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    The Flatirons, Layers of Earth, and the Excavation of Civilizations

    Twilight fall upon all souls
    Darkening our skin and bone
    Soon I’ll follow Prudence home
    Until then, just let me chase this sun
    Soon enough I’ll go, a winters way
    Soon enough, though not this day…

                                          -Autumn, Puscifer


               The Flatirons is the name given to a several slanted slabs of rock that tower above Boulder, Colorado.  The gradual upheaval of the Flatirons resulted from a highly confusing process of tectonic plates colliding on the Earth’s crust and upper-mantle in the age of the dinosaurs 35 to 80 million years ago.  (The Late Cretaceous period abruptly ended, and I suspect that had it not there would be metropolitan dinosaurs carrying briefcases and headed off to work on Earth at this very moment.)  The plates and microplates of Earth’s crust (which reach a depth of 25 miles) and upper-mantle (a thousand miles down) lie upon the lower-mantle which is comprised of dense rock that has the consistency of asphalt.  Driven by internal convection currents, the Earth’s mantle flows slowly, shouldering the rigid crust above it.  As the continental and oceanic curst separate and merge over the eras, mountains and seas are diminished and formed.   2,000 miles down, beneath the lower-mantle, lies the outer core of the Earth, which is made up of nickel and iron and flows in a liquid state, touching the edge of the inner core at 3,000 miles.  The core of the Earth, 3,000 - 4,000 miles beneath of our feet (at 4,000 miles is you’re at the center), is so highly pressurized that it is solid, and it is hotter than the surface of the sun.  (Some people say that if you were there you’d be floating or that you’d be squeezed to the size of a marble.  These are irrelevant points because the temperature of the Earth’s core is 9,000 Fahrenheit and the pressure is three millions times that of the surface, so humans will never get there; the closest we’ve dug is 8 miles down.  Our data about the nature of the layers of the Earth is scientifically inferred.) 

    File:Geological time spiral.png
    USGS Geological Time Spiral

                 The Flatirons are located 30 miles northwest of Denver, and when one gazes southeast across the winter farmland toward the mile-high city you wonder what it would be like to watch a nuclear bomb detonate over that capital.  There would be a bright flash followed by a billowing mushroom cloud, and general chaos would ensue.  Survivors of the blast would most likely attempt to leave Denver, probably walking on highways toward the Rocky Mountains, the nearest source of fresh water.   The reaction in the towns on the outskirts of the city would be mixed.  There would be crews of good Samaritans rushing to assist the survivors of the blast, while others, fearing the effects of the radioactive dust particles and impending nuclear winter, would pack up and head west in a frenzy.  Depending on the strength of the weapon, Boulder would be left intact, and the Flatirons would still prevail above that quaint college town on the foothills of the Rockies.  

                The hike to the top of the Flatiron is strenuous.  In the winter the trails are covered in ice and the buzzards wheeling above the rocks are just waiting for you to slip and crack your skull.  Pine tree forests surround the Flatirons and grow through the cracks of the lichen-covered rocks like bonsai trees. Above the canyons and steep hills and among the giant stones, the view from the top is extraordinary: Boulder and small towns are visible upon the vast plains that extend toward the eastern horizon, cold white clouds churn about the formidable snow-capped Rockies that dominate the western panorama, fairy-chimney rock formations rise up from the spectacular foothills stretching north in a range so beautiful that one could walk them forever. 

