Posts Tagged With: death

Oregon Trail: Cattle Land


Day 2: Cattle Land
Date: April 19, 2012
Journey: Lincoln, NE to Fort Collins, CO
Total miles: 1,033 miles (39.6mpg)

I.The Next Morning

I woke up dry. Not a bad way to start the day. It hadn’t rained much the night before as had been forecasted, or if it had, it wasn’t evident. I seemed to be the first person up. It was 7:45.

If I was a dishonest son-of-a-bitch, I would have regretted putting money in the box the previous night. I probably could have gotten away without paying if I left early enough. The $20.75 seemed like a lot of money to pay simply to sleep in one’s vehicle–but I felt safe and I was not disturbed by cops or prostitutes, so…

I drove to the front to see if anyone was around to let me into the bathroom and sell me some fresh fruit. Before I had time to exit the car, a man came up to me with some change. “You over-payed,” he said. “Do you have the passcode  to the bathroom?” Thirty minutes later I was semi washed up, contacts back in. (They had been falling out in the morning because my eyes dried out). I went into the store and he and I had a little chat about traveling. He liked to travel every now and then since there wasn’t much offered in Nebraska. It also gave him an opportunity to meet people and get past the stereotypes he heard about (like those about New Yorkers being dirty and rude). That’s one reason I liked traveling to, I told him. He liked Lincoln better than Omaha because it didn’t have that big city feel. He like a lot of people I would talk to later, never moved far from their place of birth. This only recently became a primary topic of contemplation.

II. Entering Colorado

I was happy to be back on the road. I felt anxious being off it. The open road was a non-place–a space where  inhabited myself. Solitude. It was also a medium for adventure, something which I long associated as synonymous with “being alive.” In eight hours, around 4:00pm (due to a change in time zones), I would be in Greeley, CO. I hadn’t heard many nice things about it until recently when after my friend from Texas had moved there with her mom and boyfriend. I’d finally be able to pass my own informed (albeit limited) judgement.

After following the ever-important Platte River for (like the pioneers had) for several hundred miles, I arrived in Colorado early in the afternoon. I had remembered from a previous geology road trip–didn’t I mention that I’m a nerd?–that the east was pretty barren and flat. Barren, yes. Flat, no. I was in the foothills of the Rockies–if you’d even call them that. My gas was almost out, so I filled up my third tank in Julesburg. Luck had me at the one pump that I’d have to pay inside. I really disliked doing so. Was it the inconvenience? The human interaction? But this time it felt a little different because I was a stranger in town and it was an opportunity to meet a local.

The man at the stand was a large, thick black man with a stained white uniform. He was also the owner. I asked him, like everyone else I would talk to later, what he thought of his home. He liked Julesburg. In fact, he was born and raised there and had owned this business for about 35 years. He had family around, which was one reason he stayed, but that wasn’t the only reason. He, like the man at Camp-A-Way, would travel, but only as breaks from the everyday. He hit the clubs up in Denver. He liked that city a lot. We said our farewells, and I was back on the road. But now I could sense the mountains. I was in the West!

III. Ecocide

I really admired the horizons in Nebraska as I did Iowa and now Colorado. But at some point that day, I was hit by the obvious realization that I was not traveling on the same Oregon Trail as the original pioneers had. It was a different place completely. The place that once was, that was romanticized was for all practical purposes extinct. The fertility of the wheat fields were a distraction from the eradication of the mixed grass prairies, of which only 2% remain. People have much more sympathy for trees than grass.

This wasn’t just a product of the industrial revolution. The pioneers had brought the beginning of the end with them. An entire past and ecology had been erased from the flesh of the earth–the prairies and all their inhabitants: the peoples, cultures, meanings, stories, and languages, all gone. Well, not completely. Certain endangered languages, cultures, and species were being conserved by future generations, but in isolated pockets that were more like memorials, monuments, museums, and old-folks homes than sustainable and “restored” beings. I tried to imagine how different the horizon was for the pioneers and indigenous people before me and the century-old line of trees bordering the interstate. Was it lonely and populated back then, too?

IV. Thinking-Animals

Nebraska’s landscape along I-80, unlike Iowa’s, was populated with some animals. There were ranches. As always, I felt ambivalent passing them by. The cows had space, natural food, shelter, clean air and water, and families. It would not be a stretch to describe such beings as “happy.” Their was little direct human interference for most of their lives. Beautiful. I’ve long been struck by the beauty of large ungulate animals, especially bovines. Is it a prehistoric instinct of the time spent watching, chasing, hunting, and dreaming about them for tens of thousands of years of my human history? I loved the way they inhabit the land: in communities and with most of their time eating and resting. Maybe not so much for their sake, but mine. Just by watching them, I was becoming-cow. Ruminating on life, food, and the land.

