“Because revolutions don’t only spread like wildfire, they spread like forests and especially trees. An old tree puts out many seeds that become saplings that become trees of their own. And then those trees put out more seeds, more saplings, more trees, and next thing you know the world is a forest again.”
A brief tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin, from Rhyd Wildermuth
“To die was merely to go on in another direction.”
Ursula K. Le Guin has died. Or returned. Or really, she’s merely gone off in another direction.
There will be a thousand tributes and remembrances to her. You should read them all, even if you’ve never read her work. Especially if you’ve never read her work. Because you’ve no doubt noticed all the really cool inspiring mystical/anarcho/revolutionary sorts you know are all in tears right now, like they’re mourning their favorite grandmother.
Because we are.
Ursula K. Le Guin was like a grandmother, but also like a tree. Trees can be grandmothers, you know, and they often are. Because trees don’t just grow and die, they do lots of other stuff in their very long lives. They shade the ground, shelter and feed small animals and birds. The leaves they drop compost into more soil, while their twigs and branches get gathered for nests. And their roots, oh those roots. They hold the earth together around them, even long after the tree itself has died.
But what trees also do in their long lives is make more trees. Unlike humans who make more humans, trees scatter their children everywhere. The wind shakes their branches and more trees happen thousands of feet away. A bird plays in their branches and then flies miles away and more trees happen there, too. And then those trees that happen from that first tree live long lives, shelter and feed animals, hold the earth together, and then also make more trees happen.
Le Guin was like a tree. When I first saw her at a reading in the crammed back room of a bookstore, I didn’t just see a woman there, nor did my companions.
“She’s like an ancient tree” one of my friends whispered. “It’s like a tree lived for a thousand years and decided to walk around and write and tell us stuff.”
My friend was right. And also wrong, because she was a human. But actually what’s the difference? Because trees and humans aren’t so different, and the truth of the matter is not for science and logic to decide but for art.
“I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. The only truth I can understand or express is, logically defined, a lie.”
Le Guin was a grandmother tree and not a grandmother tree. Or maybe great-grandmother tree and not great-grandmother tree, because who knows yet how many generations of other trees happened because of her? So many ideas happened because she happened, so many worlds.
Many of the tributes to her will be about how she inspired the fiction of many others (ahem–wizard school, a matter she herself shrugged off and laughed about, because ideas didn’t belong to people anymore than trees belonged to their grandmothers who themselves were grandchildren).
But what shouldn’t be under-stated is how much she inspired those of us who learned fiction could tell the truth, and truth could be completely fiction, and the difference didn’t matter nearly as much as people like to think.
For a long time as a writer she fought the demands of literary critics and the publishing industry to define her books according to a marketing category. Science Fiction. Fantasy. Why were both different from fiction in general? They were all beautiful lies telling the truth; some had imaginary dragons, some had imaginary people, but it was all imaginary.
And of course if it was all imaginary, yet we also found truth in it, then what does imaginary actually mean? And who decides?
Well–we decide. That was always her point anyway, wasn’t it? That was her point about capitalism as well (because she was as anti-capitalist as they get, though you might not always notice from the big-name tributes). And about anarchism (yeah, she was one of those too). And really her point about love, and gender, and everything.
We decide. We make the world. But sometimes people get in the way, particularly greedy people who profit off others’ suffering. And so we have to stop them, but without imagining that stopping them will make every problem go away:
There would not be slums like this, if the Revolution prevailed. But there would be misery. There would always be misery, waste, cruelty. She had never pretended to be changing the human condition, to be Mama taking tragedy away from the children so they won’t hurt themselves. Anything but. So long as people were free to choose, if they chose to drink flybane and live in sewers, it was their business. Just so long as it wasn’t the business of Business, the source of profit and the means of power for other people.
Le Guin never coddled us as she led us through the worlds she created, never tried to make the paths through forests clean of debris. The truth was beautiful and messy, beautiful because it was messy, messy because it was beautiful. The Dispossessed, more than any other work, made sure we knew just what liberation looks like, as did her short story about the founder of the world that book speaks of:
“What is an anarchist? One who, choosing, accepts the responsibility of choice.”
Most of the best quotes are from that short story, most of these quotes are, too. And here’s where I start to cry while I type. Because sometimes a thought would come into my head: there will be a day without Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a funny thought to have, one I’d have quite often. And it turns out I am not the only one, either–so many of my friends have said the same thing.
It’s because of that story. But also because grandmother trees will not always be around, even if the forest that rose up around them continues to grow. I’m part of that forest, and so are you. So is this site and publisher, so are quite a few others.
And it’s that story (gods I’m crying) that maybe made us think about how one day she would go in another direction. But also we would still be around, and that would mean something and so would her passing.
That story, The Day Before The Revolution, tells the last day of the woman who changed a world. And of course Le Guin changed a world already, but maybe is about to change it even more. How she already changed it will take thousands of tributes (and again, read them all). How she is maybe about to change the world even more, well–I think we will see very soon.
She was and wasn’t a grandmother tree. She wasn’t Odo, the mother of the revolution, but maybe she also was. Because revolutions don’t only spread like wildfire, they spread like forests and especially trees. An old tree puts out many seeds that become saplings that become trees of their own. And then those trees put out more seeds, more saplings, more trees, and next thing you know the world is a forest again.