                I watched some people climbing along the tops of the Flatirons.   These impressive individuals were higher up than I, and I could not help but think that I was missing an adrenaline rush and better view by not being up there.  To assuage this frustration I told myself, “You go diving, and I’m assuming they don’t, so they’re missing some things you get to see and experience.”  (Although I’m sure there are plenty of divers who know how to climb.)  An estimated 350,000 people are born each day (an estimated 150,000 die each day).  The natural wonders of the world are inevitably being thoroughly explored and regularly visited, direct flights to places like New Zealand and Tahiti are increasing, remote diving locations that were formerly virtually unknown are becoming increasingly popular, Mt. Everest is being covered with trash and the dead bodies of climbers.  Certainly this is fine, so long as the environments of these places can be sustained, which is questionable but possible.  (Ecotourism in on the rise in places like Belize, but the cruise and cargo ships keep crashing into the reef.)  How wonderful it would be if we could strike a balance so that posterity of humanity and all species in the natural world would be given the chances and opportunities for happiness and survival similar to that of their ancestors.  But it may be that our species will have to start again, and our modern cities will be re-discovered and excavated by future humans just as humans have excavated the lost cities of ancient civilizations in places like Angkor Wat, Manchu Picchu, and Rome.   The way this folds out will be largely dependent on the way we treat each other.  During the war in former Yugoslavia American fighter pilots would take off from Air Force bases in Maryland to bomb people in Serbia and then fly back home in time for dinner.  We can use or technology to communicate and travel in effort to talk out our differences, or we can bomb the shit out of each other.  We chose the latter route in the last war in Iraq – a country which we have been bombing for twenty-five years now – and in doing so we squandered a chance to for dialogue and peace.  Now that region is in flames and their ancient cities are being bombed to dust.  If we continue on this destructive path there will be nothing left for future humans to excavate, not even Denver, but in spite of our actions, the Flatirons will likely remain for millions of years to come. 


    Diving in the Monterey Bay and Falling in Love with Whales

              Here’s some footage and pictures taken while scuba diving off of San Carlos Beach in the Monterey Bay.  The footage at end of this post is of a raft of sea lions (they can also be referred to as a pod, or as a colony if on land, or as a rookery or harmen during breeding season, depending on their mating and lady situation), which are incredibly cute and curious, the latter trait of which is in itself curious considering they must see divers everyday but still appear eager to investigate each person individually.  They remind me of happy dogs and are very agile in the water.  One of the slideshow photos features the rear-end of a harbor seal torpedoing through the water.  The harbor seal moves in a more linear fashion than the sea lions (one way of distinguishing between a seal and sea lion is that seals have holes where their ears are, and seals have protruding ears).  One of the coolest things I saw during this dive was a cormorant that had dived into the water, swimming at least fifteen feet down.  For a moment my land-based brain did not compute what was going on, for here was a bird swimming in the water, but clearly they know what they’re doing.    

               Other than the sea lions, the pictures in the slideshow are mostly of a variety of more stationary sea creatures: an opalescent nudibranch, a fish-eating anemone, a warty sea cucumber, sea hares, a gumboot chiton, dungeness crabs, jeweled top snails, sea lemons, spiny brittle stars, a decorator crab, and many other beautiful things.  I find that they nudibranchs (sea slugs) are the most mesmerizing to look at, for their skin patterns seem to weave and pulsate across their flowing bodies which glow in the pale light of the sea.  They make me wonder what types of other marvelous creatures must have existed on Earth and that we will never know about (for instance, I can imagine a gigantic underwater polyp with tentacles – like a cross between an anemone and an octopus -- that snatches up prey like feather duster worms).

               After the dive, we drove to Point Lobos in the afternoon.  We walked through a forest of lichen-draped pine swaying in the coastal breeze.  The sun illuminated the pine tree canopies and cypress trees that grew along the cliffs.  Fleets of white clouds sailed like naval armadas across the blue skies above the vast ocean to the west, and the redwood mountains of Big Sur prevailed to the south.  Beyond the cove where the sea lions barked, the waterspouts of humpback whales sprayed into the air as the whales breached.  At least thirty whales were swimming off the coast, headed south from Alaska to Mexico to feed for the winter.   They are the most amazing and inspiring creatures I have seen.  I thought to myself that clearly the most logical thing I could do in life would be to abandon every trivial, superficial obligation I have and to get on boat and follow the whales because they know what is truly important in life and how to live.  As we drove back north on Highway One, beneath a epic nuclear armageddon sunset, my mind went constantly to those heroic whales and the uncertainty of their fate which is directly linked to ours.  I wish them the best and vow to do more in my life to help them.  I think about them everyday and hope that this remains the case for the rest of my life.



    Paul Stamets - Psilocybin and Amanita: An Innocent Discovers the Infinite

    I don’t believe these mushrooms are drugs.  I believe these mushrooms are mushrooms, and they have a drug-like effect.

