A few years ago, I was out for a bicycle ride in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I was born and raised. At one point I came upon a little house, tucked between two larger ones, in the middle of a block. The owner of the house had torn out the grass, bushes, trees and whatever else was living, and created an entirely artificial landscape: artificial turf for a lawn, plastic flowers in concrete pots. Nearly everything living had been covered over or removed altogether. As my eyes began to register what was actually there, I found myself squeezing hard on the brakes, coming to a quick stop, and staring. Staring quickly moved into blinking; partly out of disbelief, and partly out of belief that maybe I was just imagining it.
As the shades of denial and disbelief arose and then fell away, the questions, tinged with judgment, arose. How could they do this? What would possess someone to take such steps? Why do we do such abusive things to the planet?
From there, my mind wandered into associations, including how it looked like a golf course. I have long had an intense dislike for golf, largely because of the way in which the land is tamed and often poisoned in the making and maintaining of the game course. Golf also seems to be the game of the power elite, the courses the breeding ground for many of the political and corporate deals that lead to widespread human suffering and destruction of the planet.
Finally, after all of that, I was left with nothing but silence and seeing; just witnessing what someone else (or a group of folks) had done to a particular place, sometime in recent history. It was a surprising, almost stunning, experience. Only so because of the extremes present.
Our modern landscape is riddled with this kind of stuff. Not only absurdities like the place described above, but also grand-scale absurdities like giant parking lots, stripped mountains, miles-wide oil fields, abandoned coal pits collapsed upon themselves, poisoned rivers and lakes – the list goes on.
Below the surface of the land, and beyond our vision, fuel pipelines snake through the soil, breaking the natural order and rhythm of life. So, too, do buried and abandoned piles of human-produced garbage and toxic waste, threatening the health and wellbeing of everything trying to live around it. In fact, a lot of the modern-built world is absurd. It represents actions far more about destroying life than enhancing it.
Humans are not superior to other species. We are of the earth, not above it. If we truly want to address climate change and environmental crisis, we’ll not only need to resist corporate plunder of the earth, but also collectively transform the way we see and build the places we call home.
Photo from Flickr – some rights reserved