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    Thursday
    Dec032015

    Paul Stamets - Psilocybin and Amanita: An Innocent Discovers the Infinite

    I don’t believe these mushrooms are drugs.  I believe these mushrooms are mushrooms, and they have a drug-like effect.

                                                                                                                                                     -Paul Stamets

     

             What follows are the embedded segments of an absolutely fascinating presentation on mushrooms by Paul Statmets.  Produced by Sound Phototsynthesis, the presentation is from the 2000 San Francisco Fungus Fair organized by the Mycology Society of San Francisco and is titled Psilocybin and Amanita: An Innocent Discovers the Infinite.  Embedded below are segments of the presentation followed by important transcribed excerpts from those corresponding segments.  Statmets delivers a powerful message about the role of mycelium on Earth, the incredible powers of mushrooms, and the importance of humans to act as responsible stewards of the planet and natural world, lest we destroy the environmental foundations we rely upon for survival as well as ourselves.  He also tells a hilarious story at the end of the presentation.

     

    I believe that we’re all on this planet for a greater purpose, and I think I’m only discovering now what my purpose is.  My purpose for being here is to make life on this planet better, and to make the health of this planet better, and I see that these mushrooms are medicinal mushrooms for the soul, and tomorrow I’ll be talking about medicinal mushrooms for the planet and for the health of human beings.  So I do see that these are very complimentary... I know my subject field very well, and I am very blessed to be in this position.  At the same time I do not take much credit for it.  I am a messenger.  I am one person in a long lineage throughout millennia who have picked up the torch and are communicating something that is greater than the individual.   So I want to please disavow my credit for discovering these species.  I did not discover them, they discovered me.  They used me for the vehicle for expression. 

    Now, most of the psilocybin active mushroom species are primary saprophytes, they grow on woody material, on organic material as soon as it’s rendered available.  And these are reparative organisms, they follow debris trails left by humans.  There is no greater natural that has ever occurred biologically on this planet than humans, we are the greatest natural disaster, and these debris trail fungi – specifically the psilocybin active mushrooms species, which are litter species which grow on wood chips, you know, even around here – they are running after us, trying to repair the damage that we’ve created.   So we have co-evolved with these litter fungi, and as we chop wood and as we build houses and as we move around in our daily existence, we create so much debris that these primary saprophytes are the remedial organisms that come back to recycle the nutrients back into the biosphere.    The loss of biological diversity, especially in fungal diversity forbodes very, very badly for the future of this planet… I believe that these mushrooms are trying to speak to us, they’re calling out to us, they’re trying to communicate in a language that we will understand – in this case it’s dimethyltryptamine psilocybin-like compounds that are opening up the floodgates of the senses.  Now I will wax poetic here and I’m sure I will offend some of you, and I don’t intend to offend you because I don’t like you or because I’m a bad person.  This is my personal belief, and this is a free country and I want to be able to express myself. 

    This is spore of psilocybe baeocystis, it is dimpled here – this is a germ pore – and these are bacteria.  And coincident with the evolution of fungi are bacteria, and generally speaking they’re antagonist.  Fungi came out of the ocean about 450 years ago.  We share in common about thirty percent of our DNA with fungi.  We separate from the fungal kingdom several tens of millions of years later.  Fungi reproduce primarily through spores.  You take spore prints on hats.  You can take spore prints on clothing… And in doing so we become like mushroom missionaries sometimes.  We go on airplanes when we’re down in Mexico, and one of my fun things to do is to get a whole bunch of people together and spore print all of our clothing.  And then we jump on an airplane, we fly back to the United States, unbeknownst to all the other passengers – they’ve all be dusted with spores of psilocybe cubensis.  The people in this movement are messianic. 

    I believe the environmental movement of the sixties and seventies is largely propelled by the psychedelic interests and the psychedelic sacraments. Those of you from the sixties and seventies know this.  Many of the experiences from the psilocybin active mushroom species, the major themes are the Earth is crying out to us, we are in trouble.  Please, we’re on this boat, this planet together let’s not pollute our environment to the point that we cannot sustain other members of the ecosphere.  Ultimately, if we don’t come to grips with living in harmony with our environment, this planet will reject us, as an organism, and that is not necessarily bad.  The planet will continue to rotate, it will continue to revolve around the sun, there will be numerous organisms still here that will be living and striving to live in equilibrium.  But unless we start taking a proactive behavioral change, a radical paradigm shift to live in harmony with our environment, the biosphere will reject as a species.  That is the lesson of nature.  We exceed the carrying capacity of our environment, we plummet to extinction.  Disease vectors proliferate, the population plunder, and other organisms become predominant, and hopefully those organisms will have a better understanding of living in equilibrium.  Of course I want the human species to survive, of course I want children to grow up and remain healthy… But the ecosystem is smart.  There is a natural intelligence on this planet.  And where do we get off thinking that we’re the most intelligent organism that exists?  These fungi evolved… we evolved from fungi.  We are mushroom people.  We share thirty percent of our DNA with these fungi, and they’re now calling out to us, asking us to please be responsible in managing the environment for the betterment of everybody. 