                                                                                                                                                     -Paul Stamets


             What follows are the embedded segments of an absolutely fascinating presentation on mushrooms by Paul Statmets.  Produced by Sound Phototsynthesis, the presentation is from the 2000 San Francisco Fungus Fair organized by the Mycology Society of San Francisco and is titled Psilocybin and Amanita: An Innocent Discovers the Infinite.  Embedded below are segments of the presentation followed by important transcribed excerpts from those corresponding segments.  Statmets delivers a powerful message about the role of mycelium on Earth, the incredible powers of mushrooms, and the importance of humans to act as responsible stewards of the planet and natural world, lest we destroy the environmental foundations we rely upon for survival as well as ourselves.  He also tells a hilarious story at the end of the presentation.


    I believe that we’re all on this planet for a greater purpose, and I think I’m only discovering now what my purpose is.  My purpose for being here is to make life on this planet better, and to make the health of this planet better, and I see that these mushrooms are medicinal mushrooms for the soul, and tomorrow I’ll be talking about medicinal mushrooms for the planet and for the health of human beings.  So I do see that these are very complimentary... I know my subject field very well, and I am very blessed to be in this position.  At the same time I do not take much credit for it.  I am a messenger.  I am one person in a long lineage throughout millennia who have picked up the torch and are communicating something that is greater than the individual.   So I want to please disavow my credit for discovering these species.  I did not discover them, they discovered me.  They used me for the vehicle for expression. 

    Now, most of the psilocybin active mushroom species are primary saprophytes, they grow on woody material, on organic material as soon as it’s rendered available.  And these are reparative organisms, they follow debris trails left by humans.  There is no greater natural that has ever occurred biologically on this planet than humans, we are the greatest natural disaster, and these debris trail fungi – specifically the psilocybin active mushrooms species, which are litter species which grow on wood chips, you know, even around here – they are running after us, trying to repair the damage that we’ve created.   So we have co-evolved with these litter fungi, and as we chop wood and as we build houses and as we move around in our daily existence, we create so much debris that these primary saprophytes are the remedial organisms that come back to recycle the nutrients back into the biosphere.    The loss of biological diversity, especially in fungal diversity forbodes very, very badly for the future of this planet… I believe that these mushrooms are trying to speak to us, they’re calling out to us, they’re trying to communicate in a language that we will understand – in this case it’s dimethyltryptamine psilocybin-like compounds that are opening up the floodgates of the senses.  Now I will wax poetic here and I’m sure I will offend some of you, and I don’t intend to offend you because I don’t like you or because I’m a bad person.  This is my personal belief, and this is a free country and I want to be able to express myself. 

    This is spore of psilocybe baeocystis, it is dimpled here – this is a germ pore – and these are bacteria.  And coincident with the evolution of fungi are bacteria, and generally speaking they’re antagonist.  Fungi came out of the ocean about 450 years ago.  We share in common about thirty percent of our DNA with fungi.  We separate from the fungal kingdom several tens of millions of years later.  Fungi reproduce primarily through spores.  You take spore prints on hats.  You can take spore prints on clothing… And in doing so we become like mushroom missionaries sometimes.  We go on airplanes when we’re down in Mexico, and one of my fun things to do is to get a whole bunch of people together and spore print all of our clothing.  And then we jump on an airplane, we fly back to the United States, unbeknownst to all the other passengers – they’ve all be dusted with spores of psilocybe cubensis.  The people in this movement are messianic. 

