Plant a seed
Tell a friend about ARK/World Kindness Day
Make someone’s day – tell a friend why you appreciate them
Go out of your way to thank someone today!
Put your phone down and have a conversation with a friend
Open the door for someone
We all need help sometimes; offer someone a helping hand
Share your lunch with a friend
Be someone’s shoulder to cry on
Recycle 3 things today
Selfishness must be transmuted into selflessness before the domain of duality is completely transcended.
Persistent and continuous performance of good deeds wears out selfishness.
Selfishness extended and expressed in the form of good deeds becomes the instrument of its own destruction.
——- AVATAR MEHER BABA
[From:- DISCOURSES by Meher Baba. Copyright ©1967 by Adi K. Irani, King’s Rd., Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, India]
Angel Tax Survey
Today’s Top Story
Angel Tax Survey: 70% Of Startups That Raised Capital Got One Or More Notices
The survey jointly conducted by the Indian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (IVCA) and online citizen engagement platform Local Circles, will be presenting the data to the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) today (4 February).
Paytm Mall Cuts Cashbacks To Strengthen Its O2O Biz Model
A week after Paytm Mall rejigged its top-level management, the One97 Communications-owned ecommerce company has slashed cashbacks by more than 80% across its online marketplace categories such as grocery, electronics and fashion.
Swiggy Eyes Next-Gen AI Capabilities With Acqui-hire Of Kint.io
Bengaluru-headquartered food delivery unicorn Swiggy has snowballed into 2019 with its first acqui-hire to enhance its artificial intelligence capabilities with Bengaluru-based Kint.io for an undisclosed amount.
Ecommerce FDI Rule: Amazon, Walmart Lose $50 Bn In Market Cap, May Adopt Subsidiary Route
While Nasdaq-listed Amazon’s shares fell by 5.38% to $1,626.23, losing $45.22 Bn, Walmart’s share price fell by 2.06% to $93.86 on the New York Stock Exchange, losing $5.7 Bn in market capitalisation. At the close of trade on Friday in the US, Amazon was valued at $795.18 Bn while Walmart was at $272.69 Bn.
Startup Events This Week: Seeding Kerala 2019 And More
Last week, the 27th edition of Convergence India Expo was successfully hosted in Delhi. The event highlighted some of the latest trends and technologies in telecom, broadcast, cable and satellite TV, cloud and big data, IoT, etc.
What’s Drawing Cautious Japanese Investors To The Indian Startup Ecosystem En Masse?
Over the last few years, billions of dollars of Japanese capital has been pumped into the Indian startup ecosystem. Japanese interest in Indian startups is mostly a byproduct of the dynamics of businesses in Japan. Japan today has a massive workforce problem, while India is looking at a surplus.
Startup Watchlist: 10 Agritech Startups To Look Out For In 2019
Inc42 has compiled a list of agritech startups that are transforming lives of farmers’ with ingenious use of technology. Some startups that made the cut are AgroStar, Ninjacart, Crofarm, Bombay Hemp Company, and Stellapps. Plus, there are many more.
Read More Top Stories On Inc42
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“Thankfulness creates gratitude which generates contentment that causes peace.”
— Todd Stocker
Did you know…
… that today is Thank Your Mailman Day? Honor those who deliver mail to your homes and places of business. After all, they deliver your mail rain or shine or mean-looking dog, so they deserve some form of recognition. And thankfully… in 1920, the United States Post Office banned sending children by post!
Sampla apprises farmers of Union Govt’s schemes
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Interim Budget ‘mockery’ of farmers
Hero dealer penalised for giving misleading advertisement
Miscreants kill security guard, flee with cash
Loan-waiver certificates distributed
Stop striking off names of weak students: DEO
Hoshiarpur, February 2
Kisan Morcha organised an awareness programme at Ghagwal village in Dasuya. Residents of the village and farmers were provided detailed information about the plans of the Union Government.
Union MoS Vijay Sapala graced the occasion as the chief guest. while the Kisan Morcha Punjab president Vikramjit Singh Cheema, former minister Arunesh Shakir and former MLA BB Sukhjeet Kaur Sahi were also present.
