Zones of Sacrifice: Nature Will Defend Itself, Even Against Us
The writer asserts that the pandemic is Earth's way of regaining balance.
Hope is sweet earth shaped like a popcorn-bedazzled wand. Mullein boasts a bouquet of fuzzy floret leaves that dance at its roots and invite the hand to touch her. Seasons before the global pandemic, mullein called to make me her ally. She’d dazzle and entreat me from her summer station on the lawn of my neighbor, a devoted, down-to-earth Nana with a grandchild who also danced like sunshine. Nana gave me permission to harvest whatever I saw coming up. I promised to share the medicine. Mullein follows one of my favorite patterns of the sweet earth: “Everything you need is nearby.” And so she grew on the lawn of this beloved, longtime smoker to teach me about the woman who needed her. The kinds of people who would need her soon. And how to prepare me for the grief that would surely sit atop my lungs like pneumonia. The sweet earth teaches us to read her patterns.
The sweet earth has a pattern of death. When Brazilian carpenter ants outgrow the forests’ capacity to sustain them, parasitic cordyceps fungi cull the population to maintain the dynamic equilibrium of the forest. That balance is necessary so that one species can’t become too large, as to destroy the ability of the entire system to regulate life. Indigenous people hold sacred the life-death-life cycle. This worldview understands that the death of an excess of carpenter ants will create space for new and diverse life to flourish. This worldview understands the one group of beings does not hold the right to disrupt the homeostasis of the entire ecosystem. The power of disruption is checked by death itself.
As an ecological activist and rootworker, I dissolve the false separation between the patterns of nature and social behavior. Human beings are shaped and governed by the ecosystems they inhabit even if those ecosystems contain iPhones, concrete and subways.
We Are Nature
All-natural even if our diets are genetically modified.
Even if we feel separate and enact the violence that flows from our falsehood.
What we do in the world matters.
Our actions set off chains of reactions within the homeostatic ecosystem that is the earth itself. The disease that she experiences is reflected in the fractal of our bodies. Viruses and other bundles of genetic information called exosomes are exuded from bacteria, fungi and multicellular organisms, like pigs, in response to stress. Stress is a call for help, and this genetic information contains a diversity of adaptive genetic resources for the organisms to make use of.
Everything that we need is nearby.
The coronavirus received these genetic stress signals emerging from the animals, in particular, the massive pig confinement operations and herbicide-soaked fields of Central China and adapted as all beings adapt. As all beings must. And she came to us, with her sacred communication.
From the Chinese case studies, I learned that older folks had the highest mortality rates and I saw corona as just, especially when it displayed the same patterns in Europe. Old people destroyed the world. Ate excessively and had me inherit this shitshow. I saw the earth grieving. Eastern philosophers remember that grief lives in the lungs. The lungs are the interface between the human body and the world. And so the coronavirus became our disjointed relationship and made her home there.
The abundance of plants in my world gives me direction as to how much medicine will be called for later. In the early days, I distributed my abundance of mullein medicine to all the elders in my life and friends who knew my game. And I waited until the virus arrived on my side of the world.
But my side of the world is wounded and scarred. It has a body politic that is shaped by its past conditioning. In yogic philosophy, past conditioning leaves an imprint or grooves on the subtle body which shape the response of the entire organism. These samskaras, or impressions, are in the words of yogi Dr. Kamini Desai, “Like channels that despite all the potential outcomes we have the ability to create, keep us reincarnating the same results into the reality in repetitive and predictive ways.”
Life in the Samskaras
The groves set forth by our racist history came alive during the pandemic and resulted in actual death. The groves of our racist history have impacted the physical redistribution of brown bodies in places where the air is sickened by the shitshow of industrial life. These folks are asked to be the buffer zone between white excess and its ecological repercussion. This grove, this samskara, is known as a zone of sacrifice.
Seventy-one percent of Black Americans live in counties that violate EPA air quality standards. A Black family making up to $60,000 a year is more likely than a white family making $15,000 per year to live next to a toxic facility. Over 78 percent of Black people live within a 30-mile radius of a coal-fired power plant expelling toxic waste into the air. Black people are three times more likely to die from asthma than any other group. Black people are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than a white person, and the same goes for indigenous people. COVID mortality is directly linked to the air pollution that folks of color are positionally exposed to. According to a study by biostatisticians at Harvard University, even a small increase in long-term exposure to fine particle pollution leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate. Black and indigenous disposability is a part of the cultural and ecological samskaras of this country.
But hope is sweet earth shaped like a popcorn-bedazzled wand. The institutions created in the samskaras of America’s racist history are ill-equipped to dismantle the structural racism that results in Black and indigenous disease. As our precious communities undergo the pressure of dying under the weight of this empire, our bodies exude adaptive genetic resources in the shape of exomes and viruses, genetic resources that shape-change in the soil and waters surrounding us, that shape-change in the trees and the birds and the insects. Who carry the seeds of our green allies like mullein, so that we can also adapt to live another day here, to become the virus in the chest of this empire and sit our whole weight upon it so that it can die, suffocating under the burden of our grief.