Let There (NOT) Be Light

Yo, Fragments regulars or those much  more numerous who, according to my site statistics,  came here round-about from the oddest search results you can imagine (those details for another time)…

I will be, at least for while, posting primarily on medium.com that perhaps has more potential readership and greater credibility as a fact source than the fuzzy world of blogs.

Today’s post has not gotten much love there, so my thought that DARKNESS  and a pertinent map would be an interesting topic for my sky-watching neighbors has not borne out. I continue to have my finger somewhere other than on the pulse of American readership.

But one or two southwest Virginians may appreciate anew your bearing in the world of dark (or light) places in these parts. From this post, be sure and go to meteoEarth for their dynamic maps.

And if you make it to Medium.com, please sign up to follow and if you really are feeling generous, “recommend” (medium’s version of FB “like”) a post or two from time to time.

Go to http://medium.com/@fred1st

The “featured image” up top of night time lights over SW VA from meteoEarth here is not very clear, the image uploaded to medium.com is better and meteoEarth is far clearer still.

That is all.

February Snow 2005

At midnight  silence beckoned.

It told that snow had fallen. I rose to stand listening, fingertips pressed together at a windowsill alter.

Creeks flow, hushed and reverent. In a vast forest the size of cities, she and I are the only human souls that hour in a sea of unbroken indigo.

Ours,  the only breathings, our dreams alone hover over an immaculate complexion of winter. Be still, and know…

Amazing grace.

Matter of Scale

Do aggregates of humans  in business suits lose their soul beyond a certain number under the same corporate roof? 

Does the myopic quest for efficiency and profit to the exclusion of all other common good turn proper intention toward the dark side?

Can we survive in the era of BIG? 

Those were the questions rising in the steam from my first cup of coffee this morning. And so my morning pages took the shape of the following screed (also posted to Medium.com for a potentially wider audience than you, mom. TLDR. But that’s okay. I feel better now.)


John Muir famously said that “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

I have new concerns about a near-by deforesting project and have started digging into it. And what I find is that logging Lick Ridge down to the dirt brings me squarely back into the currents that have been sweeping the western world to the brink now since the Great Acceleration.

It’s all about efficiency of the process and profit for the shareholders, and in the end, money drives the machinery of the age. This is our purpose, our raison d’etre, what America, at a certain aggregate level, is and for too long has been all about. And the rest of the world — at least until recently — wanted to walk in our boots and follow our way forward. That way does not lead forward but a few more steps, so it’s urgent that we go another direction.

Big Ag, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Fiber, Big Finance, Big Risk: What all of these giants have in common is that, in the end, and in spite of slick ads and creative greenwashing, people and planet do not matter. The future does not matter other than that the graphs of share prices trend upward. The vitality and well-being of particular living creatures and Earth systems play no part in the business equation. Those messy abstractions limit power and profit and make shareholders unhappy and tend to shave a few million from CEO portfolios.

Through all the BIGS runs the thread of self, of haughty and callous indifference, of arrogance, of denial and of greed. To hell with your soil, your drinking water and air, your pitiful little investments, and your health. Those effects are simply collateral damage of good business. The worse these things become, the higher goes the GDP. If things are not broken, if there is not the perpetuated fear of insufficiency, then we don’t need more natural gas, more pesticides, more Happy Meals, more health/life/property insurance. Well-being is steady-state talk, and the board won’t like it.

There is a divide here, somewhere near the bottom line, of people on the one side who are champions for the living, for the sustainability of place, for the dignity of differently-colored people on the other side of the globe and for the health and well-being of far-future generations. And those on the other side who are champions for the cold dead figures on a balance sheet.

There is a gulf fixed between those who think them-there-then and those who think me-here-now; those who don’t get Mr. Muir’s ecology of all things.

The former understand the frail marvel that is a cell, a coral reef, an intact forest, or a unimaginably-complex spoonful of topsoil and they feel some sense of duty to honor that creature, that living system that was here long before us, whose ongoing integrity sustains our own.