Vijay Sampla accorded detailed information about the various schemes undertaken by the Central Government for the welfare of people, residing in villages.
He said the budget of the Central Government was beneficial for the people and special attention had been taken in the budget, of all sections of the society.
He said: “ in the budget, the provision has been made by the Central Government to give a pension of Rs 3,000 for the unorganised sector workers after attaining the age of 60 years under the ‘ Pradhan Mantri Shram-Yogi Maandhan pension yojan’.As many as 10 crore workers would get the benefitted from the scheme.”
“Besides, the budget has a provision for financial support of Rs 6,000 per year for small farmers. The amount will be credited directly into their bank accounts, he added.
Samp[la said, “ The BJP has always given priority to development works for the people”.
He said: “If any kind of help is needed then he will be informed so that he may solve the problems as soon as possible.
A Poem by jay
Whose Dark Emotion is that? I think I know.
Its owner is quite sad though.
It really is a tale of woe,
I watch him frown. I cry hello.
He gives his Dark Emotion a shake,
And sobs until the tears make.
The only other sound’s the break,
Of distant waves and birds awake.
The Dark Emotion is beneath the heart, burning hearth and deep,
But he has promises to keep,
Until then he shall not sleep.
He lies in bed with ducts that weep.
He rises from his bitter bed,
With thoughts of sadness in his head,
He idolises being dead.
Facing the day with never ending dread.
With thanks to the poet, Robert Frost, for the underlying structure.
A further, lightening stalks
whilst watching the dark
Daily Capsule | 4th Feb
Inspiration can be found in abundance. And nowhere more so than in the words of American writer, civil rights activist and academic Maya Angelou. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, Maya died at the age of 86 in 2014 and left behind a prolific body of work, including seven volumes of autobiography, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and a list of plays, movies, and TV shows.
But what she’s most remembered for are her quotes that never fail to inspire and motivate. Sample this: “If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” Or this: “Nothing will work unless you do.”
Maya Angelou, who was awarded her the US’ highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, had mastered French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. But what sprang out in all languages were her words. “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style.” She sure did that!
Students or entrepreneurs, everyone can find lasting inspiration in Maya Angelou’s words: “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”
If that isn’t inspiration enough to kick-start your Monday, we have a steady stream of startup stories.
Stories you shouldn’t miss
What happens when a few innovative IIT-BHU students take a shine to drone technology? A startup is born. Here’s the story of how a few IIT-BHU alumni are using drone data to transform the infrastructure sector. Their Blockchain-powered startup Indshine offers a cloud-based drone platform, Felix, and enterprise drone solutions for various industries.
When everything is digital, why are medical records still living a paper life? This one question led Sohit Kapoor and Harsh Parikh, alumni of IIM-B, to launch DRiefcase. The startup, officially launched in May 2016, is aiming to disrupt the personal healthcare space with doorstep digitisation of medical records. It provides patients with single-point, easy-to-use access to their medical data through a mobile app.
InifiniChains works as SaaS-based scalable platform for stakeholders in a supply chain, capturing data from existing systems on to the Blockchain with the help of set business rules, making it tamperproof. The platform also wants to allow consumers to track the lifetime of the product, from the origination to the time it hits stores.
If there’s one thing you should never stop doing that, it’s upskilling. And if you’re looking to upskill staff and make them more productive, Disprz offers personalised learning management for employees. Founded by Subramanian Viswanath and Kuljit Chadha, the startup has a multilingual app that helps onboard and engage employees, increase their productivity, and continuously learn online.
The Northeast may not come to mind first thing when you think startup, but times are changing. Reason enough for this Manipur-based entrepreneur to bring healthcare to people’s doorsteps in the Northeast. Lian Thangvung founded Thangvung Privilege Services and offers a privilege card with financial assistance for medical emergencies at zero percent EMI and 24X7 doorstep medicine delivery.
Space exploration has long been the preserve of government agencies across the world. But gaining inspiration from Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, some Indian companies are now focusing on the niche area of space technology. Enter Bengaluru-based Bellatrix Aerospace, which is cutting the cost of putting satellites in space, and making them last longer.
