IMYS #21 - The Push and Pull

Finding Balance

A murder of crows has made its roost in the cemetery behind our house. Like some harbinger of doom from a Dickens novel, they sit and caw and screech at each other. Occasionally, they tumble down and take flight to harass a hawk or jay that dares enter their territory. They share a strange resemblance to the fraternity that lives just down the street.

I watch them from my window. They gather material for nests or just out of curiosity. They land on the roof just outside with string, pieces of plastic, and even a loan child’s glove. I don’t know what they are doing with all of these things. I can’t see them in the tree where they roost.

These birds have found ways to adapt to this environment. They are using the castoffs of human existence to beautify their surroundings. They hide things in the gutters of my house and come back and get them later. They have figured out how to succeed in spite of our encroachment on their lives.

I’m envious of that adaptability. As I grow older, I get more easily frustrated by change. And yet, I want so many things to change. There’s a paradox here that I can neither predict nor reliably explain. We all feel it. We know the things in our lives that we want to lock away. The smell of a freshly bathed baby. The comfort of a favorite pillow. We also know those things that we wish were different from the shallow, more money, to the profound, a deeper relationship with our family. This tension is universal.

But the crows seem to have it figured out. And what I notice about this is that they help each other. Two of them flew by yesterday carrying some heavy piece of plastic. It was too big for one of them to do alone so they did it together. They helped each other. It was simple.

How could we help each other manage these deeper changes in ourselves?


The Behemoth

By William Balfour Ker - Public Domain

My distaste for Amazon is well-known among my friends and family. I despise their labor practices. I despise their anti-competition practices. I despise their ethos. I specifically despise what they’ve done to the book business. However, I have to acknowledge that their platform and their web services are the best in the world. I shudder to think that in our current capitalist system, this business is not only legal but is lauded. Communities and individuals trip over each other to garner a whiff of some of that Amazon money. The New Yorker explores whether all of this might make the business unstoppable. There is some rich irony in the fact that a business that might be destroying our economy as we know it is called Amazon while that same global economy creates the pressure destroying the actual Amazon forest.

Read about the Amazon Juggernaut

Wail and Froth

The band Big Thief is difficult to pin down. Their songs range from quiet, whispered laments about a love dashed to pieces to intricate pop musings about nature to noisy rock encapsulating the thrall of anxiety. This song, “Not,” is definitely in the latter camp. It comes off a wonderful new album, Two Hands, described by the band as the “Earth twin” to their previous album, U.F.O.F. What I love about the song I’m sharing here is how the first half of the song drives on the repetition of the lyrical structure and the increasing rawness of Adrianne Franke’s voice. The second half of the song echoes that back with the falling apart of the guitar solo. It’s wonderfully constructed with an intricacy and interplay between the instruments that’s sneakily hidden behind the emotion and energy.

Listen to "Not" by Big Thief

From or To?

By TheLegNY - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

I’ve shared here before about my interest in ultrarunning. It’s easy to make it in to something which sounds quite fantastic and special. But, really, it’s just running as far as you can as fast as you can. The fast part is mostly optional. Tom McGrath knows the thrill of this kind of running. He once held the record for running across the United States. This profile of him in the New York Times hints at what people always want to know about this kind of running: “Why do you do it?” It’d be overly simple to say that McGrath is outrunning his demons but it might not be totally wrong either. The most endearing part of this story is that McGrath seems so casual about his lifetime of overcoming challenges. In the same moment, it feels all very serious, too. It’s that paradox between the simplicity of what he’s doing and the complexity of why he’s doing it. It seems almost like art in that way.

Read about Tom McGrath's final run

When Protesting is Terrorism

A protestor “locked on” to construction equipment.

About 10 miles from where I’m sitting, workers are cutting down a swath of the National Forest and burying enormous 48” pipes to carry fracked natural gas from West Virginia over to the coast. This is the Mountain Valley Pipeline project. It has been a source of concern in our area for years. The project has faced legal battles, marches in the street, and leafletting campaigns. Many cars around town have “NO PIPELINE” bumper stickers on them. Still, the chainsaws whir and the heavy machinery scars the mountainside. For those people determined to stop the pipeline, the only form of protest left is “direct action.” While direct action is a controversial method of protest, recent cases have shown that law enforcement wants to treat these acts as terrorism. You would be shocked at the lengths that Forest Service officers have gone to, not to protect the forest, but to protect the corporate interest destroying that forest. Eminent domain has been widely used in our area to make way for the pipeline and people have been forcibly removed from the land their families have been on for generations. Now, they and the people supporting them through nonviolent protest are increasingly being labeled terrorists. It’s the best way for these corporate interests to try to squash the growing backlash against their destructive businesses.

Read about the New Green Scare

How’s the crop?

By LSDSL - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

I truly believe that psychedelics or drugs derived from natural psychotropic compounds will change the face of mental health treatment. It will take a will, sure, but that sea change is coming. Maybe it’s more hope or faith than actual certainty but the look the same in the right light. Mike Jay tells the story of the farmers who were asked to supply the ergot, a parasite that grows on rye, from which LSD was extracted before it could be synthesized. It’s fascinating that so many people think of LSD as some scary chemical cooked up in a lab by mad scientists. In reality, it’s just some compound that a fungus produces. It’s mushroom sweat. If one ascribes to the Gaia principle, we might consider that this compound exists because it is required within the ecosystem. Our environment provides so many tools for us to live, grow, and prosper. Yet, we have lost touch with all of those ancestral ways of healing and existing in harmony. We insulate ourselves from the natural world. We close ourselves off from the energy and flow that exists just the other side of the window I’m looking out of. Sure, LSD and other psychedelics are not going to be a panacea for everyone. However, we might take the opportunity to look around and identify the gifts our Earth has provided.

Read about the Acid Farmers

A Little Heartbreak

Son Little is an R&B artist who has worked with The Roots, Mavis Staples, and others. This song, “about her. again,” comes off as a modern combination of soul and and R&B with some interesting production choices. It comes off of a new EP from the singer that jumps around stylistically but never loses sight of the emotion and dexterity of Little’s voice. This particular song is one I’d love to see performed live. It feels like one that could tear the roof down.

Listen to "about her. again"

Strong Brown God

By Dirk from San Diego, USA - Mississippi River Barge, CC BY 2.0

For decades now, rivers have been consigned to the old way of moving things from place to place. Planes and trucks are faster and easier and more flexible. More recently, many cities have begun to reclaim the rivers at their heart. Tearing down industrial wastelands and making way for parks and recreation space. In Germany, it’s a law that a river must have a certain amount of green space on either side of it within a city’s limits. It leads to incredible river side parks where city dwellers can take a break from the confines of concrete and glass. Back in the US, the Mississippi is all of these things and more. The river is the vibrating, electric wire running through the middle of our country. Millions of lives depend on it for water, food, and commerce. This profile of the barge pilots that move material up and down the river shares a slice of an America most of us will never see. It’s fascinating to me how quick we are to move away from those things that work simply because they seem slow or old. We are culture of the forever new and improved.

Read about barge captains

R.E.M. Song of the Week

Fables of the Reconstruction was released in 1985. I was nine years old. I wouldn’t hear it for another five years. But, it would leave an indelible mark. The title of the album hints at the circuitous and diaphanous lyrics which refuse to be pinned down. The album feels like it’s steeped in a history very different from our own. The second song on the album, “Maps and Legends,” voices this fantastical element quite well. There’s a layering of sound here that finds me searching for the song’s heart which bears repeated listens.

Let’s find our heart’s song this weekend.

Your guide,


By Alex Ezell - Washington and Jefferson National Forest