magma, ice crystals, land ownership

11 January 2009

Well, if I can say something without jinxing it, it appears as though our two weeks of winter may be over. Not but what it won’t be grey and rainy for a while yet, but the incipient buds are swelling more greenly on their socially networked branches. The leaves cluttering the sidewalks are from the sweetgums, and most of them only just fell within the last month. We’ve had some sunny warmth here and there, and while I haven’t seen any hummingbirds yet, the Steller’s Jays have been joined by squads of robins.

But the thing that really brought a sense of seasonal change for me was at the end of the cold snap we had in December. Hardly seems fair of me to use that term, when Fairbanks has been pretty chilly by comparison, but people take notice when we get a weeks worth of heavy frosts in Corvallis. At any rate, on about 29 December, I woke to find cirrus clouds covering most of the sky, and causing a strong, beautiful 22 1/2 degree halo around the Sun. I’ve long since given up any pretensions to being able to photograph such phenomena, so I contented myself with staring upward for several blocks on the way to work.

What I can’t bring myself to do, though, is extrapolate this into any kind of homily about climate change. It’s not that I lack regard for personal observations in favor of quantified, lab-coated science, but just that my wealthy-nation, suburban, privileged existence hasn’t afforded me the chance to really develop a nuanced sense of the weather. To quote Tom Bombadil, “I am no weather-master, nor is aught that goes on two legs.”

I do think that the nature of scientific analysis is itself changing, particularly as Chris Anderson et al talk about in the “Petabyte Age” case studies, but I still think that if we are going to critique data with anecdotes, they should be anecdotes from Moku o Keawe, or Anaktuvuk Pass, or Mali. This isn’t my white liberal guilt talking, it is an attempt at honest recognition of where knowledge about the world around us is stored, and how that knowledge is evaluated and applied.

This brings up another point about the way we view ourselves and the world around us: in fact about whether that distinction can be made at all. The recent story about vulcanologists happening upon an active magma chamber 2500 meters below the surface of Puna is a perfect example of this, although you can’t tell that from the BBC story. What I mean is that a description often heard from Anglo-European researchers in Hawai`i is that the islands are a marvelous laboratory for research and discovery. I don’t disagree that a lot of learning is effected there, but I take issue with that framing of the circumstances.

According to some of the people I have talked to, creating “the environment” in order to set ourselves apart from it is not a mode of thinking that occurs in Native Hawaiian culture. I’m certain that if my memory were better, I would recall the places in literary criticism or philosophy where the discussion of the situated observer takes place, but then again I’m not sure that they are close enough kin to the ideas I’m talking about even if they are the intellectual starting point that I use. The best summation that I can find is the discussion I’ve heard from some Hawaiian cultural practitioners where they talk with disbelief about the desire Anglo-Europeans have to indicate a specific piece of ‘sacred’ land. That misses the point, according to these cultural practitioners, that land can’t be arbitrarily divided like that, or at least no land can be identified as non-sacred, so as in order to be busted up by a big drill.

I certainly acknowledge the infringement on politics to a debate like that, too, and nowhere more so than Hawai`i, where somebody once told me that land is politics. But I’m definitely not qualified to undertake that discussion. Talk amongst yourselves.


3 Responses to “magma, ice crystals, land ownership”

  1. tim mahon Says:

    No comment on the current post, just glad you’re not dead, enjoy

  2. John Baek Says:

    Hi Erik,

    My name is John Baek. I’m the new professor in the Free-Choice Learning program at Oregon State. I received your name from Lynn Dierking, and she has indicated that in the past you have expressed an interest in the FCL program. I am writing to find out if you are still interested, answer any questions you may have, and schedule a call if you would like to learn more.

    At anytime, feel free to email me ( or call me on my office number 541-737-1814.


    P.S. I couldn’t track down your email, so I hope you don’t mind that I posted this as comment to your blog.

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