i just want to be free by mar
“So quero ser livre”. Graffiti in Portugal. Photo by mar. Translation: “I just want to be free”.

In a column in the NYT yesterday, Verlyn Klinkenborg writes:

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the volume the birds around us occupy. I don’t mean the vast migratory territories they mark out over the course of a year. I mean the spatial dimensions of their ordinary lives among us. This is a thought that has been working away in my head for a long time, ever since I saw a red-winged blackbird perched on a cattail and realized that the bird and the wetland in which the cattail was rooted were nearly synonymous. “Habitat” sounds awfully general. It turns out to mean not some willful choice ó the kind a human would make deciding to live in Dallas rather than in Denver ó but a profound correlation. The marsh is who the red-winged blackbird is.

When I watch the birds in our community, I am filled with awe at the fact they are so much at home, and at the same time filled with envy at the fact they are so free.

Klinkenborg claims that humans are the only species that is not defined or limited by place. I’m not so sure. I’ve lamented before the fact that we humans are all homeless, and that the homeless and addicted are the perfect metaphor for all of us living in civilization. We are all lost, looking for home, some place where we belong, and we are all addicted to consumption and debt and the false comforts of civilization just as much as the guy in the alleyway desperate for the next fix of his drug of choice, anything to get out of the pain of really living in this moment, here, now.

I’ve also written before that I would, in a heartbeat, give up everything to be, instead of human, a bird, with the ability to soar into the sky, to live comfortably, joyously, absolutely free, and connected to all the rest of life in my place, and through it connected to all life on Earth, and to live for just five years in ‘now time’ possessed of such unimaginably acute senses and with the intense emotions I believe go hand in hand with sensory acuity.

I once wondered if the homeless people I see in the streets are trying to emulate birds, as if the prison that is our civilization is just too unbearable, and anything — the bitter winter cold and risk of death from exposure, the constant nagging hunger, the disdain and indifference of other people — is better than living in that prison. Not for them the addiction to consumption and property and the other seductions of civilized humans. They are in a way freer than any of us.

But as Klinkenborg says, the birds are the opposite of homeless. They have given up no comforts, no freedom and no connection to others to be at home — in fact they are more comfortable and connected than we could ever imagine being. Birds are home (“the marsh is who the red-winged blackbird is”), and free. We humans are neither.

For our first three million years on Earth we were both. We just recently (thirty millennia ago) gave up our native homes and our freedom because it was the only way our stupid human brains could devise to survive, when the ice rolled in and the extinction of the great mammals left us without food to eat (we had lost the knowledge of how to forage as vegetarians, and the new lands we occupied were ill-suited to this way of living anyway). So we moved to these strange new lands and sacrificed our freedom for the apparent security of massive settlement and catastrophic (monoculture) agriculture, the foundations of civilization. We cast ourselves out of the garden because it could no longer support us.

And since then we have been instinctively longing for the home and for the freedom we gave up in that grim bargain. Our three-million year old DNA, our genetic memory, tells us we are not meant to live a nomadic, homeless existence, disconnected from our true home and place and apart from all other life on Earth. It tells us we are not meant to live a life of slavery and confinement and fear and struggle and suffering, of dependence on others and meaningless work.

It is questionable whether the homeless people in the street have found freedom; they certainly have not found their way back home. There are some who live close to the land, nearly as much a part of it and indistinguishable from it as the redwinged blackbird is from the marsh. But while they may have found some vestige of home, they have not found freedom. In this brave new world we are all dependent on each other, on the imported oil and water that lets us grow our simple, vulnerable foods in places they were never meant to grow, and sell them to others in return for other necessities of life that are not native to this hostile place we wishfully call ‘home’.

The garden we cast ourselves out of is gone, and besides there are too many of us now to fit in it anyway. Perhaps that is why we now look to the stars and long for another world where, maybe, we can find a place where we can behome, and free.

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11 Responses to Home-Free

  1. Karen M says:

    I’ve had similar thoughts looking at birds on telephone and electrical lines… the first time I thought about it, wondering what they used before the wires… D’uh! Trees, of course!

