Visions of Fragments (of ground)

A big theme in the new book will be vision. What do we see when we look down? I begin the book with the fact that we spend 90% of our time inside, and when we do go outside and look down so many of us see concrete, pavement, or asphalt. We are literally separated from the natural ground, and there are physical, psychological, and even spiritual costs to this separation (all of which I will explore!)

But this literal separation is also symbolic of our separation from so many other grounds. For example, where does our food, water, and energy come from? How much do we know about what happened--and what is happening--to grounds that, because they are out of our sight they are also not in our thinking? For the new book I've tried to find fascinating grounds that maybe we aren't thinking of, or haven't been to, or have forgotten. Here are a few more.

I recently decided to take a few days and drive from Minneapolis up to the Bakken oil fields of western North Dakota. This is where oil and gas exploration has completely taken over. If you don't believe it, just google "Bakken at night" and you'll see the view from space of the flaring gas wells lighting up the sky as brightly as the nearest cities (Minneapolis, Chicago). But to see it on the ground is something crazy. Here's a good example, where I was taking a movie of a fracking station when two of the gazillion trucks on the highways here drove by.

The feeling I'd had in April in southeastern Ohio of being in an occupied country returned. I'll be writing about the way our thirst for oil and gas is having a tremendous effect on the grounds, so much so that places like the Bakken are increasingly referred to as "sacrifice zones." We are simply sacrificing the ground here--destroying it--in order to have energy.

I also took time in North Dakota to visit the Knife River Indian Villages. I am fascinated by the story of the painter George Catlin who in 1832 sailed up the Missouri river on his quest to paint the land and Indians before they were destroyed. Here are examples of his work:


And here is an aerial shot of the village site:


I've also been back out west to spend some time Yosemite, walking in John Muir's footsteps. One place I hadn't been to before is Hetch Hetchy valley. Hetch Hetchy (or "Fetch Tetchy" as my spellcheck would have it) is in Yosemite National Park... but the valley itself is dammed and filled with drinking water for San Francisco. Muir lost his fight to protect the valley in 1912, near the end of his life. Especially after spending time in the glory of Yosemite Valley, it's a shock to see this other valley filled with water. We are foolish if we think such things can't happen again.


Another issue I'll be writing about in the new book is habitat fragmentation. This is a big problem with oil and gas development, and an issue I don't think many of us understand. Simply put, many species need unbroken habitat to survive. They cannot adjust when we come in and destroy some of the habitat--put a road through, create a drill pad, clearcut some of the forest. They need habitat that is whole. Unfortunately, and in so many ways, our world is becoming increasingly fragmented.

I'm always shocked when I see clearcuts from the air. 


I'll be spending much of the next six weeks in northern Minnesota gathering and sorting the research I've done over the past several months. Then, in August, it's off to Alaska! Stay tuned.