Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Subdue the Satanic Wilderness, Intoxicated with Barbarism

I had a perfectly magical, lovely day over the weekend that made me happy to be alive.  Once the grey dismal clouds started to clear, I took a reckless chance the afternoon would be sunny, bright enough to justify an excursion for pictures, and headed north towards High Point State Park.  As you might surmise, it encompasses the tallest mountain in New Jersey, a rocky pinnacle of exposed granite along the path of the Appalachian Trail. The peak, 1,803 foot above sea level, is topped with a monument to War Veterans, completed in 1930.
Just beneath the summit, springfed Lake Marcia is surrounded by standing dead trees despite a very active cutting program.
There is even a permitting process for homeowners to cut firewood, and still the trees are dying faster than they are removed.
Along the way, I stopped at an obscure crossroads known as Plumsock Corner, named for a flag that was planted in front of the long-since defunct Post Office - according to a friendly lady who was outdoors, weeding her garden.
By marvelous happenstance, on this trip I found just about everything I love to photograph - flowers, a sweet bird and butterfly, scudding fluffy clouds forming a delicate interplay of light and shadow, dying trees and decrepit barns, and lastly - wait 'till you see! - a superbly quintessential bit of Americana.

It started out like any pretty spring jaunt, in a landscape of soft pastel hues which mask the decay lurking under the new growth.  It wasn't long before a chaotic medley of apocalyptic indicators became apparent.

This cow ran from behind the barn, curious.  I think there aren't many visitors in Plumsock.
This area of Sussex County might as well be in the region of its coal mining cousins to the south.
Many of the farms still have outhouses.
I'm not saying anyone uses them for their original purpose anymore.  I'm just saying, they're still there.
Initially, I pulled over to take the picture below.  The logs are from felled trees along the creek, but it was the colossal stump in the center, on the far side of the drive, that I stopped to record.  The man who is walking away, on the left, told me it was a locust.  The trunk at its base had to be at least four feet in diameter.
  This is the vantage from the parking lot just beneath the monument.
Someone has been hacking down trees like crazy, and not even taking the wood.
Even so it was a beautiful afternoon.
It's gorgeous how carpets of flowers cling to craggy boulders.
And I was lucky that the wild pink azaleas were just beginning to bloom in the woods.
This little bird followed me, unafraid.
It didn't even fly away when a fuzzy little dog came sniffing around.
This was the only butterfly I saw, although there are dozens at home.
It posed most cooperatively.
There are lots of wild blueberries that look like they will set fruit.
This maple presents a terrific illustration of corroded bark.  The smooth part is the way it should look, but much of it is cracking.
It flakes off easily, and the wood underneath looks black - probably from a fungus.
It has produced a copious number of seeds, but they are rotting on the branch without parachuting off, and there is nothing inside them to germinate.
This photo depicts perfectly the cruel illusion of spring growth.  Concealed in the vibrant greenery are dead, shrunken tree trunks.  Once upon a time, there were large, healthy trees even growing in ground that is more stone than soil.  The biggest have died already.
Very young laurels are opening their pale pink tinted blossoms.
But the older shrubs are barely visible because almost all of the perennial foliage has fallen off. There are twisted branches where a mound of glossy green should be.
This is the condition of what leaves remain, still clinging to the tips, at the very top.
Exploding trunks are common now too.
And no woods anymore is complete without the smothering lichen.
Lichens break down rock and there is nothing good for the tree going on underneath that layer.
All of the pine trees are quite thin and their needles look burnt, a classic symptom of air pollution.
Their branches are broken.
There are the putrid, vomiting holes.
New growth cannot compensate for the older trees that have died.
It's possible to see these enormous vistas in every direction, but they are all marred by the barren standing dead that dominate the seedlings struggling below.  I hiked around the circumference and everywhere was the same.
Somebody on west-coast time emailed me an article from the New York Times which I was forced to read before my coffee had even finished perking.  It reminded me rather too early in the morning that the malarky NEVER ENDS.  Here's the entire "Mammoth Trees", I hope they sue me for copyright infringement:
"It’s important to respect your elders, children are reminded. It seems that this goes for trees, too.  Big, old trees dominate many forests worldwide and play crucial ecological services that aren’t immediately obvious, like providing habitat for a wide range of organisms, from fungi to woodpeckers."
"Among their many other invaluable roles, the oldsters also store a lot of carbon. In a research plot in California’s Yosemite National Park, big trees (those with a diameter greater than three feet at chest height) account for only 1 percent of trees but store half of the area’s biomass, according to a study published this week in PLoS ONE."
"A group led by the study’s author, James A. Lutz, a research scientist in forest ecology at the University of Washington, measured the diameter of every tree in the 63-acre plot of old-growth forest, the largest of its kind in North America. The researchers counted nearly 34,500 trees, only 489 of which were greater than one meter in diameter. “At 6 foot 2, I cannot reach all the way around a tree that big,” Dr. Lutz said."
"The largest trees on site were sugar pines, followed by white firs. The champion sugar pine there is nearly 7 feet wide and 220 feet tall, and is probably 350 years old, Dr. Lutz said. Yet the site was selected because it was considered representative of average forests in the area and does not contain the most enormous individual trees."