“Tomorrow? Oh, I won’t be here tomorrow,” she said brusquely. Whoever had asked her smiled, another one laughed, though Amai glanced round at her with a puzzled look. They went on talking and shouting. The Revolution. What on earth had made her say that? What a thing to say on the eve of the Revolution, even if it was true.”
If you’ve never read Ursula K. Le Guin, here’s a short list of recommendations on where to start.
Changing Planes: a really accessible collection of short stories about other worlds all threaded together. Some of them will make you cry.
The Wizard of Earthsea: the first of her Earthsea books, a gorgeous story that doubles as an ethics manual for magic.
The Birthday of the World: Another collection of short stories. Again, some will make you cry.
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, The Day Before The Revolution, and The Dispossessed: these three pieces (the first two are short stories, the last is a novel) outline maybe the best theory of anarchism ever written.
Gifts/Voices/Powers (“Annals of the Western Shore”): three ‘young adult’ novels that I really wish had been around when I was a teenager.
The Left Hand of Darkness: one of the many novels that takes place in her “Hainish Cycle.” Explores what would happen if sex was only something you did, never something you were.
After 15 years of living abroad, I came back to my childhood home to find the front-yard treeless. The house was not big; one-story, 2 bedrooms, and a 30 by 15 meter yard; in Itaipú, Niterói. The yard had lots of trees: mango, java plum, hog plum, acerola, banana, and all sorts of miscellaneous bushes. Had. First, the bushes went away to make way for pavement. Then, an extra bedroom replaced the banana and the acerola trees. Now, one mango tree stands alone caged by concrete. I cried. I didn’t cry because I’m attached to things in general. After living in 3 different continents and I-don’t-know-how-many cities, I’m very used to leaving things I care about behind- houses, records, pets, books, routines, loved ones, familiar languages, cultures, etc. So, if something being gone truly breaks my heart, it’s because it runs deep.
The mango, java plum, and hog plum trees were massive; imagine these 40 year old trees (at least) forming a triangle and interlacing branches like comrades in peaceful but epic resistance. We used to put 2 hammocks between the 3 trunks, and lay all day talking and drinking mango juice. As a kid I thought I was the most radical athlete when I climbed on the thick branches to pick the mangoes before they fell on the floor (and bruised or cracked open). That was until I found one already cracked open while still hanging, with juice dripping down and a tiny spider with giant colorful legs sucking on it. It was scary, and confusing. How could a spider slice through the thick skin of a mango? I mean, the tear was bigger than the spider itself. It must have been the Chupacabra. Every night since, I’d see the swift black shadows of fruit bats and I was convinced it was the alien goat-blood sucking monster in the news. Of course, it was the 90’s; we had the X-files, and sensationalist Brazilian “news” shows with reenactments of real people’s accounts (you can probably tell I kind of still want to believe). When I asked the new tenants why they cut down all those trees, they said it was because they were afraid of the bats (I was also scared- as a child; that doesn’t mean- chop it down).
If people can relate to my sorrow in the microcosm of a front-yard, then I hope they can imagine this sorrow in the context of the most bio-diverse country in the world, as well as the country with the highest rate of deforestation. What leads people to want to cut down trees? Literal slash-and-burn techniques used to make cattle ranches, with the help of soy-bean farms, were responsible for the obliteration of 13% of the largest rain forest in the world, just like that, up in smoke. All of that for beef? It has got to make you wanna cry, or curse, or both.
There is no need to go to the Amazon to see this kind of senseless destruction happening. The Flamengo park in Rio de Janeiro is a good example of the brutal way in which landscaping is done in Brazil. The ‘Santo Antonio’ hill was dismantled with high pressure water to make way for a road, which they describe as urban evolution. The rumble was used for the landfill, on which the Flamengo Park was built. The flora in this park was carefully selected out of a catalog by Brazil’s most renowned landscape artist, Burle Marx. The only things that survived the dismantling of the hill were a convent and a church, because they are considered “exceptional works of art” from Rio’s colonial era. The lake that used to be on that hill and the site of one of Rio’s first favelas were not worthy of preservation. In this fashion, Burle Marx pioneered, or shall I say paved the way for, Brazil’s modernist landscaping style, where we combine industrial urban development with a shallow concern for rain forest biodiversity preservation. In other words, we can turn lakes into landfills, obliterate mountains, and build roads, as soon as we also buy exotic plants and put them on display for tourists. This not only diminishes biodiversity to an angle in marketing strategy, it also does real damage to preservation efforts because it provides a fraudulent remedy for the issue of deforestation (we might as well sell ivory to raise money for an Elephant sanctuary or advocate for the bottling of water because we believe recycling is good).
This landscaping style is also adopted in the context of people’s personal homes and neighborhoods, even when they don’t have the resources to buy replacement plants. A biology professor active in Brazil’s South East region told me that people ask her to sign off on urban planning permits that seek to chop down trees for the most ridiculous reasons: birds poop on cars, fruit falling damages cars, fear and/or distaste for the animals the fruits attract, youngsters go under that tree to make out (!), and so on. Showing an even more disturbing aspect of this government-issued urban planing strategy, she told me that it turns out that while these officials take down trees, they also issue grossly overpriced seedling reports where they most certainly keep the difference as hidden personal assets. For me, the most tragic aspect of this type of corruption is that, in the end, Indigenous people are the ones who earn the reputation of being opportunist (as I’ll discuss in the following section).
