and have immersed myself in these last 63 years is fading. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch- all are degrading. This is not easy for a lifelong sensation-seeker like me, having your senses crap out on you. What is left ? How shall I fill my time for the duration, deal with the ongoing disintegration ?
This morning got a Facebook message from Alex Forsyth, a cook in his thirties who is interested in native people’s original diet. I had turned him on to the native seeds bank in Tucson and the writings of Gary Paul Nabhan. He said I was “a good elder.” This is what is left, the role we boomers have to take on, our last act before the curtain falls, before it’s curtains, to impart whatever wisdom we might have acquired in our longer lives and the values we believe in and to provide continuity to younger people and teenagers who are growing up in a society where there is not a lot of moral guidance, at least that a cantankerous old fart like me can see. For me, the important things are reverence for all the other forms of life and cultures we share the planet with, being good stewards of the natural world, having the balls to fight against something that should not be happening, and when the tide really sucks like it does right now, to be a tide-bucka.
As far as the world fading away, the only think a person who is getting old can do is to adopt an as if attitude, kind of like taking an as if approach to the existence of god. If God exists, there is meaning in the world and right and wrong, there will be a judgment day. This is preferable to thinking (or if one does think so, keeping it to oneself) , or least transmitting, that there is nothing, life is dog eat dog chaos and anarchy. Nature is there, even if you can’t see it any more, and one of our primary responsibilities is to take care of it.
This makes me think of one of my favorite people in the world, Cornelia Marsh, whose nature sanctuary in Mount Kisco, New York I was the resident naturalist and executive director of in the l970s. The Marshes were old New York aristocracy and a prominent and dedicated conservationist family. Corny’s son Langdon became the commissioner of the New York State Deprtment of Environmental Conservation. The Marsh Sanctuary was created in memory of Corny’s daughter, also Cornelia, who died at the age of 13 of leukemia. Corny’s husband Norman was so griefstricken about her death that he lost his mind. In remember in l971 I was 24 and had been bopping around communes in northern California and Oregon for several months and arrived at the Mount Kisco station with my backpack and guitar to visit my parents in neighboring Bedford. Mr. Marsh, was on the same train, in his suit and briefcase in hand, and I assumed he was coming home from work in New York City, as all the fathers in northern Westchester did. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind giving my a lift to my parents, and he said, hop in, and we rode in silence, and he dropped me off, My mother came out and said hello and thanked him, then we went inside. An hour later, we looked out front, and Mr Marsh was still there. Our house was on Route 22, the Old Post Road from Times Square to Montreal, and Mrs. was picking up all the garbage that people had chucked out of their cars. We had to call Corny, who came and got him. A few years later, when I went to work for the Marsh Sanctuary, he had to be institutionalized. But now I think what a great thing to do. Mr. Marsh was a boddhisatva, way ahead of his time.
Years later, when I was India, where there are yard-thick mats of garbage in the slums you see from train windows, I thought of starting a movement called the barefoot garbage-pickers. Its members would simply go around picking up garbage and delivering it to dumps or recycling stations. It would not be political and religious, just go around picking up the garbage. I tried it in Nepal, and within minutes was joined by a little army of kids. If the tidebucka movement doesn’t get anywhere, I may go back to that idea. Which Mr. Marsh gave me, bless his heart, wherever he is. Corny is gone too, but I can still hear her slow, ironic drawl, see her face glowing with her irrepressible love of life.
On Sunday mornings, to return to the point of bringing up this great gal, she would join the birdwalks I led. By this time she was in her eighties, and I now realize she could no longer see the birds, even through binoculars, but this didn’t diminish her glee whenever I would say in a hushed voice, red-bellied woodpecker and point to the dead rock oak the bird was in. Marvelous, she would say in genuine awe. Corny belonged to the era when you didn’t burden others with your personal problems and pain, to the age when you were no longer there for yourself, if you ever were, but for others. A nice place to be in, a nice role to emulate.