Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | March 17, 2010

Coffee, the Sediment Plume in my Soul

We’re perched on a wire between Winter and Spring here in sunny (for today anyway) Ithaca. The last great snow of the winter has melted away, burdening the creeks with silt that accumulates in a great plume at the bottom of Cayuga Lake.

A sediment plume entering Cayuga Lake via Taughannock Creek. Photo by Bill Hecht.

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has designated the south end of Cayuga Lake a “threatened water body” due to just such events. As I watch this annual event, I want even more to limit my own contributions to this ghastly sight. The drainage ditch in front of my lower property is full of dirty water and trash once disguised under a blanket of salty snow sludge. My lower property (where I have a large crop garden and forest garden under construction) turns into a marsh right after snow melt, so my wife dug a few channels into the ditch to drain the lower yard. Clean water gushed into the creek and it struck me how connected we all are: the water draining from my land will quickly dump right into Six Mile Creek, the water source for Ithaca, a city of over 30,000 full-time residents. I want the water leaving my land clean enough to drink. I shudder to think of my property eroding away, forming part of the plume.
These thoughts lead me to want to feel cleansed, both physically and mentally. After a long winter, I feel like there might be a metaphorical sediment plume inside my mind and body. I feel gunked up. I wonder if others experience this feeling of malaise, especially considering the events of recent weeks. Over the past 30 days, three Cornell students have ended their lives in our gorges, another all too unfortunate annual event. Perhaps these young men might be alive now, if they could only have waited for the plume of despair in their own minds to settle, just waited a bit longer for the cleansing powers of an Ithaca spring to do their work.
I’m on my fourth day of kicking a massive coffee addiction. At the age of 12, I started smoking, drinking, and consuming vast quantities of coffee, becoming sufficiently addicted to them all to make my life difficult. Today, only coffee remains among my roster of peccadilloes. I drink coffee in the manner of Balzac, the 19th century French writer who famously killed himself with the stuff. This marks the umpteenth time I’ve quit caffeine, the withdrawal symptoms being so familiar that it’s like a script I’m rehearsing. What is different this time is my resolve.
As a self-respecting “doomer” preparing for The End of the World as We Know It, it seems neither reasonable nor prudent to support any sort of addiction whatsoever, especially to an equatorial adapted berry that is the world’s most second traded commodity, second only to oil itself. For one thing, any addiction, no matter how seemingly innocuous, would present someone with an excellent resource to leverage power over you. To the man with the Arabica, go the spoils? There’s a good reason all those lists of preferred items for barter always include liquor, cigarettes, and, I would hasten to add, coffee. Just make sure it’s Fair Trade Organic, m’kay? I certainly don’t want to end up licking some new Master’s boots so I can get my lips on some coffee. Secondly, when the shit goes down, I want to be cool as a cucumber. For the good of my family and friends, I certainly don’t want to be dealing with a massive headache and the urge to crawl in bed because it feels like spiders are erupting from my face. (That was day two.)
So here I am, on the fourth day, sucking down my dandelion and nettle tea, cleansing body and mind, ridding myself of that most terrible habit of compulsives and addicts everywhere: Mistaking freedom for the right to change how you feel anytime you want.

Day five here and now, and it’s getting better.  We’re told from an early age “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.”  Unfortunately, some of us fall for it.  What about just waking up?  For the past 27 years, I have never been content to simply “wake up” in the morning.  My five-year old rolls out of bed ready to go, ready to live his life to the fullest.  I, on the other hand, stumble around until I get my fix from the sacred equatorial berry shipped by plane or boat at enormous carbon emitting cost.  The absurdity of it all finally struck me to the point where I could no longer deny it. 

Addiction impedes rewilding.  There’s no moral judgment inherent in this.  For me, it’s just a simple statement of utilitarian fact.  How can I possibly know reality, and how I interact with reality, when I don’t  even know how I feel, when I don’t have any true basis for comparison?  When I was 27, I went out on a sort of “vision quest” alone into the wilderness for a week of solo backpacking.  I brought several flasks of rum, two packs of cigarettes, and all the coffee I would need to get me through.  Basically, unlike the archetypal Native American vision of such a thing, I brought all the accoutrements of civilisation along with me–and the “change the way you feel because you deserve it” mentality.  Rather than hearing what the wilderness had to tell me, I shut it out with every sip from the flask, puff from a cigarette, and cup of coffee.  I either augmented my experience or changed the channel when I didn’t like what I was seeing.  This is how I have lived my life. 

When the Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree, awaiting a vision, I doubt that he was drinking, smoking, and sipping coffee.  I would venture that any addictive habit, any compulsion that you simply cannot live without, is going to impede your ability to simply “wake up,” to roll out of bed and experience life with all your senses and a sound mind intact.  Here is a quote that gets at what I’m trying to express:

“Animism, because it seeks to relate and converse with the world, rather than to define and control it, always renews itself. It wakes up every morning fresh and alive, and every evening it tucks itself to bed to dream again for the very first time. Since animism involves a relationship with the world, a living being that exists in the now, the present moment, what more relevant perspective could you find?”

– Willem Larsen, The College of Mythic Cartography

With all the addictive substances, I have sought to define and control the world, or at least my experience of it.  When I set about my rewilding activities this Spring, I want to come at it fresh and unsullied by anything outside myself.  I want pure, unmediated experience: to feel, to taste, and to touch with no intermediary.  As I sip another cup of nettle tea, the sediment plume is diluting, the cloudiness in my mental waters is settling so that I can see with renewed eyes.  Let the true Rewilding begin!



  1. Hey —

    Good luck with it… I can’t say I have walked this path yet… I mean, sure, I’ve tried to quit all of my addictions at one time or another… but I haven’t done so yet. Its too much a part of who I am….

    But quoting Willem… good good. He’s an extremely good guy 😉


  2. I suppose it all depends on what one is addicted to:) And some might even be useful…

  3. “Addiction impedes rewilding.”

    What a great motto!


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