Saturday, March 08, 2008

Primeval Dixie

Late last night snow;
this morning
brightness pouring in

through every window.


Mankind suffers from the narrow viewpoint afforded by conditional consciousness and the largely egological concerns of this present life. We habitually ignore or overlook those aspects of the cosmos which do not relate to the present pursuit of money, food and sex. Through the subtle complexities of causality, one of the more obvious consequences of this mass fixation on self is the wave of extinctions now taking place on all continents. Short-sighted, expedient actions and decisions made by ordinary people are irreversibly changing and impoverishing us all far into the future. In a saner world, awareness of this situation would immediately lead to a global summit to direct all available resources toward measures which might slow (if not stop) this trend, beginning with attention to the most vulnerable species. Like the dark of the moon, the moment passes and it is already tomorrow.

We will all do everything we can while true transformation will not come about through any mechanical process. The nature of consciousness itself provides the key. Beyond all the hope and hype, the media is fixated on absurdities, congress is chasing down baseball players while all the Presidents men conduct business as usual. It doesn't take a Buddhist to see that on the political front, things are so locked up, fixated on fear, and dumbed down, whatever we might think is practically irrelevant; thus the angle of this blog.

It is now as it has always been, a matter of ongoing education, self-understanding in the widest sense and individual-cum-collective spiritual evolution. It has certainly been said before and I only confirm it here, that the pure land, the great beyond, the final frontier of infinite wilderness, is certainly within you. So without getting astronomical, let's roll it back a few years to get some context on this place. A wider, prehistoric perspective deepens appreciation of the fleeting present.

A few extinct North American carnivores up against a grid of two foot boxes. L-R: Dire wolf (Canis dirus), sabre-toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis), short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), cheetah-like cat (Miracinonyx sp.), and the American lion (Panthera leo atrox). (Turner and Anton, 1997).

Ice ages have been happening periodically for the last two million years. Twenty thousand years ago, massive glaciers two thousand feet thick covered all the land north of the Ohio. Dark evergreen and the smoky blues-greys of coniferous forests covered most of the southeast. An endless sea of spruce, jack pine, and fir extended south of the Tennessee River to 34°N latitude. Deciduous species dependent on temperate conditions either 'migrated' further south or died off. In some parts of the earth, such as northern Europe or central Asia, all escape routes were blocked by massive rocky upthrusts like the Alps, the Tien Shan and Himalayan ranges which are oriented on an east-west axis. Species such as sweet gum (Liquidambar), tuliptree (Liriodendron), and hemlock vanished from Europe completely.

In contrast, the general north-south orientation of the Appalachians provided passage for refugee species during glacial maximum. The northern margins of these temperate zone deciduous forests persisted in sunny havens throughout the full glacial in south—facing pockets and gorges of the highlands and mountains of southern Tennessee. As the glaciers began melting, powerful outwash streams carried Canadian shield boulders hundreds of miles across Kentucky and distributed the glacial till over a wide flood-plain. Relatively undisturbed since the paleozoic, gravity and water work the grooves, draining plateaus, redistributing the earth. A wide range of soil types develop supporting what will become one of two of the greatest temperate forest regions on earth, (the other is in China) displaying great biodiversity. As temperatures warmed, the competition for territory was renewed. The broadleaves, blessed with flowers and co-operative insects began pushing north. Through the magic agency of the living seed enclosed within a fleshy carpel, borne by winds, rivers, mammals and birds, this complex engine of organic productivity known as the mixed mesophytic forest gradually dominated the temperate zones of Turtle Island. Collecting energy from the sun and drawing solutes up from the earth, attracting weather, storing water, providing homes and sustenance for countless life forms.

South of the glacier, an amazing variety of megafauna roamed the marshy grasslands and forest, including four genera of giant ground sloths as big as hippos, giant beavers with six-inch teeth, two types of llama, 'stag moose' - actually a deer taller than a man, dire wolves, mastodons, wooly mammoth, American elephants, saber tooth cats, and the lion-sized scimitartooth (Homotherium), four species of musk-ox, yak like those still found in Tibet, giant jaguar, cheetah like those still found in Africa, capybara and peccary species which still exist in South America, native camels, even maned lions. Lumbering ten foot armadillos, water-loving tapirs, four-horned antelope, horses, asses, a huge species of bison, six genus of longhorn, five kinds of deer, and condors with sixteen-foot wingspans. Perhaps most fearsome of all was the short-faced bear (Arctodus) measuring six feet at the shoulder, eleven when standing, the largest land predator on the continent throughout the ice age.

One thousand years after humans arrived, most of the animals mentioned above, seventy species (80-95% of the megafauna) - disappeared completely from North America, very likely due to a combination of over-hunting, and climate change. Recent evidence indicates an extra-terrestrial impact around 11,000 BCE may have been a major contribution, by generating a mini- 'nuclear winter'.

Russell Cave in NE Alabama provides the first evidence of human habitation in the southeast. Hunter-gatherers occupied it as early as 6500 BCE. Using short spears with sharpened stone points propelled by atlatls, combined with masterful cunning, paleo-hunters were extremely proficient at bringing down big game. By the time that little band of twenty five or so moved into Russell Cave, there was plenty of smaller game like fox, squirrel, skunk, raccoon, rabbit, and bobcat - animals you can still find (in far less numbers) in the woods today. They also fished and gathered nuts, fruit and berries, wove baskets and were fond of wild turkey. White-tail deer and black bear, the only larger animals remaining in the region were both hunted seasonally. Fortunately, both of these four-legged cousins are still with us today.