The latter see nothing alive, only resources to transform into commodity, and suckers who must pay The Man from their puny wages for toxic drugs and toxic policies and toxic food and old-growth wood pellets to keep their families alive but unwell.

This cabal has always been immensely powerful, so that the Old Story, business as usual, has driven the ship towards the brink during the Modern Era — during the entirety of my boomer lifetime. BIG has trammeled small for a century, but never like we will see in the coming years when Goliath reigns.

A single writer stands perplexed in the middle of his field looking at a strip-mined once-forested ridge one valley over. What is he to do with the round pebble in a leather sling? Is there a vulnerable place on that thick beetling skull where enough humans with good aim and with enough centrifugal force can fell the giant, can write the script of the New Story where people and planet matter more than profit?

I once thought so. Today, I am not so sure. But we should all keep that small hard river rock in our pockets, turn it in our hands often over the coming months and years, and remain vigilant for vulnerable targets to bring BIG down to human scale. BIG is at war with nature. And so we wage peace. Small is beautiful.

Just Fragments of the Whole

Hello all. Or some. It’s been far more quiet here than at any time since the summer of 2002. You might have noticed, or not. Obviously, I don’t put much thought to public writing of late—not for a long time, and especially over the past six months, taking a slide toward voicelessness since November.

The blog has lost its role as a two-way can-on-a-string between one cloistered writer-photographer and the Other World. I’ve lamented this far too often in recent years as the disconnect grows wider and wider.

This web presence, for years, was ME. As faithfully as possible, I poured myself into a daily narrative, “in words and pixels” more or less shamelessly onto this page. For years, that was a rewarding effort—and no small one, to be sure.

I think back to the thousands of hours of my life transformed into the little essays and photo-vignettes, many of which went on to become published news columns or found their way into my books. I think back to all the people I’ve met because of our common language and sense of the common good.

There was great satisfaction and joy in that sharing and those new acquaintances. I felt utterly free to speak my heart and my mind and knew I would find resonance in that other world beyond the bounds of this tiny ridge-rimmed watershed.

But over that course of time and since the precipice of shattered focus since November, it has become impossible for me to connect with the ME that draws story from nature with gratitude, celebration, wonder and the urge and need to spread that good word.

Maybe this is not a permanent suppression of the core of connection with the telling of the simple life in Floyd County. I would be less concerned about outliving this funk if I were as young as I was when Fragments began, fourteen years ago.

But in this moment, I still need to write—no less than I have since being afflicted by the Muse of the Written Word in June of 2002. I just know, after some recent effort to do so,  that I can’t write from my Happy Place, and I can’t write to an empty room that blogging has become.

And yet, I must write; and if the old energies of discovery and awe and wonder are beyond reach in these dark times, perhaps indignation and outrage will serve to power the poor insulted and aggrieved Muse. Bless her, she stands to take quite a groping in the near term, from sea to shining sea.

The book I was half-way into sits idle. I just can’t get there from here. I almost thought there for a while I’d have it ready to go by a year from now. Nope. I can’t do the interior work required to get those kinds of words to the page.

So I’m researching and potentially, in the future, writing about some local environmental issues that impact us here on Goose Creek and in Floyd County and ultimately across the planet. That writing has to do with our local Virginia forests being strip-mined for European biofuels-powered electricity generation. It is a microcosmic symptom of our larger broken story.

And on this topic, maybe, something here at some future date.

Nature Deficit Disaster: Vanishing Species


There was a time when we could pretend to not know it was short-sighted to let tongueless buffalo carcasses rot by the millions. Or shoot passenger pigeons for sport. Or wipe out all top predators because we had the notion the world would be a better place without them.

There was a time when humankind could depend on business, more or less, as usual, over the long term of our short history. That long calm was called the Holocene–the term that geologists use for that period of 15 to 20 thousand years after the last Ice Age ended. The biology of the planet is no longer more-or-less stable.

