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Natural History

by DAVID Ker THOMSON

It is the watershed, not the nation-state, which provides the natural social formation of our species.  Water “sheds” and branches all the way down to the molecular level and all the way up to half continents.  Each thread from the shed is a line of life. 

It is a truism to say that people fight wars of aggression over land but this is seldom the case, since land without water is of more value to poets and naturalists than to generals and nation-states.

Water in its aggregate form, as reservoir, is of some value, but the truly precious entity is dynamic water, water in its courses.  Unreplenished, a reservoir is a fool’s token.  To sustain, water must move.  Cycle up through clean air, then return to land and to the forks: two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two to infinity.

The democratists ask us to submit to the suits along the Ottawa or in the Chesapeake, citing as an instance of our freedom our ability to name the villains for what they are and not be imprisoned.  Whether it is true that we are not under daily threat of imprisonment, whether we have freedom of speech for the kinds of thoughts we have, whether we need to resort to poetry to intimate what we would do with these aggressors had we the power—all this we leave for other forms of media and to a kind of speech like that of Jesus, about whom it was said, “without a parable spake he not unto them.”  Perhaps Plato wished the poets ill because they were monkeywrenchers, and would not abide nonsense.

Here we speak plainly.  Nation-states are a distraction.  The best are violent.  The worst are this: democracies.  Democracies are violence under a bushel.  The mug of brutes behind the sibilant hiss of smug.  The whiteness of death, about which Melville long ago warned us, behind the benign black face.  The daily apocalypse of forty-thousand  children freshcorpsed within gunshot of the empire.

The paradox of forking water is that its division creates unity upstream and down.  What social formation is more intimate and binding than the social contract of the stream as it circulates through air and land?  The body itself becomes a course in the watershed, drinking the flow the upstreamers pass on and down.  In the watershed, everyone is always upstream and downstream.  You have more in common with someone a thousand miles away in the stream than a thousand feet away on land.  Start here.

To the manifold crimes of leaderlovin’ we add this: the propensity of nation-states to use rivers to divide rather than unite.  A river with small boats might seem like an obstacle, or a line to hide behind, to some politician and his willing-executioner followers in some distant watershed.  But to the people on the river it is life itself.  Let the politicians and the leaderlovers draw their river lines between nation-states.  They have their crayons, we have our barks.  We will see in the long run whose bite is worse.

For thousands of years people in my watershed have moved along the rivers in small boats.  Now for a century or two they haven’t so much, preferring instead to patch over the streams with the tar of desert oils, smashing and filthing whatever they can, as democracies always do.

But even the tar scabs are restless and liable to slough off.  The tyrants must steal ever more money from their people to replenish the scabs, which cannot go a year without cracking into lines.

And the lines look like prophecies, like maps of watersheds yet to come.

DAVID Ker THOMSON is from the city of T’onto in the province of ’rio in the nation of ’nada. He can be reached at: dave.thomson@utoronto.ca