    I believe the environmental movement of the sixties and seventies is largely propelled by the psychedelic interests and the psychedelic sacraments. Those of you from the sixties and seventies know this.  Many of the experiences from the psilocybin active mushroom species, the major themes are the Earth is crying out to us, we are in trouble.  Please, we’re on this boat, this planet together let’s not pollute our environment to the point that we cannot sustain other members of the ecosphere.  Ultimately, if we don’t come to grips with living in harmony with our environment, this planet will reject us, as an organism, and that is not necessarily bad.  The planet will continue to rotate, it will continue to revolve around the sun, there will be numerous organisms still here that will be living and striving to live in equilibrium.  But unless we start taking a proactive behavioral change, a radical paradigm shift to live in harmony with our environment, the biosphere will reject as a species.  That is the lesson of nature.  We exceed the carrying capacity of our environment, we plummet to extinction.  Disease vectors proliferate, the population plunder, and other organisms become predominant, and hopefully those organisms will have a better understanding of living in equilibrium.  Of course I want the human species to survive, of course I want children to grow up and remain healthy… But the ecosystem is smart.  There is a natural intelligence on this planet.  And where do we get off thinking that we’re the most intelligent organism that exists?  These fungi evolved… we evolved from fungi.  We are mushroom people.  We share thirty percent of our DNA with these fungi, and they’re now calling out to us, asking us to please be responsible in managing the environment for the betterment of everybody. 

    The mycelia network of the planet is what I believe is Earth’s natural internet.  It is a Gaian, governing mechanism, a healing mantle of overlapping mycelia mosaics that are interspersed on top and through each other.  In a single cubic inch of soil there can be more than a mile of cells.  These cells are pervasive everywhere, but when mushrooms occur it’s just the tip of the iceberg, it’s two to five percent of the representation of the entire mushroom life cycle, and the mushroom life cycle can spin twenty to fifty times in a year with some species, slower with other species.  But this overlaying mosaic of mycelia networks gives these environments resilience, gives them reparative opportunities.  This data bank of response, of breaking down different types of wood, of different types of debris trails, having a very complex microsphere of multiple mushroom species enables the environment to intelligently respond.  And because these fungi have existed as long as we have, they have an innate intelligence…  Most of us have no concept at all that these fungi that are around us are our allies, and these are the organisms that will help sustain life and return nutrients back to the biosphere.  They’re the interface organisms, they’re the bridge between life and death, and they have so much to offer us if only we would wake up.


    I believe that biology progresses through the repetition of successful models.  What has worked previously biologically is built upon in evolution.  And the invention of the computer internet is just a representation of a successful biological model inherent within the structure and the representation of the mushroom mycelium.  The mushroom mycelium – you can’t destroy the mushroom mycelium by damaging one point – you can’t destroy the computer internet by blowing up one computer, that’s one of these reason it was designed.  But this ability to share resources, I think is integral to the model of life on this planet, and I see the computer internet as being a natural evolution of the biologically successful model that’s represented in the mushroom mycelium. 

    Not transcribed here is a story about a 5,000 year-old Mushroom-Bee-Man cave painting discovered in the Plateau of Running Water in Northern Nigeria by a guide of a  Japanese researcher and American anthropologist in the late 1940s.  Be sure to listen. 

    No one has died from eating psilocybin mushrooms.  There’s two reports that are controversial on this subject and there could be other co-factors.  But as one other person in this room I think pointed out, there’s been like fifty million trips on psilocybin mushrooms, and two disputed deaths.  This underscores a pretty strong safety factor.  However, people who are psychologically, you know, not up to par, people are dealing with mental illness, people who have weak hearts, people who have other, you know, underlying medical conditions – of course these mushrooms, it’s not advisable for them to use them.  And I’m not recommending that people in this room use these mushrooms.  Most of you will not benefit from them.  But some of you will.  The people that tend to benefit are physicians, philosophers, psychiatrists, computer programmers, artists, poets.  Does anyone doubt that the reason why the United States is on the cutting edge of computer technology is because of the ability of projecting fractals and doing large mathematical equations and vision quests under the influence?  If you talk to the community of software programmers, they will say that’s true.  But this is the hidden secret about the American computer industry: they’re psychedelic freaks out there all the time. 

    So R. Gordon Watson is very well known and he wrote a book called Mushrooms, Russia and History which talked about the differences in attitude of Eastern European cultures – specifically Russian culture – being mycophilic – having an affection for mushrooms – and mycophobic cultures, like the Irish and the English, who have a repulsion for mushrooms…

    Terrance has come up with some very astonishing concepts and ideas about the interstellar transportation of germ plasma, of fungi throughout space.  Well that was absolutely scientific heresy fifteen, twenty years ago, but most of you are probably well aware that this theory is getting more and more substantiated that endospores of bacteria and fungi may well we able to survive interstellar space travel, and perhaps this planet was seed with endospores of bacteria and fungi long ago, and was in a sense inoculated.  And I suspect that fungi are throughout the cosmos.  Where there is water, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, you’re going to end up with linear chains of self-replicating matter running through mitosis, it projects mycelia networks, and evolve into fungi.  I think fungi are… If you have matter you’re going to have fungi. 


