Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Natural and Unnatural Disasters

I don't often quote the Bible, oh no. But today this is a perfect intro:

From Psalm 8:6 - "You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet."

Once upon a time it was quite fashionable to think of humans as the rulers of the earth. We were given the power, by God, to "control" nature. What a legacy to pass through generations of Jews, Christians - (and Muslims? Are there psalms in the Koran?) What a burden! What an impossibility.

After thousands of years of alleged dominion, suddenly during the 1960's and 1970's, environmentalism upset the biblical paradigm. Swamps became wetlands, jungles became rain forests, and suddenly human beings, instead of being rulers of the world via manifest destiny, became evil tyrants whose greed and thoughtlessness would eventually ruin the biosystems of our beautiful planet. All at once (or so it seems in retrospect) the prevailing thought form became all about living in harmony with nature.

But you know, it isn't possible for our species to live "in harmony" with tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic ash, earthquakes and Mama Gaia's other broad strokes. Mama Gaia is a big ole planet while we are a rather sturdy and clever species, but still small and short-lived by comparison.

It's no wonder that we, once upon a time at least, thought of God as a sociopath. When a tornado rips through the landscape, destroying everything, or a hurricane or earthquake levels all our structures, kills our beloveds, I can see how it would seem like divine punishment. I can see why we sacrificed animals, tried to appease this terrible God. We still use the language of the sociopathic God, i.e. "raging storm," "angry sky," "brutal wind," etc.

It's also no wonder that, once upon a time, we hoped to "control" the intensity of these events. I always say, when someone is maligning our species, that we didn't set out to control nature because of butterflies or soft spring breezes. Nope. It was the reality of natural disasters, disease, starvation, thirst, creepy bugs and snakes and such, that inspired us to at least try to put a damper on the unpredictabilities of our world. Partly survival instinct, partly empathy at work there - we hated to see the suffering that was the result of the natural course of things.

Of course that was foolish, grandiose, to imagine that we could become lords of the earth. I think in the 1960's we finally just gave up. Now, humiliated and disgraced by our pathetic efforts, we prefer self-loathing to the idea of admitting we just aren't big enough, smart enough or powerful enough to put a dent in the workings of this powerful, intense planet.

OK. I'm going on and on. I'll stop now. Reading about the Ruskin tornado, taking in my friends' stories about that terrible night, I'm thinking that in many ways our lives are defined by these unimaginable events. We get over it, mostly, well some of us do. But one of my friends who wrote about the tornado said that bringing back the memories had her in tears all day, even though the tornado ripped through Ruskin Heights in 1957. Still it gets to her. Wow.

I bow low before your omnipotence, Mama Gaia. With love and respect, oh yeah.


Minka said...

Harmony in nature? then we woul have to just admit that a certain number of people have to be hurt and killed in disasters to keep things in balance. We cannot really say tht, can we? - being a part of all this...

Rick said...

Mamma Gaia does have a way of putting things in perspective... yeah

Butternut Squash said...

Did I tell you about how the Japanese try to control tidal surges and floods. Nagara river, the last free-flowing river in Honshu was dammed in 1994. Every river I walked and every gully or stream I saw while I lived there was lined with concrete. Good? Bad? I know it saves human lives, for now, but what about other lives and later? This demonstration of control brought to us by nature loving Shintos.

Anonymous said...

Super duper post, dear Reya
I think the sixties was when spaghetti became 'pasta'!!!

Your thoughts are always fresh and NON-knee jerk.

Yes, nature can be pretty damn brutal ... and red in tooth and claw
do we tame it?
live in harmony with it (GARDENING)
the idea of an enclosed garden (EDEN) cloisters etc etc.
a little bit of heaven on earth

then thee are TICKS

you only need the first book of Genesis to get pretty much the WHOLE story

so I'm content to be a very timid tree hugger.....

Linda Sue said...

