Musings on a feeling of disconnectedness: part I

Lately I’ve been feeling disconnected from life in a way that feels bigger than I am, and I hope to reach someone else out there who might be experiencing similar feelings. They arise not from anything special about me, I think they’re more about context than anything. It can be hard to recognize a problem as systematic if nobody seems to talk about it that way.

I feel disconnected in a way that makes it hard for me to find purpose in life. I’m disconnected from the environment in which my distant ancestors evolved. That sort of environment has become much harder to reach and exploration takes a lot of resources. I live in a city and there are parks all around me and plenty of wildlifes, but I’m not connected with the trees in any meaningful way. I give them nothing and they give me shade and awe and wonder. Sometimes they give me fruit and I appreciate that most of all, but it’s hard to know which fruit are ok to take because what if someone claims ownership of that tree and therefore those fruit? 

I’ve been consuming (mostly in audio form) many books lately on the world we inhabit but also somehow don’t inhabit. I’m terrible with titles but here are the ones I can remember:

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben: 
I must admit I was only half listening, but the concepts I appreciated included:

  • Trees as fundamentally social, much like humans who prefer to live in communities and rely on and support each other
  • Trees as living on a different time scale from humans during which they had far more experience from which to develop their behaviors
  • Trees give so much but are unable to ask for anything in return from those who do not listen 

The Overstory by Richard Powers: 
Wonderfully interwoven narratives that are rooted (pun intended) in stories about trees. 

  • Trees and humans as distant ancestors. it’s a lovely reminder that we share a world and that we’re not being gracious relatives. 
  • People learning to listen to trees by giving them their time and attention and seeking to learn from them not just what they give but also what they need help with that humans can provide
  • The hope that there are people out there who care about the things that I care about and want to do something about it. who speaks for the trees?

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer: 
Currently reading and appreciating. A book of essays in which the author describes her little corner of the world from her perspective as a botanist, a mother, and member of the Potawotami community. Science intertwined with natural knowledge passed on through culture and acquired through curiosity and exploration. 

  • That there is a term to describe this habit I have of giving gifts whenever I am able and to whoever I connect with. A gift economy, where goods, services, and acts of kindness are given freely and without expectation of return on investment. 
  • That Native American cultures make more sense and sound more true and right to me than the dominant American culture ever has

I would also recommend:

  • The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
  • The Body by Bill Bryson
  • Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
  • The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson 

What came out of enjoying these books and meeting wonderful people (everyone I meet is wonderful :D) is this doodle:

The contents of my brain as of late

It has been hot in Denver and quite smoky. I understand that the smoke is coming from massive wildfires to the West. I do not live in the West, but the fires affect me. Climate catastrophe on a global scale may not be entirely avoidable but at least on some scale we can surely reduce damage.

Maybe we find a way to share resources outside of a transactional economy in which people with highly specialized skills sets trade their expertise for money.

Maybe we develop a collective understanding of how to live more symbiotically within our ecosystems and give back where we have only taken. A lot of people are concerned about planting trees and several organizations have been evangelizing the need to reforest and protect the trees that we have. The trees that live on a vastly different time scale from humans and have had a lot more time to evolve best practices for how to survive and thrive.

Maybe we learn to interpret the language of the natural world, which often broadcasts intentions just by being. Like how a tree broadcasts their intention to receive help from animals (humans included) in spreading their seeds by making the fruit an eye-catching color and delicious in flavor and aroma. Flavors that we can only taste because we have evolved the ability to do so – we are very well matched with trees and fungi.

Many of us find mushrooms delicious and sometimes mind opening. The people who have the most curiosity about the mushrooms might specialize in mycology and have occupations related to that set of knowledge. We have to have incomes so, at best, we find jobs that fit our interests and what we already want to be doing. Practitioners of traditional medicine, who developed a deep knowledge of the plants and fungi they cultivated and harvested, might similarly specialize their knowledge into a form that can be applied for the purposes of earning an income.

This type of specialization might be efficient within a much larger system where other people and/or entities are responsible for holding other specializations and knowledge bases, but might come at the cost of not having knowledge that is vital to our living symbiotically or reciprocally in our environment.

At some point, the increased complexity of organizations such as corporations or governments can make it possible for people to survive and thrive without having any knowledge of the ecosystems that support our collective existence and without really having to think of the ecosystemic ramifications of taking without giving back and not listening to what our environment wants from us. These very same complex systems also make it possible for people to learn more about our ecology and how we can be better stewards of the spaces we occupy.

I aspire to combine the former (complexity of human organizations that makes it possible for ideas to spread among many people) and the latter (knowledge that can be gleaned by spending much time outside and mindfully observing our fellow earth inhabitants). I’m not sure yet how and I have very much to learn before I can teach such a class, but I’d very much like to one day weave together ideas from American Indian cultures, ecological science, and human computer interaction to build a class that takes into account every other denizen of our planet on top of human-centered technology development.

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