    The mycelia network of the planet is what I believe is Earth’s natural internet.  It is a Gaian, governing mechanism, a healing mantle of overlapping mycelia mosaics that are interspersed on top and through each other.  In a single cubic inch of soil there can be more than a mile of cells.  These cells are pervasive everywhere, but when mushrooms occur it’s just the tip of the iceberg, it’s two to five percent of the representation of the entire mushroom life cycle, and the mushroom life cycle can spin twenty to fifty times in a year with some species, slower with other species.  But this overlaying mosaic of mycelia networks gives these environments resilience, gives them reparative opportunities.  This data bank of response, of breaking down different types of wood, of different types of debris trails, having a very complex microsphere of multiple mushroom species enables the environment to intelligently respond.  And because these fungi have existed as long as we have, they have an innate intelligence…  Most of us have no concept at all that these fungi that are around us are our allies, and these are the organisms that will help sustain life and return nutrients back to the biosphere.  They’re the interface organisms, they’re the bridge between life and death, and they have so much to offer us if only we would wake up.

     

    I believe that biology progresses through the repetition of successful models.  What has worked previously biologically is built upon in evolution.  And the invention of the computer internet is just a representation of a successful biological model inherent within the structure and the representation of the mushroom mycelium.  The mushroom mycelium – you can’t destroy the mushroom mycelium by damaging one point – you can’t destroy the computer internet by blowing up one computer, that’s one of these reason it was designed.  But this ability to share resources, I think is integral to the model of life on this planet, and I see the computer internet as being a natural evolution of the biologically successful model that’s represented in the mushroom mycelium. 

    Not transcribed here is a story about a 5,000 year-old Mushroom-Bee-Man cave painting discovered in the Plateau of Running Water in Northern Nigeria by a guide of a  Japanese researcher and American anthropologist in the late 1940s.  Be sure to listen. 

    No one has died from eating psilocybin mushrooms.  There’s two reports that are controversial on this subject and there could be other co-factors.  But as one other person in this room I think pointed out, there’s been like fifty million trips on psilocybin mushrooms, and two disputed deaths.  This underscores a pretty strong safety factor.  However, people who are psychologically, you know, not up to par, people are dealing with mental illness, people who have weak hearts, people who have other, you know, underlying medical conditions – of course these mushrooms, it’s not advisable for them to use them.  And I’m not recommending that people in this room use these mushrooms.  Most of you will not benefit from them.  But some of you will.  The people that tend to benefit are physicians, philosophers, psychiatrists, computer programmers, artists, poets.  Does anyone doubt that the reason why the United States is on the cutting edge of computer technology is because of the ability of projecting fractals and doing large mathematical equations and vision quests under the influence?  If you talk to the community of software programmers, they will say that’s true.  But this is the hidden secret about the American computer industry: they’re psychedelic freaks out there all the time. 

    So R. Gordon Watson is very well known and he wrote a book called Mushrooms, Russia and History which talked about the differences in attitude of Eastern European cultures – specifically Russian culture – being mycophilic – having an affection for mushrooms – and mycophobic cultures, like the Irish and the English, who have a repulsion for mushrooms…

    Terrance has come up with some very astonishing concepts and ideas about the interstellar transportation of germ plasma, of fungi throughout space.  Well that was absolutely scientific heresy fifteen, twenty years ago, but most of you are probably well aware that this theory is getting more and more substantiated that endospores of bacteria and fungi may well we able to survive interstellar space travel, and perhaps this planet was seed with endospores of bacteria and fungi long ago, and was in a sense inoculated.  And I suspect that fungi are throughout the cosmos.  Where there is water, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, you’re going to end up with linear chains of self-replicating matter running through mitosis, it projects mycelia networks, and evolve into fungi.  I think fungi are… If you have matter you’re going to have fungi. 

