As our dogs sniff their mutual greeting in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery, a neighbor comments on the gusty wind and, predictably, echoes the widespread frustration that our local utility, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), has turned off power to thousands of homes to avoid the risk triggering a wildfire. Callers to local radio shows are outraged by the inconvenience, while California politicians call the outages “completely unacceptable” and a “third-world move.”
These voices reflect legitimate concerns about PG&E’s malfeasance and lack of sufficient infrastructure investment, as well as the dire impacts of outages on economically or medically vulnerable populations. But in sanctifying our power lines, as they crisscross mountains and forests and neighborhoods, is an illusion of denial and hubris. Electricity is not our birth right; being in relationship with the natural world is. No matter how much we may wish it were otherwise, we humans live within a broader ecosystem which includes drought and fire, a natural dynamic only intensified by our choices and activities. Can we find a way to make our peace with, rather than resist, the fact that we may find ourselves inconvenienced, or our economy hurt, or our human systems taxed, by mother nature? Or even more ambitiously, can we start to question the illusion that we can or should dominate the natural world – in how we live, how we farm, how we eat?
As I walk in the cemetery, I considered the homes peppering the hills above: still as the souls beneath my feet, not a glimmer of tv nor an echo of power tool. And yet, the trees around me seem more animated with than ever with each “bone-dry” gust: the sturdy oaks sparkling their round leaves like gingkos; the towering redwoods flapping their needled branches as if to take flight; the reviled acacias creaking like the Whomping Willow at Hogwarts.
In a moment of intense serendipity, my headphones play Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, a Mississipi blues prodigy singing his tune Listen: “Feel you in the warm breeze, blowing through the tall trees, signs are all around me … so much tender love and care, his fingerprints are everywhere, just listen to your heart.”
As we face more and more signs of how our dominating stance endangers us and our fellow species, I’m straining to just listen.