Founded by IIT alumni Vivek Gera and Abhishek Jha, biotech startup LeucineTech could be a cure for the pharma industry’s compliance issues. The Bengaluru-based company offers a compliance software solution that automates the entire cleaning validation lifecycle, including design, qualification, and monitoring, for the pharma industry.
Delhi-based startup boAt forced the likes of JBL to cut prices in India. Here’s the story of how boAt tripled its revenues in a year and now sells 4 products every minute. Founded by Aman Gupta and Sameer Mehta, the startup has created a community of over 800,000 “boAtheads” and is on track to becoming a Rs 500-crore consumer electronics company by 2024.
How many of us, biting into plum cake over Christmas, promised to lose the fat and become fit in 2019 but failed? Karan Murada wanted to address this attitude towards fitness. To help busy people who have not yet made fitness a natural part of their lives make a commitment to take care of themselves, Karan, with his friend Aditya Srivastava, started Fitato in 2016.
Do you know where your clothes come from? Or what is it made of, and if it is environment-friendly? NorthMist was launched by Smrity Gupta (26) and Arijit Mazumdar (29) in March 2018 as an eco-friendly brand that manufactures sustainable and ethical menswear from pesticide-free organic cotton. The founders say that its products – from seed to stitch – are Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified.
Every parent wants to ensure that their child was learning everything they needed to and this could only be solved when they owned the entire learning experience by combining online learning with classroom learning. To make this happen, in 2016, Maneesh Dhooper and Kunal Malik decided to set up Planet Spark, which essentially transforms traditional KG to Class 8 tuitions, by combining physical teaching with mobile technology.
Future of Work 2019 promises multiple niche and deep-dive sessions on technology, platforms and its impact on business. More details here!
Wants should be carefully distinguished from needs.
Pride and anger, greed and lust are all different from needs.
As long as man has a body there will be some needs, and it is necessary to meet these needs.
But wants are an outcome of infatuated imagination. They must be scrupulously killed if there is to be any happiness.
——- AVATAR MEHER BABA
[From:- DISCOURSES by Meher Baba. Copyright ©1967 by Adi K. Irani, King’s Rd., Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, India]
This is a special edition of the brainpickings.org weekly digest by Maria Popova, to commemorate one of the great poets and great spiritual geniuses of our time. If you missed last week’s edition — David Whyte on love, Hermann Hesse on solitude, the value of hardship, and how to find your destiny, Nick Cave on art in the age of artificial intelligence — you can read it here. (ALSO: Don’t miss the annual review of the best of Brain Pickings 2018.) And if you are enjoying this newsletter, please consider supporting my labor of love with a donation – this year, I spent innumerable hours and tremendous resources on it, and every little bit of support helps enormously. If you already donate: THANK YOU.
“Books feed and cure and chortle and collide,” Gwendolyn Brooks wrote in her 1969 ode to why we read. For Kafka, a book was “the axe for the frozen sea inside us”; for Galileo, nothing less than a source of superhuman powers. “Without the writing of books, there is no history, there is no concept of humanity,” Hermann Hesse wrote in his visionary 1930 meditation on “the magic of the book” and why we will always remain under its generous spell, no matter how the technologies of reading may change.
We read to remember. We read to forget. We read to make ourselves and remake ourselves and save ourselves. “I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life,” Mary Oliver wrote in looking back on how books saved her. Most of all, we read to become selves. The wondrous gift of reading is that books can become both the life-raft to keep us from drowning and the very water that sculpts the riverbed of our lives, bending it this direction or that, traversing great distances and tessellated territories of being, chiseling through even the hardest rock.
That life-steering power of books is what pioneering primatologist Jane Goodallarticulates with great simplicity and sweetness in her contribution to A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader (public library) — a labor of love eight years in the making, comprising 121 illustrated letters to children about how books form and transform us by some of the most inspiring humans in our world: artists, writers, scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, musicians, and adventurers whose character has been shaped by a life of reading.
