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This post and all other posts on our website are snippets from Firth's writings on Substack.

Skyborne Magicians

The clear cutters worked this landscape. Our red-tailed magician lived this landscape. 

Her temerity shadowed my own and her skyborne blades skated always just behind me. A great, red tail flashed colors peripheral to the youthful day’s now green and maturing delight and she would occasionally dart earthbound, lifting the spined heavenwards and leaving the spineless to their earthly work.  Snakes and field mice grew wings behind my tractor’s brush mower, evolutionary mutations that spanned minutes not millennia, as the great magician’s red-tailed shadow transfigured what was into what will be. Nourishment, that is. The future of the all of us.

But this is technology’s magical trick, too, you know. The red-tailed hawk is not the only magician these days. The machined man transforms that which is into that which cannot be but still is, regardless of nature’s decree. Technology is many things but it is also only one thing: an enduringly interesting challenge to our world. How is this so? Think about any development in technology and then consider how it began, how it slithered into your life, and how your life seems inoperable without it. Perhaps, seems improbable without it. I am thinking about my brush mower and I am thinking how, while we detest manicured lawns, we detest even more their actual absence. Technology’s grift is not in what it does or what your eyes or ears see but in what it makes you think—the serene swindle of the mind, the soul.

When we moved into the Wildland many years ago, we inherited a one hundred and seventy two acre old growth forest that was missing its trees. Gullies were forming in the once clad and hilled respites and the ancient datums and their reliefs were silting the lower wetlands. It was a latticed land of explosive movement—the tops of the hills were falling downwards, the lower valleys began to resemble the tops of the hills, and trees and their briars seemed to burst from the torn and mangled ground like mines.

It is said that the Appalachian Mountains once towered like stacked gothic cathedrals the size of the Himalayas when our earth was very much more like another place, say Mars, than what we know as home today. Their great story is a tale of decline. Today, their moss gilded and ivy veiled uneven undulations are like aged and tired, but proud, men whose spines slump ever so slightly downward, downward, downward to their grave. But these deforested mountains slumped not through the ages but through the age of man—the Anthropocene’s incessant desire to profit. Clear cutting is an unnatural disaster and it is technology’s magical trick. Tiring under modernity, the previous owner sold the aged forest to a local logging company, who proceeded in their modern way to fall and sell the ancient life for your modern homes and your cardboard Amazon packages. In a matter of a month, they felled thousands of years and made thousands of dollars. The great magician turned years into dollars and it slithers for the all of us, leaving a diesel colored trace in her wake.

But this trick was quickly transforming our Wildland, like the real magician herself, into a bundled and jumbled mess of life. That early summer afternoon, I was mowing pathways through the clear cut’s tangled heartland so that we could graze its inner valleys and my skyward friend worked faithfully behind me. Modern humans, I think, are the only species that associate life with disassociation—we continually work to make life non-continual in type. We separate light from dark, pleasure from pain, this species from that, and even death from life. It could even be said that our bumbling and bipedal greed and its simple myopia is one that, at its very source, seeks to separate our living from our working. We live life but we work to death. But we never live to death, although, in the truest sense, that is the surest thing we do.

While I was mowing our tangled landscape’s heartland, I grew tired of work and I sat down and watched my friend’s skyborne blades rise and fall and rise again, always performing some great, evolution-defying trick. She dove behind new bundles of exploding tulip poplars or gums as magicians step behind their stage prop and rose as magicians rise to the roar of the audience, holding some great mystery. Snakes turned into flying serpents and field mice transformed into flying squirrels or their first cousins, the only flying mammal: bats. She even lifted what seemed to be a small twig and I watched, enchanted, to see if it would become a snake. Was she working? Or, was she living?

The clear cutters worked this landscape. Our red-tailed magician lived this landscape. In that moment, I decided to live with her and I continued mowing the pathways, providing food for my friend and praying my life and my life’s death would one day provide the same for some magician.

I’ve always wanted to fly.

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