Sunday, March 15, 2009

GPS and forest destruction

By John

We were down in the forests near Armadale yesterday, and quickly and carefully removed ourselves from one reserve due to major dieback problems (thoroughly cleaning shoes etc). Astonishingly, a school premises had been carved out of the forest next to the reserve, and the efforts to prevent dieback were offset against a celebration of pony club and horse trails through the same area. But horses don’t clean dieback spores off their hooves, and riding them through such sensitive areas can only spread dieback further.

Being near the outskirts of the city, these forest places come under massive pressure from leisurists and pleasurists (as I call them) — those who claim to be interacting or connecting with ‘nature’, but are in fact merely using it as a resource for their own enjoyment or ‘fulfilment’. The essentially selfish nature of so much human usage comes into play here, even if it’s occluded with claims of being nature-lovers and conservationists; this activity can be as damaging as mining or logging to these areas.

One form of forest usage that seems destructive to me is that of the GPS walkers who use technology to traipse their way off-trail through the forests. When forest is seen only as a resource, mastery of it through technology is the symbol of a new form of wilderness catechising. If technology fuses with the sense that nature is a blank, empty slate — in need of filling, controlling, logging, renaming — into an exercise-and-freedom illusory scenario, the liberty of all living things suffers.

For me, anarchism isn’t just about human narcissism, especially that of certain humans who steal custodial claims and make them their own, but about the right of all living things to a reasonable chance at survival and self-expression (yes, even single-celled animals have this right!).

The desire to control and map with artificial aids seems to show an unwillingess to understand the world outside the human — inevitably, if we aren’t willing to respect the land, we are going to brutalise it. (I think my next book of poetry will be entitled ‘Rapacious’).

I was going to send a letter to the GPS-walk-people in the region, but will post it here instead. A public letter, as most of us are to some degree complicit, I am sure. I mention Kinsella Road in this letter, as its name is used on GPS-walking websites arbitrarily; not that this is anything like the way non-indigenous people use town and other locality names that have been stolen or taken from indigenous languages without second thought. In fact, they take ownership of them. In the language of coordinates, all signs are emptied out. 'Kinsella' as 'sign' has no more importance than any other, but my point is that all signs (and descriptions, be they a reference to a tree or a human-made object), signify something other than a means to an end.

Ironically, my Kinsella grandfather was a head state forester and the entire region of forest known as Gleneagle and beyond is still named Kinsella on state foresting maps. I don’t need to explain what this signifies in terms of name overlays, implications of imperialism and exclusion of the original and ongoing indigenous custodians/traditional owners. I use the word ‘owners’ in a general sense of relationship with land, not as a surveyed, material notion of property, which I reject no matter who claims land: for an anarchist, land ownership is nominal (I well know the situation), and arbitrary. It is a compliance to demands of state, but can be worked around by denial of its absolute value. Real ‘ownership’ is about caring and respect, and can be transient as well as continuous. But ultimately it’s about knowledge and preservation, and GPS notions of land relationships appear to exclude these. Anyway, I refer to Kinsella Road because it fits within the GPS-walkers’ own naming system and at least allows me a point of entry within their own GPS co-ordinates:

'you might notice my name is that of one of the roads used as a "waypoint" where you gpsWALK. it is named after my grandfather. i actively campaign against abuse of the forests - tramping dieback through the forests, lack of consideration for wildlife and flora and in general, are as horrendous as selective logging, horse riding, and other such exploitations of nature. people who require satellites to interact with ‘nature’ don't seem to me to have much empathy with the natural world. none of us can afford to be pleasure-seekers who see the world as their playground and resource. it is hypocritical or naive at best. furthermore, the areas you cross through are often sacred to indigenous people and deserve more respect on this basis alone.

reducing forests to gps co-ordinates, and the desire to go off the trails and destroy what little remains of the natural world, is rapacious and needs to be challenged in every way possible. i certainly will be campaigning against your activities.'

john kinsella

I propose a discourse of 'de-mapping' (best expression I can come up with at the moment!). Basically I want to de-map rather than map things. More on this later...


Dr Michelle Frantom (aka Dr Mad Fish of Mad Fish Designs) said...

This is such a huge subject and one I am also passionate about. We see less but similar destruction on the coast in Albany - I get the urge to push trail-bike riders off their bikes as they scream past me on the beach. The tourist season almost drives me insane as I watch 'my' local beach totally disrespected. I can often be seen walking along with a plastic bag picking up rubbish.

The sad thing is the only way I console myself now is to leave it all in the capable, and unfortunately for some of us who DO care, indiscrminate hands of Nature itself. There is only so much we will get away with. I have watched the beach change more dramatically than usual over the last few years, huge tides and much reclamation and destruction by the sea. It is frightening but strangely comforting.

As for the abuse of significant and sacred Indigenous sites, I think their traditional 'spirit' custodians might have something to say about that too.

I agree, overlaying the natural environment with GPS grids seems to be entirely missing the point of being out there. But ulimately, there are just too damn many of us.

Mutually Said: Poets Vegan Anarchist Pacifist said...

Hi, Michelle

John's not home from work, so I'm replying!

Other than pushing the riders off their bikes (which I realise is probably only a figure of speech!) I know exactly what you mean.

I was distressed to see how many of the massive boulders on the way to Armadale had been defaced. (People worry so much about vandalism to "property", but seem to think nothing of vandalism to nature.)

As for "too many of us", I guess that's a feeling lots of us have sometimes. But I can't help thinking that it's not so much the numbers, as how we are organised, raised, grouped, "acculturated" or whatever... Part of me still wants to believe that humans can do better.