    So where do you find the psilocybin active mushroom species in the northwest?  You find them at institutes of higher learning, you find them at colleges, you find them around police stations, around court houses, around, you know, there is landscaping of government buildings.  These mushrooms are centralized around government offices.  And so if you want to find mushrooms in the Northwest, psilocybin active mushroom, visit the local county court house.  The biggest patch of psilocybe cubensis I’ve ever seen still grows to this day around the Thurston County jail.  And I wonder about that because I was called in as an expert witness, all these kids were getting busted for psilocybin mushrooms and thought to myself, this is crazy, they’re bringing in fifty of these people, quote unquote trespassing for psilocybin mushroom collecting, and the government has no idea: by bringing these people into a courtroom, you have now sporulated the judge, the bailiff, the policeman, the sheriff, they’ve all become these unknown allies to the mushroom cause in spreading spore mass.  It’s absolutely true.  Absolutely true.  When you get in contact with someone whose been collecting these psilocybin mushrooms they are a disease vector, in a sense, for spreading these mushrooms to neo-fascist Republican environments.  


    And where do you find these mushrooms?  Well, I didn’t bring the photograph that I would like to show you, but I look for Winnebagos   You look for RV campers.  Their idea of camping, and please, I’m a hiker, I go into the woods, I go in for five days, I go into the deep cascades.  I’m also an orienteer, I go and I orienteer with a compass and there’s no trails.  So I’m a little bit snobbish when comes to people who use RVs for camping, and this is what they believe is camping: camp spot number sixty-six, you know, a piece of cement with a table.  Well, it’s very interesting that this is the locus point, the central point for finding the most psilocybin active mushroom species in the world, psilocybe azurescens.  So, if you go to Fort Stevens State Park, or adjacent parks in that area, you look for Winnebagos.  They’re indicator species of psilocybin mushrooms.

    I don’t believe these mushrooms are drugs.  I believe these mushrooms are mushrooms, and they have a drug-like effect.

    So why is this crystalline substance being produced?  Terrance and others have spoken to the fact that maybe the crystalline is being produced for the purpose of engaging human consciousness to make us aware of them so by spreading their spores it increases their evolutionary probability of survival.  You can argue this way back and fourth, but at the end of the day: it’s true.  These mushrooms are surviving now because of human intervention and interest. 

    We only know which mushrooms are poisonous from the unfortunate experiences of those people who have eaten them before us.  That may come as a shock to some of you who just came to this mushroom show, but how do we know if mushrooms are poisonous?  We only know if mushrooms are poisonous if someone gets sick or dies from them, or they experiment, that’s the reason why we know plants are edible…this ken of knowledge that we’ve developed over time, this experiential database.




    Exploring a Cove North of Jenner with Alan Watts*

                 You know we pick up shells – I always keep one around as sort of an example for many things – and say, “My goodness, isn’t that gorgeous? There’s not an aesthetic fault in it anywhere, it’s absolutely perfect.”  Now I wonder, I wonder if these fish look at each other’s shells and say, “Don’t you think she’s kind of fat?  Oh my, those markings aren’t really very well spaced.  Pssshhh.”  Cause’ that’s what we do, see we don’t realize that all of us in our various goings on and behaviors and so on are just as marvelous – more marvelous, much more complicated, much more interesting – all these gorgeous faces that I’m looking at, you know every one of them – some of them supposedly pretty, some are supposedly not so pretty, but they’re all absolutely gorgeous.  And everybody’s eyes is a piece of jewelry beyond compare. Beautiful. 

