How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Woodpeckers and Truth – Western Civilization is Incompatible with Saving the Planet

There’s nothing quite like getting a message smashing into your window at 6 am to make one stand up and pay attention. The forest that surrounds my home is full of birds. Outside my living room, I have a couple of feeders, and I love to watch the black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals and others come and go all day while I sit and write and/or work. When my son Duncan was home from college for the holiday, he kept telling me that woodpeckers were visiting the feeders. While the woods are full of marvelous members of that bird Family, such as my favorite, the giant pileated woodpecker, I have yet to see any venture to the feeders close to the house. Could it have been a nuthatch instead that Duncan was seeing? Perhaps, he contended, and so I dismissed the notion with a twinge of disappointment.
A Red-naped Sapsucker I Photographed at Jackson Hole, WY
Then a few days ago, a flash of red and knocking about of feeders renewed my optimism. I sat quietly on the sofa, and sure enough, a brilliant red-bellied woodpecker alighted onto the tray, grasped a kernel of corn and flew away, quick as a flash. So deft was he in his foraging, that had I blinked, I would have missed him. My pulse quickened, I held my breath and felt the faint burst of inexplicable joy that is known to birders but seems incomprehensible to others. The knowing that this red-bellied woodpecker shares my habitat makes me feel my life is just that much fuller. I accepted this blessing and thought nothing more of it until this morning.

At 6 am, I was awoken by the dull thunking noise that makes the heart of a bird lover jump into the throat with despair. I rushed into the living room to discover a tiny downy woodpecker lying on the ground under the window. Fortunately, she was just dazed, and as I approached her to check on her, she flew away.

Native Americans believe that animals are messengers and that they bring enlightenment to those willing to pay attention. Last year around this time, I was plagued by an onslaught of skunks. It wasn’t until I did some research on Native American skunk medicine that the skunks returned to a normal frequency of occurrence in my life. Perhaps the woodpeckers had a message for me too.

Interestingly, I discovered that according to Native American lore, I was born under the woodpecker totem, which corresponds to the astrological sign of Cancer. I have always believed that I was born under a lucky star or perhaps, guided by the principle that luck is the phenomenon where hard work meets opportunity, I have thus far led a relatively charmed existence. I have a wonderful family, my basic needs are adequately provided for, and I have work that I find satisfying, rewarding and challenging. I have no complaints and feel genuine gratitude for my good fortune.

In general, I have floated through life with the belief that everything will work out for the best if I just keep on plodding, that every cloud has a silver lining and that I can achieve whatever goals I set my sights upon. I maintained a steadfast belief that the universe is essentially a just place where what goes around comes around and that those who strive in a positive direction are eventually rewarded for their efforts. But lately, my trust in the reliability of the universe has been challenged.

A recent string of unfortunate events in my family has cast a shadow over my usually optimistic demeanor. While I personally have suffered no ill fortune, my precious loved ones seem to be besieged by negative turns of fate. Outside the chill and dull gray overcast sky of winter obfuscates the clarity of light and mirrors the opacity in my psyche. Thoughts are scattered. Truth seems hard to grasp. Nothing is certain anymore.   

So what insight can be gleaned from a family of birds noted for drilling trees with their beaks? While it addles the mind to contemplate the realities of such species, their determination is to be admired.  Hours of constant drumming yield small gratifications of an insect or two, yet the woodpecker persists undeterred. Many taps are required to uncover a single delicacy, yet the drumming continues with a reliable, rhythmic certainty.

I have been searching for truths, certainties, solutions of late, yet find them difficult to come by. A fleeting flash of insight flits through the recesses of my cloudy mind and then disappears again like a wisp of ether, like the flash of a red-bellied woodpecker that allows me a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, but not the full breadth of appreciation. I find the full light of truth obscured perhaps because I shade my own consciousness from the harshness of its veracity.

I have been bombarded lately with the same insistent question, from publishers, readers and friends. “You talk a lot about problems,” they say, “but what are the solutions?” I have thought long and hard on this topic and can honestly contend that the solutions required to save ourselves from ourselves are so dramatic that they will very likely be unrealized. The harshest reality is that planet Earth simply has too many Homo sapiens living upon its surface. We have breached the natural carrying capacity to such an extent that there is no conceivable way to maintain the human population with a reasonable quality of life at current levels and to maintain ecological integrity of the planet. Yet nobody speaks of this unspeakable truth in public discourse.

Another unspeakable truth is that the Western way of life, the American dream, is inherently inconsistent with the maintenance of Earth’s life-force. It is a culture of death and destruction, and we cannot simultaneously embrace the concepts of environmentalism and perpetual development and growth, which necessarily consume and devastate Earth’s living resources. The two realities are mutually incompatible.

Our culture is addicted to solutions and happy endings. We are told that we can carry on with our self-indulgence and that the same technology that created the global disaster will surely save it. The fallacious nature of such logic is self-evident. The reality of nature, minus its beauty, can be brutal. There are no guaranteed happy endings, just reliable rhythms to count on. Through no fault of their own, bad things happen to good people. Justice is frequently not served. Little birds dash their brains on the glass walls of human obliviousness. Predators prey upon the innocent. Disease ravages indiscriminately. The best solution for Earth is a stark one for Western civilization.

