We sow our young with seeds of doubt,
with hopes that they will never sprout.
We tell them not to lie and steal,
then rape the Earth for cheaper meals.
We kill the one who gave us life,
with pesticides, no guns or knife.
Pollute the waters, slay the trees
as Mother Earth begs on her knees
for us to stop, at least slow down
remove our plastic man-made crown
begin to smile, remove the frowns
the dissatisfaction brought all this around.
And still we sit here in our human made shelters.
When will we see what we’ve done?
I’m tired of waiting for you to stand up.
The right time for action has come.
~ Louis Raymond Case Debruge
(May 2014 / Nature Writing / Clackamas Community College/ Prof. Davis)
Last month, Oregon’s Land Board voted 2-1 to sell the State of Oregon’s oldest pubic forest. The Elliot State Forest is home to towering Douglas firs and to the Umpqua River. It is prime habitat for the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet, coastal coho salmon and other species. According to The Oregonian, “the forest is no longer doing its stated job: raise money for Oregon’s schools through its timber.” The forest is no longer doing her job? Her job is to raise money for schools? Evidently, our science texts need to be rewritten to reflect this new reality. Formerly, children around the world were taught what scientists long ago concluded, that a forest’s “job” was to sustain life of all kinds, including the dangerous species called “human.” And yet Secretary of State Dennis Richardson voted in favor of the sale, opposing the Governor and Board Chair, Kate Brown. “My obligation,” he stated, “is to live up to the schoolkids (sic) in Oregon.”
2017: The year the water protectors were forced to leave their sacred camp at Standing Rock so that pipelines could be built. The year the U.S. government decided that environmental protections are no longer necessary and put a gag order on climate scientists. The year Oregon decided to sell its oldest forest to pay for a fraction of what it costs to educate the State’s children for a year. Meanwhile, it’s yet another year in which the United States will spend more on wars and weapons, on death and destruction, on violence to our planet and to people, than any nation on Earth. It’s the year Lou would have turned 20, on this day, March 4th. “March forth!” we used to joke together. An activist’s birthday.
I moved last year to Humboldt County, California, home to some of the world’s most ancient and beautiful forests. I have been on a healing journey for the past year. In the Redwoods, I’ve been cultivating the courage needed to complete Lou’s book of poetry, essays, and song lyrics, Free To Tell: Lou’s Writing Shines a Light on Child Abuse & Addiction. Much of Lou’s writing is dark and difficult to read. As in this poem, his own traumatic abuse and betrayal as a child often bleeds through. Prophets’ voices have always been unsettling. They call us to turn and reconsider. They beg for a change of heart and they call us to action. Woe unto those who turn away from the prophetic voice.
Jay Z was interviewed by Amy Goodman at the Sundance film festival in January about his upcoming documentary series, Time: the Kalief Browder Story. (Click to watch the trailer.) Kalief was sent to Rikers Island at the age of 16, without trial, on suspicion of stealing a backpack. He endured 800 days of his three years in prison in solitary confinement. Once released, he suffered all of the post-traumatic stress symptoms associated with childhood trauma. He committed suicide at the age of 22. Amy asked Jay Z, “You call Kalief a prophet. Why?”
“Well, you know, we’ve seen prophets come in many shapes and forms. And we’ve seen, you know, sometimes tragedy happens for our prophets: Martin Luther King. I believe this young man, his story, will save a lot of lives. You know, what was done to him was a huge injustice. I think people (will) see his story and realize like, man, this is going on. This is not like one case that happened. This is happening to a lot of people, you know. So, it’s very important, his story.”
Jay Z’s reply is incredibly powerful. A young man who hangs himself or dies of an overdose of drugs, alone in his room, may yet be a prophet. Any child, every child, who suffers grave injustice at the hands of adults has a story that must be told. Our children deserve a bright and hopeful future, not a barren nightmare of slow asphyxiation. Their personal future possibilities are not separate from those of the Earth, as Lou’s poem suggests.
On the EP of Lou’s music produced by Marv Ross in 2015, Lou and his friends Tristyn and Shea sing his song “Change.” The refrain repeats like a mantra and a prayer for peace.
“Let’s try to make a change, for our daughters. Let’s try to solve our problems without pulling out a gun.”
One day, in the last spring of their lives on Earth, Lou sat on the edge of his grandmother Roberta’s bed and read aloud for her his latest poem. “Consistency” is a reflection on the maple tree in the backyard of the home the three of us shared in Oregon City. Consistency is what Lou’s grandmother provided him through the outer and inner storms of his life. Consistency is what Mother Earth longs to provide for all of us, her creatures, her children. Let us return to the wisdom of our true Elders, the native peoples whose cultures were all but destroyed by blind ignorance, arrogance and greed. Let us kneel in reverence together on the Earth and ask her forgiveness. In her health and balance, cradled in her roots and her branches, is our only hope for renewal and healing.
Link: Lou Reads to Roberta
In a very unclean world, my back yard is a place of sanctity.
A tremendous broad leaf maple tree is first to greet the eye, inviting my attention,
if only for a moment.
Her leaves change with the seasons, slowly turning from green to yellow to brown
as the year goes on.
In the winter months, my tree has no leaves at all.
It is as if the roots are waiting for the sunlight to shoot their ancient energy to the tips of
the branches and bring out the wonderful yellow flower indicating that spring
has finally arrived.
When I was younger,
I hung a tree-swing rope to a low branch, six or seven feet off the ground.
I would push back and forth for hours, enjoying all the pleasures my tree had to offer.
The happy emotion was plenty for me.
I swung and laughed in my own favorite tree.
The maple tree has been there my whole life,
sitting, waiting, watching silly humans go in and out of my own backyard.
The tree means something to me.
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