Rescuing Indigenous Heritage
Itaipú (the neighborhood of my childhood home) is also a site of Indigenous heritage. It’s located around the Itaipú lake, which unites Itaipú beach, and Camboinhas beach. An upper class wave of Rio de Janeiro’s real estate developers decided to turn some land around the lake (Dunes and such) into a fancy beach condo complex. The problem is that there was an Indigenous tribe living there, and it’s a Sambaqui, meaning- a sort of sacred Indigenous burial ground where no people are buried, but are massive piles of molluscs and shells on which ancient humans lived. These Sambaquis exist all across the coast of Brazil, and they are evidence of human life in the region way before colonial occupation, because these clustered artifacts were the leftovers of what people were eating. This Sambaqui in Camboinhas in particular is the oldest of the state of Rio de Janeiro, dating back over 7 thousand years.
Exactly 10 years ago, in 2008, the Indigenous settlement was set on fire, literally, in the sort of slash-and-burn technique we’ve seen be used before. No one was hurt, but they were forced to move. Now they are in Maricá, the next small town on the coast, after Niterói. I’ve been there this year, they are happy to deal with less harassment at this location, although Maricá’s politicians still argue fiercely about how much financial aid to provide them with (if any). Activists still struggle to save the lagoon, which is a sort of swamp rich in bio-diversity with crabs, frogs, and birds. Some say that the land on which my childhood home was built was once lake, that’s why there were crabs around sometimes (and why I have a crab tattoo).
Unfortunately, the resistance is well organized but at a disadvantage. In the past 10 years the government has made a tunnel through a giant rock, established a special (and expensive) ferry boat network, and is in the process of making an express bus lane to enable a much faster connection between the Itaipú/Camboinhas neighborhoods and Rio de Janeiro. It’s a matter of time until the condos are built. Furthermore, much of the public opinion in the area is that the Indigenous tribe was only in Camboinhas because they were interested in the high value real estate which they were occupying, as if they had some type of financial interest in being there. These are also people who claim that the arson case was a hoax to earn sympathy. Most people don’t even know there ever was an Indigenous tribe in the area, much less that arson happened, they just think that the tunnel is convenient.
Lies, Lies, and more Lies
The ability to manipulate public opinion is a technique Europeans mastered during colonialism, and, as you can see, still use today in the form of capitalist interests and corruption. In a previous article, I mentioned that my great-great-grandmother was an Indigenous woman that was “caught by lasso” to marry my great-great-grandfather. Though maybe not literally by lasso, consent between a white man and a woman of color was far from a worshiped value.
She was Caeté, a notorious tribe for forming an alliance with the French and becoming enemies of the Portuguese. More notorious was the story that the Caetés practiced cannibalism (this part is true), and ate a Portuguese Bishop called Sardinha (which means Sardine!). After the Portuguese won against the French, the Caetés were enslaved, and fantastic stories of the savagery of these people traveled throughout Europe, to even be illustrated by the Dutch artist Theodor de Bry.
It was only recently that the truthfulness of this story has been called into question. Bishop Sardinha was definitely killed, but apparently not by the Caetés. He might have been murdered by the Governor-General and his son, because he was not happy about how the colony was being run, and was planning to return to Portugal to share his criticisms with the Portuguese King (the bishop was much more religiously strict than other Jesuits; he opposed smoking and inter-racial sex, for instance).
The Governor-General, and especially his son, were certainly engaging in spiritually dubious behavior and did not want the gossip traveling back to the Portuguese royalty. So, they killed the bishop before he could return to Portugal, and framed the Caetés. For the Governor and his family, this was a win-win situation. The King wouldn’t find out what they were up to, and public opinion was shifted towards supporting the enslavement of the Caetés. The simple reason why it’s so difficult to find out what actually happened is because, with the Bishop dead and the Caetés extinct, the only people left to tell the story were the ones who had an interest in lying.
If we look back at 2017, particularly the frantic shift in public opinion over the world stage of politics, we can see this is very much still happening. From a reality show star being in charge of the biggest army in the world, and calling everything ‘fake news’ while giving fake information to journalists, to social media undeniably participating in extremely influential and politically relevant misinformation and censorship– it is evident that they are the ones with an interest in lying.
We’ve only got each other, and I believe the best way to make 2018 as good as it can be is by sticking together and listening to the voices that have an interest in uncovering the truth, as opposed to obscuring it. My article next month will expand on this topic by discussing the modern-day genocide and State terrorism the media enables by evading truth.
Mirna is an intersectional feminist and decolonial activist from Brazil currently investigating Indigenous heritage. She publishes zines (Something Printed for Reading), and organizes educational events (DIY Workshop).
The Pre-Sale for Anthony Rella’s Circling The Star is here.
