Sunday, February 26, 2006

‘The end of all things’

Is there anything more beautiful, more complete, than a tree?

They stand silent, carrying micro-organisms, sheltering birds, animals and humans. Moss and lichen colour their bark, and their leaves in different seasons embellish our world. They keep in their cells the mysteries of life, providing oxygen, being the lungs of earth. How serenely they sway their branches in the wind, how bravely they withstand storms. And all these they do without complaint or need for praise, remaining always at the background of history.

You may say, that, no: man is the most complete creature on earth. Indeed, we obtain amazing abilities. We have created civilisations, have built mighty machines, have conquered the moon. We have brain, we have soul. Can trees make art, organise societies the way we do? And so on.

Trees have been victims of genocide for the sake of our civilisation and progress for a long time now. They have been eliminated from the face of earth in order to serve human interests. With our greedy appetite and our powerful weapons we cowardly have turned against defenceless nature and have plundered its wealth.

We are an amazing lot, we humans.

It’s been estimated that we will run out of petrol in 26 years. It’s been also calculated that if the whole population of our planet had the lifestyle of USA or UK, we would need 5 earths to meet our needs. (I haven’t read this just ‘somewhere’, these results were presented last week to a National Trust conference). Our entire ‘civilisation’ is unsustainable, unjust and unforgivable.

Edwin Pister, a biologist, has fought to save from extinction a very rare species of fish that live in small pools in the middle of a desert in the USA. He even got his case to the Supreme Court of the USA and won. When asked again and again why bother save such an insignificant fish (the Devil’s Hole Pupfish, it’s called) and tired of explaining the fish’s intrinsic value, tired of questions like ‘What’s so important about this fish?’ he would simply ask back his interviewers ‘What is so important about you?’ In this way he stressed the need for a new morality, which would attribute intrinsic value to organisms that until now is almost merely acknowledged to humans.

I will not go on lamenting for earth’s future and stressing our responsibility to change things. Before doing all this, we have to look inside us and ask, not what we have to do, but first and foremost, who are we. What is our morality, principles, beliefs and hopes. I was taken for a fool in the past for studying philosophy and was told that ideas are like air, uncontrollable and absent. Sadly, humans have waged wars for ideas and ideals. Every strategy and decision on finance and politics is influenced by priorities we set because of the ideas we believe in. The modern western European world was built on the idea of domination over nature. We knew little then and even less know. The language of the ‘savage’ Vintou Indians of California doesn’t have a word to translate the possessive verb ‘to have’. Indian chiefs didn’t rule, because this word did not exist in their vocabulary, they ‘stood’ with their people. Don’t expect others to change your way of thinking; there are examples of virtue in our world-look for them whenever they exist-they are there and wait for you to study, interpret and incorporate them in your life.

Every culture and religion has a book or oral tradition about the end of the world as we know it. The similarities between the incidents described in scripts and the signs of our times are obvious. They come to mind when we contemplate environmental issues. We have all heard about them, and I will not elaborate on them.

Going back to the title of this post, inverted commas were used, as it comes originally from the Lord of the Rings. I watched again the trilogy recently and found once more alarming similarities between the acts of the evil forces in the Tolkien’s work and our behaviour towards nature. Art works like motion pictures can move the wide audience, and I hope that the spectators of the trilogy were as astonished as I was while watching the part regarding the Ents and their avenge on the machine-crazed wizard. It is, strictly speaking, trees, that is nature, taking vengeance on men. It is lyrical, strong and very true. It is actually happening.

Ideas do exist. We sometimes look back with awe at the astonishing sagas of leaders in history and fantasy books. We all dream about adventures where we can prove our qualities and face the enemy. Well, I think that the enemy is staring at our faces right now and that we don’t have to go far in time or space in order to be engaged in heroic actions. Heroism, a quest to live for, an ideal, what we all humans long for, what gives meaning to our lives, can be pursued. I don’t mean just to demonstrate with environmental groups and charities (although it is a way to contribute to a good cause); I mean to face ourselves first and by trying to improve ourselves, to improve the world around us. I mean to think about the means we use, the impact of our actions and our lifestyle. Already the rich countries strive to fill the gaps in their lives, gaps that capitalism and wealth cannot satisfy, by turning to all sorts of groups that promise them peace and spiritual regeneration.

You can think about all that. Or you can decide one fine day to go for a walk in a park, in a forest, or up on a mountain and understand what I was talking about, and realise why I started talking about trees and ended up dealing with questions of upper importance. It all started from the trees.


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