Half a century after Simone de Beauvoir reflected on how chance and choice converge to make us who we are, Goodall tells young readers about her formative childhood experience, as much a product of her time and place as of her singular predilections:
I want to share something with you — and that is how much I loved books when I was your age. Of course, back then there was no Internet, no television — we learned everything from printed books. We didn’t have much money when I was a child and I couldn’t afford new books, so most of what I read came from our library. But I also used to spend hours in a very small second hand book shop. The owner was an old man who never had time to arrange his books properly. They were piled everywhere and I would sit there, surrounded by all that information about everything imaginable. I would save up any money I got for my birthday or doing odd jobs so that I could buy one of those books. Of course, you can look up everything on the Internet now. But there is something very special about a book — the feel of it in your hands and the way it looks on the table by your bed, or nestled in with others in the bookcase.
I loved to read in bed, and after I had to put the lights out I would read under the bedclothes with a torch, always hoping my mother would not come in and find out! I used to read curled up in front of the fire on a cold winter evening. And in the summer I would take my special books up my favorite tree in the garden. My Beech Tree. Up there I read stories of faraway places and I imagined I was there. I especially loved reading about Doctor Doolittle and how he learned to talk to animals. And I read about Tarzan of the Apes. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read.
I was ten years old when I decided I would go to Africa when I grew up to live with animals and write books about them. And that is what I did, eventually. I lived with chimpanzees in Africa and I am still writing books about them and other animals. In fact, I love writing books as much as reading them — I hope you will enjoy reading some of the ones that I have written for you.
Pair this taste of A Velocity of Being, all proceeds from which benefit the public library system, with Patrick McDonnell’s lovely picture-book about how Jane Goodall turned her childhood dream into reality, then revisit two other moving letters from A Velocity of Being — Rebecca Solnit on how books solace and empower us and 100-year-old Holocaust survivor Helen Fagin on how a particular book saved particular lives.
Some of the original art from the book is available as prints, with all proceeds also benefiting the public library system. Find more about the project, and peek inside its lushly illustrated pages, here.
French Philosopher Maurice Blanchot on Writing, the Dual Power of Language to Reveal and Conceal, and What It Really Means to See
“The job of the writer is to make us see the world as it is,”Susan Sontag asserted in considering the conscience of words. “Words are events, they do things, change things,”Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in her splendid meditation on the magic of real human communication. But this transformation has a dual power of helping us see the world more clearly and creating the illusion of seeing when we are in fact misperceiving, as Nietzsche well knew in contemplating how we use language to both conceal and reveal reality: “Is language the adequate expression of all realities?” he asked. Still, language is the mightiest tool we have for wresting meaning from reality. “We die. That may be the meaning of life,” Toni Morrison asserted in her spectacular Nobel Prize acceptance speech. “But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
That implicit duality of our linguistic conscience and the delicate, beautiful, dangerous relationship between storytelling and seeing is what the reclusive French writer, philosopher, and literary theorist Maurice Blanchot (September 22, 1907–February 20, 2003), whose ideas influenced such titanic thinkers as Foucault, Derrida, and Sontag, examined in his 1969 book The Infinite Conversation(public library), translated into English by Susan Hanson.
Blanchot considers what writing is and is not:
— To write is not to give speech to be seen. The game of common etymology makes of writing a cutting movement, a tear, a crisis.
— This is simply a reminder that the proper tool for writing was also proper for incising: the stylet.
— Yes, but this incisive reminder still evokes a cutting operation, if not a butchery: a kind of violence — the word flesh if found in the family, just as graphy is a scratch. Higher and further back, to write is to curve meet. Writing is the curve that the turn of seeking has already evoked for us and that we find in the bending of reflection.
Three decades after Virginia Woolf proclaimed in the only surviving recording of her voice that “words belong to each other,” Blanchot weighs the duality of language as a medium capable of both connection and separation:
— In each word, all words.
— Yet, speaking, like writing, engages us in a separating movement, an oscillating and vacillating departure.
In a sentiment of both complement and counterpoint to Le Guin’s incisive observation that “if you can see a thing whole… it seems that it’s always beautiful,”Blanchot writes:
— Seeing is also a movement.
— Seeing presupposes only a measure and a measurable separation: to see is certainly always to see at a distance, but by allowing distance to give back what it removes from us. Sight is invisibly active in a pause wherein everything holds itself back. We see only what first escapes us by virtue of an initial privation, not seeing things that are too present, and not seeing them if our presence to things is pressing.