Lamentar uma Árvore e Denunciar um Sistema
Depois de 15 anos morando no exterior, voltei para minha casa de infância para encontrar o jardim sem árvores. A casa não era grande; um andar, 2 quartos e um jardim de 30 por 15 metros quadrados; em Itaipú, Niterói. O quintal tinha muitas árvores: manga, jamelão, cajá, acerola, banana e vários tipos de arbustos. Tinha. Primeiro, os arbustos foram embora para dar lugar pra pavimento. Depois, um quarto extra substituiu a bananeira e a aceroleira. Agora, uma mangueira existe só, engaiolada em concreto. Chorei. Não chorei porque sou apegada à coisas em geral. Depois de viver em 3 continentes diferentes e eu-não-sei-quantas cidades, me acostumei a deixar coisas pelas quais tenho carinho pra atrás: casas, discos, animais de estimação, livros, rotinas, pessoas queridas, línguas familiares, culturas, e etc. Então, se a perda de algo verdadeiramente quebra meu coração, é porque ha um significado extremamente profundo.
As árvores de manga, cajá e jamelão eram enormes. Imagine essas árvores de 40 anos de idade (pelo menos) formando um triângulo e entrelaçando ramos como companheiras em resistência pacífica e épica. Costumávamos colocar 2 redes entre os 3 troncos e sentar o dia inteiro conversando e bebendo suco de manga. Quando criança, eu pensava que era atleta radical quando escalava nos ramos espessos para apanhar mangas antes que elas caíssem no chão (e se machucavam ou rachavam). Isso foi até que eu encontrei uma já rachada ainda pendurada, com suco escorrendo e uma pequena aranha com pernas gigantes e coloridas sugando. Foi assustador e confuso. Como uma aranha pode cortar a casca grossa de uma manga? Quer dizer, a rachadura era maior que a própria aranha. Deve ter sido o Chupacabra. Toda noite, eu via as rápidas sombras pretas de morcegos de frutas, e me convencia de que era o monstro alienígena chupador de sangue de cabra nas notícias. Claro, era a década de 90; nós tínhamos o X-Files e shows sensacionalistas de “notícias” brasileiras com testemunhos de pessoas reais (você provavelmente pode ver que eu ainda quero acreditar). Quando perguntei aos novos moradores da casa por que cortaram todas aquelas árvores, me disseram que era porque tinham medo dos morcegos (eu também tive medo – quando criança, isso não significa – matar).
Se as pessoas podem se identificar com a minha tristeza no microcosmo de um jardim pessoal, espero que possam imaginar essa tristeza no contexto do país com maior biodiversidade do mundo, também como o país com maior índice de desmatamento. O que leva as pessoas a querer cortar árvores? As técnicas de corte-e-queima utilizadas para fazer ranchos de gado, com a ajuda de plantações de soja, foram responsáveis pela obliteração de 13% da maior floresta tropical do mundo, simplesmente assim. Tudo isso por causa de bife? Tem que te fazer querer chorar, ou falar palavrão, ou os dois.
Não há necessidade de ir para a Amazônia para ver esse tipo de horrorosa destruição acontecer. O parque do Flamengo no Rio de Janeiro é um bom exemplo da maneira brutal em que o paisagismo é feito no Brasil. O morro de Santo Antônio foi desmantelado com água de alta pressão para dar lugar a uma estrada, o que descrevem como “evolução urbana”. O estrondo foi usado para o aterro, no qual o Parque do Flamengo foi construído. A flora deste parque foi cuidadosamente selecionada de um catálogo pelo paisagista mais famoso do Brasil, Burle Marx. As únicas coisas que sobreviveram o desmantelamento do morro foram um convento e uma igreja, porque são consideradas “obras de arte excepcionais” da era colonial do Rio. O lago que estava naquele morro, e o local de uma das primeiras favelas do Rio não eram dignos de preservação. Desta forma, Burle Marx foi pioneiro, ou devo dizer, pavimentou o caminho para o estilo de paisagismo modernista do Brasil, onde combinamos o desenvolvimento urbano industrial com uma preocupação superficial com a preservação da biodiversidade da floresta tropical. Em outras palavras, podemos transformar os lagos em aterros, destruir montanhas e construir estradas, assim que também compremos plantas exóticas para colocá-las em exibição para turistas. Isso não só reduz biodiversidade a um ângulo na estratégia de marketing da cidade, mas também causa danos reais aos esforços de preservação porque fornece um remédio fraudulento para a questão do desmatamento (como poderíamos também vender marfim para arrecadar dinheiro para um santuário de elefantes, ou apoiar o engarrafamento de água porque acreditamos que a reciclagem é bom).
Este estilo de paisagismo também é adotado no contexto das casas e bairros das pessoas, mesmo quando as pessoas não tem recursos para comprar novas plantas de um catálogo. Uma professora de biologia que atua na região Sudeste do Brasil me disse que as pessoas pedem para que ela assine licenças de planejamento urbano que procuram cortar árvores pelos motivos mais ridículos: pássaros fazem cocô nos carros, as frutas quando caem danificam carros, medo e/ou a aversão aos animais que os frutos atraem, jovens ficam se beijando em baixo da árvore (!), e assim por diante. Mostrando um aspecto ainda mais perturbador desta estratégia de planejamento urbano emitida pelo governo, ela me disse que enquanto estes funcionários derrubam árvores, eles também emitem relatórios de compra de novas mudas como se fossem mais caras do que realmente são, para poderem ficar com a diferença como bens pessoais. Para mim, o aspecto mais trágico deste tipo de corrupção é que, no final, os povos indígenas são os que ganham a reputação de serem oportunistas (como falo na seção seguinte).
