Florida State College at Jacksonville, South Campus: Outdoor Ecological Laboratory

by Tim Gilmore, 4/20/2019

We felt hopeful. We called it the Outdoor Ecological Laboratory.

This past week, the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral fell burning in central Paris. Billionaires donated millions to rebuild. Activists asked why broken buildings elicited more charity, more quickly, than broken people, why broken buildings in Paris evoked more empathy than those in Damascus, in Carthage, in Palmyra or Rio de Janeiro.

It’s an old philosophical question, newly termed: Not only: Why do we judge the least privileged most harshly? But: Why do those most privileged receive most sympathy?

the way the psychogeographer observes the city, gargoyle, Notre Dame, Remy de la Mauviniere / Associated Press

I recall the day. We located the lab in the furthest of abandoned tennis courts far in the back of South Campus behind the gymnasium. The chain link fence had rusted. Dog fennel soared up the cracked court. The carrot ginger turmeric tempered Deep South Jim Crow racism with that smoked deep diplomacy of delicious food. Perhaps.

Or the tower in which the founder buried the family that followed him? What did transplanted exurban wealthy Ponte Vedra activists think they might teach Jacksonville about being Jacksonville and living Jacksonville in Jacksonville?

Listen. I’m the South, not the Confederacy. Almost no one from the South is Confederate, nothing-to-do with almost nobody’s being American. Our non-Confederacy should be the starting point, no connection, otherwise.

Every year, 22,000 tons of dust blows across the Atlantic Ocean from the Saharan Desert of Northern Africa into the Amazon Rain Forest of Northeast South America. The phosphorus from microorganisms millions of years dead in the dried lake bed of the Bodélé Depression in the nation of Chad feeds the world’s largest tropical forest.

Scientists have discovered microplastics at the highest levels of the Pyrenees in France. No one suspects our swamps un-suspect. If we’re willing to walk through the swamp.

In other words, yes, the furthest abandoned tennis court was an Outdoor Ecological Laboratory, as is the planet itself, living and blue and unique in all outer space.

We built largest wooden boxes in which we planted tomatoes, okra, beans, peas, and herbs. We painted the boxes bright blue and green and red.

The locks on the gate have rusted. The key no longer fits. The sign says laboratory hours are “Dawn to Dusk.” As though between dusk and dawn, the barred owls and woodpeckers and wood sorrel and muscadine grapes and elderberries and hogweed freeze to some summer nonexistence. As though the wind doesn’t blow, and the rain doesn’t fall, and the body-long beards of Spanish moss don’t bend lazily in the oaks that stand over the broken fence.

When’s the last time anyone played tennis on this court? 1982? Who here holds court, if not broomsedge, horseflies, the yellow winds of pollen borne of countless seedings ancient ever before us, and that one bit of gossip, contained to fewest possible social media platforms. Cell phones survive ancient blooms like supernovae reduced to silly electronic armageddon game platforms.

But once one thing happens, it always happens and then it always has, even before it did, because of the following vision:

Simplest terms. All’s but one tree. It rises. It drops its death to the ground. It nourishes itself from the death it’s dropped. The tree sustains itself. It lives from its death. There’s nothing else.

Specifically the vision’s of the tree that’s all things and is every tree. Here it is:

The tree rises, taller than any- and everything around, branches up skyward, feeds from everything beneath. The light and brighter green of newest leaves, burgeoned out from oldest and darkest extremities, feed on sunlight and death underneath that’s siphoned up through the tree.

The tree rises from all the leaves and branches fallen from the tree. The ground in which it grows rises from what the tree drops to the ground. The tree’s ever the image. In Old Norse myth, all worlds hang from Yggdrasil, the world tree. The crucifix grew from a tree. Also, flipping the middle finger, shooting the bird, “flipping someone off.” Also, the peace symbol, the machine gun, the swastika, and the Bodhi of Bodh Gaya, in India, where the giant Great Buddha sits, the Ficus Religiosa beneath which Siddhārtha Gautama rejected the world and attained Enlightenment. The fig tree remains and grows old enough and eternal to transplant the heart for a fuck-off.

Simplest terms. All is but one tree. It rises. It drops its death to the ground. It feeds itself from the death it’s dropped. The tree sustains itself. The tree lives from the death of the tree. There is nothing else. There’s nothing else ever to have said or done, nothing to add, to do, to say.

The tree lives from the death of the tree.