In a caveat reminiscent of founding father Benjamin Rush’s insightful metaphor for our blindness to the truly visionary — Rush likened visionary people to “objects placed too near the eye,” whose genius is not properly apprehended by the age in which they live and is only appreciated with the distance of generations — Blanchot adds:
— But we do not see what is too distant, what escapes us through the separation of distance.
— There is a privation, an absence, precisely through which contact is achieved. Here the interval does not impede; on the contrary, it allows a direct relation. Every relation of light is an immediate relation.
— To see is thus to apprehend immediately from a distance.
— …immediately from a distance and through distance.
A century after the great naturalist John Muir insisted that “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” Blanchot concludes:
To see is to make use of separation, not as mediating, but as a means of immediation, as immediating. In this sense too, to see is to experience the continuous and to celebrate the sun, that is, beyond the sun: the One.
And yet, Blanchot reminds us, we never see everything — but perhaps that is a freedom rather than a limitation. He writes:
This is sight’s wisdom, though we never see only one thing, even two or several, but a whole: every view is a general view. It is still true that sight holds us within the limits of a horizon. Perception is a wisdom rooted in the ground and standing fixed in the direction of the opening; it is of the land, in the proper sense of the term: planted in the earth and forming a link between the immobile boundary and the apparently boundless horizon — a firm pact from which comes peace. For sight, speech is war and madness. The terrifying word passes over every limit and even the limitlessness of the whole: it seizes the thing from a direction from which it is not taken, not seen, and will never be seen; it transgresses laws, breaks away from orientation, it disorients.
— There is facility in this liberty. Language acts as though we were able to see the thing from all sides.
Couple this finite fragment of The Infinite Conversation with Le Guin on the power of language to transform and redeem, then revisit philosopher Martin Buber on what a tree can teach us about seeing the world clearly, Thoreau on being unblinded by our preconceptions, Georgia O’Keeffe on the art of seeing, and cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz on apprehending reality as it really is.
In Search of the Canary Tree: What a Disappearing Ancient Forest Can Teach Us About Resilience and Grace in a Changing World
“I love the cedar,” Walt Whitman exulted in his sublime Specimen Days, “its naked ruggedness, its just palpable odor, (so different from the perfumer’s best,) its silence, its equable acceptance of winter’s cold and summer’s heat, of rain or drouth — its shelter to me from those, at times — its associations — (well, I never could explain why I love anybody, or anything.)”
Whitman, who celebrated the wisdom of trees, might have been both gladdened and saddened to know that one particular species of cedar — Callitropsis nootkatensis, or yellow cedar, which his contemporary and admirer John Muir considered “a truly noble tree… undoubtedly the best the country affords” — holds deep and previously unfathomed wisdom on the greatest ecological challenge our civilization is facing, wisdom both devastating and strangely optimistic.
The story of this majestic tree and the improbable, urgent insight it provides into the parallel potentialities for grim and glorious planetary futures is what ecologist Lauren E. Oakes explores in In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World (public library).
Art by Violeta Lopíz and Valerio Vidali from The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi
Both witness and survivor of epochs of change, the yellow-cedar tree has stood sentinel across the Pacific Northwest, revered by native mystics and exploited by industrialists for its lush golden wood, its growth-rings encoding a record of good and bad fortune dealt indiscriminately by the long hand of geological time. Kindred to the giant sequoia, it is not a true cedar but rather a cypress, also known as yellow cypress or Nootka cypress, after the Nootka Sound of Vancouver Island, where it first entered the annals of botany.
Oakes — one of those science writers who can rise, in her finest passages, to the rare category of enchanter — made the yellow cedar the focal point of her research not long after earning her doctorate. It would soon become her lens on the largest ecological problems — and their most auspicious solutions — of our time. She writes:
I came to Alaska looking for hope in a graveyard. Ice melting, seas rising, longer droughts — in a world seemingly on fire, I chose to put myself in some of the worst of it. The Alexander Archipelago in Southeast Alaska is a collection of thousands of islands in one of the scarce pockets remaining on this planet where thick moss blankets the forest floor and trees range from tiny seedlings to ancient giants. But I wasn’t loading into that Cessna four-seater to look for fairy-tale forests of spruce, hemlock, and cedar. I was flying in search of the forests I’d study — the graveyards of standing dead trees and the plants I so wanted to believe could tell me, through science, that maybe the world is not coming to an end.
