Thursday, May 03, 2007


Earth's Midpoint, Leaning Towards Empty

Mid-afternoon vast emptiness. Perfectly still, the sun beaming off the rhododendron leaves, tree branches frozen in their lacy patterns.On the window, sixty ladybugs flit, crawl and tumble, herded by two wasps. At the fulcrum of each day there is a moment when you think of the 10,000 things to do, or the books to read, or the silent hungry writing desk, or the four directions in which you could walk through these mountains.Today, at such a moment, going outside to pee in the compost, smelling the cold fresh air and feeling acutely alive...

On such an afternoon you entered the Udaigiri Caves of Madhya Pradesh, the Middle State, and while the sun blazed outside on the Malwa Plain, watched a thousand hanging bats turning as one to observe you. Another time, you lay with Judith in a North Alabama's farmer's wide latewinter field to make love, a helicopter buzzing us in lazy circles. Afterwards, lying there, this vast turning cosmos - the same huge emptiness as if nothing had happened. Our little moment spent, we were ant-husks to the voyeurs above, who buzzed on.

The core of these moments is that nothing you could do would really matter, and, recognizing this, there is a fleeting desire to do nothing, to extend the nap, or go cuddle the dog. This moment is so sweet, so empty of action, like you are harvesting the whole 15 billion years' yearning of the Fireball universe - a net zero. But what passion is summed in that level scale! You are at a fulcrum bridging that blue sky, and the scythe of time is dead still, all desires that were ready to clamor forth herded, momentarily checked. It is at such a moment when the perfect action is to string the tanpura.

High Noon; look up. The Greeks knew the outcome of a battle by observing who had the momentum when the sun first started to set, that is the instant after noon. If you didn't have Helios with you when he started his downward course, it was just too much inertia to fight the combined forces of your present position and the sun's setting gravity.

December 28, 2006. Earth's Mittelpunkt, when all the energy we have usurped started running back into the system. The trees around me told me this, on this deck. Above me, a prop-plane, at Mittelpunkt since childhood, droning through the sky. Birdsong, a dog yapping in the distance. The huge space, the eternal space-time of it. Then, the sting of wool on my ankle, and I'm here.

Expert oil geologist Kenneth Deffeyes reached his mittelpunkt on December 16, 2005, when he announced global Peak Oil on NPR, tagging the moment when we had pumped half the available oil from the earth's entrails. He reached his date not by intuition or listening to the dying hemlocks, but by graphing all the data on oil availability and extraction rates. The NPR statement was radio theater, not a statement of scientific fact, based on probability. Extremely high probability.

High Noon: Mittelpunkt. Last hours of ancient sunlight Hartman calls it. We've used up half the stored sunlight, and we are now headed inexorably towards twilight. This solar peak is simultaneous with the setting sun of human history. Peak Oil, now being pictured on graphs spreading around the earth in corporate offices, schools and coffee tables, is chronological. But it is also a moment with quality, what the Greeks called kairos. In the heat of battle, there was a quality to the moment, not just a ticking of time. At just this moment Hector fell, and all that followed was pregnant within that moment: his being dragged around the walls, his wife and children enslaved, the recording of the Greeks victorious. Last hours of ancient sunlight.
The other characteristic of the kairos of the early twenty-first century is that we are on the cusp of runaway Global Warming. By a fit of burning like there was no tomorrow the beneficiaries of the industrial revolution have doomed future generations to tribal battles like the Greeks fought, too many people with too scarce resources. One is going on right now in the Sudan, another in Palestine, yet another in Iraq. Burning the stores of ancient sunlight, we are releasing CO2 in a global bonfire, trapping the sun's heat. The geologian Thomas Berry calls this fit of burning the "petroleum interval." Though brief, it has been pivotal, levering us into unsustainable territory, past our species boundaries to the precipice of population crash. We are subject to the same laws of population as the "dumb" animals and silent plants. Peak Oil and Global Warming are two spikes produced by the same madness: to splurge when there's available food and energy. We are like a ferocious algal bloom.
The sound of that prop-plane has always comforted me, made me feel secure. Once, though, when I was ten, I dreamt that it was suspended over Mobile's Crawford Park, and I ran to catch the Soviet nuke it had released. The huge round bomb just touched my hands as the dream dissolved. What do our ten-year olds do when they realize we are in global eco-crisis, midpoint turning quickly to endgame?

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