I really appreciated being able to see them, to see animals other than the occasional bird, the road kill, and insecticide on the windshield. But someday soon, in a year or less, they would be “road kill” to. A semi with a livestock trailer passed me as I looked out onto the ranches. Inside were a couple dozen or more, some looking back. What was in those cows’ eyes? (I wondered if I had done the same in Iowa–taking a photo from the car–, if I would have been a potential target of the new ag-gag lawsuits that were made to threaten activists with even exposing illegal farming practices.) I wanted to see cows pigs and chickens, but not (only) in a context in which they were to be slaughtered and exploited. I wished to see them as I passed them on the road in healthy relationships with humans in which they were not objects to be consumed for profit.  I’d like them to be happy and free as possible in a way that is good for our culture and land and our so-called “humanity.”

A previous conversation I had with a friend suddenly became relevant: the importance of animal sanctuaries as a space for positive human-animal relationships. We had brought up the taboo: what if we did not spay and neuter rescued animals? What if we allowed them to nurture a new generation? Before we even answered, we imagined outrage at even the suggestion for “letting” more farmed animals in the world when so many needed rescuing and their were limited spaces and human and and financial resources. “Irresponsible!” I could imagine other activists yelling. Yet, do we hold ourselves to that same standard? How many children are suffering and need homes and resources, yet we (selfishly?) bear our own children? We call our reproductivity a right. Is this speciesist? Animal others are killed “humanely” when they are “overpopulated,” while poor and orphaned children are given a fighting chance, so there is a difference. I bookmarked the thought for a later time.

(Please comment if you have a position on this, btw. I’m curious.)

To be continued in part 2…

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Categories: Oregon Trail 2012, Travel Narrative | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Road Reflections: Sex, Death, and Love


Introduction:

The solitude of the open road can be an experience rich in thought and emotion. Being alone in on the rorad can be a meditative exercise. The zen of driving, if you will.

It’s sometimes surprising how many prematurely ended thoughts bubble up to the surface of consciousness during moments of solitude. Yet, people do not expect this and perhaps even fear it. I’m going to refer back to Sherry Turkle’s TED talk on being “connected, but alone.”  One excellent point she makes is that many of us in smart phone and facebook society are anxious to be-by-our-self. In this condition, people are afraid when they are not connected, afraid perhaps to think and reflect.

My first day on the road was not suffered with the boredom and exhaustion that others thought I’d experience. People were shocked that I wanted to travel alone over such long measurements of time and space. Driving alone seemed foolish to them. How exhausting! How boring! Iowa and Nebraska would surely put me to sleep. There was nothing around to look at and I had no one to speak with. Well, no one but myself.

I put my Samsung Galaxy SII to some good use by hitting the memo and voice command buttons to record short quips, and used the voice recorder to archive longer ones. The following “aphorisms” are more-or-less transcripts of I archived during those first eight hours and 500 miles:

On Insecticide and Responsibility:  As I drive through Iowa, my thoughts lead me to the concept of responsibility as dozens and dozens of insects splatter across my bumper and windshield. Can my road trip justify all this death? Is driving ever justified (if we take these insects into serious moral consideration)? Then again, isn’t death inevitable? Everything comes at a cost. These animals’ deaths seem excessive as I’m not even making use of their bodies, but I’m not sure if that makes much of a difference. In the end, lives are taken in the process of all lived experience.

Responsibility is thinking through that. When we want people to be responsible for killing animals, we desire that humans be social creatures and have in mind the consequences for other beings, which is itself an ethical relationship which is itself a social relationship. How do we inhabit the world with others without the same language? It’s a difficult question to answer. We are not able to talk with them in our language or relate to them in the same social manner as we do with other humans. Nevertheless, there is something already fundamentally social about the effort to empathize with and take others into consideration. Empathizing with animals requires a pre-understanding that we have a social relationship with other animals, but we disavow this at an early age. We don’t take this acknowledgement to its end as veganism. We want to feel good about our responsibility without taking it to its logical conclusion.

Thus, we say we care about animals, but without ever questioning where that care begins and ends. To “care” about animals without an effort toward veganism is mere rhetoric. It’s as if to say “I am human, thus I care… but I don’t care more because I am human and thus have a ‘personal choice’ of whether I care or not.” So care comes naturally as a byproduct of one’s humanity, but the negation of that care is even more decisively human because it’s an exercise of the agency of the liberal individual. Of course, this rhetoric is not “human(e),” because to care in such a way is inconsistent and obstructed by an illogical prejudice (specisism), which is a threat against reason which allows us choice and agency in the first place. In the end, caring-to-reason is trumped by rationalizations against caring, against thinking.

Meaningless Death: Death is just so abstract. How can one understand it? One can understand other things that seem incomprehensible, like the creation of life and life itself. They are pretty absurd, but at the same time we are living life. We see people born, and we can experience the miracle that life is, the unfathomability of chance is before our eyes. But we never live death. It’s never before our eyes. There is no reflection on death. One is just reflecting into the darkness. So maybe there is something profound there, realizing the inability of being able to comprehend death. People fool themselves into thinking they know what death is. There is an afterlife or we return to the earth. Spiritualism and materialism. But is there something beyond both those explanations? Is death incomprehensible beyond scientific and religious discourse? What’s difficult about death is the impossibility of making sense of it. And that’s why death is so threatening: it resists any attempt to make sense of it. It’s like yelling into an abyss. There is no answer, but only the echo of our voice whispering back in our skulls.

