This a bit of a rant. Well, no let me be honest, IT IS A RANT!!! I have been traveling a bit visiting family due to illness and surgeries. And it was while on my travels that a few things started percolating and rising to the surface. That in turn caused me to really start to question a few things regarding life on the planet, photography and its impact on the planet, the virus that is humanity, and its indelible and perhaps not too gentle imprint on the only home we inhabit.
I had the opportunity to take a hike in the Tejana Falls area near Murrieta, California. It was quite lovely and while I did not make many photographs the time on the trails was well spent. I discovered the total knee replacement I had in November of 2019 is quite defective. That is a whole ‘nother ugly rant which is not relevant here. Needless to say, my trek was harder than it needed to be.
While traversing the trails in the area of the falls, it was very therapeutic and rejuvenating, until….
until I noticed the droppings of the human animal. Along the trail there were the now ubiquitous face masks and the sanitary wipes associated with keeping one’s child’s ass clean and in disinfecting the hands of the humans carrying said child. These were scattered along the trail with abandon and disregard for the impact on the environment. There were even a pair of little booties left hanging on the bushes. Like What The Actual Fuck, Over!!! Sorry but the lack of a filter for language from my military and police days is in full swing with this treatment of the environment.
Humans have been locked up for who knows how long due to the Chinese virus, and being in California the restrictions are draconian at best, but that is no reason to desecrate the trails where people are going to finally get back in touch with life.
I was raised way back when Leave No Trace was an idea and then finally became a way to act and live in the wilderness. My father taught the principle of leave everything better than when you found it and if at all possible, remove any trace of your being there. Like I said this was all before the movement took off and was adopted and taught to those going into the wilderness.
I was a Sr District Executive for the BSA, back when men were men and boys were boys, and Leave No Trace was a basis for the expectations out in nature and on the hikes, we took various groups on. As recently as 2019 on the Moab Photo Workshop, we were lectured too by Michael Gordon on the need for practicing not just the leave no trace, but understanding the impact of humans on the natural environment. Michael shared what both he and Guy Tal have observed on their wanderings through the natural world where they photograph and the severe impact of the thoughtless troglodytes that can minimally be called humans.
I must admit at the time I was not just bored by the presentation but a little put off by it as I was already well versed in how to live and act in the wilderness. But after my recent walk on a the Tejana Falls wilderness trails, I can see why Michael is so fanatical about the process. We are literally destroying the planet we live on and then wondering why there is so much illness and disrespect for each other. I truly believe that how we not only treat each other, animals and the world we inhabit is an indication of what is truly important to us and the life we hope to live and leave to those after us. GRRRRR
As I was driving home these thoughts were flowing through my mind when low and behold what did I see just outside of Lubbock, TX, but wind turbines on the mesas through out the area. I will admit these mesas are perhaps not as beautiful as the red sandstone mesas I have observed in the Four Corners area of the country, but they are a natural feature that should be respected. But no, in humanities need to have more power to feed our electronic toys and so-called necessities we have convinced ourselves we cannot live without, we felt the need to come up with a way to do it without fossil fuels.
And what did we come up with? The most hideous of monuments across the land, rising up from the plains of Texas, draped across mesas, with the attendant dirt roads scaring the sides of the mesas in order to build and maintain the monstrosities. These monuments to our lust for more, are littered across hills in California and on mountainsides in Utah and other states. And let’s not forget the fields of solar panels. The toxic chemicals used in their production not to mention the impact on the local habitat and other concerns as the panels age.
And the cost of using these new environmental apparatuses is one of ugly disfigurement of the land, the literal slaughter of wildlife, specifically birds and bats and other animals. And all this in the name of some lofty ill-thought-out goal of getting away from oil. If you think I am being melodramatic about the effects of these so called clean and green alternatives, do a search on your favorite browser and read the facts of the impact of this climate changing emission-free generator of energy. I have to wonder what the impact is from producing these things as well. There is always a cost to the environment at some level and most cases on many levels, that lessens life here.
And so, after meditating on these issues, I started considering the impact of the art of photography on the planet I claim to care about. It didn’t matter whether it was the film and silver paper side of things or the digital side, with the attendant electronics and its printing materials. What is the ultimate impact on the planet when I support, purchase, dispose of the equipment and tools used to create the art of the planet and life I am attempting to capture? What has been/is the impact of the production of film using silver as a means of recording a scene, not to mention the impact from the use of various chemicals in the process of making a print and so on?
What is the impact of the equipment on other humans who take the discarded electronics and melt down the components in order to eek out an existence, a life now shortened by the exposure to heavy metals and noxious poisons leaching into the air and water?
And how much do any of us really need to live? As my mother has been slowly dying, she is currently in hospice, she has disposed of her worldly possessions. And as I have looked at what she has left behind, there is really very little she wanted to keep. Certainly, she needed the implements of daily living like cookware and so on. But the rest, was nothing but window dressing and was certainly not needed to live. And this in turn, has made me look at what I have and what I really need to live. I have noted I am keeping things I really no longer need, as I have not seen some of these “things” since I moved into my new house 3 years ago. And really its not so much things as it is “stuff”.
This reminded me of George Carlin and his bit on “Stuff”:
A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you’re taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff!
So, in reality just how much stuff do I need to create the art I feel moved upon to share and what is the impact of the life I lead, the energy I consume, the food I eat – haven’t even hit that one and the impact of over fishing and farming and GMO and on and on and on.
Hell, I can remember the very first Earth Day back in 1970. I was a young and impressionable 15-year-old (now I am at the over ripe old age of 66) and there was a lot that needed to be improved in our environment. And as always, America felt it needed to lead the way despite the fact there would be little help, participation, cooperation or money spent to save the Earth. Other nations were not interested in giving up the financial gains they would lose in this proposition. I think it is interesting that once again America leads the way with the Green New Deal and climate change and yet the other nations are really letting us spend our coin on a pie in the sky idea, while the other nations keep on their path of planetary exploitation. And what did we accomplish? Right, we feel better because we are more moral. Whatever.
And I do admit that at the time, I was impressed by Rachel Carson’s bestseller Silent Spring. And while it is a graphic story of what can happen and may have happened, not all of it was scientifically factual. Love how emotion is still the weapon of choice to mold the masses into an army of the uninformed. I have since that time learned I need to not accept at face value anything that is presented as the only means to save humanity or the planet. A healthy dose of skepticism and research is needed to arrive at an understanding of where to begin and then work together for the common good, whatever that may look like. Letting go of our cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias as well as emotional attachments to our perceived needs and wants will help bring us to a more reasonable place to address the important issues facing us as a species.
I have more questions than answers and I still don’t know if the art I am creating and sharing makes a difference to anyone but me. And in creating that art what has been my impact on the only home we have and on my fellow creatures flying through space on a watery rock in a near never-ending spiral of death?
How long until we are really ready to address our inadequacies as a species and come together to live in a more realistic harmony before we destroy our home? And is it already too late for us?
I have no answers to these and other issues that are destroying our existence. I have only succeeded in bringing up more questions than answers for myself. Ultimately, I can only live a life that will allow for a more cohesive and harmonious co-habitation with my fellow humans and the life that permeates this home we all share.
End of rant.