Thursday, June 26, 2008

Planet Earth

In my little concrete backyard, the cherry tomatoes:
And the poppy:
More pictures here.
Yesterday, I found another carrier/homing pigeon coop. Talk about one of the last holdouts of the Old Brooklyn. I glanced up to the top of St. Agnes while walking down Degraw and saw a white pigeon. Unusual enough. Then I noticed another. Odd, I thought. Then I noticed several more on the church’s chimney. It looks like the coop is on the roof right next to the rear of the church. I have one in my neighborhood, two blocks down Henry St. The pigeons line up on the south edge of the old hospital building, and when they swoop through the air above the house -- following, as it were, a flagged pole being waved by the pigeon fancier, who is invisible from the street -- in the late afternoon, it is startlingly beautiful. On the dark side, pigeon fanciers are notorious for killing raptors. I hope our Brooklyn coopers are not in this crowd.

Walking down Congress St., a female tiger swallowtail flitted ahead of me, not bothering to watch for the criminal cabbies running the red on Clinton.

Last night I watched a DVD of the first three episodes of Planet Earth, a BBC/Discovery production of a few years ago, with a thankfully subdued David Attenborough narrating over some absolutely magnificent footage. It is a visual feast: rare footage of snow leopards, stunning landscape scenes, cameras that shoot from a kilometer away to minimize interference with the animals. Absent, however, is interference from human beings, which makes me question the entire premise of the series, because you can’t talk about the planet without noting the enormous transformation wrought by humanity. The vast dead zones of the seas, global warming, poisoning, extirpation and extinction of species, etc. Also, the show is in the standard nature doc format, with much attention to stalking and killing, the old “nature is red in tooth and claw” drama (if not melodrama: the soundtrack mixes animal sounds with orchestral rah-rah a la the movies). Will the X get the Y and eat it? Each episode features several of these stalk/chase/kill situations. Obviously, some animals eat other animals, but as “shark weeks” prove so inelegantly, the anthropomorphic transformation of nature into (some, limited) human themes in the name of dramatic entertainment is an ideological choice. I’d call it bourgeois. It satisfies the dream of capitalism in which the strong survive and thrive. My brother, whose television diet is evidently nothing but these kinds of shows, manifests this conservatism perfectly. He’s constantly arguing that his perspective is the natural one. But where’s the mutalism, the cooperation, the symbiosis that the deep complexity of ecosystems manifest?

Compare with Werner Herzog. His nature is indifferent to humanity; it is profoundly sublime (that is, full of terror and awe). Herzog’s a Romantic, of course, so hardly free of ideological baggage, but I will take that any day over the bourgeois paradigm. The next dozen episodes of Planet Earth are heading back to the library unseen.

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