     

    So where do you find the psilocybin active mushroom species in the northwest?  You find them at institutes of higher learning, you find them at colleges, you find them around police stations, around court houses, around, you know, there is landscaping of government buildings.  These mushrooms are centralized around government offices.  And so if you want to find mushrooms in the Northwest, psilocybin active mushroom, visit the local county court house.  The biggest patch of psilocybe cubensis I’ve ever seen still grows to this day around the Thurston County jail.  And I wonder about that because I was called in as an expert witness, all these kids were getting busted for psilocybin mushrooms and thought to myself, this is crazy, they’re bringing in fifty of these people, quote unquote trespassing for psilocybin mushroom collecting, and the government has no idea: by bringing these people into a courtroom, you have now sporulated the judge, the bailiff, the policeman, the sheriff, they’ve all become these unknown allies to the mushroom cause in spreading spore mass.  It’s absolutely true.  Absolutely true.  When you get in contact with someone whose been collecting these psilocybin mushrooms they are a disease vector, in a sense, for spreading these mushrooms to neo-fascist Republican environments.  

     

    And where do you find these mushrooms?  Well, I didn’t bring the photograph that I would like to show you, but I look for Winnebagos   You look for RV campers.  Their idea of camping, and please, I’m a hiker, I go into the woods, I go in for five days, I go into the deep cascades.  I’m also an orienteer, I go and I orienteer with a compass and there’s no trails.  So I’m a little bit snobbish when comes to people who use RVs for camping, and this is what they believe is camping: camp spot number sixty-six, you know, a piece of cement with a table.  Well, it’s very interesting that this is the locus point, the central point for finding the most psilocybin active mushroom species in the world, psilocybe azurescens.  So, if you go to Fort Stevens State Park, or adjacent parks in that area, you look for Winnebagos.  They’re indicator species of psilocybin mushrooms.

    I don’t believe these mushrooms are drugs.  I believe these mushrooms are mushrooms, and they have a drug-like effect.

    So why is this crystalline substance being produced?  Terrance and others have spoken to the fact that maybe the crystalline is being produced for the purpose of engaging human consciousness to make us aware of them so by spreading their spores it increases their evolutionary probability of survival.  You can argue this way back and fourth, but at the end of the day: it’s true.  These mushrooms are surviving now because of human intervention and interest. 

    We only know which mushrooms are poisonous from the unfortunate experiences of those people who have eaten them before us.  That may come as a shock to some of you who just came to this mushroom show, but how do we know if mushrooms are poisonous?  We only know if mushrooms are poisonous if someone gets sick or dies from them, or they experiment, that’s the reason why we know plants are edible…this ken of knowledge that we’ve developed over time, this experiential database.

     

     

    Wednesday
    Oct282015

    Exploring a Cove North of Jenner with Alan Watts*

                 You know we pick up shells – I always keep one around as sort of an example for many things – and say, “My goodness, isn’t that gorgeous? There’s not an aesthetic fault in it anywhere, it’s absolutely perfect.”  Now I wonder, I wonder if these fish look at each other’s shells and say, “Don’t you think she’s kind of fat?  Oh my, those markings aren’t really very well spaced.  Pssshhh.”  Cause’ that’s what we do, see we don’t realize that all of us in our various goings on and behaviors and so on are just as marvelous – more marvelous, much more complicated, much more interesting – all these gorgeous faces that I’m looking at, you know every one of them – some of them supposedly pretty, some are supposedly not so pretty, but they’re all absolutely gorgeous.  And everybody’s eyes is a piece of jewelry beyond compare. Beautiful. 

                                                         -Alan Watts, Every Incarnation is this One, from the Out of Your Mind lecture series

     

                  There is a cove north of the mouth of the Russian River at Jenner that is accessible by descending a steep trail along which lies a long rope that has been secured to a tree at the top of the cliff.  From the beach you will see spotted monk seals perched on the rocks beyond the shore of the cove.  The monk seals will perceive you as more of a curiosity than a threat if you slowly pick your way along the sand and rocks and tide pools (when you gaze into a healthy tide pool you will find a stirring galaxy of life), sometimes crawling on your hands and knees, looking for little treasures.  These sundry treasures are generally common and consist simply of little rocks and shells and the remnants of dead sea creatures.   Like all things, their significance is relative, and most people would consider these treasures worthless for they hold little to no monetary value.  Yet for those humans who appreciate the perfection and beauty expressed and embodied in a tiny shell, a purple crab claw, an abalone shell, or a piece of calcified coralline seaweed, there is great value in such objects.   The value is largely twofold:  the first lies in the reward of making the effort to go out and find such wonderful natural curiosities.  Though common in comparison to rare gems, rubies, and diamonds, finding a perfectly intact periwinkle turban snail shell, a bright pink chiton skeleton, or a preserved dead green urchin is a scarce event for even a daily beachcomber.  (In the book The Unnatural History of the Seas, marine biologist Callum Roberts describes the drastic decline of the diversity and abundance of life in the oceans over the recent decades, and notes that when sailors arrived in Monterrey Bay in the 18th century they smelled the breath of whales that thrived in the bay and sea.  I can only imagine what amazing sea creature remnants must have washed ashore prior to a century ago, especially during prehistoric eras.)  Granted one is not excavating the earth or crawling through mines the find these seashells and rocks as is required to mine for diamond or gold, but the search for the perfect crab carapace can be more difficult than going to a jewelry store and picking out a ring.  Secondly, these items hold value because, aside from the rocks, they were once living organisms or a part thereof.  Life is sacred and transient, and these seashells and dead sea creatures which have washed up along the shore are mementos mori – symbolic reminders of our mortality - and in their preserved beauty and ongoing ecological role they demonstrate that even in the process of death lies purpose and absolute perfection.   

