The World of the Muirish Folk
There is a huge imaginary world out there, and it’s beautiful, and it’s sacred, and it’s dying and we have to save it.
If you guessed "The Chronicles of Narnia," you’re almost right! Like Narnia, this mystical land has magic animals, wicked destroyers of the land, a wise and immortal leader, and like Narnia, you are the heroes and heroines!
It’s the land of the Muirish folk, which we can call Muiria. Except that we have already called it Muirland in another article, so Muirland it remains.
The magic and immortal leader in Muirland is John Muir. Muir was a world class slacker and draft dodger who could string words together, which means he could have been a newspaper editor in Sierra County, though that was an honor he missed. Muir was a Scottish born wanderer, a "hale fellow well met" kind of person. He also invented a number of "Wallace and Grommet" style inventions.
Because Muir has become a symbol of those who would destroy us, it is tempting to imagine he’s our enemy, but in truth he was not unlike some of the more interesting local characters we all know and love.
It’s important to remember Muir’s background. In the years leading up to Muir’s birth, the poor of the Scottish highland were forced from the mountains to the seaside towns by the wealthy, many of whom were English, Dutch, German and even Arab. People who had been poor but proud and self-sufficient in the mountains became poor and that’s all in the towns. Kelp gathering was profitable, and the same people who chased the hill folk out of the hills then passed laws forbidding them from leaving Scotland, so they’d have no choice but to pick kelp.
Hello! Sound familiar? Forcing rural people out of the rural lands? Absentee landlords making decisions over local land? Disenfranchized workers reduced to picking biomass?
Anyway, the symbol of the "Highland Clearances" was the sheep, the animal Muir would eventually come to call "hoofed locust."
Muir’s family left Scotland during a major potato famine, when the law preventing emigration which had been passed 20 years before was widely ignored in the face of starvation.
Further, Muir’s childhood and much of his life was not different from the lives of many rural people; he worked hard and came to know and love the land.
Very few among us are sorry there is a national park system, or wish Yosemite had condos up and down the valley. If Muir had his way, there’d be no canyons lost to dams. Muir is quoted as saying "One may as well dam for water tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man." The Sierra Club has become a pain in the ass, but it wasn’t always so, and even now, the biggest enemy of the rural poor isn’t the Sierra Club, it’s other dwellers in Muirland.
In short, our complaint is not with John Muir, who loved the mountains just like we do, and could easily have been one of us.
Our problem is the Muirlanders, who are as much like Muir as most Christians are like Christ. They have taken his image, and a few of his words, but have lost the meaning of his message in pursuit of their own goals.
What are their goals? They are as varied as Muirlanders themselves.
Some really are tired of the environment getting screwed. This editor has often been a supporter of environmental causes and understands very well that the environment continues to be assaulted. South America, Africa, China, Russia, the Middle East; the environment there takes it in the neck. Even the U.S.; Deepwater Horizon was something happening in fast motion that usually happens so slowly we don’t see it. There are on-going assaults on the environment here and abroad. The entire staff of the Prospect understands how important it is to remain vigilant on behalf of the environment.
Unfortunately, the Muirish are only middlingly effective at dealing with those threats. They still use wood and paper stripped from the forests of the 3rd world, and they still use poison on their lawn and drive an SUV even though they live 40 miles from a muddy road. They still motor two blocks to buy milk, still leave lights on all over the house and still water a lawn and wash their cars. The Muirish are really not very good at being environmental where it counts.
What the Muirish are good at is imagining. They imagine a place that is far different from where they live. In their minds, Narnia, ah, Muirland, is the repository for all that is pure. The world they live in is almost completely manufactured, even the trees and bushes around their homes are not native, not "pristine". Parks full of people have become their "green spaces".
Instead of living with nature, being part of it in the snow-and-mud way many of us are, they idealize nature. They watch Discover DVDs about beautiful and threatened places, and they take vacations where they stand in hushed worship in the fog of the redwoods, and they take every manner of gas burner to reach the mountains where they want their Muir moment, pure and pristine as God created Narnia.
The darkness in their imaginary world is a creeping disease, killing the reserve of the pure world as it creeps.
In truth, the creeping disease in such dystopias as Narnia is urbanization. The Muirlanders are destroying their imaginary world with their real-world activities.
