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Hi, my name is Jim Macdonald, and I have an odd assortment of interests. In no particular order, I love Yellowstone, I am an anti-authoritarian activist and organizer, and I have a background in philosophy, having taught at the college level. My blog has a lot more links to my writing and my other Web sites. In Jim's Eclectic World, I try to give a holistic view of my many interests. Often, all three passions show themselves interweaving in the very same blog. Anyhow, I think it's a little different. But, that's me. I'm not so much out there, but taken together, I'm a little unusual.

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    Saturday, June 09, 2007

    Erotic Yellowstone: An ode to Empedocles

    I remember what it was like to hold her tight on the boardwalks of the Porcelain Basin in a land called Norris, to kiss her lips for the very first time under the dark and steamy sky, water crackling around us and beneath us. In a wink of an eye, that moment was gone. Long after driving back through the fog of early morning in Hayden Valley, long after she told me it wasn't working out among the hot pools on a dark night at West Thumb, long after the severe depression that ensued, I remember that moment, that moment with someone I may never see again and have not heard from since she told me just how unhappy she was with my insanity.

    In moments, we can be carried by a force we scarcely understand, one that launches us both to joy and to sorrow. The same force that gives us life will undo our DNA and scatter it elsewhere. Whatever we are, the power of those moments is unfathomable.

    In time, I have had other moments of joy and sorrow. In the narrative I weave about it all, we know that the story has ups and downs driven by these forces. I will not end up on top; I will end up in a grave, or preferably with scattered ashes. And, even if a Last Judgment smiles on me, we cannot pretend that eternity is so dull as to be free from the yo yo of passionate ebbs and flows. If we are free of it, then we are not alive.

    All of this makes one wonder what one is striving for; if the joys we strive for decay into sorrow, or even vice versa, what is one to continue striving for in the midst of such a realization? When one is no longer blind to the inevitability of what the pre-socratic Empedocles talked about (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, thank God for wikipedia), namely that the force that giveth will also take away (Yellowstone, your days are numbered as well, some say they are overdue to explode), how is one to act? What are we striving for? The impulse to achieve seems less when one feels the doom of decay. What is it?

    I think about this tonight looking at the poor bison suffering in Yellowstone, hazed or slaughtered, of those striving to protect them, of those who wonder what this means for the Yellowstone we love. It seems insane that life and death is determined this way and for these reasons as though something meaningful is being achieved by this wisdom. I worry, though, that even as we fight against the insanity, that we think a utopia is around the corner. Let's never pretend that everything will always be well; that is not really the world that any of us want. No sooner do we solve one problem than another one appears. What directs this striving, this touch of the lips, the hips, and the subsequent rejection? What is this madness that leads us to want this and nothing else, to build ivory towers, or buffalo corrals, or hamburgers, or even the alternative? What is so golden about going green, anyhow? Do we really think there's a fountain of youth?

    My words are wrapped up in a kind of poetry. I think I'm saying something that I can say concisely and analytically, though. I don't think we are very clear about what we are doing in places like Yellowstone, or in our own lives, and we won't fess up to our value judgments, or defend them. Yet, we will defend the consequences of those value judgments to the extreme. Those who are most successful at it rule the world, at least until it unravels for them. It is to say that I don't know what we should be striving for; I only sense we are only a little better off striving against this cycle, but "a little better off" seems so hopelessly vague.

    If all our striving is for something we know to be a moment soon lost, for a reality that will decay, I don't think we can strive very long. The philosopher Albert Camus wrote about the Myth of Sisyphus, the man condemned by the gods to roll a rock up a hill for all eternity. For Camus, he imagined Sisyphus defiant and in his defiance happy, though all his striving was for nothing. Eternal meaning was in the defiant moment, to take the worst the gods could throw at you, and to persevere. However, can you persevere when you are not merely Sisyphus pushing a rock but Sisyphus recognizing that you are hopelessly pushing that rock? For me, I have always felt the striving ripped out of me at that very moment. If the metaphysical underpinning is pointless so to is the physical pursuit.

    We cannot be governed simply by the impulse to hate what is unjust even if we cannot quite articulate what is just. This hopeless drama must contain within it the seeds of its own hope if we are to get anywhere. That is, all this doing and being must also be at root good, even if it's a good that keeps decaying on us. Life must be good, not simply a something that blows us around in the wind until we are shattered. But, that begs the question: is it? And, if so, how is it? And if the answer to that isn't consistent with the sense of touch, the tender cold of the cheek, the steam and comfort of that moment of bliss, of the indescribable joy we get from seeing that being wander, of the communion of beings, that lamb and lion in fact lying down, then what difference does any of this make? I can pontificate policy, fight against those I hate, but if it's not consistent in some way with the sensuality of my experience, big freaking deal!