Resgatando Patrimônio Indígena
Itaipú (o bairro da minha casa de infância) também é uma area de forte herança indígena. Está localizada ao redor da lagoa de Itaipú, que une a praia de Itaipú e a praia de Camboinhas. Uma onda de classe alta de desenvolvedores imobiliários do Rio de Janeiro decidiu transformar algumas terras ao redor da lagoa em elegantes condomínios de praia. O problema é que havia uma tribo indígena que vivia lá, e é um Sambaqui, que significa uma espécie de cemitério indígena sagrado, onde não há pessoas enterradas, mas são enormes pilhas de moluscos e conchas em que viviam indígenas. Esses Sambaquis existem em todo o litoral do Brasil, e são evidências da vida humana na região antes da ocupação colonial, porque esses artefatos agrupados eram os restos do que as pessoas estavam comendo. Este Sambaqui em Camboinhas em particular é o mais antigo do estado do Rio de Janeiro, com mais de 7 mil anos de idade.
Exatamente 10 anos atrás, em 2008, o assentamento indígena foi incendiado, literalmente, no tipo de técnica de corte-e-queima que vimos ser usada antes. Ninguém foi ferido, mas eles foram forçados a se mudar. Agora estão em Maricá, a próxima pequena cidade na costa, depois de Niterói. Estive lá este ano, eles estão felizes em lidar com menos assédio neste local, embora os políticos de Maricá ainda discutam ferozmente sobre quanta ajuda financeira lhes proporcionar (se alguma). Ativistas ainda lutam para salvar a lagoa, que é uma espécie de pântano rico em biodiversidade com caranguejos, sapos e pássaros. Alguns dizem que a terra em que minha casa de infância foi construída era uma vez lagoa, por isso havia caranguejos às vezes (e por que eu tenho uma tatuagem de caranguejo).
Infelizmente, a resistência está bem organizada, mas em desvantagem. Nos últimos 10 anos, o governo fez um túnel, estabeleceu uma rede especial (e cara) de barcas, e está em processo de fazer uma via de ônibus para permitir uma conexão mais rápida entre os bairros de Itaipú/Camboinhas e Rio de Janeiro. É uma questão de tempo até que os condomínios sejam construídos. Além disso, grande parte da opinião pública na área é que a tribo indígena estava apenas em Camboinhas porque estavam interessados no alto valor imobiliário que estavam ocupando, como se tivessem algum tipo de interesse financeiro em estar lá. Estas são também pessoas que afirmam que o caso de incêndio criminoso foi fabricado para ganhar simpatia. A maioria das pessoas nem sabem que já houve uma tribo indígena na área, muito menos que o incêndio aconteceu, apenas pensam que o túnel é conveniente.
Mentiras, Mentiras e mais Mentiras
A capacidade de manipular a opinião pública é uma técnica que os europeus dominaram durante o colonialismo e, como você pode ver, ainda usa hoje em forma de interesses capitalistas e corrupção. Em um artigo anterior, mencionei que minha bisavó era uma mulher indígena que foi “caçada a laço” para se casar com meu bisavô. Embora talvez não tenha sido literalmente a lasso, o consentimento entre um homem branco e uma mulher de cor estava longe de ser uma coisa praticada e valorizada.
Ela era Caeté, uma tribo notória por formar uma aliança com os franceses e se tornar inimiga dos portugueses. Mais notória foi a história de que os Caetés praticavam canibalismo (esta parte é verdade) e comeram um Bispo português chamado Sardinha. Depois que os portugueses ganharam contra os franceses, os Caetés foram escravizados e histórias fantásticas da selvageria desse povo viajaram por toda a Europa, inclusive foram ilustradas pelo artista holandês Theodor de Bry.
Foi apenas recentemente que a credibilidade desta história foi questionada. O bispo Sardinha foi definitivamente morto, mas aparentemente não pelos Caetés. Ele provavelmente foi assassinado pelo governador-geral e seu filho, porque ele não estava feliz com a forma como a colônia estava sendo executada e estava planejando voltar para Portugal para compartilhar suas críticas com o rei português (o bispo era muito mais religiosamente rigoroso do que outros jesuítas, ele se opôs ao tabagismo e sexo inter racial, por exemplo). O governador-geral, e especialmente o filho dele, certamente estavam envolvidos em comportamentos espiritualmente duvidosos e não queriam que as fofocas chegassem a realeza portuguesa. Então, eles mataram o bispo antes que ele pudesse voltar para Portugal, e escravizou os Caetés. Para o governador e sua família, esta foi uma situação duplamente vitoriosa. O Rei não descobriu o que eles estavam fazendo, e a opinião pública se enclinou em apoiar a escravização dos Caetés. A simples razão pela qual é tão difícil descobrir o que realmente aconteceu é porque, com o bispo morto e os Caetés extintos, as únicas pessoas que sobraram para contar a história eram aquelas que tinham interesse em mentir.
