Sunday, June 27, 2010

On Second Thought

I left Brisbane this morning and landed in LA four hours before I left. During my flight across the expanse of the Pacific, crossing the dateline and the Equator in relatively close proximity, I read R. Buckminster Fuller’s And It Came to Pass – Not to Stay by the light of the nearly full moon. This treatise concludes with the following:

“Special-interest sovereignty will always
Attempt to monopolize and control
All strategic information (intelligence)
Thus to keep the divided specializing world
Innocently controlled by its propaganda
And dependent exclusively upon its dictum.

Youth have discovered all this
And is countering with comprehensivity and synergy.
Youth will win overwhelmingly
For truth
Is eternally regenerative
In youth.
Youth’s love
Embracingly integrates,
Successfully frustrates,
And holds together,
Often unwittingly,
All that hate, fear, and selfishness
Attempt to disintegrate.”

My trip concluded the second year of our internship program – the Heritable Innovation Trust – during which we expanded our work in Mongolia and Papua New Guinea with the bold contribution of seven young people. Ken Dabkowski worked with Ts. Enkhtuya and me in conducting initiation visits in the South Gobi and Arkhanghai provinces in Mongolia. Katie Martin, Caitlin Boyd, Lewis Caskey, Shannon Augustine, Rod Jackson, and Elspeth Missel worked with Theresa Arek and the team expanding the PNG Heritable Innovation Trust in communities throughout East New Britain. From ice waterfalls in Three Beauty Mountains in South Gobi to the summit of Tavurvur – Rabaul’s active volcano – youth won! And in the next several days, the Heritable Innovation Trust will once again replace ignorance with intelligence enabling more of the world to engage with itself decreasing dependency on the propaganda of special interest sovereignty.

Having two days in one gives me considerable time to reflect on this week’s post. There is so much about which to write. I could fill countless posts with each day’s experience. However, I wanted to briefly share with you our day at the volcano for in this day are countless parables.

Before dawn, the stilted house shook with one of the many earthquakes that dance under Matupit Island. This one was over 5.0 on the Richter scale. Not that scales matter too much when everything is built on forgiving meters of ash. An earthquake rolls along rattling the few windows which have not been replaced with layers of plastic vainly attempting to block the ever-present ash. A glance into the dawning light revealed a plume of steam rising from the caldera. Silently.

The boat came and with it a flood of young children wondering what 7 strangers were doing waking up in their village. After all, since the eruption, the villagers have been told to leave their homes and move to relocation centers. Visitors from the outside – from America – don’t stay the night in Matupit. They stay in the resorts a safe distance away. But this morning, 7 strangers woke up from a moon soaked night in a village where life persists as it has since before there was history.

Our first stop was at the southeast side of the volcano where 8 brightly colored dugout canoes were beached. Their occupants were up in the ash fields digging Megapod eggs. The Megapod birds – barely larger than a chicken – lay eggs that are buried at depths of two meters in the volcanic ash. Incubated by the volcano’s geothermal dynamism, no shortage of birds or eggs here! The eggs are substantially larger than a chicken’s – more like a big duck egg. And the yolks are immense – filled with protein and fat – making them ideal food for the local community.

After being told how to identify a fresh nest, I was invited into a hole that measured about 1.5 meters across and about 1 meter deep.

“Start digging,” was the simple instruction.

About half a meter further into the ash, a side wall of the hole caved in burying my legs to the knee.

“Sometimes the diggers are buried in these holes and die,” I was advised.

Not necessarily the most comforting thought but, with five people standing around the hole, I took some reassurance that they’d at least know where to dig to find me if I succumbed to the shifting earth. And then, closing in on two meters down, it happened. I removed a spade full of ash and there was a glorious egg. I was elated. No Easter basket ever held such wonder as a Megapod egg at 2 meters below the surface of newly formed earth. Before long, four eggs were sitting on the surface. Four eggs which could feed a family for a day. Four eggs which could be sold at the market for 8 kina or about $2.50. That could buy a tin of meat or a small bag of rice.

“We don’t touch the birds,” explained Oxy. “They care for us and give us plentiful food so we honor them. Our people know that these birds are here to give us strength.”

From the depth of the nest, we were invited to climb the volcano. To the summit! At first, the climb was up a modest slope heavily rutted by deep gullies. Then the grade increased. At times the combination of the steepness and the ash and pumice made hands as effective as feet in scrambling past sulfurous vents. A massive swarm of bees nested by a steam vent about two thirds of the way to the summit. The sun-drenched black ash and rock was relatively cool compared to the golden crystalline earth where steam intermittently burst from the ground. On bare feet, the nature of rock, ash, and heat were acutely evident.

And then the summit. Standing on a narrow ridge and looking to the south one could see the vibrant colors of minerals, ash and mud in the Rabaul harbor. Across the water was the greening blast zone where life is beginning to take root in the ashes of years of eruptions. At the base of the mountain, diggers persisted in their quest for eggs. Perched high on the lava flow, the Megapod birds sat and called to each other. To the North…

Plumes of steam rushed up the crater wall depositing minerals as they raced towards the azure sky. Iridescent colors – yellows, greens, and bluish whites – highlighted the contours. Beauty everywhere!

Experts will tell the people of Matupit that they should leave. After all, they live in a geologically active zone. “It’s dangerous,” they’re told. However, if you sit at night around the fire in Matupit you hear a different story. It was the grandfathers and grandmothers who knew to leave the island before the cataclysmic eruption when all the seismologists and geologists were saying that there was no need to move. Their movement – not modern scientific “knowledge” – saved thousands of lives. They know what sound in the earth portends a destructive eruption and, if you live with them for a night in their homes, they share this information with you. The community knows when the fish spawn and when millions of fry can be netted to provide much needed protein. The community knows how to live in a place where others would perish.

Like the nomadic camel herders in the Gobi Desert, the people of Matupit are not victims of a natural disaster. Rather they are keepers of a knowledge that we all need. Whether its climate change and desertification or a super volcano in Yellowstone, humanity should see wisdom keepers rather than victims. If we were wise, we would learn the elegant simplicity of finding the abundance in violent changes and learn the lessons of grateful adaptation. By naming a volcano a disaster, we rob it of its ability to teach. By seeing those in its reach as victims, we blind ourselves to the grace of evolution which is an inextricable part of humanity’s development. Sure, we could abandon Matupit and in so doing lose the capacity to think again. Or you and your friends could work with us to create humanity’s classroom at Matupit and, in so doing, insure a future for humanity in the face of coming change. Think again, maybe for the first time!


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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave