A Pastry-Maker’s Lament
This was going to be a nice post. I am new here, and so I was going to come in with something soft, positive–something everyone could agree on. But some things don’t work out the way we plan them, and today is no exception. Because today I am angry.
It all started when, in the middle of making French macarons for the farmers market, the pastry scale broke. We tried to fix it but it would not stand fixing, and so Mercedes, my gourmet-food-boss-and-friend (the best combination of realities, I assure you) decided it was time to head to the store for a replacement.
We were in Draper, and so we had the following options: Drive twenty minutes to a ginormous strip mall and purchase our scale at Bed, Bath and Beyond, or, um, drive twenty minutes to a ginormous strip mall and purchase our scale at–you guessed it–Bed, Bath and Beyond. So we did what we had to do. We got in the car, and we drove west.
Driving west in Draper means two things: It means you drive by mansion after stucco mansion squeezed between woebegone horse corrals trying to keep their dignity under the shadow of empire, and it means you are facing, dead on, three or four used-to-be-mountains. I say used to be, an adjective not normally found before the word mountains, because that’s exactly what I mean: where previously there stood several glorious peaks, there now stands several gouges in the mountainside, sand and dirt in dusty cascades down the front. Rio Tinto is responsible for this–Rio Tinto who owns Kennecott Copper, a site I was required to visit by the dictates of some field trip curriculum bureaucrat on the Utah school board who thought that bringing up conscious citizens involved them ooh-ing and ah-ing (unconsciously) at giant pits of pillage and privilege in the ground. We went there, and did our God-given, sixth-grade American duty, and it’s funny, you know–I can’t even remember thinking: “These used to be mountains,” or, “What is this hole doing here?” I just accepted that the landscape was a murder scene, a carcass cast off the hungry table of human nature. I didn’t even know there was another option.
Now I am 29 and driving west through Draper. Now I know there are other options. Now I study old pictures of this valley, what it was like before we made it blossom like the wrong kind of rose, and I know everything we say to comfort ourselves isn’t true. This place was not a wasteland of a few scraggly trees. This place was lovely. And we destroyed it.
Like I said, I am not in the mood for subtleties. Some days it is just too much. I look around and think, “This is what humans do? This is the space we like to move through? These are our priotities? Ruining everything?”
I have been told by lots of People Who Feel Things–witches, astrologists, homeopaths–that I have a very ‘sensitive’ nature. Does that explain why this entire world is an assault on everything that matters to me? We enter Bed, Bath and Beyond and I want to pull people aside, start interviewing them. “How do you feel when you park your car in a giant lot and walk into this yawning store?” I want to ask them that. I know how I feel. The store is flourescent, white, warehouse-y. There are televisions on the end of every aisle. Televisions. I close my eyes and I can hear seven layers of sound, all talking about what the President said about what the Republicans said about what he said. I open my eyes. Two whole rows of garlic peelers gleam in front of me.
I think of what my friend said to me, just the other day. “This entire culture,” he said, “This entire culture is a whole and complicated, serpentine lie to get you to see everything but the point: that everything, everything–all your expectations, your definitions of happiness, your plans, your possessions, your idea of reality–is possible because of cheap, supposedly limitless oil.
The day didn’t end there, though. For some unexplicable reason I had agreed to drive to Logan for something irrelevant to this post, and as I drove it was more of the same: oil refinery after oil refinery, billboard after billboard announcing new frontiers of woman-hating cosmetic technologies. And nowhere but nowhere to be at peace. And then this strange habit kicked in, this strange habit I have. Sometimes I look around me and take in all the humans, but instead of humans, I make myself see other animals. I see a whole valley full of one million otters, for example: otters in their cars, otters going to work, otters in bikinis on billboards adverstising otter liposuction, a Mormon otter running for president and moving decidedly right. And I shudder. I shudder in horror. It gives me perspective on how wrong this whole business is, how we look from the perspective of other beings. And we look bad. Real bad.
I am also thinking of another story my friend told me, perhaps apocryphal, but powerful–as apocryphal stories are wont to be. In his story, a newspaper reporter climbed to the top of the mountain with an Indian chief (sorry, them’s all the details I’ve got). The mountain overlooked a whole valley where there had just been a huge battle. Before the huge battle there had been the longer battle of slower devastation: crop burning, frontier-pushing, animals hunted to extinction. Now the plain was littered with bodies, fires smoking everywhere. The newspaper man said to the chief: What now? and for a minute, thought the chief was asleep (he took so long to answer). Finally, the chief stirred and looked at the newspaper man. “All is lost,” he said. That’s all. Just: all is lost.
That is how I feel, sometimes. I want us to do better. So much better. But I don’t know what to do or how to act in a world where a mountain is there one year and gone the next. I don’t know what it means to be part of that world, or what exactly it would mean to fight it. It’s as if it all started, thousands of years ago, with one or two terrible and towering assumptions, and then, millenia later: this. It’s not so much the particulars as it is the low thumping of a very, very bad idea–that we are more important than anything. That garlic peelers are more important than sanity, beauty, braiding rivers.
So what am I saying? Nothing, in particular, except that it’s got to stop. Everything, in general, including that we must, we must, allow ourselves to grieve. I almost held it inside today, like I am used to doing, but instead I turned like a faucet and raged to my gourmet-cook-friend, then wrote this. We focus a lot in the environmental community on solutions. And we should. But I am saying today that if I don’t grieve for the loss of this world than I am not fully alive, and if I am not I will not make life from this death. I am asking for a place to admit what we’ve done.
I am asking for the right to scream.
And yes, I am asking for some honesty. I am asking all of us to admit that we can do so much better than this, that we are smart and brave and that our worst mistakes are better than the logic that blows up mountains to extract unrenewable oil, and then to be brave with our best ideas for stopping this madness. And I am asking us to admit that our EPAs and our expert testimonies and our slick justifications don’t mean a damn thing if we are still making holes in the ground that are visible from outer space. And I am asking, finally, for us to buck all the conventional wisdoms and arguments and uppers and downers that keep us from our brave offerings and just do what we must–and we must–to preserve this spinning planet.
So much for the nice intro post. But if you were interested in having me–all of me–then today was your lucky day.