Se olharmos para 2017, particularmente a mudança frenética na opinião pública sobre o palco político mundial, podemos ver que isso ainda está acontecendo. De uma estrela de reality show gerenciando o maior exército do mundo e chamando de tudo “falsas notícias” e ao mesmo tempo fornecendo informações falsas aos jornalistas, as mídias sociais que inegavelmente participam de desinformação e censura extremamente influentes e politicamente relevantes – é evidente que estes são os que tem interesse em mentir. Nós só temos uns aos outros, e acredito que a melhor maneira de tornar o 2018 o melhor possível é se unir e ouvir as vozes que têm interesse em descobrir a verdade, ao invés de obscurecer-la. Meu artigo no próximo mês expandirá este tópico ao discutir o genocídio contemporâneo e o terrorismo de Estado que os meios de comunicação permitem por evadir a verdade.
Stories from the United Kingdom and my city this month.
A slithery return after 200 years
Lamprey, a very ancient fish with an eel-like appearance, have returned to multiple places in the UK where, in some cases, conditions were too terrible for them for 200 years. Pollution and blockages across the rivers had kept them away, but with cleaner water, and the removal of dams and other barriers, they are coming back.
“Now that water quality has improved and some of these barriers have been removed we are seeing lampreys return to the upper reaches of rivers such as the Ouse, Trent, and Derwent, where they were absent as recently as 30 years ago.”
An Environment Agency spokeswoman added that the eel-like creatures are returning “to their old slithering grounds”.
. . .
Several objects, such as weirs which block the fish’s passage, have been removed by the Environment Agency in England and innovations have been introduced to help them get past other structures, such as at Buttercrambe Weir on the River Derwent in Yorkshire where special ‘lamprey tiles’ have been laid.
Some species of lamprey are parasitic on other fish as adults, but in their larval form, they live and feed in the muck in the bottom of rivers. In the region I live, they were an important food, along with salmon, for many of the indigenous peoples; in the UK, they also played a traditional role, which may again some day be able to incorporate UK-local fish:
It was traditional for Gloucester to send a Christmas lamprey pie to the English and later the British monarch until 1836 when the practice was discontinued, except for coronations and jubilees. In 2012 a pie was sent to the Queen to mark the Diamond Jubilee but numbers of UK lampreys were so low that they had to be imported from the Great Lakes of North America.
The sequoias in Eastmoreland
There’s a neighborhood a bit south of where I live where two lots were bought earlier this year by a developer, who planned to build a couple of large new homes. On one of those lots were three very tall sequoias that were apparently planted in the mid-1800s.
The city made some changes in code recently that made it easier for developers to cut down trees, including really big, healthy, old trees – and the developer planned to do just that.
The neighborhood was upset. They tried to work out a deal with the developer, to buy the property from him – he asked for $900,000, $250,000 more than he’d paid for the properties. The neighborhood tried to come up with it, or at least some of it, but things weren’t looking so great.
Last week, it looked like the trees were finally going to be taken down, but people showed up, and police to “control the crowd” if necessary, and news trucks showed up, and then things calmed down, and then started up again when the developer fenced off the whole lot . . . and then a guy climbed one of the trees, with supplies and support to stay a while (I swear this really happened, this was not an episode of “Portlandia”), and so of course lots of police, along with private security, showed up, and one of the co-creators of “South Park” helped out financially, and there was lots of news and etc. and then finally the mayor (who lives in Eastmoreland) got the developer and some neighborhood people together to work out a deal that would stick. Here’s a decent summary (I’ve been following it via various media for the last week or two including a busy FB page).
So the current plan as I understand it is the trees are safe, though the neighborhood is working to raise money to pay off loans people are taking out to save them; the trees’ lot will become a park, and a different developer is going to build something on the other lot.
I weighed whether or not to write about this here – it is, after all, only 3 trees, in one of Portland’s wealthier neighborhoods, and it felt self-indulgent to write about something so local to me – but then I reread this article by one of the neighbors of the trees, written earlier this summer, and was reminded of a few things (emphasis added):
A friend who runs a portable sawmill heard about our fundraising efforts and said, “Spending that much money on saving three trees sounds nuts to me.” He pointed out that giant sequoias aren’t even native to this area. “Think of how many acres of native oak forest that money could save.”
I had struggled with this myself. Imagine all the other things one could do with that kind of money? But I give money to any number of causes about which the same criticism could be leveled—Kickstarter campaigns for films, animal rescue, etc. It would be a pretty self-defeating world if we didn’t try to solve smaller problems just because bigger ones are more deserving of our attention.
Still, what kind of solution was this? Who were we to try to pay off this developer? A story on OregonLive.com was littered with disparaging remarks about wealthy Eastmoreland residents throwing their money away. I could honestly see both sides. Why did these trees matter so much anyway? Their previous owners, who lived on the property for more than 60 years, didn’t seem to mind seeing them cut down, so who were we to complain?
But hold on, have you seen these frickin’ trees? Come take a look at them, please. Come over and tell me we’d all be better off if they were cut down to make room for a maximum-sized, Tudor-style house.
