Friday, January 07, 2011


I watched Grizzly Man yesterday, a documentary on a Timothy Treadwell who spent time with Grizzlies in Alaska. While a fascinating character, the story is a tragedy because he and his girlfriend get eaten by a bear, and the bear is killed as well. One fellow interviewed said that bears and humans are not supposed to mix, and Treadwell himself says he should camp out in the open to the bears can see him and steer clear of him. I thought the fact that he had terrible substance abuse problems until he went camping in the wilderness, that his mission of helping the bears was part of his recovery from substance abuse. In a way, that puts his efforts into context. The horrible thing of it was that his girlfriend also gets eaten and you can hear him saying, "run, get away," and she obviously chose to try and save him at the cost of her life. She didn't really believe in his mission, but payed the ultimate price, her life. It's a fascinating documentary and Werner Herzog does a good job of making a film of it.

(I think of all the lovely nature films, like Winged Migration, and then I think of the films and books where human hubris is explored like Into Thin Air and Into The Wilderness. The Edge talks about dying of freight in the wilderness.)

Then today I'm reading chapter 6 of Endless Path by Rafe Martin, an excellent book. The book is organized around the ten paramitas, and Jataka Tales. I read the crow jataka, where a crow poops on the "holy" man, who then says the solution to a problem is to kill crows. There's another element in the tale where a woman guarding the grain wants to keep a goat away for good and causes a fire that hurts the elephants. In a way, the tale is about human hubris and the animal world.

I felt the connection between Grizzly Man and the crow jataka, that of human hubris.

I love nature and live in a big city. The people who love nature and then carve out a house and road where there was none before may love nature, and will be in it more by doing that, but ultimately they hurt the wilderness by living in it. I think the single best thing you can do for the environment is live in the city.

Now there's a problem with living in a city. Living in the city you get alienated from nature. Getting in the car, and driving two hours for a hike doesn't exactly help the environment either, but it does restore a connection a little bit.

When I go to rural places, I experience some people as a bit wacky, they have a kind of grandiosity of not rubbing up against a lot of people, like you do in the city (not everyone of course, no more than the city, but wackiness takes on a different flaver where ever you are).

Take a look through a telescope and you get a sense of your place in the universe. We are puny, my friend says. It's hard to get our minds around that. And I've also heard it said you need a little bit of grandiosity to get out of bed every day.

So in a way, I see the Tredwell story as one of suffering. We don't really know why he turned to drugs, as an athletic B student who came second to Woody Harrelson for that part in cheers. In the candid shots, he seems to take the grizzly situation to extremes, and wonders why women don't like him. He takes multiple takes, like he's some kind of actor. I see his suffering and attempts to make a life. Certainly devoting himself to the grizzlies was better than having substance abuse problems, but he took it to an odd and tragic place, that led to the death of his girlfriend as well.

I think of Rich Bass book where he looks through scat to see if he can find evidence of grizzlies in Colorado. This is a more realistic idea. You can get out in nature and have a good time without drifting past the line. Treadwell keeps saying he's humble, but was he really humble invading the bears space, trying to have a relationship with a wild animal and the way he was always filming himself, the way he pit himself against others?!

In the Wise Crow Jataka, the king honors the crow leader, and puts an end to the crow slaughter and even offers to have the crow lead his kingdom with him. The crow wisely does not accept the offer.

As snow tumbles past my window, I feel humility in the face of nature. New York City was paralyzed by a blizzard a few weeks ago. I pay humble respect to the forces of nature. On my shrine is a view from Algonquin in the Adirondacks, it reminds me of a lovely backpacking trip that I took with a dear friend.

Try to connect with nature in the least invasive way, and think about the environment, the larger picture of connectivity. We are all interconnected. I sincerely hope our environment hurting behaviors are not some run away train that we cannot stop. I really hope my children don't live in a kind of Mad Max or Waterworld kind of world. Pick any future disaster dystopia scifi film. We are beginning to imagine other ways, of stopping this run away train. The earth will eventually be swallowed by the expanding sun, as it goes supernova, but until then I would like my children's children to live in a beautiful world in harmony.

No comments: