Local writer of the column 'Notes From Home'

I had to miss my favorite moment of the Easter story at church last week, Palm Sunday. It’s in Luke 19, with Jesus astride the unbroken donkey colt riding into Jerusalem, the common people singing and cheering the One who will bring them liberation, peace, and hope for a new life.

Some Pharisees in the crowd tell him to shut them up. He tells them “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Most people see that sentence as reflecting Jesus’ unstoppability. But in me it shouts the true connection between people and earth. It’s the connection that gets lost as we ride into Jerusalem, so to speak: as we move into cities and convert land to property, convert the land’s providence into food supply chains, and lose sight of the fact that the animals and plant life of this planet are our web of being. It tells me that Jesus knew what I feel and try to believe: that when we suppress the people of this earth who make their livings upon it, or when we strip them away from that source, the earth itself will protest, will cry out in bereavement.

Go ahead, call me crazy.

I missed Palm Sunday and getting to hear my beautiful, new pastor’s take on it because I’m helping empty my mother’s home so it can be sold to pay for the assisted living facility she moved into. She lives in Sonoma County, where property values are high and where the reality of people making their livings on the land is glorified by miles of vineyards serving the wine industry. Amidst them, smaller-scale farms and farmer’s markets exist, surface expressions of hoped-for sustainability, but the grocery stores’ food suppliers still get the bulk of their stock from far-away, invisible rural areas like ours. Traveling the 300 miles to get there takes me across some pretty rugged socio-economic divides.

Rearranging boxes at home to make room for new boxes of family history materials, I came upon a small, unread book I’ve had for 30+ years, Robert Heilbroner’s “Behind the Veil of Economics” (1988). Feeling brave, I started reading it over meals and got my first clear understanding of why the field of economics has always seemed so pie-in-the-sky. According to Heilbroner, it is—at least, the way it is practiced by 90% of economists. One criticism he makes is that the form of economics we live under, capitalism, is taken as an eternal given rather than the relatively recent development in the history of how people provision themselves. All the great theoretical economists, he says, see capitalism as a temporary form, as terminal, but its practitioners act as if it will go on forever.

One of my major complaints about the field is that it reduces people to numbers and is oblivious to the earth, which provides all the raw materials that are turned into commodities for us to buy (if we can) as if it had no limits. As if there were no costs from clearcutting, strip mining, and aquifer depletion, demolition of natural habitats for elephants and earwigs, or the dispossession of millions of people from their homelands so that corporations can freely manipulate their resources to feed into corporate wealth-making machines.

But over the last 50 years especially, we’ve become aware that when we are silent, the earth cries out. We can see and feel the limits because they’re screaming at us. Our economic system cannot handle that. Since we cannot change the fact of limits, we have to change the way we provision ourselves, and we have to do it equitably or it will not be sustainable. But what can we do?

Another small book I’ve had for 30+ years and read many times, Barry Lopez’s “The Rediscovery of North America” (1990), holds the beginnings of an answer. It’s a poetic answer, but imagination is where change begins. As a start, Lopez pleads with us to make the places we inhabit “a true home,” where we learn what once was “local knowledge” of the natural ecology, its abundances and limits, the interrelationships between stones and humans and everything in between, and begin to shape our lives to those realities.

Recognizing the monumental adjustment this entails, Lopez calls on us to be neighbors. “If we mean to make this a true home,” he ends, “we have only our companions to look to. We must turn to each other, and sense that this is possible.”

Meaning it’s just us—us and the crying stones.

Trudy Wischemann is a long-lost Berkeley grad who’s made her home in Lindsay with the birds, bees and too many cats. You can send her your homecoming dreams c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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