News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

The Bunkhouse Chronicle - Dark Matter

“Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.”

— Wendell Berry

Turns out we can add monarch butterflies to the list of species threatened during the sixth mass-extinction event, which we are all living through.

Years ago, when I lived in Reno, Nevada, and before it became a grubby extension of California’s East Bay favelas, the monarchs would come through the Washoe Valley in spring — innumerable clouds of them, like a swarm of locusts without the menace. I remember driving through the city on Highway 395 and watching them get slaughtered by the hundreds and thousands in the grills of cars and wondering, even then, how much longer those beautiful creatures might survive as a species.

Lately, we’ve had some monarchs passing through our yard. By design, our backyard has been transformed from a pine-duff and cheatgrass wasteland into a kind of habitat for snakes, frogs, squirrels, and many different species of birds who fly in for a drink or a bath. And the hummingbird feeder is busier than LAX, which is instructive if only because hummingbirds don’t always get along, and if it gets too crowded at the feeder nasty little fights break out.

For a couple of years I raised bees, and they made some fine quantities of honey. But the trouble with raising bees is that everything is out to kill them. Mites, insecticides used in crops and backyard gardens, and a host of endemic diseases and disorders. But I tried anyway.

When COVID struck I had already ordered two new colonies of bees, of the Saskatraz variety, meant to be hardy in winter and excellent honey producers.

Both colonies were shipped via UPS from Minnesota, and neither colony was delivered despite UPS telling me they had “attempted delivery.” That was a lie, so I called and the bee company told me that tens of thousands of bees had been shipped via UPS and that UPS had been suffocating bees in their trucks.

I never did get satisfactory answers from anybody, and I think that was also the day I realized, with crystal clarity, that our nation is rapidly becoming a third-world land of baksheesh, can’t-do attitudes, and smug little half-measures.

Each year, it requires almost every available bee in the United States to set the almond harvest in California. So, to keep those cans of Blue Diamond Almonds on supermarket shelves, millions upon millions of bees are trucked in to the central valley from every corner of the United States. Naturally, an entire criminal industry has grown up around stealing beehives, which is controlled by Russian and Armenian organized crime. Sometimes, when the bee-gangsters have a disagreement, they just light the hives on fire — bees and all.

I couldn’t make that up if I tried.

I don’t raise bees anymore but I’m still working on my Theory of Everything. In physics, the big TOE is meant to unify general relativity (all the big stuff) with quantum theory (all the little stuff) to create a grand unifying theory of the whole enchilada. Mine probably isn’t that ambitious, and I realize I’m running out of time to get it distilled, but I did have a breakthrough yesterday while sorting gear for a couple of fly-fishing trips.

I realized that surfing and fly-fishing share some unifying moments. The first is getting in the water. The second is getting out of the water. What happens in between is a kind of prolonged baptism, a ritual immersion in the enduring mysteries, where the participant is temporarily sucked through a wormhole and deposited in a separate dimension. Dropping in on the face of a wave at Rincon, or casting a fly into the ripples of the Lower Deschutes are both a kind of prayer, which has always been an exercise in unifying our bodies and minds with the natural order of things.

I’m not certain we can do much better than that, frankly, and if the alternative is what I think it is — a science-driven total war on the spiritual world, and the enforced union of humans with machines — count me out. I don’t want it. I want science to soothe a toothache, replace a hip, or to cure cancer. I don’t want it used as a political weapon to kill my soul for the profit margins of big pharma, big tech, or the totalitarian bents of obsequious little twerps like Dr. Fauci.

Which is one reason the James Webb telescope is a victory. Even as mad scientists, politicians, and big tech CEOs keep shrinking the individual citizen into a mere commodity sack — bits of data and chemistry that are bought, sold, and traded by the Pfizer, Bezos, and U.S. Government crowd — the visible universe just keeps getting bigger.

The images coming to us from this telescope are revealing our universe as it was some 13.7 billion light years ago. That’s something to discuss over a cold beer on the beach, or at the river’s edge: the light from those galaxies arriving today marks where they were and what they looked like way back then. We are told that today, due to the expansion of the universe, those same galaxies are likely more than 46 billion light years away from where we are seeing them now.

Or something like that.

What makes me smile is that the mysteries are getting bigger, not smaller, and that’s a good thing for anyone interested in a palliative to ward off that creeping sense of diminished agency many of us are experiencing here in the belly of the Anthropocene. Mysteries are a valuable tonic in a world where the only remaining apex predator has an outsized brain, an insatiable appetite for total control, and a well-documented record of leaving utter calamity in its wake.


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