Where you are is who you are

Oct 8 2013

The physiocrats had it right when they said that the earth is the sole source of all riches,” for from our ecology comes our economy.

I”ve been thinking—as you have been, too, I”m sure—about the increasing political and natural chaos caused by our economy, which decimates the ecological systems that gave our ancestors their lives. Our ancestors grew from the same soils for so long, that our body shapes and colors still exhibit signs of their adaptation by natural selection.

I think now of how short North Koreans are due to their economy.

Where they are is who they are & where we are is who we are.

Where do we live?

Who are we?

Do we know? Do we want to know?

If we want to know, we can start by following the rivers, blood vessels of our biome (“home of life”), from valley to ridge & peak. And back. Try the Mill River in Northampton.

Find out where (y)our water comes from. Notice the tillable soils, and encourage local farmers whose economy is biomic. Learn the trees, the plants, & the creatures. Apprehend how the seasons transmogrify all of these. Be grateful, and celebrate the great life we share.

Hulburt’s Pond, where the Mill River debouches into the Northampton Meadows. Janine Norton photo


I have been thinking, too, about cities, and wonder if there is such a thing as a sustainable one.

All wealth derives from the earth, but all cities are superfund sites; and what they derive from is not their biome, because if they did, it would kill them. Having exhausted the original abundance and purity of the place they occupy, cities are forced to feed upon and destroy ecologies far from their limits;  the earth”s very common wealth is then piled up and hidden away for personal—let”s imagine Donald Trump”s—use. NYC is rich because it profits off of the decimation of ecologies, the ancient structures of being, far away from its gleaming skyscrapers. Having the same economy, all great international cities do too.

David Byrne, formerly of the Talking Heads, has this to say about how NYC”s economy of the 1% sterilizes the creative spirit:

The city is a body and a mind – a physical structure as well as a repository of ideas and information. Knowledge and creativity are resources. If the physical (and financial) parts are functional, then the flow of ideas, creativity and information are facilitated. The city is a fountain that never stops: it generates its energy from the human interactions that take place in it. Unfortunately, we”re getting to a point where many of New York”s citizens have been excluded from this equation for too long. The physical part of our city – the body – has been improved immeasurably.  … But the cultural part of the city – the mind – has been usurped by the top 1%.

What, then, is the future of New York, or really of any number of big urban centers, in this new Gilded Age? …. most of Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn are virtual walled communities, pleasure domes for the rich (which, full disclosure, includes me), and aside from those of us who managed years ago to find our niche and some means of income, there is no room for fresh creative types. Middle-class people can barely afford to live here anymore, so forget about emerging artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, journalists and small business people. Bit by bit, the resources that keep the city vibrant are being eliminated.

This city doesn”t make things anymore.

NYC is a themepark now, much cleaner than the city it was back when industries pumped toxics in to the air and the Hudson; but moving those industries abroad has made the need for close-quarter inhabitation a lifestyle choice, not a necessity.

When a city loses its sense of being crucial to the functioning of civilization, it becomes slowly or quickly abandoned. A city loses its necessity by losing its people who make things.

Have you noticed what Byrne noticed?: NYC doesn”t make things (except Wall Street insider trades). It”s a place where people buy, consume & show off lots of stuff, imported from far away, and for that very reason is well on its way to becoming a no place.

The genius of a city, its generative, creative power, comes first from where it is sited. Secondly, from what its citizens create. Lose the place and soon enough, the creative power disappears, too.

Our planet is littered with the foundations & debris of once great cities.


A person can become a part of the organism that is a city, for no city is a city unless this happens.

Since the city is an organism that decimates the biome within which it sits, it is a pathogen.


Everywhere, humans are part of a superorganism that is most easily witnessed in the form of our infrastructure.

The more the infrastructure, the more the superorganism is pathogenic to the biome it lives in.

Phoenix, AZ

The less the infrastructure, the more the ancient structure of being is intact.


There is a kind of intelligence that cities are particularly capable of producing that is cosmopolitan, liberal, aesthetic, and that values abstraction and rationality. Again, I think of Manhattan, my home in the “80″s—and of the Talking Heads.

(click image for) Talking Heads “Cities” live in Rome 1980

What cities are incapable of producing is an intelligence that, like wealth, is derived from the earth. That is why they are dangerous: because much of what is highly valued as urban intelligence is the production of a superorganism that is deadly to the living systems of the earth, and thus also to us. When one views life as an allegory, it can be surmised that urban intelligence is death-bringing—because it erects a system of cognition that can”t sustain itself without the constant destruction of the earth. Urban intelligence—in the form of the New York Times, for example—feeds upon dead trees/ecologies it doesn”t (care to) know the names of—just wants to know the price; for then it is capable of deciding whether it”s “good” or not.

All of this does make me wonder about what I learned when I lived in the city. I loved nature while I lived there, but I felt disconnected from the vital and ancient structures of being, and was. I sensed the universe is actually a multiverse, and wanted to become part of a generative, not pathogenic, superorganism.

I plan on returning to NYC soon enough, even more of a tourist than I was the last time I wandered wondering where my city & its creative artistic energy went. (Hint: it migrated north.)


The Nonotuck biome is where Biocitizen School walks.

from Hitchcock”s geology map

Here, from an article about the hydrofracking potential of our biome, get a sense of our body:

**Part of Massachusetts is in a geological formation known as the Hartford Basin. The piece of the basin in Massachusetts is 34 miles long and varies in width from three to 15 miles. Springfield is surrounded by it.

The Hartford Basin was formed as the supercontinent Pangea began breaking apart about 220 million years ago. As the Atlantic Ocean began forming in one crack, the Connecticut Valley formed in another, eventually allowing lakes to form.

The waterways would periodically dry up and become wet again, allowing mud and other organic material to layer atop each over time deep in the ground. Those layers today are known as black shale formations, said Richard Little, a geologist and professor emeritus at Greenfield Community College.

Geologists say that unlike the Marcellus shale formation, the Hartford Basin is not likely to be replete with gas. The Hartford’s shale is thin and not in large unbroken planes, meaning it is not ripe for gas extraction, said Stephen Mabee, Massachusetts state geologist. A good portion of the basin was also overheated from volcanic activity, which means any oil or gas is probably gone. Other places weren’t heated enough to produce gas.“**


Leaves are downing, and I”m looking at the maps again, pondering historical consciousness and how it”s defined by the environment (urban, rural, academic, electronic) it”s conjured in. I”m thinking of the stories of the great Northampton religion-creators Stoddard and Sarah and Jonathan Edwards, the natural law patriot Danial Shays and his militia of Nonotuck farmers, the wizardly William Cullen Bryant and his friend painter Thomas Coles, of geologist Edward Hitchcock, of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, of Sylvester Graham and Sojourner Truth and Emily Dickinson.

I”m thinking of starting up the Transcendental Club again. It”s time to share the stories of the free people who inhabited this biome from 1700-1900.

Their stories, told before the introduction of the automobile, are rooted in the soils of Nonotuck.



Feb 2024