On the Level Goes Feral

Can you name the edible plant in this photo?

I’ve finally done it.  I’ve left the city.  Moved out to a cabin in the woods in rural West Marin County north of San Francisco.  I am now subsisting on wild greens and breathing blissfully clean air.   For many years I tried desperately to maintain the charade that I am a “city person.”  Yet I noticed that I would flee with my bicycle and sleeping bag into the countryside at every opportunity.  I am now at age 34 finally accepting the truth.  I value a dark starry night over the bright city lights.  A quiet dawn over the honking of the car horn.  A small social town over a bustling anonymous metropolis.  And I suspect I am not alone amongst city dwellers.  Cities have the potential to become healthy habitats for human beings- indeed they must if we are to turn the tide on climate change- but we’re not there yet.  And I for one am getting sick of waiting around for the transition.

El Nino rains in California have led to an astounding diversity of fungi

The evolution of cities from a series of noisy, dangerous, and anti-social traffic sewers into green, friendly, and safe public spaces is certainly not being held up by the majority, who continue to clamor for quality urban environments.  Who could stand up and say that the tantalizing visions of a garden city depicted in the illustrations and murals of Mona Caron would not be healthier for our children– not to mention a far more pleasant place to live?   Yet the people who we allow to remain in power continue to design cities from behind windscreens- the machine retains priority.  How did we get to a point where human beings have designed habitats that are hostile to human beings?  What kind of psychotic system has allowed these things that go against our very nature?

There is no doubt that human beings are healthier in a natural setting. On an evolutionary- even a molecular basis we are drawn to riparian zones, where we are more likely to find sustenance.  Studies show we heal faster in hospital when there is greenery outside the window (1).    Kids even concentrate better in the classroom after they’ve been amongst the trees. (2)

The truth is that we are starved- nearly to death- by a profound lack of connection to the rest of life on the planet.  The massive popularity of the film Avatar- the highest grossing film of all time- is a wake up call that human beings are desperate for a deeper connection with the natural world- even if that means you have to drive to the multiplex for a 2 (okay, 3) dimensional imitation of the real thing.

Avatar provides a (computer generated) glimpse of the world we have largely destroyed. The reality when you walk out into the multiplex parking lot stands in stark contrast...

In fact, it’s not surprising that people have reported depression after seeing the complex diversity of life and landscapes and then comparing the fantasy life to their own bleak, traffic-dominated worlds.

Mushrooms can save the world, according to experts (3)

So, my plan is to capitalize on the success of Avatar- adding a new natural theme and design to my blog, which will appeal to all you poor nature deprived sods out there while generating billions in revenue!   Since green is the new black, I’m going full on green in 2010.  I’m taking an ecology class at Audubon Canyon, spending a ton of time in the wilderness, and attempting to document what I see and learn here on this blog.  Become more acquainted with what is at stake and get inspired to save it.  Or appreciate it all before it vanishes.  Depending on my mood.

Plants, unlike corporations, have been quietly green all along (cow parsnip if you're wondering)

Why is a blog ostensibly focused on transportation policy suddenly going feral? Talking mushrooms over mass transit, herons over highways, bobcats over buses?  Why?  Because we need to acquaint with and love all that is at stake on our beautiful planet if we are to get inspired to change business as usual.  And despite grim news stories and climate warnings, there is still much to love.   If we don’t want to see the disappearance of the Monarch butterfly, the redwood tree, and the California newt, and even worse get blamed for their disappearance, we need to harness the passion of John Muir.  We need to leave fossil fuels in the ground.  And believe me that’s not going to happen.  Unless we kill capitalism.  Unless we throw the sons of bitches out.  Unless we stop being selfish and learn to stay in one place.   Unless we realize that saving individual parcels of land from development while the skies are set ablaze ain’t gonna save paradise.

An Amanita. It looked fake- almost plastic...