Mama Nature will slap you silly no doubt. My childhood was spent entirely in nature except for the winter months when we had to live in a fortress because of the 80 mile an hour winds and ice that cut our faces.Adjustments were made- folks died anyway. So it goes- I agree with Elizabeth- gardening sort of gives us a bit of control- then come the mealy worms, the slugs and the cut worms...Only newcomers buy the very affordable land close to the rivers- the river changes course every other year and takes with it anything and everything.When it comes to mama nature moveable yurts would be a wise choice.We are all a part of nature- but then so is cancer...

Jo Floyd Lucas said...

This storm was one of the fiercest of the fierce. The funnel cloud measured a mile across in places as it ripped through 71 miles of Kansas and Missouri. For those of us who experienced it first hand, it is something we will never forget.

To confront the memories of that traumatic night in vivid detail and recount it for others is reason enough to weep, but to describe the indescribable injustice of one 3 yr. old being pulled to safety by sheer force of will, yet just a moment later in the same spot, another 3 yr. old being pulled to her eternal rest by the force of nature is almost unbearable.

RIP, Denise Woodling.

ellen abbott said...

The change in the mind set was from being a part of nature to being apart from nature. Which led us to try and control it instead of living with it. A subtle but important distinction. Trying to control it means paving the river beds which I think leads to greater disaster than just learning to live with it, like not buying land close to rivers or on the sea side of barrier islands. Instead of living with the land and nature we think we can subdue or stand firm against and that just doesn't happen, it's why there is so much damage when nature hits full force.

Mrsupole said...

When we were stationed in Oklahoma we lived through a tornado that killed people in a senior citizens center about a mile away from us. If it had veered in another direction I might not be here writing this. It is something you never forget.

Then twice when I was a teenager we saw a tornado while we were traveling. Once in Kansas and once in Texas. They were a few miles from where we were driving but just as scarey and all my parents wanted to do was get out of there as quickly as possible. I never knew if those two had caused any deaths but I am sure they caused some destruction.

Plus where I live now is just below the Cajon Pass and so when you see on the news where the trucks are turned over on their sides or they cannot travel up the pass due to the Santa Ana winds blowing on through, that means in my house we are listening to that freight train wind blowing on through. We go through what they call Hurricane Force winds every year. Everything not secured or put away and protected is blown away. For 24 years many sections of our fences has blown down, some people their whole fence system is gone. The wind will blow your car all over the road and so we all stay home unless it is an absolute necessity to go out.

But on the plus side, during the summer if we are lucky to have the winds blow a little slower, they blow all the smog out of our area and we are the only ones with a blue sky while everyone elses is brown and ugly. I guess that is why we stay here.

We know the power of the wind is one of the strongest natural forces of nature. One does tend to develop a very strong respect for it here.

Oh and don't get me started on how many earthquakes I have survived here in Southern California. That would be a shakey story.

God bless.

Reya Mellicker said...

Yes, Denise, rest in peace, fly high and look kindly upon those of us who survived.

I think the sixties was when spaghetti became 'pasta'!!! Oh yeah.

I, too, am a timid tree hugger.

Meri said...

How egotistical of us ever to have thought we could rule Gaia. A thought provoking, pensive piece, Reya, but what captured me most were the photos.

Linda Sue said...

By the way your photos are fabulous- trippy!
send me your address- and I will get one of these keyboard stickers in the post for you! "If you schmutz it a little, don't kvetch, thy're easy to move." Love it!

Ronda Laveen said...

Yes, with love, reverence and respect to Gaia. It's a wonder she doesn't send us all packing with one big belch. When she tires of us, she will. Love the photos. The top on looks like a dancer doing a gran jette (sp?) across the stage.

Reya Mellicker said...

Ronda, cool observation about the pic.

We will go the way of every species that has ever inhabited this planet. We are newcomers compared with the history of this planet. We are having our moment, but we'll move on.

Isn't it precious, though, right now - enjoying our incredible lives on this blue marble? I think it is.

Nancy said...

I'll also drop a curtsy.

Kerry said...

Been back to this post 3 times because I can't stop looking at your photos. Seed pods? Or messed up electrical wiring? Perfect for this post.