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“Of all the cardinal sins against the environment, driving long distances is the most seductive, the one that brings us back to otherwise inaccessible places. I love long drives alone. The road is a net dropped over the vastness of the continent, tying together all its distances onto one navigable labyrinth of asphalt. Roads are the real architectural achievement of this century in the US. Roads are the architecture of our restlessness, of those who wish neither to stay in their built places nor wander in the untouched ones, but to keep moving between them. A road promises something else to us, though the promise is better fulfilled by traveling than by arriving.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“To know a place is to become familiar; to know it better is for it to become strange again. Not novel in the easy way of the new, but strange in a deep, disturbing way that does not dissipate, an unsettling revelation of what should have always been known, a revelation that implicates its belated discoverers.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“Being true means nothing in the country of the imagination, and being believed means everything.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“It never occurred to me during the innumerable scenes of wagon trains being attacked by Indians in the movies of my childhood that I was seeing an invasion being resisted; it was the wagon trains that provided movie continuity, the Indians that interjected random disruptions.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“There was no way the military was going to spend two billion dollars and have nothing to show for it, and so Oppenheimer’s bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were there to justify a budget as well as to fight a war. They were dropped for scientific reasons too: Even the Department of Energy’s own handbook of nuclear tests lists those two explosions as tests. To call such an act a test clarifies how far the mindset of scientific control had warped the vision of those who would call all future bomb explosions tests, no matter what their effect on the world around them.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“It is said that the Chinese had gunpowder for many centuries but chose not to use it for war, and that the Maya put wheels on the toys of their children but chose not to build wheeled vehicles for practical use. In doing so it seems that they attempted to preserve their cultures in a state of equilibrium, rather than to push them down a road of progress toward an unknown destination, that they valued stability more than the unknowns that come with improvement.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“The Old World mythology of Adam didn’t trip up Thoreau, and Adam was the key figure in this new American credo. Not the Indian but the backwoodsman clearing the forests of Paradise is his hero. He doesn’t note that with the backwoodsman swinging his axe and the nation heading toward Oregon the forests might not long stretch toward the setting sun. Nineteenth-century Americans had a hard time thinking of the continent as less than boundless. In this world that was just beginning, in which the pioneer was a new Adam, memory was of no use, the past was so much burden to be dumped. Thoreau calls the Atlantic a river of Lethe – forgetfulness – to be crossed in this march toward a higher civilization under a higher sky.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“Mulling over my past, back beyond all the English novels and French poems and time in Paris, I remembered that I’d been a cowgirl growing up, catching bluebelly lizards, riding horses, and daydreaming impartially about Indians and any other culture living off the kind of land I knew, and in those days my daydreams fit my territory. I realized that I’d spent my adult life living in the West as though it were an outpost of Europe, that I had alwyas looked at it as a flawed copy of the original, and like the first white emigrants, longed for ruins, stories, and marks of my own ancestry, had lived in the West facing east.

“For almost a decade I lived in a city where it never snowed without my realizing that every drop from my faucets was snowmelt, sucked out of a valley of legendary beauty that had been drowned by a dam. I realized then that I’d been living in a war zone my whole life without noticing the wars, since they didn’t match any of the categories in which I’d been instructed. I realized too that rather than trace my culture back to Europe I might look at the ways that it had mutated, invaded, hybridized, mixed with the vastly different ecology and cultures of the West, and shaped and warped the vision of those making land policy and living on the land out here.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

- Churchill

“An exploding nuclear bomb is a kind of star come to earth. There is something wondrous about the fact that humans have managed to make stars, and something horrible about the fact that we went to the trouble of making stars for no more interesting reason than obliterating other human beings.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“There’s a strangely popular subject of speculation for hikers and explorers: whether they were the first people ever to tread on a piece of land. It comes out of the American obsession with virgin wilderness, which is itself a deeply problematic idea, and it speculates about the possibility of the utterly new, of an experience without predecessors.

“It is usually mistaken in its premises. There are few places in North America that were not first walked upon by the indigenous inhabitants of the continent, and even if one were to take out one’s mountaineering gear and reach a peak literally untouched before by human beings, one is making a gesture that depends for its meaning and motives on a long history of such gestures.