The woodpecker pecks, and specks of virgin wood come to light. I can grasp at them for a fleeting second but then realize that in the vastness of the infinite, I am incapable of understanding the synchronicities that bring skunks and woodpeckers to my doorstep. As I write, the little downy woodpecker that dashed herself on my window this morning is back, nibbling on the suet cake I just put out for her and her kin. The calories provided by the lard and seed will improve her chances of fledging her young in the spring. There are no happy endings but those we create for ourselves. A small bird flew into glass and by chance encountered a human with a peculiar fondness for her kind and provided her with the sustenance that may see her through the winter and ensure the survival of her progeny in the spring. In spite of adversity, the rhythm of life continues, and so it will once we have extinguished ourselves from the planet.


  1. Beautiful post this morning. We are bird watchers, too. And earth watchers as well. Some days it is easier to be positive than others.

  2. Thank you for your supportive words DiAnne. I have recently come to believe that we are culturally addicted to being "positive." Those who defy this unspoken law are shunned or denigrated. But perhaps we shouldn't be positive. Maybe as a nation we need to wake up and smell some coffee. The false hope provided by being positive allows many to continue perpetrating destruction based on the false notion that everything will be okay in the end. Based on our current trajectory,everything won't be okay in the end. If more people spoke this negative truth, perhaps as a people we would be more inclined to change the trajectory.

  3. “A political victory, a rise in rents, the recovery of your sick, or return of your absent friend, or some other quite external event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

    —Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Self-Reliance”

    same goes for rough patches, no matter how grave or vast... this too shall pass.

    nice post.

    1. Thank you for the reminder Gregg. Within the chaos of the contemporary Western world, we must nevertheless be able to find peace within ourselves.The chaos won't end, but there is no need to internalize it.

      Great website by the way.

  4. km,

    i saw your 6:02 post after i published mine of 7:48. my observation over a good many years is that no amount of discussion, no matter how well amplified will change the course of history or the trajectory of man. we're just not hat evolved... we might as well scream at an avalanche.

    i wish this weren't the case, but i believe it is. if so, i think the best course is to make alternate plans, lead by example, create communities of like-minded people who want to participate, and move forward, one by one. peace and enlightenment come one mind at a time.

    my efforts in this regard can be found at

    i'm looking for partners in crime.

    1. Congratulations Gregg, you have certainly put a lot of thought and effort into your ideas. I agree with your concepts whole-heartedly. A return to local-scale, accountable economies is the only path to a workable future. I wish you luck with your endeavor. I would be happy to join your revolution when it gets off the ground.

    2. thanks for the kind words and encouragement.

      i find a lot of relief in this work... i need see no more docos nor witness al gore spit another burst of condescending fire from his private jet or 'green' palace. things are f***ed and i need no additional proof. the reading and worry drag me down, while there is nothing better than a day in the garden or shop to get one's head in a good place while simultaneously bringing the change, no matter how small.

      best in all. g

    3. g. Amen brother. The earth is my church and the only place I find solace from the crazy artificial constructions of Western humanity.

    4. amen back. since childhood (dragged to church for 18 years), the only place i found/felt god was out in the temples of the wild. and the presence was undeniably present. this consciousness is in us all, we're born with it, being that we are nature ourselves. the job of teh teevee, church and other state mechanisms is to crush that spirit, for it enables truth, the enemy of the machine.

      okay, enough rants. must. focus. on. doing. something. worth. while. heheh.

      enjoy your day.

  5. Dearest killingMother,

    Once again you educate me, enlighten me, and amaze me with your words.

    Thank you so very much. In whatever way I can, I've got your back. I love you like crazy.

  6. Sometimes hard times can be blessings in disguise. That sounds pretty stupid though, I know. But still, appropriate to what you say?

  7. When my loved ones are going through difficult times, it is the worst. I understand.

    Blessings to you and yours forever.

    1. Tsisageya, It is good to see you again. I hope all is well in your world. Thank you for your words of support, blessings and love. I am working on the concept of maintaining a peaceful mind in the midst of chaos. Perhaps this is the lesson.

  8. Optimism bias... It leads people to underestimate potential dangers. Sorry to hear of your personal family problems. Have you read Alder Stone Fuller's work? He seems to have a balance between reality and, I won't say hope, but perhaps a way to approach reality, without giving up but without illusions:

    1. Gail, Thanks for the recommendation. I will check it out. I know there is a peaceful place in all the craziness. I just need to find it. Winter doldrums make it more elusive than usual.

  9. I am working on the concept of maintaining a peaceful mind in the midst of chaos.

    Somehow, I can't see you any other way. You are order in the midst of chaos.

    Gail, thank you for the name. I'm going to go look it up. By the way, you're another one that inspires and amazes me.

  10. I hope I'm not being too 'positive'.

    I kid, I kid.