And it’s true: the “small” local victories are important, especially for the people most immediately affected by them, but I also find encouragement in them, as indications that people DO care, and care A LOT about their immediate environment, and the beings they share that space with, and I figure those folks are also probably involved in other, bigger-picture things, not just small, super-local actions that are easy for people to criticize (to say nothing of the local children who know and love these trees, who will grow up having seen a place saved).
(An interesting thing about the giant sequoias, and their not being native to Portland, is that in their native habitat, biologists are concerned they might not do well with climate change making things warmer and drier. Some conservationists have suggested that to save the species, it might be necessary to start intentionally planting them farther north than where they are in California, to places that will be more likely to provide them the moisture they need. So Portland might be a good place . . .)
Near the end of the article, the author writes:
In the middle of all this, Everett Custom Homes proudly announced it had received a “2015 Green Home Builder Award” from Earth Advantage Institute. At what point can we no longer greenwash away our footprints? What if those three giant sequoias represent a line in the sand in this rapidly transforming city?
City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and the Bureau of Parks and Recreation, said the city’s tree ordinance is broken and needs to be fixed.
On Monday, Fritz said she has asked city staff to propose an emergency fix to halt what she considers an urgent problem. The tree code adopted in January after years of deliberation made it easier to cut trees, rather than preserving them as city officials intended, she said.
During one of the weeks the protest over the sequoias was happening, another was happening elsewhere in town over three old Douglas-firs being cut/threatened with cutting by the same developer involved (I don’t know where things are with those trees).
So it appears that these two very local actions (and, I am certain, calls and letters to the city from people in other neighborhoods) helped draw attention to problems with the new code, which Commissioner Fritz says she would like to see a longer-term fix for, which will help other neighborhoods throughout the city, some of which have already seen big old trees cut this year due to the “broken” new code (some by the same developer).
“She was unstoppable. Not because she did not have failures or doubts, but because she continued on despite them.”
― Beau Taplin
I have just one topic to cover this month, because it is a big one – well, it is about big things, some of the biggest living things there are.
The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive has a mission to clone trees and plant them, to help restore forests with these cloned trees, and to maintain a genetic archive. The trees they are making the clones from are what they consider “champion trees,” being among the largest, and sometimes oldest, members of their species.
The man who started this project, David Milarch, grew up as the son of a nurseryman, and became one himself as an adult. His focus on cloning the big, old trees, however, came after a near-death experience in which he was told he had to come back, because he had work to do – and another, later visitation by beings who told him that this, cloning the champion trees, was what he had to do.
Many plants can be propagated – cloned – by taking cuttings. Many houseplants can be grown this way, a stem cut and placed in a glass of water, to develop new roots and become an entirely new plant that is a genetic clone of the original. Many trees can be cloned, too. Some plants need the cut end of the stem dipped in something that stimulates root growth, as water alone, or damp growth media won’t be quite enough (if you are DIYing, try adding a freshly cut willow branch to the water – willows are readily clonable with cuttings, and they produce root growth hormones that stimulate other plants, too).
However, while many biologists believed that cloning these trees was a good idea for genetic reasons, they also felt the big OLD trees were so difficult to clone it wasn’t practical: while they may still flower and produce fruit, old trees are very difficult to clone through cuttings.
Milarch set out to try anyway, because the power of the vision/encounter he had was so profound (he came out of the “visit” with 10 pages of hand-written notes and a powerful sense that this was the right thing to do) and over the years he and collaborators have had enough success to keep going, with 1,000s of saplings resulting.
Some of the logic is this: the really old trees are survivors. They have lived through hundreds, even thousands, of years on this planet. They did not succumb to insects, virus or fungal infection, or any previous climate fluctuation. And in the past 200 years, we have cut down absolutely MASSIVE numbers of old growth trees, reducing genetics that had survived for centuries, and had been contributing to the regrowth of the forests around them.
There is a very great deal we do not understand about trees or forests, and if these last old growth trees died, we would lose the ability to learn from their genetics – as well as their ability to keep contributing to the genetic pool. So in addition to making clones to help rebuild forests, by adding more sources of these genes back in, the project also functions as a living archive of genetic material.
I have lost track of what got me pointed toward this work originally, but at any rate, Jim Robbins, who writes for the New York Times, wrote an article on Milarch’s work in 2001, and then later found out the unusual back story motivating him. This later led to a book, The Man Who Planted Trees(Amazon link).
There’s a little Q&A with Robbins at the Amazon page, which includes this:
Q Why are trees important?
Milarch has often said that trees are more important than we know. And as I talked to scientists and read papers they confirmed that notion: we have underestimated the trees, vastly. They are a kind of eco-technology that sustains our lives here on the planet and that humans can’t duplicate. There is a whole range of ecosystem services provided by trees and forests that many people don’t know about. They filter our water and can clean up the nastiest kinds of toxic wastes. They soak up greenhouse gasses to mitigate climate change, protect us from harsh UV rays, and are a heat shield and natural air-conditioner for cities and suburbs. David Milarch talks about them as the filters of the planet. As we all know, when you take the filter out of your aquarium, the fish die.
I picked up the book recently, and it was really a remarkable read. There is a lot of really fascinating information in there about trees and forests – and a LOT of really incredible mystical goings-on and lucky meetings and synchronicities as well, not just with Milarch, but a number of people he has met and worked with on this work.
