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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 14. 1970


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One day I woke up and could not breathe. All that day and through the days after, in the green parks and in the rooms of friends and even beside the sea, I could not breathe. The air was used up. Each beautiful thing I saw was doomed. Each ugly thing I saw was ugly because of man—man-made or man-touched. And so I left my friends and lived alone.

The countryside was beautiful but it was also doomed. Men came and cut the trees and built roads and fences. They spread poison to kill the insects and weeds they did not like. With the rain the poison spread down the sloped land. For years there were bare streaks from the base of the hills into the pastures and fields. They pointed to these streaks and remarked how potent the poison had been.

With the rain and the wind the poison spread across the earth. It seeped into the fibres of plants and animals ten thousand miles from where it was first laid down. It entered the mouth of insects, birds and fishes; it stuck to their flesh. It travelled the currents of the seas. It returned to us through our food no matter how carefully that food was grown. It seeped into the flesh of our babies through the blood and milk of their mothers. Poison, spreading and sticking, building its small house of death around itself.

Understand that there is no place where man cannot live—no place too hot or too cold, no ocean so dark nor planet so far away that we cannot touch it, establish our first small houses, settle, and grow. As we are so are our works: our cities, machines, poisons....

I no longer live alone and apart from those I love. To do that is to do what the poison did to the land. You cannot remove things you do not like without removing part of what you love.

There are still places you can go and live until you die without seeing men. There are places you can go and live until you die without seeing anything made by any hands except your own. You and I can do this.

Meanwhile the poisons spread. Our cities clamour toward each other like beaters flushing wild game from the brush.

I know you have your own life to work out and your own soul to care for first. I know also that you are doomed. You cannot order either your life or your soul because of the junk which fills both. What is outside enters in. What is inside must come out. In the end they are the same. Junk in one means contamination of both.

Understand this—to clear away the junk and the poison is not the answer. You cannot destroy the things you do not like without also destroying some of the things you love.

To stop the production of junk and poison yet maintain the production of truth depends upon changing the whole world. To suggest this is to suggest treason in every country, in every language....

Yet it is our only hope for salvation.

Photo of a flying bird

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Photo of industrial site

The pelicans are cruising over the rocks. The pelicans are cruising far out beyond the reach of casting rods and our long-lensed cameras. DDT has broken their love. There is so little time left for getting a few clear pictures We cannot reach them except to kill them. We cannot touch them nor hold them in the immortality of our eyes or long-lensed cameras. They will not co-operate with us. The grace of their flight is all they will give.

The cold fingers of our servant of death has touched their nests, shriveled the fruit of their sex. Even out on the farthest rocks, the cold grey fingers have touched each egg and rotted each shell.

How can you live each day as a new day? How can you smile over things so clumsily done? The crimes under your name pile up around you like the white crust formed on the black rocks where the pelicans nest on their dead young.

The poisoned glove of our servant has shaken our hand and left to do our bidding. He whispers our names as he stops the flight of flies and moths and birds: "This is for John and Suzy".

"This is for Mary and Marty and Douglas and Kathy", he says as the earth darkens and chokes as the concrete closes over it. It is our grave. How can you smile?

The small fish scatter. Scum floats above them, casting shadows as the garbage tumbles down. The garbage recites our names in bubbles of putrid gas. "I am for Robert and Richard and Thomas and Michael. You cannot live here anymore. I need this space for myself".

"Nancy needs a new salad bowl. Karen needs a handle for her paint brush. Dyan needs a new clip for her hair. Renita needs paper for her poems". The trees fall and the cut forest is burned over. Each tree felled with humility to be given into the hands of craftsmen is matched by a hundred thousand more for the building of the tracts spreading outwards from our cities.

How simple it is for us to kill and butcher. How easy it is for us to smother the earth and claw her open.

If you really believe all is one and you understand how the wheels of balance are being broken and bent askew, how can you play?

We look around us and see that our cities are ugly and poison the earth and the sky and the water. We see that the machines of our minds are cold and infected with avarice and murder. We see that the tools in our hands are corpses stolen from the life of the earth without love or respect.

When will you tire of your unreal pettiness? Help us. Help yourself. Clear your name from the millions of ears who have knowledge of you through your servants.

Clear your name as you clear the earth, the air and the water.

Help us. Help yourself.

Look around you.