  2. mary says:

    Have watched birds for years, and wondered if they were happy in their freedom. Would be nice if human life was as simple as finding food, eating, sleeping, playing. There are homeless people that have reduced their life to that kind of simplicity, and are content. Don’t think they are free tho’, unless they found a spot in the wildnerness to grow their own food, have a little hut or tent for shelter~because of something called the law, which makes being without a home a criminal offense.

  3. Hi Dave,How have you been? Yur post is very wonderful about wanting to be a bird in an heartbeat to experience its complete sensoary acuity.I think the Bhagavat Gita explains your incessant inquiry as to WHY we are not HOME and why we are not FREE.The truth is, this is NOT our home and we are always bound up here by our limited sensory capabilities.The material world, or the world that we are now existing in is so designed that we finally come to realise that THIS is NOT HOME and we are NOT FREE!!!The nature of the soul is to be always blissful!! To re-manifest that state we have to be properly linked up with the SOURCE of bliss, so that the dirt and dust covering the mirror of ourselves is cleared off and wifed clean again.We need to get in touch with an authenic GURU who can give us the spiritual understanding as to WHY we cannot be happy here ever! Once we understand as to why we are always missing the point, then things start to fall into place.If you want to discuss more, please write back and we can take this further.Your humble servant,srinath

  4. Avi Solomon says:

    Coincidentally, the following photo is my current desktop background:http://www.flickr.com/photos/lecercle/182161443/

  5. Pearl says:

    It’s impassioned. It’s internally consistent with other things you’ve said. Speaking to where I am, probably more than from where you are these thoughts you’ve put out trigger this:This craving the beauty of simplicity of fewer thoughts, fewer demands, yet more dependancy hits on a natural need to be needed, indispensable. I think that stems from a craving for wanting to have a permanent unconditional love and to stop all the transitory change and rest. It is the root of religion, marriage, social service clubs, planned conception, great architecture and literature. It is a desire to belong and be known.The feeling of being an interloper, a loiterer, often came to me when I was most connected to nature. I suspect, *in my case*, it was something ideological, cultural, rather than inherent recognition of true nature of being.It is a fear that looks for words, for defence, for a way to create a sort of callousness to self to protect from the hard knocks rather than sustain the almost painful pleasure and mind-blowingness of being one with the moment and the universe and fearing never wanting to come back and be practical and have sensible problematic human relationships again. It was for me a sort of cosmic own body chemical escapsim. Not that it is entirely in the past but it is not so piercing as it once was.

  6. Pearl says:

    Two last things, there were paragraphs when I pushed submit and 2ndly, the notion that we lose something valuable when we are not connected to a particular place that we can identify ourselves with makes sense. The local physical can damage or aid, but with a good fit, completes a person.

  7. Mariella says:

    We exist…thus we think. As stated in Antonio Damasio´s “Descartes Error” (I think thus I exist). Birds exist… without questioning his belonging to the SOURCE of bliss Srinath mentions.I guess it doesn´t matters if you have a phisical home or not… you are homeless when you do not belong to

  8. Mariella says:

    MAYA`S VEIL———-There is an old Hindu story that talks us about God Brahma

  9. Raging Bee says:

    “False comforts of civilization?” There’s nothing “false” about the “comfort” of a reliable supply of good food, or a well-heated home in the winter, or the indispensible variety of books to read, people to meet, things to do, and lessons to learn, that one simply doesn’t find in a hunter-gatherer society.As for the birds, well, the act of flying may be fun, but I don’t envy them the gruelling seasonal migrations (many birds die or get picked off enroute every season), repeatedly scratching out territory for nesting, fighting over scarse food, etc. Give me good books, good beer, and good company any day. Yes, I’m “addicted.” And judging by your continued Internet presence, so are you.

  10. According to all I’ve read about anthropology (which isn’t a whole lot), we humans are naturally nomadic. Perhaps we’re meant to migrate just as the birds do, following food sources and seasonal changes. It’s just an awfully crowded world to do this in anymore, and now we want to burn fossil fuels all the way there.

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