                                                         -Alan Watts, Every Incarnation is this One, from the Out of Your Mind lecture series


                  There is a cove north of the mouth of the Russian River at Jenner that is accessible by descending a steep trail along which lies a long rope that has been secured to a tree at the top of the cliff.  From the beach you will see spotted monk seals perched on the rocks beyond the shore of the cove.  The monk seals will perceive you as more of a curiosity than a threat if you slowly pick your way along the sand and rocks and tide pools (when you gaze into a healthy tide pool you will find a stirring galaxy of life), sometimes crawling on your hands and knees, looking for little treasures.  These sundry treasures are generally common and consist simply of little rocks and shells and the remnants of dead sea creatures.   Like all things, their significance is relative, and most people would consider these treasures worthless for they hold little to no monetary value.  Yet for those humans who appreciate the perfection and beauty expressed and embodied in a tiny shell, a purple crab claw, an abalone shell, or a piece of calcified coralline seaweed, there is great value in such objects.   The value is largely twofold:  the first lies in the reward of making the effort to go out and find such wonderful natural curiosities.  Though common in comparison to rare gems, rubies, and diamonds, finding a perfectly intact periwinkle turban snail shell, a bright pink chiton skeleton, or a preserved dead green urchin is a scarce event for even a daily beachcomber.  (In the book The Unnatural History of the Seas, marine biologist Callum Roberts describes the drastic decline of the diversity and abundance of life in the oceans over the recent decades, and notes that when sailors arrived in Monterrey Bay in the 18th century they smelled the breath of whales that thrived in the bay and sea.  I can only imagine what amazing sea creature remnants must have washed ashore prior to a century ago, especially during prehistoric eras.)  Granted one is not excavating the earth or crawling through mines the find these seashells and rocks as is required to mine for diamond or gold, but the search for the perfect crab carapace can be more difficult than going to a jewelry store and picking out a ring.  Secondly, these items hold value because, aside from the rocks, they were once living organisms or a part thereof.  Life is sacred and transient, and these seashells and dead sea creatures which have washed up along the shore are mementos mori – symbolic reminders of our mortality - and in their preserved beauty and ongoing ecological role they demonstrate that even in the process of death lies purpose and absolute perfection.   

               The meaning as well as the existence of an individual person or organism is in relation to the context.  You are what you are, sitting here at this moment in your particular kind of clothes and with the particular colors of your faces and your particular personalities, your family involvements, your business involvements, your neuroses and your everything – you are that precisely in relation to an extremely complex environment.  So much so that if – let’s take for example this piece of wood that forms the support to the beam out here, now believe me this is true, you can that has little nubbles on it and so on – if it were not the way it is, you would not be the way you are.  The line of connection between what it is and you are is very, very complicated.  Also we could say that if a given star that we observe didn’t exist you would be different from what you are now.  I don’t say you wouldn’t exist, but you would exist differently.  But you might say that “the connection is very faint, it’s something that you don’t ordinarily have to think about, it’s not important,” but basically it is important, only you say, “I don’t have to think about it because it’s there all the time…”  Our subtle interdependence with…the kind of existence we have is dependent on all these things.  The fundamental things is that existence is relationship.

                                                         -Alan Watts, Understanding the Unitive World, from the Out of Your Mind lecture series


               …So what I’m pointing out to you is that this basic seeing that it’s all “dat, dat, dat,” provides a possibility for you to become involved in it much more incautiously than you normally are; to express feeling, to love, to throw yourself at the mercy of the goings-on completely, you see.  So that this very perception of the illusion makes it possible to live up the illusion!  And so if someone therefore is always in his attitude to life detached and reserved, it indicates, you see, that there’s still a primordial fear of getting involved, and I must say that I can’t understand that very well.  I don’t understand what people expect that a so-called enlightened person should not need this, that, and the other – it might beautiful surroundings, it might be the love of the opposite sex, it might be I don’t know what.  Of course shouldn’t need that.  Well in other words you should scrub everything down to basic basic, and the end of that is, you know, let’s scrub the planet, let’s get all this disease called life off it and have a nice clean rock.  I believe in color!  I believe if you’re going to do anything in the way of the illusory dance let’s live it up, let’s really do it, and let’s not take ourselves so damn seriously that we have to be scrubbed all the time of any ornamentation or frivolity.

