Nabhan on Immigration & Deep Ecology
GARY PAUL NABHAN … I was at a conference with this Slow Food hero in Fort Collins recently, and I asked Gary if he’d share a few poems with us. Since we don’t usually run long poems, I’ve taken the liberty to fit a couple of his into my column’s prose style … Both vignettes find moral lessons in lyrical expression -- from one of the Southwest’s great visionaries.
WE ALL HAVE IMMIGRANT BLOOD … “Stick em up,” was how Papa always greeted me. “Stick em up” … Papa -- my Lebanese grandfather -- escaped being conscripted. That is, trapped in the Turkish army to fight against his own people. So he came into the United States illegally, to live the rest of his life. Thirty years after settling his family in the Indiana Dunes, his oldest daughter talked him into getting citizenship, his sons and daughters already teachers, sheriffs and such … A speaker of Arabic, if he tried today to do exactly what he did a century ago, he would have been sent back home … My great grandfather, too poor to pay for a good ticket to ship out with the rest of his family from Marseilles to Ellis Island, took the cheaper ship to America, which left him in Vera Cruz. Realizing his mistake, he wired his family to join him in Mexico, where they would hopefully gain enough money to travel together to where other relatives had congregated in Juarez and El Paso. But before they arrived in Miami to take the steamer to meet him, my grandfather died of malaria, put nameless and numberless, in a dirt grave by a few other Syrian immigrants to the New World … The father of my order, the Ecumenical Secular Franciscans, was an Umbrian named Francesco di Bernardone from Assisi. When young he was imprisoned when found riding on the land claimed by another city-state. When he was older, he left Italy to join the Crusades, but ended up imprisoned in Egypt by a Sultan, a believer in Islam, who could have killed him. But they worshipped together, prayed together, and sooner or later Francesco was released. Within a few years, all Christian prisoners were released, and they went to visit the Holy Places without risk. Those same Holy Places today are divided by walls which look so much like the walls which run between Sonora and my home.
TEAMING WITH LIFE … (for Mitch and Cindy, on graduation day at Unity) … I have grown tired of the idea that our species can save the world by itself … I have begun to wonder if when we stand alone, we have the guts to do anything that will work to keep this planet healthy, rich, resilient and wise … I have had to concede that we desperately need to acknowledge we need a support group, one comprised of many other species, if we are to make it through the floods, droughts and weather shifts, the scarcities of fossil fuel and fossil groundwater, economic downturns, ecologic collapses, misfiring synapses, freezes, sneezes and fits of uncertainty that the next few decades will bring to all of us … We need to turn to them and say, “My name is Homo tonto, and by myself, I stand defenseless before the crazy range of temptations, disruptions, cataclysms and global aneurisms which are careening down the turnpike and heading our way. Mates, I need help.” … We need help from the thousands of microbes -- beneficial bacteria and such -- which make up 88% of all the cells on our bodies and tongues and ears, in our guts and noses and mouths, and even between our toes and hair follicles, that may keep us from succumbing to diseases, that may help us digest our food, that may shield us from ultraviolent radiation and other forms of damnation we have hurled at ourselves. We need to acknowledge their presence, ask for help … We need to forget thinking of ourselves as individuals, and try to remember that each of our bodies (and maybe our minds) are nothing less than communities, nothing less … We need to get down on our hands and knees, and ask the earth for forgiveness for having tried to simplify all the lives hidden in each teaspoon of ground, for having treated them like dirt. We need to open our eyes like the wisest microscopes giving thanks to all the archaea, protozoa, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, slime-spewing molds, algae and fungi, gastropods and arthropods, earthworms and nematodes, not to mention salamanders and snakes, gophers and groundhogs, moles and voles that garden with us each and every time we plant a seed or tree, for they are the ones that bring us our daily bread … And what about the ones who grow on living walls, cultivated rooftops, septic tank leach fields, hedgerows, windbreaks, artificial or natural wetlands for sewage treatment and flood abatement, when do we ever give them the nod that we’d be wallowing in waste if not for them? Or the frogs, the toads, the warblers and whistling ducks? How do we think we’d make it through any day without their fascinating rhythms and riffs to boogie us along? … And what of the phoenix birds, the unicorns, the white whales and jackalopes and bigfoots who somehow fly around in our ecological imaginations even when science cannot fathom where they nest? … What would we do without these friends and allies, these mutualists and inquilines, the mentors, advisors, ombudsmen, nurses, emergency room doctors, rescue workers, scavengers, detritivores, mop-uppers, mayhem-calmers, hangover curers and clowns? …
Where would we be without the genius of the team? How would we survive?