Tribeless in McDonaldsland

Golden arches, milkshakes and fries, that redheaded clown, over a gazillion hamburgers served. McDonald’s is one of the great symbols of corporate America. This is my cultural inheritance, at least what the powers of my childhood wanted for me. The powers of my childhood didn’t understand me at all. I knew I was a sagebrush, but they tried to make me into a marigold.


The sagebrush in my front yard lives quietly among neighbors’ marigolds and bluegrass lawns

I’m sorry, powers of my childhood. I can’t accept your world. I can’t accept the trademarked, artificial culture that’s been peddled my whole life on cereal boxes and milk cartons, by housekeeping magazines and smiley television spokesmen. It’s a beautiful dream you tried to give me, powers of my childhood, this American Dream. If only it wasn’t off limits to most of humanity because of skin color, gender, or financial status. If only it wasn’t an illusion that only seems real within the male, white-privileged world.

It is no coincidence that the clown has red hair. Clan McDonald is one of the great clans of Scotland, a stronghold of redheaded warriors, ancient and fierce. But now it’s all about two-all-beef patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun (or if you’re under age 40, you’re supposed to be lovin’ it).

In my veins runs the native blood of Algonquins, Irish Clans, Gauls, and Vikings. This indigenousness is my most powerful weapon in the battle with McDonaldsland. But being raised in the world of marigolds, I’ve not inherited most of the culture, language, and connection to my own ancestral tribes. Because of this I’ve lost much of my power. Still I persist, recognizing that indigenousness may be the only real hope for the future of humanity. McDonaldsland is not sustainable, yet corporations are still focusing on their profit margins while continuing to eradicate things like sagebrush in the process.

I recently read a book called Planting in a Post-Wild World, by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West. Their landscaping approach is based on recognizing and embracing the mixed nature of plant communities, using native and introduced species together to heal our scarred landscapes. Maybe this is can be a metaphor for human cultures too. There are a lot of us sagebrush out here, with mixed heritage but a unified purpose. Maybe we can help reclaim some of our own damaged landscapes by opposing the corporate mindset that scarred them in the first place. We can hold out against McDonaldsland a little longer.


You Can’t Stop Evolution

… even if you don’t believe in it. You can try to get in its way, but you can’t stop it. It’s like trying to stop a hurricane by closing your curtains and making a cup of instant coffee. You feel better for a while, but you don’t stop the hurricane. And unfortunately, you have your back to it  when it arrives.

So I’ve asked myself what the future United States might look like. What might we evolve into as a country?

One thing isimg_0632 for sure: despite political promises, it won’t be filled with millions of coal and petroleum industry and internal-combustion-engine-automobile-manufacturing jobs. It also won’t host teams of men who cut down old-growth forests or slaughter vast herds of wild bison for their tongues and tenderloins. These resources are on their way out, or they are already long depleted, reduced to island populations across our continent. Only so many ancient organisms were long ago turned into coal and oil beds. Their number was vast, but now they’re depleted, too. Like the bison. Like the old-growth trees. It’s a simple fact, no matter how many curtains you draw or cups of instant coffee you brew. Whether you “believe in” global climate change or not, the coal and steel industries are not coming back. We need to choose something else.

When human beings lose resources and their survival is threatened, things usually become violent. That’s the scary part of what could happen, and don’t think that this doesn’t keep me up at night. But what happens after the violence? I’m hoping that the once-great city, Detroit, Michigan, has an answer.

I’ve been to Detroit, over forty years ago. It was a lot like Chicago or St. Louis or Minneapolis/St. Paul. Brimming with people and industry, self-important. Not so now. The auto industry declined. Corrupt politicians took their share. The giants fell. I’ve not been back there in person, but I know there was violence, lots of it. It was all over the news for a decade or more. But while I’ve been out west raising a family and contending with the increasingly difficult business of keeping up a modest living, the affairs of Detroit quietly fell out of the news.


Recently, I was reminded of Detroit by an episode of “Parts Unknown,” a CNN show by Anthony Bourdain (Season 2, Episode 8). I had no idea that the city had disintegrated so much. Bourdain compared it to Chernobyl, the nuclear ghost city in the Ukraine that was abandoned in the 1980s. But in the midst of all the decay and graffiti are sustainable farms. And artists filled with life. And pop-up and back-yard restaurants serving local food to laughing customers. There is grit and hope and a strong sense of community among all of that bitter Rust. I’m not talking about boutique food or a frou frou future, the latest fad in local agriculture. I’m talking about surviving after the giants fall.

We could choose this future, couldn’t we? We could learn to feed ourselves again, to take care of one another, couldn’t we? Is it too naive to hope that we might be able to accomplish it without doing violence to one another? I have been to Las Vegas recently, and it’s beginning to look a lot like Detroit …

Is Detroit only a ruined city? The disgraced giants might think so. Or is Detroit actually a window into the future, a city decades ahead of its time? I want to believe that our future is filled with the seeds of hope that Anthony Bourdain found in Detroit. It looks like evolution to me.

September 23 garden