“CACTUS ED” ABBEY ON MY MIND

“The earth is not a mechanism, but an organism.”                   Ed Abbey, The Journey Home

[Being in the Southwest] “is a treasure best enjoyed through the body and the spirit…, not through commercial plunder.”                                                       Ed Abbey, The Journey Home

“Are we going to ration the wilderness experience?”                 Ed Abbey, The Journey Home                              delicate-arch-arches-national-park-utah

Delicate Arch, Canyonlands, from Internet

The more I experience of man’s inhumanity to the Planet, –especially in overpopulated, pipe-line-threatened New Jersey–, the more I need Ed Abbey at my side. 

Right now, horrified at the success of the multi-billion-dollar-funded Climate Change Deniers (see This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein), I’m reading Adventures with Ed by Jack Loeffler.  The  author hiked and ate and drank and discussed and even fought with Ed during his lifetime. 

The two made a solemn pact that neither would let the other die in a hospital.  A pledge Loeffler was barely able to keep, but did.  The secret burial site required by Ed was facilitated, honored and often visited by Loeffler.  He would bring beer, –one poured for Ed; one drunk by himself, whenever he made that pilgrimage.

Everything about which we have been warned by Naomi Klein and 350.org and James Hansen and and Elizabeth Kolbert and Bill McKibben and probably even Rachel Carson and even the Nobel Prize Committee and Al Gore, is described in chapter and verse of anything by and about Abbey. 

A professed non-naturalist and determined “desert rat”, — who claimed to want to turn into a vulture upon dying–, Ed showed us the Southwest as the Poster Child for military/industrial/Big Coal/Big Gas/Big Copper ruinations.

McKibben issued his clarion call when The End of Nature was published in 1989.  He is still calling.  Abbey’s pivotal Desert Solitaire brought us to attention to commercial despoilations of our planet, especially in the Southwest, in 1968   Is anybody listening?

My first attention to the plight of our pPlanet came through Ed’s articles, as  well as through his seminal non-fiction work, Desert Solitaire. 

My first protests began and accelerated with the proposal to dam the Grand Canyon (!yes!) and another to build an enormous coal-fired generating station on the Kaiparowits Plateau, fouling the Four Corners region sacred to countless Indian tribes.

In those enlightened days, popular magazines published words and memorable images of the beauties we seemed fated to lose, as we now stand to lose New Jersey’s last green spaces to Pipelines conspiracies.  That’s when I joined the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, and ‘adopted whales’ through a Provincetown non-profit, as my daughters’ main Christmas presents.

Ed, whom I did not yet ‘know’ from that one volume (still most successfully in print) said it first.  Working as I do for D&R Greenway Land Trust, though I am speaking here as my very private, very opinionated self, I see perils to nature at every turn.  Some of which incursions we can prevent, and in some cases turn around.  Every year of the benighted 21st Century, it becomes more and more clear to me that Ed was a remarkable prophet, as well as a stirring author.  (Read his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, if you don’t believe me.)

Ed is carefully quoted by Jack Loeffler, –from a speech Abbey was asked to give to St. John’s College in Santa Fe, in his beloved New Mexico:  “WILDERNESS IS WORTH SAVING FOR ITS OWN SAKE.”  This was 1975.  “Not for human benefit or pleasure.  Wild things and wild places have a right to exist and to continue existing…  Bees. birds, animals, snakes, buzzards, bugs, whatever, have a legal and moral right to continue. Even rocks have the moral right to continue being rocks.”

Those of you who read my US 1 (Business) Newspaper Cover Story on Four Shady Walks this week [princetoninfo.com], have absorbed my passion for the towering boulders of the Sourlands trail off Hopewell’s Greenwood Avenue.  This haven taught me that not only trees and flowers, animals and insects,  –but the very rocks themselves–, exude spirit.  One is changed, –of course for the better–, in their midst.  One is stilled, inspired and strengthened merely walking among them.  Even more-so, sitting upon the most majestic rocks at the end of the blue trail, their ancient reality, their connection to creation, seeps  into and surrounds one.