A 'gooseneck' barnacle

You know that feeling of butterflies in your stomach- when you realize that the Earth is far more diverse, interconnected- even wiser than you ever thought possible?  Maybe you don’t know what I’m saying. (If not you should get out there and spend a night in the forest…believe me the suburbs are far scarier.)   Anyway I had a moment like this the other day when we came across a pond with newts embracing each other in amplexus.   The romantic amphibian dance that has kept the whole thing going.  Did you know that we don’t know how long newts live- the oldest ones in captivity are over 30 years old!  They’re definitely wiser than you or I!!  So, even though it’s not really that type of blog, I’m posting some porn for your viewing pleasure.  I hope it will give you butterflies as it did me.


1) Ulrich, R.S. 1984. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224: 420-421.

(2) Wells, Nancy M. (2000). At Home with Nature, Effects of “Greenness” on Children’s Cognitive Functioning, Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 775-795

(3) Stamets, Paul. Mycelium Running

15 responses to “On the Level Goes Feral

  1. Good to see someone getting past all the words and with a few more like yourself who knows? There’s always going to be a million reasons to say why we can’t but ultimately it’s down to basics. Our basic instinct is to survive and likely when there is absolutely no choice but to change, we will. Have a nice day

  2. Beautiful photos and inspiring prose, as ever. There is plenty to engage and fascinate us in nature.

    But it is human nature to use all our ingenuity to optimise our reproductive chances and that is what drives everything we do and ever have done, including building cities and then degrading the urban environment.

    How can that drive be channelled towards a more sustainable and benign existence?

    • Hi Chris,

      One word. Sex. Nature is damn sexy. Cycling is damn sexy. Cars are definitely not sexy, despite the best efforts of marketing executives. Destroying the planet is TOTALLY a turn off. Things that we thought were just fine when we did them (like deforesting the redwoods in Marin County), we look back and are horrified at. The transition to seeing current behavior as unacceptable is happening- it’s just slow.

      • If only it were that simple. It’s sex that has driven us way beyond our once relatively harmonious relationship with nature.

        The more ‘successful’ males get to breed more than the less ‘successful’ and that ‘success’ is measured in terms of power and wealth which are in turn achieved by a more intensive exploitation of natural resources.

        Your new fantasy of rural living is ‘sexy’ because you have access to sophisticated technology to advertise the fact to the rest of the world. It’s just another status symbol which depends on your access to resources derived from a highly developed post-industrial economy founded on the exploitation of fossil fuels.

        Change will come when oil becomes seriously expensive but by then it may be too late to undo the environmental damage. But what of your rural idyll when that day comes? Will you be content to be so geographically isolated?

      • onthelevelblog

        When you say geographically isolated, there is a strong local community here with strong social capital and lots of local organic agriculture so it doesn’t feel isolated. Actually I am right in the midst of a metropolitan area, but because of geography, past politics, and hard work, this place has been preserved from urban encroachment.

        To me, the internet is arguably one of the hopes for humanity because it allows regular people access to a much larger audience than might otherwise be possible.

        And sorry to disappoint you Chris but I will never be Mark Boyle.


  3. Happy Birthday! And best of luck on your new obsession. Great to see you are still not doing a single venture half way. Post pictures of your new cabin (which has Wi-Fi I am guessing?).

    • No wifi, but high speed internet! Sorry the location of the cabin- like the bat cave- will remain a highly guarded secret. xx

  4. Come on people- who’s going to win the prize? Who can identify the edible plant in the top photo?

  5. Beautiful shroom pics. I live in a tent just north of San Francisco myself. I’ve been picking and photographing mushrooms all winter and would be delighted to share a few pics and stories with you. Sounds like we have a similar story. I was an executive who quit the rat race to live feral in the woods. It’s a tough transition, but I wouldn’t go back for anything. Hang in there and keep the pics coming. They’re great!

    • Hi Rasmus,

      Thanks for your comment! I think shooting mice and shoplifting I’ll save for the shopocalypse but I admire your pioneering spirit!

  6. Next week – a treatise on how to blog without consuming electricity!

    I’m on your side, honest, but do try to keep a sense of proportion.

  7. Mushrooms are best in hot tea. =P

  8. Hi Josh – Well said. I myself live in a small farming community – and I’m glad you say it like you do – I like the discourse. I am looking forward to reading more of your blog. Glad you are out there doing what you do. Thanks – Kiersten

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