Saturday, July 19, 2008

Not Nice to fool Mother Nature

As Imperial Margarine used to warn me as a kid with its ubiquitous commercial. The crown Mother wore was about as big as that by Elizabeth Windsor. I wondered if it was made of plastic and wire, and how it perched on top of the matronly coiffure.

"Lorax" débuts with this blog watch about: "Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center". Vote now about whether "extreme sports" should take the place of solitude. As "Lorax" observes, since the camp was founded in 1906, it did preserve much of what now would look as inviting as soulless suburban Scotts Valley adjacent, given our rapacity. Yet, now the stewards of this redwood forest where Bean Creek flows down from the mountain summits overlooking San José into Zayante Creek and then forms the river that flows into Santa Cruz immorally-- and perhaps illegally-- insist on building enormous platforms upon which screaming teens and sobbing parents can whoosh on ropes. This enriches the coffers of this sprawling conference center. It perhaps-- same argument as those in our government who "utilize" state and national forests-- trades a few sylvan trunks for the long-term financial solvency of the greater spread.

Yet, as Christians, they need not act like former Secretary of the Interior Watt, with his assumptions to rape Gaia (a pagan term he'd never countenance) since the Messiah's on his way. Or the millenialist rule, Great Dispensation and/or rapture, depending on your sect. "Lorax" knows whom to ask about these denominational doctrines. And, even Jim Willis, Sojourners, and so I've heard maybe a few of the anti-war, peace tradition, non-violent advocates whose members pray-to-play at Mount Hermon might well weigh in about rendering unto Nature's Theme Park. Talk about a "burned-over district" in the Great Awakening. Borrow Peter to pay Paul.

I encourage you to cast your vote against the desecration at a place that I and my family love. We frequently stay near the Conference Center. We heard the saws and shouts constantly on our last trip. They shattered much of the silence. This will only intensify once the young campers scamper and scurry through, and above, the woods. The trails wind under sensitive terrain. Fires threaten. Floods lurk. This watershed cannot handle thousands of treads. This change dismayed us. While we sneak about the Mount's fringes-- if not beyond the amplified guitar hymns, than far beyond the closed circle of the paid-up name-tagged elect-- we do admire the original idealism of its founders.

On my last morning recently, across from the Center's domain, I listened to the crews as they sawed and yelled and banged. Sitting there, I discovered in Margaret Koch's 1973 well-written local chronicle, "Parade of the Past: Santa Cruz County," about Zayante. Billy Wade, an Irish immigrant, married Twyeenya, last of the riparian maidens, and they dwelt down by the creek. When the Mount's early establishers investigated the area, they heard about where the couple had lived from an old pioneer. Nothing of their cabin remains. Nearby, "Mountain Charley" McKiernan arriving in the 1840s fought and drank and lived up to the Hibernian stereotype as he worked at the mill built where the two creeks meet. I wondered about how far the Irish settlers had travelled to come to a place still under the rule of a newly independent Mexico, meeting and mating with members of a tribe with an hispanized name, "Zayante," we don't know the real meaning of.

In a place so full of mystery, we need to respect what another native people, from Hawai'i, would call "mana," the spirit of the place. Gaspar de Portola's expedition marvelled when they found the arching groves. Billy Wade's ancestors knew the mystery that comes with the numinous as much as his wife's people. Yet, we often only have the names. They last, if a river like "Zayante," longest to mark the divides of water or rock that precede endless waves of immigrants or invaders. Irish forests, anti-British tellers claim, fell to construct ships that spanned the empire. I recall biblical stories about Lebanon's deforestation. Like the namesake Mount Hermon, its cedars may have long been cut. Native peoples no longer Phoenician or Philistine. All we have: a few verses, an attenuated tradition from dead or struggling languages. When we destroy the golden bough or the green branch, we hasten our own spiritual, cultural, natural deaths.

I've written earlier this week about Tara and "dindshenchas," or topynomic place-name lore still potent to those who seek it in a likewise dwindling rural Irish landscape. That site's under the bulldozers that push a motorway. More commuters, more holiday makers, more tree-climbers. I've also published an article on how learners of Irish connect the threatened yet resilient voices within the land to their wisdom: "Making the Case for Irish Through English: Eco-Critical Language Politics." It's more fun than it sounds. I analyze nipples.

Can't romanticize the Celts! Consider eager emigré Mountain Charley. He's famed for killing one of our state's totems decades after he would have seen the Bear Flag fly over a brief Republic. Meta-symbolism apparent without post-colonial frame here.

But we, a century after the Mount's founders planted and encouraged redwoods to grow after Henry Cowell and so many loggers Irish and otherwise there hacked and burned these slopes, cannot leave them be as awesome (dude!) companions. While Druids venerated trees, and the Celts derived the very way they counted time and kept records from names related to what grew tall around them, we Americans, Christians or otherwise, appear to dominate all things that bear fruit and multiply, as we engender more appetites for assaultive adventure than a fragile earth can sustain.

Caption to photo: Black-and-white portrait of Charles Henry "Mountain Charley" McKiernan. McKiernan was one of the first white settlers in the Santa Cruz mountains, and was noted for having survived an attack by a grizzly bear. photo by A. P. Hill of A.P. Hill - original painting at Los Gatos Museum.


Chris Berry said...

Quite a tome you wrote there again. Even my man Mountain Charlie got a shout out! I manage property which encompasses about half the Mountain Charlie watershed, so I have a special affinity for that character. Did you know he ran the SJ water company as well his other exploits over on this side of the hill?

Chris Berry said...

FYI...another "resistance" url...

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Dr. Murphy!