                                                                                                -Alan Watts, This is the Game, from the Out of Your Mind lecture series

                           I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing – something to be condemned – to take your own individual life seriously in dead earnest, and to have all the problems that go with that.  Do understand that being that way, that being a real mixed-up human being is a manifestation of nature that is something just like the patterns on the waves out here, or like a sea shell.  You know we pick up shells – I always keep one around as sort of an example for many things – and say, “My goodness, isn’t that gorgeous? There’s not an aesthetic fault in it anywhere, it’s absolutely perfect.”  Now I wonder, I wonder if these fish look at each other’s shells and say, “Don’t you think she’s kind of fat?  Oh my, those markings aren’t really very well spaced.  Pssshhh.”  Cause’ that’s what we do, see we don’t realize that all of us in our various goings on and behaviors and so on are just as marvelous – more marvelous, much more complicated, much more interesting – all these gorgeous faces that I’m looking at, you know every one of them – some of them supposedly pretty, some are supposedly not so pretty, but they’re all absolutely gorgeous.  And everybody’s eyes is a piece of jewelry beyond compare. Beautiful.  But we have specialized in a certain kind of awareness that makes us neglectful of that.  You see we specialize in more or less briefly concentrated, pin-point attention.  We look at this and we look at that, and we select from all the things we might possible be aware of, only certain things.  And as a result of that, we leave out of our everyday consciousness, generally speaking, two dimensions of experience;  one: amazing beauty of experience that we never see at all, and on the other hand, a very deep thing:  the sense of our basic identity, unity with, oneness with the total process of being.  See, because we are staring, as it were, at certain features of the landscape, we don’t see the background.  And because we get fascinated with – you know I could go into details of this shell, as I said, and put myself in the mind of a conch or whatever it is that lives in this thing and say, “Hmm, that’s not so not hot that one,” Like that you see?  And so, I wouldn’t see the whole thing!  But when I look at it like this, when anybody looks at it like that we say, “Oh my God isn’t that gorgeous?”

                                                -Alan Watts, Every Incarnation is this One, from the Out of Your Mind lecture series


    *Sometimes when I’m driving somewhere fun, I imagine that Martin Luther King is sitting shotgun and that Alan Watts, Ron Paul, and Carl Sagan are sitting in back, and we’re all just goofing around. 


    The Newts of El Corte de Madera Creek and Why Humans are Overrated

            Nestled in the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains lies the sleepy El Corte de Madera Creek.   Before merging with the San Gregorio Creek, which flows out to the vast Pacific Ocean where men in boats and planes are currently searching for a blue whale entwined in fishing line and subsiding somewhere in the depths of the deep blue sea, the Corte Madera Creek cuts through an “open space preserve” in the dense foothills of the Kings Mountain.  The trailhead is accessible from Sweet Road off Skyline Boulevard.   

                The meandering trail descends two-miles through the forest before reaching the creek, which serves as a stream of life for the plants and animals that depend on the water for their existence and survival.  Towering above the creek are redwood tree canopies. Ablaze in the sunlit heat of a summer drought and home to hawks and owls and squirrels, these trees are intermittently nourished by the coastal fog which recedes and burns off in the day.  Three-hundred feet below the treetops lies the creek, which is a riparian, semi-aquatic world unto itself, flowing in slow motion through the tranquility of the watershed.  A prolific population of newts thrives here.  They are seen clambering over each other, playing grab-ass, clumsily lumbering over the moss-covered stones, tumbling over the edges of rocks, and then toppling into the water or onto the dry creek bed, often landing on their backs or on their heads (I realize they wouldn’t have done that if they weren’t running from me).  They look like little dinosaurs; slow to a fault on land but agile as serpents in the water where they float suspended and buoyant in mid-water until they notice you approaching and then sink slowly and vertically out of sight into the murky, clay-rich depths.  They are ridiculously cute and in a way they lead very simple lives: eating the gnats, water striders, and other insects that subsist on the water and on the banks of the creek.  They will hunker down in the rainy season, when the gentle creek will transform into a powerful channel of water which will burst apart the natural dams of fallen trees and javelin-sized branches that have accumulated over the past year and are leftover from erstwhile floods.  The raging water will carry the forest debris out to the boundless ocean, where the water molecules will one day condensate and rise up forming the clouds from which rain may again fall upon the earth to become the selfsame creekwater flowing across the stones that will gradually erode away entirely and altogether be washed out to sea to begin the process anew until the Earth itself dies and the sun implodes in a glorious supernova and the ashes and particulate matter of our long-dead corpses are mixed with that of the newts and are sent flying into space to eventually form new stars and planets that will repeat this cycle infinitely or until the universe ends.

