the great mortality, by john kelly

“I . . . am waiting among the dead for death to come.”

the dead do not die, by sven lindqvist

He took the Parisians to the limestone quarry, where they could see that their city was an immense mass grave of long-since annihilated creatures. As they had gone under, so would we ourselves, their descendants, go under.

nothing is true and everything is possible, by peter pomerantsev

We used to have this self-centered idea that Western democracies were the end point of evolution, and we’re dealing from a position of strength, and people are becoming like us. It’s not that way. Because if you think this thing we have here isn’t fragile you are kidding yourself.

by the sea shore

We spent the weekend in Point Reyes, which is so beautiful it almost defies photography. The California Field Atlas describes it as an authentic Pleistocene-era prairie by the sea. Philip K. Dick was also moved by:

this wild moor-like plateau that dropped off at the ocean’s edge, one of the most desolate parts of the United States, with weather unlike that of any other part of California.

The giant camels and mastodon that roamed here in the Ice Age are gone, but if you look closely, there’s a herd of not-quite-extinct tule elk grazing out on this headland.

Jeremy was enchanted by the Marconi RCA wireless station, the first and last of its kind. Now that we are home, he’s in his office playing with software-defined radios and emitting atmospheric bursts and Morse code. For my part, I loved the dairy ranches, and imagined myself quitting tech to become a simple farmer, a man of the people, at one with the land.

Of course I am not the first to indulge this fantasy. It forms the substance of Dick’s Confessions of a Crap Artist, Daniel Gumbiner’s The Boatbuilder, and even Summer Brennan’s The Oyster War. All three are at pains to point out that no matter how lovely the place is, it can’t help you escape who you are.

West Marin has dangled before the white mind like a lure for almost five hundred years. In 1579, the pirate Francis Drake in his galleon full of stolen Spanish treasure christened it Nova Albion and claimed it for Queen Elizabeth I. The visitor center on Drakes Beach notes that people in South America used his name to frighten their children, so that’s nice.

The Coast Miwok survive and now form part of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. Still, anthropologist Betty Goerke calculates that between genocide, epidemic, and aggressive zoning laws designed to maintain high property values, there are fewer people living in Point Reyes today than there were in Drake’s time. It’s a pretend wilderness, like Yosemite and Kur-ring-gai. I’m indebted to its original custodians for how it heals my sore heart.

the boatbuilder, by daniel gumbiner

“It’s okay,” Alejandro said. “You’re not trying to show who you are, you’re just trying to make the thing.”

army of none, by paul scharre

The gun can’t handle its own power.

on bitterness

When I was pregnant I craved bitter greens, and this craving has never entirely left me. Last night I ate, with great focus, a plate of shaved brussels sprouts. Last week I told a colleague the story of how I broke my leg. I left part of it out; nevertheless, he said: “You sound bitter.” I am.

The evangelical church in which I spent my teens is highly critical of bitterness. So is society at large. I’m beginning to understand the ways in which this serves political ends. Bitterness is the perception of injustice. God knows we are treated unfairly, but God forbid we should be angry about it.

Burnout is cumulative, like concussion. After I was fired, I never wanted to work in the tech industry again. Now that I have returned (as if there were any other industry; as if academia, journalism, publishing, teaching weren’t equally soul-destructive) I can feel the limits of my capacity to endure, just as I feel the limited range of motion in my ankle. There are leaps of faith I could make in the past I won’t be able to make again, and not only because I am ageing. I have lost the faith that made such leaps possible.

In its place I have my bitterness: the astringency of medicinal herbs, that can heal, or poison. Knowledge that exists beyond the imagination of the church and society at large. Witchcraft.

holding silvan, by monica wesolowska

It’s easy at first to respond to crisis, but this crisis is dragging on and on.

the collected schizophrenias, by esme weijun wang

Produce! Get results! Make money! Make friends! Make changes! Or you will die of despair.

where am i now? by mara wilson

Why, then, did I feel so bitter? Partly because bitter was my default state of being

a genuinely fun thing i’ll assuredly do again

The Bringing Back the Natives garden tour in the East Bay.

Maidenhair and blue-eyed grass. Some of the gardens tumbled down the sides of canyons, but our favorite was this, around a cottage on a flat block. Goals.

