Satan’s Kingdom Revisited

Powisett Peak on a November noon, looking west towards Worcester and Mt. Wachusett

My process of decolonization is ongoing. I’ll never get to the bottom. Every time I come home there’s something new.

The thing I didn’t acknowledge or accept about the nature where I grew up, until this time, this Thanksgiving visit, until I went away, missed it and kept coming back, seeing the contrasts in more and more nuance: it’s a barren. Pine and oak barrens scraping out a living on top of a bedrock desert. The ecosystem anything but diverse. Red oak, white pine, lichens, blueberries, some native shrubs, and introduced species everywhere. The land I thought of as the forest primeval, the source of all nonhuman life and of my personal pseudopagan spiritual practice, the landscape that taught me to be in awe of nature: no colonizers wanted to farm it or live on it, no colonizers could farm it. It was swamps, thorns, boulders big as houses. They tried, while they were terraforming the rest of New England to look like old England, but they failed completely here, were appropriately embarrassed at themselves, and left and didn’t come back until their children’s children’s children started using the waterways to power cottage manufacturing in the early 19th century. I don’t know, but I imagine the poor Puritanical homesteaders taking possession of land they’d been assigned to work in God’s name, quickly realizing they’d been had. And they called it Satan’s Kingdom.

Eventually, industrialized progress enabled them, us, to drain and dam swamps, blast boulders, build quaint Cape Cod colonials with English lawns right in among them, according to an aesthetic based on an entirely other and irrelevant climate, from which to accumulate wealth and go on expanding that same aesthetic on a scale amounting to terraforming from that day to this. I showed up on the scene in the middle of that, and growing up, I watched the woods I’d imprinted on get smashed and replaced with mcmansions, I’m still watching it, there is no end to this process. And I thought myself oppressed, I thought, why are they doing this to me, shattering my world. It wasn’t my world.

The awful thing to contemplate is, when you do it with enough money, centuries old money, it’s beautiful. I drive from my mom’s house to my sisters’ and am boggled at the quaint picturesqueness, the timelessness, the occasional retired horse, the dam waterfall, the farm stand where fruit costs an arm and a leg, the insurmountable wall of wealth that constitutes the lifestyle rolling by. And it is this wealth, in combination with all those forbidding boulders, that makes it possible for land like the desert of crags recently rechristened Sen Ki, “Land of Stone” in Wampanoag, to remain unbulldozed, unterraformed.

SE Michigan, where I live now—the place that enables me to see the contrast—is an unrelenting grid of concrete disregard for anything inhuman. Soft, flat, fertile soil, nothing to be bulldozed to make way for low-rent human habitation and enterprise but trees, which can be sold. And by the time that was happening, the East Coast old money was already established, could not be challenged or dethroned. The flabbergasting art deco opulence of the wealth of Old Detroit is a reaction to that. There was no natural beauty left unpaved, so they–auto barons, rail barons, lumber barons–reinvented it, in an aesthetic that was a shadow of a shadow of the old world idyll.

And that aesthetic, and that ethic, is what we’ve got now, what we’ve got left. Solarpunk descends from art deco. Let’s remake beauty and functioning nature out of the shit left over from destroying it. But let’s see it clearly.

The concrete grid of southeast Michigan is ugly as shit compared to the granite-impregnated old money fake pastures of suburban Boston, but it has ten times the diversity of tree species alone.

November sunrise over Twin Pine Hill. Spoiler, there are more than two pines. Wish I knew or were qualified to assign an Indigenous name

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