Monday, May 28, 2012

The Earth, Too, Is a Veteran

On this Memorial Day, 2012, it seems appropriate to consider how the Earth, too, has served in many battles.

In 1987, when I was living in New York, writing scripts and producing soundtracks for multimedia productions, I read an article in Winds of Change magazine about an Oneida Indian engineer, David Powless, who had received a National Science Foundation grant to research and develop a process for recycling hazardous steel waste. 

With funding from IBM, a few colleagues  and I made a short video about David that was later shown to international IBM employees at a conference in Palm Beach. The video explored his work, both as an engineer and as a member of the Turtle Clan of the Oneida Tribe dedicated to fostering the traditional ways of his people. While I was interviewing him for the production, he told me story of how he had come into relation with the steel waste.

When he learned that he had received the grant, David said, he drove out to an enormous mound of steel waste and scrambled to the top with two buckets that he had brought along to collect samples of the waste that he would analyze. Triumphantly, he declared to the black pile of waste, "I'm going to conquer you!" 

But by the time he had trekked back down the hill with two his buckets full, he knew that this approach was all wrong. "I realized that the waste was an orphan," he said. "It had been lost from the circle of life. My job was to bring it back to the circle of life."

I was deeply moved by this story. It seemed to me to offer a new perspective on ecological crisis: a way of not only dealing with, but actually loving parts of the earth that were, by most standards, unlovable, and even unlivable.

When I founded Radical Joy for Hard Times in the spring of 2009, I called David, whom I had not seen or spoken with in more than twenty years, and told  him how his words had inspired me. Then, when the RadJoy board of directors of the new organization and I started thinking about a Council of Advisors, experts in several fields who would offer us their expertise and support, of course we invited David. He consented.
Recently, David Powless reflected on how the Earth's wounded places have something in common with soldiers. “These places are like veterans," he said. "They’ve given a lot. You may not agree with the war, but you have to honor the warriors.”

So, as we honor the warriors who have fought, showed bravery, and died in so many wars, let us also honor the Earth, who has also served us so well.

Photo above: Omaha Beach Memorial, Normandy, France