You who read this blog, who did read NJ WILD all those years with the Packet, have seen images of those rocks.  They impact me like Chartres and Mt. St. Michel.  But you must go there in timelessness.  You must allow them to realize that you are open to their beings, and sometimes, even their messages.  You might apologize aloud for humans who ferried them away and pulverized their eminences into gravel and Belgian blocks.  To say nothing of the angry and misguided who defaced them with (now effaced, but never forgotten) wild graffiti last fall.  You might also make amends to noble beech trees along the trail, scarred by (to me, inexplicable) human need to carve their initials upon their sacred skin.

Ed insists, and I have always agreed, the Bible has it wrong.  “Man was NOT put here to have dominion over all things…  The earth was here first, and all these living things before us.”  Ed, also, –whose great joy was scrambling over rocks and boulders, mountains and peaks, preferably in sere desert landscapes–, goes on to tell the St. John’s students:  “Is it not possible that rocks, hills, and mountains, may enjoy a sentience, a form of consciousness, which we humans cannot perceive, because of vastly different time scales?”  His most outrageous proposition, which I find irresistible, is “…consider that we are thoughts in the minds of mountains, or that all humanity is a long, long thought.”

His (temporary, for Ed never gave UP on these themes) conclusion is, “As mind is to body, so is humanity to earth.  We cannot dishonor one without dishonoring and destroying ourselves.”

The Intrepids and I turn together to Eleanor Roosevelt and Georgia O’Keeffe, to stiffen our spines for the battles demanded in the 21st Century, to carry on to victories small and large upon which the Planet’s very survival depends.  Privately, every single year, I turn to Ed.

Ed ruminates on reverberations of research: “Science leads to technology…, and industry.  It’s what [science] can lead to that could be bad… Things go wrong, and scientists (and the Army Corps of Engineers, adds Carolyn-of-New-Jersey) are called in to think up remedies.  More and more, the system comes to rely upon remedial tinkering.  It becomes ever more centralized until utter collapse is inevitable.”  Outrageous Ed dares to say “the sooner, the better”, which quip I do not applaud.  But his conclusion is essential, “Then, maybe, we can stamp out this blight, this cancer of industrialization.”

When our beautiful –state, with its marvelous green preserves of forest and farmland–, is reduced to a “What Exit?” joke…  When everyone’s view of this entity formerly known as The Garden is a plethora of tanks and chimneys and wires and overpasses.  When our sacred Shore is eyed by Big Power as one long limitless oilfield — it’s time to pay attention to Ed.  Read him.  Write letters to editors.  Protest every pipeline suggestion/appropriation.  Support your local land trusts, who are trying to turn the tide of ruination decried by Ed Abbey, the Hemingway of preservation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEEP FREEZE BIRDING — BRIGANTINE in QUEST of SNOWY OWL Jan. 2015

The ranks are swelling, of intrepid birders, willing to go out in all weathers to find winged miracles.

Tomorrow morning, despite near-zero temperatures lately, Jeanette Hooban and I will set out on the trail of sandhill cranes in Somerset County.  Somewhere near Mettlers Lane, past the Rose Garden, at the north end of Canal Road and beyond.  Neither of us has ever seen a crane.  Stay tuned…

Thursday, an uncharacteristic day off, Mary Wood, Cathy Cullinan and I left Lawrenceville at 8 a.m., for the Bakery in Smithville, then the birds of the Brig — especially the newly reported snowy owl.

The Bakery, Smithville, New Jersey, off route 9, just before the turn to the Brigantine/Forsythe Refuge at Oceanville

The Bakery, Smithville, New Jersey, off route 9, just before the turn to the Brigantine/Forsythe Refuge at Oceanville

Glowing Interior, Bounty of Healthy Real Local Food, at the Bakery, Smithville, NJ

Glowing Interior, Bounty of Healthy Real Local Food, at the Bakery, Smithville, NJ

Hearty Birder's Breakfast, The Bakery, Smithville

Hearty Birder’s Breakfast, The Bakery, Smithville

Old Mill, without the Mill Wheel, Smithville

Old Mill, without the Mill Wheel, Smithville

Sinuosities - virtually the only open water, The Brig, January 8, 2015

Sinuosities – virtually the only open water, The Brig, January 8, 2015

Horseshoe Crab and New Snow, January 8 2015

Horseshoe Crab and New Snow, January 8 2015

Frozen Geese, Heads Tucked In so No White nor Black shows, Atlantic City in the Background

Frozen Geese, Heads Tucked In so No White nor Black shows, Atlantic City in the Background

Miserable Great Egrets -- January Deep Freeze, Brigantine, January 8, 2015

Miserable Great Egrets — January Deep Freeze, Brigantine, January 8, 2015

There Has to Be a Snowy Out there, Somewhere!