               The meaning as well as the existence of an individual person or organism is in relation to the context.  You are what you are, sitting here at this moment in your particular kind of clothes and with the particular colors of your faces and your particular personalities, your family involvements, your business involvements, your neuroses and your everything – you are that precisely in relation to an extremely complex environment.  So much so that if – let’s take for example this piece of wood that forms the support to the beam out here, now believe me this is true, you can that has little nubbles on it and so on – if it were not the way it is, you would not be the way you are.  The line of connection between what it is and you are is very, very complicated.  Also we could say that if a given star that we observe didn’t exist you would be different from what you are now.  I don’t say you wouldn’t exist, but you would exist differently.  But you might say that “the connection is very faint, it’s something that you don’t ordinarily have to think about, it’s not important,” but basically it is important, only you say, “I don’t have to think about it because it’s there all the time…”  Our subtle interdependence with…the kind of existence we have is dependent on all these things.  The fundamental things is that existence is relationship.

                                                         -Alan Watts, Understanding the Unitive World, from the Out of Your Mind lecture series

     

               …So what I’m pointing out to you is that this basic seeing that it’s all “dat, dat, dat,” provides a possibility for you to become involved in it much more incautiously than you normally are; to express feeling, to love, to throw yourself at the mercy of the goings-on completely, you see.  So that this very perception of the illusion makes it possible to live up the illusion!  And so if someone therefore is always in his attitude to life detached and reserved, it indicates, you see, that there’s still a primordial fear of getting involved, and I must say that I can’t understand that very well.  I don’t understand what people expect that a so-called enlightened person should not need this, that, and the other – it might beautiful surroundings, it might be the love of the opposite sex, it might be I don’t know what.  Of course shouldn’t need that.  Well in other words you should scrub everything down to basic basic, and the end of that is, you know, let’s scrub the planet, let’s get all this disease called life off it and have a nice clean rock.  I believe in color!  I believe if you’re going to do anything in the way of the illusory dance let’s live it up, let’s really do it, and let’s not take ourselves so damn seriously that we have to be scrubbed all the time of any ornamentation or frivolity.

                                                                                                -Alan Watts, This is the Game, from the Out of Your Mind lecture series


                           I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing – something to be condemned – to take your own individual life seriously in dead earnest, and to have all the problems that go with that.  Do understand that being that way, that being a real mixed-up human being is a manifestation of nature that is something just like the patterns on the waves out here, or like a sea shell.  You know we pick up shells – I always keep one around as sort of an example for many things – and say, “My goodness, isn’t that gorgeous? There’s not an aesthetic fault in it anywhere, it’s absolutely perfect.”  Now I wonder, I wonder if these fish look at each other’s shells and say, “Don’t you think she’s kind of fat?  Oh my, those markings aren’t really very well spaced.  Pssshhh.”  Cause’ that’s what we do, see we don’t realize that all of us in our various goings on and behaviors and so on are just as marvelous – more marvelous, much more complicated, much more interesting – all these gorgeous faces that I’m looking at, you know every one of them – some of them supposedly pretty, some are supposedly not so pretty, but they’re all absolutely gorgeous.  And everybody’s eyes is a piece of jewelry beyond compare. Beautiful.  But we have specialized in a certain kind of awareness that makes us neglectful of that.  You see we specialize in more or less briefly concentrated, pin-point attention.  We look at this and we look at that, and we select from all the things we might possible be aware of, only certain things.  And as a result of that, we leave out of our everyday consciousness, generally speaking, two dimensions of experience;  one: amazing beauty of experience that we never see at all, and on the other hand, a very deep thing:  the sense of our basic identity, unity with, oneness with the total process of being.  See, because we are staring, as it were, at certain features of the landscape, we don’t see the background.  And because we get fascinated with – you know I could go into details of this shell, as I said, and put myself in the mind of a conch or whatever it is that lives in this thing and say, “Hmm, that’s not so not hot that one,” Like that you see?  And so, I wouldn’t see the whole thing!  But when I look at it like this, when anybody looks at it like that we say, “Oh my God isn’t that gorgeous?”