Further, even the Muirish concern with the environment is ego driven. The truth is, Earth is fine, and will be fine when we’re all long gone. Earth and life on it are completely indifferent to humans. It is the humans’ ass environmentalists are trying to save, not the Earth. "Save our asses" just doesn’t play like "save the planet."
You can see how "Save our planet" just works better.
However, the Muirish view is immune to these small truths. Instead, they often imagine themselves to be apostles. They are eager to come to our mountains and tell us what we don’t know. Some of them even become little minor Muirs themselves, wielding their magic litigation swords to school the local yokels. A few even leave the city and move to Muirland altogether, learning to make a living by teaching us locals how to think of our world.
Wildlife in Muirland: the Satyr from Epic Movie
Strip away the fantasy, and you get this.
These Muirish missionaries are no different from any such missionaries. The armies of Rome thought they were bringing culture and religion to the world; the Spanish missionaries were helping the people of the New World by destroying indigenous culture and replacing it with the religion and disease of Europe. The empire always thinks it’s bringing enlightenment when it seizes the goods and enslaves the people of the vanquished.
And, that’s us, now. The Muirish are often amateur naturalists just as Muir was, and they pick and choose from science like they pick and choose from law to achieve their goals of protecting Muirland. Their cause is holy, so they can do that.
The destruction they hope to preserve the pure world from is development, and in perfect irony urban children in several countries watch "save the world" movies like "Over the Hedge" without understanding it is they who will live in those developments, they are the consumers that power development.
This irony extends to local Muirish, who often live comfortably in the midst of rural poverty, and who are missionaries for Muirland. They want to describe their epiphany about the environment to others, by the magic litigation sword, if necessary.
The Problem is, we live here, and we are real people. The forest isn’t mystical to us, though it might still be sacred. We understand it as a system, one with some resiliency and one that we can benefit through our interaction.
Naturally, the mountains would be best off with no humans at all in them. In Europe, after the Black Death reduced the population dramatically, the wolf, bear and deer reappeared, and ravaged watersheds restored themselves. People are the problem.
But there are very few of us here. Most people who create the problems live in the city, which some locally refer to as "Hellnia". They create the smog that the mountains filter. They build economies on the water that our mountains capture and clean. Their cites use lumber and paper and beef and we are only the hands that bring them those goods. In short, what the Muirsh over look is that they are the problem, not us.
Let’s have a war!
Except that we’ll lose, the countryside always loses in war, even when the war has nothing to do with the people there. We can’t prevail in a war. We can’t afford a war, we’re too economically dependent on the cities surrounding our part of the mountains.
Warning: objects in media may be smaller than they appear.
Whenever a people are occupied and oppressed they do the only things they can do, they take local control where possible. They sometimes seize roads or ports or water sources. They almost always get the living crap beat out of them for it eventually.
But, there are other things we can do to maintain local control.
The state is falling apart before our eyes, leaving more matters to the control, or at least the enforcement, of the counties.
We can refuse to do that.
Sometimes, indeed, nearly always, the state withholds money from the counties if the counties don’t comply with key requirements. Maybe we can live without that money.
The Board of Supervisors are great at writing letters for worthy political causes, but those letters probably don’t get much attention.
Here’s a better idea: pass a tax of .01 cents a gallon for all water leaving the county. The state Department of Water Resources knows just how much that is; multiply that amount in gallons times .01 cents; that’s the tax we’re due. The DWR also knows who owns that water, so we know who to bill. If we can’t pass a tax, we’ll call it a "collecting and filtering fee."
If the state chokes on our share of road and highway funds, we’ll put a toll gate up and charge people passing into the county a buck a person or five bucks a car.
Each of these will probably bring a red-faced bureaucrat from Sacramento, but what a nice change that will be from our representatives going hat-in-hands to the capitol. Besides, what can they really do? Have you tried to get a court order enforced lately?
And in the long run, it will be what we need, a magnification of our voices. When a media source like the Bee publishes some BS about cows crapping in the woods we should make a large statement back through letters to the editor, but also through other statements of gigantic proportion.
In the media, everything is the same size, and the reality of those who live in the wild lands might have a small chance of impacting the world view of the Murians.
Finally, in local matters, we can act as a community to restore local control. We can support local government when it acts to allow responsible land use, or when it attempts to assert local control over resources.
It isn’t fun being in Muirland, unless we make it fun. The Prospect doesn’t condone violence but that certainly doesn’t mean we have to be civilized about this. Let’s make spectacles of ourselves.