Art by Cécile Gambini from Strange Trees by Bernadette Pourquié — an illustrated atlas of the world’s arboreal wonders.
Oakes describes her first embodied encounter with the specter of the yellow cedar as she hovers over the Alaskan coastline in a small jet plane, about to land and commence her research:
To the left, the verdant coastline broke off into inlets and side channels. To my right, I could see the steep hillsides covered in white skeletons of dead trees — standing on end like telephone poles, leafless ghosts of the towering cypress. Boulder-sized rocks on the beaches looked like little specks in relation to the large tracks of terrain with dying trees, the canopies of foliage in faded sepia tone.
I had been so focused on building a sound scientific study that wouldn’t get me or my crew killed that I hadn’t given much thought to what I would feelwhen I first saw the dead. From the bird’s-eye view, the giant trunks looked like thousands of toothpicks stuck in the earth. If trees were people, anyone would have called it a tragedy — an epidemic running rampant throughout the community in the largest remaining coastal temperate rainforest on Earth. I felt the tiny hairs on my forearms rise.
“We call it ‘Nature’; only reluctantly admitting ourselves to be ‘Nature’ too,” Denise Levertov wrote in her superb poem “Sojourns in the Parallel World” in recognition that such a response to witnessing the tragedy of another species is, of course, the only truly natural response — the response we cannot help but have the moment we unlearn our civilization-conditioned delusion that we are somehow separate from the rest of nature. Rachel Carson knew this in contemplating science and our spiritual bond with nature: “Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity.”
It is from this deeply seated response that Oakes wrests her direction of research as a scientist and her direction of hope — that ultimate driver of transformation and survival — as a human being:
There was no driving on from the graveyards of standing dead, no going home, and no forgetting. I didn’t know it then, but those trees would change my life. In the moment, soaring above them, they made me feel vulnerable to our warming world in a way I had never felt before.
There’s a limit to the change we can tolerate, I thought. There’s a threshold and tipping point for every species — humans included.
What I didn’t know then was that these dead trees would eventually give me more than just hope. They’d give me a sense of conviction about our ability to cope with climate change. They’d motivate me to do my part. They’d move me from pessimism about the outlook of our world to optimism about all we still can do. As we made our way back down Slocum Arm, I stopped focusing on the dead trees and started looking around them. I could see green peeking up and around the barren trunks. I wondered if there was a new forest forming and what individuals could survive amidst the changes occurring. They were there. I could see them reaching toward the light through the broken canopies. I was committed to finding an answer — but for more than just the fate of the trees.
Artwork from The Night Life of Trees, based on ancient Indian mythology.
A century and a half after the great naturalist John Muir so memorably and poetically observed that “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” Oakes set out to investigate the interleaved fates of trees and people, of the local and the global. On foot and kayak, she traveled across Alaska’s coastal forests to speak with hunters, Native weavers, naturalists, climate change deniers, and foresters, fusing ecology and social science in an effort to understand why a species that had survived the tumult of eons was dying so rapidly, what could be done about it, and how both the problem and its improbable solution might illuminate a new path forward for us as an ecologically responsible species. It is a matter of both science and storytelling, reason and reflection — “Attention without feeling,” Mary Oliver wrote, “is only a report.” Our search for truth, after all, is inseparable from our hunger for meaning — a hunger we feel at the core of our being, inside the rings of our varied experiences. Oakes writes:
We create and re-create narratives throughout our lives to make sense of what happened, to process experience, to interpret and reinterpret our view of the world as life unfolds. I believe that beautiful and difficult process is what it is to be human.