    I think we must ultimately argue that life is beautiful, if only because the resonance of the dilemma can only breathe where beauty has meaning. A difficult thought to get around, eh? No doubt it is! We wouldn't struggle with questions of happiness if this were easy, but let me put it this way. If our striving seems to be for nothing, then our highest woe doesn't exist in the fact that we can't have what we have striven for but because the striving itself is meaningless. But, just that stratification of our woe, namely the woe of not getting what we want and the higher woe of the lack of permanence in what we strive for can only exist in a world where value is quite real. There is no higher or less in a world without meaning. Yet, who can possibly say that woe is greater for having lost a love than the woe of believing that all love is pointless? If the one woe follows from the inevitability of the other, then woe resonates with levels that resonate in us. How odd that out of woe can come a glimpse at salvation? (St. Anselm in reverse!) In mourning and grief, we recognize that there is in fact reason that breathes. Meaning undergirds our doubts about it. The moment we put it to the question, we recognize the question presupposes the answer.

    If my theoretical verbiage feels empty to you, imagine how your insistence that we must kill buffalo to save the cattle industry from the scourge of brucellosis feels to me! If it sounds sophisticated, what can be more sophisticated than the science that goes into a hazing operation! Resistance against this nonsense is not futile if only we will search the depth of the meaning behind resistance. That is, what does reason say and how does that speak to us as living, sensing, empirical beings, who breathe and therefore live and fuck and decay and die? In fact, there's nothing less sophisticated than to say that that buffalo is no more or less than you or me, that that cow that you abuse on your ranches for your livelihood is no more or less than you or me or the grass that it munches on. That rock that we all toil with, whether it's the one that works in a field, sleeps homeless on a bench, seeks twigs to build a nest, blows in the wind, comes to be by a baptism in cement, is not a nothing for you to do with as you will. I might have made a big mistake kissing her that night on the boardwalk of the basin named after Philetus Norris, and I certainly made one when I refused to let her go, even if it was all bound to decay. Why?! Isn't it obvious? Because, it's not all equal; one action reverberates, and the action which tends to control others - from having the impulse I have tonight to explore the beauty intrinsic to it all - is diabolical. To take and harness and manage this reality for your twisted sense of value and permanence is a deeper shade of nothing (sound contradictory? Read Sophist and understand why it's not.)

    I take inspiration from the buffalo and those working for them, but I'm clearly not a buffalo. My nature is quite directed and pointed at you politicians, you wealthy interests, and even you poorer ones who would sell out solidarity for your piece of the pie. I take aim at myself, perhaps, most of all. Isn't that the proper way to be carnivorous?

    I've made horrible mistakes at times toward those I love, even recently. I can't let go of moments of bliss on Yellowstone boardwalks or on DC couches, beds, and woods. I can't seem to allow new moments of bliss to arrive in their place. In a world where I can't have mine, I seem prone to make sure others can't have theirs. In my world, brucellosis might be my own craving and insecurity, the thing I must sanitize away and destroy any that has it in its path. It's the decay of relationships, the poisoned meat, the reality that keeps popping up. I wish certain things would go away that have no bearing on anything that matters. What am I talking about? Many of you will know exactly what and who? For those of you who are primarily wondering what this has to do with Yellowstone, wondering if I'm off my rocker, I smile. Pity me; I'm also infested. And, this infestation will in fact get into what you most would like to control, and you will not be able to resist it.

    I think that's my way of saying that I'll be in Yellowstone soon, and I will be joining those who continue to turn this land into a zoo "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." It also suggests to me that perhaps I sense you won't take me seriously, dismiss me as a rambling poet. But, these are just words. And, we can all have a good laugh. I'm quite serious, though. I cannot get my romantic moments back; they are long gone. I have new and special ones that have since taken their place. I can work to stop you from making this place, Yellowstone, simply one that blows up in all of our faces more than it one day shall probably long after we decay. When buffalo and elk and wolves and grizzlies roam, and when WE roam as well, we will all be better off. When we turn back centuries of genocide, we will be better off. Then, the rock we roll, the one we will roll until we die, will be dramatically better. In doing and in being, there can be virtue. That, I'm sure of, but not all doing is good, and I have no doubts that what the National Park Service and the Montana Department of Livestock are doing isn't. I am not doing so hot, either, but I promise you that I will do better.

    And, to you who know what else I'm talking about, I'm far less confident and more tentative, but you know that I'm going to keep trying. Erotic and soulful, crazy and rational...kindred and singular, splendidly diverse, like each drop of the ocean.

    And, ummm...Kim, I'm sorry. Maybe, I shouldn't have said that much, but the impact of that night, you know, ummm...Yellowstone magic, and I think, mistakes and all, you helped me in a significant way to where I am now.

    And, finally, to Yellowstone, my beloved, what else? I'm coming soon.

    Jim

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