They told me to just get over it. They told me I was being too sensitive and that I should just move on. I was being too idealistic and it was time to sober up, knuckle under and get with the program.
But I couldn’t shrug it off. In my lifetime, my home, the Santa Clara Valley of central California went from being a rural paradise and one of the most productive agricultural regions on Earth, to a hyper-active, unaffordable spasm of concrete, noise, development and toxic, technological capitalism. Historians have written that prior to the 19th century, central California was “the Serengeti of North America,” a lush wild land packed with animals of all description. Wild salmon swam in the rivers, birds filled the sky and grizzly bears prowled the hills. It was a precious, glorious habitat.
But in the span of just a few decades, the plants and animals of my youth were obliterated by miles of condos, freeways, shopping malls and technological fortresses. Farms and orchards disappeared, their bounty replaced by trucks and aircraft that would bring our food from the furthest corners of the world. But it was all for the best, they said. It meant jobs and money and investment and real estate profit. Pave paradise, put up a parking lot and get rich.
Well, I never did get over it. The experience traumatized my body and my spirit, gnawing on my life like a chronic illness. Later I discovered that it wasn’t just the valley of my childhood that was under assault. Everywhere I went I saw the same disrespect for nature and the same tired excuses of why it had to be this way. Destruction of habitat was simply a side-effect of doing what had to be done, they said. It was basic economics. The invisible hand was going to make everything better, just wait and see. The land and the animals are there for our use, our pleasure and our profit, nothing else. And if something went wrong, well, we could just go somewhere else. So get over it.
But my body and my brain remained unconvinced. In the years that followed, I became an outdoor athlete and developed a powerful interest in health, but even in that world the conventional explanations didn’t ring true. Doctors told me that my body was just a stand-alone organism, a hairy bag of water that wasn’t connected to the world. I was just an isolated biochemical machine, a collection of molecules, organized by DNA. Health was nothing more than a set of numbers and lab results. If something went wrong, my only option was to visit a medical technologist who would repair my broken mechanism.
But I never got over that explanation either. By the time I was an adult, I was a man without a functional story, lost in an alien world that I just couldn’t accept. And to make matters worse, I felt completely alone.
Driven by equal measures curiosity, discontent and rebellion, I went on an educational binge. I ignored advanced degrees and sensible career moves in favor of learning for its own sake. Better answers had to be out there. I camped out in the library for weeks at a time, drinking in ideas like water in the desert. I feasted in bookstores and traveled to distant cities for workshops and trainings for no other reason than to advance my interest.
By conventional measures, my effort was an utter waste of time and I was counseled once again to get over it. But in the process, I discovered that I wasn’t alone after all. I found that there were a lot of other people out there who just couldn’t get over the conventional explanations: people who loved the natural world and loathed its destruction, people who saw unity between their bodies and habitat, people who were willing to risk their time and their lives to create new forms of culture based on something more honorable than profit. I discovered writers, teachers, professors and trainers who lived by the belief that there had to be a better way. These people pulled me out of my loneliness and into a world of action and resolve.
This book is dedicated to all those people who just couldn’t get over it. I hope they never do.