An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of October 15, 2007
Issued from Yerba Buena Clinic near Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan, Chiapas, México

THE SIGN

The Sign

I'm often asked why I live the way I do. Maybe it all began one summer back on the farm in Kentucky, in the mid 60s.

That was the summer I discovered the basic features I love about nature, in a nearby bottomland woods. That summer I sensitized myself to squirrels, for those swampy forests were full of them. One result of my observations that summer is the online book about one year in the life of a Gray Squirrel called Mistletoe, which you can read at http://www.backyardnature.net/squirrel.htm.

I had never dreamed that wild animals could be so complex and that individual wild animals could exhibit so many unique personality traits. That summer I think I got to know every squirrel in the forest.

And then came squirrel season. You can imagine how it felt hearing shots in those woods day after day as I wondered who among my friends was being killed.

Later the forests were bulldozed and converted to soybean fields. Then my family lost our farm, largely because in today's world a truly small family farm just can't make it.

In fact, often I have felt that my part of rural Kentucky has been invaded, or "taken," as CIOAC would say, by an alien people, people wanting more and more of everything. They've simply shoved aside the old farmers I knew, the ones in blue coveralls smelling of old sweat and greasy biscuits, and who lived dignified lives governed my temperance and common sense. My home has been occupied by the enemy and -- with a few beautiful exceptions -- the people and land I spring from have gone extinct.

So, as an exile, I don't invest much emotional energy in permanent bases or beautiful, vulnerable places such as natural areas. Actually it gives me the creeps to be in old-growth timber because I know that before long it'll be logged, or blown down by a global-warming storm, or killed by bark beetles thanks to the trees' lower disease-resistance because of global-warming- caused droughts, or whatever.

I identify with weeds. Among weeds I am perfectly at ease for, among weeds, the damage already has been done. Among weeds, there's nothing but hope and possibilities.

Now we come to the sign at the top of this page.

When years ago I first arrived at Yerba Buena I could read that sign's message explaining what a wonderful place the Yerba Buena Reserve was, why it was so important in terms of biodiversity and as a watershed, and how we should honor it.

Then there was vandalism, there was occupation by CIOAC, there was clearing forest and planting cornfields, there was more sloganeering and posturing than I could deal with, more and more people, all wanting more and more...

That sign is both a real-world and abstract symbol of something that's happened here, happened to my home area in Kentucky, and is happening all over the world. In that sign you can read chaos, ugliness, meaninglessness, all the consequences of there always being more, more, more demands on an Earth that stays the same size, and whose resources are ever less, less and less.

When I use Google Earth to see the land around my childhood home in Kentucky and find nothing left but flat soybean and corn fields, it's exactly like looking at that sign.

I don't know how to battle the forces that converted the diverse, generous and loving forests and fields of my childhood into industrial, pesticide-drenched farmland but, just maybe, while I am at Yerba Buena  I can do something about that ugly sign. Facebook Icon.