A Lament As Prelude

By Gail Collins-Ranadive

In the presence of the Permian, I huddle against crinoid-encrusted boulders, sobbing my apologies to Life’s ancient remains. As a member of the species through which Light became conscious, I weep with unworthiness that we’ve betrayed a legacy I can not protect, and grieve my powerlessness to prevent the coming apocalypse we humans have set into motion.

Spreading my aging hand over the fan of an embedded brachiopod, I confess that I don’t understand how it has come to pass that we people know what we are doing and the harm we are causing and how to reverse course, yet we don’t, or won’t. I collapse in despair, curl up into fetal position, and, sensing the protection of earth’s womb, I cry out to the Universe from whence we all came: these fossil filled rocks, those up-thrust mountains, that dry arroyo, this Joshua tree, and me.

How has human cleverness won out over natural wisdom? Why have we doomed ourselves to annihilation via nuclear winter and/or climactic ice melt? What was the point of millennia of learning, of our species leaving the earth and returning with perspective and respect, only to watch ourselves wantonly destroy it?

What cruel joke is upon us? Was consciousness a cosmic mistake?

Crinoids and dinosaurs met their demise without knowing what was happening or wondering why. And anyway, either way they were powerless to stop their extinction. But we mammals are feeling creatures: we are already suffering from extreme weather events, risking ourselves to rush in to help rescue those drowning in super storm flood waters, fleeing from drought-exacerbated wildfires, migrating because of diminished food and water reserves.

Yet something is preventing us from dealing with the root cause: burning fossilized sunlight for the energy needed to power our lives. We have known for a century this behavior traps carbon dioxide within the atmosphere, warming the planet and changing our weather patterns. Why won’t we cease and desist, especially since we’ve learned how to harvest and harness current sunshine?

Clearly we have organized our culture and commons around a toxic system of exploration and exploitation: colonialism become capitalism ravaging, raping, and pillaging people, property and planet for greed, prestige, profit and power! So that now the extractive regime is holding us all hostage, and fossil fueled billionaires are pulling the strings of their predatory puppet, a bully in the china shop of our democracy.

Such is the evil force let loose upon the world! The constant fight against being coopted and complicit has worn me down; I fear that we are losing ground daily. The profiteers of the old system undermine any change by denying the need to move beyond the status quo.
Their double talk confounds me; their duplicity muddles my mind; their arrogance and ignorance in the face of nature’s laws render me helpless and hopeless. I long join the oblivious majority, give up and give in to denial.

Haven’t I already done my time in the trenches of the environmental, peace, and women’s movements? I’m old now, and tired….. but I have connected too many dots for too long: I know we’re in the midst a crucial human moment…. And I know that I’m alive, aware, and awake in the Anthopocene, and I must pay attention.

Perhaps I’m to become as the barrel cactus beside me, prickly and protective of the inner stores of life-saving water so they’re available for an emergency. The large one at my side may be well over 100 years old as it towers above the young ones, bearing witness. I sit up to survey the surrounding desert. The pink spines of small and large cacti break up the sage-grey sameness of the winter landscape, a scattered array of sentinels.

I breathe deeply, pull myself up into standing position, put my feet on the path of persistence. I shall return to my desk, resume writing, not just to record what is happening, but to provide liminal place for the creative process of breakdown to breakthrough. Stay tuned.

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