"Biomass was calculated by using species-specific equations worked out by past researchers measuring dead trees."
"Current models used by foresters do not work very well for the outsize giants, possibly because of the lack of ancient trees in some American forests and the difficulty in studying them, Dr. Lutz said."
"Models often assume, for example, that forests are made up of a relatively uniform mixture of differently sized trees. In reality, though, big old trees are special, and anything that affects them could have a disproportionate effect on the forests, he said."

“'If a large tree dies, it can have an immediate effect, and takes a long time to replace,' Dr. Lutz said. 'We should pay more attention to what’s happening to them. Their fate is a harbinger of what’s to come, perhaps.'”
"Although they are the structural and ecological backbone of some forests, they are missing from much of North America as a result of extensive logging over the last 200 years, said Jerry F. Franklin, a professor of ecosystem analysis at the College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington. It will be vital to protect the old trees that remain, which in some areas may require a special type of management, said Dr. Franklin, who was not directly involved in the study."
"Many western forests have more dense underbrush than they did before European settlers arrived and suppressed the frequent fires that kept the landscape more open. Yet fires still occur, and denser forests make for larger and hotter blazes that threaten to kill some of the large old trees that remain, he said. In some areas, it may make sense to clear out smaller trees surrounding these elders to keep them alive, Dr. Franklin said."
"The presence of big trees in Yosemite declined by about 25 percent from the 1930s to the 1990s, a worrisome trend whose cause scientists don’t yet understand."

"Throughout western North America, tree die-offs are a pressing concern whose cause is not known for certain.  Another study found that average death rates throughout western old-growth forests have doubled over the last few decades."
"That’s why long-term studies of large plots Dr. Lutz’s are so important, said Nate Stephenson, a research ecologist at the United States Geological Survey’s Western Ecological Research Center in Three Rivers, Calif. 'Why are so many trees dying? The only way to answer that is to understand how forests work,' he said."
"Dr. Franklin said that many researchers are trying to ensure that more attention is given to restoring big old trees on federal lands. 'They are the resilient part of the system that can persist through all sorts of stressful events,' he said."
"Their thick bark allows them to survive fires and insect attacks, and their high ratio of heartwood to sapwood allows their remains to store carbon for centuries after they die, besides providing habitat to many organisms that thrive in snags and logs."

"They are also an important source of habitat. 'Over centuries these trees acquire a lot of bumps and warts and scars and those can be really important homes for animals,' Dr. Franklin said."
"In the Pacific Northwest, for example, the threatened Northern spotted owland the endangered marbled murrelet make their homes in the extensive canopies of old-growth forests.  In the Southeast, the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker prefers to live in elderly longleaf pine trees. Several species of Australian birds and marsupials cannot make their own cavities and only live within rotted-out holes in trees that take centuries to form, Dr. Franklin said."
Why are so many trees dying?  The only way to answer that is to understand how forests work,” he said.

