Calloused as an Old Oak Burr
Walking in the forests of a wide valley
Rimmed by cliffs above us, rolling mist
Over the slopes out across the blue vastness
The vultures glided across the blue sky from
One side to the other, while kites and kestrels
Worked the fields where the woods were
Cut when first men walked within the walls.
We stood under the canopy of branches
In the shade of old oaks, ages growing
Slowly seeking their sunlight, ever taller,
Thicker boles, holding aloft leaves and,
Even when those died, in winter, green
Epiphytes; a host of other lives, for centuries,
Saying to all in the forest: “Behold, I am here.”
Feeding feast for insects and birds that eat them;
Showering grazed ground with acorns for boar;
Robins following rootings, under those, creating
Holes where night-time animals hide yet.
One had recently fallen, after perhaps half a
Millennium spreading seeds and supporting
Epiphytic ferns: now hanging upside down
From the bough that held them high so easy
Over which we climbed on the clean bark.
And I thought of those who carried an axe
Into these woods to gather firewood,
To create charcoal from the oaks:
Brought perhaps as soon as they could walk
And pick up a twig to help their father,
And kept at it until they could walk no more:
Years of seasons spent sweating and freezing alternatively
Snacking on dark bread and forest berries,
Bring back home a snared rabbit if one was had.
How many injuries did they accumulate,
Inflicted by such occupations? A series of
Splinters, cuts, bruises and bones broken;
But shrugged off and shouldered on
Until calloused, like the knots and burrs
Of the trunks we touch: the pollarded boughs
Wounded, but budding forth once more for fifty years,
Until the axe of those weathered workers eventually fell again.
For even great oaks are eventually tumbled,
Even if only by time. And those ferns and lichens
That thought they clung to a solid structure are thrown
Over, to cling and seek the sun as best they can.
We sat upon the curved bough and ate our own victuals,
Thinking of those workers who listened to the same scene
Of songbirds and wind, and wondered of what life was
Like outside these woods, these walls of valley wide
Yet long and uneasily walked out of, and wished
For more, for escape, easiness, for freedom from their destiny,
But accepted, their lives would be lived, alongside these trees.
Then the telephone took my attention for a time:
A thread landing in my lap with a crack-like impact of
A snapping branch upon me,
And I sat upon a stump and sipped water to keep down the lump
In my throat at this long twitter list of lads and lassies
Of a too young age who’d taken their own lives, the last option:
Locked in the loss that seems so extensive in these times
Of lockdown, long as a valley apparently without exit;
The looking out at a world that looks so perfect, looking back;
The pressure like storm clouds gathered above the cliffs,
Building until smooth wood cracks and saplings snap.
If only they could have come to this forest, felt the breathing branches,
The soft sunspots, the birdsong rest upon them.
If only they could have stuck around long enough, to resist
Instead of rejecting the pain, the splintered spirit, the bruised soul.
If only they’d stayed a little longer, told another their wishes:
Shouted, screamed, even to a pillow, “I am here and I exist!
“I have a life that is well lived, and will be lived if given
The chance; a hand, a hug, a kiss.”
For even those who never had to lift a stick or chop a log, can
Build up burrs, callouses, train themselves to toughness,
Over the course of a century or half, from the finer grain
Of slow winter growth gaining perspective to appreciate this:
‘Tis only at the end we can reminisce.
Looking back, we can count up mistakes, regrets,
See the setbacks we withstood, taking bad with good,
Standing tall till Nature takes us, rather than the blade,
If only because we owe it to the saplings stretching in our shade.
Though only the beasts and bugs it gave life to
Knew of its presence, tall as it was, and only those, who
Were touched by its life will note its fall,
And all the rest of us are ignorant of what it meant to them,
For a tree, that is perhaps enough;
And if we could but be as wise, it would
Too, be sufficient for us.
For those who have fallen too soon….
(photo copyright: babies-dangerous-wild-animals.blogspot.com)
I watched this video a while ago. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYG0ZuTv5rs) It’s very interesting. It’s about stress and how it can kill you. If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, don’t worry. That’s not really the point of this post.
This article summarises the most interesting part for now…. (http://www.upworthy.com/something-fascinating-happened-after-these-male-baboons-died-men-should-keep-this-in-mind?c=ufb1)
Basically, the dominant baboons in a troop, which was being studied to investigate stress, died of TB. Half of all males died from the disease, which they’d contracted from infected meat in a dump they’d taken to foraging from – the head honchos took more meat than their subordinates.
When they died, the surviving males down the totem pole didn’t become the bastards their predecessors were. They remained chilled, and were nice to the females (who now outnumbered them two to one) and young. And everything was rosy for them from then on.
Seems only a few baboons are assholes (though the guy researching them does describe them as backstabbing Machiavellian bastards that hurt each other) but they control the situation in most troops. This sends their shittiness down the pipeline. As the narrator says in Snow White and the Huntsman said, the queen’s “reign was so poisonous…. that people turned on each other.”
But new males joining this troop learn that being a wanker is not allowed. They chill out and groom instead of harassing others.
I was reminded of the baboons when I read George Monbiot’s recent article about Human Kindness. He points out that we are in general, good folk, who are nice than we assume when we glance about us on the train home from that shit job where your boss sucks the life out of you. In fact, we’re innately good.
But it’s something we usually aren’t aware of, this fellow kindness. All those videos of people ignoring homeless people etc. you see on the Internet doesn’t help with our own image, either (nor the videos of kids beating up one another).
And this other recent article about Twitter becoming just a forum for abuse indicates that we’re all participating in being assholes, or at least letting them rule our conversations.
It points the blame at the fact that our lives are an abuse, where we are put to work by the those holding the reins:
“We have created an abusive society. We have normalized, regularized, and routinized abuse. We are abused at work, by the very rules, norms, and expectations of our jobs, at which we are merely “human resources”, to be utilized, allocated, depleted. We are abused at play, by industries that seek to prey on our innocence and literally “target” our human weaknessses.” (https://medium.com/bad-words/why-twitter-s-dying-and-what-you-can-learn-from-it-9ed233e37974#.68hxb243u)
We are acting like assholes because the assholes are creating the rules. Just like most baboons farther down the hierarchy get abused by those above just because those just above have gotten shit from their own superiors. And they have highly stressed lives, which lead to illness, obesity and earlier deaths.
So how do we get rid of the asshole baboons who are ruining life for the rest of us?
This is the problem. They’re not going to die of a disease we all avoid – they eat and drink only the best of food, taste wise and health wise. They also can afford access to healthcare that most can only dream of. Even their excesses can be solved by buying a heart or a liver when their own break down.
We might need to rely on the old adage – “they got the guns but we got the numbers.”
When I wrote a blog post about us humans allowing our own extinction in the imminent ecological collapse, I had thought to include those instances when people stand around and “let” people get attacked without either trying to stop it, or even calling the cops. They’re not bad folk – they just assume someone else is going to do it. Our current situation is more akin to allowing the assailants to beat us up without raising our hands to protect our face.
For ourselves, our fellow non-assholes, and for the planet, we have to start fighting back. I’m not saying we become as violent as these Alpha males who would continue their abuse. As Russell Brand suggests in his book Revolution, we just band together, walk up to them and take their weapons away (their weapon is money, by the way). Because those asshole baboons have to go.