“You are covering cultural territory covered by great mountaineers. And the actual act of climbing a mountain depends for its meaning on the romantic cult of mountains, and so even if you have never read Shelley’s ‘Mont Blanc,’ you have inherited it, and when you step on that piece of ground, you step where Shelley went, and where a wide road of meaning has been worn since.

“It seems you should know where you came from to understand where you are, and only a true and absolute amnesiac could come from nowhere in arriving somewhere.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“A thunderous rumble like the sound of thousands of stampeding cattle passed directly overhead, pounding the trench line. Accompanying the roar was an intense pressure that pushed me downward. The shock wave was traveling at nearly four hundred miles per hour, pushed toward us by the immense energy of the explosion. The earth began to gyrate violently, and I could not control my body. Overcome by fear, I opened my eyes. I saw that I was being showered with dust, dirt, rocks, and debris so thick that some evil force was attempting to swallow my body and soul. The metallic taste in my mouth was foul and would not go away.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“The Nuremberg Principles are abstracted from the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals who justified their acts as following orders, a justification the world refused to accept. ‘The fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him of responsibility under international law, provided that a moral choice was in fact possible for him,’ says the fourth Nuremberg principle. These principles remove us from the shelter of authority – of doing what we do because we are told to do it – and put us in the roofless territory of individual conscience.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

Test is something of a misnomer when it comes to nuclear bombs. A test is controlled and contained, a preliminary to the thing itself, and though these nuclear bombs weren’t being dropped on cities or strategic centers, they were full-scale explosions in the real world. I think that rather than tests, the explosions at the Nevada Test Site were rehearsals, for a rehearsal may lack an audience but contains all the actions and actors. The physicists and bureaucrats managing the US side of the Arms Race had been rehearsing the end of the world out here, over and over again.

“There were other ways to ensure the efficacy of existing nuclear weapons, and tests were only necessary for developing new weapons. The bombs set off in Nevada seemed instead a way of making war by display, as some cultures and species do – demonstrating their ability to attack rather than actually doing so.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“I have trouble with the abstract and the concrete. In the abstract we were committing civil disobedience in the cause of peace and justice. In the concrete, we were scrabbling around in the scrub, playing tag with a bunch of mercenaries who thought that we were completely demented. My faith wavers. I always had trouble seeing the guards as representatives of US military policy rather than as rednecks with limited career options, though I think many of the activists at the Test Site had the opposite problem, that perhaps the concrete didn’t complicate their abstract ideals.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“So many Americans seem to think that activism is an aberrant necessity brought on by a unique crisis, and then throw themselves into it with an unsustainable energy brought on by the belief that once they realize some goal or other, they can go home and be apolitical again. I always admired my brother for the steady nonchalance with which he approached his work, recognizing that political engagement was a normal and permanent state, and because however much he idealized direct action and population, he never lost his ability to see the ludicrous aspects of the movement.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“In lusher landscapes, it is as though the skin and bones of the earth are dressed in verdure; here the earth is naked, and geological processes are clearly visible. It is geological time and geological scale that dominate this landscape, dwarfing all the biological processes within the uplift of ranges, the accretion of basins.”

- Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

I thought she was exaggerating a little
when she said that every one of her hummingbirds – she had five -
had a distinct name and that they flew
freely in her garden, where they had
distinct feeders. “If not, they fight too much.”

But it was like that, just like that:
I saw them once, when the house, alone,
invited a visit to the open back garden.

There they came flying like tiny
winged envoys
with urgent notices and warnings.
No name fit them well. Useless
words. Astonishment
at the rapid movement of the wings:
the not being able to look at them
the approach of their tiny hearts
beating so incredibly rapidly
close, very close,

and then suddenly shooting off, high,
Being of our world but also of another,
only theirs.

- Circe Maia

Between water reading itself a story
with no people in it

and fields, illegible, and a sky
that promises nothing,

least of all what will happen now,
are the trees

that do no believe in
any version of themselves

not even the one in which
they are apparently everyday trees

and not a sequence of wooden frames
for ordinary trees.

- Vena Groarke

“It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate it.”

- John Steinbeck


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