Toad in the Hole

August 13, 2006

Building Butt

This is the view from the windows of the office of Earth Island Journal, at the central headquarters of the enviro organization Earth Island Institute in beautiful North Beach in San Francisco.


And if you stand up, you can see this purple-leaf plum, almost the nearest tree.


There's a lonesome bronze loquat ("bronze loquat" is a tree species, not a metal sculpture) on the same side of the street as the office, but you have to open the window and lean out to see it.

I got to thinking of this when I read the post and thread about being or not being an "environmentalist" -- really, calling yourself one or not -- on, IIRC, Feministe. A bunch of people go to this place in the noisy middle of a big city for a varying number of days each week, mostly to facilitate work done elsewhere. Earth Island is an umbrella organization with a number of "projects." Projects are centered in various places like California, Kentucky, Alaska, Borneo, assorted places in Africa and Central and South America. This changes from time to time, as part of the mission is to incubate these direct-action projects by giving them office space and services, publicity, communication, outreach, and stuff like that for a percentage of their income. Quite a few of them seem to think this is a good idea, and so they stay on; others, like the Bluewater Network, become free-standing organizations in a few years.

I suppose not all of EII's central staff and directorate is underpaid, but I know of rather a lot who are. And this working environment here isn't exactly Nirvana for tree-hugger types, is it? So, yeah, recycling the bottles is great, we all do it, don't we? There's always more that can be done, and guilt is useless. And you know what: You don't have to be a tree-sitter to be an environmentalist any more than you have to run an underground railroad to an abortion clinic to be a feminist. But calling yourself a feminist right out loud in public is also a way of standing up to be counted, of being shoulder-to-shoulder with people who have the same major convictions you do, however PO'd you might get at them about the particulars.

I mean, what the hell, I go ahead and call myself a "liberal" when the conversation doesn't quite make it to "radical" -- and when I can see that the other conversants either define "radical" in a way that I don't, or would need a big sidetrack of a monologue to get it defined to them.

So yeah, I'm an environmentalist. I'm an environmentalist when I'm recycling and composting, when I'm writing a column for the princessly fee of $75 for 700 words in the hope of getting my fellow citizens to fall in love with their urban and wildland trees, when I'm camped in the Sierra donating blood to the ecosystem and rejoicing in the western tanagers and the ditch orchids, when I'm out gathering material with Joe for some passionate and/or enlightening natural-science article, and I'm an environmentalist when I'm (for a much more decent fee, btw, but I'm a contractor) looking up from the text at that hideous monstrosity that comprises the Channel 5 studio building, the parking garage that used to be an auto-body shop, and the Hunanese restaurant, and wondering why the hell we haven't figured out how to build cities more decently than this.

Posted at August 13, 2006 01:22 AM


So, I finally watched The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and since I Netflixed it, I also saw all the extras on the DVD. It was absolutely charming. Thanks for the heads up.

I mention it because you said your offices are in the North Beach. You have pointed out two trees you can see from the window, and now I'm wondering if you ever also get to see parrots, or hawks, or if you have to go on the roof or something to spy them flying around elsewhere.

As for names, I like what you said about standing up and being counted. But also, as I told Chris Clarke when he went off about how he's not a feminist, I don't really care what people call themselves. I only care what they do. I call myself and environmentalist and a feminist. I will never be environmentalist or feminist enough to some people, whereas others think I'm radical, a crackpot and a crank. I don't care. I'm still going to recycle my bottles, my plastics and my paper, use 100% post-consumer paper, demand organic produce, drive a car as infrequently as possible, only wear natural fibers, compost everything I can, refuse pesticides or chemical fertilizers, etc., etc., etc., and I'm still going to kill mosquitoes that bite me, too. And I'm still going to live with a man I love and wear mascara to work. Oh, well.

I leave analysis of whether my self-labeling is apt to the political taxonomists. Meanwhile, I at least demand to be counted on the environmental and feminist sides of the culture wars. That's how I vote, with my actions and my money. And that's what it really boils down to in the end.

Posted by: Sara at August 13, 2006 05:07 AM

Glad you liked the parrots movie, Sara. Have you read the book? It's not redundant, really, and it's just as much fun. It's out in trade paperback.

I didn't hear them last week, but usually when I'm at the Journal (this happens for a few days each quarter, close to its press date) I usually do, and can run to the window and see some of them rocketing past a few blocks away. Not close, usually; I wouldn't know what they were if I didn't know what they were, ya know? And yeah, sometimed hawks (Did I blog about the peregrine a few years ago?) and ravens and gulls and other city incidentals like pigeons. it's pretty damned sparse though.

I expect there'll be more hawks in a couple of months, as they start migrating through.

If the workday runs that late or the sunset's early enough, I can see the parrots as they gather in a park down by the Embarcadero high-rises before going to their night roost(s). Chris said he's recently seen a couple of people in that park with parrots climbing on them, so I guess Mark Bittner's not the only human they'll come to. They're still particular, as I understand it, and they do recognize individual humans.

Maybe I'll dig up my old Terrain column about enviroguilt, in which I slam Helen and Scott Nearing. Man, I've been bitchy in my time.

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