Dialogue: I Spoke to the Land and to the People of the Machines
“Life is tenacious. …Life is fragile. …Life wants to live.” -- Derrick Jensen, Dreams (2011)
“[A] Scandinavian farmer…looked up while plowing a field to discover an old Sioux watching him. Silently the Sioux watched as the prairie grass was turned under. The farmer stopped the team, leaned against the plow handles, pushed his black Stetson back on his head, and rolled a cigarette. He watched amusedly as the Sioux knelt, thrust his fingers into the furrow, measured its depth, fingered the sod and the buried grass. Eventually the Sioux straightened up and looked at the immigrant. 'Wrong side up,' said the Sioux and went away.” – Wes Jackson, http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/living-nets-in-a-new-prairie-sea
I. THE LAND SPEAKS FOR ITSELF
I spoke to the land.
And I asked the land what it wanted, and I asked the land what it needed (which, in the end, turned out to be the same thing).
And a chorus of voices rose up in harmony, as if pleased to be asked.
The land said it needed trees and grasses. And the trees and grasses said that they needed soil. And the soil said that it needed fungi, and bacteria, and nematodes, and springtails, and beetles, and worms, and mice, and countless other creatures. And all these creatures said that they needed rain.
And then the birds sang out. They sang out that they needed insects and spiders. And the insects and spiders sang out that they needed a wild garden. And the wild garden sang out that it needed wolves to protect it from the deer. And the deer also sang out that they needed wolves. And the wolves sang out that they needed plenty of healthy land on which to roam.
And then the rocks spoke, deep and rumbling. They said they needed to sleep a long, long time in the darkness. And that that was all they needed.
And there were still other voices -- many other voices -- that I could not understand. Voices of water and clouds and wind; voices of frogs and raccoons and snakes. And many, many other voices, no doubt, that I could not hear.
But of the voices I heard and understood, I asked why they needed all these things.
And they laughed.
They laughed a long time.
And then they cried.
They cried for a very long time.
And then they were silent.
They were silent for a very, very long time.
And then they spoke.
And they said this: “We need these things to live. We want to live.”
II. THE PEOPLE OF THE MACHINES SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
Then I went to speak to the people of the machines.
And I asked them what they wanted, and I asked them what they needed. But they really only understood the first part – what they wanted. So all their ‘wants’ they called their ‘needs.’
And their strained, tuneless voices rose up frantically in a great din.
And the people of the machines said that they needed the trees and grasses removed. And they needed the soil loosened and carted away. And they needed to kill the fungi, and bacteria, and nematodes, and springtails, and beetles, and worms, and mice, and countless other creatures. And they said they needed -- somehow -- to control the rain.
And they cried out that they needed the birds to leave; there were too many and they were in the wrong places. They needed them to go to someplace else. And they needed to kill the insects and spiders. And the wild gardens would need to be plowed under. And that all available land must be filled up and ‘developed.’ And the wolves, of course, needed to be shot. But that the deer were to be saved in great multitudes as living targets in the space remaining -- in order, of course, to practice their killing.
And they would need to dig up and break the great rocks, and to pile them up in heaps in the full light of day. And they would need to separate their remaining wholeness into parts. And they would place the parts in separate piles to be used later. Or they would burn them to power their machines. They grew very excited when describing this. It seemed to make them happy.
And then I asked them why they needed all these things.
And their eyes darkened and their faces reddened.
And they grew very angry.
And they screamed at me.
And they threatened me with violence.
And they told me I was crazy.
And they demanded an apology.
But then, briefly lifting my cowering face, I looked into their eyes.
And I saw that they were scared.
And I knew then that they did not know why they needed these things.
III. THE PEOPLE OF THE MACHINES SPEAK FOR THE LAND
Then, when I had regained my courage, I spoke again to the people of the machines.
I said, “Tell me, what does the land need? What does it want?”
And I quickly cowered again and shielded my face.
But now they did not grow angry, nor did they lash out, nor did their eyes show fear.
They just smiled and put their hands on my head. And they told me that the land cannot need or want anything.
They said, “It is just land. That is all.”
IV. THE LAND SPEAKS FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE MACHINES
Then I returned and spoke again to the land.
I said, “Tell me, what do the people of the machines want?”
And I waited a very long time in silence.
And when the land finally spoke it said this: “We do not know for sure what they want.”
“But we think they want to die.”