Actually, NO.  The only way to understand why so many trees are dying is to understand what we are doing to the atmosphere, which they absorb when they photosynthesize.  "...a worrisome trend whose cause scientists don’t yet understand..."  That's kind of annoying, because the fact that ozone damages vegetation has been well understood for over fifty years, and because I wrote to Lutz in July of 2009 and TOLD him the cause of that "worrisome trend".  He answered me that "...unless one follows individual trees for a long time, it is very difficult to say definitively why declines are occurring.  Even if climate is to blame, the mechanism could be complicated.  Direct effects of warming and drying are one possibility, but another could be the effects of temperature and precipitation on fires, fungi, and/or insects.  We have embarked on some recent research to examine potential causes."

He made nary a mention of the blog post I referred him to which said:

"In the course of puzzling over the phenomena I see wherever I travel, and reading every research paper I can find on the topic, I am lately wondering (but am obviously unqualified to test the theory) whether perhaps we have suddenly reached a "tipping point" where the trees are being smothered by a threshold level of ozone.  I feel there must be some overriding trigger among the many, to explain what looks to me like a total ecosystem collapse.  I also wonder what implications this will have on annual plants that provide food crops."

nor did he make reference to what I specifically wrote to him then, which obviously made no impression:

I don't think we have decades to study trees before we do something.

Following - with pictures of a delectably decadent, blighted farm - is my comment to the New York Times.
It's perfectly obvious that trees are dying all over the world if you trouble to look at them carefully...and equally obvious what is killing them. It seems scientists will never scream fire in a burning theater, even when the flames are licking their feet - they always want to say "more research is needed".

Trees are dying because we are poisoning the air with pollution. How often are we told to plant a tree because they help clean the air? They clean the air because they absorb ozone. You can't see it, but it's there, an invisible toxin traveling all over the globe even to the most remote regions. The persistent background level is inexorably rising.

This is no different than the clear connection between smoking and cancer which took decades to become accepted.
Trees - and in fact, essential annual crops like wheat and soybeans - are unable to fend off naturally occurring stressors like insects, disease, fungus and drought - which so often are blamed as the cause for decline in yield and quality of harvest.  It is as though the trees have AIDS - no immunity.
This is actually all based on irrefutable science - but the scientists are either in denial, or they just don't want people to understand this existential threat and panic - because the ONLY way to halt this trend is to drastically limit our numbers and our consumption.
After my last post about refusing to join in on 350's "Climate Connect the Dots Day" I came across one of their events which precisely demonstrates what I objected to - the delusional HOTsters who believe that Hope, Optimism and Technology will save us - in the moaning, without a trace of understanding how absurd it is, that global warming is causing a lack of snow at ski resorts.  Seriously.  The same ski resorts that people fly and drive to, for vacation.
Incredibly, one of the pictures uploaded to the 350 "Connect the Dots" website was of the Forsakar nature preserve in Sweden, which has been closed.  The trails are hazardous for hikers, because so many trees are dying and falling.  This is being blamed on a fungus, a familiar topic at Wit's End.  That particular poetic post has a link to the Alabama Cooperative Extension, which says:

"Ozone-killed tissues are readily infected by certain fungi".  Exactly.
It wasn't until I looked at the picture above on my computer that I realized the tree in the background is kind of a miracle.  It's growing in nothing but the rock.  In the enlarged crop below you can see where the base has crept down the side.  Trees are amazing.  It takes a lot to kill them, but we are managing to do it.
In tree threat news briefs, there is more about malicious insects, this time not in the American West but in Switzerland, where bark beetle attacks are being blamed, as is typical, on rising temperatures and lack of precipitation.  A reader contributed this gem - plans in St. Louis to cut down NINE HUNDRED ash trees in anticipation of an infestation of emerald borers that hasn't even occurred yet!
Here's the truly delightful irony about this abandoned farm.  Beyond the fields is a busy road, and directly across the four lanes, in all its glory, is the Chatterbox, a landmark eating establishment that is wildly popular.  By the time I left every seat was occupied.
I have never seen a more gleaming homage to the peculiarly American slavish worship of the internal combustion engine - and the hamburger - so naturally I couldn't resist taking pictures, which follow, with another essay written by Chris Hedges.  I don't want to muddle up the brilliant flow of prose - from which the title to this past was extracted - with quotes or italics so please know that everything that follows was written by him:

Welcome to the Asylum

When civilizations start to die they go insane. Let the ice sheets in the Arctic melt. Let the temperatures rise. Let the air, soil and water be poisoned. Let the forests die. Let the seas be emptied of life. Let one useless war after another be waged. Let the masses be thrust into extreme poverty and left without jobs while the elites, drunk on hedonism, accumulate vast fortunes through exploitation, speculation, fraud and theft. Reality, at the end, gets unplugged. We live in an age when news consists of Snooki’s pregnancy, Hulk Hogan’s sex tape and Kim Kardashian’s denial that she is the naked woman cooking eggs in a photo circulating on the Internet. Politicians, including presidents, appear on late night comedy shows to do gags and they campaign on issues such as creating a moon colony. “At times when the page is turning,” Louis-Ferdinand Celine wrote in “Castle to Castle,” “when History brings all the nuts together, opens its Epic Dance Halls! hats and heads in the whirlwind! Panties overboard!”
The quest by a bankrupt elite in the final days of empire to accumulate greater and greater wealth, as Karl Marx observed, is modern society’s version of primitive fetishism. This quest, as there is less and less to exploit, leads to mounting repression, increased human suffering, a collapse of infrastructure and, finally, collective death. It is the self-deluded, those on Wall Street or among the political elite, those who entertain and inform us, those who lack the capacity to question the lusts that will ensure our self-annihilation, who are held up as exemplars of intelligence, success and progress. The World Health Organization calculates that one in four people in the United States suffers from chronic anxiety, a mood disorder or depression—which seems to me to be a normal reaction to our march toward collective suicide. Welcome to the asylum.
When the most basic elements that sustain life are reduced to a cash product, life has no intrinsic value. The extinguishing of “primitive” societies, those that were defined by animism and mysticism, those that celebrated ambiguity and mystery, those that respected the centrality of the human imagination, removed the only ideological counterweight to a self-devouring capitalist ideology. Those who held on to pre-modern beliefs, such as Native Americans, who structured themselves around a communal life and self-sacrifice rather than hoarding and wage exploitation, could not be accommodated within the ethic of capitalist exploitation, the cult of the self and the lust for imperial expansion. The prosaic was pitted against the allegorical. And as we race toward the collapse of the planet’s ecosystem we must restore this older vision of life if we are to survive.
The war on the Native Americans, like the wars waged by colonialists around the globe, was waged to eradicate not only a people but a competing ethic. The older form of human community was antithetical and hostile to capitalism, the primacy of the technological state and the demands of empire. This struggle between belief systems was not lost on Marx. “The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx” is a series of observations derived from Marx’s reading of works by historians and anthropologists. He took notes about the traditions, practices, social structure, economic systems and beliefs of numerous indigenous cultures targeted for destruction. Marx noted arcane details about the formation of Native American society, but also that “lands [were] owned by the tribes in common, while tenement-houses [were] owned jointly by their occupants.” He wrote of the Aztecs, “Commune tenure of lands; Life in large households composed of a number of related families.” He went on, “… reasons for believing they practiced communism in living in the household.” Native Americans, especially the Iroquois, provided the governing model for the union of the American colonies, and also proved vital to Marx and Engel’s vision of communism.
Marx, though he placed a naive faith in the power of the state to create his workers’ utopia and discounted important social and cultural forces outside of economics, was acutely aware that something essential to human dignity and independence had been lost with the destruction of pre-modern societies. The Iroquois Council of the Gens, where Indians came together to be heard as ancient Athenians did, was, Marx noted, a “democratic assembly where every adult male and female member had a voice upon all questions brought before it.” Marx lauded the active participation of women in tribal affairs, writing, “The women [were] allowed to express their wishes and opinions through an orator of their own election. Decision given by the Council. Unanimity was a fundamental law of its action among the Iroquois.” European women on the Continent and in the colonies had no equivalent power.