Love and the Proximity of Nihilism: I’ve been thinking a lot about the question of love. It seems like it has as much to to do with proximity to a person as their identity. Is that all it is? Is that meaningful? Isn’t our “love” different from the affection animals feel after being fed. We want something more transcendent and deeper, but what if that’s all it is? And maybe that’s what’s sad about it: maybe it’s my realization that that’s all it is and trying to make meaning of it without falling into cultural cliches of thinking “this is my mother so I must love her,” or “this is my mother and that’s why I love her”. There is the difficulty of accepting that if that’s what it is. But it’s very real. It’s not insignificant. Love is sharing one’s life with others. That’s who one is.

I think back to that post I wrote about my grandfather. My concern was that maybe I didn’t love people in my family because I didn’t feel how people are expected to feel as “good people”, and that if I felt anything it was because I could’t get past my narcissism–my sadness for myself that I cannot feel sad for them. But my perspective is changing today. Perhaps I’m afraid of expressing and experiencing that emotion, or maybe I do experience sadness in the face of another’s future death and its a very profound feeling. Perhaps, I understand death more essentially than others, as something more than the superficiality of an end of life. And if so, I shouldn’t assume I’m not capable of feeling love.

Motherly Love. Strangely, I’m prompted to reflect on my relationship to my mother as I listen to the soundtrack for the first Kill Bill. My mom went to see the first film with me, and she knew it would be violent and wouldn’t like it (in fact, she walked out at the beginning because it made her sick). Yet, she wanted me to be happy. She is almost always supporting me and doing everything she can. I would just hate myself if I didn’t appreciate all of it. But I don’t, and this insufficient appreciation is hard for me to accept.

What makes it difficult for me to appreciate is her babying me. You begin to resent someone who doesn’t let you be you. She thinks she always knows what’s better and safer for me. And yes, sometimes I mess up because I didn’t t take her advice. But I’d like be allowed to mess up. And I’d like to be able to discover things on my own and earn things on my own. So I think what I really resent is not her, but any felt dependency on her, the feeling of not being able to be my own person and that all the great things become spoiled by her overbearingness.

And that makes me think of my ex–how I gave her lots of advise and encouragement… like my mom… and could have been overbearing at times… and I feel really bad about it. This is a really profound and dreadful realization. It’s devastating because I was the culprit, and I played a role in obstructing my exes love of me, and now we can’t be friends anymore… And I can empathize with the last person I want to empathize with. What I realize now from all the pain I’ve experienced from my ex is that I need to treat my mom with more respect, so that I may be better (more responsible and empathetic) than my ex and myself. But it’s difficult to do that when someone persistently does not respect your integrity.




Sexual Dissatisfaction: Listening to the sexually vulgar lyrics on the final track on the second Kill Bill soundtrack, I reflect on my childhood and how much I wanted to have sex. My life was so focused around it. Much of it had to do with my identity as a male. I felt that a successful male was someone who had sex with lots of women. It’s now obviously how hetero-normative this narrative is and it’s inability to be relevant for all men. More so, however, I believed in that narrative because I was  really into “science,” especially evolutionary theory: having more sex meant more potential for offspring, which signifies that one is more fit, that one is a better person, that one has been chosen to have a stake in the future. So I felt like a complete failure within the evolutionary and patriarchal narratives by not having any sex.

Even to this day, I sometimes feel unsatisfied with the amount of sexual partners I’ve had. I think people place a great deal of value on their sex lives like I do because of  an insecurity with their self-worth. (So it’s not necessarily a masculinity issue. Today, women are judged for having too few and many sexual partners). So I think my high sexual drive is due to not only a desire for pleasure and experience, but also because of an insecurity with my self. Though, I don’t think these two things are so inseparable because I feel less valuable the more I “miss out” (i.e. the fear of missing out), the less “experiences” I have. But sex is different. It’s not just an experience, its about desire for another and their desire for you.

It feels so good to be attractive to a person you are attracted to and have respect for. It validates your self-worth. And when we discover someone slept with us as a means to an end and not because of the person we are, it feels “dirty,” or rather “meaningless.” We become so vulnerable in the act, emotionally and physically, that we open ourselves to hurt. We become even more humiliated because we feel not only undesired, but cheated and taken advantage of–duped into thinking that someone else thought we were valuable as a person, as a self.

I think back to that previous song on the soundtrack by Johnny Cash called “Satisfied Mind.” As long as I continually compared myself to others and understood myself through others, my satisfaction with life would be contingent upon circumstance and not with life itself. Having more or better sexual partners would never be sufficient. My worth has to be self-sufficient. And it’s that feeling of self-sufficiency that we call confidence, that quality which breeds sex.

Categories: Deep Thoughts, Essay, Oregon Trail 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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