Second Thought: Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Humankind at the Light Switch

At winter solstice and waterís edge, can we come back from the dark?


The ocean is a prairie with its life underground and a perfect disguise above. About 18,000 short years ago, before the glaciers and continental ice sheets melted and the seas rose 400 feet, the Texas coastline was a hundred miles farther out. Standing at the waterís edge on Galveston Island, I look out to sea, imagining the beach not here, but out there, the tallgrass prairie stretching to fill the distance. Who lies beneath those waters? Buffalo, antelope, mammoths, wolves ... and what people, what tribes? Weíll never know.
Itís the winter solstice again, and I havenít written in a year. In my ďLast Christmas in ComoĒ column, I wrote that I had gotten over that strange flea-bitten illness. Little did I know what storm was approaching. By mid-January, I was on my deathbed. It was like my muscles were being torn off my chest in a meatgrinder, and a jackhammer ramming up into my skull. Uncontrollable shivering ruled the day, massive sweats the night. Down to 157 pounds, this once-robust athlete could barely move or breathe. Three times I felt myself start to go. But somehow, I held on. If I hadnít been vegan and super-healthy beforehand, would I have made it?
In early spring, Kaiden, my 9-year-old son, and I went to Galveston, a place that represents the best of life to me. Itís also the place of Texasí original conception, where in 1528 the Moorish slave Esteban and his shipwrecked conquistador masters staggered ashore into the virgin prairie wilderness. Assisted by this first blackman, the hapless conquistadors had to become part of the local prairie and its Indian cultures, rather than forcing the land and people to adapt beneath them. It was a brief opportunity, lost now, to forge a civilization based on empathy, equality, and understanding.
Dusk in early spring shimmers the Gulf sky platinum-blue, as warm, windy days and cool nights battle over the awakening land. With the waves tossing and restless, Kaiden and I, shivering a little, carefully barefooted into the glowing sand dunes crawling with low, lush plant life. We couldnít resist climbing the seemingly prehistoric tree trunk washed ashore long ago ó two humans still cool with being monkeys. Suddenly Kaiden froze, his hand reaching back to touch his skinny daddy. I looked where he did ó a withered man sprawled face down in the sand up against the trunk. Clothes rumpled. Dead man.
We re-focused. Just rumpled clothes. The man was gone.
When Kaiden and I watched Ice Age 2 on DVD, I commented that the mammoth, saber-toothed tiger, and others were extinct. ďNot because of us!Ē he blurted. His need to believe that weíre not responsible for all death struck me. I didnít have the heart to tell him that, unfortunately, itís likely that humans had a hand in those extinctions too. Overkill by increasingly technological humans unable to see and restrain the cumulative impact of their actions, coupled with burgeoning climate change, appears to have been too much for the old animal nations and the reason we donít have American elephants, cheetahs, giant sloths, mammoths, and many others today.
The average daily temperature of Venus is 867 degrees. Earthís is 59. A main difference between the two is that most of Venusí carbon is stored in its atmosphere. Earthís has been stored underground, in the form of dead plants and animals millions of years old. Over the last couple hundred years, weíve been working industriously to change this.
The approaching solstice is the darkest day of the year, but it makes me think of the returning of the light. Standing between darkness and light, I cannot stop thinking why we shouldnít all turn our heads to the solar star that powers all life. It would mean common sense and renewal beyond spiritual.
The Gulf of Mexico has always been a growling, toothy ocean, promising no certainty, not really a paradise or a vacation, even though its once-Eden coast represented not only conception but fertility, where the prairie met the sea. Two halves of a whole. She seduces and scares me, has drawn me into her my whole life.
And I canít help myself. Standing at her edge lately, I feel an underlying panic. Might as well be leaning over the lip of her open mouth. Galveston is only three feet above sea level. The barrier islands of Galveston, Matagorda, and Padre are only 5,000 years old. Katrina was just a taste.
Iím 174 pounds now. Hitting the gym like the ninja I used to be. Iím afraid of getting sick again, especially in the cold. My lungs seem permanently scarred. I donít know exactly when the last of the mysterious illness passed out of me. But I know that body and Earth and rebirth are all intertwined. And fever is all around us. I pray pray pray that we are strong and smart enough to fight it off while there is still time. Every child should get to experience the type of days outside that Kaiden has.
Itís always night by the time Kaiden and I leave the beach. At the last moment we find ourselves at waterís edge, the waves out there baring their white teeth. In darkness we squat, pressing our palms into the wet sand. Or fall face down, arms spread, nostrils flaring as the water slips between skin and sand, tries to peel us off, bring us in. The black sky shines with other stars, living things bump into one another out in the deep, near our faces below-ground an unseen crab blows a bubble up a tiny air tube (who knows his thoughts in complete underground darkness?) and we give thanks to God and Earth (and Woman Water) for this day, as another wave rushes in, grabs at us, before we can pull away.
Jarid Manosí book, Ghetto Plainsman, has just been released by Temba House Press.

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