Rebuilding this older vision of community, one based on cooperation rather than exploitation, will be as important to our survival as changing our patterns of consumption, growing food locally and ending our dependence on fossil fuels. The pre-modern societies of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse—although they were not always idyllic and performed acts of cruelty including the mutilation, torture and execution of captives—did not subordinate the sacred to the technical. The deities they worshipped were not outside of or separate from nature.
Seventeenth century European philosophy and the Enlightenment, meanwhile, exalted the separation of human beings from the natural world, a belief also embraced by the Bible. The natural world, along with those pre-modern cultures that lived in harmony with it, was seen by the industrial society of the Enlightenment as worthy only of exploitation.  Descartes argued, for example, that the fullest exploitation of matter to any use was the duty of humankind. The wilderness became, in the religious language of the Puritans, satanic. It had to be Christianized and subdued. The implantation of the technical order resulted, as Richard Slotkin writes in “Regeneration Through Violence,” in the primacy of “the western man-on-the-make, the speculator, and the wildcat banker.” Davy Crockett and, later, George Armstrong Custer, Slotkin notes, became “national heroes by defining national aspiration in terms of so many bears destroyed, so much land preempted, so many trees hacked down, so many Indians and Mexicans dead in the dust.”
The demented project of endless capitalist expansion, profligate consumption, senseless exploitation and industrial growth is now imploding. Corporate hustlers are as blind to the ramifications of their self-destructive fury as were Custer, the gold speculators and the railroad magnates. They seized Indian land, killed off its inhabitants, slaughtered the buffalo herds and cut down the forests. Their heirs wage war throughout the Middle East, pollute the seas and water systems, foul the air and soil and gamble with commodities as half the globe sinks into abject poverty and misery. The Book of Revelation defines this single-minded drive for profit as handing over authority to the “beast.”
The conflation of technological advancement with human progress leads to self-worship. Reason makes possible the calculations, science and technological advances of industrial civilization, but reason does not connect us with the forces of life. A society that loses the capacity for the sacred, that lacks the power of human imagination, that cannot practice empathy, ultimately ensures its own destruction. The Native Americans understood there are powers and forces we can never control and must honor. They knew, as did the ancient Greeks, that hubris is the deadliest curse of the human race. This is a lesson that we will probably have to learn for ourselves at the cost of tremendous suffering.
In William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Prospero is stranded on an island where he becomes the undisputed lord and master. He enslaves the primitive “monster” Caliban. He employs the magical sources of power embodied in the spirit Ariel, who is of fire and air. The forces unleashed in the island’s wilderness, Shakespeare knew, could prompt us to good if we had the capacity for self-control and reverence. But it also could push us toward monstrous evil since there are few constraints to thwart plunder, rape, murder, greed and power. Later, Joseph Conrad, in his portraits of the outposts of empire, also would expose the same intoxication with barbarity.
The anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan, who in 1846 was “adopted” by the Seneca, one of the tribes belonging to the Iroquois confederation, wrote in “Ancient Society” about social evolution among American Indians. Marx noted approvingly, in his “Ethnological Notebooks,” Morgan’s insistence on the historical and social importance of “imagination, that great faculty so largely contributing to the elevation of mankind.” Imagination, as the Shakespearean scholar Harold C. Goddard pointed out, “is neither the language of nature nor the language of man, but both at once, the medium of communion between the two. ... Imagination is the elemental speech in all senses, the first and the last, of primitive man and of the poets.”
All that concerns itself with beauty and truth, with those forces that have the power to transform us, is being steadily extinguished by our corporate state. Art. Education. Literature. Music. Theater. Dance. Poetry. Philosophy. Religion. Journalism. None of these disciplines are worthy in the corporate state of support or compensation. These are pursuits that, even in our universities, are condemned as impractical. But it is only through the impractical, through that which can empower our imagination, that we will be rescued as a species. The prosaic world of news events, the collection of scientific and factual data, stock market statistics and the sterile recording of deeds as history do not permit us to understand the elemental speech of imagination. We will never penetrate the mystery of creation, or the meaning of existence, if we do not recover this older language. Poetry shows a man his soul, Goddard wrote, “as a looking glass does his face.” And it is our souls that the culture of imperialism, business and technology seeks to crush.
Walter Benjamin argued that capitalism is not only a formation “conditioned by religion,” but is an “essentially religious phenomenon,” albeit one that no longer seeks to connect humans with the mysterious forces of life. Capitalism, as Benjamin observed, called on human societies to embark on a ceaseless and futile quest for money and goods. This quest, he warned, perpetuates a culture dominated by guilt, a sense of inadequacy and self-loathing. It enslaves nearly all its adherents through wages, subservience to the commodity culture and debt peonage. The suffering visited on Native Americans, once Western expansion was complete, was soon endured by others, in Cuba, the Philippines, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The final chapter of this sad experiment in human history will see us sacrificed as those on the outer reaches of empire were sacrificed. There is a kind of justice to this. We profited as a nation from this demented vision, we remained passive and silent when we should have denounced the crimes committed in our name, and now that the game is up we all go down together.

