After the Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown and fire, a 1004 square mile exclusion zone was created, where humans were not allowed to live or work except under special circumstances. Nature took over, and images from the area are haunting and beautiful. But the place isn’t safe for nature any more than it is safe for humans. I’ve had a lot of reason to think about this over the past week as I process the journey that I took in the middle of a dark and rainy Monday night in Seattle.
As I approached the forest last week, I remembered that the reason it exists there is because of a sort of exclusion zone in the middle of the city. I didn’t know at the time the full extent of that exclusion zone. I only knew about the high tension electric lines strung up on kachina dolls overhead. No one wants to live under that. And yet we can’t live the lives we live without the power that they bring.
A few days later, Rhyd posted about something new he’d learned about the area where his beloved forest stands: It’s also the site of an oil pipeline. When I read that, my heart stopped.
I stood at the top of that hill last week, soaking wet and covered in mud, elated with the lessons I had just learned in the forest below, and laughed as I realized that the forest had sent me to stand underneath those power lines. Oh, yes!
It is difficult to explain how I struggle with the work I am doing… I want to be a child of the earth, but I build technology in an attempt to make better lives. I try to make appropriate technology, try to encourage others to work with the power of the Earth not wield power over her. I try to learn from all cultures. I work to weed out colonial forces wherever I find them. I try to nurture indigenous knowledge and ways of living. I try to tear down systems of oppression not by facing them head on, but by building better systems that can out-compete them. That is, after all, the hacker way. It is also a lot like tending to a forest that has overgrown with invasive foreign garden plants and giving the native shoots light and air to grow. And there, at the top of that forest, the Spirits said, “This is the power you are harnessing. It is natural, too. Electricity is all around you, even in you. It is in the lightning bolt and in the messages in your nerves. Use it. Respect it. Keep building, but build with care and balance. Always seek the path of life and avoid the path of destruction.”
I stood there and prayed and spoke to the Spirits of place, of electricity and even of the Internet. I thanked the forest and the trees, thanked the very electricity that flowed through those lines overhead. I asked for guidance and help in my path ahead. And I was shaken by the power of the Universe to nudge me here and there until I arrived at that place at exactly that time when I needed help and encouragement so much.
But now I realize what a horrible warning was embedded in that blessing. I had a sense that there was something dangerous in the midst of that power, but I did not have any idea just how dangerous it was. Oddly, at the time I compared the electricity to oil in my conversation with the Spirits, and asked for help to create a world where we could get off our hydrocarbon addiction without losing the great power that has come with harnessed electricity. I didn’t know about the pipelines underneath me, and yet I had a clear image in my head of oil and gas rushing through pipes. I thought that it was a reference to the idea in general, not to something that ran directly under my feet.
I understand now at least part of why I wasn’t supposed to tell the whole story last week. It wasn’t fully processed yet. I had the vision, but I didn’t have the whole interpretation yet.
Last Tuesday morning I called Rhyd on the phone to ask him a question about something that happened in that forest on Monday night. I said to him, “You know how sometimes you wonder if your religion is real or if your spiritual experiences are just things you could explain away if you really tried? Yeah, well this is one of those times that Spirit shows you exactly how real this all is.”