There Has to Be a Snowy Out there, Somewhere!

There IS a Snowy Owl in this Expanse, tucked underneath turf, the same size as every snow clump

There IS a Snowy Owl in this Expanse, tucked underneath turf, the same size as every snow clump

YES, we DID find the SNOWY.  No, my camera will not show it to you.  But this is the landscape in which we seek them, and the whiteness they require.

Fox Tracks in New Snow, Brigantine/Forsythe, January 8, 2015

Fox Tracks in New Snow, Brigantine/Forsythe, January 8, 2015

FROZEN BIRDERS:  There has to be a snowy out here someplace!

Frozen Birders  Can That Be the Snowy Jan 8 2015

Persimmons on High, Await Hungry Birds near the Experimental Pond

Persimmons on High, Await Hungry Birds near the Experimental Pond

OK, now I set the scenes in which we hunted, so to speak, for the snowy owl and other rarities.

That snowy, in Cathy Cullinan’s splendid picture, is no larger than my little fingernail.  It was parallel to the bank on the northeast corner of the dike road, breast not visible, so we don’t know whether it had the black distinctive marks of the female, or the mostly white feathers of the male.  It was as miserable as we were, out of the car, in that fierce southwest wind that daunted even those Canada geese.  It did not change position, in all the time we spent in its presence.  Occasionally we were more or less aware of the golden eyes, but I would NOT say we saw it actually blink.  Yes, it was worth the entire trip, to honor the presence of this new visitor.

However, as NJWILDBEAUTY readers know, I cannot photograph most birds with this camera.  And the miracles that were ours that day remain only in our hearts and memories.  Here they are, not necessarily in order of appearance.

Great egrets / Canada geese / buffleheads / hooded mergansers / tundra swans / snow geese / great blue herons / a peregrine, imperious upon an evergreen bough across the Gull Pond / gulls, including one very late great black-backed gull / no crows / no brant / the snowy owl / snow geese / one very late female red-winged blackbird / we don’t know whether salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrows – but tiny birds gleaning sides on and immediately off the dike roads / ring-necked ducks / mallards / blue jay / flock of robins / American bald eagles everywhere – including over ABSECON BAY! – but not intense, not fiercely fishing — I would say playing, kettles of eagles, relaxed, merry, sure of themselves   one immature who may be the electronically monitored nearby youngster named Nacote / no bluebirds / no Northern pintails / no shovelers

Well, you see, the Brig was mostly frozen.  Cathy, –tne burgeoning birder of our trio, who has hawk eyes, eagle eyes, snowy-owl eyes now — described what we were seeing:  “It’s as though the tide froze, and somehow went out, and everything collapsed.”  Huge plates of ice, zigging and zagging, careened, juxtaposed, oddly blued by the pale sky, were everywhere.  Barely any open water for birds, and inescapable winds.  Temperatures in the teens.

Harriers were on all sides, probably all females — possibly one ‘grey ghost’ male, but we can’t be sure — now THEY were intense, intent, hunting madly over the grasses, ‘great display’ over and over, white rump spots almost blinding.

The egrets looked the most miserable, the eagles most insouciant.

Cathy revealed that the snowy was the first owl she’d ever seen out of captivity:  “Nothing like starting at the top of the line!:

I really hand it to Mary and Cathy, out of the warm car, scanning every snow lump, trying to find that snowy or freeze in the attempt. Mary set up the scope with frozen fingers, over and over that day.

We spent most of the day there, very very slowly making our way along the dike road and between impoundments and the Bay.  Beauty everywhere, birds or no birds.  Wildness prevailed.

Nature’s kingdom, and we mere courtiers.

Remember, the Brig/Forsythe is a preserve, a national one.  All preserves are sacred, and all need your constant donations to non-profits, your constant vigilance and letters to senators and representatives and especially in OUR state, the Governor — so that these wild reaches continue to welcome and sustain wild creatures in this Anthropocene era of ours, hurtling toward the Sixth Extinction.

Go to the Brig.  Let her creatures inspire you.  Do what you can, every single day, for their preservation and that of their crucial habitat in all seasons.