Friday, January 8, 2010

Avatar - The Word for World is Forest...


“The important thing is not the finding, it is the seeking, it is the devotion with which one spins the wheel of prayer and scripture, discovering the truth little by little. If this machine gave you the truth immediately, you would not recognize it,”

- Ursula K. LeGuin

When I was a young man I was stationed in Thailand in 1973, serving with the Air Force. I lived in the small town of Takhli, north and a bit east of Bangkok. I arrived in March of '73, not knowing quite what I was getting into. I was a GI. I went where I was told and pretty much did what I was told.

I worked as a photo lab technician, running film processors, printers and doing copy work of the images produced by the F-111 pilots flying missions over Cambodia. We worked 6 days a week, 12 hour shifts - and there wasn't a lot of down time. When there was time off it was spent sleeping, maybe going to town for a Chinese movie (Bruce Lee!) or if Sunday was the day off we could go to the Takhli Gardens (Tahkli Ga-den) where local bands played rock and roll (sometimes good, usually mediocre to bad) and dance, drink and hang out.

In December of '73 we stopped bombing Cambodia. Suddenly my work went from 6 days on to 2 days on and 5 off. I went native. I rented a small bungalow in town for $25 a month (I think I was making about $200/mo) and spent my time reading, going to Bangkok or taking the bus east into the hills and visiting monasteries, or going to the ruins in Ayutthaya or hiking out into the local rice paddies with my camera and a few of the local dogs (snake alarms).

I spent a great deal of time laying in my front porch hammock, eating and sleeping while I was reading. Just out front of my complex was a kwiteau (Thai noodle soup) stand run by a woman by the name of Nit. Nit made the best kwiteau... I'd eat at least 2 bowls, maybe 3 and I had to be her best customer. I could send one of the little kids down with some money, give them a baht and Nit would bring my soup plus the spices in their little jars, fish sauce and a soda (orange spot!). The traditional kwiteau comes with luk chins, little pork meatballs. The slang for kwiteau with luk chin was monkey ball soup. Made with flat noodles, bean sprouts, green onions and shredded bamboo shoot - and of course monkey balls- it's ubiquitous and pretty standard street fare. And I love it.

But I digress... (again)(still, always)(I think I think and talk with a lot of digressions too...)

Anyone with a television couldn't miss the previews for the new Sci-fi flick Avatar. I went and saw it today with my kids. Wow. Don't miss it if you have a love for good movies.

Before the release of the movie the previews I saw made me think of Ursula K. Le Guin's wonderful classic novella, The Word for World is Forest.

I read the story (a Hugo Award winner) in a copy of Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions, a wonderful and challenging collection of science fiction and speculative fiction. Ellison is a master and his Dangerous Visions collections were great introductions for me to many authors of the genre. More importantly were the ideas entering my head. Politics, environmentalism, religion, spirituality, science, love, hate...

But Le Guin's story was a standout. It struck a note in me I had never heard. Well, at least didn't recognize...

Life is sacred... it is what is. I mean physics tells us that none of this... this whatever is around each of us, our space, our home, our environment... none of it exists. There is no matter, there is electricity and lots of space - what Michio Kaku calls the cosmic foam (or Custard as some I know prefer to call it) - that seperates molecules in their spinning and whirling dervish existence. But, here we are, tapping on keys on our qwertys, making sense or not. Life is all around us and I'll be damned if it ain't, 'cause it is. And I think we treat our home like shit. And that is the message of Le Guin's tale and of Avatar, the movie.

"We don't get it."

And we are the poorer for that. A disconnect like we have manufactured for ourselves away from the natural world is a dangerous thing. Especially if, as a culture, we are incredibly immature.

In reading reviews today I was looking for others who saw the Le Guin connection. And there are plenty. But there are other influences as well. Avatar is the epic tale, the iconic hero story, with a happy and good ending. If you were cheering for the tall blue folks and their big trees, of course.

That immaturity I speak of? It's plain and simple. We're spoiled. We have too much. We don't share and we don't play well with others much anymore. To those who would say "of course we care you hippie moron!" I can only say that in a world where 30,000 people die each day not from old age but from starvation and malnutrition, we obviously don't care. At least not enough as far as those 30,000 people go.

In Avatar we cheer for the natives and dislike the human invaders. We go against our own.

But not really. What we do by cheering the natives in Avatar is acknowledge humanity's indigenous roots. We have been humanoid for a long time. Like... a realllly long time. We've been civilized (and I truly do use the term loosely) for just a blink of time in our long existence as humanoids.

I've never really understood this arrogance we display... like this... this stuff we have, makes us any different than the us we were when we slept in caves and huts. And that's a scary thought. Not that we're like our native selves but that may have been like we are. Yuck...

Personally, I think we're devolving. I think we used to care more, before we discovered stuff. I believe we once loved sunsets more than mirrors, that we knew and respected the beauty, bounty and power of the natural world.

My images of nature are just that for me. For me trying to capture the raw, eternal beauty of this earth, our sole sustenance, is a duty. I remember well the day I stood for the first time in a crowd and spoke on bealf of the wild. I haven't turned back.

I will be reducing the prices on my prints from RedBubble in the next week or so. I'll post a new blog when I do.


“To be matter of fact about the world is to blunder into fantasy -- and dull fantasy at that, as the real world is strange and wonderful.”

- Robert A. Heinlein

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