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Monday Photo Meditation: A Ripple Effect

Despite a forecast for the week that is virtually free of rain, the clouds persist. On this morning, they are relatively thin, huddled together around the tops of the southeast end of the peaks as though seeking the warmth of the early sun.

Here at the mountains’ feet, the world is a bit greener than it was last week, the grass a little taller, the leaves a little fuller. In our climate, even small amounts of rain create visible effects. But the brown lurks at the edges, small yellowing patches in the fields and crimson curling at the edges of the maple leaves.We are now far enough into the season that those changes are unlikely to be undone; autumn will probably come early again this year, in color if not in temperature.

We are living, in real time, what chaos theory calls the butterfly effect, but what is better illustrated visually by a raindrop on the pond (a pond that, this year, once again lies empty and utterly unsuited to the metaphor): a ripple effect.

People have difficulty getting their heads around a concept so vast and seemingly unlinked as a butterfly’s beating wings affecting weather distant in place and time, but a ripple effect is instantly observable, up close and personal. A single drop of rain falls into a pool of water, and a whole tiny world’s worth of waves move outward in a perfect circle, touching everything in their path, moving that which is small enough to be shifted or displaced.

Our peoples have always known the power of the ripple effect. It’s why our elders caution care with words and deeds: Once released into the world,  neither can be revoked or undone; the most we can hope for, should they fall badly, is to mitigate the damage. The problem for humans, short-lived creatures that we are, is that we often cannot see the damage that inexorably accrues — for months, years, decades, and, as we now know, centuries and beyond.

And these are the wages of colonialism, although the colonial world will never admit and will, indeed, keep its eyes resolutely closed to the evidence before its very eyes. We are reaping those effects now, the innocent along with the guilty, and so much harm has already passed like water under weir and bridge that the damage can never be undone.

The colonial world owes a debt, a vast one: reparations not only for those long gone, nor just to their descendants still fighting to survive within its ripples, but to the earth itself. We are, after all, living within its ripples, watching the real-time changes in weather, the altered migration patterns of wildlife, the elemental catastrophes of wind and wildfire, drought and flood and sea-level rise. Our ancestors had methods for managing climatic changes to prevent them becoming climactic ones, but imperialist greed has long since swamped our capacity for stewardship. We have brought to this pass as surely as if each step followed some cosmic colonial blueprint, but there is nothing cosmic about such acts; they are, instead, small, selfish, and necessarily brutal.

Now, the sun plays hide-and-seek with cornflower skies and pewter clouds growing fast into new thunderheads. If we are fortunate, the rain will come, but it is more than likely that it will pass us by. There will be no new water in the pond today, and no ripples visible in it, but they will be there all the same.

The old wisdom applies. We may not be able to recall the ripples already sent out into the world, but we can take care in designing those we create now.

The lives of innocents depend upon it; the life of the Earth herself, too.

~ Aji








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