by Dr. Dirt
— a radically condensed and distorted history, with bonus political rant —
I don’t quite know where Dr. Dirt has been these past few months (or perhaps decades). Yes, there was Thailand for almost three weeks in November-December, on the trail of my essential Buddha nature. In the process I found an inherently Buddha-smiling people and a very non-Buddha-like lung-stuffing smog, though that latter congestion may support the life-is-suffering concept. Seattle in February and again in September, witnessing the basic Buddha-nature of my three-year-old granddaughter, at least when she wasn’t morphing into Kali the Destroyer.
To a mildly distressing degree I’ve been in absentia and non compost mantis, vegetating: Putting down roots and folding out leaves in the artificial-sunlight glow of computer and television screens. That can be a meditation of sorts, mostly focused on the collapse of civilization – or what I call “the thin veneer of civilization,” increasingly being torn asunder to expose the seething barbarian essence of humanity beneath. How did I end up here? And therein lies his-story.
I spent a placid childhood in the 1950s. God, mother, and apple pie were the guideposts and alter pieces. Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, and Ozzie and Harriet pretty much describe the idealized culture. I suppose I should also confess to The Mickey Mouse Club every day after school. Why? –“because we LIKE you!” The Big Shadow hovering over all this treacly propaganda was the ever-present expectation of all-out nuclear war. This was mostly a terrifying abstraction, except for the very real drills where all the grammar-school kids across America crawled under our desks as air-raid sirens screamed doom. At least we learned how to save ourselves from impending nuclear annihilation: Just crawl under a desk. In retrospect it was the twilight of the American Dream, when all boats were rising and all was well with the world (excepting those couple of glitches that no one ever discussed).
This seeming comfort and false cheer began to unravel in the 1960s with the Viet Nam war, easy birth control, and the civil rights movement. The mantra of sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, and race riots put a semi-permanent damper on the blind optimism of the ’50’s and offered a strong hint that “the times, they are a’changin’.”
Then the culture of the 1970s hit a brick wall called disco. If “Disco” sounds like a decent name for a dog, that’s for good reason: Sex, drugs and really bad music changed a movement from cultural liberation to party-time mindlessness. Nixon and Reagan became our cynical and, well, criminal leaders. Youthful dreams ended in a slag-pile of disillusionment and ennui.
For me, the 1980s and ’90s marked a personal wholesale removal from the culture wars into the establishment of my family and my career. To a fair extent, I retreated back to the ’50s. I became my parents, though with an afterglow from the ’60s. I can tell you who the Presidents were, whom I voted for, and how the eternal roller-coaster of the economy rose and fell, but really I stayed fairly well cocooned in my own blinkered world.
This changed with the election (appointment?) of W in 2000 and, of course, with the World Trade Center tragedy and its insane aftermath. That insanity has continued fairly unabated for almost two decades, and has spread to become a global phenomenon. Regional crises in war, famine, disease, genocide, refugees seem to be the rule.
Like many in the US and the world, and against my basic disposition, since 2000 I have become gradually more involved in activism. Our country has witnessed huge shifts in politics and ideologies over the last three decades, from Bush the First ninety degrees to Clinton, and another ninety degrees to Bush the Second, then a one-eighty to Obama, and another one-eighty and into a wholly new dimension of time and space and sanity with Trump. All branches of our government – executive, legislative, judicial – have become trapped in a pinball machine of clanging bells and buzzers, rewards and penalties, hard bumpers and disappearing holes, with the larger system on TILT. In the process “The People” – you and I – have been driven apart in order for others to consolidate power.
To a disturbing degree, what drives this dissonance is, ultimately, money and greed. Our elections to the executive and legislative branches, and as a result our judiciary too, are now choreographed in a piece by billionaires and corporations. Their singular motivation is self-interest. Your neighboring citizen is Moneybags Inc., and I can assure you that they now have exponentially more votes than you. They also pay fewer taxes. This was the state of affairs over a hundred years ago, eventually resulting in the monopolies being busted. Not long after, the Wobblies and the unions became a strident balance to corporate domination. Perhaps it could happen again…
I’m reminded of the 1976 Oscar-winning film Network. In a classic line, the famous national news mouthpiece lost it one night, on air, shouting “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” That outrage resounded across the country. Today, a rewritten Network recently opened on Broadway, starring Brian Cranston in a role with some echo of his identity as Walter White in Breaking Bad. Today, we’re ALL mad as hell – left, right, libertarian, green, Sanders, Trump, and everything in between. We share a common belief: The system is broken. Neither Bernie nor The Donald will fix it. We need to find ways to work around and through the money. What we all need to remember is that our ultimate truths – some variation on “God, mother, and apple pie,” we all still hold in common. The devil is in the details.
We’re all in this together, much more than we’re in this on our own. To add to this tragic drama, all the foregoing ignores the ultimate elephant in the room, described for over six decades now: Climate change is the final trump card, and it’s being played out for all to see and experience in wholly unprecedented typhoons, wildfires, droughts, monsoons, crop failures, flooding, heat waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, famines, melting ice and rising seas, desertification, methane release from tundras, etc. Try to shoehorn THAT into the national political discussion and the budget. This is not a political problem but a planetary crisis, and a few hundred million dollars will not fix it. Billions for roads and bridges or for a border wall will have absolutely zero effect. And for decades now it has been an absolute non-issue with our political leaders.
I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!
The landscape profession is in the middle of all this: Preserving and enhancing habitat, increasing biodiversity, working with and not against local ecosystems, cycling inputs and outputs, rebuilding the hidden soil world, retaining and using water on site, matching predominantly native plants to site characteristics. Landscape work is essentially Earth repair work (and talk about potholes!). Just follow the mantra: Think locally, act locally.
My heart beats faster when I read of the “Green New Deal” being proposed today, mainly by Millennials and iGens, who see their stolen future going down the toilet with precious little response. The concept is to emulate Roosevelt’s successes with the New Deal in the 1930s by moving to massive government-encouraged projects in green infrastructure, much like the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Further, we built the interstate highway system in the 1950s; we put humans on the moon in the 1960s. Why not put people to work for a decade in the 2020s, building renewable solar and wind power, electric motors and better batteries, mass transport, cold fusion, water conservation projects, habitat restoration, etc.? Why not take the billions of dollars of our taxes now subsidizing coal, oil and gas interests and spend it on green energy? All it takes is political will, which ultimately derives from The People when we’ve had enough from the moneyed interests.
Dr. Dirt could almost get optimistic. And heck, even if the Anthropocene Era becomes a bright but brief blip in our planet’s geological history, with the human race following the other 99% of past species into extinction, Spaceship Earth will rock on regardless. That’s hopeful, I think, though for Homo sapiens, not so much.
— In closing, Dr. Dirt (aka John Hart, ASLA) wishes all landscape folk (with apologies) a Happy Yew Near!
from the February 2019 NHLA Newsletter