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Today is Earth Day and I wanted to post something.  This blog is seriously lacking in terms of posts, and I suppose with three jobs and a baby, it’s easy (and understandable) to devise reasons to dedicate my time elsewhere.  But I could make the time as I am today, so no excuses here.

Some Background: “The Pale Blue Dot” is a photograph of Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft.  It was none other than Carl Sagan, science popularizer himself, who requested that NASA turn Voyager’s camera around as it left our solar system after it’s primary mission had been completed.  The photograph of Earth was taken from 3.77 billion miles away – a distance hardly comprehensible to our human minds, yet explicit in its profoundness.  This unique perspective of our tiny world demands poetic reflection.  One such reflection was provided by Carl Sagan and provides a fitting Earth Day tribute.

So here it is.  One of my all-time favorite YouTube videos: Carl Sagan’s reflections on “The Pale Blue Dot,” set to the ambient musical stylings of Scottish post-rockers, Mogwai, and clips of recognizable hollywood-favorites and modern history.

The text if read silently on its own struggles to live up to the profoundness of the photograph.  But this is less a comment on Sagan’s talent with the pen, and more a recognition that perhaps in this case, a picture really is worth more than a thousand words.  Sagan’s voice and cadence makes up for some of this by providing a professorial yet fatherly tone – something between a soft, intimate conversation around a campfire and the on-edge dialog of The Matrix’s Agent Smith.

Mogwai provides the background canvass for Sagan’s vocal air-brush with their song: “Stop Coming To My House.”  It would be difficult to select a more fitting piece of music to go with Sagan’s reading.  The song seems to bring the epicness of the photo into almost conceivable expressions.  Whatever it was that Sagan lacked in word and voice, it is somehow made up by the textured echoes and slow arpeggiated riffs.  Through the song we begin to feel in a deeper sense the meaning for the photograph.  This complimentary nature between word and melody obviously isn’t new, but it is here that we have a prime example of why poetry is supposed to be heard out loud and how music (if it fits the poem!) can enhance the experience.

While the pastiche of movie clips often feels contrived and is at times distracting, for the most part I think it captures the poetry and meaning of the work as a whole.  In many of the clips, having seen the movie and recalling the emotions invoked from them assists in the overall experience.

In regards to the text, I absolutely love the raw, awe-inspired emotion.  However I think he gets it wrong when he says things like “On a scale of worlds, humans are inconsequential” and “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.”  I don’t necessarily think he gets it wrong, it’s the logic behind it that I have a problem with.

I disagree with the notion that simply because we are so small and are in no way physically “central” to the Universe that we are “inconsequential” or “not important”.  Maybe we are those things, but it seems irrational to use size and centrality to make that argument.  There are plenty of things in this Universe that are incomprehensibly small, like electrons, but as it turns out, are quite important and meaningful indeed.

I think the photograph does make us ponder those things and perhaps it does challenge those notions, I just think it’s a mistake to equate size and position with importance and significance.  I have the same sort of problem with an argument on the other side: I have major problems with those who espouse the anthropocentric worldview simply because we are smarter and otherwise more capable of control than all other species on the planet.  Intelligence isn’t a justifiable argument for the view that we are the most important beings on this planet.  And size (all jokes regarding the male anatomy aside) isn’t a justifiable argument for significance.

Everything else I completely agree with.  I can think of no clearer way to put what the photograph means to me than by Sagan’s final lines: “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.  It underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the only home we’ve ever known: the pale blue dot.”

Happy Earth Day, 2011

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The following is an excerpt from my Morning Owl Farm Apprenticeship Application.

5. Describe an experience that changed your life

Buying a 1969 VW Bus on eBay.  The bus was in Vancouver, Canada, so after winning the auction, I hitched a ride with Kolbie’s brother who lived in Seattle, and I made the day-trip up I5, then drove the bus back to Boise.  I learned two things from this experience: 1) When you really truly want something and you pursue it with your whole being and don’t let up, it will either happen or you will realize (with full understanding) that it was not meant to be.  2) Personally, I need to consider more carefully what I chose to “pursue with my whole being” – as I am certain there are more important and beautiful things than cool vehicles and material possessions that merit such pursuit (things like a life of organic farming).  I sold the bus in the summer of 2009 with no regrets and lessons learned.

Other life changing experiences:

  • Watching the movie Mind Walk.
  • Reading Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.
Entry #9 – 10/10/10

A poem by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Entry #6 – 7/26/2010

Reports of my generation’s doom have been greatly exaggerated.  Having graduated college this past December, I’ve been told through various sources, that my job prospects are dismal and that I should expect a future of depressed income levels during this slow economic recovery.  My first reaction is to question the assumption that this is anything new.  Real wages have been stagnant for decades, and even at the best of times the fantasy of a recent graduate landing that entry-level dream job on the career stairway to heaven was just that, a fantasy.

I do, however, recognize that there is something different about this graduating class, I just happen to believe this difference is a good thing.  Why?  Because we have to let go of “supposed to.”  Tremendous opportunities await those who give up “supposed to.”  We were “supposed to” find that great entry-level job.  We were “supposed to” be financially independent and stable.  We were “supposed to” be all grown up by now.  Some might say this letting go has been forced on us by the present situation.  Others say we just have a legitimate excuse now to reject “supposed to.  I would like to think we are simply recognizing that life is not “supposed” to be anything.

So today, we may be holding down three part-time jobs to pay the rent, but all the while considering whether to go back to school, take up organic farming, or teach English is China.  There’s no beaten path, we are forced to take a road less traveled.  It’s not a dead end, it’s an opportunity, and my hope is that our generation will find the way not by asking for directions but by leading everyone else through to something better.

No longer do I think we are the middle children of history.  We have a tremendous opportunity – and responsibility – to make this generation the fulcrum for a new cultural vision.  A vision based on a way of living that works for people, not products or profits or corporations or governments.  A vision based on a relationship with the natural world, not the exploitation of it.  A vision based on the health and sustainability of local communities, not the global economy.

Fritjof Capra called this time “The Turning Point,” David Korten calls it “The Great Turning.”  Whatever you want to call it, rarely has a generation of young people been so free and capable (and also culpable) of being apart of something as necessary and beautiful as the work that must be done.  It’s time to get our hands dirty.

Some of this post was influenced by a short article I came across around the first of the year in The Week magazine entitled “Shed No Tears for the Class of 2009.”  At the time, I was making my final decision on whether or not to apply for an apprenticeship on a small organic farm.  The reading of that article served as one of those rare moments of cosmic clarity and celestial providence.  I applied and I was accepted.
Entry #1 – 4/1/2010





Currently Reading:

The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer
By Joel Salatin

The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
by Eliot Coleman

The New Organic Grower
By Eliot Coleman

Recently Read:

Eaarth - Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
by Bill McKibben

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability
by Lierre Keith

The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food
by Ben Hewitt

Anthill: A Novel
by E. O. Wilson

Strangely Like War: The Global Assault on Forests
by Jensen, Draffan

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