildings and houses in the background of the film, and wonder where food will come from for them. Soon, the gardens will expand, and green roofs will expand, and every city will collapse into an accumulation of neighborhoods, growing food and independent of the globalization that flows around them like an invisible highway. Poor communities, already trapped by globalization, will become islands in the city, more self-sufficient, and more green.

Growing your own food is like printing your own money, after all. It separates you from the system of high finance and commodity crops that do a lot of harm even as they are trying to do some good.

The documentary, itself, is less revolutionary than I am giving it credit for being, but I am lost in the context of the documentary, and the place and time where these things are all happening all around us, and the cities, as we knew them, were never sustainable, never a good idea without great changes that will come to the forgotten neighborhoods, and the communities of color that city services all too often will forget.

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