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Monday, March 17, 2014

Penokee Hills

When we begin to define the world around us, it is well to consider what we really need for survival versus what we need to thrive. The way many westerners approach information is to use a technique  that is akin to dissection. We see this process at work in what are called the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowances) for the variety of identified essential nutrients. We try to tease out the magic bullets within the foods we eat and the herbal medicines of native people, seeking the magic bullet that we call the active ingredient. The scientific method is excellent at refining the "most important" part of organic compounds, but in that process we diminish the importance of the host of other ingredients that are not appreciated for their nutritional value, their healing qualities or the benefits that they provide. The same can be said for ecosystems and the planetary relationships between all beings as well. It seems that when our analysis teases out a specific thread, we forget what was sifted and winnowed away and that which lent strength to the web of life, the stability that supported the abundant life cycles withing which a living could be made.

Trying to place a value on one part of the system without understanding the relationships between all aspects of the world around us is like poking around in the dark with a laser beam. The intensity of the light can wash out the detail, texture and true nature of whatever it falls upon and the surrounding dark only seems to intensify our ignorance of the fabric of life that surrounds the object of our interest. We need to begin to understand the true nature of Sacred Space. Trying to change the way we think about the world around us will not be possible if we continue to look at the world around us the way we have up until now. Each part of the whole is essential, once dissected, the organism cannot be brought back to life.

I was raised completely within a tradition, some call white, others call it that of the oppressor, the colonizers, the culture of extraction. I cannot tell you why I never bought into the basic assumptions of that culture, but perhaps I just understood deeper truths than those around me. Perhaps, when my grandfather told me, "Kid, shut yo' mouth. One day you gonna be trouble." My immediate response was to ask myself how this man, who was supposed to be the strong one in the family, could knuckle under to powerful interests who concerned themselves not with his life, but only about their own? How could I be expected to respect his teaching now that I understood that standing up for what was right would always take a back seat to trying to eke out survival under rules that even he did not believe in? I understand now that he was trying to save me from years of pain and hardship that would inevitably be caused by my raising my head or hand and being the one who would nearly always stick out as different, ask the wrong questions or point out the fallacies upon which the lies were founded, but in my young mind I knew that there were better ways, more complete understandings of the world that could only come if we asked the right kinds of questions.

How might we survive? How might we respect the life of all organisms upon which ours rest? How might we leave the planet whole and intact for future generations? How might we show our respect for our grandchildren without throwing them into the maw of capitalism and the war/ industrial machine? How might we show our respect for all beings?

This is certainly the case, and the series of questions that we need to be asking ourselves about the Penokee Hills of Northern Wisconsin. What has brought them to the fore in recent times is low grade iron ore that lies within the crystalline structure of the hills themselves. The sulfide bearing rock that holds the iron in a matrix, along with asbestos and other minerals, has sustained atop its great protuberance, a myriad of organisms that have no other place to call home. Even the people who reside in and around the Penokee Hills rely on the water holding capacity of the organisms, the millions of life forms, the complex food webs for their health and survival. There is no magic bullet in nature, all must thrive, or repercussions shake the very footings upon which life sustains itself. We cannot take away the water, we cannot poison it, we cannot dam it or pump it out without affecting the entire region negatively. We cannot remove the deer or the fish, or the mosquitoes without drastically crippling the entire food web that creates the abundance of nature that lives there now.

The destruction has begun already. Test holes have been drilled. Topsoil that took thousands of years to build up have been excavated and tossed aside, left to flow into pristine river systems. The greed of far off interests has begun to tear at the fabric of life in the Penokeees. All of this life is sacred. The humans, who have been embittered and set one against the other in the "fight" over the "resources" (sacred gifts) don't even matter to those who would despoil the land. Those who continue to squander our planet for their own enrichment have never cared about jobs, the people or the land they rape. They do not only want the magic bullet of copper or diamonds or iron ore, they seem to be interested only in their power over people and the planet control of other people's lives and changing the environment. This is what we, the people, must learn and stand against.

A friend who has spoken eloquently about these and other issues has said that he still considers himself pro-life. It is the one thing that he learned as a Catholic that he feels on the soul level. What he points out is that to be truly pro-life, you need to support life which you do not understand or have dominion over. You cannot be pro-life if you do not extend your compassion to babies that are out of the womb. You cannot be truly pro-life if you are willing to practice genocide against people that you deem "primitive". You cannot be pro-life while purveying nothing but death in your wake. Life is a sacred gift, these hills are completely covered with abundant, sacred, life and living organisms that are gifts of the gods. Throwing the entire region into the hopper for some buggers bottom line is, in fact, raping the entire Mother Earth that we are beginning to see holds the key to our survival. Without a moment's hesitation, our Governor and State Legislature have caved in to interests that would destroy the entire region for a few millions in their pockets and the destitution, the death and poisoning of the land would remain for centuries, long after the last few pennies left behind were spent.

There is hardly an area of the planet which is not facing a similar plight, but I know that I could not live with myself if I did not stand up and raise awareness about how backward this approach is. Lying across the northern tier of counties that surround the Penokee Hills are the giant machines that crushed ore over century ago, the several generations of cars and farm implements made of iron that are now rusting in the fields of the region. In total, there are many times more iron available to be picked off the landscape than could be wrested from the proposed giant hole that the mining interests want to blast to powder and leave behind, forever tainting the largest freshwater ecosystem on the North American continent. If they truly want the magic bullet we call iron, plans need to be made to recycle what our forefathers took out of the ground rather than ruining the last bit of what they left undisturbed for the profit of men who will never step foot in Wisconsin.

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