Tag Archives: history

Being “There” — A poem about the Redwoods

“The Cathedral” cluster of trees at The Trees of Mystery, a Redwoods park in Northern California. Photo by me.

Before the last ice age, Redwood forest covered over 90 percent of the earth’s surface. The remaining strip, along the California coast, was literally decimated after the 1850 Gold Rush.

“It is estimated that old-growth redwood forest once covered close to 2,000,000 acres (8,100 km2) of coastal northern California.[22]96% of all old-growth redwoods have been logged, and almost half (45%) of the redwoods remaining are found in Redwood National and State Parks.” (Read more here.)

So of the remaining 4 percent, only half of that is protected, and only 1/5 of that is actual old-growth trees. My, how things change. Still, the vestiges are glorious. The trees are beautiful, strong and silent beings thousands of years old. You stand there and can’t help but think of bears, Paul Bunyan, native Indians, and Lewis and Clark. The air is of the highest caliber, fresh and leaf-scented, full of high-grade oxygen. You want to breathe deeply, as you stare at the 10-foot wide tree trunks and look up to where the tip soars into the sky.

Last week I went to visit the Redwood forest in northern California. Walking along a state park trail, I started to think about writing a poem that encapsulated what I was feeling. About the sadness of the commercialization I witnessed at The Trees of Mystery. About how hard it is to truly to be in the wild, a place that has no trails, no nearby roads, no signs at all, and zero people. About how different things used to look, how different and more authentic and visceral life used to be. And finally, the dichotomy between the white man’s GAINING versus the old way of BEING, as outlined in Mother Jones’s illuminating 1980 interview with the Indian activist Russel Means. The natives did not own their land, did not seek to dominate, exploit or monetize it. We have carved it up, but boundaries on it, developed it, drilled and fractured it, until there is barely any THERE left.

There

Fifteen dollars to see the trees

Signs marked the path.

A group of Asian tourists asked

“Take our picture, please?”

The way back led, as it always does,

Straight into the gift shop.

Take a trinket home

Commemorate this trip.

Down the road about an hour

We stopped again.

The place was quieter, I heard some birds

And wondered aloud about the bears.

The trail was marked but once

To note it had begun.

We met no one else and felt surrounded

By nature’s presence, alive and well.

These trees were free to see.

Yet as I trod along the well-worn trail

And stopped where dozens must have stopped,

I turned and looked into the wilderness.

You know, the way the world once was.

No trails or roads. Just you and God.

Could I ever step into it? Would I die?

Man no longer knows the ways of plants, the signs of stars

Isn’t one with earth as he once was.

My path is paved; it leads on.

I turn, resigned to parking lots and roads.

This is, after all, a state park,

With rules and camping grounds.

It is not mine. It is no place

To be alone, for long.

On the ride out I hate

The comfort of my seat

The stagnant air.

I long to be back in time,

Wild and free, out there.

How to take a good sh*t

Nice title, right? The truth is, you may have been defecating incorrectly your entire life (well, from potty-trained toddlerhood onward).

“When nature is eased of any surcharge that oppresses it … relieved when overcharged,” the body feels one of its two great pleasures — the other of course is stuffing the other end with food and drink — according to Sir Thomas More in Utopia.

If relieving oneself regularly and easily is one of life’s great pleasures, then being frustrated by irregular and difficult bowel movements is nothing to scoff at. Indeed, a healthy digestive tract and colon is the very foundation of health. Think of the infrastructure of a building or city: The pipes must be clean, sound and flowing, or there will be some serious issues: sewage will get backed up, leading to impaction, infestation, and ultimately, ill health and disease.

We know that plenty of raw fruits and vegetables, moderate exercise (like walking), sound sleep, low stress and lots of water all help move things along. But there is something that virtually all of the oh-so-modern and sophisticated denizens of the civilized Western world are doing to thwart their poop processes.

The history of the toilet is an interesting one; flush toilets are as old as the Indus Valley Civilization circa 26th century BC. But the sit-down, throne-like “pedestal” porcelain version we are so used to using wasn’t invented until the mid-19th century; this contribution to mankind was designed for the Victorian royalty and aristocracy. What was good enough for the queen soon became standard, at least in certain spheres.

Supposedly, it is more civilized to sit than it is to squat. Our ancestors went out to the woods to relieve themselves, and our bodies are totally biologically designed to defecate in this manner. Try it when you are out camping. You will be surprised how quickly it all comes out. You begin to get what Sir Thomas was raving about.

Sitting puts a kink in our intestines and works against our bodies and against gravity. It makes the process less efficient and also causes some fecal matter to remain in the colon, which can lead to colon cancer. Sitting while defecating also can lead to prostate enlargement, prostate cancer and hemorrhoids; and, over a lifetime, leads to the deterioration of a balancing mechanism built into our heels for this purpose. (see this article for more information: http://aprovechoamerica.tripod.com/id10.html).

From a Wikipedia article on toilets in Japan:

A number of medical benefits are attributed to the squat toilet.[31] It has been suggested that the squatting strengthens the pelvic muscles of females, reducing the likelihood of incontinence.[dead link][32] Furthermore, it is said that this toilet builds up strength in the hips, and improves breathing and concentration. The upright squatting position also allows wastes to be eliminated more quickly and completely, reducing fecal transit time. Slow fecal transit is a major risk factor for colon cancer.[33]Other studies find that squatting prevents and cures hemorrhoids.[34] Assuming and maintaining the squatting position on a regular basis may also help maintain the flexibility of the knees.[35]

Squat toilets are very common in Japan, a place that prides itself on civility and cleanliness. (Bidets, another no-brainer, are also popular there as they are in Europe. Come on, America the greatest country on Earth? Not until we get with it in the bathroom). In fact, 75 percent of the world’s population squats to sit. Yes, a lot of this goes on in unsanitary conditions in the third world, but it is also common in developed countries throughout the world — countries such as Japan and France. A variation is the pedestal squat toilet used in India:

File:Pedestal-squat-toilet.jpg

If you don’t have a hole to squat over, don’t despair. You can get close to the same effect (although not quite to Utopian levels of defecatory ecstasy) by pulling up the resident bathroom trashcan and putting your feet on it. Some companies actually sell special foot stools for this purpose, but a trash can or anything that allows your feet to be elevated and your knees to bend will help.

I imagine that our ancestors’ waste matter was great for soil fertility, especially since their diet was largely plant-based. Modern day humans can go for a compost toilet; this one comes complete with attached footstool:

Sun-Mar Excel Self-Contained Composting Toilet, Model# Excel

Although the price is a little much. Shouldn’t pooping be free?

Along similar lines (literally), giving birth to a child is also best done in positions other than lying on one’s back. Documentaries such as The Business of Being Born and Pregnant in America talk about how our (must use the little quotey things) “modern, civilized” approach to birth — hospitals, exorbitant costs, forceps, drugs, pain, and generally long and unpleasant labor — is very unnatural. Many European and Eastern countries use midwives and time-tested methods to give birth at home. These processes are safe and often produce shorter, less painful labor, making the experience much more pleasant and comfortable. The mother should be able to move into a variety of positions (squatting, on all fours, etc.), listening to her body to tell her how to move and work with her body, the baby and with gravity.

These examples are two of many in which we consider ourselves unequivocally advanced and superior to cultures anterior and contemporaneous, but may in fact  be utterly backwards. In my next blog I want to discuss the widely held assumption/misconception of future as equivalent to progress, and how ‘new’ does not always equal ‘better.’