Photograph of wild onion by Max Wilbert
By Trinity La Fey, March 25, 2021
When, concerned for our safety, my husband pressured me to either censor or disguise myself online, I replied, “You keep talking at me like I don’t know what kind of world this is and I am asking you: what kind of a world do you want to live in?”
I-search papers annoy me and I try not to write them, but in this, there can be no dispassionate analysis. Without relating the experience, how can this story be told? If Rebecca Wildbear, who recounted, “Since the dawn of civilization, humanity has caused the loss of 80% of wild mammals and 50% of plants. 90% of large fish, 50% of coral reefs and 40% of plankton have been wiped out. Of all the mammals now on Earth, 96% are livestock and humans. Only 4% are wild mammals.” couldn’t convince you, or at least pique your curiosity, I doubt I will either. There are already exceptional writers and reciters of numbers and names of species. That is not what I am and that is not what this article will be.
This is about where we live.
When I hear about dams, mining, logging, drilling, fracking and industrial production, I hear about it in numbers and names: this many of that species eradicated (to use the euphemism); this much money for that company; this many jobs for which community; how many years of what material; this many of that habitat displaced.
Are these the questions we really want the answers to?
I live in my body. When I eat too much or not enough, when I’m ill dressed for the weather, when I’m careless with my movements in relation to my environment, pain and discomfort tell me, in no uncertain terms, what is wrong.
Derrick Jensen once said, “Before you laugh and say a river is just a container through which water flows and happens to be filled with other beings, let me ask you: when was the last time you had a drink of water; and let me ask you: when is the next time you’re gonna’ pee?[ L]et me remind you that more than 90% of the cells in your body don’t contain your DNA . . .”
I can tell you the kind of world I don’t want to live in and the kind of person I don’t want to be. That is a world in which dams, mines, drills, deforesters and trawlers go unfettered in their genocidal quests, the kind of person that is complicit in those atrocities by default.
If I were a rich man, maybe it would embarrass me to hear arguments to the effect that environmentalism is a luxury of the privileged. Maybe, if I didn’t know that Bangladesh is one-third under water, I could be spoken over about how, “There’s no point in trying to ‘save the planet,’ how arrogant and self-righteous it is when everything is doomed and Earth has gone through plenty of extinctions. What’s one more event?”
But I am not a rich man and I live in a country that has displaced more people than water has, so far, in Bangladesh. Will Falk once said, “Don’t ask, ‘What can I do?’ but, ‘What needs to be done?’”
So I went to Thacker Pass and asked him.
Except it wasn’t as simple as that. Before Thacker Pass, since September of 2015, my husband and I have spent but one night apart. We’re the kind of couple that really leans into the whole ‘interdependency’ concept. Though I have been a passenger near and far, being a late-blooming driver, until Thacker Pass, I’d never myself travelled more than two hours away from my home. Thacker Pass was two, eight-hour days of driving away from my responsibilities and loves, where I work for a living. As I told everyone who came to the camp, I cried all the way to Laramie. I bored everyone else to tears talking them up about him. All five of us.
Surreal doesn’t touch it. I had to rent a car, reserve an out of state hotel, two ways, with a card. I am not a rich man luxuriating in ideology. I’m at ground level out here, seeing and feeling the dire effects of pollution and poverty. Both of those acts were things I’d never done before. They were alien and beyond expensive. They are things I want gone: emblematic of a way of life that as Max Wilbert so eloquently said, “ . . .we don’t get to vote on . . . .”
Before I left, I kept thinking: this is my ‘real’ car insurance money this year.
Do I really care about the planet, or do I care about the people that I personally know?
This is my tuition for that class I have to take.
Do I really care about the environment, or do I care about my life today?
Am I betraying my relationships by leaving to do this?
Do I really care about the Earth? What do I care about?
What if something happens to one of us? I am on my little flippy phone; no use out there in the boonies.
I can barely bring myself to leave the house for work or groceries. How the hell am I going to leave my life, with my husband, in our apartment and stay away for fifteen days?
I wasn’t out there because I so much enjoy winter camping. I wasn’t out there for my good health. I had to go because I couldn’t live with not going. It was an emotional allegiance I could either live up to or shrivel. I didn’t want to leave at all. My husband had to encourage me to go because I had convinced him with my initial determination and it was too late to back out now. In one of his videos, Max spoke about native people who rejected horse riding because it moved your body faster than your soul could travel and it took time to catch up.
That is my experience also.
As soon as I got there, I wanted to go back home. Principle had made me some kind of fool to bring me out in the middle of this beautiful nowhere when I needed to be saving up and hunkering down. I set up a little calendar to count down the days. It was February 16th. At that time, there were three of us.
It would be inappropriate to speak about the others, by name, who, like me, came and stayed and left. I will say that true-blue environmentalists are some of the most attractive people it has been my pleasure to meet. They were an easy crowd to be around, easy on the eyes, easy to fall in love with. We made coffee and dreamed dreams and walked around and waited for our souls to catch up with us.
The expectation felt was that we should write some great thing to make us not euphemise genocide and then stop committing it. I’m a writer. I write. So, I know how this works. You can’t effectively write about what you don’t feel. If I wanted to be able to listen to the place, I’d have to get all the other stuff out of the way. I wrote love letters to my husband like it was some bygone wartime. I wrote every day, sometimes all day. There was much to get out.