                                                -Alan Watts, Every Incarnation is this One, from the Out of Your Mind lecture series

     

    *Sometimes when I’m driving somewhere fun, I imagine that Martin Luther King is sitting shotgun and that Alan Watts, Ron Paul, and Carl Sagan are sitting in back, and we’re all just goofing around. 

    Wednesday
    Sep092015

    The Newts of El Corte de Madera Creek and Why Humans are Overrated

            Nestled in the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains lies the sleepy El Corte de Madera Creek.   Before merging with the San Gregorio Creek, which flows out to the vast Pacific Ocean where men in boats and planes are currently searching for a blue whale entwined in fishing line and subsiding somewhere in the depths of the deep blue sea, the Corte Madera Creek cuts through an “open space preserve” in the dense foothills of the Kings Mountain.  The trailhead is accessible from Sweet Road off Skyline Boulevard.   

                The meandering trail descends two-miles through the forest before reaching the creek, which serves as a stream of life for the plants and animals that depend on the water for their existence and survival.  Towering above the creek are redwood tree canopies. Ablaze in the sunlit heat of a summer drought and home to hawks and owls and squirrels, these trees are intermittently nourished by the coastal fog which recedes and burns off in the day.  Three-hundred feet below the treetops lies the creek, which is a riparian, semi-aquatic world unto itself, flowing in slow motion through the tranquility of the watershed.  A prolific population of newts thrives here.  They are seen clambering over each other, playing grab-ass, clumsily lumbering over the moss-covered stones, tumbling over the edges of rocks, and then toppling into the water or onto the dry creek bed, often landing on their backs or on their heads (I realize they wouldn’t have done that if they weren’t running from me).  They look like little dinosaurs; slow to a fault on land but agile as serpents in the water where they float suspended and buoyant in mid-water until they notice you approaching and then sink slowly and vertically out of sight into the murky, clay-rich depths.  They are ridiculously cute and in a way they lead very simple lives: eating the gnats, water striders, and other insects that subsist on the water and on the banks of the creek.  They will hunker down in the rainy season, when the gentle creek will transform into a powerful channel of water which will burst apart the natural dams of fallen trees and javelin-sized branches that have accumulated over the past year and are leftover from erstwhile floods.  The raging water will carry the forest debris out to the boundless ocean, where the water molecules will one day condensate and rise up forming the clouds from which rain may again fall upon the earth to become the selfsame creekwater flowing across the stones that will gradually erode away entirely and altogether be washed out to sea to begin the process anew until the Earth itself dies and the sun implodes in a glorious supernova and the ashes and particulate matter of our long-dead corpses are mixed with that of the newts and are sent flying into space to eventually form new stars and planets that will repeat this cycle infinitely or until the universe ends.

              There’s something comforting about knowing that the newts are there – removed from the monstrous highways of the Bay Area, the dismal and identical business parks, the ever-expanding network of air-conditioned buildings and cookie-cutter houses, the millions of people with their millions of first-world problems – and the newts are just relaxing and wandering around harmlessly under the sun and stars on this little creek which comprises the extent of their known world which lies on a much larger world drifting solitaire through space.  Humans, understanding that we are different from other creatures because we are conscious of our own existence and have consciences, in our infinite wisdom, often make the mistake of assuming that because we’re the most intelligent of Earth’s species that we’re also the most highly evolved.  But the newts have had much more time to evolve than us, and this shows with their highly advanced biological capabilities.  These amphibians breathe underwater by absorbing diffused oxygen through their skin; incredibly, they can regenerate their limbs, eyes, spinal cords, and vital organs.  The newts in the photos are called rough-skinned or fire-belly newts, and the toxin they’re capable of secreting from their skin is potent enough to kill an adult person if ingested (Native Americans would use their toxins as a poison).  Banana slugs also populate the creek bed, and if you get down on your hands and knees and you will see the way these mucosal creatures extend and retract their slimly eyes, something way beyond the reach of human capability (I can only think of one human appendage that can so readily enlarge).  The hawks living the treetops above the creek can see eight times sharper than a human with 20/20 vision, and the owls can rotate their heads 270 degrees and have extraordinary night vision, plus they both can fly.  I’m not sure what the squirrels can do other than jump well, but the spiders who have weaved webs on the ferns have eight eyes, and the silk they produce from their bodies constitutes one of the toughest biological materials on Earth. 
                On this planet there are manifold creatures possessing exceptional skills that greatly exceed the capabilities of the most talented of us puny humans whom they often put to shame but are too humble to rub it in our faces. (Just imagine what the animals on other distant planets in outer space are capable of doing.)  Here, there are shrimp that can emit bursts of bioluminescence from their mouths; there are termites that can blow themselves up using the chemicals in their bodies (eat your heart out ISIS); not only can it change colors and textures, but the mimic octopus can impersonate various predators and prey that live in its surroundings; the immortal jellyfish can transform back into a polyp, effectively reverting to a previous stage of its life where it then releases genetically identical medusae of the former adult, and it can do this repeatedly and indefinitely.  Snakes, vampire bats, and numerous insect species can detect infrared radiation, and dogs and cats can see ultraviolet light (whereas humans are limited to seeing only visible light on the electromagnetic spectrum).    Lastly, these animals have acquired a skill that we modern humans seem incapable of learning: the ability to live in harmony with their environment and not to take what they do not need. 
               Yet despite all their uncanny powers, these animals cannot arrest the rate at which humans are destroying the habitats that they depend on for survival.  Despite their incredible defense mechanisms and prowess for adaptability, they cannot change the reality that nearly 200 plant and animal species are wiped off the face of the Earth each day (this is 1,000 times the rate of natural extinction).  Ultimately, if this madness of environmental destruction persists, if we allow the dark allegiance of corporate, military, and government forces to continue to kill innocent people and creatures, we’ll be pulling the rug out from beneath ourselves and it will be too late to prevent our own extinction, for we will have irrevocably wrecked the support system that our lives depend on.  I can think of no greater tragedy for humanity than for our species to carry out the systematic destruction of oursevles and the creatures inhabiting the natural world – all of which have a right to live their lives fully and are entitled to be here – with full knowledge that we could have prevented this terrible disaster from unraveling in the first place.  Yet when all is said and done and the last human being breathes their final breath on Earth, and when there is not a single person left here, I have a feeling that the newts will still be there at the creek, lumbering around aimlessly, living beneath the sun and stars.

