How the Past Flows into the Future

The present. That’s how the past flows into the future.

I don’t remember when I first heard that. I think it might have been in Michael Zimmerman’s American Literature class at San Francisco State University. I don’t know where he heard it.past to future1

Whether we’re there or not, that’s where we are at any given moment: the present.

No big surprise to me, I heard from my friend Jim after my last post, challenging my concerns about the National Ignition Facility – or rather my concerns about the application of the knowledge we might get from creating a star in a bottle, as the Lab’s PR describes it.

past to future maybeIf I want my grandnieces and -nephews to have energy in the future, fusion might be the answer, Jim admonished me. Besides, fusion-fueled weapons have been with us for 50 years, so what’s the big deal, he asked.

This morning, as I started writing this blog I decided to listen to Joni Mitchell’s CD “The Beginning of Survival.” As I opened the case, I remembered that its title comes from a phrase in a letter (attributed to Chief Seattle) that was sent to the American president in the mid nineteenth century:

Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what will happen when we say good-bye to the swift pony and hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.

So to Jim, here’s what I would say: I wonder if as a culture, we have become so concerned about survival we have forgotten how to live.

I have no idea what will be in the future. I’m not even sure that we can save the earth. I think the earth is smart enough to save itself; it just might have to sacrifice humankind in order to save itself.

What I do think we can do is draw from our experiences in the past to inform us in any given present moment. But, of course, making present decisions informed by the past is also tricky. Anyone who has repeatedly ended up in the same relationship, regardless of how the outside trappings looked, knows that it might take several mistakes to learn the lesson.

For me, a lesson learned came one afternoon as I stood on a cliff overlooking the Marin Headlands after spending an afternoon in Muir Woods. With the memory of the cool majesty of the redwood trees lingering on my skin, it was as if I looked off into infinity, the ocean stretching out before me, the horizon touching the sky. I understood that I was alone but also a part of everything.past to future infinite

Finite and infinite.

It disturbs me that a goal of NIF is to master the power that powers the universe. The finiteness of our individual lives disqualifies us for that job.

I am not anti-science. Quite the opposite. I think science gives us a view into the universe that inspires awe – not at science but at the mysteries.

I just think any attempt to exert control over the future is folly. All we can do is draw from our past experience, embrace the life that is our present, acknowledge our mortality, and then take the next best step.past to future last

We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land, as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land and the air and the rivers for your children’s children and love it as God loves us all.
Chief Seattle

Go here for a brief history of Muir Woods.

The Bearable Vultureness of Being

“Yes, it (vulture) is a little gross because it is one of the garbage collectors of the environment, cleaning up the dead, helping to eliminate problems with disease and such, but it is also one of the more powerful animals of rebirth and healing.”
From the Animal-Wise Tarot, by Ted Andrews.

I think this is a vulture.

I think this is a vulture.


I drew the Vulture card this morning. As I wrote in an earlier blog, I like using Tarot cards, particularly the Animal-Wise deck, as a way to give me a picture of what’s going on – a metaphor if you will.

I’ve noticed birds more ever since that afternoon in the bird room at the Natural Science Museum at the University of Iowa. They definitely inhabit my yard. Their songs let me know that it’s first light of the day. An owl across the street let’s me know that life goes on in the darkness.

I’ve always loved watching turkey vultures in the air. They are so eloquent. One roosted itself on a wire outside my house one day, stretching its wings for no apparent reason other than to feel itself stretch. Its wingspan was magnificent.

“Vultures soar, using their highly developed sight and sense of smell to detect food. They trust in the life cycle, knowing they will eventually have something to eat because everything that is born dies. Everything that dies is reborn.”
From the Animal-Wise Tarot, by Ted Andrews.

They know there’s enough to go around.

I was taught early on that there wasn’t enough to go around. In my heart of hearts, I didn’t believe it. But, I tried to wear it as if I believed it. I made myself smaller in order to fit in. It’s never been a successful strategy. It pissed me off, which made me bigger.

Change is inevitable, Ted Andrews goes on to say. Vultures remind us of that. It’s time to tear down the old so the new can be born.

This hawk has nothing to do with the blog. I just like the hawk.

This hawk has nothing to do with the blog. I just like the hawk.

I’ve been saying lately that I think Lawrence Livermore Lab needs to change its mission. There is much hoopla about the National Ignition Facility (NIF) that was dedicated in late May. The purpose of the facility is to see if we can fuse the nuclei of two hydrogen atoms to create helium, which would release energy.

The benefit, according to the latest pr from the lab is the promise of clean energy. Earlier pr lauded it because it gave us a way to maintain our stockpile of nuclear weapons. Another benefit sold to Congress was that it provides a vital facility for training a new generation of nuclear weapons scientists.

In the video “Tapping Star Power for Clean Energy” on, Jeff Wisoff, Prinicpal Assoc. Director of NIF says that future generations will look back on NIF as the time when humankind “. . . mastered the power that powered the universe.”

Uh oh.

It seems to me that humankind has been notoriously unsuccessful in mastering the powers of the universe. I’m not sure why one would even want to. It seems to me that all we can really do is be a witness to them.

I am not necessarily opposed to the attempt to achieve fusion. I even think it might be okay to fund the experiment simply because it would be a very cool thing to do – who knows what insight we might get from witnessing it.

But if the mission of the Lab revolves around nuclear weapons (masked as national security), fusion will inevitably be used by the dark destructive side of humankind.

So, what if the mission of the Lab were more along these lines:

To explore the mysteries of the physical universe so we can better understand our relationship to it.
Mission of Lawrence Livermore Lab as wished by Karen Hogan

Then, maybe, there could be a poet in residence at the Lab, whose mission would be to explore our internal universe – what makes us human – the dark and the light sides – so that we can better understand our place in the universe. It would require a poet with the genius of a Shakespeare who could also understand the science of it all – but hey! – poets like that exist.

Now that would be a fusion that could really release some energy.

I think we would certainly learn that there’s enough to go around.

Phew! I was wondering how I was going to get back to that.

When we recognize and work with the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, Ted Andrews says, we become more efficient, we waste little energy and effort.

So, since I am very proud of how I redefined the Lab’s mission, I think I should apply that effort to myself.

My old mission was to fit in. It was based on the belief (that I actually didn’t believe) that there isn’t enough to go around. That was someone else’s story.

My new mission is to fit inside my skin, knowing there is enough to go around, so that I can live my story – and stretch my wings for the sheer pleasure of feeling them stretch.

I did some surfing to learn more about NIF. Here is one of the more interesting articles I found. It’s by Hugh Gusterson, who spent sometime in Livermore as an anthropologist, studying the nuclear culture. His book, Nuclear Rites, documents that study.