~  by Chris Hedges
Most of his countrymen of course are too busy stuffing their faces to pay any attention to warnings from authors like Chris Hedges.  In fact they don't even seem to take seriously the financial market collapse that is brewing according to David Stockman in an astounding interview, whose investing model is now:  "ABCD: Anything Bernanke Cannot Destroy: flashlight batteries, canned beans, bottled water, gold, a cabin in the mountains."  According to "Hug the Monster," an article in ABC, at least some scientists are starting to warn people that climate change isn't going to be the gradual, linear walk in the park most people expect.  About time!  Now, if only the foresters and botanists would hug their own monsters and make it clear that air pollution is killing the forests.  For the unfortunate people who went through the events depicted in this movie, the climate monster already arrived.


  1. Hope, Optimism, and Technofetishism! HOT! That is so funny.

    I'm all out of Love, Hope, Optimism, and faith in Technology. Yep, I know technology like the best.

    1 in 300 Cambodians are amputees from land mine explosions.

    1 in 300 Americans attempt suicide each year.

    If you're not in despair at the hopelessness of the situation, and aware of how badly this is going to end, guaranteed, you're insane!

    ~The Randroid Hero Industrialist Millionaire Luddite

  2. No need to wonder about the source of zombieism. This fatal disease is spread by TV.
    Gerry Mander says it destroys imagination, though hypnosis. Furthermore the medium doesn't portray certain subjects and emotions very well, for instance, contemplation of environmentalism.


    There's a .pdf and Google Quick View available.

    The capitalists got the admen to hire story writers to keep our attention between ads for unnecessary consumer goods. TV makes people want to buy gas guzzling pickups and climate controlled houses. Then Reagan sealed our fate by eliminating the Fairness Doctrine.

    Ignore Commercial Media


  3. Sounds similar to a book I once read about the teevee, "The Plug-In Drug" which is part of the reason I didn't have it in the house until my kids were in their teens. It didn't really have the political dimension though which is very interesting. People are definitely zombified - on the other hand there have been many times in history before the invention of television where they acted just as stupidly.


  5. I meant to do a post about the movie, the Hunger Games, but never got around to it, because it is such a brilliant exposition of those links that I'll bet only a tiny percentage of the huge audience that bought tickets to see it had any idea that they were the subjects of mockery.

  6. michele/montrealMay 9, 2012 at 10:38 PM

    the new baby leaves on the maple trees on my street are already showing signs of distress and many BIG trees are about to collapse. Also, 2 days ago, it was hot and sunny and it was difficult to breathe when walking on the sidewalk. It will be a hard summer.


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