And now there is the Anthropocene, when we know that our numbers and our urges and the two-century toiling of our carbon slaves have displaced or extinguished not mere populations of plants and animals but entire species; even higher taxa are imperiled. And as each of them winks out, the landscape changes in ways often not visible in a single blink of a human lifetime.

This Great Decline–the Sixth Great Extinction–goes barely noticed by too many that think this place and this time is all about them. To any of those types, I urge you to watch this very simple explanatory movie from Smithsonian on for why you should care about loss of biodiversity. The filmmakers explain  it with their tagline: humans don’t just impact the interconnected web of life. We depend on it. Do you get that? Do you?

Most cases are not as clearly demonstrative of this truth as the wolves’ visible impact on ecosystems. To truly comprehend the magnitude of lost species, we have to be, on average, much better informed about the science of life that we share in common with those vanishing fellow creatures.

Meanwhile, science-challenged Americans are so distanced from the living world that nature has become an irrelevant abstraction that exists in zoos, museums and on certain television channels.

Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” a decade ago. Today, the phrase describes not just the de-natured plight of our children but a nation-wide root cause–especially at the highest levels of corporate and political power–of many of our most critical threats to the integrity of what must be, for those who come after us, a house in order.

We can perhaps yet slow the precipitous rate of biodiversity loss, even in an era we have allowed to overtake us where atmospheric chaos will be sufficient challenge to the human future on Earth.

From former Fragments…

End of the Age: A Splendidly Disturbing Time
Nature Deficit and the Anthropocene
Economics as an Environmental Discipline?

The Technosphere: The World We Have Created

Earth’s ‘technosphere’ now weighs 30 trillion tons — ScienceDaily

“The word technology comes from two Greek words, transliterated techne and logos. Techne means art, skill, craft, or the way, manner, or means by which a thing is gained.”

And so, over the not-so-many millennia of our species’ thumb-and-brain-powered rise to power, we’ve used our art and dexterity to shape the natural world of bone and sinew, fiber and ore, fire and fuel into over a billion different forms of future techno-fossil: 30 trillion tons of man-stuff. Most of this will outlive our civilization, buried in the strata of the unknown future.

It is largely our techno-waste (ballpoint pens, pop tops, toothbrushes, chicken bones, asphalt and radioactive fallout) that will say “we were here” in the Anthropocene to come. The total mass of the technosphere outweighs its progenitor and source, the biosphere.

“The technosphere can be said to have budded off the biosphere and arguably is now at least partly parasitic on it. At its current scale the technosphere is a major new phenomenon of this planet — and one that is evolving extraordinarily rapidly.

“Compared with the biosphere, though, it is remarkably poor at recycling its own materials, as our burgeoning landfill sites show. This might be a barrier to its further success — or halt it altogether.”

Wouldn’t that be a fine epitaph on the headstone of our species:

“They turned the planet into plastic and gas, and thus, their end.”

Where the Rivers Go

I won’t wax poetic with my own AHA realizations from the maps depicted on this page. There was a time when I would have, so count yourselves lucky.

Images by  Hungarian cartographer Robert Szucs, depicted at:

These may be the prettiest maps you’ll ever see | MNN – Mother Nature Network

I realize, after dozens of geography and cartography-related posts over the years, that not many of you find the fascination or enjoy the understanding that can come from simply pouring oneself into the details of a particular terrain.

These beautiful maps isolate river drainages by continent. They leave me with as many questions as answers. I wish I could name more than a dozen of the US rivers I see so clearly defined here, and I can name far fewer than that from the image of European rivers.

If you are a teacher, this would make enriching material for your geography, sociology or Earth science class.

QUESTION: find a color depicting a river that does NOT connect to an ocean. What becomes of that water? Are all such drainages bound for permanent lakes? Do these catchments contribute more to groundwater than those, like Goose Creek/Roanoke River, that empty surface water and spring-seeped groundwater to the nearest coast?