              There’s something comforting about knowing that the newts are there – removed from the monstrous highways of the Bay Area, the dismal and identical business parks, the ever-expanding network of air-conditioned buildings and cookie-cutter houses, the millions of people with their millions of first-world problems – and the newts are just relaxing and wandering around harmlessly under the sun and stars on this little creek which comprises the extent of their known world which lies on a much larger world drifting solitaire through space.  Humans, understanding that we are different from other creatures because we are conscious of our own existence and have consciences, in our infinite wisdom, often make the mistake of assuming that because we’re the most intelligent of Earth’s species that we’re also the most highly evolved.  But the newts have had much more time to evolve than us, and this shows with their highly advanced biological capabilities.  These amphibians breathe underwater by absorbing diffused oxygen through their skin; incredibly, they can regenerate their limbs, eyes, spinal cords, and vital organs.  The newts in the photos are called rough-skinned or fire-belly newts, and the toxin they’re capable of secreting from their skin is potent enough to kill an adult person if ingested (Native Americans would use their toxins as a poison).  Banana slugs also populate the creek bed, and if you get down on your hands and knees and you will see the way these mucosal creatures extend and retract their slimly eyes, something way beyond the reach of human capability (I can only think of one human appendage that can so readily enlarge).  The hawks living the treetops above the creek can see eight times sharper than a human with 20/20 vision, and the owls can rotate their heads 270 degrees and have extraordinary night vision, plus they both can fly.  I’m not sure what the squirrels can do other than jump well, but the spiders who have weaved webs on the ferns have eight eyes, and the silk they produce from their bodies constitutes one of the toughest biological materials on Earth. 
                On this planet there are manifold creatures possessing exceptional skills that greatly exceed the capabilities of the most talented of us puny humans whom they often put to shame but are too humble to rub it in our faces. (Just imagine what the animals on other distant planets in outer space are capable of doing.)  Here, there are shrimp that can emit bursts of bioluminescence from their mouths; there are termites that can blow themselves up using the chemicals in their bodies (eat your heart out ISIS); not only can it change colors and textures, but the mimic octopus can impersonate various predators and prey that live in its surroundings; the immortal jellyfish can transform back into a polyp, effectively reverting to a previous stage of its life where it then releases genetically identical medusae of the former adult, and it can do this repeatedly and indefinitely.  Snakes, vampire bats, and numerous insect species can detect infrared radiation, and dogs and cats can see ultraviolet light (whereas humans are limited to seeing only visible light on the electromagnetic spectrum).    Lastly, these animals have acquired a skill that we modern humans seem incapable of learning: the ability to live in harmony with their environment and not to take what they do not need. 
               Yet despite all their uncanny powers, these animals cannot arrest the rate at which humans are destroying the habitats that they depend on for survival.  Despite their incredible defense mechanisms and prowess for adaptability, they cannot change the reality that nearly 200 plant and animal species are wiped off the face of the Earth each day (this is 1,000 times the rate of natural extinction).  Ultimately, if this madness of environmental destruction persists, if we allow the dark allegiance of corporate, military, and government forces to continue to kill innocent people and creatures, we’ll be pulling the rug out from beneath ourselves and it will be too late to prevent our own extinction, for we will have irrevocably wrecked the support system that our lives depend on.  I can think of no greater tragedy for humanity than for our species to carry out the systematic destruction of oursevles and the creatures inhabiting the natural world – all of which have a right to live their lives fully and are entitled to be here – with full knowledge that we could have prevented this terrible disaster from unraveling in the first place.  Yet when all is said and done and the last human being breathes their final breath on Earth, and when there is not a single person left here, I have a feeling that the newts will still be there at the creek, lumbering around aimlessly, living beneath the sun and stars.