Manzanitas, poppies and sages. It was so kind of the gardeners to welcome us into their earthly paradise.

where reasons end, by yiyun li

…if we’re willing, we can pick out any number of statements from any number of books and find them comforting.

the oyster war, by summer brennan

California is just a made-up word, like Rivendell, Narnia or Oz.

light and shadow, by mark colvin

At eleven, I still had the wooden toy sailing boat, named after Captain Cook’s Endeavour, that I’d been given when I was six, and I’d go to Kensington Gardens to sail it on the Round Pond and admire the vast radio-controlled sloops and motor-torpedo-boats that adult nerds raced across the waters.

Sydney itself was, physically and socially, very different then: a much-lower-slung, less-skyscraper-dotted city with a far busier harbour. Parts of it could feel provincial, with the emphasis on mowing the nature strip and using the incinerator for the weekly backyard burn-off—a social backwater almost unchanged from the 1950s. But because property prices were so low, there was also a Bohemian side to Sydney, a side which is gone now.

keeping a promise to myself

When I was laid lowest with the busted ankle, I promised myself that when I was up and about again, I’d go to Imperial Spa, Zuni Cafe and Yosemite.

This was a terrific plan.

california in the spring

Can a place be too pretty?

Our experts weigh in.

they can’t kill us until they kill us, by hanif abdurraqib

If this year was bad, next year might be even worse, or at the very least it might be harder.

horses in company, by lucy rees

Grazing and browsing animals have not evolved social systems that curb aggression in competitive situations, because these situations do not arise in their natural lives. Their social relations go awry when faced with this unnatural, imposed challenge. Bucket tests do not ‘reveal the hierarchy’ as is claimed: they create one.

“how about bright angel?”

c: we should go back to arizona.
j: we can never go back to arizona.
c: why? what did you do?
j: it’s like you’ve never watched frisky dingo.
ja: there are dingos in arizona???

flow

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, I thought about Frenchs Forest, where I grew up, and the tiny pieces of bush that I knew so well: the undeveloped block adjoining the high school, which is now the Northern Beaches Hospital; the little steep park around the corner from our house, called Blue Gum Reserve; and the steeper gully leading into Bantry Bay, which is now part of Garigal National Park, named for the traditional custodians of the land.

Liz has been talking about BART stations through time, and for a minute I could see all those little remnants joined up into one vast sea of dry sclerophyll woodland fading into the blue distance. There were sandstone boulders and shady overhangs. Banksias and grevilleas grew brilliant and spidery in the understory. It smelled like eucalyptus trees under the hot sun and sounded like cicadas singing. This was my home country for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, before the houses were built, even before special constable and crown lands ranger James Ffrench clear-felled the forest that now, in ghost form, bears his name.

I realized that the high sandstone flats, in Allambie and Narraweena and Beacon Hill, are carved and were likely ceremonial. People would live closer to fresh water, I thought. As I traced in my mind the clear cool creeks (Frenchs, Carroll, Bates) that run down into Middle Harbour, I realized that the rill that ran across the bottom of the high school oval and into Rabbett Reserve (willow trees and golden sand, frogs and tadpoles) ran the other way, into the confusingly-named Middle Creek. My home was high on the watershed itself.

Middle Creek flows not into Middle Harbour but into Narrabeen Lagoon. According to the Dictionary of Sydney:

The camp site at Narrabeen Lagoon was the last community Aboriginal town camp to survive in the northern Sydney suburbs. Probably, before the British invasion, Narrabeen Lagoon was one of the many coastal occupation sites offering seasonal shelter, fish and wetland resources… higher and less accessible country was used for ceremonial and educational purposes by the Gai-mariagal. Dennis Foley, a Gai-mariagal (Camaraigal) descendant, describes the area as ‘the heart of our world’.

Dennis Foley has written of the destruction of the camp in the 1950s, when what became the Academy of Sport was built. When I was a child in the 1970s, it was whispered that there were still people living there. These were the survivors of the genocide of the Eora people. There is no sign or memorial.

I’ve been thinking a lot about gods and goddesses and the dead: la Calavera Catrina and Guadalupe and Epona, all psychopomps, all syncretist beings like me. I’ve been thinking about AORTA’s Theory of Change:

Decades of neoliberal policy have erased histories of enslavement and genocide, and the movements that fought and resisted along the way. Today’s social movements are often disconnected from local, regional, national, and global movement history, which can lead to a sense of isolation and alienation.

And about this essay, in which:

Derrida asked, ‘Is it possible that the antonym of “forgetting” is not “remembering”, but justice?’

Gods and goddesses move around outside time, where the dead are not gone, just elsewhere. Historical memory is a kind of augmented reality, a map drawn in the colors of love and grief and anger. May I honor the memory of my dead. May they seek justice through me. May I be a good ancestor in my turn.