One of the things that struck me most were the sections talking about the chemicals trees (and other plants) emit into the air, and what the many impacts of those are, which includes the above-mentioned UV-protection. The tiny tiny particles of these vapors are sufficient to help block sunlight. The other impacts this mix of chemicals has on the rest of the ecosystem is little understood – but keeping in mind for how long we and everything else evolved in a rich mix of plant-emitted vapors, and how much of that has been changed so quickly, and it is a little frightening.
A lot of work in this field has been done by a botanist named Diana Beresford-Kroeger, who believes the role of the chemicals emitted by trees is overlooked and poorly understood. One of her books came to the attention of David Milarch’s wife, Kerry, who then passed it to him; they later met and she joined his project. One of Beresford-Kroeger’s beliefs is that the clouds of aerosols emitted by forests help to disinfect the air, in addition to passing on protective benefits to wildlife that come into contact with them. We know a small amount about how plants communicate to each other via airborne chemicals, but almost nothing about the impacts on us of these chemicals.
The impact trees have on water quality, and the creatures living in the water, is also important. Their importance for shading water, and filtering it through taking it up from theirs roots, is relatively well-known, but what trees put into the water can also be very important. From the book:
. . . Experiments have proven that [phytoplankton’s] numbers are greatly enhanced when iron is added to the ocean.
The importance of iron led one path-breaking scientist to make a unique connection. The Erimo Peninsula on the north coast of Japan saw its forests clear-cut and its hills turned into pasture long ago. The change drove off the schools of fish that once teemed there, and caused a decline in oyster populations. Katsuhiko Matsunaga, a Japanese marine chemist, spent years studying the relationships between forests and oceans. His key finding is that even where iron is abundant in parts of the ocean, it is oxygenated, which means it is not readily available for the tiny creatures. What can make iron available to phytoplankton to perform photosynthesis, however, is fulvic acid, one of several humic acids that comes from the decay of leaves and other organic matter. The ongoing, natural decomposition of centuries of tree leaves and other material on the forest floor, and the leaking, leaching, and washing of this chemical stew into the ocean, is vital to increasing coastal phytoplankton, and thus the things that eat them, and those that eat them, from oysters all the way to whales.
And forest restoration projects in this and other areas of Japan did lead to significant restoration of fish populations (here is a scientific paper about some of that work).
There are many great examples throughout the book about how trees can and are being used to help clean up waste and restore ecosystems, but what I found most incredible were the tree-saving stories. Among the more emotionally powerful things I read about, here are two.
In the old growth forests in California and Oregon, there are some massive stumps. The biggest trees white settlers found were highly targeted for lumber. Or to cut and take around and show people as a novelty. Some of those stumps were once extraordinarily large redwoods. Many trees, including redwoods, will clone themselves by sending up “suckers” from their bases. While the cut trees will never regain their previous size or strength, these stumps are not actually dead. Collaborating with a man who is really into finding big trees, some of the Archangel crew went to the Fieldbrook Stump, the remains of the oldest coastal redwood ever known, took cuttings, and were able to successfully clone it, along with several other redwoods – trees that were cut down in the 1890s, with diameters of 30 feet or more.
Sequoias are another species under threat; there are only about 10,000 trees, in not very many places. Sequoias like to be in moist conditions. Increasing drought, like we are likely to see more of due to global warming, is a threat to their species. In this book and in other places, I’ve read about about the debate about what to do about (and for) them in the future: Water them? Start planting them other places? Or leave them alone to adapt or die, because we may have to make tough choices like that?
There is a subdivision in California that was once a logging operation; it started in the 1940s, and the family cut pine, fir, and cedar. However, they never touched a sequoia on those 670 acres. (When Robbins asked the son of the original owner why, “he just smiled and said he didn’t know.”)
The Rouch family still owns over five hundred acres of the land, though, including a man-made lake that Sonny built himself and what David Milarch referred to as the Lost Grove of sequoias, which is right where it shouldn’t be, not below the tree line but at the very top of the mountain. . .
This grove is critical to the Ancient Tree Archive mission. “Sequoias like moist feet,” says Milarch, “but these trees are high and dry. They have adapted to dry conditions without much moisture and at the southern end of their range.” In other words, they could be a critical genotype for life on a hotter and drier planet.
So they took cuttings here, and from the Waterfall Tree, the 3,000 year old largest-diameter single-stem tree in the world and fifth-largest (by volume) sequoia, and after three months of careful work and prayer, got some of their clones to sprout.
The original old growth forests are effectively gone from many parts of the world; in the United States, they have been reduced to about 2% of their original size. But we can stop cutting them – and their family lines can keep going.
Milarch’s work started in the United States, but now collections of big tree genetics are occurring in Ireland (which has also seen massive destruction of its old growth forest), and there are plans to collect genetics from big old trees in many other places as well.
This effort is, to me, one of the most incredible examples of hope I have come across. It is a huge undertaking, with a lot of uncertainty involved (cloning success for the old trees is about 4%), and the results will not be truly understood for many, many decades, if not centuries. In the meantime, it is encouraging a deepening understanding of our biosphere and the intricacies of the ecosystems we live in, preserving life that could otherwise have been lost, and helping to provide for a better future for those who come after us.