    Tuesday
    Jun162015

    Pilgrimage to Southern Utah - BYOB

              There may be some among the readers of this book, like the earnest engineer, who believe without question that any and all forms of construction and development are intrinsic goods, in the national parks as well as anywhere else, who virtually identify quantity with quality and therefore assume that the greater the quantity of traffic, the higher the value received. There are some who frankly and boldly advocate the eradication of the last remnants of wilderness and the complete subjugation of nature to the requirements of – not man – but industry. This is a courageous view, admirable in its simplicity and power, and with the weight of all modern history behind it. It is also quite insane. I cannot attempt to deal with it here.

                                                                                                                                                        -Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

     

                Beyond the electric confines of the Las Vegas strip, beyond the suburban grid which surrounds that festering, star-crossed city, lie the purple plateaus and crimson deserts of the American Southwest.  Follow the highways and power lines extending north-east through sleepy, podunk, one-horse methtowns in the humdrum state of Nevada, past rock-strewn valleys, beneath buzzards wheeling over the crumbling ridges of ancient canyon walls which tower above the meandering interstates of western Arizona, through the static of the desert air humming with charged particles in anticipation of the monsoon reckoning brewing on the distant horizon, where bolts of lightning whip across dark clouds emitting tendrils of rain, and then head due north in a gradual incline toward the colorful landscapes of Southern Utah.



                Before exploring the wonders of Zion and Bryce, let us first examine one of the many places where the desert has been severely molested and disfigured by men and machines.  An hour east of Kanab lies Lake Powell, an unnatural reservoir which emerged from the construction of the loathsome Glen Canyon Dam.  The dam cut off the flow of the Colorado River and inundated a portion of desert, thus creating the artificial lake and transforming a formerly pristine area of land into a giant water park and sand box for those inclined to ride around on ATVs, jet skis, or float about lethargically on obscene houseboats that sink lower each year as the water level drops.  Despite the dark history of the anomalous lake and the ambient drone of motor boats and recreational vehicles, the place is a vast and surreal dreamscape of undeniable beauty, where billowing clouds drift through blue oasis skies and solitaire sandstone buttes rise up from the peripheral mesa like castles or Mesopotamian ziggurats.  Lake Powell may be accepted into one’s life similarly to how a parent would accept a mentally-disabled step-child into theirs: with sympathetic love and the knowledge that they have inherited a mutilation spawned by no fault of their own, but alas the imbecile child has nevertheless become and shall remain their responsibility.   Yet there can be no forgiveness for the abominable dam, the progenitor of maladies, for it has sown needless death and serves to perpetuate centrally-controlled systems of institutionalization and modern serfdom.  There may indeed come a time when it becomes necessary and right to restore the balance of nature and dismantle the Glen Canyon Dam – an action which may be akin to pulling the plug on a vegetated relative, or when a person suffering from terminal brain cancer exercises their right to die and commits suicide – thus putting Lake Powell out of its misery and allowing for life on the river to return and once again flourish in peace.  Edward Abbey’s superb novel The Monkey Wrench Gang revolves around the efforts of four intrepid protagonists to defend the Southwest against the hellish forces of industrialism, including the environmental afflictions associated with the Glen Canyon Dam.  In the book there’s a scene where one of the main characters, a Mormon nicknamed Seldom Seen Smith, kneels down on the bridge above the dam and prays to God, saying:

              Dear old God, you know and I know what it was like here, before them bastards from Washington moved in and ruined it all. You remember the river, how fat and golden it was in June, when the big runoff come down from the Rockies?  Remember the deer on the sandbars and the blue herons in the willows and the catfish so big and tasty and how they’d bite on spoiled salami?  Remember that crick that come down through Bridge Canyon and Forbidden Canyon, how green and cool and clear it was?   God, it’s enough to make a man sick.  Remember the cataracts in Forty-Mile Canyon? Well, they flooded out about half of them.  And part of the Escalante's gone now – Davis Gulch, Willow Canyon, Gregory Natural Bridge, Ten-Mile.  Listen, are you listenin’ to me?  There's something you can do for me, God. How about a little old pre-cision-type earthquake right under this dam?  Okay?  Any time.  Right now for instance would suit me fine.


                Heading back toward Kanab, one passes the vermillion cliffs of the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument.  Along the desert road the cliffs provide an animated backdrop in which a zealous and wild-eyed coyote has hardly finished painting a tunnel on to the rock wall before a giant blue roadrunner zoomed through with such incredible speed that the pavement curled and folded in its wake, and the coyote, having put on roller skates, lit the fuse of a large rocket that he had strapped to his back and then blasted off in attempt to pursue the roadrunner through the tunnel, but he exploded upon hitting the painted wall of solid rock.  In Bryce Canyon National Park, a similarly fantastical landscape exists and contains an array of gravity-defying rock formations (bridges, arches, and hoodoos) studding the canyons of the Paunsaugunt Plateau like Cappadocian fairy chimneys, gargantuan termite mounds, or terracotta stalagmites taller than the moai sentinels of Easter Island.   In this wild limestone labyrinth, your spirit animal may appear (mine was a chipmunk) to explain that upon closer inspection the microcosmic features of the rocks contain miniature arches and caverns and hoodoos, worlds unto themselves; fractals which seemingly manifest the exact physical characteristics of the greater structure they comprise.

                Zion National Park is a geological wonderland; an epic realm of domes and basins, crevasses and arches, (composed of sandstone, mudstone, shale, rubble, and fossils), rivers and streams and grottos.  Swallows soar through the sunlit chasms of the immense canyons and dark pine trees grow from the cracks of stratified red cliffs that mountain goats pick their way across.  Keep venturing up the staircase, out of Zion proper and toward Kolob Canyons where prairies flourish and huge mounds of earthen rock bedeck the isolated frontier like giant versions of the Flintstones house.  In the lofty Kolob Canyons, where stands of trembling aspens grow, the elevation is 8,000 feet.  After dusk a purple twilight falls across the sprawling panorama of ancient canyons and Jurassic plateaus (part of a system of prehistoric lakes which existed 90 million years ago), and the ghostly skeletons of dinosaurs rise from the earth, shake the dust off their bones, and roam through the moonscape of their past.

      
            That places like these exists is a marvelous thing; that myriad natural wonders of tantamount beauty exist on Earth is another marvelous phenomenon; that you and I are alive and are able see and experience these gorgeous places under the sun, beneath the seas, and surrounded by stars is an absolute and miraculous gift that we should constantly seize upon every chance we get.  We should be thanking our lucky stars that we are alive and free to explore.  Yet it is not enough to simply enjoy these wonders; we must fight for them and for the freedom of those who cannot themselves fight.  And that remains the subject of a different journal entry.  Until then, here’s a closing quote from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire:

              My God! I am thinking, what incredible shit we put up with most of our lives – the domestic routine (same old wife every night), the stupid and useless degrading jobs, the insufferable arrogance of elected officials, the crafty cheating and the slimy advertising of the business men, the tedious wars in which we kill our buddies instead of our real enemies back in the capital, the foul diseased and hideous cities and towns we live in, the constant petty tyranny of automatic washers and automobiles and TV machines and telephone!

    Saturday
    May092015

    The Belize Barrier Reef - Part I

    Life is short, life is very short.  I like life, I like it.  I feel like that even if it ends of being short I got lucky because life is an amazing gift when you think about what you get with a basic life –not even a particularly lucky life, or a healthily life.  If you have a life it’s an amazing… Here’s your boiler plate deal with life, this is basic cable, what you get when you get life: you get to be on Earth – first of all, oh my God, what a location!  This is Earth, and for trillions of miles in every direction it fucking sucks so bad, it’s so shitty that your eyes bolt out of your head cause’ it sucks so bad.  You get to be on Earth and look at shit – as long as you’re not blind or whatever it is – you get to be here! 