Scientific facts rely upon assumptions; they are blocks built upon one another. But what I learned in the archipelago came from a mix of science and the act of doing that work; of striving for another layer of understanding in lived experience. Our own truths, felt in the heart and known in the mind, are transient as we create the storied landscapes of our lives, again and again and again. So this is me, at this point in time, finding my way into tomorrow in a world destined, as some argue, to become uninhabitable. It is a story of refusing my own fear of what a warming world will mean for me in my lifetime; a story of becoming an unexpected optimist against a backdrop of dying forests and in a profession where pessimism is often the common response.
The kind of optimism Oakes cultivates in the course of her yellow-cedar research, both ecological and sociological, is not a blind and passive hope but the kind Walt Whitman saw as our mightiest force of resistance — a sane and sane-making optimism best articulated by a naturalist named Greg Steveler, whom Oakes interviews along the way. He tells her:
A forest is a concept. A forest is an actuating algorithm that we are catching at a moment. But the beauty, to me, one of the principal beauties is to try to imagine the stream of matter and energy through this moment from where it’s coming from to where it’s going. So that’s the forest.
I don’t do hope.. One of the reasons I think geology has become important to me is that it helps me pass the pain I just mentioned to you. I’m getting better at visualizing deep time in both directions. It makes me realize that the present moment of human depredation is definitely going to be fleeting. Other things will change in ways that I can’t imagine. But there will be ancient things again in the world at some point, and there have been. So it gives my spirit respite to live in remote times, either future or past… Here’s the substance of it: In the modern world, I think it’s intellectually dishonest to be hopeful, but it’s equally stupid to be hopeless. You can’t live out of a hopeless life.
In consonance with Zadie Smith’s insight into the necessary interplay of optimism and despair, he adds:
What occurred to me a few years ago was that I don’t have to get caught in that trap. The best thing for me to do is to develop my inner voice and to steer as close to that as I can and to act as if what I do matters. And allow the future to decide what comes of who I am… There was a fairly brief period in my life when I was pretty well philosophically prostrated by this because I couldn’t bring myself to play these little hope games and say, ‘Oh, see that little thing over there, notice now that the car is using a few gallons per hour less,’ or, ‘Look, someone just put a solar panel on their roof. And so things are getting better!’ Well, they’re not getting better. I didn’t want to play that game with myself, and yet I didn’t want to be trapped in the abysm of being depressed over it. I want to live a more joyful life than that.
Grace is what we decide to take with us and what we leave behind.
Half a century earlier, conservationist Mardie Murie had drawn on her enchantment with Alaska to help craft the language of the landmark 1964 Wilderness Act — possibly the most lyrical piece of legislature in human history: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man* and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” But in the course of her conversations with the various human stakeholders in the plight of the yellow cedar, Oakes is jolted into the realization that the wildness as such doesn’t exist and never existed — “instead of a physical reality, it’s a state of mind.” Or, rather, it is different states in different minds.
Two of the people she encounters — a Tlingit weaver named Kasyyahgei, who goes by the English name Ernestine, and her niece and apprentice, Cathy — would articulate this notion with staggering intensity. The forest, they felt, gave their people their identity. “Wilderness is a curse word,” Ernestine tells Oakes, then Cathy adds:
I would rather educate the people and see — have them learn the value of what they’re using, as opposed to set aside and make it all stop… Because once you’ve set that in motion, it becomes political football. Who wants to rape the land the most? We’re a minority here. We’re a small voice trying to say there’s true value in this land. This is one part of it that you’re checking, the cedar.
Echoing Rachel Carson’s courageous insistence that the designation and administration of nature “is not properly, and cannot be, a matter of politics,” Oakes reflects in a sentiment that highlights the complexities and inner contradictions of any ecosystem, including that of human society:
To sit there in Ernestine’s home by her loom and hear her call wilderness a curse word, to claim the designation itself is to blame for the imbalance we’ve created on our planet, that struck me.
Our separation from nature stems from our early efforts to protect it? And that separation is the cause of our problems today? There was an irony and unexpected twist — the once well-intentioned act of protecting wild places had broken the relationships needed to sustain the larger whole over a much longer time frame. It was the exact opposite of what Stegner and the National Park Service would have wanted. What I had once fought for, she was fighting against, but I didn’t feel defensive. I felt like I had something to learn.