Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Lament, by Ernest Thompson Seton

O God of the blue sky and the gentle rain,
O God of the hills in the West;
If only I could ride as I used to ride
And see the white-sterned Antelope flickering across the distant flat;
Hear the Coyotes yapping at dusk and the long soft note of the Graywolf in
the dawning;
If I could see the bounding Blacktail sailing across the upland on his unseen
As the Woodwale swings festooning through the woods:
But gone, gone, gone, is all I loved,
Gone, gone are the big open spaces and the sweetness of the hills.
As I try to pick my way among the barb-wire fences, the sordid settlements,
and piles of empty tins and fly-blown filth, pestilential with maggots
and crawling bugs, I have no words for my sadness.
Gone are the big beautiful animals – not because they harmed us – not
because we needed the land, but because we had invented weapons so
terrible that the wild things had no chance. And loathsome brutes in
human form destroyed them for the hellish joy of seeing them fall.
How gleefully would they haved used armoure cars, gatling guns and poison
gas, had such things been at hand.
What a glorious West it was – a heritage for the Sons of God.
But the abomination of desolation came to possess it.
The harmless and the beautiful withered away.
Any one that could get a horse and a gun, could kill the Buffalo.
Gone are they, with only an old bone here and there to tell of their one-time
myriad race.
Gone are the elk that bugled so joyously on the uplands.
Gone are the harmless, beautiful Bighorns from the useless bluffs.
Gone are the bannertailed Deer from the meadows.
Gone are the patient Beaver from the swamps.
Gone are the Sage-grouse, too innocent for such a besetting.
Gone are the glorious white Cranes, trumpeters of the springtime.
Gone are the simple Jackrabbits, netted wholesale, and killed with clubs.
Then, ever-intensifying ingenuity mowed down the wiser ones; then the lesser ones.
Then the Wonder-dogs, the Coyotes had to go.
And the coyote gone, the Ground-squirrels multiplied to billions, and
gathered every crop.
Then poison was invoked to destroy the Ground-squirrels.
And it finished its work, but it also killed the ground-feeding birds, so that
ticks, bugs, lice, flies, insect-plagues were trillionized – and still the
abomination stalks;
The very forests are reduced to blackened stumps; till man at least will be
driven forth from the Eden he as ravaged.*
And I – I ride with tear-blurred eyes, and turn back away from the
heritage we have desolated, scorched as with the fumes of the pit.
I seek my own last home, by the little lake in the rocky hills of Connecticut,
and find a measure of joy in the woods, and the wild things I have
loved and saved.
But a black cloud hangs over my joy.
I know that this too will wither – is withering even now.
A wild Deer – the last of its race – crossed my land a month ago, and after
it were fifty yelling curs.
I suppose they killed it. It had no chance.
Then came a few Woodcock from the North,
But a dozen gunners went after each of them.
The brooks are marked, surveyed, to be turned into drains.
I hate your cursed, cowardly dogs;
I hate your loud, shameful guns;
I hate your sordid improvements.
The doom of the trees is impending;
The chestnut is gone; the butternut and the white pine are going; the hemlock
is dying.
The red-oak and the pignut are thratened,
Nearly all with plagues imported by man.
Even now the browntail and the gipsy moth are sending the scouts of their
Sennacherib hosts, marking all Yankeeland for desolation.
The end is in sight.
The desolation sweeps from sea to sea.
I can find some tiny crumbs of comfort in this alone –
That when it comes complete, I shall not be here to see it.
Only in prevision shall I see it – see my people pay the bitter price of their
Greed and carage.
And yet farther yet my soul-view reaches in the years.
I see only logical completeness of this hell-born mania to
destroy –
This – surely this: the nation possessed of it, will certainly destroy itself.
And when the men of another race, a yellow, or mayhap a red race, shall
discover this unpossessed, broad, Western world, landing on Manhattan,
they shall marvel at the piles of ancient ruins.
And slowly unearthing shreds of proof, and scraps of records, ancient made,
Their chiefs and wiser ones shall know, that here was a wastrel race, sordid,
cruel, sordid;
Weighed and found wanting,
Once mighty but forgotten now.
And on our last remembrance stone,
These wiser ones will write of us:
They desolated their heritage;
They wrote their own doom;
They knew not the things of the Spirit;
They never lighted the fourth lamp of the Woodcraft Altar fire.”**
* This statement directly anticipates by 35 years the theme of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
** This is a reference to Seton’s esoteric fourth principle of Woodcraft that saw the campfire as a place of absolute honesty and brotherhood, a place of the heart and of love on a deep level. Those who light this fire (literally while camping, but figuratively within themselves) can banish the evils of our contemporary society from themselves including the tendency towards random destruction of nature and find union with all humankind.

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