                                                                                                                                                  -Louis C.K, Oh My God

    Out here in the great cosmic dark there are countless stars and planets, some far older than our solar system.  Although we cannot yet be certain, the same processes which lead on Earth to the origin of life and intelligence should have been operating throughout the cosmos.  There may be a million worlds throughout the Milky Way galaxy alone which are at this moment inhabited by other intelligent beings.  What a wonder, what a joy it would be to know something about non-human intelligence…  And we can.  Here is an exotic, inhabited world mostly covered with a liquid.  We seek the dominant intelligence that lives beneath its fluid surface.  This ocean of liquid water, kilometers deep, is teeming with strange forms of life.  There are communities of transparent beings, there are societies of creatures which communicate by changing the patterns on their bodies, there are beings that give of their own light, there are hungry flowers that devour passers-by, gesticulating trees, all manner of creatures that seem to violate the boundaries between plants and animals.  There are beings that flutter through the ocean like waltzing orchids.  These are a few of the species that inhabit the water world called Earth.

                                                                                                                                                  -Carl Sagan, Cosmos

     

             Off the coast of Belize, beyond the little islands where puppies gnaw on coconut husks and where you are so far removed from your homeland that a nuclear bomb could have exploded there and you would not have known the difference, lies the second largest coral reef system on Earth (although coral reefs comprise less than one percent of the Earth’s crust, they’re home to nearly one-third of the world’s fish species).  The Belize Barrier Reef is bursting with life.  Beneath the skyblue waves, dazzling coral gardens flourish upon the seafloor and support a diverse array of strange, spectacular, and sentient creatures. 

             Corals are colonies of tiny polyps – animals with tentacles that vary in size and function.  While hundreds to hundreds of thousands of miniature polyps can join together to form coral (the living coral grow on top of the calcium carbonate skeletons of their dead predecessors), larger individual polyps may attach to rocks and live as solitaire entities known as sessile polyps (the sea anemone is one example of such).  Similarly, jellyfish start out as sessile polyps, but later transform into free-swimming medusa. (All jellyfish are also considered gelatinous zooplankton, a word derived from the Greek zoon, meaning “animal,” and planktos, meaning “drifter” or “wanderer.”)  Extensive connected networks of corals are called coral reefs, the three main types of which are fringing, atoll, and barrier reefs. 

                There are over 70,000 species of coral on Earth, and many vary drastically in their characteristics.  Hundreds of coral species – of different sizes, shapes, and colors – can thrive in a small section of reef, creating a smorgasbord of surreal patterns produced by breathing polyp colonies which bring the entire reef to life.  Brain coral is a type of stony coral which resembles a giant brain enveloped by an olive-green cerebral cortex.  Gorgonian sea rods branch upwards like aquatic cacti with slender arms that sway gently in the current.  The massive blade corals are hollow and shaped like pitcher plants, tremendous cauldrons, and upturned bells.  In the shallows, some sections of the coral garden have been trampled upon by human visitors and weathered by the elements, thus, swaths of dead coral fragments littering the seafloor have accumulated like rubble or shattered tombstones in submerged reef graveyards.


              In deeper parts of the reef, the coral gardens lie entirely intact and untouched.  Colorful coral species proliferate along the reef walls and glow brightly in trenches.  Divers are surrounded by a living world of fluorescent and breathing polyps which induce a psychedelic and hallucinatory sensation, as though you were swimming through a dream.  Upon the seafloor the coral structures rise up like great pillars and enormous mushrooms, and along the shelf of the reef the formations resemble castle towers or grails bedecked with gems.  Denizens of this coral city of Atlantis include enormous loggerhead turtles that speed through the water like submersibles.  Moray eels, nurse sharks, and sting rays glide and taxi through seafloor crevasses with such hurried intent it is as though they were late for their appointments on the other side of town. Barracuda, jacks, and tarpon – massive, silver fish – jet through the water like apparitions and torpedoes.  Shrimp, wrasse, lobsters, clams, and sea snails seek coverage in the protective ninches of the coral, and at night octopi and squid emerged to hunt with their lurid green eyes and color-changing chromatophores which pulse across their camouflaged and shape-shifting bodies.  The reef is a place of supreme beauty where saltwater species which have managed to survive for hundreds of year millions of years (jellyfish were around 500 million years ago) by virtue of perfecting their evolutionary skills demonstrate just how awesome life is on Earth, which is in of itself an absolute and mind-blowing miracle.