Light and Forever Wars
“Indigenous resistance is not a one-time event. It continually asks: What proliferates in the absence of empire?” —Our History Is the Future, Nick Estes
I have deadlines piling up faster than I can meet them and am having a lot of trouble focusing—part post-Covid brain fog, part an inability to drag my attention away from Ukraine and Russia. In the mornings I talk with my relatives in Russia and every twenty-four hours the situation has degraded a little more; in the evenings I read Yevgenia Belorusets’s daily war diary from Kyiv. Yesterday she wrote about meeting a famous war correspondent buying detergent in a store:
“Then she told me her name. I can’t remember the name. I’ve been having a hard time concentrating lately. Then she said, ‘You can follow me on Instagram.’ The group bought a lot of detergent, almost everything in the store. I told them, ‘Good to have you with us,’ and said goodbye. But quickly an uneasiness came over me. I realized that it is not a good sign when a well-known war photographer sets up shop here with a group of escorts.”
You can follow me on Instagram. The more I think about it, the more it feels like Don’t Look Up was a metaphor for the absurdity of how modern life expects us to meet any and every crisis. I know people have many conflicting responses to that movie, but to me it felt less even a metaphor for climate change and more one about risking clean water to build an oil pipeline, or using it for fracking fluids. How can we rationalize risking clean water for anything? But that question—“How can we . . . ?”—is interchangeable for far too much.
I’m here to document the war on your country. You can follow me on Instagram.
The corner of northwest Montana where I live is finally shifting toward spring. We grumbled ourselves together to make the last night of night skiing up on the mountain yesterday, more to catch the sunset from there one last time than to ski, as the conditions are patchy at best. I felt down and still in recovery mode from being sick, but I’m glad we made it. I love the way the sun seems to slide backward in the west, slipping past the mountains like a long, slow, theatrical goodbye. We have to take these moments when we can—winters here tend to be so overcast that for months I find I don’t even look up very often. In the mornings, when I’m fumbling around making coffee, I peer up through the window to see if a star or two is making it through, and almost every time it’s just overcast, as if the sky above the clouds isn’t even there, though it’s brilliant enough in the summer.
Last night, though, when we got back to the car, we slid around on the ice and craned up at the sliver-moon and patches of stars shining clear among the clouds.
Ever since I moved back home to Montana (it’s been nearly eight years now, hard to believe), I’ve spent more and more time imagining what this land was like before Europeans carved it up and privatized it. It’s a different sensation, one I recommend: walk around anywhere in the world and let the land show you what it was before highways and railroads and concrete and No Trespassing signs. Letting the view wash over me as the sun sets high over the mountains gives that sensation, the feeling that this land is something other than what colonizers have made it. But also that privatization, the carving up and commodifying, is part of a longer war.
In the last episode of Third Squad, host Elliott Woods talked about the U.S. military’s pull-out from Afghanistan last autumn and the end of our country’s longest “forever war.” I wonder: What if all the wars are forever wars? What if the battles perpetuated in our time are evidence that none of the wars have never ended, and their causes run deeper than any amount of analysis is willing to examine, threading back through time as humanity batters itself in conflicts none of us fully understand?
Bonus photo: heading toward the last alpenglow of winter.
Some stuff to read, listen to, or watch:
A short video on the history of zero via Aeon. (One of my favorite things to do when I play math games with third-graders is to tell them about how the number zero used to be illegal.)
With electric vehicles making a showing even in Super Bowl ads now, I think it’s as ever important to be reminded that the issues with cars isn’t just about the combustion engine. There is a whole spectrum of harm that happens with a car-centric world. Take the ongoing research with the damage caused by tire particles that end up in waterways.
And related to car-centric infrastructure, there are some interesting conversations going on around finding ways to restore the Rondo neighborhood St. Paul, Minnesota, that was razed to build the I-94 freeway.
Erin Berger in Audubon with a review of Jessica Hernandez’s new book Fresh Banana Leaves: “Among the most important ideas for Hernandez is that of nature as kin—which would preclude the utilitarian approach common in Western environmentalism, with its foundations in preserving nature’s usefulness to humans or a perceived purity of wilderness.”
Paul M. Sutter writing in Dark ‘N’ Light magazine on the nature of time: “This is called the relativity of simultaneity, but I like to call it the death of the universal now. I have my now, you have your now, and we will never, ever agree. Yes, we can use Einstein’s math to translate from one reference frame to another, but I can never replicate your experience, your flow of time, from my point of view.”
Cullen Murphy’s essay in The American Scholar on The City & The City and how societies fall apart made me wonder if I should go ahead and read that book: “But societies do fall apart, and there is no single reason why. One historian, years ago, decided to collect and enumerate all the scholarly explanations for the fall of Rome. He counted upward of 210 specific theories. . . . I had a decision to make. Should The City & the City go alongside Kafka and Borges or alongside Frederick Douglass and Eric Foner and other writers who made America their subject?”
Ramin Skibba writing in Aeon on the conundrums of dark matter—nobody has yet proven it exists—and whether there might be room to consider that physicists haven’t yet developed a full understanding of gravity and its quirks: “Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde began developing a theory known as ‘emergent gravity’ to explain why gravity was altered. . . . When space-time gets curved, it produces gravity, and if it’s curved in a particular way, it creates the illusion of dark matter.”
The final (I think), difficult and important episode of Third Squad. “Dutcher’s voice is one in a chorus of the dead who are always with me.”