Finally, the walks started yielding phrases and poem snippits. Then themes from our conversations and firelight stories gave me some language of place. I started writing love letters of parting to my fellow campers.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time outside in wild, half-wild and deadly domesticated places. I would describe Thacker Pass as half-wild. Cattle move through there; we were camped under a weather tower; roads, fences and power-lines are visible in the day; city and ranch house lights are visible at night. We were completely surrounded by mountains. From a mountainous place, I didn’t expect the desertous Nevada I remembered to have such landscapes. It really was a wonderful consolation against the cold and wind and waking up alone to piss in the cold wind to be in such a beautiful place, surrounded by so many impressive kindred. Everywhere life was teeming around us, in the ice and wind. Every night the coyotes sang from the valley below. Every day the ravens cawed and swooped down from the cliffs above. The kangaroo mice left their tracks and teeth marks on everything. I made friends with a rat. The sage was very patient with us. The rabbit brush was like the sage’s lover. These others weren’t names on a list. These are family members in a shared landscape. Once my soul caught up with me and I got all my stuff out, there wasn’t too much I missed. The number-one reason I don’t recreate in the mountains of my home is that it is Earth-expensive, but a close second is that it hurts so much to come back. The longest I’d been out before was a week. After two weeks at Thacker Pass, I was half-wild again too. Coming back is some bullshit.
There are good things. I wept with a soldier’s relief to see my husband again. Having running water, with soap, next to a toilet is amazing. Showers.
What does it cost?
Do we want to live in ugly places?
Why are the places we reside and rely on made ugly and despoiled?
Lierre Keith noted, “Right now, we are losing 200 species every single day. So, all the prairies, all the forests, anyplace that you could grow those crops, has been taken over. It’s quite grim when you think about it: 99% of the forests are gone and 99% of the original prairies are gone.” What could I possibly write to convince one who would rationalize or justify? The Lorax has already been written. It’s all there. No need for an argument about numbers as ratio or names as technicality. There is only: the last one. Then: none.
Where I live, there is a beer manufacturer polluting the river; a steel refinery, a meat packing plant and a pet food company poisoning the air. You can tell which way the wind is blowing by them. There are fracking rigs everywhere. Really. Everywhere. Deserted oil derricks, mine pits, clear cuts: those are mostly in the half-wild places.
Why did I go to Nevada when there’s plenty of work to do here? Because I can’t face down a sea of denial in all human relationships. I can’t fight this alone, just like Max and Will put out the call for others to come join them: because they understood that it would take the people living in and around Thacker Pass; it would take Canadians holding Lithium Americas to account and it would take total strangers willing to sacrifice, in solidarity, to stop the mine from going through.
What if we worked together to stop all the mines?
What if we invented life insurance?
What if we stopped industrial agriculture?
What if we invented credit cards and rental cars?
What if we ended rape?
What if we charged people to live in endless toil?
What if we murdered every species until they were all driven to extinction?
What if we don’t do that?
That is the only thing that concerns me now. This is not a passive extinction event, wrought about by the inevitable breaths of algae or touch of comets. We are doing this, as one species, to every other. Rather, some humans, with names and addresses, are profiting enormously (short term, of course) from massive social inequality among humans and human indifference or contempt for our only home and fellow Earthlings. This is not a series of accidents. These are devastating acts, deliberated over and intentionally carried out by people for whom they have been structurally incentivized.
What if we restructured?
I’ve been back now for longer than I was gone and still, I am not acclimated back into my normalized civilian life, because it is unnatural. I can’t unpack. I just walk around in my camping clothes, waiting to go back.
Even in the half-wild, even without my better half, even sometimes feeling pain and discomfort, re-wilding happened effortlessly. My stance widened. I grew two inches back from my working years. It felt good to do a hard, right thing: to put my time and money and body where my mouth was. My speech grew free and bold among new friends. I had a good time.
What if we were mammals inexorably bound to and interdependent with a larger, encompassing body?
What if, instead of quantifying, justifying, rationalizing, minimizing or qualifying global genocide, we stopped being genocidal?
What if we continue being genocidal?
What if we call the abuse of women and girls ‘sex’ and feed the footage of it to the limbic systems of men and boys for a few generations?
What will happen?
What has happened?
The expectation is that I should write something to make it stop.
You make it stop.
The Lorax has already been written.
Rebecca, Derrick, Will, Max, Lierre and I are part of an organization trying to do together what we cannot do alone. We need your help. In every way, we have to stop extracting and start re-wilding. There is no effective isolationist approach. We cannot buy into or out of it. We cannot escape from civilization anymore than we can the climate. We have to change.
We have mutilated ourselves into whatever kind of cyborgs we are now. Certainly, we can do something else instead, perhaps extending some humble curiosity toward the other species who do not destroy all life on the planet as a matter of course, but contribute to the possibility and furtherance of life, or our human ancestors who did the same.
I’m not feeling numbers and names when I feel the pull back to the half-wild place, but the same pang of love that is concerning one’s self with another. Not one inch of that place is appropriate to sacrifice further. Not one of our kindred species is it okay to push closer to the euphemism.
I don’t want to be the kind of person that says, “I tried to stop the mine at Thacker Pass. I spent two weeks there, but I had a life and couldn’t afford to go back.”
I want to be the kind of person who can say, “There aren’t mines anymore. We made sure of it.”
That takes living in the kind of world where you’re prepared to make sure of it too.
As Chumbawamba said it best:
“when the system starts to crack
we’ll have to be ready to give it all back
and when the system starts to crack
we’ll have to be ready to give it all back
and when the system starts to crack
we’ll have to be ready to give it all back”
Rebecca Wildbear, Premise One, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0IT4e4gMCA
Derrick Jensen, Earth At Risk 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vr2_Gbuo3OE
Will Falk, Protect Thacker Pass, https://twitter.com/ProtectThPass/status/1370621991598755848/photo/1
Max Wilbert, Premise One, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0IT4e4gMCA
Lierre Keith, Premise One, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0IT4e4gMCA
Chumbawamba, Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, Invasion, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7LwXoaj5q4