The Pagan gods are not exactly known for their forgiving natures. Yet as divine powers of regeneration and return, they offer a forgiveness all their own. Not the forgiveness of escape and abdication, nor the forgiveness of a benevolent Almighty on whose behalf we can act with unchallenged dominion. Rather, theirs is the forgiveness of restored responsibility, the response-ability that we possess as natural beings and citizens of the earth. After all, what do we seek when we seek forgiveness, but the chance to start again?
Totem Salmon: Life Lessons from Another Species, by Freeman House, is a meandering journey through the natural history of the Mattole River watershed in northern California, with particular focus on humanity's changing relationship with one of its keystone inhabitants, the Pacific salmon. The structure of the book in many ways mirrors the homeward journey of the salmon itself, from the depths of a shared ocean of experience back towards the headwaters rising from the heart of a unique landscape. I picked up this book hoping to brush up on some of my fishy facts and local history, but what I discovered was a story with a great deal more to give. House is a beautiful storyteller as well as an experienced conservationist, and his work reflects not only the careful eye and practical mind of a hands-on community activist, but also the raw heart and brutal honesty of someone madly in love with the natural world.
There are more of us out there than you think. We may not always be flashing our Pagan flair — sometimes we're wearing worn old hiking books and mud-spattered rain coats instead of shimmering ceremonial robes, sometimes we put aside our pentacles and wands for a good pair of binoculars and a sturdy walking stick — but we're out there. Walking the walk. Doing the work.
As a writer and creative type who thrives in the online world, issues of copyright protection and piracy can be very real problems for me. Of course I want legal protections for my work. As an avid reader and web-surfer who loves lolcats and Dinosaur Comics as much as the next person, I want the artists, writers and creative types out there who produce content for my favorite sites to have those same protections — even, no, especially if those creative types are just some college students messing around on YouTube and not Hollywood stars making millions off the latest blockbuster. But that's not what SOPA/PIPA is really about. The SOPA and PIPA bills are like the ring of power forged in the fires of Mount Doom: one law to rule them all, one law to find them, one law to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. Sponsored by a bloated entertainment industry that overcharges for pretty much everything, these bills would put in place the kind of invasive oversight infrastructure that would not only allow large corporations to sue technology start-ups and independent artists out of existence based on little to no evidence of piracy or copyright infringement, but would require on-going surveillance of user-produced content that makes Facebook's privacy problems look like child's play. Any website perceived as a potential threat to the Powers That Be would be vulnerable to lawsuits, while individuals would be subject to censorship and data-mining as a matter of course, creating a hostile and uncertain online environment in which conformity becomes the order of the day.
"What would happen if the government collapsed?" My oldest stepdaughter asked after I'd spent fifteen minutes explaining exactly what a bond was and why I was filling out paperwork to report which ones had been lost so that the government knew how much money they owed me. Her siblings all sat quietly, listening intently to the more-grown-up-than-usual conversation, and her voice carried a weight of anxiety in the silence. "This is going to be one of those Princess Bride moments," I told her. "I'm going to let you know that the giant screeching eels don't eat you. I'm telling you now because you look nervous."
As we enter the colder winter months, the days grow darker and time seems to slow down, thickening like sleepy sap in the bare-limbed trees. Yet for many of us watching the protests of the #OccupyWallStreet movement unfold over the last two months, the country seems poised on the brink of something revolutionary. A tension hangs in the air — the trembling stillness of hope and excitement, but also trepidation and anxiety. This pervasive mood has me thinking a lot recently about the Eastern spiritual philosophy of Taoism, and the lessons of stillness, receptivity and harmony with nature taught by its founders, Laozi and Zhuangzi. How might the insights of Taoism help us to understand the potency and influence of the #Occupy movement? And what can it tell us about where the movement might be heading in the future?
There's just too much in the news these days to keep up with here. Every morning I sit down to Twitter and my RSS reader right after breakfast and catch up on the latest updates coming out of the #Occupy movement. Some days, the news fills me with anger and frustration and grief; other days, with hope and gratitude and joy. More often, hope and anger mingle and turn in an intricate dance. It's hardly possible to separate them. There is something like tragic, sorrowing relief when the violence of an oppressive system finally surfaces, like that moment in a dream when the monster only you could see finally lets its cover slip. There is a kind of horror to that hope, and hope even within the horror. I think maybe this is what it will always be like to be a human animal. Still, I sit mostly on the sidelines. I have lots of excuses for not getting more deeply involved, and most of them sound pretty lame even to me. I've done my best to support the movement by making donations and helping to spread the word — I'd like to think that counts for something. I want to believe that for a movement so profoundly shaped by social media, communication and education have their place alongside direct action. That these acts are themselves a kind of protest.